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Monday July 25, 2005

Begin with something alarming: http://www.techcentralstation.com/071505C.html (With discussion in mail.)

If you missed the correction on the Iraqi Constitution, click here.

Last week we had pictures of Sable and a close encounter of the cat kind. It has been a while since we had puppy pictures, but they are still around... In fact a whole page of them. I had forgotten just how cute she was as a puppy...


I have a couple of serious points to make later today, but first a query: does anyone know how to slow down the action in Sid Meier's Pirates!? I was told it was the + and - keys that control the speed but that is not documented and it doesn't seem to do it for me. There is probably some trick to it all. On my fast machine the little sloop skips around the Caribbean like Philip's twin-hull ship, and that is just too fast for me.  Also, is there a way to figure out the markets other than by sailing around and building a data base? That latter is too much like work for me; I can recall a time when I used two computers to play trading games, building a data base on one I wasn't playing on, but that was long ago for Bruce Webster's Sun Dogs (I think that was the name). I won't do it again.


 US: Environmental Slacker, or Feinstein, Political Hack?

The Monday, July 25, LA Times op ed page features an article by Senator Dianne Feinstein entitled "U.S. an environmental slacker." While writers are not responsible for headlines, this one is a fair summary. (I have searched for this article on line but apparently it isn't up yet; when it is I'll put the URL here.)

She opens: "Polar ice caps are shrinking, glaciers are melting, and coastlines are falling away. the culprit? Global warming caused by burning fossil fuels. Unless we take strong action, these conditions will only get worse.

"For too long, the Bush administration has led people to believe that this isn't happening, and if it was, the remedies would only hurt our economy. The administration's inaction on global warming ignores the findings of scientist throughout the world, and could imperil both our nation and the rest of the globe."

It continues in that vein for some time, and, surprisingly endorses the Kyoto Accords. It does not, surprisingly, endorse nuclear power plants or space power satellites as an alternative to fossil fuel. It does conclude "It is truly shameful that the biggest industrialized nation on Earth is leaving it up to individual, cities, and states to take action on global warming." And of course calls for federal action.

This is shameful on several levels. Either Feinstein is an idiot, or she is mendacious. One also wonders just how large an interest her husband holds in Chinese companies, which would benefit enormously from US adoption of the Kyoto accords (as would a number of other "developing" countries which are pretty well exempt from the disasters Kyoto would impose if adopted). Of course she must know there is no actual chance of the US Senate adopting the Kyoto accords, so she isn't averse to making a bit of political hay out of this bed of tares.

At this point one understands the temptation to agree when people say "How do you know when a politician is lying? His lips are moving." Or hers.

So. Is there global warming? Certainly. We knew that in childhood. The Hudson doesn't freeze solid any longer, and the brackish canals of Holland don't freeze hard enough to skate on every winter. The glaciers are retreating. The Earth is warming and it has been since about 1800, with an acceleration in about 1875, and another acceleration in the early part of the XXth Century.

Do greenhouse gasses contribute to it? They certainly should. Arrhenius calculated the probable effects before World War I, and for all the sophistication of climate models there wasn't a lot of progress for a hundred years after his calculations.

How much do they contribute, and will Kyoto do much to stop things?  Unknown, and no.

Don't all scientists say the opposite?  No. There is a consensus that the Earth is warming, having been colder from about 1400 to 1800 (and having been warmer than now from about 800 to 1300). There isn't a lot of dissent from that view. There is a consensus that CO2 contributes to warming; there is no consensus on just how much it contributes; and there is none whatever among scientists that Kyoto will do a damned thing except enrich some people, beggar others, slow down the industrialized nations' economies, and employ a lot of "regulatory scientists" -- the kind of bureaucrats who gravitate into regulatory agencies and give themselves titles generally using the word "scientist" but who do no science. (See Edith Efron The Apocalyptics for a good description of what these people do.)

Should we be doing something about this uncontrolled experiment of pumping CO2 into the atmosphere? Are there not some potentially disastrous scenarios? Might we not trigger something irretrievable?  Possibly; which is why we should be devoting a lot of effort and resources into (1) recording exactly what is happening including geological and astrophysical changes, and (2) developing real alternatives to fossil fuels. Nuclear power comes to mind. If Feinstein had used her scare tactics to get people on her side of the fence to stop opposing nuclear power, she would still be mendacious but at least she'd be trying to do something useful. Her present stance is just silly.

But then her lips are moving...


Subject: Feinstein - GW

Diane Feinstein and Global warming/Kyoto

She also is a hypocrite.

Remember the 1997 Senate resolution that passed 97-0 telling Gore and the other negotiators not to accept the Kyoto treaty if it failed to include China and India participation.

She was not among the 3 missing votes.


But I had forgotten! Thank you.


July 25, 2005 High Tech in the 70's, Shuttles Feel Their Age By JOHN SCHWARTZ

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., July 24 - Like an increasingly creaky baby boomer who can still run a marathon, the space shuttle is a delicate organism that can do miraculous things. But as the Discovery prepares to lift off Tuesday morning on the first shuttle mission since the loss of the Columbia two and a half years ago, it is clearly feeling its age.

The launching is scheduled for 10:39 a.m. Tuesday, but the question of malfunctioning fuel level sensors is still hanging over the process.

Four engine cutoff sensors monitor hydrogen levels in the tank and set off an engine shutdown if the fuel level falls dangerously low. National Aeronautics and Space Administration rules say that the shuttle needs all four to be working in order to launch, but sensor No. 2 failed hours before liftoff on July 13.

Since then, the shuttle team has been unable to nail down the problem's cause. But workers have switched the cables between sensors Nos. 2 and 4 in preparation for filling the fuel tanks again, starting at about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The sensors will be tested again at that time. If they behave properly, or if only No. 4 or No. 2 misbehaves, agency officials say they will feel comfortable that the problem affects only one sensor, and can choose to launch with three of the Discovery's four sensors functioning.

If the sensors malfunction in an unexpected way, however, that will indicate the problem is more deeply rooted in the system, and the launching will probably be delayed again. "There's very little in life that is 100 percent guaranteed," said N. Wayne Hale Jr., the deputy manager of the shuttle program, at a news briefing Sunday evening. "And there's probably less in rocket science."

The malfunctioning fuel sensor system that led officials to scrub the July 13 launching is only one of 2.5 million parts on the shuttle, most of them designed in the 1970's. <snip>

After the Challenger disaster, we -- the Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy -- begged NASA to replace Challenger with an up to date Shuttle using latest technology. The manger of the Shuttle Program at North American personally begged the Administrator in a meeting I chaired. Don't just build a copy of Challenger. Build a follow-on Shuttle with the latest techology.

Of course they didn't do that. Atlantis is as nearly a copy of Challenger as they could make.


Putting things in perspective (courtesy John Monahan):


July 25, 2005: The Iraqi government now believes that at least 12,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed during the last 18 months. In the last ten months, about 800 Iraqi civilians and police have been killed each month. Adding a bit more to account for unreported deaths (especially in Sunni Arab areas where chaos, not the government, runs things) the death rate is running at the rate of about 45 dead per 100,000 population per year. This is far higher than the usual rate in Middle Eastern countries (under 10). Well, most of the time. During civil wars and insurrections, the rate has spiked to over a hundred per 100,000, sometimes for several years in a row. During Saddamís long reign, the Iraqi death rate from democide (the government killing its own people) averaged over 100 per 100,000 a year. This does not include the several hundred thousand killed during the war with Iran in the 1980s. There are other parts of the world that are more violent than Iraq. Africa, for example, especially Congo, Sudan and South Africa. Only South Africa has a sufficiently effective government to actually keep track of the death rate, mostly from crime, but itís over 50 per 100,000. Itís worse in places like Congo and Sudan, but the numbers there are only estimates by peacekeepers and relief workers. In southern Thailand, a terror campaign by Islamic radicals has caused a death rate of over 80 per 100,000.

Iraq is getting better control of its vital statistics (births, deaths and the like), and felt confident to release those numbers. During Saddamís long reign, these numbers were kept haphazardly, largely because of the large number of Iraqis being killed by Saddams secret police and political enforcers. These deaths were often not recorded, or not recorded as murder. During his three decades of rule, Saddam killed half a million Kurds, and several hundred thousand Shia Arabs (and several thousand Sunni Arabs and Christian Arabs). During the 1990s, Saddam used access to food and medical care as a way to keep the Shia Arabs under control, but this process caused at least twenty thousand or more excess deaths a year (from disease and malnutrition). Foreign media, especially in Sunni Moslem nations, played down Saddamís homicides, just as they play up the current death toll in Iraq (which is still largely the result of violence by Sunni Arabs.) <snip>



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Tuesday,  July 26, 2005  

  I am working on an essay on public education in republic and empire.

I am confused about Microsoft's latest; see mail. As reported this is such an exceedingly stupid move that I wonder just what is going on. I think of no better way for Microsoft to commit suicide than to demand unrestricted access to users' machines.




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Wednesday, July 27, 2005 

It's more than likely that the reports on Microsoft's suicide pact (suicide by data mining) are exaggerated, confounding the error analysis which does require some information on drivers and information flow within the computer, and the verification procedure for determining the authenticity of the OS on the computer. There's a full discussion in mail. Be sure to read it all, particularly today's section. See also below


Two Important Articles about the War in the Middle East

I am not a great fan of neo-Jacobinism and the oxymoronic "Big Government Conservatism", and I remain convinced that we should never have gone into Iraq (even Buckley now says that if he had known then what we know now he'd have opposed the invasion; of course Bill Buckley is a bit older than me, and perhaps didn't keep up as well as I did, and besides, he may have been advised by the egregious Frum).

Having said all that, there are two articles in the July 25 issue of The Weekly Standard that are very much worth your attention. One,  Jihad Made In Europe by Reuel Marc Gerecht, http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/836esgwz.asp is nearly required reading. Gerecht has done several cool-headed analyses of the war and its consequences. Two weeks ago http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/view370.html#Gitmo I recommended his article on Guantanamo Bay and the progress of the war. If you missed that, go read it.

This week I can definitely recommend his Jihad Made In Europe http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/836esgwz.asp . He argues his case well.

Another article in the July 25 issue of the Weekly Standard, Nervous in Baghdad by Austin Bay, http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/838lfyxk.asp is also worth your time.  It presents a pretty good argument for the success of our efforts in Afghanistan. Yes, that regime is going back to opium farming, something the Taliban stopped. Interestingly, there wasn't much of a change in the world price of heroin as a result of the interruption then restoration of the Afghan supply, leading one to ask other questions about the success of the opium wars; but that is surely another issue. In any event, Bay presents his views well and writes from the location. Agree or disagree with what is happening in Afghanistan, it's an article worth your attention.

The real question now is not whether we ought to have gone into Afghanistan and Iraq in the first place (I'd say yes on Afghanistan, no on Iraq), but what we do now that we are there; and while some of my friends long for great public humiliation of Bush and his advisors as a salutary lesson to all imperialists in the US, I am not sure that we can afford the cost of such a lesson.

The opposite view is presented in The American Conservative, in an article entitled "Failure is an Option" by Christopher Layne. Unfortunately is it not on line. I was not impressed with Layne's historical views, and his analogy of Iraq with Viet Nam is dead wrong. The US was not faced with an insurgency in Viet Nam, and we did not lose the war; in 1972 the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam, with US materiel supplies and air support, beat back a large invasion from the North with about 300 American causalities for the year, in a land battle all but forgotten in the history books, but which demonstrated precisely how US supported allies could defeat any attack: something we put to good use in Afghanistan. Yes, we left Viet Nam in 1975, but not as a result of defeat. The Democrat controlled US Congress pulled us out, betraying our allies and throwing away the 1973 victory along with all the blood and treasure we had put into Viet Nam. There's plenty to be ashamed of about the US withdrawal from Viet Nam, but calling it a defeat and using it as an analogy to the Gulf Wars is dead wrong.

(Note: originally the above read 1973, which is incorrect; the forgotten victory was in 1972, see below.)


To Reduce the Cost of Teenage Temptation, Why Not Just Raise the Price of Sin?


I am often impressed by Thomas Sowell, enough so that I suppose it fair to call me one of his fans, but then:

Dr. Clyde N. Wilson: The Rednecks Did It! http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/cgi-bin/wilson.cgi/Race/2005/05/16/The_Rednecks_Did_It!  Monday, May 16, 2005

Alas! it is delusion all;
The future cheats us from afar,
Nor can we be what we recall,
Nor dare we think on what we are.
--Lord Byron


The neocon celebrity economist Thomas Sowell has attracted a good deal of attention with his "redneck thesis," expounded in his most recent book and in a Wall Street Journal piece. The thesis is one more in the endless chain of fanciful explanations for the well-known pathologies statistically prominent in the lives of African Americans. According to Sowell, the disdain for employment and education and proneness to violence evident in of much of the black non-community is behavior that black people unfortunately picked up from Southern "rednecks."

This idea is so ludicrously false in a hundred different ways that it could never have been put forth except in a society that was pre-conditioned not only to believe the worst about us rednecks, but actually to blame us for everything that goes wrong in America. I am reminded of the pundit who ascribed the crimes of Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber to "the evil Southern gun culture," though neither was Southern or used guns.

This is an old, old trick in American life, going back to 17th-century Massachusetts. It involves a falsification of history and an evasion of responsibility and honest analysis by projecting guilt onto the eternal American "Other"--Southerners. It shows something seriously defective, even dangerously delusional, in what passes for the mainstream American public mind.

The able www.vdare.com columnist Steve Sailer exposes some of the many defects of Sowell's thesis, but his treatment exhibits the same tendency to dismiss us rednecks as the "Other." As Sailer recounts, he mentioned to his wife that the thesis was false. She replied that such was OK as long as it worked (to improve attitudes among African Americans). Translation: It is perfectly alright to bear false witness against us rednecks and libel us on the outside chance that it might help a misbehaving but more favored group to behave better.

"Redneck" is, of course, an elastic term but seems to describe a category of Americans, centered in the South, who have done and continue to do more than their fair share of the working and fighting (and, yes, the thinking) that has created and sustained the American commonwealth and its freedom. (Never mind that the understanding of these Americans has been lately befuddled by a lot of careless theorizing about "Celtic" race and culture.)

If the thesis is true, we are left to the mystery of why African Americans picked such a bad example to follow when they had the spectacle of industrious, public-spirited, clean-living Northerners before them. One dare not raise the question in polite company, but might it be because those Northerners, in general, kept themselves and their example as far away from black Americans as they could?


Having grown up in Tennessee, I suppose I feel a residual obligation to defend the South from unfair attacks. You will note, though, that I no longer live there. When I was a young man I was thought both mad and a hopeless radical because I thought (and said) that the law ought to be color blind. Of course today I am thought a hopeless Redneck Conservative for holding precisely the same views...


New Study Shows We Can Afford Border Control!

$41 Billion Cost Projected To Remove Illegal Entrants

By Darryl Fears Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 26, 2005; Page A11


A new study by a liberal Washington think tank puts the cost of forcibly removing most of the nation's estimated 10 million illegal immigrants at $41 billion a year, a sum that exceeds the annual budget of the Department of Homeland Security.

The study, "Deporting the Undocumented: A Cost Assessment," scheduled for release today by the Center for American Progress, is billed by its authors as the first-ever estimate of costs associated with arresting, detaining, prosecuting and removing immigrants who have entered the United States illegally or overstayed their visas. The total cost would be $206 billion to $230 billion over five years, depending on how many of the immigrants leave voluntarily, according to the study.

"There are some people who suggest that mass deportation is an option," said Rajeev K. Goyle, senior domestic policy analyst for the center and a co-author of the study. "To understand deportation policy response, we had to have a number."

As many have pointed out, that's less than the cost of the Iraqi War; which would you rather see the money spent on? Of course I doubt the $41 Billion/year to begin with. In Los Angeles a great deal of the cost would be borne by local police once they were freed of the restrictions on checking citizenship and residency status -- and in Southern California at least $2 billion a year would be saved instantly by relief of public institutions such as hospital emergency rooms from the burden of providing services for illegal immigrants. Other such savings come to mind.

And of course some of the job could be farmed out to bounty hunters. At ten million illegal immigrants, what could we afford to pay bounty hunters per individual delivered at a Border Patrol station or INS Detention Center? At $1000 a head it would cost $10 billion to round up all of them, leaving another $20 billion for actual cost of detention and deportation, and still saving $11 billion for the first year. Spend that $11 billion on border control, and the next year there would be, say, only 5 million, so the cost is now $15 billion for the second year plus the $11 billion for border control. Surely we would be down to a million in five years, so our cost would be $3 billion for bounty hunters and deportation, plus the $11 billion for border control. We could then look at streamlining the border control operations, having spent $55 billion on it; one supposes that cost could be got down to half? We are now at $10 billion a year, possibly forever.

But if they are right, and it will cost $40 billion/year forever, it will still be affordable. We can afford the Iraq war, can't we? (and see mail)



Court Ruling Forces Austria to Revise Foreign-Student Policy The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.7.29 http://chronicle.com/weekly/v51/i47/47a04102.htm 


The European Court of Justice has invalidated an Austrian law requiring students from other European Union countries to prove that they have been admitted to universities in their home nations in order to gain admission to Austrian universities. The ruling sparked fears among Austrian academics that unqualified students from other countries, chiefly Germany, would flood their campuses.

The court, which sits in Strasbourg, France, said the Austrian law was discriminatory because it required foreign students to meet admissions requirements set not only by Austria, but also by their home country. The Austrian government responded swiftly to the ruling by changing admissions procedures for the country's 21 public universities, which have some 200,000 students.

Austria had been the only European Union country to allow unrestricted university access to qualified citizens. All Austrian students who had passed the matura, an examination completed at the end of secondary school by about 35 percent of 18-year-olds, could enroll in a university. Foreign students, however, were required to demonstrate not only that they had completed a qualification equivalent to the matura, but also that they had fulfilled their own country's requirements for pursuing the course of study they wished to undertake in Austria.

In countries such as Germany, qualifications such as minimum grades and examination scores have helped keep enrollment down in oversubscribed programs like medicine.

The widely expected court ruling, issued this month, raised the specter that German students who had failed to qualify for courses of study in their home country would inundate Austria's universities. "

Ain't it grand? I am sure the US Supreme Court will find this an interesting precedent.


I had to turn off Microsoft Outlook Junk Email filtering. Even at the lowest level the stupid thing was taking out all mail that had the word "spam" or "spammer" in the subject.

It also removed:

Subject: Windows Authentication Process

Dr. Pournelle:

All the info that I have found indicates that the "Windows Genuine Advantage" (WGA) program is not as intrusive as indicated by the report from the Globe and Mail link in today's mail. As an example, this quote from The Register:

"To register for the WGA, users just need to visit the Microsoft Download Centre, Windows Update or Microsoft Update. There they will be prompted to download an ActiveX control that checks the authenticity of their Windows software and, if Windows is validated, stores a download key on the PC for future verification."

Although I haven't captured packets during an authentication, the above statement is similar to what I have read at other sites (Infoworld, etc).

Microsoft's WGA site says (in their faq):

" The genuine validation process will collect information about your system, such as Windows product key, PC manufacturer, and operating system version, to determine if Windows is genuine. This process does not collect or send any information that can be used to identify you or contact you. The complete list of information collected in the validation process is shown below:

OEM product key PC Manufacturer OS version PID/SID BIOS info (make, version, date) BIOS MD5 Checksum User Locale (language setting for displaying Windows) System Local (language version of the operating system)"

(link to site is http://www.microsoft.com/genuine )

All my research (so far) indicates that this process is pretty benign, with no personalized information gathered.

Regards, Rick Hellewell

which came yesterday, but I didn't see until I went to look at the Outlook Junk Email filter. Why Microsoft Outlook wouldn't want me to see that is not known to me.


From Jim Woosley:


 NASA officials said Wednesday they would ground future space shuttle flights because foam debris that brought down Columbia is still a risk.


Couragio! And see mail.



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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Paul Schindler, former editor of Byte.Com, was over for a hike into the hills, and then I put in a couple of hours in the monk's cell working on fiction. There's a ton of mail, particularly on Shuttle, and at some point I am going to have to think about all that, but just for the moment my head is drained...






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Friday, July 29, 2005

Can someone explain to me why this is "breakiong news"?

Breaking News from NewsMax.com

State: Bolton Didn't Testify in Plame Case

John Bolton, the nominee for U.N. ambassador, has not testified to a grand jury or been interviewed by prosecutors about the leak of a CIA officer's identity, the State Department said Thursday in reply to a Democratic critic.


I didn't testify in that case, and neither have nearly all of you; so why is it "breaking news"? Has the world gone mad or is it just the silly season?

I need to write about the Shuttle, but for the moment you've all done pretty well in mail. Still, here are some thoughts.

NASA and the Dream, and How To Get Back To The Moon

This is more a ramble than a formal essay, but I think I cover the important points.

NASA spends a billion and can't fix the problem of foam dropoff. Give me a billion and 3 years (and exemption from the Disabilities Act and some other imbecilic restrictions) and I'll have a 700,000 pound GLOW reusable that will put at least 5,000 pounds in orbit per trip, and be able to make 10 trips a year for marginal costs linearly related to the cost of fuel. Give me $3 billion and I'll have a fleet of the damn things. Once they're flying we can work on getting the payload weights up. Give me $5 billion and I'll have the fleet plus one that's set up to go Earth orbit to Lunar Surface and return to Earth orbit as often as we like (each trip costing about 10 flights Earth to Earth orbit to refuel it). Costing: 700,000 pounds of fuel at $2 per pound times 4 as a guess. Throw in other stuff and the marginal costs are maybe $10 million a flight Earth to Earth orbit, so about $100 million to go back to the Moon.

Now, as a backup in case single stage is the wrong way to go -- and I can be convinced that it is -- hand another $1 billion to Burt Rutan and let him try his air lift first stage approach. Then have a flyoff. Hell, go mad: give me a billion, give Burt a billion, hand a billion to each of the remaining big aerospace companies, and give a billion to NASA. That's $5 billion, less than the annual cost of the Shuttle program -- have you noticed that the program cost is independent of the number of Shuttle launches? NASA will waste its billion, the two aerospace companies will futz around with studies that end up requesting $20 billion each and produce nothing but paper, but you may be sure that Rutan and I will both have some flying hardware.

Is it arrogant to put myself in the same league with Burt? Sure, but then we all know I won't actually try to manage the program; that's for younger people. My job will be to take the heat while they get the work done. And if you don't fancy me as the competition to Rutan, pick someone else. I can think of at least three small outfits I'd give long odds can spend a billion with far more return to the American people than the two big aerospace outfits and NASA, so if you want to do the program right, you may need $8 billion because you aren't going to do anything without bribing NASA and the big boys; and an $8 billion program looks like money so the big aerospace outfits will want larger bribes. (They'll take bribes to stay out of the way, because that's a sure return and they don't take chances any more; but they're good at the political game and for $8 billion they will smell money in the water and go into a frenzy; but be sure that whatever they get they won't produce anything useful for it. Not any more. And we all know that including the engineers who work for the big outfits.)

Am I overly obsessed with single stage to orbit vertical takeoff and landing? Possibly. NASA and Lockheed spent billions on the horizontal landing model without much if anything to show for it. Recoverable rocket powered first stages present both operations and technical (separation, flyability of the booster) problems, but the Boeing Heavy Lifter program I worked on assumed a flyback booster, and it's certainly a proper approach. That approach uses the first stage to add to both altitude compensation and delta vee (velocity increase). Another approach is air drop, in which an airplane carries the ship to height, then drops it. Since the velocities are low this makes the separation problem simple, and assured ignition is, I am told (and believe intellectually) a solved problem although I still wouldn't want to be under the thing when it drops. Air drop uses the first stage to overcome the altitude compensation problems including low altitude drag. It's an approach worth looking at.

What ought to have been done with NASA's billion and a half was: (1) Hire a dozen smart people to design a condom for the Shuttle Tank. Peter Glaskowsky and I discussed this last night: surely the right material for the condom would be America's Cup sailcloth which isn't a cloth but a reinforced carbon fiber film, as light as anything made for its strength. Make a condom of that, encase the tank in epoxy and that condom, and foam chunks won't fall off. It might weigh a few hundred pounds, and so what? (2) use the remaining funds -- a billion at least -- to pay a bunch of small companies out there to work on SSTO, recoverable first stage rocket boosters, and air drop. Get each to build the best X project flying hardware they can build incorporating their approach for the $333 million each will get. Fly those ships. Observe the results and decide which concepts to encourage.

Now none of this is going to happen. NASA has no competence at much of anything, even at political manipulation, and doesn't have the confidence of the public, but it can still prevent large sums from going to real rivals. NASA will instead try to get any development money pipelined to the big aerospace outfits because NASA knows they aren't much real competition.

But we all know that NASA, having spent billions since the Columbia disaster without any visible return on that investment, isn't going to get us to space. Sometimes some NASA teams can still do things right. Sometimes. But no one can count on that any longer.

So: I am back to where I was. You want reusable ships?

"Whereas the Congress has determined that an American own spacecraft capable of multiple reusable launch to orbit is in the national interest,

"be it resolved that the first American owned company that shall place the same ship in low Earth orbit twelve times in one year shall be paid a prize of $3 billion."

Or even better:

"Whereas the Congress has determined that an American owned Lunar Colony is in the national interest, the first American owned company that shall place 31 American on the surface of the Moon and keep them there alive and well for a period of three years and one day shall be paid a prize of $7 billion dollars."

We can quibble a bit about the definition of "same ship" and about just what kind of expendable boosters you are allowed to use in your launches,  but does anyone doubt that a series of substantial prizes (think of them as market incentives) will not produce results? We all know this would work. We all know we are not going to do it. Which says about all I can say about the real intentions of our masters in Washington, no matter their political party.

It is far more important to the Beltway Class -- Djilas' New Class -- to keep up public "service" employment and keep the tax revenues flowing than to solve any actual problems. This is true of any party.  Robert de Jouvenal once said of the French Legislature (Chamber of Deputies)  "There is more similarity between two Deputies, one of whom is a Communist and one of whom is not, than between two Communists, one of whom is a Deputy and one of whom is not."

Substitute "Congressman or Senator" for Deputy, and Republican or Democrat or Socialist for Communist, and it is very nearly true for the contemporary United States, and entirely true when it comes to important matters like getting mankind into space.

NASA is not the solution to anything. For a long time it was the problem. Now it's not even competent enough to be a problem. Alas, it was the problem for long enough that I wonder if we will ever get past the barriers the old NASA built while eating the dream.


Discussion in mail



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Saturday, July 30, 2005

There's a new planet (if Pluto be a planet, then this is a planet), but I am not sure I have much to say about it. I'm more concerted with how to get to space than with the residuals of what we find from ground based observation, which remains important (after all I did spend six years on the Board of the Lowell Observatory).

I have added a number of paragraphs to yesterday's rant/essay on NASA and space. Enough so that it is worth looking at again.

Someone wrote in to quibble about my 31 Americans alive and well on the Moon: what if they sent up 500 and only 31 survived? Or suppose they sent up people and brought them back and then returned them again?

I sent a rather snippy answer, but what I ought to have said is, "So what?" Gaining the ability to put 500 people on the Moon and keep 31 alive and well for 3 years and a day is worth the price; and if a company can take people up, bring them home, and return them, it will have developed cheap transport to the Moon, and once again we are all well served. So: my apologies to my correspondent for what was, I fear, an intemperate reply. Use this one instead, and thanks for making me think about the problem. I ought to know I should not answer mail after spending a couple of hours draining my brains in the monk's cell.








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Sunday, July 31, 2005

PDA Discussion Request.

Back in the last Millennium I used a Personal Data Assistant called Franklin Ascend, and I liked it a lot. Two things happened. Franklin became Franklin-Covey and they improved Franklin Ascend to unusability; and Ascend fell to a Y2K bug: when you tried to move tasks ahead, it said you were trying to move them to an earlier time and would not do it. I couldn't use the old Ascend, and the new one was not useful to me for a number of reasons.

Since then I have tried things like Microsoft Outlook, various forms of Franklin Covey, and the stuff built into my iPAQ pocket computer, and none of them have been useful enough that I actually used them much. I don't know what it is about Outlook I don't like, but I don't like it much for task management, and its calendar and appointment system isn't anything I really want to get used to.

The old Franklin Ascend allowed me to set up tasks under priority systems, so I could see every day what I had to do, move some ahead (procrastination, but at least I had to think about the task), promote some to the A list meaning get it done today and ignore the other stuff until it is done, demote some A tasks to B meaning work on this when you have the A list done, and so forth. It allowed me to have periodic and recurring tasks, and so forth. While Outlook tries to do this, it hasn't worked well for me. The old Ascend had a Journal, and also a Daily Events Narrative. The phone book was easy to manage and use. The appointments worked just fine. It was easy to add a task, show progress, add notes, and so forth.

Best and most important of all, it was easy to use on multiple computers. The files were text files, and could be copied onto a Zip disk to be carried up to the Monk's cell. In fact the entire directory, program, data files, archives, and all could be copied onto a Zip. I used to take the current Zip up to the Monk's Cell, bring up Ascend, do the prioritizations, get some work done and record what work I had got done, copy it all back to the Zip, take it back to the office, and revise the main desktop to show what planning I had done for the day. If I were going on a trip I could copy the whole directory over to the laptop so that would be current, then copy it back when I returned (as I do with outlook.pst now).

The new Ascend software doesn't seem to work that way. Outlook does all right for portability but isn't useful for actually getting the work done. And so forth.

So: since my readers know everything collectively, I am inviting you to recommend and extol the virtues of your PDA/Calendar/Journal/Appointments/Task Management software. What do you use, and why? And if there are hidden features in Outlook what are they?

I could I suppose be persuaded to set up a special set of Word files with their own templates to serve as journal and daily narrative; they'd have the virtue of working with my TabletPC, and perhaps I ought to do that, so whatever I adopt may not need that feature actually built into the PDA software. Otherwise, though, I really would like to have what the old Ascend had for task management, including "Red Tab" and other Special Project tasks, easy Notes attachments that can hold To Do lists (task: get to hardware store; note attachment, the list of stuff to buy there, and perhaps the dimensions of things I need cut to fit; that sort of thing); in particular an easy way to show tasks completed, in progress, deferred for a few days or a week, etc. There must be such software, and people must be using it, and I seem to have fallen behind the times.

Advice wanted.


And now I am off to register for SIGGRAPH. I'll be at SIGGRAPH a couple of days next week. Report in the column.


Forgive me: the great American Forgotten Victory in Viet Nam was in 1972, not, as I have I fear said very often, 1973. Somehow I got the 1973 date in my head and never revised it, although a moment's thought would question how the North Viet Nam army could recover sufficiently to launch their 1975 victory march given the defeat they suffered in 72, had that actually been in 73. I hope this isn't senility.

It was our Lost Victory, thrown away by the Congress in 1975. But in 1972 the ARVN with US support destroyed a large invading army from the North, with few US casualties; in a preview of the Afghanistan campaign in which US air power and special forces were able to aid local forces to overcome against great odds. It is a victory worth studying.

"The 1972 Easter offensive revealed the fruits of Abrams's efforts. This was the biggest offensive push of the war, greater in magnitude than either the Tet offensive or the final assault of 1975. While the United States provided massive air and naval support, and there were inevitable failures on the part of some South Vietnamese units, all in all, the South Vietnamese fought well. Then, having blunted the Communist thrust, they recaptured territory that had been lost to Hanoi."


There are many other sources, the best of them being Harry Summers ON WAR. Thanks to Steve and Lee Ann Setzer for calling this to my attention.

I have gone back through the site and corrected the date wherever I could find it, and my apologies to all.


Tony Borge I need your email address!




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