From my diary

I’ve been looking some more at Byzantine science.  My original intention was to write a series of posts on each area of science.  But I’m finding that in fact I don’t know enough about the subjects to do so.  In particular knowledge of Byzantine mathematics and astronomy seems to require more knowledge of the works of Aristotle than I possess.  So I will probably do no more on this.

Yesterday I was looking at an English translation of a poem by al-Akhtal, the court poet of the early Ummayads, whom I wrote about here.  This led me to wonder how to post a poem on WordPress, which is what this blog runs on.  There is no feature in the blogging platform to support the sort of alternately indented lines that a regular poem has.  I found quite a number of posts asking why there is not a plugin to make this possible.

A bit of experimentation, and I developed a basic wordpress plugin with very little difficulty, that added a drop-down to the editor with a set of new and custom styles to apply to the text.  I set up Xampp locally on Windows 10 and installed WordPress inside it.  A short article told me what a simple plugin looked like. Another told me how to use a generator to create one, which I did, although I had to create a GitHub account to use it.  Finally another article advised me on how to do the changes manually; which I did instead inside my plugin, adding the PHP code to the main generated plugin .php file, and sticking a css file in the root.  It all sort of worked, and I pushed it to GitHub.

But … it just did not work to format poetry.  The problem is not the plugin.  The problem is that WordPress strips whitespace in a manner impossible to control.  You can insert stuff in a poetic format.  But the moment you open the post in the visual editor, that format is destroyed.

This is a fundamental problem with poetry in WordPress.  It can’t be fixed, unless or until the main developers address the whitespace handling issue.

The only possible approach is to format it all as <PRE>, which is not much of an answer and looks terrible.

Perhaps it says something about the importance of poetry in our society, that the main blogging platform for writing online makes it impossible to post verse?

I need to return to translating Eutychius of Alexandria.  I have a couple of books to review.

My trip to Rome later this month will not now happen, after my travelling companion became ill.

I read this morning that the publishing industry continues its campaign against the SciHub pirate website, through which alone normal people can access most journal articles.  Apparently a US judge wants to prevent Americans from accessing it.  That should certainly give China an advantage!  The site itself is apparently hosted in Russia, fortunately.

To finish, let me attempt to post the poem by al-Akhtal, in preformatted format, as translated by Suzanne Stetkevych.[1]  I laid it out in Notepad; but my attempt to create a preformatted block and paste it in was a complete failure.  Even preformatted text is not handled well by the visual editor, it seems.  In the end I switched to text view and pasted it in there, with <pre></pre> tags around it.  This gives the following appearance:

How long will it remain formatted, I wonder?  Well, let’s see!

Here is the complete poem, that al-Akhtal delivered before the caliph, while drunk.

Al-Akhtal's Khaffa al-Qatinu: The Nasib

1. Those that dwelt with you have left in haste,
       departing at evening or at dawn,
   Alarmed and driven out by fate's caprice,
       they head for distant lands.
2. And I, on the day fate took them off,
       was like one drunk
   On wine from Hims or Jadar
       that sends shivers down the spine,
3. Poured generously from a brimming wine-jar,
       lined with pitch and dark with age,
   Its clay seal broken
       off its mouth,
4. A wine so strong it strikes
       the vital organs of the reveller,
   His heart, hungover, can barely
       sober up.
5. I was like that, or like a man
       whose joints are racked with pain,
   Or like a man whose heart is struck
       by charms and amulets,
   Out of longing for them and yearning
       on the day I sent my glance after them
   As they journeyed in small bands
       on Kawkab Hill's two slopes.
7. They urged on their mounts,
       turning their backs on us,
   while in veiled howdahs, if you spoke softly to them,
       were maidens lovely as statues.
8. They entice the tribesmen
       until they ensnare them,
   Yet they seem feeble-minded
       when questioned.
9. Forget about union with beautiful women
       when they are sure
   That you are a man whom
       old age's blossom has demeaned!
10. They turned away from me
       when my bow's stringer bent it
   And when my once jet-black locks
       turned white.
11. They do not heed the man who calls them
       to fulfill his need,
   Nor do they set their sights upon
       a white-haired man.
12. They headed east when summer's blast
       had wrung the branches dry,
   And, except where ploughshares run,
       all green had withered.
13. So the eye is troubled by tears
       shed for a now-distant campsite
   Whose folk will find it hard to ever
       meet again.
14. They are cut off, like a rope,
       and the eye follows after them,
   Between al-Shaqiq
       and al-Maqsim Spring,
15. Until they descended to a land
       on the side of a river bed
   Where the tribes of Shayban and Ghubar
16. Until when they left behind
       the sandy tamarisk ground
   And had reached high ground, or said,
       "This is the trench [that Khosroes] dug."
17. They alighted in the evening,
       and we turned aside our noble-bred camels:
   For the man in need, the time had come
       to journey.
18. To a man whose gifts do not elude us,
       whom God has made victorious,
   So let him in his victory
       long delight!
19. He who wades into the deep of battle,
       auspicious his augury,
   The Caliph of God
       through whom men pray for rain.
20. When his soul whispers its intention to him
       it sends him resolutely forth,
   His courage and his caution
       like two keen blades.
21. In him the common weal resides,
       and after his assurance
   No peril can seduce him
       from his pledge.
22. Not even the Euphrates when its tributaries
       pour seething into it
   And sweep the giant swallow-wort from its two banks
       into the middle of its rushing stream,
23. And the summer winds churn it
       until its waves
   Form agitated puddles
       on the prows of ships,
24. Racing in a vast and mighty torrent
       from the mountains of Byzance
   Whose foothills shield them from it
       and divert its course,
25. Is ever more generous than he is
       to the supplicant
   Or more dazzling
       to the beholder's eye.
26. They did not desist from their treachery and cunning
       against you
   Until, unknowingly, they portioned out
       the maysir-players' flesh.	 
27. Then whoever witholds his counsel
       from us
   And whose hand is niggardly to those
       beneath us
28. Will be the ransom
       of the Commander of the Faithful,
   When a fierce and glowering battle-day
       bares its teeth.
29. Like a crouching lion, poised to pounce,
       his chest low to the ground,
   For a battle in which there is
       prey for him,
30. [The Caliph] advances with an army
       two-hundred thousand strong,
   The likes of which no man or jinn
       has ever seen.
31. He comes to bridges which he builds
       and then destroys,
   He brands his steeds with battle-scars,
       above him fly banners and battle-dust,
32. Until at al-Taff
       they wreaked carnage,
   And at al-Thawiyyah
       where no bowstring twanged.
33. The tribesmen saw clearly
       the error of their ways,
   And he straightened out the smirk
       upon their faces.
34. Single-handed, he assumed the burdens
       of the people of Iraq,
   Among whom he once had bestowed
       a store of grace and favor.
35. In the mighty nab'-tree of Quraysh
       round which they gather,
   No other tree can top
       its lofty crown.
36. It overtops the high hills,
       and they dwell in its roots and stem;
   They are the people of bounty,
       and, when they boast, of glory,
37. Rallying behind the truth, recoiling from foul speech,
   In the face of war's calamities
       they stand steadfast.
38. If a darkening cloud casts its pall
       over the horizons,
   They have a refuge from it
       and a haven.
39. God allotted to them the good fortune
       that made them victorious,  
   And after theirs all other lots
       are small, contemptible.
40. They do not exult in it
       since they are its masters;
   Any other tribe, were this their lot,
       would be exultant, vain.
41. Ruthless toward their foe,
       till they submit;
   In victory,
       the most clement of men.
42. Those that harbor rancor toward them
       cannot endure their battle-wrath;
   When their rods are tested
       no flaw is found.
43. It is they who vie with the rain-bearing wind
       to bring sustenance
   When impoverished supplicants
       find scant food.
44. O Banu Umayyah, your munificence
       is like a widespread rain;
   It is perfect,
       unsullied by reproach.
45. O Banu Umayyah, it was I
       who defended you
   From the men of a tribe
       that sheltered and aided [the Prophet].
46. I silenced the Banu Najjir's endless braying
       against you
   With poems that reached the ears
       of every chieftain of Ma'add,
47. Until they submitted,
       smarting from my words-
   For words can often pierce
       where sword-points fail.
48. O Banu Umayyah, I offer you
       sound counsel:
   Don't let Zufar dwell secure
       among you,
49. But take him as an enemy,
       for what you see of him
   And what lies hid within
       is all corruption.
50. For in the end you'll meet
       with ancient rancor:
   Like mange, it lies latent for awhile
       only to break out once more.

The poem grows on you, as you read it.  The caliph was well pleased, as we learned last time.

  1. [1]Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych, “Umayyad Panegyric and the Poetics of Islamic Hegemony: al-Akhṭal’s “Khaffa al-Qaṭīnu” (“Those That Dwelt with You Have Left in Haste”)“, Journal of Arabic Literature 28 (1997), pp. 89-122.  JSTOR.

How I do the footnotes on my blog; and other bits of blog configuration

This blog runs on WordPress.  I host a copy of the software in a directory on my rented webspace (rented from the ever-reliable  A commenter asked:

Do you use a plug-in for footnotes? If so, could you please identify the plug-in, and comment on its usefulness?

I do indeed use a plug-in. In fact, to get what I want, I find that I have to use two plugins.

The footnote that I use is Footnotes for WordPress, by Charles Johnson.  To insert a footnote, when editing, all you do is this:

This is my blog text[1].

It is simple, and works well.  But … by default, the footnotes appear in a hideous box at the end, surrounded by NOTENOTENOTE.  Why the author thought this was a good idea I cannot imagine.  But in his “Other notes” page, he tells us how to change this: by adding some CSS into the theme.  Mine looks currently like this:

/** Footnotes changed to simple list */
ol.footnotes li {
    background: transparent !important;
    padding: 5px !important;
    border: none !important;
    margin: 0.5em 2em !important;

How do I add this?  Well, I have a second plugin, Simple custom CSS.  You install this, hit “Add CSS”, and you can put in what you want.  Then hit the “Update custom css” button.

In fact I got this originally because I wanted to reduce the font size for the blog.  The default themes these days have enormous fonts for the main text.  So I also have in there the following CSS:

body {
	font-family: Verdana;
	font-size: 12px;
blockquote {
 font-size: 12px !important;
 font-style: normal !important;
 color: black !important;
 font-family: Verdana !important;
 padding: 0.25em 40px;

The second section changes stuff about quoted text.  I’m not sure if I need this any more, but a previous theme really did need changes!

What else do I use?  Akismet for spam, obviously; Jetpack for statistics, and to share my posts to twitter.  There’s a contact form, “Contact Form 7”, and a couple of others which are just intended to speed things up.

I back up my blog regularly.  I connect to the site with FTP and download the changed image files (etc) from the wp-uploads directory.  I also use the Tools | Export facility to get the blog text.  The master copy resides on my local hard disk.

All this is because I remember days in which putting stuff on the server was not a good way to guarantee its availability.  Servers crash.  Which may seem quaint, in these days when “cloud storage” is trumpeted.

But “the cloud” is just a server.  And, as far as I know, servers still crash.

Keep your files locally!

  1. [1]My footnote

Reasons to hate Microsoft, part 2

A beautiful morning, I have just got up, and already I hate Microsoft.

That’s because part of my routine is to turn on my laptop and look at my email.  This I did and … it wouldn’t let me in.

I don’t have a password on my laptop; it never leaves my house, and only I use it.  But … yesterday I installed some software via the Windows Store – a first – and it made me login with my “Microsoft account”, and then reset the password, and a load of other nonsense.  Then Apple made me do the same.  I did my task and thought no more about it.

This morning I discover that Windows silently applied that “Microsoft Account”, not to the Windows Store as the display suggested, but to my entire computer.  And that is why I was presented with a demand for a password.  Of course I don’t know it – it’s a junk password.  I don’t *want* to login to my PC using that account.  So I requested shutdown, to see if I might get the option to “login as another user”.

Nope.  What I got was “we are installing an upgrade”.  Very very slowly.

They’re still doing it.  Almost half an hour later, it’s “working on updates 15%”.  I’d like my breakfast, please, but Microsoft have forced me this morning – twice – to fight with their software.

I’m typing this from a backup laptop.  I’ve found easily some Google results that suggest I can get rid of the unwanted account from my PC.  I imagine that an hour’s work will undo the havoc: an hour of my life gone, simply because of corporate arrogance.

Is it too much to ask, Microsoft, that you ask me before you screw up my morning?

UPDATE: An hour and a half after I first guilelessly wandered into my study, things seem to be back to normal.  I’ve returned the PC to use a local account.  In the process I found that Microsoft decided that I wanted to use tapping on my touchpad, so I had to work out where that was and disable it.  Then, when I restarted, it didn’t go to the desktop, but sat, displaying some pretty landscape picture – yes, they’d decided, silently, to force display of a picture on the “lock screen”.  I disabled that too.

Amusingly they also fiddled with my taskbar.  I don’t use Edge – does anyone? – so I put Internet Explorer as the left-most icon.  Microsoft primly moved Edge back to the prime position, and moved IE two along.

We need legislation.  This is a lovely morning, and half of it is gone, and I have no redress, purely because of arrogance by someone whom I have never heard of.

Where do you go to, my hateful?

Where have all the atheist forums (sic) gone?

I was reading Twitter earlier this evening, and did a search on “atheism”. I found some stale jeering, a few self-important or foolish tweets; and a mass of muslim propaganda.  If ever I saw an area dying for lack of participants, it was this.

This made me think of the atheist discussion groups of yesteryear.  First before all others, there was usenet.  I remember alt.atheism, where you could get a good fight, if not much common sense.  There were other usenet groups where interesting discussion might be had.  Often the baby atheists would trot out some outlandish historical claims, culled from some ignorant or mendacious source, in the belief that few would know better.  It was a real pleasure to track these claims down.  It provided stimulus.

Then there was the Internet Infidels forum, which morphed into, whose BC&H forum had quite a bit of useful historical stuff.

Dirtier, and pretty irrational, was TalkRational.  A strange US atheist called Sam Harris had his forum, with some of the dimmest followers that I ever met.  Acharya S had her forum, although you never quite knew how many of the “posters” were actually her in disguise!  Richard Dawkins had a bunch of discussion groups on his website.

Yet today all of these are gone.  Usenet was first to go, as people stopped using usenet clients and relied on DejaNews website, which was replaced by Google Groups, and then discreetly rendered useless.  I suspect that some of the Google hierarchs prefer that the antics of their younger days are no longer accessible, in these intolerant days.

Internet Infidels spun off their forums, which were eventually taken over by some strange woman who picked fights with the regulars and then closed the whole thing down, for no apparent reason.  Acharya S is dead.  Dawkins closed down his forums.  TalkRational has gone.  And, as I found today, the atheists don’t really use Twitter that much any more.

I never found Theology Web that interesting, but I wandered over and it was still there.  But I could find nothing of interest.  In fact it has been so long since I visited that they have deleted my user account.

So where do they go to, the people, as Peter Sarstedt might have sung?  The cranks, the atheists, and so on?

Truly I do not know.   But something has passed from the web, that was interesting and useful, and a valuable stimulus for work.

Paypal and “We’re sorry, but we can’t send your payment right now.”

Paypal is pretty much the only game in town for online payments.  But as with every monopoly, that causes poor customer service.

I needed to pay a translator yesterday, but I fumbled.  I entered the wrong password three times.  When I did manage to log in, I entered the details of my payment – to someone that I have paid many times before – and got the unhelpful message:

We’re sorry, but we can’t send your payment right now.

Which means nothing.  After several attempts, I contacted Paypal customer service via the link – and got back a form letter which told me nothing.  I responded to that … and never heard anything more.  Poor service indeed.

But 24 hours later, I tried again and … it worked!  Yay!

It seems that Paypal lock the account for certain transfers for 24 hours, after which you can try again.  But they don’t tell you this!  I suppose it helps reduce their losses from fraud.  But it’s bad luck for anyone who urgently needs to send money.  Effectively Paypal becomes unreliable.

I wish one of the big banks would roll out some competition for them; really I do.  It is much the best way to send money overseas.

A curious software puzzle

A correspondent has sent me a link to a dissertation, which, he assures me, it is possible to download as a PDF.  Unfortunately his email was vague as to how, and I simply can’t work it out.

It’s presented in some obscure online viewer software, which, to my eye, simply doesn’t have a download option.

Can anyone work out how to download the blasted thing?  It’s here.

I am reminded of the curse in The Dying Earth, “May Kraan hold his living brain in acid”.  That summarises how I feel about all these pieces of useless “viewer” software.  I merely wish that the authors of such viewers be forced to use their own frustrating creations!

More archaeology on our own PCs

In my post Archaeology on my own PC, I discussed what I did with some files from the early 90s, that I found archived on my PC, and how I got them into a modern file format.

Some of the files were in .drw format.  These were produced by a long-vanished DOS-based drawing package, Lotus Freelance Graphics.  I read online here that Lotus SmartSuite 9.8.2 Millennium – itself long vanished – should be able to open them, and save the results to PowerPoint.  Copies of SmartSuite are available on eBay, so I ordered one, and it arrived yesterday.

I popped the CD into my PC, and ran the installer.  I marked every part of it, other than Lotus Freelance Graphics, as “do not install”.  Freelance installed fine on Windows 7 (64-bit), and started fine.

I then tried to open some .drw files, and found that it would not play.  But the same site advised me:

I can open a DRW file and store it in another format (like PowerPoint 97 or one of the many alternatives). …

I installed Freelance only from SmartSuite 9.8 on a Window 7 PC, no problem. Open the DRW file in a blank page, use ‘save as’ to convert.

And that’s the trick.

You will probably wish to avoid this by setting a user preference: File | User Setup | Freelance Properties | Skip the startup dialogs and bring up a blank page with no look.

Note also that the “blank page” will be in landscape, whereas you probably want portrait (since that was the Freelance for DOS default).  This is File | Page Setup | Portrait.  I have yet to discover how to change this by default; or how to fiddle with the page size either.

Once you have a blank page open in Freelance, then when you do File | Open you get a long list of file types.  There are two .drw imports – use the Freelance one at the bottom!  Here using keyboard shortcuts will speed things up quite a bit – e.g. Tab, Down arrow, End, Up arrow, to choose files!

It is very clunky doing the imports, I must say.  Also I get a warning:

Lotus Freelance Graphics - import warning for Freelance for DOS files
Lotus Freelance Graphics – import warning for Freelance for DOS files

“Freelance Graphics cannot duplicate the colors that were used when this file was saved….” Which is impenetrable.  And … “the device that the file was saved for”?

But then, in the days of DOS, when printer drivers were the responsibility of the application, not the operating system, you got extreme coupling like this.  What device is involved I don’t know, of course.  Probably some long forgotten screen or printer.

Anyway if you OK that, you get your diagram imported.  Mine all seem to be black and white, but I hazily remember that this was the case back then.  It was a marvel, in 1988, to be able to draw at all on a PC!

So … this strategy does work.  For most of the files, anyway.

A few simply were blank.  This may be fixable, tho.  In one case, it was blank if I imported into a landscape page, but when I saved it anyway to PPT, a load of text was scrunched up at the top of the page.  So I tried again, imported it to a portrait page, and it worked fine.

One problem that I encountered was where bitmap files had been imported.  Even when these were in the same directory, Freelance refused to find them.  I’m unclear how to fix this.

I wouldn’t try to do new work with Lotus Freelance Graphics, tho.  After a while, “f32main.exe” started to crash when I saved as .ppt.  Why this happened I don’t know, but no doubt has something to do with being a very old piece of software.  We can do rescue stuff only.

About to reboot.  Hope that fixes it!

UPDATE: It didn’t.  But I found that if I saved a few files as .jpg instead, then turned back to .ppt, it worked.  Weird.

Your article, your footnotes: getting started with Zotero

These days you may have to submit an article to one of a number of journals, each of whom uses a different format for footnotes.  To cope with this foolishness, it’s a good idea to have all your references in a database somewhere, and insert them into your paper in Microsoft Word using {field} tags, or something like that.  The exact format inserted is controllable by the database software.

This is what Zotero is: a database for articles, plus a Word plugin (“connector”), and a web-browser plugin so that you can add the complete data for your article – journal, year, pages, etc –  to your database from Google Scholar by a couple of clicks.

It helps a lot if someone shows you how it’s done.  The best way to find out is to use YouTube, and pick short videos (I hate video myself).  If you are lucky, you will have a SmartTV in your house, which is connected to your Wifi and has a YouTube app (which is what I did).  If not, you can still use Youtube on your PC.

Here’s your first video, about 4 minutes long: Getting started with Zotero using Zotero standalone.  This shows you how to install.  Do watch it, even if you think you know; it has a couple of tricks.

After that, you have Zotero Standalone, you have Zotero’s plugin in Word, and also in your browser (I used Google Chrome).

Next is a 2 minutes video Zotero Word Plugin.  This shows you how to insert footnotes into your document.  (If you choose the Chicago Style, rather than the one they choose, you will get footnotes, rather than inline references.)  (This is another of the same kind, about 5 mins).

After that, you will want to know how to get articles and books into your database of articles.  Google Scholar is the answer!   There’s a page on the Zotero site, Getting Stuff Into Zotero, with a 5 minute video at the top (which I haven’t found in YouTube yet).

Basically you search for your article in google scholar.  You have an extra icon at the top right of your browser, Chrome (or whatever).  So when Google Scholar comes back with a list of results, including the article you want, hit that icon and you’ll get the list of results in a box.  Check the one you want, and it’s saved!

There are many other sites you can use it with.  It works with COPAC, for books.  But for articles, at the moment the only source of references that I know about is Google scholar.  There are others, I believe.  Anyone care to list some?

Archaeology on our own PCs – unravelling old file formats

A good few years – seventeen! – have passed since I left off working for a certain major corporation, stashed a bunch of documents and sometime projects in a directory on my PC, and went off to seek my fortune.  But this week the past came back to me, in the shape of reunion drinks; and I found myself looking for a document that I hadn’t seen in 20 years.

When I found it, I found that it was in a file produced by WordPerfect 4.2.  For DOS!  It was last edited sometime in the late 80s.  Fortunately at the time I had the habit of using “.wp4” etc as the file suffix, so I knew what the format was.  I found other files, suffixed as “.ws5” – WordStar 5!  There were some “.drw” files, which I knew were vector graphics files, and proved to belong to Lotus Freelance.  There were bunches of zipped up directories; but in “.lzh” directories, produced using the lha.exe archiver, which is now dead.

I know a crux when I see one.  Whether I can retrieve all of this now I do not know; but certainly the problem won’t get better if I leave it.  I once thought these files worth keeping.  But there’s not a lot of point, if I can’t open them.

Dealing with the WordPerfect 4.2 files was relatively straightforward.  Corel bought WordPerfect long ago, and a correspondent showed me that the conv50.exe file at the Corel FTP site, under the WordPerfectDOS 5.0 directory (which you can’t open in IE, but can in Google Chrome) was a self-extracting zip file which contained the convert.exe file used to convert 4.2 to 5.0.  So I got hold of this, and converted my file to Wordperfect 5.0.  Few utilities indeed will work with WordPerfect for DOS versions earlier than 5.0, although in fact 4.2 was a far more popular and widespread version.  You can run this quite happily in a Windows 7 (64-bit) command window, and it will prompt for input – I put *.wp4 – and output, and it will do all the files in the directory in one go.

Now I have a WordPerfect 5.0 file, there is a utility you can obtain, again from Corel, to convert wp5 files to an ancient version of Word.  This may be found in the WordPerfect for Windows 6.1 directory, and is named wp_convert_utility.exe.  This is an installer, actually, which installs a windows utility in the c:\program files (x86)\corel directory on your PC.  Don’t get creative with installing it, by the way – it plainly is on its last legs.  Here’s a screen grab:

WordPerfect Convert Utility
WordPerfect Convert Utility

 You can’t actually browse to files anymore – that doesn’t work!  You must type the names in yourself, and choose the right output type.  You want Word 97, which is actually the next item.  This will give you a nice .doc file.  I was then able to double-click on the file and open it in Microsoft Word 2010; whereupon I promptly saved it in some new, shiny, file format.  In the same directory, naturally.

The Wordstar files were simpler to deal with.  Long ago Microsoft produced an import filter for all versions of Wordstar 3.0-7.0.  They don’t include it any more; but it is out there, on a Microsoft FTP site.  The site is incredibly slow, tho.  The file, wdsupcnv.exe, is a self-extracting zip file, which creates a bunch of .cnv files and a readme.  You then copy these into C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Textconv.  Once you have done this, you open the .ws5 (or whatever you called them; if you called them .doc, as was the default, then I don’t know if this confuses Word) by double-clicking and choosing Word 2010 as your application.  It opens, prompts you to confirm the file format, then asks you to say “Yes” to something, and …. your file opens.  I then saved it as a modern Word .docx file – again next to the original.

I haven’t yet managed to open the .drw files.  But I gather that Lotus SmartSuite 9.8 Millennium should be able to open it, and save the results in Microsoft PowerPoint format; and copies are available cheaply on eBay, so I have ordered one.  Whether this will work on 64-bit Windows I do not know.

The worst problem that I got was with the collection of .lzh files.  The lha site is gone, and although 7Zip will open these files (although not on the command-line version), that doesn’t help you if you have a couple of hundred.  If you have an old copy of the lha.exe file, you will find that it doesn’t run on Windows 7 (64 bit), because lha.exe is a 16-bit applicatio1n, and Microsoft thoughtfully ensured that any compatibility layer was only present on the rare 32-bit version of Windows 7.   However I was able to find a clone LHA for Windows, and this worked fine.  I copied the new lha.exe into my directory of files, and adapted a little batch script that I found online to scan for all the .lzh files in a directory, and unpack them to a new subdirectory of the same name:

@echo off 
setlocal enableDelayedExpansion 

set MYDIR=.
for /F %%x in ('dir /B/D %MYDIR%\*.lzh') do (
  rem set FILENAME=%MYDIR%\%%x
  set FILENAME=%%x
  echo Processing !FILENAME! to !FILENAME!.DIR\
  cd !FILENAME!.DIR\  
  D:\MYFILES\lha x ..\!FILENAME! 
  cd ..

And it worked: FRED.LZH was unpacked to a new directory FRED.LZH.DIR, and so on.

It’s been an afternoon of archaeology.  I think that I have now converted all the files (except the .drw) that I have on disk.  I hope that these will go with me into the future.  Unless we are careful, even the past that we have saved carefully and archived will vanish.

From my diary: the evanescent internet

Today, at work, I cast around for a web-based form to point a computer program at, for testing purposes.  I recalled my own feedback form, at, and decided to use that.  I was having one of those days, you know, when everything goes wrong.  But at least my own website wouldn’t let me down, right?

Wrong.  The form didn’t work.

Clearly it hadn’t worked, for quite some time.  Yet I couldn’t see why.  It was a very simple piece of software, and hadn’t changed in, well, probably a decade.

But of course it wasn’t running on the hardware-software platform of 2004 any more.  Somewhere, sometime, my website provider had upgraded.  It happens all the time.

Some software upgrade had broken it, silently.  The form is written in PHP, and clearly one or the other of the PHP upgrades had silently removed features on which it depends.  It emails me in a distinctive format, and, now I come to think of it, I haven’t seen one in quite some time.  A year?  Two?  How time flies…

I spent a less than pleasant hour this evening, rewriting the way it captures variables.  The new version is considerably more baroque than the old.  It’s longer.  It might be more secure, I don’t know.  But it’s not the same form any more.

Of course this makes me wonder what other PHP scripts are lying around on my website, long forgotten.  I can’t even face looking.

This is how the internet dies.  We all know that it is less than permanent.  What we forget is that software less than a decade old, designed to run and be accessible by the world, is probably only sporadically working.

All those eager-beavers, upgrading and improving constantly, are … leaving a trail of wrecked websites behind them.

I wonder how many of us are actually hosting deadware – scripts that once worked and no longer do?