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Mail 186 December 31, 2001 - January 6, 2002 

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IF YOU SEND MAIL it may be published; if you want it private SAY SO AT THE TOP of the mail. I try to respect confidences, but there is only me, and this is Chaos Manor. If you want a mail address other than the one from which you sent the mail to appear, PUT THAT AT THE END OF THE LETTER as a signature. In general, put the name you want at the end of the letter: if you put no address there none will be posted, but I do want some kind of name, or explicitly to say (name withheld).

Note that if you don't put a name in the bottom of the letter I have to get one from the header. This takes time I don't have, and may end up with a name you didn't want on the letter. Do us both a favor: sign your letters to me with the name you want posted.

I try to answer mail, but mostly I can't get to all of it. I read it all, although not always the instant it comes in. I do have books to write too...  I am reminded of H. P. Lovecraft who slowly starved to death while answering fan mail. 

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This week:



Monday  December 31, 2001

Happy New Year

Some interesting links from Tracy Walters:

Broadband in aircraft: 

“Secret” Sound Archive: 

Computers that improve themselves: 


And Roland notes that Universal's copy protection is broken:,24330,2391656,00.html 

Linux sees right through this, of course. If the SSCA gets passed, Linux will essentially be outlawed, as there's no way to even -try- to 'enforce' copy-protection, since there aren't these globby layers of software running over which the user has no control.

-- ------------------------------------------------------------ Roland Dobbins 

Which makes for interesting speculations. Men with trench coats, opening them to reveal their wares. "Penguins, little nerd?"

John Walker Lindh, Timothy McVeigh, and Theodore Kaczynski all share a profound alienation from society, intolerance for moral ambiguity, and disrespect for dissenting points of view. Each man pursued his idiosyncratic vision as a means of compensating for social awkwardness. The genius of civil society is the sublimation of physical violence into rational discourse. Lindh, McVeigh, and Kaczynski rejected this sublimation. Their particular ideologies seem irrelevant.

Civil society needs a place which will be attractive to otherwise dangerous misfits. A place attractive enough that such men will seek it of their own volition.

I suggest we colonize Ceres or Vega for this purpose.

Steven Belknap 

Well, the frontiers have often been settled by oddballs, and have been a place of refuge -- and sometimes rehabilitation -- for criminals. But I suspect space will be a tougher proposition.

But then The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress...

And on Education:


Saw the brief discussion of this topic on your site.

Yes, everyone wants to get rid of bad teachers, including the unions and members, however, the process is burdensome and costly.

As a school board member, I approved moving ahead to rid our district of two bad teachers. One had been teaching for more than 40 years. He never did anything egregious, but rather walked a thin line. The district reduced his salary, refused him raises, gave him retirement incentives. Other faculty members sat down with him and explained how much money he was losing by not retiring. He refused to go, in part, because everyone wanted him gone. The school principal made it clear that he would celebrate when this teacher left. I left the Board in 1998. The teacher is STILL teaching.

The second teacher was a tenured special education teacher who did absolutely nothing. Often people would go by his class to find him sitting behind his desk reading while students were doing precious little. This teacher refused to support the district's special education goals. He basically marched to his own drummer and thumbed his nose at everyone.

In this case, the School Board members voted to undertake the process to get rid of this teacher. This process costs close to $150,000 by the time the lawyers get paid and all the paperwork gets processed. It required the school principal to document every little misstep the teacher made.

In the end, the district's lawyer felt that the evidence against the teacher wasn't compelling enough to go forward because NY State's hearing officers rarely dismiss a teacher, but instead tell the school district that it needs to rehabilitate a teacher.

The ironic twist in this case, the principal who had worked so hard to get rid of this teacher started drinking and her dricking became an obvious problem. The district then wanted her gone.

The principal, being aware of the process and the cost, offered to go for a settlement of $150,000; the cost the district would have incurred to get rid of her through the formal channels. The district paid her.

I don't believe local control is the answer. I believe the abolishment of tenure is the answer. Who has a job for life anymore? Even colleges and universities are diminishing the number of tenure track positions on campuses.

Sue Ferrara

I replied to the effect that the simplest solution is local districts which can abolish tenure, to which she replied:

Local control would allow the abolishment of tenure, but I don't know where you would find a school board of nine people with the guts to take such action.

During my second year on the board, I wanted to vote for tenure on a case by case basis because I didn't think one of the principals deserved tenure. My colleagues refused saying it would embarrass the one staff person and could set the board up for all sorts of legal actions.

Consequently, we voted on tenure for all the teachers and I voted no. Then in the minutes it appeared as if we had voted on every person individually. I asked that the minutes be changed.

As you can guess, my fellow board members didn't like me much.


The implications here are clear. And of course you were not elected to be popular with the other teachers. Open and public meetings with parents present would help a lot. In LA that can hardly happen, but in small local districts it can.

I propose no more than this: somewhere there will be local districts that get it right. Others may then copy them. The Soviet style we use now of command from Washington is not working. At all.

And not only here:

The Times [London\ MONDAY DECEMBER 24 2001

On the front line in war against dunces BY WILLIAM REES-MOGG

IF YOU dumb down secondary education, a generation later you will find you have dumbed down everything, your teachers, your politicians, your businessmen, your television, even your scientists. The contrast of English generations is visible everywhere, particularly in the two Houses of Parliament. The average age of the Commons is a generation below that of the Lords; the peers are so old that we were educated before the flood. Most of the unfortunate young persons in the House of Commons have had a more modern education; it shows in their relatively incoherent debates.

Only 40 years ago, the grammar and public schools, which are themselves only fee-paying and independent grammar schools, turned out students with a wider and deeper general education than one now finds in the average university graduate. In the 1950s a good student would leave a grammar school with some knowledge of four languages and four great literatures; the fourth language was English, which was learnt by contrasting its usages with Latin, Greek and French. The student would have been grounded in mathematics and science, and would also have studied English history and the Bible, which contains the holy books of two world religions. Too few students had the advantage of this excellent education. In 1964 a Labour Government was elected with a policy of correcting this inequality, not by creating more grammar schools, but by destroying those that already existed. They did not attack the private schools; they destroyed the best part of state education. This was an act of iconoclasm, far more destructive in its long-term consequences than the destruction of the two great Buddhist statues by the Taleban.

We know when the grammar schools ended; they began in 1510, when John Colet, then Dean of St Pauls, founded St Pauls School. That school has survived only because it is not a state school. From the beginning Colet aimed to teach the new learning, the Greek studies that had been brought to Europe after the fall of Constantinople half a century earlier. St Pauls School is a Renaissance institution. The first students were cosmopolitan. There was no restriction of nationality and Greek was taught as well as Latin. From the beginning it was meritocratic, as it still is. The students had to be able to read and write and had to be of good capacity.

Colet was influenced by his close friends, including Thomas More and Erasmus, whom he had known since Erasmus first visited Oxford in 1498. This Renaissance system of education spread by example to many other schools. The great Busby at Westminster in the 17th century, or Arnold at Rugby in the 19th, were teaching in the Colet grammar school tradition.

Its greatest virtue was the study of literature. Even in the 1950s, a student could leave a grammar school with a fair chance of having studied Cicero and Thucydides, Virgil and Homer, some French literature, perhaps Voltaire, and the classics of English literature, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, perhaps Dryden and Pope, Gibbon, the Romantic poets, and the major novelists of the 19th century. For some, that was the start of a lifetime of reading, growing broader with time. For others it was the only literary interest they ever developed.

The study of literature trains and extends the human faculties. Our own imaginations, in their natural state, are dull and limited. The great creative authors bring their power of imagination to us, and their understanding of human nature. The great thinkers give us at least some idea of the way in which their minds work. We can almost hear Socrates talking.

Human psychology remains much the same over time. People still feel jealous like Othello, malignant like Iago, infatuated like Juliet, irresolute like Hamlet, ambitious like Macbeth or Lady Macbeth. Logic remains the same; self-contradictory argument is in the same model now as it was in the time of Aristotle. Literature is the road to general understanding, at the heart as well as of the head.

Erasmus knew that; we do not recognise it now. Dumbing-down continues to expand in ripples, long after the first big stone has been thrown into the lily-pond. In the Christmas issue of The Spectator, Julia Lewis writes a poignant piece: An Axe to the Roots of our National Culture. In my view, the axe fell in the 1960s; we are now grubbing out the roots. She tells how the Government is forcing libraries to sell, and sometimes pulp, great works of literature in the name of vibrancy and multiculturism.

With deadly bureaucratic precision, each local authority has been given 8.5 years to replenish its entire stock. Councils have to submit a library plan to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport . . . the targets are to make sure that libraries are vibrant and attract people to them. The result is the dumbing-down of libraries, just as secondary education was dumbed down in the 1960s and 70s. Apart from the insult to the residual functions of local authorities, this is authoritarian modernisation, with its contempt for the past.

Julia Lewis finds it is not only high intellectual books that are thrown out. The Borough of Merton, whose citizens could do with a good read, has been selling not only George Eliot, who does after all get on television, and Dickens, but The Darling Buds of May, as reader-friendly a book as one could hope for, and a television series as well.

At her own library, Miss Lewis made a check, using a book she had bought at one of these sales, One Hundred Great Books! Masterpieces of All Time. The library computer revealed just seven of these books. It registered as zero when I typed in Aristotles Ethics or Malthuss Essay on the Principles of Population hardly surprising. But no Pride and Prejudice, Robinson Crusoe, Madame Bovary, Brave New World or War and Peace.

I have, at this point, to declare an interest as the chairman of Pickering & Chatto Publishers; we publish collected scholarly editions of historic English authors. We do indeed publish two of the missing authors, Malthus and Defoe. My financial interest will be a slight one, since our editions are not widely bought by the English public library. Small print runs are expensive; we cannot find sales on the Harry Potter scale for the 29 volumes of our collected Darwin.

Nevertheless, the pulping and sale of great books angers any book-lover, and most publishers are book-lovers. In English literature and learning, Pickering publishes or is preparing editions of Leigh Hunt, Robert Southey, William Godwin, William Hazlitt, Mary Shelley, Benjamin Disraeli, Horace Walpole, Christina Rossetti, Aphra Behn, Fanny Burney, Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, John Gay, Eliza Haywood, William Shakespeare, Thomas de Quincey, Mary Wollstonecraft, H.G. Wells, Mariah Edgeworth, Wilkie Collins, William Cobbett, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, Thomas Malthus, Robert Boyle, Charles Babbage and Charles Darwin. These are our elite troop in the war against the dunces.

The scholarship that has gone into these editions is often English, but the sales mainly go to the United States, Japan, or other countries overseas. We export something close to 90 per cent of our books. In America and Japan, English literature is seen for what it is: this islands greatest contribution to world culture. The Germans do music; the English do books. I include, obviously, Irish, Scottish and Welsh authors in the literature of the English language.

It may, perhaps, be too late to reverse the iconoclasm of the 1960s that destroyed the grammar schools. It is not too late to fight the book-pulping of the Department of Dumb, Dumber and Dumbest.

For my part, I am throwing Daniel Defoe first into the battle. He wrote almost every sort of literature, novels, Utopian fantasies, histories, travels, social studies, economic pamphlets, brilliant journalism, passable poetry. Of all the great English authors he is the most varied in his subject matter, but always close to the realities of human life. Pickering & Chattos biggest project for this decade is a 44-volume edition of his works, the first proper collected edition. It is being edited by Owens and Fairban, two leading Defoe scholars. They come from the Open University, of which Defoe would surely have approved. Bureaucrats may try to deaccession Defoe; with his help, we can hope to dethrone them.

I regret the length of that but I don't have the URL. And it does show some of the problem.

And Roland on complaints about Star Office:

His problem with the fonts isn't StarOffice; it's the fact that he hasn't set up fonts properly on his Linux box.

I've done so, and I've lovely TrueType and Adobe Type 1 fonts throughout XFree86, my window manager (WindowMaker), and all my applications, including Mozilla and . . . StarOffice.

Mr. Tompkins should check out the Linux Font De-uglification HOW-TO, located here: 

So there is hope for us all. 

And Joel Rosenberg notes:

Unsurprisingly, Roland beat me to the font deuglification matter. (When *does* he sleep? Or is "Roland" merely a collective pseudonym for a league of experts -- sort of like Doc Savage's sidekicks?)

Actually, with recent versions of Mandrake, it's even simpler than in the deuglification howto. Just be sure that you set up XFree 4.n when installing, leave the default of antialiasing on, and then install a buncha Windows fonts using DrakFont. Direct messing about with the XF86Config-4 file -- always a tricky matter -- isn't necessary.

Roland is a singular individual... 


An inquiry from a reader:

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I want to design a clock, and was wondering whether anyone can recomend a sub-$200.00 dollar CAD program. Preferably one that will let me design my own gear train and model it in real-time 3D.

Thanks, Jim Snover

I have an answer, but I prefer to see what the readers say first.

And now for something that ought to really make you unhappy. From Robert Racansky:

If this doesn't make you angry, you must be smoking crack.

Now that airport security screeners have been made federal employees, allegedly in a move to imporove security, the current workers will be replaced with ---

Well, they're not being replaced.

According to the New York Times (December 30, 2001, at ), the Department of Transporation has decided to drop the requirement that security screeners have a high school diploma, and is working "to expedite the naturalization process for screeners who will lose their jobs if they do not become citizens."

"The idea is to allow current screeners who would otherwise qualify but may not have high school diplomas to be eligible, so they do not get left behind," said Paul Takemoto, a spokesman for the security administration, which is part of the Department of Transportation. "Having a year of experience on the job is a valuable asset, and many of those people are perfectly qualified, even if they don't have a diploma."

Huh? I thought that the current group of workers was too incompetent, and had to be replaced? That was supposed to be the point of federalizing the security workforce.

So making airport security screeners federal employees has:

1) Replaced few, if any, airport security screeners 2) Increased the cost of airport security 3) NOT increased the level of security one bit 4) Increased the number of government employees 5) Made it HARDER to fire incompetent security workers 6) Diverted scarce resources from other security measures

After last week's "shoe bomber" incident on American Airlines flight 63 from Paris, I'm sure that some moron will want to make airport security screeners in France employees of the U.S. government. The French might object, but -- well, we invaded their country once, and that's when it was full of German soldiers...

As much of a joke as airport security has been for decades, the private security firms are in NO WAY responsible for what happened on September 11th. Box cutters were not on the FAA's list of banned items. Meanwhile, the government agencies that SHOULD have done more -- the CIA, the FBI, the INS, etc -- will probably be rewarded with larger budgets, and as far as I know, no one there has lost their jobs over their failure to carry out their duty to protect the United States and its citizens.

Happy New Year. 


December 30, 2001 "Rules Will Allow Airport Screeners to Remain in Jobs" By DAVID FIRESTONE

After stoking high expectations that the federal takeover of airport security would lead to a new breed of airport security screener, one who was better educated and more qualified to assume a position of increased responsibility, the Department of Transportation has decided not to impose rules that would displace thousands of current screeners.

Most significantly, the department will not insist that screeners be high school graduates, a requirement that would have disqualified a quarter of the present work force of 28,000.

As recently as Dec. 20, the department said in a news release that "screeners must be U.S. citizens, have a high school diploma and pass a standardized examination."

But the Transportation Security Administration, the new agency created to supervise aviation security, announced a few days ago that it would allow a year of any similar work experience in lieu of a high school diploma.


Transportation officials also said this month that they planned to work with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to find ways to expedite the citizenship process for screeners with good work records. They also plan to increase the pay of screeners, which until recently had been at minimum-wage levels, and to give a preference to hiring displaced aviation workers.

< snip >

"What we really need are people who understand how terrorists work, who can spot a false passport, who can ask the right questions of the right people," said Isaac Yeffet, former director of general security for El Al Airlines and now a private security consultant in Cliffside Park, N.J. "Every screener is holding on his shoulders a 747 full of passengers. It is impossible to imagine that they would have dropped out of high school."

Wonderful. But we must be seen to be DOING SOMETHING, no? Mostly driving passengers crazy, as far as I can see.

Officiousness knows no limits.

And words of good cheer:

I had a talk with one of my committee members (Karl Pribram) about age-related memory problems when I encountered them during my PhD work. They're normal and seem to involve interference during retrieval. (See chapter 5 of Gluck and Myers, 2001, Gateway to Memory, MIT Press.) The cue that it's not Alzheimers is that when you're finally reminded of the thing you're trying to remember, you can't understand how you forgot it. I learned to use memorization cues to aid retrieval. Just regard them as being a sign of your growing wisdom.

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

Thanks. I hate to forget things, but I don't forget what they are, just their names, and as you say, I can't figure how I forgot "geranium" when I know what one is.

I never know what to do with mail like this:

Subject: Hey AC low speed Goofball


Just to let you know if you are still getting a 28.8 connection with Asheron's call when you have a 56k modem(in reality 53k as you are right in saying) that the connection speed problem is most likely related to your TELCO. Therefore I am guessing you live in the boonies. I suggest instead of whining and complaining about Microsoft you start whining and complaing about your bandwidth provider. The Zone does have its problems here and there but anybody trying to play a MMORPG with a 28.8 connection shouldn't even bother. You may have a Pentium 4 but be welcomed to the new world where CPU/Video card speed is no longer as important as bandwidth. Try to think of it as this... Think about how slow a floppy drive is and how long it can make you wait, now think about your 28.8 connection modem even slower which now brings even more data across then your floppy drive did. To conclude it seems quite obvious to complain to your Telco, either that or get a heavy duty connection like cable,dsl or industry standard connections such as T1+. Also quite simply a wireless dish networking scheme does not count everyone knows the data error rates are so high on those you might as well use your 28.8 modem. After all the clouds don't always cooperate when you want to play AC.

Bluey AC Harvestgain  Michael Bedford []

Which is interesting, because (1) I don't live in the boonies, I live in Studio City, (2) the only problems I have with Everquest at 28.8 had to do with the video board, and replacing the video boards with  geforce 2 or 3 took care of the problems nicely, allowing even Goofballs like me to play, and in fact once I got past the login problems with Asheron's Call -- which were experienced by tens of thousands -- it was no great problem except that so far the game is nowhere near as fun as Everquest.

And quite simply, for me, Ricochet worked just fine for Everquest. I can't say what it would have done with Asheron's Call because Ricochet went away before I tried it there. Apparently this Asheron's Call expert is telling me that unlike Everquest, Asheron's Call won't work with 28.8 - 53K connections.  Which is odd because it has so far for me, but perhaps there are pitfalls I do not yet see.

I fear what is obvious to him is not obvious to me. I also suspect that some of my remarks have been copied to some kind of Asheron's Call web page, and I am getting the usual comments from experts.

My frustrations with the Microsoft changeover to .NET and Passport were documented in view 183. Eventually Microsoft came to the rescue - as I say there, with 3 product managers and a PR person on the phone I probably got more technical support than the average user did -- and it worked. My sound problems were fixed by downloading and installing new sound drivers for the Sound Blaster Live board in the system. It all works now...







This week:



Tuesday,  New Year's Day

I took the day off. HAPPY NEW YEAR





This week:



Wednesday, January 2, 2002

And it's a brand new year, but we're cleaning up mail from the old one. Don't forget your nominations for the Annual Chaos Manor Orchids and Onions Parade.

First what has become the traditional virus/worm warning: 

Still think MS are basically a good company, and that .NET is the wave of the future?

Sir, I urge to to rethink your positions on these issues. This sort of thing should be intolerable. The only reason it isn't, to date, is because of Microsoft's de facto monopoly position.

DoJ may've created a self-fulfilling prophecy with their then-unwarranted lawsuit. Irrespective of the cause, Microsoft are now a firm which not only demonstrates marketing/sales-driven malice and extortionate tactics, but have proven themselves manifestly incompetent at writing code.

-------------------------------------- Roland Dobbins 

The questions raised here require a lot more than a short answer. Until we have a fairly comprehensive package of  "solutions" for various user environments, railing against Microsoft is a bit like denouncing the weather. 

It may be that the warnings will penetrate Microsoft management; they have already got to a number of the highly competent workers in Redmond. 

I continue to point out that Microsoft set itself a task that in the 80's was considered impossible: a computer on every desk, and in every home, and in every classroom. No one believed that was possible. Even after it became clear that it was possible, no one else seriously worked toward that goal: I wrote column after column in OS/2 Professional magazine, as did the Editor and Publisher, but IBM management paid no attention. Like Microsoft, IBM had highly competent people on its staff. Unlike Microsoft, the company did allow and in fact insist on a high standard of code quality. Alas, with that exception, IBM also had a policy of dementing anyone promoted to the status of "Executive", and during the OS wars never had a clue as to the potential of the user-friendly-but-also-highly-reliable market. By the time they did discover what they were losing they had lost.

And it is not at all clear to me that any operating system is proof against the concerted attacks of the whole hacker/cracker community: Microsoft market share assures that everyone who likes writing worms and viruses -- or has a good reason to, and there are those including national intelligence agencies that do -- will focus on Microsoft.

Linux and other open source systems have the advantage that a lot of smart people will look for fixes to any holes found; but then Microsoft has a lot of smart people too.

As to Microsoft's new paranoid plus Scrooge attitude, whatever the cause, and the Clinton DOJ's self-fulfilling prophecy lawsuits were certainly among those causes, if that attitude continues the company will have sealed its own fate.  But that's a matter for a column.


I've recently begun digitally encoding my CD collection. Windows Media Player is like many Microsoft products: it's Good Enough for my needs (or so I thought). To date I've encoded about 20 CDs (roughly 10% of my collection) into .WMA (Windows Media Audio) format.

A few weeks ago I upgraded my CPU (making my main system a Celeron 850; its sibling went from a Celeron 433 to a Celeron 700). With the holiday season in full flight, I left my CD conversion project on hold. A few days ago, I sat down and decided to listen to some music. "You need a license to perform the requested operation on this media file" said Windows Media Player.

Further investigation ensued. Every file I had encoded gave me the same error; foolish me, I had left Digital Rights Management enabled. The MP3 files I had encoded earlier were fine; it was only MS-encoded WMA files that failed.

And so I consulted the online help files. "Back up your license files" it said. And I had, so I restored them. Still no joy. I was beginning to curse all things Microsoft as I went online to check the knowledge base.;EN-US;Q301082 

The Digital Rights Management System Does Not Work If the CPU Is Changed

Ah. No warning included with the software. And the MS solution (bless their hearts!) is to crack open the system, re-install the old CPU, back up licenses. put in new CPU, delete the DRM files, restore... well, you get the picture.

I've come up with a better solution: don't use WMA. I'm scrapping all the files I've encoded, and am moving on to CD-DA X-Tractor, which will encode my CDs into MP3s without any of this DRM guff that MS is shoving down our throats.

So, a warning: don't upgrade your computer lest you offend Microsoft. (System Activation, anyone?). Or, better yet, stay with open standard formats.

--- A random thought for the day:

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use. -- Galileo Galilei

This is yet another example of the odd management policies Microsoft seems lately to be enamored of. Enough of these instances and there will be plenty of alternatives to Windows. There will have to be.

Can I purchase stock in the Fool Killer Corporation?

Seriously, the only way to get rid of spammers is the same way we got rid of wolves, put a bounty on them.

---------------------------------------------------------------------- Very Respectfully

Mr. James E. Isaac, Code N711 Head, Curriculum Management and Training Technology Branch

Fleet Training Center San Diego 

I suspect I could make a fortune starting that company... (the reference is from my current column).

Dr. Pournelle,

During the last several weeks of seeing commercials for Intel Pentium 4 processor where extraterrestrials must use a P4 to enhance the graphics on their computers, it occurred to me that Intel may have created an odd method of fighting off aliens. Get them to install Intel processors on their ship so they'll play computer games, rip music CDs, manipulate graphics, resolve error messages, troubleshoot lockups, deal with conflicting drivers, restarting the computer, doing repeat operating system installs, etc. Ludicrous but no worse than the software solution used in Independence Day.

Stan Fuhrhop

The Evil Alien Software Company thanks you for the suggestion, and apologized for the failure of its security software during the Independence Day invasion attempt. This is the only known failure of the Evil Alien Software Company's operating system software in 1.2 million (Earth) years...

Dear Jerry:

You've often mentioned that you like motherboards with built-in sound chips as they are "good enough" and for an office or Internet system I wouldn't argue with you. But for gaming or for MP3s, video & sound editing, you have got to hear the new Creative Audigy cards.

I've been a Soundblaster Live! guy since they came out, but the new card beats them hollow in every respect: clarity, frequency response, stereo separation and positional effects, the whole enchilada. I'm replaying MAX PAYNE on the new system with the Audigy card installed and hearing things I never even suspected where there before.

Treat yourself next box you build, disable the on-board sound and put an Audigy in there. I bet you'll not go back.

All the best,

Tim Loeb

I will have to find one of those cards and look into it. I have been satisfied with Soundblaster Live! and for that matter the really good sound systems built into the Intel Easton boards (there are new drivers out for those, and they make a difference). I have not seen the Creative Audigy boards; Creative has not sent me anything to review in about two years, and since what I have is "good enough" for me, I haven't felt the need to buy anything else. Perhaps I should look at this one.

I do not vouch for the authenticity of the following:

New Years Greetings!

I haven't been forwarding joke email lately. But ... this one caught my fancy. I always wondered where that phrase came from.

Keep on chugglin', Clyde


Dear Everybody:

A bit of interesting history.

Subject: Plucking the Yew! Before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the French, anticipating victory over the English, proposed to cut off the middle finger of all captured soldiers. Without the middle finger it would be impossible for the English soldiers to draw the renowned English longbow and therefore incapable of fighting in the future. The famous bow was made of the English Yew tree and the act of drawing the longbow was known as "plucking the yew" or "pluck you". Much to the bewilderment of the French, the English won the battle and began mocking the French by waving their middle fingers at the defeated French and saying "We can still pluck yew. Pluck you". Since "pluck yew" is rather difficult to say, the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to a labiodental fricative 'F' and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one-finger salute. It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows used with the longbow that the symbolic gesture is known as "giving the bird". And yew thought that yew knew everything.

Oh dear.

And for a wonderful story:

Interesting article at Salon: 

As the downward spiral hit in full force, one long-time employee got his revenge:

"He exacted his bitter revenge against management, though. At a Magic tournament in New York he set up a dress code for staff that consisted of black pants and brown shirts. This, combined with the black and red event banners he commissioned, made the whole thing look like a Nazi rally. Last I heard Corey was somewhere in Florida. I can only hope he is running guns."

David A. Peterson

--- A random thought for the day:

I never entertain wicked thoughts...Wicked thoughts entertain me.

The only problem with this story is that it is in 6 parts, and all the ads download before the text when you look at Salon; the result is that it can take forever to see the entire story as you wait and wait and wait. But worthwhile in this case. Usually I won't bother. (And those with fast enough bandwidth won't notice.)

But it is very much worth your time.

Here is a sample:

"At each PDCA training session, one of the consultants put a graph on the overhead projector and made an amazing statement. She said that in any data set, if you have three consecutive points that are "trending" -- moving in a consistent direction -- then there's a 68 percent chance the fourth data point will be contrary to the trend.

"When it was time for the math geeks in R&D to go through the session, they really loved this howler. The PDCA training team was suggesting that, for example, three days of growth on Wall Street had a 68 percent chance of being followed by a downturn. If your child grew for three years, it was 68 percent likely he'd shrink in the fourth year. It was complete nonsense. When the R&D guys pressed for an explanation, the team assured them it was true. Their script said so."

On the CAD scene:

In regards to CAD software for casual use..... >>I want to design a clock, and was wondering whether anyone can recommend a sub-$200.00 dollar CAD program. Preferably one that will let me design my own gear train and model it in real-time 3D. 

TurboCAD from IMSI is priced at $99, carried everywhere. I bought mine at CompUSA and found it easy to use for some basic printed circuit board layout work. It seems to get good press and you can't beat the price for one or two projects..... I highly recommend buying this vs. the "office copy of AutoCAD that finds its' way home..."

XBOX! Yep, I went to the "Dark Side" and bought an XBOX. We had family home for Christmas and I thought it would be good entertainment. My brother in law is a Linux head, (he wears a T-Shirt from RedHat that says: "In a world without windows, who needs gates?") To make a long story short, he liked HALO so much he bought one for himself, wrapped it up, hid it under the tree and opened it, saying: "Well, since someone gave it to me as a gift, I guess I will keep it..." To top it off, my wife, who gave me the evil eye when I brought it home has easily put in 25+ hours on Oddworld. She is a puzzle head and LOVES this game. I have to hand it to MS: it just works, the graphics are great, and the games I have tried are all well done. HALO is an absolute blast and driving the buggy and tanks is a riot with two people. One to drive, one to shoot! That is worth the price alone.

As usual, keep up the good work and hoping the best for your internet.

Marlin Roberts 

And indeed the XBOX is wonderful, and Halo is wonderful, and it's it and that's that...

And from Roland on CAD 


----------------------------------- Roland Dobbins 







This week:


read book now


Thursday, January 3, 2002

And from Dr. Huth a small dissent:


I don't want to be a party pooper, but...

I loathe the fonts installed by XFree86 under redhat 7.2 and I've been attempting to follow the instructions pointed out by Roland . The instructions don't seem to have anything to do with the version of Xfree86 running on my system and I can't follow all. Now I'll admit that Roland is a wizard and I'm a hack, but gee whiz. I've spent a couple of hours fooling with this and have returned to windows. Snarl, mutter, grumble.

This is exactly the problem with linux for me. I'm not quite smart enough or motivated enough or enough of a wizard...I've got a running linux system, but it isn't tweeked. I'd like to run evolution, but can't seem to make it work. I'd like to install and run the freemed software, but the dependencies defeat me.

I'm trying, really am, but the light hasn't come on for me as yet. I'd probably pay someone to sit at my side to help me along, but should I really have to do that to run a tool?

I've had great success with my Cobalt Cube, but that is set up to run out of the box.

Mark Huth

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty. jfk

For replies see below.

And in a less serious vein

Some resources regarding the story of Agincourt, as found on the web, etc

The full story (but there are many others) 


Regarding the hand gestures, etc

As seen here: 

"I would like to clarify an inaccuracy on your pages concerning the battle of Agincourt and the threat to cut off fingers. The actual threat was to cut off the middle and first finger as BOTH were required to pull back a traditional yew longbow, it is true that this lead to a gesture of defiance, but it was in fact the English V sign, not to be confused with the reversed V associated with "victory" and Churchill after the second world war."

"The 'Bird' is a purely American invention, and I am not sure of the origin, although I'm sure there is some connection."

"As an Englishman living in America, I am constantly amused when people hold up these fingers to signify 'two' and are unaware of what it means to any English born person! I hope this clarifies, hopefully accurately, some facts on your otherwise excellent website."


There is also this bit as seen here: 

V-SIGN n. 1. Clenched fist with the index and first finger raised to form a V shape (meaning "victory"). 2. Clenched fist with the index and first finger raised to form a V shape (being a rude insult to the audience).

These two forms are distinguished by the direction of the knuckles: knuckles toward audience being an insult (2) and knuckles toward the gesticulator meaning victory (1). Winston Churchill was much given to getting these confused. Use of form (2) to indicate the number two may result in unexpected GBH. (whatever that is)


Then from Dante is "the obscene gesture known as 'the figs'..."

I have many more letters on this, and I am going to start a page analogous to the "Bob's your uncle" page to collect all this stuff; there's just too much of it. I would not have known that the origin of obscene gestures was that interesting to that many people...





This week:



Friday, January 4, 2002

You can find as much as you want about plucking the yew on its own page.

On the day the email died:

Hello Jerry,

I have inadvertently caused similar "denial of service" as you have described in your Dec. 31 Byte article. In my case, I usually digitally sign messages when I send them. It took a couple of complaints from colleagues to figure out what's going on. When Outlook opens a message which is digitally signed, it connects to the certification authority to validate the certificate used to sign the message. This causes Outlook to lock up while verifying. The colleagues who had a problem were those who use dial up connections. Even with a full 56K modem connection, the time to verify the certificate can be over ten minutes. I convinced my colleagues to "wait it out" (what else can you do?) and one waited over twenty minutes, while the other waited about twelve.

Microsoft does not appear to give the recipient the option to not verify digital certificates, so every time I slip up, they are denied the use of Outlook for a significant interval.

I would like to set Outlook to encrypt or sign only for recipients that I specify, but the option doesn't exist. In addition the API for creating add-ons for Outlook does not have any way to access the security features, so I can't create my own add-on to give the functionality I want.

I feel this is all another example of how Microsoft "doesn't get" security. I agree that Outlook is the best Windows based tool for e-mail when you need the filtering. Unfortunately it is also the best tool for secure e-mail, which is to say that there don't appear to be any tools which do the job well.

Given the content of your article, I am sending this without a digital signature! Regards, Michael --- Michael J. Rensing CHASM 

To build something lasting - build the relationships.


Hi Jerry, I recently ran into the exact same problem on my machine. Here's what I ended up doing: Start/Run - typed in outlook.exe /nopreview. This enabled Outlook to start at the inbox level without previewing the e-mail. I than deleted the e-mail.

Scot Liddell Bacon Basketware Limited

And on fonts and Ugliness and the like:

Dear Dr Pournelle,

I was waiting for someone to come back with that... Mr Huth has my deepest sympathy; I was bitten by this too. More success came when I reviewed the web link (  ) and found the part dealing with the 'special case' of Red Hat 7.x -  .

Can I ask Mr Huth to review the procedure and see if it's less unclear? There are still a few gotchas in my opinion. Which brings me to an observation made before, but worth repeating; Linux is an excellent server-class OS, and I run it with few problems alongside three NT 4 servers.

While I have a few staff who use Linux on the desktop the majority use either Mac OS or Windows 2000. If they want the serious horsepower of a Linux box there are special research machines (Alpha, Intel, and Mac PPC) running Red Hat Linux.

A staff member sitting at his Windows PC starts the Microsoft Desktop manager (DESKTOPS.EXE) which is part of the NT 4 Resource Kit. This creates a floating bar with a number of buttons each invoking a separate desktop, like Linux X-windows workspaces. He clicks on a button marked "Desktop2" and is suddenly in a new explorer desktop. He then wakes up an X session (we use LabTam's X-Win Pro) which completely takes over that desktop, but of course he can switch back to desktop one for ordinary (office) work. So our notional staff member can switch at will between Star Office/KDE and Office/W2K. This is perfectly adequate for all but a handful of staff.

For those who do need to work with Star Office Windows fonts, following the font deuglification process wasn't too hard for me to set up. But I'd hate to be a newbie doing it.

Regards, TC

-- Terry Cole BA/BSc/BE/BA(hons) ( System Administrator, Dept. of Maths. & Stats., Otago Uni. PO Box 56, Dunedin, NZ.

and Roland on Dr. Huth's font problems:

There are explicit instructions in the Font De-Uglification HOW-TO for dealing with Red Hat's non-standard XFree86 setup (one of the many reasons I eschew Red Hat and instead run Slackware, found at ). You should be running XFree86 4.1.0, if you're running the latest Red Hat.

The instructions in the HOW-TO cover XFree86 4.x, including 4.1.0.

---------------- Roland Dobbins 


The De-Uglification HOW-TO incorrectly states that Mozilla and Netscape won't use the TrueType fonts. This limitation went away quite some time ago; I've both Mozilla 0.97 and Netscape 4.79 installed on my various workstations, and both Web browsers make use of the TrueType fonts just fine. 


Dear Dr. Pournelle,

The discussion on ugly fonts seems to concern Xfree86 more than anything else. Some distributions, including my own SuSE 7.2, include Xfree86 3.x and 4.x to maintain compatibility with older video cards. I no longer use the 1024x768x8 Trident card that requires Xfree 86 3.x, and my current video cards and chips have improved drivers with Xfree86 4.x.

Ugly fonts might have been a complaint with me, but I found sans-serif fonts in Netscape 4.7x that suit me. I have no experience with Red Hat beyond version 5.2, but that will change when my new computer arrives shortly, with a modified Red Hat 7.2 pre-installed. Unlike some of your readers, the only font I call "ugly" is one I cannot read. If the type size is small enough, that includes all of them.


William L. Jones


Now for something completely different.,2933,42147,00.html

Owen Strawn

Many years ago I was on the Board of a group known as the "Ocean Living Institute" and some of my science fiction was about this sort of thing; and of course there is Oath of Fealty.  And now it comes to pass?


I was wondering - if you had a solid Linux platform, with no Microsoft product anywhere on your system, do you think you'd like them better? Or is it only your satellite problems that are getting you down?

The reason I ask is that I've been a geek since the ZX81 days and I never found any software that could depress me until Windows 3.1 and subsequent versions.

Windows is really just a bad copy of the old Apple Mac OS, which originally fit onto a 128K ROM chip, iirc. Win 2000 won't fit into 1,000,000 K's, and has poorer functionality.

Thanks for your site, I love it.


Julian Treadwell

You ask an interesting question. The answer would be very long and probably goes in the column. The main fact is that in the old days we didn't expect very much from these machines, and were pleasantly surprised when they did useful things. I have a computer! And it works! Now we expect more. Most of my frustrations are at delays I would have though phenomenally short back in the days of the S-100 and 300 Baud...

I think you sell Windows short. It can drive me crazy, but it does far more than we expected. I HAD a 128K Mac. With no hard drive. Got it upgraded to a Fat Mac with 512K and a 5 MB hard drive, voiding my warranty but making it a great deal more useful...  And it still took forever to play Wizardry.

Hi Jerry,

I have sent you this before, but not gotten a reply. Do take a look at it. It came out of Wall Street journal a year or so back. I think the date was 12/20/2000.

Dr. Carver Mead, when asked to make a comment from the floor about "the most important thing" at a "Future Trends" conference I attended long ago (think it was sponsored by the Hudson Institute) said something to the effect that "All this Fiber Optics and Internet Stuff is interesting, but that the most important issue for the future has to be education. For political reasons, we turned our educational system over to a bureaucracy 20 years ago (add a decade to make this correct now). All bureaucracies maximize friction and minimize output. Hence, the first priority has to be to get our educational system back..."


John D. Trudel

********************** John D. Trudel -- author, columnist, speaker, and business innovation guru.

"We help technology and strategy come together to create value."

Based in beautiful Oregon and in Cyberspace

(503) 638-8644 <> <>

I didn't reply then because I don't know what it means. I still don't. The Web and my wife's reading program make it POSSIBLE for kids to get an education despite the school system. Some will take advantage of that. But yes, we have handed over American Education to the Soviet Plan, and we do not seem to want to get it back.

Get used to it. It won't change in my lifetime. 

Possony and I viewed history as the story of how bureaucracies convert more and more of the output of society into structure, which at first is good but soon just gets in the way. And Karl Wittfogel in Oriental Despotism described the eventual results...

Space travel and colonization could have been a key, as the New World was a key to breaking that iron structure in 1500.  But the advance would have had to be rapid before the bureaucrats could adjust to the new changes. I think it may be too late now. Our bureaucrats are probably equal to anything: they have the computer industry nearly tamed, and in another decade will have it just like automobiles and canned fruit.

And in that vein...

Jerry, I finished reading your book Janissaries last night. It was fascinating.

What amazed me most were the parallels you made seen now in the war against fundamentalist Islam and western culture today. The Confederacy was culture which prided itself in stasis and conformity. It went to great lengths in keeping human culture on Earth (and Tran) from advancing and evolving.

Islam in its most rigid, fundamentalist form is alarmingly similar to the Shalnuksis and the Confederation. It is a religion of the past that despises technological and cultural evolution and its most radical adherents will go to great lengths to keep others from advancing. It will finance itself with drug sales and threaten its enemies with nuclear destruction.

In 1979, you described the situation the US, Israel and the West now face against Islamic fundamentalists (aka terrorists) better than any of the talking heads on TV today.

Thanks and kudos,

Brendan Stark

Thank you. And prior to that I did the CoDominium series...  Prescience is fun. And we don't talk about our mistakes...


I haven't been willing to take a commercial flight since 9/11, and it has nothing to do with fear. It's simply that the security procedures put into place are too slow, cumbersome, annoying, invasive, insulting, and infantalizing for me to be willing to subject myself to them. I've been going only those places I can get to driving in my own car.

Evidently a significant number of my fellow citizens feel the same way: air travel over this just-past holiday season was down 20% and, on the I-15 drive which I do frequently between my homes in Culver City, CA and Pahrump, NV, I've noticed a substantial increase in traffic since 9/11 -- I suspect its made up of weekend gamblers who used to fly between L.A. and Las Vegas and now drive instead.

Also since 9/11, there have been at least three reported instances where passengers on a jetliner have acted to subdue dangerous passengers, the latest incident being the stopping of the "sneaker attack" shoe bomber. Airline passengers are being deprived of all weapons then finding themselves acting as Air Militia.

The entire concept of airline security, which should be based on empowering and respecting our fellow citizens' ability to foil terrorists, is instead based on treating everyone as a terrorist and infantalizing them before each flight.

I have little expectation that the anal-retentives in charge of national security will agree with me in principle. But I do think I know of a work-around for this problem.

If we can prequalify people for a mortgage, run a background check to bond someone as an armored guard or bank employee, and figure out who among us can be trusted with a license to carry a concealed firearm, why can't we have an express check-in for airline passengers who have been security prescreened -- passengers who can be trusted to board with a nail file, a Swiss Army knife, or even their police, armed-services, or CCW firearm?

I know I'm not the first to suggest this idea. But maybe someone on this list can whisper the idea in the ear of someone in a position to do something with it?

J. Neil Schulman

-- "Aslan is on the move."

Pulpless.Com Book Catalog: The World According to J. Neil Schulman: The World Wide Web Gun Defense Clock:

Indeed. Indeed. But you see the point of the new regulations is to give power to bureaucrats so they can feel like Lords.

But we were born free.







This week:










This week:


read book now









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