Overheard at Google CT Policy Day…

Jacob Hoffman-Andrews (of Let’s Encrypt): “I tried signing up for certspotter alerts for a domain and got a timeout on the signup page.”
Andrew Ayer (of CertSpotter): “Oh, dear. Which domain?”
Jacob Hoffman-Andrews: “hoffman-andrews.com
Andrew Ayer: “Do you have a lot of certs for that domain?”
Jacob Hoffman-Andrews: “Oh yeah, I totally do!”
Andrew Ayer: “How many?”
Jacob Hoffman-Andrews: “A couple of hundred thousand.”
Andrew Ayer: “Yeah, that would do it…”


I’ve been reading the excellent “Stuff White People Like“, billed as “The Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions”. It’s based on a well-read (although now seemingly dormant) satirical blog. Here’s an entry which particularly hit home:

18. Awareness. An interesting fact about white people is that they firmly believe all the world’s problems can be solved through “awareness” – meaning the process of making other people aware of problems, magically causing someone else, like the government, to fix it. This belief allows them to feel that sweet self-satisfaction without actually having to solve anything or face any difficult challenges, because the only challenge of raising awareness is getting the attention of people who are currently unaware.

What make this even more appealing for white people is that you can raise “awareness” through expensive dinners, parties, marathons, T-shirts, fashion shows, concerts and bracelets. In other words, white people just have to keep doing stuff they like, except that now they can feel better about making a difference.

Raising awareness is also awesome because once you raise awareness to an acceptable though arbitrary level, you can just back off and say, “Bam! Did my part. Now it’s your turn. Fix it.”

So, to summarise: you get all the benefits of helping (self-satisfaction, telling other people) but no need for difficult decisions or the ensuing criticism. (How do you criticise awareness?) Once again, white people find a way to score that sweet double victory.

Popular things to be aware of: the environment, diseases like cancer and AIDS, Africa, poverty, anorexia, homophobia, middle school field hockey/lacrosse teams, drug rehab, and political prisoners.

Top 50 DOS Problems Solved: Can I Have A Single Drive?

Q: I intend to upgrade from MS-DOS v3.3 to either DR DOS 6 or MS-DOS 5, both of which will allow me to have my 40MB hard disk configured as a single drive instead of being partitioned into twin 20MB drives. Am I right in thinking that to do this I will re-format my hard disk, and that I must first back up all the data? I dread doing this since I have almost 30MB on there.

A: First the bad news: yes, you will need to re-format your disk to take advantage of the ability to work with partitions greater than 32MB. However, backing up needn’t be as nasty a job as you think. But your question does beg another[0]: since backing up is going to be such a large job, it sounds as though you haven’t done it before.

… The most basic approach … would be to copy important data to a floppy disk, perhaps with the aid of a file compression utility such as LHA. If the worst happens, you simply reinstall applications from their original disks (or, much better still, back-ups of them) and copy your data back from floppy. [Or, you could use] a dedicated backup utility. My current favourite is Fastbak Plus (£110)[1].

32Mb ought to be enough for everyone? How did that work out – 512 byte sectors and a 16-bit index?

[0] No, it doesn’t – Ed.
[1] £210 in today’s money. For a backup program!


Almost 20 years ago, two Christians from the Jubilee Centre pondered the possible consequences of the Euro:

Unfortunately, EMU [European Monetary Union] may well foster conflicts and increase nationalism among EU countries. If the system works well and an active fiscal policy compensates for the lack of an independent monetary policy, some countries will need to raise taxes in order to cool their economy even though the government is in strong surplus. Quite correctly, electorates will blame the system. However, if EMU fails, endemic unemployment will result in some countries due to an overvalued exchange rate for their needs and excessively high interest rates. Wage cuts in, or labour movements from, the countries thus affected seem unlikely, and the current treaty does not provide for fiscal transfers from a prospering country to a depressed one as a result of EMU. Hence, some countries will feel neglected in the interest rate setting process, and will demand restitution from the centre. To make matters worse, they could be having to cut spending and raise taxes in a recession to avoid being fined for an ‘excessive’ deficit, while having to bail out a collapsing banking system due to inappropriate interest rate levels.

If a country faces an unsustainable fiscal situation, it may be forced to threaten default on its debt or request help from other members. If a transfer or debt guarantee is granted, those populations in solvent countries may resent their taxes being used to bail out irresponsible governments elsewhere. If these payments have no democratic mandate, resentment of neighbouring countries within EMU may result.

— Paul Mills and Michael Schluter, Should Christians Support the Euro?, December 1998

The only thing they missed is that the bailed-out would also resent those who did the bailing…

Type 1 vs Type 2 Decisions

Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors – and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. We can call these Type 1 decisions. But most decisions aren’t like that – they are changeable, reversible – they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups.

As organizations get larger, there seems to be a tendency to use the heavy-weight Type 1 decision-making process on most decisions, including many Type 2 decisions. The end result of this is slowness, unthoughtful risk aversion, failure to experiment sufficiently, and consequently diminished invention. We’ll have to figure out how to fight that tendency.

Jeff Bezos

Top 50 DOS Problems Solved: Recursive Delete

Q: What is the quickest way to delete all the files in a sub-directory, plus all the files in any sub-directories inside it, and so on as deep as directories go, along with the sub-directories themselves? In other words how do you delete an entire branch of sub-directories within sub-directories without typing a lot of DEL, CD and RD commands?

A: There is no easy way for DOS to do this unassisted. The nearest any version comes is DR DOS which can delete the files, but not remove the sub-directories themselves. The relevant command is:

XDEL *.* /S

No version of MS-DOS can automatically delete files in sub-directories. To do the job in its entirety you need a third-party tree pruning utility. You can often find these in PD/shareware libraries. Alternatively, commercial disk utilities such as Xtree will do it.

Leaving aside the amazingness of not having recursive delete, I wonder why the DR-DOS folk decided to produce a command which removed the files but not the directories?

Top 50 DOS Problems Solved: Sorting Directory Listings

Q: Could you tell me if it’s possible to make the DIR command list files in alphabetical order?

A: Earlier versions of DOS didn’t allow this but there’s a way round it. MS-DOS 5 gives you an /ON switch to use with DIR, for instance:


would list all the files with names ending in .TXT, pause the listing every screenful (/P) and sort the names into alphabetical order (/ON).

Users of earlier DOS programs can shove the output from DIR through a utility program that sorts the listing before printing it on the screen. That utility is SORT.EXE, supplied with DOS. … [So:]


diverts the output from DIR into SORT, which sorts the directory listing and sends it to the screen. Put this in a batch file called SDIR.BAT and you will have a sorted directory command called SDIR.

I guess earlier versions of DIR followed the Unix philosophy of “do one thing”…

Top 50 DOS Problems Solved: Num Lock

Q: Ever since I moved up from my old Amstrad 1512 to a 386 I have been annoyed by the way Num Lock comes on when the PC is started up or re-booted. I still use the numeric keypad in preference to the additional cursor key block. Is there any way Num Lock can be turned off automatically?

A: As far as I know, not even the latest version of DOS allows you to set the state of Num Lock on start-up. However, there is a short program you can create which, when run from AUTOEXEC.BAT, turns Num Lock off. Depending on whether you use MS-DOS or DR DOS, type one of the listings shown here into a text editor and save it as a plain ASCII file called NUMOFF.LST.

MS-DOS (Debug) version:

INT 21


Then type:


All being well, you will now have a program called NUMOFF.COM. Test it by pressing Num Lock to bring the keyboard light on, and type NUMOFF. The light should go off.

30 years later, this still isn’t trivial in GNOME… But the book authors get kudos for creativity in finding out how to send someone a working and useful binary via the medium of dead trees.

Top 50 DOS Problems Solved: Squashing Files

Q: I post files containing DTP pages and graphics on floppy disks to a bureau for printing. Recently I produced a file that was too big to fit on the disk and I know that I will be producing more in the future. What’s the best way round the problem?

A. There are a number of solutions, most of them expensive. For example, both you and the bureau could buy modems. A modem is a device that allows computers to be connected via a phone line. You would need software, known as a comms program, to go with the modems. This will allow direct PC-to-PC transfer of files without the need for floppy disks. Since your files are so large, you would need a fast 9600 baud modem [Ed: approx 1 kilobyte per second] with MNP5 compression/error correction to make this a viable option.

In this case, however, I would get hold of a utility program called LHA which is widely available from the shareware/PD libraries that advertise in PC Answers. In earlier incarnations it was known as LHarc. LHA enables you to squash files into less space than they occupied before.

The degree of compression depends on the nature of the file. Graphics and text work best, so for you this is a likely solution. The bureau will need a copy of LHA to un-squash the files before it can use them, or you can use LHA in a special way that makes the compressed files self-unpacking.

LHA has a great advantage over rival utilities in that the author allows you to use it for free. There is no registration fee, as with the similar shareware program PKZip, for example.

Every time they brought out a new, larger hard disk, they used to predict the end of the need for compression…

Top 50 DOS Problems Solved: Renaming Directories

Q: How do I rename a sub-directory? The only way I can find is to make a new one with the new name, copy all the files over from the old one, and then delete the original!

A: As you have found, the MS-DOS REN command doesn’t work on sub-directories. For a programmer it is a relatively trivial task to write a utility to do this job, and DR DOS 6 has a RENDIR command used in the same way as REN.

The manual for MS-DOS 5.0 advises the reader to do what you’re doing already, and indeed DR DOS 5 didn’t make provision for renaming directories. You can, however, use the DOS shell program to rename directories. If you want to stick with the command line, the best alternative is to get hold of a utility program written to do the job. Such programs are commonly found in shareware/PD catalogues.

Better think carefully before choosing that directory name…

Top 50 DOS Problems Solved: Whoops, I Deleted Everything

Q: I accidentally deleted all the files in the root directory of my hard disk for the second time this month. I managed to reinstall everything, but is there a way of avoiding the problem?

A: There are two approaches you could try, both of which have applications for other things too:

  • Modify the files so that they cannot be deleted without first explicitly making them deletable. You can do this with the DOS utility Attrib which was supplied with your system. … To protect the file use the command:

    ATTRIB +R filename

    The +R switch means “make this file read-only”.

  • Stop using the DEL command to delete files. Use a batch file instead which will prompt you before taking action.

    … <batch file code is given> …

    This batch file has a useful enhancement beyond the precautionary message. You can use it to specify multiple files, for example:


    With one command this would delete all .BAK files, FRED.BAS, and all .DOC files whose names begin with a single letter.

A delete command which takes multiple arguments – wow…

Top 50 DOS Problems Solved: Shrinking Hard Disk

Q: My hard disk seems to be getting smaller! There is a megabyte less free space than there was a month ago, yet I have not saved anywhere near 1MB’s worth of files. What’s going on?

A: This is quite a common problem, but most sufferers don’t realise they’ve got it. What happens is that some of the free space gets allocated to a non-existent file.

In other words the disk filing system has, in your case, a megabyte allocated to one or more files that don’t have a directory entry. They cannot therefore be seen with the DIR command, nor deleted.

Fortunately it is possible to turn these lost chains, as they are called, back into real files which can then be seen and deleted in the normal way. Simply type this command:


If you have any lost chains, Chkdsk will tell you so and ask you if you want to convert them into files. Answer ‘Y’.


Top 50 DOS Problems Solved: Why doesn’t COPY copy?

Q: I want to copy all the files from a 5.25-inch floppy disk on to a 3.5-inch floppy disk, including the ones in some sub-directories. The COPY command won’t copy the contents of sub-directories, but when I try to use DISKCOPY I get the error message “incompatible format for drive’. What’s going wrong?

A: There are three commands to copy files from one disk to another: COPY, XCOPY and DISKCOPY. They work in different ways, and for any copy operation you need to choose the tool that’s most appropriate for what you want to do.

The problem with COPY is that it only works on the directory you specify and it cannot create new directories on the new disk. XCOPY works in a similar way to COPY but is more intelligent. You can tell it to look inside sub-directories, and it will automatically create those sub-directories on the new disk.

The command you need to type in, assuming you are copying from drive A to drive B, is:

XCOPY A:*.* B: /S

Is is the /S switch that tells XCOPY to work on subdirectories too.

Who remembers using a copy command which didn’t work with subdirectories?