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Mail 355  March 28 - April 3, 2005






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Monday March 28 2005

Subject: Dalek assaults Parliament.


-- Roland Dobbins

No comment. None...

This one is a bit more serious:

Subject: The Right Stuff for Space Tourists.


- Roland Dobbins

Regulation of just what is informed consent, and what rights one has to take risky trips is a matter of some importance, and is vital to the space industry. Tie it all up in red tape and give lawyers the right to sue in the name of people who were considered too stupid to know what risks they were taking, and you can finish the industry before it starts.


Subject: Education

Hi Jerry,

There's an article "The Shame of the Schools" in the current New York Review of Books that's interesting and worthwhile. The entire article (4915 words) may be read for $3 at


The author is Roger Shattuck who joined his local school board in Vermont in 2000 and took his new position seriously. He writes "After forty years of college teaching, I had no particular agenda to promote on the board, Principally I was curious to find out what actually is being taught in this rural high school, which has the largest payroll within twenty miles."

Shattuck reviewed 84 pages of "Vermont's Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities" and nearly 600 (yes, 600) pages of the district's Curriculum Guidelines. Shattuck writes that the two documents:

"presumably lay out a course of study for all students. As they stand, these two documents do not and cannot serve this function...entry after entry stipulates that students shall examine, investigate, analyze, understand and interpret topics such as 'fiction' and 'nature and nurture.' The verbs teach, learn and study do not appear."

And so forth.

It's a lengthy article that discusses the author's research into methods. He discusses the remarkable education of Helen Keller and the (considerable) contributions of John Dewey. "According to Dewey, education rests on two interacting factors: the floating immature mind of the child and the organized knowledge of the adult. In practice, schools tend to separate these two factors into antagonists representing two opposing sides: the child versus the curriculum." What amounts to Dewey's recommendation for effective teaching appears to be succinctly summarized as: "It is continuous reconstruction, moving from the child's present experience out into that represented by the organized bodies of truth that we call studies."

Then Shattuck, to his credit, writes about his efforts to discover a usable curriculum. His key finding is

"I have found only one curriculum that moves grade by grade (in this case K-8), that uses simple lists of specific content, that does not prescribe teaching methods, that is cross-referenced, and that turns out to be informative and even a pleasure to read. The Core Knowledge Sequence (now in its third edition), prepared and published by the Core Knowledge Foundation in Charlottesville, Virginia, accomplishes all this in a no-frills two hundred-page booklet adopted since 1986 by 480 schools and under consideration by four hundred."

He concludes by writing "I merely hope to demonstrate to my district...and to anyone concerned...that the Core Knowledge Sequence embodies...the balance between the developing child and the mature curriculum."

Shattuck's prologue is an unattributed aphorism: "The great truths in education turn out to be half-truths in search of their other half."

Alan Messer

Dewey and "progressive education" were controversial in my time: "progressive education" vs. "drill and kill" were debated seriously. The two sides talked past each other. Drill and rote learning are necessary for certain foundations -- the addition and multiplication tables come to mind -- but teach skills; they are not a path to what we think of as understanding, i.e. "education".  This does not mean they are useless. Skills learned by rote can be understood later. In teaching fencing, as an example, the classic methodology involves learning footwork without even holding a blade; only when the basic steps are so thoroughly learned as to be habitual does the student get to hold a foil. Bladework is taught much the same way. Then the two are combined. The best fencers go on to devise their own moves, but few winning fencers neglected the fundamentals when they began training.

It is much the same with education. Not all of us will have an intuitive understanding of the calculus, but far more who have the fundamentals of algebra down cold go on to learn the calculus than those who just pick it up on their own. The fact that come can pick it up on their own should not be the governing factor in devising an education program. Ask Jaime Escalante for details on this.

I am not sure there are final answers to any of this. What I am certain of is that subsidiarity and fiscal accountability are important in building a good system of education; and that the trend is in the opposite direction.


Subject: The Law of Unintended Consequences

Wonder how much, if any, of the alleged trouble with United States Social Security running out of money could be attributed to the long term efforts and success of the stop smoking campaigns? My wife and I once smoked and have been quit over thirty years each, and I know many others who once smoked and quit.

So, if smoking is bad for one's health and can lead to early death -- which I believe to be true -- would Social Security be in danger of running out of (or at least low on) money had people kept on smoking?

My perception is that 2/3 or more adults smoked and now that number is probably under 1/3. That has got to be a negative influence on the Social Security cash balance over the years.

And the campaign against obesity -- more specifically against the deep pocket fast food restaurants -- will make the Social Security problem even worse by further lengthening lives.

So...to solve the Social Security crisis -- bring back Joe Camel and the Lucky Strike Hit Parade and the Winston Cup Races!

Charles Brumbelow

I smoked for 30 years, eventually convincing myself that smoking costs 10 years, and you can get a lot done in ten years. So far every year I find my life expectancy goes up by a year. Presumably that won't continue forever...

Of course I still pay into Social Security despite being long past "retirement" age.







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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Subj: Review of new book on Herman Kahn

http://www.strategypage.com/bookreviews/260.asp  The Worlds of Herman Kahn: The Intuitive Science of Thermonuclear War Book Reviews

My favorite from Kahn's writings: The most surprising thing of all would be for any surprise-free projection really to come true.

And his notion of "second-order agreement" -- agreement, not on substance, but on *what the parties are disagreeing about* -- is essential to any attempt at rational debate about public policy.

I miss him!

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com

I will have to get the book. I first met Herman when Boeing brought him out to spend a couple of days with the strategic analysis group I was part of, and I probably learned more from him on the subject than from anyone else other than Possony.


Apparently I was not the only science fiction writer concerned about this:

Subject: Holly Lisle on Ms. Schiavo


As you might know, Holly Lisle is a former RN and she has a unique perspective on the Terri Schiavo case. She has just posted in her blog the essay,

Killing Grandma for Fun and Profit: Florida's Trojan Horse <http://hollylisle.com/writingdiary/article.php/20050328060520886>  (posted Monday, March 28 2005 @ 06:05 AM CST)

(direct hyperlink: http://hollylisle.com/writingdiary/article.php/20050328060520886 )

Holly notes that this series of rulings creates three new, and highly dangerous, legal precedents:

(1) "Even an essentially healthy person may be removed from life support without ever having documented a wish to not have extraordinary measures taken to preserve his life." This item further notes that while there is a lot of medical evaluation that Ms. Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state, NONE of the usual medical tests to authenticate such a diagnosis have ever been verifiably performed.

(2) The kicker is that this ruling establishes that "food and water have (now) been defined as extraordinary measures of life support."

(3) And, of course, as regards Mr. Schiavo's motivations (Holly had earlier linked to this article -- http://americandigest.org/mt-archives/005350.php  -- about the potential financial benefits he will obtain upon his wife's death), Holly notes that "the plaintiff can benefit from the death of the victim without having his motives questions, can stand to profit by her death and only by her death, and everyone's (legally) okay with that."

The implications for all of us are enormous.

Holly has apparently gotten a lot of commentary overnight, some supportive, some less than supportive, but posted an unexpurgated response to one critic who talked about how important having the bed back would be to the hospice. That item -- "The value of a bed (rated R for profanity)" -- is linked at http://hollylisle.com/writingdiary/article.php/20050329060746809





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Subject: Re: urk - anatomy of a distributed attack.

I am so happy that we run only Linux around here ...

Brian  wrote: > http://www.mnin.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=112 >

 > .brian > >

-- Robert Bruce Thompson

Somehow I am not astonished to hear you say that. Or see you say that. Or whatever the proper expression is...


Subject: Strange bedfellows

This Shiavo thing sure does make for strange bedfellows.


If someone had asked me if you and Jesse Jackson would ever agree on anything, I'd have bet money against it.

-- Robert Bruce Thompson

Actually, when Jackson first began his Upward Bound camps we sent him donations. When he later went from teaching self-improvement to becoming the most successful shakedown artist not in control of a government it was a different story...

Actually that wasn't the reply I sent. I said

> Come now we both have always agreed that a lot of money is a good
> thing to have. We may have disagreed on how one ought to acquire it.

 And received the comment

I see they're now discussing putting the Pope on a feeding tube.

And in a surprise announcement, Michael Shiavo says the Pope once told him that he wouldn't want to live that way.

Which probably qualifies as a Mad Magazine "Humor in a jugular vein" moment.



Subject: Disc expiration dates debated (Cnet)

March 29, 2005

Disc expiration dates debated Paul Festa, Staff Writer, CNET News.com Would you like your digital-storage media to last 20 years, 25 years, 30 years, 35 years or 40 years?

If you're an organization or government agency, the U.S. government and an optical-disc industry group would like you to answer that question in a quick survey.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology's Government Information Preservation Working Group, or GIPWoG, is trying to develop a standard way of labeling CDs and DVDs for longevity. The optical disc has become the storage "medium of choice" for many government agencies and private-sector groups, GIPWoG notes, and users ought to have a clue as to how long information stored on such media might last.

"Both recordable CDs and DVDs can be very stable and robust," the working group says on its Web site. "But, as occurs with many successful technologies, a multitude of suppliers have entered the worldwide marketplace with varying degrees of product quality."

The practice of "lowest-bid procurement" could wind up exacerbating the quality problem, GIPWoG said.

GIPWoG is working with the DVD Association, an industry group, to nail down "a long-term, or archival, standard measurement for recordable CD and DVD media." The idea isn't to test how long discs will last, but to be able to establish whether or not a disc will last at least a certain number of years.

The survey urges respondents to be reasonable in naming their ideal optical-disc lifespan.

"One should consider the issues of digital obsolescence and migration," the survey says. "Is 100 years (or 'forever') really practical for typical long-term digital storage strategies? While you may need to preserve data for a particular length of time, is it really necessary to preserve that data on any particular technology or can it be migrated to newer technologies?"

Responses to the survey will be accepted through May 31. --

Richard F. Doherty, Research Director The Envisioneering Group

What is the decay mechanism for, say, DVD-RAM disks? (Other than the readers vanishing and not being replaced with backward compatible devices.) This is a more interesting question than it first appears, but my bet is that some kind of silicon state-change technology will produce what amount to eternal records if it hasn't already done so. Isn't M-O almost eternal now?


Subject: I Could Scream.


-- Roland Dobbins



Subject: 'Now'.

The sheer pettiness of what passes for 'civil society' in this supposedly enlightened age is truly appalling . . .

Perhaps it's naive of me, but I once believed that things like this would never happen in America - of course, I never thought that we'd end up with public executions by torture, either:


- Roland Dobbins

But surely you are not astonished? Appalled, yes. Astonished, no.

And now for some good news:

Subject: Identity theft victim strikes back!

Here's a story about an identity theft victim that managed to track down the perps and get them busted. It took less than three hours!


 -- Joe Zeff
The only problem with trouble-shooting is that sometimes trouble shoots back.
 http://home.earthlink.net/~sidebrnz http://www.lasfs.org



Subject: The Cellphone of Doom.


-- Roland Dobbins

More Mad Magazine...



CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Subject: Denied.



The Schindlers and their other two children earlier requested permission to be with Schiavo during her last moments at a hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida. Police barred them from being with her, O'Donnell said.

O'Donnell, one of the family's spiritual advisers, said Schiavo's family was "begging to be at her bedside...but are being denied."

Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband and guardian, controlled who could visit her and when.

--- Roland Dobbins



Subject: Metallic glass.


"IN THE movie Terminator 2, the villain is a robot made of liquid metal. He morphs from human form to helicopter and back again with ease, moulds himself into any shape without breaking, and can even flow under doorways.

"Now a similar-sounding futuristic material is about to turn up everywhere. It is called metallic glass. In the past year, researchers have made metallic glass three times stronger than the best industrial steel and 10 times springier. Almost a match for the Terminator, in other words. " <snip>

--- Roland Dobbins


Subj: Prof. Ruth Wisse on Sexual Correctness at Harvard


=Urging women into difficult careers is all well and good; extending them equal opportunity is a matter of law; but the society that does not counsel early marriage and children is far crueler to women than the “sexist” one it replaced.=

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com

From a Darwinian point of view intelligence and education are clearly counter=productive. Marching morons, anyone?


Subject: Alternatives.


-- Roland Dobbins

Unlikely partners, perhaps, but so long as we begin to look at alternatives to fossil fuels as the mainstay of our economy...

We once could trust our engineers far more than we could trust our diplomats when it came to securing vital necessities for us.

Of course the Technocracy people have been saying that for a while. But I don't suppose we will see The Technate of North America.


Subject: 'Game theft' led to fatal attack

I've heard of virtual murder, but this is a bit much:


A Chinese man has been stabbed to death in a row over a sword in online game Legends of Mir 3, say reports.

Shanghai gamer Qiu Chengwei killed player Zhu Caoyuan when he discovered he had sold a "dragon sabre" he had been loaned, said the China Daily.

Robert Shepherd

Well I knew people took on-line games seriously...


Subject: Frogs Sitting In Boiling Water: And No One Even Twitches


From Slashdot . . .


Your Rights Online: FBI Demands Logs From Radical Website


Posted by timothy on Wednesday March 30, @04:28PM
from the notoriety dept.
sunbird writes "The details are as yet unclear due to a gag order, but apparently the FBI is once again demanding IP logs from dissident webservers. The sysadmin for flag.blackened.net, best known for hosting infoshop.org and the Anarchist FAQ has responded to an FBI request for server logs. Although he cannot reveal the details of the request due to the gag order, the sysadmin has issued an informal press release discussing his reasons for turning over the information. Slashdot articles on similar topics: (1) (2) (3)"


But Information Wants To Be Free


Subject: We knew it all along . . .


--- Roland Dobbins

Well some of us knew it all along. Others protested loudly at the injustice of the accusations.


Subject: The Law of Unintended (?) Consequences, Part XXVIII.


- Roland Dobbins



In mail 355, you asked

What is the decay mechanism for, say, DVD-RAM disks? (Other than the readers vanishing and not being replaced with backward compatible devices.)

I was interested in this at one point (I was building a system for archiving air traffic radar data on MO disks).

Dye-based CDR and DVDR systems are vulnerable to bleaching of the dyes, in much the same way that color photographic prints fade over time. The timescale can be as short as a few years.

Factory-pressed CDs and CDROMs should be stable over fairly long times but are vulnerable to destruction of the aluminum layer by oxygen, because the polycarbonate of the disk is not impermeable to gasses. This is a hard type of failure to simulate. The best guesses I know of say to expect about 30 years from this kind of media.

Phase-change MO seems likely to have the longest shelf life, but again there are issues with O2 eventually seeping through the plastic.

A bigger problem than any of these issues is, as you note, ensuring the existence of a reader that works. Also software that understands the data format, btw.

For real archival storage (100s of years or more) nothing beats finely-ground black iron oxide or lampblack in a drying oil on acid-free paper or parchment.

Wade Scholine

And one assumes we will always have some kind of OCR system...

Subject: CD and DVD Deterioration

The surface of a CD or DVD that actually holds the data is a metal. It is sealed within the clear (on the reading side) and labeled (on the back side) jacket. That metal is in many disks made of a cheap material that will oxidize (dissolve, in effect) when exposed to air. If the disk is also cheaply made so that it is not completely sealed and stays that way through handling, air gets to the metal and in a little while, you don't have your disk any more (it looks like it was nibbled by rats). The spec should require a non-oxidizing metal and a heavy, carefully-applied sealing jacket. Otherwise, you will lose everything eventually (and, by Murphy's Law, at the worst possible time in the worst possible way). Lowest bidder is NOT the way to go here!!

Nathan Okun


Subject: What not to do when Federal Investigators come knocking

I don't know if you've seen this piece. Seems to me that at least once I've sent an item to you and then come to realize that I'd gotten it from your site in the first place.

You've spoken about the Martha Stewart case and how what it really teaches us is to keep our mouths shut to Federal Officials. Seems others think the same way:


David L. Burkhead Advanced Surface Microscopy, Inc.

Well I said that; alas it is true. I see others are figuring it out also.

I was brought up to believe we ought to cooperate with the authorities. Silly way to be brought up.


Subject: COMDEX cancelled again.


---- Roland Dobbins

Subject: Comdex cancelled again


My guess is, it's been cancelled for the last time unless the name is applied to some new show.

. png


I actually miss COMDEX. I even miss giving the Show Awards. It was a frantic time, and trying to pick the best technology introduced at COMDEW was a strain (at least it was if you took that seriously) but I used to learn more in those editorial meetings than at any other time of the year, and COMDEX brought out both products and technology to put them all in one place. We do not have its like now.


Subject: More unintended consequences.

HOV lanes cause accidents. Oops! http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/02/292.asp 

-- Richard Washington, D.C.

We have known this in California for some time. But they are popular with someone, because we keep building them.




CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


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Friday,  April 1, 2005

Subject: Political Correctness rules our schools

In Oregon, McKay High School principal Cynthia Richardson has banned a picture of graduate Bill Riecke from an exhibit showcasing past McKay graduates. Cpl. Riecke, USMC, is serving in Iraq, and the picture was taken there. Ms. Richardson prohibited the photo because Cpl. Riecke is armed. She offered to post the picture if the weapon was digitally removed with Photoshop.

Full story here: http://www.katu.com/stories/76079.html 

Beth Macknik

I wish that were an April Fool's Day joke, but alas...

Clearly what the schools need is more money and higher salaries for principals. That will fix everything.

Subject:  Dark days indeed



NASA Review: Hubble Headed For Deorbit-Option Only

"A major review last week of servicing the Hubble Space Telescope has led NASA officials to a 'deorbit only' position."


There was a time some at NASA dreamed of walking not just on the moon, not just on Mars, but on other worlds circling other stars. We now can't even fix a telescope orbiting our planet and don't even have the will to try. Spend all the money on ISS and Shuttle. Damn all the rest. Didn't they learn anything by turning the most powerful machine ever built into a lawn ornament just to get a poor excuse for a spaceship? This hurts.

My promise to any politician reading this (as if they care): I will never vote for another politician that squanders my money on NASA.

Braxton S. Cook

NASA has done some good. But mostly that was long ago.















This week:


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Saturday, April 2, 2005

Subject: Letter from England

Government engineering problems: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/

Political analysis of New Labour: <http://politics.guardian.co.
uk/election/comment/ 0,15803,1450767,00.html

Latin out of UK schools: <http://education.guardian.co.uk/

Congestion charge successful, so it is increased: <http://society.guardian.
co.uk/governinglondon/story/ 0,8150,1450778,00.html

Uni funding mess gets messier: <http://www.thes.co.uk/current_edition/story.aspx?story_id=2020705

I had been wondering if this money would ever appear in my paycheck. Apparently not: <http://www.thes.co.uk/current_edition/story.aspx?story_id=2020716

Don't you love central planning? <http://www.thes.co.uk/current_edition/story.aspx?story_id=2020729

This is clearly a problem based on my experience teaching, and not just with foreign students: <http://www.thes.co.uk/current_edition/story.aspx?story_id=2020755

-- Harry Erwin, PhD "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." (Benjamin Franklin, 1755)


Subject: <toc>Stupid Security

I discovered this fine site while doing a Google search (for neither stupid nor security, by the way...) Julie


Stupidsecurity.com is about the security measures that are, well... um... dim.

You can read a little more about this in the FAQ, but the general idea is to make it a little more uncomfortable for the forces of stupidity.

Julie W

A consummation devoutly to be wished.






CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


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Sunday, April 3, 2005

Column Time. We have been building a new machine.






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I try to answer mail, but mostly I can't get to all of it. I read it all, although not always the instant it comes in. I do have books to write too...  I am reminded of H. P. Lovecraft who slowly starved to death while answering fan mail. 

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