Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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Computing At Chaos Manor:
September 11, 2007

The User's Column, September 2007
Column 326, part 2
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2007 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.


Continued from last week...

I am down at the beach house having just finished the final revisions to Inferno II. I should feel pretty good about that, except that just after I finished, Orlando, my IBM ThinkPad T42p, died. He just turned himself off. Attempts to turn him back on get a short response, and the message "Fan Error," after which he shuts down again.

This isn't a disaster. First, the computer clearly works; the only problem is that apparently a fan isn't working. It shouldn't take too long to get that fixed. I don't recall whether Orlando is in warranty or not, but probably not; still it ought not cost much to replace a fan.

He had been running a bit hot lately; which could be the fan was failing. I was playing World of Warcraft when he collapsed; that's about as much stress as a laptop needs, since it was running at 1440 by 900 and most of the graphics features were turned on. No problems other than the fan failure. More when I learn more.

Backups

I carry a Seagate 100 GB USB 2.0 drive when I travel, and I periodically dump everything from the ThinkPad onto that, but of course I hadn't done that this time. Fortunately, the hard drive is fine, and when I get back home I'll take it out and put it into a USB drive carrier so I can copy everything. That will let me put my desktop into the same state it would have been in had I not had problems with Orlando.

Titan

Meanwhile, I am writing this on Titan, the Lenovo ThinkPad Z61t with titanium case (which of course inspired the name). It's working fine. More than fine. I have it where Orlando sat. It's connected to the Microsoft Wireless Laser 6000 keyboard and mouse exactly as Orlando was, and the output goes to the ViewSonic VA 1930wm flat screen monitor I keep down here. Since Titan is a wide screen model, everything works as expected.

The built-in wireless is connected to the D-Link wireless router, again exactly as Orlando was. Indeed there are only two major differences in working with Titan as opposed to Orlando. Well, three if you count the fact that Titan is missing everything I did - mail, work on my novel, a huge discussion in the SFWA closed conference - since Thursday morning. Nothing I can do about that without a way to read Orlando's hard drive, and that won't happen until tomorrow afternoon.

The other two differences are that I have neither Front Page nor WS-FTP on this system, so I can't update my web site; and I am working with Office 2007, not Office 2003. That means I'm writing this in Word 2007. It also means I am doing mail in Outlook 2007. In both cases I've just been too lazy to make the switch.

I'm finding Outlook 2007 preferable to Outlook 2003 in some respects. The organization seems more logical, and it looks better. I'll have more on that in future, but I think Outlook 2007 is a genuine improvement over 2003.

Maybe not. I don't seem to be able to set Outlook 2007 to preview messages in plaintext. It may be that I just can't find the setting. Outlook 2007 isn't organized the same as Outlook 2003. Not being able to set the preview to plaintext is a deal breaker for me; I'll have to work on this when I get home.

Word is a different story. Word 2007 is greatly reorganized, and the new organization is much more logical than Word used to be. No question about it. The problem is, many of us have been using the old Word with its not very logical organization, and we're used to it. The new Word is driving me nuts.

As for instance finding help. With the old Word that was simple enough: look for Clippy or whatever avatar of the Office Assistant you preferred. I know some liked the little dog. Over the years I got used to seeing Clippy - for those who don't use Word, an animated paper clip that talked to you - and now I find that I miss him. Miss him or not, he's gone. The new Word organization has no place for the Office Assistant. Clippy or the Dog or any other, he's plain gone. Now try to find the Help button.

It's not on the Menu Bar. Used to be you could do Help, About to get version numbers and such information. No more. There's no HELP item, and thus no HELP about. After staring at the new display for about ten minutes, and remembering that I have done this before so I know I can find HELP, I noticed a tiny ringed ? up in the right hand corner. That's HELP.

And yes, I know: F1 still brings up HELP. For some reason I never got into the F1 habit, and it takes me a while to remember that. But it does work. That is, it works if you toggle the F Lock button on the Microsoft Wireless Laser 6000 Keyboard. The F Lock Button is to the right of the Function Keys, and this is the only keyboard I've ever seen it on. F Lock disables the F keys. That may or may not be a good idea - I don't see why I would ever want to do that - but it sure helps to know about it. There is no indication as to the status of the F keys, locked or unlocked, so if the F keys don't work you have to toggle the F Lock key.

Once I got Help I looked up Office Assistant, and was told that Word 2007 has a new organization that doesn't include the Office Assistant. That's all the information they give. Poor old Clippy doesn't even get a memorial service. Clippy, RIP. I am sure many will be overjoyed.

In any event, I'm writing this in Word 2007. I periodically investigate Office 2007, and my conclusion remains: it's nice enough, and if you start with it you will probably like it, but if you're accustomed to Office 2003 there's no compelling reason to upgrade; or at least I've found none.

And now it's time to pack up and go home.

Recovery

The first thing I did when I got home was to take the 2.5" 80 GB drive out of Orlando, the IBM T42p Thinkpad who is suffering from a "fan error" and get out the USB 2.0 case. IBM/Lenovo cases the drive in some mounting hardware; all that has to come off. That doesn't take long.

I then put the drive into the USB 2.0 carrier. The USB cable for the drive has three heads, one colored red. It took a while to figure out which went where, although it shouldn't have. The trick is this: two of the USB connectors are close together and one of those is red. One is the data cable and the other supplies power. Plug them both into USB ports on the system you are connecting to. Plug the other end into the USB carrier. My Seagate external USB backup drive has much the same arrangement, except that the "power" connector on the Seagate is green.

Robert Bruce Thompson notes that providing sufficient power is sometimes problematic with USB-powered hard drives. "A USB port is supposed to supply 500 mA at +5V, but not all do (notably, many USB keyboards and displays). Also, it's a good idea to plug the two USB cables into not just any two USB ports, but two ports on different USB controllers."

When you plug the drive into a USB port, Windows will react, but it won't do much; at least not for me. On both Windows XP and Vista machines it told me that new hardware is noted, but after a couple of minutes I concluded that Windows didn't much care. In my case I opened Device Manager and discovered that the hardware had been detected, but there was no drive letter assigned. Opening Computer Management / Disk Management again revealed that the system was aware of the drive, but would not let me assign it a drive letter. It suggested I reboot.

The problem was that the system would not reboot with that drive connected. This is because it's a boot drive, and trying to decide what disk to boot from seemed to be confusing things; as soon as I disconnected the USB cable, the system booted fine. I wasted an hour on trying to access that drive, but I never managed it.

In discussing this with my advisors, Eric Pobirs noted that sometimes it takes a long time for the USB stack to pay attention. I thought about that, rebooted the system, connected the USB drive, and went off to watch The Closer. An hour later I came back to find that Windows was now aware of the disk. It had been assigned drive letter E: and there was absolutely no problem with copying off all the files.

The obvious moral of this story is that you need to make backups of your pst files when you are on the road. It's easy enough to do. Seagate's little USB drives work splendidly, and they don't take up more room in your luggage than a paperback book. Or there is the tiny 5 GB doughnut drive if you don't want to carry a book sized backup. Either way, carry one and use it.

The second moral of this story is that when you connect a bootable drive to Windows by USB, you must have patience. Lots of patience. Have faith, too.

Rick Hellewell tried this experiment with the 2.5" drive from his T42p and an HP desktop running Windows XP (given that Mr. Hellewell is a security expert, you may be sure it's a fully patched SP/2 version of XP Pro), and in his case he got a drive letter assignment in under a minute. In my case it took over five minutes. The difference may be in the BIOS; in any event, the remedy is the same: have faith and lots of patience.

Recovering the Data

Once I had the USB drive working properly, I copied all Outlook pst files from it into a separate directory on Alexis, my communications system. Then I fired up Outlook on Alexis, and used File / Import to import the entire outlook.pst file from that directory. In the import dialogue there's an option to ignore duplicates, and I chose that. The process took about 4 minutes, and when it was done I had all of my outlook.pst data again. I'm backing it up now.

Now I have to find someone who can work on an IBM ThinkPad t42p to fix a "fan error".

Falcon UPS

Last month we had a power failure and I speculated that I needed a way to keep the Ethernet switches, cable modem, and the D-Link Gaming Router going; as long as those were powered I'd have Internet access even during a power failure (assuming I had a laptop or other battery powered computer).

It happens that Michael Stout, VP of Engineering for Falcon Electric read that column, and next thing I knew, Michael Stout and Ron Seredian were out here refurbishing the UPS establishment at Chaos Manor.

Next time we have a power failure, Chaos Manor will still have Internet access for hours. Full story another time, but let me again emphasize that if you are serious about power backup, Falcon is the way to go. I've been relying on Falcon UPS systems for at least twenty years, starting back when they were Clary (see The Great Power Spike story), and I have never had any reason to regret that.