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In this area I will relate some of my horrible (and not so horrible) experiences in the realm of PC consulting (hardware and software installation, trouble shooting, and general head scratching) in the hopes some of you may avoid the same dead ends I have traversed, or at least get a chuckle out of my misadventures.
Christophers Napkin Sketch by Al Gleichman

Westheimer's Rule: "To estimate the time it takes to do a task: estimate the time you think it should take, multiply by 2, and change the unit of measure to the next highest unit. Thus we allocate 2 days for a one hour task."

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Konsultant's Log, Cyberdate 11.08.1997 (P2 and 4-Bits - Light at the end of the tunnel)


    Situation Report
    Take Charge And Move Out
    United States of America
  • CM
    Configuration Management
    Mission Report

SITREP: Being confident of completing the reconfiguration and relocation of the computer I call "P2" that I've been working on since April, I was going to call this episode "the final stretch." As I begin here, the work is not complete and P2 is still sitting next to me in my office. I've run into unforseen difficulties removing software from P2 and maintaining a viable Windows 95 environment, the sad khronicling of which will be the subject of the final article in this series.

TACAMO: The gritty details of three onerous tasks follow: 1) moving the modem from P2 to 4-Bits; 2) the second attempt to switch locations of P2 and 4-Bits; and 3) setting up 4-Bits to take over for P2. The squeamish among you may wish to stop reading now.

Task 1: Moving the modem from P2 to 4-Bits

1:07 P.M. 10/14/97. It was time to remove the SupraExpress 288i PnP modem from P2 for reinstallation in 4-bits. The modem's current connection to the outside world was "daisy-chained" to HAL's modem so both machines could use the same telephone line (see In the Trenches Cyberdate 04.19.1997 "Moving the HAL 9000").

The telephone cable between P2 and HAL was too short to reach 4-bits. Since 4-bits was to be P2's replacement, I thought I might as well switch the locations of the two PCs now while I had the cabling undone . . . BIG mistake on my part . . . I was about to run into some connection problems "of the first magnitude" following these tactics.

First things first. I cracked the case on P2 and exposed his innards. Observing anti-static precautions, the modem was removed from P2 and set aside. A spare Expansion Slot Cover was found in my toolbox to fill the hole where the modem used to stick through the back of P2. P2 was buttoned back up and placed to the side to make room for 4-bits to take his place. Next, 4-bits was opened up to reinstall the modem. As you'll soon see, there's another step I should have taken before putting the modem in 4-bits.

I pulled 4-bits' expansion slot cover for the combination ISA/PCI slot I'd had trouble previously installing the network adapter into (see In the Trenches Cyberdate 10.25.1997 "More Fun with P2, HAL, and 4-bits"). The modem fit this slot just fine. I connected the modem lines and network cabling.

P2 shared a monitor, keyboard and trackball (mouse) with "Old Blue", the server, through a Cybex Personal Commander switch device. I was chuggin' along at 90 mph and here this brick wall appeared out of nowhere! The keyboard and mouse connectors emerging from the special Cybex cabling were incompatible with the connectors on the back of 4-Bits chassis. ~!@#$%^& I would not be able switch the locations of the two PCs today.

I had to stop at this point and trash my office until I found a longer telephone cable that would reach between HAL and 4-Bits in her original location. I did find a longer cable that would work so my black mood eased somewhat. There followed about thirty minutes of grunts, groans and curses as I performed the mule work of manhandling and connecting the PC's and monitors in their original placements.

With all the connections back in place, 4-Bits was started and after the Invisible LAN logon dialog, I was informed that Windows 95 had detected new hardware, specifically, a SupraExpress 288i PnP modem. The dialog requested me to insert the drivers diskette or CD-ROM for the modem so Windows 95 could install the modem. I found the diskette that was bundled with the modem and placed it 4-Bits' drive A:. Windows installed the modem drivers and that was that, or so I thought.

I tried to map (connect to) a network drive to see if there were any conflicts between the new modem and the network adapter. Much to my dismay, there were conflicts because 4-bits couldn't find any of the other machines on the network. Reviewing the "Interrupt request (IRQ)" List under the "View Resources" Tab of the "Computer Properties" Dialog revealed that the PnP (Plug-n-Play) modem had appropriated the Invisible LAN network adapter's IRQ 3 interrupt "without so much as a Thank you, ma'am."

This is an example of the kind of problem you can run into in a mixed system containing both PnP devices and non-PnP legacy devices. There is a way out of this dilemma and I would have been better off if I had exercised it before installing a PnP device.

PnP devices inform other PnP devices of their presence. That's how they "keep from stepping on each other's toes." Legacy ISA devices, on the other hand, are mute. The network adapter didn't say anything, so the modem took its resource. It's a bit more complicated than that, but you get my drift.

In a situation like this, we let the PnP system board CMOS settings do the talking for the legacy devices. In the CMOS setup, resources can be "reserved" so that the PnP devices will know to leave them alone. As I was about to learn, reserving the resources in the CMOS setup before installing PnP devices is easier than afterwards.

Getting to the system setup routines are different for different PC's. For the Compaq DeskPro (4-Bits), you boot the computer and when you see a blinking, solid cursor in the upper right-hand corner of the monitor, you press the "F10" function key. This action brings up the initial system setup screen. In most PC's this is a DOS type screen built-in to the computer's ROM chips. In many Compag PCs, it's a GUI (Graphic User Interface) screen and much of the software to run the interface is located in a "Hidden" hard disk partition. This proprietary scheme of Compaq's does not give me the "warm fuzzies." it can be a "real pain in the butt" if the hard drive crashes and you don't know about it when you install a new drive.

The first screen asked me to select my language of choice, English in my case. Then came a Compaq "welcome" dialog, followed by a menu of choices. Most computers only have Setup and Advanced Setup but the DeskPro has "Computer Checkup (TEST)", "View system information (INSPECT)", "Create a Diagnostics Diskette" and "Manage Diagnostics Partition" in addition to the "Computer Setup" and "Exit from this utility" choices. I will have to come back here later and make a Diagnostic Diskette to go with the "Windows 95 Installation" backup disks set I made previously for 4-Bits.

Selecting the "Computer Setup" line item and pressing the enter key started a "data gathering process," after which a "Computer Setup 1.20 (V)" screen displayed. At the bottom of this screen was a button for "Add-In Devices." Clicking this button produced the "Add-In Devices" Display that had buttons for "PCI Device(s)","ISA Device(s)" and "PNP ISA Device(s)."

The "SupraExpress 288i PnP Modem" was already listed beside the "PNP ISA Device(s)" Button. The space next to the "ISA Device(s)" Button was blank. Clicking this button produced the "ISA Device(s)" screen which had an "Add" Button. Clicking the "Add" Button initiated a screen divided into sections for "IRQ", "DMA", "I/O Ranges" and "Memory Ranges" with two, two, eight and four fill-in fields, respectively. I only entered "3" from the Pull-down list in the first IRQ field and clicked the "OK" Button. I was rewarded with a "The IRQ you have selected (IRQ3), is already used by another resource. Is this ok?" message. I replied by clicking the "Yes" Button provided.

Back at the ISA Device(s) Screen, My device had been assigned "ISA0001" as its ID. "OK" buttons were clicked until a screen with an "Exit" Button appeared. Changes were saved and 4-Bits re-booted. When I got back to the Windows 95 DeskTop, I found that all that work in the Computer Setup utility had not changed anything.

The modem was still "hogging" the network adapter's Interrupt. After removing the modem from the Windows 95 Device Manager, I re-booted 4-bits and went back to Computer Setup. At the "Add-In Devices" Screen, I clicked the "PNP ISA Device(s)" Button this time. The "PNP ISA Device(s)" came up with only one line item, the "SupraExpress 288i PnP Modem." I clicked the "Configure" Button of this screen. A screen for the "SupraExpress 288i PnP Modem" modem displayed with a "Dependencies:" Drop-down List that showed the current resources used by the modem: "2E8-2EF, IRQ 3". The only other changeable item on this screen was a "Disable Device" Checkbox. I checked the Checkbox and backed out of Computer Setup again, saving my change and exiting.

Even though I had disabled the modem in the Computer Setup, Windows 95 still found it and wanted to install drivers again. I ignored this request for the time being, continuing on to the DeskTop instead. The network adapter was working again . . . limited progress . . . back to Computer Setup.

I went back to the "SupraExpress 288i PnP Modem" configuration screen and unchecked the "Disable device" Checkbox. I then picked another option from the "Dependencies:" Drop-down List: "2E8-2EF, IRQ 4", and clicked the "OK" Button. I got another "..conflicts with another resource. Is this ok?" error message for my efforts. I responded "No" and went back to try again. This time I picked "2E8-2EF, IRQ 5" and did not get any further protest from the Computer Setup utility, so I saved the changes and exited.

4-Bits booted up into Windows 95 and requested to install the drivers for the modem again. This time I complied and, when finished, had a working modem and network configuration . . . Whew!

How did I know the network and the modem were both working? First I right-clicked on the "My Computer" Icon and picked "Map Network Drive" from the resulting context-sensitive menu. I followed the dialog prompts and was successful mapping to Old Blue's "C:" drive. Next, I opened 4-Bits' Windows 95 "Control Panel" and double-clicked the "Modems" Icon to open it. In the resulting "Modems Properties" Dialog, the "SupraExpress 288i PnP" was listed (and selected since it was the only modem) under the "General" Tab. I clicked the "Diagnostics" Tab and selected "COM4" where Windows 95 had installed the modem. The "More info" Button was clicked. This caused Windows 95 to "communicate" with the modem by passing it a series of Hayes-compatible "AT" commands. All the commands completed successfully. OK, that's enuf fun for today with PnP modems, kids.

Task 2: Switching P2 and 4-Bits locations, 2nd attempt

11:58 A.M. 10/15/97 I went to CompUSA and found a Belkin Pro Series F2N017 Keyboard Adapter that allows the interface of an "AT" style keyboard (5 pin DIN male connector) to a "PS/2" style port (6 pin mini DIN female port). I also got a Belkin Pro Series F4A611 Mouse Adapter that allows the connection of a "Serial" type mouse (DB9 female connector) to a "PS/2" style port (6 pin mini DIN female port).

If I was lucky, this would solve the problem I was up against interfacing 4-Bits to the Cybex Personal Commander monitor, keyboard and mouse sharing switch. Again I manhandled the two PCs into their new respective locations and cabled them using the new connector adapters with 4-bits. I'm not catholic, but made the sign of the cross anyway and switched on 4-Bits. This time I did get monitor and keyboard, but Windows 95 could not detect a mouse. A dialog advised me to shut down the computer and attach a PS/2 mouse.

Being two-thirds of the way to my goal, I was not going to give up this time. 4-Bits was shut off and the Belkin mouse adapter removed. The mouse cable from the Cybex switch is a DB9 female serial connector and 4-Bits has one DB9 male port. I had noticed earlier when the modem diagnostics test was run that this port (COM1) was not in use by any other device. It seemed too easy, but I simply connected the Cybex switch to 4-Bits via this port and restarted the computer. It worked . . . Monitor, keyboard and mouse were recognized by both 4-Bits and Old Blue, the other computer connected to the Cybex switch.

Another hurdle krossed, I sighed as I turned on P2 in his new temporary location . . . Oh, ~!@#$%! P2 stumbled, and displayed one of the most dreaded of error messages. P2 could not find his hard drive. I was advised to insert a "system disk" in drive A: to continue. I cold-booted P2 a couple of more times to make sure this wasn't a one-time anomaly and, much to my distress, it wasn't.

I didn't have a system disk handy for P2 and if I did it wouldn't work since I had replaced the malfunctioning 3-1/2" drive A: with an ancient 5-1/4" drive some months back (see In the Trenches Cyberdate 05.03.1997 "Feeding Softwarez to HAL 9000").

There is more than one way to skin a kat. I re-booted P2 again and hit the "Del" key when prompted to enter the CMOS Setup Utility. P2's CMOS Setup is password protected, but I wasn't asked for one. When the setup utility's menu came up, I selected "STANDARD CMOS SETUP". The resulting screen showed I did not have a hard drive, among other errors. I must have lost the CMOS settings during the move of P2. I have no idea what would cause this, but this isn't the first time I've had low-level system problems with this machine (see In the Trenches Cyberdate 06.28.1997 "Restoring a Flash BIOS Meltdown").

I opened P2's maintenance log (see LAROKE Download area for an example of the Maintenance Log) and found the passage dealing with the installation of the hard drive when I rebuilt this machine in September of 1995. In the log entry I had recorded "16 HD, 63 SECT, 1654 CYL" specifications for the drive.

In the CMOS Setup, I selected a "User" defined drive and entered these specifications in their respective fields. I did not have specs for the "PRECOMP" and "LANDZ" fields, so I left those blank. The new settings were saved and CMOS Setup was exited. P2 started the reboot process and this time found the hard drive.

Early in the DOS portion of the boot process the startup was interrupted by PC911, A MS-DOS "Automatic Rescue Utility" published by Cybermedia that I had installed on P2 in the distant past at the time of his refit. This nifty little program saves CMOS settings, CONFIG.SYS, AUTOEXEC.BAT, WIN.INI, SYSTEM.INI and user-defined configuration files. It is set up to run early in the bootup process every time P2 is started, and it searches for changes to the above-mentioned files. If it detects changes, it stops the process to ask the user if s/he wants to save the new changes it detected or restore the older version of the changed file from the PC911 archives.

The PC911 watchdog worked perfectly and detected that the CMOS settings weren't kosher. When it asked if I wanted to restore the old CMOS settings I replied in the affirmative. After informing me that the CMOS restoration had been successful, PC911 let the bootup process finish. PC911 also can prepare an emergency boot disk with the same information on it, in case you can't get access to the hard drive.

I wanted to see what the restored CMOS settings were for the hard drive, so I re-booted P2 a final time and again entered the CMOS setup. The first thing I noticed was the password protection to enter Setup was back. The hard drive settings were the same except there were also settings for the PRECOMP and LANDZ fields that I had left blank. They were "65535" and "1653", respectively. This was good. I still don't know why P2 lost his settings but I had them back now.

Task 3: Setting up 4-Bits to take over for P2

9:06 A.M. 10/11/97. Every fifth time 4-bits starts, she displays a "Create System Disks" dialog. If allowed to continue, this dialog will start a process to create a set of Windows 95 installation disks that will substitute for the CD-ROM that did not come with this system. The first time the dialog "Popup" appeared I was unprepared for it as I did not have the time or the estimated 29 diskettes the operation would require. It appeared again this morning, and I now have the diskettes at hand.

The System Disk utility allows the creation of two items: "Microsoft Windows 95 Setup Disk Set", and "Windows 95 Startup Disk". I chose the Setup Disk Set first. The utility then instructs you to label the first disk "Setup Boot Disk" and insert it in drive A:. After that the next disk is to be labeled "Disk 1" and inserted for preparation . . . The utility preps each disk, in turn, by formatting it in some instances, checking files for transfer, and then transferring data to the disk.

Since the utility only formats some disks, I suspect it is using the special high-density format (DMF) used by Microsoft for some its products' installation disks.

I will compose permanent labels with WordPerfect for these disks and print them with the Lexmark Color Jetprinter 2050 connected to HAL on Avery Label sheets after the whole set of disks is prepared. This method avoids time wasted labeling a disk that might turn out to be defective. To keep track of the disks until the permanent labels are applied, I scribble a temporary label on a 3M post-it note and slap it on each disk as it exits drive A:.

CM: 4:16 P.M. 10/20/97. It was time to install Microsoft Networking on 4-Bits so she could communicate with HAL. HAL cannot access the Invisible LAN Network, so this is necessary (see In the Trenches Cyberdate 04.19.1997 "Moving the HAL 9000").

The Windows 95 "Network" Dialog was opened in the "Control Panel", and, under the "Configuration" Tab, the "Add" Button was clicked. In the resulting "Select Network Component Type" Dialog, "Client" was selected and the "Add" Button clicked. In the "Select Network Client" Dialog, "Microsoft" was selected from the "Manufacturer" List and then "Client for Microsoft Networks" from the "Network Clients" List.

The "File and printer sharing for Microsoft Networks" Network Service (server) was added in the same manner. The Client for Microsoft Networks was configured to "Logon and restore network connections" in its "Properties" Dialog. In the Network Dialog, still under the Configuration Tab, the "File and Print Sharing" Button was clicked to make sure the "I want to be able to give others access to my files." and "I want to be able to allow others to print to my printer(s)." Checkboxes were checked.

The "Identification" and "Access Control" Tabs had been set up earlier when the Invisible LAN components were installed, and they did not need to be changed (see In the Trenches Cyberdate 10.25.1997 "More Fun with P2, HAL, and 4-Bits").

The "OK" Button was clicked to exit the Network Dialog and Windows began to install the Microsoft Networking components just selected. The installer utility remembered that the installation files could be found in the "C:\WINDOWS\OPTIONS\CABS" directory and did not ask for the Windows 95 CD-ROM, as it had the last time it installed Windows components. After Windows had finished installing the network components, a restart was requested.

When 4-Bits had finished restarting, I double-clicked the "My Computer" Icon on her Windows 95 DeskTop. The "C:" hard drive "Properties" Dialog was examined. It now had a new "Sharing" Tab that did not exist before the Microsoft Network file and printer sharing service was installed. Under this Sharing Tab, the "Shared As" Radio Button was selected and the "Share Name" entered as "CHARLIE" (see naming conventions). Full access without password protection was also specified. Sharing was then set up for 4-Bits' A: drive the same way, this time with the Share Name "ALPHA". Both drive icons in the "My Computer" Window now display a hand underneath them to show sharing for these drives is enabled.

The main purpose for the preceding exercise was to set up 4-Bits so she could print to HAL's Lexmark Color Jetprinter 2050. Attaining this goal proved to be problematic.

The normal procedure, at least for generic printers that Windows 95 has drivers for, is as follows: First, the printer must be set up for sharing. The Lexmark on HAL was already set up for sharing previously. This had been accomplished by opening HAL's "Printers" Folder, right-clicking the Lexmark Printer Icon, and choosing "Sharing" from the resulting context-sensitive Menu. In the displayed printer "Properties" Dialog under the "Sharing" Tab, the "Shared As" Radio Button was selected, and the printer was given the Share Name "Lexmark" (observing DOS naming conventions). "Comment" and "Password" fields were left blank. Closing the Printer Properties Dialog revealed the Lexmark Printer Icon to have a hand underneath it to indicate sharing just like the shared disk drives have. See "TECH How To Set up a Windows 95 printer for network sharing" for a graphical step-by-step tutorial.

Next, the Lexmark printer was added to 4-Bits' Printers Folder. There is usually more than one method of adding a printer in Windows 95. It generally depends on whether your printer came with Windows 95 software (drivers) or not.

In the case of the Lexmark, a Windows 95 software diskette was provided. The disk had an installation utility that automatically installs the Lexmark printer drivers and other Lexmark printer control programs. It was installed by placing the disk in drive A: and running the Setup program.

After the installation, I tried to print a test page and nothing happened. My feeling was that maybe the additional Lexmark programs the setup utility had installed were interfering with network printing. The Lexmark software was removed using the Lexmark uninstallation utility. 4-Bits was re-booted and I proceeded to install only the Lexmark drivers without the additional programs.

This was effected, after the Windows 95 Desktop appeared, by clicking the "Start" Button, Then selecting "Settings" from the Start Menu, then "Printers" to open 4-Bits' "Printers Folder". Double-clicking the "Add Printer" Icon summoned the "Add Printer Wizard" Dialog.

Clicking the "Next" Button produced the second screen where you choose between "Local printer" and "Network Printer" Radio Buttons. The Lexmark being connected to HAL, not 4-Bits, the Network printer was selected and the "Next" Button clicked.

In the third Wizard screen the "Network path or queue name" had to be entered, in this case "\\HAL9000\LEXMARK". A decision also had to be made for the question "Do you print from MS-DOS-based programs?" There are no DOS programs installed on 4-Bits, so the "No" Radio Button was selected and the "Next" Button clicked.

The fourth screen displayed the "Manufacturers" and "Printers" Lists to choose from, and the "Have Disk" Button. The Lexmark 2050 installation disk was placed in drive A:, and the Have Disk Button was clicked. After the Wizard accessed drive A: and found "Lexmark 2050 ColorFine 2", I clicked the "Next Button.

The defaults for "Printer Name" and using this printer as the default printer for Windows-based programs were accepted, and the "Finish" Button was clicked to let the Wizard install the printer. The test print failed again.

I logged onto the Internet and visited the Drivers Headquarters Web site. From there I was directed to the drivers download area of the Lexmark Web site. The downloadable file descriptions were a little kryptic here, but the only download I found that I thought might help me was a network sharing utility. After downloading and examining the utility, I discovered it was for use with Lexmark Laser printers, not the color jetprinter . . . Oh well . . . let's try something else.

2:11 P.M. 10/21/97 Somewhere I found out that the Lexmark could emulate the Hewlett-Packard 500C Inkjet printer, so I installed the Windows 95 HP 500C drivers. The test print failed again, so these drivers were uninstalled.

I was back to "square one". I ran the full automatic Lexmark printer installation on 4-Bits again, including the additional utility programs. Poking around in the "Help" file indicated that I might have to install a proprietary Lexmark printer "Spooler Manager" to make printing across the network function for this printer.

Following the spooler setup instructions I configured HAL as "server" and 4-Bits as "client" I thought . . . the Help file's terminology was a slight bit muddy. Still no joy, the printer test failed. I reversed the client/server settings and tried again. Finally . . . the Lexmark responded to 4-Bits' pleas for a test print!

I also found that the spooler manager program had to be up and running on HAL for printing to work . . . sending a print request from 4-Bits would not initiate the spooler program . . . it had to be active and listening. I put a Windows 95 "Shortcut" in HAL's "Start" Folder so the spooler manager program would be started every time Windows started on HAL. Boy, was that fun!

MISREP: 4-Bits is only about half-configured, but to go any further in this episode is just too much "wear and tear". We still have to set up "Dial-Up Networking", Browser Plug-ins and ActiveX controls for the company Intranet, and software installation for programs and utilities now handled by P2. I've already been through these battles and reviewing my notes is enough to bring tears to my eyes. Those of you that have followed along to this point have suffered enough for one session. We'll pickup again at this point next week.


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

Issued Saturday, November 8, 1997

copyright © 1997 LAROKE Microcomputer Consultants all rights reserved