Remembering Neil Armstrong, the size of government, and many other matters


Mail 739 Friday, August 31, 2012

We have a great deal of mail on many topics. I have directly linked to some. Others float.

· Reaganomics

· Venezuela Oil

· Neil Armstrong remembered

· How real is science?

· Akin and the depth of the horror

· Hollow Point Ammunition discussed

· Etch a Sketch with Gravity

· Three Dee Printing and the future of terror


Getting to Space paper.

I agree with your sentiment, but I reserve the right to change things when we’ve gone far enough down that vector. Of course I don’t expect to live long enough to see that.


Tax Reductions = Revenue Increases

You know that. Laffer knew that. I know that. So do many others.

However, when half the nation pays no federal income tax and many in that subset get some or all of their FICA payments refunded, the politics of envy and entitlement can reign supreme.

It is in the enlightened self interest of those who – if they earn income at all – are in the untaxed cash economy and who get food, clothing and shelter from involuntary contributions by taxpayers to favor tax increases on the "rich" and increased handouts for themselves and to vote for candidates who promise such.

How to overcome this bias is the real issue before the country.

I phoned my county commissioner in opposition to a proposed wheel tax because it would be one more hand in my pocket, and suggested an increase in the property tax instead. His response, that a wheel tax would obtain revenue from those adults who park a dozen or so vehicles outside a single dwelling and would be untouched by a property tax increase – especially if said dwelling is owned by the local housing authority. Made sense and kinda converted me. Actually a similar rationale to my preference for a high sales tax rate with zero tax in earned income.

Charles Brumbelow=

California is so desperate that they are raising fines and fees on everything: but then a huge percentage of California’s spending is for pensions, and any attempt to curb pension spending is met with union opposition.

My own view is that everyone must pay some kind of tax, even if it is only a few dollars a year in a head tax, and even if the money they pay comes from some government subsidy. Even those on disability ought to pay SOME tax. Spread the pain.


Venezuela’s Amuay Refinery Explosion Shows Why Hugo Chavez’s Socialism Is A Powder Keg

Tue, Aug 28 2012 00:00:00 E A12_ISSUES

Energy: Oil is rising sharply from two disasters in the Caribbean region – one, a fierce storm, and the other a massive blast at the world’s second-largest refinery in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. Only one was perfectly preventable.

When the strongman cracked the whip on Venezuela’s oil industry in 2003, firing 20,000 experienced oil managers from state-owned Petroleo de Venezuela (PDVSA) to break a strike he admitted he had provoked, he insisted that merit didn’t matter anymore, only political loyalty. "There will be no more meritocracy," he told his cheering red-shirts.

That philosophy has been laid out in all its glory with Saturday’s massive explosion, at the Amuay refinery, part of a 955,000-barrel-a-day complex, that has become the second deadliest in the history of the oil industry and the worst ever in the Western Hemisphere.

As of Monday, the complex is shut down. The death toll is as high as 48, with more than 150 injured, and the numbers are expected to rise. Twenty square kilometers have been left blackened with a devastation that can be topped only by a nuclear bomb, and fires are still not out. As Venezuelan officials assured everyone that all was under control Monday, a third storage tank caught fire. There is still no foam to fight the fire and no ambulances to transport the wounded, let alone hearses for the dead. Pickup trucks full of charred bodies and looters descending upon the infernal scene complete the tropical vision of Hell.

But "the show must go on," said Chavez in his only appearance after the explosion. At the same time, his oil minister Rafael Rodriguez assured that an accident of this magnitude wouldn’t affect shipments, even as the recovery date has been pushed back from two days to four.

Don’t think for one minute that it wasn’t caused by mismanagement based on Chavez’s socialist politicization of the oil industry. All signs point to


* Refinery accidents at Amuay have increased horrifically since 2003. A group of former oil industry employees called Gente de Petroleo say that ever since Chavez replaced the workers with political hacks, 79 serious accidents have happened and 19 have died.

* The Amuay unit, according to Miguel Octavio on his excellent Venezuelan oil blog called the Devil’s Excrement , had been scheduled for maintenance shutdowns nine times last year with only two going through because spare parts weren’t around. That’s a signature shortage of socialism where supply is tightly controlled by the government.

* Workers complained of abnormal gas leaks and saw a strange gas cloud for three days before Saturday’s 1:30 a.m. explosion and a union chief warned of trouble, but Chavista officials did nothing and are now denying there were warnings. But the evidence is there because workers tweeted about the problems before the blast. Yet even as the gas smell warned of a leak, no alarms went off and no evacuations occurred.

That is the opposite of what would have happened in the pre-Chavez era.

Former PDVSA managing director Pedro Burelli pointed out in an editorial in El Universal that in the past, PDVSA managers were awarded bonuses for safe,

incident-free days. Today, they are only rewarded for wearing Chavez’s signature color, red, and going to political rallies.

Incompetence has piled on top of incompetence in this fiasco. Nobody had foam to douse the fires, and nobody was responsible enough to know why.

Arrangements were made with Citgo in Houston to fly in foam from the U.S.

after the blast. But according to Venezuelan columnist Nelson Bocaranda, as of Monday, that foam is now sitting on the tarmac in Atlanta as PDVSA officials frantically seek an airplane to fly it through Isaac to still-burning Amuay.

Meanwhile, ambulances are absent because Chavez has made even those a political object, shipping them to Bolivia to show socialist solidarity. It never occurred to him that they might be needed near one of the world’s largest and most dangerous industrial complexes.

If this isn’t the whole damning summary of the ruin Chavez has made of Venezuela, what is? The one thing that can be concluded here is that Venezuela is declining as a global player in the oil industry for this reason and now sells just 10% of the U.S. energy supplies. As Chavez destroys the industry, the sad thing is that those who were in the vicinity of this powder keg are no longer around to tell the story.

Back during the Cold War we had this sort of example before us as a reminder of what happens when you go too far down the entitlement road. Even after The Wall came down we had the horror examples from East Germany. Socialism doesn’t work.

And it can certainly happen here. Look at American education, once the envy of the world, now a disintegrating ruin of political correctness and entitlement.


His Hands are a Weapon.

Dr. Pournelle:

If you need one more piece of evidence of the sad state of US "education" consider the following proof that American Educators believe in magic. Equating the symbol for the thing is a prime element of magic is it not? Students have long been barred from drawing pictures of weapons, now a child is told to change his name because his sign language gesture resembles the old pointed finger for a gun. Amazing.

Jim Watson

Hunter Spanjer says his name with a certain special hand gesture, but at just three and a half years old, he may have to change it.

"He’s deaf, and his name sign, they say, is a violation of their weapons policy," explained Hunter’s father, Brian Spanjer.

Grand Island’s "Weapons in Schools" Board Policy 8470 forbids "any instrument…that looks like a weapon," But a three year-old’s hands?

"Anybody that I have talked to thinks this is absolutely ridiculous. This is not threatening in any way," said Hunter’s grandmother Janet Logue.

"It’s a symbol. It’s an actual sign, a registered sign, through S.E.E.," Brian Spanjer said.

S.E.E. stands for Signing Exact English, Hunter’s sign language. Hunter’s name gesture is modified with crossed-fingers to show it is uniquely his own.

As for example. And of course the intentions are good. They always are.


Roland Dobbins

While I got to meet all seven of the original astronauts while working on project Mercury, I never got to meet Neil Armstrong. Even so, I felt that I almost new him. In January 1969, I was attending a pretest conference at the Langley 30by60 ft wind tunnel and got to see the Lunar Landing trainer. It was in the tunnel being tested for cross wind effects after Neil had ejected from another trainer. I was told that the control system did not have enough power to overcome aerodynamic loads from wind. On March 16 1967, I was flying a C97 from Wake Island to Japan as Neil aborted Gemini 8 into the Pacific. As best as I can tell, I passed very clost to the Gemini landing site. We didn’t find out about the Gemini 8 emergence landing until we landed in Japan. I also conducted transonic wind tunnel tests of the Satern V/Apollo launch configuration and watched TV broadcast of the Moon landing.

Chuck Anderson

Neil Armstrong

In his own words

Neil Armstrong (Address to both houses of Congress, Tuesday, September 16, 1969): “We landed on the Sea of Tranquility, in the cool of the early lunar morning, when the long shadows would aid our perception. The sun was only 10° above the horizon. While the earth turned through nearly a full day during our stay, the sun at Tranquility Base rose barely 11°—a small fraction of the month long lunar day. There was a peculiar sensation of the duality of time—the swift rush of events that characterizes all our lives—and the ponderous parade which marks the aging of the universe. Both kinds of time were evident—the first, by the routine events of the flight, whose planning and execution were detailed to fractions of a second—the latter by rocks around us, unchanged throughout the history of man—whose 3-billion-year-old secrets made them the treasure we sought.”

Neil Armstrong (30th anniversary press conference, Kennedy Space Center): “But the (school children), I find, are pretty enthusiastic about what we did. The regret on our side is that … some years ago they used to say, "We were reading about you in science class." And … then it was, "We’re reading about you in history class." And now I think it’s early American history.” (, accessed June 27, 2011)

Gene Cernan (the last man on the moon), 30th anniversary press conference: “I don’t think any one of us — any one of us — who would have had that opportunity could have handled it with as great and as — and honorable dignity as Neil Armstrong has handled the responsibility of being the first human being to step foot on the surface of the moon. (applause)” (, accessed June 27, 2011)

Seelye Martin

clip_image003[1] <>

4.) Dr. John Patrick, President of Augustine College in Ottawa, delivering the David Jack Memorial Lecture for 2011 entitled ‘Molecular Romance: is there more to life than science?’, says:

We have no idea now, do we, how much of the scientific literature is fabricated. And, of course, it’s very hard to imagine why it wouldn’t be fabricated. We’re merely reaping the rewards of what we have taught."

43:37 minutes into the talk at <>

Your comments and those of your readers will be appreciated.

Best regards,

–Harry M.

This requires a longer answer than I have time for; and perhaps others have something to say.

clip_image002[4] This is written by a woman who was herself raped, conceived a child, carried and raised the child. And became a lawyer to try to fix the laws that surround rape. Did you know that in 31 states, a rapist can assert his rights as a parent, obtaining access to the child he forcibly fathered and access to the woman he violated? Did you know that this fact is often used by the rapist as blackmail to avoid being prosecuted for the crime of rape — "prosecute and I will assert my parental rights, don’t and I will sign them away…"

This is a horror. An abysmal, medieval horror. How can an enlightened society allow this?

Kevin L. Keegan

This happens because there is no serious debate or rational discussion; everything happens in a political context. Roe vs. Wade has been a disaster by federalizing what must be left to the states and in a wise society would be left to counties. Responsibility ought to be local.


E.Lee Bohannon

Re: Ammunition, Etc. (Roland Dobbins’ Remarks)


I must take exception to Roland Dobbins’ remarks on ammunition and self defense with guns. His statements might have been true at one time, at least in some places… nowadays only in GFW (gun fearing wussy) states and cities, and those places are growing fewer by the day. Most states have either Stand Your Ground or Castle Doctrine in effect; only a few states still have a duty to retreat. See the chart here:

Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine laws generally shield the self-defender from criminal or civil suits. As for hollow point ammunition, sound advice is to find out what your local police department uses, and go with the same ammo. The legal system will look kindly on that most anywhere. And yes, all law enforcement agencies use hollow point ammo due to its effectiveness. Of the millions who legally carry in the US, open or concealed, the vast majority use hollow point ammunition. Ammunition manufacturers have done a lot of research to produce effective self-defense ammo, and it’s widely available.

I found it funny that Pachmayr grips were mentioned. They’re not "tactical", "mall ninja" or any of that; I use Pachmayrs because they work better than the OEM grips. I would expect no repercussions of it if I had to use my weapon in a home/self defense situation. In any gun-friendly state nowadays, if the gun itself is legal, cosmetic/"tactical" accessories would have no bearing. Of course, if you were in some liberal hell like Chicago your mileage may vary.

Keep up the good work,


Dr. Pournelle:

I have been reading Roland Dobbins’ contributions to the gun boards for some time now.

He is right in that there seems a cottage industry in advising one not to modify or customize his sidearm for fear of being accused of being a "gunslinger." Perhaps he knows of successful prosecutions and lawsuits that I do not.

However, his is the first account I have heard that "sensible law enforcement agencies forbid their armed operatives…from using anything other than full-metal jacket ammunition." Around here, all "sensible" persons in and out of law enforcement use hollowpoint bullets for the reasons already given, greater effectiveness against the opponent and less risk of overpenetration or riccochet endangering bystanders.

The last civil agency I heard of to use full jacketed bullets was the NYPD when management reluctantly permitted a change from revolvers to selfloading pistols. That was coupled with a limitation on magazine content to ten rounds, not the full 15-17 shot capacity of their Sigs, Berettas, and Glocks. But that was over 20 years ago and the bureaucrat who set such policy did not last long. His successor was sensible and had his men fully load their pistols with expanding bullet ammunition.

Jim Watson

Dr. Pournelle –

Roland Dobbins wrote:

"Why all your correspondents urging the use of hollowpoint ammunition are dead wrong."

I beg to differ.

"But that’s nothing compared to what a prosecutor a la Trayvon or a civil attorney representing the family of the deceased will do to you in a courtroom."

While it is true that the lawyers will try to make a justifiable shooting into something different, the key is knowing how to defend yourself in court, and getting the right lawyer on your side. Take Massad Ayoob’s training:

Massad has for many years taught his students how to survive the legal aftermath of a justifiable shooting. I have taken 3 of his 40 hour course down through the years, and can’t stress how important what he teaches is.

"As a result, sensible law enforcement agencies forbid their armed operatives … from using anything other than full-metal jacket ammunition."

Once upon a time many police departments did indeed require officers to use full-metal jacket ammo, but the evidence against the effectiveness of FMJ ammo is so strong that even the hyper politically correct New York City Police now use Jacketed Hollow Point ammo:

Ray A. Rayburn

NRA Certified Firearms Instructor

(and Patron Subscriber)

Hollow-point ammunition

Mr. Dobbins’ comments regarding ammunition do not reflect current best practices. Virtually all law enforcement agencies have policies requiring the use of hollow-point ammunition for the reasons you previously posted (more likely to stop target, less likely to over-penetrate and injure unintended targets). For example, if you Google “FBI duty ammunition” you will find press releases by ammunition manufacturers crowing that they are supplying the FBI with hollow-point ammunition. Next time you run across your local law enforcement officer, ask him or her what type of ammunition is in his or her service weapon.

Moreover, Mr. Dobbins’ stated concerns regarding plaintiffs’ attorneys are overstated. I have access to a database of verdicts and settlements from across the United States going back to at least 1991. My search for all verdicts or settlements that involved hollow-point ammunition found 7 cases. Several of them had nothing to do with the hollow-point ammunition (e.g., one case involved the defendant brandishing, but not firing, a revolver loaded with hollow-point ammunition). In other words, there is no epidemic of plaintiffs’ attorneys demonizing people who shoot someone in self-defense with hollow-point ammunition. The standard defense approach to counter such arguments when they are made is to present evidence that the local law enforcement agency uses hollow-point ammunition and then to present evidence why the local law enforcement agency uses hollow-point ammunition. Furthermore, contrary to Mr. Dobbins’ comments, juries do find it highly relevant that plaintiff (or his estate) was a bad person doing bad things (however, try to get a conservative jury). Finally, if you really, truly believe that your life is in danger or that you face serious bodily injury (i.e., the only time you should be shooting someone), I submit that you want to be using the ammunition that is most likely to stop the target as quickly as possible. You can worry about defending your wealth once you have ensured your continued existence.


Hollow Points

Dir. Pournelle,

Introductory stuff first – I’ve enjoyed your work for years. It has given me many hours of pleasure. I’d go on, but your time is valuable. Thank you.

As to what prompts my e-mail:

A recent correspondent claims that use of hollow point ammunition is a sure way to be painted in a courtroom as a killer – to be either imprisoned by a criminal court or bankrupted by a civil court in the aftermath of a violent encounter.

First, yes, there are instances of abuse in the courts with prosecutors attempting exactly what the writer describes. It has even worked. But there are also ways of dealing with that tactic. Expert witnesses can demonstrate to (firearms ignorant) juries that hollow point ammunition is perfectly reasonable to use in any defensive handgun.

Second, and related to the first point: The writer claims that "sensible" agencies require the use of full metal jacket ammunition. This is incorrect and in testimony the expert witness would surely point out the long list of law enforcement agencies that use hollow point rounds. The list would start with the FBI and could go on for pages. The testimony might include "The defendant uses the exact same ammunition used by *insert name of the local police force* and for the same reasons. Not because he has any interest in being a killer, vigilante, or wannabe police officer, but because that round has been demonstrated to be the most effective in stopping an assailant while simultaneously being the least likely to over-penetrate and injure an innocent bystander. It was the most responsible choice he could have made."

Third, and most importantly, we need to remember that this is in the context of an encounter where lethal force is used. Your life is at stake here. The author wishes to "immunize oneself as much as possible against post-self-defense legal assault…" I’d suggest that it is the literal, lethal assault that one should be concerned with surviving.

John Pershing

p.s. I’m tempted to think that the letter itself was satire that I’m just not getting. The above information is available with just a cursory examination of the literature related to self defense and firearms (it is so prevalent I haven’t bothered with source notes). Further, the author references field artillery and air-strikes by law enforcement – am I just missing his larger joke?

John Pershing

Hollow point bullets

Hi Jerry,

Roland Dobbins’ comments are a decade or two out of date. Your earlier correspondents on the topic are bang on. Hollow points (and other things he mentioned like lasers) are the tools used to stop the assailant with minimum rounds fired to minimize the chances of bystanders being hurt by stray bullets. You own every round fired and the consequences there of.

Practically speaking the faster you stop the assailant the greater the chance that his injuries will be minimized and be survivable. So ultimately hollow points are the more humane option as well.

I won’t write a book here, but if you are interested, the go to guys on the topic are John Farnham and Massad Ayoob.

All the best,

Richard Kullberg

Mr Dobbins writes:

Why all your correspondents urging the use of hollowpoint ammunition are dead wrong. (etc.)

I beg to differ; although I do understand his point, I’ve seen no evidence of it. There are other reasons for not using (or relying exclusively on) JHPs, including their tendency to spend all of their energy in heavy clothing (I’ve seen the photos), but most of the country does not have the approach to self defense ammo selection that he outlines. That could be true in the Big Blue Coastal Cities, but not in flyover country.

And I agree wholeheartedly with the View post from the "Serving Military Member."


Roland Dobbins’ Letter About Ammunition


It’s been a long time since I wrote so I hope this finds you well. After seeing Roland Dobbins’ letter in the 8/22 Mailbag I had to reply.

Mr. Dobbins paints with an overly broad brush. If I remember correctly, he lives in California and that may have colored his experiences and beliefs regarding the use of jacketed hollowpoint (JHP) ammunition. In any event, he makes several statements that are just wrong.

First, while the use of a customized weapon or JHP ammo may allow a prosecutor or plaintiff’s attorney to vilify a person who shot a criminal in some jurisdictions, that isn’t the case in all jurisdictions. Granted, the media may make hay from it. As for an attorney representing a shootee or his family, an increasing number of states bar lawsuits against someone who justifiably shot someone in self defense.

Second, his claim that virtually no law enforcement officers — except for SWAT — are permitted to use other than full metal jacket ammo is hogwash. Even the New York City Police Department issues JHPs for use in their Glocks. When the changed over from revolvers to Glock semiautos the first load they used was indeed FMJ. However, they changed to JHPs after a couple innocent bystanders were injured by FMJ bullets that had passed completely through perps shot by cops. Here in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, JHPs are standard. Among others, the Delaware State Police and Texas DPS issue SIG autoloaders chambered for the .357 SIG round, loaded with JHP bullets. (The .357 SIG was developed to provide the same ballistics of the .357 Magnum revolver cartridge in a case design suitable for semiautomatic pistols. Restricting it to FMJ bullets would result in grossly excessive penetration when used against criminals in a civilian setting.)


Dave Markowitz

Fish and wildlife bullets –

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Jomath wrote, "I have little experience with firearms, but the webpage referred to jacketed hollow point bullets. Isn’t that more bullet than necessary even for self defense?"

A common misconception, but hollow point bullets can actually be safer for all involved – including the person being shot that – than the most common alternative (full metal jacketed bullets).

Hollow points generally penetrate less in tissue, reducing the risk to bystanders due to over penetration (bullets exiting the target with enough energy to still cause fatal wounds). Hollow points can also generate greater damage – both actual tissue damage and ‘psychological shock’ – which can reduce the number of shots required to stop someone, and actually increase the likelihood of survival for the person being shot. Hollow points also increase the chances of stopping an attacker before you run out of ammunition.

Wadcutters – usable in revolvers, but not in semiautos – share the hollow point’s limited penetration, but not their increased ‘stopping power’.

This is a story told to me by one of my friends long ago. He used to work for the Fish and Game in Alaska.

You may recall that salmon ‘spawn’. They have to return to the exact place where they were born to do this.

During spawning season, salmon are easy to harvest, but once done, the place where they spawn will be thoroughly depleted, and will not produce significant salmon for years after.

The Fish and Game used to send wardens out to various inlets and rivers clandestinely to try to catch fishing vessels ‘cheating’. If caught there are big fines, the ship can be confiscated, etc.

What was happening is some of the wardens were not coming back.

Since Alaska is a big place and still very much of a wilderness even today one can only speculate as to what happened to them. It is possible something nefarious…

So they started sending wardens out in pairs. One would perform

the ‘arrest’, the other would secretly observe. That was the end

of the mysterious disappearance of the wardens.

Fisheries Service

Dir. Pournelle:

A friend worked for a time as a fisheries cop as described by Mr Kawaratani.

He had a uniform and a badge and a pistol.

It was his duty to check whether commercial fishing vessels of they type they now make reality tv shows about were complying with regulations as to take.

He is an example of the failure of credentialism and the triumph of intelligence and application.

He has a degree in marine biology and this was the closest he ever got to working in the field.

He has been otherwise gainfully employed in a bank and a couple of machine shops, including one where he worked on mirrors for the James Webb Space Telescope.

Jim Watson

Roland Dobbins, in his note, is partially right, and partially wrong.

He’s right that it’s far better to defend yourself with an unmodified, factory stock, firearm.

He’s completely wrong about hollowpoint ammunition. I work at a facility which trains the elite of U.S. military, and federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. There may be some police agencies which mandate the use of full-metal-jacket bullets by street officers – but I am not aware of them. All I know of require the use of expanding bullets – and the main concern is liability, because FMJ bullets often go right through a person shot with them.

Anyone concerned about that issue should ask their local police department what they carry, and then use that.

Military personnel are restricted from using expanding bullets by international treaty – which is not an argument in favor of FMJ bullets. If they could carry hollowpoints, they would.

Best regards,

Lindy Sisk


This isn’t speculation; I’ve seen this sort of thing play itself out multiple times. As a result, sensible law enforcement agencies forbid their armed operatives – with exceptions for SWAT-type paramilitaries, who apparently can employ field artillery and air-strikes with impunity – from customizing their weapons in any way, from using anything other than full-metal jacket ammunition, and even from utilizing accessories such as cutaway holsters or under-arm clip carriers.

Roland Dobbins

/End quote

Florida Statutes prohibit the use of full-metal jacket ammunition for private security officers, they understand the danger. All law-enforcement agencies in the State of Florida prohibit the use of full-metal jacket ammunition for duty or off-duty use. There are no prohibitions on how you carry a magazine beyond those on your duty belt(clips are what you use to load a magazine). The claims of lawyers swarming all over such things seem to come up often but case citations never seem to appear.. As far as I know only the State of New Jersey prohibits Hollow Point Ammunition to citizens, but issue it to all of their troopers.

As to modifications to weapons, you can’t modify your car either. It is all State property and they don’t care for self-taught gunsmiths making a mess of things.

Al Lipscomb


NRA Certified Handgun, Rifle, Shotgun Instructor. Range Safety Officer.

Suarez International Instructor.


Now we know…

…the real reason the Feds took over so many existing student loans.

"Deanne Loonin, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center in Boston, says she’s been working with an 83-year-old veteran whose Social Security benefits have been reduced for the past five years. The client fell behind on a federal loan that he signed up for in the ’90s to help with his son’s tuition costs; Loonin says the government’s cuts have left the client without enough cash to pay for medications for heart problems and other ailments."

Charles Brumbelow=


‘A New Zealand man who assaulted his wife with an ostrich egg after her pet pig ran amok has been jailed for six months, local media reported on Thursday.’



Roland Dobbins

The world goes on…


Lest Darkness Fall

Dr Pournelle

I just finished L Sprague de Camp, Lest Darkness Fall; a rocking good read. Over and over again, I drew connections between LDF and your book, A Spaceship for the King; de Camp wrote of Padway’s invention of horse collars but attributes no great changes to the invention while in ASftK their introduction plays a pivotal role in the outcome.

Did you have LDF in mind when you wrote ASftK?

Live long and prosper

h lynn keith

Probably. Sprague and I read many of the same books, and Lest Darkness Fall was one of my favorites. I also love his Ancient Engineers, and probably my favorite was An Elephant for Aristotle, a historical novel. Of course I grew up reading The incompleat Enchanter…

I am not sure where I got the notion of the importance of the horsecollar; probably in a book on the history of slavery. After the invention of the horsecollar horses became more valuable for much brute labor than people. Without the collar you need oxen to pull heavy loads on roads. A horse without horse collar doesn’t have a horsepower of work, and he eats a lot more than a human slave. With the horse collar the economic change. I don’t remember where I first learned that. I wouldn’t be astonished to find I learned it from Fletcher Pratt.


Just Plain Rings!


Nice shots of Saturn’s rings over the years. They remind me we can do something right and beautiful once in a while.

Regards, Charles Adams, Bellevue, NE

Nightside rings 8/27/12


Light & Dark Tricks 10/4/10


Activity Past Darkside 8/24/10


High Phase Drama 4/2/10


In Saturn’s Shadow 10/11/06



Your brain is no longer private

It was only a matter of time:


It sounds like something out of the movie “Johnny Mnemonic,” but scientists have successfully been able to “hack” a brain with a device that’s easily available on the open market.

Researchers from the University of California and University of Oxford in Geneva figured out a way to pluck sensitive information from a person’s head, such as PIN numbers and bank information.

The scientists took an off-the-shelf Emotiv brain-computer interface, a device that costs around $299, which allows users to interact with their computers by thought.

The scientists then sat their subjects in front of a computer screen and showed them images of banks, people, and PIN numbers. They then tracked the readings coming off of the brain, specifically the P300 signal.

The P300 signal is typically given off when a person recognizes something meaningful, such as someone or something they interact with on a regular basis.

Scientists that conducted the experiment found they could reduce the randomness of the images by 15 to 40 percent, giving them a better chance of guessing the correct answer.

Another interesting facet about the experiments is how the P300 signal could be read for lie detection.

In the paper that the scientists released, they state that “the P300 can be used as a discriminative feature in detecting whether or not the relevant information is stored in the subject’s memory.

“For this reason, a GKT based on the P300 has a promising use within interrogation protocols that enable detection of potential criminal details held by the suspect,” the researchers said.


Still, I doubt this would be usable without consent.  After all, if you cannot argue that brain contents are safe from unreasonable search and seizure then what is safe?  And, what about a person’s right to remain silent and not incriminate himself or herself?  Still, joining CIA could become much more interesting…


Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo

The problem is that we need to have people with the technical understanding who also have some knowledge of history and politics, and an education in Western Civilization. Alas I do now know who is today’s Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson.

clip_image003[3] I’m not sure how to describe the site. Maybe "an Etch-a-Sketch with gravity". I keep going back and making changes to what I’ve done before, so the site qualifies as a time-waster, too. There’s something soothing about the site, at least to me.

Hope you find it fun.

Jay Smith


clip_image002[10]> . A second lab is expected to arrive in the fall.

The REF has been accelerating the delivery of equipment to the field for 10 years, but until now the process often depended on needs statements for new gear, a process that could take months. The new labs, made of 20-foot shipping containers equipped with lab gear, prototyping machines, 3D printers and other manufacturing tools, would be operated in the field and can greatly shorten the process, officials told

Two engineers work in the lab and are connected via satellite to as many as 6,000 other engineers who can help in designing prototypes.

REF Director Col. Peter Newell told that some of the best ideas for new gear come from soldiers in the field, but they’ve often had to wait until returning to the United States to present their ideas to engineers. Now, they can start and finish some projects on location…

Generally, the process begins with a computer-aided design file which is separated into layers of thin, horizontal cross-sections. The printers — which can range from small, ink-jet-like models to large, industrial printers — apply the manufacturing material in layers that correspond to the design, often through a nozzle or die. The printers in the Army’s expeditionary lab, for instance, can print plastic as well as steel and aluminum…


Bill Clardy

I can think of half a dozen stories to go with this. Technology outmarches preparations…




Blue Moon; it’s Advantage Romney; revealing less secrets

View 739 Friday, August 31, 2012

Blue Moon tonight. For a good explanation of what that used to mean, and what it means now, see

Look up tonight and remember Neil Armstrong.


Romney was presidential. His speech went well, and there were no mistakes. The Republicans now have the advantage. And I thought Eastwood was hilarious. It’s time for our walk. More later.


Does grammar matter? When I first got into this racket, Mr. Heinlein was kind enough to critique some of my work. He was not only specific, but included some generalities. One of them involved grammar. His position was that meticulous use of proper grammar was important, not because he was a grammarian, but because those who cared about proper grammar cared a lot, and those who didn’t would not be offended by good grammar. I suspected that he was more ardent about the subject than that, but I ever had that conversation. He did require me to pledge that I would get Skillin and Gay Words Into Type, and read it once a year until I was familiar with it. It was good advice and I have never regretted keeping that pledge. When text editors acquired the art of spelling and grammar checking I immediately turned them on. It’s not that I am a slave to them. I generally decline the advice that Microsoft offers. I use Word,. Its grammar check isn’t awful, but the old Word Perfect had a better grammar checker. I don’t ignore the little green lines, but I don’t ignore them.

Byte had a full crew of both technical and style/grammar editors, and indeed that was a good part of BYTE’s strength. The magazine began by taking scholarly articles by engineers and academics and hammering them into readability, and one reason I was popular with the editorial staff was that it didn’t take much work to make my columns publishable. It took some, and I benefitted from them; I tend to use run-on sentences, and to make sentences far too long. I suppose I got into that habit from reading Macaulay. And even after we worked very hard on Mote in God’s Eye we were astonished at the number of changes the Simon and Schuster copy editors wanted in the manuscript. Some of them were simply due to misunderstanding: S&S wasn’t a science fiction house, and some of our constructions were both ungrammatical and confusing. We rewrite those and when we had to we insisted on saying it our way rather than the way some style manual wanted us to say it; but I will have to say that the result was a much better story. I know that most authors believe that copy editors are the class enemy, and all of us complain about stodgy old grammarians turning our dynamic prose into stodgy gump, but I for one am grateful to my copy editors at BYTE and at my publishing houses. Indeed one of my major concerns about the eBook era is that many books will now be published without any copy editing, and the result may not be all that good.

Of course some authors disagree. Today I saw a short screed from an author celebrating the eBook publication of his first novel, this time with the author’s original words rather than the copy editor’s. He calls it an author’s cut. Moreover, he’s a professor. And in his exposition he says he rejoices in his new edition because *I accepted too many copy-editor ticks (though much less than in my earlier works).”

I suppose the world has changed, and it no longer matters.

For those who don’t know what I am talking about, a copy editor would have insisted on changing that to read (though many fewer than in my earlier works). Which probably illustrates Mr. Heinlein’s point: fewer and fewer readers will care about grammar, but some, including old fogies like me, will notice.

I expect there’s a serious essay lurking in this, but day is getting hotter, and I do have other work to do.


CBS predicted last night that the talk shows would concentrate on Clint Eastwood’s odd ad lib performance, and ignore everything else that happened in Tampa last night. That seems to be happening in some cases, but I don’t see how that will affect the election. Romney was presidential, everyone else was supportive, and it was a great night.


The President has the prerogative to leak anything he likes. A Chief Petty Officer does not. The White House formally released part of the bin Laden story and leaked a lot more of it. I haven’t read the Mark Owens book, but apparently it doesn’t give away any classified information that the President hasn’t already revealed. But now the DOD wants all the royalties from the Mark Owns book. I knew the country was desperate broke, but are we that bad off?

I confess mixed emotions on all of this. When there was a serious effort to have me write the Delta Force story with Charlie Beckwith we had many discussions about this. There are conflicting principles involved. I wish the Chief well, but he did sign a contract to allow the Agency to review the book. Of course if he had submitted it for review there might have been fewer than a thousand words (none consecutive) left when they got through with the manuscript. But you knew the job was dangerous when you took it….