Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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Computing At Chaos Manor:
April 17, 2007

The User's Column, April 2007
Column 321, part 3
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2007 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

Continued from last week...

When I started this column, the pundits were saying that Apple is in trouble. Leopard is delayed until Fall, and maybe won’t ship then. One reason for Leopard’s delay was that key personnel were moved from Leopard to the iPhone. Indeed it was put more strongly than that: “iPhone Steals Engineers From Apple's Leopard OS” said InformationWeek.

A radio personality wondered if this meant Apple was in trouble. After all, couldn’t they afford to hire more engineers? And under all the other panic was something unspoken: Apple makes tons of money from the iPod. Apple took the name “Computer” out of the company name. Is this all just an indication of where Apple’s heart is? Apple has seldom showed its loyalists any loyalty in return. Gouging the Apple enthusiasts was an Apple tradition for many years.

A long time ago, Apple deliberately chose to go for immediate profit over market share. The result was that market share dwindled to the point where many software developers chose not even to try to port their best programs to the Mac. The new Apple with its Mac OS, and particularly the new Intel-based Macs with OS X stopped and even reversed the losses of market share, making it pretty certain that Apple would be around a long time as the BMW of the computer world, and might even go beyond that.

Some pundits saw the delay of Leopard in favor of getting the iPhone out on time as a threat to the new Apple, and a sign that Apple was going to neglect its computer loyalists in hopes of gaining a lot of phone users.

Another Slant

A better interpretation would be that Leopard was overly ambitious and unlikely to ship this summer anyway. Depending on who you ask, Leopard is either a mildly Big Deal or a Revolutionary Great Big Deal; no one believes it’s just another upgrade. Peter Glaskowsky says that Time Machine, the new backup system built into the OS, is a pretty big deal all by itself.

He notes that Time Machine solves the backup problem forever. Just buy a good external drive and forget about it. When we first started using computers, backups were pretty simple. Most of what we created was words, and how fast can you type? Now, though, everything goes on the computer, and some of those files are huge. There are the wedding and baby pictures. Lose those and you want to kill yourself, possibly with your spouse’s help. Manual backups are possible but easily forgotten, and they take time. Time Machine will take care of that. Like most Apple software it will Just Work.

Apple has always built a great deal of utility into the operating system, and Leopard is no exception. For a preview, see this link. Last Fall, when Apple announced Leopard for this summer, a number of Mac experts wondered if that wasn’t overly ambitious.

The iPhone pre-announcement was pretty ambitious too, and not very characteristic of Apple and Steve Jobs — and unlike the Leopard announcement which mostly affects Apple computer users and loyalists, the iPhone announcement reaches out to the consumer market, which is notoriously fickle. Apple wants to sell an iPhone to every member of the nearly saturated iPod user market, and it’s more important to meet the iPhone schedule than the Leopard schedule.

As to why Apple didn’t just hire more people, if you haven’t yet read The Mythical Man Month, go get a copy and read it now. Adding more people to a complex project already behind schedule is difficult even if the people are experienced with the fundamentals of the project and the way your company does business; bringing in outsiders toward the end of a project is a formula for disaster. If iPhone needed more people, taking them off the probably already late Leopard to put them on iPhone makes sense.

Apple at NAB

One indication that Apple still cares a lot about Apple Computer users is the whole slew of announcements made at NAB this weekend. Final Cut Studio 2, Final Cut Server, and so forth. More on that another time, but this all looks good; it’s pretty clear that if your primary computer work is creating, processing, editing, and otherwise manipulating either audio or video files, you probably want to get the biggest Mac you can find. Much of the software you want is already built in, and the system is designed for doing what you want to do. I’ve said for some time now that we will soon come to the point at which most of us will have home systems capable of a final product as professional as Shrek. True, most of us won’t have the talent to create Shrek, but the point is that it won’t take a million dollar investment in equipment for you to get started. Small computers have already changed the recording industry in fundamental ways, and that process has hardly started. It won’t be long before it happens to the rest of the entertainment industry.

The NAB announcements, plus the 8-Core Mac, show that Apple is moving in that direction. Hurrah.

Auditor Calculator

I’ve been doing my taxes. I hate it. Here is a tool that made it easier. It’s also useful for making out deposit slips and doing any other financial arithmetic.

Go to this link and download the Free Auditor Calculator. This is a calculator that makes a printable tape of your entries. It installs easily on both XP and Vista systems, and works flawlessly. Recommended.

Registry Cleaning and other Tools

Leo Laporte the other day said that Registry Cleaning is a Voodoo remedy. You don’t really need it, and dabbling in Voodoo can be dangerous.

I entirely agree. The Windows Registry is a strange and mysterious place, and while there are areas where you can safely remove what appear to be needless keys and links, there are other areas where the result can be disastrous.

Not only can “registry cleaning” be dangerous, but it’s not at all clear that it does a lot of good. I understand that Windows gets clogged up and slows down over time, and the standard remedy for that is to reinstall Windows. That seems to work, and the system seems crisper after you’ve done it. The new broom sweeps clean.

The question is, why does it work? The standard theory of registry cleaning is that it takes less time for programs to search the registry when it’s small and compact. Given that it takes almost no time to save a full megabyte text file, or search and replace through a novel, it’s hard to see how simply making the registry smaller can help much. My theory is that when you reinstall Windows, you just don’t reinstall a lot of the gup that has been slowing it down, and which you have forgotten is there.

If you must do registry cleaning, the product I hear most often recommended is JV16 Power Tools which not only has a registry cleaner but a startup manager (very useful) and a bunch of other tools. I don’t use JV16 myself, although I may get it for the startup management tools; but I know people who do use the JVC package and like it a lot. It’s also recommended by former BYTE editor in chief Fred Langa.

I differ from some of the pundits over disk defragmentation. I think it helps, particularly on laptops where you aren’t likely to have a lot of extra disk space. The defragmenter I recommend is VOPT from Golden Bow, but anyone who has been reading this column for long knows that. I have been using VOPT for two decades, and I have never lost a byte of data from doing it. The first time you run VOPT it can take a long time. After that it’s faster. I am sure there are faster defragmenters, but I am even more sure there is no safer defragmenter.

While we are on the subject of utilities and tools, I usually put DU Meter on most of my machines. This puts up a little window that shows uploads and downloads; if I see a lot of unexplained activity I check for spyware.

Hacking WOW Accounts

The C/Net story at this link warns about keyloggers being installed on your computer, then being used to steal your World of Warcraft account. They then take over your character, sell his equipment, and steal his gold. WOW equipment and gold can be sold in the real world for dollars.

This seems a bit odd. If someone installs a keylogger on your computer, theft of your WOW account is going to be pretty far down on the list of things to worry about. If you access your bank, or use your credit card, you’re in for a lot more hurt than losing your WOW character’s equipment and gold.

Actually, my guess is that using keyloggers to steal WOW accounts is pretty rare. When I get a chance to play WOW — not too often just now — I note that there’s rarely a session in which I am not offered the opportunity to have someone grind and level my character. That means someone else takes over the character and runs him through quests and grinds out experience by slaughtering orcs or gnolls. If I were to take him up on it, I would be saved a bunch of tedious play to get my character to a higher level.

Sometimes this service is offered for free.

The problem is that the only way to let someone level my character I would have to give him my user name and password, after which he wouldn’t need a keylogger to get at my character and sell all his equipment. I suspect that happens a lot more often than sneaky installation of keyloggers.

Peter Glaskowsky points out that it’s a lot safer to use your keylogger to steal a WOW character than to use it in raid a bank account. The giggle factor alone may deter prosecution. “You say, sir, that the defendant stole your orc shaman and stole his gold?”

AEGIS MINI Ultra-Portable Hard Drive

I keep the Seagate “Cookie” USB drive in my briefcase. It holds 5 GB, and it’s very useful. Comes now the Aegis “Apricorn” pocket drive. http://www.apricorn.com/product_detail.php?type=family&id=5 It’s just as small and portable as the Seagate Cookie, and comes in 30 to 80 GB sizes. That’s a serious amount of storage that you can fit in your shirt pocket.

The Apricorn USB drive, with box and accessories.
A 60G Apricorn USB drive, with box and accessories. [View larger]

It also comes with backup and encryption software. The backup software allows you to create a bootable image of your system, so that in the event of a crash you can boot from the pocket drive and continue work. There’s software for both Windows and Mac systems.

The Windows encryption system offers a choice of Blowfish 448 bit or AES 256 bit encryption. You encrypt files or folders by doing a drag and drop. The Mac encryption works by creating encrypted virtual volumes, but there’s no choice: it’s AES 128 bit (read more about AES here).

The Apricorn drive is powered from the USB port and there’s no provision for an external power source. I’ve tested this with a powered Belkin USB port expander, and that works; and of course the Apricon works when you plug it directly into the USB port.

I have the USB model. Peter Glaskowsky has an Apricorn FireWire drive, and he’s fond of it.

I’ve tested the USB model with two ThinkPads, the ThinkPad TabletPC, and the HP TabletPC. Then I reformatted the drive and allowed the backup software to make a bootable image of my ThinkPad. It works just fine. This goes into my road warrior kit. Recommended.