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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

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

December 3, 2007

Begin with an important security notice:

Subject: Malware via Google

story link...

A number of malicious websites have popped up online over the past few weeks, and unlike most dangerous destinations that lurk in the dark recesses of the Internet, these have been showing up at or near the top of some seemingly innocuous Google searches for words like "Christmas". The sites, believed to be run by a high-tech wing of the Russian mafia, used flaws in older versions of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser to install malicious software that could take control of your computer.

The delivery of malicious software through web sites is nothing new, but what is new was the rank these pages were able to achieve at search engines like Google and MSN Search. Through extensive campaigns of comment spam, posting innocuous things on popular blogs with links to their bogus sites, these sites were able to work up a virtual reputation. Google and other search engines see these links from popular blogs and are tricked into thinking that the site being linked to is also reputable, resulting in prioritized search results. <snip>

J

See also this link.


A reader question:

Subject: Tools

Jerry I am like you troubleshooting and fixing all kinds of PC's. Is there a set of tools for techs like us to be able to install on PC's we are fixing to kill Trojans, malware, viruses etc. I have the normal programs like adaware, etc. Is there programs I can purchase to install on the PC and still have a working copy for myself. Do I need to register with Microsoft to be able to utilize OEM versions if I must reinstall and format hard drive.

Sincerely, Dean

Readers will recall that for years I recommended the Norton security suite supplemented by various spyware eliminators. For about a year now I have been using Microsoft OneCare, and I find it preferable to the Norton package; nor have I found any need for supplements. Do understand that I am careful to install the latest security updates to all my systems, and I almost always operate from behind a router. I carry a small D-Link portable router on trips and use that in preference to plugging my laptop directly into the hotel systems. I am also reasonably careful about where I go on the Internet, and I don't accept any free offers or trial memberships that want me to install software.

I expect many readers have their own favorite tool kits, and perhaps they will share them with us.


And an inquiry:

Subject: Is It Just Me?

Yesterday I finally yielded to Micorsoft's nagging and allowed it to upgrade my IE 6 to IE7.

I'm using Windows XP Media Edition which Microsoft has supposedly kept updated except for that one item.

Now that I'm "running" IE 7 I continually get "Debug Failure" errors which require me to exit IE 7 (if I can) and start over in whatever I was doing.

Before I uninstall IE 7 and return to IE 6, I ask "Is it just me?" or is this problem common with IE 7?

Charles Brumbelow

I have installed IE 7 on all my systems, none of which are XP Media Edition. I have one Home XP and a bunch of XP Professional systems; and two Vista systems, and none of them have shown me any such error messages. I'll ask the Advisors to comment on this, but I fear I can't help you.


We have many comments on Kindle and other electronic reading devices. The first is from Roland Dobbins, one of the Advisors:

Subject: My summary observation on Amazon & Kindle.

Amazon have really managed to steal the thunder from Apple last week - and not through the Jobsonian force of personality and showmanship associated with the ultra-slick, sometimes-elegant, and always hipsteresque industrial design values for which Apple are noted, but rather with a clunky, overpriced hunk of white plastic which is so ugly that Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ives probably can't look at it without getting physically ill, yet which nevertheless does represents a sea-change in they way books are published, marketed, sold, and read. Bezos has accomplished the publishing-industry equivalent disruption which Jobs accomplished with the introduction of the iPod and the iTunes Music Store, albeit (so far) on a smaller scale and with _much_ less style.

Which is kind of heartening, because it demonstrates that, at the end of the day, substance still does matter. Glamor is nice, but it can come later, as an attribute rather than as the raison d'etre. Whether the Kindle ultimately succeeds or fails, Bezos and Amazon deserve recognition for this alone.

---------------------
Roland Dobbins

Roland sent that before he got a Kindle. His latest report is

Subject: Most accurate Kindle review, so far.

My experience mirrors his:

http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/36063

Roland Dobbins

He also reports that it took almost no time to convert a .doc copy of Inferno II (Advisors get some perks...) to the .mobi format that Kindle wants, and it is very readable on that device.

A less positive view:

Jerry,

A few comments on the Amazon Kindle, after reading your material on it, the Macworld review you linked, and a Yahoo/AP review (URL below):

First, I don't think it's going to fly. At four hundred bucks for the reader, and TEN DOLLARS for a small downloaded file, and what appears from the AP photo to be a less-than-full-page screen, no thanks -- and I don't think I'll be the only one declining to participate.

There's more, such as the uber-cynical product name itself -- a clear taunt at paper books, which this device will presumably reduce to virtual ashes.

I'm sorry, but even "joke-names" about book-burning leave me cold. MY books are certainly not going to be "kindling" for this reader, and my house looks like an A-bomb went off in a library. (Dear Santa: Bookshelves, more bookshelves please! :)

When a FULL-page reader comes along, with a $25 price point, non-DRM'd, of course, with "books" sold at a price that reflects the realistic cost of production, that's when paper books will have a real run for their money.

Until then, real books are not going to have to worry about being "Kindled."

There are still other factors that aren't generally addressed. McLuhan hit the nail on the head forty years ago -- the medium IS the message. There is a certain esthetic -- a "benefit set" -- that is only experienced when physically rummaging through real books. Looking for titles on shelves, in stacks, in boxes, and noticing books you hadn't been looking for -- or, had been looking for earlier but without luck -- and then flipping through a few books, looking for stories, chapters, etc.

You can do in a few seconds what would take an interminable amount of time on a "modern" electronic device -- and do so using "truly native tools" (i.e., your hands and senses) rather than clicking and scrolling and basically target-shooting with a digital interface in order to do things that really DO come naturally in the real world (flipping pages, pulling books off a shelf, etc.)

It'd be nice to have a little machine with 200 "books" in it, but frankly, I've got that many books probably within ten feet of me at the moment -- and the amazing thing is, I *don't* have to carry them ALL with me when I only want to read ONE of them.

That means that someone *else* can be reading the books that I'm *not* reading.

The concept of a "personal library" really falls apart when the "libary" can ONLY be used by "the licensee." The metaphor is so broken that the "L-word" itself should not be invoked. Call it a "stash" -- or a "hoard" -- or even a "collection" -- but, they really should not call it a "library," because it's NOT a library!

As an aside, just as digital photography is quite likely going to put a stop to the tradition of "heirloom photographs" handed down through the generations, so will DRM'd e-"books" put a stop to a treasury of literature being handed down from parents to children, to friends, donated to libaries, and so forth. "Books" will have all the longevity of newspapers, without the post-use fish-wrapper benefit. We're looking at a "virtual 'kindling' of the Library at Alexandria" all over again, if REAL books are replaced en masse by ephemeral collections of "non-transferrable" bits.

As to the issue of the smallish screen and partial page-display, as I approach sixty years on this ball o' woe, my vision continues to get worse and worse. This is of no concern to the probable "target demographic" (at least, not until *they* get a bit older, and my, how those years go faster and faster...)

But, even if the screen text was larger, there's still the matter of the less-than-full-screen display. It's bad enough to have to deal with a non-book when *reading* a book -- interfacing with a machine to "turn" virtual "pages" -- but having to *scroll* each and every page... give me a break. Visions of my Osborne-1 are dancing in my eyes. Ow!

I do think it *is* possible to build a minimally usable reader, i.e., full page display, non-DRM (so that I won't lose my investiment, and so that I'll be able to buy "used books" on ebay or half-com or the local library sale), and, the bottom line (literally), a $25 price point.

Lest anyone scoff at that last specification, I'll simply point out the prices for early "four-banger" calculators, 8-bit computers, sub-megapixel digital cameras, and so forth. If they *can't* turn out a simple device like this for $25 bucks then the entire premise needs serious rethinking.

Ron

PS: Here's the URL for the AP review mentioned above:

AP review of the Kindle on Yahoo.

I'll comment on this at the end of this section of letters. A few comments on other ebook readers:

Subject: Hello and Pocket Surfer 2

Hello Jerry,

This my first email to you apart from subscribing. A few things:

First, I've read you since Byte days, and to be honest it was mostly why I bought Byte. I've always enjoyed down to earth discussions of computing and electronic devices. I look forward to reading you at Chaos Manor every week and sometimes every day. And don't change the site too much.

Second, have you come across a device called Pocket Surfer 2? (link).

It is available here in the UK and I have taken delivery of one today, (1/12/07). First impressions are that it isn't going to be a pocket broadband device but it does give Internet access, on the move, in a small form factor. It can be slipped into a shirt pocket. The graphics look like sixteen colours to me so you can see any pictures, but you wouldn't use it to view proofs, but that isn't the point of the device. I can carry it anywhere and access the Internet via GPRS at a reasonably good speed, faster than a mobile 'phone. And here's the clincher, the reason I bought it, I get 20 hours per month of Internet access for free in the first year, (unlimited access for #5.99 per month, (5.99 GBP)), after that it is #40 per year, (and by then it will probably be superseded). It also has GPS of some description and seems to know roughly where I am. I'll send an update when I've had more time with it, if you'd be interested.

Third, I've set up a link to Chaos Manor from my website, (www.thewalkerweb.co.uk), which is just snaps of holidays and family etc. but I hope it helps.

Yours Sincerely,

Ian


Subject: E-book Readers

Jerry,

I just got an e-reader sent to me for evaluation. Some USAF folks are thinking this might be a good device for reading and displaying technical publications. This may have been out for a while, but I had not seen one before. I've got to admit, it's pretty nifty, and the page turning interface is very intuitive. It's about the size of a "bookclub" sized hardback novel, though a bit thinner.

Called the iREX iLiad.

In my opinion, the e-ink display is much nicer to read than an LCD, and they seem to have put a lot of thought into the ergonomics. However, at $700 I don't think it's much threat to the paper publishers just yet. You are quite correct that the time is coming though. If the price came down to $200 I'd certainly consider buying one.

Best regards, (and best wishes for a speedy recovery)

Mark E. Horning, Physicist,
L-3 Communications
Night Operations Center of Excellence
Air Force Research Lab

And finally a jaundiced view of ebooks from a Mac enthusiast:

Subject: e-books

Dear Jerry:

I agree with you that e-books are coming... eventually. I'd say right about the time we all have those flying cars of The Jetsons, so I really don't think you ought to get your knickers in a twist about it or let it distract you from ordering a new Mac or writing or truly important and timely stuff like that.

Paperback distribution may be going through transition, but I do not believe it is broken. People make too many inappropriate comparisons between books on the one hand and music and movies on the other, the so-called "iPod effect."

The iPod has been such a culture-changing hit because it took a pile of expensive electronics that was intimidating to use for many and made getting good sound to your ears (and to a lesser extent pictures and movies to your eyes) easy, portable, and affordable. Instead of a stack of CDs, a CD player, an amp and speakers now you can carry thousands of tunes in a device the size of about 15 playing cards in the case of the new Nano.

So the paradigm (for lack of a better word) shifts from large, expensive, complex, and not portable to the exact opposite: small, affordable, simple and very portable. No wonder the transition to these digital devices has happened at a blindingly fast pace.

But paperback books, as a way of getting print to your eyes, are ALREADY small, affordable, simple and very portable. Does an e-reader improve much on any of those aspects? Eventually it may improve on the cost and in the far future maybe the convenience, but today it actually increases complexity and decreases reliability (when was the last time you broke a book? Or it ran out of juice?).

Then there are the intangibles. Books feel and smell good. There is gratification each and every time you turn a physical page: you can see the "have read" and "still need to read" balance shift constantly as you progress. Leave a book on the dashboard of your car in the blazing sun and it's not going to melt or cease to function, and so on and on.

I understand the advantages of an e-book, don't get me wrong. But it's an incremental improvement with lots of issues to be worked out before it is even on a par with the device it seeks to replace, so I just don't see the world in any rush to adopt digital print the way it has digital music, movies, and photos.

All the best--

Tim Loeb

My view is that for a number of people Kindle will be Good Enough: you can read books with it, and after a while you don't notice that you're holding an electronic device. It's easy to acquire books for it, and to convert books from many other formats. While it's certainly true that for many people there's far more to the reading experience than just the content, for those who mostly want the content, the Kindle is going to be just fine.

I will note that I have the habit of reading old Nero Wolfe detective stories when I'm in a dry spell of writing: they're not so interesting that my brain isn't working on anything else, they have good English sentences, and since I pretty well know how they will turn out, I can quit at any time I feel inspired. Alas, most of my old Wolfe stories are in crumbling paperbacks that are literally coming apart; I'd love to have a dozen of those story collections in a device like the Kindle.

Of course the Kindle is merely the first of a series. The goal is to do with books and reading what the iPod did for music, and it seems to me inevitable that this will happen.

The next step, I think, is a "better Kindle." The step after that will be a device that incorporates PDA, phone, Internet browser, GPS, and color: a super iPhone. That may take a while, but I think it's inevitable.

I said earlier that the Kindle will, if you squint hard enough when you look, give you a picture of the future. I have no reason to change that view. I will also cheerfully admit I don't know how long it will take - but I do note that in twenty years we went from no Internet at all to a World Wide Web that looms very large in our lives.


Continuing the Leopard story:

Subject: Leopard faltering NOT

Hi Jerry,

You reported my MacBook Pro Leopard problems in your tech column.

I did get connection to my parallel printer in the Windows LAN workgroup using LDAP - I think. I do print now; I do share all other computers on the LAN.

Certainly the Genius Bar attendant was confused by it all. Of course he was overwhelmed with other clients, and not on-site to explore the problem.

Bonjour printer service is not on this MacBook Pro. That may result from ME failing to install the Tiger disks first during a complete re- install. The Leopard update disk by itself resulted in a working computer to the point that I can have Fusion and XP Pro working, with instant switching back and forth.

The bundled software iLife, however, is not to be found.

Regards from the bleeding edge,

Joe O'Laughlin


Subject: Leopard networking update

Hi Jerry,

This seems to work: Apple | System Preferences | Networking

The default is "Automatic". Therefore when the machine starts it does network discovery and comes up with a state in which some or all of the windows computers on the LAN may be reporting - or not.

So, you start up a few times until a happy number of the computers are showing in Finder | Sidebar | Sharing.

Then go to Apple | System Preferences | Networking and add a new network, name it, save it even if details are blank. Set it to be the default rather than "Automatic".

Thereafter (so far) this network "profile" brings up that set of computers if they are on. And Bob may be my uncle.

In a new network situation, set the profile back to Automatic and let network discover run on start up.

The stumbling bleeding edge,

Joe O'Laughlin


Chaos Manor Reviews Managing Editor Brian Bilbrey adds

Subject: Leopard printing woes

Sorry to see Joe O'Laughlin's woes about printing to a Windows shared printer. It took me about 70 seconds to add a shared windows printer to my recently Leopardized MacBook Pro and print a google page to it.

To do so I did the following:

1. Open System Preferences.
2. Select the Print & Fax item from the Hardware row, unlock it if necessary.
3. Click on the "+" below the list of printers.
4. By default, the IP item is selected from among the icons along the top of the dialog, I had to manually click on "Windows".
5. I navigated down the workgroup -> system -> printer tree, and selected the Brother MFC available from my spouse's XP Home system. Authentication may be required.
6. Fill in the other blanks, and choose the right driver.
7. Click on Add.
8. Print.

I really can't fathom why Joe had so much trouble, nor how he managed to get so little help from Apple.

best,

.brian

--
Brian Bilbrey : bilbrey@orbdesigns.com
"I don't like country music, but I don't mean to denigrate
those who do. And, for the people who like country music,
denigrate means 'put down'." -- Bob Newhart

Which should be about all that needs to be said in that story, Thanks everyone.


Chaos Manor Advisor Rick Hellewell says

Subject: Google Maps Mobile Now Knows Where You Are (Almost)

Hello!

Google Maps Mobile (for your cellphone) can now approximate your location on a non-GPS type cellphone. It does this by using your current cellphone tower location. I tried this on my Blackberry, and it seems to work (at least while I am at the office; haven't tried it elsewhere).

You get a blue dot on your Google Mobile Map that shows your approximate location. More information on the Google Maps Mobile blog here: link . Note that this is version 2 and beta, and you may want to read the comments on that blog, as some people are reporting problems (as others report success). But the concept and implementation are quite interesting.

A short video is on the site explaining how it works.

Regards, Rick Hellewell

Now combine that with a Kindle...