Updated 5-22-96

ISSN 1068-9109

The Goleta Publisher
Dana Trout editor

May 1996 Contents

May 1996 Contents
Master Table of Contents

On 28.8 Modems from BBS Land

Reprinted, with permission, from the May 1996 issue The Bytes of Las Vegas, newsletter of the Las Vegas PCUG

Question Anyone want to post a short tutorial on high speed modems? In particular, what are the different standards for 28.8s, and which are hardware and which are software? (Alternatively, you can point me to a web page or FAQ which covers the subject.)

Answer There are currently two 28.8 standards, V.FC and V.34. V.34 is the current standard, and you should look for a modem that supports it. (most v.34 modems also support the older V.FC standard too) V.FC is an interim standard that was released before V.34 was finished, it is 28.8 but is not as widely supported. Several other companies, I believe, came out with their own oddball standards too, including ZyXEL and US Robotics. These should probably be avoided like the plague.

Most modems also support data compression and error correction, with protocols such as V.42 and MMP 1-4 (error correction), and V.42bis and MMP-5 (data compression). But be aware of these -- some newer modems save money by implementing this function in software. Look for things such as "RPI", "software compression", "requires special communications software (included)", etc. These are a Bad Idea because they are bound to be incompatible with many programs and cannot use any compression/correction features under non-supported OS's (UNIX, maybe OS/2, etc.) Also, since the compression is done in software, that's one more piece of software taking up disk space and memory (the driver is a TSR) and can also cause crashes, and besides, you are thus locked into the choice of software programs they send you with the modem, which in most cases is pretty cheesy. (I've lost count of how many disks of "Quick Link II Fax" I own...)

Something that would help is the ability to install ROM/firmware upgrades when the manufacturers come out with them. This helps because the manufacturer can then continue to refine their product, making it perform better, faster, whatnot, as well as adding features (caller ID, voice mail features, etc.) cheaper than buying a whole new modem. There are two varieties of this upgradability: the best, and by far easiest, is called a Flash ROM (or Flash BIOS, or similar). This means that you can reprogram the ROM chips of your modem entirely from software, which means you download an update from the manufacturer, execute a DOS command, and that's it -- your modem is upgraded! You don't have to take the modem out of its case or your computer, fiddle around with DIP switches and chips and sockets, and you don't risk zapping your precious modem or chips with static charges and such. However, Flash ROM based modems are still fairly new and somewhat expensive. The older chip-based upgrade models are cheaper, generally speaking. Most manufacturers will do the upgrade for you, if you send them your modem and a suitable fee, although many companies offer a "do it yourself" option which is cheaper -- they send you the new chips, and instructions and often times even the tools to do the upgrade with (usually one of those cheesy screwdrivers that they end up giving away at computer conventions anyways).

So, in summary: Get a V.34 based 28.8 modem with hardware compression; stay away from anything else. Flash ROM is the best if you can afford it, although the "chip ugprade" isn't bad. But definitely get an upgradable if you possibly can.

Now, as to brands: Many have called me on this one, but I must stand firm. I highly recommend the US Robotics Sportster modem. They have both internal, external, and PCMCIA (for laptops) versions. They support real V.34 28.8 speeds, use hardware compression, and the newer batch (the Sportster VI'S) have Flash ROM upgradability -- although the older Sportsters have changeable chips. I've had absolutely rock-solid performance out of these champs, through almost a year of heavy heavy use -- shlepping hundreds of megs of data daily over an Internet PPP connection, not to mention calling out to local and distant BBS's. Absolutely no problems connecting or staying connected at the fast speeds (and our phone lines aren't the greatest), and this modem can talk to even the most recalcitrant or brain-dead modems on the other end of your connection. Lovely product, and the price is pretty good.

May 1996 Contents
Master Table of Contents

Improve Your Computer Vocabulary

reprinted from the May 1996 issue of Blue Chips, newsletter of the Utah Computer Society

May 1996 Contents
Master Table of Contents

Bargain of the Year

reprinted, with permission, from the September 1995 "The Frugal Hacker" column of the Monterey Bay PCUG newsletter

by Bob Stephan, Monterey Bay PCUG

hacker n One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively), or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming. (The New Hacker's Dictionary, MIT Press, 1991 )

This is an unsolicited software review. I have recently happened on a software product that I think could be classified as the bargain of the year. For one thing, it comes with versions for Windows-16, OS/2, Windows-95, and Windows-NT all on one CD-ROM. If you aren't sure which operating system you will be using down the road, this product has most of the bases covered. With more OS's appearing on the scene, this is the way more software should be delivered. The product is DeScribe Version 5. DeScribe is an excellent full-featured word processor. The DeScribe Voyager CD is a promotional release that is supposed to be available in major bookstores and traditional software outlets. Although I was not able to find it on the Monterey Peninsula at first, I did purchase a copy in a Borders Bookstore in Delaware on a recent trip to the East Coast. Hopefully, the Monterey book and software stores will have been able to obtain copies by now, and I suggest you inquire about it to let them know that people are interested in such products. I will provide additional information on purchasing below. Oh yes, it is only $49.95 for all three versions including a well-written 58 page manual! I have installed and am using the OS/2 version. As far as I can determine this is the current full featured, single use, non-expiring DeScribe and not just a limited demo or promotional version.

Printer, printer who's got the printer?
For the past few years my word processor has been Microsoft Word for Windows (W4W), certainly a top-of-the-line word processor by any standards. As I became more familiar with it and tried to do fancier things I kept running into limitations, idiosyncrasies, and just plain bugs. For example, W4W is brain-dead when it comes to multiple printers. I have several printer drivers installed in Windows and OS/2 including one for Faxing. W4W only knows how to print to the default printer. This means that to print a document to a different driver W4W requires me to mess around changing the Windows default to that driver. My problem with that is that it is a nuisance to then have to try to remember to change the default back to my most used printer. Hey, you know what they say about memory as you get older! I have goofed up more jobs and wasted much paper by not remembering. Other applications can print to a specific printer, so why not W4W? This may seem like a small thing, but it can become very annoying over time. DeScribe completely solves that problem. Each document retains complete printer information and automatically selects the correct driver when it is printed. It can, of course, be easily changed for a specific print job, but conveniently does not need to be messed with if you want the output to go to the printer that the document was designed for. I like that in a word processor. One suggestion I would make is to be sure that your printer default is set to your most used printer before you install DeScribe. It will use the default at the time of installation for all of its sample documents and layouts. It is easy to change to the printer of choice on a document by document basis as you use them, but this preliminary precaution can save you some of this effort.

The Envelope Please.
Another frustrating thing I have found in W4W is its envelope management. It seems to know about only one basic default envelope format. For example, if I have a 6"x9" envelope specified for a document and I want to make a change to it, W4W brings up the default #10 envelope format and I have to completely respecify it to make the change. DeScribe lets me make my changes to the envelope format that I have previously specified for the document. It is much more convenient. Don't get me wrong. Learning a new word processor is not just an afternoon's work no matter how user friendly it is. I shuddered at the idea, so you know that W4W must have strongly motivated me to even consider a change. It did, and I am well on my way to becoming a DeScribe expert. If you are looking for a really good word processor, DeScribe is worth taking a look at, especially at this low promotional price.

New Documents for Old
One thing that DeScribe has made easy is importing documents from my previous word processor. I have tables of data in W4W formats that I need to work with. DeScribe imported these tables perfectly with only two minor problems. The first is to be sure the page size you are importing into is wide enough for the table or it will be truncated. This is something that could be improved in the product. The second is that DeScribe does not support automatic row numbering so I lost that but it doesn't matter to me although I would also like to see this capability added in the future. Letters and other standard documents also imported nicely, but some with more intricate formatting and several frames did not fare as well. All in all I am pleased with the capabilities of being able to get at documents from other word processors. DeScribe has a large selection of import and export filters, even going back to such obsolete word processors as VolksWriter. I still have been maintaining some older documents in XyWrite because I could never import them successfully into W4W. DeScribe was "way cool" about those and did an excellent job of opening them as DeScribe documents, including a 70 page software manual that I wrote. When I get a chance to look at them and do a little touch up, I may be able to dispense with the XyWrite maintenance all together. That is a big plus for DeScribe in my mind.

Books, etc.
Another important feature that W4W did not have is the capability to arrange the pages for printing in the order and format for a "saddle stitched" booklet. This requires printing two pages on each side of each sheet so that when the sheets are stacked and folded in half they form a book. To print my software documentation I have been using other products such as the freeware LJBOOK and the commercial ClikBook products. DeScribe may change that because the manual documents that this feature is built in. I say "may change that" because I have not had time to test this feature, but I am excited to know that it appears to be available. DeScribe documents are based on an intriguing system of frames and hierarchical styles that appears to be very powerful. Although simple documents such as straightforward letters need not be concerned with frames and styles, it will be very useful to read about and experiment with them for more complex documents. Organizing the styles properly can make wholesale formatting changes much simpler and give you powerful control over the appearance of a document.

Here's what to ask for in your local book or software store: DeScribe Voyager CD (ISBN# 1-56529-885-3). If you can't find it locally, call Surplus Software at 1-800-753-7877. Their latest flyer advertises it at the list price of $49.95. It is also advertised by OS/2 Express 1-800-672-5943. Or contact DeScribe directly at 1-800-753-7877, 813-732-5500, fax 813-732-5414 or e-mail: 71333.15@compuserve.com.

The Voyager CD version of DeScribe has no registration form, is nonreturnable, is not eligible for technical support, has no network capabilities, and probably cannot be upgraded when a new release comes out. Hey, what do you expect for such a low price? Check to be sure you are getting the manual because I understand that some copies may be just the CD. I have only started using DeScribe so there may be difficulties that I have not discovered, and I have only looked at the OS/2 version. I ran into a potentially fatal flaw trying to mail merge multi-line fields. To the credit of DeScribe their tech support people are working on the problem, and I hope to be able to report a resolution of it very soon. This capability is critical to my use of a word processor so I will be watching the progress on it very closely. That being said, the more I use DeScribe the more I like it. As with any new application, it takes a bit of use to become familiar with it. I learned a lot just by using it to format this column for the newsletter.

Bob Stephan welcomes comments and questions that The Frugal Hacker can respond to. He can be reached on Internet (bob.stephan@nitelog.com), NITELOG (408-655-1096), CRICKET (408-373-3773), Compu$erve (72357,2276), America Online (BStephan0), or snail mail at the MBUG- PC address.

May 1996 Contents
Master Table of Contents

CD-ROM, DVD: The Next Great Introduction of the Year

by Garr Cutler, MacNews Editor, Eugene, Oregon MUG, 3/96

This summer or fall the DVD player will appear on the market. The device is called Digital Video Disc or Digital Virtual Disc. The industry, unhappy with either designation, just wants to call it DVD, in which the middle initial, V (like the middle initial "S" in Harry S. Truman) is not supposed to mean anything.

This is the next great breakthrough in CD-ROM technology for the computer. It ought to be a blockbuster! It might sell as many as 120 million units by the turn of the century! Though piggybacked on the entertainment industry for standards, two-thirds of the sales will be for computers, with just one-third for entertainment (that is, hooked up to a TV, not a computer). Both entertainment and computer-adapted sets are in the works. The prices will be about $500-$800. At its introduction, DVD discs with movies should also appear on the market.

The Heart of DVD
Shorter wave length laser (635 versus 780 nanometers): This minor reduction in wavelength offers a major improvement in capacity -- a multiplier effect. Since the laser that reads the disc has a shorter wavelength, the tracks can be narrower, (doubling the number of tracks to the inch) and the pits can be packed in more tightly on each track.

The laser-on-a-chip technology, developed by Matsushita, has some exceptional qualities. It has low noise, low astigmatism (only 30% of conventional CD-ROM lasers), and a long life expectancy of 50,000 hours at 25 degrees centigrade.

The laser is small, light, and inexpensive. The bigger storage capacity of DVD-coupled with MPEG II compression techniques -- makes the prospect of digitized motion pictures on CD-ROM possible. This is a big driving force -- especially when the industry considers the 600 million videocassettes that were sold in the US in 1994. (One can store a 130 minute movie on a single disc and provide sparkling picture clarity and Dolby sound to boot!) The nine giants that will make DVD are JVC, Hitachi, Matsushita, Mitsubishi, Philips, Pioneer, Sony, Thomson Consumer Electronics, and Toshiba.

And Dreaming in the Future
The ultimate capacity of DVD could be realized through the creation of discs that could be double-layered (Sony technology) and double-sided (Toshiba technology) -- giving a whopping seventeen gigabytes of storage. This is a twentyfold increase in capacity over conventional CD-ROMs. Both the double-sided discs and the double-decker players are technically proven and feasible, just waiting for the market to catch up and implement. I try to imagine 17 gigabytes on a single disc. Since a twenty-six volume encyclopedia easily fits on a conventional single CD-ROM disc (which can hold 780 megabytes), potentially the new disc could hold 546 encyclopedia-sized volumes, or about 2000 conventional sized books. A single CD could contain far more books than the average household possesses. It starts to approach the size of a small community library. When I think of various science fiction notions that stretch the mind, nothing beats this one! With a few volumes of DVD, with access to the Internet, you could have the world at your hand!

May 1996 Contents
Master Table of Contents

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