Computing at Chaos Manor: Pournelle's Mailbag

Jerry Pournelle answers BYTE reader email.

Jerry Pournelle, Contributor

July 26, 2011

6 Min Read

Thanks to all those readers who sent good wishes to me on the relaunch of BYTE. I'm glad to be back. Nice to see all your email, too. From time to time, I'll try to select and answer some of these messages.

First off, a lot of you asked if I still name all my computers. Indeed I do. This is Emily, an Intel Extreme with an Antec case and power supply. Next to Emily is LisaBetta, an old HP Compaq Tablet PC that I still use. I loved that machine. I still do, but she's hopelessly slow. I’m not about to get rid of her, though.

Here are some of the notes I've received -- and my answers below. Keep those comments coming. I love to hear from you.

I upgraded my late 2006 MacBook [to Lion] right away. The upgrade installation was uneventful. The installer deletes itself once it runs, so back it up first. The guts are in the file "InstallESD.dmg," which can be burned to DVD or restored to a USB flash drive to make a bootable installation drive. A clean install from a flash drive to a freshly formatted external USB hard drive also worked fine.

The one problem I'm having is with graphics in VMware Fusion. The company recommends reinstalling the latest version 3.1.3 after upgrading to Lion, but I'm still having graphics trouble with Windows XP and Windows 7 virtual machines and, to a lesser extent, with Ubuntu. Big blocks of the screen go black and it takes some jiggling or switching between single window and full screen views to get the screen back. Very annoying but not fatal. I have a tech support request in.

The reverse scrolling takes some getting used to, but can be switched back in the System Preferences.

Spaces now have to be configured from the Mission Control screen (F9). I had to search Help to learn how to add spaces: mouse up to the top right corner and click on the dimly visible plus sign that slides out from the right. Assigning programs to spaces is done in the same screen or by right-clicking on the program's Dock icon and checking under Options.

Lion doesn't seem any slower on my aging MacBook than Snow Leopard. On the whole, so far, I like it.

Bill Dooley

Bill, Good to hear from you. I had no problem with Lion on my MacBook Pro, but I have avoided installing it on any Mac on which I use VMWare. I’ll get to it. Obviously Lion is the wave of the future, but there’s still no urgency. I’m waiting for the killer app that you can’t live without that runs only on Lion. None yet, I think. BYTE has some how to galleries on creating an installation DVD or a USB flashdrive for backup.

Jerry, I don't know if you'll remember me but once upon a time I wrote the WORD Plus spell check program. I later started a small game company called FTL Games -- it developed a space adventure game named SUNDOG and later a game called Dungeon Master. I'm glad to hear BYTE is back and that you're writing for it again. I do wish it would put back issues online in some form, as there is so much history I'd love to be able to read again.

Sincerely, Wayne Holder

Formerly Software Heaven, Inc./FTL Games

Wayne, of course I remember Word Plus. I used that program for years until Microsoft finally got Microsoft Word running properly. I used it with WRITE, Xywrite, Q&A -- all kinds of editors. And Sundog was a great game. Pity it can’t be updated for modern computers: it had a decent plot and it was quite advanced for its time.

So far as old issues go: at least one issue, the first one, is already up here at BYTE in its entirety. Find it at the end of the BYTE 1975 article. Gina says more issues are coming.


After resisting mightily for several years, I finally succumbed and upgraded to a Verizon smart phone. I made my bet on Android and purchased a Samsung Droid Charge. That's more for the spectacular screen than for any other reason. So far, I am simply delighted with it.

Of interest to you, with your high speed Internet access issues, and possibly for your readers, is the cost of high speed access. When I purchased the phone a couple weeks ago I was required to purchase a $30/month data plan. On the Verizon LTE (4G) network, available to me here on Long Island, NY, Internet access is quite speedy. And because the phone can act as a data point for my netbook, the potential for large amounts of data makes the Verizon plan attractive: $30/month for unlimited data!

The week after I committed to a two-year renewal, one of the Droid sites reported that Verizon was going to terminate its unlimited plan in favor of a tiered usage plan. My $30/month would only purchase 2GB!

I immediately contacted Verizon customer service (always a dreadful experience). The customer service representative I spoke with had not heard of this plan change. She headed off to speak to her supervisor and confirmed it. But she also stated that existing plan users would be grandfathered in -- both for its current contract and for all future renewals.

Because I have been burned by Verizon in the past and have become somewhat paranoid in dealing with it, I asked if she could email me a statement to that effect. I expected her to have to either clear that email with management or simply refuse. Much to my surprise and delight, she sent me that email the same day.

The point is simply this: the $30/month unlimited data plan is STILL available to anyone under contract by July 7. Given the skyrocketing cost of data across all the various providers, this will quickly amortize even the outrageous early termination fees.

It might just be the most cost-effective solution to your traveling high-speed Internet access needs.

And last, I highly recommend the Samsung Droid Charge. So far at least. It just works and that display really is wonderful.

Warm regards, Larry Cunningham

Larry: the moral of the story is this. Do not give up your Verizon Unlimited. Ever. You will not see its like again. And of course 2GB doesn't last very long. Even with the best spam filters, I sometimes get a gigabyte of spam in just a few hours. And of course, if you keep a lot of tabs open in Firefox or Explorer, that leaks gigabytes daily as the servers send advertisements.

Jerry Pournelle is BYTE's senior technologist. An award-winning novelist and columnist, he's back at BYTE with Computing at Chaos Manor. Find more of Jerry's stuff at Email him at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights