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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

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

November 27, 2007

Last week we had a note on ThinkPads from Jeff Witt, the Lenovo Director of Public Relations...

Subject: Thinkpad Screens

Jerry :

Mr. Witt's note to you about ThinkPad screens is, to use a polite expression, disingenuous. None of the T-61 series, the most up-to-date of the T series, are available in a "standard" screen layout/size. The T-60 series, which one would expect will be shortly discontinued, come with two options in "standard" screen, but many more widescreen options.

When I purchased my latest ThinkPad, I opted for the T-60 because of the "standard" screen but the salesperson was most clear that no further ThinkPads would come with that option. Try scanning the www.thinkpad.com site for laptops with "standard" screen formats. It's difficult to even get to the T-60 offerings.

As for the fit and finish of the T-60, it's just not what my A-21, A-31, or T-40 were built with from the factory regardless of the factory's location. There are less than well closed seam areas with edges that snag, the jacks and ports are obviously not of the same quality, and the overall feel of the machine is simply not quite as good as its predecessors. It's still "good enough", but I fear that this could be my last ThinkPad after years of loyalty to the brand. I've outfitted offices in a number of locations over the years with IBM ThinkPad equipment, and recommended it as "best choice" to scores more, so I'm not speaking through my hat on the subject.

While widescreens are just spiffy for watching DVD movies, those of us who _work_ with our notebook computers need more lines of script visible when we're working at the computer. Even spreadsheets start to get rather cramped when the top line or two of the spreadsheet are frozen to use as columnar heads, and then one can only read a smaller number of lines below. The alternative of using teeney-tiny fonts to fit more lines is simply unworkable for serious business tasks performed for hours.

But those widescreens sure do work well as DVD players, eh? Assuming, of course, that one buys a ThinkPad notebook computer just to watch movies on flights or in hotel rooms. That wasn't a part of the ThinkPad marketing in times past when they were aimed at the business sector. A lot has changed with Lenovo ownership, even if there are still core personnel from the IBM era working for the new owner.

Cherish your T-42, Jerry, as it's likely going to be the last or nearly the last ThinkPad notebook that you'll own with that splendid set of features and performance.

And why do I keep listing that screen type as "standard" in quotation marks? Well, with the current crop of laptops in the marketplace, it's not entirely correct to list the older screen aspect ratio as standard any longer.


John P.

I certainly do cherish my T42p. It has had two trips to the warranty center, both painless (DHL pickup and delivery, only a couple of days away from home) and is in excellent shape. Having said that, I have no dislike of the Titanium Z61t, and I prefer it to other laptops except the T42p; but I do greatly prefer a taller screen.

The most important thing is that if you're going to use an external monitor with the new wide screen laptops, be sure you check the native resolutions.

We have a lot of mail on the new Amazon Kindle. Both Peter and Roland have got new Kindles, so I'll have more to say in next week's column. Meanwhile the mail:

Subject: Kindle

I'm eagerly awaiting your review and thoughts on the Amazon Kindle, not to mention an increasing selection of your works in the Kindle store. But I couldn't wait and bought one myself, despite a long- standing personal rule of avoiding first generation hardware. While the Kindle is not perfect, I do think it's a game-changer and well worth the price for me. It's a book display that carries a library of my documents and has a built-in, goes with me anywhere bookstore.

Also there are a couple of misconceptions floating around out there, that you have to pay Amazon to get your files on the Kindle or that you can't put PDFs on. You only pay the 10 cent charge if you email a file for conversion to Kindle format and want it delivered wirelessly back o your Kindle. You can actually have a converted file sent back to your PC for free and load it onto the Kindle via USB cable or SD card. PDFs I have converted all worked fine. You can also avoid the entire emailing thing by downloading the free Mobipocket Creator software. The program can import files in various formats including PDF and output in an ebook format that Kindle reads. Cool!

Also, although there is the offer to "subscribe" to some blogs for a fee of $0.99 to $1.99 a month, the Kindle has a built-in if crude web browser and free Internet access over Sprint's high-speed EVDO network. No need to subscribe and pay - just go to the blogs directly.

Another overlooked feature -- self-publishing made easy. You can upload a work to Kindle and set a price. Amazon makes it available as an ebook and gives you 35% of the price you set.

-Aaron Pressman

I sent Mr. Pressman a PDF copy of The Strategy of Technology. Here is his report:


I imported the PDF file you sent me into Mobipocket creator ("Publisher's edition") software. That took maybe 3 minutes. Then I used the "build" command to make an ebook in the .prc format. That took practically no time at all. Then I connected my Kindle with a USB cable and copied it over. It reads fine. I attached 4 pictures of the ebook on the Kindle.

In picture 1, you can see the opening and across the top of the screen is a list of the 10 chapters and the table of contents. In picture 2, I moved the selection dot up to the first line and I can select a chapter. In picture 3, I jumped to Chapter 4. And the table of contents is seen in picture 4.

Cheers and have a happy turkey day!!


I omit the pictures, but they look fine. The links to the footnotes work, too.

Subject: Buchanan and Kindle (surreal!) -


I'm sure you'll be getting plenty of traffic on the content of this book, so I'll only point out one glaring bit of lunacy:


Hardcover (real book) price: $17.13

Kindle (bits over a wire) price: $20.76

Conjecture: People who forked out $400 for the reader are now in a position of having to buy content to put into it. They have one source for that content, and must pay whatever that source charges.


Given that it's easy to convert from pdf to a format that Kindle can eat, and new conversions are happening all the time, I suspect that the price will be kept reasonable. Regarding having Amazon do conversions:

You can have the converted documents sent back to your PC and there is no charge. You get them onto the Kindle via a USB cable or SD card. You can also download the free Mobipocket Creator (Publisher's edition) and convert all the documents you want on your own computer.

I've done this with a bunch of files, including PDFs that had illustrations and charts, and it worked fine. As noted in my previous replies to you, the conversion did not automatically bring over embedded web links in a PDF file.

On the broader question of the Kindle

- clear, crisp screen even in sunlight
- 90,000 books available for instant purchase
- free EVDO wireless access (!)
- battery lasts for ages (I've spent about 10 hours with my Kindle, wireless on, and battery gauge shows over half full)
- easy to load my Word, Web page and PDF files using free conversion software
- expandable memory with SD card
- no need for a PC or PC software. Books can be loaded wirelessly. Or hook the Kindle up to your computer via USB cable and it just shows up as a fully accessible removable drive
- Audible audio book compatible too
- Amazon backs up all your purchases for on-demand downloading at anytime
- publishing platform open to all, set your own retail price, Amazon pays author 35% of retail on all sales.

- too easy to hit page forward button
- browser mangles complex web pages


And finally

Subject: Amazon Kindle review comment

Mr. Pournelle,

In response to your article about the Amazon Kindle I would like to point out a French product called the Cybook.

Its a tad expensive to my taste, but the same as the Kindle otherwise. No DRM. PDFs are supported natively. They are not using a set of distribution channel partners. There was a US group of people running a website to import a bulk quantity of them (google it for their forum). I couldn't see any downside to the product itself other than the $$ and the lack of formal distribution channel. Oh, and selling the wife on it!

I enjoy reading Chaos Manor now and again. Thanks for all the great books over the years. Looking forward to more too.

Patrick Cannon

We have not heard the last of Kindle. I think it is about one iteration from the device that will make serious inroads into the paperback publishing business.

While the prices of textbooks are artificially inflated - textbooks are assigned by teachers who often write the books or trade favors with those who write them - the Kindle, or for that matter any good laptop - would be a superior way to distribute textbooks and keep them up to date while keeping production costs, and thus prices, low. One of these days the education industry will be forced to admit that. Perhaps in early 2019?

On the Mac OS:

Subject: RMA for the Leopard MacBook Pro

Hi Jerry,

I'm sending it back because 2 weeks of trials could NOT get the networking to find the Work Group on the XP Pro with printer on my LAN.

Nor could AppleCare. "We don't support non-USB printers". (there DOES seem to be a driver for the Brother MFC-8500 on the Leopard)

smb to the IP of the XP Pro machine WOULD let me mount c:\ etc. - just not the attached printer)

Average wait time for either 1st level screening or Product Support at AppleCare is just under an hour, no matter what they say.

If Work Group is a problem, what else that I don't anticipate now is also a problem? (back to the reliable tablet with OneNote)

Most of the flash-in-the-face graphics can be customized so the interface is a bland information appliance.

Joe O'Laughlin

Sorry to hear that. I am still planning on (1) upgrading my PowerBook to Leopard, and (2) getting a MacBo0ok Pro. But just now my plate is full enough with other work.

Good News:

Subject: IBM Clicky Keyboards - New Manufacturer Exists

Dear Jerry,

I discovered that Unicomp Keyboard Products apparently bought or licensed the patent to IBM's the collapsing spring key design.

So now you can essentially buy newly manufactured IBM keyboards that are indistinguishable from the original (and they are also available in black!).

The classic 101/104 form factor is available at the link below:


* * *

A more "svelte" version with TrackPoint is available at the link below (the tradeoff: the stylish svelte keyboard lacks pen/pencil holder north of the function keys; also, the TrackPoint device does not have quite the same feel/control as the original IBM TrackPoint -- so perhaps Unicomp was only able to license the keyboard feel but not the TrackPoint feel, which is fine...the keys are far more important):


* * *

I bought one of each; both are compatible with either Windows or Mac machines (they are USB keyboards). Keyboard feel is absolutely the SAME as the original IBM "M" type clickies! And they feel as rugged, too.

a reader since the early 80's:

Lucas Huszar

I am glad to hear this. I will get one, and if I like it, at least three more: for this writing system, for the system in the Monk's Cell, for the communications machine, and one to keep at the beach house. Switching from one keyboard to another can be a pain for fast typists.

Subject: November 20 column feedback

Hi Jerry,

I was an avid reader of your Byte columns throughout the late 80's & early 90's. When Byte ceased printing your column was really the only thing I missed. I was SO glad to have heard you on the TWiT podcast recently, and to find out that your column was still going strong on the web. I suspect many hours will be spent catching up on the last few years :-)

I just finished reading your latest column (November 20) and there were a couple of things that really hit home.

First, the forced ads, previews & other junk on most DVD's these days. It aggravates me to no end as well and I find it particularly ironic when I'm forced to watch an ad telling me not to steal movies. I guess the movie studios think it's okay to steal my time to tell me not to steal their movies.

Secondly, in regards to your Outlook problem. I used to deal with the same issue - large PST files, since I archive a great deal of the email I have received over the last 15 years or so of being on the net. After a blue screen crash one time (on XP mind you, not Vista) I lost the file completely. I had a backup that was only a couple of days old but I still lost several important messages.

The solution I chose was to use a hosted Microsoft Exchange service for my email instead of a POP3 account. The email is all stored on the server so if I ever have a crash at my end, it's just a matter of syncing it all back up and I'm back to work.

Plus, I can sync it with my Smartphone, multiple PCs and even my Macbook Pro and a change on any one system is reflected on them all.

I use Sherweb.com for the Exchange account, but there are plenty of other hosts that offer it as well. It means paying for a dedicated email service, but I'd rather pay a little extra for the peace of mind compared to dealing with my ISP email account.

Reading your column has taken me back a few years - keep up the good work!

John Lenaghan

Actually, once I got past the reorganization of my .pst files, Outlook works much better. I reorganized the .pst files, let Outlook compact all the files, then let VOPT defrag the disk; and everything works well.


Subject: Outlook Command Line Switches


Outlook has a number of command line switches. It always has but the number keeps growing with each new version.


You once complained that the issue with people telling you to host your own mail wouldn't go away. Yet your complaining about Outlook won't go away even though you know the answer to the problem which is to host your own mail on your own server. So every time you complain about Outlook in your column I'm going to send you an e-mail saying:


Dean Peters

Which is a bit more drastic, and I don't think I want to do that. I have to say that Outlook has been behaving itself since I did the reorganization of the pst files.

On Digital Rights Management:

Subject: DRM

I've been reading the column for decades, since the 286 was state-of-the-art....

There is a DRM that works, price the product low enough that it's not worth the risk of stealing it.

For example, would you rather they sell 1000 copies of your book, where the publisher charges $240 a copy, and you get $120 of that (there are 4,999,000 cracked copies are around ), or sell 5,0000,000 copies for $1 where you get $0.50 per copy. The key with downloadable media is extremely high volume, when I can go to a publishers website, order a copy for say $1 on my Paypal account. then download it immediately, and dump it to my reader, that's worth more then getting a cracked potentially damaged or infected free copy. When the reader is done with it, they may just throw it away, if they want to read it again, just buy it again, why spend $500 on a big hard drive to keep copies of books around that I may not read again.

Music is the same, to the customer what is a song worth? How about a movie? If you price it low enough, people will buy it rather then get an illegal copy.

The problem they have is that providers price electronic copies the same as physical copies sometimes they even cost more, and customers are smart enough to know that physical copies require shipping, manufacturing costs, retailing costs, handling costs, and with those costs removed, and not getting the physical object to boot, it should cost much less. For example if I perceive that a $5 paperback costs $4 to get to the point I buy it, then an ecopy should cost $1.....

The Wogster
Cycling and Photography blog

I agree that selling material at low prices and making it convenient to buy it is generally preferable to Digital Rights Management, which usually makes life more difficult for paying customers than for pirates. However, almost all the numbers we hear in these discussions are made up. There's precious little real data.

Over in The View from Chaos Manor (http://www.jerrypournelle.com) I had a short discussion of revamping the web site. I got a lot of mail about it. Francis Hamit, an old friend and colleague, admonished me to make changes slowly. Here is another comment:

Subject: "comfortable like an old shoe"


"One the banes of modern existence is people who are always "improving" things."
--Francis Hamit

Please allow me to cast my vote with Francis. The more things change, the more I appreciate things that *don't* change. In the commercial software world (and to a similar (and intertwined) way, the hardware world), "enforced upgrade" is the order of the day.

I am using a ten year old version of Eudora Pro (3.0.5, the last non-brower-based version), and Windows 2000 (I paid good money for it, and it's not even *close* to being used-up). I'm using Office 97 (I was using Office 2000, but that machine died, and since I don't want to blow my one "spare" activation on a backup, I'll wait until I resurrect that hard drive, "some day soon"; until then, good grief, '97 still has a gajillion more features than I'll ever need or use).

Some upgrades do make sense -- I never looked back with regret when moving from Win95 to NT. The move to Win2K was OK, but incremental. Main difference was that I've never gotten a BSOD on 2K, which speaks very well for its robustness.

I was on the beta for XP. Wasn't all that impressed. If they'd given me a comp copy, I probably would have used it, but, since this was when they made the change (from handing out comp copies to *all* beta testers), there just wasn't enough for *me* to throw good money at a copy. (I got the 2K via a real nice promotion they offered for a while, otherwise I'd still be using NT.)

I also use Nikkormats, a Nikon F, a Weston Master light meter built in the 1930s... well, you get the picture. I like to think *I* get the picture too, even using such "outdated" machinery. (I've seriously considered putting together a photography tutorial titled, "It's Not The Camera" -- with examples like the stuff on my "picsdir" page, which were all shot with my wife's little digital P&S as sort of a test to see just what kind of work I could do with something like that, using it as if it were a large format view camera (sans movements, of course). I'd also include examples shot with consumer grade roll film cameras from a half century ago, and so forth.

The Amish axiom ("Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without") has a lot going for it.

If it works, don't fix it. Your column is fine as it is. It's the *content* that matters. While "the medium is the message," IMO *your* medium is quite unobtrusive. It works. Imposing a significant change on the readers will amount to a mandatory "relearning" with little if any benefit.

That said, when it does come to making bona fide *beneficial* changes, they should be as unobtrusive as possible, i.e., add new features *without* changing *existing* functionality. In a program, this would mean (f'rinstance) adding new commands *without* changing or removing *existing* commands. In other words, adding muscle without adding limbs. It *is* possible to add depth to an application without adding *apparent* complexity, without changing the look and feel of the app. Argh, I'm lapsing into the kind of crap I used to write "for-pay" and I swore I'd never do that again. Feh! :)


I recall the slogan "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without," from advertising campaigns during World War II; along with "Is this trip necessary" one heard it all the time. I hadn't known it was associated with the Amish.

I agree with the axiom that one doesn't fix things that ain't broke; on the other hand, I have some Windows 2000 machines, and at least two Windows 98 systems, and except for games like Conquest of the New World, I really prefer Windows XP.

My problem with Vista is that it doesn't really do anything XP doesn't do, and it mucks up things that it shouldn't. I have still been unable to get Vista to believe that either the DVD-ROM or DVD-RW drive contains a CDROM. I've tried about every software trick I know including hacking the registry. I'm about to take the machine apart and do hardware tricks. Sigh.


Subject: CD drive and Vista

Dr. Pournelle,

I humbly submit that the best way to get your computer to recognize CDs is to remove Vista and install Win XP.

Then again, you do these things so we don't have to. Still, your experience and that of others I trust tells me to stick with XP for as long as possible.

To answer your question, Newegg has a CD (burner) only drive for just under $20 plus shipping.

I have never had any bad experiences with either Newegg or Lite-On.

Best regards,

Mark E. Horning, Physicist

I have another source of a CD-only drive, and I'm going to put one of those in the Vista machine. I see no other remedy to my problem.