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Mail 161: July 9-15, 2001 SELECTION

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This week:



Monday  July 9, 2001

I put up a good bit over the weekend in last week's mail. See that first.

Subject: Problems from universal availability of information While reading through your letters, I tripped over your comment: " the standard keynote speeches I used to make back when I was on the lecture circuit, was that universal connectivity and the universal availability of information would present civilization with some fairly heavy problems..."

This reminded me of Isaac Asimov's short story, "The Dead Past". In this story, a couple of scientific tinkerers decide to bypass the government monopoly on time viewer technology, and build a device of their own, using an approach the government hasn't thought to interdict yet. Since they know the government will clamp down on research in those fields as soon as it realizes a time viewer can be built using it, they broadcast the details of how to build the viewers.

After the genie is safely out of the bottle, they find out why the government's been so keen on keeping that technology out of everybody's hands: a time viewer can be used to view the past anywhere in the world, no matter what barriers may stand in the way. And it can be used to view the very recent past -- as recent as one second ago. With cheap and widely available time viewers, everyone will be able to spy on anything anyone else is doing anywhere. Privacy will completely disappear, especially for anyone with any degree of fame.

Given wall-to-wall information collection, who needs a time viewer?

Just a [dark] thought.............

...................Karl Lembke

Yep. I don' t think that will happen, but we will certainly have as much information as we want and more than we need...

I understand the natural background level of radioactivity (due to U238 etc. in the groundwater and granite, and the lack of atmospheric protection) in Colorado is high enough that it would have to be remediated if it weren't due to an Act of God. I also understand the environmental radioactivity produced by coal mining and burning is much more of a risk than the risk associated with replacing the coal-fired power plants with nuclear plants.

When my Mother was alive, she like to invest in well-managed nuclear power companies. Of course, she had done work (post-test soils analysis) for the Manhattan Project, so she had dealt with radioactivity all her life. The reason she eventually dropped her investments in nuclear power was that she couldn't find _well-managed_ companies in the industry. Perhaps that's the real concern most people have. The UK experience with the railroads shows that private enterprise often has public safety as a low priority. 

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

Good point. But I think nuclear plants are well managed now. I know that Southern California Edison had very good management at San Onofre. I did considerable research on SCE in the 70's as part of "America's Looming Energy Crisis" which I wrote back then...

I also did one of the first articles on "The Hydrogen Economy," including looking at both advantages and disadvantages.

And Roland sends this with the cryptic 

Subject: Embrace and Extend

Roland Dobbins

which is of course the Microsoft motto...






This week:



Tuesday,  July 10, 2001

This is worth preserving. Macauley is a long winded speech maker, but the subject is important, and what he says is eloquently stated.

Now that new technology is making the world rethink copyright law, it is worth revisiting the foundations of the old system, to see how and why it was justified. One of those foundations was laid by Macaulay, in a couple of speeches before the House of Commons that were still generally regarded as great half a century later, according to Mark Twain, who in his autobiography railed against them, but wasn't up to refuting any of the arguments in them. The two speeches were scanned in by Project Gutenberg (; I have extracted them from the middle of a large text file, added a bit of HTML formatting, and put them on the web at:

Norman Yarvin

Thank you very much.




This week:



Wednesday, July 11, 2001

I am off to write, but I'll try to keep this place up for the next few days. There is a lot of interesting mail.

Begin with Joe Zeff:

Subject: the latest twit idea in viruses

Check out , if you haven't already.

Ye gods. Of course my views on the "Drug War" are ambiguous, but on marijuana I think not: certainly California's rather lenient notions are California's business not those of New England or the Imperial City in any event.


Dear Dr. Pournelle,

This might not make LA County gain any more taxes, but I predict it'll make some lawyers very happy:


Harry Payne -- Note: please publish my address as

This is one of many on this madness... No one else is taxing it, and clearly someone ought to...

From: Stephen M. St. Onge

Subject: Dewey again

Dear Jerry:

I'll have to break off the Dewey Debate for a while. It has obviously reached the point where the only alternative to blather is to break out the original sources ( *sigh* more research; and I suppose I better look at Barzun's book too).

But one problem here is assigning any meaning to Dewey's statements. How is one to be "fully stimulated" in learning science, for example? Attempt to recreate the whole of Sir Isaac Newton's work independently? (Similarly, what I remember of Bertrand Russell's criticism of Dewey's theory of truth was that he couldn't see what it would mean for Dewey to say that 'It's true that such and such occurred.' Russell also claimed that when he raised this objection with Pragmatists, he got angry retorts, but no actual answer).

Or consider "Studying lessons from a book is a variety of listening: 'it marks the dependency of one mind on another. The attitude of listening means, comparatively speaking, passivity, absorption; that there are certain kinds of ready-made materials which are there, which have been prepared by the school superintendent, the board, the teacher, and of which the child is to take in as much as possible in the least possible time' ". Yes. So? I want to take in as much as possible in the least time possible. It's called efficiency. And if Dewey didn't want people passively listening, why did he write so dang much? Something isn't cohering here, but whether it's my understanding, Mr. Welch's explanations, or Dewey's thought I will reserve judgment on for now.

Meanwhile, for some interesting thoughts on missile defense, see: 

Best, Stephen

As I said, read Barzun on the subject. But then he's worth reading on almost any subject. Continued.

And Now An Important Notice:

From: Andrew Mayo [] Sent: Wednesday, July 11, 2001 7:28 AM To: Subject: new version of Nero has a serious bug

uh, normally I'm a great fan of Nero but the new version 5.5 has a serious bug which Nero support have acknowledged. If you install it on a laptop you won't be able to suspend/resume. The first suspend/resume cycle after a cold boot will work; after that, the machine will hang.

I wasted a *lot* of time finding this and reported it to Nero support and they told me it was a known bug but given that their web site doesn't mention it, I think this isn't really good enough. They've promised to fix it in a future release but in the interim I think maybe you should a caveat on Nero in your next column. I'd hate for any other notebook users to waste the time I did trying to track the problem down. And my machine nearly melted - I put it back in the bag not knowing it hadn't suspended and it got *extremely* hot - so much so that the CPU shut down - I don't think there's been any physical damage, but still.....


And something to think about:

I was re-reading your View for 4 June 2001, following the link "How to see man in a state of liberty" ( ). This is rather dated, and so my insight is not timely, if indeed it had any value at the time.

In the real world, as you noted elsewhere, a few of the better (both in skills and morals) players would likely have banded together, eliminated the thugs with extreme prejudice, and started the climb through the social order through vigilanteeism, feudalism, and the rule of law. In Everquest, though, Sony has decided to make the rules so that this is not possible (probably because the thugs are as willing, if not more so, to pay Sony in whatever currencies it deems valuable as are the decent and the weak).

The state of the game is not, in fact, the state of nature, in which social orer would spontaneously crystallize out (albeit a lot of people would suffer considerably before it did); it is the totalitarian order in which the Authorities have set up the rules (in this case, amounting to natural law) to protect their favorites.

The next day, you wrote: "I hear that Idaho may yet be able to try Horiuchi. I doubt it. The Imperium is more than willing to abandon its agents, but generally not openly." Can an analogy be fairly drawn between the Federals' rules protecting Horiuchi, and Everquest's rules protecting the bullies?

----------------------------- John W. Braue, III <>

"Kings die, and leave their crowns to their sons. Shmuel HaKatan took all the treasures in the world, and went away."

This is thoughtful enough that I was going to wait to post it until I had time for a proper reply but I'll do it this way instead. There is a sense in which the whole series Niven and I are doing reflects my thoughts on this. More later.

Later. Clearly it CAN happen that way: that the better class of people band together and form a social order which at least has security for themselves if not justice for all. 

We have two theories of the social contract that arises from a state of nature, the Hobbesian war of all against all in which life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Hobbes, growing up in the relative tranquility of Stuart England while witnessing the horrors of the Thirty Years War in Germany, thought the only remedy was for everyone to consent to the sovereignty of one man, and create "Leviathan", the St ate, the Mortal God which would oppress but not devour all and which might leave one part of one's life to do with as one pleased.

Locke, writing after England's civil wars were over and the Wars of the Roses were ancient history, thought one could extract a better deal than that.

It would be an interesting experiment for Sony: to have a server in which literally there is a war of all against all, anyone may attack anyone, levels are unimportant, and see what kind of social order emerges. Will there be royalty and aristocracy? Will the strong protect the weak and the weak be deferential? It would be a highly interesting social experiment to allow complete anarchy with the only rules those adopted by the players. To do that would require little in the way of programming. As a refinement, some way for the city sovereigns to change the faction of certain players so that the guards would kill those people on sight and thus prevent them from entering the cities, and perhaps a sort of tax on the merchants that could be disposed of through a vote of the citizens of the city (those who were born there; half elves would have dual citizenship as would humans, most races would have only one).

It would be a fascinating experiment: does anyone have the ear of the game designers? I would certainly pay to be part of that kind of server, one in which there might actually evolve law and order as opposed to endless anarchy. For more comment see below.





This week:


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Thursday, July 12, 2001

Subject: Firewalls

Another good column, Jerry.

It is ex$pen$ive, but Microsoft's ISA Server is a true and solid firewall. It also has wizards that help in setting up VPN's--wizards that should have been included with W2K's RRAS, I think. RRAS is adequate for VPN's that are quite secure, however, even sans ISA.  < > has a number of files on Windows 2000 configuration. They include one on configuring ISA. While you're at their site, check out the "employment opportunities." They have some excellent opportunities for high school and college-age junior wizards.

ISA was certified by NCSA in record time--two or three months, I've heard.

I rave about it because I was able to attend a train-the-trainer ISA event at Intelimark in Mechanicsburg, Pa. It was taught by Joern Wettern, who wrote the curriculum for Microsoft but who is not a MS employee. It was one of the best technical treats I've enjoyed in years.

In personal news: A divorce a couple of years ago put me through a lengthy bout with depression during which I was not writing very upbeat columns. Getting treated for sleep apnea fixed a bunch of things and got me on the rebound. I've been teaching night classes since last October: A+, Exchange 5.5, TCP/IP, and both Windows 2000 Active Directory Services, and Networking Infrastructure Administration. I had hoped to wean myself off of the government and teach full-time, but ran right in to a slowdown in the independent technical trainer business. Nonetheless, I left Civil Service last April. I felt (and still do) that the problems in State Department are going to end up costing a lot of lives, but I was losing my sanity trying to get others to take up the chase. On the other hand it may be just as well that I'm no longer trying to get government to efficiently employ biometrics for border security. God works in mysterious ways. They chased after me to work on a help desk, and it turns out that it's a good thing, financially, that I took the work. It's not as prestigious or as challenging as leading the Strategic Systems (R&D) work, but it pays better.

I've also been playing with a Linksys wireless networking hub and NIC. Some of the DC politicians are interested in getting a few of our neighborhoods wired wireless-ly. It's something some big players are doing that I think I can do on the cheap for neighborhoods that eschew Starbucks.

Keep up the good work!


Interesting and informative and thanks. Your tag at the bottom (which I removed along with personal identification) said "Washington DC: Taxation without representation."  Would that it were so. The Constitution allows Congress to govern the District directly; I wish it had REQUIRED it. I would also have forbidden welfare in the Federal City: if you have no job or income there, why should you live there? You are the problem of a state, not of the Federal government. But if we are to have the District as just a sovereign city (with Congress as sovereign) then it ought to be governed by the clowns who think they can govern the rest of the country. Let them try out their schemes on their own city. Schools. Desegregation. Americans with Disabilities. Run their silly schemes in the District for a while before trying to impose them on San Diego.

But of course that won't happen. And wait until you get taxation WITH representation. They'll be higher, not lower. Congress wouldn't dare impose the kind of taxes a political party will. Taxes "with representation" mean in general taxes imposed by those who won't pay them on those not mobile enough to escape them.



It's heartening in a way (finally SOMEONE is doing more DCX-style flight tests) and also depressing (why not someone in THIS country?)


Calvin Dodge

Thanks. Nothing guarantees the universe will be settled by Anglo Saxons.

Roland Dobbins reports

The Second Volume of Ray Monk's outstanding biography of Bertrand Russell is now out: 

The first volume, _The Spirit of Solitude_, covered Russell's life and work through 1921, including _Principia Mathematica_. The second volume, _The Ghost of Madness_, covers 1921 through Russell's death in 1972.

From the introduction:

Another reason - perhaps the main one - that this has been a difficult book to write has been my growing realisation of the tragedy of Russell's life . . .

And yet 'tragedy' still seems to me the right word . . . Russell's life seems to have been inexorably drawn towards disaster, determined on its course by two fundamental traits of character: a deep-seated fear of madness and a quite colossal vanity.

Definitely worth reading.

 Roland Dobbins <> 

Thanks. I briefly exchanged letters with Bertrand Russell when I was just out of the army in the 50's; I had been struck by his Unpopular Essays. which I doubt anyone reads now. Found them in a used book store near the NYC library. Of course those book stores are long gone now.

Re: Andrew Mayo's 7-11-2001 message on "new version of Nero has a serious bug":

I loaded NERO 5.5 the day it came out and discovered the problem the next day. Unfortunately, I kept that information to myself... I shall try not to let that happen again! And my apologies to Mr. Mayo.

I unloaded the program and the problem went away.

I'm thinking that this problem might be the same one that appears when Win2K's SP2 is installed. Perhaps NERO includes a "fixed" MicroSoft DLL file in common?

John Ruff J R u f f @ E x c i t e . c o m

Indeed. And from Nancy Hanger:

I continue to have ~no~ problems at all with burning CDs. This after last year, I had to uinstall Nero (which had rendered my system driverless, due to an incompatibility with the way HP set up the CD-RW in the first place) and reinstalled Adeptec's default drivers. Nero has a rather large list of incompatible drives, btw -- found that out the hard way.

I take that back -- I've had one spindle of bad CD-Rs from Memorex that thought they were already written fully, but that's it for problems.

Since I'm burning very large Postscript & image files on a daily basis for print & electronic publishing, I am often quite fond of my CD-RW drive. Beats the hell out of my Zip drive for most everything.

Nancy Hanger

I have no problems with Nero either, but the bit with the portable can be serious.







This week:



Friday, July 13, 2001

This day is devoured by sloth.






This week:



Saturday, July 14, 2001

This from Joe Zeff:

There's a .dll that gets loaded by various programs, without warning. It allows you to get to non-standard tlds, such as .free or .xxx. Alas, it can also cause trouble, and just removing it can make matters worse. See  for details.

I haven't looked into this but it could be serious...

Then there is this sort of thing:

Dear Jerry, success is relative (and often depends on relatives).

You wrote:

"While there are lots of reasons to be poor, including bad luck, the term "unsuccessful" probably encompasses most of them. If we had to govern a large nation by the votes of the successful or the unsuccessful which would you choose? "

Could you say with conviction that the structure of the economy, and the moral values and business ethics of the people who make up the US community are such that "success" (financial reward?) in US society is beneficial to mankind and the earth as a whole?

The Devil is undoubtedly the most "successful" occupant of Hell, but do we all aspire to go to Hell and be successful there.

Regards ... Robert Smart

Now this appears to be clever, but what does it mean? If you read accounts of life in Medieval times -- during the Warm Period, when the climate was much better than now and even Greenland could be settled -- you get the disturbing news that life was short and precarious.

If we think in the terms the Isabella La Catolica would think, then the world is probably lost to heresy and is mostly engaged in producing people who will suffer in Hell forever; they are not being saved from this folly by the government, which is remiss in its sacred duties.

If we think in terms of letting people go to Hell in their own fashion then the US is not what I would want it to be, but it's a hell of a lot better than it could be.

If we think in terms of minding other people's business and taking from the successful to "help" the unsuccessful, I would have thought The Great Society tried that, and the result was not at all what LBJ intended, assuming he had the good intentions his biographers say he had. 

I don't know what beneficial to the Earth as opposed to mankind might mean.

Then we have this on 

DDoS attacks:



Great article... 

Steve can get a bit carried away at times, but even if he may have exaggerated some of the issues, I think he has been successful at getting people to look more closely at what is probably the single biggest threat to the Internet--DDoS.

More specifically, randomly spoofed DDoS...with enough zombies it could take days/weeks to 'cut-off' all the flood sources.

I believe the key to stopping the most dangerous DDoS plans are to get much more proactive than most people are thinking...if the first we detect a DDoS attack is after it starts, that's way too late.

As you mention in the article, anyone preparing for a DDoS has to spend many days/weeks infecting zombies and building a Bot network. This infection process by it's very nature will involve port scanning millions or 10s of millions of hosts (to "sniff" out vulnerable hosts) ....THAT is the point at which you can detect a pending DDoS attack...using Distributed Intrustion Detection.

What makes DDoS dangerous is that only one-way communication is required to launch a successful attack. Since you don't care about gettting any responses back, you can spoof (or even randomly spoof) your source address. However, the port scanning used during the Bot collection phase can NOT be spoofed because the attacker needs to receive responses back to see which systems may be vulnerable. The only real defense against a large scale, randomized DDoS attack is during Bot collection....if you don't track down the culprit by then, we're toast....and unless they're dumb enough to brag about it, no one will ever trace the attack.

Over the last 18 months I have built a DIDS system called myNetWatchman. Currently, we have 700 sensors (user firewalls) distributed in nearly 40 countries across hundreds of different ISPs. Using automated software, the sensors relay their firewall event data to our central database here in Atlanta in real-time. Currently we process 15,000 - 30,000 events per day which call out about 5,000 suspect IP addresses per day. On the most serious issues we attempt to notify the responsible ISP or system admin through our e-mail escalation system which sends 750-1,000 alerts per day. We have also partnered with SANS and provide a summary data feed to their Internet Storm Center project for even higher levels of aggregation.

By using a DIDS approach, we were the first detect the new Internet worm (w32.Leave) and alert researchers at SANS who captured and decoded the worms behavior. Leave has been building a very large Bot network for over a month now and has very sophisticated IRC and encrypted web-based command and control capabilties. Though we still don't know the ultimate intent of this worm, it doesn't take much imagination to see the havoc it could easily create.


Here is the scan activity that our sensors picked up and clued us into the activity: 

I believe the average Internet operates under a major misconception:

> They have no >data< of value on their PC, thus they are not a target, and thus security isn't really critical.

They don't understand that the processing power, and bandwidth of their connection (dialup!!! or broadband) is a absolutely key to anyone planning a DDoS.

I hope you will continue to bring this issue to light in the media.

We really need the "Aunt Sue's" and "Grampa Joe's" of the world to learn more about these kind of threats.

Everyone who connects to the Internet must do so responsibly...with up-to-date anti-virus AND a firewall.


Lawrence Baldwin  Atlanta, GA USA 

Interesting approach. Thanks

And I have many letters on this: slips into receivership 

Earlier this spring, largely based on your recommendations, I looked at the Netwinder as a possible firewall / wide area VPN for our ten locations. I visited them in Ottawa in April and got a bad feeling right away when the parking booth had a sign saying visitors to Rebel now had to pay for their own parking. The offices themselves had a depressing ghost-town kind of feel.

The product was good, especially the newer one that ran with the Transmeta chip.

In the end we decided to go with Netscreen.

- Robert Morgan

Alas. The NetWinder worked very well indeed.




This week:


read book now


Sunday, July 15, 2001

Hi Jerry -

>From this morning's sports stories (7-15-2001) comes the story of Chicago Bears' football player Paul Edinger. He was arrested for DUI after he hit several mailboxes, flattening two tires in the process. Sounds a little like, though less spectacular than, the story you told 30 years ago of the guy who you saw get busted for DUI after he pulled into a gas station driving on the front rims of his Cadillac, and then as the story unfolded it turned out he hit several mailboxes at the top of Laurel Canyon, flattening his two front tires, and then hit something like 7 other cars on his way down to where he pulled into the gas station! "Want some air in your tires?" I recall you quoting the service station attendant asking him when he asked to buy gas!

- Tom Locke 

Good grief, was that 30 years ago? I guess it was! I told that story at LASFS, and it was all true, I didn't have to make up a thing. Did I print it anywhere too?

This entire exchange is probably worth posting:

Here is Microsoft's response to GRC: 

and The Register's comments on both: 

You're right in that the sky isn't falling - but I still think that this is not a good thing for Microsoft to implement - I can't see how the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Many thanks for taking the time to comment.

Best regards, Marc Erickson

----- Original Message ----- From: "Jerry Pournelle" <> To: "Marc Erickson" <> Sent: Saturday, July 14, 2001 2:36 PM Subject: RE: Windows XP and DoS attacks

: Then I guess the sky is falling : :

-----Original Message----- : From: Marc Erickson [] : Sent: Friday, July 13, 2001 9:24 PM : To: Jerry Pournelle : Subject: Re: Windows XP and DoS attacks : : : I am just a newbie at the computer trade - I have a MCP in NT4 Workstation : and Server (which unfortunately doesn't mean much these days) and am : currently doing cable internet setups on customers' computers. I have to : rely on what others are saying about this. I'm willing to entertain the : possibility that he's not accurate, but given Microsoft's history of : security holes (e.g. the Word 97 RTF macro vulnerability), I'm inclined to : believe him... : : Best regards, : Marc Erickson : : -

Chris Brand is, to say the least, controversial. His book on IQ is now available as shareware on the web, having originally been published by Wiley then withdrawn from publication (thus 'Depublisher: Wiley'); it is very much worth your reading since it states the IQ hypothesis in strong terms and gives his evidence and reasoning for his position.

Dr. Brand has other strong views as well.

I feel sure Professor Schwartz is right to link PeeCee especially to feminazism. When I was being witch-hunted out of Edinburgh University, I had no trouble from ethnic minorities, nor from victims of elitism or paedophilia; rather, it was the feminists who queued up to testify against me -- giving the University solemn evidence of jokes told by me at private parties ten years previously. Likewise at a public level, fat, frumpy and power-crazed wymmin have been by far the major beneficiaries of PeeCee: Prime Minister Blair obliged the Labour Party to give him 100 female MPs (called 'Blair's Babes' in the press and notorious at Westminster for their deference to him and for their lack of contribution to debates or anything else visible).

I suggest twentieth-century feminism can be usefully compared to Christianity of the first three centuries AD -- i.e. disorganized, self-contradictory, achieving very little, and best known for its martyrs and endless whingeing. But Constantine took Christianity by the scruff of the neck and put it to work in just ten years. Likewise, Blair and the Clintons have been turning the lights green for feminism throughout a wide range of institutions. The latest institution to feel the pinch is the Law Society which has managed to lose more than a million pounds fighting allegations of racism and sexism by its own top organizer (a curmudgeonly Pakistani woman whom it had sacked for bullying staff). If even the Law Society cannot resist PeeCee, imagine how many institutions won't even try! Once feminists were modest, believing they should wait for the abilities of women to become appreciated and to force change gradually. Today they shamelessly demand quotas and have even won the agreement of at least two of the main contenders for the leadership of the (doomed) Tory Party.

Certainly a mighty show of PeeCee is the only way to *resist* feminism. The universities notoriously over-represent males because of the shortage of high-IQ females. But the universities get away with this by having virtually no staff at all who are known for conservative or non-peecee views.

-- Chris Brand <> Edinburgh. Psychorealist and author of THE 'g' FACTOR. (Wiley DePublisher, 1996. 2001 edition available free at .) --


Jerry, Saw that you were reading Cryptonomicon. Yes, it is one of those books that breaks all the rules, and yet still works not despite but _because_ it does. (Something like _Atlas Shrugged_ in that regard, I suppose). Stephenson is the master of the Amusing Digression, and Cryptonomicon is a veritable orgy of amusing digression. (I particularly enjoyed the two-page digression on the radial band saw merely as a an analogy for the Maxim water-cooled machine-gun.) At a Turkey City Writer's Workshop not so long ago, Bruce Sterling observed that two of SF's hottest young writers (Stephenson and Greg Egan) were both ex- or current computer hackers (in the old, non-criminal meaning of the word), and that this infused their work with a certain perspective (though by no means an identical one) that gave it great appeal. I think he's on to something...

 Lawrence Person, Editor Nova Express Coming Soon:


One man's Amusing Digression is another's padding with irrelevance. I will agree that some of the digressions are in fact amusing, and some are interesting. I will probably finish the book, but in fact it gets less interesting as I get toward the end: some of the threads that were interesting got tied off so I know what happened to the characters, while the modern characters are not terribly interesting to me: possibly through dilution with other people's stories. It may be my inability to think of 20 things at once while caring about 10 of them.

Dr. Pournelle, this is just some personal opinion, not meant to be published on your site. Not that I'm saying anything offensive, or anything; just rambling, now that I've hit forty, it happens a lot .......

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I read in View that you are reading Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon." I echo your sentiments completely, in regard to Stephenson's pacing being downright bizarre in some places, but overall, I loved the story.

"Snow Crash," one of Stephenson's previous novels, (and a very good one, I thought) had another very captivating idea-driven plot. And much less tendency to wander off and discuss some tangential subject for two or three pages at a time.

"Diamond Age," was the only novel of Stephenson's I've read so far that I just don't understand at all. He has his protagonist raised by a very intelligent A.I. book, so that she can make all sorts of logical determinations with regard to life-choices. Yet when she goes out into the world on her own, she decides to live and work in a politically unstable region that guarantees her no end of extreme personal hardship when the balloon eventually goes up. And here I thought she had been taught to be smarter than that. Its almost as if Stephenson was running down some checklist of what hardships a female character must endure on her road to destiny.

If this has been oblique, I apologize. I'm trying not to give too much away if you haven't read the books and wish to do so.

Sincerely, Jim Snover

Clearly Stephenson has his supporters, and many of them.

Now about the Newton:

Orjan Larsson wrote:

> Might have talked a bit about us who use, or did use, Newton Messagepad > 2000/2100. > > After using it, and getting back to Mac or Windows, one really ask, why do we > have files? I never used "files" to find or put things in order on my Newton, > yet I can find things faster, and be more organised while using the Newton. > > Its been tried in real life, and the only drawback is that messer Steve Jobs > killed Newton, instead of letting it be an free Newton Inc. (The managment of > Newton Inc even had as goal to be profitable in six month, and they had an > plan that looked OK:ish for me)

I still use a Newton, a MessagePad 2000 upgraded to 2100 status. I have a Palm Pilot and an early Windows CE Palm-sized PC (which I reviewed at and a Psion, too, but the Newton has unique advantages. No other PDA can replace it-- not yet, anyway.

Apple killed Newton, Inc. because it needed the people to work on Mac OS-related projects. Those people have contributed more to Apple's bottom line than they ever would have contributed to Newton's bottom line, so I can't fault the business decision. I wish Apple had licensed the Newton technology to other companies, but it's hard to say if there really were any legitimate offers. (There were certainly offers, but it's not clear to me that they were entirely sincere.)

The larger display is the key to the Newton's superiority. It gives me three or four paragraphs of easily readable text, not just one or two, plus room for the necessary user-interface icons and text. A larger screen also makes room for comfortable writing-- it's the difference between jotting a phrase on a Post-It note and writing a note on a 3x5 card. The larger screen impairs portability, but that's a price I'm happy to pay. PDAs with smaller screens are simply useless to me.

If I had the resources, I'd design a Pocket PC around a color VGA display about the same size as the Newton's. By using the best available LCD technology, you'd get an enclosure clearly larger than those of current Pocket PCs, but smaller than the Newton by a significant margin. It ought to be possible to come in at about half the Newton's thickness, in particular, which would greatly reduce overall volume and weight.

I don't much like the Pocket PC operating system; Windows CE has always been kinda crude and overcomplicated. I'd use it only because Microsoft has simply outstripped the competition in application and multimedia support.

First, however, I need to revolutionize the computer monitor industry. Maybe then I'll deal with the PDA market. :-)

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If one has intelligent assistants and can confine one's projects to a few interesting ones, files are needless. Unfortunately I find them indispensable. If I had graduate students and other assistants I would let THEM worry about the files.

I eagerly await the Microsoft sponsored Clipboard PC which may turn out to take care of many of the problems of the PDA. Meanwhile I find the COmpaq iPAQ the best of a not very promising breed -- at least I can see it in daylight. But the screen is, as you observe, too small.

And Greg Cochran on the Social Contract:

I saw some of this more than twenty years ago. There was a similar role-playing game on the Plato system at the University of Illinois. It was very popular for a few years - to the extent that the sysops announced the game gold- US dollar ratio three times a day. I may be the first person in the world ever to have offered a sword + 1 pro-undead for sale for actual greenbacks. Also, the first to offer to trade a character for candid photos of someone's sister. The game designers tried to make it impossible for players to kill each other, but ways were found. People would offer to guide a party and then abandon them deep in a dungeon, way over their heads - then come back and loot the corpses. Others would throw super-powerful area-effect weapons at orcs in close proximity to newbies and fry them as they stepped into the dungeon. On the other hand, most of the powerful players, for musterious reasons, felt that they should help the newbies and spend a certain amount of time shepherding weak parties around. I used to do this a lot. I also liked to throw money at them, since by heavy playing and sound investments I had two-thirds of all the gold in the game ( 60 out of 100 million with about 300 people playing). We found ways of punishing the troublemakers. I'll bet the forces of order would prevail in Everquest, given half a chance. Also, from your comments, it sounds as if there may be a way of systematically stomping the jerks even with current rules - I'm not sure, since If I look too closely I might start playing and that would be bad. The earlier game almost flunked me out of grad school.

Gregory Cochran

I'll have more on this shortly. Dinner time.

Dr. Pournelle:

"It would be an interesting experiment for Sony: to have a server in which literally there is a war of all against all, anyone may attack anyone, levels are unimportant, and see what kind of social order emerges. Will there be royalty and aristocracy? Will the strong protect the weak and the weak be deferential? It would be a highly interesting social experiment to allow complete anarchy with the only rules those adopted by the players. To do that would require little in the way of programming. As a refinement, some way for the city sovereigns to change the faction of certain players so that the guards would kill those people on sight and thus prevent them from entering the cities, and perhaps a sort of tax on the merchants that could be disposed of through a vote of the citizens of the city (those who were born there; half elves would have dual citizenship as would humans, most races would have only one). It would be a fascinating experiment: does anyone have the ear of the game designers? I would certainly pay to be part of that kind of server, one in which there might actually evolve law and order as opposed to endless anarchy."

* * *

I agree wholeheartedly. Properly set up, this could be an excellent experiment to see if the libertarian ideal can actually work. The great difficulty would be setting up the program to allow maximum freedom of action and user organization, but keeping a solid set of rules in place to keep the MUD from drifting completely away from reality (like people programming super powers into their characters). Certainly there is a novel or two in this although the concept has been dealt with already in many books. "Lord of the Flies" comes to mind.

I remember back in the '70s when Control Data had the "PLATO" system running, a central system that communicated over phone lines to dumb graphic terminals. Intended for education, I first used it playing "Empire," the first multiplayer online game I had ever seen (Gary Hudson managed to finangle a demo unit out of the company). Despite primitive connections and graphics, players managed to form all kinds of alliances and developed interesting tactics. Since the system created "movement" by continuous refreshing of a still screen, many players were able to time attacks between refresh cycles to suddenly "appear" on an opponent's screen.

See under "1972" here: 

and here: 

Despite suggestions from many, including myself, that Control Data could make a great deal of money commercializing these games, our ideas fell on deaf ears. Control Data was plugging PLATO as a Wonderful Educational System, and commercializing PLATO, much less multiplayer games, was just too lowbrow to consider. It is interesting to think about how the Internet concept might have evolved had someone with vision at CDC latched onto this idea and run with it.

Tom Brosz



And some good news:

Subj: Ballistic Missile Defense: Return to X-program-based strategy?


Don't know whether you caught the briefing on C-SPAN by LTG Kadish -- there's a transcript at

-- and it contains an exchange, near the end, that I found really interesting.

A reporter asked Kadish why the current schedule does not include an immediate start on construction of X-band radar at Shemya. Kadish said, basically, that that radar was on the critical path for the system Clinton decided not to deploy, using the acquisition approach that had been planned for that production system, but that the new _development_strategy_ was not yet ready to commit to putting X-band radar in any particular place -- maybe, for example, it might turn out to be better to have the X-band _mobile_, on a ship or something.

And then came the exchange I really thought was interesting:

Q: But General, I thought the X-band radar was the schedule driver, it was going to take about four years to build it, and so if we wanted to be able to deploy 2004-2005, that had to get started right away. What's changed there? It sounds -- you guys are suggesting that you're going to have a system that can be deployed on an interim basis, if need be. But without that radar belt, how will it work?

Kadish: It'll work as good as we can make it work. But -- see, that -- one of the main features of this program -- and this gets little arcane, so you've got to stick with me on it -- the way we normally do major defense procurement programs is that we set a very rigid requirement from a military standpoint. We want to do X, Y, and Z, and if you can't do that, we don't want it. That's called threshold or key performance parameters.

And then we set a plan to accomplish that. All right. Usually those things are set at a very bar in terms of performance. So what that does to us in a development program -- it works very well when you got mature technologies. We've been working on an airplane for a hundred years now, and we're pushing the envelope, but we know a hundred years' worth of stuff about how to handle airplanes. So you're able to take schedule and planning milestones to meet that requirement. And that's what we were trying to do with the old national missile defense construct. It's not that that's an unproven method; it's just what we were trying to do.

This approach takes a different tack. It says that technology is so difficult and so uncertain that we think we can accomplish this, we know we have a good shot at it, from an engineering perspective, but we're going to take the approach that we're going to do this incrementally. We're going to have this idea of the military requirement out there, but we're going to provide the military decision-makers and users what we can produce and ask them a very simple question -- "We can do this technically; is this good enough for you to use?" -- all right? -- instead of working very hard, very high risk, trying to meet a requirement that they can say they need.

And that's a very important difference for us developers. And that's what we're trying to do with this idea of interim test assets on the way towards a very incremental, very progressive way of developing these systems. So you don't birth them full-born. We're not trying to go for a layered system with a specific architecture and spend any amount of money and time to do it.

Quite frankly, my record of predicting when we've been doing things is not very good. (Laughter.) And I would match that not very good record with everybody else in history on this program, because nobody's been right on when we're going to do this. So we're going to take an approach where we're going to have internal plans and we're going to try to work to them, but we're going to be flexible and realistic to know whether or not we can do something. And we want to do that through realistic testing.

Q: Well, it sounds like a massive lowering of expectations and standards.

Kadish: Not to me it doesn't.

[end of quoted exchange]

Now, maybe I'm hallucinating, but that sounds an awful lot to me like the new development strategy is to proceed through a sequence of technology demonstrators.

Technology demonstrators that worry about showing what we can do with what we have, rather than prototypes that try to glue together stuff previously studied only on paper, or in simulation, to attain some arbitrarily pre-specified level of performance according to some arbitrarily-chosen figures of merit.

In other words, the new development strategy sounds a lot like it's based on X-programs.

Sounds good to me, too.






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