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Mail 218 August 12 - 18, 2002






BOOK Reviews

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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).

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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 August 12, 2002 

A reader just saw Signs...

I wasn't expecting much, certainly the trailers were a turn off. But I had read a couple of brief reviews from sources I trust that basically said, "don't ask any questions, just go and see it."

It's like some lost 50's low budget science fiction script that for some reason didn't get made until now. Rod Serling dialog (without the overt irony) and a Charles Beaumount/Richard Matheson plot. It's also full of a strange Max-Shulman-on-acid weirdness, with apocalyptic overtones (the scene in the Army Recruiting office is priceless). Add a touch of the best of EC horror comics (definitely a Jack Davis story) and a gentle dash of Ray Bradbury for imagery.

The director understands that not showing is scarier than showing, and that hearing is scarier still. He also knows that the most frightening (and unexpected) thing to a modern American would be for CNN to suddenly going off the air during a crisis. From one minute to the next you don't have a clue what's really going on or what's about to happen. And its as scary as shit...

Visually, it was made as if effects were still expensive and you had to use good writing, acting, and clever cinematography to cover up the fact you can't afford to really show anything. It does make effective use of the same kind of color styling that _O brother, where art thou_ used.

The script is the tightest, most structured story I've seen in some time. Its as full of detail as a _trompe l'oeil_ painting with a sound track to match. And nearly every detail is significant (pun intended) to the plot. If anything, it may be too structured, although that fits in with the basic conceit of the story (which I won't go into and don't really buy as advertised).

I will add that the story really makes no sense what-so-ever outside of its own premise. Its a well worn device used to support an excellent 50's style psychological character study/drama. Imagine Sidney Lumet directing _The beast with 10,000 eyes_ or _It came from outer space_.

Fortunately, for me anyway, I am a complete sucker for this type of thing. I enjoyed it greatly even as I didn't believe a word of it.

David Reynolds

We saw it over the weekend. It's not science fiction, or rather, it's closer to C S Lewis's idea of science fiction than the hard science Niven and I write. We liked it, and it will be in the August column as movie of the month, but do not go see it expecting to see hard science fiction. It makes no attempt to be that.

I don't have time to do the following justice:

Jerry, just found a link at Bruce Sterlings Veridian Design ( to a Guardian UK article about the carrying capacity of the Earth, or at least its fuel/food resources. They state that we'll be on empty and need to colonize 2 other planets by 2050, or cut our consumption levels radically. Interestingly, they didn't mention more feasable options, such as mining the asteroid belt, merely stated that finding 2 human colonizable planets by then would be needed. I think the fact that they fail to mention in-Solar System resources and state that due to the infeasability of interstellar colonization by then ("there is no other option") reveals there left leaning eco-political bent, but we knew that already, no? :-)

Anyway, I find the mere presence of a discussion of space exploitation in such a mainstream media outlet encouraging, even though they do not see it as a viable option yet, they see it as inevitable and needed implicitly.

This is a Good Thing!

Story is at <a,6903



Ninety percent of the resources easily available to mankind are not on the Earth. Getting to space and using space resources is fairly easy once we make it getting to orbit about as cheap as air travel around the world. That can be done: see my various space papers here on this site. The carrying capacity of the Earth isn't really the point. Again see my old Step Farther Out essay on Survival with Style. I still give that lecture sometimes, although no one has paid me to do it in a while.

And Harry Erwin comments on the Mid East Policy as Fantasy paper:

An interesting paper. One issue is that I'm not sure anyone can claim they see the world as it really is. Mammals seem to live in an internal model that is updated asynchronously based on sensory data, and they choose their behavior based on that model, not on their sensations. This is particularly clear in bats, where we see the Wiederorientierung phenomenon: bats flying in a familiar area often seem to ignore sensory afference and instead depend almost exclusively on their memory of the area. First reported by Möhres and Öttingen-Spielberg in 1949, it describes two states: . Erstorientierung-when bats first encounter a novel situation. . Wiederorientierung-when bats fly in a familiar space. It was observed in the behavior of a bat that was accustomed to roosting in a cage in a room. The researchers rotated the cage and eventually removed it, and noted that the bat continued to behave as if the cage were in its normal position until forced to reorient. This suggests that bats use and maintain a world model that is only modified if circumstances force it to.

Rawson and Griffin investigated this further (see Griffin, Listening in the dark, the Acoustic Orientation of Bats and Men, Yale, 1958, and Griffin, "Cognitive aspects of echolocation," in Nachtigall and Moore, ed., Animal Sonar: Processes and Performance, Plenum Press , 1988). . Asked whether the bats even made cries at all. . Experiment involved placing and moving obstacles in a flight room. . Answer: the bat still made echolocation cries, but seemed to ignore the resulting returns. Maintenance of congruence between the internal model and the environment is asynchronous, low-rate, effortful, and involves a 'dialog' (Griffin) between the animal and its environment. There is also evidence from human psychology for similar ideas (see Walter J Freeman, 1995, Societies of Brains, LEA). The concept that brains are isolated from the objective world is called epistemological (not metaphysical!) solipsism.

Why do I mention epistemological solipsism? Because it implies _everyone_ lives in an internal model in more or less incomplete agreement with objective reality. The interpretations of 9/11 as a martyrdom and as a war by terrorists are both descriptions of internal models in incomplete congruence with reality. Objectively, it was an event involving the deaths of thousands, made 'meaningful' only by those internal models of how things 'really' work.

The implication for me is that since those internal models are causal (i.e., minds express intention), we need to understand them to predict them. (Note that one interpretation of evolution in Homo is that need has driven brain growth!) Calling them 'fantasies' begs the question. To some extent, everyone lives in a fantasy world, but being able to model the fantasies of others allows us to predict their actions. --

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

Well, I have never thought that Plato and the parable of the cave were entirely irrelevant to modern life, but then I'm one of those old dinosaurs who reads philosophy books. Scientific method has been so successful that we forget some things about why it works.

And another comment on the same paper:

Dr. Pournelle:

Do you think there is a parallel between Bin Laden and Charles Manson? Manson told his followers about Helter Skelter, a plan loosely based on lyrics of a Beatles song, where the Tate and LaBianca murders were to be conducted to look like the work of black gangs against white victims, which would provide the spark for an apocalyptic race war.

I get the impression that Bin Laden's attacks were not so much to vanquish or intimidate the U.S. as to provoke the U.S. into a retaliatory strike, which would bring more recruits to radical Islam, resulting in a cycle of escalation between cultures as Helter Skelter writ large.

While there will always be crazy/evil/sociopathic/fantasy-prone people like Manson, Bin Laden, and perhaps Hitler is in that group too (the Nazi racial theories go far beyond self interest for the German people), there is a social and cultural setting that permits them to thrive. Manson, and perhaps Donald Defreeze fo the SLA, were operating in the twilight days of the counter-culture/hippie/anti-war movement and were perhaps able to draw followers representing themselves as leaders willing to keep those respective dreams alive. Hitler of course thrived in a defeated, depression-ridden Germany, while Bin Laden is an epi-phenomenom of our appetite for oil, the peculiar geography of where oil is found in abundance, and the large amount of money poured into a feudal regime for resource extraction -- no country has achieved greatness from profits of resource extraction alone -- with nothing to show for it in terms of economic development.

Paul Milenkovic Madison, Wisconsin

More commentary, this time on the Internet paper. And a question

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I just read the screed by Bill Thompson. What is a "professor of philosophy manque"? Manque translates to "missed" (according to Google), which certainly brings his essay into sharp perspective, but I gather that's not the full contextual meaning... Pseudo-intellectuals seem to fear clarity, likely for good reason.

Once I got past his sneering contempt for all things American, particularly our core principles of individual rights and limited government, and his adolescent delight in ad hominem, his argument boiled down to this:

"We, the elites, must control the Internet as we control everything else, in order to prevent our peasants being exposed to ideas we have not approved. We know better."

I particularly enjoyed this revealing statement:

"In Europe community standards for freedom of speech differ substantially from those of the United States, where any sensible discussion is crippled by the constitution ..."

I can imagine his horror at having his "sensible discussion" "crippled" by opposing viewpoints, particularly from the hoi polloi! That won't do at all; we must have Ordnung! There are policies and procedures and rules place for the individual except to submit and obey.

Of course, this attitude is actively infesting the US as well; we are perhaps a generation behind them in terms of "progress".

Could a link to the article be added to the discussion on "Transnational Progressivism"? It looks like an excellent example.


Gordon Runkle

-- "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." -- Theodore Roosevelt

A writer manqué is a person who wants to be a writer, poses as one, but is no good at it. "Failed" would be a better translation than "missed" although missed works if you think of it as missing a mark, attempting something and failing. 





Jerry- I know that it's way early for orchids and onions but I would like to nominate the XP programmer that thought it was a good idea to not only default num lock to off but to also make sure that it couldn't be overridden by the bios setting for a large onion. I administrate a good number of PC's that routinely mix letters and numbers in passwords. Every reboot, numlock goes off. What a pain. I suppose I can write a vbs script to fix it but shouldn't have to. Oh well, thanks for letting me vent. Best regards, Barry Zakes

The problem is solved. See below.





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Tuesday,  August 13, 2002

Friday the 13th falls on Tuesday this month...

Open with an odd letter:

Subject: Studying Islam is wrong...

...especially if you might discover that not all Muslims are terrorists. Got to keep the enemy demonised, don'cha know? 

 -- Harry Payne\

"We are less interested in actions than in attitudes." - The Nightwatch, Babylon 5.

The link above leads to

which is an article on the North Carolina state university that made a book on Islam required reading:

The book, “Approaching the Qur’‡n: The Early Revelations” by Michael Sells, is required reading for about 4,200 incoming freshmen and transfer students this month.

The state legislature has voted to deny use of state funds to further this project.

Now all this is a bit of silliness to begin with. The learned academics want to do the politically correct thing and get the freshmen to read a book on Islam; how good that book is, and whether reading the book is "studying Islam" in Mr. Payne's words is another story. I'm in several discussion groups with some world class scholars, and we seem to be agreed on one thing: whatever modern Islam is, the original version was pretty bloody. 

I have several times here tried to put up discussions of the various branches of the House of Islam and the philosophies of each. I doubt that requiring incoming freshmen to read a single book is the key to understanding.

And see Below

On another key:


The House of Saud has proven itself, by its inactions and silent complicity in terrorism, an enemy of the very Western powers that transformed it from Bedouin thug-clan to royalty.

The West made a mistake in rewarding the Saud family for their services by giving them a kingdom rightfully belonging to another family.

The Hashemite family of Jordan have proven themselves, time and time again, as able administrators, dextrous politicians, and true friends to lasting peace--and true enemies to terrorism (remember Black September).

The Hashemites are in all ways more qualified by ability and temperament to guard the cities of Mecca and Medina than the House of Saud.

Accordingly, the United States should engage war upon the incompetent and terroristic usurpers in order to restore the Hashemite King of Jordan to that throne and honor which are his by birthright. Such a restoration will engender peace in the Middle East. It will leave the holy cities in the hands of a family which loyally guarded them for centuries, members of which have proven themselves able to survive and succeed in the complex modern world Islam now faces.

It will also, not coincidentally, gut the political and economic power of the Wahabs and other extremists, and set a fine example for the butchers in Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus.

Steve Setzer

The Hashemite dynasty were the hereditary Protectors of Mecca until the Brits and Lawrence of Arabia gave that area to Ibn Saud, probably without realizing that it belonged to someone else. They later compensated the two Hashemite heirs by awarding them the Kingdoms of Transjordan and Iraq, both of which were artificial entities carved out of the old Turkish empire. And then there is this:

This article is 6 years old but worth re-reading 

In essence, King Hussein of Jordan, the present King's father, began in 1996 to publicly lay out his claim to the throne of Iraq, as the living relative and heir to his cousin, the murdered King Faisal II of Iraq.

According to Debka this week, Jordan is hosting major U.S. forces preparing for the coming war with Iraq, and Jordanian special ops teams are already operating alongside US Special Forces just inside the Iraqi border (take with the usual Debka grain of salt, but they're right a lot of the time).

I bet the Syrians, Iranians and Saudis are not at all thrilled by the idea of merging Jordan and Iraq under the Hashemites. Jordan has a peace treaty with Israel and little reason to love Palestinians. Jordan with Iraq's oil money would become a major power broker. The sanctions would not apply to Jordan, and so they could quickly open the pumps and undercut the Saudi oil hegemony. And (possibly most important of all), they would control a lot more water than they do now.

What a lovely thought. King Abdullah of Jordan and Iraq. Saddam dead and the Saudis scared. Pinch me, I think I must be dreaming.

Steve Setzer

Well I would certainly rather see the Hashemites in charge than Saddam. Or the House of Saud.  But I am not entirely convinced it's our job to sort things out over there.




Jerry, In regards to Barry Zakes problem with the numlock key, I have had the same problem. I found this (
) free little application that I put in my startup folder, and it works like a charm.

Peter Lawrence

And this

Dr. P,

I found this web site  with a fix to the registry to turn on numlock at boot. It worked for me. I DID NOT use the patch, but just changed the registry with regedit.


David A. Kickbusch



And Dan gets excited of the new Power Macs:


Tastes Great!

Dual Processors are minimum configuration now! Check it out: 

-Dan S.

Eric adds:


Now with DDR that runs twice as fast as the CPU bus can handle!

Severe limitations still a problem with Motorola!

Can IBM save the day before too many high end users 'switch' in a way Apple won't advertise?

And we have this comment:

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I take it Mr. Pobirs is being a bit over the top with his reaction to the new Apple towers? I mean, poor Apple. They incrementally improve their professional line and people can still find performance bottlenecks. Obviously this can't happen in the x86 world. ;-)

Seriously, every computer had performance bottlenecks. Shouldn't we be happy that Apple isn't waiting around for the next generation of PowerPC CPUs to improve the rest of their hardware? I would rather see Apple continue this approach than to have them try to improve everything in one go.

Apple is in a tough spot. They can't sit still and they can't afford to make too many big other changes at the moment because of the migration to OS X. Everything is a balancing act for them and while their steps might not be to everyone's taste I think Apple pretty much gets it right for the bulk of their customers. As it is, I'm glad that Apple is out there trying.

Sincerely, Edward Franks


Edward Franks <>

See below.






And  this ought to make your day:

Brad Youngman

INS greets New Zealand woman with handcuffs and humiliation 
Every summer for the past 25 years, New Zealand native Maggie Anderson and her American husband have visited their family in Portola Valley. The full article will be available on the Web for a limited time: 

Or this:

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

It appears that a cracker has made off with copies of NASA's next-gen shuttle designs: 

In other news, a cracker has broken into Ford Motor Company's network and stolen designs for the Edsel II.


Gordon Runkle

-- "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." -- Theodore Roosevelt

When you read the following remember that Temple Prostitution was common in the areas that became Persia and Mesopotamia, and was remarked on by Herodotus...

I find the article below fascinating, and in context even extraordinary. 

Regards, Don Armstrong






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Wednesday, August 14, 2002

First an amusing story:

Hairy Arms for Dummies < >

Robert Ransom

Indeed. The term "hairy arms" comes from a book written in the late 50's or early 60's called "May This House Be Safe From Tigers." The author was Alexander King, a remarkable man who was a frequent guest on the old Tonight Show of that time hosted by -- I have lost his name. Predecessor of Johnny Carson. It will come to me. He (the host) wrote a book called My Saber is Bent, aha, Google reveals Jack Paar. Anyway, King was a professional illustrator, and he found that when he did an illustration it was wise to include an obvious mistake for the art director to find and fix, else the director would require him to fix something that wasn't broken...

Having moved to a new PC that does not have Flash installed, it is great not to have all those annoying adverts that crawl over the screen, and I have no intention of ever installing it. However, I get a security pop-up asking me whether I want to download it several times a day. Do you or one of your readers know a way of disabling this window, without disabling it for other downloads? I'm using IE6.

Noel Leaver

I don't use IE 6 and I don't have any Flash adverts nor any prompts that I ought to install it, so I can't help a bit; I fear I don't even know what the problem is.

Subject: EULA Explained?

Dr. Pournelle-

A friend sent this link to me. Granted, the person who wrote this article is rather pro-Micro$oft. I guess its up to the reader to decide whether or not if the author is just a shill or telling the truth. 

Rob Madison


Dr. Mark Huth  (among other readers) recommends: 

and I agree. It is time we got ourselves involved in this debate. The Author's Guild, incidentally, finds its membership deeply divided over copyright protection extension, and is opting out of some of the debates. I wish it wouldn't.

On the lighter side, Dr. Huth also found: 

 which he say you just gotta love...

Dan went to DEFCON this year and I'm getting material for his report, but meanwhile Ed Hume sends:

From <

Shock! Maturity rules at hack fest By Kim Zetter August 13 2002

South African computer security consultants Roelof Temmingh and Charl van der Walt were 30 minutes into their presentation at the DefCon hacker conference last week when a streaker - naked but for a paper bag over his head - sped up a side aisle and out of the front door.

The audience barely acknowledged the interruption; van der Walt made a small joke and then resumed his PowerPoint presentation on Trojan technology.

The mellow response was indicative of the laid-back atmosphere permeating this year's conference at one of the few Las Vegas hotels that still opens its doors to the hackers.

Conference organiser Jeff Moss (aka Dark Tangent) says they have been kicked out of every other establishment for past high jinks that have included putting cement in hotel plumbing.

But the casino-free Alexis Park Hotel has proved the perfect match for the conference, now in its tenth year. The hotel's bar earnings for the weekend equalled what is usually taken over eight months and in appreciation the hotel staff sported cheery "DefCon X" T-shirts.

While hacker notables such as Rain Forest Puppy were present, Deth Veggie seemed to be the only one from the hacking group Cult of the Dead Cow, which last year staged a rowdy presentation that included raw beef thrown at the audience.

A highlight this year was a war-drive through the Las Vegas Strip in search of insecure wireless networks. As the hacker caravan cruised the street, a driver who deduced their motives shouted that they would never find an open connection on the highly secure strip. Instead, he helpfully pointed them north to a string of office complexes and an array of open networks.

There were fewer US federal agents attending this year. Undercover Feds often sit on panel discussions or attend the conference to learn the community's latest tactics and trends. But this year, most federal agencies were too preoccupied with anti-terrorist activities to show up.


And The O'Phlynn has this to say on the North Carolina case:

The following commentary was in the Wall Street Journal: 

An excerpt regarding the required book:

If that's the case, it's a highly selective understanding since "Approaching the Qur'an," by Haverford College Professor Michael Sells, omits those portions of the Koran that terrorists have used to justify their actions. Mr. Sells explains this away by drawing an analogy to courses in Western Civilization, where students are more likely to read Biblical passages from Exodus than the bloody accounts in Joshua. The next time a terrorist cites Joshua as his rationale for murdering thousands of innocent civilians, let us know.

We also found this: 

Tuesday, July 23, 2002 3:45AM EDT

Group sues UNC over assignment

By JANE STANCILL, Staff Writer

GREENSBORO - Three unnamed UNC-Chapel Hill freshmen and a conservative Christian organization have brought a lawsuit against the university, saying the required reading of a book about Islam is unconstitutional.

The suit, filed Monday in federal district court in Greensboro, says UNC-CH is infringing on students' First Amendment right to religious freedom by requiring the summer reading selection, "Approaching the Qur'án: The Early Revelations."

The lawsuit seeks an injunction against UNC-CH's program and nominal damages for university actions "that require students to engage in learning activities that are intended to and will have the effect of endorsing, advancing and indoctrinating students in the religion of Islam."


(Thanks to Clark Myers)

And from Mr. Payne

Dr. Pournelle,

Re. your comments following from my earlier e-mail: the book was set by the University's student government. It is not a formal course with a grade, but is a summer reading program for incoming freshmen, and is in its fourth year. Each freshman is supposed to read the book, and write a one page essay on the subject. At freshman orientation, there is a one hour discussion of the subject, moderated by a staff member.

Anyone objecting to reading the book may submit a one-page essay on why they chose not to do so.

The Family Policy Network is now suing the University over this via some anonymous students it recruited in an advertising campaign.

More on the situation at 

I agree that requiring incoming freshmen to read a single book is not the key to understanding, but it could be a start. Large parts of the Muslim world use a deliberate climate of ignorance and censorship to demonise their perceived enemies and keep the population distracted from problems closer to hand. I'd like to think we in the west are better than that.


-- Harry Payne

The question is, is that the right book to start with? I would say it is not. A history of Christianity that leaves out the Crusades and the Inquisition -- and its past development since Reformation and Counter Reformation -- would not be a good work to learn from, nor is a book that leaves out of the study of the Koran those passages that command conquest and forced conversion of the infidel.




And Roland finds

The fact that Dell must "get around" the Microsoft licensing is absurd: 

Perhaps, but it's not something I intend to lose much sleep over.

Roland also recommends this "Realistic cyber war scenario" 

It is very much worth your reading

And then there's

Interesting read.


David Couvillon Lieutenant Colonel of Marines, Righter of Wrongs, Wrong most of the time, Lover extrordinaire, Chef de Hot Dog Excellance, Collector of Hot Sauce, Avoider of Yard Work


Check out my homepage at

Sir, Yes Sir! General Graham used to have Marine aide when he was Director of Military Intelligence. Dan said his aide was great, always charging out to carry out any assignment with vigor, but he did have to be reminded to open the door before going out through it...

I can't vouch for the truth of the story, but I can testify that Dan Graham told it to me...

And Monty finds this intriguing idea:

Subj: Fuel cell for your handheld? 

This describes a device, from MTI MicroFuel Cells, that incorporates a direct-conversion methanol fuel cell in a package about the size of a pack of cigarettes. They're positioning it initially as a recharger for wireless phones and handhelds, in place of wall-outlet power. They plan to release commercially in 2004.

The methanol fuel comes packaged in cartridges about the size of ink cartridges for fountain pens.

"Casio has developed a fuel cell power pack for a laptop computer that will be about the size of a large conventional laptop battery when it is ready for commercialization in the next two years. Similar development is under way at Toshiba, Hitachi and Motorola."

This sounds very promising for military applications: methanol cartridges will be much lighter than replacement batteries, for Marius' Mules to lug around!

Rod Montgomery == monty

Indeed! thanks. Now if we would just get to work on cheap access to space we could build Solar Power Satellites AKA Hydrogen Wells....







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Thursday, August 15, 2002

Short Shrift today

First man on Mars (sent by several readers): 

Roland found this on the language gene. It has been also extensively discussed in the discussion group of anthropologists and others I am privileged to belong to; the conclusion is that it may be very important indeed: 

However, one anthropologist says:

While, I haven't seen the Nature article, I'd like to pint out three things about this story:

(1) Language and it's neurological basis is surely far more complex than the FOXP2 gene, or the few it might turn on, and Saabo is correct in beleiving that the basis for language is older than 100K years.

(2) Klein's view as well as Wade's research, ignores the paleoneurological evidence which finds the same kinds of neuroanatomical asymmetries in Broca's and other cerebral regions going back to about 1.8 MY years ago, and these are probably present in KNM-ER 1470, Homo ergaster, and Homo erectus of around 500K, minimally.

(3) There is no accurate way to date the FOXP2 gene.

So we may have to wait for the returns from Shelby County...

While we are on anthropology and genetics:

This study (from suggests an evolutionary explanation for why men think long legs on women are sexy (and probably contributes to why women prefer tall men). If the fetus is undernourished it is more vulnerable to diseases and a smart male would not want a diseased wife as mother for his children. If the fetus is undernourished it devotes the resources to brain and other key organs and cuts back on leg growth. Thus long legs on a women indicate a well nourished fetus (which may imply a mother for the fetus that was disease resistant or good at obtaining food) and men who chose long legged women would have left more descendants. That is why artists try to draw a sexy women give her longer than normal legs

(From another discussant)



And we have:

Mr. Pournelle; You said: >>The Tablet I have is made by ACER, and it's neat. I wish it had a telephone built into it. It can have a phone built into it. The tablet has a PCMCIA slot and will accept a Sierra Wireless 555 or 550 1XRTT card. The card is also a 1X phone, used with an earbud plugged into the card. Verizon and Sprint offer the 1X 3G service.


John Pakrul Business Development Manager, Server-Based Computing Gibraltar Solutions Inc.

Thanks. I'll look into that. So far the Tablet is pretty neat.

Eric on the New Mac:

I should have expected when I chose to follow-up on Dan's PR-speak notice of the new Macs that someone would take exception. It isn't that I have any special enmity for Apple and I certainly have no lack of affiliation with underdog computers in my past, what with the Ataris and Amigas I've owned. Heck, I was even running BeOS for a year before giving up in favor of other fruitless quests that still held out the illusion of a future.

It's all just part of the industry soap opera I've been observing for just over two decades now. Apple fits this metaphor especially well, like a long running character who has manifested every terminal illness known to medicine and then some, yet hung on for one more season.

The oddnesses in the newly announced machines are more than minor. They reflect serious desperation. Part of this is due to a critical supplier who hasn't been able to keep up their end of the business (while their sole desktop CPU customer's low market share makes it increasingly unreasonable to try) and much of it is Apple's own fault for trying to keep too much in-house.

It should be noted that the memory issue was first brought to my attention by a site exclusively concerned with things Macintosh. Their interest is much more valid then mine as a mere bemused bystander.

Lest I repeat the work of someone who already gone into much detail here is some observation about the new Macs: 

I find little to disagree with in the Captain's notes. Surely others notice how incredibly strange it is for a company to forego a lower price point for an entry level model by making dual processors the only shipping configuration. Since using both processors properly requires MacOS X it doesn't seem that the OS transition is nearly as pressing an issue as the shortage of up to date CPUs to build around.

We can still hope that IBM doesn't take too long to get that new CPU out in volume. Anyone interested in the future of PowerPC on the desktop will pay close attention to the details divulged at the Microprocessor Forum in October. For all the rumors of Apple making a switch to AMD's Hammer series that would be a truly precarious route for Apple, much more so than the 68K to PowerPC move. IBM's ability to deliver will define Apple's future.

Eric Pobirs

Eric comments on fuel cells:

More coverage of the MTI micro fuel-cell technology, possibly with more detail considering the publication: 

Barring some major changes to the way the technology is shaping up I think I'll always want a good battery as the primary mobile power source. If worse comes to worse and you aren't in a hurry you can always charge up that battery from a small solar array. The improvements in that field look to make 'very slow but constant' recharging common place.

That said, a new option for charging that battery quickly is always a good thing and could be the difference between life and death in many conceivable situations.

Eric Pobirs

Sue Ferrara wonders who makes this stuff up:


Roland finds a way around the EULA in SP3. 

I still think that one is a tempest in a teacup; of course Microsoft will add lawyer-speak when there's to be automatic updates. The next one Roland found is of more interest, on how security holes are exploited:

Social engineering. 


Steve Hastings comments on a virus warning:

I just got a helpful email from a server running Norton Antivirus. It's informing me that I sent an email to Roland Dobbins with a virus in it. The virus is, of course, the Klez virus.

Of course, because it *is* the Klez virus, we all know that I didn't actually send it; Klez is the one that forges the headers to lie about who sent it. NAV could have known I didn't send the message!

I was kind of amused, but upon further thought, I'm glad Norton sent me this message; at least this way I know that someone sent out a virus in my name. If I didn't know that Roland Dobbins is savvy about such things, I could have sent him an email telling him I didn't send a virus. -- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est"

Of course the warning itself is likely to be lost. There is still zero chance that the Senate will approve the House bill that might help control spam. Senators are even more in thrall to the Direct Mail Association lobbyists than the House. So the bill, passed by the House, sits in the Senate without even a committee hearing scheduled, nor will it be so long as the Democrats appoint the committee chairmen.

Then we have on sneakwrap:

Jerry, sorry if you've already seen this.

Very interesting reading. Two months, and the PR firm couldn't say what to do with the unwanted book?

Will the IP copyright fanatics form an ultra-secret alliance with Al Qaeda? Will the death penalty be given for fair use (or misuse) of copyrighted material? Both unlikely, but, unfortunately, no longer funny.


Nicholas Bodley |*| Waltham, Mass. Opera browser fan -- Registered, too A cause that I believe in.


And G Goss says

I recently had a dying hard drive in my Dell laptop, which was cheerfully replaced under warranty.

My system was shipped with Windows ME. The diagnostic tool that Dell had me download from their web site builds a bootable floppy that boots into DR-Dos. The replacement hard drive came with an install utility. That utility displayed "Booting Windows 95" (presumably 95 OSR2) during start-up.

Now your correspondent says that Dell is shipping some units with something called "freeDOS" installed. (Installed as in sitting next to the machine on a bootable floppy.) Obviously this is an ongoing evolution of licensing. Presumably the licensing terms for DR-Dos are rather low these days. Presumably the licensing terms for "FreeDOS" are even lower.

I find the sheer number of command-line boot variants from Dell amusing.

And Joe Zeff comments on Chastity Houses and temple prostitution:

In "Hercules, My Shipmate," Robert Graves postulated that the priestesses at the shrines were really sacred prostitutes. He also stated that any children produced were considerred to have been fathered by the God, as the real father would be unknown and unknowable. This would explain the various sons and daughters of gods in their legends. There's no way of knowing now if he was right, but it is an interesting idea.

Graves has a number of interesting books, including of course the Claudius duology. His analysis of Bronze Age and pre Bronze Age myth is probably wrong, but it's self consistent and I have used his premise a couple of times in stories. He sure could write.





This week:


read book now


Friday, August 16, 2002

More Short Shrift


My understanding is that Dell Tech Support has been using FreeDOS for some time in boot floppy images for FlashBIOS updates, and similar uses where tracking licenses would be prohibitively difficult. So they already understand the product. I used FreeDOS similarly last year.

I needed to give my users some way to purge corporate data from off-lease machines prior to return. Since documents inadvertantly end up in a lot of destinations other than My Documents, manual deletion was not adequate. A more-or-less secure erase of the hard drive was indicated, but the lessor required that returned machines "boot from hard drive to a C: prompt". Asking users to manually format, then track down and install OEM Windows from the original media would have required prohibitive effort.

Some machines had a utility on CD that would, with little user intervention, re-format (write binary 1's) the drive and reinstall the OEM copy of Windows, but many did not. I was worried about the legal implications for installing a different copy of Windows 9x, or even MS-DOS from Windows 9x, than the original OEM license covered.

The solution was to distribute a boot floppy that ran Eraser (3.2d) from autoexec in silent mode, and a second boot floppy that automatically installed bootable FreeDOS to the hard drive (a multiple pass invocation of Eraser was also the solution of choice for users who had stored valuable R&D and marketing trade secrets)

The availability of FreeDOS from Dell will help solve a potential dilemma this Spring, when the OEM availability of Windows 2000 Pro will disappear right in the middle of our annual purchase cycle. OTOH, it may diminish my pile of political ammo for supplanting Windows with Linux for desktop OS, should I determine that to be technically and functionally feasible.

Scott Miller


This paper shows that a passenger profiling system that makes it obvious you have been selected decreases security given a well organised terrorist group.  "That is to say that any CAPS-like airport security system that uses profiles to select passengers for increased scrutiny is bound to be less secure than systems that randomly select passengers for thorough inspection. Using mathematical models and computer simulation, we show how a terrorist cell can increase their chances of mounting a successful attack under the CAPS system as opposed to a security system that uses only random searches. Instinct may suggest that CAPS strengthens security, but it in fact introduces a gaping security hole easily exploitable by terrorist cells."

Noel Leaver

Now that is at best a classic case of sub-optimization. Using mathematical models and computer simulations I can show ANYTHING, if you let me set up the assumptions, and I can prove anything if I get to make up my data.  The most secure system is not to fly at all. The second most is to be so obtrusive that hardly anyone flies; you can search them all then. 

If most of your recruits come from a pool easily profiled so that you know that they will be searched, then most of your recruits are useless. Now you have to spend your time recruiting from a different target population. The very act of recruiting from a less secure population increases the chances of a counter intelligence organization infiltrating your terrorist cells. And -- 

And I am quite sure they didn't simulate that. They just made a bunch of assumptions about distributions.  And note that the chance that anyone will be able to take over an airplane and fly it into the Pentagon are about nil now to begin with. You'll have to get a LOT of weapons on board....

And see below

Dr. Pournelle,

Your quote: "I have been in some discussions on modern plagues and biological warfare. In general there's not a lot of reason for enemies of the US to develop and use biological agents because almost everyone else is more vulnerable to them than we are ..."

I submit you may be making the mistake of assuming our enemies think and rationalize like we do. With an enemy like the Soviets this worked the majority of the time. With the supra-national terrorists, this does not seem to be the case. A simple example would be how the Palestinians use the homicide bombers to inflict a few casualties on Israel knowing full well that the reaction by the IDF will likely cause suffering among their own people of perhaps 3x that inflicted on the Israelis. They repeatedly do this in a calculated way because they are not going for a victory measured in the usual military way (body count, resources destroyed, etc.). Instead they are going for emotional effect. Even to the point, sometimes, that suffering among their own people seems to be counted as a positive outcome.

Legitimate military leaders make rational decisions of whether or not they can afford a war of attrition or if a given mission may place more resources at risk than the likely gain. Saddam Hussein is in a gray area here. He sometimes behaves like a legitimate leader with something to lose, other times not. But the terrorists are on the opposite end of this spectrum from the U.S. and similar developed countries.

They don't think like us.

Just some thoughts ... Michael Hipp

They may be crazy but not that crazy. Loosing smallpox would be bad for us; it would be devastating for the entire third world including any country that was able to develop the capability. 

The fact is that it's pretty hard to get plagues going in modern countries with reasonable hygiene and supply storage and such. It's not so hard at all among the people who usually die of plagues when they naturally happen.

How do you say "Bring out your dead!" in Arabic, or Farsi?

Alex on spam suggests a thoughtful article:

Courtesy Dan Spisak: 

Paul suggests (and tests) a statistical approach to spam detection. Also some salient comments on how laws combating spam may not work the way they were intended. (Eugene, ball's in your court on that one.)

In other spam news, the latest paper Newsweek has a multipage article on spammers: 

I could make some obvious comment about other criminals thinking they were in the right, too, when it came to their occupation, but I suppose we all know what that would read like.

Your comments welcome,

Alex Pournelle

And then there is this:

Spirit Photography:

I don't know if anyone's seen this. Ursula Pflug posted it on the SF Canada listserve: 

It could feasibly take up to 5 minutes to make out the image. Look around the table and windows.


Well, of course a profile-based screening system is less reliable than using random checks.

For example, if bin Laden's group learns that the profile-based system excludes, say, 3-year-old girls, 84-year-old Medal of Honor winners, and Orthodox Jewish rabbis, all the terrorists need do is recruit and train a bunch of 3-year-old girls, 84-year-old MoH winners, and Orthodox Jewish rabbis as terrorists, and we'll all be screwed.

I still think my method is better. Eliminate airline security entirely. Allow, nay encourage, all air travellers who wish to do so to carry concealed weapons, and offer frangible ammunition in a choice of calibers at the check-in counter. Air marshals aren't much deterrent. After all, it's easy enough for one terrorist to flush the one or at most two marshals present on any given flight, and having done that the terrorists know the rest of the passengers are unarmed and helpless. But what terrorist is going to attempt to take over a plane if he knows that the granny in seat 14-B might have a Glock under her knitting?

And to those who object to the idea of armed civilians, I merely say that I'd rather take my chances with Granny and her Glock than with our new crop of air marshals, who seem more likely to accidentally shoot up hotel rooms or leave their pistols in the plane's bathroom than to provide any serious deterrent to terrorists. Allowing civilians to go armed on flights increases the uncertainty of a would-be terrorist to the point where he will likely regard success as too remote a possibility to make it worth the effort. And even if some fool does attempt to take over a plane, having a half-dozen (or two dozen) wolf-in-sheep's-clothing passengers almost ensures he'll be shot down before he can do any damage.

Imagine what might have happened had only a few civilians on Flight 93 been carrying concealed pistols. It almost certainly would have landed safely with some dead terrorists on board. Perhaps some innocent bystanders might have been wounded or killed as well, but it's unlikely that all would have died. And even more so, just a few armed civilians on any of the flights that hit the WTC and Pentagon would have eliminated the possibility of using those planes as field-expedient cruise missiles. Worst case, the planes would have crashed, but under no conceivable circumstances would they have taken the buildings down with them.

But I suppose all this makes too much sense for the idiots and knee-jerk anti-gun morons to understand. And, of course, it addresses the real problem, which obviously hasn't been the goal of the measures taken so far.

-- Robert Bruce Thompson


Well, perhaps there could even be a compromise. Such as requiring active duty combat qualified officers and nco's to be armed with concealed weapons when they board an airplane...

And having returned from a writers dinner, I find:

In their vindictive frenzy to punish the nation for inventing new technology, the RIAA has apparently taken leave of their senses altogether.

The Reuters story is linked below:

I am desperate to hear your take on this one.

Barry Smith

Desperate you are. Speechless I am. Idiots they are. Predict what the courts will do I cannot, not in the present state of the courts, but I think this shows the state of mind of the RIAA. Unsound.


This is in reference to your August 12 column.

North Korea is the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" or "DPRK", not the People's Republic of Korea. You are conflating "People's Republic of China" with the Korean peninsula.

Best regards, Brendon


Brendon Carr ... An American Lawyer in Korea (Member of Washington State bar; Not admitted in Korea) AURORA LAW OFFICES, Counsellors at Law 9th Floor, KNTO Building, 10 Da-dong, Chung-ku Seoul 100-180, Republic of Korea Tel +82 2 771 8885 ... Fax +82 2 771 8886 Home +82 2 392 0759 ... Cell +82 11 9788 0750

Oh, well.  Of course they're democratic. Stupid of me.









This week:


read book now




Writers of the Future etc





This week:


read book now


Sunday, August 18, 2002

Roland discovers Microsoft is withdrawing the free TrueType Fonts, and wonders:

How is it possible to 'abuse' free fonts?,3973,469394,00.asp 

One supposes that someone in Microsoft management decided that Open Source was taking advantage of Microsoft investments. I wouldn't think Microsoft the loser for that; if a Microsoft spokesman wants to tell me their side of it I would like to hear it. See Also next week.

And Terry Cole wonders how long before they collect their prize:

Dear Dr Pournelle, Also from slashdot ( ), "Finally Xbox is ready for some real fun! Linux can be booted now ... just check out  - Linux boots into a network-enabled state, running a web server and telnet, which allows you to log into the box from another machine. It can be booted either from flash memory, or (more easily) from a CD inserted into the machine. (The Xbox still needs to have a modchip fitted to allow it to run unsigned code)."

Regards, TC




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