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Mail 339 December 6 - 12, 2004






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Monday December 6, 2004

As usual there is weekend mail worth your attention.


Subject: Deployment.


---- Roland Dobbins

Interesting. And even the Lompoc papers quote Mr. Pike, who seems to have carved a niche for himself since his days of being anti-military.


Subject: Gunship Video Link

A US gunship (I think...) takes out some insurgents who made the mistake of bringing a rocket launcher out of their truck... ...note that they asked up the chain of command for permission to fire. ...also, note the first burst of fire never shows up in the camera, apparently because the range wasn't correct, which tells me that they are a long way off.

requires a fairly recent version of windows media player http://mail.atlanticpkg.com/gunsight.wmv 

Robbie Walker

The gunship was apparently far enough away that the arms distrvutors thought they were unobserved. I do hope this wasn't some family trying to dispose of unwanted weapons.


Subject: 83 Steps to Fire a N.Y. Teacher

Dr Pournelle, From The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A36059-2004Dec4.html 

"A teacher must take 66 bureaucratic steps over 105 days to suspend a disruptive student, the group found. And a principal must take 83 steps to fire an incompetent teacher."

Kit Case

Not astonishing, but it does explain some things, doesn't it?


Subject: Re: the term "anti-semitism"

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

One of your letter writers on Sunday, Bill Grigg asks an interesting question about the term “anti-semitism”: “How did this term become to only mean the Jews?”

From what I recall, a German professor of languages, A.L. von Schlozer, first coined the word "Semitic" in 1780 to describe some Near Eastern languages, including Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic (Ugaritic, Akkadian--that is, Babylonian and Assyrian--and some others have since been added to the list). Up to that time the word hadn’t existed and neither Jews nor Arabs had ever, before then, been referred to as "Semites," so far as I know. Jews have been called Hebrews and their language has always been called "Hebrew." Around a hundred years later, a German Jew-hater, Wilhelm Marr, was searching around for a suitable title for his anti-Jewish organization and came across the term "Semitic" languages. So he decided to name his group "The League of Anti-Semites.” This term was offered as an alternative to the older German word Judenhass, meaning Jew-hatred. The aim of the effort to rename "Jew-hatred" into Anti-Semitism, was to give "Jew-hatred" a more scientific basis, however, it was never intended to eliminate the concept of hatred towards Jews based on the Christian conspiracies and legends so popular with the general population.

During the next 50 years or so the term "anti-Semitism" became accepted as meaning “opposed to, hating, or against the Jews.” It has never meant anything else.

In recent decades some people have argued that the term “anti-Semitism” should be extended to include prejudice against Arabs, since Arabic is a Semitic language. However, this usage has not been widely adopted, since there are few instances of prejudice against both Arabs and Jews to the exclusion of other races or nationalities. In fact there are many more instances of antagonism between Jews and Arabs than of a specific bias against both groups together, so there would seem to be little need for a word to describe such a prejudice, and to redefine “anti-Semitism” would result in robbing the word of any usefulness. Keep in mind that while breaking down words by their etymology is an interesting pursuit, looking at how a word is generally used gives you a better sense of its actual meaning. After all, though butter tastes good on pancakes and flies annoy horses, neither will really explain what a butterfly is. Or maybe this analogy will work better: Canadians may live in North America, but calling them Americans might annoy them and would be confusing.

Sorry if this is overly pedantic, but it’s an occupational hazard for me (I teach Semitic languages, Bible and Christian theology and occasionally a course on the history of Anti-Semitism).


R.P. Nettelhorst

Academic VP

Quartz Hill School of Theology

www.theology.edu <http://www.theology.edu/>

Thank you. I am not sure I ever knew this; certainly I had forgotten it.


Subject: The Laws of War


I’d be interested on your thoughts on the question of the Laws of War. I have read your Falkenberg stories in The Prince, and I have also read Pratt’s volume on “The Battles that Changed History.”

I can appreciate that it may be argued that the emergence of the Laws of War in Medieval Europe was highly instrumental in the march of progress and were perhaps pivotal to the Reformation and then the Industrial Revolution. My thinking is not clear however as to whether the laws make sense in the continuing clash of Islam v others.

There is a great deal of confusion around this area and I admit that my thinking here is muddied. Guantanamo, Abu-Graib, leaked Red-Cross reports, beheading of hostages on TV, the status of the ICC, war crimes chares, and so on show that everyone else is unclear too.

I suppose my basic thesis would be that having rules of war only makes sense when there is an underlying agreement over the fundamentals of how a civilised society should be structured. I would argue that it is precisely because of this broad agreement that such rules emerged in Europe; it made sense not to destroy the foundations of society and economy even as the power struggles among the ruling factions played themselves out. Those power struggles were more about who was in charge than the fundamental structure of what they should be in charge of.

So it seems to me that the term “Fundamentalism” is of significant value here – the fundamentals of Islam and the democracies are sufficiently different as to be contradictory.

So returning to the laws of war - are they applicable at all? And if not, then why not Total War? I was against the war in Iraq for many of the same reasons as you, but I had one more: I strongly feel that where there is a clash of fundamentals at stake, war should be total. It makes symmetrical the currently much-agonised-over asymmetrical conflict. In Iraq that would have meant carpet bombing, probably using nukes, and utter annihilation of the Iraqi people. At the end of that we could simply have taken the oil, sealed the borders - by killing anything that moved within a 50-mile exclusion zone, etc. This would have certainly produced the "shock and awe" that the neocons seemed to think the Arabs should have felt at our clever blowing up of their buildings, but clearly didn't. In order to win over there we must be willing to kill them all! Surely Palestine is sufficient proof of this?

Now Total War requires a strong constitution, and if you're not prepared to kill millions of people then you should stay out of it. Which is precisely what I think should have been the case - Iraq was certainly not sufficient threat to warrant such action, they were effectively contained. If we had to go to war there should have been a formal declaration and a fight to the finish. As you have pointed out many times, complete energy independence from Middle Eastern oil would so effectively undermine their resource base that would surely induce a contractionary period for Islam rather than an expansionary one.

I look forward to your thoughts as always.

Regards, Craig Arnold

Common sense would say that one observes laws only with people whom one considers potentially lawful. Your point is well made and has been the policy of the United States for much of its history: we are a good people and if you force us to war then you will find yourself in WARRE, war to the knife, with no restrictions. In 1918 the US went to war to preserve the rights of neutrals when faced with unrestricted submarine warfare, but we declared unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan within days of Pearl Harbor.

The assumptions of the invasion of Iraq were that the Iraqi people would welcome liberation from Saddam Hussein. We were assured of this by the exiles, but moreover, it corresponds with the Jacobin theory of human nature. It isn't so much that people explicitly thought like Jacobins as that their fundamental belief system didn't lead them to challenge the idea. Worse, although there were those at State and in the CIA, as well as common sense outside observers, who thought it unlikely that the Iraqis would welcome us -- we had, after all, encouraged those who would to rise up, and watched them being killed while doing nothing to help them -- the fundamental belief system in the United States is that within every human heart there beats a desire for freedom; we had only to bring freedom on the points of our bayonets, and the problems of Iraq would be political, not matters of guerrilla warfare.

The shock and awe came in the minds of the US planners, when the Iraqi behaved as old Burkeans would have predicted rather than as the professorate in the US has taught nearly everyone. Within every human heart burn many desires, including the desire to possess his neighbor's goods and wife, in conflict with some decent impulses as well; and in the Middle East there have been very few rewards for being civilized and noble. When the rewards in a society go to those who toady and conform, is it astonishing that the society will come to have lots of toadies and conformists? And when the heroes are encouraged to rise up, and do so, and are killed out of hand because no one comes to their aid, is it astonishing that there is a shortage of heroes?

If the US is to encourage civility in Iraq it requires that we conform to rules. Those rules may not be the same ones we would employ if we found ourselves in a shooting war with Canada, where we would have an expectation of encountering people much like us; or even France vs. Germany in 1916. The Middle East is not Europe (although Europe seems to be headed the way of the Middle East, alas). But if we are to encourage the rule of law -- far more important than democracy in my estimation -- then we must act as if we are governed by laws also.

Ortega y Gasset, one of the wisest of the last Century, said that rule is not a matter of the iron hand, but of the firm seat. If we are to give rule of law a firm seat in Iraq we must act accordingly.

Of course if the goal is merely plunder, then there are other rules to be employed. I think it pretty clear that whatever sins of the neo-cons, and they are many, a simple desire for plunder is not among them. The horror of it is they really believed that we could "liberate" Iraq in a season, and while they estimated that we would take a thousand casualties, they did not think we would take them so late in the game; so once the President declared "Mission Accomplished," many thought it had been, and the casualties would cease. Some of us thought differently.

But if triumphalism after the fall of Baghdad was dead wrong, so is despair now. You CAN impose rule of law and make it stick; but it will never be easy, and some of the costs will be tragic; as when we lose troopers due to rules of engagement. If we are not prepared to pay that kind of price we have no business trying to establish rule of law.


< http://www.jewishworldreview.com >Jewish World Review Dec. 3, 2004 / 20 Kislev, 5765

Jeff Jacoby

Intellectual diversity? not on campus

The left-wing takeover of American universities is an old story. As far back as the 1930s, Irving Kristol recalled in "Memoirs of a Trotskyist," City College of New York was so radical that "if there were any Republicans at City--and there must have been some--I never met them, or even heard of their existence." Soon the virus had spread to the nation's most elite institutions. In 1951, William F. Buckley Jr. created a sensation with "G-d and Man at Yale," which documented the socialist and atheist worldview that even then prevailed in the classrooms of the Ivy League institution he had just graduated from.

Today, campus leftism is not merely prevalent. It is radical, aggressive, and deeply intolerant, as another newly-minted graduate of another prominent university--Ben Shapiro of UCLA--shows in "Brainwashed," a recent best-seller. "Under higher education's facade of objectivity," Shapiro writes, "lies a grave and overpowering bias"--a charge he backs up with example after freakish example of academics going to ideological extremes.

No surprise, then, that when researchers checked the voter registration of humanities and social-science instructors at 19 universities, they discovered a whopping political imbalance. The results, published in The American Enterprise in 2002, made it clear that for all the talk of diversity in higher education, ideological diversity in the modern college faculty is mostly nonexistent.

So, for example, at Cornell, of the 172 faculty members whose party affiliation was recorded, 166 were liberal (Democrats or Greens) and 6 were conservative (Republicans or Libertarians). At Stanford, the liberal-conservative ratio was 151-17. At San Diego State, it was 80-11. At SUNY Binghamton, 35-1. At UCLA, 141-9. At the University of Colorado-Boulder, 116-5. At the University of Texas-Austin, 94-15. Reflecting on these gross disparities, The American Enterprise's editor, Karl Zinsmeister, remarked: "Today's colleges and universities . . . do not, when it comes to political and cultural ideas, look like America."

At about the same time, a poll of Ivy League professors commissioned by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture found that more than 80 percent of those who voted in 2000 had cast their ballots for Democrat Al Gore, while just 9 percent backed Republican George W. Bush. Asked to name the greatest president of the last 40 years, 26 percent chose Bill Clinton; 4 percent said Ronald Reagan. While 64 percent said they were "liberal" or "somewhat liberal," only 6 percent described themselves as "somewhat conservative"--and none at all as "conservative."

And the evidence continues to mount. <snip>








This week:


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Tuesday, December 7

Column deadline day.

Hi, Jerry.

I wouldn't worry too much about line width - just design your site so the reader can resize the text to suit his or her preferences.

For reading print, the optimal line width is in the range of 65 characters. When I design a layout for a user's guide, I usually set a text width of about 5 inches. For longer lines, I increase the space between lines to make it easier for eye to track the line across the page.

For a web page, the reader can normally adjust the width of the line (thw window width) and the font size in the browser, unless you override this by forcing the font size to an explicit value in points or pixels. Personally, I consider this rude - I'm very nearsighted and sites that won't let me set a large font size are a pain to read - I just don't read them and I don't go back.

I have no issues with your site design. I've been visiting for years, usually daily, which is a lot more than I can say for many sites that have flashier design but less interesting content.

An RSS feed would be nice though, but I'm not sure how you'd do it without a major restructuring of your site.

Regards Keith

-- Keith Soltys

Others have suggested RSS feed, but as you say, it doesn't seem possible without more work than I have time for just now.

Dr. Pournelle,

I'm following the emerging thread of a jerrypournelle.com site redesign closely. I'm a web designer who has resisted the temptation to offer you unsolicited advice, but perhaps I can clarify Will Goss' suggestion that the site wrap at 40-character columns. You state "This one I don't understand: I can narrow the window to any width I like, at least in Explorer, and thus make the column width whatever I want it to be... Is there something here I am not comprehending?"

You're not comprehending the attention span of web surfers (not more than 10 seconds to decide if they "like" the page before moving on) and the lack of computer skills of many web surfers (many keep their browsers full-screen by default and consider the window broken if resized). As a result, today's successful web designs emphasize simplicity, even if that means eliminating options. As it turns out, offering a display choice (such as resizing the browser window) adds only confusion to a web site's operation, not convenience.

jerrypournelle.com is also unique from most other web sites in that its content is so exceptional people will hunt for it, no matter how poorly the site is organized. Outside of porn, few other sites have such compelling content. You'll hear a lot about CSS, usability, accessibility, and design as you solicit feedback for a potential site redesign, but don't forget that content is king.

I'll resist the urge to send a design rant. I like that your site works in Firefox, and hate that the best content is such a long scroll away.

-Mat Bergman www.matbergman.com

But there is the calendar at the top: just click on the day. And I have moved all the boiler plate to the bottom now.

Thanks for the kind words.

Dr. Pournelle:

As a data point regarding the Monday view from a person complaining about the 'width' of your site: I have no problem changing the width with IE, or Firefox 1.0 (or NetCaptor, which uses the IE engine but has tabs).

The pages work just fine on my HP iPaq, squeezing down so that the entire text is there without horizontal scrolling.

Some sites, even commercial ones, don't have that "squeezability" (an anti-Charmin effect?). And ABCNEWS.com doesn't even display on my iPaq; they complain about not having a compatible browser.

Regards, Rick Hellewell

I do have to be careful: some URL's are long enough to "stretch" the site if they won't wrap (they don't on some browsers), and I need to wrap them by inserting shift-return in the proper places. I'm trying to be sure to do this in future.

Subject: Canada's 'critical shortage of exotic dancers'

Dr Pournelle,

Canada's 'critical shortage of exotic dancers'

[quote] AN IMMIGRATION scheme to "fast-track" exotic dancers into Canada to make good a domestic shortage has been scrapped. [end quote]

Read on..


I suppose this must be particularly chilly work in the Canadian climate. But it's good to see how useful a well thought out immigration policy can be.

Jim Mangles


I no not normally repeat or publish spam, and I certainly do not advise your going to the web site specified here, but this one is, well, unique:

Subject: In lose beastly by cluster

of course: a computer. Come on, we don t define art or artists by the weird, notional, metaphorical intellectual property on his When the Fox approached the tree, the Dog sprang out and caught


freed up plenty of time for more enjoyable pursuits like going there are stories concerning the great Druid Stronghold which suggests that it shops will be constantly on top of the latest technology. A fear of assassination are not afraid to tell what they know. Too many have Probably the most interesting place (as well as the most dangerous) in her voice, eagerly flew up. The Owl came forth from her hollow, enhance your attribute scores permanently (unlike a fountain or a potion, whose Raise your hand if you're a co-author of the Darknet paper.

 him from a few miles in the air, but I decided against it. when I decided to do it,"says MacDougall. "It wasn't like I thought about it, been successful so far. AT&T is trying to convince me that I with food by force, resolved to do so by artifice. He returned Radio announcer: Do you really think Iranian terrorists would up MacroMind Director. You will forget about cultural symbols live near each other. The Eagle built her nest in the branches of Claire's left nipple and showed it around. Claire sure is a cutie, as I got to and are made of metal (recycled metal) or whatever. Is it food. As he passed the door of a cottage built in the forest, he But to have computers as the device of all art mediums in the scientists working on computers who have produced systems with no purpose the burden of life, as of all the trees that grow we it foreboded, when one of them said to his companion, "Let us my grandfather are uncovering significant, formerly obscure, normal part of life. Theatre is a form of virtual reality as give scientists the observational advantage without the lengthy the Fables of Planudes could not be the work of Aesop, as they new faces. I hadn't met Brian and Frang before, but it was quite obvious to obviously be the biggest influence in the educational system.

to his artistic needs. However, to participate in the cyberspace obtained from ancient authors prior to the time in which he

Comment not required


Subject: They call it a "gaffe"!!!

"Explosives Lost in Airport Gaffe—BBC News, Paris

"Plastic explosives were mistakenly loaded onto a plane at a Paris airport after security officials lost track of it during an exercise, police say. Around 150 grams (about five ounces) of explosive were slipped into the bag of a passenger during sniffer dog training at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. The bag ended up on one of 90 flights leaving at the time, and police are now trying to track it down. They stress the explosive is "no more dangerous than a bar of chocolate". But airlines, airports and police forces around the world have been alerted.

"It was a routine exercise that went wrong."

I'll say! Question is, would they cut the same sort of slack for us poor peons? And this sort of exercise is 'routine'?

full story http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4069785.stm 

Greg Hemsath

Comment not required


Subject: On military methods of teaching

Dr Pournelle,

On military methods of teaching

It's said that when Bismarck was prime minister of Prussia and not too occupied with other matters like the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, he made a few changes in the Prussian school system. One was that all schools found themselves with retired army drill sergeants looking after discipline. Certainly Prussia, and soon the German Empire, had the best disciplined school students and the best educated population in Europe.

Jim Mangles


From: Aaron Pressman [mailto:gravitate@mac.com] Sent: Tuesday, December 07, 2004 8:18 PM To: Jerry Pournelle Subject: climate change consensus

Based on your prior inability to assimilate facts that don't correspond to your views, I have little hope this will change your mind, but just in case you can be swayed from Earth-is-flat position on climate change:


...Such statements suggest that there might be substantive disagreement in the scientific community about the reality of anthropogenic climate change. This is not the case.

...That hypothesis was tested by analyzing 928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords "climate change" (9). The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

...Many details about climate interactions are not well understood, and there are ample grounds for continued research to provide a better basis for understanding climate dynamics. The question of what to do about climate change is also still open. But there is a scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Climate scientists have repeatedly tried to make this clear. It is time for the rest of us to listen.

And this says what that has not been published many times before? The "concensus" is among a selected group.

The facts remain: the theorists have one view, the observation scientists have another, regarding the very fact of global warming, which may be happening; and the cause, which is certainly not agreed, assuming that it's happening at all.

A few facts remain that I think are beyond dispute:

1. Greenland was once inhabited, and by all accounts, the Earth was warmer then; this in historical times.

2. In 1776 the Hudson was frozen over solid enough that Alexander Hamilton brought the guns of Ticonderoga across the frozen river to General Washington in Haarlem Heights.

3. Canals froze solid enough in Queen Elizabeth I time to allow skaters to bring food across frozen brackish seas in Holland to relieve sieges.

4. Well before 1900 the Hudson no longer froze solid enough to walk on in winter; of the warming since 1776, most took place before 1910.

Observational scientists don't find what the theoreticians predict. The odd thing is that those who are most "concerned" are the least interested in funding research that might actually find out what is happening; they are certain they already know, and want to start remedies without testing the truth of their hypotheses.

Of course I remain unable to assimilate facts. Merry Christmas.

And see below.







This week:


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Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Subject: Norton Problems

First, let me say I've been a reader of yours, both your books and your BYTE columns, for many years.

In your most recent column on byte.com you discussed problems with Norton. I just wanted to wade in with my personal experience and an observation.

I've been using Norton products since Windows 3.0 and have, until my recent experiences with Norton Internet Security 2004, always recommended the products. In fact, at work, I've made a fuss about Norton and run it even though the corporate standard is McAfee. I'm professional programmer with over 30 years of experience, and a PC programmers since 1986.

Recent Norton products, apparently from 2004 onward, are, to put it bluntly, a disaster. Although I didn't find the links until after I'd upgraded to NIS 2004, if you look in amazon.com (of all places) under the products, you'll find several hundred negative to very negative customer reviews, including at least one that is an "open letter to the CEO of Symantec".

As I see it, there are two basic problems with current Norton products:

1. They have so much anti-piracy cruft that they're as hard as the worst spyware to uninstall -- this includes Symantec's own uninstallers, which are unreliable. These "features" even make trouble-shooting difficult. My particular problem with NIS 2004 is an apparently corrupted list of products that causes LiveUpdate to skip key parts of the product. The Symantec knowledge base contains articles about editing the product list but unfortunately its now encrypted (!) so editing, as suggested in the KB article, is impossible.

2. Symantec has dropped the price of its Norton products at the cost of no more free support. As a result, most people, I'd assume, no longer are willing to report bugs since this costs $30US. I strongly suspect this results in Symantec management NOT being aware of much of the problems as they are no longer getting bug reports!

Hopefully your "bully pulpit" may be able to reach Symantec management. For myself, I no longer intend to recommend the products and will NOT buy another one. This is a shame because, in the past, Norton products, while perhaps not the most efficient, have been remarkably stable -- for example, I've never needed to stop Norton Anti-virus before installing software.

Thanks again for doing all the "silly things so I don't have to".

-- Sean Keeley | Oh I used to be disgusted | sean@keeloid.com | but now I try to be amused | Toronto, Canada | Elvis Costello |

You will notice that I run Norton Anti-Virus 2003 and have never recommended any later version. I may take Mr. Thompson's suggestion and convert to another anti-virus program; my concern is that while Norton management has become increasingly paranoid and made their product harder to use, they have allocated more resources to keeping it up to date than most. Norton has a "special relationship" with Microsoft, and has since Eubanks got on the bandwagon early on and began writing products for Microsoft Windows before most developers would do that. As Gates used to say, "Back in 1989 [I may be off by a year] I went around to all the program developers and asked them to write programs for Microsoft Windows. They wouldn't do it. So I went to the Microsoft Program Development Group, and they didn't have that option."  Eubanks and Symantec were the exception, which is one reason few Symantec programs have been put out of business by competition from Microsoft.

I should look into the virus scene; it's important, and the most important thing of all is timely response to new threats; and that takes a fairly expensive team of highly competent people on staff at all time; you can't outsource that code development. I confess I have not done a recent examination of the resources, capabilities, and competence of the various virus remedy teams. I should do that. Meanwhile, comments welcomed.


A number of you have sent links to

Congress impedes NASA prizes


which will in due season trigger some responses from me (as it has already got me to make a few telephone calls).

My thanks to all.


Subject: New Space Prize!

Dr. Pournelle,

I just saw an ad in the latest (Nov. 22, 2004) issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology for a new space prize. The full-page ad on page 14 states, IN FULL:


[America's Space Prize/ASP logo here]

To be awarded...


Contest ends January 10, 2010

Ten Primary Rules of Competition

1. The Spacecraft must reach a minimum altitude of 400 km (approx. 250 miles);

2. The Spacecraft must reach a minimum velocity sufficient to complete two (2) full orbits at altitude before returning safely to earth;

3. The Spacecraft must carry no less than a crew of five (5) people;

4. The Spacecraft must dock or demonstrate its ability to dock with a Bigelow Aerospace inflatable space habitat and be capable of remaining on station for at least six (6) months;

5. The Spacecraft must perform two (2) consecutive, safe and successful orbital missions within a period of sixty (60) calendar days, subject to Government regulations;

6. No more than twenty percent (20%) of the Spacecraft may be composed of expendable hardware;

7. The Contestant must be domiciled in the United States of America;

8. The Contestant shall have its principal place of business in the United States of America;

9. The Competitor must not accept or utilize Government development funding related to this Contest of any kind, nor shall there be any Government ownership of the Competitor. Using Government test and launch facilities shall be permitted; and

10. The Spacecraft must complete its two (2) missions safely and successfully, with all five (5) crew members aboard for the second qualifying flight before the competition's deadline of January 10, 2010.

______________ and/or any affiliates as a competitor for the America's Space Prize, herein agrees to be fully bound and obligated to perform all efforts in strict adherence to all rules and regulations of the competition including but not limited to, the above required rules and regulations.

For more information please contact:

America's Space Prize

(702) 794-4440 Office

(702) 456-9404 Fax

[end of ad text]

This seems to be exactly the sort of private enterprise "X-Prize" initiative that you have championed. The prize value is smaller than I would have hoped for but is serious money. Due diligence note: I was unable to look up either phone number using Switchboard.com's phone number look-up feature. This doesn't mean the numbers are bogus but would indicate that they are new hook-ups. The 702 area code translates to the Las Vegas region of Nevada.

Bill Hembree whembree@mac.com

Assuming this is funded, it certainly will help. I fear it's too small a number, but it's in the right direction. More when I get a chance to look at all this systematically.

And my thanks to Mr. Woosley who furnished this link to the income/IQ statistics of the election:


Subject: State IQ Results Link -

Afternoon Jerry,

There's a significant flaw in the IQ analysis - it's based on ACT/SAT statistics, which is primarily a sample of 'college-bound' individuals. As both test are not inexpensive, it's unlikely that non-college bound, low-income individuals (lower achieving/lower IQ) would have taken them, thus skewing the results upwards.

At first glance, this might not seem important, however IQ distributions are not uniform between states. Different demographics have different IQ means and distributions (from the Bell Curve), so a state such as New York will have a larger proportion of lower IQ individuals than a state such as Wyoming. Based on the states near the top of the list, this effect appears to be impacting the results.

If one wanted to create an accurate representation, the National Longitudinal Survey (which the Bell Curve often relies on) would be a much more viable source of data.

Best regards,


Doug Lhotka doug[@]lhotka[.]com

"Do something you like. Forget about the pay, for Christ's sakes. Regulate your style of living to fit your income. Just have fun in your job, that's the main thing." ~ General Chuck Yeager

True enough.



Date: Wed, 08 Dec 2004 18:48:41 -0800

HR 5382, The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act, just passed the US Senate by unanimous consent. Having already passed the House of Representatives, it will now go to the President for signature and at that point become law. Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who has worked toward this moment over the last year.

The lack of this law would not have been the end of the world for the emerging "alt space" industry, and the passing of it will not solve all problems from this moment on. Nevertheless, we believe that HR 5382 is a significant step forward in establishing a regulatory regime that, whether or not it's perfect, is Good Enough for this new industry to get underway with.

Thanks again, all.

Henry Vanderbilt Space Access Society space.access@space-access.org

I have considerable evidence that the calls and letters of subscribers and readers of this web sit had a large and beneficial impact on getting this out of the House. Thanks to all. For more, see below.





CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


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Thursday, December 9, 2004

See Above for one important matter. Now for another:

Subject: Gee, Dr. Jerry, Maybe Some People Don't Exactly Fit

Into the narrow categories of the educationists. For example, I believe that you've written that you'd rather do conceptual design of things than actually cut metal and build hardware. However, there are folks like myself who might not be so engineeringly creative, but can nevertheless cut and build to the drawing, and come up with something which flies.

And then there are people like Peter Bowers, the man who designed the "Fly Baby" homebuilt airplane. That is, people who are good with their heads AND their hands! (not to forget Burt Rutan.)

Of course, nobody's good at *everything*, but I think I have detected a slight derision in your latest posts, against people who like to make ingenious things with their hands.

You may have a point if that's all they can do, but please don't leave us thinking that that those 10 fingers, with two opposable thumbs among them, are useless for scholars and only good for boneheads with trade-school training!

A Real Man can do Anything! (with head OR hands!)

Sorry to rant at you like this, I remain

B. Fan, formerly A.Fan.

I must be a worse writer than I suppose myself to be if that is the impression I have left. I have never for a moment supposed that the United States ought to be governed by an intellectual elite, nor have I ever supposed that people who work at manufacturing are to be despised. I have often written that the major strength of my old Human Factors Laboratories at Boeing wasn't really in the clever science types like me, but the experienced experimental mechanics who could take the stuff we thought up and actually build it; we'd never have done the space suit tests if it had been left to engineers.

You may have detected some kind of derision, but if so, you detect what wasn't intended.

In general you will find that the "educated" people are able to learn skills when necessary; but most aren't suited for skilled labor jobs. The craftsman who put the same dedication into the 40th part he makes as he did to the first ten is someone to be admired and treasured, and is not likely to be found among the eggheads.

The fact remains that skills take one form of training, and what used to be called education takes another; and intellectual ability is important, but so is character and integrity. Bill Buckley famously said that he would rather be governed by the first 500 names in the Boston Telephone Directory than by the faculty of Harvard University, and many would agree.

My brother in law makes wonderful airplane models, first from kits, then if he likes the design, he blows up the plans and strikes out on his own with raw materials. I envy him that ability, and I know darned well that if I ever took a whim to try to duplicate his work I'd end up with an ugly mess, which is why I don't try. Patience and infinite attention to detail, taking pains, are skills that I am unlikely ever to acquire.

Since our school system seems determined to teach neither the intellectual skills of learning how to learn, nor the arts and crafts, nor much of anything else except the ability to get passing marks on an examination and thus earn a credential, the discussion is probably moot anyway.

An army of all officers would not win many battles. Aldous Huxley speculated in Brave New World on what would happen if there were created a society of all Alphas.

Your final statement that "a real man can do anything" seems to me an exaggeration. I know a lot of people who can do things I can't do. I flatter myself there are one or two things I can do that most cannot. But spare me your inferences of contempt for my fellow citizens. I despise no one who is honest.


Subject: Mr. Thompson's questions

I think that it’s not so much a matter of the questions that he has chosen (though you can certainly take issue with the individual questions), but the thrust of the entire suite of questions that makes them rather useless for determining the level of education of a modern student.

Examining the questions, we find one on the history of photography, one on the history of Rome, one on the history of biology mixed with a trivia question, a three-parter on the history of astronomy, a mathematical question requiring a significant amount of rather basic number-crunching, a question on the history of music, and a question on the history of the British succession.

I can certainly appreciate questions about actual history – goodness knows our schooling system should spend more time and attention to Roman history than it currently does, and British political history is also of at least some importance. But questions about the history of science aren’t education, they’re trivia. I did quite well in my chemistry courses, and I’d like to think that I’m competent to, if not perform chemistry research, at least to read a paper produced by such research with good general understanding. I’m familiar with the history of chemistry, but for example, I would be hard-pressed indeed to remember who it was that proposed the phlogiston theory. This doesn’t mean I’m ignorant of the history of chemistry, any more than a failure to recognize Daguerre’s contribution to photography indicates ignorance of the principles of photography.

I’m certainly not prepared to say that learning the history of science is not a useful endeavor. Even if it was useful for nothing else, the demonstration that our areas of knowledge and understanding have undergone radical revisions several times in the past is essential in understanding the reasoning behind the scientific method, and developing the ability to appreciate the difference between actual science and junk science. But a question of history of science is not a question of scientific knowledge per se. It’s quite enough to understand that the model of the atom, for example, passed through the stage of the Bohr model; that Bohr was the scientist who devised it is interesting, but not specifically useful knowledge.

Furthermore, devising a system of education that prepares its students to do well on examinations of exquisitely obscure trivia is not a revolutionary technique; it essentially describes the Japanese system of college examinations. Unfortunately, while these examinations do an extremely good job in culling unprepared students from admission, they also manage to burn out virtually every student who does manage to meet the standard, leaving colleges with a large pool of essentially unmotivated students. Students spend their most productive years of educating studying facts which can be turned to virtually no practical or useful end, and don’t actually ensure the student has even a basic understanding of the world (I mean, sure, you might know about political reforms instituted by an emperor a thousand years dead, but if you can’t name the various powers involved in World War II, you’re probably not well-versed in history, no?) By the time the students reach somewhere that they can receive a useful education, most of them have come to the conclusion that education is bunk, and only hang in there to obtain their credential. I doubt this is an end that either you or Mr. Thompson would find acceptable.

Better than historical trivia are questions of general knowledge of a given area. Instead of asking which amendment instituted Prohibition, ask, “What is a Constitution? What relation does it have to the laws of a nation?” Why not, “How does a refrigerator function?” It’s perhaps too much to ask that people not intending to study biology or chemistry remember the particular mechanism of the Krebs cycle, or its name, but they should at least understand that plants absorb energy from sunlight to convert CO2 into sugars. A question asking about the event that triggered the first world war might elicit a proper answer of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination, but if the student doesn’t have the knowledge of the system of secret treaties between the powers in that era, they still don’t understand why there was a war – and if they DO understand that system, then the Archduke’s name does not give them further understanding.

Naturally, there’s a danger in overgeneralization; you can quite easily devise a test that can be passed by students who are quite uneducated. Furthermore, practical matters dictate that it’s virtually impossible to give a comprehensive essay exam on a multitude of topics to everyone – even though the students might be willing to spend a week taking it, the process of evaluating the answers will be painstakingly slow.

Too much of modern education focuses on the learning of trivia as it is. There was once an era where a learned man could encompass a great deal of the collective body of knowledge of Western civilization, but that era is over and will not return; the complexity of the modern world demands that some things be taught and others neglected (and, frankly, there never was an era where that “body of knowledge” was possessed by more than a tiny, tiny minority of people, and thus serves as a lousy model for mass education anyway.)

Andrew Kent


Subject: Education multipliers

Dr Pournelle,

Education multipliers

"...it would take me a while to lay out all the categories of the Linnaean taxonomy from memory (although I could find them in a matter of minutes)."

In that case, you are an educated man--not that I ever doubted it--because what fundamentally matters is not the knowledge one knows by heart but the knowledge one knows how and where to lay ones hands upon. It's why educated people are, by and large, the ones who have their own libraries.

Properly used, the internet and Google should be the greatest "education multipliers" in human history.

Perhaps if we could figure out how to keep the natural curiosity of young children alive long enough for us to teach them reading and writing and how to use Google, the next generation could be the best educated ever.

Jim Mangles

And yet it is also the difference between education and acquisition of skills.  I know how to find all the rules for driving a large bus or an 18-wheeler truck; but that is not the same as KNOWING them, having them ready to had, having the ability to use them. I could I expect in 6 weeks learn enough to pose as a brain surgeon, but not to be able to perform brain surgery...

Subject: Measuring educational success

Jerry P:

The sham that is the "No Child Left Behind" reveals the motives of a Congress, and maybe the President, which believes that if they repeat a lie often enough, it will become reality. The inadequate funding of the program is evidence that they either did not understand what support would be necessary, or that they did, but produced yet another unfunded mandate upon the states. It sounds good on the 30 second sound bite, but does nothing for the education of the young. There is a terrible hypocrisy afoot that preys upon the children.

Charles Simkins

No I think not. The intention is to do good; and the misunderstanding is one propagated by a very large number of people who mean well. Of course the effect may be the same.




Subject: Hydro Pulse Irrigator

Dr. Pournelle,

When the link for the Grossan sinus irrigator appeared for perhaps the third time on your site, I decided to order it. After having it for a week, and only using it a couple of times myself (due to the recent Santa Ana winds) I have (knock on wood) kicked a twenty-eight (28) year nasal spray habit. Thank you.

Stephen Borchert



Back in the 80s were most of your readers using the same hardware & OS you were or were you a few steps ahead, showing the way?

I don't expect you to abandon Windows, but Apple hardware & especially OS X has some real, and significant, advantages over XP: security is just one of them, and even if it was the ONLY one wouldn't that be a story worth telling?

True Mr. & Mrs. Total Geek, with a passel of Windows software on the shelf and years of experience with the OS, can do quite well with a Windows machine, for less $$$ than an Apple. But for the rest of us? Think of the hours the average user spends maintaining his firewall, ad and spam blockers, virus protection programs... or if he doesn't contending with a real mess!

Not to mention the quality of the included software on a Mac: if you like to dabble with music creation you'll pay a lot extra on a Windows machine for something like Apple's Garage Band; iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD et al are extremely powerful applications which are still incredibly easy to use, iTunes and the iTunes store are the gold standard for MP3 purchase & playback (so good, in fact, they've migrated to Windows versions), Rendezvous is extremely powerful and makes life SO much easier, and on & on.

Come on, let's be honest: Windows development is stagnating. When was the last time MS or Dell came up with something truly innovative in OS or hardware? They've been stealing Apple's ideas for a decade.

Look at your PowerBook as just one example: Airport (802.11) not invented by Apple, but first standard on Macs, same with FireWire (and before that USB), same with the wide-screen aspect ratio which only now is becoming common on HP, Toshiba, Sony, Dell etc. machines; to this day as far as I know no Windows laptop offers a backlit keyboard, DVD burners first gained mass acceptance on the Mac, Apple hasn't produced a machine with a floppy drive for YEARS, and on and on. Not to mention all the great stuff in OS X...

I'm just afraid you haven't used OS X enough yet to become comfortable with it and to discover its elegance, underlying power, and ease of use. Windows isn't BAD (although it used to be) - I'm typing this right now on a Dell - but OS X is BETTER in so many ways that I'd think that would make compelling copy for your readers.

Apple IS the leader these days, and you used to be, too - I remember because the first thing I did with every new issue of BYTE was read the CHAOS MANOR column to find out what was new, groundbreaking, and cutting edge. That's where you should be again today, not mired in some obscure MS Exchange, Office, or virus imbroglio for the Nth time this generation.

Sorry for the rant but that's the view from here, 7 feet above sea level (literally).

All the best--


You have a point. Perhaps an important one.

However, I do point out that I get a lot of work done. Perhaps I would get more done using Apple and Mac. God knows Peter and Roland and Dan work hard at persuading me. As do you.

Dear Jerry:

As you point out you get a lot of work done on your Windows machines: you get a lot of calories eating at McDonalds, as well, but that doesn't make it a quality meal!

I think of just two quick aspects of the Mac experience: spring-loaded folders and the powered FireWire ports all Macs have had for years.

Spring-loaded folders pop open whenever you hover the mouse pointer over them. Say you want to move a file from the desktop to somewhere three or four levels down - you simply grab the folder (point and click) and drag it to the icon of the folder or drive the contains the final destination: after a second of two that folder or drive pops open on the desktop showing its contents and you can then hover over the next sub-folder and have IT pop open, ad infinitum. It takes longer to explain than to learn, and once you're used to it you wonder why every OS doesn't work the same way - it's incredibly convenient. I can't tell you how many times, when working on a Windows machine, I drag a folder over a disk icon and wait for something to happen... and wait and wait.

Now most Windows PCs have a FireWire port these days, but the vast majority are 4-pin or unpowered; it must save a few cents in the design and building of the machine. FireWire still works better than USB2 for streaming large amounts of data like video which is why it's there in the first place. But all Macs come with multiple powered FireWire ports, which means:

You can run any (FireWire equipped) Mac from another one using Target Disk mode: start one normally, start the second machine after connecting them with a FireWire cable while holding down the T key and the second Mac's disk will show up as a "slave" on the first Mac. Incredibly useful if your OS ever goes south and you need to harvest data from your hard drive immediately before you worry about making repairs.

Having powered FireWire also means external disks like SmartDrive's deck of playing cards sized SmartDisks do NOT have to use a wall wart to work; less to carry, less to keep track of, less weight, you can have a FULL backup of an 80GB hard disk literally in the palm of your hand... and that backup can boot and operate ANY FireWire equipped Mac, anywhere!

Flying to Japan and don't want to lug a laptop? As long as you'll have access to a Mac on landing you can bring everything with you - all your settings, data, tunes, videos - in a package no bigger and weighing no more than a deck of cards. While Apple doesn't support it you can even make an iPod a bootable device; listen to music on the trip, have the contents of your home hard disk with you when you get there!

I could go on and on about little advantages like these that exist throughout Apple Mac hardware and software; they all add up to a significant competitive and innovative advantage.

The newest Macs are even more than capable of playing the most graphically intense 3D games, and release of the big name titles is approaching parity: Unreal Tournament 2004, for example, was released for the Mac and PC at the same time. Doom 3 for the Mac should be out in January (for G5 based Macs only). The bad old days when Apples were expensive also-rans are thankfully far behind us; today Macs are an extremely viable, and more secure, superior alternative to Windows, and much easier to use and more elegant solution than Linux (of course most Linux software will run under Unix on the Mac with just a bit of tweaking).

The advantages are numerous and obvious and I'm VERY glad to hear I'm not the only one yammering in your ear about them!

All the best--

Tim Loeb

Is Apple now the leader in technology for computer users? It won't be the price leader, obviously; but is there enough going on, and development happening, that the forward edge of the computer community ought to switch to Mac? I'd be interested in reader views.

Much more below.



 regarding your Earth-is-flat positions

Honestly, was this Aaron Pressman-guy's purpose to try and PERSUADE you and others?....if so, it should be said the consensus position is that the tactic of starting out with an adolescent insult of the target-to-be-persuaded does not often work in winning over the target to one's own view.

"From: Aaron Pressman [mailto:gravitate@mac.com] Sent: Tuesday, December 07, 2004 8:18 PM To: Jerry Pournelle Subject: climate change consensus

Based on your prior inability to assimilate facts that don't correspond to your views, I have little hope this will change your mind, but just in case you can be swayed from Earth-is-flat position on climate change:"

The only consensus I see is that a group of power-hungry, self-interested, political, tax-supported, non-profit, faith-based bureaucracies (their faith being Scientism, of course) agree that their own political power - as well as the political power of fellow bureaucracies - should be increased at the expense of people who conduct their commerce not through coercion, but on a voluntary basis.

In the interest of "presenting both sides", why not also have a sentence that reads: "Some bureaucracies whose revenues might be adversely affected by not having controls on carbon dioxide emissions have alleged major certainties in the science." AS WELL AS the one presented in the original: "Some corporations whose revenues might be adversely affected by controls on carbon dioxide emissions have also alleged major uncertainties in the science."

Stuart Preston Tucson

Tom Bethel has a marvelous essay in the November American Spectator in which he asks about public funding of science and the effect that can have. I'll have more on that in view another time.


global warming and consensus science and journalism

Dr. Pournelle:

Concerning consensus of opinion-style science: Last fall, Geneva Overholzer, formerly of the Washington post, I believe, was interviewed on public radio.

One of the topics Overholzer dealt with was the issue of what is fair and balanced coverage. She used the issue of global climate change as an example of the difficulties reporters encounter. Should a reporter be bound, she asked, to seek out a scientist who disagrees with anthropogenic climate change, when a consensus of more than 98 percent of scientists agree that global warming, caused by human action, is occurring?

Ms. Overholzer was correct in part: No worthwhile reporter need become entangled in reporting the beliefs of the Flat Earth Society. However, it does seem to me that reporters have a professional duty to be well-enough educated to know why the earth isn't flat, and a lack of science education among reporters seems self-evident today.

The history of science is replete with (or consists of!) examples of one person or group being correct, despite the opposition of the majority. Consensus science fails, in my view, to consider such examples as Semmelweiss, Galileo, or, in a recent example, the development of the Heimlich maneuver. Dr. Heimlich had to battle for many years against a consensus of medical people to prove that his 'maneuver' was a better course of action than pounding on the back to help a choking victim. He was ultimately proven right, but how many people choked to death first?

What troubles me most about this is that the media in general seem to follow a manufactured consensus, rather than possible fresh angles, when pursuing a story such as climate change. Is this simply herd mentality, or do the media now wish to adopt a position and sell that position to the rest of us regardless of the facts? It seems to me that reporting the story means understanding the story.

The modern, credentialed media don't realize their own lack of knowledge. Consider the reporters who, while standing on vast expanses of concrete at an airport, refer to the "tarmac." It's not that they're ignorant of the origins of the word that bothers me, it's that they don't seem intellectually curious enough to look up 'tarmac' in a dictionary.

When the President gives a speech, he doesn't step up to a podium; he stands on a podium and behind a lectern. It's not a subtle difference, but this difference is lost on almost every reporter, commentator, and analyst today. If journalists don't even comprehend the words they use to communicate, how can we trust the ideas they're putting into words?

If this is the state of understanding common to the media in these oh-so-enlightened times, then a Dark Age is indeed approaching. Do we have time to get to space first, or should we rebuild the monastery walls and lay up goods in store against famine and siege?

Mark Thompson jomath # hickorytech.net

The real question is, just who has joined a consensus on what? There is a general consensus that the climate has been warming since the Little Ice Age and the Maunder Minimum. Until not too long ago there was a general consensus that the actual trend was to Global Cooling and that another Ice Age was due and overdue, and during the 60's and 70's there were numerous conferences on this subject.

http://www.zianet.com/wblase/endtimes/gwarming.htm is polemical but then most statements on this issue are (I could wish otherwise), but it asks telling questions and produces some evidence that the consensus may be as much politically driven as scientific.

My position has always been the same: this is an issue of sufficient importance that we ought to be spending some real money to get the real answers. A few billion now may save trillions in false starts and bad remedies. We need a reliable means of launching more satellite Earth observatories. We need better integration of ground based sensors. We need more core samples from more places, and good analysis of the data obtained. All of this is obtainable and it doesn't cost that much; but instead of crash programs to get the answers, we get a "consensus" that we ought to spend billions and billions, now, on remedies when we do not yet have certainty as to what the problem is, what is causing it, and what is the right way to do something.

There is a lot of money at stake here. Those who want the Kyoto Treaty stand to make trillions of dollars if it is adopted. Perhaps that is the right way to go; but surely it is worth spending something to find out before we enrich all those in the "consensus"?


Subject: Interesting WSJ item RE 5382

Jerry - this is of interest, RE yesterday's win. It's a WSJ item from yesterday - I suspect (but can't prove) from the timing and from earlier info I had that we had prepped the battlefield to the point where there were only one or two holdouts against HR 5382 in the Senate by yesterday afternoon, setting things up for a breakthrough when this came out.

(The writer was predisposed toward our side as of last summer but didn't know HR 5382 and its ancestors existed. I have a pretty good idea who followed up with him and brought him up to speed on all this, for what it's worth.)

Looks like we're winning the war of ideas here. Not that the war is over, but at least it's going our way for the moment...


Wall Street Journal, Dec. 8, 2004, 'Business World,' p A.13

"The 'Final Frontier' May Be a Senate Waste Basket."

Holman W. Jenkins Jr.

The Senate came back in an ultra lame-duck session this week to consider intelligence reform. But a battalion of lobbying bloggers has done its best to point them to a more pressing matter in the form of HR 5382, recently enacted by the House and now facing doom in the Senate.

Thank the Internet for the fact that legislation that normally would be ignored as the special interest of a handful of companies has a noisy popular following among disinterested voters and citizens. The bill would formalize the responsibility of the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation to license and regulate a burgeoning entrepreneurial sector devoted to private space travel.

Most importantly, it would specify that the FAA's duty extends only to preventing undue risk to bystanders on the ground. Passengers would be deemed willing risktakers in experimental private spaceflight. Ipso facto, heirs can't expect to go running to a lawyer and collect millions just because something goes wrong.

Says Rich Pournelle of rocketmaker XCOR: " This industry needs regulatory certainty. If the bill doesn't pass this year, we'll have to start the whole process again. We'll all be left speculating what's going to happen."

Half a dozen entrepreneurs are currently hoping to loft space vehicles on test flights in the near future, including Robert Bigelow, a Vegas hotel magnate who has booked rocket space next year for a one-third scale version of his proposed inflatable modular space hotel. But an indifferent Senate is booting an opportunity to provide regulatory certainty for all the budding space entrepreneurs who've got serious, well funded plans to fly in the coming year.

Space fans have kept Congress's feet to the fire over the past year, helping industry lobbyist James Muncy wedge the bill past two ranking Democrats on the House Transportation Committee, James Oberstar and Pete DeFazio, who posed as Horatio at the bridge to protect the safety of passengers. "I do not think safety regulation is ever silly," grumbled Rep. Oberstar in his losing floor effort to defeat the House bill last month. <snip>

Actually I also have a pretty good idea of who followed things up.


Subject: Theory and Falsification.


- Roland Dobbins

Interesting. I had dinner with Flew a couple of times, once in Seoul a few years ago. If he has got as far as this, he is likely to continue as Lewis did.




CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  December 10, 2004

Today we will open with letters on Apple vs. Microsoft and technology leadership. For the beginning, see above.

Subject: Yes, Apple are the leader

and have been for almost two years now - that's why I switched, and why I keep nagging you to make more use of your PowerBook, sir.


Let's be clear - I'm the quintessential power-user. I do all sorts of CPU- and memory-intenstive things (protocol analysis, for example) on my machine, as well as more mundane things such as typing email messages and writing documents. I need a fast, secure, versatile, and customizable computing environment which does not end up making me the sysadmin of my own laptop.

The PowerBook plus OS/X gives me all that - and with a stunning simplicity of operation which actually allows the tool itself - i.e., the laptop/OS/applications - to become transparent so that I can concentrate -on what I'm trying to accomplish- vs. -the way in which I'm trying to accomplish it-.

--- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Macs

Well, Mac PowerBooks are preferred for security work, and I've got the money stashed away for a top-of-the-line 15" PowerBook G5 when it comes out. I think they're about to pull ahead. I think the lead will be only temporary, though, but it should last until Microsoft gets their next major OS release out the door.

-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland.

Security engineer and analyst. http://www.theworld.com/~herwin/


A couple of points:


Steve Jobs was smart enough to see that he had to have a new OS for Mac and smart enough to chose FreeBSD for that OS. The OS is sturdy and fairly scalable and is a *nix. With Darwin layed over top of the "mach emulation layer" and FreeBSD you have a robust and friendly *nix. Thus does not mean, however, that the Mac user base will produce anything at all. The advances in the *nix part of the OS come from legions of hackers. There is no real reason for a hacker to move to OSX as our usual *nix OSs are much more open and usable. The enthusiasm of Mac users is understandable and I'm glad for them but any proprietary OS is bound to lose in the long run, even in the short run Linux is walking away from MS and Apple at quite a pace. Does packet writing work on a Mac yet?

PenGun Do What Now ???


Subject: The Mac vs Windows Battle

Hi Jerry,

This is really the Steve Jobs vs Bill Gates battle. Who creates neater stuff? The crown goes to Steve Jobs. The problem is that Steve doesn't share well. When the question is restated to "Who allows others to make more money?", the winner is Bill Gates. That's the real reason that Windows dominates. Microsoft doesn't try to lock the hardware and software platform up so that nobody else can make any money.

The other thing in Windows favor is backwards compatibility. The reason that milling machines that use Z80 CPUs can use files from a modern Windows drafting station is that the data file can still be expressed in the old format. Try putting a iTune on an old iPod. I can buy hundreds of MP3 players that can accept any Windows file and plug into any USB port.

Steve Jobs wants you to buy more neat stuff, not hang on to the old neat stuff. Unfortunately for him I, and 96% of the market don't work on a 18 month product refresh cycle.

What is happening to the entire computer industry right now is changing who drives the industry. Intel had been in the driver's seat with their megahertz war with AMD. This has lead to the failed P4 and notably the Presshot which is demanding 85 to 115 watts even in it's latest stepping. (it was using 115 watts in the last stepping) The January edition of AMD's Hammers will also be warm. They won't be as hot as the Presshots and because of the design should cause a great deal of excitement. This is the end of the CMOS process for CPUs. The electrical leakage is too high and they can't be pushed any faster. We are looking at 5 years of nothing new because both Intel and AMD were focused on a target that proved to be impossible. IBM put out a paper that explains it, but what happened is the electrical leakage proved to be exponible rather than sequential.

What it all means is that the computer industry is going to be concentrating on form and function for the next few years. That was ignored because we were always playing catch-up to the last CPU. The problem is that this work won't be done in the US. Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong have huge leads on the industry in this field. They all have the problem of tight living quarters and limited space. This has lead to a number of solutions that we have been seeing as Small Form Factor solutions. Japan also has done a lot of work in the area of the user interface that will show up in our computers in the next while. Most of this will be branded as Sony or NEC. All of these solutions are built around Windows.

The day of the large, noisy computer is over for the average user. The new systems are very small, very quiet and require no computer knowledge at all.

I think that a few years from now it's going to be hard to find a system that resembles the ones we are used to. I know that we will pay a lot more for it. That system will no longer be subsidized by all of the Office Desktops and Internet Desktops that are purchased.

Stephen Walker



Okay, you asked:

First, I wouldn't be using Macs anymore except for OSX. It's BSD Unix! Once, this would have been a huge bug, but now it is a feature. My children, 9 and 12, use BSD Unix on a Mac...so does their grandmother.

They have no idea, since they are completely isolated from the Unix underpinnings. However, it's there if you want to run a Mail Server, Apache web server can be turned on with one click. You can run Gimp and Photoshop at the same time and have access to both image processing tools. You can run Grass as a replacement for the multi-thousand dollar ArcView. Macs now typically have uptimes that are like Linux machines.

They don't crash, they don't need to be rebooted.

Markets where the Mac is now a huge hit include lots of scientists. I watched the JPL live broadcast of Spirit's landing on Mars and was pleased to see several Mac laptops open on the consoles. Looked like 10-15% Macs. At scientific meetings, I typically see 15-20% Macs. I think the Mac is also making of comeback with students and at universities. The whole itunes/ipod thing is one driver for this, and the other is that the machines just work.

Macs don't' get worms, virii, spyware, malware, etc. There is much debate over -why- this is so, but no one disputes that it is true. With a Mac you can almost forget about the worries that PC users have to think about continuously. (BTW, I believe it can be shown that the security results from good design, not "obscurity" as some have

Mac strengths/weaknesses:

Games. PC's are better gaming platforms because there are SO many game developers.

Price? Well, it depends. At the medium range, Apple is competitive, at the high end, actually cheaper. At the low end, buy a PC.

Performance? Mixed. High end G5 Macs are competitive with any Intel product. The G5 is somewhat slower on things not optimized for the architecture, and faster, sometimes much faster, on things that are properly coded. Some software on Windows that is ported to the Mac is faster on Windows (Office), although many people who've reviewed PC and Mac Office, think the Mac version is better.

Hardware choice? PC's win. Multiple vendors. Of course, this is also what makes some PC's horrible junk. You can't buy a Mac made with bad hardware, because Apple won't sell them below a certain quality level.

Compatibility? I use a Mac daily in an office environment that is 99% PC. I have a PC that I use for about 5 minutes during the day to run some in-house software, but otherwise do all the Word/Excel/PowerPoint/Web and everything else with an Apple laptop. In fact, I have a KVM switch that lets me use the PC keyboard, mouse with the laptop and it lets me run the Mac laptop with two displays. When people walk into my office and see me drag a window between the two screens, they do a double-take. Macs have been able to run "two headed"
with no difficulties for well over a decade. ( I could go 100% PC-free with Virtual PC, but the Dell is already there, so....)

I've read your column since roughly 1980. I agree with Tim Loeb that you should write about things that are more significant than this week's Windows security disaster. I hope this won't offend you(!!) but I've often thought that your column is the longest running free Mac ad.

What you write about for solving problems on Windows is important (you do these things so others don't have to), but there is a better way to live....

Chuck Bouldin


Subject: Macs as technology leader


I'm surprised you are asking whether Apple is the technology leader. Isn't this obvious? Have you tried writing software using XCode? Incredibly slick. Have you tried creating a complex document combining graphics and text? Eight different programs work together almost seamlessly. How about installing updates of system software? Painless. Printing to a strange printer? One doesn't even notice there is an obstacle. There isn't much doubt that Apple has better technology than any other PC maker. Walt Mossberg recently opined about Macs v. PCs http://ptech.wsj.com/ptech.html I also think you've got it wrong on price. Comparing apples to Apples, there isn't much difference between PCs and Macs when it comes to price. You get a lot of high quality free software on a Mac that you pay extra for on a PC.

I expect that you will continue to write about your struggles with PCs. I can't imagine a more effective advertising campaign for Apple than your blog. I'd prefer that you write more about Macs and space travel, and history and less about PCs and current politics. (Don't reduce these to nothing, though, I particularly enjoy the historical perspective on current events)




Subject: Mac Views


I am a long-time Windows user and a bit of a local Guru (Dr Bob's Computers, Australia). I also "Get A Lot Of Work Done" and find the protests of Mac enthusiasts rather amusing. Like you, I have followed the ups and downs of Apple over the years, and they seem very fond of "The Latest Thing" -in fact they rethink their whole range every 6 months. The latest "Breakthrough" desk-top system bears a striking resemblance to a notebook on a thin metal stand with an external keyboard. -Big Deal!

Some of your correspondents are stuck at the interface level; what is this nonsense about "spring-loaded" folders? Windows XP Explorer seems to do something very much like that when you drag with the Rt. Button. (Sorry, Macs don't own a Rt Button). File management is important, but no version of Windows has ever been a problem in this regard. O.K., Windows XP has a few tricks, but we are intelligent beings, aren't we?

It is simply untrue that Windows users have to spend a lot of time on security. My combination of hardware firewall and Norton AV, with occasional use of Adaware/Spybot keeps me safe and takes a few minutes maintenance per week. My "Security Advice" for customers is a just an A4 page of hints; sensible customers follow this and keep safe as well.

Mac/PC comparisons are often made using pathetic consumer-level name-brand PCs. Have Mac fans ever seen a proper PC at work?

There are workers and then there are OS enthusiasts. I know some people who run every OS under the sun, but never seem to do any real work. Personally, my business (Sales/Networks/Troubleshooting) is 99.9% Windows. There is simple no call for Mac expertise in this neck of the woods. Same goes for Slimux.

Best wishes,

-Rob Megarrity


Is Apple the new technology leader, the source of the exciting new stuff in computing? No.

Apple is the BMW of computers. Just as BMW makes really nifty cars, cars that BMW fans are willing to pay extra to buy, Apple makes nifty stuff that Apple fans are willing to pay extra to buy. Apple's software, including their OS, are beautiful and polished, just as the dashboard of a BMW is.

Apple had USB working and useful before Windows did, but it's not as if Apple single-handedly invented USB. Apple has a stable and secure OS, but that's because they adopted UNIX and thus benefited from the decades of improvements UNIX has received over the years.

Apple has the advantage that Steve Jobs can just decree "all Macs ship with USB now!" and it happens, quickly. This works very well when Steve Jobs is right. (Remember that Steve Jobs fought against putting a hard disk in a Mac, back in the day, because he felt it was more important that a Mac be silent than that it have a hard drive. He's not always right about everything.) But how often are there decisions that Jobs can make that really advance the state of the industry?

The industry is constantly advancing in many different areas. A new video card over here. A new chipset over there. Faster RAM. Better hard drives. Is Apple somehow to out-innovate the entire world?

In the future, I expect Apple to continue to be the BMW of computers. Their machines will still be advanced technology, still slick and pretty, and their fans will still think that Apples are worth the extra cost. And their market share will remain small.

P.S. In fairness, Apple computers are much better priced than they were in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As Tim notes, with a Mac you will spend less time wrestling with antivirus software, and for computer newbies that probably justifies a Mac right there. There was a discussion on Slashdot: What do you do when your family asks you to help them with their broken computers? A popular answer was "Insist that the family member buy a Mac."

Apple's top-end computers do not compare well on a price/performance basis against commodity PC hardware: my next computer will be an Athlon64 system that I will assemble from parts for less than $900, not a $1500 PowerMac G5 and definitely not a $3000 dual-CPU PowerMac G5. This just means that I'm not one of the customers Apple cares about.

I just checked the apple.com web store. The cheapest Mac they sell that does not have its own built-in display is that $1500 PowerMac G5. The cheapest iMac is $1300. Apple is making no attempt to enter the $600 computer market, let alone the $300 computer market. Apple is BMW, not Honda, let alone Kia.
Steve R. Hastings "Vita est"
steve@hastings.org http://www.blarg.net/~steveha


Good morning Mr. Pournelle, from where I sit, the mac looks superior. Why do I say so?, ease of use, O.S. stability and longer useful life. 1&2 could change, if Microsoft surprises with their next O.S. release. #3 is going to be a fact of life on entry level hardware, because you can't put in very much wonderfulness for $399.

Tim Harness


Thoughts on Apple, the Macintosh and technology:

There is an awful lot that I could say about this topic as I have been using Apple products pretty much since the beginning but have spent most of my productive time on a PC of some sort. Fair warning; I probably have an armory full of axes to grind.

This discussion is really only relevant where the topic concerns Apple/Mac evangelism. Rational technology folks will generally realize when and where a Mac is appropriate. The Mac jihad movement won't be happy until the other 98% of PC users have been enlightened.

Let's fist deal with the general question of whether or not Apple has "better" technology sooner. By most definitions, the answer is unequivocally "yes". Why is this? Because Apple, operating in a total competition vacuum, can get away with it. If Apple thinks floppy drives are dumb, they disappear. At the time Apple did this, many PCs were still being sold with 5 12" drives as well. No one (of consequence) uses Macs in a corporate environment. There are no business customers pounding at the doors in Cupertino to complain about accessing their legacy data. If Dell had tried that trick in 1995, Gateway would have responded with full page ads proudly proclaiming that their systems did indeed include them.

PC buyers are looking for price and performance; the two areas where Apple has never really been able to compete until fairly recently.
Apple's appeal lies in coolness. Often this has no more substance than aesthetics. Sometimes it has to do with actual features, like Firewire, USB and wireless networking. These features appear in Apple products first because Mac users are fairly resistant to sticker shock, not because Steve Jobs is dialed into the Next Big Thing.

The other advantage of the Apple monopoly is that you can be sure that you'll be able to buy products that actually utilize this technology.
Sure, you may only have a choice of three printers, two scanners and a handful of other peripherals, but at least there's a guarantee that you'll be able to plug something into those new ports. In fact, you'll have to, because your SCSI and ADB peripherals no longer work.

Ultimately, the fact that often gets overlooked by "switch" advocates is whether or not Apple's model of forced technical progress even matters.
Think about what you use your computer for, and then answer the following questions:

- Although the G5's actually surpass top-end P4 performance in several areas in Photoshop, does this really matter to me? Extra cycles only matter if the CPU in question will run the software you use. A Mac may be fine for Aunt Millie, but what about developers? Gamers (http://spherule.com/media/video/switch_parody/switch_dg.mov)? Power users? Businesses? (point: PC)

- Do you mind not being able to walk into your typical computer store and buy virtually any product that interests you? Do you mind being treated like a second-class computer citizen? (Point: PC)

- Are you up to installing the latest security patches, virus definitions and firewalls? Could you recover from a mess if you failed?
(Point: Mac)

- Do the inner-workings of your computer, OS and software mystify you?
Do you even know the difference? (Point: Mac)

- Are you an artist, or artistically inclined? (Point: Mac)

- Are you worried about being held hostage by an often malicious corporate monopoly? (Point: PC. Really. Oh the stories I could tell...)

It's really that simple. I generally recommend Macs to people that don't understand computers, don't want to understand computers, and don't need to understand them; the e-mail, word & web crowd. They are legion and they should all own Macs. And probably would if they were cheaper.

As for me, I don't care faster or more advanced or just plain "cooler"
the Mac is. It doesn't matter how fast it won't run my software.

Ed Armstrong


Subject: the Mac


Mac enthusiasts have always considered it "the technological leader in small computers", but development won't "ferment" any more than it ever has. The problem is (and will remain) the Mac doesn't have the market share to make developing for it worthwhile. Mac versions of commercial software come out after the Windows counterpart, cost more, and aren't as well tested. Most software isn't ported to the Mac at all. If I started a software company today I wouldn't bother porting my product to Apple - I can pick up more than the 2-3% market share by additional marketing and adding more features to the PC version.

Sure, Beta was better than VHS. So what?

Eric Baumgartner


Subject: Yes, Macs running OS/X

can do 'packet writing', if what your correspondent means is generating network traffic using various tools designed to do so. I use it for that all the time as part of my job.

I switched from Linux to OS/X because OS/X is easier to manage and is more elegant.

-- Roland Dobbins


Which should be a representative sample of the reasoned arguments (as opposed to Mac: Hurrah! and Windows: Hurrah and Down with Windoze letters). I'll let you digest that for a while, as I will before I respond.

In my case we will do this: as we got the latest and greatest Powerbook last fall, we will, this spring, get a big G5 Workstation or whatever is the latest and greatest; we'll buy it from an Apple store without any preparation for the visit; and we will see what transpires.

It should be clear that except for games there is nothing I do that a Mac can't do, and given that Word documents can be passed between Mac and PC without difficulty there is no reason Niven and I can't work together on books, me with a Mac and Niven on the hump-back Microsoft Natural keyboard he likes at a Prescott in the other room. Networking Mac and PC isn't trivial but it has been done here and can easily be done again. Larry likes Zip 100 drives (as do I) as a means of off the computer safety storage and for transport between his place and mine, but I can train him to use keyring drives easily enough, and heck, he may decide he likes Macs also.

On the other hand, something ought to be clear: for all the talk about security holes, I have not had a security breach here since Melissa, which of course was caused by my opening an attachment from a PR firm. People say there are no Mac viruses but I am aware of at least one similar to Melissa spread by opening a mail attachment that is actually a program. It doesn't seem ever to have been much of a problem, because by then most people were aware that opening mail attachments is not a great idea; and to be fair, I haven't heard of the Mac virus for some time, certainly not since OS X. On the other hand, I suspect that a sufficiently clever hacker could write a Mac virus. I do recall that back in my days working for the government, it was the conventional wisdom that UNIX could NEVER be entirely secure. Whether that is still The Word in those circles I don't know; but I'm enough of a pessimist (or enough of an optimist about human capabilities) to be pretty sure that anything can be penetrated by someone with enough resources and determination. My point here is that the security issue is a bit of a red herring. People who kept their systems up to date and employed routers or other firewalls were safe enough with Windows, and Macs weren't the target of organized hacking efforts because that's not where the ducks are. Were I to switch over to Mac systems I would not dismantle my hardware firewalls, or be lulled into a false sense of security and I don't advise you to do that either.

Most hacks are social engineering anyway. There is probably more money lost to Identity Theft through phishing than to hacks and security breaches. The Legion of Doom for all their vaunted abilities were mostly con men talking their way to accounts and passwords and privileges by posing as anything from employees to young students worthy of trust.

The real criteria for assessing the usefulness of new technologies and innovations is the impact on productivity, and that takes many forms, ranging from the lowest end of ease of use to the high end of science, sales, data bases, on-line sales, store management, and stuff that requires a very great deal of hardware. Google, I am told, employs about 100,000 LINUX boxes, which says something about technologies right there.

And Linux must not be left out of this discussion. Bob Thompson makes the point that those who install XANDROS Linux seldom look back, and I confess that if all I did was write books and maintain this web site I might well be tempted to go to XANDROS and be done with it. At Thompson notes, you can now set up XANDROS pretty well with no experience at all, and Nephew Nerdie can set up Aunt Minnie's system so that she doesn't know or care that she's using Linux rather than Windows.

But most of us don't operate at the "Office does it all for me" level or at the high end. Most of us don't write programs, but some of us do. I still whip out filters and means of sorting things with small Python programs. I don't do Python as often as I used to because there are more and more utility programs available so I don't have to.

Anyway, I don't expect to settle this discussion, but one reader did note that one thing I can do is use Macs more and pound on Apple when they get something wrong; as well as look at utilities and programs for the Mac, including systems. I was impressed with the way Dan was able to manage Alex's wedding music with a 12" Powerbook. It Just Worked.

This won't end the discussion.


Dr Pournelle,

Amateur brain surgery

"I could I expect in 6 weeks learn enough to pose as a brain surgeon, but not to be able to perform brain surgery."

Oh come now, such modesty! Like the young man who when asked if he could play the violin answered, "I don't know as I've never tried", you might turn out to be a brilliant brain surgeon.

Once, in my youth, I possessed a book entitled 'Amateur Brain Surgery for Fun and Profit' The problem, I thought then and think now, would be finding willing patients.


In German, there are two verbs, 'kennen' and 'wissen', which are both translated into English as 'to know'. But there is an important distinction.

'Kennen' is from the same old Germanic root as is the English 'to know' (or more clearly, the Scots and Northern English 'to ken') and words such as 'knowledge', 'know-how', etc. It means 'to know' by the senses.

Wissen, which is the basis of the German word for science, 'Wissenschaft', derives from the same old Germanic root as the English words 'wit', 'wisdom', 'wise' and 'witch'. It means 'to know' by the mind.

Thus a blind man, who cannot know about light in the first sense, may know about light in the second, if he studies a treatise on optics.

So it is that while few of us can know about brain surgery in the first sense, which is necessary to be able to practice it, any of us with sufficient intelligence and perseverance can know about brain surgery in the second sense.

The first sort of knowing is acquired by training; the second by education.

(Of course, it is our hope and belief that any qualified brain surgeon would 'know' about the topic in both senses.)

Jim Mangles

Indeed. Interestingly, it is possible to learn skills without having to learn theory. In our modern world we have been taught to value Wissenschaft over kenning, but there was a time when we valued know-how over the Ivory Tower.






This week:


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Saturday, December 11, 2004






CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, December 12, 2004

Lots of mail tomorrow. I took the day off.





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