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Computing At Chaos Manor:
August 10, 2008

The User's Column, August, 2008
Column 337, Part 1
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2008 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.


The World Science Fiction Convention is taking place in Denver as I am writing this, but I'm not in Denver. I just wasn't up to a trip and a strenuous convention, and my next big book with Larry Niven, Escape from Hell, won't be available until next February, so there was no point in going to promote that book. Of course Exile — and Glory!, a fixup novel built from the story collection High Justice and the Laser novel Exiles to Glory, definitely is available in both hardbound and eBook format from Baen Books or your local bookstore or in online vendors.

One of the panels at Worldcon was on Sigma, a group of science fiction writers who serve as consultants to the Undersecretary for Research and Development of the Department of Homeland Security. I would have been on the panel had I gone to Denver, but I am sure Larry Niven was more than competent at representing my views. Peter took the picture of Niven, shown with Ian Tregillis and Chris Christopher. Also present but out of frame were Arlen Andrews, Walter Jon Williams, Michael Flynn, Wil McCarthy, and John Hemry.

Ian Tregillis, Chris Christopher, and Larry Niven. Photo by Peter Glaskowsky
Ian Tregillis, Chris Christopher, and Larry Niven. Photo by Peter Glaskowsky

Sigma has participated in several conferences with DHS. Secretary Cohen, a former Navy admiral and Director of Naval Research, explains the participation of science fiction authors by pointing out that most of his research budget goes to well known problems with predictable results; but he wants to devote about 10% of the research budget to high risk/high payoff projects, and of that portion of the budget, about 10% should go to really far out ideas that may have a low probability of success, but would have a very high payoff. So far Admiral Cohen has been satisfied with the Sigma contributions. I do miss the Sigma meeting and wish I could have gone to Denver for it. The good news is that I seem to be recovering fast: next week I will go to the DC/X Anniversary in Alamogordo. http://www.dcxproject.com/page.php?num=52

Virus Warning

I recently sent a mailing to all Chaos Manor Review subscribers warning of the " Anti-virus Windows XP 2008" Virus. There are several variants on this, but they all begin with what appears to be an authentic message from Microsoft warning of a new virus and offering a link where you may get the remedy. The message is reproduced here.

This is a scam. If you click on that link and follow instructions you will be infected and doomed; getting rid of this virus is difficult. To make it worse, they actually make you pay for being infected!

I am sure that all Chaos Manor Reviews readers are aware of this, but it bears repeating: any offer to sell you an anti-virus program through an Internet link should be avoided. It will likely be at best a scam, and at worst a scheme to load malware onto your computer. Before you download and install programs, be certain that you are dealing with a reputable firm you know of through means other than their mailings to you.

And be certain: Microsoft will never try to send you updates through a mass mailing of this sort.

Y'all be careful out there. The scamsters are getting a lot smarter.

The Future of Vista

As I write this, there is a flurry of discussion on the Internet regarding the future of Vista. The headline is "Vista's Security Rendered Completely Useless by Exploit." (Here's one link, and see also this one). Of course we have heard this sort of thing before; but this seems serious, and one school says there is no possible fix: the defect is built into the very nature and design of Vista's memory management. Windows Server 2008 is also said to be vulnerable; it is not known whether the same technique can be used to render Windows XP and previous versions of Windows vulnerable.

The vulnerability, according to the paper presented at Black Hat, is total: an attacker can put any code he likes into any memory location he likes. This would allow commands to upload any and all data on or reachable by the machine, and of course allow adding the machine to an army of zombies.

If Vista is not merely compromised but irretrievably so, then the work I did last month converting my major communications machine from an AMD Dual running XP to a Core 2 Quad 6600 with Vista 64 Ultimate was worse than useless. So it goes. On the other hand, as I said, we have heard this sort of thing before, and Microsoft generally pulls a kludged rabbit out of the hat and continues. Microsoft is a big outfit with a lot of clever people, and up to now those who have bet against Microsoft have generally regretted their decisions.

In my case, the conversion to Vista was an interim measure anyway: while my transition to MAC OS X for most of my operations including Windows operations in VMware virtual machines on my Mac has been a bit delayed by the massive radiation treatment that started just as I began the Mac adventure, I am still working with MAC OS X. I'm writing this in Word 2007 on the new 64-bit Vista machine, but this is the first column I have done on a Windows machine (rather than a Mac) for several months.

Last Minute Word on Vista

Eric Pobirs has read the Black Hat paper and says:

A lot of the issues revolve around accommodating old badly written software. Much of the vulnerability can be eliminated with a few registry entries that breaks compatibility with a lot of that stuff, much as many items were already broken by the existing differences between what XP and Vista allowed to be done in the registry.

Reading the paper shows the problem is not nearly as great as has been reported. The authors' own conclusions don't jibe with the claims that this is completely unfixable. Much of it can be addressed immediately by exercising some discretion. Much else is up to third parties to address.

For instance, Vista 64-bit defaults to running 32-bit Internet Explorer because many very popular add-ins, most notably Flash, aren't available in 64-bit form. 64-bit binaries are required to implement certain security functions that weren't part of the picture when the 32-bit stuff was defined. Thus going 64-bit for everything helps on the security front in a way that only coincidental to 64-bit itself. It was just a good time to take a recommendation and make it an enforced law.

So it would really be helpful if Adobe would get on the ball with their release of a 64-bit native Flash.

Another major attack vector used in the paper is Sun's Java. These are almost certainly not the only exploitable add-ins to browsers but there are the ones that be found on nearly all machines. The .NET setup is also in there. Homogeneity is a huge plus for attackers.

- - Eric

We'll have to wait and see about the vulnerability of Vista and Server 2008, but for now I'm running Vista 64 Ultimate on a Core 2 Quad 6600, and it's working quite well.

Moving To 64-bit Vista Ultimate

It was a busy week. This will be a long story, and parts of it are not finished, but we do have a happy ending, and I learned a lot. I also have some decisions to make. Stay tuned.

For years I have done most of my communications work with Outlook 2003 on an AMD Dual Processor system running Windows XP. Outlook was my calendar and mail program. Outlook has very good contact management routines, and can maintain a large number of contact lists. In my case Outlook kept not only my telephone and address book in Contacts, but also the subscriber list in a separate contact list called Consolidated. The name is accidental: I used to keep different classes of subscribers in different lists, but I soon learned to use Outlook's categories to differentiate subscriber classes and years, so I was able to consolidate the lists...

Outlook's contact handling was one reason I liked Outlook from my first exposure to it. Outlook of any flavor takes a bit of getting used to, but it does a lot of things. Because it keeps multiple contact lists, it's easy to make mailing lists. I can mail to an entire contact list, or make special lists within a given contact list. I can send a message to myself and blind copy to the subscriber list, and everyone gets a message without seeing the addresses of others on the list.

Problems

In practice I have to divide my full subscriber list into groups because there are too many for Outlook to handle as one list, but that is easy enough to do. I am sure the limiting size of the list Outlook can mail to is documented somewhere, but I never bothered to look it up. I began segregating the lists when Outlook slowed to a crawl and finally began sending messages to the effect that the list was too long. That's somewhere north of 750.

I had many problems with Outlook 2003 running on an AMD dual processor computer with Microsoft XP as the operating system. Understand, this is a dedicated communications machine. I generally did not use it to write stories or articles, or play games. I did keep a large number of Firefox tabs open — sometimes as many as fifty to seventy. That was part of the way I operate. I have one of the best mail sections on the web because many people send me pointers to stories they think important, or want me to comment on. I look at the story, and if it seems worth further thought I leave the tab open to remind me to look at it when I am working on mail postings. Sometimes that tab can stay open a long time, because the story is interesting and I intend to post it with comments, but it doesn't fit with what else is important that day.

All this worked well enough, but over time we had problems.

The first problem was that Outlook would often freeze. I might be typing a reply to an email, and discover that I had typed a number of characters but nothing was happening on the screen. Sometimes the "Not Responding" tag would appear in a program's window (usually Outlook but sometimes something else that had focus when the freeze began). When this happened it would be when Outlook was bringing in new mail, and the remedy was always the same: do nothing for up to two or three minutes, and the problem would fix itself.

That was annoying, but what was infuriating was when I would try to save a new contact, or go to a new mail category, and get the message that "another program closed unexpectedly, and to protect your data Outlook cannot allow you to access this data". That one would not fix itself: the only remedy was to shut down Outlook, make certain that all Outlook processes were closed (I used Task Manager for that), and open Outlook again. Sometimes it might even be necessary to restart XP. If this happened several times in one day (and it did) I would restart the machine, backup all my XP files, and use VOPT to optimize the hard drive; whether that was useful I can't say, but I thought it was. After I did all that I would not have another incident for a couple of days.

Now in Outlook's defense, I have complex rules and filters, and one of them is InBoxer, a plug-in program that examines the content of mail. Since Outlook does some summary examination of content for its Junk Mail filter, that made two programs looking at incoming content. Meanwhile my rules sorted the mail into folders. I have dozens of folders and many have rules concerning them. All this went on with each incoming message, and this seems to have overwhelmed the Dual Processor AMD chip; and while I could live with temporary freezes, the necessity to shut down and restart was unendurable.

Thus the move to a new system.

Intel Core 2 Quad 6600

I've written about the new system in previous columns. We built a "sweet spot" system. That's not precisely a term of art, but it's the best description I have. You look at price and performance for various components of a computer system, and you will see that in nearly every case there is a break point: performance and price rise rather steadily together, then suddenly price takes off. Just before that rise is the sweet spot. In the case of the CPU the sweet spot was the Intel Core 2 Quad 6600.

We did that with most of the components in the new system, leading almost inevitably to naming it Bette.

Graphics Board

System speed depends a lot on what you're doing. For gamers the graphics board is at least as important as the CPU. The competition in graphics boards is extreme, and new ones come out every few months. Each one is not merely better than its predecessor, but often a LOT better. It will also be a lot more expensive — while the previous champion board will be a great deal cheaper. My research on graphics boards was fairly simple: I went out to Fry's, looked at the price and performance of major manufacture graphics boards, and chose the Gigabyte GV-RX387512H with 512 MB graphics memory. The choice was easy: Gigabyte is a reliable company, the ATI Radeon HD 3870 was their latest and greatest only a few months ago, and Fry's had the boards at a super sale price provided that I was willing to jump through the hoops to get a mail-in rebate. I understand that some readers have had problems with rebates, but I have never had any difficulties with mail-ins on items I have bought at Fry's. You do have to read the instructions carefully and do exactly as they ask, but that's tedious, not onerous.

My graphics board strategy for gaming systems is to replace the board about once a year with what was last year's latest and greatest.

We had 4 gigabytes of Kingston premium memory, and a fast Seagate 7200 RPM drive. For more details see this CMR report. We built the system, and partly on a whim installed 64-bit Vista Ultimate as the operating system so that it could see the entire 4 GB of memory.

I tried out the new system and it worked well. It seemed to run Office 2008 without problems. I was about to change over from the AMD system, but then I had a spell of malaise due to 50,000 rad of radiation treatment for the ugly tumor in my head, and nothing happened for a while; but I was increasingly unhappy with the glitches in Alexis, the AMD Dual XP system, and finally decided it was time to bite the bullet and make Bette the main communications machine.

The Transition

The transition wasn't smooth, but that's in large part because I did multiple transitions at the same time: from 32-bit to 64-bit operating system; from XP to Vista Ultimate; and from Office 2003 to Office 2007.

This proved to be more complicated than I thought it would be. First, Vista has different default folders for Office files, and works very hard at keeping you from finding out where they are. The search function by default doesn't look at hidden or system files, and all of Outlook's files are thus invisible until you go to Advanced Search and enable those search options.

This is important because the simplest way to set up a duplicate of an Outlook account complete with files on a second machine is to copy all the pst files of the original system to the appropriate folder on the new machine. You then set up at least one mail account on the new machine, close it down, copy the pst files to the folder where the new machine gets its data, and start Outlook up. If you've done it right, the new system will be identically the same as the old. You may have to adjust some rules, and if you're running InBoxer on the original machine it must be installed on the new one, but in general it goes easily.

Furthermore, the pst files of Outlook 2007 are identical to the pst files of Outlook 2003 (and Outlook XP) so that part of switching from one version to another is simple enough.

Alas, it wasn't that easy for me.

Where Do You Put Your Data?

When I began using Office, I did not care for the Microsoft default system. For reasons I don't completely remember I didn't care to put all my fiction and non-fiction in "My Documents". When I first moved from Q&A Write and XYWRITE to Microsoft Word, I put all of my documents into different folders and copied them all into a master documents folder called Winword. I first did this in about 1988, and one of the first folders any new machine gets is Winword. At the moment that folder is a bit larger than 500 MB, and has 221 subfolders. It contains everything I have written since 1989 or so, and I periodically do XCOPY C:\winword X:\winword /e/s/d/y, where X: is one or another of my networked machines. I do that to two or three other machines, and I'm very much in the habit of doing it. I may use other automated backup systems, but I always remember to copy off the Winword file.

My advisors, and particularly Eric Pobirs, point out that Microsoft has a reason for its rather arcane organization of files, and I probably ought to move the Winword to become a subfolder under My Documents (or just Documents in Vista). That way it would be automatically indexed and it would make it much easier to do automatic backups. Eric is undoubtedly correct, and I'll probably do this presently.

However, because it was my habit to have folders of my own creation rather than use Microsoft's defaults, for years I kept my Outlook pst files in C:\outlook. That was a lot easier to find than the XP default of "c:\documents and settings\jerryp\local settings\application data\microsoft\outlook" followed by a similar horror for the destination. It also caused me some problems, and eventually I succumbed and let Microsoft put the pst files where it wanted them. Then I made up batch files to copy the pst files to other places for backup, because I sure wasn't going to type that long address for my XCOPY operations. (I generally built those with Norton Commander, which has a good text and command editor, and kept them in the C:\Work directory; another habit I acquired in DOS days and see no reason to discontinue.)

I am now going back to my prior practice of directing Outlook to keep its files in C:\Outlook and having done with it. The only reason not to do that would be if I had multiple Outlook accounts for multiple users, and I don't do that.

User Accounts

One of my first problems with the transition was setting up the user accounts in Outlook. Most of this is simple, and I had no problems getting the EarthLink account working. My main jerrypournelle.com account was another story. That account uses Port 995 for incoming mail; and it requires that the little "This server requires an encrypted connection (SSL)" box has to be checked. I find that Port 995 almost always uses encrypted connection, but Microsoft neither makes SSL the default for Port 995 (and other traditionally encrypted ports) nor warns you that this port is usually encrypted; the result was that I repeatedly failed to connect properly to the server. I could send to it, but not receive incoming mail. This wasted half a day in part due to bad eyesight but mostly due to not understanding that 995 needs encryption; but eventually between me and my Internet access administrator it got checked, and after that all was well, barring that I had torn out some of my remaining hair.

The Transfer Continues

Once Outlook was working properly on the new machine, it was time to move or install other vital programs. One was FrontPage 2003; that installed without problems, and copying the Chaos Manor web file from one machine to the other took care of the rest.

A casualty was WS_FTPpro which I have used for file transfer for well over a dozen years. In the past I only needed to copy the folder from Program Files on one machine to the same folder on the new one; but this time it didn't work. Vista 64 will not run WS_FTPpro. However, the same folder contained an older version, WS_FTP95, and while that's not quite as nifty as the pro version, it does work with Vista 64, and that's what I am using now.

Norton Windows Commander transferred just fine, and runs quite well. Windows Commander is abandoned ware, which is a pity: it's still the best file manager I know of. That may be because my fingers know its command structure at the cellular level, but I would really hate to be without the old Commander. It allows me to view files, edit DOS and text files, copy, move, prepare and run batch files, and just a lot of other stuff I do a lot of. If you can find a copy of it, you may well like it a lot.

The biggest problem was with Firefox. There was no problem running Firefox on Vista 64, but transferring all my open windows, bookmarks, passwords, and other settings proved baffling. There are many ways to do it, but they are not obvious. I was going nuts when Jeff Cohen sent this mail:

Transferring Firefox profiles to another machine.

I've successfully done this. It isn't hard at all, it's just necessary to know where Firefox keeps all of its files. They are in hidden directories.

The first place is "\Documents and Settings\your name\Local Settings\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox" and the second is "\Documents and Settings\your name\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox"

Just zip them up and unzip on the other machine. Note that "Local settings" and both "Application Data" are hidden. Windows Explorer will not show them by default (it's an advanced view setting).

Jeff Cohen

Note that the settings are not kept in one place but two. The problem is that Vista does not put those in the same place that XP does. Indeed, those folders don't even exist in Vista. This vexed me until Jeff sent another email:

Copy the entire subtree at "\Documents and Settings\your name\Local Settings\Application Data\Mozilla" on XP to "\Users\your name\AppData\Local\Mozilla" on Vista. AppData is also hidden. Then copy the entire subtree at "\Documents and Settings\your name\Application Data\Mozilla" on XP to "\Users\your name\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla" on Vista.

And for the XP locations above better to copy the entire Mozilla tree and not just Firefox.

This worked. I still do not know what ROAMING is (I'd guess ‘all users'), but moving certain files to that location is necessary. There was still one more problem having to do with the arrangement of the tabs. When I installed Firefox on the Vista system I was automatically sent Firefox 3, which "improved" some functions to near unusability. Among other things it did, Firefox 3 hosed Tab Mix Plus, one of the most useful Add-ons for Firefox. Tab Mix Plus gives good control over displays, and for those who, like me, keep a lot of tabs open, it is vital.

Fortunately I found a "Developer" version of Tab Mix Pro that does work with Vista 64. There were several warnings about this, but also some testimonials, and since I do a lot of silly things so you don't have to, I downloaded and installed it. I got my copy from digitalalchemy and it worked perfectly. There are a number of other sites where the developer version of Tab Mix Plus is available.

Mission Accomplished

There were a few more minor glitches, none worth commenting. There are annoying differences between the ways that Vista and XP accomplish certain important tasks. The Vista search system is quite different (and so far I do not think preferable to) the Microsoft Desktop Search function on XP. On the other hand, once you learn to use it — and it will take a couple of hours of study — the Vista search is pretty nifty, and I may decide that I prefer it.

The same is true with Outlook 2007 vs. Outlook 2003. As with almost all Office 2007 components, they jazzed up Outlook, with more colors, and different ways to mark and sort messages. They have changed the category function for Contact, possibly for the better; it's certainly more colorful. I fumed about some of the changes for the first couple of days, but since I had moved everything over here I had no choice but to use it; this wasn't a test or review. Going back would require me to transfer everything back to the AMD dual, scrub Vista from the Quad 6600 and install XP, and then reinstall everything I wanted on the communications machine. This would take several days; better to see if I could get used to the new system. After all, they say you can get used to hanging if you hang long enough.

And Lo! After a couple of days of getting used to it I don't really want to go back to the old system. I'm getting to like it.

In part that's because all the old glitches, hesitations, and freezes are gone. I have installed the newest version of InBoxer which works with Outlook 2007 and Vista 64, and it's even more efficient at filtering out spam, showing me items it has its doubts about, and passing on the stuff I want to see, than ever was the old one. True, for a couple of days a lot of junk got past as InBoxer built its Bayesian rules, but it has done that very well; now I see about a dozen "questioned" items a day, about ten get into the Inbox that ought not be there, and over 150 go directly into the blocked folder. I've examined that folder and I have yet to find an item I wanted to see in there — and this despite my allowing a number of press releases routinely to get through. InBoxer is working pretty hard. All my rules are in place. And there are no glitches or freezes. Whether that's due to Vista or the Quad processors I am not sure, although I'd guess it's the sheer CPU power of the Quad 6600. In any event, this machine handles Vista 64 and Office 2007, while keeping seventy or so tabs open in Firefox and up to a dozen instances of Internet Explorer; meanwhile keeping open half a dozen FrontPage web pages, possibly running FreeCell, and letting me go web crawling.

There is one annoyance: subjectively at least it takes longer to Google something, or to go from one web site to a new one. Not a lot longer, but it seems to take longer to connect to a server and get the first return with this system than with my older communications machine. In other words, the slowdown seems to be latency rather than throughput. This may be due to security features in Vista that are not present in XP; I'll look into it, because the phenomenon is quite real.

Bottom Line

If it were not for the security flap we opened with, my conclusion would be that provided that you're willing to spend a week or so getting used to it, you probably won't regret converting to a Core 2 Quad 6600 system with Vista 64 and Office 2007.

Now I am not quite so sure. If Vista really is wide open vulnerable — so far the vulnerabilities are theory and haven't been seen in the wild — then we will all have to retreat from Vista. Meanwhile, you might think about keeping key data on a disconnectable external drive. Seagate FreeAgent Pro comes in a terabyte size and will do the job nicely. Western Digital has similar drives. In my case I am already changing to a system using two different terabyte external drives in alternation. The point is that if I am suddenly required to nuke this machine, scrub Vista, and install XP on bare metal, I will be very worried about saving data from a compromised machine. By alternating my backup drives I can hope that the last backup wasn't from a compromised machine.

This is a serious situation. When I have a better solution, I'll let you know. I do have to say that I find using Vista 64 a considerably more pleasant experience than I had thought it would be — once the transfer was complete.

Moving To The Mac

My journey to the Mac continues. Next move is to install a larger drive on the Mac Book Pro — I will let Apple do that as the task is formidable — and to continue to move routine functions to the iMac. One thing I need to do is decide how to handle mail; another is what to use instead of Front Page.

My son Alex has acquired a Mac Book Pro, and since he long ago abandoned desktop machines, he's learning fast about Life With Mac. His 17" Pro is set to dual boot in Mac OSX or Windows XP. So far he has not installed VMware or Parallels so that XP runs as a MAC OS X application, but that's coming. He also has a 23" flat screen, and that screen plus the "Spaces" function of OS X has changed his life, and may change mine. Spaces, for those unfamiliar with the Mac, has a parallel in Vista, but in the Mac It Just Works: you can create a number of desktops, and switch from one to another with ease. You can also cut and paste between them. This is undoubtedly how I will operate when I go to the Mac: incoming mail in one, and the web page editor (whatever I choose to do that with) in another.

Spaces has not always worked well. Roland Dobbins comments:

Spaces on OSX is simply Apple's implementation of virtual desktops, which have been around for ~20 years or more. *NIX users like me can't live without them.

Apple's implementation was broken and unusable until 10.5.4, because when a new window opened in an application (like, say, a new IM message), it would jerk you away from whatever you were doing to the desktop where the new window appeared. They finally fixed that, so I switched from YouControl Desktop (a 3rd-party virtual desktop for OSX) to Spaces a couple of months ago.

FYI, I have 8 virtual desktops defined - Web, terminals and random utilities, IM & multimedia, Office, my news aggregator, Entourage calendaring, & photo editing (Adobe LightRoom). I have most applications set to launch in dedicated desktops.

Roland

I don't expect I will have quite so complex an arrangement when I am finished, but it's nice to know I can. Of course I am well behind in my Mac Adventure. The 50,000 rad treatment I got seems to have tamed down my tumor, but recovering from radiation sickness has taken longer than I thought it would. (I was warned both by my doctors and readers who had experience with radiation therapy, but only experience convinced me of just how little work energy I would have for months.) I seem to be recovering, though, and I'll get back to exploring the Mac Real Soon Now.

Laptop Drives

I have a Mac Book Pro, but it came with a small drive. I have a larger drive which I intended to install myself, but on going through the various instruction sets I have found, I have decided that for the Pro the installation is beyond my competence. It also voids the warranty. (Unlike the IBM t43p; I replaced its hard drive twice, and afterwards had other problems; IBM\Lenovo honored the warranty without any questions or quibbles.)

In general, though, it doesn't take more than ordinary skill to replace a laptop drive. Chaos Manor Advisor Rick Hellewell gives some details.

Upgrading a Laptop Hard Drive

Rick Hellewell

I have an IBM Thinkpad T42, with an 80MB hard drive. The hard drive was getting close to 75GB full, and most of the files on there were files that I use (mostly), although some files probably could be moved to my home desktop computer (or put on the network at work. In any case, more space was needed.

One of the options was to purchase a new laptop. Although that was an appealing choice, the T42, although three years old, is working just fine for my limited laptop needs. I didn't need a newer or faster processor, I just needed some more disk space So I decided that replacing the hard disk was the best choice.

Replacing the hard disk is not that technically difficult. I know which end of a screwdriver to hold. The difficulty and time-consuming part is in the reinstallation of the operating system and all the programs I have installed (not to mention the data). So I could have copied all the important data files to an external hard disk, then replace the hard drive and reinstall Windows (and all the programs), then copy back the data files. That seemed like a bunch of work.

What I needed to do is to 'clone' the hard disk to a new, larger hard disk. And I was inclined to find a cheap and fairly easy way to do that. The biggest expense would be the cost of the hard disk.

I knew that the T42 had a 2 1/2" hard disk with an ATA interface (I had previously inspected it). I also knew that USB external hard disks usually had the same type of hard drive inside the external box. So I purchased a 160GB external USB hard disk for about $90 from Fry's.

Then I took off the USB drive's external cover, which revealed a 2 1/2" ATA hard disk with a USB interface card attached to it. Careful inspection of the interface card showed that it was connected with only four screws. Remove the four screws, and the result is a bare ATA hard drive.

The T42's hard drive is removable with just one screw at the bottom of the case. A careful look at that showed that there was a mounting bracket with only two screws.

So, I carefully removed those six total screws, removed the USB interface card from the new hard disk, and mounted the new hard drive to the T42 mounting bracket. A quick test showed that the new drive slid into it's slot nicely. (Well, it did after I put the bracket on in the right direction.)

So a physical replacement can be done. Now to the problem of moving the operating system and the data files.

There are various open-source programs that you can use to 'clone' a hard drive, along with products like Symantec's Ghost. We have a license for Ghost at the office, and since that T42 is used for business purposes (mostly), I tried that program out. It seemed needlessly complex, so I abandoned that idea.

I next looked at open-source programs. There are lots of Linux-based programs, including the venerable "dd" disk duplicator program that is used for computer forensics. It's a command-line driven program, and I was not entirely comfortable in getting it just right to duplicate the hard disk. (I had fears of duplicating the wrong way - from the new drive to the old drive, wiping out all of my data.)

I spent some time Googling, and found a great solution - a program called HDClone (http://www.miray.de/products/sat.hdclone.html) that clones a hard drive, much like Symantec's Ghost. The HDClone program comes in various versions, with additional features at extra cost for mass copying and faster transfer rates.

But they have a free version for personal use. Since that was right in my price range, I downloaded the program. When the program runs, it creates a bootable CD with the program (and all the background Linux operating system).

I put the original hard disk back into the T42. I connected the new hard disk with a USB adapter. And I restarted the T42 with the HDClone boot CD.

After some trundling, the screen came up and a 'wizard' asked for the source drive (which it had found) and the target drive (the USB drive, which it also found). After a verification of the settings (actually, I looked very carefully several times) that the source drive was the 80GB original, and the target drive was the 160GB new drive, and a click to start the program.

A nice screen with a progression bar and transfer statistics was displayed. After a minute, the estimated time for completion was 22 hours. Data transfer rate to the USB hard drive was 1MB/minute using a 128K buffer (the default settings).

So, I left the T42 and the HDClone program alone for the rest of the day. The next morning, the process was complete. I shut down the T42, powered off, removed the original 80GB hard drive, changed the brackets to the new drive, and installed it in the T42's drive slot.

Then I turned on the computer. The system booted up into Windows XP Pro just like before. No difference.

A look into the Disk Management program (via Control Panel, Computer Management) saw that there were two partitions used on the hard drive, and one un-used partition. The first partition was the Windows partition, the second was the T42's recovery partition, and the third one was the new space from the new hard drive.

I decided to use the new partition as drive letter E, so went through the easy process of partitioning and formatting. And that was that. The E drive was now available for use.

I decided to move the "My Documents" folder from the C drive to the new E drive. This is done quite easily; right-click your "My Documents" icon on the desktop, select Properties, and select the "Move" button. It asks you where you want that place to be, so you browse to the E drive. Select the folder (I created a folder on E called "Data"), click OK, then all the files are moved. The "My Documents" folder on the desktop knows the new location. And everything works fine.

Now my C drive has 20GB of space left, the E drive has lots of room, and I didn't have to re-build the operating system or reinstall all the programs.

Yeah, there are other ways to do this. And the uber-geeks could probably clone a hard disk in three Linux command lines. But the process I used, while time-consuming, Just Worked.

Carbonite

The Carbonite backup system (http://www.carbonite.com/) is advertised everywhere now, and I have a number of reports from users, all favorable. One of the reports is from security expert Rick Hellewell:

What are you doing about your backups of your home computer?

If your home computer is anything like mine, there are tons of pictures on there. Some (or perhaps most or all) of those are probably irreplaceable.

The events of the past couple of months (wildfires, earthquakes, tornados, floods) have gotten me thinking about what would happen if that computer 'went away'. All of those pictures gone. Not to mention some other important files.

In the past, I've tried several things. I've backed up files to CD (and DVD), but that takes a while. I bought an external hard drive (they are getting quite inexpensive), and copied files to it. I even got another computer and tried copying files to it. Those are good ways to back up important files.

If you remember to do it.

I probably have maybe two sets of DVD's. And only one backup to the external hard disk. And the computer thing never really worked out (partly because of my own inertia). So I don't really a good backup plan in case of disaster.

I figured I needed something that I could set up and forget. The backups needed to be stored off-site. It needed to be automatic. And it needed to happen regularly.

So I decided on using an on-line backup service. I looked at a couple, and settled on Carbonite — their home page loads a bit slowly because they have this irritating movie that starts up). The cost was reasonable - $49.95/year. Files are backed up automatically over your Internet connection. The backups happen in the background, with a lower priority/load if you are surfing the net. They keep multiple levels of backups of a file - if you make changes to a file, then older backed up versions are still available. And the data is all encrypted.

So I signed up. Quite easy. Name, email, password (and hints), and a credit card number. Download some software, install it (the usual bunch of Next keys), minor configuration (you can specify what folders to back up), done. And the backups start happening.

A little icon in the task bar shows you that things are working. A double-click of that icon and you can see what's happening.

I don't have an exact figure of the amount of disk space it backed up. It did take about two weeks to do it on my cable modem connection. But I didn't notice any slowdown when I was wandering the Internet while Carbonite was copying files.

Once the first backup happens, the program just watches for new stuff. Since my wife is constantly scanning pictures (she's really into scrapbooking) with one or both of our two scanners, those new files are automatically backed up to the Carbonite servers.

It all Just Works. The Carbonite web site linked above has all the details (although I wish they would get rid of the video that automatically loads when you go to the site). They do have a 15-day free trial. But I recommend that you just go for it.

The files on my computer are worth it.

Rick

Carbonite Discussion

Rick's comments prompted considerable discussion among my Advisors. Bob Thompson was adamant:

I think it's a huge mistake to depend on on-line backup. Human nature being what it is, that on-line backup system is likely to become the only backup system sooner or later, probably sooner. And then what happens if your Internet connection is down and you desperately need a backup copy? Or, even worse, what happens when the on-line backup company goes out of business with no notice and leaves you without access to any of your backups? It's happened before and it'll happen again.

I've used the same backup/archive system for years, and it's never let me down. The key is to organize files according to how difficult they would be to replace/reconstruct and how often they change. Then make massively redundant backup copies of the data that matter. Some of those backup copies stay on-site, where they're easily accessible, and others go off-site, where they're secure against a fire or whatever.

The stuff that seldom or never changes is easy to take care of, and can reside outside your normal data directory hierarchy. For example, I've ripped Barbara's collection of hundreds of audio CDs into tens of gigabytes of .mp3 files. The main archive of those .mp3 files resides on my primary desktop system in the /data/mp3 directory, with a second copy on a second internal hard drive on that system. Third and fourth copies reside on my two external hard drives, which go with me any time I leave the house. The only time those archive directories need to be updated is when Barbara hands me a stack of new CDs to rip. As I rip them, I make copies to all four of those hard drives. Otherwise, those directories are only read, never written.

I keep three directories for data that change frequently. The /data/working directory contains active data--book chapters I'm working on, photos recently transferred from our digital cameras, backup copies of Barbara's and my Linux home directories (including mail and so on), spreadsheets, checkbook register, etc.

The data/working directory is backed up at least once per day to a second physical hard drive in my main system, as well as to both external hard drives and to one of two 4 GB flash drives. On Sunday, I also burn a copy of /data/working (and /data/holding) to a new DVD, which goes into the disc wallet that goes everywhere with me. The two flash drives let me keep a week or so of daily backups, and the three backup hard drives let me keep three months of daily backups (fully redundant to all three drives) plus a year of daily backups distributed one each across the hard drives. (For example, the backup for 20080428 now exists on only one of the backup hard drives, but everything from 20080501 through today is on all of the drives.)

I try to keep the /data/working directory at about 1 GB or less, which makes it very easy to copy quickly. When it starts to get much over 1 GB to 1.5 GB, I sweep older and inactive files from /data/working to data/holding. I then burn two new DVDs of /data/holding, and copy that directory to my second internal hard drive and both of the external drives. One of the DVDs goes in the disc wallet that goes with me any time I leave the house, and the other copy goes to the off-site archive I keep at a friend's house.

When the /data/holding directory approaches 4.4 GB (the capacity of a DVD), I burn new DVDs of /data/holding, sweep all of /data/holding into the /data/archive directory, and burn a new set of archive DVDs. I have to do that once or twice a year. It takes a while, because my /data/archive directory is now up to something like 50 GB. My old set of /data/archive DVDs (along with the new /data/holding DVD that updates the old archive set to current) goes off-site to another friend's house.

This all takes longer to explain than it does to do. I spend maybe 10 minutes every morning doing the backups, and a few minutes longer on Sundays when I also burn a DVD. Once or twice a year, I spend a couple of hours burning a new /data/archive set. I could actually eliminate most of the time I spend doing backups by automating the daily backups with scripts, but I prefer to spend the time doing it myself manually so that I know for sure it gets done.

In exchange for investing a few minutes a day in making backups, I can rest secure knowing that I'm not going to lose any data. I consider it cheap insurance.

--
Robert Bruce Thompson
thompson@ttgnet.com

This prompted several replies. Captain Morse, a Linux enthusiast whose wife uses Mac OS X extensively, says:

Bob,

Your backup scheme may work well, but it's too complicated for mere mortals, starting with "The key is to organize files according to how difficult they would be to replace/reconstruct and how often they change."

Carbonite (and its ilk) aren't meant for you, or anyone else who make their living on their computers; the data rate alone makes it largely useless for primary backup. Aunt Minnie, on the other hand, and her collection of cute kitten pictures may find it better than nothing assuming she has broadband and lives long enough to complete the initial upload.

Ron Morse

Rick Hellewell adds

Regarding differential backups with Carbonite:

I was looking at the Help section on the Carbonite site, and they keep the last 3 months' worth of backed up data. And you can restore to a different spot than the original file location.

And you can restore to a different (new) machine in case of failure (or upgrading). I believe you have to transfer the Carbonite license to the new computer (it is licensed per computer, not per user account). They do have a discount available to allow addtional installations on other computers; although you could get around that by copying from the other computers to a Carbonite'd computer.

Carbonite's software doesn't require leaving your computer on all the time. If you turn off your computer, the next time that you turn it on, the backup process will continue where it left off.

My use of Carbonite is because I am not very consistant with how I back up my home computer. I like the 'set it and forget it' function. The most important part of my backup is the tons of irreplaceable pictures and scanned scrapbook pages - such as those of my deceased son and cute grandchildren - that are now backed up offsite. I am not personally paranoid enough to worry about external (governmental) access of my backup files.

...Rick...

My own view is that Carbonite would be very much preferable to having no off-site backup at all, and it is simple to use. On the other hand, it's going to be slow if you have a lot to back up; in my case over a thousand emails, some fairly hefty, every day, in addition to a lot of other stuff. I don't use Carbonite because I am liable to be working at any hour of the day or nite — my remedy to insomnia is to get up and do some on line surfing or add letters to the www.jerrypournelle.com web site — so it would probably never get finished backing up my system; but I am going to order it for Roberta, who has more regular hours and a lot less on-line life.

I may also use one of my networked computers as a collector for things like photographs and other really vital material, and take out a Carbonite account for that. I am really trying to simplify my life, so I no longer have a dozen networked computers just so I can trouble shoot networking problems, but I do have several systems that stay on line for backup purposes, and it would be no great effort to give one a Carbonite account.

Recommended for Aunt Minnie, and possibly for you, provided that you do understand that it should not be the only backup system you employ. If it is the only backup system, it will be a lot better than nothing, but in my judgment not quite good enough.

Reviews

The book of the month is Future Imperfect: Technology and Freedom in an Uncertain World by my old friend David Friedman. I provided a cover blurb for the book, and I may was well quote as my review, since I meant every word: "David Friedman turns his formidable analytical abilities on a number of futures. They won't all happen — but at least one of them almost certainly will. Friedman applies law to economics and economics to the law, to the benefit of our understanding of both. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the future — or any one of several futures. It doesn't hurt that it's a good read, either." Recommended.

The second book of the month is David Weber's For The Honor of the Queen, which I got for free in .mobi format from the Baen Books Library. I then sent it by email to my Kindle. (It is also available in hardbound.) This is an older book in the Honor Harrington series, and gives the adventure in which she lost her left eye but became a member of the Manticorian nobility. Like all of the Honor Harrington series this is space opera in the tradition of S. S. Forrester's Hornblower; and if you like that kind of story you will certainly like this one. When I can't sleep and don't feel like working I often read, and I'm not usually in a mood to be informed by something heavy...

The computer book of the month is The Big Book of Apple Hacks by Chris Seibold (O'Reilly). The cover of this book is an illustration of what is involved in replacing the hard drive in a Mac Book Pro — and was one of the factors in my deciding I didn't want to try doing that. If you are determined to replace your Mac Book Pro's hard drive, read this book first. There are dozens of other tricks, both software and hardware. There are software tweaks to make Dashboard more convenient (move Dashboard apps to the desktop, or temporarily kill Dashboard entirely if you don't ever use it).

Some of the "hacks" (I have a different definition of that word, but O'Reilly is almost certain to win that argument) involve ways to improve iTunes use; how to deal with PowerBook applications; controlling your TiVo from your Mac; and how to build a Hack Mac. I haven't read it all — it's over 600 pages — but as we convert to Mac operations here I have already noted a dozen of these hacks I intend to employ. This isn't a book for Aunt Minnie, but if you use a Mac either at home or at work and you want better control over it, this is the book to have.

The second computer book of the month is Programming Groovy: Dynamic Productivity for the Java Developer, by Venkat Subramaniam (Pragmatic Programmers, 2008). If you are not already a Java programmer, you won't need this book; but if you are concerned with adding dynamic productivity this is a good introduction to the concept, as well as a tutorial in the Groovy programming language. It starts off simply (assuming you are already familiar with Java) and continues to some very sophisticated techniques. Java Programmers concerned with looming obsolescence will find this a valuable book.

We haven't manage to get to a movie this month, but if you have not seen last month's Movie of the Month, Wall-E, be sure to do so. For that matter it's worth seeing again.

I haven't had much time for gaming. World of Warcraft continues to hold my interest, and Sins of an Interstellar Empire is now out in a Beta revision. Sins remains the best strategy game of the year.