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Christophers Napkin Sketch by Al Gleichman

In the Trenches with LAROKE

Konsultant's Log, Cyberdate 07.12.1997 (Setting up MAG)

    Situation Report
    Take Charge And Move Out
    United States of America
    Mission Report
Later MAG Articles:

Cyberdate 10.04.1997 Putting out brushfires


America OnLine Online Service

Compaq Compaq Presario 954 CDS

Canon USA, Inc. BJC-620 Color Inkjet Printer

Creative Labs, Inc. 32Bit SoundBlaster Sound Card

Diamond Multimedia Systems, Inc. Diamond Stealth 64 PCI Video Adapter

Eastman Kodak Company DC20 digital camera

Intel Corporation Pentium CPU

Intuit, Inc. Quicken financial software

Hewlett-Packard Company T3000 Internal 3.2 GB Tape Drive

MetaCreations Corporation Dabbler paint software (formerly Fractal Design)

Microsoft Corporation Microsoft Internet Explorer, Windows 95, MS Home Software

Touchstone Software Corporation FastMove utility software

Wacom Technology Corporation Artpad II Digitizer Tablet and Stylus

Western Digital Corporation 4.0 GB IDE Hard Drive

Zoom Telephonics Inc 33.6 Kb Internal Fax/Modem


SITREP: I have an out-of-town client for whom I setup a Compaq Presario 954 CDS 486/100 PC about eighteen months ago. At the time the client was suffering along with an old Tandy machine running on TRS-DOS. Neither one of us was sure if she was going to like the "Wintel" world. For the initial foray into the Windows, IBM PC compatible environment, a 486/100 MHz PC running Windows 3.x with a modest 500 MB hard drive was deemed suitable. In addition, we setup an America Online account. My client not only adapted to the new system like a "fish to water", but envolved herself in graphics programs and desktop publishing. She soon outgrew the "general-purpose" Presario. We discussed upgrade options, but eventually settled on a new custom-built PC.

It was decided that a vendor, Sullivan Computer Services, (local to my client) that we were both comfortable with would build the PC to specification, and then I would move software and data files to the new machine from the Presario. The specifications we ended up with are as follows:

  1. Minitower Case, 230W Power Supply
  2. Intel Pentium 200 MHz CPU/Motherboard, with cooling fan and 256K Cache
  3. 32 MB, 72-pin, EDO RAM
  4. 17" Samtron SVGA Color Monitor, 1280 x 1024 NI, Flat Screen, .28mm dot pitch, Low Emissions
  5. Diamond Stealth 64 PCI Video Board with 2 MB RAM
  6. Western Digital 4.0 GB IDE Hard Disk Drive
  7. Floppy Disk Drive, 1.44 MB, 3-1/2"
  8. 104-Key Windows/Windows 95 Keyboard
  9. Microsoft Mousew, Version 2.0
  10. Win 8X CD-ROM, 32-bit SoundBlaster PnP Card, 10W Stereo Speakers, MS Home Software
  11. Zoom Fax/Modem, 33,600 baud, Internal
  12. Hewlett Packard/Colorado Memory Systems T3000 Internal 3.2 GB Tape Drive
  13. Windows 95 on CD-ROM
  14. Canon BJC-620 Color Inkjet Printer
  15. Wacom Artpad II Digitizer Tablet and Stylus
  16. Power Center with electrical and modem line surge protection

I made travel arrangements to setup the PC, and the vendor scheduled delivery to coincide with my arrival.

TACAMO: After my arrival, My client and I relocated the existing Presario off to the side to make room for the new PC. The vendor's assistant arrived at the scheduled time and date, connected all the cabling, and left. After briefly checking out the new PC, I prepared an "Emergency Startup Disk" by double-clicking the "Add/Remove Programs" icon in Windows 95 "Control Panel" and clicking the "Startup Disk" tab in the resulting dialog.

The following work was completed over a three-day weekend with plenty of rest periods for contemplation and off-site recreation.

We planned to keep the Compag in operation while we setup the new PC which my client christened "MAG" because it was "bigger" in every way than the Presario except physical size. I connected the modem cables in series, so both machines could access the phone line. I brought a program with me called "Fastmove" by Touchstone Software which allows you to transfer files between computers with a special parallel port cable. The printers for both systems were disconnected, and the special parallel data cable was attached to the LPT1 port on each machine.

Both PC's were started up, and the Fastmove software was installed, Windows 95 version on MAG and Windows 3.x version on the Presario. After starting Fastmove in "Local" mode on MAG, I attempted to start it in "Remote" mode on the Presario. Nothing happened. After some investigation in the Fastmove options and connections dialogs on both machines, we discovered that MAG listed COM1, COM2 and LPT1 as possible connection ports, but the Presario only listed COM1 and COM2. For some unknown reason the Fastmove software on the Presario could not see the printer port. I suspected this might have something to do with Compaq's ~!@#$%^& proprietary system software hooks into Windows. This probably was not the case, but if you're not a Compaq service rep and you've ever worked on a Compaq PC, you tend to swear at, not by, their proprietary hardware and software.

In the interest of time, I decided to try to bypass this problem by installing the DOS version of Fastmove on the Presario. Following a short, successful DOS installation, the Fastmove Windows 95 version on MAG was once again started in local mode. At the DOS prompt on the Presario, the DOS Fastmove directory was made the current directory, and the REMOTED.EXE program was run from the command line. The Presario initiated a connection, and this time MAG acknowledged it. We could now see the hard drive directories of both machines in twin adjacent windows on MAG's Fastmove screen. Now that we had Fastmove working, it was shutdown to prepare for step 2.

My client's America OnLine account was first on this list. At this point we ran into our first minor setback. Little did we know there were major ones in front of us "down the road". After checking the Windows 95 "Device Manager" it was discovered that although the Zoom internal fax/modem was physically installed, Windows 95 was not aware of it's existence.

Even though America Online accesses the modem directly in lieu of using the Windows 95 connection, I wouldn't have the "warm fuzzies" until the Windows 95 environment was also aware of the modem. MAG had more serial port devices attached than the average PC, and the potential for conflict was high. It would be a good idea to resolve the first potential conflict now.

Double-clicking the "Modems" icon in the Windows 95 "Control Panel" displayed the Windows 95 "Modems Properties" dialog. No modems were listed. Clicking the "Add" button started the "Install New Modem" Wizard. By default, the modem wizard wants to try to detect the modem by itself. We agreed, and sent it on it's merry way. When finished, the Wizard had installed a generic "Hayes-compatible" modem on COM2. I thought we could do better, so I deleted the generic modem and shutdown Windows 95 to clear the generic modem settings from the Windows 95 Registry. After restarting Windows 95 and running the modem Wizard again, we opted to select the modem from a list rather than letting the Wizard try to detect it. We selected the closest match we could find from the list of Zoom modems, and choose COM2 for the port as the Wizard had previously. Back at the Modems Properties dialog, clicking the "Diagnostics" tab, highlighting the COM2 entry for newly installed Zoom modem, then clicking the "More Info" button ran a series of communications diagnostic commands. No problems were reported.

We continued with the America Online installation. MAG had the setup for AOL 3.0 for Windows 95 which uses Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.x for the browser pre-installed by the vendor. You still have to use AOL's mail system instead of MS Mail, and AOL accesses the modem directly instead of using Windows 95's modem connection, so it is only partly Windows 95 compliant (maybe AOL 4.0 will be better).

We followed the pre-installed setup program prompts, entering the client's primary "Screenname" and password from the Presario in lieu of setting up a new account. The AOL setup program did not have any problems with the Zoom modem, and dialed the "800" number to retrieve current access numbers without incident. We now had a basic AOL installation on MAG. After restarting MAG, we ran the Fastmove file transfer program again and, after a bit of sleuthing, successfully copied the Presario's AOL configuration files including the remaining screenames, passwords, filing cabinets, favorite places and e-mail address books to MAG. A little testing, and we were finished with AOL.

Using a similar procedure, we installed Intuit's Quicken accounting and Fractal Design's Dabbler Graphics applications. That is, we installed the programs from their original CD-ROM's on MAG, then transferred data files from the Presario with Fastmove. Dabbler can take full advantage of the Wacom Artpad II graphics tablet we spec'd for the vendor to install. The Artpad II is a 4" by 5" digitizer tablet with a wireless stylus that has a slim rocker switch on the side for double-clicks and right-clicks. The stylus is pressure-sensitive (the harder you push, the darker the line you get), and if you turn it upside down and use the "eraser", Dabbler (and other programs that understand the Artpad) enter eraser mode. Pretty slick, but my client is having trouble adjusting to it since she had been limited to drawing with a mouse up to now (I guess once you become adept at driving finishing nails with a sledgehammer, it's hard to wield a more delicate tool =^) We decided to break-off at this point and renew the configuration on the following day.

== UPDATE ==

Cyberdate 05.20.1998
Art Pad Update
Since this article was first written, My Client has become proficient with use of the Art Pad stylus in the Dabbler graphics program. judge for yourself by viewing her latest work "Pennsylvania Spring".

The client noticed when she next turned MAG on, that the clock in the Windows Task Bar "System Tray" was showing the incorrect time. After some basic testing, during which we installed additional software applications, we came to the conclusion that MAG had a failing CMOS battery since it was only losing time when it was turned off. I took the case off MAG with my fingers crossed, hoping we had a replaceable CMOS battery, not the hardwired, encapsulated type. MAG did have a replaceable CMOS battery, but it was a long weekend and the vendor would not be open again for two days. Since MAG was losing about one hour in seven we decided to leave it run continuously rather than risk battery failure.

Losing the BIOS settings (which are maintained by the battery) is a disaster of the first magnitude. Today's PC's keep a wealth of system settings information in the BIOS, not the least of which is hard drive specification parameters. It is a laborious process to enter the several system setup screens and copy all the settings on paper so that you can re-key them back in if the settings are corrupted or lost, but losing the settings and not knowing what they are is a much worst situation. Many people have been faced with this problem, so several software utility programs have been developed to read and download the BIOS settings to a file that can be placed on an emergency boot disk and uploaded into the BIOS in case of failure.

Unlike the Boy Scouts, I was not prepared. A BIOS backup utility was not one of the items I had brought with me in my bag of tricks. I had these utilities at my home base, but that was a plane ride away. Logging on to my AOL account as a "Guest" from MAG, I accessed C/NET's and found the freeware CMOS93CD.ZIP program by C. Dye. After downloading and unzipping CMOS.COM, I downloaded MAG's BIOS settings into a file "CMOS.SAV". I copied CMOS.COM and CMOS.SAV the Windows 95 "Emergency Startup Disk" created on the first day. This would prove to be my most intelligent move during the entire MAG setup process.

The client has a Kodak DC20 digital camera. After a photo(s) are taken with the Kodak, they can be downloaded to a PC through a serial port with software that is provided with the camera, and saved in various graphics file formats. MAG had two free serial port connectors, a 9-pin COM port and a 25-pin COM port. The Kodak cable was fitted with a 9-pin serial connector, but the 9-pin port on the back of MAG was already in use by the Artpad II digitizer tablet. I dug around in the box of "stuff" the vendor's assistant had provided us when he delivered MAG and found a 9-pin to 25-pin adapter connector he had thoughtfully provided. This is another item I keep in my big toolbox back at home base.

We connected the cable and installed the Kodak software without incident. My client took a photo of me for testing (and possible litigation purposes, should the MAG setup take a bad turn?), which she subsequently provided me copy to post on my personal home page. After connecting the other end of the serial cable to the camera, we started the camera software and tried to download the photo into MAG. The TWAIN driver could not find camera ~!@##$$.

We knew that the camera and software worked because my client had originally installed it herself on the Presario where it had been operating just fine, thank you. At first, I thought this was a COM port conflict flaring up to bite me in the, well, you know what I mean.

The mouse was PS/2 mouse, so it wasn't using a COM port. The modem was using COM port 2, but since we were not using the modem at the same time we were trying to download the photo, I did not suspect it of causing the problem. I believed the Artpad II digitizer to be connected to COM port 1. The Artpad had it's own icon in the Windows 95 Control Panel. I double-clicked it to open up it's dialog and found that the Artpad driver could be disabled, which I did. We rebooted MAG and tried to download the photo again. The only difference was that the TWAIN driver searched longer for the camera (without success), than it did with the Artpad enabled. I re-enabled the Artpad driver.

While we were trying to download the photo, one of the indicator lights on the Kodak began flashing, which we found out indicated a low battery. We got lucky because the battery in the flash unit was the same type, and after switching batteries, the flashing stopped. The TWAIN driver still could not find the camera, however.

I tried several other things, I'd rather not mention, short of bashing MAG in the side. The reason I rather not mention them is because one of the things I tried was switching COM port devices (Artpad and Kodak cable). This little trick caused the Artpad driver to lockup the Windows 95 environment with the following "China Syndrome" error message: "corrupt registry". If I hadn't been in a panic to get the Windows 95 environment back, I might have realized why the system locked-up. After switching the Artpad and Kodak cables back to their original connectors, and Windows 95 had magically restarted, I eventually found myself staring at the Windows 95 device manager with a dumb expression on my face. "What's wrong with this picture?" was nagging the edges of my mind while I was trying to think of what to try next. I kept staring at the ports section of the device manager when I realized Windows 95 was displaying only two com ports (COM1 & COM2) and one printer port (LPT1) when it should be showing three com ports. I shutdown Windows 95 and rebooted MAG.

After the POST (Power On Startup Tests) routines, I pressed the "Del" key to enter the BIOS setup. There was the problem, "plain as day". The 25-pin serial port was disabled. This is like an electrical outlet in a house being switched off at the circuit breaker panel or fuse box. I enabled the serial port as COM4. This would allow the camera port to share resources with the modem which would be unlikely to cause a conflict since they would not operate at the same time. I saved the BIOS changes and exited system setup (this change was made before the CMOS.SAV file was created and copied to the emergency startup disk). When Windows 95 started, it detected the new COM4 port and automatically installed generic drivers for it.

We tried to download the photo one more time. The TWAIN driver found the new COM port this time without a problem. Because the vendor had loaded a digital photo into MAG at his shop, I had assumed that the 25-pin serial port was functional. This assumption was so strong, I kept missing the clues that would normally have led me to the BIOS setup. I began to get the feeling, the computer builder was testing my expertise, and I darn near failed the test!

The Colorado Memory Systems tape drive backup software had been pre-installed and tested by the vendor, who had also provided one Travan TR-3 tape. The "corrupt registry" error message had put the "fear of God" in me. I thought this was an excellent time to apply LAROKE's cardinal rule. We started a full system backup. We were both "plum tuckered out" at this point. It was a good time to quit for the day.

On Monday we went to the vendor's store and got a new CMOS battery. I didn't know how much time I had to change the battery without losing the settings. As it turned out, I didn't have any time. We shut down MAG and removed the case. The CMOS battery was barely accessible under the sound card. after neutralizing myself (see hardware procedures tip), and verifying that both batteries were of the same type, I removed the failing battery and replaced it with the new battery, the process taking about five seconds.

During bootup, "CMOS Checksum error" and "Failed CMOS battery, Loading defaults" system messages were displayed. ~!@#$%^ I shut the system off. I checked the battery position, and it seemed loose. %^&*()%$# I removed the sound card to make the battery location more accessible, and fiddled around with the retainer clip until the battery seemed firmly positioned. Bootup again produced the same two system messages and the hard drive was missing. It was time to see if my precautions would save me. MAG was restarted with the Windows 95 Emergency Startup Disk prepared previously, and "CMOS.COM /Load CMOS.SAV" was entered at the A:> prompt. I gingerly pressed the "Enter" key and was rewarded with a CMOS loaded successfully message. We removed the emergency startup disk and hit the Reset button on the front of MAG. MAG started up normally. "I love it when a plan comes together!"

We reset MAG's clock, and finished installing software and transferring data files from the Presario. Finally we shutdown MAG overnight.

After bootup on Tuesday morning, MAG's system clock was still displaying the correct time. We disconnected the Fastmove cable from the printer ports of both PC's and reconnected MAG's new Canon inkjet printer to LPT1.

Quarterdeck's CleanSweep for Windows 3.x was installed, and we removed all the software from the Presario that had been installed on MAG. Finally, I removed Fastmove and CleanSweep from the Presario, and ran the MS-DOS programs SCANDISK.EXE and DEFRAG.EXE after removing all the temporary and backup files I could find except for system backup files. Then we boxed the Presario for it's next owner.

MISREP: As a final step, Another complete system backup was attempted, but it seemed to hang-up with no tape drive or hard disk activity. I had not been entirely satisfied the day before with the tape drive's backup software performance, so I decided to uninstall and reinstall the backup software. After reinstalling the software a "modified file backup" was attempted (see sample backup procedure). The software again locked up and I reset the system.

I had to turnoff and reboot several times before Windows 95 would startup. We uninstalled and reinstalled the backup software a third time, and finally it appeared to work properly, so we performed another full backup. Over the several days of MAG's installation we have heard odd, intermittent, pinging sounds from the vicinity of hard drive's location in MAG. I suspect a possible mechanical problem with the hard drive, but since I've never heard sounds like this before from a PC, I can't be sure. This 4.00.950b version of Windows 95 uses the new FAT32 file system that I'm not yet familiar with, but I'm sure "pinging" is not part of it. I've advised my client to make frequent backups and be prepared for a possible drive failure. The vendor has a generous warranty and a good reputation in these parts, so she should be ok. I'll visit this site again in a month, and we will reevaluate the situation then.

== UPDATE ==

Cyberdate 05.20.1998
"Pinging" Update
Since this article was first written, I've learned that the "pinging" sound drives of this class make are read/write head recalibrations performed periodically due to temperature changes inside the drive. This drive still has problems on bootup sometimes . . . It may not be up to speed when the operating system starts trying to read drivers, etc.

I uninstalled Fastmove from MAG and began to gather my tools for departure. I could not find the Fastmove software CD, only it's sleeve. Oh, Oh . . . With a red face, I unpacked the Presario. I used a paperclip to open the CD-ROM drawer manually (this is what the small, paperclip-sized, hole on the front of most CD-ROM drives is for), rather than re-cable and start the Presario, and there it was, the Fastmove CD. Well there goes my facade of professionalism again, folks.


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

Issued Saturday, July 12, 1997

Updated Wednesday May 20, 1998

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