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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

Mailbag for April 30, 2007
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2007 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

April 30, 2007

First, a new scam warning:

Subject: new (to me) scam

The listing for the laptop I am trying to sell on eBay went up at midnight last night, and I have already gotten four emails from people in Nigeria who urgently need a laptop and are willing to pay me large sums of money if only I will ship it to them immediately.

I may not be a sucker, but there are at least four who want to take me.

KEG

Not that I expect any of you to need this warning. It is an amusing variant. Another scam is a message purportedly from Paypal telling I have sent money to some place I have not; of course they want me to click on their web site. And of course I don't do that.


As we expected, there was a lot of mail concerning my observations on Vista.

I disagree with your opening assessment on Vista.

While User Account Control is annoying (more so at first than later), there are other aspects of Vista that, for me, make the annoyance more tolerable.

There is absolutely a lot to dislike and fear; every version of everything has a little of that, but after time, we forgive or forget it. I like to fiddle in directories that Vista likes to block from my access (I get around that by deleting "Everyone" from the security tab in the properties panel). It tends to have its own plans for where files should go (I get around that by establishing my own non-default directories for Office application documents and for photo, video, music & sound files). It seems eager to jump to compatibility modes if I happen to cancel something (I just say no).

But it also self-repairs, self-protects, tries to heal and searches for valid alternatives (not that it always finds only valid ones) better than any operating system I've ever worked with. (My first computers had no operating systems, only machine code; the first major computer I owned that had an operating system used TRSDOS).

I've watched my XP systems crumble from troubled registry hives; Vista seems so far immune. Vista handles its own disk defragmenting. The several backup and restore facilities are pretty good. Aero when used for cause and not just for effect is a wonderful asset for those of us who tend to have a lot of things running at once. The network configurations, from connections through security, are much easier to get right. The elements under Control Panel are more accessible.

My chief complaints about going Vista is the wait for some applications, utilities & device drivers to catch up. The Roxio patch is out now. There was a new patch for my Lexmark printer this week. NeatReceipts Vista software is a beta release, as is Double Image-O (today's most robust, powerful & flexible backup software). The Digital Persona U.Are.U fingerprint & keyboard drivers are a month or two away. The Vista Sidebar is a HUGE time saver (I keep up 4 clocks - one for each US time zone - a CPU/RAM meter, a calendar, weather, moon phases and a note pad). I did take advantage of the new OS to get the latest releases on a lot of the software I use, upgrading to Office 2007, Encarta 2007, Abbyy FineReader 8, Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 7, NetObjects Fusion 10 & I have Adobe Premiere Elements 8 in for review. If there is a caution against jumping to Vista now, it may more appropriately lie in the high cost of acquiring more current versions of applications in order to assure compatibility.

I have an "edgeless" network, meaning that my several machines all connect to my cable modem through a hub on my wireless router, or through WiFi. With this configuration, I gleefully accept that "sharing" is a dangerous practice, so if Vista hadn't configured to block that, I would have.

Most of the time, I recognize that the things I want to do that are not yet documented will ultimately show up as solutions that a search engine can locate for me, whether or not that answer lies in the Redmond server farm.

As for Brian Livingston's book - I'm glad they used a good grade of paper - I did 3 Vista installs so far this year (2 of them successful) and I kept going back to it to see what tricks I had missed. It's very much the documentation you can't get in the Vista box.

My new production system, by the way, has some features you may enjoy. It's a Freezone (link) (6 peltier device) cooled 2.4GHz Core2Duo CPU on an Intel 975XBX2 mother board with 4GB of Crucial RAM, an Nvidia 7650 graphics cards, 14 USB ports, 2 Firewire ports, 4 SATA II/3G internal 400GB hard drives (2 RAID1 mirrored as Main, 2 RAID1 mirrored as Backup), 4 eSATA II external ports through a FASTA 4e card, 4 eSATA I external ports from the mother board (these are for mirrored vaulting of video, photo, music, etc. files), floppy drive, DVD burner & a WinTV HVR PCI card, all in an extremely quiet Antec Solo case. I added a drive bay fan & a PCI slot-canopy fan, though I doubt that either was necessary. The mother board has a 7.1 digital sound system that I'm tapping from a coax connection (optical is also available) & into a JVC surround receiver & my desktop Polk Audio speakers. I'm feeding audio in through a Behringer FCA202 Firewire audio digitizer, fed from a small Eurorack UB1002 mixing console. Several of these elements are inherited from the XP system that crashed, but most are new.

Oh - I also bought a new JVC Everio GRZ-HD7 3-chip HD camcorder that records 5 hours of flawless 1080i (in 12GB/hr MPEG2) on its built-in 60GB hard drive; USB brings that into the computer for editing faster than real time. List is around $1800, street around $1400.

One more note.

In order to use my own macros, I had to create a new Digital Signature, export it, then (from one very specific interface screen) import it into my root certificate store. It might be interesting to have a contest to see who would be the fastest to locate the necessary instructions for doing all that - it ain't straightforward.

Marty Winston

I have a Coolit Freezone system but so far no system that deserves that high end a unit. I don't overclock and I can live with a bit less than the absolute extreme performance. On the other hand, that unit is cool! It's well made and impressive enough to make me want to build an extreme system.

Regarding Vista: I don't really disagree. We will all go to Vista one day. I am still waiting for drivers, though, and I see no real reason not to wait for the first Service Pack.

The discussion continues:

Subject: MS Windows: What's Wrong with Vista? Problems, issues, compatibility etc

Dr. Pournelle,

I stumbled open this article which you might find interesting in light of your current adventures with Vista:

A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection

Personally, I won't be upgrading to Vista ever... heck, I won't even bother trying to pirate it. Microsoft's latest and greatest is a non-issue to me. Its not just the lack of drivers and other problems you and others have mentioned. Its the fact that I simply can't afford to purchase top of the line hardware just to run an OS. Vista consumes too much memory and CPU power. That is just plain nonsense. Went did the OS become the be-all and end-all of computer use? When did the OS become the "killer app"?

For me, the OS serves simply as a conduit between hardware and software applications, nothing more, and should be nearly invisible. I have several old laptops that run just fine and run the application I choose and have been upgraded to a modern OS. I even have an old Powermac G3 with OS 9 that will soon be upgraded as well. My main machine is a beefy system in comparison (AMD64 3000+, 1GB DDR DRAM, Geforce4 ti4800) but is no match for Vista. I just can't tolerate the performance hit over XP. When XP support finally gets pulled, which won't be for some time, I have a very suitable, fast, secure, and non-intrusive modern OS ready to go. Besides, I have all my old games working under XP, whether MS DOS (link) , or Win95/98/2000. I even run the Wing Commander Series under GLIDE (link) and at high resolution 1024x768 (link) .

Slackware Linux - http://www.slackware.com
SLAMD64 Linux - http://www.slamd64.com
Slackintosh Linux - http://workaround.ch/index.html

Other than Fritz (link), I am all set for running the games, application, etc that I need. Xp and Linux and the available applications are, in your words, "plenty good enough."

Thanks for keeping Chaos Manor alive. Very enjoyable and informative.

Edward Koenig
Chemist and technology enthusiast
former Byte Magazine subscriber

We have yet to see any direct examples of Vista DRM causing issues or stopping work. This came from Gutman, who does not seem to have installed Vista, and is working from his theories; I have never seen examples of those problems.

As to not wanting to build a system powerful enough for Vista, hardware gets cheaper every month. On the other hand, there's some elegance in making the older stuff run rings around the new.

When I get caught up on some matters — particularly INFERNO II and MAMELUKES — I will build a new Linux box with "good enough" hardware and just see what I can do with it. I admit it would be fun to run Wing Commander and Privateer in the old way. I liked that a lot.


Subject: Windows vs OS/2 Redux

Jerry,

Your comments about Microsoft vs IBM in the OS wars of the late 80s early 90s reminded me of what happened at the OS/2 Developers Conference held by Microsoft in Seattle in 1987.

Microsoft had assumed, incorrectly as it turned out, that most of the attendees at this conference would already be Windows developers. When questions from the attendees made it obvious that the majority were not familiar with Windows development two things happened. First, The presenters went into greater detail when explaining the messaging model and Dynamic Link Libraries and Steve Ballmer gave a presentation on the second day that ended with him promising a Windows SDK to every attendee to be handed out on the last day.

These Windows SDKs were literally produced overnight and then handed out gratis on the final day.

It was clear at that point that Microsoft "got it" and IBM didn't. The list of things IBM didn't "get" could fill a volume of hundreds of pages, but one example was IBM's insistence on using their own graphics model rather than the Windows model creating an unnecessary incompatibility between Windows and OS/2 Presentation Manager. Another was including an important README file, required reading for a successful installation more than 50 percent of the time, on one of the distribution floppies in a format that could not be read until OS/2 was installed. When this gaffe was discovered tens of thousands of copies of OS/2 sat shrink wrapped in IBM warehouses. The OS/2 team printed a booklet of the README file and proposed shrink wrapping it to the outside of the existing packages. This was not done because, "This did not meet IBM packaging standards."

I could go on and on. I was a member of IBM's OS/2 Corporate Advisory Council for several years before I retired in 1995. It was very discouraging to hear excellent advice given by the Council totally disregarded by the Marketers at IBM because they knew best. Tremendous development resources were spent to create a Power PC version of OS/2. The net result of all that was to destroy IBM's credibility as a supporter of the open Intel based PC architecture. In all my visits to PC retailers I saw only one IBM Power PC. That was at a Computer City store in the Beverly Center in Los Angeles. I would be surprised if Computer City sold even one.

Several months before the October 1995 release of Windows 95, IBM made an attempted to show OS/2 Warp to the masses via demonstrations in software stores. I was in my local Egghead store on a Saturday morning and one of the people that IBM had hired as contractors was there to demonstrate OS/2 Warp. IBM had provided these rather poorly trained people with Thinkpads loaded with OS/2 Warp. Unfortunately, the demonstration did not go well. The contractor had spilled a cup of coffee on the keyboard of the Thinkpad before leaving his house and consequently, while the computer would boot there wasn't much of a demo. The only thing that was demoed was IBM's marketing incompetence.

The common wisdom over the last 20 plus years has been that Microsoft has been successful because of its technology and IBM is successful because of its Marketing. I think that the reality is to replace because in the above sentence with in spite of. Great Marketing Companies do not force their best sales people into non commissioned positions because they are making too much money (H. Ross Perot at IBM.) Great Technology Companies do not sell products that don't even come close to working properly (Microsoft, Windows ME.) The capper for IBM is the old joke that if they were selling sushi they would call it cold dead fish.

Bob Holmes
Formerly the OS/2 Curmudgeon

Yet IBM survived. Then there was the small computer effort at AT&T. But that's another and long story.


Continued from last week:

Subject: RE: Read aging of flash memory

Jerry: Remember that desktop search software that builds indices (Google, etc..) will update access time stamps, whenever it runs. Descending into a directory (on ext3) and doing a directory listing updates the access time for the directory itself and all the files it contains. Under NTFS, access times are written to the file AND the directory. File access will be difficult when the directory structure is trashed. You may need forensic tools to recover files. The safe thing to do is to not leave flash devices connected to a computer when you don't imminently need them.

Chris C

I have my flash drive accelerator connected permanently to my Vista system, with no problems so far, but it has only been a couple of months. We'll see, but I am not really worried about it.


More on languages:

Subject: OS's

Jerry,

In the curent subscribers' mailbag there's a letter from LTWCDR concerning VMS saying that it is written in assembly. For a political reason within DEC, it was actually written in nearly every language which DEC had a compiler for, including PL/I, Pascal, C, Fortran, Basic, Cobol, and probably others. The bulk of it was, however, written in a sort of structured assembly language called Bliss-32. The major parts written directly in assembly were the device drivers. Porting from CISC Vaxen to RISC Alphas was greatly facilitated by these serendipitous decisions.

The political reason was to insure that the run-time libraries of all the languages HAD to be included with the OS no matter what bean-counters wanted to do to generate revenue. This made it vastly easier to run Gnu C - C++, and Gnu Fortran under VMS since the RTL's were already there.

Bob.


Subject: Buffer Overflows

I have to agree with the problems in the C programming language. I remember the shift from assembler to C on the PC platform and the quality just took a nose dive. Borland used Pascal for a good bit of their products with good results.

While you might have a moment of inattention with assembler, the very nature of the C programming language and the standard string libraries led to the buffer over flow problem. OpenBSD has modified a number of the core libraries, and switched to "home grown" libraries that force buffer length checking.

Other issues include the ability for hardware to detect the overflow and issue a fault. The Intel and AMD chips are just starting to have this feature. Larger machines, such as the Burroughs 7900 series have been able to do this for decades. I am sure the VAX hardware offers the same protection.

-- --- Al Lipscomb MCSE
AA4YU CISSP


Subject: Why not to do a large project in C

Jerry

Dave Jewell, in The Reg [link], describes what he found when he looked at the source code of Windows 2000:

"I found a vast sprawl of spaghetti in assembler, C, C++, all held together with blu-tack."

It amounts to an object lesson on why one should not "just do it" in C+. But he also describes the huge performance hit that the open source Chandler project takes - he suspects it is due to the software being written in Python.

In all, I love reading notes from someone who, in 1981-1982, "used to come home from work, have a nice meal, help the wife put the kids to bed, put on my slippers and then settle down to a relaxing evening poring over enormous disassemblies of IBMBIO.COM, IBMDOS.COM, COMMAND.COM and other chunks of MSDOS." It helps keep things in perspective.

Ed

Indeed. Thanks for pointing me at that.


This began as an internal letter in my advisor conference. Dan Spisak said

Someone at Microsoft finally got a sense of humor

So some of you might be aware of the rather funny website Phillips had created for their new shaving implement that exists here:

http://www.shaveeverywhere.com/

Well someone at Microsoft must have seen that, or perhaps the John Cleese online video and webinars for LiveVault, which if you haven't seen it, check out this link and this link. In any case, MS has created a pretty funny website to promote the upcoming Windows Home Server which can be found here:

http://www.stopdigitalamnesia.com/

In any case this was all spawned because a friend of mine posited a question about keeping their two Windows laptops backed up using a spare Dell Dimension 4550. They were thinking about Linux which I have no problems with, but when it came to the topic of backup software to run on the Linux server to do backups from the Windows systems I came up with a rather blank solution. These are not UNIX savvy people, so please no rsync over SMB or anything like that. I am looking for something that normal computer users could use. Ideally, something that can be transparent to the users. I'm sure something must exist, right? If it does doing my usual searching on Google gives me tons of results for cryptic CLI commands and nothing that seems to fit this scenario.

-Dan S.

Daniel:

I've got RC2 of Windows Home Server, but haven't found the 'round-to-it' to install it yet. I've read the docs and the blog (below), and it does sound interesting. You might start here http://blogs.technet.com/homeserver/ ... there's a link there on how to sign up for the beta. There should also be links to independant blogs of beta testers.

Rick Hellewell

I too have Windows Home Server and have not yet installed it; but it looks like something a great number of readers will want. More when we have more experience with it.


Subject: svchost.exe and Windows Update Hell

Dear Dr Pournelle,

I'm a subscriber to Chaos Manor for a number of years but this is my first posting to Chaos Manor Reviews. I'm wondering if any of your other readers has spotted the following problem:

Recently, when Microsoft Windows Update decides to download and install a patch, svchost.exe grabs 100% of the CPU resources and effectively locks up my PC while the patch or update is downloaded and installed. Furthermore, the download and install process takes ages - I can go away and have a meal while it finishes. Disabling automatic updates and getting them manually is no better - the Microsoft Update website takes ages to work out what updates are needed. In fact, doing it that way kicks off another runaway svchost.exe process that gobbles 100% of CPU time.

I currently have four systems at home, all running Windows XP SP2. I have an ancient Dell laptop with a Pentium II running at 233MHz. Frankly, it's no surprise that that machine is very slow and it will be retired shortly. I also have a Compaq EXM with a 700 MHz Pentium III and a Dell Optiplex GX260 with a 1.7 GHz P4. The Dell is reasonably fast, given that it also has 2Gb of RAM. The last machine is a Dell Latitude D820 with a Centrino Duo T2600 - two 2.16GHz cores and 1Gb of RAM. Amazingly, as I write, the D820 has completely locked up to the extent that I'll have to manually power it down. This happened during a Windows Update. You'd think with two cores that I'd be able to get it back under control but no such luck.

These problems have only become apparent in the last few weeks. Any observations from your other readers would be welcome as it's driving me nuts.

Thanks!

Simon Woodworth.

That generated a lot of discussion about firewalls, but eventually we got this:

Subject: SVCHOST.exe Error

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

The error about which Simon Woodworth wrote is an ongoing problem (started in the summer of 2006 on four new Dells). If I recall correctly, Microsoft released a patch which started the problem, which was fixed but the fix caused another problem, etc. etc. I have found the Hotfix for Windows XP KB927894 fixes the problem, though there might be a more recent solution. It is not a firewall issue.

Jim Daw