September 29, 1998:
rage is being expressed at the DIVX video "standard", which is
an interesting example of a technology designed by lawyers and Big Money,
with the "what's mine is mine, and what's yours is mine" attitude you often
encounter with such groups. A DIVX player is basically a DVD player with
a modem, and when you want to play a movie, the DIVX player phones home
and asks permission to run the movie. DIVX Central makes no promises at
all, and can deny access to films even after they've been fully paid for,
if the film maker chooses (for example) to re-release a film in cinemas.
The consumer pays his bucks and gets nothing, zip, nada in return except
(maybe) the right to play the film, if all goes well and the DIVX lines
aren't busy. What few people realize yet is that this is a titanic invasion
of privacy. Over time, DIVX will accumulate a very detailed record of what
people do with their evenings, and if a habitual DIVX viewer stops asking
permission for a couple of nights, well, it probably means nobody's home
for awhileand who knows what sort of people will have access to the
databases? DIVX is, in short, a monumentally bad idea. Don't buy it.
September 27, 1998:
we had Media One install cable modem service at Carol's mother's house in
Niles, Illinois, and I got a taste of the future. (I'm on the road for a
little while and currently camping out in Chicagoland.) Egad! I connected
to the server back at the Coriolis home office, and my IS director informs
me that I was slinging packets his way at 10 MBPS. Megabits per second.
This is the fastest Net connection I have ever seen. Web pages (assuming
no choke points along the path) pop into existence with almost no delay,
and big files come down the pipe at about the same speed as they come off
my Zip drive. So many things become possible with bandwidths like this…I
am still boggling at what this kind of a connection implies. And, of course,
I fly back to Scottsdale next week where there is no cable TV in my neighborhood,
no ADSL, no…nothing. Just my hoary old 28.8 KBPS dialup, which is the most
that US West can provide me with, assuming I don't care to wait six months
for a problem-ridden ISDN install that costs me $100 a month. No thanks.
September 24, 1998:
award for Best Looking But Least Useful Major Website must go to Hewlett
Packard, who are supposed to be pretty bright guys, but don't have the brains
(or, more cynically to suppose, the guts) to post what platforms their scanners
support. I was told their HP4100C scanner was very nice and very compact
and supports the Universal Serial Bus (which my new Compaq has) but nobody
knew if the accompanying software installs and runs under Windows NT. I
bought an otherwise very nice PaperPort scanner not long back, only to find
its software (for no identifiable reason) refuses to install under NT. It's
now my laptop take-on-trips scanner, but I still need one for my home office,
and without ironclad assurance that all software installs under NT, there's
no sale. Is HP so dumb they forgot that you have to tell the potential purchaser
what sorts of machines a product works with? Or are they trying to hide
the fact that they only support Win 95/98? (Or, worse, 95 only?)
September 22, 1998:
who have followed my Virtual Encyclopedia speculations (or those who are
interested in knowledge classification) might be interested in a federal
publication called the North American Industry Classification System
(NAICS). It can be ordered from the Superintendent of Documents, PO Box
371954, Pittsburgh PA 15250-7954. FAX orders: 202-512-2250. The hardcopy
quarto-sized volume (1244 pages) is a steal at $32.50. What we have here
is a sort of Dewey Decimal System for industry, dividing the multitude of
business types into extremely precise niches and coding them by number.
For example, Residential Electric Light Fixture Manufacturing is 335121,
and Radish Farming, Field, and Seed Production is 111219and a quick
scan of the index proves that everything else has a spot here too. The publication
will soon be available electronically on CD-ROM, and since it's in the public
domain I may build it into a TreeView control or make it part of the general
Knowledge Explorer that I presented in the magazine last year. It's certainly
an interesting example of how to divide up an extremely complex field hierarchically.
Other such schemes may be knocking around the government, and I'm actively
looking for them. If you know of any, please clue me in.
September 16, 1998:
anybody do assembly anymore? I'm considering revising my long-running book,
Assembly Language Step By Step, and have uncovered a marvelous piece
of software: An open source freeware assembler! It's NASM, the Net-Wide
Assembler. Far from being a "tiny" or otherwise defeatured product, NASM
seems to be able to create any sort of file that MASM or TASM can create.
This is not a fossil from the dawn of computer time. It's completely recent
and includes C++ source and documentation in HTML format. (You can browse
the documentation online at http://www.web-sites.co.uk/nasm/docs/
) Their home page is http://www.web-sites.co.uk/nasm/
Some of us still enjoy this stuff. If you're one of them, definitely go
take a look.
September 14, 1998:
offices of El Dorado County, California, have sent me a letter demanding
a great deal of proof that Visual Developer Magazine has taken steps
to prevent a Year 2000 meltdown. In an urgent, imperative tone they demand
a copy of my Year 2000 Compliance Plan, the name and telephone number of
my Year 2000 Project Manager, and the same thing for all of my subcontractors.
Finally, they threaten to sever our business relationship (which consists
of precisely one magazine subscription) if I don't fully comply by November
11, 1998. If any of you folks reading this live in El Dorado County, be
aware of what your county gnomes are up to these days, to make it look like
they're actually doing something in return for all those property tax dollars
you hand them to keep from losing your houses. Please call Mr. Russ Waltrip
at 530-621-5540 and register your extreme displeasure. All I can do is laugh
at him behind his pathetic little back.
September 11, 1998:
you physicists out there, please don't roll your eyes at me, but I just
got a good laugh out of discovering that the really and truly official prefix
for ten to the twenty fourth power is…yotta. How soon will we see our first
yottabyte hard drive? Soonbut perhaps not as soon as our first zettabyte
drive, where a zettabyte is a trifling ten to the eighteenth power bytes.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the zepto prefix, for tiny things
ten to the negative eighteenth power down there, and yocto, for ten to the
negative twenty fourth power. What's that small? Maybe the Quarks Brothers,
Femto, Atto, Zepto, and Yocto. Or maybe not. (A nice summary of all this
can be had at http://www.primenet.com/~aharding/physics/si.html.)
September 10, 1998:
to read some really old diskettes I had and found that they were
just no good anymore. (I'm talking dawn-of-the-PC age stuff here.) I knew
that magnetic media degrades over time, but it's quite a slap-up-the-side-of-the-head
to actually bump into the problem. PCs are getting to be senior citizens
in the systems world, I guess. So the question becomes this: Suppose we
want to save a workable copy of software for the ages, say, as an example
of a history maker in its category. (Turbo Pascal, Visicalc, things like
that.) What do we store it on? Do we have to make double sure that somebody
refreshes the mag copies every five years? What is truly permanent storage?
Even CDs aren't supposedly good for more than forty years or so. Can we
keep old PCs running in museums if the software on their hard drives evaporates
in twenty years or so? I don't know of any good answers. Are the museum/library
people working on this question? If you are, please drop a line and give
me the rundown.
September 8, 1998:
an ActiveX component product over the weekend. I installed it in Visual
Basic and it worked great. Then I installed it in Delphi and it didn't work
at all. I won't name the product in fairness to the vendor, who nowhere
claims the product works with Delphiand that's not my point here anyway.
When something doesn't work, how do we determine what's wrong? Does Delphi
implement ActiveX support incompletely, or did the vendor take liberties
with the ActiveX spec in implementing the product? My guess is that the
component vendor took shortcuts around the stricter dictates of the ActiveX
spec, but there's no way the developer community can ever know for sure.
Every other ActiveX component I've installed under Delphi has worked just
fine. Read the box, guys. I guess that's the lessonand when you're
in the driver's seat, do your best not to favor one vendor over another.
September 4, 1998:
a few people know that Mr. Byte (the Bichon Frise dog I wrote about in so
many of my books in columns between 1980 and his death in 1995) had a little
brother, Chewy. Chewy came to us in August of 1982, followed us through
four states of wandering, and predated my entire career as a computer book
writer and editor. He was the quiet one, never the fusser or the yapper,
always the tireless walker and happy wagger, content to let Mr. Byte take
the lead. His kidneys had begun to fail a month or so ago, and by last night
we knew it was time. Mr. Byte lived the glorious life. Chewy lived the long
one. It was just the way he was, and Carol and I miss him terribly.
September 2, 1998:
occurred to me that much of the money lost by panicking investors who sold
at the bottom of the crash went right into the pockets of those who bought
at the bottom, waited a day or two, and then sold again. Cash (that is,
realized wealth) doesn't just vanish, though "paper wealth" can and does.
Nor is the American economy going to disappear any time soon. The only sensible
thing to do when the market corrects is ride it out (if you're not a money
hobbyist) or buy solid stocks (if you are a money hobbyist.) I sat it out.
Buy and hold, and over the long haul you will win.