Ionic Column - August 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...
This month's column comes relatively soon after the previous one, since I have to have it ready before I leave for a week's holiday. I appreciate that some people would not notice the absence of this column for a month or two, but the poor publisher would then be tearing his hair trying to find enough material to fill up the pages. (Thanks David! - Mike & Paul)
The two main topics that were hanging in the air at the end of last month were Windows 98 and ADSL. In both cases there is a certain amount to say, but not as much as I had hoped.
First, Windows 98.
The CD-ROM duly arrived and it would be appear to be the OEM full version, not the upgrade that I had paid for, but I have not installed yet, partly for lack of time to have a few hours to dedicate solidly to the task, partly because I do not have all the software drivers I need for the installation, and also because I need to install the Jaz drive first to be able to back everything up in case it goes wrong. And I also need to install System Commander to run Windows 98 in a separate partition. Again, I need to have everything backed up first before I install System Commander. The new version arrived just a couple of weeks ago, and it does include partitioning software that looks and works rather like Partition Magic, and the installation wizard is simpler to work with than was the case for version 3.0.
A welcome for the SuperDisk?
But first, I have to get the Jaz drive running, and it is not that easy. My parallel port Zip drive works and I use it to back up groups of directories such as all my Compuserve files to avoid a repeat of the April disaster, but the Zip is too slow and too small for serious backup work. Concerning disks of the 100 MB class, I note with interest the ads for the Imation SuperDisk, which offers 120 MB and compatibility with 3.5" floppies. A disk drive that can handle both would be a major advantage; no drivers, no cables, no extra bays. Also, the media are said to be much cheaper than Zip disks. I am waiting for actual prices to be quoted, but this could be the next big thing for file transfer by snail-mail. Currently large files are mailed on Zip disks, or occasionally on Jaz drives (I have received both), and the problem is that both of them are expensive and not all that robust; I have seen several complaints to that effect. Would readers like to comment further on that?
The Zip and the Jaz both use the Guest program that takes up to a minute to find a spare drive letter. Leaving aside a discussion of the problems DOS has with assigning file letters and removable media in general, why cannot the Iomega drives simply be viewed by DOS as ordinary DOS drives, as MO and PD devices apparently can? That at least is the impression I got from newsletter mailer Roland Hechtenberg, who appears to have bought almost every single form of mass storage device that ever came onto the market.
First thoughts on ADSL
It appears that what I have is "raw" access to a high-speed data line with a browser, and there are no facilities for e-mail, ftp or just about anything else. Roger Williams at Adex kindly offered to set up a mailbox for me on his server, but so far the trial messages that have been sent there are still reposing somewhere at the bottom of a hard disk and are gathering virtual dust. It could be that I need to make some software adjustments and maybe install some drivers, and then I can run an e-mail or ftp program, but it could be that there are inherent limitations in the system because it does not support certain protocols. I can't be more specific than that for the moment.
In the meantime I have discovered that there is a difference between cable modem and ADSL, not least due to the fact that the first uses TV-type coax cable and the ADSL modem is supplied by what looks uncannily like an ordinary phone cable, with the same RJ socket as for ISDN but a different number of cores. But both systems are asymmetrical, meaning that incoming data can go a lot faster that outgoing data. The techies can explain all that in as much detail as you like, and maybe more, but all that concerns me as a harried user with no time to play around is that the system is fast. I can chase up a few URLs and view pages very quickly. It is truly wonderful compared to what it is like with a 28.8 kbs modem.
The answer to my prayers
How fast? Updates of software such as Netscape Navigator took perhaps three minutes to transfer nearly 6 MB of files. The system shows transfer speeds starting at just under 20 K per second, with the system speeding up until it reaches about 28 K, and I saw speeds of 51 K per second on a very clean connection. Subjectively, this is about the same speed as writing to a floppy disk.
As always, the connection speed depends on the speed of the server and all the links between it and you over the Internet, so you do not necessarily get lightning-fast results. But you do get fairly complex pages with graphics coming in quickly if there is a clean line. The long-term issue is that I am probably the only user on my particular cable loop, and this would not be so once it's available on a regular basis. Once the line is shared, the speed goes down.
ADSL is more like a cable connection to a TV in as much as it is permanently connected and the only logging-in is for security reasons, there is no calling up and handshaking and electronic singing as the modems try to mate. The down-side is that there is a security hazard as long as the modem and the PC are both switched on, and somebody could in theory surf my hard disk. No doubt that could be prevented by software such as Net Nanny, but for the moment I simply switch it off when I am not using it. The other factor is that I can only connect to the ADSL provider and not to any other system. By contrast, ISDN generally works fastest when connected directly to another ISDN card and thus avoids the overhead of an online provider such as Compuserve.
But my prayers were not answered
Other problems? Primarily in setting up. It took a visit from the Telekom technician to get the system working. ADSL is received through a network interface card (NIC) with a 10Base2 connection, the same sort of cable used in many LANs. The problem lay in the configuration of the NIC, which in my case is an Intel EtherExpress. The instructions provided by Telekom were minimal, to say the least, but the problem turned out to be that I had given Windows 95 its head and had let it set the NIC through Plug 'n' Pray. But alas, prayer has its limits, and it required profane intervention. The system worked at once after the technician had tweaked a few of the settings.
Don't touch that dial!
Let me say at once that I am not an experienced Windows 95 user and I have not done any networking under Windows 95, so I am not familiar with the various settings. But an attempt to set up the modem so that I could run Compuserve from the same PC had me in a cold sweat as I discovered that the settings for ADSL had changed and I had to restore the system to what it was. To my great relief, I was able to do it quite easily, but I don't think I can easily make the system co-exist with an ISDN or modem connection. Not without some advice from someone who has tried it, anyway, and I have no desire to be a guinea pig beyond a certain point.
Whacking the Web
There are at least two reasons why I would like to have both ADSL and ISDN / Compuserve on the same PC; firstly, I would have all the URLs in one place or on one hard disk, at least, and secondly, because I could then use Web Whacker with both systems to call up Web pages that I had already visited and which are stored on disk for rapid recall. Another issue is that the system I have does not seem to provide system verification. I was unable to get anonymous ftp to work, probably because the password was not sent or not recognized, and the same happened when I tried to do some online shopping at REI. For the benefit of the sedentary, REI is an outdoors shop and cooperative based in Seattle, and I have been a customer for around ten years now. In the past I always faxed my orders.
Shop the Net
I have both read about and translated a fair bit on the topic of electronic commerce, or shopping over the Internet, and I have placed orders via e-mail to CompuJoy with no problems. But in the case of CompuJoy I sent my credit card number beforehand by fax, and they keep that on their records. Under no circumstances do I send out my credit card number "open" over the Internet. There are a number of encryption schemes to provide a solution to this, and the Web page for REI stated that this information could be sent safely if I was using Windows 95. Up to that point I was not, but I quickly set up Compuserve 3.0 under the Windows 95 partition on the old Pentium/100 PC that I am about to sell and logged in.
Since the Pentium/100 PC had not been set up fully under Windows 95, its Trident VGA card was only set up for 16 colors and the photos in the REI online catalog were just a confused blur. So I logged in at the same time with ADSL and was able to check that I was ordering the correct item by referring to the picture as well. The only problem was that I was doing this at about 14:00 Seattle time and the server was very busy, so that ordering ten items took nearly half an hour. It could have been done in about half the time with a faster connection, plus "sticky" links to keep you at the last menu after putting an item in the "Shopping basket." Since you select menu items directly, you don't have the problem of wondering if you entered the wrong code number - I did this a couple of years ago when ordering music CDs and ended up with a duplicate.
But why did I need to use the modem and Compuserve to make the purchase? This seems to go back to the problem with the pilot project; I do not seem to have a true ID from the point of view of verification software. I could get as far as requesting the purchase on the REI Web page, but then the system just seemed to go into an endless loop until it timed out. There was no such problem when accessing the same page through Compuserve.
From time to time (German) Telekom will send questionnaires to the guinea pigs in the ADSL pilot project. I am probably one of the very few non-Germans, and perhaps one of the only business users, so I might end up in print. As it is, I would be interested to hear about the experiences of users of ADSL in other countries.
Comments or feedback or more information? Contact me on Compuserve on 100575,2573
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