Cosmic Cabdrivers' Guide to the Universe
( presents:


(Much of this dates back a couple of decades. It may be historically interesting)



Actually, Linux is here; what's coming is its acceptance by a majority of users, not just the computing elite who enjoy crawling under the system and getting their mental fingers greasy. Unlike MS DOS and Windows, Linux and Unix hide nothing from the user who wants or needs to look within. Its developers (who can be anyone, not just a company employee), can concentrate on real improvement rather than clever ways to ensure company profits.
Developers of Linux have mostly concentrated on how it runs rather than the shine of the paint job. I can relate. Anyone who's seen my 1979 Sportster understands why it's called 'The Ratster'.

But many users judge the machine by the paint job, and prefer never to open the hood, even to check the oil. The transition of Linux to such a slick and shiny package has made great progress.
Xwindows is the GUI for Linux and Unix. Unlike Microsoft's system, X is not the OS; Linux is a 32-bit multitasking multiuser system on its own. X is added as a GUI and to enable graphics programs designed to use its libraries. X is the paint job. At first X had to be configured and customized by hand, which deterred many users. But current distributions install just as easily and automatically as MS Windows; in some cases even more so.
Because many hardware manufacturers have failed to provide Linux drivers, there are sometimes delays in compatibility with new devices until a Linux programmer can write one. Once this is done, however, device support is generally better and less error-prone than Microsoft's.
MS is unused to serious competition, and has been able to charge outrageously high prices. If they fail to adapt by adopting a more customer-friendly attitude and lower prices, they may soon regret their folly.


In the early days of the internet with slow dialup connections and barely adequate storage, I saw Adobe's PDF as an annoying problem. Now, with fast broadband and huge drive capacities, the drawbacks have disappeard, and PDF is often useful for online documents.
For historical reference, the following was my 1990's opinion:

In the beginning there was ASCII, and it was the Words, and the Words could be read by all.
But there were those who believed that wasn't enough; the Words must have Format.

There's nothing inherently wrong with Format. Your favorite Word Processor will format
ASCII prettily as you please for printing or viewing. Most of them seem to understand RTF, Rich Text Format, which doesn't inflate the file too much, and doesn't scramble the text.
On the web there's HTML, of course, which can be retained for viewing off-line or converted to text by the browser or a simple utility program (I wrote one myself in BASIC that will either strip all html or all except the url links. It's available on this site.)

The most useless and irritating format I have ever seen is PDF, evidently invented by the ADOBE company, readable ONLY with their Acrobat Reader, which they will allow you to download "free". Version 3 takes up about 6 mb on my hard drive. An older version will not read something written on a newer version, so eventually I'll have to download Version 4, which is even bigger. All this just to translate a "document" that was only available for download in PDF format!

For example, a parts list for my Compaq laptop was a 41 kb PDF file. It contained 3 kb of text,
and a simple line drawing that saves as a 5 kb GIF file.

That is a 30 kb waste of space, download time and bandwidth, in addition to the huge reader
Adobe SELLS the program that MAKES PDF files, though why anyone would want to
actually create one of these monstrosities is a mystery to me. While I may appreciate
the availability of information, I certainly DON'T appreciate the extra time and space
wasted just to translate simple text and pictures.

Adobe profits from this useless format, I suppose, but I appeal to all other webmasters to please ABANDON PDF formatting. It serves no purpose, and denies information to many who do not have the drive space to waste

the free isp story

Though their time seems to have passed, I think it is important to remember the glorious experiment in free internet service that several companies offered. They played a major role in the expansion and sociological development of the internet. The following articles describe the isps as I experienced them.

The advent of free internet service is a significant and positive development. It will allow millions of people access who cannot afford or could not justify spending an extra $15 to $20 a month. As the web becomes an increasingly integral part of the social, political, and educational environment, it is more important that it is availible equally to all economic classes.

The software used to ensure that we get to view the advertising that pays for the service is still a bit experimental and clumsy. Altavista, which I am using, claims to support MSIE4, but I had to install MSIE5 to eliminate constant javascript errors each time the ad strip changed. Altavista has the smallest software download of the free isp's I checked out, but IE5 is such a bloated pig of a browser that it frequently locks up my 40-meg 486. Fortunately, I can still use netscape to browse, though MSIE must still run the ad-bar.

What is needed here is for the advertising windows to be run at the server, so that the user can access the service with any browser and any OS. Currently Mac, Linux, Unix, and Win 3.1 are not supported. To really broaden the internet user base, these should be included.


For a time, Freewwweb's free isp was excellent it had NO ad-bar. They only required the user to set as the homepage. It did not require ie 4/5 to run, so presumably any o/s and browser that could set a homepage would work It had pop3 mail, too. Unfortunately, the company flopped financially and sold out to Juno.

Suddenly users were told they had to download Juno's interface to continue. The download was huge, and the software looked and acted like Juno's ad-packed free e-mail, only much worse. It would log on and promptly collapse under its own weight.

But now, 1nol has appeared--ONE NATION ONLINE...(with liberty and justice for all?) It's free and has no adbar, provides pop3 mail, and it's software company is called FRIENDLY TECHNOLOGIES.
It seems to work quite well, and even includes a program to analyze and troubleshoot
your dialup configuratuion.

However, I can't help wondering if they're up to something. If freewwweb couldn't make a profit without an adbar, how does 1nol plan to make theirs? And why is the download for the isp setup over 7 megs? Altavista's is only about 600 K, and they have an adbar to support. Could the friendly folks at 1nol be searching my hard drive for bits of info useful to advertisers? Could it be a snoop device for the FBI, or perhaps another secret organization, domestic or foreign?
Maybe it's a front for AOL, plotting to break the other free isp's and then start charging. Or, maybe Microsoft, seeking windows into our souls, searching for signs of shared software!

Perhaps my paranoia is for nought, and 1nol is none of those nefarious things, or at most an attempt at social engineering by a benevolent team of extraterrestials camped in Silicon Valley.

I hope so.

The adbar free isp's have improved since the beginning. Altavista, which automatically downloads its upgrades, has become more stable and dependable.
Bluelight, from Yahoo/K-Mart is also good, and has the advantage of availibility on a free CD obtainible at K-Mart, so you don't have to be online to get online.

Whatever flavor you pick for a free provider, their very existence is a major step forward for the internet. For social and political reasons, all economic levels should be online. Of course, the free isp's economic basis is that increased access to web advertising results in more online sales. If their customers were only those of limited income, this might not work. They depend on an added group who could afford to pay an isp but are smart enough not to if they don't have to.
So, even if you can easily pay, get it free! The bigger your monitor, the less obtrusive the adbar. And even if you have a super-fast connection, especially if you have a website, get a free isp as a backup and to test your site's speed as seen by most of us.

UPDATE II: It was a good idea, but....

There are still a couple of free isp's, but they've deteriorated a bit. Bluelight now allows only 12 hours per month, less than 1/10th of what most of us need, unless you buy something from them. They will also give you more time for $9.95 a month. They don't promise to eliminate the adbar for paid users, though.
NETZERO allows 40 hours per month, not bad for the light user, but its adbar, periodic click-me popups, and screen-filling opening page can be annoying. They offer adbar-free service for $9.95 as well.

I finally gave up on the free ones, and after comparing several isp's, decided on acer-access, $12.50 for unlimited service. They give a dependable connection with no software overhead, as well as pop3 mail and webspace.
Free isp's were a noble experiment, and may rise again when the time is right. I believe they helped bring down some excessive prices, and got many people online who might not have spent the extra money to begin with.




In the physical world, if you get a bigger desk, it will soon be just as cluttered as the old one. Usually that's just the desk-owner's fault. But if you bought a bigger desk, and suddenly you had to buy 11x14 notepads instead of 8.5x11, you might suspect an outside conspiracy.

Many do not remember the computers that had 64 k ram or less, and ran word-processors, spreadsheets, databases, graphics programs, and games, using 5.25" floppies. Sure, today's computers have more memory, more storage, and faster processors, but so much of that is wasted by sloppy programming that actual performance gains are much less than might be expected. A 66 mhz processor is 33 times faster than a 2 mhz. 64 megs RAM is 1000 times 64 k. We process 4 times 8 bits at a time. Does that make it 132,000 times faster? Not even close.


Although you can probably use Linux without ever leaving its GUI, the command console can be a useful and efficient interface as well. I am not an expert on Linux, but I can pass along a few bytes of info that I have picked up in the process of installing and experimenting, some of which were so obvious to the experts that they went unmentioned, and were therefore not easy to look up. Linux is worth the trouble of learning.

[0] It's case-sensitive. 'Pam_nude.jpg' is not the same as 'pam_nude.jpg'. But you can use long filenames like 'pam_with_no_clothes.jpg

[1.] To make sense of the file system, use a file manager shell like Midnight Commander. That's mc for short. It's very much like Stereoshell for dos, (which was the best dos file manager ever found, though it quit working when hard drives got bigger) with some added features. Such a shell makes exploring the hundreds of files and commands much easier and more educational.>/p>

[2.] Use aliases. No, don't change your name; an alias is a shortcut for a frequently used or inconveniently long command line, similar to a doskey macro. For example the 'ls' command to list files is more useful when you add the -a switch to include filenames starting with a dot, which are otherwise hidden , and the -f switch to add file type identifiers (/=directories, *=executable). So, 'alias ls="ls -af" ' customizes the command. Entering 'alias mountc="mount /dev/hda1 /mnt/dos" ' shortens the command to make your dos partition accessible. Aliases can be entered on the command line to use immediately, and entered in your /etc/profile file to have them availible at your next login.

[3.] The '/etc/profile' file is like an autoexec.bat file--it is read each time you log in. If you've changed it and want to test it, just type 'login' and log in again. You don't have to reboot.

[4.] Customize your prompt. You can have it include the current directory, the current terminal, and your login name, so you don't have to type 'pwd' 'tty' or 'whoami' to check where and who you are. You can also add color, time and date, and other things, but you don't want it too long.

[5.] Use the virtual consoles. If you're reading a man page and you want to edit a config file based on what you've read, press alt-f2, login the new console, and do your edit. You can instantly switch back and forth without closing either. Who needs windows? This is real multitasking. If something crashes, switch consoles.

[6.] Multi-using: If two or more people want to use the computer at once, you don't have to buy a new one. Just hook up and old 8088, 286, or a terminal unit, any of which you can get free or cheap. You can add as many as you have serial ports, and everyone has their own console.


Java and javascript can be useful tools for those who need and want their pages to do clever and entertaining tricks for the surfer. But when tools are used not merely for self-expression, commercial or otherwise, but to actually take control of the web-browser itself, this crosses the line and invades the freedom of others
The purpose of these dirty tricks is to push more and more advertising on consumers AFTER they have decided they have seen enough. Closing the page or even exiting the browser does no good--it reopens itself. Often the only solution is to go offline and reboot.
Those who would resort to such pushy tactics will probably not refrain if asked. I suspect the solution lies in patches for the java-compatible browsers to insure that absolute control remains with the user.
Since I originally wrote the above, a variety of pop-up killer programs have become available, and some browsers, especially the Linux-native ones, have included pop-up controls.
One would think that those who would inflict unwanted advertising upon us, whether by pop-ups or spam, would eventually get the message that they are angering and alienating most internet users. If they offer legitamate products or services, wouldn't they profit more by making a positve impression on potential consumers?

Yo, Yahoo!

Yahoo Instant Messenger, now likely obsolete, was at one point having problems with its updates. I commented at the time:
On the Windows platform, version 6 has added some new features of questionable usefulness, but totally disabled one of the nicer qualities of previous versions: the ability to customize themes including wallpaper.
That may seem minor, but there is no reason for them to do that. I resent being deprived of the right to wallpaper my own windows. I uninstalled version 6 and reinstalled 5.x. This results in a pop-up every time Yahoo Messenger is opened, which currently warns that they will NO LONGER SUPPORT the old version. There is a cure for this: RENAME 'YUPDATER.EXE' to any other name, like yup_dater.exe.
On the Linux/Unix platform, Yahoo's shortcomings are much more serious. Despite the fact that Yahoo has long been known to use BSD Unix for its servers, and should therefore understand and appreciate that a growing number of users are choosing the more stable BSD and Linux operating systems, they seem to have assigned only one programmer to develop the Linux/Unix version, with the result that months have gone by while we wait for full functionality. Instead of producing a program that could run on any unix-type system and furnishing any needed libraries, they have one that works on some Linux versions and not others. If they released the source code, they could take advantage of free help from hundreds of able Linux and Unix programmers, as well as making it easier to adapt to the different versions and libraries.
There is no real reason for keeping their source code secret, since the program itself is free, existing for the purpose of encouraging use of Yahoo mail and other pages which deliver advertising.
But if they insist on secrecy then they need to devote more programmers and speed the development. They have an opportunity to pull ahead of MSN and AIM with a full-featured Linux/Unix version, MSN and AIM can be accessed from Linux through Gabber and Gaim, but neither has their own Linux application.

Free Technology
Main Page