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Scott's Column
Ramblings

October 1, 1997
By Scott Lewis

I have temporarily decided what to do with this column. I was inspired by Jerry Pournelle of BYTE magazine. He has a column that used to be called Chaos Manor. Jerry gives his experiences with computers, technology, and a number of other topics that interest him and his audience. I have been very impressed with Jerry's column for years. Jerry is a science fiction writer by trade, but his column in BYTE is wonderful. When I subscribed to BYTE, Jerry's column was the one thing I always read. Finally, it became the only thing I read. It is a great column, but I couldn't justify the cost of the magazine for his column. Sorry Jerry. I try to remember to read his column from BYTE's Web site each month.

So I have decided to let Jerry be my mentor in a sense. I too will write about computers, technology, and other topics that run through this web site. I expect to ramble on about other topics as well. This will be my chance to tell the world about Scott Lewis. Basically, I want this column to be me. Follow along as I indulge myself. Maybe we can all have a little fun.

Scott's Site

Well this month has been a busy one. Many things have happened to this site. A lot of work went into finalizing the format of the pages and the directory structure. The graphics for the home page and the navigation were re-done, again. We have accounted for the frames of this site if you are interested in bookmarking certain columns. Each column, and the feature article, has instructions at the bottom on bookmarking. This should makes things easier for you to save your favorite column. Enjoy.

Surgery

If you have read The News section, you know I am going into surgery at the beginning of October. It is sinus surgery. I actually have two problems that seam to be unrelated to each other. 1) is an infected sinus pocket (a laymen's oversimplification of the actual condition), and 2) I have major polyps and infected sinuses. The surgery scheduled for October 2 is to take care of the first problem. This feels like a lump below my nose on my left side. It is not that noticeable, but it causes a little discomfort. They will be cutting into the area through my gums, and scraping the infected area clean. This is also a little exploratory in nature since this problem could be related to the polyps and the rest of the infected sinuses I have. If they are not related I will be laid up for 3 or 4 days. If they are related then they will have to take care of both problems at the same time. That would leave me out of commission for up to 10 days. Wish me luck.

Visual J++

I went to Visual J++ Class earlier this month. I don't recommend it. I was disappointed in the material covered in the class. I was expecting to learn more about applet design for use on web pages, but the class covered mostly topics for application (on and off the web) design. The teacher was not very good either. This was a first for me. I have always enjoyed Microsoft's classes, but this time the teacher didn't know the material that well. It was clear that he didn't know more than the material the class taught. He didn't appear to have any actual experience building Java applets or applications.

I wanted to write a replacement for the Java applet I was using on this site. In the navigation frame of this site I used the same applet for each of the links. It is a very simple applet: when you move the mouse over the link it swaps to another GIF image. When you click on it, it goes to a URL. It takes the destination and a target (necessary for frames)as parameters in the HTML document. That's all. I got this off the net (actually someone in the graphics department of my company got it off the net), and I just feed the appropriate parameters in my HTML code. The Visual J++ instructor could not tell me how I could do the same thing. Also, the material in the class did not show how this could be done. I have seen many Java applets that let you click on them, and they go to some page. Why was this so hard for the instructor to do. If you are interested in learning Java to add some simple applets to your web site, I wouldn't take Microsoft's Visual J++ class. I took it because my company bought me the Visual Studio package that includes VJ++ 1.1. I was hoping to learn some basic applet design, and how to do it with VJ++. No such luck.

I did find out how to do the Java applet. While viewing these pages, the applet I was using stopped working. I was getting some error. Since I don't have the source code, I couldn't look at it to find the problem. The applet worked just fine when looking at the pages on the Internet, but the copy on my local hard drive would give an error. So I was determined to write the applet myself. I did a little searching on the Internet and found an example of a similar applet listed on Gamelan's Site. The program gave the source code, so I was able to learn the code to have the browser go to a new page.

With this renewed interest in applet design, I spent about 3 hours writing the applet. It was my first time writing an applet from scratch so it took longer than necessary. But a problem arose. Actually two problems. 1) I would get the same error I was getting with the old applet. This was ever more perplexing because I would not get the error when I have the Developer Studio up and running. Also I did not get the error when I uploaded the applet to the Internet, and ran it from there. This is weird. 2) This problem was a conflict in documentation. I searched for the function that gave would put a message in the status bar of the browser. But when I aded this code I kept getting syntax errors compiling it. I couldn't understand why it would not work.

I stopped working on the applet because of the error I was getting when running the applet locally. It would be impossible for me to work on this site if I could not have it working properly in a local environment. I will spend some more time with this in the future. Hopefully I can track down the problem. I think it has to do with Java security. That would be the easiest explanation why it worked from the Developer Studio environment. But that does not explain why it works from the Internet. More later.

I have learned that Visual J++ is not that bad. If you are forced to use it, as I am, then spend the time to learn it. Once you get use to it, you will be able to create applets just fine. I have heard good things about Cafe from Symantec. I will try to get a hold of it for a review at a later time. If Semantec send me a copy, I will gladly review it.

JavaScript and Browser

I replaced the Java applet on this site with JavaScript. It does the same thing the applet did, but it works much faster. With the applet, if you moved your mouse up and down the list of links in the navigation bar, there was a delay in the speed the images were swapped. This made for a kind of neat look. It looked like a trail from the mouse. The JavaScript code works much faster and doesn't give the mouse trail effect. Alas, the JavaScript does not work under Internet Explorer 3.x. JScript is Microsoft's version of JavaScript. They are not the same. JScript is more a subset of JavaScript, but it may have some things the JavaScript does not. I have testing the code under Internet Explorer 4.0 Beta 2, and it works. So Microsoft has put in more JavaScript compatibility with its browser.

Since IE 4.0 will be out about the same time this column, I decided to use the JavaScript. Many people will probably upgrade to at least the browser of IE 4.0. I myself will probably upgrade fairly quickly now that Microsoft is going to release a browser only version of IE 4.0. I am not that interested in the Active Desktop or the push technology that the browser adds. I am interested in the newer HTML capabilities, and the other browser specific improvements.

Gaming

The game of the month is still Warcraft II. I am still playing this game more than any other game in recent memory. I play over Kali, and can never get enough. I recently got a second phone line, so it is much easier to get in a game whenever the mood strikes.

Computer Gaming World has a six page cover story on Wing Commander: Prophecy in their October issue. It looks good. I am looking forward to it. I am also looking forward to Accolade's Test Drive 4. Assuming it has free Internet play out of the box, It will replace The Need For Speed II as the racing game I will play. I will be keeping my eye on Dark Reign & Starcraft. Dark Reign should be out by the time you read this. I am not sure when Starcraft will be released. I will be checking for a demo, and will only get the game I like the best. Look forward to my take on the demos in a future column.

Cars

I just read the first road test reviews of the new Corvette convertible in Car and Driver magazine. It is outstanding. I have been a Vette fan for years. I still can't afford one, so I am left to dream. Some day. I have decided that I will definitely add some speed parts to my 93 Z28 when it is paid off. It will be paid off in the Spring, and mods should start in the summer, hopefully. I have a new baby due in late February, so priorities may change between now and then. I certainly can't afford a new Camaro or Firebird with the latest LS1 engine, so adding some horsepower to mine will at least leave me with a car as fast as the current ones.

Books

I am not much of a book reader. I usually don't have the time to read a full book. I mostly read magazines, It is much easier for me to read one or two articles at a time. However, I am reading an interesting book right now. It is A Brief History In Time - From The Big Bang to Black Holes, by Steven Hawking. For those that don't know, Hawking is considered to be the greatest mind in theoretical physics since Einstein. This book is the laymen's book to his research. He does an excellent job of putting many theories in perspective. The book was written for laymen, but it is hard for me to read. So I reserve my full opinions on it until a future column. If you are curious about the theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, black holes, quarks, gravity, etc., and there effect on our universe, I recommend this book. Although some of the information is too laymen, overall it is quite fascinating reading.

To put things in perspective for you, the last book I read was Sinbad's Guide to Life - Because I Know Everything. It is written by the comedian Sinbad. There were many moments in the book that I was laughing too much to continue reading. I was disappointed overall, however. The book is very close to his stand up routines. But the book goes into much more detail than he could in a comedy routine. I felt that the book was about twice as thick as it needed to be. He went into too much detail, to the point of boring me on many occasions. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the book, but just felt that it lacked the punch that his routines can deliver in person. A shorter book would have had me reading it from cover to cover, instead of a chapter at a time. If you like Sinbad, then borrow a copy from someone. It is a little too pricey for the amount of enjoyment it gives.

Site of the month

I have decided to take a crack at having a site of the month. I will give a Scott's Site Award to one site every month. To become a site of the month, a web site must fulfill two requirements: 1) It must be a site that I have not visited before. So it is a new-to-me site. 2) It must be a site that I find the most interesting (for any reason) for that month. Before you send in your site for the Scott's Site Award keep in mind two things: 1) Check The Links & The Bookmark for your site. If it is there you will not be considered (unless I forget to look there myself). 2) I have no criteria except the site must be acceptable for viewing in the workplace. Since I do half of my surfing at work, I will not visit a site that would get me in trouble with my boss. In the future I may have categories for sites, and have more than one a month. For the time being I am just going to pick one site.

This month's Award goes to: Penn Central. This is a column by Penn Jillette, of Penn & Teller fame. Jillette is a long time writer of computer columns. I use to read a column of his a couple of years ago in one of the computer magazines. I don't know if he still does that, since I can't remember the name of the magazine. But lucky for us he now has a column on the Internet. This column seems less computer centric, but it still reads as well as ever. I vaguely remember that Jillette is a die hard online computer guy, so it is not surprising that he has a column on the Internet. He is very strongly opinionated, which is probably why I like him. He used to wonder why people would want him to write about computers, since he is just a comedian/magician. Judge for yourself. I liked the column so much, I had to go through the archive. Jillette's writing is kind of out there, and I like his direct approach. You may like the links he litters his column with the most. I especially liked the link to the death certificate of Kurt Cobain. Kurt shot himself with a shotgun. Trust me, read his August 1 column to understand. By the way, Jillette's column is updated every two weeks. Enjoy!

Congratulations Jillette! You are the first recipient of the Scott's Site Award. Like you care, or will ever know.

Conclusion

Well enough for this month. I will be writing this column again after surgery, so expect a quick update on my recovery. I finally received my copy of Window 98, so expect my first take on it next issue. I will also look at Internet Explorer 4.0. I am especially interested in the browser-only version. I understand that Microsoft is not defaulting to many of the Active Desktop/Integration stuff, and making the default a browser-only interface. I will also have a look a Netscape Navigator 4.0 now that it is packaged without all the Communicator stuff. Until then.

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