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Mail 293 January 19 - 25, 2004






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Monday  January 12, 2004

Since there are many "Jim Reynolds", I want to make it clear that this one does not consider it "Luddite" to be skeptical, no make that very skeptical, to think NASA can do these things. In fact, I'll state it flatly: NASA cannot. It is not Luddite to recognize that fact and refuse to throw more money down a rathole, no matter how much one desires for us to have an active space program.

James M. Reynolds

A thoroughly reasonable view. I would be entirely opposed to handing NASA a blank check and trusting them to do anything at all other than keep the standing army employed.

I will have an essay on how to get to the Moon shortly, but my old analysis was: Want a Moon Base? Give me $10 billion and get out of the way. Give USAF the mission and $12 billion and let them do it "black" with exemptions from ADA, EOEA, and all other regulations. Better, give it to the Navy under the same conditions. Give USAF $30 billion and have them do it under the ASPRs and all other regulations.

Or give NASA $100 billion and watch it not happen even then.

My new analysis is similar, except that NASA will want more and take longer; and I am unsure how much I would need if I were simply given the money. More, I think, meaning that all the others will need more also. Understand when I say "Give me the money" I mean that I know the people who can do it, and I think I know how to get back to competence through competition. The program needs to be directed by someone who understands the strategy of technology. We don't have too many now.

My first move would be to get Pete Warden 3 stars so that there would be someone with some understanding in the Pentagon, which will have to be involved if this is to work.


Dear Jerry,

In reading your discussion of the relative merits of public vs private enterprise in establishing a new moon base, I was stuck by the parallels with a project described in Nevil Shute’s autobiography, ‘Slide Rule’ (available at

Shute was a popular novelist in the 1950s and 60s, but before that he was an eminent aeronautical engineer, and in the 1930s was deeply involved with the R100 airship project.

At the time the British government had decided on a grand experiment; they would have one airship (the R100) built by private enterprise, and another (the R101) by government engineers at the Air Ministry, and see which was the most successful. (Shute mentions that ‘bitter experience’ had already shown that for aircraft, private enterprise would always win out).

The result was that the R100 was delivered on time, within specs. The R101 was weighed down by design compromises and alterations, since the designers could not be seen to be backtracking or changing their mind on design decisions, because public money was at stake.

Tragically, the R101 crashed on its maiden voyage to India. The craft was almost certainly not airworthy due to these modifications, but political pressures had dictated that the maiden voyage had to be made at that date.

The relevance of the story is not so much in the technology, which was soon to be superseded anyway by metal aircraft, but in the parallels with NASA vs private enterprise (and many other engineering projects). It’s a fascinating tale.

Best wishes from Australia

Andrew Colin.

-------------------------------------------- Andrew Colin, PhD Managing Director Statpro Australia Pty Ltd PO Box 228, EUDLO, Queensland 4554

I have long been a fan of Nevil Shute's work. And see below

On how to get to the Moon see below:





From Debka: "Sit-in protest in Iran's parliament after conservative Council of Guardian bars 80 reformist members of parliament, including President Khatami's brother, and hundreds of others from running in February 20 election."

Sounds like the role the army plays in Turkey... -- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Security engineer and analyst.

But almost the opposite: the Army in Turkey is pledged to keep the government secular. The Council in Iran is pledged to keep it Islamic.


Subject: Article on Risk

Seems to tie in well with your theory about what we know, and what we need to know more about. The Venn diagram in particular is interesting, although the proportions might need adjustment? 


Doug Hayden

Well worth reading. Thanks!


Subject: I just don't know.

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

Nor I. It seems unlikely: US troops generally don't act that way, even if they are given a fair amount of lip. But it can happen, particularly if they are taunted by someone about lost buddies.

It also seems unlikely because why would anyone survive to tell the story? But again I don't know.

And of course this is the sort of story to make up if you are doing that sort of thing. As you say, we just don't know anything at all, including whether this person ever existed.

On the source, see below.


De-formatting Angle Bracketted Text

Dr Pournelle,

I receive many forwarded e-mails with text formatted using right angle brackets (>). The Bush "moon missions" reported Friday by Henry Vanderbilt were formatted in this way. Since reading this material is difficult, I would think somebody has written a utility that will de-format the text and return it to easily readable format.

Do you or one of your readers know of a utility like that?

Bill Mackintosh

Actually, I tend to take care of that when I post messages. I use WORD and Replace, then put up quoted text in a different font. I agree, the > designation can get in the way of readability unless the lines are kept at the same length so that all the > line up on the left margin.

I was in a mighty hurry to get Henry's letter up and get back to unpacking my stuff from CES.


For getting rid of angle brackets and sanely formatting email-mangled text, I've been using Text Cleanup for years. Available here: 






Subject: John Udell on the Picturephone. 

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

There are consumer video phones for use with high speed Internet connections: several shown at CES. I wonder when Jane Jetson's morning mask will also become common...


The TSA Files:

Homeland security protecting us from 6 year old girls. 

Mark Rutledge

Ah, but the rules, the rules, they are far more important than good sense. Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite! and always the rules to enforce real Egalite! The Frenchification of America...


Dear Dr Pournelle,

Just to echo Jimmy Reynolds' email ... similar views have been aired on the BBC's news web pages - see  . Aaaargh!

Most of the objections rest on the fallacy of the false dilemma - either we cancel the space programme or people will starve, to put it crudely. I wasn't aware it was a simple choice; by the same logic I shouldn't go on vacation this summer because people will suffer if I do.

What we do need is an intelligent debate on what this is going to cost and how we can perhaps strip some of the bureaucracy and timewasting out of the whole space programme.

Best wishes, Simon Woodworth.



Return to the Moon – For the Right Reasons, in the Right Way

"We do this and the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard…" President John F. Kennedy – from his speech announcing Apollo.

Any discussion of a permanent return to the Moon (RTM) must be centered on two over riding questions: "Why?" and "How?" The answers to each of those questions are interrelated and one affects the other. If we go for the wrong reasons we will fail. If we go for the right reasons and do it the wrong way, we will fail. And if we don’t go at all, then we will have failed in a way that will send ripples down through the ages.

There are many different answers to "Why?" They include: far side observatories to seek life on other worlds; studies of Earth’s history by studying the Moon’s surface and geology; near side Earth observation telescopes (Triana on the Moon); searching for platinum class metals in asteroids buried in the surface; giant solar arrays beaming power to communications satellites and solar sail transports; isolated laboratories to try new and dangerous schemes; taking the high ground militarily; driving the creation of new technologies; and of course, backing up the biosphere and human civilization in case of catastrophe and expanding the domain of life and humanity.

There are also a few more subtle reasons we go:

We go to force the re-structuring of our national space activities. – NASA’s human spaceflight program today is like an old ex- athlete who won the Olympics a long time ago. It is bloated, inflexible, self-indulgent, and lives on re-runs of its better days. It is neither inspiring nor useful. In fact, it is harmful, as without a mandate to move out to the Far Frontier of the Moon and beyond, NASA has squatted down in LEO and claimed it as its own, blocking any who might try to do anything useful on its "turf." We can let it slowly die, or we can trim the fat and get it into shape by making it get out of the doorway to space, back into the arena, and forcing it to run again – this time with a team-mate called private enterprise – to whom it can hand the baton at the right moment.

We go to inspire. – The most important thing we got out of Apollo was inspiration. It was a star of hope in the darkness of the Cold War. It was the reason I am in this field, and the same goes for many of you reading this. The internet, telecom, the incredible advances in medicine and science, these breakthroughs are coming from organizations whose founders and investors were often born and raised during the Apollo program, and while its legacy was still fresh. If one looks at the numbers of engineers and science students graduated in the US, there is a clear correlation, and right now those numbers are falling, fast.

We go to prepare for even greater things. – We cannot throw expendable humans at Mars without knowing what happens to a spacesuit in a high radiation, high temperature differential, dirty, vacuum after its been worn and sweated in for six weeks. We need to learn how to operate off planet, how to build for permanence and how to live off the land in space. Also, those who advocate a direct drive to Mars ignore a major historical fact – the colonies in North America could not have survived without the ports of England and Europe. The development of a strong Earth-LEO-Moon infrastructure, dominated by commercial enterprises, is a necessity, if humans-to Mars is not to be another unsustainable flags and foot prints fiasco or perennial taxpayer funded government housing project.

The "How?" of returning to the Moon partially determines the "Why?" For example, if the timeline is too long, the budget too large, the end goal too amorphous, and the whole project is run by the usual suspects in the usual way, the end result will be an uninspiring, over budget dead end like the International Space Station (ISS). To make a Return to the Moon permanent, inspiring, economical and beneficial to the taxpayers who pay for it all, we must do certain things:

First, we must ignore the whining of those who say they need a lot more money and time. We went from a standing start to standing on the Moon in under ten years – forty years ago! Keep in mind, when Kennedy asked the NASA of that time if it could be done, they told him no, and then they went and did it when ordered to.

Next, we must re-structure NASA, as the agency in its current form cannot handle the job. The center-based structure of today must be ended and several non-relevant centers closed or handed over to other agencies. Activities such as aeronautics and Earth studies must be handed off to the FAA and NOAA. Planetary robotic exploration should be given to JPL and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

NASA must shed operational activities such as LEO transport and running the space station. The Orbital Space Plane should be canceled - now. Prizes, multiple source contracts, investment and tax incentives must be put in place to encourage the new Alt.Space firms to take over human transport to space, and drive the traditional aerospace giants to modernize or get out of the field. The space station should be mothballed, handed to our partners or be taken over by a quasi-commercial Space Station Authority as a destination for commercial and university users. ISS and other NASA pet projects must not be grafted onto a moon project simply because they exist. If they really support it they are in, if not, they are out.

What is left should be divided into two parts. The first should be a lean mean human exploration machine that focuses on the Lewis and Clark function and acquiring or creating the lowest tech tools possible to travel and explore beyond the Earth. The second should be an agency like the old National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics from which NASA was created. Its job would be to push the envelope of space technologies and systems in support of our space industries.

The new NASA would then be one of several players in any RTM project along with DOD, DARPA, NOAA, NSF, universities, and most importantly, the commercial sector. NASA will support planetary transportation systems development, scouting, surveying and pitching the first base camp, then others take over as the agency focuses on developing systems for Mars exploration – it’s next destination.

For the Moon Base to survive and prosper, it must be built in the right spot, it must be robust, easy to operate at low cost, as self sufficient as possible and be easy to expand. The International Space Station is failing because it is in the wrong place, too delicate, too expensive to operate, and produces nothing of great value - scientific or commercial. To pay for the Moon Base we must combine a wide variety of income producing activities and services, such as those listed above. BUT, the people building the habitats after the first phase, operating the telescopes, and running the facility itself should NOT be government employees. The long term Lunar facilities should be designed and built by private firms in response to a short list of needs put out by the partners, with the US government leasing those it needs. Long term management of the base should be in the form of a Moon Base Authority to promote new activities, manage infrastructure, oversee safety, and enforce the law.

The bottom line is clear: We must Return to the Moon, this time to stay!

Rick N. Tumlinson is a founder of the Space Frontier Foundation.

My view: it's a good investment, as well as important for national defense: going to the Moon to stay is a reasonable goal, but building the capability to get there is more important. If we can sustain a Moon Base we will be a long way toward being a real spacefaring nation.

NASA won't do it well if they can do it at all; they certainly won't do it quickly.

The right way to do it is to offer a prize. I would have said $10 billion not long ago. It is more likely to need $20 now, but that is not large compared to what NASA will take to do it.

"Be it enacted by the Congress of the United States:

"The Congress has determined that it is in the national interest of the United States to build and operate an American owed permanent base on the Moon.

"The Treasurer is directed to pay the sum of $20 billion to the first American owned corporation or firm to establish a base on the Moon and continuously to keep there in good health at least 31 Americans for a period of not less than three years and a day"

Do that and stand back and we will get there, and a lot quicker than either NASA or the People's Liberation Army of the People's Republic of China will do it.

Of course we aren't likely to. 

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat whose state is home to Goddard Space Flight Center, praised Bush's proposal, even though details remain undisclosed.

"I applaud the president for renewing America's commitment to space exploration," Mikulski said. "We are a nation of pioneers. America needs to be daring and bold."

Which ought to tell you a lot.

Daring and bold would be to announce prizes. Giving money to NASA to pay its standing army and increase its bureaucracy is not daring and it is not bold. But it is predictable.








If you haven't read "The Music of the Primes : Searching to Solve the Greatest Mystery in Mathematics" by Marcus du Sautoy , I think you should take a look at it.

It is certainly a book I wish I'd had in HS, it would have been more informative than most of my 1960's math teachers. if I had kids still at that age, I'd urge them to read it, today's teachers often a step down (IMO) from the prior generation.

du Sautoy discusses the Riemann Hypothesis after first presenting an interesting discussion of what the Greeks new about primes, and what was known by the middle of the 19th C, along the way Euler, Gauss, Cauchy, Fourier, and Legrande make brief appearances.

If you know and remember your number theory, I'd say this is at a much lower level, but for those of us who've forgotten what little we know, du Sautoy's tieing these ideas together, and showing how one genius may have built on the work of the previous is fascinating.

Mark Becker


And Russell Kay warns:

Subject: The legendary Scottish squirrel of death$287   



I send this without taking a position one way or the other. Clearly the situation Laura Sessions Stepp writes about will make us think.


Partway Gay? For Some Teen Girls, Sexual Preference Is A Shifting Concept

By Laura Sessions Stepp Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, January 4, 2004; Page D01


Again Debka raises interesting questions and supplies interesting information. This time on the crash of the Egyptian airliner filled with French tourists. 

 And in the same story, Debka is also reporting that the last Egyptian airliner to crash-- this one off the coast of the US-- was a result of a terrorist plot.

"The Sharm el-Sheikh air disaster recalls the last Egyptian air disaster in 1999 when EgyptAir’s 990 Boeing 767 crashed opposite the American coast of Massachusetts shortly after takeoff, killing all 217 aboard. At the time, the Egyptian authorities attributed the disaster to unusual atmospheric conditions on the East Coast, a claim never confirmed by US authorities. In a subsequent federal probe, US aviation authorities established that the co-pilot, Jamil Batouty, who was not supposed to be on duty at the time, took over the controls and put the plane into a sharp nosedive shouting Allah is Great! in Arabic.

"DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources reported then that a large group of Egyptian air force officers were aboard, flying home from counter-terror combat and fighter jets courses in the United States. Our sources learned that Batouty has been assigned by his known Egyptian Jihad Islami connections in Los Angels and Cairo to carry out a kamikaze mission to destroy this group. "









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Tuesday, January 13, 2003 

I am at Niven's blitzing a book so this will be short shrift indeed.

Andrew Colin left out the rest of the R100/R101 story. In true bureaucratic fashion, when the government designed R101 crashed because of design defects, the British government scrapped the successful R100 airship designed by a private company.

Chuck Anderson

On the American Army:

If we're talking fluid, war-of-movement operations, the Germans in WWII were considerably better than we were, and everybody knows it.

We won because we had more stuff, and because the Allies as a whole had considerably more industrial capacity and manpower. As for troop quality, all else equal, most people doing simulations give the Germans in, say, 1944, a quality factor about 1.25 times that of Americans.

We tended to exert tighter control over subordinates than the Krauts, showed less low-level initiative There was a closer bond between officers and men in the German Army than in ours (surprising but true). And of course they had loads more experience. We had a higher fraction of guys with a high level of general mechanical knowledge.

Gregory Cochran

We had a lot more guys with mechanical knowledge. When a German vehicle broke down -- and they didn't have so many, a lot of their artillery and other stuff was horse and mule drawn -- it sat until a mechanic came. A lot of US infantry troops knew the Kettering ignition system and general carburetor system and could fix simple problems with tools aboard the 6-by. And toward the end, you have to distinguish between German line troops and their volksgrenadieren.


I am going to post the following and I won't have time to do much in the way of comments, but I think he makes my points for me. It opens with a reply I made to him.


Sorry I'm a bit late to the language wars, but you made one comment I need to disagree with:

> My point was not that Pascal was "better" than C back in the critical > days, but that had development of Pascal continued -- as it was with > Modula-2, but not far enough -- we would have structured programs > written in comprehensible language with the compiler doing most of the > work.

No, we wouldn't. It's *just as easy* to have incomprehensible and unstructured programs in Pascal as in C as in C++ as in Java. I've seen it. Heck, I've done it. And the compiler can only do so much for you and it's typically not nearly enough.

In my experience, well structured programming comes with programming experience and nothing else. Only time and programming experience gives programmers the ability to structure a program in such a way as for it to be easily understood and maintained.

For the casual programmer, Python, Pascal, Java, etc are fine. Their langauge features are going to prevent the simple bugs, which is good, and they lend themselves well to small simple programs. Spaghetti code is not an issue when there is only 1000 lines of code (well, usually :-).

For more serious projects Python, TCL and Java just don't scale well. The language features that are nice in small programs and prevent problems actually create more problems than they are worth. And often, the languge's rich features obscure issues and make them harder to debug (just look at operator overloading in C++ - what a mess - that's why Java got rid if it).

But regardless of language choice, you need *experienced* programmers in charge, who can set direction and keep the language idiocies to a minimum. Else, I can guarantee spaghetti code, regardless of language.

And having tried to debug spaghetti code, I can definately say that more bugs, and more difficult and dangerous bugs, can be hiding in spaghetti code. They make all the buffer overflows and other things that the language might prevent look like the tip of the iceberg, and they're a LOT harder to fix.

Yes, there's a distinction between what's good for larger projects and more experience programmers and what's good for casual programmers and small stuff. There is no one size fits all.

You can rail against C as the full time programmer full employment act, but what's wrong with that? You want full time programmers. You want them to have experience and to know what they're doing, else you end up with spaghetti code. You want those guys doing the software for the Shuttle to only have 1 or 2 defects per launge. And that level of programming comes from process and experience programmers (mostly process) NOT from the lanagues. But most people aren't willing to foot the bill, so you get a lot less process and you try and get the best programmers you can and let them use whatever language they feel most comfortable with.

If you aren't a full time programmer, use a langage that's appropriate - Python, Pascal, whatever.

But the perfect programming language is not going to fix all the programming problems in the world - it won't even come close.

Pete Flugstad

I will say this once more:

No. It is not just as easy to write unreadable code in Modula as it is in C. That was the point of the Wirth philosophy: to force programmers into writing structured and readable code. You can write BAD code in any language if you don't at all know what you are doing; but you have to work to write unreadable code in Modula or Pascal, while you have to work to write readable code in C, and even with hard work you probably can't do it.

As to the rest: good writers are not those who understand how to use Microsoft Word or XYWRITE best; they are those who know what they want to accomplish with their writing. All the same for programmers: what we want is to make it easy for people who know what they want computers to do to be able to get them to do it; not to have specialists in how to teach the computer. It's as if we hired writers because they know how to use XYWRITE or VOLKSWRITER or something rather than for the content they turn out.


De-formatting Angle Bracketed Text:

I use a program called "Stripmail" to remove the angle brackets on text: 

Gary Berg

Thanks. I will have to try it. I actually have written macros to do it in Word, though. It's having time to process mail that I don't have.


From: Stephen M. St. Onge                                                                                                          
Date:  Jan. 13, 2003

   subject: Seriously Twisted

Dear Jerry:
        "Hello Kitty" (tm) meets the Elder Gods:


Subject: logarithmic map of the universe

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

There is a logarithmic map of the universe posted at  , complete with printing instructions. It would make a nice wall hanging, but your pictures of Chaos Manor show wall space to be severely limited.


William L. Jones

Wall space? Well there is one wall for projections...


There were a number of interesting articles today:

Media 'brutalized': <,2763,1121981,00.html >. Cum grano salis.

War College: <,2763,1122008,00.html >. The UK watching the US.

O'Neill Security Investigation: <,1271,-3618644,00.html >. Witch hunt?

University Funding Mess: <
tuitionfees/story/0,12757,1121954,00.html  >.

 Labour believes fervently in free lunches that turn into the dog's breakfast. -- "The difference between theory and practice is that, in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is." (Tom Vogl) Harry Erwin



Sleeping Macs and forgetting things...

Not that it makes any difference as far as the outcome is concerned, but the sleep problems you are experiencing are almost certainly OS related. I have seen this in the past, and installing an OS update has cured it. Several times. :)

While the machine might lose various settings while sleeping, I have never experienced any loss of DATA on a sleeping Mac. -- ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Freedom of speech isn't working out so well for liberals now that they aren't the only ones with a microphone. It's not so much fun when the rabbit's got the gun." - Ann Coulter

Gary R. Utter

I haven't either, and I haven't had a chance to do many tests since I stopped the sleep cycles. Anyway, unpowering the hub makes the Mac see it; which is interesting to speculate about but I haven't time just now. I have workarounds, which is the important thing.

I am at the moment working with the TabletPC, a KOGI flat screen (15") and a Logitech external keyboard, in Word 2003, and FrontPage 2003. Aside from the default font setting getting lost somehow there are no problems. I am sure the Mac would have done as well, but Niven uses PC's so that is what I brought out here.


President Speaks

Subject: Bush space speech 3 pm est on C-Span 1 Date: Wed, 14 Jan 2004 04:45:35 GMT From: Henry Vanderbilt <> Organization: EarthLink Inc. --  Newsgroups: 

President Bush is scheduled for a half-hour speech on space from NASA HQ on C-Span 1, starting ~3 pm EST Wednesday 1/14/04.

Sean O'Keefe is scheduled for a press conference at 4:30 pm EST on NASA TV. I don't know if C-Span will carry it. It can be seen via the NASA website,









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Reader Dave Hampson sends this link:

Your Tax dollars at work keeping us all safer.



I came across this 1955 radio production of RAH's Green Hills of Earth. 


Jeff Elkins

X - 1 !


Oops. After 600+ downloads I had to pull GHoE due to bandwidth constraints. If anyone's willing to host this 11Mb MP3, I'll be glad to make it available for them...

Jeff Elkins

Sorry about that. I listened to it last night. Very good. I remember hearing it on the radio a very long time ago. Anyone want to host it?


The source of the radio play is  They offer it as a free sample and have the whole series of x-1 that you can download for a reasonable fee. for US$18 or a quarter you can download from a huge range of old time serials see    to see the list.

Paul Beaver






CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


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Thursday, January 15, 2004

I have been looking for some web resources that explain some experiments involving the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle.

I recall an experiment where electrons were fired through two tubes close together and an interference pattern was shown. The interference pattern vanished when one tube was covered up.

The uncertainty principle was shown when the same thing happened even when one electron was fired through the two tubes.

Do you have any ideas on where to read about this?

Brice Yokem

The best book on this was by Richard Feynman who explains the experiment and also explains that no one can really explain it, but you must live with the results. I believe the title of the book is QED; doubtless a reader will come up with more exact information.

And see below


Thinking about some U.S. conservatives' zeal for censorship, this just came to mind:

Except for their preference to use government power to enforce speech control, it seems rather like the morality police of the Islamic fundamentalists, who go around whipping women who dare appear in public without a proper burka.

--jim (Jim Warren)

(Just think of the political cartoons! ;-)

This deserves a longer answer than I have time for. While it is true that there are those who want to control what other people see, most conservatives simply want to be left alone: they are content that there be censorship in their own region. Let everyone else go to hell in his own fashion.

I am not going to get into a long discussion of this, but I believe that the principle of consent of the governed combined with the principle of majority rule dictates that local areas have real power: power to do things that people in other areas consider not merely unwise, but dead wrong.

I am willing to grant Boston, or Studio City, the right to ban my books. I am not willing to grant that right to the Federal Government. I would of course argue against Studio City banning sales of my books in the local BookStar, but I would give my neighbors that right. For years Bernie's News in Studio City had a back room of "adult" magazines. Bernie kept the kids out of there. I don't recall anyone being upset by the existence of his back room. Now, after some court cases, on open racks across the street from Carpenter School you may see, at about 3 feet off the ground, headlines: INSIDE! Joy Spreads, Gives Head, Swallows!  I am not at all sure that this aids my quality of life or increases my freedom.


Dear Dr. Pournelle,,1286,61889,00.html

 A privately owned Foxboro, Massachusetts company called Cyberkinetics claims to have developed and brain-computer interface they call Braingate.  They have applied to the FDA for trails on 5 quadriplegic patients.  The interface should allow the patients at least minimal control of a computer using only signals from the brain. 


Randy Storms



Phil Chapman on Space and the Bush Initiative

(Phil Chapman, PhD. in astronautical sciences MIT, former astronaut is an old and valued friend and member of the space council I intermittently chair.)


While I agree with you that NASA will screw up Bush's vision, we need to distinguish between the limitations of government programs generally and the problems due to NASA's current incompetence.

I would like to see the role of government in all human spaceflight reduced to funding generic technology and providing incentives to the private sector, but it is not going to happen. There is a long history of government-run expeditions for exploration and scientific research, and I think we should be satisfied if we can limit the government to that. The real problems arise when the government moves beyond the Lewis and Clark phase and tries to run trucking companies (such as the shuttle), to become building managers (as in the ISS).or to manage real estate (as on the Moon).

The obvious but fundamental message we need to publicize is that a government program is a drain on the Federal deficit, whereas a private enterprise program represents desirable economic growth. NASA lacks the crucial mechanism available to corporations, which is that profits can be re-invested in expansion. Positive feedback is essential to exponential increase. The NASA budget will always be determined by log-rolling in Congress, so that sustained growth is simply impossible. If however we can create ways for private individuals to live and work in space, and for corporations to make profits there, we can look forward to growth without limit. We need to move beyond the Lewis and Clark phase into the Oklahoma Land Rush phase.

If NASA can recover some of the competence it showed during Apollo, it could create a permanent base on the Moon by 2020 - but we can be sure that it will be a pro forma effort, with maybe 6 or 8 astronauts stationed there, demonstrating the feasibility of living on the Moon but not doing much if anything of real value. The net result would be a further delay of at least a couple of decades before we become at last a spacefaring nation, with opportunities for anybody who wants to get off Earth. If NASA mounted a manned Mars mission after the lunar base, it would be half a century before we could begin to make any real progress toward establishing an extraterrestrial economy and civilization.

Having said all that, there are some things the agency can and should do. As one example, we need an unmanned mission forthwith to find out whether there is indeed ice in the Aitken Basin at the lunar south pole. LOX/LH2 from that source would radically change the whole architecture of the transportation system needed to support a permanent lunar base. Moreover, electrolysis of water is one of the best ways to store solar energy during the lunar day for use during the 14-day lunar night (you need about 200 kg of water to supply 1 kW for that period). NASA should undertake such a mission immediately, before making decisions about how to go back to the Moon.

Instead of condemning NASA altogether, we need to find ways to carve off pieces of the proposed program where we can engage the engines of free enterprise. For example, there is no chance that NASA (or any government agency) can run an efficient ice mine on the Moon. The NASA lunar program should provide a market for the product, but not control its production.

Transportation for a permanent lunar base breaks down into three phases: (1) getting people and cargo off Earth; (2) moving them to the vicinity of the Moon; and (3) landing on the Moon. The vehicles needed for these three phases are quite different, so the architecture is likely to involve transfers from one vehicle to another at a space station in LEO and at another space station near the Moon (e.g., at L1). I would very much like to see as many of these legs as possible flown by a privately-owned spaceline. We need two new vehicles for launch to LEO (for people and heavy cargo). Can we use this program to get a private launch service running? In the process, can we make launch cheap enough (<$500/lb) so that the SPS becomes feasible? Can private enterprise develop a deep-space vehicle (no landing capability) to ferry people and cargo between the LEO and L1 stations? How about the lunar landing shuttle, operating between L1 and the surface?

We urgently need two things: first, an input to the Aldridge Commission to make sure that it recommends using the private sector wherever possible; and, second, a feasibility study to lay out an architecture based on private enterprise and to create nominal business plans to demonstrate the profitable operations are possible while saving the taxpayers' money.

Phil Chapman

I agree on all counts here, but I am not sure that anyone is listening. As you have pointed out, NASA has spent enough since Apollo to take us halfway to Alpha Centauri; but the money went to employment stability for the standing army, not for accomplishing any goals.


On the Iraqi Blogger "Riverbend"

Jerry, Riverbend has been seen as anti-american since she started blogging. I don't remember her speaking of a programming job. I would say that she is trying to spread FUD. I may be off base , but I don't think so. I didn't realize that Byte was still in existence, it's good to hear. Mike H. Spokane,WA

-- This is only a .signature, please ignore it.


On Doing Business In Iraq

Subject: Building Infrastructure in Iraq

Dear Jerry,

My brother, Dan, is in Iraq working for an outfit that is rebuilding the power grid. He sent this to me today, something that he wrote to explain to his kids what he's doing in Iraq:

Sheikhs or, How to Do Business in Iraq

Many in Iraq have clamored for electricity, and many others have worked to hinder its restoration. Insurgents? No, bandits. There is a profitable black market trade in copper across the border in Iran. The "Restore Iraqi Electricity" contract calls for rebuilding damaged high tension power lines, with their attendant tower pylons. You've seen these things all over the States, metal truss structures with huge insulators and heavy cables draped from one tower to the next. In Iraq, between Basra and Baghdad, there are 732 of them, running nearly 300 miles, spaced every 500 meters. They carry four hundred thousand volt/amps of current. A few had been damaged by neglect- rust and high winds- but almost none were hurt by U.S. bombs or tanks. By the time reconstruction efforts were fully under weigh, over 400 of them were down. At night, resourceful Iraqis would climb a tower and tie a rope to the top. They would attach it to a pickup truck, unbolt two of the tower legs ! from the concrete caissons in the ground, and pull the tower down. Swarming over the downed cables, as thick as a man's arm, they would cut them into four foot chunks, load up their trucks, and haul them across the border, a mere 20 miles away. There they are put into brick kilns to burn off the plastic insulation and melt the copper, then cool it into solid blocks for sale. Five hundred meters of cable can bring $300 to $500, a fine wage for a night's work in Iraq.

So what's the solution? The Army is too busy fighting ex-Baathists, radical Islamists and foreign mercenaries to do more than cursory patrols of the pylons. The private security firm hired to provide protection for our construction managers came up with an ingenious plan. Pay the sheikhs. The sheikhs are local clan and tribal leaders, whose suzerainty covers a few square miles, and a few hundred family and village people. They own cars. They wear decent clothes. They smile and shake hands with visitors, scrupulous in their courtesy. And you had better not cross them. They do like money, too. Each sheikh is tasked with guarding the towers in his jurisdiction. His guards (2 per tower- one day shift, one night) get paid $60 a month in wages (that's for 360 hours of work, for the mathematically disinclined), plus a $50 per month food allowance. The sheikh gets $100 per guard per month, and he gets a $500 bonus at the end of construction for keeping the towers and cab! les undamaged. The guards are provided with uniforms and AK-47s with 30 rounds of ammunition, free of charge.

The sheikhs are very attentive to their rights and sovereignty. Their guys may have been the very ones who went to the NEIGHBORING sheikh's property to steal copper cables, but will defend with bullets their own area. So let the sheikhs defend towers on their own land, and pay them a bonus to keep them up for the duration. They are quite dependable in this, and see no inconsistency in their roles. Stealing from competing tribes is an ancient and honorable Middle-Eastern custom, dating back to long before Muhammad. Loyalty to sheikh is higher than loyalty to country. The cables will get strung without further plundering.

Hmmm, you say, 400 towers times 2 guards plus sheikh's cut plus bonus works out to what in 3 months? $572,000. A drop in the bucket compared with the overall cost of reconstruction. We can look at it as an investment.

Now, who takes care of all this when the rich American contractors leave the country? Why, the Iraqi Electricity Ministry, of course. Oops, weren't those the same fellows who were caught bringing down towers one night, along with some local police? Well, perhaps they just had a few bad eggs. Hmmm again. Please do understand, fair reader, that our government (NOT the contractors) provided 150 Nissan 4 wheel drive pickup trucks to this same Ministry. In 3 week's time, all 150 had disappeared. That's right, lost, stolen, "reallocated," whatever. Gone. That's over $3,000,000 worth of rolling stock, gone for good. So maybe $572,000 doesn't seem like such a bad deal after all. At least we get something for it. With whom would YOU rather do business?


Steve Erbach Neenah, WI

Why am I in no way astonished? Sheiks and clans: the key to anything in Iraq.



I read your post about Zicam. Very Prophetic for such an old post. Have you heard? Zicam is being sued for causing someone to lose their sense of smell and taste. Others are about to. Word has it that a professional chef had it happen to them. Apparently, it's the high dose of ionized zinc that does it. Scientists and researchers have been using ionized zinc for decades to induce loss of smell in animals. Uh oh! Sounds like the makers of Zicam are in a bit of hot water. Also sounds like it is not a homeopathic remedy after all. Here's your original post:

Sunday, January 7, 2000 Column is due. I am plugging away.

A fascinating exchange: as a result of my casual remark that Zicam, which may work, is labelled "homeopathic" although it certainly is not -- see View 124 -- I received mail from one of the investors in GUM. He signs himself an MD and says:

I am investor in Zicam through investing in Gum Tech International (Nasdaq:GUMM). The homeopathy "issue" is discussed on in the "Q&;A" section where it is stated exactly how much zinc is in Zicam. People who shortsell GUMM stock have used the "homepathy" argument to badmouth the company.

I pointed out that (1) the label says Zicam is homeopathic, and (2) it most certainly is not, since the theory of homeopathic medicine is that you administer a substance that will cause the symptoms of your disease, but you do so in doses so dilute as to be meaningless. There are many variants on this and on the amount of dilution, but the essence, administer a drug that will produce the symptoms of the disease, is present in all of them; it is the very heart of homeopathic medicine (as opposed to "allopathic" medicine).

This produced more frantic mail including the statement that "The FDA makes the designation as to what is labelled as "homeopathic" and they do not care about the traditional definiton. It is simply a labelling definition."

Now frankly I find that hard to believe. Under what authority does the FDA require someone to label a product in a manner utterly false in all ways? Whatever Zicam, which delivers small but finite doses of zinc to the nasal passages, can be called, "homeopathic" is certainly NOT a valid claim, since it doesn't attempt to produce the symptoms of a cold, and doesn't have such extreme dilution as to make chemical effects impossible Whether or not Zicam is effective, it ain't homeopathic. So why is a product labelled homeopathic, then excoriated for being homeopathic, so that its investors are concerned that people are selling the stock short and spreading the rumor that it is homeopathic? Of course right on the label it SAYS it is homeopathic, which makes it just a little harder to deny. Or does it?

Or is this an attempt to get the people who believe in homeopathic medicine to buy it? There are apparently a sizable number of people to whom "homeopathic" is not a pejorative term (and in some drug stores and many health food stores there is a fairly sizable section of homeopathic remedies -- some of which, if you read he labels, are horrifying until you realize just how incredibly dilute this stuff usually is). I don't know what is going on here, and I don't really care, but it is odd. Incidentally, Dr. --- asked that his correspondence not be made public "after examining my web site" making me wonder what the daylight got him over here reading what I had said and sending me email without thinking that might get his letters published. I mean, I couldn't make it more clear. But I have withheld most of it and his name.

I don't see what is happening. Is there some deep game of stock manipulation going on? My wife thinks the Zicam helped. I don't, but I don't think it did any harm either, anmd how can you tell? It's not cheap, and I am not sure I will try the experiment again, but I might, depending on how I feel the next time I think I am coming down with a cold. After all, my last one hung on so long I missed some conventions, missed writing assignments, and was contemplating snake oil when it abruptly went away..

Happened to see Zicam for sale in Long's this morning while looking for something else. It still says "homeopathic" and it still cannot be that whatever else is is or is not. Homeopathic remedies by definition are dilute doses of stuff that will cause the symptoms of the disease it is supposed to cure. This don't do that.


A Visual Thesaurus

Subject: Visual Thesaurus

Dear Jerry,

For word lovers and those who appreciate well-done Java programs: 

Search for a word, then drag your mouse in the popup window. Hover the mouse over one of the dots. Click on a synonym. Very nice way to browse words.


Steve Erbach Neenah, WI

Neat! I have put it into my bookmarks.


Dear Jerry; Re: James M. Reynolds' e-mail today. Needless to say, I never said that it was luddite to suggest that NASA could not handle the job of returning to the Moon. I simply did not address that particular issue. The luddites to whom I referred would oppose public funding for this venture regardless of how it was managed. Few, if any, based their arguments on doubts about NASA's ability to do it, though some generalized this to "government." It seems to me, in fact, that space bashers often have a perverse faith in NASA's competence; for example when they envision NASA strip-mining whole planets down to the core or turning asteroids into country clubs. As Simon Woodworth so ably pointed out in his e-mail, the space-basher argument normally hinges on the fallacy of a false dilemna: EITHER we feed the starving people of wherever, OR we go to the Moon.

In fact, I largely agree with James M.'s assessment: NASA either can't do it or they will take so long and spend so much that the program becomes a liability. A while back, someone posted an editorial complaining that "Americans spend more on pizza than on space" (actually that pizza sales exceed the NASA budget, not the same thing at all). One wag responded, "That's because if you give a pizza company twenty dollars, you get pizza. If you give NASA twenty billion dollars, you get nothing."

I also agree with some of your alternate suggestions for a government program. We both know, however, that luddites and space-bashers would go absolutely ape-shit at the very idea of military management. Too bad, because this kind of development involves serious national security considerations. The real objective, as you point out, is to improve our technology and orbital capability. Today, we dominate space in the sense of military utility but that dominance often rests on technologies that stoop with the burden of age, especially in launch systems.

I like the idea of a publicly funded "Super X-Prize," but getting pork-obsessed Congress-critters to go along with it would be an enormous challenge. I don't think it's impossible that they might be persuaded, however. If the privateers fall flat on their faces, the prize will go unpaid and we can go ahead with a conventional government program. One of the many complications would be finding ways to keep government bureaucrats and turf-warriors from discreetly sabotaging efforts to claim the prize.

If the prize fails, we haven't lost anything but time. At our age, that is an important consideration, but it may well be worth the risk. The Moon-prize would create a gold rush atmosphere in development and provide the kind of efficiency, daring, and innovation that have been so sorely lacking in NASA's efforts. I can see the Barbara Mikulskis of the world responding to such a prize, "pirates *spit* mercenaries,*gasp* free-for-all, *sputter* no oversight, bwah bwah!" Wouldn't it be wonderful.

Thanks again, Jimmy Reynolds


On the Mac and object destruction (see view)

Subject: Dissappearing icons from dock mac Buffy willow

If you remove a document from the the dock and it blows away in a puff of smoke it was a shortcut or a bookmark. Not the document itself. The OsX demons have hidden it in the douments folder, but which documents folder???

 Tom Weaver

As I suspected.


Take the advice I have given before: Buy David Pogue's Book "Mac OSX: The Missing Manual" (be sure to get the Panther edition) and read it. This comment

"And I will show you terror in a handful of dust. After reading this I am afraid to do any serious work on the Mac. Surely this doesn't really happen?"

Shows that you haven't really learned much about the Mac, or how OS X works.

Bruce Tognazzini (good odds that I spelled that wrong) just doesn't like the way the dock works. What he is referring to is that when you drag a document icon onto the dock, the dock creats an icon that is an alias/pointer/link to the original document. When you drag that icon (remember it is only a pointer) off the dock, the pointer/icon "vanishes in a puff of smoke". Right. It's a pointer, not the original. Bruce considers this a mortal sin in interface design. I don't think it is such a big deal; learn it once then get on with life. I've seen much worse (click the "Start" menu to shutdown Windows is one good example).

Macs never destroy data files without asking. Try it on some dummy documents in any program you like and see. Bruce just hankers for the old days of OS9. I don't; the current uptime on my BDS Unix based operating system is 20 days. The remarkable thing about that is that it isn't at all remarkable, it is routine with OS X! But Bruce can't get over the fact that some things don't work the way HE says they should.

Read David's book. Much clarity will follow.

Chuck Bouldin

Let's see. The message here is (1) Macs are really really intuitive and easy to use, and (2) I should buy a book called "The Missing Manual" which is just out and go read it, so that I will understand that when the Mac vaporizes my file it really hasn't done that. Also, that pretending to have destroyed your file is not serious compared to having to to to the START menu to shut the machine down, that being far less intuitive than going to the Apple symbol on the Menu bar.

And it's all my fault, for not having learned about about how it all works.

But Macs are very intuitive and easy to use, unless you're a damned fool idiot like me?

Actually, I was capable of inferring that what was probably destroyed was a pointer, or shortcut, and that the document itself didn't get zapped. Whether or not Aunt Minnie would understand that isn't so clear.

But thank you for confirming my suspicion, that the Mac doesn't really destroy documents when you drag them off the Dock. They may be hard to find, but they are still there. I was pretty sure of that, although that anti-dock article doesn't make it entirely clear.

There are a number of complex programs that work on faith: that is, if you have faith that the program really can do what you want, and you keep on searching, eventually you will discover the way to do it. Once you know how to do it, it will seem simple, so much so that when someone asks you about it, you may forget just how hard you had to work to find out how it was done, and be tempted to say "it's obvious" and dismiss the questioner as lazy or stupid or both.


Dear Doctor Pournelle,

I am not an American citizen but I have been following your discussions of US and coalition activities in Iraq. It seems that a lot of your views were shared by pre-invasion planners among the Uniformed military and State Department planners. It is a real tragedy that those plans seem to have been ignored by the Defense Department with the observed results of the last nine months.

I found some interesting documents about the effects of intelligent people focusing on the political machinations within the administration rather than the reality on the ground.  is a US Army War College analysis of potential problems in Iraq

I'm not sure of the status of "The Atlantic" but these two articles by James Fallows (one published before the invasion, one published recently) seem to give a good account of the effects of turf wars in the Administration on the situation of the civilians and troops in Iraq.  discusses the problems of occupying Iraq in 2002 _ _investigates why the plans where abandoned and the impact of that change

I have seen opinions that the military are very angry with the Democrats in the USA. I suspect that the US military officer corps, who seem to be very well read, will not forget that they were stuck into a meat grinder to make an ideological point for a neo-conservative clique within a Republican administration. You may well soon be faced with a very competent bunch of warriors who say "a plague on both your houses". I hope the tradition of the military in a democracy holds up.


Tom Ayerst

If we find that we have left our bones to bleach in these desert lands for nothing, beware the fury of the legions. From a Centurion in North Africa, not long before Septimius Severus brought his Legions from Africa and "they had discovered the dread secret, that emperors could be made in places other than Rome."

But nothing of that sort will ever happen again.







CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday, January 16, 2004

Talin on the new Mac:

Jerry, I have the same laptop you have, I've been perfectly happy with it although I'm not trying to do the same things with it that you are. I bought it primarily because I wanted to get back into music composition and I wanted to get rid of all my MIDI hardware and replace it with software emulation. I needed something lightweight and powerful so that I could create my tunes while sitting in a coffee shop, and still get all the sound quality of a production studio. Also, since I am one of those "unix gurus", I wanted a laptop that ran Unix and I didn't want to have to deal with the obtuseness of Linux. Yes, there's a lot I like about Linux, but I realized that I just didn't want to be a sysadmin. It was too much work.

I think that everyone has the wrong idea about Macs. It used to be that Macintoshes were supposed to be the computer "for the rest of us", i.e. the computer for the non-computer-savvy. But people don't buy computers based on how simple and easy they are, they want all of the latest bells and whistles (even if they can't use them) in the sexiest packaging. So I don't expect the current Mac to be as "intuitive" as the original machine. What I expect it to be is *relatively* intuitive and easy to use - and vastly more powerful.

IMHO the current line of Macs are in fact the ideal machine for the hacker elite and/or power user. They are sexy gadgets with a powerful operating system that can be customized ad infinitum. They are vastly easier to use and administrate than most Unix machines, yet they still have all that Unix power under the hood. They require very little in the way of babysitting once you get them to do what you want them to do. And, to a hacker type, they are much more transparent in operation than a Windows machine. If I install an application, I can easily discover every file, every modification to my system that was made during the installation process. In Windows, I am faced with an opaque, unintelligable registry and a c:\windows directory filled with mysterious files.

Nope, they aren't the computer for the rest of us. And you know what? The "rest of us" doesn't really want that kind of computer. --

-- Talin (

That makes a very great deal of sense, and in fact it's enlightening. Thanks.

But there is another view:

Dr. Pournelle;

Can we start a club? Too Damned Dumb To Use A Mac? I'd buy a shirt...

I once joined a company where I was the "PeeCee Expert" (they spelled it like that on the job description). I had three PCs (and a fourth running a UNIX variant) - the other 150 machines in the company were Macs.

My experience (90% of which is prior to OSX) is that Macs ARE intuitive - provided you forget EVERYTHING about computers you think you know. Once that's done, Macs are easy - unless you want to do something difficult (for example, mix Windows and Mac computers on the same network).

The painfully stupid portion of the exercise - Apple, unlike Microsoft, insists "well, any moron could do it" - and it probably could be done by a moron. Sadly, I don't often fall into such a category (unless you ask my wife and use the key word "housework"). Apple figures "well, you'll figure it out" and offers no training, no information, nada.

So we fall back on third party offerings/products. And sadly, despite the rather quality construction exhibited by the Macs in general (in three years, I uncrated close to 100 machines, and only one was dead on box opening - and it made it painfully clear by making a car crash sound on startup, rather than the nice "bong" noise that normally announces a functional startup), the third-party offerings are all over the map. One vendor, when asked about some obscure networking issues I wanted to explore (I think it was sharing hubs with Macs and PCs - the Macs would fail to see the network using HP's 10/100 hubs or switches, they only wanted 10 Mbit - nice work, that) said "we can probably come up with something for you." Gee, I'm so very inclined to spend the $2400 for a week's training on "probably come up with something". Third party books were worse.

The most painful part - in 1997, fully 1/3 of those Macintoshes I was responsible for had Orange PC cards in them. That would be a $2000 computer with a $1500 card so it could run Windows. Heck, at the time I could have spent that $3500 on a darned fast dual PII computer with lots of fast SCSI hard drive space. Instead, I got a brain-damaged box with two CPUs that didn't talk to one another, perhaps 2-4 Gig of hard disk (SCSI, at least), and it did run Windows - 3.1.

Why were they running Windows 3.1? So they could run a Windows terminal emulation program. Why a windows terminal emulation program? Well, there wasn't one on the Mac that would send the proper escape-key sequences. Why were we running a terminal emulation program? Remember that UNIX box? It's the accounting software.

That's right. $3500 in hardware, another $495 in software (per desktop - no one had even bothered to ask about a quantity discount or site license), and we were using all of that to avoid buying a $125 (new) dumb terminal and running wires to each desktop. Clearly, I'm too dumb to be using Macs - that solution made no sense to me.

I made inroads with PCs, and replaced that third with REAL PCs (Pentium IIs and IIIs), for about $1100 per desktop, and when I left, they were eventually replaced - with $2400 computers that had half the disk space and not quite half the speed.

I'm too stupid for a Mac... Hey, I can hear the song already!

--- John Dominik

Well, I didn't have that experience. I did have an early 128K Mac that I was told would be all we would get: 128 K was enough. No fan in it, so I had to buy a third party power conditioner with a fan that sat on top and drew air through the Mac because it would overheat otherwise. I called it a brilliant operating system on a toy computer. Apple was not pleased, and ceased communicating with me. An Apple technician came down here on his own time to set me up with an upgrade to the Fat Mac (he was one of those whose name was engraved in the case) because he wanted me to see how good the machine had become.

And by fits and starts over the years, I was back on the Apple program and off it and on it. We wrote Roberta's reading program for the Mac because at that time most schools had Macs and Apple had far and away the best speech synthesis software. That still works. For the PC version she recorded about 2100 phrases and words and the program calls her voice file; for the Mac version we just hand that phrase to the speech synthesizer and it works quite well.

Much of what Mac does is innovative. Splendid, even. But sometimes the attitude of Apple toward their customers is astonishing, as for example my experience with the Glendale Galleria Apple Store. Good grief!

And that is my problem: as Talin says, it's powerful, and you can do many things; but there is a learning curve. Many I respect have stayed with Apple and Mac and learned to live with Apple's attitudes, and don't regret it.


Subject: Something interesting from "Ansible 198"


Tell me this isn't a *very* useful word:

' ' from _An Etymological Dictionary of the Norn Language of Shetland_. "Bisnaak" is a verb meaning to talk a lot about something without ever doing anything about it, as in the phrase "to bisnaak aboot a t'ing".' '

I wonder how much bisnaak-ing there will be about the moon base. . .



It's a wonderful word!

Science Fiction writers like Bush Plan

Morning, Jerry,

I wish they'd interviewed you for this article - especially the idea of prizes, and of getting NASA out of the way.,1284,61932,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_2 


Doug Lhotka

 "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

But they didn't. Ah, well.

Dr. Pournelle:

I may have pointed this out before.

The idea of prizes would work. It would save money in the long run, attract the most plausible and inexpensive concepts, and get us into space in short order and in a big way. I totally agree with you on the idea.

And the government will never, ever, do anything of the sort.

It would take maybe 40 people and a small office complex to manage the prize program for the government. A smart person could do it with three people and a load of consultants. A prize program would not employ 20,000 people. It would not justify the many NASA facilities and sites. It would not guarantee jobs and happy voters in hundreds of different congressional districts.

No government bureaucracy, much less NASA, will ever agree to anything that destroys that bureaucracy, even if doing so would help accomplish the very purpose the bureaucracy was created for. Unfortunately, this applies to a LOT of government programs.

Tom Brosz

Well -- yes. Are you astonished? The purpose of government is to hire and pay government workers, and to collect the money to do that. Having done that it may do other things.

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

After hearing the latest news about the President's new push on the Space Program, I went upstairs, rummaged in a few boxes, and pulled out my old copies of "A Step Further Out". and "Endless Frontiers". Even today, they are quite informative. The only thing that I take major exception with is "The sky is falling" mentality that prevailed then about the future wellbeing of earth. I guess that Julian Simon wasn't being studied back then.

I've just cruised for a while here on you site, and one thing eludes me. And that is the concept of a Space Elevator. It seems to me that with developing technology, with carbon nanotubes, is making the concept more appealing each time I turn around.

But what I would like to know is what you think about it. If it is feasable, then the rewards are HUGE, to say the least. The very thought that we could launch mass to any place in the solar system makes it a dream worth shooting for. If you have anything for me, I would love to read it. Also, if you haven't said anything about Space Elevators, I'd love for you to write an essay on it.

Sincerely Yours,

John Kelly, Cary NC

I may be insufficiently imaginative, but I think we need cheaper and more reliable access to space with rockets before we undertake something as large and complex as a Space Elevator. Eventually I make no doubt we'll have them; but I think it will be a while.

And here is conventional wisdom: 

History Offers Reasons to Be Cautious on Bush's Space Plan By WILLIAM J. BROAD

Published: January 15, 2004

he history of bold visions for human spaceflight is littered with more failures, delays and cost overruns than clear successes. The fates have been particularly unkind to Republican presidents, who twice made their ambitious ventures in election years.

It is a legacy that President Bush, who unveiled a plan yesterday to put Americans on the Moon, Mars "and beyond," hopes to overcome. The broad goals are the same as those his father proposed as president in 1989, but the new plan is more hedged, giving no firm date for the Mars venture and deferring the need for big spending increases until after what would be Mr. Bush's second term. In part, it seeks to make vagueness a virtue, which is giving some space experts the jitters.


"People are happy and worried at the same time," said Lawrence H. Kuznetz, a scientist at Baylor College of Medicine who conducts research for NASA. The effort to return to the Moon, instead of going straight to Mars, he added, could become "a bottomless pit of misdirected targets" and "suck up NASA's budget faster than a black hole sucks up light."

The troubles with grand White House plans began in January 1972 when President Richard M. Nixon proposed that the nation embark on a new kind of spaceship, reusable and known as the shuttle. "It will take the astronomical costs out of astronautics," he said, promising that the vehicle would be highly reliable and its expense perhaps one-tenth that of expendable rockets. Instead, the shuttles turned out to be roughly 10 times as costly and prone to catastrophic failure.

You will note that NASA is beginning to say "Let's don't do the thing we can do, let's do something far more difficult that will take a lot longer." And that will be that.

Shuttle was NASA's plan, not Nixon's, and it was designed to employ the standing army left over from Apollo. It did that very well. It takes 20,000 and more people to fly Shuttle whether the fleet is 3 shuttles or 5 or one (or none at all). Every one of those people is needed, and thus Shuttle accomplishes its goal whether it flies 10 missions a year, or 3, or one, or none at all.

Nixon said what NASA told him to say about costs. NASA had just got us to the Moon (they said). How could they be wrong about future costs?


The Scam Scene

I sent a message to subscribers yesterday warning of clever new scams. It said, in part:

Greetings to new and old subscribers, and thanks for the subscriptions. They keep this place open.

 From time to time I send warnings about viruses and other scams. Most of you don’t need those warnings, but as Samuel Johnson observed, people seldom need educating, but they sometimes need reminding.

 The latest scams are extremely clever. They inform you that your ebay account has been closed due to some questionable activity, and invite you to reinstate your account by filling in a form and sending it through a secure link to ebay. Or it’s Visa. Or Paypals. Or American Express. Or Amazon. Or Earthlink or Yahoo or any of a dozen other places.

 The one thing all these have in common is that they are fakes, scams, and they mean you no good; and they request information that you shouldn’t be giving out. Their links may look like they lead to the outfit they claim to be. Their logos and forms will look exactly like those of the places they claim to be. They may even provide links to the places they claim to be, or at least a link so convincing that it would take you considerable time to realize it’s faked. But in all these cases they have ways of sucking the information off to their own collection files, and you will probably regret having responded.

 A collection of these fake e-mails can be seen at

 The lesson is clear, and you know it as well as I do. Don’t respond to this stuff. If you really think you have a problem with an account on a credit card or a bank card or ebay or anywhere else, get the phone number from an independent source – not from the scammer! – and telephone. Don’t send important information off into the Internet.

 You knew that. Now go remind someone else who didn’t remember it.

 And, as always, don’t open unexpected mail attachments. The virus scene has been quiet for the past few weeks. It can explode again. But meanwhile there are plenty of mail attachments and phony OS patches floating about out there, and they are still as dangerous as ever.

 Happy New Year.


I have some replies and more information:

Hi Jerry,

What you're talking about has entered the language as "phishing". That term is worth a google search.

The term's origination is mentioned here: 

A couple of the top links from the google search are here: 

Robert Hickey


-- Original Message ----- From: <> Sent: Tuesday, January 13, 2004 11:03 PM Subject: You use illegal File Sharing ...

> Ladies and Gentlemen, > Downloading of Movies, MP3s and Software is illegal and punishable by law. > > We hereby inform you that your computer was scanned under the IP . The > contents of your computer were confiscated as an evidence, and you will be indicated. > In the next days, you'll get the charge in writing. > In the Reference code: #36735, are all files, that we found on your computer. > > The sender address of this mail was masked, to protect us against mail bombs. > > > - You get more detailed information by the Federal Bureau of Investigation -FBI- > - Department for "Illegal Internet Downloads", Room 7350 > - 935 Pennsylvania Avenue > - Washington, DC 20535, USA > - (202) 324-3000

Some of the scams are ever more ingenious.


The lesson is: Be careful!!!







This week:


read book now


Saturday, January 17, 2004
From: Stephen M. St. Onge
Date: January 17, 2004 
 subject: Unbelievable!
Dear Jerry:
        Four people have been convicted of violations of criminal conspiracy, money laundering, smuggling, and violations of the Lacey Act.  That last is a law that forbids the importation of “fish or wildlife taken … in violation of any foreign law,”  and is the gravamen of the charge.  The foreign law in question is that of Honduras -- which denies that their law was violated in any way.
        Three defendents are out on appeal, the fourth is spending his fourth year in the slammer.
        Btw, before anyone starts shouting about the Patriot Act, this all started in 1999.  So it's a genuine example of bipartisan imbecility and injustice.  Details at, the November 2003 case study.

You are astonished?


Jerry -

I just found this on a blog. I don't if it's true or this lefty site made it up; I can't find anything in the media. Can someone confirm? 

The End Of An Era

No more servicing missions to Hubble, as per the directive of the current head of NASA, Sean O'Keefe.

Hubble has six guidance gyros. But they fail at fairly regular and now predictable rates. Nearly every servicing mission to Hubble has replaced gyros as part of the work done. It needs three to do most of the science it now does, although there is a scheme in the works to do a greatly attenuated kind of science with two. We currently have four working gyros. Expectations were that we would almost certainly be down to two by the time the next servicing mission occurred, and possibly even down to one. So, figure, at around the time of what would have been the next servicing mission, Hubble will probably be no more, or soon, very soon, to expire.

See my commentary in view.


On Iraq and copper cable:

Copper is the best commonly available conductive material in terms of conductivity per unit of cross-sectional area, but not per unit cost or weight. The standard material for power cables between towers isn't copper but a sort of candle structure, with a thick aluminium cladding carried by a structural steel cable core. So, why is Iraq using copper at all? PML.


I.e., a Goods and Services Tax (or almost any other broad based production tax), with a Negative Payroll Tax, promotes employment.

See and the other items on that page for some reasons why.


Subject: Sharia law to reign in Iraq?

I can only hope this is not true. 

Stan Field

BAGHDAD, Jan. 15 -- For the past four decades, Iraqi women have enjoyed some of the most modern legal protections in the Muslim world, under a civil code that prohibits marriage below the age of 18, arbitrary divorce and male favoritism in child custody and property inheritance disputes.

Saddam Hussein's dictatorship did not touch those rights. But the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council has voted to wipe them out, ordering in late December that family laws shall be "canceled" and such issues placed under the jurisdiction of strict Islamic legal doctrine known as sharia.


Is it our business? But Iraq didn't have that under Saddam. So it goes.


Subject: Airport Security

Dr. Pournelle-

Given all the discussion regarding "Airport Security" lately, the following link seems appropriate. 

Rob Madison

Dilbert is a documentary.

And my favorite psychiatrist says:


In your mailing to subscribers you said, “The prospects for retirement recede like dreams, but that’s as well because I don’t feel particularly old, and I have no idea what I would do if I didn’t work too hard.”

Quite so. In fact, I think I know exactly what you would do if you “retired”. You’d be doing just what you’re doing now.

As for me, I expect I’ll go as Art Fleiss did. Art was a psychiatrist in Syracuse who kept up with the literature and new practices. He died a few years ago, still working, at 86. Why quit when you’re having fun?


Indeed. I suppose there is a sense in which I am retired and have been for a long time. But I seem to work harder than ever. As I get older I don't seem to get less smart. I may be slower...





CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, January 18, 2004

One Clever Spam

In an apparent attempt to bypass spam filters, I got a spam that contained an image and a link for artificial pheremones, and a chunk of text to make it look like a legitimate email.

If all spam contained text like this I wouldn't object to it at all. I found it rather amusing in a sort of Dadaist way...


But tell me, said Dorothy, how did such a brave Champion happen to let the bears eat him? And if he was invis'ble, and the bears invis'ble, who knows that they really ate him up? The Champion had killed eleven bears in his time, returned the unseen man; and we know this is true because when any creature is dead the invisible charm of the dama-fruit ceases to be active, and the slain one can be plainly seen by all eyes

When the Champion killed a bear everyone could see it; and when the bears killed the Champion we all saw several pieces of him scattered about, which of course disappeared again when the bears devoured them The gas was lighted by an electric fob; a chime, connected with an erratic clock in the boy's room, woke the servants at all hours of the night and caused the cook to give warning; a bell rang whenever the postman dropped a letter into the box; there were bells, bells, bells everywhere, ringing at the right time, the wrong time and all the time They now bade farewell to the kind but unseen people of the cottage, and after the man had called their attention to a high, pyramid-shaped mountain on the opposite side of the Valley, and told them how to travel in order to reach it, they again started upon their journey And there were telephones in the different rooms, too, through which Rob could call up the different members of the family just when they did not wish to be disturbed

see below


This is probably the last on this subject. Ivan Petrofsky Skovar...


The version of the poem I have is from one of your "There Will Be War" collections from the 80's. Wonderful collection BTW, it was my first exposure to Kipling and Byron among others. My three favorite poems come from it; McDonough's Song, Ivan Petrofsky Skovar and Horatius at the Gate. In fact this comes directly from my random .sig file.

The sons of the Prophet are hardy and bold, And quite unaccustomed to fear; But of all the reckless of life and limb, Was Abdullah Bulbul Amir.

When they wanted a man to encourage the van, Or harass the foe from the rear, Or to storm a redoudt, they were sure to call out, For Abdullah Bulbul Amir.

There are heroes in plenty, and well known to fame, In the legions that fight for the Czar; But none of such fame, as the man by the name, Of Ivan Petrofsky Skovar.

He could imitate Irving, play euchre or pool, And perform on the Spanish guitar; In fact quite the cream of the Muscovite team, Was Ivan Petrofsky Skovar.

One day this bold Muscovite shouldered his gun, put on his most cynical sneer, And was walking downtown when he chanced to run down, Abdullah Bulbul Amir.

Quoth the Bulbul, ³My friend, is existence so dull, ³That your anxious to end your career? ³For infidel know, you have tread on the toe, ³Of Abdullah Bulbul Amir.

³So take your last look at the sea, sky, and brook, ³Make your last report on the war. ³For I mean to imply, that you¹re going to die, ³Ivan Petrofsky Skovar.

So this stalwart he took his trusty chibouk, and shouting ³Allah Akbar!² With murder intent he most savagely went For Ivan Petrofsky Skovar.

Just as the knife was ending the life, In fact he had shouted ³Huzzah!² He found himself struck by that noted Cossack, Ivan Petrofsky Skovar.

The Sultan rose up, the disturbance to quell, Likewise give the victor a cheer, He arrived just in time for a farewell sublime, with Abdullah Bulbul Amir.

A long-sounding splash from the Danube was heard, Resounding o¹er meadows afar; It came from the sack fitting close to the back, Of Ivan Petrofsky Skovar.

There¹s a grave by the wave where the Danube doth roll, And on it in characters queer, Are ³Stranger remember to pray for the soul, Of Abdullah Bulbul Amir.²

A Muscovite maiden her vigil doth keep, By the light of the pale northern star, And the name she repeats every night in her sleep, Is Ivan Petrofsky Skovar. -

- Yes, but you're taking the universe out of context.


Dear Dr. Pournelle

I can appreciate the importance, culturally as well as technologically, of getting humankind's beyond Earth orbit capability back. The concept of a prize also seems a good way of causing the hardware and management systems needed to be built in the most cost effective and efficient way possible.

However, I hope that any such prizes are not designed to be won by only US companies or organisations, that the race is open to any organisation that can gather the money and will to reach the Moon.

By doing so the US will get the commercial competition that will drive down costs, and the wider world will know that the US wants partners, and not client states. Instead of just Boeing and Lockheed running for the ball you would have BAE SYSTEMS, EADS and other, non-European players enter the game, spurring each other on.

However, if the US either goes for a NASA or Services solution, or a closed race for US companies only, I sincerely hope that ESA focuses on giving you some competition. America has earned its economic and military dominance of the world, but having one superpower strikes me as a stifling thing. Better Great Powers in economic competition for the resources and, to use an old-fashioned term, glory of space exploration, rather than the US gaining a dominance that might stifle innovation and exploration, and give you a military dominance that even a unified Europe of the future could not match, because you have control of the ultimate high ground.

The quality of your writing means a few of us outside the States remember Thor to well, I'd rather the celestial hammers were in more than one pair of hands.


Ian Brogan


Sorry: I am not at all sure I understand why the American taxpayers ought to pay for someone else to build and control a moon base. And I doubt any other country would, but surely the European Union could afford to offer a prize on its own? Which would be a great idea.


Lord of the Sims

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

"A moment's thought would have saved us from these follies. But thought is a painful process, and a moment is a long time."

-- A.E. Houseman


Nigerian Scam

They send a letter to ask you to put 32- 35 million dollars into your bank account. They offer you 20-30% for the transaction. I have contacted the FBI and they informed me of the scam. People need to know about this to protect themselves.

Sincere, Gary

Indeed, and I hope you did not find out the hard way. This has been known for some time, and there are other schemes just as vicious floating about out there. Most readers here know this, but it is well to remember that some are just coming to find these things out.



Baltimore-Washington Internation (BWI) airport, it turns out, is the primary hub for soldiers returning from Iraq for their 2 weeks of RR. I was recently there with my family dropping of a friend at the airport. While we were eating lunch, my wife and I were discussing whether we should go talk to any of the soldiers and offer our support and thanks for their efforts.

We were torn, because we thought they would want to know that people were behind them, but perhaps the last thing they would want just after getting off the plane from Iraq was strangers bugging them. We decided (my wife's idea to give credit where it's due) to pay the check of any soldiers by themselves in the restaraunt. There were three. One let us pay, but didn't say anything to us. One came over and thanked us. And the coolest part was that we didn't buy lunch for the third soldier. Someone else had beat us to it.

So that's my idea. If you are in an airport and you see a soldier in desert cammy, he's probably in transit to/from Iraq or Afghanistan. Buy one of them lunch.

Scott Kitterman

Hurrah for you!


On Quantum mechanics and the experiments

I believe the easiest book to find (and understand!) is Feynman's "Six Easy Pieces" from Perseus Publishing. It is an except from his Lectures On Physics. His discussion of Heisenbergs's Uncertainty Principle is in the last chapter.

Davis Jensen

That's the book. Or one of them.  Indeed.


The experiment the guy is asking about is the single photon diffraction experiment. The experimenter was Tony Rothman's father: I think the name was Milton Rothman.

It was written up in "Galaxy", if memory serves me.

The setup is simple: you take a laser, scrim the hell out of it (with trash bags, believe it or not: Rothman reported that they made PERFECT filters), and fire it into an interferometer, one photon at a time. You do various tests along the way with photomultiplier tubes and counters and AND-gates to verify that you are firing single photons through the apparatus. Now you turn off the room lights, and put a piece of Polaroid film at the interferometer target, and you proceed to bathe the film in single-photon events for some period of time.

You get a diffraction pattern. Somehow, the single photons manage to interfere with themselves, even though they DON'T "divide" at the splitter.

Diffraction is, by definition, a wave phenomenon. Particles CAN'T diffract. But single photons do.

Rothman's article included pictures of his Polaroids.

--John R. Strohm









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