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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

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

September 24, 2007

Begin with comments on last week's mail.

Ron Morse, who uses Linux pretty well full time, looked it over and said

I didn't see anything in the column that needs attention.

The next time I get a "Windows is easy, Linux is hard" complaint I'm sending the complainer a copy.

Ron Morse

Eric and Bob Thompson commented on monitor sizes:

Incidentally, you might want to look at a display larger than 19". I was surprised when Barbara and I were at Costco the other day to see this 22" X-series 1680X1050 Viewsonic for $299.

Robert Bruce Thompson

The pricing on 22" LCDs has been getting very good recently. Deals get down to the $200 mark already, such as the Acer model Best Buy offered recently.

There is one downside. At least one major GPU company, Nvidia, doesn't regard 1680x1050 as a standard resolution. Their drivers won't offer it as a resolution choice if the monitor doesn't have a profile driver installed on the system. Because of this, a bug in their current driver caused a weird horizontal panning problem that forced me to revert the customer to an older Nvidia driver. The client in question isn't inconvenienced by this, fortunately.

This lack of generic 1680x1050 support also caused another annoyance involving a KVM switch. If either of my desktops, both with Nvidia cards, is booted while not driving the monitor it is impossible to ever get them to apply the correct resolution without rebooting. This may also be partially ViewSonic's (VX2235wm)fault as their monitor driver can be a painful install.

Being forced to leave the display switched to the booting system somewhat defeats the purpose of having a KVM but I've never had this problem on more common resolutions. I don't know if ATI or Intel GPUs have the same issue but I wouldn't be surprised. I think perhaps they thought 1680x1050 wouldn't be a big installed base since just going up one inch or more gets the resolution into 1920x1080 or higher, which would allow for full HDTV content playback. That could be a strong motivator once the major jump in cost for those larger screens goes away. That is inevitable as so much of the television market is going that way.

Eric Pobirs

It does pay to be sure that your video card supports the native resolution of any flat panel monitor you're thinking of buying. I realize that sounds obvious, but it turns out it's not.

There was more mail about the column...

A user rant:

Subject: Apologies in advance -- A Rant Against Windows VISTA

Wednesday 2007-09-19

Dear Dr Pournelle:

I gave up writing rants about Microsoft years ago but, after wasting the best part of a day trying -- and repeatedly failing -- to perform routine maintenance on my home-office network, I do need to vent, and I'm afraid that, having finally cashed my subscription check, you qualified as the victim.

Early in the new year, we decided to follow your and other's advice to avoid installing Windows VISTA until at least SE1. Unfortunately, business ruled otherwise and in mid-year we just had to add 2 new machines. By June, the option to buy an XP-equipped machine with a free VISTA upgrade had gone away. We had to take VISTA or stump-up the price of 2 additional copies of XP -- a substantial fraction of the price of a basic desktop machine these days. So we took the VISTA machines -- one with HOME BASIC, and the other with ULTIMATE. After all, it was June and, we assumed, most of the serious glitches would be out of the system in the 5-9 months (however you calculate it) since release.

How wrong we were, and how right you are to keep recommending against installing VISTA yet. In the past 3 months, despite continual upgrading of Windows, drivers, and applications, I rate these 2 (actually very different from each other) versions of VISTA as little more than high betas, with RC1 some months still down the road. I will not give you a recital of the problems we've had. Some of them you've discussed already, many others are small glitches that minor in themselves nevertheless combine to produce a really irritating (what Microsoft insists on calling) "Windows Experience".

Let me give just a few examples: perhaps because I choose to use Firefox as my default browser, every time I click a URL, VISTA produces a loud clunk, opens a dialog box explaining that it can't find that URL and maybe I should check my spelling. Irritating yes, but more irritating is that while this is happening, Firefox is happily starting and displaying the requested web page! Then there's the Lexmark all-in-one printer that works just fine with it's supplied VISTA driver, except that when it is selected from any application, Windows clunks again and announces that it has no driver installed for the device, while again the Lexmark is happily carrying on with it's requested printing or scanning duties. The message box, like many others in VISTA, refuses to go away or, if closed, keeps reappearing periodically until the machine is rebooted! Of course there are, as everyone knows, the shared network folders that lock and unlock, disappear and reappear from one day to the next, the Windows Update that is has "Automatic Install" turned off but which some nights just decides to install anyway and demand a reboot next morning.

However, even worse than these and the many other glitches, is the overall instability and inconsistency of VISTA that screams "Beta!" to anyone who has ever worked in a software-related business. After each Windows update, a program that originally worked fine with VISTA, or who's vendor supplied fixes, starts to exhibit odd behaviors. After the next update, the program seems to be OK again, or has developed new and different oddities. This even happens with parts (or accessories) of VISTA itself that, between updates, seem to stop and then restart working as described in Windows Help or in Brian Livingston's otherwise excellent "Windows VISTA Secrets" book.

Of course, I haven't yet mentioned User Account Control. I found the article "The Long-Term Impact of User Account Control" in the Microsoft Security Newsletter in which the author (Dr. Jesper M. Johansson) lambastes columnists, bloggers, and computer sellers for their "shameful" behavior in complaining about UAC frustrations and widely recommending turning it off (do you know anyone who hasn't?). The article reminds me so much of a software developer defending a well-intentioned but poorly implemented feature that looked so good on paper, and even in a click-through but, when finally exposed to real-world users, proved to be balky, frustrating, and practically unusable. To me, this is yet another indication of the beta-like lack of user testing of VISTA.

Considering the flakiness I've experienced from VISTA, the legacy products I've been forced to abandon, and the fact that most of my work is now happily done in Open Office, I now kick myself for staying with VISTA so long, instead of installing an undemanding, and user-friendly Linux distribution, such as Ubuntu or Linspire, when I first got the 2 new machines!

Thanks for the opportunity to vent. The other day, I dragged "Inferno" out of the "Friends of the Library" donation box and re-read it in anticipation of "Inferno II". So please go back to work now.

Regards & thanks

Alun Whittaker

Subject: Microsoft reveals that Vista SP1 will install XP

Hi Jerry,

I couldn't resist forwarding this to you. After all, I read this on the Internet, so it must be true :-).

Microsoft Reveals Windows Vista SP1 Will Install XP



While we're at it:

Subject: Happy Birthday to :-)

The 'smiley' emoticon is 25 years old today, invented by Carnegie Mellon University professor Scott E. Fahlman.

Wikipedia says "The two original text smileys, :-) to indicate a joke and :-( to mark things that are not a joke were invented on September 19, 1982 (at 11:44am) by Scott E. Fahlman, a research professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Department of Computer Science. His original post at the CMU CS general board, where he suggested the use of the smileys, was retrieved on September 10, 2002 by Jeff Baird from an October 1982 backup tape of the spice vax (cmu-750x) as proof to support the claim."

Rick Hellewell

I don't often run press releases, but this one may be of interest:

Subject: Weather Product News

Hi Jerry,

Just in time for hurricane season and winter weather (not to mention holiday gift ideas), the news information below for Chaos Manor is from Hideki Electronics regarding the breakthrough line of Honeywell Weather Stations that provide up to 62 emergency alert messages, including amber alerts, natural disaster warnings, and hazards.

The Honeywell products are the first to offer emergency alert system as part of a personal weather-monitoring product.

See below for detail and let us know if you are interested in any details or would like to find out more about the new products. The initial three emergency alert weather stations are on sale now in time for hurricane season, winter weather, and the holiday shopping season.

Thanks for your time and consideration to our news.

The table below is followed by plain text for your ease of use. For your convenience, the press release is also posted at this link and a download link for 300dpi image is here.

Best regards,

Greg Walsh, PR Rep for PMP

I rely on local radio, myself, but I can see uses for this.

Subject: Installing Outlook 2003 after Outlook 2007

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

You may not need this message, but then again... you may. If you install Office 2007 and then after that Office 2003, Outlook 2003 may give the following error message:

Cannot start Microsoft Outlook. MAPI32.DLL is corrupt or the wrong version. This could have been caused by installing other messaging system. Please reinstall Outlook.

The usual remedy is to rename or delete MAPI32.DLL, but it won't work in this case. The error message is wrong. "The actual dll that is causing the problem is MSMAPI32.dll, which is located at C:\Program Files\Common Files\System\MSMAPI\1033. Simply rename this file to something else (e.g. MSMAPI32_OLD.dll), reinstall Office 2003, and Outlook 2003 should work perfectly after that" (from a tech blog somewhere on the net).

Best and thanks for your excellent column,
Charlie Breindahl

I didn't need it: I had no problems at all installing Office 2003 on both Windows XP and Vista systems that already had Office 2007 running on them. They don't seem to interfere with each other.

This discussion seems never to end...

Subject: Exchange

Dr Pournelle,

On your letters page for 18th Sept, your correspondent Dean Peters makes the case you should use MS Small Business Server, and I agree with your reply. However I still think you should evaluate a service such as 4smartphone.com - you would ask your mail admins to set up an automatic SMTP copy to the 4smartphone server. This means absolutely nothing would change, but you would have an additional copy of your mail on the 4smartphone exchange system. You could then set up a secondary Outlook 2003 (or 2007) profile, or use a different machine, to access this mail using Exchange profiles. Equally you can use web mail (in IE only but worth using) We've found Outlook 2003 is no problem at all, handling probably more mail than you get in a day, when connected to an Exchange 2003 server, on a dual core laptop. (IBM T60 with the original Core Duo, not core 2). I suspect you'd be pleasantly surprised, and you'd have a setup similar to many people who use the new wave of connected PDA devices.

James Chamier Hampshire, UK

Subject: Mailserver Debate


I thought I would offer another suggestion to the debate over whether or not you should run your own mail server.

Why not use an outsourced supplier? There are any number of small, efficient, friendly businesses that now offer outsourced access to a Microsoft Exchange environment, including Outlook Web Access, blackberry support etc.

At home you would run Outlook just as normal without any need for any VPN or anything clever. On the road you could still use outlook on a laptop, again without any changes. And if you needed to you could check mail from a web cafe pretty much anywhere you like, again all without you needing to purchase any hardware, software or undergo any great IT expense and difficulty.

I don't work for one of these businesses myself but many seem designed to support the needs of small organisations with limited staff and equally limited IT budgets but who need access to features and services that allow them to act like a much bigger organisation I think that describes you perfectly.

For the record that the company I work for does use the services of one of these companies (http://www.frontpages-web-hosting.net/) but for sharepoint hosting and not for Exchange hosting (we do our own exchange).


Now that things are running properly, nothing's broke, and having finished Inferno II, I am turning to Mamelukes, the next Janissaries novel. Nothing needs fixing...

Subject: Light Pollution


Just an FYI for your readers. The state of Pennsylvania is attempting to get some tourist value out of a rural area (Pennsylvania Wilds) that has little light pollution. In that area, there is a state park that has been designated as a "Dark Sky Park". It's Cherry Springs State Park Stargazer's Paradise. Seems like a neat idea.

CP, Connecticut

I had a discussion with the advisors about highly advertised products including LifeLock. Eric Pobirs said

Everybody at KFI was extolling the virtues of Ionic Breeze for a long time but that faded away after the Sharper Image debacle surrounding a very similar product.

It makes you wonder if any of the heavily-marketed products are worth a damn.


Which stimulated Rich Heimlich to say

I'm in the audio industry and Bose is the big player there but no audiophile I know would touch their stuff (sorry if that's any of you). I wonder about Sleep Number bed's. A glorified air mattress? It doesn't even sound interesting to me (I do sleep on a tempur-pedic bed though so the ads work as they got me to a local store to try one and we've had ours for several years now). And then there's David Oreck and the Oreck vacuum cleaner. It looks like something produced for inclusion in a box of cereal. On the other side is the Dyson vacuum. I hear mixed things there. Interesting that I don't see Oreck's air purifier commercials anymore.

I also wonder just how many people take up the Video Professor (boy I hate using caps for that one) on his videos. An entire business running on so-called "free" videos paid for entirely by shipping and handling charges. Yes, everyone I know owns 5 of them (sarcasm). I have a hard time think, "Just try my product" is a powerful phrase. He sounds like a panhandler to me.

I admit that advertising, as much as I like to think otherwise, does have a way of working its way into my sub-conscience. When it's time to buy a new vacuum I will look into both of those models and will likely find another, better, more highly recommended and reliable product but it does often get their products onto my radar at the least. I just wonder how many stop at that and buy. Apparently it's a lot of people.

Rich Heimlich

Which got a bunch of comments going. Ron Morse stood up for both Dyson and Oreck, while Eric added

The radio host endorsement ads are almost the last remnant of the days when sponsors' product were expected to be touted by the cast of the shows they financed. (There is a legendary tale of the fight Gene Rodenberry supposedly had to wage to keep the characters in 'Star Trek' from smoking during off-duty scenes because the tobacco companies were among the most valuable sponsors. The story goes that he gave up his original intention of having a female 1st Officer in exchange for keeping the Enterprise a smoke free environment.) Talk radio is still heavily supported by personalized ads and often for some really dubious products. I regard ads that are merely insultingly dumb in a different category from those that are likely a scam.

It makes me wonder how much freedom the hosts have to decide what products they will or will not promote. If they do get to pick it puts their intelligence and integrity in question.

Eric Pobirs

All of which goes to the issue of why I don't have advertisements other than the minimal Google ads that I fear I pay no attention to.

Okay, this is virtualization on steroids. (Better be some fast hardware, too, come to think of it.)

[link to screenshot of recursively embedded VirtualBox fun]

Okay, so they installed and ran XP. Then under that they installed and ran VirtualBox. Then under that VirtualBox, they installed and ran Vista. Then under that Vista, they installed and ran VirtualBox.

Why does this remind me of the Worm Ouroboros? And aren't they at risk of creating some kind of computerized black hole once they pass the Turing-Schwarzchild limit? And why would they want to create computerized black holes? Heck, I've already GOT computers that won't let the data that's in them get out. (Several of them, stacked in the corner of the garage, awaiting some form of recycling.)

--Gary Pavek

We said well over a year ago that when the hardware gets fast enough, neither the application nor the system will neither know nor care what Operating System is in control.