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Computing At Chaos Manor

The User's Column, May, 2006
Column 310
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2006 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

Waiting is

Every report I get tells me I want an Intel Mac, but my advisors keep telling me "Yes! But not just yet." I am reminded of St. Augustine praying for chastity. But Intel's first 64-bit next generation chip will be out Real Soon Now; and in any event the World Wide Developer Conference will be in the Bay Area in August, and that's when we expect some important announcements, and it's well to wait. So wait I will, but it's hard to do. Everyone I know who has got an Intel Mac is happy with it.

How Fallen Are the Mighty

Scott McNealy has stepped down as CEO of Sun. He's one of the last of the giants. Among the comments I got from insiders, was this one from an astute industry observer:

"I wasn't going to say anything because it's really painful to watch another industry pioneer fall apart. It's like a repeat of the SGI story.

"Sun is trying to hang on to a market it helped invent, but for too long it refused to accept that servers were being commoditized by Microsoft. Arguably, Sun still refuses to accept that fact even though it now sells commodity x86 servers.

"I think McNealy is stepping down because Wall Street wanted the more pragmatic and fiscally prudent Schwartz managing daily operations. Schwartz needs to pare back Sun's spending fairly dramatically, or it can't survive.

"For example, Sun has multiple CPU and system design teams for a market that really can't support even one. Sun makes CPUs and chipsets for three markets: high-performance compute and database servers, low-cost web servers, and workstations. Sun has to get out of the workstation business entirely. It ought to get out of the high-end server business too, since there doesn't seem to be any way for Sun to make money on it. That would be a shame, since Sun does such great work there, but it just isn't profitable.

"Throughput Computing is probably the one area where Sun could gain and hold a competitive advantage, but they need to focus the whole company on it, and that would mean shutting down most of their traditional business units. I don't think Schwartz has the guts to do that."

Dan Spisak notes that even Apple is rapidly becoming a one-CPU company. Sun could learn something from Steve Jobs, but McNealy is unlikely to do that.

Vista Watch

We still don't have a report on the February 2006 Vista build. We had some difficulties getting it to install, and meanwhile there are all these rumors about Vista release being delayed—possibly to February 2007, maybe later. We don't even know what features Vista will have when it comes out. We'll learn a great deal more at WinHEC (the week before Memorial Day), and undoubtedly get a new build of Vista as well; so doing a maximum effort push to get a guaranteed obsolete build running seemed pointless. I'll have more on Vista when there's something happening that you can use.

On the Road: Disaster and Recovery

This will be a long and rambling story. Bear with me, because there are many points to be made, and it will take much of the column to cover them.

I get out on the road a lot. Back in the last Century I'd get to four or five computer shows a year, in addition to trips for book promotions. I also did a lot of speeches, everything from Cisco's annual bash to conferences on setting up new universities. I'd also get to BYTE headquarters in Peterborough, NH at least once a year. That all slowed down a few years ago. I still spend more time on the road than I want to.

Over time I developed a whole set of Road Warrior tools, some of which went obsolete pretty fast. Laptops came and went fast, too. I can still remember the first time I took a Zenith clamshell laptop onto an airplane. The flight crew from the Captain down to the junior Flight Attendant had to have a look at it: they'd never seen a laptop computer before.

Another time at a COMDEX in Atlanta I showed a new Congressman, Newt Gingrich, what it was like to get online. And I won't forget finishing a column while Roberta drove the Scout across the desert as we headed for Las Vegas and COMDEX. Of course I wrote about doing that: Road Warrior stories were always good for a couple of thousand words, and since the Road Warrior kits changed rapidly, I got a story out of it nearly every year.

There aren't as many computer shows as there used to be, but I seem to be on the road a lot anyway. Niven and I drove to a space conference a couple of weeks ago. I don't do many speeches now, but there are still a couple a year. I don't go to science fiction conventions unless I'm getting an award or I've agreed to be guest of honor, but that's still a couple of trips a year. And there's always the beach house, about which more later.

Twenty years ago, when you went on the road you didn't expect to keep up with everything: the best Road Warrior tools let you connect up long enough to get the vital stuff, but that was it. John Dvorak and I would find ourselves in strange places like Sao Paolo, Brazil, or in Finland north of the Arctic Circle, and we'd trade stories about how much we got done online, but in fact that wouldn't be all that much, and sometimes we couldn't connect at all. Once I had to file a 9000 word column from Liechtenstein by printing it out on 2" thermal printer tape and having Emerson send it next day air to Peterborough where an editor had to retype it. She never let me forget that, but I had no choice. There was no connection from Liechtenstein.

Now we expect to keep up with all our email, do business, delete spam, look up answers to questions we'd never have thought of asking before the Internet, and do all that from airports and hotel rooms. Road Warrior tools are still important.

On the Beach

This month's story began when we went down to the beach house in San Diego. A long time ago, before the real estate bubble, my wife decided it would be a good investment to get a condominium in Mission Bay. That turned out to be a very good decision. We use it for short vacations, for allergy relief - beach air has far fewer pollens and dust and such - and for isolation when I really have to turn out the work. Niven and Barnes and I worked on Legacy of Heorot there. It's a great place to work, and Larry Niven comes down at least once a year.

It has one major drawback: no high-speed Internet access. That's because we get there only intermittently, and while we have cable, Time Warner, unlike Adelphia, has no self-installation kits. I've tried to arrange to be there when they could come do an installation, but so far that hasn't worked. Maybe I'll have better luck with getting a DSL line. Until then, though, I'm stuck with 44 - 56 K dialup through EarthLink. I have to say it has worked better than you might think. The EarthLink connection is solid and reliable, and mail downloads pretty fast because I have Outlook set to do previews in plaintext and not to follow links unless I tell it to. I strongly recommend that you keep Outlook set up that way for security reasons alone.

Laptops and PowerPoint

Nowadays I generally carry two laptops. One, Lisabetta, is an HP Compaq 1100 TabletPC. I've had Lisabetta since April 6, 2004, and before the column is done you will know why I know that date. Lisabetta has Office 2003, including Outlook 2003 and FrontPage 2003, and does all my email and web maintenance when I am away from my desktop workstations.

She also has PowerPoint 2003, and carries all my PowerPoint presentations. I say presentations, but in fact they're quite simple and serve more to keep me focused while speaking than as an aid to the audience. For a long time I never bothered with PowerPoint, and spoke from outlines scribbled in my log book, but I have discovered that using PowerPoint makes things go better. Partly that's because audiences expect to see such things. Partly it's because I can provide a few illustrations. And largely it's because I can so easily make changes and additions and improvements, both before and after my talk. I now believe that PowerPoint can enhance lectures. It's easy to overuse it, but used with care it can be effective.

Lisabetta is perfect as the repository for PowerPoint lectures: she's small, easily carried, has a very long battery life, and I can cause the slideshow to advance by tapping on the screen with my stylus. I can also write on the screen and have that show much like an overhead projector. All told, Tablets are the way to go when you're doing a presentation.

The other computer I carry is an IBM ThinkPad T42p. His name is Orlando, and his major purpose is to be the writing and games machine when I'm on the road. He's also a standby for Lisabetta, but until last week he wasn't needed in that role.

Travel Light or Seven Elephants?

Regular readers will have noted that the two machines I carry on the road correspond to the two "main machines" I use here at Chaos Manor: one for communications and web browsing and general utility, the other for writing and games. You will also have noted that I believe in the "seven elephants" theory of travel. I am willing to carry a lot of stuff in order to be comfortable when I arrive.

Sometimes I travel light. When I do, I carry Lisabetta the TabletPC. A tablet is perfect for working in flight when the chap in front of me has his seat all the way back and there's no room to open up a laptop. The handwriting program works pretty well, and editing email with a pen stylus is really quite simple. I can deal with a lot of email in flight. My answers tend to be short, but that's probably a benefit. If by chance I actually have room to pivot the keyboard and set up Lisabetta as a normal laptop, that works too. There's one major disadvantage to carrying Lisabetta and no other machine: to keep the HP Compaq TabletPC light, there is no disk drive at all. You can buy a USB CD or DVD drive, but that's one more thing to carry, and one more power drain. There are Tablet PC's that come with DVD drives and allow you to play movies in flight, but of course they're heavier and have lower battery life. Lisabetta gets an honest 4 hours of useful work out of a full battery.

While I can do and have done entire columns, and many chapters of fiction, on the HP Compaq 1100tc TabletPC keyboard, it's work. The TabletPC keyboard is more than adequate for answering email and writing the occasional essay for my web site, and if that's all I'll have time for on a trip it's more than good enough; but it's not so good for hours of steady typing.

If you must do a great deal of writing on a laptop, you have two realistic choices: carry an external keyboard that you like and plug that into the laptop; or get a laptop with a good keyboard. I find that a good keyboard can take up more room than a laptop, and I like having a DVD player, so I may as well carry a laptop with a good keyboard and be done with it: and you can't beat the IBM ThinkPad keyboard. It's not as good as the best full size detached keyboards, but it's a lot better than many of them. The ThinkPad also has a powerful video card, much more powerful than the one in the TabletPC. The ThinkPad will play almost any game on the market, including on-line games, and of course it's a lot more than adequate for playing DVD movies.

Lisabetta stows in my ballistic nylon brief case cum laptop carry shoulder bag which I usually stow under the seat in front of me. Orlando fits nicely in the roll-on carryon bag I have had since the Number Nine video processor company gave it to me in the 1980's. That bag goes in the overhead compartment. It has a nifty means of attaching the shoulder bag for rolling through airports.

Of course if I am carrying two laptops, I already need a couple of elephants, so I may as well go the whole herd, and my Road Warrior kit keeps expanding. It now includes a large power strip as well as a short three-conductor extension cord. There's a D-Link wireless router with its power supply. I carry the APC universal computer power supply, and a neat little APC ergonomic laptop computer stand that keeps the ThinkPad cool and presents it at a very comfortable angle for work. I also carry two APC Universal Laptop Batteries. I've written about those before, and they're wonderful.

There's a Belkin converter cable that allows me to recharge my cell phone from the USB port of either laptop. In my briefcase I have the neat little Seagate "cookie" 5 gigabyte hard drive, and in the carryon there's a Seagate 100 GB USB drive for backup. Seagate now makes a 160 GB version of that drive. Both can draw power from the USB port. It all adds up to seven elephants, but I can get a lot of work done wherever I am.

Road Warrior Gear

Jerry's Road Warrior kit
Some of the gear that travels with me. Back row, from left: Docupen document scanner; APC Universal Power Converter; spare phone cord, and below that a Belkin 9-in-1 memory card reader; Seagate 100 GB USB backup drive on top of its case. Behind the reader is a plastic case full of USB thumb drives. Front row, left to right: Sennheiser noise-cancelling phones; DeLorme GPS unit; Belkin USB port expander with power supply. The IOGEAR precision mouse will work on any surface. The black leather case right front contains a D-Link 802.11g/2.4GHz Wireless Pocket Router/AP. On top of it are a small screwdriver; a charged camera battery; and a Seagate 5 GB "Cookie" USB drive.

I've taken a photograph of some of the stuff in my Road Warrior kit. There was actually too much to put in one picture, so I have left out extension cords and power strips, Ethernet cords, the APC Universal Laptop Batteries, and the Ray-O-Vac Fifteen Minute Battery Charger. Note the tiny screwdriver. I used to carry a full set of precision screwdrivers, but eventually a TSA screener objected. The tiny little eyeglasses screwdriver has both Phillips and slot heads, and I've yet to have a problem with the egregious TSA over it.

Usually these items travel in Ziploc plastic bags. I've removed the bags for the photograph, but a small Ziploc of Ziploc bags is an important item for any Road Warrior.

All of this stuff has been useful and some items have been essential. The D-Link pocket router puts another layer of security between me and the hotel high speed Internet connection, the IOGEAR Precision Mouse will work even on glass tables, and if you haven't tried Sennheiser's noise-cancelling earphones when traveling you have a pleasant surprise in store. USB port expanders are essential; and sometimes you will find that you need the external power supply.

I have found the Planon Docupen Scanner quite useful. It's stand-alone, meaning that it scans into its internal memory. I can copy text easily, but it will also copy maps and pictures.

T-Mobile Hotspots

Both my laptops have built-in wireless, and I subscribe to T-Mobile. I chose T-Mobile a couple of years ago because it's the wireless service in most American Airlines lounges. I later found that it's also in Bookstar, Barnes and Noble, and Starbucks. On our way down to San Diego we stop in El Toro. As I enter the Starbucks I wake up Lisabetta and enable her wireless. She logs on to the T-Mobile net automatically. By the time my coffee is made she will have sent off any mail I have answered on the road, and downloaded any incoming mail. This also works on airplane trips: I send and receive mail whenever I change planes. It all works quite seamlessly.

There are many new developments in wireless, and it's probably time for me to reevaluate, but so far T-Mobile has worked well for me. It's important to check the features offered by your service provider at frequent intervals. T-Mobile is coming up with some new ones as I write this.

The Story Begins

We'd been down at the beach a couple of days. I had both machines set up, and I'd got considerable work done on the revisions to Inferno. Inferno was the second novel Larry Niven and I did together, and although it was never formally on a best-seller list, it sold a lot of copies over the years. We are making slight revisions for the new printing. After that's out we'll be doing Inferno Two: Escape from Hell, or at least that's the working title.

In between bouts of editing and writing, all done on the ThinkPad, I kept up with the mail and worked on my web site. Mail and the web site are on Lisabetta the TabletPC. I'd just sent out an email when Lisabetta froze up.

Freezing up isn't uncommon when you're using Outlook on a dialup line. When Outlook is sending or receiving mail you won't get much else done, and on dial-up that can take a while. The remedy is to be patient. This time, though, patience didn't work. Lisabetta was frozen and remained so for half an hour. She responded to nothing including control-alt-delete. It was power switch time.

I powered down, then turned her back on. The Windows splash screen came up. The hard drive churned furiously. After several minutes it was pretty clear: she wasn't rebooting. I did another power down, let her sit a couple of minutes, and tried again. This time I let her trundle for a long time. Eventually the screen went blank, and an ominous message appeared: "No Operating System found."

Next I tried booting in Safe Mode. On an HP TabletPC, the way to get to safe mode is to use the jog wheel switch. When the system boots up in safe mode, it tells you what it's doing. All was well until it tried to load C:\windows\system32\drivers\agp440.sys. When that came up, all progress stopped, and after a few minutes the "No Operating System" message appeared.

Clearly I was in trouble. I'm out of trouble now, and I learned a lot on the way. Stay tuned.

Microsoft Windows Live OneCare

Several months ago I adopted Windows Anti-Spyware for both my main systems and my laptops. I still have Ad-Aware and Spybot Search and Destroy installed on those machines, but I only run them once in a while just to see if they catch anything that Microsoft's Spyware didn't see. So far the only things those programs have found are cookies. I don't worry about cookies, and those who do probably wear colanders for hats.

Meanwhile, Windows Anti-Spyware transmogrified into Windows Defender and Windows Live OneCare, and has taken over the job that Norton Anti-Virus used to do. On the theory that I do these silly things so you don't have to, on two of my main machines I have let my Norton Anti-Virus subscriptions lapse and turned Norton AV off, so that my only protection - other than my routers, and automatic updates to all my machines - has been Microsoft Windows Live OneCare. This has been the situation for a couple of months.

So far I have no reason to regret this.

Do understand: I have several computers that are protected by other means, including one that isn't networked and only receives data from sneakernet CD's. I have a number of test suites that I run periodically to make certain that Windows Live OneCare hasn't missed anything; I have complete backup files so that if I have to scrub a machine down to bare metal and restore it from scratch, I can do that. I don't want a virus infection, worm, or root kit, but if something of the sort strikes I am better equipped to get past that crisis than most of you.

Think of this as an interim report. So far, I am quite pleased with Windows Live OneCare. It has caught a number of infection attempts. It warns me when it sees something it doesn't understand - usually that's me installing something - and asks if I want to continue. It has done a good job of protecting my systems, and none of my test suites have found any malware on computers protected by Windows Live OneCare.

An additional note: Windows Live OneCare insists on checking your system to be sure that it is running "genuine Windows" before it will install. I haven't tried it with a machine registered with a faked serial number - I don't have any such machines - so I don't know how good it is at detecting bogus copies of Windows. The authentication process is repeated each time Live OneCare updates - that can be as often as three times a week - and it can get a bit tedious.

I have not yet added Windows Live OneCare to my recommended list, but it becomes increasingly likely that I will. It's a lot easier to install and maintain than Norton has been for years.

The Outlook Shuffle

Continuing the story of Lisabetta, the TabletPC: while we were at the beach house in San Diego, her hard drive failed. She wouldn't boot at all. See last week's column for details.

When I go on the road, about the last thing I do is go to Alexis, the AMD dual-core 4000+ system that serves as my communications machine, shut down Outlook, and run a series of batch files. One of those goes [ xcopy "C:\Documents and Settings\jerryp\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook" "L:\Documents and Settings\jerryp\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook" /e/s/d/y ] which probably doesn't need explaining to most, but for those who don't use the batch file capability in Windows it's worth a moment. Batch files run just like executables, and use the Command Line Processor (Start/Run CMD). XCOPY is a rapid copy program. The copy arguments are enclosed in quote marks because the Command Line Processor is old and doesn't understand long file names and long paths, and certainly doesn't understand file names with spaces in them. C: is of course the current C: drive, and Lisabetta the TabletPC has her C: drive mapped as L: on Alexis; and of course that long path leads to the directory where Outlook likes to find its files. The interesting parts of this command line are the four switches: /e and /s tell xcopy to copy all files and subdirectories; /d says copy only files later than those on the target machine; and /y says overwrite target files without asking. For other xcopy switches, do xcopy /? and you'll see a list of them. Using a text editor to make xcopy batch files can save a lot of mouse clicks.

The point of all this is to transfer all Outlook's .pst files from Alexis to Lisabetta, so that I'll have continuity when I open Outlook on the TabletPC.

I'd done this before we left for the Beach. When Lisabetta crashed, the only thing I lost was whatever mail I had received or sent since we left the house. That wouldn't be backed up. Everything else was. There's a story that goes with that, too.

Firing Up Orlando

I had Outlook installed on Orlando, the IBM ThinkPad that would, now that the TabletPC woudn't boot, serve as the communications machine, but except as a test I had never used Orlando for that. Now it was time to set him up. First thing was to set up my two mail accounts for sending and receiving mail. Those account settings are NOT in the enormous unparsable outlook.pst file. I suppose they are kept in some file or another, but I never have figured out which one, so when using Outlook on a machine it hasn't been running on, even though you've transferred the .pst files which contain back mail, address books, contact lists, calendar, and so forth, you'll have to set up the mail accounts by hand.

In my case, both email accounts were POP3, which is the usual way people deal with mail. There is another alternative, IMAP, and I'm probably going to change over to that as a result of this experience. More on that, including an explanation of both POP3 and IMAP, another time.

Fortunately I keep all my POP3 mail account settings, including port numbers and what must and must not be sent as encrypted files, in my log book. Unfortunately, I had managed to get out of the house with a new log book: one I hadn't copied all that information into. Fortunately, when I set up Lisabetta I had some problems, and used Tools / Email accounts to go through and examine all the port settings, and I had written those down on a scrap of paper that hadn't been thrown away.

And that's the first lesson: if you use Outlook and it's working, right now, open your email accounts and record every setting you find in there. Get your exact server name, your exact user name, and both the incoming and outgoing port numbers. Write all this down, and put a copy with your Road Warrior kit. Keep another copy at home where you can find it. With luck you will never need it, but if you do need it, you'll need it bad.

One of the settings allows you to tell Outlook to "Leave a copy on the server." If you check that, another choice will become active: To allow mail on the server to be removed from the server once it is deleted from "Deleted Items." I used to have the "leave a copy on server" box checked on Lisabetta, but she was so reliable that after a while I stopped doing that. Leaving mail on the server would mean that when I came back to Chaos Manor and fired up the regular communications machine, I'd get copies of everything I'd already seen during the trip. It generally takes an hour or so to deal with that after a long trip. I got tired of doing that, and changed Lisabetta's settings, so that when I got back home I'd use a batch file to copy all the outlook files from Lisabetta back to the communications workstation before I opened Outlook on Alexis.

Once I got the mail accounts set, Orlando was in the same condition Lisabetta had been in when we left Chaos Manor.

FrontPage and WS_FTP

I build and maintain the Chaos Manor web site with FrontPage 2003 (I started with plain old FrontPage a decade ago), and before I go on trips I use another XCOPY batch file to copy the CHAOS MANOR folder over to Lisabetta. I had worked on my web site after I got to the beach, so none of those changes would be on the copy then present on Orlando. Of course that didn't matter, because the point of editing web site pages is to post them, and I had done that.

I use Ipswitch WS-Ftp for file transfers. Like all good file transfer programs it will upload or download, so all I had to do was log on to my web site and download all the pages I had altered since I left Chaos Manor.

Of course there was a problem. When you are trying to recover from a disaster there always is. In my case, I could not find a copy of ws_ftp32 on Orlando's START menu. I was sure I had copied it over, but I couldn't remember ever using it on the IBM ThinkPad, so I decided that I just hadn't got around to it. No matter. The Ipswitch home site allows you to download the program. You can buy it, or use it free for 30 days. Since I own at least two paid-for copies, I didn't need to buy another - I will never be using more than one copy at a time - so I downloaded the current WS_FTP professional trial copy and used that. In doing so I learned two things: first, WS_FTP is still the all-around best file transfer for my use, and second, the improvements made since the version I use came out are needless and even irritating. That's probably because I got used to the older version, which was good enough. The new version isn't so improved that I couldn't use it, and in fact its default settings were good enough to get me connected to my web site.

I later found I did have a copy of my older version of WS_FTP on Orlando. I just hadn't pinned the program invocation button to the startup menu. Once I fixed that, I uninstalled the new version and went back to the old, but again I emphasize that's largely due to my familiarity with the older version. WS_FTP Professional works very well, and if I didn't have legal copies of the older version I'd buy the new one. Recommended.

Resurrection

All this happened on Saturday. Sunday morning Roberta was singing in the choir, meaning we had to get there early, meaning that I shouldn't have been fooling with computers at all, but I got ready before she did.

I suspected that Lisabetta's problem was heat; the hard drive was failing because it was overheating. As an experiment I unplugged Lisasbetta's power supply connection, then flipped the power on button.

She came right up. No problems at all. Now I could copy off all the files I didn't have local backups for - except that Roberta was ready to go. I had a decision to make: shut down the computer and hope she'd come up again when we got back, or plug the power supply in. Actually I had a third: I could do nothing, because Lisabetta gets an honest 4 hours. Alas, we planned to have brunch before coming back to the beach house, and that would be cutting it close. I plugged in the power supply and hoped she'd still be running when I returned.

She wasn't, of course. The screen showed the "No operating system found" message. She didn't seem hot, but then she wouldn't, since the disk wasn't running.

So, I unplugged her again and put her in the refrigerator for half an hour. Then I brought her out, left her unplugged - the battery was fully charged, of course - and started her.

She came right up as if there were no problems at all.

Salvage Operations

First things first. I had no idea how long the system would continue to run, so my first move was to try to see that it would restart.

I took out the Belkin powered USB expander port and plugged that into the computer, and plugged its power supply into the wall. Then I plugged the Seagate 100 GB external USB drive into the Belkin unit. Now the Seagate wasn't drawing any power from the TabletPC. I left the TabletPC unconnected to power.

Next I copied the file C:\windows\system32\drivers\agp440.sys over to the USB drive, renamed the original to agp440.foo, and copied the .sys file back again. If the problem was a flakey spot on the disk surface this might help, and certainly wouldn't do any harm.

Now I could copy the Outlook.pst file to the Seagate drive, then move that USB drive over to Orlando; after which I let the Outlook running on Orlando import files from the outlook.pst file I had just copied from Lisabetta. That brought in all the mail received and sent during the period between leaving Chaos Manor and Lisabetta's hiccough.

Once that was done, I brought the Seagate back to the TabletPC and searched through Lisabetta's files looking for anything I might have created on the road and hadn't yet backed up. I did find one PowerPoint presentation I'd made on a trip and forgot about.

All this took about fifteen minutes. The system did not seem to be overheating. It had survived being booted without finding an operating system, and it had survived running for several hours then stopping. I had copied the file that seemed to be the problem, left its corpse in place, and put a new copy in another part of the drive. The next question was, how reliable was this drive now?

One way to find out would be to run a disk optimization program. That would work the disk pretty hard. It would also, once done, cut down on the amount of work the disk needed to do. I thought about this for a few minutes and decided to do it.

First things first, then. Disk optimizer programs like a lot of blank space to work in. It had been a while since I cleaned out needless files on Lisabetta, and this would be a good time to do it.

DiskMapperNT in operation
(larger) DiskMapperNT picture of Lisabetta's hard drive taken after successful replacement of the failed hard drive. Note the size of the Google index files, compared to the entire set of Outlook PST files.
VOPT doing its optimization
VOPT (from Wendy, not Lisabetta). Clicking on any of the tiny squares will show you what file resides there.

The first thing, then, was to run DiskMapperNT. Micro Logic was never a large company, and they do not seem to have updated their web site in a while. It does seem active, though, and DiskMapper is still for sale, and in my judgment it's the neatest thing since sliced bread. DiskMapper draws a chart of your hard drive, showing everything that's on it, all drawn in proportionate size. Little files make tiny squares. Big folders make large blocks. System files are marked. Get this utility program: it's worth the effort.

DiskMapper showed me two things. First, there were a couple of gigabytes of photographs that have long been transferred to other computers and burned off onto DVD's and don't need to be taking space on my TabletPC. Second, the largest single block of files on the computer was used by the Google Desktop Index, which was larger than Windows XP itself, and huge compared to the Microsoft Desktop search engine files. I made my extra disk space by deleting old photo files and some other duplicate files that aren't needed on the road, but I made a log note to look into the Google Desktop situation. It sure wants a lot of space for what it does.

Once I had about 15% free space, I started Golden Bow VOPT, my favorite disk optimizer. I have been using one or another variant of VOPT since the 1980's, and I have yet to lose one byte of data by doing so. It may or may not be the fastest disk optimizer, but in my judgment it's certainly the safest (and I don't know of a faster one). I keep a copy on nearly every system I have. If you don't know about it, you can try it for free; it will cost you $40 if you like it, which I am sure you will. Disk optimization isn't quite as important in these days of enormous hard drives, but it's not trivial either, and as disks fill up it's important to keep the files together and unfragmented. VOPT is the way I do that. Recommended.

It had been a while since I ran VOPT on Lisabetta, and she was quite fragmented: so much so that I was getting low battery warnings before the optimization was finished. One good thing about VOPT is that you can tell it to STOP and it will do that in an orderly manner. I stopped the program, plugged in the power supply, and let the computer sit there quietly recharging. That worked fine, and when she was charged up again I ran VOPT again, this time letting it go to completion.

Testing

Of course while all this was going on, I was doing my real work on Orlando the IBM ThinkPad.

JEP in PJs at the beach house
It's OK to work in pajamas at the beach. Lisabetta runs VOPT on the big table while I get some work done on the IBM ThinkPad. It's not a very flattering picture, but then I didn't expect Roberta to sneak up and take it.

I had the ThinkPad set up to feed video onto a 17" ViewSonic LCD monitor, and while I like the IBM keyboard, I like the Logitech keyboard and Iogear Precision Optical Mouse even better. With this setup I am about as productive at the beach as I am at home.

While I was working I reconnected Lisabetta's power and ran VOPT again; and again there was no problem. The TabletPC was stable, and showed no signs of overheating or drive thrashing; but I certainly wasn't going to take that hard drive out on the road again. It was time for preventive maintenance. I had never replaced a laptop hard drive, but it was time to learn how.

Repair or Replace?

I had several options. One was to go to Steve Gibson's web site, get SpinRite, and use that to see just what was wrong with Lisabetta's hard drive, and whether SpinRite could put things right again. Long time readers will recall that I strongly recommend Gibson's Shields Up testing whenever you make any changes in your network connection setup. Gibson can sometimes be a bit of an alarmist, but it's dangerous out there, and just because you're a bit paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. In any event, SpinRite has a great reputation, and has been useful for many years.

There were several objections to that. First, SpinRite works to find and mark disk surface flaws. It does a good job of that, but my problems seemed heat related, which meant it was likely that we had motor or electronics problems. SpinRite works a disk pretty hard, and might actually do more damage than good in this situation. Second, no matter what SpinRite did and reported, I would always be uneasy about going on the road with a laptop whose drive had failed once. Finally, disk drives are cheap. In the old days when drives cost a great deal more, it was worth the time and effort to restore them; but they are cheap now and for me that's not a cost effective use of my time.

Better to replace the drive.

Replace With What?

Lisabetta came with a 40GB Toshiba drive, the 60 GB version not being available when I bought her. That 40 GB was getting crowded, and it was time to upgrade anyway. I could get the 60 GB Toshiba for $88. That seemed so reasonable that I ordered one before leaving the beach. I was sure it would work.

We drove home on Monday, the day all the illegal immigrants were supposedly on strike. I don't know about that, but I do know that the freeways were wonderful. We got home in a bit more than two hours including a stop in El Toro for coffee and burgers.

When I got home I found a lot of email advising me on the latest developments in laptop disk drives. Several argued strongly for drives running at 7200 rpm as opposed to the 5400 speed of both the 40 and 60 GB Toshiba drives. The increase in disk access speed is said to be significant. I can well believe that. I was concerned about heat: if I had overheat problems with a 5400 rpm drive, what might happen with the 7200?

I'd never replaced a laptop hard drive before, and I didn't know how steep the learning curve would be. Since I was getting the 60 GB 5400 Toshiba anyway, it seemed like a good idea to take things one step at a time and use that. I'm still looking into 7200 rpm drives, and Seagate makes a really nifty 160 GB 5400 drive; and now that I am confident that I know what I'm doing with laptop drive replacement, I'm going to try both of them; but that's for another column.

Software

I had the hardware. The next step would be to get the proper software running. Since Lisabetta's hard drive seemed to be working reliably, with luck I could simply clone the existing disk and thus wouldn't have to reinstall a single thing.

The overwhelming consensus among my advisors was that for cloning hard drives, you can't beat Norton Ghost. None of them were familiar with the latest edition of Ghost; they were used to the older rendition which boots the system in DOS and works from there. The new Ghost is an application program that runs in Windows XP. That makes it a lot more convenient to use, but we wondered about its ability to make a disk image on the fly, when many system files would be open.

We had the older edition of Ghost. Symantec sent me a copy of the latest version. I am pleased to report that there is a copy of the older DOS-based Ghost in the same box. Alas, there is no floppy-based version in the box, probably because so few modern systems won't boot from a CD.

Ghost would clone the hard drive, but of course it would only clone the main partition. Lisabetta has a great number of HP utilities and programs, including buttons that bring up menus for toggling the wireless, controlling screen brightness, bringing up TabletPC settings, toggling video output to the external port, and so forth. I had no idea where those functions reside, but we all had a suspicion that they might lurk on a separate partition of the hard drive.

Documents and Restoration Software

Before I did anything drastic, I wanted to know if Lisabetta was still in warranty. Alas, I couldn't even remember when I bought her. Searching through Chaos Manor produced a couple of manuals, but neither the sales receipts nor any support software.

Pause for an obvious moral to the story: Keep All Documents, Software, and Receipts for your New Systems. Make a place where you will always put that stuff for every new system that you buy. Now write down where that place is. Write it in a text file called "Where I Keep New Systems Data.txt" and put it in My Documents. Print a copy and glue it into your log. Print another copy and put it in a desk drawer. Do all that and you will probably never have to look at that file again because you'll feel so silly doing it that you'll remember where you put the files and data; but do it anyway because if you don't, you may wish you had. I sure wish I had.

I did find the box Lisabetta came in. Inside were a couple of unused cables and nothing else - but on the outside was a shipping label that told me I had bought the machine on April 6, 2004, meaning that Lisabetta was almost certainly under warranty.

HP Support: The Bangalore Shuffle

Since I had no idea where HP puts the utility software for a TabletPC, and I couldn't find the Restoration disks that I think came with the machine, it was time to call HP Technical Support.

There was the usual automated computer voice hoohaw designed to get you to hang up, including a demand for the serial number of the product I wanted to talk about. I found that on the back Lisabetta's main unit. It wasn't obvious which of several candidates was the serial number, but one looked reasonable - and had, in the same bar code, the words 3YR, which I supposed referred to the warranty. Since I wasn't going to do anything to void the warranty - you don't break any seals to get to either the battery or the hard drive - this was comforting. Drives overheating after two years ought to be covered by warranty, so I had a fallback position in case my drive replacement didn't work. At worst I'd put the old drive back in, wrap the machine up, and send it off to HP.

It took about fifteen minutes to get connected to a young man with an obvious Bangalore accent. His first request was for the serial number I had so painstakingly punched in a few minutes before. I read it off to him. Then I described my problem of the failing hard drive.

"I believe this machine is still under warranty," I said. He agreed. At least that was established.

"I can replace that drive," I said, "But I need to know where the HP utilities are stored."

He didn't know, but now he saw a way to get me off the phone. He asked about my HP Utilities Restoration CD, and if I wanted to purchase a replacement. I asked how much that would be, and was told that it was about ten dollars, which is certainly reasonable. "Great! I'll order one right now."

He couldn't take the order. Instead he had an 800 phone number I could call. I should hang up and call that. Note that so far I have no case number, and not one word about how to invoke the warranty; but I do think I have an 800 number where I can buy the HP Utilities for the TabletPC, so I ended that call to Bangalore.

Calling the HP 800 number never got me a single human being. I got a series of pleasant enough recorded voices offering me HP Utility CD's for a lot of products, but not the HP Compaq 1100tc; nor was there any way I could tell anyone or anything what product I was trying to buy the utility disk for. After wasting considerable time in the mistaken belief that no major company could have a telephone support system this bad, I gave up. Carly's Legacy strikes again.

Partition Magic

All right. HP isn't going to tell me where the Tablet PC Utilities reside. Next I tried TabletPC web sites, including Terri Stratton's indispensable Tablet PC site but no one seemed to know where the HP TabletPC utilities lurked.

There weren't many choices. They could be somewhere on the hard drive in the primary partition. I didn't know how to search for them, because I didn't know what names they used: that is, to get to them you push buttons, not invoke programs, so where would I search? They could be hiding at the BIOS level, in which case I needn't worry about them; or they could be on a hidden partition of the hard drive.

Invoking Computer Management/Disk Management revealed two things. First, Computer Management is not available to users; you have to be logged in as Administrator to even see the Administrative Tools folder in your programs menu. The other alternative is to search for Computer Management in Windows Help: that will bring up a screen with a link. I did that, chose Disk Management, and looked at Lisabetta's drives. I saw only the one partition on the hard drive.

Of course that wasn't definitive. There might be a hidden partition that Windows Computer Management couldn't see. This didn't seem likely, but it isn't impossible.

The solution to his was to use Partition Magic. This former PowerQuest program is now offered by Symantec as part of the Norton line. I had a copy, but not the latest and greatest, so I requested that from Symantec and got it the next day. Norton Partition Magic works exactly like the old Partition Magic, and is a wonderful program. If you need to mess about with disk partitions - or to discover whether hidden partitions exist - this is the program to do it. I had only one problem with the installation: the serial number contains all numbers and upper case letters except for one lower case l which looks more like the | vertical bar character than anything else; and it's case sensitive. Once I realized that I had no further problems.

Partition Magic revealed no hidden disk partitions. I wasn't going to lose anything by cloning the hard drive.

Ghost

The last time I used Norton Ghost to clone a drive, the procedure was to open up a desktop machine, and put both drives on the same IDE drive controller string, one as Master, the other as Slave. You'd then boot the system with the Ghost CD (ten years ago, it was with a floppy). Ghost would come up with some menu choices. Tell it what to do. Bob's your uncle.

That clearly wasn't going to work with a laptop drive.

Well, it might work, provided that I got a pair of IDE carriers that would let me connect laptop drives to a desktop PC, but it sure wouldn't be convenient - and Lisabetta, the HP Compaq 1100tc TabletPC, doesn't have a floppy drive. I supposed that she would boot from a USB CD drive, but I had never tried that.

One of the great advantages of the HP Tablet PC is the docking station, which lets the Tablet sit on your desk at a convenient angle and allows it to rotate from landscape to portrait. It provides ports for power, Ethernet and USB connections. I can connect a keyboard and mouse to the docking station, and when I dock Lisabetta she sees them as well as power and Ethernet automatically. There is also a bay for a CD or DVD drive, and that drive has always been the one I use to install new software. If Lisabetta was going to boot from anything, she'd boot from that drive.

Next question: can Ghost make a disk image on a drive connected by USB? On a networked drive? It was time to find out, and rather than doing it the hard way, I called the Symantec PR people. Within an hour I had a call back from the Ghost product manager, who assured me that my fears were groundless. Officially Symantec doesn't support the use of Norton Ghost on a TabletPC, but they'd never heard of a case in which it didn't work.

Lisbetta, docked and ready for Ghost
Lisabetta in her docking station, with the Seagate 120 GB USB drive attached. Note the Kodak EasyShare 570 in its cradle getting a battery recharge. We're ready to install Ghost using the DVD drive in the docking station.

What I should do, he said, was to connect a USB hard drive, or make sure there was room on a networked drive that the Tablet could see; install Ghost on Lisabetta's hard drive, and run that under Windows XP. Use it to make a full backup restoration image of the drive. Now replace the drive with a new, unformatted, laptop drive. Boot with the Norton Ghost CD. The system should see any drive on which I had placed an image. Tell Ghost to do its thing, and reboot. Voila.

So. I installed Ghost, then connected one of my Seagate USB drives - this one happens to be 120 GB, but the latest ones of this model are 160 GB and sell for as little as $125 - and brought up Ghost. Using it was intuitive. It took about half an hour, after which I had a complete drive image on the Seagate USB.

Working with laptop hardware can be intimidating. Desktop systems are big, and you can see what everything does. Laptops are expensive. They are sealed up, everything is small, and for me at least there's always the fear that I'll muck it up completely; all of which explains why I never replaced the hard drive on a laptop until now.

To Compaq's great credit, the HP Compaq TabletPC 1100tc is extraordinarily easy to work on. Everything is laid out logically, and there are no real surprises. Let me caution you that this won't be the case with all laptops. Dan Spisak assures me that changing the hard drive on an Apple PowerBook, for example, is possible, but it's a real pain in the nether regions, and that will be true of many other systems not designed for easy maintainability. I was able to muddle through without problems, but I can't guarantee you'll have the same results.

Unless you know what you're doing, the proper way to go about this is to get the service manuals for the system you're working on. Those won't always be easy to obtain, but it's generally worth the effort. I didn't bother, and all came out well, but as I said, the Compaq TabletPC was designed for maintainability. Many laptops are not.

Getting Started

The first thing was to remove the keyboard. Convertible TabletPC's are designed for this. There's a release catch, and the keyboard pulls right out. The holes for the keyboard attachments go deep into the computer unit, so I thoughtfully inserted the directing tube of a can of compressed air into one and used it to blow out the inner compartment just in case my heating problems stemmed from blocked vents or clogged filters. I'm disappointed to say there was no cloud of dust or dog hair, so I have no idea whether that did any good.

Lisbetta's hard drive revealed
Step One, revealing the TabletPC hard drive. This doesn't look so hard. The handwriting says "Old - First Use at Home", meaning that this is the eldest battery and has been charged and discharged enough that it is no longer good for an honest four hours. I change to a newer battery for trips.

Next was to get the right size Phillips precision screwdriver and take off the little plate that protects the hard drive compartment. This was simple enough.

Once the system was opened I noted that the hard drive doesn't appear to be held in place by anything but the pins that connect it to the system. That turns out not to be the case.

What you need now is a wide blade screwdriver. On each side of the pins there is a tab. Use the screwdriver as a lever to gently push the drive back. Don't try to disconnect on one side before you go to the other side. I found it took about three turns at each end before the drive was free. I also noted that the drive sits in a little carrier that comes out with it, and that carrier is held in place by some plastic slots. The whole thing has to be lined up just right before the drive and carrier come out, but a little inspection will show you how to do it.

On this system the drive carrier has a bit of plastic film that you use to pull the drive and carrier out of the computer. It's quite easy to do. Some laptops won't have that feature and you'll need other tools.

Midway through the drive-ectomy
Left to right, carrier, new drive, old drive. All the tools I needed are in the foreground. The wide blade screwdriver was needed as a lever.

In my system the drive was fastened to the carrier by four small screws. One was as near stripped as makes no never mind, meaning that someone was in a hurry when it was assembled. That doesn't seem to have done any harm, but it did make it hard to remove the screw. Once the screws were out it was simple enough to take the drive out of the carrier.

Reassembly was easy, and the whole job didn't take half an hour. Since the system would have to boot from the DVD drive in the docking station, I had no choice but to defy fate and do a complete reassembly.

Ghost: Restore

I now had an unformatted 60 GB drive installed in the TabletPC. I put Lisabetta in her docking station, connected the 120 GB USB drive holding the Ghost restoration image to the USB port, and put the Norton Ghost CD in the docking station's drive.

Amazingly, it all just worked. Norton Ghost booted, looked around and found the drive image on the USB drive, and asked if I wanted to install that. It warned me that I'd lose all data on the internal hard drive and asked if I wanted to continue. I said yes, indeed I did, and about twenty minutes later everything was done. I removed the Ghost CD and rebooted. Lisabetta came up just fine, as if she'd never had any problems.

Dude, Where's My 20 GB?

The only problem was that System Information thought there were only 40 GB on the drive. Computer Management/ Disk Management revealed there was an unformatted 20 GB partition on the disk.

Time to get out Norton PartitionMagic. Once again, this Just Worked: it saw the two partitions, asked which one I wanted to enlarge, got the information, and after trundling for a while reported the job done. I now have a 60 GB hard drive, everything is running fine, and despite vigorous exercise of that drive I have no signs of heat problems. Everything just works.

Some Notes on Norton Ghost

Norton Ghost has the reputation of being the ultimate backup program. You can Ghost across a network, and once that disk image is obtained, it can always be used to restore the system. It's a pretty drastic kind of backup, since it wipes out everything done since the image was taken, but sometimes that's precisely what you need.

I'm also told that "ghostcasting", using Ghost across a network, is the preferred method for system customization in many companies. Mike Danseglio, program manager in the Security Solutions group at Microsoft, recently said (at InfoSec 2005, see this link) sometimes rootkits could not be removed manually and the best solution was often to "nuke them from orbit". Ghost is certainly a tool for that. Recommended.

Lessons

There are several morals to this story. I have already pointed to a couple of them, but it does no harm to repeat them.

First moral: be sure you have all settings for your mail program written down in the log book you will be carrying. They also should be in a text file on the backup machine you'll be using. These include your exact user name and password, the exact name of your mail server (both incoming and outgoing; they may or may not be the same); the port numbers for both incoming and outgoing mail; and what information requires an encrypted secure connection.

Second moral: when you buy a new computer, collect everything: manuals, sales receipts, shipping manifests, and particularly the restoration and utility software disks, and put them in one place. Make sure you have made a note as to what that place is. You might be astonished at how easy it is to forget such things after a couple of years.

Third moral: Once you have your system set up the way you like, image it to a CD or DVD, Just In Case. Then, you can restore just the update files from your everyday backup.

The H-P DesignJet 5000: A Half-Decade Report

PCs change quickly, and desktop printers almost as quickly, but larger printers change more slowly. That's good, because large-format printers don't have disposable prices, either.

Byte.Com Contributing Editor David Em has been drawing pictures on a computer for over thirty years. Graphic artists worry about how their work is presented, none more than those whose works exist only on a computer. He's been searching for The Perfect Printer for most of that time.

Hewlett-Packard lent the Byte Graphics Lab an H-P DesignJet 5000 about five years ago. This is a truly large-format printer; it takes rolls up to 42" wide, and if you're clever and patient up to dozens of feet long. It was designed for high-volume use; most Kinko's have one (though they're starting to update to the replacement DJ5500). It will print on dozens of different materials, from UV-resistant matte papers to fine-art surfaces. I'll let Alex take over from here.

"This printer came to the Graphics Lab from Ground Zero's "Taj Mahal", the recovery coordination center in the parking lot of the Lower Manhattan Embassy Suites. We know this from its menu settings, and since it was at Ground Zero for a good six months before we got it, we know the printer is over five years old. While in our care, it's gotten periodic workouts, mostly during David's intermittent all-night print torture tests. These involve four or more images, Photoshop, our light box, and a multitude of test strips, all carefully minuted with the exact settings used to achieve that particular result. Since we are blessed with many rolls of HP 36" paper, these truly are strips, long and thin samples of multiple pictures at a time; as you'll see in David's Graphics Lab column, he mostly uses the Epson desktop printers for smaller images.

"It was time for another marathon test-print session. The walls of the Lab are lined with startling images of his work, ones David is mostly pretty happy with for a change. He'd resumed the big-picture kick after we updated the firmware on the 5000, which (1) improved its paper handling and (2) gave more options for whether Photoshop or the printer would choose the color mapping scheme. Previously, changing the paper could take half an hour, of inserting the paper, letting the printer decide it didn't like how it was aligned, unloading it, and starting over. The new firmware isn't as critical, and often you can load the paper roll once and be fine.

"David has, like most artists, become mechanically apt enough to fix most tools of his trade, but when the print head stopped moving right in the middle of the latest test strip ("And I had finally nailed this picture!", he cried, pointing to where the ink gave out) he didn't know what was wrong. The printer display showed a print head error, and he left it to me to figure out why.

"It didn't take me long. The print head is moved on a toothed synthetic-rubber belt; I opened the cover and found the belt was limp, and shedding bits of rubber all over the inside of the printer. Replacing it means removing a dozen or so Torx screws, and a replacement part we don't have, so we're going to leave it up to HP: Do they want it back, do they want to repair it, or do they want us to evaluate the newer 5500?

"This was the first problem this printer has had. We've had to replace the ink sets once, but it's also sat for months at a time and started printing immediately afterward. The moral: DesignJets continue to be well-built; having a belt fail after five years (and six months in the post-disaster air of Lower Manhattan) is hardly a check-minus. And, despite being manufacturer-discontinued, HP significantly improved the firmware of this ‘obsolete' printer. If you're looking for a large-format printer, we'd recommend the DesignJets, which are about due for a new print-head technology update as well."

Incidentally, this printer's predecessor at the Graphics Lab made the enormous copies of the book jackets for several of my books that were part of the display at Conucopia, the 1999 North American Science Fiction Convention at which I was Guest of Honor. I have a couple of those seven foot "books" up in the monk's cell, and the colors haven't faded. HP makes great printers.

Filemaker

I use my TabletPC and Microsoft OneNote to record much of what used to go into pen and paper logs, but I still go through one or two log books a year. I use Boorum and Pease hard bound composition books, with ruled and numbered pages. I blush to admit I can't find them on the Internet, but since I bought a gross of them some years ago I don't have to. I used to go through six a year, but now I only use two or three.

The problem comes when it's time to change to a new log book. An abbreviated telephone list of important numbers, hints at user names and passwords, log-on information, and a whole lot of other stuff that I need both on the road and at home are in those log books. All that needs to be transferred from old to new. In the past I have simply made a Xerox copy of the old pages, trimmed the copies to size, and Scotch taped the pages into the front of the new log. Of course that makes for a mess, with new names and numbers scrawled in random places. There is no order to it.

One solution would be a PDA, and I've tried that, but I never have found one I really like. One good thing about a paper log is that you can paste or tape business cards, receipts, printouts of airline ticket information, photographs, and other such material into the book. It's difficult to do that with a PDA. The best PDA I know of is Lisabetta my TabletPC with Microsoft OneNote, but she's too big to fit into a pocket, and even when I have a brief case it's often not convenient to take out a laptop tablet and fire it up. Paper log books are just plain convenient.

In order to make the transition between log books easier, I thought of making a data base of the important information. That way I could print out the information and tape it into the log, and when it came time to change books, I could enter any new data collected in handwritten notes, sort, print, and tape the new list into the next book. This ought to work with user names and passwords, and various other codes. I never write those out entirely, but with a password protected data base I could put in both the full information and the hints I keep in the paper log.

This isn't an entirely new idea, but the last time I attempted it, I tried to use Microsoft Access, and I got so confused that I gave it up as a bad job

.

This time I used Filemaker, and it seems to be working. I know Filemaker is useful for big professional jobs. Alex has run some huge auctions using Filemaker to keep track of the item lots, their photographs and descriptions, and other vital information, and generate the auction catalogs with the program. Now I know it's very useful for small jobs as well.

The other candidates for small quick and dirty data base and note collection are Micro Logic's InfoSelect (the unfortunate name for the successors of Tornado Notes) and AskSam. Both of these are freeform data bases. AskSam is both flexible and powerful, and quite capable of professional work. I used to use InfoSelect a lot, particularly for making notes for books in preparation - a free form data base task if ever there was one - but Micro Logic redesigned it with so many gotchas to keep you from running copies on more than one computer that it became highly inconvenient to use it, and I gave up. When I did, I intended to change over to AskSam, and I am not sure just why I never did that. I have never heard anything but good about AskSam.

I am using Filemaker, though, and it's highly satisfactory. It's intuitive to use, it's easy to add fields, and in general it gives you a lot of control without your having to know much about data base theory. It's sure easier to get going with Filemaker than ever it was with Access.

With any luck I'll finish this story by comparing AskSam and Filemaker for different jobs. For now, I'm using Filemaker and I like it.

Like Mixing Oil and Water

In previous columns I had once tried to install 64-bit Windows XP onto a new test system with an AMD Athlon 64 4000+ processor installed into an Asus motherboard using the NForce4 SLI chipsets onboard RAID capabilities. Readers might recall that the end solution to the problem of getting the install to stick eventually was to reformat the hard drives and undo the RAID setup on them, using them just as a pair of drives. Even trying to install the Nvidia NvRaid drivers during installation using the F6 method didn't seem to work as expected. Sometimes it takes time and wandering down seemingly unrelated paths to discover the cause and solution of old problems.

Recently Chaos Manor Associate Dan Spisak was tasked with building a new server for Alex to run Windows Server 2003 R2 x64 Edition for the office. While assembly of this system was rather straightforward, what wasn't was the installation of Server 2003 R2 x64 onto the systems onboard Nvidia NvRaid controller. We had our copy of the OS here at Chaos Manor as part of one of the many DVD's that came in our monthly MSDN subscription pack. Unfortunately the disc with the right version of the OS only had Windows Server 2003 as bootable options and not the 64-bit R2 release which was also on the DVD. At this point Dan had to figure out how to make a bootable version of Server 2003 R2 x64 from the MSDN DVD. Alas, instructions for doing that isn't exactly laid out in plain English anywhere on Microsoft's site.

However, he did discover a wonderful program called nLite, which was designed to streamline the creation of unattended Windows installs. As a side benefit of this functionality, nLite can also create a bootable ISO image once given the contents of a Windows install CD.

With nLite in one hand and MSDN DVD in the other Dan explored the process of making a bootable ISO from the Server 2003 R2 x64 disc files. Booting the new system with the disc worked just like a regular one would and things went fine until he started to run into problems with drivers for the Nvidia onboard RAID controller. As it turns out, the drivers available on Nvidia's website for 64-bit XP and 2003 are not correctly digitally signed as WHQL certified drivers. While installation of these drivers via floppy using the F6 method will work during the first stage textmode part of the Windows install process, the drivers run into problems in the second stage GUI portion of the install process. In the second stage of the install the Windows installer replaces the uncertified, but working Nvidia driver with a generic but digitally signed IDE driver from Microsoft. That driver does not work with the RAID in the NForce4 chipset.

According to this thread at the MSFN Forum (&hl= ) the only way to get around this problem is to create an install disc with the proper NvRaid drivers slipstreamed into the install disc. This will force the installer to use the proper drivers. The instructions on the MSFN site for using nLite to accomplish this are rather detailed and can get a little confusing. Expect to burn at least one test disc before getting everything right.

This isn't really a criticism of nLite, since without that program doing this kind of custom install CD is agonizingly tedious and difficult.

After following the instructions for our scenario we ended up with a Server 2003 R2 x64 install disc that almost worked perfectly on the install. After the OS was booted fully the first time we discovered that the optical drive wasn't recognized by the OS because the parallel ATA driver for the NForce4 controller hadn't been installed properly. Going into the Device Manager and deleting the IDE controller and rebooting prompted the system to rescan the hardware and eventually installed the missing driver and recognized the optical drive finally.

nLite is a very deep program with some advanced capabilities and gives you the power to customize your Windows install disc in a variety of ways. It is also free. If you have to deploy Windows to many systems, or want to keep an up-to-date OS install disc with the latest service packs and hotfixes installed so you don't have to deal with all of that mess after a fresh OS install, then you need to check out nLite right away. Highly Recommended.

Winding Down

The game of the month remains Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which may well be the best role playing game I have ever seen.

The only movie we saw this month was one I can't recommend.

The book of the month is Martin Gardner's Weird Water & Fuzzy Logic. It's an extension of his Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. Martin Gardner is a national treasure.

The second book of the month is by Elonka Dunin, the game developer. The Mammoth Book of Secret Code Puzzles is exactly what you think it is from the title. If you like solving code puzzles, this is the book for you.

The computer book of the month is Brett McLaughlin, Head Rush Ajax, O'Reilly. Ajax is the Java-xml synthesis that sparks the new wave in web applications. As an example, look at Google Earth. The Head Rush series presents material in a unique way. If what you want is a systematic handbook of Ajax, this is probably not your book; but if programming books put you to sleep, try a Head Rush book. It may keep you awake and teach you something. If you do web designs, you very likely need this book.

The second computer book of the month is Matthew MacDonald, The Book of Visual Basic 2005, which is a systematic presentation. It assumes you know something about Visual Basic and need to know more about the .NET framework. Visual Basic has become the most widely used programming language in the world, and as computers become more powerful (and thus can execute VB programs faster without the need for hand optimizations) is likely to become more so.

Next month we should know more about VISTA, I have a lot of new gadgets including a wonderful light studio box for product photographs, and the stack of really neat unreviewed stuff is getting so large I am afraid it will fall on me.