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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

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

October 28, 2009

reading statistics

You wrote "Microsoft incorporates a readability statistic generator into Word, but I don't know anyone who uses it because to get the statistics you must allow the Word grammar checker to go through your whole document. That is so tedious that I at least give up long before the check is finished."

Meet me.

And anyone else using humans in research.

Federal law requires all informed consent documents to be written at an 8th grade reading level and Word's built-in capability is the most direct route to that goal.

Of course, I am talking about a document with page number <= 2. That's a far cry from a novel. If I were you, I wouldn't use it either.

Dr. Paul J. Camp
Spelman College
Department of Physics



I've bought my last desktop. I've just discovered building one is easy to do.

I was going to wait for Win7, but my six year old main machine died at the end of September. Oops. So I ordered a desktop from Dell. Delivery date: October 27. Too long to wait.

I had been doing a little homework, so I accelerated that. From a review in The Register I determined that I wanted an Intel Core i7 860. From working with my (now defunct) desktop box I determined that I wanted a micro ATX motherboard, to keep the box small. I decided that I would use Newegg for my purchasing (no Fry's in New Jersey).

Digging through the reviews, it appeared that the best board for me is Gigabyte GA-P55M-UD2 LGA 1156 Intel P55 Micro ATX Intel Motherboard - Retail. $110.

Cases were harder. There is a Gigabyte case that would have been perfect, but it is not offered in the US; the only ads I saw were Oz/NZ. Antec makes a mini-tower, but from the reviews it was clear that I didn't want it. So I ended up buying an Antec NSK 4480 II Black & Silver 0.8mm cold rolled steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case EarthWatts 380W Power Supply - Retail. I perhaps should have gone back and ordered an ATX MB, but I didn't think about it - I had spent a lot of time researching MB's and had blown the others out of my head by then. $100.

For memory, G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 2000 (PC3 16000) Desktop Memory Model F3-16000CL9D-4GBRH - Retail. I picked this memory after picking through reviews to see what people had used successfully with my MB - the only negative about it was that it is picky about memory. I saw comments that MB and memory worked well together if you used memory from the MB's supported list. So I looked it up here. The Gigabyte people tested the memory with the MB and found it compatible. It's fast memory, and costs a bit more - 4GB was $100, but with the project already promising to be a $1000 machine, I splurged and bought a second pair. $200.

640GB Western Digital SATA 3.0 GB/s HD - OEM $75.

Plextor SATA optical drive (CD, DVD, read-write, etc.) Retail - it has a cable and some hand-holding and Roxio software. I felt it was worth a $20 premium over the more typical offerings. $53.

Gigabyte GV-R467ZL-1GI Radeon HD 4670 1GB 128-bit DDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFire Supported Video Card - Retail. It's not the hottest video board, but it has 1GB of DDR3 memory, and the reviews say it's quiet and runs cool - a plus since the Antec's power supply is only 380 watts. $75.

Intel Core i7-860 Lynnfield 2.8GHz 8MB L3 Cache LGA 1156 95W Quad-Core Processor - Retail. $290.

Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit for System Builders w/ Tech Guarantee - OEM. Includes upgrade coupon for Windows 7. $110.

The whole thing came to $1013. Shipping and tax brought it to $1110.

I was going to get a Home and Student MS Office, but it doesn't contain Outlook. So for now I'm using Office XP. I have students in my family, so we will be getting the Microsoft student discount.

I ordered the computer pieces Friday night, Oct 2. They arrived Wednesday, Oct 7. When I got home from work I Googled for installation instructions for the chip, and found them on Intel. I printed out the instructions on a color printer. The retail boxed 860 had its own little manual, which is a set of line drawings, also helpful. Intel has the pdf online here. The motherboard's manual had yet another set of instructions on installing the chip. A lot of research, but the installation was quick and easy. Intel says install the chip to the MB before you install the MB, which I did.

I plugged in all the chassis wires. The MB manual was explicit and clear on where they all went. I put all my drives in, including the 320GB ATA (called PATA now) HD I had installed in my now-defunct machine not too long ago. But then I was tired, and didn't really understand the Intel instructions on the cooling fan, so I went to bed.

After work Thursday, in went the fan. From the MB's manual, it was clear it was simple, so I opened the box (Intel's warnings had made me cautious about handling it; they were unduly alarmist) placed the cooling unit, pressed the four buttons, and plugged it into the MB. In went the RAM. The G.Skill units have metal backbones you grip so you don't have to handle the memory boards themselves. In went the video board. Hmm. With that fan on the video card, one of the two PCI slots is unavailable. It's a good thing there is only one PCI card I need - an old SCSI adaptor for my 1990's-era HP Scanjet IIp.

Installed the SATA cables. Brought down my flat plate, a keyboard and a USB mouse. Plugged it all in, and turned it on. No smoke, no sparks. Just tried to boot and told me it couldn't find an OS. Perfect.

But oh, that devil mother board. It tempts you to tweak it. It's made for tweaking. Heck, the 860 is nominally a 2.8 GHz chip, but it was running at 2.94 GHz. The memory was running at 1333MHz, but it can go up to 2000MHz. But pushing the memory bandwidth slowed the processor. Since I really didn't know what I was doing I set everything back to default. After all, to really overclock I would need a better CPU cooler.

Then I installed Win Vista. Several restarts, but you know all about that by now. Every piece of hardware had its own CD-ROM with drivers except the RAM and the hard drive. Reinstalled Office and I'm back.

And I have to keep my hands off the blamed software that came with the MB. It makes me itch to just nudge it a little, you know? But I gave myself a BSOD doing that. I'll have to study up, first. And spend more money on a bigger power supply and a better CPU cooler.

The MB came with lots of utilities. I now have a free copy of Kaspersky antivirus, which I like, on this machine.

Reinstalling my apps. Since my former primary drive is now my secondary, moving stuff has been straightforward. I have always kept my Firefox profiles in their own directory, so I was just able to move the whole master directory over. All my settings, my theme workshop - Aeon, HiVis, Halloween and Scribblies - everything intact.

I had started to use Chrome and Opera because Firefox was bogging down on my old machine. It's fast now.

Next up, reinstalling my backup software for the standalone backup drive. It's good to have, because when I needed to use another machine temporarily, I had access to all my Outlook stuff.

So, that was my adventure. Back in the saddle again, with a machine I built myself. What's terrible: I want to build another. Well, it's not as expensive a hobby as cars, and even with all the research I had to do, I was able to get it up and running long before Dell could have delivered a similar (but less powerful) machine. And I know what went into it. So satisfying.


A week went by...

The adventure continues,


A week ago I sent you an email titled "I've bought my last desktop." I know you have built many machines, but this is my first one. I thought I'd give you a bit of an update.

First of all, the Gigabyte GA-PA55M-UD2 mother board I picked has won Anandtech's Gold Editors' Choice award for the current crop of P55 MB's. Since I am down to one card - the video - the small number of slots is of no consequence. So if I need to build another machine anytime soon, I will use this one.

I've downloaded an app called TMonitor from CPUID - the makers of CPU-Z - to allow me to keep track of the four cores in the chip. Mostly they loll along at 1100-1200MHz, but kick up to Turbo Boost (Intel's on-demand overclocking) now and then. When I start Outlook, one of the cores goes to 2800MHz for several seconds. If I open 47 simultaneous tabs in Chrome (to read my daily comic strips) all four cores are engaged, but not saturated. It's really quite interesting to see the demands - or the lack thereof - that various apps put on my system. I think converting a movie file to a different format might stretch the machine's capacities, but nothing else seems to. So I'm not going to bother with OC'ing the CPU and RAM. And with no OC on the horizon, I could have saved $30 and bought less speedy memory.

The one somewhat noisy element in my setup was the fan that shipped with the CPU. It kept the chip at 31C for the most part, but it faced the side vent of the Antec case and I could hear it quietly howling during late night sessions. I replaced it with an Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro for $34. The fan faces the front of the box, and because it blows into a lot of vanes, it doesn't have to run as much, so in all it's much quieter. And it keeps the CPU at 19C most of the time. So this was a mission accomplished. OTOH, if I had gotten a case with no side vent, the stock cooler from Intel would probably have been good enough.

I love Antec. They have a Power Supply Calculator that tells me I need 226 watts, well within the 380W nominal capacity of the PSU that came with the case.

It's interesting what you can overclock. For example, my video card is an ATI 4670 from Gigabyte. ATI provides an OC utility as part of their control software. I have been able to run my GPU clock up from 750 to 860MHz, and the memory clock from 800 to 860MHz without stability problems. Much more than that and I get blackouts. As an aside: it turns out that there is no synergy between Gigabyte's MB's and their video cards.

The card is OK but I could have saved $15 and bought an XTX GeForce 9500 GT with 1GB of GDDR2 memory and the same 128 byte interface. I got one of those for my daughter's machine last January, and it's running Sacred 2 in high graphics mode as I am writing this. It's way good enough for my uses.

I had to say goodbye to an old friend. I have been using my HP Scanjet IIp for perhaps 15 years. The IO card it came with was an ISA. The card I was using until my old machine died was an Adaptec 2902E PCI SCSI host. Well, the new machine saw it, knew what it was - reported a SCSIport - but Device Manager said it had no driver. Adaptec says it will not be providing any 64-bit drivers for the 200-series SCSI ports. I have found some modern SCSI hosts, but they cost $150 and up - more than the cost of a new USB scanner. Ah, well. I carefully packed the scanner, its cables and its ports (I still have that old ISA port, you know) in a box that providentially had styrofoam that fit. You never know. I still have a 32-bit machine running; it just has no place for a scanner nearby.

MS Office Ultimate 2007 is available for $59 if anyone your household is enrolled in college classes and has a .edu mailing address. This allowed us to download a copy (still waiting for the CD). It installed nicely and absorbed all of my old Outlook settings. Word even accepted my old Normal template with nary a complaint. My first complaint is that Word has gone to an old-fashioned kind of toolbar customization, the kind where you select from a list and hit an Add or Remove button. Gone is the drag-and-drop method of customizing toolbars. Puzzling: MS Word in Outlook 2007 does not use the same template as the MS Word I simply open from my desktop link.

Also, the ribbon occupies some of the most valuable real estate on the modern display: vertical space. On my laptop I have a modern wide aspect display. MS Word XP displays templates, formats and similar helpful stuff off to the right, leaving me with a relatively tall text space. A ribbon would be disastrous. It's merely annoying on my 4x3 display, but I keep it minimized. Needless to say, despite having access to cheap copies of Office 2007 (two more students in our household), I will be maintaining our Office XP versions.

It's very interesting to watch a huge company make such a bone-headed decision on its flagship product. At the very least, you'd think there would be a way to run the ribbon vertically, so that it could be a sidebar, like the bookmark and history sidebars we see in some browsers. Heck, even my ancient copy of Paint Shop Pro 7 allows for vertical toolbars. And MS's own Vista developers allow for a sidebar display, with pretty widgets. They get the wide aspect business. You would think that watching Firefox get ready to destroy its classic UI to reduce the browser's vertical acreage would be a clue to avoid filling up vertical space.

I'm upgrading my home network from 100M to 1G Ethernet. Found a switch, waiting for the new router to arrive. So far, it's been fun. No regrets.


Thanks for that report. I used to build four or five machines a year, but I've slowed down a lot. The last system I built was an Intel Quad Extreme, and that was months ago. I may do a "sweet spot" system later this year just to see what it can do, but I find my older Core 2 Quad systems all work just fine for anything I do.

I long ago changed to gigabit switches at Chaos Manor, mostly Belkin and D-Link, two companies I recommend for that sort of equipment. When I have to use an older system with slower Ethernet, I notice the longer file transfer times even with something as short as a novel.

A few comments:

I recommend at least 500 W power supply for any new systems; you'll never know what accessories you may want to power, the larger power supply doesn't cost that much more, and it's one less thing to worry about. I also recommend a better cooling system than Intel typically supplies with a CPU. Once again the cost isn't that high, and the peace of mind is worth the price.

You will like that system a lot more once it has been upgraded to Windows 7; as I say elsewhere I recommend that anyone who has Vista spring for Windows 7. You'll be glad you did.

Building a system still has the benefit that you get just what you wanted, and you understand what's going on better than those who just bought a system. It won't necessarily be cheaper because you'll pay more for components than the premium system manufacturers do, and you're sort of on your own for warranties; but I generally liked the systems I built better than those I got from manufacturers, with a few exceptions - all of which were far out systems, like "Princess" the first of the Compaq Dual Processor systems - Princess still runs after ten years! - and of course Big Cheetah, the first of the really good 80386 systems. I got Big Cheetah very early on, so much so that a Microsoft team came down here from Bellevue to test a new version of Windows on it; I had a better 386 than they did. But that too was long ago.

Building your own is fun. It used to be fun to experiment with overclocking, but nowadays that's pretty well pointless; modern hardware is generally much faster than any software worth running, and when there are hardware limits it's much more likely to be the video than CPU speed. Overclocking invites troubles without much in the way of benefits - but of course it can be fun. Just don't try it with a system you use for real work.

Regarding Word 2008 and later: there is a command for minimizing the ribbon. It works and it doesn't take long to get used to it. Search Word Help for "hide ribbon" or "minimize ribbon" and it will tell you all about it.

Thanks again.

Monitor Review

We recently needed to purchase a couple of monitors and following the fair and thoughtful tradition of the boss always gets the new stuff and the rest get hand-me-downs, ah, I mean taking care to review new equipment in order to assure that everyone gets quality equipment one of them wound up on my desk.

Browsing through the monitor list I come across something that sounds too good to be true. A 27.5" LCD for just a little over $300. I generally only buy NEC or Viewsonic as I've never had a problem with those brands. This brand was one I've never heard of - Hanns-G. The reviews seemed to be OK - they are fine for day to day use but don't expect a high end low contrast photo editing platform. As I've still got a NEC for that function I decided to give it a try for the day-to-day business work.

I've had it for a week and am still very pleased with it. One problem I've had for business use of LCDs is that as the monitors increased in total size the pixel size did not increase and in some cases actually decreased. So you get a larger and larger monitor but the image keeps actually decreasing.

Many industry specific business apps are designed to only work at one resolution and font. Changing the font size can make screens unreadable so that is not a solution and decreasing the screen resolution just makes things fuzzy. This is the first larger LCD monitor that I've used actually has a substantial increase in pixel size. So the larger screen actually produces larger useable images.

Plus it is quite bright. I work in a very well lit room and the LCD monitors are often at 100% illumination. I had to scale this one back to 75%. This does not come at the expense of high heat. The unit feels like it is cooler than a 22" Viewsonic right next to it. No bad pixels noted in either unit.

The only negative that I've found so far is the one mentioned in reviews. It doesn't appear to have accurate color reproduction. It isn't bad, in fact it may be better than many low end brand name models, but I wouldn't buy it to use for photo editing.

The model is HG281D. If you are looking for a larger monitor I would suggest considering this one.

Gene Horr

Thanks. I am satisfied with my Acer H243H (24") but I am about to replace the HP f2105 21", and I may give this a try. I need two more monitors, one to replace the HP flat screen, the other to replace one of the last bottles. Three more and the bottles are gone (but in fact only one of those gets much use).

I really don't recommend the Acer for highly accurate color reproduction, but I don't actually have much need for accurate color reproduction. We do mostly general use computer stuff here at Chaos Manor, and if I do decided to try video podcasting - at the moment I have two books to do and no time to take on a new task anyway - I will almost certainly use a Mac.

firefox addons

You wrote "At the moment it continues to demand that I update to Firefox 3.5. It also warns me that many of my add-ons and extensions probably won't work properly. That has frightened me off so far, but I suppose the upgrade to 3.5 is inevitable."

For the most part, this doesn't really mean anything. Each addon appears to have contained within the program its version compatibility information in the form of a string variable called MaxVersion. The value, of course, can't be any higher than the current version of Firefox. That doesn't mean it won't work, and since Mozilla doesn't appear to monkey around with the addon code very much, most addons will pretty much always work. But they'll be disabled anyway.

There is a workaround for this, in the form of another addon -- MR Tech Toolkit. Among other things, it can formally make any addon compatible with the current version of Firefox with nothing more than a right click. I'm guessing that all it does is change a string value in the addon code, but as near as I can tell this always works. I've never had an addon cease working after being made compatible.

Might lessen your hassle factor.

Dr. Paul J. Camp
Spelman College
Department of Physics

Thanks. I continue to use Firefox - updated after I got weary of the reminders - and it continues to annoy me, but it still works for me better than Internet Explorer. Not that much better, but better.

If you visited a home computer heavy show in the early 80s, you might have thought the organization of recipes was one of the more pressing problems facing developed nations.

At the latest show I covered the lesson you'd take away is that most everyone is completely lost and found their way to the event by random chance. The room included four GPS navigation device makers, two of which were showing iPhone versions of their software, numerous producers of navigations apps for the iPhone and sometimes others, a company pushing a package of development tools for creating navigation apps, a company showing iPhone games, and a number of cell phone companies showing products that were not iPhones but also had navigation apps available.

Eric Pobirs

The iPhone already does about all I postulated for the pocket computers everyone carried in The Mote in God's Eye (1972). It's astonishing how much computing power I carry around in my pocket now. The GPS/Map program in my iPhone has saved me from being lost several times now; it's neat to have a way not only to see a local map but to know where you are on it...

Re: Computing at Chaos Manor, October 7 2009

"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,"

You might want to look at Revision3's AppJudgment show http://revision3.com/appjudgment . Episode 25, 10/04/2009, http://revision3.com/appjudgment/ip_david_todo, covered some To-Do apps for the iPhone.

"AppJudgment New episodes: Mondays & Wednesdays & Fridays With hundreds of apps to choose from for your iPhone, Android or whatever smartphone you may have, how do know what's worth the download? AppJudgment is here to be your source for mobile phone app reviews three times a week. Hosted by The AppJudgment Team"

"iPhone: To-Do Apps Sunday, October 4th, 2009 - running time 06:38 Organize your life with portable productivity apps! David Prager reviews a couple of mobile productivity apps for the iPhone. This is the first of a two part series and focuses on Evernote and Remember the Milk."

C H Jervey

Thanks. I've been using a couple of To Do apps that haven't been very satisfactory, so I'll try those out. It turns out I don't need the program as bad as I thought, and I make do with notes most of the time.

Apps turn out to be interesting at first, but I find I don't use them as much as I thought I would. One reason is the execrable performance of AT&T at least in my area, where it doesn't work at all in about half the rooms of my admittedly dead zone house; if I could change to Verizon I'd do it in a moment, but iPhone locks me to AT&T. It's not the old AT&T, either, but a growed up Baby Bell that never got the commitment to service that was a part of The Phone Company. The old AT&T had lots of problems, but there was an ethic in there that put service over profit, and that's all gone now. Now we have an Unregulated Public Utility that has most of the bureaucratic faults of the old AT&T combined with an even less pleasant dedication to cutting costs, adding fees, and otherwise putting the bottom line above all.

Jerry :

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruling/"guidelines" would seem to be deriving from the shills online who've been shamelessly promoting various goods. The FTC news release is located at this page with a PDF link to the text of the material to be published in the Federal Register. There are eighty-one pages of material there. Don't neglect to carefully read the pretext of the rule - this provides very interesting areas for compliance efforts. For example, "The Commission acknowledges that bloggers may be subject to different disclosure= 0requirements than reviewers in traditional media. In general, under usual circumstances, the Commission does not consider reviews published in traditional media (i.e., where a newspaper,magazine, or television or radio station with independent editorial responsibility assigns an employee to review various products or services as part of his or her official duties, and then publishes those reviews) to be sponsored advertising messages."

Different media, different rules ? Interesting. And then, that leads into an extremely fascinating extension of the issues.

Note that the guidelines could very easily be extended to internet fora where there are reviews or discussions of products through the statement 'These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other "word-of-mouth" marketers.' (this is easily found in the first link press release from the FTC).

Internet fora users and ad-hoc reviewers could very certainly constitute "word-of-mouth" marketers, especially the more popular fora. So this is perhaps more far-reaching than many commenters have noted so far. Could a person who writes that they don't like Fliegleman cookies on an internet cookie forum be covered ? What if they say they love Fliegleman cookies, adore them, eat them day and night, and then go to bed with a Fliegleman cookie under their pillow ? Is that going to be covered ?

The bottom line for bloggers and "word-of-mouth" marketers would be to disclose that they've been "gifted" with goods to review, note if they're paid for the review, and, also very much to the point and important to any reviewers of any stripe or type, note if they've had "unusual results". There's no longer any safe harbor by simply noting "results not 20typical". That ship's sailed out of the safe harbor for good. This also has intriguing implications for that entire field of "viral marketing" that's been thriving for the last few years.

So, if you get a Fliegleman XTra-Fast Computer that runs twenty times better than any other Fliegleman-chipped computer, you'll have to note that your results are abnormal or strange or somesuch terminology. But here's the real bite in that new position, you'd have to note if you had lousy results, too ! So, if a reviewer finds that the Fliegleman software purely sucks dead bunnies, but the popular literature claims it's the best thing since sliced bread, that's also an outlier. Reviews that don't hew to the party line on equipment, software, or services could be "suspect".

Of course, the devil's in the details, and with this just released Monday, we'll all no doubt be watching to determine what the formal limitations from the government and possible fines/citations will be, but one wonders just how this could be enforced. It's doubtful that the FTC would have sufficient staff to monitor all of the blogs, let alone all of the internet fora...


One could also see companies forwarded non-flattering reviews to the FTC through a complaints process, or alternately, companies forwarding highly favourable reviews to the FTC to spike their competitors. Most bloggers wouldn't have the resources to address an FTC complaint, and let's not forget the "Martha Stewart" example of what happens to people who don't answer government officers in a form and style that they consider "correct".

There's the potential for a lot of mischief in this new FTC direction. More, let's not forget the Iron Rule and how it's applied by humourless and socially inept compliance officials.

We're from the government, and we're here to help you, whether you want the help or not...

John P.

"Free" stuff and reviews, re: Column 351

Dr. Pournelle:

I've been in the media business for nearly three decades and realize there's still a fine line between editorial and advertorial. Getting the government involved in what is free speech is a dangerous thing, but not unlikely in Nanny Amerika where everything not prohibited is mandatory.

It's ultimately up to the reader, listener, or viewer to decide about a review, but the reviewer must be forthright. If the product was given to the reviewer, the reviewer should state so at the beginning of the review and let that be the grain of salt with which the review is taken.

As an editor of several national business-to-business magazines I had sections of the books dedicated to cutting-edge products and new products in general. I tried to be sure that neither of those sections were influenced by space purchased by advertisers. However, one does have to look favorably that those who support the magazine. Would the FTC begin to have journalism police who make sure there is an equal time policy about product mentions and endorsements?

New technologies threaten bureaucracies -- both public and private -- and their first reaction is to pass a law, but you state this as part of your Iron Law of Bureaucracy.

Pete Nofel

Well, I agree with the ethics of Full Disclosure, but I do not think it should be A Federal Case if a reviewer doesn't say up front that a book, or a mouse, or a keyboard was sent for review.

In the old days most of what I reviewed was supplied by vendors. I made it clear then that I wrote the User's Column, and in order to have a fair opinion about something I had to USE it; and I was damned if I would use something as a main system then tear it down and switch to something else. I tended to use systems until I thought they needed replacement, which was pretty often in the early days of the computer revolution. I also tended to write only positive reviews: if I didn't like something, unless I thought it was dangerous or a real rip-off, I simply didn't mention it. There was plenty to be enthusiastic about.

As I have said, I don't need more equipment: my house is full, and the one thing I will not do is sell anything sent for review. I have always donated unused equipment to worthy causes like my local area schools.

In the last analysis, the principles of free speech are far more important than would be any attempt to enforce journalistic ethics. Responsible journalists will tell the readers what they need to know; those who don't will make other mistakes as well.

Subject: Phishing attacks

APWG indicated more than half the nearly 12 million computers they scanned had some form of Malware. It's a dangerous world out there.

"The prevalence of scareware packages has reached epidemic proportions, with 485,000 different samples detected in the first half of 2009 alone.

The figure is more than five times the combined figure for the whole of 2008, according to statistics from the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG). The huge figures are explained by the hacker practice of changing the checksum of every file. The tactic is designed to foil less sophisticated anti-malware defences"

Full article:




Tracy Walters, CISSP

And it's getting worse. Be careful out there.

A discussion on virtual computing... This began when I sent this to my advisors:

This came with a new subscription. I find it interesting:

"Meanwhile, I'm continuing to teach ancient history at the University of Alabama, religion at Shelton State Community College, and work full time as a server administrator at Shelton State as well. We're wrapping up a major "bake-off" of virtualization technologies from VMware (View) and Citrix (XenDesktop and XenServer). We've virtualized nearly 35 servers over the past year, and now we're aiming for student computer labs. By the end of the year, I hope to have virtualized at least half of our Exchange Server 2007 installation and the rest of our database servers. VMware has locked the server side, but Citrix rules on the desktop.

"Instead of buying new hardware, you really owe it to yourself to examine virtual machines (VM's for short). You can easily evaluate software and then simply destroy the VM without having to rebuild your entire installation. Some people are installing VMware ESXi server on their computers ("bare metal") instead of an OS. You build a VM, install your software, and then run the entire thing in a VM. If you need to replace your hardware, simply move the VM to a new physical computer running ESXi Server. I'm not there yet, primarily because I insist on using Macs at home and for my teaching/pastoral duties. (Did I mention I'm also a bi-vocational minister? Yes, I sleep at times.)

Peter Glaskowsky responded

Yes, virtualization makes it possible for your entire computing environment to become completely portable-- not even just when you upgrade your computer, but even if you want to switch from one machine to another in the middle of the day, like running on a desktop in the morning but then taking a laptop out into the field in the afternoon.

In principle, the running virtual machine doesn't even have to be stopped during the switch, except for some imperceptibly brief interval.

Microsoft has demonstrated this capability on servers at the last few WinHECs. It isn't really convenient enough yet on client systems, but it's getting there.

. png

Eric Pobirs added

In an interesting twist, it looks like the real sell to consumer PC users is gaming. There are a few companies claiming they can make it possible to avoid the expense of a high-end gaming PC by having their servers do the heavy lifting and send the results to the subscriber at home in real time, needing a fairly modest PC or dedicated terminal to perform the local interaction and 2D display driving, since the 3D work is happening elsewhere. Sort of a Citrix for gaming.

It's another of those 'I'll believe when I see it in realistic conditions' but some attendees at the recent GDC were impressed.

And my son Alex

For academic users, virtualization is ideal: You can let the students play in the sandbox, and once they're done, they haven't harmed anything. You can also have pre-loaded environments--dozens, if you like--and load one or more when you want 'em. You can keep the virtualized images parked (or send them to people) until needed.

Virtualization is getting hot on Windows and PCs in general. It's been much more popular on servers than desktops to date, though (as Eric and Ron said) it's great for keeping old apps running in what they think is a pristine, unpolluted DOS or Win3.1 environment.

Of course, overall virtualization is part of what Ivan Sutherland called the "Cycle of reincarnation". Virtualization was business-class in the 60's, and in fact IBM's MVS ("Multiple Virtual Storage") allowed partitioned system memory, among other things, where you could run multiple copies of (say) your critical apps without the other copies knowing they weren't the only ones home. MVS has stood the test of time--it's now called z/OS but it'll run reeeeeaaaallly old mainframe apps on shiny new IBM hardware you can buy today.

For gaming, I agree that latency would appear to be a major headache. Probably a bigger killer is unpredictable latency--jitter--than merely "long" (>= 200msec) latency.

For academics, labs, test environments, etc., virtualization is Way Cool. For general consumer use, I don't think virtualization is YET a mainstream tool. Windows does a fairly good job of letting applications sing harmony without requiring the user to build individual sandboxes (virtual machines) for each. Windows 7 makes this easier, because all the apps inside the XP sandbox can access your documents etc.

Windows 7 makes virtualization much easier, and with VMware you can run most Windows programs on a powerful Mac. I have not tried virtualization in the cloud, of course.

The original ARPAnet connected dumb terminals through smart central computers. It was slow and graphics were essentially impossible. Real computer communications came about when it was realized that the messages were not being sent to a dumb terminal, but to an actual computer that could show images and do local calculations (enter the MMRPG even in the days of the S-100 bus). And of course HTML assumes it is talking to a computer. Now we may be coming back full circle, but we'll see.

I have always been a champion of local control of one's data and programs: distributed computing. One of Pournelle's first laws was "One user, at least one CPU." I haven't seen anything that makes me want to change my mind - yet. We'll see. Anyway I found the discussion interesting.

I also asked if there was a real need for the Virtual XP capability of Windows 7. Eric answered

There are a bunch of mission critical apps used in business that are horribly coded and badly behaved. Starting with Vista, Microsoft got a lot stringent about what the OS would allow apps to do. What were once serious guidelines and now enforced laws.

This is a good thing in terms of making developers apply better practices but it took so long for MS to get on the ball about this stuff that many companies couldn't adopt Vista because they couldn't readily replace the software that wouldn't run. At MWD, there was some critical apps for running instruments in the Water Quality Labs. The company producing the software had a three year refresh cycle and wasn't going to address the problem for close to two years. As this involved hardware that VirtualPC couldn't support there was no solution at the time I left the project other than keeping some XP systems around for those situations.

Most of the time VirtualPC is enough to get it done. The XP Mode for Win7 is a essentially VirtualPC with a pre-packaged XP image. There have been some major improvements to integration so that apps can be launched and files accessed without the user having to fully understand the 'PC within the PC' arrangement that was formerly a training hassle.

I've already tested this with a critical app used by many of our T/K clients in the convalescent hospital business. It works perfectly. These clients are now free to buy new machines without concern about running their existing software or needing an elaborate and costly workaround.

Note that Virtual XP does not do hardware acceleration, and thus won't work for games.


I have also been running the latest DOSBOX on my Windows 7 systems, and many old games like Master of Orion and the original Railroad Tycoon work just fine, sound and all.

And finally, Captain Morse says

Putting aside any specific considerations about either Microsoft of Apple, I just love Apple's Mac ads. They really understand their target audience (and it's not us).

Apple MVP Broken Promises ad.

I confess I love those ads myself. I have actually found that Windows 7 is such an improvement over Vista and XP that I'm less tempted to turn to the Mac, but that's in part because I have lately been snowed under with work and making any change at all in work habits slows me down. I'm dancing as fast as I can...