Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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The Mailbag

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

December 17, 2007

We can begin with some more Christmas gift suggestions.

Subject: Christmas suggestions..

I can heartily second the suggestion of a Squeezebox. It is perfect when connected via Ethernet, and feeds via optical SPDIF into my amplifier. Its wireless connectivity is just about as good, excepting when I happen to be using the microwave for longer than 30-ish seconds, at which point the music gets a little choppy until the microwave stops.

Amusingly, to me anyway, the 300+ disc CD players are what I replaced with ripped music and the Squeezebox. Waiting for mechanical devices to change music is very tiresome once one has used something like an iPod or iTunes on the PC to get a more full appreciation of one's music collection!

I also own the Fenix P1D CE flashlight, and it is an extremely tough and easy to carry when traveling. I'll second that suggestion too. Actually, the "special edition" version is a little brighter, so I may just buy one of those too. One can't have enough flashlights!

Thanks for all your hard work on your site over the last year - never a dull moment!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


I recently took my mechanical CD changer downstairs to put it in Roberta's music room, and I understand the impatience, but we're pretty happy with it.

Subject: Additional Christmas gift suggestions

I'd second Rene Daley's recommendation of a pocket knife. If you want something small, easy to carry, that's unlikely to draw attention to itself if you forget and try to carry it through a security checkpoint try the key shaped pocket knife. The same shape (when folded), and only slightly larger that a house key, you can put it on your key ring and forget about it unless you need a pen knife.

From the same catalog, if you're looking for something for a boater, is a solid brass horn. Approved by British "Safety-of-Life-At-Sea" regulations, it sounds like, and is about as loud as, the compressed air horns that most states require boaters to carry, except that it works as long as you can breathe and it's compact enough to go in a pocket so you're likely to have it in easy reach if you ever need it.



Subject: Gift recommendations

Hi Jerry,

I wanted to make a suggestion. We had been slowly moving over to having two monitors for each PC here at the office. I had two 19" CRT monitors that took up most of my desk. I liked them, but I found that I focused mainly on one or another. I would use both, but as I worked, I just seemed to focus on one of them. As luck would have it, one of them started to die. I asked to replace them both with 19" widescreen LCD monitors. That request was rejected.

I had been dreaming of replacing it with a single 22" widescreen LCD. I had been checking them out for quite some time. I finally decided to purchase one. Just before I did, I decided to look at a 24" widescreen LCD. At the time, the cost difference was too great, from approximately $300 for the 22" to at least $550 for a 24". So I decided to purchase a 22" widescreen LCD.

The example I give to anyone who listens is that I wanted to be able to display two 8.5"x11" pieces of paper on the screen at the same time, then I hold up two pieces of paper that fit neatly on the screen.

I can tell you it is the best $300 I have spent on computer related products in years. It takes up far less desk space. It is so large that I can have two projects up on my screen and be able to view them at the same time. In effect, I have replaced two 19" CRTs with one 22" widescreen LCD for only $300. I think it has vastly improved my efficiency. It has more than paid for itself.

As the price of the 24" monitors continue to drop, I am already considering purchasing a new 24" for work and taking my 22" home.

So now I'm on a crusade trying to explain how much more productive I am with that type of setup. The prices of the 22" that I purchased are down to about $250 and on black Friday, there were 22" monitors going for as low as $150.

Very highly recommended!


I use an HP I2105 wide screen on my main writing machine, and I have a ViewSonic 22" wide screen at the beach house. I haven't tried larger monitors, although I keep looking enviously at the big beautiful Apple Macintosh monitors. If I can manage another best seller, we'll see what I get to go with my Intel Mac...

Subject: USB HD Enclosures

Dear Dr Pournelle:

This is probably too late for your Xmas list, but a great "stocking filler", and a must for everyone's PC toolkit is a USB hard drive enclosure. There are several available at $20 and up. I prefer the CompUSA version which has an external power supply, on-off switch, and conveniently pops open and closed without the need for screws -- unless you're making a permanent installation, in which case conventional rail fixtures are provided.

There's nothing earth-shakingly brilliant about this device, it's just that having one handy provides the simplest, easiest way to access and download the contents of an orphaned hard drive. It can also be used to recycle old hard drives as external USB drives, although these days it's almost as cheap to buy a new, larger drive!

Best regards

Alun Whittaker


[[The Editor notes the impending demise of CompUSA, so the prices there might be quite good, if not the selection. The Editor also likes the Antec MX-1 enclosure quite a lot.]]

A correction to last week's mail:

Subject: WD and DRM -- A Slight Correction

The WD drive is not drm limited in any way. Rather, it is the software that WD provides to share files over the Internet. If you want to avoid the drm, use other software (such as Orb from www.orb.com).

Howard E. Abrams


Another note to last week's mailbag:

Note that there are two incompatible types of "small" USB connectors. The older Mini type is going out of use, replaced by the Micro type, which is about the same width as the Mini but only about half the height. The Micro connector is also rated for a lot more insertions than the Mini, 10,000 IIRC.


Mini and Micro USB
Mini and Micro USB

Dan Spisak adds:

I found a photo, the old(common) mini style is on the left and the newer micro is on the right. www.mobileburn.com had the photo.


Bob Thompson adds

All my older digital cameras use the Mini style, and my Pentax DSLRs use the Micro style. Most newer MP3 players and similar gadgets use the newer Micro style, but there are still quite a few products on the market that use the Mini, including some that are fairly new products.

And one of the neat things about the newer Micro style, by the way, is that someone finally got smart. Specifications for older connectors are fairly tight, but they specify dimensions only for the plug, not for the connector body. The spec for the Micro connector specifies the dimensions for the plug, but also specifies maximum dimensions for the connector body and required clearances around the jack, ensuring that nobody runs into the formerly common problem of having a cable with the proper plug that won't fit because there's not enough clearance around the jack.


Last week we concluded that the best way to get rid of an infection in your computer is to nuke it from orbit and reinstall. Robert Bruce Thompson adds:

One thing I always think about whenever the nuking from orbit thing comes up is how hard and time-consuming that is to do with Windows and how fast and easy with Linux. With Linux, all personal configuration data is in each user's home directory, so a nuke and restore is pretty much a matter of just copying the user's home directory somewhere safe, reinstalling Linux from scratch, and then copying back the user home directory. (There are some minor exceptions, such as not wanting to copy the configuration data for an older version of an application, but these are very easily dealt with.)

Basically, you just install Linux, install whatever applications you had before (which is usually a matter of a few clicks, literally), and then restore your configuration data. In no time at all, you're back up running with all your custom settings preserved.

The fact that all of your settings are in your home directory also makes it very easy to back them up frequently.


On alternate OS for Macs

Subject: MacBook, Parallels, Knoppix, VMware

Hi Jerry,

Parallels has released the Leopard update, build 5582, which has solved the USB problem I was having with HotSyncing my Palm Tungsten T3. Since I last wrote, I've learned to use the Pause and Suspend options in Parallels, which make things more efficient. Pause puts the guest OS (Win XP Pro in my case) to sleep and frees up the CPU. Suspend puts the guest OS to sleep and saves its state, so you can exit Parallels, back up the guest OS folder, and in seconds pick up where you left off. I load Parallels and Win XP into their own Space and leave them there. When Parallels pauses Windows, Windows places no detectable load on the system, but you can wake up Windows in a few seconds (three or four seconds) to get something done.

The big surprise for today: I downloaded a DVD image of Knoppix 5.1 and burned it to a DVD blank on my Intel MacBook. The resulting DVD boots and runs on the MacBook!!! Web browsing and all. Native Linux, not a guest OS!! That's as far as I got. I don't know if Knoppix can even see the Mac's HD, let alone manipulate files. I wasn't eager to find out and possibly screw up my system. Perhaps another day.

The same DVD booted fine on my HP PC, but didn't manage to make a connection to the network. The text scroll during boot shows that Knoppix sees the PC's Ethernet port, but it doesn't turn it on, or something. I really don't want to bother with that. XP on the HP is plenty good enough. That Knoppix runs better on the MacBook than on the HP PC is just too good.

My very brief trial of VMware Fusion gave me the queasy feeling that it might be a little more solid than Parallels, but I'd already paid for Parallels and didn't want to make myself unhappy. I'd have to say that either would be a good choice for ordinary use. Those with special needs would do well to take advantage of the trial offers of both companies.

Best Regards,


Thanks for that report. Sometime in early 2008 I'll be getting one of the new Macs.

A few more notes on Vista

One man's experience with a Vista upgrade

Coding Sanity - Review: Windows XP

Robert Bruce Thompson

Subject: Vista Service Pack RC1 (Beta)

I just installed Service PACK RC1 on Mega Killer, my new computer of August of this year. It is using an AMD Athlon 64 5000+, 3 Western Digital 350GB hard drives with a total of more than TB. I also installed 4 DDR2 667 1 gig memory cards since the price of 4 1Gig cards was almost the same as 2 1 Gig cards and 2 512 Meg cards. I was aware that Vista would only see 3 Gig.

I also went with 2 Sapphire Radeon X1950 512MG cards in Cross Fire configuration. a 750 watt PC Power & Cooling power supply, an Antec 900 case and a Samsung 931B flat panel monitor completed it. Not the most powerful, but no slouch either. It scored 5.2 on the Vista test.

At any rate I installed Service Pack RC1 on the machine today and found that things seemed a bit faster than before, which was good. In looking around at the system screen I found that Vista now recognized 4 Gig of ram rather than the previous 3 Gig. That is a nice little bonus!

Service Pack RC1 most definitely recommended so far! I backed up the system before installing SPRC1 because I am a bit of a cynic.

Best to you for Christmas and New Years.

Jim Cook

Dan Spisak has also installed Vista SP-1 Beta and says it has been a pleasant experience. He has also found a genuine repeatable bug which he has reported to Microsoft, but it doesn't appear to affect normal operations.

So far, all reports I have for SP-1 show it is an improvement over regular Vista. I will probably install it this week. Do understand that this is a late beta, so we expect some bugs.

Subject: Your wife's reading program.

If you want to port or even update your wife's reading program take a look at this: http://www.freepascal.org/ It is a GPL compiler that offers good compatibility with Delphi and runs on the Mac, Windows, Linux, Win/CE, OS/2 and just about anything else that anyone uses. I would also suggest getting rid of the IE dependencies. I don't think they are even making IE for the Mac anymore. Firebird would give you more options as far as OS's and you could use the webkit library so that your carried a know html browser with your program at all time. Probably not pain free but it is an option for you to look at.


Thanks, but I doubt we will be porting her program. It works fine with XP or Vista including Windows running on a Mac in Parallels and other such programs. "Getting rid of IE" would require a pretty extensive rewrite of the entire program.

Her program works. It has taught thousands of people to read.