"Ask Mark A Question" / FAQ Page

What's This All About?

Mark Minasi here --

I put this page together for both your convenience and mine.  I greatly appreciate (and often enjoy) hearing from all of you but unfortunately at this point I get about 100 reader letters a day and spending a couple of hours answering them -- which means I'm finding it harder and harder to get the time to do new writing.  

So, as many others have done, I've put together a Frequently Asked Questions page in the hope that many of you can get quicker answers to your questions -- and, if the FAQ hasn't answered your question, then I can help you put together a question that I can understand and respond to more quickly.  Thanks so much for helping me out and let me stress, this page isn't intended to keep you from e-mailing me -- you're always welcome to, and I promise that until the volume becomes completely unmanageable I will read every single one of them!  I just ask that you understand my time constraints -- and thanks again.

Additionally, in July 2002 we put up a discussion forum board where you can view questions that others have asked, ask your own questions and answer other people's questions.  Visit www.minasi.com/forum and see if you an find the answer to your question there!

Frequently Asked Questions

They come in several types.

Career and Certification Advice

Problems about books, missing pages, playing videos, CDs in books

Questions about free software referred to in books or non-Windows software

Requests for reprints and excerpts

Hiring Mark to speak, write, etc.

On E-Mailing Mark


Career and Certification Advice

How best can I study for an MCSE or other certification?

First of all, understand that I'm probably not a great person to answer this question.  I personally don't attach much value to an MCSE because it's a vendor-controlled certification.  No one accredits or monitors Microsoft's certification process, and I'm only joking a little when I wonder aloud if Microsoft's certification group isn't an arm of their Marketing department.

If there were a Microsoft networking certification controlled by a disinterested third-party, non-profit organization, then I'd pay closer attention -- but there isn't, at least not for Windows 2000 and later technologies.  Microsoft's move to decertify the NT 4.0 MCSEs at a time when most of the world still isn't using Active Directory is, in my opinion, the smoking gun.  It seems silly to me that as of January 2002 anyone wanting to become certified in the NT/2000 field must get certified in Active Directory when, at that time, that person would find that in the real world most of his/her prospective clients were still using NT 4.0 domains.

Having said that, I've taken and passed Microsoft's certification exams mostly because so many of you tell me that you've used the book as an exam preparation tool, and so I was curious to know whether or not someone could pass the cert tests if they knew what I know -- and basically whatever I know is in the book.  (And let me stress that it is not intended that way -- it's a how-to-get-your-job-done book, not a cram-for-the-exam book.)  So the only advice that I can offer is what I did.  Get the product, set it up on a few machines, and play with it.  Try the features out.  Read a reference -- the Resource Kit, my book, someone else's -- about what 2000 is supposed to do, what problems it solves and how it does it.  Then you'll be ready to take a test.

On the other hand, some people approach it by trying to memorize and cram all possible questions.  I'm afraid I can't help much there, but I'm told that people like Sybex's study guides.  I've also heard that www.brainbuzz.com and www.certcities.com have good discussion boards and sample questions.  Of course, if you have too much money then you can just buy the Transcender questions and pre-memorize the questions and answers.  But I don't recommend it -- sadly, the world already has far too many "paper MCSEs."

Should I pursue an MCSE, or another certification?  (Variation:  I'm just starting out and need advice about choosing the right career path.)

I should preface any answer by warning you that I have been self-employed since 1984, so I just might not be the right guy to ask about applying for a job!<g>

Many companies have lazy Personnel/HR departments that don't want to have to think when looking at candidate resumes.  So instead of actually looking at what kind of experience a candidate has, they filter the majority of the resumes with arbitrary criteria, like degrees and certifications -- "throw out any candidates that don't have at least a B.A. and an MCSE" -- so if you want to apply for networking work at many firms then yes, you'll need a certification.  (And in case you wonder whether my sour tone about that approach reflects a lack of credentials on my part, let me say that I have a Bachelor's and two Masters degrees.  Not that I do anything in the fields of Economics or Policy Analysis and Public Management (he noted, wryly).)  Furthermore, with the recent downturn in the tech sector, it'll be harder to make the grade at many firms, as those with open jobs will be able to be pretty choosy.  On the other hand, many firms will hire you based on your experience, rather than your certs and degrees.

Here's a suggestion that worked well for me and for friends back when we got out of grad school back in 1980, another time of slow economy:  informational interviews.  If you'd like to break into some field, then choose a few firms in the field and get on the Web to read up on them a bit.  Then contact their hiring people -- Human Resources, Personnel or whatever they call themselves -- and ask if you could come in for an informational interview.  (It's even better to ask someone in the IT group, but they may be harder to find.)  Explain that you're not asking for a job, as you probably don't currently have the credentials to qualify -- yet.  You just want to find out what a firm like theirs looks for in a techie.  You get terrific from-the-horse's-mouth perspectives on what you need to do in order to be marketable.  You make a contact or two.  And, once in a while, you might actually find that they'd be willing to take you on in some junior role.

The bottom line is this:  one of the toughest things you'll ever look for in your life is the perfect job.  You always make better choices with more information, so dig in and do some research.  Use the Web, but human contact is still the best way to get information about organizations of people.  A little spadework now will keep you from getting stuck in a job that will just make you unhappy. 

I'm studying exam questions and this answer doesn't seem right, can you tell me the right answer?

I specifically do not write "exam cram" books for several reasons.  If you read my earlier "how do I study for an MCSE?" question, then you know my feelings about the MCSE certification.  But despite my questioning of the validity of an MCSE certification, I don't help people memorize the answers to a bunch of questions so that they can go pass a test without knowing anything.  So please don't ask me these kinds of questions.  Try this method:  get a bunch of slightly-used systems on EBay or somewhere like that -- you'll pay less than you would for many of the exam cram study courses -- and actually set up the systems, then try out whatever you've got a question about. There is no better way to learn something than to do it, and you'll have earned that MCSE, not memorized it!

Do you need an assistant, other teachers or consultants?  I'd like to work for you.

I once had a firm with a couple dozen employees but found that management's not really my long suit.  As a result, it's just me and my assistant here at MR&D.  So no, I'm not hiring, sorry, but thanks for the thought.

How can I get started writing technical books and magazine articles?

The Windows 2000 Magazine folks are always looking for people who'd like to write useful, clear articles.  There's not only the main magazine, they do a lot of Web-based publishing, e-mail, and smaller newsletters.  They don't really need someone to write Yet Another Article On WINS, but if you've got a real nuts-and-bolts knowledge of a set of practical problems and solutions, then I strongly encourage you to contact Amy Eisenberg, the acquisitions editor at Win2K Mag.  Amy is at amy@win2000mag.com.

Books are another story, but the best way to get started is to develop a relationship with a publisher.  Is there a particular press whose stuff you like and whose authors seem to use a style that matches your writing style?  Then contact that publisher's acquisitions editor about writing.  Many book projects need someone to turn out a chapter or two and it can be a great way both for you to find out if book writing is for you... and if you're right for that publisher.

Requests for reprints and excerpts

Can you send me a copy of some article that you wrote in the past?

I'm afraid I can't supply reprints of my articles, as I do not own the copyright or the distribution rights on those articles -- typically the magazine publisher does.  Please contact them.  If you're asking about an article that I wrote for Windows 2000 Magazine or the Special Update e-mail newsletter that I do for them, then I've got good news.  Visit www.win2000mag.com and you'll find that you can read every single article that they've every printed, up to three months ago, for free, right on their Web site.  It's a great resource.  If you want to read one of my old Special Updates, then link to http://www.win2000mag.net/email/index.cfm?Action=Archive&EmailNewsLetterID=1.  My pieces appear on the last Friday of every month, so only one of the five or six articles that you'll see for a given month will be mine.  (The rest are Paul Thurrott's, and they're pretty good too.)

Can we excerpt [some text from a book or article] in our [software, book, newsletter]?

It depends.  If it's my free newsletter -- the one that I mail to you and that you signed up for at my Web site -- then you may excerpt the newsletter, so long as you attribute the excerpt as follows:  "the previous material was excerpted from Mark Minasi's Windows NT/2000 Newsletter Issue [fill in the blank]; for free subscription, visit www.minasi.com.  This material is copyright [newsletter year] Mark Minasi."  Thanks.

If it's one of my books or an article that I've written for a magazine then please contact the publisher -- I can't grant reprint or excerpt rights, as I don't retain the copyright.  For example, if you receive the e-mail newsletter that I write for Windows 2000 Magazine, the one called "Windows 2000 Update, Special Edition," that appears the last Friday of every month, then again I don't own the copyright on that one, Penton Media does, so you've got to talk to them.  Just e-mail letters@win2000mag.com for excerpting questions on that or on articles in Windows 2000 Magazine.

Problems about books, missing pages, playing videos, CDs in books

In general, please understand that (1) I don't work for or own Sybex, the publisher; I'm just a contractor, and (2) all I do is write the books -- I don't edit, lay out, proofread, print, bind, box, ship, or sell them, so there's a very limited range of things that I can assist with.  If a fact is wrong then please tell me, I value all feedback. But I can't help out with questions like "I don't like the paper," or "my CD doesn't work," sorry -- please contact the Sybex folks at 510-523-8233 or support@sybex.com.  Thanks!

My book is missing pages.

I don't have extra books so I can't help; please contact Sybex or, if you just discovered it, then your bookstore may exchange it.  Try their e-mail support@sybex.com

I can't get the videos on the PC Upgrade And Maintenance Guide's CD to play.

I didn't create the CD nor did I create the videos, so I'm not the guy to ask, but in my experience you need to install the most recent QuickTime viewer, which comes on the CD.  I found this out the hard way when I popped the CD into my drive and browsed the CD with Explorer.  Finding video files, I just double-clicked on one and only got sound.  "What did those Sybex guys do now?" I grumbled, and fiddled with the files for a while until I realized that the mistake was mine: I had an old QuickTime (.MOV) viewer on my computer.  When I actually followed the instructions on the CD and installed the new-and-improved one that came on the CD then voila!  the problem went away.  Sometimes I'm just too smart for my own good...

"The document could not be opened because the plug-in required by the "FOPN_fLock" security handler is not available.  Information about the missing plug-in may be available on Adobe's Web site."

If you tried to read the PDF version of one of my books, and you got this dialog box:

First of all, don't bother going to the Adobe Web site, they're no help.  What you're seeing is this:  Sybex has set up the CD so that you must have the CD in the computer's CD drive in order to read the PDFs.  They do that via an Acrobat plug-in called FOPN_Flock, which, again, your copy of Acrobat Reader must have running in order to read the CD.  If yours doesn't, then that'd be for one of two reasons.

First, you didn't run the Setup program that came with the CD, and just clicked on the PDFs on the CD-ROM.  Even if you already have Acrobat Reader installed, you still must install the version on the CD, with the FOPN_flock routine.

Second, you might have installed the Reader that came with the CD a while back, but later downloaded Acrobat Reader 5.0 and installed that.  So now when you open a PDF, your system uses Acrobat Reader 5.0 (without FOPN_flock) and so you get the error message.  There is not, to my knowledge, a way to add the FOPN_fLock feature to Acrobat Reader 5.0 -- and that doesn't mean it's impossible, just that I don't know a way; Sybex support may have figured out a fix by now -- but you can do this:  run the old reader.

Interestingly enough, the installer for Acrobat Reader 5.0 does not overwrite your existing copy of Reader 4.0 -- it's still there, in Program Files\Adobe.  So you can right-click the book's PDF, choose "Open With...", and click the button labeled "Choose Program...", then click "Other...," and then navigate to Program Files\Adobe\Acrobat 4.0\Reader and select AcroRd32.Exe.  I have tried this on several systems and it seems to work.  It's a pain to have to do the extra steps, so let me apologize for Sybex until they get a fix of some kind.

Why won't the Mastering Windows 2000 Server or Mastering Windows NT 4.0 Server book's CD let me print pages?  Or...

Why can't I copy the CD to my hard disk/Palm Pilot?  I don't want to have to carry my laptop's CD drive with me.

In both cases it's not a bug, Sybex designed it that way.  But let me not make Sybex the bad guys here -- we both agreed to set up the CD that way.  I realize that this is a sensitive subject with some readers, so let me offer some background.  Basically, here's the logic:  we're concerned about book sales and making the PDF easy to copy or print will tempt an awful lot of people to skip buying the book and instead either copy it around the Internet or just crank up the laser printer and turn out a bunch of copies.  No, we're not saying that every reader is a pirate.  But there are some pirates (although not a large percentage, I'm guessing).  And, unfortunately the average person simply doesn't realize that he or she is stealing by printing out and distributing sections of the book.

From the beginning, I've wanted to offer the book in an electronic format.  There's just no better way to search than with a search engine.  Paper indexes are nice, but they never seem to index the stuff that I'm looking for.  So an electronic edition was a priority.  But electronic editions are far easier to copy then paper editions:  leaning over the Xerox machine for 1800 pages is real work, but dragging and dropping file copies is a snap.

Nor is that paranoia.  Over the years, I've painfully learned that some people just plain don't respect copyrights.  One large corporation actually photocopied my PC repair book and handed copies to new technicians, or at least they did until one day one of those techs called to ask for some help.  My editors at Windows 2000 Magazine tell me that people pretty regularly offer "original articles" to them that are actually taken nearly word-for-word from my Windows NT and 2000 books. So please understand that piracy is a serious problem and both Sybex and I would be idiots to make that piracy simpler.  Again, I am not accusing you in particular of piracy, or of piratical intentions.  But the reality of copyright thieves forces publishers to do this.  It'd be nice if we could leave our cars and houses unlocked, but we can't, not if we want to protect those assets.  In the same way, it'd be great to just hand out PDFs and trust that no one will copy them but, again, we can't.

There's just not that much money in writing books.  Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad living, but I don't know any really well-to-do authors.  The majority of books don't make any money for their publisher and, consequentially, not for the author either.  Like the movie, software or music business, publishing involves a lot of up-front cost.  After that initial outlay, publishers put a book on the market and everyone involved just prays that the product sells well, repaying that initial investment.  This isn't like the software or music businesses, in that their actual per-unit costs of burning a CD are tiny compared to the sales price: printing and shipping costs for an 1800 page book like Mastering Windows 2000 Server eat up a significant percentage of the book's revenue.  (And if you're thinking that you could print an 1800 page book for a whole lot less than the cover price of sixty bucks, you're right... but in today's book market it's not uncommon for booksellers to get up to a 60% discount on those books.  We're talking, then about the printing cost being a significant portion of the $24 that the publisher sees, not $60.)

One study shows that in the U.S., only one in four copies of software used in homes and small businesses was paid for; the rest were illegally copied.  Those are scary numbers for an author.  If my book royalties were to drop to 25 percent of their current amounts then I'd have to just fold my tent and go find another way to make a living.  So the idea of a freely-copyable version of my book is frightening.  The same goes for a print option:  some people see the "Number of copies" field in the Print dialog box, and think, "my whole department could use this writeup on DHCP."  But it's not legal to do that, so we'd rather not make it easy to do.  And there's an important other reason:  even people who aren't pirates often simply don't know what is and isn't legal.  Most people would think that it's perfectly okay to photocopy five pages from the book and hand the copies out to thirty people.  But it isn't, at least not under U.S. law.  The copyist could be fined up to $100,000 for doing that, in fact.

This industry desperately needs a way to sell electronic books that are convenient for the reader and protected for the publisher.  I sure hope that technology comes along soon, believe me.

Finally, let me explain that I do not own an unlocked copy of the PDF.  I couldn't provide an unlocked PDF to you in any case; I simply don't have it.

I already own the Nth Edition and the N+1st is out.  Why don't you offer an "upgrade" version?

That'd be a great option if we could do it, but it's just not practical -- that's why you don't see it in other books.

We're all used to the idea of "upgrade" versions of software.  Instead of paying $320 for a copy of Windows 2000 Professional, Microsoft offered an upgrade version for about $150.  But they can afford to do that, as, remember, their cost of goods is about a dollar or two for the CD and box.  In contrast, book printing is a higher percentage of the dealer cost of a book.  For example, suppose you could buy Mastering Windows 2000 Server, Third Edition, for $25 if you were an owner of the Second Edition.  A $25 retail price means that the publisher would sell it to the dealer for about $10 -- and it costs more than that to print the book, to say nothing of keeping the lights on back at the publisher's office and paying those rapacious authors their royalties.

So clearly an upgrade path that offers the entire Third Edition for a severe discount wouldn't work.  What about a "changes-only" edition?  Big hunks of the Third Edition are largely unchanged from the Second Edition; why not just print a smaller book with just the major changes?

First of all, nearly every chapter gets some significant work in every edition.  So you'd still end up with a pretty sizeable book.  Second, if we were to offer an "upgrade edition" that said things like "on page 37, change 'is' to 'are'," then you'd find it pretty useless.  It'd be a significant amount of work to extract the differences between Edition N and Edition N+1; for the publisher, it would almost be as much work as in editing the N+1st edition.

But the real reason?  Simple:  upgrade editions just don't sell.  I'm told that several book publishers have tried it, and about the only case where upgrade books sell is in encyclopedias.  So basically it's a case of "the publisher has tried it before, and it's a losing proposition."  One day perhaps, once we figure out a way to sell electronic books.

"I've just gotten the book but I'm in a big rush so I don't have time to read it, can you tell me how to ..." or "...where to read in the book in order to do X?"

No, I'm very sorry, but I'm afraid I can't.  The book has an index, a table of contents, and some of my books are provided on CD-ROM with full searching capabilities.

If it were a simple matter of "oh, you want to share an Internet connection in your home?  No problem, read Chapter 6," then it'd be simple.  (But inasmuch as I can't guarantee a response on e-mail within a certain time, it STILL might be faster to just look in the index.)  In virtually every case, however, it doesn't stop there -- the conversation goes "can you outline a step-by-step process..." and while I'd love to help, that kind of stuff is monstrously time-consuming.  It's really not a request for a pointer to the book, it's a request for free consulting.  And, again, I wouldn't mind that at all if I had the time... but I'm afraid I don't.  And besides, there often IS a step-by-step process already -- in the book! 

I lost my CD from the Mastering Server book, can you send me another?

I'm sorry, but as I said earlier, I just write the books -- I don't print them and I don't even have books or CDs.  Please contact the publisher Sybex, support@sybex.com.  Thanks!

Questions about free software referred to in books or non-Windows software

I can't find [EMWACS or some other item referred to by URL in the book]

I refer to free things in the book and free things have to live wherever they can.  EMWACS, for example, the free e-mail server for NT/2000, moves around from time to time.  I keep that stuff in my newsletter -- please search the archives before mailing me.  (You've got to sign up, but it's free, and you can always un-sign up if you don't like it.<g>)  Visit www.minasi.com/nwsreg.htm to sign up or, if you're a member already, www.minasi.com/archive.htm.  

I have a problem with Exchange...

I can't help you with Exchange, sorry.  I really don't much care for Exchange and don't use it, so I don't know much about it.  Windows and .NET Magazine (www.win2000mag.com) has some really great articles and forums on Exchange, give that a try... and best of luck!

 I have a problem with Linux...

As I say in the Linux book, I really can't support Linux, for two reasons:  first, I am not an expert on Linux.  I was able to write my Linux book with the help of Dan and Craig and by poring through Google and other places -- I'd call myself an apprentice to journeyman Linux guy.  My main focus in the book was to explain the Linux world from the point of a view of a tourist from the land of NT/2000.   Second, the state of Linux support is so horrendous that if I opened those floodgates I would do nothing besides answering Linux questions... and I just can't afford to do that.  My apologies.  RedHat has a decent database on their site and I honestly found the "Groups" tab at Google quite useful.

Frederic Riggle of the USGS reminds me that The Linux Documentation Project, www.tldp.org, is a great source of help on Linux matters.

Or here's an amazing deal.  Red Hat offers their Red Hat in as "Enterprise Linux ES," which is just a fancy name for Red Hat 9.0 with one year's web and telephone support.  For $600-800.  Imagine paying Microsoft $800 to get any question answered for an entire year!

I'm trying to write a script/batch file and it's not working, can you look at it?

I wish I could but debugging other people's code -- even the shortest pieces of code -- is incredibly time-consuming.  Believe me, I know the frustration of not being able to make something work, but again I simply don't have the time.  But here's what I do to fix my code.

First of all, I find that at least for me the single hardest thing is in understanding the SYNTAX of commands.  For example, I recently wrote a batch file to run nightly backups on my tape drive, a two-day operation!  The reason that it was so blasted difficult turned out to be that the NTBACKUP command needs something called a GUID formatted in an odd way.  I wouldn't have had a clue about that until I searched around the Internet and happened upon a partial example.  It didn't work -- hadn't for the questioner -- but I saw the reformatted GUID and the light went off!

Another very, very important tip is this:  try everything out with a short batch file.  If you're not sure what that if-then-else syntax looks like then build the World's Shortest Program that uses the if-then-else syntax to test it out.  Once you know that you've got the syntax down you've got most of it knocked!

Finally, use whatever methods you have to let you see what the thing is doing.  When I was a FORTRAN programmer twenty-plus years ago I'd sometimes get myself in a jam with a program that just plain didn't work and I just plain couldn't figure out why it didn't work.  My final answer was always to just insert a bunch of statements into the code that basically printed the result of the previous statement.  In a batch file, that'd be an ECHO statement.  In a script, you could write out interim results to a text file and later examine the file with Notepad.

Above all, remember that programming uses the creative, problem-solving part of your brain.  I find that part of the brain doesn't always work well when I kick it... sometimes I've just got to go work on something else for a while, and then the answer just comes to me, even if it is at the wrong time sometimes.  (That's why there's a grease pencil in my shower...)  Best of luck and stay at it!

I read an article you wrote about that program blahblah.exe but I work at a non-profit and can't afford it, would you please send it to me?

Please don't e-mail me to ask that I send you a program that someone else wrote, copyrighted, and/or owns.  That's a serious offense in the US (I could get a maximum fine of $250,000 and five years in jail) and besides, please consider that I make my living largely through copyrighted materials as well.  I have to respect other people's intellectual property and I would ask you to do as well.  The temptation to steal something that you'll probably never get caught at may be compelling, but it's still wrong.  Heck, I wish I could afford a copy of the full-blown Photoshop, or AVID's video editing software, but I can't, even though I know I could get it from one of the pirate-to-pirate (that's what P2P stands for, right?<g>) systems, and I'd love to own a Jaguar convertible, but I can't afford either, so I've got to live without.

Besides, I try very hard to confine what I write about to things already in the operating system, stuff in the Resource Kit, or freely downloadable stuff.  Hey, I'm cheap and with a bit of effort it's amazing how many problems we can solve with the stuff that's already in the box!

Hiring Mark to speak, write, etc.

Can you come speak/teach for us?

Sure; I do classes and short talks.  Visit www.minasi.com/talks.htm for an overview of my short talks or www.minasi.com/w2koutln.htm for information on my two-day Windows 2000 Server course. Call our assistant between 1-5 PM Eastern time weekdays or email her at Assistant@Minasi.com for more information.  I look forward to hearing from you, and thanks.

Will you write a white paper on [fill in the blank] for us?

Sure, provided I have time.  My rate is US$3/word for white papers and yes, that is on the upper part of the scale, but unfortunately I'm a very slow writer and so I have very little time free after my seminars, book and magazine writing.  If I don't set the rate that way I'll end up over-subscribed.  Please email me about subject and time availability, and thanks!

E-Mailing Mark

I e-mailed you and you didn't respond!

Well, don't be so sure.  First of all, I'm sometimes away from Internet connectivity for a week or two, so relax if I don't respond immediately.

But I regularly find that after spending 15 minutes examining a reader question and formulating a reply that I find that my work was in vain -- the message bounces because of some problem with the reader's mail server.  Please understand that I don't have the time to track troubled mail.  If your server bounces it, then I can't help.  That's one reason why I prefer that people not use Hotmail-like accounts.  All too often my response gets bounced because of an exceeded quota.

Furthermore, some mail servers subscribe to no-spam, anti-open-relay services run by people who are on the one hand rabidly opposed to spam (I can't disagree with that) and so try to track down and "block" mail servers that spammers use.  Such a mail server is called an "open relay."  The idea is that your company subscribes to their service and whenever someone sends your mail servers mail then the mail server checks the mail server that the file CAME from against the list of spam-friendly mail servers.  If it's one of them then the mail is rejected, whether it's spam or not.

The only problem with this is that some of the guys who run these databases are idiots.  For example, ordb.org ("open relay database) includes my mail server on its list of open relays, and they're dead wrong -- it's a Linux box running Sendmail with the anti-spam settings in place.  I can't help it if reader subscribe to services whose software incompetently identifies open relays and blocks mail accordingly.  So if your mail server subscribes to ORDB then don't even bother mailing me, I can't mail you back.  (Or couldn't as of December 2001; I've not re-checked it.)

Now, my guess is that for many readers the to-ordb-or-not-to-ordb question is out of their hands, so you're just a victim.  I'm sorry about that, but I can't change ordb's database, so please accept my apologies -- there's nothing I can do.

Guidelines For Writing E-Mail To Mark

What's that, the FAQs didn't answer your question?  Well, then, e-mail me with the question and I'll get to it as quickly as I can!  But permit me to beg you to consider a few things when e-mailing me.  And I apologize if I sound curmudgeonly in some of these suggestions, that's not my intention -- I'm just begging readers to try to avoid some of the common time consuming aspects of some letters.  Thanks for your understanding, and I look forward to hearing from you!

First, Try The Basics

Before mailing me, please be sure that you've got all the latest hotfixes and service packs installed.  Take a minute and check Microsoft's on-line Knowledge Base, a great source of oddball problems and solutions.

Check The Newsletters

I do a free e-mail newsletter specifically to try to offer tips, tricks and publish errata.  It has a search engine at www.minasi.com/archive.htm and you can sign up for the newsletter at www.minasi.com/nwsreg.htm.  Please look there first.

Please Think Out Your Question

Whenever I'm having a problem with my network, I tend to panic and just "see red."  So I've sometimes asked an expert for help, only to realize that I've not taken the time to clearly formulate my question.  The particularly embarrassing thing about it is that I often find that once I've actually formulated the question, then the answer is obvious!  With that in mind, let me suggest both as a top-flight troubleshooting tip and as a timesaver for us both that you first sit down, collect the facts -- and your thoughts -- and clearly lay out the problem.

Please Don't Send Unnecessary Attachments -- Documents Or Screen Shots

For security reasons, I don't open document attachments from folks that I don't know.  So I won't read attached Word documents.  Additionally, many people send me bitmaps of dialog boxes with error messages -- again, please don't.  You see, I'm often traveling and there are times that a 14.4 Kbps connection is the best I can do... so waiting twenty minutes for a bitmap to download that just contains two sentences (which could have been retyped or cut and pasted) can be very frustrating.

Please Avoid HTML Wallpaper

Along the lines of unnecessary attachments, background wallpaper on HTML messages is another item that can severely slow down an email download when I'm in a bandwidth-challenged area.  Plain text emails are the best bandwidth-wise.  HTML text isn't bad, but please avoid unnecessary graphics -- thanks!

Please Use Standard Spelling And Grammar

Sometimes letters read something like this:

"...hi,i had just bought ur book on w2k ... I didnt see how 2 setup clusterz.  I need step-by-step instuctions on this 4 one I need.  Thx..."

Okay, call me cranky, but the reader's lack of standard grammar, spelling, inter-word spacing and silly abbreviations (4 for for, ur for "your," -- or does it mean "you are?") has two effects.  First, it takes me considerably longer to read and understand.  That example was short for example's sake, but I've received 500-word tomes encrypted in this fashion, and it can honestly take me ten minutes to puzzle them out.  Second, this leads me to surmise that this reader has not organized his question well:  if he can't take three more minutes to format the question in a readable form before sending it to me, then it's awfully likely that he's also not done his basic technical homework before writing me either.  And certainly it's not unreasonable for anyone -- myself included -- to feel at least a bit insulted by someone saying, "I know you're helping readers out for free, but that doesn't stop me from wasting your time."

Along those lines, I've always found e-mails like the following pretty funny (if they weren't serious -- the italics are mine):

"Hi Mark, just bought your book -- looks great!  I haven't had time to read it yet, but I had a question about networking printers..."


I Don't Respond To "Urgent" Messages And Find Receipt Requests Offensive

I've honestly never understood that "urgent" setting in a message, nor have I ever used it.  All reader messages are important to me and, as I've said, I spend an hour or two every day trying to help people out.  I'm not paid for that time but I know what it's like to be stuck on a network problem with that helpless feeling of "this stupid thing SHOULD work... why doesn't it?", so if I can help, then I'm glad to.  But messages marked "urgent" irritate me; it seems that the author is saying, "I know you get 100 reader letters a day, but mine is REALLY IMPORTANT."  Hey, they're ALL important.

So the "urgent" guys go to the end of the line. (<wink>)

Along those lines, it's the same thing with the "read receipt request" people.  Again, I'm offering free advice but these people apparently think that I'm such a jerk that I'd just read their mail, ignore it, and then deny that I'd ever gotten it.  

Please Keep The Message Brief

Over the years, I've found that I do the best thinking and the best troubleshooting by writing down what's wrong, what tests I've done, and what I've eliminated so far.  That usually takes a page or two -- a disorganized page or two.  Then I re-read what I've got and boil it down:  more concise is better.

That applies not only to how I ask myself for help, it also applies to how I ask others for help.  One writer I know once said to me, "if I have to press Page Down to see your signature, then I probably won't get to it."  While that's not a hard-and-fast rule in my case, it's true that the shorter the question, the quicker the answer, in general.

I'm Afraid I Only Speak/Read English

Sorry, I wish I had the time to acquire a few more languages, but VBScript and HTML are about it for my recent language-learning experiences.  Falo solo Ingles, desculpe, não falo português, hablo solo Ingles, parlo solo Ingles, however you want to say it.  You know the old joke -- what do you call someone who speaks two languages?  Bilingual.  What do you call someone who speaks one language?  American.  Sigh...

Another Techie's Take on Questions

While I don't agree with everything that he says or the way he says it, there's a lot of interesting insight into questions in Eric Raymond's essay "How to Ask Smart Questions."  It's at http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html.  Again, Eric's not totally talking for me ... he tends to be a bit, well, brusque sometimes.

Here's Where To Mail Me

You can find me at help@minasi.com.  I look forward to hearing from you, and thanks for reading.