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Computing At Chaos Manor:
November 27, 2007

The User's Column, November 2007
Column 328, part 4
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2007 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

Call for Christmas Recommendations, Again

The repeated reminder: My annual Christmas Shopping Recommendations are coming up. Please send your recommendations for stocking stuffers and major items. Include links to reviews if possible, as well as links to where to obtain the items. And of course say why you think this would make a great gift.

Moving Pictures

The newest gadget at Chaos Manor is the JVC Everio GZ-MG255U. The JVC web site has tutorials on using the Everio.

I just got it, and this is only a first impression: which is, I love it. I had three JVC camcorders last year. They were all right, but this one is better: the image stabilization is better. I've fooled around with pictures on our walk this morning, and of Roberta at the breakfast table, and it's very easy to use. The pictures came out very clear, both still and HD.

Alex, Eric, and Dan will be over sometime next month to help me set up my first video podcast. If that works, and we think it will, I'll try to do an update monthly. We're hoping we can shoot things here in the office. Marty Winston suggests GE "Daylight 6500 K" Edison base fluorescent lamps in the office: I already use indirect lighting, so that may be easy. I am sure Alex will find other adjustments to the lighting. We intend to have reasonable production values. The camera is capable of them.

I am collecting a bunch of accessories for the Everio, including microphone and a tripod with a controllable head, and a bunch of other stuff.

I also have the Pinnacle Studio Movie Box Ultimate which will mix sounds and comes with editing software. My goal is to make all this easy and painless enough that Aunt Minnie can do movies when the kids visit.

With luck this is going to make for a pretty good video podcast without my having to go mad. We'll see.

Plantronics DSP GameCom Pro 1

I've been playing Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa. It has built in voice communication. The quality isn't as good as I like, but that is the game's fault.

I am using the Plantronics DSP GameCom Pro 1 headset and that works very well. I use the same headset when I do my TWIT audio broadcasts, and the sound quality is more than good enough. I'll probably use the Plantronics GameCom Pro 1 when I do audio podcasting. I don't suppose that wearing a headset is the proper image on a video podcast, although I'll probably demonstrate it when I start doing those.

If you are looking for a good Christmas present, the GameCom Pro 1 headset would be an excellent choice. Highly recommended.

M-Audio Podcast Factory

There are a lot of audio podcasting tools, enough that you can go nuts trying to collect the best tools. Some people like collecting tools and equipment more than doing the podcasts. For those who don't, who just want to try making a podcast, the simplest solution is to get the M-Audio Podcast Factory. Everything you need to make a Good Enough audio podcast is in the box: a good enough microphone, mike stand, a mixer box, cable, software, and some instructions. The only other thing needed is a decent computer, either PC or Mac.

I've fooled around with this enough to know I could use it to create good professional quality audio podcasts in my copious free time. Since I don't have any free time just now, and my next podcasting project will involve video as well as audio, I don't do that. Leo Laporte has done enough podcasts that he can call up on a Sunday afternoon, get five of us on a Skype conference call, and have that edited and published by Sunday night.

Anyway, if you know someone interested in doing audio podcasts, the Podcast Factory is a very good way to get them started. It would make a good Christmas gift. Recommended.

Winding Down

The first book of the month is oPtion$ -- the secret life of steve jobs, a parody by fake steve jobs. The actual author of this book is Forbes senior editor Daniel Lyons, who has for some time edited a blog called The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs http://fakesteve.blogspot.com/ under the pseudonym "fake steve jobs", and for some time remained anonymous until he was outed on the front page of the business section of the New York Times.

Now either this book is your cup of tea, or it is not. In my case, it is not; but I can see why those who like it are thrilled by it. My advice is to go to the web site and see how you like that; if you do, by all means get the book. Parts of it are hilarious. I have trouble getting into it - that is, I can't suspend my critical faculties long enough to get the real enjoyment from this satire. That's not to say it isn't well done.

The second book of the month is Colin S. Gray, Another Bloody Century. Colin Gray is a professor of international politics and strategic studies at Reading University, England, and is part of the rapidly vanishing tradition of English military historians. Military history was once a highly respectable field of study, but I understand that political correctness has just about wiped it out. I hardly need to remind readers that those who refuse to study history are often condemned to repeat it; or that one of the oldest and best known military maxims is "If you would have peace, be prepared for war." Herman Kahn shortened that in his Thinking About the Unthinkable to "If you want peace, study war." Herman's book is still worth reading.

Gray understands that there will be war no matter how much we wish otherwise. Clearly I agree: some years ago I edited a series of anthologies in a series entitled There Will Be War. When Harry Harrison heard that I was putting out a series with that title, he rushed out a counter-volume called "There Won't Be War." I understand his book sold thousands of copies. Meanwhile, There Will Be War became a series of ten volumes, and I ended it only because I was running out of time and energy. In my judgment it is folly to assume that peace will break out and we ain't going to study war no more; and worse, making that assumption assures us of another bloody century. If you would have peace, study war.

Colin Gray is both historian and analyst. He has chapters on traditional warfare, but he also looks into cyberwar, war in space, and other unconventional means of conflict. I have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone who wants to understand the bloody century to come. You won't agree with all he says, but there's nothing in there not worth thinking about.

The third book of the month is Abraham's Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People by Jon Entine. There have been many histories of the Jews that draw on traditional scholarly sources; this one is different in that it not only draws on literature and tradition, but checks some of those sources through DNA evidence. The result is a wide ranging book of both history and analysis. Who are the Jews? Is there any explanation of the well-known phenomenon that Jews have a higher average IQ than the general American population? Greg Cochran put forth a theory on the subject; does this make sense?

If these questions interest you, this is the book to read.

The computer book of the month is iPod: The Missing Manual by J.D. Biersdorfer with David Pogue. You may think you know all the capabilities of the iPod, but I can pretty well guarantee you'll find out something else from this book. Includes accessories, where to find cool stuff, and the rest of it. If you've bought an iPod you may as well spring for the missing manual.

The game of the month does turn out to be Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa. I sometimes find the game irritating. Half the puzzles are goofy, involving finding things that are not very obvious because they tend to hide in the graphics, but part of that can be fixed by lowering the graphic quality. The jerkiness goes away at lower frame rates. The site is still overcrowded, and sometimes the lag is so bad that you can't scan the area around you. I've been killed several times because I can't manage to turn toward the monster in time. There are other glitches and bugs, which Garriott's troops are slowly fixing. There's already been one major overhaul that took half an hour to download and install.

And yet, for all that, I like it. It really is a cross between role playing and first person shooter. The role playing is difficult because of the lag and the interface, but it's still a good bit of fun. Think Diablo II with partners and a good story line. It's much better when you are grouped with at least one more person. For example, if one uses an EMP weapon to destroy shields, while the other is shooting for effect, most monsters can be stopped in their tracks a long way from your position. With four in the group it's easy to ambush monsters.

For some reason I don't feel the pressure to grind up to higher levels in a big hurry. There are interesting things going on. Try it. You may like it. I'm still having fun.