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Diary of System and Website Development
Part 2 (June - September 1996)
This is all being written a bit after the event because of holidays, catching up at work etc. The system has developed a little since the last update mainly by gaining a few extra tools.
DODIS: This update of my utilities was to some extent provoked by the new ESA DODIS system for document retrieval which has been put on the Internet - unfortunately for my readers it is password protected but it is mostly papers which would be of little interest to the average browser. They have set up a very efficient system for getting at the large number of papers for the meetings and back papers (12,000 or so) and a blindingly fast search. I did a trial for a key word in the text rather than title of the whole data base and it came back with 260 papers in about 15 seconds most of which was spent downloading the start of the list.
Internet Utilities: The main point is that ESA both provided hints and links to proven utilities to allow papers to be efficiently accessed and downloaded. You tick boxes for what you want and eventually ask for a download at which point it puts then all into a Zipped archive and down it comes. If you have download WinZip and configured it as an application into the browser as they specify then this download automatically fires up WinZip and Unzips your archive. The files are increasingly being put into Adobe Acrobat .PDF format so they are Word processor independent and again this is linked in for viewing whilst still in WinZip and Netscape. They will also send routine papers by Email and recommend UUencode525.
WinZip is an excellent package and integrates seamlessly into Windows and comes up on a right click on many menus as well as being associated automatically with all the formats it handles. It can be downloaded from the WinZip site and is in 16 and 32 bit versions.
Uuencode525 is perfectly adequate for the UUencode format for encoding and decoding binaries into an ASCII form for Internet Email enclosures but unfortunately there are now other formats in use.
XferPro: I am evaluating another package called XferPro which has decoded all the messages I have received in funny formats to date and has identified them all automatically - I will report further. It will even take a file split into up to a hundred parts and reconstitute the original file.
Searching for Software: I found it from a search using the AltaVista search engine looking for Base64 and Binhex. The help file for XferPro has an excellent exposition of the various ways that binary files have to be changed into ASCII text and split up and then reconverted to get round the limitations of Email systems - it is worth downloading for that alone. They do not seem to have a WWW site but are on Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CompuServe with Netscape: Towards the end of the month I found that the latest versions of the CompuServe software have Netscape Navigator instead of Airmos Mosaic as the browser. I found that if you load over the top of the old version that you still keep both Browsers available but only if you enter the browser directly - you can even start Mosaic then go to WinCim and then out to Netscape and have both running in different Windows.
Limits on Address lists: Just after this seemed to be all up and working I lost the ability to download Email via Exchange. I could see and read it via WinCim but it crashed the system every time I came to read it. Eventually I got the important bits down to WinCim. It started with a file sent out by a nameless Science Policy group to a very large circulation (130 on address list) to warn about the "Good Times" Virus - a well known fake about a virus which blows up your processor. It also warned about a very nasty PKZIP300.EXE which may be real. See below. I had a similar mail problem before and I now suspect it was another message from them which had more on the address list than the CompuServe Mail/Exchange combination can handle. There should be another one soon when they realise about "Good Times" to prove the thesis!
System Problems: A lot has gone on since I last updated this diary - not all of it progress. There had been a number of irritating small anomalies on my system for some time which I could not locate. The end result was that I decided that it was time to face up to a complete rebuild of the system from a virgin (reformatted) disk. The final timing was determined from a failure to restore the system from the HP Colorado backup tape with a General Protection Fault half way through leaving a badly distorted system. Three more attempts failed from different backup tapes at about the same point (140 Mbytes loaded). The system actually kept working for another week whilst Pauline did urgent preparation for teaching at an Open University summer school. This was despite having different parts from very different times which is some credit to Windows 95.
What does Windows 95 need: During that week I started to take great interest in all the settings, drivers etc. and contacted Dell who were very helpful (Chris Costello) and assured me that I would not need any of the things like contents of the Mouse or CD drive folders to get it up again. I was also offered the loan of a new drive he had just bought by somebody at work to allow a practice run.
Reloading Windows 95: All the effort put into the Thoughts on Backup and Archiving paid off and moreover Windows 95 went in from the boot disk and CD onto the borrowed and reformatted disk in about 30 minutes including configuring printers etc. - just over an hour saw Office up and running as well. With a modern simple system the plug and play really works - it needed nothing other than the two CDs and the boot floppies which it tells you to create when you first fire up the system after delivery - have you got yours safe? I checked to see why some of the other stuff had ever been there with Dell (Donald in Software) and other than adding a video driver, which was never present anyway, there is no real advantage in having the other stuff. Both times it took nearly an hour waiting with the soothing music and messages on the Dell exchange but the help and expertise were well worth the wait.
Passwords: Several of the previous anomalies did not appear in the new system and on investigation turned out to be features. One major irritation was that I could never save passwords - the check box was always grayed out - that turned out to be because I had no log in password set at startup so it considered the system insecure. Common sense but where do they tell you?
Fax Cover sheets. The regular loss of Fax Cover Sheets was a known bug and Dell (Chris) told me how to search for the fix (Coverpg.exe) on the Microsoft Site.
Colorado Backup and Scandisk: The discussions with Dell combined with experience of another user of Colorado Backup has also given me some clues as to the source of the final problem which forced me to reload. Donald mentioned that I should run Scandisk often on Windows 95 system - twice a week was suggested. The other hint was from a source at work was that Colarado Backup does not handle a damaged file system well and when searching out causes for the problem Scandisk did show up a some damaged structure. I suspect that I have been saving a damaged folder structure to my tapes for some time and only when I came to reload the problem showed up as Windows could not handle being given a broken folder or file.
The first Images: Having got the system back up and running it seemed the time to do something about graphics on my home pages. I had shot a film of pictures of Tigger and the house and our narrowboat from the river a while back and I have taken the negatives to get some of them put onto CD. I have also been trying to help a friend to get a Canon CL10 Colour copier with scanning and printer interfaces (SCSI) connected to his computer. It is still intermittent but I got a couple of good scans of some of the large prints which has given me some images to play with.
LViewPro: At present I have the new Windows 95 version of Lview31 (LViewPro version 1D) loaded from the What PC August CD. I have used an earlier versions a while back. It needs no installation - the first time you run it makes some entries in the registry and sets up associations for the file types it supports but unlike other programs it does not overwrite any previously set up. It then has an install tab where you can setup extra associations or ask it to add links to the start menu. You can also remove everything from the registry if you want. Why do others not use the same approach to associations?
JPEG and GIF formats: The original scan was 11Mbytes in TIF which came down to 350 Kbytes when saved as JPEG file - far better compression than I had expected. When cropped down and reduced to 227x168 the one of Tigger came down to only 7.5 Kbytes in JPEG or 19Kbytes as GIF. In general GIF seems to be over twice the size and closer to 3 times despite only being 256 colours. I have put a couple of small JPEG images at the start of the pages on our cat Tigger (7.5Kbytes) and our narrowboat Corinna (320x240 20Kbytes) which also shows our house - Victorian with Turrets and 700 panes of glass - have a look it is worth the wait for 20K to come down.
Kodak Photo CD: Today I collected my Photo CD from Boots. The CD has some very basic viewing software on it plus the pictures transferred from negatives. The format allows for a number of different resolutions to be used as different planes and has a 24 bit colour resolution. The quality is very good - better than the 7x5 inch photograph I scanned as far as sharpness goes. The colour was also better in that there was more detail in the shadows. The file sizes were between 4 and 4.5 Mbyte. Kodak have used their own format which I found can not be read by Lviewpro - a slight blow.
Paint Shop Pro: I therefore loaded a copy of Paint Shop Pro which has had good write ups and that will load files in Photo CD format at any of the 4 resolutions. It enables one to work easily on the pictures and to save in any of a large number of formats including JPEG and the various ordinary and interlaced GIF formats. It allows rotations in increments of a degree which is ideal if the camera was not absolutely level after which the picture can be cropped and resized. The colour adjustments are slightly less comprehensive than Lviewpro but that is the only relative shortcoming I could find. It has also sorts of fancy drawing with airbrushes etc which combined with the ability to sample the colour of individual pixels allows one to take out any imperfections such as marks from dust on the negative with ease. The program I have loaded seems to be a 16 bit version and I will have to see if there are updates available before I commit £49 to a registered version.
Comments on Viruses: With reference to my earlier comments I have just looked at the National Computer Security Association Site and have found conformation of the fact that there is a PKZIP300 virus out there and that Good Times is a fake.
Paint Shop Pro 32 Bit: I went to the JASC site and there was a new version 3.12 available as 32 bit program which I downloaded. It is not yet making full use of Windows 95 features so I will wait to look at the version 4 which is in the pipeline. The field develops so fast that I am not sure about using CD versions any more - I always seem to end up downloading in the end!
Search Engines and Directories: The last week has seen a lot of time spent addressing registration of the site with Search Engines and Directories. This is another major step and as important as the initial decision to have a site and the definition of the Mission Statement. The approach was to look at the way a naive user would start from the Search buttons offered by Netscape Navigator, Internet Explorer etc and use those mechanisms as an entry point. This has been done and registrations have been completed with 7 sites. Considerable changes have been made behind the scenes in the homepage using <META> tags to hopefully control the description and indexing used by the Search Engines. This is all documented very fully in Search Engines and Directories - How to get a listing. This is sufficiently important that it will probably gain a link on the homepage.
<META> statements in Microsoft Internet Assistant for Word: In making changes to the homepage I have found a significant problem with Internet Assistant (IA) for Word. I spent many hours preparing an index list within a META statement. This was set to be the maximum length allowed by typical search engines such as InfoSeek namely 1000 characters. I periodically saved the file. The next time however that I reopened it most of the list was missing and it seems that IA had chopped it at 256 characters within the META statement without any warning or note in the help file on use of <META>. I had no backup or listing and WebEdit is now back in favour for any serious work.
Service providers and speed of access. A few of us have been trying to do some comparisons of service providers as we need a connection at work and also some of those with CompuServe have believed the rates of transfer have become cripplingly slow. My experience - mostly clear of peak times - does not show big differences between Demon, I-Way and CompuServe. Using Netscape I have seen big 500kbyte downloads of Zipped files from the USA at steady rates about 3Kbytes/sec using a 28Kbaud Modem linked at 115Kbaud and higher rates where the link is capable of compression. I get a feeling that CompuServe is slightly ahead giving some downloads at 3.4kbytes/sec with Demon then a fraction ahead but with only 0.1 to 0.2 between any of them - within the bounds of error. At peak times I have seen all of them stall even when they have connected. I rarely find the CompuServe number engaged any more but know that it happens with Demon (both through Reading). My conclusion is that the bad reputation of CompuServe is no longer deserved at least through the Reading PoP. The hourly costs are another matter but the free Web Space is a big bonus for personal use.
Powerpoint Internet Assistant: I have been putting some of Pauline's recent presentations onto our site and have tried out the Powerpoint Internet Assistant again. I first downloaded the most recent version from the Microsoft site but unfortunately that seemed most unstable I resorted to taking the version off a favorite CD May 96 What PC. The Assistance only adds one command which output the whole slide show as an index leading to a series of Graphic images or text only versions. The show has buttons for forwards, backwards etc and to swop from graphic to text version. The graphic version is small but still takes lot of space (55 Kbytes per image in GIF). In JPEG I found that the compression could be increased with less obvious degradation if a dark background as used with light lettering and I got down to around 10 Kbytes per image. The presentation which was only 9 overheads still took nearly 200 Kbytes of my valuable web space, the graphic versions were not that high a quality and the content was all text. (They were therefore removed on 27th November).
I therefore looked to other ways to convey the other presentation which was much longer. I therefore used the option in Powerpoint to move the "Outline" which has all the text across to Word. Once in Word I changed to HTML and tidied up a little including putting some of the numbers into a table and I then had a nice short version which is actually easier to read even if it does not have all the fancy buttons. This is about 9K bytes instead of the minimum I could get down to with graphic versions of 313 Kbytes. . My conclusion is that the Powerpoint Internet Assistant is a very good idea for Intranets but not such a good idea for Internet use. Using an "Outline" to initially create the presentation and the Web Version is probably the way to go and add important graphics to the slides and "Outline" when the text is reasonably finalised.
Sub Directories on the site: I have tried to put the presentations into a subdirectory as the Powerpoint IA version has dozens of files but have failed to find a way using the Publishing Wizard. This is a problem as the IA also uses the same names in a different folder for each presentation. This led me to look in the CompuServe fora for hints. I found nothing on that but did find hints on how to add a counter to a page which looked interesting and also information which implies that the maximum size of a home page has risen to 2 Mbytes.
Adding a counter to a page: One first has to find a site that provides counter service and put that as a link into the homepage. One site you can go to for service is at: http://www.digits.net/web_counter where you will find info on how to set up a counter for your page and then use the CREATE option to create the counter.See our homepage for an example.