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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2009 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

March 22, 2009

ESCAPE FROM HELL, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, is now shipping. This is the story of a science fiction writer who finds himself in Dante's Inferno. It might be subtitled Vatican II meets Dante. A number of readers have reported favorably...

Dr. Pournelle,

You or your advisors might have some good advice, regarding a replacement for my IBM T-41p.

The T-41p was still "good enough", however the wireless card is flaky and I think the hard drive just failed (it endlessly goes whir-click and hangs during login after bootup). I'm faced with the prospect of buying around $300 worth of parts (either new internal wlan card or a cardbus wlan card, and a fast new hard drive) and spending a few days re-learning how to clone the IBM restore partition so I don't have to buy another winXP license, or just biting the bullet and upgrading the whole thing with a new laptop.

I already have a good idea how to go about attempting a repair, but finding a suitable replacement is a problem. I liked just about everything about the T-41p, from the durable metal case to the high resolution 4:3 screen. As you know from owning the next-year's version of the same laptop, it weighed about 5lbs, had great battery life, was pretty darn small, and used a very slim optical drive to keep the overall thickness pretty low. The trackpoint mouse pointer is also a great feature I really like.

So far off the top of my head, my replacement options are another ThinkPad (I hate the widescreens they have now but they're otherwise still very nice) or make the leap and buy a Mac. I have no idea if I'd be happier with a MacBook or MacBook pro though, and that's where your advisors might have some great advice. I figure the main feature I'll lose by going with either mac is the trackpoint "eraser mouse" mouse pointer, but I'll get to keep the other features I like - thin form factor, good screen, missing pretty much no major features, good battery life, not too heavy, etc. But going from the MacBook to the MacBook Pro is a big expense and I'm not sure I'll need it. I would like the option of doing some mild gaming while I'm on the road, so the better video card in the pro is a bonus. I also would be using the thing for on the road digital photo editing, so memory, cpu, and screen quality are as important as low weight, thin/light form factor, and battery life.

So. Any thoughts on how to replace a laptop that was top of the line 5 years ago? If the answer is a mac, which one, what options should I get, and what accessories will I want/need? It's hard to believe I bought the T-41p 5 years ago and it has lasted so long and never really went obsolete, but that's why I buy high-end laptops in the first place and that's what I expect from any replacement. I spent over $3000 on the T-41p so although I'm not looking to waste money on stuff I don't need, my budget is somewhat flexible.

Thanks in advance.


I have an aging T-42p; but I also have a Mac Book Pro which is being phased in as the main laptop at Chaos Manor, so I have no decisions to make. I do emphasize that I have been happy with my T-42p.

Rick Hellewell observes

I wrote about replacing the hard drive in my Thinkpad T42 on CMR here (about halfway though). Cost (other than my time) was under $100.


And indeed he did. I also reported success in replacing my T-42p hard drive with a larger and faster one.

Eric Pobirs said

As far as I can tell, everybody but IBM has abandoned the keyboard joystick input device. If you're really attached to that, it's IBM or nothing.

$3,000 is an awful lot of money for a laptop today, considering the feature sets now offered on units well below $1,000. Unless you have your heart set upon something special like a loaded MacBook Air or equivalent, or some transportable gaming behemoth, I have a hard time seeing the point of spending so much at once. Rather than trying to have something last for five years, you could spend $1,500 on something very nice and put the remaining $1,500 in a CD for 2.5 years. By then the $1,500 laptop will still be useful but you'll have the money to get something much better for the same price and a good chunk of cash from the interest. You'll have a spiffy new machine, a still functional spare machine to have in reserve or to gift, and a lot smaller stab in the wallet at the times of purchase.

- - Eric

Peter Glaskowsky says

After 2.5 years in a CD, that $1,500 will give you about another 80 bucks... :-)

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And Captain Morse adds that's before taxes.

Eric continues

Sure but it's safe. The $1,500 could be spent on other things but the premise was that he was prepared to lose the use of $3,000. My suggestion was to not spend as much, give up custody temporarily of the remainder, and have a little left over later. Where else is he going to stick the money at no risk?

- -Eric

Peter Glaskowsky also says

There are a lot of great laptops around $1,500 these days, including the Thinkpad T500 (the current version of the T-42p), which can be very nicely configured for less than that amount.

The point being that prices continue to fall, and investing a lot of money in a laptop may not be a wise decision: there are very good laptops available at under $1,000, and the current T-500 ThinkPad with 250 GB drive and 2 MB memory is at present available for $900.

Another option is a Mac: Alex Pournelle uses a 17" MacBook Pro as his only machine. It can be booted into Windows or into Mac OS, and using VMware it can run Windows XP after being booted into OS X, thus managing the best of both worlds. One would not care to run the very latest games in OS X VMware Windows, but you can certainly run just about any Windows game having booted up into Windows.

Clearly if one intends to do serious video editing, the MacBook Pro is a better choice; and of course if running Windows as a Mac OS application in VMware, the Pro is going to work better. Most of my correspondents find the Mac Book surprisingly powerful, but I don't know anyone who does video editing on one.

I understand the temptation to buy top of the line: I hate the thought that my T-42p will wear out. It has been more than satisfactory for years now, and when it needed warranty service the IBM/Lenovo service system worked flawlessly and was very fast. If an updated version of that machine were available I'd not hesitate to recommend it - but I wouldn't have been asked about it in the first place. Alas, all the new systems including the T-500 have the "wide screen" format, which works, but I don't like it as much as I did the old square T-42p. Otherwise, though, it's a very good system, and while I haven't used that one, I have had several post-T42p ThinkPads with both Xp and Vista, and they all just work.

Given the present situation, I think it's a choice between refurbishing the T-41p or getting a good $1,000 system, then waiting to see what new developments happen. We're still on the exponential rise in the computer technology S-curve, and two years from now there will be even more powerful systems for less money; look at the recent price of the T-500.

Extreme shepherding


Samsung again, at the intersection of LEDs and Border Collies.

Eric Pobirs

For some reason I found this irresistible.

This started as a note from a reader, and ended with information on application developments in Linux. If you have an interest in storage you'll learn something here; at least I did.

Interesting storage option

Hi Jerry:

I was glad to hear in your letter that the blood work is looking well. My wife has been thru this 3 times now and it seems to be finally behind us and I know what a relief it is to get past it.

I've been playing with an interesting storage option lately that I thought I'd pass along to you.

I'm incredibly anal about having backups in lots of places. I backup y MacBook Pro to a time machine raid-1 drive on my desk at work hourly. I rsync my home directory on my MBP in my house to a linux machine with a big array on it every night.

Until recently I've also used an older Linux machine located at my beachhouse as my offsite storage box. It maintained a VPN connection to my house and I rsync'd key directories down to it nightly. That box consumes a lot of power and takes up a fair amount of space and is reaching the point in its life where stuff is starting to fail. I have a cable modem there.

Now I've discovered, for $89.95 the DLink DNS-321. It is a small 2 Drive SATA RAID NAS running Linux. I installed 2 WD Caviar Green 1TB drives in it. Then I dropped in a package called funplug which unlocks the Linux and allows me to add all kinds of software. I added ssh, rsync and VTUN (the VPN software I use.)

The whole process was practically painless and now I have a complete 1 TB RAID-1 offsite storage solution for < $300.

This is a pretty complete little system now that I can remotely administer and gives me a nice additional level of offsite backup with very little energy consumption. The only drawback I've found is that it can't be set to restart after a power hit so I've put it on the big UPS that protected the old Linux box. Since the drives are powered off most of the time it's a very low power device and I figure I've got pretty good uptime with the UPS.


John Harlow

Peter Glaskowsky said

Since I'm sort of in the market for a product like that, I looked into the D-Link DNS-321. I can't find it nearly as cheap as $89.95. D-Link says it's $149.95:


And online retailers still charge $130 or more with shipping. At NewEgg it's $129.99 plus tax.

For me, the option is a USB RAID-1 drive plugged into my Airport Extreme base station. That would be even cheaper, since those are usually priced only $40-50 more than the bare drives.

But it would also be less capable. The fact that the DNS-321 runs Linux and can be upgraded with funplug to support ssh, rsync, and VPN software makes it really attractive. I'm very tempted. :-)

There's also a four-drive version of the same thing, the DNS-343, which supports RAID-5, retails for $449.99, and is generally available for under $400:


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Alex Pournelle, knowing Dan Spisak's affinities, wondered about Drobo. Peter replied

Oh, I'm well aware of the Drobo. I keep a Drobo in my Items to Buy Later list at Amazon (where it's usually cheaper than other places). But a Drobo needs either a server or their own extra-cost NAS adapter, and can't do this other stuff.

What I really want, for use with these big cheap consumer drives, is RAID-6, but there aren't any consumer RAID-6 products yet. I don't really trust N+1 redundancy any more.

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This brought about an interesting exchange. Dan Spisak said

Uh, actually you can develop your own applications for the Drobo. Take a look:


Beats hacking about with an unsupported Linux.

-Dan S.

Peter replied

Downloading ready-made, user-tested binaries for a D-Link gizmo seems like a better deal than trying to port stuff to a Drobo, even if the D- Link's Linux isn't factory supported.

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Dan answered:

Have you looked at the list of developed apps?


There is some really cool and useful stuff on there!

-Dan S.

The conclusion was that there are a number of interesting and powerful applications, and more coming. All of which reminds me of the early days of the computer revolution, except that back in those days it was possible to keep track of what is happening. Opening systems to third party application developments was a major spur to the first computer revolution of the 80's.

Windows 7 vs. Vista

I have quietly watched the hype surrounding Windows 7 and how it will cure the world of problems caused by Vista. I use Vista, after having used XP a long time, and Vista has a lot of things right. If Microsoft had fixed UAC instead of defending it, and set the permissions on a few directories differently, things might have been different.

The UAC is terminally stupid for experienced users. I just shut it off. The directory permissions relates to some hard links that use the XP standard names to point to new names used in Vista, one example would be "MyMusic" pointing to "Music". The links had a security link that denied permission for anybody to use them at all. The net result was that if you clicked one in Windows Explorer, you got "Access Denied" instead of being directed to the underlying contents. Change that permission and voila! It works as it should. But then you can now delete them... generally not a problem, but there may well be programs I do not use that would be confused with the new directory names.

Lastly, let me discuss the improved system control present in Vista. If you run a program that decides to take a very long time to do something, if you alt-tab or otherwise change focus to something else and come back, Vista will tell you that the program is not responding. If the program isn't really hunk up, just loading a lot of things, you can wait for it to finish. But, you need merely click to close the program and it is shut down.

In XP, you must decide to do this and use ctrl-alt-delete to bring up the Task Manager, and select your application from there to shut it down. Vista is far more alert at detecting this stuff, and if I am Impatient I just shut the program down and maybe do the task later.

As best I can tell, Windows 7 is a revamped Vista, with the mistakes removed. Perhaps given the bad name Vista has accumulated, people will be lulled into thinking that Windows 7 is a big deal. However, I recently saw reports that Microsoft was going to set the version tag to 6.1 "for compatibility reasons". After watching how long Microsoft took to get Vista shipped, using the approach that it was new from the ground up, I would be surprised that they could write a better OS in less than a year unless it was merely a repaired Vista.

Wesley Howe

That seems to be a general conclusion: Windows 7 is really Vista with some of the crud removed and a bit of, uh, window dressing. It's also very good. A number of my colleagues are using Windows 7 on production machines. So far I have avoided doing that, but I'm tempted.

My major problem with Vista is security: for reasons I simply cannot fathom, one of my main machines will not connect to any other machine without my giving a user name and password, and nothing I can do will make it remember those; the other main machine connects automatically to everything without that problem. It's more of an irritation than anything else, so I just live with it.

And despite many people trying to teach me proper ways to use Vista search, I enormously prefer the old XP search window when all I want to do is find a file. I often end up using Windows Commander (Norton's wonderful abandonware file manager) and searching manually, which is silly.

The Windows 7 Release Candidate will be out on April 10, and the word I hear is that it's going to be very solid. Maybe my advisors will let me install it on a working machine, assuming I have any time left over; I am in the throes of finishing a novel, and I don't have as much time to do silly things as I used to. But I haven't given up that practice...

Responding to the upcoming series on home theater:

Real Theatre Feel!


If you want that "Real Theatre Feel" in your home theatre, you don't want carpet on the floor. What you really need is a bare concrete floor that has had mass quantities of soda and popcorn spilled on it.

When I go to a "real" movie theatre I try to avoid this by going to the first showing of the day.

Bob Holmes

And chewing gum under the seats...

Last month I mentioned that I was considering changing to VOIP for one of my phone lines.


Hi, Jerry. If you have good internet connectivity at home, then a VOIP solution such as Vonage is a good bet. I've been a Vonage customer for about 3 years now, and I've been mostly satisfied with it.

It's simple enough; plug your router into the Vonage router, and that into the network connection (I'm on cable modem with Comcast). Then plug any analog phone(s) into the Vonage box. My plan is $24.99 per month flat rate for anywhere in the USA with dirt-cheap calls to Australia, Japan and most of Europe. When my son's girlfriend went home to Kiev for the summer a couple of summers ago, it saved a BUNDLE on long-distance calls. (Kiev was 11 cents per minute.)


You can add additional phone numbers to your account for $5/each. Those phone numbers can be in any area code in the US, giving you a "local number there" for anyplace you choose. Then your friends can call a local number, and get you.

Also, you can take the Vonage router and phone with you on your travels. Plug it in anyplace you have an internet connection, and you can make - and receive! - calls as if you were at home.


The voice quality isn't QUITE what we're used to with Ma Bell, but still not bad.

If your power and/or internet connection goes down, so does the Vonage line. I'm not quite ready to disconnect my telco account, even though it is the "Tin-Can-And-A-String Phone Company". Here in the Sacramento suburbs, Comcast goes down with distressing frequency. Of course, it's never down for LONG, so I suppose I could count on our cell phones... unless the cell system is also down. Which is why I'm still paying for a "real" phone number.

Keep up the good work!


Others tell me much the same, and that this will work well with my ancient TIE internal telephone system. It would be simple to convert, and I will probably do that. And as suggested, I do intend to keep at least one regular land line telephone account, just in case.

The Voice Quality may be a problem: I do some telephone interviews with radio hosts. Of course when I do TWIT we use SKYPE, and that sounds all right. I probably ought to do more with SKYPE, but as I have previously noted, I just never got the habit of using my computer and a headset as a telephone.

Non-DRM ebooks on the iPhone

Dear Jerry,

Saw your note about eBook applications on the iPhone:

"I'd really like a way to get eBooks into the Kindle app, but I'd settle for an app that would convert non-DRM eBooks into apps like those I buy from the iTunes Store. I could get them into the iPhone by attaching them to email, but reading them in email isn't easy. There ought to be a better way. I don't want to jailbreak my iPhone, but I would like to be able to put books into it."

There is a Mac desktop version of the Stanza application that does just this. It takes epub, rtf, html, and a few other formats, and then can send the books over wifi to a copy of Stanza running on an iPhone as long as the Mac and the iPhone are on the same wireless network. I believe there is also a Windows version of the desktop Stanza app but I have not used it. Combined with Stanza's built-in access to Gutenberg Project texts, Stanza has worked very well for me. I assume that Stanza should be able to handle most of the formats that Amazon's $0.10 conversion process does-- but it does so for free, and puts you in complete control of what you send to your iPhone and how.

For some formats that Stanza didn't support, as well as some texts of my own that it formatted improperly, eReader Pro (also a free app in the App Store) worked well. Its method of importing texts to the iPhone is a bit less elegant; you turn Web Sharing on in the Sharing pane of System Preferences, and then you place the files you wish to send to eReader into a directory that is shared (/Library/WebServer/Documents/ or /Library/WebServer/Documents/~username in Mac OS X 10.5). In eReader Pro, you then tap the + sign in the lower right of the main screen to add a new book, and choose "Another site" as the source, then enter the address of the machine on the local network where you placed your texts, for example, and it will show you the available texts.

Getting a real kick out of reading your experiences putting the iPhone through its paces. I like mine quite a bit, and I'm always interesting in finding out new things it is good for. It's already become my primary source of reading material since I always have it with me, and I'm looking forward to trying out the Kindle app.

Best regards,


Peter Glaskowsky notes

David wrote:

"There is a Mac desktop version of the Stanza application that does just this."

A) It doesn't do "that", which is to make standalone iPhone book apps.
B) You don't want to do that anyway.
C) Stanza is indeed a great way to get non-DRM e-books onto the iPhone.

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Indeed. And of course there's a Windows version of Stanza that will convert most non-DRM e-books into formats that Kindle can eat.

As noted in this month's column, there's an iPhone app that lets you bring Kindle format books to the iPhone. This means it's now pretty well a matter of preference as to whether you read non-DRM (or Kindle) e-books on Kindle, iPhone, laptop, desktop, or a sub-laptop Linux system like the ASUS..

Column comment - fax machine

Dr. Pournelle,

You mentioned earlier that you no longer have a scanner, and in the column mentioned that you don't have much use for a fax machine. I have a cheap solution for you.

My wife and I love our HP officejet all in one printer/scanner/fax machines. They have a "real" fax modem built in, so they function even if the computer they're attached to is not turned on, unlike most consumer all in one devices. The print quality is reasonable especially since you can swap out the black cartridge for a special second photo ink cartridge, the unit has an automatic feeder on top so you can scan up to around 30 pages without user action beyond filling the input tray, and the fax machine knows how to live with a typical answering machine so you don't need a second line to get incoming faxes. What happens is that an inbound fax usually gets the answering machine on the first try after the typical 4 rings, and if there is a second inbound call within about 5 minutes the fax machine answers the phone on the first ring. It works very well in actual use, so well that my wife's officejet is indispensable when she works from home since she must be able to scan/send documents, receive faxes, and print out documents or contracts to do her job.

As usual, get last year's model when they go on sale for $125ish (we got a second one for my wife for $99 on closeout) and remember to replace the ink every year or so. Also remember to remove the ink if the printer will be in storage or will be moved, since the cartridges don't always remain sealed when the temperature or pressure changes and few things ruin a new carpet like a puddle of inkjet ink dripping from the seams of a printer (ops-tested this when I came home after a year in Korea...oops).

My only gripe is common for devices like this... The drivers and utilities installed by HP are mildly intrusive. The solution of course is to hang the device on an infrequently used computer and print remotely from any computer on the LAN using only the basic print driver.


That's one solution. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that what I really need is a computer based Fax number - they are easy enough to come by -for receiving fax if I need it, and on the rare occasions when I need to send a Fax I go down to Kinko's and do it from there. Our Fax machine seemed to have a problem not long ago, but it has fixed itself, and the problem may have been with the person attempting to send us the fax. On the other hand, the fax telephone line isn't used for much else, and it's getting expensive.

"Surely there are programs that let me receive faxes on either Windows or the Mac? "



Christopher Mazuk


Dr. Pournelle -

You wrote:

"Of course the new iPhone will interfere with your regular phone, and most other electronic devices, but most all phones do."

Actually CDMA phones like my Verizon cell phone do not interfere. The reason that GSM and iDEN phone create interference is that the pulse repetition rate they selected for the digital transmissions is right in the middle of the audio band. If the equipment even slightly detects the RF frequency the phones use (which can be as high as 2 GHz) the result is audible interference.

"I had thought it was something wrong with one of the computers."

Well it is a design defect in lots of common audio electronics. The phones are merely doing what they were designed to do and are legal and licensed to transmit. The audio electronics are to blame for the problem. Until recently there was no reason to design electronics to keep 2 GHz RF out. This is not an easy task as this very high frequency can get through very small holes in the shielding of the equipment. We design sound systems for the US House and Senate, and have had to learn how to get this interference out of sound systems. It can be done, but is not that easy.

"I'm told that Vonage will work just fine with my ancient TIE internal telephone system"

It should be no problem. I have done the same with the phones at home. I have one POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) line and one Vonage VOIP line, both connected to my phone system. By the way Vonage works great for FAX.

"Sometime last year there was a big "sale" of ebooks at Baen Publishing, and I downloaded several of them. As to where I put them after I downloaded them to this computer, I can't imagine; it's a complete blank, and searching by title has produced nothing"

No problem, Baen has records. Just log onto your Baen WebScriptions account, click on "my books" and there will be a complete listing of everything you have ever bought from them with links so you can download them again in every format offered, or read them on-line. I now have 3 pages of books in my WebScriptions account, including everything they offer by Pournelle.

Thanks for all you do!

Ray A. Rayburn

I keep hearing cell phone gallop in news conferences, so I suppose the interviewer's audio equipment must be picking it up. Thanks for reminding me about Baen having the list.

Discharging lithium batteries

Dr. Pournelle,

You can already discharge a fully charged lithium battery in about 10 seconds... Just punch a nail through it and stand back. They go up like a road flare, and sometimes they'll do it without obvious provocation. The electric powered radio control aircraft parts market includes a best selling item just for lithium battery charging - a bag certified to contain a 3000+ mah lithium battery undergoing a catastrophic thermal failure. Most folks who are into electric car/boat/aircraft modeling either use one of these bags or, if they're too cheap to buy the $25 bag, charge their batteries in the fireplace since charging in the garage is far too hazardous.

Obligatory video showing what happens when you overcharge a lithium polymer battery (forcing a failure in the absence of damage): http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3690260570423705609

It's commonly recommended to throw away any battery that's been in a crash even if it sustained zero visible damage, because hidden internal damage can make the thing go up at any time in the future without warning. Lots of people ignore this advice, and a certain percentage of them burn down their garages or even burn up their cars while at the flying club while using their car battery to charge up the aircraft battery between flights. A road flare going off even in a safety bag or your fireplace is going to make a mess, so many people spend a few hundred bucks a year on new batteries just to avoid the cleanup.

It's a fun hobby if you don't burn down the house.


Thanks for the warning. I wonder if dropping your laptop qualifies as a crash?

Marty Winston observes:

A small competitive note about iPhone versus BlackBerry:

Both handsets have huge third-party developer communities creating interesting applications. I find that, in broad strokes, iPhone applications seem to center on socialization & entertainment, while BlackBerry applications seem to center on productivity. The App Store is a clear iPhone advantage in that it puts that huge catalog in front of users; there will soon be a similar feature for BlackBerry. Any one person will have a favorite, but it's important to note that iPhone isn't the only choice out there that turns a cell phone into a handheld computing platform with broad-based developer support.

Marty Winston

I have made similar observations. Of course I have an iPhone, which has served me very well as a pocket computer. The point is that pocket computers exist now, and they're going to get better. Competition works.

Speaking of AT&T acting like a monopoly, I was just reading an article about the AT&T monopoly on phone calls home from our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Apparently, AT&T is routinely charging our soldiers between $0.50 and $1.00 per minute for ordinary landline calls.

I was surprised that they had to pay at all, let alone that much. I'd have thought that the government would provide free calls home for serving soldiers, which is apparently common practice in other nations.

Here is the article I mentioned. And another that says AT&T blocks 800-number access or adds surcharges to prevent soldiers from using cheaper alternatives.

As outrageous as it is, the $0.21/minute rate mentioned in this article seems to be on the low side based on what I'm reading elsewhere.

Robert Bruce Thompson

When AT&T was a regulated public utility they'd never have tried this; but of course local phone rates were higher. The argument used to be that some functions are "natural monopolies" and need to be publicly regulated; competition doesn't work where there are "natural monopolies."

That was in the days when most communication was through copper wires. That's all changing now. Technology has a way of doing that to natural monopolies. But as technology races ahead, our legal system has a lot of trouble keeping up.

Claris/AppleWorks vs FileMaker


After reading Peter Millard's comments regarding the DB module in Claris/AppleWorks being a "lite" version of FMP, I thought I should clarify a couple of things. I was doing Tech Support for Claris/FileMaker in the '96/'97 timeframe, just prior to Apple reorganizing their software operation, bringing all of the software back under the Apple name except for FMP. I still use AppleWorks (6.2.9) occasionally and FM Pro regularly.

While the 'Works DB has an interface that looks (intentionally, I'm sure) a lot like FMP, and some functions operate the same, under the hood they were completely different. FMP has always been far more robust, had built-in cross platform (IIRC) networking and is relational and multi-user. I can't remember how many calls I handled in two years, usually from schools, that centered around corrupted files/lost data because multiple users tried to get into a 'Works file at the same time.

There never was any true cross application file functionality. Opening a file created in either of the apps on the other required exporting the data in tab or comma delimited, DIF, DBF, SYLK or other DB file interchange format, and then you lost all of your layouts and reports. I always felt that all of the 'Works modules were fine to a point and the cross module integration was far better than MS Works. but none of the modules handled large files or graphics (by today's standards) well. This was even more true of the Windows version. Yes, it was cross platform up to the last version, 6.2.9, which came (through educational channels only toward the latter period of its availability) with both the Mac (OS 9 & X) and Windows versions on the same CD.

I'm not knocking 'Works. It was an excellent application in its day. Rather I wanted to clarify some points.


Thanks. FileMaker (link) is still my product of choice.

Kindle accessory

Dr. Pournelle,

A worthy kindle accessory for those who might take their kindle to locations where there isn't any power (camping, etc)... The Black and Decker "pocket power" (link ) is an NiMH battery with a small 115v AC transformer. The spec are 115V, 60hz, 16W continuous (20W for 3 min). The neatest thing about it however is that it also has a USB port, so you can use the battery to run or charge devices that charge over USB. It puts out 350mA on the 5v USB connection. That means ipod, kindle, any cellphone, etc. can all charge off of this thing either with the USB port or the small transformer.

Yes, overall capacity is limited, but it's more than enough to top off a phone, ipod, or kindle if you need an extra day of juice. The pocket power device has rubberized corners so you can just charge it before a trip and toss it in with your electronic or camping gear and forget about it until you need to top off your cellphone.

There are a number of other devices like this, but they all seemed to have very limited capacity or utility (AC or USB power only, etc). This has a 1.2 AH NiMH battery so it ought to be able to top off many handheld devices without much trouble. I haven't tested it to see how far it will charge a completely depleted Kindle 2 yet (my kindle has only run out of batteries once since it arrived on 25 Feb) but I expect it will give me an extra couple of days of charge even if it doesn't top it off.


Thanks. I keep a car battery to 120 Volt converter in the road kit for much the same thing.

First Kindle 2 pdf transfer attempt

Dr. Pournelle,

A note about PDFs on Kindle 2... CNN posted the PDF file for Obama's first hack at the budget, and I sent it to my kindle.

In a word, the results were "unacceptable". As an experiment it was worth 10 cents, but the document as displayed on the kindle is largely unreadable. I didn't really expect anything better since I already knew how the kindle's software display architecture is completely incompatible with the PDF format, but I had hoped it would be at least readable even if the formatting was messed up. But it was far worse than just missing formatting.

Maybe I'll have better luck with some of the PDF converters available on the web, doing conversions on my computer and transferring via USB. I have some very large PDFs I'd like to have available on my kindle that can't be sent via email anyhow, so I'll give it a shot.

One more comment about the Kindle 2 in general - I've found myself inadvertently looking at the home page a handful of times because on the left side the "prev" button is right above the "next" button, but on the right side there is no "prev" button. It would have been better if they'd stacked three buttons on the right side instead of just having "home" and "next", with the "home" button mirroring the "prev" button from the left side. As is, I have to switch hands sometimes to go back a page.


I find myself reading on the Kindle a lot - but I also find I can use the iPhone as a reader, and I have it with me more often than I have the Kindle. When I have the Kindle I'd rather use it.

Eric sent a note for the February mailbag but it got trapped in a spam filter:

For Chuck Anderson, VirtualPC is free and can run a Windows 98 installation just fine, along with all of his ancient software so long as it doesn't need to see any unusual hardware. MWD is using this for a lot of ill-behaved XP software on their Vista machines (although the most critical items needed access to instrumentation that couldn't seen through the virtual system. Worst deployment planning for the money, ever.) , so a Win98 system simulated in VirtualPC on a recent system should be pretty usable.

One of the niceties in Windows 7 is direct support for VHD (virtual hard drive) files to further simplify virtual install use. This may get backported to Vista but for now it's just Win7 and the upcoming R2 for Server 2008.

Eric Pobirs

And we can close with an interesting question:

Is Microsoft Bad for the Economy


I was trying earlier to run a 1998 vintage Excel spreadsheets which contains some VBA code. Excel 2007 informs me that I cannot run the code. I need a VBA converter. I have invested about an hour searching for the converter. I have not installed it yet and who knows if it will work and how much longer I will spend getting my old spreadsheet to work.

I bought the new version of MS Office when I got a new computer. So far, I have found nothing in Excel or Word 2007 that would justify an upgrade from the 1997 versions of these products. For the most part, they have arbitrarily moved things around and made it harder for me to get my work done. I bought them because the earlier versions are no longer available and I try to stay legal with my software.

This got me to thinking that Microsoft is bad for the economy. They offer new versions of products that have no real benefits. Instead, users spend millions of hours installing new versions and dealing with issues such as I have described with no productive benefit. Microsoft has spawned an upgrade industry that is a drag on productivity as far as I can see.

Doug McAllister