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Constitution

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.

The Ionic is back on schedule after the hiatus in August due to the holiday in July. I keep promising to myself to write some very general filler material that could be used if I am away, but it is hard enough to make a living and devote some spare thoughts to the Ionic, let alone before the deadline. But if a future Ionic seems either a bit timeless or plain anachronistic, you will know what happened behind. As they say, you really don't want to see how sausages and laws are made, and software can be pretty messy as well, but take my word that you really do not want to take a peep behind the scenes when the publishorial team is in action. Not after dinner. Or before dinner. Or within several hours of even then lightest refreshment. But then I am just doing my bit to ensure that nobody would ever dream of volunteering to help out.

At the moment I am digesting some of the lessons from the three weeks in Poland in view of a planned ten-day trip in October that will be devoted almost entirely to work. The scenery will change, but the work has to continue. So I have some more comments about the new cyber-industry of telecommuting. Text-based work such as editing, DTP and translation is ideal for this approach, since it can all be done electronically through data transfer. Nowadays that almost invariably means the Internet, since nobody does direct modem or ISDN transfers, and translation companies seldom bother now to set up a mini-BBS system for file uploads and downloads. My somewhat elderly external modem sits forlornly on a shelf in the office, waiting in case its moment comes. But I avoid using it. Why?

The no-tell motel
In the old days of DOS, adding extra hardware was like a one-night stand. You could have everything set up ready, plug in and do your stuff, and then toss it out afterwards. Windows is clingy. Windows wants commitment. Windows does not like quickies. DOS never worried about what was connected at any time. I could keep a data transfer program such as HyperAccess on the disk, ready configured with the right parameters for the modem, and then I could plug in the external modem when I needed it. Windows is an eagle-eyed motel porter that spots any unauthorized visitors at once and demands that they be registered. And you have to go through the hoops again if the hardware is removed.

You can't leave the program sitting there, you have to check it out. So much for preconfigured alternatives. And that is the not so short answer as to why I don't use my external modem unless I really have to. I had debated whether to exile the modem to Silesia, and perhaps it might have coped better with the Polish phone system, but internal modems are so cheap that I will buy one there that is guaranteed to work there.

Feeling nostalgic
I got to thinking about DOS again after a hiatus at work meant that I had about two days of unexpected and payment-free leisure. The break in the pressure of work was pleasant, the prospect of lost earnings decidedly less so. Anyway, I decided to tidy up my data in the free moments that had suddenly become available. A glance at the sprawling mass of diskettes showed that I could devote my attentions there, arguably perhaps for the last time in view of how little I use diskettes nowadays. The first job was to find what data was on a number of diskettes that had had once-important files copied onto them, but no label had followed the data, so I had to go in and open the files to see what was there. Predictably, I was able to reclaim a number of diskettes that had duplicate or time- expired data, and a number of other lost souls were brought back into the fold with proper labeling. One of these years I need to check all the "boot disks" and "rescue disks" that I have; both Norton and Partition Magic insist on making "rescue disks" to bring a dead system back to life, usually if the hard disk is moribund and has decided that its true vocation in life is as a high-tech paperweight. A good idea, but the things multiply like cockroaches in summer after a few installations and reinstallations and it is hard to know exactly which version is the latest and greatest.

And knowing what is on a disk or CD is critical. Before leaving for Poland last time, I made up a CD with all the text files and utilities that I thought I could possibly need, but inevitably something got left out.

Back to life on the lower Rhine. Looking at a number of the diskettes with archival text of various kinds, including translations, I decided that it would be a good idea to transfer the files from LHArced files (.LZH extension, for those with long memories) to ZIP archives, since LHArc was a DOS program, and presumably still is, since I have never heard of a Windows version and PKZIP rules supreme among the general purpose compression programs. It occurred to me that I might well be unable to unsquish my LHArced files one day in the perhaps not so distant future when a future version of Windows will no longer support the old DOS programs. In fact, Windows 2000 was initially claimed to have done away with DOS, but it is still there for booting up, and you can run programs in the little box that pops up if you click on the Run button in the left-hand toolbar. But no option is provided to boot into DOS, or if there is, it is well hidden. I won't reveal where it is, if it is still there, since I don't intend further to use it. I still use the Q&A database, and initially had problems getting it to open in a full screen window, but somebody on TPC kindly pointed out what settings I have to use.

Long live LHArc
PKZIP can work with other archiving programs, since it has the option to call up other programs to handle formats such as ARJ. I simply entered the details to let PKZIP know where to find LHARC, and it all worked. Two caveats: I cannot open LHARced files from within Servant Salamander (or Windows Explorer either, I would assume, since they work in the same way) by clicking on the line with the filename, nor can I call up the program with any special parameters. But that is not a big issue for what is going to be a one-way conversion. One problem I did hit was probably related to a DOS limit of 127 characters for the entire command line. LHArc is a strict traditionalist and handles files in the good ol' 8.3 format, but the 127 characters apply to the pathing as well. Some of the directories had got quite deep down, and the program objected. Being lazy, I did not bother to see what happens if you try to compress or uncompress files with long filenames using LHArc, but I have little doubt that you lose something.

Battle of the zippers
Once the files were freed from their archival prison, I popped them back into confinement with PKZIP. It was interesting to see that the files were a little smaller when using the maximum compression option with PKZIP. Years ago I recall running a comparison between the two programs, and LHArc had the edge, but it is not all that important in these days of mega-gigabyte hard disks with more space than Texas, or so it seems. When copying the data back to the diskettes, It was all too clear at which point I had had to change over to Windows and WinWord, just by looking at the total size of the data per year. Thus 1997 was the last year in which I could back up my translation work to diskettes, even in archived form, and it took 15 diskettes to do it. For obvious reasons, I have not attempted to archive work from subsequent years onto diskettes, and not least because there are often individual files that are too big for a diskette, even when compressed. The long-distant days of DOS and XyWrite and tiny text files spanned the years from 1986 to 1993 on one diskette. I also did a major shuffling and renaming of the data on my hard disk to make it easier to find old translation files for subsequent reference or even a run through WinAlign to create translation memories for Trados.

File bloat of the useful kind
In some cases I expanded meaningful filenames such as "NIL-TL70.doc" to "Nilos Vulcaniser hardener TL70.doc" to make it easier to find files that had been squirreled away and to recycle them. A manual version of Trados, if you will. The limit of 64 characters is more than enough to create a meaningful name; my past problems with longer filenames was due to names that had probably been auto-generated within SAP, and which in any case only presented a problem when I tried to burn them onto a CD.

THE Rename
A little before this unexpected spell of leisure, I saw a post online by Stuart Woodward about a program called "THE Rename" - the capitalisation is that of the author of the program, one Herve Thouzard. It can be downloaded from:

http://www.herve-thouzard.com/therename.phtml

The program allows you to clean up the capitalisation of filenames, which is useful if you use a program such as Servant Salamander that allows you to view filenames either as always upper case, always lower case, or as created. The latter view lets you pick out DOS- era files very quickly, since they are always upper case, but this is not always the most legible form. The program can also apply a counter to a filename, either adding a number or replacing one or more characters with numbers. An ideal solution for programs that generate sequential files, of course. It turned out to be quite easy to make simple changes such as capitalising the first letter only, but extremely hard to get the program to capitalise the first letter if it followed a number, or to capitalise a specific letter, such as the fourth from the end. This may or may have been covered by the programming options, but on perusing the online help I was left with the impression that it was not possible. Since the program can handle batches of files, and recursively as well, you can convert entire directories and subdirectories in a very short time. One nice touch is a preview feature to see what happens before you actually commit yourself. The program is free, and worth every penny and more!

Lifetime supply
Part of the tidying-up involved recycling the backup diskettes to make what is probably a lifetime supply of 3.5" diskettes, and throwing out a number of manuals into the recycling bin for paper. As each one landed in the bin with a thud and I reflected on the passing of programs that had either been shelfware from day one, or else had a history of desperate need and hard use and hard study, it struck me that I was throwing out some of the most expensive books I have ever bought. It also occurred to me that I would have problems reinstalling most of the programs. By and large, a Pentium with more memory works just fine with the old DOS and Windows 3.1 veterans, although some games might not work or would run at warp speed, but I found it was extremely hard work trying to set up a small 1 GB hard disk (since sold) with DOS 6.22 to run some of the older games. It took a while to get back into the groove, so to speak, and to figure out all the tweaks and settings for the memory managers and to create expanded memory. I gave that up as a bad job and will try to run some of the programs under Windows instead, but it is not exactly a high priority project; nothing that has to do with games quite matches the endless fascination of my paying hobby.

Memory lane
Perhaps out of nostalgia, I kept the disks and manuals for Ventura Publisher. Offhand, I can't remember if I still have the disks for the GEM versions of Ventura Publisher, but it would be extremely difficult to set up GEM again, and the biggest problem would be fonts. I think that GEM had a few fonts of its own, but the AJ was printed using fonts from my long-since-sold and probably junked LaserMaster CAPCard. Even if I could find this venerable piece of hardware and all the diskettes that came with it, it would be difficult to install it. To the best of my recollection, I did not use it under Windows 3.1, and one reason could be that there were no drivers for it. Ditto for the big LaserView 19" monochrome monitor that I had at the time; that too ended up on the junk pile. So I would have to set up Windows 3.0, assuming that I still had the disks somewhere, and they would of course be 5.25" diskettes. The shelf in the office is graced with two old disk drives for that size, but I hope that I do not have to use them again.

I did reprint some old files with relatively straightforward formatting, such as address labels, using Ventura Publisher 5.0 some years ago, but that is a Windows 3.x program and I do not have a newer version of it. Some of the fonts would be different, so I would have to use the nearest equivalents and thus the spacing on the page would be different. And we sweated blood to get the column breaks and lengths just right! In short, it would not be a trivial task to try to reprint the old newsletters from around 1990, and I would not get exactly the same appearance.

Data for posterity
The same problem applies to old digital formats of all kinds. Will we be able to read them in the future? While tidying up the clipart directories, I had a yen to examine an .IMG file, which as it happens was the format used internally by Ventura Publisher for all graphics. Microsoft Paint did not want to know, and cannot view this format. It makes you wonder how many other graphics formats will quietly vanish over time, no longer readable unless you happen to have the right program or converter. And this is the situation in just over a decade; what will happen fifty years from now? Somebody commented that the digital cameras in use now produce photos that nobody will be able to view at some stage in the future. Inkjet printouts do not last all that long, diskettes tend to develop "bit rot" and files become unreadable, even CDs may not last as long as was once thought. Save your text as ASCII and make your printouts with a laser printer, preferably on acid-free paper if you can find it, if you wish to be remembered down the ages.

A look ahead
Enough ruminating on the past. What lies ahead? As I have stated several times in this column, Windows leaves a lot to be desired, and the predatory pricing of XP and other M$ products makes me wonder if I will jump off the Redmond bandwagon at some stage. In the next column I will reprint parts of an online exchange that I had with Marc Prior, a translator living near Cologne, who saw the Ionic online and sent me some comments. This answered a number of queries that I had about Linux, and I strongly recommend that anyone thinking about using Linux should look at his site. Especially if you are a translator working with Linux, or planning to do so at some future stage, or if you wish to use WINE or Office Crossover. And if you still think WINE is something that comes in a bottle from Bordeaux, then Marc can enlighten you in the nicest possible way.

Marc's "Linux for Translators" Website is at

http://www.marcprior.de/linux.htm

Highly recommended, and you don't need to wait until next month for my (second-hand) words of wisdom.

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

October , 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