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Ionic Column      in exile

by David Parry

Englishman David Parry lived, worked and played in Tokyo from 1980 to 1994 and was a member of TPC from 1986. He was Newsletter Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990. The Ionic Column has been going since early 1992. It even won a prize and an honorable mention back in 1992. Currently based in Düsseldorf and working as a translator, David Parry returns to Japan electronically via the Internet.

This month returns to a more mundane level, and I once again take a look at my own computer system. But first, a quickie relating to the Ionic of two months ago and www.nitpickers.com, quoting from somewhere on the Net:

"The Net's 24-7 guardians of film accuracy, Britain's www.movie-mistakes.com, have spotted 27 errors in "The Lord of the Rings," 50 in "Harry Potter," and 138 in "The Matrix."

Wot, no sheep?
I am yet to see "The Matrix" or "Harry Potter", but I did get to see that splendid mix of New Kiwiland travelogue and gee-whiz CG (computer graphics) otherwise known as "The Lord of the Rings." Like many such films, there is sometimes an uneasy transition from the real to the computer-generated, but only from scene to scene. In other words, the sudden transition from the indoor sets to an honest to God woodland or mountain top came as a shock due to the sudden shift of style, whereas I was impressed how they managed to integrate the real with the unreal, such as the massive statues at the entrance to the bay. Of course I am revealing my age if I say that book was a cult classic back in my university days, along with "Dune", "Deep Purple in Rock" and Asterix. Somehow I never got around to reading it then, but about four years ago I devoured about half of the entire three-book cycle on a train journey back to Düsseldorf from Munich. By and large, I think that the film is a good compromise between a painfully literal version of the book and the needs of a film script to present a relatively simple but gripping story line.

Dry as dust?
I could say something similar about "Dune", which I had read before the film with Sting appeared in the mid-'80s. The film was visually striking despite being pre-CG, but in that case some plots elements were lifted from the later books. There was a "made for TV" version about two years ago, which covered one book in three 90-minute episodes and - you've guessed it--it was a total snore. I got the feeling that the people who designed the sets and the costumes had fun, but not the actors, and this was passed on to the hapless viewer. Just a waste of good CG, as indeed in many more of the genre.

Déjà vu again
The real problem with "The Lord of the Rings" is that you get a strong sense of déjà vu, and no, I am not talking about a competitor for Trados. Not yet, anyway. There are plenty of other films that have the same story line of a quest that will save the world, and the visuals, although striking, do look a bit as if they came from somewhere else. Probably LP covers for heavy metal bands? I know I am showing my age when I start muttering toothlessly about rock musicians recycling the music of the 1970s and about the semi-plagiarism of the look and feel of the film. But to be fair, the film does better than its predecessors, in both plot and appearance. And that is not just because computers have got faster and better. Mostly the former, in my totally biased opinion.

And indeed, what is better? I quote from some recent exchanges on the TPC list server concerning motherboards.

Firstly, Rick Mortellra and a posting about AMD CPU's and the Via chipset:

The 686B opened up a whole new can of worms with Sound Blaster cards if I remember. The latest fiasco is with poor ATA133 performance on KT266A. VIA says its AMD's fault but they've issued a buggy patch anyway "just in case."

Like I said visit any peripheral makers support FAQ sites and you'll see so many problems/fixes regarding VIA chipsets that only a true masochist would chance stability/compatibility just to get a few points in a benchmark.

Price and performance
I have asked around over here in Düsseldorf about the best choice for a new PC, and the overall consensus seems to be that AMD chips are cheaper but that a real Intel system will have far fewer compatibility issues. And that is the main issue for me now, since whatever I get will be significantly faster than my three year old PII / 350. Clock speeds have zoomed in the past three years by a factor of six, although unfortunately that does not mean that my programs will run six times faster, since the average office-type program is not particularly efficient in benchmark terms, and the actual increase would be somewhat less. Moreover, the Pentium 4 actually runs a bit slower with the older operating systems such as Windows (any version) when compared to its predecessor, since it does not have all the circuitry that older Pentiums had to emulate the 8086. But the PIII is not being made any longer, so I will have to either get the P4 or look for a second-hand machine.

And what operating system should I use? Comments from asking around, plus various things I have read in PC Magazine, seem to boil down to this:

  • Windows XP is generally the most stable of all versions of Windows
  • There are the usual problems finding drivers for Windows XP
  • Windows XP is more friendly to older programs than Windows 2000, which is (reputedly) very hostile. And I have at least one program that is still critical for me.
  • Windows XP is a real nuisance if you reconfigure your PC
  • Windows XP makes better use of memory
  • Windows XP on a laptop is a liability
  • Windows 2000 can be very stable
  • Upgrading from Windows 98 to Windows XP makes sense for most people
  • Upgrading from Windows 2000 to Windows XP does not make sense.
One option I have been considering is to use Windows 2000 to get more stability. My main system started to get shaky recently, for reasons I cannot exactly determine. That is often the sign that a virus has got on board and is quietly making mischief, but I use ZoneAlarm to keep out Internet nasties and Leprechaun's VirusBuster to nail the viruses. The pair of them seem to do a very good job. It started when I transferred some Trados files that I had produced on my laptop over to the main PC, the PII/350. Subsequent attempts to use Trados on those files were foiled by an ever-increasing system slowdown and lockup after getting about 20 pages into a file. Since I had previously translated documents of twice that length in Trados with no such problems, I was not a little irked. I bought some more memory, supplementing the current 128 MB with another 256 MB. But it made no difference. A Trados user suggested that the problem lay in WinWord, not in Trados, so I reinstalled Windows on both PCs and also Office 97 on the main PC. No difference.

But at least the system retained all the old settings, including the Trados links within WinWord (it actually just adds a special toolbar and numerous macros). It seems that part of the problem lies in the inability of Office 97 to clean up after itself by creating a series of temp files that hog memory and disk space. I checked the Windows swap file, and the amount of free disk space. MemTurbo assured me that I had ample silicon pastures for Windows to graze on, so what could it be? Within MemTurbo I checked the recommended maximum and minimum sizes for vcache and made some adjustments, but they had no effect. But now let me quote Roy Rice on the topic of vcache:

Up until a couple of months ago, I had been using Win 95 without any problem on several systems with between 128 MB and 256 MB of RAM installed. In addition, I've had a few Win 98 machines "in the field" with as much as 512 MB of RAM for a few years, again without problem.

All of the Win 9x machines I that maintain have vcache limited to less than 16 MB. That's one of the first things I configure after doing a fresh installation of Windows.

The following two links are pertinent to this discussion. In the second one, Microsoft claims the physical memory limit for both Win 95 and Win 98 is 768 MB.

http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/Q253/9/12.asp
http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;EN-US;q184447


Finally, on the following link, which pertains only to WFW 3.11 and Win 95, Microsoft says that Microsoft's testing did not include cache sizes greater than 40 MB (followed by a standard liability disclaimer).
http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;Q108079

Footnote:
I migrated all my systems from Win 95 because the drivers for some recently purchased hardware refused to install on anything more ancient than Win 98, not because of any inherent limitation of Win 95 itself. All of the systems had had rock solid stability and excellent performance.

Now they are all running a castrated (sans IE and OE) Win98 SE (both English and Japanese) with 98Lite. It's too early to know for certain, but after a few false starts (mostly finding a way to get Office 2000 to coexist with 98Lite) they all seem to be stable.

This setup should buy me a few more years before obsolescence strikes again. One thing is certain, even though it's no doubt inevitable, I won't be migrating to Win XP without doing a lot of kicking and screaming.

Somewhere along the line, I found a reference to making some changes to the default settings in Office 97, and went hunting through the Windows help files. Look for a file called SUPPORT8.DOT in the ...\Office\Macros sub-directory and run it within WinWord. Then click on the relevant points to run a macro. You can increase the default size of certain buffers to something more useful. WinWord was definitely more sprightly after that tweak, but I will have to address the Trados problem later.

The update on the e-mail PC restored Outlook Express to full functionality. For some time now the program had been refusing to receive e-mail, although I could add new addresses and send mail without any problems. After the upgrade the program suddenly worked as it normally did, with one exception: the mail and message handling rules had been disabled. I restored the rules, and then a day or two later I started getting trouble again when trying to receive e-mail. Deleting one or two redundant entries made the program work again, although not perfectly. Having checked all the settings several times, I am baffled as to what could have happened, but I add this precautionary note from Keith Wilkinson:

Some mail programs, but particularly Outlook Express, tend to spontaneously change their settings.
You might start with:-
User: abc Server cde.com
and end up with:-
User: abc@cde.com Server: localhost
Try changing it back.


Back to Windows. I quote from another posting on TPC, this time from Stuart Woodward:

From:
http://techupdate .zdnet.com/techupdate/stories/main/0,14179,2820882,00.html

"If you want Windows XP on your network, you probably want to do it for as little money as possible. After all, whatever else XP is, it's not cheap.
You might even be tempted to upgrade your corporate Win 9x machines to XP Home so you can work remotely. Don't do it.
I know some network administrators who have already been burned by this.
Microsoft hasn't made a big deal of it, but XP Home is crippled for serious server-based corporate networking. For the office, XP Professional is the only XP version to consider.

Unlike all other previous Microsoft operating systems, XP Home will simply not work in an office network environment with NetWare, NT, Samba, or Windows 2000 servers. Period. You simply can't connect to the servers' domains or their file/print services."


Enough has been said already about the problem of registering Windows XP and what happens if you change or rebuild your PC. As far as I am concerned, a horror scenario that is more scary than Stephen King is to have a laptop equipped with XP give up the silicon ghost while you are travelling. Even if you have all the disks to reinstall the OS and the programs, you then have to reregister it. Perhaps that is tolerable if you are in your office and have an ISDN or ADSL line, but trying to do the same thing in an Internet café using a pre-Jurassic era modem is definitely more than enough to bring on apoplexy.

The other issue is, of course, whether you have to update your programs. Perhaps somebody out there can tell me if I need updates for PageMaker and FrameMaker if I go the XP route?

Next month I hope to have news about my new domains and a new e-mail system using Lotus Notes. If I have time to set it all up!

And why is it that I seem to have less time than ever before, now that I have a computer? I seem to recall that they were originally supposed to save time.

Comments or feedback or more information? A burning desire to be quoted in print?
Contact me at DAParry@compuserve.com, DAParry@t-online.de 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

February, 2002

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor


Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN