Make your own free website on Tripod.com

FRANK'S FALLACIES, FACTS, AND FICTION

Frank's Fallacies, Facts, and Fiction
(July 1995)

Hello again. In spite of various changes in my life during the 
past 7 months--changes in my job, software, network operating 
system, and client operating system--I continue to generate this 
series of articles for the LANET Times. These monthly articles 
continue to be the only constant in my turbulent life and may 
have something to do with the fact that I have not been 
committed to any institutions of mental or criminal 
rehabilitation yet. If you have any comments about these 
matters or about the subjects of computing with DOS, Windows, 
Netware, or mainframes, please contact me by any of the following 
means:

1) e-mail at:                  fchao@cerfnet.com
2) fax at:                     310-332-1358
3) "snail mail at:             P.O. Box 2548, El Segundo, CA 90245-2548
4) beeper with voice mail at:  1-800-641-5220

I will not disclose the identities of those who send messages 
to me, unless I am given explicit permission to do so. 


FALLACIES ??

During the month, the "computer widow" wife of a friend of mine 
told me that computers are "unnatural". If that is true, then I 
make a living doing very "unnatural" things. Since this woman's 
household income depends on her husband's computer consulting 
business, I hope he continues his "unnatural" activities for a 
long time. 

Two months ago, I described some "computer widow" situations. 
At that time, all of the "victims" that I knew of were female.
This month, I finally located a "computer widower". My friend, 
Jim  , who works as a personal computer and 
network consultant discovered a male computer-phobe:  Upon 
arriving at the home of a young lady to help her with the fax 
modem software on her PC, Jim gradually realized that his client 
and her husband were "both missing a few marbles and had a few 
loose screws" (Jim's non-technical terms). Jim stated that he 
should have suspected something after he noticed a large number 
of cats at this residence--he quit counting after he counted 
seven. Upon arriving at the house, he noticed that the gentleman 
of the house had locked himself in his bedroom and his wife was 
communicating with him, when necessary, by yelling into a spot 
where the door meets it's frame. During his visit, Jim gradually 
determined that the gentleman of the house had a massive, 
exaggerated fear of computers and, perhaps, computer consultants, 
also. His client needed to keep an Intel-based PC at her house 
because of the freelance work that she does, and this evidently 
was not a wealthy household: this client thought that everybody 
in the world had "Lifeline Telephone Service". According to Jim, 
the offending PC resides in the den of the house which evidently  
was off-limits for her husband because of his extreme 
computer-phobia. Jim stated that he was not eager to go back to 
this "nut-house" (his non-technical term). When Jim related this
situation, I could not help but think that if something makes you 
that darn miserable--get rid of it. However, I surmise that even 
the most rabid of computer-phobes fear the consequences that 
ridding  the "offending" hardware would entail on their 
finances, marital harmony, kids running away from home, etc.


FACTS ??

"Network Trade Center" in Utah (801-572-8200) continues to have
the lowest prices for Netware 3.12 and 4.1 that I can find.
The fact that they keep advertising in every issue of "LAN 
Times" probably means that they are doing well: "LAN Times" is 
not an inexpensive place to be publishing ads. Let me know if you 
find anyone that comes below their prices of:

$495 for 5-user Netware 3.12 or 4.1
$1075 for 10-user Netware 3.12 or 4.1 


FICTION ??

After delineating the mainframe versus non-mainframe 
controversy in my article last month, the various parties 
that were involved in this "discussion" continued to
bend my ear (ouch!). I was overwhelmed with work so I did not 
get to reply to some of those who corresponded with me
further on this issue. The "mainframe" versus "non-mainframe" 
is one of those issues that goes deep in our psychic selves:  
The love or hatred expressed by my various correspondents goes 
far beyond rational, dispassionate discourse between people. I 
have some terms for categorizing people that help me keep track
of "where people" are "coming from"--"where there heads are
at":

Mainframer
Mainframe Hater

Netware Fanatic
Banyan Fanatic

Microsoft Person
Microsoft Hater

Lotus Lover
Lotus Hater

Windows Person
OS/2 Person

These categories are not mutually exclusive--a person can 
belong to more than one "pair" but not to both categories
in the same pair. Let me know what you think of this
We will return to the subject of love and hate in the
computer world in upcoming months, if I manage to avoid 
getting the wrong label stuck on me by the wrong 
psychiatrist.


FACTS & FICTION ??

For me, the most exciting thing that happened to me this
month was that a Value Added Reseller (VAR) shipped to my 
main place of work a Dell 486/66 Model 466 with a virus 
"preloaded" on it's hard drive. At the particular site where this
happened, the vendors of new PC's are expected to deliver to 
the end-user, PC's with Windows 3.1 preloaded. The vendor is 
totally responsible for setup, installation, and initial 
customer training. They are not expected to install viruses on 
the hard drives of the PC's that they deliver. However, in the 
case of this Dell 486, it was a specialized PC with proprietary, 
nonstandard, special-purpose hardware and software. For this and 
a couple of other reasons, this PC was shipped to me first. 
Leaving the parts in the boxes that they came in, I personally 
delivered this PC to the end-user's site where I installed it 
initially without a hitch. At the request of the end-user, I 
copied a data file onto a floppy diskette so that I could provide 
a file format conversion via some software that resided on a PC at 
another location. After arriving at this other location, I ran 
Norton Antivirus (NAV) for DOS on this floppy disk and NAV 
complained that it had discovered the "ANTIEXE" virus. At this 
point, I realized that sleep was not the feasible activity for 
the night: I created write-protected floppy diskettes of the 
following items of software:

Norton Antivirus for DOS 
Central Point Antivirus 
Mcafee Scan for DOS
Parsons Technology's Virucide

I logged into Compuserve to download up-to-the-minute updates
for the first 3 of the above items.

Next, I ran this arsenal of virus checkers on the new Dell 486 
and all agreed that a boot virus was present.

Norton Antivirus stated that "EXEBUG" was present.
Mcafee's SCAN noted that "ANTIEXE" was present.
Central Point Antivirus claimed that "NEWBUG".
Parsons Technology's Virucide yielded a finding of 
  "ANTIEXE".

While all virus checkers agreed that this was a "boot virus", 
the virus descriptions in these various antiviral packages 
differed as to what harm the virus capable of doing.

Larry , a very knowledgeable computer security
specialist, whom I consulted, warned me that this particular 
virus could randomly delete sectors on an infested hard disk, 
whenever the "control+break" key combination was pressed. None of 
the anti-viral software packages noted this in their various 
descriptions of this virus.

As a precaution, I then spent the night running the arsenal of 
antiviral software on all other 6 Intel-based PC's that I had 
operated during the day. Luckily for me, no virus' were 
detected on any of the other PC's. 

After informing the VAR of the problem, they promptly 
delivered a replacement hard drive preloaded with Windows 
and their specialized software, and free of any viral 
infestation. Their field support person stated that they
were in the process of removing the virus infestation from
various floppy diskettes at the "depot site" where the 486
had contracted  the virus infection.  Prior to returning the
infected hard disk, at the request of the VAR's field support 
person, I attempted to use Norton Antivirus for DOS to
expunge the virus from the infected hard disk but this 
antiviral program was not up to the task: whenever it 
detected this virus in "memory", the PC looked up, requiring
a hard reset/reboot.  I then ran

FORMAT /U

on the infected hard disk before returning turning this
hard drive over to them.

The field tech was short on time, so I recommended that they 
also run

FDISK /MBR

to fix the master boot record on the hard disk. This is the 
undocumented command line switch that is supposed to repair the 
master boot record and expunge the virus infestation.

I also recommended that they run

FDISK

without any command line switches
to remove and rebuild the various DOS partitions and logical 
drives on the infected hard drive, as extra "insurance" for
expunging the virus.

Here is what I learned from this fiasco: 

1) Having not encountered a virus for over 4 years had given me
   false sense of complacency which was a naive, ingenuous form
   of trust. I should have checked the PC before delivering it
   to the end-user's site. I am now checking absolutely 
   everything that I touch with antiviral software--
   no exceptions are allowed. Do not think that it will not 
   happen to you--the odds are against it not happening.

2) Viruses do not come with name tags and calling cards. They 
   are named by the programming staffs of the various publishers 
   of antiviral software. There is no industry standard for 
   naming viruses. The virus that I encountered had a lot of 
   names. (I have a few also but I cannot state them in a family 
   publication.) I have not been able to contact the original 
   "developer" of the virus to find out what name she prefers 
   to call it. 

3) The computer security consultant that I contacted had 
   more and better information than the documentation files of 
   my current and recently-updated copies of antiviral software.

4) Paying for "virus update subscriptions" does not update 
   update software packages in a timely enough manner: Up to the 
   minute updates should be obtained from Compuserve, America 
   Online, and/or the BBS's operated by the software publishers. 
   Updates for virus checking software are available online for 
   months before they are shipped to those who hold subscriptions 
   for these updates.
   
5) Based on the descriptive information in some of my viral 
   software packages, I have determined that the virus that I 
   encountered was "invented" before 1993. Once they are 
   unleashed upon the unsuspecting world, they stay amongst 
   us "forever". The one that I encountered will probably still be 
   around 10 years from now. 
   
6) Running a whole battery of antiviral software packages helped
   me with credibility when dealing with both vendors and 
   endusers--no one accused me of being an underachiever.

If anyone else has had a recent viral experience, contact me 
and I can relay your trials and tribulations in future articles 
for the benefit of all. The cloak of anonymity is assured for 
those who desire it.

Those of us who hail from the Unix world are used to an 
operating system process called "cron" that can be used to start 
things like batch processes and scripts without human intervention 
at specified times and dates. When I moved into the IBM-compatible 
PC world more than a few years back, I longed for the same 
functionality. I tried various timer products like "Automite" but it 
was limited and hard to use and hence it did not cut the mustard. 
This was in spite of the fact that it was highly recommended by a 
famous computer magazine pundit by the name of Jim Seymour. After 
much trial and error, I have discovered that the best 
timer/scheduler product on the market is the "Appointment 
Scheduler" that comes with the various versions of 
Symantec/Central Point Software's "PC Tools". I use this little  
software package for everything. For example, in one building, I 
have it set up to dial into a voice telephone extension line that 
is connected to an energy management computer to turn on the lights 
in certain areas at certain times on certain days of the week--
"Press 1 if you do your best work in the dark". 
"Press 2 if you want the lights to be turned on so that the
 Army Corp. of Engineers will have to build more dams."
 
That way, I save on  energy--mine whenever, I have a need to 
control the lights in the building. At another location, I use 
this scheduler utility to run an automatic backup of a network 
by tripping a batch file at a client workstation. I prefer the 
simplicity and low overhead of the DOS versions of this software 
but I have no reason to fault the "PC Tools for Windows" version, 
other than some thoughts about the fact that Windows 3.1 is not 
quite as reliable as straight DOS applications--it is more 
likely to fail since more can go wrong with "General Protection 
Faults" and other goodies that are considered "normal" for the 
Windows environment by the Microsoft folks. 


Another interesting fact is the nonchalance with which 
Microsoft's engineers treat "general protection faults". 
Several persons who have attended Microsoft's demonstrations 
of Windows 3.1 applications (yes, they are still demo-ing 
them) have contacted me to chuckle and remark about the 
following: At every one of these demonstrations, in front of 
the eyes of live, trade industry audiences, every one of these 
demonstrations have yielded the dreaded "general protection
fault" boxes that Windows 3.1 generates when things are not 
running exactly kosher. Just like in real life, in 
about half of these occurrences, the application lets the user 
terminate gracefully and returns her to the Windows Program 
Manager. In the other half of the occurrences, the PC locks up 
tighter than a drum and requires a hard reset. What is 
remarkable is that in every one of these instances, the 
Microsoft engineer then proceeded to calmly explain that these 
errors are perfectly "normal" in the Windows "environment". 
That is why I prefer not to run unattended scheduling 
applications in the "Windows environment"--they might cause my 
clients to cast aspersions as to my competence, sanity, 
parentage, etc.

I have also discovered that Lotus Organizer has the ability
to act as a scheduler, similar to the Appointment Scheduler of
"PC Tools": For my birthday last month, a someone gave me a 
copy of Lotus Organizer. After installing it, I started using 
it's various features and I have to admit that it is quite an 
improvement over Windows 3.1's "Calendar". If one keeps Lotus
Organizer as a minimized application, it has the ability to
execute *.bat, *.exe, and *.com at pre-determined times via 
it's "Alarm Launch" feature. I have not a chance to time to 
test this feature out but bear in mind that, as stated before, 
Windows is not the most reliable platform for a real-time 
production-critical application since Windows applications 
fail many times more often than straight DOS applications.

What happened is that, after having a problem with "Lotus 
Organizer", I removed it from my hard drive. To be fair, I 
must admit that I probably overstressed it a bit: In a moment 
of brilliant inspiration, I told it to remind me on the 27th 
of each month for the next 100 years that an important child 
in my life was born on that day. Upon running telling it to 
put all of these automatic reminders into it's database, 
"Organizer" locked up, yielding a Windows "Application 
Error", followed by a "General Protection Fault". Only a 
hard reboot would stop all this confounded complaining. 
After re-starting "Lotus Organizer", it was never the same. It 
would not let me modify the 100 years of monthly reminders that I 
had attempted to activate. The reminders were not what I had 
told the software to call them. After deciding that the software 
had failed to implement all the reminders for the kid's 
birthday, I promptly deleted it from my hard drive. At any rate, 
you now know how I conduct serious testing of software for my 
clients. It is my job to find the problems before they do and, 
while doing so, I like to have some fun to keep myself sane.

On June 27th, I finally attended a meeting after skipping 2 
meetings. Upon arriving half an hour early--a first for me--
I was pleased to encounter treasurer Barry Chapman signing up 
new members, with a big grin on his face. To me was definitely 
a good sign. As the meeting started, I was surprised to find 
twice as many people attending compared to the last meeting that 
I attended back in March. For a while I wondered if someone was 
offering free copies of Netware or something. The increased 
attendance was a very pleasant surprise. I hope that these 
newsletters are getting out the word about our meetings. Based 
on my attendance at meetings for the past 2 years, a very small 
fraction of the membership pool attends any specific meeting. 
About a third of  the attendees at our meetings are "regulars" 
and about two thirds are members who only attend one or two 
meetings each year. Hence, it is important to keep in touch with 
the vast minimally-attending pool of members by  other means: The 
newsletter is one means. The former BBS could have been a means but 
it never "took off" and suffered an unfortunate demise, unlike the 
highly successful BBS that is operated by the Orange County 
chapter, of which I am also a member. I urge everyone to 
participate in the newsletter by either contacting me or our 
dedicated, stressed out, overworked editor. Everyone will benefit. 

Feel free to contact me with your ideas. See you all next 
month.


(The preceding discourse is solely the private opinion of the author.
 Neither LANET, SCNUI, NUI, Novell, the editor, any software or 
 hardware vendors that were mentioned or lambasted, nor anyone else 
 on the planet can vouch for the validity of what was stated.)


Back to Frank Chao's home page.