Ionic Column -- January 1998
by David Parry
Englishman David Parry lived in Tokyo from 1980 to 1994 and was a TPC member from 1986. A frequent contributor to the AJ, he was Newsletter Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990 and began the Ionic Column in 1992. This column has won a prize and an honorable mention in newsletter awards. To the Tokyo BBS community, he now lives in virtual cyberspace and teleports textually over the ether. On the physical level, he currently lives and works in Düsseldorf, that part of Germany that most resembles Japan.
As I write, it is the day before I leave for home and I have just sent out the last Christmas cards. So much for forward planning and meticulous organization of the Yuletide chores, instead it is a hasty scramble to get everything done, and that includes this column. As a former Newsletter Publisher, I remember all too well the Christmas gap as the deadline for the January issue approached around December 20th and there was no material in sight, since everyone was too busy to write, so I got down to work in a spare moment.
A few weeks back I upgraded my motherboard and CPU, the latter being an AMD K6 200 and reputedly the fastest of the Socket 7 Pentium chips-Mk. 1 Pentium, or whatever it is called, not a Pentium Pro or Pentium II. Since I don't expect to run Windows NT, I get better performance from the older Pentium. The benchmarks I have seen state that the newer chips do not run as fast with DOS and Windows 3.x / Windows 95 as the older ones. This is largely of academic interest anyway, since the system is gratifyingly fast. I don't worry all that much as to whether it is "Intel Inside," apart from the price, since the whole question of compatibility and system stability is a fraught one involving many variables.
The new AMD-based PC is fast enough to run programs such as the Boomerang dictation system or voice recognition programs such as ViaVoice or Dragon. They generally require a Pentium/133 or 166 or better, and I have 64 MB of memory and plenty of hard disk space. The only thing I do not have right now to is a sound card, which is another thing I have to buy and install to make Boomerang work. (See my comments a few paragraphs down.)
The new motherboard has four slots for PS/2 SIMMs and 2 slots for the new SRAM DIMMs. At the time I chose not to buy SRAMs, which may have been a mistake. My old Pentium/100 had 64 MB of memory in four chips, but from two different makers. I split the memory between the two PCs, and found that the new AMD system was not all that stable. A lot of programs under Windows had trouble loading, flashing an error message and then loading the second time. It left me wondering if the old EDO DRAM was too slow for the K6, but the vendor thought not. However, I finally broke down and bought 64 MB of SRAM yesterday, marveling at how cheap it is, and it appears to make the system a little faster and definitely more stable. Hopefully, longer use will confirm that initial impression.
A sour note with Jaz
About a month ago I bought a Jaz drive and tried to set it up, but the installation from the Jaz "Tools disk" went wrong and the drive could not reinstall afterwards. Apparently, the installation removed the volume name on the Jaz disk, and this is critical for reinstallation. I could not get another Tools Disk in Düsseldorf, so one is on the way from the USA. There is also the question as to whether the drive is defective or got damaged.
Much of the problem comes with the SCSI drivers, and the ASPI drivers in particular. The latter are essential if you are using any SCSI media other than a hard disk, and that includes scanners, CD-ROMs, MOs, Jaz dries, Zip drives and any other removable media. Iomega provide their own drivers for the Jaz and Zip, and getting them installed is the main battle. I'll try again when I have more time and a new Tools Disk.
A customer sent me some very large PageMaker files, firstly on a Jaz disk and then on a Zip disk. For the time being I cannot read the Jaz drive, so I went out and bought a Zip drive plus some media, choosing the parallel port version to avoid any SCSI problems and to ensure I can use it any PC. Both the Zip and the Jaz drives use the same GUEST program that scans your installed disks and allocates a drive letter, after which you are in business.
The trouble is, the full installation installs a number of programs when you start up, both in DOS and Windows, and you suddenly find yourself getting short of memory. The Zip works reasonably fast through the parallel port, for backup purposes at least, but even the SCSI version would be too sluggish for use as semi-online storage of big files that you need to call up frequently. The Jaz is much more suited to that.
The memory problems I referred to earlier may have been responsible for a disaster with a translation that involved overwriting a PageMaker-yes, one of the files on the Zip disk. A number of programs do weird things if the amount of memory is too low or if there are memory errors, and PageMaker managed to corrupt the file I had been working on, not just once but repeatedly. I got frequent error messages and system crashes, culminating in the disappearance of the text from about a third of the pages. Finally, PageMaker complained that it could not recognize the file at all and refused to load it or just crashed. Installing the SRAMs seems to have stopped this, but it is too late for the job in question, since the file cannot be salvaged.
When it comes to efficient memory management, Windows 95 is supposed to be better than Windows 3.1, and Windows NT better again than Windows 95. Partly for this reason, I want to-finally!-set up Windows 95 on my system during a quiet day or two after New Year. Meanwhile, Windows 98 is supposed to be due out soon, featuring a number of patches and improvements, including the OSR2 file system. No doubt I will upgrade just as soon as I get a Windows 95 working.
Again, the newest versions of the main programs coming out now are for Windows 95 only, so I have to make the move some time soon. One such program is Boomerang from Dictaphone, which allows you to dictate to your PC just as you would into a cassette recorder. On enquiring about the price, I was told that Dictaphone planned to bundle Boomerang with the ViaVoice from IBM, a voice recognition program that would nicely complement the dictation program.
The big picture
And, dear Santa, how about a bigger monitor? These new and compact 19" monitors that are shallower than usual would be just the thing, especially since they are appreciably cheaper than 20" or 21" models. The only problem is, none of them have turned up in the shops yet.
January will be a busy month!
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