October 30, 1998:

As the latest turn in a bizarre corner of our industry that has no right to be so bizarre, SyQuest is filing for bankruptcy. I used SyQuest removable drives for quite a few years, between the time the 44MB 5 ¼" cartridges appeared about 1991 until the fall of 1997, when I grew aggravated enough at them to dump the EZ-Drive 135 in favor of Iomega's Zip technology, even though Zip cartridges only hold 100MB to the EZ-Drive's 135.

Why did I dump them? Drivers. Syquest's drivers did not support the "media-changed" bit under NT, so I had to—really!—reboot NT any time I wanted to change cartridges. NT takes awhile to reboot, especially on the Pentium 90 I used until November 1997. That this was strictly the fault of SyQuest is proven by the fact that the Zip drive I bought plugged right in—piggybacking on my main hard drive's SCSI card—and ran immediately under NT. Looking back as far as 1991, I can recall that SyQuest's drivers were always a problem…fussy, almost undocumented, and infinitely configurable through command line options that no one on Earth seemed to understand. I got lucky and they worked beautifully under Win 3.x, but our relationship soured once I moved to NT 3.51 in late 1995. Iomega's products, by contrast, always seemed to work and were never much of a problem to move from machine to machine—even though the ancient 8" Bernoulli Box "cafeteria tray" cartridges I used from 1986 to 1991 ticked like time bombs all the time they were powered up. Iomega ticked…but it was SyQuest that blew up. It's the software, guys. It's always the software!
October 27, 1998:

Here's an idea for a Net business that could, with some cleverness, be a tremendous hit-generator. The idea is to compile a searchable dictionary of names and common questions that people go out looking for with search engines such as Alta Vista. Type in "United Airlines" and be sent to www.ual.com. Type "Where is the Library of Congress" and go to www.loc.gov. That sort of thing. You could cover idiosyncratic renderings of common names ("United Air Lines" or even "Untied Airlines")

This thing would work in large part because our idiotic government has not taken the domain name problem by the horns, and even though there can be many different businesses using the word "Ventana" in their names without a trademark conflict, there is only one "ventana.com" to be had. Hence Ventana Books could not be ventana.com because some graphics design firm grabbed the domain first.

How would the dictionary be compiled? One line at a time. Ask people what their search strategies are. Look for companies and organizations whose domains are not obvious. Obtain files containing reference material that people ask for a lot (perhaps the periodic table of elements or a list of the constellations, or, hell, what Binney & Smith's current 64 Crayola Crayon colors are) and post those locally to the dictionary. There used to be a search engine (I forget which one) that had a little window you could watch that displayed the queries that people were typing in at that moment in time. If such a thing still exists (I saw it once but never bookmarked it) spend some time watching it to discern the shape of common queries. Do people primarily use keywords or pose questions? This would be fun, and could begin, as Yahoo did, as a freebie site tinkered together a little at a time.
October 25, 1998:
When I wanted to decommission and sell an old Pentium 90 I've had for some time, I wanted to "wipe" all material from its hard drive so that my financial records won't be flitting around the NTFS free sector pool. Problem is, I couldn't find a wipe program that supported NTFS (NT File System. No FAT here…) So the machine has sat in the corner since late last year, gathering dust. Recently I found Terminus, a very nice wipe'n'shred program that supports NTFS as well as FAT. The user interface may be just a little flashy for my tastes, but the thing works like crazy and it's not expensive. You can download a trial version of the product from the vendor Web site: http://www.gnt.net/~dmaster/terminus/index.html and registering it is only $29.95 for a single-seat license, with an ascending scale for more seats, up to $350 to install it for an entire site. (Be aware that the download archive is over 5 MB in size, and the vendor's server is very slow.) There are varying degrees of effectiveness, up to and including the rigorous DOD security standard for nuking leftover magnetic disturbances. The more security you want, the longer the wipe takes, but I just set the old Pentium on the spare table, told Terminus to give it everything it had, and walked away. Terminus will also shred files and directories, and has a nice wizard interface for setting up unusual jobs. NT-specific software is finally starting to mature. 'Bout damned time, too. Now, for an NTFS-capable defragger…
October 23, 1998:
What a notion…but then again, why not? IBM has introduced…drum roll please…a Y2K compliant version of PC DOS. It's called PC DOS 2000, and is the direct descendent of PC DOS 7.0, which appeared in 1997. We who sneer at such things may forget that it is the oldest systems still in operation that are most likely to be the Y2K bugfarms, and that if a DOS system is still in operation, it may be because its users are "stuck" with some weird custom software or hardware that can't be replaced without (considerable) time and money that may not be available. If a manager of such a system can breathe a little easier by upgrading DOS for $70, hey, God love 'm.
October 22, 1998:
A company called Zing has hit upon a slightly zany scheme to entertain you while you're waiting for Web pages to load. The Zing server pushes down some content to your hard drive when time allows, and then while you're waiting for graphics to load from some Web page the Zing client orchestrates a show on your screen, somewhat reminiscent of the PointCast screen saver. Needless to say, while much of what's there is supposed to be vendor-free items like jokes and music, I would guess that a lot of the content will be advertising, given the list of "content partners" Zing has assembled. Hey, I do have to give them credit for imagination. As for me, well, no thanks. My attention span is too long to squander on things that sit on my screen for oh, say, three seconds. However, by all means go to Zing and see for yourself.
October 21, 1998:
I don't read mail order catalogs much anymore, and this is one reason: A catalog that wandered in the other day listed a 12GB EIDE Quantum hard drive for $249. 12GB! Get a couple of those in a box, and you could begin storing nontrivial amounts of full-motion video. Maybe somebody will make a "time shifter" video box, like a VCR with no slot: It just records your daytime show onto disk, then after you watch it, punch in another command and record another show on top of it the next day. Most of the stuff I've time-shifted I had no desire to see a second time…and VHS tapes are not especially compact.
October 19, 1998:
From the Fuzziness Has Its Virtues Dept: While I was in Chicago I went to a big computer discount retailer and saw a number of flat panel monitors attached to Windows machines. There was a strangeness to the effect that took a minute to identify. Those panels are so sharp that you can see their razor-cut pixels in their entirety, and the edges of the text fonts are horribly aliased. My laptop doesn't have this same problem, and it's hard to tell just why. Are the fonts different? Are the panels sharper somehow? I hate to say it, but those microjaggies didn't endear their very expensive products to me. It's worth watching, but I'm not going to jump just yet.
October 16, 1998:
There are tons of cool catalogs that cater to specific industries that are rarely seen outside those industries. One to snag if you like books is the Gaylord catalog. They sell products to libraries, and stock an incredible variety of bookshelves, display cabinets, carts, ladders, chairs, binders, labels, continuous and laser forms, overhead projectors, archival supplies, fiche readers, display racks, lecterns, PA systems, study carels, desks, and on and on. http://www.gaylord.com. 1-800-634-6307 to request a catalog.
October 14, 1998:
Per my October 12 entry, how's this sound: Create a simple program that executes in the background, checking and testing the system's IP address against the last known address. If the IP changes (say, if there were a power outage) the little daemon program would query the new IP, update the last known address field, and then transmit the IP to a server with a static IP. This server would be a sort of "shell host" for the server mounted on the cable modem—and the cable modem server's dynamic IP would be served as a server push forwarding operation by the fixed IP lookup server. Let me give an example: Say the lookup-and-forward server would have the domain shovealong.com. A cable modem user mounts a server, names it "bichons" and registers with shovealong.com. Shovealong.com would create a very simple HTML page that would be loaded in response to a request for bichons.shovealong.com, and that page would consist of a banner reading "You've reached bichons.shovealong. Hang on while we start the show…" A server push statement would then launch the client browser off to the a URL containing the raw (that is, "dotted") IP for bichons.shovealong. (This page would be automatically generated from the IP uploaded automatically by the little IP sampler on the cable modem machine.) A relatively modest server could support this kind of URL forwarding for thousands of servers with dynamic IPs. Would this work? It seems to me that it would, and if I can find the time I'll slap it together and give it a try.
October 12, 1998:
Sorry for the gap; I've been in Chicago for several weeks, and catching up back here in Scottsdale kept me hopping to the extent that the Diary went begging. I'm still boggling from my experience with a cable modem there. With such power, one cannot help but begin to imagine uses. The obvious one is mounting a server, even though the uplink bandwidth is not so great as the downlink bandwidth. (In other words, it's faster to download stuff from the Net to your PC than to be the place people download stuff from.) One hassle with mounting a server is that a cable modem is really just a long-persistence dialup: You get a dynamic IP address when you connect, and if you break the connection and come back (by turning off power to the cable modem or having a power outage turn it off for you) you end up with a different IP address, making your server instantly unreachable. Some cable companies explicitly prohibit servers on customer PCs, mostly because of the temptation for young people to mount something illegal, immoral, or otherwise bandwidth-fattening-but in truth I didn't see such a prohibition in the fine print. There's gotta be a way around the IP problem. I'll think on it and report.