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Ionic Column - June 1998

by David Parry

Englishman David Parry lived in Tokyo from 1980 to 1994 and was a member of TPC from 1986. Currently based in Düsseldorf and working as a translator, he returns to Japan electronically via the Internet. A frequent contributor to this publication, he was Newsletter Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990 and began the Ionic Column in 1992. For reasons best known to readers, this column even won a prize and an honorable mention...

It has been an epic month, but at last I am on the way to having a fully working system again. Or more precisely, two of them.

Last time I was agonizing over buying a new motherboard as opposed to hunting down a new BIOS. The decision was virtually made for me when I got no reply from the BIOS vendor and I needed something quick, as the AMD was being extremely quirky. I rigged up my old Pentium 100 to keep it going longer and went off to buy a new motherboard, this one an ATX, and with a case. After all the previous problem about having to buy a maxi-tower to get a bigger power supply, there was an ATX midi-tower case with a 230 W power supply. With hindsight, I might have done better to have started from scratch with ATX for the first system. But first I had the old case, then I got rid of the case but now had a new motherboard...

My office began to look like a computer superstore, with three PCs dotted around, often stripped of their cases so that I could get at their innards. The line-up is now as follows: the AMD K6 200 in the big tower with an all-SCSI system and a 4.3 GB IBM disk and the Matrox Millenium II card; the Intel 200 MMX in the midi-tower with an IBM 6.4 GB IDE disk and a newly-bought Pioneer 24X CD-ROM, plus a second-hand Virge S3 video card. The Pioneer is great fun, since it is like an in-car system; just feed the disc into the slot and it is sucked inside. Reminds me of the those novelty toys where a hand came out of a box to grab a coin. I haven't tried it, but what happens if you try to load a CD when one is already in?

The hard disks are both IBM and look identical apart from the different connectors. They are both fast and quiet, the IDE might be just a little bit quicker on a subjective basis.

In the time between purchases, the prices for CPUs and memory had gone down again. The Intel cost as much as the AMD had just three months ago, while an AMD 200 is a bargain now. The latest 32 MB SDRAM memory chip was 20% cheaper than a month ago. The dealer said that they dare not keep more than the minimum level of stock in hand to meet immediate needs, since a new delivery may well be cheaper than the old one and customers stridently demand the lower price. Somebody said that every year 40 new computer shops open in Duesseldorf, and around 40 close down. Two have set up close to my office within the past month.

Windows 95 at last

In the past month I spent a great deal of time and effort trying to get Windows 95 up and running. The AMD system had a maddening series of problems, but I did get a chance to learn more about Windows 95. The old Pentium 100 system was used as a test bed for System Commander, and for some peculiar reason it is the only PC on which my friend and I managed to get it set up. SC worked fine, but I think it would be much easier to use with an integrated partitioning program instead of using Partition Magic, so I will look at getting version 4.

One reason for that is that it would be easier to hide or unhide other partitions from within SC so as to prevent Windows 95 making free with an older version of Windows, which was the very reason that I got SC in the first place. By hiding and unhiding partitions it is possible to have data files accessed from both the Windows 3.1 and 95 partitions, although it is easier to do that if the data files in question are on a separate physical drive; that remains visible no matter what. But the Quantum Fireballs are much slower than the IBMs and I am running out of power outlets within the PC.

The crashes continued; TPC member Roland Hechtenberg would doubtless like to add a reference to Luftwaffe Starfighters here? A diagnostics program pointed to an error in memory, but not always at the same address. I swapped video cards in case that was the problem, but no. I swapped chips; still no improvement. Finally I lugged both PCs back to the shop and asked them to test them for me.

The ATX system had been working OK, and the shop confirmed this, but the AMD system had been blighted at birth. My friend had installed the spacers for the motherboard incorrectly, so it was almost touching metal parts. This accounted for the pecular behavior of the system, and it went away as soon as the system was assembled correctly.

The true power of computers

Then my friend distinguished himself by deleting the entire SCSI hard disk while formatting a partition. No problem, said I, first trying out a couple of disk utilities. No luck. No problem, said I, looking at the backups on the IDE disk. Big problem, said I, noticing that some vital files were missing on the other disk. That included all the Compuserve files, email, dialling directory, the lot. I briefly wondered if I could plead temporary insanity in self-defence for what I was very tempted to do, but went back to the Pentium 100 and installed the second hard disk that I had removed earlier. It had backups of all the missing files - but only from December for Compuserve and from February for invoices. And that was the last remaining backup, so it had to do.

Somewhat chastened, my friend tried hard to set up System Commander on both the new PCs so that I would have both versions of Windows on each PC. Roland Hechtenberg asked me via email why this was so, and I explained that I need to check that files in the older formats are truly compatible before I send them out. Office 97 can save files to the older formats for Excel and WinWord, but the latter are saved as RTF (Rich text Format) even though they have a .DOC extension. It is the kind of thing that puzzles customers, even the more technically sophisticated of them, and I don't like to waste time fielding their calls because they think something is wrong.

There seemed to be plenty of disk space, but it is remarkable how quickly even 6 GB disappears once you have two operating systems. Especially if one of them is Windows 95. But we were unable to get SC working on the other two PCs despite a day of solid work, so I gave up and set up Windows 95 on the Intel midi-tower (which is connected to the Hitachi 19" monitor) and Windows 3.1 on the AMD all-SCSI big tower and the old 15" monitor. I have finally been able to retire the Pentium 100.

The return of Netroom

I always liked Netroom and the cloaked utilities because they gave you back a large chunk of memory, but the Pentium 100 had always been a bit cranky, crashing on the mandatory reboots in the reconfiguration process. Not long ago I was complaining that I could not use Netroom on a system with a ASPI driver. With the AMD running sweetly, I decided to try Netroom again, having REMmed out the ASPI drivers. No problem, and the system did not crash on rebooting. It was time to tempt fate; I rescuscitated the ASPI drivers and kept my finger near the reset button. No problem, the system configured itself with an ease I had not seen since I was running a 486/66 three years ago. The cloaking utilities also installed, so MSCDEX, the cache and the mouse could be loaded out of the way.

The return of the Contour mouse

With two PCs on the go, I had to bring out the Microsoft mouse again, and quickly noticed aches and pains in my mousing hand. What had happened to Contour? After I got Compuserve running again from the latest software sent to me by CSi in response to my urgent request, I searched the Web for "Contour Design." The number of hits was about 4,000, but luckily the first one was the company I wanted. I downloaded the latest drivers, since my disk has none for Windows 95, and was glad to see that the company is still in business and I can get another mouse from them.

Double duty

The extra mouse may only be a spare. On receiving email from CompuJoy, explaining that they had renamed from CompUnique because somebody else had the name already, I sent back a request for a four-way electronic switcher to allow two PCs to be connected to one monitor, keyboard, mouse and printer without the risk of electrical flashovers or the systems hanging, as happened on the mechanical switcher that I plan to off-load soon. After a few days I was sent details of a product called Raritan which claimed to be able do the job. I plan to get it soon, but the first priority is to get the Jaz drive working so that I can back up my disks.

Cable modem

The last is an item that I will probably have a lot to say about in the next issues. My application to be a tester for the ASDL pilot project was accepted, and the cable and the modem have been installed. Next comes the software, and I await a visit from a Deutsche Telekom technician in the next few days. A little patience is called for; ringing up this telephone monopoly is a bit like trying to get through to a Third World embassy; there is a period in the mid-morning when they accept calls, and another in the early afternoon, but then they close down nice and early so as to get home. I spent all of one day redialling, and finally got through the next morning. In email I said that Telekom has a lot in common with the NTT that I knew and loved and paid, and maybe NTT stood for Nippon-Teutsche Telekom. Their pricing and service strategies are of a muchness.

Incidentally, I am yet to see any results from the ending of the Telekom monopoly of the telephone market; the new telecom providers seem to only be interested in big companies, and the prices are only really lower for long-distance calls or to outside Germany. In the same way, the callback companies are losing out, and I suspect that it is for the same reason; using an online service means that you primarily make local calls.

Next month I hope to have more to report on ASDL.


Comments or feedback or more information?

Contact me on Compuserve on 100575,2573 (DAParry@compuserve.com) or http://www.core-ad.co.jp/parry.


© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

June, 1998

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor


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