THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 242 January 27 - February 2, 2003
Highlights this week:
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the monthly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 4,000 - 7,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here.
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January 27, 2003
I think my records on subscriptions are nearly up to date. I have sent reminders to everyone whose last renewal was before 2002; this means if you paid in 2002 it will be a while before you hear from me. Eventually you will.
Thanks also to those who went out and recruited another subscriber or two.
If you don't pay for this place you might think about it.
Last weekend we began a discussion of nerve agents and war gasses. It continued in mail today.
There was in last Sunday's LA Times an obituary for Ginny Heinlein, informed by Greg Bear and me.
I'll have more on other matters later. Paying bills and trying to work on Burning Tower...
Subject: More on the SQL Slammer
---- Roland Dobbins
A random thought of curiosity: it has been said that all the domesticatable animals have been domesticated. Steve Sailer then noted that Hannibal seemed to have done well with African elephants, which are now said not to be fit for domestication.
Are there species we might domesticate that haven't been?
|This week:||Tuesday, January
Would-be bounty hunters and intergalactic traders now have the opportunity to enter the Freelancer Sneak Preview contest for a chance to win one of 30 coveted Freelancer playable discs. Microsoft and Digital Anvil are allowing gamers to sign up today and throughout the weekend at the official site, http://www.microsoft.com/games/freelancer/ , or at the ever-loyal Freelancer fan site, Lancer's Reactor, http://www.lancersreactor.com/ .
This work-in-progress sneak preview CD features an exclusive look into the entire game more than a month before Freelancer hits store shelves. Winners will be selected via a random drawing from all entries. For complete contest information, official rules and to sign up for the chance to win, head over to the official Freelancer site.
Set in the outer reaches of the planetary system, Freelancer combines the action of 3-D space combat, the exploration of a dynamic, living universe and trading in a rich galactic economy, where players' decisions drive the adventure. Slated for U.S. release in March 2003 and developed by Digital Anvil, the epic adventure challenges players to determine their own reputations and choose their own distinctive styles of play. Players can choose to act like bounty hunters, traders, pirates or explorers for different gameplay experiences. The open-ended style of gameplay gives gamers a choice between following a linear storyline or determining how the story will unfold. The multiplayer component enables players around the globe with their own servers to fly missions or explore space together. An enhanced mouse and keyboard interface simulates the realistic feel of flying a spaceship while making the game accessible to a wide range of gamers. For more information about Freelancer, visit the official site at http://www.microsoft.com/games/freelancer/ .
This will be Microsoft's answer to Earth & Beyond, which I liked a lot at first and got bored with after a couple of weeks: just not enough to do, and the story line involved too much sitting around while ships went from one place to another. It was the closest thing to the old Privateer I know of, and for a while Earth & Beyond got me hooked away from Everquest, but as I said, eventually it got boring.
But Privateer is the game I remember as fondly as any I ever played, and I'm sort of looking forward to what Microsoft will do with this. Big space exploration/trading/fighting games have always interested me, and Microsoft has a very good gaming team. Asheron's Call never weaned me away from Everquest, but I don't say it couldn't have if I hadn't already got a fair amount of time invested in Everquest. Also I built up some friendships on line that greatly enhance the Everquest play and Asheron's Call tends to emphasize these strange hierarchical relationships... It's a bit odd: I gather that Asheron's Call is more fun at higher levels than at lower, while Everquest tends to have some really neat quests for newcomers.
Anyway, Freelancer promises to be interesting. Not that I have much time for any kind of games lately. Books to finish, this place to keep up, columns to write, puppy to train, world to keep up with. They don't make as many hours in the day as they used to.
The market is way down again. We are at a choice point: a competent empire will now act in an entirely different way from a competent republic. What we do in the next few weeks regarding Iraq may have a lot of impact on our future: may even be irrevocable. It's not quite too late to restore the republic, but that doesn't look like what we're planning on, and in fact I doubt many in Washington have any notion of what a republic of self-governing communities with limited federal government means. The concept has been pretty well lost. It's also lost among the teachers in our schools, so unless a lot of people do a lot of reading on their own, the republic is history.
The problem with empire is that it's pretty hard for it to be federal. There's a lot of talk about diversity, but those are cultural patterns, not regional autonomies, and loyalties have to be pretty direct to the central imperium and its bureaucracy. Lese majeste becomes the real crime, and it is a crime because it diminishes the loyalty of the citizenry to the state. Empires can be glorious: in fact, they had better be, because there's not a lot of reason for loyalty and patriotism without the trappings of imperial glory.
Parades, the tramp of the regiments that never die, the glory of the flag rising above foreign lands, the might of soldiers whose back no enemy ever saw: this is the stuff of empire, and it's pretty heady stuff, too.
And of course most people who want imperial government don't think in those terms. They want what they think is justice for senior citizens, and think of "seniors" rather than elders of North Carolina of California or Montana, assuming that being "senior" is more important than where one lives and the culture one grew up with. But of men we know, and of the gods we suspect, that by their fundamental nature they rule wherever they can; and that applies to bureaucracies as well as to any other structure. And pretty soon what set out as a quest for justice for some group ends up as oppressive regulation for all. For the strong do as they will, and the weak suffer what they must, and that applies as much to levels of government as to relations between Athens and her empire...
But it's too nice a day to think like this. El Nino flaked out on us: in Studio City we are having 70 to 80 degree sunny days, not even the dry Santa Ana winds at the moment, while the east coast is in the grip of global warming. Bob Thompson told me it got up to 14 degrees F the other day at his place.
And I really do need to get back to work. But first some mail to post...
The State Of The Union
Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States.
He came to tell us: shall we have republic or empire. There wasn't a lot of doubt before. There is none now.
The State of The Union message has been given, and apparently the answer is:
The President has chosen to show us the path of glory, to the cheers of the Senate and People of the United States. And the cheers of the generals, and of the troops, whose acclaim he needs to bring it off.
We will be a compassionate empire, to make whole the broken parts of the world, to protect the weak and make humble the proud; we will carry liberty across the world on the points of our bayonets.
Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!
It's easy to be cynical about that, but do not forget that Napoleon Bonaparte had the biggest funeral procession of any human being in history, and look at his tomb today. Look at the tomb of Augustus in Rome, magnificent in its ruins. The statue of Augustus stands in many strange places, but it stands, 2000 years after he decreed that all the world should be taxed.
We shall follow the paths of glory abroad, and of compassion in the United States. And do so while lowering taxes: which is in fact about the only way it can be done. If it works this way as it did when Reagan (and Kennedy before him) cut taxes, income will rise: and this time Bush has some handle on spending priorities.
As to hydrogen economy research, about time. It is not enough, of course, since there are no hydrogen wells; but if we have the technology to use hydrogen as a mobile fuel, we will need hydrogen wells, and those must be either nuclear or space solar; nothing else can supply enough.
And we are deploying Strategic Defense: a policy that Possony, Pournelle, and Graham set in motion over twenty years ago. Once we begin down that path it is hard to stop: and since Strategic Defense requires that we dominate space, and space dominance requires routine access to space, that is another road worth traveling. And it leads inevitably to the Moon and the planets. If we build solar power satellites we will have a Moon Colony built on third shifts and weekends; and from there to the planets, and thence to the stars.
Farewell to the Republic. Hail the new Empire, of America; perhaps of Man.
Ave! Ave Imperator!
I will be back Thursday night. I've got a few errands to run today and tomorrow morning. While I'll have a laptop along I may not be able to get to everything until tomorrow evening, or possibly Friday morning.
I inadvertently put my State of the Union comments under Monday instead of Tuesday. They have been moved to the proper place. The bookmark always did work.
There's a lot of mail but I am in a bit of a hurry this morning. We'll see what I can get done after I get things better organized this morning.
Subject: Today's fortune.
That's the thing about people who think they hate computers. What they really hate is lousy programmers.
-- Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle in "Oath of Fealty"
- Roland Dobbins
I am out of town, and I don't seem to be able to get my mail. Something very odd is going on. I'll have to look into it another day, but I'll be back in Chaos Manor tomorrow, and I can check things there.
January 30, 2003
Back Home. Although I shut down Outlook I left Principessa on; apparently Outlook even when not running goes and gets mail, because all the January 29 and 30 mail I could not collect at the beach house was in the inbox when I opened Outlook. Odd. So in future I will shut down the machine.
Was down to see The Grandchild. Came back on the train, leaving Roberta at the Beach House (she's singing Sunday down there), and while the Amtrak System is going broke I have to say it works extremely well: got on the train at 2:45, and was home by 6:45, having taken the train to Union Station, the Red Line subway to Universal City, and the Metro express from there to Laurel Canyon. The whole thing could have been as cheap as $21.35, $20 for the train and $1.35 for the combined subway/bus ticket. In fact I paid $33.35, since I took "Business Class" which gives me a table with electricity and a place to work on the train.
Carried the new HP/Compaq Tablet PC. Which works wonderfully. I love it.
January 31, 2003
I am about to be nibbled to death by ducks. There are just a lot of small errands and things to be done, before I can do anything about work. Including getting a new harness for Sable, who has outgrown her old one. We have to use a harness because she has discovered the joys of getting as far behind as the reel leash permits, then running flat out ahead until it jerks her to a stop. With it attached to a collar she could hurt herself. She thinks it is a great game.
I'm also supposed to be on Emil Franzi's self syndicated CNN radio show. Emil and I go way back to the days when he and Maureen Reagan worked for me on political campaigns.
I was on the air in Tucson, on a call-in show. Thanks to those who called. It went well, except that Emil has a partner, who chose to attack me because of SDI. I am not sure why: he began incoherently and deteriorated. He was certain that it couldn't work, was a boondoggle of no value, and you "cannot hit a missile with a missile."
When I pointed out that Homing Overlay did exactly that in 1980, and what man has done man can aspire to. Homing Overlay launched a missile from Vandenberg and an interceptor from Kwajelein; it went better than anyone hoped, in that the interceptor actually hit the target (we had been hoping for a near miss). My show co-host said I was the only one in the world who knew about that. Came the surprise: a caller, who was a retired USAF officer who had been the launch director of the Titan II target vehicle launched out of Vandenberg. He told us the story (which I knew). Emil has an interesting listener base.
Why this vituperation against SDI (including some kind of denunciation of Teller: I don't understand that one either) is beyond me.
All this prompted me to send Emil this letter:
I am afraid there are many things about your friend I don't understand. One of them was the attack on Edward Teller. I didn't understand what it was that he objected to.
Did he contend that Teller was not instrumental in developing the fusion bomb? If so he's just wrong, and it's not hard to demonstrate that he was wrong. Like most such developments, this was a team effort, and in fact our first fusion weapon was so heavy that we had to develop very heavy lift bombers to carry it. There were those who thought it wouldn't work, and that developing it was a waste of resources. They were wrong.
Or is it his contention that Teller was wrong to advocate US fusion weapons? If so does he argue that the world would be a better place if the Soviet Union had them and we did not? Or that the USSR was not capable of developing the hydrogen bomb unless we had done it first (and presumably they could steal secrets from us)? If the latter he is wrong again: the USSR had and has capable scientists and mathematicians, and their first hydrogen bomb was actually a bit better than ours in yield to weight. They surely would have had it, whether we pursued it or not.
The Rosenbergs managed to cut a couple of years off the US nuclear monopoly. If they had been caught (and if Klaus Fuchs had been caught) the USSR would eventually have got the A-bomb, and their work on the h-bomb was nearly independent of ours: they tested theirs much sooner than we thought they would be able to.
So I do not understand his intense dislike of Teller. Teller isn't a particularly likable man in that he doesn't suffer fools gladly, but I thought even his enemies gave him credit for his accomplishments. But perhaps your friend really does believe there would not be hydrogen weapons if not for Teller? He can set his mind at rest on that one: the USSR had people capable of doing it all by themselves once they had fission bombs.
On SDI he just doesn't seem to be coherent. He kept spluttering about lasers when I talked about kinetic kill weapons. There were never any laser systems proposed as an early phase of SDI. I know that Scientific American talked about lasers used for boost phase interception and how that would have to exceed the speed of light or some such nonsense, but that was based on an incorrect model of boost phase interecepts. Boost phase works only if you can be relatively close to the launch point. An airborne laser can in fact intercept missiles in boost phase, but the airplane has to be on station, and know what's coming, and more or less when. That's why it's not part of the intercept war plan.
None of this is secret and all of it has been covered in my book Mutual Assured Survival, Ben Bova's book Assured Survival, and the chapter called Assured Survival in The Strategy of Technology (1970) where Possony and I proposed that we adopt "Assured Survival" as a national strategic goal rather than "Assured Destruction" in part on the grounds that the Constitution talks about the common defense, but not about the common destruction; and we weren't trying to be cute.
Lowell Wood did propose laser battle stations with chemical pumped lasers as one means of interception to be deployed after we had "smart rocks" (which transmogrified into "brilliant pebbles"), a kinetic kill mid-range interceptor. It was susceptible to spoofing and decoys, but that depended in part on the sophistication and weight of the decoys; if we could make the USSR spend significant sums on decoys that would be money not spent on weapons that would harm us. This kind of dynamic analysis is never easy, and some of it does involve rocket science, but it's not that hard.
Ah well. Thanks for an interesting day.
The ways of the American liberal are increasingly opaque to me. Emil is a libertarian, and once was the head of California Young Republicans, and an old friend of sound ideas and abilities: why he chooses to keep this chap around is beyond me. But it may make for good theater. Me, I prefer people who have done a bit of their homework and are more coherent, which is probably why I am not a radio talk show host.
February 1, 2003
O Spirit, whom the Father sent
Columbia is down. It was inevitable that we would lose another shuttle, and statistically likelier that it would be the first one; none of which makes it any easier when it happens.
Because an Israeli war hero -- he led the strike against Iraq's nuclear research facility -- was aboard, the speculation will be intense: was this a terrorist operation? The likelihood is low. As I understand it, Columbia began to break up at 200,000 feet or more. This is far too high for nearly any kind of attack; I can think of munitions we could put on an F-15 that might do it, but it would not be easy, and it would be pretty obvious that it had been done. (The F-15 of course wouldn't get anywhere near that high.)
There is also another possible attack against the bird when in orbit that might cause tile damage. This could be overlooked and cause it to break up hours or days later on re-entry. This too is extremely unlikely.
The shuttles are old, and Columbia was the oldest. Any malfunction in the controls in the flight regime can get her into an unrecoverable attitude; which is probably what happened.
The work of test pilots is dangerous and those who explore the boundaries of our knowledge know the risks. Go out to Edwards Air Force Base and look at the street names if you doubt it.
Eternal rest grant them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.
And I have this letter:
Mr. Heinlein wrote a verse in one of his short stories, of the Prayer for Travelers:
Almighty Ruler of the all,
Mark Thompson email@example.com
The only way to explore space is to make access cheaper. The only way to make access cheaper, and available to many people not just "specialists" and people with political connections, is to have reusable ships, so that mission costs are driven by the cost of fuel (as airline flights are).
One good way to get there is through X programs. Direct government funding of programs like the mis-named X-33 -- which wasn't an X program, and demonstrates what happens when you try something other than an X project no matter what you call it -- ends up with lots of money spent for darned little new technology.
And I have been listening to Minus Ten and Counting:
Fly Columbia! Foundation of the Future, Courier of Dreams, Thunder On!
If you don't have that tape it's worth finding. Perhaps the artists can rip it and make copies available on the web. The version above can be found here, and is performed by Leslie Fish and Julia Ecklar.
And for how to get to space...
And thanks to Sean Long for this, and to Aleta Jackson for The Phoenix, an MP3 file I have attached to it. The song is by Julia Ecklar, who is wondeful:
I saw this posted online. No idea if it's legit but I've been watching that
exact radar image for 3 years now and haven't seen anything like it before.
And it is worth remembering the names as you listen to the song:
Colonel Rick D. Husband, USAF
An eyewitness account from an XCOR engineer in Mojave. See mail.
I am going to take the dog for a walk.
O Spirit, whom the Father sent
February 2, 2003
Thanks to those who have written about The Phoenix, but I had nothing to do with it other than long being an admirer of the work. For more space songs, go here. For more of Julia Ecklar, go here. And Aleta and the XCOR gang have been working to get Minus Ten and Counting on line. Check here.
It's the day after. Time to keep moving. One thing worth discussing again is the whole concept of reusable space ships, which is to say, Single Stage to Orbit. That has begun in mail, and will eventually be collected onto its own page. The concept has long been ridiculed by NASA; but there are political reasons for that.
I have never been a great fan of Shuttle. Apparently there are other critics.
The USA has been flying a fleet of twenty-year-old X-planes, and we're running out. Half the people I know have been trying for all their lives to build a better rocket ship. I can't find the energy to be enraged.
As to what to do next week, click HERE. I have also been digging through my old space papers. There is a lot here on what to do. As for instance, what to do after DC/X. Of course we don't actually DO any of that...
I was just talking to some space engineer friends. If we had known that the tiles were damaged and Columbia could not re-enter without repairs, was there enough delta vee in the fuel that would be used to de-orbit the ship to get it to rendezvous with space station? I don't have the numbers but they aren't too hard to get. We're looking into it. I can even see doing an EVA to saw off the landing gear and tires to lighten the load...
Of course NASA management would NEVER permit anything like that. But -- Well Pete Conrad would have done it anyway.
Part Two: if we knew the ship was damaged, we could sure as heck send up Atlantis to rendezvous with Columbia and take the crew and all the science data off.
Two good science fiction stories in that. I may have to write them. Alas, the first story is probably impossible: there isn't enough power to get to the ISS orbit. I've got someone else looking at it, but the physics don't look good.
On the other hand, if we had decent suits we would have been using them routinely, and we might well have planned missions with EVA fixes and the like in mind.
Enough. I am going to bed.
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