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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

Mailbag for April 2, 2007
Jerry Pournelle
Copyright 2007 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

April 2, 2007

Rich Heimlich was recently added to the kitchen cabinet, i.e. the Chaos Manor Advisors, and asked an interesting question:

I'm trying to find a reliable, flexible, extensible (yeah, everything) app that can stream just about anything from my PC to my DirecTV HD-DVR (HR20) and my Xbox 360.

I've tried both TVersity and Twonky and they're both failing miserably at several levels. I mainly want to stream my music down to these devices as they're already there so it doesn't make much sense to buy ANOTHER toy to do this too. The music is roughly 1700 lossless audio files, currently in FLAC format (though they've also been in APE and WMA Lossless formats too).

No matter which of these products I try, they seem to fail in a major way at some point.

Eric Pobirs, who does more with an XBOX than many can do with a computer, had an answer:

From everything I've read on the subject it is an invitation to misery. If the box that sits in the entertainment center doesn't know and cannot learn the codec desired, the alternative is real-time transcoding at the source machine. While nice in theory with the application of a lot of processing horsepower, it seems to me that a small PC or Mac Mini that can handle virtually any codec will do a far better job. Maybe when monster quad-core CPUs are in the consumer sector one of the useful new apps will be really good real-time transcoding but I'm not holding my breath.

With a full powered PC (of whatever OS) in the entertainment center, it's just a matter of finding the right software to provide the UI and hide all of the network activity. Stuff should be categorized by area of interest, not by location. The user should only suspect the content isn't on the local hard drive because of a delay for buffering against possible network performance failures.

It would be nice if Microsoft would open up the Xbox 360 to more codecs. They could be sold on the Xbox Live Marketplace. While allowing Divx playback on the 360 might impact on sales of Microsoft's online video store for the 360, getting a piece of the action on the codec sales should help ease the pain.

-- Eric

Dan Spisak has a different approach:

The true solution is to get an AppleTV unit and hack it. The community working on this project has made great strides in the past week since the device shipped. Two places to read on this are here:

Forums at Something Awful link

AwkwardTV Wiki link

TVersity can transcode on the fly to sidestep the codec support issue for these devices. However some codecs are more CPU intensive then others. I myself use TVersity in conjunction with a D-Link DSM-320 unit with much success. However I am viewing the AppleTV hacking progress with great interest and can forsee the day where it will surpass my D-Link unit in capabilities.

-Dan S.

While I was at the Space Access Society conference I was shown around Second Life by one of the Lindens (all and only Linden Lab officials have characters whose last name is Linden), and a fascinating place it can be. Now we find:

Subject: IBM Helps Developers Form Social Networks

IBM press release

"As part of this initiative, IBM has also launched a 3-D area called "CODESTATION," which resides in the virtual world of Second Life. Through CODESTATION, IBM is allowing developers to explore how 3-D environments can revolutionize the software development process by encouraging developers to collaborate in a visual environment where they can share ideas and information for the betterment of the greater developer community. CODESTATION serves as a virtual forum for developers to share ideas, develop code and interact with one another to design new applications and improve upon existing ones."


I doubt this is the last such. Second Life may become a place for code developers to share ideas, interact, and learn from each other. I say "may become" but many Second Life enthusiasts say it already is that (as well as much more). It has a long way to go before it is Neal Stephenson's virtual world as described in SNOWCRASH, but it's also a lot more than we'd have expected by now when that novel was published.

On GoDaddy


I just read the March 21st Computing at Chaos Manor and the GoDaddy reference got my attention. Can you shed any light on how reputable this company is? I have seen their ads on TV and it seems that they rely heavily on certain parts of the female anatomy to get their message across - and even that is not clear what it is, except that they offer domains for $1.99. I finally took some time and went to their web site and consider that the offerings are reasonable. In contrast; however, competes with GoDaddy and in some cases has even cheaper ($2.50 vs $3.99) basic offerings. Of course, I am not familiar with 1&1 either (except for their humongous ads in PC Mag) so I can't flock to their offering without some reservation. I don't mind paying GoDaddy's slightly higher cost if it offers some benefit other than what is described in their information.

While I have certain reservation to GoDaddy's advertising techniques (it plays out as though they are trying to attract porno publishers) I also have reservations to such low prices offered by 1&1 (you get what you pay for). Any helpful remarks on this?

Thank you Salvador Garcia

My experience with GoDaddy began when the original network registration organization I used when we set up my web sites began to give me problems. I asked for help from my advisors and Robert Bruce Thompson (Building the Perfect PC, 2e) suggested GoDaddy. I had never heard of the place, but I found it fairly easy — there was nowhere that it was very easy — to transfer registration of my web sites from where they had been to GoDaddy, despite the original place putting up obstacle after obstacle to the transfers. As Thompson had warned me, GoDaddy tried to sell me a lot of services including web hosting (as opposed to registration) that I didn't need, but everything worked extremely well.

More or less coincidentally, not long afterwards the GoDaddy Public Relations manager suggested that I have lunch with Bob Parsons, the founder and then CEO of GoDaddy, since he was going to be in Studio City. We met at the Daily Grill, and it was an interesting lunch. Alex and I learned a great deal about credit card fraud and its prevention, and came away pleased that we had shifted our domain registrations to this company.

Over time I moved all my web site registrations to GoDaddy. I made use of their anonymous registration services. When one of my registrations was about to expire they told me that, and once I had an unsolicited telephone call from a GoDaddy sales person who had no idea who I was; I didn't like that at first, but before it was over I had negotiated long term registration of a dozen sites with cognomens for enough discount to make it a very good deal for me.

The few times I have had technical questions, I have had fast and courteous service either on the telephone or in online conversations. That included wresting a site that used my name from a squatter.

Recently we had problems with EarthLink hosting of Roberta's web site. The difficulty was with processing credit card orders of Roberta's reading program and subscriptions to Chaos Manor Reviews. When it looked as if EarthLink wasn't going to solve that problem, I panicked and sent a Help! Email to Bob Parsons. He was kind enough not only to answer but to assign a senior officer to help me in case I needed help in transferring web hosting from EarthLink to GoDaddy. As it happened, EarthLink fixed the situation before I could do anything; and since I am deep in a novel, I don't want to think about a long term solution when there is no immediate problem. I may take her site to GoDaddy, or I may use PayPal to process credit card orders in which case I can move her site to Mazin where one of the site owners is my friend and colleague Brian Bilbrey. I won't decide that until both INFERNO II and MAMELUKES are done and off to the publishers and I have some breathing space.

In summary: I pay for my GoDaddy services, and while I have access to senior officials there I have never had to use them. I find their service prompt and efficient. As Thompson warned me, they make a lot of effort to sell me other services, but there's no coercion.

As to their advertisements, the best known was a Superbowl ad that I wrote up at the time in my BYTE column: Chaos Manor column 295. The ad was pulled by the NFL but that column has a link to where you can see it.

Based on both my experiences and reader reports I don't hesitate to recommend GoDaddy, and I think their prices reasonable, particularly if you take advantage of long term discounts. They also make it very easy to see what domains you have registered and how long the registrations run. I count it as a major favor that Bob Thompson recommended this service which at the time I had never heard of.

Subject: Thoughts on Job Exports

Hi Jerry,

I've been thinking about last week's piece on job exports and particularly Robert Thompson's comments.

For some time I have believed that the major issue facing us is overpopulation and that problems such as poverty, abuse of the environment, suburban sprawl, unlivable cities and the shortage of natural resources are all symptoms of overpopulation. I also suspect that the survival of democracy will much harder in an overpopulated world (although the republic may survive).

Robert Thompson makes some interesting observations but it also seems to me that those who are on the right of the Bell Curve are not necessarily safe from economic hardship. As entrance to the extreme right shoulder of the curve becomes more and more exclusive (in Huxley's world many alpha plusses will be moved to the alpha category), how will that impact those whose natural talents lie in generating a product that can be massed produced? Say software, films, books, music, photographs, posters, etc. More people mean more homes, more carpenters, plumbers, painters, etc. But more people does not mean a proportionate increase in the need for software engineers. The same program can used by 1 million or 1 billion people.

Isn't it reasonable to assume that a larger population will generate more people inclined to be authors, composers, etc? Many of these people would have been on the right shoulder when the population was smaller. Fewer authors will be able to write financially successful books as only the best of the best will sell. This has always been true but with a larger population generating more authors the best of the best becomes more exclusive.

Not really a happy thought.

Mark Friedman

Political philosophers from Aristotle on have addressed the problem of inequality of talents in a democracy. They have also pretty well agreed that democracy works only in small states. The USA tried to get around that latter provision by building "a nation of states", with decentralization of much of the political power. Now states are larger than the nation was, and yet there is increasing centralization of power in the federal government because the states, being too large, fall prey to the very problems Aristotle and Rousseau predicted large democracies would face.

There may be no solution to that problem. It is fairly certain that Federalism and Empire are the only stable ways to retain diversity in a large state, and Empire has been history's most common answer; indeed, the late Herman Kahn speculated that Empire is the natural state of mankind and the natural size of an Empire is to have expanded until it faces another powerful Empire.

Aristotle's definition of democracy was rule by the middle class, and the middle class was defined as those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation. No one has ever shown this to be incorrect. The United States is moving away from rule by the middle class, and the result is class envy and class warfare.

One thing we can all agree on: importing large numbers of unskilled laborers is NOT the way to enlarge the middle class. Having rotten public schools is NOT the way to enlarge the middle class. And it is at least debatable that exporting more and more jobs is a way to enlarge the middle class.

Then we have this:

Subject: Idiotic letter.

Sorry to reply to a letter to you but I feel I must.

Plumber, electrician, and auto mechanic are not jobs for people with below average IQs. Those are what used to be called skilled trades. I can make a computer do anything but after swapping out my kitchen faucet I can tell you that plumbing is not for the faint of heart, or wide of shoulders.

I really wish that people wouldn't belittle those jobs that don't involve sitting at a desk.

As to the death of rural America I keep waiting for it to turn around. In many of those locations you can find good schools, cheap housing, and a good quality of life. I think you will see more rural outsourcing in the future.


Precisely. Thank you for pointing that out.

One should not think that the left half of the Bell Curve is composed of STUPID people. IQ measures abilities to manipulate abstract symbols. It's easier for the high IQ types. It's not impossible for others, it's just not as easy.

However, much necessary work for a First World Economy is skilled work; it isn't learned in colleges, it is learned by doing it and watching it done, often by repetitive exercises. Jensen's original work was intended as a guide to what kind of education — learn symbol manipulation or learn skills — should be given to what children. That makes sense to me.

As machines get older stuff happens...

Know anyone that can solve this one?

Been using the same main PC for a while now and I'm waiting a bit for Vista to really stabilize and for some other hardware issues to evolve before upgrading my main system again.

Out of nowhere I suddenly cannot get reliable USB 2.0 connections. My digital camera tells me "USB Device not Recognized" as does my card reader and every other USB 2.0 device. I've spent a month searching the web and asking around. What's amazing is that I'm find a ton of people experiencing this issue and yet no solutions to the problem. For now I have to plug my 2.0 devices into 1.1 ports and go slow transferring data from to/from them.

Someone must have a clue as to what's going on if this is as widespread as it appears and yet there's almost nothing out there that offers real hope.


Alex Pournelle answered

My first reaction is to suggest Rich try a new USB 2.0 adapter in his machine. I'm assuming from context that he's not going through a USB hub or the like, which suggests the PHY on his USB chip is goin' south. I'm also assuming he's tried all the stupid stuff, like different USB cables, and that the camera itself isn't at issue. And that he has tried yanking the SD/xD/Whatever out of the camera and trying it directly?

USB PCI adapters are $15 or so ($20 if you get a logo'd one) at the usual suspects.

Hope this helps...


Dan Spisak added:

Usually when I see this kind of behavior it points to a bad USB port header depending on where the port in question is located. Is it just one USB port, or is it that whole physical cluster of ports?

An easy and cheap way to see if it is software related is to go out an buy a cheap PCI USB2 interface card (about 25 bucks at most places) and plug it in and then see if your devices are recognized on that set of ports.

-Dan S.

Captain Ron Morse added:

Assuming this is Windows of some ilk I'd recommend first checking Device Manager to see if it shows any errors in the USB device portion of the tree.

If something is not right you can try to repair the driver stack before replacing hardware.

Ron Morse

With this result

Thanks. That did it. Oddly, the Via card didn't require drivers in XP either. XP booted, found it, installed drivers for it and they work great. Makes no sense unless the chipset on the motherboard selectively stopped working but only the 2.0 part. Very unlikely.

As I mentioned, a ton of people have run into this and even XP re-installs weren't fixing it.


Alex notes:

The "that' in Rick's e-mail was the suggestion to stick in a cheapo USB PCI card (Via chipset, presumably different chip type than the ones on the mobo). For the bonus round, can anyone suggest why the heck this worked?


And finally from Rick Hellewell:

Bonus round answer: the USB drivers were reinstalled when new device (the USB PCI card) was installed and sensed? And it may be possible that using a different brand of USB 'stick' might also cause drivers to be reinstalled.

But I liked the suggestion that you go into the hardware manager, look for the 'yellow question mark' and reload drivers. Alternately, you could delete all USB devices in the hardware manager, then do a 'scan for new hardware'.


I love these little machines. Sometimes.