Tales from the Terminal Room
December 2001, Issue No. 27
Please Note: This is an archive copy of the newsletter. The information and links that it contains are not updated.
Tales from the Terminal Room ISSN 1467-338X
December 2001, Issue No. 27
Editor: Karen Blakeman
Published by: RBA Information Services
Tales from the Terminal Room (TFTTR) is a monthly newsletter, with the exception of July and August, which are published as a single issue. TFTTR includes reviews and comparisons of information sources and search tools; updates to the RBA Web site Business Sources and other useful resources; dealing with technical and access problems on the Net; and news of RBA's training courses and publications.
In this issue:
My apologies for the delay in the arrival of the December issue of TFTTR. This was due partly to the recovery period needed after being on a stand at Online 2001 for three days but mainly because my laptop decided to go on holiday early this year. (More of that in "These things are sent to try us")
If you are reading this at home prior to Christmas, you might prefer to save the newsletter until you return to work and read instead a Christmas "Tale" that I discovered in my ancient filing system (http://www.rba.co.uk/tfttr/xmas84.htm). It was written when I was still in gainful employment in the pharmaceutical industry in 1984. On second thoughts, in view of the title - Warning: Christmas can damage your health! - you might be better off ignoring that. Just put your feet up and relax with a nice glass of whatever you fancy.
Have a Good Christmas and Happy New Year.
Online Information 2001
Held at Olympia, London, 4th-6th December
This is just a short report on the event since most of the significant products and announcements were previewed in last month's TFTTR (http://www.rba.co.uk/tfttr/archives/2001/nov2001.htm).
The exhibition appeared to be smaller than in previous years. There was some argument about whether there really were fewer stands or if it was an impression created by the larger venue (the Grand Hall). The spate of mergers and acquisitions over the last couple of years undoubtedly accounted for some of the reduction but there were empty stands and some last minute cancellations; several enquiries at the UKOLUG helpdesk were from people who had arranged meetings with their suppliers on specific stand numbers, but neither the supplier nor the stand were in evidence on the day. From the visitor point of view, the layout and smaller number of exhibitors made it easier to find what one wanted.
Visitor numbers also seemed to be down this year, although we shall have to wait for the official figures from Learned Information to confirm whether or not that was indeed the case.
Best Stand Award
The UK Online User Group (UKOLUG) again judged the Best Stand Award. The Best Stand Award is judged on the following criteria: attractive, user friendly design; clear information on products; best use of space; welcoming to the visitor; and the presence of knowledgeable, helpful stand personnel.
This year, the judging proved to be especially difficult. We started off with a long short list of about a dozen stands but managed to whittle it down to six and then three. It was impossible for the judging panel to agree and we almost resorted to fisticuffs! We decided to bring in a referee - a UKOLUG committee member who had not been involved in the initial assessment - and gave them a list of three from which they had to choose.
The winner for 2001 is CobWeb Information (http://www.cobwebinfo.com/), a UK business information and content provider that concentrates on SME support. An overview of their products appears later in this newsletter.
As I said, it was not easy selecting an outright winner as there were so many stunning designs and the quality of staff on many of the stands had improved considerably compared with last year. As well as CobWeb, I particularly liked Bureau van Dijk (loved the metallic cut- outs of the countries), the British Library (great colours) and Fretwell Downing (fantastic design and colours that soothed) and many more.
High quality, innovative freebies were thin on the ground this year and there were only two that really caught our eye. Whizbang! Labs(1) rubber ball that lit up and played various sequences of noises when you bounced it was a serious contender for best freebie. It was pipped at the post, though, by Nstein's (2) wooden back massager - a tool that we put to good use during the long days on the stand.
Next year's Online will again be in the Grand Hall at Olympia and held on 3rd-5th December.
(1)WhizBang! Labs (http://www.whizbang.com/) provides software that finds and extracts facts from unstructured text and creates dynamic content databases. Current products provide information extraction about people, companies, eCommerce, education opportunities, financial data and careers.
(2) Nstein Technologies (http://www.nstein.com/) develops content management solutions based on linguistic artificial intelligence. Nstein's software automate tasks such as content classification, XML tagging and summarisation.
General Sources http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/general.htm
Scottish Law Online http://www.scottishlaw.org.uk/
New Sources http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/news.htm
Stock Markets and Share Price Information http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/stocks.htm
Skate Financial Network http://www.skatefn.com/
Country Specific Information http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/country.htm
BBC Monitoring Country Profiles http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk/
Miscellaneous Essentials http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/misc.htm
We have added a new section on UK Property (Real Estate) to our miscellaneous page.
The Land Registry (http://www.landreg.gov.uk/) guarantees the title to, and records the ownership of, interests in registered land in England and Wales. You can download Form 313, which is the form that you need to use to find out who owns a particular property. The Land Registers of Scotland (http://www.ros.gov.uk/) is the Scottish equivalent.
The Environment Agency (http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/) has pollution inventory and flood plain maps on its site. Click on "Your Environment" followed by "What's in Your Backyard" and type in your post code. This is a very useful site if you want to check whether or not your property, or one that you are about to buy, is on or near a flood plain and if there is any industrial pollution nearby.
For some of us in the UK, the threat of flooding has become a serious one and exacerbated by the over-development of many flood plains. The government's Policy Planning Guidance Note 25: Development and Flood Risk, also known as PPG25, at http://www.planning.dtlr.gov.uk/ppg25/ explains how flood risk should be considered at all stages of the planning and development process in order to reduce future damage to property and loss of life. This document will give you chapter and verse on the new requirements and may be of help if you want to object to planning applications involving flood plain developments. (PPG25 only applies to England.)
If you want to check whether or not a building is "listed", then Images of England at http://www.imagesofengland.org.uk/ is the site to use. It has been set up by English Heritage National Monuments Record and contains information about England's 370,000 listed buildings. The Quick Search allows you to combine a search by county, district, building type and period, or by "associated person". Quick Search displays a maximum of fifty records and only those that have images.
To get the best out of this site I suggest that you use the Advanced Search; you have to register for an ID and password but registration is free. The Advanced Search covers the whole of the Web database, including those records for which no images are available online, and it enables you to search by any combination of: building name, building type, location, building phase, associated person, associated organisation, building material, keywords in the list description. You can also exclude types of records from your results.
For mortgages, the MoneyExtra Mortgage Centre (http://www.moneyextra.com/homebuying/) has comparisons of over 4,900 mortgage products offered by 140 lenders in the UK.
Support for SMEs http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/sme.htm
Cobweb Information http://www.cobwebinfo.com/
Cobweb's current products include:
There is also a free fortnightly current awareness service called Business Advisers' Digest - "BAD News" - that provides news briefings on topical business issues, hints and tips for advising business customers and pointers to relevant Web sites, journals and periodical articles. You can register online for the newsletter at http://bad.cobwebinfo.com/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org with SUBSCRIBE as the subject and quoting your name and company name in the message.
Top 10 Business Sites http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/top10/index.htm
The delegates on our latest Business Information on the Internet course (27th November) came up with the following list as their Top 10 Business Sites:
This time the list is biased towards priced services, probably reflecting the fact that many of the delegates came from private sector organisations. When we have a significant number of delegates from the academic and public library sector, the emphasis changes to include more free services. This is not only because of budget constraints but also because many of the types of enquiries that they deal with can be answered effectively by referring to free resources.
These things are sent to try us!
"Cannot find registry, cannot find VFAT"
Some of you have asked me how George is getting on. (See TFTTR, October 2001, Issue No. 25). There is still some tweaking to do on his system but, in general, all is well..... which is more than can be said for me!
I had planned to carry out a major overhaul on my laptop over the Christmas-New Year break. I use it for testing software and inevitably a lot of junk gets left behind when they are uninstalled. I have not had a grand clear-out for over a year and the machine has been behaving "idiosyncratically" - not surprising when one considers the hammering it gets from experimental programs. But my plans to carry out a phased purge were scuppered last week when the laptop decided, of its own accord, to go belly up.
I was innocently trying to print out a document when an error message told me that there was no printer installed. That was total tosh because there was the printer dialogue on screen telling me that it was chugging along quite nicely, thank-you. Only it wasn't and the whole system froze. Control-Alt-Del did not work so I had to resort to the on/off switch.
I restarted the laptop, Windows began to load but only got as far as the wallpaper and a handful of icons before it froze again. A second reboot seized up at exactly the same point. On the third reboot I hit F8 so that I could start up in "safe mode". This loads a basic configuration of Windows minus the memory resident programs and gives you a chance to nose around and try and identify the cause of the problem. You don't have all of the functionality of Windows but there should be enough to carry out some basic tests and repair work. Unfortunately, it seemed that I had no Windows functionality at all!
At the fourth reboot, I went into DOS to see what would happen if I loaded Windows from the command line. Messages telling me it couldn't find the registry or the VFAT appeared on screen. I felt very, very sick. The registry is the thing that tells Windows where all your programs are - and a lot more. If the registry goes AWOL then you are in mega trouble.
At times such as these, it is best to take your hands off the keyboard and walk away before you do something silly - like format the hard disk. Once I had started to think logically again, I realised that I could probably salvage most of the contents of the hard drive. I had backups or originals of all of my software, all the keys and registration IDs of software that I had bought online and all my essential data files were backed up. Then - Oh Joy!!! I remembered that I had a two day old backup of my registry. Easy-peasy. Boot up into DOS and copy the backups across. But for some reason the laptop was having none of it.
OK, no need to panic - honest. What about the full CD backup I had made a week before? Brilliant! But first, I had to somehow access the CDROM drive. Since Windows was not functioning, the Windows CDROM drivers were not loaded and the laptop was oblivious to the presence of the D: drive. The way round this is to load the DOS drivers and CDROM configuration. Every Windows PC should come with a floppy disk that contains all the files that you need to access the D: drive in DOS. Mine is labelled CDROM Setup Boot Disk. "Turn off your computer, insert boot disk in drive A and turn on your computer" say the instructions. The laptop booted up but still no D: drive. A quick look at the boot disk revealed that it did not have any CD drivers or configuration files. And as for the instructions - there weren't any.
I dug out my ten year old CDROM installation notes from the "archive" under the stairs and managed to write the required config.sys and autoexec.bat files from scratch. At last we were off, but my laptop refused to restore from my backup CD. Something about errors in the DOS directory.
There was nothing for it but to reinstall Windows. It began well with the Microsoft diagnostics identifying problems with HIMEM.SYS and mangled DOS files for starters. There were probably more but I couldn't bear to watch the screen any longer. Once that was all sorted the Windows CD prepared to reinstall Windows and froze. It was at this stage that I seriously considered throwing the laptop out of the window but, having got this far, I decided to give it one more go. This time I did not reinstall Windows in the default directory but instead directed it into a completely new one. "Your existing programs will not be recognised and will have to be reinstalled" the Windows CD warned me. By now, I didn't care. I was desperate. I went ahead with the "new" installation.
At last! I had a working laptop and one that was running faster and more smoothly than it had in nearly a year. All my data were intact but I had to reinstall the programs. Many of them had been bought and downloaded over the Net, so I had to find the backups of the downloads and my printouts of the emails that had the regsitration/unlock keys.
So what caused the problem in the first place? Testing hundreds of experimental programs was probably a significant contributing factor, but the rot really set in about eighteen months ago when I decided to try out Norton Utilities Crash Guard and Clean Sweep. Clean Sweep, which helps you dispose of unwanted or redundant programs, seems to be OK. Crash Guard, in contrast, was immediately out of favour when it started generating BSODs (Blue Screen of Death) with minimal provocation, and especially when I was installing and uninstalling programs.
I suspect that the last straw was a test drive of McAfee Quick Clean (MQC), which I had agreed to try out for a friend. I downloaded it on the day my laptop rebelled but it never actually installed properly, or so I thought. Twice that day it leapt into action without warning and did - erm - I don't know what it did. And that is where this sorry story began.
The moral of this tale? Well there isn't one apart from a reminder to us all to make sure we have backups of our data and programs, and that we keep on file a record of the registration keys and IDs of software that have been bought online. But if your PC decides to throw a wobbly, you may find that the tools and utilities that are meant to get you up and running again don't:-( At work, you should have an IT person who can sort it out for you. At home, unless you are happy fiddling around with DOS commands or know someone who does, it could be an expensive call to a help-line and an even more expensive visit from an engineer to get it fixed.
Gizmo of the Year
My unscheduled laptop disaster recovery exercise brought home to me the importance of the many small but effective programs that I call "gizmos".
I was totally lost without the addition of the Google Toolbar to Internet Explorer. It enables you to Google search the Web and Usenet from your IE toolbar, find related pages, highlight search terms in pages and a lot more.
After a couple of online sessions IE's default colours and appearance began to annoy me: time to reach for that backup copy of IE Personalizer, which as well changing the "skin" and revolving icons can also change the "branding" that appears in the title bar of IE.
I had also forgotten how aggravating animated adverts and pop-up windows are(promptly dealt with by re-installing Webwasher) and how paranoid I am about cookies (enter the excellent cookie manager called Cookie Crusher).
But before I went anywhere near the Internet I re-installed my personal firewall software, Zone Alarm. Firewalls are as essential as anti-virus software in blocking nasties and unauthorised access, even on desk-top PCs with ordinary dial-up connections to the Internet.
So my "Gizmo of the year" is Zone Alarm from ZoneLabs at http://www.zonelabs.com/
And the runners up are:
Meetings and Workshops
RBA is re-running its series of workshops on using the Internet and has introduced a new course on Market Research on the Web.
They will be held in the Information Skills Suite at Aston University. The calendar of events can be found at http://www.rba.co.uk/training/index.htm
The first in the series is Market Research on the Web, which will be held on February 20th. Further details and a booking form can be found at http://www.rba.co.uk/training/markres.htm
TFTTR Contact Information
Karen Blakeman, RBA Information Services
TFTTR archives: http://www.rba.co.uk/tfttr/archives/index.shtml
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