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Mail 266 July 14 - 20, 2003






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Monday  July 14, 2003

Dear Jerry:

Let me submit for your consideration my article "Bytes, bits, KiBs,
and MiBs". 


Der Voron

Bytes, bits, KiBs, and MiBs, or Why can we not use right words for
right terms?
By Der Voron, author of Starcraft

As we all know, when we need to say "1,024 bytes" we say "kilobyte",
when we need to say "1,024 bits" we say "kilobit", when we need to
say "1,024 kilobytes" we say "1 megabyte", and when we need to
say "1,024 kilobits" we say "1 megabit". Because 1,024
is "approximately equal" to 1,000, we use "kilo" for 1,024, "mega"
for 1,024*1,024, "giga" for 1,024*1,024*1,024, "tera" for
1,024*1,024*1,024*1,024, "peta" for 1,024*1,024*1,024*1,024*1,024,
etc., being well-aware that in "real life" "kilo" is for
1,000, "mega" for 1,000,000, "giga" for 1,000,000,000, and so on.

Maybe it is not as bad as it seems, but one of the problems that
arise with this system is that, for example, hard drive manufacturers
advise the capacity of their drives either using "1,024s",
or "1,000s", and you cannot know for sure which manufacturer uses
which number. The same with telecommunication devices: kilobit is for
1,000 or 1,024 bits?

In 1999 IETC, i.e. International Electrotechnical Commission, decided
to solve this problem and proposed names KiB for "kilobyte"
(spelled "keebeebyte"), Kib for "kilobit" (with b minuscule,
spelled "keebeebit"), MiB for "megabyte" (spelled "meebeebyte"), Mib
for "megabit" (again with b minuscule, spelled "meebeebit"), and so
on for "gigabytes", "gigabits", "terabytes", "terabits", etc. The
proposal wasn't accepted because of some pronunciation difficulties.

When I read about this, I got amuzed. Why did they create such
strange names? Wouldn't it be simpler to say letter names instead
of "keebee" and "meebee"? Letter K is pronounced "kay", letter M is
pronounced "em", letter T is pronounced "tee" (for "tera" prefix),

Thus, for example:

1024 bytes -- 1 Kbyte ("kay-byte");
1024 bits -- 1 Kbit ("kay-bit");
1024 Kbytes -- 1 Mbyte ("em-byte");
1024 Kbits -- 1 Mbit ("em-bit").
1024 Mbytes -- 1 Tbyte ("tee-byte")
1024 Mbits -- 1 Tbit ("tee-bit")

As you can see, the names would remain untouched, but the
pronunciation would change (and wouldn't contain "kilos" and "megas",
that is "thousands" and "millions"). Thus, let me submit my proposal
for the consideration of computer and telecom community!

Der Voron

Thank you, A reasonable plan.

On another subject:

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I note with interest the letter from Jesse Wendell Seattle, in which he writes:

" 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.'"

I seem to recall Robert Heinlein writing in _Take Back Your Government_ to the effect that fraud with paper ballots could be detected by a competent poll-watcher, whereas fraud with a (mechanical) voting machine, whilst harder to accomplish, could only be detected by a qualified voting-machine engineer.

Perhaps the emphasis ought not to be on allegedly fraud-proof systems, but on systems that allow fraud to be easily detected?

------------------------------------------------ John W. Braue, III <>

"Gold cannot always get you good soldiers, but good soldiers can always get you gold" -- Niccolò Machiavelli



Before the new voting machines were purchased for Florida, the governor's office formed a committee to solicit input for the new system. My suggestion was that each voter should receive a receipt for voting. On the receipt there should be the information about which machine was used and a cryptographically generated record of how the citizen voted. If there was ever the question of fraud samples could be requested from the population and the results sampled against the official database. The suggestion was rejected with the comment that it might encourage vote buying and could not be made totally secure due to limitations in cryptology.

When I consider the current system I cannot wonder why they would object to such a simple change that would accountability to the system?

Al Lipscomb.

Anything that lets people verify how they voted is against the current policy which is to deny people the ability to sell their vote by not letting them prove how they voted. Whether that works or not is another matter.

Some kind of unalterable paper trail for recount and verification purposes is needed. What that would be is another matter. One is to print a paper ballot which is put into the box; if the precinct result is challenged the paper ballots can come out. The voter sees the paper ballot before it goes into the box. No one else does.

>My Windows 2000 Backup Server died making awful noises, and I'll have to do another, and yes, I know, Windows 2000 Server doesn't >have "backup" servers. Anyway the primary one is running, but it will need replacing, and first I need to get a secondary on line. So first it's >to the cable room to pull the old machine out and see why it makes grinding noises and puts out no video...

Fair warning, though I'm sure you know more about this than I do.

IF you have Active Directory deployed, one server is considered the primary, despite generally claiming not to be. If it goes down, every... it was either twelve or six hours.... the remaining servers create a datastorm on the net searching for it. I was having the _oddest_ trouble with a frame relay connection dropping because of that. If there's a simple way around it, I have yet to find it, as the usual tools provided _with_ 2K didn't help that much. I hear there's some kind of management tool that may fix this, but it's not obviously labeled.

C. Hare

Well, Creon is working again and I got some column material out of it. I do need to update my servers, but I think that will be with Windows Server 2003 since I do these silly things so you don't have to...

And see below on Active Directory


Subject: It just keeps getting better

Apparently many of the folks entrusted to be air marshals are incapable of learning to use a Palm PDA, and they're not allowed to use them on the job anyway. 

Eric Pobirs

I feel so much safer now.


Dr. Pournelle,

You are so far off base on this I can hardly believe it is you writing this stuff. I can't believe you don't think this guy got what he deserved.

What you wrote boils down to this: if one were presented with either getting your toes sucked by your coach when you were a ten year old boy, or as an adult losing your entire life's savings. One or the other is going to happen, so pick which one you want.

For my part, I'd rather lose my life's savings as an adult. Twice. Thrice. Over and over again, if that's what it takes to avoid ever having a coach suck my toes as a ten year old boy.

As an adult I can face financial bankruptcy and having to start over, even though I would not like it very much.

But if a coach had ever done that to me as a ten year old boy, I think he would have to die.

I can't believe how off base you are on this. The pervert got what he deserved. The fact that others who do bad things aren't getting what they deserve is what needs to be fixed.

Sincerely, Jim Snover

Well, it may be off base to insist that crimes be in the statute book before someone is sentenced to life imprisonment for committing them, but it puts me in reasonably good company.

And I suspect boys are a lot more resilient than you seem to believe. If you have ever been a Scout Master and listened outside the tents at night you would know: ten year old boys are pretty aware of horror stories. And that's American middle class. One of my best friends was 12 years old in Japan in 1945. Now there is a man who had every right to be scarred for life. He is in fact one of the best people I now and an internationally famed astro-physicist. Incidentally, Yoji is married to the charming Ursula who grew up in Germany during the 1940's. She doesn't seem to be too scarred for life either.

Of course if we have a commission to determine who may be dangerous and ought to be locked up we can prevent all these horrors. Jail them just in case...

And see below.

This comes from another discussion but I can't resist posting it:

When someone wondered how such a brilliant writer as Addison could be so feeble in conversation, Addison replied: "I have only nine-pence in my pocket, but I can draw on a thousand pounds." (Doctor Johnson boxed the compass by remarking, on being told this: "He had not that retort ready, Sir; he had prepared it before-hand."]

John Derbyshire 

Good preparation...


Subject: On P-51's and short engineering cycles

We could do things like that today, too. What statements like that overlook is that the nature of the engineering challenge has changed. In the case of the airplanes of WWII, you basically designed and built an airframe. An engine was chosen and if you got lucky, the engine met its performance goals. Fire control was contained in the brain and two eyeballs of the pilot. Planes were, for the most part, single purpose. That makes the problem much easier.

Even so, using the P-51 as a case study, the first design had deficiencies in speed and altitude, which relegated them to the attack role. It required several revisions for the Merlin to be fitted, which is when the P-51 became useful as a fighter. I quote this sentence from the history of the P-51:

"The Merlin installation in the Mustang required 223,000 engineering hours, compared to the 78,000 engineering hours required to make the NA-73X."

That's for an *engine* change. Not much more than new engine mounts and sheet metal. Now think about the much more complex systems integration issues of today - fire control, flight control, engine control. All of those are interconnected on platforms that are inherently unstable. It's not that we have lost capability, it's that we are dealing with systems that are orders of magnitude more complex.

-- Tom Genereaux <>

One wants to think on this.

Continuing another subject

Subject: Key words in that Microsoft alert

>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"?

How long should a product be supported? At some point a product is obsolete and can no longer be supported. And patch testing can't be cheap. Server products prior to NT 4.0 are OLD in software terms. When was the last NT 3.51 license sold by M$? Mid 90's? At some point support, especially free support, has got to end. It would be different if they were (still) charging maintenance for it. I don't know what is reasonable, but there has to be an end somewhere....

Clayton Wrobel

Agreed. ON the other hand, don't Navy ships still use NT 3.51? And see below.


Subject: Caveat emptor - Fry's

13 July 2003

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

You have often mentioned Fry's Electronics as a place that you pick up some computer/electronic odd or end. The the lesson learned that I wish to pass along to all Fry's customers is: check out your purchases A.S.A.P. In the parking lot, if possible. I've discovered that Fry's seems to share the same concept of customer service as the TSA (I've flown recently and experienced firsthand the TSA's tender graces).

I've been accumulating parts for building a secondary computer for some time. I purchased the case from Fry's last January, but didn't have all my ducks in a row until recently, so the case sat in its box. Yesterday, I finally had all the parts and the time. I put it all together, wired the last connection, plugged it in and threw the switch. Not a flicker, not a glow, not a hum. I checked connections, which seemed fine, then noticed that the power supply cooling fan was not even running. I used my volt meter and discovered that the 5 volt and 12 volt power leads were both putting out about 1 volt. Aha, a bad power supply! I had my receipt, and I was sure that major firm like Fry's would set thing right.

It was a 25 mile trip to the store, and a 10 minute wait in line to talk to someone. I presented my story, the case, and the receipt. To summarize; after about fifteen minutes consultations and research amongst 3-4 Fry's employees, they presented me with the following fiats:

1) I couldn't have a refund, because they only give those for thirty days. 2) I couldn't exchange it for a good case of the same model, because it was discontinued. 3) I couldn't have a prorated refund (one employee who seemed to have a glimmer of the concept of customer service suggested about 25%), because the possibility was overruled by senior management present. 4) I couldn't have even partial credit toward a new case, which I expressed a willingness to buy, because (reason not stated).

I left the case on the counter and walked away, since they have a bigger dumpster than I do. They also have my perfectly good money, and have given me nothing useful in exchange. I realize that you and many of your readers will most likely continue to do business with Fry's, even though I'll never darken their door again. Fry's will sell you defective merchandise on occasion, and the precept "the customer is always right" has no place in their inflexible rules for dealing with returns. It seems silly to alienate customers over such a trivial amount of money, but I had plenty of time to eavesdrop on the conversations all up and down the "customer service" counter, and I heard everywhere Fry's employees pointing out how their inflexible rules prevented customer satisfaction and sorry there's nothing we can do about it.

A lot of people put up with the TSA because they have little choice, but I do have a choice not to spend (more of) my money at Fry's, and I will exercise that choice.

Greg Hemsath

"The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something." Robert Browning

I find Fry's convenient, but I don't go there for the warranties. By all means if you have a better place that will have what you want in stock when you need it for a deadline, go there. 

My experience at Fry's is that there are always a couple of people who know what they are doing, and then there are the rest.  But I know what to expect when I go there.


Free Nevada Now!

The Great Crawfish Raid!

Dear Jerry,

Our Protectors at work again:

It puts me in mind of the King of Siam's pondering in "The King and I" ("A Puzzlement"):

"..If allies are strong enough to protect me, might they not protect me out of all I own?"


Gordon Runkle

-- "The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less." --Vaclav Havel

Well we're all safe from the Australian lobster now! Just as well.


Frank Gasparik sends

Hi Jerry Pournelle,

Frank G stopped by Planetary Society and suggested that you visit the following URL: 

Here is their message.... Hi Jerry; This might be worth P{osting. A knowledgeable rebuttal to "Solar Sails Wont Work". Edit at will. Frank Gasperik

Planetary Society 

which is Lou Friedman's reply to Tom Gold's objections to solar sails. As for me, once we get to orbit there are many things we can do. Making orbit is something else again.








This week:


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Tuesday,  July 15, 2003

I didn't mention it yesterday, but there was a lot of good mail last Saturday.

On Toe Sucking

Dr. Pournelle:

I am a prosecutor in Colorado. My specific assignment is prosecuting felonies committed against children, including sexual assaults on children. The discussion here of the toe-sucking sentence prompted me to write this e-mail. (I don't work in the district where the Bryant business arose, and I don't know more than any other member of the public.)

In Colorado, sexual contact means the touching of "intimate parts," which in turn means genitalia, perineum, anus, buttocks, pubes, or breast. There is additional language that the contact must be for sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse to be "sexual"--thus excluding incidental contact related to hygiene, medicine, and so on.

The limitations in that definition are appropriate, even though they prevent prosecuting people who are "grooming" children or engaging in conduct we believe very strongly will lead to sexual assaults in time.

The problems of prosecuting future behavior have been pointed out here already. I would add only that it is entirely proper for a judge to assess a recidivism risk in the sentencing phase, and it is likewise appropriate for a prosecutor to consider potential for recidivism when deciding what sort of plea offer to make or whether to file charges at all. That is entirely different from prosecuting crimes that haven't really happened yet.

Another practical consideration is the sheer volume of cases one could file if the net were cast wide enough to include creepy but merely quasi-sexual contact. I am plenty busy even under the restraint of showing actual sexual contact. (I am similarly relieved Colorado's legislature declined to criminalize "emotional abuse" of children. Such abuse is real, but it is as hard to prove as it is easy to allege.)

Colorado has a particularly harsh sentencing scheme for sexual offenses. I like to think when a defendant gets hauled away for a prison sentence of up to life, that the defendant damn well deserves it. It is easier to sleep at night after proving a case of sexual contact that any normal person would agree involves sexual contact. If I ever start a trial where I feel the need to discuss what constitutes "sexual" during jury selection (so as to get a panel that might stretch beyond the obvious), I would have to conclude I've overreached.

Thank you for you excellent books and this interesting forum.

Yours truly, Christian J. Schulte

Thanks for a very reasonable view. I was going to write a short essay on this, but you have pretty well saved me the trouble. Now if all the prosecutors will get together on this. Alas, in the case in discussion they didn't.

On Unit Names:

Der Voron's plan for reforming the dumb international standard has merit, however I feel that Dr. Knuth has a better one.  At his page down at the section "What is a kilobyte?" he has his own proposal (done in June 1999):

What is a kilobyte?

Many people (and many online dictionaries) claim that a kilobyte (kB or KB) is 2^10 bytes, and that a megabyte (MB) is 2^10 kilobytes, etc.

I'm a big fan of binary numbers, but I have to admit that this convention flouts the widely accepted international standards for scientific prefixes.

Therefore I propose a simple way to resolve the dilemma and the ambiguity: Let us agree to say that

2^10 bytes is a large kilobyte, abbreviated KKB;
2^20 bytes is a large megabyte, abbreviated MMB;

and so on up the line: Large giga-, tera-, peta-, exa-, zetta-, and yottabytes are GGB, TTB, PPB, EEB, ZZB, and YYB, taking us up to 2^80. (Notice that doubling the letter connotes both binary-ness and large-ness.)

These proposals were motivated by the suggestions in 1995 of IUPAC-IDCNS (the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry's Interdivisional Committee on Nomenclature and Symbols), which were extended by IEC TC 25 (Technical Committee 25 of the International Electrotechnical Commission), chaired by Anders J. Thor. According to those committees, 2^20 bytes should be called a "mebibyte" and abbreviated MiB; 2^40 bytes should be called a "tebibyte" and abbreviated TiB; etc. The members of those committees deserve credit for raising an important issue, but when I heard their proposal it seemed dead on arrival --- who would voluntarily want to use MiB for a maybe-byte?! So I came up with the suggestion above, and mentioned it on page 94 of my Introduction to MMIX. Now to my astonishment, I learn that the committee proposals have actually become an international standard. Still, I am extremely reluctant to adopt such funny-sounding terms; Jeffrey Harrow says "we're going to have to learn to love (and pronounce)" the new coinages, but he seems to assume that standards are automatically adopted just because they are there. Surely a huge number of standards for other computer things, like networking protocols, have been replaced by better ideas when they came along. Thus I hope it still isn't too late to propose what I believe is a significantly better alternative, and I still think it unlikely that people will automatically warm to "mebibytes". Indeed, the last time I looked (June 28), names like "" were being offered for sale but with no takers! I might, however, want to buy into a name like And even in the unlikely event that mebibytes do catch on, MMB surely wins over MiB as their abbreviation. [See also the discussion by Kevin Walsh.]


I was thinking about this and realized that if we made the prefix "long" instead of "large" it would fit in nicely with existing usage to describe tonnages.  But almost anything is better than the so-called  "standard".

--john dougan

--john dougan

I find the discussion interesting but I have nothing to add.

Comment on Windows NT End of Life

Software used in life-critical or essential applications and found to be reliable isn't upgraded unless hardware evolution or similar factors force it. The agencies involved get very huffy if a vendor attempts to EOL it. Windows NT 4.0 is used by the FAA in voice communications system management, an essential air traffic control function.

Harry Erwin

And I believe the Navy is still using NT 3.1 in some places. And see Below

Subject: Microsoft's Munich

Roland Dobbins

An interesting story indeed.

Subject: The Red Tsar

-- Roland Dobbins

Indeed an interesting story.  And Tsarina... Excerpt:

One can believe Kremlin children when they recall Stalin coming for breakfast with their parents but not when they talk politics. Fathers tend not to tell their daughters whom they have murdered that day. So despite all my new witnesses, the archives had to remain the book's backbone.

I knew Andreyev was one of Stalin's most fanatical mass-murderers but when I asked Andreyeva about this, she replied that the terror was necessary. When I pushed her further, she told of how her father's anteroom was filled with grateful people whom he saved and released. Looking into her face, I longed to believe her about her beloved papa. But I had spent the day before working in the archives on the correspondence between Andreyev and Stalin. It turned out her father spent most of 1937 travelling the USSR arresting and shooting thousands of "spies" and "enemies". His frenzied bloodlust was all there in the file. I could not bring myself to tell her this, but I questioned her and then the cheerfulness suddenly snapped and she asked if I was an enemy too, adding, "You westerners have killed far more people with your Aids than Stalin ever did."


And for pure fun

humour: tell me how you drive...

Hi Jerry,

On the lighter side, this animation I thought was kind of cute. 

- Paul

On Windows 2000 Server and Active Directory:

Hi Jerry,

Jut a note about Windows 2000 Active Directory. Although domain controllers in Windows 2000 are much more equal than in NT4, there are still Master Roles (called FSMO roles). You can check out;en-us;197132  for a good overview of the five different FSMO roles that exist. And;en-us;223346  explains how to optimize these roles in large deployments.

As long as you demote a Windows 2000 server (using dcpromo.exe) before removing in from operation, it will automatically reassign any FSMO roles it holds to other domain controllers as part of the demotion process. If you don't do this first, it can be a real pain. You can manually reassign the FSMO roles, but it involves editing the Active Directory directly, which is not for the faint of heart.

I learned the hard way. I was replacing a server, and so to minimize downtime, I set up the new server, joined it to the domain and Active Directory, moved the data/shares/printers, etc. and then removed the old server. Everything was fine for a couple of weeks when I was asked to create a new login account. I couldn't do it, because it couldn't find the original server, which held the FSMO roles. So I learned how to "seize" the roles. You can read about the process here;en-us;223787 .

Needless to say, ALWAYS demote first, then remove!

.............................................. Glenn Hunt Hunt Data Services Inc. ghunt@ 

Thanks for the advice. I got the "backup" server running, and I will add one more server to the network before I begin experimenting.







This week:


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Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Dear Jerry,

 Mission Creep at the Department of Homeland Security:


Gordon Runkle

-- "The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less." --Vaclav Havel

Are you astonished? War on immorality is next, of course.



And on the next one, do look at the source:

Subject: Knifing the baby?

--- Roland Dobbins


You recently mentioned the Navy using Windows 3.51. It's worse. The Navy is still using DOS. BTW, the July 10th update explains why China went Open Source instead of using Microsoft products.

July 16, 2003: In 2000, the U.S. Navy decided to outsource the management and maintenance of its computer systems to EDS. This huge contract, worth $6.9 billion over five years, is now behind schedule and has been revised to cost $8.8 billion over seven years. Still, the Navy is saving over a billion bucks a year, but EDS has lost over $300 million on the contract in the last three months. What is going on here? Put simply, the Navy did the right thing bringing in outsiders, and the outsiders (EDS) underestimated the scope of the problems confronting the Navy and Marine Corps use of PCs. There are 365,000 "seats" involved (roughly the same number of computers.) What EDS neglected to discover before they bid on the contract was that there were still a lot of Navy and Marine Corps organizations using older DOS programs that would not run on the new standards Windows 2000. EDS discovered over 100,000 programs, some of them several decades old and running on some really ancient iron, that they had to deal with. These "unauthorized" programs had been introduced over the years by sailors and marines to get their jobs done, but were never officially recognized. Many were created by the sailors and marines, and it quickly became apparent that this software could not simply be tossed without causing a breakdown in many crucial functions. Windows 2000 programs have to be found to do the work of these ancient applications, and EDS figures that in several years it will have reduced the number of illegal "legacy" programs to about 2,000. The EDS plan is to get all Navy PCs running Windows 2000 so that networking will be easier and more complete. But in the meantime, many Navy and Marine Corps users have two PCs, an older one running an essential DOS program, and a new one running Windows 2000.



One of your correspondents asks: "How long should a product be supported?"

My answer: if it works and reliably solves a problem, how about forever?

I develop software for all versions of Windows, XP included. Yet my main workstation still runs, for a variety of reasons (including stability problems with certain W2K drivers on this multiprocessor box) NT 4.0. I am perfectly happy with this configuration and would like to use it for many years to come.

I don't necessarily expect _free_ support. I'd be more than happy to pay a reasonable sum to Microsoft, say, $100/year, to get continuing support in the form of hotfixes and whatnot. I'd much rather pay money for this than for an upgrade that I do not need, one which is likely to bring plenty of problems yet solve none.

One of the beauties of open source is that you're not forced into upgrades; if you have the expertise in-house, you can continue supporting an obsolete version forever. This and the crippling of products with Activation and DRM are the main reasons why I recommend to all my clients nowadays that they take a serious long-term look at open source.





On Republic, Empire, and Conscription:

Subject: A volunteer army backlash?

I'm not sure if this article is indicative of anything, or just ABC News trying to find something scandalous to report:

(Title: "Line of Duty" -- Covers an apparently backlash among the rank-and-file for the way the administration is handling the occupation)

I remember you discussing the difference between a draft military and a volunteer military, and that one of the differences was that with a draft army you couldn't be effectively involved in upopular wars... Vietnam was an example you gave of that. And that one of the trademarks of an Empire over a Republic was that you could send a volunteer army just about anywhere without much fear of backlash...

*If* the above article is indicative of something (and it may not be, I don't know, it's the first I've read of this anywhere, and it just got me thinking) then apparently we haven't quite made the transition to Empire yet. These days I'm not entirely sure it's possible for a government to be wholly anything. And I suspect one of the differences between our volunteer military and a "traditional" volunteer military is that there are probably far fewer members in this military who think of themselves as "career soldiers."

At any rate, I thought the above article was interesting.

Christopher B. Wright (wrightc

It is easier to send a volunteer army anywhere. Keeping it there for occupation duty is another story.

We have not solved that problem. As I said once before, the proper way for an empire to occupy an enemy is to send in client state armies to do that distasteful work, while the Imperial Army stands ready to go win actual wars.

Empires do have to pay attention to the desires of the Army, of course. Eventually the Army runs the empire. It may take a while. First, we will see the US Army become at least as important in domestic politics as government worker unions and teacher's unions.


Washington state has adopted a system that I think is outstanding. I'd much prefer to see it used everywhere, rather than computer-based voting systems.

The ballot is a piece of very heavy paper or very light cardboard. It's standard letter size (8.5x11 inches). You vote by filling in little bubbles (circles) next to the names of the people for whom you wish to vote. (This is much less tricky than the punch card with the chads was; it's easy to be sure you voted the way you intended to vote.)

When you are done voting, you carry the ballot over to the collection machine. This has an optical reader, and it checks to make sure your ballot doesn't contain ambiguous votes: for example, if you voted for two different candidates for the same position, your ballot will be kicked back out of the machine. The remedy for a messed-up ballot is to destroy the bad ballot, get a fresh ballot, and vote again.

Once your ballot was accepted by the machine, it falls into a collection bag. All the ballots are taken back for official scoring (being fed through the official vote-counting machines). But meanwhile, the collecting machine keeps a record of what votes it saw all day. After the close of voting, they take the collecting machine and plug it in to a phone line; it talks to a central computer, and you have an unofficial but very accurate picture of the election results within an hour or two of the close of voting. (Absentee ballots, in the mail, can determine the outcome of a close race, but most races are not that close.)

Advantages of this system:

0) It's easy to vote. Especially if you bring along a fine-point permanent marker (a Sharpie or some similar).

1) It's easy to be sure you voted correctly. The bubbles you fill in are right next to the names.

2) There are physical ballots that can be re-counted as many times as necessary.

3) There are no "chads" that might fall off and change the result of a ballot.

4) As long as your ballot inspectors are prevented from having a pen, there is no way they can affect the ballots by examining them. (I saw video of a Florida inspector twisting and turning a card, possibly to dislodge a chad.)

I am opposed to any voting system that does not have a paper trail. And for something as important as voting, I'd prefer a literal paper trail. The system of voting described above gives you that literal paper trail.

Proposals to allow voting over the Internet scare me. -- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est"

That would work. Of course the real problem is unlimited franchise leads to other mischief; democracies seldom vote for policies favorable to democracy.

The other shoe drops: AOL cuts loose Netscape development.

Ed Hume

Not astonished are you?

re: Bizarre Game Targets Women: Hunting for Bambi

May I refer you to Robert Sheckley's 1956 story, "Pilgrimage to Earth" which predicted this.

- Roger Strong

And I am hardly astonished...


Tracking Down The Spammer

Dr. Pournelle,

An interesting story is evolving over at DSLReports ( ) concerning efforts to track down someone who spammed one of their forums. Their Anti-Spam Forum (  ), to be precise.

Part geek-stuff (reverse DNS lookups, whois searches, and satellite photos), part Sue Grafton or John Sandford, part grandstanding, it's a glimpse into just how much tech (especially the Internet, Google, and online databases) have exposed what we would think of as "private", or at least not easily discovered, information.

The Antispamcard Information Collection thread,7369182
  ) is approaching 1000 messages, and takes at least a couple of hours to read, but like a good novel, once you get started, you just can't put it down.


Dave KQ3T Export PA

And on the other side of that coin

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Fred Reed on technological surveillance. 

Randy Storms

I pointed out this was coming a long time ago.

This is a Watchbird watching Spammers. This is a Watchbird watching you...

On toe Sucking and Stock Options

Jerry: You raise some interesting points on the toe sucking case. From what you've described, it sounds as if this is all the coach did with his young players, but I can understand why the authorities might have presumed that much more was going on. While this is really weird, it doesn't seem to rise to the level of sexual abuse. As you point out, it certainly is not unusual nor is it considered perverted for mother's to suck on their baby's toes. I know my own wife always did this with our children. I was into ears myself and I was dismayed when my second oldest decided to start objecting to me nibbling on his ears. However, if I caught another, adult male who is unrelated to us wanting to nibble on my son's ear, my reaction would ruin his whole day. What is appropriate for a parent is grossly inappropriate for someone else.

My own experience with having a brother murdered might provide some justification for the "Three Strikes" laws. My brother's killer had an arrest record that was more than just as long as your arm. With only three lines per offense, it ran to over twenty pages of computer printout. About half of his offenses were narcotics related crimes and if anyone cares to argue that possession and use of drugs shouldn't be a crime, I'd enthusiastically agree that it shouldn't be a police priority. My brother's killer also had been arrested numerous times for thefts that were mostly petty. Property rights were something he simply couldn't understand. However, he also had a number of very violent assaults on his record. The most extreme case was an incident in which he abducted his estranged and pregnant girl friend at gun point, took her to a secluded location in the woods, then tried to administer an abortion by repeatedly kicking her in the stomach with his steel toed boots. Perhaps the authorities would have prosecuted this case more vigorously if both the woman and her baby hadn't survived, but the did. He avoided going to trial by simply failing to appear for court dates until the prosecutor decided to forget about it. This repeat looser was free on his own recognizance for yet another offense the night he murdered my brother. I'd agree that while it might not have been reasonable for the authorities to have predicted based on his violent tendencies that he'd kill anyone, his track record for failure to appear gave them ample justification to hold him in custody. My brother's death occurred before the era of three strikes laws, so the probable sentence for a second degree murder conviction was nominally thirteen years but out in seven. I remember having several encounters with court psychologist and social workers who thought it was so sad that this young man's life would be ruined by this incident. Unwilling to accept such a light sentence, I took it upon myself to write a very carefully worded letter to the judge which might have been construed to suggest that if he didn't do his job to my satisfaction, I'd do it for him. When the sentence was handed down, the judge surprised the prosecutor as well as the defense attorney by taking judicial notice of the fact that the newly convicted murderer had a 16 year old, live in girl friend who was pregnant. He ruled that this was prima facia evidence of statutory rape and which enabled him to classify the convicted as a sex offender and thus justify imposing a sentence of 25 years to life. Being classified as a sex offender also ensures that in addition to getting three square meals a day, my brother's killer is also getting more sex than he could possible want.

I agree that some of the convictions being handed down as a result of the three strikes laws are outrageous. But given the way the judges and court psychologists had been running the system when they were empowered with nearly complete discretion, something had to be done to restore some sanity to the system.

You make some good points about stock options. While you make a good argument that stock options offer small, start up companies an inexpensive means to compensate dedicated employees, you overlook the fact that these options will not have much value unless steps are also taken to protect the interests of potential investors. The simple fact is that all of those talented, educated, and dedicated Hi Tech workers are never going to be compensated for their labors unless outside investors are eager to purchase their stocks or options from them. The implosion in the Nasdaq is an over reaction to the inflated earnings reports and balance sheets that had been used to inflate stock prices. Although there is a lot of debate on what accounting methods should be used to value these options, companies need to treat them as expenses if they want to restore investor confidence. Pres Bush's idea of eliminating double taxation on dividends will also bring some sanity to the markets. The tax on dividends has given investors an incentive to prefer stocks that offer growth rather than dividends. Unfortunately, it is far to easy for accountants to juggle the books to make it appear that a company's net worth is growing when in fact it isn't. However, these accounting gimmicks will be quickly revealed if companies are obliged to come up with the cash to pay out dividends to satisfy investors. Yes, these changes will offer certain advantages to established companies, but savvy investors will also be eager to capitalize new technologies if their confidence in the integrity of corporate accounting is restored.

James Crawford

You detail cases in which there were convictions for actual crimes. I presume it was unlawful in your jurisdiction to kick a woman in hopes of inducing an abortion?  

If the laws aren't enforced you get one type of error. If more than law is enforced you get another. Neither is a particularly good situation.

But rule of law is one thing, and rule of whatever is another. Incidentally I would think the toe sucker would be unlikely to get another job in a boy's camp or other such institution. Life imprisonment seems a bit more than that. Same with Martha Stewart. We can stop watching her show if we like. Jailing her seems beyond my notion of the rule of law. As here.






This week:


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Thursday, July 17, 2003

Mr. Pournelle,

Regarding your post "Once More Unto the Breach" I must say it does not logically flow that our nation building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq make us into an imperial power. No where do you provide any sort of logical flow from destruction of our enemies, to the current phase of attempting to build "democratic" nation states, to "empire". While I am a great admirer of yours going to back over 15 years to the BYTE days, I must say your marked pessimism is misplaced. We may indeed need different troops for nation building, but the President is using what he has, not what he might ideally want. Perhaps you have been reading the mainstream press for too long. The liberal media was completely wrong about Afghanistan, Iraq, the nature of our current enemies, etc; remember the dreaded "Afghanistan winter", or "Baghdad as Stalingrad"? Nary a mention of that now, but they are busy sowing the seeds of doubt, determined to undo our victory and make a fool of the President. I urge you to seek out more positive commentators who actually have a clue about what is happening, particularly David Warren over at (specifically "Flypaper") or Ralph Peters over at Anyway, be of good cheer, we are demonstrably NOT building an empire, just smashing our foes one at a time. Next up, the very source of our Wahhabist enemies; Saudi Arabia.


Michael Mantho

I think you misunderstand and if you do others will. My fault.

I am not particularly pessimistic in the ways you think. We are not in any trouble when it comes to holding Iraq, and it's not that hard to make the soldiers happy again, although you do have to do that. It is the long term effects on us, and particularly the loss of cheap self government, that concerns me. But those are probably gone, not because the world changed but because we have, and in doing that we caused world changes that make it very hard to get back to being a Republic.

Empire is, in my judgment, rule of people who do not consent to that rule. "Deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" is the description of a republic. Neither Afghanistan, nor Iraq, nor especially Bosnia, have consented to our rule, and indeed most of the populace in those places would cheerfully vote us out if given the chance. (Of course in the US the population would overwhelmingly vote to stop immigration and stop exporting jobs, but they'll never get the chance to vote on those matters either.)

It is very easy to get used to government by the consent of the governing class rather than the governed. It is very hard to break that habit once you get into it, since the people with the power have little motivation to change it, and will cheerfully hand perks to the opposition so long as the opposition isn't interested in changing the system. 

Our overseas experiments accelerate that trend.

At the moment we're a not very competent empire, and at the moment the Army is not as important as government employee unions, teachers unions, and the trial lawyers associations in American politics. You and I will both live to see that change, so that the military will be as important as any of those in political matters. That was hastened by the contemptuous way the military ballots were dismissed in Florida in the year 2000 election. If the American public didn't notice that high handed imbecility, you may be sure the soldiers did.

So our formula seems to be sensitivity training for the officers, and extended tours of duty for the troops. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to project the results of such actions, and apparently someone in the Pentagon has noticed, so that we are now negotiating with the UN, with India, with anyone, to get some help in Iraq. We'll manage that. There's a lot of oil over there and we can pay well for the help. Of course what we want is an occupation force we can send home when we need to: bringing in Turks or Russians doesn't meet that need. Denmark is too small, and France has too may past associations in the region. Germans would be a mistake, and certainly we don't want Former-USSR Moslem nations involved on the ground. Or do we?

Perhaps we can hire Ghurkas. 

Dear Jerry:

Seeing your comments along with a news story about how the new CG of Central Command has had to remind the troops that they aren't allowed to criticize the President or the Secretary of Defense (and they aren't. It's part of the UCMJ and has a basis in the Constitution) compels me to add my own take on this situation. First of all the Defense Department has people working on down sizing the army to eight divisions while Rumsfeld is saying that he wants to enlarge the Regular Army by pulling all of those MI, MP and Civil Affairs slots out of the Reserves and National Guard.

Since the Reserves and National Guard constitute a major portion of the troops stationed in Iraq, you can see this is a problem. Rumsfeld had a theory about how a smaller lighter force could prevail, and this seems to have been vindicated until you analyze the quality of the opposition. It becomes apparent that the Iraqis had no intention of offering a serious resistance on our terms. So what do we have now? A classic guerilla war like Vietnam but unlike Vietnam there is no friendly government to prop up and to use as surrogates for police and constabulary duties. And the people we set out to "liberate" are making it very plain that our intervention was less than welcome. Yes, Saddam was a SOB, but he was their SOB.

Rumsfeld can put whatever gloss on this that he likes and the generals, like the troops in the field, will observe the UCMJ, say nothing, salute and do what they are told. This is the dark side of "civilian control of the military".

All of the pretexts offered for our unilateral action have. so far, been proven false. We are losing soldiers every day in a war of attrition that recalls Ho Chi Minh's comment to an American diplomat. "We will lose ten and you will lose one, but in the end it is you who will tire of it."

The problem is that we're stuck. There is no graceful way to get out of this and maintain our international creditability. And the rest of the world is quite happy to watch us twist in the wind while we figure it out. The message so far is clear. "You wanted to go it alone, then you don't need out help, do you?...unless you want to go back to the United Nations and eat a big dish of humble pie."

The high level of Guard and Reserve in the current force is a political problem. Even if the troops themselves observe the strictures of the UCMJ, their families will become increasingly vocal about the situation. This may be why Rumsfeld has done an about-face on the size of the Regular Army.

And the bottom line is that most Americans don't want an empire. It's very much against our political tradition and has always been a minority cause. As it is we don't have enough troops to do everything that the new imperialist faction wants us to do and the problem with an all volunteer army is getting more people to sign up, when it is not the defense of the nation that is the crux of the duty. In fact, we're very lucky that no one even comes close to our military power or the homeland might be in jeopardy. Half of the combat power of the Army is tied down in Iraq now, and before you say we still have the Guard and Reserve, think about how many of those units were Federalized and sent overseas.

And, to compound the problem further, rather than the higher taxes and austerity that war conditions demand, we are on a tax cutting bender that is producing record deficits and debt. I wonder if it has occurred to anyone that an expanded Army of Rumsfeld's terms means either raising military pay by quite a bit to attract more people or a return to the draft.

Sincerely, Francis Hamit

Well, such are the ways of empire.

The way out is to get client states to occupy Iraq for us and let them take the casualties. We have a proconsul with proconsular guard in a comfortable post, and bring the rest of the troops home.

The right force structure for Empire is to be able to beat the client states, then be generous with them so they are happy and never think about revolting anyway. As to economics, pump enough oil to get it down to $19/bbl and the economy will soar, revenues will spike -- after all most tax cuts bring in increased revenue, and always do in a booming economy -- deficits will vanish and all will be well.

They're talking about calling up 10,000 or so National Guardsmen, to supplement the Army in Iraq (and elsewhere).

Buried deep in the story we find this paragraph: "Twenty-one of the Army's 33 active-duty combat brigades are already in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea (news - web sites) and the Balkans, the paper said. Three other brigades cannot currently be sent abroad, leaving nine brigades, or 45,000 troops, as relief for deployed soldiers, the report said."

So, by calling up the National Guard, we'd get the equivalent of 2/3 of one brigade. That doesn't seem like very much help. We are already 75% committed (counting the nondeployable brigades as committed: if you can't put them in the game, they're committed). We DON'T have sufficient airlift and sealift to rearrange the pieces on the board quickly. And we CAN'T crank up a new army overnight, the way we did for World War II: the game has changed a LOT in sixty years, and the tools are a lot more complicated and require a lot more training time.

Jerry, if I were a Red Force planner, I'd be watching this VERY closely, looking for serious opportunities to make mischief when I knew the US COULDN'T commit troops to fighting back. I'm reminded of Manuel Garcia O'Kelly-Davis's lecture to Wyoming Knott, about the other, more important things that Great Britain was having to deal with when the American Colonies decided to break away.

--John R. Strohm

All the more reason to find client states to take over occupations... Incidentally, the story of Britain's more important things is told well in Pratt's Battles That Changed History.







This week:


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Friday, July 18, 2003

Subject: You WILL obey! 

You WILL Obey! 

Has common sense been outlawed for those serving on the bench?

- Paul

No, the judge was very sensible. I am sure the teacher's unions contribute to his campaigns. You do understand that the purpose of the education system is to pay teacher union members (including the large numbers who are never in a classroom) and that can't happen if the kids aren't forced to go to unionized schools. Letting them go to college is just antithetical to the purpose of the school system.

The purpose of government is to hire and pay government workers.

Subject: another climate puzzle piece ? 

Nature New location of deep convection may exist in North Atlantic Deep convection, or mixing, of ocean waters in the North Atlantic, widely thought to occur in only the Labrador Sea and the Mediterranean, may occur in a third location first proposed nearly 100 years ago by the explorer and oceanographer Fridtjof Nansen. The findings, reported this week in the journal Nature, may alter thinking about the ocean's overturning circulation that affects earth's climate.

T Slater

As I have said repeatedly, we need to understand things better rather than blindly charging ahead with "remedies" which generally turn out to be providing more high paying jobs for bureaucrats and paying for air travel and expensive hotels for conferences in places like Rio and Kyoto...

The purpose of international organizations to extract money from governments to hire and pay more international organization employees.

The Iraqi situation is complex and we don't see it all.

Mr. Pournelle,

Here is an excellent example of just the sort of article  that is NOT being printed in the mainstream press, filed by someone who actually made it out side of his hotel and was looking for some other story than "quagmire".


Michael Mantho

But we have

RE: In response to the letter about restoration of services in Iraq

Dr. Pournelle, I read the letter from William Haynes in Iraq with pride. I thought to myself that we are doing some good, getting electricity and clean water to the people. Then one day I was talking to a friend of mine who was decrying the evils of our present government. He said something to me that I took to heart. He told me to look at news sources outside the US. So, I went to the BBC. I found this. Now, I am not so sure. 

Douglas Knapp


Subject: The situation in Iraq 

There are many complaints, mostly in Baghdad, about lack of security and power cuts. There is anxiety about the future at a time that middle- class unemployment is estimated at 40 percent. Iraqis also wonder why it is that the coalition does not communicate with them more effectively. That does not mean that there is popular support for violent action against the coalition.



Journalists have viewpoints, and tend to see what confirms them. We have had successes. We have had failures. Yet Iraq  remains a bit of a quagmire even so: the troops are told they will be there indefinitely. The occupation costs a billion dollars a week, and the oil is not yet flowing.

"But if we find we have left our bones to bleach in these desert sands for nothing, beware the fury of the legions..." (Centurion in a letter home from North Africa, 3rd Century)

As I have repeatedly said, we will prevail. We have the technology and the temperament and the troops have the training. Iraq will not be some sudden breaking point that transforms all republican institutions into imperial ones. It is the longer term effects of these adventures that concern me.

We will know when we are succeeding in Iraq when the world oil price falls. Until then it has been a very expensive adventure with no direct payoff.


Now for a correction on one of my observations, from a source I rely on:

Dr. Pournelle, I saw on your site a reference to the Bosnians not consenting to our rule and probably desirous to vote us out. I was there after 911, when operations began in Afghanistan. There was a rumor running around the Balkans that the US forces were to be pulled from SFOR and KFOR and that Canadians would take our places, while we went on to Afghanistan. Now I was well aware that this was nonsense. We'd had specialized training for those missions and there were other units which could be sent to Afghanistan instead. However, the locals in both the Bosniak and Bosnian-Serb regions were united in desiring us to stay. People of both of those ethnicities, both in regions where they were the majority and places where they were the minority, approached our patrols to beg for us to stay.

It seems that US forces have been able to develop a reputation for fair dealing and compassion that hasn't necessarily stuck to the forces of other nations. This is indeed my main source of hope for Iraq. We went, in Bosnia, from having rocks and eggs thrown at our forces and occasionally worse to a situation where we were desired as a stabilizing force. If we can pull of the same transformation in Iraq, we'll be doing well. I'm not thrilled with applying the same amount of time, and Iraq is more willing to go after our people than Bosnia was, but it does suggest reason to believe this situation isn't open ended.


If you attempt to get in touch with me in the near term, for the next couple of weeks I'll be playing with a Guard unit preparing to go places, and I'll be a bit hard to reach in real time.

Congratulations on the anniversary, and be sure to scratch the dog for me.


I should have made it clear: we were welcomed into former Yugoslavia by many. Now the place is a nightmare of international bureaucracy, and a good reason why we don't want to hand over our conquests to the UN. But it's a different kind of nightmare from Iraq where they are shooting our troopers, and the temptation to make a terrible example of some village will grow stronger by the day.

I make no doubt we will prevail. I worry about the longer term effects, on the Republic and on the Army.

On Adelphia

Dear Jerry, I have had Adelphia Cable Modem service since it was first offered by GTE, er, Verizon, errrr, whatever (I live in one of the original national test markets). I have found it generally wonderful, but periodically it just wonks out... it doesn't work for a minute or an hour, it come on and goes off without warning. This is fairly rare. It usually lasts a day or so; often less, sometimes more. My original contract, which I believe is still in effect, stated in so many words that the Company explicitly does not guarantee reliable service, rather, if they can provide you with ONE MINUTE of connectivity in a day, then you must pay them for the entire day. I thought that rather unusual, but service has been just reliable enough that I've put up with it.

Today has been one of the worst days ever. I don't think the origin of your problems are anywhere in your local system... it is out there inAdelphialand. I won't be surprised if I can't send this message tonight (Thursday) and have to wait until tomorrow.

Repeat of basic message: The problem will likely go away soon without you doing anything to your local system. The problem will happen again at unpredictable times for unpredictable intervals.

Greg Hemsath, Cable Modem Pioneer

(Yep, it's dead Jim. Try, try again.)

Well that's comforting...

On Hunting for Bambi:

RE: Hunting for Bambi

Dr. Pournelle, As far as I can tell this is real. If you click the link you can see the news cast. Also there is .

Douglas Knapp


Snopes (an urban legends investigation site) thinks the Hunting for Bambi thing may be a hoax: 

Wouldn't be the first reporter duped by someone out to make some quick $$$.

Pete Flugstad

All true, but Snopes always has an agenda as well, and I don't trust them much I am sorry to say. I have no evidence either way.


And this story continues:

Hello Dr. Pournelle,

Bill would jail Internet song swappers

Quiet move in Senate to kill Pentagon surveillance program 

Every days there's more idiocy. How can morale and the economy improve in such a climate? I long for the golden age of the '90s.

Francis Gingras

Well, in the Golden Age of the 90's we dropped bombs from 15,000 feet and dropped bridges to ruin the economy of the Lower Danube, goaded the Taliban into harboring our enemies, and blew up a Sudanese factory that no one has ever shown to have had any connection with any evil purposes. But if all you want is a booming economy, $19/bbl oil will do that. But then we have this to concern us:

Subject: No strikes, you're out.,1412,59654,00.html

Subject: Unto the third generation . . . 

Roland Dobbins

I would think five years for downloading a song a bit excessive, but when your rule must be based on fear because you have lost the consent of the governed, you turn to such measures.

And I do get odd mail. Anonymous of course. I was going to print one but sanity prevails.

Subject: bambi 

Book A Hunt 

Jim Woosley

I do note that they sell videos which may in fact be the point here. I suppose there are people who will pay $10,000 for the privilege of shooting naked girls with paint balls, but I don't know any of them. I'd think that for $10,000 you could manage any number of fantasies. And the lack of protective gear is clearly hype; I cannot imagine anyone allowing herself to be a target for paint balls without some eye protection.

Subject: Our Solons in action.

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

I seem to recall incidents like this in Rome, too. Ah well.

Subject: ACCOPS

Jerry, I have long had nothing but contempt for my congresscritter, Howard Berman. However, my opinion of him sank to a new low today, when I read that his bill, known as ACCOPS, specifies that uploading one copyrighted work to a publicly available computer meats the $2500 threshold for felonious copyright infringement. 

That means, that if I sing a filk song of my own composition, and have it recorded, anybody that puts that recording on the net without my permission has committed a felony, even though there's no way in the world that said recording would ever be worth $2500.

The law may or may not be an ass, but I think the above proves that many of the people making law are, in fact, asses.

Joe Zeff

Indeed. You needed that demonstration?






This week:


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Saturday, July 19, 2003

The truth about XML


Are we surprised that XML is not replacing EDI, and will not do so soon? It seems that traditional wisdom from earlier technology introductions is still useful.


Interesting. I haven't learned much XML (or Java either for that matter). Perhaps I ought to follow all this more closely.

Also from Ed Hume

News on where the Gecko browser is headed:  at Thursday July 17th, 2003, The Future: The Mozilla Foundation and the End of Netscape.

I have probably paid insufficient attention to Mozilla. When it grabbed all my icons and replaced individual icons with that ugly lizard, I didn't start with a favorable impression. It didn't seem to offer that many advantages over Explorer; possibly due to insufficient use on my part. People whose views I respect think highly of Mozilla, but if I ever had a comprehensive but brief account of why I should prefer it to Explorer other than "it's not Microsoft" I have lost it.

The same seems true with Star Office and other such freeware: there seem to be compatibility problems, and no compelling reason to change from Microsoft Office. Yet.

And for the importance of Mozilla, see below.


You wrote ""...we will see the US Army become at least as important in domestic politics as government worker unions and teacher's unions." Don't forget about the prison guard unions and minimum sentencing regulations.

And, if you haven't seen this already,

I feel better. Safer, too.


Sincerely, KC Deines

Indeed. Safer...

And the unionization of prison guards and their pressure to keep the jails full is disturbing. I have commented on this before.

I know nothing of this:

Sir: I found, rather by mistake, some interesting news. Apparently Arnold AFB has managed to build cannon projectiles with integral scramjets. Apparently, this could potentially mean 16 inch rounds, with scramjet engines that could hit targets 400 to 500 miles away in ten minutes or less. The capability this would give the Iowa and Wisconsin, both of which could be returned to service, would make the Marines very happy. 

Aaron Mays  

The combination of a gun for initial velocity and a small ramjet has been examined many times. The gun could be used for direct bombardment as well. 

I love the old BB's but whether they are the correct platform for this (or anything else) I am not certain.


A "Semper Fi" moment............

Chris Christopher CAPT Chris Christopher, USNR Staff Director, Navy Marine Corps Intranet Office Deputy Director for Future Operations, Communications, & Business Initiatives 703-685-5510 

NMCI Web Site: 


Mission at Gettysburg Back From Iraq, a Marine Lays a Civil War Mystery to Rest




Just came across this story on CNN. 

I know that usually searching children is a waste of time but then you have something like this. As a police officer I have seen people use strollers to shoplift or hold their guns and cribs to hide guns and drugs.

On a different subject, Kobe Bryant. Often Law Enforcement and Prosecutors use different standards on whether to proceed with a case. We only need probable cause to make an arrest/charge someone, but prosecutors want to have proof beyond reasonable doubt so they have no chance of losing. I have no idea whether that is the case here but it is possible.

Now that I've wasted your time get back to writing, I haven't added a new Pournelle book to my shelves in too long.

Take care, Vaughan J. Spencer 

What this story doesn't tell is what the consequences of the gun getting past would have been. In any event no one objects to the X-ray machines looking for suspicious objects. We had those before.

As to why a man would hollow out his leg in order to carry a knife, once again there seems little to fear from him -- and we don't need the federalized Airport Avoidance Conditioning Service to detect such things.

The fact is that anyone determined to get past TSA can do it. I can think of half a dozen schemes to get firearms through and into airports. Moreover, a bomb in carryon luggage detonated at a centralized airport screening checkpoint would do a great deal of damage, especially if there were a second one set to go off when the emergency workers arrived.

Airplane safety is problematic: if someone really wants to bring down an airplane and doesn't mind getting killed in the process, there are plenty of ways that don't involve igniting your shoes. Of course recruiting someone smart enough to bring it off but willing to be killed doing it may be another story. But preventing hijacking is a matter of cockpit security and knowledge that the airplane may be used as a missile against ground targets. The 9/11 attacks took place in a different environment. Now pilots are unlikely to turn over airplanes to hijackers.

As to Kobe, we have to wait. But I sure would like to hear the accuser's story.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Japanese Reviving Their Carrier Fleet

July 19, 2003: The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force [JMSDF] is preparing to build two small aircraft carriers, although the new ships are referred to as "destroyers" in an effort to blunt criticism from Japan pacifists, as well as wary neighbors in China and the two Koreas. Most observers remember the term "Japanese carrier" in terms of Pearl Harbor and the epic Pacific Ocean battles of World War II.

However, since the Carter administration the US has encouraged Japan to do more for its own defense and obviously, the Japanese are quietly leaving their postwar pacifist attitudes behind. In its 2003 White Paper on defense, the Self-Defense Agency asserted that the nation must build up its fundamental defense capabilities to ensure its independence. <snip>


At the original URL there are some links to drawing of the new ships. They look like aircraft carriers to me.










This week:


read book now


Sunday, July 20, 2003

It is an historic day, but that is not why I have made it a black letter day.

subject: the dangers of reading in public 

It seems some citizen saw this young fellow walking around in public with a printout that looked subversive or something, and called the FBI. So two agents showed up to interview him, and find out what he'd been reading. They apparently were polite mostly, didn't delve real far into his privacy, and weren't too hard to get rid of. And I know we're looking under every bush for terrorists these days. Still....

Freedom of the press absolutely implies freedom to read. It must, or be meaningless. This would include the right of young leftists to read loony leftist editorials (which is what the horrible thing was) and even worse things. So once the young man found the the FBI mainly wanted to know what he's been reading, he should have said "What? I've got every RIGHT to read any damn thing I want. Get out of here, go investigate something real."

But, everyone understands you don't talk like that to the FBI. That would be asking for real trouble. And that means our rights have effectively been negated, because citizens are afraid to assert their rights to government employees.

Marc Juergens

Assuming this account is true, either those two agents and the superior who sent them should be fired without pensions and listed as unfit to serve the United States in any capacity whatever, or we are spiraling down faster than I thought. 

Now it is possible that the account is wrong. It is unlikely that anything whatever will happen to Special Agent Clay Trippi and his partner, or to the superior who sent them to conduct this interview.

But if this is what Homeland Security has come to -- expensive people sent to interview someone on the random report that he was in a coffee shop reading something suspicious -- then we ought to abolish the whole mess and leave security to the states, because these clowns are incompetent as well as arrogantly trampling on the rights of citizens "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects(4)". And it is now, apparently, a jail crime to lie to Special Agent Clay Trippi even though you are not under oath. Obstruction of justice would be the charge. If that's justice...

Don't we all feel safer now, with Special Agent Clay Trippi and Special Agent Joe Paris doing such crackerjack work?

Note that there is probably not a single reader who does not, every day, do "something suspicious" and given the arcane nature of the laws, there is not one of us who can insist that we are law abiding citizens. But then Republics have citizens. Empires have subjects, who accumulate credentials,  but those can all be negated. Salve, Sclave.

I would love to give Agent Trippi -- excuse me, Special Agent Trippi -- and his superiors the benefit of the doubt; that there were some dark reasons to be suspicious of an Atlanta book store and a coffee shop frequented by someone reading web printouts denouncing capitalism; but I have used up most of my suspension of disbelief. Waco dried up a lot of it.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. Constitution of the United States, Amendment IV 

I am sure I am over reacting. And I would almost certainly share more political views with Agent Trippi than with the subject here. But I cannot imagine just what Trippi and company expected to come out of this; just what good they thought they would be doing, and why this would be a better investment of their time than many of the more obvious lines of investigation. Ah well.

We all feel safer. And see mail.

On another important topic:

Earlier this week, Francis Hamit compared the current situation in Iraq to the Vietnam conflict. With all due respect to Mr. Hamit, the insurgency in Iraq is much more like an Indian War than anything we experienced in Vietnam.

Unlike Vietnam--and much like the Indian Wars--the enemy does not have a strategic sanctuary or serious outside support. The arms and supplies trickling across the Syrian and Iranian borders, for example, are much more akin to gunrunning than they are to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Likewise, we are experiencing the level of resistance that we do in large part because we are actively and effectively occupying the enemy's pervceived sanctuary area. Also of note is the enemy's immediate appeal to an active armed resistance strategy (very much like the American Indians' response) as opposed to a slow buildup of popular support.

There is certainly a great (and, to my US veteran mind, perverse and reprehensible) desire among commentators on both the left and the right to try to portray this as another Vietnam. The left wishes to have another quagmire, off of which they can make political points against the right. The right wishes to have a quagmire too--but their perceived benefit is to win internal battles over national strategic questions. That's fine, but the facts on the ground don't support the Vietnam interpretation anywhere near as much as they support the Indian War one.

The bottom line is this: we are occupying and, to an increasing degree with each passing week, effectively denying, the Baath Party's last stronghold in Iraq. We are paying a price for doing so, to be sure. What we are not doing is fighting a guerilla enemy on a front of his choosing, while simultaneously making a gift of a strategic sanctuary to him. I believe the proper response here is: "TANSTAAFL," not: "The sky is falling!"

Tony Evans

Another Viet Nam this cannot be, for many obvious reasons. To begin with, as you say, there is no sanctuary area; and as I have said for many years, Low Intensity Conflict, Small Wars, Guerrilla War: none of those have been successful without sanctuary areas and powerful help from safe places. The tanks that took South Viet Nam were not made in North Viet Nam, and the Stinger Missiles and other weapons that made Afghanistan so dangerous a place for the USSR were not made in Afghanistan.

And the low level of casualties is certainly endurable: we were all prepared to pay a higher price for the conquest of Iraq than was paid in either US or Iraqi blood. 

We will certainly prevail in Iraq. It requires only will, and the erosion of will over Viet Nam was itself paid for and fomented by forces that ceased to exist when the Seventy Years War ended. There is no more Moscow Gold; nor is there conscription. 

The harm in Iraq comes from governing without the consent of the governed, and the effect that has on us: the Iraqis will benefit from our efforts. Perhaps it is the role of the United States to become the protector of the weak and the humiliator of the arrogant strong. But the price we will pay can be high. See the letter above and think on Special Agent Trippi.

Mr. Evans also writes:

DoD's problems with legacy applications, even unto DOS, has a lot less to do with it being a government--or even military--organization than it has to do with a common failing among large organizations: failure to support desktop applications. Just eleven short years ago, when I was a Sergeant in the Marine Corps, we started keeping internal company records using dBase on DOS machines. This was all very ad hoc, with the machine and OS being the only thing provided by the government, the rest being purchased and developed by ourselves, as best we could. Still, it increased our administrative efficiency several times over, and we were satisfied that we were doing the right thing, both for ourselves and the taxpayer. Yet I shudder to think about the upgrade path that must have been followed every time the government provided new machines, with new OS's. If not in this application, I imagine that in many cases it was just as easy to squirrel and old machine and application away in some dark corner of the office and keep it going, for the simple reason that it worked, while redevelopment and migration just didn't make sense, even by the economic standards of the military (which are mostly about sweat equity).

This problem is just as common in the civilian corporation. Corporate IT departments are perfectly happy to support prime time enterprise tools and applications, but when you ask them for support--or even just guidance--on small time departmental apps, created with desktop tools, you get a standard: "We don't have anybody that does that," or: "As long as it stays on your network segment, do what you want." Not surprisingly--and this is one of the things that significantly drove up the cost of Y2K--this leads to a situation in which switching costs for new hardware/OS implementations are almost always wildly underestimated.

IT departments, in my opinion, and in the opinion of many I have talked to, have got to spend a lot more time understanding what people and departments are doing on their own and at least track it, if not fully support it. Beyond knowing the full scope of the challenge when change inevitably comes, they would be able to advise departments on how to live with change, instead of hide their legacy systems from it. Such a policy would also allow IT to leverage prior development in one department into similar applications in others, as requirements come up. But, I fear, IT will continue to ignore the locally developed desktop, or, as is increasingly the case, lock the desktop down, instead of capitalizing on the opportunities it provides and working to avoid its pitfalls.

Tony Evans

Good Advice. Of course it reads a bit like what I used to write in my old "Computer Revolution" column, so I suppose I would say that...

Subject: Pathetic, isn't it?

Roland Dobbins

No Comment.

Subject: Blue Peacock

------ Roland Dobbins

No comment on this one, either. I don't think Sam Cohen will have anything to say either.

On Mozilla

On the importance of Mozilla:

First of all, Mozilla has the most faithful standards support of any web browser. The overwhelming dominance of IE put us all in danger of a de-facto standard for web pages as "whatever IE accepts". The more people use Mozilla, the harder it will become for Microsoft to dictate web standards, and the easier it will be for people outside Microsoft to introduce new standards for web stuff that might actually be widely used.

Second, Mozilla is available for a broad range of platforms. If you aren't running Windows, Microsoft isn't supporting IE; it's nice to have a good web browser even if you are running Linux. (Note that Microsoft used to have IE for Macintosh, but they have walked away from it, saying that Apple's Safari browser leaves Mac IE unnecessary.)

Third, Mozilla is the heart and soul of a new assortment of web browsers. The Gecko engine powers these browsers: Galeon, Epiphany, Mozilla Firebird, Netscape 7, K-Melion, Camino, and others. All of these leave the hard work of standards compliance to the Mozilla guys, and they are trying different things with user interfaces.

(The Konqueror browser uses a different engine than Mozilla, an engine called KHTML. Apple's Safari browser also uses KHTML. My understanding is that KHTML is nowhere near as standards-compliant as Gecko, although it is very fast and it is easy to work with. Its advocates consider it Good Enough on standards compliance, and they feel its other virtues make it a better choice than Gecko.)

Mozilla lets you view all standards-compliant web sites. It has a much better history than IE with respect to security breaches. It works on non-Windows platforms.

Other than the above, I guess you don't need Mozilla. It's better in some small ways than IE, but nothing earthshaking. Since Windows pre-loads IE, IE always starts up fast. (You can ask Mozilla to pre-load itself and gain similar startup speed.)

Mozilla is up to version 1.4 now, and it has come a long way. If you last tried it out in a pre-1.0 version, you will be pleasantly surprised by the current state of Mozilla.

If your list of favorite bookmarks is long, you ought to love the way Mozilla lets you search around in the list; check out the Mozilla "Manage Bookmarks" dialog. This is my favorite single feature in Mozilla.

On the future of Mozilla:

1.4 is planned to be the last release of Mozilla in its current form. Currently the Mozilla executable has a browser, an email client, and several other applications all bundled together into one large file. Future versions will be much more modular. The Mozilla Firebird browser is just a browser; however, if you also install the Mozilla Thunderbird email client, the two will work together the way the browser and email clients do now for Mozilla. The new modular pieces will be small and fast.

Once development is done, the Firebird and Thunderbird code names will be dropped, and properly boring names (probably Mozilla Browser 2.0 and Mozilla Mail 2.0, respectively) will be assigned.

By the way, the plugin architecture extends even to within the browser itself. There are many plugins for Mozilla Firebird that extend its behavior in various ways. This lets the base browser stay small and fast, but also clean and easy to understand. You may have a pet feature I hate, and vice-versa; but the browser can work *both* ways -- we will just use different plugins, and we'll both be happy.

A lesson in software development:

The history of Mozilla teaches us a valuable lesson: a working free software project gains more developer attention than one that doesn't work yet.

When Netscape first released the sources for Navigator, the source code was a mess. Various important parts had been ripped out, because Netscape didn't own them and thus couldn't give them away. Mozilla didn't even compile, let alone work! Progress on Mozilla was very slow.

Once the browser started working, the progress sped up a bit. Once the browser started working well, progress sped up even more. Now, Mozilla is never going away, and it seems unlikely ever to stagnate. Even though AOL will no longer pay people to code for Mozilla, there is a critical mass of developers who will keep Mozilla going.

By the way, I think Mozilla's Law also explains why there are so darn many email clients available. It's easy to hack together something that will talk to an email server, and once you have it working it's easy to add features to it. There are many fewer spreadsheet projects!

On the end of Netscape Navigator:

Recent versions of Navigator were just Mozilla, re-branded with the Netscape brand, and with various AOL adverts built-in. No one I know runs a recent version of Navigator, instead preferring to just run Mozilla.

AOL will no longer work on Netscape Navigator, but I don't care a bit. -- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est"

Thank you. And see next week's mail.

On Feeling Safer

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I think I'm in the wrong business. 

And this has an interesting perspective.
  The  president's secretary of state is accused of failure and ineptitude, while the cabinet member responsible for the Army has a knack for angering everybody. The verdict of the intelligentsia is unanimous: This president is leading the nation into disaster.

Yet, the people continue to support the man, admiring the very qualities the intellectual elite despises. The president continues to do what he believes is necessary for the nation's security and survival, ignoring his exasperated critics.

President Bush? No.

Abraham Lincoln.


You wrote something about getting the client states to do the occupation duty? Try this:

With American costs and casualties mounting in Iraq, the Bush administration is showing new interest in putting NATO in charge of the military occupation as a way of scaling back the U.S. troop commitment, U.S. and NATO officials say.

Patrick A. Hoage

Well, the Lincoln comparison is apt: Lincoln pretty well ended the sovereignty of the states. For good or ill, These United States became The United States in 1864-1870.

On your first point, don't we all feel safer now? You are astonished?

And we have:

Subject: The other shoe drops.

As I've suspected all along, we've been bombing and then occupying the wrong Middle Eastern country . . .

Roland Dobbins

On this I can only wait for more evidence.






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