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Ask Dr. Deeram

Question–I’m totally intimidated by personal computers. My boss just put one on my desk, but when I ask anyone about it, I feel as if they’re answering me a totally different language. What should I do?

There’s no reason to feel intimidated by computers, as they are really very simple machines. Input comes via the keyboard and an optional pointing device to controller chips which convert it into a binary format. Provided that all DIP switches are properly set, the bus carries the data into the central processing unit, which stores it in registers via interrupts, placing much of it in RAM. Programs, which are stored on magnetic media–called hard disks because you cannot open them–have also been copied into RAM, except those kept permanently in ROM.

The program tells the CPU how the input data should be processed. Processed data is sent to video, where it is converted back from binary into ASCII, unless, of course, it is bitmapped, which negates the need for the binary to ASCII conversion (thus explaining why bitmapping is so slow). Video sends the image to the monitor, which acts like a large, overly-priced television set incapable of displaying Leave it to Beaver reruns.

Once these simple truths are grasped, using a computer is as easy as 1-2-3.

Question–I can’t seem to get my copy of 1-2-3 to print sideways. What should I do?

Design narrower worksheets.

Question–I hear a lot about surge protectors, but I’m not sure how to judge their quality. How can I tell if a surge protector is any good?

Try this simple test. Plug your computer, monitor, printer, scanner, and can opener into a surge protector you’re considering buying, making sure that it’s switched into the "off" position. Turn all of the above-mentioned devices "on." With one hand resting on the top of your monitor and both feet in a bucket of warm water, turn on your surge protector. You will have no more questions on the subject. [[SERIOUS NOTE: DO NOT TRY THIS. IT’S JUST A JOKE.]]

Question–I asked a friend how I could move all of my dBASE files from one directory to another. He told me to "copy dBASE star." What I want to know is: which dBASE star should I copy. Tom Rettig? Wayne Ratliff? Miriam Liskin? What would they do?

They would probably copy each other, getting involved in a look and feel lawsuit as they do so.

Question–I recently bought an HP LaserJet Series IIP, and I’d like to do some desktop publishing with it. What advice would you give the novice desktop publisher?

The IIP comes with only fourteen fonts, which is woefully inadequate for desktop publishing. In fact, no page with so few fonts would be considered to have been desktop published. You should figure on spending at least four to five thousand dollars on soft fonts, after which you will probably need to buy a larger hard disk.

Luckily, despite claims to the contrary, you should not have to spend a dime on desktop publishing software. With a little practice and some time spent memorizing LaserJet escape sequences, you’ll find that you can do some quite extensive page layout with EDLIN.

Question–What exactly is the DOS prompt.

The performance difference between straight DOS and Windows.

Question–People tell me that I should "back-up" my hard disk regularly. I’d like to take their advice, but try as I might, I can’t figure out how to put the silly thing in reverse.

"Backing-up" a hard disk means copying the files on it to another medium, usually floppies, as protection against foul weather and tax collectors. This requires going from a large medium to a small medium, a trick that usually involves losing weight. The best way to handle this on a computer is to keep all but 1.2MB of your hard disk empty.

Question–I recently bought a PostScript printer which the salesman said would be the best way to print my dBASE reports. Despite his claims, the printer won’t respond to dBASE at all.

dBASE and PostScript are considerably different languages, with very different purposes. You could never, for instance, tell PostScript to build an index on half a million records. But then, dBASE doesn’t come with thirty-five scalable fonts.

You might want to buy a dBASE to PostScript conversion program, or, since none exists, write one yourself. This can be done with the DEBUG program that ships with DOS. At the DOS prompt, type DEBUG and press Enter. A hyphen (-)–sometimes referred to as a dash (-)–will appear on the screen. Type a100 and press Enter again. Type a bunch of three-letter words, each followed by a series of letters and numbers. Save your file as DB2PS.COM and press q to exit.

Other possibilities would include buying a printer that interprets the dBASE language rather than PostScript, or plugging your printer into a parallel port.

Question–I heard somewhere that Bill Gates really has 20-20 vision. Does he really wear those glasses just to look nerdish?

Bill has a rare eye disease called ASCEYE, rendering him incapable of deciphering an image that wasn’t created with bitmapped graphics. He also has trouble recognizing processors, and has been known to insist that a ‘286 was an 8088, a ‘386 was a ‘286, and so on.

Question–Everyone tells me that my computer would be easier to use if I created a file called AUTOEXEC.BAT and put it in my root directory. According to them, the file should read as follows:

PATH C:\DOS; C:\BAT
PROMPT $P$G

I tried this, but I can see no difference in my computer. What am I doing wrong?

The sample file you sent me is incomplete. If you add the line CALL AUTOEXEC to the bottom of the file, the effect will be more noticeable.

If the problem still persists, you might be using a Macintosh.

Would you like to have your questions about computers answered by a paid professional? Send them all to Ask Dr. Deeram. If your letter is used, you will receive a free teeshirt with an authentic, Dr. Deeram Jolt Cola stain down the front.

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