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Mail 24: January 11 - 17, 1999

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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.

In particular please do not tab "Cheers" way over to the right. I don't see it, and it causes the page to have to be scrolled. Please pay attention to this stuff because otherwise it costs me time I do not have, and every time I have to adjust one of YOUR letters I use up time that might have gone to getting another up.

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, and your chances of being published better..

This week:
Monday -- Tuesday -- Wednesday -- Thursday -- Friday -- Saturday -- Sunday




FORMATTING: Please pay attention to formatting. It is very hard for me to have to reformat weird layouts, crazy line feeds, and if the subject is important put it in the body of the letter, not just in the subject heading. If you want your name address included put them in the body of the letter. I am going to stop cutting and pasting subjects and the 'from' field into mail. I am running out of time. My apologies for being blunt, but I get interesting mail that turns out to take ten minutes and more to get in shape to post, and I just can't DO IT. For format suggestions click here. Please read that. Please.



Monday, January 11, 1999

Roland Dobbins []

I pulled out my 1979 paperback edition of _Janissaries_ today, and sat down to re-read it. This was one of the first science-fiction novels I’d read which wasn’t a juvenile work (I was 11 when my uncle bought it for me), and, although I wasn’t mature enough to understand it all, I remember the sheer enjoyment it gave me to read of Captain Galloway’s efforts to save a planet full of people from themselves, and from their nonhuman exploiters. You’ve done a great job with this series, and I eagerly anticipate the new volume currently in progress.

In my work, I deal with all four service branches plus DoD. I can tell you that in recent years, I have not met one junior officer who possesses the knowledge of military history and general history, not to mention mathematics, chemistry, etc. to do 1/10th of what you had Galloway accomplishing in the novel. Not service academy graduates, and certainly not those who came in via ROTC.

And I know from personal experience that this hasn’t always been the case.

None of those I’ve met recently would’ve had the foresight to copy out a table of logarithms from his calculator before the batteries died, for example. And none of them would have any idea who Claudius was, much less Severus, or have retained even the slightest hint of the significance of Poitiers or Crecy.

Our military has become, in the main, a program for kids to get money to attend laughably (if only I could laugh about it) universities and to obtain VA medical benefits. Maybe I’m romanticizing the past, but I don’t think it’s always been so, at least to this degree.

I’m an autodidact; I dropped out of high school in my junior year, despite the best efforts of my parents to dissuade me, and consequently have struggled to educate myself as best I can, with only the public library and the bookstore as my classrooms. I’ve done pretty well for myself in spite of this self-imposed handicap (i.e., near-terminal shortsightedness), and at age 30, in a senior position with a Fortune 500 systems integration firm, wonder where I might be right now if I’d done the right thing and gone on to college.

My reason for including the previous paragraph is this: if I was able to become a reasonably well-rounded and moderately professionally successful (at least, I hope I did) person despite spending many years befuddled by drink and drugs, completely outside the realm of academe, there is absolutely NO reason why someone who has the opportunity to attend even one of our sadly-depleted universities - at public expense, no less - cannot do at least as well as I have in learning the basics of history, biology, chemistry, higher mathematics, physics, etc.

And yet, it happens on a continuous basis. Am I completely off-base in perceiving this as a serious problem, or as a relatively new one?


Roland Dobbins <> // 808.351.6110 voice

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

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

It is a serious problem, so much so that I am thinking of starting a new page for this discussion; it's far too important to be buried in the past history of mail. We'll let it run in mail for a while then I'll move everything assuming there are enough intelligent comments. Alas, I don't have time to deal with this now, so this is going to be put up eith inadequate comment.

First: I did Rick Galloway from memory, almost deliberately avoiding books. I agree he's a bit more of a polymath than your average military officer, but for my time he was not unusual: most of what Rick knows I got in high school, or my first two years of the University of Iowa where George Mosse taught a required -- required for every incoming student without regard to major -- course on the history of Western Civilization.

Second: regarding self education, the problem is framework and organization of knowledge, particularly history. Science is to some extent self organizing. History is not, although there are some good seminal works that attempt to establish such a frame. One of them is Fletcher Pratt's Battles That Changed History, which despite the title is a short but profound general history of the West. Of course it's not shown as existing at Amazon, much less being in print.

More on this another time: the topics is self education as a remedy to the abysmal leve of education in the contemporary United States; and can a republic with such an education system survive, or must it become imperial simply because the people no longer know what self government is.


And this was in the mail this morning:


I was catching up on my reading at your web site and got to your Jan 9 column about pseudoscience. Serendipity. I wanted to rant at the world at large about something I found on Sunday. I went to the local (Lancaster, California) B. Dalton book store. I was hunting for a general reference text on geology, something for the interested layman.

Entering the store one is confronted by self-help books, glossy New Age

coffee table books, sale books (mostly "bestsellers" which no longer

are), calendars and games. "Where is your science section?" I asked. "In

reference." One shelf about 36" long was mostly filled with "Science of

the X-Files" and "The Face on Mars." The rest was how to pass various professional tests. Neither could I find any books such as "Guidebook to North American Birds." No juvenile science books were in stock, either, though plenty of books such as "My Two Dads" and Goosebumps. A few classics, though again in the _minority_.

Granted the Lancaster/Palmdale population is only about 200k, but the major employers are Boeing, Lockmart, NASA and Edwards AFB. Perhaps the only available science books are on base? Certainly the local retail chains are nearly useless unless you want to buy a book on how to dress for the prom (!), find your perfect mate through astrology or get an X-Files video game. Bah.

Aleta Jackson []

And it's that way in a lot of places. Now mind you, B. Dalton is not Borders: they don't try to stock anything that isn't going to move very quickly. Which means that's what they expect to sell, and they don't expect to sell real science soon enough to make it worth while stocking. The BIG book stores, BookStar and Barnes and Noble, and Borders, have large inventories (and make profits from coffee as readers browse; a trend all to the good) and will usually have some real books; but the trend you notice is a bit frightening. And that in a more or less high tech community.


Dr. Pournelle,

I found an article on the liberal/left e-zine "Salon" that bemoans the destruction of the teaching of history at our academic institutions. Considering the publisher, the sins must be egregious indeed. Your readers can follow this link to get there: . The title is along the lines of "Is History Dead? Cultural studies scholars are ravaging the facts to suit their bassackward theories."

And a quote you might enjoy:

What would she make of the following passage, for example, from the introduction of "Taste and Power: Furnishing Modern France" (1997), a work broadly representative of the kind of "cultural history" that has come to prominence in the 1990s?

"Selves -- neither unitary nor fully self-knowing -- are thus made by completely constituted, often mutually contradictory, experiences, some of which are known and expressed linguistically, some musically, some visually, and some in no known discursive framework."

Lord help us.

Donald W. McArthur


Lord help us indeed. I do not usually see Salon so I am glad of the reference. Thanks.



You may already have gotten some thoughts on this, but probably the file copy process used was flawed when working between (these particular) different file systems. I do some cross-platform transfers (different filesystems) from time to time and it can happen to me that I get e.g. invalid dates in Windows on the transferred files—I think because the binary stored format was different. (Additionally, as we know, Windows has its own ideas about "correct file size", especially in NT ntfs, that may or may not reflect the current partition’s "wasted cluster" space for the files as well, rather than the true file size.)

CDROMs these days come in many different file system formats, ISOxxxx, continually evolving, and I have noticed a trend that MS-CDs can have formats that other platforms (driver sofware) can no longer read, or e.g. read the root files just fine but can’t enter subdirectories. The reverse situation is also true, I have a few CDs intended for Atari that Windows fails to identify.

Even MS gets it wrong internally some times. Recall that there was a fix out for the problem with XXXX~1.XXX style DOS-names from vfat being on a 8.3 format CDROM and hanging a Windows system when it couldn’t find the long-filename list.

/ Bo


Bo Leuf <>

Leuf fc3 Consultancy

Interesting. The cluster size explains the size discrepancies but I couldn't figure the date madness. Thanks.



I’ve noticed quite a bit of moaning about Linux sound support from yourself and some of your correspondents. You may want to check out the following site:


While this is not an open-source solution, they do offer support for a pretty good assortment of sound cards. While not free, the cost is fairly reasonable if you need support for a card not handled by the normal Linux drivers. No kernel re-compilation is required either, and the driver can be loaded and unloaded at run-time.

By the way, it is NOT the case that a kernel re-compile is required for every hardware change. In fact, very few hardware changes require a new kernel since loadable driver modules appeared several revs back.

A couple of more—for the guy complaining that Photoshop doesn’t run on Linux, give the GIMP a try. It doesn’t fall too short. Also, when kernel 2.2 is released, look for Redhat 6.0 with Gnome. Should get us in the same ballpark as MS on the desktop. Finally, by end of year, expect WINE to release 1.0. May just be able to kiss MS goodbye.



I am not sure "moaning" is a just description of what's been said, but thanks for the source.

For myself,I am still working at clearing away enough gubbage to be able to get back to Linux. Things FLOW here so…


Jerry -

Windows is already creating the 8.3 file names as part of the backward compatibility effort. The easiest way to create the table you want may be to capture the output of the MS-DOS 7.x "DIR" command and parse the lines. Fields 1 &; 2 are the 8.3 name, field 6 is the long file name. The rule for creating the 8.3 name is basically take the first 6 characters (ignoring spaces, etc.) of the long name, add a tilde and a number for the occurrence of that 6-character sequence in a file type(i.e. first "A mute can express herself wi. . . " would be "amutec~1.wav", second would be "amutec~2.wav", etc). There are also provisions for changing the number of (default) digits used, which I don’t remember at the moment. Probably a registry setting. The "lfnbk" utility (on the distribution CD-ROM but not automatically installed) can be used for saving the long file names prior to using e.g. PKZIP on the files, but it’d need to be used to restore them on the destination machine, too. WRK says it’s for experienced users.



Jon Barrett


Kensington, MD

I suspect you have the correct solution; I need to work on it, and that means having time to think, which I don't, but it looks right. I'll see what I can do about that. The table I need is clearly needed: that way I can include it in each lesson makeup generator, so that I can find all and only those wave files needed for a particular lesson, and extract those and only those to be cached when that lesson is loaded. I need to work on the logic, and then generate the code, but this looks like the right approach. And letting MSDOS do the work is the right way to go. Thanks.


Cavanaugh, Bill []

Check out GetShortPathName() and GetLongPathName() and see if they’re helpful.



And that is probably the simplest answer of them all. Thanks. I confess I have not done the homework I should have done, and I trusted to the collective memory data bank of this site… Which almost always works. Thanks again.




Tuesday, January 12, 1999

Dear Dr. Pournelle

You reader, AK, rightly points out that Linux offers modular kernel extensions, but a few things need to be clarified here, if you allow.

First, in order to use Linux Kernel Modules you need to have a Kernel that was compiled to be modular. By default it is not. So therefore, you have to re-compile your kernel with the option of modules enabled. Still today, for most users, this is not a trivial step.

Second, if the OpenSound extensions were drivers, as indicated by AK in his memo to you, than you could just install it on the system by defining the appropriate major node and install the driver in /dev . But, indeed, the extensions are more than just drivers, they are modules and need a modules-aware kernel.

Sound in the new 2.2 kernel series has made big improvements and should now become as ubiquitous as in Microsoft-denominated products. However, considering that - at least in my humble opinion -- Linux really excels at being a server, sound is really not that important.

Wine (=Wine is Not an Emulator) sports some fantastic technology and will probably pose -once it works- the real threat from within Linux for Microsoft. Once Outlook and Office run under Linux as well, or better, as they do under Windows, all this disgruntled MS users will have a real incentive to switch over. It is going to be an interesting year. Like all the ones before, too.

Best regards

Moshe Bar

You point out something often forgotten: one ought to keep firmly in mind what one wants to DO with Linux. As a general purpose operating system for doing office work and all-purpose computing, Linux may or may not be the right tool; for games and voice-operated systeks work and that sort of thing, it is almost certainly not. As a server, though, it can be the superior tool one needs.

The real power of Linux comes with the Open Source Software community. As you point out, when Linux does Office and Outlook as well as Windows does, Linux becomes a real threat to Microsoft. Of course that will be a moving target: Gates always runs scared, and Windows isn't going to be standing still, nor will its integration with Office and Outlook.

As you observe, it will be an interesting year. As was last year. Thanks.


Harry Erwin []

Subject: Ain't It Awful--Modern Education

In the American educational process, there is a distinct tension between studies that lead to future employment and studies that make you a well-rounded citizen. Most students are so job-oriented that colleges have to establish breadth requirements to force them to take something outside their major. Unless you’re planning to go into law school to become a lawyer, history leads nowhere, not even to a usable teaching credential. (Ask my son, the tory genealogist, medieval historian, and royalist, about that.) History is not alone in this: foreign language studies lead to low-paying part-time jobs as translators; biology leads to low-paying jobs as laboratory technicians; psychology leads to low-paying jobs as social workers; etc.

Perhaps, you say, these breadth courses prepare you for a profession that requires generalists such as military officer. Not realistically. The military prefers specialists, and later trains them as generalists in command and general staff school. Generalists entering the army either become infantry officers, eventually retiring at major without much in usable skills, or get shunted into a dead-end career in intelligence. (Intelligence officers learn to think like general officers in the opposing forces, which definitely disqualifies them as a general officer in their own army. Is my cynicism showing?)

OK, then we have to make do with ‘breadth’ courses. But those are the hardest to teach well and really can’t cover anything in adequate depth. For example, natural science—as it is actually practiced by professionals—involves the construction of a dense meshwork of experimental results, linked together by theory. That way, we have some assurance that what we think might be true is actually true. You ->can’t teach<- those essential perspectives in a breadth course. I’ve taught a breadth course in computer science, and I couldn’t even get to basic programming without losing 70% of the students. They don’t have the background, the motivation, or (most importantly) the time. (When designing financial aid programs, most politicians seem to think students should also be working at least half-time for peanuts, but don’t get me going on that...)

But teaching for future employment can be overdone, too. One of the big complaints about computer science as we teach it is that we refuse to teach material that is likely to be obsolete by the time the students graduate. That irritates the local technology companies, because it means new hires aren’t immediately profitable, but we don’t think that’s necessarily bad.


Harry Erwin, Internet:, Web Page: Senior Software Analyst supporting the FAA, PhD candidate in computational neuroscience—modeling how bats echolocate—and lecturer for CS 211 (data structures and advanced C++).


We have always had that tension between training and education. It helps to go back to the basics: what is education for? More specifically, what justifies a society using its government to force people to get an education, and to force others to pay for it? If education is merely a preparation for getting a job, then surely there is no reason why I should pay for yours? Or your children's?

In a Republic, education has the purpose of producing citizens. Producte or potentially productive, yes, but citizens, with a common heritage and shared values.

We have lost that. In part because a generation of intellectuals conceived it their duty to "broaden horizons" by "smashing the petty molds into which thought was constrained" and "teaching them how to think not what to think" and a bunch of other noble sounding goals, which in practice meant not teaching math, English literature, and history. We speak of multi-cultural studies but in fact we don't teach the history and literature of other cultures either; we abandoned our own, Western Civilization (the slogan at Stanford was "Hey hey, ho ho, Wester Culture's got to go!") but we didn't substitute anything for it. Reading Rigoberta's fantasy about Guatemala isn't a substitute for Socrates. The unexamined life may or may not be worth living, but the citizen who has never heard that the unexamined life is not worth living or why Socrates was thought the wisest man in the world is going to have problems comprehending what the Framers thought they were doing.

At the University of Iowa in the 50's they had a "core course" program: you had to take Western Civilization from George Mosse (who was probably the greatest living history teacher at that time). You had to take "Masterpieces of English Literature" and "Greeks and the Bible" and two other "core courses". All this was in addition to your major subject matter. The Iowa farmers complained that their kids didn't need to know that junk in order to grow corn, but the result as an educated community of citizens. I happened by accident to be there at the right time, and the experience was important to my life. I weep that others have not had the chance to share it.

If education is no more than a series of shop courses, we can dispense with most of it; and indeed that will be the result. There is literally no point to most of the 12 years of compulsory schooling, because it produces no discernable advantage to the people who pay for it. An educated citizen body is required to have a Republic. We aren't getting an educated citizen body.

Note, though, that the ruling class sees to the education, in much the old fashioned sense, of its children. They learn the common codes of speech, the shared metaphors that make communication easy and automatic among those who share them, and the miserable system for everyone else produces hewers of wood and drawers of water. Yes, I exaggerate; alas, there is some truth there too.

Jacques Barzun's TEACHER IN AMERICA is the starting point for a discussion on real education and what it is for. Of course no one has read that book in 20 years.


Subject: Software Trade War?

Hello Jerry, Was just browsing through the IT Manager’s Journal ( and read today’s article,, same title as the subject of this email.

The article reports on a story in the Baltimore Sun that Opera Software is preparing to file a suit against Microsoft, Netscape/AOL, and the US government for unfair trade practices stemming from the fact that MSIE and NSCommunicator are both free software. The IT Manager’s Journal site quotes the Baltimore Sun article as saying

"Opera Software has at least as much right to be angry at Microsoft and Netscape as American steel and auto producers have to be upset by predatory pricing by Asian steel and auto companies. "Imagine a world in which both Microsoft and Netscape were charging $25 or $35 or, more likely, $50 for their World Wide Web browsers. Opera’s browser costs $35 US. It has some advantages over Navigator and Explorer, including the fact that it will run on less powerful, less expensive computers. "If Microsoft and Netscape hadn’t started giving away their browsers, Opera might, by now, have at least as many shiny new high-rise buildings and highly-paid employees in Norway as Netscape has in California..."

Excuse me? First off, let me say that I personally use Opera 3.51 at home. I like it for its size, speed, and compatability with W3C standards. And I think that it was definitely worth the $35 I paid for it. But since Opera was unavailable until well after Netscape and MSIE were both free, what right does Opera have to complain? Opera is alleging that MS and Netscape/AOL are "dumping" their software in an unfair trade practice, which costs them money. But I fail to see where this is unfair to Opera, since by the time Opera entered the ring, both company were already giving away their software for free.

Matt Beland

Good points. Thank you.


You answered Jim Griebel that when Windows was working well, you like it and you don’t see how anyone wouldn’t. Well, my answer to your statement comes from my background. I am left-handed, live somewhat out in the boonies, and cannot afford to update my software very often or even buy a new computer very often. I also provide a free computer consulting service for my family, friends and church and church members.

Windows is like a standard pair of scissors to a left-handed person. It works pretty well but it is hard to follow the line (because it is blocked by the upper blade), the cut material wads up on your arm and after using the scissors for a few hours, your hand is no longer useful for any other work.

Windows reflects how Bill Gates thinks and works, not how I think and work. I prefer my icons on the right side of the screen, but Windows, upon selecting Arrange Icons, insists on the left side of the screen. Windows 98 coughs on my Borland C++ 1.0 debugger. I cannot transfer files using the DOS Intersvr command from my old computer to my new computer.

As I read in a recent report, Microsoft appears to be behind a move to create a market by continually requiring better, more powerful computers to run their increasing larger programs. Microsoft is also enlarging a social rift between the rich and the poor. And you in a limited way appear to be adding to that social rift. While your focus has been on computers and business, your location has hidden a part of the business and home computing world, the poorer, seedier side of computer users, the poor computer user.

While I live only 45 miles from Denver CO., I live in one of the poorest counties in the state. We have no large businesses, no sightseeing attractions, no ski resorts. We are a county larger in area than Denver and Jefferson counties combined, but with a population of 14,000. And we are well off compared to Indian reservations our very small church supports up north. You can’t have cable modems if you don’t have cable. We don’t have cable modems, ISDN, ASDL, ATM or any other high rate systems. The US Government spends its school computer money where the votes are,hence Denver schools get more money per student for computers than we get. A lot more.

Many of the people in my area that have computers have them because someone gave them an old computer. I and my church just gave an 8088, 2 80286 and 2 80386 computers to an Indian Reservation. Something to give them a start. I helped a friend 2 months ago upgrade from an 80286 to an 80386 with 6 meg of RAM so she could run JUNO on Windows 3.1 as part of her home business she was getting started. The computers were all donated computers as she cannot afford even the $150 for a 486 computer. The funny thing about her is she was a computer programmer 15 years ago. She built up a bad allergy to many chemicals found in the corporate environment and has had to lead a life free of many common chemicals.

Sorry for the long winded story, but try to feel for the people that live outside the cities, the people who are threatened with phone rate hikes from $20 for basic service to $200 for basic service because the city folks don’t want to subsidize the poor country folks.

One more quick point. My parents live 33 miles from downtown Washington D.C., yet while they are completely surrounded by cable TV, the single hill they live on does not have cable and the cable company has deemed it not commercially viable to provide cable service because only 6 homes are located on the hill. I used to live 4 miles from the center of Ramona CA along Hwy 78, the main highway which runs from Ramona to Julian, yet we did not have cable available to us. From my standpoint, Cable is a joke. For anybody in a rural area, cable is a joke.

David Pearce

I fear I don't quite know what you want here. A policeman to force the cable company to give your parents cable service? As to left handedness, I am told there are, at a price, all kinds of implements designed for left handed people. Yes, they cost more: is it my obligation to subsidize your purchase? Perhaps we need the Army to go force Microsoft to set up a new way for you to arrange your icons, thus saving you the trouble of doing it by hand and saving your layout? What is it, in a word, that you WANT?

I had not realized you were forced to use anything new. As it happens, I went to Fry's and bought an $89 motherboard and chip upgrade to put in my old 486 and a $100 larger disk drive, so that my upstairs writing room system where I write my books could run Office 97; but I didn't have to do that. Office 95 was perfectly adequate, it's just a bit easier for me to transfer stuff back and forth to my partners if I use Office 97.

What is the remedy you want here? For Microsoft to have to satisfy a commission and a civil service bureaucracy every time the company makes changes?

There are many things about Windows I don't care for and I have long told people that if you have Windows 95 b (OSR2) do not bother with Windows 98; but I can leave that to individual decisions, no?

As to cable being a joke, I hear lots of advertisements for low cost satellite dishes. Are they not available in your area? I fear your note is long on problems but short on solutions, and the solutions I think you imply are worse than the diseases. Perhaps I have misread?

We have probably digressed enough on education and science and such, and I am moving that discussion to alt.mail.


John Rice []

BYTE unfufilled subscriptions sold ?


Arrived home tonight and had a ‘surprise’ in my mailbox. I find that I’m now subscribed to a magazine I’d never heard of called "Business2.0". This is published by Imagine Media, Inc. in Brisbane California (with an area code of 415, this would put them in the San Francisco vicinity).

Appears to be nothing vaguely like BYTE at all. Not a technical article to be seen anywhere. It’s about as far away from what I ‘spent my money on’ as you can get and still be considered remotely connected to the computer industry.

Wonder if you, or anyone else in the Chaos Manor ‘family’ has ever heard of them. Do they have any ‘known’ connection with CMP? With the original BYTE? If not, then the CMP purchase of BYTE makes even less sense.

I’m not impressed....



Sidetracked on the Information Superhighway

I know nothing of this; since I had a paid subscription to BYTE I presume I will get some such thing also. I have never heard of this publication, but I am not at all familiar with CMP publications. Can't help, I fear. I'm just the guy who used to write for the old BYTE… When they said they were going to fold BYTE we offered to show how they could save money in subscription fulfillment and prepaid advertising, but they were insufficiently interested even to listen to Mark Schlack on how it could be done…


Dr Pournelle,

Although I have nothing but the greatest respect for you as an author and an authority (with regard to too many subjects as to admit descrip-tion), I must candidly advise you that the organization of your web pages leaves much to be desired.

I am certain that there is an underlying structure, but as yet I have been unable to discover it.

If the intent is to convey chaos, you have outdone yourself.

Or perhaps you are the victim of your tools. Please be so good as to visit my site at , which was written entirely in Notepad (yes, THAT Notepad). Marvel at the scalability, observe with awe the morphing button bars, and know with a deep humility the utter rightness of DESIGNING THE SITE BEFOREHAND :-).

Granted, the content ain’t great, but what do you want for a two-cent email.

I am certain that you have read Edward Tufte’s book, so I doubt that I can tell you anything about presentation that you don’t already know. My concern is that impressionable individuals may emulate your style, and thereby bring harm upon themselves and the ‘net com-munity.

Please, sir, I implore you, organize.

ALL AMIGA IN MY MIND_______________________ ------------------"Buddy Holly, the Texas Elvis"------------------


I see. I am a menace. You have that unformatted gubbage at the bottom of your letter but I is I who am the menace to the web. I see. Well, I suppose I will just have to endure. Thank you for showing me how.





Wednesday January 13, 1999

Subject Remember Galileo?

E Gray []

I read your comments about pseudosciences, aura’s, crystals and the like, and while I don’t have much respect for them myself, there is a certain similarity to the way Galileo and other people who defied the establishment’s wisdom were treated. Condemned and ridiculed, yet ultimately the result was vindication. Something to think about, lest we be too quick to judge. Never know what seeming nonsense could contain wisdom…..just as long as we don’t trust that which seems wise but is nonsense..

"They laughed at Columbus," goes the old saw. But they laughed at Melvin Coznowskiovich who held that the universe is an inside-out turkey egg, and they're still laughing, and with good reason.

Galileo insisted that the Earth moved about the Sun, and more to the point, insisted that you could verify that for yourself. Some of his inquisitors did just that, which is one reason he survived. He had his experiments and his data, and while most of the inquisitors refused to look through his "demon lenses" to see the Moons of Jupiter, those who did saw exactly what he predicted they would see; while those who performed his experiments got the results he predicted.

The modern pseudoscience advocate has no repeatable experiments, and no true data. He has, perhaps, some anecdotes, and some demonstrations he will perform in the right setting. Many use conjuror's tricks. A few of those apparently believe that when everything is just right they can do their miracles without trickery, but the cause is so important that when the spoon won't bend by pure mental energy, they are justified in bending it by mechanical means, lest the faithful lose faith; that, at least, is how some caught on film doing their tricks have explained what couldn't be denied. And, you will note, few of them are willing to be filmed while performing.

Science thrives in the open light. The essence of science is a letter to a colleague (or a published paper) describing a repeatable experiment whose result is from surprising to astonishing. Construct a telescope by this method; verify that it makes distant objects appear closer, and that what you see through it is no illusion; turn it to ever more distant objects; now turn it to Jupiter, and observe the four moons. No, I cannot prove they are moons; but their position changes with great regularity, and if I assume they are moons I can explain what I am seeing. Now assume that our Moon acts no differently. Now assume that the Planet Earth is to the Sun as Jupiter is to the Sun…

That is science. What we are getting now, however, is ever more complex theories to explain away results; or, in the social sciences, the experiments themselves are forbidden, and the existing experiments disappeared.

In my own case when I write on science and pseudoscience I invariably am told of the existence of anti-Newtonian devices, which, if only a little money can be found, could be built to show reactionless drive. In many cases the inventor, or more likely a disciple, invokes Galileo in stating that he cannot get a hearing. That is nonsense. Cold fusion, for example, got more than a hearing, despite the absence of dead graduate students: that is, if there had been the neutron flux claimed, the laboratory would have been a dangerous environment, with secondary radiation evident. In any event, my stand on reactionless drives is simple: build one, hang it on a swing, turn it on, and if it hangs off vertical I guarantee you that you will get someone to look at it. Convince me you have it and I'll come look. But invariably when my offer is taken up, and I send a local trusted agent to have a preliminary look (saving me air fare to Bombassa or wherever this thing is), the device was just disassembled for cleaning, or is being improved, or -- well, there can be a myriad of explanations, but what there won't be is a working device.

But it goes farther than that.

The late Petr Beckmann with his Access to Energy newsletter (there are some samples of his work at ) believed he had experimental evidence to refute Einstein's theory of relativity. He was taken seriously because he was always careful to play by the rules of science. I do not think his alternative theory of lightspeed in local gravity has been accepted by any large part of the physics community, but his questions have led to designs of new experiments. As Beckmann knew, a thousand experiments can't confirm a theory, but one can demonstrate its falsity: but that one has to be repeatable. (And yes, I am aware that there was once a chap who repeated the Michaelson-Morley experiment a thousand times, always with Newtonian results; as Bob Forward put once, he did his experiment with his faulty equipment and how often he did it is irrelevant; no one else could get that result).

Science is open, and based on repeatable experiments. If the crystal devotees could play by those rules, they would not need to denounce science; they would be scientists; the fact that they choose rather to denounce science says it all, I think. Yes, I remember Galileo; I fear most of those who invoke his name do not.


Mr. Erwin says:

"We have lost that. In part because a generation of intellectuals conceived it their duty to "broaden horizons" by "smashing the petty molds into which thought was constrained" and "teaching them how to think not what to think" and a bunch of other noble sounding goals, which in practice meant not teaching math, English literature, and history."

Education is not a career today that attracts many of the best and the brightest. I don't think the term 'intellectual' necessarily applies, except perhaps as a false self-designation. It's very hard to teach students to think critically, and easy to go through the motions.
Harry Erwin, Internet:, Web Page:
Senior Software Analyst supporting the FAA, PhD candidate in computational neuroscience--modeling how bats echolocate--and lecturer for CS 211 (data structures and advanced C++).

Educating the young is a rewarding experience. It requires patience rather than brilliance, except for the very brightest of children, and with those the work is being challenging. Education doesn't need the best and the brightest. Of course it doesn't get them, either; statistically the lowest average scores on any form of objective test in any university are in the education department, and everyone knows this. The fact is, though, what is taught in those departments is in general useless nonsense. As Jacques Barzun put it 40 years ago, the education department takes a grain of truth, grinds it exceeding fine, and puffs each mote into a course. Now they often don't start with a grain of truth. If there were anything designed to keep the best and the brightest out of education it would be the requirements for 'credentials' which everyone knows are based on endurance rather than achievement: teachers are not guaranteed to know anything, but they are guaranteed to have been able to put up with years of imbecilic nonsense taught to them as if it had some significance. The horror is that some teachers don't know they were taught nonsense and irrelevancy.

Note that private and catholic schools don't require "credentials" and have far fewer "credentialed" teachers; pay less than the public schools; and yet achieve better results.

When I was a lad in rural Tennessee, our school had 2 grades to the classroom, 30 to 40 students per grade, and 4 teachers for 8 grades; the 7/8 grade teacher doubled as principal and the 5/6 as librarian. The teachers were 2 year Normal school grads, not 4 year college graduates; and everyone in our school learned to read. When I got to that school (from a Catholic school for the first 3 grades) it didn't seem much different from the Catholic school I had left (which also had 2 grades to a room). By the time I left Capleville I had read some Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, George Eliot, John Ruskin, Macauley, Steven Vincent Benet, Evangeline and other epic poems, and most of the great poetry of American authors. This was required reading; on my own I read Jack London and Kipling and such like.

My mother taught in rural Florida in similar situations: in ten years of teaching first grade she had only two pupils who did not learn to read in their first year and as she put it "they didn't learn anything else, either." It requires a degree in education to believe that a young American of normal intelligence cannot be taught to read in first grade. Indeed, any human with an IQ of 80 or above can learn to read in a year, given reasonable instruction. We have proved that year after year with my wife's reading program.

An education system that can't teach children to read is so fatally flawed that it is pointless to talk about its other defects.

And it doesn't take the best and the brightest to teach kids to read in first grade. It does take patience, hard work, and decent curriculum materials; none of which are in short supply in the US except that the credential system makes them artificially scarce in the public schools.

It simply is not true that we cannot find good teachers; the truth is we don't let a lot of good teachers teach, because they are unwilling to put up with the idiocy of education credentials. I have great admiration for those teachers whose dedication is so great that that will endure what they know to be nonsense for years and years in order to go teach. I have a different view of those who don't know that most of what they got in education departments was trivial at best and nonsense on average; and nothing but contempt for those who think the purpose of a public school system is to pay teachers and education bureaucrats.

If Capleville School could accomplish the results it did, and my mother's rural Florida schools obtain the results they had, then we in this modern age can do better. The fact that we don't demonstrates that we don't really want to. We conceive the school system as a mechanism to spend money.

The purpose of a bureaucracy is to hire, pay, and promote bureaucrats. Modern education is in general a bureaucracy.


From: Jon Barrett []

Subject: Windows desktop layout


The immediate answer to David Pearce’s problem with layout is right there in Windows – instead of "Arrange Icons", when you have the basic desktop layout you want, choose "Line Up Icons" (same menu, next option) and they’ll snap to the closest grid position using your default icon spacing setting! See! Billg was thinking about others!

I think that what he was getting at, however, is not that Windows is designed for right-handed people (I’m left-handed – and don’t find any problems with Windows related to that), but that it, like scissors, is designed for one way of working, which isn’t his way. As far as I can see, icon position on the desktop is strictly an esthetic issue. Mine are scattered all around the border of my wallpaper, with functional and priority groupings. "Line Up Icons" doesn’t mess them up at all.


Well said. Thanks.


Charlie Stross []

If you want a non-free, but fast, cheap and effective fix to your sound problem, I suggest you:

a) Install your spare Ensoniq PCI card

b) Point a web browser at


The guys at 4Front Technologies write sound drivers for Linux. (A cut-down version of their code is what goes into the Linux kernel, for people who’ve got the time and energy to figure out the appropriate settings and recompile a kernel with sound support.) They also sell supported modular sound drivers—the Open Sound System—for Linux and other UNIXen. Cost is about $20, email support is good, and their drivers support more hardware and have a more-or-less automatic installation system. You can download a demo version from the website and activate it later (given an activation key).

An alternative is to use RedHat’s soundconfig tool. This was introduced in release 5.2. It only recognizes a limited number of sound cards (typically SB’s), and a limited number of configurations, but if you’re using a vanilla Red Hat 5.2 installation and one of your ISA soundblaster boards it should work.



-- Charlie Stross

Linux Columnist, Computer Shopper (UK)

Thanks. I'm getting to the Linux Box again Real Soon Now.


Out-of-print books 11f

From: Milton Pope[]

You frequently mention important books that Amazon doesn’t even recognize. If anyone wants these, I highly recommend the Advanced Book Exchange ( ), a clearinghouse of used-book sellers. For instance, ABE shows six copies of Fletcher Pratt’s "Battles that Changed History", with prices ranging from US$10 to $20. You have to buy the book from the individual merchant.


Good point. I take the trouble to look at Amazon in part because if they have it and it's ordered through me I get a small but real percentage. But Pratt's book is important, and I'll grab another copy before I post this…


Aaron Pohle []

David Pierce's letter on poor computer users

I read this letter and it reminded me of many many discussions that I have had with people and many similar complaints that I have seen. Why is it that people seem to want to halt the progress of advances in computer because they cannot afford them? Why do they live in the country and remote areas and then complain that they don’t have the advantages that people in the city have?

A few years ago I was shocked to hear comments like this about computer games. I was working at a software retail store then and a customer was complaining about how awful it was that certain games would not run very fast on his computer which was "not that old". I explained to him that there were many settings in the games that could be adjusted to increase the speed of the game. He just looked at me and said, "Well sure, but then it doesn’t look as good." I though, what are you saying, you don’t want anything written to be capable of doing something that your computer cannot? He could still enjoy the game, but perhaps not as much as someone who had a newer system.

I have often wished that I had a better system. Living in a fairly remote area where newer technologies like IDSN, Cable Modems, and the like are not available, I too miss that. But that is life. I don’t want them to not have those technologies anywhere, just because I do not have them. In regard to his comments on cable, so what? Cable is not a very good system and many people who can get it, like me, are switching to the digital satellite. Though I am upset that the government will not allow me to get networks on a satellite dish because it would reduce the viewing audience of the local affiliate...never mind that even with an antenna I cannot receive the local stations. I agree with the question that you asked of him...what does he want? As you said, there are still older operating systems and program out there that will work perfectly fine, just as they did years ago. Microsoft has not forced anyone to buy new hardware or software. Have they tempted us to, sure, that is their job, and that is how technology advances.

Aaron Pohle

PC Technician

Matthew 21 is relevant, also.


Enrique Vaamonde []

First Byte now Lantimes ?


I have been a Byte subscriber (I was, sorry) for a long time... and I enjoy your was always a nice reading and I loved the challenges you presented there monthly.

The purpose of this email is to speak out my opinion about something I consider alarming.

We all saw with deep regret the departure of Byte...I waited for months and months, I’ve sent a dozen emails, the last ones asking for a refund (no replies, no letter dated December 16th in my mailbox no nothing) and today I went to check just to find out CMP acquired them as well and closed the operations.

I know this is old news since the date of the close down seems to be October 98.

But my point is...CMP in less than a year has left us, IT professionals, users, managers whatever, without two great publications! this is very alarming from my point of view since there doesn’t seem to be a publication of that caliber (byte, lantimes) showing up anywhere. The advantage of these print magazines was to have it all gathered in one place...excellent columns (like yours) excellent tech reviews and previews etc. Now I find myself hunting them down in the web when if I had byte right next to me I’d have saved a lot of my time.

It worries me to see two great publications worries me about CMP next moves... it really makes me wonder what kind of company CMP is and if whether their goals are clear or no specifically when they bought both these publications. What was the idea? why did McGraw and Hill sell Lantimes to CMP knowing Byte’s ill fate?

Doesn’t McGraw and Hill care about it’s former loyal costumers? what about the former staff that used to work for these magazines?

It really speaks very bad for both CMP and M&;H...afterall, like always, the loosers are the costumers.

CMP to me doesn’t look like a serious company, many might have a different idea and that’s fine... but from my experience, for the things I’ve witnessed so far, they suck big time.

I’d like to hear from any of your readers, newsgroups webpage or any organization getting ready to let CMP know our opinions, because I know there must be people like myself out there, very sad and very angry at the way CMP has been handling us, former customers with irresponsible and unresponsive or inexistant customer service, and to let them know that one way or other they have really hurt, in my opinion, the IT, IS field with the withdrawal of these two publications.

Thank you in advance Jerry for placing this in your board,

kind regards from Venezuela

Enrique Vaamonde

I fear there is nothing I can do beyond posting this.


From: James McCaffrey,

Subject: Rick Galloway and Junior Officers

Dear Jerry:

I disagree with Mr. Dobbins characterization of Rick Galloway as some sort of superman and of our junior military officers as inadequate.

I read Jannisaries when it came out. If it was 1979, then I would have been a 24 year old Marine Corps officer (tanks, and some infantry experience). I was very much the contemporary of the fictional Rick Galloway.

I didn’t find anything that Rick Galloway did unbelievable.

I recall cringing at some boneheaded moves (certainly I would have done better <grin>) and applauding some smart moves. All in all, it evened out, much like real life, and was quite believable.

As the series progressed, I seem to recall that Rick Galloway developed as a strategist but this took place over a period of fictional years and is also not surprising.

I suspect there is a bit of culture clash that may have led Mr. Dobbins to some of his conclusions.

As a young officer I remember being quite proud and looking down a bit on civilians. There is tendency for experts in any field to feel this way and it is natural, if unfortunate, human tendency.

I doubt that I or any of my then contemporaries would have been interested in carrying on a discussion of strategy and tactics with some barely older civilian working (apparently) in computers. Would Mark McGwire be interested in a fan’s criticism of his swing? How interested is a brain surgeon in your helpful comments?

So, I suspect there is not a meeting of minds between Mr. Dobbins and the junior officers that he knows. Also, I wonder if he is meeting line and combat arms officers? Most of those young officers are out in operational units, not in positions where they would be in contact with civilian workers.

If Mr. Dobbins is meeting supply officers or information specialists, he is going to get a much different impression than if he met an infantry platoon leader. There is a fair degree of self-selection in a MOS (Military Occupation Specialty), subject always to the proverbial "Practical Joke Department", and the guy whose job it is to count "beans, bullets, and Band-Aids" (my apologies to Supply officers) is typically less interested in tactics and strategy than someone in the combat arms.

The quip about service academy graduates and ROTC perpetuates a myth: That service academy graduates are somehow superior officers and ROTC graduates are not. However, this is the first time that I’ve heard it in an academic sense, normally it is propounded in terms of some unspecified superiority of character or motivation (and normally propounded by a service academy graduate).

Many of the ROTC programs in the U.S. are at top universities. In the LA area, USC and UCLA have (or had) such programs. Are we to believe that students there, or at similar schools, can not get an education? (That question, I guess, is for the education thread and I certainly support the idea of breadth of education, not job training).

It’s also unfair to impugn the motives of the midshipman and cadets attending the Service Academies or attending a civilian school on a ROTC scholarship. For the vast majority there are two motives (and in this order): to obtain a commission and obtain an education.

For smart, motivated middle class and working class kids, this is a great opportunity and one that the government does support financially. Everyone benefits: the Services get smart officers from diverse backgrounds and the midshipman/cadet gets an education that he probably couldn’t afford. This has been a bipartisan, consensus policy of the government for untold years.

However, my thanks to Mr. Dobbins for two things: first, I’m going to go back and re-read Janissaries and, second, for the great quote from Pope Innocent X ("Null, void, invalid…"). I hope I can find some place to use it someday.

Best wishes,

Jim McCaffrey

Thanks. You say all I would have. After all, I clearly didn't think Galloway all that unusually brilliant. My suspicion is that my story demonstrates that there is some value in a systematic university education. Self-educated people tend to have breadth and some areas of great depth, but also to have neglected some other critical areas of knowledge. Selecting one's own subject matter is tricky.

Best regards.


Subject: Education Discussion 11f

From: Robert Peters (

Dr. Pournelle,

In our discussion of education, I think we are really discussing the problem of renewal of institutions. I can’t think of an institution in Western Civilization (which I think would be a good idea) that does not face the problem of renewal with some trepidation. Every human institution continually has (among other things) people who come from no experience in what needs to be done, have to be taught to some standard (acculturated), be employed through some useful career, and hope to pass on (pay forward) what they have learned to the people who haven’t retired.

Part of the problem with renewal is the people in the institution have to want to be part of the institution i.e. the institution must be worthy of the people who are or want to be members. My roommate is an elementary school teacher and I am amazed at the bureaucracy he suffers. I, too, considered an elementary teaching as a second career. I don’t think I could take it in the public schools (which is exactly where the help is needed most). Go ahead, call me a coward. Furthermore on the subject of wanting to be part of the institution, I went to an interview in a USAF Colonel’s office where I was supposed to justify my being a Below-The-Zone candidate for Major. I sat there while the poor, pompous man talked all the way through what was supposed to be my interview. I decided in that interview if the USAF saw fit to make this blow-hard a full Colonel I didn’t want to be in the USAF anymore. Besides, I had achieved my goal for joining the USAF.

I had gone to Europe in the summer of ’89. There was a Soviet Union when I arrived. When I left Europe and the USAF one and one half years later, there wasn’t a Soviet Union. I am not allowed to talk about the causal relationship. If I told you, I’d have to kill myself (why should you suffer for my error?). In all seriousness, I also feel if there isn’t a Cold War, there is no need for Cold Warriors. But I digress…

If I don’t really believe in the institution, why will I extend myself to meet standards which my peers are not even trying to meet?

A most interesting approach to the problem of renewal was semi-revealed to me when I was conferring with representatives of a Scandinavian Air Force. Their problem was picking pilot candidates who wouldn’t die by using a several million kronor aircraft to make a smoking hole in otherwise innocent scenery. Their method required a confidential study of the pilots who successfully completed flying careers (maybe even made it into senior staff) and selecting the characteristics they had in common. These characteristics became the selection criteria for pilot candidates. As I was a visiting officer from a foreign power the criteria were not revealed to me (there is a good chance my contacts didn’t know them either), but from my own experience and prejudices I suspect the main criteria is unbending, unflinching honesty. After all, navigating in the air is a most unforgiving endeavor, especially of self-deception.

It almost goes without saying, any secret selection method would probably not be permitted in an open society.

When I was a junior officer I met no one who was Capt. Galloway’s equivalent, I wasn’t. Mr. Dobbins’ comments are as true now as I would have found them to be then (1982 - 1991). Might we be suffering from near-exponential growth of knowledge? There is much to learn and more everyday. Try learning the rudiments of Aerospace Engineering, satisfying one’s ROTC instructors one might be a good and efficient officer some day and taking the history classes one needs to satisfy the University’s (Virginia Tech) requirements for elective classes when it will not accept ROTC for those credits. Oh, by the way, be sure to graduate in four years before your scholarship runs out and your slot goes to some one else. As bad (or good) as I and my peers had it in 1982, I am sure it is worse now. Also, some unlucky persons had to decide what it takes to earn a BS in Aerospace Engineering, another group of unlucky persons had to do the same job for selecting what is needed to be worthy of an officer’s commission. These unlucky selectors probably were suffering from that ol’ devil exponential growth of knowledge with no guidance on how to handle it.

In addition to learning all the required knowledge and skills to be Capt. Galloway, if you don’t use the material who will retain it? I know the USAF didn’t require any of my knowledge of European Diplomatic History (though it gave considerable personal understanding to the end of the Seventy Years War). I suspect most of what it takes to "get by" is always going to be explicitly taught as response to the need to "pass the test." But teaching important things, like love of learning so we can become more like Capt. Galloway is too hard today if we can’t teach more of our children to read.

Respectfully Submitted. Robert Peters

And yet: my character was drawn from life, and it was not all that long ago that everyone I knew had some basic grasp of history the way Galloway does. I say again, at the University of Iowa in 1954 everyone had to take George Mosse's Western Civilization. Now true: I wangled my way into Dr. Mosse's personal seminar instead of being in a graduate student led quiz section, and I am certain he worked "his" students harder than the general run; but then Galloway isn't supposed to be average, either.

So I find this discussion somewhat frightening. In half my lifetime we have come to the point where what I would consider a decent grasp of the history of the West available to any person who thinks himself educated and in the leadership class is now thought to be beyond the ken of most of the officer corps? I hope that's not true.

As to elementary education, my guess is the best thing to do would be to cut the budget so drastically that only those who love teaching the young will apply; get rid of the bureaucrats in the way you get rid of any other parasites. If the host isn't fat the parasites my go seek another. I would suspect that devotion and hard work are more important than all the 'credentials' in the world.


Re: Starswarm

Dr. Pournelle,

Like you, I grew up on Heinlein and loved his "Juveniles". They started a life long enjoyment of his flavor of Science Fiction. I just read Starswarm while recovering from heart bypass surgery. While I always enjoy your work, this was a real treat, taking me back 40 years. GOOD JOB! I am sure Robert is pleased with your effort, whichever of his universes he ended up in.

I wrote you a year or two ago, inquiring about the possibility of a conclusion to the Janissaries Series. You kindly responded and indicated that you were scheduled to start collaboration on just this book soon. I just wondered if you had been able to get to it and had any idea concerning when it would be published.

Thank you for your time.

Mike Avery (

Not a collaboration. I'm working on Mamelukes (which may not be the title when it comes out; Baen doesn’t like it) which is the next volume in the Janissaries series right now, and in fact I will have a couple of chapters on line here in a week or two.




Education 11f

Bill Grigg


Dear Jerry,

I feel obliged to comment on the discussion about education. Having suffered under the bureaucracy that passed for education here in British Columbia during the 70’s (experiments with class sizes and structure, labour strife), I fled in terror from Junior High (sophomore), swearing never to return. After that I basically schooled myself, taking some courses at night, but mostly by reading, reading, reading. Now that I’m older and have children of my own (4 &; 7, both boys) I find that the education system of the 70’s no longer seems as bad!

This is why my wife and I have decided to home educate. I consider myself quite lucky to live in a province that allows me to do this. The reasons are related to Christian Fundamentalists wanting an arena to teach Creationism, but I’ll

take advantage of this freedom. It certainly takes a considerable amount of commitment, both emotionally and financially.

As you have posted, you need patience. Patience and organization. My wife stays at home during the day and is responsible for the reading (phonics), writing (lots of paper) and arithmetic (lots more paper), I come home in the evenings and teach engineering (LEGO), physics (LEGO) and chemistry (ice cream floats and cooking). This suffices for the elementary subjects. Through interactive software, I can provide history, geometry, museums, more reading and writing, and the list goes on. I’ll just mention the internet. I am lucky enough to have two fast (266 &; 333) machines, ADSL and a LAN. We have sacrificed our home to setup two workstations for hands on work, as well as the two computers; they are in separate rooms, so as not to create diversions. There is no TV per se. We cancelled our Cable to afford the ADSL, and the only videos are ones we borrow from the library, and a handful of "Magic School Bus" videos (some of which are duplicated on CD-ROM).

Don’t worry about the socialization, either. We’ve thought about that as well. My wife does drop in after school care for both other home educators, and neighbourhood public school children. So the kids are really missing the classroom camaraderie, which only distracts the children from concentrating anyway. We also take part in Soccer, Little League Baseball (proud coach), skating, swimming, hiking as a family; crafts, dance, drama classes at the community centre for the kids. We also don’t shuffle our kids away from us when we have adult guests around (mostly!).

So far we have a 7-year-old who is an excellent reader (can read words he doesn’t understand), can do simple adding and subtracting, is an absolute nut about mazes, can follow long directions on the computer. Who is happy, constantly singing (he is very musical), loves to act out complex scenes, knows more about dinosaurs, sharks, big cats, snakes, spiders etc. than I did when I was 7, let alone now! His 4-year-old brother is catching up fast in reading skills (I too, am a second child and learned to read at age 5), and about the same in most other skills. I find he has the better attention span! The capacity of a little child to learn is both staggering, and humbling. The capability of one child to teach another child is magical. In comparison with the public schooled children, my two guys differ only in that they don’t have to put up their hands to go to the bathroom, and they have don’t know any rude taunts (well, other than boo-boo-head).

Both my wife and I look forward to many years teaching, and then learning along side of, our children.

Never weaken!

Bill Grigg

Educating the young is always rewarding. Cicero was proud of the fact that he educated his children himself, rather than leaving it to 'professionals' (which in his case meant educated Greek slaves, those being the 'professional' educators of the late Republic).

The main problem with home schooling is breadth, and being systematic. I would look for textbooks from the 30's; indeed one project my wife and I have is getting together a 6th Grade Reader from that era. The stories, such as Ruskin's King of the Golden River, and Macauley's Lays of Ancient Rome (Horatius at the Bridge) would be considered more for 8th grade and higher now, which shows some problems.

A systematic view of Western History is a problem also; one possibility is the whole series of Harold Lamb's biographies, from Cyrus the Great, Phillip, Alexander, onwards through Justinian, to Iron Men and Saints (The Crusades), Salladin, Ghengis Khan, Suleiman the Magnificent, Tamarlane and Babur the Tiger. Lamb does a splendid job of embedding these men in their times, and read in progression historical biography is a good way to get a feel for the times. It's also READABLE, and indeed exciting.

Good Luck.

For those who do not know: by age seven children ought to be able to read anything, which is to say, to look at words like dichloroethane and SAY the word. They won't necessarily know the meaning (and that word probably doesn't have a meaning); but since if you can read anything, your reading vocabulary is your speaking vocabulary, expanding vocabulary becomes far easier and more efficient.

Anyone with children 6 or 7 who cannot read Constantinople and other such words should go look at my wife's web page, and pay attention. Her programs, one for DOS (which requires a tutor) and one for the Mac (uses text to speech and can be used 'unattended') will teach anyone to read in under a year. For more on this click here.




Your column is worth $10 "each month" to me as you always provide just the right information in a short amount of space.

I recently made the jump from an ancient 386/20 (running DOS) to a beautiful Micron 450 with 19" monitor, primarily to run PhotoShop. All my attempts to get Microsoft Explorer ( or Netscape for that matter ) to run failed. It stumped the ISP operator ( who is very bright ), it stumped Micron Tech support, it stumped pals of mine at IBM and at government agencies that aren’t supposed to exist. It took 5 weeks of constant attempts to find the answer. The answer was in the book "Windows 98 Annoyances" which I ordered from Amazon after reading your column. I am sorry now that I didn’t connect to it through your web site. I followed their script and it worked instantly!

Thanks again!

John Hanlon

in Big Chicago




Richard D. Martin

re: choice of books for education

While there are certain sound principals in your advocating the use of old text books for the teaching of history I have to throw in a caution. When I was growing up in Virginia in the Sixties the state mandated use of official history texts for the fourth and seventh grades (same book so there are bound to still be many copies of this and similar texts floating around). I’ve never been able to remove from my mind one particular picture of slaves rolling hogsheads of tobacco along a dock. I can still see the picture and remember the caption reading something like "Happy darkies at work". Language like this was common then and still crops up now—witness the controversy over the lyrics to "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny"—"that’s where this old darky’s heart am long to be".

Over the years I’ve made a hobby out of buying old history text books and encyclopedias and they came in handy while I was a grad student in English. The recent article in _Salon_ which someone pointed you to is pretty close to the way I experienced things except it neglects to point out how history has been completely overhauled, modified, distorted and fabricated by just about every temporarily victorious group along the political spectrum (except Moderates who could never muster the ambition to try and alter history).

So it’s a good idea, if you’re going to go shopping for text books, to remember that older doesn’t mean better—or even accurate.

Perhaps I was misunderstood? I speak of reading materials. Most reading textbooks are written by non-entities. In my day we read authors of stature, people one might have wanted to pay money to read. If I wanted to read books about the Old South in slave times I think I would try Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn rather than some textbook showing happy darkies. Or Uncle Tom's Cabin for that matter. Certainly we learned "Carry me back" in school in Tennessee, but it took no great powers of discernment to realize that this was a lament, by a slave who had been sold to some less pleasant place; and learning "A man's a man for a' of that" will do a great deal toward getting you to think in terms of equality before the law. "See yon birkie, called a lord, what struts and stares and a' of that…"

I suspect you can't name and wouldn't recognize if you did the author of that textbook   you decry; or of any of the text books now in use. And I'll take Ruskin's King of the Golden River as a story for young people over either one.

I wasn't speaking of wasting my time compiling books of trivialities; excuse me if you thought I was. I was speaking of mining older books for something of value. I am sorry you believe I need warning against such obvious pitfalls.






Thursday January 14, 1999

It looks as if all Thurday's Mail got stuffed into Wednesday. Sorry.


Friday,  January 15, 1999

Spencer, Jack, Mr., ADO []


I know you are busy, but I am flailing. I am looking for a program to help me set up a RAM disk (on a scsi equipped PII400) to use DRAM to hold games primarily.

Can I do it in DOS? QEMM is still a win 95 program, with unknown upgrade dates.

Any ideas? I sure miss your articles. I miss byte too. Pity eh?

Jack Spencer

I haven't thought about a Ram Disk in ages. I suppose I'd have to use Quarterdeck if I wanted to do it. Mostly I guess I'd ask my readers, since someone out there probably still does it. So let's see…




Yesterday, I was reading your column regarding the K6-2 system that you purchased from Fry Electronics. Today, I was in Tom’s Hardware Page and found the following article that may explain the outrageously low price and the reason why it won’t run at 100 Mhz FSB.

Jon Fitch, P.E.


I don’t have that mark on my chips, but thanks!




The easiest way to create a RAM disk for DOS seems to be to use Caldera’s VDISK. Download DR-DOS from their Web site ( It’s far more versatile than RAMDRIVE.SYS or whatever it was that MS shipped. I have no idea how it compares to, say, utilities from Quarterdeck but it has the advantage of still being widely available, and for that matter downloadable, and if it doesn’t work, delete it and don’t pay for it. Some games may run better in DR-DOS, since it has the niceties of a dynamic disk cache, etc., but some won’t like it. You could always run Caldera’s VDISK under MS-DOS if certain games don’t run.

Offhand I don’t remember the syntax for VDISK in CONFIG.SYS, but DR-DOS has excellent online documentation. Type DOSBOOK at a command prompt. Alternatively, download the Caldera DR-WebSpyder demo disk and take a look at its CONFIG.SYS. It uses VDISK to decompress the image to a RAM disk and run it from there (a pretty slick way of cramming a Web browser onto a single floppy).

I imagine FreeDOS comes with a RAM disk; they’re at This is an open-source clone of DOS 3.3, currently in beta testing. I don’t know anything about its RAM disk driver.

No one thinks about running RAM disks on modern Microsoft OSs anymore, but under DOS, it makes sense on these huge machines with 64 or 128 megs of memory. What else is DOS going to do with all of it? Sick thought: I imagine Windows 3.1 would zip along pretty nicely if it were residing in a 112K RAM disk...

Dave Farquhar []

Microcomputer Analyst, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

Views expressed in this document are my own and, unless stated otherwise, in no way represent the opinion of my employer.

Thanks. I don't use RAMDISK any more and didn't remember what I used to use. It has been a while since I did that…





Saturday, January 16, 1998


Roger G. Smith []


Vedit’s still the one, even after ?15, ?20 years? *LARGE* binary files, source code, edit an entire DVD in one file—doesn’t matter, VEDIT handles it with ease. Now a native Win9x 32bit application, written in assembler. Linux version maybe 2Q of this year.

Would have sent this sooner, but everything I touch is crashing left and right for the last week+, so haven’t been reading the site much.

Stay well...


Gosh. I gave VEDIT a User's Choice Award about 15 years ago as I recall. I don't do a lot of hex editing lately; used to do a lot more in DOS and early Windows days. I seem to be busier now than I was then, but I am not sure I get more done. Still, the cobbler should stick to his last, and me to my wordsmithing; I can usually find someone to do programming when I have to. Thanks! VEDIT still, eh? I can't say I am astonished.


From: raint []


Maybe it is not bad for people to have the advantage that Socrates had -- of not being preceded by Socrates.

I imagine people would come to history on their own if they were not prodded, if they were looking for thoughts they could not find in this world.

I once had a friend who told me of his idea about hypertext (this was when it was called Hypercard or something). He felt that one big problem was that everything was subdivided into these big subject names that don’t really mean anything. Like physics. Many different areas within it require different modes of thought. And the word ‘physics’ prejudices people about using things from other subjects, though it may be natural if these words didn’t exist.

His idea was to write a book where you can start anywhere, and if you don’t know something, it will explain where to find the things that precede it; and it would have links to places that branch from it or are interesting in light of it. It would be a personal work, but he would hope that others could help him write it. Kind of like linux.

Back to the subject, I believe that dumbing-down isn’t the complete reason for the shift away from history. I believe it’s a good thing; we’re back to a ruder society where we learn things that are relevant to what we’re interested in. That may make us seem dumb to the cultured Europeans, but it makes us think. And keep in mind that ‘history’ necessarily is somehow changed because of our new media.

Luckily our country can hold both kinds of people. We have no disadvantage that all people share.

I hope you speed read through these things. And thanks for reminding me of something.


I think I would rather stand on the shoulders of giants than to have to make all discoveries for myself; surely you agree? As to the Great Encyclopedia, one supposes that's what the Internet is attempting to be. The problem with that sort of education is that without a framework into which to insert new findings, it's very hard to make sense of what one learns. Real education consists of selecting and imparting the right frame. For some students that is nearly enough. Others will add far more to their store of knowledge, and a few will actually add to the frames themselves, although that is not given to most of us to do.







Sunday January 17, 1999

Republicans and the Department of Education:

I believe, Dr. Pournelle, that you pointed out some years ago the at there is an inverse relationship between federal education funding and literacy.

What does the Department of Education do with all that cash? If the entire Department of Education budget were tossed, willy-nilly, at local schools, the results might astonish the education bureaucracy.

One of my relatives worked in the Superintendent's office. She was complimented for her efficiency in keeping the school office up-to- date with state Department of Education requirements. Her method? She simply tossed the missives from the state into a pending file. Two weeks or so later, a corrected final draft would arrive. Thus, rather than do, undo, and re-do, she maintained her efficiency by NOT doing too quickly.

If a state department, supposedly devoted to learning, cannot do better than the above illustration, how hopelessly snarled is the federal department?

For those who want some perspective on this issue, go read Robert Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. The book is both an excellent novel and a brilliant condemnation of much of modern education. This book was written in the fifties. Upon re-reading this book, I am still amazed at how accurate was Mr. Heinlein's vision.

Also, see The Number of the Beast and the last two essays in Expanded Universe.

Of course, also see Jerry Pournelle and Charles Sheffield's Higher Education.

The Republican party wasn't wrong in trying to abolish the Department of Education; they went about it the wrong way. Sometimes a frontal assault doesn't work, and the best strategy is to march around the walls, then sound a trumpet.

Mark Thompson


Little argument from me here. There was a study of the effectiveness of TITLE ONE in the paper this morning. The conclusion is that we have got little for all the money. The remedy is of course to add more money still. If it was all wasted in the past, well, it was for the kids, and if we just spent a lot more…

Chaos Manor home

Entire contents copyright 1999 by Jerry E. Pournelle. All rights reserved.
Comments and discussion welcome.

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