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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

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

June 3, 2008

It's hard to keep up with the interesting mail I get, but I try.


Customizing Word 2008 on the Mac

Jerry,

This guy's dogged determination to get it right reminds me of your columns:

http://tinyurl.com/4xawwa

How did this ever pass Microsoft QA?

Cheers,

Stephen

--
Stephen Fleming

I have my problems with Word 2008. I have even more problems with Word 2007 for the PC. As I will explain in the column, I am seriously considering replacing all instances of Word in my establishment with Word 2003 or an even earlier version.

Anyone using Word 2008 on a Mac would be well advised to have a look at the indicated link. Thanks.


Backup PST files... from Microsoft

Jerry,

I don't know if you have seen this yet, but it showed up in a recent e-mail from Microsoft:

Outlook 2007/2003/2002 add-in: Personal Folders Backup

For Outlook 2002 and later versions, this add-in creates backup copies of your .PST files at regular intervals, making it easy to keep all of your Outlook folders safely backed up.

I thought this might be of use to you and your massive PST files. Maybe you can incorporate this into your backup strategy. Sounds like you could let Outlook make the backups and then have your backup software ignore the "active" PST files and backup the backups. Something to think about.

Hope you're feeling well,

Scott Lewis

I have an earlier Microsoft addin for Outlook that offers to make backups whenever you close Outlook. In trying to download the one you recommend here I have run into problems with Microsoft Genuine Disadvantage which seems to hang up my system. It's possible that the server is always busy. In any event, I haven't had any success with getting this but I'll keep trying.

Thanks.


thanks for x-mini recommendation and a couple for you

Hi Jerry:

Just wanted to thank you for reviewing the X-mini speaker. What a marvelous little gadget. Just the ticket for getting audio out of my portable XM radio when I don't want to wear earphones.

I've been using a program that Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte have recommended called Drive Snapshot. If you've not looked at it, it's worth a trial. It's a drive image backup utility that runs from a single, standalone .exe file *under* XP (or whatever), i.e. no reboots into some weird DOS clone that can't find your external drives. Also very, very fast - I just backed up the system partition on my XP box and it clocked in 11 GB in about as many minutes. The same little .exe file can also install a temporary virtual drive handler that lets you mount the backed up image file(s) as a drive, so you can inspect or copy individual file using your normal OS utilities. All-in-all a refreshingly tidy bit of software.

Given the number of computers you have to wrangle with, I thought you might find it useful (I've got no association with the company beyond being a happy customer).

http://www.drivesnapshot.de/en/index.htm

I just finished setting up an Asus Eee 900 PC for my significant other. Very nice little XP-based computer, all things considered. It came with Microsoft Works and Star Office installed. I only added some Verizon software that uses her mobile phone for net access, Firefox (optimized for use on a flash-memory based system) and let it pull down a pile of updates from the MS mothership and called it done.

Worth a look if you spot one in Fry's

Regards,
Bob

Glad you liked the little speaker. Mine has served me well. As to backups, I have about 20 backup schemes and they get in the way of each other, so I probably won't try yet another...


We have two reports from Bob Holmes on his experiences with Vista. That's followed by a report from Holland by a Vista fan; and some remarks by me concerning Bette, an Intel Core 2 Quad 6600.

Vista SP1 - the Saga Continues to a somewhat satisfactory result

Jerry,

After my less than satisfactory experience with Microsoft's Vista SP1 support, what a waste of time, I decided to dig out the Vista DVD and boot up with it and choose the Repair option. What to my wondering eyes did appear after several minutes of trundling, but a message say that a problem with boot manager had been found and corrected. Since I had made no changes to boot manager and my XP partition started with no problems I must assume that the Vista SP1 install process had somehow created the error.

I removed the DVD and booted into Vista. A message appeared saying that it was Stage 3 of 3 of the SP1 installation process. When this finished Vista booted OK. Certainly no faster than before and perhaps a tad slower.

Now the question arises. What do all of the poor souls that brought systems at retail or mail order with Vista prior to SP1 do if they have a similar problem. Most of them will not have a Vista DVD to boot from and it is not clear to me that those systems that offer a recovery partition will have a repair option that does not just reinstall the OS. In any case, if the hard drive goes South on such a machine the owner is SOL without a Vista DVD to reinstall to a new hard drive.

Seems to me that MS should not allow systems with Windows pre-installed to ship with out a genuine Windows DVD or CD. After all, how much would that cost? Considerably less the one devalued US dollar no doubt.

Bob Holmes


Vista still broken by SP1

Jerry,

I spoke too soon. I tied to start up my Vista partition this morning and lo and behold it is broken again. Just hangs on the MS copyright screen as before. I guess I will have to dig out the Vista DVD and do the repair again and then back out SP1. Either through a System Restore or the update back-out procedure.

Microsoft should be ashamed of themselves. Vista is a humongous mess that offers no useful advantages over XP. In fact, the video editing and DVD creation package is badly flawed and doesn't produce a DVD with all of the edits that one may have made in the original videos. (It seems to lose some of the edits in a random sort of way.)

On a brighter note I installed Ubuntu Hardy Heron 64bit on another system this week. It recognized everything including a Promise IDE controller, the recent AMD 690V mother board chip set and even set my 22" Monitor to the appropriate resolution. Vista didn't do that! The latest versions of Firefox, Open Office, Gimp et al are available for use without installing after doing the update process following installation. Slick!

I guess that we should have a change of tactics and stop swearing at Microsoft and just swear off Microsoft products.

Bob Holmes

I have had my problems with Vista, but there is another side to the story:

Dear Jerry,

Boy, oh boy, oh boy. What a trouble with Vista.

But while Microsoft is trying to avoid people messing up with their system, many users try and will change settings, use cheap hardware with troublesome drivers, try to clean up the hard disk to save 20 Mb of log files et cetera, or try to install Vista on a self made or XP build machine. Their result à an instable system.

The Mac has some advantages. It is almost impossible to use many bad-written programs or cheap hardware with troublesome drivers. Macintosh does not like people like you and me with the old DOS-experience. They like the people that does not care about all the fuzz in the background. We have too much computer experience for a modern Mac and are impatient.

Install or connect, have a cup of tea, restart the PC, have a cup of coffee and it will work.

Microsoft is also trying to make trouble free, easy to use software. Vista is getting close to Macintosh software.

My advice is to buy a computer with Vista installed and do not install too many graphic depended devices yourself like TV-tuners or graphic cards from the newest generation. If you want them, buy the with the new machine. They are a sure way to get trouble.

I myself have a Tecra Portege M400, a laptop with all the hardware you can imagine installed running with Vista Business that is an upgrade from XP that was originally installed, and a Dell Dimension 9200 with Vista Ultimate.

Both systems never failed for a second.

My favourite program are MS-Office for my work at a laboratory, MS Access, Paint shop pro and Dreamweaver MX for my spider picture collection and my spider site. I use virtual PC with many OS installed from DOS 6 to Vista, to test new software. Sometimes I try new software on my main machine but that is a risk. "Do not do it Ed" I hear myself thinking when pressing the Install button. System Restore is the best program of XP and Vista.

I use an old laptop with a power consumption of 30W with XP installed as web and FTP server.

I bought the FTP and Web server at http://www.pablosoftwaresolutions.com/ . The guy also sell a mail server and many other useful software. The software is very cheap, works perfect, will not be hacked and has more features that the MS FTP and Web servers lack.

Many years I programmed my own software, but nowadays one can use standard software for most purposes. I use virtual PC with an old OS too have a look at my old programs. So many evenings of programming .... Gone, old fashioned.

Shall I reprogram them? No, I will not. In a few years they can be used again when every (network) computer has all the OS installed and automatically starts the best OS for the program you start.

I will stick with Vista. I have often looked at the Macs. But here in Europe they are too expensive. (+40% compared with the USA). For the same price you have almost two similar Vista machines.

All the best,
Ed Nieuwenhuys

I have to say that we have had no problems at all with 64-bit Vista Ultimate on Bette, an Intel Core 2 Quad 6600 system built here at Chaos Manor. Now I do much of my work on the iMac 20, so I haven't tortured Bette too badly yet. My recovery from this thing in my brain has slowed me down: my next move is to make Bette the communications main machine for a while to see how well she functions in that capacity, but making the conversion takes more energy than I have been able to summon in the past few weeks. We can hope that will get better.

My experience so far with Vista Ultimate in a Quad 6600 has been positive. My tentative conclusion is that hardware advances have bailed Microsoft out once again: it always was Microsoft's policy to ship software if it worked at all, on the theory that Moore's Law would make the hardware enough better to wipe out difficulties. It looks as if it is happening again.


Cheap ebook readers --

Jerry,

Remember when I predicted the $25 ebook reader?

We're getting there:

[[ cNet story link ]]

$75, including a *large* TWO-page color screen, half of which can do double-duty as a full-size "touch" keyboard.

Each page is about the size of a trade paperback, and the device, when closed, is about the same size. When open, it has the same look/feel as a real book, in terms of two full sized pages open side by side.

The production version will not be identical, but the concept is IMO much closer to the mark than anything else I've heard of.

I doubt that this will be the only such device, and I fully expect to see a usable ebook reader in the $25 range before too long. The cost of production with commodity parts really does not warrant the kind of nosebleed pricetags the vendors have been getting away with to date. The gravy train will be coming to a halt RSN.

Remember the $400 "pocket"-sized (for Captain Kangaroo) 4-banger calculator...

(And what was the name of that short story (and who was the author?) about a pen sized device that "the aliens" used to destroy the world economy? It could be aimed at any piece of metal -- the first time you hit the button, the metal would turn soft, and could be shaped by hand. The next time it was aimed at the metal, it would turn hard again. At first, the guy -- their "sales agent" -- traded them for astronomical prices. Eventually, they were dirt cheap. The story was somewhat reminiscent of The Big Pat Boom, as I recall.)

Ron

Interesting. My only objection to the Kindle is price. The device itself works quite well, and I use it for about half my reading now.

Once readers as good as the Kindle are sold at the price of a hardbound book (with, I suspect, several eBooks thrown in) they will become very popular, and the book business may well undergo a sea change...

Peter Glaskowsky adds:

Regarding ebook readers and the OLPC XO-2, see also my take on it, also on CNET. In summary, I don't think the OLPC people can deliver this new design at the planned price.

. png

Perhaps not now; but I make no doubt that it will not be long. Exponentials have a way of surprising us.


Amazon S3

Been messing around with this for the past couple of days.

AWS.Amazon.com, look on the left side for Amazon Simple Storage Service (the S3). Pricing is in the center.

Basically it is dirt cheap off site storage. The idea is that one uses Amazon's storage ability to store "stuff". Such stuff could be for an individual user, a web based company, or large scale industry.

I think it very interesting to use off site storage for backup. There are a number of programs available for OS X which allow one to connect to the S3 storage systems.

These include: An extension for Firefox called S3 organizer (I'm using this) Bucket Explorer for Windows and OS X and Linux (I'm using this)

http://www.bucketexplorer.com/Junglediskmonitor (which I can't make work correctly)

I've used it to store about a gig of "stuff". You could store 1 gig for about 0.15 cents a month. You'd have to pay a fee to move it in....whole thing might cost a buck or 5 a month. I'm not sure that its not less expensive than backing up to DVD's.

Mark

Hmm. Amazon off premise storage. Thanks.


And now a correction:

Entourage database limitations

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

In your April 21 Mailbag Steve Setzer writes the following

"That might be a worthwhile experiment, but it would definitely be stretching Entourage to its very limits and perhaps beyond. Knowing what you've written about your inbox...well, let's just say that I think your inbox is way outside the size and complexity limitations imagined by the Office Mac team."

By doing a little research I found what the actual limitations of Microsoft Entourage 2008 are concerning database size.

"The Entourage 2004 & 2008 database has no size limit, just a limit to the number of items in the Entourage database: 2 million database items.

Note: Database items, not Entourage objects (such as messages, contacts, events, etc.). Dave Cortright, Entourage developer, explains it this way: An email or news message is actually TWO database items, and for anyone with near a million Entourage objects (messages, contacts, events, etc.), they will almost all be messages - the other stuff will be "loose change". So the limit is effectively just under 1 million messages. Entourage will notify you if you ever approach the limit."

You can archive old messages by this simple method of backing up the database as a whole and then deleting stuff that you don't want in the database anymore. Other methods can be used as well. You can create quite complex rules structures within Microsoft Entourage for sorting and storing e-mail messages. You will find access to a number of helpful tips related to various versions of Microsoft Entourage located at the site run by Microsoft MVPs:

http://www.entourage.mvps.org

It should be possible to handle a type of volume you describe in your reply to Mr. Setzer. Having said that, the spam handling built into the program is probably not up to your needs. However, there is an excellent piece of software that has become the gold standard of spam filtering on the Macintosh. The program is called: SpamSieve. It can be found here (you can download a free trial):

http://c-command.com/spamsieve/

I've been using various versions of this program for years and always come back to it after trying other spam filtering solutions.

(In the interest of full disclosure I should tell you that I do work for a Macintosh software developer. But I do not work for either Microsoft or the developer of the spam filtering utility I have mentioned.)

If you need to keep a large volume of e-mail organized and easily searchable, and Microsoft Entourage 2008 is certainly worth your consideration. I hope you will find this information useful.

-- T. Patrick Henebry

Thanks. I am still dithering about going over entirely to a Mac system — I have enough Mac equipment to do everything I have to do, since I can run Windows as a Mac application. If I do, I'll need a good mail organization system, and this sounds like the right one.

Of course I don't like Word 2008 very much. Sigh. I suppose I can write with Word 2003 in XP as a Mac application...


MacBookPro Restoration

Hi Jerry,

I just had a relatively pleasant experience with my daughter's MacBook Pro.

Somehow the system got corrupted and Office 2004 would not work.

My wife took the laptop to the Apple Store. They said the OS had gotten corrupted and would need to be reinstalled. They gave her a set of instructions on what to do. While at the store she gave me a call to let me know I would have a bit of work to do tonight. sigh...

Basically it boiled down to reinstalling OS X (Leopard), but, the kicker was that the default installation settings archived the user directories and most applications. This meant that after OS X was reinstalled all the user stuff and applications were back. The desktop had all the old files in exactly the same place and even the wall paper was the same.

Pretty spiffy.

The only problem was that I had to do several OS updates and some updates to Office 2004, but these went smoothly.

Microsoft could learn a thing or two. I have had to reinstall Windows many times and I can't remember any option that would put my computer nearly back to the same state it was before reinstall of the OS.

Mike Frank

Microsoft could learn a thing or two... You said a mouthful, Bo.

Captain Morse adds:

"...Microsoft could learn a thing or two... You said a mouthful, Bo." Is "Bo" correct or should it be "Bro"?

I am going to have some T-shirts made from Bob Holmes' suggestion to ..."stop swearing at Microsoft, just swear off " and distribute them at the next local open source users group meeting. It can be done.

Ron Morse

Well, "Bro" is contemporary, but I was actually alluding to Newman Levy's ribald song, Thais.


Language wars

I think when it comes to programming languages, you should stick to reading about it, and find something else to write about. From your written words on the subject, it seems clear that you are way out of touch.

The goal of a programming language is to get something done. The choice of which language to use is not trivial, it is governed by the task at hand. I would still choose C over Pascal any day of the week.

However, C is not probably going to be my first choice, either. There exists a plethora of languages to choose from, and I would probably choose a different one. For example, to write a small, quick-and-dirty program that has a Windows user interface, I would pick a .NET language, probably Visual Basic. A bit larger Windows program, it would be C# (which has strict type-checking and range-checking). If it didn't need a GUI, I might go with PERL, Python, or Ruby.

For any project, the choice of language today can be a complex decision. One must include politics among the factors. You oversimplify the decision by automatically ruling out C. For example, to write an OS kernel or device driver, C is probably still the best choice.

The industry is aware of the dangers of using certain type of data structures, such as buffers. Something you must not be aware of is that one can have a buffer overflow vulnerability using Pascal. It is the /implementation/ of the buffer, not the language itself, that is the cause of the problem. Microsoft is certainly aware of buffer overflows, and the Microsoft C/C++ compiler flags usage of certain functions in the standard library as security risks automatically.

The industry is evolving away from C/C++; you can relax.

(By the way, the reader who said that Java is a tamed C++ is mistaken. Java has a certain function, and a certain reason for existing, but being a "tamed C++" is not one of them. However, Microsoft's answer to Java, C#, might fall under the category of a tamed C++.)

Mark Allums

Well, I will concede that I do little to no programming now, so I can understand why some may think me disqualified from language discussions; but I don't concede the point.

In my judgment, the principles don't change; and what Wirth and Edsger Dijkstra wrote half a century ago still applies. It is certainly possible for highly skilled programmers to write good programs in almost any language, and if they are sufficiently careful in commenting their code, other highly skilled programmers may be able to maintain, modify, and update those programs.

That will not be usual. Many programs become nearly useless within a year or so of the departure of the programmer who wrote them.

Some of these difficulties can be overcome by the proper choice of programming languages.

Niklaus Wirth, in particular, argued for and developed highly structured programming languages. They all featured strong typing, required variable declarations, and type and range checking during compilation. There were other features including strict syntax enforcement.

Wirth wrote Pascal as a teaching language; it wasn't originally intended to be compiled and run. Those were the days when computers were rare and expensive; it was possible to write and judge Pascal programs of sensible lengths without a computer, and instructors were expected to do so. When computers became more common, compilers and code generators were written for Pascal. One of Wirth's requirements for a language was that it be able to compile itself.

There were actually a number of useful programs written in Pascal in the early days of micro computers, but Pascal was fairly limited, particularly in its input/output libraries (think drivers). Compiling Pascal programs took considerable time and the resulting code was painfully slow compared to programs written in assembly-like languages.

Wirth wrote two more languages, Modula-2 and Oberon, both Pascal-like in their structure; and the DOD language ADA was mostly based on Wirth's coding philosophy.

ADA contained exception handling, which Wirth detested; Wirth believed that people who needed exception handling were simply poor programmers. The DOD committees governing ADA insisted that exception handling was necessary because programs written in ADA would govern real time operations, including missile launching. I do not care to get into that debate.

All this happened when computers were fairly new, well before there was a computer on every desk and in every home and in every classroom; and computers in those times were very limited. They were slow, they had limited memory, and they accessed very limited mass storage. This meant that Pascal-like languages compiled very slowly — while the demand for software was growing as computer sales increased.

The result was that speed won out over structure in the language wars. Today, though, computers are fast, there's lots of memory, and mass storage is nearly unlimited. Programs written in highly structured languages with type and range checking run slower than programs written in assembly-like languages, but no one cares: good enough is good enough.

The advantage of the structured languages is that there are fewer bugs. Programs written in Pascal-like languages take longer to compile — everything has to be just right or it won't compile — but after they do compile they tend to run just as intended. That, at least, is the argument, and I haven't seen any real refutation of that.

We certainly have enough bugs in our programs now. I contend that the way to less buggy software is faster computers running programs written in languages like those Wirth proposed.

And that's probably enough on the subject. I doubt I will make many converts, but I do keep trying.