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Computing At Chaos Manor:
February 19, 2008

The User's Column, February, 2008
Column 331, Part 3
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2008 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.


Bye-Bye HD DVD

The format wars are over: Blu-Ray has won this fight. Wal-Mart is the latest of the powerhouse distributor to announce you can no longer buy HD DVD disks or equipment in their establishments. Toshiba, one of the HD DVD sponsors and developers, is considering its options, which almost certainly means they will abandon the format.

That should be the end of that.

More Mac Tales

I am continuing to write these columns on Imogene, the new iMac 20" with 4 GB of Kingston memory. I have a new Microsoft Wireless Comfort Curve Keyboard and Mouse for the Mac, and I suspect I'll end up using that — I like Comfort Curve Keyboards — but I am still using the Mac keyboard, and I am becoming mildly fond of it. It requires a more delicate touch than the clicky Microsoft keyboard, and almost everything I think I know about keyboards indicates I ought to hate this one. There's no wrist rest. The keyboard isn't sculpted. And for all that I rather like it.

Last year I recall seeing sculpted keyboards on the machines on display at Fry's, and thinking I liked them enough that I ought to get one as an external keyboard for Ariadne, the PowerBook. They weren't very expensive. I didn't get one largely because I thought I could always get one.

They have opened a new Apple Store in the Fashion Square Mall (Riverside near Woodman, Sherman Oaks) and I thought I'd visit it.

I didn't have a pleasant experience with the Glendale Galleria Apple Store when I bought my PowerBook — no one knew anything or if they did they couldn't be bothered to come out of the back room to tell me, so every time I asked a question the dressed to the nines airhead who attached herself to me like a leech had to go back there to get the answer. I was never invited to see just who was giving the answers. I had a list of accessories furnished by Roland Dobbins and Peter Glaskowsky, which was as well, since I never got a single suggestion from the Glendale Airhead.

The Sherman Oaks Apple Store was crowded, and there were many displays, all accessible. At the back of the room was the "Genius Bar", with several people in discussion and a short line for consultations. This is all changed from what I found in Glendale. I didn't actually have any questions — I was in the Mall to buy a Valentine and thought I'd drop in to the Apple Store — so I never talked to the Geniuses, but a bit of eavesdropping convinced me they knew a lot more than my Glendale Airhead would ever know. So I know there's a local Apple Store I can go to.

I looked over available software. There's a lot I will need, most of it from Apple. Alas I have yet to renew my contacts at Apple PR. Used to get all the software and a lot of the hardware, but that was long ago under a different regime. I need to find the proper PR/Press contact and get a bunch of Apple Software.

I also made a list of some third party software and hardware that may be interesting. I'll look into that.

What I didn't find was the sculpted Mac keyboard I saw last year. None. Zero. Gone. So that's no longer an option, I guess.

I'll continue writing the columns with this flat new Mac keyboard and see what happens. As to the Mighty Mouse, I like it a lot. I keep a Microsoft Redeye connected as well, but that's because the Mighty Mouse will not let me press both the right and left mouse keys at once, and the two keys together are my method of moving around in World of Warcraft. WoW plays very well indeed on the Mac, and responds perfectly to the Microsoft Redeye.

Annoyance in OS X

I have changed Mac tables. The typing table I had Imogene sitting on was just too small given the accessories I need. You'll see the larger one shortly.

One major annoyance with the iMac is in the hardware, and I had the same problem with the PowerBook: when I play a DVD movie on the Mac, the sound is not loud enough without an external power amplifier. That adds to the clutter on the Mac desk. I already have two mice. Then there's the 500GB Seagate external drive to host the Mac Time Machine. Time Machine is neat, and the Seagate drive works just fine.

Just after I set up the Seagate to be the Time Machine Drive, a new external FireWire 500 GB disk drive came from Western Digital. It's called My Book, (link) and if it had come a day earlier I might have used it as the Time Machine backup drive. It's smaller and neater than the Seagate, and of course it had never been used as a Windows backup so it didn't need reformatting (see last week's column). It's already formatted in Mac OS Extended (Journaled). The Western Digital My Book for the Mac comes with its own backup software, but I think I prefer Time Machine. More on that when I have more experience.

The Seagate was working fine for Time Machine, but I still needed to test the WD My Book, so I connected it up. There were no problems at all, but what with two mice, a speaker, and two external drives, the Mac table was getting very crowded.

I changed tables. To do that I had to shut the Mac down, triggering one annoyance: so far as I can tell, the Mac OS X does not automatically reconnect to networked drives. I have Imogene connected to both Alexis, the Windows XP communications main machine, and Roxanne, the Vista system that was the main writing machine before Isobel, and for reasons I don't need to get into now, when I work on these columns they are physically present on Roxanne. I had a problem with that the first day I used Imogene, but no more: that all works smoothly.

That is, it works smoothly until I shut the Mac down. When that happens, it loses its external drive connections and they have to be manually set up again. This doesn't take long, since OS X understands that I have to log on to machines in the Chaos Manor internal net with a different user name and password from the one I use for the Mac. Still, it takes from 30 to 50 seconds to connect to each and put a Windows drive on my desktop. As I said, an annoyance, nothing fatal.

Peter Glaskowsky tells me there is a way in System Preferences to mount the network drives automatically, but he doesn't do that himself. I'll have to try it and see what the downside is. I'm sure that if one of those machines is turned off it will take the Mac a long time to figure that out. We'll see.

Imogene sat unconnected for a full day while I cleaned up around my work station area and dealt with a serious problem with Alexis the communications machine. I'll talk about that another time, but it's appropriate to say that Windows XP error messages leave a lot to be desired. Useless is one candidate for an accurate description.

When I connected Imogene, I was told there was an update to Office 2004, and did I want to install it. Sure, said I. I was asked for my password. Imogene trundled. I noted that my disk connections to Alexis and Roxanne were gone, so I opened a Finder window and proceeded to connect to their drives. Then I noted that the update program wasn't running. There was, instead, a message: Office 2004 was present on two disks, the Macintosh HD (main drive) and Mac Time Machine (the Seagate 500 GB FireWire eternal) — which one did I want to update? I tried to select the main drive. No joy. The dialog window was unresponsive. So was a lot of the Mac. Nothing I could do would get things running again.

I didn't want to restart the machine. Like all UNIX machines, it takes time to shut down and bring up a Mac OS X system. I'm told that's not usual, and since I'm setting up Imogene the Mac OS X may have more work to do than it will in future; but for now I hate to restart.

I went to the Apple symbol and told it to log off Jerry Pournelle. It did — and the dialogue window became active again. I told it to update the Office 2004 in the main drive. It asked for my password. I gave it, and update proceeded to completion. I clicked finish, and up came the login dialogue. I logged in. My networked drives were connected and on my desktop. All was well.

I suppose the moral of the story is that when Mac OS X is updating something, don't try to do anything else. This is very unlike Windows. I suppose it's possible that I have drawn the wrong moral from the story, but if so, then I am in complete confusion. In any event it was certainly annoying.

The New Table

It's not really a new table. Long time readers will recall Ezekial, the Z-80 CP/M system I wrote my early BYTE columns on. There's a story in that name: when I named Zeke I didn't know how to spell Ezekiel, and Electric Pencil didn't have a spell checking program, so I named him Ezekial and called him that for years. The BYTE editors evidently didn't know how to spell Ezekiel either. Eventually the Smithsonian Museum of American History asked for Zeke since he is the first home computer on which anyone wrote a published book, and he had become very well known through my BYTE columns. The Smithsonian curators knew very well how to spell Ezekiel, and that's what he's called in the Smithsonian display, so I use the two spellings interchangeably. Zeke answers to both, or did the last time I fired him up: that was after he arrived at the Smithsonian and I wanted him to know where he was. I loved that machine. Still do.

Anyway, Zeke was big, with a big black and white monitor that sat 28 inches from my face, and a wonderful Hall Effect keyboard I got at a surplus store. When I set Zeke up I didn't have money for computer furniture, and for that matter there wasn't a lot of such furniture to begin with. I did have an old sewing machine table, which was just a bit too low for comfortable typing. I put castors on it, put the monitor on the table, and set the keyboard in the open drawer. It worked just fine. I wrote several novels and years of BYTE columns on that old table.

Eventually Zeke went to the Smithsonian and my new machines got put on custom computer furniture — there was a lot of competition in computer furniture in those days and every columnist was deluged with huge boxes of the stuff arriving every week. The sewing machine table was retired. I couldn't bear to throw it away and for years it sat in the Great Hall as a place to keep bird seed and peanuts to feed the local fauna on my balcony.

Imogene on Zeke's old sewing machine table.
Imogene on Zeke's old sewing machine table.
Imogene left; Alexis center; Roxanne right.
Imogene left; Alexis center; Roxanne right.
Close up of Imogene
Close up of Imogene

So when I needed a new table for the Mac, there was this old table, the one that used to hold Old Zeke, and that's where Imogene resides now. Imogene, I fear, is a bit elegant for this old table, but I find I still love it. The keyboard on the drawer is just the right height, there's good foot room, and the screen is 25" from my face, 3" closer than I like, but plenty visible. And there's room for all the peripheral equipment plus some work space for research materials and so forth.

An ideal table for the iMac would be just a bit wider, a lot more elegant, have a small stand to lift the screen perhaps 4" to be at eye level, and have some kind of out of the way shelf that would securely hold the external drive (or drives) without taking up foot room. I'll be looking for something like that, but you know, I like this old table. Welcome back, old friend.

Windows on the Mac

I have everything I need to set up Imogene for running Windows, both in Boot Camp (which lets you boot up in Windows and/or Linux) and VMware Fusion (which lets you run Windows and other operating systems as Mac applications). It's a sufficiently tricky installation that I've put off doing it, but it's time.

One requirement is a Windows XP SP-2 installation disk. I downloaded an image from the Microsoft Developers Net. I've said this before, but let me say it again: my MSDN subscription has been invaluable, and if you spend much time testing and writing about Microsoft products, you need this. Anyway, I got the disk image from Microsoft, and used the iMac to burn the image to a CD. It wasn't particularly difficult: I just went by the book. It's explained in a helpful HELP file.

Now that I have the installation disk — I tested it on a Windows machine, and it does work — the next step is to install a Windows partition and put Windows XP SP 2 on it. Once I have that, I can install VMware Fusion and use the Boot Camp installation to bring in Windows XP. I'll describe the whole thing when I get it working. I don't anticipate any real problems.

Coming Up

I'm also collecting Mac applications. I just installed Filemaker 7 for the Mac. This was originally installed on the PowerBook, but it works just fine on the (Intel) iMac 20". I know Filemaker is up to Version 9, but I seem to have lost the contact with Filemaker's PR people, and I passed up going to CES this year so I wasn't able to renew it there. Indeed, I have lost most of my Mac contacts, including with Apple Software, but I'm sure they'll be renewed over time.

I am taking my time on converting to the Mac. The last two things will be communications and web site maintenance. Outlook has become a bit flaky on my AMD X2 system — I am not sure why although I have a story for next week — and I have no reason to fix anything on my Chaos Manor web site -- except that Microsoft is no longer supporting FrontPage, and its only a matter of time before I have to do something. I should be looking at what to go to next, and if there's anything as easy to use with the Mac. Of course I can just run Front Page on Windows on the Mac under VMware Fusion; there's not likely to be a speed problem as there would be with Outlook. And I am sure that Microsoft has a new easy to use web creation and maintenance program that can suck up old FrontPage webs and convert them.

As for me, I have found FrontPage 2003 more than Good Enough for everything I need to do on my web site. It's not database-driven, and that does seem to be a problem; perhaps Microsoft can offer a replacement that's more modern. But that's for another time.

Anyway we are making progress. Imogene is elegant. Macs can be fun.