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Christophers Napkin Sketch by Al Gleichman

In the Trenches with LAROKE

Konsultant's Log, Cyberdate 05.17.1997 (HAL's softwarez feeding frenzy continues)

    Situation Report
    Take Charge And Move Out
    United States of America
    Mission Report
Previous HAL Articles:

Cyberdate 05.10.1997 HAL gets more software

Cyberdate 05.03.1997 Feeding Softwarez to HAL 9000

Cyberdate 04.19.1997 Moving the HAL 9000

Later HAL Articles:

Cyberdate 06.14.1997 When it rains, it pours

Cyberdate 08.23.1997 When we last left our hero, HAL . .

Cyberdate 09.06.1997 Kurrent Konundrums Debut

Cyberdate 10.04.1997 Putting out brushfires

Cyberdate 10.11.1997 P2's transformation slips into high gear

Cyberdate 10.25.1997 More fun with P2, HAL and 4-Bits


Allaire Corporation HomeSite

Autodesk, Inc. AutoCAD

Borland International, Inc. dBASE

Caligari Corporation Pioneer

CyberMedia First Aid 97, Oil Change

Evolution Computing, Inc. EasyCAD, FastCAD

International Business Machines IBM Aptiva Stealth PC, RingCentral

Microsoft Corporation Encarta, FoxPro

Mijenix Corporation PowerDesk Utilities

Quarterdeck Corporation Cleansweep, WebCompass

Virtus Corporation 3D Website Builder


SITREP: In the last session with HAL 9000, CyberMedia First Aid 97, CyberMedia Oil Change, IBM Aptiva Updates, Fractal Design Ray Dream Designer, Corel CorelWEB Designer, ActiveX & VBScript Starter Kit, and Quarterdeck ProComm Plus 95 were installed. For "the Agony and the Ecstasy" of that process, see In the Trenches Cyberdate 05.10.1997.

This installment will continue with setting up various utilities, CADD and 3D drawing applications, and finish with trying to get two legacy DOS database applications to work properly, a real "donnybrook".

TACAMO: Hal's hard drive was starting to fill up. It was past time to get some file organization utilites installed.

I have my own sales agent, Basil, at Quarterdeck. Basil calls me every few months to report on what's new at Quarterdeck. As a result, I own a copy of almost every application Quarterdeck publishes or distributes. I'm just glad Basil doesn't work for Microsoft. I don't have the room.

Last week Basil sold me the Mijenix PowerDesk Utilities 2.0 for Windows 95 and Windows NT. This collection has several useful timesavers, the most important to me being a Windows Explorer replacement, that could be described as "Windows Explorer on steroids".

My usual routine is to put shipments from Basil to the side until I have time to install and review the new product or have an overwhelming need for the application. This time though since I'm in an installing frenzy here with Hal, I installed PowerDesk as soon as it arrived.

In an era of PC "Bloatware", it was a pleasant surprise to see only one 3-1/2" installation diskette upon opening up the PowerDisk package. The installer didn't require much information from me other than what drive and directory pathname I wanted to put PowerDesk in, and then it proceeded to finish in less time than it takes most programs to load!

Another product from Quarterdeck which has been gathering dust in my IN-basket since last year is the latest version of CleanSweep, an uninstaller utility.

Most well-behaved applications these days have uninstallation routines to remove them from your hard drive, but even the best of these usually leave the electronic version of residual cobwebs and dust balls in their wake, taking up disk space, and, in some cases causing the PC's performance to become sluggish. Programs like CleanSweep will do a more through cleaning of your harddrive and the Windows 95 Registry.

The CleanSweep installer, running from CD-ROM was fast and efficient. After installation, I ran the new "Update-It" feature that, similar to Oil Change, will download and install CleanSweep updates and patches from Quarterdeck's Internet site. Update-It found, downloaded and installed version 3.01.000.

Microsoft's Encarta 96 is a multimedia encyclopedia on CD-ROM that came with the Aptiva but was not pre-installed.

IBM provides a utility program called "Aptiva Installer" to assist the user installing applications that are shipped with the Aptiva on CD-ROM. It's a simple helper that finds the application to be installed in the CD-ROM drive and does the setup for you. It also functions as a simple uninstaller for the same programs.

One of CleanSweep's software modules is "SmartSweep". This little applet runs in the background and (from the CleanSweep manual):

automatically keeps track of installation information about any new programs you add to your computer and any changes the program's installations make to existing configuration files. This record ensures a safe, thorough uninstallation if the need ever arises.

Encarta was setup with the Aptiva Installer and with Smartsweep running in the background to see if they would work together. Encarta installed without conflict using this scheme.

WebCompass is an Internet agent program. You set parameters for the type of information you are looking for, and WebCompass scans the Internet using a variety of search engines to return abstracts of all relevant documents it finds. It can also update the the information when the referenced web documents change.

I have WebCompass v1.0 on my Compaq Presario "Comfounded" at home but have not used it much yet. This version 2.0 had resulted from another of Basil's phone calls. I installed it with the CleanSweep Smartsweep agent running.

In the architectural office where I work we use CADD (Computer Aided Drafting and Design) software to implement the architectural drawings.

The industry standard for this type of software is "AutoCAD" by Autodesk. AutoCAD in it's present incarnation (release 13) is expensive, bloated, and buggy. It also has a very steep learning Kurve. A few years ago, at the request of a new employee, we tried an AutoCAD rival, "FastCAD" by Evolution Computing, on a trial basis. Both AutoCAD and FastCAD were DOS programs.

FastCAD had the advantage of being written in assembly language. It was much faster and could run on older machines of less capacity than AutoCAD. It's 3D drawing interface caused much less "drain bramage" than AutoCAD did at the time. FastCAD's disadvantages were that not enough people knew how to use it, and there was a dearth of training materials and books based on it. Neither did Evolution upgrade it very often. We could not translate files between AutoCAD and FastCAD easily, and a lot of formatting data was lost in the translation (this was mostly AutoCAD's fault in my opinion, but AutoCAD is "King of the Hill" like Microsoft). As a result, we abandoned FastCAD after a two-year period in which only the one employee had ever embraced it.

The problem this left us with was several projects in FastCAD file format in our archives. EasyCAD is another product from Evolution, basically a Windows 3.x version of FastCAD without the 3D components. It was purchased solely for FastCAD file translation duties. I installed EasyCAD with the Cleansweep SmartSweep agent running, and without incident.

== UPDATE ==

Cyberdate 03.18.1998
Since this article was first written, Autodesk has published AutoCAD release 14. It is greatly improved and, in my opinion, the application AutoCAD release 13 should have been.

Virtus 3D Website Builder is a relatively simple 3D drawing program for constructing VRML 1.0 virtual reality web environments. It doesn't have many bells and whistles, but what it does, it does well. It is also easy to learn. Again, it was setup with the Cleansweep SmartSweep agent running.

This seemed a good time to run Oil Change (installed last session) to see if any updates were available for the applications installed thus far in this session. No updates were reported by Oil Change for the new programs, but since I was already in Oil Change, I decided to have Oil Change retrieve and install the update for MechWarrior v1.1, a 3D "shoot-em-up game" that came with the Aptiva.

This update ran a long time and locked-up the system. It caused drive C: to run out of space and could not recover from that point. After rebooting, I discovered 106 MB in the Oil Change temporary subdirectory! I cleaned up C: drive and moved Oil Change's temporary subdirectory to F: drive where there was a lot more space.

The Oil Change update process for MechWarrior was run again, and Hal protested by locking up again. This time there were 127 MB of temporary files on the C: drive! Oil Change had ignored my temporary subdirectory on F: drive and had recreated it's own temporary subdirectory on drive C: (which I had previously deleted).

After erasing the temporary subdirectory and files on drive C: again and turning off the SmartSweep agent (just in case it might be contributing to the konfusing behavior), the update process was initiated yet a third time. Same results, this time maxing out drive C: with 185 MB of useless temporary files! I had archived "orphaned" DLL (Dynamic Link Library) files with CleanSweep to make more room on C:, but this caused a problem with Hal's "RingCentral" telephone answering system software, so I restored the DLL files again.

Now, I further "muddied the water" by using CleanSweep's "Transport" feature to move Oil Change to a bigger drive. For some reason the temporary subdirectory did not move with it. My best guess is because I transported only the Oil Change program and not the whole program group. Ok, let's uninstall Oil Change and reintall the whole application on the other drive. No good, blocked again! Oil Change's uninstallation module would not work, probably because it could not find the components I had transported with CleanSweep.

I finally resorted to CleanSweep to completely remove Oil Change, which it did. Now Oil Change was reinstalled on the larger drive F:, and then I updated the Oil Change program from CyberMedia's web site again (see previous episode). We were finally ready to try the MechWarrior 1.1 installation process one more time. LOCKUP AGAIN and another ~!@#$% Oil Change temporary subdirectory on drive C: with 170 MB of worthless files in it!

The drive C: temporary directory designation must be hardwired into Oil Change. Already having spent too much time on a game upgrade, I cleaned drive C: again, chalked up this misadventure to "unsolved mysteries" and decided to move on.

After the MechWarrior update fiasco, I went to the Virtus Web site and found a version 1.1 update to Virtus 3-D Website Builder which Oil Change was not aware of. I downloaded and installed it manually without incident.

Caligari Pioneer is another 3D graphics modeling program. It installed from CD-ROM with the Cleansweep SmartSweep agent running and no problems were encountered.

I do have to find the manual and documentation (for the serial number) to get started though. You don't need the serial number to install Pioneer, but you do need it to start the application the first time.

As I mentioned in a previous installment, when my shareware evaluation period of the Allieri Homesite HTML editor was finished, I would be registering the product and remitting the fee. I did this at the Allieri Web site and received my registration serial number back from Allieri via e-mail. I then downloaded the final version 2.5 and installed it.

I'd been dreading installing FoxPro v1.01 for DOS on Hal. My daytime employer's timesheet database records for all employees are entered into the system through this database application.

Rooting around in my office, I had located the installation disks but had yet to find the manuals (there are five or six of them). FoxPro is a database programming environment as well as a DBMS (Database Management System). I had programmed the timesheet entry module back in 1990, but it's been years since I've even looked at the source code.

I really didn't want to go through the hassle of learning how to setup FoxPro DOS again, especially without the manuals, if I didn't have to. Quarterdeck CleanSweep has a "Transport" module that allows you to move software from one PC to another. I decided to give it a try.

What CleanSweep does is find find the various software modules of a program and compress them into an archive file that can be restored by CleanSweep on another machine in the proper directories. I installed the same CleanSweep v3.0 on the computer "P2" that I had previously installed on Hal.

After starting CleanSweep on P2 and choosing the FoxPro program to move, I was asked for a drive designation to move the compressed archive file to. Drive A: is the default, and CleanSweep will span the archive file over several floppy disks if necessary. Since Hal and P2 were on the same network, I choose a temporary directory on Hal as the destination. CleanSweep promptly wrote a 5.6MB file to Hal. After the CleanSweep application on Hal was started, the FoxPro DOS archive file was restored to Hal's drive D:.

Next, I setup a Windows 95 "shortcut" on Hal's Desktop with the same properties as the Shortcut on P2's Desktop. I double-clicked the FoxPro Shortcut to start the program. The MS-DOS Window that the FoxPro application runs in appeared briefly, then closed after an error message I could not read flashed by. ~!@@##$$ Darn! One of Murphy's Programming Laws states: "There are many different computer languages, but profanity is the one ALL programmers know!".

I opened the Properties dialog for the Shortcut, and under the "Program" tab, unchecked the "Close on exit" box. This would keep the MS-DOS Window open so I could read the error message. Going through the double-clicking process again, the error message "Bad or missing Foxpro.rsc file" was displayed. Checking with Windows Explorer, showed the same Foxpro.rsc file on both machines just where it should be. It wasn't bad and it wasn't missing.

I found FoxPro could be started in the now open MS-DOS Window, and from within the FoxPro Environment, I could Set the correct directory and run the FoxPro timesheet program. Well, almost. The program started, but all the menu items were "grayed" out and could not be chosen. Groan! I would have to start looking at the code that I hadn't touched in years. Lucky for me I had taken time to document the code as I wrote it. For you non-programmers this is the equivalent of putting notes to yourself in the program that are not needed for the computer to run, but are a great help to any humans trying to see how the code works.

Wading through the now unfamiliar programming commands I saw reference made to some "DOS Environment Variables". DOS Environment Variables can be set at any time at the DOS Command Line, but are usually set in the DOS AUTOEXEC.BAT file during the computer's startup sequence for use by DOS BATch files. FoxPro and many other applications can also make use of DOS environmental variables. EUREKA! Now I started to remember.

I had originally established "user" and "network" variables for the FoxPro programs to use. Certain users were allowed to access certain menu items. Because the FoxPro program on Hal could not find these variables, none of the menu items were accessible.

I studied the AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files on P2 for all the FoxPro specific line items and copied them to Hal's AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files. Other special settings that FoxPro needed were PATH, FCBS, STACKS, FILES, and BUFFERS. I should have recalled this sooner, but I don't work in DOS much these days.

"Third time's the charm." Double-clicking the Shortcut produced the desired effect this time. The FoxPro Timesheet application would still require a bit of fine-tuning, but at least it was working now.

I was feeling brave now. It was time to move the oldest DBMS application and data from P2 to Hal.

Ashton-Tate had the lion's share of the PC database market when they stubbed their toes big time on dBASE IV. This product was one of the PC software industries' first big "vaporware" scandals. It was announced a long time before it was ready, and it was delayed, time and time again. When dBASE IV did finally arrive, it was seriously flawed. A dBASE IV v1.1 was released (still flawed, but somewhat usable), but the writing was on the wall by this time. dBASE is now part of the Borland family of products, but not many developers use it anymore.

The dBASE IV v1.1 routines that I developed for my daytime employer form the core of the company's DBMS. They worked without problems on the CompuADD 386/20 named "Merlin" they were developed on. When I moved them to "P2", a Pentium P5/100, some of the routines began to sporadically "choke" at times, mostly when reindexing database tables.

The routines I've written in FoxPro v2.6 for Windows also uses these tables for some operations and FoxPro indexes are also maintained for them. This is not good practice, and I know more now, and I promise I won't do it again. Because of this situation, when either dBASE or FoxPro opens these tables, they must be reindexed, and although clunky, this was working out OK . . . until now.

Using CleanSweep, I transported the dBASE IV application to Hal. Hal, I think, is much too fast (a 200 Mhz Pentium) for dBASE IV. The dBASE IV reindexing subroutines will not work at all on Hal. It is one error message after another. This is a real pickle I've gotten us into, Ollie. The choices I have here are few and ugly. They all involve database programming to some degree.

The same day I was experiencing these revelations regarding the interaction of dBASE IV and Hal, I received an e-mail clearance sales announcement from "Granny" at Surplus Direct. One of the items in the "bargain-bin" was Borland's dBASE 5 for DOS priced at less than forty dollars, including 2nd day shipping. I think Carl Jung termed a series of seemingly unconnected, but related, events like this "Synchronicity". I call it a "a cosmic coincidence". I ordered dBASE 5, praying for salvation. Since God doesn't always have time for my little problems, I also started looking at other solutions.

I've known for a long time, I would eventually have to redesign the entire database in one, unified DBMS. This would allow me to add many new enhancements and also korrect some of the fundamental structural flaws we've been stuck with since my initial design introduced them. This project has been put off time and again because of it's scope and complexity. Some wizened database developer who knew once said "Trying to redesign a database in use is like changing the tire on a moving car". My choice of weapons for this job will be Microsoft Visual FoxPro v3.0b in conjunction with the Visual FoxExpress RAD (Rapid Application Development) system.

But that's another story, and I'm gonna spare you a lot of that pain 'n suffering until I get it straightened out somewhat, even if misery does love company.

MISREP: Hal's installation saga will have to wait for awhile for me to solve the dBASE blues. In the meantime, for the next two weeks, I've scheduled a "Tech Investigation" about how to make Forms in WordPerfect and a "breach-birth" tape drive installation for your amusement for the next "In the Trenches" episode.


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LAROKE Microcomputer Consultants
155 East Boca Raton Road
Boca Raton, Florida 33432
(561)368-0659 (Tel & Fax)

Issued Saturday May 17, 1997

Updated Friday March 20, 1998

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