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Mail 390 November 28 - December 4, 2005






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Monday  November 28, 2005


Subject: Letter from England

Wish me luck--I have a grant proposal being evaluated later this week for funding. We're planning to model how sounds activate the inferior colliculus--the stage of auditory processing just before the thalamus. The odds are not good, mostly because there is an awful lot of competition here for funding. (It's about three times as competitive as in America.) I'm having an MSc program in information systems security being approved at the same time. (Yes, I do both.)

Nothing particularly exciting underway--

Investigation of the tube shooting: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4478188.stm

Pensions crisis: http://1/shared/spl/hi/pop_ups/05/business_pension_report/html/1.stm

UK NHS grief http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4471528.stm

Education problems http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4470148.stm

Congestion charging schemes http://www.guardian.co.uk/Money/cars/story/0,11944,1652637,00.html

I'm thinking about your secular liberalism question. I'm not really the right person to argue that human equality can be justified from a secular perspective. On the other hand, it appears to me that the main reason the UK is such a secular society is the presence of an established church with a long history of being a mechanism for social control and maintenance of inequality. In addition, there is an argument to be made that a sense of fairness precedes a sense of religion.

-- "The difference between theory and practice is that, in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is." (Tom Vogl) Harry Erwin

Good luck indeed!


Forced to Marry Before Puberty, African Girls Pay Lasting Price http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/27/international/africa/27malawi.html 


CHIKUTU, Malawi - Mapendo Simbeye's problems began early last year when the barren hills along Malawi's northern border with Tanzania rejected his attempts to grow even cassava, the hardiest crop of all. So to feed his wife and five children, he said, he went to his neighbor, Anderson Kalabo, and asked for a loan. Mr. Kalabo gave him 2,000 kwacha, about $16. The family was fed.

But that created another problem: how could Mr. Simbeye, a penniless farmer, repay Mr. Kalabo?

The answer would shock most outsiders, but in sub-Saharan Africa's rural patriarchies, it is deeply ingrained custom. Mr. Simbeye sent his 11-year-old daughter, Mwaka, a shy first grader, down one mangy hillside and up the next to Mr. Kalabo's hut. There she became a servant to his first wife, and, she said, Mr. Kalabo's new bed partner.

Now 12, Mwaka said her parents never told her she was meant to be the second wife of a man roughly three decades her senior. "They said I had to chase birds from the rice garden," she said, studying the ground outside her mud-brick house. "I didn't know anything about marriage."


American intellectuals say all cultures are equal and want diversity until they find cultures that really are different: then they condemn them.


Subject: Middle Ages

1) It is hard for me to imagine that a religion devoted to returning the world to the middle ages is going to produce a society that can compete economically with the West.

I suppose it is churlish of me, but this sort of thing is unfair to the Middle Ages.

In that uniquely Western invention, the University, all the higher faculties of law, medicine, and theology, had first to graduate the arts faculty. This curriculum consisted entirely of logic, natural philosophy, and the "exact sciences" of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, optics, statics, and music. No arts or humanities were taught. Never before or since has so large a proportion of a society been educated so thoroughly in logic, reason, and the sciences: so much so that the reactionaries of the Renaissance and Reformation rebelled [for entirely opposite reasons] against it. By the 14th century, Buridan had enunciated Newton's first law, Oresme had proven Galileo's mean speed theorem, and Heytesbury had come to a gnat's whisker of inventing differentials. Had they but possessed the intrumentation and the language of algebra.... Perhaps more pertinently, the medievals had invented the stock corporation, international law, Oresme had enunciated Gresham's law, and d'Olivi had explained the market theory of value.

And, of course, they were tutored by the earlier Arab philosophers. Although there were theological reasons why science never blossomed there, early medieval Islam was a far more progressive thing than that which the new-fangled Islamists would build.

Mike Flynn


Talin on Copyright Debate

I guess it's time for me to weigh in on the copyright debate.

I feel that in order to discuss this properly, thought, we have to descend deep into the philisophical meaning of the word 'property'. A lot of the debate hinges on some very fundamental philisophical issues, which are often so deeply buried in our psyche that we are hardly aware of them.

When we speak of a thing as 'mine', we don't always mean the same thing:

o This is my house
o This is my screenplay
o This is my country
o This is my girlfriend

Clearly, these are different - one doesn't "own" a girlfriend, for example, nor a country. I put those statements in that order deliberately, because I believe that the "copy right" falls somewhere in between the first and the last.

Hobbes notwithstanding, physical property is more than just a creation of the state. It has its roots in human instinct - the notion of "trade" is an evolved behavior that is a component part of our whole primate territorial / dominance suite. While an alien race might find incomprehensible the concept of "ownership" (the idea that certain physical objects are associated with, and exclusively controlled by, a particular organism), we find it to be perfectly natural.

Physical property is often defined by "shelling points" -- natural divisions in the landscape, such as rivers or mountains, which define the partitions between one person's property and another's. With portable objects, we often partition the lines of ownership around their ability to be transported as independent units - one doesn't normally sell the tires off a car without removing them from the car first.

Thus, while the state may play a role in maintaining the system of property, it is not the originator of the system. The rules of property, as defined by the state, are not arbitrary, in the sense that they are not just a set of rules that someone dreamed up.

Copyright, on the other hand, *is* a creation of the state, and is arbitrary - as shown by the fact that before there was copright, there was an entirely different regime for controlling who could make copies, called the Stationers Guild. These were the only people who could legally own printing presses.

The genius of the Statute of Anne (the first copyright law) was that it took power away from an elite who controlled the physical equipment for copying, and instead placed it into the hands of the authors. This in turn had the effect of lessening the power of patronage, since now anyone could publish a book, instead of having to get permission from a small group of monopolists whose livelihood was largely provided by the aristocracy.

When I explain to people the difference between copy right, and property rights, I use the following analogy: When you write a book or otherwise cause a creative work to come into existence, at the same moment there also comes into existence a "coupon" which allows you to invoke state power to prevent people from copying this particular work. This coupon is your property - you can sell it, lease it, transfer it, do all of the things that you would normally do with real property.

As the creator of the work, then, you now own two things - the physical media on which the work resides, and the coupon. What you don't own, however, is the information embodied within the work. You don't own the words of the book, or the colors of the painting, or the thoughts of the reader / viewer who is experiencing the work.

Wiith possession of the coupon, you have the right to sue someone in court for copying and win, and ultimately the right to deploy the police forces of the government to physically prevent that person from copying the work. The coupon, however, has an expiration date - once it expires, you no longer have those powers.

Times have changed since the Statute of Anne, and we all own printing presses now. Computers, by their very nature, *require* copying in order to function - when you load a document from your hard drive into memory, a copy is made. (I won't get into the issue of whether reading a book is considered a "copy" in terms of transferring the information from paper to brain - I would say instead that reading is a transformation, from text into understanding, and not a literal copy.)

Moreover, the same technology that allows us to read a book on a computer (the transfer of bits from one storage device to another) also allows us to distribute the work freely. Despite all claims to the contrary, there is really no way around this, as long as people are allowed to have computers. (I would call the various DRM schemes as essentially disinventing the personal computer - in other words, transforming the computer from a machine which you own and control, into an appliance which you only have the right to perform certain approved tasks.)

Fortunately, the situation isn't completely dire - we aren't going to have to choose between a civilization with computers and a one with books. For one thing, there are plenty of people such as myself who, while having the technical capacity to infringe upon a work, feel morally enjoined from doing so. Its true that there is lots of infringement going on in the music world, but while the effects on infringement on the music industry's bottom line are a subject of fierce debate, I doubt that the record companies are going to be filing for bankruptcy any time soon.

Let me address the subject of "remix culture": Its true that most of the examples touted so far are merely novelty works, but that's beside the point. All creative works are, to one extent or another, remixes of past works, drawing on the vast cultural reservoir of motifs and idioms. Disney corporation has a vast legacy of works such as "Snow White" and "Peter Pan" that are animated adaptations of popular works by other authors -- who didn't get a dime for Disney's work (mostly because they were dead).

These so-called remix works are merely demonstrations of this fact - by making the borrowing explicit and obvious, they serve to illustrate the principle. Of *course* they are lacking in subtlety, that's the whole point. Just as free speech depends on defending those whose views we may find odious, the ability of authors to continue to create depends on defending those whose borrowing of the past is explicit and trivial.

And make no mistake, these rights *are* in danger. Have you looked at the EULA for Sony's CDs? Would you willingly buy a book that you weren't allowed to read at work? That you weren't allowed to read if you left the country? That you were legally prohibited from reselling to a used book store? That's the kind of "copyright regime" that the big media companies want to enshrine into law forever.

Finally, on the Google matter: The debate isn't about whether authors will lose money from the Google's ability to search books. Yes, it is theoretically possible that someone could piece together a book from all the various snippets exposed via the Google peephole. So what? Its a lot easier to just OCR a book and upload it - and we already have ways of dealing with people who do that. Any work that is infringed on a mass scale has to have a distributor which is accessible to the public - and such a distributor, once known, can be shut down. Any community of infringers which is so exclusive and so secret that it cannot be penetrated by the FBI, is unlikely to be a significant loss of revenue for the book/record companies.

-- Talin

On the one hand we have a community of computer users who have one view -- Talin expresses it pretty well -- and on the the other the RIAA which seems to want to use the law to extract the last drop of blood from the performers.

Caught in between are authors who just want to collect some royalties on their books. Laws need to be framed with reality in mind. One reality is the "price" people will pay to feel honest about intellectual property. Now for some there is no such price, but for most of the American people, it seems to be somewhere around four dollars: if it's easy to pay four bucks then it generally will be paid no matter how easy it might be to steal the book. If it is difficult to pay the money, then it won't be paid no matter how low the price. That's my conclusion from what's going on so far. I could be wrong, but I think it's correct.

Now that doesn't apply to everyone, and it certainly doesn't apply to voluntary subscriptions. Public radio gets subscribers, and do do I. The percentage of those subscribing is small with respect to the total number of listeners and readers, but there are enough to keep these place open. (Please note that this isn't precisely a complaint: I thoroughly understand that there are many slots for people to put discretionary money in, assuming they have any at all, and this site, and KUSC and other good music stations, compete with each other and other places that may be worth more to the contributor. That's the way of the world, and of course I have the alternative of accepting advertisements, although I have never been tempted to do that.)

The real question is numbers. Are there enough readers, listeners, and viewers who feel obliged to pay? And in a sense that's all the law can do. I certainly don't want laws that threaten ruin for some individual because he stole a book, or ten books. I do want laws that protect me from people who take my works and sell them. I am not sure what to do about the chap who steals every book he can find and gives copies to everyone he can send them to.

Continued below.


Subject: Ebooks and traveling.

I'm writing this more a topic for discussion than a query for advice or anything like that.

I travel on business with some frequency. Sometimes I think I have entirely too much familiarity with airports, hotels, fatigue, and jet lag. The good side of all that is that I get to experience different places, different foods (if you're into that kind of thing), and different entertainments (again, if you're into that kind of thing). However, I have a jones that all the exotic entertainments a world can offer cannot satisfy--and that's an addiction to words strung in a row, usually in the form of "stories." While I mostly read science fiction and fantasy, I'm not limited to that and can enjoy mysteries, "thrillers," "mainstream," and so on, even the occassional romance.

And so, while traveling, I generally packed along a stack of books as well--some in carry on for the flight, and some in checked for when I'm in a hotel somewhere either without the energy to go out or when I'm just jonesing too bad to be satified with anything but my usual fix. I usually packed more than I expected to need having experienced the agony of having run out in a place where I understood neither the language nor its writing (making local supply difficult). After a while, this got rather cumbersome, particularly on trips that could be as much as a month across several countries.

However, a couple years ago, I got my first PDA--a Sony Clie. Combined with an ebook reader such as mobipocket, I had the ability to carry an entire library, literally in the palm of my hand. Since then, most of my books purchases have been ebooks and are stored on the memory stick that resides in the Clie. (Actually, the second Clie--bought just before Sony stopped selling them to all but the Japanese domestic market.) Unfortunately, this means that most of my purchases come from a single publisher (Baen) since it's the only one which has most of its catalog available in electronic form and a lot of authors that I like don't seem to be available, at least from a legal source, in an electronic form. And, yes, I buy and pay for my books--have even bought paper copies of books I got free in electronic form. It would be nice if electronic books were more widespread. Still, half a loaf, and all that.

Just some thoughts.

David L. Burkhead "Dum Vivimus Vivamus"

And see below


Iraq: A Short History of Violence.


-- Roland Dobbins

A decent summary of the region. There is no "nation" of Iraq.





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TuesdayNovember 29, 2005

Subject: Copyright discussion a view from a screenwriter

RE: Talin

That fellow seems to me to possess but one idea, and that is a wrong one. 34 <http://www.bartleby.com/100/249.html#249.note15>  Life of Johnson (Boswell). 35 <http://www.bartleby.com/100/249.html#249.note11>  Vol. iii. Chap. v. 1770.

I have found the copyright discussion alternately enervating and infuriating. On the one hand a discussion of airy principles in its' hairsplitting worthy of early church fathers. On the other hand latter-day hairy barbarians clamoring at the gates of my treasure house with shields emblazoned with :Information wants to be free!"

If I do not own the words that make up my stories, or the ideas that I put into those words, do I at least own the TIME that I put into those works? I think the basis of intellectual property is that we own ourselves, and the time that is given to us by Providence. From that ownership we derive the right to profit from the investment of ourselves and our time.

I am a screenwriter. Screenplays are sold outright, with no royalty to the author from copies of the film eventually made from the screenplay. The screenplay is typically called (significantly) a "property". That is the term used throughout the movie business: PROPERTY! I suppose we could have called it an "intellectual confabulation of prior existing memes and idiomatic forms with no true existence and hence not subject to normal rules of ownership and transferability", but property is what was settled on. Interesting that is, no? The people who buy it typically put in the contract for a screenplay that they are buying the property for the duration and extent of the universe in all forms of media known or subsequently to be invented. If someone in the year twenty million AD on a planet in the Andromeda Galaxy wants to produce my screenplay as a three-dee holoplay with Denebian Slime Devils playing the characters, and if the "owners" of my screenplay become aware of it and can enforce their will, they will need the permission of those owners. All of this enervating talk of Stationers Guilds and Statute Of Anne and computers being printing presses is merely the hand waving of a man whose argument is much like that of that man behind a curtain who pulls levers and pushes button to make light and sound show meant to scare the little people into believing there is justice in the outright thievery of my time.

There may be a model here for writers of fiction. Sell the piece outright (throughout the universe for all time in all forms) for a sufficient sum to pay you back for your time, and let the owner of the property deal with the headaches of copyright. This may well lead to a tyranny ala the RIAA, but such tyrannies have a way of producing their own remedies, which is like the making of laws and sausages. You my like the result if you do not enquire too deeply into the making thereof. My opinion is "A pox upon both your houses." To the tyrants of copyright and the barbarians of the "information wants to be free" horde. Hobbesian logic will do or both. They both need to read "The Gods Of The Copybook Headings".

Mr. Talin is doubtless an honorable man. Nevertheless, if Mr.Talin truly believes that using my time and the fruit of my using that time and not paying me for it is merely a social convention and NOT a right, well:

If he does really think that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, why, sir, when he leaves our houses let us count our spoons. Life of Johnson (Boswell). 23 <http://www.bartleby.com/100/249.html#249.note11>  Vol. ii. Chap. v. 1763.

Anent the good Mr. Niven's observation on the return of patronage in the arts, I suppose the Good Doctor should suffice again:

Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached ground encumbers him with help? Life of Johnson (Boswell). 16 <http://www.bartleby.com/100/249.html#249.note11>  Vol. ii. Chap. ii. 1755.

For this I sacrifice my time on the altar of "literature"? I'd sooner let the world spend their leisure hours bashing one another about their head's and shoulders with clubs whilst I keep my dreams to myself, earning my bread in ways other than entertaining the groundlings with airy fantasies.

Petronius The Arbiter Of Taste

Sir, your levellers wish to level down as far as themselves; but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves. Life of Johnson (Boswell). 24 <http://www.bartleby.com/100/249.html#249.note11>  Vol. ii. Chap. v. 1763.

Today on radio I hear advertisements for finks: if you know of pirated software in your work place, or in a former work place, turn in your boss for a possible "up to $25,000" reward. The reward will be paid by the government our of $150,000 per pirate act fines. Finking on your boss for fun and profit.

Which in fact may be a good thing; but oddly enough, there is no corresponding fine for stealing electronic copies of books. Should there be?

A couple of minor points for the record: Talin is the public name of a friend of long standing. I don't think there is any secrecy involved in David's real name, but he prefers this pen name, so that is how I show it. He has done a number of ingenious computer feats, including the early Fairie Tale. He has been a creator, not so much of written material, but the scripts of some of his games were as ingenious as many published novels. I tend to pay attention to him for the same reason I pay attention to you: you express viewpoints of creative artists in fields I have little experience in, and if we are going to come to any kind of conclusion on copyright matters I need to hear from people other than novelists. I suspect I understand the novelist viewpoint fairly well.


Subject: words for our times

When everything is copyrighted, patented, trademarked, etc., what difference will it make if someone invents a Replicator, if it is illegal to copy anything? - Interview with Michael Hart, Project Gutenberg

Indeed, Bas

Economics is a science of production and distribution in the face of shortages: it's concerned with allocation of resources. If there are what amount to infinite resources, it may not matter a lot.

C. S. Lewis in The Great Divorce has a scene in which an artist, who has traveled far toward Deep Heaven comes back to try to persuade a newly dead friend to come with him. At one point the saved artist say that in Deep Heaven they all paint, but there is no pride of ownership, nor pride in accomplishment; the art is truly for art's sake. His friend is horrified.

If we have matter duplicators, will each of us be a sovereign and possess a hydrogen bomb?


Subject: RE: Copyright/DRM 

Dr Pournelle,

In your reply to my e-mail about Copyright and DRM you mention that "Music industry sales are down. Way down. " That is, of course, what the RIAA would like us all to believe, yet it doesn't appear to be the case. Here is a link to a story about US music sales for 2004.


According to this, cd sales actually increased by 2.3% in 2004. Yes, music sales were down for a couple of years prior to that, but I suspect that has more to do with record companies misjudging the market as they kept raising the prices on cds. In addition, while still a small fraction of normal cd sales, sales at download sites are increasing by leaps and bounds, with the equivalent of 14 million cds being sold via download sites verse 666 million normal cd sales. Some reports I have read say that downloads for 2005 are triple that of 2004 during the same period of time. What's more important is that download sales are almost pure profit. While there are infrastructure costs, that is a cost that is paid by the store front, not the record companies.

The second point that you raise is the low percentage of people who subscribe to your web site, verses those who actually visit your site. This is a very different subject from that of downloaded media. While I might personally subscribe to several different sites, including this one, that I consider worthy, getting people to start paying for something that they are use to getting for free is a difficult thing. This is true, not only on the Web, but in everyday life. Few subscription based services have done well on the internet.

I also think that the shareware concept, i.e. download it and pay if you like it, doesn't seem to be a strong business model. It works well in some cases, but few people make money on shareware. On the other hand, the iTunes model of allowing you to listen to a minute of a song and then download it if you like it is quite workable. For e-books, I can see a model of allowing you to browse a book, or putting up the first chapter, would work quite well. I also think that, when it comes to books, there will always be a need for a good editor and publisher, otherwise you get the newsgroup phenomena where 95% of what is out there is unreadable and the good gets lost in the bad. Plus, even with the internet, you still need someone to do the marketing.

Phillip Walker

You may recall that I said in A Step Farther Out, after asking the question "where is the need for that bloodsucking publisher?", I answered it: I said that selectivity and editing were still valuable.

In book publishing, the publisher only gets half of the money from the cover price, and out of that pays the author his (on average) 10%, as well as all the publicity, production, shipping, marketing, and editing expenses. Publishers will still be valuable.

Regarding subscriptions, I don't resent people who read this site without subscribing. I am well aware there are plenty of places competing for discretionary income, and lots of people who don't have much discretionary income. Like all authors, I compete for your beer and movie money, not for eating money. Mr. Heinlein said we write for "Joe's beer money, and Joe likes his beer." All true. I can only hope that I provide enough value through mail selection, my replies, and my (more or less weekly) essays on major subjects to be worth the rather modest subscription price. So far I have been to just about enough people that I haven't investigated advertisement revenue. Ads support many web sites, but I can hope I won't need them here.



You wrote, concerning the copyright issue, "This is more or less the standard "pure" libertarian position: since taking a copy of a work does not deprive the original owner of anything, there is no such thing as intellectual property. The "property right" is created by law, and is not "natural". It is theft if I steal your chair, but not a copy of your painting or novel."

I think I qualified as "pure libertarian" when I wrote a longish monograph making a natural-law argument for property rights in composed materials titled "Informational Property: Logorights," published in the Journal of Social and Biological Structures (JAI Press, 1990). I also presented this as part of the class materials in the graduate course in media studies I taught through the New School.

My arguments annoyed Sam Konkin quite a bit and he never made any attempt to refute them.

The link to read the complete monograph on the web is at http://www.pulpless.com/bp21samp/logorite.html 

Neil Schulman

Well, I clearly don't accept the notion that there are no intellectual property rights, but I don't claim to be a libertarian. There are more of us Burkean Conservatives around than many know of, because many don't make a lot of noise (recall Burke's analogy of the crickets in the field who think they own it because they make all the noise, ignoring the grazing cattle). Natural rights are all very well, but I am more concerned with "real" rights, which is to say the rights we can enjoy without having to organize hit squads or resort to self help, or even go to the law. Yes: you will not convert natural rights to real rights without heroes like Hampden and the the cousins Adams and others willing to stand up for them; and eternal vigilance is needed; but framing laws that can be enforced without continuing extraordinary effort by those who enjoy those rights is the whole point of this discussion.

Russell Kirk in an unguarded moment once said "Conservatism is enjoyment." We have to prune and water the tree of liberty, and perhaps it must be fertilized at intervals with the blood of patriots and tyrants, but surely it is better to find ways to avoid all that when possible?

I don't think most people believe they have a right to other people's creations. Most people will pay what they think is reasonable if it's easy to do and the cost is not too high. We may need some pains and penalties for those who habitually profit off other people's work, and that's what we are discussing.

The iStore model makes it clear that people will pay if it's simple and not too expensive. Now what if someone buys a copy of an iTunes offering, breaks the copy protection, and broadcasts it to the world for free? And there are two cases there: they do it for profit in which case at least the profits can be confiscated and paid as compensation to the real owners -- or they may do it for ideological reasons. Information wants to be free. And alas, there are plenty in that last category.

Continued below


Subject: The eBook Experience

Hello Dr. Pournelle,

Subject: Ebooks and traveling

I read David Burkhead's description of his experiences with eBooks with interest. My own experience with eBooks parallels his somewhat. I also tend to do a lot of reading on the move -- in my case on trains. I generally carry one paper book and a small library of 15 to 20 eBooks in an SD card in my Palm Tungsten PDA. The paper book is usually non-fiction. At present it is Dawkins' "The Blind Watchmaker". The eBooks tend toward fiction. At present "The Rising" (S. M. Stirling) and "The Last Kingdom" (Bernard Cornwell) are proceeding pretty much in parallel depending on whether I'm in the mood for Anglo-Saxon England or space adventure.

The Good: I have had good experiences buying eBooks from Baen ( http://www.baen.com/ ) and eReader.com (http://www.ereader.com/) . They both provide reasonably priced books and they make it easy to buy and read them. Baen is easiest to use. Just pay your money, download the file in whatever format you like, and start reading. eReader is almost as good and provides a much wider genre range (Mr. Burkhead should check it out). You have to use their reader and their eBook format, but they make that is easy enough. They have an innovative approach to copy control involving personal information that I think will stop most casual copying. You can give someone a copy of a book, but personal (and sensitive) information is required to open it the first time. A friend recommends Mobipocket <http://www.mobipocket.com/>, but I cannot speak from experience for them.

The Bad: I advise everyone to stay away from Adobe PDF for eBooks when DRM activation is used. It is a total pain. I recently bought an eBook in PDF format from Amazon for $5.99. I spent two hours (worth about $100 dollars to me at work rates) trying to get past Adobe's DRM activation system (with only partial success). Anyone who makes me work that hard to read a book isn't likely to get any more business from me. (After all, as Robert Heinlein put it, they are competing for my beer money.)

I find that my purchasing habits have changed since eBooks arrived. If the eBook format is available, I generally buy it instead of paper because I can get it RIGHT NOW. Paper books can take weeks to deliver to Japan. And, sometimes I buy both -- especially if it is an author that I like; I may purchase the hardback and then later the eBook for ease of carrying and re-reading. (So ... when can I get "Burning Tower" in eBook? ;-) )

One final thing: The Baen Free Library pretty much started me reading eBooks back in 2001. (Like crack -- the first one is free!) The first eBook I read was "1632" -- what a good book! The experience of reading it as an eBook was quite positive, and I have bought 70 eBooks from Baen alone since then. (Wow! I just counted them; "The Prince" and "Fallen Angels" are in there.)

Just some thoughts on the eBook experience.

Best regards,
Clyde Wisham

**** "A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any other invention in human history, with the possible exception of handguns and tequila."-- Mitch Ratcliffe ****


Subject: Border Control


Heard a piece this morning on the subject. One Tucson resident expressed the opinion that it would be impossible to track down the illegal immigrants.

My (current) 'modest proposal': - Put up a wall/fence/SOMETHING at our southern border. Patrol it, and give the patrols some teeth. - Along your idea of prizes for proven results: Pass a law with a sunset of 5 to 10 years, renewable, offering a bounty for tips that lead to illegal immigrants being caught. The bounty would only be paid to U.S. citizens (legal residents and illegal immigrants need not apply), and only when the 'immigrant' is proven to be here illegally. (Shouldn't be hard....no paperwork filed anywhere, here illegally. Unless there's a loophole I'm missing?) - Apply sanctions to any country refusing to repatriate its citizens who are illegal immigrants here. - Get the above three passed, working, and popular in the U.S. ....*then* force through a law penalizing those who employ illegal immigrants.

How naive does this sound? I personally would like to see it, but rather doubt it'll happen.

Best Regards,

Doug Hayden

If we were to offer $2,500 to $5,000 a head for illegal immigrants delivered to the Border Patrol by bounty hunters, no questions asked -- we don't mind if they turn in each other -- with a very stiff hard labor sentence in a chain gang for repeat offenders, it would cost at most a couple of billion dollars a year, and the more it cost the more successful it would be.

You would be sure to have some horror stories: people hiring illegals, then stiffing them on their pay and turning them in for the bounty, and provision would have to be made to make horrible examples of those scoundrels, as well as of coyotes who bring people across the border only to turn them in for the bounty; but the savings in costs to southern California schools and hospitals would be enormous, far more saved than the cost of the program even including inspectors general to investigate suspicious cases and some at random.

Bounty hunters should be bonded, but we can pay to anyone who brings in people. We pay nothing for the dead. Etc. I proposed this years ago, and more recently a few months ago. It would surely solve most of the illegal immigrant problem: it would cut down on border crossings, allowing the border guards to concentrate on catching the remaining few; it is cheap in that it doesn't create a new bureaucracy; and it would surely work.

Of course it won't be tried.


Subject: America in the UK News

Wilkerson interview: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4480638.stm 

"Foolish War" http://www.guardian.co.uk/elsewhere/journalist/story/0,7792,1653453,00.html 

The bomb al-Jazeera leak http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1896829,00.html 

-- "The difference between theory and practice is that, in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is." (Tom Vogl)
Harry Erwin


And it's always good to hear from old friends. (In this case, since 1960 in Seattle)

Subject: While you're up....


This link to a John Shirley article is worth reading and pondering.

I am struck by it because of my last foray into political protest, from which I conclude that all such is useless, since NOBODY LISTENS, not even myself. Perhaps especially myself. And Shirley's essay offers some clues as to why this is so. Like any good essay, it raises more questions than answers.


Parts may be oversimplified, but the thrust is on target.


P.S. The links you posted on Iraq and on copyright are as good as it gets.

Thanks for the kind words. I don't find myself in agreement with Mr. Shirley on most issues, or even with most the the details in your recommended essay, but he does have a point. Logical analysis of political issues is quite rare. On the other hand, without emotions you don't get much action.


Subject: TNR: Can biologists study race without becoming racist?


I find the teaser copy on www.thenewrepublic.com  introducing the article below interesting.


MONDAY, NOVEMBER 14 Can biologists study race without becoming racist? by David J. Rothman & Sheila M. Rothman

As for the main article, I think that at bottom, the activities of "activists" such as the anthropologists below need to be considered first and foremost "commercially". The "anti-racism" business is a new "industry" that race entrepreneurs are trying to develop to provide themselves with jobs, status, and income

> The earliest salvos came from anthropologists who
> were rankled at their exclusion from the project and
> deeply troubled by its conceptual orientation.

The "product" they have to sell is liberal guilt, and their main technique for leveraging that guilt into jobs is fear.

> No sooner was the project announced than indigenous
> rights organizations charged that it threatened their
> identity and autonomy and demanded that it be halted.

Yeah, right. I am sure these "indigenous rights" organizations were founded and staffed by the loincloth-wearers that they "represent".

As Don Corleone said, "It's just business." None of them *live* as if they believed what they say at "work". Nor would any of them ever be willing to live like the peoples whose ways of life they are "defending".


You are perhaps a bit harsh on anthropologists, but I see your point.


From another conference, this exchange:

Subject:  At least somebody has a plan for victory in Iraq

I find the notion of "victory" in Iraq about as strange as "W's" notion of "democracy" in Iraq, given that "Iraq" is and always was a figment of some British cartographer's imagination.

That said, I am looking forward to Saddam's execution and if the Shites want to deliver a similar fate to a bunch of his Sunni butchers, that's OK by me too. I supported the war to unseat Saddam, but I can't see why 80% of the population needs the U.S. Marines to die to protect them from 20% of the population, once the 20%'s military organization has been appropriately crushed.



Dear Jim:

I a) opposed the Iraq war, and b) given where we are now, support its partition.

It's OK with me if Saddam gets offed, and I won't miss the Sunni population, either, but of course, if the US facilitates genocide in Iraq, we will have come a long from from being liberators and democratizers. And once again, I realize that most American hawks have long ago abandoned any positive vision of Iraq, and would settle for a Gary Brecher-esque "War Nerd" solution, but the problem with that is that we will get blamed, which a) could be bad in terms of future war-crimes proceedings, and b) will most likely engender a fair amount of hostility elsewhere in the world.

And we shouldn't necessarily be complacent about some of our friends, to wit, -- because they might not stay all that friendly, especially when they get powerful http://search.csmonitor.com/search_content/1128/p01s04-wosc.html . Given that India has 150 million or so Muslims--admittedly not popular, but still, perforce, influential inside the country, I might think that the US military had better things to do than to seek to pacify Fallujah one more time.


Note that neither Jim nor JP is me.

Will we see a Reign of Terror in Iraq when we pull out? Stay tuned. Meanwhile we have all those troops over there to protect 80% of the people of Iraq from no more than 10%...











This week:


read book now


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Planet with planets?

Cha 110913-773444.


-- Roland Dobbins


Your papers, please:

"It's just a lesson in compliance . . ."


-- Roland Dobbins

But we were born free. Does this make us safer?


Production costs of publishers and the digital age

Hi Jerry, in Mail you said:

"In book publishing, the publisher only gets half of the money from the cover price, and out of that pays the author his (on average) 10%, as well as all the publicity, production, shipping, marketing, and editing expenses. Publishers will still be valuable." -JEP

Think about that for a minute. The half of the purchase price pie that went to physical production and delivery and store overhead has now shrunk about an order of magnitude. This leaves nearly half of the consumers price for a book/movie/song to be fought over by the publishers and creators. I think that things will calm down once both sides in this fight realize that everyone will be better off if, rather than fighting over a now suddenly large pie, as they are now doing, that the pie can get larger still if everyone in the creative industries, both artists and publishers, would just:

1) Forget about DRM (it's just a monetary and goodwill cost)

2) Leave their normal marketing and production machinery completely untouched

3) Completely embrace free page/minute/whatever is appropriate for the media samples of work as teasers

4) pay artists a much larger fraction of the revenue stream, which has now roughly doubled

(it's now quite a bit bigger as the production and distribution bill is half picked up by the consumer on their monthly ISP bill, AFTER you get done with that order of magnitude cost reduction in half of the publishers cost structure!)

5) Artists are now MUCH happier, as they get a far huger check per number of readings/views/listens, and the number of copies you need to sell to make a living full time engaged in their art is lowered a BUNCH.

6) Studios and publishers are now MUCH happier, as they have a LOT more slack for a) artists, b) profits, c) lowering prices, d) going after mass distribution pirates

7) Consumers are now MUCH happier, as they will pay less for a wider selection of higher quality media.

All that needs be done is everyone just play nice and come to such an accomodation. This email is public domain and licensed for infinite, free distribution in all media.

Cheers, and get well soon!

-David Mercer Tucson, AZ


Talin responds to earlier messages.

Hi Jerry, I see there have been a couple of interesting responses to my copyright screed.

First off, you are correct in that there's no secret about my identity. People can call me anything they like - whether I respond to them is another matter. Its been so long since people called my anything but "Talin" that I have lost the habit of reacting to any other name.

I think I agree with you that we need to distinguish the "natural" rights from the "real". One can argue all day about which rights are natural and which are not. But the fact that something is natural is no basis for justifying it - that's why philosophers call it "the naturalistic fallacy".

At the same time, however, there is a nature vs. nurture aspect to these rights which needs to be considered. Some of our social behavior is more "hard-wired" than others. Ignoring human nature is something we do at our peril, as is creating social systems that are premised on contradictions of human nature.

I believe that the notion of property in the abstract is a hard-wired human behavior, but *which* things we consider property is not -- because the definition of property is constantly changing! Are human beings property? At one time they were - now they are not. Slavery is only one example, others I can list include papal indulgences, portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, and pollution credits. At one time in our history, we considered "land rights" to extend upward all the way to infinity. That idea lasted until the first time someone tried to collect rent for airplanes flying over his land.

I understand that for many artists, they have an extremely close personal relationship with their creative products - that their work is in a sense a mirror of their own consciousness. Thus, it is easy to confuse the "mine" of "my thoughts" with the "mine" of property. But thoughts aren't really property, they are an inherent, and inalienable aspect of yourself. (Try selling your train of thought some time.)

However, the same is true of my thoughts as a reader. If someone tells me a joke, am I enjoined from telling it to anyone else because the joke is their property? How is a joke different from a story? The answer is obvious - that society has decided, for purely practical reaons, to make a distinction between novels and jokes. In other words, it is a convention. Not a law of nature, but something that somebody, at some time, decided and got others to agree to.

By the way, I want people to understand that I am *not* arguing against copyright. What I am arguing against is "copyright absolutism". Let me try to explain what I mean:

Copyright absolutism is a system where an author can place any arbitrary restriction on the use of their work, and it is physically impossible to violate those restrictions. In such a system, it can never be the case that my rights trump the author's rights, no matter what my justification. It is the ultimate in prior restraint.

In the analog world, there are all kinds of situations where we break the rules for good reason. We might steal a bottle of water to put out a fire. We might ignore the "no trespassing sign" to save someone from drowning in a lake. We might break the speed limit in order to get someone to the hospital in time. An absolutist rule is one in which these things are not only illegal but physically impossible. The no tresspassing sign now becomes an impenetrable forcefield; The car's onboard computer prevents it from violating the speed limit.

You might think that I am talking science fiction, but consider that this is exactly the kind of world that the DRM companies are promising to deliver! They claim that their technology will provide an absolute guarantee, backed by inviolate mathematics, that a creative work can never, ever, ever be copied except in precisely the way that the original author permits. Moreover, such systems not only enforce the existing copyrights absolutely, they also allow the content owners to invent an endless and arbitrary collection of brand new rights, such as the right to restrict the physical location of the work, the right to control what time of day the work is viewed, and so on.

Compare this with the iTunes model, which I call "speed bump" copy protection, or "good fences make good neighbors". Getting around the iTunes limitations isn't terribly hard but most people don't bother to. But at the same time, if I absolutely had to I could. And I can certainly imagine a wide range of scenarios in which I would be morally justified in copying a work without the author's blessing. The iTunes model allows for a gentle reminder not to violate author's rights, without becoming a tyranny.

By the way, I wanted to add a small addendum to my earlier statement - when you compose a creative work, you actually possess three things, not two - the physical media of the work, the right to prevent people from copying, modifying, and distributing the work for a limited time (which is all that copyright covers), and thirdly, a "moral right" of the work. This last has nothing to do with copying, rather it is about preserving your reputation as an artist. In many countries, this latter right is non-transferrable - it means that if someone uses your work to sully your reputation (perhaps by turning it into a porno flick and claiming that you wrote the screenplay) you can sue them, and you cannot waive this right - it is inalienable. However, I believe that these so-called moral rights have nothing to do with copyright, and stem from an entirely different legal basis and tradition.

Finally, let me address the point Jerry raised about alternate kinds of content creators. Yep, I create content for a living. However, most programmers don't get paid to produce software - they get paid to solve problems. The software is merely a byproduct, an effluvium of the problem-solving process. A small fraction (less than 10%) of software does get commoditized, in the sense that the solution is packaged up in the form of software on a CD and sold to the mass market. And because these are the only companies that actually advertise their software, we are generally unaware of the vast bulk of software production that goes on behind the scenes.

So I'm not too concerned about job security. And its much, much easier to solve people's problems in an environment in which information flows freely than it is in an environment where information flows are restricted and controlled. Thus, I tend to be wary of any rule or system which gives too much power to the landlords of information.

-- Talin

The Berne Convention tries to give legality to what you call "moral rights". This has never been hammered out through the US Court system.

The real question is where are we going with all this? What changes need to be made to the odious DMCA?

And this from a colleague who writes science fiction:

Google, whose official motto is "Don't Be Evil," has finally sold out to the
dark side of the force.





CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, December 1, 2005

Subject: The surface of the sun


This fellow, Michael Mozina of Mt. Shasta, Calif., claims that observations from NASA's SOHO and Trace satellites prove the Sun has a solid surface layer composed of calcium ferrite, iron, and silicon about 4,800km below the photosphere.

I have no idea if he's right, wrong, or somewhere in between. He doesn't seem to have cross-checked his results, for example by seeing if the temperature and pressure at this surface layer allow these materials to be solid. His website is a combination of proof-by-vigorous-assertion with legitimate NASA imagery, so there's plenty of eye candy even if there isn't much science.

Interestingly, I discovered this site when Googling for the new Huygens images. Movina bought listings in the Google AdWords system for astronomy-related terms.

. png

Wow. First I have heard of it. Thanks! Continued below.


The copyright debates continue

Subject: Jokes vs. Novels Talin

Talin wrote:

"If someone tells me a joke, am I enjoined from telling it to anyone else because the joke is their property? How is a joke different from a story? The answer is obvious - that society has decided, for purely practical reaons, to make a distinction between novels and jokes. In other words, it is a convention. Not a law of nature, but something that somebody, at some time, decided and got others to agree to."

Not so fast there.

My friend the comedienne, who works long and hard writing her routines, would find it extremely disagreeable if Talin were to appear at The Improv one night and perform her entire routine of the night before, right down to the pregnant pauses fo audience laughter at her jokes. She would find it ONLY slightly less annoying if he stood up on stage and recited one of her jokes . If she overheard him telling it at a dinner party, she would be flattered, at least if he remembered to mention her as the creator. A lawsuit would follow the first two instances, in short order, and yes, it would be for copyright infirngement.

Free flow of information is a good. The creators of information eating well, or even being rich enough to reward their genius, is also a good. Neither trumps the other. Societies good does not trump the individuals good. We are crossing into the classic arguement of "collectivist values vs. liberty of the individual" territory, and I have always felt that lay at the heart of this argument over copyright. It's basically the pleb's and their tribunes wanting not only free bread and circuses, but also the free right to all that they have no ability to create on their own.

While I understand Talin's arguments, that understanding leads only to clarity in the differences between us. Clarity is no small boon, but it is not a convergence of opinion.

I stand with the Optimates on this one.

Petronius The Arbiter Of Taste

"Where I steal I leave my knife!" Michelangelo

Clarity is no small boon, and until we understand the views of those who like Talin created much of this technology we shall make little headway in controlling its effects on us.

Subject: The Fight for Copyright - Francis Hamit





And not unrelated:

Subject: This is what happens when geeks get bored



Synced to the music *AND* broadcast over FM.

Amazing. -- Recent novels by Michael Z. Williamson available in bookstores worldwide:

TARGETS OF OPPORTUNITY, March 2005 from Avon THE WEAPON, August 2005 from Baen Books CONFIRMED KILL, September 2005 from Avon THE HERO with John Ringo, October 2005 from Baen Books (mass market edition)

Custom blades and historical costumes -- Does evolution disqualify an intelligent designer? A lot of people reject the idea of evolution because they think it takes away any role for God to play in the creation of life. Such is the case, however, only for people who require God's role to fit certain narrow preconceptions of what "intelligent design" must mean. Millions of people around the world have no trouble believing in God and accepting evolution at the same time. Evolution only contradicts a man-made God that operates under man-made constraints.
--Mark Isaak

Michael Z. Williamson


Subject: Christmas Lights Movie Manufactured?

Dr. Pournelle:

While the Christmas lighting movie (with sound) mentioned in your Thurs (12/1/05) mail is quite impressive (I watched it several times), it may be that the movie was manufactured, as discussed on a couple of other "Interweb" sites.

Looking a bit more closely, it would seem that the movie is a series of still pictures put together with a movie-making program, then synced to the music. If you watch the foreground (the lawn area), you'll see a bit of 'jumpiness' in the blades of grass, which would indicate a series of still shots (or very short video shots) that have been carefully pasted together to sync to the music.

I'd be interested in a frame-by-frame analysis to see if the grass in front is in the same position when the same pattern of lights is shown. Perhaps one of your many readers has the equipment and skills to do that.

But, even if it is stitched together, it was quite impressive. Much like the "Pipe Dream" animated music movies from Animusic ( http://www.animusic.com  , go into the "DVD Info and Clips" section; the site loads a bit slow; the videos are snippets from the DVDs they sell).

The other interesting part of the Christmas movie is that the parent site of the Christmas movie URL has been taken over by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) ( http://www.jamphat.com  )

Regards, Rick Hellewell





CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  December 2, 2005

EFF gives up commenting on DMCA.


- Roland Dobbins

With good reason. As they say, the rule making procedure is broken. DMCA needs to be revised entirely. Preferably by admitting that most of it was a bad idea foisted off on Congress in the dead of night by staffers without any Member of Congress being aware of the monstrosity they were creating.


Subject: Re: The Surface of the sun

Hi Jerry.

Regarding the website: http://www.thesurfaceofthesun.com/index.html

A rocky surface? This one doesn't add up. By weight hydrogen makes up 70% of the mass of the sun, helium 28%, and all other elements combined, just 2%. By number it's even worse - for each hydrogen nucleus (i.e. free proton since it's ionized) there are only 0.10 helium nuclei, and 0.00004 iron nuclei, and they've all got to be mixed up together because of the energies of the particles involved. The very images that the website uses to make these solid-surface claims are the give away - the FE IX/X filters that are mentioned are imaging iron ions that have been stripped of 8 and 9 electrons each (FE I is neutral iron, FE II is singly-ionized iron, FE III doubly-ionized iron, etc., all the way up to FE IX and X). It takes a lot of energy to strip those iron atoms of those electrons. That energy would tear apart any bonds between solids well before it was able to ionize this iron to such a high degree. The energy also serves to mix everything up (things are very hot, and therefore moving fast). In short, these iron nuclei are completely bathed in hydrogen and helium, and energeticaly incapable of forming a solid.

As for why these various features seemed to be locked into place as the sun rotates, I haven't taken enough time to figure that one out, but my guess would be that it has something to do with the structure of the magnetic fields of the sun and the time scales involved in the rotations. But that's only a guess. Regardless, the shear volume of observations otherwise explained by a *self-consistent* treatment of a star as a gaseous object driven by nuclear fusion is staggering (I can provide much more if needed). To suggest otherwise means going against far more evidence than (I suspect) intelligent design proponents do when they take on evolutionary theory!


Mike Casey

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada


Subject: Outlook blocks attachments

Microsoft Help Site http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;829982 

Freeware utility to control blocks http://www.attachmentsecurity.com/index.htm 

Another freeware utility - use the link on the bottom line http://www.visiontech.ltd.uk/software/ol2k2sec.html 

Regards, Everett Harper


Subject: Outlook and Attachments...

Hello Jerry,

you might try this: http://www.slipstick.com/outlook/esecup/getexe.htm 

Your site is real food for thought!




Well, use a Mac, certainly. But, Apple Mail has it's own annoyances, especially with IMAP and Exchange servers. You might have a look at Thunderbird, which is the email client part of Mozilla. I haven't used it on Windows, but on the Mac it is a good mail client.

Chuck Bouldin


Dear Jerry,

Try Thunderbird. I've been using it for 2 years now without any trouble. My folder files are in the 1 to 2 GB range without trouble. It's also open source. Does a good job of blocking spam, and does not have the exploited security holes of outlook.

Of course you could use gmail. One giant inbox with search.

Phil Tharp MV


Subject: Outlook 2003

As many of your readers have probably told you by now, MS has been blocking "malicious" extensions in Outlook for a while. This is not new in Outlook 2003.

The easiest solution I have found is called "Attachment Options" and can be found here: http://www.slovaktech.com/attachmentoptions.htm 

Download and install, and you can choose what attachments you want blocked. I've used if for several years now without problems. It just works.

 Chuck Ruthroff
Assistant to the Bishop

Thanks. I guess I just never noticed. Clearly it can't have been bothering me long. But I do not like the attitude.


Feeling safer already:

It would seem that they are belatedly trying to make sure that SEK3 can never invade the United States again.

U.S., Canada seek way around border passport plan - Yahoo! News


David Klaus


The World is Tilted.


-- Roland Dobbins

I am no great fan of Newsweek (we used to call it newspeak) but this one is worth reading. Free Trade is not universally a good thing. Protectionism is easily overdone. High protective tariff shields can shield horrid inefficiencies. But losing Detroit and Seattle and other manufacturing centers is very dangerous in a world in which history has not ended.

If Fukuyama had been right and history had been over except for consolidation of liberal democracy throughout the world, unrestricted Free Trade would still have been bad for America if possibly good for the world; but history is not ended, and there will still be a need for an arsenal of democracy.

My suggestion is a 10% across the board tariff. It might make sense to start with 15% to enable industries to start up and retrain workers, then after a decade go to 10% and leave it there. This would be enough to compensate for the many higher costs of domestic manufacture: EPA, OSHA, worker's compensation, unemployment insurance, minimum wages, and the other measures we have taken to price ourselves out of the world market, but no so high as to encourage the horrible inefficiencies we had at one time.

The alternative is continued automation. The cost of automation is to sharpen the differences between the educated classes and the skilled classes. This is not Lake Woebegon. Half of our people are below average. Ruthless world competition through unrestricted Free Trade pits our below average workers against the above average workers of China and Taiwan and Singapore and Indonesia. The result is predictable: more automation and less employment of our below average, possibly more employment of the higher end of the Bell Curve here as constructors of the automated regime, but definite increase in unemployment of the below average workers here.

Aristotle defined democracy as rule of the middle class, and the middle class was defined as "those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation." That hasn't much changed. America used to be a place where large numbers of those on the left side of the Bell Curve could, by learning skills (as opposed to intellectual symbol manipulation capabilities) become part of the middle class.  That is increasingly less so. In part this is due to the collapse of the school system, but unrestricted Free Trade adds to this.

Our education system is geared to "college preparation", which in effect means ruthless competition but little for the half -- half -- half -- of the population intellectually below average. The left side of the Bell Curve is not "stupid" nor are those people useless or condemned to be "burger flippers". They are more likely to profit from learning skills than receiving a college prep education. They can then compete: indeed it wasn't all that long ago that skilled workers earned as much or more than "intellectuals".

But we need the kinds of jobs that favor skills; and that, I think, means we need to keep more non-automated manufacturing jobs; which means not making our left side of the Bell Curve compete with the right side worldwide. And that, I think, more than justifies a tariff.

Yes. I understand that unions and legislation have driven the costs of American labor up and up. But that is part of what it means to have a democratic society. And I thoroughly understand that ruthless competition with a minimum of legislative restrictions and union protectionism makes for the most efficient economic system; but economic efficiency is not the only goal of a good society. There is more to the world than things.

And see below


Subject: Evolution versus Intelligent Design

Mark Isaak's quote misses the point of the whole "Evolution vs. Intelligent Design" debate. It isn't about the character of God. It is about the character of open debate. Evolutionary theory is taught as fact, while Intelligent Design is shut out because "it's religious". When the competing point of view is never allowed to even be discussed, I get scared. Re: The "heresy" of Galileo, the insular nature of the Muslim world primarily because competing philosophies that can be deemed "religious" are never aired because doing so gets you thrown in jail, the president of Harvard being pilloried for even suggesting that we look at genetic differences between the sexes, or the "hate speech" codes on our college campuses that have the effect of stifling all views except for the most extreme socialist ones. I could go on, but you get the point.

I much prefer having access to all the information available, even if some of it is bad, and making up my own mind, rather than having the elites decide what they think I and my kids should know.

Best regards,

Scott Wales

Indeed. I do object to calling Intelligent Design "science". As I have said, it is explicitly a statement that "science" is not sufficient for understanding the world. I think that lesson in humility would be no bad thing for inclusion in our schools. We will continue to have people who are certain that the application of science is all that is needed to produce good citizens and understand the universe, but I certainly see no harm in letting everyone know that is not the universal view of the world. Science is important, and the key to power and much understanding; it may be everything; but perhaps it is not everything.


Subject: Synthetic phonics to be used in British primary schools


When I first saw this in the news today I feared the worst; from the name I was worried that synthetic phonics might be some sort of phonetic alphabet. But then, after googling it, I was pleasantly surprised. Reading some of the articles it seems to be a new name for teaching letter sounds, much the same way I remember being taught to read forty years ago.

I'm going to keep an eye on this because my youngest is just starting primary school and is likely to be one of the first children in the UK to be taught this way; although I suspect she may already be ahead of some of the others because she was able to write, and recognise, her own name at three and is now already making good progress reading a few words.

But I can't take all the credit for this, we taught our eldest two to read at about this age, and since their new little sister was born it's been mostly them, not us, who read with her. I'm pleased, and also a little ashamed, to say that they spend far more time with their little sister than I remember my brother and I spending with our little sister.


The way children are taught to read in primary schools in England will be shaken up, Education Secretary Ruth Kelly has confirmed. The government has accepted the findings of a review which backed the greater use of a method called synthetic phonics.


Synthetic phonics is used in Germany and Austria and is generally taught before children are introduced to books or reading. It involves teaching small groups of letters very rapidly, and children are shown how letter sounds can be co-articulated to pronounce unfamiliar words. In a UK version of synthetic phonics, i.e. Hickey's Multi-Sensory Language Course (Augur and Briggs,1992), the first block of letter sounds is 's', 'a', 't', 'i', 'p', 'n', which make up more three-letter words than any other six letters. Children are shown many of the words that these letters generate (e.g. 'sat', 'tin', 'pin').

Best Wishes

Paul Dove

Please keep me informed on this. Thanks!


Subject: copyright and amazon

I think the ideal solution is to solve the equation (cost of copying a work = cost of buying a work). I buy something like 20$ worth of pre-paid "pages" from a vendor like Amazon (because that's a convienent amount to charge), and read books at a few cents a page (say, the cost of a soft-cover / #pages). Then I can read each page of a novel for maybe 2 cents. Likewise, a 90$ biology text book, 360 pages long, would be 25 cents per page.

The catch is, once I've bought page 191 of "Footfall", its mine forever whenever I go to Amazon.com. I've always liked to own rather than borrow books, and lots of people might, if the price was right. You could simulate many of the things people do with books, ie I could send a book to someone else (one way ticket) when I'm done with it, for a "virtual shipping" fee (maybe 1$) which would actually go to the author/editor etc.)

Copyright enforcement could be a minimal effort ... I need to log into Amazon to look at the book, and they have my credit card #, so I'm not likely to post my amazon login on a newgroup.

Each author (in the real world, probably publisher) would specify the per-page fee, virtual shipping fee, and other microfees for each book. I can imagine a lot of authors "gifting" the first chapter of a book, and pro-rating the rest. Even renting pages by the minute (as described) would be okay as long as the fee is set and opting out is okay. The best insurance against abuse is to allow either side to "opt out", including reader and author.

The question is, can this be done and how close can we come to the ideal?


I like the notion but I suspect the technology to enforce it isn't there.

Microfees (Millicent) were what I thought would change the web, but it didn't happen.


Woman's name is too close to that of multimillion-dollar corporation.


- Roland Dobbins

Starbucks spokeswoman Lara Wyss said the company is "pleased with the court's decision."

"While it is always Starbucks' preference and desire to resolve disputes of this nature informally ... we will seek the assistance of the courts to protect our trademark when we are unable to resolve the matter through alternate means," Wyss said in an e-mail.

Ain't capitalism grand?


The military compared with the politicians.


This is an extract from the video showing on the Prison Planet site:-

General Pace: "It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it,"

Rumsfeld: "But I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it's to report it."

General Pace: "If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it ."

For the rest of this faith restoring story go to:-


John Edwards


Subject: Recent Space Stuff


This will hopefully be short and may be a little disorganized as I've only had a couple hours sleep after a long day.

In the just for fun category the Martian rovers have been described as doing "18th Century astronomy" watching the Martian night sky to see what they can see. There's a nice B&W time lapse picture on page 52 of 11/14/05 issue of AW&ST showing Phobos zipping by Deimos. If you look real close you can see some stars and some cosmic ray tracks.

Of hopefully more importance is a sidebar across pages 84-85 in the 11/21/05 issue. NASA Admin. Griffin speaking to the Florida Space 2005 symposium says there are four ISS services that they will look for industry proposals on.

The important thing from my view point is that they've finally figured out that it doesn't make sense to use the same expensive man rated ships that you use to send crew up to send up bulk cargo like fuel. He described (details not given in sidebar) how commercial services could evolve over the next ten years to create an orbiting propellant depot.

"An orbiting commercial propellant depot to support those (bound for the Moon) flights could be a $2 billion annual commercial market, Griffin said." "NASA and the taxpayers should eventually see savings by buying such services from a commercial provider." They estimate needing $2 billion in fuel for two Moon missions or one Mars mission.

They're also looking for proposals to deliver (and dispose of) both pressurized and unpressurized cargo. They are also interested in proposals for launch of ISS "internal cargo" and "safe launch of ISS crewmembers." But I would suspect those jobs would buried under regulations that might be impossible to do business with.

But cheap bulk delivery to orbit ought to be something we can do. Lift off from the equator from a hydrogen filled balloon. If this is to be a "bucket brigade to space" you can't use non renewable resources like helium. But a launch from a hydrogen filled balloon should be reliable enough for bulk cargo.

And if you launch the same mission scores or even hundreds of times I bet you could get it reliable enough to ride. I'd rather ride something that's worked a hundred times in a row than something that they "calculate" to be safe. This is the chance to make a truly simple efficient lifter.

Don't give up hope, it takes at least a generation to change a paradigm and it's been 25 years since 1980.

Dan Mc


Subject: The end of the cold war, globalization, or the construction of a new alliance?

Dr. Pournelle,

I’m not sure if this is a sign of the true end of the cold war, US dominated globalization, or simply a step in constructing a new set of alliances.


In any case, it’s new, and it’s not France Germany or Italy, all of which have severe anti-military restrictions that make those countries very poor locations to have an airbase. Poland may be among the next, but I haven’t read anything in the news about that yet.




Subject: Feds review bus route's ID policy - Dropping the policy of ID production was out of the question, said Gonzales


Article Last Updated: 12/02/2005 04:11 AM

Feds review bus route's ID policy

By Alicia Caldwell Denver Post Staff Writer DenverPost.com

The federal security chief responsible for requiring public- bus passengers to show identification before entering the Denver Federal Center said Thursday that the policy is under review in the wake of the arrest of a 50-year-old woman who refused to produce her ID. Deborah Davis, riding an RTD bus that goes through the federal campus, refused to show her driver's license at a security checkpoint and was arrested by federal authorities, an incident that has raised questions about the constitutionality of the requirement.

Steve Schaad, Rocky Mountain regional director for Federal Protective Services, said the incident has sparked an internal review, but he wouldn't speculate on what changes would result, if any.<snip>

Clark Myers


On Iraq:

This was sent by a subscriber who vouches for its source.


Be my voice. I want this message heard. It is mine and my platoon's to the country. A man I know lost his legs the other night. He is in another company in our battalion. I can no longer be silent after watching the sacrifices made by Iraqis and Americans everyday. Send it to a congressman if you have to. Send it to FOX news if you have to. Let this message be heard please.

My fellow Americans,

I have a task for those with the courage and fortitude to take it. I have a message that needs not fall on deaf ears. A vision the blind need to see. I am not a political man nor one with great wisdom. I am just a soldier who finds himself helping rebuild a country that he helped liberate a couple years ago.

I have watched on television how the American public questions why their mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters are fighting and dying in a country 9000 miles away from their own soil. Take the word of a soldier, for that is all I am, that our cause is a noble one. The reason we are here is one worth fighting for. A cause that has been the most costly and sought after cause in our small span of existence on our little planet. Bought in blood and paid for by those brave enough to give the ultimate sacrifice to obtain it. A right that is given to every man, woman, and child I believe by God. I am talking of freedom.

Freedom. One word but yet countless words could never capture it's true meaning or power. "For those who have fought for it, freedom has a taste the protected will never know." I read that once and it couldn't be more true. It's not the average American's fault that he or she is "blind and deaf" to the taste of freedom. Most American's are born into their God given right so it is all they ever know. I was once one of them. I would even dare to say that it isn't surprising that they take for granted what they have had all their life. My experiences in the military however opened my eyes to the truth.

Ironically you will find the biggest outcries of opposition to our cause from those who have had no military experience and haven't had to fight for freedom. I challenge all of those who are daring enough to question such a noble cause to come here for just a month and see it first hand. I have a feeling that many voices would be silenced.

I watched Cindy Sheehan sit on the President's lawn and say that America isn't worth dying for. Later she corrected herself and said Iraq isn't worth dying for. She badmouthed all that her son had fought and died for. I bet he is rolling over in his grave.

Ladies and gentleman I ask you this. What if you lived in a country that wasn't free? What if someone told you when you could have heat, electricity, and water? What if you had no sewage systems so human waste flowed into the streets? What if someone would kill you for bad-mouthing your government? What if you weren't allowed to watch TV, connect to the internet, or have cell phones unless under extreme censorship? What if you couldn't put shoes on your child's feet? You need not to have a great understanding of the world but rather common sense to realize that it is our duty as HUMAN BEINGS to free the oppressed. If you lived that way would you not want someone to help you????

The Iraqi's pour into the streets to wave at us and when we liberated the cities during the war they gathered in the thousands to cheer, hug and kiss us. It was what the soldier's in WW2 experienced, yet no one questioned their cause!! Saddam was no better than Hitler! He tortured and killed thousands of innocent people. We are heroes over here, yet American's badmouth our President for having us here.

Every police station here has a dozen or more memorials for officers that were murdered trying to ensure that their people live free. These are husbands, fathers, and sons killed every day. What if it were your country? What would your choice be? Everything we fight for is worth the blood that may be shed. The media never reports the true HEROISM I witness everyday in the Iraqi's. Yes there are bad one's here, but I assure you they are a minuscule percent. Yet they are a number big enough to cause worry in this country's future.

I have watched brave souls give their all and lose their lives and limbs for this cause. I will no longer stand silent and let the "deaf and blind" be the only voice shouting. Stonewall Jackson once said, "All that I have, all that I am is at the service of the country." For these brave souls who gave the ultimate sacrifice, including your son Cindy Sheehan, I will shout till I can no longer. These men and women are heroes. Their spirit lives on in their military and they will never be forgotten. They did not die in vain but rather for a cause that is larger than all of us.

My fellow countrymen and women, we are not overseas for our country alone but also another. We are here to spread democracy and freedom to those who KNOW the true taste of it because they fight for it everyday. You can see the desire in their eyes and I am honored to fight alongside them as an Infantryman in the 101st Airborne.

Freedom is not free, but yet it is everyone's right to have. Ironic isn't it? That is why we are here. Though you will always have the skeptics, I know that most of our military will agree with this message. Please, at the request of this soldier spread this message to all you know. We are in Operation Iraqi Freedom and that is our goal. It is a cause that I and thousands of others stand ready to pay the ultimate sacrifice for because, Cindy Sheehan, freedom is worth dying for, no matter what country it is! And after the world is free only then can we hope to have peace.

SGT Walter J. Rausch and 1st Platoon Charlie Co. 2/327 Infantry Regiment 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)


Subject: Ice Age humans in southern California (Burning Tower)

Jerry, Thought you might find it interesting that stone tools have been found near Barstow that date to around 100 to 200 thousand years ago. I makes your Burning Tower/City novels that much closer to reality.

http://www.sbsun.com/news/ci_3247286  <http://www.sbsun.com/news/ci_3247286


Hoo Haw!  I knew it, I knew it...

For those who have not read The Burning City and its sequel Burning Tower, they are still in print. And good reads if I do say so. By Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle...


Subject: Failing ocean current raises fears of mini ice age,


This article - http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8398  - suggests that Europe is facing a big chill. It also indicates that rising temperatures in the North Atlantic leveled off in the 1990's. As you have pointed out, we need more data.


I post this to show I have not forgotten the issue. I am still digesting the ice core data and some of the other revelations we have seen recently. My conclusion remains the same: we need to put a lot more resources into understanding what is happening before we try to DO SOMETHING about it.

And the patterns remain ambiguous, and a new ice age is still possible.


Subject: MS Office XML Sponsored for open standards?

Hello Dr. Pournelle,

Subject: Is the Leopard changing his spots?

Microsoft says they are sponsoring their Office XML formats for open standards. What is happening here?


"The company proposes to work with other industry leaders on an Ecma International open technical committee to create an open foundation for innovation with documents by standardizing Office Open XML,"

I must say that I am cynical about this. I figure Microsoft sees danger to their Office cash cow in the success of OpenOffice. Since OpenOffice is fully XML based and fully open, it could become the de facto XML document standard. -- Cannot have that. Better to have some international industry organization recognize MS Office XML as "standard".

More clouding of the water, or is this for real? Perhaps MS just sees the writing on the wall and is setting their house in order while trying to impose some control. Perhaps not.

I admit, I know little about Ecma. I am familiar with ISO of course, because it is the big gorilla in the standards community and my company dances to its tunes. (In fact we have an ISO standards inspection tomorrow!) I would be very interested to know what Microsoft's position is within Ecma and the details of Ecma's finances. Like I said, cynical.

Cheers, Clyde Wisham

**** "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent full of doubt."-- Bertrand Russell

This bears close watch, and thanks!


Subject: The Aliens are Coming!


OTTAWA, CANADA (PRWEB) November 24, 2005 -- A former Canadian Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister under Pierre Trudeau has joined forces with three Non-governmental organizations to ask the Parliament of Canada to hold public hearings on Exopolitics -- relations with “ETs.”

By “ETs,” Mr. Hellyer and these organizations mean ethical, advanced extraterrestrial civilizations that may now be visiting Earth.

On September 25, 2005, in a startling speech at the University of Toronto that caught the attention of mainstream newspapers and magazines, Paul Hellyer, Canada’s Defence Minister from 1963-67 under Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Prime Minister Lester Pearson, publicly stated: "UFOs, are as real as the airplanes that fly over your head."

Mr. Hellyer went on to say, "I'm so concerned about what the consequences might be of starting an intergalactic war, that I just think I had to say something."

Hellyer revealed, "The secrecy involved in all matters pertaining to the Roswell incident was unparalled. The classification was, from the outset, above top secret, so the vast majority of U.S. officials and politicians, let alone a mere allied minister of defence, were never in-the-loop."

Hellyer warned, "The United States military are preparing weapons which could be used against the aliens, and they could get us into an intergalactic war without us ever having any warning. He stated, "The Bush administration has finally agreed to let the military build a forward base on the moon, which will put them in a better position to keep track of the goings and comings of the visitors from space, and to shoot at them, if they so decide."




Subject: NASA continues to eat the dream


The headline is "Bush's Space Plan in Danger," but what it really is, is that NASA continues to eat the dream.



Alas, nothing new here.


Subject: Families share traits of autistic children


This article from New Scientist News - Families share traits of autistic children - is a nice review on recent genetic studies.


It also looks at the potential role of environmental triggers. What I particularly liked was this closing quote from Dan Geschwind, an autism expert. He is yet to be convinced about the claims of environmental triggers. He said, "There is no evidence for one," he says, "but we can't rule it out."

I wish more scientists and "scientists" were as careful as that.


Precise. Precision is good.


Subject: Anti-flu foods,


Says here that kim-chee and sauer kraut will stop bird flu in birds:


Also, people in Korea and Japan - where kim-chee is eaten - have had bird cases of bird flu, but no people have died of it.

Given my own opinion of these foods, I'm not sure that the cure isn't worse than the disease, but the article writer suggests there may be other approaches that might work. Buttermilk, for example. Lord, I hope so!


I actually rather like kim-chee, but my wife won't let it in the house. I am allowed to have kraut with canned corn beef for lunch. Slice corn beef out of the can, cover with sauerkraut, put a slice of Parmesan cheese on top, microwave for a minute or so. Not as good as herring, but I suppose I am betraying my Viking ancestry. Only we didn't have microwave heaters on the long ships.


Subject: Gulf of tonkin security document release

Jerry: The NSA has released 140 documents on the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Comparisons are being made to the sequence of events that led to the Iraq war.

http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB132/press20051201.htm <http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB132/press20051201.htm

BTW, this link came from technocrat.net which I find to be well worth a daily visit.

Chris C

'Every special interest is entitled to justice full, fair and complete....but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench or to representation in any public office.' Theodore Roosevelt








This week:


read book now


Saturday, December 3, 2005

A Different View

Subject: Mail and Executable Blocking

Dr. Pournelle: (with advance apologies for the length of this, but I feel it is important):

Regarding your problem with Outlook blocking executable attachments. While inconvenient at that time, it is an important part of the malware protection at our office (even though we don't use Outlook as our mail client).

We (at our corporate site) block all incoming executables attached to emails. No exceptions. This policy has saved us from several possible "0-day" attacks, most recently the latest surge of the "Sobig" virus.

It usually takes at least a day for the anti-virus vendors to provide protection against a new virus. During that time, a computer with current AV protection could receive mail with that 0-day virus attached. And in a large environment, one user is bound to decide to open an executable attachment, no matter how often we remind them not to.

By blocking all executable attachments, we protect against that user falling for a 0-day attack. That protection saved us earlier this year against prior Sober and Bagel virus attacks, including the one that took down large organizations and was widely reported in the news. We block several thousand executable attachments each day, and 99.99% of the time they are viral in nature. (One of my duties as a security officer is to monitor the effectiveness of our email and web filtering.) There are occasions when an executable is needed, and we have a process in place to quickly release such a blocked message.

But my advice, as a Security geek, is that blocking of executables is a Good Thing, a way to protect against malware, especially the 0-day attacks that are now more common.

I would suspect that your email address, because it is visible, contains a lot of spam, and much malware. Although your awareness of 'evil' attachments precludes you from opening those attachment's, other users are not as aware. And the protection against executable attachments by automatic blocking will help those "Aunt Minnies". (Those hundreds of thousands of 'bots' are proof that malware distributed with emails are quite effective.)

One solution might be to have your email program alert you to an executable attachment when it is blocked. At first glance, this would seem like a good idea. Until you look (as I have) at the number of malware-loaded messages one receives. Notification of each blocking would only increase the 'load' on your in-box.

Of course, there are ways to get around this automatic blocking. You could rename an executable before you send it (but most email filtering software looks at the structure of a file, rather than it's file extension). You could ZIP it, but filtering software is able to look inside a ZIP and analyze it. You could password-protect the ZIP file, but filtering software can detect that (the mail administrator determines the action on all of these cases). Or you could encrypt a file, although encryption is not really easy to do for many. Or your sender could alert you via a separate email about another message containing an executable (the executable will still be blocked, but you'd know it was coming.)

I'd be reluctant, in a corporate environment, to agree to an option in Outlook that would alert you to the blocking, and give you the ability to 'un-block' the attachment.

Overall, executable blocking, IMHO, is a Good Thing. It has saved our organization from many "0-day" malware attacks. It sometimes causes a delay, but that is, again IMHO, an acceptable problem.

Again, sorry for the length of this.

Regards, Rick Hellewell


Subject: What to do about copyright?

In your recent subscriber letter, you made a mention of a possible new copyright act and your potential influence on it, thus reframing the debate from a diagnostic to a prescriptive one.

It may surprise your readers to learn that I have no desire to abolish copyright. As a law, I don't have too many problems with it - what I have problems with is the way that people are using both the legal system and extra-legal "self help" means to invent new rights for themselves, For example, the DMCA effectively allows you to make up arbitrary restrictions on the use of your work, and then have those restrictions be legally enforced, outlawing not only the act of violating those restrictions, but even the development or discussion of methods for violating them. ("Pay telephones can be used to deliver random demands, so let's outlaw pay telephones.")

I am also quite concerned about patents, but that's another discussion.

If I were king, here's what I would do with copyright (all but the first of these these ideas are straight out of Lessig's playbook.)

1) Currently copyright controls the ability of someone to copy, distribute, and modify a work. I would change that to just "distribute and modify". In other words, you can make all the copies you want, you just can't give them to someone else. This makes things like backup disks and VCR time-shifting explicitly legal. It also gets rid of the legal issue of copying from a computer's memory to the screen and so on.

(In fact, most of the actions that this would allow are already legal, this would merely clarify their legality.)

2) Require that copyright be renewed every 10 years, for a fee of one dollar. This would allow a vast number of orphan works to fall into the public domain. It would also provide a database that would allow anyone to easily determine what works were copyrighted.

I figure if you don't care enough about your work to spend a dollar and the time it takes to mail a letter to the copyright office, then why shouldn't others be allowed to use it?

3) Maintain or even expand the scope of fair use for educational, political, and other purposes.

There's a lot of other things I would like to do, but I don't have concrete proposals for accomplishing them. For example, I would like to see a clarification of the Sony and Grokster cases. I understand the court's decision, that those who intentionally induce infringement should have secondary liability, but at the same time I don't like the idea that engineers have to be constantly looking over their shoulders to make certain that they aren't inventing the "wrong thing". I would like to see things like TiVo thrive and not be sued into oblivion.

-- Talin


Tomb of Edward the Confessor located?


-- Roland Dobbins


Subject: today's view

Dear Jerry,

I agree with you in today's view, but, I also believe that holding back automation is a cure whose results are worse than the disease. Keeping skilled jobs that could otherwise be replaced with machines is just another way of saying those workers are not smart enough for the real work.

What we need is a space frontier. Our society in this country has no place for the young to aspire to. The frontiers are gone. The current model of rock star and mega rich is simply too shallow and of course pointless. And it is only going to get worse. A space frontier would provide an environment where the left of the bell curve as well as the right would find great opportunity. Hard work and guts would be just as valuable as advanced skills and in many jobs more important.

Phil Tharp

No argument. The notion is to phase the transitions to be a bit less sudden.

And of course, there is a good argument of who builds the weapons and other necessary stuff when we find our selfs at war with our suppliers, a real possibility with China.

And a lot of the cheap stuff being sold now that used to be produced here is really inferior in many ways.

On the subject of "good enough" I have another comment about good enough in the PC/Windows world. It is really important to understand that the silicon infrastructure (process technology and their associated manufacturing machines) are not good enough. They are stone cold the very best man can do. For example, the ISA (Intel Instruction set architecture) and Windows O/S are not the best in class of ether processors or O/S's, but they ride on silicon technology that is as good as man can do it. Intel even when I was there in 89-91, spent 2 billion / year on process tech R&D. Now it is much higher. Intel owns (in dollars) a fleet of aircraft carriers (their fabs), but unlike the Navy, their carriers wear out and have to be replaced every 5 years.

Phil Tharp


Subject: Noted in passing

NHS runs out of money and defers care to the next fiscal year (starting in April) http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1656764,00.html 

NHS wastes £5bn investment. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1901828,00.html 

Schneier on the FBI to approve all software http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2005/12/fbi_to_approve_1.html 

China to 'tidy up' trade in executed prisoner's organs http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1901828,00.html 

-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland. http://osiris.sunderland.ac.uk/~cs0her


Do you have the FBI's permission to run those applications?


-- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Russian "Seven League Boots"

Here is a strange story out of Russia, as reported in South Africa:



Put a spring in your step

SEVEN-LEAGUE boots are no longer a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. With a little Russian scientific know-how, strides of up to four metres are assured to wearers of "quickwalker" super boots now in production in the southern Urals town of Ufa.

Small petrol or diesel engines fitted in the heels can propel souped-up pedestrians at a top speed of 35 km/h, the Russian daily Kommersant reported yesterday.

The idea was first developed in the 1970s by students at the Ufa aviation institute for anticipated use by the Soviet military.

Imaginative generals planned to send troops wearing the boots against tanks moving at many times the speed of conventional foot soldiers, but production realities and limitations saw the project shelved in secret archives.

When the plans were recently declassified, designers in Ufa promptly patented the design and set about mass producing the boots.

The mechanical principle is simple. Motors built into the heels start up each time body weight is applied on one leg during a stepping action, which activates a spring propulsion system and catapults the wearer upwards.

The makers say novices can learn how to use the 2,5 kg pair of boots in a few minutes, but recommend against their use in enclosed spaces.

Their eventual retail price is not known, but each pair reportedly costs around 10 000 rubles (about $350) to produce. ­ Sapa-DPA


This appearas to be akin to a rudimentary form of the running and jumping abilities of the powered armor of the Mobile Infantry in Robert Heinlein's book, "Starship Troopers".

Thanks for your _very_ interesting site.

Wishing you and yours the very best, I remain...



For the Record:

Subject: Army cancels M-16 replacement

Doctor Pournelle,

The US Army seems to be returning to the tried and true .30 cal. About time, I'd say.


Paul Taggart



About time indeed.


Subject: Lost in Translation


From WSJ opinionjournal.com Best of the Web today: http://www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=110007562 http://www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=110007562  <http://www.opinionjournal.com/best/id=110007562   http://www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=110007562

Lost in Translation <http://news.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/11/17/ntext17.xml> (link to: http://news.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/11/17/ntext17.xml)

"Milton's Paradise Lost, one of the most sublime works of Western literature, was reduced to a four-line text message (txtmsg) yesterday with the blessing of the Lord Northcliffe professor emeritus of modern English literature at University College, London (fule)," reports London's Daily Telegraph:

It read: "Devl kikd outa hevn coz jelus of jesus&strts war.pd'off wiv god so corupts man(md by god) wiv apel.devl stays serpnt 4hole life&man ruind. Woe un2mnkind."

Meanwhile, the Associated Press <http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/13138290.htm> reports that the New Testament has been translated into Gulla, a form of broken English "spoken by slaves and their descendants for generations along the sea islands of the Southeast coast." A sample:

"Fo God mek de wol, de Wod been dey. De Wod been dey wid God, an de Wod been God."--De Good Nyews Bout Jedus Christ Wa John Write 1:1.

This column, meanwhile, has been translated into Redneck <http://www.rinkworks.com/dialect/dialectp.cgi?dialect=redneck&url=http%3A//www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=110007562&inside=1> , Jive <http://www.rinkworks.com/dialect/dialectp.cgi?dialect=jive&url=http%3A//www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=110007562&inside=1> and Pig Latin <http://www.rinkworks.com/dialect/dialectp.cgi?dialect=piglatin&url=http%3A//www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=110007562&inside=1> . We're still waiting for Taranto in Esperanto.


The Redneck, Jive, and Pig Latin options are similar to our familiar Pirate Translator and are found at http://www.rinkworks.com/dialect/works.shtml 

together with options for Cockney, Elmer Fudd, Hacker, Swedish Chef, and one which I thought crossed the line into offensive.

Jim W




CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, December 4, 2005

Burning Goat.


- Roland Dobbins

Must be Army rooters!


Subject: First Saturday in December


Oh the goat is old and gnarly

And he's never been to school

But he can take the bacon from the worn out Army mule!

He's had no education

But he's brimmin' full of fight

And Bill will feed on Army Mule tonight!

Rod McFadden

 I started in the Army, spent much of my life working for the Air Force, and one of my sons is career Navy. Having been at Hudson Heights I do tend to find roasted goat more pleasant than mule bacon, but you will understand my mixed emotions...

As most of you know, Navy beat Army for the 4th year straight. When I was in school we followed Doc Blanchard and company but that was long, long ago...


Subject: Half of your posts are stupider than the rest.

I don't know why you think that "half of the population is below average intelligence" is such a portentous statement. Of course half the population is below average. That's how averages work! I find it odd that you keep citing "The Bell Curve", when the actual definition of a bell curve shows why "half the population etc. etc." is a silly thing to say. It's a pithy, cynical-sarcasm sort of statement that makes a better .sig file than it does a rational argument.

Grouping students via IQ-test intelligence isn't going to result in two big schools with smart people in one and dumb people in the other. It's going to give us a small school with the truly stupid, a small school with the amazingly smart, and a school that's about the same size as our current one except that the truly stupid and amazingly smart have been removed. Sure, this would work better than our current system, but it's _not_ what you seem to be imagining.

-- Mike Powers

I would have thought this a joke, but apparently it is not.

As an old Operations Research guy, with an MS in experimental statistics, I am fully aware of how averages work; so for those of you who think differently, let me assure you I know what a Bell Curve is, I know the generating equations for bell curves, I know something about summation of independent uniform distributions, and so forth.

Alas, there seem to be policy decisions makers who do not seem to understand that requiring all, or a very large proportion, of the children to make above average achievements is impossible; and the education establishment certainly does not act as if it understand that half their pupils (more, really, in a public school situation because private and religious schools siphon off more above average than below average IQ students from the populations pool) will be below average, and that teaching methods that do a great job of educating the upper half in symbol manipulation won't do a lot for the below average -- just as concentrating on drills and practice and repetition, which is what one needs to learn skills, won't do as much for the above average students who tend to learn generalizations and methods rather than skills.

The way to see that no child is left behind is to see that no child gets ahead; thus they are all huddled down there in below average performance. There is NO OTHER WAY to see that all the children get ahead, and No Child Is Left Behind. That is the nature of averages.

In any event, perhaps I was less than clear, but I do understand what averages are, I do understand bell curves, and I know something about experimental design and statistical inference as well. You may safely make that assumption when reading what I write. I also assume that all of my readers are at least familiar with the nature of averages, so you may safely assume that I thought that when writing my essays, briefs, and tirades. I presume that just about all of my readership is on the right hand side of the bell curve, although I sometimes get messages indicating that is not an absolutely justifiable assumption. I do all of you the courtesy of assuming you're pretty smart, and communication is better if you return the favor. That is not to say I am not capable of terrible blunders, as are most of you, but that is not the norm. I do have the advantage that if I overlook something and try to pass off a whopper, I will be brought to heel very quickly. That's both the blessing and the curse of writing for a smart audience that has an easy way of letting me know when I have erred.

What I have been imagining is this: there are two general methods of education, and two populations of students. Each population of students is best served when the appropriate education method is used.

The two populations are those who profit most from learning skills, rather than from a general education of principles and learning methodologies; and those who learn best when taught general principles, symbol manipulation, mathematics and logic, principles of inferential reasoning, and get practice in applying general principles to specifics, and inferring general rules from specific cases.

Skills include occupational skills such as plumbing, driving and operating vehicles, mechanics, wood shop, repair and maintenance of electronic equipment, repair and maintenance of appliances, electrician work, swimming pool maintenance, kitchen operations from burger flipping to becoming a journeyman chef, etc., etc.

Occupations requiring education are fairly obvious, but the main distinction is that there is a minimum of repetitive activity. Using above examples, a journeyman chef will be required to produce masterful dinners worth a good bit of money to customers, and do it consistently, several a night, for years. They will probably have to produce a number of different kinds of masterpieces a night. A master chef, on the other hand, creates new dishes, works out variations, and teaches the journeyman how to produce them. There can be some migration from journeyman to master, but there is less than one might think. The route to journeyman chef can lead from dishwasher/burger flipper to journeyman without any education whatever; but the master chef usually does not start that way, but rather starts with education.

I could continue with other examples but you can think of them for yourselves.

The long term implications of all this are stark: skilled workers are best at repetitive tasks, some of which require high precision work -- but those are the tasks most amenable to automation, as well as to offshoring. Yet a democratic society will have, if not half its population, certainly a large minority of its population, among those who profit most from skills, not general education.

No Child Left Behind, and Bill Gates' exhortation that every child in America should get a world class college prep education, are valiant attempts to break the long term implications of the Bell Curve, and in fact to get everyone "above average". It is not statistically impossible if you think average achievement, not average capacity or average potential. They are saying in effect that if general education principles are applied properly to the entire population, the entire population will rise to be able to take advantage of higher education and learning.

I would argue that this is not going to happen, and that the evidence is very much against it, and to that end I continue to assert that half the population is below average in capability: that intensive education of IQ 90 children will not make them into physicists and economists and so forth.

Now clearly there is overlap. Short guys do sometimes become great basketball players, and I suppose there may be or once have been a 150 pound professional linebacker; but it don't happen often.

What we need is an education system that gives each segment of the population the appropriate education, and which is flexible enough to allow those mis-characterized and sorted into the wrong population a chance to leave that and go to the proper one. I am not greatly in favor of the European and Japanese systems in which a few tests determine one's entire life career and education opportunities. I am not sure I know what to substitute for those --

Which is why I favor independent, truly independent, school boards each empowered to run its school system, set appropriate taxes for that school system, decide on the proper credentials requirements for teachers, decide on teacher hiring and retention, and the rest; I am not confident that all will do the job well. I am confident that a few will do it so splendidly that others will want to imitate them, and the trend will be towards better education administration all across the country -- just as the centralized trends are in the other direction now.

Bureaucracies always contain two kinds of people: those who try to do the job the bureaucracy was set up to do, and those who further the ends of the bureaucracy itself without regard to its supposed goals. Within that latter class will be people who simply use the bureaucracy to further their own personal careers. Eventually every bureaucracy is dominated by those who seek to further the bureaucracy itself, or their own ends, for the obvious reason that the first class of people are too busy trying to do the work the bureaucracy was set up to do, while evading the pettifogging of the others.

Education in the US is triply bureaucratic: the local school administration is a bureaucracy; the teachers unions are bureaucracies; and the US Department of Education is a bureaucracy that imposes itself on the others. The result could be predicted if it were not already known. Like NASA and the Soviet system of agriculture, the US education establishment moves more and more toward devoting resource to further the bureaucracy itself and has less and less success or even concern with furthering the goals of the pupils put in its charge. The result is flight from the public school system, and the further segregation of the left side of the bell curve from the right. This is bad because it is bad for citizenship.

Public schools have, or should have, the goal of building citizenship and education and training for citizenship; of instilling the "public religion" as Lincoln and others have put it. This isn't happening either, and siphoning off much of the potential leadership from the rest of the population and educating them in private schools or at home cannot be a good idea. It's a better idea than putting the best and the brightest in with the No Child Left Behind schools where they will be help back lest the rest of the students appear to be "behind"; but it's still not a good idea.

And I see I have written far more than the letter deserved, and my apologies. Like many frustrated teachers I tend to try to answer the question I imagine the student should have asked rather than the actual question asked. My old Mentor Dr. Kenneth Cole of the University of Washington, God bless him, taught me that among many, many other things.


On Patenting Plots:

To: Andrew Knight <info@plotpatents.com

Dear Mr. Knight,

I'm probably the biggest supporter of property rights in original creation there is. See my article "Informational Property: Logorights" published in the Journal of Social and Biological Structures (JAI Press, 1990) which you can read on my website at http://www.pulpless.com/bp21samp/logorite.html

That's why, as a potential supporter of patenting plots, I'm so distressed by your patent application on "Zombie Stare."

Don't get me wrong. "Zombie Stare" might make a fine short story, play, novel, or screenplay, in the hands of a talented storyteller.

But there is absoloutely nothing new, novel, or particularly original about it that could justify a patent on its plot.

To wit, quoting the news release at http://www.emediawire.com/releases/2005/11/emw303435.htm

"The fictitious story, which Knight dubs “The Zombie Stare,” tells of an ambitious high school senior, consumed by anticipation of college admission, who prays one night to remain unconscious until receiving his MIT admissions letter. He consciously awakes 30 years later when he finally receives the letter, lost in the mail for so many years, and discovers that, to all external observers, he has lived an apparently normal life. He desperately seeks to regain 30 years’ worth of memories lost as an unconscious philosophical zombie."

You have to get past tests of "utility, novelty, and nonobviousness"?

Let's break down your plot into its constituent elements:

"prays one night"

You have to get past any storyline where a prayer goes wrong. Let's start with Ovid's telling of the Pygmalion legend about 21 centuries ago, shall we? A sculptor named Pygmalion prays to Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, that the statue of Venus he's just sculpted comes to life. Insulted by the idea that a mere piece of marble could be as beautiful as herself, Venus grants the wish. Pygmalion's statue of Venus comes to life and with her brattish misbehavior proceeds to make Pygmalion's life a living hell.

Mary Shelley did a variation of this (as well as the Prometheus legend) in her novel, Frankenstein, as did George Bernard Shaw in his play Pygmalion, later made into the musical My Fair Lady.

" consciously awakes 30 years later "

Rip Van Winkle (Washington Irving, 1819), Looking Backward (Edward Bellamy, 1887), When the Sleeper Wakes (H.G. Wells, 1899). All three classic novels involve men falling asleep and awakening years later into unrecognizable futures.

"finally receives the letter, lost in the mail for so many years"

The Letters, TV movie, 1973. Multiple stories of letters delivered late, and their consequences. Also see the 2004 movie, The Notebook, where a mother hides 365 daily letters written to her daughter from an unsuitable suitor.

" and discovers that, to all external observers, he has lived an apparently normal life"

And here's what completely falsifies your claim of novelty and nonobviousness: the 2004 movie 13 Going on 30.

Thirteen-year-old Jenna Rink wishes on magic dust to be 30, and awakens the next day at age 30 with no memory of the intervening 17 years -- which everyone else remembers perfectly. She spends the movie trying to find out what happened during the missing years, in which she developed into a horrible, manipulative person she can't recognize as herself.

Doesn't matter whether or not you wrote up your idea earlier, unless you can prove 13 Going on 30 was based on your idea. Otherwise, it's a virtual duplicate of your idea and neither plot is unique enough to deserve a patent.

Good luck with the excellent idea of patenting plots. Use this for a plot: I pray that your patent application on "Zombie Stare" fails.

J. Neil Schulman, novelist, screenwriter, producer, publisher, editor

Which ought to put paid to that idea.


Subject: FW: Joke: Copyright Law Funnies


The following is from an intellectual property lawyer.


According to the research firm The Gartner Group:

"What makes the Sony BMG incident even more unfortunate is that the DRM technology can be defeated easily. Gartner has identified one simple technique: The user simply applies a fingernail-sized piece of opaque tape to the outer edge of the disc, rendering session 2 - which contains the self-loading DRM software - unreadable. The PC then treats the CD as an ordinary single-session music CD, and the commonly used CD "rip" programs continue to work as usual. (Note: Gartner does not recommend or endorse this technique.) Moreover, even without the tape, common CD-copying programs readily duplicate the copy-protected disc in its entirety."

Please note that under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, this makes a "fingernail-sized piece of opaque tape" an illegal circumvention device, and under the Act, possession of this device is punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 and up to five years in jail!

 And see below.






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