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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

Mailbag for March 19, 2007
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2007 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

March 19, 2007

The mail continues to flow.

Subject: More on partitions

Admired Jerry,

With all due respect to your considerations in the Feb 19th Mailbag, I will keep using partitions. Reason: installing this morning a program to edit videos messed up XP so badly that it froze to the point that the only way out was to cut the power by unplugging the system. At restart, XP failed to initiate, freezing again and again at the "Welcome" screen.

I then started the system from its FAT32 DOS partition, restored in only three minutes with Drive Image a recent image of my software partition from the Data partition and everything was OK again. This practical solution was, I guess, the easiest for the amateur I am.

Thanks again for doing silly things so that we do not have to do them ourselves,

-Armando Molina-

Hmm. I don't partition a main disk drive, but I can see some advantages. Thanks! I tend to use Norton Save and Restore for those situations, and of course the image could be stored on a different partition.

Subject: VMWare and virtualzation

I was reading your latest Chaos Manor reviews and had to chuckle when you mentioned that VMware was also available under Linux. VMware started on Linux many years ago. I remember getting a free trial version on an early version of Suse Linux.

Virtualization is a big deal under Linux and really has been for a few years. Here are some projects that you maybe interested in.



Xen has made it into several Linux distributions including Suse and Fedora. KVM might actually become a standard part of Linux.

Just imagine a quad core CPU running OS/X and Linux and Vista all at the same time. The memory manufactures will love it.

PS: what the heck are we supposed to call a Quad Core chip from Intel or AMD? How can it be a "Centralized Processing Unit" when it has more than one core?


The Brain, I suppose. I've been watching the computer processing plenty revolution for a couple of years, and as I've often said, virtualization does look to be the world of the future. One day you will generally neither know nor care what OS a particular application is running under. It will just work.

A letter on the subject of CD R lifespan sparked a very useful discussion:

Subject: CD lifecycle

Dr. Pournelle,

A quick reminder to you and your readers in case they've forgotten... Many consumer grade recordable CDs have a VERY short relative lifespan and can't be counted on for archiving even if they come from a name-brand company.

I have a 50 cd pack of reasonably decent quality "fuji" branded CD+R blanks (I have never burned a coaster using these CDs), and after only 2 years I've started to find corrosion defects on the blanks. So far they're still readable after a bunch of retries, but it means that I have to go through my entire CD library, visually inspect every CD from this lot, and if it's not too late, re-burn everything I don't want to lose.

I really wish the cutthroat nature of the recordable media didn't drive the manufacturers to favor price over quality, but they're all bottom-feeding here and it's the customers who will suffer. Yes it's our fault for buying the $9.99 cakepack instead of the $11.95 cakepack because it works out to $.05 less per cd, but damn I sure wish there was some sort of reasonably priced and GUARANTEED archive-quality alternative. The only recordables I've seen that are allegedly archive quality cost 10x as much as the cheapo ones, and even then you have no real guarantee that they're any good. You end up buying the pack and have to wait 2 years before you find out if you've been ripped off.

Anyhow, I just tubed my windows installation and had to recover from my weekly ghost image, and in the process I figured out that I have about 30 "backup" CDs that are rapidly turning into shiny but corroded coasters.


I put this to my Advisors Discussion group for comment. The first reply was from Robert Bruce Thompson (Building the Perfect PC)

Fuji sells some real garbage, although they also sell some first-rate discs. The problem is that Fuji, like a lot of "name-brand" companies, sells discs from various suppliers under their own brand. For example, Fuji DVD+R discs that are made in Japan are actually top-notch discs, made by Taiyo-Yuden. But Fuji discs labeled as made in Taiwan or Singapore or Hong Kong or India are actually made by other vendors, some of whom produce really crappy discs. And to top it all off, Fuji uses the same SKU for discs from different sources, so the only way to tell which you're getting is to actually hold the spindle in your hands and look for the country of origin.

I don't really track CD-R discs any more, but when I buy them I choose Taiyo-Yuden or Verbatim if they're available. As far as DVD+R discs, the best are made by Taiyo-Yuden (hard to find) and Verbatim. All Taiyo-Yuden discs are first rate. Verbatim in the past has relabeled some garbage discs, but in the last few years they've been selling only first rate discs (8X ones labeled MCC003 and 16X ones labeled MCC004 are completely reliable.)

As to discs degrading that quickly, I've never had a disc go bad that wasn't physically scratched or otherwise damaged. I burned my first CD-R back when a burner cost $50,000 and blank CD-R discs cost $25 each. I've gone back to check early discs and not found any problems when scanning them in a Plextor drive with Plextools set to do a detailed surface scan.

This sounds like just one more case of someone who's been victimized by bad discs. The real problem is that it's almost impossible for ordinary people to tell the difference between good blanks and crappy ones. You can't trust the brand name, so what can you trust? The short answer is to use and recommend only Taiyo-Yuden and Verbatim.

Oh, yeah. The other problem is that high-quality discs are sometimes counterfeited. I've seen counterfeit TY and Verbatim discs. The problem seems to be less common nowadays than previously, but it still happens. The answer to that is to buy your media only from reliable sources, of whom the big box stores ain't one. They're often victims of counterfeit media.


David Em (link) is an internationally known artist (his The Art of David Em was the basis of a presentation at an American Association for the Advancement of Science Meeting many years ago, and for many was the introduction to the subject of computer generated and enhanced fine art) and is thus much concerned with longevity of his art files. He says:

Many sources indicate CDs have a pretty limited lifespan. Delkin makes gold CDs and DVDs they claim will last 100 - 200 years.

If you have a lot of data, portable hard drives are a better bet. I back up all my art every 36 months or so, esp. since once standard media like Zip drives that were ubiquitous five years ago are now totally obsolete.

-- David

Bob Thompson replied:

I also use hard drives, including external models, but only because they're refreshed often as I upgrade systems and install new ones. I'd sooner trust optical media for something that's to be put on the shelf. I don't trust the magnetic domains on hard drives in the long term.

Note that simply re-writing data to a hard drive doesn't truly refresh it. ATA hard drives are low-level formatted at the factory, and that's the last low-level format they receive. Even if you do a so-called low-level format on a hard drive, all you're really doing is zeroing the data. The actual low-level format (i.e., the servo data) is unaffected.

As far as the alleged unreliability of burned CDs, I suspect the people who report problems are conflating two issues. On the one hand, you have the quality of the initial burn, which can vary dramatically based on both the quality of the blank discs and the quality of the burner and its firmware. I did some tests on initial burn quality with different brands of discs that I reported here.

The bad discs have so many problems that even slight degradation over time might make one or more files unreadable. The good discs have so few problems that even significant degradation would probably still allow the multi-level ECC to keep the files readable.

And here are some scans that compare Sony and Verbatim DVD+R discs.

As to the gold issue, although I'd prefer gold for its resistance to atmospheric pollutants, I don't think in practical terms it really matters much. The alloys that are now used instead of gold are quite resistant, and I suspect degradation from atmospheric pollutants is a much less serious problem than simple physical damage or exposure to high temperatures or to bright light with a significant UV component.

During a recent clean-up, I transferred all of the data from old CDs I found up to my network hard drives and disposed of the old CDs. I had zero errors during the copies, even from discs that dated to the last century. I don't doubt that I overlooked some old discs, and as I come across them I'll run detailed surface scans on them to see how they've held up. I'd bet they've held up just fine.


My research indicates that Magneto-Optical disks make files that are nearly eternal — except that it's increasingly harder to find MO drives and media, and there's always the chance that one day you will have perfectly readable disks but nothing to read them on.

DVD-RAM is more stable than the other varieties of DVD media (at least that seems to be a consensus among those I've asked) but once again, DVD-RAM, while a great deal more accurate and appropriate for data storage, isn't popular and has an uncertain future.

If the Library of Congress would adopt an archival media and technology, then guarantee to buy enough electronics and media each year to keep the company in business (and specify by law that this wouldn't stop without at least twenty years notice), it would help a lot, and the cost would be lost in the noise of trillion dollar budgets. I don't suppose any Congress critters worry about these matters, though.

On Bob Thompson's advice given me a good dozen years ago I have looked for and bought Taiyo-Yuden and Verbatim media rather than the el cheapo specials one sees in bins near the checkout line at Fry's.

Regarding a comment in Column 320, part 1

"There clearly hasn't been a lot of thought about all this, and it's pretty certain that licensing systems haven't been designed with computer plenty in mind. Of course what's really needed is competition among operating systems. The marginal cost to the publisher of another instance of an OS isn't high; if someone is running XP on a Windows box, it doesn't cost Microsoft much if he opens another instance in Parallels on a Mac, or Apple much if there's a copy of OS-X running on a Windows machine."

I have thought of one argument from MS' P.O.V. By buying the license, you're also buying some level of technical support for the platform on which you're installing it (I believe it is two "free" calls... free meaning you've paid for it as part of the license price — TANSTAAFL). If you've installed the OS on two separate platforms, I don't necessarily see the level of technical support you might requires a doubling of effort, but I can certainly see some potential increase due to differences in the underlying platforms ("standard" PC BIOSes vs. Intel-Mac BIOS, for example, plus virtualizing effects of different techniques- Parallels vs. VMWare).

The counter-argument, I believe, is that the people who are most likely to do such things, are also likely techno-philes, who are perhaps less likely to need technical support.

Tried to think of a gripping hand, but I'm too tired today. :-)


Brian Pickering

An interesting view. I don't really feel too sorry for the OS publishers...

Continuing from last week:

Subject: Commercial vs. consumer network connections

Dr. Pournelle,

In response to Jim Potter's question about commercial vs. consumer service, there may be other hidden issues. For example, many consumer services explicitly forbid any money-making venture, forbid file serving of ANY type including (technically) legal Peer to Peer file sharing, and they will firewall off various ports including mail, ftp, and inbound http/https without warning.

If you get commercial service, you may be able to get full service without these various levels of interference that ISPs inflict on consumers who by and large never notice except for a vague irritation when something or another doesn't work right.


And this:

Subject: ISPs: residential vs commercial accounts

Beware the Terms of Service!

In Mailbag for 12 Mar 2007, Jim Potter says "I am thinking of switching to a residential account and saving on my monthly bill."

I've shopped around a bit for service, here in Princeton NJ. The tightest constraint for me is that most of the residential-class terms of service forbid running any kind of server. At one point a cable service sales rep asked me why I was worried, if I was just going to run a small-scale personal server, because they aren't really enforcing the prohibition anyway? But I want to keep things legal, and I don't want to find myself suddenly without service if they change their mind about enforcement.

Some ISPs surely *do* enforce such prohibitions: a few years ago, I worked with a guy in Wisconsin who set up a machine in his home, to which he gave me SSH access. Worked for about a week, then his cable company detected his "server" and blocked the standard port number for SSH traffic.

As far as I can tell -- I'm no hardware-level guru -- it makes sense for coaxial-cable-based cable-TV systems to prohibit running servers: for hardware-level reasons, uplink bandwidth is much more expensive to provide in such systems than is downlink bandwidth.

Rod Montgomery

I toyed with running my own servers early on, and found it a colossal PITA. If you know a lot about the subject it may make sense to run your own, but it certainly isn't worth it for me — and I have access to some of the best and most helpful gurus in the business. We are often tempted to run a small mail server at Chaos Manor so that I can add specialized spam filtering and list management services I control locally, but so far I haven't gotten the necessary Round Tuit. I'm told a Mac Mini would do the job nicely, and wouldn't be that hard to set up.

Perhaps when I get Inferno II and Mamelukes done I'll give it a try. For the moment fiction and these web sites use up most of my time.

Also from last week:

Subject: re: Windows Powershell


Thank you for posting the link to Windows Powershell, I agree that it does sound interesting. But when I downloaded and read the docs at this link my paranoia was immediately triggered.

In the PowerShell User Guide it says "Windows PowerShell supports scripts that are analogous to UNIX shell scripts and Cmd.exe batch files, but have a .ps1 file name extension". So as well as being a powerful tool for administrators it's also one for virus writers.

Googling "powershell+virus" gives 170 hits like: 'Windows PowerShell and the "PowerShell Worm"' and 'A new form of malware has come to light. It is written in Windows PowerShell script, and its name is Cibyz'.

I'm sure that the anti-virus companies are well aware of this but according to this page the .ps1 extension isn't on the list of attachment file types blocked by Outlook. It may just be that this page hasn't been updated recently, but just in case there is some advice here that might be useful: "How to configure Outlook to block additional attachment file name extensions"

Best wishes

Paul Dove

Eric Pobirs says:

Regarding Paul Dove's concerns about PowerShell: ANY automation tool is going to have value to the bad guys along with everybody else. Any scripting functionality has always held great attraction to those with bad intent but it was that same capability, among other assets, that won so many fans for Unix and its offspring. That is just the nature of things. Your teeth are great when you're eating a steak but that other guy's teeth are bad news if he thinks you're made of steak.

Which may be of interest to those wanting to try this.

This isn't quite mail, but it probably belongs here rather than in the column. It started with an observation by me which I posted in my Advisors discussion group:

There is a full page ad in PC Mag for a free advanced tool bar at www.advancedtoolbar.com and this thing is supposed to do everything but wash the dishes.

Does anyone have experience with it? It's supposed to be free. Why would it be free and advertised so expensively?

What am I missing here?

Jerry Pournelle
Chaos Manor

I thought the answers were interesting enough.

Dr. Pournelle:

No personal experience, but the McAFee Site Advisor program gives it a 'green light'. Their info is here.

Their last test of this program was in Sept 2006.

The SpywareInfo gang didn't find anything objectionable as of a forum post in Dec 2006.

I personally don't see anything in there that is a 'must have'. My browsing is with IE7 and the Maxthon IE add-in. Gives me ad blocking, pop-up blocking, tabs, groups, RSS, etc. I've got the Google add-in for quick searching.

Advanced Toolbar is free because there are included links to other sites (CNN, MSN, FoxSports, etc) that probably pay the Advanced Toolbar people for referral links.

Therefore, not high on my list of things to have.

As to "how they make money", their Privacy page says:

"How does Advanced Toolbar make any money, if you offer it for free? --- Some of the search engines listed in the Advanced Toolbar may pay a listing fee or may share revenue from advertising within the search results (sponsored links). "

I note also no updates to the program since Oct 2006.

Regards, Rick Hellewell

Eric Pobirs added:

It doesn't hold much attraction for me. So much of what it offers is redundant if you know to use the built-in stuff, especially in Vista.

OTOH, I'd gotten rid of IEspell on my systems when Google added spellcheck to their toolbar. It seemed like a waste of resources to have both. But the IEspell guys have kept at it and the latest version has some cool features that fit well with the existing function set. Some other browser add-ons have this also, which the ability to highlight a word or phrase and link directly to the Merriam Webster or Wikipedia entries. (You can add your own links, too.) Having those in the context menu is pretty nice.

I came across this because my sister is big user of Yahoo services and so has their toolbar installed. It lacks spellcheck and the speller in their web stuff is painfully slow. So I got the latest IEspell for her and was pleasantly surprised by the new features.

OTGH, If Vista Mail has its own spellchecker, why doesn't IE7 on Vista know how to use it? One for the suggestion box.


Which still doesn't tell me why it's worth taking out a full page advertisement in PC Magazine to push this. I give up, but I have found my readers collectively know nearly everything. Any of you able to add to this discussion?