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Computing

 


Computer Building and Maintaining

My Personal Data Assistant (PDA): Handspring Visor Deluxe

My Personal Data Assistant (PDA): Agenda VR3

Programming with C/C++

The Linux OS

PC Gaming

Internet Relay Chat (IRC)

Future Employment


Computer Building and Maintaining

My two 10-Bay Towers of Power!

I first built a computer from the ground up about 3 years ago.  I previously owned an Acer P100. I wanted to learn how to piece together a system and the best way to learn was to build a system from scratch.  I built a P200MMX that had a 24X CDROM, a 16-bit soundcard, a 4MB S3 Virge 3D video card, a Vivitar 16-bit scanner, a Canon Bubble Jet BJC-210 printer, an F16 Combat Stick from CH Products a WD 4.3G hard drive,a BTC HSP 56K Kflex PCI modem (WinModem), used a E5TX-AT motherboard, 64MB of SIMM RAM, Dell VS17X 17" monitor, and a SyQuest EZFlyer 230MB external hard drive.  The system case is brandless and handles AT mainboards. It also contains 10 bays and a 250W power supply. After the build, I soon gave the Acer to my parents.

In April of 1999, I completed my second PC build.  Here's what the latest PC has, after constant upgrading during the last few years:

[Webmaster's Note:  Is it wise to give a listing of the guts of my PC on the internet?  We'll soon find out!  :o)]

PC #1:

PC #2:

Let me state that the 500MHz PC build had me very stressed out and without a computer most of the summer of 1999.  I was holding off of building a system until I found a job, but my system shut down mysteriously one day and would not reboot at all.  I heard alot of hard drive grind (at this point, I had already bought the 13 gig drive and installed it...I think something bad happened with the install.  I had to return the drive and just got a new replacement 23 Sep.).  So, I broke down the computer and started ordering new parts for the system. Until I fixed this computer, I had to rely on my older P200 (which is now a 400MHz system, System #2, above).

Well, the parts ordering didn't go too well.  I ordered the Tekram mainboard and found that it was an ATX board, which was fine, but I had an AT case and power supply and the new mainboard would not mate well to the case.  It would not connect AT ALL to the power supply.  I had ordered books on PC-building and upgrading and these didn't mention anything about these incompatibilities.  So much for ordering $75 worth of books, eh?  So, I ordered a new power supply and case.  I also ordered a Slot1 400Mhz Celeron CPU on and PC100 128MB RAM about the same time I ordered the mainboard.  That CPU had to sit in it's box until I received my power supply and case.  When I finally got all the parts, about 2 months had passed by.  I inserted the CPU and the system would not boot!!  I put all the components on the E5TX mainboard (except the 400Mhz CPU) and it booted up fine, so that left either the Tekram mainboard or the 400Mhz CPU that was bad.  I tried to return both.  I convinced the Tekram retailer to replace the mainboard based on the fact that I had to wait for computer parts to come in so I could build and get a system functioning, since I couldn't test it on a broke-down system.  The CPU was not replaced.  They wouldn't replace it, even though I think it was bad out of the box.  There went $140. (Actually, I think that CPU's Intel Slot1 adapter is the culprit and will be sending the chip to my brother-in-law to see if he can get it to work on his systems.) [Webmaster's Note: The CPU was fine, it just wasn't seated fully into the Slot1 agapter. What a surprise I got when I found that it was functional. This is the reason I upgraded the P200 to the current 400MHz using this CPU. All I had to find was a motherboard that supported Slot1 and AT-style power supplies. The motherboard actually supports both form factors, ATX and AT.]

Okay.  So now I have to order another CPU and the wife is getting mad...it was supposed to be a quick simple build.  I order a 500Mhz Celeron CPU (the biggest this mainboard can take) for $200, along with a beefy CPU fan and an Asus Slot1 adapter.  I put those in the computer and I actually get the system working!!! About time!

About a month or so later, the dang PC100 128MB chip malfunctions.....ARRRGGH!  I put my system in the closet until I could get my hands on some more RAM.  Prices rocketed right when my PC100 chip quit working and I couldn't afford a new chip at the time.  Around February 2000, I finally decide to get some more RAM, but had to settle for PC66 64MB to even get my system running.  :o( I now have 512MB of PC133 RAM in this system and it's a huge difference over the 64MB and equates to less rebooting.

I've also got my hands on a 486 that someone found on the side of the road.  They wanted me to fix it and I tried but I couldn't locate any drivers that worked with the CDROM in this system. The 486 may come in handy one day (as a firewall), so I'll keep it.

Lastly, I just purchase a Microsoft Intellimouse USB/PS2 optical mouse. Man, this thing is nice! I don't even need a mousepad...It'll work on almost ANY surface. This year I went through at least 5 mice. The rollers would get filled with dust and sometimes pit the rollers. One mouse's cord had an "open", meaning there was a break in the line somewhere and the signals from the mouse weren't traveling to the computer. I got fed up and decided to save my yen (I teach English to Japanese as employment) for a very good mouse. This mouse cost me almost $70 but I should NEVER have problems with dust and rollers again. At the very least, I'll have to worry about the cord itself. [Webmaster's Note: This mouse is now broken due to a manufacturer's flaw. I've emailed Microsoft requesting a new mouse or mouse cord but if the thing is going to break again (due to the same problem), I don't want to use it. The mouse is extremely nice but really prone to the mouse's wiring inside the cord breaking. I'll spend my $70 on something else.]



My Personal Data Assistant (PDA): Handspring Visor Deluxe


K.I.T.T.


In April 2000, I bought a Handspring Visor Deluxe.  This PDA, Handspring's flag carrier, is a spinoff of the 3Com Palm Pilots. This particular model has 8MB RAM and comes with a USB cradle. It is comparable to Palm's IIIxe. All other Visor models either come with a serial cradle or no cradle at all (along with 2MB of RAM). This image shows the carry case that comes with the unit. It also shows the front face plate which protects the front of the unit while it's inside the case. It fits along the backside of the unit when the unit is in use...a very nice feature. The pen slides alongside the unit when not in use. Handsprings use ports called Springboard adapters for expandability. These ports can accept modules that can support a multitude of items....modems, games, storage media, mp3 players and much more.

The major differences between the Visor Deluxe and Palm IIIxe are: 

    1. Handspring is optioned with a USB cradle (pictured on left) instead of a serial cradle (right side of image). Note: 3Com's USB cradle is now offered as an option.
    2. The Visors also accept expansion modules.
    3. About the only negative thing Visors have is its OS, which is non-flashable.  That makes it hard to upgrade to a newer OS version.

I keep ALL my data in this thing.  If I lost it or it broke, I would be up a stinky creek with no paddles and a holey boat!

For backups, a Backup Module can be used. This Springboard module can be used as a form of backup information while a person is traveling and away from their PC, which may function as their main backup source. It is handy in case your Visor crashes while on the road.

Also, another 8MB of storage (RAM) can be used, in the form of another module. This just acts as additional storage space. You cannot beat 8MB+8MB of storage space!! In fact, instead of purchasing the backup module, I think I'll settle for something called Memplug, which is a module used for storage. It utilizes SmartMedia cards as media for storage. They cost around $50 USD.

I own neither module yet, but rely on regular desktop PC backups, which I then backup to CD-RW disk.

I recently DID make my first module purchase, a CardAccess Thinmodem that I bought from Best Buy. After the purchase, I downloaded the upgrade patch from CardAccess and get V.90 speed, along with a nice web browser and email client that I can use on my PDA. Prior to the upgrade, the modem drained a good bit of the PDA's battery, but after I upgraded, the power problem isn't so pronounced. The only thing I don't like about this module is that it gets piping hot when it's being utilized. I should have waited for the Thinmodem Plus, which has 8MB of space on it (compared to the original Thinmodem's 2MB), but I'm actually quite happy with the Thinmodem.

Some sad news is that I've been having a problem with my Visor's screen. It seems the upper right-hand corner of the screen is very sensitive to touch and if I use too much pressure, it affects my screen as a whole, locking up or slowing down the unit's functions. I've called Handspring USA about this and they told me to see if I can get it repaired here in Japan then they would reimburse me (I've a 3-yr extended warranty). That's not good since the repair cost here would probably be beyond my means. Japan is a VERY expensive place to live. I'll call HS back and tell them that it's not feasible for me to have it fixed here. I'll have to ship the unit back to the U.S. and have them fix it there, and they'll have to send it back to me. Also, I've only 6 months left in Japan...maybe I could hold off until I returned to the U.S.

Now, on to other things....


My Personal Data Assistant (PDA): Agenda VR3

VR3 (L), Visor (R)

I bought an Agenda VR3 14 June 2001. This is not the developer edition (DE) but the consumer model (C). Actually, there is very little difference between the two models, though there is a substantial price difference with the DE priced at $179 and the C model at $249.

The consumer model is more refined. I've heard the DE model's plastic molding is brittle and prone to cracking and breaking.

Both models come with the same accessories: Quicksync cable and cradle, stylus, software CD (which also has a PDF manual), a carry case (which includes an extra stylus), and a flip-top. Also, 2 AAA-sized batteries are included, though you may want to use your own as they may be fresher.

I've only used mine for a few hours as the unit became nonfunctional 12 hours after I opened the packaging. There is a 1-year limited warranty that covers things like this. The problem is that the unit won't activate. The unit is essentially dead as there is NO power going through the unit. Fresh batteries don't cure the problem and I can't reboot the unit as there is no power. I was told to take out the batteries and leave the unit alone for 24 hours then place fresh batteries into the unit and it should reboot (the logic behind this was that leaving out the batteries for 24 hours would drain the internal battery and clear any bugs that may have been locking me out).

VR3 and components


I did email Agenda's customer support and they are shipping me a new one. I have to ship the broken one back to them within a 2 month allotted time or I'm charged on my credit card for another unit.

During the time the VR3 was functional, I did test it. It's quicker than most newpaper and magazine articles report, though I think there's the factor of my unit being a consumer unit while the media reported on the DE models. Also, the magazines report that the VR3s slow down after multitasking three or more applications. I didn't try more than two but I didn't really notice a slowdown either. A trick amongst the developers is to disable a daemon or two that are running in the background as it frees up some CPU cycles. I did have to reboot the unit once because I ran 'top' in an x-terminal and couldn't close the terminal down.

The unit will boot up when you first activate it and when you do subsequent reboots (there's a reset switch on the back, like Palm PDAs). Bootup is relatively quick and you get to see kernel messages just as you would a real Linux box when it boots. During the bootup process, you are asked to calibrate your screen by tapping coordinates on the PDA's screen. Afterward, X-windows is started. The whole process, from bootup to X-windows, takes approximately 1 minute.

One thing I really like about the VR3 is the way the pixels on the screen are depicted...they are very clear, much clearer than my Visor. The shading of the pixels look much clearer also.

Visor (L), VR3 (R)


The second thing I like about this unit is the number of buttons it has. There are two bottons on the face of the unit and two toggle-type buttons on the sides. Also, there are two buttons on the left side of the unit, upper left corner along the side, that act as up/down scroll buttons. On trying out an included game for the VR3, I found that the game 'Aliens' requires the user to tilt the face of the unit 90 degrees to the right for gameplay. This makes for a widened screen of play. I really like this feature in the game and wish the VR3 unit could use this as the X-windows default orientation, as there is more desktop room.

One thing I DON'T like is the way the VR3 implements handwriting recognition (HWR). I found that the faster I wrote, the more the HWR software misinterpreted my stylus strokes. I had to write slowly. I also don't like the way the software makes the user write in 4 different areas according to: lower case, upper case, numerals, and symbols. Agenda or an Agenda software developer would do well to emulate Palm's HWR for the VR3.

While working with the unit, I didn't have the chance to use the sync cradle and cable but did use the IR port to receive beams from my Visor to the VR3. I sent approximately 25 contacts (one at a time) from my Visor to the VR3. The beaming went well, though I didn't like the way the beaming acted. I don't know if this is an inherent fault of the VR3, Visor or IR transferring but I had a problem lining up the two IR ports for transfer. Either two things happened: 1) I would initiate a beam from the Visor but could not get it aligned quickly enough for the beaming to initialize and the beam software would quit, or, 2) I would be so anxious to line up both units for beaming within the allotted time that when the units DID link, I was moving them around so fast that I would again lose the link.

Visor and components VS VR3


I'm hoping that Agenda will keep working on the VR3's development so the unit will speed up its operations even more. Though the VR3 can multitask, the unit slows quite a bit. Even when not multitasking, there is a bit of slowness when trying to activate an application. I also hope to see some type of storage expansion, either by adding RAM to the unit, or making something akin to Handspring's Springboard technology. Though there is no spac on the current VR3 to use any type of Springboard-type technology, I do think it can be tried externally.

Expect a more thorough review of Agenda's VR3 as soon as I get my replacement.


Programming with C/C++

The Linux OS



I have taken some college level computer programming courses: BASIC, Turbo Pascal, and C/C++ using Borland C/C++ 3.0 and the Introductory Editon of Visual C++ 6...if only I can get it to quit crashing. I'm also teaching myself Unix/Linux, by way of Linux : I've tried alot of the flavors out there -- Mandrake 7.0, Suse 6.4, Red Hat 6.1, Slackware 7.0, Debian 1.3.1, TurboLinux 6.0, and OpenLinux Base.  I've recently ordered LinuxMall's Mega Linux CD pack (11 CDs with 8 flavors of Linux and FreeBSD 3.2).

Let me mention that Mandrake is totally awesome for the Linux newbie and maybe even for the average user. It uses KDE and Gnome as GUI.  It is based on Red Hat Linux and is 99% compatible with it.  In fact, it's easier to use that Red Hat, IMO. Mandrake 6.0 does have some bug issues though, but not enough to hinder me. A LUG friend of mine gave me a copy of Mandrake 7.2. I installed it on my P200 system and I fell in LOVE! It rivals Suse in ease of installation and is has more current software than my Suse 6.4. It's using KDE2 and detected my japanese NIC...serious brownie points there!

Suse 6.4 is also VERY nice, IMO.  In fact, it is now the only Linux distro that has a home on my Celeron system (I dual boot Windows98 and Suse). The install is smooth, like Mandrake's.  The OS itself (I use the X-windows GUI, as everyone else probably does) looks great!  The best thing is that Suse comes with over 6GB of programs!  Just don't trust Yast2 totally yet. The first and last times I used Yast2, it was fine, but the in-between instances I used it, it crashed. I've diddled with optimizing my kernel and have even gotten my CD burner to work (a first for me) with Suse. Additionally, I patched my Suse 6.4 kernel (2.2.14 originally) to 2.2.18 using multiple Linux sources. This was a major feat for me. I've also ordered Suse 7.2 from Bestbuy.com but they seem to be backordered.

Slackware is nice but seems to need a little knowledge of Unix to set up when installing. I used Slackware extensively after giving RH a try. I like Slackware alot.  Latest version I have is 7.0 and haven't played with or installed it yet.

I also have TurboLinux 6.0.  I'm a bit disappointed with it.  It's an easy install, but seems to lack something....everything isn't "menu-ized" in X (I use KDE with it).

Red Hat is for the beginner and sets up everything asked for using a default.

I eventually want to phase out of MicroCrap and use Linux exclusively except for gaming purposes, of course. Linux even has the office environment covered with StarOffice. I've used Applixware (demo and doesn't read MS formats) and StarOffice. Now, StarOffice is the only one I use It looks and operates very similar to MS's Office.

Locally, there was no Linux resources for me to get my Linux Fix, so I got the idea to post an ad in the local base paper. I wanted to build a local knowledge base and be able to share my Linux problems with others who were also interested in Linux. I got 3 replies and we are now the Zama/Atsugi Linux Users' Group (ZALUG). We are very small and I want it to be very informal but helpful. So far, I've met two of the three people. We lose one in March. Looks like I have to resubmit my ad in the local paper soon.

Lastly, I'm also in the Linux Counter database:

Registered User # 180338




PC Gaming

Speaking of games, I play the following a lot. Screenshots will be posted here eventually:  

I also have some sims from the 386-processor days:

Lastly, I have a few games on 3.5" floppy that I somehow acquired: Battle Chess, first version of PGA Golf, and the strategy game Empire.




Internet Relay Chat (IRC)

I also chat online frequently: I use mIRC, Pirch, and Visual IRC '98. I usually use the nick NipponDSM. Nippon stands for my location, and DSM is for Diamond Star Motors, the three-manufacturer consortium of the '90s. In this case, DSM does NOT stand for 'dominance-sadomasochism'.

I chat at these places:

I use ICQ to chat with friends. My ICN is 3765104. 

I use AIM to chat with family and friends.

I also have IPhone/Webphone, which I haven't used yet because most of my friends don't have it.

I sometimes use FireTalk, which is a text and voice chat client.


Future Employment

I've recently attended Central Texas College to receive my AS in Mirco-Computer Technology. I would like to specialize in Programming but am beginning to lean toward Unix system administrator or maybe even webmastering.

I've also been offered employment at a computer security consulting firm that my brother-in-law works for. In preparation for this job, I'm schooling myself in perl, TCP/IP, networking essentials, firewalls, C/C++ refamiliarization, and Linux/Unix basics. It seems I have to know a bit of everything! That's fine by me. I'm also going through a self-course of MCSE so I can become certified when I return to the US. I think MCSE is a bit overboard but my brother-in-law says the credentials will be good to have. I have the feeling I'll soon get bored reading and studying MCSE, so I also am trying to study A+ certification. A+ doesn't seem as dry.


Go back to the top of the page
Go back to Ron's Page of Wonders

1. My 1st Generation Eagle Talon AWD
2. Motorcycles

3. Cars I've Owned

4. Other Hobbies

5. Drag Results

6. Impressions of Japan

7. TALON LINKS !!!

8. MISCELLANEOUS LINKS !!!

9. SCC Is Unprofessional

10. What Stock DSMs are good for in Quarter Mile Times

11. WIGGLIT's Archives
12. Lt. Sinclair's Enemy Engaged: Comanche Vs. Hokum Page
13. Wigglit's Bio Page

14. AAFES DISSATISFACTION PAGE


Last Updated on 07/07/01
By Ron Sinclair
Email me here if you have problems or questions.

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