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The Mailbag

Mailbag for May 7, 2007
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2007 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

May 7, 2007

First, a correction and continued discussion of a topic from last week (April 30, 2007):

Dr. Pournelle, I believe there is a typo in the last line of your Chaos Manor Reviews mailbag page for April 30, 2007. In the section regarding problems with svchost.exe, you quote Jim Daw who references Microsoft knowledgebase KB927894. That particular knowledgebase is titled "How to flag content in the Zune software or on a Zune device".

I believe the intended knowledgebase article is KB927891 "You receive an access violation error when you try to install an update from Windows Update or from Microsoft Update after you apply hotfix package KB916089". Also, please see knowledgebase article KB916089 "FIX: When you run Windows Update to scan for updates that use Windows Installer, including Office updates, CPU utilization may reach 100 percent for prolonged periods", reviewed April 20, 2007, which links to KB927891.

I had been experiencing the same problem for more than a year. I had not been able to find a knowledgebase article on the subject until now, but to be honest, I stopped looking a long time ago. I became so frustrated with Windows I finally overcame my usual resistance to change and installed Ubuntu Linux 6.06 "Dapper Drake".

Except for Intuit's TurboTax, I have had no reason to go back. For booting Windows to do my taxes in TurboTax, I budgeted several hours for Windows to update itself. A good thing too, since Windows needed those hours.

Joseph Charpak

Thanks. There were a few more comments on this situation:

svchost.exe CPU spinning

Mr. Woodworth's problem is actually quite common. This problem first started showing up at the beginning of March -- I saw it on the WSUS and patch management mailing lists. It affects some machines that have the KB916089 hotfix installed. The KB927891 hotfix should resolve the issue by patching the Msi.dll used by Microsoft Windows Installer (MSI) 3.1. More info,



svchost.exe CPU spinning

Latest on the svchost.exe issue from the WSUS folk,



Which should settle this problem. Thanks to all.

Last week's column discussed the supreme court decision revising principles for granting patents. This also triggered some discussion with Peter Glaskowsky. I found this enlightening.

First, Peter dislikes the use of the term "patent troll":

I don't think there IS any such thing as a patent troll; the term was undeniably invented to question the IP rights of small companies and individual inventors. Sure, there are people (infamously, Jerome Lemelson) who make money by licensing patents rather than manufacturing patented devices, but come on, so what? The term "patent troll" is a meaningless insult.

Anyway, KSR v. Teleflex is about obviousness, and will apply roughly equally to licensors and manufacturers. Both companies involved in the suit are manufacturers. KSR says it makes 14 million brake-pedal assemblies per year. Teleflex, which held the patent at issue, has $2.5 billion in annual revenues.

It was a reasonably good decision, as was the Microsoft v. AT&T decision, so I'm fairly pleased with the Supremes right now.

Peter Glaskowsky

Patent trolls are people who speculate in patents without doing any development; they simply lie in wait for someone to develop a product, then run out and say "Infringement! Pay or we will tie you up in court for a long time. You may win, but it will cost more than you want. Buy us off."

That happens a lot, and it is contrary to the point of the Constitutional grant.

I read the decision. It certainly makes it harder to get a stupid patent based on not much; which means there are fewer patents for the trolls to buy up.

Jerry Pournelle
Chaos Manor

Patents don't need to be developed to be valid. You can't get a patent if your idea still needs to be developed. The deal is, you figure out how to solve a problem nobody could solve before, you publish your solution, you get a patent, and that gives you the right to stop other people from using your invention.

The problem of people suing over obvious patents is separate from the practice of seeking to license patented inventions rather than manufacture them.

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Most of the patents held by patent holding companies don't match your description. Just like that stupid plot patent thing, which I am pleased to say has probably been ended by the SCOTUS decision.

For good or ill the term patent troll has caught on, because it is aptly descriptive of a fairly wide spread and in my judgment malicious practice. Peter's point is valid and I have added a paragraph to that effect. Not all those who enforce their patent rights are trolls, and I certainly defend the notion of patent; but as is usually the case in a degenerative democracy, the foxes have corrupted the process to the point of absurdity.

Patent troll is a good descriptive term; the fact that others legitimately enforce patent rights doesn't negate the existence of the trolls.

Jerry Pournelle
Chaos Manor

I don't think "most of" is a fair summary. Bad patents usually have little business value. Most companies that buy and license intellectual property focus exclusively on good, solid patents. Yes, there have been some conspicuous exceptions to this general rule, but that's all they are-- exceptions, not the majority.

In my experience, the larger the company, the higher the fraction of bad patents it holds, and the more likely it is to assert bad patents against its competition.

And as far as I know, no "plot patents" have ever been issued.

. png

This could continue indefinitely, I suppose, but at this point we are haggling over the price: we both are agreed that the nation is not well served by patent protection for "inventions" not intended for development, but merely to hold on to a monopoly. The dispute is over how often that happens, and whether the term "patent troll" is warranted.

I concede that we are not talking about a majority of cases, and I am guilty of hyperbole, a disease common among pundits. My point is that a few is still too many. We have seen companies selling shares in their lawsuits. There is the SCO UNIX case in which companies could harm their opposition by paying tribute which was used to finance more litigation against their opponents. This is misuse of the intent of the Constitution.

As to "plot patents", many were applied for and are still pending. The recent SCOTUS decision has, I think, scotched those applications, and that is all to the good, because until that decision most intellectual property lawyers thought plot patents probably would be upheld since such patents were supported by prominent tort and trial lawyers.

Patents exist to promote the useful arts, not as a means for suppressing inventions or harassing competitors. If I invest in discovering new technologies that can be used to circumvent my own patents, patent the new technology and then use those patents to prevent the use of that technology, is it in the interest of the nation to protect that practice?

We can argue over how frequent these practices are. The recent court decisions narrowing patent protection make life more difficult for patent trolls and are good for all of us. I'd like to see more such narrowing.

Rich Heimlich asks,

Subject: Logitech MX Revolution Mouse

Anyone using this mouse other than me?

This mouse is the one with two wheels--one on top and the other sideways above the thumb. It's been a great improvement over other Logitech mice but suffers from typical Logitech software design. Logitech just continually designs their software to go 50% of the way of what's needed and then inexplicably stop.

For example, there is no traditional middle mouse button on this mouse and for Firefox fans, that's a big deal. There is a button on the mouse that sits in the middle but it's used for switching applications which I never bother to do with the mouse. Their software lets you set functions to buttons but, for some strange reason, limits what can be done on each button. Thus, while I could take the right button and assign it to act as a middle button (why, I have NO idea) I cannot assign this button in the middle of the mouse to be the middle button. The software just doesn't offer the option.

Well, after some looking around and MUCH waiting, I found something called uberoptions that let's you do anything you want with the mouse including new features and such. Now the mouse is really humming.


Rich Heimlich

I have seen this mouse at Fry's, but I never thought to ask for a review unit. I find by and large that the standard (and cheap) Microsoft Redeye optical mouse with two buttons and a wheel works best for me, and I have a lot of those. I keep a wireless version upstairs in the Monk's Cell, and nearly every machine down here has Microsoft Redeye mice.

The one exception is at Larry Niven's work station. Larry likes the Logitech standard two-button and wheel counterpart to the Microsoft Redeye. It's slimmer than the Microsoft mouse.

At one time I used the 5-button version of the Microsoft optical mouse, but I found that the extra features were not terribly useful. Moreover, if you use more than one computer and they are not all set up identically — and few are — then the extra features can be counterproductive. Whizbangs are mostly useful if you develop good user habits, and if different machines have different features, it can be confusing. It certainly was for me.

Continuing a previous discussion about whether you want Vista now:

Subject: Windows Vista and QB software support


Long time reader, first time e-mail.

Keep up the outstanding work. I learn more from reading your articles and e-mail than from anywhere else!

Below is my soapbox for today. If you have time, read it, if not, thank you again for the outstanding work you do.

I built a new PC with a dual core Intel, ASUS mother board, 1 gig of ram (2 more gig on order), Plextor DVD, NVIDIA graphics -- and got Vista Ultimate.

I have found most technical support to be either seriously lacking or downright horrible. There is basically no official hardware support for Vista. I got a lot of "We've never had that reported" when I called.

Here is what I've found so far....

Drivers are a pain. It took almost a full day to find drivers for most of my Vista ready product. About a third of them are buggy and cause misc. problems in addition to Vista ready software that either doesn't work at all or produces some crazy results.

I have had to disconnect various USB devices to get Vista to boot. It's not all the time, just some of the time. I see another reader with the same issue.

My big HP commercial InkJet reboots anytime you print with the Vista driver for it and HP doesn't support the driver since it's included in Vista now.

I also have multiple personal folders on the explorer. It's nice; I get three copies of my documents.

The real down side is that I have to run my AutoCAD and another custom program on my old PC, since Vista doesn't currently support either one of the versions I have and the custom software vendor won't chase the error in his software because we all know that it will get fixed in Vista with SP1. It appears to be some kind of programming incompatibility.

Other than that, I am very happy with Vista. Well, except for when I tried to report a bug and had to pay $70 dollars to report it and then get the money refunded because it really was a bug that they fixed with SATA DVD drives. It boots fast, it really does run well, looks cool, and seems to be very fault tolerant. Also, the error reporting is pretty slick. When my custom program crashed, I was able to give the programmer the information necessary for him to very quickly track what wasn't working.

Now, on to Quickbooks 2007. It does funny things, it sometimes crashes, it doesn't allocate hours properly. They have released some major updates since its release. That's scary, considering I count on it for my financial reporting. Technical support, when you try and let them know you have a problem, is the absolute worst I have ever experienced. If you don't have a current support plan, they want money before they will even talk to you. Remember, it's a program problem, not a "how do I do this or that". When you do get through, the support personnel are exceptional at reading scripts and totally worthless at fixing or identifying problems. Quickbooks support just sucks and I'd have to say that after 10 + years with Intuit, I'd strongly consider another vendor. Program problems are barely tolerable in any software, but have no place in an accounting system.

Off my soapbox.

Michael L. Votaw
President Larry's Lock & Safe Service, Inc.
Lakeland Electronics


I forgot two items in my email about Vista, but I remembered as soon as Outlook went to get mail and I had to wait, even on my new really fast machine, as Outlook bogged down what I was working on. It's not as bad as on my Windows 200, but hardly tolerable. Again, another program that I could do without if there was a good alternative that integrated.

My last item is Vista stealing focus. I've looked and looked for focus control like we have in Win 2000 and XP, but can't find it anywhere or in any third party. About the time I erase something important because Vista thinks I need to be looking at something else.......


All of which confirms my conclusion that most of us will be better off waiting for SP-1 of Vista. Vista has some great features — Eric turned some of them on for me last time he was here — but it needs the fastest machine in the house, and at that isn't significantly faster than a somewhat slower AMD X2 system running XP. Indeed, my Vista system takes longer to boot after restart than my XP system. Some Vista networking features are great; some don't work properly. And so on. I don't need a new machine just now, but if I did I'd install XP with a view to changing to Vista when Service Pack 1 (with new and improved drivers) comes out.

Joe Zeff is an old friend, and was one of the best technical support troops Earthlink ever had (back in the days before all those jobs were exported to Bangalore). He has a warning:

Subject: Hosting company troubles

Last July, I registered a domain, zeff.us, with StartLogic. Not having much money, I didn't set up a website, I just had it redirected to my EarthLink homepage. I did, however, use it for email. Suddenly, last Friday, I became unable to get email from any of my addresses there; they all reported, "aack, child process crashed." I put in a Trouble Ticket, but got no response.

This evening, I finally got fed up with their lack of response and used their (800) number for tech support. It took about ten minutes for somebody to answer the phone. After answering a number of foolish questions, such as if I'd mind him resetting my password, (Yes I would, because that's not going to stop the program on their server from crashing) I finally found out the problem: without notifying me, or anybody else, they'd changed their policy about email. Unless you pay for a website, you're only allowed one email address, and that one redirected to someplace else.

They never notified me, they just yanked my email out from under me. I might add that the "tech" that told me this had never heard of the old policy in the three months he'd been there. And yet, if they'd changed their policy, why did it take so long for them to pull the plug on me? Needless to say, I'm now looking for a new company to host my domain, such as it is, although I hope to put up a proper business site as soon as I can afford to start my business. It will not, under any circumstances, be at StartLogic, and I don't recommend it to anybody else.

-- Joe Zeff

Good luck, and thanks.

And finally, mail to my advisors with an amusing answer:

I was cleaning up my desktop and discovered there are two desktop.ini files, one for user "jerryp" and the other for "system". They are text files, and they are located in the respective jerryp and system desktop folders; and thus they show up on my desktop. Because they are hidden files they are light grey.

I don't need them on the desktop. I don't think I dare delete them.

I can of course turn off making hidden files visible and perhaps I should although I have for 20 years been turning off the hide hidden files switch. Is there any other way to deal with those so they don't clutter the desktop?

Jerry Pournelle
Chaos Manor

I got this answer from Chaos Manor Review Managing Editor Brian Bilbrey:

My friend Google finds this link, among many when putting these words in the search bar:

vista desktop.ini


My favorite solutions:

"I just moved it behind the Sidebar clock..."


"I turned off my Sidebar. But I guess a small piece of electrical tape would serve the same purpose."

There are other possibilities discussed...


And Eric Pobirs adds

That is one I've been wondering about but hadn't gotten around to investigating. The desktop previously filtered those, even when hidden files are displayed. You could see the files in Explorer as being in the Desktop folder when the 'Show hidden files' option was selected but you wouldn't see them on the desktop itself. It's a very odd change that doesn't serve any purpose I've heard about.

I don't know if this restores the filtering but it's worth a shot: link.

I'll try it myself when I get home.

-- Eric

I've tried that, and so far the desktop.ini icons are still on the desk. We'll now try restarting the machine...

Of course they are still there. How could changing the attributes to "system" and "hidden" make any difference if we elect to display system and hidden files? But of course XP managed to exclude those .ini files. Vista puts them on the desktop.

Wait for SP-1.