Saturday, December 21, 2002

How can I divide a large file into smaller segments so it can be sent via email or backed up to a floppy disk?

Saturday, December 21, 2002 0

One option available to you is to use a freeware program known as HJ Split. The beauty of this tool is that it is tiny and no installation is necessary to run it. Just double click on the the file's icon, select the file you wish to break up, let HJ Split know the size of the resulting chunks you would like to create and finally click on the start button to begin the process. HJ Split will also recombine these files for you once they reach their final destination, so if you want to email them to a friend make sure you also send them the program itself.

Since most people will already have installed on their system some sort of compression tool, you may instead like to create a spanned, compressed archive. Winzip, Winace and Winrar are equally adept at this task so you may as well use whichever one you happen to have installed.

Take Winzip, for instance; to span a file across multiple disks, create a zip file in the usual manner and when requested to choose a location to store the resulting archive in, select your floppy drive. If the file exceeds the capacity of a single disk, when it becomes full, Winzip will request you to insert another disk to which it can continue backing up your data.

From within the same menu, it is also possible to use Winzip to chop up compressed archives using arbitrary cut off points and save the files to your hard drive.

You want to create a rar archive instead? You would wouldn't you, you awkward so and so. ;) Luckily, that's no more difficult than spanning a zip file. Locate the files you wish to add to your rar archive and highlight them, right-click on one of them and select 'add to archive'. When the 'archive name and parameters' menu appears, give your archive-to-be an appropriate name and then in the box that reads 'split to volumes, bytes' type in, or select the size of the data chunks you would like Winrar to create. Click OK and your task is complete. That wasn't too painful, was it?

Monday, December 16, 2002

To browse or not to browse, that is the question

Monday, December 16, 2002 0

Here's a good tip for anyone who still pays for their time online by the minute (you silly people you!). Have you ever found a really interesting, information packed web site which you'd love to read from start to finish, but couldn't concentrate on it because you were constantly watching the clock? Well the ideal solution is to download the pages to your hard drive so you can read them offline at your leisure without running up a huge phone bill.

While you can save individual pages one by one using your browser's save button, this isn't exactly very convenient when you want to download a whole web site, which could include thousands of pages, images, movies and sounds. So what's the alternative? Web Zip, available from www.spidersoft.com, will quite happily crawl through every page of a target web site and save an exact copy of it including its directory structure to your hard drive. Once you have given the program a few simple instructions regarding what exactly it is you wish to save, the transfer process is completely automated. Just one word of warning though; before hitting the start button remember to restrict the level of external links you want Web Zip to follow - specifying no exclusions at all is the equivalent of asking it to download the internet per se, rather than just the particular site you're interested in!

Friday, December 06, 2002

What are .mdf and .mds files?

Friday, December 06, 2002 0

These constitute the native image file system of the CD/DVD cloning tool, Alcohol 120%. You can think of them as a proprietary version of the better known bin/cue duo. Mds files are tiny as they only contain the bare minimum of information required by the cloning software to successfully burn the relatively mammoth mdf, or image, file.

Other image manipulation tools such as ISO Buster and Ultra ISO will let you peek inside mdf images and extract their contents, but not create new ones.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

Why are the menu items of some web site browser windows disabled?

Saturday, November 23, 2002 0
This is not a browser error. It is the result of java scripting and, usually in conjunction with the changes described in the anti-right-click question above, is a deliberate attempt by webmasters to prevent people from stealing their content or from viewing their source code.

Monday, November 04, 2002

What are Serv-U, War FTP and Bullet Proof FTP Server?

Monday, November 04, 2002 0

Since the name of the latter program was changed from Gene 6, newbies have had less trouble guessing its purpose. Here's a further clue: War FTP and Serv-U do exactly the same thing.

For those of you still fumbling in the dark for answers, these are all FTP server clients, which allow you to setup your computer as a file distribution system known as an FTP site. These allow you to selectively share your data with people who you have given your IP (internet protocol) address to.

When you log into an FTP site, the name of the server software being employed is usually one of the first details about the server to be displayed by your FTP client.

To discover how to set up your own FTP server consult the relevant tutorial elsewhere in my blog.

Friday, October 18, 2002

FXP (File Exchange Protocol) - Flash! Ahhh-ahhhhhhh... He'll save every one of us!

Friday, October 18, 2002 0

No, I'm not repeating myself; there is a subtle difference between the FTP and FXP protocols. The former allows you to transfer data from a remote computer to your hard drive, while the latter enables you to transfer data from one FTP site to another FTP site.

By setting up an FXP transfer you are tapping the slower of the two connection speeds of the computers you wish to transfer data between. So even if you only have a 56k modem, it is possible to transfer data at the speed of a T3 connection for example. The speed of your own connection has no bearing on the transfer rate because you are merely acting as the catalyst; the data never actually touches your own hard drive. One instance in which you might find this technique useful is when switching web hosts - if your site contains a sizeable library of video or music content, transferring it from A to B will take a fraction of the time it would armed only with your meagre home connection.

To get started you will need an FXP client. There aren't that many around to choose from, but luckily what is available is top notch - head over to www.flashfxp.com and see for yourself. Before you can continue you will need a destination FTP site to transfer your data to. This could be any computer providing it has been setup as an FTP server and you know the login details.

Whenever you open a Flash FXP session you will be presented with a split screen display. The left side of the screen is used for browsing the remote FTP site you wish to transfer data from, and the right side of the screen is used for browsing the destination FTP site. To begin with you will have to enter the IP address of the FTP site you wish to transfer data from. To do this, click on the yellow lightning bolt icon, select 'quick connect', fill in the login details and click on the 'connect' button. Switch to the opposite side of the screen, select 'quick connect' once again and enter the login details of your destination FTP site. All that remains to be done is to decide what it is you wish to transfer and give Flash FXP the go ahead. The procedure is as follows:- highlight a selection of files, jab the 'add to queue' option and push the 'go' button. Finally, sit back and put your feet up while you watch the megabytes accumulate.

Ah, this would be the paragraph where I moan about some of the drawbacks that blight FXP - just for the sake of completeness you understand. One of the most pertinent issues is that not all FTP sites will grant you permission to transfer data to another FTP. The reason for this is that to use FXP, both hosts must support PASV mode and allow PORT commands to foreign hosts, and clearly not all do. Something to consider when using free web space or a paid, shared, virtual account is the type of files you are allowed to store in your account. Some web host administrators, for example, will forbid you from transferring mp3 or zip files just in case they contain copyright infringing material.

These considerations aside, FXP is a skill worth mastering by any webmaster or server admin who deals with large files on a regular basis. You are unlikely to ever have access at home to the kind of bandwidth available through corporate networks so this is the next best thing.

Saturday, October 12, 2002

Web forums under the microscope

Saturday, October 12, 2002 0

These are an invaluable resource - say you've been struggling with a technical dilemma and there's no-one with sufficient computer know-how around to ask for help. Your next move shouldn't be to ring up a premium rate technical support line. Why bother when you can always guarantee there will be someone out there in cyberspace who knows exactly what the problem is and how to fix it, and who will be more than happy to impart this knowledge for free?

Let's skip the preamble for a change and jump straight in at the deep end shall we? - don't worry, I'll supply the arm bands! Having found a bulletin board/forum (the two terms are used interchangeably) you like the look of, click on the 'register' link. Now choose an alias, make a polite request for assistance and wait for a reply; you will discover that more often than not, people will do their best to help you out without asking for anything in return. Even if you aren't seeking specific technical support, forums are great places to help you keep up to date with news and rumours relating to a myriad of disparate topics, discover new web sites or simply meet and talk to like-minded people.

You will find that many bulletin boards are attached to particular web sites and so share the same name, while others are 'stand-alone' - the forum is the web site. These forums will fall into one of two categories; they will either be hosted on a private or rented server and will be maintained by the owner, or they will be remotely hosted and managed by a third party company. A further factor which differentiates forums is the scripting language used to produce them, the most familiar flavours being PHP, Perl and ASP (refer to my forum construction tutorial for further details). The busiest and longest established boards tend to use the Ultimate Bulletin Board or vBulletin script. The main advantage with using UBB or vBulletin is that they can be run from your own server allowing you to have complete control over their implementation, yet another attraction is that they are literally brimming with gadgets and gizmos which can't be found in the majority of remotely hosted boards. Any features not included by default can be 'hacked' into the board manually using nothing more sophisticated than Notepad or an equivalent text editor. These 'hacks' can be added or removed at any time to enhance the board's functionality, tighten up security or just improve its aesthetic appeal.

UBB and vB are expensive, commercial grade scripts and so are not best suited to small hobby sites running on a shoestring budget. This isn't to say you can't get hold of a top quality, professional forum script without investing lots of cash - there are plenty of completely free alternatives available which are considered worthy rivals to the two market leaders (again, see my DIY forum guide for examples). So, at least in theory, anyone can set up their own forum. The main reason many people choose not to do so is because it is so difficult to find the right kind of free, reliable hosting with ample server space. Then again, another stumbling block which tends to put people off setting up a do-it-yourself bulletin board is that initially the installation procedure can appear quite a daunting prospect - although, in actual fact if you can read a text file and follow a set of instructions you're well on your way to setting up your very own board.

This drawback leads me quite nicely onto explaining the second category of bulletin boards; those which are remotely hosted and managed by a third party organization, the most common one being EzBoard Inc. The name derives from the fact that they are very straight forward to set up and configure - who'd have thunk it? Anyone can run their own EzBoard by simply going along to www.ezboard.com and filling in a few brief forms. The difference between a remotely hosted board such as EzBoard and a DIY board is that the former are maintained by someone else, the clear advantage being that you can avoid all the frustration and expense of searching for a web host.

Another significant plus of opting for a remotely hosted solution is that they mostly require zero investment - you aren't required to purchase the pre-installed script, or pay for hosting since these expenses are recouped through selling advertising space. EzBoards are entirely customizable and therefore can be configured to suit your personal preferences. Also, as they are constantly being updated and improved, many people now believe they are just as functional as the more complicated, DIY forum scripts. Although by using an EzBoard, or any other remotely hosted board for that matter, you avoid all the maintenance hassles which go hand in hand with DIY scripts, you do have the added worry that the company hosting it could pull the plug at any time should they discover that their services are not financially viable - it happens all the time in the .com industry.

No matter which type of board you are using, a very useful, often overlooked, feature is the humble search button. Many people just jump straight in with both feet to make a plea for help without searching through the previous posts first. More than likely someone else will have already asked the same question or posted the same must-visit link, so before adding your two penny's worth, take the time to make sure one way or the other.

If you are looking for a technical solution that specifically relates to the latest version of an application or piece of hardware, it is often more productive to limit your search to messages that were posted within the last month or so. This will improve your chances of finding relevant information. On the other hand, if your query isn't quite so time-sensitive, you should search the whole back catalogue of posts for best results.

The search function is also useful if you yourself have made many posts and have lost track of which forums you have posted in and which people you have replied to. In this case, instead of searching for keywords you would conduct a search using your own username. This is effective as long as you remember to type your alias into the 'search by username' box rather than the 'search words' box; a very common mistake which will return very few hits. While we're on the subject of keeping up to date with other people's replies to your posts, another good tip is to enable the email notification feature whenever you make a new post. That way whenever someone replies to one of your messages you will receive an email to say, "what's-his-name has replied to the following topic and you can read their comments by clicking on this link". To enable this feature for individual posts make sure you tick the 'email notification' box whenever you initiate a new discussion or contribute to an ongoing discussion. It is also possible to switch on this feature on a global basis so as to make email notification the default option.

If you have already visited a few bulletin boards you may have come across a range of icons, which look like little faces making exaggerated expressions. These are known as 'smilies' - simple keyboard characters used to convey emotions such as a smile or a frown. Providing you are using a board that supports these smilie faces, all you have to do to produce them is type a two, three or four character code (without spaces) into your post. These are then automatically converted into the relevant graphical representation. Five basic smilies are supported by almost all modern bulletin boards. These are as follows...

:) = a smile
:( = a frown/unhappy
:o = embarrassment

:D = a big grin
;) = a wink

Note that they make much more sense if you tilt your head to the left like an Andrex puppy. The dopey, befuddled expression is optional.

For a more comprehensive array of smilies you can insert into forum posts pay Crack's Smilies a visit. You won't find a larger collection anywhere.

There are many more smilies you might want to familiarize yourself with. Even if these aren't automatically converted into a graphical icon most people will know what you mean. The use of smilies isn't just restricted to bulletin boards. They can appear anywhere where it is possible to post information for others to see; web sites, chat rooms, mailing lists, email and so on. If these are used in email, none of the codes will be converted to icons so you should quickly be able learn what each symbol represents and use them without thinking about it. A few of the less obvious examples include:

:-/ = perplexed
:-* = oops
:-x = a kiss
%-/ = hung over
8-) = excited
;-( = grumpy

:-@ = a scream
:-0 = shock
;-} = a leer
$-) = yuppie
7:-) = baseball cap
:-& - tongue-tied

Bulletin boards (and the net in general) are home to a hotbed of abbreviations so it also helps if you can recognize what these shorthand expressions mean whenever they crop up. Here are some of the most commonly used examples:

BTW = By the way
ROTFL = Rolling on the floor laughing
LOL = Laugh out loud
FWIW = For what it's worth
CYA = See ya around
IMHO = In my humble opinion
SGAL = Sheesh, get a life
CUL8R = See you later
IANAL = I'm not a lawyer, but...
SOHF = Sense of humour failure
TTTT = To tell the truth
HTH = Hope this helps
PTMM = Please tell me more
YIU = Yes, I understand
BFN = Bye for now
WTF = What the f*#k?
LMAO = Laughing my ass off
ROFLMAO = Rolling on the floor laughing my ass off
JK = Just kidding
DL = Download
UL = Upload
RTFM = Read the f*#king manual
TIA - Thanks in advance
IC = I see
FYI = For your information
THX = ThanksL8R = See you later
TTFN = Ta ta for now
TTYL = Talk to you later
PLZ = Please
REQ = Request
UIN = Universal identification number (or ICQ number)
NFO = Information
L/P = Login/password
M8 = Mate
AAMOF = As a matter of fact
AFAIK = As far as I know
AFAIC = As far as I'm concerned
AFAICT = As far as I can tell
ASAP = As soon as possible
CWOT = Complete waste of time
TOS = Terms of service
WYSIWYG = What you see is what you get
OMG = Oh my god

As a board grows in popularity it becomes necessary to give a certain few, carefully selected people 'moderator' status. A moderator is like a policeman/woman who patrols the board making sure everything runs as smoothly as possible. They are usually assigned control over an area of the forum specifically designated for the discussion of a particular topic of which they have the most knowledge, but quite often you will see the same mods watching over multiple forums - these are known as super mods, and to prove it they sport 's' shaped quiffs - actually I made that last bit up. Both varieties have the power to edit, delete, censor or prune any posts in the forums they manage. Related duties include keeping posts spam-free and friendly, and answering any questions the board members may have.

If you're not sure who the moderators of a particular forum are, look out for users who have accumulated hundreds or even thousands of posts and have lots of flashing stars or other distinctive paraphernalia under their name. In any case, the words 'moderator' will usually appear under their username - bit of a giveaway that! If you're interested in becoming a moderator yourself, the best route to take is to get yourself well established on a board by making a lot of helpful posts. On a computer oriented forum it's especially useful if you have a lot of technical knowledge. Try not to become preoccupied with fast-tracking your way up the status hierarchy. Instead relax, learn to enjoy yourself and help out as much as possible without expecting to be rewarded. If you're right for the role, your talents will be recognized sooner or later. Whatever you do, don't join a forum solely for the kick of becoming a moderator - they have far more to offer than earning the right to wear a badge.

A few other forum related issues worth a mention include the use of cookies, HTML and javascript and the disappearance of posts. Firstly, cookies, the non-edible kind that is, are tiny files (usually occupying less than 1kb of hard drive space) created by scripts embedded in the web sites you visit. Cookies are stored in their own little niche within your Windows folder and are used to remember information such as the last time you logged into a web site, your username and password, and any personal preferences you may have set through your 'profile' page.

In the past, cookies have been maligned for supposedly facilitating unwarranted access to people's private accounts - dismiss what you've heard; this is a myth. Cookies can only be deciphered by the web site from which they originated, and not by just opening them in a text editor such as Notepad. They can be a problem if you use a shared computer and do not have a personal login to keep your preferences separate from those of other users, but this is hardly a cookie design fault; it's a matter for individual end users to resolve.

Another fallacy is that cookies can transit viruses. Again, this is nonsense so don't let it concern you. Cookies are simply there to enhance the speed and efficiency of your web browsing, not to cause damage to your system or steal your username and password.

Second on the mention-worthy list; the removal of posts. You may return to a forum to check if anyone has replied to a post you made the previous day and to your annoyance discover that it has mysteriously disappeared. Unless you have violated some forum regulation, have been endlessly flaming someone for no apparent reason or have posted something that is completely outrageous, your post is unlikely to have been deleted. More often than not, it will have been moved to a more relevant forum where the discussion has been allowed to continue. This brings me to one of the most basic rules governing the use of bulletin boards - post in the correct forum. This is just as much for your sake as to keep the board tidy and easy to navigate. For instance, if you post a question about web design in the games discussion forum you are unlikely to get the best possible response because anyone who has specialist knowledge of web design is more likely to spend their time visiting the web design forum, and as a result could miss your post entirely. This is one of the quickest ways to annoy the moderators so make sure you think before posting.

Third and final consideration; HTML code and javascript. On some boards you will be able to insert HTML code or javascript into your posts. If you're familiar with web design, this will enable you to add pictures, special effects and sounds to your posts or alter your text aesthetically. Many forum administrators disable this feature, quite frankly because it's annoying, it slows down the board and uses excessive bandwidth, but also because it poses a security risk when exploited by bored miscreants. If you're not sure whether or not you're allowed to post HTML code etc, keep an eye open for a phrase stating something along the lines of, "HTML code is off/on" appearing adjacent to the message dialogue box whenever you make a post.

If you have visited a web design forum where HTML code/javascript is enabled you will be aware of the problems this can cause for people wishing to exchange scripts or code snippets. Under these circumstances anyone viewing posts containing HTML code or javascript would see the effects of this code rather than the raw code itself. To workaround this problem some forums allow you to place web script snippets inside [code] tags to instruct the forum software to display the code between the tags instead of attempting to interpret and transform it. Before the [code] tag was introduced it was commonplace to see posts containing images of HTML code - yes, people would actually open up their favourite paint program, type out the HTML code they wanted to post, save it as a .gif or .jpg image and then submit the picture rather than the actual code. Absolute insanity!

If you are hoping to become a well regarded member of a bulletin board community, it is imperative that you read any guidelines layed down by the administrator. Aside from a handful of unwritten rules of conduct, such as being friendly and polite, and not SHOUTING etc, these guidelines can be as diverse as the internet in general so don't assume that because you've been round the block a few times, you know it all.

Seeking out these forums can be quite a chore, which is why I've rounded up what I consider to be some of the best ones and listed them on my forum links page. However, if none of these appeal to you, you can visit the EzBoard home page or pop along to Google and carry out your own search. A final point to note is that forums cover a much wider range of topics than computers alone, so wherever your interests lie there is almost certain to be a forum out there to cater for your needs.

Friday, October 04, 2002

Why do I get CRC errors when I unzip compressed archives? What is a CRC error?

Friday, October 04, 2002 0

These occur relatively infrequently, but most people have experienced such problems at one time or another. CRC is an acronym for cyclic redundancy check, a mathematical method used to calculate the validity of the data in a given archive.

CRC errors can transpire when files are resumed too many times during the download process and as a result lose a few bytes along the way. Consequentially they become corrupt and are ultimately useless. Some of the more advanced download managers have a kind of 'roll back' function to counter this problem, which re-copies the last few bytes of a file each time it is resumed. It's also possible to choose to what extent you would like to backtrack. This is useful because the amount of data which can become corrupt upon resuming a transfer is directly proportional to the speed of your connection.

Compressed archives, or any file type for that matter, can also become corrupt if they are downloaded too fast. If your computer is unable to write data to the hard drive as quickly as it is being downloaded, some of the data can be lost. What you must ensure is that your computer is sufficiently powerful to keep up with the demands of your modem. If not, you will have to employ your download manager to impose a speed limit on your transfers.

Several different methods can be used to repair damaged archives with varying degrees of success. To access Winace's archive repair function, browse along to 'archive' then 'repair archive' within the menus at the top of the interface. Similarly, Winrar's equivalent tool can be located under the 'commands' > 'repair archive' option. Don't be surprised, however, if they both fail dismally.

The developers of Winrar, in realizing how useless these tools are, have now created a new system used to repair damaged archives and have made it available in Winrar versions 3.0 and above. It uses 'rev' files (recovery volume) to maintain a record of how to repair a given archive if it should become corrupt. These work in much the same way as 'par' files (the topic of another blog entry) and in addition to providing the means to repair damaged archives, also allow you to rebuild missing segments of archives. Rev files can be created along with the archives they are designed to rebuild providing the relevant box is ticked beforehand. If a rev file is present when extracting the archives it will automatically be used by Winrar to repair and rebuild the archives on the fly.

Nevertheless, a less sophisticated yet dependable way of ensuring that your archives are error free, is to download them again and re-test them for CRC problems. If you experience recurring errors it would be wise to download the same files from a different location.

Friday, September 13, 2002

I've opened a rar archive using Winace. Whenever I try to extract it, almost every file is said to be corrupt. Do I need to download it again?

Friday, September 13, 2002 0
No, in most cases the files will be perfectly fine. This problem is caused by the way older versions of Winace handle rar archives. You can avoid these false error reports by using Winrar instead, a trial version of which can be downloaded from www.rarlabs.com. This is arguably the best compression/extraction program available in any case, so it would be beneficial to have it installed on your system. One of its most useful features is its ability to handle multiple file extractions, yet it has a plethora of other invaluable tools too. In future, make sure you use Winace for extracting ace archives and Winrar for extracting rar archives if you encounter problems.

Sunday, September 08, 2002

I keep seeing the word 'bump' in bulletin board posts. What's that all about?

Sunday, September 08, 2002 0
Well, when someone posts a question and it receives no replies, it gradually falls to the bottom of the pile and eventually drops off the first page where no one can see it. Instead of giving up and letting the thread die gracefully, some people reply to their own post to bring it back up to the top of the forum in the hope that it will get a better response the second time round. You could type anything in your reply and it would have the same effect, but 'bump' seems most appropriate because it elevates the thread to the top of the forum.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Clawing back control of your internet browser

Tuesday, September 03, 2002 0

I've visited a web site that has taken it upon itself to change the web site from which my browser searches are conducted. How can I change this back to the way it was previously?

You can resolve this situation by editing the Windows registry, which can be accessed using the 'run' dialog box located under the start menu. Once opened, whack 'regedit' into the empty space and press enter. When the Registry Editor appears, double-click on the entries in the left hand column in sequence until you find yourself looking at the following key...

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main

Now scroll down the list of entries in the right hand pane until you see the 'Search Page' string. Right-click on this phrase and select 'modify' from the context menu. You can now edit the offending URL to something a bit more suitable; google.com for example.

If you've failed to isolate the rogue URL for whatever reason, or you believe there to be a similar, additional entry lodged in a different area of the registry, another handy hint is to use the registry search option - found under the 'edit' menu - to track it down. If you type the web address of your new unwelcome search engine into the 'find' dialogue box and hit the return key you will quickly be able to pinpoint all the references to the site in question, and remove or replace them accordingly.

Note that this trick also works when you're trying to re-establish your favourite search engine as your default home page.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Can't update, won't update

Tuesday, August 13, 2002 0

I'm trying to update my copy of software x. I've uninstalled the old version of the program, but when I try to install the new one I'm told to completely uninstall the old one first. I thought I'd already done this. What's it talking about?

When you uninstall a program, despite what you are led to believe, lots of junk is left behind which can conflict with later installations of the same program. The chief concern is that the program's now redundant registry entries are left untouched and first need to be swept out before you can re-install the new version. This can be done manually using regedit.exe, but it will take a very long time to flush out every last useless entry, and even if you are very thorough, you can't be sure that you've got rid of everything.

A much more sensible solution is to delegate the task of spring cleaning your registry to a heavy duty, third party alternative program such as Reg Cleaner. This miraculous time saver will allow you to identify all the entries associated with a particular program so that they can be removed safely. Not that this involves any effort on your part - all that is required is that you tick the relevant boxes and run through the whole suite of clean up options to ensure that an exhaustive search is conducted.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Internet Explorer window woes

Tuesday, August 06, 2002 0

I resized an Internet Explorer browser window for one particular site, but the changes have been stored and now affect every window I open subsequently. How do I restore the default height and width settings?

First of all, close any IE browser windows you have on screen. Select 'run' from the 'start' menu, type in 'regedit' and navigate to the 'H_Key_Current_User/Software/Microsoft/Internet Explorer/Main' entry. Select it and then locate the 'Window_Placement' entry in the pane on the right hand side of the screen. Highlight this and press your delete key to remove it. Now if you open a new IE window you will notice that its width and height settings have reverted back to their default measurements.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

I password protected a compressed archive and can't remember the password. Is there any hope?

Thursday, July 11, 2002 0
If you've really wracked your brain and still can't recall what it might be, a last resort is to go in search of a password cracking program such as The Password Recovery Kit or Advanced Zip Password Recovery - shareware versions of which can be downloaded from their respective home pages. These applications operate by bombarding the archive file, using a database of potential passwords, at speeds of up to thousands of times a minute. This may sound impressive on the surface, although in my experience, even at these speeds, such tools can be very inefficient and time consuming seeing as a typical password can be anywhere up to 30-ish characters long. Do the maths and you'll see what I mean!

Friday, June 21, 2002

How can I backup my Playstation games?

Friday, June 21, 2002 1

Like PC games, Playstation games are copy protected so in order to copy them you will have to find a way of bypassing this protection. Two methods of doing this are detailed below. By far the simplest of these is to use Clone CD to dump an image of the game you wish to copy onto your hard drive and then burn it to a CD-R. I'm not going to go into all the ins and outs of this procedure again here since it has already been covered in detail in the disk images tutorial. I would suggest you read around the subject there if you want to go down this route.

The second option is much more complicated and involves applying a patch to your game CD before being able to make a successful duplicate. The idea is that you create a CD image of the game you wish to copy using the 'raw' option of CD-R Win, apply a patch to remove any copy protection and then burn the image to a blank CD. Again, I'm not going to rehash what has already been said about this essential program here. If you're new to CD-R Win make sure you check out my advice in the disk images tutorial before reading any further.

Playstation games are patched in one of two ways. You can either run a stand-alone executable file in the same directory as your image file, or use the PPF Patch Engine to apply a patch file with a pff extension. Stand-alone executables, as the name suggests, need no further tools to apply them and can be found in many of the same places where you would search for main exe replacements for PC games, www.gamecopyworld.com or www.megagames.com for example.

Remember, the same rules which apply to the removal of PC game copyright protection also apply to Playstation games, so make sure you get the correct patch version for the game you wish to copy, otherwise it won't work. For Playstation games this means checking that the PAL or NTSC version of the patch matches that of the game. If you have a more recent patch it is likely to be in pff format. Again, these files must reside in the same location as your CD image file to function correctly. Note that sometimes the patcher will be included in the same directory as your patch so you won't need to search for it elsewhere.

Once you have created your CD image file using CD-R Win, open the DOS console and enter the directory where your image is stored. Now type 'applyppf' followed by the name of your bin file, followed by the name of the ppf patch file. The correct command should look something like this: 'applyppf mybinfile.bin mypatch.ppf'. Providing the encouraging 'patch successful' message is displayed you can proceed to burn the image to a blank CD and subsequently play-test the game.

Friday, May 24, 2002

How do I find out if my IP address is static or dynamic?

Friday, May 24, 2002 0

Having this information to hand is especially useful if you intend to set your computer up as a web or FTP server. If you've got a static IP address you can redirect your domain name to point to your own computer instead of a remote host to enable people to access your data or web site. This can also be achieved with a dynamic IP address, but it's a bit more fiddley.

There are various ways of identifying your IP address, but I find the easiest method is to use IP Agent, available from the Gibson Research Corporation (click on the 'Shields Up' button, proceed to the freeware section and then click on the download link near the top of the page). You'll need a microscope to see this program as it's absolutely tiny - no bloatware here folks!

Once downloaded, if you simply double-click on the program's icon you will find that your IP address is staring you in the face - no searching through menus is required - that's all there is to it.

If you make a note of this number, disconnect from the net and then reconnect you can see whether or not you have been assigned with a new number.

Friday, May 17, 2002

How do bootleg software and movie releases end up in general circulation on the internet?

Friday, May 17, 2002 0

Once the release groups have stripped the copyright protection from software, or encoded leaked movies, they are packaged, quality assessed and then uploaded to 'topsites'. These are lightning fast, highly exclusive FTP servers with an abundance of hard drive space. Topsites are shared by a number of affiliated release groups, usually in the region of twenty. When new releases hit the topsites, couriers take hold of the reigns by distributing the releases to other topsites all over the world.

While they're at it, some of these couriers, who are sometimes referred to as 'dumpers', transfer copies of the latest releases to 'dump sites'. These represent the preceding rung of the ladder - like topsites they are private, fast and FXP enabled FTP servers. From these dump sites, FXP groups and IRC channel operators distribute the data further. FXP groups scan for publicly accessible, anonymous FTP servers and then transfer the releases from the dump sites to these FTP servers by means of FXP (File Exchange Protocol). These free for all FTP servers are known as pubs. Once filled they are posted in public or private FXP forums so as to allow the members to share their contents.

The releases multiply exponentially as more and more people gain access to them. Once this process is set in motion it is virtually unstoppable - data transfers snowball until the releases have been spread to every corner of the globe via a variety of peer to peer applications.

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

How can I check an archive for CRC errors without actually unzipping it?

Tuesday, May 14, 2002 0

This can be done using either Winrar or Winace. The first step is to double-click on the archive you wish to validate to open it. If you are using Winrar, select the 'commands' option from the menu and scroll down the list until you find 'test archived files' and click on this option. Alternatively, if you are using Winace, select 'archive' from the menu bar followed by 'test archive'.

Now get on with doing something useful until the CRC checking process is complete - ah, the joys of multi-tasking. Once finished, look for the words 'no errors found'. If receive this all-clear message you can assume your files are A-OK. If it's bad news you will see the message 'CRC error' adjacent to the file which was currently being processed when the log was created. If this happens, you can either download the archive again and re-check it for errors, or attempt to repair it using Winrar or Winrar (I've covered the procedure in another entry so feel free to use the search engine).

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Amiga emulation - back with a boing!

Tuesday, April 16, 2002 1

Let me take you back, no not through the streets of London. Do I look like Ralph McTell to you? We're going boldly where not all that many people have been for, oh, at least a good while; planet Amiga! My love affair with the Amiga began back in 1991 when lots of historically important events relating to this particular era were taking place and other equally fascinating early 90s trends were all the rage. I was eleven years old and was about to embark on what was then known as the 11+, the exam you took in the fourth and final year of junior school which would shape your destiny for the next five years, and possibly even the rest of your life. If you passed you went to grammar school and if you failed you went to comprehensive school. It was assumed that going to the local comprehensive would either turn you into a hardened criminal over night or result in you being mercilessly bullied for half a decade. In contrast, prepubescent legend had it that by going to the local grammar school you would become a snotty, elitist swot and thereby develop a forehead much like that of the Tefal professors. Naturally the truth fell somewhere in between this extreme dichotomy, but in any case this is irrelevant to my preamble. If I passed the exam, as a reward, I was promised an Amiga 500. Well that's not totally accurate; I was promised half an Amiga 500 since they were so darn expensive (£399.99 at the time). Because this was such a hefty price tag we came to an arrangement whereby my brother would pay for half of it, I'd 'win' the other half and we'd share it. Now bribing one child to perform well at school while simultaneously having the other, who would never have the same opportunities to do so, pay for the same gift raises the issue of dubious parenting skills, but I think Oprah has this one covered so I'll move on. As you can probably guess I passed the exam and we became the proud owners of a state of the art games machine. I say games machine, but I think what really convinced by parents to buy it for us was the fact that I'd fed them the line "it will help us with our school work and teach us essential information technology skills". I think most kids and adults alike can relay a similar story; it's a classic which will never wear thin.

When you go through as many joysticks as we did it says a hell of a lot about how much use a computer is getting, yet playing computer games just wouldn't account for the number of broken joysticks we managed to accrue; what was to blame was Wrestlemania, or more to the point my brother playing Wrestlemania. Let me explain: before I came to my senses I liked to watch WWF wrestling (I was young and impressionable, OK?) as did my brother. We liked wrestling so much we bought Ocean's Wrestlemania and from then on fought against each other day and night. So far so good you might say, far better than pounding each other into the ground for real, so why would this ring the death knell for so many joysticks? Well remember the strangle hold thingies (he says as he tries to pretend he doesn't know the technical term) you used to be able to get into if you bumped into your opponent without pressing any buttons? Well whenever you got into this position you had to waggle the joystick from left to right as quickly as possible to throw your opponent onto the floor before attempting to squish them into oblivion; the person who waggled the fastest won the tussle (and you can keep your smutty jokes to yourself, this is a family site, lol :p). Despite telling my brother to go easy with it what must have been hundreds of times he never listened and our bouts always ending with him snapping the stick away from the base leaving him with just the joy, which was ironic really since we could no longer play.

In the end I got so sick of watching him break joystick after joystick after joystick and never learning a thing from the experience, as well as running the computer into the ground in every other respect, I decided to save up and buy an Amiga of my own, this time the later 600 model. This was aside from the fact that I could never get near 'his' Amiga to play on it unless we were playing against each other at Wrestlemania. He never did pay for his half of the computer, but I no longer cared because I had my new Amiga 600 and could use it whenever I wanted. It took me two years to save up enough pocket money to buy it and from that day forth I promised my beloved Miggy that I'd never let the evil cretin near it and we lived happily ever after. And that's the story of how I reclaimed the lemon tree from those thieving Shelbyville scoundrels and returned it to its rightful home here in Springfield.

After that there was no stopping me. I had every game in existence, well all the ones which were worth having anyway, because of course there were few financial restraints where Amiga games were concerned. If you knew the right people you could buy copied games for £1 per disk, and even then you didn't have to buy all of these yourself because your friends all had Amigas as well. They'd buy one game, you'd buy another, you'd make them a copy of the one they didn't have and vice versa. Your collection grew over night and there was never a dull moment if you invited a few friends round to play against, or with even, since some of the best games were designed to be cooperative. Anyone remember Chaos Engine for instance? This was a concept the console kids, no matter how hard they tried, couldn't quite grasp. They'd smugly claim to have saved £300 by buying a console rather than a computer, but what they didn't include in this equation was the £50 a pop price of the game cartridges. If they were lucky they'd get maybe one game for Christmas and another for their birthday and still they thought they were better off because they had *drum roll* Sonic the Hedgehog or *fanfare of trumpets* the sacred Italian plumber. While we were permanently swamped with the latest games they were left with nothing but the very mediocre titles which came with the console itself. I wonder if the message has hit home yet, lol. Oh god, I've regressed to that "my computer is better than yours" stage. Ahem, moving swiftly on...

Console games are child's play to get up and running mainly because they were designed for units with identical specifications which means that the emulators only have to make provisions for a single configuration. In contrast, computer emulators require a lot more tweaking ...and frustration and monitor pounding. Well they're not quite that bad although some advice on getting them up and running might help to flatten the learning curve for you. As we all know, the Amiga is the only classic computer worth emulating. It was light years ahead of its time and produced some of the most innovative, quirky and fun to play games ever released and nothing in the world, past or present can compare (shush, I don't want to hear any arguments! :D). The Amiga marked the era of the bedroom programmer who would spend hours lovingly crafting games which were fun to play rather than just pretty to look at. Anyone remember the PD (public domain) scene? Back then commercial games developers also had their priorities in order; they didn't care about creating games which would appeal to the widest possible audience and hence shift x number of units. Instead they let their refreshingly off-beat imagination guide them, not marketing executives who know zilch about the games industry.

Sadly we've now reached a stage where developers are content to keep on churning out slight variations on archaic themes which add nothing to the industry. If we face facts, most modern games are merely flashy, shallow drivel designed to pander to the whims of kids passing through one phase or the other. It's all about half heartedly knocking together games which will sell, rather than creating new and innovative genres. Who gives a damn if the latest game pushes your new-fangled graphics card to its limits if it's boring and totally lacking in gameplay? Now we have multinational corporations playing it safe by producing sequel after sequel after sequel because they know people will stick to what they know and throw their money away on the familiar names irrespective of their quality. This is exactly why you should take a moment to step back in time to see just how far wrong we've gone. Cue the Amiga emulators!

For all intents and purposes there are only two Amiga emulators worth considering, WinUAE and Winfellow. What you get with Amiga Forever are just repackaged (and outdated) versions of WinUAE and Winfellow which are freely available to begin with. How they get away with it is beyond me, but there you go, that's basically what you're getting if you invest in Cloanto's commercial emulator. Fair enough, it also comes with legally licensed versions of Kickstart and Workbench so is the perfect solution for anyone wanting to play old Amiga games without blemishing their pristine halos. For everyone else the latest build of WinUAE or Winfellow downloaded directly from the author's home page and accompanied by less than legal Kickstart ROMs will do nicely, thankyou very much. Amithlon isn't an emulator in the usual sense of the word and won't be of any use whatsoever for playing the Amiga game images you will be downloading shortly. Rather than re-creating an Amiga setup inside Windows, Amithlon replaces your operating system with AmigaOS effectively turning your PC into a real Amiga rather than adding an extra compatibility layer. If you found yourself struggling to setup the Amiga OS all those years ago when you had the genuine article, or are completely new to this, Amiga in a Box is a useful gadget you may wish to equip yourself with. Again, it's not an emulator per se, but a ready made, optimally configured version of the Amiga OS which is designed to be used in conjunction with WinUAE. AIAB is free to download, just add Kickstart and you're ready to rumble. What could be simpler?

As you would expect you don't have to own any original Amiga games to be able to play them on your PC. All the best games have, over the years been turned into ADF (Amiga disk format) images and uploaded to the internet to be shared and cherished in a lovey dovey hippie kind of way. Aww, doesn't that make you feel warm and fuzzy all over? If you're searching for Amiga ROMs you need look no further than two sites, Emu China and PE2000. These two monolithic wonders alone contain what must be 90-something percent of the software ever released for the Amiga. More games than you'll ever have time to play in your lifetime, that's for sure!

You can't simply load these floppy images into your emulator and expect them to work 'out of the box' like you would with a console emulator because, like PCs, they need an operating system to act as a sort of launch pad. The launch pad in question here is known as Kickstart. Surely you hadn't forgotten the picture of the hand inserting a floppy into a disk drive which welcomed you each time you switched on your beloved Miggy had you? Doh! You really do need a refresher course don't you. Oh well, you've come to the right place so fret ye not retro wannabe. Kickstart ROMs constitute single files with a .rom extension and can be found online providing you know where to look (IRC channels, newsgroups, emulation sites which the IDSA have not yet collared). Strangely enough it is still illegal to download and distribute these files, erm... solely because the people at Amiga Inc. say so. They are still being sold as we speak so Amiga are reluctant to give up this nice little earner. Big meanies the lot of them! Hmmff you might say (and you'd be right!), but don't let this put you off. They are out there like most other digital delights and if you look hard enough you will find them, which is good news really considering you can't do a damn thing without them.

When playing console ROMs you tend to pick one emulator and stick with it, whereas with Amiga emulators it's best to keep both of them handy because some games will only run with WinUAE while others will only run with Winfellow. Using both allows you to back your horses both ways so to speak, avoid putting all your eggs in one basket, and lots of other tired clichés I could bore you with all night long if I don't press on. Perhaps it would be helpful to start with a comparison of the two emulators.

Winfellow is simpler to use and is the more robust of the two emulators. It remembers your settings as you go along, which is very useful for trial and error tweaking and does a much better job of emulating sound than WinUAE. Winfellow runs more smoothly than WinUAE and doesn't require as powerful a PC in addition to providing an anti-aliasing feature which makes game graphics look slightly more polished rather than blocky. Achieving your preferred screen resolution in Winfellow is more straight forward and the whole program is generally more intuitive than WinUAE. That's it for the praise, now let's move onto its flaws. One of the biggest disappointments is that it lacks a save state function which would allow you to save your game position at any time or place even in games which didn't originally have an inbuilt save feature. Purists would denounce this as cheating, but who has the time to play computer games from start to finish in one sitting? Winfellow's other major fault is that it suffers from compatibility problems with many games and unfortunately these tend to be some of the best ones. For instance, if you try playing Superfrog the main sprite is invisible. In short, it's a superb emulator but in desperate need of an update. Any hope, Winfellow team?

And in the red corner weighing in at *trails off*... WinUAE has a plethora of options to tweak that are unavailable in Winfellow, which makes it more difficult to get to grips with initially, but in the long run gives it the potential to be compatible with a greater range of games. WinUAE does provide the save state feature lacking in Winfellow and also allows you to save as many virtual Amiga setups as your hard drive has space for. One thing which is especially frustrating is that it doesn't save your settings as you go along in the same way that Winfellow does, so if you spend an hour tweaking the settings to get a particular game running you can't then save those settings if you are in the middle of a game; you have to save your configurations before running a game or not at all. This means that if you find a winning combination you have to remember what it was, 'reboot' the Amiga, reconfigure it and then save the settings. Let's continue bashing it shall we? Just to be thorough you understand - I love WinUAE really, and have tremendous respect for the programmers. Also to its detriment, it lacks any anti-aliasing features so the graphics don't look quite as slick as they do in Winfellow, the sound in many games is awful (it stutters, is out of synch, crackles, pops, you name it) and the whole thing operates with all the grace of a stoned elephant. You need a very beefy PC to make it run smoothly and even then it's slow. The speed problem isn't totally WinUAE's fault, however. Amiga emulators operate by recreating every aspect of a real Amiga down to all the various RAM and processor configurations found in the different systems (the Amiga 500, 500+, 600, 1200, 3000, 4000 etc etc), so in effect you are not running an Amiga game using PC hardware, but running it on virtual Amiga hardware at the speed of an Amiga. Virtual Amigas can be speeded up by adding virtual RAM, but this can lead to compatibility problems if the games weren't designed to recognize more than a few megabytes, as was the case with the vast majority of Amiga games.

To get the best of both worlds I would suggest using Winfellow to play shorter, more simple games which don't need to be saved and use WinUAE for games which are too long and involved to be played in a single session or don't have a proper save function at all. Winfellow can save game states but only if the game has a built-in save function to begin with and then only if you save your game to a 'blank disk' (blank disks in Winfellow speak are really just empty ADF images). It may be a cute touch, but it's a wee bit debilitating once you've cooed over it a couple of times.

Analogously to PC games, Amiga games require certain minimum specifications to run. Some games only work with Kickstart version 1.3 (mostly older games designed for the 500 or 500+) and others will require later versions like 2.04 or 3.1 (2.04 was the default setup for Amiga 600s and 3.1 came shipped with Amiga 1200s). Then there are all the different processors and memory configurations to tweak. Between them the two emulators can pretend to be all these different setups, the difficult part is figuring out which configuration is required by which game and then bringing the two things into a harmonious alignment. While you can do this yourself by means of trial and error, a much easier and faster way to achieve the same goal is to look up the game you wish to play at Back 2 Roots to find out how best to configure WinUAE or Winfellow in order to get it running. Winfellow does not yet support multiple configurations so if you download a configuration file for this emulator you have to extract it to your installation folder replacing the default one. The file you need to overwrite will be labeled default.wfc. If you want to save any changes you have made to this file a simple way to do it is to rename the file and leave it where it is. WinUAE does support multiple configurations so there's no need to overwrite or rename the original .uae configuration file. Instead extract all the files to the 'configuration' folder and load them into the emulator as and when they are needed. As long as they all have unique filenames they can happily live alongside each other in the same folder. It is isn't essential that you download these ready made configuration files if you don't want to, as Back 2 Roots also provides written details of which settings you need to alter to achieve the best results with particular games. This means you can recreate the configurations yourself using this information and then save the files to your configuration folder manually, although why you'd want to make an easy task more difficult is harder to explain.

Let's start with Winfellow and see if together we can get your first Amiga emulated game to run. First of all, extract the files to a folder, open this folder and double click on the Winfellow executable. The emulator frontend (or GUI if you prefer) should now be glaring back at you waiting for your input. Before the emulator can load ADF files you are required to let Winfellow know where your Kickstart ROM is stored. To do this, click on the 'configuration' button and select the 'memory' tab. From the 'image' section of the 'Kickstart' menu you should now click on the button marked with three dots, browse for your ROM file and select it. Click on the 'OK' button and you will be returned to the main menu where you will see four dialog boxes labeled DF0, DF1, DF2 and finally DF3. These are your virtual floppy drives into which you 'insert' your ADF files. If you wanted to play a one disk game you would click on the button with three dots on it next to the first drive (DF0) to open up an explorer window, locate the game and double click on it to insert it into the drive. Assuming you have already configured Winfellow using the ready made configuration files found at Back 2 Roots all you have to do to load the game is click on the 'start emulation' button. To jump back to the GUI from within the game you would press the F11 key. If you want to load a different game you have to press the 'hard reset' button, eject the disk from the drive and insert a new one. Multi-disk games can be loaded by inserting the disks (ADF files) into the drives sequentially until each slot is occupied. Whenever a disk change is necessary the emulator will automatically attempt to read the disk in the next drive. If it fails to locate the next disk in the series, as it sometimes does, you can assume the game doesn't support additional drives. Under these circumstances it will be necessary to eject disk 1 from drive DF0 replacing it with disk 2 or whichever disk has been requested. Sometimes it helps to resolve compatibility issues if you disable the drives you are not currently using by unticking the relevant boxes from the 'floppy' tab of the configuration menu. The 'fast disk DMA' option can also be disabled to achieve the same goal, but is best left ticked to speed up disk access if possible.

OK, so now you know the basics of using Winfellow we'll move on to WinUAE. As before, extract the files, locate the executable file and double click it to load the emulator. By default the emulator presents you with the options available under the 'configurations' tab allowing you to choose which configuration file you'd like to use before proceeding to load any games. Providing you have extracted the config files to the relevant folder as detailed above you will see a list of possible choices. Click on one of these to highlight it and then press the load button to open it. Next click on the 'ROM' tab and select your Kickstart file using the button marked with three dots as you did previously in Winfellow. Flip over to the 'floppies' tab and insert the disk containing whatever game you wish to play, hit the 'OK' button and the game will commence loading. Piece of cake, eh!

Up until now I've deliberately been vague regarding the more intricate setup details. This is partly because you don't need to concern yourself with them if you are planning to use the ready made config files discussed in detail above and partly because the majority of the options are mutual to both emulators and hence explaining their relevance twice would be of little use. For this reason we will consider them collectively below. The positioning of these options in WinUAE and Winfellow will differ slightly although the fundamental principles are identical. By randomly prodding buttons within the configuration menus of these emulators you'll get there in the end, but wouldn't you rather know something about the technical specifications of the computers you are trying to emulate? The tables below list these specs in an easy to read format and can be used as a guide to tweaking WinUAE or Winfellow. For instance, if you want to get the game Flood working, start by trying to remember roughly which year the game was made (1990 in this case), then look below to see which models were available in this year and hence which models the producers (Bullfrog in case you're interested) would have had in mind when they designed it. This would most likely be the A500 or A500+ so by my reckoning you'd have a better chance of getting it to run if you tried to emulate one of these two setups. There's a good chance Flood will also run on the more recent Amiga computers of course, but this is generally a good rule of thumb if you are experiencing difficulties. If you want to run an AGA (advanced graphics architecture) game you would check the chart below to see which models came equipped with AGA support and try to emulate this setup (either the A1200 or the A4000). The CD32 console also provides AGA support, but CD32 games are not imaged using the usual ADF format so you're not likely to get them confused. They are much harder to come by online than floppy images and generally are available in two flavours, these being BIN or ISO format. Once you have successfully emulated your chosen model you can then try adding more RAM and boosting the clock speed etc etc to improve performance. Obviously if your game suddenly refuses to load you should go back to your last known working setup.

Model Number A500 (1987)
Processor 68000
Clock Speed 7.16 MHz
Chip RAM 512K
Kickstart 1.2 or 1.3
Chip set OCS or ECS
Fast RAM -

Model Number A500+ (1990)
Processor 68000
Clock Speed 7.16 MHz
Chip RAM 1MB
Kickstart 2.04
Chip set ECS
Fast RAM -

Model Number A1000 (1985)
Processor 68000
Clock Speed 7.16 MHz
Chip RAM 256K
Kickstart 1.0 - 1.3
Chip set OCS
Fast RAM -

Model Number A2000 (1987)
Processor 68000
Clock Speed 7.16 MHz
Chip RAM 512K or 1MB
Kickstart 1.2 - 2.04
Chip set OCS or ECS
Fast RAM -

Model Number A600 (1992)
Processor 68000
Clock Speed 7.16 MHz
Chip RAM 1MB
Kickstart 2.04 or 2.05
Chip set ECS
Fast RAM -

Model Number A1200 (1992)
Processor 68020
Clock Speed 14.19 MHz
Chip RAM 2MB
Kickstart 3.1
Chip set AGA
Fast RAM -

Model Number CD32 (1993)
Processor 68020
Clock Speed 14.19 MHz
Chip RAM 2MB
Kickstart 3.1
Chip set AGA
Fast RAM -

Model Number A3000 (1990)
Processor 68030
Clock Speed 25 MHz
Chip RAM 2MB
Kickstart 2.04
Chip set ECS/GFX Card
Fast RAM 4MB

Model Number A4000 (1992)
Processor 68030/040/060
Clock Speed 25 MHz
Chip RAM 2MB
Kickstart 3.1
Chip set AGA/GFX Card
Fast RAM 16MB Max

If you find that a game is running too fast it can be slowed down by reducing the CPU emulation speed and if it's running too slow, doing the opposite will help to speed it up. In Winfellow clock speed can be modified independently whereas in WinUAE you have to reach a compromise between CPU and chipset speed by moving a slider back and forth between the two poles. Moving the slider towards the left will speed up emulation, while pushing it to the right will dedicate more resources to graphics and sound processing.

I would recommend choosing 640 x 480 (16 bit) as your screen resolution, running in full screen mode and using the scanlines option in conjunction with 2x horizontal pixel scaling. Even if you normally utilize the 32 bit colour mode in Windows you will not benefit in the slightest from using the same mode in either Amiga emulator, in fact it will actually have a detrimental effect if anything. This is because Amiga games were not designed to make use of so many colours therefore by forcing your virtual Amiga to do so you will actually slow it down drastically. This can often cause the sound to break up or lag as it does when you get a bad reception using a mobile phone. Surprisingly, the root of many sound problems can be traced back to the way you have configured your display. While we're on the subject of screen resolutions, another feature which is worth tweaking is the display frequency (or refresh rate if you prefer). This should be adjusted so as to match the frequency settings of your Windows environment. Doing this minimizes the need to adjust the physical screen dimensions of your monitor when you 'boot' the emulator. Set this to the maximum range your monitor can output to avoid screen flicker and minimize the strain on your eyes. Scanlines add a black line between each line of colour to make the graphics look more like they would on a TV screen and 2x horizontal pixel scaling doubles the screen width to achieve equilibrium when used with the scanlines option. Note that the use of these options is a matter of personal preference, not necessity. In WinUAE you also have the option to use the 'correct aspect ratio' feature to ensure that the screen isn't distorted, although I've come to discover that setting up your display options in either emulator is far from being an exact science since Amiga and PC screen resolutions and refresh rates do not directly equate with one another.

Perhaps the settings you'll be most interested in at this stage are the ones that define which keys you'd like to use. If you don't intend to use a joystick or joypad you have a number of different configurations to choose from. In Winfellow you have two options whereas WinUAE gives you three alternatives to choose from (the second fire key is very rarely used which explains why WinUAE does not provide support for it). These are as follows:

  WinUAE Keys
  Config A Config B Config C
Up Keypad 8 Up cursor T
Down Keypad 2 Down cursor G
Left Keypad 4 Left cursor F
Right Keypad 6 Right cursor H
Fire 0 Keypad 0 Right control Left alt
Fire 1      

Winfellow Keys
Config A Config B
Up cursor R
Down cursor F
Left cursor D
Right cursor G
Right control Left control
Right alt Left alt

The majority of the settings under the sound tab need little explanation. I would suggest using 'enabled' sound emulation rather than the '100% accurate' option as this will speed up emulation in general. The difference in sound quality is negligible in any case. The sound buffer toggle allows you to increase the amount of system memory used to process sound information in the hope that by allocating more RAM to the process less stuttering will be heard, but again there is a trade off whereby improving quality in one field or another will reduce emulation speed.

Both emulators also allow you to use 'hard files', which are designed to emulate Amiga hard drives. This feature comes in very handy when you want to play multi-disk games without having to swap disks (remember those monster Lucasarts adventures?), whilst it also helps to speed up anything else you might like to 'install' to the virtual hard drive regardless of the number of floppies it occupies. To do this you simply select 'create hard file', choose a place to store it, give it a name and tell WinUAE how much space you'd like it to occupy. In WinUAE it's also possible to use a directory as a hard drive which is more convenient as it doesn't have a limited capacity (the size of your real PC hard drive obviously sets the boundaries). If you plan to use your virtual Amiga solely for playing games, hard files are probably overkill seeing as most Amiga games came on fewer than four disks and so can be pre-loaded into the floppy drives to avoid disk swapping. For this reason you may want to skip this stage altogether.

The remaining settings are fairly self explanatory so I won't dwell on those. In any case, what works well on one PC doesn't necessarily work well on all PCs. As I've said numerous times already, Amiga emulation can be a bit hit and miss and requires a lot of patience to achieve accurate reproduction. Some games of course will remain unemulatable for the present (hey, it's my party and I'll neologise if I want to!), but since there's always a new release of WinUAE on the horizon, getting them to work in the future is not totally out of reach.

I'm going to button it now while you trundle off and reacquaint yourself with some of the greatest games ever produced. To which other format could you possibly look to with this in mind? Go on, I'll still be here when you get back. I can amuse myself. I'll just sit here twiddling my thumbs, don't you worry about me. Are you still here? Shoo! :)

Ah, there you are. I thought you'd never return. Get a little carried away did we? So what do you think? They take some beating even now don't they. It's just a shame that to find gameplay of this caliber nowadays you have to delve into the dim and distant past. How did it all go so horribly wrong? Personally I think the exponential and unrelenting development of technology had a lot to do with it. Before the boundaries of the current hardware had been fully explored the next big thing was made available and people simply had to have it whether this entailed faster processors, extra RAM or more sophisticated graphics cards. Rather than concentrating on researching and designing new and original titles, games developers were set the goal of producing games which would fully utilize this new technology. A steady decline of interest in the 'fun factor' soon followed while at the same time much greater emphasis was placed on flashy, but ultimately shallow graphics and special effects. Remember the brief era when cinegames were all the rage? Our jaws dropped in amazement when we saw the visuals in the magazines but when we played them and realised there was almost zero interaction on offer we saw them for the garbage they really were. They were soulless and trashy and gave you the impression you were watching a movie rather than playing a game. This would be fine if they turned out to be good movies, but clearly they weren't. They were the gaming equivalent of grade B horror flicks, or even worse, straight to video releases.

The final nail in the coffin came with the advent of 3D graphics cards I believe. I'm not saying that all 3D games are terrible or that 3D graphics cards are totally to blame, just that they shifted the goal posts transforming computer games beyond recognition, and not for the better. There has been the odd blip in the very lifeless pulse of modern gaming but sadly these minor tremors are the exception rather than the rule and alone aren't enough to breath life back into the industry. It has been demonstrated time and time again that you can create ground breaking games without resorting to using the latest video card technology. 3D graphics cards should have added an extra dimension, erm, literally, to games giving them new foundations on which to build, while maintaining the quality and playability of the 2D games of yesteryear. What happened in reality, however, was a far cry from progress; all the emergence of 3D cards has managed to achieve is an unyielding flow of mediocre titles, the production of which was induced by waving the wrong carrot on a stick in front of the game developer's noses.

These days it's the hardware manufacturers who call the shots, the games developers are merely the obedient puppets forced into a procrustean bed of repetition. Whenever a new all singing, all dancing graphics card is released there is a frantic rush to create games which will push the technology to its limits with the aim of producing demos to showcase this latest kit. When I say demos I mean it in the original sense of the word as it is (or should that be was?) used in the 'demo' scene, not cut-down game tasters or trailers. There is far too much back scratching going on for my liking. Could it be that the games developers and the hardware manufacturers are actually one and the same company? I wouldn't be surprised at all; the hardware manufacturers fulfill their part of the bargain by churning out the latest, greatest kit, the gaming branch of the same company then responds by producing games which require, demand even, this latest technology. Subsequently Mr. or Mrs. average gamer must purchase this new gadgetry to be able to play it. Shouldn't we be witnessing the reverse of this situation? Games developers work with what they've got until they reach a point where they can go no further without a hardware upgrade and then look to the manufacturers to keep the wheels turning. Would this not at least provide some motivation to diversify, creating new and interesting genres rather than state of the art peep shows?

As it is we have old titles being rehashed but with more polygons, greater levels of realism and flashier special effects. Surely if people wanted to see special effects and art for art's sake they'd go to the movies, or dare I say it, an art gallery? How is it then that the gaming industry has managed to delude people into thinking realism and hollow imagery is what they want? Now I could be suffering from delusion myself but I thought games were about escapism, not realism. If games get any more 'real' we'll be playing the role of characters who sit in front of their computers playing computer games. It'll be like glaring into an endless mirror image of a mirror image of a mirror. How on earth did The Sims manage to become the phenomenal success that it clearly is? Do people really want to be put in charge of people who wash the dishes, cook, mow the lawn and bath the dog? Who knows, maybe it's some sort of sadomasochistic power fantasy.

Just think how many great games have been ruined by the 'progress' of 3D sequels. Lemmings is one of the most innovative and entertaining games ever. Then look what happened; Psygnosis clearly high on acid became like their own creations, and jumped on the bandwagon by creating Lemmings 3D for no good reason other than to follow current trends. It was a very average game and it tarnished the reputation of the original (as well as the previous 2D sequels). Exactly the same thing happened with Syndicate. The original is one of the most absorbing and addictive games of all time and the add-on was pretty good too despite being aimed at the hard-core gamer. Then Syndicate Wars came along; it looked very pretty, but that's all it achieved. The RTS genre went down the same route too, the examples are endless. Game development is now a one dimensional, never mind 3D, matter of imitating what has sold well in the past and therefore poses no risk of failure, and until things change people will continue to be force fed "Game X + Year of Release" forever and ever amen. When will these people realise that gameplay should come first? Answer: when people stop buying conveyer belt software titles and demand quality over quantity!

Well at least Nintendo seem to be making some inroads with the release of the Gameboy Advance; a back to basics 2D handheld computer which will hopefully inject a bit of fun back into what is by definition supposed to be an entertainment industry, and provide a glimmer of hope for the future. If other developers take note maybe it's not too late to turn back the tide of production line tat.

So what was so great about the Amiga I hear you ask? Ah yes, I was getting to that. Aside from the games being infinitesimally more playable, they worked 'out of the box' and patches were unheard of. In those days the ethic was to release games which worked rather than rushing them out of the door half finished and then fixing the mistakes later while passing the extra code off as an update instead of the bloody great Band-Aids they really are. Multiplayer games really found their niche on the Amiga. Since they came equipped with two input device ports you could plug in two joysticks and play against a friend, and if you were really lucky and had two or three friends, some games even allowed you to configure the keyboard so you could play three or four player games. When was the last time you huddled around your PC with a few mates to play a multiplayer game? Admittedly those of us who grew up playing Amiga games are now of an age where this really isn't the done thing, but even so you don't hear of kids throwing PC parties these days do you. Whereas what is mostly now considered a solitary, antisocial even, form of entertainment was anything but that during the heady heights of Amiga's success. Lest we forget, the groups who are currently cracking and releasing PC games are some of the very same people who began their 'careers' making games available to the Amiga generation in the late 80s and 90s. Would they exist today if it wasn't for the Amiga? Perhaps we will never know for sure, but it certainly makes you stop and think. Secondly, the operating system was streamlined and efficient and only did what you wanted it to. One thing you'd never hear an Amiga OS say (on the proviso that Amiga OSs can talk) is "how would you like me to think for you today?". Then there's the fact that they didn't need constant upgrading to be able to run the latest games. OK, you could, if you wanted to, buy add-ons and extra RAM but this was entirely your decision. These extras would speed up a game or an application (remember they weren't just games machines), but very rarely were they an essential purchase, as for example RAM or hard drive space is today. While we're talking hardware, the systems themselves were miniature marvels when you consider how much processing power was contained within their all encompassing, self contained shells.

Ask three different people what brought about the demise of the Amiga and you'll get three very different answers. The most plausible one, however, is that CBM went bust due to a combination of a mismanagement of funds and the fact that they shot themselves in the foot by not outsourcing hardware manufacture to third parties thereby drastically impeding their potential growth. Whatever the reason, the Amiga was cut down in its prime and the computer world has never been the same since and possibly never will be again. Luckily the heart of Jay Minor's creation lives on and is enjoyed throughout the world on a daily basis through the miracle of emulation. Of course, the only thing better than emulating an Amiga is using the real thing. Despite the fact that you're unlikely to see brand new Miggies being sold in the high street, not just yet anyway, you can still purchase new ones at a small number of online outlets, and since second hand ones are always available at eBay, there's really no excuse for not embracing gaming at the pinnacle of its evolution. Remember, the path forward is not necessarily the most progressive and there is no shame in appreciating the past.

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Backing up your system - the Ghost story

Wednesday, April 03, 2002 0

Wouldn't it be great if every time something went wrong with your Windows set-up you could just click a few buttons and have everything restored to its original state in a matter of minutes? Well it can be arranged... more quickly and painlessly than you would imagine.

What you need to do is get hold of some 'imaging' software. What this will do is store an exact copy of your fully functioning Windows installation in a compressed format, which can at a later date, be restored to its former glory when things start to go wrong. The best imaging program around at the moment for the Windows platform is without a doubt Norton's Ghost. This is effortlessly simple to use and runs from DOS so is capable of backing up all those essential system files which are inaccessible while you're actually within the Windows environment.

This backup process isn't as complicated as it sounds. All you have to do is store your Windows set-up on one partition of your hard drive and backup to a separate partition. The reason for this becomes clear after you have restored your backup to a partition that is already full of valuable data and find that it has all been wiped out as a result! Unless you are using Partition Magic you will have to start with a formatted hard drive and use 'fdisk', a DOS executable which comes as standard with Windows 95, 98 and Me. Make sure you are in DOS (not within the Windows environment, but in real DOS mode), now type fdisk and select 'create new partition'. It is advisable to use somewhere between 2 and 5 gigabytes of your hard drive for your boot partition - this will contain your Windows installation and any other essential applications. Now create an extended partition to be used for everything else you wish to store on your hard drive. Re-boot your computer and format both partitions using the 'format' command followed by whichever letter has been assigned to your drive(s), not forgetting to append a colon to the end like so: 'format c:'. Re-install Windows to your c: drive and then backup the whole partition to your extended partition using Norton Ghost.

Of course, if you already have more than one hard drive installed you can skip all of this and simply back up to your second drive, although this will involve wasting a hell of lot of space. The main reason for all this partitioning is to make more efficient use of the space you have available. When you backup a partition, you can't select which bits you want to compress and which bits you don't - it's either all or nothing. For example, if you have two 80 gigabyte drives and you store your Windows installation on one of them and everything else on the other, when you backup what's on your boot partition everything is compressed and stored in a single file, not just your Windows and Program Files folders. The upshot of this is that when you decompress this image file back onto your drive you lose everything else which you may have copied to it after making your backup, and this is why it makes sense to have a small-ish partition just for Windows.

Once you have installed Ghost within the Windows environment, exit to real DOS using your boot disk and enter your Ghost installation directory. Now copy the main executable (ghost.exe) to your extended partition and run it from there - it is imperative that you don't run the file from the drive you wish to backup. Since this is the only file you will need to perform a successful backup or system restoration within DOS, by backing it up at this stage you can ensure that you will never need to re-install the full Windows application ever again should the need for a fresh drive image arise. The main executable, being a mere 600kb in size will fit very neatly onto any kind of boot media you care to use (floppy disk, CD, flash drive etc) so you may also like to store a copy of it there. I'm sure the nice chaps at Norton spent a long time programming the extra Windows utilities which come as standard with Ghost, but in my opinion they are nothing more than gratuitous fluff.

You look like you've seen a ghost! Oh, I see you've met the GUI then. If you click on the menu button in the bottom left hand corner of the screen we can steam ahead with the backup process. Simply select the 'create image' option and choose the drive you wish to back up as well as the drive you want to store the image on, pressing enter in between to confirm your preferences. Next give your image-to-be a suitable name and press the 'OK' button. Give Ghost a few minutes to work its magic and voila, everything should be safely backed up to a single compressed archive, ready and waiting to save your PC from the dreaded blue screen of death in the future. It's worth remembering at this stage that these system images are merely standard data files like any other so can be shunted around, deleted, backed up to a CD or DVD, chewed up and spat out, sat on and so on and so forth.

Now when Windows inevitably starts doing strange, inexplicable things or simply refuses to boot (curse you Microsoft!), you can just format your primary partition and restore your original Windows set-up using Ghost. This process can seem a bit daunting at first so let me explain it in a bit more detail. Before doing anything as a drastic as wiping out your Windows partition, make sure you have created a boot disk for yourself. This can be done via your Windows control panel in Windows 95/98 or Me, but is a bit more awkward in Windows 2000/XP because the data used to construct official boot disks is not contained within the operating system itself. The constituent data of the standard Windows 2000/XP boot disk, well boot disks actually, occupies four floppies. God only knows what the justification for this is. Regardless, if you can't find the 'floppy boot disk set construction kit' disks which came supplied with your Windows setup CD, or refuse to be party to this exercise in data obesity, you can use Norton's 'make boot disk' command from within Windows (OK, I admit this is one of the less fluffy features of the Windows interface!).

When you've created your boot disk, stick it in the floppy drive and reboot your computer. Providing your computer has been setup to first read from the floppy drive before looking for the Windows installation on your hard drive, your boot disk will take the reigns and boot your computer into real DOS mode. If on the other hand, when you reboot, your computer ignores the floppy disk completely and boots into Windows as usual you will have to edit your BIOS settings. To do this, press the reset button, wait for your computer's stats to appear in that familiar black and white table and press the delete key (if you're unsure of exactly when to do this just keep hammering your delete key until something happens, or look out for the "press the del key now to enter your BIOS" message!). From the basic settings section of your BIOS menu you should be able to select your first, second, third and fourth boot device. Make sure your floppy drive is selected as the first boot device followed by your hard drive, save the settings and reboot once again.

As soon as you arrive at the DOS prompt, format your Windows partition using the command 'format c:/q' - the q switch allows you to format a previously formatted drive in a matter of seconds rather than many minutes or even hours. If you've never formatted your drive before, leave out the q switch and commence thumb twiddling while you wait. Formatting isn't strictly necessary at this stage as Ghost will overwrite everything for you, but I like to be thorough to make sure everything runs smoothly. Now, to restore your compressed image file, enter the directory where your Ghost executable resides using the 'cd' (change directory) command and type 'ghost'. Browse through the menu until you come to the 'restore image' option, select it, locate your image file and then press the 'OK' button. Tell Ghost where you want to extract it to (i.e the c: drive) and click 'OK'.

When the decompression process is complete, eject your boot disk if you haven't already done so, reset your computer and let it boot into Windows as usual. And finally, taking a deep breath, step back from your screen in astonishment to admire your brand new, good-as-the-day-it-was-first-installed Windows setup. Once you recover from the shock of discovering how easy all this was, you can proceed to fill up your computer with useless programs and games that you'll never use, safe in the knowledge that you can wipe the whole lot out and restore your setup to its former glory whenever you like with a few effortless steps.

Friday, March 08, 2002

How can I backup my Sega Dreamcast games?

Friday, March 08, 2002 0
You can't - at least not yet anyway. You see, Dreamcast games use a completely different file structure to CD-Rs, which allows them to hold up to 1gb of gaming goodness on a single CD. These CDs are known as GD-Roms (the GD stands for Gigabyte Disc). The upshot of this is that you can't just make a 1:1 copy using your ordinary CD writing software and CD writer. At present, ripping a Dreamcast game is a very complicated procedure, the exact details of which are still kept closely under wraps. For this reason, you can't just pop a game disk into your CD writer and make yourself a duplicate from it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

I've downloaded an MP3 track, but it won't play. All I can hear is distortion. Why?

Tuesday, February 19, 2002 0
More than likely the file has been 'cooked'. This occurs when the server you are downloading from has been improperly configured and as a result treats binary files as text files. The solution? Well obviously you have to uncook the files. Why didn't you think of that? ;) This can be achieved using a program known as Uncook 95.
 
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