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Mail 147 April 2 - 8, 2001

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This week:



Monday  April 2, 2001

A day devoured by locusts.





This week:



Tuesday,  April 3, 2001


As someone who really enjoyed that composite image of the earth at night, I thought I'd pass this site along. It's a galactic composite of the same nature. I'd be curious to see just who's going to complain about this one if you decide to post it. Maybe the flat earth society? ;-)


Pull up the image at 

 In addition to the supernova it you scan around you'll see just about everything you've ever heard about in space!!!

Depend upon it, someone will object that it's faked. And see below


After seeing the steer to python, I thought I would ask my resident software &; computer engineering guru Dr. Patrick Powell what his opinion was. Patrick is a former university professor in the field, and now owns his own biz. We have a strategic partnership: he is the genius and I do genius management. He is a recognized authority in several computer fields, including software.

Patrick thinks that non-programmers would be just as well served using BASIC as anything else -- there is lots of it out there, and it will do most of the sort of chores a non-programmer needs.Python he feels is Perl Lite if you would like a label.

He encourages non-programmers (and profesionals too) to include enough documentation with their work so they can pick it up three years later and understand what they did.

jim dodd 

There are certainly aspects of BASIC I like. But I liked the old BASCOM better than the modern Visual Basic which I don't really understand. I want to sit down and write program blocks, not click and drag.

Jerry, I wonder if you are familiar with the language "Euphoria" available at It is an interpreted language which is very fast and has a simple instruction set which neverthelss allows one to do quite a bit with it.

I was able to rewrite some programs that I had originallyu created in FoxBase 2+ using euphoria and extending their capabilities as well as their speed by a factor of 10 or so.

If you haven;t seen it, it is worth a look I believe.

Morton F. Kaplon

I never heard of Euphoria. "Euphoria" is listed as a side effect of SAMe which I take...

I read with interest, the following in your Chaos Manor Mail:

>> I find the whole subject depressing, but then I did when I had all those debates on how conservation wasn't going to do the job and we needed new energy sources. And note that if the Washington Public Power Systems reactors had been built at what was then said to be inflated costs for needless systems, the low snowfall (which is what they were designed to compensate for) would not be a problem now. <<

I thought this the first day the power crunch started. If they had finished the WPPS system. The current crisis might have been avoided. But cost over runs, rapid anti-nukes protesters and others of such ilk, lead to the largest bond default in the history or public utilities. I thing the local public utility district is still paying on this system. To bad, I think this everytime I go south to Vancouver WA. and see the half finished plant by Kelso.

I believe, your manor mail piece is the only place I have seen anybody mention the defunct WPPS system. The WPPS system was started on projected studies of energy usage that predicted this very situation. Thiry years is great for hind sight...

Kevin Esteb

Well there certainly was some management problem in WPPS but the legal eagles of the "conserve your way to prosperity" gang were responsible for most of the cost overrun. If you can't build and you have to have capital tied up it will be expensive. And it was. WPPS would have obviated the current crisis. It anticipated the current crisis and was designed to prevent it. But the conserve your way people simply said there would not BE a crisis in future, therefore there was no need to build new plants to prevent it. But of course they are not held responsible, just as people still listen to Paul Ehrlich who has never been correct in his predictions, but This Time For Sure. It's the Bullwinkle theory of forecasting.

Now I am getting depressed.

Dr. P,

I've enjoyed the discussions about the current energy crisis, and the resulting threads into nuclear power.

Before I go any further I want to note that not only am I NOT an expert in any of this, but I also am completely unqualified to make any sort of judgement about these topics. On the other hand, I'm very curious and love to learn. :-)

What I want to mention is that back in 1998 I caught watched a show in the PBS's Frontline, that explored nuclear power. Key questions were "What happened to the promise" and "Why is the US so resistant to nuclear power?" They also explored TMI, Chernobyl and the nuclear waste situation. Luckily, Frontline has a wonderful online system and I was able to pull up a URL for reference: 

One thing that really caught my attention was their look into the French nuclear industry. Here is what stuck in my head (quoted from 

"Ironically, the French nuclear program is based on American technology. After experimenting with their own gas-cooled reactors in the 1960s, the French gave up and purchased American Pressurized Water Reactors designed by Westinghouse. Sticking to just one design meant the 56 plants were much cheaper to build than in the US. Moreover, management of safety issues was much easier: the lessons from any incident at one plant could be quickly learned by managers of the other 55 plants. The "return of experience" says Mandil is much greater in a standardized system than in a free for all, with many different designs managed by many different utilities as we have in America."

Now, I'm not an Engineer, but sticking to one design and making it a standard makes sense to me. I would love to hear some discussion on this...

Anyone have a contrary opinion?

Thanks for the great site, and you will find my new subscription in your in-box.

Thanks, -Rod 

In general the US developed Light Water Reactor has become the standard. As to the promise, first it was exaggerated -- the  "too cheap to meter" idiocy was said by a professor of engineering at a state university not by any member of the AEC -- and then it was not managed well. But mostly there was a lot of money in blackmailing nuclear construction. One standard settlement was to pay money to the organizations that made it expensive to build nuclear plants. They then used that money to extort more. Finally the killed the goose. Had those outfits been run by real crooks instead of true believers we would not have a power crisis now.

There are more people killed annually at railroad grade crossings in wrecks involving coal carrying trains than have ever been killed in a nuclear power plant accident (at least in the US; Chernobyl could not happen here or in any civilized country; Ed Teller saw that the Chernobyl design could never be licensed in the US). There are more people killed by falling off roofs cleaning their solar power cells than have been killed off site in accidents involving nuclear power plants. But the blather goes on, because the schools teach no science or mathematics any longer.


Then there's this from Thomas Monaghan:

Microsoft doesn't ask for much. This is from 

LICENSE TO MICROSOFT By posting messages, uploading files, inputting data, submitting any feedback or suggestions, or engaging in any other form of communication with or through the Passport Web Site, you warrant and represent that you own or otherwise control the rights necessary to do so and you are granting Microsoft and its affiliated companies permission to:

1. Use, modify, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, publish, sublicense, create derivative works from, transfer, or sell any such communication. 2. Sublicense to third parties the unrestricted right to exercise any of the foregoing rights granted with respect to the communication. 3. Publish your name in connection with any such communication.

The foregoing grants shall include the right to exploit any proprietary rights in such communication, including but not limited to rights under copyright, trademark, service mark or patent laws under any relevant jurisdiction. No compensation will be paid with respect to Microsoft's use of the materials contained within such communication. Microsoft is under no obligation to post or use any materials you may provide and may remove such materials at any time in Microsoft's sole discretion.

But as noted by Roland in view: 

I foresee interesting times.

This story actually broke a few months ago, but considering your recent adventures with the Slashdot crowd I thought you might find it amusing.

It started when Despair.Com announced that they'd Trademarked the :-( symbol and were suing 7 million email users for violation. 

Aside from the obvious nature of the satire (Despair makes satirical humor products, lines like "Despair has also petitioned the court to require defendants to submit a handwritten letter which repeats the phrase ":-( is a registered trademark of Despair, Inc." one-thousand times."), there's actually a notice at the bottom of the page that _says_ it's satire.

Amazingly enough, a few Slashdotters _did_ get the joke, but it went past most of them. As one person noted in the lengthy arguments that broke out on Slashdot over the story, "You expect Slashdot to actually check the veracity of stories? You expect most of the readers to actually follow a link and read for themselves every once in a while? BAHAHAHAHAHA!"

There was so much outcry that Despair came out with a follow up press release, apologizing and offering a compromise. 

People could continue to use the :-( symbol, but would have to purchase a license for each Frownie. Complete with license agreement. ("As well, you agree not to alter, reverse engineer or disassemble the Frowny(tm). Removal of any individual component of the Frowny(tm) is expressly forbidden and may result in a miscommunication of your demeanor to the recipient.")

Funny stuff, really, but I'm sure there are quite a few people out there who still don't get it. They want so badly to be offended that they will always find a way. Not surprising, I suppose; as Despair themselves say on one of their Demotivators, "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers."


Robert Brown


And a request on recommendations for graphics cards:

Dr. Pournelle:

Anyone on your end have any input on this? Unfortunately in the literature and help sites reviews of the gaming functions of a card seem to outweigh graphics and video. I would like something not too obsolete, but I have found that "cutting edge" stuff is often a little short on drivers for a while.

Tom Broz

I currently recommend the Intel D815EEAL board, with the built in AGP card, for most applications including "ordinary" games. For high end graphics I currently use nVIDIA GeFORCE 2 cards (although the 3 will be out shortly). Go to the nVIDIA site for drivers no matter which mfgr made the board. 

Bob Thompson likes Matrox. Matrox ceased to speak to me a long time ago and their boards are not for sale in the places I go. I haven't got around to buying one of their latest.

At WINHEC I saw some good stuff from ATI, and I will have more on that when I have some of their newest products. Their All In Wonder line includes TV tuners and good DVD player support.




This week:



Wednesday, April 4, 2001

From Mike Morris:

Below is a piece of the use of terms agreement for Microsoft's Passport Website seen yesterday.

As I understand this Hotmail and their instant messaging is a part of this. For those of you who use e-mail and Microsoft services this should be taken as a warning for your property rights.

As an example, if you send a message to or from a hotmail account you have no recourse if Microsoft puts it on a billboard.

"Grant them permission..." Yeah, right.... This is insane !

>LICENSE TO MICROSOFT > >By posting messages, uploading files, inputting data, submitting >any feedback or suggestions, or engaging in any other form of >communication with or through the Passport Web Site, you warrant >and represent that you own or otherwise control the rights necessary >to do so and you are granting Microsoft and its affiliated companies >permission to: > >1. Use, modify, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly >perform, reproduce, publish, sublicense, create derivative works from, >transfer, or sell any such communication. > >2. Sublicense to third parties the unrestricted right to exercise any of the >foregoing rights granted with respect to the communication. > >3. Publish your name in connection with any such communication. > >The foregoing grants shall include the right to exploit any proprietary >rights in such communication, including but not limited to rights under >copyright, trademark, service mark or patent laws under any relevant >jurisdiction. No compensation will be paid with respect to Microsoft's use >of the materials contained within such communication. Microsoft is under no >obligation to post or use any materials you may provide and may remove such >materials at any time in Microsoft's sole discretion.

What we have here is legal incompetence. I am sure Microsoft never intended what you think this implies, and I am fairly sure this doesn't grant that: but you can't know because it makes no sense. Legal documents don't have to be written this way, but some lawyers do it to impress their non-legal bosses.

Competent law firms write license agreements that make sense and can be understood. Competent legal supervisors insist that the lawyers who work for them write documents that can be understood, and if they have to incorporate terms of art make it clear what those are intended to accomplish. It's not rocket science, after all: documents have to be understood by judges and eventually by juries.

Or if this is a competently drafted document the implications are far worse. Personally, if I were Microsoft I would plead incompetence...

For a more legal view:

Subject: Microsoft Owns Your Soul...

Thanks to Trish for the heads up...

All your data (and biz plans) belong to Microsoft By: Andrew Orlowski in San Francisco Posted: 30/03/2001 at 15:07 GMT 

With Microsoft's HailStorm .NET initiative hinging on the company's very own PassPort service, you'd think Redmond would be bending over backwards to stress the confidentially of user information.

Well, if that's the case, it hasn't started yet.

The current Passport Terms of Use agreement not only fails to guarantee confidentially, but actually gives Microsoft and its business partners the right to own your information, and do pretty much what they want with it. That encompasses all your Hotmail and MSN Messenger communications today.

As the Terms state:

"By posting messages, uploading files, inputting data, submitting any feedback or suggestions, or engaging in any other form of communication with or through the Passport Web Site ... you are granting Microsoft and its affiliated companies permission to:

1. Use, modify, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, publish, sublicense, create derivative works from, transfer, or sell any such communication.

2. Sublicense to third parties the unrestricted right to exercise any of the foregoing rights granted with respect to the communication.

3. Publish your name in connection with any such communication."

And it doesn't stop there. Are you emailing a contact about a hot idea or business plan of your own? Hand that over, too:

The foregoing grants shall include the right to exploit any proprietary rights in such communication, including but not limited to rights under copyright, trademark, service mark or patent laws under any relevant jurisdiction. No compensation will be paid with respect to Microsoft's use of the materials contained within such communication.

After the eFront debacle, we're baffled why anyone would want to trust confidential communications to any of the big IM services, let alone MSN Messenger.

Apple originally launched its iDisk service with a similar landgrab, but was quickly forced to retreat.

As reader Ken points out, 'All Your Data Belong To Us'. He's not kidding.

Lawrence A. Husick 

LIPTON, WEINBERGER &; HUSICK Intellectual Property and Technology Law P.O. Box 587 Southeastern, PA 19399-0587 610/296-8259 Voice 610/296-5816 Fax AOL/Netscape IM: LawHusick

"The wireless telegraph is not difficult to understand. The ordinary telegraph is like a very long cat. You pull the tail in New York, and it meows in Los Angeles. The wireless is the same, only without the cat. "

- Albert Einstein

Thank you. counselor.

On Hormesis:


You mentioned that "interestingly, cancer rates in Denver where you get more natural radiation than in Los Angeles, are lower than for Los Angeles". There was an article recently on this topic in New Scientist . Written by Sibylle Hechtel it examined the work of Thomas Johnson and Jim Cypser, of the University of Colorado in Boulder, on hormesis - the idea that low doses of physical stresses may have a protective effect.

She also referred to Thomas Luckey, of the University of Missouri in Columbia, whose study of nuclear workers in Baltimore shipyards so convinced Luckey of the benefits of radiation that in a 1999 paper, he recommended that we "use radionuclides as food additives".

Like many of your correspondents I've enjoyed your, and Larry Niven's, SF for many years and I also bought Byte mainly for your column. Thanks for all of this, for your web site and column which I always find stimulating and entertaining. Keep up the good work.

Paul Dove

Thanks for the reference. As I have said, the Swedish Army has data on the hormesis effects of low level radiation also. Thanks for the kind words.

Note that there are a pair of physicians who have for 40 years made their reputations on the "any radiation is harmful, even the tiniest amount" hypothesis. The data indicate otherwise.

I have a feeling I have put this up before, but it does no harm to include it here:

Dr. Pournelle, 

A great picture of the sun. Apparently it's active enough to kick off aurorae in the Southwest, though the skyglow around LA is probably too bright for you to see them. I have a similar problem with Chicago....



I have asked if JB Woodford is any relation to the late JHack Woodford whose "How to make a living at writing" books rank up with those of the late Dwight Swaine's Techniques of the Selling Writer. Woodford was involved in some kind of scandal which I am told was more entrapment than anything else, and about which I know little; but his books on writing were very practical and had an influence on my in my formative years. But apparently there is no relation other than names. Woodford isn't an uncommon name, of course.

All of the Woodford books I had have long since gone into the collections of book borrowers, which is all right: I hope they do their present owners some good.

From Jim Warren:

[This reminds me of a book from around the late '60s, "The Late, Great State of California" -- about what would happen if there was a great quake and California suddenly slipped under the Pacific. --jim]

America has engaged in some self-righteous finger wagging lately, because California doesn't have enough electricity to meet its needs.

The rest of the country seems to be content to let Californians dangle in the breeze without enough power to meet their needs. They laugh and sneer at Californians' frivolity and waste. The out-of-state power generators, and the energy cartel that powers most of them, want to keep their power for themselves.

But the fact is, California's 48th in the nation in power consumed per person.

Okay, America -- since you're going to keep yours, we'll keep ours:

You know all those great products that come in through California's ports from Pacific rim nations? Sorry, but we waste our resources, power, air quality and roadways on your shipments any more. Of course, this includes all the Alaskan and Pacific oil that comes through our ports and refineries. Sorry, we need it for our own use. Hope Oregon and Washington can handle all that stuff for you folks in all the rest of the nation.

California grows more than half the nation's vegetables and fruit. But we don't have enough energy to process them for both you and for us, so we're keeping them. We grow 99% or more of the nation's almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, kiwifruit, olives, persimmons, pistachios, prunes, raisins and walnuts. Hope you won't miss them.

California is the nation's number one dairy producer. But we don't have enough power to run our milking machines, refrigerated warehouses and home refrigerators to serve you as well as ourselves. Want milk, butter, cheese? Get a cow.

We Californians have been designing and building much of the high-tech products and services that you use. Silicon Valley is ours, after all. But since you're apparently keeping your electricity for yourselves, we'll keep all of our high tech products, services and innovation for ourselves. And by the way, we own the patents.

California builds a good percentage of the commercial airliners, and a much larger percentage of aircraft parts, for the planes that fly you to where you used to need to go. But we don't have the spare power to build them for you, any more. Maybe Boeing in Washington State, and Europe's Airbus can help you -- without violating our patents.

And while we're at it, we're keeping all our aerospace stuff, too -- like the satellite systems that give you television and telecommunications. But it'll be good for you, to start reading books again for your entertainment, and writing letters to your distant friends and business associates.

Want to see a movie or TV show or get some music CDs? We create most of the world's entertainment here, when we have enough power to do so. Since you're keeping your power and gas, we're keeping our entertainment. Maybe you can make your own; amateur theatre can be great fun. But most of the on-screen and behind-the-scenes talent and experience are here, along with the editing suites, processing labs, printing facilities, sound engineers, recording studios and distribution know-how. But it'll be fun for you to learn how to do your own -- and after all, you won't have our movies or TV or CDs to distract you.

When we had enough electricity, we produced more than 17 million gallons of California table wines per year for the nation and the world. We'll need all it to drown our sorrows when we think about the fact that no matter how many California products and services we produce and export to make all Americans' lives better, those same Americans don't think the process is reciprocal.

Many of you think that we don't build enough power plants in California.

Well -- you don't grow enough food, produce enough milk, build enough high-tech products, create enough innovation, produce enough high-tech services, make enough telecom systems, build enough aerospace systems, create enough movies, press enough CDs, build enough airplanes or make enough wine.

Oh, and by the way, there's no room for you in Yosemite, California's parks and recreational areas, or on our ski slopes, hiking trails or beaches. Since we don't have enough electricity to produce things for you, we'll have a lot more time to lay back and enjoy those pleasures and beauties. We can't spare any space -- or electricity -- for you.

Well ... gotta go, now. Surf's up! The Californians

Now I would have thought that a joke, and that anyone responding seriously not only didn't get it but has a guilty conscience; I put this on a par with the demand to the State of Washington that they send us more of their water and power or we will send them more of our earthquakes. See below.

From Ed Hume

Subject: Uncle Sam's science wonderland

To view the entire article, go to 

Uncle Sam's Funhouse

And then there is this:

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Some of your readers are starting to get religious about programming languages again. I remember from the days of GW Basic and MS/DOS that Bill Gates once stated that if a program could be written in any language, he could write a program in Basic to do the same thing. He never claimed the Basic program would be fast or efficient, just that it would work. I have used some of his early products, and know that he is a capable and intelligent programmer. I feel that the computer world lost something when he changed his goals.


William L. Jones

I completely agree, and I wish that Microsoft had not gone so heavily nto Visual Basic as to make it very difficult to import older BASCOM programs into it. It isn't that I don't like the VB I/O, it's that I find it hard to write a structured program with proper delcarations and top-down structure in VB with its dragging and clicking. Perhaps that is me.

I really need a couple of good examples of VB programs written WITHOUT using mouse and drag and click: that start with initialization block, declare 2 variables, load the string "Hello" into one, and the string "World" into a second, concatenate them, and print the results; as you would do in QBASIC but in Visual Basic without ever ever ever "opening a control" or if it is required then to have that control empty.

Yes, I know: it's probably all in the books, and if I took a week off I could probably figure it out. But BASIC used to be simple to start off and use, and I guess my aging brain just doesn't see how to incorporate programs written in the old structure into the "controls" of VB. I have tried and it never seems to work. My fault I am sure.

But I sure miss the old Commercial Basic and BASCOM and so forth. On Python see below.

And to complete a thought started earlier:

Dr. Pournelle -

"IN the case of World Net Daily I don't know a thing: the masthead doesn't reveal anyone I know"

World Net Daily is the WWW offshoot of the Western Journalism Center. Both are run by Joseph Farah. Mr. Farah claims to be an American Christian of Lebanese Arab descent, and I have not seen anything to contradict that. Here are three typical articles mentioning his lineage and beliefs. 

If you remember the Clinton White House published their "Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce" document, a 300+ page rant about what Hillary later called the "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy". In that document they traced just 3 sources for those nasty stories in the media, one of which was the Western Journalism Center. The document also devoted 5 pages to a bio of Joseph Farah. See: 

I too once subscribed to the print version of Insight, and often read the on-line version of the Washington Times. As a long time news junkie I was quite aware of the ownership of those publication by officials of the Unification Church. Like you I have not seen any perceptible bias in their reporting.

That said, I have not seen the slightest hint that there was any connection between the Unification Church and Joseph Farah or World Net Daily.

World Net Daily appears to be one of the more reliable conservative news sources on the Net. They seem less likely to run after conspiracy theories than say News Max (although News Max seems to be getting better). 

Lastly let me again thank you for all you do. I have read and enjoyed much of your fiction output, and read the print Byte for years mostly for you and Steve Ciarcia. Your Pournelle Axes should be a must read for anyone interested in politics. For anyone who has not seen it, they can read it here: 

I discovered your website over a year ago and it covers so many interesting topics that I had to subscribe (and renew).

Here's hoping you keep this up for many years to come!

Ray A. Rayburn 

Thanks for the information and the kind words.


In reference to the earth-at-night and the Hubble Deep Field images, your readers might enjoy this panorama of the Milky Way at 

It's stitched together from 51 ground based photographs, so it must be another fake ....

Randall Sluder


"The question is, how much of that damage was done to the aircraft by the heroic Chinese highly competent pilot who unfortunately lost his life in carrying out his mission, and how much was done by the Chinese removing parts of the airplane?"

As I'm sure you have already noticed on the photo, the nose damage seems to have occurred somewhat suspiciously along the standard radome field joint. I find it hard to believe that this was knocked off in flight, and the plane still landed. You can bet this thing has been stripped down to the bones by now.

The idea that this old bus "rammed" a fighter jet is ridiculous. We all know who ran into who.

Tom Brosz


And then this:

Hi Jerry,

I was just reading your latest Chaos Manor adventure and you mentioned difficulty moving programs like Office 2000. It is well and good to re-install but if you have any updates than keeping track of that is a different matter. I have found Magic Mover from Powerquest a good option. It comes with PartitionMagic and can do all the transfers including over a network for programs like Office 2000. I once transferred Macromedia's dreamweaver over the network to another machine using Magic Mover.

Try it!! It saves a lot of headache.



I have used Partition Magic for a long time; I should look into this, and I am not sure why I have not. Thanks.

And now this:

Subject: The hardware guys say celeron (in some contexts)

I thought you might be interested in this (inner page from a) review on;p=3  The review starts on 

The quote that made me think of Jerry is... "Pay attention to our use of the work peak in the previous sentence because as we noticed in previous reviews, when paired up with either the SiS 730S or VIA KM133 chipset, the Duron loses much of its performance advantage over the Celeron. So if you're buying a pre-built system with integrated video, the [100MHz FSB] Celeron 800 might actually be a better option since its integrated video platform (i810E/815E) is much more mature, however when building your own system we already know what the better option is."

In other words, if you're buying a system instead of building it, the Celeron on an 815E still has its place.

G Goss

Well, well, well. But of course I knew that...

Dear Jerry,

I need help finding information on computers for the visually impaired. I have 17 year-old neice who is about to leave for college. She has macular dystrophy and is presently legally blind as corrected, so she qualifies for federal aid. Her condition is degnerative and progressive.

I just learned of this on Saturday and have been working on financial aid for college (she'll attend  College near her home in North Carolina), including Social Security Disability, more than computers. Your mail is the place to get this kind of computer information from. I've located  but haven't had time to check it out.

I've learned that there may be federal programs which will help pay for computers for the visually impaired. She still has some vision and can use her present old computer with her 19" monitor, but that will change.

I'd really appreciate information on computer accessories for the visually impaired, plus any federal programs that might help pay for those. Paying for college _and_ significant first year computer expense will be difficult.

I'll check your mail section regularly. This subject might be worth keeping on for a while in Alt.mail too.


I have several readers with similar conditions, and perhaps it would be better to collect their responses before I add my own. Things change fast in this field.

The widow of an old friend now has to use an electronic book reader -- she puts the book in the machine and it reads it aloud -- but can see well enough to send email with a very large screen. She's wealthy enough to afford anything she likes. But In fact I know very little about this compared to what I ought to know, so I am soliciting help from readers.

Now more on languages:

BASIC suffers from the same problem Pascal always did: there are a million fragmented versions, and you can't simply run your program under a different one. You would need to re-write your program and debug it. Python is at least standard, and it runs on everything from mainframes to Palm devices.

As for the characterization of Python as "Perl Lite", I disagree completely. That's about like calling Pascal "ADA Lite". Perl was not designed, so much as it was thrown together. Perl programs are legendary for being difficult to figure out, possibly because there are so many terse and non-obvious shortcuts. Python, on the other hand, was designed as a clean and tidy language. Perl is very popular, so there is a huge body of Perl code you can leverage to get a job done; but for a casual user, I think Python has far fewer land mines.

As one example, consider functions and their arguments. In Perl, you can declare a function that takes 3 arguments. Then, when you call the function, you get an array variable with a standard name ("@_") and it will have the arguments in its first 3 positions. If you want the arguments to be called x, y, and z you can then unpack the arguments from the array into 3 local variables called x, y, and z. This arrangement makes it easy to write functions that take a variable number of arguments, but doesn't lend itself to automatic error checking, and if you are unlucky you might have to study someone else's code where the functions just directly manipulate @_ and never bother to unpack into named local variables. Python of course does things the more usual way: if you declare a function with 3 arguments x, y, and z, then your function takes 3 arguments and the arguments will be found in x, y, and z.

Steve Hastings










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Jerry, My brother-in-law is visually impaired. Here's a link -  . Your corespondent may also try his local Goodwill Organization. My brother-in-law recently received a computer form their local affiliate ABVI. Hope this helps, John Vogt

Thanks. I will collect other responses to this matter here, and probably later give them a reports page.

Jerry, Macintosh has long had many features standard for the visually impaired. As you are aware it can speak most if not all text documents. You can also set it to speak alerts and system messages. It can be set to magnify greatly the text under the cursor. With 'old' iMacs and iBooks in the sub $900 range they are a low cost solution.

My Great Dane, Picard, as in "Make it so" just dropped a tennis shoe on my keyboard. His way of telling me it's time for a walk.





I am mildly astonished at how many readers do not seem to realize that the "California" piece was intended as a joke. While Governor Davis may protest that the Grayouts are not his fault nor that of the California government, surely anyone paying attention would understand that the 'deregulation' plan adopted here could not possibly work, and was clearly the kind of scam that could only happen if there were massive payoffs to most of those involved. Now those chickens are home to roost, and the silly officials are trying to shift blame around.

California made its own bed, with Moonbeam technology and self delusions about population increases without new power sources. The only real question now is whether the ratepayers or the taxpayers will have to pick up the bill, and if so, how much for each? And the only way out is to build some new power plants.

So please don't send me long slashdots, with chunks of a letter that was funny once interspersed with your own thoughts. I don't read that kind of "communication" and I don't see why anyone else would want to, even when the subject is serious. Glosses on other people's works are rarely interesting to begin with, even if that is supposedly the new modern style of non-thought communication in this Internet Age.



The next time you comment on your DVD-RAM, please keep this eWeek story in mind. I think this is a rather pathetic state of affairs for 2001.

The cheaper and more "popular" one (DVD-RAM) unfortunately uses cartridges and thus can't be played in normal DVD drives on PC's. The more expensive one (DVD+RW, out next month possibly) doesn't use cartridges and is playable in normal DVD drives, but it's late to market and will have to play catch-up. Wouldn't it be nice if there was ONE standard and if the prevailing flavor was both inexpensive and compatible with everyone's DVD drives? It appears with major companies in both camps that we're a long way from that, if it happens at all.,11011,2701000,00.html 

Indeed. My column will have a report on what is happening in DVD-RAM and why although the technology is there it won't happen because of politics. Sigh.

Global Warming Part ???

As a scientist, I think you'll appreciate the rigorous analysis of the global warming issue in the document entitled "Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis", which is available from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at .

For example, figure 1b in the report shows temperature data over the last 1,000 years from a variety of sources. Despite a high degree of uncertainty in the older data, the figure shows a sudden and unusually rapid temperature increase beginning about 100 years ago.

The report also points out other interesting conclusions from the ongoing research. For example, tropospheric ozone appears to be increasing due to human activity more rapidly than stratospheric ozone is being depleted. Human activity will probably cause the Antarctic ice sheet to grow and the Greenland ice sheet to diminish. The report also shows projections from simulations based on natural influences, human activity, and both sources combined.

I can't speak to the soundness of the evidence upon which this report is based; no doubt there's room to criticize much of it. The report itself, however, seems comprehensive and fair.

. png

First, I have no confidence in these reports; they have screeched "WOLF! You must ACT NOW! Increase OUR budgets!" far too many times to have much credibility; and the tediousness of the reports doesn't help either. Most of these things may have good data, but the "Executive Summaries" are prepared by staffers, most of whom have political rather than scientific credentials. The Rio conference mostly proposed that the US pay for transportation and hotels for conferences as far as the eye could see. The Kyoto conference has conclusions that bear little relationship to the body of the report.

Second, I have lived long enough to see the very same people proposing very expensive solutions to the problem of The COMING ICE AGES. By that I mean the SAME PEOPLE, Stephen Schneider, Margaret Meade, etc. (In fact I took the picture of Schneider and Mead that was used on their book jacket.) Now the same people (well not Meade, she being dead, and I rather miss her; I enjoyed our several conversations) are proposing expensive solutions to the problem of global warming, with no better evidence.

Third, it is clear that things are warming up. That has been clear since about 1920, and if you look at the records the warming began about the time of the US Civil War. Seasons got longer, birds began nesting earlier, the Hudson didn't freeze solid any longer, ice broke up in the streams earlier.

Fourth, it's not at all obvious what is causing this. The most likely explanation is solar variation. Earth has gone through warming then precipitous cooling for 100,000 years.

And I have just been hiking with Niven, and discussing this, and it is time I think for some of this analysis to be in the column along with Bayesian theory on the value of information and modern computing power, so I think I'll stop and take it up there.

Jerry, I've been chasing a subject around the 'net via web pages and e-mails for a couple of weeks and have had no luck finding what I'm looking for. You're fond of saying that we're now in an era when most every question has an answer, but my answer is probably still locked into a human brain. So I though I'd try the tap at your web site to see if any of your readers are able to help me.

For research and personal reasons, I am trying to obtain a functioning Xerox GlobalView system. Now this kind of system is admittedly out of date, but it's far from obsolete. A functioning system can take one of several forms that would be useful to me:

a) A functioning 'max-config' 6085 (pref a 6085-2 or a Fuji Xerox model) workstation with a live hard drive. monitor, kbd, and mouse. All the bells and whistles so to speak.

b) A complete copy of the GlobalView install media for either WinTel (win32) or Solaris/Sparc.

I'd also need a complete set of product factoring numbers (software license keys) for the Xerox software.

The above will make 'perfect sense' to many of your readers, I hope that one of them will actually be able to help me out.

Considering how influential the Xerox STAR and it's follow-ons were, you'd think that someone, or some company somewhere would be able to help. Or that there would be archival information and possibly materials available from Xerox.


After exchanging a number of e-mails with current and former Xerox employees, it has become clear to me that Xerox would rather pretend that they didn't "Fumble the Future" and let the Personal Computer revolution slip away from them. Even archives you might normally expect to see at PARC were purged. There are several ex-Xerox employee groups trying to establish a functioning set of workstations and software at museums, but materials, hardware, and software are almost non-existant. And those few who have operable systems are loath to let anyone near to them knowing full well that replacement parts are not to be had.

As far as I'm able to deduce, Xerox has (nearly successfully) tried to bury all memory of the STAR. When Xerox 'converted' to MS based networking and commodity-priced personal computers, those "ahead of their time" workstations and software were rather abruptly (one correspondant used the word forcibly) removed from user and engineering desktops and then physically destroyed. Not even put up for employee or surplus sale. Simply Destroyed.

Market forces take some of the blame for this as did the need for Xerox to join the late 20th Century. But simple pig-headness on the part of EDS (a contractor to Xerox) and a no-longer-there CIO helpd to kill off the memory and archives of a most remarkable design and software product.

Well, rather than (further) rehash the sad, sorry story of Xerox, STAR, the Alto, 8010, 1186, 6085, ViewPoint, and GlobalView, I'll just hope that one of your readers or their company will be able to help me out.

Thanks, take it easy, good luck in Hollywood, and keep working on Jannisaries and The Burning Tower.

All the best

Chuck Kuhlman 










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Column is done and I am playing Everquest. More mail tomorrow.







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