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Mail 132 December 18 - 24, 2000

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Monday  December 18, 2000

Mail about public schools.

"If a foreign power had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war." National Commission on Education, 1983


I just read your posting about the poor state of the educational system in the U.S., and how it is a big part of the problem is due to the impact of teachers' unions.

May I make a different point, which isn't in opposition to what you said per se?

I've been in the fortunate position of taking the last year and a half off from work in order to spend more time with my family, and especially my two youngsters (ages 9 and 6). Previously I'd spent 20 years in various financial management positions at a number of public companies, most recently as a CFO at a (IMHO) very well-run biotech startup ("well-run" not necessarily because of me, but because we had a truly amazing CEO).

I've spent a fair piece of my sabbatical volunteering at my kids' (public) elementary school, in the course of which I got to know the teachers and "front office" people very well.

Here's my point (sorry about the lengthy preamble; I just wanted to establish my bona fides): an important, but not often cited, problem with the public schools is the management of those schools, and particularly the district management of those schools. Having lived through the down-sizing and restructuring of corporate America, I can tell you that the management of schools is more akin to the 1980 business world than the 2001 business world: lack of empowerment, lack of clear accountability, discouragement of employee initiative, "us versus them" between management and workers (some of which is a result of the union/management interface, of course), etc. In my district, BTW, this problem exists not only between the district and teachers, but between the district and the school principals (I was floored when I found out how out of the loop our district kept my principal on issues that significantly affected her school. Had something like that happened to me in business, there would have been a number of mano y mano exchanges, I can tell you!).

I don't mean to whitewash teachers from responsibility for all the problems in our educational system. But based on what I see, there are many fine teachers, and even more competent ones, whose efforts are diluted or otherwise thwarted by poor management practices and structures. While I'm saddened about this situation, I'm not too surprised; throughout my business career I'd say that 8 or 9 times out of ten the reason an organization performs poorly can be traced back to management practices and structures. The worker bees themselves are rarely the problem.

This is all based on observations of just one district, and mostly one school in that district, but I wonder if similar problems don't exist elsewhere.

Thanx for letting me stick in my oar.

- Mark

Of course the management is terrible: there is nothing for the managers to do. The local boards no longer have any authority, principals have no power, and yes, of course there are good teachers, but the union situation discourages them and sees to it that the poor ones are entirely protected from the consequences of incompetence, ignorance, foolishness, and laziness. They don't have to work hard, and so only the best do. So the best break their hearts. And the US slides down.

Bad management? Of course. But the worker bees ARE the managers. That's the problem. They are no longer responsible to ANYONE.


I have been a chemistry and physics teacher in the public school; two districts in the Chicago suburbs; seven years. I’ve also been a computer software trainer.

Tenure after 2 years is deadly to motivation. Every teacher should “earn” the right to continue through hard effort every year. Continuing education and skills training should be mandatory.

Teacher’s unions are not a good thing. They also lower motivation. I belonged for a little while but dropped when I saw my dues going to support causes that I was personally against. A chemistry teacher making the same wages as a PE teacher is an insult. I don’t need some committee to “get me a decent wage”; I need them to get out of the way!

Teacher training at college was tremendously dumbed down at the University of Illinois (Urbana). Even at the MS level I could make absolutely perfect grades without enough effort. I actually had to set private personal growth goals to challenge myself.

School should not be mandatory after 6th grade. Students refer to their schools as “prisons”. This is now universal in the USA. The whole thing must be turned upside down. “No student who because of poor attendance, attitude, morals, or lack of necessary effort is allowed to attend this tax-supported public school.” That needs to be the policy. Attitudes would change overnight from “I dare you to make me care enough to study” to “Please help me become as educated as I can.” Some parents who don’t care now would definitely get more involved.

Are teachers paid enough? Very hard to say. If students making below grade C (in English, Math and Science) were required to attend summer school and a teacher could earn 3 more months pay at the same monthly rate I imagine few would complain. We do want good teachers, who are motivated by the desire to make a difference in children’s lives, not people looking for a easy way to earn a fast buck.

My wife and I never did home school, but I see it as a reasonable option for those who can. As long as the children get some neighborhood interaction with others—sports, scouting, etc.

Two of my daughters graduated from the high school where Hemingway attended—Oak Park, River Forest (Illinois) High School. It is a great public school in a fairly affluent area. The Chicago system (which adjoins Oak Park) is so poorly run that students illegally attend OPRF, i.e. they are not true residents but live with aunts, cousins or others.

One strength of the US system is local governance of school systems. It can become a weakness if parents and tax payers don’t get involved in issues or if the district consists only of poor residents. Perhaps a federal and state component is helpful in some exceptional cases. We are a federal republic, right?

Maybe there are just too many fronts to fight on.

The school leaving age is usually set by labor unions rather than by any rational process. I would put it at 8th grade myself for the end of compulsory schooling, but that assumes that the first 8 grades actually teach something.


You said..."And we wonder why those who can home school their kids? A terrible solution to the problem by the way. A good public school system is a very good thing for a Republic; but it must teach the virtues of a republic, and the skills of a republic, and be effective in doing that"

Republic virtues and skills can be taught while homeschooling. Lots of other stuff can be taught while homeschooling, that can't be taught in a group education format. For example, art often takes longer than 45 minutes: for art to be real, it can often takes days of contemplation, planning, and studies before it a piece might be done. But in school, when art class is up, you're done. Next subject! Let's hammer all of the fun out of reading next, by making kids read out loud amongst 40 giggling peers! It builds self-esteem, we're sure it does!

Schools are very effective at taking information hungry, naturally curious four-year-olds and, after twelve years of conditioning, produce a barely-literate adult that typically hates all things "learning". Today, the kids are bathed in a stew of curriculum, without the least thought wasted on the child's motivation to the material. If the curriculum schedule says today's the day we talk about Indians, well, then, that's what we're gonna talk about. The kids may not care very much about Indians, or may be really excited. Almost surely, there's going to be differing levels of motivation to the topic. Might that affect one's learning experience. Hmm. But if the kid doesn't have the interest in the topic, then there is punishment for failing to convincingly feign interest to the teacher's satisfaction. Kids are encouraged to portray a false image of themselves in order to succeed.

There's lots of negative things learned in school: pack politics, and a dependence upon experts, to name two. School is demeaning--where else does one have to ask just to go to the bathroom? (The military? An organization that systematically beats individualism out of employees? Hmm. Strange that they're so similar.)

Public schooling is about one thing: turning out compliant sheep (good clerks for the government, good workers for the mines, good soldiers for the armies) accustomed to following someone else's agenda for 8-10 hours a day. Happy to sit in traffic, watch television, consume, worship, and wait to die and get into heaven.

I don't plan on having my kids grow into that, so we homeschool. And we do a far better job than the public schools ever did. And we like our kids a lot more than other kids. Other kids are typically, very violent. They're spastic and easily distracted (those that aren't held underwater by ritalin).

"But what about socialization? How will the children pick up social skills?" This is an amazing defense: how is it that a child, one amongst possibly 35-40 other equally socially-unskilled kids, is supposed to acquire these skills?

From the teacher? That's hardly likely: most teachers with large groups spend a goodish amount of time keeping the entire group "on task". Mostly, it's about keeping a roiling sea of action focused on whatever the teacher's talking about.

From peers? Oh, come on, doesn't anyone get how awful the whole school social experience is for so many untold legions of kids? Or have we already forgotten Littleton?

I don't think homeschooling is THE answer, I just think it's ONE answer. I don't think the whole "education" problem has a single answer. I also don't think that everyone learns the same way, and right now, the current system doesn't seem to educate very well, but it certainly does SCHOOL.


 Principal Engineer, Stellcom

Clearly the Republic did not survive its first hundred years and we all live in a dream world.

Home schooling may be the best we can do, but it's uneven at best, and the fact that something CAN be taught at home does not mean it will. Read Jacques Barzun TEACHER IN AMERICA on just what shared experiences can and should mean to a Republic. 

Dear Jerry,

You wrote that home schooling is a terrible solution to the problem of poor public schools, and that a "good" public school is a very good thing.

As a home educator, I disagree with the first part (an even worse solution is continuing to support the current school system), and agree with the second. I wish I could find a "good" public school system. Heck, I wish I could find a "good" private school. The ones I've seen have great academic qualities, but are run similar to a 60's era country club, with all the bad qualities and few of the good ones. I wish I could be like the rest of my friends and ship my kids off to a tax payer supported child care system. But I want more for my children than indoctrination into what the government's view of society is. Which, by the way, appears to be a calm (Ritalin) citizen, well harnessed into their yokes (pays taxes), without access to weapons (gun control), and who can't read much beyond Dr. Seuss.

I want my children to learn, and more importantly, learn to learn. What I experienced in public school (60's and 70's) was constantly shifting curriculum to suit unionised teacher's needs, with only a nod to what the children required. As I learned to read prior to kindergarten, and I could do simple math by grade 1, I find I didn't learn much at all, that I couldn't have taught myself. I can touch type, for which I can thank my high school for (50's era Olivetti typewriters, keep the wrists up! No carpel tunnel syndrome here!), but that's it. My love of history required me to learn far more that what the school system felt was necessary, and in much greater detail. What I was taught in high school was the power of the unionised worker. In Grade 9, I experienced a strike by support workers that closed my school for almost 2 months. I considered that criminal at the time, and the 25 years of time that has passed since, has not dimmed my anger. But that is only part of the reason I home educate my own children.

As, I'm sure, your wife will attest, most children want to learn to read, and taught properly, will have a love for the written word that will last them a lifetime. It will also create a thirst for knowledge that knows no bounds. At least that is my experience, and from reading your essays and notes, it appears to be yours as well. What I do as a home educator is facilitate my child's learning experience. If they are interested in Geometry, we go to the library, or the internet, or the outdoors, or where ever, to find out all about it. Actually, this is where I feel that home educators beat the public system hands down. We don't differentiate between History, and Math, and Science, indeed we relish in pointing out how everything is linked together (the education web?) for how can you teach Math without understanding the history and science of mathematics? The Public School System can! IF we feel that we are unable to properly teach, we find someone who can (Sylvan Learning Centers, or tutors). You see we don't dislike teachers, just the system they have helped create.

Then there is also the spectre of gang wars, drugs, and bullies that fill the newscasts almost every single day. As a Canadian citizen, I could sniff down my up-turned nose at the American Society that helps to create tragedies such as Columbine. But history will show that the first revenge motivated school shooting happened in Brampton, Ontario, and we have recently unveiled a (politically correct) monument for 14 women gunned down by a lunatic in a technical school in Montreal (he had been turned down as a student as they needed more women enrolled to increase their budget). Recently a high school student in a very small town here in BC, video taped a "stomping" at his school. He gave the tape to the media and was immediately beset upon by the school board for exposing the bully problem. The school board felt that it was an internal problem, and he shouldn't have let out the tape to the "outside". He is now afraid to leave his house for fear of retaliation by the bullies he filmed, as well as their allies. The list goes on, and on, and on. I find it difficult to believe you can take 1,000 students, place them in a building, which in many respects resemble a prison, and not expect trouble with a capital T!

It is all of these reasons, and perhaps a few more I can't think of right now, that has led us to home educating. I am proud to be a hands-on part of my children's education, and thrilled to be part of a movement that counts (retroactively, of course!) stellar individuals such as: Thomas Alva Edison, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein and Samuel Clemens.

I applaud Mr G. W. Bush's goal to improve the school system, but question his methods. I feel that cutting funding to schools that perform poorly, will only make them perform even more poorly. Firing the ineffectual teacher's would be a far better solution, though with the lobbies and power that the Teacher's Unions carry, that will be quite impossible to do.

I would like to see a system similar to the Academy of Plato, free discussion while teaching an understanding of the natural world. Hey, wait a second, that is what the Home Educator is trying to do!

Enough ranting for today, I hope that you are feeling better!


Bill Grigg Kelowna BC Canada

Cicero was proud to have educated his children himself rather than rely on schools, tutors, or slaves. But it is still the case that a good public school system is a valuable thing for a Republic.

Given what we have there may be few alternatives. We have a school system indistinguishable from an act of war. Almost anything is likely to be better. 

And of course there are GOOD schools embedded in a bad system, and good teachers embedded in bad schools. But the trend is down and down, and politically correct to boot.

And this:

An Apocalyptic Attitude Gripped the TV Commentators, Not Their Viewers


F or the last five weeks, Ted Koppel began "Nightline" by reciting ABC's slogan for the postelection drama; in a solemn cadence suited to imminent nuclear disaster, he declared, "A Nation Waits." On MSNBC, when Brian Williams wondered what to tell the children when they came home from school and asked if our country was O.K., his booming voice carried a hollow echo of Red Scare days. Many civics classes have been taught about this election muddle, but no one was shouting, "Duck under the desks, kids, they're recounting in Florida!" And just before George W. Bush's victory speech on Wednesday, Peter Jennings said the president-elect would "begin to settle the nation down, if he can." Settle down? Who was unsettled?

There was considerably more, but you get the idea. News media will have news...

And something different:

Dr. Pournelle,

This site will help you determine where to look to find the International Space Station (and other orbiters) when it flies over your house. 

Don McArthur

And more on education:

For a contrary view, here's an article on education that appeared in Scientific American in Oct 1999.  The main point of the article is that, while the US scored "near the bottom" in the international comparisons, the difference between top and bottom is small enough that the difference is nothing to be overly concerned with. And that the current climate of "education crisis" has appeared repeatedly, in one form or another, over the last several decades.

Drake Christensen

To which I replied: Sure. There's no problem. That's why Seaborg said the system was indistinguishable from an act of war. I'm sure everything is just fine

Well, the cynical response to that remark is: There's money involved. That skews things a lot. From the article, "California, for example, spent $3.7 billion to reduce class sizes statewide after Tennessee had rapid success in a small trial. After three years student scores have barely budged. Yet the federal government has started to distribute $12.4 billion to shrink classes."

Hey, I'm not saying the schools are perfect. When I moved from Cedar Rapids, IA to Richardson, TX (a suburb of Dallas) in 1973, between fifth and sixth grade, I experienced a huge drop in the quality of my education. The Iowa curriculum was largely self-paced and I was usually engaged for the duration of the subject matter. In Texas, nearly everything was by rote, and I was bored most of the time.

For example, to teach spelling, the Iowa school I attended used tape recorders to give kids the words to write down. Since I could go at my own speed I practiced spelling on around 200 words per week. The average student was probably around 100 per week. In Texas, partially because spelling was nominally tied to vocabulary, every student was locked at 20 words per week. I don't see how someone is supposed to learn to spell without lots of practice.

There were many examples of superficial rote learning after I got to Texas. There were many subjects which I studied in greater detail in Iowa in the fourth grade than we did in the sixth and seventh grades in Texas. And the Richardson Independent School District was touted as one of the best in the country.

What generalities can we draw from that anecdote? I'm not sure. I guess that it sounds to me like public schools haven't changed all that much since 1973. Maybe the details have changed, and the doomsayers have found a greater number of sympathetic media outlets to use to publicize the "crisis." But it sounds to me as though there's a fairly constant rate of "disappointing" school systems out there, not living up to the potential that their budgets would lead one to expect. They need to be better. But I'm not convinced it's a new crisis, like we're being led to believe.

Rote learning -- "drill and kill" -- is often the only way to learn some things, and worth doing. We used to have to memorize and recite poetry. Paul Revere, Hiawatha, Kipling; It did us no harm, and much good. As to learning ought to be fun, not really. It is good when it is, but much of life is "no fun" but still must be done; learning things in school is good preparation for a time when there are things you must do. And the payoff is that I can recite poems, and recall stories I read in grade school. Abou ben Adam, may his tribe increase...

Hope this finds you feeling better. There's some nasty stuff floating around out there. Duck and cover.

You said: "News media will have news..."

This was milk-snort-out-the-nostrils funny. My favorite news item, though, is that paragon of journalistic integrity, Entertainment News. What a seamless integration of artifice with imperative, imbued with the quiet urgency of those oh-so-serious talking heads. Methinks anything could come up on the teleprompter and it'd be delivered with nary a blink. Performance over substance! Ain't advertising cool?

Also, you've indicated, several times: "...[I]t is still the case that a good public school system is a valuable thing for a Republic."

Of course, this statement makes perfect sense. But the boondoggle we have today is far from a good public school system, and alternatives are struggling in its self-protected dominance in the marketplace < >. Can't the Republic participate in setting the curricular agenda, and accomplish all it needs through that? It's hardly the most efficient of organizations when delivering services--it's much better at producing laws. Or are the public-school ethics and the "don't you dare act up; don't you dare be different" brainwashing only effective by dedicated practitioners?

And need the Republic own the pursestrings? Ach. Give that money back to the parents, and let 'em go shopping. Take the government out of schooling, and suddenly there would be a sizable demand with very little supply. Wanna see new ideas bud? There's your garden.

Consider the other costs of the dominance of government in education--the monopolization of the time of all of the country's youth means that very few escape the indoctrination path. The possibility of pursuing other paths, such as apprenticeship or deep study and development of a special talent, is lost to all but the most privileged. That's sad, because that kind of learning has real value even for less-than-genius folks. Is it any wonder there are so few real craftsmen today? (I use the term in the broadest sense: people who bring a higher level of involvement in the quality of the outcome, rather than the standard approach of just getting by with the bare minimum, or what the government proscribes.) I wonder: how many Mozarts have we lost? Maybe another Shakespear? Or just a good Stradivarius? How many potentially dramatic leaders and agents of change have been beaten into a co-dependent cycle of consumption and overwork, locked in their box by fear?

What I really want is romantic and idealistic, so I'll get off it. The system today, stinks. Other things need to be tried, or we get what we deserve.






Dr. Pournelle,

I've read your online journal for several months now and will be subscribing shortly. I appreciate you doing theses things so we don't have to.

I'm a freelance computer consultant/VAR/IT Director - whatever you wish to call me today, and I have some experiences to share with you.

Bad Software Department:

Quickbooks Pro 2000

I don't know if you ever use this type of product, but with all the concerns over privacy and code bloat this is a good example. QB2000 *requires* you to be online and subscribe to their service to use their payroll function now. With prior versions you used to be able to order tax updates on floppy - now they are *forcing* people online - what a wonderful thing (heavy sarcasm). I have many customers that just have no need to go online - or are concerned with security. This particular thing isn't that terrible, at least they warn you about it directly.

I noticed something I really dislike the other day; I run Windows 2000 professional on my main workstation (honestly, what an improvement over 98, 95, 3.1 in stability) and I have my LAN connected to the Internet and shared through this. I run QB on a number of machines here in my office. I came back one day to find a message box on a screen claiming, "Quickbooks couldn't reach the internet would you like dial a connection?" This was on a machine without a modem (the server had been shutdown - alas no internet across the LAN) So here QB was trying to update itself without even asking me! Very Rude, Very Very Rude - almost as bad as Microsoft's Windows ME AutoUpdate (at least they have a readily apparent way to turn this feature off)

**** Athlon Woes ****

Ok, I'll admit I've always been attracted to the Dark Side :-). If not by their pricing in the past, how about their wonderful performance now? The old AMD K6-2's and their brethren were a very nice inexpensive chip, very few compatibility or stability problems in my experience (probably worked with 100 or so over the years). Along comes the Athlon, which delivers on many promises -- including both speed and price. But wait there's trouble in paradise! I've built, and purchased a number of Athlons now - at least 10 or so varying from the first Slot A's to Durons to Socketed Thunderbirds. All have been with name brand (Microstar, Epox) mainboards and good quality RAM, a few were even purchased prebuilt from the distributor I buy from (supposedly thoroughly tested and burned in). Not a single one of them has proved to be a stable machine! Blue screens, unpredictable errors, no explanation for most of this behavior. Hardware compatibility seems to be at an all time low for this product, at least for system builders using off the shelf components. There may be a magic combination here that the big guys are using, but us small folk sure don't know about it!

**** Trouble in Paradise ****

Here's even worse news! I'm having similar problems with Intel products as of late. I've always found them reliable in the past. I have an Intel Pentium III 733 - 128 Meg - IDE DVD &; CDRW - Microstar MB - Inwin MidTower - Maxtor 20 Gig. It came prebuilt from the supplier with Windows 98se, which the customer promptly attemtped to upgrade to Windows ME. Before the upgrade they experienced maybe on blue screen a week (heavy user of Office and the Internet IE 5.0). Upon installing ME now upon boot they would recieve a set of 5 vxd errors! Now the system seemed to work fine, and if you logged off and back on you didn't receive these errors (if you didn't log on and off you didn't have the icons in your system tray becaues of explorer crashing) This was unacceptable of course, so a clean install of ME was in order. Did that - everything seems honky dory right? Wrong - the machine was working somewhat well, but it would slow down quickly over time - the mouse would stop responding and so would the keyboard - WTF as Tom Syroid would say. Now the problem has progressed to the machine not shutting down, blue screening all the way.

**** One last Rant ****

One other warning for your readers, ATI Rage Fury Maxx Blows! The card if it works in your systems seems to do a wonderful job, however it's extremely unlikely to work! I've installed (or tried) to in a number of systems (I've yet to get it into an Athlon). It requires two IRQ's!!! It has two processors so I guess this is understandable - but on a few systems where it would boot I couldn't get installed due to lack of IRQs. They should definitely be more up front about this. To top it off the card only works with Windows 98, directly supported that is. I suppose if you wanted to run in 16 color 640x480 then you could use it with a generic VGA driver with other OS's. They don't even directly support it in Millenium, although it does seem to work.

**** The End ****

Well, I think I've rambled on enough - I hope some of my info is useful to you. I really enjoy working in the tech industry, especially when things work like advertised. Product testing takes up a good deal of my time due to the terrible products that are on the market now. Often tech support requires more time than buying a turnkey solution. I guess if it weren't for these issues I wouldn't have a job though! :-)

Keep up the good work on your web site, and I enjoy the column as well.

In Technology We Bust,

Lorentz W. Hinrichsen

We have an Athlon (sent from AMD) which we use to play Everquest and do other such things, and it works just fine. It did lock up a few times when it first came here, and has not done so for weeks. Burned in? I have no idea. But it's fast and stable. It has Windows 98, and in fact is the machine I use to do my taxes and pay my bills. The rest of my machines are Intel.

Dr. Pournelle:

Sorry to hear about your UPS problems. One would think that a properly-designed system would be able to monitor itself to at least shut itself down if power characteristics go outside a certain limit. Assuming a UPS is not self-diagnosing, it would be nice if there were something about the size of a nightlight that you could plug into a spare UPS outlet and that would scream if the power got outside preset parameters.

I had a similar, though much less serious incident of this type. I was having great difficulty with my Internet connection slowing, pausing, and stalling. A look at my DSL modem (a Speedstream) showed one of the four lights (all of which are normally green, though some blink) was out--the "sys" light. Documentation showed no obvious technical problem which could result in only this light going out. Finally, in frustration I picked up the modem and examined it, turning it over and around in my hands. I have no idea what good I expected this to do. Some dim monkey instinct, I suppose.

I discovered the power plug almost completely out in the back. Pushing it all the way in has apparently fixed the problem.

This was somewhat spooky. I had always assumed that if an electronic device was not getting constant juice of the right voltage, that it wouldn't work at all. I was not aware that a bad power contact could result in the modem simply becoming somewhat "eccentric." I guess I am fortunate there was no damage to the modem.

Tom Brosz

Your experience is not unique. I had a machine with an improperly seated CPU chip. It worked fine until it had really heavy computations to do then it died. Works fine now that the CPU is seated properly.

Dear Jerry:

The link is to a ZDnet article about security flaws in "personal" firewalls, including "black ice". Apparently Steve Gibson is developing a test suite for his site. In the event you are ever able to obtain broadband access, this could become an issue for you.


Chris C   






This week:



Tuesday, December 19, 2000

I got this a bit ago but I can not make any sense of it:

You have been sent this message from Bill D Cat <> as a courtesy of ( ).

And the Iraqis aren't using your 'good enough' MS-Windows crap to do it either. GNU/Linux is what is used to bundle playstations into supercomputers. It's called a 'beowulf cluster'. BTW on YOUR X-33, how many hours did you put into designing it? You just took credit for someone else's work in your comments on your mailpage, didn't you? Despicable. Is that how you got your PhD?

To view the entire article, visit 

I do not find myself listed in the referenced article. I presume Bill D Cat is an original pseudonym of course not taken from any other work by any other person. I also presume there is some hidden axe to grind although I do not know what axe it is. Pfthhhht or whatever the expression is.

As to the reference to the X-33 I would have supposed anyone who reads things here would realize that I hardly take credit for that abortion's design. Max Hunter, the late General Graham, and I sold then VP and Chairman of the National Space Council Dan Quayle on the DC/X and SSTO technologies. I sold then House Space Committee Chairman Robert Walker on the concept of reviving the X projects, and the-Speaker Newt Gingrich on much the same notion. The X-33 is "mine" in the sense that the project would not have been funded without me.

Unfortunately, David Urie who sold the notion to me that Lockheed Skunk Works could do the job soon lost control of the project, and it drifted off into being a WPA subsidy program. There was a time when I could have killed it, (that is, specifically, have convinced the Congress committee that funded it that it was a bad idea) but then what would that do? I would then have been the guy who killed the only hope for the space program, since all killed programs would inevitably have worked better than planned.

I do sometimes use terms like "my" loosely, in that I was and am Chairman of a Council that includes a number of prominent people, but its documents are published, the names of the contributors are on the documents, and while I wrote and edited much of the Council's output, I would not for a second claim the technical competence of the people who did much of the work. Indeed no human could; there is no one expert in Structures, Propulsion, Guidance and Control, and Operations Research, which are the 4 traditional areas of competence in space systems work. I will claim to have been competent in Operations Research for a long time, but I drifted into management and one loses ones technical edge; and of course I have not been in professional aerospace since the 60's, and the last real Council work I did was in 1994.

So my Ph.D. is irrelevant in any case. But I assure you I have earned my degrees, and hardly by taking credit for other people's work.

I do wonder at the vituperation: is this a Mac or a Linux person? One or the other, I suspect. I hope he has a pleasant day.

The article, on the other hand, has considerable interest. I've written before about transferability of computing power.

More on Education:

Something to remember--in a lot of communities, the public schools are the biggest employer. Work it out--assume that the overhead per teacher is about 1.2 employees, and there are 25-30 students to the teacher, so that every 11-12 students requires an adult at ~$30K/year. The usual population distribution works out to about 2% per year group, so a 13-year public school system educates about 25% of the population at any given time. Assuming the average county has about 50000 population, 12500 students need to be educated, and that requires about 1000 employees, with a payroll of about $30M per year (and a total tax burden of perhaps $45M per year), all at the disposal of whichever party won the last local election. Oh my!

So being on a county school board is like being on the board of directors of a $30M business. They do really have authority. What they do with it is another issue--that's really why local control is such a big deal, and why education tends to come in third to economics and politics. Assuming parents with children average 2 children in the schools, there are about 12500 voters in the county concerned with making sure the schools are high quality. There are also another 20000 or so voters in the county more concerned with the short term economics and politics of the school system. Short term trumps long term.

What about the private school solution? Sure, the overhead tends to be lower, but private schools still have to compete in the job market and in the capital markets. So assume a private school with 500 students has 30 employees instead of 40, at $30K/year, and a debt load or rental payment of $500,000 per year, and overhead expenses/building maintenance/teaching materials of $250,000. That works out to about $1.6M to be spread among 250 families. $3200 tuition per year per student seems about right based on my experience, but it's still not cheap. It means there would be significant number of students not attending school, but instead getting OJT in things we probably don't want them getting OJT in. (And the problem with jails as a solution to _that_ problem is that the inmates learn from each other rather than from more law-abiding folks, as we're beginning to discover as they emerge from our jails after long terms.)

What about vouchers? Look at the economics. Assume the goal is to reduce the total tax burden of $45M spread among the 33,000 taxpayers in the county. A voucher of $3200 per student reduces the school taxes by $150 per taxpayer, which sounds like a good deal. The problem is that the private schools don't have to take the hard cases, which is where a lot of the expense is. Whoops... That, combined with the political factors mentioned earlier, means that vouchers will be as low as possible. Double whoops...

OK, we're probably stuck with the public schools. Can they be improved? That would require higher quality staff training and leadership. Teachers aren't slaves any more, so the salaries would have to go up (at least for the good ones). That would make the taxpayers unhappy. Enforcement of national or state standards go against the entrenched tradition of local control by political and economic interests.

I suppose voters (particularly in the urban communities) need to find out the hard way that education has real value. In the end, the people at fault for this mess are the people doing the blaming.

-- --- Harry Erwin, PhD, Computational Neuroscientist (modeling bat behavior) and Senior SW Analyst and Security Engineer. Sr. Lecturer in Computing at the University of Sunderland (starts Jan). Webpage: <>

Perhaps, although I would not have thought so. Local school boards cannot FIRE INCOMPETENT or LAZY teachers. The power to hire and fire is the ultimate tool of management. Remove "tenure" -- a very novel idea for grade school teachers! -- and credentialism and perhaps something can be done. Until then, no.

And here is the other side of one story:

Jerry, The place to improve the Nation's schools is at the administrative level. The school system our children went to was a prime example. Our oldest son was "Learning Disabled." Not ADD not all those other labels -- he needed more help than there was available in the classroom in a "City" school. So - we moved into the country. 

And once the people understood that we; as parents, didn't feel a stigma from the label; we received the best assistance we could ever expect. This child failed two grades while we were finding the right school for him. When it became time for him to start his Senior year in high school -- the School Superintendent did all in his power to make this young man and all others like him, drop out.

 He succeeded with ten young men that I know of. This was in a vary agricultural area of Upstate New York. The upshot here is that Mom and Dad, (Union types) and the teachers (Union types also) fought to keep my son from drooping out of high school. He was almost twenty years old when he graduated, and I'm here to tell you, I was proud. BTW did I mention that this young man was an Eagle Scout, and he received honors from the vocational school, and he volunteered for the "CAV" after high school? He was one of the first troops in Bosnia in Jan. '96 and spent 20 more months in Germany. He is now the proud father of a 22 month old baby, who has other problems. The bottom line is that the TEACHERS got my son to that plateau of excellence; not the administration. 

thanks for letting me rant John Vogt

It is my fixed opinion after many years of looking at the situation that the only solution to education in the US is to return locals school control absolutely to local school boards; and restrict school districts to no more than 3,000 or so students per school board.

This won't make for perfection but it will return control to the people closest to the problem. Give each school board some minimum amount of state money and let the local property taxes take care of the rest. Sure, that will be uneven in money: and for a very long time I was the 'victim' of such a situation, with 2 grades per classroom and 30 to 40 students per grade -- and every darned one of us learned to read, and recite, and stand in front of the class and recite a memorized poem, and write a decent letter; and we read quite decent books even if being forced to read Silas Marner in 7th Grade did prejudice me against female novelists for a decade.  But I loved Scott's Lady of the Lake. The stag, at eve, had drunk his fill..

Xanadu was Ted Nelson's dream to be programmed by Roger Gregory. The Internet does much of what it hoped for.


Subject: An Interesting Article About Xanadu

Dr. Pournelle,

You might find this interesting: 

Brad Youngman Bradley P. Youngman Seismic Projects Stanford Linear Accelerator  Home Email: V










This week:



Wednesday, December 20, 2000

From Dr. Hume:


Windows ME has a subdirectory not found in Windows 98: the Installer subdirectory. The directory c:\Windows\Installer has .msi and .msp files in it. The .msi files are Windows Installer files. The .msp files are Windows Installer Patch files. You can install or patch by right-clicking the file.

More importantly, this is where Windows ME seems to be storing its downloaded patch files. Some patch files MS will let you download to a directory of your choice. Other patch files you must simply let download and install. The MS Office 2000 SR-1a patch, a 26 MB file, is one of the latter. I downloaded the file, tried to apply it, but it didn't work. I figured I had lost the thing, since whenever I launched the update .exe file, it said it was going to download from the Net again. Then I found the .msp file in the Installer directory. It was the right size, so I let the patch .exe file go ahead, and instead of downloading the 26 MB file again, it found the .msp file and proceeded to patch Outlook 2000, and it worked this time.

Take home info: when you are going to blow away Windows and reinstall (something I generally used to do twice a year, whether I liked it or not), save the stuff in the Installer directory and put it back when the reinstallation is complete. That will save your having to re-download patches that you can't save to a directory of your own choice.

On the other hand, with the System Restore utility, my system is much cleaner than it ever was before. IMHO, Win ME is the OS they were shooting for when they built Win 95.

On IrfanView: if you download the All Plugins file from, you get a load of things that do cool stuff; it will even play your CD's. If the author Irfan Skiljan had an easy way for us to send money to him he would be comfortably well off on voluntary donations alone.

Ed Hume 

Agreed on all counts, thanks for writing it up. 

From another discussion group:

I have the Encyclopaedia Britannia automatically load into my computer whenever I start it up, since I look up one thing or another almost every day and don't want to wait the seconds it takes to load after a boot up. I also don't want to have to log online and wait for a sometimes slow site to feed me back information.

I got the offer below since I bought last year's edition. I highly recommend it, if only to save us all time asking questions whose answers are contained in the EB.


Now you can have the Britannica 2001 Deluxe Edition CD-ROM or Britannica(R) 2001 DVD (Windows(R) versions only) at a great low price. At only $24.95, you save more than 60% off the regular retail price of $69.95! Follow the links below to take advantage of this introductory offer* available for a limited time to Britannica customers only.

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I don't normally put up advertisements but the Britannica is special. I recall conversations with them way back when, advising them to get ready for the CD-ROM revolution, then the World Wide Web revolution, and in both cases being told they would NEVER give away the crown jewels...











This week:


read book now


Thursday, December 21, 2000


I will let this stand for the 221 letters that preceded it; Thanks. See View for why I was not looking at mail most of yesterday.


You have probably had this notice several hundred times by now, but what the heck. Your mail page has disappeared due to the fact that the currentmail.html file is exactly zero (0) bytes in size. Something nasty has happened, and it's been like that since late last night. Everything else seems to be fine, though.

Hope you can figure out what happened!

Regards, etc.

Paul Fieber

Clearly my last ftp failed, I didn't see the notice, and it went most of the day as zero bytes. Should be fixed now. FTP Interruptus indeed. 

I'm a longtime Mac guy (who reads and enjoys your stuff and has no
particular inclination to flame you..) and going to Fry's for incidental
stuff like cables is an exercise in frustration I gave up long ago. probably has what you need, but the friendly mac heads
at certainly do and are a great bunch of folks to deal
with. For older Macs and bargain basement stuff, Shreve Systems at (I
think) is the place to go.
Pity that the nations shippers are in their annual paroxysm of overload.
Nothing to be done about that.
=        Steve Greenwood        =
=            Writer             =

=  =
= This message typed with       =
= fingers using no Microsoft    =
= products and 100%             =
= post-consumer recycled        =
= electrons. Best viewed with   =
= eyes open.                    =

Thanks. I'll try again. Sigh. As soon as something is thrown out, you need it.

I can't verify this because I can't risk connecting to a porn site from work, but I know that the legit site is (was?) "", with an "i". I conjecture this is another "" case, where the porn people picked up an URL similar to a popular one.

VenturCom - Providing Software and Services that Enhance the 'Quality of Service' of Windows Based Intelligent Connected Equipment (ICE)

********************************************************************** This email, and any files transmitted with it, are confidential and intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed. If you have received this email in error please advise **********************************************************************

Lee Webber

Just fyi, and 42-13 people may have already told you this, but is not the same thing as (note the "i"). I presume a fast-thinking fast-buck operator picked up for the price of admission back when Jennicam hit big a couple of years back.

I also checked out the phenom a while back, but when I saw your post of Wednesday, I thought I'd check to be sure, since I figured that a disappearing Jennicam would have brought a mention on Slashdot...

Apparently she doesn't write as much as once she did, it's still mostly about a life lived in front of a webcam. Hmmm.



-- "Information wants to be $6.95" - Don Marti

I noticed your recent comments about're right of is basically a porn-site.

The real Jennicam is at 

While there is occasionally some nudity at, it certainly isn't the main theme of the site.

From what I can see lately, the main theme of her site seems to be her adventures in totally supporting a worthless boyfriend.

randy b



And indeed that is correct. I just looked and there is her journal. I'm glad to see it; while she does "adult" things she also warns that the site is not suitable for children, and she's turned into a fairly decent writer, with greatly improved grammar from the earlier days. was a very odd site when it begam. Now it's an on line diary, and more interesting than many... I have not subscribed and won't, and hadn't looked in for several years, but it is nice to see that such things can endure; gives hope for me and this place.

It was truly despicable for someone to build the 'jennycam' site and even mention her but never say that they have built a slimy ripoff. Ah well. 'Tis the season to be charitable, or rapacious, depending on your views...

From Roland, subject "Drip Drip Drip:;source=blq/yhoo&;dist=yhoo&;dateid=36880.6847222222-748049045 

-------------- Roland Dobbins 

We have had this one before but it is worth mentioning again. And look at Korea...

Here's a darn impressive picture.... the north american continent, at night, from space... and no obvious clouds... 

Mike Morris

Dear Jerry,

As at 1530 today in Sydney (0430 GMT) currentmail.html is an empty file. The index of the mail directory shows it as being zero K in size. Looks like your last transfer may have failed.

By the way, being able to see a directory listing from a web site makes it easier for unscrupulous people to crack/hack your site. It may be worthwhile asking your service provider to suppress directory listings for you or possibly redirect directory only adresses to the currentmail page.

Alternatively you can construct a page named index.html which quickly refreshes itself but loads currentmail.html instead. This method using meta tags and http-equiv="refresh" is deprecated but if the page contains a link to currentmail it should avoid the problem of browsers not supporting the refresh attribute.

Thanks for your efforts


Perhaps I should do something of that sort? But so far we have had none of that kind of problem. So far so good. So far so good. So far so good...

Steve McQueen's best line in The Magnificent Seven

Dear Dr. Pournelle, have you ever thought of writing a biography? I'm a big fan and I would certainly love to see that. Once you get the house cleaned out, you ought to think about it.

Merely from the outside looking in, I would think that between your Byte\ reknown and your sci-fi readership, that there would be a good market for such a book. Surely your many contacts among publishing world would support you on that. If not, then simply publish it to a .pdf format and sell it direct from your web page! Alternatively, there must be self-publishing web sites out there already where an interested reader can supply a credit card number, receive an authorization, and then proceed to an immediate download site. They would obviously keep a cut of the profits, but then so would a paper house.

In any case, I guess after reading your Byte column for so many years, I've heard about the various fields you've been involved in: aerospace at a high level, physics, psychology, the whole history of small computing, the Navy, science fiction writing, etc. You've met Grace Hopper and Robert Heinlein, and probably Bill Gates (although you may not want to admit that), and overall led a very interesting intellectual life. Sometime I would like to hear the Whole Grand Story from front to back. Think about it.

Yours in computing,

Michael Lewis IS staffer and Captain, U.S. Army Reserve

P.S. proposed title: "The Amazing Dr. P. in the 21st Century"

Aw, shucks.  Gates incidentally is a very nice man, who is still the most approachable billionaire I ever met, and I have in fact known him since the days of the Southern California Computing Society, and the first West Coast Computer Faire. Her may be ruthless in business, but he's in fact good company, unless he gets bored, in which case he just vanishes into his own head.

I don't much write books on spec, and I can't think I would make enough from a biography to justify the time. A sequel to The Burning City, now that's something else. Or a new volume in the STARSWARM saga...

And this:

Just minutes ago on the ABC-TV morning news they had a most absurd discussion of an emerging danger -- escalating mistakes by Air Traffic Controllers.

The rhetorical question --'why are air traffic controllers making so many errors?'

The factoid-- errors are up 200 to 300% in the past four years.

Explanation from FAA spokesman -- We need to change the culture in the towers. Efficient, accurate work requires an ethos of cooperation. This cannot be achieved in the present condition, when some single individual is blamed, held responsible for, each mistake.


Does anyone else remember the well-publicized drive at the FAA of a few years ago consisting of aggressive Affirmative Action? For both new hires, improved retention [pass more through the training program], and promotions within the job.

Now the consequences are arriving. As with policing, fire fighting, doctors, and etc., it is dangerous to our health to staff Air Traffic Control Towers with persons selected on grounds other than competence.

A dangerous thing to say or comment on in these times. But I would think that "Affirmative Action" unless coupled with rigorous enforcement of standards might not be precisely the best way to recruit people for a high stress job with such potentially disastrous consequences of mistakes.

Another Look at the Way That Intelligence Flowers 

An interesting article but one needs to read ALL of it.





This week:



Friday, December 22, 2000

We can open with Christmas Cheer mail:

To quote you from December 21, 2000: "Mark and Eric are crawling around in the attic pulling Ethernet Level 5 cable ... "

A brilliant expert such as yourself should already know that there is no such thing as Ethernet Level 5 cable. I could leave it at that but I won't since you seem intent on the idea that if I am the one telling you I must be lying.

CATEGORY 5, or "Cat 5", (not 'Level' as you stated) is not just for ethernet [sic] data communications. It was originally made for TELEPHONE communications, but it quickly found its way into the world of ethernet [sic] because it was more convenient to use cable that had already be strung than restringing cable. What is the difference between 'Cat 5' and conventional telephone wire? Basically the number of twisted-pairs. Cat-5 has 4 pairs and conventional telephone has 2 pairs (incidentally, the 2 inner wires are the primary pair, or line 1, and the outer pair is the secondary, or line 2). With Cat 5, you use RJ-45 connectors and with conventional phone you use RJ-11. Most digital phones use RJ-45 with either Cat 5 or Cat 3 - but Cat 5 is more prevalent since the increased cost is miniscule compared to the increased quality of transmission.

Ethernet Level 5 cables... do you put this quality of detail into all of your writing?

Darren; on behalf of; Darren Remington []

Let's take this in order, because it does give me a chance to make clear the difference between a professional publication and a daybook; some people evidently don't know, and thank you for the opportunity to tell all.

My professional publications get examined by others before they go to the editors, who themselves have a look. In the old days of BYTE in Peterborough we had one of the best groups of experts in the world, Tommy Thompson on Macs, Jon Udall on Internet, Halfhill, Russell, Rick, and a dozen other really top people. I had a technical editor whose job it was to ask me about details, both trivial and important, to be sure I meant to say what I had said, and to tell me if I was just dead wrong. In those days, too, it was my habit to send copy to people being written about with the generic statement that "I will correct errors of fact, and I will listen to arguments about errors of judgment, and I reserve the right to determine which is which." I often got replies. Once in a great while I would correct an error, and I think once I corrected a judgment (had to do with a message in an early DOS, that said "now trashing your hard disk." Bill Gates himself called on that one: a summer hire had put the message in, and in fact it did nothing; my problem had to do with a bug Microsoft had NOT known about, about a log file that didn't properly close; they fixed that before we went to press, and I was able to tell the whole story including the coincidence that I got the awful error message about "illegal copy of DOS now trashing your hard disk" and my getting the disk problem, AND sbout how by the die you read that they fix would be available although this being pre-Internet you had to download it tediously from a bulletin board. Ah well.)

But all that happened over a period of a month or more, and the column did not hit the stands until about 3 months after it was submitted. This meant that I had to predict what would be interesting after 12 weeks. I got things RIGHT, but it was a bit slow getting to the world. I am reminded of a journalistic meeting on accuracy; the Editor of the Christian Science Monitor said "Everything in my paper is true," to which some wag replied "Yes, Peter, and it has been for a long, long time."

Now I turn in the column on the 7th, and it appears on line about 2 weeks later. I turn in a full 8,000 words or so, and they break it into weekly parts, supply headers. and such like, and do some sanity checking, but nothing like what the old BYTE did; I don't have a single Technical Editor and another (Walt Williams for the entire history of my column in BYTE) style editor (he didn't have much to do except that McGraw Hill had some editorial diktats that had to be followed, and he did tend to break my overly long sentences into shorter ones, which in fact was a good thing to do, my non-fiction writing habits being perhaps overly influenced by Macauley). However, I do send it out for sanity checks to appropriate people including Bob Thompson and Roland Dobbins and David Em and Eric Pobirs and my son Alex before I send it in to the editors. We do try to get things right, and certainly we would have caught the "Level 5" vs. "Category 5" error.

This, however, is a day book. When I wrote that I wondered "It's Category 5 or Level 5, I got it wrong once, I wonder which it is?" but frankly I didn't want to disturb Mark who was crawling around between floors drilling holes, or Eric who was feeding pulling wire (I think that's the proper term, they aren't here now, I mean the thin wire they pass along a channel to serve as the means of pulling the Level 5 Ethernet cable and the whatever level telephone lines they are pulling for my DSL or T1 connection depending on what the phone company thinks it can do; either way I wanted new wire from the telephone closet to the Cable/Server room). It didn't seem worth the effort. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa...  I was quite certain that one or another reader would inform me if I had it wrong, and I cannot think that it makes very much difference to be wrong for a day or so in a day book. I make no doubt that Bob Thompson spotted the error within an hour and didn't bother to tell me because it didn't seem terribly important. Still, best to get things right, and I will, and thanks for telling me.

As to the two addresses above and Mr. Remington's other remarks, he sent me several notes in his amicable style about Pat Buchanan [that fascist, says Remington, and I didn't really want to write an essay on what fascism is and was, and the whole question of class warfare, fascism being a Marxist doctrine that accepts much of Marx's analysis but proposes entirely different solutions: rather than elimination of all classes but the proletariat, fascism proposes that the State require the classes to work together and to be represented in the parliament as class representatives rather than geographical districts or other means] and the Palm Beach votes. In one case I asked for sources because he said some things I had not heard, and given his casual use of "that fascist Buchanan" I did rather want a source other than him.

Whereupon he sent another of his polite notes saying that by asking for sources I had accused him of lying. At that point I made a rule that put further communications from him into the JUNK folder which I look at in the leisure I generally don't have. So he took the trouble to find a new address in order to send me this note, and my thanks; I don't like to have errors of fact. I can live with errors of judgment.

I also don't do a lot of rewriting of day book entries and replies to mail. I can't. I have two choices: go the way I go now, with much of this top of my head and first draft, or NOT TO DO IT AT ALL. Given that a fair number of you have paid subscriptions (thanks!) I presume that most want me to keep on as I have. Those who can't stand it have the option of not reading; apparently there are some who can't stand it, but continue to read anyway. I haven't been a practicing psychologist for 40 years (and my title when I was was "Human Factors Engineer and Aviation Psychologist") and I know no more about masochism than most well-read people.

It turns out that much of what Mr. Remington says is wrong; for the definitive story on Level 5, Category 5, and that I should have Level 5e at least see below.

And another letter which is the final word (so far as I am concerned) in a very odd exchange. I warn you it is long. In any event  you are warned not to be deceived by the obviously -- to me obvious anyway -- composite photo of the Earth at night. The Earth usually has CLOUDS. Satellites do not see through solid objects and therefore no single picture could possibly have encompassed the entire Earth, so therefore the picture HAD to be assembled from pictures taken at different times. I wonder if there is any single person reading this to whom that was NOT obvious??? Anyway, here we go. If you want to skip this, click here.

My apologies in advance for posting this exchange, which was polite if, to me at least, longer than it needed to be,  just after the one above; I do not intend to belittle Mr. Sloan, I just find it hard to imagine that anyone able to find this web site would be deceived. We begin with the final exchange:


I suppose I'm not being clear: I'll try again.

You say "We have had this one before but it is worth mentioning again. And look at Korea...". Clearly you are pointing out that ther lights in South Korea are far brighter and widespread than in North Korea, indicating more industrialization and by inference a stronger economy.

If this picture is unretouched, with the pictures of North and South Korea taken at the same time and on the same night, then this would be good evidence. However, this picture is art, not science and we have no information about the provenance of the multiple images used to make this picture. I certainly would not know who to ask for that information, and it is not provided. We have no idea of when and how the pictures of North and South Korea were taken, just that they were glued together. So, we can come to no objective conclusions about the lights visible in each country.

To ask us to "And look at Korea..." in this case is to ask us to examine a piece of artwork and come to some kind of conclusion about geopolitical reality. This is disingenuous.

On a different topic, I was appalled by the article about the "copy-protecting of hard drives". I suspect this is a trial balloon sent up by Big Media to see if it'll fly. However, I suspect that this will fade away, since as the "Register" article points out: "The Register understands there is fierce opposition to the plan from Microsoft and its OEM customers.". Since Microsoft still wields the big stick in the industry, that should be the kiss of death (I hope!!!).

I hope you're feeling better!

John Sloan

-----Original Message----- From: Jerry Pournelle [] Sent: December 22, 2000 12:03 AM To: Subject: RE: I wonder what this picture really means... 

I cannot imagine what you are talking about, or why. There was no more secret about this picture than there was about the cloud free orbital picture of the United States. Those who made it are well known. Any reporter can talk to them. And what in the world importance is it what I think the implications are to begin with?

If you think North Korea is normally more brightly lit, and the other patterns you can see, that is your privilege, but I cannot imagine anyone going to the trouble to make such a picture for that reason.

-----Original Message----- From: John N. Sloan [] Sent: Thursday, December 21, 2000 5:53 PM To: Jerry Pournelle Subject: RE: I wonder what this picture really means... 


You say: "O course it is a composite." I can't agree. This picture could easily be entirely fake, created in software. You have no proof that it is, or is not, a composite picture.

My point was that even if it is a composite and it has been made by skillful technicians who made their best effort to make it representative of the night sky across the world, it still should not be used for any photo interpretation. There are too many variables in what composition does.

The picture cannot be used to determine that the lights in North Korea were usually less bright than in South Korea, since the photos of those two countries could have been taken at different times and under different circumstances. So, any judgements we may come to about the difference in their economies from this photograph would be unjustified.

Don't get me wrong. I am aware the South Korean economy is far stronger than the North Korean, along with the level of industrialization and the standard of living. The political systems cannot be compared, with much greater freedom in the South. And of course, this freedom has been assisted by the courageous efforts of the USA for many years.

However, the picture in question should not be used as evidence for this fact! It is a pretty picture and nothing more. Essentially, the picture doesn't "mean" anything since we can't use it to learn anything.

Am I splitting hairs? Perhaps. However, any photo interpreter worth their salt knows to learn anything from a picture they need to start with the ORIGINAL photograph, not the photo that has been composited, airbrushed and tweaked until it might show something that isn't there and hides what is really there.

Respectfully yours,

John Sloan

-----Original Message----- From: Jerry Pournelle [] Sent: December 21, 2000 6:43 PM To: Subject: RE: I wonder what this picture really means... 

? Of course it is a composite. Who in his right mind would suppose otherwise?

-----Original Message----- From: John Sloan [] Sent: Thursday, December 21, 2000 12:58 PM To: Subject: I wonder what this picture really means... 


While looking at the picture at , I was struck by the following thoughts: 1) There are no clouds. 2) There is no sunshine anywhere. 3) The camera that took this "picture" seems to be able to see every point on the globe, and put it all into one picture. This picture may be a composite, with different sections taken at different times and pasted together. When this happens, you usually get artifacts where you can see the edges of the individual photographs that were pasted together, but there are none that are apparent here. Looks like someone has been busy with the digital equivalent of an airbrush! At best, this is a cleverly massaged composite of carefully selected images chosen to portray the world at night, that has been adjusted according to whatever the technician "thought" it should look like. At worst, it is an "artist's conception" of what the world would look like from space at night. Either way, it is not an "image" of anything any more than a painting is a photograph. It would be naive to try to conclude anything about the relative industrialization of North and South Korea from something like this that has spent a lot more time under the airbrush than anywhere else! Please don't get me wrong: This is a pretty and interesting picture, but it simply has no objective meaning. It just isn't real.

Respectfully yours,

John Sloan

As I said in the beginning I thought it obvious to anyone. Clearly I assume an intelligent readership. If anyone was led astray by my remarks, I would suppose that error corrected now. I would be astonished if there were one single reader to whom that applies. If there were, the deception is clearly ended.

Regarding the IDE copy protection (and Eric tells me that SCSI won't be far behind) I will have much to say, but I think in the column.

It turns out this is NOT the end of the discussion. See below.

For those who skipped the above we resume our previously scheduled letter column:

Dr. Pournelle,

A personal note - I have been an avid reader of your science fiction and various columns for over twenty years. Even when I'm not in complete agreement you, I find your writing compelling and thought provoking. It is a rare occasion when I don't agree with you, probably because your writing has been so influential to me.

I have noticed that you haven't addressed many comments to the growing discussion regarding the Digital Millennium Copywrite Act (DMCA) and the repercussions from it. I subscribe to a mail group <> that has been following various issues such as the DECSS and CueCat. I'm making the assumption that you are aware of the DECSS issue while CueCat is a little more obscure.

In a nutshell - A company gave away millions of cat shaped bar code scanners through Radio Shack stores and magazine subscriptions. They encrypted the output; however, not surprisingly, many curious people reversed engineered the hardware and discovered that it could be used as regular bar code scanner with a simple software solution. The company began to send out letters threatening to have these people prosecuted under the DMCA stating that reverse engineering is illegal under the Act.

Now there is this: 

"The Register has broken a story of the latest tragedy of copyright mania in the computer industry. Intel and IBM have invented and are pushing a change to the standard spec for PC hard drives that would make each one enforce "copy protection" on the data stored on the hard drive. You wouldn't be able to copy data from your own hard drive to another drive, or back it up, without permission from some third party. Every drive would have a unique ID and unique keys, and would encrypt the data it stores -- not to protect YOU, the drive's owner, but to protect unnamed third parties AGAINST you." (Quoted from John Tyre at the dvd-discussion site).

It's easy to envision a day when many actions we now take for granted are illegal. Backing up an image of your hard drive or a making a copy of your software in the event of media failure or software glitch. Or taping a show or game on television to watch at a later time. The law states that you have a right to do so; however, now it also states that it is illegal for companies to make or sell a device to allow you to do so.

How do you as an author feel about copyright?

In Section 8 of the Constitution  , one of the powers given to Congress is this "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;" . Originally, the time was 14 years renewable for another 14 years. In the 1800's, it was increased to 40 years. Even allowing for the longer life spans of today, the period of life plus 90 years seem excessive. The writings of the Framers seem to indicate that the limited time referred to a time span within the lifetime of the Author or Inventor, not the lifetime of the Universe. Jack Valenti (President of the Motion Picture Association of American) feels otherwise. He is on record as stating that it should be for eternity less a day.

Many works of film are deteriorating and being lost. Great (and mundane) writings are no longer available to the public because the copyright holder (corporations in many cases) are unwilling to spend the money to reprint them. Where is the promotion of Science and Art - the main reason for the copyright?

In the same vein - the gold rush of gene patenting. Companies are patenting genes. Not designer genes that they may have created, but existing genes. It appears that they could hold the human race hostage.

The Great Gene Grab 

Toward Sharing the Genome 

The Case for Gene Patents 

What happens to the rule of law when the majority of the population feel the law is wrong and ignore it?

Sorry to be so verbose, but I value your opinions and wonder how your readers feel about these issues.


Dean Sanchez

First, I was happy enough with the 26 years renewable Copyrights; I believe "Life plus fifty years" or even longer is unconstitutional and clearly well beyond the intentions of the Framers.

When a law is silly and unacceptable to a population, the results are never good. Prohibition is the most obvious. The current Drug Wars are I fear another.

There is a vast conflict between Internet Procedures and Intellectual Property; between "information wants to be free" and the rights of creators. On the other hand, my publishers just paid a substantial advance to renew their rights to publish Lucifer's Hammer, which was first published in the 70's; we still make good money on that book, and I am grateful. And people do PAY for this place even though they don't have to. So there is life after Gnapster...

But we have seen in Microsoft Reader format most of my books now offered on the Internet by small pirates for free. MOTE, HAMMER, FOOTFALL, they are all up there and more; Eric showed me several just yesterday. I need to think on all this. 

And BYTE pays me for my columns. There are no residual rights, but then there seldom are for journalism. The bottom line is that it's possible to make a living as a writer, but the competition is stiffer. I can't think that is all bad.

The disk copyright stuff is another story and deserves longer treatment and I have to go out.

Now for the definitive word on Category and Level 5:

Okay, here's a detailed response to Mr. Remington. Unlike Mr. Remington (who claims to understand LAN cabling but does not) and you (who have never claimed to be a cabling expert), I actually do understand LAN cabling, having installed or been responsible for installing literally hundreds of miles of the stuff at more than 100 sites, and having been certified by AT&;T on their structured cabling system. So, point-by-point:

> A brilliant expert such as yourself should already know that there is no such thing as Ethernet Level 5 cable. I could leave it at that but I won't since you seem intent on the idea that if I am the one telling you I must be lying.

Not lying, but mistaken. What Mr. Remington refers to is "Category 5" cable. The specifications for Category 5 cabling and connectors were originally published in the TIA/EIA 568 commercial building telecommunications wiring standards document with supporting Technical Supplement Bulletins TSB-36 and TSB-40/40A. That document and the supporting TSBs were incorporated as TIA/EIA 586A in 1995 and adopted as ANSI standard ANSI/TIA/EIA-568-A. In the years before the formal adoption of the standard, various vendors supplied cabling and connectors which were not formally standards-certified, but which complied with the draft standard. One of those, as I recall, was Anixter, which in 1991 began selling cable that supported 100 Mb/s connections. And they did in fact label that cable "Level 5". In short, "Category" numbers refer to the formal TIA/EIA-568 classifications, while "Level" numbers refer to Anixter's products and classifications. Anixter's "Level" classifications are a de facto standard because of their size and influence in the cabling industry. You are certainly not wrong to refer to cable to be used for 100BaseT Ethernet as "Level 5". If Mr. Remington had much experience with LAN cabling, he'd be aware that the folks who work with the stuff for a living use the terms "Cat 5" and "Level 5" pretty much interchangeably.

> CATEGORY 5, or "Cat 5", (not 'Level' as you stated) is not just for ethernet [sic] data communications. It was originally made for TELEPHONE communications, but it quickly found its way into the world of ethernet [sic] because it was more convenient to use cable that had already be strung than restringing cable.

Wrong again, Mr. Remington. Category 5 (Level 5) cable was not originally made for telephone communications. It was originally designed for 100 Mb/s data communications, and it was originally extraordinarily expensive. Back in the early 90's, we used to installed Cat 3 cable (about $40/box of 1,000 feet) for both telephone and 10BaseT. When Cat/Level 5 cable first became available in volume, it cost literally 10 times what Cat 3 did. We originally paid about $400/box for Cat/Level 5 cable, and that was the stuff with a PVC sheath. The plenum-rated stuff was ungodly expensive. During that period, most new buildings and those being rewired were cabled with a mix--Cat 3 for voice and Cat 5 for data. As Cat 5 production ramped up, the cost differential between Cat 5 and Cat 3 got smaller and smaller, and smart people began spec'ing all Cat 5.

> What is the difference between 'Cat 5' and conventional telephone wire? Basically the number of twisted-pairs. Cat-5 has 4 pairs and conventional telephone has 2 pairs (incidentally, the 2 inner wires are the primary pair, or line 1, and the outer pair is the secondary, or line 2).

Wrong again, Mr. Remington. The number of pairs has nothing to do with the Category rating, except as I'll explain below. Nearly all horizontal (station) cabling runs are done with 4-pair cable, whatever its Category rating. No installer I know (and I know a lot of them) would even consider using 2-pair cable. It's not enough cheaper to make a difference (most of the cost is in the labor in pulling runs) and you always want to have the spare pairs available. What differentiates Cat 5 from Cat 3 cable is a bunch of technical electrical/electronic characteristics (such as NeXT or Near-End-Crosstalk), which we don't need to get into, but which have nothing to do with the number of pairs other than peripherally. By that, I mean that the larger the number of pairs in a cable, the more difficult it is to meet higher Category requirements. For example, when I was wiring a new 10-story jail building, I would have loved to have had 100-pair (or even 25-pair) Category 5 riser cable available. But it wasn't, so we had to run a bunch of 4-pair Cat 5 cables instead. (larger multi-pair Cat 5 cables became available subsequently.)

Mr. Remington is also confused about pairs. He mentions outer and inner, by which I assume he refers to the pinout of connectors, which has nothing to do with the cable. A standard 4-pair cable uses the color coding Blue, Orange, Green, and Brown for pairs 1 through 4 respectively. The first (blue) pair is the "best" pair in terms of electrical/electronic characteristics. Orange is next best, and so on. There are various connection pinout schemes, the most common of which are 568A and 568B, which specify where each wire of each pair connects to the plug. The best I can get from Mr. Remington's confused comments about "primary" and "secondary" and "inner" and "outer" is that he has, to put it charitably, an imperfect understanding of connector pinouts.

> With Cat 5, you use RJ-45 connectors and with conventional phone you use RJ-11. Most digital phones use RJ-45 with either Cat 5 or Cat 3 - but Cat 5 is more prevalent since the increased cost is miniscule compared to the increased quality of transmission.

Wrong again, Mr. Remington. The "RJ" (registered jack) terminology is obsolete USOC (Universal Service Ordering Code) stuff. 10BaseT and 100BaseT Ethernet does not use "RJ-45" connectors (although admittedly many knowledgeable people use the term RJ-45 loosely). It uses 8P8C (8-position, 8-connector) plugs and jacks. But then I suppose that mistake is no more serious than not capitalizing the first letter of Ethernet.

> Ethernet Level 5 cables... do you put this quality of detail into all of your writing?

Do you put this quality of detail into all of your writing, Mr. Remington?

-- Robert Bruce Thompson

Actually, I wouldn't have put this up were it not that we may as well get all the details straight; I would not want someone to repeat Mr. Remington's errors (or mine) thinking them authoritative. Mr. Thompson on the other hand really is an authority. And now we know more than most of us really wanted to... My apologies to Mr. Remington, who I suspect meant well and didn't express himself as well as he would have liked.

And there is more, also worth posting:

Dr. Pournelle -

I too saw your use of the term "Level 5" when you meant to say "Category 5" and decided to ignore it until I saw the letter from Darren Remington. He said:

"A brilliant expert such as yourself should already know that there is no such thing as Ethernet Level 5 cable."

Wrong! The Anixter Levels Program existed before Category 5 was established, and in fact Category 5 was based largely on Anixter's Level 5. See: 

"It was originally made for TELEPHONE communications, but it quickly found its way into the world of ethernet [sic] because it was more convenient to use cable that had already be strung than restringing cable."

I wonder where he came up with this myth. Telephone cabling was around long before the Category system was established, and much of the installed base of telephone wiring only meets Category 1 (no performance criteria). In fact the quality of cable many companies have been installing is so bad that the FCC recently mandated that the minimum quality cable that could be used in premises telephone wiring is Category 3 (in other words cable suitable for at best 10BaseT Ethernet). See: 

"What is the difference between 'Cat 5' and conventional telephone wire? Basically the number of twisted-pairs. Cat-5 has 4 pairs and conventional telephone has 2 pairs (incidentally, the 2 inner wires are the primary pair, or line 1, and the outer pair is the secondary, or line 2)."

Wrong on almost all counts. Category 5 cable is most commonly sold as 4 pairs, but 2 pair Category 5 cable is available. Common 100BaseT and the older 10BaseT Ethernet only use 2 pairs anyway. The major difference between Category 5 and telephone cable is the twisting. Quality telephone wire has always been twisted, but huge quantities of untwisted "quad" have been used in premise wiring. Category 5 has a much higher twist rate than telephone wire, and each of the pairs is twisted at a slightly different rate to reduce crosstalk between pairs. Flat telephone cord where there are parallel conductors, and you can therefore speak of "inner wires" versus outer, is only suitable for connecting a telephone to the wall plate and should never be used for computer networking. It is true that on a two line telephone the inner pair of contacts on the plug is for line 1 and the outer is for line two.

"With Cat 5, you use RJ-45 connectors and with conventional phone you use RJ-11."

I would have let this go except for his attitude. There is no such thing as an RJ-45 or RJ-11 connector. The proper terminology is an 8 position 8 contact non-keyed modular connector or a 6 position 2 contact non-keyed modular connector. RJ-45 and RJ-11 refer to specific wirings of those connectors according to the telephone industry's Universal Service Ordering Code (USOC). A two line phone such as he spoke of uses a 6 position 4 contact non-keyed modular connector wired per RJ-14.

The pair assignment on the "RJ-45" connector as used for Ethernet is very different from any of the USOC wirings. Miswiring the pairs onto the connectors by those who only know telephone usage is a very common cause of poor network operation and high data error rates.

I am afraid that it is too late to change the popular usage away from RJ-45 for the common connector used in Ethernet wiring, but that does not make it correct.

With respect to the cabling you have just had installed, I hope you did not put in Category 5. In today's world I would suggest a minimum of Category 5E be used. Category 5E is what Category 5 should have been but was not. Basically the Category 5 Standard was too loose, and could not assure reliable operation under all conditions. Category 5E significantly tightened the Standard and should be the minimum quality of data wiring installed today.

Category 6 is being worked on, but has not been released. Meanwhile Anixter has come out with a Level 6 and Level 7 which assure higher levels of interconnect system performance. To achieve Level 7 performance requires precise matching of the wire and connectors used in a link. Some vendors such as Krone make all the components, while others such as Belden's wonderful MediaTwist cable must be matched up with suitable connectors from Panduit.

If you are considering future Gigabit Ethernet operation, it might pay to install Level 7 now.

Ray A. Rayburn Audio (at) Technologist (dot) com Former Telecom engineer and current Audio over Ethernet engineer. www (dot) SoundFirst (dot) com

I believe that it was 5E that they put in; it was all under the supervision of my son Alex and his experts, and they know FAR more than I do about it. AND IT WORKS. This is going out over the new Ethernet lines, and the old Blue Wire running across the floor is GONE.

And Roland adds:

*Everyone* calls the connectors RJ-45s, even though they really aren't. And most people who've been in networking for a while (15 years in my case) use 'Level-5' and 'Cat-5' to mean 'Cat-5E'.

As for Gigabit Ethernet, I've never done it over copper - I've always used either MultiMode Fibre (MMF, for runs of up to 500m or so), or Single Mode Fibre (SMF, for longer runs), and fibre of differing core diameters - measured in microns - for both types. For Gigabit Ethernet and for SANs (see below), the fibre I've used has had what are called 'SC-type' connectors on the ends.

Also, the Gigabit Interface Converters (I think that's what the acronym means), or GBICs, which plug into Gigabit Ethernet LAN cards and switches and so forth for Gigabit Ethernet over fibre, come in different flavors which must be matched to the type of fibre used. One network I designed made use of 'Z'-type GBICs plugged into Cisco Catalyst 5500-series switches, with a run distance of some 2 miles between them.

If I remember correctly, by using the right GBICs and fibre and blades in one's switches, it's possible to run Gigabit Ethernet (and Gigabit EtherChannel, which can consist of up to 8 Gigabit Ethernet links aggregated to form one big, fat virtual path) to distances of around 10 miles or so. For organizations which are in large campus environments or can secure right-of-way and permits to dig ditches for the fibre, the benefits are obvious.

This is what George Gilder was talking about years ago when he was telling us that rather than complicated telco-sponsored initiatives like ATM, what we really needed was lots of 'dark fibre' which could be provisioned as we pleased. He was right.

Fibre-Channel Aribtrated Loop (FC-AL) storage subsystems also use GBICs to connect high-end servers to Storage Area Network (SAN) switches, and thence to large disk units. I recently configured a couple of Compaq DL580 servers (4 PIII/700 Xeons &; 4GB RAM each) in such a fashion, linking them through meshed SAN switches to two separate Compaq RA4100 RAID enclosures containing 256GB each of RAID-5+1 SCSI-3 storage using 10K RPM drives. The GBICs present in the server Host Bus Adaptors (HBAs, or disk controllers), the SAN switches, and the RAID boxes were all the same type as those used for the Gigabit Ethernet NICs in each of the servers, and the fibre cables I used for the storage were MMF cables identical to that used for the Gigabit Ethernet links.

Sun have come out with a purely FC-AL storage subsystem, which they call a T3. It consists of FC-AL HBAs for the server(s), and 36GB 10K FC-AL *hard drives* in the T3 RAID enclosure. They even support internal pure FC-AL drives inside their new 280R UltraSPARC III-based server. No copper cabling involved at all. I'm sure Compaq and the rest won't be far behind with this purely FC-AL drive subsystems.

I'd be very interested to learn whether anyone's actually doing Gigabit Ethernet over copper; I've never seen it, personally.

--- Roland Dobbins <>  

Gilder and I have been chasing each other for years; it was pretty clear to me that he read my old BYTE column in paper days since once I listened to him give a keynote speech at a CDROM conference that was pretty close to a column I had published several months earlier. In any event, he is a good evangelist for our technologies, and if I sound a bit jealous, well, I did got top billing over him in the Millennial edition of the American Enterprise Institute issue on assessing future technologies... And that will have to do. 




I had thought there was little else to say about the NASA "Earth at night" photo, but in fact there is:

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

After reading John Sloan's emails regarding the Earth at night photo, I was overcome by curiosity about its origin (perhaps I have too much free time?). I dug around a bit on the website where the photo is hosted, and found some information. Here is the link: 

This web site features a different astronomy photo each day, along with information about the photo and relevant links. Very cool!

I did some further surfing and found my way to the NASA "earth observatory" website's "Lights Study", which explains in detail how scientists use city light data to map urbanization: 

Fascinating stuff!

As to the origin of the photo, according to the NASA web site:

"This image of Earth’s city lights was created with data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) Operational Linescan System (OLS). Originally designed to view clouds by moonlight, the OLS is also used to map the locations of permanent lights on the Earth’s surface."

I was surprised to learn that the images used to build the composite were actually taken over a period of several new moons, when the satellites were sensitive enough to record the illumination from city lights.

Regarding the economic/industrial implications of the picture, to quote the web site:

"Urbanization in any country generally begins when large-scale commerce takes root and most new jobs are to be found in the factories and financial centers in cities."

This would seem to be a fairly obvious observation, and I'm not at all sure why Mr. Sloan has such difficulty with it. In point of fact, this photograph does clearly illustrate that North Korea is less urbanized (industrialized) than South Korea.

According to information I found on the NASA website, almost every assertion Mr. Sloan makes is simply wrong. He is remarkably consistent that way. However, in one small detail he was correct. The Photo is indeed "art" in the sense that it is a composite picture superimposed upon a map (the night time geography would not be nearly so discernable otherwise). However, the photo is also clearly "science", presenting factual data. Enhancements like the map only serve to increase the usefulness of the photo. Here is a USA at night photo without a map:  Not nearly as easy to interpret!

Mr. Sloan attempts to make the point that even if the photo is a composite (it certainly is!), then "There are too many variables in what composition does." The folks over at NASA would seem to disagree. Perhaps Mr. Sloan can fire off a hastily written and poorly researched email setting them straight on this matter. One should always play to one's strengths.

In closing, thanks for linking to the photo in the first place, and for your thought-provoking comments about it. I learned a lot as a result, and Mr. Sloan's notes to you were nothing if not entertaining.

Warmest Regards, Joe Shockley

I had not thought about the Moon, but once I did it was obvious that those had to be taken during a New Moon or the Dark of the Moon, else they would never have shown up so well.

And from Clark Meyers

He begins with quotation from the site where the photo is to be found:

This image of Earth’s city lights was created with data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) Operational Linescan System (OLS). Originally designed to view clouds by moonlight, the OLS is also used to map the locations of permanent lights on the Earth’s surface.....

The above image is actually a composite of hundreds of pictures made by the orbiting DMSP satellites.

Quoting first from the FAQ's then from the further information on the site -

Q13: What if I used to be a millionaire but then I believed something I read on APOD and now own only a single dented bucket? A13: There are no guarantees. Use APOD information at your own risk.

Earth at Night Credit: C. Mayhew &; R. Simmon (NASA/GSFC), NOAA/ NGDC, DMSP Digital Archive Explanation: This is what the Earth looks like at night. Can you find your favorite country or city? Surprisingly, city lights make this task quite possible. Human-made lights highlight particularly developed or populated areas of the Earth's surface, including the seaboards of Europe, the eastern United States, and Japan. Many large cities are located near rivers or oceans so that they can exchange goods cheaply by boat. Particularly dark areas include the central parts of South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The above image is actually a composite of hundreds of pictures made by the orbiting DMSP satellites.

This image of Earth’s city lights was created with data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) Operational Linescan System (OLS). Originally designed to view clouds by moonlight, the OLS is also used to map the locations of permanent lights on the Earth’s surface.

The brightest areas of the Earth are the most urbanized, but not necessarily the most populated. (Compare western Europe with China and India.) Cities tend to grow along coastlines and transportation networks. Even without the underlying map, the outlines of many continents would still be visible. The United States interstate highway system appears as a lattice connecting the brighter dots of city centers. In Russia, the Trans-Siberian railroad is a thin line stretching from Moscow through the center of Asia to Vladivostok. The Nile River, from the Aswan Dam to the Mediterranean Sea, is another bright thread through an otherwise dark region.

Even more than 100 years after the invention of the electric light, some regions remain thinly populated and unlit. Antarctica is entirely dark. The interior jungles of Africa and South America are mostly dark, but lights are beginning to appear there. Deserts in Africa, Arabia, Australia, Mongolia, and the United States are poorly lit as well (except along the coast), along with the boreal forests of Canada and Russia, and the great mountains of the Himalaya.

The Earth Observatory article Bright Lights, Big City describes how NASA scientists use city light data to map urbanization.

Image by Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon, NASA GSFC, based on DMSP data

My own perspective - Granted that in order to be considered evidence in an American court of law the preparation of the image would have to be explained by people who could testify to all the facts of preparation I personally credit it. The information and methodology underlying this image is printed in respected journals and of course comes from reputable sources. I have looked at satellite photographs and photo-recon strips of terrain I have walked over and lived on and I am inclined to believe the pictures of land I have never seen bear the same relationship to that land as the pictures of land I have seen. Calibration for satellite photographs I have kibitzed uses well defined and instrumented artificial ground targets laid out and then simultaneously viewed by the ground crew with eyeball and instruments, low flying aircraft, high flying aircraft and satellites - timed to suit the satellite of course.

I worked in the preparation of film images for admission as evidence in Court in which even before the original image was made, camera and film format was considered, then lens and film itself, then darkroom techniques including print size and paper and so on - all the facts about final decisions were available to both sides in Court of course. With Digital Photography all the same considerations apply with different answers. The general rule for admitting an image of say a traffic accident is to have someone, ideally the photographer, say in effect "I took the picture and it looks about like what I saw with my eyes". Original Image is a nebulous term.

Call this image a visual aid rather than evidence if you will.


So some good has come from it all, and I was incorrect about it being uninteresting. My thanks to Mr. Sloan and to both Mr. Meyers and Mr. Shockley. And the final word is below.


And here is a good statement of the encryption problem:

The main thing that bothers me about hard drive encryption is that, at some point, you have to get access to the unencrypted data.

How would Quicken handle your finances if it didn't get access to clean data?

And once you have access to the unencrypted data, what prevents you from doing whatever you want with it?

So for this hard drive encryption to work, you would have to have support from the OS vendors. And if it is under the control of the OS, it should allow you to copy data from drive to drive.

DVD's work because a typical DVD drive is an embedded system, and the fact we can now break DVD encryption arose because of a mistake in one software program that was used by the DeCSS system. Though it would have been broken eventually by someone willing to spend enough computer time at it.

While following some of your links, it appears that the encryption will be an optional feature. So, if you take advantage of the fact that Windows 2000 already supports encryption in their filesystem, I could see where they could use this to make any filesystem safe. But probably for special applications. Such as military use, laptop systems, etc. With a laptop, you could probably do some of this unencryption in the BIOS, so if you don't login correctly, you can't get at the data on the hard drive even if you remove the hard drive. You couldn't even get at it with block level access.

But for normal use, people would not put up with a system where the loss of a password can totally prevent access to the data.

Kevin Kreiser

And I see little to object to. I note that the SETI experiment has shown how to get massive amounts of computing power working in parallel on any problem that interests the computer community. The implications ought to be obvious to us although they will not be to the Congress and the bureaucracy who think legislation is omnipotent.

I think the last word on this is what Mr. Thompson said on his web site: this plan will either become mandatory, or it will fail. Literally no rational person will buy a hard disk that has, as a *feature*, the ability to completely deny access to your data.

My father is fond of quoting Wyland's Law of Automation: "Anything that can be automatically done *for* you can be automatically done *to* you. Some day the drive may malfunction and simply decide not to let you have your data, period. It's just another catastrophic failure mode. Who wants to buy equipment with extra failure modes built in?

As Thompson points out, if any one drive in your system is one of the new ones, all of them must be, because it is a feature of the drive that it won't let you copy data to unregistered drives. You must buy nothing but registered drives, and you must register them to the Authorities and receive the codes that will allow them to talk to each other.

If we follow that line of reasoning, it follows that you also need a registered Zip drive, a registered tape backup drive, and so on. Actually, it is more likely that each Zip disk and each tape, not the Zip drive and tape drive, will be registered. There are already removable flash memory devices with anti-copying serial numbers, so that you can download music that will only play on one or two flash chips.

It then follows that the Authorities will need a very high-bandwidth connection to the Internet and lots of fast servers to provide an unending stream of authorization codes: "Hey, Steve, I can't copy any data on this new Zip disk!" "Oh, you just need to register it with the Authorities. This time of day, it usually takes four or five minutes..."

Who are the people who think they can sell this to us? IBM couldn't even convince the market to adopt MicroChannel, and that wasn't a tenth as odious as this idea.

Hey, when this system is in place, do you suppose they will propose version 2.0 of the system, where all your data gets sent to the Authorities so they can decide (on a byte-by-byte basis) whether your drives are allowed to copy it among themselves? After all, what good will this system do if it always grants every request to register a disk? You might possibly be engaged in copying stolen music or ThoughtCrime essays.

I can just picture a future Byte review of hard drives: "And for the performance benchmarks, we connected our test computer directly to a T1 line and ran the tests at 2:00 A.M. to minimize the effect of Copying Authorizations on the tests..."

Actually, this scheme is to hard drives exactly what Newspeak is to language: an attempt to make it impossible to copy forbidden data (versus an attempt to make it impossible to think forbidden ideas). Therefore I propose we call the new drives "Newspeak hard drives". -- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est"

Well said.




This week:



Saturday, December 23, 2000

And here is the final word regarding that NASA picture. t says a great deal, but not, I think, what Mr. Sloan believes he has said. I will leave that as inference to the readers.


I had previously sent you a direct link to an image of the earth at night. After reading some of the odd posts in your current mail, I thought that it would be good to add some other information. The image comes from Astronomy Picture of the Day, an excellent site. 

From the archives, the original daily page:  which explains that the image is a montage of 100's of photographs from the DMSP satellites, and which, obviously, must have been taken over the course of ~1/2 year (solstice to solstice) for both poles to be dark.

If you follow the above image link:  You'll find that the lights are overlayed on an underlying map (a good one! If you push the contrast and brightness on the original large image, with say GIMP or Photoshop, you can see subsurface ocean features that relate to ocean depth).

Since the original large image was an assembly, It obviously was heavily edited. That doesn't explain why anyone would have bothered to "edit out" lights in, say, North Korea, and not in North Vietnam.

Merry Christmas, and the best to you and yours, Chris C

 My thanks. Of course it was not hard to find. It did take looking, and thanks for saving me the work. And then Mr. Sloan:



Thank you. This is exactly the kind of information that proves the image is a useful reference for comparing urbanisation levels. This is effectively the piece of information that is necessary for the picture to be TRUSTED: That someone needs to stand up and say "I took the picture and it looks about like what I saw with my eyes", as you point out.

We the Internet generation have decided that the Internet is a wonderful way to spread ever-increasing amounts of information all around the world, but it seems most of us forget that the truth/bullshit ratio in all of that information has no guarantees or controls.

The original thing that stuck in my craw was that I was presented with an invitation to view a picture, and to "look at Korea". Since the Korea issue is an emotionally and politically charged issue in your country, with "missiles-over-Japan" and "ABM-Treaty problems" and the long-standing mistrust between North Korea and the US, it is clearly important for any thinking person to be extra careful with any piece of "evidence" about the Koreas.

As originally presented, the picture had no caption and there is no ".txt" or other text file in that directory on the web server that describes the picture. So, the picture had effectively been presented at face value. I felt that without some form of "provenance" or whatever you want to call it, the picture shouldn't be used to conclude anything about an important issue like the Koreas.

As you point out, there is value to the information in this particular picture since you know how it was made and why, and also you were able to show me where to look for this information.

Thank you again for your excellent information.


John Sloan

I repeat: if there was anyone, anyone at all, anywhere in the world, who found this site; was able to read the material concerning that picture; and was deceived, SPEAK NOW. I really have grown a bit weary of being accused of some kind of propagandistic stunt because I posted a link to a site that ANYONE could have visited and with only a small amount of work -- look at the above -- found out all the details.

You of the Internet Generation? Does this mean the Internet Generation is unable or unwilling or has insufficient gumption  to find information for itself; distrustful of anything presented, particularly if it comes from these United States of America; and ready to pounce? And so damned credulous to think that Korea is "important" and that its economic state is an open question? The place is starving. They say so, whiningly, and often. And they have for years savagely attacked anyone trying to find out more. Important? Important? To whom?

I admit to having some emotions about Korea, having been there at a time when it was not pleasant, and having found things one should not see at an early age; but I had not thought there to be any controversy about the shortage of power and energy there, and not a lot about the shortage of civilization in a land that celebrates a glorious leader in the old style. South Korea is a tiger. North Korea is a land in which the Fearless Leader is the largest single purchaser of French Cognac, buying more than some entire countries (doubtless as presents to his supporters that being one of Korea's traditions, something like a Viking chieftain giving rings and mead to his housecarls). North Korea is a land with an enormous army and a starving population. There is no need to take my word for this, or to rely on a satellite image. There is plenty of information. For those who care to do the work of finding it, that is.

This is the Internet Generation. SHOW US EVERYTHING, tell us everything. You adults -- at least Americans --  are still liars, of course. But we want you to show us everything, and we do not care to work to find out for ourselves. We will believe nothing you say, and we are certain you are trying to deceive us, and we insist that you do all the work for us.

Now that is not what Mr. Sloan intended to say, and it is in fact a pretty strong stretch to turn it into that, and one should not read all of that into his words; most of it is mine, not his. Yet, really, here we have this very long discussion over something that could not possible be ANYTHING but a composite, and only a person determined to find fault could for a second suppose that it was put forth as anything else. Apparently the Internet Generation is so contemptuous of the intelligence of its peers that it believes them capable of believing anything. I would myself think that rather insulting: that anyone would suppose that I might for a quarter second believe that a photograph with no sun in it and no clouds, taken entirely at night, might be anything but a composite. And I do my readers the courtesy of assuming a fair degree of intelligence. And that I think really is the last word.

I bought a similar (possibly the same) switch from Fry's. Like you I have searched the web looking for information from the manufacture about the switch. Do you have any idea how to use the hot key function on this switch box? It has been so long since I bought the switch and the manual is nowhere to be found. Do you have any ideas?

I greatly appreciate your time and help.

Matt Rancourt

I have found my copy of the manual. I will try to get it scanned so I can post it. But that I fear is not quickly done just now.













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Sunday, Christmas EVE


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year





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