Planetary Defense; Tunguska; Curses on Microsoft Improvements; and other items of importance.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Being intelligent is not a felony. But most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanor.

-Robert A. Heinlein

The map is not the territory.

Alfred Korzybski


Microsoft is on a mission to improve office to beyond the comprehension or use of the average computer user, possibly to get rid of office users who are not enterprise clients or very large accounts; they certainly don’t care what damage they do to people who just want to use the stuff, write letters, maybe run a blog or Facebook (not that I Facebook) or generally just use it.

My recent adventures with Outlook, all caused by Microsoft improvements, are not over, but we now see a complex path to restoring what I had before their improvements made it temporarily impossible to use. For a while I couldn’t even search Outlook mail files – an error known to have been caused by one Microsoft “fix”. There were others. I’ll try to have an account of the whole adventure, but I don’t have time now. At least that crisis is over; I almost lost all my subscriber files, because Microsoft keeps “Contact” files in a screwy format different from mail files. I have lost the “category” flags which gave me a quick visual view of a subscriber’s status, but the information that caused those characterization flags was preserved, and can be restored by hand. A tedious process, but it can be done.

On that score, we’ve not had a pledge week for some time now, because I haven’t been providing much for you to subscribe to. I’m doing more work on fiction now – I have a good chance of finishing this volume of the Janissaries series this year, possibly earlier, if my health holds up and there are no more Microsoft crises. Yes, you guessed it, it was intended to be the last volume in the series, but it won’t be. It will have an ending that makes sense, and it will be a final ending for some characters – I don’t mean I’m killing them off, although some will die. Others. Though, reach a state where they need not be tracked individually. But there are also new and very important characters, and they will have to be followed as they interact with Rick and Tylara. Worked on it a bit today, and I pretty well see where this volume is going. I had hoped to end the series, but I just can’t.

Then there is LisaBetta, a story of a girl pretty well raised by a strange kind of AI on a world that we might grow into in fifty or so years. John DeChancie has done a first draft, and I promptly got absorbed into everything else and it sat neglected for months. It’s good stuff, and I’ll have to get at it. I also have to remember that perfect is the enemy of damned well good enough.

And Starborn and Godsons, the third book in the Legacy of Heorot series. Is coming along nicely, with some writing that ignores that aphorism. Larry and Steve has some really great scenes, and I’ve done some I’m proud of.

And now that Roberta is coming along nicely, and I’m recovered pretty well, and I’ve survived Microsoft’s improvements, I can get at it. Except one on the War Colleges want Strategy of Technology for a text and could I help with the revisions, and Colonel Doug Beason and I are doing an anthology on planetary defense (of which we have none), and that takes time, and every time I pay a bill I worry a bit; but I feel better than I have in years, I get my time consuming exercises, and…

Well, the point is that if you haven’t subscribed in a while, now would be a good time to renew, or and if you never subscribed I operate this place on the public radio model. We don’t have ads and distractions, I don’t often bug you for money, but if I don’t get subscriptions it will slow down or go away.

And this is the silly season. Nothing much is really happening, and most of it isn’t worth commenting on (by me; it gets plenty of comment from others).


One of the ways Microsoft improved Word for me: they turned off AutoCorrect on one of my machines. It used to be that if I typed in a few letters of a day of the week, it would offer to complete that, and if I typed in a day of the week follower by a comma, it would put in the date if I pressed return. Not the Earth, but convenient, and on all my other machines it does that. Not this one. And if I ask for help, I’m likely to get help that says I should go to the tools menu – a menu that no longer exists and hasn’t for a while. Or none at all. Microsoft doesn’t seem to have a name for this feature, and HELP is the usual uninformative nonsense it usually is. If anyone knows what the feature is called or where to find it in Word 365, I’d appreciate the tip. I don’t use it a lot, but it annoys me that it is off.


I mentioned that Doug Beason, (Col. USAF RET, former Chief Scientist of Space Command) and I are about to put together an anthology of stories and essays on Planetary Defense. More on that another time. Anyway, that sometimes has me thinking of events like Tunguska, a 10-30 megaton – yes, megaton – event in Siberia in 1908. A blast possibly half the size of Tsar Bomba that flattened and charred tens of thousands of trees over 2000 square kilometers, possibly the largest blast recorded in human history before the invention of the H bomb; a bigger blast than any weapons we now possess.

Meteorite is the obvious explanation, but there was no meteorite, and no crater either. When the Russians finally got around to inspecting the area – they did have rebellions, the War, Ten Days That Shook the World, their Civil War, and years of Stalin’s purges to distract them – in 1927, they could find no meteorite, no rocks, no hole in the ground, and in fact nothing that looked like the residue of a meteorite strike. It was a mystery that intrigues everyone, and back before I learned the explanation I was induced to speculate about it in broadcasts of the BBC and US public TV. I liked “black hole” as a possibility, although I knew damned well it couldn’t be that; and since I went on these shows to promote Lucifer’s Hammer I usually stuck to the comet theory. After all, we thought many comets were just dirty ice snowballs. Still do, I guess. The ice would have melted, and what’s to find?

But I learned better.

This afternoon I was reminded of a restaurant in the Baltimore harbor area, Eat Bertha’s Mussels; an intriguing name, and if it’s still there I can recommend it highly for sea food if you don’t mind sawdust on the floor.

But I remember it because it was there that Rolf Sinclair, and old friend from the National Science Foundation (and one of the reasons I used to say that the NSF budget might be the best Federal tax money we spend) took me. Mrs. Pournelle, Larry Niven, and Poul and Karen Anderson to dinner with two young men whose names, embarrassingly, I do not recall. They explained in detail, drawing some diagrams and writing equations on paper napkins just what must have happened at Tunguska. Not a comet, not a black hole, not the wrath of Jehovah or Thor, but a good old fashioned stone—not metal—asteroid entering the atmosphere at a rather steep angle and high speed. The great speed meant that air resistance to entry – hardly reentry – into the atmosphere became greater and greater as the rock descended, and eventually that energy potential exceeded the binding energy that held the stone monster—about the size of the Coliseum in Los Angeles – together. Thus it came apart. With a bang. A 10 to 30 megaton bang. Trees blew outward in a radial pattern around the impact point, but there was no impact: it blew up at a fair altitude. The debris was subjected to extreme temperatures, and everything that could be affected by that was consumed. The only thing that fell to earth was sand, and that was pretty well indistinguishable from sand blown in from the Mongolian Desert.

Thus no crater, and no trace of what hit us. Farewell the black hole, or the ice comet. Just a stone asteroid.

Of course there are a lot of them out there.

Our two dinner guests presented a paper on that to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science – Rolf was the AAAS official who invited them to speak – and later published much the same thing in SCIENCE. And I can’t remember their names. I got to know them pretty well, too. But this was at least 27 years ago, and possibly much longer. Thin excuse for not remembering but it’s all I’ve got.


And a sad comment on the internet for scientific research outside your own field: the cause of Tunguska has been known for over 25 years. Yes, there are some anomalies, but not great enough to overcome the theory of a stone asteroid coming apart. That hypothesis explains all the known data, and there’s more than enough energy in a football field asteroid entering at high velocity to bring about all the observed phenomena.  Yet a half hour search doesn’t present me a link to the actual paper the lads – Chyba?—who presented the paper and explained it all to me in that Baltimore restaurant before presenting it to the AAAS. Hah! I just remembered thy name. Christopher Chyba. I got nothing searching for Chyba, but Chyba Tunguska got me a confirmation of his name and a condensation of his theory.  But note I had to know the name; otherwise Google showed me links to how it’s still a mystery, and it might be a black hole, and an old woman who’s convinced it was Thor, and – well, anything but the science.



Erosion Of The US Middle Class


Edward Luttwak has an excellent piece in the Times Literary Supplement on the currently hot topic of “what actually just happened?” Rather provocatively titled “Why the Trump dynasty will last sixteen years”, it’s at

Luttwak spends some time on the Establishment’s continuing hysterical befuddlement, but his primary focus is the core issue in the current fight over who runs America: Will our middle classes grow again and rule, or continue shrinking and be ruled forever by their (our) self-proclaimed betters?

Luttwak focuses on what he presents as a key indicator, the growing unaffordability of a new car for the average American family, and builds his case around that. It’s a good piece, I recommend it.

It also reminded me of a couple of wider-reaching pieces I sent you a year and a half ago, in late ’15 and then early ’16 right after the Iowa caucuses. I think these are worth another look, now that the dust is (one hopes) beginning to settle.

I first took the hugely politically incorrect view that it’s not “democracy” per se, but rule by the middle class that makes Western nations successful. Democracy only succeeds if you have an informed and self-disciplined middle-class majority; otherwise it inevitably descends to “one man, one vote, once.”

Ergo, policies to foster and preserve an informed and self-disciplined middle-class majority are vitally important to free and prosperous Western nationhood. But the US middle classes are under assault across a broad front. I took a look at the wide variety of middle-class cost squeezes being applied in recent decades, and made the point that while we might not get there as fast, “one man, one vote, once” could happen here too.

Will we continue (resume, really) middle class rule here? Things look more hopeful than they did two winters ago. But stay tuned.



Aristotle defined democracy as rule by the middle class, as did many of the ancients. Middle class was defined as “those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation.” We do not have that now. In either party.


Feynman on Thinking

I’ll probably mention this again, with comments.


A Solar Eclipse of the Heart

Or, one can argue that has lost it.  You’re choice.

Courtesy Uncle Timmy.

Don’t miss it. I’m planning on banging pans just to make sure the sun doesn’t get eaten.


And this deserves comments; the case for man made global warming grows weaker and weaker.

Solar Minimums May Be [the] Final Piece of [the] Puzzle in [the] Fall of Western Civilisation.



Roland Dobbins


Apologies to whomever sent me this link: the Outlook crises ate you mail. But I had opened this link. Fascinating information on the end of the Greenland colonies after centuries. And it wasn’t the Gulf Stream. The western colony never was anywhere near any wandering of the Gulf Stream.



Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.