CHAOS MANOR MAIL
Mail 341 December 20 - 26, 2004
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Highlights this week:
December 20, 2004
Begin with this, a reminder of a world that has ended:
Subject: The man who saved the world in 1983
Greetings, sir. The following article reads like a Heinlein short story.
if you decide to pass it along.
In 1983 President Reagan announced the SDI program. Much of his speech was written in Niven's living room in 1981-1982. Some of us who wrote that policy were aware of this, some were not. Of course his White House advisors were.
Subject: Three cheers for the Buffalo teacher's union - no sarcasm intended!
-- Roland Dobbins
I thought of you when I read this, because you said you wanted keep your site organized the way it is.
-- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est" email@example.com http://www.blarg.net/~steveha
I love it.
Continuing a discussion from last week
I find it odd there are people who think you can't understand anything without the math. Your example of political feedback loops is well taken, and I would even go so far as to say "the math" can also obscure the truth. Models describing non-trivial processes are, in any case, approximations. One can get so lost in the twists and turns of complecated math truths which are obvious to the casual observer become non-obvious.
I might understand the reason a climate model is useless for prediction relates to its mathematical stability, but, as you pointed out, you don't have to delve into the math to disprove a climate model that can't produce known outputs from known inputs.
Also, the idea you can't understand evolution without math is ridiculous. Anybody following the news on drug resistance can see evolution in action.
People in my business (software) who can't explain something without losing you in the low-level details are usually trying to hide something, either incompetence or malfeasance.
and on the same subject:
Subject: RE: rocket science
Dear Dr. Pournelle, I agree that you can see whether a bridge or a building falls down without understanding the math of those who designed it, even if you have long ago lost the abiilty to do some of the math.
However, it is a measure of your competence that there was a time that you did have the ability to do the math. It can be very trying to argue with a person who never had the ability, who substitutes in its place sheer emotion.
So before I continue, I'm acknowledging that yes, there's a real problem here, one that makes hard-science majors want to slap some sense into liberal-arts types.
But that doesn't make it a good idea, as the following lengthy excerpt from Jerry P. King's The Art of Mathematics (pp 256-259) illustrates:
... I sat at lunch in the faculty dining room. By random choice my luncheon companions were two assistant professors: a young woman from sociology and a young man from physics. We talked about Three Mile Island. I told my story of the newsbreak and the coincidence of first hearing about the accident when I was exactly over the Susquehanna River. I did not tell them about feeling helpless. Grown-up men of my time and place do not acknowledge helplessness. Not out loud anyway.
When I finished, the sociologist spoke. She referred to the accident as a "disaster" using the term still current in the media even though no injuries had been identified. She spoke of past nuclear disasters and the potential for future disasters. She talked of white men dropping nuclear bombs on yellow people. She mentioned Robert Oppenheimer's famous remark: "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." She talked about capitalist greed and the failed ethic that places concern for electrical power above concern for people. And she spoke of a dark future filled with birth defects and lingering illnesses resulting from the health hazards associated with nuclear power.
She was concerned and passionate. She talked without pause as her fruit salad warmed and her tea cooled. I nodded noncommittingly from time to time and ate my tuna sandwich. The physicist sat listening and motionless. When she finished he said to her quietly:
"You don't know what you are talking about."
She bristled. "Don't bother telling me that no one was hurt so it isn't a disaster. All we know is that no one has yet been identified as being hurt. We don't know what nuclear poison the residents are carrying around inside them."
"That's not my point," the physicist said even more quietly.
"Then what is?"
He took a small notebook from his jacket pocket and then an old-fashioned fountain pen. A real one with ink that comes from a bottle. He took his time unscrewing the cap. He wrote something on a blank page and passed it across to her. She held it up so I could see. He had written a single equation: dy/dt = ky.
"So what?" she said.
"Do you know what this means?" he said, pointing to the equation.
"I am not a mathematician," she said.
"Neither am I," he said. "You don't have to be one to understand this equation. We teach it to freshmen. Ask the dean."
She looked across at me and I nodded again.
This time the young physicist's voice had a slight edge:
"It's the differential equation which describes nuclear decay. When you solve it you get an explicit expression for the decay. When you manipulate the solution in an elementary manner you can determine the half-life of the nuclear substance. You can't talk about future health problems unless you understand these things. And you don't. All you have to say is air. Nothing but air."
He paused and sipped his tea. She looked across at me again. Lost and helpless.
"I'd write the solution of the equation for you," he said, "but you wouldn't understand that either."
Without a word she rose and left the table and the room. I finished the last bite of my sandwich and walked out behind her. The young physicist remained alone with his lunch, smug and satisfied.
In the evening I related the lunch table events to my wife.
"It was no contest," I said. "He's type M. She is type N."
"What's type M?"
"The M stands for mathematics," I said. "He has some facility with mathematics. Such people are of type M."
"Do you mean something inherent? Like blood type?"
"Absolutely not," I said. "You become type M by learning some mathematics. You aren't born that way. What I mean by 'facility' is a certain level of skill and knowledge. Anyone can become type M; it requires only study and practice."
"What does type N mean?"
"The N just stands for 'not M.' People who are not type M are of type N. Type N people have no real mathematical skill."
"Interesting," she said.
"It's more than that," I said. "It is fundamental. People of type N cannot argue science or technology with people of type M."
"Because they always lose."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," I said. "They lose even when they are right."
Nyrath the nearly wise
Mathematics is a language. It has a precision that English does not have, but it can also be used to obscure the fact that we are drawing conclusions from a model, and the model may or may not represent the real world. Newton's equations describe the orbits of the planets, and may be used to predict where the planets will be rather far into the future: but they are not entirely correct, and predicted Mercury's position sufficiently inaccurately that modifications to the model were required. Climate models are in perfectly good mathematics: they just don't have any ability to predict future conditions (at least they can't predict the present given the past as input).
I agree that an understanding of what mathematics is about can be important for policymakers; but it is not vital, and I will continue to contend that one may understand complex issues without knowing the internal math.
Subject: Bush Blamed for 'Devastating Consequences of Global Warming'
I guess spending trillions on "symbolic effects" is good (but not one penny for Tribute!)...
"After a relentless attack on the United States for opposing the Kyoto Protocol, environmental groups concede the international treaty will have no impact on what they believe to be impending catastrophic global warming..."
Cheers, Rod Schaffter
-- "1918's now just another year we won the World Series." -- Red Sox GM Theo Epstein.
Mathematics as a tool.
If you are stressing an aeroplane wing use math. (Or a really good excuse). And even then make one and see how hard it is to bend. For diffuse problems like global warning and making models of economies don't bother. Become instead an expert on experts. Invent your own tests but here are a few to get you started:-
Is the assertion fashionable? It's probably wrong. Is there a lot of money in it for someone if it turns out to be true or merely thought to be true? It's undoubtedly wrong. Did a previously respected academic get fired for saying it? It's true. A spin doctor or public relations adviser is paid to put the best face on a fact or situation. This is to mislead, which is to deceive, or in plain speech to lie. It's a lie.
A few examples: Read all the literature, the jury is still out on global warming. The most radioactive place in the UK, nuclear establishments excepted, is a beauty spot. It's ok the radiation is natural. The Bank of England and the Treasury have computer models of the economy of unparalleled sophistication. More reliable forecasts may be had by simply extrapolating present conditions. A previously respected professor at an American university has just been fired for saying the wrong thing in a paper published in Nature, a journal not given to flights of fancy.
Last, never forget that Long Term Capital Management, with two economics Nobel laureates, and a mathematical model to beat all mathematical models, would have been bankrupt if the Fed. hadn't bailed them out. LTCM were undoubtedly good at sums but apparently had not heard of tail risk. Tail risk is the danger of a low probability, high impact event. This is odd since most householders are insured against the tail risk of fire.
Hello Dr. Pournelle,
I recently discovered La Griffe du Lion ( http://www.lagriffedulion.f2s.com/ ), which has an amazing series of articles and dialogs about IQ. I am particularly taken by the whimsical nature of the dialogs between Mentor and Prodigy.
Cheers, Clyde Wisham
**** "What is history but the story of how politicians have squandered the blood and treasure of the human race."-- Thomas Sowell ****
Griffe is a participant in a discussion group I sometimes hang out in. We had some discussions of Ashkenazi IQ here some time ago, in a section called "Overclocking the Brain".
December 21, 2004
Subject: IMPORTANT - PHP Forum Software Worm Widespread
A new work dubbed "Santy"or "php/chaploit" is rapidly defacing web sites running the phpBB discussion forum software. The worm uses a Google search to find web sites running that software; the search string used is "inurl:phpbb inurl:viewtopic" . A Google search using that string will find over one million hits; so there are many sites using this software.
Once a site is found, the worm then uses a vulnerability in that software to overwrite various "php" and "htm" files with a message "This site is defaced!!!" Some reports indicate that the worm may also install a 'root kit', which allows the hacker full access to the server.
An MSN search for those text strings will find over 37,000 sites that have been successfully attacked.
There is a workaround until a fix is released; web site operators using the phpBB software should immediately enable that workaround, and monitor for updates.
I suspect that many of your readers might have this software installed on their personal Linux servers. It does not appear to infect user computers, only Linux servers running the phpBB software. Some anti-virus software is providing detection at this time, but the threat is evolving.
Regards, Rick Hellewell
-- "Recent research from leading American universities has produced strong evidence that the civil rights revolution of the past half century has failed African Americans economically and educationally. Angela O'Rand and Mary Elizabeth Hughes, both professors of sociology at Duke University, reveal in their book _The Life and Times of the Baby Boomers_, released last week, that black Americans born between 1946 and 1964 earn only two thirds of what American whites earn-no more, relative to whites, than their parents and grandparents earned. Even more surprising is O'Rand and Hughes's finding that African Americans were graduating at the same rate as whites eighty to ninety years ago, but that graduation rates for blacks peaked in the mid-1950s-at the start of the movement for racial integration. Professor Richard Sander, of the UCLA School of Law, reports on studies that indicate that affirmative action and similar programs has made blacks admitted to elite universities less likely to pursue Ph.Ds after four years of competition with white and Asian undergraduates than are black at state universities (from Stephen Cole and Elinor Barber's _Increasing Faculty Diversity_, Harvard University Press, 2003), while Dartmouth psychologist Rogers Elliott and three colleagues discovered that half of blacks admitted to college by racial preferences abandon majors in science due to their academic disadvantage ("The Role of Ethnicity in Choosing and Leaving Science in Highly Selective Institutions," 37 _Research in Higher Education_, 681, 695-696, 1996). Professor Hughes notes that the persistent failure to achieve racial equality in income and education "suggests there are very deep root causes here, not one-answer causes."
In just 30 generations, dramatic alterations in behavior in a complex mammalian species were attained through artificial selection. The resulting foxes are now tame enough to sell as pets. That corresponds to less than 1 kiloyear for humans...far less than the dozens of kiloyears since the original migration from Africa.
Point: the brain is not off limits to evolution.
The foxes were not trained, so the major component of their tameness should be genetic. Tameness was measured by the ability of young, sexually mature foxes to behave in a friendly manner to their handlers, wagging their tales and whining. Eventually, a "domesticated elite" classification arose—these were the foxes that actually sought to establish human contact, licking the scientists like dogs would. By the tenth generation, 18 percent of the young foxes were in this elite category. By the twentieth generation, 35% were in this category. Today, over forty years after the breeding had begun, these domesticated foxes comprise from 70-80% of the test population....
After 40 years and over 30 generations of selection, has the physical nature of the population changed? The most obvious physiological changes involved corticosteroids. In wild foxes, the levels of corticosteroids, hormones involved in adaptation to stress, rise sharply between the age of 2–4 months, reaching adult levels by 8 months of age. The domesticated wolves had their corticosteroid surge significantly later. The domesticated foxes have a much lower adrenal response to stress, and they have more serotonin in their blood. Other physical changes produced by selection for tamability were the constellation of characters associated with domestication: regional depigmentation, floppy ears, and rolled tails.
***However, in only 40 years, the fox has been domesticated by this group to such a degree that they can be sold as pets.***
Back to devbio.com Evolution and Domestication: Selection on Developmental Genes?
Price (1984) defined domestication as "a process by which a population of animals becomes adapted to man and the captive environment, by some combination of genetic changes occurring over generations and environmentally induced developmental events recurring during each generation." Domesticated animals differ significantly from animals in the wild. There appears to be a suite of characteristics that accompany domestication, and these characteristics have be linked to pedomorphosis—the retention of juvenile characteristics in the adult body (Coppinger and Smith 1983; Price 1984; Morey 1994).
When one thinks about domestication, the case of dogs becomes paramount. The dog was probably the first animal to be domesticated (although some anthropologists have said that humans, themselves, actually deserve this title). Indeed, we shouldn't even call these animals dogs, since Canis familiaris (the scientific name for dog) is more a name of convenience than that denoting a real species (see Isaac 1970). The actual name might be Canis lupus, the wolf. Wolves and dogs can interbreed, and the morphological differences between wolves and dogs are certainly as close as that between the different dog types (such as Great Dane, French poodle, and Chihuahua). Perhaps the dogs we are dealing with are Canis lupus familiaris, a subspecies of the wolf.
Many arguments about domestication (see Morey 1994) focus on the notion of intentionality. That is to say, did humans select the traits they wanted (human intention), or did humans merely provide a new ecological niche that the wolves exploited ("self domestication")? In the latter scenario, (Zeuner 1963; Coppinger and Smith 1983) the wolves that became dogs may have started out as scavengers around human camp sites and became accustomed to human handouts. Such debates focus more on what it is to be human (as a manipulator of nature) than on what it is to be a dog. There probably was a reciprocal relationship (something that any dog "owner" can tell us about) between wolves finding a new niche and humans finding a furry friend and helper. Both natural selection and artificial selection may have contributed to wolf domestication.
So whether by human intention or niche exploitation, some wolves have become dogs. How did this occur? In becoming domesticated, wolves have undergone numerous morphological, physiological, and behavioral changes. Morey (1994) finds a common factor in pedomorphosis. The adult dog has retained many of the phenotypic traits of the juvenile wolf. The skulls are broad for their length, and juvenile behavioral traits such as whining, barking, and submissiveness, are retained in the adult dog. Morey considers pedomorphosis as a byproduct of natural selection for early sexual maturity and small body size that would increase the fitness of wolves in exploiting a new ecological niche.
Interestingly, the constellation of pedomorphic behaviors and morphologies is also seen in the domestication of other animals. These morphological changes include: the appearance of dwarf or giant varieties, piebald coat colors, curly tails, shortened tails with fewer vertebrae, and floppy ears. Physiological changes also occur as both herbivores and carnivores are domesticated. The most notable of these involves changes in the reproductive cycles that end the yearly estrus. Behavioral changes mostly involve tameness, a suite of characteristics that make the animal docile and malleable to human intentions. Moreover, these changes appear to be inherited. <snip>
As I have often said, I have theory about human evolution and dogs: a long time ago we made them a pact. We would take care of them and their children, and we would devote our forebrains to learning to think. They would keep using their forebrains for sense of smell, guard our camps, defend our children, and help us hunt. They could have got smarter too, but that wasn't their job.
Subject: Climate models
Dr. Pournelle, You've said that climate models can't predict the present given the past as input. What that leaves out is that the past (in terms of climate) isn't well enough known to be used as input to the models! This is a consequence of the nonlinearity of climate, and therefore climate modeling. Like yourself, I once had the math to look at the models myself, but it has atrophied from disuse.
The only math that I learned in college (where I had a computer science/math major until my last quarter, when I dropped the math) that I have ever found directly useful (as opposed to entertaining) is statistics and, to some extent, probability. The calculus and linear algebra are useful in that I can understand where some numbers and equations are derived from, even if I can't do the derivations myself.
Rather like the Latin I learned in high school. I can't read or write Latin (anymore) but I can remember the various parts of the language, and that gives insight to other languages.
I have had some luck recovering data from damaged hard drives by using a Knoppix Linux disc. Knoppix is a version of Linux that boots from a CD and will allow you to read data from a hard drive and write that data to a CD if the PC is equipped with a CDRW drive. I have used it several times to recover data from supposedly dead drives. It has become an indispensable part of my toolkit.
Robert Blanchette IT Manager Southwest Energy
I may give that a try. The only files I really miss now are some scripts I did for Medieval Warfare. Those I'd like to have back.
Subject: Phishing Prevention
Dr. Pournelle -
It's a browser add-on that automatically shows the actual domain that you are visiting in the toolbar. This is enough information to easily detect every phishing scam I've encountered, though I can imagine situations where it would fail. It works on Firefox and IE.
And GOOD news:
On mature consideration. Whoopee.
I have gotten a number of these Paypal phishing e-mails, too. They are getting more clever by the month.
Paypal has an e-mail address you can simply forward them to: firstname.lastname@example.org
More information here:
I did forward that yesterday and today got back an automated reply to the effect that it was fake.
But note the comments about 3 different trials of
Celebrex where only one trial found a risk.
Both my parents are on Celebrex and so I'm keen to know more.
Naproxen Risk Deals Third Blow to Pain Patients
By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. health regulators warned on Monday of heart risks connected to over-the-counter painkiller naproxen, a further blow to patients seeking pain relief that creates additional confusion over the safety of similar drugs after recent warnings for two other painkillers.
The warning follows studies showing increased heart risks in two prescription painkillers. Merck & Co. Inc. withdrew its arthritis drug Vioxx in September. Pfizer Inc. has kept its arthritis medicine Celebrex on the market, but has suspended consumer advertising.
The recent burst of new data is unclear, at least one rheumatologist said, and doctors may have to closely match painkillers to patients based on their medical histories.
"It's really confusing for us and our patients," said rheumatologist Dr. Gregory Gardner, who studies joint, muscle and bone-related diseases at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Naproxen and Celebrex are in a group of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which include aspirin and ibuprofen. Within that group, Vioxx and Celebrex are part of a class known as Cox-2 inhibitors, along with Pfizer's Bextra.
Older drugs like aspirin can cause stomach bleeding and ulcers. Newer Cox-2s were designed to prevent such gastrointestinal side effects.
Some medical experts had suspected naproxen might have a beneficial effect on the heart.
When the first signs of a heart risk with Vioxx came to light in 2000, Merck argued the results were skewed by the protective effects of naproxen on other patients taking part in the trial.
Gardner said he would want to see more data on naproxen since it was thought to have a heart protective effect. "I'm not sure I would change my practices based on a single study," he said.
http://search.yahoo.com/search?fr=web-storylinks&p=FDA> )'s latest
warning stems from a National Institutes of Health (news <
The late-stage trial began in 2001 and was designed to study 2,625 patients for up to 7 years.
Celebrex showed "no significant increase" in risk for cardiac trouble or stroke in the trial, the NIH said.
On Friday, Pfizer said a different NIH study investigating inflammation as a cause of cancer showed Celebrex more than doubled the risk of heart attack and strokes. That study was also halted.
But another long-term trial designed to see if the drug could prevent colon polyps did not show such risks, Pfizer said.
Bayer AG makes Aleve, and Roche Palo Alt.co, a subsidiary of Roche AG, makes Naprosyn.
Clearly I have no expertise in this matter. My apologies for the impossible web site stuff I tried to format it as best I could. I was recently on a Celebrex-like stuff, and it certainly did good things for some joint pains I had. On the other hand, I'd rather have joint pains than chest pains or strokes...
Subject: Seitz column for link
I am always pleased to draw attention to Russell's work.
-- Roland Dobbins
And a Merry New Yorker Christmas to everyone...
FYI, the phpBB vulnerability that Rick Hellewell brings to your attention is referenced in this posting:
It was announced on the 18th of November and our server (and yours) was patched the next day. This is another one of the fruits of mis-administration ... phpBB admins all should have taken precautions and done simple code modifications last month.
But the next one may catch us all by surprise. That's why we have good off-machine, off-site backups, refreshed daily.
Oh, and as far as I know, the phpBB vulnerability exists on any platform that phpBB runs on. That makes it a Windows problem, too, not just Linux.
December 22, 2004
I don't usually send out group e-mails, but after the gut wrenching reports of the attack on Mosul today, I received this from a fellow anesthetist. It reminded me of what we are doing there, and the pride I feel in being part of it. I just wanted to share it. Sorry, don't mean to be annoying, but today really hit home. Those were our comrades.
If you have dial up, it will take a while to download. It takes several minutes to play.
Subject: Perhaps the Takings Clause actually means something?
- Roland Dobbins
Unlikely but we can hope.
Subject: How it's done.
- Roland Dobbins
I just read that in the print copy. Amazing.
I was actually spending a fair amount of time in Washington, D.C. when Hilliarycare was under debate. From up close it was obvious that what sank HC was not a handful of NeoCons (would that we had that kind of power), but a vast groundswell of political opposition from the owners of small businesses who feared that HC's health insurance mandate would drive them under financially.
That groundswell was the nucleus of the wave that swept Gingrich into power in the 1994 election.
As for socializing insurance companies in nationalizing public health care, I assume that there is some reason that everyone who can flee these systems does so, so why would the United States move towards a system that others are moving away from?
That said, coming up with a plan to enable (/force) every American resident to perform his public duty to carry enough health insurance so that neither he nor his dependents are taking the risk of becoming a financial burden to their fellows should bad luck in the form of ill health strike is my highest public policy priority for 2005. Key to making this affordable is variability in the terms of insurance. A few citizens will want to opt for the massively expensive "futile care" during their dying process that is now the standard of care in America, but I think most will prefer to pay a lot less and check the box that says "No, Thanks."
(Note that if America has a health care establishment that the average family can afford, We Simply Are Not Trying Hard Enough!)
Subject: New backup tricks under Windows 2003
Sorry about your backup woes. You sound like you are actually in pretty good shape, considering!
Windows 2003 had a new feature called Volume Shadow Copy. In a nutshell, it lets aware programs (like Windows Backup, but not xcopy) save open files.
One obscure gotcha is you can’t do Volume Shadow Copy on any partition that contains an SQL Server database. These aren’t always obvious, so search for *.mdf files.
While we’re on the subject of Windows Server 2003, you have to deploy and test the “Shadow Copies of Shared Folders” feature when you make the Win 2003 leap. It lets you get back older versions of single files or whole folders at any time by right clicking. It’s simple to set up and way cool!
Thanks for the entertaining column and the sci-fi too.
Subject: New York's Electors Did NOT vote for John F. Kerry!
The Federal Register "Certificate of Vote" shows that
someone named "John L. Kerry" got New York's thirty-one electoral votes for
Given that one of the electors in Minnesota accidentally voted for John Edwards for president, this election could have been *really* hairy! Imagine if Kerry had been the "clear winner" in November, only to lose the real election due to such screw-ups. What fun in the streets we would see, no?
Thanks for all you do, Robin Juhl http://www.robinjuhl.homelinux.net/weblog/
Compulsory health care
Jim Says, "As for socializing insurance companies in nationalizing public health care, I assume that there is some reason that everyone who can flee these systems does so, so why would the United States move towards a system that others are moving away from?"
So, why does not a single country on the planet try in any way to emulate the US 'system' (I use the term loosely) of health care--even countries significantly richer than the US per head, like Switzerland, Sweden or Norway? In fact they do everything they can to avoid the US situation. I assume there must be a reason for that too.
Why should it be that every European knows that the US is the worst place among the first world countries to fall ill, and that the health insurance cost of even a short trip to the US is many times greater than that needed for trips to the rest of the first world--yet the US outcome is no better.
In other words, you Americans are paying a very great deal more for nothing extra. In fact, because not everyone is properly insured, you're paying a very great deal more for what is actually less.
How so? Both the uninsured get less and the insured pay much more for no more. That's a less-than-zero-sum game.
Anyone who flees to the US health system from any other first world country's system is either seriously misinformed or hasn't done the sums.
As an outside observer at the time, I though 'Hillary care' was deeply flawed. But that's a long way from saying that what you have now is the best possible in the best of all possible worlds.
I don't intend to get into a long nationalistic debate on this, but you live on a different planet from me. On mine, the US may have expensive health care, and horror places like Martin Luther King Hospital in South LA which would have been closed for incompetence except for the riots which resulted in attempting to close it (cops won't be taken there, even if shot on its doorsteps; they go to County / USC a good bit further away); but with some exceptions like that, I would have thought the US is the right place to be if you want to stay well. The chap who wrote that above about Hillarycare is a multimillionaire who can afford to go anywhere in the world, and a proper health nut to boot so he would go elsewhere if he though it worth while. And I find the Kaiser system here quite satisfactory.
My own experience was interesting: when I was 64 my Kaiser dues were about $350 a month to include everything including wife and one child. When I turned 65 I had a choice: increase my dues to $1150 a month, or let the US government (meaning the taxpayers) pay my dues for me. It didn't take long to decide. Why I was suddenly a $1150/month risk after being $350/month for two of us after August 7 has not been explained to me although I can in fact infer the reason. Democracy is an interesting form of government: in our case it has the practical effect of transferring money from the young, who have little property but don't have a voting block, to the elderly who have lots of property but are organized into voting blocks.
Of course the young work, and as we get older and older most don't; but we can vote so that makes up for it. Hurrah for democracy.
But have it your way. I really don't care if London's medical care system is better than Los Angeles', although I would be astonished to find that was true. And I know about Russian health care through friends who learned the hard way. As to Sweden, it depends a lot on who you are, for all its egalitarianism.
Merry CHRISTmas, Boss.
Regarding Asimo the running robot......what were those Three Laws, again? Looks like we're going to need them sooner than we thought.
Professor Tim Pleasant Colorado Springs
Watching the Honda tape (tape?, film? what do we call it now, the language doesn't keep up) I was struck that this was something I had never seen before, a real robot running. Gort couldn't run. Robbie most certainly couldn't, though he could drive fast. Can this thing do what the Daleks could never really do and navigate a flight of stairs? It does look very much the way I pictured Heinlein's "Mobil Infantry", but it has the advantage of not having a trooper inside of it. I suppose the next question is how is its marksmanship?
Thank you and Merry Christmas to you!
John Hanlon in snowy Syracuse, NY
Subject: Martian squeegee-critters?
- Roland Dobbins
I had read that article and didn't figure out what you referred to with that subject. Chuckle.
---- Roland Dobbins
Best argument I have seen for space based SDI systems... And a good sky search. And see below
By John Borland In the back of Carlos Owens' southern Alaska yard, an 18-foot-tall steel robot is taking shape in the dim light of the winter afternoons.
The 26-year-old Owens is an Anchorage-area steelworker by day. In his own time, he's hoping to become the creator of a true "mecha"--not a robot, exactly, but a gigantic exoskeleton that can transform its wearer's motions into eight-foot strides and the devastating sweep of a steel fist.
Sure, it sounds like a cartoon or sci-fi fantasy--but so were moon landings 50 years ago. Owens' mecha project is well on its way to completion, its horned red head and pincher hands towering above its creator under a few inches of snow. He's hoping to finish it in time for a test spin at the local drag racetrack next summer, demolishing a few cars to show off its capabilities.
"This is a concept that's been around for a long time," Owens said in a telephone interview. "But I'm not going to wait for the other guy to come out and make it when I've got the capability to do it myself."
The project is a tinkerer's dream, a homegrown technological mania in the same better-judgment-be-damned spirit as the Homebrew Computer Club that ultimately gave birth to Apple Computer and Silicon Valley's microcomputer industry. In Owens' case, the scale simply happens to be more macro than micro.
He's drawing from an imaginative well that has inspired big corporations and the U.S. military, as well as innumerable video game developers and Hollywood directors over the years. A Japanese manga, or comic book, called "Tetsujin 28-go" was published in the late 1950s featuring the adventures of a giant robot, and was ultimately animated and released in the United States as "Gigantor." Hundreds of Japanese anime cartoons such as "Robotech" or "Mobile Suit Gundam" later featured giant robots, often controlled by human pilots. It's been a common theme in U.S. science fiction, too, although typically on a more human scale. Robert Heinlein's 1959 novel "Starship Troopers," and the 1997 film made from the book, featured soldiers with powerful exoskeletal armor that dramatically augmented their strength. Sigourney Weaver's character in "Aliens" fights wearing something a little like what Owens is trying to build, and powered armor made a prominent appearance in last year's "Matrix Revolutions." <snip>
Of course the lesson of the Matrix movies is that computers really really like Kung Fu
Subject: New heavy-lift vehicle?
Is this as close as we can get to a Saturn V after more than 30 years?
Thanks for doing it all so we don't have to!
And yet it is progress.
Subject: Identity-group politics taken to the lunatic extreme.
- Roland Dobbins
And yet there may be more to this story. Some geeks really do get depressed from being beat up all the time. I recall when we moved from Capleville where we sometimes carried .410 shotguns to school in 6th grade and up (leaving them in the cloak room) to Memphis where no such things happened. As Mr. Heinlein says, an armed society is polite. Even in 6th grade. Which was most assuredly not the case in Memphis in higher grades, until I go on the boxing team.
Subject: DVD format wars - 30 gigs vs. 200 gigs
Greetings, sir. I thought I'd mention that the Beta vs. VHS wars appear to be starting to replay on the DVD format.
Here's a computer/DVD-related excerpt that highlights the differences in the formats:
The good news is that if HD-DVD does turn out to be a low-capacity sham, Hollywood probably won't be able to force it down our throats. DVDs aren't just for movies anymore: Whichever disk wins out will almost certainly become the standard for new computers, game consoles, and other gadgets, just as CD and DVD drives did. It's unlikely that computer users—or computer manufacturers—will settle for a medium that stores 30 gigs of data rather than 200 [gigs] because it saves Warner Bros. a little money.
Subject: regarding publicly-funded research
No matter how Schwarz and others defend the efficacy of it, the point is that I read nowhere in the US Constitution, the Bible, or any other staple that gives authority for the State to take from me, under the threat of force, and give it to others. The end of it is that I am forced once to fund research I don't want to fund, AND THEN I am forced to pay once again for the fruits of all the research because of all the people who whine and moan about how expensive the pills and treatments are. Y'see, the mob has been convinced they have a "right" to it. Witness the GOP-led prescription drug benefit. That was only the beginning.
Schwarz writes: "If people want a world without government-funded basic research in the sciences, please, let them at least first think long and hard about what they imagine they would get in its place."
What do you mean "IF..."? When did I get to choose from an "IF"-type proposition? He acts as if there is even a possibility it could be any other way. There isn't. This is purely an academic discussion. Nothing will change. Statist scientists' livelihoods are alive and well and will continue to be so, as long as the Corporate State wants them as lapdogs. If it was a futures market, I would go 'long'.
No worries, Dr Schwarz. The modern State apparatus won't let it happen.
Stuart Preston Tucson
Something to think about, if a bit depressing:
I blogged on this here, w/ plenty of quotes:
Chinese Genetic Engineering
Chinese attitudes towards coercive eugenics:
Here's something to chew on: is China's booming market oligarchy system superior to liberal democracy in an age of genetic engineering? I've been pondering this myself quite a bit. Ok, some data first:
The Chinese passed a law in 1995 on infant and maternal health with explicitly eugenic passages. See here:
The following are key excerpts from the official translation of China's Maternal and Infant Health Care Law, which came into effect in 1995. <snip>
Subject: British Perceptions of American Healthcare
Regarding the e-mail praising 'London' health care - I lived in London from 1989-1991 and was surprised at how the English see American health care.... they were (and apparently still are) firmly convinced that their system is FAR superior to our own. Vague stories of Americans being refused treatment for lack of funds were common. The general assumption was that only the 'rich' get acceptable care. The rest of us get substandard care.
Ironic. You would sometimes see oldsters wearing little gold 'hip' bone pins - these were the lucky few to whom the state had granted the right to a hip replacement (usually after months-to-years waiting for a slot). If you are too old or too frail or otherwise not able to meet the government's criteria, then it was, "here's your cane and some pain pills and Cheers"
My wife, an American-trained subspecialist physician was engaged in medical research there, and was regularly invited to 'Grand Rounds' - she would regularly come home shaking her head at the bureaucratic nonsense their physicians engaged in - doing things that were clearly inadequate for the sole reason that the government would not allow them to go on to the indicated procedure until the 'cheaper' procedures had been done...even when everyone knew it was a waste of time. The physician's professional judgment had no standing. The one time she asked the obvious question and got embarrassed silence.
By the way, this research hospital had a mix of patients - National Health and 'private' (usually foreign nationals) who paid for their care... The paying patients were regularly snubbed and treated rudely by the staff.
I noted Jim Mangles' letter with interest.
A few years ago, my father (who was just under 70 at the time) was having heart problems while in England (he was aware of the problems before he left, but wouldn't miss out on a Dodge Family Association trip (Hi, Harry!)).
So he was seen at a hospital in England, where they told him "hmmm ... you have some clogged blood vessels in your heart. When you get home, you'll want to get on the waiting list right away". Dad replied: "What waiting list? I'll have the operation as soon as I get home"
And when he got home, he had septuple-bypass heart surgery. If he had lived in England, there's a good chance he wouldn't be around now.
Mr. Mangles might also like to know that there are a lot of "misinformed" Canadians who come to America for medical services because they can't wait out the long lines in their own country.
FWIW, I'm not a "neocon" or a small business owner, but the threat of Hillarycare (and reading an interesting book titled "Take Back Your Government") was enough to get me involved in mainstream politics.
Mr. Mangles continues to challenge me to name one country that wants to adopt the US system, as if the intelligence of politicians were the actual factor of importance. But perhaps he is right.
My own "system" is Kaiser, plus a network of physician friends and their network to specialists. Admittedly that's not likely to be a system available to everyone but it probably is to anyone in the US who reads this. Of course egalitarians will insist that is unfair. Smart people ought not use their brains to personal advantage.
Subject: The Backup Religion
In your column of Dec. 20, 2004, you noted: "The first moral of this story should be obvious: If a system does something entirely unexpected, like telling you that files are read only when there is no reason for them to be read only, it's a clue: back that system up, pronto, there's no time to waste."
I have been in the process of upgrading things, and have an IBM T41 laptop that has a super fast 7200rpm 60Gb hard drive in it. My first attempt at this upgrade earlier this year ended in disaster when the hard drive uncerimoniously failed with the IBM Air Bag issue (the IBM Air Bag software did not work properly with the early drive firmware).
I recall putting the machine on the floor in the family room while I went out the kitchen. When I returned, the laptop had rebooted on its own. I logged on and (fool that I was at the time) thought all was well. I didn't take any special precautions. As is my practice when strange things happen, I shut the laptop down to get a clean start. It never did. It was all over, and that drive is history. My backups were decent, but not 100 percent. Now I am much more careful about backing up my Outlook file on the laptop.
By the way, later in the year, I purchased a slightly used Dothan processor, and upgraded the Banias CPU to a 1.8GHz Dothan CPU. Coupled with the (new) 7200 rpm hard drive, it is a very speedy machine.
Best regards, ... John Hurst
I have been a longtime reader of your material and have a great deal of respect for you. I ran across the Slashdot comments as well, but what I find astonishing was the number of comments that went along time lines of "Well, if humankind is doomed, so what? We had our chance, time to move over and let someone else have a chance."
Its easy to say "what have these people been smoking?", but that's too easy an answer. I think the society that can create people with that kind of attitude has failed them. If there are only a few, it is easy to write them off and hope they don't pass this trait along.
But I fear that it isn't a very few people. What have we done to give these people such a feeling of utter hopelessness? What does it say about our future if these people end up in government? Is this just an education problem, or is it something deeper? I am wondering what your thoughts on this might be.
-- Paul Crowley
On that score see the discussion on education and bright kids over in view
Subject: The Specter of 'Taylorism'.
----- Roland Dobbins
Quick fixes to military problems are always tempting... An Uncertain Trumpet indeed.
Subject: The UN as a trade association...
A really interesting analysis at Tech Central Station. Takeaway line: "The United Nations is the trade association for the wolrd's executive branches -- the place where executive branches come together to promote their individual interests to one another, and to promote the expansion of executive authority in general."
Read the whole thing; it's as good an explanation as I've ever seen of why the UN intervened in Kuwait and Haiti but not, say, in Zimbabwe or Sudan.
December 24, 2004
Made Elsewhere: In China, Neckties Are Southeast of Socks City
December 24, 2004 By DAVID BARBOZA
DATANG, China - You probably have never heard of this factory town in coastal China, and there is no reason why you should have. But it fills your sock drawer.
Datang produces an astounding nine billion pairs of socks each year - more than one set for every person on the planet. People here fondly call it Socks City, and its annual socks festival attracts 100,000 buyers from around the world.
Southeast from here is Shenzhou, which is the world's necktie capital. To the west is Sweater City and Kid's Clothing City. To the south, in the low-rent district, is Underwear City.
This remarkable specialization, one city for each drawer in your bureau, reflects the economies of scale and intense concentration that have helped turn China into a garment behemoth. On Jan. 1, a new trade regime will end the decades-old system of country-by-country quotas that divide the world's exports among roughly 150 countries. Now, China is banking on its immense size and efficient operators to grab an even larger share of the world's clothing orders.
Neither Adam Smith nor Karl Marx could possibly have imagined that this kind of capitalism would evolve from a communist system in quite this way, with an obscure town in the middle of nowhere becoming the world's socks capital. But these days, buyers from New York to Tokyo want to be able to buy 500,000 pairs of socks all at once, or 300,000 neckties, 100,000 children's jackets, or 50,000 size 36B bras. And increasingly, the places that best accommodate those kinds of orders are China's giant new specialty cities.
December 25, 2004
The Feast of the Nativity, commonly known as Christmas
From: "Hershberger Maj Willam K" <HershbergerWK@3MAWDM.usmc.mil>
Sent: Saturday, December 25, 2004 6:13 AM Subject: Merry Christmas from Iraq
Hello All, I don't often send mass emails, but I wanted to reach out and say Merry Christmas to as many people as I could today. Even being in the desert of Iraq, halfway around the world from our families, it seems the spirit of Christmas is in the air. Although I was not able to make it there, I was told the Christmas Eve services were packed. While I was standing a post last night, the heavy brass section (tubas and what-not) of the 3rd Marine Air Wing band, who are out here with us, made a tour of local areas of the base and seronaded us with Christmas songs - it really helped put us in the mood, even while standing behind a wall of sandbags in my flak jacket and a loaded M-16 over my shoulder. I went to a service this morning that was well attended and very inspiring. And although it is a very gray, drizzly, Seattle-like day, all the Marines I pass seem to be in the holiday spirit. So even out here in the Iraqi desert, it is possible to be inspired in a righteous kind of way. I want to thank all for the email, letters, cards, packages, and prayers that have come our way. And a special thank you to those of you who are extending yourselves to help Jennifer and the kids deal with this deployment. As the chaplain related in this morning's sermon, I don't feel worthy of all the attention, support, and encouragement that has been directed this way. It is very humbling, and very much appreciated. Me and my family are just one of many, many families who are making sacrifices during this holiday season - and there are many whose sacrifices are much, much greater than mine and my fellow Marines here at Al Asad. I was in the back of a helicopter yesterday with a couple of Marines just coming out of Fallujah for a couple days. These are guys who haven't had a shower, a good nights sleep, done laundry, or probably had a hot meal in some time - fresh out of the field, fresh from duking it out with the "muj". They related to me some of their recent experiences; most importantly the fact that just the day before, one of their units had lost several Marines. Other than being out there with them, there's not a whole lot that more effectively brings you back down to earth and and makes you appreciate what you've got than a talk with guys like that. They are the real heroes out here who are getting the job done, and they deserve all the support that is coming this way from friends and family like you. I'm doing well. The weather is cold these days, but my fellow Marines and I are for the most part living and working in real buildings that have sufficient heating to stay comfortable. Coldest we've seen is about 21F, and during the day it gets up to 60 if we're lucky. A number of you have expressed concern regarding the tragic incident up in Mosul several days ago; I'm not close to Mosul, but even so events like that tend to affect us all and the ways we approach our own security posture. I don't get a lot of detail about what the media is saying about the event, but rest assured, there's probably not a single soul out here that blames this incident on Donald Rumsfeld (we tend to blame the insurgency)...
Best of wishes to all this holiday season! Thanks again for all the support, and please continue to show support for our Marines and other troops out here at the pointy tip of the spear!
Semper Fi and Merry Christmas, Bill
X- Great to hear from you. I just flew back from another base this morning
with a FAC from 1/3 and another from 3/5 (?). They were just coming out of Fallujah for a few days R&R, and had some sobering words to say about the current sit in Fallujah. We lost a few Marines yesterday, apparently, and dropped a lot of bombs. Things are not cold yet. From descriptions I've heard of the town and the actions of the Marines, it sounds to me like Fallujah is almost the Hue City of 2004. As a staff guy with a clean uniform and a shower within the last couple days, I truly feel humbled by these guys. I wish I was in the cockpit slinging some lead on their behalf. Hope you have a great holiday season! S/F, BERGER
Merry Christmas you're under arrest
A new way to frame someone?
My money's on the wife:
- Roland Dobbins
Not me. My guess is a real terrorist has found a new way to help us destroy ourselves with excessive paranoia. I don't give a damn if the man next to me on an airplane has a box cutter, any more than I care to have every bus passenger or fellow shopper in a mall searched for box cutters. The 911 disaster happened because we let it, threatening to jail any passenger who opposed a hijacker. It won't happen again, and the searches for knives have nothing to do with it. Perhaps we ought to search for guns, and certainly means of detecting explosives are appropriate, but knives are no more threat on an airplane than they are in an airport.
We are fools, and we are working with the terrorists to destroy ourselves, and Pineta and his crew of intelligence deprived advisors may know it for all I know. The TSA is no friend to the President or the United States.
A big problem of ours is that our Department of Commerce does marketing about as well as I dance (i.e., their attempts are painful to watch). DOC should be opening up "The American Clinic" "franchises" all across China and other rapidly-developing nations to give the locals enough of a sample of American-style medicine to get them hooked on it and demanding more. (E.g., you don't have to give everyone over 50 Celebrex, just enough of a sample of them so that the word gets around that it is the drug of choice where the diagnosis is "Middle Age". (Forget about the heart-risk thing.--everyone should know that "All Drugs Are Poisons(TM)" and have bad effects along with the good.))
America should be building MRI scanners and letting the Chinese build the socks. 1.3 billion people will need a lot of them. Indeed, I would argue that *not* giving the Chinese work they can do for us is immoral, because if they cannot sell to us, they cannot buy medicine for their sick children.
December 26, 2004
Subject: Lucifer's Hammer?
Asteroid 2004 MN4 is becoming progressively more interesting.
For those who haven't been following this, 2004 MN4 is a chunk of space junk orbiting the sun in an earth crossing orbit. It measures approximately 1,300 feet in diameter, judging by the amount of light reflecting off its surface. And that is just about the sum total of what we know about it; we don't know if it's made of rock or metal, we don't know its exact dimensions, or size, or mass; in fact, we know next to nothing about it.
But we'll probably know a lot more, very soon; because as I write this, the odds of an impact with Earth on April 13, 2029 have just shortened to 1 in 45. Earlier today, they were 1 in 62; and yesterday, they were 1 in 300.
I find that progression interesting.
So do a lot of scientists, which accounts for the amount of attention suddenly being poured into 2004 MN4. It's been awarded a rating of 4 on the Torino scale, which is literally unprecedented; the highest rating ever awarded to other Apollo class (earth orbit crossing) asteroids is a 1.
Were MN4 to impact Earth, scientists stress that it would NOT be a global extinction event as the dinosaurs are thought to have experienced. But it WOULD cause extensive regional damage. The impact would release an amount of energy estimated to be equal to 1,900 million tons of TNT. By comparison, the Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona required an energy release corresponding to 20 million tons of TNT, and was created by a chunk of metal measuring just 150 feet across.
2004 MN4 is approximately 1,300 feet across.
If it hits, it's going to make an awfully large hole, somewhere. Given that we're retiring the shuttle fleet in 2010 and that President Bush has given NASA 16 years to repeat what Kennedy demanded in 8... well, I just don't see the 'can do' level of commitment that we had with the NASA of the '60s.
Perhaps 2004 MN4 will provide NASA with what nothing else has: funding, and a sense of purpose.
And a Happy Friday 13, 2029 to us all. And See View
Subject: The problem is that
the Chinese are building the MRI scanners -and- the socks, and everything else in between:
----- Roland Dobbins
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