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Mail 277 September 29 - October 5, 2003  






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Monday  September 29, 2003

As usual, there was a lot of mail over the weekend.


Subject: You have to read this...

< >

-- Robert Bruce Thompson

I read it. I am not sure I find it as exciting as you do. For one thing, all the threats seem to be inferred by The Register, not explicitly made. On the other hand, there are many institutions in the US that need adult supervision, and who knows, maybe this is another instance. We'll see. I agree that if things are as The Register thinks (or says it thinks) they are there is some cause for concern; but I am not entirely certain they have distinguished between fact and their fears.

I can be caused to panic, but I want to be sure it's time before I run about flapping my arms.

On the other hand, I don't want this to be forgotten. Anyone know more? Anyone get one of those requests?



Two from Dr. Huth:

Subject: more digital paper 

Makes me want to buy Phillips stock

Subject: rss reader 

Jerry, Just a nudge to take a look at feeddemon, a fantastic RSS reader. The beta pre-release is available at  and is better than most "released" software I've seen.

 Mark Huth 
"In democracy its your vote that counts.; In feudalism its your count that votes." Mogens Jallberg

Thanks. I'll have a look as soon as I get my head above water...

And yet another worm deception:


Here's another "BAAAD" one, I suspect. Even with the poor spelling this will probably snag someone.

Dick Scott

[Purports to come from CitiBank and threatens to cancel your account if you don't supply information. A scam of course. I expect all the readers here are aware, but TELL YOUR FRIENDS. Don't fall for these.]


5-year-old girl makes a bong in class,4057,

Well, I guess my generation started this trend, telling the old fogies where to stuff it. And now the snow has drifted down . . .

Ed Hume


Subject:  Computers Causing/Fixing the Unemployment Problem?


I'll submit this as proof that others are thinking hard about the recurring unemployment problem that seems to be world-wide: 

Some snippets:

"Information technologies are implicated in a worldwide and world-historic crisis: falling employment.... But there is little doubt that a large contributor to rising unemployment is rising productivity, which in turn can be laid to advances in computerization and communications. I can no longer avert my eyes from the consequences of the field I have chosen, and no one else who programs, administers, or promotes the use of computers can morally avert their eyes either."

"People who work with computers remain fixated on efficiency. Every week I hear the debates over whether businesses should use Linux or Windows, the commentators always wrangling over which systems will save the most money. I find this battle increasingly tiresome. I'm more interested in finding the systems that will put more people to work."


Is efficiency truly the enemy of employment? 19th century farmers would certainly have argued it is as they lost out to mechanical reapers. On the other hand, those unemployed farmers eventually found something to do to contribute to society. I find it difficult to believe we're any less creative in solving this problem today - but I don't have an answer.

Frankly, I daily see people working themselves to death in jobs that could just as easily be done by more than one person. Sure, costs would rise if the companies employed someone to share the load, but then you'd have two happy productive people instead of one unemployed and one overworked, both of whom watch helplessly as their employment status destroys their lives and disintegrates their families. I just don't know how to get the major emphasis shifted from the bottom line. Profits may be necessary, but I'm not convinced that the capitalist system should exist for profit alone.

JA -- John Alexander

Subject: Follow-up to Job Creation

The other side of the coin, from the Cato Institute: 

Apologies if you've already seen this.

JA -- John Alexander

Good stuff both. Thanks


If Ft Lauderdale has become Spam Central as alleged by this BYT article, it would make a fine spaceport for Orion ships. 

-- John E. Bartley, III 503-BAR-TLEY (503-227-8539) K7AAY This post quad-ROT13 encrypted; reading it violates the DMCA. ..We're living in a collaborative SF novel... and now, of course, it's Philip K. Dick's turn. In a back room somewhere, Vernor Vinge and George Orwell are currently arguing about who gets to take over in 2025. (Ross Smith)



And here is a stretch:

Subject: Clark is Hadrian - Bush (or Rumsfeld) is Trajan 

I don't think the metaphor works in any meaningful way, but it is interesting to see how badly the Democrats want a hero.

Dave Hammond 

Thanks. I don't see how that metaphor works either...

On the other hand:

Subj: What will happen when Johnny brings the truth home?

Couple of items at triggered some random neuron firings:

1. Rotation from Iraq will be in whole units, not individuals. Tour of duty in Iraq is 12 months.

2. The troops in Iraq are annoyed about the bias in the major media, i.e. about the portrayal of the situation as a quagmire, and about the neglect of the progress being made outside the Sunni triangle. Right now, what the troops know is leaking back through the Internet, to families and the Web and secondary media like hometown papers. The major media have, so far, been largely successful in ignoring this leakage, and staying focused on their "quagmire" story.

Now, as I calculate it, that means that, along about 10 months from now or so -- call it, oh, July-August 2004 -- a big cohort of troops is going to come home, pretty much all at once, carrying the truth as they know it.

What's going to happen then? Will the leakage become a flood?

And if the leakage becomes a flood, just whom will it wash away?




George MacDonald Fraser's character Flashman was scornful of that particular Oscar Wilde-ism: "Nonsense! We always knew what we were doing. We just didn't always know how it would turn out."

I'm reactionary enough to believe that Britain should have kept her empire, that the world has not been a better place since they abandoned it. OTOH, those residing in Bombay, or Nairobi, or Baghdad would probably has a different opinion.



The appropriate comment here would be musical fanfares.



Remember Heinlein's Space Cadet, where he discussed the difference between officers in the Patrol and the Marines? If a large part of your workforce has IQs between 70 and 110, you can't expect them to make the kinds of critical judgments that you might expect from a workforce with significantly higher IQs. Instead, you need to define their jobs procedurally, and you can still expect to have situations arising that are beyond them. That's what supervisors are for. In the US Army in WWII, the Corps of Engineers had the brightest officers (AFQT Cat 1) and dumbest enlisted men (AFQT Cat 4-5), and generally functioned well.

The last time I traveled to the UK, I deliberately triggered their 'alert buttons' as an informal security inspection, and I was rather impressed by how well the procedures have been defined. The front-line inspectors I dealt with obviously couldn't handle the case of the man with a plate in his skull, but there should have been a supervisor around to make that judgment. Perhaps that's the biggest criticism of the TSA--the supervisors aren't yet up to the task. 

-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Security engineer and analyst. <>

You are assuming that there is a need for their "services" in the first place. In fact, the way things used to work was good enough: 911 wasn't caused by laxity, the box cutters were legal, and it was the air crew responses to seeing passenger throats cut that let the terrorists take over the airplanes and used them as missiles. Different rules of engagement would have caused a different ending. 

Arming pilots and securing cockpit doors makes it certain that the worst the terrorists could do is bring down the airplane in some random place: AND THEY CAN DO THAT NOW with all the TSA you like, whether or not there are intelligent supervisors.

The purpose of TSA is to employ TSA operatives. If most of them were to go camping and stay out of the way we'd be about as safe. We do need ways to make the bombers be on the airplanes they want to bomb. Screening luggage makes some sense. The pre-911 system with different rules of engagement would be cheaper and a lot less intrusive.

And see below



You have undoubtedly seen this already, but it is pretty humorous.  via 

As people get increasingly used to the idea of building up characters and virtual goods in various online games and then selling them off on eBay, some are wondering if real police should be brought in if a character is mugged within the game. After all, the character and his or her possessions are now worth real money, and losing them within the game could be "costly". Of course, isn't the point of a bunch of these games to beat up on other characters and rob them? Meanwhile, I'm just waiting for the day when police departments have their "gaming squad" who have to police Ultima and EverQuest online all day, to track down the bad seeds online. In South Korea people are already reporting such "cybercrimes" to the police, though the article doesn't say whether or not the police are doing anything about it.

Keep up the excellent cite, and I wouldn't ask for a single change

Peter Lawrence

Send for the sheriff! And see 


Hello, Jerry,

From yesterday's Times, a story indicating just how difficult it is to remake Iraqi society and culture, inside-out. I do not think that an occupying Army can be the agent of social re-engineering. I'm even doubtful that societies and their cultures can change very quickly, but from the outside, from the top down, using the US Army? Ouch.

The full story is at:

From the introduction:

"[E]xtraordinarily strong family bonds complicate virtually everything Americans are trying to do here, from finding Saddam Hussein to changing women's status to creating a liberal democracy.

"Americans just don't understand what a different world Iraq is because of these highly unusual cousin marriages," said Robin Fox of Rutgers University, the author of "Kinship and Marriage," a widely used anthropology textbook. "Liberal democracy is based on the Western idea of autonomous individuals committed to a public good, but that's not how members of these tight and bounded kin groups see the world. Their world is divided into two groups: kin and strangers."

Iraqis frequently describe nepotism not as a civic problem but as a moral duty. The notion that Iraq's next leader would put public service ahead of family obligations drew a smile from Iqbal's uncle and father-in-law, Sheik Yousif Sayel, the patriarch in charge of the clan's farm on the Tigris River south of Baghdad.

"In this country, whoever is in power will bring his relatives in from the village and give them important positions," Sheik Yousif said, sitting in the garden surrounded by some of his 21 children and 83 grandchildren. "That is what Saddam did, and now those relatives are fulfilling their obligation to protect him from the Americans."



John Welch


Yes, I have seen that interview or one like it before. Nepotism is a way of life in some parts of the world. I am not sure it's not a good thing: I have never thought civil service preferable to letting those who govern choose whomever they want -- and holding them responsible for satisfying the voters. As in Chicago at various times...




This week:


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Tuesday,  September 30, 2003

Joanne Dow on Iraq:

In regards to the Iraqi war episode 2:

As a pure exercise in going over to nail Saddam because of anything other than supporting International Terrorism it was sort of silly. All the reasons given directly or indirectly were items to support international terrorism. Not all of them bear out upon gaining further knowledge. Ironically the item most people focus upon as their key button issue, WMD, has been proven to the extent that Saddam has been shown to have WMD capabilities in "Heathkit" form. It has also been "shown" (by papers supposedly recovered by a British tabloid) that Saddam's facilities were used for training al Qaeda terrorists. At the very least it appears that the knowledge al Qaeda has with regards to the manufacture of chemical and nuclear (dust not explosive) weapons may trace to Saddam's facilities. They may not trace to Saddam himself.

Saddam did support international terrorism. He may not have supported al Qaeda, which seems to be chiefly a Saudi Arabian issue. He DID send large sums to the families of Palestinian homicide bombers. He was quite public about doing so.

Nonetheless I was rather skeptical about the need to go in there rather than Saudi Arabia, the real viper's den, until a friend put forth this analysis. We cannot risk going in to Saudi Arabia and cleaning out the viper's den. It would affect too much of the WORLD'S energy supply, although its affect on the US energy supply would be minimal. (We import rather small amounts of oil from Saudi Arabia. Europe is very dependant upon Saudi Arabia, however. Bear this in mind.)

So let's look around for a way to apply major pressure upon Saudi Arabia. One means is to reduce world dependence on Saudi Oil which would reduce their income. Since they're on the edge now it would be rather decisive as an attitude changer. Note that changing the US dependence on Saudi oil would not be enough. Unfortunately this would take decades, especially with the government involved in the project. And it might not work, especially with our government involved in the project. (As a case in point look at NASA and the Shuttle. Contrast that with the minimal governmental involvement in creating the airline industry in the US. The airmail subsidy was a master stroke. A similar subsidy for pounds to orbit would have had luxury hotels on the Moon or at least in Earth orbit by now. Instead we "let the government do it all." We seem to be attacking oil dependency the same way. It's a non-starter, guys. It'll employ people, waste money, and produce next to nothing.)

We don't have decades or even one decade to waste on applying a weak lever. Let's look for a better lever. We had a half an excuse to nail Saddam. Saddam had lots of oil present in his country. If we can get that oil flowing freely to Europe and wherever else Saudi oil is sold undercutting the Saudi prices the leverage on Saudi is instant. (We are seeing its effect already. The Saudis are at least picking up token terrorists. Once the oil flows it's time for them to get the big fish and clean it all up - or lose control and die at Moslem hands. Neat trap, eh?) Of course, even neater none of that oil money needs to line US pockets to any degree for this to work. We can feed that money back into the Iraqi pockets in such a way that they have to work for it and maintain their infrastructure themselves. They can be coerced into the 22nd century with the rest of the world. Think of the additional pressure this places on all the Islamic despots in Syria, Palestine, Iran, and so forth. (Even Jordan will feel the pressure such as is appropriate.)

Note also that Islamic people cannot 'do the work' without in some way compromising their militant religion's basic teachings. So a newer brand of Islam that is not so militant, that reinterprets the rather bald words about convert or die, must evolve. And the pressure for this evolution will come from the Moslem's themselves. "If you want your satellite dishes then you'll have to generate an income that pays for it. In order to earn an income you must come out of the 15th century."

That looked like an interesting analysis to me so I shut up about not supporting the effort in Iraq in spite of any misgivings I may have had. And now that we are in it is a damn fool thing to simply walk away from the situation or turn it over to the UN, either of which would truly waste those soldier's lives. If we have class we finish the job and THEN leave gracefully shaking hands with a new very friendly country in the Middle East. (Then we can give Israel the metaphorical finger, by the way.)

Our military is good. Our military is sworn to the Constitution of the United States of America. We may overstress that just a little when a collection of well trained, and for soldiers unusually smart, young men are told they wasted their time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears for a government that is routinely violating the very document they are sworn to protect. If we walk away we might experience the worst possible outcome from this episode. It will certainly be very detrimental to any defense capability this country might have as recruiting drops to zero and people leave as soon as their contracts run out. At that time we learn to speak Chinese or fire off our nukes in a huge nasty Hail Mary play.

Of late a very interesting and in retrospect predictable side effect of this whole conflict is becoming apparent. Al Qaeda is trying to move into the vacuum in Iraq. So are several other terrorist nests. It's easy to hide in Yemen with a barely cooperative government to track them down. (WE can't - "legally".) It's easy to hide in the Afghanistan/Pakistan area even with modestly cooperative governments. Iraq is flat and exposed with none of the neat traditional terrorist sorts of hideouts. We're catching more al Qaeda members in Iraq of late than we capture in Afghanistan or the Pakistani's capture in their country. We're pulling in the terrorists to an irresistible bait and a nice large desert trap. The populace are at the "I've had enough already" state and are turning these creeps in. We're happy to pull them in or let the Iraqi officials do it for us. (That latter is precisely the right way to have this all end up, by the way. If we're to be an empire then let's do it right. Clinton set us onto the Empire gig with Bosnia, Somalia, et al. Escape is futile at this point with Bush finishing the job.)

So in summary three important points from the above might be that we're now in a position to place incredible pressure on Saudi Arabia, we're in there now and simply abandoning Iraq might be the worst possible thing to do with al Qaeda moving in, and we really DO have the al Qaeda people putting themselves right where we want them regardless of what you might feel about Rummy.

Maybe it is about the oil. But if it is, it's not about the US getting the oil or even huge amounts of revenue from the oil - unless we really ARE incredibly dumb.



On Natural Gas


A large dose of conventional wisdom (encouraged by the international oil/gas giants who have a lot of gas to sell in the wrong places) has been reinforced by  backward-looking projectionists quoted below. Doom and gloom seems to be the only recent energy outlook that can be sold. Few folks seem to believe that more than a doubling of natural gas market prices will bring larger quantities into the market from domestic sources; I think that the domestic natural gas producers will perform much better than forecast.
It is still my belief that coal and nuclear will preclude the importation of huge quantities of liquified natural gas over long periods of time.

Allan Smalley

U.S. to Become More Reliant on Foreign Natural Gas, Says RBC Capital Markets Poll; Prices to Rise Higher into 2005, Respondents Say
Source: Business Wire
Publication date: 2003-09-29

HOUSTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Sept. 29, 2003--The biggest issue facing the U.S. energy industry today is the shortage of domestic sources of natural gas. That's what a poll of 400 oil and gas executives and investors found at an industry conference held by RBC Capital Markets recently in Houston.

More than half the executives polled likened it to being as bad as or worse than the oil crisis of the 1970s, while 48 percent said this crisis would be manageable.

And while 92 percent of the respondents said that foreign sources of natural gas will increasingly supply the United States within five years, results were mixed as to whether the United States will become as dependent on foreign gas as it is on foreign oil, with 54 percent believing it will. Though nearly the same portion - 55 percent - does not think that foreign gas-producing nations will form an OPEC-like cartel to control supply and prices.

Meanwhile, the energy executives said that natural gas prices will continue to trend higher and remain above their more historical levels. On average, they felt that natural gas would hit $5.03 per thousand cubic feet at the end of this year; $5.16 at the end of 2004; and still higher, $5.32, at the end of 2005.

"It's interesting to note that when we conducted this survey last year, the group ended up being cautious in their prediction for natural gas prices," said Joe Allman, an E&P analyst at RBC Capital Markets. "So if that trend holds true again this year, it's good news for the leading suppliers but bad news for the consumer." When the survey was last conducted in November 2002, respondents predicted the price to be $3.89 at the end of 2002. The actual price ended up at $4.59.

Where will the natural gas come from? Nearly one-third of the respondents cited Canada as the leading source going forward outside of the United States, while 19 percent said the Middle East; 15 percent, Russia; and another 15 percent, South Asia.

Canada is currently the largest exporter of natural gas to the United States at approximately 10 billion cubic feet (bcf) per day, or about 15 percent of daily U.S. consumption.

Allman agrees that Canada will play an important ongoing role as the leading foreign supplier of natural gas. However, he sees the survey's modest enthusiasm for the Middle East, Russia and South Asia reflecting the turn towards a liquified natural gas (LNG) infrastructure, industry wide. "We're not looking at Canada to grow significantly above and beyond the current level," Allman said, referring to RBC Capital Markets' research model which projects out to 2010. "We think the most significant increase in U.S. imports will come from LNG."

According to Allman, LNG consumption in the United States was reported at 1.7 bcf per day, as of June 2003. RBC Capital Markets is projecting that number to climb to 7 bcf per day by 2010, while Canadian natural gas exports to the United States will show just a slight increase of 0.5 percent per year.

With a U.S. Senate vote on the national energy bill coming, the group also was asked about drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. While 52 percent believed that drilling in the refuge would significantly relieve the present natural gas supply crunch, only 3 percent believed that Alaska would emerge as a leading source of natural gas going forward. "This suggests that few believe that Congress will ultimately allow drilling in the refuge and that other supplies of gas from Alaska would not make it to the lower 48 anytime soon," Allman said.

When asked about crude oil prices, respondents predicted the price per barrel to end 2003 at $28.24, similar to current levels, and trending down in 2004 to $27.83 by the end of the year.

Respondents were neutral on the outlook for oil service stocks, consistent with RBC Capital Markets' outlook on the sector. They predicted, on average, that the Oil Service Index (OSX) would end 2003 at 95.21 and finish 2004 at 100.52, a modest 6-percent rise.

RBC Capital Markets has a 12-month price objective of 105 for the OSX. "We see the OSX trading between 85 and 95 into November. At this point, investors are hesitant to put substantial incremental capital to work before seeing data on oil and gas companies' 2004 spending plans and before the start of the winter heating season," said Kurt Hallead, oil service analyst at RBC Capital Markets. "We expect to see an upward bias for oil service stocks into the first half of 2004 consistent with seasonal trading patterns." Over the past five years, the OSX has increased by an average of 20 percent in the first five months of the year and declined by 16 percent in the remaining seven months.

Conference attendees were also asked about the impact of the August blackout in the Northeast. Respondents repeatedly said they saw two major outcomes from the blackout: more government regulation and more investment to upgrade the transmission grid.

Only one-third of the respondents felt the United States would experience a blackout of similar magnitude within the next two years, while nearly 70 percent believe there would be no recurrence. Nevertheless, when asked what government should do to prevent such a blackout, 39 percent said government should make a major investment in the energy infrastructure, while 26 percent said government should create incentives for industry players to invest in infrastructure.

Does the blackout increase the likelihood of a terrorist attack on the U.S./Canadian electrical grid and other energy supply points? Sixty percent said "no." However, nearly three-fourths of those surveyed felt the United States and Canada are not prepared for such a terrorist attack.

Attendees polled about alternative energy sources cited clean coal as the most viable near-term source of alternative energy (46 percent) followed by fuel cell energy (21 percent) and wind (21 percent). Longer term, half of the group saw hydrogen as a realistic option to fuel alternative energy relative to ongoing dependence on petroleum.

The poll was taken of participants at the RBC Capital Markets North American Energy & Power Conference. More than 400 energy experts, company representatives, institutional investors and securities professionals converged in Houston, Sept. 15-17, for a conference about the outlook on the energy industry. The questionnaire was distributed to all attendees. Respondents were asked about a wide range of topics including oil and gas prices and supplies, the August blackout and alternative energy.


Subject: Factory closures devastate U.S. towns

 The layoffs have carved a swath of unemployment through the Midwest, where cornfields made way for factories after World War II as industry shifted from big cities to comparatively low-cost rural areas.

In Wichita, Kansas, some 11,000 aerospace workers have lost their jobs since 2001 as employers outsourced both parts supply and assembly overseas, sideswiping the local economy.


The problems of transitions in economies are not addressed by most economists. Schumpeter looked into creative destruction and concluded that it was necessary, but that it would politically doom capitalism in democracies. No democracy will tolerate the displacements needed to keep a capitalist society going.

That may not be correct, but it needs to be thought about.

Of course rule by the enlightened in the interests of their benighted subjects may be the answer, provided that the enlightened are enlightened enough to understand the necessity of market capitalism and don't become leftists and socialists.

To some extent I am being cynical, but that is because I have thought about this a long time, and every time I say anything the theorists come out of the woodwork and send me copies of their undergraduate economics class notes.

And See Below for more discussion


Subject: Aerospike engine flight test

PAtrick Hoag


Installing Office from Hard Drives


In this week's column you touched on copying Microsoft Office to a hard drive so that Office Update (and others) will no longer require the installation CDs during updates.

The readme files for Office 2000 applications contain a section for "installing from a network administrative point" or some such. Once that is done you run setup from the shared location to make the install on the local machine. It's pretty elegant and makes all the proper registry entries so you won't be asked for the CD again, and makes a defacto backup of your Office files at the same time.

I have no idea if this works from Office XP/2003. The "share" referenced below is just the disk directory where you want the files from the CD copied. It should be set up for sharing (read/write) over the local network.

I quote from the Office 2000 readme:

Installing Office 2000 SR-1 on a Network --------------------------------------------------------- >>>To create an administrative installation point for Office 2000 SR-1:

1. Create a share on a network server for the administrative installation point. The network share must have at least 550 megabytes (MB) of available disk space.

2. On a computer running Microsoft Windows 95 or 98 or Microsoft Windows NT (including Windows 2000) and that has write access to the share, connect to the server share.

3. On the Start menu, click Run, and then click Browse.

4. On Office Disc 1 in the CD-ROM drive, select Setup.exe and click Open.

5. On the command line following Setup.exe, type


and click OK.

For example:

e:\setup.exe /A DATA1.MSI

6. When prompted by Setup, enter the organization name that you want to define for all users who install Office from this location.

7. When prompted for the installation location, enter the server and share you created.

For additional information about network and administration issues, see the Office Resource Kit Web site at:



Ron Morse


Subject: Paging Luis Alvarez . . .


Roland Dobbins


On Energy Independence


You have frequently stated that you would like to see this country (and the world) move away from being so heavily dependent on middle eastern oil for energy. The recent elimination of MTBE in California gasoline may be an opportunity for a step in that direction. Since environmental regulations require the addition of an oxidant to all gasoline sold in the United States and since the only alternative to MTBE currently allowed is ethanol imported from the midwest, California gasoline prices have been up near $2 a gallon. Lowering those gasoline prices would act like a tax cut in stimulating the California economy.

Since the origin of California's high gasoline price is political, I propose a political solution - allow ethanol to be imported into California to be mixed with gasoline. This will require California's congressional delegation to cut a deal permitting these imports, but I believe that it is a doable deal. For one thing, the most likely suppliers of ethanol will be third world countries where sugar cane can be grown. They can substitute manual labor for diesel fuel and expensive machinery and bring in dollars to raise their standard of living. Fermentation and distillation are well within the capability of even the most primitive country place on earth.

Since domestic political pressure will limit the amount of ethanol that can be imported, the United States will have a hefty hammer to swing at the United Nations. If Burkina Faso would like a permit to export ethanol to California, they had better show a more pro US voting record than their competition. If France or the EU decides to counter bid by also importing ethanol to mix with their gasoline that is also a good thing.

Ethanol has only half the energy content of gasoline, but that still means that every gallon of ethanol imported is displacing demand for half a gallon of gasoline. When the price of gasoline dropped below a dollar a gallon in the mid 1990s, that was due to a world wide 1% decrease in demand due to the south east Asian economic meltdown. The price of gasoline is apparently pretty elastic. Between Europe and the United States, we could probably displace at least 1% of the demand for gasoline with ethanol from the third world and our own subsidized farmers.

Lets see, lower prices in the United States stimulating economic growth, diversion of some fraction of our energy dollars from the Middle East to various third world countries stimulating their economic growth, and environmentalists can convince themselves that the air is getting cleaner and that they bullied the rest of us into behaving virtuously. I've probably overlooked something but I really don't know what.

Mark Kelly Deer Park, TX

You fascinate me. I need to think on this. But of course one reason for requiring ethanol is to make work for US farmers...







This week:


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Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Gasoline and alcohol...


Mark Kelly has hit upon several really contentious items in the whole “game” of gasoline supplies for the public. I have been amused for some time with the use of “special gasolines” in ozone non-attainment areas such as Houston and Los Angeles.

An old friend (and former head of the Texas Air Control Board – now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) pointed out that new automobile engines (models since 1996) have computer-controlled air and fuel mass-mixture systems. The computers have sensors that adjust for changes in oxygen, air density and fuel mass to control emissions. When the fuel is blended to contain an oxygenate (such as MTBE or ethanol), the computer just cuts back on the air supply with a net air quality benefit of NIL (with all the consumers paying higher prices to supply pre-1996 cars, which do benefit from the oxygenate). The only direct impact of using ethanol is to degrade gasoline performance with the net result of increasing pollution per ton-mile of vehicle use (compared with MTBE use). MTBE is a heavier blending component with a much higher blending octane number too.

I would much prefer to work on energy independence than get lost in another world-dependent trading game that has bad environmental impacts. Any third-world economy trapped in this one-commodity game of eating up its gas reserves to produce ethanol would be hostage to the consumers of ethanol (sort of like the third-world suppliers of anhydrous ammonia in another time were).

Allan Smalley


Dr Pournelle,

Ethanol and Oil

Mark Kelly makes some interesting remarks on import substitution of (say) 1% of oil with ethanol. He ends up with the remark that " I've probably overlooked something but I really don't know what."

Well, there's the following that he’s overlooked--

(1) The price of crude oil is pretty elastic indeed, but that is a direct reflection of the fact that demand is exceptionally inelastic. Generally speaking, the price fluctuates with supply but not with demand, which (relatively) hardly budges.

(2) To drive the price of crude way down (as he suggests) would play directly into the hands of OPEC in general and Saudi Arabia in particular. If the price were low enough, the only producers who could continue to pump oil at a profit are the Saudis and their friends, who have a tiny production cost per barrel. This would lead all producers or potential producers outside OPEC to cease pumping, and more importantly in the long term, cause exploration and development of new fields to cease too. Incidentally, that would also lead to substantial job redundancy in the US and EU.

(3) Mr Kelly seems to be conflating crude and refined products, prices and energy values. The US and EU do not import refined gasoline, but crude oil. The ethanol he seeks to import would appear to be already refined, or to use his terms, fermented and distilled (which is basically what refining is all about)— in a third world country under third world conditions of supervision and control, etc.

(4) Hence, his plan would export US and EU jobs to the third world, as observed in (2) and (3) above.

He’s talking apples and bananas.

Jim Mangles




Dear Dr. Pournelle,

it seems to me that Mr. Kelly overlooked an important point. As he himself states, demand for gasoline is elastic. As long as fuel consists largely of crude oil products, increasing the demand for fuel means increasing oil imports. Therefore to decrease dependence on foreign oil the price of fuel must increase, not decrease.

As for farm subsidies, they are stupid. The transition has taken place. Farming is no longer important in terms of jobs. Taxes are a necessary evil and will discourage the activity taxed. So it seems to me that the right thing to do for California's economy would be to lower income tax, not an indirect tax on fuel. In fact that regulation should be abolished, fuel taxes raised and income taxes lowered.

Regards Oliver



Regarding ethanol and politics.

It seems to me we hear the same arguments and justifications every four years during the presidential swing through the mid-western states. Ethanol is the cure to our gasoline shortage, world hunger, peace in the Middle East, you name it. Each and every candidate stands upon his or her soapbox and extolls the virtue of canola oil and ethanol as a additive. However, once in office, along come the various lobbyists with the true oil of politics: cash and lots of it.

Maybe I am the one being too cynical here?

Chris Grantham

You fascinate me. I need to think on this. But of course one reason for requiring ethanol is to make work for US farmers... Your comment from mail 9-30-03

You are very correct regarding the reason for ethanol. Farm state congress critters either push ethanol or die. this is a very expensive substitute for gasoline. Aside from government help for ethanol producers at the setup and building stage it is exempt from most state and federal highway tax.

For the soyabean producers the various lobbies are pushing soydiesel with requests for similar help. On soydiesel's behalf I must say that it does burn somewhat cleaner than diesel. Economically it is a major rip off.

As a producer of crude oil, soybeans and corn and a taxpayer I am on all sides of this issue. It truely must stop!

Garrett Pendergast


All together now: the purpose of government is to hire and pay government employees, who then do various things we may or may not want to have done.

Energy independence (relative, of course) will come from building new sources of electricity, mainly nuclear but later to include solar and particularly space solar; new methods for storing and distributing power; and new means for using electricity in transportation. And all of that won't cost what the war eventually will cost.


Eric Pobirs on spam,1283,60635,00.html 

On the spam front, somebody a small taste of justice but I doubt it will slow down this Eddy Marin character for more than few minutes. I think some serious vigilante justice is needed in Florida.

I don't get to read much in comic books anymore. I can't help wondering if a spammer has been a villain yet. The idea of finding Bruce Banner's email address and bringing it to the attention of the worst spam scourges gives me brief but joyful moment.


The Dark Side of MIT on line

The new MIT Open Courseware is really great!

At teaching you how to become a highly technical terrorist (bear with my craziness here for a moment)

Want to learn about Nuclear Reactor Engineering? Nuclear-ReactorsFall2002/CourseHome/index.htm

Or how about any other Nuclear Engineering related info? 

Need insight on how to find the right spots to blow up a building?

Okay, yes it is silly to think that these courses will help make a terrorist more deadly and effective because odds are they already had access to this kind of information. But how much you want to bet we are going to hear someone, somewhere in the Dept. of Homeland Security have some issues with some of these Open Courseware topics?

- -Dan S.


Subject: Subject: Factory closures devastate U.S. towns

I think I'm close to your position in this. I understand the arguments of the economists about efficiencies, but then I think of my neighbors who are thrown out of work, perhaps for a lifetime, as a result of these greater efficiencies. We don't all have the same recuperative abilities, the same resiliency. Some good people simply get crushed in the gears of progress, through no moral fault of their own.

What, after all, does it mean to be a citizen, a member of a society? Do we all really want to live in a purely Darwinian, sink-or-swim society? What would you wish for a less able child of your own? What if you do your very best and simply fail? It happens. On the ashheap with you?

That's one option. Private charity is another. It has its merits, but it is spotty and irregular. Too many cracks to fall through. But then, government programs have a way of metastasizing, spreading and growing out of control. Anything that becomes politicized becomes distorted by the loudest and most obnoxious partisans.

Perhaps there is no good answer, but is there a least bad answer? I'm not optimistic on that score.

Bill Dooley

Does citizenship mean anything? Is a country more than just a joint stock corporation for importing coffee and tea?



An inquiry:

Not being a fool, I don't let Internet Explorer run ActiveX controls from Web pages. Unfortunately, Microsoft, being irritating *holes, have designed IE to pop up the "error" message, "Your current security settings prohibit running ActiveX controls on this page. As a result, the page may not display correctly." EVERY BLOODY TIME.

Do you know of any way to turn this annoying message off?

===== Tiomoid M. of Angle JD MBA ----------------------------------------------------------- For forms of government, let fools contest; That which is best administered is best. -- Alexander Pope

I have not found one. I haven't looked that hard: it's annoying but not that much so. Use Mozilla?

This looks a lot like the keyboard you prefer….

Tracy Walters

It does indeed but the specs say nothing about it being programmable. On the other hand, mine is an MCK-142. 

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

If you click on the tab that says "Tech Specs." a whole page of detail will appear, including the magic statement (about halfway down, in the section marked "Input Device") "Programmable". It also says that the OEM part number is MCK-142PRO, which suggests it's identical to the keyboards you already have and like.



I found the tech specs but I missed the programmable. OK, that's the keyboard. I have three or four of them, and it's what I do most of my writing with. Thanks.


Subject: Adesso CAD Pro 142 - Keyboard

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

You remarked about the specifications for this keyboard not saying if it was programmable. I disagree. Under the header Input Device find the line: Key/Button function | programmable.

Please, Sir. I am the one that makes mistakes and oversights to excess. You are supposed to be the faultless professional.


William L. Jones

As I have said many times, the column gets considerably more of the editorial attention than this site. Actually, of course, I have hundreds of proof readers for this site: it's just that sometimes you get to see the early drafts. As in this instance.

I am not under the impression that I am infallible. I do think that with the scrutiny I get from readers, I won't remain uncorrected long...



And see 

Thanks to Chuck Kuhlman for this one.


Dr. Pournelle,

I'd be interested in hearing your impressions:

"Sci-Fi author Bruce Sterling identifies Ten Technologies That Deserve To Die. I was especially impressed with his take on manned space flight:

...6. Manned Spaceflight

One hates to see this dazzling technology go, but when one resolutely sets the romance aside, there’s not a lot left. Thanks to decades of biological research, it’s now quite clear that flying around the solar system is bad for one’s health. Without the healthy stresses of gravity on one’s skeleton, human bones decay just as they do during prolonged bed rest, while muscles atrophy. Cosmic rays blast through spacecraft walls and human bodies, while solar flares will fry astronauts as diligently as any nuclear bomb. I won’t mention the fact that spacecraft are inherently rickety and dangerous, because that’s a major part of their attraction.

China is about to send her first “taikonaut” into orbit, to belatedly become the world’s third manned space power. As a test of national will and skill, Chinese spaceflight is vastly preferable to, say, invading Taiwan. I promise to watch Chinese manned spaceflight with great interest, and I might even buy the mission patch and decals, but frankly, there isn’t much there there. There haven’t been men or women out of low-earth orbit in some 30 solid years. We don’t seem to miss them in any way that is quantifiable.

There is little point in stepping onto the moon, leaving flags and footprints, and then retreating once again. The staggering price of shipping a kilogram into orbit has not come down in decades. In the meantime, unmanned spacecraft grow smaller and more capable every year. Until we bioengineer ourselves to enjoy cosmic rays, or until we’ve got rockets that can lift a Winnebago made of solid lead, this technology belongs on the museum shelf..." 

-- Don McArthur gpg fingerprint: A5CC 3225 C944 7C81 2C5D 6701 F44D F4E6 A69B 1530

Vision. Real vision.








This week:


read book now


Thursday, October 2, 2003

And a new virus warning:

Subject: QHosts-1

I disagree with the Low/Low rating, this is very dangerous.

Roland Dobbins


New Windows Trojan Appears

Morning Jerry,

There's a new Windows trojan that's appeared. It uses DHCP to hijack the browser, by replacing the DNS servers on the PC, and depositing a hosts file as well. It's relatively low risk, but it will get media attention.

Details at: 

And I quote:

"Don't open unexpected e-mail attachments.
 Don't open unexpected e-mail attachments.
 Don't open unexpected e-mail attachments. "
 ~ Dr. Jerry Pournelle

And an addition for this one:

Don't click yes when asked to install something on a website unless you know what it is. 

Don't click yes when asked to install something on a website unless you know what it is. 

Don't click yes when asked to install something on a website unless you know what it is.

Hopefully people are aware that spyware LIES in the 'click yes to install' dialog box. Cheers,


Doug Lhotka

PGP Sig: C2F9 EB96 127A D4DD 02C7 ABE0 13A0 4C30 9C93 9D6F

"Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for Western Civilization as it commits suicide." ~ Jim Burnham

"I swear, by my Life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." ~ John Galt, Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

I have to check, and I am out of time: is this the same as the one that concerns Roland? I'll catch up sometime this evening.


From Alan E Brain, Canberra, Australia 

(click on horses to start)

Took me a second to realize you have to click on each horse, in turn. Thanks, I think...


Subject: NK bombs

headline North Korea says it's making atom bombs

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea said Thursday it has completed reprocessing its 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods and is using plutonium extracted from them to make atomic bombs.

Jim Woosley



I passed the link on powerpoint contributing to Columbia along to a few friends (as much because of the Gettysburg address thing), and got this response back (to an expanded disty list as shown....)

Dr. Travis Taylor, the author, presently works for BAE Systems in Huntsville (former Teledyne) and is supporting development of solar sails for unmanned interplanetary missions, among other developments.  He is also the author of Warp Speed, an upcoming Baen novel about the development of faster than light propulsion, and recently delivered the first draft of a

Travis offers permission to post, at your discretion of course.

Jim Woosley

Subj: RE: 2PowerPoint or ~2PowerPoint 
Date: 9/30/2003 11:49:57 PM Central Daylight Time
From: DocTaylor

Nonsense, ridiculous, and BS!
To try and blame the Columbia accident on PowerPoint is a great sign of the times in the US that nobody is responsible for anything.
The Columbia went down for one reason and one reason only:  NASA screwed up!
Now, of course, the reason NASA screwed up is so involved and convoluted that it can't be blamed on just one thing like the budget.  Failing budgets are an excuse not the reason.  If you drive your car to the store and you return home and realize that your tires are bald and are about to blow, would it be the fault of your failing budget if you turn around and drive the car back to the store, have a blowout and kill a soccer mom and a minivan full of kids?  It is not the budget of the household that caused the accident.  And it sure wasn't the fault of the PowerPoint slide that displayed the pictures of the new tires the man wanted to buy.  It was the man's poor judgement to drive the vehicle in its ailing condition.

Well, that is exactly what NASA did.  They knew one of the other shuttles had a burned out wing after a mission years ago and simply fixed it and ignored the cause because of lack of funds.  They knew there was an impact on the Columbia's wing and simply ignored it because nobody had the money to develop a rescue procedure or a repair procedure.  It was easier to cross their fingers and hope for the best.  They had radar and could have easily obtained image data but it was too much effort required.  Most importantly and appallingly is that they knew something and didn't even give the astronauts a fighting chance (didn't even tell them there was a problem).
Were I one of the astronauts family members I would use the O.J. Simpson civil suit as precedence and sue NASA for wrongful death!  It would have been different if NASA had reacted/acted responsibly, but they did not.  They here being the key NASA individuals making these very bad decisions.
NASA's budget is criminally low and horribly managed because it has become a WPA or CCC type program office rather than an organization with a national priority and plan.  The public has lost interest in most programs NASA does simply because 300 miles above the Earth is a bad follow on act to a Lunar Landing.  
But the public is hungry for anything.  Even a little remote control car on Mars that could only cover a few tens of square meters got millions of website hits even though you could have dropped that car in the Mojave or Sahara here on Earth and had about as good a chance of finding anything interesting.
Where is our old NASA of the Apollo days?  They gave us much more than this just in enthusiasm.  We need to help NASA out by being utterly and completely appalled at the mere hint that PowerPoint is causing NASA to become mediocre.  PowerPoint hasn't been around long enough to cause such deep rooted problems.
NASA needs our help; it needs to rekindle some wisdom.  The only way this will happen is not let those responsible for its deterioration get away with such nonsense!
Sorry for the long winded stuff here, but it needed to be said.  I'm sure most will agree that we have to do something about how we are handling our nations lack of a space program.
Doc Taylor 



Roland Dobbins

The proper solution to that particular problem.










This week:


read book now


Friday, October 3, 2003

And forget politics: here's an interesting question.


On a topic less weighty that Iraq or CIA leaks, what should be the future direction of computing? There has been much attention to the AMD 64 bit chip and the benchmarks against Intel, but I have not seen much discussion on the larger issue. The AMD chip is designed to be a bridge to the future with a vision that the home PC will be pure 64 bit, presumably with one large 64 bit CPU. Intel on the other hand has multi-threading, which could act as a bridge to a future where the home PC has two or even 4 CPUs.

The competition between AMD and Intel is more about the hearts and minds of software developers than it is benchmarks. If the majority of software developers write code that takes advantage of multi-threading, then it would be an easy step to build home PCs with multiple CPUs. If, however, the majority of software developers write code that takes advantage of the AMD 64 bit extensions, then the future if the PC would be a single large 64 bit CPU. On the gripping hand, if the developers do both we could end up with PCs that are multiple 64 bit CPUs.

I have seen many articles recently comparing benchmarks for the new AMD and Intel chips but I have not seen the computer press discuss the longer term implications of where it appears that Intel and AMD are trying to take the market. What are your thoughts?

Mike Plaster

And I have insufficiently thought this out to have anything to say. Comments?







This week:


read book now



COLUMN TIME: see Tomorrow's mail






This week:


read book now


Sunday, October 5, 2003

Begin with good news:

Subject: Kyoto is dead

Dr Pournelle,

Kyoto is dead

The claimed 'scientific consensus' on anthropogenic global warming lies in ruins. This is the outcome of the World Climate Conference just ended in Moscow. Surprisingly, the BBC seems to be the only major Western news channel to have even begin to appreciate what has happened: 

Extract: "Taken together with a succession of Russian scientists using this conference to cast doubt on the science of global warming, the event is proving something of a nightmare for supporters of worldwide action to combat climate change." 

Apparently the head of the Russian Academy of Scientists (no fringe scientist he) has said that the only people affected by the abandonment of Kyoto "would be the several thousand people who make a living attending conferences on global warming."

The Kyoto Protocol expires by 2012 at the very latest, and 6 years have passed since the protocol was originally put on the international table. By the time Russia might just possibly get around to ratification- if ever- Kyoto will be well past its sell-by date.

Jim Mangles

Good news. There may be global warming and there may not be: the evidence is quite ambiguous. What is pretty clear is that it's not caused by CO2 emissions, which may contribute but can't be the mechanism. If there is a warming trend it's probably part of the solar cycle that brought us the Middle Ages Warming which resulted in the Viking settlements in Greenland, and the Little Ice Age which ended over a period of a hundred years beginning about the time of the French and Indian Wars. We were still in the grip of the cold during the Revolution when the Hudson froze solid enough for Lt. Col. Hamilton to drag the cannon of Ticonderoga across to General Washington on Haarlem Heights.

As it happens, I spoke with some of the Russian Academy people on this during my visit in 1989, and we had a pleasant dinner with some Academicians during which my book A Step Farther Out came up: I was pleasantly surprised to find several had read it, and many were science fiction fans.

The Russians were very concerned with environmental matters (but little influence: they couldn't stop the man-made disasters in the Aral Sea basin). They have long records on climate in Russia, which has varied over the centuries, and doubted that CO2 had much to do with any present trends.

As far as I can tell, the situation remains as it has been: most scientists concerned with global warming are theorists. Those who work with data are far less positive about what is going on, and were never part of the "consensus." And most of those concerned with Kyoto are "regulatory scientists" and people who have a long reputation of being "alarmed".

This isn't to say there are no genuine scientists without a stake in the matter (grants including travel grants, large research budgets) who believe in Kyoto, nor that all those who make their living from having a stake in the matter are mendacious; but it is to say there are many whose livelihood would be threatened by an objective examination of the evidence.

Global Warming, if the theorists are right, is a terribly important matter and, if the theorists are right about the causes, it may well be time to do something drastic; but the facts are that we don't know, and that the rush to Do Something is misplaced. Measures suggested now are terribly expensive, would have a drastic effect on the world economy, and may do no good at all while soaking up the money that will be needed when and if we find we really have to Do Something and know what that is.

This is a time for more study and more data. A lot more study and a lot more data, and I don't begrudge science a nickel for that; but it is not a time for Regulatory Science and big conferences on What To Do because The Sky Is Falling.


On another matter:

Hello, Jerry,

This week "Riverbend" had a fascinating answer to / elaboration on the NY Times article which I forwarded to you about "cousin-marriage", veiling, the power of sheikhs, and the general strangeness of Iraqi culture.

It is her entry from Monday, September 29, 2003

Sheikhs and Tribes...

A few people pointed out an article to me titled “Iraqi Family Ties Complicate American Efforts for Change”, by John Tierney. You need to be registered in New York Times to read it, but since registration is free, the articles are sometimes worth the hassle. I could comment for days on the article but I’ll have to make it as brief as possible, and I’ll also have to make it in two parts. Today I’ll blog about tribes and sheikhs and tomorrow I’ll blog about cousins and veils.

Iraqi family ties are complicating things for Americans- true. But not for the reasons Tierney states. He simplifies the whole situation incredibly by stating that because Iraqis tend to marry cousins, they’ll be less likely to turn each other in to American forces for all sorts of reasons that all lead back to nepotism.

First and foremost, in Baghdad, Mosul, Basrah, Kirkuk and various other large cities in Iraq, marrying cousins is out of style, and not very popular, when you have other choices. Most people who get into college end up marrying someone from college or someone they meet at work.

In other areas, cousins marry each other for the simple reason that many smaller cities and provinces are dominated by 4 or 5 huge ‘tribes’ or ‘clans’. So, naturally, everyone who isn’t a parent, grandparent, brother, sister, aunt or uncle is a ‘cousin’. These tribes are led by one or more Sheikhs.

When people hear the word ‘tribe’ or ‘sheikh’, they instantly imagine, I’m sure, Bedouins on camels and scenes from Lawrence of Arabia. Many modern-day Sheikhs in Iraq have college degrees. Many have lived abroad and own property in London, Beirut and various other glamorous capitals… they ride around in Mercedes’ and live in sprawling villas fully furnished with Victorian furniture, Persian carpets, oil paintings, and air conditioners. Some of them have British, German or American wives. A Sheikh is respected highly both by his clan members and by the members of other clans or tribes. He is usually considered the wisest or most influential member of the family. He is often also the wealthiest.

Sheikhs also have many duties. The modern Sheikh acts as a sort of family judge for the larger family disputes. He may have to give verdicts on anything from a land dispute to a marital spat. His word isn’t necessarily law, but any family member who decides to go against it is considered on his own, i.e. without the support and influence of the tribe. They are also responsible for the well-being of many of the poorer members of the tribe who come to them for help. We had relatively few orphans in orphanages in Iraq because the tribe takes in children without parents and they are often under the care of the sheikh’s direct family. The sheikh’s wife is sort of the ‘First Lady’ of the family and has a lot of influence with family members. "

It goes on, but I couldn't resist quoting the first paragraphs. Among her later points: Iraqi "civil society" pivots on the sheikhs, and the neo-con "social engineering" crew, led by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, completly ignored the sheikhs' wishes, prides, desires, etc...exactly all the things an occupying force should avoid. That is, Rumsfeld, apparently out ignorance rather than malicious intent, has been following a policy to antagonize the leadership of all the clans that make up most of Iraqi society.

(Interesting note: Riverbend says that Bags-dada is far more disorganized and dangerous because it is a gathering and mixing spot for clans from all over. There is no natural clan/family leadership and mutual self-control. Other parts of the country, she says, do not suffer from the kidnappings and rapes and general lawlessness of Bags-dada.)

["Bags-dada": it has struck me that some parts of Iraqi are surreal...more in common with 1920's Fremch dadaism than what we call the real world.]

The next day, she discussed her view of veils, and hijab. Again, a more complicated view than what I read, and forwarded, from the NY Times.



John Welch

I have no idea; Iraq is no area of my expertise. I do know something about armies and history.




Just renewed my subscription via my new paypal account. 

It occurred to me that your site is actually far more than a blog. It serves 3 functions: it's a blog, it's an intelligently moderated "dinner-conversation" forum, and it's a portal - I suspect that fully 90% of my web browsing starts from links on your site, which links of course lead to others.

On the subject of a good photo-editing package, I can highly recommend Adobe Photoshop Elements. It's a cut-down version of Photoshop, probably equivalent in features to the full v4.0 or something. Anyway, it's probably as good a program as was available at any price 5 years ago. It costs less than £50 in the UK and can do far more than most of us will ever use. Adobe products do have something of a learning curve, but an investment of only 3-4 hours is probably enough to get us up and running. It has a few very handy features - I particularly like it's ability to publish a set of photographs to a "web gallery" format with just a few clicks.

As an example here is one I made from my recent 2-week hiking trip to New England. My first time in the USA; fabulous place, fabulous people. 

That's me: 


Craig Arnold

Thanks, for the renewal, the kind words, and the information...


From Russell Seitz:

Dear Jerry: Seeing that the NASA Power Point Flak continues, the op-ed I contributed to the WSJ after seconding Doug Osheroff in scrutinizing the flying foam for CAIB may edify you and your readers as well- here it is , Minus its WSJ edits and title as submited Russell Seitz

From The Walll Street Journal, Thursday, August 28, 2003

Too Strong Is Never Wrong

By Russell Seitz

NANTUCKET,MASS.--Seeing is believing, but whether it’s 9-11, or the Columbia disaster, it can take months to comprehend what takes seconds to witness .The more you replay the slow motion video of NASA’s test gun shooting a hole in a space shuttle wing, the harder it is to accept what a chunk of glorified Styrofoam did to Columbia. It's as though one of the Titanic’s lifeboats rammed and sank the iceberg. But watch we must--to avoid future disasters it is vital to understand past ones.

The space shuttle may look like a flatiron clad in firebrick, but it’s really a flying soufflé. Its wing tiles have the density of Balsa wood, and the foam insulation on its liquid hydrogen tank is lighter than cork. What punched a hole in the wing weighed just two pounds per cubic foot- so light that the 1,600-mile an hour air stream screaming by stopped it almost cold. Whereupon the oncoming wing hit it at 500 miles an hour.

When physics happens, tragedy can unfold with the bizarre internal logic of a Road Runner cartoon. Foam seems such a lightweight nuisance that it’s easy to forget that the weaker things are, the denser they can get. Half the foam retained the innocent consistency of a meringue, but the other side ,struck by the wing, was squashed for an instant into a mass of compressed plastic stiff as a sculptor’s mallet. Not just in Norse myth do things harmless as mistletoe transform and deliver killing blows.

Cold has been NASA’s nemesis since 1986 when a giant 'o-ring' rubber band turned rigid on a frosty morning , causing the Challenger explosion. Seeing what warm foam did may make such effects seem moot . Yet foam spiked with ice or solidified gas is a bullet worth dodging- liquid hydrogen can freeze the very air

NASA’s hydrogen-fueled rockets rise skyward on expanding plumes of water vapor. It’s a sight that antique railroad buffs may admire, but it’s strange to find NASA, that avatar of the space age, using fire and water to raise steam to leave the Earth. Whatever became of physics? The answer may be that 1986 saw a worse disaster than the Challenger crack-up: Chernobyl. It was a vintage year for Apocalypse fans ,,for the end of the Soviet Union was indeed nigh and the large sick bear’s antics were growing alarming. “Nuclear Winter” was riding on the coat-tails of “The China Syndrome” like an advertising banner behind a witch’s broom, when some Ukrainian apparatchiks disabled the safety systems of a nuclear power plant. Their criminal mischief led to the demonizing of nuclear space research. So here we sit in the 21st century, wondering why we aren’t on our way to Mars.

The space-shuttle bureaucracy is part of the problem. It would rather replace its backfiring warhorse than face a revolution in propulsion and design. Bridge builders use a safety factor of 400%, but for sheer lack of thrust, NASA’s designers are still stuck with 40% and must hold their peace when good people go down in flames. With two shuttles gone, it takes more of the right stuff than ever to fly rockets built out of perilously close to no stuff at all. This cockleshell construction is the antithesis of nuclear submarines. They’re built like tanks yet tear around at flank speed for decades on what amounts to a single tank of gas, simply because nuclear forces are so strong. A million-fold increase in energy density enables a negligible mass of fuel to move a mighty tonnage. The reverse is true of the rockets of today. Care to buy a car that gets a ten-thousandth of a mile per gallon?

NASA has long worked wonders with wisps of carbon fiber and thin scantlings of other advanced materials, but the Holy Grail of designers, almighty strong and feather light Unobtanium is a myth . It’s sheer mass that continues to matter. Good as strong materials are, using more of them is better. The underpowered aircraft of yesteryear had wings of spruce and silk only because their engines could lift no more. Today’s spacecraft are not much better. NASA needs more powerful propulsion and more formidable spacecraft to assure future astronauts a safe return. There are worse hazards than flying foam between here and Mars.

The changes in NASA's culture that the Columbia Accident Investigation Board counsels are vital to a safe return to space, but NASA’s only real nemesis remains the force of gravity. There is plenty of physics to apply to the task of overcoming it, ranging from ground-based lasers and fission-free isomeric isotopes to the ion drive that will gently loft Europe’s first mission to the moon.

Such new technologies may set the proverbial rocket scientists of Cape Canaveral free to listen to the wisdom of their colleagues, the shipwrights of Cap Finisterre. On that unforgiving Breton shore, they still build even the smallest craft out of massive timbers. Ask why and they reply: “Trop fort c’est pas manqué....” Too strong is never wrong when strong enough can break.








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