Wierd Happenings

John Saxon ponders a couple of strange events

Do you sometimes feel that these PCs we play with are getting away from us? That operating systems are now so complex that we have no idea what the machine is really doing most of the time? That perhaps a little artificial intelligence is creeping in, and they are beginning to develop some of the characteristics of awareness?! Sometimes (particularly with W95) I begin to wonder.........

These thoughts often seem particularly appropriate after installing new (or updating) driver software in W95. Sometimes things happen which are really unexpected or which do not appear to have logical explanations - the following two examples may illustrate this:

Video Driver:

W95 had not officially hit the streets when I brought my current system - at least the current case, monitor, and video card. So the ATI Winturbo 64 (with 2 Mb DRAM) only came with DOS and W3.1x drivers. But W95 included some generic ATI drivers so I had no problems when I installed W95 for the first time. But the other day I thought I would check out ATI's site in Canada and see if they had some new flashy W95 drivers to download - sure enough they did and I duly installed them. I should add at this point that my 15" MGC monitor is not listed in W95's list of supported monitors (it's probably an OEM device manufactured by someone else anyhow). So I had told W95 to configure for a standard VGA 640 X 480 monitor, but this limited my display options.

However, after installing the video card driver software, a slight problem developed. Talk about Catch-22! Somehow the picture size was now larger than the screen size - the new ATI drivers had an option to allow "hot keys" to be set up to allow the user to move the larger picture around within the viewable screen - but the screens to configure the display characteristics and the hot keys were all larger than the actual screen - but guess where the "apply" and/or "O.K." buttons were placed. You got it - off the bottom of the screen! So no amount of changing parameters was any use as I couldn't apply them!

After going backwards and forwards fuming about this for 30 minutes or so, I eventually slept on it, and by the next morning I had remembered the way out for this type of looping around problem. W95 has a "safe" mode of operation (reached by pressing F8 after the starting Windows 95..... message during the boot sequence). In "safe" mode, only a very basic set of drivers are loaded, and in this case I was able to pick another monitor type, which then brought the "O.K." and "apply" buttons into view, and I was able to sort things out. But for a while I began to wonder if the computer was out to get me.....

Modem Driver:

Keep reading - this one is "a wee-ripper" as Billy Connolly would say.

After recently re-installing W95, I had not bothered to re-install Maestro's latest drivers, but just accepted the W95 ones. However Dave Sutton's message in tip.help about reliable connections persuaded me that I should install them. Dave maintained that you get dropouts after about 5 minutes without these drivers. I had not been getting dropouts at all (perhaps it is because I use a 14.4 Kbs modem), but installing the new drivers sounded like a good idea anyhow.

So I downloaded the drivers from the Maestro page and installed them per instructions and everything seemed fine. All my Internet applications (Email, Netscape, Agent, ftp, mIRC, etc.) all appeared to work O.K. There was only one strange thing, and that was that I could no longer hear the modem connect sounds (despite turning up the W95 modem preferences volume control to maximum, etc.). No sound from an internal modem is rather annoying but not catastrophic, because I find that the sound is quite a valuable aid to knowing what is happening when logging on. When I brought my modem, the external model was almost $100 more than the internal - so I learned to live with the drawbacks of the internal devices (this sentence to avoid tech-Ed's lectures about the benefits of external models!).

But a day or so later, I wanted to reply to an Email message that had a dozen or so cc: addressees, and I also cut and pasted some text into my reply, but a strange thing happened. While transmitting the message, Eudora flashed the addressees on the screen, but when the transmission got to the text part it hung. During various attempts to send the message I got error messages such as "Error reading from network. Cause: socket not connected (10057)" ,and "Error getting network address for "pcug.org.au". Cause: non-authoritative host not found (11002)" ,or "Could not connect to "pcug.org.au" Cause: Connection canceled (10004)". These were all when I was on-line with all other software apparently working normally. No doubt those error messages speak volumes to the "initiated" but they didn't do much for me. It seemed like nothing I could do would cause that message to be sent.

Initially I thought all the cc: addresses might be causing the problem - deleted those - same problem. Then I thought perhaps it was the cut and pasting - deleted that - same problem.

So to the old standby - send yourself a short test message. Did that and it worked perfectly! Tried a short message to a friend - worked perfectly!! After much testing I found that it was only when the messages got longer than the short test that the transmission failed. I never did find the exact number of lines, words, characters or whatever that caused the transmission to fail, but it appeared to be O.K. with a couple of lines, but no good with 6 lines or so,

I completely reloaded Eudora (Vrs 3.0) and still had the same problem. By this time I had some longish messages prepared that I really wanted to send, so on suggestions from some friends I tried Agent, and then Netscape. Both of these also had problems with the longer messages and still the mail did not get through. Agent just appeared to hang midway through transmission, but Netscape was more informative - it's message was "message sent - waiting for response" followed by .......nothing. Eventually when quitting the mail section of Netscape an error message of "message not sent...." appeared - another bit of forked tongue software.

So finally after having struggled for several days, the penny dropped. If all my Email programs had problems, then the fault must lie in the common software - the W95 operating system. What had changed? Of course - the Modem drivers. More investigation in that area revealed that one part of W95 thought it was using the generic Maestro driver, and another was using part or all of the new Maestro driver. Some removals and re-installation got it all pulling together with the new driver, and much to my amazement, all the Email software then transmitted flawlessly!

So what was the mechanism for the failure? Short answer - I have absolutely no idea. Something to do with block lengths, TCP/IP protocols, or sheer bloody mindedness! I should re-iterate that all other Internet apps appeared to be working perfectly throughout.

I guess the moral that emerges from all of this is to maintain copious notes in minute detail of everything one does to any system. One day I'll get around to that, but I think it may take a bit of fun out of fixing these (mostly self inflicted) problems. Actually despite the impression I may be causing - I do get a lot of useful work and fun out of my hobby! Of course, I would mend my "lack of copious notes" ways if I did this type of computer work for a living.

Oh, and by the way, about 2 days after fixing the Email problem - the modem sound returned - possibly something I did, but I don't remember. If it was not, then that's really scary stuff..........

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