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 22, 2007

We begin with the iPhone:

Subject: iPhone Bricking


I have long been a reader of your columns from the early Byte (Chaos Manor) days until now (I do not intend to stop!!). I am afraid I have been around computing for a long time, having been lucky enough to be around when the first microprocessors appeared when I started doing real work (after spending a long time in Physics and Computer Science getting a Ph D) with the Intel 4004 in 1972. I am a professional software engineer and have worked in everything from real time control systems to database systems. I have 9 machines at home running Linux, XP, Vista and have a couple of Macs (soon to be expanded by one) and I have no specific axes to grind about OS's, processors or anything else. I am a true technologist who is fascinated by "how things work". I only tell you this because I wanted to establish some credentials before I make some comments which may or may not be relevant to the iPhone controversy which rages at the moment.

The sad thing about the unbelievable howling around the iPhone ("bricking", battery replacement, single source service, cost etc.) is that Apple told us about it all BEFORE we either bought or upgraded it. They never pulled a fast one and, guess what, we had the option not to put down our money and buy one. I bought one, in fact I purchased two because my wife loved it and she wanted one as well. I knew what I was buying. I knew I could not replace the battery, I knew it was expensive and I knew I had to use the dreaded AT & T, latterly Cingular who were my most hated cellular provider. I had a choice, I was not hoodwinked in any way shape or form. You do not see me howling and I am grateful that Apple gave me $100 credit for each 'phone. I was not expecting it, I had made the choice to buy it and this was nice gift to me.

Now comes the issue of the "bricking". As a person with considerable experience of software, I think you may understand the issue here. Let's say you design a software product and release it to the world. Customers start to hack the software to make it do things it was not supposed to do. Now here is the quandary. When I provide an update to the software should I preserve those hacks or not. Why should I now try and work around those hacks to prevent them being disabled. Can you imagine the work that would be needed? I have an example. My company provides a software package that uses a database. Customer sometime hack the database to get information from it. When I provide an update I may change the database in some way, delete columns, add columns, change data formats etc. This, obviously, sometimes breaks the hacks. Am I supposed to ensure that my upgrade preserves all the mistakes, formats etc. on which those hacks depend? No. Of course not. I cannot possibly take into account what customers do to my products. I would go out of business tomorrow and I would never be able to deliver product improvements in a timely manner. The fact that the product may be better if the feature the customer "hacked" into to your product were made as part of the maintained software base is largely irrelevant, the fact is I cannot possibly be responsible for maintaining your hacked code as well as the product. Chaos would result.

What seems to be happening here is that a minority of people seem to be believe that if they howl loud enough they can either bring down the product or make it change. The latter is a reasonable consequence but the former is not. I suspect a good number of people could not care less about the noise about hacks being broken. However, here is the dangerous piece. A lot of people probably think that Apple instituted an update that destroyed their 'phone. I know at least two who do, until I let them know what was actually happening.

Believe you me, I am not a Apple maniac. I do like their products that actually work, unlike a lot of current Microsoft products which attempt to achieve the impossible. Apple succeeds because they control the complete environment and that cost more money. Microsoft is failing because they cannot control the environment in which their software operate. This leads me to my conclusion. Apple are successful because they try to ensure that their products work (and look pretty good too, one has to admit) by controlling the system as a whole. I have just made the decision to move my main computing needs to a Mac for one reason and one reason alone. My television viewing, photography hobby and music depend on the computer to work. PCs do not cut it, they are unreliable and just not dependable. I will keep PCs in my menagerie because they are fun to play with but I cannot rely on them.

So in conclusion, I see all this fuss about "bricking" iPhones as the pointless howling by people who feel they are owed more than they are and seem not to take any responsibility for their own actions (like buying it in the first place) and in so doing are drowning the technology in unneeded scare tactics. Good heavens, technology is struggling to meet our expectations without having a load of people try and destroy one of the nicest steps forward in UI design for years.

Sorry this was so long and I appreciate you giving me an ear to vent a little of my frustration, I remain an admirer and will continue to read your columns as long you will continue to produce them.


Peter M. Jackson

We recorded TWIT earlier today. (This Week in Technology) Leo Laporte, who has two iPhones (one hacked and one not) said he has decided he isn't going to use either one; they lack some needed features. In particular he wants some third party software that Apple doesn't provide and won't allow. Perhaps on the next iteration from Apple, because there are features he likes a lot.

I held off buying an iPhone, although there's a lot I too like about them. I'm glad you like yours. I remain convinced that the best advice remains:

Be not the first by whom the new is tried,
Nor yet the last to cast the old aside...

The iPhone has changed the way people think about their telephone, and Apple deserves a great deal of credit for it; but the present iPhone is more a late beta than a released product.

We did have some news and a comment by Peter Glaskowsky:

[MacWorld.com article link]

MacWorld reports:

> Apple, Orange to sell unlocked iPhone in France By  Jim Dalrymple 
> Apple and its wireless partner in France, Orange, will sell an 
> unlocked version of the iPhone, a spokeswoman for Orange confirmed to 
> the International Herald Tribune. The unlocked iPhone will carry a 
> premium price, although the companies did not say how much more it 
> would be. <snip>

The phone will also be available in a pre-bricked state for users who can't apply updates through iTunes.

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We also have some iPod data:

Subject: iPod Touch info for your online column


I bought an iPod touch (16G) a few days ago. I hooked it up to my laptop (Dell 620 Windows XP) and it could not communicate with it. I hooked it up to my Apple iBook G4 (OSX 10.3.?) - vintage 2003 or 2004 - and it could not communicate.

Finally, I hooked it to my desktop PC at home - custom built at a computer show - Pentium III (~850 MHz, about 4 years old, Windows XP) and it allowed me to name my iPod. After this, I could not find my iPod under Device on the left side of iTunes as Apples documentation described.

Another try on several of the above - including some problems due to the way my company set up my laptop and I continued to have problems even though I was following the advice on troubleshooting on the Apple website - note - the iPod touch comes with essentially no documentation other than a reference to some websites and some info on how to plug in cables that are obvious how to plug in.

Finally on the second day after talking to someone at work about it, I let the iPod charge for a while on the desktop PC, note - the iPod comes with no charger, it has to charge through a PCs USB cable. I found later there are some plug into the wall USB power adapters. After charging, iTunes did recognize the iPod touch and I was able to load it with MP3's from my collection.

Reading through Apples website, I found something interesting, the iPod touch requires OSX 10.4 or higher. Apple is using the iPod touch to force people to upgrade their OS.

Another way of saying this is the iPod touch works better with a PC than it does with a Mac. I wonder if Apple would like to use this in one of there advertisements about PCs vs. the Mac?

I thought you might be interested. You are welcome to use this in one of your future columns. In fact, I would like to figure out a way to convince Apple to provide an update to OSX version 10.3 so it is compatible with the iPod touch.

Scott Holland

I doubt that Apple listens much to my advice. I do find it interesting that a PC recognized - sort of - a partially charged iPod when the Mac did not, but I am not entirely astonished. It would be helpful if the Mac told you what the problem was, but didn't you get a warning that the iPod was charging?

I have several iPods, which I used with my PowerBook when I used that a lot. I find I don't spend much time listening to anything on the iPod, but I am looking into a source of books that I could listen to on the iPod while walking in the hills. I was able to listen to George Mosse's history lectures (link) and enjoyed those a lot, but since then I haven't used the iPod much.

I do believe that audio books will become more important in future, and the iPod will have done much to stimulate that. Thanks, Apple.

On Digital Rights Management


I was just reading the October 17 mailbag, and all of the comments about DRM struck a chord. In many ways, DRM is like any other security attempt, as far as the user experience is concerned. It has always been an art to add enough security to be adequate/useable without impeding the user experience or system performance in a significant way.

By definition, good security makes it difficult if not impossible for unauthorized access to occur while not impeding authorized access in any significant way. DRM should have the same goals. A secure system will ALWAYS be slower and more cumbersome/complex to use than a non-secure system. A functional DRM implementation will be the same.

Right now we have one DRM schema for software, one for e-books, another for 'performance art' (I like the term). Until we have one encompassing schema for establishing identity and authorizing access that makes DRM just one aspect of the overall security process, I don't think it will progress much farther than it is now. I haven't kept up, but back when Notes was still Lotus, it had a good start.

Keep up the good work.

Tim Neumann

Dedicated Byte reader from day one, and loyal Pournelle reader for about as long.

The only way DRM is going to work is through hardware. It has to be essentially invisible to legitimate users, while being difficult enough to evade to encourage most potential buyers to just pay and be done with it. I don't know how that can be done, but I do have some faith in Moore's Law and hardware capability.

It would probably be relatively easy to set up decryption capabilities in a device like an iPhone, and to keep records of what you have bought: if you lose that phone, you get new copies and a new key. The problem would be that you couldn't read the book on anything but that iPhone, and I am not sure how well that would sit with readers. Perhaps some means of importing the iPhone identity into other reader devices? I don't know how it would be done, but it should not be impossible.

The goal here is not protection from casual copying and sharing, but from commercial exploitation. So far all the DRM schemes I have seen are cures worse than the piracy disease. Still, hope springs eternal...

Another exchange among my advisors:

This is simply nuts.

Vista "Out of Memory" errors

Vista apparently can't be trusted to copy files. If you try to copy a large number of files with Vista, you'd better compare the source and destination directories. Apparently the problem is exacerbated by running Kapersky Labs AV, but it also occurs on other systems.

Robert Bruce Thompson

Alex Pournelle answered,

After reading the original article, I have to agree that this is a huge oversight on Microsoft's part, particularly if, as the article suggests, Vista SP1 doesn't fix the problem. The comments suggest the problem is in Windows Explorer, not the kernel, admittedly a distinction without a difference for most people.

(It also suggests Explorer is messed up in multiple ways, which we all knew--it's old code.)

Certainly MS has a huge chance to make this right, tout suite, if the situation is as described.


They'd better! The timing is awful, with the Leopard release. I can hardly imagine how this could have happened; Microsoft has developer tools that help detect memory leaks.

I will note, however, that a failure during a copy operation apparently announces itself, so users don't necessarily have to verify that every copy operation achieved the desired results.

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One more reason to wait for the Service Pack before adopting Vista.

Marty Winston has been around almost as long as I have. When he was with Tandy, he persuaded Isaac Asimov to try writing with a Radio Shack computer. Isaac, needless to say, loved it. Winston does a PR newsletter that is actually useful to many people in the press.


We eagerly encourage you to rethink two of your programs; you are (unwittingly, we believe) making it significantly more difficult & expensive for journalists to review your flagship software. The issue arises for those of us who evaluate on multiple platforms (desktop or notebook PCs with different levels of horsepower or vintage). The Rapid Response team at your PR agency is almost never rapid & is reluctant, whatever the reason, to send enough copies to cover multiple hardware platforms in our evaluations.

In the past, many of us have taken the fallback position of signing up for the Microsoft Partner Program and subscribing to its Action Pack; for a few hundred dollars a year, we could get enough licenses of current versions of Windows & Office to let us accomplish our reviews. Alas, that program is now imposing a continuing education requirement; we see no options in its catalog that are consistent with our needs or interests & every option consumes time.

Dear Microsoft, we see three alternatives for you. The first is to allow your PR agency's Rapid Response Team to more quickly respond with multiple-license-key copies of your software for those of us who test on multiple platforms. The second is to allow your Partner Program to grant a waiver of the continuing education requirement (on a good day, you may want to consider also waiving Action Pack subscription fees) for journalists. The third is to expect considerably less coverage about the capabilities of your current versions of Windows & Office.

We think that journalists have played a significant historical role in accelerating marketplace acceptance of Windows & Office as baseline platforms of choice for most computer users; we have been your allies, not your enemies. As we said, we don't believe these new difficulties were in any way intentional, but that doesn't make them any less real. Since we're not sure quite how to get to the right authority level to effect a change to your policies, we hereby authorize our readers & others to forward these comments to Microsoft & its PR agencies & advisors & to publish them; if we get word of any such change, we'll share it here. Contact: Martin Winston, NEWSTIPS (Novelty, OH) 4403388400; marty@newstips.com; http://www.Newstips.com

Marty Winston

I have not myself had this problem: Microsoft has always provided me with a number of copies of any software I needed to run on multiple platforms (and that happens a lot: at one time I had five different models of ThinkPad here)!

I am hoping this is just inattention on someone's part, not a new policy.

It began with Mary Jo Foley on ZDNET:

The mystery continues: Why are Windows machines automatically updating themselves? (ZDnet Blog link)

Alex Pournelle answered:

I just went through this very thing last week, and I have one possible explanation for what's happening. Here's the sequence:

* Overnight, or over the morning while you're doing other things, Windows downloads the updates in question.

* You start the machine, and immediately begin typing furiously since you're on deadline.

* The Vista "I need to reboot" dialog box comes up, immediately eats the keystroke telling it to go away.

* You leave the computer to get coffee.

* You come back, and the computer has automatically rebooted.

In my case, the computer came with Norton Anti-virus, which I assumed was the source of the pop-up. I never actually SAW the pop-up, because it was up and gone so quickly, and the ghost of its shape LOOKED to be the Norton dialog rather than a Windows one.

Also contributing: If you're using Office 2003, and you have unsaved text, Word pops up the familiar "Do you want to save changes? Yes/no/Cancel" box. In Windows XP, choosing "Cancel" would in fact cancel the reboot sequence, letting you save all your work and restart manually. Vista apparently changes this familiar feature--"Cancel" is seen as "don't save any of my work, and close Word without any further chance to reverse the auto-destruct sequence". Worse, somehow Word 2003 doesn't consider this a forced exit, so it doesn't even save auto-recover files!

You can imagine the blue language which followed this entire chain of events, and now I try to be more careful about saving my work--I thought I was careful before!

Alex Pournelle

Eric Pobirs added

The change in 'cancel' behavior is from a change in how ACPI is implemented. ACPI allows for apps to have a 'veto' to prevent undesirable suspends. For instance, during a lengthy rendering job. Office apps use it correctly but a hell of a lot of others do not and provided no means for users to control how they'd behave. This crapware was the cause of a lot of issues in XP, especially for laptop users. So Vista was given the ability to override this when the correct level of authority is invoked, which was obviously done with the forced updates.

This is very much like the Intuit situation. They ignored Microsoft's rules for app behavior laid down during the Win2K days and only produced compliant versions when Vista changed recommendations to enforced rules. Over the years, Microsoft has taken a lot of blame for what were the flaws of third party vendor products but they brought this upon themselves by allowing bad ISV behavior to go unopposed. There wasn't much that could be done to prevent that in the Win9x era but force of habit allowed it to go on much too long after everything was shifted to a code base that could better protect itself if told to do so.

Another issue is the downside of being hugely successful. Bad developers get away with bad designs because so much of the Windows market doesn't understand things well enough to make meaningful complaints or at least shift to a better developer's competing product. Folks like us will complain but the crapware makers won't care as long as their supply of suckers is plentiful. This will be a problem for any open platform that has a huge base of non-technical users to exploit.

Eric Pobirs

Which probably explains the phenomenon, but I'm not sure what to do about it other than be more careful when we sit down to our keyboards.

Welcome back to the fold!

Subject: Bootcamp, SP2, et al

Dr. Pournelle,

Wow, is it ever great to have found your website. Believe it or not, I was re-reading your book "The Users Guide to Small Computers" this evening and decided to go looking for any of your old Byte columns. Lo and behold, you have continued your articles to this very day. I subscribed with all haste, and have been having a grand time catching up! Thanks!! (yes, I have been away a while, just retired from 25 years in the USAF...)

Anyhow, I saw some writings about your move toward the Mac (A move I am making now, and recommending for my clients, after experiencing Vista...). One thing I did to make the bootcamp requirement of a SP2 windows disk MUCH easier was to use a program called Nlite (http://www.nliteos.com/index.html). This little gem takes your Windows CD, SP2 (download or disk copy) and crunches them together to make a SP2 install disk. Voila, Bootcamp is happy and so is the user. Nlite lets you do all kinds of other nifty things, like make automated setup disks and the like, but I haven't tried that as yet. Just thought you might like to know that.

As much as I'd like to waste your time on reminiscing about the old days (I miss CP/M), I'll settle myself with giving your books a re-read and catch up on your adventures on the site. Thanks so much for keeping that up, you've always been the guy who makes sense of it all! And I suppose I should thank you for all the great fiction over the years... Bravo! (My still favorite book is The Mote in God's Eye.)

Be well, and thanks again

Bill Castello
"Gimme that ring, ya hairy-footed hobbit varmint! Gimme that ring or I'll blast ya!" -- Yosemite Nazgul.

I have to confess that I do not miss CP/M. Somehow, PIP B:=A:*.* does not generate nostalgic tugs to my heart... But thanks, and welcome back.

I do intend to get a new Mac one of these days, but I have to admit that my ThinkPads are working very well, and XP is stable. Now Vista is another matter...

I do not often run press releases, Even more rare is a press release for a product I probably won't try; but I can't resist this one because of the comment I got when I sent a copy of this to the advisors to see if anyone wanted to review this:

-----Original Message-----
From: Tiffany
Sent: Thursday, October 18, 2007 1:46 PM
To: jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Subject: REVIEW UNITS AVAILABLE: Saitek's new Photo Mouse--a great holiday gift!

Saitek's Photo Mouse functions as a unique and compact picture frame for parents, pet-owners or anyone wishing to display a favorite photo and personalize their work-station. In order to personalize the mouse, users can print out a favorite photograph, cut it to the right size using the included template and secure it to the mouse by closing the cover. When the Photo Mouse is plugged into a PC or a Mac, the photo is illuminated by a white spotlight.

If you are interested in reviewing this mouse for your upcoming holiday coverage, please respond to this email with your shipping address and phone number. You can check out an image of the Saitek photo mouse by accessing this link: image link.

Thank you,


One of the advisors replied:

Every time you gaze upon the distorted image of your loved ones, every time you feel the pain and awkwardness of using a mouse that was designed primarily to be a picture frame... you'll be reminded of how much you like the Microsoft mouse you were using before you got this thing as a Christmas gift. And, of course, you can't get rid of the thing without making someone cry.

I confess this is a bit unfair. Some people may actually enjoy using this device. I guess.

I found this interesting exchange in my advisors conference. It began with a diatribe by Rich Heimlich:

Can someone please shut this guy up?

Filmmaker Eli Roth is furious his movie Hostel: Part II has become the most downloaded film of all time. The horror director claims that not only was it downloaded by millions of people, but in countries where piracy is particularly widespread, the film didn't even have a theatrical release. He says, "I'm furious. Here's the thing: It's real money. People say, 'Oh, you can't get mad at people downloading.' Well then, when are you supposed to get mad? If you don't speak out against it now, then when?" And Roth has pinpointed his target movie audience as being the very persons responsible for the majority of downloads. He adds, "The audience that's specifically doing (the downloading) is 17, 18, 19 - it's the college kids, and that's my audience. If the fans are going to get pissed (at me), they're going to get pissed. I don't want those fans."

This is the second time in a few months I've read about this very same guy over the very same argument.

I average going to the movies once a week. I wasn't even aware there was a Hostel: Part 1 and had never heard of this guy. None of my young friends have either. I managed to catch his Part 1 on DirecTV and it was beyond terrible. It was concerning. This guy is sick. The movie is the type that if people did know about it, the FBI would have to keep him under their thumb 24/7.

What gets me is he's forgotten the simple parental rule that it's only real money when it's in your real pocket. Until then it's not yours. It also doesn't occur to this guy that his movie didn't do well because it stunk. Instead it's just a morbid curiosity that people are okay with downloading but not into enough to pay for. Sorry Eli.

If you get a chance to see these movies, avoid them at all costs and if anyone recommends either of them to you, call the police.

Rich Heimlich

Eric Pobirs, who knows far more than you'd expect about a great number of things, replied:

But the first 'Hostel' actually was a big money maker, relative to its cost. I was just having a conversation about the genre earlier today, as an example of something that I would once have thought a worthy purchase but no longer. This sort of thing can be inexpensive to produce for the kind of ROI it pulls in. If it had come out in the era when I was in the target age range I'd likely have been there along with my friends. Or perhaps not, considering that they've upped the ante considerably on the intensity of the slasher genre since then.

Plenty of people thought seeing the original 'Dawn of the Dead' would make us insane killers back then but it didn't seem to do the trick. What many of the aggrieved missed was that the awfulness of these movies could be as enjoyable as the action. An R-rated Mystery Science Theater 3000. I remember one great moment, in a Friday the 13th entry IIRC, where a young couple has just made the beast with two backs, thus assuring their imminent demise. While the guy goes off to the restroom, the girl is left lying on the bed and in close-up the skin of her chest is oddly fuzzy, like a worn sweater. My friend and I said, almost in unison, "Under the bed," since an instrument of mayhem was surely about to pop up through the badly faked chest. Sure enough, it was some sort of harpoon. In later conversation, we wondered if, since the girl was apparently a Muppet, did the guy have friction burns?

Saw a zillion of those slasher flicks back then but nobody I knew took up murder as an occupation. At least none who weren't already suspected of leaning that way. (Of course, we didn't have GTA back then, so maybe that saved us.)

I've heard such complaints from several directors and producers but they always seem to be about movies that kinda stunk all on their own. People who liked 'Hostel' were less enthused for its sequel and word of mouth killed it as much as downloads.

Several years ago, while I was part of a Blackberry upgrade project at the Sony studios, I was working on an executive's Blackberry while she watched a video of M. Night Shyamalan claiming that the box office for 'Signs' had been severely damaged by the availability of the movie online. This struck me as preposterous because I knew that I had chosen to skip seeing that movie due to the idiotic subject matter (crop circles) and even stupider revelation that the aliens were allergic to water, yet chose to come to a planet lousy with the stuff, inhabited by people mostly made of the same noxious substance.

Surely I wasn't the only one who didn't want to see a movie that took crop circles seriously. Did every movie that opened that week do badly due to piracy or was it just the one with the less than promising premise? To paraphrase Ghostbusters, yeah, it's a sign alright. It says, don't pay to see this movie!

Eric Pobirs

In the end I still want the debate to seriously factor in the "it's not in your pocket so it's not yours" view. I hate it every time any of these entities come out and say, "The industry LOST forty-million dollars." Really? You had it in a truck and it went missing? You cannot lose something you did not have in the first place. I'll be right with them in their corner when these thieves show up to steal the truck at gunpoint.

Rich Heimlich

Which is the important point: you have to establish that someone would have bought the product before you can claim damages for loss of the sale. This is one of the main problems with using suits for damages as a means of protecting intellectual property.

I don't really have an answer to this. I do know that as ebook sales grow - electronic rights to my older novels are at present worth advances of thousands of dollars, and it looks as if they'll earn out - I have more to worry about. In particular, if someone looks up one of my books on line, I want the first hit from the major search engines to be Baen or some other legitimate publisher ready to sell a copy, not a pirate web site wanting to give it away!