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Monday  May 16, 2005

Doubting Rationalist http://www.washingtonpost.com

'Intelligent Design' Proponent Phillip Johnson, and How He Came to Be

By Michael Powell Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, May 15, 2005; D01

BERKELEY, Calif. "The Washington Post is not one of my biggest fans, you know that."


The Washington Post reporter has just walked out of a spray of Pacific-borne rain into the living room of a modest bungalow west of downtown. There's a shag rug, an inspirational painting or two and Phillip Johnson, dressed in tan slacks and a sweater and sitting on a couch. He pulls a dog-eared copy of a Post editorial out of his shirt pocket and reads aloud:

"With their slick Web sites, pseudo-academic conferences and savvy public relations, the proponents of 'intelligent design' -- a 'theory' that challenges the validity of Darwinian evolution -- are far more sophisticated than the creationists of yore. . . . They succeed by casting doubt on evolution."

The 65-year-old Johnson swivels his formidable and balding head -- with that even more formidable brain inside -- and gazes over his reading glasses at the reporter (who doesn't labor for the people who write the editorials).

"I suppose you think creation is all about unguided material processes, don't you? Well, I don't have the slightest trouble accepting microevolution as the cause behind the adaptation of the peppered moth and the growth of finches' beaks. But I don't see that evolutionists have any cause for jubilation there.

"It doesn't tell you how the moths and birds and trees got there in the first place. The human body is packed with marvels, eyes and lungs and cells, and evolutionary gradualism can't account for that."

He's not big on small talk, this professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley's law school.

For centuries, scriptural literalists have insisted that God created Heaven and Earth in seven days, that the world is about 6,000 years old and fossils are figments of the paleontological imagination. Their grasp on popular opinion was strong, but they have suffered a half-century's worth of defeats in the courts and lampooning by the intelligentsia.

Now comes Johnson, a devout Presbyterian and accomplished legal theorist, and he doesn't dance on the head of biblical pins. He agrees the world is billions of years old and that dinosaurs walked the earth. Evolution is the bridge he won't cross. This man, whose life has touched every station of the rationalist cross from Harvard to the University of Chicago to clerk at the Supreme Court, is the founding father of the "intelligent design" movement.

Intelligent design holds that the machinery of life is so complex as to require the hand -- perhaps subtle, perhaps not -- of an intelligent creator.

"Evolution is the most plausible explanation for life if you're using naturalistic terms, I'll agree with that." Johnson folds his hands over his belly, a professorial Buddha, as his words fly rat-a-tat-tat.

"That's only," he continues, "because science puts forward evolution and says any other logical explanation is outside of reality."

Johnson and his followers, microbiologists and geologists and philosophers, debate in the language of science rather than Scripture. They point to the complexity of the human cell, with its natural motors and miles of coding. They document the scant physical evidence for the large-scale mutations needed to make the long journey from primitive prokaryote to modern man. <snip>


Johnson works his way to his feet and walks slowly to his living room window. The lemon trees are in bloom. Mist rises off the sidewalk. "I think it's very possible that God left some fingerprints on the evidence," Johnson says, his words rattling out now. "Once you open science to that possibility, we're poised for a metaphysical reversal."

He smiles and catches himself. "I'm content just to open science up to an intellectual world that's been closed to it for two centuries."

The entire article is well worth reading, whatever your views on these matters.

Mixed emotions:

"When a place gets crowded enough to require ID's, social collapse is not far away. It is time to go elsewhere." -- Robert A. Heinlein through his character Lazarus Long

FAQ: How Real ID will affect you By Declan McCullagh

In 2008, a federally approved ID card may be required to travel, open a bank account, even collect Social Security.

Photos: Electronic IDs are catching on


Read all technology news from this week: http://www.news.com/thisweeksheadlines/

David Klaus


Dr. Pournelle:

I didn't sit down and do any calculations--I'd probably screw them up anyway--but I did visualize firing a stone out of a sling.

When a sling is whirling, your arm is constantly applying force to keep the sling centered against the centrifugal force from the stone. It's work. When you let the stone go, the pressure on your arm is instantly gone. There is no recoil.

The way I see it is recoil is generated when you accelerate a projectile in one direction, and the accelerating device is thrown backwards. A gun takes a bullet that is traveling at zero speed and forces it to full speed. Recoil.

A sling in a stone, or a bullet on a flywheel is accelerated in the process of spinning it up.

The "recoil" forces generated may to be analogous to the force constantly applied to the sling or flywheel that is increasing its speed. Or maybe the force of the sling or flywheel trying to fly off in a radial direction, and which is resisted by the arm or shaft, and the structure of the sling or flywheel.

So, when the stone is released, it is already traveling at its full flight speed, and is simply being allowed to go in the direction it wants to for a change, instead of being forced into a continuous circular motion. No true acceleration. No recoil.

I probably have this wrong in terms of physics, but it sounds right.

Tom Brosz

Imagine that you are in a sled on an ice pond. You have a lot of stones. You throw them out of the sled. It doesn't matter how you accelerate the stones, when the stone leaves the sled, you will accelerate in the opposite direction, by a force indicated by the rocket equation. You may throw the stone, use a sling, fire it out of a cannon, kick it like a football -- the stone leaves the system, and you accelerate.

Only if you use a "recoilless" system in which the stone's motion aft is balanced by the expulsion of gasses forward will you remain at rest.


On NASA Today

I have to tell you about my short debate(s) with Dan Goldin last Friday. He was anchor speaker at a symposium run by a group I attend regularly at UCLA: CSEOL, or the Committee for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life. It is run by a friend of mine, Prof. Bill Schopf, discoverer of the oldest known fossils, 3.5 billion years old.

This years symposium theme was about "Life Among the Stars" and featured some terrific speakers such as Steven W. Squires, PI of the Mars Rover Mission, who really made us feel that we had visited Mars. Goldin gave an inspiring speech wrapped around very high minded themes, etc. He is an excellent speaker and clearly believes what he says.

But we had some questions from the audience, and I jumped at the chance. I began by saying that I can recall when saying that the crater in Arizona was meteoritic in origin was considered flaky, and that much of our progress since is attributable to NASA. But I said: "There is one area in which NASA has failed utterly, and that is in developing safe, reliable and economical access to low Earth orbit". I said that per lb. costs to orbit have hardly come down, adjusted from inflation since Saturn V, and seem stuck at around $10,000/lb. Then I mentioned Elon Musk, Burt Rutan and Robert Bigelow as examples of private entrepreneurs who will solve that problem.

Well, Goldin clearly was taken aback by this and responded vigorously, citing that although Rutan was "one of the greatest engineers of his generation", his vehicle barely made Mach three after being launched from a carrier at 50,000 ft. "Think how far that is from orbital speed"!

Then he said something that I find extremely illuminating ... that "it was not NASA's job to reduce launch costs" !!! Afterwards we were all at a banquet and I seized the chance to talk with him some more. I mentioned X-33/Venture Star, and that I had had a chance to speak with the Test Director at Palmdale after it was cancelled. Goldin broke in and dropped another bombshell, saying it had been grossly underfunded!

I could not stand that and said: "It would have failed at five times the budget"! He cited the composite tank as the failure cause, and that they should have made it out of metal. I said the real reason for failure was horizontal landing, at which point he refused to discuss it with me further. This is going into my archives as yet another unique insight into some history making events, and people.

Bill Haynes

X-33 grew directly out of the DC/X program, and I suppose I had as much to do with its funding as anyone.

What we wanted -- we being the pro-SDI community as well as at least my branch of the pro-space community -- was DC/Y or even a full fledged SSX: a ship we could fly often and learn a lot about flying, not something that would go directly to orbit first shot. Lockheed had a different notion. And, after all, they were Lockheed; who were we with our Citizen's Advisory Council? As you'll recall since you were part of it.

I thought we had persuaded Goldin that the incremental approach == build a ship and fly it a lot and learn a lot about SAVABLE reusable ships == was the right one, but the Lockheed people had convinced themselves that all they needed was some money for aerospike, after which they would just go to orbit in one whack. Naturally the very existence of this huge program took the heart out of the private space movement.

X-33 was the last program I had the political clout to get funded -- or to kill. I could have killed it and given the way the "competition" for it went, it was clear to me that it would never work and I ought to kill it -- but if I had done so, it would have been me, us, the Citizens Advisory Council, that killed the dream since, if it had never been built, of course it would have worked perfectly; or so the legend would be. Lead, follow, or get out of the way; I got out of the way.

In retrospect I am still not sure I was wrong. But we don't get Mulligans in the space business.

Goldin believed he knew what he was doing, but he had no political clout -- a Republican holdover technocrat in the Clinton administration -- and Lockheed ate his lunch for him.

At one point we had Goldin convinced that a NASA contract for 1,000 RL-10 engines at $300,000 each would change the world. "What would we do with them?" he asked me.

"Throw them away. Give them to universities. Give them to high schools. The important point is that if you do that, then the civilian price of engine #1001 will be about $100,000 and a LOT of people will be able to get into the space game."

Well, it didn't happen, but I thought I might be able to get something like that done, and it really would have changed the world.

It is not in NASA's mission statement to reduce the cost of launching. It should be, of course, but NASA is not NACA, and in fact the NACA parts of NASA are being dismantled even as I write this. Alas.

It's a real pity. NACA did reduce the cost of aviation. It had test facilities, and the ability to work with private competing companies; and if the NACA parts of NASA had been in charge it would be a different world today.

I still believe we ought to try to save the NACA parts of NASA and keep them going.


Subject: Letter from England

The man in the street here is now wondering if the originally story was actually false, or if this is a case of damage control: Koran desecration story <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4549933.stm>  <http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1484868,00.html>  <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,11069-1614116,00.html

Uzbek massacre story (500+ shot by troops) <http://news.bbc.co.uk/
1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4549873.stm>  <http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/


 <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-1614062,00.html> . Note the suggestion of Al-Qaeda links.

ID cards back <http://www.guardian.co.uk/Politics/queensspeech

 <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/ 0,,2-1614502,00.html>. 

Right to life ruling. This involves a generational conflict (young doctors and elderly pensioners) <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/ 4544799.stm>. 

Early puberty due to diet, environmental pollutants, or what? <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4530743.stm

Funding problems for physics and chemistry continue. This time at Oxford. <http://www.thes.co.uk/current_edition/story.aspx? story_id=2021820

I've previously suggested that Sundaland (the flooded landmass around current Indonesia) was an early center of human expansion. See <http://www.nature.com/news/2005/050509/full/050509-10.html>.  There is very early evidence for ocean-travel in that area with H. sapiens colonization of northern New Guinea and the Solomons about 30 KYr BP and Australia and Flores about 60 KYr BP. The presence of H. erectus and H. floresiensis east of the Wallace line suggests that boat and raft-building may be very ancient in that part of the world.

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





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Tuesday,  May 17, 2005


Looking for Battle, Marines Find That Foes Have Fled Hunt for Foreign Insurgents Proves Frustrating but Deadly

By Ellen Knickmeyer Washington Post Foreign Service Monday, May 16, 2005; A10

An Elusive Quarry


"Where the [expletive] are these guys?" Maj. Kei Braun exclaimed in frustration.

It was noon Friday. The Marines had swept Arabi and found only frightened Iraqi families hiding in their homes. They had found more bombs in the roads, but no enemy to fight.

Marines said many of the foreign fighters fled west into Syria or to Husaybah, a lawless Iraqi border town where foreign fighters and local tribesmen have battled each other this month for control, shooting it out in the streets with AK-47s and mortars, American officials say. But the Marines lack the manpower to go into Husaybah.

So, within sight of Syria, they searched caves in the high, sheer rock escarpment that circles part of Arabi. Seeing a man come out of a cave, look out and go back in, a U.S. helicopter crew shot a Hellfire missile. Commanders came on the radio. Those were ordinary Iraqis hiding inside the caves, the commanders said. Hold off.

"These people here, it's not their fault," Kalouf, a young combat engineer with a mission to blow things up, said at the house commandeered by Brown's platoon. "They're scared for their lives. I used to get mad at them, but now I understand."

Interesting that the Post is running this. It is largely a neocon publication now and still pro OIF. A family relative is of flag rank in SOCOM in theater. He mentioned when he was Stateside recently that morale is worrisome -- and SOCOM human capital replenishment if far trickier and fragile than general enlistment.

Iraq also demonstrates the illusory logic behind the two Army concept currently en vogue at OSD and the public via Barnett et al. We are still in combat operations 2 years in and a purely CA-driven force would be eviscerated.



Subject: DREAD

Based just on discussion on site:

Recoil is of course the response of the launcher to the acceleration of the projectile.

AT POINT OF RELEASE, the DREAD projectile is already at velocity though confined to a circular path. Thus, there is no recoil associated with release.

The "recoil" will be associated with the process of accelerating the projectile; that is, it will be the response of the launcher as (by whatever mechanism) the projectile is brought to speed. In the simplest (but least practical) case, presume a one arm launcher with the projectile placed at the end of the arm, and the resulting system is "spun up" from zero to launch velocity by a torque. Assume that the arm is horizontal in this example; the "recoil" would be the countertorque by the ground on the launcher to keep the launcher in position -- that is, the "recoil" is in fact an angular acceleration, which is countered by the friction of the launcher on the ground. Since this method of mechanical acceleration is in fact much slower than, e.g, a confined explosion, the resulting recoils per unit mass of projectile are correspondingly lower. (Whether the increased system complexity and variable maintenance/logistics requirements are a good trade for the military is a much more complicated question. Accuracy is also an issue.)

Jim Woosley

There is the reaction to imparting the angular momentum to the projectile before it is released, but there is also the linear acceleration imparted to the system through the rocket effect. I haven't even begun calculations of either of these, but they must both be examined. Alas, we have no way to convert angular acceleration to linear acceleration (which would make for a reactionless drive...); rockets are still the only way to impart linear accelerations to a free system. (Clearly you can use drive wheels and the like; cars work; but that's not a free system. )


Lessons from Mammoth Cave

Hi Jerry-

We're taking a little tour of the US and have just left Mammoth Cave, KY. The National Park Service has control of the Mammoth Cave complex and runs a number of tours through the underground world that exists there. While the caves are remarkable for their size, I personally found the histories surrounding the caves far more interesting.

We were able to walk through part of the cave complex on a Friday evening, using nothing but laterns to light the way. We went into the cave during daylight and emerged in the darkness of night. At one point, one of the rangers took all the lanterns to a different location and we sat in the darkness of the cave. We learned how dark dark can be when we couldn't even see our hands before our eyes.

We learned about the salt pieter mining that occurred in the caves during the War of 1812. We heard the story about one owner of the cave, a physician, who thought putting TB patients underground in the caves would cure their illness. Needless to say, the damp air, the cold, and the fires they started in the cave to keep warm hastened their demise.

In the cave we also looked at Booth's amphitheater, a section of the cave where Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes, reportedly delivered a portion of Hamlet to those in the cave with him. Our ranger guide remarked that some people in the South considered John Wilkes Booth a hero, and so, the ranger opined, I wonder if Edwin was welcomed here heartily.

I had never stopped to think that John Wilkes Booth might have been hailed for his actions. Of course this got me thinking about how we teach history in the US public schools. I have read newspaper accounts of the sorrow people expressed in Upstate NY as Lincoln's funeral train passed through. But now I am wondering, were there celebrations in the South? Did (and do?) children in the South learn that Booth shot Lincoln in retaliation for ending slavery? Do educators sanitize this event in history so as not to spawn another John Wilkes Booth?

Needless to say, I am intrigued.

The next history lesson from Mammoth that I found remarkable happened on a second lantern tour I took to another cave on the property. The Onyx cave had been privately owned before the Park Service acquired it (another interesting story!). The ranger on this tour talked about the names various cave formations received over the years as guides walked through the caves with groups at the turn of the century.

We stopped at one formation and the ranger took great pains to preface the name of the rock that stood before us. Before I tell you the name of this formation, she said, people often ask how the Park Service can promote religion. I am not promoting anything, she said. I am not taking a stand one way or the other, she continued. I don't mean to offend anyone's religion. Let me remind you that the people who went through these caves in earlier times were Baptists for the most part. They she told us that the "historical" name for the formation was The Nativity. She showed us why people gave the rock that name, and I must say, I could see how people thought the shadow cast by the formation looked like the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus.

Then the ranger said, most people today prefer the modern name for this rock: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Wow. We really have gotten sensitive here in America. And again, how can we teach history in this country and ignore the religious roots that created our nation?

We are now in Tennessee where there are lots of smokers [those messages about smoking and cancer seem to be ignored here!] and lots of confederate flags. We saw one of the those Confederate flags yesterday that had this phrase emblazoned across it: Git the Job Done. Now what job is it? Rid the country of minorities? Win the war in Iraq and Afghanistan?

We live in an amazing and interesting country.

Sue, Writing from Jackson, TN

I've been to both Mammoth and Black Onyx caves.

Tennessee grade schools taught US history, and went into the causes of the Civil War, explaining that another name for it was the War Between The States. Classes went into the disparity in population and industrial capability, and that the entire Navy stayed Union. We learned why the South could hold out for so long given the imbalances. Slavery wasn't a big part of it. After all, they kept slavery in DC until after the War. It was possible then to be loyal to the Nation == most of my high school class enlisted the day the Korean War began == and still be loyal to the South.

I recall the Nativity. Seven Dwarves now, eh? Why not.

What did they do in Gomorrah?

Subject: What was J.W. Booth to Southerners?

To answer your correspondentís question:

>I had never stopped to think that John Wilkes Booth might have been hailed for his actions. Of course this got me thinking about how we teach >history in the US public schools. I have read newspaper accounts of the sorrow people expressed in Upstate NY as Lincoln's funeral train >passed through. But now I am wondering, were there celebrations in the South? Did (and do?) children in the South learn that Booth shot >Lincoln in retaliation for ending slavery? Do educators sanitize this event in history so as not to spawn another John Wilkes Booth?

This child, growing up in a small Alabama town in the fifties, was always taught that Lincoln was a great President, and Booth a despicable assassin, moreover that the South would have been treated much better in the reconstruction had Lincoln lived.

-- Cecil Rose

Me too, actually. I have never heard Booth described as any kind of hero.


Subject: weird question

Hi Jerry, You're the only person I know conversant enough in the military, and space, to answer a question for me. So I hope you don't mind if I pick your brains a little bit. Now, this is probably very old hat, long tried and abandoned, but I was recently doing some research on neutron bombs and ran across numerous references to boronated plastic armor. A light-weight material that completely stops the deadly radiation halo of a neutron bomb. Do you know if anybody has done any research into using boronated armor on space craft to protect the crew from cosmic radiation over long duration stays? Thanks, Nick

dunno from here...


Subject: Reuters outsourcing


"Union employees at Reuters are stepping up their campaign against the wire service's outsourcing of U.S. jobs, most recently transferring the editing and caption writing of photos to its Singapore office and some Internet work to Toronto."

Editing and caption writing? Singapore?



BTW, I found this article at technocrat http://technocrat.net/ <http://technocrat.net/>  which is a daily source of mind candy for me, and highly recommended.

Chris C

"Time is the best teacher. Unfortunately, it kills all its students." -- Hector Berlioz





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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Subject: Space Arms/Thor's Hammer="Rods from God"



May 18, 2005

Air Force Seeks Bush's Approval for Space Arms


L&v1=TIM WEINER&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort
=newest&ac=TIM WEINER&inline=nyt-per

The Air Force, saying it must secure space to protect the nation from attack, is seeking President Bush's approval of a national-security directive that could move the United States closer to fielding offensive and defensive space weapons, according to White House and Air Force officials.

Jim Woosley

Which will require access to space, which must be developed by SDIO since NASA can't do it. We went through all this in the 1980's, perhaps this time they mean it.


Subject: DREAD, Mammoth Cave & Weird Question



Jerry, my point was that, at the point of release, the angular momentum of the projectile (m X angular velocity X radius) is equal to the instantaneous linear momentum of the projectile mv); the angular momentum of the arm plus projectile in the instant prior to release become angular momentum of the arm plus linear momentum of the projectile in the instant following release, without recoil because their is no change in momentum at the moment of release. In this case, the "recoil" existed during the acceleration of the projectile, both in bringing it up to speed, and the centripetal force exerted by the arm on the projectile holding it in circular motion prior to the moment of release.

Thinking just of the centripetal force on an arm mounted "on a chassis on (frictionless) ice; if the arm is rotating, the centripetal force on the projectile (toward the axis of the rotation) is balanced by the (smaller amplitude) instantaneous slippage of the much larger chassis toward the ball. When the ball is released, the unbalanced force no longer exists and the chassis stops slipping, but the net effect of the previous slippage balanced exactly the momentum of the ball that was released.

In more graphic terms, the heavy projectile on the arm jerks the chassis all over the place while the arm is spinning, and the jerking stops as soon as the projectile is released with only the (relatively small) net motion from accelerating the projectile imposed.

In other words, the device DOES turn angular momentum into linear momentum, and it does so by releasing mass (unlike the supposed "Dean Drive"), but the net effect is a significant damping (not elimination) of the recoil. And if you're talking a 10 kg projectile on a 10,000 kg chassis, the "vibration" would be only about 0.1% of chassis/arm dimensions, or 1 mm on a 1 meter arm, with a frequency equal to the angular velocity in revolutions per second of the arm (several hundred hertz, probably). I'm still not sure it would be a good idea, but it does fit a reasonable ideal of "reactionless."

Mammoth Cave:

That's my home stomping ground (and I'll be back at Mammoth Cave in a month for my *cough hack * 30th high school reunion. :)

I'm glad your correspondent Sue enjoyed her visit there. As I remember the story, Edwin Booth was a highly respected actor despite the actions of his brother, and plays were regularly performed for a while in the "Booth Ampitheater." (Including a few modern recreations, as I recall.) As I recall, our schooling rather villified John Wilkes Booth, but there is a fine line and I'm sure you know that President Lincoln has come into recent villification in Liberterian circles for creating what became the forerunner of the modern federal government apparatus to fight and win the Civil War.

Haven't been down in the cave much since high school, though. And I remember sitting with a group of other HS students in the dark at the "TB settlement" while a paying tour came though (we were preparing for, believe it or not, the first student environmental conference ever held at the cave); we had to get TB tests a few months later when one of the Park Service employees came down with TB and they were concerned that there might still be live TB bacteria/spores at the site. Unfortunately, I don't immediately recall the Nativity rock, but I share astonishment that we have become so politically correct that we cannot use the name anymore.

Boronated Armor:

Boron has a very high capture cross section for thermal (low energy) neutrons, and they are having considerable success with tumor therapies which localize radiation delivery by injecting boron into the tumor and irradiating it with thermal neutrons. However, it has no anomalous effect (compared to other nearby elements in the periodic table) against the charged particle and gamma radiation (and secondary high-energy neutrons) which compose the solar radiation hazard. So the benefits would be very minimal.

Jim Woosley

Indeed. Hadn't meant to imply that you can't turn angular momentum into linear, but that you can't do it without flinging mass off the back end; and how the mass was accelerated is not important. What's important is the mass ratio and the velocity of the mass as it leaves the system (for the rocket acceleration).

The Dean Drive and "Davis Mechanics" sought to turn angular acceleration into linear acceleration, and do so without throwing mass overboard,, meaning a "reactionless drive" which would be wonderful if such a thing could exist, but there's no evidence (other than the late G. Harry Stine's memories) that any such thing ever has existed. I'd love to find one. My part in The Dean Drive story is elsewhere on this web site.


Thanks for the note on boronated armor. I have no means to look into such things while here. I'll be home by the weekend.


Dear Jerry:

Glad you're enjoying Rome!

Why wouldn't the DREAD system BE in space? Sounds like a viable candidate for a Star Wars application: incoming warhead trajectory would be fairly easy to plot quickly, then "deny that area" of space with the projectiles which would burn up in the atmosphere on re-entry.

Know nothing except what you've written about the system but was surprised you were discussing an earth application...

Hope your lag gets better; yay for boats (and RVs!),



Throwing all that lovely mass overboard can be expensive, but as you know mass drivers including using them to propel an asteroid have been in story lore for decades... Thanks


Subject: U.S. Scientists Create Self-Replicating Robot


Tracy Walters

There is a bit less here than I thought, but it's an interesting start...


Subject: When in Rome

Dr. Pournelle,

Glad you're enjoying your trip!

It is true what you have been told about the Lira and the Euro. I go to Italy most every year, and things have gotten much more expensive since they made that change. It used to be a cheap country, but not any more.

Also, you may not have noticed anyone checking a bus ticket (validating, they call it), but please do so! They DO have inspectors, they WILL fine you a lot of money if you're traveling without punching the ticket. My niece was fined 75 Euro in Venice for traveling on the vaporetto "without" a ticket - she had a ticket, but she hadn't punched it in the machine. The officers were not pleasant about it. It's an odd system, but don't get caught.

Have a nice day!

Andrew Duffin

Oh I always buy tickets. Thanks for the warning though.




Under the heading : "Monday  Doubting Rationalist' come the following two items--

"Now comes Johnson, a devout Presbyterian and accomplished legal theorist, and he doesn't dance on the head of biblical pins. He agrees the world is billions of years old and that dinosaurs walked the earth. Evolution is the bridge he won't cross. This man... is the founding father of the "intelligent design" movement. ........ NEXT ITEM "When a place gets crowded enough to require ID's, social collapse is not far away." -- Robert A. Heinlein ... "

Russell Seitz

No comment. Nice of you to notice....


George Galloway seems to have punched out the US Senate Committee today. Maybe BBC News will give us a video tonight. Looks to be pretty lively. Good polemic against the neocons, zionists and the whole gang. What US media is giving this good coverage???


[George Galloway is the British MP who had been accused of receiving vouchers for oil from Saddam.]



Subject: Boronated Plastic Armor

The model that boronated plastic armor runs from can be described as this:

Think of the boron nucleus as the whirling blades of a fan. The fewer the protons and neutrons in the nucleus, the greater the radius of the fan blades.

Perpendicular to the axis of the fan, you're throwing BBs. If you throw the BBs fast enough, they'll zip in the spaces between the fan blades. That's a good example of a high energy neutron. If you have banks and banks of fans in a row, eventually, you'll have enough of them to catch most everything.

What people trying to shield against neutron radiation have been aiming for for years is something that has a high density of low atomic weight nuclei. Boronated plastic containment (and boronated plastic fabrics) are used in radiology labs.

Unfortunately for your correspondent, the real hazard of enhanced radiation warheads is secondary radiation - the outer shell of an ER warhead was meant to take high energy neutrons from the tritium triggers and mitigate them down into something that would be moving slow enough to be absorbed by a human being.

However, the secondary result of this was that a bunch of high energy neutrons would scatter without this downstepping, and within close proximity of to the blast, anything of moderate density would start emitting secondary radiation of its own, which made the boronated plastic armor to protect vehicles harder to justify, though it eventually ended up in MOPP and NBC gear.

Ken Burnside Ad Astra Games http://www.adastragames.com


Subject: Apple Tames Tiger With Big Patch


If Microsoft had done this, they probably would have been raked over the coals in every media outlet for having unstable software

Subject: Apple Tames Tiger With Big Patch


Tracy Walters


Subject: In response to Mr. Hubbard.

Microsoft -have- and continue to 'do this' - hence, SP1 and SP2 for XP (amongst innumerable others).

- Roland Dobbins





Subject: oddball vehicle gun mounting is an issue in Car Wars and related see e.g. David Drake The Square Deal -

- I had the DU rotor that powers the railgun spinning axially. That would've made the car impossible to turn. I knew better than that, but


THE SQUARE DEAL started when a friend noticed that many publishers had books based on games but that Tor did not. She sold Tom Doherty, Torís publisher, on the idea of books set in the Car Wars universe of Steve Jackson Games; called SJG to get their approval; and then called me.


It was quite obvious that the game creators hadnít spent much time in combat. The vehicles were hugely over-weaponed, either ignoring recoil or mounting recoilless weapons (which balance the weight of the shell with a similar weight of powder gas blasting out the back of the gun) in closed turrets. ďWhat do you do about the backblast?Ē I asked one of the creators. ďWe didnít think about that,Ē he replied.

I had to think about it since I was putting my name on the book: I vented the recoilless rifles. I also dropped the armament to reasonable levels. 3d World technicals often mount guns whose recoil would tip the vehicle over if they were really fired; Car Wars went even farther in that direction.

In addition I came up with ablative armor which would be much more practical than the homogenous plastic sheeting of the game universe. This was stupid and unprofessional of me. My job was to write a story that conformed to the game, and I was instead trying to change one of the basic tenets of that game.


I wrote the story my way with a couple technical assists from SJG. (One Iím embarrassed about: I had the DU rotor that powers the railgun spinning axially. That wouldíve made the car impossible to turn. I knew better than that, but I had it wrong till SJG corrected me.) The book was short, so I went back and added a bit to the middle (the scene of removing the white phosphorous particles in the bathtub and the chapter immediately previous). SJG comments on the finished book included one fellow saying that he hadnít thought the plot would work, but heíd been wrong.

The Square Deal has some good stuff in it, but it was not a commercial success. Iíll take my share of the blame, but I think the concept was flawed from the start.

I never want to do that again.

--Dave Drake

Clark Myers

I wouldn't spam filter you

Physics in a Car Wars game... Something I never tried, although Niven and I once did a rationalization (as best we could) for the story book of the TV series "V". We got paid but the sequels never got filmed, which may be the best of all possible outcomes.


Subject: Another space startup

Maybe the ball is beginning to rollÖ.


Tracy Walters

No data. Thanks






CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, May 19, 2005

For a Sal Story on PC and OBE:

Dear Dr Pournelle,

Many years ago, when I was a young officer doing compulsory military service in the old South African army (yup, THAT one) Corps of Engineers, I found one of your books, A Step Farther Out, at a local book store, read it till it literally fell to pieces, and I've been a fan of yours ever since.

Your letter regarding education dated Jan 26th, 2005, was of particular interest to me. I thought I'd like to share the South African experience with education, as I believe it carries important lessons for the USA. Of necessity, this is going to be a very politically incorrect piece.

South Africa used to be an extremely politically incorrect place until approximately 1994, when a majority government was elected. It's been eleven years now since everybody got the vote in South Africa. In the past black people were denied high-quality education. They were given a basic education using a system called Bantu Education (Bantu means "people"). The aim of this was simple: to produce labourers for the local mines and industries. I was lucky enough to be one of the privileged minority of white people who went through the other system, which was more or less similar to the US high school and university system, and I now are literuly an enjuneer.

Did the arrival of democracy in 1994 and the large-scale levelling of the educational playing fields subsequent to that change things? You bet. South Africa spends the largest proportion of its GDP of any developing country on education, but this money is wasted on ideologically-driven education, as opposed to the basics and quality education. Everybody is taught using exactly the same curriculum, increasingly based on Outcomes Based Education (OBE), a.k.a. a systematic retreat from excellence, to use one of your phrases.

There were still vestiges of the old system left immediately after 1994. However, you could not suddenly expect people who had been exposed to inferior education to immediately adapt to a much higher standard. Now, to me, the answer to this would have been to gradually raise the standards of everybody until all pupils were on the same level, but I are just a dumb enjuneer. The opposite, predictably, has happened. Grade 12 mathematics will soon be replaced by a subject called "mathematical literacy", because only 30% of all school pupils reached grade 12, and only 3% of all grade 12 pupils were passing mathematics at a level of university standard. Note the typically P.C. reaction to an obvious deficiency: if too few people are passing maths, you don't jack up the standards of teaching, no, you lower the targets.

(An interesting though probably irrelevant artifact of this is that some minority pupils who come from homes where parents were educated to a high standard in the past, are making a mockery of the current equivalent of your SAT's: each year many of them pass with the equivalent of perfect SAT scores, a clear indication that something is wrong with the standards being set. These people, ludicrously, are then denied places at university or scholarships due to affirmative-action quotas, in spite of the country having an enormous shortage of engineers and scientists.)

Bantu education, for all its faults, concentrated on the 3 R's. The amazing result of equality of opportunity and OBE is this: there are proportionately MORE illiterate black people in South Africa in 2005 today, than there were in 1985, during the deepest, darkest days of apartheid. Since 1994, the year everybody gained the vote, South Africa has LOST more than one million job opportunities, due in no small part to the lack of qualified engineers, scientists and accountants. This is serious in a country with unemployment of more than 40%.

The impact of this is everywhere. South Africa has recently spent billions of dollars in the purchase of new fighter planes and navy ships. Two trainee pilots, recent products of our education system, have crashed their planes, apparently due to a bizarre inability to do elementary directional calculations. Naval corvettes are lying waiting in the German shipyard where they were built, because no suitable crews exist to sail them to South Africa. The presidential plane, the local Air Force One, is flown by a politically-incorrect pilot of the old air force, because there are no suitably qualified pilots trained in the new regime around. In all of Africa, political leaders fly to Europe to receive medical treatment, because they don't trust locally-trained doctors.

The above scenario has been repeated over and over again in Africa. In the 1950's, most African countries were richer per capita than, for example, Korea. Today most of Africa lives in dire poverty, as opposed to the comparative extreme wealth in Asian countries. There is, to my mind, absolutely no doubt that this has lots to do with Asians' love of learning and quality education in maths and science.

The lesson to the USA in all this is painfully clear: embrace political correctness in your schools at your own peril.


Anton Barnard Johannesburg, South Africa


the old Bantu education was pretty good, at Least in Dimbaza  where I visited and observed. But even, then in 1973 they were playing with  OBE and other silly Notions.  it is preventable tragedy


from April (cleanup of old mail):


In a fit of pique over an upcoming biography of Steve Jobs ("iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business,'' by Jeffrey S. Young), Apple first tried to get Wiley to kill the title and now has withdrawn all of the Wiley imprints from it's store shelves including, of course, "Macs for Dummies".

Just imagine the outcry if Microsoft tried to quash a bio of Bill Gates!



I actually just got off the phone with Apple "Executive Relations" and after being told to expect the worst, I'm still a little surprised at their absolute disregard for authors or customers in general. No chance in hell that you're going to get an update to their "new" OS, even after waiting double the promised delivery time for an order. I honestly haven't heard of such tight upgrade policies or poor treatment of the press. I think we should all band together and boycott them and see how the lack of press helps them sell their products. I for one am unwilling to pay for Ocelot 10.9 and every OS X point release (essentially) in between that they release. To me it's like Microsoft releasing an "upgrade" of XP that includes Konfabulator and Google Desktop Search and charging people for it. I know that's an oversimplification but I'm a little pissed at Apple right now.




BREAKING NEWS 3. New TCP/IP Flaw In Windows, Microsoft Puts Out Alert Microsoft posts its first security advisory since it debuted a security alert service last week, but downplayed the threat. http://update.techweb.com/cgi-bin4/DM/y/en270GN7ei0G4T0DPt20Eb




CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday, May 20, 2005

Subject: Global What?

Global Warming:

I'm no scientist, but when it's obvious to *ME* that they're making it all up, I find it hard to believe that it's not obvious to everyone. I guess the "I want to believe"/"It COULD be true!" crowd is larger than I imagined.


By the way. I just finished reading _Burning Tower_ out loud to my wife. We both enjoyed it immensely... Looking forward to your (collective) next endeavor. Also. We found _Revenge of the Sith_ to be very entertaining... plot holes you could drive a shuttle tractor through... but VERY entertaining. I've decided to forgive George Lucas for Jar Jar.

Robbie Walker, PP-ASEL Tabor City, NC

I was reading this in the newspapers this morning, and I guess I need help from someone who hasn't drunk any of the brands of Kool-Aid out there.

Increased thickness of the ice sheet isn't intuitively what you would expect from global warming, although warming certainly would facilitate water transfers.

On the one hand I keep seeing "advice" to science journalists that "balance" is unfair because there is this "consensus" view among "real" scientists that global warming is (1) real and (2) at least in part caused by human activities, so you don't need to include any views counter to that to be fair, and in fact, all those who don't agree with the consensus are probably in the pay of oil companies. On the other, I see people with good credentials, people I have known for years, who are not in the pay of oil companies and who say the models predict things the observers don't find. I also note that a lot of the consensus people are in fact beholden to grants from outfits that will stop the grants if the findings don't support the consensus.

And I continue to do the Bayesian analysis that says that in the face of incompatible courses of action, each expensive, each responsive to mutually exclusive future events whose probabilities we don't know well, the thing to do is to spend money reducing the uncertainties: FIND OUT MORE. Get better data on the probabilities..

We could have:

(1) global warming due to human activities including CO2 (the consensus view so called but even they don't seem to have a handle on CO2 vs other possible mechanisms)

(2) global warming due to solar or volcanic activities that have little to do with human activities

(3) global warming due to human activities masking an actual global cooling trend due to solar events or other events over which we have no control ( global cooling masked by  and compensated for by human activities) (The thesis of Fallen Angels: throw another log on the fire).

Each of those situations calls for a different (and expensive) remedy. It seems to me we need a crash program to find out which is the actual case, and we ought to be spending on that rather than on big international conferences in Rio and Kyoto, and on developing silly protocols that hamper developed countries while allowing most of the pollution to continue only now it comes from the lesser developed countries.

And I for the life of me can't figure out who KNOWS the actual situation. Most of the people I read don't act like scientists at all. They act like people protecting their turf with little regard for the actual truth.


Subject: On "For a Sad Story on PC and OBE:"

"In all of Africa, political leaders fly to Europe to receive medical treatment, because they don't trust locally-trained doctors."

Is this why the UK NHS is outsourcing surgery to South Africa?

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


The Flynn Effect=

Subject: Biological Results

Here's why they are important.

The result--that climatic change captures HSP90, preventing it from rigidly controlling the folding of proteins and so allowing genetic variability to emerge--is particularly interesting. It implies that the genetic code participates in a feedback mechanism that incidentally changes the effectiveness of natural selection, hence controlling the rate of evolution. This is probably advantageous in allowing populations to survive change, but it's not clear whether the population returns to its prior equilibrium afterwards. Complex ecologies don't, so assuming that populations return to equilibrium is probably simplistic. It does suggest that a population may be genetically adapted to more than one state of its environment, with the variant genes carefully hidden from selection by other mechanisms that 'correct' their proteins for the current environment.

There is paleontological evidence that both birds and mammals descend from lines of small species that were adaptively flexible. The human lineage shows similar evidence, although the species are larger. These species were not necessarily generalists--rather they reserved genetic variation while at the same time adapting closely to their current niche. The reserved genetic variation expressed itself in easy adoption and abandonment of character traits that phylogenetic analysis would prefer to regard as permanently committing. It's almost like the species in question can pick up its dress and run as needed--we have similar evidence for bats: megabats seem to be descended from fairly specialized microbats, although very different in their characters.

Now consider this in the context of intelligence. The Flynn effect is interesting because it suggests that IQ is much more sensitive to environment than the twin studies indicate. What this may mean is that the genes underlying raw intelligence are much more variable than would be suggested by the range of intelligence scores. There are other genes that 'correct' the output of the raw intelligence genes to narrow the range (at both ends). Those latter genes are sensitive to the environment and may also adjust the performance of the brain up or down in response. Similar explanations may apply to autism, sexual behavior, susceptibility to cancer, fertility, and anything else where a narrow range of phenotypes are usually optimal, but variation needs to be reserved to cope with change.

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

I have posted this in a conference devoted to this subject; comments when I have them.


Subj: Microscale generator yields macroscale power

http://www.afcea.org/signal/articles/anmviewer.asp?a=913&z=38  SIGNAL Magazine  

=At the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, researchers have been able to produce power with a generator approximately the size of a dime. The device, called a microgenerator, is one aspect of a project to create a microengine that weighs less and lasts longer than batteries used by soldiers in the field today. ...=

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com




Subject: Ye gads!

from overlawyered.com:

Russian court: astrologer can sue NASA

"A Russian court has ruled that an astrologer can sue NASA over plans to bombard a comet whose destruction would 'disrupt the natural balance of the universe'." Reversing a lower court, the panel ruled that it was appropriate for Russia to take jurisdiction over Marina Bai's lawsuit, which demands $310 million. According to her lawyer, Alexandra Molokhova, Ms. Bai "believes that the project infringes upon her spiritual and life values, as well as the natural life of the cosmos". ("Astrologer courts trouble for NASA", Melbourne Age, May 8 <http://theage.com.au/articles/2005/05/07/1115422846035.html>  ; Anna Arutunyan, "Russian Astrologist Plans to Crash NASAís Independence Day", MosNews, Apr. 19 <http://www.mosnews.com/feature/2005/04/19/deepimpact.shtml>  ; "Russian astrologer seeks $310 million of moral damage compensation from NASA", Pravda, May 6 <http://english.pravda.ru/science/19/94/379/15424_comet.html>  ).

Regards, Bas

Holy catfish!




Subject: Methods of Empire.


---- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Riddler, RIP.


--- Roland Dobbins


Subject: DREAD

From my experience with firearms, thereís nothing inherently wrong with the idea of a centrifugal force weapon. It really is old technology. I believe our own military actually used such a weapon briefly in WWI. But it was diesel powered, cumbersome, and a pain in the keester. Technology wasnít yet up to the challenge.

There is recoil, of course. You canít defeat the third law. But the recoil is not felt as straight line recoil, but as torque. At least thatís my understanding. This is handled with a flywheel spinning in the reverse direction. When they say ďthere is no recoil,Ē my guess is they mean the shooter does not feel any traditional, straight line recoil. This is true.

And contrary to the popular myth, spherical ammunition is pretty darned accurate. Hit a dimpled golf ball in a straight line, and it travels in a straight line. And spherical bullets are also accurate. Take a look at some of the old shooting records with ball ammunition. Theyíll impress anyone. You do have to have the proper spin on the sphere, but if this is doable, and it should be, accuracy wonít be a problem. Nor should friction be a serious problem. But I donít see dimples as being enough help to overcome the ballistic coefficient problems. I donít see any real solution to this problem at all.

The problem with spheres is the truly lousy ballistic coefficient. Even when spinning in order to shed air, spheres slow down remarkably fast. But a .38 or .40 caliber lead sphere, fired from an old, muzzle loading Kentucky rifle at a fraction of the velocity DREAD promises, is remarkably accurate and deadly at three hundred yards. Deadly enough to kill a man, at least. Itís accurate well beyond this, just not deadly. Iíve seen some tests where spheres outperformed nice, pointed bullets where accuracy was concerned, but only at short range. The horrible ballistic coefficient kills the round bullet, not the accuracy.

Ballistic coefficient doesnít mean a thing in space, of course, and should DREAD actually work well at all, it might be a wonderful space based anti-satellite or anti-ICBM weapon.

I see some serious problems with DREAD (Including how much power it will take to generate promised velocities.) , but I donít think it should be dismissed out of hand. This guy might be a kook, but his ideas arenít complete nonsense, even if he doesnít know enough to get the results he promises.

James A. Ritchie








This week:


read book now



Subject: Requiem for a spacefaring culture? I hope not....

Dr. Pournelle,

There's a reason why I turn the TV off during Star Wars season. It's not that I can't let people have their fun, lining up for days in advance dressed up in Storm Trooper gear. But there's a weird sense of complacency about flying around in space almost thirty years since the first movie...heck, I wasn't even born until just before the Jedi Returned. I do however know that there's a right way and a wrong way for America's youth to interpret these images of intergalactic warriors fighting it out for peace, freedom, and the future of a spacefaring civilization.

The -wrong- way is to become thirty-five year old prematurely myopic white-collar drones who have to call in sick on Star Wars Day lest that three hour period of escapism be gone forever...whom I shall no longer insult lest they also read science fiction (I too subscribe to That Buck Rogers Stuff and never intend to let go of it, but rather turn it into a real job someday). They still love watching rocket ships, but it seems as though they don't really believe in them.

For the same amount of angst as some of these people experience every day that Star Wars doesn't come out, others work a little more and become engineers, pilots, writers, scientists, artists, and more...and lest I sound "elitist", I would give up a year's salary to have been a janitor in Mission Control on the day that Neil and Buzz hit dirt in the Sea of Tranquility.

So aside from shameless fan mail, this is really just a question: can you think of how to get these thousands of former Luke Skywalker wanna-bes to believe in the real stuff again, and get us out there? "It" ain't NASA, it's probably not the ISS...but we need to find "it" soon, or become a permanent flatlander culture...Lord knows Hollywood and the United Nations aren't going to save us. Granted that flatlander part is Niven but I'm sure you get the sentiment. In any case, when's the re-release of A Step Farther Out? I shall mark the calendar and wait for rocket noises.

Sincerely, Ian M.


From: (a serving Marine officer currently in Iraq)
Sent: Saturday, May 21, 2005 5:56 AM
To: (the person who sent him this:
Clashes Break Out Over U.S. Occupation - Yahoo! News http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20050520/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq  )

Subject: Re: Clashes

I'm guessing they ran out of US flags to burn and had to resort to chalk.
Words are somewhat more powerful here than in other cultures. When something
is said, that equates to about 90% of the effect of actually performing the
So we get these, from Western perspective, firebrand ludicrous statements
like "we will unleash the Mother of all battles on Americans and wipe them
out to the last man." In this culture, the wiping out part has been 90%
accomplished, because it was actually said; if someone actually gets around
to doing the physical work required, that's all well and good, but it just
doesn't add all that much extra value to the pronouncement.
Al Sadr's boys get mowed down whenever they actually incite themselves to
concrete action and are militarily harmless (able to kill? yes. able to win?
If someone is smart enough to be pulling the strings to orchestrate the
current violence level as a psychological operation directed at the American
people, then that person is quite rare and currently unable to pass along
that "vision" to the masses. As one gent who works with the good-guy Iraqi
Army pointed out, "there is no future tense in the local Arabic language."
Literally no future tense resident in the language. No Western concept of
cause and effect; everything happens because God either willed it to happen
or prohibited it from happening.
You and I get told to pick up a pitchfork and go attack a tank with it...
and we say "no thanks, I don't like the odds." The Iraqi peasant would pick
up that same pitchfork and march forward into the Iranian tank regiment
because, "if it is Allah's will, the tank is dead; if it is not Allah's
will, then I am already dead. If I ran away from the tank, because I was
afraid it was Allah's will that I should die today, then I would be struck
by a bus, or a meteor, or some other large object because the end result
cannot be escaped." A predeterministic rearward-looking religion, unfettered
by a doctrine of inquiry or discovery of new meaning, and unleavened by a
universal first-world education/academic program simply means our two
cultures are on two very different wavelengths. Each culture is as alien to
the other as any two systems could be. That will cause friction until common
ground is reached.
I most assuredly am not an expert, don't even play one on TV, but I have to
think that freedom of access to a virtually inexhaustible supply of
information (whether that be the Internet, satellite TV, print media,
education, etc) will, over time, pull the Arab culture closer to a Western
perception of the world than will cause the Western system of inquiry to
drift toward an doctrine of "everything that is worth knowing has already
been written."
But that's just my guess.


Your friend sent you this link to a movie from not so long ago, in a supermarket not so far away...


Join the adventures of Cuke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Cannoli, Chewbroccoli and the rest of the Organic Rebels fighting against Darth Tader and the Dark Side of the Farm. And if you like the movie, pass it on!


Astonishing! May the Farm be with you..




CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now



We are home...





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IF YOU SEND MAIL it may be published; if you want it private SAY SO AT THE TOP of the mail. I try to respect confidences, but there is only me, and this is Chaos Manor. If you want a mail address other than the one from which you sent the mail to appear, PUT THAT AT THE END OF THE LETTER as a signature. In general, put the name you want at the end of the letter: if you put no address there none will be posted, but I do want some kind of name, or explicitly to say (name withheld).

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