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Scott's Column
Slow Work, Holidays, More Windows XP

January 1, 2002
By Scott Lewis

As is usually the case, December was a slow month for work & technology. However, it was very busy with the house. I did manage to get in some interesting tid-bits anyway. Read my Feature Article for the grand opening of the house.

Work

I finally managed to build a reproducible copy of the main software package I am responsible for. The application has a lot of dependencies, and I was not able to get a clean compile to run in production. I even tried recompiling the existing code on the original developers workstation... but even that failed to run on the production workstations.

I finally had to recompile every component developed in house... in a certain order... then build a complete package using VB's Package & Deployment Wizard. Not everything in the wizard worked, but I was able to account for what it could not.

Now I can freely make changes to code and know that I can move them into production without worrying if something will stop working due to some estranged dependency. I only have to worry about my own code being the problem.

I took this opportunity to get some advanced logging into the application to start tracking down unusual problems. It will still be some time, but I am a huge step closer. I expect to be adding more and more logging to the application until I can determine the source of our problems.

The House

The House is FINISHED! Well, maybe not finished... but we are living in it. We had problems with the electrician and closed on the house before the electric was turned on. So we couldn't move in until the following week. Read all about it in this month's Feature Article.

One thing of particular note, be sure not to hire Joe Morales in San Antonio as your electrician. As most of you know I almost never name names in my articles. But in this case the electrician was so unprofessional and behind schedule that I must do what little I can to discredit him. He left us worrying on many occasions... and rightfully so as he failed to complete many tasks on time, and caused us to move in with wires hanging out of the walls. Plus all the delays cost us money as well. He was definitely not worth the price.

Christmas/Birthday

My Birthday is in December... along with Christmas. However, this year with the house I managed to keep my wife in check and not spend too much on presents. I asked for three things. 1) Return to Castle Wolfenstein, 2) Car and Driver's desk calendar, and 3) A slotted race track. I got Wolfenstein for my birthday and a slotted race car set for Christmas. But no desk calendar. Oops.

Old Computer & Return to Castle Wolfenstein

I have not installed Wolfenstein as of this writing. I was having trouble getting my computer working when I moved in. Last month I mentioned that I built my in-laws a computer. I pirated the network card from my computer to get theirs connected to the Internet. When I tried to put an old Internet card into my machine it would not work. Windows 98 went into an endless loop of reboots and reinstalling the card. So I bought a new network card, that matched the one I put into my in-laws computer. I figured it would be an easy install since the drivers were already there. No such luck. The machine would not work and even had trouble booting and running at all. I decided it was probably due to installing and removing cards over time (I have had that problem before), and it was time to scrub the machine. Since I was starting over I thought it might be neat to try Windows XP.

I set the BIOS of my computer to boot from the CD-ROM drive, but it failed to do so. So I made the mistake of starting the install from Windows 98. Although it offered me the option of installing it to replace the old version of Windows, it did not offer the option to reformat the drive. Darn. I installed it anyway and sure enough the Program Files directory was littered with all my old stuff. And there were a few other directories I didn't need anymore. Worst of all, I could not get the Internet connection working. I tried everything I could think of. It said there was nothing wrong with the card, but it would not see the Internet with the cable modem. It was like the card was not working, but I don't know. I even tried to use a crossover cable to connect to my laptop directly, but that didn't work either.

So I booted from a floppy and reformat the hard drive. I wanted to load the machine faster so I tried to copy the i386 directory off the Windows XP disc to my D: drive and install from that. Well the xcopy failed and I spent way too much time manually traversing directories trying to get it all copied. Alas I didn't. The install could not find the file _default.pif. Since PIF files are for running DOS programs I skipped the file... I don't run any DOS software.

The installation reached a point that it said it could not go any further, and quit. I was tired so I did a quick format of the hard drive and installed Windows 98 again. The installation all went fine. In fact it was a breeze until it was time to connect to the Internet. Windows 98 asked for and installed the drivers for the NIC just fine. Win 98 reported the card was working, which was much better than before the reformat.

But it still couldn't connect to the Internet. I gave up. I assumed I must have forgot some little tid-bit that was the key to make it work. I call the cable modem people and explained I was trying to move the cable modem to my desktop. (when they came and installed we did it on the laptop, which is having no trouble connecting to the Internet.) They asked if I had reset the modem. Huh? How? Just unplug it for a few seconds. Apparently the modem needs to be reset before it will work on another computer. Something about the IP addresses. Anyway... it worked. Fast and easy.

Now I know why the network card wasn't working in Windows XP, so I installed Windows XP. Since the machine was freshly formatted I figured it would be alright to install from Windows 98. I did that and all worked fine. I spend a few hours getting my main programs re-installed (which I would have had to do with Windows 98 anyway). I put very little software on the computer. I intend to build myself another computer as soon as funds allow. My wife is currently hooked on Spider Solitaire that happens to come with Windows XP (and it is on the laptop running Windows ME).

The only games I plan on installing for myself are Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed and Wolfenstein. My computer barely meets the minimum requirements for Wolfenstein. I am hoping to leverage that with my wife to help release the funds to build a new computer. I have written in the past that I would like to build two computers... a desktop for myself and a cheap server. I have done some pricing and think I can build a decent server for my simple needs for about $500. I can build myself a nice computer for about $1,000 to $1,400. I would like to build the $1,400 version. I priced that out with a USB 2.0 external CD/RW drive so I could really put the computer out of site. But I don't think there is any chance I can get my wife to let me spend $1,900. So I will try to sell her on $1500 for two computers.

In the mean time I am leaving the computer ready to be handed over to the kids. I hope to have more next month.

A Really Old Computer

I may be getting my old Gateway P100 back from my brother-in-law. I may be able to get it working as a server. I was thinking about running Linux on it. But the minimum requirements for Linux is 32 MB of memory. My Gateway only has 24 MB. Oops! I may try to upgrade the memory, I will see. Since it would be a very mild server, all I really need it for at the moment is to act as an MP3 server, It may be fast enough. I can pump the sound from its sound card into my old stereo, and pump that into a switch box to distribute the sound to all the speakers in the house from my "server room" (the closet in my study). I'll have to keep you posted on this.

Slotted Race Cars

The track I asked my wife to get me (Tomy AFX 4 Lane) went out of stock a couple of weeks before my birthday. At least that is when we checked and saw it was out of stock. My wife was pressuring me for ideas for a present. I told her to wait until the track was available. The reason I wanted that particular track was because it was 4 lanes, so we could all enjoy it, and they make adapter tracks for the Tomy AFX track to connect to my old Aurora AFX track.

I still have my slotted race cars and track from when I was an early to late teenager. I can still vaguely remember using my employment at Toys-R-Us in high school to make sure I could get all the best slotted cars and track pieces before regular customers could get their hands on them. Over those years, long ago, I managed to build a collection of over 50 cars, and enough pieces of track to fill a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood with a 4 lane race track and still have plenty of track left over. I have been waiting for a couple of decades now to be able to setup a race track in a real game room. Well, that time has arrived.

My wife bought me a Life-Line brand track for Christmas. So I did some digging and they make adapter track that will adapt the Life-Line track to Tomy AFX, but not to Aurora AFX. No problem, I found a place that had both adapters. I ordered two pair of each adapters. That's 4 Tomy AFX to Life-Like pieces and 4 Tomy AFX to Aurora AFX pieces. Why 4 instead of just two. Because I want to be able to setup 4 lanes of track and will most likely need 4 adapters... double to 8 pieces total because I have to do a double conversion.

I ordered the pieces shortly after Christmas. I do not have them as of this writing. I will write about getting my old track up with the new track in a future article, otherwise I will ramble on for hours here and now. Hopefully I will write about it next month in my Feature Article if time permits. I want to dedicate an article to it so I can go into plenty of detail. As a primer... I will inventory all my cars and track pieces, and explain how I manage to combine the tracks. I will also look into buying replacement parts for my old cars. I have seen replacement shoes, the part that wears out the most, online. I want to try and find a place that will sell them in bulk. I also want to find a good way to build layouts on a computer that will be accurate to scale and include all my special pieces. I found a piece of software on the Internet a while back. It had a cripple ware version that let you see how it worked, but the real version costs $40. I think that is a bit too much to spend for such a program. Maybe I will figure out a way to use Paint Shop Pro or write something myself in Visual Basic.

I am getting long winded already, so I better back off until the real article. Come back next month.

Conclusion

Like I said... we are finally living in the house. With so many things to do after we moved in I would swear we were remodeling and not moving into a new house. But we love it.

I hope all of you enjoyed your holidays. Until next time...

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