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April 14, 2008
I sent a copy of this to Francis Hamit for comment:
From another discussion group
Re: Bezos letter
No I hadn't seen that letter. Wow. That's a very long letter. I do have some comments.
First of all the machines:
When these were introduced I did some coverage, and the "vision" was that you would eventually find them as kiosks in every bookstore. Here Zipf's Principle of Least Effort kneecapped that idea. Even back then they took far less than two hours to produce a book...more like ten minutes, but what if there was a line? How many people were going to wait, or make an appointment to pick up their book? How many would leave and abandon the book they had ordered. You can do something similar with graphics with Fed-ex Kinkos and other repro shops, sending the image and text from your computer and picking up the items the next day, but that's material you originate yourself and have a specific need for. The great thing about printed books is that they are just there. Ready to be picked up. You take them to the cash register and buy them. End of transaction. The problem with modern brick and mortar bookstores is that they can't possibly stock every title; perhaps a hundred thousand of the three million of so that might sell. The Pareto Principle enters in and only about twenty thousand titles have any velocity at all. The rest are called "wallpaper" in the trade, there mostly to give the impression of abundance. This is where Amazon.com has the major advantage; they have everything that can be had. And they've branched out into stuff that ordinary retailers no longer carry because of low velocity. I buy foot powder and vacuum bags there.
Putting the machines in fulfillment centers makes more sense, and the queing problem goes away because almost everything POD is a low demand product for which inventory shouldn't be held in depth. It's a good way to exploit the Long Tail market. However, last I heard, Amazon had more than 20 fulfillment centers and only three machines, but even if they have a machine in every center, there's another problem; these are very expensive, complex machines and there are quality control problems. Amazon Booksurge, from some of the stories told, has lots of those; mostly caused by a lack of concern about quality, based on the evidence. A smart printer does not let a book with out-of-order or misaligned pages or excess glue on the binding get out the door. Both problems have been reported on the blog entries about this. Generally, in my experience, these kind of problems come when you have a top-down corporate culture that hurries people and grades them on numbers instead of results. Amazon.com is all about the numbers.
Amazon has an easy returns policy, so a lot of this is inadvertently covered up. They just replace it. And Zipf's Principle works in their favor here as well. Most people won't hassle with trying to fix the problem, but just take what was delivered, because they don't want to spend the time to fix it. Time is our most important quantity in life. There is just so much of it and we all hate having it wasted.
If Amazon gets its way, it will have another problem; thousands of additional titles for which they will be the primary source. That means buying more machines, or a much slower average delivery time as the orders stack up. Orders of physical products in the warehouse will not ship in a timely manner because they will be waiting for a book stuck in the POD que. Amazon already splits these orders rather than wait and ships part of the same orders from two different warehouses to fulfill that "speedy shipping" fetish of theirs. I buy books from them on a regular basis and have had this experience. It cost me nothing more.
If Amazon buys more machines to fulfill POD, then they will quickly hit a point of diminishing returns where they have a lot of expensive iron sitting idle. Perhaps they already do and that was the impetus for this current dumb move. This is a case of "be careful what you wish for". If they are successful in forcing small publishers to use their machines and cannot meet competitve standards for making the product as well as selling it, then it will come back to bite them big time.
The problem for most small publishers, (and with the creation of Brass Cannon Books I am now one), is simple. If it has my name on it, then people don't care if Amazon made it. I own it and all the problems associated with it. I've spent a lot of time in my life selling things, and I know how hard it is to correct a bad impression or recover from having delivered, through no fault of my own, an unsatisfactory product or service experience. All it takes is one bad episode and you're gone. It's a very competive environment and there are no excuses possible. If you can't deliver, the customer moves on.
This open letter from Mr. Bezos tells me that he realizes he's stepped in a huge pile of negativity and is trying to scrape it off his shoes. The whole thing about used books is evidence of that. Aside from the big chains, every bookstore sells used books and I used to, through Amazon Marketplace. It was a good way to learn their system and I did well, with high marks in customer satisfaction. The reason I'm not still doing it is illustrative of Amazon.com's corporate culture. They have "Vacation Settings" which I used last year since we were going on one. Came back and found that someone had dumped the entire 300 title catalog, without explanation. Probably because we weren't selling anything and they didn't see that we were"On Vacation". Well, I don't have time to sit here and reenter 300 items in their database and I was miffed that there was no warning e-mail or any time limit in the "terms and conditions" about how long I had to refresh the account. So they lost a pretty good seller who was making them money. It was no singular act of courage to sell used books on Amazon, since that's what they do; sell books. And books are a unique product. People who think that selling a used one will prevent the sale of a new one should be more concerned about the public library and getting authors the Public Lending Right payments that they have in other nations. A novel in a library gets checked out six times a year on average. That's six copies not sold.
Mr. Bezo's big problem here is that his people simply imposed this action upon the community without sufficient preparation or explanation. They forgot, as they always do, who the customers are. It's that top-down culture that I spoke of above. Such cultures are not big on consultations of any kind and not prone to admitting mistakes.
Amazon.com has become very hard to do business with. I keep trying and failing. Aside from MarketPlace, I tried Webstore, and abandoned it when it did not meet my needs and now I've backed away from CreateSpace, even with the promise of a much higher return because I am Brass Cannon Books and have to be concerned about its reputation. If it has my name on it, I can't chance customers getting badly done books from a POD machine run by people who don't care about anything but filling orders. I used Lighting Source last year for those galleys of "The Shenandoah Spy" I sent out. They got the business rather than Booksurge because they bid a third lower, but I know their quality. I've also seen what BookSurge produced on a public domain title they had in the Amazon catalog and was not impressed; it just looked wrong. Since, unlike most POD publishers, I have a product already tested in the marketplace and likely to sell well, it was not a hard decision to go with a conventional offset run and a fulfillment agent. I'll make more money in the long run, and this is business, not art, we're talking about.
Last night I tried to upload "The Shenandoah Spy" to Amazon Kindle. The front end the instructions are easy and they take either HTML or PDF. We have the master file in PDF, but they recommend HTML. I tried to upload what we had, since HTML means spending time creating a special file we will use no other place. It failed of course, looked terrible and the cover did not reproduce. We have to get a special version of that now as well. So the entire thing will have to be redone to make a quality presentation. Why? Because they are apparently too lazy or too cheap to create a system that integrates PDF files seamlessly. (I did some of the original coverage about PDF and know it is just not that hard to do.) Again that top-down culture is at work here. Rather than create an easy and satisfying customer experience they load the work they should have done back on us. We comply, but the memory rankles. Time, Mr. Bezos, time! If you waste ours to save yours, it is a form of theft.
If Amazon.com's policy is to keep the peasants surly but not mutinous, they've just seen the inevitable outcome. Now they are hurt and claim to have been misunderstood. But it was simple bullying all along. The rhetoric about wanting to better serve the customers would ring true only if Amazon.com actually seemed to give a damn about them. Faster shipping is a myth since they use USPS and the Post Office cannot and will not guarantee timely delivery.
I keep trying to do business with Amazon.com and failing because they keep finding ways to screw up. They are the biggest game in town, so I will continue to use what works, but only what works. Is anyone surprised that I regard this as their problem and not mine?
But surely 5 copies is not the same as 500 or 5000. If a business is so small that 5 copies is prohibitive perhaps it wasn't worth getting into in the first place?
Most POD publishers are writers, not business people. Net cost POD of my book is about seven bucks, so that would be $35.00? I risk more than that at weekly poker games. And it's consignment selling, which means they eventually get it back, with whatever profit that they add on. I agree that it doesn't make sense for small publisher not to do this. But Amazon charges a yearly fee for participation, so they make money even if none of the five books sell.
But it also gives Amazon.com thousands of books in inventory with no investment, much like the Amazon Marketplace used books channel they've opened. That pretty much destroyed the used book business at the street level. Even established dealers have retreated to their garage or back bedroom. It's a more efficient marketplace by far. Again Amazon gets a lot of people working for free to earn it money as they earn their profits. The business can be very seductive. Buy a the right book for a quarter and sell it for fifty or sixty dollars, as I have, and you tend to ignore the titles that sit on your shelf for months or years because they all sell eventually and you can adjust the price. Then comes the day some jerk wipes out your whole catalog and you think again.
My fulfillment agent, Pathway Book Service, has an Amazon Advantage account. End of story. I actually avoid confusion in the marketplace by not using BookSurge or CreateSpace. Pathway also got me a better price on printing. I am currently working on large volume orders for them to fill. It's easy to sell if you believe in the product.
Amazon had growing pains when they first started up. You may recall the jokes about waiting for a profit, and the like. Eventually they got their mud together and began kicking the opposition apart, and now we don't know how to live without Amazon. I use it all the time.
I make no doubt they will figure this one out, too.
He Wrote 200,000 Books (but Computers Did Some of the Work) - New York Times
It's the old story of the lunatic who checked out the telephone book from his local library and returned it with the comment "Not much of a plot, but, man, what a cast!"
RE: China, Angola, and investment versus "aid"
From Ron Schwarz's forwarded article:
Ho, ho, economists have been saying all along that ten dollars of actual trade beats out a hundred dollars of handout "aid". And now we see that principle in action. China wants to buy things, creating local jobs and supporting the domestic economy; Westerners just want to throw some money around and make themselves feel better.
Although it's worth pointing out that China is more interested in raw materials than in finished goods. I'm sure that if Angola were trying to sell plastic lawn furniture instead of glazing earths, China would be much less interested...
: Rose Colored Foreign Policy
This caught me...er, eye:
This got me to thinking. As "mad" as Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) was, that was in the definition an intrinsic sense of political parity -- "if you do that much damage to my population, I will return the favor to yours." But can MAD survive as a policy when considering nuclear states of c. 20 million population, where the control of the weapons is in the hands of a very small number of policy makers who care nothing for those populations if it would help them score points against the "Great Satan." Who cannot destroy us in anything like the sense our Soviet adversaries could, but who might be able to strike with impunity if they caught us or our allies at a time or in a fashion that would make it difficult or impossible to retaliate.
Isn't "Assured Survival" the only viable option in the current world? No matter how politically unpopular or expensive (though I remain convinced that the "expensive" part is contains a large dose of contractor "business as usual" that we could get past with some appropriate contract reform) the defensive system is.
Just a thought, of course.
Turning Iran in to a suicide bomber; they get a nuke and one mad mullah sends it to Tel Aviv, knowing full well that Tehran will go in return.
The proper way to deal with Iran is to allow our cultural weapons of mass destruction to operate. I'd have a contest, easy to win, with an iPod as prize, and have a million teen-age Iranian winners. But one mad mullah with an atomic bomb makes a lot of difference. We'll have more on that in discourse with Joel Rosenberg later today.
Leni's last laugh.
- Roland Dobbins
You mentioned "...one mad mullah with an atomic bomb..."
With democracy hard at work in Pakistan and our strong man ally possibly on the way out of power, maybe to be replaced by an fundamentialist Islamic religious government, Iran doesn't even have to build their own bomb...
I worry less about Pakistan converting itself into a suicide bomber than Iran. It's true that Pakistan's arsenal security is a pretty leaky operation, but we know that, and I have some confidence in the Company to watch known threats like that; it may be misplaced confidence from memories of a time that is long past. I don't know.
But I would put the probability of a mad mullah using an Iranian bomb on Tel Aviv at better than 10%, and that is quite non-trivial. On the other hand, I would put the probability of pre-emptive strikes on Iran having a truly horrible outcome at better than 50%. As to what I'd do as Emperor, that's for another time.
For now, I'd find ways to get iPods and blue jeans to Iran. Lots of them. Lots.
: Oh Noes! My Pie *haz* tentacles
Dear Doc P.
Hope the treatments do their best.
You might find this entertaining on a down day.
Riichard H. Brown Jr.
April 15, 2008
Presuming the reader...
1) Does not like the book enough to buy a copy to read anytime, or several times.
2) Would read the book for free, but not if required to purchase.
3) Does not like an author (such as Jerry pournelle) or a subject or a book review enough to buy automatically.
4) Reads a book in little bits due to time or other constraint such that the checkout period of the book is not enough time to complete.
5) ad infinitum...
Precisely. Note that at one time, sales to 2,000 libraries was a major market for hard bound books; this in the days when 10,000 copies in hard bound was a good sale. Mr. Heinlein advised me to speak at librarian conventions if I got a chance.
Library sales are not a major factor any longer, but they are not trivial, and I have never thought libraries had a negative effect on sales. In this era of piracy of eBooks coupled with decline in paperback sales, all this may need rethinking.
: Sailors Serving as Soldiers Surmount Stress
"The sailors of NPDB2 didn't realize how stressful working with Islamic terrorist prisoners would be. At its worst, it turned out to be as bad as combat. Many of the detainees were hard core, and vicious. So now the navy has set up a counseling and monitoring program to deal with the PTSD. The sailors are worse off than their army counterparts, because the soldiers go over and return as a unit."
It really might be worth looking at This Kind of War, by Fehrenbach, again.
Fehrenbach is always worth reading again...
I have to agree with you on one major point related to climate change, we've come to a very sorry position if a scientist of Dr. Spencer's caliber has to write a disclosure page like the first link. The second page is his primer on the climate issue and the third link is to a page that has the covers and the first pages of chapters of his new book, Climate Confusion. It looks like a very good book, although I might not agree with all of his positions. However, the science is not settled for a lot of aspects that might make a big difference in the final outcome despite the clamour to the contrary.
You are surprised? Big Science doesn't answer arguments contrary to the consensus. It either ignores them or attacks those who made them. There is almost no actual climate science in this world. It has become part of politics.
---- Roland Dobbins
History is a great teacher, but it also lies with impunity.
-- John Robb
Instant Alzheimer cure? Fascinating. I confess this is entirely new to me.
Subject: Bill Clinton's Madness
A possible explanation
A really interesting theory. Perhaps true?
Anthony Watts makes this field report:
With historical perspective, we can now see how much time Steve McIntyre and Dr. Wegman wasted exposing Michael Mann's incorrect statistical analyses. Even if Mann & Company had done everything right, their results would have still been meaningless.
Hansen has not been acting as a scientist for a decade. Is there anywhere that climate study is science and not advocacy?
Subject: The Sheep Wake Up
Seen on Drudge.
Two separate stories, with a common theme: The world is figuring out that burning food is a bad idea.
SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER
If it hadn't happened, it would be necessary for Mel Brooks to invent it.
To add to Ben Stein's slapstick tribulations in producing Expelled, there has been a slip-up involving his Polish Second banana in the blame-Hitler-on-Darwin epic that premiers Friday.
The German Press Agency reports Intelligent Design enthusiast Maciej Giertych's right hand gal has been caught on video at a neo-Nazi swastika torch parade in Silesia.
Now that's show business !
-- Russell Seitz
WELCOME TO RINGWORLD EARTH
You and Larry asked for it.
ESA has generated some alarming images of a ring world being engineered- ours tohe exact.
The debris in geostationary is starting to turn the place into a regular Saturn Lite
-- Russell Seitz
Subject: U.S. recommends 3-year sentence for Wesley Snipes
Dear Doctor P,
Seems once again it is time for the IRS' annual "Kill The Chicken To Scare The Monkey" ritual:
"The sentencing recommendation said Snipes, with the aid of the other two men, "brazenly waged a campaign" against the Internal Revenue Service by sending phony claims, filings and demands to the agency and making "frivolous" Freedom of Information Act requests for IRS records."
Who does this Wesley Snipes think he is? A citizen?!
Did you think you were a citizen? Salve, Sclave!
Subject: CoQ10 supplements
Any that you'd recommend? Ditto for SAMe?
I get COq10 at Trader Joes. The vitamin store chain I use is Great Earth. They have SAMe; the brand isn't terribly important if you go to reliable stores. Incidentally, Jim Baen first called my attention to the value of SAMe, back when it was banned in the US. We used to get it from reliable pharmacies in Italy. Eventually the US relented, although I am not sure why.
April 16, 2008
The hubris of the political class
An interesting note on the hubris of the political class:
EU defends biofuel goals amid food crises
BRUSSELS (AFP) - The EU Commission on Monday rejected claims that producing biofuels is a "crime against humanity" that threatens food supplies, and vowed to stick to its goals as part of a climate change package. <snip>
"There is no question for now of suspending the target fixed for biofuels," said Barbara Helfferich, spokeswoman for EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.
"You can't change a political objective without risking a debate on all the other objectives," which could see the EU landmark climate change and energy package disintegrate, an EU official said.<snip - emphasis added>
In other words, the EU regulatory framework is so fragile that they can't undo one violently opposed bad decision without the whole thing unraveling.
You are surprised? You are seeing a picture of the future. Education in these United State is pretty well in this fix now. And the State moves to end home schools so that it is not clear to everyone how bad the schools are.
Government employees have a right to their pay, and to automatic raises. They have a right to extract money wherever it can be found -- in your bank accounts and retirement funds extracted by inflating the currency; in your income from whatever source derived; anywhere there is money, they have a right to it. This is the first a great commandment...
Colonel Couvillon on Iraq
It's been quite a while since I've sent a broadcast of pertinent information about Iraq or the Middle East. After a couple of computer crashes, job changes (civilian and USMC) and a myriad of other things, it hasn't been that I've been uninterested - just mis-directed. Still, I've tried to keep up and many people still ask for my opinion on these issues, particularly in this election year. So, there is this reason to again communicate with you. The link below is to an article that gives first hand insight over events in the last 10 days in Iraq and paints the best picture I've heard in quite a while about progress on the political situation in Iraq. I encourage you to read it.
Subject: surgery and brain function impairment
Re Dr McDougal's comments about brain function impairment as a consequence of heart surgery, it is indeed a well known fact, I can't vouch as to how much research has gone into it, but my father was a cardiologist and I grew up surrounded by doctors of all kinds and even 35 years ago there wasn't much of an argument that general anesthesia has a negative effect on you, if I recall correctly there is a correlation between how deep it is and how long the patient is kept under, for older patients the effect may take up to a year to ease off. The consequences of the use of a heart/lung machine are also fairly well known and in fact clotting is an associated risk in the use of such a device.
Having said all of that there are times when you really don't have much of a choice and have to perform the procedure. personally I like engineering better, you can have more certainty about the results. My father's favorite phrase (after 40 years of medical practice) was "in medicine there are no absolute certainties" that from a guy who was considered an ace in diagnostics and clinical evaluation....
From another conference. I post this without comment
John Derbysnire has been attending a conference on consciousness. I wish I could have gone to it.
While attending the conference I blogged it for National Review. I've gathered the main blogs here
with a follow-up this morning here
This will, I hope, answer previous questions, which as I recall were along the lines "What's there to study?"
Lucifer's Hammer 2: German schoolboy, 13, corrects NASA's asteroid figures to 1 in 450
"A German schoolboy, Nico Marquardt, has revised NASA's figures for the chances that the Apophis asteroid will hit earth. Apparently if the asteroid hits a satellite in 2029, its path could be diverted enough to cause it to collide with Earth on the next orbit, in 2036. NASA had calculated the chances as 1 in 45,000 but the 13-year-old, in his science project, made it 1 in 450. NASA agreed."
What a sad, fearful, cowardly society we've become.
- Roland Dobbins
We ain't hit bottom yet.
Conservation, the Iron Law, and the usual corruption
“Never mind the issue of human rights and social justice. Even from a purely conservation point of view, these moves are suicidal.”
Subject: A question about one of Guy White's assertions.
Mr. White's post ends with this comment:
"After writing this article, several people emailed to ask why is it that if Asians have a higher IQ, they win so few Nobel Prizes and invented few of the world's great modern inventions like computers, cars and airplanes?
The answer is that whites have a wider range than Asians, according to all the tests. Asians (and women of any race) very rarely have a low IQ, but also do not have a genius IQ as much as white men."
Is this a well-supported or widely-accepted conclusion? I know the gap in mean IQ's is very well established. If there were clear differences in the size of the standard deviation around the mean, I suppose that would also be evident. But I couldn't find any mention of it with a quick google search.
I did find one reference which claimed that IQ is not really normally distributed once you get out into the right hand tail (genius IQ results, while rare, still show up more frequently than would be expected from a true normal distribution). That being the case, wouldn't it take a lot of high quality cross-racial data to make a firm assertion about differences in the distributions far out in the tail?
Both the means and the dispersions for various races are known, and while it is possible to quibble about some of the numbers, his assertion is a reasonable summary of what is known. One problem is that publishing such data is not conducive to academic advancement. We no longer do science by the scientific method as I was taught and as Popper and the Vienna Circle described. This is particularly true in areas like human diversity or climate.
Copyrights for visual artists, and changing copyright laws.
Harlan Ellison has been saying "Register everything, the minute you print it off. Once it's on paper, someone who couldn't cut it is going to try and chivvy it out of you" since before I was born. That advice is now applicable to everyone who does visual media as well.
Harlan must be getting tired of being proven right on this issue all the time.
(If I put Harlan Ellison and Cory Doctorow in a gladiatorial arena to settle copyright, I think I could fund a Moon Base from the Pay Per View rights. Hmmm.)
Subject: Users fight to save Windows XP
"Those whom God wishes to destroy, he first deprives of their senses." Euripides
Microsoft is now officially senseless:
"Microsoft Corp.'s operating systems run most personal computers around the globe and are a cash cow for the world's largest software maker. But you'd never confuse a Windows user with the passionate fans of Mac OS X or even the free Linux operating system. Unless it's someone running Windows XP, a version Microsoft wants to retire.
Fans of the six-year-old operating system set to be pulled off store shelves in June have papered the Internet with blog posts, cartoons and petitions recently. They trumpet its superiority to Windows Vista, Microsoft's latest PC operating system, whose consumer launch last January was greeted with lukewarm reviews."
For what it's worth, I have three systems. One runs XP, one 98 and one (swelp me!) ME. From what I have seen and read of Vista, I would rather run a fully patched 98 than Vista (were I to have to choose). XP I like, once I have set it up to "look" like 98. ME is even tolerable (located upon an old and noble gaming eMachine that seemingly will only run with the original OS as factory installed.)
Microsoft is no longer a code producing company. They are a "code exploiting" company. Once they swallow enough outside ventures, even that will be relegated to "We Also Walk Dogs" territory. It's time for someone new, somewhere, to Get Rich with The Next Big Idea. Please!
Buy Yahoo. That will fix everything.
Microsoft built a formidable marketing machine on top of a fairly good code generating establishment. The problem is that Microsoft like everywhere else is subject to the Iron Law. And without Bill Gates the company doesn't really have anyone with vision watching over it and trying to focus its efforts.
Meanwhile Gates has his wrong headed notions of what needs to be done to education.
Nasawatch.com and spaceref.com report that this story is at best overblown and that NASA has had no contact with the young gentleman in question, nor have they changed their official estimate of the impact risk for 2036.
Links courtesy Dr. Powell.
One reason I did not jump on the story when I first heard it. It does no harm to wait for more information. This is not a breaking news site...
From the reliable David Morrison:
Subject: NEO News (04/16/08) Latest NEO Hoax
NEO News (04/16/08) Latest NEO Hoax
Today the Internet has been propagating a story out of Germany that a 13 year old boy has corrected NASA's estimate of the chances of an Apophis impact in 2037 by a factor of 100 - from 1 in 45,000 to 1 in 450. According to this story, NASA agrees with this correction, generating headlines such as "NASA upgrades Apophis threat" This is incorrect of course. Don Yeomans wrote, "This story is absurd, a hoax or both." Unfortunately some of the German and UK press apparently accepted the claim that NASA agreed with the new calculation, without bothering to contact NASA. From there, this hoax quickly spread over the Internet.
Following are one of the original news stories (which includes a number of other false statements about Apophis), a brief NASA denial, and a more detailed rebuttal posted on the Internet.
Subject: one reference which claimed that IQ is not really normally distributed once you get out into the right hand tail - How about a brief mention that nothing is normally distributed in terms of the Gaussian equation which has a much weaker central tendency an
How about a brief mention that nothing is normally distributed in terms of the Gaussian equation which has a much weaker central tendency and longer tails than we observe in reality. What we call a bell curve is a bastard standardized normal curve with tails that are so thin no instances at all are observed (granted the probability is low frex assume aging in normally distributed then the SF concept of a few really old people are out there - the tail keeps going forever - but on the other hand the probability is that any of the really old will die in almost the next instant as well so.....) are observed and way too many instances clustered at the center.
Indeed I've known people who as a hobby-lab were working to supplant Gaussian with something with something more like the observed for many purposes.
Clearly the ends of the Bell Curve do not follow the mathematical forms of the central limits theorum. How can they? At an IQ of 10 you are dead. Actually it is chopped of well above that. And the number of people with IQ 180 and above is so small that there will never be enough in a sample to allow developing measuring instruments of any reliability whatever. We are safer to say 150 and above and be done with it; there is a difference between 160 and 180, or between 180 and whatever number Richard Feynman might have achieved -- anyone sitting at a dinner table with the two of us and Marvin Minsky would have seen that -- but we have no instruments to discover these matters.
The facts are pretty well known: there are differences in the means, and also in the dispersions, of measured IQ in samples of various races, and also the sexes. Women and men have similar means, but women's IQdispersion is smaller than men's; the very highs are rarer as are the very lows.
IQ is a measurement, an estimate of an underlying "g" whose existence we infer but which we cannot measure directly. We believe our measurements have a fairly high correlation with the "real" variable, and we even have measures of that correlation; but the map is not the territory.
Incomplete Gamma Functions are a better model for some real life distributions; in estimates of mean time to failure and other reliability models the simple Gaussian curve is not as accurate for predictions of considerable economic importance. I developed some of those for the aerospace industry way back in the 1950's when Human Factors and Reliability was a single Group at the Boeing Company.
I am not sure, though, that explications on the arcana of Gaussian distributions and models is all that useful. We will never develop really close cutoff points. The military has always assumed that 120 and above is officer class. Anyone can observe people of IQ 140 who should never be allowed any command authority whatever; but all that proves is that one needs qualities other than IQ before one ought to be trusted with troops and command authority. (And yes, I understand that NCO's have command authority, but it's different from officers: the simple statement is that an NCO can plead that he went by the book if things go wrong. But all that is for another time.)
If what you are saying is that very rare cases are very rare and there are rarely enough of them to allow reliable statistics to be gathered, then, yes, of course. I hadn't thought anyone doubted that.
April 17, 2008
Subject: The Future Is Now - Washington Post
Very interesting take on the intersection between science fiction and reality:
Lykken's reaction: /Eh/.
He could already see someone else's data on a computer. He could have the colleague e-mail it to him and open it as a document. Why view it on a separate page on some computer network?
But of course, this unimpressive piece of software was the precursor to what is known today as the World Wide Web. "We had no idea that we were seeing not only a revolution, but a trillion-dollar idea," Lykken says."
and I'm getting THIS one on a coffee mug:
"If you look out into the long-term future and what you see looks like science fiction, it might be wrong," she says. "But if it doesn't look like science fiction, it's definitely wrong."
Regarding XP ("Microsoft is now officially senseless" -- Wednesday, April 16) -- I would not advise anyone to get too attached to XP, its merits notwithstanding.
Thanks to The Miracle of Product Activation, MS *can* kill it -- declare it Officially Obsolete -- any time they choose.
While I doubt that even *they* would stoop to sending out the Seppuku Bits during a routine "Windows Update" session, I *do* expect them to pull the plug on the authentication servers at some point.
Once that's happened, it will be impossible to reinstall the OS. And, from how I understand it, if you upgrade -- or even *repair* your hardware -- it will "phone home" to see if you're to be *allowed* to continue using your computer. And when there's no more "home" to phone? What then? Offhand, I'd guess it'd be the same as right now, if you don't *let* it phone home.
This is one major reason that I continue to use Win2K, and will probably switch to Linux when it becomes too risky to continue (i.e., when they stop issuing security patches). Still, it will be *my* decision to stop at that time -- and, maybe I won't. Maybe a decent firewall and AV package will allow me to continue using it safely. In any case, I *will* be able to "shoot my drive" and reinstall from the ground up, should it become necessary.
Even if you *never* need to reinstall your OS, there is still the nonzero probability that at some point, some random glitch will cause the OS (and/or the "stub" handler at the authentication server farm) that you are "running an unauthorized installation" and proceed to shut you down.
Good luck getting them to turn it back on after they've put the final knife to its heart and moved on.
I would never buy a car that had a "feature" that allowed the manufacturer to decide that I'd installed an unauthorized radio, or tires, or replacement fender, or, that I'd replaced too many parts in too short a time, and thereby deactivate my ignition key -- or, worse yet, decide that it had outlived its design life, and the next time I had a flat tire, it would be hauled off to the scrapyard, as I stood by the side of the road, going, "But... but... but..."
Surely they have not gone entirely mad?
(The following are my comments on the following link found on Jerry's site.)
# # #
"We are disturbingly close to a chain reaction that could shatter our assumptions about food security."
# # #
"A new Cold War is taking shape, around energy and food.
"The world intelligentsia has been asleep at the wheel. While we rage over global warming, global hunger has swept in under the radar screen."
# # #
Did I say "ugly" in my last email?
Ugly doesn't even come close.
There is a certain innate offensive quality to these "global" bastards assuming that they are somehow *entitled* to OUR grain, OUR agriculture, OUR food, the prosperity -- what remains of it -- derived by the sweat of OUR collective brow.
And that piece of work grazing for the camera... pardon my cynicism, but he just does NOT look like he's been comping down on the pasture. He looks like he's been doing quite well for himself. Has that pork-fed look to him. PURE theater -- but, the morons lap it up. Eating grass indeed. *Smoking* it, more likely, once the Useful Idiots with the cameras turn their backs (and he spits out the lawn trimmings).
What a farce.
But, this schmuck notwithstanding, the fact is that there *are* people who *are* starving, and it's getting worse -- and it's *gonna* get a LOT worse.
If you think *fuel* is expensive *now*, just wait a half year or so, and take a look at *food* prices -- and *availability*.
As the world heads into a cyclical *cooling* period -- which by nature wreaks havoc on food supply -- with *existing* supplies down to the lowest level in a LONG time -- and Our Glorious Leaders committed to a "strategy" (LOL!) of burning *food* for fuel, because it would be doubleplusunPC to use Iraqi *oil* PAY for Iraqi freedom (and even more unimaginable that they'd stand up to the Saudis)...
As all this madness builds to a crescendo, what remains the *main* concern of Our Rulers?
Why, preparing for "Global *Warming*," of course!
You can't have madness without insanity -- and madness seems to be THE order of the day.
BTW, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is a rare breed of investigative journalist. While *domestic* media focussed at *most* on Clinton's sexual fixations, AEP dug deep into the *real* scandals. And IMO the need to read a *British* paper to find out what was going on here in our own country, while our gelded media refused to rock the boat, was itself scandalous.
I just returned from a week in Madiera. Pictures at <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw/blog/index.php>.
The UK is now requiring internal passports: "We have been told that the Home Office confirmed in November 2007 that they would be exercising their powers under the Police & Justice Act 2006 to require photo ID for all travellers on internal flights and ferries, starting with routes to and from Northern Ireland. With this in mind, it may be a good idea to take your passport with you to avoid any disappointment." (CTC newsletter)
Anti-terror laws used to spy on family suspected of lying about their
address on a nursery school application form: <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/
A university degree course in selling beds: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7343027.stm>
NHS rationing of care: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7347896.stm>
-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland.
My suspicion is that a course in selling beds would be more useful than most social science courses.
Subject: I have to take issue with you.
Dear Dr. Pournelle:
I think that you perhaps underestimate the range of your appeal. I punch a time-clock in a manufacturing plant Granted that it's a fairly highly paying hourly job, and in a technical discipline (Coordinate Measuring Machine operator/programmer), but nonetheless, I am faced with a seeming endless succession of "widgets" most days. So I don't have to imagine the potential for my job to get exported. It's a real possibility. I currently won't offer better than 50-50 odds on it lasting for the 10 years or so that I have before I can retire.
However, in spite of being a factory grunt and a widget shuffler, I do know good literature, and good sense, when I read them in print, and thus follow your writings, both here and in print, fairly closely.
You have my thoughts and prayers for continuing good outcomes from your medical treatments, also.
All the best!
With some difficulty we have now put "The Shenandoah Spy" into Amazon Kindle format with a suggested retail price of $12.95. They may price it lower. The difficulty was trying to get Greg Hemsath's interior map in with the text. It had to be converted to a GIF file in Wordperfect and then imported into HTML. We had to go with a plain title page. The fancy border kept migrating to a page of its own. We couldn't get the Brass Cannon Books logo in either. The spacing came out a little odd. It was necessary to put hard returns at the end of each chapter to keep the text from running together. We also had to get George Mattingly to make us a special RGB version of the cover and resize to their specs.
Anyway, it's up. We'll have the printed books in a week or so. I have my first promotional gig tomorrow at the new L.A. AFIO chapter meeting. And for the first time is about six years I have business cards again. I would like to hear some consumer comments on the appearance, etc,of the Kindle version.
Jerry, Your comments yesterday about energy security implied that we needed the revenue from new import tariffs to fund additional oil wells, pipelines and refineries in the US. At current prices the domestic oil industry has all the funds it needs--though perhaps not all the personnel--to do this themselves. They would do so happily, to avoid the political risk in the places they have been forced to invest in the last decade or so, such as Venezuela, Russia, and Nigeria. A couple of years ago, the Dept. of the Interior issued resource estimates of between 66 and 85 billion barrels of oil remaining in the US waters of the outer continental shelf, over and above our current proved reserves of 20 billion bbls.
Last year's study by the National Petroleum Council, "Hard Choices", concluded that there were at least 40 billion barrels of oil in areas that we have chosen to place off limits to drilling. The best estimate I could come up with equates that to 1-2 million barrels per day of additional production. (http://energyoutlook.blogspot.com/2007/09/tapping-rest.html). That's not energy independence, but it would be an excellent start. It would also be worth $60 billion/year to our trade balance, at $110/bbl. Nor is this an either/or proposition versus renewable energy. We need that, too, but we can't run our civilization on a fuel with a paltry energy return of 1.3:1.
Regards, Geoff Styles
Agreed. I understand that the problem with developing domestic resources is not investment capital but government restrictions. I suppose I thought that obvious: we don't need tariff revenue for that investment.
Of course the revenue would be helpful for other purposes, given the trade deficits we now enjoy. And of course it would help stop the slide of the dollar, which is a major factor driving oil prices.
April 18, 2008
Regarding Microsoft killing XP anytime they choose:
Your correspondent is correct; technically, they can do so.
I suspect that were they to do so, they would be hit with legal action to a degree that would keep even the Microsoft legal team working overtime. Lawyers use computers, too.
Meanwhile, Ars Technica reports the following:
(snip)...but Apple grew at almost 10 times the rest of the US market.
It would appear that my prediction is showing some early signs of being correct. I suggested that the business world and techies would move to Linux, and that the home user would embrace Apple. And indeed, both Linux and Apple are seeing significant increases in market share. (And I think that Apple and Linux market share is going to increase even more after June of this year, when Microsoft ceases production of XP.) We see the Apple growth in the Gartner report; the Linux growth is not specifically reported on, as the statistics relate to hardware manufacturing, not the operating system being run on them. But the 'on the street' interest in Linux in 2007 has been phenomenal, and the publishers are cranking out 'bibles' and 'learn in 24 hours' books with increasing fervor. All of this implies that Apple and Linux are grabbing market share.
That market share is coming from somewhere. While I suppose it's possible that all those Commodore 64, Atari 520 ST, and TI 99/4A owners are finally throwing in the towel and embracing Apple... that ain't the way to bet.
At least, not the way I see it.
MS gone mad?
Re: your comment in Mail responding to the prospect of Microsoft deciding to deactivate XP by turning down the authorization servers; had you asked even a year ago, I'd have agreed, but given the recent tactics to push Vista into the market, their strong-arm tactics to get Office XML an ISO stamp of approval, their phobic reaction to the Linux-based portables hitting the market, etc, I can't help wondering if the sane ones have left the building and left the tin-foil-hat crowd to fend for themselves.
The useful part of that is the prospect of opening up the market somewhat as users, and more importantly businesses, start to wonder if the upgrade treadmill is still in their best interest. The vast majority of users could get along just as easily on a Mac or pre-loaded Linux box as with Windows, and the push to browser-based apps makes the underlying OS even less important.
Best wishes to you and yours for your continuing recovery.
-- Bob Halloran
----- "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither." - Benjamin Franklin
I have no insights into what is going on at Microsoft, but it's very odd. As for instance see
http://www.cnettv.com/9742-1_53-50001890.html "The Humiliation of Vista"
Pure Test Software...
Claims to be...
"DarkCopy is for anyone who enjoy the simplicity of a typewriter, and wants to increase productivity by focusing only on writing. It was created as a free, web-based clone of 'WriteRoom'.
"Go ahead and try it! Simply start typing and toggle to full-screen editing mode to clear your mind."
I've not tried it, but you've mentioned some interest in such a product from time to time.
Given my schedule, and that I am happy enough with Word 2003, I think I will wait for further reports; but thanks. Jim Baen always liked XYWRITE and other very simple programs. P prefer powerful equipment and many features which I can turn or or off as I like.
But I to thank you for the pointer and I suspect many will be glad to try it.
Subject: Mac Bundles
For you Mac owners, some great shareware bundles just got announced:
Subject: Make Your Own Tripod Substitute With String and Washer
You always say that the camera you use is the one you have with you. Well, it applies to monopod/tripod substitutes as well:
The Watch in the Woods
Jerry, the problem with the "Watch in the Woods" analogy is that watches are not biological things. When I see a new born baby I do not assume that someone assembled it. When I see a watch, I do not assume it was born. Confusing biology and technology is a conceit that I am not willing to accept. The idea that something is so complex that we can't imagine how it evolved is a failure of our imagination, not a failure of evolution.
God's speed on your recovery.
I must have mistyped? I thought I was talking about finding a watchmaker in the woods? And that those are biological? Certainly watches are created by intelligent design; I doubt anyone will ever create a working timepiece by shaking a bunch of parts in a sack and selecting those that are doing anything interesting.
I don't know anyone who assumes that a new baby was created by mechanical processes, and I never thought anyone, including you, thought so. Whatever makes you think I did? Whatever makes you believe I am unable to discern the differences between biology and technology? Or that technology -- which is intelligent design -- cannot be applied to biology? Surely you do not believe I am that stupid?
As to the possibility of creation of a watchmaker by random processes, I thought that was the hypothesis to be tested?
Your final statement is descriptive of where you place your faith. It may well be correct, but it is certainly not proven. "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy," is another possibility. It's not proven either; indeed I don't see how either proposition can be proven or disproven, which puts them outside the realm of science.
Thanks for the kind thoughts.
RE: Gods, Earthlings, and Intelligent Design
I just read your posting. I think that your comments on this subject are some of the best writing I've read on the subject, even though I probably think Dawkins is both correct and an idiot. I just recently discovered the work of Karl Popper, which I think is brilliant, which is new to me because I'm *only* an engineer. I think that anyone that has a belief in scientific certainty is setting themselves up for failure, at some point. Especially if your certain about something you haven't "proven".
I really don't believe in global warming, in large part because of the hysterics of the "true believers". To me, a scientific discussion that notes all of the negative changes to the world due to global warming would also include the positive changes. Until recently, I never saw a single mention of a positive change, but I can now count a total of one. Only mentioning one side of the equation sounds to me like a sales pitch, and I'm not buying. Shouldn't science be about disproving the global warming theory, not turning it into a sales pitch?
Global warming has all the characteristics of a religion. The same with the people like Dawkins that set out to disprove Intelligent Design. I personally believe in evolution, and earned a B.S.E.E. I suppose a biologist needs to know about evolution, and maybe a few other areas of study. There's plenty of time to do that at the university level. I think kids need to learn math, including calculus, in high school, if we want to prepare them to study science and engineering at the university level, along with chemistry and physics. Basic biology is important, but really how important is evolution to a high school student anyway? What percent of scientists and engineers even study or use evolution after high school? It would make more sense to teach the Ohm's law, they might possibly use that.
I think that the entire purpose of teaching evolution in public schools is to drive a wedge between the kids and their religion. I have just as much a problem with my grandkids being taught at their church that dinosaurs lived at the same time as people.
Maybe I'm just old and cranky. Good luck with your health, and keep writing.
I thought I had made it clear that I neither "believe" nor "disbelieve" in the concept of intelligent design, whether of the "Creator Intervenes" variety or "evolution from space" as posited by Sir Fred and Bob Bussard and others. Those are hypotheses which may or may not generate falsifiable hypotheses; and as Popper and others have shown (at least to my satisfaction) generating falsifiable hypotheses and then testing them is the essence of scientific method and the very engine of scientific progress.
As to the importance of learning evolution in high school, I'd have thought a better grounding in math would be better. Heck, for many of the kids, learning to read newspapers would be more useful. The schools are a wreck, and if the State of Kansas allows local school boards to teach intelligent design as a theory of equal importance to Darwin, I doubt that many local boards would do that, and I doubt that if some do, the Republic will notice the results. Improving schools in Detroit would have a far greater effect -- and a much lower liklihood.
Incidentally, I keep hearing that Dawkins isn't writing for you and me when he publishes in the newspapers. I don't know who he is writing for. Who benefits from the article I referenced? I'd be interested in knowing.
I also keep hearing about the people who believe the Earth is only 6000 years old. I have never met such a person. I am not sure I have ever met anyone who knows anyone who believes the Earth is only 6000 years old. Doubtless there are such, as there are people who believe -- or assert that they believe -- that the Earth is flat, or that it is hollow with a sun and civilizations inside. Whether they have any impact whatsoever on the rest of us is not so clear, and I see no reason to spend much time talking about them. However, their existence is apparently important to Dawkins and his supporters: so long as one such exists, we must always be on our guard lest the entire Earth succumb to ignorance and suppress science, and you can believe as much of that nonsense as you want to. Dawkins hopes you'll believe a lot of it.
Incidentally, I haven't met anyone who teaches that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, although I am far more able to believe there are some such than that there are many who think the Earth only 6000 years old. But then I don't know what awful harm it does to have such fanciful theories of the epochs either. Better believe that than that nuclear power plants are liable to spontaneous nuclear explosions, or that windmills can power a civilization.
Subject: The Jena 6: Another Voice
This is a different view of the "Jena 6" case, written (supposedly) by the only reporter who'd covered the case from beginning to end.
It disagrees rather strongly with the popular versions of the story.
I suggest you have a barf bag handy for parts of it.
Subject: After the KGB, Parts One & Two.
-- Roland Dobbins
Subject: The Iron Law, Again
I would think that fearing for your life would be a good reason to be moved to another apartment, but apparently they don't list that as a choice at the housing department.
Austrian Impacts, Sumerian Tablets and the Press.
--- Roland Dobbins
Wow. Call Velikovsky!
Subject: Web maps, Google and otherwise
You mentioned Google Earth in your view entry today, which got me thinking that you might not have noticed some of the heights Google and Microsoft in particular have pushed each other to in the Map Wars. I find the most interesting part is what is happening in straight web mapping, without the extra stuff of Google Earth or Virtual Earth.
Microsoft's offering has the strange name of Live
Search, but if you keep to the mapping features it is pretty competitive
with Google Maps. Their special feature is the "Birds eye" view. For
I find that generally bird's eye gives a more useful view than any of the straight-down aerial views when you are trying for close ups. I can often get a good enough view to recognize places when I get there. My experience is that coverage is excellent for populated areas, pretty much non-existent for anywhere that is really rural.
Google has a very different approach to close ups they
call Street View. Coverage is, not surprisingly, more selective, and I have
not actually found it useful yet, but as you can see:
Both sites let you annotate maps and share them, even making them searchable on the web.
Roy Harvey Beacon Falls, CT
-- Roland Dobbins
And this is education, paid by taxpayers. Why not?
J. K. Rowling, Copyright, and Piracy
Some developments regarding the lawsuit by J. K. Rowling, her publishers, and Warner Brothers against a fan who sought to profit from an encyclopedia of the "Potterverse" and his publisher:
(all other links courtesy of www.the-leaky-cauldron.org , the premier (and still favored) Harry Potter fan site.)
So we have the JUDGE in a legal case where even the defendant acknowledges that he was in the wrong urging the plaintiff to settle!
WHAT is the world coming to?
Note: there are numerous other newspaper references cited at www.the-leaky-cauldron.org but I haven't searched them all. This is enough.
What is going on is lawyers protecting lawyers? I don't know. I can see how a judge would rather get a settlement than render a decision that will be fought over in appeals. Hard cases make bad law. But clearly Rapoport has an axe to grind.
Dawkins & ID
Best wishes on your continued recovery as the debris from the zaps is cleared away.
Regarding the quote from Richard Dawkins, he is not addressing the panspermia theory of Sir Fred Hoyle at all. Indeed, if the first bacteria hitched a ride to Earth on some meteor, it would make very little difference to science, since all other life forms would still have had to evolve from that.
What Dawkins is talking about is the difference, or lack thereof, between creationists and advocates of Intelligent Design. Attempts to teach creationism in school have been rejected, by legislatures and the courts, on the grounds of separation of church and state. So now advocates of Intelligent Design never specify, in front of school boards or politicians, who that designer might be. This is where the "space aliens" quote might be used.
But Dawkins says that this indifference is a sham and that these same ID advocates are quite certain, when speaking at home or in church, who that designer must be. They'd no more want the idea seriously considered that Earth is an alien's nature preserve, as in David Brin's Uplift Saga, than they'd want the design attributed to Vishnu, Zeus or Odin. And thus, ID has no more place being taught in public schools than creationism.
Perhaps I have lost my mind, but I cannot follow your argument. Are you saying that Sir Fred's hypothesis cannot be taught in school because some with religious views hold a similar theory? Or that Intelligent Design has not and cannot come up with falsifiable hypotheses?
Or that it is the business of someone other than a local school board? Whose? Yours? Mine?Or that you know better what those you don't agree with think than they do? I must be exceedingly dense, because I just don't follow at all.
Incidentally, if I prove to you that a watch was not made by random processes, and must have been assembled by a watchmaker, must I then specify whether or not he has a gold t0oth, and who he is? Why? And given what Dawkins said in the article I cited, why should I care what he asserts about what the intelligent design people believe?
On the intelligent design issues, just my 2 cents worth:
(1) I do know people who still profess belief the literal 6000 year creation story. None are scientists and engineers.
(2) But I also know many scientists and engineers who believe that God kickstarted things about 13 billion years ago and probably tweaks things now and again, but not many or often. (My personal belief regarding the complexity of evolution -- and it has the advantage of being a potentially falsifiable hypothesis -- is that given proteins in sufficient concentrations, energetic and entropic considerations favor growth of complex structures that become self-replicating -- and that once self-replicating structures are realized, for those same reasons the steps to complex lifeforms are neither so complex or random as one might assume -- and that the potential of DNA to generate complex lifeforms at random is not astronomical, but rather that the classes of complex organisms observed on earth (through geologic history, including the "dead ends" of the Burgess shale) is an incomplete but large subset of the total possible morphologies possible to RNA-DNA based complex organisms living in aqueous lithospheres with oxygen atmospheres within +/- 50 degrees celsius of the triple point of water. But that life is not limited to such (one of these days in my copious spare time I hope to do a monograph on the theoretical possibility of ammonia-based organisms with metabolisms based on alkali metal chemistry in ammonia, probably on Jovian planets.) I also consider the "six days" to be a reasonably accurate representation of the big bang ("let there be light'), the nebular hypothesis ("waters below the firmament"), and the origin of species by natural evolution ("plants, then animals") in terminology suitable to the pre-scientific era.
In summary, "From the dust of the Earth created He them" is a succinct statement of what every evolutionary biologist believes; they just substitute "...arose random aqueous electrochemical activity and resulting reactions sufficient, after a suitable progression of intermediate macromolecular, and eventually macrocellular forms, to achieve..." for the classical (and poetic) "...created He..." The only difference is that the latter requires aeons; the former does not necessarily, though that is certainly the most consistent interpretation of the available evidence.
(3) I know only one scientist or engineer who professes to be a total atheist.
Jay and I both liked the cnettv video. Thanks for linking.
Subject: Alternative Theories to Evolution
In addition to Hoyle, you might also mention Stephen
Wolfram, who points out that complexity can arise from very simple programs
and may not always represent the consequence of an evolutionary process.
See, for example,
OTOH, I find it difficult to take Intelligent Design proponents seriously. Much of the Intelligent Design "research" seems rather silly. Are you aware of any testable hypothesis made by Intelligent Design proponents? I have found nary a one. It has been humorously suggested that every time a new transitional form is found in the fossil record, the Intelligent Design community celebrates because there are now two gaps in the evolutionary record where previously there was only one!
DNA sequencing provides fascinating data bearing on the origins and diversity of life. For example, similarities in the Pax6 gene do seem to support the hypothesis that insect and vertebrate eyes evolved from simple pigment-cup ocelli present in the Urbilateria, which evolutionary biologists consider their last common ancestor. This is only one type of eye, of course. The eye seems to have developed independently in many lineages.
I find that opponents of evolution often seem to have little or no appreciation for the vastness of time.
You may pay more attention to such matters than I do. I come across a serious defense of intelligent design about twice a year, usually once in Commentary magazine. They are usually followed by long letters. I don't find either side to have an overwhelming case. Nor do I particularly care.
The average citizen of the US accepts the benefits of technology as a kitten accepts milk, with about as much understanding of what technology is, or how it works or comes about. If your mechanic understands and believe in evolution, or does not; if he believes that the Earth was created in 4004 BC or not; how will that change your life, and why should you care what he believes? And if you think that creationism would be the greatest nonsense taught in the public schools, then I can only shake my head: greater and more significant nonsense is taught daily in the public schools and the consequences are grave indeed, and no one seems to care much. I'd rather the average citizen believed in intelligent design than in CO2-driven Global Warming and Kyoto as the cure.
Of course given my druthers I'd rather most citizens believed in the notion of falsifiable hypotheses and Sir Karl Popper's views of scientific method, but so what? I am not going to get my druthers.
Subject: Intelligent Design
Dear Dr Pournelle,
Intelligent Design, and the related concept of irreproducible complexity, appear rather differently when set in the context of the size of the universe and the possible number of terrestrial planets.
The visible universe contains some hundred million galaxies with between ten million and one hundred million stars per galaxy; in addition, recent observations suggest that planet formation is a fairly common phenomenon, albeit the formation of terrestrial planets could be rather less frequent. The number of planets that could support life can be expected to be constrained by the needs for: - heavy elements, such as Iron, - a stable, long-lived star, yellow or red dwarf preferred, and - a tranquil environment free from nearby novas or supernova. On this basis we may expect that one percent or less of the stars in a galaxy will possess planets suitable for terrestrial types of life; this still gives in excess of a thousand billion suitable planets in the universe.
It has been objected that the transition from complex but non-living compounds, such as amino acids, to prokaryotic cells, and thence to complex organisms and sentience, would involve a sequence of extremely improbable events; however, given the billions of years since the formation of the earth, the reaction rates of complex chemicals, and the number of reactions occurring per second, then the highly improbable becomes less unexpected. The Fermi paradox and the continuing failure of the SETI programs suggest that intelligent life may be very rare; a very rough estimate suggests that if the probability of intelligent life arising on a suitable planet is one in ten to the power thirty (a suitably improbable event), then intelligent life is a near certainty in the universe as a whole, although most galaxies will contain no more than one intelligent species.
I hope that your recovery continues satisfactorily and that you will continue to argue, educate and entertain for many more years.
All my best wishes,
Peter D Morgan
That is very close to the argument that Freeman Dyson presented at the Washington D. C. meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in the 1980's; the same meeting at which I chaired a session on the limits to knowledge, as I recall. It is certainly a defensible position.
It is not a certainty.
Dyson believes that life is rare, but once it evolves to intelligence, it will soon fill its galaxy: that is, assume that however long it takes to reach the stage where we are now, we are with 1,000 years of being able to build a generation ship that will allow colonizing the nearest star systems. Crossing to, say, Tau Ceti (ten lightyears) will take 1,000 years; once the colonists land, give them 1,000 years to build a civilization capable of building a starship, and they're off. In about a million years they will pretty well fill the galaxy. It takes longer to evolve intelligent life than it does for intelligent life to fill its galaxy...
That was Dyson's answer to Fermi's question. They're rare, and we're them. Incidentally, Bob Bussard's answer was "They're here, and we're them." I did not accept his evidence for the extra-terrestrial origin of human life, but Doc Bussard was no fool.
|This week:||Sunday, April
Subj: Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy -- even Linux??!!! 8-(
>>In response to a suggestion that some of the issues could be solved by introducing new procedures, Al Viro retorted, "we've got ourselves a developing beaurocracy. As in 'more and more ways of generating activity without doing anything even remotely useful'. Complete with tendency to operate in the ways that make sense only to bureaucracy in question and an ever-growing set of bylaws..."<<
Even Linux is Doomed!
Subject: Heresies in Science
Dear Dr. Pournelle:
PLEASE don't use my name or affiliation here on this topic---I learned long ago that I do not have a right to my own opinion in science! At least on this subject.
I very much appreciated your comments regarding the Intelligent Design - Aggressive Atheist battle royale. Your comments were nuanced and careful. This is not a new subject, and people like Dawkins and Dennett and Harris seem to feel that their own insights are fresh. Ah...not so much. But then, they aggressively dislike religion, so theological debates over the past thousand years are not part of their worldview!
Most of all---and this is something that both the IDers and AAs miss---you show humility about what you do not know. In fact, you show it regarding what humans *can* know.
The ID/fundamentalists only posit a Creator who acts in ways that make sense to people, with human motivations (and yes, some folks like Hoyle---RIP, a great man---did not fit into this category). I'm back with Greg Benford about that: "The thing about aliens is, they're alien." The same thing holds true for deities. We *cannot* understand the universe from quanta to quasars, genes to galaxies. At least not now.
The AAs fit the same mold. I know better than Dawkins about the limitations of evolutionary thought on a molecular level (he is not a molecular biologist, as I am). Yet his pride shows in every syllable. The Greeks had a word for this: hubris.
None of this is new, and you have a great deal to contend with at present. All I am saying is that both "sides" miss the point: we should be humble about ourselves and our place in the universe. We cannot *know* if a Creator exists. We can only *believe* if one exists, or does not. And we should definitely be humble about our own tools to probe the universe---they are sparse and primitive.
The Fundamentalists who say the most ignorant things about evolution are wrong on their side. And Dawkins and Myers and their ilk, who dare to call people of faith "stupid" (while their own atheism requires as much faith as any snake handling fundamentalist), revolt me.
Mark Twain once wrote that we didn't know whether or not there was life after death. But soon enough we would know, so why fret about it?
I would resist religion being taught in science classes. But I don't think that science classes should attack religion, either.
The humility aspect of this debate is where my own prejudice lies. Neither side is humble, and neither can conceive of a Creator any wiser or stranger than a human being.
This all takes me back to Haldane: the universe is not stranger than we imagine. It is stranger than we *can* imagine.
All that being said, no scientist dares write what I just did above without serious consequences.
I enjoyed reading what you put together on this topic, and appreciate it very much.
I'm not in the James Hogan camp, but I certainly share his dislike of dogmaticism.
I hope you continue to improve.
This is one of several such epistles, from both tenured and not tenured academics; apparently there is a degree of fear about open discussions of the subject. Which does not astonish me. The Iron Law of Bureaucracy manifests itself in many ways.
Hubris is punished by special means. And it is always punished in the old Greek plays. We, of course, are far beyond all that. The Gods of the Copybook Headings are dead, are they not?
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IF YOU SEND MAIL it may be published; if you want it private SAY SO AT THE TOP of the mail. I try to respect confidences, but there is only me, and this is Chaos Manor. If you want a mail address other than the one from which you sent the mail to appear, PUT THAT AT THE END OF THE LETTER as a signature. In general, put the name you want at the end of the letter: if you put no address there none will be posted, but I do want some kind of name, or explicitly to say (name withheld).
Note that if you don't put a name in the bottom of the letter I have to get one from the header. This takes time I don't have, and may end up with a name and address you didn't want on the letter. Do us both a favor: sign your letters to me with the name and address (or no address) as you want them posted. Also, repeat the subject as the first line of the mail. That also saves me time.
I try to answer mail, but mostly I can't get to all of it. I read it all, although not always the instant it comes in. I do have books to write too... I am reminded of H. P. Lovecraft who slowly starved to death while answering fan mail.
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