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.

October 15, 2007

We have a report from a Windows-on-MacBook user:

Subject: Windows XP Pro SP1 & Parallels on the MacBook

Hi Jerry,

I'm aware of three ways to run Windows on the MacBook. One, use Apple's Boot Camp utility to set up a dual-boot system. This would no doubt give the best Windows performance, especially disk performance. Two, use VMware to set up a virtual Windows machine. VMware enables Windows to use both CPU cores. Three, use Parallels to set up a virtual machine, but Windows then uses only one CPU core.

The deciding factor for me was this: with Parallels, you can install Windows XP from an SP1 level CD. Boot Camp and VMware both require an SP2 level CD. Installing and updating from the SP1 CD was time- consuming, but perfectly uneventful. I run Windows Update every day and have not had a single update fail to install. For good performance, I did have to double the RAM to 2 GB.

A pleasant surprise was that I didn't have to call India to activate Windows under Parallels. Owing to flaky PC hardware, I've had to use the same CD many times, and had to call India the last two times I reinstalled on my PC. I can only guess that Parallels presents such a plain-vanilla face to Windows that activation doesn't trigger any alarms at Microsoft.

Of course, I exaggerated in saying the MacBook with Parallels is my best Windows computer. The virtual hard disk is noticeably slow, but otherwise, Windows runs surprisingly well. I use it daily to HotSync my Palm Tungsten T3. I use the SplashWallet set of apps on the Palm, and their Windows desktop software works better than the Mac version.


My comment was, I understand that Parallels doesn't use 3D video acceleration, which won't be of much concern unless you are playing games. That gathered some comments. Peter Glaskowsky said,

It does now. Not as well as a dedicated machine, but many 3D games have been verified as adequately functional. Parallels offers a list:


. png

Captain Morse said,

Technically accurate, but they have a different working definition of adequately functional than do I. To my taste performance is still deficient for any purpose beyond being able to say, "It works!"

Ron Morse

And Dan Spisak adds,

VMWare Fusion also has accelerated 3D support comparable to that in Parallels. I currently run Vista Ultimate on my Boot Camp partition on my MBP as well as inside VMWare Fusion inside of OS X.

-Dan S.

And once again, the marvel is not that it can be done reasonably well, but that it can be done at all: running Windows as an application in Mac OS-X. It can only get better over time.

Subject: Bricking Phones

Dear Jerry,

As you are probably aware, anytime a firmware update is installed on a device, hacked or not, there's always a risk that the device won't work. This happens to PCs, Macs and Windows Mobile cellphones as well. I have a Japanese Windows Mobile PHS phone and I've installed 3 firmware upgrades without any problems. However, there were always some users reporting that their phones wouldn't work after the firmware upgrade. So whether or not Apple deliberately designed an upgrade to brick unlocked iPhones, there would always be a certain small percentage of failures. So in a population of 1 million plus phones, even 99.9% of the upgrades went well, there would be a 1,000 failures. As the hackers and unlockers are probably amongst the most energetic and noisy users, 500 complaints on various internet sites would tend to reverberate quite a bit with Leo LaPorte, MacWorld Magazine, etc. leading the complainers (or whiners as Leo says).

If all of us were as calm as you are about these issues, we would probably better off. Being a fanboy myself, I wince at the antics of my fellow fanboys on these occasions.

Take care,

Bob Kawaratani


Subject: Photo scanning

Jerry, you were asking about this a while back, if I recall.

Kevin Kelly's "Cool Tools" blog just ran a review of this service:


The review is here:


The review itself is [was] appended. I have no other information, but it does look like a good deal.

. png

Thanks. It's a good article.

This discussion started with an inquiry from Managing Editor Brian Bilbrey:

Subject: Any current recommendations for Voice Recognition software?

SWMBO expressed an interest, and I haven't looked at the stuff in a long time. Any advice appreciated.


There were several comments worth recording:

Dragon is still the leader but it's pretty much stuck in suspended animation. It fails just enough as to be annoying over the long haul.

Furthermore, one of the biggest problems I had with it, that I think might represent the segment's biggest hurdle, is that I just didn't like the way my comments ended up when I dictated them. I find most people simply do not speak the same way they write. I ended up having to make so many corrections that, in the end, I just went back to faster typing.

Rich Heimlich

I haven't looked at it in a long time, either, but I wonder whether it would do Marcia any good. I played with several of the recognition packages some years ago. I had one of them, I forget whether it was ViaVoice or Dragon, trained very well. The recognition wasn't perfect, but it was very good.

Recognition accuracy wasn't the problem, though. Even if the recognition is perfect nowadays, I don't think I'd have much use for such software. I found that dictating material is very different from entering it on a keyboard. I tried to write a chapter using the recognition software, and it was simply unworkable. With the keyboard, I could jump around and do things non-linearly. With the recognition software, that wasn't possible, and I don't see any way that the software could be improved to satisfy that requirement.

If Marcia writes linearly she may find recognition software useful, but I suspect that she, like most people, writes non-linearly. I sure wish I could use such software. My hands would thank me.

Robert Bruce Thompson

And finally my own view:

I had Dragon trained to do pretty good voice recognition back when Dragon was still an active company with on-going product development. It worked quite well, and I could dictate with few errors. Then I discovered that I cannot write by dictating. I can type about as fast as I can think, and seeing what I have written seems to help. It turned out that trying to do production work by dictating took longer and required more editing than simply sitting down at the keyboard.

The one thing Dragon was good for was photojournalism. The original Dragon came with a small pocket solid state voice recorder. I carried it on trips with a camera, and I could come home and translate the notes into text. The text still took editing because I wasn't very careful about the way I did the notes.

I suspect that if you were in a big hurry carrying an Olympus WS-100 or similar device along with a camera, then feeding that output into Dragon, would be very useful. Among other things, you can sure read notes faster than you can listen to them. If I did a lot of photo journalism I would probably do that just to save the listening time.

Actually, if I did a lot of journalism, I would carry a decent camera and a good Tablet PC, probably the Lenovo Tablet with Windows XP and OneNote. The Tablet is itself a voice recording device, and the Windows TabletPC software is pretty good at handwriting recognition. I don't think a camera built into a Tablet is good enough for real photojournalism, but it's plenty good enough for note taking; carry a good camera (I have a Lumix which I like a lot) if you need publishable pictures, and dictate notes when you're in a hurry. The Olympus WS-100 has better voice quality but you can feed the voice records taken on a TabletPC into Dragon with about 90% as good a transcription capability.

If there's a better Windows voice transcription program than Dragon, I don't know of it.

Jerry Pournelle

Regarding Nathan Okun's inquiry in the October 8 mailbag about problems with Roadrunner and Windows Automatic Updates:

I don't KNOW the answer, but I suspect it is artifacts left over from Netzero. The last several years, to try to stem the defection to DSL/cable, the dialup ISPs started to provide some version of 5X accelerators to make it appear their connections were faster. These proxies would, among other things, compress pictures before they were downloaded so web pages would appear faster, etc. A side affect is that some programs like firewalls, iTunes, etc, could be adversely affected. It wouldn't surprise me if something was left behind, and is blocking Windows Update.

You might want to pass this on.

: Kevin Krieser

I don't know whether this would help his problem but the following is a good idea to do in any case.

If the Roadrunner install disc was used to set up the service all sorts of cruft was installed at the same time. Not one of these programs or settings are necessary for the service to run if the router was configured correctly. Uninstall everything that came with the disc and this will provide an improvement.

When setting up the roadrunner service this is the process that I recommend:

1) Plug everything in including the computer network cable into the router but don't insert the CD.

2) Call the help line and tell the person that you want to "manually set up the router". I have found the front line techs for the Roadrunner service to be several steps up from the standard help centers you get nowadays. But even if you do get a script reader Roadrunner does have a script for this process.

3) The process will take 10-15 minutes overall as there is a bit of typing and a couple of reboots.

4) You may need to configure email and your newsreader but everything else should work fine now.

Gene Horr

I have had Roadrunner since Time Warner bought out my cable company, and I have never had problems with Windows Automatic Updates, so I can't be of much help.

Ref: WX radios

From the Mailbag for September 24, 2007: The Honeywell [Weather Station] products are the first to offer emergency alert system as part of a personal weather-monitoring product.

I'm not sure Honeywell is first. I own two Radio Shack weather radios (one of them 20+ years old, the other 3 or 4 years old) that have the NWS emergency alert system. Both have earphone jacks. The older is jacket-pocket-size, while the newer, smaller one has a belt clip. Therefore, I would say they both qualify as "personal weather-monitoring products." They certainly predate Honeywell's claim.

BTW, how is this "just in time for hurricane season?" Hurricane season is half over, and the most active part may already be past for this year.

Regards, Edwin Frobisher

There's nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don't know. --Ambrose Bierce

Thank you for the correction.

Subject: Linux distributions

Yes, Ubuntu is a very good distribution and extremely popular. I really recommend trying it. At my office we have tend to use Suse and that is what I use on my workstation and my system at home. I find that it does a better job of just working with your hardware. I think SAX is the best X-Windows utility on the planet. It is GPL but only Suse seems to use it.

There is one Linux Distro that I feel doesn't get the publicity that it deserves. That is CentOS. CentOS is a free version of RedHat Enterprise edition. It really pushes stability over cutting edge but isn't out dated. The community behind it is extremely professional and helpful. I use it on servers but I have heard that the desktop is very good.

Of course the best part is all of them are free so if you don't like one try an other.


I still haven't set up a full Linux system here. I'll do that Real Soon Now, but for the moment I am still grinding out fiction.

Subject: DRM with us forever ?

Hi Jerry,

Regarding : I do say that [DRM] won't go away. [...] if DRM makes life difficult for paying customers, that's not good.

I realize that you don't want to go round in circles regarding DRM, but don't you see the contradiction here ? DRM by definition is about making (some) things harder than they would be without it (mostly various forms of interoperability). A product with DRM is *always* going to provide a worse customer experience for some subset of customers than the same product without the DRM. And it's always a better business plan to give your customers what they want.

If a business could save money by adding DRM to a product (thus making it cheaper), then maybe it could survive, but the fact is that DRM-laden products will always be more expensive and less functional. That's a recipe for failure in the marketplace.


What I meant was that it must not make life very difficult for paying customers. People will put up with some minor inconveniences in order to be on the side of the angels, but far too often DRM goes a great deal farther than that and drives people toward the Dark Side.

This is a matter of some importance to me, since I make a living from intellectual property. At the moment, protecting copyright of printed works is entirely different from protecting performance art. In the first place, while the performance art publishers like RIAA and MPAA are overly aggressive in protecting copyright, to the point of alienating the good will of the public, book publishers don't seem to be doing anything at all. One suspects that will change as publishers get more income from ebooks.

Another difference is that book publishers and authors have similar interests, and while authors may think of publishers as the class enemy, and we have P G Wodehouse's record

"He did not sheath the sword but got
A gun at great expense and shot
The human blot, who'd printed 'not'
When he had written 'now.'
He acted with no thought of self,
Not for advancement, not for pelf
But just because it made him hot
To think the man had printed 'not'
When he had written 'now.'"

But in fact print authors and publishers have recognizable common interests. Performance artists have different views. Some of them have said that since the publishers steal everything to begin with, they don't at all mind if fans rip off their works. On the other hand, there's some evidence that the publishing monopolies are being broken as the capital required to make and distribute professional copies of performances is, thanks to the computer revolution, affordable by most serious performance groups.

As I've said before, the problem isn't really insoluble. No, there will never be a perfect Digital Rights Management scheme, and any DRM will have some impact on user enjoyment. At the same time, perfection isn't required. What's needed in print anti-piracy is that when a reader seeks an electronic copy of one of my books, Google and other search engines show him the copy for sale by Baen books at or near the top of the list, rather than the pirate copy offered by well-financed places like Scribd. I trust my readers to pay me a couple of bucks for their book, so long as it doesn't require them to spend half an hour trying to figure out how.