THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 292 January 12 - 18, 2004
Highlights this week:
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the monthly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 4,000 - 7,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here.
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January 12, 2004
Family matters this weekend, and it's time to finish the final scene of Burning Tower. For once there's no big shot of mail over the weekend.
I will be doing an essay on NASA and going back to the Moon shortly. NASA as presently constituted can't do it. We could do it with prizes. We can also do it with DOD, preferably the Navy, now that USAF is mucked up. Even the Army would do a better job. But USAF better than NASA which as it stands can't manage anything at all without first paying tribute to the standing army of bureaucrats who are not going to get out of the way, won't go to a dinosaur farm and stay out of the way, and who, if they are conscientious, are the worst threat of all since they are incompetent but insist on "contributing." If they would take the money and hide we would be better off.
Yes: there are good people at NASA. They are not in charge, and the injelititus infected ones insist on exerting their seniority. Injelititous terminal phase: that's NASA.
Sorry: It's from C Northcote Parkinson, I believe from his second book The Law and The Profits although it might be from Parkinson's Laws. It is a combination of Jealousy and Incompetence; once infected with it an organization is in terrible trouble, and if it is shot through with it, the best thing to do is insure the place heavily and set it afire... (according to Parkinson).
For more on the Moon see mail.
MacWatch: it turns out that the Mac defaults to sleeping early and often even under mains power when you install the OS. When we reinstalled we did not reset it to never sleep when under mains power; so it forgets. It forgets a lot when it is asleep. Telling it never to sleep when plugged to mains takes care of it not finding the USB hub.
Of course you have to let it sleep when it's on battery. Peter says it doesn't always wake up properly -- at least his doesn't -- and I am pretty sure that when asleep it forgets things like hubs and such like; to get it to recognize the USB hub when it has been asleep and has awakened, plug in the hub; pull the power cord to the hub; insert the power cord to the hub; close the different windows saying that there were unpowered USB devices; and all is well.
January 13, 2004
For reasons I do not understand, FrontPage 2003 has decided to default to Times New Roman rather than Georgia, and I don't seem to be able to do anything about it. Aha. OK, Tools, Page Options, Default Font. Not Format, and choose a font. They sure do put things in odd places. More to the point, why did it change? I have been using Georgia as the default font for this page for a long time.
I am at Niven's house and we are finishing Burning Tower, which needs only one last scene. We have the last line, and we have the next to the last scene, so this book should be done by tonight.
I am working with the Compaq Tablet PC with external keyboard and my flat screen 15" monitor that we used to take with us on research trips. It has a nice box with carrying handle, and I have used nylon strapping tape to make the box strong enough to endure being carried around. We now use a little Kingston keyring "disk" to move files. I'm connected to the web through Niven's network but I haven't bothered to log in on his workgroup network. His wireless that I set up back when his leg wasn't working is still in place, and the Tablet had no problems connecting to it. Since I am about 2 feet from the Access Point and there are no other networks around I am hardly astonished that I get "excellent" signal strength...
January 14, 2004
Done. Burning Tower is finished and has a good ending. We still need to make up the cast of characters, but that's leisure time work.
January 15, 2004
Coming up for air, after a major work is finished.
"The Dock adds a whole new behavior: Object annihilation. Drag an object off the dock and it disappears in a virtual puff of smoke. This is the single scariest idea introduced to the Macintosh since the original bomb icon. How would you feel if you spent eight hours working on your first Macintosh document, only to have it disappear entirely when you try to move it from the dock to the desktop? Pretty disorienting, no? This is a completely unnecessary concept for the user to have to learn, particularly in such a painful way. Makes for a "hot demo" though, doesn't it?"
And I will show you terror in a handful of dust. After reading this I am afraid to do any serious work on the Mac. Surely this doesn't really happen?
Above is what I wrote. Replies in mail are informative.
First impressions: at least he has set a goal. If it's real, and there's a presidential priority given to the mission, it will get done. The last time that happened, though, they had to call in the military, who did it the military way: divide the work into tasks and put someone in charge of each task. This created a large standing army: but of civil servants at NASA. You can disband an army after victory, or at least send lots of troops back to civilian life.
Apollo created a standing army of 22,000, and Shuttle was devised as a way to employ them. It worked: all 20,000 or so are needed to make Shuttle work. How many Shuttles are there now? I actually forget, but it doesn't matter. The fleet requires 20,000 and more NASA employees to operate no matter how many Shuttles there are.
Airlines operate with about 110 employees per aircraft, and half of those sell tickets. The Blackbird program, a very high tech system indeed, had about 48 people per airplane when it was flying missions.
Shuttle has 20,000 divided by whatever number of Shuttles exist; or you can divide 20,000 by the number of flights per year. The 20,000 won't change, and wouldn't change if Shuttles didn't fly at all. No one is laid off when the Shuttles are grounded. The standing army gets paid, and the purpose of NASA is to pay that standing army of people.
Going back to the Moon is important. Developing the capability to go back to the Moon is even more important. Most important, if we are to continue as an imperial power (or even want capability to defend the republic in a hostile world) is the ability to replace space assets fast. Imagine our Special Forces riding about in Tajikistan on horseback without communications and without GPS so they can't tell where they are and can't call in any kind of fire support other than direct fire missions on line of sight communications.
Without space assets that is where they'd be. Imagine fighting naval battles in the Taiwan Straights without GPS and without communications other than line of sight; and perhaps those are jammed. Signal lamps? Flags? If we can't put space assets up in a hurry we can find ourselves in such situations.
Going back to the Moon is important but developing capabilities is even more so; and if we go back to the Moon by building another standing army to absorb all our space resources?
Let me say it again: the best way to get some of those capabilities is to define them, decide what they are worth, and give prizes to the first (or first and second) American company to develop those capabilities and demonstrate them. Five billion dollars to the first company that sends the same ship to circular Low Earth Orbit 24 times in one year with a payload of 5,000 pounds. Twenty billion to the first company that puts 31 Americans on the Moon and keeps them there alive and well for 3 years and a day. Ten billion to the first American company that builds 10 space ships with a payload of 10,000 pounds and uses those ships to deliver 100,000 pounds of anything at all to LEO in a period of 2 months. I'm making up these numbers as I write this, but surely the point is clear? Surely it would be worth that much in each case? And since it costs nothing unless the goal is achieved, why not post those prizes? What harm will it do?
Max Hunter used to say that the best way to do something was to get a presidential priority, plenty of money, put a good man like Schriever in charge, and get out of the way. If you can get a herd of American dinosaurs running in the same direction, it is a sight to see. Wake the sleeping giants. Unleash American industrial capability.
I'm sure he was right, but the problem now is that the dinosaurs are nearly dead, and their brains are taken up by bean counters. Dutch Kindelberger and Kelly Johnson aren't around any more. It may be possible to revive them, but not with sweetheart contracts and government money. The X-33 pretty well proved that: billions for absolutely nothing at all. Any company directed by people afraid of their "fiduciary obligations" will not take us to space.
Nor will NASA.
It's possible the services could. There remain USAF and Navy officers able to direct big programs that get things done: but they have to be told to do it or else, and be given the authority to get it done.
So: we can rejoice that the President thinks we ought to be a spacefaring nation. For that we can cheer.
But the devil is in the details, and the details I have seen so far don't make me want to cheer very much.
January 16, 2004
Adelphia is out this morning. It vanished last night about 8 PM, and is still out now. A pleasantly competent and very polite young man named Scott has made an appointment for next Tuesday for technicians to come but when he did he found there was an area outage near me, which may be my problem so this will go away.
For grins I tried the satellite system. It works. I thought I had cancelled it so I had better go through my bills to be sure. But for the moment we are connected by satellite: fast throughput, long latency. And since last night over 400 messages had stacked up: most of them spam of course. I do not know why people who find identifiable spammers do not tear them limb from limb.
I have found out the new space strategy. Bisnaak. To find out what that means, go to mail. Thanks to Steven Dunn...
There is more mail, but the satellite latency is driving me mad, and I will wait a while to see if my cable modem comes back up.
Afternoon. The Adelphia Cable Modem is not working. It blinks at one second intervals, mournfully.
The satellite system is working with its usual latency.
At this point I am tempted to see if I can set up a dialup system again. That will mean getting a modem to attach to the Netwinder, which was last set to use the IDSL telephone line. I have discontinued IDSL service, but the telephone line has dial tone and will dial out, so I have a telephone connection in the cable room. I will now have to find a dialup modem; connect it to the Netwinder; and reconfigure the Netwinder use that rather than the IDSL connection. I think I know how to do that.
This is complicated in that I don't have a telephone to test any of the lines in the cable room itself. I used to keep a simple telephone to connect to phone lines just to see if they worked, but somewhere along the line that went away. It's also complicated by the fact that the entire network will be off line while I am trying to condition the Netwinder because the direct console connection to the Netwinder is raw Linux/UNIX, not the GUI I know how to set things in; so I need to be able to get at the Netwinder with a system and it's either connect one directly there, or connect it into the Network; but since it has the same IP address as the machine that connects me to the satellite, that one will have to come off line before I can address the Netwinder. There's also the matter of looking up all the user names and passwords from months ago. Time to start new logs...
Or I can just endure the latency of the satellite until they get the Adelphia Cable Modem system fixed.
Long ago I was required in high school to memorize a poem. Today I heard from a classmate from back then, and it reminded me of it. The class was reading "The Most Dangerous Game," in which appears a servant named "Ivan". The pupil reading the story pronounced that in the Russian way, EEvan, so some of us, not being much acquainted with such things, shouted "Eye-van"; whereupon Brother Daniel pointed to those he had caught at this, and said we would go and memorize a poem about Ivan Skavinsky Skivar, and gave us no hint of where we might find that. This was well before the Internet: the only computer I had was a thing that used marbles to do minor binary arithmetic.
It took a couple of days in the city library to find this thing. I suppose I learned something about doing research as well as to not to be such a smart-alec in class.
So for some reason I have transcribed this as I remember it. Odd the things memories will do to you.
Abdul Abulbul Ameer
Best I can tell (Internet crawl) the song (there's a tune) was written in its original version by Percy French as a 23yr old engineering student at Trinity College in 1877 for a school concert and he subsequently recycled it for sale to a publisher who printed it unattributed. There are 10's of variant lyric versions.
I never heard an origin story before: it was in a book of barroom ballads in the Memphis Public Library. And I am sure there are dozens of versions, and I suspect that the one I recite isn't exactly as I found it in 1948 in the library...
January 17, 2004
Adelphia Cable Modem is working again. It wasn't when I went to bed, it was this morning. Thus I don't have to learn how to set up the Netwinder to do dialup, which is just as well since I don't really remember how I did it in the first place.
The moral of this story is not only to keep good logs -- I did that and the information exists somewhere -- but INDEX the darned things so that you can FIND the information again when you need to.
Anyway we are back with cable modem, which works very well. I sure got tired of the latency of that satellite connection.
Fry's has NEC flat panel 19" monitors at a good sale price, and I am thinking of getting one; it would sure save space here. And text looks great on them even though they are a bit slow with really fast games.
I took the smaller flat screen I've had for years to Niven's for blitzing the book using the TabletPC with that screen and an external keyboard, and that worked just fine, so I think a larger flat screen might work here.
I have been unable to get to Google for a couple of days. I assumed it was a satellite quirk but it seems to be still operating. What is going on?
Seems to be a DNS problem. [This fixed itself Sunday night.]
BYTE seems to be dead also, and that one I don't know about at all. [It was fine as of Sunday night, and working perfectly Monday. I don't know if the problem was at the site, here, or on the Internet in general.]
The Constitution has a number of checks and balances. The Senate has rules allowing for unlimited debate; at one time, anyone could continue to talk on an issue, thus preventing it from coming to a vote, for as long as he wanted to, and a small group could block any legislation if they cared to. This was done to prevent a vote on the Treaty of Versailles, and eventually the rules was changed to allow an extraordinary majority of 2/3 to close debate. Then came the Civil Rights Act debates and over 1/3 of the Senate didn't want those to come to a vote; and the rules were changed in 1975 to 3/5 majority, to impose "cloture" or a limit to debate in the Senate.
Political parties have ingeniously used this as a means to prevent judicial and cabinet appointments they don't like when they don't have the votes to defeat them in an up or down vote. They simply prevent them from coming to a vote by unlimited debate, so that confirmation of a judge or a cabinet officer (or a military officer for that matter) now requires as a practical matter a 60% majority in the Senate.
This is closer to John Caldwell Calhoun's theory of the concurrent majority than to modern constitutional theory. Calhoun was defending slavery, but he was also defending the notion of consent of the governed. It may be no bad idea.
I would argue that with the passage of the Voting Rights Act we can afford a certain degree of states' rights now, and the notion of local authority in most matters is very much in keeping with the founding idea of the US, that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. The smaller the jurisdiction the more power you can trust the government to have: so long as you can get the hell out of Dodge, it isn't so terribly important that Dodge has laws against spitting on the saloon floor and requiring you to check your firearms at the saloon door. An example I use often is the Blue Belly Baptists, who believe that on Sunday afternoon you must not appear in public unless your belly is exposed and pained blue, and have laws to that effect. Let them. Just let me know in advance, so I either won't be there, or I can muddle my woad on Sunday morning.
Leave that. The point is that the Democrats have said that without a 60% majority in the Senate you will not appoint certain people as judges or other constitutional officers. But of course they also supplied the remedy. Clinton had a man, Bill Lan Lee, who couldn't get a majority vote in the Senate for his appointment to the Civil Rights Commission even though the Democrats held a Senate majority. He would have got few Republican votes, and there were lots of Democrats who wouldn't vote for him either. So: his name wasn't submitted to the Senate. He was given an interim appointment while the Senate wasn't in session. This expired and was renewed. Clinton defended this practice.
Bush hasn't gone that far: He has appointed Pickering in the usual way, submitting his name to the Senate; the Senate is welcome to vote up or down on him. But since the Senate refuses to vote (because 41 Senators will vote against cloture and a few will talk until the cows come home), Pickering was given an interim appointment, good for the life of this Congress. One presumes that next Senate recess his appointment will be renewed. And again, until the Senate votes one way or another.
This wasn't really the way the constitution was supposed to work, but neither was holding appointments in abeyance without a vote the way it was supposed to work.
I would guess that this is a trial balloon and we will soon see at every recess more interim appointments of people whose names have been submitted to the Senate but who can't get hearings or a vote. I would also guess that Madison, Hamilton, and Jay would find this a perfectly acceptable practice.
I see NASA will let Hubble die. At a billion dollars a shuttle launch they can't service Hubble any longer. Hubble needs a manned mission: there is no robot that can do that work. And there is no manned spacecraft but Shuttle. And Shuttle requires 22,000 people to operate and launch, in addition to another half billion per mission incremental cost above the cost of the standing army.
The standing army will be paid whether there are any Shuttle launches at all, but they can't come up with the other half billion to go rescue Hubble.
You may remember back in 1989 Max Hunter, Dan Graham, and I persuaded then Chairman of the National Space Council Dan Quayle to foster an experimental spacecraft, SSX, a scale model of which was built and flown as DC/X. Most of that story is here on this web site. Had that development continued, we would now have a ship capable of sending two people to the Hubble for a cost of a few tens of millions per mission; but of course that wasn't continued because it was a threat to the standing army of NASA which needs the Shuttle.
Welcome to the wide world of bureaucracy.
I am pleased to report that due to the generous efforts of Mr. St. Onge, the book of the month page has been brought up to December 2003. You may find it here.
January 18, 2004
There is a lot of mail. And I spent the day reading, with a short stint at Dark Age of Camelot.
And this essay may be of interest:
Transcript of a speech by an small-government conservative. I think you'll
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