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Mail 398 January 23 - 29, 2006






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Monday  January 23, 2006

Subject: Letter from England

The Sunday Observer has a series of interesting stories--I suppose it's because they have all week to develop them. Here in the UK, I find the Sunday Observer and the Monday issues of the more literate dailies to be the two most interesting places for news.

The NHS loses a fight to keep from having to provide effective drugs to Alzheimer suffers. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Observer/uk_news/story/0,,1692309,00.html 

The House of Lords has recently been a consistent voice of sanity in a politicised world. http://politics.guardian.co.uk/lords/story/0,,1692236,00.html 

Henry Porter and the growing UK police state. http://politics.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1692218,00.html 

Related story. http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/crime/article340221.ece 

Blair's reform of the schools faces a Labour backlash. http://politics.guardian.co.uk/columnist/story/0,,1692318,00.html 

Armando Iannucci--Official: teachers to be outlawed. http://observer.guardian.co.uk/7days/story/0,,1692347,00.html 

US Navy now dealing with the Somali pirates. (BTW, I've been asked to be the PI for an anti-pirate system.) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4636588.stm 

Economics. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2004099,00.html  http://news.independent.co.uk/business/comment/article340129.ece 

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

Regarding the Henry Porter story: What say the reeds at Runnymede? Alas for Magna Charta. Alas for all of us.

Subject: Monday Morning News Stories

As noted yesterday, the two big news days in England are Sunday (when the weeklies are published) and Monday (when the dailies catch up). Here's the Monday batch.

Breaking story: the former KGB is claiming that the UK is spying on the former Soviet Union and funding Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) there whose work on human rights is embarrassing the Russian government. http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article340409.ece

Liberal Democrats in freefall. (English politics are a blood sport.)

Nuclear power may be coming back to the UK.

The continuing NHS angst. Here, the reaction to the new treatment guidelines for Alzheimer's. The NHS is now taking flak for making a political decision.

NHS told to put money before medicine.

I don't know what to make of this. Apparently the UK Government may be considering outsourcing the work done by the Department of Work and Pensions. There may be problems with citizen privacy rights given what we've seen elsewhere.

The Catholic Church is copyrighting the public statements of the last few popes. You might be able to comment on this. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,13509-2005615,00.html 

Turkish prosecution of novelist apparently on hold.

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

I wonder at the reasoning of copyrighting Papal statements other than perhaps controlling their editing and alteration?

And why not outsource everything. Eventually we can outsource politics and voting. It's called colonialism.


Subject: The "Harrison Bergeron" amendment

I was sure I hadn't had enough coffee, and my eyes were deceiving me. Given the speed at which the boat of public education is already sinking, surely another torpedo amidships is unwarranted?


Yep. Jesse Jackson, Jr, has proposed an amendment to the Constitution, to wit:

"Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), that the following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States:

'SECTION 1. All citizens of the United States shall enjoy the right to a public education of equal high quality. 'SECTION 2. The Congress shall have power to implement this article by appropriate legislation'."


There is so much to revile in this proposal that I scarcely know where to begin. Truly, America as Lake Wobegone. Call it the Harrison Bergeron Amendment.

David Needham America's Third World County

Words fail me. If you missed the reference to Vonnegut's wonderful story, see mail from last week. See also View last week on the education disaster.


Subject: That seismic disturbance is George Westinghouse spinning

(And why is AOL listing it as SPORTS news?)


Toshiba Wins Bid for Westinghouse, Report Says Reuters TOKYO (Jan. 22) - Japanese electronics conglomerate Toshiba Corp. (6502.T) has won a bid for Westinghouse, the U.S. power plant arm of British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), for almost $5 billion, the Financial Times reported on Monday, quoting a source close to BNFL.

BNFL Chief Executive Mike Parker and Chairman Gordon Campbell decided to sell Westinghouse to Toshiba late on Saturday night, the FT said.




Subject: Failing students

Study: Most College Students Lack Skills Jan 19 2:43 PM US/Eastern Email this story

By BEN FELLER AP Education Writer


Nearing a diploma, most college students cannot handle many complex but common tasks, from understanding credit card offers to comparing the cost per ounce of food.

Those are the sobering findings of a study of literacy on college campuses, the first to target the skills of students as they approach the start of their careers.

More than 50 percent of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks.

That means they could not interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school.

The results cut across three types of literacy: analyzing news stories and other prose, understanding documents and having math skills needed for checkbooks or restaurant tips. <snip>

There was brighter news.

Overall, the average literacy of college students is significantly higher than that of adults across the nation. Study leaders said that was encouraging but not surprising, given that the spectrum of adults includes those with much less education. <snip>

American Institutes for Research: http://www.air.org/



And see below


Signs of the times?

BBC: Brewery's setting for Doctor Who

Staff at a south Wales brewery had to make sure they had not been transported to another dimension when the cast of Doctor Who turned up for filming.

Billie Piper, who plays the Doctor's assistant Rose Tyler, 50 extras and the film crew spent the day at Magor Brewery, near Newport, to shoot scenes.

The production of thousands of bottles of lager was halted while filming took place in two areas of the site. Brewery bosses said they were asked to help when another location cancelled. And with its stainless steel brewing equipment, it became the perfect setting for the sci-fi series. David Ginley, the site manager for the brewer said: "We received a call from BBC Wales and were pleased to help them out.

"The brewery itself is a modern brewery with lots of tanks and pipework so became the perfect setting for an industrial landscape which is what they wanted.

"Everybody was so excited about it - Doctor Who is so high profile and everyone was really excited and interested to see how something like that is made."

Mr Ginley said that although he didn't know what part of the storyline was being filmed at the site, he did see a number of Doctor Who's enemies.

"There were aliens and things. I didn't see any daleks though, but you never know, do you?" Staff at the site were able to meet actress Billie Piper, but there was no sign of the Doctor himself. Mr Ginley said: "We didn't get to see David Tennant but it was an exciting day for everybody at the brewery and we are all looking forward to watching the scenes in the finished programmes."

(Steven Dunn)


Subject: Your book sales

Dear Jerry:

I suggest you get an ISBN number if you don't already have on (the one for the original print publication will not do because this is a different release at a different time in a different format) and also offer The Strategy of Technology to online bookstores through Lightning Source. If you also create a Microsoft Reader version, that will get you into a wider variety of outlets. That will attract the people who don't visit your web site and may even get some of them to become regular visitors thereof.

Let me know if I can be of any help.


Francis Hamit

Good suggestion; I'll have to go buy some numbers. And look about for how I can put the thing in Microsoft Reader format. You gave considerable information on this back in September, for which thanks.

I am a little concerned as to how much these ISBN numbers cost; you must buy a lot of them to get the price under ten bucks a number, which seems a bit steep. But I suppose it's an investment. Still, it will take a LOT of sales to make up for the cost of buying a hundred (much less a thousand) ISBN numbers, and they are hideously expensive in lots of ten. I do wonder what Bowker does that's worth that much on what amounts to a monopoly?


Subject:  - sad state of education

"Nearing a diploma, most college students cannot handle many complex but common tasks, from understanding credit card offers to comparing the cost per ounce of food... That means they could not interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school."

I don't need a study to tell me that. All I have to do is look at the resumes that come over the transom. And I am fed up to the back teeth with engineering colleges encouraging the myth that engineers can't write.


Indeed. So far have we come.


Subject:  Slip of the pen or am I mistaken

Eli Culbertson bridge, Dale Carnegie friends

 Vito Meiller

Slip of the brain more like; Dale Carnegie certainly wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People==============





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Tuesday,  January 24, 2006

Cleaning up today: back room, cable room, and Great Hall. Short Shrift...

Subject: Children are less able now

Describes research into changes in student's math and science skills in the UK over the last 25 years. http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/story/0,,1693061,00.html 

-- "The data (or the marks when teaching) are sacrosanct--they tell us what actually happened."

Harry Erwin, PhD http://osiris.sunderland.ac.uk/~cs0her

And see below


Francis Hamit tells how to get your book published on line. For his earlier notes on how to publish on line see above.

Subject: Novels online

Dear Jerry:

The easiest way to put your novel online is to do what I and few other writers are doing now; serialize it on Amazon Shorts. The first part of mine (i.e. three chapters) should be up this week. THE SHENANDOAH SPY is based upon real history of the U.S. Civil War and recounts the early career of Belle Boyd a 17 year old girl who was considered one of the most effective spies and seductive agents of the Confederacy. She was also the first woman in American history to be formally commissioned an army officer. (A Captain at 18, no less.)

Amazon does add value by designing covers and by promoting all of the Amazon Shorts titles to their customers. That's only about 50 million people. At 49 cents per chunk and ten thousand words per chunk, you end up with about the same royalty you would get on a hardbound since authors get 40 percent of the gross. What you don't get is an advance. But that's true of any self-publishing online project as well.

Amazon Shorts does both fiction and non fiction and I'm convinced could be a paradigm shift for publishing. It relies on reader response and reader reviews to drive sales, which takes the usually gatekeepers out of the distribution chain. It used to be author-editor-publisher-printer-distributor-seller- reader. Amazon combines several of those functions. Now its author-Amason-reader. For less than the cost of a can of soda.

I had a turn down from a big New York print magazine today. They wished me luck placing the story elsewhere. But the moment has passed since it was very time bound and I won't bother. I don't chase these things. I'm not sure that Amazon Shorts would be successful with immediate hard news stories, but the matter of advance payment aside, there is no reason not to try that next time instead.

And since it is not bound by the constraints of print production and binding, Amazon Shorts is very flexible. It allows you to write the story in the way that serves the narrative best rather than for a designated space. (Who came up with the word lengths on short stories? The writers, the editors or the publishers.)

Another advantage is the ability to add collateral material. For instance I can do supporting articles about some of the minor characters in my story line. All were real people with interesting careers. John White Geary was the Mayor of San Francisco, the Governor of the Kansas Territory, and a Union Army Major General. Working all that into a fictional narrative would be ill advised and bore many readers, but others might want to know his full particulars. Some of those experiments with non linear narrative paths that were tried in the 1960's might actually be viable in a set of Amazon Shorts. Lot of possibilities.

Amazon only wants a six month exclusive on the Shorts they publish, which means that you could then offer them yourself later, or , with a novel, through a more conventional publisher. This is really a good deal for writers. And they promote your other work, regardless of publisher, at the same time. As long as it has an ISBN and is in their catalog, they will link to it.

It will take a couple of years to really work all this through, but I feel like we're in the verge of something big with this program.


Francis Hamit

I have bought 100 ISBN numbers from Bowker, and after fighting with their unresponsive system got them to respond, so I am now set to assign numbers to materials. As for instance a year's worth of BYTE columns and show reports, the originals as done here with the pictures; I own all those after a few months. Of course it's all available free in BYTE archives, so I wonder if anyone would be interested. Probably not, but I may do an experiment.

I also have a couple of novels that have gone out of print. Exiles to Glory is one. I could put that in pdf and add materials such as conversations with Dan Alderson (who appears in the story) and see if Amazon can sell it. There was the story collection High Justice that is now languishing out of print.

I need to think about this. I'll probably mention it in View and solicit responses. Sales of Strategy of Technology have been rather brisk just having it here on the site. Is that a better way to go than through Amazon? Well I'll think on it another time. Back to work throwing things out.

Found some corrected proofs of Starwarm and Burning City while cleaning up. I'll donate those to the Los Angeles world convention for auction...


Subject: Education Disaster


As a current classroom teacher I have to disagree with one of your six points. Point number is simply not true. The problem is that education professors demand equality of outcome. Their devotion to this goal is on the Pol Pot level. Since they cannot prevent 115+ people from learning they demand that the 85-115 people learn the same material in the same way as the more intelligent students. Some of the 85-115 are too dumb for college prep, some are too lazy and some just don't care. This leads to a neverending search for mystical magical teaching methods that will create the necessary equality of outcome or as it is called in education these days "equity." Some would liken this to a search for the unicorn or the philosopher's stone but I like the metaphor of the self-licking ice cream cone. To acquire one of these you don't go to the ice cream shop. You set an impossible goal and then use intimidation and name calling to shout down those who dare to point out the truth. The goal is not met so you demand additional resources and power to implement the goal. The goal recedes further as you are an idiot and your proposals damage the system in direct proportion to the degree of their implementation. You then demand more resources and power. The test scores go down, no one gets an education so the nation turns to you, the people who created the problem (the "experts"), to solve it. I see it every day. It makes me so sick at heart I don't know what to do. Basically, we're up the proverbial creek without even a boat, forget the paddle, that was lost long ago.


I don't disagree with what you say here but since you didn't give the point number I am not sure which point you are disputing.

I do know that the professorate demands a steady supply of people going to college so that they can justify all the high tuition and pay and salaries; the starving professor dedicated to arts and science is doing rather well, thank you, and the colleges are stuffed with far too many people. No child left behind means that no child gets ahead.


Subject: Oh, this terrible global warming,



Seems odd that people in Europe are dying of cold in the middle of this supposedly catastrophic episode of global warming, doesn't it?


Ice Age! New Ice Age!




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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Dented Space-Time.


- Roland Dobbins


Solving the Pueblo mystery.


- Roland Dobbins

That may be the explanation.


Subject: English need not be language of space....


Iím reminded of one of Mr. Heinlenís quotes with this article: http://www.physorg.com/news10221.html

Russia is planning to mine a rare fuel on the moon by 2020 with a permanent base and a heavy-cargo transport link, a Russian space official said Wednesday.

"We are planning to build a permanent base on the moon by 2015 and by 2020 we can begin the industrial-scale delivery... of the rare isotope Helium-3," Nikolai Sevastyanov, head of the Energia space corporation, was quoted by ITAR-TASS news agency as saying at an academic conference.

The International Space Station (ISS) would play a key role in the project and a regular transport relay to the moon would be established with the help of the planned Clipper spaceship and the Parom, a space capsule intended to tug heavy cargo containers around space, Sevastyanov said.

Helium-3 is a non-radioactive isotope of helium that can be used in nuclear fusion.

Rare on earth but plentiful on the moon, it is seen by some experts as an ideal fuel because it is powerful, non-polluting and generates almost no radioactive by-product.

Sadly, Jim Laheta

Does anyone doubt that a $10 billion prize for putting a colony on the Moon would work? If we really wanted to be sure, we can give $10 billion for the first, $5 billion for the second, and $3 billion for the third companies to do it. The terms are easy enough: "American owned company, to put 31 American citizens on the Moon and keep them there live and well, continuously, for a period of three years and a day." No support until it's done, and no questions afterwards except for being certain the conditions are fulfilled. For $18 billion we would have at least one Moon Base.

Of course we won't do it. NASA says it's impossible. I point out that it costs nothing m0re than the cost of printing the law unless we get the Moon Base, but NASA waves its arms and whines. NASA is a jobs program and they don't dare be shown up quite that badly.

But we could do it.


Subject: Gun Control Works -- For Criminals

Thought this might be of some interest, Dr. Pournelle. It is from a new-to-me source.


Some quotes:

"The [crime] situation is so bad that in the Jan. 3 edition of Canada's National Post, writer David Frum startled readers by revealing that "Canada's overall crime rate is now 50% higher than the crime rate in the United States." He further noted, "Since the early 1990s, crime rates have dropped in 48 of the 50 states and 80% of American cities. Over that same period, crime rates have risen in six of the 10 Canadian provinces and in seven of Canada's 10 biggest cities."

"While Canada has clamped down on its citizens' gun rights, American citizens have been empowered against criminals by passage concealed carry laws. The disparity in crime rates between the two countries says it all about how well gun registration works to stop crime, as opposed to actually carrying guns to deter criminals, and fight back if necessary."

"Since declaring war on guns under former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Canada's Liberals have presided over the sharpest rise in violent crime in the nation's history. There are more rapes, more robberies and more murders."


Charles Brumbelow

I am sure the Liberal government is shocked... and is certain the remedy is even stricter gun control.


CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


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Subject: Intel makes first chip at tiny new scale


Tracy Walters

Moore's Law in action... Technology goes in "S" curves, as we said in Strategy of Technology. Are we still riding an older curve which is slowing, or are we at the base of a new one?



CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


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Friday, January 27, 2006

1. NASA is in serious trouble, due to modern technology and Bill Gates.


Well, back in the '80's we were saying that the only way NASA could get back to the moon was by building a mountanin of acetate -- and they had a good start.

Of course, with MS Powerpoint and projectors, nobody uses viewgraphs anymore....

2. A case can be made that the whole purpose of the Crew Exploration Vehicle is to transfer the institutional knowledge of how Apollo was built to a new generation before the retirement/death of the last of the 60's Apollo-era engineers.


KS is a physicist; you will be hearing more from him in future.

One problem with the CEV is that NASA, having begun well with contracts for development of new failsafe engines using methane or propane as Max Hunter always recommended, is now talking about hypergolics including hydrazine. The list of reasons why you do not want to do this is extremely long. We need reliable restartable engines based on the Centaur design but using something other than hydrogen; even if this doesn't turn out to be the right CEV engine (and I'd bet it will) we will need those rocket engines, NASA has the money and isn't doing much useful with it, and it would make a good X Project.

NASA could turn itself around and become heroes instead of incompetent villains. X Projects would be one way for them to go. Keep the jobs program and the standing army. Pay much of the standing army to get the heck out of the way and go spend their money in their local Congressional District, while the still-competent get some work done.

And point 2 is valid: we are losing that generation, those who learned from von Braun and the giants. Now Max is gone. The last of those who Could Do is going.


Subject: LA Times article


I forward this on, in case you missed it. I've never met the man, nor read many of his articles. However, the arrogance with which this was written astounds me.

I can't believe that he truly believes that which he has penned. Surely it was written "tongue in cheek", or merely to provoke a reaction from the readership?

Chris Grantham

I saw this yesterday, and perhaps had I not been busy fighting the eternal mess here I might have reacted. I have no idea of what the motive for writing it was, but I have given up being astonished at things like this.


The Call of Cthulhu.


-- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Hamas wins election - 

Morning Jerry,

Well, the Palestinians managed to do the only thing worse than re-electing the corrupt Fatah party - they elected Hamas.


I just finished reading 'How Israel Lost', and wonder what his take on this turn of events would be. This result essentially grants Israel a blank check to take whatever action they want: at long last, there is a pseudo nation-state with the avowed purpose to destroy Israel that they can do battle with.



Those who think "democracy" is the answer to all political questions should think hard on this result.




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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Subject: The Two Grenadiers

In a moment of curiosity sparked by Hendrik van Loon, sui generis, I tracked down a site that offers the Heine poem "Die Beide Grenadiere" in both the original German and a good English translation (I know just enough German to vouch for the accuracy of the translation). The site, as a bonus, links to audio files of the song in both languages

Listen to this song and you do, indeed, understand some of the attraction of "a man on a horse" who with a sojourn in the halls of glory offers us escape from the cares of ordinary life.


Petronius The Idler

Fascinating. I didn't find that site in my search. It also has Die Lorelei, and if you are a fan of Cabaret you will recognize the origin of "Tomorrow belongs to me": what Possony called sentimental Germany. Thank you for finding that.


Subject: Hamas election win

I agree with your correspondent Doug, and Iíll add to it with a prediction: within a year or two, in the Palestinian ďstateĒ no stone or brick will be on top of another. If they are lucky, the people who lived there will have been allowed to leave first.

The Palestinian people have just elected a terrorist organisation into government, with the stated purpose of obliterating Israel. When a people elect a government, they are responsible for its actions. I therefore think that the Israelis will get their obliterating in first; if the Jews have learnt anything during the Tragic Century, as well as the many centuries of oppression before that, it is that appeasement never works, unless the purpose is to buy time to rearm.

To illustrate that last point, I think that Chamberlain was unfairly maligned; if he had declared war when some people wanted him to, I would have grown up, if at all, speaking German (Iím English).

So there we have it; the people of Palestine have just signed their countryís death warrant. And not before time; a country that uses blowing up women and children, by preference, as an instrument of deliberate policy does not deserve to survive.



It will be fascinating to watch developments. Democracy is probably not the remedy here.

On the other hand:

Hi Jerry,

The Hamas victory might be a good thing.

Hamas has built a lot of its domestic popularity on providing infrastructure services where the government failed to do so. Now that Hamas is in power, there is a real chance that they will concentrate even more on governance, and let terror fade into the background. Think IRA/Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland - as they became more and more involved in the political process, terror became less and less a part of their activities.

In any case, Hamas can hardly do worse than the Fatah government, which seemed determined to muck up every opportunity that came its way...



This may be a tad bit optimistic...


Dr. Pournelle,

You mentioned recently the "three great examples of the futility of vast centralized bureaucracies: the Soviet system of agriculture, the American System of Education, and NASA."

I would respectfully submit that there is a fourth - the British National Health Service - which is crumbling but still working its spell, sustained in part by the fact that it has become the premier national sacred cow for the British - even to criticise it mildly is to invite opprobrium and contempt from all around.

This monster now consumes about 50% more money than it did eight years ago, "employs" more than a million people, including - famously - more managers than it has hospital beds, and delivers a worse result than any other healthcare system in the developed world.

And still everyone insists that reform is neither possible nor desirable.


Andrew Duffin


Subject: Baffled Scientists Say Less Sunlight Reaching Earth

Hi Dr Pournelle, On fox news- another mention of Global Warming- this time related to changing levels of cloud cover- and the admission, that gee, they don't know!


Thank you,

Marc H. Heller

Global dimming. We must reduce uncertainties before we bankrupt ourselves with remedies...









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