San Francisco Peninsula Computer Club  

 Return to Home page
Return to Newsletter page

Vol. 19  No.3 Supporting PC Platforms Newsletter:..3 May-June 2003 


Linux: Now ready for prime time!

Hello, PR?  Or, Back Door Tech Help

Doh! Avoiding Self-Inflicted

Computer Disasters

Final bytes



Linux: Now ready for prime time!
By Bob Wallace

Preparing for any given newsletter usually begins with the end of the previous issue. For this May-June newsletter, that would mean watching the Business pages of the San Francisco Chronicle, and catching Chip Talk early in the mornings during the week on KCBS, and their afternoon visits with Larry Magid on Tech Talk.This month, however, we go back to an issue just over four years ago (March-April 1999) discussing the subject "Not quite ready for prime time" story of Linux, which is clearly ready for prime time now, given recent experience with a very large book on the subject, including two CD disks with the installation data on them, a refurbished IBM laptop 390X computer to install it on, and then putting it all together over the past couple of weeks.This project began in mid-January with the purchase of Red Hat Linux v8, a very large book covering nearly every aspect of Linux; finding a web site with used/refurbished laptop computers to purchase and install the operating system onto; then finding the time to put the two together and come up with a system that would also fit into plans for a Local Area Network (LAN) here in our office.

This IBM 390X laptop with Linux v8 installed on it will be the subject of this month's meeting. For most of us, this may  be the first look at Linux of any version.There are some similarities to the Windows interface, but differences to contend with as well. Linux is a version of Unix, meaning many of the features and functions of this operating system, while similar to those of other systems, will have their own names to learn over the coming weeks and months. Between the on-line help files plus that very large index at the back of Red Hat's book, one can only hope that more time is spent in actually doing things than looking up what this or that program does.While the IBM 390X is a laptop, this model comes with a Pentium III processor running at 500 MHZ, 128 MB of RAM, 12-Gig hard drive, and, aside from not having its own built-in network interface, otherwise has about all the bells and whistles one could ask for in a somewhat older laptop. A trip down to Fry's located both the NIC for the laptop, and the cables to plug in three computers to the router.Red Hat's Linux comes set up for installing in several configurations, covering the bases from laptop to server to custom install, with all the necessary files available on the two CDs included with Red Hat's book. Drivers for various and sundry are included, or pointed to within the book via one web site or another for the latest driver upgrade, or to give access to what may not have been available when the book went to the printer.One item not located but wanted for this "new" computer system was a copy of WordPerfect for Linux. Corel had made at least one version for Linux (version 8) that we were aware of  (at least a second version has been found), so a check on Dogpile was made for a location where one might find a copy of WordPerfect, without any luck. Next step was to run a search on eBay to see if anyone might have a copy of it available for purchase.That check of eBay located several copies of WordPerfect Office 2000 for Linux, one of those closing within 24 hours of our search, or could be purchased immediately by clicking on a link on that page. The purchase was made, payment made via eBay's PayPal system, that WP 2000 for Linux somewhere between New York state and the Bay Area, arrival due within the next day or two, hopefully.Adding WordPerfect for Linux to this laptop may mean a change of computer for the editing of the SFPCC Newsletter shortly. While OS/2 Warp 4 has served very well over the number of issues done here, it's time to get into a new operating system, a computer system able to go on the road when necessary, yet still tie in with the other computers here when we're at home.Other subjects are included herein as well. As you will note from the Table of Contents for this issue, Steve Bass is back to detail how one might bypass Tech Support to get results with computer companies; and Alan Luber's piece explains how to avoid computer disasters. Both make for interesting reading as we wait for "winter" to finally end here in the Bay Area.

Hello, PR?  Or, Back Door Tech Help
By Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group

Having trouble getting tech support for the troubling crashes because of your upgrade of SimpleCD Copier? What about the tech people who refuse to replace the failing hard drive in your Zornac notebook (which failed the day after the warranty expired)? With tech support relying on $3 a day, third-world people, you may have to work harder and dig deeper in order to get the help you need. Fair warning, this is a convoluted process and full of dead-ends, and something only online researchers are going to enjoy. Hello?

Public Relations? Here's the trick I use when I have a problem with a product and can't get the help I need from tech support. I find the PR person, briefly plead my case, and hope for the best. Most times I get service that's far superior than when calling the company's customer service or tech support line-and often miraculous. (And yes, I even do this anonymously using an e-mail alias, so they don't know about my writing background.)Here's how I do it. I head for the company's Web site and dig around for the PR representative. If they're listed, it'll likely be either on the "Contact Us" or "About Us" page

If you can't find that specific page or there's nothing about public relations, head for Google. Try it:
In Google's search field, type everything in bold. press. Substitute another company name for Microsoft and see what happens.Google ExperimentsUnfortunately, some companies refer to PR as Corporate Communication, Media Contact, or PR. (Oddly enough, few companies use "PR flack" or "PR flak.") Well, kids, Google is a powerful tool and if you know the right syntax, it can help you find the PR people, no matter where they're hiding.

Try these Google combinations exactly as you see them: pr media contact corporate communication press release

There's no way around it-you'll need to experiment with Google's syntax. If you use quotes around key words, Google's forced to look for that exact string of characters. In the last example above, wrapping press release in quotes may get you different results. Ditto if you change press release to press contact. Try it.As you begin honing in on your target, add a few more words and make substitutions. For instance, say you're looking for a press person to help you with SharePoint, MS's online collaboration tool. If you tried "press release" sharepoint, you'd get lots of hits from MS's office in South Africa. Substitute press contact and you hit a few jackpots.Become a Social EngineerAs you play around, be prepared to hit lots of dead ends.

For instance, a buddy of mine was having trouble with his Toshiba notebook. I volunteered to help and used my Google tricks on Toshiba's site. I was quick to find a page full of Toshiba Press Releases. Unfortunately, it showed only old press releases. But down at the bottom was pay dirt: A link that said "Back To Main Press Release Page." I didn't find a PR person for notebooks but did find two contacts that might lead me to the right person. The first was a public relations contact for another Toshiba division, LCD screens; the other was a list of three people at Toshiba's outside PR firm.My next step was to write to each person and ask if they could connect me with the right PR person, someone who deals with Toshiba notebooks and laptops. I didn't offer a reason why I was asking-I didn't want to let them know I was about to start kvetching. And I wrote them individual e-mails because if I wrote to them all in one e-mail, there's a chance one person might write back and say that they couldn't help; I didn't want everyone to see that.My first dose of bad news bounced right back at me: none of the outside PR e-mail addresses were any good. But the Toshiba LCD screen guy was pleased as punch to supply the name, e-mail address, and phone number of the right PR person at Toshiba.Case PleadingThe story ends pretty well. My buddy wrote to the public relations person. He pleaded his case and the PR person was able to get Toshiba to replace the hard drive. The key ingredients in his persuasive e-mail and phone call: Don't threaten: Explain how you've tried your darndest to work with customer service and tech support. But they were adamant and refused your requests.Show loyalty:

In this economy, most companies will do their best to get a new customer-and keep an old one. Make sure you let the person know how much you want to remain a customer.Try bargaining: If you're willing to help me make this right, you say, I'll do my very best to tell everyone I know how helpful and cooperative you've been. Of course they know the implication-you'll tell everyone what junky products the company produces. But don't say it. No matter how much clout you may have, bullying doesn't always do the trick.Beseeching: The product is what I rely on to do my work, you can say, and I beseech you (okay, they won't understand that-use implore, or even beg) to help me get it fixed. Move it Up a Notch: Often a PR person will tell you that their hands are tied. Ask if you can talk directly to the person who did the tying. Often you'll end up talking to a product manager who can make things right with a quick e-mail.If you think about it, these methods will not only work with computing and software companies, but with practically any product. In the meantime, my dogs are snubbing their Science Diet kibble so I'm off to find a four-legged PR person.

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and runs the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Check his Home Office columns at and sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at

Doh! Avoiding Self-Inflicted
By Alan Luber - Author of PC Fear Factor:

The Ultimate PC Disaster Prevention GuideAlan Luber is an author, journalist, and technology consultant. His new book, PC Fear Factor: The Ultimate PC Disaster Prevention Guide, is all about defensive computing. PC
Fear Factor teaches non-technical computer users how to prevent most computer disasters, and how to prepare for and recover from unavoidable disasters.  For more information about PC Fear Factor, as well as additional disaster prevention and recovery information, visit Alan's web site, or visit!  Avoiding Self-Inflicted Computer Disasters"We have met the enemy, and he is us? " -Walt Kelly

Who among us has not been the victim of a computer disaster at the hands of a virus writer, computer hacker, or some other factor beyond our control?  We tend to think of computer disasters as having some external catalyst, but as they often say, most accidents occur in the home. You are probably familiar with the old joke about the guy who walks into the doctor's office and says, "Doc, it hurts when I do this."  The doctor's sage advice is, "Don't do that."And so it is with one of the most common types of computer disaster: the self-inflicted computer disaster, also known as the Homer Simpson computer disaster.Here are four helpful tips for avoiding self-inflicted computer disasters.Slow Down! Haste is a major cause of self-inflicted computer disasters. For example, when installing an application, you may receive a pop-up window asking if you wish to overwrite a file that is present on your computer with a different version of that file. Similarly, when uninstalling an application, you may receive a message asking if you wish to delete a file from your computer that may no longer be needed. For the record, you should never allow an installation program to overwrite an existing file with an older version of that same file, and you should never allow an uninstallation program to delete a file if leaving it on your computer will do no harm. The problem is that, depending on how the question in the pop-up window is phrased, you may need to answer "yes" or "no" to effect the appropriate action. If you proceed hastily with the install or uninstall without carefully reading the question and pondering the response, you are likely to answer incorrectly and precipitate a computer disaster, overwriting or deleting something of vital importance.Don't Be Overzealous

In the old days, we had to squeeze every ounce of performance out of our slow computers and every megabyte of space out of our puny hard disks. Although this is no longer necessary in a world of 3Ghz processors and 160Mb hard disks, many have not abandoned this mentality, and it gets them into trouble more often than not. For example, there are dozens of web sites offering thousands of Windows XP tune-up tips. Most of these tips make me shudder because they provide imperceptible gains in performance at enormous risk. My advice here is simple: if it ain't broken, don't fix it. And while there is nothing wrong with good housekeeping - keeping your hard disk clear of clutter and debris - I run into too many examples of bad housekeeping. ("Alan, I deleted a lot of stuff off of my computer that I didn't need and now my speakers don't work.")   If you are not absolutely certain whether something can be safely deleted from your system, leave it alone. As Dirty Harry said in Magnum Force, "A man's got to know his limitations."Don't Be Gullible" Every few weeks I receive an email warning me about a new computer virus. These messages tell me that if I have certain files on my computer, my computer has been infected and that I should immediately delete these files. Such warnings are always virus hoaxes, intended to coax the gullible into deleting critical system files from their computers. Be suspicious of all such warnings. All antivirus software vendors have a section of their web site devoted to virus hoaxes. Before you take any action, verify that the virus warning you received was legitimate. (Hint: I have yet to receive such a warning that was legitimate.)Unfortunately, antivirus software cannot protect us from ourselves. But wouldn't it be great if Symantec came out with Norton AntiGullible to compliment Norton AntiVirus? I can see it now. A virus hoax from a well intentioned but uninformed friend arrives in my inbox. Norton AntiGullible swings into action, throwing up a warning message:"Warning: you have just received an email message from an idiot advising you to delete critical files from your computer. This message has been automatically deleted to prevent you from shooting yourself in the foot, and a reply-all response has been automatically generated to help protect others on the message's distribution list."Why, the very thought of it brings a smile to my face.Don't Be Reckless

The easiest way to cause a self-inflicted computer disaster is to make changes to your computing environment with reckless abandon. Computers are unstable equilibriums, and change and stability are mutually exclusive concepts. You may not realize this, but every time you install an application on your computer, you are making four implicit assumptions:
1. The application will not conflict with your operating system, other applications, or
2. The application's install program will not cause problems by automatically overwriting
or modifying files that are shared by other applications.
3. The application is well behaved and won't wreak havoc on your computer.
4. The application will uninstall cleanly without leaving any  vestiges of any problems it
caused on your computer.

Given that any change to your computing environment can disrupt its tenuous, unstable equilibrium, it always amazes me that some people think nothing of downloading, installing, and trying dozens of software packages without regard for the potential disastrous consequences.Here's a suggestion for how to avoid problems when trying new applications. Suppose you want to download and evaluate trial versions of six different photo management software packages. Before you download and install any of these applications, I urge you to make a complete backup of your hard disk using a disk imaging tool. I recommend Symantec's Norton Ghost for this purpose, and I provide detailed step-by-step instructions for backing up and restoring your hard disk in my book, PC Fear Factor.After you have backed up your hard disk, download and install each of the applications and play with them to your heart's content. Once you are finished, instead of uninstalling the applications, restore your hard disk from your backup. This is the only approach that is absolutely guaranteed to get you back to the same point of equilibrium that existed prior to installing the applications. After you have restored your system, purchase and install the one package you have elected to use.

Copyright c 2003 by Que Publishing and author Alan Luber.  Reproduced with permission.  Article reproduction coordinated by Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group. Alan Luber is the author of PC Fear Factor: The Ultimate PC Disaster Prevention Guide, Alan Luber, ISBN: 0-7897-2825-7, US $24.99.  For More Information or to Order PC Fear Factor: The Ultimate PC Disaster Prevention Guide or any other Que Books visit

Computer Disasters
 By Bob Wallace

As suggested on the front page of this newsletter, use of WordPerfect 6.1 for Windows on this desktop system running OS/2 Warp 4 may be on its way out by moving editing and printing functions to the IBM 390X laptop computer running Red Hat Linux v8 and WordPerfect 2000 for Linux. One additional change would also come into play with that change, that being no longer using the HP Deskjet 693C printer to print each issue before taking it to Kinko's for copying, collating and stapling prior to attaching mailing labels and stamps. The old HP 693C will be replaced with an Epson 880 that's been nicely broken in on the computer across the office from my workstation. Speaking of mailing labels, moving over to the Linux-based laptop may require one other change, that being to find a suitable replacement for the dBASE IV program on the OS/2 Warp computer. Some serious checking of Linux and what may run under Linux will be going on over the next weeks and months.Additional changes may be needed with a move to Linux as well. Fetching and sending of e-mail can be done using either the Mozilla browser program under Linux, or by changing over to the Evolution e-mail program provided on the Red Hat CDs and installed on the IBM 390X laptop.One other change has taken place in our office since the last newsletter. The old fax machine has been updated with HP's all-in-one d145 model that copies, scans, faxes and prints. In addition, this new machine also includes a pair of slots on the front for getting digital pictures copied from photo disk to hard drive, thereby saving one of the USB ports for other things. Next issue to resolve is whether there is any need for attaching the Visioneer scanner and SanDisk to the Linux laptop, or simply relegate both of those items to the closet. Mention of the Visioneer reminds that the Red Hat manual notes that Visioneer scanners have not had drivers written for Linux computers prior to printing of that manual, so off to the closet! Since installing Linux on the laptop, several visits have been made to Dogpile's search engine with "linux" typed into the search window. It's amazing the results that come from that search, including links to applications that run under Linux, drivers for all sorts of devices that may work under Linux. In addition, a trip back to TUCOWS will also find a Linux link in addition to several for Windows-based software (both 3.x and later), OS/2 and other operating system software. Now that I think of it, wonder if any site exists for Linux systems similar to the Hobbes site for OS/2?  Another reason for making another visit to Dogpile.As has been the case for a handful of years now, this issue of the SFPCC Newsletter has been edited using WordPerfect 6.1 for Windows, running on an OS/2 Warp 4-based computer. (To contrast this desktop computer with the IBM laptop, this desktop runs AMD's K5 processor at 133 MHz.) Pages are sent to the HP Deskjet 693C printer which are then taken to Kinko's for printing, collating and stapling before having their mailing labels placed on the outside with labels made using dBASE IV's database program.


May 8: Introduction to Linux

June 12: Location:  4003 Branson Drive, San Mateo

July 10: Location: TBA

August 14: Location: TBA

Meeting location is available on the club's web page, and is updated each


Return to Home page
Return to Newsletter page