Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2007 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

July 2, 2007

It's summer and mail has been light this week.

Subject: Palm PDA as an ebook reader


I also have a Palm PDA (Tungsten E2). It came with eReader, and I have tried using that to read fiction. While the text is quite readable, the 2" x 2" display area just doesn't show enough text to make reading comfortable for me. I need a text display at least a large as a small paperback page (3.5" x 5") to be happy. I can't wait for the day when ultraportable PC's with bigger displays hit the $500 price point! I've often wondered if entrepreneurs aren't missing an opportunity by not putting the Palm OS into a device with the ultra PC form factor. Something like an oversized clamshell cell phone might be an interesting device!

CP, Connecticut

I think we will soon see an explosion of PDA cum telephone, telephone cum tablet PC, and other such devices. I have seen some very nice pocket computers at about $2,000, and as those prices inevitably fall I think we will see many more. My guess is that the era of the paperback book is just about over; there will still be paperbacks, but not many, and most mass marketed books will be sold electronically. They may not be just books; there may well be links, data, maps, and other enhancements in both fiction and non-fiction.

Meanwhile, the good news (which I will announce in other places as well) is that we are converting the books and materials in the subscriber section into other formats. Just now they're being offered in Microsoft Reader as well as PDF.

Subject: Science Videos Search Engine

ScienceHack is a search engine for science videos. What makes ScienceHack unique is that every video is screened by a scientist or an engineer to verify the video's accuracy and quality.


Mike 'Z' Zawistowski

Interesting. It should be a more reliable source than Wikipedia, then. I will say that Wikipedia is a good place to start when looking for information on almost any subject. It is definitely not the only place one ought to look, though. Of course I don't recommend using a single public source for any important information.

Subject: Honesty and Integrity in Business


I think that Warren Buffet has said it best when he advises the managers of the businesses owned by Berkshire Hathaway on Business Ethics.

To paraphrase Mr Buffet: It doesn't make any difference if it is legal, if it is something you wouldn't want to read on the front page of your local newspaper, don't do it.

Simple and easy to understand. Too bad this isn't taught in our business and Law schools.

Bob Holmes

I agree, but that isn't the current trend, nor is it likely to be. The logic of unremitting laissez faire capitalism is to drive closer and closer to the notion that the bottom line is the only governing factor. True capitalists compete to sell the rope that will be used to hang them; while the logic of free trade trends to free trade in everything.

Moreover, the pressure to balance that trade through "competitive advantage" (meaning that you become desperate to find something you can sell that no one else wants to sell) is enormous as countries lose their competitive edge in education and skill. Eventually everything may be bought and sold — including people. I suspect I will live to see a thriving "free" trade in young women "entertainers" not at all hidden as the "Natasha Trade" is now.

A continuing theme:

Subject: Net Neutrality by any other name

See this link.

Note how the CTIA refuses even to use the popular name for this controversy because calling it "Net Neutrality" automatically inclines the average reader toward the pro-regulation conclusion.

Clever of them...

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I do believe that some of the fervor which inspires the net neutrality legislation advocates has waned. I have heard few new arguments in recent weeks.

Peter Glaskowsky comments on a mail item...


I busted up laughing when I saw the Mail item from yesterday about burning salt water, but I also knew that crazy questions like that don't just come from nowhere. I Googled for "burning salt water" and I found this link on YouTube.

It turns out there's a fellow named John Kanzius who's gotten some mainstream media attention for showing that a test tube full of salt water, put into a strong microwave field, evolves H2 and O2 which, naturally, will burn if ignited.

The trivial observation is just what you said-- the Second Law of Thermodynamics says this process can't yield net energy.

But there's more to it than this.

It was instantly obvious to me from the appearance of the flame that the primary source of the energy in the flame is not the combustion-- it's that the RF energy is turning the combustion products into a plasma. The combustion is necessary, but it's just a small part of the deal.

There are some brief segments in the video that make it clear that the RF itself is generating most of the "flame"-- particularly those that show the flame hopping from one spot to another. It's like the way a spark from a Van de Graaf generator hops around. In this case, the spark is diffused over a volume that looks very flame-like.

Also, the fact that the volume of salt water in the test tube does not decline rapidly enough to account for such a large, vigorous flame is pretty much conclusive. The RF-induced electrolysis is only a small part of the energy production; most of the energy comes from the RF generator.

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And how long will it be before someone "discovers" that Nikolai Tesla managed to make fuel from salt water and his power radiation systems? Ah, well.

Subject: Computing at Chaos Manor 07-06-26 Windows Help

Regarding the .NET problem with the link here.

Look at the keywords at the bottom of the page. No wonder Microsoft help searches are just about completely useless. The keywords have nothing to do with the subject on the page!

Gene Horr

Which, alas, is apparently not all that rare. Ah, well.

Subject: Real Time Ray Tracing

A few years ago at a Siggraph press breakfast, product managers from Nvidia and ATI laughed when I asked if they thought we'd see realtime ray tracing in our lifetimes. I ran across this earlier today:

E-Mail From POV-Ray -- I thought I might ping you about an experimental feature we've added to the POV-Ray SMP beta: real-time raytracing. It's mostly useful to folks who have multi-core systems and in fact is something that I've wanted to do for years but the hardware just wasn't there (at least not in the consumer price range). It works best on a Kentfield or later, but a core 2 duo should be sufficient if you don't mind sub-10fps frame rates.

David Em

Peter Glaskowsky comments

Oh, they shouldn't have laughed. I wrote about ART's ray-tracing chips in Microprocessor Report many years ago (link) and did the math -- real-time ray tracing was inevitable by now. In fact, Intel demonstrated it last August, using an 8-core machine.

But any implementation of real-time ray tracing will look worse than polygon-based rendering, if the amount of silicon and power consumption is kept constant.

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You do not expect it to be done well, the marvel is that it is done at all. Alas, the origin story of that useful phrase is no longer printable due to our penchant for political correctness.

This began when I called the attention of my advisors to a curious incident in which a Linux emulation of Microsoft was accepted by Microsoft Genuine Advantage. The thread was here on the Ubuntu Forums.

Bob Thompson commented

Yeah, I thought it was pretty funny that Microsoft's WGA thinks an Ubuntu box is running genuine Windows. Pretty ironic, too, since WGA decided that my genuine copy of XP, with the serial number provided by Wagg-Ed, was bogus.


Captain Ron Morse had more extensive comments:

Not totally surprising. This is WINE at work. WINE is a project that is (slowly) reimplementing the Windows API on Linux, OpenBSD and Solaris. It runs as a translation layer rather than a VM. The idea is to allow a user to run the unaltered binaries of Windows applications on a now-Windows host as if they were native. While the project still has a long, long way to go, when it works it's pretty slick. The video shows Internet Exploder running in/with/on/for/by WINE on top of Linux.

Back in the pre-WGA days I used to run Outlook 2000 in Crossover Office (the commercialized and prettied-up version of WINE) on top of Xandros Linux. Outlook needed Internet Exploder and some other real Windows stuff (DCOM?) but once that was in place you could easily run Outlook and update it from the Office Update web site. Worked pretty well, too.

WGA changed all that, but by the time that came along I had moved almost completely off Windows and quit following WINE's progress.

The WINE guys are persistent and talented so it was just a matter of time before enough of the Windows API got WINE'd so something like this would work. I don't know if the perp here (for lack of a better word) was specifically trying to tweak Microsoft with this -- there's a lot of that in WINE -- or if this is something truly useful. I guess I should take another look at how they are doing. I notice the WINE web site claims WoW is now supported.

Ron Morse

As our hardware gets faster, emulations get better; as I have said often, it should not be long before operating systems will not be so important, and your machine may neither know nor care what OS a particular application requires.

And finally, someone sent this some time ago. It may be of interest still as an example of human folly, to rank with the DC judge who sued his dry cleaners for $54 million for losing a pair of his trousers (thus neatly illustrating the probable quality of justice in the nation's capital).

Subject: Microsoft Lawsuit of day


See this link.

Microsoft Sued for Failing to Hide Porn

Joe Lewis

Microsoft has seen its share of legal proceedings throughout recent years, answering charges alleging antitrust violation, copyright infringement and just about everything in between.

This lawsuit, however, may take the proverbial cake.

A Massachusetts man has filed suit against the Redmond-based software company seeking compensatory and punitive damages stemming from, what the plaintiff asserts, breeches and data security and the failure of Internet Explorer to keep delete his browsing history and keep his Internet habits private.

The FBI raided this home of Michael Alan Crooker in 2004 amid reports that he was manufacturing resin, a substance commonly used in the process of constructing homemade explosives. As part of the raid, the FBI confiscated Crookers laptop and sent it back to the organizations Cryptologic and Electronic Analysis group, which was eventually able to circumvent the notebooks encryption software.

What FBI agents found on Crookers hard drive was a variety of pornography ranging from self-made sex videos to cached adult websites. The embarrassment stemming from this discovery is what prompted the suit against Microsoft.


Apparently there remains some sanity in the legal system. The suit was dismissed.

I wish I could honestly say I am not surprised.