What's Up, DOCumentation? 1995 #5


October 6, 1995

To: Users of Robelle Software
Re: News of the HP 3000 and HP-UX

What You Will Find in This News Memo:

News Tidbits

Netscape Encryption Broken

Netscape is responding quickly after two University of California Berkeley students were able to decipher a message sent by Netscape version 1.2. The students posted a message to the Internet security newsgroup detailing how the program generates session encryption keys, so that an experienced programmer with a few hours of computation time could duplicate their work. The potential vulnerability has since been confirmed by Netscape engineers who have tightened up the program and are making it available at no cost to users. For more information, check Netscape's home page.

HP, Novell and SCO versus Windows NT.

At the recent UNIX Expo in New York, HP, Novell, and SCO announced a business relationship that they described as "...designed to deliver a high-volume UNIX operating system with NetWare and UNIX enterprise services. The three companies will work together to release a series of merged UNIX products that will provide customers with a path to 64-bit networked computing on the HP/Intel architecture". It sounds like HP is positioning itself well behind UNIX in the upcoming challenge from Windows NT.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...

by Bob Green Hurricane

In January 1995, Mary Ann and I moved to the tiny Caribbean island of Anguilla. On September 5, 1995, Anguilla took a direct hit from Hurricane Luis.

Before moving, we did a lot of research on hurricanes by using the Internet to find studies of Hugo and Andrew, and by talking to any survivors that we met. Although Anguilla had not been hit in 30 years, we developed a disaster plan that included leaving the island. In the event of a hurricane warning, we agreed to carry out our plan, no matter how much people tried to talk us out of it.

When Luis threatened, we boarded up our house, put the computers in plastic bags, and stored them above the floor in the most secure room. We left Anguilla on the last American Eagle flight, taking with us a confused honeymoon couple from Sweden. Since San Juan was also threatened, we continued to the Dutch island of Aruba, which is out of the hurricane belt.

After a wonderful week in Aruba, we tried to return to Anguilla. Although Anguilla was never mentioned on the news, we knew that neighboring St. Martin was badly damaged. The coordinates of Luis went even closer to Anguilla, so we expected the worst. Our worries increased when American Airlines canceled all the flights from San Juan to Anguilla for at least a week, except shipments of medical and relief supplies. Only residents could fly to St. Martin, but absolutely no one was allowed into Anguilla. Gruesome mental images of mass destruction and death were fed by escalating rumors. There was no official news, but every ticket counter clerk in San Juan willingly offered their own version of the story, each more dreadful than the previous.

Mary Ann decided that we had to touch home base, and at least find out what was left. So we flew to St. Thomas (devastated a week later by Hurricane Marilyn) to try to charter a plane. The small local airlines in St. Thomas were more than ready to fly us to Anguilla, along with other worried Anguillans bearing generators, chain saws, and giant-size packs of Pampers. We rushed to the supermarket and bought two boxes of canned food.

As we flew into Anguilla in a 6-seater plane, the first thing we noticed was that the scenic Sandy Island had been reduced from a palm-covered, tiny oasis to an even tinier reef. Then we noticed that the landscape had turned from green to brown -- the leaves had blown off all the trees. Most of the houses still appeared to have their roofs. The airport still stood, customs agents still wanted to know what was in our bags, and a line of taxicabs still waited outside to whisk us home.

Our home had survived the hurricane, intact and dry, computers and books safe. However, our 40' shipping container was lifted by the hurricane and dropped 50 yards away, up hill. Luckily, it was mostly empty so nothing was damaged nearby as it landed right-side up. Another 40' container near the airport smashed 6 rental cars when it landed on them.

Although Anguilla was badly mauled, it was more fortunate than the neighboring islands. There were no injuries, no deaths, and no need for a curfew. The British soldiers and sailors who arrived were able to help repair the damage instead of guarding stores.

Phone services and electric power were knocked out, of course, not to mention cable TV. People were busy setting up generators while the island was getting rewired. It has been inspiring to see everyone pitch in to clean up and repair the damage. Johnno's Beach Bar at Sandy Ground was completely washed away, but just two days after Luis, he was back in business with live music. Some people have lost their roofs, and some have lost their whole house, but most homes suffered only water damage. That would explain why Anguillans started building low concrete homes after Hurricane Donna in the 60's.

Cable and Wireless, the local phone company which was one of the few places with both phone and power, has been kind enough to let me temporarily work out of their office. I have my regular phone number here, my computers, Internet access, and a new cellular phone.

Thanks to all of you who have been asking about us. We are fine.

Technical Tips

Windows 95 Hype. by Paul Gobes

The biggest new product launch in the history of the universe came and went last August 24th when Microsoft unveiled Windows 95. It was amazing to watch a nerdy computer utility transform a product into a must-have consumer item with just a few hundred million dollars. Our own Dave Lo was one of those who ventured out to the midnight sales for people who just couldn't wait. One shopper who bought it didn't even have a PC, he just figured he would eventually need it.

Now that the hype is over, what is it like? There are four people in our office using it, and all of them prefer it to Windows 3.1. Easier networking features and better "crash-tolerance" are the main reasons cited. The installation was easy for the others, but it reported hard disc errors on my PC. The Microsoft Scandisk program could not fix them, but luckily Norton's Disk Doctor could. I couldn't reboot after installing all 13 diskettes, so I joined the other 150 callers who were holding on the Microsoft support line. Twenty-five minutes later, I finally talked to a techie who was very helpful. He patiently spent one and a half hours correcting the problem, and configuring my network and printer.

So Windows 95 is a definite improvement from Windows 3.1, but the upgrade is not always smooth. The following joke was posted on the HP3000-L Internet list. Although no author was credited, it certainly resembles David Letterman. The topic was: Top 10 Rolling Stones songs that would be more appropriate than "Start Me Up" for the Windows 95 commercial.

       10.   Just My Imagination
        9.   I'm Going Down
        8.   Let It Bleed
        7.   Gimme Shelter
        6.   Bitch
        5.   Shattered
        4.   Play With Fire
        3.   (I can't get no) Satisfaction
        2.   You Can't Always Get What You Want
        1.   19th Nervous Breakdown

Manuals on a Diskette.

We've recently converted our manuals and Help files to the Windows format. So if you have Windows, you can use the index and search capabilities that come with Windows Help. The diskettes fit in your pocket, and can easily be copied to your home PC. They were very popular at the Interex conference where we gave away hundreds of diskettes. Look for them inside the next edition of our manuals. For those who can't wait, you can download them from our Web site or phone us.

Our New T1 Connection to the Internet

... a Survivor's Tale

by David Greer

On September 20, 1995 we upgraded our Internet connection from a 9600-baud modem to a T1 router. The new T1 connection transfers data at 1.5 million bits per second, which is over 150 times faster than our previous connection. This change brought immediate benefits to users who access our World Wide Web site (http://www.robelle.com). All Web users, even those with non-graphical browsers, can now access more Robelle Web-site files than before. Virtually all users will notice an improvement in speed when they connect to the site.

This fast, new connection has allowed us to put many new files on our World Wide Web FTP service. These files include our training slides for Suprtool, Robelle's database utility, the slides from our Interex conference tutorial sessions, and Robelle product manuals in Windows Help format. These very large files were not available before because our previous connection to the Internet was too slow.

History of Robelle's Internet Connection

We have spent more than a year trying to increase the speed of our Internet connection. It was a year of trials and tribulations as we struggled with different access providers and BC TEL to establish a faster connection. The following history summarizes our efforts to upgrade this connection.

January, 1994

We establish a full-time Internet connection using a 9600-baud modem. The modem is connected to the serial port on the back of our HP 9000 Series 817, and uses the HP-UX ppl program. The time to ping a local router takes about 300 msec.

February, 1994

Access time now increases to about 450-500 msec. We investigate the cause and discover that the two modems slow down to 4800-baud if there is line noise, but they do not return to their original speed when the line noise disappears. This problem is never resolved.

May, 1994

We establish our FTP service on ftp.robelle.com. Our modem connection is extremely reliable, and our connection is available 24 hours a day.

June, 1994

Using the CERN Web server software, we start providing Web service to our customers and the Internet. We are the first HP 3000 vendor to have a Web site. We use our HP-UX machine as our Web server because MPE/iX 5.0, and the port of the NCSA server software to MPE are still not available.

October, 1994

We decide to upgrade our connection to a 56K leased line using BCnet, our existing Internet access provider.

November, 1994

BC TEL informs us that our office is too far from their company office to get a 56K line.

December, 1994

After a lot of phone calls and arguing, BC TEL finally installs the 56K leased line. BCnet attempts to get the BC TEL router working with the 56K leased line, but it never works.

January, 1995

BCnet installs a new router. The new router doesn't work. We need to upgrade our router software.

February, 1995

We install new router software. The router still doesn't work.

March, 1995

We send the router back to BCnet. When they test the router with other 56K leased lines, it works. BC TEL determines that our 56K leased line has 1083 ohms resistance, but the router needs 1130 ohms.

April, 1995

At this point, we've been paying for a 56K leased line for three months without the benefit of its use. One proposed alternative involves using ISDN. Unfortunately, ISDN is not available in our area. Frame relay is also mentioned as an alternative.

May, 1995

The big wigs at BC TEL get together and decide that our area is the next one to get ISDN service, possibly by July, 1995.

June, 1995

We contact Westel, an alternate long-distance supplier, to discuss ISDN with them. They tell us that we would be one of the first companies to try BC TEL's ISDN service. For slightly more money, Westel offers to provide a T1 connection. Westel agrees to handle all interactions and problems with BC TEL.

August, 1995

BC TEL completes installation of the T1 wiring to the building. Westel gets their CISCO router up and running. Access time to a nearby router is 9 msec.

September, 1995

We cut the line to BCnet. The way BCnet updated the Internet routing tables, however, prevents anyone from accessing Robelle over the Internet. This problem gets fixed, but overnight there is a power failure at BCnet which resets all of the routing table changes that BCnet made the previous day. Again, we are without Internet access for a few hours.

Finally, we have our T1 connection up and running. Access times to www.microsoft.com are 15 msec.


Speeding up our Internet connection was a lot more complicated than we ever imagined. It is no fun at all to work with different vendors that spend a lot of their time blaming each other.

Our Internet connection has let us pursue many projects and obtain a lot of information that would have been inaccessible two years ago. While it was a long, hard road to climb, the end result has been worth it. We have an Internet connection that is 150 times faster, but only 50% more expensive than our previous connection.

About Robelle

Bigger and Better at Interex.

Robelle set a number of new records at the Toronto Interex conference this year: we had more staff on hand than ever before, we covered more floor area than past conferences, and we provided more free training to attendees than in previous years.

In all, 10 Robellians traveled to Toronto this year, leaving just a few hardy souls to staff the office. We set up the booth at the Toronto convention center over the weekend preceding the conference, with our brand new, redesigned booth drawing compliments from passersby.

For Wednesday and Thursday, room 206A became "The Robelle Room". David, Bob, Ken, Paul and Hans provided a total of 13 hours of user training and technical papers. David's "Client/Server, the Internet, and WWW" paper drew such a crowd that the organizers scheduled a second presentation for the folks that couldn't squeeze into the first.

In our booth we met many satisfied users, exchanged war stories, handed out diskettes of our manuals in the WinHelp format, and gave away a video camera, cordless phone, and diamond pendant to three lucky prize winners.

As always, we enjoyed renewing our acquaintance with old friends, and meeting interesting new ones. See you next year in Anaheim!

What's New on our Web Site.

These are the August and September additions:

  Suprtool and Qedit manuals in Windows Help file format.
  The 2-day Suprtool training course notes.
  All the tutorials we presented at Toronto Interex.
  Classic papers from Bob Green and David Greer.
  Information on the HP3000-L newsgroup, and help subscribing to it.
  New HP 3000 vendors:  Adager, O'pin Systems and HP's CSY division.
  A new page for our press releases.
  Information on our new T1 Internet connection.
  Updates to our brochure for our two new employees, Eunice and Trevi.

Future Directions

In the past, we seldom told customers about our development plans. Although this made it more difficult for our customers to plan, it helped us from making promises that we could not keep. Earlier this year, we published some of our development plans. We have good news and bad news about how these plans have progressed.


We told you that we were working on Suprtool for HP-UX. We are now shipping this as a product. For 1995/96, our Suprtool research will focus on direct access to SQL databases. Our research will involve Allbase for MPE and HP-UX, and Oracle for HP-UX only.

Suprtool Report Writer

We also said that we were working on a Suprtool report writer. We have done some design work for a report writer. Thanks to all of you who sent us your ideas for a report writer, with a special thanks to Barry Durand of Gulf South Health Plans who sent a detailed letter complete with examples of what he would like in a report writer. Unfortunately, our initial design work has shown us the level of resources required to complete this project. Due to other commitments, we are putting this project on the back-burner for at least the next twelve months.

Microsoft Windows and Networking

In the last year, we have spent a lot of time establishing our Internet services (FTP and WWW) and producing our documentation in the WinHelp format. We did these projects for two reasons:

1. We wanted to provide more services to our customers.

2. For future development, we had to learn more about MS Windows programming and networking. These projects helped us learn a lot about both.

Our primary R&D focus for 1995/96 will be MS Windows and networking. We hope to produce Qedit in a client/server version that uses TCP/IP to connect to servers from an MS Windows client.


We still have a long learning curve to overcome. We are looking for training courses or expert consultants who can teach us:

      The basic theory of MS Windows operation.
      MS C++, MFC, 16-bit, and 32-bit development.
      Visual Basic programming, controls, tips, and hints.
If you know of a course that we could attend, or someone who could help us (for a fee of course), please let us know. We'll keep you posted every few months on how we are doing.

Robelle Products: Problems, Solutions, and Suggestions

Suprtool Version 3.7

Converting Data Types.

In Suprtool 3.7, the If command allowed comparisons between fields of different data types. We've taken this feature one step further in our current pre-release by allowing the Extract command to convert numeric data between different data types. This has been a long-standing request from users who need to move data to different environments.

The general syntax is:

     >extract field-name = expression
The "field-name" can be any field from a dataset, a self-describing file, or a Define command. An "expression" is any numeric value, or field name, or an arithmetic combination of the two. For example,

     >define double-field,1,4,double
     >extract double-field = packed-field + 10
If you want to update a field with the value of another field in the same dataset, use the Update command before the Extract command.

     >extract total-cost = unit-cost * sales-qty
This will also be very handy for Suprlink users when two files store the key field in different formats. For example, a Z6 display field to store Customer-Number in one file, and a J2 integer field to store Cust-No in another file.

This feature will be part of Suprtool 3.8 which is expected around April of next year. If you would like to try a pre-release version, feel free to give us a call.

Qedit Version 4.3

Undo Those Mistakes.

Users often tell us that they know there are lots of Qedit features that they have never tried. While the best way to learn may be to "Just Do It", this can be dangerous unless you also have a way to "Just Undo it". That's where the appropriately-named Undo command comes in.

You can easily test the results of any command when you know that you can reverse the changes. Try the following:

     /justify format 10/20   {fill in spaces make tidy paragraphs}
     /divide (10,30,40) 1/5  {split lines a columns 10, 30 and 40}
     /lsort all keys 10/20   {sort file on columns 10 thru 20}
     /change 1 "foo" "bar"   {prefix "foo" if lines contain "bar"}
You can Undo any text-altering commands up to the last Text or Open command, except Delete All. You can cancel Delete All before the next command line is executed by using Control-Y.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I get Suprtool always to display progress messages?

Progress messages are not displayed when the output is directed to $STDLIST, or when a task on MPE/iX reads less than 50,000 records (minimum default). You can change the default number either temporarily in every task, or permanently by simply adding the following line to a file called Suprmgr.Pub.Sys:

     set progress minimum 0

What is the biggest file I can edit with Qedit?

Starting in version Qedit 4.3, you can edit files that are up to 99,999,999 lines long; each line can be up to 1,000 characters wide. Previous versions were limited to 256 characters and 65,535 lines.

Creation Date: Oct 10, 1995
[Robelle] [Qedit] [Suprtool]