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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2010 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

April 26, 2010

Subject: Knowledge Delivery Revolution

Jerry,

It looks like the Knowledge Delivery Revolution is kicking off with a big battle among the technology heavyweights:

"A Battle for the Future Is Getting Personal"

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/technology/14brawl.html?pagewanted=1&src=tptw

Perhaps this will be good for Microsoft. Apple and Google have pretty much eclipsed them in terms of mind share. But they've bounced back nicely from the Vista mess, and they seem to have done things right with Windows Phone Series 7 (by starting with a clean sheet of paper). Also, the glimpses I've seen of the Courier look interesting. Having your two major competitors focused on each other probably doesn't hurt when you are in the position of trying to catch up and pass both of them.

CP, Connecticut

An interesting observation. The more competition, the better for the rest of us...


The coming revolution

Dear Jerry,

About the coming revolution in either data or knowledge, I expect a lot of unwelcome variations beyond the obvious benefits.

Considering how adversarial business has become, I expect to see insurance companies, for example, requiring us to wear a bracelet or necklace that reads and transmits to the parent company our vital signs, consumption, and GPS data. Such a "service" would likely be sold under the guise of better health management. When a claim is lodged for compensation, the insurance company will know all the data that the remote device has collected, allowing it to determine our insurability at the time and place the incident occurred and according to our intake and speed, etc. I assume that data will allow them to deny claims all the better.

Whether collected via the same device or another one in future cars, the same data can be used by police departments to send us automatic fines based on speed and place, and the place's official speed limit (whether posted or not), and of course, alcoholic consumption. Just try fighting that in court! And considering the current recession's effect on the states, their serious reduction in taxable income and property taxes lost to mortgage foreclosures, the police, and other state departments, will have to rely increasingly on fines to finance their existence.

How about automated court proceedings? They might offer sentencing discounts should we choose to use them instead of courts run by judges and juries in real court rooms. Imaging the increase in court traffic from these devices! One's defense can be filed over the internet to be judged by computer. I can see a market in legal software to assist in filing such defenses.

Maybe this is all science fiction (of the not too distant future) and nothing you haven't thought of yourself. But we already know how adversarial some industries are. Just look at credit cards and HMO insurance, not to mention those outside the legitimate sphere.

Anyway, I enjoy reading Chaos Manor Reviews.

Best,

Tony Biancucci

I don't expect to see autojuries - as we saw in Kornbluth and Pohl's Gladiator At Law in 1955 (still readable. Wabbit Tracks). At least not for decades. What I would like to see is a science court that used scientific methods for examining physical evidence, rather than the battling 'experts'.

Regarding the notion that health monitoring will be used to collect data to "deny claims", the whole point of insurance is to correlate risks with premium costs. That is why, for instance, you are not (just now) entitled to wait until you are in the emergency room to buy collision insurance.

Generally, monitoring will make insurance policies more sensitive to actual risks. Customers will get discounts for not smoking, eating healthier food, or exercising regularly-- and insurers will get higher premiums for customers with higher risks. Of course this is not egalitarian.

This applies to genetic analysis, too. Genetic predisposition is very real, and it simply isn't right to expect insurance companies to ignore objective facts when offering coverage. It's the same as a pre-existing condition. If a customer has a much higher risk of heart disease than the general population but the law guarantees coverage at the same rate as anyone else, what they get just isn't "insurance." It's just a discounted prepayment for medical care. It may be good policy to tax those without genetic predispositions to pay for those who have them, but that's not insurance, it's a subsidy, and that ought to be made clear, not hidden under the label "insurance."


Forgotten IE security feature

Dr. Pournelle,

I "solved" my problem with dilbert.com and that site's popups, one of which came close to trashing my system with an antivirus spoofing malware attempt. I remembered that you can add domains to IE's "restricted sites" list in the security tab, so I gave it a shot. Now not only is dilbert.com completely unable to sneak popups past the IE popup blocker, the page also loads extremely quickly where before it could take up to 20 seconds to load the comic.

I think from now on, any page I think loads too slowly will get added to my restricted sites list. The nice thing is that well behaved advertisements will still make it through, but the really irritating, dangerous, or resource consuming ones will be blocked without me having to do anything.

Sean

AdBlocker in Firefox works quite well, too.


Comments on iPad

The April Column lead, and much of the column, was on the then newly released iPad. The comments have been interesting. Of course I have far too much mail on iPad to include it all.

The first comment was sent after I circulated an early copy:

You don't mention at all the upcoming iPad models (end of April) with 3G support and build-in GPS - a major oversight, sir.

You talk about how DVDs can't be watched on the iPad, but you totally neglect to mention that movies and TV shows may be downloaded directly onto the iPad via Apple's iTunes, and in fact that a major purpose of the iPad is to capture revenue by immersing the user in Apple's content ecosystem.

You don't mention the fact that Apple are now in the ad business, competing w/Google, with the ad capabilities they're building into iPhone OS 4.0.

You don't mention the fact that the iPad will be great for road-warriors who create docs/presos on their laptops or desktops, then move said docs/presos to the iPad for consumption, presenting, and light tweaking whilst on the road. I've ordered the 3G model; once I have it, along with the case, the external video dongle, and my portable Bluetooth keyboard, I'll be leaving my MacBook at home for most business trips, unless I need to process photos on-site, which is rare.

You don't mention the fact that iPhone OS 4.0 allows one to (finally!) use a Bluetooth physical keyboard with the iPhone. Look for the makers of 3rd-party extended iPhone batteries/cases like the Mophie JuicePack to add slide-out physical keyboards which work via Bluetooth - this will further eroded the Blackberry base of heavy thumb-typists who need a physical keyboard.

R

I agree that all those are interesting points, but I didn't have a 3G iPad - still don't - and don't know anyone who has one. I'm waiting to see what it will be like.

I do not think the iPad will replace the Mac Book Pro (or in my case the ThinkPad) as the only machine a road warrior will carry on trips. Those who can live with a Netbook may find the iPad sufficient as their only system, but I wouldn't find it so. As I said in the column, I did manage several major trips with LisaBetta the HP Compaq TabletPc, but I'd hate to have to do a lot of production work with only LisaBetta. It may be that the 3G iPad will be sufficient, given a good enough external keyboard, but I'd be tempted to carry the Mac Book Air as well just in case I need to do a lot of work.

I don't believe that Apple wants the iPad to replace laptops. They want you to have both, an iPad and a Mac Book. You can't even activate an iPad without a computer to attach it to. It won't subscribe to podcasts, at least with present software, and there's no sign that Apple intends to change that. Apple will very likely be forced to work on iPad to make it better as a stand alone for road warriors, but I'm not sure Apple intends to do that just now. Note that Kindle doesn't need to be connected to a computer before you can read books and other wirelessly acquired materials, and Apple will have to go that way, but for the moment they seem to be selling iPads about as fast as they can make them, and they've got the enthusiastic endorsement of early adopters like Leo Laporte. Many say they've taken to leaving their Mac Book at home and making do with the iPad. I suppose I am glad to hear that, but it's not the way I'll be going. Not just yet, anyway.

I at least wouldn't really want to be stuck with the 3G iPad as my only input system. My experience with using 3G has been mixed at best. It's a lot better than nothing - I very much like using my iPhone to look things up during meetings and even on social occasions - but I sure use it more when I can connect to Wi-Fi. With a Mac Book Pro and a tiny D-Link portable router I can set up my own Wi-Fi network in a hotel room and thus allow the iPad to download a whole bunch of stuff - podcasts, newspapers, magazines - to read at leisure. Of course that all depends on where you are. If there's a Wi-Fi handy the iPad will work just as well as iPhone does for that, which is pretty good. As Wi-Fi spreads in the US, the iPad gets more interesting as your only device. But it still takes a carry case or shoulder bag.

I think I'll wait until I get the 3G iPad before I comment on using it for presentations. I have certainly used LisaBetta for that and I was delighted with the result - I could even modify the presentation by writing on the screen, the way we could back in the days of Vugraph (overhead projector, in which the briefing was prepared on acetate sheets, and you could write on them with a grease pencil, and no, I'm not going to explain that any further). I don't know how good iPad will be for presentations, and I certainly don't know how useful it will be if you need to modify them. I suspect that experience may not be so enjoyable. Depends on the presentation, of course.

I am quite interested in being able to use an external keyboard with the iPhone. One of the best features of the old HP iPaq was a folding external keyboard with a dock for the iPaq; my daughter used to use that to write reports when she was an intelligence officer in Iraq, and I was able to use it pretty well in less strenuous situations. Now I use the Mac Book Air for that sort of thing, but the iPaq was pretty good. It was also a very good voice recorder, better I think than the iPhone.

I'll be very interested in your experiences when you get the 3G and try using it as the only machine you have with you on the road. My advice is to carry the Mac Book as well on the first couple of trips. Just in case.

Marty Winston commented:

I have no plans to ever get an iPad. There's nothing it can do that I can't already do with things I already have. It is not pocket-portable - quite the contrary - it's a major pain to take-with.

The more people find themselves leaving it behind or using something else, the sooner the buzz will hush. I believe the sales curve will start resembling that of the Pet Rock and that you'll find it in the same section of the history books as the Apple Lisa.

But I will admit that the iPad does have a few small advantages: it's more effective than a smart phone and less burdensome than a notebook if you want to fan yourself on a hot day. And if you're out rowing with one and your oar breaks, you can tie a stick to it and make it an iPaddle.

My take on the iPad is somewhat driven by an observation I find true about cameras - the specs don't matter for the one you don't have with you. People take pictures with cell phones or pocket point & shoot cameras because they carry them while the more expensive and capable digital SLR is at home, destined to travel only on special occasions.

In terms of old word processors, don't forget MultiMate - so close to Wang that Judie called it Twang.

In terms of Apple overall, it's a mistake to perceive the iPad or the iPhone or the iPod as being the direct focal points of their revenues - they market on the Gillette model - while razors are occasional purchases, the real money is in the blades - in this case the App Store and iTunes. Few developers or music sources make satisfying amounts of money from either, and there are at least tens of thousands of those - but Apple gets a slice of every sale and that's the revenue engine that moves them forward. The iPad, iPod & iPhone are just part of the delivery system - and Apple was clever enough to also get content customers to pay for those.

Martin Winston, Editor
Newstips Bulletin

Obviously I don't agree. While the iPad may not be the mechanism, in my judgment it's the first step toward a media revolution.

I think the big problem is getting used to carrying something that won't fit in a pocket. If you're already in the habit of carrying a shoulder bag - large purse - brief case - it's very easy to add an iPad. LisaBetta was just enough larger and heavier that I didn't carry her everywhere, and the Kindle isn't so much more useful than the iPhone that I'm tempted to carry it - but if I am taking a brief case I always add the Kindle, and often stuff in the Mac Book Air as well. We'll have to see about the iPad.

I think that iPad will generate more and more useful applications, and that will drive more iPad sales - as well as iPad competition. More and better razors as well as better blades. Pretty soon beards went out of fashion...

iPad complaints

Jerry: This list of complaints about the IPad should give you a more balanced outlook on the device:

http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2010/04/26/100426ta_talk_kimball

I particularly like:

When used as murder weapon, oleophobic coating does not completely eliminate incriminating fingerprints.

Chris C

Heh. But some really don't like it:

I returned my iPad

Great essay - and you hit it exactly. It's much better at consuming information than creating. Unfortunately that also includes note taking if you're a touch typist. I tried using it for a solid week to take notes during meetings (probably close to 30 hours of work), and came away much less than satisfied. As trained in Jr. High School, I still lightly rest my fingers on the 'home' keys, which causes all sorts of havoc, and can type faster than it can recognize the touches. But the major issue is that it's not a complete keyboard - and the return key is where the ' key should be, so I'm constantly creating a new line, and it's missing both numbers and punctuation. And this might be the best description: After a week of training Dragon Dictate, and a week of typing on the Ipad, I had better results with Dragon Dictate. There's two key reasons for that: Nothing to unlearn, and no conflict created by going back to a real keyboard.

For a two fingered (or thumbed) blackberry texter, it's probably an improvement, but if you're even a moderately competent touch typist it won't work. I fear for the quality of written English even more than I did with twitter and texing.

I keep hoping they'll release an OSX slate. But Steve Jobs hates the idea of a stylus, so that's probably not in the cards. If it were the same price as an iPod, I'd probably have kept it. But $800 (especially knowing that there's a $300+ profit margin) is very pricy for a device of limited usefulness. The real question is, will Apple release iBooks for the Mac?

Cheers,

Doug

I am pretty sure I'd prefer an OS-X Slate.

You can already read most iBooks on the iPhone. Not sure what you mean by "iBooks for the Mac".

Peter Glaskowsky commented:

There could be quite a few people doing this. The iPad is selling in iPhone-like volumes, but it doesn't have the natural lock-in that the iPhone does-- once you switch to a new phone, it's very painful to switch back. It's much easier for iPad buyers to change their minds.

I'm sure that sometimes they will do that without giving the machine a real chance. This fellow, for example, is letting his typewriter training override his natural ability to adapt to new typing methods. This is not good for him, because the new methods might actually be better for him in the long run.

The iPad is merely the latest in a long series of devices that require user adaptation-- computer keyboards weren't like typewriter keyboards to begin with. The Newton's handwriting recognition required some changes in writing style. Graffiti on Palm required a HUGE investment in training, but was still reasonably successful, albeit not for long. Tiny thumb keyboards (and even more so, the way the alphabet is mapped onto the 1-9 keys of modern cellphones) required a lot of physical accomodation, and then the iPhone's small virtual keyboard put some of us through yet another cycle of change. Even voice recognition has its own serious requirements for training and adaptation.

All Apple can do is to put the iPad on sale and hope that people are willing and able to accommodate its unique, different, and often less powerful and less flexible characteristics. Some will be, some won't be.

. png

And on that score

iPad as a Kindle Killer?

Jerry,

I think the main goal of Amazon is to sell books via the web. Physical books and ebooks as well. If they can sell ebooks it makes their job easier because they don't have to deal with bulky paper, shipments, and warehouses.

My guess is that Amazon developed the Kindle so they could sell more books and had no real desire to make money selling the hardware. This hypothesis is supported by their quick porting of the kindle reader to the iphone and other hardward platforms.

So, if the iPad takes off ... Amazon will make it easy to buy kindle format books from Amazon and read them on your ipad.

Apple wants to control both the hardware and the software ecosystem. With the ipod they started with hardware and encouraged you to get your music for free (rip, mix, burn) and then as they created a critical mass of hardware they moved into content with itunes and started making as much money from content as they had with hardware.

Amazon's real goal with the Kindle was the desire to create/own the software format of an ebook ... Amazon's nightmare scenario would be for you to start buying your books via itunes and completely bypass amazon.com.

It will be interesting to see if this creates competition forcing ebook, movie, and magazine pricing down ... or if we end up with a duopoly that is quite happy to sell everything at list price and makes no real effort to compete with each other.

Life as a content creator will be interesting -

Jim Coffey

I think we will all have to learn to add content. Author chats with the reader. Character sketches. Maps, scenes, costumes - all kinds of enhancements to eBooks. I think the iPad and its competitors will force that, and sooner than we think.

Readers will recall long time reader and commenter Bob Holmes:

Jerry,

I got my iPad 64GB this morning and have been using it since I got it home.

I have been using it on battery for almost four hours and it shows the battery at 79%. Looks as if Apples battery life estimate is quite conservative for average usage.

My first App purchase was GoodReader for $0.99. This is a PDF reader and it is going to meet most of my PDF reading needs with the current version. Enhancements are promised for later versions. The file organization capabilities are pretty good. You are allowed to rename files and set up folders to contain files. My usage is for User Manuals for the Computer and Audio/Video Equipment owned by my Clients and Myself.

Haven't brought any ebooks yet, but I am getting ready to do this in the next few hours. This will allow me to clean out the trunk of my car where i am currently carrying 6 or 7 Computer Books. Invariably I find that the book that I need in the field is the one that is at home and not in the trunk of my car.

The only real annoyance that I have run into so far is having a web site automatically switch me to the mobile version. You do not need a mobile formatted version for the iPad's 9.6 inch screen.

I don't think that the iPad is a Kindle Killer at this point for the following reasons:

Price - $500 versus $250

Screen - Hard to read in bright sunlight versus easy to read as long as there is a light source.

EBook Purchases - Need WiFi connection or spend $130 more plus a monthly charge versus anywhere you can get a Sprint connection.

When and if EBook Publishers take advantage of the iPad's full capabilities all bets are off for Kindle.

Bob Holmes

The iPad seems ideal for carrying a large library of technical books complete with illustrations. I recall many years ago Commander Gordon Eubanks complaining that the Navy was trying to get rid of paper manuals on submarines, replacing them with CD ROMS. Which, as he pointed out, was fine for reading at your desk but not so good when you were deep in the guts of a turbine trying to find out where you needed to put the wrench... The iPad may change that.

Later in April Bob Holmes sent

iPad Pages, Numbers and Keynote

Jerry

Peeling the iPad onion is interesting, but in typical Apple fashion some things seem to have little rhyme or reason.

Pages works reasonably well. However, if you set tab stops there is no tab key in the on screen keyboard and using the controls at the top of the screen, which by the way only apperception when holding the iPad in portrait mode, requires two taps. Tap one brings up a menu. Tap two inserts the tab. When exporting or emailing a pages file there are three file format choices, Pages, PDF and .doc.

Inexplicably, Numbers and Keynote only offer there native file format or PDF as options.

This considerably reduces the usefulness of an iPad for someone whose primary system runs Windows.

"With Apple it is either very easy or impossible."

Bob Holmes

Sent from my iPad

Which is hardly surprising.

Amused that I just read (and am replying to) your April column about iPad *on* my iPad. On a plane. Flying back from Phoenix and Space Access 2010 with in-flight Wi-Fi.

We're living in the future, but sometimes we fail to notice...

Hope you're doing well.

Stephen

--

Please excuse errors and brevity. Typed with two fingers on a sheet of glass.

And soon enough it will be 2020. My first "predictive" science fiction anthology was called 2020 Visions. I put it together in the 1970's...

Jerry

The iPod Touch doesn't "just work."

I had to rebuild a computer last fall. I delayed syncing my iPod because I had 27GB of music on it. Well, the OS wanted to update, so I let it . . . and now I have "no content."

I am sure there is some kind of "Apple way" of updating my iPod, and I do have a content directory on a hard drive. But these are files I recorded myself. Having them wiped off my iPod is . . . annoying.

I have resisted buying a Mac because I could never see what it was doing with my files. In essence, the iTunes scheme lacks transparency and subsidiarity - this latter because it does things it will not let me do.

I guess I will not ever buy a Mac. I consider myself duly warned.

Ed

Which means that Dr. Hume probably won't be getting an iPad since you need a Mac in order to activate iPad. When you rely on Mac you pretty well need to subscribe to the Mac Way of Life, or at least I have found that to be the case.

The iPad and experiences after two weeks.

Jerry,

I thought that you and your readers might be interested in my experiences with an iPad after a couple of weeks of use.

I had predicted all sorts of issues but the reality is, as always, a little different and as a result I thought it might be worth documenting them. Here is a list, in no particular order, of my wife's and my observations:

1. The touch sensitive interface is really sensitive and inadvertent clicks/operations are initially quite rampant until you learn how to keep your other fingers off the screen.

2. You can type quite quickly on the iPad and the on screen keyboard is very effective. Funnily there is a lot of screen tapping noises as you type (and I do not mean the key clicks which can be turned off), so it is not a quiet as you may think!

3. It is really fast and this contributes to the ease of use experience you get. Page updates on the web are very very fast and puts our desktop and laptops to shame.

4. The lack of a camera has not yet impacted our use of the device. I originally thought that this might be a device killer. As time goes on we may change our minds, but for the moment there are bigger issues to attend to.

5. The weight, the penalty you pay for that battery life, which is amazing, is more significant than initially anticipated. Whenever you reach for it, it is still a shock to realize quite how heavy it is. Is it a real problem? No, but we still notice it.

6. The web is not ready for the iPad. There are a large number of sites that we use that do not work with the iPad. This is not just Flash issues, which are irritating enough, but missing scroll bars, inability to select items etc. For example, we use a number of electronic cards for birthdays etc. and a lot of them do not work. You cannot get to stored addresses and, due to the lack of Flash, you cannot preview the cards. This forces you to drag out a laptop and this reduces the convenience of the iPad dramatically. That fast browser in the iPad is also its Achilles heel!

7. The killer app for us is Netflix. It works amazingly well, although adding things to your instant queue for TV watching is rather clumsy.

8. The big issue for us is that there is no way to print from the iPad directly (for us a connection to our network printer is all we want but there is no way to do this that we have found). Those boarding passes you want cannot be printed! This, to us, is the biggest issue as we would like to avoid having to get out the laptop or going to a desktop to print "stuff". Our Macbook Air definitely cannot be retired.

9. iBooks has some significant issues. Although it is apparent that a large number of people have been able to buy books on the iBooks store, we have not been able to get the books we want, and I do not refer to availability. Our problems have been operational, books that we purchase and then will not download or disappear! We are Kindle owners and find that the Kindle is easy to use as a substitute for a book. It does not tire the eyes and the software has been thoroughly debugged after all this time. The Kindle reader on the iPad works well enough, but we still grab the Kindle when we want to read. The iPad screen is superb for films, photographs etc. but for book reading we prefer the Kindle today.

This is not a "magic" device but it is a start and, interestingly, most of the issues can be sorted out with software and not hardware. We look forward with interest to how this all develops and I hope my comments ares helpful.

All the best,

Peter Jackson

Platinum subscriber.

Sent from my iPad

Thanks. This should solve one of your problems.

How to print from an iPad.

http://www.engadget.com/2010/04/15/ipad-printing-solved/

Roland Dobbins

Mr. Jackson replies

Hysterical but demonstrates the point well... iPad printing is a significant omission although we have found some solutions in the app store which have serious restrictions and make them less than useful.

Thanks,

Peter Jackson

I am rather looking forward to getting the 3G iPad to see just what I can do with it. I heard on Laporte today that an actor uses his iPad so that he can show past performances to casting directors. New applications pop up every week... And eventually Apple will make printing easier. I'm sure of it. And of course they really expect you to have a Mac Book...

The iPad and the development of PCs in general.

I read your article about the IPad being more of a tool of consumption and less of a tool for creation. That got me thinking and isn't that really how evolution of the PC/Home Computer/Microcomputer been going for a long time.

The Altair was the ultimate tool of creation. It was a freaking kit. You had to put it together and then you had to write your own software. By the time I got into computers with my C64 at least it came put together but frankly when I bought it there was no real software. You had to write your own or at the very least you could. My machine was one of the first so it even came with of all things the schematics and the pin outs of all the ports so you could build your own stuff if you really wanted to. I seem to remember that you wrote an accounting system for yourself in CBasic way back then.

Now PCs don't even come with a programming language by default. We do have great tools like Office and OpenOffice for writers and just about anybody else. Photoshop and Gimp for artists, and goodness knows what else. However those of use that still code are getting to be a smaller and smaller percentage. Even on the PC the precnetage of people that are using the computer to create is small compared to those that consume.

The iPad is just the next logical step. It is a consumption device for the most part.

However one does have to wonder. With iWork and quicken online I am betting you could run a small business just as effectively and with a great deal more ease as people did with an Apple II back in the day.

As always I look forward to your opinions.

I always held from the beginning that the real computer revolution comes when it is not important to know how to teach the computer to do things, you just do them. Computers took all the menial work out of writing. Now anyone can write and publish a book. That doesn't mean that it will be a good book, but the tools aren't the limiting factor. The same is true of garage bands: anyone can produce and publish a broadcast quality recording. It's no longer a monopoly of a studio with its recording equipment. Yes, studios have better equipment, but it's not THAT much better; it's good enough. This is happening with movies, and of course with "augmented" eBooks.

People have been running small businesses with small computers since the mid 1980's. I know one chap who had a very large import/export business run by Symantec's Q&A Write; it even included some automatic ordering and shipping.

The hardware is out there to do things we haven't thought of yet. I do lament that we didn't get the advances in natural language programming that I expected, and I wonder why programming has continued to be far more complex than it was in the days of CBASIC. Incidentally, I still use my accounting program; it was developed to look like the hand maintained books illustrated in the 1970's editions of Accounting 101 texts. The program still works, but Accounting 101 now tells you how to use programs that produce books nothing like the traditional Journals and Ledgers. So it goes.

The bottom line to me is that the iPad is a consumer's tool and it will generate applications we never thought of; which will in turn lead people to say "if only it could do this" and someone will figure out how to make it do that, and someone else will build a machine that does that better. The revolution continues.


Kindle Apps for Tablets, including iPad.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000490441

Roland Dobbins

For those haven't rushed out to get an iPad. Tablet, Slate, iPad; rivals in the Revolution.


The March and April columns had more than just iPad, of course.

You write:

"After all, the purpose of a telephone is to be a telephone; it's nice to have it be a pocket computer, but the present hardware isn't up to that. "

That depends on whether you have more use for a telephone or a pocket computer. I was very fond of my Psion, and what I really want is a pocket computer that also happens to be a telephone--and, probably more important, connects to the Internet.

Which is why I'm intrigued by the Dell mini-5, which seems to fit that description. Unfortunately, it looks as though it will be released on AT&T. I want eventually to switch (from T Mobile, which I'm not terribly happy with, to Verizon, which everyone seems to agree has the best network). The one problem is that I prefer Android, and Verizon, despite past promises, has still not offered tethering as even an extra cost option on accounts. I find tethering useful for about a month a year (our summer trip), and I don't like the idea of doing it in violation of the carrier's explicit ban.

And it looks as though the two best Android phones are coming out on AT&T and Sprint.

--
David Friedman

Thanks.


Pohl quote correction, via Google Books-

Pohl's friend was a fellow member of the YCL, which Pohl left over the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The actual quote is:

"He bought us wine, held up his glass, and proposed a toast: "To the liberation of the bourgeois capital by the people's forces of socialism." I drank his lousy wine. But it lay sour in my stomach while I brooded in my office all that"

P 120, it says, if you have it on your shelf.

Google book search links, (snippets)

http://bit.ly/bpVwQm

http://bit.ly/9PXM7Q

Regards,
James Fulford

Thanks. I couldn't find my copy of Fred's book, and I guess I didn't search hard enough on line, so it was from memory. I don't think I distorted anything. My point was that those were different times...


Net Neutrality issues?

Jerry,

I saw an item today that Cox will no longer provide the USENET services on their internet for free. If you want it you must pay $15 per month. Cox wants to put more emphasis on the Cox Media Store and Share.

I have a great love of free enterprise, but sometimes I worry that there is some merit to restricting utilities in how they do business. There is a friction between the two concepts, and sometimes it is difficult to sort it all out.

Maybe our law should require that Internet Service Providers not be permitted to also be Producers of services, who use their network to feature their own products and services at the expense of other providers. Maybe there ought to be a 'must carry' rule for ISPs, so that we do not end up with certain services being orphaned at the hands of those who have their hand on the cable that transmits them, and their eye on the money they can make by degrading other internet services.

It seems wrong that the ISPs should be the ones to decide what comes down the customers cable, and having a right to speed their products up and slowing competing products down (as happened previously). Assuming that the ISP is providing a utility type service they should be subject to regulation by someone.

Cox's notice:

"Effective June 30, 2010, Cox Communications will discontinue Usenet service to our subscribers. Declining newsgroup usage in recent years has highlighted the need to focus our resources on other priorities, such as increasing our Internet speeds and providing new services, including Cox Media Store and Share. We understand that our newsgroup subscribers may want to continue accessing Usenet. Therefore, we have worked with leading newsgroup service provider Giganews to offer special pricing for Cox subscribers."

Ed Kelly

Ed & Sue Kelly aboard USSV Angel Louise
Currently anchored & floating in the USVIs

I'm afraid I do not consider it a constitutional right to have Usenet free. But then I seldom use Usenet and newsgroups, and I know few who do. There are just so many alternatives. I certainly would not support "must carry" regulatory power, which would almost surely get me mandatory feeds of memorable speeches by Senators, and other such.

I don't think "Net Neutrality" is a very critical issue at this time.


Catching up on a lot of mail items, no particular classification.

New hard drives and XP

Hi Jerry,

Hard drives with 4K sector size slow down Windows XP. Some drives are already being sold with 4K sectors and all will by January 2011.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8557144.stm

<snip>

"All other things being equal you will have a noticeable hard drive reduction in performance," said Mr Burks, adding that, in some circumstances, it could make a drive 10% slower.

</snip>

I know you're running Windows 7 but some of your readers may not be. Just a heads up for those folks now.

Braxton S. Cook

Thanks. I've heard some of this, but it isn't very prominent yet.

Anyone who plans to run XP in future is advised to follow the link and read the article.

I suppose the write performance hit applies to virtual XP on Windows 7, too. Thinking about it, though, it's hard to think of high performance programs (ones that you care that much about a 10% degradation) that have to be run in XP rather than Windows 7. Those would be legacy programs, and the trick here is that if you know you'll have to be running those, stock up on some spare 512 bit sector size hard drives.

The 512 bit sector size was important back when the 64K floppy was the "mass storage" device and the only thing you could save your work to (other than punched cards...)


Reinstalling Once A Year

Dr. Pournelle:

Your comment about completely refreshing a system by reinstalling the OS and the software was advice I used to follow about once a year. It just got things back to where they should be. But there is a significant downside to such action. And that is software activation. Reactivating various software packages has gotten to be a real pain.

Now Microsoft is probably the easiest. You don't even talk with a human any more unless there is a problem. Even when a human is involved Microsoft has always been most accommodating. Other vendors such as Adobe are not so friendly.

I understand why the vendors want someone to activate software. It is to prevent piracy and I have no real problem with their approach. But I would like vendors to step up a little more in this whole process. To me it seems that any vendor should throw away any activation that has taken place after a time period of say six months. That way if I have to reinstall because of hardware errors or new machine six months after the last install the activation will take place without problems. This will still protect the vendor from piracy and will certainly be friendlier to the user. Any pirated software will be attempted to activated more often than twice a year.

Ray Thompson

Actually that's Leo Laporte's advice more than mine. I don't routinely scrub down to bare metal and reinstall because it's a big hassle and I've never felt the need to. On the other hand, most of my systems get replaced every couple of years, so while I have some elderly machines, I don't use them much.

Back before Windows XP when I was far more active in reviewing software, I had machines that I'd installed dozens of programs on. Most of those programs weren't kept after the tests, and uninstallation programs in those days were very inefficient, so there would often be chunks and bits of junk left in the Registry. Registry cleaners could help, but there was always the danger that Regclean would be too helpful, and the scrub and reinstall was much more tempting. After XP I didn't notice the problem as much, but then I don't install and rip out as much software as I used to. Also, the machines are faster so you don't notice when they slow down. Our machines are so much faster than the software that much of the time "slow" isn't a problem.

I have found that most software companies will issue a new activation key when they're sure they are talking to a human being and there's anything like a plausible story. I don't know anyone who has had problems with either Microsoft or Symantec, for example.


Marty Winston represents BACtrack who make the breathalyzer machine mentioned in the March column. He says

RE: March Column

Thanks for covering BACtrack.

The documentation does - as I think you know - tell you to wait a while after eating or drinking so you don't end up measuring mouth alcohol (like the test you did) instead of blood alcohol.

Marty Winston

I had thought I'd made it clear that my "rinse my mouth with alcohol and then test" was intended to peg the meter, but I guess I didn't.

I've had more experience with the device since the March column, and it seems to work very well; that is, I've had people use it after a couple of drinks, and I always got about the result I'd expected. Hardly exact calibration, of course, but I retain a fair degree of confidence in its results.


Comment on Virtual XP inside of Windows 7

Jerry:

I also use Win 7 64bit and started to use the Virtual XP box from Microsoft. I found it to be very slow and it took up memory and cpu resources on my dual core 2.8 with 4G of memory laptop.

I moved to VMware Player. VMware Player is free, although you do need to register to download it. I bring up VMWare Player, installed Windows XP and everything works fine. It is much faster then Virtual XP from Microsoft. It uses less memory and cpu resouces then the Virtual XP. The only drawback, for some, is you need a legal and installable version of Window XP.

Thank You
Gary

I have had about the same experience, but most of the programs I want to run in XP are older games and on a Core 2 Quad system I still have to waste some cycles to make the game run properly.

I agree that VMware makes an excellent virtual machine.


What quad core does for me,

Jerry

A quad core processor has made a huge difference in my system. I've been using Spam Bayes for years to filter out spam. The user must train it, but then it works well, and leaves you with junk, junk suspects and not-junk. My old machine could barely do this, and took a while doing it. And I don't have near the mail you do.

I now have a Core i7 860 and Outlook 2007. I run not one spam filter but two: Outlook's own and Spam Bayes. Together they filter out almost all of my spam, and they do it quickly. As I said, it's a huge difference. YMMV, but from now on, it'll be quad core all the way for me.

Ed

I agree: my slowest systems that run Outlook are Quad Core machines, and that has made Outlook 2007 usable. Prior to going to quads, Outlook would periodically bring the whole system to a brief halt - I'd be typing and suddenly nothing happened - when Outlook went out and got some incoming mail and processed it. I too have a number of rules and spam filters, and they work very well, but they can take some CPU power. Add a virus checker and it's a serious cycle hit. With quads I don't notice.


Japanese developed kanban system

Mr Pournelle

I was recently watching a BBC documentary about the safety scares concerning Toyota cars.

It also included a potted history of the company. Before they started making cars they visited several US companies to view their techniques.

Toyota rejected the mass production, high stock level methods of manufacturers such as Ford.

However, they did adopt the working methods of another US company - Piggly Wiggly!

So the Kanban just-in-time system had its origins in the US.

Yours

Mark Simpson

Interesting. The kanban system was revolutionary in many ways, and I think we have not seen the last of the consequences. With no large inventories in warehouses, civilizations are more vulnerable to disasters than they used to be. No groceries in the back rooms, fewer local warehouses.


About Phil's 30" monitors - they can do 2560x1600 resolution - which makes individual windows only 75% of the size they would be on a 24" display but every bit as crisp - and it delivers 70% more desktop real estate - it's a great approach for intense multitaskers - most current graphics cards support them - and the monitors themselves start at $1100-1200.

I'm sure he'll find the cause & fix his boot difficulties - I'm finding ASUS motherboards to be a huge improvement over others - very easy builds, very few "incidents" and good control. I don't believe in overclocking, but I let their configuration go forward with some very modest default settings & my 12GB of RAM with a CAS 9 latency rating now deliver an even better CAS 8 score. The 6-core/12-thread "Gulftown" is wonderfully fast - but as you know, all we do when we improve technology is to move the bottleneck. In this case, the ball and chain on my system performance is its hard drives. I need more capacity than an SSD can give me & more speed than rotating media - I have 2 ways to solve that - but I'll spend a couple of months addressing it to be sure I can get it right.

I have a desktop gadget that lets me watch the loading on the CPU's 12 threads, plus memory usage and a past-minutes trace. It's helped me (in conjunction with the processes tab under Task Manager) trace the biggest system slowdowns to Outlook (from Office 2007 Ultimate) - as distinct from processes for add-ins like Skype, Xobni, Gwabbit, etc. I asked Microsoft if 2010 would be any better. They said yes - and that many of those improvements were part of the improvements that 2007 users got with SP2. I certainly hope there's more than what's in SP2 - which I'm running. I'm sure that some of that is because of the size of my PST files, but I frequently groom those - and anyway, I regard that as something the developer needs to address.

Marty Winston


Phil's computer

Jerry: Regarding your April International column, and Phil's contribution about Supermicro bare bones computers.

I'm skeptical about using non-ECC ram, particularly 12 GB of it, especially considering googles take on it:

http://www.cs.toronto.edu/~bianca/papers/sigmetrics09.pdf

Not to mention DJB's take on it (old, but still valid): http://cr.yp.to/hardware/ecc.html

ASUS has been integrating ECC support into most of their motherboards, e.g., http://usa.asus.com/product.aspx?P_ID=9ca8hJfGz483noLk

Probably can't be had in a bare bones though.

J

--
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. -Mencken

Peter Glaskowsky notes

Regarding the Sigmetrics '09 paper studying DRAM behavior at Google:

http://www.cs.toronto.edu/~bianca/papers/sigmetrics09.pdf

I helped Stephen Shankland write up a good article on this paper for CNET. It makes interesting reading.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-30685_3-10370026-264.html

. png


Dean Peters reminds us

Microsoft Removes Hardware Virtualization Barrier to Running XP Mode

http://blogs.zdnet.com/microsoft/?p=5607&tag=col1;post-5607

Which turns out to be important for those who need XP Mode. Thanks.