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Computing At Chaos Manor:
November 28, 2006

The User's Column, November, 2006
Column 316, part 3 (of 3)
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2006 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

Continued from last week.

I took a vacation last week. It wasn't entirely planned, but things happened in sequence, and after a while it became obvious I wasn't going to get the column done by Monday, and when Tuesday came around and it still wasn't done, while Thursday would be Thanksgiving, I decided to take a week off. This is the first time that has happened, but I don't guarantee it will never happen again. I never missed a monthly column deadline since 1979. I still think of this as a monthly column, but over time it drifted into being a weekly. It's not really weekly, though, and while I will try hard to get new stuff up every week, I only guarantee a column a month, same as I've been doing for a quarter of a century.

I am experimenting with a new schedule: get the mailbag done for Monday, but have the column done by Monday night for posting on Tuesday. That will almost certainly happen this week. If any of you have comments on that schedule, I'd like to hear them.

Recovering Alexis

Last time, you may recall, Alexis, my main communications system, fell victim to the infamous Microsoft Delayed Write Error. You can read about that in Part Two of the November column. If there's any actual fix for the Delayed Write Error bug I haven't found it. Prayer may help. Microsoft so far has not.

Restoring Alexis required me to reformat the hard drive and reinstall everything. Since I had copies of all the data, that didn't turn out to be difficult, although it was time consuming. Reinstalling programs was more difficult. For some it was simple: copy the program from the backup to the appropriate directory and start it up. A few of those will ask for keys or passwords; if you have thoughtfully recorded that information in a text file you keep in the directory where the program resides, Bob's your uncle.

That doesn't work with every program. Sometimes after I copy the program from a backup into the appropriate directory (usually Program Files) it won't work, and I have to fool with registry edits until I get it working. I'm not going to talk about that because I don't encourage anyone to do it: the real lesson here is that after you install a program, log the procedure and pack a copy of the log along with the installation disks into the box the program came in, use a Sharpie to record the name of the machine and the date of installation on the box, and store the program in a back room archive. This will take up space, but you'll sure be glad you did that if the machine blows up and everything has to be reinstalled.

I didn't completely restore Alexis because for the past month I have been turning out between 500 and 1,250 words of fiction every day, and I didn't want to stop; it's a bad idea to ignore the muses. I got Alexis working well enough on Saturday, and I planned to write the column on Sunday. I'd rather write these things earlier in the week, but up to then I wasn't on minus time. I could still meet the Monday deadline.

Satine Dies

Saturday night we went to a movie, the new James Bond. It was great. When I got back Alexis was running fine - but Satine, my main writing machine, was dead. Pushing the start button did nothing. When I took Satine over to a workbench and connected her up, I found that when I first plugged in the AC power cord the green light on the motherboard would go on, and then fade away to nothing. The Power On button did nothing.

It wasn't certain but it seemed very probable that the problem was with the power supply. This was an Antec NEO480 and so far as I knew I'd never had any problems with it. The power supply, like the computer, was about 18 months old. I went into the back room and looked for power supplies, and that's when the real adventure began.

Quest for Power

I found another Antec NEO480 power supply identical to the one in Satine. It was in the new hardware cabinet, and had the note that it had been installed in Wendy before I put a PC Power and Cooling power supply in that machine. There was no indication that there'd been any problem with the NEO480, and I vaguely remembered that I'd put in the PC Cool because Wendy has multiple hard drives and might need more power, and besides she was already noisy and I might as well save the very quiet Antec NEO480 for a quieter machine.

That was a vague memory, and I didn't find any log entries to add enlightenment. Alas, in the past few years I have found that my memory for events isn't what it was: if I don't log something, it may well disappear from recollection. That must have happened this time, and it's the first moral of this story: log things as they happen, not when you get A Round Tuit.

I took the old Antec NEO480 out of Satine and put in the new Antec NEO480. The result was identical with what had happened with the old power supply: when first applying 110 VAC power the green light on the motherboard would come on bright, then fade to nothing. Let me emphasize this: two identical power supplies produced identical results. Green light comes on then fades out; and main power switch does nothing.

It was at this point that I took leave of my senses.


The motherboard for Satine is an ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe. That's a good motherboard, but alas, I have had some problems with the ASUS M2N32 SLI Deluxe boards; I have two of them that don't work properly. I can probably get them going, but I have put in considerable time on these things without success. I haven't written that up because I don't have a happy ending yet; and it really isn't fair to ASUS because I don't understand the problem. Still, one of those boards won't boot properly unless, just after I hit the On button, I have to hit the RESET button, or else the system dies. I have no explanation for it. It's just weird.

But if one ASUS has a weird quirk, perhaps another does? After all, two different power supplies got the same results. I checked with colleagues, and it didn't seem unreasonable that the motherboard had a short. The only way to check that is to replace the motherboard, so I went out to Fry's, got a new A8N-SLI Deluxe, and brought it back.


Meanwhile I was still hoping to get the column out. The notion was temporarily to replace Satine with Wendy, a Pentium D dual-core processor (as opposed to a Core Duo). Before I moved Wendy, I opened her up and installed Satine's C: drive as the E: drive on Wendy. That came up fine. Clearly Satine's problem wasn't her drive, and if I could get her running again she wouldn't even know she'd been off line. I carefully copied all the important data files from Satine C: to Wendy's D:, removed Satine's disk, and moved Wendy to the office.

Data Transfer: Satine -> Wendy
Transferring Satine's files to Wendy. It's easy with SATA drives. Note the stock Intel CPU cooler. [View larger]

Having Wendy in the office didn't work very well. Wendy uses a stock Intel CPU cooler, and that's very noisy. I had forgotten just how much noise she put out: it sounded like a Cessna about to go on a takeoff roll. Clearly I had either to replace that processor cooling system, or get Satine working again.

There was another problem. I installed Microsoft OneCare Live on both the newly restored Alexis and on the newly installed-as-main-writing-machine. They installed all right, but the machines could not talk to each other.

It was weird. Each machine could see the other; but attempts to access a shared drive each from the other would fail with messages about not having authorization. Note that each machine could not only see, but access, every other machine on my internal network. Each could go out to the Internet. If either machine hadn't existed, I would never have known there was a problem with the other one; but while each saw the other, neither could talk to (or listen to) the other. Since communications between my writing machine and my communications machines is vital, it became more important than ever that I get Satine working again.

Meanwhile, it was far too late to meet the Monday deadline for the column. I had some hope that I'd have it done by Wednesday.

Network Problem Solved

I am telling this out of order, because I didn't solve the networking problem before I got Satine working again, but we may as well get that one out of the way. A number of readers suggested remedies. One had the same problem and solved it by installing NetBEUI on the two systems; they talked to each other by NetBEUI and to the rest of the universe in TCP/IP. That seemed drastic.

I had tried all the usual remedies, such as removing disk sharing and renewing it, uninstalling Microsoft Windows Networking and reinstalling it, and so forth. None worked. Then I got this email from Dean Peters:


I think your computers not seeing other computers problem is do to the Windows Firewall. The information pasted below may fix the problem. Also I am giving you a link to a site with the most knowledge on the delayed write problem.

I had the same issue here on my machine on the Microsoft corporate network. I would share something out and would get complaints from some people saying "you NOOB, give me access" (or some other choice words). My computer's Windows Firewall is not managed via Group Policy. I had to edit the Windows Firewall configuration on my local machine to allow access from other subnets. Here's the location for the manual configuration on the client: Properties of the Local Area Connection -> Properties -> Advanced -> Settings -> Exceptions -> File and Printer Sharing -> Edit -> Change Scope -> Any computer.

That came close. Then I opened Windows Live OneCare, and in advanced firewall settings I found some similar settings. By default, apparently, this is set to "Do not share files and printers." Checking "Only share them with computers on my local network", plus doing the change to the Properties of the Local Area Connection, did it. Both Wendy and Alexis can now see each other as well as the rest of the net.

Astute readers will be wondering why the machines could see and be seen by the other machines on the net before I made these changes. I have no answer to that.

Quest for Power, Part Two

I hadn't yet solved the network anomaly, and Wendy was so noisy I wanted her out of my office and back in the work room where she's invaluable at downloading such things as Vista and Office 2007 from the Microsoft Developers Network. She's a good and fast machine, and I am ordering a new and quieter cooling system, but until I make that change I really don't want her in this office.

A Cornucopia of ASUS Accessories
You get an astonishing number of cables, back panel templates, and other accessories with an ASUS motherboard. [View larger]

It's not easy changing motherboards, but my theory was that if I did that, Satine would come up, and Microsoft might or might not require me to telephone to get a new activation number. I'd had to do that with Alexis even though I hadn't changed any hardware at all, but with Alexis I'd reformatted the hard drive and reinstalled; Satine's boot drive was precisely as it was when the machine died. I have never had any problems convincing the nice young ladies in Bangalore that I ought to get new activation codes.

It took about an hour to change motherboards. When I got that done I plugged in the power supply (the second Antec NEO480). The green light on the motherboard flashed green, then faded out. I was right where I started.

I thought about this for a minute, then got out an Antec 360 power supply I've had for some time. This wouldn't put out enough power to run this computer, but trying it might tell me something, and it did: the motherboard light burned bright green, and when I pushed the On button the machine began to start up.

I shut down, thought for a second, and removed the new motherboard, reinstalling the original one. That took another hour and a couple of bruises. Then I put Satine back exactly as she had been before she died.

Now I needed a power supply. Clearly both the Antec NEO480 power supplies were hosed. What else did I have? First there was an Antec Truepower 550; surely large enough. I installed that one. There was one problem. This power supply has only 20 pins on the connector to the motherboard. The motherboard wants a 24 pin connector. I asked for advice and was told that (1) the 20 pin connector only goes into the 24-pin socket one way so that's no problem, and (2) the A8N-SLI Deluxe has a 4-pin Molex connector on the motherboard, and if you plug power into that it should be the same as using a 24 pin connector.

The machine would now boot up; but it immediately gave me the audio message "Memory Test Failed." Satine has two 1-gigabyte Kingston Hyper-X memory units, and I had never had a bit of trouble with either. It's one reason I use premium quality memory.

I removed one of the memory units and tried again. No video. The A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard has the memory slots very close to the video card, and the video card was disturbed when inserting the memory. Reseat the video card and try again. Started to boot, but something else was wrong.

I'll make the story short. I wasted an hour reseating memory, reseating the video card, and generally fooling about with the system, but it never actually booted up properly.

I found another power supply, this time one with a 24 pin connector for the motherboard. Alas, it had a 6-pin 12 Volt plug instead of the 4-pin that this motherboard wants. With that power supply installed the machine wouldn't boot at all no matter which way I plugged in the 6-pin (it would go in either way).

I removed that power supply and declared a vacation week.

The Power Plug

After I wrote that, Bob Thompson told me:

There is no 6-pin +12V plug. Are you talking about an 8-pin +12V plug? If so, it's keyed unambiguously, and can be inserted in a 4-pin +12V socket. Is it possible you were trying to connect the PCIe supplemental power plug?

I had to think about that one. Of course he was right. The power supply in question was installed in a case for a machine I haven't built yet, and when it didn't work I put it back in the case and the case back in the packing; I really don't feel like unpacking just to look for the regular 4-pin (or possibly 8-pin) +12 V power plug that I must have overlooked because I was in a hurry.

Since I had clean forgotten that there are PCIe supplemental power plugs I asked Bob to explain further, on the theory that if I don't know something, there's a fair chance some of you won't know it either.

The 6-pin (2X3) connector with +12V and ground (yellow and black) wires is designed to connect to some PCI Express video adapters that require more +12V than can be supplied via the PCIe slot. Most recent power supplies include at least one PCIe supplemental power connector, and higher wattage units (particularly SLI-certified units) often include two of them (for SLI/Crossfire dual video adapter configurations). This cable connects directly to a socket on the video adapter.

There are two morals to this story. One, if you haven't been fooling around with building machines for a while and you run into problems involving plugs and power supplies and the like, it will usually pay to spend half an hour doing research. Using Google to look for "6-pin 12V power plug" took me to this link, and if I had read that I'd have had an idea of what was going on.

The second moral is that if you've had a long and frustrating day and conclude that your machines have become malevolent, it's probably time to go to bed and look at the problem the next day. I've learned this lesson before. Every time I do I regret having had to learn it again.

Quest for Power, Part Three

It was time to order a power supply that would work. For many years I have relied on PC Power and Cooling for power. I know that PC Cool power supplies work. I think I have had one of them fail in 25 years, and that one was abused horribly - and still managed t0 die without damaging anything else.

Unfortunately, when I got online to order a PC Cool power supply, New Egg didn't have one of the proper size and era; and by now I was in a tearing hurry. Resolving that I'd one day order a genuine PC Cool, I looked to see what else was available. I ended up with a Rosewill RP550S-2MK. New Egg had a number of user reviews of this power supply, and they were all favorable. It wasn't all that expensive, and I thought, what the heck, I'll try it.

It came the next day. New Egg has a warehouse in Los Angeles. I took it upstairs and installed it.

The Rosewill has a 20 pin connector for the motherboard, but there's an additional 4-pin line designed to connect when the motherboard wants a 24-pin connector. I plugged those in. There is a 12-volt connector with 4 pins just as the motherboard requires. I got everything connected up, restored Satine to precisely the condition she'd been in before her power supply failed, and plugged in 110 VAC power. The motherboard light came on and stayed on.

I pushed the On button. Satine came up perfectly. No memory failure messages. No video failure messages. In seconds my machine was running as if she'd never had a problem.

The Rosewill power supply runs cool, and it's so quiet that I can't tell when it's on. Satine is now the quietest system in the house. She has no glitches or quirks. She just works.

Satine back in action, with Falcon UPS, Tablet PC
Satine is back where she belongs. The Falcon UPS powers my main systems, and I've never lost a byte on systems protected by Falcon equipment. Lisabetta the TabletPC is ready for handwritten notes. [View larger]

One should never generalize from one case, but I sure have no reason to dislike this Rosewill RP550S-2MK power supply. Incidentally, all the cables are covered with braided shells. There are both 4 and 8-pin 12-volt connectors, as well as a 6-pin PCIe power line. Power lines plug in modularly so there are no more of them in the case than I need. My only complaint is that there are only 2 SATA disk drive power cables and each of those has only one power plug on it. If I need to put in more SATA drives I'll have to use a Molex to SATA converter.

Bob Thompson reminds me that:

The one drawback to using a Molex-SATA power adapter cable is that there's no +3.3V available on the Molex connector (the orange wire on a fully-compliant SATA power connector). That doesn't make much difference at the moment, but SATA devices will in the future increasingly use +3.3V.

And otherwise, there's absolutely no flaw I can find with the Rosewill.

Winding Down

The first computer book of the month is the O'Reilly Windows XP in a Nutshell. It's not light reading, but depending on your problem, having access to this book when you need it can save your bacon. Of course you'll need it at midnight on a Friday.

The second computer book of the month is also from O'Reilly: Head First HTML with CSS and XHTML, by Elisabeth Freeman and Eric Freeman. Like all the Head First series books this one is a bit hard to describe: the authors believe they have discovered the secret of making a lot of dull material readable and memorable. The result is easy or hard to read depending on your attitude.

This really is a learner's guide. You probably won't want to keep it around as a reference handbook. On the other hand, if you've tried reading html books and your eyes glazed over before page ten, this may be the book for you. My friend Talin, many years ago, learned html the simple way: he downloaded the specifications, and started in with Notepad. In my case I tried half a dozen books on html, got the general idea, and fled screaming into the night. When I built my web page I used FrontPage.

Alas, FrontPage is going away. www.jerrypournelle.com is still done in FrontPage and will be for a while; but when we started www.ChaosManorReviews.com my friends who host my web sites mutinied. Brian Bilbrey functions as Managing Editor of Chaos Manor Reviews and does all the coding; but it's too much to expect him to keep doing it, so I am dutifully trying to learn from the bottom up. So far the Freeman book is helping a lot.

The last computer book of the month is the No Starch Press Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks by Rickford Grant. While Xandros Linux is still the preferred distribution for complete beginners, Ubuntu and its variants have become very popular with Linux users. The price is right: you can download Ubuntu Linux for free and burn a CD that will not only boot, but run Linux from the CD itself: no installation needed. That CD (well, probably not the exact one you would get if you downloaded, but essentially the same) is included in this book: buy the book, pop the disk into your machine, and give Ubunto Linux a test drive. If you don't like it, give the disk away, leaving nothing behind. Try it. You may like it.

There are several books this month. First, there is the King Arthur series by Norma Lorre Goodrich. There are several of these, the most important being King Arthur and Merlin. Professor Goodrich starts with the theory that Geoffrey of Monmouth was a serious historian who really did have access to sources no longer available to us. She puts Arthur at the border of England and Scotland; Avalon is the Isle of Man or a close lying dependent island. She makes her case well. Of course those who put Camelot at Glastonbury Abbey don't agree. I have no horse in this race; I just find any consistent study of folklore and history fascinating, and she builds a very self-consistent case. I have found no mention of the Sarmatian heavy cavalrymen who found their way into the Arthurian legend in the King Arthur movie of a couple of years ago, but they wouldn't be out of place in Goodrich's stories.

The other book of the month series is from Apogee Space Books: Return to the Moon, edited by Rick Tumlinson, and Beyond Earth: The Future of Humans in Space, edited by Bob Krone. I am a bit surprised that I didn't know the Return to the Moon volume was in preparation: many of the contributors are old friends, and there was a time when I was sort of the Chief Lunatic (as opposed to the Mars Fiends and the Asteroid Nuts). I did, after all, seriously propose a lunar colony as a "self replicating system in space" way back in the days when Frosch was Administrator. Both books tend to be a bit of a mixed bag: hard science exposition mixed with breathless poetic excursions. They aren't likely to make converts of anyone, but it you start with an interest in the future of humanity in space, you'll find these worthwhile.

I have Medieval II Total War, and I'm still making my mind up about that game. It's similar to Rome Total War, rather than to the original Medieval Total War, and there are no editable scripts that I can find. We'll see.

We saw several movies this month. The first was The Departed. Like all Scorcese films this one is well made and keeps you watching despite a few moments when your suspension of disbelief is a bit strained. The acting is great, and the story moves along, and it's worth seeing. It will probably get a number of award nominations. We enjoyed it.

We did not enjoy Borat, and indeed walked out in the middle of it. The movie is not only in poor taste, but it's not really funny. It's mostly embarrassing. The theory is that by posing as an ignorant foreigner (so ignorant that he keeps a chicken in his suitcase and washes his face in the hotel toilet) Borat exposes the American rednecks for what they are. In fact, what it shows is just how far Americans will go along with a foreigner in hopes that things can be kept polite. As for instance the Southern lady who teaches etiquette: she was told that she was doing a good thing for her country by helping this foreign journalist, and she put up with insults and language that she would normally have found sufficiently offensive to terminate the lesson. If watching people be bullied into being victims of a deliberate boor amuses you, you may like this film. As I said, we walked out before it ended.

And the Movie of the Month is Stranger Than Fiction. Will Ferrell is perfect as an IRS auditor who discovers that he is a character in a novel being written by Emma Thompson - and that she's planning to kill him off. All the other characters are excellent in their part, but Thompson is the best neurotic fiction writer I have ever seen - and I have known a lot of them. I can't imagine not liking this movie.