jp.jpg (13389 bytes)


Mail 265 July 7 - 13, 2003






BOOK Reviews

read book now

emailblimp.gif (23130 bytes)

CLICK ON THE BLIMP TO SEND MAIL TO ME. Mail sent to me may be published.


Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun

Highlights this week:

LAST WEEK                 Current Mail                  NEXT WEEK

  The current page will always have the name currentmail.html and may be bookmarked. For previous weeks, go to the MAIL HOME PAGE.


If you are not paying for this place, click here...

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. Also, repeat the subject as the first line of the mail. That also saves me time.

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. 

Monday -- Tuesday -- Wednesday -- Thursday -- Friday -- Saturday -- Sunday

 Search engine:


or the freefind search

   Search this site or the web        powered by FreeFind
  Site search Web search

read book now

Boiler Plate:

If you want to PAY FOR THIS PLACE I keep the latest information HERE.  MY THANKS to all of you who sent money.  Some of you went to a lot of trouble to send money from overseas. Thank you! There are also some new payment methods. I am preparing a special (electronic) mailing to all those who paid: there will be a couple of these. I have thought about a subscriber section of the page. LET ME KNOW your thoughts.

If you subscribed:

atom.gif (1053 bytes) CLICK HERE for a Special Request.

If you didn't and haven't, why not?

If this seems a lot about paying think of it as the Subscription Drive Nag. You'll see more.

Search: type in string and press return.


line6.gif (917 bytes)

read book now If you contemplate sending me mail, see the INSTRUCTIONS here and here.



This week:


read book now


Monday  July 7, 2003

Column goes out today. New mail tonight. Meanwhile see weekend mail of which there was a lot and some was important.

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I found a few things on the TSA that might finally help you to feel safe.

This one is about who can say how much baggage you can carry.

This is how inspectors can "interpret" TSA rules.

It is recommended that you leave checked baggage unlocked for inspection. 

Of course the TSA is concerned about your privacy also. 

Wasn't there a book out some years ago "Fear of Flying"? It could take on a whole 'nother meaning.

Patrick A. Hoage

"Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." -- Benjamin Franklin 1755

I feel safer already. The government's airport avoidance conditioning system seems to be in place and working just fine.

And this ought to boil your blood:


If you all haven't done so already, I recommend snooping around the Columbia Investigation website. 

There is a lot of detail in there that you won't get in news stories. I particularly recommend the press conference transcripts:

In addition to technical detail about the accident investigation, there are some interesting insights in how the investigators think and in what some of their findings will likely be (on the broader issues, like management and accountability.)

After reading it and looking at some of the NASA actions, I get the impression that the investigation is already having an effect in pushing NASA to do some things (fire people, look at themselves more honestly, etc.) I also feel pretty validated in the recommendations for repair capability. This is not "impossible" as some defenders of NASA wanted to say. (How often is some engineering task "impossible"?) I also feel validated by the Investigation looking for NASA to consider Naval Reactors as a benchmark organization. I've posted some of the juicier comments (amid my usual screed) on the Analog Forum (thread- A Passing Anniversary):

George Palmer







This week:


read book now


Tuesday,  July 8, 2003


Mike Hodges shows us what's wrong with education in the US and what we can do about it. Still, it is so depressing I've read it over several days. 

Regards, Randy Storms

"The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer." Thomas J. Watson

I have been saying things of this sort for years. Maybe someone will listen. Maybe not.

What do do is simple. Abolish federal aid to education and the Department of Education. Return control to local school districts which have to tax the inhabitants and thus are responsible to the taxpayers. Stop demanding "credentials" and start demanding RESULTS. None of that will happen, particularly the latter. Education improvement ALWAYS means demanding ever increasing and ever more meaningless credentials, workshops, seminars, motivation sessions -- anything but accountability and results. Always. It always results in more money spent and no results obtained.

Dear Jerry,

How well are the schools doing at teaching math? In New York State, the director of the Education [sic] Department's testing division resigned after nearly 2/3 (two thirds) of the students taking the Math A exam failed.

Is it because the test was seriously flawed? Because the students aren't being taught? Some combination? 

And of course the problem is "not enough money"...

But clearly, centralization and bureaucratization has utterly failed (assuming that providing a good education is the goal).

The New York Regents Math A Exam is available here: 

63% failure rate for this. Amazing. Depressing.


Gordon Runkle

-- "In the Country of the Blind, the one-eyed man is in for a hell of a rough ride." -- Robert A. Heinlein

Depressing. That's a good word.

Dr Pournelle, On Sunday ( Mark Brandt said " I do not know where the money is being spent, but relatively little seems to be in the actual schools." I think he's put his finger upon the problem. Bureaucratic overhead probably eats up much of the money, with little getting to the actual classrooms.

I went to very good public schools in Fairfax County Virginia (Langley High, '83) and I know people who are recent graduates (or whose children are current students) of those schools. My, and their, experience in those schools, and in college, seem to indicate two factors that are important for education.

1. Classroom size. Fewer students per teacher seems to give better results at all levels from 1st grade through college graduation. I wonder if anyone has tried to correlate student/teacher ratios to results? Is there an optimum? Well, an affordable optimum. I suspect that 1:1 would be best, but too expensive. I do think that an barely competent teacher with 15 students would get as good results as a highly competent one would with 30 students.

2. Parental involvement. My parents taught me to read before I reached 1st grade. As you've pointed out, some people will learn to read without much, or any, help, while some require tremendous help. My dyslexic cousin, however, learned to read. Taught by her parents. (Who was the evil person who decided that 'dyslexic' was a good name, and spelling, for that problem? The same guy who put the 's' in lisp?) The more the parents are involved, the better the education seems to be.

Kit Case

Actually, most research shows that within fairly broad limits classroom size has no relationship to results. In my own case I began at St. Anne's in Memphis, Grades 1 and 2 in the same room with one Sister as teacher; continued in Capleville, Grades 3 and 4 in one room; Grades 5 and 6 in one room; Grades 7 and 8 in one room. The 7-8 teacher was also the Principal. The 5-6 teacher was the librarian. There were no teacher assistants, and there were about 30 kids per grade (in my cohort I believe 32 and in the grade behind me about 30). We all learned to read, memorized poetry =-- "Up spake brave Horatius, the captain of the gate, to every man upon this earth death cometh soon or late, and how can man die better, than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods" -- and so forth.

But certainly parental insistence on results has an effect.


And more depressing news:

Dear Jerry,

Here's a look inside a U.S. election vote counting program: 

What angers me most about it, is that top-notch people are going without jobs in the industry, while clowns like this remain employed.


Gordon Runkle

-- "In the Country of the Blind, the one-eyed man is in for a hell of a rough ride." -- Robert A. Heinlein

And if you want to work up a conspiracy theory, Katherine Harris has died in an airplane crash. But I find no other confirmations of any of this. Was this part of the Internet breakin exercise? But that turned out to be false. Which doesn't say much for the source of the rest of the above.

This day hasn't started very well.

Subject: How appropriate

Hacker Challenge Ends In Feuding

A contest of hackers was left in disarray after the Web site keeping score was downed by a distributed denial-of-service attack.,4902,82811,00.html?nlid=PM

Eric Pobirs

Which may be good news.

Then we have:

Its a big battery, but THAT big???


NASA has awarded a contract to The Boeing Company, Houston, for the procurement of 40 International Space Station replacement battery units.

The firm-fixed-price contract, valued at $145 million, covers work from Feb. 20, 2003, through Sept. 30, 2010.

Gee, that is only $3.625 nillion dollars per each battery.

Of course, it is going to take them 7 years to build and test those batteries... Loren Wilton

And the delivery charges are going to be high, too. 

Actually they could take bids for the batteries delivered and see what they get... But you know they will not.

2 Op/Ed pieces in USA Today regarding the proposed Orbital Space Plane:


It sounds like the same old NASA - saying it will cost half as much as the shuttle, safer, etc. (They'd never try to mislead Congress would they?) Plus they say they need it to get to the space station. Hmm, except we can get to the space station using Soyuz if we really need to. Which leads to the question - do we really need to get to the space station?

What we need are "space ships" not manned artillery shells.

-- Charles Milner --

Well, yes, but they don't let me run things.



Czech Harry Potter Monopoly Broken by School Children

This comes from 

"Albatros sues school boys who published Czech version of new Harry Potter book

The Prague-based publishing house Albatros, which publishes Czech translations of Harry Potter books has taken legal action against a group of schoolboys who posted a Czech translation of the bestseller's latest edition on a private web site. Only two weeks after the English version was released, the boys translated about one-half of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The official Czech translation, prepared by Albatros, is not due to be released before next February. According to Albatros programme director Ondrej Muller, the Internet version violated copyright law. "

I'm all for copyright laws, but having to wait until February to read it in Czech seems like an awful long time to complete a translation. Maybe Albatros needs to hire these kids as translators?


-- --------------- Brian C. Lane (W7BCL) Programmer RF, DSP & Microcontroller Design


And to continue with depressing news


See NRO  for David Kopes's latest on the morons at TSA.

jim dodd

July 2, 2003, 10:45 a.m.

Air Neglect

What's wrong with trained pilots having guns?

By Dave Kopel & David Petteys

In the new Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the young wizarding students are frustrated by a "Defense Against the Dark Arts" teacher who resolutely refuses to teach the students how to protect themselves. The teacher, Deloris Umbridge, is a government bureaucrat, and she considers it better that innocents be murdered by the Death Eaters than for people outside the government to be able to fight back. Unfortunately, our real-world Transportation Security Administration might as well be run by Deloris Umbridge.


Which isn't surprising, but is depressing for all its predictability.

But citizens of a republic are expected to contribute to their own and the community's defense. Imperial subjects need to be controlled and should rely on the government, which means them nothing but good.

And we have

Dr. Pournelle,

Sorry I haven't been able to get to your web site for several days. Somebody has probably already sent you this on the cross country fiber system identification.

More danger here or in airline inspections?


Downright frightening.

Openness or security? BuInt...

See also

Hi Jerry,

I just read your column talking about the Antec Sonata case. I also picked it up on a whim - seemed like a good case, and I have used Antec cases almost exclusively. When I got it home .... WOW! .... I love the high-gloss finish, and I love the rubber mounts for the drives and for the fans. When I took it to my last LAN game party, people couldn't believe how quiet is was, considering that it's not a passive cooling system, or anything special - it's just stock!

Supposedly they are coming out with another one in the same line that will be "desktop" case, and will blend in well with standard AV equipment. I'll definitely be watching for that.

.............................................. Glenn Hunt Hunt Data Services Inc. 

Yes, I really like that case, and it is quiet.

RE: You could do this

Dr. Pournelle, Something to do on the side.

Douglas Knapp

Well, maybe I'll leave that one for someone else...


RE: The Swiss Army DMCA

Dr. Pournelle, You ought to enjoy this. I know I've seen other things about the DMCA on your site. This is a truly good use for the act. 

Douglas Knapp




This week:


read book now


Wednesday, July 9, 2003

We have mail on education and the Columbia disaster, as well as various other subjects.

Dr. Pournelle,

You recently posted a letter from an individual suggesting that small class sizes were important to the quality of education. I have some anecdotal evidence to contribute, having spent one year of elementary school in an unusually small class.

As I was only nine years old at the time, I don't think I ever knew why, but my fourth grade class was unusually small, about ten students if memory serves. The teacher may have been close to retirement or something similar. We spent mornings with her, and moved to a fifth grade class room (where we did separate work from the fifth-grade students) with a different teacher for the afternoons.

What I can report of the effects of this small class size is that it helped immensely...but the students it helped were the better students, not the poorer ones. The small class size did indeed afford more one-on-one instruction, allowing the better students to work at their own pace, and not be slowed down by the slower students. I distinctly recall that we had a couple of students who were frankly not terribly bright. As far as I can remember, they received exactly the same amount of personalized instruction in the small (morning) class as they did in the large (combined afternoon) class: most of it. The difference was that the rest of us got some one-on-one attention in the small class, but didn't in the larger class. The end result was that, for example, many of us completed the fourth-grade math book and made significant progress into the fifth-grade book. (Not to brag, but I got all the way into the sixth-grade book.)

I would suggest, therefore, that smaller class sizes do help...but only the better students, since the slow learners are getting most of the teacher's efforts regardless.


Joseph Edwards

Logical. What I do know is that all the research indicates that class size is not the crucial factor; but I suspect you're right, it certainly helps with brighter students. And of course on average there will be fewer disruptive students in a small class. Loss of discipline is a major factor in poor education results.

> But certainly parental insistence on results has an effect.

To a point, I agree. However more critical is how the parent responds to bad results:

"You idiot - go to your room" or

"Bring me your last Maths test and we'll try to figure out where you are going wrong"

Unfortunately I see too much of the first and not enough of the second.

---------------------------- Michael Smith, Senior Software Engineer emmenjay(at)


Subject: Just Keeps Getting Scarier

Some experts expressed surprise that superheated gases ever had leaked inside a shuttle's wing. Although protective wing panels have been found damaged, even cracked, the Columbia disaster was widely believed outside NASA to have been the first such breach.

Rich Pournelle

Well -- yes.

Subject: What Went Wrong?

Jerry :

Well, it appears that there were warning signs of breaches in the leading edge of the wings of the various shuttles. Today's New York Times reports, "In 2000, the documents show, the shuttle Atlantis went into orbit with a quarter-inch breach in the wing's leading edge, allowing blowtorch-hot plasma into the wing on re-entry. But unlike the accident that destroyed the Columbia on Feb. 1 and killed its crew of seven, the incident resulted in only minor damage, leaving the wing's inner structure intact."

Much more to the point is the comment, '... an expert not involved in the Columbia investigation said yesterday that the Atlantis incident should have put NASA on high alert about wing damage. "That says they had fair warning and ignored it," said the expert, Paul A. Czysz, a professor emeritus at Parks College of Engineering and Aviation at St. Louis University and a longtime consultant to the space agency.'

And further, 'He added, "Somebody ought to have his backside kicked so hard that it hurts." '

See :

The interesting and sad thing is that the issue of ignoring accidents and near-misses is a well diagnosed and discussed area of concern. There are regulations in place in many industries to review and assess accidents and near-misses in a formal documented manner (e.g., OSHA Process Safety Management 29 CFR1910.119). The regs don't always have as good an effect as we'd like however.

In fact, there's a _phenomenal_ book on the subject authored by Dr. Trevor Kletz, "What Went Wrong" (ISBN: 0884159205), readable by both the safety professional and interested reader alike. Kletz has a true gift in explaining how these cases occur, and how they could be prevented. The book's now in its fourth edition, as the lessons sadly keep mounting up, year by year.

Those of us working in the safety field sometimes shake our heads at the lack of perspective of some managers when shown clear evidence of looming issues. The real problem is that we so often then have to bang our heads against the wall in an attempt to break through.

John P.


If the insulation that hit the wing and disrupted the heat shield was poorly adhered to the tank, there is a good chance that moisture got behind the insulation, forming ice. The chunk that hit the wing could well have had ice behind it, significantly increasing the mass that impacted. One more bloody consequence of silly science.

Walter E. Wallis, P.E.

Well, the EPA got in the act too. Sigh.


"And it will cost billions of dollars - estimates range up to $13 billion. We can do better." 'Too far over the horizon' -

I've seen cost estimates for orbital tethers, space elevators and X-prize contenders that would field competitive lift capability for far less than that .. why in heaven's name is NASA addicted to spending money as if it grew on trees?

Brian Dunbar System Administrator - Plexus ---------- Don't worry about what anybody else is going to do. The best way to predict the future is to invent it. --Alan Kay ----------

Alan Kay may have said that, but Dandridge Cole said it first.

As to why NASA is addicted to bureaucracy....






Subject: The Empire Comes Out of the Closet

Steve Bob says "Check it out!"



No comment....

From: Stephen M. St. Onge                                                  
Date: July 9, 2003    

   subject: Global Climate

Dear Jerry:
        The latest theory on why climate changes occur: cosmic rays.  It's "controversial," which means it might be true, but it can't be used to justify Kyoto. 

Before we start spending hundreds of billions on remedies it might be nice to know why things are happening. Nah. Better to employ our betters and tax ourselves.

Subject: Space Blog

Astronaut Ed Liu about the ISS blogs here: 

===== -- John E. Bartley, III - K7AAY telcom admin, Portland OR, USA - Views mine. palmwireless (dot) cjb (dot) net Wireless FAQ for PalmOS(r)

This post is quad-ROT13 encrypted. Reading it violates the DMCA. Dilbert is a documentary.


Dr. Pournelle,

I just read your piece on the accounting of stock options and about the computer/electronics industry, in general. I totally agree with your assertion that progress is the result of freedom and innovation maintaining an edge over regulation and bureaucracy.

I strongly encourage you to complete your work: The Strategy of Progress. It would be of great benefit to society.


I have often thought I should complete that work. It isn't likely to sell very well. The Vaughn Foundation provided a grant for the work (nearly all to Possony who was retired) but after Steve's second stroke he couldn't continue and I had to make a living.

The notion was the use of technology to help civilization and continue progress. Clearly much of it has been used to let the structure builders keep up with technical innovation and strangle it: look at NASA, and DMCA, and...










This week:


read book now


Thursday, July 10, 2003

Subject:  - wonderful and terrible

Of course, the people who need to read this can't because they won't. >Sigh.<

Aleta Jackson

Indeed. One good thing about the overseas adventures. It leaves less money for the education bureaucracy.

Subject: wonderful and terrible

Dear Jerry,

from a different prospective, I can confirm (although many years ago) similar problems already in incubation.

As an Industrial Design Major in the College of Art and Design, I was a bit surprised when I was asked by my English Comp teacher if I wanted to be a teacher's aid the following session, since she insisted I was one of the best in my class of several hundred (I actually recycled a couple of high school papers out of the four or five research papers we needed to complete the course). All chalked up to a College Prep High School with rigorous requirements, I supposed, until I actually saw some of the writing by my fellow "Arts" students from more liberal high school programs.

This was roughly twenty years ago.

I can't imagine there has been any improvement in the academic preparation, much less in the attitude of the students.

The only hope I have is that there can be a strong enough backlash by my generation of parents bringing up the children currently in elementary school to cause a change in the tide.

But can anyone change the tides?

Best wishes for getting Burning Tower out soon (all of the wishes selfishly wished, I guarantee),

James Siddall jr



Life In The Imperial City: this is long, and I have put it over in Altmail. If you don't know that altmail exists, you can find out more at the altmail home page. The article came with this comment by Ed Hume:

Another tale of oppressive regulation. The dog owner made the right decision in the end. The danger of locking people up on the say-so of one complainant without further is quite dangerous. It does happen (I work in jails now, so I know). Think about that as you read this.



"in World War II the P-51 Mustang went from drawing board to an operational airplane used in combat in under 90 days."

I don't think so. It did go from drawing board to a flying prototype in somewhere near that time span.

David Meader

This is one of several letters to this effect, and I'm sure that's correct, and I was repeating a legend I'd heard and never bothered to look into. It is still the case that we were able to do such things as go from drawing board to prototype in months, and from prototype to operational in a year or so. At least we once were. Now...

Some were not quite so friendly:

Subject: So glorious P-51 history now gist for your mill

" World War II the P-51 Mustang went from drawing board to an operational airplane used in combat in under 90 days..."

Suppose - if one is high enough on pontificating the relevant factual details could only spoil such impressionistic brew  Development of the P-51  

Joseph Felcman

I am not entirely sure I deserve this. I do try to put up corrections, and I don't pretend to infallibility. In any event the reality was fairly impressive. It has been some years since we did Strategy of Technology and I was involved with the analysis of such things as the P-51 and P-47 (which sort of swapped missions as it happens; and the P-47 interdiction missions (train busting) were pretty decisive compared to the long range strategic bombing in Europe. But all that is another story, and lest I get some of it wrong I'll wait until I can consult notes to tell it.

As to pontificating, I never built a bridge in my life. Well, not since Jamboree anyway.

And I will stand by the point of the short essay which, I fear, I did off the top of my head as I do many now, given the time constraints. But so far none of the critiques have addressed the point I was trying to make.







This week:


read book now


Friday, July 11, 2003

Feeling safer already:

Dr. Dr. Pournelle,

I was unable to find this in any of our local papers and could not find it in any on-line reports. The report I heard was on a local television news program.

On or about Sunday July 7, 2003 at DFW International Airport, a TSA inspector stopped a female passenger attempting to penetrate the terminal after setting off an alarm monitor. The passenger objected strenuously during the entire 15 minutes it took to get a female inspector to perform a patdown search.

The passenger's mother also objected at being separated from her 3 yr old daughter, but the TSA stood firm saying that the child might pass something to the mother.

Patrick A. Hoage

"When a stupid man is doing something he knows is wrong, he always insists that it is his duty." Appolodorus the Sicilian in Caesar and Cleopatra.

On a more serious subject (well the subject of transportation safety is serious, but the TSA doesn't seem to think so):

Dear Dr Pournelle,

"Well, maybe I'll leave that one for someone else..."

    This is going to take me considerable time to write. My instant prejudices against piracy sit uneasily with the idea that playing around with something I own could be criminalized.  I guess I'd better request that my name not be posted.

    I'm one of a group of people developing a version of Linux to run on the Xbox. In my own country I'm reasonably safe, since our copyright law doesn't incorporate the WIPO treaty (yet). Even after that, we try our best to keep all illegal materials off both our web site and our IRC channels - witness the current channel policy: "The wages of piracy are kickbans."

    The major site for this is hosted at  http://xbox-linux. but there is an important derivative at http://unmodded. , which deals with Linux for Xboxes which are not modified in any way at all.

    Mind you some people do like to put in bigger hard drives, since the 2GiB available to Linux on a standard Xbox can be bit limiting after some months. Space is not initially a problem, because even with MPlayer and other nice applications, a standard Xbox debian installation only runs to some 400MiB. My own Xbox is
my laptop. It fits in a largish satchel, is easily totable, and has a complete Debian Mirror on it which I use at work.

    The funny thing is that I like Microsoft stuff. There are some things I simply won't support or run, like Internet Explorer/IIS, but that's nothing to do with the quality of the software and everything to do with lowering my profile to hackers. It's worrying that MS might be gunning for those of us who want nothing to do with illegal piracy.


I understand about mixed emotions.

And John Strohm has an observation:

Subject: Key words in that Microsoft alert

"Microsoft tested Windows NT Server 4.0, Windows NT Server 4.0, Terminal Services Edition, Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 to assess whether they are affected by this vulnerability. Previous versions are no longer supported, and may or may not be affected by these vulnerabilities."

Hm. There are still a lot of people using those "unsupported" versions. Could this be Microsoft's latest push to get people to "upgrade": end-of-life the product, then, when the security problem surface, say "Sorry, that isn't supported any more, you're on your own"?

John R. Strohm

And see below


In an editorial in today's Wall Street Journal, James Baker commented, "The U.S. consumes 60 billion cubic feet of gas daily. Roughly 20% of it is imported -- almost entirely from Canada (95%). U.S. production of natural gas is declining, as is Canada's. Russia possesses almost a quadrillion cubic feet of gas, enough to meet U.S. needs -- and indeed the needs of the entire world -- for several decades."

I have to ask -- then what? Whatever happens after those "several decades" will take decades to develop and establish an infrastructure, transition to it, etc. Ought we not to be planning for that now?

Annlee Hines

Good question. Of course you already know my answer.

Subject: phone tapping

Dear Dr. Pournelle

Cringely's Pulpit at has a discussion of federal wiretapping technology that certainly should upset the public. The article at is long, but it covers a lot of ground, including Los Angeles' misuse of this federal technology in the 1990's. Do not think this is new. I toured the telephone plant in Van Nuys, California, before 1963. They asked one customer for his telephone number, then printed him a list of every telephone that had called his number that day. This was at a time the telephone company was telling customers that obscene and harassing calls could not be traced with technology available at the time. So much for truth and service from the telephone company.


William L. Jones

Indeed. You may recall my BYTE column on the subject back in about 1994 or thereabouts (when AAAS meeting was in Atlanta, whatever year that was).


THE FOLLOWING IS CERTAINLY A VIRUS. If you get this message, DO NOT follow these instructions. They are NOT from Microsoft. (The message says it is a security update patch and asks you to run an attached exe file. It is a virus. Don't DO that.)

Full warning over on the security page.


AGAIN, WARNING, do not install anything like this. Microsoft will NEVER send you a message like this!! Microsoft will NEVER ask you to run a mail attachment file.

DO NOT run mail attachment files!!






This week:


read book now


Saturday, July 12, 2003

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

This is some more news on the state of the Airport Avoidance Agency.

Remember when your mother told you to wear clean underwear before traveling? It now takes on a whole new meaning. The article below is from the Atlanta Journal/Constitution. The second article gives no reference URL but does look like the government release.

How to carry items that need to locked in checked baggage.

I'm sorry, forget about the clean underwear, you won't need it.

Patrick A. Hoage

"Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." -- Benjamin Franklin 1755

Love those URL's. It takes about 3 minutes to chop them so they'll fit the page. AAArrrggghhhh.

Hi Jerry, If you're interested in more info on the P-51 history and especially the prototype (the NA-73X) we were discussing, a good article can be found at 

Thanks, Dave Meader

I was interested in the blasted airplane only because, long ago, someone mentioned it to me as an example of the kind of things we used to do. Clearly he exaggerated the accomplishment, and I probably embellished it myself. The fact remains that we used to be able to do things fairly well and fairly quickly, which was all I intended to illustrate.

And it is still true that we don't seem to be able to do things very quickly now, and we don't seem to save money by dragging out the approvals process and putting more inspections and review boards in the path.

Now I think I'll go set fire to myself.

And it's Colorado's turn:

From the View Thursday, July 10, 2003: You folks in Colorado have an off way of trying to make names for yourselves. Glad I never visited. And never will." - 

Larry Ross I like how the actions of one town in a particular state supposedly reflect on the character of all the residents of the state. But, that said, I can't resist firing back - Like we need this kind of blather from the state that orchestrated the great OJ Simpson Court-TV Spectacle... er, trial. Not to mention the other ten million ways that California is a national spectacle! BTW, Larry, we're probably glad you won't as well. I have not followed this case at all, I'm not a sports fan at all, but I can remember being sure that OJ couldn't have done it - he was a sports hero after all. I don't think the role-model argument carries a whole lot of weight.

David Reed, Denver Colorado

Tell you what. We'll trade you one Judge Ito for your Eagle County Sheriff and the right to send you a not yet named politician if he is recalled...

But I think you have it wrong on the Simpson case. 

>> Russia possesses almost a quadrillion cubic feet of gas, enough to meet U.S. needs -- and indeed the needs of the entire world -- for several decades."<<

I seem to remember that we have reserves just off the North Carolina coast that have been estimated in the multiple quintillions of cubic feet of natural gas, along with enough petroleum to make the entire reserves of the Persian Gulf look like a small puddle.

Of course, the environmentalist whackos will make it hard to exploit those off-shore reserves, but I don't think we're running out of petroleum and natural gas any time soon. I do agree that we should conserve our reserves as feedstocks, and that we should be spending whatever money is necessary to make real progress toward space-based power. But in the interim I'm all in favor of sucking the Persian Gulf dry.

-- Robert Bruce Thompson

Well, there are far more fossil fuels than we know about, of course; exploration costs money, and we have a lot of reserves already. But the "sustainable growth" people have a point. They then throw it away because most of them aren't interested in growth at all.

Russian Gas 


One of your readers expressed concern about the implications of Mr. Baker’s WSJ editorial on Russian natural gas. However, the current drop in US gas production has more to do with access and transportation than with a shortage of the basic resource. It is not really analogous to the long-term decline of domestic crude oil production.

The health of the gas pipeline industry is a big factor. Even companies that were “clean” have been pummeled by the implosion of energy trading and are now less able to invest large sums in the pipelines needed to get gas from where it is produced to where it is used. At the same time, much potential new gas production is on federal land that is off-limits for environmental or purely political reasons, as in offshore Florida. And that doesn’t even count the enormous gas reserves in Alaska and northern Canada, which will require multi-billion dollar investments to bring down.

Even if we can’t get our own act together and must import gas from far off lands, there is a lot of it out there. Mr. Baker’s figures on Russia were conservative. With 30% of the world’s known gas reserves, it could supply 10% of our current needs for centuries, not decades. That doesn’t mean we are in fat city, but it suggests that finding alternatives to natural gas is not a priority; it could actually be counterproductive.

Regards, Geoff Styles




Subject: Oldest known planet

Scientests using Hubble data have found a planet with a mass about 2.5 times Jupiter, orbiting a white dwarf and a pulsar in the Globular Cluster M4, in Scorpio. Various data show it to be roughly 13 billion years old, making it the oldest kown planet. The press release is at

Joe Zeff.


I was reading in Newsweek when I ran across an article about the recently formed Northern Command under Gen Ed Eberhart. Intriguing reading, as I'd never heard of this Northcom before, and apparently neither have very many in the US. Gen Eberhart is essentially in charge of "military deployment against domestic terrorism", your Posse Comitatus Act notwithstanding, though he's making great efforts to reassure the groups he meets while organizing connections with local, state and federal authorities. I get deja vu feelings from vaguely SF-ish films when I read about the Cheyenne-Mountain-clone "situation awareness center" in Colorado Springs, tied into Norad and goodnes knows what else.

Bo Leuf

I know nothing about this, but I suspect I'll find out.

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

To continue the story on the possible cracking of touch-screen voting computers in the United States -  - which was mentioned in Tuesday's mail.

You commented that you didn't think much of the story, given that Scoop, the New Zealand paper publishing the story, got the story that Congresswoman Katherine Harris had died in a plane crash, wrong. You should know that Scoop published a retraction the following morning, , along with a detailed explanation from the reporter  it relied on. In addition, Scoop was not the only media source reporting the death.

Getting back to the issue of the security and accountability of the new touch-screen computerized voting systems, and the allegations of fraud and security breaches during the 2000 election, there was a follow-up story posted on July 10th -  - which tells in detail how the Diebold touch-screen systems in Georgia, contrary to every public statement made to date by Diebold, were massively out of compliance with Georgia audit procedures, and in fact, were accessible leading up to and throughout the election via an FTP site to basically anyone who wanted to go there and muck with the source code.

Clearly, and I believe this is clear to anyone who works with computers for a living, new systems with secret (un-auditable) proprietary code is not a magic bullet which will eliminate hanging chads. Instead it is jumping from the frying pan into the fire, substituting the nightmare of paper ballots and human judgement, for invisible ones and zeros on magnetic cards and hard drives, with no way of determining if they were even cast properly in a bug-free manner, let along intentionally tampered with.

I STRONGLY endorse - as do hundreds of leading computer scientists and computer security experts - the resolution elaborated on at , namely, "Computerized voting equipment is inherently subject to programming error, equipment malfunction, and malicious tampering. It is therefore crucial that voting equipment provide a voter-verifiable audit trail, by which we mean a permanent record of each vote that can be checked for accuracy by the voter before the vote is submitted, and is difficult or impossible to alter after it has been checked. Many of the electronic voting machines being purchased do not satisfy this requirement. Voting machines should not be purchased or used unless they provide a voter-verifiable audit trail; when such machines are already in use, they should be replaced or modified to provide a voter-verifiable audit trail. Providing a voter-verifiable audit trail should be one of the essential requirements for certification of new voting systems."

In recommending people take the articles on Scoop seriously, I am not endorsing conspiracy theories. The code from the Diebold FTP site is there for the downloading to be evaluated. People can check the work out for themselves. The code runs on Windows and MS Access for Pete's sake. While there are conspiracy theories galore, I don't think one must subscribe to "grassy knoll" voting booths in order to take this issue seriously. I am not saying that Sen. Max Cleveland was beaten in 2000 in Georgia by fraud, nor for that matter, am I not saying it.

What I am saying is that the Diebold touch-screen systems used in 2000 in Georgia, according to these articles and the articles in Salon, were wide open. There also seems to be solid evidence, as shown in Scoop's July 8th article mentioned at the start of this letter, that the Diebold program itself is totally crackable, without leaving any audit trail, such that someone with access to the system can rig the vote to have any given candidate win with any vote total. This is a very serious allegation, which deserves to be, and needs to be, throughly investigated.

Come the 2004 elections, I don't want there to be even a question of auditability and security with a system which the US Congress is trying to get damn near every state in the country to buy. We cannot afford even the possibility of systems which lack a paper audit trail, and which can be cracked without detection due to design failures and proprietary code.

Election fraud strikes at the heart of our freedoms, and must not be tolerated again.


Jesse Wendel Seattle

Well I wouldn't call it fraud, precisely. I had no problem figuring out the Broward County ballot, and I am a bit afraid of having people unable to figure it out being very influential. 

Indeed, I am in favor of literacy tests, in English, before anyone can vote. And I am not sure Mr. Heinlein's idea that we ought to require an even more extensive examination into math and science is so awful either.

Multiple choice: "the generally agreed number of planets in the solar system is:   (a) 3  (b) 6   (c) 9   (d) 120  (e) 256

And other such, in which there may be some quibble about the exact answer, but there's no real disagreement that it's not 6 or fewer, or 120 or more...  Heck, I don't even mind if the general form makes (c) the right answer much of the time. People unable to figure even that out?

But that's for another discussion. See below.


A very common scam on the internet is the "Nigerian 419 advance fee fraud". Some crook will send you an e-mail promising millions of dollars in return for your help. Soon he will need money for some form of fees to access the money. Typically some thousands of dollars. Then there are more fees and then more fees. It never stops. There never were "millions of dollars" to be had. The whole point of the scam is to get people to send money to the crooks.

Never send money to people who have aproached you about anything like the above. It is ALWAYS a scam.

Many many thousands of those e-mails are sent everyday.

If you have not already had one sent to you you will one day. Look out it's a scam Remember this warning.


Thank you.

Subject: SCO's latest tactic

SCO will demand reasonable licensing fees from all commercial users of linux (2.4 kernel) 

Isn't this the same approach Al Capone and Frank Nitty used with business owners back in the 20's? Probably has about the same level of legitimacy.


-- John Harlow, President BravePoint


Subject: We've found the Old Ones!

-------- Roland Dobbins

I am a worshipper of Cthulhu, and I lead a mad horde...









This week:


read book now


Sunday, July 13, 2003

I took the day off.





Entire Site Copyright, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 by Jerry E. Pournelle. All rights reserved.

birdline.gif (1428 bytes)