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Mail 191 February 4 - 10, 2002 






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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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Monday  February 4, 2002

There's a tone of stuff on a lot of subjects and I'm low on time just now. I'll put in a sample, but it's SHORT SHRIFT time again.

Dear Dr. Pournelle: It's been pretty quiet outside the World Economic Forum in New York.,2933,44669,00.html Perhaps the anarchist blackshirts are busy elsewhere, or they just want to show respect for the "suits and pigs" (as one of them called the World Trade Center victims) who still lie buried in the rubble a few blocks away. This seems unlikely to me. It seems that the delegates themselves, a Madison Avenue dream cast of "celebrities, clergy, and business leaders", are taking the would-be rioters' side. I coughed up a major hairball over this incredible bit of hypocrisy from Global Monopolist-in-Chief Bill Gates:

"'People who feel the world is tilted against them will spawn the kind of hatred that is very dangerous for all of us,' Gates said. 'I think it's a healthy sign that there are demonstrators in the streets. They are raising the question of 'is the rich world giving back enough?'"

Similar sensitivity-mongering can be heard from the other billionaires and PR flacks in attendance. The "anti-corporate" movement receives millions in funding from the likes of the Ford Foundation and Ted Turner. I've said before that the anarchist blackshirts are essentially the commando arm of the Hollywood/Madison Avenue Cultural Axis, incited by mass market products like Che posters and the rock band, Rage Against the Machine. This corporate fifth columnism in New York is just more evidence that the whole "anti-globalization" movement is a fraud, designed to serve the interests of the most powerful corporations at the expense of real people, real progress, and the civilized world in general. Look at who they target: the timber industry, the nuclear industry, and the whaling industry. Yessiree, some big players there, especially in advertising. Politically, they champion the Islamic world ($trillion+ market, and notably susceptible to propaganda) against Israel (smaller market than Chicago and riddled with skeptics). They don't often target the SUV industry, the advertising and propaganda industry, or (Allah forbid) the entertainment industry.

Best Regards, Jimmy Reynolds

Heh. Thanks.

Jerry, Thought that you might be interested in this article about the new rules that NASA has come up with for Space Tourists. They are basically saying that anyone who badmouths NASA will not go to space. I guess this means you're out! Enjoy

Matthew D. Kirchner

Lets me out all right. The purpose of NASA is to employ NASA employees...

Dan Duncan is an old friend with views quite different from mine. As you will see:


Many of us were protesting Saddam when George H.W.B. was sending him materiel to make poison gas to use on the Kurds. Hmmm.

And then, when our troops were in striking distance of Baghdad, we pulled back. Hmmm.

Now George W.B. is making noises about Iraq. Uh huh.

I doubt it will happen because, if it does, the Kurds in Northern Iraq will get together with the Kurds in Southern Turkey and in Iran and THEIR nationalism will make the Intifada look like a family disagreement on Saturday night.

The Turks won't LET us disturb the balance of power there, IMHO. And the Iranian mullahs are not thrilled about it either. I'd bet that we have fewer Kurdish speaking CIA than Pushtun speaking (or listening) CIA. Which is one reason that we have not come to their aid when they were being gassed by Saddam, courtesy of George H.W.B. Or did I miss something?

It would be "interesting to watch" as a video game, but a little less interesting as real life on the evening news.


To which I replied:

You may be right but there's a lot of oil there. And Turkey ran the outfit once.

Right. And the great British Empire made it all very controllable by chopping up the Greater Turkish Empire into little fiefdoms like Iraq, Kuwait, Palestine, and then of course Israel, and ten more like these.

Are we about to venture into the same kind of "nation-building" that can override the natural predilections of the inhabitants as Turkey was able to do for centuries? Do we possess the national will for such an enterprise?

Seems to me that we have already ceded Afghanistan to the poppy mafia and are just looking for the right photo-op to declare final victory and get the hell out. We lack the national will to bring civil order to Afghanistan. Unless of course, as you say, "There's a lot of oil there." But without a full-court press, we are doomed. Condoleeza Rice may understand this, but she may not be able to explain it to a bunch of guys who are all too-easily distracted by the Super Bowl.

In the meanwhile I watched with interest the latest bin Laden video where he smilingly says something like "Godless America will be destroyed." He does not say defeated but destroyed. I suspect that George W. is falling into Osoma's trap by bankrupting the country with massive indebtedness while spending trillions for only two items, interest on the national debt and "military preparedness," as if deficiencies in the latter were the reason we were attacked in the first place.


P.S. Currently reading The American Soul by Jacob Needleman. His mentor, a Scottish Lord raised in India and transplanted to America, in conversation with a group of dissident college students in 1974, sets the tone of the book when he declares,

"You don't know what you have here."


To which I can only say, I think Bush the Younger is a different breed of cat from his father. But I have no special inroads to knowledge; only that Dr. Rice comes from Possony's old shop, and has always seemed sensible, and why would Bush want her around if not to listen? But I don't know.

I do know I would rather have a decisive President surrounded by smart advisors than a smart President who isn't decisive no matter who he's surrounded by.

Dr Pournelle: Further to the fuel cell question, have you seen this source of H2 that, at least, looks more promising than huge storage tanks for home applications? Maybe we don't need Hydrogen wells after all. Thanks for a very interesting site. Bob Robertson.,24195,3368737,00.html 


And now something perhaps important:

Subject: Special Alert to the Public

Below received from the Defense Security Service

Special Alert to the Public

The Michigan Department of Treasury recently received an alert from the Internal Revenue Service about a fraudulent scam being conducted via E mail that you should be on the look out for:

Some taxpayers have received an e mail from a non-IRS source indicating that the taxpayer is under audit and needs to complete a questionnaire within 48 hours to avoid The assessment of penalties and interest. The e mail refers to an "e-audit" and references IRS form 1040. The taxpayer is asked for social security numbers, bank account numbers and other confidential information. THE IRS DOES NOT CONDUCT E-AUDITS, NOR DOES IT NOTIFY TAXPAYERS OF A PENDING AUDIT VIA E-MAIL. THIS E MAIL IS NOT FROM THE IRS. Do not provide the requested information - this may be an identity-theft attempt.

If you receive an e mail of this nature - the source may be the address, please contact the Internal Revenue Service office in your area.

I have no idea of the authenticity of this, but it certainly seems worth passing along.

And finally here is THOR

Thought you might be interested in's passing mention of "thunder rods," which according to their sources are now in development by the United States. Here is the article: 

And here is a discussion at the Straight Dope Message Boards on the same: 

Considering your long familiarity with the subject, I thought you might be interested in weighing in with your opinions.

Trey Howell


Dr. Pournelle,

I am amused at their term ďthunder rodĒ. Take a look at: 

I quote: "Space technologists, such as those here at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratory, have been busy at work on a range of advanced space capabilities. According to sources, one new space-based weapon is dubbed a ďthunder rodĒ Ė a non-nuclear device hurled from Earth orbit that damages select targets on the ground."

Thought you would get a kick out of it. The vision of such a weapon in your book "Footfall" was just wonderful. On the other hand the article above summarizes the Defense Department's new agenda with regard to space.

Oliver Richter




On Lord Of The Rings:

> For some unaccountable reason the sword that was broken is not > reforged in this first episode.

Actually, given their change, it makes a lot of sense. In the movie, Aragorn is not planning to take the throne of Gondor (there's no suggestion that Elrond would only allow a human who was essentially King of all men to marry his daughter) because he himself felt men's bllod ran weak. Instead, the director chose to let it be Boromir's death that causes Aragorn to take the throne and protect his people. Since reforging the sword is a clear declaration of intention, it can't take place until after Boromir's death, i.e. in the second or third movie.

As for the change in Aragorn's motivation, I think it worked well, making Boromir's death one of the most moving moments I have seen on film ("My brother, my captain, my king"!) as opposed to someone weak who gets his for falling to temptation (which is how a number of people feel about Boromir in the book...)

Tom West -----

Good points. Thanks. And yes, it was a great scene.





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This will be in the column, sort of, but it can go here too:

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

Within the past few months, you noted a 'pretty good' system could be built with an inexpensive motherboard with peripherals on board. I regret not having saved that, as my home system has failed, and I need to gird my loins and make the Trip To Fry's tonight or tomorrow night.

Your search links from your web site turned up everything but what I need (which is not your fault, just an observation). May I ask you to recap what you most recently said about building my own system with the current batch of motheboards?

Thank you kindly,

Sincerely yours,

John Bartley Portland SF Society "It's not a bug, it's a feature!" 

For simplicity and bang for the buck I recommend getting a Pentium III of 900 GHz or better and an Intel D815EEAL board. Get a good power supply and case. The system will hold 500 MB of memory and no more, in two slots, so get two 256 memory SDRAMs. The on-board video is good enough for anything but Everquest. The sound is excellent. The Ethernet works painlessly. All told it is a more than Good Enough system for anything but the highest games. You can put a GeForce 2 board in there if you just have to play Everquest.

This month's column will talk about Pentium IV systems, which are useful for developers -- they compile fast -- and some other purposes. The new "standard" board is D845 but so far there are none with on-board video.

Following is from Joye Swain, widow of my old friend Dwight Swain. Dwight's "Techniques of the Selling Writer" is still about as good a book on that subject as ever was written.

Dedicated to liberal arts majors everywhere...

This is from a Washington Post Invitational contest -- Readers were asked to combine the works of two authors, and to provide a suitable description of the merged book. The prizewinners:

"Machiavelli's The Little Prince" - Antoine de Saint-Exupery's classic children's tale as presented by Machiavelli. The whimsy of human nature is embodied in many delightful and intriguing characters, all of whom are executed.

"Green Eggs and Hamlet" - Would you kill him in his bed? Thrust a dagger through his head? I would not, could not, kill the King. I could not do that evil thing. I would not wed this girl, you see. Now get her to a nunnery.

"Where's Walden?" - Alas, the challenge of locating Henry David Thoreau in each richly-detailed drawing loses its appeal when it quickly becomes clear that he is always in the woods.

"Catch-22 in the Rye" - Holden learns that if you're insane, you'll probably flunk out of prep school, but if you're flunking out of prep school, you're probably not insane.

"2001: A Space Iliad" - The Hal 9000 computer wages an insane 10-year war against the Greeks after falling victim to the Y2K bug.

"Rikki-Kon-Tiki-Tavi"- Thor Heyerdahl recounts his attempt to prove Rudyard Kipling's theory that the mongoose first came to India on a raft from Polynesia.


"The Maltese Faulkner" - Is the black bird a tortured symbol of Sam's struggles with race and family? Does it signify his decay of soul along with the soul of the Old South? Is it merely a crow, mocking his attempts to understand? Or is it worth a cool mil?

"Jane Eyre Jordan" - Plucky English orphan girl survives hardships to lead the Chicago Bulls to the NBA championship.

"Looking for Mr. Godot" - A young woman waits for Mr. Right to enter her life. She has a loooong wait.

"The Scarlet Pimpernel Letter" - An 18th-century English nobleman leads a double life, freeing comely young adulteresses from the prisons of post-Revolution France.

"Lorna Dune" - An English farmer, Paul Atreides, falls for the daughter of a notorious rival clan, the Harkonnens, and pursues a career as a giant worm jockey in order to impress her.

"The Remains of the Day of the Jackal" - A formal English butler puts his loyalty to his employer above all else, until he is persuaded to join a plot to assassinate Charles de Gaulle.

"The Invisible Man of La Mancha"- Don Quixote discovers a mysterious elixir, which renders him invisible. He proceeds to go on a mad rampage of corruption and terror, attacking innocent people in the streets and all the while singing "To Fight the Invisible Man!" until he is finally stopped by a windmill.

"Of Three Blind Mice and Men" - Burgess Meredith has his limbs hacked off by a psychopathic farmer's wife. Did you ever see such a sight in your life?

"Planet of the Grapes of Wrath" - Astronaut lands on mysterious planet only to discover that it is his very own home planet of Earth which has been taken over by the Joads, a race of dirt-poor corn farmers who miraculously developed rudimentary technology and regained the ability to speak after exposure to nuclear radiation.

"Paradise Lost in Space" - Satan, Moloch, and Belial are sentenced to spend eternity in a flying saucer with a goofy robot, an evil scientist, and two annoying children.

"The Exorstentialist" - Camus psychological thriller about a priest who casts out a demon by convincing it that there's really no purpose to what it's doing.

Which may be more than we can bear...


Dear Dr. Pournelle;

Is it just me or are people misunderstanding fuel cell technology? As I understand it, a fuel cell is not a primary source of energy like an oil well or a photovoltaic cell. It's an energy storage device - a battery.

The reader who wrote in with the URL for a story about microbes producing hydrogen for fuel cell use neglects to consider that the microbes "burn" sugar to produce hydrogen. The last time I looked, there weren't any sugar wells in Texas, or elsewhere. I have a hunch that it takes more energy to grow, cultivate, and fertilize the plants that produce sugar than we'd net in using microbes to produce hydrogen.

Some wag might say we could use waste products for the sugar source. If so, we're already doing that. They're called sewage treatment plants. The "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" biological waste reactors produce methane which is much easier to handle than hydrogen.

Fuel cells will have an important place in portable power, but they're still batteries.

An another note [pun intended]: The Bach travesty. Danny Kaye does a great send-up of such works in his "It Isn't Dance, It's Choreography" number in "White Christmas." That was nearly 50 years ago and most critics still haven't learned when they're hoodwinked.

-- Pete Nofel

Well there are sugar beet 'wells' in Louisiana and other places. And there's a lot of fermentable sour mash...   In fact I prefer space solar power as electron wells, and fuel cells as storage devices, but I am some years behind in actually studying the technologies.

Any comments on this one? Looks interesting.

Propellant-Free Space Propulsion Technology Marks Critical Milestone At NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center 

Jim Riticher

Haven't time to look now, but doubtless some readers will find it interesting...

And on LINUX

Dr. Pournelle,

I seem to be seeing more and more articles of this tone lately - and all by thoughtful, reasonable adults instead of teenaged Slashdot posters ;)

Q&A: Red Hat CEO says Linux won't rule


Some good reasons not to use Linux


Note that the author of the second article is Robin Miller, Editor-in-Chief for (which is the parent of Slashdot ;)

Best regards, 

-------------- David P. Huff | "Giving money and power to government david@ | is like giving whiskey and car keys | to teenage boys." -- P. J. O'Rourke

And I told you so:

This more than speaks for itself. Like you, I avoid flying at almost all costs, though I fear I will be flying to Denver to go skiing rather than drive two very long days each way.

Why are we wasting time and money on ca-ca like this? We need El-Al style security profiling and effectiveness. Unfortunately, PC is not dead, and won't take a sharp blow until we lose a few hundred more citizens.

Jim Riticher 

John-Erik's Airborne Adventure

John-Erik Moseler, "Rebel Commander" of Silent Planet, a Central Florida web and print design firm, left the office at noon on January 18th with his dad (also named John without the "Erik" just to confuse everyone) to fly to Wisconsin, the Land of Snow and Cheese, to retrieve a 1987 Chevy Celebrity station wagon that was graciously donated by his brother to John-Erik's growing family. J-E's co-workers at Silent Planet were secretly taking bets on which state the vehicle in question would die in. The plan was for a quick weekend to eat some bratwurst with the family and watch their beloved Green Bay take on St. Louis before heading home.

This was precisely the day that a handbook-full of new post-September 11th regulations for air travelers went into effect. Quite a few things had changed at the airport since the last trip. Thick-booted guards in camouflage now patrolled the concourse with their machine guns, which raised the question: for camouflage to be effective in an airport, shouldn't you be dressed like a magazine rack or a Planet Smoothie? No one is allowed to go to the gate any more except passengers, giving the place a bit more of a ghost town ambience than might be desired for public transportation. All checked-in bags were now "matched" to a specific passenger, meaning no bags are loaded without a corresponding someone on the flight. And the most obvious change: no fun of any kind is tolerated, no way, no how.


Expecting massive delays, the two Moselers arrived at the terminal two-and-a-half hours early. Since it would be a short journey, they didn't check any bags and relied on their carry-ons, hoping it would speed up the process and avoid any dreaded Security Breach that may send them to a life of hard labor in a Siberian salt mine. The first few minutes in the terminal were uneventful, but after surviving the usual x-ray gauntlet, John-Erik's father made the fatal mistake of jinxing the entire trip and inviting a rift in the fabric of time-space reality by saying out loud, "That couldn't have gone any smoother."

As John-Erik presented his ticket for seat assignment the ticket was returned and he attempted to board the plane. It was at this moment that John-Erik was unceremoniously pulled aside by an airline official.

John-Erik suddenly noticed a newly-acquired big red "S" and other arcane markings scrawled on his ticket. This scarlet letter denotes that John-Erik has been "profiled," and must be sequestered for search, possibly due to one or more of the following: 1) he bought a one-way ticket (on the internet no less) a couple of days before the flight; 2) he had no check-in baggage; 3) there were two "John Moselers" traveling on the same plane, and you know that had to shake someone up; and finally, 4) J-E and his dad are dead ringers for terrorists, that is, if terrorists look like Norwegian dairy-farmers.

The search began. John-Erik was asked to remove his official Silent Planet cap, exposing a serious case of hat-hair to the world at large, certainly worth a few million for pain and suffering. A mysterious electronic wand was waved over John-Erik, possibly sterilizing him for life. He also removed his shoes and was "patted down", a nice way of saying, "molested in public".

J-E was then instructed to fire up his laptop computer, the battery of which was dead as Fred, so John-Erik and a second security agent left the area in search of a wall socket. When they finally plugged it in, the agent saw the tally light go from red to green and didn't wait for the computer to actually boot up. "Okay, that's good," he said, obviously in a hurry, and they returned to the spot they were manhandling John-Erik's luggage. A third agent, unearthing J-E's Palm Pilot, gasped, "What's that?" as if the PDA was a phaser set on stun.

A soft-spoken octogenarian man barely aware of his surroundings was also randomly flagged for search. Despite his saintly countenance, the gentleman's carry-on bag revealed several forbidden articles of doom: a 7-inch nail file, a large pair of shears, a knife with a serrated edge, and nail clippers, each of which were immediately chucked into a milky plastic "biohazard" container that was, disturbingly, already bulging at the seams. John-Erik was struck with the irony of how this arsenal managed to get through the x-ray, while he and his wholly innocent parental unit didn't make it past the hot-dog stand.

John-Erik and his dad boarded the plane and found their seats. The passengers were buzzing about an incident that happened moments before: apparently a man who looked and sounded--we're not afraid to say it--Middle Eastern, was having a disagreement with a woman concerning their identical seat numbers, a number the man already occupied. A flight attendant looked at the tickets and pointed out that the man had the correct seat number, but was on the wrong aircraft. Amazingly, since the irritated Middle Eastern man was not "profiled", this was not considered a cause for concern, however, the man was quickly escorted off the plane to an uncertain future. Just then, an airline representative boarded the plane and informed John-Erik's father that there had been--egad!--a Security Breach, and HE was unfortunately the breach-er, and would he be so kind as to exit the craft before they drag him off hog-tied like a steer? A plainclothes FAA official, who had only moments before been expressing unbridled lust for J-E's Mac laptop, asked Mr. Moseler as they were exiting, "How did you get on this plane?" He replied simply, "I walked right in." Apparently it doesn't take much to breach security these days.

A few minutes later, the pilot informed the passengers that, according to the new regulations regarding Security Breaches, they must all now exit the craft, schlepping their freshly-stowed luggage with them. Here's why: it seems that Mr. Moseler had also had the unfortunate red "S" on his ticket all the time, but the highly-trained agent had neglected to pull him aside, even though it was the same agent that had marked his ticket in the first place.

The increasingly disgruntled passengers in the holding area were told that they could now re-board. The schedule was now in jeopardy, they were informed, and if everyone cooperated, they might make it to Memphis in time to make their connections. As John-Erik prepared to return to his seat, another eagle-eyed agent, spotting the incriminating red "S", pulled him aside for yet another search, hat, shoes, computer, mysterious alien palm device and all. "You just did this fifteen minutes ago," J-E protested. "Regulations," they said.

Finally--finally--the bird was in the air, and John-Erik fell into a confused slumber.

Forty-five minutes into the flight, practically within spitting distance of Memphis (as disgusting as that sounds), the weary pilot addressed the crowd: "Sorry folks, but we have to turn around and go back to Orlando." It was now that the passengers understood why all the sharp objects were removed from their persons: so they wouldn't cut their own throats right there in the aisle.

It turns out that when the plane was off-loaded because they failed to search Mr. Moseler, one poor anxiety-stricken woman who had had quite enough of flying for awhile, decided to leave the holding area and go home to rest her frayed nerves. After the flight was well on its way, she emerged from the concourse bathroom where she had been having a nervous breakdown and informed the ground personnel that she had left her checked bag on the plane, and could they send it to her later? SECURITY BREACH! Of course this violated the Prime Directive--no luggage without a corresponding passenger--so the bird was instructed to return to roost to remove the woman's bag of unmentionables. The passengers' collective sigh of glum resignation nearly depressurized the cabin.

As the ill-fated flight approached the runway at Orlando International, the passengers were mortified to witness a greeting party of fire-rescue, police and emergency medical teams all on full alert. After all, an airplane doesn't turn around in mid-air unless something serious is happening, does it? Back on the ground back in the City Beautiful when they expected to be hip-deep in Muenster and Sharp Cheddar, both the elder and younger Moselers were ready to throw in the towel and leave the flight with what was left of their dignity intact. But no one was allowed to leave the plane, which now had a forty-five minute delay for refueling.

After refueling the jet at what must have been a truly staggering cost, they were back in the air. The Moselers estimate they have now breathed the same squalid air seventeen times. Of course, by the time they finally reached Memphis International (after 8:00 p.m.), the airport was essentially shut down, except for the battalion of roaring, teeth-rattling Federal Express flights, insuring a sleepless night in the City of Elvis. The exhausted refugees were handed vouchers for Holiday Inn, food and phone. During dinner it was noted, in a philosophic moment, how quickly a single overlooked "S" can cause the world to go spinning out of control and crashing into the sun.

John-Erik and his pater familias arose bleary-eyed at 5:30 a.m. to make the flight that would supposedly whisk them to Milwaukee. J-E was "randomly" selected for search two more times, once at the x-ray machine and then ten minutes later at the gate (search numbers three and four), although by now the word "random" lost all meaning, since it appeared that the very universe itself was conspiring against him.

The plane taxied to the runway, preparing for takeoff, full of hope and good will, eager to forget the ordeals of the previous day, when Mr. Moseler the elder made his second fatal error: he took out his boarding pass, stuffed it into the seat-back pocket, and said: "We won't be needing these anymore."

After a few brief dizzying seconds perched at the very brink of freedom, the passengers were informed that the plane had to be towed back to the gate due to an "instrument malfunction" that would take an hour and twenty minutes to repair. Thirty minutes into the designated repair interval, the pilot announced, "We have to switch planes," in a voice that suggested utter despair or at least acid reflux.

Luggage collected. Exodus. Migration from Gate B27 to B10. Another search (number five; J-E wondered if he could qualify for "Frequently Searched" miles). They examined the bags and told Mr. Moseler to open a wrapped present for a Moseler sibling in Milwaukee. It was a gift of marzipan candy that to the airport authorities--who had never heard of marzipan the same way they had never heard of a Palm Pilot--looked suspiciously like brightly colored C-4 explosive with sugar ribbons on top. Mr. Moseler was asked--we're not kidding--to take a bite out of each offending morsel right there on the spot, to prove that the stuff wouldn't blow his molars to Kingdom Come (like, if it did, they wanted to see him burst like a flaming pinata right there in the check-in line). He courageously refused, and they miraculously let him board without further incident. The new plane finally left at 10:30 a.m., two-and-a-half hours late, that is, if you disregard the twenty-or-so hours that they were already late.

The Moselers finally got to Milwaukee and had ten minutes to spend with their family.

As they climbed into the Celebrity for the trip home, John-Erik decreed: "Dad, don't say a word." They drove straight back to Orlando from Milwaukee, arriving two hours quicker in an 1987 Chevy station wagon than the trip north had taken in a Boeing 727.

The Packers got clobbered on Sunday by St. Louis 45-17.

Send comments and/or your own personal airline experiences to: 

But we were born free.





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Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Short Shrift time: the column is due tomorrow without fail.

Begin with Roland who says this is one of the strangest things he has ever heard:

Using your search function I see that you are familiar with Dan Bricklin, but I did not see any reference to his 4 April 2001 essay titled "Metaphors, Not Conversations"

I found it while surfing today and was struck by its resonance. This eloquently explains the core reason why I find myself fuming and cursing when I am forced to use Microsoft products. I have used Apple products at home and Unix solutions at work since 1988. Since 1998 I have also had to use Windows and Word at work and I find myself constantly frustrated with how difficult it is to perform simple actions without interference from the "Daddy knows best" software.

Certainly Word can perform marvelous feats with ease, but I'd like to note that if you want something other than the defaults it takes a skilled programmer to set it up properly. Also you have to relearn and reprogram every time the version changes. And 90% of the time all of that window dressing isn't needed anyway.

It is counterproductive to make simple tasks harder in order to make difficult tasks easier. Owen Strawn

Actually, Microsoft's Chris Peters, who owned WORD for many years and set its development, was well aware that most users didn't use or even know how to use most of the program's features. The problem was that the big computer magazines -- except for BYTE -- did "reviews" in which they scored points for "features", then added it all up to give a "score". INFOWORLD was bad on this but it wasn't the worst. Corporate buyers would then buy software according to the scores. Nobody who USED the stuff was ever involved in either rating it or buying it.

The result was galloping featuritis, with all the companies racing to add features and get better scores. Chris, bless him, did insist that his team work on making the core product usable, which is why when Q&A didn't develop with the times, Niven and I adopted WORD for our work. WORD looks good on screen, it's easy to just use it, and the document comparison and merge features really work a lot better than most: Larry and I can now both work on the same chapters at the same time, keeping our latest collaboration in one big file rather than having to break it into chapters and assigning who owns which. When we are finished it's only a few minutes to merge it all.

It just works, and we just want to write. And that's why despite having every word processor program that ever existed, I end up with WORD when I want to turn out 9,000 words of column in two days. It just works, and when I want to work with Niven that just works too. Yes, there are many goofy features in WORD I don't know about, and some I suspect I wish I did know about; but by and large the features don't get in the way.

I see this turned into something that needs to be in the column, so you'll probably see it again.

From Tim Kyger:

See the last line of this...

ARLINGTON, VA, February 6, 2002- The following is the text of STA President Frank Sietzen's speech before the 5th Annual FAA AST Forecast Conference in Arlington, Virginia.

Good Morning and welcome to the second day of this important gathering, perhaps one of the more significant assemblies of space launch experts in one place, with the possible exception of when Max Hunter dined alone. ..

Well, Max was part of my old Council which met in the 80's and included Lowell Wood, Gordon Woodcock, George Merrick, Phil Chapman, Buz Aldrin, and forty others including Possony and Tim Kyger for that matter, and even Max would admit that was a pretty good addition to his talents, but yeah, I can go along with that.... We are going to miss Max Hunter a lot.

I saw this item, and thought you might be interested. Players are suing Mythic Entertainment (operators of "Dark Age of Camelot") to enforce their rights to sell in-game items, money, and even characters for real-world money. 

It will be interesting to see how this suit turns out, and what it effect it has on future EULAs.


Interesting. There was a huge ebay market on Everquest items until Sony caused it to be shut down. Now there's an underground market in such things. It certainly changes the nature of the game when people can go outside it to buy equipment, but then in the real world some knights inherited their armor...

Joel Rosenberg on security and EL Al

Whether or not we need El Al security, we won't get it. Add a routine four-hour wait to a plane trip and commuter airlines and short business trips go out the window, and the wait is, as I understand it, a deliberate part of the process -- sit around Ben Gurion airport eyeing the clock and pacing nervously, and you're likely to get some serious personal attention, even though, "I'm just nervous about flying" may work. (What exactly does El Al do? They won't tell you all of it, and I don't think it was accidental that they got the Irish, very Irish-looking, and awkwardly pregnant girlfriend of one of Arafat's aides who was bringing a "present" to his family for him -- whether he thought the present was the bomb or the lack of an embarrassing grandchild is another matter.)

And never mind, for a moment, putting highly trained (and, presumably, highly paid) screeners in the place of the burger-flipper-dropouts.

We will, alas, continue to do what the US does, these days: put in more and more red tape and regulations. Not in the interest of political correctness, no; but merely out of a belief that if we were, in order to find Arab terrorists, take a close look at people who appear to be Arabs, Al Quaida would simply recruit a bunch of octogenarian Medal of Honor winners and small black children into the Future Shaheen Flying Corps.

(I've flown, twice, since September 11th. I'm not going to do it again unless I really, really have to.)

-- ------------------------------------- There's a widow in sleepy Chester Who weeps for her only son; There's a grave on the Pabeng River, A grave that the Burmans shun, And there's Subadar Prag Tewarri Who tells how the work was done. -------------------------------------

I agree El Al does more than we would need to (and I think more than El Al needs to: some of it is sheer arrogance like strip searching an 80 year old Canadian Catholic priest probably because there was a dispute with the Vatican); but we don't need to go that far. It takes more organization to get someone in place in the United States. More than that: if we lose an airplane we lose an airplane; the important thing is that we don't lose anything but an airplane. Meaning that the passengers need to fight back, and the crew needs to know how, and the cockpit needs to be secure. But we know that.

And I doubt that Al Quaida can recruit too many CMH winners.

Following goes in the column too:

Dr. Pournelle

In this Tuesday's mail (2/6/02), you suggest the Intel D815EEAL motherboard to John Bartley for "simplicity and bang for the buck." I'm having a hard time finding anyplace that carries this board. I believe I even recall you mentioning that it's becoming hard to find.

One of my favorite mail-order PC hardware shops, in Houston, TX, has the Intel D815EEA2LU and D815EEA2U still in stock. May I assume that these boards are equivalent (Intel 815E chipset & so on) except for which built-in features they include ? It's time for me to build another PC, and the goal here is simplicity and stability :)

Note: I have CC: Dave Farquhar, whose weblog "The Silicon Underground" at I have been reading and enjoying for some time now. Dave is the author of the O'Reilly book "Optimizing Windows" (ISBN 1-56592-677-3) and I think you'd find his site interesting as well...

Thanks, and kindest regards,

David P. Huff, ------------------------------------- "Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys." -- P. J. O'Rourke

I put this to Robert Bruce Thompson to be certain and:

The EEA2 replaced the original EEA something like a year ago. The "U" in the model name means that the board supports any Socket 370 processor (including Tualatin-core Pentium IIIs and Celerons). The EEA and EEA2 (without the "U") don't support the Tualatin-core processors. The D815EEA2LU and D815EEA2U are the current models.

-- Robert Bruce Thompson 

This is still a very good system. Get a P III of 900 MHz or better and this board and it's good enough for anything but Everquest with the built-in video board . For Everquest you need a GeForce 2. You can put one of those into this system if you need it. More in the column.


And this chap needs help I can't give him. Perhaps someone here can:

hi, hust read your site, i like it and you seem to be very prepared for my problem, i know you're not my technician but i'm in very serious trouble, so i need to try to ask to everyone a possible solution. Yesterday, i set up a defrag service on my windows 2000 box for , between 1 and 3 am, auto reboot of machine and defragmentation of data/mft/swap file. At 1:05am, machine restarted and everything seemed to go fine, but when i relogged, a system message told me that where errors and a CHKDSK /f where necessary, so i rebooted for doing it and - puff! - i'm not longer have data on my disc... :( i rebooted under linux and tried to mount ntfs partitions (i have 2 disk), but the content when i make an ls is :

[...] ls: WINNT: No such file or directory [...]

I can still view some dirs/files, like recycler, autoexec.bat and a pair of admin soft, the others dir, it's strage, i think linux know that there are present but can't read on the damaged partition table (or so...) where can find's also strange cause when i started win 2k after defrag the system ran once, even with an instistent message "c:\$SECURE not found" (or similar like this), and only after a reboot everything you think it's possible to rescue data ? I really need this, i'm working and studying with computer, and normally i never had need of external help :), but this time is different, and if i will lost my data i'll lost also an exam at university and my work :( thank you Alessandro Ogier

I can't imagine what he is doing here with both Linux and Windows.






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Thursday, February 7, 2002

Hi Jerry

Your correspondent with the defrag problems is probably beyond help. Defragging is a messy business, and if it goes wrong it usually destroys all data. Every Defrag program I've ever used warns users to make sure that they backup their data before beginning. There's a reason for that.

The only recovery I've seen was back in the days of 20 and 40MB drives. You could get Norton's Disk Editor and rebuild the damaged bits byte by byte. I'm not even sure if there is such a product any more, and you would have little chance of repairing a multi-GB disk.

Time for

As you might guess, I don't speak for Aurema and they don't speak for me.

----------------------------- Michael Smith, Senior Software Engineer 

That would have been my guess. It's one reason why I use Golden Bow ( )  defraggers if available for the operating system: in many years of using VOPT I have yet to lose one byte of data. And of course I have taken my chances with defragging disks without backing up first. Stupid of me. For Windows 2000 Executive Software's DISKEEPER hasn't failed me. With big drives defragging isn't as necessary as it used to be, but it can still be important.

Incidentally, it's best to run defraggers in SAFE MODE. Otherwise Windows can and does interfere with what's going on.


Regarding John-Erik Moseler's not-so-excellent adventure, do you know if anyone is collecting airport security abuses to a web site? If not, perhaps someone should do this. Perhaps someone should start a not for profit org to advocate air traveler's rights...

Scott Miller

Agreed, and someone ought to do it, but it won't be me, alas.


In your page you recently stated that you were uncertain of the authenticity of the above; having seen the same email from a different source, I went to Michigan's site and found the alert:,1607,7-121--9300--,00.htm l

Thank you for aiding in bringing this fraud to the public's attention.


Michael E. Tardie







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Friday, February 8, 2002

There is a very great deal of mail. I'm trying to be selective. 


You were talking up the i815 mobo's on the website. If you're looking for a *high-end* motherboard with everything built-in, the recent nForce boards using the Nvidia chipsets look pretty good: GeForce2MX video, sound and LAN onboard, DDR memory supported, and can handle the Athlon XP chips, which seem to be the bleeding-edge CPUs of the moment.

Asus and MSI at least are cranking them out, and I think others are in the production pipe. Abit just brought out a micro-ATX version. You can put together a 1.9 Ghz XP CPU, 256 Mb DDR and mobo for about 20% less than a corresponding P4/Rambus solution ($450 vs $580 at

Just a thought.

Bob Halloran Jacksonville FL

I've sent for the new boards. We'll see. The specs look very good.


I read your recommendation of the Intel D815EEA motherboards series as a basis for an easily assembled home-built PC. I recently embarked on a project to replace my rock-solid but too venerable K2-266 256MB system. I also have half an idea to put together systems for a few friends who still don't have PCs. As a dyed-in-the-wool contrarian, I decided to research whether an equivalent board existed using AMD technology. Sure enough, the Abit NV7M board has Nvidia video, decent sound, and 10/100 Ethernet integrated. I've based my last 2 assembled systems on ABit boards with excellent results (reliability criteria - I evaluate performance subjectively) I thought you might be interested in a prospective costed system bill of materials based on this board. RAM prices are from Crucial, all other prices from Crux Works:

Abit NV7M motherboard............................. 141.00 Crucial 64X64 DDR PC2100 unbuffered 512MB RAM..... 152.00 (fluctuates) AMD Athlon XP1700 CPU (1.47 GHz core)............. 149.00 IBM DeskStar 7200RPM ATA-100 40GB hard drive...... 104.00 Enlight AMD approved 340W mini-tower case......... 66.00 IBM 10K3561 DVD-RAM drive......................... 88.00 Viewsonic E10-8 17" CRT........................... 155.00 (if required)

That would seem to make a no-frills, but decently performing system for $700 plus monitor. I think I'll put one together and see what happens. I might also load it up with a Linux OS and free/cheap Linux based SW to see how that stuff performs in the real world. I can always reformat and start over with a Windows environment if I'm not happy with the results.


Scott Miller

I cannot in good conscience recommend VIA chip set boards, which means single-processor Athlon systems. VIA has known problems with USB and south bridge support, and while you may not experience the difficulties, many do, and I can't call that a "standard good enough" system. HOWEVER, the newest DUAL Processor boards use an AMD chip set that looks really rock sold. You can learn more on this at Thompson's web site and there will be some about it in the February column at . I really want there to be competition to Intel; but I can't recommend Athlon systems with VIA chip sets.


Product Activation is a pet peeve of mine. I even voted for Windows XP to get its well-deserved Onion this year because of WPA.

Four days ago, I installed the Canadian version of QuickTax 2001. I have used QuickTax for several years and, I must say, I am rather fond of the program. Unfortunately when the installation was complete, the software informed me that before it can be used, it needs to be Activated. I refused to activate the program, and I removed it from my computer.

This prompted me to start a new page on my Web site. I decided to put together a list of all products that I know of that require Activation. There might be others like me after all who make it a policy not to install PA-protected software on their systems for anything other than test purposes.

This is not meant to get publicity for my Web site (it's my personal Web site anyway, not something I plan to get rich from) but if you think this is a good idea, feel free to make the URL public to your readers: . Needless to say, if you know of any PA-protected products that should be added to the list, I'd be glad to do so.

(To add insult to injury, during deinstallation of QuickTax 2001, my preexisting QuickTax 2000 license appears to have gotten damaged, because that program no longer ran either, but told me to get my credit card ready. Fortunately, it was possible to reinstall QuickTax 2000 from the CD and gain access to my last year's tax files. I am planning to return my copy of QuickTax 2001 and ask for a full refund. And to compound the insult, I noticed that printing with QuickTax to a text file produces a result in which zeroes are replaced by O's, and ones with l's. Coincidence? TAXWIZ, another Canadian tax preparation program that, thankfully, is not (yet) protected by Product Activation, uses this output when importing QuickTax data, and seems to have choked on it until I painstakingly replaced all the culprit O's and l's with proper numerals.)

Then there's this latest security bulletin from Microsoft:
. Although it only affects Mac users, it's a beautiful demonstration of the point that license protection technology can seriously interfere with the needs of legitimate users.

On another note, here's something about the usefulness of reinforced cockpit doors:
. One memorable quote, in case you haven't seen it yet: "Half-way into the flight, he got up and started to bang on the cockpit door. The captain opened the door thinking it was another member of the crew [...]"

I watched CNN's reports today about security in Salt Lake City. I can't help but wonder: what if something terrible happens during the Olympics? Rather than concluding that all this security is useless (may even attract deranged folks) they'll probably conclude that more security is needed. And if nothing happens? They'll tell us that it's to them that we should be grateful, and that we probably need even more security. Meanwhile, more than one American friend of mine told me that they're reluctant to complain, less they be labelled unpatriotic (or worse). Having grown up in a Communist police state, all I can do is cringe.


PS: Regarding defrag and rebuilding drives: you don't even need a special tool to bit-hunt on a drive, even plain old DOS DEBUG can do the trick. I recently managed to rebuild the 1GB drive on an older portable after I managed to damage it by inadvertently turning on DMA. Granted, only the partition table, root directory and the FAT were damaged, the latter only slightly.

Thanks for the horror stories. I don't much like product activation either. As to Security, it isn't what the enemy can do to us, it's what he can make us do to ourselves. Most successful war in a long time, and they are winning it on points.


One of your readers writes:


Certainly Word can perform marvelous feats with ease, but I'd like to note that if you want something other than the defaults it takes a skilled programmer to set it up properly. Also you have to relearn and reprogram every time the version changes. And 90% of the time all of that window dressing isn't needed anyway.


Iím somewhat curious what is being attempted that drives this statement. There are lots of changes that can be made without being a skilled programmer. There is the capability of doing things with Visual Basic, if you desire, but users will never require that.


I like Word, and have been using it for many years. Iíve upgraded to each new version as it came along. It was a major leap to the Office 95 version, but other than that, it hasnít been difficult. A few items changed in Office 2000, and it was frustrating at first, but after the I got used to it, I was happier.


Iím running Office XP now, and Iím satisfied with everything but one thing. Very large documents can crash the application. By very large I mean 20MB or higher. The same document works fine in Office 2000. Because we do a lot of software engineering projects, we generate documents of this size routinely, such as system specs and architecture documents. These large documents can be broken up in smaller chunks, and they work fine, but we got used to having the large documents work fine in Office 2000, and donít want to change. Weíve reverted to Office 2000 on some machines due to this problem, and will have to wait for a Service Pack to come along to fix the problem.


All in all, this one gripe is all I have. Iíd say most folks arenít going to be generating that large of documents, and will never encounter the issue.



See the February column on this. Thanks.

And for LOTR fans:

Hi Jerry,

Loved this week's column. You might be interested in reading a three-part review of the Lord of The Rings movie that Wizards of the Coast (the D&D people) posted on their web site by John D. Rateliff, a Tolkien scholar.

Part I  Part 2  Part 3 

I don't agree with all of Rateliff's analysis (for example, I was impressed by how much of the key dialogue was ripped straight out of the books -- Rateliff complains of too much modern dialogue) but it's an interesting read, highly recommended and kudos to Wizards of the Coast for posting!

--Aaron Pressman



The London News Telegraph (2/7/02), reporting on Britain's efforts to comply with EU environmental regulations: "Caroline Jackson, Tory MEP and chairman of the European Parliament's powerful environment committee...also blamed the EU for its habit of pushing through new laws without bothering to establish what they will involve and how much they will cost." Dunh!!

Henry Stern Dayton, OH

What did you expect?

Dr Pournelle,

Good to know those new doors work (not). And the morons making the rules about what objects can and cannot be carried onboard haven't managed to get the crash axes removed from the cockpits.

A pilot can't carry a nail clipper, but he has access to a 10 lb crash axe / bludgeon, and one deranged passenger managed to kick his way through the newly reinforced doors. I only hope the door inconvenienced him long enough for the pilots to grab the axe and unstrap so they could smack the perp with the axe as soon as he stepped into the cockpit. As a believer in evolution in action, I'm almost sorry the lunatic survived (almost).

Of course, after this incident I'm sure the security whackos will take steps to remove the axe from the cockpits to ensure that the pilots have no way to keep the lunatics away from the flight controls.

It's finally official - We're a nation of wussies run by legions of lawyers, where high school dropouts who couldn't get a job at burger king can cause millions of dollars of delays because they were afraid to tell their supervisor that some guy who walked across the grass in the parking lot got through the checkpoint without being stripsearched.

Bah. Lynch the lawyers and it'll be safe to fly again. 20,000 people a year die on our highways, but one guy with sh*t on his shoes shuts down an entire airport for hours. War heroes are hassled for no reason other than avoid charges of "profiling" that would occur if they only searched people who actually might be terrorists. In another year it will be illegal to arrest someone committing a crime because that's unfairly profiling criminals, and they'll have to randomly arrest normal people to make the statistics look politically correct.

Sean Long

That needs no comment...











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Sunday, February 10, 2002

Home again but late. See next week.






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