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Mail 167 August 20 - 26, 2001 

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This week:



Monday  August 20, 2001

This may require more thought before I comment:


I did not mean, nor did I state, nor imply that there was a formal fiduciary relationship between you and Microsoft. But more often than not, when you have a problem with an MS product, you will blow off steam, then tell the world that the problem was not with MS product but with your own impatience. However, when you have a problem with a GNU/Linux application or utility, it is *never* your fault or that famous impatience.

You have persistently talked about the good people at MS in glowing terms. You have been the unofficial MS apologist - plain and simple. Not that there is anything wrong with that - anymore than there is anything wrong with being homosexual. It's just the way things are.

The point of this story, that I sent to you, is that those 'good' people at Microsoft are being hardliners in a very unreasonable manner. With a charitable organization that is taking old OEM copies of software and transferring them from cannibalised, non-working PCs. There is a license clause in the EULA that says you can't take an OEM copy of MS-Windows and put it on another machine even if the original machine is no longer functioning.

Besides the questionable enforcability of said clause, it says something about the character of those 'good' people at Microsoft that you are constantly praising. While MS may not be obligated to 'give' anything to any charity, this charity is not asking Microsoft to 'give' them anything. There is no loss of resources for Microsoft here. Simply the re-use of obsolete software that MS will never see any revenue from, on PCs that could not run any current OS offering from MS.

This is the mark of the character of the people you choose to associate and align yourself with.

Uncharitable. Unkind. Unwanted. (not you - Microsoft)

Regards, Alex 

Alex Kalium []

What I try to do is tell people what happened when something goes wrong. As to my "choosing to associate" I don't even know where to begin. I would love to see a lot more competition out there. That would imply competence on the part of the competitors: that IBM would have been competent in its development and marketing of OS/2, that Word Perfect wouldn't have been done in, the Lotus would have got its act together -- I could continue the litany of products I have used and promoted as Microsoft, simply by showing up and keeping focused on the issue at hand, embraced and extended its way into a dominance that everything thinks unfortunate, but no one seems able to remedy. And that's choosing to associate?

As to the rest of your statement, that's pure bile and indefensible. To blame the programmers and program managers for the licensing policies in a situation neither you nor I know much about demonstrates a low grade hatred on your part that is astounding. I presume you want every Microsoft programmer to quit? And that anyone who continues to work there should be roundly condemned if not burned at the stake?  Great heavens.

I think this is enough. Have a nice day.

I will add this:


When I hear stories from 'expert' users who can't make GNU/Linux work for them, I just think about stories of the 'non-experts' who do get it working. And this guy is the experience and expertise level you refer to when talking about your criteria for measuring GNU/Linux's readiness for the computing public. You think this would be within anyone's 'hassle budget'?

Not too 'techie' but not illiterate either: 

Enjoy, Alex

Alex Kalium []

I'm sure you're right.




For another continuing matter:

This story ties in nicely with the Skylarov case. We only have Mr. Skylarov's word that he hadn't done anything wrong, but I would say that selling a slim jim to people who then use it to break into people's cars is contributing to the crime. He writes software that illegally copies electronic books. While I may sympathize with people who have lost their electronic data to gremlins, I can't agree with using an illegal means to copy them. If I lost my books in a fire, I wouldn't expect to have them replaced for free. I , or my insurance company, would have to shell out some pretty big bucks to replace them. And you would do quite well by it!

It appears that Mr. West has been very naughty in his doings. If I were to be found ransacking your study, and pointed out that your window was easily broken into, I would still be guilty of invasion, trespass and stealing.

Which brings up another subject, web privacy. Now I don't want my personal data spread about, but between my driver's license, Social Insurance card, health card, passport, my home address and phone number being published in three different phone directories, credit card(s), ATM card etc. I'm surprised that everyone doesn't know about me already. I'm careful about what I put on an on-line form, but my name isn't private. Privacy is NOT anonymity.

Bill Grigg

I take it that selling sledge hammers ought to be a crime. And Guns! Sledgehammers, and jimmies, and guns, O My!

If you do not see the difference between the West and Skylarov cases, I fear I haven't the time to enlighten you, but I assure you, there is a LOT of difference between pointing out vulnerabilities in an encryption system and actually doing something with a vulnerability once found: as much difference as between my publishing an article on lockpicking and my finding a front door unlocked and going into someone else's house uninvited.

I keep getting this or a variant on it, and I wonder: has anyone ever bitten on this? Is there anyone naive enough to fall for this?  Alas, alas...

Dear Sir,


Firstly, I must solicit your strictest confidentiality in this transaction. This is by virtue of its nature as being utterly CONFIDENTIAL and TOP SECRET. Though I know that a transaction of this magnitude will make anyone apprehensive and worried, but I am assuring you that all will be well at the end of the day. We have decided to contact you first by your email due to the urgency of this transaction, as we have been reliably informed that it will take at least two to three weeks for a normal post to reach you. So we decided it is best using the email.

Let me start by first introducing myself properly to you. I am DrZuma Idrisa, a director general in the Petroleum Ministry and I head a Six-man tender board in charge of Contracts Awards and payment Approvals. I came to know of you in my search for a reliable and reputable person to handle a very confidential business transaction which involves the transfer of a huge sum of money to a foreign account requiring maximum confidence. I and my colleagues are top officials of the Federal Government Contract Review and Award Panel. Our duties include evaluation, vetting, approval for payment of contract jobs done for the Petroleum Ministry, etc. In order to commence this business, we solicit for your assistance to enable us transfer into your account the said funds.

The source of this funds is as follows: During the last military regime here in Nigeria, this committee awarded a contract of US$400,000,000.00 (Four Hundred Million United States Dollars) to five construction firms on behalf of the Petroleum Ministry for the supply, construction and installation of Oil Pipeline from Warri to PortHarcourt. During this process my colleagues and I decided amongst ourselves to deliberately over-inflate the total contract sum to US$436,500,000.00 (Four Hundred and Thirty Six Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) with the main intention of sharing the remaining sum of US$36,500,000.00 (Thirty Six Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) amongst ourselves. The Federal Government of Nigeria has since approved the sum of US$436,500,000.00 (Four Hundred and Thirty Six Million, Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) for us as the contract sum, and the sum of US$400,000,000.00 (Four Hundred Million United States Dollars) has also been paid to the foreign contractors concerned as contract entitlements for the contract done, but since each of the companies is entitled to US$80,000,000.00 only, we are now left with US$36,500,000.00 balance in the account which we intend to transfer abroad into a safe and reliable account to be disbursed amongst ourselves, but by virtue of our positions as civil servants and members of this panel, we cannot do this by ourselves, as we are prohibited by the Code of Conduct Bureau (Civil Service Laws) from opening / operating foreign accounts in our names, making it impossible for us to acquire the money in our names. I have, therefore, been mandated as a matter of trust by my colleagues in the panel to look for an overseas partner into whose account we would transfer the sum of US$36,500,000.00 (Thirty Six Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars), hence we are writing you this letter.

My colleagues and I have agreed that if your company can act as the beneficiary of this funds on our behalf, you or your company will retain 20% of the total amount of US$36,500,000.00 (Thirty Six Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars), while 70% will be for us (members of this panel) and the remaining 10% will be used in offsetting all debts/expenses incurred (both local and foreign) in the cause of this transfer. Needless to say, the trust reposed on you at this juncture is enormous. In return we demand your complete honesty and trust. You must however, NOTE that this transaction will be strictly based on the following terms and conditions as we have stated below, as we have heard confirmed cases of business associates running away with funds kept in their custody when it finally arrive their accounts. A very good and recent example is the one of Mr. Peter Hopwood, the President of Mileage Trading and Investment Company at Number 121, West 55th Street, 21st Floor, New York 10022, and former Chairman of OMPADEC (Mr. Patrick Opia), who we were reliably informed that after the agreement between both partners in which he was to take 15% of the money, while the remaining 85% for Nigerian Officials. With all the required documents signed, the money was duly transferred into his account, only to be disappointed on their arrival in New York and were informed that Mr. Peter Hopwood was no longer on that address, while his telephone and fax numbers have been re-allocated to somebody else. This was how they lost US$18.5 Million to Mr. Hopwood. This is a very recent story here in my country and everybody is aware of this, some of the officials decided to cry out and face the law, because they felt they had lost too much to a stranger, while the Chairman of OMPADEC (Mr. Patrick Opia) is hiding in a foreign country. So right now we are taking all precautionary measures to guard against re-occurrence of such act in our case. This is why we have decided that this transaction will be based completely on the following:

(a). Our conviction of your transparent honesty and diligence.

(b). That you would treat this transaction with utmost secrecy and confidentiality.

(c). That upon receipt of the funds, you will promptly release our share (70%) on demand after you have removed your 20% and all expenses have been settled.

(d). You must be ready to produce us with enough information about yourself to put our minds at rest.

Please, note that this transaction is 100% legal and risk free and we hope to conclude the business in Seven Bank working days from the date of receipt of the necessary information and requirement from you.

Please, acknowledge the receipt of this letter using my email address. I will bring you into the complete picture of the transaction when I have heard from you.

Your urgent response will be highly appreciated as we are already behind schedule for this financial quarter.

Thank you and God bless.

Yours faithfully,

Dr. Zuma Idrisa.

N.B.: Please, be reminded that this business transaction is 100% legal and risk free.

__________________________________________________ Do You Yahoo!? Make international calls for as low as $.04/minute with Yahoo! Messenger

P T Barnum may have made a serious underestimate if this works... And see below.

To get back to the real world

From: Stephen M. St. Onge

Subject: SF in real life?

Dear Jerry:

What next? Phasers?,6903,539143,00.html 

Best, Stephen

         And something important:

Dr. Pournelle,

I'm sorry to hear about your troubles with a dial-up modem connection - I've been there and I sympathize. I know that reading anything on the Internet is painful without a high-speed connection, but may I direct you to: for a different take on the Russian hacker Sklyarov's arrest at DefCon 2001? Thanks. With this dissenting view in mind, I have a question. My question is: Is the "backup copy" defense used by Sklyarov and the EFF going to fly with regular Americans? Doesn't Sklyarov's case really point out how spoiled and irresponsible many in our modern society have become? If "backup copies" of eBooks are required by law (as Sklyarov says it is in Russia), what's to stop those who buy a paperback of The Mote In God's Eye and run off "backup copies" on their photocopier at work? The defense in that situation is: "Hey, I already bought that book once so if it gets stolen, I lose it or spill coffee all over it I have a right to a free backup copy. Why should I have to buy a replacement copy of something I already paid for just because of an accidental coffee spill? Besides, Niven and Pournelle are rich enough and they don't need my money." Believe me, I've HAD this conversation with Sklyarov's apologists and I was disgusted. If I brought up the "what if it weren't paperbacks or eBooks? What if it were your house or a car" point, I was condescendingly told: "You can't make an inexpensive backup of a house or a car. Digital information is different and you just don't get it." Will regular Americans who pay too much for insurance on their cars and houses that get burned down or stolen via various accidents want to give those who are unwilling and claim to have a right not to pay a pass on their irresponsible behavior? Dr. Pournelle, I respect and value your opinions on this matter. I have read your lucid hypotheses on "infinite storage and infinite bandwidth," understanding that there will have to be some changes and concessions regarding the DMCA. However, must these concessions be so one-sided as to give away the rights of the professional artists and creators who have benefited from copyrights and patents? To me, I regard the gradual imposition of a copyright system (due largely in 18th Century France to Beaumarchais, author of the Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro as well as smuggler of arms to the American revolution) as a major moral correction to the cheating most publishers engaged in against writers and artists until that time. These new copyright protections basically established the rights of the creators to proper compensation for their hard work. The Founding Fathers recognized the importance of and incorporated these new ideas into our Constitution in two ways:

1) Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 8 – The Powers of Congress: “The Congress shall have the power… To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.

2) The Just Compensation Clause of the Fifth Amendment, requiring the government to compensate any owner for the taking of his or her property, was designed specifically to limit the government’s power to destroy private property, no matter how important the objective.

I have to ask you point blank, Dr. Pournelle: Is it because I really "don't get it" or is there some good reason to want the hackers to "free" all copyrighted materials? I'll patiently wait for next month's Byte column if need be (I know you're busy and my condolences about the loss of your friend, Mr. Anderson. The High Crusade and Three Hearts and Three Lions are two of my favorites).

Thank you sir,

Scott McCollum Austin, Texas

You present a very mixed bag here.

Let's see if we can straighten this out into threads.

First and foremost: is it the task of government to protect intellectual property? Is that even a proper function? The Constitution says yes, but grudgingly, and for the specific purpose of encouraging the useful arts and sciences: the default was that Congress had no power to create monopolies.  Legal monopolies were a traditional Royal grant, and that practice was not to be given to Congress. To the States, yes, if their constitutions permitted. It wasn't a Federal matter.

We no longer observe the default that if Congress isn't given the power then it doesn't have it, and the power resides in the States or "with the people". This despite and amendment that explicitly states that this is the default.

What the "just compensation" clause has to do with this escapes me. I presume you are saying that if government doesn't protect the victims of crime then they are entitled to some compensation from government? Victim's rights?  This isn't usually thought of in the context of intellectual property and I won't try.

The Sklyarov case is a different matter entirely. I am not at all sure that the criminal law is the right way to protect intellectual property, but we do in fact use it: I have seen the FBI bust dealers at SF conventions for selling counterfeit Star Trek tapes. I do note that it takes a big company to get the FBI involved; they don't seem to care much when the matter is one of a small publisher. But that's another matter. We certainly do use criminal procedures to protect intellectual property, and I have no real quarrel with that. I encourage going beyond the dealer who was selling the tapes to the electronics lab that was producing them, using both criminal and civil procedures. Those people are stealing.

But I am not so certain that we ought to jail the people who made the duplicating equipment that was used to make the illegal tapes; or the engineer who invented and published the technology that made the duplicating equipment possible. Do you think they belong in jail?

In the present case Adobe has a flawed encryption scheme. They tried to protect their bad technology using the FBI and intimidation, knowing there would never be a conviction but gambling that a month in Club Fed with Greyhound Therapy would make programmers scared to crack their flawed code.  The result was not as they wanted, and they have made mortal enemies of a group of very smart people who will see to it that Adobe never again has any secure anything. I don't say I approve of this. I merely predict it.

Surely in the present case there is a difference between telling someone how to make an illegal copy and actually making such copies?

I don't have to accept the full "all information ought to be free" arguments to say that common decency requires we don't do things like the Sklyarov arrest.

As to how to protect intellectual property in the electronic age, all rights carry responsibilities, all protections require concessions. If I want you to enforce trespass laws, you may impose some building code restrictions on me. Thus has it ever been. And I am not willing to hand over a speaker at a conference to a month in Club Fed because Adobe wasn't very good at encrypting their pdf files..

Things will settle out. For the moment the book business is thriving. We'll muddle through. Information may want to be free, but entertainment wants to be paid. We'll find ways, and they don't involve jailing people for writing about cryptography. 

Or else we can go the way I described in the CoDominium stories, in which we shoot unlicensed physicists, chemists, and programmers...

Now this:

Dear Dr. P.

Some one must be biting on these things, there are so many of them. Here's a link to a site that keeps track of the multitude of Nigerian email scams. 

Your exact letter does not appear to be there, but there are some quite similar in detail.

I recall seeing an apparently legitimate news report that there have been several kidnappings and at least one death attributed to these email gangsters. Can't put my hands on it just now. . . more if I can find the site.


I thought someone might be keeping track. Thanks



This week:



Tuesday,  August 21, 2001

Before we begin: 

is the site for the actual complain against Sklyarov. I suggest you read it, including the material that the FBI found on the web to support the action Adobe instigated. In particular the claim by Elcom that the Adobe protection is not effective because it is easy to break.

The law clearly states that the protection has to be effective before publishing the means for breaking it can be a crime. The fact that a couple of Russians were able to do this should give one pause.

Now from a lawyer:


It's nearly 30 years since I studied criminal law in law school but I believe it is still good law that one who sells an otherwise lawful product to someone that uses it for criminal purposes, where the seller has knowledge that the buyer will use it for a crime, can be prosecuted, either as an accessory or for conspiracy. A classic example is one who sells an acetylene cutting torch to a safecracker, with knowledge that it will be used for a burglary and safe cracking. ("I'm looking for a torch that is good for three inches of reinforced steel that is in the local bank's safe. What do you recommend? Can you wrap that up so I can use it tonight?")

Our government has even found that Paladin Press was guilty of an offence in publishing a book on how to be a hit man. Said book was used by someone as a "how to" manual in an actual murder. As I recall the decision, the court found that the First Amendment was not an absolute defense and that a publisher's First Amendment rights had to be balanced against other competing societal interests.

There are, of course, many other examples of prosecution for writings, pornography, unlawful disclosure of classified material (nephew of Samuel Eliot Morrison, for one example), etc.

As far as criminal prosecution for copyright infringement, one way to look at it is as follows: Suppose your publisher has a warehouse full of the new Jerry Pournelle book, and someone breaks in and steals a truckload of the book and sells them on the street corner for $1.00 each. This is clearly a crime. Suppose, instead, someone else buys one copy, scans it and sells a CD-ROM version on the diagonal street corner for $1.00. You as the author have been harmed equally. Now it may be reasonable for different punishments to apply because of the inherent risk to life involved in any B&E, but the economic harm to the writer isn't greatly different--both represent lost sales and therefore lost royalties. (Leaving aside the issue of market segmentation; perhaps there are no lost sales at all, since someone willing to pay $1.00 for a book or CD-ROM might not pay even $5.95 for a paperback copy. But these are decisions that we have, for better or worse, left to the legislature.)

The law is, of course, whatever 5 Supreme Court justices agree upon on any given day.

Hell of a way to run a country. But, the Romans would have understood perfectly.

Jack Smith Clifton, VA

I am not sure where to being. The Paladin Press case as I understand it was a civil suit. The "How To Be A Hitman" book was written by a writer who had no experience in the matter but merely pretended to be.

Of course we have many examples of prosecutions for writings. We also had the Alien and Sedition Laws. 

And if someone makes copies of my books and sells them, I would think first about confiscation of the profits.

But the interesting situation here is that there is zero evidence, including in the Complaint, that the Elcom software was ever used to decrypt a single book. Perhaps it was, but it's not alleged. Moreover, Sklaryov is named as the copyright holder, but apparently he is not: his company is. It's not entirely clear he wrote the software itself as opposed to developing the algorithm.

I am certain that King George III would approve of balancing the peace of the kingdom against free speech, and the judges would have found John Mad Dog Adams and his cousin Sam Adams guilty of a lot of crimes in publishing their tracts. Balance, balance. While I have no great fear that if Boston can ban books the nation will fall, when Washington can do it nation wide it may be a slightly greater danger.

In any event the matter at hand was sufficiently murky that civil action would have been more than sufficient to get arguments on the merit of the case. The physical arrest and treatment of Sklyarov was clearly intended in a different manner.

And finally: selling burglar tools to known burglars is one thing; selling them to a man to break into his own house is another; and writing a treatise on how to make burglar tools is yet another case again. Or so I would have thought.

Rather than fill mail with it, I have created a Report page for the Nigerian and other scams. Those interested will find it here. In doing so I see that I haven't updated my ADD etc. report page in a while, and I ought to. Sigh. There is never enough time.

Dr. Pournelle,

It seems that the debate over whether the US should become Empire/Not Empire has begun. Here is a Washington Post article on this topic attributing the whole idea to the Radical Right: 

At least discussion is now front page in Washington.

On the subject of Linux:

I have also bought another recent release of Linux (Linux for Windows - based on the Mandrake Linux). I shall see if it works better than previous versions. I have hope that it will since I was able to get my aging (3 year old) Toshiba laptop to run a version of Linux called Demolinux (it runs off of the CD) - a CD ISO image can be gotten at: 

The Demolinux only worked partially on my desktops. My fuss-budget ran out before I could get it to work more than partly. But it is based on a version of Debian Linux that is more than a 2 years old.

I will keep you posted to let you know if the Linux for Windows Mandrake version works well or not. I have three 2 to 3 year old machines that I use as a test bed. (Damn the hardware compatibility lists - full speed ahead.) If it works or not I will let you know.

Linux hardware lists don't always tell the true story. Ethernet cards, video cards/chipsets, and sound cards that are listed are not always detected and/or set up properly. I then don't have the time to do major research to find the hardware/software work-arounds or drivers, and how to implement/install them. So it goes.

On the topic of WinME:

I have installed Windows ME on all of three of my machines with little or no problem. Two things did happen.

1. The problems you have had with Nero Burning ROM causing the CD-ROM burner to stop and start working because of driver problems have hit me on WinME as well.

2. When I installed the WinME update (service pack update-1) I suddenly experienced much better throughput on my 300Mhz Toshiba laptop. Mysterious crashes on it which had made me want to go back to Win98SE were suddenly gone. All the machines have crashed on average less than with Win98SE. All games have run well - except on the Toshiba which does not have much of a graphics card. All machines have fared much better with the WinME Service Pack 1. I'm now of the opinion that WinME together with Service Pack 1 is "good enough".

In addition, I have turned on Autoupdate for WinME and seem to be up to date on patches for security problems in WinME, Outlook, and Internet Explorer. I don't have to update them anymore manually. Hurrah!

My Norton Anti-virus also updates automatically. Though the version of McAfee I have does not (it is still manual update only). I check to see that they have updated monthly. It is one less thing to have to worry about since some of them update automatically.

In addition, I was happy to see that some effort is now being made to deal with security problems in a more pro-active way by McAfee and others to stop DDoS attacks as an article on ZDNET discusses at:,4586,2805362,00.html?chkpt=zdnnp1tp02 

Oh well, enough for now.

My family is eagerly awaiting your next book as we have just finished reading The Burning City.


Oliver Richter 

I like your reading habits.

At least we may HAVE a debate over whether to become an empire...

I notice that the tale of my flirtation with Linux-Mandrake seems to have ruffled some feathers.... Somewhat amusing, but also rather boring; the antics of the Linux crowd are tediously familiar to anyone who has seen the exact same behavior from Amiga, Mac, and OS/2 fanatics over the years. (I knew it was time for me to give up on OS/2 when I saw how shrill most remaining OS/2 users were getting....)

As a sort of postscript to that story, I've turned my old Celeron system into a testbed machine, mainly running FreeBSD. I note with amusement that in about 3 hours I had all the things working on FreeBSD that had taken me 2 days on Linux. I sometimes think that many Linux users secretly fear the open BSDs; FreeBSD does everything Linux does, is just as free, and has a more business friendly open license. And a glance at the top 50 uptime webservers (  ) shows a long litany of BSD machines. I notice that there are 3 Linux machines there now, in the bottom 25, but the top machines, with uptimes of over 1000 days, are all BSD variants. With Apple basing their OS X on FreeBSD, and MS supporting it in their .NET package, there is some impressive weight behind 'the _other_ free Unix.' It will be interesting to see what develops.

The users seem to average a lot more polite than Linux users too.

-- Robert Brown

After considerable correspondence I am coming to the conclusion that Linux enthusiasts haven't ever learned the conventions of disagreement: they went from being teenagers who use the superlative in everything they say (Like TOTALLY! It RULES! Man that is mega-gross!) to trying to talk with adults. Thus they can't understand why anyone is offended when they way things like "You have to be in Microsoft's pocket" and "You're the biggest idiot on the web!"  I mean, it's like Ted Kennedy on Bork, it's nothing personal...

So when I express resentment or irritation over that it's just more proof that I don't get it. So I suspect. The problem is compounded by lack of communications abilities. Half the time I just don't understand their point, or what they have said seems to be exactly the opposite of what I think they are saying. Ah well.

I make no doubt that Linux will become important if only as a forcing function. Competition works. Alas, the marketing skills of the competitors are important too in a market economy. In socialist places like universities, pure skill can prevail (it, doesn't, usually, because most university departments are dominated by third rate minds who hate brilliance and punish political incorrectness, but that's the tenure system for you; and fortunately this doesn't generally apply to science departments in general, and computer science in particular). If you are used to pure skill and efficiency and coolness being dominant, then you don't see why marketing should be, and you get an attitude about the real world; I suspect this is one of Microsoft's secrets, that they get bright young people to understand that if it never ships it won't be adopted, and if it's not bought no one will ever know how brilliant it was, etc.  But that's a subject for another essay.

Dr. Pournelle,

On the subject of Microsoft stealing licenses from schools...

I'm pretty sure they patterned that email scam from Microsoft EULA agreements (ha ha only serious) but they must have taken it a step further since I've managed to somehow keep 6 computers legally running various versions of windows and linux over the last 5 years while paying Microsoft only about $89 plus tax. Ummm unless they consider incremental upgrades of an OEM system to be against the EULA...

 A question - How far can you upgrade an OEM system before Microsoft considers it license theft? I'm irritated to the extreme that it's even a question that I have to ask. It is so horribly typical of Microsoft's bid for exclusive market position, but maybe I'll make up for it by painting "bill gates" on a dog then kicking it. Sure that won't help, but I've already voted with my wallet so I gotta do SOMETHING. Maybe I should restart my Linux migration. I have all the tools I need and every single piece of hardware I own has good solid Linux driver support (I can't say that about windows drivers though...) so it wouldn't be too hard except for gaming. Maybe I could just keep one computer running the free copy of win2k pro I received as a promo gift from MS. They already told me that the promo gift license comes with ZERO support (none, nada, zip, zilch, etc) so it's already sorta like running Linux anyhow... Take THAT Microsoft.

I polled my friends and family and not a single one of them will shell out a penny for winXP. It's all about paying money for an OS that gives nothing more for many (most?) users, but takes away so much support for competitors products and other standards.

Argh rant mode off.

Sean Long

Well, I don't understand the whole mess in the Australia situation, but since it's a matter of charity in a place a long way from me, I think I will let others worry about it.

 Regarding EULA and permanence and upgrades and "abandoned ware": there are a number of companies that will not give you official permission to sell, give away, or transfer their older software even though it is no longer for sale. The reason is generally support: they may have some obligations to the original purchaser (which they hope they will never be asked to provide). Do they have any to a subsequent transferee? What if that transferee is a school for blind orphans? They may have no legal obligation, but they sure look bad if they don't find someone who understands a program they haven't sold for years and whose programmers now work for other companies...

I have so far seen little in XP to attract users of Windows 2000 Professional with the possible exception of legacy game support. The home edition of XP is superior to Windows 9x in ways that ME never was. I don't tend to comment on unreleased programs, but I am tilting toward the advice that if you want Windows, get 2000; it works well (at least for me), and it's got all the features most of us need. If 2000 won't do it because of games and such, then consider XP.

But that is a tilt not advice; and it will be colored in part by what the final activation licensing agreement really says. I haven't seen that yet.


Thanks for all the hard work doing things so that we don't have to.

Re the Nigerian e-Mail I found a couple of articles on the BBC news site which might interest you. 

It looks as if Barnum was right.

As regards the Sklyarov arrest discussion there is one problem with Mr. McCollom's argument, in that when you put a normal book onto a bookshelf it doesn't permanently attach itself to the bookshelf in such a way that when you move house you have to leave the book behind and buy a new copy.

As regards the lay-out of your web page you might want to look at your templates as there do seem to be a few spurious characters littered around. e.g. on the current mailpage I see a lower case d a line or so above the link to top at the end of Monday and an uppercase T one or two lines below the Tuesday anchor. This may be a quirk of FrontPage but they are definitely in the source. Other than that your site should be held up as a triumph of content delivery over irrelevant padding.

Many thanks for all the wonderful fiction over the years.


Ian Crowe

----------------------- Ian Crowe Technical Support Manager 

Actually the spurious characters help me keep track of font and color settings for a particular field, and are sort of random and have no real significance. I hope they aren't too distracting. Thanks for the kind words.

Dr. Pournelle:


I first want to say that I have not seen any reason to question your objectivity regarding Microsoft. One thing I do not think your *nix readers have understood is that if there is a problem, Microsoft has both the resources to fix the problem and the means to inform people of the fix. I'm not saying they do a perfect job of it, but they do make the effort.

However, it seems to me that generally people who use Microsoft software (even if only by default) seem more willing to help the innocent than *nix users. This maybe because *nix users seem to me to be very well educated about the inner workings of their OS, and, like the white-coated acolytes surrounding the mainframes of days past, somewhat annoyed by the persistent questioning of lesser beings.


Some states now issue driver's licenses with a magnetic stripe on the back encoding data, much like credit cards.

Some liquor stores, checking everyone's ID, are swiping the license through dedicated card readers. This certainly helps reduce teenage ID fraud, but it also puts everything on that license into the store chain's database, allowing that data to be concatenated with purchase data.

What bothers me most about this is that so few people are bothered. There is no way I will ever hand my license to anyone except a duly authorized officer of the law. Why aren't people more angered by this? Are we becoming sheep, or just good Imperial subjects?

Mark Thompson

Good question. 

Dear Dr. Pournelle, Two articles and an editorial from today's Washington Post which I hope you'll find interesting.

Electricity deregulation blows a fuse in California, pt 1 of 3. 

Should the US be an Empire? 

Time to rewrite the DMCA (Editorial) 

Kit Case

Apparently I am not the only one concerned with these matter. Perhaps. Practically. Almost.






This week:



Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Mixed bag today. Begin with the simplest:

Are you aware that your site has no alternates, so that it comes up meaningless when automatic image downloading is disabled? Try accessing it with Netscape after the disable, or with Lynx (a text only browser).

Alternates in your image links will fix this nicely.

-- Chuck F ( ( (Remove "XXXX" from reply address. yahoo works unmodified)  (for spambots to harvest)

I never know what to make of letters like this. I have learned from long experience that the confrontational tone isn't always intended, and often the sender is unaware of just how this sounds to people not brought up in the tradition of superlatives and shouting at each other. 

In any event, there's no one to do "alternatives" to make this meaningful to people who use Netscape with imaging disabled, and if I want to make this pretty for Lynx I would I expect do little else. So it goes. My apology but what I intend to do here is nothing.

Regarding the current column:

On August 20 you wrote:

| I have no sympathy for worm farmers, but I have | even less for "professionals" who can't be bothered | to do what they are paid for.

But have you ever *done* this job? Have you ever actually tried to support a large enterprise with hundreds or thousands of servers, where new security fixes are released on a weekly or even daily basis, and where every patch risks breaking a critical application?

In many cases, the risk to a business of applying every patch is greater than the risk from viruses and worms. That's because the vendors aren't always as careful as they might be in making sure a patch doesn't change the behaviour of a system in such a way that applications will break. This is understandable, they're under a lot of pressure to release patches quickly.

It's not as simple as you make out!



Of course I have never "done this job" but I do have the column vetted by people who have done similar jobs. And I would have thought that professionalism includes knowing what are critical updates and what are not: that it is part of what a professional who "does this job" knows, or should know.

Nor did I ever imply that this is "simple". Neither is driving an 18-wheeler truck "simple" although it is done fairly often.

Two points

Using current operating systems it's impossible to provide real security as there is always a time gap between the creation of a exploit and the publication of the cure. Even the best sysadmins will be caught out sometimes. The only real fix is for operating systems to be designed from the ground up with security in mind (just like a bank, where the default is that the doors and windows, if they exist at all, are closed, locked and bolted.) Unfortunately this conflicts with the marketing requirements of at least one major supplier of PC operating systems.

It suddenly occurred to me that many companies require the use of a "change management" system (complete with committees and other bureaucracies) so that their computer services are developed and maintained in an orderly manner. It also occured to me that any such company, if it hasn't got the sense to trust it's own sysadmins to perform emergency security fixes without authorization, is a sitting duck for hackers. I hope no companies are so stupid as to work in this way but in the past I've worked for a defence contractor and know that stupidity can be a way of life :-)

-- /\ Geoff. Lane. /\ Manchester Computing /\ Manchester /\ M13 9PL /\ England /\

You are only young once, but you can be immature forever.

In fact I had dinner Monday night with some people who are designing tools to make life easier for systems administrators.

As to the difficulties, "You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred."

Some welcome news:

A far cry from the days of a $500-$1200 SDK.......,11011,2805288,00.html 

In case you don't want to chase that link from your 56k line, it is IBM making it's Web Bench development studio open source, saying "it will never be sold for profit"

Marlin Roberts

Hurrah. They learned something. Astounding.

On the Sklyarov case

Congratulations on an excellent column! "I don't want to see the FBI arrest someone for writing a book on how to build a printing press" - great stuff! I'm also impressed with your advice on avoiding Outlook macro viruses - you just don't get this kind of advice from the news media, beacuse it isn't sensational or a good "sound bite".

Just a small point, you mention the questioning of "effective" protection. The DMCA specifically covers this: "a technological measure `effectively controls access to a work' if the measure, in the ordinary course of its operation, requires the application of information, or a process or a treatment, with the authority of the copyright owner, to gain access to the work." So, it doesn't need to be proof against hacking attacks in order to gain the protection of this law. A paperclip clearly isn't a lock, and is a bit of an exaggeration. I appreciate the sentiment, though.

Philip Hibbs Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Wynyard, UK 0870 238 8892 +44 1483 24 8892


" This message contains information that may be privileged or confidential and is the property of the Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Group. It is intended only for the person to whom it is addressed. If you are not the intended recipient, you are not authorized to read, print, retain, copy, disseminate, distribute, or use this message or any part thereof. If you receive this message in error, please notify the sender immediately and delete all copies of this message ". 


subject: Dmitry Sklyarov


I can't figure out why adobe, at first, and the US government, currently is going after Dmitry Sklyarov personally? If he wrote the software as an employee of a company then doesn't the company own the software and therefore inherit any gains, losses, or liabilities associated with that software? Even if he was an independent contractor his work would become the property of the contracting agent, in this case the software company.

As an engineer I am forced to sign patent agreements, work agreements, and NDA's, before I can work at a company. This holds true for scientist, especially scientist involved in medical drug development. Wouldn't a guilty verdict against Dmitry Sklyarov either invalidate or call into question those agreements and any case law that those patent agreements are based upon. I hate play acting at Perry Mason (since I am really bad at it), but this whole episode has me greatly concerned. I'm probably not the first to think of this, you yourself alluded to it in an email comment, but our governments heavy handed attitudes of late would probably either make King George laugh himself silly or the founding fathers roll over in their graves.

rock on


I certainly would have thought that civil matters should be served as civil cases before resorting to criminal law. Clearly Adobe's intent was intimidation. They succeeded, but they also managed to make enemies of some rather clever people. We will see what the future brings.

And an important missing point:

Good day Jerry. This makes two letters in two weeks. Interesting times.

First, a story of one physicist's job doing operations analysis and slide rule manufacturing in the Pacific Theatre:

Second, there's a point missing in just about all the coverage of the Sklyarov case to date. Sklyarov's ebook program does not crack passwords. Nor does it spread decrypted ebooks across the internet like some unholy crossbreeding of Gnutella and the Sircam virus. It simply takes the password the user gives it, and saves the ebook as an ordinary pdf file. The program will not work without the correct password, provided by the user, presumably the purchaser. Hopefully we won't get to the point where the right to read an ebook is not transferable to other household members.

This how ebook protection is designed. As long as the client program attempting to access the ebook provides the secret word (toy duck optional), the ebook happily proffers its goodies. It cares not if the client is a rights shackled ebook reader, or a virus emailing all ebook documents it handles to In Sklyarov's program, there is no cracking or circumvention. It relies on the user to give it access to the file. Without the correct password, it doesn't work. In professional terms, it is an untrusted client. It's as if you purchased a lock for your study, or your front door, and you're only allowed the two keys that came with the lock. You can't buy additional keys without buying all new locks, and you can't pay anybody to make copies of the keys. You can make your own copies, but you have to punch the key blanks yourself, as well as either filing them by hand, or building the grinder to grind them for you.

Even more disturbing is the fact that the previous paragraph is in potentially in violation of the DMCA, though not likely, as it's too vague to be useful. One part of the DMCA declares that only "authorized researchers" can publish the results of their examinations of protection schemes. This means that only the emperor and his hand selected circle of fashion critics can comment on his wardrobe. Authors will have to rely on Adobe's salespeople, and their anointed shills - I'm sorry, I meant independent evaluators - to learn how effectively protected their documents will be. I'm not sure exactly how much Adobe's ebook authoring software costs, I think it's about $300, certainly not much less, and likely quite a bit more. Just how much are you willing to spend on authoring software without being sure of the actual degree of protection it offers for your documents?

I see a pretty clear demarcation of responsibility, between Sklyarov, and his program, and the ebook purchaser who makes his decrypted ebooks available for anonymous ftp, in violation of his purchasing/license agreement. You can make a case for vicarious or contributory copyright infringement, but I wouldn't want to see such a case stand in the absence of any actual infringement. You can also argue that it's against the law, but unless you're one of those rare individuals who always obeys the posted speed limits, never uses illegal drugs, never jaywalks, never drank underage, and (for those over a certain age) never drank alcohol during Prohibition, I would suggest taking a close look at human behavior, and in particular the behavior of US citizens when presented with unpopular laws. Not even the Pope can get US Catholics to follow the rules.

And let's keep a bit of perspective here. We're talking about writing a tool that saves electronic books in a more portable format. We're not talking about drunk driving, parking in handicapped spaces, or rape. Nor are we talking about a counterfeiting operation that's shipping books across the land to be sold in flea markets and on the streets of New York. For this we're ceding away first amendment rights and consumer protections? Do we really want to make copyright violators face more severe criminal penalties than drunk drivers and people who park in handicapped spaces? Although counterfeiters on the other hand...

Thank you for your time Jerry, I know how little of it you have... Bruce

My sentiments exactly. Thanks. In the absence of any proof the program has EVER BEEN USED in an illegal manner, the man who may or may not have written the program is arrested and treated like a common criminal, bussed to Oklahoma, denied bail, and in general humiliated for a crime that was not a criminal act in Russia, and which may in fact not have resulted in any crime at all: there is no allegation even by ADOBE that anyone ever used this to make illegal copies of a protected program available to anyone.

Shame, Adobe. Shame.

I've just read your BYTE article regarding Dmitry Sklyarov and DMCA.

To me, one of the (many) problems with DMCA is that it paints with such a wide brush.

Under DMCA, if someone were to develop a unique encryption scheme to protect an illegal activity (such as kiddie-porn, money-laundering or fraud), that individual is actually protected by DMCA. That is, they could prosecute another individual who developed a decryption scheme, or even if someone who simply discussed the methods for decryption.

I don't think it was the intention of the authors of DMCA to protect criminals.

That said, I don't think the authors of DMCA put very much thought into the law at all. They simply followed the directions of a lobby group who's intent was to protect their copyright at the expense of everyone else.

-- Charles Milner - Harts Systems Ltd



On another subject:

Subj: Not All Linux Enthusiasts Are Fuggheads

I certainly don't want to stop you calling Linux-Enthusiast-Fuggheads (LEFs) "fuggheads".

I'd just like it on the record that I consider myself a Linux enthusiast, but not a LEF. And that I bet I'm not alone.

Please keep up the good work -- I'm especially happy, when I've read your Web site recently, to see you spending more time on Fiction!

Rod Montgomery ==

Heck, I consider myself a Linux enthusiast. A lot of the people who beat me about the head and shoulders for my Linux attitudes learned of it from me in the first place, and I was the one who discovered Moshe Bar for Byte.  Ah well. But Linux does not clean my dirty floors or throw away my trash.  Neither does Windows...


On Worm and Viruses:

Great job on Sklyarov vs DMCA. If enough people become aware of the case, releasing him and trimming back the DMCA should be a no-brainer.

Actually, there have been several theoretical vulnerablities only requiring browsing a malicious page with IE, or previewing malicious mail with Outlook. All the ones I've seen were ActiveX problems. There is one out there now that is described here: 

As far as I know, none have been found in the wild (fortunately!). It would be interesting to know if Microsoft has fixed the vulnerability above in the Friday release of XP, I have not been able to find word of anything but the existence of the vulnerability anywhere, thus far.


Most viruses and worms are actually found by tiger teams looking for holes, and the holes are fixed before anything exploiting them gets loose. Most. But clearly not all...

And on the new math tests (excepted from a discussion elsewhere):

The new tests are based largely on the belief systems of the NCTM National Committee of Teachers of Mathematics, which is behind the recent "WASL" test prep course that has 10th graders figuring how how many cornflakes will fit into a cereal box instead of how to solve for x when the square root of (x * 3) - 7 = 22. The answers to 4th grade math problems can be found in high school texts, if they can be found at all (independent probability, similar triangles, comparing probability with common denominators up to 24ths etc.)

The new tests are based on the assumption that anything remotely resembling an IQ test or SAT is by definition, biased and invalid, and that everything must be done the exact OPPOSITE of what most h-bd believe the way a test must be constructed and scored. So instead of one correct answer, there are zero or many correct answers. Instead of grading on a curve, a committee sets a cut score even if, or more likely because 90% of most students fail. Instead of setting a pass point or correct answer before giving the test, it's set AFTER the test is given and all answers are in. A question with a good explanation but a wrong numerical result is scored higher than a right result without a good explanation. I'm still perplexed why the IQ hawks have completely ignored this massive bastaridzation of the testing process.

The entire notion of a "cut score" for public education system whose purpose is to education people at ALL levels of performance up to 12 years is invalid on its face. In fact, any talk of

- raising standards - high standards for all - excellence for all - world class standards for all - eliminating grade promotion - a meaningful diploma - eliminating seat time based learning - accountability - continuous improvement

is bogus, and based on the flawed theory of "outcome based education", the educational equivalent of socialism, which promises equal wealth for all, ed reform promises high academic achievment for all, which is basically impossible given the bell curve.

What really gets my goat is the new "Dale Seymour" math textbook, where ANY method of computation including counting on your fingers to 36 or drawing pictures up to 144 is valid, but the only method they consider "wrong" is what used to be the "right answer". So carry and borrow, long multiplication and division are out. In fact, they assert that mathematicians don't even use the )----- long division notation, and that it doesn't even mean you have to use long division. They specifically state that 10 divided by 4 is NOT to be called 2 r 2, but "whatever the student is to be comfortable with". You can count cubes in layer, count one by one, or multiply in one layer and then add but NEVER, EVER accept that the volume is L X W X H because that's "rote learning". The only conceivable purpose for such a math book is to eradicate arithmetic as we know it because it is the cause of racism, sexism, homophobia, global warming, and all the other evils of society.


And the reply


You are not *nearly* cynical enough. The purpose of such math "instruction" is to create jobs for Remedial Math teachers all the way up through America's 4-year "Universities". All this stuff makes sense if you think of America's system of public education as a patronage jobs program for otherwise-unemployable-in-"professional"-jobs members of the core constituencies of the Democratic Party.


I leave the rest as an exercise for the reader. But see below.

Dear Dr. Pournelle, Your correspondent who referred to "Alternates in your image links" was noting that you don't have "alt=" tags in the image tags. It's a usability feature that allows people using text only browsers to be able to navigate around a website. Those tags are required in Federal websites. Section 508 covers that. I know Sec 508 because I work for a DoD contractor. Once we got through the gobs of legalese we discovered that Sec 508 simply requires us to do sensible and polite things like "alt=" tags or text-only versions of a website. Things that professional web developers (and yes, I realize thet you are not in the profession of developing web pages, but we are) should be doing anyway. We found that we were already compliant, because we have good people here. Imagine, a Federal Regulation that doesn't impose unreasonable overhead. What a concept.

The primary purpose of section 508 is to provide access to and use of Federal agencies’ information technology by individuals with disabilities. Primarily the blind, but also the deaf (if the site has audio content). It only applies to Federal Agencies, but note that AOL got in deep water with the National Federation for the Blind (as I recall) for not having "alt=" tags, on account of the blind can't use AOL. Really. If you can't see the graphics, you can't navigate around AOL and, since AOL provides a "public accomodation" they got nailed under the ADA. (AOL may have fixed this by now)

To quote from the Section 508 Guide to the standards:

A text equivalent for every non-text element shall be provided (e.g., via "alt", "longdesc", or in element content).

What is meant by a text equivalent? A text equivalent means adding words to represent the purpose of a non-text element. This provision requires that when an image indicates a navigational action such as "move to the next screen" or "go back to the top of the page," the image must be accompanied by actual text that states the purpose of the image. This provision also requires that when an image is used to represent page content, the image must have a text description accompanying it that explains the meaning of the image.

HTML Source Code: <img src="art/logo-green.gif" alt="Access Board Logo">

:End of quotation

The 508 website: The Guide to the standards:

Sorry for the length of this letter.

Sincerely, Kit Case

Wonderful. Every time I do anything I have to go put in alt = tags as well? In which case I will simply shut down. I haven't the time to do all that. I am sure it is a nice thing to do, and I am equally sure no one will do it for me.


I just read your article and went looking for the update 7019xme.exe and found it and the other one 701nt2kme . Here is the url I found using web ferret and the name of the file. 

Hope this helps you to find it on their web page.

Rustyb (Rick)

I didn't need to find it on their web page. I was hoping to shame them into making it easier to find.


Let me start off with a plea to get Mamelukes and Burning Tower into bookstores so that I can get my hands on them.

Secondly, after lurking for some time, I feel the need to respond to the comments made about math education. To start, there are two main goals of math education: computation and problem solving. To achieve the computation goal, the student must master basic facts and a number of computational algorithms. To solve problems, a student must have understanding of mathematical concepts, the ability to identify and apply the concepts which are applicable to this particular problem, and the computational ability to calculate the correct answer.

Part of the problem in math education is that in the last 120 years we've seen several cycles in which one of the goals is emphasized to the detriment of the other. In the extremes of the "computation uber alles" swing of the pendulum, we see massive amounts of drill and practice which has the effect driving students out of the math classes in high school and college. The National Defense Education Act of 1958 was due in part, to the lack of mathematicians, engineers, and scientists being produced by our nation's schools: and this was during the hey-day of math IS computation. The "concepts before calculation" school of thought also leads to problems. Without a solid background of computation skills, students may understand problems but not get the correct answer, which leads by way of lower confidence to students opting out of math classes in high school and college. About two million students enter kindergarten every year, but our universities graduate only 200 Ph.D.'s in math every year (many foreign born). So both of the extreme positions on math ed have been shown to not be the "One, True Answer."

Unfortunately, what drives the pendulum swings is not advances in educational theory but rather political demagoguery. The major book publishers will print whatever will sell in the large market states of California, New York, Florida, Texas, and Illinois. A political backlash against either concepts or computation will soon cause an avalanche of books which meet public expectations (The publishers are capitalists after all).

It should be easy to see that knowledge of concepts without computational ability is a form of mathematical impotency. Yet if all we teach are the "basics," the only thing our kids get is a basic education.

What is needed is a balanced approach which establishes the dual importance of both computational skills and knowledge of concepts necessary for problem solving. The people that built the Apollo spacecraft had to have both sets of skills. If our children are to build the future, they too must have both sets of skills.

And that is where Arthur's complaint over the volume lesson in the Dale Seymour textbook goes wrong. If the goal of the lesson is to provide understanding of the concept, then it is bad teaching to say "Just memorize the formula." It is also bad teaching to let the students do nothing but play with the blocks to compute the volume of a rectangular solid. The best practice in teaching is to introduce the concept of "volume of rectangular solids" using concrete examples or models so that students can see, feel, touch, etc. in order to understand the concept. The students must also be taught the formula, which is often easier when using the conceptual model as a reference point. Then, the students must be given enough drill so that the formula and its concept are firmly embedded in memory. Finally, problem solving activities which make use of the concept and computation formula should be completed by the students. It is the whole package of activities and skills that make for good teaching and learning. To criticize any single portion outside of the whole process is setting up a straw man to argue against.

As to the cause of all the evils of society, I didn't cover that in the math classes I taught.

David Coffland

You make good points, but I think there is more here. I learned math as follows: in first and second grade we memorized the addition and multiplication tables, largely by reciting them in unison. Sister would say "Times table by nines" and we would all sing out nine times one is nine, nine times two is eighteen, and so on through 9 times twelve is one oh eight."  We learned addition and multiplication through 12's, and so far as I know we ALL learned them by the end of second grade.

In 5th grade we got things like volumes. But then I was in Capleville consolidated, grades 1 - 8, two grades to a room, about 30 pupils to a grade, one teacher and no assistants per classroom. This was rural Tennessee and the amount of feed in a feed sack or buckets of water in a watering trough was a matter of considerable practical interest, and we learned those things. By 8th grade we all knew how many cubic yards of dirt a slip-shovel (a mule-drawn gadget for doing in a week what a modern bulldozer does in an hour) will hold, and thus how long it would take to fill a gully using a team of mules and a slip shovel. Or to build a pond, and how much the pond would hold.

Now we didn't get any higher math, and when I got to college calculus was still fairly mysterious, but I did know arithmetic, and all the grads of Capleville could count their change, and do their farming.

This was all done by one teacher for two grades and about 60 kids in the room. Of course we didn't talk back to her, or talk in class, since there was no ban on corporal punishment : the only threat that will keep boys still and in their seats.  Girls seem to sit quietly without being threatened. Boys have to be drugged or afraid of consequences. I managed to be whacked about 5 times between 1st and 12th grade, this in schools known to be tough (Christian Brothers didn't have quite the reputation for whamming the kids that the Jesuits in Catholic High did, but they certainly did not believe in sparing the rod; once again, I got to bend over and repeat "Thank you Brother" a couple of times, but not being stupid it wasn't often. It wasn't often with anyone else either since either you learned or you left -- in some cases for the Jesuits.)

Which isn't irrelevant, because if boys aren't given some incentive to sit still, shut up, and do the work, they generally won't do it. Which may be the real problem here...

The National Defense Education Act had stated purposes, but the major result was to create a vast tax-consuming bureaucracy that cannot be dismissed. Most critics of Federal Aid to Education predicted that result.






This week:


read book now


Thursday, August 23, 2001

Open with an excellent analysis of the Code Red and other Worm problems:

First, I enjoyed this column, and I'm glad you chose to address these subjects. I would like to clarify some points, though.

Of course, part of the reason Code Red spread so rapidly was the fact that available security patches were not installed in a timely manner, and even Microsoft was guilty of this (think carefully about that before you choose to sign up for the Microsoft Passport program and entrust them with your personal information). The problem is significantly more complex though for several reasons.

1. Many small companies installed Back Office servers without realizing that IIS was installed by default. Their Web servers still shows the default page, and no one at the company even knows they have a Web server they should be installing security updates for. 2. Some of the required updates to protect against the hole Code Red exploits were initially not listed as containing security fixes. Thus, someone diligently installing all "security" fixes could still have been vulnerable. 3. Companies don't place the proper priority on the security of their systems. They assign the network administration task to overworked programmers who might have time to do a security audit every 9 months or so, and don't have time to do it right. These employees are not to blame. Most of them have warned their employers that they can't do the job right, and management thinks that's good enough.

I consider Bruce Schnier to be one of the worlds leading experts on computer security in the real world. Here's a link to his excellent article on why we can never rely on simply having everyone install security updates regularly to keep the Internet secure: . Personally, I find it informative to read pretty much every issue of this newsletter, but I'm more interested in computer security than most.

Now to the question about multiple file extensions. This is really a side effect of the fact that Windows NT, 95, and newer versions allow pretty much arbitrary text in a file name as opposed to the 8.3 names allowed in previous versions. It is a "feature" of these newer operating systems that file extensions (the text after the final ".") is hidden by default - after all, the little icon should be enough to tell you what the file is, right? So, now when you name a file abcd.txt.vbs, Windows doesn't consider this to be 2 extensions, it just looks at the final .vbs. You get a file that will be executed as a vbs script file, but people who forgot that extensions are not supposed to be visible (so they shouldn't see .txt either) see abcd.txt, and think text file. Furthermore, the icon for a .vbs file looks a whole lot like the one for a .txt file. A simple thing that would make a big difference would be to make icons of all executable file very distinctive (like containing a big red exclamation point). Of course, that doesn't even start to address the issue of MS Office or other documents containing script code.

Steve Jorgensen


The solution is to allow RULES that can look at attachments and tag those with executable extensions. I can't imagine why Outlook won't do that. As to hiding the extensions, I had forgotten you can do that: I never do.

Jerry, one of your readers wrote:

But have you ever *done* this job? Have you ever actually tried to support a large enterprise with hundreds or thousands of servers, where new security fixes are released on a weekly or even daily basis, and where every patch risks breaking a critical application?

In many cases, the risk to a business of applying every patch is greater than the risk from viruses and worms. That's because the vendors aren't always as careful as they might be in making sure a patch doesn't change the behaviour of a system in such a way that applications will break. This is understandable, they're under a lot of pressure to release patches quickly.

It's not as simple as you make out!

As someone who DOES do the job, I have are several points to make.


First, maintaining hundreds or thousands of servers is not a simple task, no matter what you do with them. However, there are tools that make it easier. Having Hot fixes quickly posted where an administrator can get to them is a benefit.

I’d much rather have them quickly and easily available than the alternatives.

Any type of patch, fix or service pack should be tested before rolling it out to production servers, whether they are dozens, hundreds or thousands.

If you have one or two servers, you might want to back up your data, apply the patch to one, test it, and then apply to another. You certainly don’t want to blanket distribute it and hope for the best, no matter what the size of your organization is.

If you have hundreds or thousands of servers, then you probably have a method of software staging and distribution, and a plan for doing updates (if you don’t, you are an extremely poor manager). These plans are thought through carefully and have been tested many times as your server set grows.

Patches on the Microsoft site are described as to what they accomplish. You apply patches to fix a problem. If you are not encountering the problem, applying the patch is not necessary or desirable.

If a patch breaks a critical application, it’s advisable to not only roll back the patch, but examine the application. Why did it break? Is the application written to conform to the standards for the OS? Is there a patch for application germane to what broke when the patch you just applied went on? These things should be examined before the patch is applied to a production network, of course.

My company writes software, and we try very had to make software that isn’t going to break when a security patch is applied. We understand the capabilities of the Operating System, and the other Applications running on the servers, and design our software to be good neighbors. We help our clients understand what software they are running could be a potential problem, and do extensive testing during the development and deployment efforts.

Any IT person responsible for a medium or large organization will understand the above points.



Thank you.

This is a line


In most of the United States the only way you can graduate from college without taking a single science course is to major in elementary education.

See the whole thing at: 

Ed Hume

Unfortunately you can get out without science or much in the way or real humanities. But the worst is "social science" which gives you pretend science so you think you actually have studied science. When I took ecology at the University of Iowa, Rufus King wouldn't let us in his class without concurrent enrollment in differential equations. Now I seldom meet an "ecologist" who knows what a differential equation is.

Dr. Pournelle:

I read with interest your comments concerning Sir Fred Hoyle. The ideas you and Mr. Niven used in The Mote in God's Eye caused me to look into panspermia some years ago, so once again you are credited with stimulating intellectual curiosity. Public Radio credits Sir Fred with originating the phrase 'The Big Bang' as a derisive comment concerning the currently generally accepted theory, although Sir Fred was apparently annoyed that his term stuck.

On education: Mr. Heinlein's remarks in Have Space Suit, Will Travel concerning education are still relevant: "Twaddle. Beetle tracks. Occupational therapy for morons." I re-read your Higher Education a week or so back, and I cringed.

With a very few bright, shining exceptions, I have always considered physical education teachers to be taking part in a welfare program which provides jobs for otherwise unemployable ex-jocks. I now wonder if larger segments of the education profession fall under the same general category of welfare programs.

And apparently the Federal goal nowadays is for all children to be able to read, however haltingly, by the end of THIRD grade. I know of NO child in my class who was unable to read, at least haltingly, by the conclusion of FIRST grade, but that was long ago. Alas.

You have said, on occasion, "we were born free." When I read that sentence today I realized that I cannot remember the last time I heard someone say, "It's a free country."

In the words of your correspondent, I haven't been cynical enough. But I'm learning.

Keep up the good work. Mark Thompson

My mother taught First Grade in rural Florida in the 20's; she says she would have been fired if any kid of normal intelligence left first grade unable to read.

I just finished reading your pages on Dyslexia and ADD. Thought I'd add a bit more fuel to the fire...

My mother is a degreed reading specialist and former teacher. Note the FORMER. She got out of teaching years ago when she realized that the educational bureaucracy was mainly in it because they could not teach. Her last teaching job, she was fired for being too effective. How so? Because she used non-traditional methods to get kids to read. Main thing she found was actually getting them interested, so she stole my comic books when I was a kid. I may forgive her someday. Anyway, she found very few true dyslexics, and only occaisionally what you called pseudo dyslexia's. Those usually took a couple of hours to find, and about 1 hour to teach kids alternatives. An interesting case in point is my wife. She had a tendency to reverse numbers. Still does. My mother found it in about 30 minutes of diagnostic testing, told her to read large print and gave her a fresnel lens style magnifying glass. Problem solved. Note, my wife had successfully graduated from college with this pseudo dyslexia.

The other point was the ADD. My eldest son has severe ADHD. Now, before you shut off the rest of my discussion, he has a number of other neurological problems that go with "true ADD". We resisted this diagnosis for over a year precisely because I do believe that most kids are drugged into compliance. Were it not for the other neurological symptoms (such as a palsy in his hands, a tic with his tongue, and hypertension of certain muscles) doubtless we would continue to resist. All that is to say that there is an ADD & education industry devoted to making money off these kids. Parents should be VERY leary of drugging their kids without a competent evaluation from a pediatric neurologist specializing in ADD & related disorders.

Teachers asked us to drug #2 son. Politely told them to go to hell.




This is a line

And Roland tells us 

Worth a read, both pages: 


And on Windows Licensing

Hi Jerry,

I enjoyed your columns when Byte was on paper, and they are about the only thing I read in the electronic version.

I thought I'd add my $0.02 to the debate on windows' Licenses.

At home I have a small network of 5 computers, 3 running windows 98SE, one running Red Hat 7.1, and the last one running Mandrake 8.0.

I own 3 original licenses for windows:- 3.1 that originally came with the Red had machine, 95 for my wife's machine, and 98 for my laptop. If I were to buy a 4th machine to run windows, then I believe I should buy another original license for that machine.

But - if I decide to upgrade the 3 original licenses to 98SE, ME or 2000, why can't I buy one upgrade license and upgrade all 3 machines? Why should I pay again for a license for each machine when I already own a license for each machine? Am I missing something here? (Apart from extra money going into Microsoft's coffers)

For the record, my wife uses Mandrake and the Corel Wordperfect 2000 suite for Linux. The file format and programs seem to be completely compatible across both Linux and windows, which suits her fine. (We also have WordPerfect office 2000 for windows) I'm in the process of experimenting with Mandrake on my desktop and running windows under VMWare. (It also dual boots into native windows). Under Microsoft's license, should I have a separate license for the virtual machine? If not, then why do I need 3 licenses to upgrade 3 machines? VMWare means I can set up and test win95, 98, ME etc on one machine.

I still need windows for some software - especially since I develop windows software for a living! I am hoping I don't have to buy a copy of windows XP - for most people 98, ME or 2000 are "good enough". As linux becomes easier to set up, more people will use it, and more software will be ported.

Borland have already brought out Kylix for Linux that is essentially Delphi for Linux. They also have JBuilder for both windows and Linux, and C++ builder for Linux can't be far behind. When the tools are available, the apps can't be far behind. And more apps will mean more users.

keep up the good work!

David Noakes

David Noakes (BSc., MBA)


Senior Software Engineer, Thentec Group (


Thentec Group of Companies Mezzanine Level, 185 Moggill Road, Taringa Qld 4068, AUSTRALIA

Phone: +61 7 3371 6611 Fax: +61 7 3371 6633

"Partnering with our clients to enhance the way they do business"


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I really love those disclaimers.

You raise some good points. Word Perfect was at one time more popular than Word and by a lot. I am astonished at how badly its owners neglected it. It deserved better...

It's the applications that keeps Windows so far ahead. As you say, when the tools are available, that may change. At worst competition will make Microsoft spend a lot more time and work testing and fixing..


And now for an alternate view of the Adobe / Sklyarov case. The subject given was "Blaming the Victim":

Dr. Pournelle,

I look at blaming Adobe for Sklyarov's hacking algorithm as blaming the victim when a crime occurs. To point the finger at Adobe for negligence because they weren't using the most up-to-date software encryption algorithms kind of reminds me of the whole "Windows servers are unsafe because hackers get in them all the time." True but it's because 90% of desktops and 41% of servers (according to IDC research) run Windows and there are is a fringe element dedicated to destroying 100% of PCs that run Microsoft products. Yet hackers say it's because Microsoft security is so bad. Hackers blame the victim when the thief is at fault and they're the thieves.

We all know that research and development for encryption costs time and money. Granted, Adobe could have funneled money into the security R&D department, but they lost over 50% of their worth in a six-month period this year alone. It's hard to keep up with the hackers that run off of Jolt cola, Cheetos and bragging rights ("I cr4ckd adobez crypto wid my L33t code skIllz WOOT!") when your publicly held company is in a tough financial position. The only tough financial position hackers find themselves in is when their mom refuses to keep paying for the 1.5Mb DSL line going into the basement until her son attempts to get a job. Too bad these same hackers can't show off their "L33t skillz" by coming up with some bulletproof encryption for a change. 'Tis easier to destroy than to create.


I understand the whole "it's not illegal to write or print a book about stealing," idea but characterizing Sklyarov as a modern day Guttenberg is a bit of a stretch. Sklyarov's algorithm is a hack that breaks the lock on an encrypted product, allowing anyone to steal encrypted information from said product and pass it around the vast Internet for little to no cost. Sklyarov didn't write a book about how to make a printing press, he made the scanning mechanism for a photocopier that only copies books published by Tom Doherty Associates. Photocopiers aren't bad, but the photocopiers that only run off copies of Starswarm won't win the blue ribbon at the annual "Photocopier Phoundation" awards dinner. It's too specialized a technology, a bad business move, unoriginal, criminal and those guys do deserve to be in jail. The standard defense is: "Oh, so now you can arrest someone that makes lock picks?" Well, can you arrest someone that makes nerve gas? There's a case to be made that both are equally vile but equally necessary.


The "Just Compensation" point was against the idea of an "Adobe monopoly" that must be broken up with antitrust legislation. That term has already been bandied about and I fear that trustbusting is in Adobe's future. However, I didn't make that very clear and I apologize.


I have no apologies for Mr. Crow(e), who finds fault in my argument by saying: "when you put a normal book onto a bookshelf it doesn't permanently attach itself to the bookshelf in such a way that when you move house you have to leave the book behind and buy a new copy." Most consumers know an eBook isn't a normal book. An eBook is purchased to be read on one digital reader (preferably on a digital e-book reading device or laptop) and that is made very clear by all purveyors of Adobe eBooks. Consumers who reject this fact defend their decision to steal copyrighted materials by saying: "I bought it and it's mine to do with as I please." A better analogy is that you commissioned an artist to paint a one of a kind mural on the wall of your house, you move out of that house and are shocked to find out that the artist refuses to repaint the same mural on the wall of your new house for free. You knew exactly what you were getting when you signed up for this deal... Consumers (and people in general) should take some responsibility for their decisions.


The problem isn't going to go away and according to a story from Reuters, I fear it's just going to get worse. I know we have differing views, your readers are free to make up their own minds and we will most likely have to agree to disagree but even after the dust settles, I will still have no problem paying for a copy of a classic like Footfall (I shall not steal from you or your family) .

More power to you, sir and keep up the good work.

Scott McCollum

Austin, Texas

Well we can first agree that the problem isn't going away. Second, if we needed a court test of whether the DMCA is good law, it could have been done with civil suits: hauling a chap off to Oklahoma on a Greyhound was intended to be intimidation, and it works, but it also got a lot of people who live off Jolt Cola infuriated with Adobe; I do not think Adobe will profit fr0m this shameful episode.

As to your Mural analogy: should I be jailed for taking a photograph of the mural I paid for? Should Olympus or Kodak be jailed for making cameras that allow me to take photographs? Should Eastman's body be dug up and thrown into the Potomac for inventing photography? I could continue but surely the point is clear.

Now yes, I am concerned about these matters, and particularly so since making digital copies is cheap. Years ago I did a free lecture in a classroom: the teacher had carefully Xeroxed copies of one of my short stories from a collection so that every student in the class would have read "A Matter of Sovereignty" before I got there. This made for a good discussion. It was also illegal, and given the cost of Xerox in those days (6 cents a page I think) it cost more to make the copy than it would have to buy the paperback book the story appeared in. But of course the teacher got the Xerox "free" while books would have to come out of his budget which he didn't have.

So I said nothing, but it got me thinking what might happen when Xerox copies inevitably got cheap. They did and I am still here.

But ebook copying is free or nearly so. The question is, can we protect those books with encryption technology -- and must we protect encryption technology with threats of jail and Greyhound Therapy in Club Fed? And is that latter a cost we ought to bear?

And finally there is enforceability: anonymous publishing of algorithms is easy enough. How the heck are you going to enforce such laws? Sure, you can take the profit out of breaking encryptions but the civil law can  take care of that: confiscate the profits from illegal sales. But criminal law?

And Adobe's algorithm was painfully easy to break. Is that "effective"?

Ah well.





This week:



Friday, August 24, 2001

From Karl Lembke, once and future LASFS scribe, on Effective Copy Protection:

Dear Jerry:

As has been pointed out on numerous occasions, any scheme intended to prevent digital copying of any work has one inevitable weak spot: At some point, the contents of any computer file have to be displayed to the user in some form the user can appreciate.

No matter how securely text is encrypted, at some point it must be displayed in a form that can be read by a user. Audio and video signals must at some point be displayed so that ears can hear them and eyes see them. At this pont, the data can always be intercepted and saved to another format.

In the case of the Adobe format, I understand that the text is presented as a bitmap image. The only relation between the letters displayed and the ASCII codes is the shape of the image displayed on the screen. This will still break. Many graphics programs allow the user to capture an image from a computer screen. Images can then be fed into OCR software. This is the kind of thing that's rather tedious if done by hand, but easy enough to automate.

Am I now subject to arrest?

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

Good question.

Dr. Pournelle,

Scott McCollum makes a good point when he equates Adobe's encryption scheme to Microsoft's pathetic excuse for systems security, but he dismisses the portability issue out of hand, saying that people understand that they know when they purchase an ebook that it is only for the single plam top, laptop, PC, or book reader it was initially downloaded to.

It is this kind of nonsense that limits the markets for eletronic books. I keep and re-read books over extended periods (including old college texts). Books I don't keep go to Friends of the Library or a second-hand store. I absolutely will not purchase a book that I'm going to have to keep and maintain and obsolete device or PC just to read again. Likewise, I wouldn't purchase a book that expires over time, especially when I can just keep adding bookcases and get instant access to a book I haven't looked at in five years in an easy to handle format.

At the very least, the data portion of an e-book and the associated software should be portable among devices, otherwise there is absolutely no reason to get one. If Adobe was smart, they would license thetechnology in their reader so other firms could sell them with additional features or for different Operating Sytems.

===== Chris Levesque

"The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism  ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any controlling private power." -FDR

On another subject:

Dr. P,

To the best of my knowledge, there is not yet an email trojan which initiates from the Outlook preview pane. but the same cannot be said for Outlook Express.

My understanding (and I'm pulling from some very dusty neurons) is that the preview panel in Outlook Express *does* open the message sufficiently to activate DHTML scripting within the message. Hence, there has been at least one email trojan which could be safely previewed in Outlook but doing so in Outlook Express would unleash it.


Bill Clardy

That was my understanding as well. Perhaps I didn't make it clear enough.


>Does anyone have hard evidence of a virus or worm or Trojan that >operates merely be being viewed in an Outlook preview window? I know >of none, although I keep hearing rumors of them

I can't forward you a copy (had a HECK of a time getting rid of it!) but about two weeks ago I received an Email which, when I clicked on it in Outlook Express (on Win98) locked my computer SOLID... I had to hit the reset button to get out of the lockup

When I went back to OE to delete the message, and clicked on it so I could delete it... locked up again

I finally deleted the message by clicking on the Email above, holding the Shift key and pressing the down arrow to highlight the bad Email and the one below, and then pressing Delete to remove all 3 messages

I have the (pitiful) Outlook Express security settings ON, and figure that what happened is the Email tried to do something nasty, OE would not do it due to the security settings, but also was not able to get out of "whatever" the Email was trying to do... so locked everything

I also have Norton AV active for Outlook Express, and it did not say anything at all about the message... of course, due to the lag time between a virus and AV definitions, that is not any surprise

Since I could not even view the message to see the return address I have no idea where it came from... and am just thankful that it has not shown up again (wish I could say the same about all the spam I get... I can set up OE filtering, but that only works AFTER all the junk is downloaded, taking up my modem's time)

John Thomas Smith

That one may have been with a URL link; I get those sometimes. Outlook 2000 is much better than Outlook Express at this, and I frankly wouldn't use Outlook Express. I use Outlook because I need the RULES. I am told that the latest Eudora has the equivalent. I haven't seen that in operation.

With Outlook you can make a number of setting changes that make things more secure.

Dear Jerry,

On your Current View page for Thursday 23 August 2001 you wrote: "Does anyone have hard evidence of a virus or worm or Trojan that operates merely be being viewed in an Outlook preview window? I know of none, although I keep hearing rumors of them."

I know of one such from about three years ago. The security hole has long since been patched, but the memory lingers.

Have a look at: 

which says in part, "The worm utilizes a known Microsoft Outlook Express security hole so that a viral file is created on the system without having to run any attachment. Simply reading the received email message causes the virus to be placed on the system.  Microsoft has patched this security hole...." and "...This worm can reinfect your computer if it is displayed in the preview pane of Outlook Express. This can happen when switching between folders. (This means that a viral file can be created on the system without having to open an attachment.) " Regards,

David C. Plunkett

That one was Express also; and as you say the hole seems to have been plugged.

Dear Jerry,

You are correct in that viral attachments are not active if a message is viewed in the Outlook Preview Pane. However, HTML formatted e-mails are previewed in all their glory, and that includes executing scripts.

This is how the KAK and BubbleBoy viruses work.

Microsoft has changed this behaviour in various versions of Outlook, but beyond "current versions oughta be safe", you should check your settings. In my corporation, I put a registry hack in the login script which ensures that:

1) The Internet Explorer "Security Zone" that our Outlook uses to render HTML e-mails is the "Restricted Zone", and

2) The "Restricted Zone" really is restricted. The default in IE is far too permissive in this zone. Even if you set the security level here to "High", it still leaves ON the setting "Script ActiveX controls marked safe for scripting". I suggest that you press the "Custom Level" button, reset the level to "High", and then turn this setting OFF. While you're at it, disable everything. I don't need need my e-mail to dance and sing and let me fill out web forms. Frankly, coloured text in multiple sizes and fonts is more than I need!

Here are some helpful links. You might note that some of the software versions are old; I'd rather take these simple security precautions rather than trust that Microsoft has filled all the holes! 


Andrew Colbeck

Thanks. Cheers to you, too.



"Sir Fred, John Gardener, Gene Roddenberry, and I were together on a symposium at the Library of Congress where Sir Fred told me a hilarious story and also made the best one-liner I have ever heard. I guess I am now the only one left alive who knows the story."

Dr. Pournelle, you aren't usually this cruel.

I'll tell it one day, when I have time to do it right. 


Jerry, Here is a link you and some of your readers may find interesting; an on-line listing of all of the Roman Emperors, complete with biographical essays, links to other sources, and an intelligent use of multimedia. If nothing else, it's proof that there are useful sites on the Internet. (In addition to yours, of course). 

Chuck Wingo

Indeed! Thanks.






This week:



Saturday, August 25, 2001

From our favorite psychiatrist (who actually is raising children...)

It took a study to tell us what we already knew.

 Subject: New Study Gives Green Light to Occasional Spanking

--------------------- This Excite News Article has been sent to you from  

Message from sender:

Summary of News Article: New Study Gives Green Light to Occasional Spanking

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) The occasional spanking does no long term-damage to a child's emotional or social development, undercutting theories which say any physical punishment of children is harmful, according to a study released on Friday....

--- Incoming mail is certified Virus Free. Checked by AVG anti-virus system ( Version: 6.0.268 / Virus Database: 140 - Release Date: 8/7/2001

And I predict it will change not one singe opinion. Too many people make a living interfering with other people's lives. The nanny state lobby is too large now: it will take revolution and blood to change things, and no one believes in that either. If enough people wanted to take back their government and tell the nannies to mind their own business, it would happen: but everyone has their doubts, there's no strong lobby for freedom, and there are highly organized lobbies of public employees who stick together even if they don't always agree that a particular "public service" is a good idea.

Solidarity forever.

The world is divided into tax consumers and tax payers, and the consumers always stick together, and always work to create more power for themselves. They may not agree on anything else, but they do agree that they have a right to consume taxes.

And the band played on.

So we have studies to tell us what my mother and your mother could have told anyone; and the Departments of Social Services and Child Welfare will continue to consume taxes and provide "services" like arresting parents who swat a kid. (Of course this will result in floods of mail accusing me of advocating child "abuse".

The real problems are fundamental now: there is no political responsibility for anything. You can shoot a mother holding her baby and nothing will happen to you. You can throw a mother in jail for asking on a telephone help line if it's normal to have feelings of sexual arousal when nursing a baby (it took sex weeks for that family to get their child back from the New York "social services" people who wanted to "protect" the child from a "possibly abusive situation"). You can haul people off to jail and break up families on what judges will weeks later say are ridiculous grounds -- and NOTHING will happen to you if it's done under color of authority.

We used to have civil rights. Now we just hope to avoid the attention of "our" public "servants". And the band plays on.

Ah well. Thanks. I saw that in the paper this morning, too.


After I read a couple of your books, a friend pointed me to your site. Interesting discussions and observations.

On ALT tags: I use them in part because I used to browse without images turned on. However, my site is about photography, so looking at it w/o graphics is pointless. So the tags have mutated into an equivelent of Easter Eggs in software -- in-jokes by the coder for the benefit of like-minded readers. I wonder how functional the ALTs on official sites will be considering the number of ways in which compliance can be achieved without any real functionality.

-- Oleg Volk "Photo Gallery" "Human Life is Worth Protecting"

Indeed. I thought of that, in fact. Why not?

I don't have time to write a full description but it was funny...


And this...

Dr. and Mrs. Pournelle,

I'm a frequent reader and occasional correspondent. If you haven't seen it, this is a breath of fresh air in the otherwise politicized world of teching. It's a short editorial style article, published in a Cleveland teachers' newsletter. Mr. Oldrieve is currently working on a grant for developing mathematics instruction, but the majority of his experience is teaching reading to Cleveland's inner city students.

A Cleveland teacher sorts out the “reading wars”, by Richard M. Oldrieve 


Bob Taylor

This essay is a defense of people using the technique they know best. There is no objective truth, saith this math teacher. There is no "best" reading instruction method. Perhaps I can't agree. 

The problem here is that the "whole language" people don't intend to confine their activities to teaching good readers to be better ones. The problem in this country isn't that we don't have enough excellent readers. The problem is that we have about 50% illiterates who can hardly read at all.

The remedy to being a better reader is to read a lot. The way to get people to read a lot is to give them interesting stuff to read. Controlled vocabulary and the imbecile books that whole language people write and get paid for -- tax consuming again, how many home schoolers buy the kind of reading textbooks found in schools? If they weren't paid for by taxes no one would ever buy the  silly things which are selected by committees... -- those books are not books that anyone will read barring coercion. Indeed, the only hopeful thing here is that corporal punishment may come back as the only threat that will get kids to read the nonsense that's handed to them as reading textbooks.

John Ruskin's King Of the Golden River may be tough sledding but when you have finished reading it you remember it. Get some kid to tell you about a reading text story from last year.

The whole language people are tax consumers, there are a lot of them, and their jobs would be in danger in a rational society. You may be sure the teacher's unions will rally around them, and "whole language" will be with us. After all if we don't have deficient readers what will the reading specialists and consultants do? It would be as if we had no poverty : what would the welfare workers do?  (Add up the money paid out by all the anti-poverty programs in the US and all the recipients of anti-poverty money. Divide the first by the second. Compare to the poverty line...) So the poor we will always have with us: the civil servant lobbies will see to that.

And the illiterate we will always have with us.

The good news is that the Windows version of my wife's reading program was done last night, and will be on sale fairly soon. Which means that anyone who really wants his kid to learn to read will be able to accomplish that at home before the kid ever goes to school. (Of course there are exceptions. Of course there is true dyslexia. But in general any child with the mental age of 5 can learn to read in the sense that the reading and speaking vocabularies will be the same; comprehension is another matter for another time. But before you can comprehend you have to read...)

I fear this is just another of those attempts to save the jobs of the people who, having tried to force their imbecile system on the rest of the world and failed, now say "you shouldn't force YOUR system on us, even if yours works and ours doesn't." Tax consumers standing together. As usual.

And finally for today, don't read this if you're offended by Boy Scouts

"It all started with an enquiry from a nurse," Dr Karl Kruszelnicki told listeners to his science phone-in show on the Triple J radio station in Brisbane. "She wanted to know whether she was contaminating the operating theatre she worked in by quietly farting in the sterile environment during operations, and I realised that I didn't know. But I was determined to find out."

Dr Kruszelnicki then described the method by which he had established whether human flatus was germ-laden, or merely malodorous. "I contacted Luke Tennent, a microbiologist in Canberra, and together we devised an experiment. He asked a colleague to break wind directly onto two Petri dishes from a distance of five centimetres, first fully clothed, then with his trousers down. Then he observed what happened. Overnight, the second Petri dish sprouted visible lumps of two types of bacteria that are usually only found in the gut and on the skin. But the flatus which had passed through clothing caused no bacteria to sprout, which suggests that clothing acts as a filter.

"Our deduction is that the enteric zone in the second Petri dish was caused by the flatus itself, and the splatter ring around that was caused by the sheer velocity of the fart, which blew skin bacteria from the cheeks and blasted it onto the dish. It seems, therefore, that flatus can cause infection if the emitter is naked, but not if he or she is clothed. But the results of the experiment should not be considered alarming, because neither type of bacterium is harmful. In fact, they're similar to the 'friendly' bacteria found in yoghurt.

"Our final conclusion? Don't fart naked near food. Alright, it's not rocket science. But then again, maybe it is?" (Canberra Times, 17/7/01. Spotter: Michael Doyle)




This week:


read book now




I took the day off.





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