Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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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.

July 25, 2010

Hi, Jerry --

Your review of the iPad in this month's column is probably the final selling point as to whether I'm going to buy one of these things. Linda wants to give me an iPad for Christmas, but I may not wait till then; I have some travelling to do later this year, and having something that could function as both an all-in-one portable library and a word processor would be useful.

I haven't had a portable computer since my Apple laptop died ten years ago. Damn thing was a nuisance anyway. Linda has an iBook, but I've preferred to travel with pad and paper, using a flip-phone for calls and hotel business-center computers to check my email. But the iPad looks to be about the right size to fit into a shoulder bag without crowding out everything else. In fact, the new SFWA shoulder bag given away last month at the Nebs appears to be the perfect means of transportation...

You're right about iPad being a game changer for the publishing industry. I'm seeing the effects already. According to my last royalty statement from Fictionwise, the ebook edition of Coyote Horizon (the next to last book of the series, published last year) has earned out its advance well ahead of the dead tree edition. And although it's a little difficult to tell, my sales ranks on Amazon seem to indicate that Kindle downloads of the Coyote books are selling as well as -- or even better -- than the paperbacks.

During a panel on ebook publishing at the Nebula Awards, Tom Doherty said that ebooks currently account for only 3.5% of Tor's sales. But he expects growth in that area ... and he's putting his money where his mouth is, because Tor.com is currently offering 25c/word for short fiction.

Again, good column this month. Hope all is well with you.

-- Allen Steele

Do note that without the external keyboard you are unlikely to do any serious writing on an iPad. The current iPad is more for consumption than production, but with the Apple wireless keyboard and a good stand loke my LapWorks Recliner you can write with it. And it's great for reading news, books, magazines...


First notes on iPad

After four days, I can definitely say that the iPad is all that plus a bag of chips. I've used it for sending email, reading books, surfing the web, and drawing complex system architectures. Oh, and playing games :-)

As an e-reader, it's as expected -- great indoors, not very good in bright sunlight. The Apple iBooks reader is nice, including the free Winnie-the-Pooh for reading to young-uns. I tried the Stanza reader for my Baen books, but it broke Safari's PDF handling; I removed Stanza, which fixed Safari. I then re-downloaded my Baen Books in ePub format to the Mac and put them into into iTunes. After a sync all my Baen books showed up in the Apple iBooks reader. Looking forward to reading _West of Honor_ on the plane today...

Web surfing is great. Very crisp; my company's web applications look better on the iPad than they do on "real" computers. I also like the "push" email.

Everything is much more readable -- and for me, usable -- on the iPad than on a phone-sized device. Email, in particular, is very usable for me, whereas it was always painful for me on the iPod Touch and other tiny machines.

I will be looking at remote control apps to run Mac and Windows machines from the iPad. Seems like there are several nice options.

Recommended app: OmniGraffle. Think "Visio with Mac style" and you're about there. I've used it for years on the Mac, but it's pretty darned cool on the iPad too. A bit higher priced for an app, at $50 or so, but it worked as a way to convince my boss to buy me the iPad.

So far, looks like an Orchid to me!

Best wishes,
Steve Setzer

You clearly get more use out of your iPad than I get from mine. You're not alone. I have several readers who find they can manage most of their business using the iPad, and although most carry a MacBook on trips they find they don't need it often; the iPad does the job.

As I have said often, the iPad by itself is a game changer, but the real effects will come with the next generation of iPad replacements.


Kindle Search Facility

Dear Doctor Pournelle,

As I am sure many other people have already pointed out, it is possible to search within a Kindle book (or Mobi book). It is not possible to search a PDF document, and I don't believe it is possible to do a search across multiple books, or, in fact, to initiate a search except when reading a book.

The other great feature of the Kindle is the ability to be readable in direct sunlight - the brighter the light the better the screen looks. Oh, and I like the long battery life too.

I bought a Kindle because I want to be able to read books on the beach, and it fills that role very nicely. I'm not sure if an iPad would be as good, particularly as iBooks are only available in the US (and I'm in Italy).

Regards,

Dave Checkley

For most eBook reading I prefer reading Kindle books on the iPad, but the Kindle is certainly better for reading outdoors or in bright glaring light. The Kindle App on iPad has better navigation tools than on the Kindle. I like being able to run through the pages quickly.


The approval isn't universal, of course.

Howdy Doctor Pournelle,

I eagerly read your column this morning, but still found myself scratching my head over the new iPad.

Aside from apps to read Kindle and Nook books (there is a free Kindle for PC app available on Amazon), I don't see any real advantage to an iPad. I do see the iPad as a Kindle killer, but that is because of increased iPad functionality and the initial Kindle being priced too high to make any serious dent in the eBook market.

Second, Jobs still insists on designing touch screen interfaces. They may look cool but are incredibly bad for data entry. I work in the food sorting industry and our sorters use industrial touch screens to operate our control GUIs. You can't really touch type with a touch screen. I've tried. I noticed your pictures showing the additional keyboard. A much nicer interface, but it shows how bad a design the touch screen is in comparison. Anyone using an iPad for more than book reading or some kind of gaming will probably be disappointed without an extra keyboard. How much does it weigh? Then there's the price. $700 for a decently equipped iPad is ridiculous, but people will buy them (Does anyone really buy the base $500 model?). I've heard of people tricking their iPads out for $1100! That's high power PC territory.

I bought my wife a Netbook for her birthday two months back. It was a Samsung N150 that cost $280. Thanks to Costco I got free shipping. Since it came with Windows 7 Starter I decided to upgrade the machine. Replacing the 1 gig memory module with 2 gigs of RAM cost me a trip to Frys (on the way home) and $50. It took 30 seconds to upgrade. I bought my wife a mouse ($20, also at Fry's) because she doesn't like touchpads. So far I'm at $350. I'll admit that I cheated a bit. I bought an external DVD drive ($70) and used it to upgrade Windows and install Office 2007.We had 3 user licenses of both. The DVD method was preferred to Wi-Fi. That procedure took a few hours (mostly for Office). For $420 I had a machine with 160 gigs of storage and 2 gigs of RAM. It runs Windows 7 without a hitch. Seven hour battery life. The netbook weighs 2.5 pounds, and already has a keyboard. 10.1" screen, too. The total package: netbook, mouse, charger, and USB DVD weigh in at four pounds.

We took it with us on our two week road trip from Texas to Maine and back again. We adapted a small portfolio case to carry it. Piece of cake. After long days of touring through New York, Portland, DC, and Memphis, my wife spent a few hours a day on the bed with her feet up surfing the net.

I really do not see a change in men's fashions in the near future. I do see slipcovers for iPads, which would then be carried like the two subject spiral notebooks I carried back in high school and college. Slipcovers would be cheap, easy, and you could change them out depending on your mood. (I see the same thing for netbooks.) A neoprene slipcover would keep the slippery surface of an iPad under control, and it'd be a cinch to make them in designer colors, patterns, or with your favorite logo or saying on them.

I'm not ranting about the iPad and throwing the netbook in your face, but I wonder how the usefulness of the iPad extends past the ability to use iPhone/iPad apps? I wouldn't hesitate to write or research with the netbook. I was managing about 60 wpm on the smaller keyboard while responding to e-mails. As a long time PC user (since 1984) I view the iPad as a "not-quite" computer.

On the other hand (PC user that I am), I have used Macs before and liked the operating system. I'd buy a Macbook if given the chance (don't need one right now). Is it that I'm stuck in old-school thinking when it comes to computers? I'd like to understand the iPad/iPhone idea better, but I can't get my head around it. Is this a prejudice, or am I now one of those "you don't get it" guys?

Best,

Bill Kelly
Houston, TX

As I said before, the iPad is more for consuming information than for creation. Were I restricted to just one item for a trip it would be a laptop of some kind.

In my recent trips I find I use the iPad more than a laptop, particularly in flight, but I don't think I could go very long without a full computer of some kind. Not yet.

As to PC vs. Mac, the two operating systems have converged to the point that it's more a matter of preference than anything else. Some PC applications people depend on aren't available on the Mac, of course.

I am still wavering between Windows and the Mac. Now that Microsoft is coming out with Outlook for the Mac - not an Outlook-like application but Outlook itself - moving to the Mac would be simpler. Alas, I still don't have a Mac equivalent of ancient old Front Page. My web site is simple and mostly text, and much of it is constructed by pasting things in from Outlook; I don't know what one would use for that with a Mac, nor do I know of a Mac "what you see is what you get" web builder that can read my hundreds and hundreds of FrontPage html pages. I keep looking.


There was considerable discussion of the iPhone 4 among my advisors. When he posted the July Chaos Manor Reviews column, Managing Editor Brian Bilbrey said:

I've stayed out of the back and forth on the list about the iPhone 4 issues, mostly because it's been a non-issue for me. I *do* have an iPhone 4 now, and there's a story to that.

I have very specific "needs" for my mobile device, and the iPhone 3 that I've carried for the last two years has worked just fine. But I sent it on a short trip to meet the sidewalk, face to face, in month 4. With a pretty cracked front glass in one upper corner, I've used the hell out of that phone for the last two years. But with the iPhone 4, the big draw is the new processor. And after much mockery at the office, I headed down on the second day of availability, and picked up an iPhone 4 and a Bumper case.

I am happy with both case and phone. I actually saw someone demonstrate the antenna signal attenuation trick while still in line for the phone, and that merely increased my resolve to get the thing in a case. With the bumper case, the phone is well protected, and I've never had a problem with calls or data, even in some of the crappy cell-reception caves I get to work in.

The phone is fast, the display is gorgeous, it integrates well both as phone and as music player via bluetooth with my Prius, too. That is, I sit down in the car, phone in my pocket. I turn on the car and there's the music, playing from the iPhone. When I punch for a call, or a call comes in, the music fades out, the phone fades in, and I deal with that. Call over, the music comes back.

And frankly, I think that the iTunes interface for organizing media on the device is great. I don't buy much of anything through iTunes, almost all of my music is ripped from the CD collection. I've purchased online from Magnatune, and added those to the iTunes library, as well as buying either discs or online direct from assorted artists (recently, Zoe Keating - http://zoekeating.com/ and Pomplamoose - http://www.youtube.com/user/PomplamooseMusic)

More Pomplamoose promotion - Jerry, you might like this one (among others they do - I love Natali's voice).

Anyway, enough rambling. I have the iPhone 4 with an Apple Bumper case, and it over-meets my needs.

.brian

I am in fact looking forward to getting the iPhone 4, and I'd intended to have it long before getting this mailbag out; alas, I keep being nibbled by small details of life and writing, and it's time to get this out. Now that the MicroCell has solved my AT&T connection at home problems, I won't be switching carriers. I'll probably get an iPhone 4 for Roberta, too. I've wanted a videophone since the Jetsons...

Peter Glaskowsky reminds me that I've probably wanted one since Dick Tracy. When I looked it up I found that Diet Smith invented two-way wrist radio in the 40's, but it didn't become video until 1964, a couple of years after Jane Jetson had her videophone complete with a face mask so she could use it in the mornings before applying makeup... On that score, Heinlein in Between Planets (1951) had worldwide cell phones; the story opens with a telephone call to a phone carried by a student horseback riding in the Wyoming mountains out of a dude ranch. Dick Tracy's two-way wrist radio wasn't anything like universal. There may have been earlier fictional universal portable telephone service, but that's the first one I remember. Eric reminds me that Flash Gordon had videophones, possibly well before the Jetsons.

iPhone 4 brings us much closer to the pocket computer we described in Mote in God's Eye in 1972.


Jerry,

The iphone has triple band voice, 3G/4G wireless (4G is on a separate band from 3G, it's basically wimax), bluetooth, and wifi. That is five different two way radios all sharing those 3 antennas at the same time. That's a lot of comm!

Phil

It is sort of astonishing how much antenna power they can pack into that little case. Of course iPhone 4 doesn't yet have 4G, but one suspects that the antenna is already tuned to handle that as an upgrade. I may be giving Jobs more prescience than he really has; we'll just have to wait and see.


Safari Reader vs. Firefox & Readability

Jerry,

Though a longtime user of Firefox, I was moved to try Safari 5 to get the Reader feature, which plucks large blocks of text from web pages and presents them in very clean, readable form. It's great when the original web page font is squinty or the article is broken up with too many ads.

However, I've gone back to Firefox. I touch many websites a day. The way the bookmarks sidebar works with left and middle clicks in Firefox makes for very convenient and efficient browsing. I suppose someone will soon come up with a Firefox add-on that works like the Safari Reader. In the meantime, there's Readability.

Just go to the website, select a few preferences, and drag the Readability button to the bookmarks toolbar. Then while viewing a page that you'd like to clean up, click the Readability bookmark, and the page is replaced with the cleaned-up view. It's not perfect. Sometimes it can't find the right block of text (it will only show Monday at Chaos Manor), and, unlike Safari Reader, it doesn't automatically join multi-part articles. Still, it's very fast and works with most pages I've tried.

Bill

I use both Safari and Firefox. Firefox works at infuriating me with its constant demands for update attention, but it is very useful. In particular I leave a lot of tabs open when I am working on something - I will follow links by opening the link in a new tab - so that by the time I am finished I may have twenty or thirty tabs open for one project. I try to go through and close needless tabs, but often I forget. Firefox is more tolerant of this than Explorer or Safari.


I read the link on Job's comments on Flash. He is the new IBM all right. I also agree with his reasons. I then read the Free Software Foundation guy's response. I see socialism is alive and well in computer science.

All of this "FREE! FREE!" stuff is possible because of the massive investment by IBM, Intel, et. all to create a standard hardware platform. Linux is possible because Unix defined the software functionality that Linux copied. If Windows and Judge Green had not sucked the power out of ATT, (the real one, not the current copy) I suspect Linux would have died an early death. But that is the PC. It is unclear, and in my experience, highly unlikely, that free software will ever be a good fit for battery powered devices. If you want to wait 10 years after all of the big mean capitalists figure it out, then something FREE will be available.

Phil

Jobs has the advantage of complete control over the hardware his OS and applications run with. One has to depend on his judgment. So far that has been pretty darned good.


Regarding TWiT 255 and iPad networking woes

Greetings.

I heard mention by Steve and Jerry that the WiFi on their iPad had some 'issues'; namely wrong network connection listings and other network/DNS problems. Both of you mentioned that rebooting the device did the trick which does work but there is an easier solution, at least for me.

Renew the DHCP lease.

The iPad seems to hold onto IP settings. Using WiFi at work on Friday then coming back to use it again on Monday shows that it still has the same IP. Trying to access anything Internet related fails. Once I go in and renew the lease all is well. Kind of a pain but faster than rebooting it entirely. And seems to work more consistently than simply turning WiFi off/on.

I know this isn't an option while roaming but using a statically assigned IP when possible (such as at home) bypasses said iPad issues.

Shane
--
The geek shall inherit the earth.

Renewing the DHCP lease may solve some network problems. I do find that sometimes I just have to reset the iPad - that is, hold down the top "off" switch while holding down "the button" and wait until the Apple appears. The other day the iPad just wasn't working right. Some things went well, but others weren't. Another time it just didn't want to charge. Resetting fixed each of those problems. I expect that over time Apple will come up with the equivalent of a Service Pack to the iPad OS that will make reset more infrequently necessary. Actually it doesn't happen often enough to be a real problem even now, but it can be an annoyance.


Regarding the July column, I have a couple comments.

To me, the MicroCell is mainly something I would get if the phone was generally useful most places you went to anyway, and was just a way to make it more reliable at home. One of the benefits of a cell phone is that you can still use a phone when your power might be out, or for whatever reason you might need to make an emergency call when you can't get to your landline (I carry my phone in a pocket even at home). if you had no coverage at home at all otherwise, how could you make it if your internet is out?

I've only had my iPhone 4 for a week now, and I don't know if I have the antenna issue or not. I've never used a case with any previous phone, such as the 3G, but I was considering doing so with the 4 anyway because of issues with dropping my previous phone. However, I HAVE encountered the other issue that has come up. The problem with the proximity sensor. That is a problem when it occurs since, based on how I hold the phone, if it happens I have hung up accidentally. Figure it is that and not a dropped call since it doesn't say "Call Failed", and I have also put someone on mute. For the little I've used it for voice since I've had it, it has happened frequently. It may have happened once or twice in the 20 months I used my 3G. It happened occasionally on my previous Treo, but that didn't have the proximity sensor.

It was mentioned in the press conference, so hopefully it can be fixed in software.

Kevin

The MicroCell makes my iPhone (3G at the moment, iPhone 4 shortly) more useful throughout my house. I can always get a couple of bars out on my balcony. AT&T coverage in the Studio City Triangle where I live is notoriously bad; this morning I had occasion to discuss that with a screenwriter neighbor who was out on his front porch because his AT&T phone won't work inside his house (I recommended he get a MicroCell).

I haven't got my iPhone 4 yet so I can't comment on the proximity sensor problem. As you say, it should be fixed in software.


The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest -

I just finished Stieg Larsson's trilogy today. I read all three on my Sony Reader. I did miss the ability to easily move back and forth for pretty much the same reasons you did. (I ended up with a sticky note on the inside cover with a list of characters.) I won't be getting an iPad anytime soon as I cannot justify the expense just now, however I still was able to carry all three books with me without paying a weight or space penalty in my bag.

I figure that all the eBook formats are a very young technology but that it may prove to have staying power. I also think it will cause paper books to increase in price, become a vehicle primarily intended for references, and become much more rare. When CDs, then MP3 formats became available the demise of vinyl was predicted. However, vinyl is still very much around and players can still be found in Best Buy.

However, anything that keeps reading material available to us masses is a good thing in my book.

R,
Rose

The Kindle App on the iPad is my favorite eBook reader, largely because it's so easy to flip back and forth among the pages; almost as convenient as with a real book. Note that Amazon is reporting eBook sales as at least equal to (actually for one month there almost double) hardbound sales. (See next mail item.) This new revolution in publishing is just getting started.


Amazon Says E-Book Sales Outpace Hardcovers

[ Wall Street Journal link ]

"Over the past month, the Seattle retailer sold 180 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books it sold, it said."

Charles Brumbelow

A very interesting trend; I would not have thought it would happen this quickly. I suspect the iPad has something to do with it. The price war between Kindle and Nook are probably even more significant. As readers become ubiquitous eBook sales can be expected to keep rising.


iPad and GoodReader to import PDF files

Dear Jerry

I just read your much anticipated May/June column, good to see it's out, and in particular I was interesting in your take on the iPad, I have found it to be the best ebook read bar none. Specifically I was interesting in importing pdf files, I have a lot of ebooks and manuals in that format.

I got the iPad pretty much when it came out. GoodReader has an interesting option for importing; you can do it with the 'connect to server' option directly from Google docs (also from an FTP site and Dropbox, although I'm not familiar with the latter (http://www.goodiware.com/ipad/gr-man-howto.html). This way I have imported a number of ebooks and manuals in PDF format quickly and easily from Google docs.

The only really annoying issue I have encountered is the iPad repeatedly but intermittently 'forgets' the wifi router password. I have actually ended up memorizing a 26 character hex password as keeping it in a note and the copy and paste does not work - it seems it must be typed in.

thanks again for the column, enjoyable as always

all the best
David

Interesting. I have not had that problem. My iPad, like my iPhone 3G, always remembers the Wi-Fi properly and logs in automatically every time. My only problem is that one room in my house is far from the Wi-Fi router, and when all my neighbors are using Wi-Fi my net isn't reliable in the back room.


Alien names

Hi Jerry!

I found this website that I guess does the same as the Alien Names program you mentioned in your February 8 column. It's here: http://www.abooks.com/alien/

It seems to be made by the very same Ralph Roberts that you mention.

Thanks for the ever interesting site you have!

Cheers!

Knut Andersen
Oslo, Norway

Yep. Works just as well. I keep the old DOS program because I'm used to it, but the web site works fine.


MicroCell vs. Kindle

Dr Pournelle:

I live outside AT&T 3G coverage and Whispernet delivery of books to my Kindle is slooooow. Sometimes they do not arrive at all and I must go to the archive of books I have bought but do not have on the reader to try again. That has worked thus far, but is annoying. I can often download a book from Baen to the computer and transfer it to the Kindle in less time.

So I was encouraged by your report of getting the Microcell going. But I found at AT&T:

Q. Is AT&T 3G MicroCell compatible with devices like the Kindle™, Nook™, Sony Reader, or QUE™?

A. Not at this time. Support for these non-traditional wireless devices on 3G MicroCell is currently being reviewed.

I can imagine them adding such coverage as e-publishing expands and will keep an eye on the product.

Jim Watson

I think that's very likely. Within a few years, eReaders will probably be the way many - dare I say most - people read newspapers. Wide coverage will be a major item in carrier competition.


As to how one gets in on this publishing revolution, here's a place to start:

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: March Kindle Sales Top $4200 and 5850 Ebooks

This is a very interesting blog post. My own results with e-books have not been anywhere near this, but Mr. Konrath obviously has a following. I will have to think anew on this. My concern is that a lot of people are going to jump in and expect similar results but miss the fact that he is probably in the levels of what makes a "best seller" in volume sales in this niche. However his points about keeping the rights and the impact of that on the bottom line are compelling and a real argument in favor of self-publishing.

Sincerely,
Francis Hamit

His is very much a success story, but it's not unique. Much depends on luck - but then that's true for everyone. Lucifer's Hammer was 14 weeks as Number Two on the New York Times best-seller list. We kept hoping that it would make it to the top, which would have made it the very first science fiction story to be Number One. Alas, Number One at that time was The Thornbirds, and by the time it slipped so had Hammer. Ah. Well.

Another thing about eBooks: they can sit in obscurity for months to years, then suddenly rise to national consciousness and have runaway sales. That seldom happens with books, either paperback or hardcover, because unless the publisher prints a lot of books, they can't be sold. With eBooks there's no production and warehousing cost, so if everyone reading this suddenly wanted - for example - the Kindle edition of Escape from Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle - it would be available. Which is to say that authors can continue to hope long after the book has been published and initial enthusiasm dies away.

Publishers are only slowly learning how to cope with electronic publishing, and some of them have made terrible marketing errors; but everyone is learning.

And there's more:

: SlateV | Arts and Life | How I Ran an Ad on Fox News

Dear Jerry:

As Henry Baum at Self Publishing Review said, if you can do your own inexpensive television commercial for your book and get it on national cable channels, what is the big deal about publishing it yourself?

http://slatev.com/video/how-i-ran-ad-fox-news/

Sincerely,
Francis Hamit

Which tells the story of how to get your ad on TV, and one test of the results of doing that.