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Monday  April 7, 2008

a note on symptom monitoring

Dr. Pournelle;

I wanted to pass on a quick note on symptom monitoring during and after radiation. I'm a neuropsychologist, but more importantly I was involved with helping my parents as they suffered with cancers and the debilitating treatments. I offer these points as a "civilian," not as a professional.

You mentioned that the follow-up regarding changes in symptoms seems lax (my word). I saw this too with my parents and would offer the following:

1. Modern medicine is remarkably compartmentalized. The docs inadvertently divide up the patient into pieces and really only take responsibility for their little piece. Thus when a symptom spans two or more domains, any particular physician may not feel that it is his/her responsibility. Changes in balance, speech quality (i.e., dysarthria), mental status, etc. are likely to be in the domain of the neurologist, not the radiation oncologist. In this situation, the radiation oncologist probably-typically will not monitor the changes in neurological symptoms. In my opinion this is the real failing in modern medicine. A savvy patient can reduce the impact of this by asking tough questions, but most folks (like Aunt Minnie) are not very assertive and are respectful of their docs, so that they do not willing to be a squeaky wheel (i.e., ask tough questions). Given what you have written in your blog, there may be some benefit in being followed by a neurologist (if you are not already). A neurologist could evaluate you for changes in your symptoms.

2. The neurological symptoms caused by the thing growing in your skull are likely to be relatively slow in changing as a function of the treatment. The docs know this and, in my opinion, are more likely to attend to the long-tern changes in symptoms. The short-term changes related to edema (swelling), temporary nerve dysfunction caused by the radiation (e.g., metabolic and blood flow changes, diaschisis), etc. are more likely to be involved in day-to-day functioning and are less likely to get a physician's attention. Steroids, as you have noted a few times, can help greatly reduce inflammation and edema and improve symptoms, but can also produce nonspecific cognitive problems (i.e., in memory and attention). This can make it more difficult to determine what symptoms are caused by structural changes in the brain.

3. If you detect any trend in symptoms, get the docs' attention and let them know. My dad was an atomic era vet and served in the Navy at the Able and Baker tests at Bikini. His captain took their boat into the radioactive spray, right after the Baker detonation. About 5 years ago he beat lymphoma and then developed chest pain. The docs were dismissive of the latter symptoms and my dad got weaker and weaker. About 6 months later he was finally diagnosed with cancer of the pleural lining of the lung, most certainly a function of breathing in radioactive material. At that point he was too weak to tolerate chemotherapy and he died without treatment. I tell you this just to make a point. If he had pushed the docs to make a real diagnosis of his chest pain, at least he would have had a fighting chance against the cancer. He may still have died (probably would have died) , but at least after a fight.

Congratulations in graduating from radiation. Best wishes on a speedy recovery.

Jim Thomas

Thanks for helping make sense of all this.


Subject: stabilant, kingston memory, memtest, parity, raid 5

Thanks for mentioning Stabilant. My Radio Shack contact cleaner has run out, and Radio Shack no longer exists in Canada.

Interestingly enough, the last machine I had memory problems with was running Kingston memory. Love the Kingston return policy; they ship replacement memory to you, and you have ten days to get the bad stuff back. Very fair, very convenient.

I use memtest to diagnose memory errors; it's open source, fast, convenient, and works. Burn it to a CD, it boots up and works the memory like mad until you tell it to stop. Guaranteed to find even the most obscure memory problems. Find the FREE version at http://www.memtest.org/  . Beware the asses that try to sell it to you for $$.

Mueller in 'upgrading and repairing PCs' extols the virtues of parity memory, and years ago all my machines were built using parity memory. I stopped when most motherboards stopped supporting parity; today, the only boards supporting parity are intended for servers, are expensive, and lack features like built in sound and LAN. Mueller speaks of an IBM study in which random cosmic rays were found to have sufficient energy to flip bits in RAM. I don't expect the ram has become more robust since the study was done 15 or so years ago.

Trust you found the information on Raid 5 intriguing. Interested in your comments.


Stabilant 22 is wonderful. If you don't know about it, you should look it up.


Subject: Charlton Heston 

In 1978 I was a messenger.

One day I was given a package of checks to take to Charlton Heston for his signature and I was to return them after that was done.

After being let through by a guard I went up to the house's front door where he greeted me.

He shook my hand and led me to a large office and put me in a seat in front of his desk, across from him.

On his desk were many small souvenirs of trips he had taken. He told me I could examine them and proceeded tell me stories about each of them, while he signed the checks.

There was one particularly nice small carved piece of African origin. While I was looking it it broke. He told me not to worry, that the piece had been broken for some time. This was obviously a lie, but it was a truly gentlemanly thing to say.

Yours truly,

Mike Frank


Seitz How To Cook A Whale 

Dear Jerry :

You write:"If I want to heat water, I do not get out my hair dryer and blow hot air across the pot. I heat the pot. If I want to heat oceans, the most effective way would be to blow off a volcano under water. .. one such event can overwhelm all the other factors in my computer models"

I find this disconcerting, because I know you know how voluminous the oceans are- a billion odd cubic kilometers , and we both have some experience of erupting volcanoes.

Even catastrophic eruptions, the once in a century events, run , at most , to a few tens of cubic kilometers of molten rock that's a thousand kelvins hotter than the water in the sea. Heat capacities being equal, adding tens of parts per billion of hot rock at say 1,375 K- which is very molten lava indeed , to cold water at 375 K can raise the temperature of the whole by , at most , a few microdegrees.

The bottom line of a little dimensional analysis , integrating the heat flux along tens of thousands of kilometers of mid-ocean ridges spreading at centimeters per year, is that underwater eruptions have a truly underwhelming impact on real-world temperatures-- and sensible efforts to model them.

At a watt per umpteen tons, it thermodynamically resembles trying to roast a whale with a cigarette lighter- in the rain. What caldera blow-outs into the atmosphere can do to sunlight remains, of course, a matter of concern though there has been plenty of media hype on that subject as well:


-- Russell Seitz

Depends on how many and where, no? I agree that I overstated the case. On the other hand, blowing hot air across water isn't terribly effective either. Worse, no one, so far as I know, has even a partially good theory on why La Nina and El Nino, and when they happen; yet those are major climate drivers.

I will concede I overstated the case, but hardly as much as the "human CO2" global warming "consensus."


Liberals and Conservatives can agree on the stupidity of burning food


Paul Krugman today on "Grains Gone Wild"; the absurdity of burning food and what it means for world food prices.


On the ethanol boom, "You might put it this way: people are starving in Africa so that American politicians can court votes in farm states".

Since ethanol production from corn consumes more energy than it produces, he is exactly right. Time magazine recently had a cover story describing the whole biofuels push as a "scam", and that is just what it is.

The only thing wrong with his column is that he says what shouldn't be done---burning food---but he doesn't say what should be done. And that is still not an energy policy.


EVERYONE  but the stupid enviro dolts can agree that burning energy to make fertilizer to grow food to burn for less energy is stupid; but then Gore and company get rich out of this, the UN scientists get their grants, the consensus scientists get tenure and travel and conferences in Rio and Kyoto, and what the hell do they care what the consequences of their actions are?

My father makes cheap prophylactics,
He punctures each head with a pin,
While grandma grows rich from abortions,
My God how the money rolls in.

There are those elements to the "consensus" theories. Follow the money.

And the Country Club Republicans clean up as well. Everyone benefits!  Well, everyone who actually matters...

Perhaps I am overly tired and thus overly bitter today.


Bell Curve and racism - 

Hi Jerry,

You've said it before, but it bears mentioning again: Focusing on routing people into career paths that they can be successful at will do more good than any attempt to force everyone into college. My local schools have eliminated the vo-tech (what I called Shop class) track, which deprives a huge segment of students the potential to make a very good living wage, and instead condemns them to a series of failures at tasks beyond their intellectual capacity.

So I would argue that your comment "the Bell Curve will make it look as if racists were at work" in your latest view needs a caveat. It depends on the measure that you're using. Measurement drives behavior, so in order to change behavior we must change the measure.

If we're measuring having a 'college education' or 'college acceptance' as is currently the case, then yes, race will be a statistically significant variable (and thus open to charges of racism). If you use 'comfortable middle class income' then I suspect that race's impact will dwindle towards insignificance - if, and only if, we return to routing children into IQ appropriate options (obviously there's some overlap). A good plumber makes more than a mediocre (or even good) marketing person, and that's a much more powerful indicator of success than counting credentials from a liberal arts college.



Exactly. There is no reason why all citizens on both sides of the bell curve cannot be useful, productive, valuable citizens; we knew this from the beginning, and it was only recently that we universally accepted the wrong-headed notion that somehow intellectuals were more valuable than those who make or grow things.


Prisons vs. Colleges

For years now, educators have been warning that U.S. society might soon be spending more on prisons than colleges. In five states, that moment has arrived, according to a report released Thursday by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Those states are (in order of spending the most proportionally on prisons in 2007): Vermont, Michigan, Oregon, Connecticut and Delaware. The state spending the least on prisons relative to higher education was Minnesota, where for every dollar spent on higher education only 17 cents was spent on corrections. The average for all states was 60 cents, nearly double the 32 cents spent 20 years earlier. <snip>

Of course you have powerful unions who want more people imprisoned so they can have jobs guarding them. And building prisons. And then there are the feds who have their own interests. The Iron Law of Bureaucracy will not be mocked.

So: educrats will not object to imprisonment. They will merely demand more money to put things into balance.


Chester Finn: 5 Myths About No Child Left Behind

Myths About the Education Law Everyone Loves to Hate By Chester E. Finn Jr. Sunday, March 30, 2008; B03

It's the 800-pound gorilla of U.S. education. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the sweeping legislation enacted six years ago to improve public schools, seems to make a lot of people unhappy. But President Bush, undaunted by the barrage of criticism aimed at this beleaguered measure by states, teachers' unions and politicians on both sides of the aisle, is pushing Congress to reauthorize it this year . Many Capitol Hill observers believe that it won't survive without the political clout a new president and Congress would bring -- but after a starring role in five straight presidential elections, education is a bit player at best in the 2008 race. Could these widespread myths about No Child Left Behind have poisoned the well?

1. No Child Left Behind is an unprecedented extension of federal control over schools.

This allegation comes most often from Republicans who, claiming that they voted for the legislation only out of courtesy toward President Bush, have forgotten the bipartisan consensus that helped enact it. It's also a common complaint from state officials, who want fewer strings on their federal dollars.

But NCLB isn't compulsory. States that don't want to jump through its hoops are free to forgo their federal dollars. (Several, such as Utah, Nebraska and Virginia, came close to doing just that, but the lure of those funds helped them overcome their reservations.) The legislation isn't unprecedented, either -- it's just another incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, one of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society monuments. That law's centerpiece program, known as Title I, has pumped billions of federal dollars into education for poor children over the past 43 years. And the Improving America's Schools Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, was No Child Left Behind-lite, with similar expectations for states and districts but fewer rules and timelines.

2. No Child Left Behind is egregiously underfunded.

This charge comes mainly from Democrats, including liberal lions such as Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy and California Rep. George Miller, who helped shape the law. It arises from the fact that NCLB, like almost every social program, was authorized at higher funding levels than have ever been -- or are likely to be -- appropriated. Viewed that way, nearly everything born in Washington is "underfunded."

The costs of complying with No Child Left Behind -- setting standards, testing children, publishing the results and intervening in low-performing schools -- are actually relatively modest. Instead of demanding more money for No Child Left Behind, critics should ask why states and local communities get such dismal returns on the half-trillion dollars, or nearly $10,000 per student, that they already spend on primary and secondary education every year.

3. Setting academic standards will fix U.S. schools.

No Child Left Behind asks state governments to set standards in reading, math and science -- to identify basic skills that students should have mastered by a given grade level -- and to test them accordingly. This follows an educational theory called standards-based instruction that says: State what children should know; measure their progress; and use rewards and punishments to help them succeed.

For this to work, of course, good standards have to be in place, and NCLB doesn't address the problem of mediocre or even downright silly standards. Compromises needed to pass NCLB left the law laid-back about standards yet fussy about what states and districts should do when those standards aren't met. The upshot: low expectations on one hand and too much micromanagement on the other. A few states, such as Massachusetts, California and South Carolina, have taken their job seriously. But the majority either expect woefully little of their students and schools or have developed such nebulous standards that nobody -- not parents, not teachers, not test makers -- can make out what students are supposed to be learning.

4. The standardized testing required by No Child Left Behind gets in the way of real learning.

Teachers' animus toward standardized testing has many roots, chief among them the grueling weeks of preparation and exams that they and their students endure every year. But the accountability made possible by standardized testing isn't all bad. If the test is an honest measure of a solid curriculum, then teaching kids the skills and knowledge they need to pass it is honorable work. Just ask any Advanced Placement teacher.

5. Certified teachers are better than non-certified teachers.

Lawmakers blundered when they confused "qualified" with "certified" teachers. There's no solid evidence that state certification ensures classroom effectiveness -- and the booming success of programs such as Teach for America, which sends recent college graduates into troubled schools, suggests that certification may be wholly unnecessary. By requiring certified teachers in every classroom, No Child Left Behind makes it harder for district and charter schools to attract energetic and capable people who want to teach but take a less traditional route to the classroom.


Chester E. Finn Jr. is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and the author of "Troublemaker: A Personal History of School Reform Since Sputnik."

The real question is whether after all these years of Federal Aid to Education the schools are better or worse than before there was any Federal Aid to Education.

Clearly "credentials" from the intellectuals manqué who run the colleges of education are pretty well useless at best.


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Tuesday,  April 8, 2008

Will Writers Stop Writing?


The Times has an article about book piracy on the Internet and how it may drive authors to stop writing. I doubt that writers will stop writing. We write because that is what we do. Making a living at it could end.

I find interesting this paragraph:

" In the 19th century and before, other models of paying writers existed, including lump-sum agreements and profit-sharing. She sees no reason why the book industry should not be equally innovative. She suggested four possible sources of income at an industry discussion on copyright law last week: the Government, business, rich patrons and the public. Government funding could take the form of an "academy" of salaried writers."

Notice that it doesn't say "1,000 not-so-rich patrons." The idea of a government academy of salaried writers frightens me.

-- Dwayne Phillips

I am building the Platinum Subscribers as a hedge against the "free books" and "information wants to be free" surge; I know of no other real defense. It's a bit arrogant to ask my readers to support me so that I can choose what I want to write (with some consultation with the Platinum group of course), but I am not sure, given the craziness of publishing now, what else I can do. Subscriptions have kept me alive during this radiation and recovery period.


Power cords, power cuts, and corn-power

Jerry :

Ah, the missing power cord ! Happened to me on one or three business trips, but since I travel a few times a month, I found a very simple answer. I went to Radio Shack and bought a round half-dozen of the power cords, put a Velcro strip on each one (they sell the Velcro cord strips even in Smith's Supermarkets now in a roll of 50 or 100 !). I then systematically went around to every bag that I would use in travel and deposited at least one in each. My Nikon D300 DLSR batteries' and my old-but-still-running-well Toshiba PDA chargers also fit the cords, so this works for more than one thing. Never run short now. And the silly things are pretty cheap.

In the end, I decided to do the same thing with the power bricks for the T42, and purchased two more from IBM, one for the office, one for the home study, and one that resides in the computer bag. Never go anywhere that I don't have a power brick (and a power cord). When I upgraded to the T60 last year, I took a calculated chance and purchased two more power bricks on eBay which have all worked tidily.

For an exceptional look at what happens to countries where the overall energy policies are dictated by imbeciles, lackwits, and lawyers (although I may be redundant in listing all three), look to South Africa, formerly an economic and industry powerhouse (pun intended) on the African continent. The country is now in a deepening economic crisis because they let all of the released inmates from the environmental asylum dictate policy, didn't build new power plants or maintain the existing ones appropriately, and so now they can't mine gold, platinum, and palladium at anything near normal production rates. A good part of the recent run ups on those metals' prices is because of the reduced production. There are rotating power outages around the country for everyone, and SA industry is being reined in significantly, obviously reducing the quality of living for the ordinary person.

The reductions in platinum and palladium production, BTW, will start to really sting the energy industry soon. Platinum and palladium are essential catalysts in the petroleum industry, and while acting catalytically, are depleted from their substrates or poisoned, requiring replacement of the overall substrate and catalyst periodically. Refineries typically do this at "turnarounds" where pretty much the entire refinery is shutdown for major maintenance, including such things as catalyst switchouts. The increasing costs on rare metals will cause the coming rounds of turnarounds to be much more expensive.

But why are turnarounds important ? Well, here in the United States, certain imbeciles, lackwits and suchlike folk consider that refineries shutting down for major maintenance is all part of a conspiracy to keep distillate (read - gasoline and diesel) prices high. The fact that the refinery capability vs. demand is balanced on a razor's edge in many places (California and greater Chicago area being two fine examples) and that shutdowns are postponed until the last possible moment means that when a refinery goes to turnaround or "crashes", it's a pretty significant event.

And failures at refineries are both spectacular and deadly.

Three years ago, BP's Texas City refinery experienced an explosion that killed fifteen and injured 180. The ramifications for that accident, especially related to maintenance, are still being experienced, as the former Chief Executive of BP plc, John Lord Browne, was deposed by a Texas court last week. However, more importantly, look at the United States Chemical Safety Board for a chilling video on this subject :
news_releases&page=news&NEWS_ID=420  .

It's not short, and it's very definitely not sweet, but it encompasses many essential parts of what should be discussed in US energy policy (and, BTW, the CSB is one of the more efficient and useful arms of the United States government, an excellent example of what we can do well through that body sometimes).

But corn-power will solve all of our problems we are told !


Well, let's consider that the state of Kansas is taking its lead from South Africa on refusing to build needed power stations, and consider where corn or wheat or some grain might be grown, fermented, and distilled into fuel. Let's consider that we haven't had a new petroleum refinery built in the United States in well more than three decades, and that we're running the existing ones flatout, extending maintenance periods to what are described by third-party investigators as dangerously long. Let's consider that after coal, natural gas is hugely expensive to use to generate electricity, and, oh, when did we build the last nuclear power plant in the US ? And corn-power, more correctly, ethanol distillation and refining uses electricity (and we'll even hold aside the idiocy of inefficiently transmitting energy through ethanol from place to place for the discussion), doesn't it ? Let's consider how much we'd like to improve efficiency but also expand industry in the coming years so we continue to have a high standard of living at reasonable amounts of work per week per person.

All because energy policies are run on a "bread and circuses" approach to appease people who can't start a fire without pretty high technology to assist them, but insist they know better than everyone else because they're on a manifestly higher moral plane.


Enjoy the power cords that you buy, Jerry. We may not be using them as much as we'd like in the months and years to come.

John P.


Subject: interesting clipping

An intriguing idea.

Best wishes,

Mike Glyer

"Galactic Wi-fi? By Seth Shostak SETI Institute posted: 31 January 2008, 06:39 am ET

Incredibly, it's been only a bit more than a century since Oliver Heaviside consolidated the work of several 19th century physicists into the four compact mathematical formulations known as Maxwell's Equations. You may gleefully recall them from sophomore physics.

Aside from their display by the rabidly nerdy on pretentious t-shirts, the formulae have a splendid utility: they describe all electromagnetic radiation — in particular, light and radio. In the short time since their discovery, we have been able to milk these elegant equations to build crude spark transmitters, and eventually to develop the diminutive cell phones that allow you to blithely ring up your pals while comfortably seated in restaurants and movie theaters. We have exploited Maxwell's Equations like an old-growth forest, and many technical types aver that we know all there is to know about them.

Not true. And the fact that it's untrue may affect our thinking about SETI.

Today's SETI experiments generally look for what are politely termed "narrow-band signals." In other words, the receivers at the back ends of our radio telescopes search wide swaths of the spectrum looking for a signal that's at one spot on the dial — a signal that's very constrained in frequency. By putting all the transmitted power into this small bandwidth, the aliens can ensure that their signal will stand out like Yao Ming at a Munchkin picnic.

That makes sense — at least if the aliens want only to help us find their signal. But they might have other priorities. In particular, the history of earthly communication suggests that there is an inexorable pressure to increase the bit rate of any transmission channel. A half-decade ago, most readers accessed this web site with a simple dial-up phone line. Today, you're more likely to have some sort of wide-band service, which is to say, you're inhaling Internet bits at least ten times quicker than before.

More generally, in 150 years, we've gone from telegraph wires, capable of a few bits per second, to optical fibers that are billions of times speedier. The idea of "more bandwidth" is so compelling, the phrase has entered the lexicon of everyday speech — even among those who couldn't tell a hertz from a hub nut. Communication technology is always driven to send more bits — more information — per second.

Now consider the plight of aliens wishing to get in touch. Because the separation between one civilization and another is likely to be at least hundreds — and maybe thousands — of light-years, any interstellar pinging is effectively one-way. Back and forth conversations will take too long. So perhaps the aliens will opt to send, not the easiest-to-find signal, but a signal that says it all — a signal bristling with information. If you're going to stuff a message into a bottle, why not use onion-skin paper and write small?

The straightforward way to get more information down a radio channel is, as everyone knows, by using greater bandwidth. Nearly once a week someone sends me an e-mail pointing this out, saying that SETI should be looking for wide-band signals, not narrow-band ones. But there's a problem here. While sending a wide-band, information-rich signal between nearby stars is perfectly practical (assuming you're willing to pay the power bill), once the distance exceeds a thousand light-years or so the billowing hot gas that permeates interstellar space begins to wreak havoc and destruction on the transmission. A process of "dispersion" occurs, which works to slow the broadcast — but it slows different frequencies by different amounts. The result is to distort a wide-bandwidth signal in much the way that a highly reverberant hall would distort the music from an orchestra. A narrow-band signal (the acoustical analog is a simple flute note) would not be adversely affected.

So it seems that there may be difficulties in sending certain kinds of complex radio signals over significant distances in the Galaxy. Interstellar correspondence could be restricted to mere postcards, which would be a disappointment to aliens interested in heavy-duty data distribution. However, some Swedish physicists are pointing out a possible scheme for beating this rap. In careful analyses of some of the subtle properties of Maxwell's Equations, Bo Thide and Jan Bergman at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics in Uppsala have explored a property of radio waves called orbital angular momentum. You can think of this orbital momentum as a twisting of the wave's electric and magnetic fields — a twisting that would show up if you were measuring the wave with an array of antennas. The technical details are intricate, but suffice it to say that the Swedish scientists are noting another way to send information in a radio signal — even a narrow-band radio signal — by encoding it in the orbital angular momentum.

It's as if they've found "subspace channels," a là Star Trek. Hidden highways down which additional bits can be moved. And there's reason to think that these momentum channels might be impervious to the interstellar jumbling that afflicts the usual types of wide-band signals when sent over great distances.

So it may be that our search for narrow-band signals is actually a very good SETI strategy, and not just an obvious one. While such monotonic messages may seem to be elementary and devoid of much information, they could be laden with additional, hidden complexity.

The investigation of new transmission modes by Thide and Bergman hints that if we do find a signal from ET, we may wish to reconfigure our radio telescopes to look for encoding of the message via such subtle effects as orbital angular momentum. A simple signal may only be a cipher for a more complex message, and there may be more things in heaven and earth than even Maxwell had dreamt of …"

"Kirk out."


Britain beats Bakersfield.


You remarked on the deficiencies of the traffic arrangements in Bakersfield. Attached is the diagram of a roundabout that was designed by a topologist of extraordinary malice, and approved by a Town Council of unparalleled dormancy of intellect.

Sorry. I had to send this as an attached jpg. All my attempts to copy/paste were rejected.

Wishing you a speedy recovery,

John Edwards



Subject: Interesting resource site


This outfit sells copies of LOTS of NASA manuals. I found it when I was Googling for the Prox Ops workbook.

They are PRICEY, but I suspect that the stuff just plain Isn't Available Anywhere Else.

http://members.aol.com/wsnspace/complete.htm  is a CD set, containing EVERYTHING they have. They want US$1075 for it. In the well-known words of Jack Benny, in a different context, "I'm thinking about it!"


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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Subject: Disease as an evolutionary influence on culture


There is a new theory out about cultural differences in the value of individualism vs. collectivism; it is said to be related to the prevalence of infectious diseases: http://www.newsweek.com/id/130623 

"The West epitomizes individualistic, do-your-own thing cultures, ones where the rights of the individual equal and often trump those of the group and where differences are valued. East Asian societies exalt the larger society: behavior is constrained by social roles, conformity is prized, outsiders shunned. "The individualist-collectivist split is one of the most powerful differences among cultures," says Nisbett. But the reason a society falls where it does on the individualism-collectivism spectrum has been pretty much a mystery. Now a team of researchers has come up with a surprising explanation: disease-causing microbes. Societies that evolved in places with an abundance of pathogens, they argue, had to adopt behaviors that add up to collectivism, for reasons of sheer preservation. Societies that arose in places with fewer pathogens had the luxury of individualism, which is less effective at limiting the spread of disease but brings with it other social benefits, such as innovation."

CP, Connecticut

Which fits the "Ice with your evolution" data as well. Interesting. Tropics vs. ice fields...


Subject: Jet fuel from algae


Here is a short article about a project to make biofuels, including jet fuel, from algae: http://blog.wired.com/cars/2008/04/algae-farm-to-p.html 

It seems to be less stupid than producing ethanol for fuel: "Of all the options for future jet biofuel production, algae is considered one of the most viable. It yields 30 times more energy per acre than its closest competitor, and requires neither fresh water, arable land used for cultivation, or consumable food, giving it an advantage over ethanol."

Although someone will undoubtedly object, I can't imagine a better use for a few thousand square miles of desert. you could even use solar panels to help run the facilities.

CP, Connecticut

I had something of the sort in A Step Farther Out a very long time ago. I haven't done the numbers in a while, but I'd be astonished if this weren't a better way to go than burning food.


I received mail in praise of Second Life and asked for a longer evaluation:

A little Second life evaluation

SL (Second Life) — impressions ---------------------------------------------

Second Life can appear rather dull at first and I can see where it might look to you as if there is little to do that would be worth doing.

You might be surprised if you would take another, closer look and do a bit of exploration…

SL has come a long way in a short time. The new browsers are exceptional at rendering the landscape, residents, and objects in the data-space when compared to the simple offerings of just a few years ago. No longer just a game with moving cartoon people! The current offerings render water and sky that can rival, and almost surpass, the beauty of real life scenery.

Avatars, the graphic representations of individuals, have advance significantly in the last year or so. Attachments and clothes can appear amazing. Flowing robes, scanty dress, ornate shoes, swords that work, anything at all, are available for purchase or you can make your own with practice.

Activities are almost limitless. Can fly, sky dive, scuba, paint, write, teach, give a speech, fly a plane, pilot a rocket, become a butterfly or alien creature, teleport almost anywhere! Can do so many things, well, virtually!

Areas are now often created with a direct correlation to real life places with the streets and buildings replicated.

SL can look boring and somewhat superficial at first glance even though there are similarities to almost everything that you can find in real life. You have to find out where the locals hang out, just as when you travel to a foreign country. You can't hang out with the other tourists. It helps to learn the local language and mingle with the natives.

The ratio of number of people to acres of space, an area equivalent to six times the metro Washington DC area, is quite small. You have to know where to go to find the good stuff. The trick here is to use search and contacts to find the concentration of activity that would be of interest.

As I mentioned before, conversing with Robert Sawyer, David Brin, Paul Levinson, and David Orban <http://www.davidorban.com/>  , in a time span of a couple weeks, is high quality interfacing, to say the least. David is Founder of OpenSpime, Inc.; Vulcano, a creative community in Second Life; and a founding member of Lunarez - The Metaverse Space Agency, a competitor for the Google Lunar X Prize. At other times, I've talked to Stephen Koontz (don't tell him, I don't read him a whole lot but he did send me a signed copy of his Book, the Good Guy!!) and other authors.

This is just one small sampling with endless other like groupings of talent clustered around a wide range of interests. A similar convergence of talent is described in the article "Where the Brains Are <http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200610/american-brains/2>  ". This article explores clustering of talent in the real world. "The physical proximity of talented, highly educated people has a powerful effect on innovation and economic growth—in fact, the Nobel Prize–winning economist Robert Lucas declared the multiplier effects that stem from talent clustering to be the primary determinant of growth." The old sayings — people go where people go; like attracts like — do seem to hold true for SL too.

Other activities are not so intellectual. Virtual sex IS alive and well. Partnerships are common and even marriage is possible! The clubs are full. Great music, and some of the avatars are gorgeous. Gaming and casinos grew to be so successful (say hugely profitable) and popular that SL was forced to regulate the activities out of existence when RL governments took note of the size and growth of the industry in SL and threatened legal action. No taxes in Cyberspace!

And you CAN dance far better than in the physical world! No gravity constraints and no bones creaking with arthritis!

See the Extropia link <http://core.extropiacore.net/>   for an example of just one convergent space among the tens of thousands that exist in SL. I met most of those Science Fiction authors that I mentioned previously at Extropia. This is a community of Second Life residents self described as sharing a common desire to build a positive, beautiful, empowering future for all. In retrospect, this place reminds me of that bar in Star Wars with the denizens of Extropia a wild group of alien and trans-human role playing individuals. SF is their life; and, yes, your customer base!

How do YOU get a pay check? In my opinion, the main source of cash, for you, could be advertisement and showing face. There are a great number of people in SL that are demographically in your fan base; same business as always, just in a different place/space and different tools.

I make money selling self-made jewelry and artifacts, clothing, hair, skins and as a landlord. In my case, it isn't really a significant amount. Other content creators do earn more pay abet with a lot more effort. Many earn a living working in SL, a few a very good living. There are 11 million total residents and in the last sixty days approx. 1.1 million of these actually logged on. Millions of Dollars change hands. Last month's stats are here <http://secondlife.com/whatis/economy_stats.php>  .

My own earnings are more often cerebral with my pay in the currency of information and entertainment.

Time is money and the activities, I engage in to earn, are time wasters. I play. You'll probably want more productive projects.

Communications and information sharing are positive elements in this information space. A few hours might be a worthy investment. For example, there is a writing and book fair at the end of this month that attracts large crowds and many talented presenters. Another example, Extropia, and the many other like gathering places, hold book readings/reviews and they often have guest authors.

The great things are that these gatherings are actually often a lot of fun and very interesting and take so little person resource to attend both in effort and money.

There are quite a number of major corporations with a presence in SL. Forbes, IBM, all the major networks, major print entities, well known and read internet bloggers, all have a significant presence in SL. These organizations, and many of the residents, have external web resources and that could pay off for you with a much bigger audience than would be normally assumed from a cursory evaluation made when you first entered SL.

The main advantage in Sl is that a physically widely dispersed group of people have the ability to merge quickly, conveniently and with little expense. No airport security, no plane ticket, no hotel room expense nor lost time. Just whoosh! You are instantly transported to a convention like space with all the trimmings. Conversations are easily logged, still pictures and video are simple to take. They now offer voice and other communication tools that make it even trivial to participate and share.

Once they add touch, and there is progress with tactual technology, smell, taste and a neural implant, those old stories of mind linked entities could almost be a reality. One old story comes to mind but age is poking holes in my recall... Thanks the Gods for Google!

The Steak and Lobster, unfortunately, don't taste quite the same In-World and the beer is warm with virtual bubbles and simulated foam! Maybe next year

Tony Locicero

Thanks! I wonder how people know who you are? My SL character is hip. Because I was invited in by wealthy friends and a Linden, I ended up with hipster outfits, and all kinds of clothes and equipment, but except for those who brought me in no one knows that this hip post-generation-X dude is me. And except for the space port I don't know where to go. The result is that I seldom get into Second Life at all.

Of course there's the matter of my copious free time...

I suspect that trying to make money in Second Life would be a terrible allocation of resources. Better to work on my essays for subscribers and fiction when I get the energy...

Thanks again for the report.


Re: Second Life

It's important to note that SL often presents EXTREMELY adult content, and that there's very little control over what you see and when. Sure, there's a lot you can do in SL, but everyone else can do it too, and you'll be watching them do it.

-- Mike T. Powers



 education reform 

On education reform. Sweden has a long and somewhat strange history of frequent extreme swings in education policy. The new right-center alliance government is no different and has just submitted its proposal for the next dramatic reform to occur this autumn, if passed. The change backpedals a lot of the more recent trends and reinstates an older scheme from the 1960s and 1970s with two-tier high school.

Instead of three-year all-university-prep, which is what the current system essentially is, with much all-theory subjects, a second tier with four-year programs intends to deliver more industry-desired "high-school engineers". In many cases, the programs translate to something midway between the outright job-training programs, such as for cook or hairdresser, and some existing prep programs that lead to job-targeting postgraduate education.

The political reasoning is obscure and incoherent as usual, but the goal is right-on regardless, and the hope is that the swing does not become too extreme as is often the case.

The vastly inflated remedial programs that over the past five years or so became the largest "program" in high school is to be scrapped. Deficiencies in literacy or math or whatever are in future to be corrected where they occur, in elementary school, possibly as an extra tenth year for those who lack acceptable grades in grade 9. Once again, the motivational reasoning is incoherent but promotes the "right" answers despite itself.

Our kids are done with school but it will still be interesting to see what happens. Unfortunately, the risk is great that after the election in 2010 and probable shift back to social-democratic rule, we will probably see yet another educational reform around 2012 or therabouts.


/ Bo


Intellectuals manqué

I like this, Jerry. It is elegantly simple and straight to the point. It also describes them to a tee.

I completed my BSBA last month after many years of arguing not about the subject being taught but about the way it was being taught. There is no longer any room for discourse between teacher and student. Teacher presents material. Student regurgitates same. Student gets a grade. Repeat ad nauseum. This was a direct result of credentialed and "highly respected" teachers doing what they have been taught to do, namely pass students. I, on the other hand, had the misconception that I was attending school to learn something. On many occasions, upon receiving a less than perfect grade for a paper, I would inquire about why I had points deducted. The answer was always, "What are you complaining about? You got an A didn't you?" It is this focus on grades and not understanding that is the main failure of all schools today. It leads directly to the lowering of standards because if grades are not high enough, then the grading system must somehow be at fault. It is why No Child Left Behind will never work nor any program that focuses on tests and certifications over knowledge and understanding.

I had a 10th grade chemistry teacher, Mrs. Bell, who really cleared this up for me. There was one student in the chemistry class that could pass with flying colors any written test he was given on just about any subject. However, put him at a workbench and ask him to devise an experiment to prove water is composed of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen and he would stare dumbfounded at you as though you were speaking Greek. Since he was my lab partner, I tried in every way I could to explain how to go from what was written in the books to what was needed by an experiment. I failed and eventually went to plead my case to Mrs. Bell who was failing this poor boy. When I brought up the fact that he could pass any written test put in front of him, she responded that chemistry was not about passing tests; it was about understanding the way things work. That stunned me more than anything I had learned in my 16 years of life. School was not about tests but about understanding - what a concept!

I eventually went on to the U.S. Naval Academy with a major in physics and then to the U.S. Marine Corps. The Marines are an even better teachers of why understanding something is more important than passing tests. In both cases, upon completion I felt that I understood things a little more. Upon getting my BSBA I felt that I had passed the tests and got a piece of paper. Amazing what 25 years can do to an education system.

Keep up the great work and take care of yourself.

Braxton Cook

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Subject: Cooking whales

Hi Jerry

It is easy to assume that speeding up the air flow will have a small linear effect on heat delivery into the Arctic Sea. The other variable is the changing ice disposition. Last year the winds pushed a lot more of the heat weakened perennial ice out of the Arctic Sea, essentially unexpectedly amplifying the original effect. It will now take several years of very cold winters to reverse this effect and rebuild the perennial ice inventory that has been lost.

There may be two year lag between a surplus heat build up in the tropics as reflected by excessive hurricane seasons and a heat discharge in the Arctic all tied to a long forty year cycle. This is galloping speculation but it feels right. And any mathematical model that attempted to actually predict this would be buried in the climate noise as is the CO2 conjecture.




PS: i did a fresh posting on making terra preta and changing the world.


Subject: Today's post to the Amazon Shorts self publlishing boards

Well folks, I've ended up doing it the old fashioned way. A conventional offset print run rather than POD. Electronic publishing on Kindle, of course, but I don't expect much in the way of sales there. The price I got for a minimum run of 2,000 copies and the services of a fulfillment agent means that I will break even at less than a thousand copies sold, and I certainly expect to sell more than that. This is a Civil War military intelligence feminist spy thriller. The Amazon Shorts version got five star reviews. The new promotional campaign is already in gear, with a speech before the L.A. Chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officer on April 17th and an interview on BlogTalkRadio on May15th. Brass Cannon Books new web site will be up soon, and you can even buy a t-shirt or coffee cup to go with your book from CafePress.

POD would be a nice way to go if I were still a poor starving writer and it will be the way we go on some future books, like the 20th anniversary edition of my stage play MARLOWE: An Elizabethan Tragedy. Having worked the problem I now know why so many POD books look so bad. Costs are dictated by page count. The more lines per page, the less the number of pages and the lower the base cost. Against that one has to weigh the tyranny of the standard 55% discount (The book you price at ten bucks brings you only $4.50). You can't fight that without really limiting your sales. There is a lot of front end work in rolling out a book and no one can do it all themselves, nor should they. It getting this edition of "The Shenandoah Spy" out, I used the services of my long time editor, an illustrator, a designer, a map maker, a fulfillment agent and printing broker, and the guy who is building our web site. That's six people besides me. Six very talented people. If you are going to self-publish and have it look like anything you need a support team.

The reason for holding off on doing a POD edition with Amazon CreateSpace ProPlan, as I originally intended is that Amazon has recently shown itself to be anything but a team player. They seem more interested in creating barriers than easing the process. My own experience includes selling books on Amazon Marketplace. That ended last year when I went on a long vacation, set my vacation settings, and came back to find that they had dumped my entire 300 title catalog. I simply was not going to sit here and reenter 300 books on their system. I made a little money, sure, but my main reason for doing it was to learn online marketing. I'm an Amazon Shorts author, but that publishing outlet is not currently taking submissions and information about the future of the program is noticeably absent. I tried to do our web site on Amazon Webstore, only to dump it when I found that they would not allow me to link to my CafePress affinity merchandise page; a key part of my marketing strategy. I tried to do POD through Amazon CreateSpace, only to get a snotty note that they would have to "investigate" whether or not I have the rights to use the Brass Cannon Books logo ; something which I had designed and paid for myself. You see the problem here? Amazon.com, as currently run, seems more interested in demonstrating its power than actually making any money. The current dust up with them trying to force people to use their BookSurge subsidiary for POD has created nothing but negative publicity, and the fact is that, if I do an offset run, I don't need them for that. I don't really need POD at all, except as a fill-in. Given the experiences outlined above, I am inclined to do business with Amazon only when there is no alternative and there is also a clear economic advantage to doing so. For me, self-publishing is not an ego exercise, but simply another way to make money from my writing.

Amazon.com has been so successful that they seem to have forgotten who the customers are. That's a very dangerous posture. It erodes the trust they have built with the author community and makes us doubt their word and their intentions.

Francis Hamit


RE: Mac networking - servers displaying in Finder

Dr. Pournelle,

Command+, (comma) in a Finder window, as in most other Apple programs, will bring up the Preferences. At the top choose Sidebar, and there you will find a number of checkboxes for what you would like to see in the Sidebar.

Having said that, my iBook (running Leopard) did something similar without any settings in that Preferences screen being changed two or three weeks ago, and I completely lost the "Shared" category in my Finder sidebar. It did not return until I manually connected to my Windows PC using the Command+K shortcut (or, from the Finder menu bar choose the Go menu and then Connect To Server at the bottom of the list). Since then I have had no issues being able to see available servers under the Shared heading in the sidebar.

--Matt Knecht

Now if I can just remember all this arcana...


servers in the finder, part 2

Dr. Pournelle,

For what it's worth, I don't think it has anything to do with how smart anyone is - I think these little Mac frustrations have a lot to do with how thoroughly you have been steeped in the Windows paradigm of accomplishing things. I ran a Novell/Windows network for years, and have done Windows technical support for friends and family since pre-Win95 days, and despite my near-total conversion to the Mac over 2 years ago, there are still things that perplex me because they are dealt with from a very different perspective in the Mac UI/Worldview/Way Of Doing Things.

--Matt Knecht


Subject: Algae...

"CP" in Connecticut talked about using a few thousand square miles of desert for algae-based fuel production.

Let me point out that you still have to do the Environmental Impact Statement. I find it difficult to believe that an EIS for a few thousand square miles of algae ponds would be less bothersome than an EIS for a few square miles (three orders of magnitude less land) for a nuclear facility.

You still need power to refine the fuel out of the algae. You still have waste from the process. (A study that went past Slashdot some years ago indicated that AT LEAST 50% of the algae would become waste matter.) You have to do something with the waste.

You still have to transport the fuel out, and you still have to do maintenance, which means roads in and out and traffic.

And on and on and on...



Subject: Understanding vs. Grading

Dr. Pournelle,

You and many of your correspondents have repeatedly stated that No Child Left Behind, and other test- and grade-focused programs, are not a solution to this country's educational problems. Rather, the consensus seems to be that the correct approach to education is to ensure that a student learns and understands the subject, not that he test well. While I certainly agree that students need to understand their subjects, this begs the question: how does one determine that a student has actually acquired an understanding of a subject without testing him on it?

I have yet to see a satisfactory (or any) answer to this question, but perhaps I'm overlooking an obvious solution. If you or your readers would care to expound on it I'd greatly appreciate the enlightenment.

Thank you.

Jason Bontrager

You are making the assumption that (1) there is a "correct" education policy that will fit all schools in this nation, and (2) the Federal Educrats know what that is. Neither assumption is close to true.

The problem with No Child Left Behind and central financing of local schools is that there i no longer any local control. The school bureaucracy has one and only one goal: to keep attendence up because that's how they get money. Educational effectiveness is left far behind  and the school is pretty well unresponsive to the parents and school boards.

The way to determine if schools are effective? Is they serving the needs of their community. And I can guarantee you that one size fits all will not work for inner city, suburbs, small cities, farm communities, etc. Suburbs differ for that matter. Studio City is not Sherman Oaks is not Arleta is not Watts (which used to look like any other suburb but with towers). The needs of local schools are different. No Child Left Behind assures that No Child Will Get Ahead.


Subject: being a patron

I am building the Platinum Subscribers <http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/2008/Q2/view512.html#Platinum>  as a hedge against the "free books" and "information wants to be free" surge; I know of no other real defense. It's a bit arrogant to ask my readers to support me so that I can choose what I want to write (with some consultation with the Platinum group of course), but I am not sure, given the craziness of publishing now, what else I can do. Subscriptions have kept me alive during this radiation and recovery period.


Back in aristocratic days, some aristocrats took real pride, and got real pleasure, from being patrons of scholars, musicians, artists, poets. Today, ordinary people like me can take this pride, and enjoy this pleasure, by supporting you and your work. Thank you for giving me, and many like me, the opportunity to take part in your work by helping to support you financially. I hope this does give you a freedom to think about and write about what you consider most interesting and important.



Teaching, Learning, and Teaching to Tests...

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

I am sorry for how your day has been going. I won't tell you to have faith; you do. You also have many sets of prayers on your behalf, including my own.

As a tenure-track assistant professor, I often have to deal with immature student evaluations. Sure, I get lots of good ideas and suggestions from students. But the last three years or so, I have been seeing several students in each of my classes writing this:

"The professor often teaches material that does not appear on the tests; that is not fair."

Yeah, life isn't fair. But the comment confused me. Did the student not know that tests confirm that you have learned the material; tests are NOT the material taught?

Then it struck me. That is precisely the experience that many students have had in middle and high school, with the "teaching to the test" approach.

If everything I taught was on the test, it would be a llllooonnnngggg test indeed.

I can't blame the kids, rude or polite. It's *our* fault, for letting political types monkey with education. After all, students learn so much more effectively now than they did forty years ago, right? Blech.

On that subject, check out this site if you have time. The fellow makes a lot of sense (as does his entire website):


The one that stings the most---because I hear it every semester---is the one titled: "I Know The Material - I Just Don't Do Well on Exams."

Fingers crossed for improvement soon.


Mark O. Martin, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor Department of Biology

At a college level you have a pretty good idea of what you want them to learn, and tests are a way to find out if you have been effective.

At a grade and high school level, the very nature of what is to be learned changes: there are skills to be learned by some; a combination of skills and education -- symbol manipulation, learning how to learn, learning principles rather than skills -- for a large middle group; and college prep which is mostly education in learning principles and symbol manipulation for the college bound. You get mostly the third group, assuming that this is done right.

But which combinations, and how many of the class are in each group, are not things that can be determined by Washington, nor even in the state capital. These are matters for local school boards; and while local school boards are not highly competent, the problem, is to come up with some better decision makers. So far I don't know of any. They're certainly better than Washington, DC.


Subject: Amazonics -

Jerry (and Francis),

Looking at the stuff they're doing, and trying to find a rational explanation... well, it's hard to find a rational explanation.

Known facts *do* suggest a possibility, the rationality of which I leave as an exercize to the reader (along with the likelihood that it's anything other than sheer conjecture, which is all I present it as).

* They are pushing a (proprietary) ebook reader -- hard.

* They have given the reader a cutsiepoo name -- a name that evokes images best left to The Realm of Godwin.

* They are apparently going out of their way to penalize third parties who wish to sell deadtree books.

* Their costs (logistical expenses) for ebooks can be assumed to be much lower than the expenses for handling deadtree books (for ebooks, bits on a hard drive, bits over a network, all entirely customer-driven, untouched by human hands, vice costs of storing, inventorying, locating, packing and shipping deadtree editions).

* Hardly a day goes by in which we are not assured by various and sundry pundits that the era of the deadtree book is passing, and the era of the ebook is dawning.

Is there any perceived advantage to helping push the deadtree book into its perceived grave?

Is there any perceived advantage to setting certain pieces in order prior to the end of the current see-no-evil administration in DC, possibly to be replaced by a "new broom" that might not be so inclined to look the other way as various corporate interests, ahem, "consolidate" their positions in the marketplace?



Telecom April 3, 2008, 5:00PM EST text size: TT So Maybe Apple Was onto Something - Rivals trying to come up with an iPhone slayer will need more than fancy features to outdo the leader

by Cliff Edwards and Bruce Einhorn

Since the iPhone hit the market in mid-2007, competing phonemakers and wireless-service providers that don't have a deal to sell the Apple (AAPL) device have tried their best to betray no envy. They rolled out a few devices mimicking the iPhone's touch screen, but they mostly hoped the phone, offered exclusively by AT&T (T), wouldn't become a hit. Too bad. By the fourth quarter of last year, Apple had grabbed more than a quarter of the U.S. market for what are known as smartphones, the mobile phones that handle computer-like tasks such as e-mail and Web browsing.

A new crop of would-be iPhone slayers is about to hit the market. To help them compete with AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel (S) are working with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Nokia (NOK) and Samsung Electronics, to develop new handhelds. On Apr. 1, Sprint unveiled an iPhone lookalike from Samsung called Instinct that will debut later this year. "[Apple] is not going to own the space themselves," says Danny Bowman, Sprint's vice-president. "They're going to have a lot of competition."<snip>


April 4, 2008 Mobile Phone Industry Takes Aim at the iPhone By LAURA M. HOLSON

LAS VEGAS ‹ Last year, the wireless industry obsessed over the iPhone. This year, the industry is buzzing about how to beat it.

Touch screens, the mobile Internet and devices packed with multimedia capabilities dominated the discussion here this week at CTIA Wireless 2008, the industry¹s largest trade show.

Mobile phone makers seem interested in throwing just about everything into their new models as they try to compete with Apple by making phones that look very much like its iPhone. But there were few blockbuster products or major announcements. Nevertheless, the Nokia booth was packed on Tuesday as Beyoncé and Madonna songs blared from overhead speakers.

Show visitors huddled around a long white table where Nokia, the Finnish company, was demonstrating its N series mobile phones, including the N78, a multimedia phone introduced recently in Europe (for about $500) that is expected to go on sale in the United States in June.

Like many phones on display at the show, the N78 is bursting with features. Not only does it have a 3.2-megapixel camera, but it runs on a high-speed network, includes a navigation function and eight gigabytes of memory, and has Internet radio and easy access to multimedia Web sites like YouTube and Flickr.<snip>


April 6, 2008 In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop By MATT RICHTEL

SAN FRANCISCO ‹ They work long hours, often to exhaustion. Many are paid by the piece ‹ not garments, but blog posts. This is the digital-era sweatshop. You may know it by a different name: home.

A growing work force of home-office laborers and entrepreneurs, armed with computers and smartphones and wired to the hilt, are toiling under great physical and emotional stress created by the around-the-clock Internet economy that demands a constant stream of news and comment.

Of course, the bloggers can work elsewhere, and they profess a love of the nonstop action and perhaps the chance to create a global media outlet without a major up-front investment. At the same time, some are starting to wonder if something has gone very wrong. In the last few months, two among their ranks have died suddenly.

Two weeks ago in North Lauderdale, Fla., funeral services were held for Russell Shaw, a prolific blogger on technology subjects who died at 60 of a heart attack. In December, another tech blogger, Marc Orchant, died at 50 of a massive coronary. A third, Om Malik, 41, survived a heart attack in December.

Other bloggers complain of weight loss or gain, sleep disorders, exhaustion and other maladies born of the nonstop strain of producing for a news and information cycle that is as always-on as the Internet.

To be sure, there is no official diagnosis of death by blogging, and the premature demise of two people obviously does not qualify as an epidemic. There is also no certainty that the stress of the work contributed to their deaths. But friends and family of the deceased, and fellow information workers, say those deaths have them thinking about the dangers of their work style.

The pressure even gets to those who work for themselves ‹ and are being well-compensated for it.<snip>



CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


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Friday,  April 11, 2008

Is Microsoft Doomed?

Gartner says Vista will collapse?

thats-why-the-yahoo-deal-must-happen/ >

-- Roland Dobbins

Which is interesting speculation. I certainly know of no reason for business to go to Vista; I have not had a good experience with Vista on Roxanne the Core 2 Duo Quad. I will make one more attempt by installing Ultimate on a Dual Core Quad to see if it does anything I want compared to XP, but I do not have high expectations.

And see below


Subject: education and fuzzy heads

Dear Dr. Pournelle, Add my encouragement and well wishes to the others you've received. I can sympathize, to some extent. I am a Type I diabetic and people often ask if shots are the worst part, or testing blood glucose or not getting to eat cake at parties, etc. Easily the worst part is that if my blood glucose gets too high or too low my brain doesn't work. On the few occasions I've been very, very low, it's almost like I'd imagine a mystical drug ceremony must be like. I see connections that aren't there and can't reason my way through the simplest problems. I can usually convince myself that something is amiss and correct it but on occasion my wife will have to essentially force food down me. It's a very frustrating experience. Fortunately, my head always comes back to me and the moments of confusion become an interesting phenomenon to ponder. I'm hoping for the same for you.

I also wanted to comment on Prof. Martin's experience with student evaluations. I've heard many similar comments on my evaluations. In general, students definitely think everything you even mention in class will be on the exams but, worse, they don't want you to discuss anything that isn't directly related to the exams. The exam is the entire point for them. They don't have any expectation that material in the course will be important to understand even if they never see a single graded assignment from me. I don't know if that is the fault early education or not, but it does seem to be a different point of view than I had and I was in these same classes not even 20 years ago. I worried about exams and grades, of course, but I recall many discussions among classmates about how the material applied to other fields. To me, that is how I can identify really top-notch students today; they can and do discuss my class in relation to other classes. You'd be surprised, but a fair number of students can't (or don't) do that. You'd also be surprised at the number of students who don't think they need to recall any general chemistry when they take organic chemistry. The general view really does seem to be that each class is an isolated experience taught to its own end.

To make matters worse, student evaluations are heavily used in many cases to evaluate teaching. They can even be the primary, or sole, method of evaluating a teacher for retention or tenure decisions (teaching only, of course, they have no bearing on scholarship evaluations). If say, two people are teaching different sections of the same course and one grades "easy" while the other grades "hard" the easy teacher gets good student evaluations and is then judged by department and university as being the better teacher. Very little thought or effort is made to judge how well the students in either section learned the subject matter (sometimes good evaluations show the better teacher, sometimes the opposite). You can easily see where such a system eventually leads. I've had two meetings in the last month discussing the merits of student evaluations in regard to certain teachers and I've found myself each time in the minority who say that student evaluations shouldn't play a significant role in evaluating teachers. As Prof. Martin says, I have learned from these evaluations and they're important for students to be able to voice complaint to serious problems but, as far as I'm concerned, I'd be worried about a teacher of organic chemistry (or other serious subjects) who didn't get some evaluations that claimed the course was "too hard" or covered "too much."

Note to be fair: I still have some great students and they're a joy to teach and work with. But, boy, do the bad ones leave you irritated.

Again, best wishes, Paul.

-- Paul Jones
Associate Professor
Department of Chemistry
Wake Forest University

Again, my real concern is with public schools, and in particular with education of those who are not and should not be headed for college; and that is what I am trying to write a major essay about.

When I was at Pepperdine, student evaluations were not part of our system, and I have no experience with them. I was considered a fairly arrogant professor, but I never had complaints from my own students. But except for Introduction to Economics I didn't teach many freshman classes. I was mostly concerned with pre-law students, and political science majors headed for the Georgetown Strategic Studies Institute.

(And See Below)


More on Microsoft:



Traffic engineering.


 Roland Dobbins

Now here's a way to maximize revenue at low costs.


Subject: College education

You wrote:

At a college level you have a pretty good idea of what you want them to learn, and tests are a way to find out if you have been effective.

(For the record I did NOT write that. It was said by the reader who sent the comment. This is MAIL not VIEW.)

Meh. That's the intended purpose. It's not always the actual result, and to my mind less so as various current trends progress.

One of my last college courses was on financial markets. The grade for the class was entirely derived from two midterms and a final; no homework. One of the books we were to read for the course was "Barbarians at the Gates", aobut the junk bond collapse; one of the midterms was entirely about that book.

I've read a lot of books. I think I have a fair judgement of when I've understood something I've read, and when there's complexities I'm not getting. I read that book, enjoyed it, was quite sure I understood the key points of what had happened and why. So the midterm comes along, all the questions make sense to me - I know what they're talking about and what the context and events involved in each one are, and so of course I have no trouble putting down answers. So when we get the graded exams back and my score was in the 35%-40% range (I don't remember exactly), I was more than a little shocked.

I did something I had very rarely done before: I got the answer key and went through each question carefully, looking to see what answer I had put down and comparing it with what they were expecting. The general pattern was that I hadn't used a particular phrase or a particular term or hadn't stated things the way it was expected; whether what I had said was true and accurate - whether the *meaning* was correct - wasn't taken into account at all. At the end of reviewing the test, I was convinced of two things: first, that a fair and objective view of my answers indicated that I had indeed shown I had understood the book, and given valid answers to the questions, and second, given the simple and clear (dare I say zero tolerance?) justification for each occasion on which points were deducted, that that there was no way I'd be able to convince the graders to change the score. After all, they were right: I *hadn't* used phrase such-and-so, and the answer key *does* say that is what is needed. A brainless automaton could tell I'd not hit the buttons required to avoid point deductions. Perhaps only a brainless automaton, though.

I could've gone directly to the professor and appealed to human reason, but when he's got a class of hundreds and a staff of grad student graders to do the grunt work of teaching for him, I figured the odds of his doing anything but backing up the graders (just to keep his life simple, otherwise everyone would bypass them) weren't great. (There's room for a rant here about students paying for professorial education and getting grad TAs, but that is a different subject)

All right, I said to myself; if that's the way you guys want to play it, fine by me.

I didn't attend a single lecture for that class for the rest of the term - I put the time towards other things. For the final exam, I did things that are frowned on, got an excellent score, and passed the class easily.

There's this premise underlying the idea of a test, which is that the student accepts the professor's judgment of the student's ability. If the student has cause to doubt that, then what's the point? The sheepskin, that's the point.

The retention of which, incidentally, is why this is sent without real names attached.

I expect the value of sheepskin to drop.


Actually, what all this indicates is that there are far too many people in colleges who do not belong there. The notion that you will choose skills to learn, and then learn them, belongs in community colleges and skill oriented education institutions. The myth of the college education come from the old European adage (I heard it at least in the 1940's) that in the United States you could get a good high school education, but unfortunately you had to go to four years of college to get it. There was a great deal of truth to that.

The GI Bill sent many to colleges and state universities: many belonged there and never would have been able to get there had they not had the GI Bill. My own education was largely paid for by the Korean GI Bill plus a Board Job (one hour as a waiter = one meal of the menu as Reich's Cafe in Iowa City; a good deal now outlawed by the Federal Government as violating some Interstate Commerce thing but mostly to assure that anyone who tries to work his way through college will come out with massive debts to the financial institutions; we do not want an independent middle class in the US and this is one way to make sure none develops).

Educational institutions teach learning techniques and symbol manipulation (along with a data base of facts and symbols to manipulate). Testing is largely a matter of determining whether the student can apply those techniques to that data base -- that is, good testing has that purpose. That is not the purpose of tests in most institutions now.

But again: my concern is not reform of higher education in these United States. My concern is to try to salvage something from the wreckage the intellectual manqués  who dominate colleges of education have made of the entire public school system. I was tempted to write "national public school system" -- which shows just how pervasive the educrat heresies have become. There should not be a national education system and attempts to make one have been the engines of destruction of what was once a very good education system.


follow up on education

You state:

"Again, my real concern is with public schools, and in particular with education of those who are not and should not be headed for college"

I agree that that is where the primary concern should be and realize my anecdotes (or those of other college professors) won't directly address the issue of public education in general or those who aren't headed to college in particular. What I was going for, and may have failed at, was using the attitudes of the students I teach as a gauge of what students learn to expect from education. In general, the students I teach are bright and fairly ambitious. I actually have very little problem convincing (most of) them to forget the bureaucratic details of grades and exams and focus on the bigger picture even while they look at finer detail. I'd say I'm very lucky in the type of student I get to teach and the idea of teaching in a public grade school gives me the shakes. So, my point was simply that if bright, ambitious, thoughtful kids have the attitude that the exam is the end-all-be-all of education, they must have gotten that message somewhere along the line.


-- Paul Jones
Associate Professor
Department of Chemistry
Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem, NC 27109


Is This Gonna Be On The Test?

Paul Jones writes: "I've heard many similar comments on my evaluations. In general, students definitely think everything you even mention in class will be on the exams but, worse, they don't want you to discuss anything that isn't directly related to the exams. The exam is the entire point for them."

To be fair, most professors are responsible for pushing the idea that the exam is the entire point. If your course syllabus says "3 exams, each 30% of your grade, plus 10% 'class participation and attendance'," then of course students are going to focus on the exams.

-- Mike T. Powers

Some do, some don't. Grades were not my primary concern once I decided I was not interested in Medical School. My GPS wasn't really going to affect my life. But that was in the 1950's.


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This week:


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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Subject: "Why China is the REAL master of the universe"


Snips [some of the photos in the article are must-see material]:

But the world order we have grown used to - and comfortable with - over the last century is coming to an end.

Napoleon III compared China to a sleeping giant and warned: "When China awakes, she will shake the world."

After a long hibernation, China, and her 1.3 billion people - twice the population of the U.S. and EU combined - is awaking almost overnight.


There are even reports that manholes in Britain have been disappearing to feed the monstrous appetite for scrap steel in the other side of the world.

China is spending 35 times as much on crude oil as it did eight years ago, and 23 times as much on copper.

As it builds gleaming skyscrapers on its fields, China alone consumes half the world's cement and a third of its steel.

What is happening is so extraordinary that economists have had to invent a new word for it - this is not an economic cycle, but a supercycle, a shift in the world economy of historic proportions.


While the Congo in central Africa was once over-run by Belgians, it is now the Chinese that can be found wondering around its mining belts.

In Lubumbashi, the capital of the Congo's copper-rich region Katanga, the Economist reported "a sudden Chinese invasion".

Troubled Angola recently shunned Western financial aid because of the amount of Chinese money pouring into it, in return for commodities.

From Kazakhstan to Indonesia to Latin America, Chinese firms are gobbling up oil, gas, coal and metals.


Canadian authorities were recently alarmed to find the Chinese interested in exploring the Arctic Ocean, in a bid to get a share of the minerals beneath the thawing icecap.

In eastern Siberia, Russians worry that China is by default taking over their empty land.

The West has long seen Africa as its backyard, but Western diplomats now worry that not just Africa, but South America, too, is being lost to China.

And Western governments are concerned that the rules of the game are changing. Most worryingly, as China's brutal suppression of the once independent Tibet shows, this is not a superpower that respects Western standards on human rights.

From Darfur to Myanmar, China is cuddling up to murderous dictators.

At home, it holds mass executions of criminals with bullets in the back of the head while transplant surgeons stand by to harvest their still pulsating organs.

Yet Western governments have been in such awe of China's looming power that their response has not been to challenge its abuses, but to try to silence their own protesters at home.


Many fear that things could get ugly.

There is only one thing worse than an unchallenged superpower - it is a superpower with a victim mentality, which feels the world owes it a favour.

And the bitter truth is that, after centuries of humiliation in foreign affairs, there is a nationalist mood in China that the country's time has come again, that it can again claim its rightful place as the world's most powerful country.


Anti-Americanism will disappear as Europeans realize how much better it was to have a world super power that was a democracy (however flawed) not a dictatorship.

There is even speculation that the intense economic pressure on countries such as Britain will cause them to trim down their bloated welfare state, simply because it will no longer be affordable at present levels.

Western attitudes of superiority to China and the rest of the East will also subside, as Westerners realise they are no longer the masters of the world.


"Enterprises and individuals must recognize and adapt to these fundamental economic changes. We believe that those with a fossilized frame of mind risk being marginalized."

In a world in which we are no longer masters, it is a warning that we ignore at our peril.

Ron Schwarz


"Making that kind of connection is pure political correctness -- the elevation of feeling good over doing right."

<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/08/AR2008040802044_pf.html >

-- Roland Dobbins



Walt Mossberg says 3G iPhone coming within 60 days

Posted by Matthew Miller @ 9:59 pm

Walt Mossberg says 3G iPhone coming within 60 daysThere has been a lot of speculation on when the 3G version of the iPhone would be coming, but today Walt Mossberg appeared to let the cat out of the bag in a video where he states that the 3G iPhone will be released within 60 days. Thanks to The Boy Genius Report for the link.

This news makes sense since the iPhone 2.0 update will be coming in a couple of months as well and the launch of a new device to go along with the new software is a natural assumption. I am pretty happy with my iPhone, but the lack of 3G is a real bummer that results in my using other devices instead of the iPhone to be productive on the road. A 3G iPhone with the new firmware is going to be very tempting and tough for me to resist. However, I will have to see other hardware improvements such as Bluetooth connectivity to a keyboard, A2DP Bluetooth support, and video capture capability before I¹ll jump so quickly to buy an iPhone this time.

The video below shows Walt making the statement at 6:53 into the video so you can hear it for yourself. Walt gets Apple products earlier than most everyone else so I believe it when he says 60 days too.

Anyone ready to plunk down their cash for a 3G iPhone?

Matthew Miller is an avid mobile device enthusiast who works during the day as a professional naval architect in Seattle.


When iPhones Go Missing Are Tourists Snapping Up Devices and Selling Them For Use on Other Networks? April 5, 2008;

Where are all the iPhones? Apple sold 3.7 million of its hit mobile phones last year, but its official partners only registered 2.3 million new customers. Meanwhile, many of its U.S. retail stores are selling out of the handsets. Apple is tight-lipped, but the two stories could be related.

Officially, regularly priced iPhones are tied to a single carrier in each country. In the U.S., it's AT&T. Apple has similar agreements in France, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom. In exchange for this exclusivity, Apple gets a cut of users' monthly fees. The problem for Apple is that its software locks can be tweaked to allow the phones to run on other operators' networks.

China Mobile, one of two mobile operators in China, doesn't have any deal with Apple but still reckons there were 400,000 iPhones on its network at the end of 2007. That number is probably much higher now. Those phones were bought somewhere.

That's where the stories come together. Smuggling iPhones has become a lucrative, if legally questionable, way for traveling students and flight attendants to earn a bit of extra cash. An iPhone costs $499 plus tax in the U.S. -- call it $550. Unlock it, for $50 or less, and you can sell the same phone for the equivalent of $900 or so in Europe.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that iPhones, perennially sold out at Apple's Manhattan stores, are in stock in Buffalo. Manhattan is full of tourists armed with strong euros, rubles and Brazilian reais. Few of them visit cities in upstate New York.

This explanation, while speculative, has big implications for Apple and AT&T. Of course, there could be others explanations. Apple, which declined to comment, could be clearing the decks for a new version of the iPhone. Or it could have simply misjudged demand or run into parts shortages. Listen to the Babel of languages in Apple's New York City stores, though, and it's easy to imagine the missing phones in suitcases flying overseas.



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CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


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Sunday,  April 13, 2008     

Just think of it as evolution in action.


- Roland Dobbins

A harsh judgment, but perhaps accurate given the state of the world...


“Young Chinese have no sympathy for Tibet."


---- Roland Dobbins

I think the key observation here is that China doesn't feel like a police state (without regard to whether or not it is one). That squares most other personal observations I've been given. I have never been to China; we were negotiating for me to spend a semester teaching in Peking when the movement in the Square began, and I broke thing off. I'm a bit old for doing that now, and I no longer have contacts within the University there, but I do have correspondents resident in China as well as others who visit.

It doesn't feel like a police state.


More on www.readingtlc.com : deleting the Internet Explorer cache


To flush the cache in Internet Explorer, use the Tools -> Internet Options menu item. You will see a dialog box similar to the one below. Click the Delete... button in the middle and you will see a box like the second screenshot below. Delete the "Temporary Internet Files..." Then close and reopen the program.

-- David Schachter


Tried that first thing. No joy. Apparently the problem has fixed itself: as of 10 PM last night Roberta reports she can get to the page on her machine now. There is still some fooferaw about the certificate if you try to order a copy of her program, but that can safely be ignored. We'll get GoDaddy to fix it come Monday.

SO: her reading program, which will teach anyone from age 4 to senility how to read English in 70 lessons of about half an hour each is available again. www.readingtlc.com . By "read" I mean look at and pronounce English text from simple stuff like Dr. Seuss to polymorphictoluene. I don't guarantee that the student will know the meaning of the words; but if the words are in the speaking vocabulary they will be in the reading vocabulary, and all that nonsense about "grade level reading" and "controlled vocabulary readers" (very very lucrative for publishers) can go into the dust bin where it belongs.


Hello Jerry,

I'm sure that many folks have sent you this, but just in case...

To clean out the DNS cache, open up a command window (Start/Run/CMD), then type in, exactly:


If you do IPCONFIG /? the help text says that the command "Purges the DNS Resolver cache."

I've used this many times to cure problems with all browsers - IE, FireFox, Maxthon, Opera, and others. Evidently the DNS cache is easily corrupted - fortunately the fix is pretty easy, if you know it's there.

Regards... Ward Gerlach

Tried that too without joy yesterday; but as I said, about 10 PM last night something in the DNS servers "out there" seems to have released because everyone including Roberta can get to www.readingtlc.com now. As with you, I had expected that one to work. It was suggested to me by Mr. Hellewell, one of the Chaos Manor Advisors, and I had high hopes...





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