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.

November 5, 2007

We begin with two comments about Vista:

Subject: Vista Problems? Not here.


I've read with interest about problems with Vista. I'm a very satisfied Vista user since last fall's RC2 beta, transitioning in February 2007 to the store bought Vista Ultimate. It is the most stable, trouble free OS platform I've used - starting with Windows 3.1.

My system is homebuilt using an Intel P965 motherboard, Core2Duo processor, Sapphire graphics card, 2GB of Kingston memory, Hauppauge TV Tuner and a couple of Seagate hard drives. We occasionally turn off or restart the system, preferring to put it in "sleep" mode when not in use.

We're heavy users of Office 2003, Photoshop Elements 5, Firefox, Homesite 4.5 with occasional AutoCad LT 2006 use sprinkled in.

I have tried without success to crash the system, running multiple instances of programs simultaneously with Photoshop Elements, Premiere Elements and AutoCad LT crunching away among others.

I recall rebooting only once because of a system hang and did reinstall the OS due to Microsoft's Beta 2.0 OneCare fouling the system.

Michael Czap

Arlington, Texas

You certainly started with first class components. My Vista system is much the same as yours, except that I have more memory. For the most part I have no problems; but then something odd will happen. Recently I had a weird networking problem: I could see one of my Lenovo laptops, but I could not connect to it. As reported in previous columns, sometimes things will hang, particularly when I try to insert an illustration in a Word document. In both cases, restarting the system fixed the problems.

Clearly you are not alone in having a good Vista experience. For the most part, so have I, but just as I begin to feel good about it, something else comes up.

Subject: Vista stability/memory leaks

I know everyone's experience with Vista will be different, and my experience has had its low points, but "If you run Vista, restarting daily seems indicated," seems a bit extreme. I reboot my Vista desktop for updates only. My Vista laptop suspends and resumes half a dozen times each day - again, I reboot for updates only. Both systems are used rather heavily for image editing and programming.

Now, don't get me started on the confusing mess of Vista networking. It's taken me months to get a single drive share working properly - and who knows, it might go south on me again tomorrow.


Oh, I can't really argue that everyone must reboot daily. On the other hand, it's good preventive maintenance. To this day I do not understand my problems with the system hanging when I try to browse after trying to insert an illustration into a Word document, but it does happen, and rebooting takes care of it.

Concerning Harry Erwin and Leopard:

Subject: Leopard


Re: Harry Erwin's slowness

Assuming his Macs are safely above Apple's minimum requirements, Time Machine should not take that long.

1) Make sure Spotlight is told NOT to scan constantly changing backup drive.

2) If you are running any virtual machines, their big file(s) needs to be excluded from Time Machine or it will eat backup drive.

3) Most Mac folks have decided that Norton should not be on their Mac systems and it certainly should not be monitoring the backup drive. Norton might be OK for Windows system if you are running that on your Mac. Norton AV for Mac hasn't been updated in years.

This link mentions a 4-apple rating in 2003. NAV 10 cites a 2005 rating.

4) If you have email in a program that stores everything in one big file, that file will be repeatedly copied.

5) Backup drive must be bigger than the volume Time Machine is backing up. USB drives are slowest, FireWire 400 is better; FW 800 or eSATA are best if your Mac supports it.

6) If any backup is to network drives, gigabit Ethernet switches are a good idea.


Dan Spisak was over to go through the surplus items here at Chaos Manor and brought his Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro with Leopard. I decided two things: I really want to update my PowerBook to the new OS, and I really want to get these books done so I can get a new Mac and give it the attention it deserves. The new Macs are cool.

We have a lot on discussion of ebook readers. Begin with a comment on Peter Glaskowsky's hardware review:

Subject: eBook readers


Re. the Sony Reader that PNG recommends (mailbag 29/10/07); I think it's probably worth pointing out that at the time of writing, the Sony is only available and supported in the US, and non-US residents have to jump through all kinds of hoops to buy current eBooks (i.e. non-public domain) from Sony's online Connect store, which requires a US-registered credit card and is Windows-only.

If you're outside the US, then the iRex Iliad and just-shipping Bookeen Cybook3 are the only e-ink readers available and supported (full warranty etc...) and both directly support (Amazon-owned) Mobipocket DRM.

Hope this helps clear things up a little.

Peter Millard.


Continuing last week's discussion, Robert Bruce Thompson and Rich Heimlich had this exchange:

I disagree, at least in part, with your comment that "I believe that the real break in electronic book publishing will come when millions of people routinely carry a telephone that is Good Enough as an ebook reader."

That's true to the extent that commuters will use their smart phones to read e-books on the train, but it's not an ideal solution no matter how good the smart phone. I remind you of our discussion about the Olympus WS-100 voice recorder. The reason it's worth carrying the WS-100 separately is that it's a dedicated device that performs its function better and with less fumbling than a device such as an MP3 player that supports voice recording as a secondary function.

I suspect the same will be true of ebook readers. If I'm reading e-books regularly, I want something with a much larger screen, one large enough to replicate a printed page full size. Color would be ideal, but monochrome e-paper is fine until color becomes affordable and requires little enough power to allow decent battery life. (I suspect LED backlighting could accomplish that now.)

I also want something that's thin, no heavier than a typical hardback book and preferably lighter. And it should accept regular alkaline or rechargeable AA or AAA cells. I don't want to have to stop reading because my battery dies, and I don't want to carry around a spare battery with my reader. I would also like the reader to be Wi-Fi capable and to have a reasonable speaker.


This is a typical argument of dedicated device vs. real world use issues.

The iPod is currently a popular device but I don't know too many people who believe it will continue on in its current form indefinitely. This is one device, especially with respect to audio, that goes away from a dedicated device the smaller it gets. People do not want to leave the house with 20 dedicated devices.

My problem with my phone as an e-book reader is that it's just not the right size. When I can get an e-book reader on a thin sheet of plastic that I can carry around then I'll be intrigued. I want larger type (the older I get), nice pictures--the whole experience and a phone won't do that UNLESS it can do it in some sort of holographic way.

This particular issue has inherent use barriers that keep it from being right for cell phones of the foreseeable future in my view.

I will point out that I stopped carrying around an organizer (paper, then electronic) a while back and now just use my phone. While the dedicated organizers were better they just weren't worth the hassle. It might also help if I could stop carrying keys. That would make room for one more item to carry.

Rich Heimlich

Don't get me wrong. I agree with you that smart phones will probably be the technology that gets e-books into the mainstream, because people already buy smart phones for purposes other than reading e-books. But I do think that once e-books become mainstream most people will read them on dedicated readers rather than tiny cell phone screens.

All of this, of course, assumes that e-book publishers aren't foolish enough to insist on DRM. If I can transfer an e-book easily between my phone and my reader (or better still just copy it to both devices), I'll buy lots of e-books. If there's DRM that prevents me from using e-books on both devices, or even makes it a bit difficult to do so, I won't be buying those e-books.

And, of course, if I like an e-book, I'll give a copy of it to a friend or friends. Some of them will like it as much as I do, and will end up buying it and other titles from that author. Which means that, admittedly unintuitively, having 100% of e-books paid for is a disaster for authors, while having only 10% of them paid for is a bonanza for authors.

Robert Bruce Thompson

Dan Spisak comments

The thing is however, cellphones have a tendency to be early adopters for new display technologies. With newly announced color e-paper displays its entirely possible cellphones might begin to use them once they get to a sufficently Good Enough(tm) point. Perhaps not as a replacement for the primary display, but perhaps as a secondary screen.

-Dan S.

Yes, but a cell phone display will never be big enough to use as a primary e-book reader.

Perhaps, as Heinlein and Pournelle have speculated, at some point in the near future we'll all have rid ourselves of our tiny cell phones and will instead wear holsters with a book-size personal computer. That would, admittedly with a size penalty, do everything anyone needs to do. We'd use it for reading e-books, communicating, searching, as a personal organizer, and whatever else.

It'd have a large, full-color display, built-in camera, microphone, and speakers, high-speed wireless connectivity, and so on. If someone telephones us, we'll answer the call on that device, since it will be our only phone whether we're at home or at work. We'll see our caller in full color and full-motion video, just as they'll see us. It will be voice activated, and require no keyboard. It will record if we ask it to. The unit will be smart enough to enforce whatever privacy policy we've put in place, so for example, video might be disabled except with friends, not to mention when we're in the bathroom.

Robert Bruce Thompson

I note that there is considerable excitement over the Google Phone, although no one knows what it will look like or what features it will have. Leo Laporte speculates that since Google has most of the really smart programmers now, a Google phone will have to be Way Cool.

For my own part, I am convinced that between technology and competition - the cell phones are getting better and easier to carry with more features. I already have a cell phone that would do to read books on; it's just not all that great as a cell phone unless I am willing to carry it in a shoulder bag with a Bluetooth instrument making my left ear flash blue light every now and then. Bob Thompson is correct: I carry both my small cell phone and the Olympus WS-100 digital audio recorder. I also carry an Executive ScanCard card holder and a pen. The phone I don't carry would do all those and take up less space, but I'm not really tempted to swap - yet.

I am also convinced that the day will come when we will all have some device that incorporates many functions - still and video camera, voice recorder, notebook with both keyboard and pen inputs, GPS, and book reader, and, oh yes, a telephone. The device will be as ubiquitous as a wallet. When that happens the paperback business is dead.

Francis Hamit on copyright:

Subject: Regarding the October Column Part 3/3

Dear Jerry:

I actually do read these. Most of the time I have nothing to say because I just am not up on the fine details of computing. Copyright is another matter. That I've studied to my profit. You might add that copyright reform (which would include software) should include abolishing the current copyright registration system. Allegedly, this creates "public notice" of ownership and warns off infringers. In reality it actually creates a very uneven playing field and encourages infringement of copyrights.

Registration is a prerequisite to actually filing a lawsuit against an infringer. Without it you have no standing. Moreover you can only sue in Federal District Court, which costs thousands of dollars in filing and service fees. That means that you have to have a very large case to file at all. You also have to have at least $75,000 in potential damages. There are no "small claims" courts for this, although the Register of Copyrights, Mary Beth Peters, has suggested that other courts be permitted to assume jurisdiction in smaller cases. That would require rewriting the law. Most nations do not have a registration system. Most allow lower courts to handle these cases.

You have mentioned American writers' organizations in this context. They have proven to be pretty toothless, if not downright corrupt and compliant with the desire of Big Media to abolish the entire idea of copyright, except when it protects their interests. The Author's Licensing and Collecting Society in the UK has proven to be very effective on these issues. They are the people who created the Public Lending Right for libraries, which is also now in the European Union. These payments won't make you rich, but many a writer over there credits their survival as writers to their existence. It's an idea we could use here. (I base this on trying to reserve best selling novels at my local library. The waiting list often has fifty or more names on it, which is that many copies that won't be sold to those anxious to read it.) We could use a version of the ALCS here, but they do take American members. I joined last year.

Copyright cases are always about the money. Class actions don't work here, except as a way to enrich lawyers. One on one cases are usually impossible unless you have lots of infringements against one offender. Infringers are pretty bold, especially online. You may recall my essay on Copyright Small Claims Courts for Columbia Journalism Review last year. It was infringed by the usual suspects within a few days of publication.


Francis Hamit

Francis has managed to recover considerable amounts from copyright infringers of his non-fiction works and articles, and was one of the few to opt out of the Author's Guild settlements.

Meanwhile the Science Fiction Writers of America, having fallen back to regroup, is restarting its efforts to act for members in electronic piracy cases. This story is nowhere near finished.

Over on my web site I announced a "contest" for candidates who belong in the next Inferno by Niven and Pournelle. And of course we have had a "Comcast watch" here...

Subject: HELL = Comcast Email Woes

Comcast took over the Time Warner Road Runner broadband service in Houston and has forced everyone to change their email address.

You can imaging the weeping and knashing of teeth, especially for small business owners who have business cards, marketing literature, etc. All with @houston.rr.com

Nobody at comast has come up with a good reason why they are dropping the houston.rr.com domain name ... probably it's a cost save. They obviously didn't bother to consult their thousands of new customers in Houston.

This type of stupid business decision inflicts a medium amount of pain on a HUGE number of people. It's not as bad as murder and rape, but I would put the Comcast CEO in one of the upper levels of hell if you still have room in your book.

See also this petition link.