Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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Mailbag for July, 2006
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2006 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

July 3 - 8, 2006

Subject: Bringing up Diana

Great timing, as I'm about to start building my own "next couple of years" machine.

I note that you've got 4GB of RAM in Diana. Googling WinXP memory abilities/capacities doesn't provide much consistent information on whether and/or how well WXP uses that much memory. If you've got insights, that might be useful information to discuss one of these days..



With 32-bit XP you get about 3.5 GB of usable memory; the BIOS reserves the rest for systems operations. With 64-bit XP you'd be able to allocate all of it yourself. In general, 2 GB is enough for nearly any rational purpose, but the extra 1.5 GB doesn't hurt. The important thing is to have enough memory to avoid disk swapping.


My first impression is this is better that Byte. I like the clean uncluttered look of the article and it loads much faster. Advertising would be a real downer. I hope you can continue the columns as I have been following your work since the very beginnings of Byte.

Tom Wood
Technical Manager


Subject: Remember

Windows Key + Pause/Break Key brings up System Properties

Typing "www." and ".com" is a waste of time. Just type "name" and then press Ctrl and Enter and it'll fill in the rest for you.

Russ Newsom

"If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way." - Mark Twain

Dear Jerry,

I've been an engineer in the world of little computers as you call them, since 1978. From the beginning and to this very day, I regard your columns as the gold standard. I use the Antec Sonata case, and most recently Ghost 10 because of your advice - just to name a couple - there are many other examples.

Keep pounding out the columns and I'll keep reading them.

However, that being said, I would like some more Empire of Man stories. Especially with the way our country seems headed. I was just re-reading "The Griping Hand" last night. Great stuff. Shame there are no nerve restoratives yet. A vodka and Diet Coke does taste good after a run.

Phil Tharp

Thanks for the kind words!

AN EXCHANGE OF VIEWS among Chaos Manor Associates

Subject: Byte originals

You've probably seen Byte 1994 - 1998 at http://byte.com/art/

Perusing the TOCs reminds one how global and deep Byte was back when MF/CMP acquired it.

David Em

I took a few minutes to browse around just now. Yeah, it's amazing how much technical detail used to go into Byte. Byte used to run stuff that would have made perfectly good Microprocessor Report articles, which is why we at Microprocessor Report later hired Tom Halfhill, the guy who wrote many of those articles.

I found an article by Tom on Apple's PowerPC transition: 6,500 words long. One doesn't see many articles like that today. Even Microprocessor Report is getting by with short pieces these days. Tom is still there, and even got promoted to Editor in Chief after Kevin Krewell left, but they're so short-handed they can't go to such lengths on most stories.

The current issue of Dr. Dobbs suggests the sweet spot for articles there is around 2,500 words, and that's a relatively technical magazine. I'm sure there must be occasional longer pieces, but I doubt they're common. Out on the Web, it's rare to see anything more than a thousand words. Just a minimal set of facts and a little bit of analysis.

The level of technical detail has declined disproportionately; nobody writes about microprocessor architecture in printed magazines any more. Certainly not like this.


Some enthusiast sites try to, but their writers just aren't qualified.

Is this just an 80/20-rule thing-- 80% of the readers being satisfied by the easiest 20% of the story? Jerry has popularized the phrase "best is the enemy of good enough," but this is a case where "good enough" has won.

I suppose we might see more detail if the profits of PC makers, or PC buying decisions, were more dependent on technology details. Right now, they really aren't. There's only one significant processor architecture, and Microsoft and everyone else is working really hard to hide all the details from end users. That might never change, I dunno.

.png (Peter Glaskowsky)

It's that kind of stuff I really miss. Granted, things didn't age as quickly then, so a five year old issue of a magazine wasn't a terrible anachronism if you'd held on to it for later study.

When I first started buying Byte in the early 80s after years of library reading, I would hold on to those issues for anywhere from five to ten years. Since I was new to most computing related stuff I would only understand about 10% of the content but I would keep going back to those same articles as my experience and knowledge deepened. Eventually I would get to the point where I understood at least half of the content and had a theoretical appreciation for much of the rest.

There is nowhere I can point a beginner today that offers the same kind of educational value.

It also meant a lot to me that the magazine covered such far ranging interests. While there were big sections I would never expect to make a contribution, there were other that were right up my alley. As a matter of fact, when I received the email informing me of Byte the magazine's demise, I had just checked into a hotel room in Atlanta the day before a trade show where I expected to produce some coverage the then EiC was interested in having. It went from business trip to out of pocket vacation in an instant.

Eric Pobirs

In the McGraw Hill glory days there was nothing remotely like BYTE. Collectively the editors knew everything. I was very privileged to work with them. We may not be able to create that again, but between my associates and readers there's little we don't know...

To Be Continued...