Dr. Jerry Pournelle

Email Me

Why not subscribe now?

Chaos Manor Subscribe Now

Useful Link(s)...


Hosting by

Powered by Apache

Computing At Chaos Manor:
March 4, 2008

The User's Column, March, 2008
Column 332, Part 1
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2008 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

Gearing up for Mac

It's March, so I no longer have to do all this on the Mac. I've kept my promise to use Imogene the iMac 20" as my main writing machine for a month. Robert Bruce Thompson suggests I call her iMogene, but that's just too cute for words...

I'm writing this on Imogene. Clearly I find the iMac more than good enough for this work. This column will continue the story. Microsoft will be happy with some of what I found, but overall, Microsoft is not going to like this column.

Keyboard and Mice for the Mac

I am writing this on Imogene the iMac 20", but I am not writing this with the Mac flat keyboard. I do not consider the new flat standard Mac keyboard a production keyboard. I can't type fast on it at all, even with a month's practice. Among other things, I find that the SHIFT key doesn't work very well, at least for me, and after a month of working with it and still finding myself typing jerryp2jerrypournelle.com and other such silliness, I am about to relegate that Mac keyboard to the realm of outer darkness. It's pretty, it has a bunch of specialty keys, but it's not productive for me to use it.

I am using the Microsoft Wireless Laser Desktop for Mac. It has the Comfort Curve sculpted keyboard, and a High Definition Laser Mouse. I can live without the mouse; I have nothing against it, but the Mighty Mouse that came with the iMac is perfectly satisfactory for anything except World of Warcraft (and it would do for that; the center button can be used as a substitute for pressing both mouse buttons at once to control movement); and I rather like the Mighty Mouse. It looks elegant. Of course the Mac Flat Keyboard looks elegant, too, but it doesn't work. The Mighty Mouse does.

Imogene with MS bling
Imogene on her funky old sewing table, with the Microsoft Wireless Laser keyboard and mouse.

For that matter, I am actually fond of the old Microsoft wired Redeye Mouse.

Having said all that, I am not dissing the HD Laser Mouse that came with the Laser Desktop. It's a good high precision mouse, you can set it for any sensitivity you like, and it fits your hand nicely. If you like big mice with extra buttons, this is a good one, and you get it with the keyboard anyway. In fact, after I wrote that, I left it out and I find I am using it in preference to the Redeye, so I will probably take the Microsoft wired Redeye off the table to relieve the clutter.

The Microsoft Wireless Laser Keyboard comes with really good Mac software, and once you run that, all problems with the keyboard vanish. Interestingly the Mac seems to know which keyboard I have in use at a given time. When I am using the Mac Flat keyboard it recognizes all those special keys, and when I am using the Wireless Laser Keyboard (with the Flat Mac keyboard still plugged in!) the Mac sees the volume control, the zoom bar, the Calculator Button, and all the specialty keys that I have never used but I may get into the habit of using now.

More later, but my initial report is that the Microsoft Wireless Laser Desktop is a very good deal indeed for people who type fast and bang hard. I haven't found much I don't care for. Highly recommended.

Boot Camp

If Microsoft were not becoming a bureaucracy that detests its paying customers as distractions and potential thieves, I would have had no problems installing Windows XP in Boot Camp and booting the Mac into Windows.

The actual installation was easy. The important thing is to go to Boot Camp assistant and print out the 25 or so pages of instructions. Then read through them before you start. If you do that, you won't have any problems.

Of course that means you need to get the Mac printing, and that didn't turn out to be as easy as I thought it would be. With Windows I can see printers and choose one. The Mac couldn't see the printers. I had to find the IP address of the printer and enter that manually. (Well, I could have walked over to the printer and caused it to print the page, but I's sometimes lazy.) Once I did that, printing was easy. Finding the IP address required me to go to a Windows machine and command my HP 4500 to print a test page.

Now I have an Active Directory Windows 2000 Server system here. I don't really need that, but I do a lot of silly things so you don't have to. The Mac isn't connected through that. Instead Imogene prints directly to the printer's IP address, and does her own print spooling. That may cause a conflict some day but so far there has been no problem.

Booting in XP

I followed the instructions in Boot Camp Assistant. When it asked for the XP boot disk, I gave it one I had made from downloading from my MSDN subscription. For those who tinker with Windows machines, you will not make a better investment than in MSDN.

I made the disk image on the Mac: that is, I downloaded the XP disk image to the Mac, then let the Mac tell me how to burn an image copy. There was no problem whatever. The Mac HELP files are in fact helpful; at least without prior Mac experience I was able to make the boot disk.

When the Mac first boots in XP, it won't be able to find the Ethernet ports or much else. You have to fish out the Mac installation disk that came with the Mac and insert that. The Mac will find it and start copying drivers. Once it has done that, and you've rebooted the machine, you have a perfectly good 20" screen PC running XP. It looked strange to me, and one visitor called the sight of Windows on my beautiful iMac positively obscene, but in fact everything works.

Specifically, it was just another XP system to the Chaosmanor network. The Mac could see all the other machines, and they could all see it. File transfers were no different from any other file transfers among other PC;s. All was well.

And at this point I made a terrible error.

Windows Genuine Disadvantage

When XP first came up it demanded Activation, but since I had not yet installed the Ethernet drivers, that would have been impossible so I ignored the demand. Later, when I had Imogene connected to the Internet, I still didn't do Activation. And, alas, alas, I put off doing it until I had installed VMware.

I haven't got XP running properly under VMware. Everything works but the network, and that doesn't work at all. I don't have a happy ending, but I am told I will eventually get there; I may have to do some batch files and connect each networked computer through UNIX commands. I don't know. But at the moment, when I boot in XP, Windows sees all the other computers. When I fire up the same copy of XP under VMware, it seen only one computer: itself. I'll keep at it.

The real problem, though, is that I Activated Windows XP while running it in VMware. That went just fine.

But: when I used Boot Camp to boot the system in XP, and was told I needed to Activate Windows, Windows told me I couldn't do it. That number was all used up. Please drop dead.

Now I have several ways out of this. I can give it an unused registration number; I have several, courtesy of Microsoft, so that won't cost me anything. I can telephone Microsoft and see if whoever answers understands Virtual Machines. I could even make use of dark and evil practices. I haven't decided yet which approach I'll take.

But the moral of the story is that when you set up in Boot Camp, Activate Windows as soon as you get to the Internet. I think — I don't know, but I believe — that if I had done that first, I wouldn't have the problem.

Dan Spisak tells me that he Activated his XP on Boot Camp, and when he ran that in VMware he wasn't asked to activate it again, so the order of activation may in fact be important. Eric Pobirs has in the course of servicing computers for Alex's clients, had to call the Windows Activation customer service dozens of times, and has yet to be turned down on a request. I'll try telephoning and see what happens. As I said, I have many remedies including given my MSDN activation number, so it won't really be a problem.

Microsoft Drifting to Bureaucracy

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

It appears that Microsoft is headed that way, and even the marketing department, which used to be one of the most formidably competent marketing organizations ever seen on this Earth is rapidly evolving into a full-blown bureaucratic nightmare. I call to evidence the bewildering variety of Vista versions. This creates a lot of profit centers and protects a lot of jobs, but it does so at great cost. The customer understands perfectly what is being done to him, and the temptation to revenge is large.

Windows Genuine Disadvantage is another instance. There is nothing this does for the paying customer, and while we can understand Microsoft's ire over pirated copies — in Asia there are probably a great many more pirated copies than paid ones — the actual result has been to undermine any loyalty to Microsoft on the part of the customer base. Do they really want to be at war with their customers?

Anti-piracy sentiments stem from deep within Microsoft. I can recall a very young Bill Gates selling paper tapes of Altair Basic at meetings of the Southern California Computing Society. He sold them for $20 only to find that at the next meeting pirates were offering them for five bucks. His fury was obvious, and I didn't blame him much. Still, he didn't do too badly off his legitimate sales, and many of the pirate sales were to people who were five bucks curious but not twenty.

I suspect Windows Genuine Advantage is doing more to boost Ubuntu and other Linux distributions than almost anything else. I have mixed feelings about just how ready Linux may be for Aunt Minnie — last year I was pretty sure the Xandros distribution was — but it's certainly getting there.

Meanwhile the Mac isn't giving me any Activation problems. Mac OS X takes getting used to — I still have trouble realizing that the menu for the application I am using is up there at the top of the screen, not at the top of the application window — but it's still pretty elegant. I'm getting used to it. I am really getting fond of the Mac. Now if I can just get XP under VMware to see my network.

Belkin Port Expander

The Mac has USB ports on the back side, which may look good but isn't convenient. I have expanded those with a Belkin powered Hub-To-Go, which is a variant of their desk top powered USB Hub expander. This one features four ports on the desk unit, and a removable four-port unpowered hub you can carry with you. You can see it on the upper right in Imogene's photograph.

I have found Belkin a reliable source of computer accessories.

Text to Speech

As detailed on my web site, I am undergoing radiation therapy for some kind of growth in my head. It may or may not be cancer: it's in a place where the neurosurgeons dare not go even for a sample. It's not painful, and I seem to be able to think and write just fine. What I can't do is speak.

That is, I think in coherent sentences and paragraphs, but when I try to talk it comes out like a drunken frog with palsy. I say .. a word or .. two and .. have to pause .. and try .. Well, you get the idea. It's frustrating.

I have been experimenting with the Mac, and it seems that if I get a portable Mac I will be able to type paragraphs in Textedit, select them, pull down the Edit menu and select speech, and have it say them in one of several voices.

Of course I have Ariadne, the PowerBook, but she doesn't have the volume. I'd have to carry powered speakers. As an aside, I have found Macs in general are very soft spoken, and I wish Apple would beef up the volume. Anyway, it does work, and if I acquire a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, I'll come up with some solution to the volume problem. There are a number of good portable powered speakers.

If this voice problem continues, I may well take to carrying a portable Mac and letting it speak for me in the voice 'Alex'.

Speech and Reading

Apple has always had superior text to speech technology. I recall when Roberta was writing the Mac version of her reading instruction program we met the young lady who furnished the Victoria voice, and were privileged to listen to a conversation between the human and the computer synthesized voice. It was eerie.

Actually, Roberta ended up using the voice Agnes rather than Victoria; Agnes was harsher and sounded more like a teacher. The text to speech wasn't perfect but it worked to teach children to read. Thousands of them. It was the parents who didn't like the computer sound, so when Roberta did the Windows version of her reading program— the current one — she recorded the thousands of syllables, words, phrases, and sentences in her own voice, and that's what you hear now. Even so, the Apple text to speech was good enough for thousands to learn from.

Shameless promotion: if you know someone who needs to learn to read English, Roberta Pournelle's reading program will do it. It has been used at home, in schools, at community centers, and in jails, with students from age 4 to adults, and at the end of seventy half-hour lessons they could all read English. It's all explained on her web page.

New iPhone and Mac

I have a new iPhone. I haven't done anything with it at all; there are a myriad of options for the iPhone as for the Mac. I have used Office Outlook as my calendar as well as mail program since Y2K bugs killed off Franklin Ascend (still the best PDA program I ever used; I cannot understand why they don't just fix the Y2K bug and reissue it); if I am truly switching to the Mac I will need to choose something over here. One possibility of course is to run Outlook under XP in VMware. Another is to use Office 2008. Apple has both mail and calendar programs.

The iPhone has the ability to coordinate with some of those programs, and they are improving its software all the time. The iPhone is a pocket computer, not as powerful as I envisioned in 1972 when we were writing The Mote in God's Eye, but pretty darned good. I am impatient to get to playing with it, but all things in their time...

I have a long list of software I ought to try, Some of it is discussed in this week's Mailbag. It's pretty clear that there's a lot to write about. We'll keep at it.