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Computing At Chaos Manor:
September 18, 2007

The User's Column, September 2007
Column 326, part 3
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2007 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.


Continued from last week...

I am slightly late on this week's installment, but there are reasons. Actually, "late" isn't quite right: I have undertaken to provide a column every month as I did for BYTE, and I do that. I don't consider the weekly segments quite as inflexible...

Having dazzled you with footwork I am ready to begin. We can start with a new anti-iPhone/AT&T flap. It began when Ron Morse wrote:

I have no idea if this is true, or not. Were anyone other than AT&T involved I would be more skeptical. Note the source, it has a reputation.

http://theinquirer.net/?article=42235

Peter Glaskowsky replied:

Other people have reported the same results, so it's probably true.

My Treo would do the same thing, if I left it downloading my email while traveling in Europe. This was just user error, the error being the failure to RTFM.

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While all this may be explained in the manual, it certainly would be a shock if you have turned off your telephone and still get a $4,800 bill! Looking further into this, I find:

Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris said the company adequately discloses the potential charges on the Web site and when the phone is activated.

The 6,707-word terms and conditions document on the AT&T Web site says: "Substantial charges may be incurred if phone is taken out of the U.S. even if no services are intentionally used." (Newsday link)

Peter is right, I suppose: you really must read the manual. All of it, fine print and all. Nailing it down: make sure your iPhone or any other phone isn't allowed automatically to connect to the Internet when you're roaming overseas.

Or you can get a different kind of telephone.

Tuning Up Titan

Last week we reported that Orlando, my T42p IBM ThinkPad, was reporting a "fan error" and wasn't usable. I was able to get all the data off Orlando's hard drive, so I had lost nothing; but I did have to transfer everything to another laptop.

That turned out to be Titan, the Lenovo ThinkPad Z61t with titanium case. As I reported previously:

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.

That was last week.

Since Titan was being groomed to become my laptop, he needed both Office and FrontPage. He already had Office 2007 installed, but I'm used to Office 2003; more to the point, Niven has 2003 but not 2007. While Word 2007 has an Office 2003 compatibility mode, and I know that works because I have tested it, I don't want to have to think about such things when I'm working on fiction. Courtesy of Microsoft and Waggener-Edstrom I have several copies of both Office 2003 and FrontPage 2003, and I installed both on Titan.

Office 2003 installed without incident. FrontPage was a slightly different story. It installed just fine; but at the end of the installation program, before you click on "Finish", it asks if you want to go on line to update the program. Of course I told it to do that.

I shouldn't have. Trust me: DO NOT allow the installation program to go look for updates! If you do, the system will trundle for a while, demand that you install Windows Genuine Advantage - and after it installs WGA, will tell you that your copy of Office fails WGA and can't be updated.

It fails because it hasn't been activated. One you activate, it will update just fine.

Just another Windows Genuine Advantage, I guess.

The Monk's Cell

Orlando is a "main machine" in that I used him to write most my fiction. It works this way. I have a wonderful large office at the top of Chaos Manor. It's big, has a large library, and a complete office suite including a bathroom. It's connected to the Internet. There are telephones. There's lot of room and there are lots of computers - and that's pretty well the problem. I can write up here in the middle of the night, but in daytime the phone rings, people send me emails, people come to the front door - and while I can write columns and non-fiction and keep up my web site under those conditions, I cannot possibly write fiction that way.

It wasn't always thus. I wrote my first published novel, Red Heroin, while life went on around me. Sometimes I'd take my IBM Selectric typewriter (surely some of you remember typewriters! And carbon paper, and Sno-Pake, and...) into a bedroom, but I did a lot of work out in the living room. Over the years, though, I have become a bit more sensitive.

Now when I write fiction I retreat to the Monk's Cell. This is an upstairs bedroom that doesn't connect to my office - Chaos Manor is quite chaotic - and it used to be the bedroom for the oldest boy still living at home. It has no telephone, and the only Internet connection is wireless and not very fast. There are no books other than those relevant to the current projects - six different translations of Dante's Inferno, the Eaton Press edition in the original Italian, books of Inferno illustrations by Dore and Blake, several works on medieval warfare, and others on modern mercenaries including the Gurkhas. There's an exercise pad on the floor, and a room air conditioner, and not much else.

It does have a Microsoft wireless sculpted keyboard. I have become extremely fond of the Microsoft sculpted Comfort Curve keyboards (link). I would prefer slightly more "clicky" keys, but that's a wish, not a real complaint. I like the ones that come with it well enough. The curved and sculpted key layout is just right for me, and I can type nearly as fast as I can think. If you haven't looked at the Microsoft Comfort Curve keyboard, you should.

I keep the latest copies of fictional works in progress on Orlando the T42p ThinkPad, and when it comes time to work on fiction, I carry Orlando upstairs and connect him up to the large screen and Microsoft wireless sculpted keyboard.

The screen upstairs is a 19" square ViewSonic, and therein lies the tale.

No 1280 x 1024!

The problem came when the 19" ViewSonic wanted me to change resolution to 1280 x 1024. The Lenovo ThinkPad Z61t has a 12" wide screen, the same as the T42p, but the screen is only 7.5" high as opposed to the 9" height of the T42p.

Orlando, the T42p uses a screen resolution of 1280 x 1024, which is what the 19" ViewSonic wants, and all is well. When I connected Titan the Z61t, the screen demanded 1280 x 1024 - and that resolution isn't present on the Z61t.

This floored me. I called Alex, and he was similarly astounded. I checked, several times. No 1280 x 1024. This made for a big problem.

When flat screens run at any resolution other than the one they want, text on the screen looks ugly. The icons look ugly, icon text looks ugly, and if you bring up Word, the text in Word looks pretty ugly. Back at the beach house there was no problem at all because the wide screen ViewSonic down there wants 1440 x 900, and the Z61t has that. It just doesn't have 1280 x 1024.

The T42p does have 1280 x 1024. The Z61t does not.

A Driver Fiasco

Alex and I looked for drivers for the T42p video chipset, and found what appeared to be new drivers on the Intel web site. I downloaded those and installed them on Orlando.

The result was a disaster: the computer booted, the Windows splash screen came up - and then nothing but blurs. Orlando was working but his display showed nothing. I disconnected the external screen and rebooted, but I got the same result.

OK, time to roll back. Reboot holding down the F8 key. That turned out to be tricky: the T42p ThinkPad is very sensitive to "stuck keys" so you can't just hold down the F8 key, but it also is very fast, and if you don't hit that key at just the right time, it just goes on and boots. I tried several times, and each time I failed to get into the F8 mode I had a sinking feeling. However, about the fourth attempt worked: I got the Windows boot menu, told the system to revert to the last successful installation, and everything worked just fine.

I still didn't have 1280 x 1024 resolution, but the system was working fine.

Bottom Line on Titan

The external screen resolution was the only problem I had with using the Z61t. If I had to use the Z61t for my fiction, I'd solve the problem by buying a ViewSonic 1930wm monitor, same as I have at the beach.

I guess I would. In fact I have not been entirely happy with the 1930wm monitor, because text in Outlook looks a bit small to me, even when I pull the monitor as close to me as the furniture will permit. It's not intolerably small, and o0f course I can make the text in Word any size I like and it looks just fine. I get a lot of work done at the beach. I could live with the 1930wm and Z61; but I prefer the T42p and the square 19" external monitor. I suppose it's what I'm used to. My advisors tell me that 22" square monitors are pretty cheap now; more on monitors another time. The bottom line is that the ViewSonic 1930wm, which I have seen on sale for as little as $150, is plenty Good Enough to use with any ThinkPad.

I want to repeat that other than the lack of 1280 x 1024 resolution, the Z6it is a heck of a laptop. It works fine, running both Office 2003 and Office 2007 without glitches or problems. It runs World of Warcraft and other high video demand programs, and it runs cool when doing those. Use it with a ViewSonic 1930wm external monitor and you'll love it.

I had no problems setting up the wireless access, either here or at the beach. There are no network problems.

I prefer a taller screen, but that's for work at home: if I had to sit in a tourist class seat on an airplane, I'm pretty sure I'd rather have the shorter screen; but actually, if I did a lot of work in a tourist class airline seat, I'd want a TabletPC and have done with it. I'll have a report on the Lenovo TabletPC in action next month.

Fixing Up Orlando

Orlando the IBM Lenovo T42p works fine. It was in warranty; on Thursday evening I spoke to the IBM 800 warranty number. They sent me a shipping box that arrived Friday. Friday PM I sent the computer off to the IBM warranty service center. Monday at Noon it arrived back here, all fixed.

Or almost all fixed. Of course a story goes with that.

First, the good part. I went to the Lenovo ThinkPad Warranty page. It asks for the product number. Typing in T42p did nothing, but on the bottom of the T42p I found the formal product number, 2373-Q1U and a serial number. Entering those got the information that my machine was still in warranty.

I didn't have much success using the web site to tell me what to do. Looking for an authorized service center turned out to be futile. At one point it told me there were no such places within 100 miles of Studio City 91604. That turns out to be a defect in their geographic search system; Mr. Hellewell managed to get it to tell him there was a shop in Burbank, which isn't that far from me. A call to the shop said they didn't need paper work, just bring in the machine and they could fix it in warranty.

I was about to do when that other readers suggested I should just call the IBM 800 number. I did that, a pleasant American southern lady answered after almost no time on hold, and when I told her that the machine was showing "Fan error" when I turned it on she said "Looks like I have to send you out a box." The box arrived the next morning by DHL with shipping instructions and prepaid return. There's a DHL drop-off two blocks from here. I packed up Orlando, took him to the drop on Friday afternoon, and on Monday he came back.

He started up immediately and recognized my fingerprint to log in. So far as I can tell he's his old self.

The Network Problem

Of course there's a problem, and it's baffling.

Orlando has all his old network connections, and as soon as I logged him in he was able to connect to all the other machines on my local net.

Alas, it doesn't work the other way. Attempts to connect to Orlando get the message that "the device is already in use." Opening Network and looking at the local network show Orlando, but attempts to connect to him get the message that I'm not authorized to connect. This happens on both Vista and XP machines. On the Vista machine there's a "troubleshoot" button; trying that gets the message that the computer is visible on the net (I knew that since it's shown, but thanks) and there's some kind of firewall problem.

I went to Orlando and removed all sharing, then restored the share. That didn't work either. I will now go over, remove the old share, and try to set up a new share with a different name. Done. Not unsurprisingly, that doesn't work either. The network sees Orlando, but it won't connect.

Understand, I can push and pull from Orlando: I can send and receive files when using Orlando as the agent. I just can't do that unless I am using Orlando himself. Attempts to connect to him from other computers fail; and yes, I have reset both Orlando and the other computers. Something has changed, but I can't figure out what it was.

Eventually we'll solve this problem, but I won't manage it before I file this story.

The bottom line is that the Lenovo Warranty Service works very well. Windows, however, seems to have a problem.

A Final Note: A Happy Ending

This morning, some 20 hours after I connected Orlando to the network, and a good 12 hours after I made my last try to connect to him, I tried again: I could see Orlando on the network and for luck I tried to connect.

Bingo.

I have been able to map his drive to other machines, and everything works again. My network uses Microsoft Active Directory, and apparently that take a long time. So we have the happy ending after all, and the moral of the story is if you're using Active Directory and a machine has been unavailable for a while, it may take a good bit of time for Active Directory to realize it's back.