Chaos Manor Reviews Returns – Again

We’re back – again! We’ve got some interesting stories from our Chaos Manor Advisors. So far, Alex Pournelle and Eric Pobirs are helping out with new posts. We’re also allowing comments on all new stories.

And we’re thinking of looking for additional contributors, see the question on the right side. Contributions would be in the narrative style of this site, with a style of ‘I do this so you don’t have to’ that has been the hallmark of CMR in it’s various incantations since the 1970’s.

So, after you read Alex’s adventures, please take a moment to quickly answer the question over on the right column. After you vote, you’ll see the current results. We encourage all to vote, to see if there is interest in adding more contributors to Chaos Manor Reviews.

Thanks for stopping by! – the Editors and Advisors

MacBook Pro Slowdown Attack

[Chaos Manor Reviews returns after another long hiatus with this series from guest columnist Alex Pournelle, who continues his father’s tradition of ‘Doing things so you don’t have to’.

In this first of four installments, Alex digs into the reason for a slowdown of his MacBook Pro. It turns out there are many culprits, and therein lies the tale. Alex has provided many links to external resources about the problems, in case you are in a similar boat. – Editor]

I’ve carried an early – 2011 15” MacBook Pro (MBP) for several years. It’s my main computer, practically my only one since my 17” MBP died. While I miss the larger screen, I like the greater speed, the glass screen cover, the longer battery life, the quieter operation. (Apple stopped making the 17” MBP, as it had become a niche product—less than 2% of MBP sales, say some.)

I use the heck out of the Mac. The first day it was mine, it ended up corner-down onto the airport tarmac, a dent it carries to this day. There was no damage beyond the cosmetic, other than to my ego, and it didn’t even need a reboot. It’s no ToughBook, but I’d call it semi-rugged. (I do make sure my computer bag is zipped before racing to planes, lest I repeat the kinetic experiment.) As a sole computer, if you’re apt to move around a lot, I recommend MacBook Pros to everyone—even for Windows.

While this model lacks USB 3—a real limitation, when it’s time to run Time Machine backups—it does quite well in every other aspect. It charges via MagSafe 1, not MagSafe 2, which is good, as I have four old (MagSafe 1) adapters. It’s about to get a Solid State Disk (SSD) upgrade, but first I needed to make sure that the OS was in good shape.

But: there are issues. Why was it suddenly slowing down? Why was battery life unpredictable? Was there old software – carryovers from previous upgrades – present?

And I noticed the App Store (and also the portal to system updates) would lock up when started—to the point where nothing but the spinning wait cursor would appear. It would, after a few minutes, list as “App not responding”, at which time nothing but a mercy killing would suffice. A reboot didn’t repair it—I don’t restart the Mac very often, but I tried this time to no avail.

I knew the MacOS 10.10.4 system update had been out for a few weeks, certainly time enough for others to find most of the major gotchas; time to install it, before I started the SSD migration. While I could download an update manually, it seemed smarter to fix the actual problem.

A quick search suggested resetting Safari was the usual solution, but therein lies another tale.

You Can’t Get There From Here

Much as Internet Explorer is inextricably linked to Windows core processes, Safari is intrinsic to MacOS. The most prominent web suggestions were to reset Apple’s Safari browser—not that Safari was having a problem itself, but this would fix App Store and therefore the updates pane.

Incidentally, Safari version 8 does away with the formal “reset Safari” command, standard in version 7 and earlier. The new “Clear History and Web Data” option isn’t at all the same, Apple. Please, could we have the old way back?

Shift – Launch (Launch Safari while holding down the shift key): No change, App Store still hangs. Delete App Store caches and plists? Still a never – ending spinning beachball when App Store is invoked.

Manual check for Safari Add-ons — Extensions in Apple Parlance: Safari menu | Preferences | Extensions tab. Nope, nothing but AdBlock running, so that doesn’t look to be a problem. Manual check for Trovi or Conduit (a notorious adware nuisance for the Mac): None of the usual signs. (I didn’t expect any, as I don’t click on links, but…)

A Virus? And more “Google-Fu”

Time to install an anti-virus and run a complete scan; Avast seems well regarded, so on it goes. Scanning is going to take a while, so let’s try other things.

What about the App Store Debug Menu? Multiple sites suggested enabling it; I learned how here. Load App Store, quickly hit “Reset app”, before App Store hung—still not fixed. Hmm.

At this point, I turned my Google-Fu up another notch and dug deeper. Several other authors suggested resetting the Mac’s NVRAM as a cure for a zombie App Store—possibly, important version data are squirreled away there, but that’s a guess. Astute readers will remember “zapping the PRAM” (Parameter RAM) on PowerPC – based Macs in the past; resetting the NVRAM is the modern equivalent.

Reboot, hold down Command, Option, P and R, listen for a first startup tone (weaker – sounding, to my ear), then another reboot, let go the keys, then a second (normal) startup tone, and a reboot.

[And the results? Stay tuned for the next installment.  And we are enabling comments pertaining to this installment, for now, but will monitor for abuse. Note that any questions in comments may not be responded to; use the Contact Us page instead.  – Editor]

October 2014 Column, Part 3


Computing at Chaos Manor

Column 370, October, 2014

Part 3 of 3

Jerry concludes the October 2014 column  with some thoughts on Windows 10, and Winds Down with the Books of the Month and other short thoughts.

Windows 10

I have previously said that I am not greatly impressed with Windows 8. It now resides only on the Surface Pro 3; all our other machines either have Windows 7, or Windows 10 which is now available as a free trial upgrade to Windows 8. (The technology preview version will time out in April 2015.)

Windows 10 installs easily, and it is a great deal more intuitive in use than was Windows 8. I have been using it for a week or so, and it will probably be the OS for my secondary “main machine”. I’m still using Windows 7 on this column, my daybook, and email. At some point I’ll probably change but I am in no hurry. On the other hand I have no urge to restore the Windows-8-upgraded-to-10 system to Windows 7, and I find some parts preferable.

Windows 8 has been called a disaster for Microsoft. Some put it in the same category as New Coke. Coca Cola found some relief in reviving Coke Classic, but Microsoft doesn’t really have that option. Everyone eagerly awaited Windows 9, and over on my day book I asked readers to suggest ways Microsoft could get them to love Windows 9. (Note that these responses were received before the “Windows 10” name was announced.)

Here are a few typical answers.


You asked if anyone likes Windows 8, which it seems the general consensus rates a disaster. For myself, the answer is both yes and no. My touchscreen tablet and mouse-interfaced PC both use Windows 8. I love it on the tablet, but hate it on the PC. The tabular start screen array and the simulated page turning feature are terrific when used with touchscreen. With mouse they add nothing. The page turning function, which has the irritating tendency to flip applications whenever one drags the mouse across the screen, is downright annoying! So I adore Windows 8 in touchscreen mode, but think very dimly of it minus that. My own non-expert, somewhat ‘conspiracy theory’ take on things is Windows 8 was specifically developed for touchscreens, which the tech industry probably considers the immediate future of user interfaces. Disseminating it across the board was done both in anticipation that touchscreens will soon dominate the tech market, and to accelerate the progression by forcing users to rapidly assimilate the touchscreen methodology in all venues.

I speculated touchscreens are the immediate future of user interfaces. Their ultimate future can be glimpsed in Mary Lou Jepsen’s remarkable TED talk:

Your insight on these matters would be most appreciated.

Dr. Ian Nieves

Actually, we have fairly similar views. Microsoft was so concerned about touch screens that they forgot that most users don’t have them yet, and they put too much of that and too little of more traditional mouse/keyboard utility into Windows 8.

I have been experimenting with the tech preview of Windows 10, and I think it has taken much of the sting out of Windows 8. I wouldn’t recommend the present edition of 10 for Surface systems, but it has made my desktop Windows 8 system fairly pleasant.

Dr. Pournelle,

What would make me love Windows 9 would be abandoning reliance on a touch-screen based UI development. In Win8, Microsoft has tried to emulate IOS and OSX, going to a similar interface for telephones and desktop. Apple could do this, but Microsoft cannot. The small-screen + touch concept is really antithetical to the PC usage model for the majority of people. They’ve tried to apply UI concepts for telephones and gaming machines to their base, niche product, and alienated the users of the product.

As it is, I have learned to get along with (not like) Windows 8 minus Metro. I bought a Dell all-in-one 21 desktop, without touch, for my business with Win 8 pre-installed, and as of 8.1, have made the default look-and-feel like Windows 7 standard desktop, only resorting to Metro when I must access some of the built-in management applications. I did not put on MS Office, since I do not care for the pricing model, but use Libre Office, since it meets all of my needs and has features not available in MS Office. I installed and am learning to use Quickbooks, which feels and appears like a Win 7 program from desktop.

I have an older, small ASUS Vivobook, also with Win 8.1, that I also have customized the same way. Mostly, I have do not use the touch interface, and have tried to customize it to prefer the mousepad and physical keyboard.

And with all those, my main computer is a dual-boot, traditional laptop with a 17 inch screen. Win 7 is available, but seldom used, with most of my work and entertainment done through Linux.

Like the screen keyboard, I do not like most of the features that were supposed to make Win 8 into an iPad (some of which Leo Laporte has approved) like the ability to snap an application to the entire desktop, or split the desktop into two applications — on the larger screen they are not useful, and on the Vivobook, these features are unnecessary.

It is possibly unfair (to Coke) to compare it to Windows 8, after all, New Coke was a one-time, deliberate, and successful marketing campaign. Win 8 comes after Vista, Win 98, Win 2K, Win 3, DOS 6, DOS 4, and many others not well received, and even the successful MS releases have needed many modifications: IMO Win XP and 7, DOS 5 either were faulty as introduced or fell much short on needed functionality. In connection with MS OS releases, I keep thinking of the Ian Fleming line from James Bond, something like “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, thrice is enemy action.” MS does learn, if temporarily, from their mistakes, so your suggestion for WinHEC could help. Certainly giving prior notice of their innovations has helped in the past.

MS has always had Mac envy, and has always done well when they forgot that, and really did their own thing. What would make me love Windows 9 would be a concentration on a traditional PC desktop (with touch options for touch-pad only devices), and low-cost applications.

Happy belated Birthday, and many returns.

Anxiously awaiting Mamelukes, -d


Thanks for the kind words. I do not believe Microsoft has any malice toward its customers. Napoleon Bonaparte once said “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.” They really need someone like Chris Peters back as a VP.

What would make me love it?

  1. A newer better interface that yet at the same time doesn’t force me to learn the new interface but instead conforms to what I know (the Windows 7 interface). I’m gripping onto Win 7 for as long as I can for this very reason.
  2. Microsoft does have something with OneDrive and OneNote and the Windows phone. I have all three, but the fragile ecosphere is broken multiple ways. It was a PITA going from Skydrive to OneDrive since I was trying to link across: 1 windows phone 7.5, 2 desktops running windows 7, and a laptop running windows 7. Even worse, my Windows phone got bricked and I needed a complete reinstall by my cell carrier, resulting in a complete lack of integration. If I’m going to use the cloud I’d like a way to restore the cloud. I’ve heard that Social networking apps in Win 8 are more broken than in Windows phone 7, because Microsoft wants to be big brother.

This caused MS to lose the hearts and minds of customers. If Microsoft encouraged this 3rd party integration they could steal market share from Android and Apple. For all of the outed win phone benefits of a closed ecosystem it lacks:

  1. backup/restore to include settings, as I found out the hardware.
  2. Better privacy/OS isolation from apps. Every app wants all sort of unfettered access to MY data (address book, GPS, etc).
  3. Multiple user/profile support. I actually carry two cellphones. One for work and one for personal use. Having two phone numbers and user profiles linked to the phone would be hugely beneficial….making N profiles (thing anonymous throw away profiles to run 3rd party apps in a Jail) would be incredible.
  4. Plug ins for 3rd party privacy and encryption, such as TOR, SIM ID masking, etc…In other words, do one better than the “Blackphone”
  5. Continue the awesome camera support from Nokia F. Add better microphone/transcription support.

A better less bloated MS Office. Better disk data management/indexing. I doubt if MS would ever do this, but the ability to switch desktops and actually use third party desktops such a KDE.


I remember when Office exceeded 60 megabytes. I called it “bloatware” at the time, despite pleas from friends at Microsoft, but I was mistaken: when it first came out, 300 megabyte hard drives were plummeting in price, and within a year it was hard to find a new machine with fewer than 500 mb. One thing Microsoft always did well was anticipate the effects of Moore’s Law. If it works at all, ship it. The machines will get better, and early quirks due to machine speed and memory limits will soon be forgotten. Moore’s Law essentially assured Microsoft’s victory in the Windows/OS-2 contest.

The comments on Windows 9 can be largely summed in Rod McFadden’s observation,

“If 9 becomes to 8 as 7 was to Vista, I’m not sure I’d love it, but I’d sure welcome it!”

I encourage all of you to send suggestions on what would make you love the new Windows 10.


The book of the month is Does Santa Exist (Dutton, 2014), by my neighbor Eric Kaplan. Eric is a writer and Co-Executive Producer of The Big Bang Theory. He is also a candidate for a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley. Think about that background, and speculate what kind of book the writer of one of the most popular TV comedies might produce. Now fold in his philosophy studies, and the subject matter. The result is about what you might hope for, a serious work on ontology (what does it mean to exist?), and epistemology (how do we know anything at all?) that is very readable. Imagine Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler in a dialog on the matter of existence and understanding. Now understand that it’s a serious work. Recommended.

Another book this month was Amy Chua, World on Fire, (Anchor 2003. The subtitle is How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, and that summarizes the book quite well. Liberal democracy and market capitalism may well be the best goal to work toward, but if you don’t start with a tradition of law and order and property rights, trying to impose it can do more harm than good: particularly in ethnically divided societies which have “market dominant minorities” – think Chinese in Indonesia, and Indians in South Africa. Democracy empowers the poor majority to despoil the already resented minority, while encouraging the wealthy to defend themselves, their families, and their property. The End of History with the triumph of liberal democracy was predicted after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is a more realistic assessment of the future.

I didn’t get any computer books to review last month.

There is no game of the month, mostly because I don’t have time to do games just now. I hope to change that. I’d like to see new games…

Our experiences with the long neglected iMac and Time Machine have made us appreciate the iMac again. It’s rugged, has consumed little of my time, and goes on working without fuss. We haven’t had a backup in six years – and we haven’t needed one.

Alex is using Office 365 and he cautions “If you use Office 365 and you want to run Word on an airplane, you had better start in the terminal where you have Wi-Fi because you must log in to Office 365 before you can use it.” Logging in requires Internet access.

Those using or contemplating getting a Surface Pro 3 should see:

Surface Pro 3 Tip: Customize Surface Pen with the Surface Hub App This may be the app you’ve been waiting for.


As I write this, KUSC, the Los Angeles Classical Music Station, is holding a pledge drive. KUSC operates on the Public Radio model: it’s free to listen to, but it is listener supported, and without that support it will go away. Chaos Manor Reviews works the same way. We don’t pound you with ads, and I only annoy you with pledge drives when KUSC holds theirs.

If you have not subscribed, this would be a good time to do that. If you have subscribed but can’t remember when you last renewed – or if you remember and it was a good while ago – this would be a splendid time to renew.

Here’s how to subscribe:   PAYING FOR THIS PLACE


The Time Machine took seven hours to do the six year backup of the iMac. Next month: more on iMac, Time Machine, iPhone, and of course the Surface Pro 3 as we continue to upgrade computing at Chaos Manor. The Airport, with its network renamed, continues to work as always. Tomorrow I intend to upgrade the iMac OS, now that we have a good backup.

We’ve got Chaos Manor into the 21st Century. Now to bring it up to date.


Sneak Peek at the First CMR Column

Here’s a preview of the first Chaos Manor Reviews ‘reboot’ column, coming in sooner than “Real Soon Now”.

It has been more than 36 months since I wrote the last Chaos Manor Reviews column. I had many reasons for ending with column number 368 after over twenty years of writing Computing at Chaos Manor. I hadn’t really intended to end it, but early in 2011 I came down with something, had other projects I should have been working on, and missed a column deadline for the first time in the history of the column.

We’ll start with how we have brought Chaos Minor up to date since the last column – and what still needs to be done. As usual we’ll continue to experiment with new stuff, and as always, the emphasis is on using this technology to accomplish things that need doing.

Topics in the first Chaos Manor Reviews columns will include:

  • Moore’s Law and Good Enough
  • Upgrading to DOCSIS3 Cable Modem
  • Wireless and Ethernet and Powerline Networking
  • Upgrading Chaos Manor Systems
  • Hard Drive Life Cycles and SSD Drives
  • Wireless – Faster and Faster
  • Good Enough and Ethernet
  • Docking Stations
  • Living with Firefox
  • The Bulging Mac Book Air
  • SD Memory Cards
  • Winding Down – Books and Movies

You won’t want to miss the reboot of Chaos Manor Reviews. We suggest that you enter your email address in the Subscription box over on the right so you will be notified when the column is published.

As always, you are welcome to comment on any column post. Note that post comments are moderated, and Dr. Pournelle may not respond due to his time constraints. You can send an email to him via the Contact form.

Chaos Manor Reviews Reboot Pending

Chaos Manor Reviews is being rebooted!

Dr. Pournelle’s popular monthly column will soon restart here. Look for his discussions on computers and “Doing Things So You Don’t Have To”.

If you want to be notified of new content, enter your email address on the  “Subscribe to CMR Newsletter” box on the right column. You will get an email notice of new posts here (and we won’t use your email address for anything else).

In the meantime, you can peruse older CMR columns by using the links to the right. You can also visit the Chaos Manor site at .

Stay tuned!  The Chaos Manor Reviews Reboot is coming “Real Soon Now” !

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