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Mail 356 April 4 - 10, 2005






BOOK Reviews

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This week:


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On Education:

Article on the International Baccalaureat international to end educational qualification which you may find interesting.


Neil Craig

An excellent article: good summary of how we got into this mess, and some details on what parents of bright kids may want to pay some attention to.






This week:


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It is column time: SHORT SHRIFT

Subject: Spit and polish.


-- Roland Dobbins

It always happens...  And see below.


Subject: Another Site of Possible Interest . . .

Lots of interesting threads on this site, and most of them do not require that one be a machinist or engineer to understand and enjoy them.


Start with the category "Manufacturing in America and Europe" is very likely to have threads of interest to readers of Chaos Manor.

Charles Brumbelow


Subject: Its the little things

The Minuteman helped us win the Cold War. But I guess Mother Nature is a tougher opponent....

We can't keep a silo dry. And we are trying to get by with an Air Force made up of a high percentage of planes a lot older than the pilots. At the rate we are going, I wonder how much will be left in 10 years?


April 01, 2005

Rain damages Minuteman 3 in silo

Associated Press

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Drenching rains and a leaky silo last week forced delay of a test launch and damaged a Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile, which will be returned to an Air Force maintenance facility in Utah, officials said.

The Air Force only said last week that the March 23 launch of the ICBM was postponed indefinitely due to "weather-related issues." Unfavorable weather routinely leads to scrubbed launches at Vandenberg.

In a written response to questions submitted by the Santa Maria (Calif.) Times, however, Vandenberg spokesman Capt. Todd Fleming said the missile was water-logged due to heavy rains and it was removed from the silo for inspection and repair.

A day before the scheduled launch, technicians discovered the temporary shelter over the silo had leaked after 1.58 inches of rain drenched the area. <snip>

Jim Carr


And now to scare you silly

Subject: The fruits of 'campaign finance reform'.


- Roland Dobbins

Campaign finance reform, otherwise known as the Incumbent Job Protection Act, has always been a terrible idea. If they had to restrict something let them restrict fund raising by candidates to some reasonable value and let PARTIES raise lots of money; at least you get some party discipline that way. It would change the whole nature of the political business, but what they did is worse.

The best way to cut back on campaign finances is to limit the scope of what politics can do.  Make politicians less important to our lives and we will spend less to buy them.

Remind me to do an essay on all this when the column is done.


Subj: Will tech abolish the Air Force?

http://www.strategypage.com/fyeo/howtomakewar/default.asp?target=HTINF.HTM  INFANTRY: The Grunts Stick it to the Air Force

=After half a century of losing out to the U.S. Air Force in the competition for budget dollars, the American Army is making a major comeback. Ironically, it's all about technology. The air force has always touted its mastery of high tech as a reason to get more money than the army. But the cheap and abundant tech has created new devices, namely smart bombs, UAVs and "smart binoculars," that are putting a lot of airmen out of business.=

We've been worrying about how to fold the independent Air Force back into the Army where it belongs.

Maybe tech is making it happen?

Reminds me of the old story about the guy whose doc tells him they have to amputate his ... generative organ. Guy is horrified, goes to a traditional Chinese healer, asks if the doc is right. Healer says: "Amputate? Ridiculous! Totally unnecessary!" Guy heaves big sigh of relief. Healer: "Two, three week, he fall off all by himself!"

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com

 No cut off! Wait. Dlop off!

Another subject I need to write about but not at column time.


Subject: Moondust Serenade.


-- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Google Maps with Satellite 

Dr. Pournelle:

The folks at Google have added satellite images to thier mapping page (at http://maps.google.com ) . I think the maximum resolution is about a mile, and the images are not current (the image of my home is about 4 years old). But the technology is interesting.

One nice thing about the Google maps is that you can click/drag to scroll the map image, and the redisplay is quite fast.

Regards, Rick Hellewell

Interesting... I see my house clearly.


Subject: John Paul II, Squaresville Daddy-O?


Mark Steyn deliciously skewers media coverage of the Pope's death:

"The root of the Pope's thinking -- that there are eternal truths no one can change even if one wanted to -- is completely incomprehensible to the progressivist mindset. There are no absolute truths, everything's in play, and by 'consensus' all we're really arguing is the rate of concession to the inevitable: abortion's here to stay, gay marriage will be here any day now, in a year or two it'll be something else -- it's all gonna happen anyway, man, so why be the last squaresville daddy-o on the block?"


--Erich Schwarz



From a serving officer

Dr Pournelle, I'm going to have to disagree with you about Sandy Berger. Having spent much of the last year riding herd on classified information and material, I have to think that if I'd done far less than he did, I'd face jail time and a huge fine, permanent loss of my clearance and a criminal record sufficient to set me up for a fine career in ditch digging, or perhaps I could go back to being a brickmason's helper.

The definition of secret information is information that, if it gets out of the control of the US, causes harm to the US. There are various levels of harm and those match to the levels of classification. There are some other points which could be made, but the point is that anyone with access to such information has gone through classes to explain how to take care of such data and why it needs to be protected. Even if there is a reason to destroy some document, it is done and witnesses sign off on the event. Just doing it because and at home is a criminal offense, and I'd kind of prefer that other people take such information seriously to help prevent future disasters. I won't describe any event or situation, but I will say that I've had sleepless nights trying to protect things that needed to be protected from release, and there is a process to use if something either shouldn't be classified in the first place or no longer needs to be classified.

What Mr. Berger admits to doing violates his training and the oaths he took when he was granted access to the information and at the very least he needs to be denied any chance of access ever again and preferably become an example to encourage the others not to get complacent about such stuff.

I'll admit I'm mad enough to chew nails and spit tacks over this, but it is pretty clearly a case of someone who violated more than one written agreements with the US government with clearly spelled out consequences, and if we don't apply them, it reduces the training value for others that might help prevent silly errors due to complacency by making them take the prospect of harm seriously, for themselves if not others.

He's not the only one:

Subject: Justice, National Security, and Political Bedfellows

Good thing Berger didn't sell any stock based on the classified documents . . .


My comments, not my employers.



Subject: More on Sandy Berger

Dr. Pournelle,

I wrote some about my disagreement with your take on Sandy Berger on my weblog. If you're interested in my Ravings, it's at http://www.robinjuhl.homelinux.net/weblog/pivot/entry.php?id=531

Respectfully Submitted, R K. J, Captain, USAF (retired)

I suppose I am more charitable; or perhaps I think prisons ought to be reserved for dangerous people, and we can find less expensive but still effective deterrents for the Martha Stewarts and Sandy Bergers of this world


Subject: Manning the legions.


-- Roland Dobbins

But it will all work out. Surely in these modern times we need not worry about paid soldiers and auxiliaries.


Subject: Re: Berger/Charity

Dr. Pournelle,

I am afraid I have to join those who disagree with you on the lack of punishment received by Berger. True, he didn't steal the latest weapons plans and carry them off to Al Qaida...but he did steal and destroy classified documents for political advantage. To the extent that we will never know what he destroyed...I am afraid I feel little charity.

It's been over thirty years since I had to deal with classified material, but there can be no question that Berger knew what he was doing; he is not stupid, but is clearly corrupt. When Berger accepted his clearance he assumed a responsibility...one that he was willing to blow off, apparently for no greater reason than to save his party some embarrassment.

If circumstances were such that Berger would never be allowed access to classified material I might be inclined to agree with you. The reality is that if Berger's party is successful in the next presidential election we may see his clearances restored and his paws all over sensitive information again.

So we have one citizen spending time in jail for misleading an investigator; another, politically connected walks after gross violation of his duty.


Bill Beeman

Well, as I said above: prison is pretty drastic; surely there are better deterrents? I didn't say he ought not be fined, and I suppose I am old fashioned enough to think that after that experience he'd be ashamed to get back into being an advisor.




This week:


read book now



From another conference:


> ... the fraction of women over the age of forty and
> without children has nearly doubled over the past
> quarter-century, to about a fifth of the cohort.
> According to the Gallup poll, 70 percent of these
> women now regret that they are childless.

Women can only have babies when they are young? Who Knew? Why was this not taught at Harvard, Radcliffe, and Yale?



In real life, I doubt that most educated, professional women have even a clue about the actual relationship between age and fertility. Part of the reason is that this information is suppressed by PC feminism. Back in 2002, Time published an article detailing the role of feminists in censoring these facts ("Making Time for a Baby" - http://www.time.com/time/covers/1101020415/story.html) . In the past, I have suggested that the simplest and cheapest thing government could do to raise middle class fertility would be to simply add a discussion of the fertility/age relationship to high school sexed.

A sanity test... In your own experience, how many women have even modest knowledge of what the fertility/age curve looks like?



also from another conference, an important question:

What is the latest on minor nerve damage repairs? At present it looks as
though my right sciatic nerve may not fully recover from the latest assault
from my L5 disc for which one of my three doctors is recommending his half
hour operation through a keyhole to my epidural cavity and the others are
in favour of waiting to see if I continue to get better. As I still, four
months after the prolapse of the disc, can't get any lifting power out of
my right calf - a very specific but important problem for a tennis player -
I am beginning to consider the operation without any guarantee that it will
help. So, I wonder whether there is any encouraging news of medical
innovations that don't have to fix a Christopher Reeves. If it needs
therapeutic cloning I am quite happy to travel to China!



While I doubt the readership knows anything useful, it's worth asking


Subject:  Army Discipline Out of Control


allow me to meander on the topic just a bit. In Korea, in the Second Infantry Division, they had "Warrior Standards" a little book that contained rules of conduct for those at Camp Red Cloud and Camp Casey and other camps in the area of the DMZ. Those rules contained, among others, a restriction on wearing sleeveless shirts, baseball caps with the bill in any direction other than directly forward, and walking while talking on a cell phone. Now this was in addition to the prohibition of having members of the opposite sex in your room, and the fairly restrictive hours you were allowed off post. Soldiers were frequently given non-judicial punishment for violations of these rules, which can and does end a soldier's long term career. This level of "discipline" was counterproductive.

Discipline in the army is an every day thing. Uniform standards are a small, seemingly insignificant piece of that. Those outside the military often cannot understand such "nitpicky" things, and chafe at the idea. A friend dated a subordinate of mine (a captain when I was a major). He could not stand the fact that she called me sir whenever we met outside of work. He demanded I allow her to call me by my first name, and could not understand the principle that both she and I adhered to without difficulty.

The two paragraphs above seem at odds. They aren't. The soldiers in Iraq make realistic changes to suit their environment, such as tucking in their blouse. They also will relax in areas less designed for the environment, and more related to just being done in, such as failing to put on their cover after removing their kevlar. They'll bitch about either when corrected, but they know the difference. The CSM who doesn't understand the difference (and you'll find him in the article) is the one I fear. REMF was the old term, and I'm sure you'll know it's meaning. I am one such REMF, and by occupation will always be, but I know it.

The bottom line is, the new command structure should be asking the 1SGs who ARE going out with those troops, and the platoon leaders and the platoon sergeants, rather than the new guys simply imposing garrison ideas on line activities. The sad thing is, there are soldiers out there who will not continue in the miltary because they were "made an example of".



I never heard anyone admit he was an REMF before...

Your points are well made. And of course troop commanders pretty well understand necessities, which change from one situation and outfit to another. Perhaps it has never been said better than this:

The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone;
He don’t obey no orders unless they is his own;
He keeps his side-arms awful: he leaves them all about,
And then up comes the Regiment and pokes the heathen out.

All along of dirtiness, all along of mess,
All along of doing things rather-more-or-less,
All along of abby-nay, kul , and hazer-ho,
Mind you keep your rifle and yourself just so!

The young recruit is haughty—he drafts from God knows where;
They bid him show his stockings and lay his mattress square;
He calls it bloomin’ nonsense—he doesn't know, no more—
And then up comes his Company and kicks him round the floor!

The young recruit is hammered—he takes it very hard;
He hangs his head and mutters—he sulks about the yard;
He talks of “cruel tyrants” which he’ll swing for by-and-by,
And the others hear and mock him, and the boy goes off to cry.

The young recruit is silly—he thinks of suicide.
He’s lost his gutter-devil; he hasn’t got his pride;
But day by day they kicks him, which helps him on a bit,
Till he finds himself one morning with a full an’ proper kit.

Getting clear of dirtiness, getting done with mess,
Getting shut of doing things rather-more-or-less;
Not so fond of abby-nay, kul, nor hazar-ho,
Learns to keep his rifle and himself just so!

The young recruit is happy—he throws a chest to suit;
You see him grow mustaches; you hear him slap his boot.
He learns to drop the “bloodies” from every word he slings,
And he shows a healthy brisket when he strips for bars and rings.

The cruel-tyrant-sergeants they watch him half a year;
They watch him with his comrades, they watch him with his beer;
They watch him with the women at the regimental dance,
And the cruel-tyrant-sergeants send his name along for “Lance”.

And now he’s half of nothing, and all a private yet,
His room they up and rag him to see what they will get.
They rag him low and cunning, each dirty trick they can,
But he learns to sweat his temper and he learns to sweat his man.

And, last, a Colour-Sergeant, as such to be obeyd,
He schools his men at cricket, he tells them on parade;
They see him quick and handy, uncommon set and smart,
And so he talks to officers which have the Corps at heart.

He learns to do his watching without it showing plain;
He learns to save a dummy, and shove him straight again;
He learns to check a ranker that’s buying leave to shirk;
And he learns to make men like him so they’ll learn to like their work.

And when it comes to marching he’ll see their socks are right,
And when it comes to action he shows them how to sight.
He knows their way of thinking and just what’s in their mind;
He knows when they are taking on and when they fall behind.

He knows each talking corporal that leads a squad astray;
He feels his innards heaving, his bowels giving way;
He sees the blue-white faces all trying hard to grin,
And he stands and waits and suffers till it’s time to cap them in.

And now the ugly bullets come pecking through the dust,
And no one wants to face them, but every beggar must;
So like a man in irons, which isn’t glad to go,
They move them off by companies uncommon stiff and slow.

Of all his five years schooling they don’t remember much
Except the not retreating, the step and keeping touch.
It looks like teaching wasted when they duck and spread and hop-
But if he hadn’t taught them they’d be all about the shop.

And now it’s “Who goes backward?” and now it’s “Who comes on?”
And now it’s “Get the doolies,” and now the Captain’s gone;
And now it’s bloody murder, but all the while they hear
His voice, the same as barracks-drill, shepherding the rear.

He’s just as sick as they are, his heart is like to split,
But he works them, works them, works them till he feels them take the bit;
The rest is holding steady till the watchful bugles play,
And he lifts them, lifts them, lifts them through the charge that wins the day.

The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone;
He don’t obey no orders unless they is his own.
The heathen in his blindness must end where he began,
But the backbone of the Army is the Non-commissioned Man!

Keep away from dirtiness—keep away from mess,
Don’t get into doing things rather-more-or-less!
Let’s have done with abby-nay, kul, and hazar-ho;
Mind you keep your rifle and yourself just so!

Rudyard Kipling

And recall the scene in Zulu when the Colour Sergeant admonishes a trooper for not being properly buttoned up. "Get your duty on!"

But of course Kipling was writing about a particular time and place. Still volunteer soldiers haven't changed a lot since Roman times. Kiopling also wrote of a time when there were more teeth and less tail, and the problems of warriors vs. specialists vs. technicians were not so stark.

Another time I may have more time to write on this, but of course I've been writing about this subject in my fiction most of my life.


Subject: another anti-fan of the TSA



For most of my professional life, I've traveled frequently – sometimes boarding a commercial flight two, three or four times a month for lucrative speaking engagements. Over the past three years, the frequency has fallen to an average of once or twice a year.

The reason is simple. I don't want to be arrested or detained for questioning some of the senseless airport security procedures. Don't get me wrong. I'm for security, but against stupidity. Let's look at some of it starting off with a hypothetical question.

You're a detective. A woman reports a rape. How would you go about finding the perpetrator? Would you confine your search to males or would you include females as well?


How politically incorrect of you!


CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, April 7, 2005

Subject: NASA, OSHA, EPA, and NIXON


What two events are arguably the worst legacies of the Nixon Administration?

How about the founding of OSHA in 1971 and of EPA in 1972?

Man was landed safety on the moon and returned to the earth in 1969, without the benefits of either organization or their regulations. Compliance with these two organization's regulations and requirements is one reason why NASA has accomplished little over the past 30 years.

Not the only one, I know, but definitely one of the clear reasons.


Good point.


Subject: Hubble


The logic is painful, but the REAL costs of repairing the Hubble (when one considers mission costs, plus recurring shuttle system costs, plus the costs of maintaining a second shuttle in hot mode for an emergency rescue mission, plus recurring costs of the second shuttle, plus the opportunity costs of delaying ISS construction because two of three shuttles is tied up) is probably on the close order of $10 billion, or a multiple of several times the cost of the Hubble replacement.

On can even argue that, even at that cost, the Hubble repair is more worthwhile than anything else NASA will spend the money on; which ignores that there are many worthwhile things, perhaps not as visible but still worthwhile, that NASA still does, some of which would likely be cancelled to secure the non-recurring costs of the Hubble repair. I don't think I care to go there.

So let's lobby hard for a Hubble replacement (with working mirrors the first time, thank you), and do whatever we can to prevent us from ever getting into this God-forsaken position again.


The problem is that NASA at present can't do anything.

Solution: set up some specs for a replacement for Hubble. Announce a $5 billion prize for the first company to get such an instrument into orbit and working. Get out of the way. While we are at it, at the same time announce a $10 billion prize for the first American owned Lunar Colony (31 Americans alive and well for 3 years and a day continuously on the Moon). Get out of the way. The two prizes will stimulate massive activities that ought to result in SSTO or TSTO operational reusable ships.

Let NASA poke along doing whatever it wants, but trim its budget by about 5% a year as it slowly shuts down until the Air and Space Museum and some science labs are all that is left.

Of course we won't do that.


Subject: definition of libertarian

Your definition of a liberal reminded me of my favorite definition of a libertarian. I lean libertarian on many issues, so I guess this is self-criticism?

A libertarian is a person who, when told that the neighbor’s kid was caught doing drugs in the local public park, exclaims, “Oh that’s terrible! A PUBLIC park!”


Wasn't a definition so much as an observation. Or what do you call that kind of thing? I am sure there is a word for a description that is so apt it becomes a kind of definition.











CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  April 8, 2005

Pasted up on a train headed to San Diego...

Subject: Dinosaurs were grendels

I'm now reading Beowulf's children.

Some years ago, I posted my theory (which I still believe to be correct) of why the dinosaurs lived and how they died.

Basically my theory is that the earth had a lot more available oxygen in the atmosphere at the time of the dinosaurs. They had evolved from a bipedal speedster hunter, and I think they had a more efficient circulatory system and better muscle strength per pound than reptiles or mammals.

The 65-million year-ago catastrophe was not the meteor strike (although that may have been the trigger for the catastrophe). The catastrophe is that suddenly oxygen levels were much more like modern times. Mammals, who evolved in mountainous regions, could continue to breathe. Dinosaurs for the most part could not, except for that group which had begun to evolve as high flying birds. (If that atmosphere was thicker, the drop off rate for air pressure would be faster _ read that in a science fiction story somewhere).

The mammalian characteristics - fur, central heating, and suckling - were evolved for cold weather, and the only cold weather was on the tops of mountains.

I call this the Last Gasp Theory.

Dinosaurs were grendels - a very mild sort of grendel. What make a dinosaur a dinosaur is their DNA - their metabolism, not their structure. They had a distinct advantage over mammals at one time, that environmental advantage suddenly disappeared.

The most likely culprit is the Moon - whack it hard with some space trash, and knock it into an eccentric orbit, with perigee closer to the Earth, and you could scoop out a lot of atmosphere (accelerate it to escape velocity) and the orbit would round out again pretty fast to cover the traces.

Since originally writing the theory, I read in passing that they have determined that the percentage of Oxygen in the atmosphere at the time of the dinosaurs was 56%.

The theory explains how Tyrannosaurs could run, Pterodactyls could fly, and Brachiosaurs get enough to eat (much less, stand up.)

And why, in the end, they lost their environmental niches to mammals. It is the familiarity of our world that tricks us.

I think part of the answer might be in fossil DNA - not DNA in fossils (although they have apparently just discovered soft tissue matter in dinosaur fossils.) I think the junk DNA that makes up a large percentage of our DNA, may contain recoverable DNA snippets from ancient ancestors. When DNA mutates, perhaps the old versions are transformed by one or more algorithms to be stored for possible recycling later. Or good DNA is 'backed up', again through algorithmic transformation, to serve as a checksum or error correction code.

Brad Jensen

Intriguing. But I don't Know the evidence. Was There more oxygen then? Orbit stabilizing takes a LONG time. But at the moment I am on a train, and then will be in a dialup well... But it seems a bit far out.

See below


From: Stephen M. St. Onge                                      Subject: Big Trouble in France
http://www.fatsteve.blogspot.com/                       saintonge@hotmail.com

Dear Jerry:
        From the Weekly Standard:
        "FR D RIC [sic] ENCEL, PROFESSOR OF international relations at the prestigious Ecole Nationale d'Administration in Paris and a man not known for crying wolf, recently stated that France is becoming a new Lebanon. The implication, far-fetched though it may seem, was that civil upheaval might be no more than a few years off, sparked by growing ethnic and religious polarization. In recent weeks, a series of events has underlined this ominous trend.

        "On March 8, tens of thousands of high school students marched through central Paris to protest education reforms announced by the government. Repeatedly, peaceful demonstrators were attacked by bands of black and Arab youths--about 1,000 in all, according to police estimates. The eyewitness accounts of victims, teachers, and most interestingly the attackers themselves gathered by the left-wing daily Le Monde confirm the motivation: racism."

        It gets worse.


And will Continue to get worse. The culture wars are almost Lost and we do not even know they Are going on.

Subject: Hand-sized Spy Plane

Dr. Pournelle

Noticed the successful test (from the Nimitz carrier group off of Southern CA in March) of a spy plane about the size of a magazine (see http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7408216/ ). The "Wasp" has a 13 inch wingspan, weighs 6-7 ounces. No info on range/speed/altitude, although this one is launched by hand. It has two cameras (fore and aft) that feed live video information. It can navigate a pre-programmed or relayed flight plan using GPS. An earlier model ran for 100 hours in 2002.

More info on the "Wasp" can be found at the C4ISR Journal at http://www.c4isrjournal.com/story.php?F=763947 .

Interested readers may also want to look at the DARPA Tactical Technology Office site (http://www.darpa.mil/tto/ ) for other interesting research.

Regards, Rick Hellewell



Subject: Google "Keyhole" sat imagery

An e-mail on Tuesday referred to the Google satellite imagery having a resolution of about a mile. I suppose that depends on your definition of resolution. The image of my parents' home shows a small table in their backyard that's less than a meter across. Of course, you have to know it's a tabletop in the first place. It's also high contrast with a white table against dark grass. But, what would the Soviets have given for those kinds of images 50 years ago?

Pete Nofel

"Resolution" is relative. I remember in 1964 I could recognize my Barracuda  in the Aerospace parking  lot  from the satellite photos we got of the area.

The USPS is [still] struggling, Dr. Pournelle. As you can see in this article


"...USPS shrink its workforce through attrition, from a peak of 804,000 in 1999 to 701,000 today. Since 2001 head count reductions and supply-chain improvements have produced combined savings of $8.8 billion. USPS has also slashed its debt from $11 billion to around $200 million in three years."

But it can't keep up (down?) with the decline in First Class mail caused by other technologies and other service providers. So now you know why there are so many new commerative stamps issued each year.

And you can bet that few, if any of the USPS job reductions were due to overseas outsourcing. But, when you have a federally mandated universal service requirement, what are you going to do other than increase prices?

Once again, my comments and not those of my employer.

Charles Brumbelow, CFO Nashville Public Television

Nor rain nor snow Nor heat  of day Nor...





This week:


read book now


Saturday, April 9, 2005

And now an unusual request:

Dear Mr. Jerry,

My name is Jarek and I’m a student at a university in Borĺs, Sweden were I study for my masters degree. I’m sending this email because we are writing a scientific paper on the subject Kursk, submarine K-141. Since this is a scientific paper we are suppose to look at different theories about what happen to K-141. I was wondering if you are able to provide us with some information on were to find different theories.

Thank You


I thought that was pretty well settled, but I didn't keep up with it, Watch this space... I expect the readers know far more than I do. But see below

And by coincidence the next letter is:

Two items

Ron Mullane

(1) We are well down the slippery slope


(2) Swedish Justice



Dozens of you have written with this joyeaux news...

Subject: Good news from Boortz

www.boortz.com/nuze/index.html (or link to archives for Friday April 8th edition)

<http://boortz.com/nuze/200504/04082005.html#tsa>  THE BEST NEWS IN WEEKS

The Transportation Security Agency (TSA,) the incompetent organization responsible since 9/11 for airport security, is now apparently headed the way of the dodo. That's right, it is being reported that the agency will be dismantled. No, your eyes do not deceive you. This is actual news.

The Bush administration yesterday asked the head of the TSA, somebody named David M. Stone, to step down in June. As has been well-documented, the TSA is and has been a colossal failure. From the useless airport screeners to the no fly list, they haven't done much right at all. So now the agency is being absorbed back into the massive Department of Homeland Security. So what's going to replace it?

The President's budget for fiscal year 2006 calls for the TSA to lose all of its responsibilities save for airport screening. And now, even that could be limited because private screening companies are going to start to creep back into airports. Surely they can do a better job than the TSA has done up to this point. Even with this news today, as Ronald Reagan used to say, the closest thing to eternal life on this Earth is a government bureau.

We'll see if the TSA really goes away for good. Still though, this is terrific news.

Hyperlink to article at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A35333-2005Apr7.html 


I will believe it when I see it. Roberta wonders why the TSA is so interested in searching elderly women. Probably because they think they won't fight back? Minetta with his PC attitudes is part of the problem but I think he has the negatives hidden in a safe place so he can't be fired. Of course it is lese majeste to suggest that there ARE negatives... But moving TSA out of Minetta's control may make it possible to reform it. May.

Metternich: "Das Buros immer stehen"


Subject: Marburg

Dr. Pournelle,

I am surprised no one has brought up the current outbreak of Marburg in Angola; 7 provinces are now are involved. With 180 deaths out of the 205 cases reported so far, it appears to be much more deadly than previously though...an 87.8% mortality rate. Few things make me cringe, but after reading Virus Hunter and The Hot Zone several years ago, the descriptions of hemorrhagic fever are truly horrific. I hope the resources are on the ground to contain this before it spreads. I hate to ponder the "what ifs" of something like this here...and the movie "Outbreak" barely scratched the surface....

Reed Hibbs

I have to confess it's the first I have heard of it, and being at the bottom of a dialup well at the moment I won't be able to look into it for a bit. But see below.






CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Subject: Marburg in Angola

I've been watching this for a while <http://cmbi.bjmu.edu.cn/news/0504/43.htm>. It's animal-borne--which animals are not currently known--and people are coming in contact with possible vectors with the expansion of the bush meat trade and the felling of the forests. It can be transmitted by aerosols.

There is a suspicion that the natural reservoirs for ebola and marburg are various African bats. Which species isn't clear, although freetailed bats (Tadarida species) are particularly of concern. See <http://www.stanford.edu/group/virus/filo/bats.html> and <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/02/ 0219_030219_ebolaorigin.html>. (The big bat colonies of the American southwest are Tadarida brasilienis.) It may be limited to just some populations or species. For an example of what I mean, bat rabies--lyssavirus--tends to be found in only a few species. Here in the UK, it's Eptesicus serotinus and Myotis daubentoni, and in America, it's just a few vespertilionid species. In the interim, I would suggest that you stay out of African caves.

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


Subject: Marburg

While Marburg is definitely a nasty disease, it's not likely to spread widely in areas that can practice proper hygiene. It's spread by direct contact with people who have the disease, bodily fluids, and the like and the people most at risk are immediate family members and health care workers. It could be difficult to control the epidemic if it spreads into some of the large African cities, but it's not likely to get much farther than that.

I'm still most worried about a mutated bird flu that becomes easily transmitted between people.

Best Keith



Subject: Kursk, submarine K-141

Dear Jerry,

Your correspondent, Jarek, on Saturday 4/9/05 asked for information on where to find different theories about the Kursk incident. Here is a link that seems to offer extensive information and discussion of this and other similar or related incidents.


A Google search on : Kursk, submarine K-141 produces this and many more promising links.

Kindest regards,

Reagan DuBose rldubose@gte.net


Subject: Oxygen for Dinosaurs

Currently, our atmosphere is ~20.1% O2 by content. As someone who's worked in Aerospace, you've probably read the requirements for pre-breathing a pure oxygen environment - little things like fires starting spontaneously at about 30% O2 makeup, oxygen giggles (hypoxia) and narcosis.

An oxygen percentage of 56%, as Brad Jenkins attests, would not have lasted long - the first lightning strike would've started a firestorm of Dresdenic proportions. Plus, one has to wonder what put all that oxygen in the air.

Sadly, Mr. Jenkins' "the moon skimmed off the atmosphere" theory doesn't hold up - time scales are wrong, and the tidal differences and stresses aren't sufficient to remove the "excess" atmosphere. What removes excess atmospheric gasses is, well, oxidization of surface minerals and nitrogen sequestration - the only "nonbiotic" atmospheric gas is C02.

There is some geological evidence for an O2 percentage of between 26 and 28% around the Triassic and Jurassic epochs from amber fragments and such...but 56% is absurd.

Ken Burnside


When Geeks make smoke rings....


Not something you see every day.

--Gary Pavek =========================================== "If you want to build a ship, then don't drum up men to gather wood, give orders, and divide the work. Rather, teach them to yearn for the far and endless sea." - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


re: Hot gaming laptops

From: Jessica Mulligan, Exec. Prod., Turbine, Inc.


In your Saturday, April 7, posting, you asked:

"But a BIG screen would be nice.... Anyone out there got a hot gaming laptop with a good keyboard, suitable for producing 7500 words of fiction a day in B&B's and old Villas? Suggestions?"

We use the Alienware Area-51m 7700 model as our game demonstration machine, as fully blown out with DDR2 system memory and video memory as we can get them. They are a bit pricy at $3,500-plus and a bit heavier than your average laptop, but the screen is 17 inches on the display, it has a full-sized keyboard and the performance simply screams.

You can check out the specs here:




P.S. My brother, Bob, reminded me not long ago that when he was with Adaptec in the late 1980s and 1990s, he was Alex's support rep more than once. The world just keeps getting smaller. -Jess

That may be just a little more machine than I need...

On the other hand

Dear JP:

What KIND of games do you want to play on a laptop? As I remember you're kind of a D & D (with variations) fan, rather than a 3D shooter guy - which means your hardware requirements are really not all that stiff.

Your Mac, in fact, is more than capable of most role-playing & strategy games; it's got a pretty hefty Radeon 9700 video chip, and if a game you like is released for the platform it should play well on the hardware you already have.

But let's say that you've developed a burning desire to play DOOM 3 or FAR CRY with all the "eye candy" turned on. Right now most OEMs in that case believe you want a large screen, and almost all the really hot machines are 17 inch widescreen desktop replacements. Sony and Toshiba both pioneered the genre with their models which are still available, but getting a bit long in the tooth.

The latest & greatest seem to be Dell's brand new Inspiron XPS 2, and Sager's top of the line 17 inch model - I'd suggest you look at both. Voodoo, Alienware, et al. will be glad to sell you very similar machines to Sager's offerings, made by the exact same manufacturer oftentimes, but for significantly more money, which is why I'm not recommending those "elite" brands.

Probably the best value will be the Dell, after the "introductory" pricing wears off. But that means depending on Dell support - I'll let you fill in that blank in your own mind. Sager you can buy direct or through a company called PC Torque which offers custom configurations, even a test & burn-in and zero-bad-pixel guarantee (for additional fees). All things being equal that's who I would deal with, given my druthers.

In any event you're going to be spending in the neighborhood of $3000 - and maybe + + +. Well worth it if you like to see the 3D gibs fly in real time with all sorts of texture & shadow detail, volumetric fog, bump mapping, and 8X anisotropic filtering and anti-aliasing - if you haven't got a clue what I just said save your money and get something far cheaper with 128MBs of video memory on a ATI 9700 or nVidia 5600 card and be a happy guy.

All the best--

Tim Loeb

It does look as if there are expenses involved...


And In Praise of Mac:

Subject: Powerbook

Dr. Pournelle,

I know you have a 15" powerbook. Give it another try. There's no question that OS X is VERY different from other operating systems. I can see where it frustrated you. I've kicked myself many times when I discovered something I didn't know that "might" have been obvious to someone who wasn't used to doing it another way. For instance this week I re-discovered that Apple-leftarrow works like home in Windows and Apple-rightarrow works like end. I used to know this, but forgot it a long time ago.

I recently switched from an older Apple G4 Desktop to a brand new 1.6 GHz 17" powerbook with 2Gig of RAM (important!).

I'm extremely satisfied. It's faster than the G4 desktop I was using. I use the laptop it to do web development, printing estimates (Windows software running "fast enough" in Virtual PC), graphics (retouching, editing, etc. hence the 17" instead of the more reasonable 15"), photo and music management & home video editing.

It doesn't play many games, but I've got an Xbox & PC for those things. I haven't touched the gaming PC or the Xbox in weeks. I just don't have the time. I understand that it will play *World of Warcraft* quite nicely, but after I got over my Star Wars addiction (got boring after a few months...) I'm not eager to start playing what many have described as MMoG done right.

The real advantage of OS X is in the software like iCal, Mail & iPhoto, iDVD, iMovie, etc. They are in most cases far and away better than anything available at either the consumer or pro level in Windows and they come with the OS.

In comparison, my boss just got a brand new Sony VAIO with the best consumer software he could buy to create home movie DVDs and do photo management from a recent safari to Tanzania. I helped him get everything set up and trained him on the software (learning it myself as I went along). The short version is that the best consumer-class software available for the PC is almost unusable for projects of any size while the cheapest eMac breezes through them. Not to mention the sorry state of DVD burning on XP. I had to run down to Circuit City and grab a copy of Nero to make it work right. Sony doesn't even include any software to burn DVD-ROM on their equipment by default (I was stunned!) even though they include software for making video DVDs.

Microsoft Office with the exception of Outlook, Access and FrontPage works better on OS X than it does on XP. Entourage is considered by many to be superior to Outlook but I personally don't use it. If you're looking to do Excel database work, it can be done, but it's not easy to configure. Word works REALLY well and on the Mac you can print straight to a PDF with no extra software cost. I do recommend Acrobat if you're going to do much PDF work though.

I'm equally at home in Linux, Windows & OS X. Bona fides: I built a small ISP several years ago entirely using Linux and open-source software. I've written software for Windows for an electrical component mfg client that was used everyday for years by spec engineers in the electronics industry. It may still be! Before all that, I migrated the printing company that I've gone back to work for (after selling the ISP) from shooting paste-up to an all-digital output workflow using Macs.

When it comes to gaming, I used to offer a small scholarship to any of my high-school senior ISP customers who could beat me in Quake II and then Quake 3 after they won a tournament of their peers for the right to challenge me. I did respectably if I say so myself. 2 years out of 3 I beat the champion. I still gave the scholarship and we all had a lot of fun. The publicity didn't hurt my ISP business either.

Around here I'm *THE* alpha geek. I'm not a Roland by any means and I'm woefully ignorant of a lot of things and uneducated compared to anyone from a good school outside tobacco road, but for me this was the best solution. It's a true desktop replacement laptop. At 6.8 lbs it's not a flyweight, but it's a LOT lighter than a similarly powerful XP laptop. One other thing. Apple's battery life figures may not be accurate, but these machines do have excellent battery life compared with my VAIO laptop. A single battery in the powerbook will outlast my VAIO laptop with dual-batteries.

Keep us informed of what you decide.

All the best from this fan,

Robbie Walker Tabor City, NC

Dr. Pournelle,

One other thing. If you haven't done it yet, try plugging in a USB wheel mouse with 2 buttons and see how well the wheel and 2nd button work. For a company that ships one-button mice Apple has gone to a LOT of trouble to make the wheel and 2nd button work perfectly. There *IS* a reason they still ship a 1-button mouse... there are lot's of otherwise intelligent and capable people who can't consistently double-click, let alone understand the use of a context sensitive drop down menu!

Thanks again for all you do, That reminds me I need to check my paypal account and see if I'm due for a subscription renewal.

Robbie Walker Tabor City, NC

I understand all of that, and I have been more than once tempted to simply go over to the Mac and be done with it.

There are several problems with that. One is TabletPC and OneNote make for research tools much like what I dreamed of when I invented the small computers that are so ubiquitous in The Mote In God's Eye.

I am a bit miffed about the "4 texture unit" requirement I have just discovered (see View)


Subject: Letter from England

The week was generally peaceful--the Pope was buried; Charles and Camilla did what they should have done 30 years ago <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1456220,00.html>  ; and the electoral campaign started <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/politics/story/0,6903,1456219,00.html>  <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1562616,00.html> . A few other stories of interest:

Medicine in the UK has its problems: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4425075.stm>  <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1562603,00.html>  and <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1456402,00.html> .

The EU Constitution is in trouble in France
story/ 0,6903,1456149,00.html> .

Universities are cutting back on scholarly activity in favor of teaching (at a high school level) <http://www.thes.co.uk/current_edition/story.aspx?story_id=2020839

-- Harry Erwin, PhD

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

I usually chase down all your references but dialup makes that a bit harder. I'll get to them when I get back home. Thanks!


Subject: Blogging

"But, I find, to be one of the A list bloggers you must link frequently. Like a fanzine, where,you must give comments to receive comments, you must link often to be often linked to."

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

Not necessarily. It's true that rule applies to the group of bloggers loosely referred to as "linkers", of whom Glenn Reynolds' "InstaPundit" is the outstanding example: but there are many examples of "thinkers" who score in the top tier, because what they write is so worthwhile, that--even though they may be neither as prolific nor as link-happy as the "linkers"--they get the hits--generally courtesy of one of the big linkers, in fact. Thus, the term "Instalanche", referring to the sudden spike of hits you get (sometimes to the point of choking your server!) when you write something that the InstaPundit notices and considers worth linking to.

But there are plenty of "thinkers" who do fine on their own: examples would include Steven Den Beste's "USS Clueless" (http://www.denbeste.nu/)  when he was still posting regularly; Bill Whittle's "Eject, Eject, Eject!" (http://www.ejectejecteject.com/), who only posts very intermittently but very long, philosphical essays when he does; and Noah Millman's "Gideon's Blog" (http://gideonsblog.blogspot.com/) , who posts less than regularly but more often (and in shorter bites) than Bill Whittle.

For a dynamic view of who's who in the blogosphere, you might be interested in "The Truth Laid Bear" and his blogosphere ecosystem (http://www.truthlaidbear.com/ecosystem.php) , which rates blogs hierarchically "...based on *incoming* links." [my emphasis]. Note that many of the top blogs are linkers (duh), but there are plenty who are not: many of those, of course, use their blog as an adjunct to their regular journalism gig (Michelle Malkin, Andrew Sullivan, and James Lileks, to name a few). But there are still plenty for whom that is not true: the obvious example being Scrappleface, a humor/parody blog that has few links out, but many links in.

So, the actual fact is, you don't have to link extensively to be an A-lister (though it doesn't hurt: there's always an element of reciprocity involved), you have to *be linked to* extensively: and for that, you have to write interesting stuff, and get it noticed. You already do the first: now it's just a question of the second...

Very respectfully,

David G.D. Hecht

Well, I'll just have to stay with quality rather than quantity I guess. Although we do get about 100,000 hits/day on average, so we're not entirely without readers...








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