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|Vol. 16 No. 2||Supporting PC Platforms||Newsletter:..Mar,-Apr. 2000|
|CONTENTS|| New directions ahead for SFPCC?
By Bob Wallace
Lots has happened since the last bi- monthly newsletter was sent to you, and lots more will happen over the next few months in this presidential election year. Let's see if we can make some sense of it by going through details in some logical fashion.
For the better part of our 15-plus years as a computer club, we have been fortunate to have both hardware and software suppliers interested in telling us about their products. In fact, most of these people searched for groups such as ours to find people they knew would be more knowledgeable about computers in general, and likely to be more interested in their products than the average man or woman on the street or in the local computer store.
Over this period of time we've seen lots of new computers, new devices to attach to those computers, and a fair share of software to put to useful purposes on our computers. We’ll note only a few will help save space for discussion of other issues here, as you'll note as you browse through this issue of the newsletter.
One of the first things that comes to mind on this Saturday morning is the Power Mouse demonstrated for us some number of years ago, coming along just about the time your editor started to move up from the CP/M computer to one of those MS-DOS systems the Power Mouse was designed to work with. For those who may be unaware of this device, it looked similar to the mouse most of us know of these days, but was much larger and had far more buttons available to use, most of them rogrammable for specific functions within a given program.
Among other potential uses, this device could be used with a spreadsheet, one of those large programs and its associated files that allow one to track all sorts of numbers, and frequently needing macros for some number of the functions used within the program. By attaching some of those macro combinations to specific buttons on the mouse, you'd only have to touch the right button to get the macro brought up for use by the program. At this moment I don't recall if anyone bought one of these devices, but the Power Mouse sure looked impressive.
When it comes to software, we've had quite a few programs demonstrated for us over the years. Going back to the CP/M days, WordStar was discussed on some number of occasions, largely due to most of the CP/M users having this specific word processor bundled with the Kaypro most of us started our personal computer era with. Your editor must have gotten one of the last Kaypros to be shipped with Perfect Software programs bundled, still uses the DOS version of Perfect Writer for most word processing, and is likely to continue using it for the foreseeable future, despite having IBMWorks available within OS/2 Warp version 3 on the notebook computer, and OS/2 Warp version 4 on the desktop system.
Needless to say, two of the better DOS/Windows word processors have also been talked about at one monthly meeting or another, that being MS Word and now MS Word for Windows, and WordPerfect. Each has its own group of users who think their program is the better of the two, despite each having pretty much the same capabilities built in, including the ability to read the other's documents in their "native" format, and each being able to import nearly any document for editing as if it had been written in that program's editor in the first place.
Where are we going with all of this? In a direction we've been going in on several previous occasions. Unfor-tunate as it may be, over the past 18 months or two years we've watched hardware and software producers moving away from doing presentations in front of a group. At first, their "reluctance" to make a commitment stemmed from their desire to have a "minimum number" of people in the room during the presentation. That minimum number has continued to escalate to the point where if we can't assure a presentor something on the order of 100 or more people in atten- dance, they don't want to be bothered with any discussion of their showing up for one of our meetings.
Perhaps we should look at this from a slightly different perspective? Might it be possible that hardware and software producers no longer want to make a presentation to anyone with at least a minimal level of computer knowledge and expertise? Having a group of people who know what they want to run on their computer may be an obstacle some producers may no longer care to deal with. The less we know about a computer and what it does, the more likely we are to fall under their spell about how many bells and whistles their hardware or software might give us to work with.
Whatever it is that's going on and going around, we'll talk about this
on Thursday evening, March 9. Where we are at the moment as a computer
users group, and where we're going with future meetings. It's not so
much that your Exec Board is out of ideas about what to present, as much
as it is that we're fresh out of potential presentors with a desire to
tell us about their latest whiz-bang product. Show up on Thursday evening
and give us some feedback on your ideas about future directions for the
San Francisco Peninsula Computer Club.
Windows 2000 debuts in S.F
By Bob Wallace
WINDOWS 2000: Microsoft said [Wednesday] that it has finished developing
and testing Windows 2000, its next-generation operating system software
for business PCs. The new software, the successor to Windows NT, is scheduled
to go on sale February 17. Several versions will be offered,
This was the small blurb in one of the San Francisco newspapers in mid-
December 1999. About two months later, on February 15, San Francisco's
Commonwealth Club featured the private debut of the operating system
designed to replace Windows NT for business systems and high-end PCs.
That evening's local newscast on Channel 4 told of the introduction,
but also noted that this latest version of the networking OS was full
of bugs. The
Two days later, Microsoft rolled out its newest OS, featuring one of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" characters playing a role in the debut. Patrick Stewart asked the audience what an actor might know about what the future holds for us, going on to say that he should, because "I've been there!" Okay, so the guy can read his script.
Given the private and public debuts by Microsoft of their newest high end operating system, it should come as no surprise that computer periodicals are out with stories on this latest Microsoft OS, as is PC Magazine, two of their magazines arriving within a couple of days of each other, only one of them covering as much of Windows 2000 as they could manage, given the timing of the debut and their editorial deadlines.
Computer Currents covered this new OS with a cover story - "Windows 2000: Do the Pieces Fit," while Microtimes covered this same story from the perspective of how it might affect mobile computer users. PC Magazine took it a step further, detailing their first tests on this new OS and suggesting that they have figured out the truth about performance, who should and should not upgrade to this product, and for those who do upgrade, how it will change your business.
As is usually the case with any new version of software, those
intent upon upgrading from whatever you have now to Windows 2000 may
want to wait for the first service pack. Version 1 of nearly everything
has been filled with enough bugs to make the first "fix" worth
How secure is your computer?
By Harold Johnston
Like many Internet users, I have been online for some time and oblivious to the lack of security on the Internet. Then the story on a Netscape bug was published, and I was astonished that someone could read any file on my computer while I was online. As soon as Netscape released a fix, I down-loaded their new version. Then, feeling a bit safer, I put Internet security on the back burner and continued crawling around the net.
Then, a few months ago, I decided to get a DSL connection and network the kids' computer to mine so they could get online, too. I figured I better get a firewall or something, but didn't look too far into it because I hadn't actually tied their computer in yet.
The other day I was reading a magazine and it referred me to www.grc.com. I knew my computer was not very secure, but Gibson Research Corp.,'s web site really opened my eyes. When I clicked on their Shields Up banner, I was shown this:
"Without your knowledge or explicit permission, the Windows networking technology which connects your computer to the Internet may be offering some or all of your computer's data to the entire world at this very moment! This is how I know your name."
GRC was able to read my Windows Registration file to get my name! Then I clicked on their Test My Shields icon and got even more information.
"Shields UP! is checking YOUR computer's Internet connection security . . . currently located at IP:"
Shields Up told me that my NetBIOS was open to anyone on the Internet able to determine my IP. And that once found, they could read, copy, delete, upload any file to my hard drive, upload a virus or another malicious program, and I wouldn't even know about it.
The next was a test of the various ports. The computer has some 65,535 ports that can be scanned and used. Here is what it said as it began the test:
"Port Probe attempts to establish standard TCP/IP (Internet) connections on a handful of standard, well-known, and often vulnerable Internet service ports on YOUR computer. Since this is being done from our server, successful connections demonstrate which of your ports are "open" and actively soliciting connections from passing Internet port scanners."
Here again I was open to the world. Further reading lead me to a quick and easy solution. Because I am not sharing resources over the Internet, I needed to disable MS Client. Besides, it's not needed for an Internet connection to work. Here is how you go about it:
1) Open your Control Panel
When I did this and then logged back on to GRC, it didn't know my name, and was not able to access anything on my computer. And all of my ports were reported as closed. Coolness!
After reading more, I learned that this was good enough if you didn't have a DSL or Cable Modem connection to the Internet and weren't online all the time. Since I have DSL, I needed a firewall. GRC has reviews and links to a couple firewalls including a new free one, AlarmZone. Just my price for now.
After installing AlarmZone, I hit GRC's site and the tests indicated that instead of my computer revealing the existance of my ports and that they are closed, it doesn't even respond and is basically invisible to Internet port scanners. Really Cool!
Steve Gibson's web site is a valuable resource for anyone who wants to tighten the security of their Windows PC. The whole time I was on this site, I was given more and more information. There is so much information there, you may spend hours reading and learning.
Y2K bugs yet may lurk
By Bob Wallace
Most of us may have the thought that the Y2K problems ought to be behind us. Not necessarily so. While January 1 (New Year's Day) and January 3 (first working day after New Year's Day) have come and gone with only minimal problems noted, another glitch made its presence known at the end of February.
For most of us, Leap Year is reasonably easy to deal with, once we get the hang of it. Not necessarily so for computers and/or the software running on them. Your computer's system clock has to be programmed correctly for this extra day every four years, and every century evenly divided by 400. For instance, 1900 and 2100 are not Leap Years, but 2000 is. It also helps if your software is able to "understand" Leap Year as well.
News item, March 1, 2000: Little PC Glitches
on Leap Day: Lines grew at a Washington-area
airport and some Caller ID and paging devices
dis- played the wrong date as Leap Day confused
computers [February 29]. Check-in congestion
at Reagan National Airport was blamed on a curbside
computer system used by skycaps. Pas sengers
had to use regular check-in stations until the skycap
system could properly recognize February 29.
John Koskinen, President Clinton's Y2K czar,
described the airport error and
Of four computers here at your editor's house, two desktops run 24 hours daily, one desktop is turned on and off usually four or five times each week, yet another (a notebook) is turned on as the need for it arises. The two systems running all day and night were displaying the correct date when I got up at 4:30 that morning; Lois's new Datawise system, not surprisingly, was showing the correct date when checked after getting home from work on that Tuesday; and the Compaq LTE 5100 notebook computer came up with the correct date when turned on just after checking Lois's Datawise system.
(For those interested in the technical details, the two all-day/night computers are running AMD K5-133 processors (486-compatible), Lois's Datawise system is using the Intel Celeron processor, and the Compaq is running Intel's Pentium 90. Each is new enough that the system clock was programmed correctly, and the communications programs running the BBS and Netmail systems (GT Power v19) "understood" the date correctly.)
Of all the digital "systems" here at the house, only the Timex IndiGlo digital watch jumped from February 28 to March 1, but had no problem in accepting February 29 when I set it to the correct date shortly after getting up that morning. This watch does not have the ability to display the year in any of its several modes, so not that much surprise in finding that it didn't have a clue about this year being a Leap Year.
At work in San Francisco, any problem with Y2K should have been resolved, one would have thought. Or so some of us would had figured before getting to work on February 29. The time clock was no problem, given that it's just an electric clock that punches date and time when we start to work, and at the end of each shift. That clock requires manual setting at the end of each month having less than 31 days, meaning it will need setting first thing in the morning on March 1. It's also brain- dead enough that it doesn't know when to roll over the month every 30 days. Not changing the month manually means we get to replay the previous month until it does get changed by someone with a key to it.
Another timekeeper is in the cab of each mixer truck, in a device known
as the "Truck Tracker." The small window at the top of the
display shows date and time shortly after we start the truck each shift,
and can display one or more messages from the dispatcher, if they choose
to use that method of passing along information. The employer, RMC Pacific
Materials (formerly RMC Lonestar) claims to have the newest computer
systems available to track their many delivery trucks around Northern
California, so it was some small surprise that the date came up as March
1 on what was February 29. For one reason or another, the dispatch personnel
chose not to reset the date during the day shift, despite knowing that
they'll have to do so on Wednesday, March 1.
Barring the possibility of another "crisis" situation being
foisted upon us by someone at the end of this year, we may be past any
potential for computer problems when it comes to the correct understanding
and display of calendar dates. If no "crisis" rears its head,
we may be able to avoid any possible Y2K-plus-1 scenario.
By Bob Wallace
Last November's meeting featured Hank Skawinski talking about the computers his company puts together for clients in Silicon Valley, and included a new computer with Intel's Celeron processor in a unit he was offering to members of the San Fran-cisco Peninsula Computer Club at a very reasonable price, all things considered.
As it happened, Lois had decided that she needed a newer computer for the various computing activities she goes through each month, so she made it a point to attend that evening's presen-tation with your editor. Both she and I were impressed with Hank's system, so picked up one of his flyers and took it home, looked it over and discussed getting one.
Perhaps a week went by before we had the opportunity to call Datawise and place our order, so it was the better part of a month by the time we drove down to pick up our computer. In the interim, Hank had moved up to a slightly faster Celeron processor, a slightly larger hard drive, and had picked up some 17 Gigabytes of new data direct from Microsoft that represented the latest version of Windows 98 Second Edition.
As part of that pickup, we took our Hewlett-Packard Deskjet printer
Fortunately, the Deskjet 693C printer installed without a hitch, not even needing the four diskettes from HP to install. Windows 98 recognized the printer as soon as it had been plugged in. That scanner was another story. The good news here is that Hank had mentioned a plug-and-play scanner at the November meeting, Visioneer's OneTouch 7600 USB scanner, so that was added to our list of things to do over a weekend when we had the time for it.
Back to the house with our new Data-wise, plugged everything but the scanner into the back in the proper ports, turned it on and checked it out. Not a problem with anything, so the next step was to start installing the half-dozen programs that we'd been using on the previous computer. That meant getting out Quicken Deluxe '99, WordPerfect 6.1 and Corel Suite 8 for Windows, DeLorme's Street Atlas, among other programs we'd been using.
That proved to be most interesting. One would think that anything that had run under Windows 95 would not have a problem with Windows 98, with the exception of the HP scanner noted above, the CD for which would not install with anything better than Win95, and didn't mind telling us about it each time we attempted to install it at Data-wise at the end of November. Such was not the case.
No problem to get Quicken Deluxe '99 put on the new system, and add the data from our backup diskette. Next was Corel's WordPerfect Suite, which includes WordPerfect 6.1 and several other programs in their package. This installation also went without a hitch, so your editor was thinking this was going to be a snap to work through with the other programs as well. That's just about the point where Corel's Word-Perfect Suite 8 was selected as the next CD to install.
Not so fast! We found another CD that had a problem with files found on the hard drive for Windows 98, promptly displayed a message to the monitor that we would have to update some of the files on our computer before we could install Corel WordPerfect Suite 8. Now, one would think that having Microsoft's Windows 98 Second Edition on the hard drive would include the latest files available for almost anything you might want to do with your computer. According to the Corel CD, that was not the case at all. Computers and their operating systems get curiouser and curiouser! Corel WordPerfect Suite 8 had absolutely no problem in installing and working under Windows 95, presumably an operating system with files that one might guess would be older than what would be included with Windows 98, whether Second Edition or not. Despite several attempts at installing Corel's WP Suite 8, the same error message popped up, informing us that we could not install this program until some number of files were updated.
So much for WordPerfect 8. It's still sitting on the shelf, so we're still using WordPerfect 6.1 for Windows, the version of WordPerfect that's been used for the three newsletters each year for the past several years. This despite still using Perfect Writer to edit most of what gets read in to the newsletter "frame" when doing these newsletters.
Will we be upgrading to newer computer programs? Yes, we've already done that. Since the first of this year, we've installed the Microsoft Office 2000 programs, including MS Word for Windows, among others. And just this past week, Kodak's CD program for viewing pictures one can get processed onto a CD. After reading the original message from Harold Johnston about security problems while on the Internet, we'll be looking into that part of our setup, and making whatever changes needed to disallow anyone from checking out what we have inside our computer system.
Internet Car Shopping? Yes!
By Bob Wallace
There is bound to be very little one can not find via Internet use these days, as we learned within the past eight weeks while searching for a newer vehicle. We did have a choice as to how and where to shop, but could not avoid the necessity for having to shop. Our Dodge Grand Caravan (the "other" white car) was stolen in Old Town San Diego on January 10 while my wife and five friends were in for dinner.
It didn't take too long to figure out that the "old" Dodge was gone for good. Once the INS impounds a vehicle for running illegal aliens into the country, the paperwork alone required to even attempt getting it back is enough to turn your knees to jello. Once we got the INS paperwork, our car was listed on the 13th page in a listing of stolen vehicles that dated back to October 10!
Once it became obvious that we may as well start looking for a newer vehicle, I jumped on the Internet and went to Ask Jeeves, or ask.com, and typed in "used vehicles" to search for. The answer gave me some number of sites to jump to, so it quickly became a process of checking what might be available, then going on to something else to check until finding a site that sounded good.
One of those sites had cars listed based on how close the dealers might be to your area code, which helps narrow your quest down to a list likely to be manageable. The default seems to be 30 miles, but can be changed to as few as 15 miles, making your search much easier. Before getting that far into the search, however, it first asks about the make of vehicle you're looking for, and after getting a make and a number of miles to search within, then it asks you to narrow down the search to a specific model.
Given our experience with the 1994 Dodge Grand Caravan, and the need to have a vehicle which can be turned into a pair of seats and relatively large cargo area when necessary, going for another Grand Caravan made it somewhat easier to narrow our search. Within a matter of a few seconds, the site came back with 15 potential vehicles that matched our search criteria, with each coming with specific information about which options were included.
Of the dealers who had the type of vehicle we wanted, three were within an easy drive: Redwood City, Hayward and South San Francisco. When it came time to do some checking, the determination was made to stick to this side of the Bay, thereby avoiding the long drive over the San Mateo- Hayward Bridge, and the toll charge for getting back home. The other easy way to make this choice was finding that the Dodge Grand Caravan vehicles listed at the Hayward car lots were every bit as high as those on this side, and in some instances were even higher!
Since Redwood City is about as close to the house as anyone, we started our shopping there. That lot had several mini-vans, so some mental notes were taken about what they had, and what those vehicles had included, then on to the next site. South San Francisco is the further distance to drive, passing up one or two lots along the Bayshore Freeway. Not to worry. We can catch those lots on the way back toward San Mateo.
South San Francisco had a handful of the type of vehicle we were looking
Once it became obvious that we were not likely to see the "old" Dodge ever again, it didn't take long to make up our minds about our "new" vehicle. We went to South San Francisco on a Wednesday afternoon and drove one around a few blocks, went into the office and filled out the paperwork. Bym Sunday afternoon we were on our way home with what in effect is a replace-ment for our "old" Dodge.
Despite our looking for a specific Dodge Grand Caravan, you can find almost any type of vehicle you might look for in a used car lot, if you're looking for used cars. At the several sites we visited via computer, each asked for a specific make, then went on to specific model. At least one site went even further, asking for a range of years to search for, a range of miles on the vehicles, even available options.
At yet another site, you can shop for a range of prices, with vehicles falling into a specific range of prices being listed for you. Ranges fell into roughly $5,000 brackets, meaning that a vehicle costing roughly $15,000 to $20,000 would include A, B and C, while cars running from $20,000 to $25,000 would cover D, E and F. For comparison's sake, the Dodge Grand Caravan is about the same vehicle as the Chrysler Town & Country, aside from outside trim and inside options, perhaps, but the price range is within one range for the Dodge, one range higher for the Chrysler.
One very strange site also poked its head over the phone line. This
site had what appeared to be virtual cars on their virtual site. Every
vehicle listed had precisely 30,000 miles, but nothing in the way of
colors to pick from, nor any particular options. While talking with the
salesmen at one dealer's lot, I mentioned this to them. Their response
was that that specific site is basically a phone booth with fax machine,
that any car you might ask for, he'll try to locate. While all these "virtual
cars" had precisely the same number of miles, each had a different
price attached to
Internet car searching is not only for used vehicles. You can also look around for new vehicles, and again go into whatever options you want. In one instance, as soon as I noted that this would be a California car, the price went up somewhat immediately. Hardly a surprise, given the extra requirements imposed upon car makers by California regulators. As you pile on the various options, however, the price continues upward until you get to the end of that listing, and have a dollar figure showing at the bottom of your screen.
By Bob Wallace
As you may have learned from this issue, knowing how secure your computer might be while attached to the Internet is something you should be aware of. Three cheers for Steve Gibson and his Gibson Research Corporation in Southern California for making this service available to computer users at no charge, other than the time needed on-line to access it for reading. Had this been a computer consultant doing the checking for you, and making one or another of the firewall programs available to you, I hate to think what any one of us might have to pay for the same degree of checking.
Harold Johnston sent his original message about ten days ago. After reading what he had to say, I asked if he would consider writing a piece for the newsletter, detailing what he'd learned about computer security on the Internet, and what steps he'd taken to protect his system from unneeded and unwanted intruders. His article came back very quickly. Going through all the details prompted your editor to make a similar check of two systems here.
Lois's new Datawise computer runs Windows 98, so there was no question but that a check of that system would be made while on the Internet, more for my benefit than Lois's. The system here that functions as a Netmail system for the GT Network, and is also used for Internet e-mail and browsing purposes, was also checked.
Our Win98 computer came up a bit on the short side in terms of network security. Sheilds UP! was able to query the computer to determine that it is registered to Lois Wallace without any problem, but only after I asked it to do so, and granted permission locally. Similar to the experience of Harold Johnston, several of the active ports located within the computer were found to be active, and Port 139 (NetBIOS) was found to be far too available to outside probing. That part of the computer will be disabled before this newsletter is mailed to you.
Interestingly, the OS/2 Warp 4 desktop was found to have ports available with-in the computer, all but one of them shown as being closed. The single ex- ception to this was Port 80, the HTTP port, which was noted by Shields UP! as a "Stealth" port. It's there, but it was hidden from outside viewing. The other ports, in ascending port numbers, are: 21 FTP, 23 Telnet, 25 SMTP, 79 Finger, 110 POP3, 113 IDENT, 139 NetBIOS, 143 IMAP and 443 HTTPS, all of which were determined to be closed. Despite this apparent isolation from unwanted Internet access from outside, a quick visit to the Hobbes site at New Mexico State University (hobbes.nmsu.edu, without the www) located a new update for the InJoy Firewall archive, version 1.4, dated March 3, 2000.
That "Stealth" designation includes with it the following
March 9: Open Forum
April 13: WebVan, maybe
May 11: TBA
June 8: TBA
July 13: TBA
August 10: Potluck dinner
September 14: TBA
October 12: TBA
November 9: TBA
December 14: TBA
Note: TB = To be advised.
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