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:
The Mailbag

Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2008 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

March 10, 2008

Much of the mail this week involves the iMac, but let's begin with the Kindle

Subject: The Kindle

I might get something like this if they make one I can drop on the sidewalk, on a beach, or in a bathtub without it turning into a paperweight.

My current cell phone is a Casio GzOne Type S. It's waterproof, shockproof, and dust proof. And it's kind of weird that it's only in the past year or so that, to the best of my knowledge, I've been able to buy a commercial cell phone with these qualities.

Tom Brosz

The Kindle isn't especially vulnerable, but I wouldn't throw it against the wall. I certainly wouldn't want to drop it in a bathtub, but dropping it on a beach would do no harm, and I have dropped mine on the floor without damage.

I have made a small design modification: I have put a Velcro dot on the back of the Kindle and on the leather carrying case so that the Kindle is secured in its case. That case is good protection and the front folds back to allow me to read it.

As to phone vulnerabilities, I am now carrying the iPhone and it is a bit vulnerable, but I'll just have to live with it. I'm looking into skins but I haven't found one I like. But I am very fond of the Kindle.

address book sync software for your iPhone

I've been using product from this company for years, works well, you can sync up just about any kind of address book to most of the popular phones (except for Nokia).


They do have a 14 day evaluation period so you can wait a bit before actually paying and committing to the s/w.

Be well


Thanks. I will add that to the list of things to try. I am accumulating a bunch of utilities and other software to add to my iMac (and now Air) arsenal...

Subject: ZFS for Mac OS X

Hi Jerry,

I've long considered your columns on Windows problems to be one of the best arguments for converting to Macs.

Still, while Mac OS X 10.5 is better than Windows XP (or Vista) by a fair measure, Macs have some ugly warts. I'm delighted to have you banging on Macs. You have an unerring eye for shoddy craftsmanship and you certainly hit the nail on the head with your attempt to set up a backup volume. I don't know how you manage it but whatever your blundering magic, you often seem to find the weak spot in an OS and you have got it exactly right on the Mac - the HFS+ file system is fubar. Apple should have invested in a new file system several years ago, as HFS+ is the Achilles Heel of Leopard. For some reason, this gets little attention.

Linus Torvalds has got it right on HFS+: [[link]]

The obvious fix would be for Apple to move to ZFS and maybe they will. Some pressure from you certainly would provide some encouragement in that direction! I'm planning to get ZFS installed on a server volume and do some torture testing using Mathematica 6.0 (If you want to break Apple OS software, Mathematica is a great tool for doing that).

Here is something on ZFS that might be of interest to you: [[link]]

I'd think you would want OS X Extended Journaled OS X Extended. My 2¢.

Keep on banging away on Mac OS X! It would be great if you would get into writing some ruby or python code using XCode as well. XCode is decent but could be much better. The learning curve is way steeper than it needs to be. I hope you will go after XCode next. Reducing the barrier to entry for programmers new to Mac OS X would do a lot of good...given the steep learning curve, TextMate has some advantages over XCode for programming on Mac OS X.

Check out Scrivener, too. Great program for writers. And Visual Thesaurus. Fun, useful. For organizers, the GTD type program OmniFocus is excellent. And KeyNote beats PowerPoint hands down. I now use Keynote exclusively for lectures to medical students.

My thoughts are with you as you deal with your acoustic neuroma or whatever the beast is. Be well.



Thanks. We are using OS X Extended Journaled here, and I am busily banging away at the iMac. Tomorrow my new AIR arrives, and we'll get to work on that, too.

All told it is a learning experience, but I am doing all my writing on the Mac, and my output does not seem to be slowed. I confess that while I will probably never become a Mac fanatic, in many ways Mac is preferable to Windows — once you get past the learning curve. There really is one.

There is also the enormous coolness factor. Macs are elegant. Not cheap. You pay for elegance.

Office for Mac


Re the comments in last week's Mailbag about MS Office 2004 and 2008 for the Mac:

I had Office 2004 and the Office 2008 beta installed in separate folders on the MacBook Pro with no problems for over a month. Last night my copy of the Office 2008 final release finally came in the mail from Microsoft and the installation instructions which come with it do suggest removing earlier versions. Since I hadn't used Office 2004 much since installing the 2008 beta, I removed the older version. Anyway, it is my experience that 2008 runs a bit better on the Intel Macs, since it's a Universal Binary that does not run in Rosetta. This is especially true for Entourage, which I need for connecting to my employer's Exchange Server. (My personal email and calendaring is handled using Apple Mail and iCal.)

Doug's comment about not dragging MS Office applications between virtual desktops in Spaces is puzzling. I've been doing it with both Office 2004 and 2008 since I upgraded my machine to Leopard and it's never caused a problem. I suspect that if it is indeed an issue, it doesn't affect most users.

BTW, unless you need absolute 100% compatibility with MS Office documents, try out NeoOffice. It's OpenOffice.org for the Mac. It works very well, is stable in my experience, and its built-in PDF creation function is better than MS Office's use of OS X's Print to PDF option. (Highly formatted Word files don't import perfectly, alas.) For example, you can create a text document which uses styles for section headings, and when you export it from NeoOffice to PDF, the headings are made into clickable bookmarks within the PDF.

Dave Markowitz, KB3MNK

NeoOffice also goes on my to do list. Thanks! But realistically I will probably use Office 2008, assuming that I have no problems saving in Windows Office 2003 format; that's what Niven uses, and I am not likely to persuade Larry Niven to go to a Mac — although when he sees my new Air he may persuade himself, but that's another story.

It's not 100% compatibility I need so much as 100% assurance that Niven, who is not technological, will not encounter any glitches whatsoever. Not just Niven, of course. I communicate with the world through plaintext and Word, and that is not likely to change.

And I'm going to try Scrivener but just now my plate is pretty full.

On the subject of new Mac software for writers:

Nice timeline shareware for the Mac


I stumbled across some really neat/simple timelining software today from http://www.beedocuments.com/index.php.

I don't know if you layout timelines for stories, but its interesting to see how fancy and simply they can be made.

I got it via a daily update from these guys http://www.mupromo.com/. They run a special on some piece of mac software daily. (Another site that does that is http://maczot.com/ .)

I check these guys daily just to see what kind of software is popping up out there and how enticing the daily special is. Apparently my impulse buy threshold for the mac is < $20.



John Harlow,
President BravePoint

That also looks fascinating. I have not used much fiction aid software, but perhaps I should try some. Keeping track of timelines can be important. I'll look into this. Thanks! It may work with Scrivener, which Holly Lisle keeps telling me I must try.

A question of security with some good advice:

A question for your advisors

I remember reading on your webpage that one of your advisors was able to download some information intended only for U.S. users by using some subterfuge.

I live and work here in Italy and occasionally come up against this problem. Is there an easy work around, I log on through a broad band Italian provider and don't have any accounts in other countries.

Darrell Van Wagner

I put this to the advisors. Peter Glaskowsky said

When I want to access a website in a foreign country as if I was accessing it locally, I use a proxy.


Many of these operate as web-based proxies. You just click on a link on the list, it opens a new page, you enter the URL you want, and it comes up. Some can also operate as http or ssh proxies, where you can use them to re-route some or all of your Internet traffic automatically.

But it's important to remember that these don't solve any security problems. Never, never, never use a public proxy to access sensitive personal information. If you use a proxy to reach your bank, the proxy may be able to see your login credentials and banking data. The same goes for Gmail accounts and anywhere else you use a password. Just assume someone is watching everything you see and type, because it's quite possible someone is.

. png

Subject: Copyright


Let me pose a question to you and your readers. Is it a copyright violation to acquire material in a non standard fashion when the copyright holder refuses to publish the work?

I was searching for DVDs of some of my favorite TV shows now that they are coming out on disc. While searching one, I found that Season 1 was available and according to Wikipedia (that reliable source) no further sets were being issued because of slow sales. I found a non traditional seller with all seasons available. Since the official source is not releasing them, am I wrong with going to an unofficial supplier?

With hopeful thoughts on your continued good health and a complete cure.

Larry Bayern

I need to think about this one. The problem of abandoned works is real and serious. Many authors would rather that their work was available to someone than that it vanish; at the same time the excuse that I couldn't find the author so I published it without permission can lead to some serious consequences.

One solution is a "standard fee" to be paid into a national account; if the copyright holder appears and claims the money it is paid over, otherwise it reverts to the Copyright Office when the copyright expires. With luck that would bring in enough to finance the program.

Those who paid the fee would not be subject to lawsuits. This needs some refining, but the approach may be the right way to go.

Peter Glaskowsky adds

As for copyrights, a copyright owner may choose not to publish works for perfectly reasonable commercial reason. Disney holds movies back from distribution for long periods of time to encourage sales of other movies and build demand for periodic re-releases. Nobody has the right to pirate Sleeping Beauty just because Disney isn't currently selling it.

Truly abandoned works are another matter-- as you've pointed out, copyright law used to require filing and maintaining copyright claims.

An abandoned work lost its copyright protection soon enough. I don't believe anyone should have to pay the government to receive protection for his or her property rights, but at the very least, we should require commercial copyright owners to keep their contact information up to date. Without registration, how can anyone know whether a particular work may be legally copied? A flat "no" isn't a very good answer.

. png

If the copyright owner is known, then the Copyright Office would inform those inquiring about safe harbor payments to deal with the copyright holder. If the holder does not respond in any way, then "safe harbor" payments would continue.

Victor Hugo argued in his advocacy of the Berne Convention that authors must not be dependent on paperwork and I am inclined to agree with him, but as an anthologist I have run into the problem of an author dying without heirs when I need his story to complete a reissue of an anthology. Now what do I do?

Subject: More windows home server nonsense


The underlying technology of Windows Home Server is obviously pretty neat, but Microsoft's current penchant for DRM is rearing it's ugly head. This is a brand spanking new home server bought off Amazon from HP. When it was a little loaded doing backups, it decided that I was running an eval copy and that it's time had expired! Once the network load lessened, it was happy again. Come on Microsoft, you can do much better than this!


Ugh! That's horrible!

And finally from Apple Guru Tim Loeb:

Hi again; I did end up buying a Sony PlayStation 3 last week - the 40GB "2nd gen" version from Amazon at $399. According to what I read online this new rev sports smaller processor die sizes, runs cooler, and has a much higher reliability record than the original PS3.

Things I didn't know: not only does the machine sport an upgradeable Blu-ray drive, but comes with Ethernet AND both bluetooth and wifi built in, as well as two USB ports. You can plug a USB keyboard in for data and password input rather than using the supplied (bluetooth I assume) controller (which works very well, but is slow selecting text). Setup was a breeze; once I supplied my network name and password the machine "phoned home," downloaded and installed updates and was ready to go. It comes with an install disk which leads you through everything visually; it's really well thought out and I don't know whether it's even necessary to crack open the provided print manual (I didn't).

I also didn't know that the machine ships with Stanford University's Folding@Home protein folding application on the hard drive. This is also very well implemented with a "follow your nose" setup routine. I've let the box run overnight a couple of times and have completed two "sets" so far. Very nice touch; when you're not blasting bad guys your toy can do real work that might help somebody for real someday.

The machine also comes with a Blu-ray HD copy of Spiderman 3. I have a Sony 32" HDTV which supports the full 1080P resolution and I have to say the movie looked absolutely stunning. Wandering through Best Buy or Circuit City I never really saw the point of HDTV (most broadcast stuff is upsampled 720 or even 480) but having the real deal in my home has made a believer out of me.

I've played a bit of Call of Duty 4 (shooter) and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (action/adventure) and the graphics are superb, the gameplay extremely fast and fluid, and the AI outstanding. Neither will wean me off my WoW addiction but the PS3 is the first console I've seen that beats a high-end PC in graphics goodness.

One small glitch: with the player I bought an "off brand" HDMI cable at $29.95 and was disappointed to find it could not support 1080P without a ton of snow and other video errors. A quick trip to Radio Shack for their cheapest house brand HDMI cable at $49.95 solved the problem, and the "no name" cable went back to Amazon for credit.

As usual your mileage might vary but so far I'm really happy with this unit. I haven't tried joining the Sony network over which you can buy content; iTunes is my poison to feed that particular vice (the PS3 does have it's own Sony browser but it won't be replacing Safari on a Mac for power or ease of use anytime soon). But considering all that it is and all that it does I have to rate the PS3 as a very high-value product and actually a bargain at the price.



Thanks for keeping me up to date on this.

And that should do for this week....