November 30, 1998
a notion to give you pause: Gazillions of hasty corrections to Year 2000
problems by gray-haired COBOL veterans hauled out of retirement will spawn
a sort of "son of Y2K" in the form of bugs and unintended consequences that
could turn out to be worse than the original disease. Maybe then people
will finally toss the old iron and rewrite those systems from scratchkeeping
the source this time, maybe.
November 26, 1998
day. No diary today or for the weekend. I'll be off visiting friends and
being damned glad I live where I do, when I do. (Reading history is the
best cure for nostalgia I've ever found.) Be back 11/30.
November 25, 1998
you ever wanted to set up an email list server for your club or online gang
of whatever flavor, here's your chance. EGroups is a Web-based email list
server system, free and open to anyone. The catch is that they sprinkle
ads into the redistributed mail, one at the end of each message echoed to
the list's members. The ads are short, usually one-liners, with a click-to
URL as the second line. If that doesn't bother you, take a look; the system
is easy to use and works quickly and reliablyand the price is right.
November 24, 1998
official. AOL just bought Netscape, for over 4 billion dollars. Although
every pundit with an earring has an opinion on the new combo as a killer
portal to the Web, nobody's quite sure what happens to the software. Will
AOL lose all their proprietary (and increasingly behind-the-curve) clients
and servers? Does AOL know how to sell servers? Will marvelous if limited-market
items like Compass Server go away? (I'd prefer to see it become open-source
softwarethat way, those who like it and need it can keep it evolving
and improving.) What code will be shed, and what new technologies will the
combined organization pursue?
November 18, 1998
sunuvugun. The Infoseek search engine supports arbitrary META tag indexing
now. Yikes, it took long enough! (Though in fairness to Infoseek, I haven't
checked their site for months.) What this means is that you can now search
the Infoseek Web database for any META tag content field at all. For example,
I could embed a META tag in my Web document with the following info: name=language
content="en". (This is of course one of the fields I've been championing
in the Virtual Encyclopedia initiative.) I could search the Infoseek Web
database by entering the following search parameter: language:en. I have
traditionally done my "first try" Web searching through Alta Vista. That
will now change to Infoseek. Bravo, guys. (To learn more about this feature,
go to http://software-search.infoseek.com/help/meta.html.)
November 16, 1998
has just announced a pair of monster PC hard drives, one holding 22GB and
another, slightly slower drive holding 25GB. Prices were not announced in
the initial Reuters release, but IBM did claim it was targeting consumer
PCs for the 25GB DeskStar drive, so it couldn't be one of those $GNP/3 pricing
strategies IBM has used with greater or lesser success in the past. Now,
I have a 4.3GB drive in my year-old NT machine, and it's nowhere near full,
even with the 400+ MB I have recently dumped onto it in the form of MP3
tracks ripped from my music CDs. What will such drives be good for? My take:
Somebody should create a "music server" box, consisting mostly of a sound
card, network card, and one of these megahonkers, and provide a simple control
app that works across a network. Doesn't even need its own keyboard or monitor.
Connect it to your desktop PC via ethernet link or even a USB port, and
have yourself a fully electronic jukebox. We need better software for CD
track ripping, and certainly a more versatile player program would be nice
to have. WinAmp is damned good, but it could grow to be much moreand
a suitably brilliant upstart could grab a great deal of its market share.
November 12, 1998
Coriolis sales conference for the next four days. Diary will have to be
on hold. And no, I'm not going to Comdex this year. But by all means let
me know what cool stuff you find there if you're going.
November 11, 1998
Day. Keep in mind, always, that freedom isn't necessarily free. It sometimes
has to be fought forand the price to be paid can be high. A young
Wisconsin farm boy named Bobby Williams might well have been my father,
had he not paid the ultimate price in WWII. Thanks, Bobby. My mother has
never forgotten you, and neither will I.
November 10, 1998
open-source MP3 player has been released. Like most Unix-style open-source
software these days, it's in C++, and is available under the GPL license.
You can download a fully built executable, however, and sniff out the details
at the FreeAmp Web site: www.freeamp.org.
It might be asking a little much, but would someone kindly turn this device
into a software component? I want to write an MP3 jukebox program, but I
do not want to write an MP3 player. I know my limits. This is one of them.
November 9, 1998
is to boggle: An M.D. takes probably a quarter million dollars and eight
years to acquire, and newly minted doctors without an exotic specialty can
expect a starting salary of maybe $85K-$90K. A CCIE certification (Cisco
Certified Internetwork Expert) probably takes two years of on-the-job experience
with network hardware, plus about $5,000 worth of courses and examinations…and
new-hire CCIEs can generally get $100K plus to start. I heard this from
an ambitious young woman who has dropped all plans for med school and is
now studying routers. Egad. One of these days nobody is going to bother
to become a doctor, if it pays more to fix networks than people.
November 6, 1998
I uninstall a Windows app, I get this blizzard of messages telling me "no
application appears to be using barfo.dll, but if you delete it any application
that uses it will go down in flames etc." with an option to leave it on
my hard drive. Has anyone read between the lines here? Windows is incapable
of ensuring that shared DLLs will always be logged and respected by the
registry. It uses everything short of blows with a blunt object to persuade
users never to delete any DLL once installedso the depth
of dusty code clogging our hard drives grows without limit. I have always
been suspicious of shared code, and the only real upside to shared codehard
disk economyis now an absurdity, given that a 12GB hard drive can
now be had for $250. Why risk it? When I program, I want the whole damned
thing to be in one chunk, so that no fool (including yours truly)
can delete a piece of my app without that deletion being painfully obvious.
(I haven't even mentioned the gnarlier issue of DLL versions here, or namespace
collisions, both of which make shared code riskier still.) One reason I
will continue to program in Delphi is that with only some exceptionslike
when using ActiveX componentsDelphi produces a single .EXE file. All
the code is in the box. And that is the only way I can program and still
sleep nights. Shared code is a monstrously bad idea.
November 5, 1998
occurred to me this morning that I should cite the books from which I learned
all that I know about USB and FireWire. Addison-Wesley publishes MindShare's
PC Architecture Series, a set of about fifteen books that covers hardware
and interface specs for a great many pieces of the PC universe, including
the various desktop CPUs, PCMCIA, PCI, Plug and Play, USB, FireWire, and
others. Tom Shanley originated the series, and it's been consistently marvelous
for several years now, and has become my primary reference for hardware
issues. The two books in question are Universal Serial Bus System Architecture
(ISBN 0-201-46137-4) and FireWire System Architecture (ISBN 0-201069470-0).
I recommend both books (all the books in the series, actually) wholeheartedly.
November 4, 1998
While researching USB I suddenly remembered FireWirea marvelously
named creature coming from Apple Computer's research labs. FireWire is
a serial transfer spec (covering both hardware and software) that pushes
bits through a pipe at speeds of up to 400 megabits per second. (Fire
you want? Fire we'll give you!) That's approaching SCSI speeds,
suggesting that you'll plug future disk drives into your machine through
a coaxial cable rather than a fragile multiple-conductor ribbon cable
with fifty or more fussy little pins to break, bend, tarnish or snap off.
Having heard a lot about FireWire a couple of years ago, I suddenly stopped
hearing anything about it at alljust about the time that USB surfaced
on the buzz waters. USB is an order of magnitude slower than FireWire, though
still more than fast enough for things like digital still cameras, scanners,
keyboards, and mice. I'm wondering if there are licensing hasslesApple
is not known for its wisdom in pricing technologyor if the cost of
FireWire interface hardware just can't compete with the jelly bean logic
used in USB. Nothing would prevent FireWire from coexisting with USB in
a single machine, but how many interface buses do we want? Simplicity is
goodbut economics rule. Watch this one.
November 3, 1998
spent some time researching scanners, I discovered that Universal Serial
Bus (USB) support was lacking in Windows NT4and that many vendors,
including the estimable Hewlett Packard, were loath to admit that USB devices
can't be connected to NT4. (See VDM Diary for September 24, 1998.) My first
inclination would be to scold them for not providing a suitable USB driver
with their scanners…but recently I'm getting the impression that something
deep and shadowy in NT4 will simply not allow effective support of USB hardware.
(I'm glad I discovered this before shelling out for that silly scanner.)
The recent buzz from Redmond about Windows 2000 (which is the new name for
what we expected to be Windows NT5you knew that, right?) holds that
full USB support will be present. Here's hoping that it's so, along with
a reminder that the NT driver game has been a truly miserable business from
the start. Win 2000 drivers use the same model as Win 98, so theoretically,
everything supported under Win 98 (including USB) will be available to Win
2000. Until then I think I'm going to borrow somebody else's scanner.
November 2, 1998
things just strike me as the hinges of history, and one of them is called
Wine. Wine is a Win32 API layer assembled as open-source freeware for the
Linux platform. The idea is to run Wine and use it to run 32-bit Windows
utilities and apps. While not touted as being finished, Wine works well
for a lot of Windows apps, and it's getting better all the time. There's
a list of apps that have been tested under Wine at the WineHQ Web site (www.winehq.com)
with ratings as to the success of the emulation. Wine has been used to allow
programmers to run JBuilder's command line compiler under Linux, tremendously
accelerating compile speed for big Java builds. (See http://home.clear.net.nz/pages/michael.hamilton/jb.html
for the story there.) Most significantly, Corel Corp. has signed into the
Wine project as a means of accelerating their port of Corel apps to Linux.
Corel is committing real engineering resources to the effort, and will (as
the Wine license requires) share their contributions with all others. Corel
has some experience here, having done some of their own Win32 emulation
to ease the path of their Windows graphics software to the Mac. So their
entry will add a lot to Wine's progress and its credibility. Wine is something
to watch. Once it gets far enough along, well-behaved Windows apps will
run under Linux just as they run under Windowswithout Windows residing
anywhere on the system. It's truer than Microsoft might like to admit that
an OS is just an API with a thread manager. Combined with a UI shell like
Gnome, Wine and Linux could go a long way toward undercutting the Microsoft