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Computing At Chaos Manor:
October 7, 2009

The User's Column, October, 2009
Column 351
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2009 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

Federal Trade Commission and Reviewers

As I was finishing this column I was sent an email calling my attention to an article about a speculated FTC rule involving "bloggers" who do reviews, sponsorship, and payments. The article was published in June and this is the first I had ever heard of it, but apparently it has become a done deal so far as the FTC is concerned; the next step will involve the courts. It's also likely to become a Big Political Deal. We've not heard the last of this.

I generally don't worry about such things until the details are clarified. I can't worry about what the various Federal Agencies might do, because in these days of "the living constitution" they all have the potential to do almost anything. For example, the FDA has long gone beyond its original charter, and the result has been greatly beneficial to big drug companies who don't have to worry about small companies starting up to compete with them: none can afford the complicated tests for safety, much less the tests of "effectiveness" that the FDA insists on. The result may be greater public safety, but the costs of this are high. My own view is that government should enforce truth in advertising, and if someone says his product is snake oil and most people think it's worthless, but there are some who believe it can revive the dead, the FDA should insist that the stuff is actually made with oil squeezed out of snakes and otherwise get out of the way. I understand that mine is not the most popular view and is unlikely to be adopted.

Now there is a Rule, but it's pretty hard to see what it means, or precisely to whom it applies. Will book reviewers have to report receiving free review copies? Report to whom? Will publishing the fact be enough? How much payment is a bribe? Is admission to the Press Room with its free lunches a bribe? Will movie reviewers have to give back the goody bags they get at movie openings? Will they have to pay for their tickets? I suppose we'll find out soon enough. Meanwhile, this does present the opportunity for me to repeat my long standing policy on reviews.

First, I generally won't accept anything for review that I have to return. It's not that I want all that stuff - although I do want some of it - but keeping track of it and sending it back is too onerous. That was so even in the days when McGraw Hill would have paid someone to do it for me, and is triply so now. Secondly, I seldom write negative views. If I think a product is marketed deceptively, or is actually dangerous, I'll say so in print, but otherwise I ignore stuff I can't recommend. I don't believe readers want to hear about junk. You want to hear about stuff I like and I think you'll like, and I've operated on that theory through the life of this column.

Consumer Reports famously buys all its equipment. Most reviewers can't. There's not enough revenue in the business, and of course you can't review anything you don't have. Most reviewers do not buy review equipment any more than book reviewers routinely buy the books they review. Like most reviewers I take equipment for review and use it, sometimes for years, and I often mention older units including stuff that hasn't been for sale for years. When something becomes surplus here, it goes to a school, or the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, or some other appropriate recipient who doesn't represent a lost sale to the manufacturer and whom I think worthy. What I don't do is sell anything, even though I know that many book reviewers think it's legitimate to sell review copies of books (I don't do that).

As to being bribed by free equipment, how can that be? I don't need any more equipment. My office suite is jammed with the stuff. More does me no good. I am not quite in the position I was in the glory days of BYTE when just about every manufacturer was eager to get stuff into my column, but there's no shortage of potential review equipment now. Most of the majors know who I am, and that Chaos Manor Reviews has an influential readership. How can I be bribed when I can get almost anything I want?

For the record, I do sometimes buy stuff; my policy is to have bought enough equipment to write my books. Otherwise you can assume that anything I write about was probably sent to me by its maker. I'm writing this on a system whose motherboard and CPU were bought at Fry's, but the case and power supply came from Antec, the memory from Kingston, internal disk drives from Seagate and Western Digital, and the video board from ATI. The mouse is from Microsoft but I may have paid for that. Microsoft used to send me their new model mice, and this one is one of the first red-eye optical mice I ever saw, but whether it's the original one they sent or one I bought I don't recall nor do I much care. I like red-eye mice, and they sure last a long time. I bought the Acer H243H monitor.

I have probably a dozen more computers, some pretty old, and I didn't pay most of them. I built some of them, generally from components sent by the manufacturers, but I don't remember which is which except that Intel sent the motherboard and CPU for the Intel Core 2 Quad Extreme. Microsoft sent the Wireless Comfort Curve keyboard. At least I think they did. I also bought one, and I don't recall which is on what computer.

All my systems draw power from Falcon UPS systems. I've been using Falcon UPS equipment since the Great Power Spike (in those days Falcon UPS was known as Clary). I have recommended Falcon ever since, and still do.

In general, if I recommend something it's because I use it and have confidence in it. When that's not the case it's usually because I don't use that sort of thing any longer - as for example I no longer keep a large business style domain-based network going just so I can test networking equipment and software.

And that's probably enough rambling on the subject. Now that the FTC has actually adopted a Rule, I'll try to comply with it. That doesn't stop me from thinking it's silly. Meanwhile, I conform to my own ethical principles, which is that you can't bribe me to say good or ill about a product. That's not what my readers subscribe for. I got in that habit from the first day with McGraw Hill's BYTE when the publisher made it clear that anything less than editorial honesty was a firing offense. I enthusiastically agreed then and I still do. My suspicion is that this is a power grab move by the FTC, and even less necessary than most of the needless Federal rules we're seeing come out of quasi-judicial commissions. Intelligent readers don't need this kind of "protection" from the Feds. If readers think I take bribes they'll stop reading the column and certainly stop subscribing.

Now back to your regularly scheduled column.

I had a number of adventures this month, and we'll try to get to all of them. There's a theme this month, too.

First, though, the big news is that there are no longer any machines running Vista at Chaos Manor. The last Vista machine was Bette, an Intel Quad-core 6600 that serves as the main communications system for email, my web page, and general web browsing. She was running 64-bit Vista, and she didn't handle Outlook well: even with quad processors, Outlook would reach out and take over whenever it went out looking for mail, and that would slow everything else down. Sometimes the Outlook window would show "Not Responding", but that wouldn't be strictly true: all it took to fix it was patience. After a while all would be well.

It's not Outlook just downloading mail: I have a fairly complex set of rules for sorting mail by subject matter and source, and those can take time to process. The Junk Mail filter seems to take a while, too. But mostly, I think, it was Vista which wasn't allocating resources properly.

Anyway, I got Windows 7 installed and I've been running it on this machine for a couple of days. I'm writing this in Word 2007 under Windows 7 on Bette now. Many to all the Outlook problems have been fixed by the conversion to Windows 7. There have been none of the hesitations and "Not Responding" that I got so used to with Vista that I hardly noticed them. Meanwhile, Roberta has been running Windows 7 for weeks now and she likes it, and I've had Windows 7 on two other machines including Emily, the Intel Quad-core Extreme system that I use for games, writing, research including Internet browsing, and just about everything else except mail. The bottom line is, if you're a Vista user (32 or 64 bit), you will really like Windows 7.

Of course I haven't converted one of my XP systems to Windows 7 yet. I won't do that with the ThinkPad or the TabletPC. I do have two test systems to try it on, and I'll get to that later this month.

The Security Scene

The good news is that Windows 7 is a lot less intrusive and annoying than Vista was, but it does ask about running programs that might damage your system. The bad news is that the security threats have become more numerous and the bad guys are a great deal more clever than they used to be.

We've already told the story of how Roberta's XP system was infected, probably through a forwarded link to a New York Times story; the Times article contained a popup advertisement that said it had detected a virus, and offered a program to remove the virus. Roberta knew better than to click on the "download" button, but she did click on the little red x up in the right hand corner of the message. That, of course, invited the virus to download, since the entire message was one big button. I've said this before, but it bears repeating: if you get any such message, don't try to close the message window. Use Task Manager to close the whole browser.

Computer security expert Rick Hellewell says of the threat expansion

Malware infection vectors are starting to concentrate on vulnerabilities in application software, rather than the operating system or browsers. For example, Adobe's Acrobat has been a target of "drive-by" infections, some of those served up by advertising banners on major web sites.

There have been reports of malware ads attacking popular web sites like Drudge Reports, or the Lyrics dot com, or horoscope dot com. This is in addition to the malware served up via the New York Times web site.

And in many cases, your anti-virus program may not catch these infection techniques.

Your readers may want to ensure that all of their application software is current. One tool to do this, which has been discussed before, is the free Personal Software Inspector program from the anti-virus company Secunia, available here. This is a program that you will download and install, and it will scan the programs on your computer for current versions. Links in the program will help you install the updates, sometimes with minimal interaction. Secunia also has an on-line scanner here, which does require Java to be installed. I have used the PSI program, and the on-line scanner, and can recommend either.

Application updates are an important layer in malware protection. As is recognizing "social engineering" attacks ('Your computer has a virus" popups, for example), operating system updates, and other safe computing practices.

Regards, Rick Hellewell

The Secunia scanner installs in under a minute and doesn't take very long to do a full scan of your system. I have it on all my machines now. Recommended.

I also recommend that you periodically go to http://www.eset.com/onlinescan/ and follow instructions for an on-line scan for viruses and malware. It gives great peace of mind, and since the scanner is external you now that your virus scanner hasn't been replaced by a virus...

Microsoft Security Essentials

Microsoft Defender, OneCare, and their variants are going away. The licenses are expiring over time, and they can't be renewed. Microsoft has a new security system, MSE -- Microsoft Security Essentials -- that replaced them all.

For many years I recommended Norton Anti-virus, but over time Norton became bloated and slow, and eventually I switched to Microsoft Defender. I have relied on the Microsoft Defender products for several years now on both desktop and laptop systems, and I've never gotten any malware. Roberta's system was supposed to have Norton running at the time it was infected, but it may be that it had expired and hadn't been renewed: I can't tell because the machine is badly infected and I haven't had a lot of time to fool with it. We fixed Roberta's problem by setting her up with a new Windows 7 machine. I transferred all her data files on the infected machine to an external drive, then scanned that drive with the ESET on-line scanner to be sure none were infected before transferring them to her new machine. That machine is now protected with Microsoft Security Essentials.

Microsoft Security Essentials is Microsoft's replacement for Windows Defender. It's available online at this link and installs in about ten minutes. The interface is simple and clean, and once you install this it gets out of the way. My only quarrel with this is that the default scan setting is for a "quick scan", and you probably ought to do a "Full scan" the first time you run it. That's easily done, and you can then set the default back to "quick." MSE didn't find anything on Roberta's system or on Emily my gaming and dangerous web cruise machine - I take more chances on Emily than I do on Bette the communications system - but it did find "A variant of Win/32 Adware Error Clean Application" deep down in Bette's archive. It has been there a long time and no other scan has ever found it (nor has it ever caused a problem). It's gone now.

I haven't noticed any performance hits after installing Microsoft Security Essentials, but it has to slow Outlook and other downloads as it examines them. So would any other such program of course. MSE updates its libraries as needed, possibly as often as several times a day, and updates its engine monthly. For more details see the first look review at Ars Technica. I agree with them that MSE is fairly impressive. Of course we don't know how well it will work; in the old days BYTE technical people would be mounting increasingly sophisticated attacks, but I don't have those resources now.

I have a couple of notes about installation.

When I first heard that Microsoft Security Essentials was available I did a Google search for "Microsoft Security Essentials Download". The first listing looked like a place to download the file. It pretended to be a Microsoft site. I went there and hit the "Download" button, and as is my usual practice chose to "save" the download rather than "run" it. When I decided to RUN it, I got the usual notice from Windows 7 asking if I wanted this program, from Qiyang Software, to alter my system. I thought on that one for a moment. Of course I didn't want Qiyang software to alter my system. I thought I was getting a Microsoft program. I took another look at the file it wanted to install: it was a program called Registry Easy. I deleted the download and tried again, again doing a Google search for Microsoft Security Essentials, and found the actual Microsoft site for downloading the program as about the eighth item on the Google list.

Note what happened: I very nearly installed, not malware, perhaps, but certainly unwanted ware, due to a subtle form of social engineering. Qiyang Software paid to be a sponsored link from Google, which displayed above the search results when someone looks for Microsoft Security. Their web site doesn't actually say it's a Microsoft site, but they use the Microsoft name in their links, and if you're not paying attention you can easily install their Registry Cleaner thing believing you are getting the Microsoft real thing. What happens next I don't know, because they didn't actually infect me (I checked with the ESET scanner), but anything that can fool with the registry can in fact do anything it likes.

The remedy for this is first to pay attention to what you're doing. That worked, but it was close. The second remedy is to use Firefox with the add-on Adblock Plus. This simply eliminates sponsored links: you'll never see them. I would think there'd be something like that for Internet Explorer, but Adblock is not listed among IE add-ons. This is another reason I prefer Firefox, although I have to say IE is getting easier and easier to use, and faster as well, and the list of add-ons and extensions grows monthly. I now use both Firefox and Internet Explorer.

Naturally the default search engine for Internet Explorer is Bing. Alas, Bing has sponsored ads too. You can't block them in IE, or if you can I don't know how to do it, but Qiyang hasn't bought the number one spot for Microsoft Security Essentials on Bing. As to what Qiyang sells, Microsoft Security Essentials doesn't believe that the Qiyang registry cleaner is malware - I checked - so I can't say that Google tried to infect my system with malware, but it sure did make it easier for one of their customers to send me unwanted ware.

One other installation note: attempts to install MSE on Bette, the 64-bit Windows 7 system, failed with an uninformative error message. I tried several times. Then one of my advisors reminded me to uninstall Windows Defender. With 32-bit Windows 7 the installer automatically removes Windows Defender, but apparently they didn't put that feature in the 64-bit version, nor did they examine the error messages. Perhaps that will be fixed. In my case, I uninstalled Windows Defender without problems, and the next attempt to install Microsoft Security Essentials went flawlessly.

The bottom line on Microsoft Security Essentials is that it's a bit early to tell just how effective it is without more experience, but it has a good ancestry, Microsoft has tested it a lot, and I can recommend both the interface and the installation. I used its predecessor for years without problems, and I expect to like this.

Restoring LisaBetta

LisaBetta is my elderly HP Compaq TabletPC 1100. The other day I was reading the newspaper at the breakfast table, and wanted to make some notes. Once upon a time I used the TabletPC for that, but then my internal wireless net got weaker and less reliable and I got out of the habit. I've since replaced and relocated the wireless router, and since my iPhone could connect to the wireless net in the breakfast room it seemed reasonable that I could do that with the TabletPC.

Then came a morning when I wanted to make notes from the paper, so I went up and got LisaBetta and brought her down, opened a new OneNote journal, and made some notes. Then I turned on her wireless.

LisaBetta blue-screened. Just like that. I finished the newspapers and took her back upstairs to see what we could do. At first that was nothing: she wouldn't boot. She'd get a little way into the boot process and bluescreen. I tried all the alternatives such as "restore last known good setting" but that also got the blue screen of death. Worse, there was no way to turn the wireless off unless I could get the system running, and as long as that wireless was on she wasn't going to boot into Windows.

Eventually I was able to boot into Safe Mode. I then used Device Manager to disable the wireless, and after that I could boot into Windows XP. When LisaBetta came up I got the "Your system has recovered from a serious error." I clicked on the box to report the error, and that got me a little link that was supposed to send me where I could find a remedy. That got a screen with an offer to download a problem finder. It appeared to be an offer from Microsoft, but in fact it wasn't.

Instead it was a program called regtool, and I was foolish enough to download and install it. It really looked like a Microsoft download, and I was being distracted by other matters so I wasn't paying sufficient attention. Then I came to my senses: just what was this thing? I certainly didn't want to run it.

I used another machine to do a Google search on "regtool review" and got a long list of glowingly favorable reviews of this program - but I had never heard of any of the reviewers, and they were all on web sites that looked alike. Now I was really suspicious, even though one source of the program was CNET. On the other hand, there were only 13 CNET user reviews, and it got a total of 2 stars, which is pretty low. Another Google search, this time on "regtool" without modifiers, got

Remove RegTool, removal instructions
RegTool is a potentially unwanted Windows registry cleaner and system optimization 
tool. It is advertised as award-winning advanced registry cleaner.
www.2-spyware.com/remove-regtool.html - Cached - Similar # Remove RegTool, Reg Tool 
removal instructions RegTool is a clone of ErrorEasy, ErrorRepair Tool and RegFix 
Pro. The design of all the four programs is almost identical; you can't even tell the ...

At that point it was pretty clear that I didn't want this thing on my computer. I uninstalled it, deleted all signs of it, and ran the ESET scanner. LisaBetta was clean. Now to update.

Updating took hours. Apparently I hadn't used this machine in a lot longer than I had thought. I went to the HP site and found both BIOS and wireless hardware updates. Installation of the wireless driver update took about twenty minutes, and tested my faith since there was no progress indicator. Eventually it was done. Once the BIOS and driver updates were installed I did all the Microsoft updates. That also took a long time, but finally it was all done, and LisaBetta was restored to health. I now take her down to the breakfast table in the mornings and use her to make notes as I read the morning paper. She connects to the local wireless network without problems.

The first moral of this story is that you should be sure to update all your systems, even those you don't use so very often. The second is that if you're running XP you have to be doubly careful about social engineering: XP doesn't ask you if you really want to run programs, so you have to ask yourself such questions. Be careful out there.

Networking: Progress

If you're working without a router because you're worried about router configuration problems, it's time to rethink. There's been a real revolution in networking setup.

This segment of the column is mostly a log with some interesting developments.

I was down at the beach house. I long ago decided that IBM, Windows XP, and my ThinkPad were just not compatible with the wireless network at the beach. That's been the case ever since we banished the ancient D-Link router that served so well for a decade, reliably connecting us with wireless with WEP security; but I was eventually convinced that WEP wasn't good enough, and I should convert to a WPA enabled router. In other words, I fixed something that wasn't broke.

My son Alex took a new Belkin N1 Wireless Router down when we loaned him the place for a week, and reported no problems with setting it up and using it. No one else had any problems: but when I went down with my ThinkPad, Windows kept insisting that I insert a WEP password, and would not accept the WPA password that was now required. I wasted a lot of time - mine, Alex's, and even Dan's - on the phone trying to get it to work, but it never did, and I ended up connecting with an Ethernet cable strung across the floor. That's not a real problem unless our granddaughter is here, and that doesn't happen very often.

So I got used to just connecting the ThinkPad by Ethernet when I come down here. No one else ever had a problem connecting wirelessly, whether with PC or Apple computers. Richard was able to connect his Ubuntu netbook to the wireless, and later his MacBook Air. There just were no problems with the Belkin wireless except for my ThinkPad, and that was surely due to a conflict between the IBM ThinkPad and the Microsoft wireless management software. My last trip, though, I came down with the newly restored LisaBetta XP TabletPC, and my Apple laptops, both the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. This was part of my rather slow campaign to add Mac capabilities to all Chaos Manor operations, and perhaps eventually convert from PC to Mac entirely.

I also had my iPhone, which I thought I had connected to the beach house wireless LAN, but if so something had happened; and when I searched for wireless networks I found one calling itself Belkin_N1_Wireless_4122BC. My memory isn't what it used to be, but I was pretty sure I'd never seen that before. Worse, the network name I expected wasn't there at all.

On reflection I suspected that someone - we share this place with others - had reset the Belkin router. I called Alex to confirm the network name and password. I had them right, but the router wasn't accepting them, confirming the diagnosis. While I was cursing this Alex was sympathetic but agreed there was nothing for it: I was going to have to reconfigure the router. I dreaded this. "Just plug in an Ethernet cable, use ipconfig to be sure you know the router's address - it will be the internet gateway address - and log in to the router," he said. "Then follow the instructions on the documentation."

That sounded easy enough. I was already plugged in to the router with my ThinkPad so I opened a command line (run cmd) and ran ipconfig /all to get the router's local address of There was only one problem. The entire Belkin documentation consisted of a single sheet that told me to connect an Ethernet cable to the router, then insert the disk that come with the router and follow instructions. I didn't have the disk. Nothing for it but to try my hand without instructions. I admit terror. As I remembered it, configuring routers was a very complex business requiring that you know what you're doing, and while I once did know a lot of that stuff, it was always difficult, and with my current memory problems I expected it would be impossible. Still, nothing for it but to try. I knew the router's local IP address...

Open Internet Explorer and type that in. Lo! up comes the Belkin Router's rather cheerless splash page, with links to everywhere. One thing it would allow me to do was log in. In the old days routers came with a default user name of admin and a password that is either blank or the word admin again, but that was a D-link; I didn't remember Belkin's defaults. I clicked the login button - and Lo! I didn't need a user name. I had the option of giving a password, or submitting the blank password. I left it blank, and that worked: I was now logged in.

The rest of the setup was amazingly simple. Click security and it lists WPA and WEP among other choices. Choose WPA and give it a password. Write down the password before I forget it. Now click the SSID button and see that the current SSID is that Belkin_N1 thing; type in a different name (with hesitation: will it allow spaces given the monstrous default? It turns out that it does allow spaces, and I could use an SSID that makes sense to me but won't to strangers). Now I'm done. Log out. Shut down Internet Explorer. Could it really be that simple?

In fact it was. I opened up the MacBook Air, and she instantly saw the network. Type in the password and it took about 5 seconds to connect. No problems at all. I was connected. Moreover, typing in the password is simple because Apple enables me to check a box to make the password visible. This allows complicated passwords to be entered without having to worry about making mistakes.

So far so good. Now to connect the MacBook Pro. Again simple, taking about 20 seconds. OK, Apple totally gets it regarding wireless connectivity. Glaskowsky's rule applies: with Apple everything is either very simple or impossible.

Alas, there is an exception. My next step was to connect the iPhone G3 to the network. That too was simple, but iPhone doesn't have any provision for showing the password; you have to fly blind. It's not as bad as it was with the iPhone 1, where you are totally blind; the iPhone G3 shows you the letter as you type it. It turns to a dot in a second of so, but at least you can see that you typed the proper letter. Now the iPhone was connected to the net. I confirmed that by doing a Google search on Safari. No problem at all.

Acid test: I had brought down LisaBetta, the newly restored TabletPC I just told you about. I turned on the wireless with some trepidation. In fact there were no problems. Once again connection was automatic. Microsoft doesn't show you anything useful when you type in the password, so you have to be extra careful as you do it - and it wants that twice, discouraging you from choosing a long or complicated password, but otherwise, Microsoft seems to get wireless networking now in ways it never did before. LisaBetta was connected.

Moreover, all these machines see each other, and generally can connect to each other without problems. I seem to have some problems connecting to Khaos from the PC systems, but that appears to be sharing settings, since I don't have similar problems connecting to the MacBook Pro. Incidentally, the Pro hasn't got a proper name because he was set up by connection through Imogene the iMac, and he now believes he is Imogene3 (Imogene2 being a virtual machine on Imogene). I need to change that. I hope the name change won't generate new problems, but I don't need the complication while I am away from home and connected with a wireless network so I'll leave it for now. Anyway, I need to think of a proper name for the MacBook Pro which is certainly the most powerful laptop in the house. He's also all around elegant. Khaos the Mac Book Air remains the most beautiful and the coolest system, of course.

Net Security

I had previously asked Alex if the old SSID he'd given this network had a space in it or not. He'd written it down, but ambiguously, and given the care the Belkin default took to avoid spaces I wondered if it would work. Alex couldn't remember, so when I set up the network using an SSID with a space in it I called to tell him it worked and generally to report success. It had been absurdly simple, but of course that meant that if anyone could get physical access to the router, it would be simple for them to reset the system and set it up for their own use.

I also happened to mention that I'd logged out without setting up a router password. Alex pointed out that this was a mistake. It's certainly true that anyone with a laptop and an Ethernet cable can log in to the router by pushing the reset button, but it's quite another matter to allow this to be done remotely. I don't know how to connect to from outside without guessing the network password, but that doesn't mean someone else can't think of a way to do it. Anyway I logged back in to the router and set a password (different from the network password) just in case. I wrote that down, too.

No security is foolproof. All security really just makes life more difficult for the bad guys. Still, it's never wise to leave openings you know how to close.

Mac Weirdness

I now had all my computers connected to the router. Each had a local IP address. They could all see each other, and I could transfer files from one to another. I thought I was done, but while working with the MacBook Air I needed to connect to the Internet.

That didn't work. I wasn't connected to the Internet, and nothing I could do would get me connected to the Internet. Puzzled, I went to LisaBetta to see if she could connect to the Internet, and of course she could, with no problems; and of course the ThinkPad was connected to the outside world, but this was by Ethernet cable.

OK, maybe I have something set wrong on the MacBook Air, although I've never had a problem connecting him by wireless before. Try the MacBook Pro. Same result. He could connect to any of the local machines so he was certainly on the local wireless net, but nothing I could do would get him to connect to the Internet. He couldn't get out past the router.

Settings. It had to be settings. I called my friend Phil Tharp who understands not only Mac OS X but the underlying UNIX, and we went over all the settings on the MacBook Pro. They all seemed proper. Then I tried an experiment: I got an Ethernet cable and connected the Pro to the Belkin router. Bingo. He was instantly connected to the Internet. Transfer the cable to the MacBook Air. Same thing. Connected without problems.

Next experiment: I opened a terminal on the MacBook Pro. A terminal in Mac OS-X is similar to a command window in Windows, but with this exception, an OS-X terminal gives you access to the raw UNIX underneath the OS-X shell; you want to be careful what you do in a terminal. Now, still on the phone with Phil, we tried some experiments. First one: ping an ISP out on the web. Lo! It got a return. Another experiment: log on to Phil's ftp server. I was able to do that, and transfer a file up and back down again.

Those experiments proved that the Pro was in fact connected to the Internet - but only in the underlying UNIX, not through OS-X Leopard. OS-X was entirely unaware that we were connected. Further experiments showed this was the case for the MacBook Air as well. I could connect to the Internet with OS-X if I used the Ethernet cable, but not with the wireless; with wireless I could only connect through a UNIX terminal.

An Internet search revealed that this problem is rare but not unique: there were other plaintive accounts of Macs able to connect to a local wireless net but not to the Internet. I have found no solution, and so far Apple does not seem to have taken notice. Perhaps this account will get someone's attention.

Installing Snow Leopard

Naturally I wondered if Mac OS-X 10.6 Snow Leopard would have the same wireless problems as Leopard, which is what I was running. The question bugged me enough that I drove over to the Apple Store at Fashion Valley to buy Snow Leopard.

The mall was busy, and the Apple Store was packed: neither in the Mall nor in the Apple store was there any sign of an economic recession. I found that cheering, if a bit misleading given the unemployment reports.

I bought Snow Leopard and brought it home. It installed easily, but not without incident. When you insert the disk into the Mac DVD drive, it trundles for a bit, then pops up the Setup icon. I double clicked it as I would with Windows. The installation began, then stopped, with the error message "An application prevented the installation." That was puzzling: there weren't any other applications running. Then I realized there was another application: a second instance of setup! They both opened on the same spot on the screen, so the one hid the other. I closed the front one and the other one then proceeded to install Snow Leopard without further incident.

Alas, Snow Leopard did not cure the wireless connectivity problem: the MacBook Pro connected to the wireless network, but could not connect through it to the Internet. Plugging into the router with an Ethernet cable solved the connectivity problem.

I used the MacBook Pro with Snow Leopard for the rest of the weekend, and when I got home I updated the iMac to Snow Leopard (this time being careful to click the icon only once).

Snow Leopard works just fine. It seems to be faster, and I have had no problems at all. If you've been contemplating updating your Mac, there's no reason not to do it. Alas, it won't cure the wireless problem.

Belkin Wireless Router

The wireless network at Chaos Manor uses a Belkin Wireless Router, and all my Macs connect to it - and through it to the Internet - without problems. I have no difficulty recommending Belkin routers. A few moments ago I started up the MacBook Air and turned Airport on; she instantly connected to the network, and Safari connected me to the Internet without problems. Whatever my problem is, it's rare and doesn't happen with all routers.

My original intent in this section of the column was to remark on how easy router configuration has become. That remains true, and it's the real point of the story.

Apple Tablet

The rumors about an Apple Tablet computer continue. Steve Jobs is said to be making this a high priority item. We'll see. I have always been a fan of the Tablet concept, and a TabletPC with Microsoft OneNote will change your life if you're a researcher. Of course it depends on the Tablet and what kind of research you do. My real bottleneck has always been getting text information into the Tablet when I am looking through printed books. What's needed is a good keyboard, but those are heavy; LisaBetta, my HP Compaq 1100, has a surprisingly usable keyboard given that it's fairly small, and I haven't found it too heavy to carry, but I noted that some Compaq TabletPC users left the keyboard behind (it's detachable). The second thing a research tablet needs is a scanner and Optical Character Reader.

But of course if you're going to carry a Tablet, you may not want to have to carry a telephone as well. You'll already have a portable - if not quite pocket - computer, and if it has wireless Internet connections it will certainly be capable of Skype or some other VOIP telephone. On the other hand, you won't always want to have a full Tablet with you but you'll still want a phone with the same number and address book. Perhaps there will be some integration of the Apple Tablet with the iPhone. In any event I look forward to seeing it.


The game of the month is Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon running on a Windows 7 machine. It competes with Master of Orion, also running on a Windows 7 system. This all happened when it came up in conversation with my advisors, and Rich Heimlich sent these notes:

The latest DOSBox is just awesome. It's still DOS and it could still use a slightly better UI but it really does the job.

I've got Master of Orion and Railroad Tycoon both working FLAWLESSLY under it on my setup.

By default DOSBox is setup to provide each app with 3000 cycles and that's not nearly enough. A tutorial, written in the days of older CPU's, suggests you keep turning up the cycles until you use up a good chunk of your processor time. They talk about limits at 5,000, etc.

Well, on my main box which is now approaching 3 years old (an early quad-core), I've got it running at 15,000 cycles and it's not even showing up as a blip on the processor side. I bounce in and out of the games with ease to do e-mail and such and there's no sign of a hit.

If you give this a shot, install DOSBox and then go into Configuration Editor and edit a few lines.

Set "windowresolution=" to something you like. The base game was 640x400 so a multiple works great. Mine is at 1600x1000. You sort of want this in a window to make getting out to Win apps simple and plus you don't get the issue of widescreen stretch on a non-widescreen app. Set "output=" to "ddraw". This allows for working in a window. Set "cycles=" to what you want. As noted mine is at 15000.

Then way down at the bottom of the file you do your Autoexec stuff. Mine says:

mount d d:\

This mounts my D: drive (where all my games are) as D:\

You can mount anything so mount d d:\orion would take you right to the game anytime you went to d:

Finally it does a d: as DOSBox starts on Z: so this just saves me a step.

The games are available on the abandonware http://www.abandonia.com/en/downloadgame/101 sites as mentioned and patches are available. My Master of Orion (which I still own) has the copy protection check show up but you can choose anything and it works.

Rich Heimlich

As it happened, I had already gone to Sid Meier's official site and downloaded Railroad Tycoon. When you do that you automatically get DOSBOX. I thought about this for a while and created the directory Win2kgames, and a subdirectory RRT. I copied all the Railroad Tycoon game files and subdirectories into that, and in the mount section put in

Mount C C:\Win2kgames\

Which means that DOSBOX comes up at C:\Win2games\ and I do cd RRT to get to Tycoon. Orion resides in another Win2games\ subdirectory. Rich's other instructions should be clear enough. It took a bit of fiddling with all this, but in well under an hour I had the old original Railroad Tycoon running just fine, and it's as big a time sink now as it was then. Sure the graphics are a bit hokey, but you get to play with the trains.

DOSBOX just works under Windows 7. If you have any problems, fiddle with things; you'll figure it out.

Winding Down

The game of the month is Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon running in DOSBOX under Windows 7. See above. There were later versions of this game, and it has the awful flaw that you can only have 32 stations which limits the size and shape of your empire something awful, but it's still the most fun version of them all. When they "improved" the game with new versions, they forgot that grown men just love to play with trains, and they took a lot of the hands on "drive the train yourself" capabilities out. (I suppose there are women who love to play with trains, but I haven't met any of them.)

The book of the month is by Tom Bethell, Questioning Einstein, Is Relativity Necessary? . Long time readers will recall that Tom Bethell and I were both early users of the pocket sized Atari Portfolio, but he was better with it than I because he was a two-finger typist, and the Portfolio had a tiny keyboard unusable by a touch typist. I recall one night in a bar in Moscow he pounded out a 2,000 word column on his Portfolio, while I was barely able to do 300 words.

Bethell was for many years a close friend of the late Petr Beckmann, founder of the excellent and still existent Access to Energy newsletter. Beckmann also wrote books: a wonderful history of Pi, and Einstein Plus Two, an alternative to the special theory of relativity. Beckmann was a very good writer, and his newsletter appealed to a general (if educated) readership, but Einstein Plus Two relied heavily on mathematics and is tough slogging. Bethell's book presents Beckmann's alternative to the theory of relativity in clear English without mathematics.

He does this splendidly. If you don't understand the special theory of relativity when you begin the book, you will before you finish it. That alone would make this worth reading. Most people who think they understand the special theory really don't. Bethell uses examples, describes experiments, and has enough redundancy to get the explanation across. If you read these columns you will understand this book. Of course Tom Bethell's purpose is not to make you understand special relativity, but to undermine your belief in it. Bethell was a long time close friend of Petr Beckmann - I envy him that, I only met Beckmann a few times at AAAS meetings. Beckmann did not believe in the special theory. He has an alternative that seems to explain all the data as well as special relativity, and does so without some of the mind-boggling implications of special relativity. He also shows some crucial data that seems to falsify one of the principal axioms of Einstein's theory.

Of course most educated people do accept special relativity and think anyone who questions it must be some kind of nut. Beckmann shows this isn't true: some very respectable scientists have never accepted special relativity. One astronomer says that anyone with a decent telescope and a view of the night sky can see his own refutation of the Einstein theory. But whether you accept or reject the Einstein theory, it's very likely that when you finish this book you will understand it a lot better than you do now; and that's a remarkable feat for a non-mathematical book. It's well written, and I found it fascinating. Highly recommended.

The second book of the month is The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology by Mashaharu Takemura, a No-Starch Press book. I have not been a fan of the Manga guide series, but this one is converting me. The information is fairly fresh and new, and is extensive: the content is high school advanced or introductory college level, and if you took biology as long ago as I did, you will find a lot of new information here. It's presented in a breezy manner that I found more interesting than the cellular biology textbooks I bought on Greg Bear's recommendation to try to brush up on my biology knowledge. I never finished those textbooks, but I did manage to finish the Manga Guide, and I learned a lot from it. If you have any need to brush up on your molecular biology, or you have high school or freshman college students in your family, this is a pretty good book. Recommended.

The first computer book of the month is Kyle Rankin and Benjamin Hill, The Official Ubuntu Server Book . It includes a Ubuntu Server DVD. As are many of these books, this is both introduction and handbook and it's pretty complete. I can't say that as an expert, and I didn't build a Ubuntu server, but I was able to find answers to most of the questions I have on the matter. It's also readable, which I can't say for many such books; the authors are actual writers as well as well known Ubuntu experts. If you're contemplating building a Ubuntu server, or if you find you have to maintain one - something that might happen unexpectedly in these economic times - you'll want this book.

If I were a middle management executive in Asia, and certainly if I aspired to be one, I would want to have read Surviving the War for Talent in Asia by Christina SS Ooi and published by IBM, not because I'd expect to learn very much about the subject, but to learn how IBM executives think. Ms. Ooi has for 12 years been an IBM senior manager in a company that historically hasn't been very kind to women executives (it certainly wasn't to Lucy Baney the IBM executive who almost brought OS/2 back from near death before her company rivals killed both it and her IBM career). Ooi writes like an IBM executive, and presumably thinks like one, meaning that a lot of information that you'd think anyone would know is treated as profound revelation. In other words, I didn't learn a lot about the talent war in Asia from this book, but I did get some insight into the IBM Executive mind.

Josh Clark's Best iPhone Apps The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders is pretty well doomed to quick obsolescence, given that the number of iPhone apps seems to grow exponentially. Perhaps it can evolve into "Good Enough iPhone Apps"? In any event, I found it interesting, and I bought the very first one recommended, "Best App for To-DO Lists." I'd been looking for a good to-do list for my iPhone. I have no idea whether it's best, or even whether it was best at the time the book was written, but the one recommended is good enough, and I'm glad I bought it. I've also been experimenting with reQall, a free combination free-form data base and pocket intelligent assistant. Again, I have no idea if it's the Best App for Remembering Stuff, but it's pretty good. Those two recommendations alone were enough to sell me on the value of this book. Recommended, but do understand that its value is volatile.

The movie of the month was Julie and Julia. It's a light hearted chick flick. Roberta and our friend Joanie really loved it, and while I was a bit less enthusiastic - I wanted to see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - I am glad I went. Julie and Julia was a lot of fun. Amy Adams is still too cute for words (I mean that as a compliment, not as faint praise) and while I expected her at any moment to burst into song that would induce the rats and cockroaches to come cook for her, those memories of her wonderful performance in Enchanted didn't detract from watching this movie. She's very good as the somewhat ditzy young wife who decides to cook her way through all the Julia Childs recipes in a year. Meryl Streep is as usual awesome as she plays the ebullient six-foot-one Julia Childs, bored childless wife of a Foreign Service Officer in Paris. I enjoyed this movie, and I think you will too.