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Scott's Column
Laptop Problems, Site Redesigns and New Site

June 1, 1998
By Scott Lewis

This month I spent a fair amount of time preparing to roll out a new site dedicated to web site design. I am calling the site "Site Design - á la Carte." A site where you can learn design techniques and elements one piece at a time.

This format gives me the opportunity to go much further that just writing a column about web site design. I can write about it, and I can show it to you in small pieces.

I always find it easier to use a new technique if I can concentrate on it without any distraction. My new site will have examples of page design tricks that you can look at all by themselves. This saves you the work of having to take apart a complicated page just to learn how one trick was done.

Redesign This Site

While I was designing Site Design - á la Carte I decided to use the same basic style to redesign this site. I wanted to maintain the same ability to navigate to any of the articles with one click from the table of contents, and still have one click page access from each page.

I decided not to use frames this time around. I have gone both ways with frames and thought that it was time to leave them behind. It will be easier for you to bookmark the column you like most, and you will still have access to all the other columns and strategy guides with one click.

I still like the frame concept. Done well, or at least simply, you can build a site that loads individual pages very fast, and has good navigation.

To get a consistent look I am now using tables. The first time you load one of my pages, all the graphics that make up the navigation get downloaded. This should be a one time event, since the graphics should be in your cache from then on.

Let me know how the pages load. I will be doing modem testing as much as I can, but your opinion is the most important.

Laptop Problems

Last month I told you about my problems with my laptop. Well they got worse. In fact, last months edition was two days late because my laptop was still down.

Initially they were to replace a DC-DC board (Whatever that is. Actually something to do with getting electrical power into the machine). I played musical batteries while I waited for the part to come in. When the part came in they took my laptop for the labor. I was to get the laptop back the same day.

Alas, the DC-DC board did not solve the problem. Since it took almost two week to arrive, they gave me a loaner while they waited for a replacement system board.

After a week with the loaner I was feeling pretty safe that it was a really good machine. I had previously backed up my hard drive to the LAN. Since the loaner was using the hard drive from my own laptop, I decided to restore all its files from the LAN. Now I was working as usual.

My LAN drive area was a mess, so I decided to do some cleanup before the next round of backing up. The day after I deleted all my backups from the LAN, the laptop crashed.

Yes, the loaner. I was running Internet Explorer 4.0, and reading an article on line. IE crashed. Since I was not done reading the article I decided it would be a good idea to reboot before trying to read the page again, in case the page I was reading was the problem.

I did a full shut down and restart. Upon restarting, Windows 95 said that its system was corrupt, and that Windows need to be reinstalled. A number of other scary (for lack of a better word) messages popped up as Windows booted. Along the way I was asked if I would like to restore the last know safe configuration. I answered yes, and rebooted again. Now I got all kinds of bad DLL error messages, and the machine would reboot itself endlessly.

Reboot, reboot, reboot. Nothing could get the machine to boot all the way. I was very worried since I didn't have any backups for a good 100 MB worth of files. All my web development and Visual Basic code is included in that 100 Meg.

At this point all I cared about was getting the machine to boot so I could backup my hard drive. Standard practice around here for laptops is to copy the Windows CAB files to the local hard drive and install from there. (The CAB files are the original installation files.) I ran setup from the CAB files directory. Amazingly Windows 95 did an unattended install (just like the original but without the command line parameters that are usually necessary), and proceeded to reinstall over itself.

Still no luck. I was still getting the same bad DLLs. I tried copying the DLLs mentioned from another machine. No help. I was starting to panic. I tried all kind of boot options (press F8 when you see the "Starting Windows 95..." message.) When I did step-by-step confirmation, I would get error messages from HIMEM.SYS about bad memory, and get dropped to a command line.

I was pretty sure this was all the results of bad hardware. The memory error seemed a good indication that something was wrong. But I had to get my files off the machine. I tried deleting all the files in the \windows and \windows\system directories, and reinstalling Windows 95 again. This time I was more successful. I was able to get Windows 95 to boot. And my files were still there. But I couldn't get access to the LAN.

What backup procedure should I use? Floppies would be a nightmare. I decided to try something drastic. I took the laptop home, and ran a direct cable connection to my machine at home. This worked. But the laptop would hang regularly (or irregularly as the case may be).

I couldn't get the machine to keep running long enough to transfer the 100 Meg of data. In fact, it would not get very far before crashing.

To get all the files over reliably I created a batch file that would map my home computer hard drive as a network drive for the laptop. The the batch file would use the XCOPY command to copy all files in the appropriate sub-directories using the /m option. /m makes use of the archive attribute of the files. I made sure the archive attribute was turned on for every file (ATTRIB +A *.* /S). Then XCOPY would turn the archive attribute off after the file was successfully copied.

When the laptop locked up, I just rebooted and re-ran the batch file. Everything would pickup where it left off. This worked. There was an annoying side effect. Every time the laptop locked up, it left the file being copied in an inaccessible state on my home computer. This was solved be rebooting both computers each time the laptop crashed.

It took around 6 or 7 reboots to copy all the data necessary. Finally my data was safe.

The following Monday (I did the backup to my home computer over the weekend) my original laptop returned, and was working properly. They took the loaner back, and had my hard drive reformatted and reloaded with a standard (company) load.

I still had to arrange to get Office 97 and Outlook 97 re-installed. That took another day. Once that was done, I was up and running again. This all happened two days after I was supposed to have last months edition of columns posted. The reason for the delay.

Getting the files off my home machine to the restored laptop was a breeze. I then backed up the laptop to the LAN again. Once I was sure is was fully working and I had full backups on the LAN, I deleted the files from my home machine.

I am a fanatic about backing up data files. I never backup applications. I would rather reinstall them from the original CD-ROMs. I couldn't believe that I got caught without a spare copy of my files, even for such a short time.

Well that about covers it for this month. There was a lot to tell. Off to make another backup of my hard drive. See you next time.

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