November 16 - 29, 1998

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BOOK Reviews


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Go to PREVIOUS MAIL WEEKS:  1       4   5   6  7  8  9 10 11 12 13  14 15 16

Fair warning: some of those previous weeks can take a minute plus to download. After Mail 10, though, they're tamed down a bit.

IF YOU SEND MAIL it may be published; if you want it private SAY SO AT THE TOP of the mail. I try to respect confidences, but there is only me, and this is Chaos Manor.

PLEASE DO NOT USE DEEP INDENTATION INCLUDING LAYERS OF BLOCK QUOTES IN MAIL. TABS in mail will also do deep indentations. Use with care or not at all.

I try to answer mail, but mostly I can't get to all of it. I read it all, although not always the instant it comes in. I do have books to write too...  I am reminded of H. P. Lovecraft who slowly starved to death while answering fan mail. 

If you want to send mail that will be published, you don't have to use the formatting instructions you will find when you click here but it will make my life simpler.

Moshe Bar on Chassidic tradition.

A bit on Linux

Organizing this site

Or don't organize it...

Or try Trellix -- which may very well work. It's good stuff.

A note from Eastern Europe

The CoDominium Site: where you can find out about my fiction. Thanks to Dave Vaughn

And a note on Footfall: release 2?

Question on Mail Lists and Excel

Cookies Control

How to read a book.

To table or not to table.

Eric defends Microsoft


read book now




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It isn't the first chronoligically, but we'll begin with Moshe Bar, who comments on my recent desert experience.



Dear Dr. Pournelle

I, along with all your readers, am very happy to see that you escaped the crash and desert adventures with just a few scratches.

In the Jewish religion surviving an accident like this is equivalent to being born again. It gives the survivor a chance to re-think his life, accomplishments, failures and generally his attitude from a new perspective. In Eastern European Chassidic philosophy the Rabbis teach that surviving a serious accident is the best opportunity in one's life to get rid of bad experiences and memories and start a fresh life, but still retaining all knowledge and wisdom previously gained.

Anyhow, I am glad to continue to enjoy your columns and books (yes, I got the three books from

Please recover fast!

Moshe Bar []

A fascinating concept. Thanks to you and all the others who have wished me well. And I think I will take that rabbinical advice. I actually got a pretty good start walking across the desert in starlight. That's a big universe out there.



Luis Casillas [rp941372@UPRACD.UPR.CLU.EDU]

I saw this in one of your Linux pages:

> Does that mean only ISA Creative or will the new PCI sounds boards

> work?


Well, I’ll tell you a little thing about how Linux gets its hardware support.

By now you might have heard about the Linux kernel development cycle. If not, I’ll make a brief recap. The Linux kernel (which includes the drivers for serial ports, sound, networking, parallel ports, and other stuff) is developed simultaneously in two branches: one called the _stable branch_ (which is what you’re running right now; the latest version, which was out yesterday, I think, is 2.0.36), which is designed to be rock-solid for regular use, while the kernel hackers work on the _development branch_ (read as alpha or beta versions), where they are concerned more with adding features and improving the system than with stability. This is not supposed to be used by everyone; it is supposed to be buggy so people find out what the bugs are and get them fixed.

Currently, some PCI sound boards (Ensoniq AudioPCI, and the once by Creative Labs, don’t know if any else, since I really haven’t bothered to look it up) are supported by the develpment branch ( of the kernel, which by Christmas this year is supposed to go stable and replace the current stable branch.

If you want support for those cards right now, the only way is to download a development kernel and compile it; I’m quite sure that is not your intention right now :-).

The point is that you should understand Linux lags a bit behind Windows or MacOS in the hardware drivers department, because: (a) the users themselves have to write the drivers, instead of relying on the hardware maker; (b) support for the newest hardware arrives first in beta form on the development branch of the kernel, rather than in the stable branch that most people use.

I also have some extra advice to give you, regarding your choice of Linux distribution: I don’t really think Red Hat might be the best choice for newcomers. I would recommend you that some day later, when you have the time or disposition, try installing Mandrake Linux ( or Caldera OpenLinux ( Why? Because their default install will give you the famous KDE ( you’ve probably heard a lot about by now. In fact, Mandrake is basically just Red Hat + KDE. (Red Hat, for controversial free-software purism reasons, refuses to distribute KDE, much less make it default, inflicting upon users the torture that is FVWM95. Ugh.)

Thanks. From talking to people at COMDEX and elsewhere I have sort of discovered most of that, but it's useful to have it in one place. I'll be looking into other Linux systems Real Soon Now when I am a bit more recovered. Thanks again.

I just read your comments about the design of your web site.

I’ve read your stuff in Byte on and off over the years, so I found it interesting to try to follow your Linux adventures. Unfortunately, I’ve found your web site really frustrating—the design is just plain hard to navigate.

It’s not so much the appearance, which of course is a matter of personal taste. It’s the organization—it’s hard to find what’s new, or furthermore what’s changed.

Have you looked at slashdot? <> It’s a good example of a site that manages to sort a lot of incoming information into manageable chunks.

Or, look at this view of ZDNet: There’s a lot of content on the ZDN site, but it’s suddenly managable.

The "one big page per week" thing sort of breaks down on the web, where a week is a long time. If I check in every three days, for example, it’s easy to loose track of what I’ve read already. And this is compounded by the way that special non-standard pages spring up (like the Linux pages) at random, and may or may not get updated. It’d be nice if each change were clearly differentiated from what was there before. And perhaps the front page could be something like the ZDNet headline page, although maybe with summaries in addition to just headlines. The key is to segment information into manageable chunks—otherwase, it’s just data, not knowledge.


I can't disagree, but it's harder to do than you think. I'll keep looking into ways to organize things. The NEW ORDER helps a bit, I think. I should emphasize it more. For the moment, recovery is a higher priority but I'll think about it. Thanks.

On the other hand, VIEW is a day book; the real organization happens when I turn the month's stuff into a column. Short of doing that digestion, it sort of IS just data. And then there is this:



Just checking in after not visiting for a while. Leave the Web page just the way it is!! When I'm reading your thoughts and musings about anything, I feel that I'm talking with old and dear friend, who is more concerned about finding why things work or don't work, and is not really worried about how things end up where. There's a connection with your problem solving processes and your Web page.

Just keep on doing what you like to do, and don't worry too much about what other people say about your Web page.

Stan Suan []

Thanks. That's sort of the way I feel, but I do listen to advice.

t ramp []


Why donīt take a look at The trellix software they sell is great to organize a website. And even if donīt want to buy it your can learn a lot about creating a good layout. (I donīt have any connection with them just a tip). But I also prefer good content above a slick layout.



I blush to say I HAVE Trellix, which sits on my desk awaiting installation. It looks like precisely what I need, and I have known Dan Bricklin for a long time and have a lot of confidence in his work. This may be the spur I need to MAKE IT HAPPEN.  As Moshe says, sometimes things happen to make you rethink...



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Dear Sir, 

I am glad to be able to read again your columns. 

I am engineer in the East-European area, and for me the BYTE was in the last 2 years an important source of information. I enjoyed what you wrote, and it was also very useful to have the results of a big team's work, without doing all the test for soft or hard devices (here it would be very difficult due to economic situation). I was able to be up-to -date with news from a various area of interest, and to see behind the curtain. It was good especially because BYTE clarified for me the trend. Other publications often limit themselves to help today's user for today : BYTE helped today, but envisioning the future. 

I am glad to be able again to be in touch with tomorrow. 

Yours respectfully, 

Wilhelm Molnar 




Dave Vaughn []

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I’ve moved the CD site from the Sam Houston State University server to this URL:, with the e-mail address being I still have a page at the old site that transfers anyone to the new one, and has a link if the transfer doesn’t work. I also have kept the guestbook files at the old site, as Fortune City doesn’t let anyone upload CGI scripts, one of which controls my guestbook files. I’ll search for a separate guestbook site that will give me more control, or I may wind up using Fortune City’s guestbook script (possibly on a temporary basis), which would result in a different kind of guestbook from what I already have.

Someone in Australia e-mailed me a link that you might find interesting: It’s a page about the Lief Ericson Galactic Cruiser - sound a bit like the MacArthur? :-) I plan to put a link to it in the CoDo site, along with some more graphics that I’m working on, and a page about major characters.

In my last message to you, I mentioned the Homesite HTML editor; since then, I’ve tried an evaluation copy of Homesite 3.0 on my girlfriend’s computer, and I believe this is the best HTML editor around. It DOES require you to know HTML , but it has buttons for some of the most common tags, with the ability to customize for any other tags you use commonly, and it uses IE Explorer as an "internal" browser, so that you can see what the page looks like without having to leave the program. It also has a function to upload files to the remote server, but most FTP programs would porbably do a better job - if nothing else, they can upload multiple files, and in Homesite’s, you have to do one at a time. So far, that’s the only flaw I find in Homesite 3.0, and 4.0 is available for download at this website:

I’ve enjoyed the View and Mail pages at Chaos Manor, and you can publish this message or portions of it in the Mail, if you like.


Dave Vaughn

Huntsville, Texas

THANKS. For those who don't know, this is a site devoted to me CoDominium stories, and excellently done, too. I have a note on it in my links, but nothing like enough about it. Those who are interested in my science fiction must not overlook Dave Vaughn's work, which is very good. Have a look.

And thanks, Dave.



Dr. Pournelle, I’m not sure if you remember me from the distant past . . . I was rather young and brash; I like to think I’ve grown up a bit in the interval. I’ve always been a huge admirer of yours, and was very distressed to learn of how the BYTE denouement has affected you.

I’ve a small proposal for you, if you’re interested.

One of my favorite of your works is _Footfall_. As usual, you and Niven were far ahead of the curve - you wrote a bang-up, really -fun- full-scale alien invasion novel at a time when they were considered passe, it was very successful, and then you were further borne out (and, in my opinion, almost plagiarized) by the likes of ‘Independence Day’, etc. When I read the first press releases before that film was released, I said to myself, "My God, they’ve ripped off Pournelle &; Niven!"

Of course, their effort was a mere caricature of yours, with no depth of character, basically a live-action cartoon, if you will.

_Footfall_ is still enjoyable today, and is stocked in all the major book stores. I just finished re-reading it last night, as a matter of fact. And then a thought struck me.

Do you remember David Gerrold’s _When Harlie Was One_? It was a minor classic, and did very well for a number of years. Then Gerrold decided it had become a bit dated, and so he did some re-writing, left the major premises alone while tinkering with the situational and chronological details, and the finished product was published as _When Harlie Was One:

Release 2.0_. It was still a ripping good read, only with added versimillitude and resonance. It did pretty well, commercially.

I think there is a market for a _Footfall 2.0_. I know that you’ve made some adjustments to the timelines in your CoDominium works, reflecting a reconstitution of the USSR (and who’s to say that won’t happen, in some form, now that Primakov is apparently calling the shots?); however, that wouldn’t quite work for a near-future novel such as _Footfall_. However, with a bit of tinkering, events such as the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Gulf War, the Internet, etc. could be woven into your plot seamlessly, enhancing the storyline and bringing it up to date.

Of course, all the Niven &; Pournelle fans would buy it; you’d get new readers, too, and movie rights would become a real possibility, maybe even a multimedia game tie-in.

What do you think? I know you’ve a lot going on, at present . . . if it wouldn’t be presumptuous, I’d even ask that you consider letting yours truly have a shot at assisting you with such an endeavor. You’d be breathing new life into an already-established classic of your own creation, make some money, and gain the opportunity to move your work into some other forms of media.

Please let me know your thoughts on this matter. I can be reached at this email address.

Thank you for your consideration, sir. I look forward to hearing from you.

Roland Dobbins <>

Null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane and empty of meaning for all time.

-- Pope Innocent X, on the Treaty of Westphalia, 1648

Thanks for the offer. Presumptuous it is not, but it's not possible; Niven and I don't work with ghosts, and three part collaborations sell pretty poorly compared to our 2 part, although the ones with Barnes are getting movie attention. Rewrites are fun but they don't make money. Besides we did Footfall as well as we knew how, and a rewrite would lack the flavor I think.

Our next work is unlike any in the past, and the one after that will be different from all others too…


Try this one...

Bryan R. Stahl []


In case you're tired of turkey, here's a suggestion from us in Jerusalem:





1 whole camel (medium size)

1 whole lamb (large size)

20 whole chickens (medium size)

27 lbs. rice

60 eggs

4 ― lbs. almonds

2 ― lbs. pistachio nuts

110 gallons water

5 tablespoons black pepper

25 sprigs of fresh washed parsley

1 gallon cranberry sauce

Salt to taste


Skin, trim, and clean the camel, the lamb and the chickens and boil until tender. Cook rice until fluffed. Fry nuts until brown and mix with rice. Hard-boil the eggs and peel them; then stuff the chickens with the eggs and rice. Stuff the lamb with five of the chickens and some rice. Stuff the camel with the lamb and more rice. Broil until brown. Spread the remaining rice on a large tray ad place the camel on top. Place remaining chickens around the camel. Decorate the rice with boiled eggs, parsley sprigs, pistachios and almonds.

Serve with cranberry sauce.

Should be accompanied by a quality Zinfandel.

Serves 50 to 100.



Hello Jerry,

I came across your site as I am trying to figure out some way to create a mailing list in Outlook from a list of e-mail addresses that resides in one column of an Excel spreadsheet. Needless to say, it is exasperating. If you ever figured out how to do that, I would appreciate it if you let me know.

Basically, all I want to do is send a single e-mail message to a lot of people at the same time without having to enter each e-mail address separately because I already have a list of them. Do you know how to do it in Netscape mail perhaps? Anything that works - any program - thank you in advance very much.

Lenore Zaunere

Actually, we had several suggestions on how to do that. I'll put this up so my readers can see it, and I make no doubt that by tomorrow we'll know many ways. I expect I could find it myself, but I managed to do my mail list from within the Outlook folders, and I am just at the moment tied to an IV drip so I am not going to go spelunking on Thanksgiving to find the answer. As I say I suspect it will come forth shortly….



Chuck Wingo


Dear Jerry,

First, since I don’t think I’ve done so before, let me say "Thank You" for all the software you’ve recommended over the years. I’ve taken quite a few of them, and some, like "Drag and File", have become indispensable. Second, I’d like to return the favor. In your copious free time, you might want to check out a little shareware utility called "CookiePal", from Kookaburra Software. ( ) It’s a very flexible, easily configurable way to get some control over the little nuisances. Instead of just intercepting them individually, like Netscape does, it lets you to set up filters, like always accept from this domain, never accept from that one, etc. It lists all the cookies on your system, showing their origin and value, and lets you delete them individually, and it tracks how many you’ve accepted or rejected during a session.

Aside from the warm fuzzy you get keeping these things off your hard drive, it’s a real education looking at how many of them get thrown at you during the course of a days browsing. It’s also a little frightening how many sites won’t work properly without them, and how lazy (and rude) some web programmers have gotten. In two months of using it, I’ve gotten one politely worded message from a web site that they noticed I’d rejected their cookie, asking me to please accept it, and telling me why it was needed.

By the way, I’m not affiliated with Kookaburra Software in any way, except as a satisfied customer. I hope you’re trying to take things easy until you’re completely recovered, and that recovery is coming along quickly. Take care.

Chuck Wingo

Fascinating. Thanks. I have tried a couple of cookie control programs and so far found none I would recommend. I'll have to look into this one. Ain't Drag and File useful!


Speaking of cookie crumblers

Chuck Wingo said. It’s also a little frightening how many sites won’t work properly without them, and how lazy (and rude) some web programmers have gotten.

Cookies are a serious nuisance to users who alert on and accept or reject every cookie individually. Sites which immediately set several cookies can be a real turn off. Yet cookies are necessary for good reasons. Not just little nuisances, they allow a domain to track users and customize during an extended session so that people can do things like browse at Amazon logically instead of starting fresh with a new login to every new page. Cookies make logging on to subscription sites much more convenient to maintain eyeball count while restricting access.

Chuck Wingo also said: In two months of using [CookiePal from Kookaburra Software], I’ve gotten one politely worded message from a web site that they noticed I’d rejected their cookie, asking me to please accept it, and telling me why it was needed.

Really leaves me wondering how the web site got the e-mail address? The common (not polite) way is to offer a null ftp in background and take the browser's e-mail from the handshake. I wonder how many people would deliberately choose to give e-mail addresses yet refuse a cookie? Cookies really are pretty well limited to the sandbox so to speak.

There is a strict limit on cookie size so people can get very creative. Just as better sites explain their privacy policies I wish they would offer (not force) an explanation of how the site uses cookies.

Clark E. Myers
e-mail at:
I wouldn't Spam filter you!

Interesting. Thanks. I'm certainly no cookie expert. I'm also not paranoid about them.

There is a final note from Chuck Wingo in Mail 18.


Scott Advani []

It's possible you've already read this book. But, on the off chance that you have not yet had the chance to read it, I cannot more highly recommend the following:

"How to Read a Book" by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

If you have not read this book before, I promise that it will have a positive impact on your reading skills. I've been buried in books my whole life (well, almost), and I feel I have barely scratched the surface. I should have read this book years ago, and I must admit I feel a little ripped off that I missed it somehow... I'm glad I'm only 30 - I've got time to really get started on this aspect of my education.

I haven't read many of your books, although "The Gripping Hand" was quite good, and very creepy. "Lucifer's Hammer" was excellent - the image of the thief with two shadows just before the comet hit, one stationary one sliding, is permanently etched (burned into?) in my mind. Terrific and stuff. The reminder of the essential value of the discovery of electical power and it's transforming effect on modern civilization was an interesting moral. I'm not in a state of Panic over the Y2K issue, but I sometimes wonder how devastating the effect on our society would be should the power stay out for a few weeks in January 2000. Your shared vision of a society in decline and crisis from the electical umbilical being cut is one disaster scenario with a thread of hope running through it.

Anyway, if you're still reading this - thanks.

-= Scott =-

I despair of the modern education system. Adler's book used to be well known. Of course he's not politically correct, and since much of our education establishment despises the kind of careful scholarship that Mortimer Adler represented, I suppose it's not astonishing that you can reach age 30 without ever hearing of it. Adler was part of the Great Books program.

It's not your fault; but it is an indictment of the educrats who have taken this nation from the most literate in the world to a literacy rate below that of Iraq, and who graduate from high school whole classes of students who not only have never heard of Adler, but who have no idea that reading books can be both important and pleasurable. Ah. Well.

Mind you, not many actually do all the steps prescribed by Adler, and few books are worth the entire regime he describes anyway; but some are (he made a career of trying to tell you which ones), and knowing what tools are available is itself valuable. Probably the best thing is to be exposed to Adler early on, then as one becomes more mature, to encounter him again.


The problem with pages that keep you a long time staring at a blank screen, and then suddenly appear in a second, is that they’re using tables.

Because HTML wasn’t designed for page layout, many web sites use tables to keep things organized. The problem is the way tables are specified in HTML, a browser has to completely load a table before it can begin rendering it. That’s why when you visit web sites like ZD Net (or your Views), nothing appears until the whole page gets loaded.

If you want to check it out for yourself, I uploaded two test pages to my web site, they both contain the same text, one is plain and the other uses a table:


The notable.htm page begins to be rendered on screen as soon as the browser begins to receive it, and even though both pages take the same time to download, the one withouth tables gives the impression that it’s faster, because you can begin to read it immediately.

I expect that's entirely true; the next question is, what can be done about it? I need the tables to keep things organized. I am told that FRAMES will make things faster, but others say, Please, No Frames, because their systems don't handle them well. I suppose I ought to conduct a survey, particularly among the subscribers, to see whether changing to frames would make a difference. In my own case, I try to keep all page sizes such that they can be downloaded in under 40 seconds with a 28.8 modem; Front Page gives me that estimate.

I'll think on this. Thanks.



Eric Pobirs []

There are two things you might bring up in future regarding Microsoft:

1. "I’m forced to buy Windows on a new computer." Ask this person if they know the meaning of the word ‘commodity.’ This is the primary business of most computer companies like Dell or Gateway. Standardizing on a single OS makes it possible for them to efficiently offer many different hardware configurations without substantial labor charges. In Linux, where the kernel is recompiled for something as minor as a different sound card, such a business would be much more difficult.

As for OS/2, drivers, what drivers? Or consumer software, for that matter? IBM’s failure with OS/2 in the desktop market is a classic case of failing to eat one’s own brand of dog food. Not only was IBM unwilling to make the investment in drivers (compared to hundreds of millions spent by MS), their own consumer products divisions consistently showed up at trade shows with no OS/2 products available or pending. If IBM couldn’t write for its own OS, why should anyone else? This made OS/2 very unpalatable to PC vendors.

Most of the big companies will install just about anything you want on a server or high-end workstation. Those systems enjoy higher margins and make it worthwhile for a vendor to invest greater labor to achieve sales. You get what you pay for. Even in the consumer market it has always been possible to get a PC built exactly to your specs without needing to be technically proficient. Do expect to pay well for competent service. If a screwdriver shop has prices too good to be true, they almost certainly are.

2. "Microsoft drove or is driving (fill in the blank) out of business."

The classic claim of whiners and those who do not comprehend the industry. The whiners tend to be those rooted in academia who champion designs of high technical repute but utterly repugnant to the average human.

I’m hard put to think of a single company whose demise can be attributed more to Microsoft than to their own mistakes. Critics bemoan Microsoft’s presence in nearly every tier of the software business but if that was all it takes to rule the world we’d all be using OS/2 and cursing IBM as was once common. The list of mini and mainframe companies who tried to do it all is almost as long as, well, the list of all mini and mainframe companies that ever existed. Remember when DEC tried to force users to buy their specially formatted diskettes?

This brings to mind the whine about DR DOS. I’m really baffled why anyone claims Microsoft is under any obligation to support this product. Has everybody forgotten a little thing called GEM? DR tried to play the GUI game and failed to deliver the goods. The fact is, much like the early versions of Windows, GEM wasn’t much good and more trouble than it was worth for most purposes. The difference is that Microsoft stuck by Windows until they got it right while DR just gave up and allowed the product to stagnate into oblivion. Even so, if DR wanted to go head to head with Microsoft it could have struck alliance with the producers of the GEOS system. This multitasking GUI on a 80286 ran rings around Windows on a 80386 but the company was dumb as a box of rocks when it came to supporting third party development. Integrated with DR DOS and bundled with a development environment this combination could have made life very difficult for Microsoft and offered an alternative for companies like Lotus to support.

They didn’t do it and Microsoft had no blame for that.

Squashing a competitor was not the only reason not to support DR DOS. During three years as the customer service department of Cinemaware, I learned to dread systems with weird modifications to the hardware or OS. For instance, there was a hack to upgrade the memory of the original Amiga A1000 without using an expensive external module. Without a special boot disk the added memory would not only fail to be recognized, it would also screw up important memory pointers. It got to the point whenever a problem came up that wasn’t a known bug I would ask about any modifications to the system. Extracting this information from users added considerably to the time needed to resolve problems.

That was for simple games. Imagine the hassle of supporting something like Windows or Excel with multple DOS vendors thrown into the mix. The product requirements on the Windows box didn’t say ‘use any old DOS you like,’ they said ‘MS-DOS or PC-DOS’ and later just MS-DOS. Use anything else and you’re charting unknown territory the vendor hasn’t tread. If you go off the map don’t complain if there are dragons there. A software company isn’t obligated to follow you on your adventure. Putting blocks on running Windows on foreign OSes probably saved a fortune in customer service costs for Microsoft and pleased the stockholders. This presented developers of competing products with a great opportunity. That they failed to exploit it is their fault and nobody else’s.

My question to Microsoft critics is this: What company did everything right and failed in spite of this due to Microsoft. I’m not holding my breath waiting for an answer.

We will see if anyone has one. Thanks. (There is a reply in Mail 18.)





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