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Mail 349 February 14 - 20, 2005






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Monday February 14, 2004

LUPERCALIA, Fertility Festival, and St. Valentine's Day

On the Climate Debate

I read this WSJ article this morning and came upstairs prepared to write about it:

Subject: In Climate Debate, The 'Hockey Stick' Leads to a Face-Off - WSJ

* Please note, the sender's email address has not been verified. <http://images.clickability.com/eti/spacer.gif>

One of the pillars of the case for man-made global warming is a graph nicknamed the hockey stick. It's a reconstruction of temperatures over the past 1,000 years based on records captured in tree rings, corals and other markers. The stick's shaft shows temperatures oscillating slightly over the ages. Then comes the blade: The mercury swings sharply upward in the 20th century.

The eye-catching image has had a big impact. Since it was published four years ago in a United Nations report, hundreds of environmentalists, scientists and policy makers have used the hockey stick in presentations and brochures to make the case that human activity in the industrial era is causing dangerous global warming.

But is the hockey stick true?

According to a semiretired Toronto minerals consultant, it's not. After spending two years and about $5,000 of his own money trying to double-check the influential graphic, Stephen McIntyre says he has found significant oversights and errors. He claims its lead author, climatologist Michael Mann of the University of Virginia, and colleagues used flawed methods that yield meaningless results.


Click the following to access the sent link:

<http://images.clickability.com/partners/3120/etIcon.gif> WSJ.com - In Climate Debate, The 'Hockey Stick' Leads to a Face-Off <http://www.emailthis.clickability.com/et/emailThis?clickMap=viewThis&etMailToID=830228703> * This article will be available to non-subscribers of the Online Journal for up to seven days after it is e-mailed.

John Bartley

I have not tested this link; if there's a simpler way to this morning's WSJ article, please tell me. I'm off to walk the dog. Back later. My comments are in VIEW>

This link works at the moment


Time is nature's way of keeping everything from going wrong all at once


Subject: Secret Knowledge

Dear Mr. Pournelle,

Your Dec. 16 blog on Science, Math, & Logic was very convincing. There seems to be an old scam in which certain people considered themselves to be high priests. These individuals supposedly have knowledge that is unavailable to Joe Average. But Einstein weighed heavily against them when he claimed that even the most difficult topics could be explained clearly if the explainer had clear knowledge of his topic.

Best wishes.

Dave Okum


Subject: Mann's hockey stick


The "hockey stick" has been controversial for a long time. One of the best analyses of it is at http://john-daly.com/hockey/hockey.htm , by the late John Daley. I think one of the most telling criticisms of the graph is that it is a concatenation of two types of data: thermometer data from 1900 to the present; and proxy data for earlier times. This is a big no-no, they have different accuracy, precision, and systematics. The only honest graph would use proxy data to reconstruct the temperature for all times. In particular, it means estimating modern temperatures using proxy data uncorrelated with the calibration data. I've seen one such reconstruction, can't lay my hands on the link, but it was pretty unimpressive, flat temperatures for all thousand years.

The other hole in all the global warming hoo-hah is the thermometer temperature record. It suffers from all sorts of problems which the believers won't acknowledge. It's data taken over 100 years without any sort of calibration or control from thousands of weather stations by many thousands of observers. Quality control is a bit problematic. The most famous problem is the urban heat island effect which the believers claim to have solved. Hard to understand how that was done since there is no way to model the effect. How do you correctly account for highways, buildings, and parking lots built wily-nily over time? The data for the US, where they claim to have taken it all into account, shows the 1930's as the warmest decades of the 20th century. Throw in the third world and you get global warming.


Paul S. Linsay

I understand; what confused me was that I had not known he kept the actual methods he used for combining different data a SECRET, as well as keeping SECRET some of the data he used. I thought I had some deficiency of understanding.

That isn't science. You can prove anything that way.

And I note his curve does NOT show the rapid change in temperatures from Viking times, but we have records of what happened to their dairy farms in Greenland.


If you can't mail it in a letter to a colleague so that he gets the same result you do, it isn't science.


AS USUAL there was some good mail posted over the weekend.



From another discussi0n group, with permission:

Intelligence and the limitations of biology

Intelligence is close to the center of this list's topics of interest, and observations about behaviour, cultural and family influences, and other non-biological factors, are often used to define or qualify conclusions about biological causation. I have some observations of that kind.

It seems to be generally accepted, and indeed true, that Gordon Brown, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer is a very clever man - much more intelligent than Tony Blair for example and more intelligent that other colleagues, staff and civil servants (with some exceptions amongst the last mentioned perhaps). Although he is sometimes credited with having kept the UK, so far, out of the Eurozone, and for having given the Bank of England its independence on interest rates, he has otherwise a bad record. He attempts to micromanage far too much, has raised taxes hugely and has achieve virtually nothing in service delivery in health, education or otherwise. Why should this be so? It occurred to me that he couldn't get help because he was so conscious of having a superior mind and not being satisfied that his case, the one he had thought up, had been bettered.

Then I looked back to my time in Parliament when Labor was in government. There were several very bright ministers, but they made a lot of mistakes and my diagnosis at the time was that they were people - with IQs of say 140 - who had spent their lives, not least their student lives and early political lives (without any serious employment or professional experience) with people whose IQs never got within a SD of theirs and didn't make up for it with overwhelmingly obvious professional expertise and competence. They had been kings of the kids. The truth of this was emphasised by the sense and competence of one I knew from the days when we were both doing MBAs. He was bright and he had done time at Price Waterhouse before his MBA and had served on the Finance Committee of the City of Melbourne when he was an elected Councilor. He told me how much he had learned on that committee because it was chaired by a seriously bright and successful businessman who knew how to make the ratepayers' money work effectively and efficiently.

I think one can generalise from these observations. Maybe it is just an example of the way that actual use of one's intelligence and interaction with other people using their intelligence well or badly should be regarded as major factors in ultimate performance. I don't see the work of David Rowe and David Cohen, e.g., leading to any very strong presumption that a high IQ will be well used - or a modest one worked to anything like capacity.

Obvious I suppose.

James Guest 24 Jolimont Terrace Jolimont VIC 3002 Australia

Comments later; but I think this an important letter. Being King of the Kiddies leads one to certain beliefs...


Subject: Sister Lucia de Jesus dos Santos, RIP.


-- Roland Dobbins

We learned about Our Lady of Fatima at Christian Brothers High School, although I can't say it made an enormous impression on me, certainly no more than the movie, which was played pretty straight as I recall, did. Whatever happened in Fatima in 1917, there were not many then who believed that the Russians would be a dominant part of the 20th Century and that the Conversion of Russia would happen in their lifetimes; and I doubt that many in Fatima had ever heard of Russia or the Bolsheviks in 1917. I do not think Sister Lucia needs our prayers for repose. If prayers are effective at all, she has far more powerful advocates than you and I.


Subject: The Dead Peoples Society.


- Roland Dobbins

An interesting essay. I do not share his glib contempt for Hobbes, whose "social contract" was not intended to be taken for real history, but whose observations of life in a state of nature san hardly be bettered. But an interesting essay.


Subject:  Hogan, Duesberg, and HIV

That subject line is enough to give one a headache. *g*

Your correspondent did me a favor; I've been thinking about this issue since the call to have everyone undergo HIV testing yearly... an absolutely stupid call, given the false positive rate guaranteed by the current screening exams.

Hogan's critique is concise. It also allows one to concisely discuss the flaws in the analysis -- especially surrounding Koch's postulates and HIV. (In no particular order: it is perfectly possible that there are cases which are not HIV-AIDS, because they've not been tested for HIV -- but that doesn't mean that the cases of HIV-AIDS where there *is* a 1-1 correlation of virus to syndrome don't define a true disease. Griping about the fact that chimpanzees don't respond to HIV like humans do is disingenuous at best; HIV may be to chimps as trichinosis appears to be to pigs, who tolerate the parasite much, MUCH better than humans do. Arguing that slow viruses represent a "failure in theory" ignores the existence of diseases like Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease and kuru...)

All of that being said, neither "side" has exactly covered itself in glory.

Tell you what: if I win a big lottery, I'll spot the money for the Bayesian analysis. There are questions as a clinician I dearly want answered... and although I disagree with people who say "HIV is NOT the cause of AIDS", I am not at all convinced that HIV is the ONLY cause of AIDS. (A two-step or multi-step etiology is at least as likely for HIV-AIDS. I'll also bet you 20 bucks that in 20? 50? years, AIDS will known to be like diabetes, with several different causes leading to a common pattern of symptom and disease, and we'll talk about "type 1 and type 2 AIDS"...

but not if someone doesn't ask the right questions.)

cordially, Bill Ernoehazy, MD dedoc@ mac.com

Pretty close to my views, but your credentials are better. For those unfamiliar with dedoc, Bill is a long time friend, contributor to one of my anthologies, and runs an emergency room in Florida.


Subject: AIDS Facts


HIV doesn't cause AIDS? And the earth is flat?

Try reading this:


Note particularly the existence of similar viral diseases in the animal population. FIV, for example.

Don't try the definitive test!


Rob Megarrity

Your certainty is traditional and commonly held, but you assume an unprovable level of certainty. Of course that assumption makes it unlikely there will be any actual test.

Yet: suppose there are contributing factors? Suppose there is more than one kind of "AIDS"? (There most certainly are cases diagnosed as AIDS when one need not invoke that hypothesis to determine a cause of death.) I can think of a number of unlikely explanations and hypotheses which have not been ruled out by tests and evidence: and when billions are at stake, and under a million would provide some definitive tests, I for one find it odd that everyone assumes absolute knowledge and certainty and resorts to disdain ("And the earth is flat?") to discourage any dissent. It is interesting to a novelist in any event.

Now it is one thing to lecture me as if I have no intelligence; it is I would think quite another to say such things to the Chief Virologist of the University of California who presumably learned something about scientific research and virology in his studies.

I will agree that the link you provide has some powerful arguments that HIV == AIDS now does fulfill the Koch Crieteria; something which was not the case (there were long screeds denouncing Koch's Criteria in the defense of the AIDS research allocations the last time I looked into this; some are posted here in back mail) and goes a very long way toward settling some of my questions. And I assure you I never had the slightest intention of trying the test myself. It does not settle the question of whether there is more than one kind of AIDS -- see the previous letter from Dr. Ernoehazy.

Thank you.


From: Stephen M. St. Onge                      saintonge@hotmail.com
http://www.fatsteve.blogspot.com/            http://www.stevesdumm.com/
Dear Jerry:
        Wired has a very good article on pebble bed nuclear reactors here: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.09/china.html.  The only error I noted is the historical claim that Rickover stopped the early pebble bed experiments.  Actually, it was Robert Oppenheimer, who reorganized the reactor program whenever the AEC got close to actually doing anything.
        By the way, in the Hoffert/Benford article on energy technology (nasty pdf format document here: http://upload.mcgill.ca/economics/981.pdf) that Crichton cited, and which the authors say was distorted by Crichton, Hoffert et al claim upfront that: "Energy sources that can produce 100 to 300% of present world power consumption without greenhouse emissions do not exist operationally or as pilot plants," but toward the end of the article they say that, well, breeder and natural fuel nuclear reactors can do the job.  The politicians won't allow us to build them, but they can do the job.  (Hoffert et al's solution to this problem is to develop new breeder technology, which still won't be built, but will be much more advanced).
Best, Stephen

One of the rules of the Council I chaired was "NO Self Censorship" in a technical document: if something was technically feasible we discussed it regardless of the political correctness of it. SDI would never have been considered as a Cold War strategy had my council exercised self-censorship of policies and systems we considered politically unlikely. I would have thought Greg Benford learned that lesson in Council meetings, but it seems that many have forgotten it.

We all know that nuclear power plants, fueled by fissionables recovered from no longer needed atom bombs, could produce essentially all the stationary energy needed by the US, and a good part of the energy needed for transport, at costs considerably lower than we have already spent on the Iraqi War. Why no one says this right out loud is puzzling, because everyone who has given an hour's thought to this knows it.








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Tuesday,  February 15, 2005


Subject: more on the "hockey Stick"

If you’re looking for more info on the “hockey stick” or as the authors put it “ Critique of the Mann et al Northern Hemisphere Average Temperature Reconstruction” you might want to look at http://www.uoguelph.ca/~rmckitri/research/trc.html  . I’m not sure I have enough math to understand fully the process but it is interesting reading. Especially the section that suggests that it was warmer in the 1400 hundreds than it is now!

Regards Neil McNabb

The main thing I got from this was confirmation that Mann has not published his algorithms for producing his curves. How you can call something science when you have a computer program but no one else knows what the program does or how it does it is, I fear, beyond my ken.

Here's the actual link to the WSJ "hockey stick" article:




Subject: Hans Von Storch and Nico Stehr in Der Speigel 

Prof. von Storch is director of the division of Systems Analysis and Modelling, Institute of Coastal Research, University of Hamburg. His web site is at http://w3g.gkss.de/G/Mitarbeiter/storch/ <http://w3g.gkss.de/G/Mitarbeiter/storch/>

There is a link to the English translation of the Der Speigel story,

A Climate of Staged Angst.

//snip// One example of this is the discussion of the so-called "hockey stick," a temperature curve that allegedly depicts the development over the last 1000 years, and whose shape resembles that of a hockey stick. In 2001 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the committee of climate researchers appointed by UNO, rashly institutionalized this curve as the iconic symbol for anthropogenic climate change: At the end of a centuries-long period of stable temperatures, the upward-bent blade of the hockey stick represents the human influence.

In October 2004, we were able to demonstrate in the specialist journal "Science" that the methodological bases that led to this hockey-stick curve are mistaken. We wanted to reverse the spiral of exaggeration somewhat, without also relativizing the central message - that climate change caused by human activity does indeed exist. Prominent representatives of climate research, however, did not respond by taking issue with the facts. Instead, they worried that the noble cause of protecting the climate might have been done harm.

Other scientists lapse into a zeal reminiscent of nothing so much as the McCarthy era. For them, methodological criticism is the spawn of "conservative think tanks and propagandists for the oil and coal lobby," which they believe they must expose; dramatizing climate change, on the other hand, is defended as a sensible means of educating society. //snip//

Joe Hennessey


Subject: Distributed Climate Modelling

I am curious if you and your correspondents who know more about this than I see value in this:


distributed modeling effort.

Scott Kitterman

This is the first I have heard of it. I have no experience with it: I welcome any reader reports. But see below.




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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Regarding the distributed climate modeling experiment:

Subject: Climate modeling

Jerry P:

After reading about the problems with the IPCC and the hockey stick et al I am not really interested in helping someone create another monster. If it develops that this climate prediction net is a legitimate project, I might be interested in lending some cycle time to a serious effort. However, just running more models will not solve the problem of lack of real data, read that as information not just raw data. I attended a lecture by a UC Berkeley professor who explained all about ice cores etc. But when I asked about water vapor he just discounted it and claimed that the CO2 was the main interest. Ice cores don't tell you anything about water vapor in the atmosphere. Some secondary assumptions may recognize a level of water vapor associated with other factors, but it just doesn't leave a good record. As you have repeatedly said, we need to do more basic research, not just rehash and remodel existing data.

Charles Simkins

I tend to agree.

Subject: Hockey Stick Data

Michael Crichton gave about a 40 minute talk, broadcast on CSPAN (I think) this past weekend, in which the Mann Report figured quite prominently. Crichton quoted a long list of problems with the data, one of which was that data some sets were repeated and in some instances, just plain wrong. But the most startling thing is that someone, (sorry, I didn't catch the name), took the Mann data sets and substituted a Monte Carlo set of numbers...and then did it again and again. ALL the data sets produced the same hockey stick graph. Crichton flashed a slide as part of the presentation, that showed at least a dozen different Monte Carlo generated numbers, and they all produced a hockey stick type graph.

One point Crichton did make that caught my attention, was to predict that soon such reports would be covered by "product liability" laws. He was maintaining that reports are "products" of the Information Age, just like any other manufactured product.

My only point is that somewhere, someone has already dismantled the Mann Report....


I can't find any mention of the program on the CSPAN site, so I may have that wrong, however, a summary of the presentation is here... http://www.intellectualconservative.com/article4131.html

Yet the Mann Report is still in the official Canadian government data, and is still one of the major arguments used for the "Kyoto Concensus". One wonders how much consensus there would be if it were generally known that no one can repeat Mann's results because he doesn't give out his algorithm.

Subject: DDT, Global (non)warming, Nuclear war survival (yes it's varied)

I like your site a lot, found it by accident a few years ago, and thought I would finally send something in. www.oism.org (The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine) has several interesting side sites. They cover things from NWSS to homeschooling, global warming, and DDT use. I found their site while searching for Kresson Kearny's 'Nuclear War Survival Skills' book for the nuclear effects tables in the appendices, while looking for info on Project Orion, and it turned out to have lots of other helpful info also. http://oism.org/ddp/ddt.htm  links to their main site on DDT. They have links to some papers about the necessity of using DDT, and the errors in the tests of its 'bad' side effects. http://www.oism.org/oism/s32p686.htm is a lecture on global non-warming. A review of the research literature concerning the environmental consequences of increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide leads to the conclusion that increases during the 20th Century have produced no deleterious effects upon global weather, climate, or temperature. http://www.oism.org/oism/s32p903.htm  is the online copy of the NWSS book. www.permanent.com  is a site (not recently updated, but still running) that was attempting to collect all the documents relating to any use of space, that were available to the public. I dissagree with their philosophy, but can't argue with the good such a data repository could produce.

E Ashley Stuart, MK (missionary kid), Homeschooler, patriot, Fighting Quaker, hopefuly future explorer of space, 20

Oregon Institute is the successor chosen by Petr Beckmann to publish his Access to Energy. I have been a subscriber to Access to Energy since Beckmann founded it. I should say, worthy successor although no one will take Beckmann's place.

Subject: Converting Weapons Grade Uranium into Nuclear Fuel


Converting weapons grade uranium into fuel for commercial reactors is already in planning/production:

"Termed Project BLEU (Blended Low Enriched Uranium), the operation will convert 33 metric tons of off-specification highly enriched uranium (HEU) into low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel for TVA's commercial power reactors. NFS will blend HEU into LEU and Framatome ANP will convert the material into a usable form to fuel TVA's commercial nuclear reactors. It is estimated the quantity of fuel produced through Project BLEU is enough to supply TVA's Brown's Ferry Nuclear Plant reactors for the next 10 years.

In 1995, the Clinton Administration declared 200 metric tons of HEU as surplus and thus available for conversion into commercial reactor fuel. TVA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to pursue a program to use 33 metric tons of off-specification material as feed stock for conversion into low-enriched uranium fuel for TVA reactors."

Entire article at:


Steve Cook Forest, Va


Subject: Intelligence and Gordon Brown

Dr. Pournelle,

Interesting item from James Guest, but I think he finds the UK's present government puzzling because he is judging it by his own standards, which are not relevant in this case.

We should always ask what someone is actually trying to achieve before we judge his success or otherwise. Not all motives are obvious.

Nobody doubts that Gordon Brown is a very sharp cookie indeed, but his intelligence is not directed towards making the UK prosperous, or the public "services" more effective. If it were, he would reduce taxes, and get the state out of service provision - we all know this works, it's been tried before under Mrs. Thatcher, and we have examples before us both good and bad from all around the world.

Mr. Brown's aim, though, is different. He wants to make everyone dependent on the state - specifically, on him - either because he genuinely believes that's how things should be, or because he is power-mad. I am not quite sure which but I suspect the former because I don't think he is a bad man, just a mistaken one.

Judged against what he is actually trying to achieve, he is astonishingly successful. His intelligence is being well-used in his own service - not ours or your correspondent's.

Best regards,

Andrew Duffin


Subject: Being King of the Kiddies leads one to certain beliefs

Mr. Pournelle

First off, I'd like to say how much I have been enjoying your site. I just recently discovered it after reading 'TMIGE' (excellent book btw), and have been 'catching up' as best I can.

In regards to the subject I reference, I'd like to attempt to add something to the discussion on intellectual elitism. I think that along with the elitism you are referencing, another type of elitism co-exists. It seems to me that much of modern society (intelligent and not so intelligent) have a superiority complex with regards to almost all previous ages, and thus an aversion to traditional thinking (whether philosophical, moral, or practical). The general consensus seems to be that throughout most of human history, society has been entirely ignorant in comparison to modern times. This leads to the general acceptance of myths about previous generation (i.e. see Flat Earth nonsense http://www.catholicleague.org/research/catholicism_and_science.htm) , and labeling many centuries of time infamously as 'THE DARK AGES', when they were anything but.

As the years have passed and I've had the opportunity to be exposed to more of the writings and histories done by those from earlier generations, the deeper my respect and admiration for these cultures becomes. While it can't be disputed that technologically there is no comparison, in the spheres of morality and philosophy, our forefathers from most generations stand up quite well to modern thinking. Indeed, even from a scientific/technological perspective, they seem to have been able to do remarkably well with what was available to them. Not sure I was able to get across my point all that well, but I think it's important that we are not only wary of intellectual elitism, but are wary of temporal elitism as well.

In the words of G.K. Chesterton...

'Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.'


Steve Galvanek


Now a question completely beyond my kenning:

Subject: Synthetic gum for ctp

I am a printer interested in all phases of printing technology. I have started recently using ctp plates and was warned not to use gum Arabic for protection of these plates. Manufacturers have recommended synthetic gum formulations and warned against the use of gum Arabic. Why is that? Do you have any available formulations for such synthetic gums that I can try on my own? Please send your reply to my e-mail address.

Thanks Fred Rice FSR [ipi@idm.net.lb]


Subject: Re: Autism debate

Dear Jerry:

As the father of a 6 year old child with neurological issues (apraxia, central auditory processing, sensory integration) but not autism, I wanted to give my opinion from the front lines. Yes, there has been a dramatic increase in children, mainly boys, who are diagnosed with autism. However, autism is now described as a "spectrum" with the kids ranging from the low-functioning classic autism that you studied in school (or the public is familiar with from movies like Rain Man) to high-functioning autism like children with Asperger's Syndrome. I believe that many of these children are being lumped into the diagnosis of autism because there is no other way to label them and they fall into the standard general definition of autism - low verbal skills, low eye contact and low social skills.

The real issue is what is causing this large growth of neurological problems with our kids. From that standpoint, the inquiry into thimerisal makes sense, as the ethyl mercury used in that product is a neurotoxin and mercury poisoning can cause autism-like effects. In addition, it now appears that manufacturers where aware of issues with thimerisal as long as 14 years ago (see "'91 Memo Warned of Mercury in Shots" from yesterday's LA Times - http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-vaccine8feb08,0,624328.story <http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-vaccine8feb08,0,624328.story> ) with the drastic increase of vaccines given to young children and the increase in mercury introduced into their systems (87 times the recommended allowance), let alone from other environmental factors.

As for the removal of thimerisal from the US, while the drug companies removed it from manufacturing in 1999, the existing drug supplies were used until they ran out in 2002. As autism is generally diagnosed between 18 months and 5 years, the possible decline in diagnosed cases would not show up for a while.

I am not advocating that mercury toxicity is the only cause of the current rise in autism diagnoses; there are other candidates that have its proponents, including gluten/casein allergies and other auto-immune issues (for more information, see articles at http://www.autism.org/ <http://www.autism.org/> ). The real answer may be a combination of all these factors and/or something not discovered yet. However, the main issues in my mind are (1) lets do all we can to stem the increase and (2) lets figure out how to cure/treat the children with these issues so that they can lead productive lives.

Michael Beloff

=But see below


http://theharvardcrimson.com/today/article505725.html  Summers To Face Faculty Storm By WILLIAM C. MARRA and SARA E. POLSKY Crimson Staff Writers

University President Lawrence H. Summers will face the full Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) today for the first time since his controversial remarks on women in science last month, and many professors predict it will be the toughest meeting of his three-and-a-half year tenure. "There's no question that this will be the most important Faculty meeting of his presidency to date," said one senior professor, who asked to remain anonymous.

History Department Chair Andrew D. Gordon was one of many professors who yesterday predicted unusually high attendance and a lively debate at this afternoon's meeting, the first chance many faculty will have to confront Summers about his Jan. 14 statement suggesting that "innate differences" may help explain the scarcity of female scientists at top universities.

"The buzz is that this is going to be an unusually interesting meeting because of the follow-up to President Summers' remarks," he said.

Summers yesterday declined to speculate on the content of the meeting, saying he would rather "respond to issues as they come up at the meeting." SNIP

The never ending story. A woman scientist acts like a typical hysterical woman when confronted with ideas she disagrees with, and the entire Harvard faculty seems to believe this is the way scientists behave when confronted with theories they don't accept. Interesting as it proves that, if they are correct, women must be unfit to be scientists since hysterical reaction -- I couldn't breathe, I felt physically sick -- to opposing theories is pretty well ipso facto disqualification to claims of being scientific.

Where are the women scientists to point out that the scientific response to incorrect theories is not witch hunts and hysteria, but scientific confrontation with data? But not at Harvard.

Why does anyone want to go to a school that sanctions hysteria?


Subject: A Cautionary Note, or, don't so stupid things

I thought this might be of some small interest. I was on a trip yesterday, and stayed at a Comfort Suites in Houston, mainly because they offer high speed internet connections. As is my habit, I connected the laptop (Win98) to the high speed port and left it on for several hours while I watched TV and occaisionally surfed the net.

For one reason or another, I called up a DOS box and typed 'netstat -n' to see what the network connections looked like. To my complete horror, I saw an IP address in the tierra.net domain attached to my netbios port. Comfort Suites networking does _no_ firewalling at all, apparently. Of course, this was my work machine, which for convenience has the C drive root shared with full access, no password. There's nothing on there of any great criticality or sensitivity, so I am not worried about espionage, but I am serioulsy considering doing a full repartition and restore before I connect it to the LAN at work again.

Live and learn, or have it done to you, I guess.

All the best to you and yours, M

I have a router between me and the high speed internet connection they gave me here...








CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Peter Glaskowsky on RMS, Bill Gates, and Intellectual Property


Subject: Re: Bill Gates and other communists (ZD)

“By Richard Stallman Special to ZDNet Published on ZDNet News: February 16, 2005, 5:21 AM PT

 Commentary--When CNET News.com asked Bill Gates about software patents, he shifted the subject to "intellectual property," blurring the issue with various other laws. Then he said anyone who won't give blanket support to all these laws is a communist. Since I'm not a communist but I have criticized software patents, I got to thinking this might be aimed at me.”

It's a bad sign when someone starts out an article with a lie, isn't it?

Here's what Gates said, in the context of the question he was answering:

>> Q: "In recent years, there's been a lot of people clamoring to reform and restrict intellectual-property rights. It started out with just a few people, but now there are a bunch of advocates saying, 'We've got to look at patents, we've got to look at copyrights.' What's driving this, and do you think intellectual-property laws need to be reformed?

A: "No, I'd say that of the world's economies, there's more that believe in intellectual property today than ever. There are fewer communists in the world today than there were. There are some new modern-day sort of communists who want to get rid of the incentive for musicians and moviemakers and software makers under various guises. They don't think that those incentives should exist.

And this debate will always be there. I'd be the first to say that the patent system can always be tuned--including the U.S. patent system. There are some goals to cap some reform elements. But the idea that the United States has led in creating companies, creating jobs, because we've had the best intellectual-property system--there's no doubt about that in my mind, and when people say they want to be the most competitive economy, they've got to have the incentive system. Intellectual property is the incentive system for the products of the future." <<

So it's "sort of communists" as defined by a specific characteristic, those who want to get rid of the incentive for creative expression. Nothing to do with "blanket support;" Gates was talking only about those who offer NO support for intellectual property.

Well, Richard Stallman sure as hell fits into this category. He isn't crazy; he understands his own position. He just believes that the costs of intellectual-property laws outweigh the benefits. We can have a reasonable discussion on that basis-- and I did, spending about an hour discussing this subject with Stallman last Labor Day weekend.

(As a side note, I believe I'm the first person to get Stallman to accept that there is a category of personal expression that may legitimately-- in his opinion-- be subject to the equivalent of copyright. In my discussion with him, I used the example of someone writing down a sexual fantasy, perhaps for the purpose of psychology therapy, and he agreed it would be proper for the author to restrict further distribution of such a document. After further discussion, he defined the conditions of his approval: the creative work must be personal to the author and of no commercial value. This conclusion is at odds with the fact that written sexual fantasies are known to have commercial value, but he didn't seem prepared to resolve the contradiction at that time.)

On this one, there's no doubt whatsoever that Gates is correct and Stallman is wrong on both the philosophical issue and his interpretation of Gates' position.

"When someone uses the term "intellectual property," typically he's either confused himself, or trying to confuse you. "

There is such a thing as intellectual property, and it is Stallman who is trying to confuse us by implying the laws define the concept. Stallman would like to use the problems with the laws to undermine the concept because he doesn't like the concept. I'm confident the laws can be fixed because the concept is valid.

Patents are a different story. Software patents don't cover programs or code; they cover ideas (methods, techniques, features, algorithms, etc.). Developing a large program entails combining thousands of ideas, and even if a few of them are new, the rest needs must have come from other software the developer has seen.

This is also true of any large machine. The difference is that mechanical engineering is a field that developed relatively slowly, even at the peak of the industrial revolution, so there is a well-developed sense of "creative commons" in mechanical engineering. To me, this argues for software patents being given a shorter term. Why?

Patents amount to a contract between the inventor and society. The contract is optional. The inventor is always free to keep the invention a secret, a form of protection that lasts as long as the secret does. There are certain costs and risks associated with this method. It's valuable and sometimes necessary to disclose an invention to the users, but uncontrolled disclosure and independent invention result in a sudden total loss of the value of the secret. Inventors choose to pursue patents because they allow inventors to disclose their secrets and still be protected against misappropriation.

Patents have a definite term because society must eventually be compensated for providing that protection. Patent terms are set by balancing the value to the inventor, the cost to society, and the likelihood that others would eventually produce the same invention anyway.

Remember Edison's dictum? "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." That rule was based on Edison's personal experience with inventing electrical and mechanical devices in the 19th century. Software genius is a different deal-- an inspiration turns into an invention much more easily, and the obviousness and inevitability factors play a relatively greater role.

Reducing the term of software patents seems like an appropriate adaptation to these changes, but I can't yet answer two critical questions-- what the proper term should be, and how to distinguish between software patents and other patents. The latter question is especially difficult to answer given that software patents disclose processes that could also be implemented in mechanical systems.

A few fortunate software developers avoid most of the danger. These are the megacorporations, which typically have thousands of patents each, and cross-license with each other.

Stallman clearly isn't thinking about what he's saying, which is another bad sign. Big software companies-- Microsoft, Sun, IBM, etc.-- are constantly being hit with software-related patent litigation these days.

. png

Peter N. Glaskowsky

Alas, being in Utah with an appointment to speak to a class in about half an hour, I haven't time to comment, but I make no doubt readers will, and I'll get to it later.


Subject: Simple machines?

Hi Jerry,

After a long hiatus I have "rediscovered" your site yet again. Somehow, since the printed version of Byte disappeared, I've become only an irregular reader of your prose, despite enjoying it immensely.

In any case, I just wanted to toss something out and see if it strikes a resonance with you. Like many of your readers, I've been using PCs pretty much since their inception. Machines have gotten faster and faster, and we've added more and new software features to take advantage of this. Apparently always just stopping (or not always) just at the pain threshhold, where responsiveness suffers.

Lately - meaning in the past year or two - my personal pain threshhold has been crossed. Here I am, sitting at a machine more than 10000 times faster than my first, and I can't even look at the contents of a directory without waiting.

Is it really necessary? Do we really need encrypted, digitally signed exchanges between clients and the server, just to browse our personal files? Why do I suddenly have to enter a password, to see files on another computer in our company, when I didn't yesterday?

Do our own computers have to treat us as criminal suspects? What would happen if we threw it all overboard? Simple, reliable, productive systems without all the complexities that - in and of themselves - create the security problems exploited by viruses, worms, and the like.

Just a thought...


Brad Richards

I got this while fuming that my TabletPC was running as if glue had been poured into it: Outlook was downloading, and Norton and InBoxer and other filters were being applied, and while that is going on the poor little CPU was just overwhelmed.  I even contemplated getting a second faster machine for mail on the road (well I have one, it's called the PowerBook 15) which I can set up in hotel room and leave there, carrying the Tablet for use as an actual portable laptop.

It is certainly the case that as our machines get better the bad guys find better schemes and more of the speed and power of our machines is taken up defeating them. Eric Pobirs famously observed that the only way Spam will be slowed is for something VERY PHYSICAL, VERY PAINFUL, and VERY PUBLIC to happen to some spammers. Since the US Supreme Court is likely to condemn flensing or just skinning alive as cruel and unusual, I begin to think we really do need The Godfather Corporation. Each us us pays in a dollar, the the Godfather publicly makes miserable 10 spammers a month, choosing those notoriously known to us all -- the list is easy to come by -- until such time as the list gets so thin there aren't any candidates. We pay a dollar a week. The Corporation works hard for a few months, then has little do to. We continue to pay. Spammers move overseas and the Corporation has some new expenses, but doubtless they can meet the challenge.

Now if I only knew where to send my dollar a week...

On that subject:

Subject: Liability.


--- Roland Dobbins

Alex is covering that for BYTE and we will probably have some thoughts in the column; possibly a special in BYTE. The security subject including your responsibilities as well as those of software vendors is intriguing.

At the least, get one of those utilities that monitors your UL/DL traffic so you can see if your machine is sending out massive amounts of stuff that you never told it to do.

Subject: Godfather corporation

I am whole heartily in favor of a "Godfather" corporation.

My suggestions for the list #1 Bin Laden #2 Top 10 Spammers

Where do I send the money?

It seems that sending money to Washington DC for our protection from terrorists is not working. They don't seem to be able to catch them.

Maybe it is time for citizens to band together and solve the problem ourselves?



Subject: The Godfather Corporation

That sounds good, now. The Godfather deals with it, we send in a dollar a month, the spam stops, all is well.

And then, say, ten years go by, and you think "Why am I still giving these guys my money? So you don't send it in.

And then you get a knock on the door one day, and it's the Godfather, who says how troubled, hurt, and sorry he is that you feel this way. And why haven't you ever once, in all these years, come over for a coffee? And then he says that unfortunately, the rate is going up to fifteen dollars a month, you know, what with escalating costs, overhead incurred by working in foreign market places, etc.

I think these guys are in it with the Watchmakers, myself.

Jim Snover

Oh I don't disagree, but it's still a nice fantasy. Interestingly isn't that government works as well?


Subject: Re: Autism debate, following Michael Beloff's remarks of 2/17

Re: http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/mail349.html#Wednesday 

Dear Jerry:

Jim Bowery, whom you might recall from his 1991 testimony before the House Subcommittee on Space, http://www.geocities.com/jim_bowery/testimny.htm as Chairman of the "Coalition for Science and Commerce" and who was also the sponsor of the (now closed) "Bowery Award for Amateur Rocketry" http://www.geocities.com/jim_bowery/bafar.html has a rather different take on autism.

He notes only a 4% correlation between autism in 2000 and the MMR vaccination in 1994, after filtering out the lowest autism incidence state (MA) and the highest (OR): http://tinyurl.com/57rmw

He also finds only a 16% correlation between Hg in H2O and autism: http://tinyurl.com/4j6yv

However, he does find a report from the 1999 Biological Treatments of Autism and PDD Conference, in which the notetaker heard a Florida doc (Jeff Bradstreet, M.D., FAAFP) to state "Over 90% of autistics are blood type A." http://tinyurl.com/5mwv3

Bowery took that ball and ran with it, throwing many, many variables together to look for correlations. The highest correlation he could find to autism rates (again, excluding MA and OR), is the immigration of folks from India into areas with lots of Finns. http://www.geocities.com/jim_bowery/imbamcoa.html 

And, living in Oregon, I can certainly see both a lot of old-timers of Maukkonens, Wirkkilds and other Suomi living next door to lots of Chandrasekars and Singhs. Even my whitebread suburb SE of Portland http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milwaukie has an Indian restaurant now, http://gotcurry.net evidencing of the new neighbors from the Sub-continent. But, I digress. Often.

Anyway, Bowery is not shy about letting folks know what he things, as per a cursory review of USENET and his web site http://www.geocities.com/jim_bowery but he seems to do so in a reasoned way, using stats instead of propganda and persuasion. However, I am not qualified to judge the maths used, and we've seen Lies, Damn Lies and Hockey Stick Statistics. http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/mail349.html#Wednesday

What do you make of this?

-- John Bartley K7AAY

No data and no views.







CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  February 18, 2005

Subject: News from the UK and Europe

This story is floating around in the UK:

< http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=
_go_ca_st_pe/afghan_abuse  >

The Guardian version: < http://www.guardian.co.uk/afghanistan
/story/0,1284,1417396,00.html >  BBC story about the use of house arrest in the UK as an alternative to trial:<http://news.bbc.co.uk/z

1/hi/uk_politics/4274313.stm>  More:<http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4219997.stm>  I've commented in the past about the size of the UK public sector: <http://money.guardian.co.uk/news_/
story/0,1456,1417339,00.html>  Some comments on UK university funding: <http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/

-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. http://osiris.sunderland.ac.uk/~cs0her


Re: AIDS; intelligent design.

AIDS: Duesberg did seem to have a point in querying if the HIV virus caused the disease. The virus was only present at very low levels in the blood of AIDS patients. But about a decade ago, it was shown that HIV was present at high levels in blood cells in the lymph nodes of AIDS patients. Lymph nodes are sites of active immune response to virus infection. HIV-infected cells were being trapped there. I now see no reason to doubt that HIV causes AIDS.

Intelligent design: the form of this that is credible is the 'anthropic' version. The universe appears to be 'set up' at the level of basic physical laws to make possible the evolution of complex life-forms. Such life-forms need not be unique to our planet. I think 'anthropic' is not the best term, sounding anthropocentric - perhaps we should say 'sophontic'. a generic term I came across in Poul Anderson's SF for any intelligent life-form. We may or may not be the only candidates in the universe - sophontic covers both eventualities.

Example of an anthropic/sophontic argument: strenghten constant G in Newton's law of gravity, only by a little, and stars blow up so quickly that life will have too little time to evolve. Weaken G just a fraction, and stars can't ignite by fusion - again, no complex life-forms can evolve. Newton's law of gravity thus seems delicately set up to allow a universe in which creatures like us could evolve. It's one of the better arguments for natural theology.

David Elder, Australia Biologist, Protestant

A number of other cosmic anthropic design features are noted in Jastrow's God And The Astronomers. On a grand scale there do appear to be elements of intelligent design in that it wouldn't take much of a change in any of a number of interlocking fundamental constants to make the universe impossible, or at least make US impossible. Whether that is evidence that we are intended, or that this is just the way things are no matter how improbable the coincidences, is still disputed.

Subject: Additional Information

1. OpinionJournal - Featured Article <http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110004487

2. OpinionJournal - Autism <http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110004700>  & Vaccines

Mike Flynn




Subject: In re: Proper treatment of spammers

In Thursday's mail, you wrote:

"Eric Pobirs famously observed that the only way Spam will be slowed is for something VERY PHYSICAL, VERY PAINFUL, and VERY PUBLIC to happen to some spammers. "

Yes, indeedy. I'll leave the exact specifications to an expert, but I do believe that whatever it is should involve an old Buick, rusty cheese graters, about fifty yards of rubber bands, and a lemon.

---- Tim McGaha -- Rocket Scientist for Hire, CHEAP! setenv THE_QUESTION '$2b || !$2b'

I don't see how you could do that without a ladder and a spayed Gerbil.


Subject: Samuel Francis, RIP.


-- Roland Dobbins

I was never close to Samuel Francis but I think it safe to say we were a two-person mutual admiration society; we disagreed, particularly on just how far gone things are in the Republic and on the utility of working within the traditional parties, but many of our disagreements were tactical. Dr. Francis was focused on such matters as how we might inculcate self-government and the like; while for most of our lives I was more concerned with survival in the Seventy Years War. In the time since the collapse of the Evil Empire we found more mutual interests.

Samuel Francis has often been called The American Cato, and I can't disagree although he would have, I think.

We were friends if not close friends, and America has lost a friend.



On your web page you wrote:

> There are the usual references to computer models whose nature is not > specified nor are they described.

Well, the press release very clearly says that: ------------ The global climate models used in the study included the Parallel Climate Model from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Department of Energy (DOE) and the HadCM3 from the Hadley Centre (United Kingdom). ------------ With google it's trivial to find, for example, these descriptions of PCM and HadCM3.

http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/pcm/  http://www.met-office.gov.uk/research/hadleycentre/models/gordon00/text.html 



Trivial if you are at your desk, not so if connected through laptops and wireless on the road; and they still tell me almost nothing. It may be that ocean temperatures are higher, but that isn't in the article, nor are the observations of air temperatures.  I see "signs" and "Signals" but not actual temperatures. Perhaps I am missing something. It's certainly possible. But if there are actual observations as opposed to "observations" of "signals" then I would think that news worth mentioning; and if that news has come out I missed it, which again is possible. I await further data and clarification.


Subject: Routers Buffy Willow


I read your description in the Current View on the D-Link router losing ability to resolve DNS. This is quite strange. I had the same thing happen this last week to my D-Link DI-713P. This is the 4 port router with wireless connections and print server. It just suddenly stopped resolving DNS requests. I have a dual boot machine (WinXP Pro and Mandrake 10.2). First thing I did was log out of linux and into WinXP. As a general rule, this is the best and easiest way to tell if the problem is software or hardware. Windows didn't work either so I assumed it was a hardware problem. Some troubleshooting with the Wave Cable tech folks eliminated the cable modem as a problem and, as you did, I connected the cable from the computer directly to the cable modem, bypassing the router. I reset the connection and Voila!, everything worked again. I've had the router about 2 years with nary a problem and don't know if it's now junk and should be replaced or if it can be re-set somehow. I will check with D-Link to see what they say.

Weird that you would have the same problem at about the same time. Makes you wonder. At least I'm not the Lone Ranger here.

Randy Powell Port Orchard, Washington

Indeed. I thought perhaps it was a conflict between firmware in the router and an update of XP, and I suspect that is the case now. I will have to check when I get home. I can't do much from Provo, Utah...


Subject:  DDT redux

I stumbled on this while looking for something else today. " What the World Needs Now Is DDT <http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1114717/posts>  ," an article by Tina Rosenberg in last spring's NY Times Magazine: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1114717/posts 

Rosenberg doesn't cite sources, obviously, but she answers some of the quantitative questions that were kicked around on your site. DDT lasts twice as long, and cost 1/4 as much as the next best alternative, according to her. She puts annual malaria fatalities at 2 * 10E6, with 3-5 * 10E8 infections.

Wade Scholine

There is also the use: you spray DDT inside buildings and not often, not out in fields.


Subject: Where is Mr. Schaefer When You Need Him? buffy willow



Closest Known Neutron Star Races Across Sky posted: 02:57 pm ET 09 November 2000

A relatively small, dense object racing across the sky and heading our way at more than 100 times the speed of a Concorde <http://www.space.com/news/concorde_techno_000725.html>  jet has been identified as our solar system's closest known neutron star <http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/
astronomy/neutron_flare_001108.html>  .


The object, first spotted in 1992, was confirmed to be a neutron star in 1996. But only now has its distance from Earth been determined, using data provided by the Hubble Space Telescope <http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy
/astronomy/hubble_anniv_000413.html>  . The object, also described as the corpse of a star, currently is about 200 light-years away. It is due to pass by Earth in about 300,000 years, but will safely miss by about 170 light-years.


Jim Woosley


Subject: Microsoft, DOJ Lock Horns On Longhorn buffy willow

Here we go again…


Tracy Walters









This week:


read book now


Saturday, February 19, 2005

Subject: FTG violation Buffy Willow

The Gomer Gestapo does it again (and again and again). I guess the statue that makes "Failure To Grovel" a crime is in the Homeland Security's secret rules.


HOMELAND INSECURITY 'Mouthy' traveler gets luggage blown up Woman's 'snippy' comment at ticket counter sparks bomb scare Posted: February 19, 2005 1:00 a.m. Eastern © 2005 WorldNetDaily.com

Get "snippy" with an airlines' ticket agent and you may never see your luggage again.

That's the experience of Dr. Esha Khoshnu, a New Jersey psychiatrist traveling to San Diego to attend a conference.

While changing planes in Phoenix, Khoshnu got testy at a Mesa Airlines ticket counter, reports KGTV news, saying, "If I had a bomb, you wouldn't find it."

The Transportation Security Administration described Khoshnu as acting "mouthy and snippy," according to KGTV.

The bomb comment touched off a security scare and FBI officials were dispatched to question Khoshnu, who was subsequently detained long enough to miss her flight.

Her suitcase, however, got past security and was loaded onto the America West jet.

When Mesa Airlines Flight 6264 landed at Lindbergh Field in San Diego the pilot was instructed to taxi to a remote area of the airport where some 35 passengers were taken off the plane and escorted onto two buses, reports City News Service.

"When we landed and quickly did a U-turn on the runway, I was like, 'They never do that.' Then, all the cars started coming and it was obvious that it was for our plane. That was the scary part," one passenger told KGTV.

City News Service reports members of the San Diego Fire Department's bomb squad searched the plane but found no explosives. Next, they removed Khoshnu's suitcase and inspected it in an open area on the grounds of the airport.

Although they found nothing suspicious, authorities blew up the bag with an explosive charge and then doused it with water.

Khoshnu was eventually released and allowed to board a later flight to San Diego. KGTV reports the Assistant U.S. Attorney in Phoenix decided her actions did not merit charges.

Well that showed her. Generous of them not to charge her.

But we were born free.

Subject: Enforcing non-existent  laws in San Francisco

Looks as if we need to follow the rules even if they aren't the rules, but we all believe they are the rules...


"Steve, a freelance photographer, was stopped while taking pictures in a San Francisco MUNI station, told that he was breaking a post-9/11 law against photographing San Francisco's public transit. He challenged the MUNI cops to name the law he was breaking, aware that such a law was unconstitutional, and they -- unsurprisingly -- couldn't identify the law. That is because there is no law. They were lying. So then they called the real cops, who proceeded to dress Steve down for breaking this nonexistent law -- for being a troublemaker who wanted to exercise his constitutional rights and ply his trade -- and threaten to trump up a trespassing charge and jail him for the weekend if he didn't meekly acquiesce." (02/13/05)




Subject: GPS time source


I’d like to ask your help. I’m going to be placing about 1000 computers in Uganda soon, which will be used to track distribution of HIV/AIDS drugs Most of these computers will be in remote places with no kind of connectivity to a larger network. In many cases, I have to install solar power, too, because there is no power grid nearby.

One of the requirements for this system is to be able to send information back to the MoH server that we’ll be installing on CD, and to allow patients to move from clinic to clinic, also by burning a CD. Obviously, accuracy of the time entered on these systems will be very important in order to maintain data integrity.

Because there will be no single traceable time source, I thought I would connect a GPS to the disconnected computers and grab the time from the data stream. The time doesn’t have to be accurate to nanoseconds, or even seconds. A few minutes would do fine.

I’ve looked on the internet for GPS units to do this job, but those I have found that are used to provide accurate time synchronization tend to have bottom price of $800-$1000. The computer installations will be in groups of three (Reception, Doctor, Pharmacy), so I’d need to install about 350 of these, and I don’t really want to spend a quarter of a million dollars on it. I was thinking of using the Delorme Earthmate http://www.delorme.com/earthmate/,  which I can get for about $129 in quantity one, but I’ve been unable to find a utility (I’d be willing to pay a reasonable price for it) to use the Network Time Protocol from the Earthmate.

Here’s a sample of the time synchronization products out there:


I wonder if any of your readers had heard of a utility that I could use for this, and could relay info about it to me.



I fear I am entirely unfamiliar with this sort of thing and have no suggestions, but perhaps readers do.

I will collect some of the returns into next week's mail.





CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, February 20, 2005

Subject: Guardian Unlimited: A genius explains

Gary Pavek spotted this on the Guardian Unlimited site and thought you should see it.

------- Note from Gary Pavek:

Really interesting article & interview with an autistic savant. -------

To see this story with its related links on the Guardian Unlimited site, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk 

A genius explains Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant. He can perform mind-boggling mathematical calculations at breakneck speeds. But unlike other savants, who can perform similar feats, Tammet can describe how he does it. He speaks seven languages and is even devising his own language. Now scientists are asking whether his exceptional abilities are the key to unlock the secrets of autism. Interview by Richard Johnson Richard Johnson Saturday February 12 2005 The Guardian

Daniel Tammet is talking. As he talks, he studies my shirt and counts the stitches. Ever since the age of three, when he suffered an epileptic fit, Tammet has been obsessed with counting. Now he is 26, and a mathematical genius who can figure out cube roots quicker than a calculator and recall pi to 22,514 decimal places. He also happens to be autistic, which is why he can't drive a car, wire a plug, or tell right from left. He lives with extraordinary ability and disability.

Tammet is calculating 377 multiplied by 795. Actually, he isn't "calculating": there is nothing conscious about what he is doing. He arrives at the answer instantly. Since his epileptic fit, he has been able to see numbers as shapes, colours and textures. The number two, for instance, is a motion, and five is a clap of thunder. "When I multiply numbers together, I see two shapes. The image starts to change and evolve, and a third shape emerges. That's the answer. It's mental imagery. It's like maths without having to think."

Tammet is a "savant", an individual with an astonishing, extraordinary mental ability. An estimated 10% of the autistic population - and an estimated 1% of the non-autistic population - have savant abilities, but no one knows exactly why. A number of scientists now hope that Tammet might help us to understand better. Professor Allan Snyder, from the Centre for the Mind at the Australian National University in Canberra, explains why Tammet is of particular, and international, scientific interest. "Savants can't usually tell us how they do what they do," says Snyder. "It just comes to them. Daniel can. He describes what he sees in his head. That's why he's exciting. He could be the Rosetta Stone."

There are many theories about savants. Snyder, for instance, believes that we all possess the savant's extraordinary abilities - it is just a question of us learning how to access them. "Savants have usually had some kind of brain damage. Whether it's an onset of dementia later in life, a blow to the head or, in the case of Daniel, an epileptic fit. And it's that brain damage which creates the savant. I think that it's possible for a perfectly normal person to have access to these abilities, so working with Daniel could be very instructive."

Scans of the brains of autistic savants suggest that the right hemisphere might be compensating for damage in the left hemisphere. While many savants struggle with language and comprehension (skills associated primarily with the left hemisphere), they often have amazing skills in mathematics and memory (primarily right hemisphere skills). Typically, savants have a limited vocabulary, but there is nothing limited about Tammet's vocabulary.

Tammet is creating his own language, strongly influenced by the vowel and image-rich languages of northern Europe. (He already speaks French, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, Icelandic and Esperanto.) The vocabulary of his language - "M&#228;nti", meaning a type of tree - reflects the relationships between different things. The word "ema", for instance, translates as "mother", and "ela" is what a mother creates: "life". "P&#228;ike" is "sun", and "p&#228;ive" is what the sun creates: "day". Tammet hopes to launch M&#228;nti in academic circles later this year, his own personal exploration of the power of words and their inter-relationship.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre (ARC) at Cambridge University, is interested in what M&#228;nti might teach us about savant ability. "I know of other savants who also speak a lot of languages," says Baron-Cohen. "But it's rare for them to be able to reflect on how they do it - let alone create a language of their own." The ARC team has started scanning Tammet's brain to find out if there are modules (for number, for example, or for colour, or for texture) that are connected in a way that is different from most of us. "It's too early to tell, but we hope it might throw some light on why we don't all have savant abilities."

Last year Tammet broke the European record for recalling pi, the mathematical constant, to the furthest decimal point. He found it easy, he says, because he didn't even have to "think". To him, pi isn't an abstract set of digits; it's a visual story, a film projected in front of his eyes. He learnt the number forwards and backwards and, last year, spent five hours recalling it in front of an adjudicator. He wanted to prove a point. "I memorised pi to 22,514 decimal places, and I am technically disabled. I just wanted to show people that disability needn't get in the way."

Tammet is softly spoken, and shy about making eye contact, which makes him seem younger than he is. He lives on the Kent coast, but never goes near the beach - there are too many pebbles to count. The thought of a mathematical problem with no solution makes him feel uncomfortable. Trips to the supermarket are always a chore. "There's too much mental stimulus. I have to look at every shape and texture. Every price, and every arrangement of fruit and vegetables. So instead of thinking,'What cheese do I want this week?', I'm just really uncomfortable."

Tammet has never been able to work 9 to 5. It would be too difficult to fit around his daily routine. For instance, he has to drink his cups of tea at exactly the same time every day. Things have to happen in the same order: he always brushes his teeth before he has his shower. "I have tried to be more flexible, but I always end up feeling more uncomfortable. Retaining a sense of control is really important. I like to do things in my own time, and in my own style, so an office with targets and bureaucracy just wouldn't work."

Instead, he has set up a business on his own, at home, writing email courses in language learning, numeracy and literacy for private clients. It has had the fringe benefit of keeping human interaction to a minimum. It also gives him time to work on the verb structures of M&#228;nti.

Few people on the streets have recognised Tammet since his pi record attempt. But, when a documentary about his life is broadcast on Channel 5 later this year, all that will change. "The highlight of filming was to meet Kim Peek, the real-life character who inspired the film Rain Man. Before I watched Rain Man, I was frightened. As a nine-year-old schoolboy, you don't want people to point at the screen and say, 'That's you.' But I watched it, and felt a real connection. Getting to meet the real-life Rain Man was inspirational."

Peek was shy and introspective, but he sat and held Tammet's hand for hours. "We shared so much - our love of key dates from history, for instance. And our love of books. As a child, I regularly took over a room in the house and started my own lending library. I would separate out fiction and non-fiction, and then alphabetise them all. I even introduced a ticketing system. I love books so much. I've read more books than anyone else I know. So I was delighted when Kim wanted to meet in a library." Peek can read two pages simultaneously, one with each eye. He can also recall, in exact detail, the 7,600 books he has read. When he is at home in Utah, he spends afternoons at the Salt Lake City public library, memorising phone books and address directories."He is such a lovely man," says Tammet. "Kim says, 'You don't have to be handicapped to be different - everybody's different'. And he's right."

Like Peek, Tammet will read anything and everything, but his favourite book is a good dictionary, or the works of GK Chesterton. "With all those aphorisms," he says, "Chesterton was the Groucho Marx of his day." Tammet is also a Christian, and likes the fact that Chesterton addressed some complex religious ideas. "The other thing I like is that, judging by the descriptions of his home life, I reckon Chesterton was a savant. He couldn't dress himself, and would always forget where he was going. His poor wife."

Autistic savants have displayed a wide range of talents, from reciting all nine volumes of Grove's Dictionary Of Music to measuring exact distances with the naked eye. The blind American savant Leslie Lemke played Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No1, after he heard it for the first time, and he never had so much as a piano lesson. And the British savant Stephen Wiltshire was able to draw a highly accurate map of the London skyline from memory after a single helicopter trip over the city. Even so, Tammet could still turn out to be the more significant.

He was born on January 31 1979. He smiles as he points out that 31, 19, 79 and 1979 are all prime numbers - it's a kind of sign. He was actually born with another surname, which he prefers to keep private, but decided to change it by deed poll. It didn't fit with the way he saw himself. "I first saw 'Tammet' online. It means oak tree in Estonian, and I liked that association. Besides, I've always had a love of Estonian. Such a vowel rich language."

As a baby, he banged his head against the wall and cried constantly. Nobody knew what was wrong. His mother was anxious, and would swing him to sleep in a blanket. She breastfed him for two years. The only thing the doctors could say was that perhaps he was understimulated. Then, one afternoon when he was playing with his brother in the living room, he had an epileptic fit.

"I was given medication - round blue tablets - to control my seizures, and told not to go out in direct sunlight. I had to visit the hospital every month for regular blood tests. I hated those tests, but I knew they were necessary. To make up for it, my father would always buy me a cup of squash to drink while we sat in the waiting room. It was a worrying time because my Dad's father had epilepsy, and actually died of it, in the end. They were thinking, 'This is the end of Daniel's life'."

Tammet's mother was a secretarial assistant, and his father a steelplate worker. "They both left school without qualifications, but they made us feel special - all nine of us. As the oldest of nine, I suppose it's fair to say I've always felt special." Even if his younger brothers and sisters could throw and catch better than him, swim better, kick a ball better, Daniel was always the oldest. "They loved me because I was their big brother and I could read them stories."

He remembers being given a Ladybird book called Counting when he was four. "When I looked at the numbers I 'saw' images. It felt like a place I could go where I really belonged. That was great. I went to this other country whenever I could. I would sit on the floor in my bedroom and just count. I didn't notice that time was passing. It was only when my Mum shouted up for dinner, or someone knocked at my door, that I would snap out of it."

One day his brother asked him a sum. "He asked me to multiply something in my head - like 'What is 82 x 82 x 82 x 82?' I just looked at the floor and closed my eyes. My back went very straight and I made my hands into fists. But after five or 10 seconds, the answer just flowed out of my mouth. He asked me several others, and I got every one right. My parents didn't seem surprised. And they never put pressure on me to perform for the neighbours. They knew I was different, but wanted me to have a normal life as far as possible."

Tammet could see the car park of his infant school from his bedroom window, which made him feel safe. "I loved assembly because we got to sing hymns. The notes formed a pattern in my head, just like the numbers did." The other children didn't know what to make of him, and would tease him. The minute the bell went for playtime he would rush off. "I went to the playground, but not to play. The place was surrounded by trees. While the other children were playing football, I would just stand and count the leaves."

As Tammet grew older, he developed an obsessive need to collect - everything from conkers to newspapers. "I remember seeing a ladybird for the first time," he says. "I loved it so much, I went round searching every hedge and every leaf for more. I collected hundreds, and took them to show the teacher. He was amazed, and asked me to get on with some assignment. While I was busy he instructed a classmate to take the tub outside and let the ladybirds go. I was so upset that I cried when I found out. He didn't understand my world."

Tammet may have been teased at school, but his teachers were always protective. "I think my parents must have had a word with them, so I was pretty much left alone." He found it hard to socialise with anyone outside the family, and, with the advent of adolesence, his shyness got worse.

After leaving school with three A-levels (History, French and German, all grade Bs), he decided he wanted to teach - only not the predictable, learn-by-rote type of teaching. For a start, he went to teach in Lithuania, and he worked as a volunteer. "Because I was there of my own free will, I was given a lot of leeway. The times of the classes weren't set in stone, and the structures were all of my own making. It was also the first time I was introduced as 'Daniel' rather than 'the guy who can do weird stuff in his head'. It was such a pleasant relief." Later, he returned home to live with his parents, and found work as a maths tutor.

He met the great love of his life, a software engineer called Neil, online. It began, as these things do, with emailed pictures, but ended up with a face-to-face meeting. "Because I can't drive, Neil offered to pick me up at my parents' house, and drive me back to his house in Kent. He was silent all the way back. I thought, 'Oh dear, this isn't going well'. Just before we got to his house, he stopped the car. He reached over and pulled out a bouquet of flowers. I only found out later that he was quiet because he likes to concentrate when he's driving."

Neil is shy, like Tammet. They live, happily, on a quiet cul-de-sac. The only aspect of Tammet's autism that causes them problems is his lack of empathy. "There's a saying in Judaism, if somebody has a relative who has hanged themselves, don't ask them where you should hang your coat. I need to remember that. Like the time I kept quizzing a friend of Neil's who had just lost her mother. I was asking her all these questions about faith and death. But that's down to my condition - no taboos."

When he isn't working, Tammet likes to hang out with his friends on the church quiz team. His knowledge of popular culture lets him down, but he's a shoo-in when it comes to the maths questions. "I do love numbers," he says. "It isn't only an intellectual or aloof thing that I do. I really feel that there is an emotional attachment, a caring for numbers. I think this is a human thing - in the same way that a poet humanises a river or a tree through metaphor, my world gives me a sense of numbers as personal. It sounds silly, but numbers are my friends."


Subject: savant abilities

Dr. Pournelle,

Thanks for posting up that article on autistic savants on your mail page. It struck a personal nerve. When growing up, I found I had a talent for structured computer programming. I could "visualize" how a program fit together before even getting going on the actual coding, like puzzle pieces. Except I could shape the pieces to fit the programming paradigm I was using. Often the toughest part for me getting going was the simplest basics of programming, setting the headers and getting the simplest syntax down. Once I had a start however, my chore was usually simply making the code match the structure I could already see in my head. I never questioned why or how I did this, I just did it, and it amazed my college roomate on occasion as we plugged through the same projects. On a few occasions, I would get so engrossed in what I was doing that I'd completely lose myself in a project and do nothing for up to10 hours at a time sculpting my project to match what I saw was the solution.

This might also explain why I seem to have a natural resistance to object oriented programming. I understand how it works, but I have never visualized how to actually do anything useful with it. "My brain doesn't work that way" is a lame excuse, but I had more success solving the typical maze or towers of hanoi problems on a massively parallel machine using C than I did writing "hello world" in a generic OOP environment.

Once, in the middle of a tough mid-term project, I dreamt that I was coding and solved the core problems in my head. On a whim, on awakening I wrote it all down before I was fully awake, expecting to read nothing but nonsense when I had time later on to read what I'd written. To my suprise, my notes described the solution, including a full line of fortran (format and all), that did the work in half the lines of code of almost everyone else's program. I've never had this happen again and as structured coding isn't in favor right now and I haven't written more than 10 lines of code in the last 8 years, I seem to have lost touch with whatever talent I had in this area.

I therefore found the savant's description on how he does calculations very illuminating. Maybe everyone has a unique way of doing things on a subconscious level and we can occasionally tap into those abilities without the filters and conversions we're impressed with as we grow up, but most people never limit their focus on a problem enough to bypass all the "noise". Maybe savants are simply able to bypass their education and actively access the inner workings of their mind. The lucky ones can run the results back through their conscious filters and converters in order to express the results.

Sean Long

More on this when I recover from the TSA abuse.







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