Scott's Column
New Computer vs. Land, and a little on Palm III and the new briefing

February 1, 1999
By Scott Lewis

This month has been incredibly boring. I have been battling with allergies, and work is slow while we wait for approval to move our client/server briefing into production.

Palm III

I had hoped to do something with my Palm III. Alas, all I have done is enjoy it. I am using it more and more. I like the convenience and I can carry it with me. It gives me a way of jotting down little notes for later use.

The calendar is great for me. I never do anything unusual with my schedule, and the Palm calendar is perfect for that. It works so well with Outlook 97, that I will have a hard time not having it if it ever goes away.

Personally I think it is overpriced. I got mine for $199 at Oracle’s Open World conference in San Francisco. At that price I think it is a little overpriced. At $369 it is highway robbery. I ran into an employee of the company at Open World. He was a database guru, but he told me that all employees are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The agreement prevents him from talking about three things. 1) The actual cost to manufacture the Palm devices. 2) Upcoming releases and 3) I forgot. The first two were the good ones. Clearly 3Com doesn’t want us to know how cheap they can make these things for, and they want you buying them up to the last minute until they come out with its successor.

If I had to guess… I would put their hardware manufacturing costs at $30 – 50. The rest is R&D and profit. My guess, at $369 list, there is a lot of profit. Just my guess, unless any 3Com employees want to tell me otherwise?

New Briefing

Our loads are going well. We have been rolling out the client application software to users for a little while. The distribution folks have had some installations fail, but when I looked at them they never got to the workstation. SMS is used to push the application. A batch file runs the actual installation. The first thing the batch file does is copy a log file to the root directory of the target machine. The few installs that have failed never got the log file. This means that SMS failed before trying to execute the batch file.

So far only one "pull" has failed. It was a Windows 95 laptop. The technician pushed it instead through SMS, and that worked fine. This is weird. Not only is this the only time a pull did not work, but it is also the only time a push fixed a pull. We usually pull it to fix a bad push. Go figure.

As for the briefing, a few bugs were found in the briefing just before I went on Christmas vacation. Thankfully they were mostly due to changes in the database that I was not informed about. Only one bug was found in my code. Some of the database problems were hard to find, but eventually everything was straightened out.

However, our sponsors/users still haven’t approved the briefing for release to production. They have given a deadline. End of February 1999. Wow, only three months after it was supposed to be released. I can hardly wait.

Web Development

I was asked to help build a web site that puts Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides on our Intranet. No, this is not deja vue. I did this a few months ago. Another department asked me to do a similar project for them. It took me all of 10 hours, including meetings to do the work. Too easy. I just took the old site and changed the labels and all the filenames as needed. Poof, instant web site. It had a slightly different look, but the same feel as the original. The different look was to comply with previous efforts for the department.

During February I should be building our web-based environment. We have been shuffling servers around, and lost our loaner server. We are trying to get it back on a permanent basis, so we can completely separate development and testing from production. Until then we are doing all three on the same server.

I will be looking at a product called SpaceOLAP from a company called InfoSpace. This will allow us to build a web based presentations on our data, but will allow us to run Internet Explorer 3.02. If you follow this column, you remember that we are locked into IE 3.02 until June 1999. That is when my company plans to roll out IE 4.01 as a part of a new standard platform. If SpaceOLAP does well, we may use it instead of Web Agent and Web Publisher from Oracle.

I will let you know how this goes. Until my team sees the product, and makes a decision, I will forge ahead with Web Agent and Web Publisher.

New Computer vs. Land

Last month I told you I got the green light to buy a new computer. Alas, I am pushing, but might have to wait. Why the wait? We are buying an acre of land. My wife’s sister, her husband, my wife and I are buying two lots of land next to each other. We should own it (yea, yea, the bank will) by the end of the month. We will be building a house on it in the summer of 2001 (say aught-1, and start getting used to it). The down payment and closing cost might prevent me from getting a computer. I hope not.

A pen pal of mine in Houston was harassing me for not building a computer. He got me spurred into seeing what it would take, and I am thinking very hard about it.

If I build a computer, I will document it here. Here are two current configurations I am looking at:

SCSI system:

DFI P2XBL/S (W/ Adaptec SCSI)       $310
400 MHz Celeron                     $190
128 MB RAM                          $210
PC Power and Cooling - MID Tower    $ 60
Creative Labs - RIVA TNT AGP        $120
Diamond - Monster Sound MX300 PCI   $ 85
IBM - Ultrastar 9GB HD 10000RPM     $600
Creative PC-DVD Encore 5X           $225
                             Total $1800

Non-SCSI system:

Asus P2B                            $140
400 MHz Celeron                     $190
128 MB RAM                          $210
PC Power and Cooling - MID Tower    $ 60
Creative Labs - RIVA TNT AGP        $120
Diamond - Monster Sound MX300 PCI   $ 85
IBM - 14.40GB Ultra ATA/33 7200RPM  $340
Creative PC-DVD Encore 5X           $225
                             Total $1370

Let me explain some of this. I would rather have SCSI for the superior performance. However I only have a $2K budget. $1800 without a monitor is probably too much. But I have to investigate. I could save around $250 on that system by using a 7200RPM hard drive, but that would defeat some of the purpose. I really want to get two hard drives and put them in a RAID array, were both drives would be seen as one, and data is stored across both to be much faster.

But reality dictates that I will probably have to give up on the SCSI drives, and stick with an UltraDMA EIDE drive. Look at the savings. It should allow me to get a killer monitor. I left a couple things out, but am not too worried about them yet. (They include keyboard, mouse, floppy drive, and speakers.) I will try to forget a couple of those until it is too late. That way I may be able to go over budget.

I went with the Celeron for two reasons. 1) Cost. It is about $150 cheaper than a full PII 400, and 2) Overclocking. I have never built a machine myself, but have always wanted to. If I built it they will come… no that’s a movie. If I build it I would like the ability to tweak it, and the Celeron can be overclocked (run faster than its rated speed). The regular Pentium II has some kind of protection from this, and won’t allow you to overclock them.

Since the upcoming Pentium III uses the same slot one that the Pentium II does, I can upgrade to that later. So saving on the CPU is a good investment for now. Even though the Celeron is part of Intel’s entry level chips, it is usually saddled with cheaper components. With the top quality and performing components I have planned, it should keep up, if not beat, most Pentium II 400s from a vendor.

That about covers it this month. I was going to tell you about my first year electronically filing my taxes, but I have not received my refund yet, and it would not be a complete story without it. But know this much… I used Turbo Tax and I highly recommend it.

More next month.