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Mail 232 November 18 - 24, 2002 






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Monday  November 18, 2002

There was a fair amount of mail on the weekend last week.

Here's something to chew on:


Here is a defense agency report that open source use is larger than believed. Defense analysts say that Microsoft lobbying to end open source use in DOD on "security concerns" would instead harm national security.

jim dodd San Diego

One expects Microsoft to try to get something for the lobbying money that Sun and the others forced them to pay when they began the lawsuit. Expect a lot more of this as time goes on. When you pay tribute to Washington do you have a fiduciary obligation to your stockholders to try to get something for the money?

On the fall of Viet Nam:

Jerry, when the ARVN collapsed in 1975 the president was Gerald Ford, a Republican. The house and senate were about the same make-up as they were for Nixon. And the president still had the power to make war, if not to declare it or fund it. So what was your point?

Hal Frank - Chicago

In 1973 it was proven that ARVN with US munitions and supplies and US air support could defend South Viet Nam against the best the North could send. In 1975 the Democrat controlled Congress voted ARVN 20 cartridges and 2 hand grenades per soldier, and no air support.  The NVA was of course supplied with more armor than the Wehrmacht had during the major tank battles in Russia in WW II. South Viet Nam accordingly fell.

I suppose it is cynical to say that since it happened in a Republican administration it wasn't so bad? The fact is that it had been proven that Nixon's Vietnamization of the war with US air support could defend the south, at low US casualty cost and small materiel costs compared to the Soviet costs of supplying the invasions. The supplies were requested by Nixon and then Ford. They were not voted. An ally was lost, a fairly large Christian community was sent to the reeducation camps, and the US investment in Viet Nam was written off.

The war was a success from the US point of view: it cost the Soviets very heavily. But the end was shameful.






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Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Subject: The Lidless Eye - The Return of the Shadow 

This is no joke :-(((

-- Steve Schaper <>


Hi, Jerry

You posted the message:

> Subject: The Lidless Eye - The Return of the Shadow > > This is no joke :-((( > >
  -- > > -- Steve Schaper <>

Going to the higher directories in the url shows that this is an illustration for the April issue of USPTO's in-house newsletter, so I'm pretty sure it is a joke.

Karl Gallagher


Jerry, The GIF given at the URL under the above subject, although worrying enough in itself, is not a trademark for the Homeland Security Office as you are led to believe. It is instead a graphic for an article in a newsletter published by the U.S. Patent Office. The GIF is used at the URL below:

Paul Gilles



Comes of putting things up in a hurry in a Las Vegas hotel room.




Subject: Stopping asteroids and comets 

Hi Jerry,

Another of my rants this time inspired by Slashdot:

It is quite clear that a lot more thought needs to be given to this problem. The problem is not just of a civilization ending impact happening every million years, there is an impact every few hundred years on average that would generate a tidal wave powerful enough to devastate every city on the coast of a given ocean if the impact hit in water. We need to be able to stop them too.

Solutions like rockets and massdrivers miss the fact that asteroids and comets do not just rotate, they tumble. You cannot simply get up against such a rock/snowball and 'push'. You will wind up pushing in all sorts of different directions as it tumbles, creating little effect. Lasers simply could not add enough energy even over time to have sufficient effect.

Surface or subsurface nuclear detonations are 'probably' not a good idea. Breaking up a mile wide asteroid or comet into several pieces would not help, unless those resulting pieces were moving at sufficiently deflected vectors. However if a large number of such nuclear devices were available, and after each crackup, new measurements were taken so that any chunks still on a collision vector could get hit again, and we repeated that measure and repeat process again and again, we might after several hundred nukes, disperse the threat sufficiently to avoid the end of the world. We would still get hit with several thousand house sized rocks, but civilization would survive.

Most of the press talks about the threat from asteroids and there is such a threat. However the threat from comets is equally large and we cannot easily detect such comets with tens of years of warning. We might get as little as a few months (and if we are unlucky enough for the comet to be 'coming out of the sun' we might have as little as days). Against comets, we might well have no other option but to try to fragment the object with hundreds of nukes as we will not likely have the time necessary to deflect it.

The only way that I can see to effectively protect from asteroids is to use nukes, but not to plan on surface or subsurface detonations. That should be kept as an option for last ditch defenses from comets. The notion that a non surface, near proximity detonation of a nuclear device would simply 'be absorbed' is nonsense. Asteroids cannot violate the principles of physics. If energy is imparted, the energy has effect. The only question is, how much energy can be delivered with a near proximity nuclear detonation?

The answer is, a lot. When that is combined with not just a few but hundreds of successive planned detonations, that rock is going to be moving on a different vector. Remember that given sufficient warning, the vector change does not need to be much in order to generate a miss.

The trick is to build in advance, several hundred solid fuel rockets using technology similar to ICBMs. They should be roughly the size of the Titan2, not the current smaller Minuteman, this so they can have a third stage 'deep space' maneuvering package. They would each carry a single 50 megaton thermonuclear hydrogen device. Their function would be to deliver that device to a precise point one or two diameters away from the rock and detonate. There would be little to no 'shock wave' from the detonation as there is no atmosphere within which such a shock wave could propagate. The thermal flash from the device would explosively vaporize the regolith at the very surface of one side of the rock imparting a small vector change. Rinse and repeat.

Because the regolith is explosively vaporizing along the entire exposed surface of the rock, the pressure on any given section of the rock is even and relatively small, making it very unlikely we would fracture even a loose snowball. While a single such detonation would impart only a small velocity change, repeated detonations would do the job. The only real question is if we could hit it often enough.

In the case of a rock 20 years away, we could easily build tens of thousands of such devices and barely notice the cost of doing so. We would not likely need more than a few hundred. In the case of us having a few months warning of an approaching comet, we had better have already built those rockets with their warheads.

Peter Cohen

also see below


Hello Jerry,

Matthew Trump has an interesting take on the possible effects of beaming microwave power from space.

I don't know if this is a legitimate concern. Perhaps one of your readers has some figures.


Clyde Wisham

== "The king's cheese is half wasted in parings; but no matter, 'tis made of the people's milk."-- Ben Franklin ==

Haven't read that, but the problems of beaming microwave power from space were considered 20 years ago with then existing technology; you can get the stray power outside the receiving antenna area down to insignificance at the quantum level, and in the antenna area to levels where cattle can safely graze under the antenna array (which you keep 10 feet off the ground, and in deserts anyway.)

OK, I have read it. Typical undergraduate "I thought of this and I am sure no one else has" stuff. Like most undergraduates he hasn't done the numbers, probably because he doesn't know how.

Clearly if you intercept sunlight headed for Earth and turn it into power you end up with less total energy coming to Earth than would otherwise. If you intercept sunlight not coming to Earth, you introduce more energy. Now do the numbers. The global warming hypothesis if true worries that we increase the greenhouse effect, thus increasing the energy retained from natural sunlight, and clearly no kind of solar power will do that. The amount of energy added directly by burning fossil fuels (or from solar power) is not large compared to energy added by sunlight...

As to "microwaving the Earth," power from the Moon requires better collimation technology than we had 20 years ago, and I haven't looked into it recently, but it's not hard to calculate beam size, which will be no more than a few kilometers in diameter; one assumes you put the receiver in a place where it will not be attenuated by rain clouds. Such places are called deserts. Stray heat added to a desert keeps them even dryer, so you choose a deadly desert. Because the relative motions of the transmitter and receiver are smaller from the Moon than from orbit, some problems are easier even though the distances are greater. The beam is confined to the desert, and energy spills are confined there (there are many ways to keep the beam confined to the antenna area in a fail safe manner).

Re: Microwaves from the Moon

I don't worry much about global warming (yet) 'cause of the clouds but worrying about an extra 100 TWatts of thermal pollution is downright rediculous.

I read somewhere that you can get 1000 W per sq. meter, peak. Let's say that's dead on (high noon at the equater). The back of my envelope says ~1000 W/m^2 (peak) * area of the Earth = 140 000 000 TWatts. Now I used the projected area, not surface area so I could use the peak W number. Let's also guess we lose 40 million TW to reflections at the edges as the angle gets steep. That still leaves 100 million TW thremal load. All of which has to be sequestered (plants) or reradiated back into space to keep us balanced.

.0001 %

Bring it on. when we have terrestial fusion power that's too cheap to meter -- then I'll worry ;-)

Jeff Lackey

P.S. Thanks for the books. I got a kick out of reading Starswarm with my 8 year old. We're (re)reading RH's Tunnel in the Sky, now.

I was working in my Las Vegas hotel room so I didn't have time even to do back of the envelope, but clearly the amount of power we might microwave in will be small comparer to the solar influx. But it doesn't surprise me that most of those debating this don't know it.

And see below


"Microsoft Server Software" vs "Dot Net Server"

Last week I was wondering why the saturation Microsoft ads on CNN and other business channels had suddenly switched from promoting "dot net" to "Microsoft Server Software". This week, we hear that dot net is suffering the traditional extra year for MS operating system rollout. The article discussing the slippage is linked below, based on a speech that you probably watched live.

Presumably, if the rollout is running late, they repositioned the ads to promote current products and will have a new campaign for next year's real rollout.

Greg Goss ( )


A German newspaper is now calling Winston Churchill a "war criminal:"

His crime? Waging war against Nazi Germany during WWII, which included sending bombers to strike civilian areas.

Every time I think that the Left has struck the bottom of the barrel, they rip out the planks and start digging. <sigh>

Hope you are enjoying Comdex. It might well be the last one.

--- Marc A. Vezina Dream Pod 9 -->

I'm shocked. But see below:








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Thursday, November 21, 2002

Did Marc even read the article? That book Bild is serializing appears to be more of the German far right's revisionist history. To quote the Daily Telegraph:

"The serialisation of the book will furnish the far-Right in Germany with arguments to back its revisionist claims."

Bild itself is well, not obviously what one might call a paragon of journalistic dignity - the website lead article in the "news" section is "Sie strippen für 250 Euro" ("They Strip for 250 Euros"). I do recognize that there are cultural differences in what constitutes news...


Bill Colsher

I certainly didn't read it, and have no time to do so. One can accuse Churchill of war crimes: indeed, we used to use the bombing of Rotterdam as an example of a clear violation of the laws of war until the RAF and USAF began far more extensive bombing of civilian targets.  Targets: houses, schools, hospitals, college dormitories, Mozart's house in Salzberg, historic buildings, that sort of thing. They weren't precisely targets but it was known that this kind of collateral damage would result, which is why until World War II air bombardment of cities was frowned on by civilized powers.

In Churchill's case the Luftwaffe accidentally dropped bombs on Coventry and some other civilian areas. Their targets were legitimate industrial targets, but they dropped their bombs according to a radio navigation scheme at the intersection of radio beams, and the Brits had interfered with the signal, producing the unintended by either side result of damage to a residential neighborhood. Churchill immediately ordered retaliations with deliberate bombing of civilian areas, Hitler became furious and ordered more deliberate bombing of residential areas, and the war escalated, and the "Laws of War" which really were only a codification of what the Great Powers were doing and what limits they accepted went onto the scrap heap.

It is certainly the case that we tried German and Japanese commanders for "war crimes" that could have been proven against a number of allied commanders, including probably every Russian officer above the rank of colonel. To argue whether Churchill was a "war criminal" is futile: after all, after all, far worse things were done -- the Tokyo fire raids, not to mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- and in the Cold War we adopted MAD, Mutual Assured Destruction, which made utter destruction of the enemy's population one of the war aims.

I do not think we will ever get back to the days when the peasants in the field and the burghers in the towns neither knew nor cared when the State was at war.

Subj: WW2 Strategic Bombing

I think the case against Churchill's science advisor, Lindemann, as a war criminal, is stronger than the case against Churchill himself.

C.P. Snow's _Science_and_Government_ tells the fascinating stories of (a) the development, before the war -- over Lindemann's objections! -- of the Chain Home radar system, its deployment and the development of methods for using it effectively in combat, and then (b) the adoption, during the war, of the targeting doctrine for strategic bombing that specifically attempted the destruction of German industrial workers' residential areas, rather than of factories, based on a manifestly incompetent analysis by Lindemann. (The analysis assumed such things as, that multiplying by forty the tonnage of bombs dropped on a town would multiply by forty the number of people made homeless.)

Alas, it seems to be no longer in print, but used copies do seem available.

Beware: in the search for used copies I did on it appeared that most of the first-listed copies were of the original 1960 lectures, which cover only the radar story. The strategic bombing story is told in the Appendix, which appears only in later editions.

Rod Montgomery ==

Yes, I have read that, although I think I no longer have a copy. And I agree. And see below.




In Mr. Cohen's letter, he states: "The notion that a non surface, near proximity detonation of a nuclear device would simply 'be absorbed' is nonsense."

This is not entirely true, as a significant fraction of asteroids are of the "pile of rubble" type, and and forces will be absorbed by deformation of the rubble pile , subsequently turning into heat, and through changing the asteroid's angular momentum (it will change the way the rock tumbles).

The flash effect he describes will only work if the exploding regolith/vapor is strong enough for the ejecta to escape the asteroids (small but hardly insignificant) gravitational pull. Combining this with the fact that the pattern of the exploding regolith would be hemispherical (sort of), the "push" from an over-the-surface nuke would be extremely small. All nukes will have to be extremely precise in their detonation, or else their cumulative effect will be even smaller from random vector cancellation...

Mind you, I'm not running calculations here; rather, I'm just shaving the problem with Occam's Razor, so I'll jump up and down with unmitigated joy, if I'm proven to be flawed in my reasoning! :D

On the plus side, just today I've read that the impact probabilities for all disastrous impacts have been scaled down; with the 200-300 year events "rescheduled" to 1,000 years, and half-mile or greater objects projected to happen on the order of 700,000 years. I guess I can put up my high-tensile steel umbrella now...

David Bierbaum

Well, mostly I want to keep people aware of things; I admit to not making the calculations myself, but I have seen several serious studies of deflecting incoming asteroids. The coupling between the weapon and the target needs careful attention, but it's a known and more or less solved problem. I agree you need to have considerable precision in where you detonate the weapon.


We have several from Roland:

Subject: Repent, for the end is nigh.,2933,70992,00.html

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


Subject: Back up your life.

Back up your life.
  -- --------------------------- Roland Dobbins

See also my "Integrals of Immortality" comments on Freeman Dyson's lectures some 15 years ago...

Subject: Let there be life.

Let there be life.

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

Can they do it on horseback while playing two trombones?

Subject: Hyenas.

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

I need to think on this one. I have a cocktail party theory that human evolution has been profoundly influenced by the domestication of dogs: that the god/human symbiosis was in large part responsible for our being intelligent.  This is an interesting addition...

Siberian Huskies only bark when they think they need backup. I expect they'd bark at those...

Now for something computer related:

Subject: What I've been saying all along.  

-------- Roland Dobbins

Indeed you have.


Dear Mr. Pournelle, Your response to the effects of microwaving power from the moon to the Earth are spot on. There is one more reason why it would not be harmful. Microwave is a generic term for a wide range of frequencies, not all of which are strongly absorbed by water. Clearly, if we beam micorwave power to the Earth from space, we will choose a frequency that is not absorbed by water so that the system will work even on cloudy or rainy days.

Sincerely, Larry Weinstein

----------------------------------------------------------- Lawrence Weinstein Associate Professor of Physics Old Dominion University Norfolk, VA 23529 757 683 5803 757 683 5809 (fax) cumulus-stratus-nimbus (smoke signal)

It turns out that there are costs associated with using frequencies that go through clouds, or at least they thought so back in the 70's when I paid real attention to the matter. But the beaming down of power isn't a big problem. Cheap access to space, of course, is the long pole in the tent.

We also know how to do that, but we aren't developing the X projects that would get us cheap access.


And see Phil Chapman on Solar Power

On Strategic Bombardment:

Dear Dr Pournelle,

 Stanley Baldwin - who Churchill detested - was probably the first man to openly state in Parliament that the indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations was an inevitable feature of future war:

"The bomber will always get through. The only defence is in offence, which means that you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves. (Hansard, 10 November 1932)"

This was before Guernica drove the point home. Baldwin of course was well-advised by people who had read Douhet; and the breaking of the cruiser rules by U-boats in the First World War had taught him not to put his faith in jurists. (British fears seemed justified by the, again mistaken, torpedoing of a civilian ship in the channel just after the war began. Doenitz was hailed up on charges related to indiscriminate U-boat attacks at Nuremberg, but his lawyer was able to produce an affidavit signed by Chester B. Nimitz that he had done exactly the same thing in the Pacific theatre. No one was prepared to call Nimitz a war criminal on the basis of cruiser rules over a century old).

With respect to anti-Knickebein measures causing Luftwaffe to bomb Coventry, I had thought this started much earlier. A comedy of errors began with a few Germans jettisoning their bombs over the Greater London area. This pre-Knickebein mistake was just the excuse Churchill needed to sock it to the Nazis. In retaliation the RAF sailed over Berlin that night, more or less without loss, dropping real bombs instead of leaflets.

Hitler of course demanded the Luftwaffe return the favour with interest. Churchill and Sir Keith Park were happy about this: if the Huns were bombing such militarily insignificant homes, they weren't bombing the 11 Group airfields. Goering, who should have known better, had boasted the RAF could never touch German citizens ("Vor allem werde ich dafur sorgen, dass der Feind keint Bomben werfen Kann." ) and if they did he was a monkey's uncle ("You may call me Meyer"). At Nuremberg he ruefully remarked that:

"I believe this plan [raiding RAF airfields] would have been very successful, but as a result of the Fuhrer's speech about retribution, in which he asked that London be attacked immediately, I had to follow the other course. I wanted to attack the airfields first, thus creating a prerequisite for attacking London . . . I spoke with the Fuhrer about my plans in order to try to have him agree I should attack the first ring of RAF airfields around London, but he insisted he wanted to have London itself attacked for political reasons, and also for retribution.

I considered the attacks on London useless, and I told the Fuhrer again and again that inasmuch as I knew the English people as well as I did my own people, I could never force them to their knees by attacking London. We might be able to subdue the Dutch people by such measures but not the British."

My favourite author on intellectual property law - Anthony D'Amato - has War Crimes as a bit of a hobbyhorse. He defends Serbians accused of war crimes: check out his page at

Regards, TC

-- Terry Cole System Administrator Dept. of Maths and Stats, Otago University PO. Box 56, Dunedin tel:64-3-4797739 NEW ZEALAND fax:64-3-4798427

I thought it was Knickebein but perhaps it was earlier; I do know that the first bombing of London residences was accidental, and yes, Churchill was pleased: he could order retaliation, and then Hitler took the pressure off the radars and Fighter Command by putting bombers to attacking cities; a futile measure with the iron bombs of those days.










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Friday, November 23, 2002

Subject: Spam king lives large off others' e-mail troubles

SPAM KING: Success from an empire of irritation.

You might call it the house that spam built.

Alan Ralsky's brand new 8,000-square-foot luxury home near Halsted and Maple in West Bloomfield has been a busy place this month. Outside, landscapers worked against the November cold to get a sprinkler system installed before the ground freezes. Inside, painters prepared to hang wallpaper.


Apparently nothing can be done, so we will all pay for this. Oh. Well.


Hi Jerry,

Dogs 'evolved from handful of wolves'

This is an interesting article from New Scientist. It is amazing to see what can be learned from genetic sequencing. 

The last paragraph in the article sounds surprising, but is not when you think about their close relationship with us. Darwinian selection at work. It might also provide some additional insight on your "cocktail party" theory of the development of human intelligence.

Hmmm, I wonder how cats would fare?

- Paul

There was a lot about this in the newspapers yesterday, and of course the two original articles in Science. I was under the impression that the association of dogs with people was a lot older than these articles state.




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Saturday, November 23, 2002

Subject: Cheetah 80386

Just read your article on Congratulations on the 5,000th mention of your Cheetah 80386! Did you ever stop to think that readers might be getting a tad bit sick of hearing it?

Michael KAHN


Hi Jerry

Your correspondent, Mr Khan, enquired:

> Did you ever stop to think that readers might be getting a > tad bit sick of hearing it?

Lest you should be tempted to such an opinion, let me advise you of my own continuing interest in old hardware.

I have been working with old PC hardware and software since there was no such thing as an old PC.

I wrote an accounting system in an 8088 with 2 floppies: my Turbo C compiler on 1 360K floppy and the accounting system on the other.

I wrote a geophysical modelling system on a 286, which faithfully crunched numbers for days on end, to produce vital Mine Survey design data, and was used in almost every minerals exploration shop in Australia and many beyond.

Now I write computer system software, which was recently used to tame a well known Database (who's name I'll omit for legal reasons) on a computer with 32 Xenon CPUs (1GB, I think).

My point, I've worked with the oldest and the newest PC hardware, and I still get a kick out of hearing about old boxes that gave (or are still giving) reliable service. So, keep up the Cheetah references (and the like).

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

I could have been more polite in my answer to him.

In fact the selection of material for a column is always a compromise: what to include, what not. I try to have something for everyone, which inevitably means that some people will find things in there of no interest to them. Not much I can do about that, alas.

Pardon me, but is O'Reilly a code for you? I looked for your recommended book PC Hardware in a Nutshell by O'Reilly but only found one by Thompson 2x and Pournelle.

 Richard Hunt

O'Reilly is the publisher. I wrote a short introduction to the book which is by Robert and Barbara Thompson. Apologies for not making that clearer.









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Sunday, November 24, 2002

Subject: RIAA declares war on US Navy

I'm not sure bullying the military is a good idea. Then again, with stunts like this pretty soon the whole population will be very receptive to boycott calls. Especially the young.

Francis Gingras

A US NEWSPAPER based in Annapolis said that an RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) inspired raid meant 100 US Navy midshipmens' computers at the Naval Academy which allegedly contain illegally downloaded music and films were seized.

The Annapolis Capital Gazette said the raid happened last Thursday while the midshipmen were in class. If any of the computers do contain illegally copied material, the midshipmen may face a court martial.

Midshipmen and now midshipwomen have always had a tough time of it. Just witness James Fennimore Cooper's Ned Myers: A Life Before the Mast, and C.S. Forester's The Hornblower Saga, salutory tales for those who would join either the Queen's Navy or the Republic's Navy.

Being shanghaid in San Francisco or in the streets of old London Town or Plymouth was always possible too, in those days, for your average young blade out for a night on the town.

For some reason a career in the navy then was not widely seen as an attractive option for teenagers.

An RIAA representative is quoted in the newspaper as saying that the Naval Academy was one of many colleges and universities that were sent RIAA inspired warning messages about Internet piracy.

I doubt they will learn from this. But we can hope.

When you've got a brightly light keyboard instead? 

An electro-luminescent display keyboard for only 99 dollars, pretty neat I say!

-Dan S.


From: Stephen M. St. Onge

Date: Nov. 24th, 2002

subject: possibly amusing: the gendertest

Dear Jerry:

Go to, and try it. None of the questions has anything obvious to do with the subject, but the test correctly predicts sex with high accuracy.

Best, Stephen



Dear Dr. Pournelle:

I suspect just two of the questions on the gender test mentioned on your website give it much of its accuracy. Consider the question "Do you usually carry stuff in your pockets?" Some women carry things in their pockets, but virtually all men do. If a person answers "no" to that question, that person has a high probability of being female.

I'm not as sure about the "Stop and think about your middle name for a second. Does it end with a vowel?" question, but running through names in my head, it seems to me that common American names ending in a vowel are much more likely to be female names, unless one is counting "y" as a vowel. The "y," however, is most often used to create nicknames, which aren't as likely to be made from a person's middle name as from a person's first name.

--William S. Cornell


I'm with the ACLU on this one (last paragraph is key).
  -- ------------------------------------------------------------ Roland Dobbins

Hardly shocking. I find myself in sympathy with the ACLU fairly often. Certainly in this case.







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