Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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Mailbag for September 4, 2006
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2006 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

September 4, 2006

Regarding last week's mail...

Hi, Jerry--

>>The roll-on, by the way, is from Number Nine, a now defunct company that made great video boards in older times.<<

This company manufactured video boards and luggage? That's quite a combination. Thanks as always for C@CM.

Steve Goldberg (nighttrain)

I suppose I could have been a bit clearer. They sure did make great video boards.

>> Bob Thompson assures me that standard Linux is now reliable enough for Aunt Minnie <<

Or her daughters or granddaughters. As I type this, I'm installing Xandros Linux on the notebook that belongs to our 13-year-old neighbor, Jasmine. I'm setting it up to dual-boot XP, but after wasting several hours re-installing XP on her totally trashed system, I'm beginning to wonder why I shouldn't blow away the hard drive and make it a pure Xandros system.

Robert Bruce Thompson

But then we have:

About your comments on Linux. "Linux is very like UNIX, and I said in 1982 that UNIX was "the guru and wizard full employment act." ". My question is Windows any better? Take a look at the ads for the Geek Squad? I don't know about you but I keep running into people that throw out perfectly good Windows systems because they are getting too slow. They are often full of viruses and other flavors of malware. Often they can only be fixed by what is called in the industry as the good old nuke and pave. There is an entire ecosystem of Windows consultants and experts that do nothing but fix compromised Windows systems. While most are far from actual gurus or wizards isn't this the very thing you where writing about. A system that the average user can't keep working?

Linux isn't ready for the average user yet. The biggest problem is the lack of drivers. Unlike the FOSS zealots I do not just blame the hardware vendors. The lack of a stable binary interface for device drivers is a huge problem. An end user should have to know how to run make. This problem has a lot more to do with religion than technical issues. Linux could have a stable binary device interface but the core developers of Linux don't want one. Other than that I feel Linux is just fine for the end user. Hey it works fine for all those Tivo and Linksys users.

Oh and just for fun I thought I would let you know that I have run Vista in a virtual machine on my Linux desktop. I have a screen shot if you want to see it. Since I started reading your column back in high school in 1981 I have become a fair software developer. I don't think I would call myself a wizard but I can get the job done.


PS: I read your June column about FrontPage no longer being a part of office. I used FrontPage a long time ago and yes it is easy and yes it creates really bad HTML. I found this free open source program that seems to offer a lot of what FrontPage did. It is called Nvu and you can find it http://www.nvu.com

I guess I don't care whether or not my HTML is ugly or bad so long as www.jerrypournelle.com is readable, and apparently it is with most browsers. Of course I don't do anything fancy, and it's mostly text. One of these days I may have to abandon what Roland calls my Stone Age tools for a more modern system of web creation, and I keep looking at alternatives; but it looks like a lot of work for not much gain.

Regarding Vista under Linux, I find it more interesting that Vista and Windows XP will run very nicely on the new Intel Apple systems. This makes use of the drivers available for Windows. Widows viruses are unlikely to thrive in the Apple OS...

On that score, our old friend Bob Holmes says:


When you finally get an Intel MAC you can make all your DOS and Windows version problems go away by using Parallels Desktop and establishing virtual machines for whatever flavor of OS you need. The list of supported OS includes many distributions of Linux, OS/2, DOS 6.22 and Windows from version 3.1 through XP. I would expect that Vista will be supported when it ships.

What you can't do is run multiple versions of OS X. Since Tiger broke a lot of apps that would be helpful.

Bob Holmes

Regarding USB drives and power, we have this exchange of letters:

Regarding the reference to the USB-powered external drive: As far as I know, the only external Seagate drives that don't require a power brick are the models that use 1" hard drives, which I believe are limited to 5 or 6 GB. Do you really have a 100 GB model that's powered by the USB connection?

Also, in my experience, many of the models that claim to be USB powered don't always work with all USB ports, particularly USB ports on notebooks and keyboards, which often don't deliver the full 500 mA that a USB port is supposed to deliver. Many of these USB-powered external drives come with a Y-cable that plugs into two USB ports, combining the power available on both. That presumes, of course, that each of the two ports can deliver the full 500 mA, which they often can't.

-- Robert Bruce Thompson

and this:

The Seagate units in question use 2.5" drives with a Y cable.

I've used mine quite a lot. The only time it didn't behave was with a desktop system. It made horrible noises and I'd given it up for dead but it's since worked fine with everything but that one HP Pavillion system. The drive had been in my car as part of my traveling tool kit and was quite cold. Despite it only being the Southern California Limited Edition version of Cold it was possibly enough to affect the innard temporarily.

You do have to exercise some judgment as to what is going to be a fully powered port. Keyboard integrated hubs are likely to be unpowered, just like a regular hub with no AC plugged in. One semi-annoyance of the Seagate units is that there is a place to plug in an AC adapter but it isn't included with the drive nor is there any documentation as to how it might be obtained. Not even details so that an off the shelf universal adapter could be used.

I use a USB Y-cable with another device, the Sony PSP. This cable splits at the PSP end too to offer both data and power connections. Obviously, the time to recharge the PSP battery is greatly reduced if drawing from two powered ports instead of one. Even then, the amperage is only half of what the PSP's standard AC adapter uses.

Eric Pobirs

My own experiences with the small Seagate units with Y cable have been all positive. As I said last week, I always carry a small powered Belkin USB 2.0 Hub Expander, and plug the green "power and data" branch of the Y cable into that; and I have never had a problem.

We have had considerable discussion of Rich Heimlich's speculations on the future of graphics. One question was:

Is it possible that a transition away from raster graphics to ray tracing is what Rich Heimlich was talking about in August Part 3?

Peter Glaskowsky writes:

I too wondered if that's what got Heimlich thinking in this direction, but this is a red herring.

Ray tracing scales (almost) linearly with core count, but so does every other form of rendering, including the polygon-rasterization method used in graphics chips today.

Ray tracing is more computationally intensive, so it produces worse results for a given amount of performance than polygon rasterization. (This is clear in the demos Intel is pushing today. At the Hot Chips conference last week, Intel showed an 8-core Xeon server doing ray tracing; it ran much slower than real time and offered low visual quality on a fairly simple scene.)

Ray tracing is especially inefficient on conventional CPU cores. Today's GPUs can do software ray tracing better than today's CPUs, but the ideal solution is yet another purpose-built chip. In fact, these chips already exist. Years ago, I covered the debut of ARTPVS's AR250 ray-tracing chip and RenderDrive box for Microprocessor Report. The current AR350 chip performs ray tracing much faster than any CPU or GPU, and is priced very reasonably. A PCI add-in board with eight of these chips costs under $3,500 and should be several times faster at ray-traced rendering than that 8-core Xeon server, which probably costs $50K or more.

The AR350 is designed for offline rendering (as for movies, TV commercials, magazine ads, etc.) not real-time response, but at some point ray tracing will become practical for gaming and GUI operations and we'll see something like the AR350 integrated into the GPU.

The Intel Technical Journal article, by the way, shows how far Intel is behind the rest of the computer-graphics industry. Virtually identical papers were presented at Siggraph over ten years ago by SGI and others. The article has some notable howlers, including the use of the word "mainstream" when the described technology is totally inadequate for mainstream use, and the claim of "linear scaling" when Intel's own data show far less than linear scaling. Even for the simple models in the paper, scalability is as low as 75%, showing Intel really ought to stay away from phrases like "linear scaling" until it can back them up.

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Hi Jerry, I've been a long time reader of yours (back to Zeke I and S100's) and have never had a suggestion for you. Your column has saved me beaucoup trouble over the years. So here's my chance to help you out. (And heck, you kickstarted my career in Computer Science by recommending Turbo Pascal).

First, you might want to check out RoboCopy from Microsoft's Windows 2003 Support Kit. It's free and it provides better options than XCOPY. In particular, it can do mirroring really easily. You can download it right from MS's website. Secondly, if you don't want to deal with scripting, try out RoboForm's GoodSync. Yeah it has a crazy interface but it has saved me a bunch of trouble. And for about $20, well worth it. Finally, consider using TrueCrypt on your laptop for encryption. It makes a file act like a disk volume that is portable between Windows and Linux. It's free and works like a champ. I am on the road a lot and I use GoodSync and Truecrypt along with my 20GB IPod as the solution to Music and File storage. I GoodSync my favs and other files that don't need encryption and then I GoodSync the TrueCrypt volumes. Piece of cake! Thanks for the years of great columns!

Ronald Perrella

Thanks for the suggestions. I generally tend to the "if it ain't broke" school, and XCOPY tends to be good enough when used with batch files. I will look into RoboCopy, but I'm not really in a hurry, just as I have about a hundred suggestions on replacements for old Windows Commander, but my fingers know the Commander commands down to the cellular level, and somehow I never get around to looking at them. Commander is abandoned ware, but it sure works for what I use it for...

I really ought to look into encryption schemes for my laptops, but mostly I don't keep financial information on them, and it's hard to see how anyone could make any money out of having drafts of novels...

Regarding DOS printing in Windows XP:


LPR/LPD, unlike the Windows stuff, is an industry standard protocol defined by RFC 1179. It's not Microsoft-specific. It was developed at UC Berkeley to let people print to network printers. The first implementation was on UNIX but it was designed to be a generic Internet standard and work from any operating system.

Microsoft initially refused to support LPR/LPD in its operating systems. (Third parties such as Hummingbird put it into their TCP/IP packages, though.) Microsoft then quietly added an "lpr" command line utility to NT and then to XP. They did this due to pressure from system administrators at companies which needed compatibility with industry standards. So, LPR is now built into every up-to-date Windows machine.

See the Wikipedia article at


and then try the LPR command from a DOS shell. Usually the command

lpr -S <ip address or domain name of printer> -P RAW filename

will work on a Laserjet. If the file is plain text rather than PCL it will usually print anyway, because LaserJets will accept regular text files in DOS format. You may need to add a form feed to the file or hit the form feed key on the printer to get the last page out if you send a plain text file to the printer. But if you print a PCL file from an application the final form feed will probably already be there.

--Brett Glass

Thanks. Fortunately, DOS Print has solved the only problem I had, which is printing my accounting programs. I don't have anything else to print from DOS

To Be Continued...