Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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The Mailbag

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

April 1, 2008

Much of our mail today is concerned with Mac OS X and working with the Mac.

Subject: Report on Time Machine -

Hi Jerry,

I just had to restore my Mac (due to something I did - bad Doug), and went through the Time Machine restore process. In addition to being able to drag back individual files or folders, if you boot the installation DVD (something to make a backup of, by the way), and choose 'Restore from Backup' under utilities, you then choose which time machine volume to restore from. You can pick any backup that's there, and an hour and half later (with a direct connect drive - I don't recommend doing this over wireless, Gigabit is the slowest you'd want to do), my computer rebooted and was fully functional.

I do clone my drive periodically, but in this case, Time Machine saved a full weeks' work. If any of your readers are running Leopard, and haven't fired up the Time Machine backups, they need to take the time and do it.

Highly, Highly Recommended.



I have a lot of mail on Time Machine. Most of it is favorable. There seem to be a few glitches, but I could not make much sense of the reports. My own experience is limited: I have two systems doing Time Machine, one the iMac that stores on a Seagate Firewire drive, and does so painlessly and automatically. I have yet to need a restoration.

The MacBook Air restores to an Apple Time Capsule, which is a combination wireless router and 500GB hard drive. Once that is set up it takes nearly forever for the first save, but after that they are incremental and again rather painless.

Mac Guru Tim Loeb says:

You wrote that you wouldn't try Air or MacBook as a Mac plus Windows machine, with which I have to disagree. The latest MacBooks make fine Windows machines under Parallels: there's plenty of hard disk space and plenty of CPU horsepower, and XP at least runs quite well there. The Air is a little problematical because of the limited hard disk space, but it does run XP under Parallels quite snappily enough to get real work done if you have the drive space. Been there, done that on both.



And indeed I have a lot of mail praising the Mac Book. I have a MacBook Pro, and the MacBook Air, so I have no primary data, but the MacBook does seem to be a pretty nifty machine. We continue that discussion:

Mac Pro

I've seen that you have dithered somewhat on whether to buy the Mac Pro or not.

A couple comments since I received mine on Monday.

CDROM drive is noisier than I expected. I had thought that it would be muffled more by the substantial case, which was heavier than I expected. Also, unlike the Mini the drive is not a slot loader, so you have to use the eject button on the keyboard to open it to insert a CD. I have the computer on my desk, if it was underneath, it would probably be quieter.

Virtual address space usage is higher than I expected, but you may have seen that on your Air. Do not know whether it is the 64 bit-ness of the OS, or an OS X design feature.

FB memory is very expensive from Apple, so I ordered some Kingston memory this week for $170 (2GB) vs the $400+ included from Apple.

I just copied my home directory from my old Mac via Firewire drive to get it on it. I couldn't see how to transfer it from my Tiger system's Migration assistant. Maybe I should have just hooked the 2 computers together via Firewire, I've never done that before.

The Wireless Bluetooth keyboard was a surprise. I had expected a full sized keyboard, but got a compact keyboard that was a work of art. Due to how I'm trying to continue to use my old Mac, I ended up swapping that new keyboard and mouse with my old system for the moment. The older computer's Microsoft Wireless mouse (not Bluetooth) didn't have enough range once I moved it.

Other than some issues with the Mail program, and importing a huge number of email messages from my old Mac, I haven't had any strange behavior with the Mac Pro. I can use a VNC Viewer to connect to it remotely, which will be useful when I leave town.

I'm going to postpone buying Office 2008 for awhile. I had expected to buy it for a discount price via my employer, but the only Office currently offered is Office 2007. And since I still have my Windows laptop available, I'll wait.


I very much recommend Office 2008 for Mac users. It Just Works. I was appalled that they had eliminated macros, but I now have three good books on AppleScript and it doesn't look too difficult.

Good move on Kingston memory. It works, and much cheaper than Apple.

I am still working with my setup. Thanks.

MacBook vs: MacBook Pro

Jerry...Roland said [last week]:

3. MacBook Pro has a GPU, MacBook doesn't (though, since I can't imagine playing games on a laptop, I don't know why 3D acceleration is so important; MacBook is limited to 1920 x 1200 on external monitors, whereas MacBook Pro can go higher).

Actually, the MacBook does have a GPU, the Intel GMA X3100 GPU built into the MLB (Applespeak for motherboard) on the MacBook. It doesn't have a dedicated GPU like the MB Pro but its a perfectly serviceable graphics processor with reasonable 3D performance for an onboard chipset.

The GMA X3100 is the mobile version of the GMA X3000 used in the Intel GL960 and GM965 chipsets. The X3100 supports hardware transform and lighting, up to 128 programmable shader units, and up to 384 MB memory. Its display cores can run up to 333 MHz on GM965 and 320 MHz on GL960. Its render cores can run up to 500 MHz on GM965 and 400 MHz on GL960. The X3100 display unit includes a 300 MHz RAMDAC, two 25-112 MHz LVDS transmitters, 2 DVO encoders, and a TV encoder. In addition, the product can support DirectX 10.

[Wikipedia link]


Richard Hakala


Windows on a Mac


Just a comment about your discussion of running Windows on some Macs (Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, iMac) but not others (MacBook, MacBook Air).

My MacBook (2.2 Core 2 Duo, 4 GB aftermarket RAM) handles Parallels and XP quite easily. The more recent MacBook versions are very similar to the specs of MacBook Pros, except for a dedicated video card and screen size (other minor differences too: backlit keyboard and card slot). The downside from my perspective (and perhaps this is what you were getting at) is the smaller screen. The base MacBooks (~$1100-1300) are easy (much easier than MacBook Pros) to upgrade with RAM and larger/faster hard drives.

Best, -J

Which ought to be enough on that. Thanks to all who wrote.

A Better Windows than Windows

If you've got Parallels Desktop for the Mac, be sure to check out the Coherence mode.

On my Mini, it (pretty) seamlessly blends the Mac and PC desktops. I've got the Mac toolbar across the top of my screen, and the PC taskbar across the bottom. I can use my PC versions of Office 2007 whenever I want, and paste stuff back and forth between the two.

I find it the ideal way to use PC versions of programs where those versions are better than the Mac Versions (Quicken, RDC, Office) while being able to use all of my favorite Mac software. I have my Yahoo Widgets (time, weather, Yahoo calendar) squatting on the Mac desktop.

Just a thought.

-- Tim of Angle

At the moment I have not yet mastered VMware. Parallels is next. It may be easier to use. But for now it's VMware I am concentrating on. Thanks!

Marty Winston on iPhone vs. Blackberry:

I'm a BlackBerry convert & it's a love, not an addiction. I'm currently testing more than half a dozen mapping & navigation programs on it; with several, the spoken turn-by-turn instructions are all I need & I never have to look at the screen; with others, there's a well-conceived nugget of the immediate surroundings that it may be useful to glance. During the recent blizzards, Google Mobile Maps aerial image was the only way I could tell where the driveway was.

Some of the mobile navigators have a very cool save-this-spot feature that means never forgetting where in the parking lot I left the car. I get to pick my points of interest before I travel (with a few but growing number, in addition to doing that on the phone, I can do it on the Web and it will sync to the phone). When navigating, the travel corridor is created & stored at the beginning of the trip & traffic info gets a "live" update several times an hour.

There's a new O/S 4.5 coming that will add stereo Bluetooth 2, audio recorder & maybe (not sure I'm remembering this correctly) video recorder functionality with no hardware change; I think it also supports reading attachments from several formats (like Office or PDF). There's a new version of the Pearl coming later in the year that builds in GPS, improves the camera from 1Mp to 2Mp, makes the Micro SD card accessible from the edge of the phone & ups the headset jack from 2.5mm to a more standard 3.5mm.

Beyond what I can get to with the BlackBerry's browser, I have push weather from both AccuWeather & The Weather Network. I have a Gmail application that even tells me on its icon how many messages I have waiting. I plan on adding a voice command application & a reader application, which can also be useful when driving. And when I get around to it, I have some old TV shows on DVD (rare & funny, like Amos & Andy) that I want to move into the SD card for killing time when I'm trapped in a waiting lounge & tired of the Sudoku game I loaded. And in 2 days, I'll be looking at a new battery-operated portable full-page Bluetooth printer that can work with it.

I know many people who love & many who hate BlackBerry or iPhone; my own initial skepticism was quickly disintegrated.

Marty Winston

Thanks. My experiences with iPhone have been mixed but quite good on balance, and my only real complaint is that the rf engineering isn't as good as it was in my old Nokia.

I am rapidly learning to do one-finger typing on the iMac which surprises me; I had not expected to become proficient at that. Of course I spend as little time as possible doing things with telephones.

Subject: The iPhone

I read your columns every week and as I am a Mac convert as well, and like you, I also have an iPhone. I must tell you that the first iPhone I had, had similar reception problems as yours does and more or less accepted that the reception wasn't there. Oh how wrong I was! The touch screen on the old phone stopped working one day and off I went to an Apple store to have it fixed or replaced. When I got a different phone, the reception was as different as night is to day! Where I had dropped calls, it now received and made them. I could not believe it! You might just try exchanging phones and your reception may improve. I'm not guaranteeing it, but it surely worked for me

Timothy S Hershey

Now I wonder how I can get them to swap my rf unfriendly iPhone... That would certainly end most of my complaints.

Subject: iPhone doesn't deliveries yet but...

Hi Jerry,

while I'm reading about your iPhone Report where you just say how good it is, though many things are just out of reach, like video and voice recording, and GPS. Well, those are pretty standard features in current so-called smartphones like Nokia N95 and many HTC products. While iPhone shows a neat design and a cool interface, it falls quite short in terms of features vs. typical smartphones sold in Europe, and I believe they're available in US as well. They all include WiFi and UMTS, which is a 3G cell phone standard in Europe, quite faster then EDGE, which is the best that iPhone can stand. A GPS antenna is often included, as well as an FM tuner, cameras with 5 MPixels are common and 8 Mpixels are expected in a matter of days. They generally accept memory cards but some, like the Nokia N95, may come with 8GB of basic memory!

OS may range from Symbian to Windows Mobile 6.1 with plenty of applications, to clearly state that smartphone are full featured portable computers.

So, that's my thought that there is no need to wait for improvements on iPhone, since many devices out there have it all.


Siro Mancin Italy

Thanks for that report from Europe. You seem to have a greater variety of choices than we do.

On Dragon Naturally Speaking for the Mac:

Dear Jerry,

You've probably gotten bombed with email about this but MacSpeech started shipping a voice recognition program based on the Dragon engine last month. However, they're apparently still working their way through preorders and upgrades. I'm planning to try this in the next few months.




Thanks. I have had good experiences with Dragon Naturally Speaking on PC's and when my voice recovers I expect to install it on the Mac. I had thought that would need a virtual PC but apparently not. That's good to hear.

Subject: On Linux


I'm very glad your x-ray sessions are going well and that you seem to be getting better. We at the Cook house pray for you each day. Get well, and soon!

On the idea of learning Linux, I would think twice. There was a time not too long ago when I would have given anything to give up Windows in favor of just about anything. This led to my recommending it as the next development in our software migration to a Common Platform Environment. Was that ever a mistake. I have had a ton of problems with drivers. Just getting them installed requires that a person have three degrees in Human2PC Swearing. Once they are installed, they cease to function for no reason other than a patch to the O.S. This means dragging out the xxxx.tar.gz files again, making sure all of the kernel source is available, and then remember if you held your mouth slightly to the right when you started the "make install" or to the left. It is really that per-snickety.

There are as many "flavors" of Linux as there are sands on the beach. Is your kernel 2.4.xxx or 2.6.xxx? Are you running Xorg? Do you Gnome or KDE? And don't get me started on RedHat, Debian, SuSE, Fedora, Ubuntu, CentOS, and OpenFiler, to name far too many.

In the last year I've tried them all and each and every one will send you screaming and kicking back to a Windows box where drivers and other programs do fail, but at least you didn't have to install the right source files, compiler, QT packages, all the RPMs in the world except the ones you need which don't exist except for one site that your company network has blocked, and then track down the one geek on the planet who has figured out how to install the latest driver for your "flavor" of Linux only to find out that it only works as a module and you need it as part of the kernel so that it can load remotely by diskless workstations from a central server.

For example, I'm trying to install Linux on an HP 8510W laptop. The network and video drivers are detected by the installation program and used just fine during the install. After the install, the display reverts to 800x600 256-bit color and SAX2 can't or won't change it with a display that is red-shifted and looks like a pattern I saw in most of the movies in the '60s. The system on boot loads the driver for the network card and promptly tells me the network cable is unplugged, though it just used it during the install to download and install an update server. So, I get the latest network drivers from Intel using another computer, load the kernel source from the install CDs, load a compiler from the install CDs, run the compiler in a test to see if it can operate properly on the source I've installed which it does, then compile the new drivers which installs them in /usr/local/<blah>/<blah>/<blah>/<blah>/<blah>/<blah>/<blah>/<blah>/<driver>.ko. I then do a modprobe <driver> and get "Can't locate <driver>. File does not exist." It does, I'm in the bloody directory where it is located. Geek-search finds that I can't use modprobe for this. So, I use rmmod <driver> then insmod <full path to driver>. Everything works and on a reboot the system sees the network card and even that the cable is connected. I then go to get the latest drivers for the video card, try to install them using the Linux vendor's AutoUpdate feature which promptly tells me that it can't parse the metadata for the site and therefore can't find files there, go to the video card vendor's site and get the xxx.run package, open a terminal, copy the xxx.run files to a download directory I use for these sorts of things, run the install using sh xxx.run, everything works with no errors but won't update the display until a new session. I close everything, reboot the machine, and find that the kernel is corrupt and grub won't load it anymore. After 4 hours or pure joy, I get to start all over.

Put simply, Linux is a nightmare of no standards, no support, and little common knowledge about "how to just get things done." Put another way, Windows works. Linux does too, but it often takes a lot more effort than it should because there are just too many people coming up with "a better way."

Now, I'm stuck with a few $100k of vendor software that only works on Linux, several Linux installations on different machines that only partially do what we need them to, a schedule that is about to be overrun because the simplest things in Linux take hours to do, managers that won't buy that it's taking longer to get things done in Linux than it did in Windows, and considerably less hair on my head than I started with last year when I recommended going to Linux. Your experience may be different, but from what I see in the forums, this is all too common with Linux regardless of the flavor.

Well, back to the laptop and trying to get this thing to work. You continue to get better.

Braxton Cook
(Frustrated Systems Engineer)

Captain Morse comments:

Linux can be difficult. No doubt about it. Just today I spent two hours on the phone trying to get Ubuntu to install on Rich's Intel D975 system...except I thought he said D965 and wasted a lot of his time trying to work around an architectural problem he didn't have. The real fix involved a simple change to BIOS settings. So yes, Linux can be hard (particularly by remote control).

If you want to use my example to prove that Aunt Minnie isn't Linux compatible, go ahead. But, Mr. Cook, who labels himself a systems engineer, isn't Aunt Minnie. I'll bet that had he been more rigorous about applying his training to the problem he would today be suffering less frustration.

Ron Morse

Actually I don't know much about Linux at all. I did have a Linux system running for a while, and I didn't have a lot of trouble with it, but I didn't to a lot with it either.

I intend to master Mac OS X Leopard before I try Linux seriously. Then I'll do as I am doing with the Mac, and adopt it for a while. But that won't be soon.

I do have reports of positive experiences with Linux. But it does look to me more like guru friendly system...

Subject: Self Pirating

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

As long as revenue from actual printed books dominates the publishing industry it will probably be a good marketing ploy to give away electronic copies of books as teasers. This is what Cory Doctorow is betting on - that people who read will be unwilling to give up their "fetish objects" (his words) and so printed books will always be around. (Note that printed copies of his books say "All Rights Reserved." Period. Nothing about Creative Commons.)

The problem I have with this is that it is betting against technology. As you point out technology WILL overtake the publishing industry, as it is overtaking the music and movie industries. I think this is a bad wager myself. Ironically, insisting that electronic copies want to be free both feeds demand for high quality reader hardware, thereby hastening the decline of the printed book market, as well as setting the expectation that this content shouldn't cost anything. Pretty short sighted if you ask me.

I think you and SFWA are fighting the good fight. Keep up the good work, and best wishes for a speedy recovery from your health problems.

Sincerely, Chris Pethick

Well, I have made my living from those 'fetish objects' and I didn't do it by giving them away. We will have to see how these things develop. Paperback revenues to authors decline, there is the "death spiral" and until we find a new revenue stream — almost certainly in eBooks — authors are going to be in trouble.

I have a couple of solutions. One is building a subscriber base.

Chaos Manor Subscribe Now

I also find Amazon Kindle a good way to read books, and their marketing is very good. It may generate some real income for authors. It's early days yet...