November 30, 1998
Here's 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 scratch—keeping the source this time, maybe.
November 26, 1998
Thanksgiving 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
If 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 reliably—and the price is right.
November 24, 1998
It's 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 software—that 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
Well, 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
November 16, 1998
IBM 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 more—and a suitably brilliant upstart could grab a great deal of its market share.
November 12, 1998
Semiannual 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
Veterans Day. Keep in mind, always, that freedom isn't necessarily free. It sometimes has to be fought for—and 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
An 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: 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
It 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
Whenever 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 installed—so 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 code—hard disk economy—is 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 exceptions—like when using ActiveX components—Delphi 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
It 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 FireWire—a 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 all—just 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 hassles—Apple is not known for its wisdom in pricing technology—or 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 good—but economics rule. Watch this one.
November 3, 1998
Having spent some time researching scanners, I discovered that Universal Serial Bus (USB) support was lacking in Windows NT4—and 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 NT5—you 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
Some 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 ( 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 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 Windows—without 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 monopoly.