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Mail 220: August 26 - September 1, 2002 






BOOK Reviews

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Highlights this week:

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

Note that if you don't put a name in the bottom of the letter I have to get one from the header. This takes time I don't have, and may end up with a name and address you didn't want on the letter. Do us both a favor: sign your letters to me with the name and address (or no address) as you want them posted.

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

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Monday  August 26, 2002

Short Shrift

Because Outlook XP went funky on me on the big computer, I have to transfer this blank to the web site, then go to the portable, download this blank, and then put in mail from Outlook which is working over there. Fun. Mostly I am working on fiction so this will be short shrift.

> Sunday, August 25, 2002

> Ever wonder if the lower murder rate means you are safer? Or that you are more likely to survive a vicious attack including gunshots or being stabbed of other traumatic injury? Are there fewer attempted murders and robberies?

I have read within the past week (and damme if I can recall where) that innovations in ambulance service have drastically reduced murder rates; folks who would have died before are merely injured. ALS (Advanced Life Support, the orange-banded ambulances) replaced the 'scoop and scoot' service of our adolescence, using trauma lessons (e.g., the 'Golden Hour') discovered mainly in the Vietnam section of the Seventy Years' War.

So, the death of one of my brothers in combat and the wounds of another brother make it more likely I'm to survive a Close Encounter with a Ford Behemoth. The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again.

-- John Bartley, K7AAY, telcom admin, USBC/DO, Portland OR - Views are mine.


Hi Jerry,

What do I want? I want reliability. I want it to behave properly - no more blue screen of death or Guru Meditation Error or other cryptic message. I want the OS to serve me. Not the vendor - me. I want it to look out for my best interests as I define it, not go back to the publisher and tattle on me. I want it to be modular so I can use those features I want and reserve those I do not. I want it to be upgradeable on the fly; no more having to reboot ten times per upgrade. But most important, I want it to be reliable.

Features that take advantage of all those cycles? Artificial intelligence. The computer should know me and my needs. Like a pet, if it does something outside of my range of wishes, telling it once, "don't do that again!" should have the effect of ceasing a particular 'behavior' without reducing it's effectiveness. It should monitor my behavior and activities and anticipate my needs. It should not report those behaviors or needs to either vendors or authorities. It should be an extension of me.

In the time of serious health-related pollution and terrorist-related anxiety, it should monitor and report to me in real time health-infringing environmental degradation.

Hope this helps. Thanks -alex

-- Alex Rounds Systems Administrator 

We will collect a lot of these into their own page.







Dave Colton:mentioned:

CNN did a fairly large piece about this. The hacker involved is an extreme self-promoter (the American Way!) in a manner which undercuts my intuitive faith in what he says. In the CNN interview he said that he had offered his hacked entry into the website to the US authorities (I forget which ones) as a secret trap/tracker for AQ activities. When the authorities ignored him, he put up the hack screen and called in the media. Because of my gut response to the hacker's personality, I wonder if he might have put the page up in the first place so that he could become famous for hacking it

Greg Goss



If one goes to the site that the "hacked"  actually links to one will find that Dave Colton is correct.

The so-called hacker admits to registering several domains to pick up all sorts of post 9/11 traffic. No hacking involved at all.

Matt Barnes




During a Network Neighborhood update I had the experience that the entire content of the network neighborhood vanished. Simultaneously, the "Search -> Find Files and Folders" feature stopped launching (ref. May 2001).

It turned out that waiting for a LONG time on the network Wizard enabled me to restore the net connection, which "recovered" all the connections I had in the Network Neighborhood" window, and immediately Search returned to normal. It appears that Search uses net connections, and when they were "gone" it appeared to hang.

Thanks for your column!

> David Butcher | AtreNet 


Hi Jerry,

Weird mail indeed. It does not read like it was written by a mature person.

Anyway, the Oracle technet is a good development site if you are interested in Oracle products or development. The nicest part is that they allow developers to download the entire oracle suite of tools/databases/whatever they have developed today for testing/development purposes. For people in my business, it's an excellent opportunity to evaluate oracle products and become familiar with them.

It's not for your average user.

- Paul

Of course Microsoft Developer Net isn't for the average user either; my real point was that because one does some things well says nothing about the other. Oh well.

Last week, you convinced me to try Opera. To that moment, I'd been a dyed-in-the-wool MS user. Almost all of the tools I use on a daily basis are from MS: Win2k, IE, Outlook Express, Office 2000, Visio, Project, MSDN, Visual Studio, not to mention all of the Backoffice stuff as well. The only time I step out of MS territory is for specialty tools like Adobe's graphics tools or Sonic Foundry's music apps, and other third-party utilities (NAV, IrfanView, WinZip, etc.). This is also why I don't do Netscape, so I can't speak for that product and how it compares to Opera (I leave that exercise for the reader...;->).

The rationale is not loyalty to MS--in many cases, I loathe the way MS software works. (Outlook/ Exchange is probably the best example here.) However, one cannot ignore the case for integration and interoperability. I know that sticking with MS stuff means the LEAST amount of headache.

Switching to Opera has proven those fears completely.

I first installed Opera on Abulafia, my core home system (generic PIII-700 beige box with 512MB ram). The experience was not pleasant. When you reported on Opera 6.05, the Opera website had yet to promote it to the default download (remedied since then). Inadvertantly, I'd downloaded and installed 6.04. Figuring on a simple dot-X upgrade, I then installed 6.05, to find that I now had TWO versions of Opera installed. Feh. Uninstalled everything, reinstalled 6.05, and I was flying. Literally.

No matter what else I will say here, Opera is FAST. I use Yahoo! as my home page, becase they put great effort into making their very dense front page very small. Subjectively speaking, pages render 2-3 times faster in Opera than IE. The crisp performance is very satisfying.

I like Opera's tabbed page window approach--it's very clean and uncluttered. Unfortunately, my workflow habit is opening links in a new window, and switching using Alt-Tab and Alt-Shift-Tab, so I haven't really been using the tabs much.

Like most software, Opera confronts the user with setup options long before the user understands all of the implications of such. For example, while trying to move the Status bar to the bottom of the screen (for some bizzaro reason, it defaults to the top: of course, this may simply be another IE bias on my part), I turned the fool thing off. No amount of fiddling got it back on: ultimately, I resorted to another uninstall/reinstall cycle to restore it. I am sure there is a switch for it somewhere, but I couldn't find it on the Options page.

To me, this is a significant issue. As a software developer, I strongly believe that tools should be invisible. The moment user is thinking about the tool, they've stopped thinking about their work, and that's bad bad bad. A week into using Opera and I still find myself frustrated with finding ways to do things I can do easily in IE. Serious usability problems.

Nevertheless, having satisfied myself that it wasn't going to start Rome immediately burning, I then migrated several of my other daily use machines, including Pinky (a Toshiba Tecra 8100) and Scribble (a dual Athlon graphics workstation). Again, I'm very satisfied with performance, but usability is poor.

What I really don't like is the instability. Prior to installing Opera on Scribble, that box had run uninterrupted for 124 days as reported by my network connection. Since installing Opera, Scribble is on a twice-daily reboot schedule.

For example, there is something wonky with the way the checkbox object is coded in Opera, because I've managed to hard-crash Abulafia several times while innocently filling in forms. Note that testing the same forms in IE gives me no such sweet peaceful reboot time.

There is also a variety of websites that don't function the same in Opera as in IE. Cascaded javascript image maps don't work consistently, but lots of sites use them. Many plug-ins either don't work, or I've bungled the setup: Windows Media Audio/View format (dot-WMV) files never seem to play in Opera, but this may be a political rather than functional challenge. Flash is dicey, sometimes working, sometimes blue-screening my system (yes, I too was surprised by the blue screen in Win2k).

The embedded mail and newsreader tools are mostly filler, functionality there for the sake of completeness rather than actual value add. I haven't gotten away from Outlook Express (still my favorite email tool), and I use a third-party newsreader that is far faster than Opera's.

Having said all this, I'm sticking it out. This weekend, I'm putting Abulafia through a complete rebuild (I'm upgrading his hard drive to a 40gig UltraWide SCSI), and will attempt to get Opera onto as minimal a setup as possible to test its stability.

For now, Opera is fast enough to still be worth the effort. However, stability will out, and if Opera isn't better behaved on a system with less accrued environmental crud, then I will be returning to IE. More as I know it.

-k ======================== Keith C. Langill CTO, Pursuit Technologies, Inc.

Let me hasten to say that I am no promoting Opera; I haven't tried it. I don't really have problems with IE (Outlook is driving me nuts but that's another matter). I do intend to try Opera, if for no other reason than security.


What do you want in a new operating system? I asked...

Actually nothing. Windows 2000 (or XP) code should be entrenched as "the operating system for the next decade" and MS should place their focus on designing development tools that really work. They used to have an excellent development environment called VB, but VB.NET has turned into a geek tool of limited function. After two years of testing VB.NET in its beta and production release forms, our developers have returned to VB6 with renewed enthusiasm!

Otari Electronics Ltd Peter Clark -CEO

update on Shatter:

More on Shatter.


Re: Text size in Internet Explorer.

Philippa Sutton recommends using the "text size" settings in IE to make micro print easier to read. She mentions the View/Text-size setting. You can also set this with [control-mousewheel], which I find far easier than playing with menus. I am continually adjusting my text size depending on ambient light (I can have sun over my shoulder) or fatigue. (Hmmm. My OS&Office was upgraded last week, and I just noticed that control-mousewheel works across the entire Office suite. I am sure that it didn't in Office 97.)

But more and more web pages do not allow you to adjust the display text. and SAPFans Forum (Two sites I would like to read more of if I didn't have to fight eyeball fatigue on them) each display at 5.5 point text on a display more than 3 feet from my eyes. I like fine print. I can read either of those for about a half hour each, but I suspect that many see 5.5 point text and move elsewhere. I have invested five-digit sums of money via advertisers on's primary competitor. I hope the advertisers take note.

I am not a web programmer. I don't know what or are doing that or are not. But I am finding more and more sites where nothing changes when I make the "text size" adjustment. On some sites I have been known to cut/n/paste the text into Word so I can actually read it.

Greg Goss ( ) 








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This day was eaten by locusts.








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Today was eaten by locusts too, but I had to put up this:

From Richard Pournelle:

XCOR Aerospace has a new online store. Don't worry, we make plenty of money making rocket engines, but you can always support the cause by purchasing merchandise. Like our engines, we prefer our merchandise to be reliable, reusable and affordable. Our shirt products are sorted by design. Each shirt design can be purchased on a variety of different shirt styles (long sleeve, short sleeve, hooded, etc.) Click on each design to see all the shirts available for that design, as well as larger images of the design itself. Be sure not to miss our fantastic Xerus Clock as well as our posters, caps and accessories. Email the webmaster if you have any questions or problems with the store. Enjoy! 

Clearly I am not entirely unbiased here...












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Thursday, August 29, 2002

SUPER SHORT SHRIFT: I have no time at all.  And a lot of mail, on many subjects.


I have always enjoyed your columns and subscribed to Byte for many years. I still enjoy your work at Chaos Manor on the electronic Byte.

I'm probly about as old as you, and learned to program in BASIC and then FORTRAN and later TurboPascal under DOS. I wonder if you might do a column on what programming languages there are available to individuals [read inexpensive] these days that can be used to do problem solving, generate graphs and plots etcetera, under Windows. Prices for professional versions of such things as FORTRAN are exceedingly expensive. Learning some of the visual GUI's is difficult and seems hardly worth it to solve some straightforward problems once in a while.

Is this a topic that you or one of the other contributors to electronic BYTE might like to address? Thanks a lot. Keep those columns going.


Dick Strachan

I should tackle this since I used to write about programming languages. First I need to collect information from readers. Tell me about this.

Eric on Office: 

I'm surprised to realize that I'd completely missed this. In the past there would typically be a high price and a rebate based on qualification, as is still done with many upgrade purchases of major software titles. Instead you can buy the Student/Teacher version of Office XP for $100 to $130 and never be required to show proof of your academic status. If this stealth bargain package does well enough I wonder if they'll just come out in the open and drop the price of regular Office, eliminating price as one of the major advantages of Star Office.


From Roland:

Pryce-Jones on the Hashemites. 


Subject: The Voynich Manuscript. 

Subject: G-Men 




Here's an account of a man who was detained by the New York City transportation police for taking photographs of a piece of sculpture. Reason: It was near the Triborough Bridge, and Muslim terrorists often take pictures of the structures they intend to blow up, in preparation for their work.

The photographer, a blond-haired, blue-eyed native of Tennesses, didn't show up on any of the FBI watch lists for Islamic terrorists, so he was eventually let go. But he still can't take any pictures of that sculpture. There's a total ban on photography in the area. 

.........Karl Lembke


Subject: Apple "switchers" from ... Linux

Interesting article from Tim O'Reilly (of O'Reilly and Associates) discussing the phenomenon of users "switching" to Apple from Linux and UNIX. 

I think he could well be right. Apple could grab a large number of new users very quickly by courting the UNIX users heavily.

Linux in the server closet is here to stay. Linux on the desktop is dying, and Apple could well replace it. Which won't hurt Bill Gates' feelings at all; he makes money selling those folks Office for Mac, where before he was making no money from the Linux users.

Steve Setzer


From Ed Hume

European floods linked to poor land management 

not global warming? Astonishing.

A little self indulgence:

Dear Mr. Pournelle-- I've been reading your SF for some years now and enjoy it. What I really enjoy, however, are your columns for BYTE Magazine's web site. I just wish I'd started reading them earlier than a few months ago. (I hadn't realized that BYTE's web site was back up and running.) Please accept my thanks for all the incredibly useful information. I've taken your advice and purchased Nero Burning (and zapped my Roxio software) as well as the VoptXP defragger (and zapped my Norton Utilities), and am far more than extremely pleased with both of them. I'd been getting really irritated with the lack of good, solid performance in both of the old programs, and it was easily worth the replacement costs to have software that just does the job and doesn't drive me to tear my hair out by the roots. I've found also that your opinion of WinXP Professional has been mirrored in my experience with that OS. It's proven to be the most stable Windows platforms I've used (and I've used all of them except Windows for Workgroups and NT in any of its versions). It also does what it's supposed to do--which is a joy.

Beyond the good advice, I just simply enjoy the column, and look forward to reading it each Monday night as the new iteration becomes available. I'm neither a programmer nor a technician, and have some difficulty doing physical work on my computers as the result of a stroke, but I do like efficiently operating hardware and software, and I've been working with and on computers for quite a while (started using computers with Unix on an old VT-100 terminal back in 1982).

Thank you again for the pleasure of reading your columns as well as for the good and useful advice.

Minge Bishop

I confess I am getting a little unhappier with XP just now. When it goes bad it goes REALLY bad.


And from Joel Rosenberg

  A striking sign of the Saudis' eagerness to reach out to the United States has been a ... scramble ... to find a gesture of solidarity with the American people on the anniversary of the attacks. The royal family has considered presenting the racehorse that won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes this year as a gift to the victims' families, according to one adviser to the family. -- the New York Times.

Yes, the Saudis seek to assuage the anger of the victims' families... presenting them with a used horse.

Now now you are looking a gift horse, well, you know...








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Friday, August 30, 2002

VERY short shrift


In regard to your reader's question:

> I wonder if you might do a column on what programming languages there are > available to individuals [read inexpensive] these days that can be used to > do problem solving, generate graphs and plots etcetera, under Windows. > Prices for professional versions of such things as FORTRAN are exceedingly > expensive. Learning some of the visual GUI's is difficult and seems hardly > worth it to solve some straightforward problems once in a while.

Personally, I'd recommend Python ( ). It's a powerful, flexible language which is easy to learn, easy to read, encourages (but does not insist on) object-oriented design and structure, has a wide-ranging and easy-to-use standard library of support modules, is cross-platform, is Free Software, etc, etc. There are several GUI development environments for it (also free) and it integrates as closely with Windows as you would like.

I use Python for developing a lot of web-based applications, but have also done desktop applications with it.

No reply necessary, etc, etc.

Charles Cazabon

I agree: Python is powerful and easily learned, and for many short jobs, quick filters, and so forth, is the language of choice. Sort of like a really good QBASIC used to be. More from Kit Case:

Dear Dr. Pournelle, 

Mr Strachan asked "what programming languages there are available to individuals [read inexpensive] these days that can be used to do problem solving, generate graphs and plots etcetera, under Windows."

Might I recommend Python? It is powerful, with all the features that are expected of a modern programming language, and free! Both free-as-in-speech and free-as-in-beer! It's a scripting language, so there isn't a compile step and you don't have to have a "main()" type section. I think, though I haven't tested this, that it can be used with the Windows Scripting Host as VB Script is. I highly recommend it as a first programming language, or for any application requiring text processing. It does text much better than C/C++ does. Excellent error handling.

It does GUI and general graphics work with TCL/TK (using the TKinter module).

The main Python page: 

Python for Windows, with a nice IDE, free download from Active State: 

O'Reilly publishing has many books and articles on Python. O'Reilly is, for me, the first place to go for programming books.

O'Reilly's Python page: 

"Learning Python" is the book to start with: 

"Programming Python" is the 'everything, including the kitchen sink, suitable for household defense' book:

If you are interested in web programming, check out Zope, a Python based web application server:

Kit Case,

I had this in the column not too long ago. Thanks for collecting everything into one place.

Don't forget add PowerBASIC to your list. It can be found at  (if I start talking about it, you'll think I work in their PR dept.)

C U L -

I used to use Power Basic a lot. I need to look into it again. I just threw out a 7 year old copy. It doesn't seem to be installed on anything I have just now and it should be.

Hi Jerry,

To help your reader who is after cheap and useful programming languages I would like to suggest IBasic ($25) 

I've been using it for a few months now and it is a superb piece of work - it can do pretty everything that VB can do in a 2Mb download, it produces stand alone executables and can link to external dlls if you want it to. It can also produce console mode progs for when you don't need a gui.

Paul, the author, is extremely responsive and there is a marvelous community of users.

Regards Norman

I know NOTHING of this!  I will have to look into it. Thanks!


On Incompetent Empire:

In an order made public Wednesday, she demanded that the FBI explain how it examined the computers Moussaoui said he used and explain why the FBI couldn't find traces of the e-mail account. 

I work in a nuclear plant. My SUV is now daily inspected as I enter the plant area. I pass through explosive and bomb detectors and am subject to frisking and random drug tests. I have twenty-eight years experience as an operator and 14 as an NRC licensed Reactor Operator. What could I possibly bring in that is more dangerous than the knowledge I use to do my job. 90% of the things we do out here have nothing to do with plant safety or production but have everything to do with image and "professionalism". The industry is caught in a death spiral of ever tightening self imposed rules, regulations, and hoops to jump through. Even with the constant extortion by state agencies we still make electricity for <2.5 cents a kilowatt hour. Look at you electric bill and see what the profit is.

So we could be free of the Oil shieks and coal monopolies breath clean air and have cheap power but we won't. What ever happened to " We have nothing to fear but fear itself " ?

Please no name or email --

Energy independence for the United States is achievable through a combination of nuclear power, solar power, space solar power, efficient exploitation of existing resources, and the rest; and while expensive would be a heck of a lot cheaper than WAR...

Wars break things and kill people. Better to build new energy sources and defenses. But that won't happen.

Fine, what will we plead him to?


This incident reminds me of accounts of the witch trials: if you confessed, you were a witch; if you didn't confess, or confessed and then recanted, you were an unrepentant witch, and the penalties were actually worse.

> But we were born free. Welcome to the new age: Bin Laden can do little to us, but we can sure do it to > ourselves.

This age isn't new; by the time I was born (1961) we already had the foundations laid through the War on Drugs. We gave up most of the Bill of Rights there, long before Bin Laden. I saw polls all through the 80s, showing that a majority of the population was happy to give up it's rights to "win the war on drugs."

I think your vision of the CoDominium was actually a little optimistic; I'm leaning more toward Cyberpunk 2020, myself.


Steve Nelson

and also on that incident:

The story was also described in some detail in SCIENCE, but there were some differences.

In Science it was said that he was asked to 'clean out the freezer' and came upon the samples in question. It's not clear how they were labeled or how it was known that they had anthrax, also not clear how anyone else found out about them.

Instead of destroying them, he made the decision that he wanted to keep them in case he might find use for them in the future, and informed his faculty advisor that he was moving them to another freezer. At that point, the samples became "his" and he was not authorized to have 'anthrax' infected tissue. Don't know who the prior custodian was, nor why others in the chain of custody were not charged.

Of course he did not know that it was illegal to possess the tissue, nor did his faculty advisor, even though both work on biohazardous materials all the time, but it was nonetheless illegal. Good mens rea issue there in an increasingly technological age - outlaw everything and sell permits to break the law.


Clark Myers

The will of the prince shall have the force of law.



Dear Dr. Pournelle,

The spectacle continues: 

And, of course, the woman was arrested and hauled off.


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

Why not? Ordnung! Your papers, please. But we were born free.


Fowarded by Ed Hume:

August 28, 2002; Israeli Tips From Street Fighting in the West Bank

@ Tanks are a necessity, unless you want to take very high infantry losses (5-7 of your troops for every enemy soldier).

@ The most useful armored vehicle was the D-9 armored bulldozer. This beast is large enough, and powerful enough, to plow through buildings, or to shake buildings to set off booby traps or force civilians (and sometimes fighters) to clear out. You've got to protect the D-9 with infantry, as it is not invulnerable to anti-tank weapons.

@ The ratio of infantry to armor vehicles should vary from 30 to 100 infantrymen per tank.

@ It's better to fight at night, as US and Israeli forces have better night fighting equipment and train to use it. This includes the night vision gear on your tanks and armored vehicles. By cutting off the electricity in the enemy held city, you have a significant advantage that should be used.

@ Grab the high ground, meaning the roofs and top floors of buildings. About all helicopters are good for is to use their guns to clear the enemy off roofs, and to land your troops up there.

@ Deal with the underground. The sewers will be used by the enemy to move around. You will have to blow up portions of the sewer system. It's not worth the casualties to go down and fight in the sewers.

@ Snipers are the biggest problem, followed by machine-guns and booby traps. The troops have to learn to stay under cover at all times. And if they smoke at night, don't do it anywhere that an enemy sniper can get a shot at you. Most snipers will be in the upper stories of buildings (but not the roofs where your helicopters can get at them.) A smart foe will booby trap the ground floor entrance and arrange for another escape route, so that if you send troops into the building, the sniper will escape and your guys will run into the trip wires and explosives. The antidote for this is to take the high ground first and use your own snipers to take out the enemy snipers. This is where night operations are essential. The sniper cannot hit what he can't see, and enemy snipers will have a lot fewer clear shots at night. When you do encounter a sniper, take how out with your own snipers, or tank fire, or take the building he's in down.

@ Obstacles can work for you. The enemy will try and set up barricades and other obstacles that will lead your troops into a trap. Follow your own plan and plow right through obstacles. You can also use obstacles, especially trenches, to contain the enemy and prevent them from using vehicles to move troops around.

@ The Israeli experience contradicts American doctrine, which urges troops to advance in the middle of streets to avoid ricochets from walls. The Israelis found that getting shot in the center of the street was more of a danger than ricochets.

@ Helicopters are very vulnerable unless they keep moving. Even then, they will get hit. You must be careful using helicopters, and use them only at night when possible. Helicopter weapons aren't as useful as you might think. Their machine-guns can't penetrate most walls, and they rarely get off a good shot with their missiles. Choppers are good at keep the enemy off roof tops.

@ Intelligence is very important. UAVs are particularly useful because they can observe an area constantly and stay out of range of enemy weapons. SIGINT (listening in on enemy cell phone and radio conversations) is another valuable source of info, but you have to have enough translators familiar with the local dialect. The enemy may also use a lot of code words, which your intel people will have to try and decode. It's also possible to get a lot of valuable information from the local civilians. If they are hostile to you (as the Palestinians were to the Israelis), this is difficult, but not impossible. If many of the locals are friendly, you are going to get a lot of life saving information. Use this source of info as much as possible. If the locals are friendly, try and recruit line crossers (people who will go into hostile areas for info.) The enemy will use this ploy, and will make use of kids (usually 10-12 years old, as these are old enough to know what they are doing, and young enough to qualify as children.) The kiddie spies, although usually unarmed, can be particularly deadly, as they are good at what they do and tend to be fearless.

@ Flashlights are more valuable than you think. Make sure all the troops have them, and a good supply of fresh batteries.


I hope all our commanders are aware of this. I presume this is Dunnigan. He and I have had our differences but he's always worth paying attention to, and he spends more time on this than I do. I can't quite keep up...


Ed Hume on Mozilla:


My only problem with Mozilla 1.0 was that it wasn't very fast.

Despite this, I used it over IE because I can turn off pop-up windows for free, without using up valuable screen space with an add-on. Also, I can adjust the view size of fonts without ruining page layouts or having text obscured by non-text elements.

Mozilla 1.1 is fast-as fast as IE6. Maybe that's not as fast as Opera, but it's available now and Opera 7 isn't here yet.

The only other problem with Mozilla 1.x is the standard look-it gets dreary after a while. OTOH, the capacity to fetch new themes it built in, and I very much like the Modern series by Chris Neale.

Anyway, Mozilla 1.1 took that last 5% of my Internet time from IE6. I'm pretty much 100% Mozilla now.


and we have

Mozilla has no problem changing the size of the fonts on either or Ctrl-+ or Ctrl--.

Mozilla 1.1 is now out - If you haven't tried it out yet, you're doing yourself a disservice. For pop-up blocking if nothing else.  .

Pete Flugstad







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Saturday, August 31, 2002

Very Short Shrift

Still working on Burning Tower. And Ositis is driving me mad.

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Thank you for the wonderful reading recommendations in your Book of the Month section. A while back I ordered Property and Freedom by Richard Pipes, it is certainly one of the most interesting and informative books Iíve ever read. Next on the list is Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present by Jacques Barzun. Canít wait to dig in. And of course, thanks for all of the great science fiction over the years, Iíve enjoyed reading many of your books numerous times, and even read King Davidís Spaceship to my son when he young, to introduce him to science fiction.

Sincerely, Scott Barton


I post the following:


I would like to bring to your attention the following website article: 

Many thanks!

Sincerely yours,

Bibhas De

With a warning. I am not competent to evaluate what is said there. At first glance this looks like typical crackpot railing against the Science Establishment, but on closer reading I find I don't think so. Precisely what it is is another story. I'd ask Bob Forward or Charles Sheffield if I saw them. I may do that anyway. But it's an interesting thing. Of course one need not be a crackpot to be wrong. The question is, have those who ought to know seriously looked at this? If so, why haven't they published their refutation? I realize that not everyone who claims to have revolutionary ideas deserves a full hearing, but there comes a point where the minimum competence to be taken seriously has been demonstrated, and this, I think has been done in this case.

Anyway, if I get a chance I'll ask Forward...

Languages again

Dear Dr Pournelle, Dick Strachan asked: "what programming languages there are available to individuals [read inexpensive] these days that can be used to do problem solving, generate graphs and plots etcetera, under Windows. Prices for professional versions of such things as FORTRAN are exceedingly expensive."

We use the complete GNU set of tools available under Cygwin. Universities are chronically short of funds and both Cygwin and g77 are as free as the air. A little while ago Cygwin was bought out by Red Hat, but the origins go back to D.J. Delorie's DOS port of the GNU C compilers (gcc and g++). In fact the celebrated Mr Delorie is still one of the principle maintainers.

The Cygwin User's guide overview states:

"The Cygwin tools are ports of the popular GNU development tools and utilities for Windows NT and 9x. They function through the use of the Cygwin library which provides the UNIX system calls and environment that these programs require. With the tools installed, programmers may write Win32 console or GUI applications that make use of the standard Microsoft Win32 API and/or the Cygwin API. As a result, it is possible to easily port many significant UNIX programs without the need for extensive changes to the source code. This includes configuring and building most of the available GNU software (including the development tools included with the Cygwin distributions). Even if the compiler tools are of little to no use to you, you may have interest in the many standard UNIX utilities. They can be used both from the bash shell (provided) or from the"

At present the installation involves downloading a small "setup.exe" which in turn allows you to customize a network install, download the customized files to a local directory, or reinstall from that local directory. The process is frankly quite buggy - RH please note - but reasonable results can be obtained after a little thought.

A minimal install would comprise around 70MB fully expanded (roughly 23MB of compressed downloads), but our Laboratory A PCs have an everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach which takes up ~900MB on the hard drive. This includes gcc, g++, g77, X-Windows (XFree86 v4.2), engineering tools, a variety of Window Managers, etc. I copy a self-extracting 300MB file over the network to each Lab machine, run it, then apply the Cygwin post-install script (using setup.exe again). It takes around quarter of an hour. If necessary I could forward a CD with the binary.

Besides the cost and the complete documentation, there are three important advantages of Cygwin to be borne in mind.

First, it grants a complete POSIX environment under windows; all the usual tools run directly from a C: prompt, such as ls, vi. (Don't do rm -Rf C:\*, it will spoil your day completely). Second, the X-Windows environment is completely OpenGL compatible, using the Windows driver; this is the only way I know to run OpenGL applications from a remote machine and display the results locally. Third, it is possible to map Unix permissions by overlaying NT-style permissions (access control lists or ACLs), and on an NTFS system hard symlinks are directly comparable to NT "Junctions".

Hope this helps.

Regards, TC

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


And then:

Subject: News story: City to tax rainwater

Life just gets more and more bizarre.... */ City to tax rainwater /* /By Jerome Christenson / Winona Daily News /

Starting next year, rainwater will no longer be free in the city of Winona.

While it hasn't figured out how to tax air or sex, beginning in 2003 the Winona City Council will charge city property owners for the rain that falls on their land.

Full text here: 


Why not?

The rain it falleth everywhere, upon the just and unjust fella,
But more upon the just, because, the unjust hath the just's umbrella.





This week:


read book now


Sunday, September 1, 2002

Still Short Shrift mode.

But there's a lot of good mail. Reuters Wire | 08/23/2002 | Swedish Scientists Find Schizophrenia Clue

Posted on Fri, Aug. 23, 2002 Swedish Scientists Find Schizophrenia Clue Reuters

STOCKHOLM - Swedish scientists have found a tiny, mysterious particle in the spinal marrow fluid which may be a new form of life and which could help explain the cause of schizophrenia.

"They may be involved in the development of the disease or may result from the disease process in brains of schizophrenic patients," the researchers said in an abstract of the study published on Friday.

Schizophrenia is a widespread and debilitating form of mental disease with symptoms ranging from delusions and an altered sense of self to apathy and social withdrawal. It affects around one percent of people.

This may be terrible important. Greg Cochran has often said that many debilitating diseases that have genetic burdens are parasites or bacteria infections. (He believes homosexuality may be another such.) The seeming hereditary nature of schizophrenia (it certainly 'runs in families')  but its failure to follow Mendelian rules has led many to speculate that it's an infection but no one has found the agent. At least until now.

I am shocked. Obviously the government needs to hire counselors for these children and give them therapy. This wouldn't be happening if we had National Health.

Yahoo! News - Adult 'Bad' Behavior May Encourage Teen Sex - Study

Adult 'Bad' Behavior May Encourage Teen Sex - Study Fri Aug 30, 6:05 PM ET

By Maggie Fox

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Parents who smoke and drink and otherwise fail to take care of their health are influencing their children to do likewise--but they may also be somehow giving them the nod to have sex, researchers said on Friday.

Teen-agers whose parents smoked were about 50 percent more likely to have had sex by the time they were 15, the researchers reported.

"Adolescents whose parents engage in risky behavior, especially smoking, are especially likely to be sexually active," Esther Wilder of Lehman College in New York and Toni Terling Watt of Southwest Texas State University wrote in their report.

"They are also more likely to smoke, drink, associate with substance-using peers and participate in delinquent activity," the report, published in the health affairs journal Milbank Quarterly, concluded.

"This is not to say that parents who smoke are causing their children to become sexually active," Wilder said in a telephone interview.


Shocked indeed! Good heavens? Really?

Also from Randall:

 New Scientist 

Killer flu can result from a single mutation 19:00 25 August 02 news service

The 1997 Hong Kong flu outbreak, which killed one third of its victims, resulted from a single mutation that allowed the virus to disable part of the body's immune system.

"If this mutated gene is put into an ordinary strain of flu you turn it into a nasty virus," says Robert Webster, of St Jude Children's Hospital, Memphis, whose team did the research. "It provides an explanation for the virulence of the H5N1 Hong Kong epidemic and possibly for the 1918 epidemic."

Indeed. And see Algis Budrys novel Some Will Not Die...

Dr. Pournelle, 

An "evolutionary" design program that was supposed to create an oscillator instead came up with a radio receiver, passing along the received frequencies as it's output. It seems only a matter of time before we can pass an arbitrary task to a design program and have it invent new technologies. The repressed electrical/software engineer in me is fascinated by this kind of work.

When will we be able to ask a computer to optimize a communications system and have it accidentally find a way to bend/break/exceed the speed of light?

Sean Long

And imagine the implications of this...  Thanks!

From Ed Hume:

This answers a question I posed earlier:


August 30, 2002

Apple Keeps x86 Torch Lit with 'Marklar'

By Matthew Rothenberg, and Nick dePlume, Think Secret

As Apple Computer Inc. draws up its game plan for the CPUs that will power its future generations of Mac hardware, the company is holding an ace in the hole: a feature-complete version of Mac OS X running atop the x86 architecture.

According to sources, the Cupertino, Calif., Mac maker has been working steadily on maintaining current, PC-compatible builds of its Unix-based OS. The project (code-named Marklar, a reference to the race of aliens on the "South Park" cartoons) has been ongoing inside Apple since the early days of its transition to the Unix-based Mac OS X in the late '90s.

Sources said more than a dozen software engineers are tasked to Marklar, and the company's mainstream Mac OS X team is regularly asked to modify code to address bugs that crop up when compiling the OS for x86. Build numbers keep pace with those of their pre-release PowerPC counterparts; for example, Apple is internally running a complete, x86-compatible version of Jaguar, a k a Mac OS X 10.2, which shipped last week.


Nick dePlume is the editor in chief of Think Secret.


Copyright (c) 2002 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Not astonishing, but interesting indeed.


Dr. Pournelle,

An interesting theory about why O/S 2 proved non-competitive, involving the developers knowing the difference between their product being an application v. a platform: "...Example: Developing software for OS/2 1.0 required an investment of $3000 for the SDK, and you had to write all your own printer drivers if printing was important for you. Printing was important, so OS/2 had no applications..." 

Don *************************************** "There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don't." *************************************** Visit The Misanthropyst at

All of which I said at the time. Making the DDK a profit center vies for a record in stupidity.

But then IBM engineers had to undergo a lobotomy to become executives. The few (like Lucy Baney) who escaped that procedure  were generally flushed out of the company. Injelititis, terminal stage.


Jerry -- New Swedish (and EU) directives say that by the end of the year, "100%" passenger and baggage checks have to be in place on both foreign and domestic flights. I've been reading a bit about this development and the new systems that have been quietly installed at our airports during the past year, including new underground scan chambers. Among other things, if baggage gets flagged by the computerized database of "threat signatures" -- and they fully expect the "sensitive setting" to so flag about 10% of all bags as containing "suspicious" items -- the second "layer- tomography-like" scan is guaranteed to destroy undeveloped photographic film. Third level analysis for undetermined but still suspicious objects is a manual search of the luggage in the presence of the passanger. "Delays will be minimal", it's promised, but I suspect such a passager just gets bumped off the flight. What particularly struck me was the financing issue -- a $5 to $20 airport surcharge on the ticket for each passange, depending on the airportr. We must all bear our own costs....

The unprecedentedly tight security, surpassing that seen during previous alerts, has been termed a "permanent" measure, likely to only get tighter (assuming there remain enough passangers to foot the bill).

What was also interesting in the recent security scare here, when Swedish police nabbed a suspected terrorist/haighjacker smuggling a gun onto a flight from Sweden to England, is that, political-correctness-be-damned, police immediately detained an entire group of 20 "ethnically suspicious" people on the same flight. Ultimately, the group got a night's hotel stay (and more questioning) on the police tab, but it seems no compensation will be had from anywhere for their lost flight and other costs.

The signals have been clear for some time, now: Europe is for the "pure Europeans", never mind details like naturalized or born-in, but ultimately even then only if untainted by association, real or perceived. The suspicious get rounded up on any pretext.

/ Bo

As you say, assuming anyone is still flying...

But Mr. St Onge points out:

From: Stephen M. St. Onge subject: swedish hijacker arrest

Dear Jerry:

Bo from Sweden writes: "What was also interesting in the recent security scare here, when Swedish police nabbed a suspected terrorist/haighjacker smuggling a gun onto a flight from Sweden to England, is that, political-correctness-be-damned, police immediately detained an entire group of 20 "ethnically suspicious" people on the same flight. Ultimately, the group got a night's hotel stay (and more questioning) on the police tab, but it seems no compensation will be had from anywhere for their lost flight and other costs. "The signals have been clear for some time, now: Europe is for the 'pure Europeans', never mind details like naturalized or born-in, but ultimately even then only if untainted by association, real or perceived. The suspicious get rounded up on any pretext."

Uhm, there are reports on Reuters and other news agencies ( ) that the suspect, one Kerim Chatty is a Tunisian-born Swede; that he was planning to crash the plane into a U.S. embassy in Europe; that there may have been a plan to grab another plane and crash it too; that Swedish cops were hunting four suspected accomplices; that Chatty had taken flying lessons in S. Carolina; that Chatty had relatively recently become a "devout Muslim . . . [who] often spoke of fighting for Islam;" that he had a previous conviction for assaulting a U.S. Marine embassy guard in 1999; that he had connections with the Yugoslav Mafia; that he took a pilgrimage to Mecca just after last Sept. 11th; that Chatty had "close links" to shoe-bomber Richard Reid; and that Chatty and Reid are both members of "the puritan Islamic so-called Salafi Movement ( the doctrine of which the 9/11 hijackers, the notorious British Islamic group Al Mujahiroun and the arrested European al-Qaida suspects also adhered to)." According to several posters on the littlegreenfootballs site, the 'Salafi Movement' is usually referred to in U.S. media as 'Wahhabism.' Wahhabist Islam is of course the state religion of Saudi Arabia.

So, under the circumstances, it looks like the Swedish cops were thoroughly justified in holding and interrogating the 20 people they pulled off that plane. In fact, it looks like they'd have been derelict in their duty to do anything else.

Best, Stephen

My concerns are not over "ethnic profiling." I have some sympathy for Arab and Muslim passengers who are given extra attention by the authorities, but given the nature of the enemy that's not merely understandable, but as you say, necessary.

(When Shin Bet stripped searched a 70 year old Canadian Monsignor in clerical dress and part of a travel party of Americans, back in the 90's during my trip to Israel with the Knights of Lazarus, it was pretty clear that this was a signal and an assertion of power, and had nothing to do with security; but that's another matter entirely. I don't think too many Canadian passport Roman Catholic clergy have been involved in attacks on Swiss Air flights leaving Tel Aviv. They were just unhappy with the Church's having sponsored a meeting of Christian clergy the day before in Jerusalem, and they wanted everyone to know it.)

But if every airline makes it so painful to fly that people stop flying...

Continued next week.





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