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Mail 141 February 19 - 25, 2001

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This week:



Monday  February 19, 2001

You wrote: --- Bob Thompson tells me that for anything more than burst operations, no drive can keep up with the data rates UDMA (66 or 100) is capable of, and it's in such operations that the mechanical drive speeds become important because they are the limiting factors. The faster the drive spins, the faster the data rates. ---

I think I've written you before about the IBM Deskstar 75 line -- You should attempt to get one suitable for tryout somewhere, as I think, for the price and speed (it's only 7200, not 10k RPM, of course), it can't be beat in the 30G and 45G units, and even the 60G and 75G units aren't awful.

It, too, is ATA-100.

One major, consistently unnoted advantage of ATA-100 is that you can have up to *8* IDE devices in your system, now, instead of only 4. With the number of IDE-based devices increasing (I currently have two HDs, a DVD, a CD-Burner, and a Zip disk -- that's *five*), you could easily wind up with a problem of "not enough connectors", as a friend did. I happened to have an external parallel port zip, which I swapped with him for his IDE zip (he had 2 hard drives, a CD, a CD-burner, and a zip -- and an older pre-100 motherboard), and he's halfway regretted not going out and buying an add-on ATA-100 card, given how slow the PP Zip is compared to the IDE Zip.

Yes, 4 of them will be the "slower" ATA-33/66 type, but most of the time at least half your devices will never be able to overrun that even in theory, much less attempt to do so as a HD does and/or will Real Soon Now... CDs and Zips are such an example

-- Nicholas Bretagna II Regional Network Administrator Flad &; Associates of Florida, Inc. 

"The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still voice within" - Mohandas K. Gandhi -

Thanks! More on this when I get back home.


This is a week behind the fact, but it occurred to me that your readers might be interested in reading this obituary of Dr. Herbert Simon, "father of artificial intelligence" and Nobel prize winner. 

Regards, Bill Ghrist

Dr. Pournelle,

Linux IS a threat to intellectual property in it's ability to foster explosive growth of software technology that bypasses the current safeguards against copy protection and other issues regarding who owns what. Like the building of the original printing press, open source software has the capability to immediately challenge the concepts of intellectual property ownership along a very broad front. This assault cannot be contained, and even the big software giants past tricks of enforcing their rules via strict and proprietary standards cannot survive because either their standards will be reverse-engineered, or people will create new, more flexible and open standards of their own.

The napster case is a prime example. It's very possible for the industry giants (Sony, Microsoft, the RIAA, etc) to come up with an uncrackable hardware/software based encryption scheme that will allow secure music distribution and stifle piracy. The other side of that coin is the fact that there are literally thousands of people unfettered by legislation or contract who are actively engaged in either cracking any such technology or making their own competing products that have no such usability limits. For example, it's possible to make a complete Linux PC in a package the size of a single pack of cigarettes that has all the functionality of a dedicated mp3 music device plus all the functionality of a normal computer, so why should anyone put up with a restrictive standard forced by the media industry?

Pandora's box has been opened and there's no shutting it. Something has to give, and the way the RIAA has been pushing to resume the status quo, there's no compromise in sight. Sure, the RIAA might win in court and copyright law might be strengthened in theory, but they are guaranteed to lose the war because they are alienating a growing number of highly intelligent and creative minds who are collectively dedicating an enormous amount of time to circumvent ANY barriers to openly sharing content of all types.

That is the threat that open source poses, the limitless potential to bypass any and all control over information of all types. This has everyone from the RIAA to the FBI running scared, and it can't be stopped. I understand that at least one country is arresting Napster users... That way lies madness and revolt.

Sean Long eagl

Good points all. I haven't time to respond properly, but we can continue when I get home.


Here is a thoughtful essay on why the comments by Jim Allchin at MicroSoft are so dangerous: 

By the way, Jim Allchin is NOT just " person, who seems to be a bit demented.." (to quote one of your previous statements.)

Jim Allchin is the person IN CHARGE of Windows development (and innovation).

It may not be the Bill Gates that you know, but this fits in with the contradictory, temperamental and deceitful Bill Gates that many have come to hate. Even if you don't agree with the way the trial was conducted, you can't possibly support the disingenuous testimony by Mr. Gates and the falsified video evidence offered by Microsoft, can you?

It is precisely because of Mr. Allchin's position in Microsoft that it becomes necessary for outside intervention to do change the face of the corporation. Even if that means breaking them apart or even revoking their license to do business (by revoking their corporate charter).

Yes, it is a pity that many decent people within the corporate culture of Microsoft would suffer, but that is a far better alternative than making the entire world suffer the lies and deception perpetrated by their executives who see nothing wrong with such things.

Regards, Alex

You are not alone in ascribing to Microsoft Allchin's policies, and perhaps so; I had not thought the company had gone mad. Of course they are lobbying like crazy now. How far they can get isn't known to me. I would not accept your adjectives about Gates; I have known him for 20 years and while temperamental is accurate, deceitful isn't. More usually he's quite blunt, sometimes too much so for his own good.

In any event, Allchin's views aren't going to become public policy, and expressing them has made Microsoft no friends. The whole incident is -- odd.

I recently picked up Falkenberg's Legion again, not having read it in a few years. I'll make a long story short by saying I loved it as much this time as I did every time before.

I was very enthused to see you are proposing another Falkenberg book on your website. I know you probably get at least billion emails on a fairly regular basis, at least a million of which pester you about project statuses, but I was wondering if you might be able to say something about that (i.e. is the project moving forward? maybe when we can hope to see it?).

I have enjoyed everything of yours that I have read to date, and hope you continue to write for some time to come.


Michael M. Linder Tuscaloosa, AL

There are three works on my list of things to do: Falkenberg on Kennicott where he first joins the 42nd Line Marines (this takes place just after West of Honor, and has Hal Slater; and Falkenberg meets and marries Grace, and takes command of the 42nd); and the story of Falkenberg and Lysander together toward the end of the First Spartan Hegemony. The third involves what happens to Skilly on Kennicott after she leaves Sparta (and of course takes place before the second I described).  How far along I am on any of these is a matter of speculation even to me...Thanks for asking.

Subject: Idiocy abounds.

These people are trying to get everyone who designs Web pages to change their HTML, etc., so that only the lastest versions of IE and Netscape - in the case of Netscape, the still-unusable 6.x series - will be able to view their Web pages.

They want to force us poor, benighted souls like myself, who persist in using Nestcape 4.76 under Linux, to upgrade our browsers for our own good, you see.

They're serious, apparently. 

 Roland Dobbins <> 






This week:



Tuesday, February 20, 2001 

Just back. Short shrift time on comments. Too much good mail to ignore.


Sean Long said: "proprietary standards cannot survive because either their standards will be reverse-engineered, or people will create new, more flexible and open standards of their own."

Note that the fundamental shift in Microsoft's .NET marketecture puts the focus on exposing software components as Web Services. These services are described as "contracts" through SOAP (the nomenclature is currently drifting, which is why I use the quotes around "contract"). There is no guarantee (nor should one care) whether or not the object behind the SOAP contract is .NET or Sun's ONE or a gang of monkeys in a room full of Chinese/English dictionaries. Essentially, one way of looking at Microsoft's recent shift is that .NET provides a structure for reverse-engineering--good luck getting anyone at Redmond to admit this.

Another important aspect of .NET is that it thoroughly defends the empire from the effects of being broken up. The whole suite of MS applications will be recast in this .NET reality, essentially distancing the product line from its dependence upon a single operating system platform--there's no reason why, once the SOAP contracts were published, that someone couldn't recode the underlying services to work on any damn platform it needs to run on. Web Services, by the way, also happen to be a necessary step in transitioning applications to a subscription-based architecture (rather than licensing a user a full executable). I just wonder how open the market will be to having to be connected in order to use one's apps. Hmm.

However, Sean's salient point, about the proverbial cat being out of the bag, is bang on. Musicians, artists, developers--all who provide material currently distributed in a frictioned economy--will have to rethink their distribution. I'd still like to see the concept of micropayments put together, because I'd love to be able to surf with a microwallet, and pay providers directly for content, totally hacking out the middle man. The downside of a free market is that premium value is difficult to hold; however, there is clear evidence that things can be very close to free and still "feel" free, and the incontrovertible evidence bears out that there is a much LARGER potential audience when there is no barrier to entry and consumption, including cost.


= Keith C. Langill Principal Engineer, Stellcom

Unfortunately, extremely bad legislation like the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), the law under which the DeCSS DVD folks were brought to trial, demonstrates that positions not much less extreme than Mr. Allchin's can and do become law. Here's a synopsis of the major points of the DMCA: 

As you'll recall, I was against the government's antitrust action from the start. Microsoft's counsel, and Microsoft themselves, did a very poor job in their defense. Both Mr. Gates and Mr. Allchin lied on the stand - they lied, when the truth would've served better. Still, along with you, I thought the government's action without merit, and Judge Jackson to be an ass. Under the circumstances, I figured that the prevarications and evasions were distasteful and counterproductive, but did not in any way demonstrate that the government's case had any merit.

My views have now changed. Ironically, I -still- think that the government's case, as orginally brought, was nonsense. But I've also reached the conclusion that Microsoft should be punished, and punished severely, for their brazen efforts to place limiting factors and even to -lobby for changes in the law- which would further limit my ability to do as I please with my own computer.

Microsoft delenda est, say I. And it's a damned shame, because the legal remedies which must be employed to break it apart set a terrible precedent, one which will have further deleterious effects on the ability of firms to further improve the products they develop.

Two very serious threats to intellectual freedom. Of the two, I view allowing Microsoft to continue on their current path of doing everything possible to exert control over what I do with my computer to be marginally greater. Marginally.

And I damn Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer and Jim Allchin and David Boies and Judge Penfield Jackson for pushing me into a tight enough corner that I feel that I must make such a Hobbesian choice.

God, I'm glad I didn't go to work for Microsoft either of the two times they tried to hire me. I'd have to resign in shame and disgust.

---------- Roland Dobbins <

Dear Dr. Pournelle, Tim O'Reilly has some thoughtful, and short, commentary on Mr. Allchin's remarke re: Open Source.$167  Several good links in it as well.

In regards to Mr. Dobbins on browser upgrades, the page also mentions Opera 5 and Konqueror as useable,and that the major sites such as yahoo can't get standards compliant without alienating many of their customers. So, while they want everyone to be standards compliant, they seem to realize that it won't happen immediately. I note that your page seems to be compliant, with ALT tags atc. And, as it's mostly text, it loads fast. Over my cable modem connection at home it appears to load as fast as a page read from a local disk.

Kit Case



Given that Jim Allchin is an Ex-Banyanite, a company that was known for making life tough on outside developers, it's not surprising that he'd express such an attitude about cooperatively produced software.

------------------------------------------------ Bill Newkirk Amateur Radio Station WB9IVR Melbourne, FL

> They want to force us poor, benighted souls like myself, who > persist in using Nestcape 4.76 under Linux, to upgrade our > browsers for our own good, you see.

I'm of two minds about this.

On the one hand, they are *right*. At some point you have to bite the bullet and enforce the standards, or else you can never move forward. Just how long will we support the broken 4.x generation of browsers?

The new web standards are really cool. If you are going to do a nontrivial e-commerce site, you would be much better off to use the new standards stuff, rather than following current practice: query the browser, figure out which one it is, and then serve up special versions of the site designed to work with that browser.

On the other hand, Netscape 6 really isn't ready for prime time. Mozilla is the gleaming hope of the near future; it is on version 0.8 now, and it will be 1.0 soon.

If these guys would wait for Mozilla 1.0 to ship, and *then* launch their campaign, I'd be very pleased. -- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est"

Dr Pournelle; Nice to hear about the new books that are in progress. I look forward to them when they are published. A couple of notes, the young man in Ottawa who was arrested for the essay he wrote for class. According to the news reports this was the final straw that broke the camels back. He has a history and is "known to the police" . If the steps taken were appropriate I don't know as of yet, but if it gets the lad some help before he does something really stupid he could be ahead of the game. The literary community had a rally for him and he read his essay in a public forum. Several notables were in attendance( Margaret Attwood being the best Known) so the I doubt the system will roll over him and once again he should be able to get some help if he needs it.

The Microsoft anti trust case. I am Canadian so I am having a problem figuring out the basis for the government case. It appears to me that he got became very successful and the government stepped on him for it. If you could explain I would appreciate it. However the point that I wanted to bring up is this. Mr. B. Gates is the richest man on the planet and up to this point he has been entirely apolitical. I wonder how many of the elected officials pushing this case realize that they have now pissed of the richest man on the planet. He might now find other uses for the excess funds that he needs a tax deduction for.

Sincerely Glen Shevlin

Thanks for the information. Things are often more complex than they appear to be.

Gates is of course no longer non-political. God save us.

From: Chris Morton To: Jerry Pournelle Subject: Power and Competence

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

Contrary to your assertion that the truly powerful are rarely incompetent, history is replete with examples of those who were truly powerful and truly incompetent. Some examples:

Stalin slaughtered his own officer corps down to company level while at the same time, the threat to the Soviet Union from Hitler was obvious. He ignored all warnings of imminent German aggression, from the spy Sorge and from the border troops alike. On the eve of the German invasion, he continued to send trainloads of strategic materials to Hitler. Border fortifications were demolished to no good purpose. Soviet forces were disorganized, untrained, and badly equipped on the eve of the invasion. Many units were at great distances from their mobilization points and without adequate transportation to get there.

Hitler disdained the "Jewish science" of nuclear physics. He exiled or murdered the scientists who could have given him the atomic bomb. He declared war on the United States when such a declaration was neither required by treaty nor of any conceivable benefit to Germany. The German declaration of war saved Great Britain. Without it, war with Germany, nevermind a "Europe first" policy, would have been nearly impossible for FDR. At the height of the war, vital industrial and transportation resources were diverted to murdering the Jews. Rather than raise a massive anti-Stalinist army of Soviet POWs, Hitler allowed them to die through starvation, neglect, and mistreatment. He actually gave Soviet troops a reason to be loyal to Stalin.

Mao nearly destroyed both Chinese agriculture and industry in the "Great Leap Forward"... starving millions in the process. His insistence on a guerrilla army, long after his power was consolidated, has afflicted Chinese defense policy to this day. They are still playing technological and doctrinal catchup, even to the Vietnamese Army, which inflicted humiliating punishment on the PLA during it's brief invasion of northern Vietnam.

These examples only scratch the surface, even in terms of the persons named. I highly recommend Alex De Jonge's "Stalin", Dennis Bloodworth's "The Messiah and the Mandarins" and "Stumbling Colossus" (I forget the author's name) for more details on this subject.

Anyone sufficiently ruthless and manipulative can gain and hold power. Doing something meaningful with that power is another matter altogether.

Actually I tend to agree with that. Incompetence can be more widespread than one would suspect. But note that I didn't exactly assert it, but remind people of Dafydd ap Hugh's aphorism. And SEE BELOW.






This week:



Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Some thoughts from my once and future collaborator:

Dear Jerry:

Reading through the letters on copyright matters, it strikes me that trying to approach this through software is not likely to be productive.

Software is inherently "distributed".

Now, hardware is a different matter. Capital requirements for entry are very high; many crucial components are manufactured in a very limited set of plants. And all machines have to conform to certain standards.

It would therefore seem to be possible to _hardwire_ the copyright protection; and also to build irremovable identification into every CPU and hard-drive, something on the order of a 'serial number'. Material couldn't be copied without all the components 'shaking hands'; and everything posted could be traced, removing the possibility of anonymous violation.

I understand something of this sort is already being contemplated within the industry for hard drives.

To do this on a larger scale, you'd only need the agreement of... oh, say four governments. US, EU, Russia, Japan. Between them they could lean on everyone else.

One gets you five the latter three would agree in a snap. The US, of course, is far more problematic -- but the growing threat to intellectual property is weakening resistance to broad control measures here. It's also annoying many people and organizations who are either very powerful, very wealthy, or both. Throw in a promise to finally do something about internet smut, and you could build a strong coalition.

"Impossible to control" strikes me more as an expression of wistful hope than fact.

Yours, Steve Stirling

Well, I have enormous confidence that anything can be hacked, and the bigger the challenge the brighter the people who will try to defeat it. If something can be seen or heard then it has been decrypted at some point; and it can be distributed...

Interesting article about an 8 year old girl's science project getting yanked from the elementary school's science fair because it might have made someone uncomfortable: 



And now for something else: the data on SAT and Achievement test differences

Here, by race, are 1994 SAT data showing mean scores obtained on
several achievement tests and corresponding Math SAT I for the test
takers. All tests have a standard deviation ~100.
              white  black  difference
Chemistry      585    516     69
Math SAT I     650    565     85
Biology        562    490     72
Math SAT I     610    517     93
Physics        609    534     75
Math SAT I     674    598     76
Math Level I   557    487     70
Math SAT I     581    492     89
Math Level II  663    588     75
Math SAT I     659    574     85
Math Level IIc 672    622     50
Math SAT I     672    610     62
Except for physics, the racial gap is significantly narrower with
achievement tests, but hardly eliminated. A switch to these tests,
however, would serve the university diversicrat in a more artful
manner. By narrowing the spread at the high end, the tests would
effectively have less weight in an admissions formula. This, I suspect,
is what the UC President has in mind when he proposes a switch to
achievement tests. Every little bit helps.
Regards to all,

Note that it is more likely that Achievement Test scores will be helped by cram courses (such as Bar Exam cram courses) and these are expensive; so one effect of changing from Aptitude tests which are heavily g-loaded to Achievement tests which are less so is to help those who can afford cram courses. You never get something for nothing. The immediate first effect of going to achievement tests will be to lower the number of poorer Jews and Orientals admitted in favor of wealthier whites. I don't know if that's what the President of the University of California intends...

Saw mention of your HP LaserJet 4000 TN in your column. I agree with your assessment of HP's but thought I would let you know about a cheaper alternative. When I was looking for a home laser printer I settled on the Brother HL1240. It has a lot of nice touches: 600DPI, toner saving modes, it turns itself on/off automatically with very quick warm up times, and does over 10ppm for regular text. It is also supported under Linux and includes a USB interface in addition to parallel. The printer can be found for about $299 in your favorite office supplies store or a bit cheaper online. For networking, I picked up a $50 network printserver that plugs into the Brother's parallel port -- sorry I don't have the make/model of the print server but can dig it up if you are interested.

Anyhow, its gotten rather heavy use from my wife and I for months now without any problems. If you do a Net search on the model number you will find a lot of other satisfied owners like me. In contrast, some of the HP "personal" laser printers have a bad name, the model 6L in particular for paper feeding troubles.

David Girardot


And now a story that might have happened here...

The Linksys router I use for my 3-node home network seemed to go down, for DSL access only (it worked fine as a hub), two weeks before Christmas when my sons came home from college. We switched one computer off the network and used it for direct connect to our Pacific Bell DSL modem while the other computers used regular dialup access.

My sons returned to college and my daughter's computer (Pinky) returned to the study to direct connect to the DSL modem.

I finally got around to taking Pinky and the Brain to our dealer along with the router and two printers for various things; a RAM upgrade for the Brain and replacement of some squeaky fans in Pinky, find out what was wrong with the router and fix whichever of the balky printers was cheaper to fix.

Yuri reported that the router worked fine. I wasted a lot of time tonight trying to get the router to connect to the DSL modem and finally found the problem:

the ethernet cable connecting the router to Pinky's surge protector had died. I cannabilized the ethernet cable in my daughter's room (not needed while Pinky is in the study) and


the Linksys router now gets Pinky and the Brain online simultaneously via our DSL modem.

My mistake was in not realizing, from the fact that our computers could see each other over the router on Network Neighborhood, but not connect to the DSL modem, while the DSL modem worked fine on direct connect, that there was probably a bad ethernet connection between the router and the modem. The DSL modem plugged into the ethernet "in" connection on Pinky's surge protector, and that same ethernet cable also worked when plugged directly into Pinky's ethernet jack, ergo the ethernet cable running from the surge protector's "out" jack to the router had failed.

It took me two months and cost me $45 for Yuri's minimum hourly charge declaring the router OK to figure out what a process of deduction should have told me initially.

There was also some excitement earlier when my son Joe came home with his computer and monitor before Christmas. I decided to put it in the study and take Pinky back to Anne's room, but decided to leave Pinky's Hyundai monitor in the study and just plug Joe's college HP Pavilion into it.


I smelled melting plastic as soon as I turned Joe's computer on and immediately hit the off switch on the surge protector. Somehow Anne's 3 year-old 17" Hyundai Deluxe Scan 17B did not like the 4-meg video built into the Celeron II of Joe's HP Pavilion. I thought initially that the Hyundai had just died, but Yuri said it was fine though it initially smelled of melting plastic. It just didn't like the HP video adapter and would have done something drastic had I not shut it down within nanoseconds of its first temper tantrum.

Anne had to make do over Xmas with my 13 year-old 14" NEC 3D, which still has better color than her 17" Hyundai. **** hath no fury like a 15 year-old deprived of her treasured DSL access and stuck with 640x480 resolution.

Four of our five monitors are NECs, and I still keep that old 3D around for emergency service. 

Tom Holsinger

No comment needed...


After reading some of your comments about the panel and gene therapy today I was fascinated to discover a link to I hadn't gone looking for them; I was actually busy entering contests and followed a link to a link to another link, which is far too easy to do with a cable modem. Apparently they are doing research for gene therapy and are in the process of collecting/building up a data base of gene samples obtained from volunteers. Of course the subject is interesting to me in and of itself, but even more exciting is the fact that what has previously been the topic of entertaining science fiction is now in the process of becoming established fact.

Of course, one of the bases for science fiction has always been that it COULD happen, but to me something is really awe-inspiring when it's been written about previously and now is ACTUALLY happening in fact! I can't help but marvel sometimes...

Ted Borreson


Subject: Right argument but flawed history

Dr. Pournelle,

In his letter "Power and Competence", reader Chris Morton makes a good point (powerful people can be incompetent) but gives flawed historical example. Mr. Morton asserts that naive, unsuspecting Stalin was overwhelmed by tricky Hitler. This is a major historical nonsense.

In his book "Icebreaker", Viktor Suvorov explains how Stalin, far from being naive about Hitler, was about to invade Eastern Europe and Germany, with the blessing of the Allies, in what was codenamed Operation Icebreaker . Thanks to good intelligence, Hitler started his own invasion mere days before Stalin launched his attack.

Now, German planes, at that time, did not have any anti-tank gun (most of them had machine guns only): It would be years before the Stuka would mount its famous 88-mm antitank gun in a belly pod. But the Soviet tanks were planning to take the nazis by suprise with little opposition, and they were prepared to drive for hours through Central Europe. So they were carrying their fuel supply in barrels, ON THE TOP OF THE TANK. As described by German ace Hans Rudel, even 7.62-mm aircraft machine guns were able to set these barels afire and hence destroy the tanks. That's why the German planes were able to do such a carnage of armor with apparently inadequate weapons. Besides, the Soviet and ammo and supplies were stockpiled at the very front of the line (makes sense if you plan to attack and move fast), which allowed the German to quickly locate and destroy them.

Second error: Mr. Morton says that Hitler attacked the US. Even the Fuehrer wasn't that incompetent. Last time I checked, Hitler never declared war on the US. The US entered the war after Pearl Harbor.


--Fred Mora

The United States Congress declared war on Japan after Pearl Harbor. Hitler dithered but not for long, and declared war on the US despite not strictly having to do so by the terms of his treaty with Japan. A few more months of Russian mud and he might not have done so.  It was an act of arrogant incompetence, brought on in part by the German inability to understand US methods of mass production, particularly in such matters as military optical systems.

Detroit defeated Hitler. Of course we have now dismantled Detroit. I doubt we could now make a Liberty Ship a day or a Sherman tank every hour as we did then. But it was an act of incompetence to underestimate the US. Of course most people underestimate the warrior characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman peoples anyway. It takes a heap of piety to keep a Viking from wanting to go sack a city.





This week:


read book now


Thursday, February 22, 2001

Subject: Beam Piper's Veridicator..

Dear Jerry:

SF sometimes does turn up in the real world.

While cruising around -- a wonderful institution, especially when I get my DSL service on the 28th -- I came across an article on research being done with fMRI scans of living brains.

The scientists involved think they've got a handle on -- among other things -- reliably identifying the brain activity involved in lying. The CIA has expressed interest in the technology.

Assuming for the sake of argument that will function as specified with a little more R&;D, which I think is a pretty safe bet, we have the real-world equivalent of H. Beam Piper's "verdicator", from the "Terro-Human" future history.

Sit someone down under a helmet with wires; if he lies, the light on top turns red. (IIRC, the scene from "Space Viking" involved someone with a pistol who was going to hammer his teeth in with the butt in that event.)

But seriously, this is going to revolutionize police work and the judicial system, when it's widely available and reliable.

Just to address one point, our protections against self-incrimination were intended to prevent forced confessions being beaten out of innocent people. If we have a lie detector that really _works_, where does that leave us?

There are other obvious uses. Eg., for military purposes -- guerilla warfare, for example, is dependent on the guerillas and their support structure being able to hide, which in turn depends on their being able to lie.

But with this technology, you could simply march everyone in a village through the detector, and ask them a few strategic questions: "Do you know where any of the (Organization X) members are? Yes or no?" And so on.

Given a little more miniaturization, it may well be possible eventually for everyone to carry around a lie detector and tell when someone's trying to fool them. That would make effective lying impossible... and with it, human society as we know it.

Yours, Steve Stirling

Indeed. Perhaps it won't be too portable. But will politicians consent to use it? Continued below.

I just read that page you mentioned in the Current View. I'm sure the school's administration sees no conflict between their proclaimed rejection of censorship and what they did. Why? Because they don't define what they did as censorship.

Remember: if you can't change the facts, change the definitions. (How do you define "is" again?)

Joe Zeff








This week:



Friday, February 23, 2001


I just saw Steve Stirling's February 22 letter about scientists possibly identifying, with MRI scans, the part of the human brain involved in lying. This is of particular interest to me given my day job as lead research attorney for what is purportedly the busiest trial court in California (in terms of yearly trial days per judge). I have had some fascinating conversations concerning emerging criminal justice technology with our County Sheriff and elected District Attorney while we were attending to other business in a certain room of the courthouse frequented almost exclusively by public employees of a single gender.

Trent Telenko has kept me appraised of developments in military sensors and surveillance technology over the past several years. I perceived the utility of those for civilian law enforcement _and_ probation officers. The tentative conclusion reached in the land of porcelain applicances was that this would make it possible to lock everyone up, and that such technology would eventually entail a voluntary or involuntary adjustment of public attitudes towards victimless crimes.

A point to consider here is that California's probation laws, like those of most states, permit no-notice warrantless searches of persons on probation following criminal conviction, usually after a period of incareration (two years in prison and 18 months on probation, etc.). I had speculated that the technologies Trent informed me of would make it much easier to track, observe and listen to persons on probation.

Consider the combination of a portable brain-wave based lie detector of the sort Steve envisages, operated by police officers on patrol, with an implanted transponder in all persons on probation which identifies them as a probationer to police officers who would all have equipment automatically alerting them to a person's status as a probationer. And a law which makes lying to police officers a violation of probation.

I can definitely see something like this becoming possible 5-10 years from now.

Tom Holsinger 

We only have correlations, not causal connections, between activity in various brain areas and the intent of the individual. That's a category error.

-- --- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. <>

Yes, and that is important to realize. Thirty years ago I wrote about holographic brain models. Marvin Minsky told me then that my model was wrong. "And so are all the others, and so will be all that come out for a good long time. Stop wasting your time learning the latest one. We just don't know enough and we won't for a while. They will all be wrong." That saved me a LOT of time, and I have put that proposition to everyone I meet who has a right to an opinion on the subject: and every one of them hems and haws and says it's still true. We just don't have a good model of the way the brain works.

Having said that, I will say that a combination of voice stress analysis and the old fashioned polygraph with a skilled operator can find out a LOT. The interview will be pretty stressful for the subject though, whether or not the subject has committed any crime.

Dr. Pournelle:
In your Letters section, you wrote:
"Thirty years ago I wrote about holographic brain models. Marvin Minsky
told me then that my model was wrong...
Judging from what I have read about the new information on human DNA, it
seems like genetics scientists are learning a similar lesson in
humility, since it seems that the way DNA works is a lot more
complicated than the simple "one gene, one protein" theories that used
to be in vogue.  I haven't studied this in detail, but it now seems that
a certain gene may be responsible for many different jobs in many
different ways.  I think what you have said about the brain is true
about genetics as well, and it's best we learned this now before any
serious major gene manipulation tricks were tried.  It's possible that
trying to clip and replace a gene to fix a single error may sometimes be
the equivalent of fixing a computer by replacing a circuit chip with
another random one that just happens to look like it (rectangular, with
the same number of pins).  Now that scientists are on the right track, I
think that some real progress is due in the near future.
One of the things that makes science so much fun, is that just when you
think something has been all figured out, something comes in from left
field and knocks everything over.
Tom Brosz

Real progress being made, and your assessment is correct: for once I find myself and Stephen Jay Gould on the same side. We didn't understand genetics half as well as we thought we did. But now at least they know something of what to look for.

Dr. Pournelle,

I read about John McCarthy in your View Page and had a look at his web site. Very interesting, and I wish I had some more time to delve into it. The notion that the earth can sustain 15 billion people is so incredibly obvious to anyone with half a brain, that, of course, it proves that most eco-folks have high-grade vacuum between the ears (I think that is a Heinleinism, but I am not certain).

What impels me to write is to thank you for "A Step Farther Out," my original copy of which I still have. Your note on McCarthy reminded me of that marvelous book, which really fired my imagination many years ago. So much so that I received an "A" on a paper I wrote which was based on the ideas in ASFO, for which I must also thank you!

I only wish that you had the time to come up with an updated version of ASFO, but, inasmuch as I am waiting impatiently for Janisairies IV, I will forego it.

Mike Clark


Featured Quote: "The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defense are the constitutional rights secure." --Albert Einstein

Thanks for the kind words. I have A sort of revision of A Step Farther Out in electronic form, and Another Step Farther Out, also cobbled together from columns written years ago, also in electronic form. They were edited somewhat by Tim Pleasant, a Colorado lawyer with interest in science, and I thought I had an arrangement with Jim Baen to publish them. I think they slipped through the cracks. The market in print for 20 year old science fact books is not all that great I fear, so I doubt Jim feels much pressure to put them out; he has had them about a year.

Perhaps I should call him. It might be that publishing here, as a web publication, would be better. I might even make that another premium for subscribers: put it into a closed area that only subscribers will be able to find. I would like to see the book -- actually both of them -- available to students since I think most of the arguments in them are still valid, and many of the topics are as well: Ocean Thermal Power is still a viable way to collect solar energy, and so forth. I need to ponder this. Thanks for reminding me.


You wrote in the View for Sunday, Feb 18:

"Assume '"LOW DEFECT INSURANCE COMPANY' is formed. It is a mutual company. To get in you must show you have no known genetic defects. It then has low premiums and high benefits. Should it be outlawed? Should it be forced to take in applicants in a 'non-discriminatory way?' Can it be punished or outlawed for DISCRIMINATION which is a hate phrase and possibly a hate crime? These are non-trivial questions."

I participate in a "low defect insurance company", of sorts. My automobile insurer, Nationwide, is a low-risk company. They don't insure crappy drivers. My daugher got in an accident that was her fault, and they cancelled her policy; she had to get more expensive insurance elsewhere. But it was available without much problem. As a non-smoker, my life insurance company offers me better rates, too. This is discrimination based on economics, which, to my view is no different than my decision to buy groceries from Safeway instead of Seven-Eleven. Should there be a law requiring me to buy from a more expensive store? Of course not. So there should be no law forcing health insurers to insure those whose risk for getting sick is greater.

In Washington state, where I live, the health insurance industry has been practically destroyed by government attempts to force insurers to cover pre- exiting conditions, among other things, and all of the more marginal companies have been forced by the economics of government intervention to stop issuing policies in Washington. This is not a good situation, and it is not getting better.

Mike Clark


Featured Quote: "The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defense are the constitutional rights secure." --Albert Einstein

The difference is voluntary behavior vs. genetic defect. You can prevent yourself from smoking. Engaging in unprotected anal sex is a voluntary choice. One might make the case that being a bad driver is innate, but I don't think that can be made to stick, and in any event, few would plead that it was hereditary or plead that they ought to be able to drive badly if it were: there's just too much risk to the public for most people to accept that as "fair".

Fairness is a concept and it shifts about. It was once thought fair that part of government was hereditary. It was once thought fair not to hire drunks and fire employees for drunkenness on the job; now apparently alcoholism is a "disability" that employers must cope with, so it's no longer fair to fire drunks.

Genetic defects clearly are not the "fault" of the person who has them. Now we are not going to give driving licenses to people with impaired motor control and the inability to acquire safe driving skills, even though those are hardly the 'fault' of the disabled person. 

These are fundamental questions of freedom vs. 'fairness' and they are not going to be easily answered. When Congresswoman Slaughter asked if there were anyone in the room who opposed her bill, no one spoke up. Not one. And this was an IQ 120 and above audience.

Hello Dr. Pournelle,

Mr Stirling writes:

"It would therefore seem to be possible to _hardwire_ the copyright protection; and also to build irremovable identification into every CPU and hard-drive, something on the order of a 'serial number'. Material couldn't be copied without all the components 'shaking hands'; and everything posted could be traced, removing the possibility of anonymous violation."

Exactly who does he think will buy those crippled products? CPRM was proposed to do that, see where it's getting. CSS was supposed to do that for DVDs, now we have DeCSS. Intel was putting serial numbers in their CPUs, then they ran into a buzzsaw of consumer complaints.

I transfer hard drives between computers. I transfer data between hard drives on the same computer. I will NOT ever purchase a system that does not allow me to do that. Any idiot who tries to force that on consumers, either through market forces or through legislation, will severely regret it.

Besides, how will "hardware" force this if the software has been programed to ignore it? Hardware like hard drives talks to a driver. If the driver has been programmed to spoof the security system, how is the hard drive going to know that?

Mr. Stirling is dreaming. Dreaming that the US Government would decide to go to war against the computer industry, dreaming that the US Gov't would win if they did start the war (remember HilaryCare? Remember the Republican takeover of the House and Senate in 1994? Think the techies would be any less effective than the doctors?). And dreaming if he thinks anything like that could work without having complete control of both the hardware AND the software.


Well, well, well.  Me, I bet on the techies. Aroused. But leave it to Microsoft to organize opposition...\








This week:



Saturday, February 24, 2001;c=Article&;cid=ZZZ5EVNAGJC&;live=



-- Roland Dobbins 

Note that I had to break the first one; why people use such imbecile URL's is beyond me.


In your ongoing discussion of Allchin, Microsoft and the need to move on to better technologies, you made a comment of perhaps writing an OS with Ada as its compiler.

Actually, why not just convert the Linux kernel from C to Ada? An Ada translator already exists for Linux called GNAT (GNU Ada Translator). Check out  .

There is also a good site to get started with Ada for Linux at: 

This book goes over a couple of IDEs for Ada. Some utilities for translating C to Ada, etc.

When the Linux kernel was first released, a much more significant portion of it was written in Assembly. And over time Linus and the others have converted much of the Assembly modules to C. There is no reason that someone who wanted to prove a point couldn't take the C and Assembly source code and redo it in Ada. This would allow for the new OS to still retain the strengths of the 30-year history of UNIX.

Just some info for you to chew on.

Regards, Alex

PS. I take it that you do not agree with Roland Dobbins, myself and others who feel that Bill Gates himself presented false testimony at the trial through his deposition. Otherwise how could you still feel that Bill Gates is not deceitful?

I don't read that the same as you seem to. I have read the depositions, and I pretty well know what Gates was thinking at the time.  And the whole trial was a farce to begin with. Which doesn't change the new facts: Microsoft is now playing political games. God help us.

Understand, regarding Ada, I am only half serious; it has too much code for exception handling. But I do think it is time to rethink languages. C is not the right way to go.

Roland calls this bait and switch: 

and  -- Roland Dobbins <>

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

Here's what must be a rare photograph of a rainbow produced at night -- by the Moon! The photo is at  and I shall let the photographer introduce it himself:

> From: Matt BenDaniel [] > Sent: February 21, 2001 4:13 AM > To: > Subject: [APML] OT: Moonbow > > Two weeks ago on vacation I was trying to shoot star trails in a moonlit > cloudy sky, when we had a brief rain shower. Afterwards, a "moonbow" shone > in the Southwest. I quickly setup the camera, snapped that shot, and > managed to get it. > > 

The chap on his site does describe how he took the photo and why it looks like a daylit shot -- if you do publicize this on Chaos Manor, I hope it does not start the same 'fake! fake!' brouhaha as did the nighttime satellite shot of Earth a few months back.

Cheers! Francois Kupo Ottawa, ON

Quite remarkable. Thanks!





This week:


read book now


Sunday, February 25, 2001

Working on AAAS report. Answers will be BRIEF.

Begin with two from Steve Stirling:

Dear Jerry:

With respect to the debate on insurance and genetic screening:

The social function of insurance is to spread risk. Very few people can save enough to avoid pauperization in the event of catastrophic illness, when care can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars a _day_. The only way to make such sums available to an ordinary individual is to take a little from all the people who _aren't_ sick just then.

Our current problems with health insurance stem from two causes, basically:

a) Medicine can now do much more than it could in the recent past.

There's an old folk-song that has a refrain: "If life were a thing that money could buy/Then the rich would live, and the poor would die."

Note the fatalistic assumption behind the song; until recently, it was broadly true.

It's only since about 1890-1900 that going to a doctor increased your chances of survival in a serious illness, apart from the placebo effect. Before then, apart from bone-setting and such, the doctor was more likely to kill you out of well-meaning ignorance.

As recently as the time of my birth in the early 1950's, if you got what we would consider a serious illness that wasn't an infectious disease, you usually either recovered or died. Hospitals and doctors could only give you nursing and pallative care. Really long illnesses where medical inputs made a difference existed, but they were rare. Most people died around their Biblical three-score-and-ten.

This is no longer so. Money -- resources, machinery, drugs, doctors -- can now mean the difference between life and death for yourself or your loved ones. As medical knowledge increases, and it's doing so with exponential speed as genomics starts to yield results, this becomes more and more the case.

People will accept fatalistically that there's not much you can do about sickness and death. However, when there _is_ something that can be done, and someone else is escaping death and you aren't... well, then "social envy" takes on a whole new meaning.

b) There's a basic conflict of interest between health insurers and their customers.

In most lines of business, in a market economy, the provider makes their money out of giving the customer something, whether a good or a service. Cheating is usually self-punishing, provided enough information is available.

A HMO, on the other hand, makes their money out of _not_ giving you anything, since you're paying them long before actually getting anything back.

Their profits come from people who pay the premiums and then don't get sick; in fact, from a strictly business viewpoint, the best type of customer is one who remains healthy as long as possible, and then dies instantly.

The minute they actually have to start delivering their promised service, it comes right out of their profit margin. It's pure loss, rather than being analagous to a cost of doing business.

Hence their eagerness to screen out high-risk clients, and to dump people as soon as possible once they start demanding the service they've been paying for, and their general approach to demands for payment -- that the sick client is some sort of parasitic thief.

Within broad limits, a health-insurance company has no interest in actually doing what it ostensibly says it's doing -- providing coverage for you when you get ill. Quite the contrary. And even the usual incentives not to alienate the customer don't really apply in this instance.

Because at any given time more people will be healthy than sick; and the short-term interest of the healthy in this transaction is to keep their premiums down as low as possible.

Therefore the policy most likely to fatten the bottom line of an HMO is to _pretend and falsely promise_ to provide prompt payment when customers fall ill; to actually do their damndest to deny such payment; and to vigorously deny that this is so, while pointing out that making it more difficult for them to deny payment will put up premiums.

It's a perverse mutation of the usual free-market incentives; a Ptomekin-village imitation of a system for providing against the risk of illness.

-- and now, of course, with genetic screening, we have a new means for insurance providers to lower their risk.

But every step to lower the insurer's risk makes it more difficult to spread risk generally, which is why the general public wants insurance in the first place.

Yours, Steve Stirling

Alas I fear you are right in describing both the motives and the reality. there has to be a better way.

And of course you are correct that prior to about 1900 doctors routinely did far more harm than good. The classic case is Byron who tried to keep the physicians away from him but eventually lost consciousness and they literally bled him to death. Old Doc on Gunsmoke was clearly a magician, not a physician...

Dear Jerry:

Greg says:

"Mr. Stirling is dreaming. Dreaming that the US Government would decide to go to war against the computer industry."

-- actually, in this case a lot of the computer industry would be on the same side. There are powerful interests who would very much like to control unauthorized copying. Microsoft, for one; not to mention the publishing industry, which is not without political clout. Have you noticed how many politicians finance their lifestyles by "writing" a "book"?

Them just for starters, not to mention important US trading partners.

As the saying goes, money talks.

>dreaming that the US Gov't would win if they did start the war (remember HilaryCare?

-- in this instance, the equivalents of the insurance industry would be on the same side as the Government.

>Think the techies would be any less effective than the doctors?

-- it was the insurance companies, not the doctors. Individuals are weak; consolidated interests, strong. Because they have a lot more money to offer legislators, among other things.

Isolated techies have very little political clout, and politics trumps technology.

Looking at things in historic perspective, vested interests don't always win... but it's the way to bet.

Yours, S.M. Stirling

Techies have more power than you think, and places like this help keep them informed. The value of is that it comes out often, it's current, it is backed by a big enough outfit that it is not easily shut down (as I would be) and it pretty darned well has to keep the good will of most of the technoweenies. Which is all to the good. 

Techie Power!


Jerry, on the moonbow picture, Francis Kupo wrote: "The chap on his site does describe how he took the photo and why it looks like a daylit shot .." Evidently Matt BenDaniel, who took the picture, reads your website, also, as now the sidebar to the picture clearly explains the effect: This picture was taken at night, well after the end of twilight. There had just been a brief rain shower at our location that moved off to the Southwest. The full moon, in the Northeast, reflected off the raindrops and created a moonbow. To my eye the moonbow appeared faintly in color. Why does this shot look like it was exposed during the day? The moon is a neutral color and reflects the same spectrum as the sun. This exposure was 400,000 times longer than would be used during the day, and the sun is 400,000 times as bright as the full moon. Human eyes do not see color well at low light levels, but the camera does. You can see the blurring of the anchored sailboats from their motions during the time exposure. You can also see stars at center left. The apparent lower end of the rainbow is exactly at a reef where we snorkled the next day.

Tracy Walters

Suppose as you say that Moore's first law has 50 years to run; I calculated some months ago that the number of switchable states would equal that of the human brain in 42 years time...

Regards, Terry Cole

Dear Dr Pournelle, You think legal developments on copy deprotection are frightening? Have you considered that the geeks are actually helping the cartels by promoting the revised IP protocol known as IPv6? Read the following.

I'm in the second year of a law degree trying to get my head around this stuff. At this rate I won't be finished till sometime in 2004. Hope it's not too late. But if you're interested I'll start trying to tie the main threads together for your readers. They could start with the EFF's take on the issues - see for starters  , and .

October 04, 1999, Issue: 783 Section: Gray Matter

Where's All The Outrage About The IPv6 Privacy Threat? Bill Frezza

What happens when companies such as Intel or Microsoft are found to have embedded unique identifiers in their hardware or software that pose potential privacy problems for Internet users? As we know from experience with both the Pentium III Serial Number flap and the Microsoft Win98 Registration Wizard brouhaha, professional privacy advocates so...

Terry Cole


Dr. Pournelle,

Now that I have subscribed to your web site (please see my separate email), I feel comfortable sending in my $0.02 on the whole MS vs. Linux issue.

Linux makes a lot of sense in the managed services arena. E.g., I work for a pretty large provider of cable Internet access to small and medium sized businesses in PA. Some of our customers purchase a service whereby in addition to Internet access, they get an on-site NT4 server providing POP3 &; SMTP mail, and a caching proxy server. We're using MS Commercial Internet Server (MCIS) and Proxy Server 2.0. Remote admin is handled using pcAnywhere, from Symantec.

MCIS is a subscription-based product, and our license expires later this year. Further, the upgrade path is Exchange 2000, since MCIS development has been ended by MS. Exchange 2K can only run on Windows 2000 Server. So, our continuing use of MS products would become _quite_ expensive. Also, reliability is often less than stellar. Servers need to be rebooted and since we're running SP5, we sometimes encounter file corruption once we get about 4 gigs worth of files on the hard disk. (The fix for this problem is to upgrade to SP6, btw.)

As a result, we are moving to an open source solution. We're going to customized Cobalt Qube server appliances. The Cobalt OS is a derivative of Red Hat Linux. Essentially, for the cost of the hardware, we'll be able to provide our customers with POP3, IMAP4, and SMTP mail services. The Cobalt boxes will also provide web caching using Squid, and Windows file sharing, using Samba. We'll be doing remote admin with Secure Shell.

Anticipated savings will come from:

* No OS license fees, * No application license fees, * No remote admin tool license fees, and * Increased reliability of Linux cf. NT4, thus contributing to lower support costs.

On an unrelated note, I've read many of your SF works over the last 15+ years. The "War World" series was among my favorite SF series, and I've read each volume more than once. Do you have any plans for more installments?

-- Dave Markowitz 

And the quest for competition continues. There will be more.  And now this:

Jerry, I thought you might be interested to know that I set up currentview.html and currentmail.html to download into my Palm IIIxe via AvantGo and it is wonderfully formatted -- even the links work which are handy for jumping to the current day's notes. Now I'm sure you didn't format  with the Palm in mind, but I may have just found the second "killer app" for my 3-day-old Palm (the first killer is Pocket Quicken).

Andrew Cohen 

Love it!

My recollection is that a whole lot of folks in this country have tried for years to pass a Constitutional amendment to outlaw flag desecration in this country.

It reminds me of the story of the discussion between the Chinese and U.S. diplomats. The U.S. diplomat tells his Chinese counterpart that the great thing about the United States is that he could stand in front of the White House and should "down with the United States of America" and nothing would happen to him. The Chinese diplomat responds, "Big, deal. I could stand in the middle of Tienamin square and shout 'down with the United States of America' and nothing would happen to me, either."

With our drift towards empire, the possibility of a flag desecration amendment and stories like the one you quoted, the joke isn't as funny as it used to be.

Rick Samuels in Portland







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