August 28, 1998:
More third-party components are appearing for Sun's Java Studio, which may be the most advanced visual development environment ever turned loose. The latest batch to find their way to me are ErgoTech's Virtual Instrumentation Beans. This is a crew of UI widgets that will be familiar to people who have created factory automation or lab systems before: meters, strip charts, annunciators, active input devices (buttons, knobs, sliders), seven-segment displays, things like that. Very cool, very easy. The package is $399 and certified 100% Pure Java. For more go to
August 27, 1998:
My good friend Esther Schindler stopped by today to show me her new toy: a writing pad-with paper-that digitizes what you write on the paper for downloading to a PC. The Cross Pad (from the Cross Pen company—bravo to them for not letting technology roll over them and grind them into the dirt!) is a legal-size yellow pad on a clipboard that contains an electromagnetic sensor. A special ball-point pen writes on the paper as you would expect, but it also encodes its motions into the pad as a raster image of the paper. When you download to your PC, you get a bitmap of the paper, and you circle anything you want submitted to OCR. (You leave doodles and diagrams uncircled and they get left as bitmaps.) The OCR software then creates text files of what you've written. As with voice recognition, it requires some training to recognize your writing. (It would require a PhD. to recognize mine.) But it works, and I predict that reporters who are stymied by the problem of taking notes at briefings without annoying people with keyboard clatter will glom onto it in a big way. Take a look for yourself at
August 26, 1998:
Some time back, I published a "crazy ideas" essay in Breakpoint ("TeraTICs", VDM April/May 1997) suggesting that people rent their unused machine cycles to large-scale distributed applications working across the world-wide Internet. Sure enough, it's being done, and on a project I can at least sympathize with: the search for intelligent life in the universe. It's called SETI@home, and the URL for the project is The idea is for individuals to run a SET@home screen saver that kicks into gear when the machine's been idle for a specified time. It will then crunch data (the detailed nature of the analysis remains obscure to me) downloaded to the screensaver over the Net, and when finished, upload the crunched data and ask for another shovelful. Needless to say, you're not going to get paid for this, but as a conceptual model for future use of your idle loop, I think it has a lot of promise.
August 24, 1998:
In my quest to parse and store Netscape Navigator bookmark files in a database, I had to deal with the ctime-format time stamp values in bookmark records. Once I realized that the time stamps were in fact ctime values, I went hunting for something to convert them to something Delphi can understand. Sure enough, I found Ctime from Canal Software. It's a DLL with Delphi interfaces, and it can translate ctime values to long integer values and back. It's only $5, and you can download the demo from the Delphi Super Page: Look for the file The demo isn't especially useful, but it gives you instructions for ordering the "real" file. Works like a charm, and costs about as much as lunch at Wendy's. Can't argue with that.
August 20, 1998:

25 years ago, when I was a carefree Xerox machine repairman in downtown Chicago, I let slip to my dispatcher that I didn't have a TV. "Wow! What do you do with your evenings?" was her astonished question. Heh-heh. Although I have fingers in a lot of pies, statistically speaking I do one of two things:

  1. I read books.
  2. I write them.
Books are very much my life, and I'm constantly hunting them down to feed my habit. One of the best places to do this, as everybody knows, is But easily the second best place is Interloc, at In essence, Interloc is a brokerage for a multitude of small firms selling used books. It's a monster database of gazillions of used books, and when you find one you want, you fill out a form indicating your intent. Interloc then sends your request to the bookstore offering the book, and you complete the transaction directly with the bookstore. It's not quite as convenient as Amazon's One-Click, but I've bought a couple dozen books through them and have had no difficulty of any kind. I've bought everything from Ruthven Todd's Space Cat to Tom Swift to treatises on philosophy and religion; books on ham radio, telescopes, large mammals of the Pleiostecene, and who knows what else. It's rare that I don't actually find a copy of a book I'm searching for there (though Brand Blanshard's Reason and Belief continues to elude me) and sometimes there are several or even dozens of copies listed. The single most amazing thing about Interloc is that so few people seem to know about it. For out of print books it's the place; about the only place you can find my Delphi Programming Explorer books anymore, in fact.
August 19, 1998:
Mark November 17 on your calendar; that's the date of the Leonid meteor shower, which is predicted to be spectacular this year—so spectacular that they are actually holding conferences for satellite operators explaining what the risks are to orbiting hardware. For us on the ground it's nothing better than a damned good show, so get out your lawn chair, set your alarm for midnight, bundle up and watch between 1 AM and dawn. They'll be all over the sky, but the radiant is in Leo. Just look east, and you won't miss 'em.
August 17, 1998:
We're getting to the day where almost any software application or utility you could describe is out there somewhere—in many cases freely downloadable from half a dozen places. A friend of mine is putting together a small conference for independent Catholic priests and bishops, and wanted to know if I'd seen any software for managing conference, attendees, fees, schedules and stuff. Sure, I found a package in about ten minutes. I mentioned in VDM that I'd like to have a software gizmo that magnified the cursor region so I could bulls-eye the mouse pointer into those teeny little Explorer interface plus/minus boxes. Sunuvugun, four or five such things already exist. When there were fewer things in the world, word-of-mouth was easy. Now there are a near-infinite number of things in the world, and no one has the breadth of attention to be able to snag word-of-mouth on more than a tiny fraction of it. I'm quite sure that managing word of mouth is the key to making money with software distributed on the Web. Many people say they know how to do this. I've seen no evidence that anyone does. I think about it a lot, and if I come up with any useful idea you'll see them here.
August 11, 1998:
There is one computer device that could conceivably still be used without compromise today after ten years—or more—in continuous service. That device is the MS-compatible mouse. Two years ago, I mothballed the Logitech Mouse I had been using since 1987, and did so only because I wanted to try the Logitech Cordless Mouse. (Which I love. Best thing since the mouse itself appeared.) And in 1995, I rescued a funny-looking mouse that had been kicking around the company here attached to an increasingly worthless 386 box. That mouse was the original Microsoft Mouse, bus version, green buttons and all, that I had purchased as part of an MS developer program in October of 1983. (I wrote a paint program for it—in interpreted Basic—and actually sold a few copies back in 1984.) It worked then. It still works. It's on my shelf, and will remain there always. How can you part with something that venerable?
August 10, 1998:
My HP LaserJet II printer is now ten years old. Apart from a new fuser roller last year, it has worked perfectly, year in, year out, requiring only the periodical swapout of the xerographics cartridge since I bought it toward the end of summer 1988. What other computer device of any sort could be useful for ten years? (Answer tomorrow.) Was the LJII that much ahead of its time…or has printing technology been stuck in a rut since the '80s?
August 7, 1998:
Will there ever be a collector's market for classic software? I was sniffing around for something I had misplaced the other day, and realized that I had a copy of Turbo Modula 2 for CP/M-80, dating back to 1984 or so. I have the original manual for Turbo Pascal 1.0—though the disk remains elusive and may be gone. Maybe weird formats will command premium prices: I know that Turbo Pascal for CP/M was offered on 8" diskettes in 1983/84. I had a copy for the Xerox 820, though it belonged to my employer (Xerox) and has doubtless long since fed the dumpster. There is a thriving market in tube-era ham radio gear and the parts to restore it. Nice Heath Twoers used to sell for five bucks at hamfests. Now even the ratty ones get $30-$40. Will there someday be a nostalgia market for CP/M systems and software? Or DOS software running on 4.88 Mhz IBM PCs? People who live simple lives and aren't in a hurry can do very well with older machines. Maybe it will someday become a kind of reverse macho: How little computer can you make do with? Time was I used Word Perfect 4.1, Sidekick, Reflex, Crosstalk, and Turbo Pascal, all at 4.88—and almost nothing else. I did OK.
August 6, 1998:
With monster hard drives so cheap these days, why isn't there a disk controller that simply performs the same operations out to two identical drives? If one drive fries, you have an identical image on the other. 4GB can now be had on sale for $150. This is madness—albeit madness I can live with. And I'd gladly throw another $150 into the machine to protect against random drive failure. If such a controller exists, I'd love to hear about it.
August 3, 1998:
I'll be taking some time away this month, so forgive me if there are some gaps. While speaking of getaways, I should mention that after about ten months in hand, I am very pleased with my IBM ThinkPad 560 laptop, and my business partner Keith (who waited a little longer than me) is just as happy with his IBM Thinkpad 660. My old boss Will Fastie used to say loudly that IBM was not a hardware company but a marketing company. Sorry, Will. IBM is some kind of hardware company. Those skinny little things are nothing short of amazing. Keep it coming, Big Guys.