Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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The Mailbag

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

October 8, 2007

We have another report from a new MacBook user.

Subject: MacBook

Dear Jerry,

Your published an email recently from a subscriber who uses a Mac. After many years of Windows, I have returned to the Apple fold. I like my MacBook a lot.

My first computer was an Apple II Plus, then a //e, then a //e Enhanced, then a IIGS. Then I went over to Dell because I thought I needed a Windows machine for work compatibility.

I run Parallels on my MacBook, and under that, I have installed both Windows XP Professional and Ubuntu Linux 7.04. My Mac is the best Windows computer I've ever had, and the best platform for Linux.

I second the recommendation of SuperDuper! I have an external Firewire hard drive attached to my MacBook, and use SuperDuper! to back up my whole system every day. I can run the Mac off of each of two partitions on the external drive.

It's a beautiful thing.


I am getting reports that there are better ways to run Windows and Ubuntu on a Mac than using Parallels. Both Peter Glaskowsky and Leo Laporte say they've heard that VMware Fusion should be preferable. They also say they have Fusion, but they haven't installed it yet, since Parallels is Good Enough for what they're doing.

Unfortunately, I haven't yet got a MacBook so I don't have anything to report on my own. From everything I have been told, Parallels works; I just keep hearing that VMware Fusion is a better program to accomplish the purpose.

What I find interesting that the systems are getting fast enough to allow multiple operating systems at all. It can only get better.

I also get advice on Linux. I said last week I'd try Ubuntu. Others say that Xandros is the painless way to make the transition.


I've used Linux pretty exclusively for several years. First Slackware then RedHat the Gentoo then Mandrake and now Fedora. I've also recently tried Ubuntu. You wrote in the Chaos Manor Reviews Mailbag: "I really do intend to give Ubuntu Linux a try...."

I would suggest that you also try Fedora 7. Ubuntu is sort of a Linux for Dummies. It works fine overall, but is definately, in my opinion, a dumbed down version of what Linux can be. It seems it's primarily designed for Windows refugees and, like Windows, seems to believe that the user is not particularly bright. There are several frustrations for experienced computer users. I'm sure others will argue. Fedora 7 is extremely easy to install and use. I personally use a Windowmaker interface because I'm just use to a minimalist layout. But Fedora includes a number of desktop managers that work quite well.

It's worth trying both to see what you think.

Just a suggestion.

Randy Powell
Port Orchard, WA

I do intend to try all these. First I've got some books to get done...

Subject: Windows Automatic Updates

Mr. Pournelle,

I recently changed from Netzero dialup internet access to Time Warner Cable Roadrunner Extreme internet access (WAY, WAY better!!!). My Windows Automatic Updates no longer works. I tried the various fixes listed in that Microsoft document you mention concerning this problem, but they did not help. I have since contacted Microsoft e-mail assistance and one of their people has been trying to get it to work by giving me alternative things to do, none of which has fixed the problem -- some of the things the MS person suggested I do give error messages such as "in use by another program" and so forth, so they do not even work to start with. Still trying.

Nathan Okun

If Microsoft can't help, I sure can't think of anything. Keep us posted...

Subject: Firefox update

Dear Jerry,

A couple of weeks ago Firefox proposed its update, I accepted, and after installing it none of my bookmarks would work; I restored a recent image of my Software partition and everything was OK again. For a week I refused Firefox's proposal to install that update, and then I accepted it hoping the problem had been solved by then. It hadn't, so I restored Software again.

Not knowing if other users of Firefox have suffered this same problem, I would like to learn about it and hopefully find its solution.

Yours sincerely,

A. Molina

I have had no problems with the latest Firefox. There was an update that seemed to have some difficulties but it has been replaced, and all seems well. I use Firefox as my standard browser, but I keep Internet Explorer both to look at my own web site and for official Microsoft connectivity.

We have seen a number of articles on iPhone security, so I asked security expert Rick Hellewell to comment:

Subject: iPhone Security Hellhole?

I don't have an iPhone (and probably never will), but the iPhone apps running as root is certainly not good.

Some other articles related to the iPhone: some analysts are saying that users are 'afraid' of the iPhone fixes turning their phones into 'iBricks' (InfoWorld link.)

And the hackers have responded to the Apple Security fix: see this InfoWorld page.

And "New York woman is so angry over the Apple iPhone price cut that she decided to sue the company for $1 million in damages. " (here: another InfoWorld link).


I'll have a few words about the iPhone ⇒ iBrick controversy in the column.

David Em raised a question that generated this discussion:

Subject: Is this new?

ars technica article: AT&T threatens to disconnect subscribers who criticize the company.

David Em

Dan Spisak answered:

Well this is the first time I've seen EULA's and T&C's that have speech clauses in them. Certain enterprise level software companies have byzantine EULA's that forbid users from publishing benchmark results online, etc. This is just that kind of control and applying it to consumer level service contracts. The fact that it exists is patently wrong and dumb. I would bet dollars to donuts someone could build an easy case for the ACLU or EFF to take to the courts and have struck down on grounds of infringement on peoples first amendment rights. I'd be willing to bet there has to be some other laws in action that are being violated by an unfair contract like that.

However, it only reinforces my opinion about never wanting to be a customer of AT&T in any way, shape, or form. So what is the new AT&T motto now "Your world, delivered our way, or its the highway for you"?

Curiously enough I decided to try looking on www.archive.org to see if I could find older versions of the AT&T TOS to compare against to try and see how long this has been in their TOS.

Thats when I discovered that AT&T's robots.txt file is setup to tell spiders to not look at the entire /s/ and /scripts directory trees.

However Archive.org has other AT&T/BellSouth pages indexed. This presents oneself with an interesting insight that it would seem like AT&T doesn't want anyone to know how its TOS or when its TOS has changed over time along with other documents. After all, this would make it easy for small yet important changes in the TOS to get slipped in without people realizing it. I could however be wearing too much tinfoil today.

-Dan S.

There's no first amendment issue here. The first amendment guarantees freedom of speech, but only prohibits the government from interfering.

Nonetheless, this is a really dumb move. Right now, ISPs, including AT&T, have some significant legal protections against being sued because of actions by their users. For example, if I libel someone on AT&T, AT&T is not liable for my action because it is presumed to be unaware of it. However, if AT&T starts monitoring posts by its users to detect criticism of AT&T, that presumption no longer exists. The person I libeled could also go after the deep pockets of AT&T. This really is a dumb move.

> common-carrier provisions certainly protect telcos against being sued
> for anything they carry, but does that protection extend to their
> customer?

That wasn't the point I was making. A common carrier is legally presumed to be unaware of what it's carrying, and therefore not responsible. If terrorist A sends some weaponized anthrax to terrorist B via UPS, the two terrorists are legally responsible, but UPS is not responsible. But if UPS knew or had reason to know it was shipping anthrax, it becomes responsible.

In the same way, telcos and ISPs are presumed to be unaware of the content their users communicate with each other. If a telco or ISP begins monitoring content on its own behalf, it may also be presumed to be aware of unrelated content and may therefore be liable for not acting on that knowledge.

Robert Bruce Thompson

I had the vague feeling that this one wasn't over when Peter Glaskowsky sent this wrapup:

AT&T confirmed my interpretation of this terms-of-service issue:

ars technica link

engadget link

You can tell that both bloggers would have been happier if AT&T had simply admitted it was evil and intends to use the agreement to stifle dissent.

I really like how the bozo at Ars Technica tries to justify his bozosity with a last-ditch appeal to popularity:

"Interpretation of this section of the ToS has been practically unanimous online"...

Which illustrates the common collary to Sturgeon's Law-- 90% of everything is crud, but 100% of crud is crud.

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A Safari Story

This began with an inquiry from Captain Morse in my Advisors conference. I'll let him tell the story:

Safari Phunnies

Jerry, I was getting ready to post a happy ending to the exchange we had over the weekend regarding the loss of secure connectivity with my MacBook Pro (MBP) and thought I'd summarize and clean up the entire thread for you. Others may someday find something useful here.

Ron Morse

My original request for assistance:

Safari on my MacBookPro has, within the last several days, has started reporting it can not connect to sites using the https protocol. Affects sites like my bank and just about anything that allows purchase via credit card.

My Linux and XP boxes still work fine and connect to the cable modem via the same router as does the MBP. The only difference is that the MBP connects via wireless (using an Personal WPA connection) whereas the other two are wired connections.

A Google was inconclusive...there was lots of info but it appeared to be old, for the most part, and in any case did not easily lead me to a solution.

Would appreciate any suggestions or a pointer to a reliable site that helps Mac users deal with this sort of difficulty.

Ron Morse

Response from Dan Spisak:

Have you tried looking in the Apple Discussion forums?





I would also ask the question of:

Does this happen if you install Firefox on your Mac? If so, then there must be some kind of SOCKS proxy running on your system.

-Dan S.

I didn't have Firefox on the MBP, but Opera was and still worked with secure sites via https so that ruled out the proxy issue. Also, Peter Glaskowsky had reasonably asked if the machine had been rebooted since the problem emerged. It had.

Fortunately, the first two of the links in Dan's reply gave me a pretty good clue as to what was happening.

My response to Dan's message:

Thank you, and Peter. The links you provided helped to isolate the problem in short order, much more quickly than I would have been able to do wading through the Internet on my own. It's nice to have smart friends.

The problem appears to be that the X509 Anchor certificates that should be in the system/library/keychains/ folder are missing. Further, whatever is supposed to be there can either be copied in from another Mac or replaced by reinstalling the operating system, but there are no apparent alternatives. Seems a bit odd.

Ron Morse

I don't have a second Mac from which to obtain the certs and they didn't appear to be easily available on the 'net. They may be, I just didn't come across them within the operating limits of my attention span.

Then I remembered that when we bought the machine we also purchased "AppleCare," an extended warranty and support package. I decided to give it a try.

Follow up to my initial response to Dan:

I decided to give AppleCare a try for the first time. I'm glad I had the background from the links you gave me before I made the call otherwise I don't think we would have had a very good time. Nothing in any error message pointed to missing system certificates, but had I not been the one to mention that possibility I'm not sure we would have arrived there on our own.

It was a fascinating experience. The call was answered quickly and went straight to Bangalore. Hajid was very enthusiastic, very patient and very friendly. Still, after running through the usual troubleshooting drills from the Apple FAQ (empty cache, reinstall problem application, try creating a brand new user, etc.) the best he could come up with was the recommendation to reinstall the O/S from the distribution CDs.

So, Windows is not the only O/S with which one can reach a point where there is no choice but to punt. I guess it beats being told to recompile the kernel.

I'm going to continue the experiment and visit the local Apple Store's Genius Bar this afternoon. I suspect we'll arrive at the same answer, but seeing the day shift hostess at the restaurant across the street will make the trip worthwhile.

Ron Morse

Conclusion and sort of happy ending

It turned out to be a wasted trip, after all. Brian Bilbrey offered to send the X509 certs I needed, but I didn't see his note before I left. I wish I had. The aforementioned hostess was not working and, in keeping with Jerry's previous reports about visiting a real live Apple retail outlet, the "genius" manning the "Genius Bar" had obviously forgotten his "genius" pills this morning. He spent some time doing things I had already done a couple of times while carefully ignoring my request to replace the certificates. Finally, after coming to the conclusion that reinstalling the O/S was first necessary, then a REALLY bad idea, I finally got him to just copy over the two needed files from his installation disk and the problem was fixed.

He was able to show me where to put DNS addresses into the network configuration which I never managed to find on my own, but his instructions on how to get the wireless to connect automagically when the system starts were not so successful. But, dealing with that is just one click and so tolerable until I get a chance to run that one to ground.

Thanks to everyone.

Ron Morse

Which should be of benefit to those with Safari problems.

And another rather specialized question from Dan Spisak:

Subject: Making PDFs on Macs question

I've got an interesting question about PDF creation on Macs. So, on Macs it is possible to make a PDF with any application that has the ability to print output using the OS X Quartz Print to PDF filter that is part of the operating system. It is also possible to install Adobe Acrobat for OS X and print to PDF using Adobe's own Print to PDF filter of course.

In any case, I had a rather large Word document that contained some scaled 6MP full res photos and was 11 pages long and weighed in at 6.25MB in size. When I printed it to PDF using the built-in OS X print to PDF function I got a 18.1MB PDF file that couldnt even be zipped into a smaller file size. So then, just for a kick I thought I would try to print the Word document to PDF using the Acrobat 8 print to PDF capability. When I used the Adobe PDF printer I was rewarded with a 385kb PDF file. Quality between the two files looks practically the same from what I can see with my own eyes.

Looking at the information of the two documents I see Apples PDF is PDF version 1.3 whereas the Adobe-made PDF is version 1.4. My guess is that Adobe did some DPI trickery in the 6MP photos to get the file to compress so well. Does this sound likely or is there another explanation for what I am seeing here?

-Dan S.

Peter Glaskowsky replied:

You should open 'em both with Preview or Reader and zoom in. If there's more detail in one than the other, then there was probably some scaling. If you discover compression artifacts, then there was compression.

It's quite possible that Apple didn't compress or scale the images at all, or used lossless compression, or used only lightly lossy compression. Remember that the original compression (JPG or whatever) disappears by the time the data arrives in the print driver, so the print-to-PDF function has to make its own choices about compression, scaling, etc.

There's also the Optimize function within Acrobat Pro; that can shrink PDFs pretty dramatically depending on how they were created to begin with.

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