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Mail 391 December 5 - 11, 2005






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Monday  December 5, 2005

This is column deadline week. As usual there was considerable mail over the weekend including a short screed on education.

Talin says:

I had a mini-epiphany the other night, which can be condensed into the following sentence:

"The greatest threat to western civilization are people whose fear of other people's liberty exceeds the love of their own."

Now, I realize that I am not the first person to voice such a sentiment, however I want to place particular emphasis on part about fear. Its fear - insecurity and suspicion of our neighbors that is the root of much of our social malaise.

In the copyright case, the consumers feel justified in violating the intellectual property rights of the content companies because they feel that the publishers are bullies who want to take away their rights; and the content companies feel justified in creating odious laws and technological restrictions because they distrust their customers.

Moreover, this isn't just about copyright. There are many political disagreements, ranging from religious freedom to gay marriage to the war on drugs, which all boil down to not trusting your neighbors. And I believe that both the left and the right are equally guilty in this.

It reminds me of the definition of "control freak" - someone who attempts to impose excessive predictability and direction on others or events, often associated with a lack of trust or insecurity.

As you know, I am not a libertarian. While liberty is a good thing in general, absolute individual liberty is as bad as any other absolute - for one thing, it quickly leads to some nasty prisoners' dilemmas.

But I feel that one should approach the liberty of one's fellows not with fear, but with gladness, courage, and imagination. That one should view the uncertainty and unpredictability of letting people be free, not as a threat, but as an opportunity.

-- Talin

I can heartily agree that one's first thoughts on how to solve any given problem would be, how can we release the engines of free enterprise here? Freedom is an opportunity. But as the  Enron and Cunningham cases demonstrate all too clearly, great freedom can present opportunity for great abuse too. That is not to say freedom should be stifled in advance; it is to take a rather cynical view of what is likely to be done with that freedom.

And not entirely unrelated

Subject: Dick Armey speaks truth to power!

Dick Armey, the former House Majority Leader, has a piece on www.opinionjournal.com that asks, why are Republican leaders governing like Democrats?

"When we act like us, we win. When we act like them, we lose."


Would that the NRC had ears to listen.


Subject: Letter from England

Our MSc in Information Systems Security was approved last Thursday. I understand we will be accepting our first students for next fall. It's a 14-month course, the goal being to qualify the students for an entry-level position in information systems security engineering. The only comparable program in the UK is at Royal Holloway, University of London. The review committee had two questions--what do we do when we get 500 applications, and where do we find the qualified staff?

Meanwhile, I haven't heard whether my EPSRC research proposal in neuroscience and biomimetic robotics will be funded. Please wish me luck.

Here's the news from England:

Public finance gap http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4491988.stm  http://politics.guardian.co.uk/economics/story/0,11268,1657680,00.html

Hospitals deferring elective operations until the next fiscal year (in April) to save money. ("Elective" means something different here than in America.)

UK involvement in CIA renditions

The UK bureaucracy and students (two different stories)

Phonics becomes mandatory http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4493260.stm

Autism and the mirror neuron system http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4491538.stm

Civil partnerships in the UK--to break up will involve a divorce http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4493094.stm

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


Subject: Knightfall


I have been trying to figure out what it is this Andrew Knight business reminds me of. I think I have it.

Remember the guy who tried to patent the waterbed? Said he "invented" it back in college. [Gee, when do most people first read Stranger in a Strange Land?] Trying to patent a standard utility plot is more along the lines of trying to patent Portland cement, but I have to wonder if these guys are related.

Matthew Joseph Harrington


Subject: Facts on Denmark and immigrants

Hello Jerry, while I agree on most of your views on immigration and specially immigrants who do not assimilate into the majority culture, the current alarmist projections on rioting muslim immigrants taking control in Europe are mostly based on incorrect facts. For example, last week you wrote that in the year 2030, muslim immigrants would outnumber ethnic danes in Denmark. Fortunately this is not true!

Here are the facts:

Year Immigrants Non-western as % of total immigrants as % population of total population 1980 3% ?% 2004 8.2% 5.8% 2050 14.8% 11.4%

In these numbers I count as immigrants:

1) Any person born outside Denmark. 2) Any person with citizenship of another country than Denmark. 3) Any person born in Denmark of parents of the above two criteria (second generation immigrants and even further generations if they continue to intermarry).

Western immigrants do not present any problem. They often marry Danes, are generally educated and accept that their children assimilate into the Danish society. The problem is generally with immigrants from Muslim countries, who seem to detest the Danish culture and society, and do contribute little to society due to their low education and insistence on forming a separate ethnic group. They generally insists on conserving/reproducing their culture and religion for furture generations, while living in Denmark.

One indication of this are the low frequency of intermarrying into the danish culture.

Percentages of immigrants marrying Danes: Immigrants from western countries 63,8% Immigrants from non-western countries 15,7%

As the ethnic Danish population ages this increasingly becomes a problem.

In 2050, 17.5% of the potential workforce (ages 16-64) are immigrants. Today 47% of non-western immigrants from 16-64 are working, compared to 77% of ethnic Danes. 39% of second generation immigrants compared to 66% of ethnic Danes has an education, either vocational training or academic degree. 60% of second generation immigrants fails to complete when they begin on a education while the corresponding number among ethnic Danes are 32%.

The aging population and the low work frequency of immigrants means that cuts in future welfare spending will be needed. If Denmark were able to stop any further uneducated and non-assimilative immigration TODAY, 75% of these cuts would not be necessary.

Thank you for a good website!


Bo Andersen, Denmark.


And two views of Talin on copyright: (a continuing discussion)

I don't generally respond to this sort of thing as it just leads to unbridled 'you saids,' but Talin is espousing a view that, in my opinion, will make it impossible for independent artists (writers, painters, sculptors, etc.) to make even a modest living at their work.

Talin said, "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."

How do you police that? This sort of thinking leads to the Nanny State. 'You can make one copy of the item you bought, so the government/business has the right to inspect your home for illegal copies.' It's this very thinking that's led to the DMCA.

I understand the need for backups. As a computer design engineer, I use them quite frequently. It takes anywhere from 5-30 hours to set up a newly designed computer system with its requisite software. To do that again would be too burdensome and costly. With a proper backup, a system can be restored in under an hour. But the business I work for owns legal copies of all the software I installed originally.

Also, some of the programs I personally own were quite expensive. Having the disk fail during the building of a new system after the old system failed is something that happens far too often. Buying another copy of the software would then be expensive, if it could be obtained at all.

That said, the unlimited copies that Talin espouses goes beyond the intent of making backups. The idea is to have one on hand in case the original fails to function. Unfortunately, this backup idea has been misused such that it may require other solutions.

The misuse I've seen most often is someone using a 'backup' to restore a game program. The original copy was destroyed (dog ate it, left it on the bus, I lost it) and is no longer available. There's no easy solution to this, but providing a legal backup copy of the disk with the original purchase would be one. Another would be for the software supplier to provide another copy of the disk if the original should fail just by returning the original. Both have drawbacks, of course. What's to stop the purchaser from handing the legal copy to a friend for their use? What's to stop them from doing that with the original? For the second idea, the time of getting a new copy is a severe problem.

However, backups are just for software, and maybe not even for that if backups continue to be misused. A painting should never be reproduced without the painter's permission unless said painter has explicitly given up his ownership of the original work. This should extend from the time of creation of the work until the ->creator's<- death. Notice I did not say until some specific time span has elapsed or until the owner's death. The odd thing about this idea is that it almost forces the older artists to create with a younger companion. What publishing house would publish the works of elder writers if the legal rights to the work would disappear upon the death of the author? Alas, it would also provide and incentive for the same publishing houses to just use up authors and drop them when they became too old.

My father once told me that, "If you hear someone quoting the Constitution, grab onto your wallet because they're about to cost you money." Congress does have the authority to control copyright. They have misused that authority, like they've misused every other bit of authority they were given. Copyright protection is now business oriented, not author oriented. It was never public oriented.

Original works - new stories, new paintings, new sculptures, etc. - should be protected from their theft by the Googles, Amazons, and Yahoos of this world, whose only apparent motive is profit and greed. You want innovation? Give someone a reason to innovate. Take away Dr. Pournelle's ability to make money at selling his wonderful stories and I believe those stories will no longer be available for us to read.

Talin said, "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?"

So, owners of property should be required to continually prove they own said property. This sounds like something a politician or lawyer would think up. The office to handle this would require tens of thousands of employees. Lawyers would make even more money and Filing Services would spring up on every corner to keep your rights to your works from being legally stolen from you. If you can do it for intellectual property, why not real property as well? Just think of the billions of dollars in filing fees we can collect - one dollar at a time. Of course, inflation and other increases in cost would keep bumping that dollar up.

Talin said, "Maintain or even expand the scope of fair use for educational, political, and other purposes."

Fair Use, like backups, has been misused. You purchased one copy of an original work - one. Your fair use extends only to that one copy. If that copy is destroyed by fire, famine, or flood, your fair use has ended and you should buy another copy. Fair use does not mean you should be able to own the original copy of the work forever. Fair use, at least the way I see it, should function just like a printed book, a painting, or a sculpture. If I hand you the book, I can't read it until you hand it back. If you destroy it, you should go buy me a new one to replace the old one or else I still can’t read it. This includes educational, political, and any other reasons you can think of. A teacher's desire to give knowledge to students does not trump my ownership right to the work. A politician's desire to get elected or to even get some bill passed does not trump my ownership right to the work. Libraries provide a needed service by bringing works to people that cannot afford to buy the works (the idea being, the author isn't going to get money from them anyway), but even they should have to buy new copies if the library is destroyed by fire.

Talin said, "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'."

Engineers don't create 'wrong things.' People use what engineers create for wrong purposes. If a matter replicator is ever invented and it becomes easy to stick a book in it and have it make 20 copies just like the original, the replicator should ->not<- be outlawed. If it can make a book it can also make food, medical supplies, and dozens of other items currently in short supply. It can also replicate explosives, guns, and poisons. Should children be allowed to push a button and get a poison? How about a terrorist who wants an endless supply of explosives? Controls will and should be set into the device to ensure it functions legally and morally correctly.

Talin said, "I would like to see things like TiVo thrive and not be sued into oblivion."

The only thing I would like to see added to TiVo is an automatic wipe of the recorded program after it is viewed. Like the original, you get to see it one time and one time only. The desire to see the program again does not trump the owner's right to being fairly compensated for its use.

I'm sorry for the length of this, but this is an area that concerns me personally and that I have strong feelings about. My thoughts and dreams are exposed and given up for viewing by a public that increasingly seems to think they have the right to rip those things from my head and give me little or nothing in return. No other industry has to suffer this sort of soul-searching attention. Until intellectual property is given exactly the same rights as so-called real property, this will continue. Why should creating a new mouse trap be treated any differently from creating a new story? Both took hours of my life to create. What value should be placed on the hours of another's life?



And Peter Glaskowsky, engineer:

Talin wrote:

> 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.

Property rights and intellectual-property rights are equivalent in this sense.

Control is a fact of nature. One entity (a person, a group of people, a political representative, etc.) controls who may live on a given piece of land. One entity controls who may drive a given car. But property is more than control, and the combination of its aspects is a political creation.

The disclosure of an intellectual creation is a fact of nature. One entity controls whether a creation is disclosed or not-- and in fact, there is less ambiguity here. Only the creator controls the disclosure of the creation. Copyright laws are meant to influence the decision to publish, giving the creator the benefit of state protection in exchange for the public benefit of access to the work and its eventual release into the public domain.

Intellectual property has a less arbitrary origin because all items of intellectual property have a definite creator. But "property rights" and "intellectual property rights" defined in the law are equally arbitrary.

> 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. > > 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.

There's nothing new here; publication has always required copying, and the copying tools required for legitimate publication have always allowed illegitimate copying.

> (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.)

This is logically equivalent to saying that law enforcement disinvents personal responsibility. A great many people have tried to make this point since the first laws were proposed, but I still don't buy it.

> 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.

Do you wish to make it illegal to impose such controls over the use or redistribution of intellectual property? Be careful how you answer; you're on the verge of destroying all industries based on intellectual property.

That's the same insane position taken by Richard Stallman, but at least he's doing it on purpose. He really DOES want to eliminate intellectual property rights, on the theory that the world will be better off. Insane, as I said, but well considered.

Anyway, I'm not worried. The fact is that cryptographic DRM built on secure operating systems will be deployed within the next several years, and it will be totally effective. It doesn't matter whether Talin, Stallman, or anyone else wants this to happen; it just will. And we'll get to see what happens then.

. png

Talin replies below


Subject: Bosnian pyramid


A 27,000 year old pyramid doesn't sound very believable, what do you and your reader's think?


With eyes trained to recognize pyramids hidden in the hills of El Salvador, Mexico and Peru, Semir Osmanagic has been drawn to the mound overlooking this central Bosnian town. "It has all the elements: four perfectly shaped slopes pointing toward the cardinal points, a flat top and an entrance complex," he said, gazing at the hill and wondering what lies beneath.


Osmanagic says he's quite sure he found the first pyramid in Europe.

On the top of "Bosnian pyramid of Sun" was a temple, built by pre-Illyrians, people who lived, according to Osmanagic, 27,000 years ago. Mr. Osmanagic thinks he will solve the "Bosnian pyramid of Sun" in the next five years, but also prove the existence of "Bosnian pyramid of Moon", lying under the neighboring hill of Kriz?.

Best Wishes

Paul Dove

I have no idea. My daughter might have some thoughts, it's closer to her specialty than mine.


More on the Sony Rootkit

It never ends.


-- Roland Dobbins




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Tuesday, November 6, 2005

Subject: Starbucks & Haida Bucks

Re your note about Sam Bucks and her Coffee Shop: she should take heart from a similar dispute between Starbucks and the Haida Indian Band. Starbucks got scalped.


Roland Hill

Score one for the good guys...



I normally could care less about football and such, but this is an outstanding article on the science of the game, the best I've ever seen - engaging even for a confirmed non-fan like me:


- Roland Dobbins


Subject: MS Office XML standards not acceptable

Microsoft has taken some steps to open up the XML formats used by MS Office. However, their open licenses are not open enough.

The OpenDocument format is truly open. Anyone may contribute suggested features; anyone may write software that implements the OpenDocument standard. This includes Microsoft, by the way.

The indispensable GROKLAW site explains the ways in which the MS offerings are nonfree:


Microsoft's offerings are not an acceptable alternative to OpenDocument.

Currently Microsoft benefits from massive lockin: there is a nonzero cost to migrate from MS products to other products. No one but Microsoft benefits from this. It is understandable that Microsoft would like this to continue, but that is not a good reason why their customers should stay locked in.

A customer using OpenDocument can choose from multiple products that are compatible. This means competition based on the merits of the products, and that's a good thing for the customers. Microsoft is able to write useful software, and they can compete in the OpenDocument market if they wish to.

-- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est" steve@hastings.org http://www.blarg.net/~steveha


Subject: Still More On The Christmas Movie 

Doctor P.

It appears that the Christmas lights to music video is probably real. One of the friends I sent the original link to began to search the web and found this site:


run by another another guy (one of an apparently large number of people who do this as a hobby) who provides details of how it's done, where you can buy the controllers, how long it takes to set up, and so on. He also provides a number of videos of other displays, some of which don't really answer Mr. Hellewell's observations and a couple



that seem pretty clearly to be videos of actual displays.

Also a better video of the more spectacular of the two sent to you by, I believe, Mr. Isaak:


And a second by the same gentleman:


Tim tmorris@advnet.net tmorris@stclaircounty.org


Subject: Amazon and the future of literature

Dear Jerry:

I am in the process of making a deal with Amazon which will make them the original publisher of some of my fiction. Their new service publishes original previously unpublished fiction and non fiction. These pieces are supposed to be between 2,000 and 10,000 words, but that isn't a hard and fast rule. Some have been a bit shorter and a few very much longer.

Signing up for this is part of my continuing experiment in Electronic Publishing. I could publish and sell them myself through Francis Hamit Electronic Publishing, but the minimum price there (at least to get it on Amazon) is $ 1.95) Amazon has a one size fits all price of 49 cents and there is some really good material there. Amazon deals only with authors and their agents for this and their contract is simple and easy to read. The authors' cut is 40 percent. So, to simplify matters that's 20 cents for every buyer. A thousand buyers would net you $200, which is certainly more than you get from most literary magazines and contests. From a career standpoint it may be a good strategic decision to be published by one of these publications. (In science fiction the list is limited and they all seem to have "we're the only game in town" attitude. Your artistic freedom is heavily constrained by the gatekeepers, who impose their own notions about subject matter, language, and style. They are also overwhelmed by the sheer volume of submissions, so what really gets read is the first page or two, by an intern and not the person you sent it too. (I am sure there are exceptions to this rule and I am equally sure they will write in and protest.)

Amazon Singles is providing something unique. There is an editorial review but they are most interested in selling products, rather than establishing or maintaining literary standards of various kinds. And, while they reserve the right to edit from grammar, spelling and so forth, their inclination seems to be to put it out there and see what works. This is a luxury you can never attain in print, where physical goods are consumed in the production of the text. Here you submit it, they approve it and then you go directly to the customer.

And the customer buys something and can then write a review of it. Feedback systems like this are the best way to assure quality product and presentation. Amazon has about 50,000,000 customers around the world. If you got really lucky with a story and got a one percent Direct Mail response, then that would be half a million copies downloaded and sold, for about $250,000 gross and $100,000 net to the author. For a short story or the like.

It sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? One of the things I learned long ago when I was a consultant was that you actually have to get your hands in the mix and work the problem sometimes. My first effort for this program is a very long story called "Sunday In The Park With George", which runs about 24,000 words and covers a single day. It is mainstream with psychic overtones, so it does not fit into any of the traditional categories. There are only about five publications that would take it on because of the length. So , as a piece of experimental fiction, this gets it out there for people to read and enjoy. How many will remains to be seen.

My next effort with them will be a novel serialization of one of my Civil War novels and that will happen next year. It will be delivered in multi chapter chunks over all of 2006. Amazon has already started doing this with other authors.

I am sure that the authors who have chosen to do this are avoiding the parts of the process that have become too onerous. Everyone is concerned with whether or not a particular piece will sell. But, as they say in Hollywood, "no one knows anything" Authors now have a way to product test their creations in a venue that goes far beyond the lonely virtual outposts of personal web sites.

So look for "The Shenandoah Spy" a historical military intelligence spy thriller about the early career of Belle Boyd, on Amazon early next year. I have a few rewrites to do first. The long story should be up shortly. I'll be interested in what people think of that, too.

Again, in the spirit of full disclosure, I am an Amazon stockholder and I do business with them in other ways that this one. My experience with them to date tells me that they are good people who want to do the right things. That includes a scrupulous respect for authors' copyrights. I think there are a lot of people out there who need to get past this notion that a large company is automatically one which will use its power to cheat people out of their due. Amazon knows better. That kind of thing is never good for business in the long run.

Oh, before everyone starts submitting wildly to Amazon Single, let me add that you have be an established writer with titles already in their system to be considered.. I sense a small staff at this point, that does not want to be overwhelmed.

I'll let you know how this goes.


Francis Hamit

This is good news. Jim Baen has also announced a new short story market. It is now barely possible for short fiction writers to make, if not a living, at least significant income from a year's output. This is a far cry from when the Saturday Evening Post paid Stuart Cloete $4000 for a short story in 1948, of course. Stuart was able to live for a year on that while he worked on Rags of Glory which hit the best seller list. But it's very good news indeed.

I do very little short fiction, but I may think about again. Legacy of Heorot started as a short story idea, but we developed it into a novel, largely because a really well done short work is almost as much work as a novel, and pays so very much less; but this may change such things.

I am working on a near-future (50 years or so) novel in which there is space travel, but the bureaucracy has pretty well maintained control so that anarcho-tyranny is the rule; I wonder if I can do it in parts? Serialization with a vengeance...  Anyway, this is good news.


An old friend from BYTE Peterborough asks:

Subject: questions on ID

Jerry, someone passed on to me some comments you made about ID. I am not really a big ID proponent or anything, but why do you and others persist in saying it's not science? I am asking sincerely. I went to a lecture given by Behe sponsored by First Things, and he had models and charts from molecular biology showing how complex different life forms are, and how even the light sensitive spot was incredibly complex and could not have functioned as an early eye, and other IDers have mathematical models of the tiny probability of life elements having evolved by chance. Why aren't these models science? And why isn't ID useful in exposing the shortcomings of Darwinism. For example, isn't punctuated equilibrium rather a lame excuse for the fact that the fossil record for 150 years has not brought to light the transitional forms Darwin said should be there if he were correct?


It's not science. It may well be truth.

Unless you define science as all epistemology, and that's too damned deep a question to get into.

Science consists of making falsifiable statements, then testing them; those that are not falsified are accepted as "truth" and the more unsuccessful effort put into a statement the higher the probability that it really describes reality.

But with miracles and intelligent design there isn't any operation you can go through to get repeatable results. That doesn't mean there are no miracles -- in my own life events so improbable as to be impossible had enormous effects on my life -- but they are not science, and can't be studied by science. Same with intelligent design.

It should be taught as a SUPPLEMENT to science, because it is a good thing for people to know that science is merely a useful tool; it is not the only source of knowledge and wisdom.

I am impressed by Behe, and certainly there is no harm in showing that Darwinian selection leaves enormous gaps, but Sir Fred Hoyle showed that years ago, and while he thought in terms of Intelligent Design I guarantee you most people wouldn't like his explanation of who was doing the designing. I do note that the Darwinians have computer models that show that at least some "irreducibly complex" systems can be generated by random processes (although their likelihood remains low). The fact that something might have been generated by random processes isn't proof that it did, but it does change the nature of the argument.

I don't insist that ID not be taught as science, because I don't think it matters much. Science is enormously useful, and given a fair chance will win support. But I do think it is a better lesson to show there are limits to scientific investigation, and questions that are quite meaningful and important that science cannot answer; whether that's taught in a science class or elsewhere doesn't matter so much so long as students understand it.

ID is an alternate explanation to Darwinian selection, but I have not seen it generate falsifiable predictions; and by my definition of science at least, if it can't generate falsifiable statements that can be tested, it isn't science. And again I point out that there is more to wisdom than science.


Subject: FW: Christmas 1960

Not about me, obviously, but still a good story.

The Big Wheel

In September 1960, I woke up one morning with six hungry babies and just 75 cents in my pocket. Their father was gone. The boys ranged from three months to seven years; their sister was two.

Their Dad had never been much more than a presence they feared.

Whenever they heard his tires crunch on the gravel driveway they would scramble to hide under their beds.

He did manage to leave $15 a week to buy groceries.

Now that he had decided to leave, there would be no more beatings, but no food either. If there was a welfare system in effect in southern Indiana at that time, I certainly knew nothing about it. I scrubbed the kids until they looked brand new and then put on my best homemade dress. Loaded them into the rusty old 51 Chevy and drove off to find a job.

The seven of us went to every factory, store and restaurant in our small town. No luck. The kids stayed crammed into the car and tried to be quiet while I tried to convince whoever would listen that I was willing to learn or do anything.

I had to have a job.

Still no luck. The last place we went to, just a few miles out of town was an old Root Beer Barrel drive-in that had been converted to a truck stop. It was called the Big Wheel.

An old lady named Granny owned the place and she peeked out of the window from time to time at all those kids. She needed some one on the graveyard shift, 11 at night until seven in the morning. She paid 65 cents an hour and I could start that night. I raced home and called the teenager down the street that baby-sat for people. I bargained with her to come and sleep on my sofa for a dollar a night. she could arrive with her pajamas on and the kids would already be asleep. This seemed like a good arrangement to her, so we made a deal.

That night when the little ones and I knelt to say our prayers, we all thanked God for finding Mommy a job. And so I started at the Big Wheel.

When I got home in the mornings I woke the baby-sitter up and sent her home with one dollar of my tip money--fully half of what I averaged every night.

As the weeks went by, heating bills added a strain to my meager wage.

The tires on the old Chevy had the consistency of penny balloons and began to leak. I had to fill them with air on the way to work and again every morning before I could go home.

One bleak fall morning, I dragged myself to the car to go home and found four tires in the back seat. New tires! There was no note, no nothing, and just those beautiful brand new tires. Had angels taken up residence in Indiana? I wondered.

I made a deal with the local service station. In exchange for his mounting the new tires, I would clean up his office. I remember it took me a lot longer to scrub his floor than it did for him to do the tires.

I was now working six nights instead of five and it still wasn't enough.

Christmas was coming and I knew there would be no money for toys for the kids.

I found a can of red paint and started repairing and painting some old toys.

Then hid them in the basement so there would be something for Santa to deliver on Christmas morning. Clothes were a worry too. I was sewing patches on top of patches on the boys' pants and soon they would be too far gone to repair.

On Christmas Eve the usual customers were drinking coffee in the Big Wheel. These were the truckers, Les, Frank, and Jim, and a state trooper named Joe.

A few musicians were hanging around after a gig at the Legion and were dropping nickels in the pinball machine. The regulars all just sat around and talked through the wee hours of the morning and then left to get home before the sun came up.

When it was time for me to go home at seven o'clock on Christmas morning I hurried to the car. I was hoping the kids wouldn't wake up before I managed to get home and get the presents from the basement and place them under the tree. (We had cut down a small cedar tree by the side of the road down by the dump.) It was still dark and I couldn't see much, but there appeared to be some dark shadows in the car-or was that just a trick of the night? Something certainly looked different, but it was hard to tell what. When I reached the car I peered warily into one of the side windows. Then my jaw dropped in amazement. My old battered Chevy was filled full to the top with boxes of all shapes and sizes. I quickly opened the driver's side door, crumbled inside and kneeled in the front facing the back seat.

Reaching back, I pulled off the lid of the top box. Inside was whole case Of little blue jeans, sizes 2-10! I looked inside another box: It was full of shirts to go with the jeans. Then I peeked inside some of the other boxes.

There was candy and nuts and bananas and bags of groceries. There was an enormous ham for baking, and canned vegetables and potatoes. There was pudding and Jell-O and cookies, pie filling and flour. There was whole bag of laundry supplies and cleaning items. And there were five toy trucks and one beautiful little doll.

As I drove back through empty streets as the sun slowly rose on the most amazing Christmas Day of my life, I was sobbing with gratitude. And I will never forget the joy on the faces of my little ones that precious morning.

Yes, there were angels in Indiana that long-ago December. And they all hung out at the Big Wheel truck stop....



Talin answers his critics/commentators:

Again, there were a number of interesting comments to my essay on copyright.

I should mention that normally I am not such an argumentive sort - most times I am content to let other people believe what they want to believe, as long as they offer me the same courtesy. Which is why I find it so curious as to why I am so passionate and vociferous about this particular issue, when there are many other equally important issues in the world.

OK first order of business - lets dispose ot the strawmen, please: I am not out to "destroy intellectual property". All I want is the same rights that I had when I was growing up. If I buy a book, I want to take it anywhere, read it anywhere, sell it to a used book store when I am done with it, and so on.

For example: One of the first science fiction novels I ever read was Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. I bought the paperback version in 1973, when I was living in Australia. I've saved those copies all these years, battered and worn as they are, because they have the cool Chris Foss cover paintings, which the US edition never had.

By contrast, If I were to buy a DVD in Australia today, and take it back to the US, it would be worthless - because the region coding wouldn't allow me to play it on a US player, and even if I had an Australian player, it wouldn't be compatible with US TVs.

Now, what's particularly interesting about this is that there is no law that prohibits me from watching an Australian DVD in the US, provided that I have the equipment to do so. However, if I attempt to purchase, or even invent, such equipment, I will have broken the law, specifically the DMCA - because such equipment bypasses the "access controls" on the DVD.

Take another example - suppose I buy a digital copy of Shakespeare's works, which is protected by some sort of DRM. The work itself is in the public domain, but effectively it is under an eternal copyright, since the act of copying would require bypassing the access controls, which is against the law.

In other words, we have the nonsensical situation where it is illegal to possess the means needed to perform a legal act. As a result, without changing the copyright laws themselves, the *effective* scope of my rights is reduced and narrowed.

And it gets worse, because as media and media players get smarter, the publishers can keep coming up with new and fancy ways of restricting my ability to use their content, and these restrictions will have the force of law - because even though the restrictions themselves aren't laws, they have the law behind them. And make no mistake - although the publishers claim that such power is needed to enforce their copyrights, they won't stop there. They will "add value" by restricting and narrowing the way we are allowed to use their products. Its human nature to grab as much power as you can, especially when your job is to "increase shareholder value".

Who here can say that they have never photocopied a page from a textbook in school? Who here has not lent a book to a friend? Who here has never borrowed a book from a library? The media companies want to create a world in which you can't do those things, and they are using all of their powers to twist and distort the development of technology to insure that those kinds of acts will be impossible.

What's odd about this is that I would expect Jerry's readers to be the last people on earth that would be comfortable with the idea of unelected individuals making up new laws for themselves.

By the way, when I say that I want the same rights that I always had, I should be clear - that includes the right to break the law and be punished for it. You heard me right - I believe that one cornerstone of democracy is the ability to make one's own decisions and accept the consequences, even when society disapproves. If I felt strongly enough about something, I would be willing to take my lumps for it. What I will not abide, however, is to be preemptively restrained from making that choice.

Although it would not be ideal, I could live with just having the current copyright law enforced as-is. In other words, if I could do all of the things that the law permits me to do - make parodies, quote excerpts, sell to a used book store, etc - that would be all right.

Now, on to specific points raised:

Talin said, "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."

How do you police that?

Same way we police it today. The police don't go after people who make private copies of CDs and DVDs. They go after people who sell or give away such copies.

The reason that I want to "take the copy out of copyright", is that restricting copying is already unenforceable.

What's to stop the purchaser from handing the legal copy to a friend for their use? What's to stop them from doing that with the original?

That's not copying, that's distribution. If you make a copy, and then give either the original or the copy to someone else, thats distribution. (There's no distinction between the original and the copy)

Now, under "right of first sale" doctrine, you are allowed to re-sell a book after you have finished with it. However, you aren't allowed to sell copies of the book - and I presume you would be obligated to destroy all of your private copies when you resell the work.

Talin said, "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?"

So, owners of property should be required to continually prove they own said property.

Prove? No. Assert an interest in? Yes.

Under the current copyright law, any work that you create is copyrighted, whether you intended it to be or not. If you want something to be placed into the public domain, you have to take an extra step to do that.

However, not everyone cares if their work is protected under copyright for "life of the author plus 70 years". A lot of times people create things, and then move on to other lines of work. They no longer care whether anyone copies their work, or makes money off of it, but at the same time its way too much work to go back and put "public domain" over all of their past work.

A lot of times companies who create software go out of business, and the assets of the company are sold to pay the creditors, and the IP of the company, which is worth nothing to the creditors, just sort of gets dropped on the floor and forgotten.

For example, I have long wanted to have the right to re-publish my own games, which I did as work for hire back in the Amiga days. My friend even hired a private detective to try and track down whoever was the successor-in-interest to the company, and failed to find them. (Actually, the story is more complicated than that, but I won't go into it now.)

My point is, that there are a vast number of works out there which cannot legally be copied, despite the fact that no one has an interest in them. Admittedly much of it is not worth saving, but if someone wants to preserve something from the document shredder of history, and no one else is willing to or cares, then they should be allowed to preserve it.

The office to handle this would require tens of thousands of employees.

All you would need is a database with the name of the author, the title of the work, and the last registration date, and a web site where the public could run searches on this database. I bet the Library of Congress could do it quite easily.

Talin said, "Maintain or even expand the scope of fair use for educational, political, and other purposes."

Fair Use, like backups, has been misused. You purchased one copy of an original work - one.

What you are talking about is not Fair Use, but right of first sale. Fair use has to do with the ability to make derived works - parodies, critiques, reviews, excepts, etc.

Talin said, "I would like to see things like TiVo thrive and not be sued into oblivion."

The only thing I would like to see added to TiVo is an automatic wipe of the recorded program after it is viewed. Like the original, you get to see it one time and one time only.

What on earth would possess me to purchase such a crippled device?

Now, on to Peter's comments:

There's nothing new here; publication has always required copying, and the copying tools required for legitimate publication have always allowed illegitimate copying

What's new is that, in a narrow technical sense, "reading" the work requires "publishing" it. Imagine, for a moment, if the only way you could read a book was to make a copy of it. (Interesting idea for a story, there...)

> I would call the various DRM schemes as essentially disinventing the personal computer

This is logically equivalent to saying that law enforcement disinvents personal responsibility.

This analogy makes no sense to me whatsoever.

Look, I can write an MPEG decoder in any computer language. I can convert that video stream into a million different data formats, from Quicktime to Morse code.

The only way you can stop me from creating an MPEG decoder is to take away my ability to program. To essentially roll back the personal computer revolution, and instead put the power of computers back into the hands of the "high priests".

Do you wish to make it illegal to impose such controls over the use or redistribution of intellectual property? Be careful how you answer; you're on the verge of destroying all industries based on intellectual property.

First of all, I don't accept the conclusion of the second sentence from the premise of the first. Microsoft and Time Warner have managed to do just fine without the DMCA.

As far as the first sentence, it depends on what you mean by "impose". What I want is for my ability to use a copyrighted work to be determined by my elected officials, not dictated by some private party.

Anyway, I'm not worried. The fact is that cryptographic DRM built on secure operating systems will be deployed within the next several years, and it will be totally effective.

Eh? What evidence do you have for this statement?

I'm not sure where to begin to refute this argument, because there are so many ways to do so:

1) All forms of DRM that I have ever heard of control *use*, not *copying*.

2) One does not need to interpret the bits in order to copy them. You can copy encrypted bits just as easily as any other kind.

3) Anything that I can see or hear can be recorded.

4) Are you planning on making it illegal for people to write operating systems?

There is nothing that you can do, technologically, that will prevent me from infringing your copyright. In other words, once I decide to break the law, all bets are off. If you make a DRM video player, I'll go to the device driver level. If you lock up the device driver, I'll modify the hardware. I'll snoop the packets on the wire; I'll make my own chips and replace yours (Making ASICs and FPGAs is not all that hard, as I learned recently from a friend who made her own Amiga, including making the chips.)

Here is the irony: The only thing that your technologies can do is restrict my *legal* use of the work. As long as I decide to stay within the law, you can box me in further and further, until I have no rights left at all.

And the double irony is, that by doing so, you increase the incentives for me to break out of the box.

-- Talin

Many years ago my friend Phillippe Kahn asked me what would be a good licensing agreement for Turbo Pascal. I told him "Just like a book." He thought about that and when Turbo Pascal went to mass market that was the licensing agreement he put on the package. Treat this just like a book. One person uses it at a time. And so forth.

I completely agree that we are not trying to send the police after the school teacher who copies a work to use in her class, and while I would encourage her to buy copies rather than Xerox short stories, I sure wouldn't want to make that a criminal act. On the other hand if she started selling copies to other teachers it might be time to do something about it.

I don't claim to have all the answers but I think this discussion is very much worth while, and eventually I will boil it all down and feed it to some relevant Congress Members and their staffs. That may or may not do some good.


Subject: Sucks dead bunnies 

Dr. Pournelle,

Just read the Byte column.

Do you remember when you started using "sucks dead bunnies"? In my experience in the USAF, the term is "dog balls", not "dead bunnies", with alternate words starting with D and B being substituted when in mixed company (or when writing a column for an online magazine I suppose.) So I was just wondering...


I think Alex first came up with it. It would have been at least 20 years ago since I was working from downstairs then (we had not built the big upstairs Great Hall and office). BYTE copy editors called to be sure I wanted to say that, and the decision to leave it had to go to the Editor In Chief since it was considered contrary to the BYTE style manual.


Rat brain flies jet.

I have major problems with the ethics of this kind of thing:


-- Roland Dobbins

Shades of Cordwainer Smith!

And see below




This week:


read book now


Wednesday, December 7, 2005

 Subject: Will Fair Use Survive?


--- Roland Dobbins


20 years later they start listening to you.


It's tough enough to find a full-service gas station here on Earth. Now, NASA's Mike Griffin says he'd really like someone else to build one in space, where a moon-bound spaceship could stop in to top off its tank on the outbound trip. The reason? Money. Gas may seem pricey here on Earth. But imagine this: NASA's got to pay about $10,000 a gallon to take its fuel along for the ride when it launches spaceships bound for the moon, Mars or other destinations beyond Earth's orbit.



Subject: good quote

"People expecting technology to take us to an Orwellian world soon, probably don't spend enough time trying to make the stuff work. The industry has always been far more hype than reality, and most of us who've been tinkering with technology for years have stories of hours wasted trying to accomplish the simplest of tasks."

Antone Gonsalves Editor, Infoweek

Bob Bailey

It is also easy to underestimate the effect of the technology once we do get it right. You never appreciate how smart a moron is until you try to program a robot -- but robots do get programmed. The Web does exist and changes our lives. Usually it takes longer to implement a new application than we thought it would -- but then it has effects far greater than we ever predicted.


Subject:  re: Rat brain flies jet

Roland Dobbins says he has "major problems with the ethics of this kind of thing." I don't see why, unless he has issues with the general notion of killing research animals.

It's not as though the project uses intact animal brains wired to computers. My quick search didn't produce any hits with detailed descriptions, but it appears that the device in question was made with dissociated embyronic neurons grown into an artificial pattern. Calling it a "brain in a dish" is a headline writer's trick.

I don't think this moves us closer to the day when people have wires embedded in their heads.

DeMarse's thumbnail description of the project: http://www.bme.ufl.edu/research/projects/detailproject.php?RP_id=5 

An old (2001) paper describing what appears to be an earlier version of the technique, with fewer neurons: http://www.neuro.gatech.edu/groups/potter/papers/AutonRobots.pdf

Wade Scholine


Subject:  New RSS Feed, Yea!

Dr. Pournelle,

Read the post on the new Chaos Manor ATOM/RSS Feed this morning, spent 30 seconds setting it up as a "Live Bookmark" in Firefox 1.5 and lo I have a nice long list of topics that pops up when I click on the "Chaos Manor" bookmark.

Cool, really really cool.

Pat on the back & High Fives to Greg Lincoln, Steve Hastings & Yourself.

Mark Gosdin -- "... although my particular star may not always shine very brightly, I pledge to you that I will not let darkness take its place."

Jim Gilley aka "Grumpy" of www.grumpysworld.com.


From: Stephen M. St. Onge                                                                                          
 Subject: Computer Programs for Adults
Dear Jerry:
        I feel your pain on the Outlook issues, but don't just blame Microsoft.  As far as I can tell, they're all like that.
        And when I say all, I mean ALL, absolutely every single application ever written by every single programmer, everywhere.  They all believe that their job is to produce something that does what they want, rather than what the customer/user wants.
        For instance, I don't have Office for my latest computer, a laptop, so I went and downloaded Open Office.  I find that, in Writer, the insertion point blinks.  It doesn't matter that Windows finally provides a way of stopping the blink without registry hacking, and that I've set mine to off ( I spend enough time vomiting as a result of stomach surgery, I don't need to throw up on laptop because of that INTOLERABLE BLINKING THING too, much less suffer a seizure).  Nominally, it's my computer, but the person who wrote that section of Writer knows better than I what I should want, and intended to stuff it down my throat.
        I also find that, when I do search and replace, I can't search for and eliminate superfluous paragraph marks, spaces, and other things I don't want.  Why should it be easy for me to control a document's formatting? I should take what I'm given.
        It's possible that, if I dedicated to reading every single word of every single help file, I would eventually discover something somewhere that tells me how to make Open Office behave the way I want it to, and do the things I want it to, but I could work for a dollar an hour, and make enough to buy Microsoft Office at retail before I finished the Open Office help files.  (And when I was done, I'd find that the help files frequently lied to me.  Everyone's help files lie, because "improvements" are constantly being made to programs that render the help files obsolete. For example, Outlook Express Help tells me I can get one result I wish by clicking on Tools, then Options. There is in fact no options menu under Tools.)  And when I was done reading all those help files, it's possible I still wouldn't be able to turn off the blinking, or search and replace paragraph marks, because either the programmer didn't bother to make it possible, or because the author of the help files didn't bother to make them comprehensible.  I'll probably end up sending more money to Mr. Bill soon, because Word is slightly less annoying and stupid than Writer.
        Yet another example of the 'I am an adult, you are a child, shut up and take your medicine' attitude comes on many a web page.  Someone decided what the text size should be, based on the way they like it to look to THEIR eyes on THEIR monitor with THEIR browser.  When I try to view it, with my trifocalled eyes on my laptop's screen, it's far too small.  But if I tell Windows to ignore the text size specified on the page, so that the text is big enough for MY eyes, various regions on the screen expand and cover other regions (see the screenshots at
http://stevesdummy.blogspot.com/2005/08/screenshots-of-various-blogs.html for examples).
        This problem is definitely correctable.  I know, because some sites that have that problem also allow you to set the text size much larger (though not always large enough).  But many don't.   When I've pointed out to the site owners that I can't read their web page, the response has invariably been either 'It looks all right on my computer,' or 'You should try a different browser,' . . . assuming, of course, that they bother to respond at all.
        And I've yet to find any program that has an easily accessible list of all possible options and switches, with an explanation of what each one does, what the default is, and how changing it will affect your life.  I've heard a rumor, for instance, that it's possible to turn off the "smart highlighting" feature in Windows, but no search in help files has ever turned up instructions on the subject.
        Frankly, I think the only way we'll ever get decent software is to teach programming to whores.  At least veteran working girls understand that, since they're getting paid, they should attempt to please the customers, rather than themselves.

Stephen M.
            St.  Onge
Minneapolis, MN

For comment see below


Subject: Smells like Nemourlon 0.1


Robbie Walker

_ Perhaps of even greater significance is the continuous and profound distrust of science and technology that the environmental movement displays. The environmental movement maintains that science and technology cannot be relied upon to build a safe atomic power plant, to produce a pesticide that is safe, or even bake a loaf of bread that is safe, if that loaf of bread contains chemical preservatives. When it comes to global warming, however, it turns out that there is one area in which the environmental movement displays the most breathtaking confidence in the reliability of science and technology, an area in which, until recently, no one — even the staunchest supporters of science and technology — had ever thought to assert very much confidence at all. The one thing, the environmental movement holds, that science and technology can do so well that we are entitled to have unlimited confidence in them, is forecast the weather! — for the next one hundred years... —George Reisman, The Toxicity of Environentalism


Subject: Stephen St. Onge's laments

I read Stephen St. Onge's comments about software and the people who write it. I guess he is trying to humorously make a point--he can't really be that bitter, can he?

I'd like to remind him of Napoleon's famous comment: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." I don't think anyone in the OpenOffice project actively wishes to force a blinking cursor upon an unwilling user; it's just that when one is writing code, one has to make it do *something*, and often the guys who write the code just pick one way to do it and don't think too much about the alternatives.

It's senseless to expend any vitriol on an open project like OpenOffice.org; he can eventually get the change he wants, just by asking nicely in the correct place.

Microsoft Word has been offered up for sale, in one form or another, for over two decades. Word for Windows has been around about as long as Windows has, and it's been pretty usable for at least 15 years. OpenOffice.org is, in comparison, a mewling babe! It doesn't do everything Mr. St. Onge wishes it to do, so he makes scathing comments. Tsk.

A moment with Google found the "issue tracker" for OpenOffice.org, where they keep track of bug reports and feature requests. A search in the issue tracker found this:


There is already a request for the ability to disable the cursor, and it was recently filed under "accessability" since folks like Mr. St. Onge cannot use a product with a blinking cursor. This bug hasn't gotten much attention, but there is a voting process; Mr. St. Onge should register, and vote, and get other people to vote as well.


There are more active measures he could take: He could simply hire a software engineer to fix it for him. He could offer a bounty, payable to anyone who fixes it (I suggest "half the retail price of a copy of Office" would be a good amount). Or he could even try to find some college student who needs a project for a computer science degree.

I use Ubuntu Linux, which runs the GNOME desktop. I just checked, and under System Preferences/Keyboard, there is a checkbox to enable or disable cursor blinking. I disabled cursor blinking, and started up Abiword, a free word processor. Abiword had a non-blinking cursor. So, there's another option.

Or, I guess he could move ahead with his "teach programming to whores" idea. Good luck with that, Mr. St. Onge. -- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est" steve@hastings.org http://www.blarg.net/~steveha



CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, December 8, 2005

Subject: Republic vs Empire

Thought this from WSJ Opinion would be of special interest, Dr. Pournelle:


To quote:

"The American Empire in the early 20th century produced a cornucopia of striking characters: Marines like Smedley Butler and Dan Daly; soldiers like Frederick Funston and Frank Ross McCoy; colonial administrators like William Cameron Forbes and Charles Magoon. Almost all are forgotten today. That's a shame, because the American Empire has seen a resurgence in recent years. Modern-day proconsuls in Kabul or Baghdad could do a lot worse than to study their predecessors' experiences in Havana or Manila for tips on how to run a liberal imperium.

"Of the great American imperialists, Leonard Wood is certainly among the most remarkable, but he too has fallen into undeserved obscurity. Thus we can be grateful for Jack McCallum's dutiful biography, which gives us a reliable, if uninspired, chronicle of Wood's meteoric ascent and a detailed record of his imperial achievements."


Charles Brumbelow


Subject: Vietnam vs. Iraq 

Dr. Pournelle:

A very interesting piece by the Hon. Melvin Laird in Foreign Affairs. His summary: During Richard Nixon's first term, when I served as secretary of defense, we withdrew most U.S. forces from Vietnam while building up the South's ability to defend itself. The result was a success -- until Congress snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by cutting off funding for our ally in 1975. Washington should follow a similar strategy now, but this time finish the job properly.

The entire article is here:


Mr. Laird's position should be familiar to you: You've said these things also. Both you and he have caused me to revise my "get out now" position. I no longer think that. Like you, I think we should not have gone to Iraq in the first place, but having done so, we must do whatever is right. Identifying that "right" is difficult, but we must do it nevertheless. Thank you for your thoughtful essays on this and many other topics.


Larry McGinn


Subject: A question on IED detection for your readers...

Post any or all to Chaos Manor as you see fit.


I would like to propose a concept for IED detection. Perhaps you or some of your very savvy readership could shoot this down or move it up the chain of usability. Snap a digital thermal image (FLIR possibly?), hit the area with a microwave (should enhance thermal gradients between materials), grab a second image, use a computer to overlay / analyze the differentials.

How fast this could be processed and come up with useable data might be too slow to be considered "real-time" but it seems to me that the knowledge of potential IED placement, even at the expense of slower movement, would be a big improvement.

There are many pitfalls that even an imagineer such as I can think of. High end thermal imaging can require liquid helium as a coolant (wouldn't want to be in charge of that supply detail), imaging gear tends to be somewhat inflexible regarding operating range, and you would be radiating a pretty hefty microwave energy level to induce a readable temperature gradient in buried materials. Just an idea. If it could keep one of our troopers out of the EVAC system I would feel proud indeed.

Trim here?

I hope that Guild Wars has at least been a bit of a diversion as time permits. My own schedule has been spotty at best lately. Please feel free to shout out to the others in the guild when you do get ingame and I'm sure someone can help out. Oh! and speaking of helping out. I'm remote (Western NC), but if I can help in any way with Chaos Manor, as a sounding board, simple researcher, etc... please feel free to drop me a line!

As always, Good Hunting!


I've had fun with Guild Wars, and it's Game of the Month for December column.

It has been a long time since I was involved in that kind of operations research, but I am sure that we have many readers who will give this some thought.

See below for more on IED



"Sober" Worm preparing for attack

Dr. Pournelle:

Some new research into the latest variant of the "Sober" worm indicates that it is preparing for an attack on Jan 5, 2006. Readers will find info about this analysis at their favorite news site.

There is a big increase in the volume of Sober-infected email. At the office here, we're getting about 1-3 per minute. Of course, our email filtering is blocking it by three techniques: keeping our anti-virus program current (for known malware), and blocking all email executable attachments (for '0-day' attacks), and current anti-virus on our computers and servers. So I am not worried about that impending attack (but am ever-vigilant).

Readers planning on new "Christmas Computers" may want to ensure that their new computer is properly protected. New computers from the big vendors already have Windows XP with SP2 installed, which will help a bit. But all might benefit from my "Simple Steps for Safe Computing" report here: http://digitalchoke.com/daynotes/reports/simple-steps.php  . Another good source of non-geeky information is Microsoft's site at http://www.microsoft.com/protect  .

I tell you three times......

Regards, Rick Hellewell

Hear and Believe! Thanks


Subject: Oil barrel equivalent and IED


The December Wired has a fascinating article on different energy sources and the oil barrel price point required to make them profitable. Many of the energy sources are converted to b.o.e (barrel oil equivalent) figures. It's not comprehensive, but it may be a good place for you to start. There is also an article on the folks who are making the Star Trek: New Voyages series, whom I think may have crossed the line between hobby and mental illness.

FLIR systems have notoriously bad resolution, our top of the line systems are only about 640 x 480 pixels. This is fine for low level navigation or targeting (with 30X optics) but seems insufficient for detecting buried objects. Ground penetrating RADAR may be better suited. But RADAR systems are not my area of expertise.

Mark E. Horning, Research Scientist, L-3 Communications, Air Force Research Lab; AFRL/HEA


Subject: Energy flow in the U.S.

I'm not at all sure if this is what you're looking for, but it is interesting.


Tom Brosz

It helps. I'd like more. But thanks!




CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  December 9, 2005

From one of my favorite physicists:


Thoughts on Global Warming Predictions

1. Simplified basic model. Any model is going to be a linearization of the full Navier-Stokes solution for the atmosphere, with consequent loss of fidelity. As one example near and dear to our hearts at present, consider tropical storms; a tropical storm consumes a tremendous amount of energy that might otherwise go into atmospheric heating. While the US has been focussing on the record Atlantic hurricane season, there has been tremendous cyclone activity in the Pacific and Indian Oceans as well. If the model is not accurate enough to model that, it will never be accurate enough to verify global warming.

2. Ordinary statistics. Temperature measurements are rarely accurate even to 0.1 degrees F. The actual model data is going to be some sort of average of wide-area long-duration temperature data, with both systematic and random variations due to the sampling method and the time-and-space segmentation of the atmospheric model. Other relevant wide-area parameters (e.g. humidity, carbon dioxide concentration, etc.) are not going to be known to more than 1 or 2 significant figures most of the time. Then this whole thing is going to be projected into the future by some analytical mechanism. As a statistician, you know that the model fidelity is best NOT at the present (unless the present-time weighted data is much more accurate than the historical data) but somewhere near the midpoint in time of the distribution. By the time we reach the present moment, the errors in the model are already significantly greater than they were near the midpoint. The projections reflect that error and increase it with (in the case of a simple linear least-squares) a hyperbolic deviation from the mean trend of the data. Increasing the time-space sample rates will improve the result somewhat (at what cost in computer power) but not that much, because the net effect will be of moving the "averaging" process from the averages used to prepare the coarse-sample input data to the averaging process represented by the overall fit to the data.

3. Simplified representation of the model equations. Over the past couple of years I have been working with a code that was originally configured to integrate a relatively simple second-order nonlinear differential equation. Examination of the output lead to the recognition that a portion of the results were unphysical; examination of the model showed that the differential equation was solved by the simplest, Eulerian, integration formula -- which was easily shown to systematically deviate in the direction of increased values of the key variable. Thus, an oversimplified integration model -- IF used to simplify the analysis -- can result in systematic variations which makes matters appear worse. I don't know that this is the case, but would be unsurprised to discover that at least some of the models, and particularly the irreversible ones, contain this error.

Hope these thoughts help.



Subject: Global warming

I'm not at all sure that global warming exists. In fact, if anything, I think we may be undergoing global cooling, or so the data I've seen tend to indicate.

I recommend you read Michael Crichton's _State of Fear_, which is an odd combination of novel and non-fiction. I don't agree with everything he says, for example his characterization of eugenics as pseudo-science, but he certainly argues his case strongly.

-- Robert Bruce Thompson

The problem is that we don't KNOW whether we are headed for Warm or Ice Age, or even whether a warming period may precede and Ice Age by favoring the transport of moisture to become ice and snow and glaciers. The Arctic tundra seems to darken with vegetation that grows longer due to warming, but that may also cause increases in snowfall, and more snow is higher albedo and lower energy absorption.

I have read Crichton's book with mixed feelings. While I agree with him about many things, his style is perhaps needlessly confrontational, as witness the feud generated with Greg Benford. Greg is a smart guy and usually quite reasonable. I don't think he ought to have reacted as he did, but he claims provocation. Crichton is certainly right about many things. I prefer the Skeptical Environmentalist from which much of Crichton's book is drawn.

As to claiming that eugenics is pseudo-science, that's nonsense. Eugenics is a product of science and a eugenics program is easily inferable from scientific data, just as animal husbandry is very largely eugenics among animals. The problem is much the same as the Intelligent Design debates. There is plenty of scientific evidence for the effects of "improving the breed" whether the species bred is primate or canine or porcine. The problem comes with the moral and ethical implications of eugenics, which has been used to justify many programs. Galton, for example, believed heartily in eugenics, but his program was to subsidize smart people, particularly university students, to marry early and have children earlier while continuing their studies. In the US it led to enforced sterilization of defectives -- "Three generations of criminal morons is enough." -- which was a great deal more controversial and has now been declared unconstitutional. And of course in Hitler's time eugenics arguments were used to justify forced sterilization of defectives including "inferior races" beginning with the gypsies and then including Jews, and later to actual liquidation of  "inferior races".  

Now the notion of "inferior races" is pseudo-science because it assumes that lower mean scores on such things as IQ tests translates to "inferior" for a whole race. To be consistent, a racist eugenicist would have to say that the Ashkenazim are a "superior" race. But means are not meaningful when dealing with individuals. I do not tire of pointing out that one the most brilliant students I ever taught was a tenth generation American black. And while the mean scores of the Ashkenazim on highly g-loaded tests are several points above the general American population, that hardly means that every person of Ashkenazi descent is brighter than every American or brighter than every American black.  Similarly, one cannot use racial means for dealing with individuals. What racial means do show is that if people are treated fairly and then sorted on performance at the kinds of things g-loaded tests are so good at predicting, there will be a higher proportion of Ashkenazim in the top group, and a lower proportion of blacks in that group, and this is not prima facie evidence of discrimination.

Eugenics is not a matter of pseudo-science, and breeding for favorable traits is not much in question among scientists and geneticists; it's the desirability of employing any means of favoring one person over another that is in violent dispute. I personally think Galton was correct in wanting to encourage bright people to marry young and have more children, but I also think marriage is the appropriate social institution for raising children, and that a nation is much better off with more bright people raised by married couples. That doesn't mean I would campaign for compulsory sterilization of demonstrated defectives, and I certainly wouldn't allow racial criteria to be used for any scheme of encouraging or discouraging people to have children.

Sorry this ran on for so long. It's a delicate and tricky subject, and while I do not mind being castigated for views I hold, I want to be careful to state those views clearly.

And there may or may not be some connection between these remarks and the next item:


The death of the Routemaster, and what it says about society.


- Roland Dobbins

It is a sad situation, and can only get worse. It is a reflection on our society's wealth, and what we choose to squander it on, that we will eliminate things that work in order to be more politically correct, and simultaneously refuse to invest in long term solutions to our energy and resources problems.

Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for western civilization as it commits suicide.

For continued discussion of eugenics see below.




This week:


read book now




Subject: not psuedo-science, but a black art, maybe?

Dear Jerry,

I fear I’m going to reveal just how much a misnomer is the tag young Jacobin. I am not going to cry “racist” about eugenics, but I wonder if it might belong to the category of black art- something that might work (like torture) but which, as you point out, has been misused quite horrifically. In C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man, he writes a good deal on this, and points out that we do indeed have the power to treat one another in exactly the same way we treat the porcine or porcupine breeds. In this, could it not be argued that there are some kinds of questions best not asked? I don’t think it is fear per se that informs my critique as much as a humanistic (and Christian) concern that we avoid the all too chilling possibility of what Fukuyama (again, like Lewis) calls a “post-human future.” And this is more a concern/set of questions than a fully formed and obstinate objection. I’m conservative enough (I hope, in spite of having supported our intervention in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq) to think that this would be a very good place to stand athwart history and say stop. Given the examples we have of how eugenics has played out, I’m reminded of a dear friend’s claim that one can make a summation of human history with two questions – people are prone first to say “what can it hurt” followed sooner or later by “how was I supposed to know.” We have some evidence that more often than not eugenics provides information that gets horribly abused – why not just close the books on it?


A Young Jacobin

PS: None of the above should be interpreted as my not finding Fred often terribly offensive, screamingly funny and surprisingly insightful. The essay you linked to a couple of days ago on the problem of multiculturalism was quite wonderful – though it also makes an inadvertent case for empire in ethnically mixed areas as the idea that people of vastly different sensibilities who are not inclined to like each other much are unlikely to agree on a set of rules to which they all can subscribe – hence the uses of “helpful” outsiders to stabilize crucial regions. Just a thought….

You raise two points worth discussion. First, on eugenics: "breeding counts" has been part of folk wisdom for a long time. "Like breeds like." And so forth. No sane man would be overjoyed at the notion that his daughter was about to marry a homicidal maniac, or even a conscienceless sociopath. While the inbred aristocracy did not always or even regularly produce great men and women, it did so more often than statistics would predict. Galton's original study of hereditary genius is often disputed but has never been refuted; Darwin himself told Galton he had become a "convert" to Galton's position.

I have more than once assigned C. S. Lewis The Abolition of Man subtitled Reflection on Education to both high school and college students, and I consider it one of the required books for those given to thinking about education, science and religion; but I do not think that Lewis himself would have objected to rational thought about the consequences of certain marriages, or even to the encouragement of bright people to have children. Galton's eugenics was not concerned with compulsory sterilizations, but with the encouragement of the educated classes to marry younger, continue their studies, and be relieved of some of the financial tensions that often destroy early marriages. I do not see how anyone can disapprove of this. Well, actually, I do know how some disapprove of it on politically correct grounds; and of course if you select bright people by any rational and objective test unrelated to race, there will be more Ashkenazi and Caucasians among the group selected, and fewer blacks, Sephardim, and Arabs, than random selection would produce. That alone is enough to cause objections by some. But do note that Galton eugenics would encourage bright blacks to marry young, stay married, and have children; a result one might hope for.

Negative eugenics leads to some horrors: but comes now the case of crack babies, and worse, meth babies, born addicted, with very much lowered prospects for the future. Children of drunken mothers generally are born with terrible handicaps. One may oppose abortion on the grounds that it is the slaughter of the innocents, yet wonder about policies that encourage more kids who will require far more than their share of public resources and still will never do very well. The old view that "quickening" (somewhere after the fifth week of pregnancy, usually; as I recall the time was chosen as the earliest moment when a pregnant woman felt actual movement in the womb) was the point of no return, and any abortion before that time was permissible, at one time had the approval of the Roman Catholic Church among other authorities, and was, I believe, even held by Hippocrates whose Oath forbids physicians to perform abortions.

And if one is opposed to all abortions, then preventing conception of crack, alcohol, and meths addicted babies makes a great deal of sense. How that is to be accomplished is another matter. Clearly reflecting on such matters leads to thoughts first of encouraging voluntary sterilization, then of compulsory. Regarding voluntary sterilization I believe there already exist organizations willing to pay substantial amounts to drug addicted people willing to be sterilized. Are these organizations immoral? But of course this is a slippery slope indeed. No less revered a figure than Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said "Three generations of imbeciles is enough," and upheld a compulsory sterilization law. And the slope can get even more slippery.

And yet: as an example, a couple I know adopted a Downs Syndrome girl. These children were once called "Mongoloid Idiots", and while "idiot" was incorrect for the individual I have in mind, imbecile was not (using the once quite acceptable definitions of idiot, imbecile, and moron). Due to the extraordinary care this child received from her quite exceptional (and financially well off) parents, she lived a good bit longer than most Downs children do. As she approached legal age, her parents had a dilemma: suppose she became sexually active? After all, she had the same raging hormones that any teenager did, and presumably the young men she met in schools for the retarded did also; and despite supervision and being retarded, escaping supervision isn't all that difficult for someone with the mental age of 9 or so, and determined to find a secluded place... So. Query: did her (adoptive; the biological parents were unknown) parents have the right to have her sterilized on the grounds that pregnancy would be a potential disaster?  And should courts get into that question? Should there be legal hearings and a trial? I leave the questions for you to decide.


Regarding your observations about diversity and empire, you are surely aware that nearly every social thinking writing on democracy has concluded that democracy cannot function in the presence of diversity of religion or social customs, and never has done so. The American experiment in Republic which ran roughly from April 30, 1789 until sometime after World War II (Johnson's Great Society may be taken as a convenient ending point) was an exception in that America welcomed people of diverse backgrounds: but, as has often been observed, the price was that most essentials of diversity were shed. The Melting Pot produced Americans, and while they retained some of the customs of their origins, particularly in cuisine, there was a fairly common body of customs, ethics, and laws based on Judeo-Christian (and a lot more Christian than Jewish) moral principles. One could study to cease being Irish, or Italian, or Albanian, or Lithuanian, or Chinese, or Samoan, and become American. The place of African-Americans was still in dispute when the Republic began to come apart. As was famously observed by Senator Moynihan, the Black Family survived slavery, Reconstruction, share-cropping, Jim Crow, and legal segregation, but it could not survive Aid to Families with Dependent Children; Welfare did what Jim Crow could not. So just as the nation's conscience was tweaked to bring African-Americans into full acceptance, the laws were altered to allow them and everyone else to abandon the Melting Pot and preserve cultural diversity.

Diversity can produce powerful states, but in every case they are empires. Herman Kahn once observed that the natural state of mankind is empire, and the natural course of empire is to expand until it runs up against another empire of equal strength. I would add that some republics have withstood empire. And the Framers very consciously studied the history of the only long-lived Republic in history, that of Venice, which wasn't ended until Napoleon and his French Empire destroyed it. (It still existed as an independent Republic during the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, and didn't end until May 12, 1797 when the last Doge was deposed by Napoleon.) Empires can be powerful. Napoleon was able to recruit soldiers from a dozen nationalities, and keep them loyal to his person. And Divine Emperors can have even more diversity. Diverse empires have fared well in history. Diverse democracies have never survived.



 I really must tend to my book today so I fear I can do no more than make one comment on your post now. That is that I have no problem with rational thought (in spite of any evidence in all of my posts to the contrary) on what would make for good marriages, but I get the heebie jeebies thinking of folks in white coats drawing up tables and trying to conduct experiments and then maybe even informing law and public policy (if you haven't seen Gattica it does a nice job in portraying what such a society might look like - and didn't you in your fiction at one point describe the less than happy results of an effort to breed supermen? - those are some of the few stories of yours that I have alas not read). Anyway, as bad as the pc prejudice is that simply consigns all efforts to think through eugenics to the rubble heap of racism past, I also have sympathy for the scruples that underlay our current anti-eugenics prejudice.

As for empire and diversity ... no - not now, I needs get back to my book. There is such work to be done.

A Young Jacobin




Subject: Phishes

Sometimes I have to click on e mail links such as subscription renewal e mails and send info. Does it solve any problems if I copy the link to notepad and then paste it into the IE address line from notepad?

 Richard Hunt

Assuming that this was the right address to begin with, that will make it certain; many phishing schemes show the correct address, but the link is to their bogus site. The problem with your method is that you had better be right about the address, including the top level domain. After all, something.net does not lead to something.com, and often the people who own the .com address were not able to get the .net counterpart. And so forth. To really be safe, you probably should visit the home page of the site you are sending money to. Even that can have its dangers since I know of at least one phishing hack that put up what looked very like the home page of a popular commercial site, but was a trap; and their address differed only be a single letter from the real one.

In other words, be careful out there.

I make no doubt some of my readers will have cogent observations on these matters.




- Roland Dobbins

Anarcho Tyranny at work. How many drug deals, and other crimes, by people the officer was afraid of had this cop witnessed? My guess is that the number is larger than zero.


The Death of France.


--- Roland Dobbins

Of France, or beginning of the Decline of the West, or merely a tempest in a temporary teapot?


Ogre to Slay? Outsource It to Chinese.


--- Roland Dobbins

They're pretty good at slaying their own students and workers, why not ogres?

But it may be a way to get my paladin up to level 50...


Subject: Apophis


Wikipedia seems to have a lot of detailed information on this. One of the better Wiki pages.



Edward Chambers


Subj: The Button-cam cometh!

This one reminded me of the camera Rod Blaine wore, as a button on his clothing, in _The Mote in God's Eye_:


 Breakthrough Chip Delivers Better Digital Pictures For Less Power

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com




- Roland Dobbins


This is beginning to look like our version of the British train execution.



Accounts vary on whether Alpizar had announced he had a bomb.

Tirpak said he didn't hear Alpizar say anything.

Roland Dobbins

I must say the passenger reports that they didn't hear him say anything, and that no one but law enforcement has ever mentioned a bomb or bomb threats, are very alarming developments.

I was originally convinced as I expect most were that it was all very unfortunate, but not much could be done; but that was when I thought everyone heard him shout bomb threats. Now, it appears that the bomb threats were not heard by anyone else. And of course he was on the airplane after a pretty thorough inspection.

I doubt that any investigation will turn up anything against the TSA people. I mean, quis custodiet ipsos custodes...

I continue to believe that no one can protect airline passengers from a rational person determined to destroy an airplane in flight if he's willing to go with it. This airplane was on the ground, surely not a place anyone might choose to activate a bomb, particularly since the man was NOT ON THE PLANE nor in view of witnesses at the final moments.

This bears close watch. I was in agreement that the system worked as it should on the evidence I had last week, but now I very much wonder. But I will predict that the investigation will turn up nothing to the detriment of the marshals.


And possibly related

"There are no plans to change our procedures."


- Roland Dobbins


Subject: How liberals educate their children,


"The secret that everyone knows, but no one wants to talk about . . . You'll be called a bigot (or worse) if you mention it."



Teachers too. Our aristocracy will do anything to keep the rest of us oppressed and subservient.

In the palace, the king is sleeping
Bella Ciao Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao
In the palace, the king is sleeping,
Let us hope he sleeps too long...




CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, December 11, 2005


 Subject: Artillery in the Wrong Hands

Dear Jerry:

As an old artillery man, you've got to see this. It may be a joke, it may be on the level, but in either case, don't read this while drinking coffee: http://www.buckstix.com/howitzer.htm  "

How to Hunt Wisconsin Whitetail Deer with a

12 pound Mountain Howitzer Cannon

...by: Buck Stix

Best, Stephen M. St. Onge Minneapolis, MN


Good Grief!!!! I LOVE IT.


Subject: The New Yorker: The Critics: Books


Stats wins over "expert" gut instinct again! Hope you find this interesting!



Doug Hayden



Just in time for the holidays...WARNING...New Credit Card Scam.

Note, the callers do not ask for your card number; they already have it. This information is worth reading. By understanding how the VISA & MasterCard Telephone Credit Card Scam works, you'll be better prepared to protect yourself. One of our employees was called on Wednesday from "VISA", and I was called on Thursday from "MasterCard".

The scam works like this: Person calling says, "This is (name), and I'm calling from the Security and Fraud Department at VISA. My Badge number is 12460. Your card has been flagged for an unusual purchase pattern,and I'm calling to verify. This would be on your VISA card which was issued by (name of bank). Did you purchase an Anti-Telemarketing Device for $497.99 from a Marketing company based in Arizona?" When you say"No", the caller continues with, "Then we will be issuing a credit to your account. This is a company we have been watching and the charges range from $297 to $497, just under the $500 purchase pattern that flags most cards. Before your next statement, the credit will be sent to (gives you your address), is that correct?" You say "yes". The caller continues - "I will be starting a Fraud investigation. If you have any questions, you should call the 1- 800 number listed on the back of your card (1-800-VISA) and ask for Security. You will need to refer to this Control Number. The caller then gives you a 6 digit number. "Do you need me to read it again?" Here's the IMPORTANT part on how the scam works. The caller then says, "I need to verify you are in possession of your card". He'll ask you to "turn your card over and look for some numbers". There are 7 numbers; the first 4 are part of your card number, the next 3 are the security Numbers' that verify you are the possessor of the card. These are the numbers you sometimes use to make Internet purchases to prove you have the card.

The caller will ask you to read the 3 numbers to him. After you tell the caller the 3 numbers, he'll say, "That is correct, I just needed to verify that the card has not been lost or stolen, and that you still have your card. Do you have any other questions?" After you say No, the caller then thanks you and states, "Don't hesitate to call back if you do", and hangs up. You actually say very little, and they never ask for or tell you the Card number. But after we were called on Wednesday, we called back within 20 minutes to ask a question. Are we glad we did! The REAL VISA Security Department told us it was a scam and in the last 15 minutes a new purchase of $497.99 was charged to our card.

Long story made short - we made a real fraud report and closed the VISA account. VISA is reissuing us a new number. What the scammers want is the 3-digit PIN number on the back of the card. Don't give it to them. Instead, tell them you'll call VISA or Master card directly for verification of their conversation. The real VISA told us that they will never ask for anything on the card as they already know the information since they issued the card! If you give the scammers your 3 Digit PIN Number, you think you're receiving a credit. However, by the time you get your statement you'll see charges for purchases you 20 didn't make, and by then it's almost to late and/or more difficult to actually file a fraud report.

What makes this more remarkable is that on Thursday, I got a call from a "Jason Richardson of MasterCard" with a word-for-word repeat of the VISA scam. This time I didn't let him finish. I hung up! We filed a police report, as instructed by VISA. The police said they are taking several of these reports daily! They also urged us to tell everybody we know that this scam is happening. Please pass this on to all your family and friends.


This was sent to a friend, Richard Shoff, and forwarded to me. It's a variant on other scams. Clearly you NEVER give information of that kind to a caller; you always make the call yourself if you think you need to talk to the credit card company.


Dear Jerry,

In regards to your SCAM WARNING you might want to see:




I had a similar email forwarded to me by my sister much earlier in the year (much to her chagrin when she realised that the author was wasn't the person who sent the email). If nothing else these links show that this is a rather old and wide spread circular.

regards DM

That something has been around a while is no indication that someone does not need to be reminded of it. I do not suppose there is a single phishing scheme out there that is not a variant on some other. And many of the Nigerian scams are variants of con games written up in books like The Big Con, or even shown in fictional detail in O Henry's The Gentle Grafter.

I fear that Snopes has an agenda I don't necessarily agree with, and I generally do not bother to look them up. For many subjects they are on target, but when their agenda is affected, they are not reliable.

I expect that the incident as described is embellished, and I am pretty sure the police don't get several reports a day on this (although in some town where an itinerant con group is passing through it certainly could happen; they fish through waste baskets and garbage containers looking for thrown away credit card receipts, particularly outside restaurants but also in shopping centers, and then get the PIN ID, which makes larger purchases possible.

For myself, I would prefer to err on the side of reminding people to be careful than to spend much time looking up whether a report is new. Old tricks still work; as I said, some of the scams we see now have been around since the book The Big Con (which was the source material for the movie The Sting) and that book was first published in, I think, 1940. I know I read it in high school. And O Henry's The Gentle Grafter was published about the turn of the 20th Century and probably before, O Henry having died in 1910. I can still recommend both those books, by they way.

And see Mr. Hellewell's expert opinion in next week's mail.



Subject: Re: IED detection

Dr. Pournelle:

Having had a child return recently from Iraq (Infantry Sergeant), my concern of IEDs has been more than academic for a long time. Discussing these problems with others of my ilk (Vietnam vets, post-Nam vets, non-US vets, interested civilians) in other forums, I arrived at my solution for REDUCING the IED threat: aerostats watching the main routes traveled by convoy. The aerostats are in the federal supply system as the Coast Guard has several on duty watching South Florida for incoming potential drug smugglers. They should also be used to watch the Mexican border for border crossers. Sensor platforms can be hung from aerostats and linked by land line to central monitoring stations that can respond quickly. Aerostats are cheap, long term methods to provide observation of critical roadways. At 5K ft in the air, shooting one down is almost impossible with anything short of a tank cannon.

Areas under observation reduce the likelihood that persons planting such devices will do so unobserved. Aficionados of high tech can then dispatch a UAV to further check the area and use whatever armament to reduce the level of recividism. Other methods to limit collateral damage can also be used (silenced 4x4 ATVs with a fire team or one outfitted as a video game piece with weapons/cameras, indirect fire using Mk-19 automatic grenade lauchers, etc) to disrupt attempts at IED use.

I also ask a question of the readership: would a directional Tesla coil that launchs "fireballs" which might trigger the blasting cap be possible to make? All IEDs require a blasting cap to initiate the explosive train; have that go off prematurely and the IED is a failure. They all use explosives, usually in the form of artillery/mortar projectiles made of metal, so a Tesla fireball would be attracted to it.

Larry Altersitz rgrlarry at aol.com

Interesting. I didn't realize we had working aerostats. Those plus UAV and Hellfire might well be used to reduce the placement of IED's. I invite current serving officers to comment, as anonymously as you like.

I think the power requirements to use a Tesla Coil (which generates VERY high frequency AC, which mostly runs on the surface of objects; I built one when I was in high school) might be excessive for use in this instance, and the coupling to an IED detonator looks problematical to me, but I could easily be mistaken. Long out of my area.

Al Stevenson and I once invented a laser device that would scan for the characteristic return of a human eyeball. It was to be used in Viet Nam after curfew, and it could reliably distinguish between human and water buffalo eyes as well as other animals. The response would be to send a blinding laser shot back at the target, which would cause temporary blindness for a time depending on how far away the target was and how high the setting was. Seemed like a good idea, but the Geneva Convention Compliance Commission vetoed it so it was never built. But in Iraq do the Hague and Geneva Conventions apply?














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