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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

Mailbag for January 29, 2007
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2007 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

January 29, 2007

We have mail and a discussion this week.

Hey Jerry I have computer tech question for you. I have a computer problem, and was wondering if you might have an idea, or if you have run into something similar to this.

I have Windows XP, fully updated with internet explorer 7. After a while of searching on the Internet my internet explorer loses the Internet, it can't find it. When you open it, it searches, and eventually fails or locks up the system. If I reboot it works for a while then goes down again. The strange thing is everything else on the computer can find the Internet, but IE. I can run Firefox without any problems. I have formatted twice, disabled add-ons, and still it loses the connection. I have run 5 different spyware programs, and nothing was found. I have disabled the firewall, and tried different antivirus programs. My computer has AVG Free Edition, NERO, ADOBE 8, OFFICE 2007, WARCRAFT , ATI Video Drivers current version, iTunes, Firefox, Turbo Tax, Java 6 SE, and Power DVD. I have not been able to isolate the problem. IE continues to give me hard time, and am on the verge of giving up. Either I will stay with Firefox, or upgrade to Vista next week. I have a P4 3.4 GHZ with 2 gigs of ram.

Thanks for any help or information you might have.

Tim Jebara

Your system doesn't sound much different from mine, and I don't have that problem. Now true, I use Firefox for most web browsing and only use IE when I have to do something that requires Microsoft, so IE is not often open on my system; but it always opens and functions properly when called.

I haven't the faintest idea what is wrong here; perhaps a reader will think of something. Meanwhile, I doubt very much if Vista will make it better.


Subject: Installing second laptop memory card

Dr. Pournelle,

I recently upgraded both memory chips in my T41p and although the second card is under the keyboard, installing it is almost as easy as installing the one that fits under the panel on the bottom. Remove a few screws, lift the keyboard, swap out the memory, replace the keyboard, replace the screws.

Total time to replace both memory cards was 5 minutes, 10 minutes if you count going to Lenovo's website to find the service manual which is freely downloadable (unlike that *other* brand *cough*compaq*cough*).

Sean

Thanks. I have the second memory card. Next week I will get a new drive for the T42p and do a photo how-to on changing drives; assuming that works, and it shouldn't be a problem, I will see if I can replace the 512 memory with the other Kingston 1 GB stick.


Jerry,

The ScanSnap and DevonThink Pro (referenced in last week's mail) sounds impressive. I did want to mention that the Mac supports this type of functionality natively and is very slick. Apple does a crappy job of marketing the function, which is ironic, because it works very well.

Basically, the workflow is:

  1. Scan the document.
  2. Save it as PDF.
  3. Save it where you would like to.

OS X takes care of the rest. At some point (within 10's of minutes) Spotlight indexes the document and you can search for phrases using Spotlight. My setup is pretty straight forward: mac Min 1.2 GB RAM, Canon MP780 using ScanGear starter software that came with it for scanning, and OS X 10.4.

I actually stumbled across this feature. During the last six months of 2006 I was hell bound on being 99% paperless in 2007. I could not focus long enough on finding a database program for the OCR and indexing, so I said screw it, the heavy lifting is the scanning, so I started scanning. I came up with a naming convention that would help with the obvious searching. One day I was looking for a transaction so I did a search on Bank of America (BoA) and Spotlight dutifully returned the document names with BoA in them, but it also returned several files that had not been renamed (scan01, scan02, etc.) I thought, what the heck? I thought the indexing was broke and did some Google searching on rebuilding the index Spotlight with no luck. I then took a look at scan01 and the other documents, and what do you know? Sure enough they were scanned documents from BoA.

I was very suspect...it could not be this straight forward after all the promises from the industry the last 10 years. I then did a search on the transaction amount. Spotlight returned the exact documents as well as a copy of the email I had copied and pasted from BoA website concerning the transaction into a mail to myself.

It just works!

What I like about it is that I'm now paperless and spend 15-30 minutes per week scanning and that is it. (I've considered changing my workflow to not worry about file renaming...that would cut the time in half...) No OCR, no large database to feed and backup (actually the restores are usually what suck), and nothing gets in the way...

- --ron

Impressive, and score one for the Mac OS X. I keep telling myself, it won't be long. A few more subscriptions...

Jerry P:

Getting back to Vista, I wonder how you will decide on installing Vista on your horde of computers. I only have three, one old Dell that my wife uses and is not even close to being able to use Vista. I ran the test on the other two, one a two year old Dell laptop and the other a home brew 2.2 Gb Pentium 4 with over a gig of memory. Both of the later units test out to Vista Basic so I wonder if there is really anything of advantage to going to Vista?

I am behind a router, use Zone Alarm Security, sweep with Counter Spy which is active, do some virus and spy ware sweeps with other programs and so forth. But I am quite happy with Excel 2002, Word 2002, and can't figure out what advantage I would have with Vista. Oh, I still use the Windows classic settings on XP so maybe I am just not up to date. But I also know of a lot of computers that are still running Windows 98 and having no major problems as they are dedicated to single programs.

As Windows XP is more stable by far than any MS program I have ever used, and that is going back to MS 2.1, so is it worth it to you or me to upgrade except as an experiment. I think I would just as soon start learning to use Linux as pay through the nose for a slight modification of Windows XP which is what Vista sounds like.

CBS

I would not advise you or anyone else to do upgrade installations of Vista on your older equipment. I certainly will not. I am not even going to put Vista in Orlando, the T42p IBM/Lenovo laptop I am writing this on (we're down at the beach house) and he has 1.5 GB (soon to be 2 GB, see above) memory and will have a 100 GB hard drive; while his graphics are more than good enough for World of Warcraft. I doubt I will install Vista on any machine not built for the purpose.

That is not to say I don't like Vista. I do. It's fun. It's a lot of fun, and I really do prefer it to XP, just as I prefer Word 2007 to Word 2003; but having said that, both the older programs are good enough and then some for most of the work I do. I may put Vista on the dual processor AMD that now runs my communications machine, in part because I think Microsoft will put some effort into making better use of dual processors in Vista, but will not go back and do the same for XP and earlier OS editions. Why should they?

As I'll be saying over in the column, VMware may have discovered ways to run Mac OS X on non-Apple systems, and in any event it's pretty clear that someone will come up with that in the next year or so. Thus it may not matter what kind of machine you use: you can run Mac OS X and Vista and XP on modern hardware and once that becomes common among geeks it will spread like wildfire. Most people don't care about an OS. They just want applications to work. These new developments will change your life.

But emulations and virtual machines take lots of resources, and few machines more than a year old have those resources. My advice is to save your money to buy better hardware rather than spending it on upgrade software that won't change your life.


An edited discussion on Vista...

It began with an essay by Professor Gutmann in New Zealand at this link and if you haven't read it, and you have any interest in the future of computing, you probably ought to have a look.

At the time some of my anti-Microsoft advisors thought this was important. I wasn't so sure, and waited until I could see more discussion. There was a lot.

I also got a lot of mail, of which this is typical:

I read "A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection" (Gutmann's article). One part was particularly bothersome:

>>Once a weakness is found in a particular driver or device, that driver will have its signature revoked by Microsoft, which means that it will cease to function (details on this are a bit vague here, presumably some minimum functionality like generic 640x480 VGA support will still be available in order for the system to boot). This means that a report of a compromise of a particular driver or device will cause all support for that device worldwide to be turned off until a fix can be found.<<

If Microsoft can remotely degrade a driver, what will stop a bad guy from degrading the driver to 0x0? Also, if I were a squeaky clean user, I would be mad to have my computer degraded by Microsoft for a weakness I am not exploiting.

Another point: We are building a system where it is almost impossible to use a computer unless it is connected to the internet while the internet is getting increasing dangerous to connect to.

John Abshier

Certainly that would be a valid concern: If in fact that were what Microsoft is doing. But is that what Microsoft does? There was other discussion: this link and this link were two of the more important. Their titles should tell you much. Then I received this from an advisor:

Microsoft's bogus rebuttal of Gutmann's article

I read Microsoft's supposed rebuttal of Gutmann's article last night, and was amazed by how well they'd weasel-worded it. Microsoft attorneys have obviously been working overtime ever since the article appeared to come up with this masterpiece of obfuscation.

It's at this link. Some of their comments are flat-out lies, if we can believe other uninterested parties. For example, FTA: "When are Windows Vista's content protection features actually used? Windows Vista's content protection mechanisms are only used when required by the policy associated with the content being played. For Windows Vista experiences, if the content does not require a particular protection, then that protection mechanism is not used."

I've already seen numerous reports on the web from ordinary users who've recorded their own HD video and found that Vista will not allow them to play it full-screen at high resolution. And that's for home movies with no DRM. I don't have Vista or an HD camcorder, but this should be easy enough to verify for anyone who does. Charlie Demerjian has some comments on the Microsoft rebuttal that are worth reading.

That moved Chaos Manor Associate Eric Pobirs to say:

= Utter bullpuckey. This is easily tested, that is true. Every bit of 720p video I threw at Vista played perfectly and it gave no reason to expect 1080i/p material to behave any differently. (I tried a couple of 1080i clips and they looked like 1080i downscaled to 720p during playback, as expected. Which still looked hugely better than upscaled NTSC content.) This worked for WMV, Divx, and MPEG-2 material. This included files of both legit and not so legit distribution methods. This is on a plain Viewsonic LCD panel via a VGA connector off a Nvidia 7300GT board. This system comes nowhere near fulfilling the requirements for HDCP but that doesn't matter because there was nothing in the content I played to invoke HDCP.

The Inquirer consistently repeats data from bad sources. On top of getting worked up over semantics, even though the question and answer were stated clearly to my reading, he quotes a comment from an idiot complaining about infighting among medical imaging companies that is entirely separate from the subject of the article. What the commenter was complaining about had nothing to do with Vista and would apply on any OS.

The fact is, everything I've tested thus far worked exactly as Microsoft said it should. I haven't been able to do anything to cause any intervention by the latent DRM thus far but then I'm not trying to play actual Blu-ray or HD-DVD content on a system that doesn't meet the requirements. I'm just playing run of the mill unprotected HD video content.

Let me note that I also used some content that is close to the downgrade resolution that the DRM is supposed to cause when invoked. These are torrents that started off as 1080i and were scaled down for viewing on 1024x768 displays. Apparently this is popular among a contingent that relies entirely on torrents for TV content. I first came across it when my sister asked me to find a 'Grey's Anatomy' she'd missed.

When these files are played, they look nice but show a lot more flaws during fullscreen play on my 1280x1024 monitor. The flaws familiar in upscaling heavily compressed content. The difference between this resolution and true 720p material is easily spotted.

Eric Pobirs

Peter Glaskowsky (an early and enthusiastic Mac user, and formerly Editor in Chief of Microprocessor Report) adds to Eric's comments:

Right. Vista's ability to support 1080i playback has been very heavily tested through all the beta versions and release candidates. If there was a problem, we wouldn't be hearing about "numerous reports on the web," we'd be seeing Ballmer on Nightline. If anyone's saying their personally-created HD content won't play, it's because there's some other problem-- or maybe because they're not "uninterested parties." There is no shortage of cranks in this debate.

There isn't a single "flat-out lie" anywhere in that Microsoft statement. I've known Dave Marsh for eight or nine years, and he has never said _anything_ to me that even felt like spin, never mind lying. He's a smart, experienced, honest man with a strong personal commitment to making Windows a better platform for video authoring and playback.

I am just sick of hearing people using lies to support arguments that Microsoft (or any other reputable company) is lying about some matter of simple technical fact.

Microsoft said all the things I expected them to say. Microsoft and the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD/MPAA people have some complex issues to deal with here, such as the gross vulnerability of pure-software solutions, but they aren't lying to anyone. The bottom line is that Vista running on proper hardware will provide a very satisfactory solution for viewing HD content.

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And that is where we leave things this January 26, 2007.