Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

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

March 17, 2008

On the iPhone Wish List (To do list):

To Do List - iPhone

OmniFocus does a little of this and one gets the impression that they will pursue this avenue aggressively.

They have a fairly easy way to email a "To Do" item to yourself and have it automatically integrated into their "To Do" list on the computer.

Seems like a kludge but actually I like it a lot because in my 57 yo brain thoughts come and go and I like being able to "write it down" wherever I am with my iPhone.

Robert Livingston

I can hardly wait. I'll look into this one now, but I expect great things now that the SDK has been released.

Subject: OneNote for Mac

Hi jerry,

Try Curio from www.zengobi.com - it's about as close to OneNote as I've found (and can do some things beyond it as well).



Thanks. I need to look into that.

Subject: voice to text in the cloud

Dear Jerry:

An application I hope to see someday soon on the iPhone is voice to text. Why struggle with that little keyboard when the phone is almost always attached to some sort (cell, wifi, AT&T data) network which could easily, in turn, connect it to "the cloud" somewhere?

One of the huge problems with useful and reliable voice recognition technology has been getting the needed database and processing power in a home computer; access to the cloud eliminates this. With the iPhone instead of typing a text message you should be able to connect to a server farm somewhere, dictate your message into the phone as if you are making a call, edit the converted text on-screen in real time, and send it off.

Shouldn't you?

All the best

Tim Loeb

I would love to see anything as good as Dragon Naturally Speaking (Windows program) for the Mac. So far there's nothing else that good for the PC. I doubt there is any plan to port Dragon to the Mac. On the other hand, it ought to run under VMWare. Something else I need to try.

I have a long list of stuff to do...

Subject: New to the Mac

Hi Jerry,

I have very much enjoyed listening to your contributions when you are invited on TWiT. I've been inspired to check out your website and I have subscribed to your RSS feed, Chaos Manor reviews and have just started reading the last few entries.

I notice that you have recently purchased a new 20" aluminium iMac. Welcome to the world of the Mac, I started using Macs only 3 years ago and have become quite the whizz. I would be delighted to offer any help with questions you may have which I could either answer myself, or pass you on to the best source for an answer.

I have found that it is best to indeed 'think different', a lot of the time the complex menu item you are looking for does not exist, the simple way of working is sometimes not the obvious way to those that have been used to Windows for a long time. I have been professionally using (and programming although I don't do much of that now) Windows for nearly 25 years. Now I have fully switched to the Mac platform both at home and at work.

Now I could not possibly conceive the time that I would limit myself to a computer that only ran Windows. In fact, I don't care how much they cost I must perform my computing on a Mac. I just save up now as I can't bring myself to not use the best computer.

P.S. How many OS's can you spot?

Darren Davis

I was well on the way to Mac conversion when I discovered that Office 2008 has abandoned VBA and Macros. That was a disappointment of the first water. I am also having problems importing pictures, but that is almost certainly due to my lack of quite cottoning on to the Mac way of doing things.

Progress continues. And thanks for the offer of help. I will probably take you up on that.

I have many letters full of enthusiasm for the MacBook Air:

Subject: re Great Heavens the Air is COOL!!!

"...Great Heavens the Air is COOL!!!"

Which is exactly why I came very close to buying one, even though it is totally unsuited to the video editing I need to be able to do. I had determined the updated mid-range MacBook to be the best fit for my needs (and budget), but once I saw the Air in person, and held it... No it isn't perfect, but it is quite possibly one of the sexiest laptops out there, which is why the limitations don't matter - For anyone who can work around those limits, it is going to fly off the shelves. If my work on computers was primarily text rather than graphical, I'd be typing this on one now.

Good luck with the continuing switch!

Regards, Monty Hayter

Actually I am typing this on the iMac using the Microsoft Laser 6000 Wireless Keyboard for the Mac, while Khaos the MacBook Air sits waiting to go out, but I understand what you mean...

Subject: Mac Air

I wonder whether Apple will ever have an even smaller version with tablet functionality.

With the compromises they made for lightness, why couldn't they have gone slightly further and made a convertible (and a little smaller).

The Air isn't designed as an only PC anyway.

Something small enough to read books on, but large enough to use as a PC. My Toshiba convertible is a little heavy to use for reading books.

And, yes, I think it was a mistake to not include Firewire, which Apple has done a lot to popularize. The external plug can be pretty small.


I find I am carrying the MacBook Air nearly everywhere now. At the moment she resides in a small messenger bag made of the hide of the wild Nauga, but I am getting a neat 13" leather messenger bag which looks as elegant as the Air.

As to tablet capability, I'd like that; but I suspect that will be a while.

Subject: Khaos and the ethernet.

I've used a draft-N router (DLink DIR-655) for a while now with a DLink Extreme N USB wireless Ethernet adapter and it gives me with some reliability 100-300 MHz speed, noticeably faster than 100 anyway. If one of these things (either DLink, or LinkSys) has drivers for the Mac, they may solve your speed problem with Khaos once you replace the preN routers with draft or full-N models.

I have been VERY impressed with the increase in stability, range and speed with these full/draft-N equipment. It is very noticeable!

Bob Doherty

We are getting some new draft N equipment shortly. Full reports when we know more.

Subject: a little warning, please

Dear Jerry:

Congratulations on your new MacBook Air! But I wish next time you'd give us (me) some warning when you're about to get a new Apple computer. Oh I know you mentioned you planned on getting an Air, and I even did ad hoc sound tests for you, but then again you were going to get a new Mac Real Soon Now ever since they switched to Intel CPUs 2+ years ago!

Had I known I might have saved you some time. Do NOT try to Migrate data over a wireless network to the Air. It will take hours upon hours upon hours, maybe even days. All the initial reviewers who tried it gave up in frustration...

If you really need to Migrate pop for the add-on Ethernet adapter and string an Ethernet cable between the 2 machines. Why Apple Migration Assistant does not support USB is anyone's guess, but in this case the lack of a FireWire port is a real handicap. The Apple Ethernet dongle is only 10/100 so you're still going to be there a while but it's far faster than the wireless transfer. (BTW Radio Shack sells a functionally equivalent dongle for $29 if the Apple one isn't available in your area).

Better yet just do fresh installs of stuff as you need to. It didn't take me long to decide the $99 SuperDrive was a very good investment; it, like the Air, is very thin and light.

The Air is an "essentials" computer: it handles the essentials of your daily tasks with aplomb but may bog down if you ask it to do really heavy lifting like editing large video files, etc. But for Web surfing, e-mailing, and even occasional World of Warcraft sessions it's more than "good enough."

One of the most exciting things to me about the Air is the direction it points to for future Apple laptops: I expect the next iteration of MacBook Pros to be completely redesigned with much "Airiness": thinner form factor, lighter weight, more rounded and sleek profiles, and to be available early enough this summer to be timed right for the back- to-school market.

But the Air is a sweet machine right now and once you get used to its little cunning ways I bet you'll like it as much as I do.

All the best


I already love Khaos, the MacBook Air, and as I have said, I carry it almost everywhere. There is a long report on the Air experience in this week's column.

The perennial question emerges again:

Subject: Why not try Linux

Dear Dr. Pournelle

I have read your column for years with great delight. Although you do much more sophisticated things with the computers than perhaps most people who use their computers for e-mail and writing, your columns are always fun reading because of the straightforward, humorous and informative style.

It has been very interesting to read your columns concerning Imogene, the Imac. Have you ever thought to try Linux the same way as you have tried Mac? It would be really nice to read your experiences with Linux, too. I think that such a thing might give a boost to the Linux community to make their products even more user friendly. I have been using Ubuntu for half a year and I won't return to Windows. I use my computer for writing, e-mail and browsing. Ubuntu is excellent for these things.

However, there are some very annoying simple things when installing Ubuntu. One is the tweaking with correct screen resolution. It should really be as simple as in Windows, but it is not. Another thing is the much advertised support of the community. Its quality is not very good.

If an influential and experienced person like you would try to work with Ubuntu (or some other Linux distro) and publish all the possible difficulties you might (and perhaps will) have in doing this, it would certainly be some kind of an eye-opener for the Linux community to develop a more user-friendly product. Having said this, I think that Ubuntu is an excellent product, but it could be even better, "aunt Minnie-like" better.

Best regards
Jürgen Römer, Th.D.
Helsinki Finland

Well, to begin with, it's enough of an effort to try to learn Mac OS from decades of Windows...

Linux comes after I master OS X and relearn a bit of UNIX.

Subject: Pre-N WiFi


You've picked an interesting time to test Mac wireless. This puts you on the exposed edge of preliminary N testing. As you've noticed, Apple tests with Apple and a couple of outside vendors' access points. The rest of the industry tends to ship when their access point is compatible with Windows and their own drivers. Then the users do compatibility testing.

With Leopard, Apple has made changes to their wireless stack, and compatibility with pre-N routers, including older Airport base stations, has been mixed. There are reports of LinkSys routers that crash when a Mac running OS 10.5.2 tries to connect. It seems a lot of people need to update their router's firmware. Some need to disable pre-N and use 802.11G. Some need to futz with arcane settings in Unix shells, and many decide to roll back until things get sorted. None of these cures is suited for Aunt Minnie. I'm still in the Tiger camp. Time Machine looks interesting, but so far not compelling enough to make me jump, and a MacBook Air isn't in the budget. I watch with interest.


I just love being on the cutting edge. Actually, I don't. There was a time when I enjoyed being a pioneer, but now I have far too much do; I'd just like to get my work done!

Dr. Pournelle -

I saw the mention of Copyright in today's Mailbag, and it reminded me of a Copyright question I had.

I picked up some old "radio drama" style cassettes on eBay that were commercially produced, but had _no_ copyright notice or date of production on them. The only markings are the title and the name of the company that sold them. There was no indication of who did the simple drama readings. They are old, and from what I can discover have apparently never been available in any form other than cassette.

I think my grand kids would love them, but in this day and age CD is the only sort of player they have.

Is it legal to dub these to CD for the grand kids since I own the cassettes? (Fair use?)

Is it legal to make commercial use of such old unmarked (no Copyright?) recordings? I have read that material older than some date is fair game, but how can I determine the date of an unmarked recording?

Part of the reason for the second question is that I could take the time to clean up the recordings and get rid of some of the background noise, etc., but that is a lot of work. It would be easier to justify the work if I could then legally sell the results. If I had a way of obtaining them on CD the issue would never have come up, but because of my lack of knowledge of Copyright law I have never done anything with the tapes.

Please do not publish my name.

Fair use is subject to interpretation but there is no "fair use" that involves selling copies, not even for recovering expenses. No one is actually going to complain about much of anything you do for your own use, and it's highly unlikely that anyone would know or care if you gave away copies; but sales is another matter.

There was a period prior to 1975 when Copyright was 28 years plus renewal for another 28; many works fell into public domain because the copyright expired. For a good summary of what is likely to be in the public domain see this web site http://www.copyright.cornell.edu/public_domain/ . You can do anything you like with public domain works, including selling them; no permissions needed.

Subject: comments regarding PS3

I was happy to read Tim Loeb's comments in the most recent Mailbag regarding the PS3, and I have a few things to comment on. (Full disclosure -- I work for Sony Computer Entertainment America, although this email is personal rather than in a professional capacity.)

With regard to HDMI cables, I recommend www.monoprice.com for inexpensive HDMI cables. The cables don't look as pretty as Monster cables or the other expensive brands, but on the other hand you can get various lengths up to twelve feet or so for under ten (US) dollars per cable. I've used four or so between work and home, and never had any trouble with this company's cables. I've used other cables from this company as well (audio patch cables mainly), and never had any trouble with those either. Recommended.

For the (slightly) technically adventurous, I also recommend installing some flavor of Linux on the PS3. This is actually encouraged by Sony -- no dubious hacking required at all, and your system updates will work fine afterwards without interfering with the Linux side of your machine. There is an option on the system menu for setting up an "Other OS" partition, and once the "Other OS" is set up, the system menu helps you to boot to the alternative OS with a "Boot Other OS" selection. A quick Google search ("install linux ps3" will work) can help those interested obtain instructions for installing Yellow Dog, Fedora, Ubuntu, or Gentoo Linux (and probably more) on their PS3. A regular USB keyboard and mouse are highly desirable (probably even required) for installation and for running Linux on the PS3. I went one step further and bought a wireless USB keyboard and mouse so that I can operate the machine from the couch without running long awkward cables. Truly decadent geeky fun indeed.


It does sound like a lot of fun. Just at the moment, mastering OS X is at the top of the list (well, after getting my current work done)...

Several of my readers have started a campaign to recruit 1000 Platinum Subscribers to my web site at $100 a year. Needless to say I find that a splendid idea, and I am working on setting up an automatic Paypal button to do that; at the moment, alas, it takes a bit of perseverance to enter a Platinum Patron subscription, but I should have that fixed Real Soon Now. (For the story of why I'm a bit distracted by radiation therapy, see The View From Chaos Manor at www.jerrypournelle.com.

Subject: Joining the 1000 and Three Other Thoughts


Just throwing my name into the fray of those willing to become one of the 1000. With your habit of naming things, you should give the group a fitting title (assuming you decide to go that route). Your recommendations of Grammatik and various writing books have been worth that alone, much less the convenience of having someone do those silly things so I won't have to. If gathering 1000 at $100 seems like a problem, you might try 2000 at $50.

Three more quick thoughts:

Robert Bruce Thompson is wrong and you are right -- Linux is definitely NOT ready for Aunt Minnie, much less prime time. We've toyed with a few distributions at the office and been amazed at having to mount drives (both floppy and CD) manually, something Windows has done for twenty years. I won't go into other details but there have been several examples like that. I will say that one of the programmers here installed the MEPIS distribution and likes it. From what I understand, MEPIS is geared toward people who want to use their computer instead of administrate or tinker with it. The next time one of Robert's Aunt Minnies has a problem, have him go to their house but offer no help: just sit there and watch them battle the problem on their own. Without a Linux guru to rely on, I suspect Aunt Minnie might not like Linux very much.

Be cautious about getting too used to that Microsoft Comfort keyboard. Back in the mid-nineties, I began using the Microsoft Natural keyboard. Once I got used to it, I loved it and never had a problem typing all day long with very few mistakes. When I saw them begin marketing a new version replacing the standard inverted 'T' cursor configuration with a ridiculous plus-sign '+' configuration, I feared being unable to get the standard version again and abandoned the Natural for a standard 104-key design. That happened roughly sixteen months ago and I still have trouble typing on the standard keyboard. I think the Natural made me dependent on having my wrists anchored to a fixed point. They "float" in the air over a normal keyboard. I won't use one again but loved it while I did. Just a word of warning.

I've enjoyed your battle with the Mac, long suspecting things weren't quite as rosy as Mac fanatics claimed. Looking forward to your experiments with non-Word Mac writing tools, Scrivener in particular. I've never used it (or a Mac) but I value the experience and viewpoint of someone who would rather get something done than toy with their computer/software all day.

Best of luck with the zapping,


I keep the Microsoft Ergonomic keyboard handy on the machine Niven uses; he loves them. I don't think the Comfort Curve will go away soon. It's not the IBM Selectric (the best keyboard layout ever made) nor even the Hall Effect keyboard that old Zeke used, but I have had no problems getting used to it, and I think the Comfort Curve keyboard sells well.

I am gradually going to Laser 6000 or similar keyboards for all the machines I use regularly.