picture of me

Chaos Manor Home Page> Mail Home Page  > View Home Page > Current View > Chaos Manor Reviews Home Page


Mail 524 June 23 - 29, 2008







BOOK Reviews

Chaos Manor Reviews

read book now

emailblimp.gif (23130 bytes)mailto:jerryp@jerrypournelle.com

CLICK ON THE BLIMP TO SEND MAIL TO ME. Mail sent to me may be published.

LAST WEEK                                NEXT WEEK


Atom FEED from Chaos Manor

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun

Highlights this week:


  If you send mail, it may be published. See below. For boiler plate, instructions, and how to pay for this place, see below.

line6.gif (917 bytes)

This week:


read book now


Monday  June 23, 2008

Sen. McCain offers $300 million prize for new auto battery - Yahoo! News

Dear Jerry,


He's just trying to get me to vote for him. More domestic oil drilling including offshore exploration, 45 new nuclear power plants, now an energy technology x-prize... Next he'll probably come out in favor of turning wood chips into fuel, and using coal to make liquid fuel, too.

Best Wishes,


Now if he'd just get over the obsession with CO2 and greenhouse gasses.

Baruch Obama says McCain is Bush III. There is something to be said for that assessment: but Baruch Obama is Jimmy Carter II with a good sprinkling of Chicago machine politics. We none of us have much reason to rejoice, but of the two, I have no problems choosing McCain. Indeed, a McCain presidency with a Democratic majority in both houses may be a fairly good deal: nothing accomplished. Nothing. Wouldn't I suspect that's preferable to any other possible result. If I had to choose among bad alternatives I'd add a Republican House with Gingrich as Speaker, and Hillary Clinton as President, but that won't happen.

I know the temptation: Write in Cthulhu. Why Settle for a Lesser Evil? But if we look carefully we will see that McCain is trying to build a few bridges to the old Reagan coalition. Bush I did less of that than McCain. McCain seems to understand the value of prizes. That alone is a very large redeeming value.

Despair is a sin. And McCain has some good qualities.


Properly worked out energy? 

Hi Jerry

I think you will like this guy's "let's measure it" attitude:



Kevin Crisp

Anyone who respects numbers starts off well.

I don't think he properly appreciates just how bad our data are, but at least he understands that wishful thinking will not save us. There is value in positive thinking -- but it doesn't stand up to wildfires, solar activity, and volcanoes.


 Letter From England

Gales batter Northern England...

One of my professional specialities back in America was workload and cost analysis. Recently, in the spirit of academic inquiry, I asked what might be a suitable workload model for university teaching, and put together one that traced workload to identifiable artefacts-- papers marked, student contact, required meeting time, and paperwork (reports, examination scripts, assignments, materials for distribution to the students). The school executive has since made it clear that I should have asked permission from them before doing this research.

School grades are key to university achievement. <http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/
story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=402432&c=2 >  <http://tinyurl.com/5qe2ch

Teens in the UK <http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/
2008/jun/18/ drugsandalcohol.health>  <http://tinyurl.com/3oooan>  <http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/story/0,,2286976,00.html>  <http://tinyurl.com/5tg9c5 >  <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/
columnists/india_knight/article4187488.ece >  <http://tinyurl.com/66kudy

Zimbabwe reports MDC candidate pulls out of the presidential race. There is a point where those who would speak truth to power must choose life or death. I pray their action has not been in vain. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/22/zimbabwe>  <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/7467990.stm>  <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/22/zimbabwe4>  <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/africa/ article4191585.ece>  <http://tinyurl.com/63e4vz>

africa/tsvangirai-to-pull-out-of-election-852250.html >  <http://tinyurl.com/5b23bc

Biologists edge closer to an understanding of homosexuality.
info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0002282 >  <http://tinyurl.com/47n7hz

This paper suggests the statistical data on male homosexuality are most consistent with dominant alleles acting at a pair of loci, one on the X chromosome and the second likely to be there. These two loci are probably involved in wiring the brain to be attracted to males. In women, the simultaneous presence of these alleles is associated with increased fertility, while in males it produces homosexual behaviour in about half the carriers.

This raises the issue of whether there is a similar model for female homosexuality, and whether the genes involved are the same.

-- "an academic who listens to pleas of convenience before publishing his research risks calling into doubt the whole of his determination to find the truth." (Russell 1993) Harry Erwin

I have been following the homosexual genetics publications, and so far I can make little of this. It is compounded by a failure of understanding of the place of morality in society. We do no studies on morality vs. proclivity, and we pay no attention to thousands of years of literature. As an example, read about Socrates and homosexual attraction. Clearly some people were able to resist what was a pretty universal practice. (Note I am not saying here that they should or should not have resisted the practices; that is a longer subject and one on which I have nothing original to say.)

Morality and principles of morality and ethics are said to "evolve" but surely their "evolution" is through intelligent design? We have choices: either we make those choices ourselves or they have been made for us, but either way it is "intelligent design", no? Note that "intelligent design" does not need intervention at every stage, whether we are talking about biology or morality. It is sufficient that a pre-selected end condition govern "selection" of the evolutionary steps' that each step not itself be "better", but that it lead toward the end condition desired. That is "intelligent design" in action.

This is hardly the place for a discussion of temptation and endurance in conventional morality, but perhaps that ought to be put in the list for future topics. For a long time our legal system did not recognize "irresistible impulse." Now in some places and times we do. The best episodes of "Law and Order" deal with this theme....


Interesting article about cold war apollo craft..


Don't know if you've seen this, or how accurate it is, but perhaps you'll find it interesting. http://www.astronautix.com/articles/sovpsule.htm 


I had never heard this story. I did have something to do with boiler plate Apollo when I was doing the suit testing for the spacecraft programs, but I never heard about this one. Interesting photographs, too!


My Childs Education - 


As an avid reader of your columns, I'm been keeping up with the discussion on your web site regarding education and the No Child Left Behind Act.

I'm a man in my early 30s and would like to start a family soon. After reading some of the stories and articles referencing education today, the decision on where to have my children educated and what type of education to give them is not one I'm looking forward to.

If you (and your other readers) were in my position, what would you (and they) do? Send the kids to an affordable private school? Public school with private tutoring?

Thank you, JB

P.S. I wish you a smooth and speedy recovery!

This is a terribly important question. I have said many times I am working on a major essay on education, and my recent health problems have prevented me from doing it: it's important enough that I think it ought to be done correctly.

I publish this today so that others who are interested may send me suggestions and comments; and I promise that I'll get to this subject in the near future not just Real Soon Now.

My first advice is to make sure you choose the proper mother for your children. My second is that you be prepared for sturm und drang.

You may also find this interesting:

"Testing young children for gifted classes most likely will increase inequities," read the letter, "and undermine educational opportunities for all children."

Smart kids in short supply.

Louis A

The New York Times

June 19, 2008 Gifted Programs in the City Are Less Diverse By ELISSA GOOTMAN and ROBERT GEBELOFF When New York City set a uniform threshold for admission to public school gifted programs last fall, it was a crucial step in a prolonged effort to equalize access to programs that critics complained were dominated by white middle-class children whose parents knew how to navigate the system.

The move was controversial, with experts warning that standardized tests given to young children were heavily influenced by their upbringing and preschool education, and therefore biased toward the affluent.

Now, an analysis by The New York Times shows that under the new policy, children from the city's poorest districts were offered a smaller percentage than last year of the entry-grade gifted slots in elementary schools. Children in the city's wealthiest districts captured a greater share of the slots.

The disparity is so stark that some gifted programs opened by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in an effort to increase opportunities in poor and predominantly minority districts will not fill new classes next year. In three districts, there were too few qualifiers to fill a single class.

The new policy relied on a blunt cutoff score on two standardized tests. According to the analysis, 39.2 percent of the students who made the cutoff live in the four wealthiest districts, covering the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side, Staten Island and northeast Queens. That is up from 24.9 percent last year, even though those districts make up 14.2 percent of citywide enrollment in the entry-level grades: kindergarten or first grade, depending on the district.

Students in 14 districts where the poverty rate is more than 75 percent account for more than a third of enrollment but received only 14.6 percent of the offers for spots in gifted programs this year, down from 20.2 percent last year.

The results reflect a head-on collision of two key themes in the Bloomberg administration's overhaul of the school system. On the one hand, the city has centralized and standardized admissions procedures, including those for pre-kindergarten and high school, to even the playing field and eliminate any advantage held by certain parents.

On the other hand, the administration is intent on ensuring equal access to the system's most coveted offerings and closing the racial achievement gap, which Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein frequently refers to as a critical front in the civil rights battle.

"Clearly nobody in the Department of Education wanted this to happen, but they should have known that it would," said James H. Borland, a professor at Columbia University's Teachers College who studies gifted education. "The idea that somehow making this totally reliant on tests would be an improvement, it's mind-boggling."

Joseph S. Renzulli, director of the University of Connecticut's National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, who was a consultant to a city task force on the gifted, said he admired the chancellor's intentions but felt that children should be judged against others in their neighborhoods, not by a citywide cutoff.

"I've discussed this with the chancellor and the chancellor's people, and it just doesn't seem to register," he said. "I want the smartest or most creative kids in Red Hook or the South Bronx."

Education officials defended their revamping of the system, saying they had introduced fairness and transparency.

"Of course we wanted to have programs in every district for all the students," said Anna Commitante, who oversees the city's gifted and talented programs. "We implemented the eligibility criteria, it didn't shake out that way and now we have to take another look at it."

Officials said that it was "very likely" that the same policy would apply next year but that they would try to broaden the applicant pool. They said judging students against others in their districts was difficult in a city like New York, where children move frequently.

Education officials noted that last year, they swept away a jumble of locally run admissions systems that befuddled or shut out many parents, and required all applicants to undergo the same two evaluations. But last year, there was no citywide cutoff, so available seats were distributed to the top scorers in each district. Some districts that had many spots or few applicants welcomed children with very low scores.

"We just kept going down the list," Ms. Commitante said.

School districts nationwide are struggling to make gifted programs more racially and economically diverse.

The Miami-Dade public schools have spent more than $6 million over two years to identify more gifted and advanced students from what officials described as "traditionally under-represented groups." Some districts are rethinking gifted programs under pressure; last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California threatened to sue the Tustin school district, saying that Latino and black students were "grossly underrepresented" in the programs.

The topic is also luring researchers. A study by Sean F. Reardon, of Stanford University, found that the achievement gap between white and black students grew faster among those who enter kindergarten with high skill levels. At Yale, researchers are devising a test that they hope could identify a more diverse gifted population.

The Times's analysis did not consider racial or demographic information for individual children who were offered gifted spots, because the Education Department said it was not available. The department also said it did not have comprehensive data about how many students in each district were offered gifted spots in previous years.

For years, middle-class parents in some districts have clung to gifted programs as a refuge from low-performing schools. The racial composition of the programs has been a flashpoint since the 1990s, when complaints by the reform group Acorn and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund prompted a federal civil rights investigation.

In 2005, his re-election year, Mr. Bloomberg vowed to expand gifted programs into neighborhoods that did not have them, and has since opened more than three dozen new programs. There are now 121 elementary school gifted programs citywide.

Still, the chancellor was dissatisfied with the varying admissions criteria. After requiring last year's applicants to take the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or Olsat, a reasoning exam, and be assessed by teachers through the Gifted Rating Scales, Mr. Klein replaced the scales this year with the Bracken School Readiness Assessment, which was considered more objective. He also set a uniform cutoff of the 95th percentile, as measured nationwide, on the combined score. There were so few top scorers that the city lowered the cutoff to the 90th percentile. A higher threshold still applied to three more selective citywide programs.

Citywide, fewer children qualified this year than last. This was disproportionately so in districts with a higher poverty rate, measured by eligibility for free lunch.

In District 6, in Upper Manhattan, where 85.5 percent of students are eligible for free lunch, 160 children were offered slots in gifted kindergarten classes last year. This year, only 50 qualified. Therefore, the district's share of entry-grade offers declined to 2.2 percent of the city total, from 4.1 percent last year.

"They're trying to push Hispanic kids and minority kids away from gifted programs," said Judith Amaro, a parent leader in District 6.

In District 3, which includes the Upper West Side, 310 students qualified for kindergarten gifted slots for next year, down from 440 who were offered slots last year. But this year, District 3 students made up a larger share of city students offered slots - 13.4 percent, up from 11.4 percent last year.

Thousands more children opted for gifted testing this year than last. To further broaden future pools, Mr. Klein had planned to screen all kindergarteners. While the plan has fallen victim to budget cuts, widespread kindergarten testing is so controversial that last week, a group of professors and luminaries - including Deborah Stipek, the dean of Stanford's School of Education, and former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo - deplored the practice in a letter to the chancellor and mayor.

"Testing young children for gifted classes most likely will increase inequities," read the letter, "and undermine educational opportunities for all children."

The whole approach is wrong, of course. But that's for my major essay. Sorry to be so long about doing it. I still have to make a living.



Dear Jerry:

My mother used to call it being "umpatient" which was her way of saying "unreasonably impatient," and that, my friend, is exactly what you are! Do you think those X-rays magically bypassed all healthy brain tissue in some sort of quantum tunnel to reach only the tumor cells? Nice idea, but hardly likely. And, I hesitate to point out, you're no spring chicken any more. Which is MY way of telling you to be quite a bit easier on yourself, simmer down, and if your body is telling you to sleep all the time why don't you just listen? In fact why don't you try sleeping until you cannot sleep any more instead of getting up and running around as soon as the peg moves off "E"???

Your ambition to be back at it is admirable but in this case I don't think it's virtuous. Why stress about it? A sizable piece of your brain has been turned to mush and you're tired: what a freaking surprise!

While you're "just laying around" here's something to ponder: I'd like to know why so many in Congress are dead set against any kind of energy policy that makes sense? That would be, in my opinion, starting an Apollo-style project to build, say, 200 nuclear power plants within a decade, allowing drilling just about anywhere it makes economic sense, and proceeding with "NIMBY"-blocked alternatives like the Buzzard's Bay wind project. Why in the name of all that's holy would any rational person be against such a practical approach to achieving energy independence for this country? Or are our politicians simply no longer rational?

I'm serious, I don't get how anyone stands to gain from our present policies (basically do nothing but talk about doing something). If Senator X is a crook wouldn't he stand to gain much more from championing these capitol intensive projects and looking to "wet his beak?" And if he's honest how can he possibly not see these ideas are in the best interest of America both now and for the future?

So explain this to me at some point, until then cut yourself some slack vis a vis your recovery, and truly get well soon.



Thanks. I have myself wondered about people who tell me that if you do X it will take 5 years to have an effect, then 5, then 10 years later, when there is a crisis, say, well, it will take 5 years to have an effect so why do that?  I refer to domestic oil drilling and refineries.



Harrison Ford's latest object of desire poses a worse archaeological problem than the faux Ark the Raiders merrily chased.

This time there is no Original- the crystal MacGuffin is based on a fake fake, the so-called Aztec crystal skulls were invented by the 19th century Mexican tourist trade to cater to the Gothic revival taste of the French who came on the coattails of ill-fated Emperor Maximillian

The first were re-carved from plain but authentic pre-columbian rock crystal beads , using diamond wheels that allowed far greater detail than Aztec or Maya lapidaries could manage, not having , well, invented the wheel.


I hope to get out the back story in a magazine soon- it involves an Edwardian talk radio host , a fake Maya skull made in Germany, a case of dynamite ,and a pyramid .

-- Russell Seitz

But surely almost all but the most avid listeners of Coast to Coast (well, I admit to being a Coast to Coast addict; George Noory is a good friend and I admire his ability to do that show) -- surely all but the most avid understood most of this? But perhaps not. And don't neglect the REAL crystal skulls, that allow distance healing by distance viewers, and were used by a Top Secret US Navy project to heal a friendly dictator without anyone knowing about US intervention....


More data on global warming:

Tree Ring Research


You will find this interesting, particularly the last graph where trends from their data are extrapolated for the next 40 years. Link & paste below.

Regards, George

Finnish Finish “Global” Warming






 read book now




This week:


read book now


Tuesday,  June 24, 2008

The Emperor Visits

See <http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/
jun/24/britishairwaysbusiness.baa >  <http://tinyurl.com/3j2hq9> . There were similar scenes in downtown London.

-- "All ... pleas of convenience, even if their factual base is sound, are inadmissible in principle." (Russell 1993) Harry Erwin


Another ancient date pinpointed

According to an article at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25337041/  scientists have determined that Odysseus returned home at April 16, 1178 B.C., close to noon local time. They were able to do this, because, according to Homer, there was a prophecy that the Sun would be obliterated from the sky, which could have referred to an eclipse. If so, there was only one that would have been visible from Greece during the (roughly) correct time.

This in itself isn't new; it's been known since the 1920s, but now, scientists have dug other corroboration out of the story, making it much more likely.

Thought you'd find this interesting.

-- Joe Zeff If you can't play with words, what good are they? http://www.zeff.us http://www.lasfs.info

I had several messages on this including from Roland, but I didn't get around to posting it. Now it's in the daily papers.

More significant would be that it seems to confirm the traditional date of the Trojan War. Of course there are those who put that war elsewhere (in the Baltic even!) and at different times, but so far as I can tell the evidence is still pretty good that Troy was across from Europe in Asia Minor, and Agamemnon came from the Lion House at Mycenae, and Ulysses was king of an Ionian island.

Nothing definitive here, but it's certainly interesting. Now who was Calypso?


Homecoming of Odysseus May Have Been in [sp] Eclipse.

I think they meant 'during' an eclipse.



-- Roland Dobbins


Subj: The 'new' battery is here, now.

I read your neighbor Ed's book "Living Like Ed," and in it he talks about his Phoenix Motor Cars SUT all-electric pickup. <http://www.phoenixmotorcars.com/vehicles/phoenix-sut.php>  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_Motorcars

This truck uses a lithium titanate battery that can be recharged in as little as six minutes, <http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn7081>  made by Altair Technologies of Reno <http://www.altairnano.com/markets_energy_systems.html>  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AltairNano>. 

Limited production, coupled with high demand and high cost, seems to be the biggest current limitations.

From a purely selfish, personal point-of-view, I would rather see fewer site updates, continuing for another 20 or 30 years (or until what is left of my brain has turned into green goo and I can no longer care) than have more frequent updates and risk your health. We've never met, but I think you are a kindred soul and I will miss you a lot if you don't outlive me.

Steve in Peoria, AZ Retired USAF E7



MIT solar power system

Hi, Jerry - Kurzweils website is linking to a Christian Science Monitor story which reports on an MIT solar technology that looks well within the capabilities of the average home solar enthusiast. You can see a video of it here:


There's nothing really new here. Effectively, what we have is what looks like a 16 foot rectangular reflective dish, similar in appearance to the large satellite dishes that were popular towards the end of the last century. Instead of wire mesh, we have panels of thin mirrors. Effectively, this is a 'telephoto' mirror lens; the focal point is perhaps 16 feet out in front of the dish. This makes it relatively easy to bring the mirror segments into alignment, but makes solar tracking more touchy.

A 16 foot rectangle on a bright sunny day can intercept about 21,000 watts of energy. It's interesting to watch the students wave a 2X4 across the focal length, and seeing the wood burst almost instantly into flame. The students have also crafted a metal heat transfer coil, are running tap water in one end and obtaining steam - at roughly 400 degrees - out the far end. Suggested uses are home heating and perhaps power generation.

A solar tracker could be made relatively simply; just group a bunch of CdS cells around the boom of the pickup, measure the resistance of each cell, and design a circuit that would move the dish in such a way that no CdS cell was in shadow. Two motors and some simple electronics ought to do it.

Commercially available Stirling engines have a conversion efficiency of perhaps 35%. If we assume a 75% mirror efficiency, such a unit would generate about 5,600 watts. By comparison, an array of solar panels the same size would generate perhaps 2,000 watts, and would cost around $20,000.

There are some disadvantages. The wind resistance of such a large structure means that windy days will pose a real challenge, and will require some serious bracing to ensure long term reliability. And of course, when the sun is blocked by clouds or when night time rolls around, the power stops. We need a suitable energy storage mechanism, and we don't really have that. In 'A Step Farther Out', you reported on the concept of using excess solar power to run pumps and fill artificial reservoirs; that energy could then be recovered through conventional hydroelectric designs on an 'as required' basis. I've always liked that idea. Stock the reservoir with trout, and you have a protein food source as well.

There are solutions. We need only to embrace them.

Take care, my friend - Charlie




 read book now





This week:


read book now


Wednesday, June 26, 2008

More news on prizes:

Ongoing funding for an X-Prize Foundation

This is from my blog on McCain's possible understanding of X-Prizes. I haven't previously seen you mention the possibility of an X-Prize Foundation with funding guaranteed by Act of Congress basing its prize money not on cash in hand but on assurance style estimates but it does up the available ante considerably:

 Now if only he would turn 1/4 of NASA's $16 billion annual budget into funding an X-Prize Foundation for space development. The very worst that could happen is that nobody would win any which would leave a lot of money lying around but there is no way some prizes wouldn't be won. Obama is already on record as saying he would take part of NASA's budget for early education so McCain would certainly have a free run if he decided to do this.

Note also that it is proper to maximise the use you get out of such prize money. Assuming that the first prize would take 4 years (Jerry assumes 5) an initial grant of $4 billion & 4 more annual ones, assuming 10% growth a year which is only slightly above inflation plus economic growth, amounts to $24.4 billion but assuming 6% interest on the money held would increase it to $27.2 billion. If Burt Rutan could get into space on a $10 million prize I think $27 billion would move the world.

What is needed is another Bjo Trimble <http://jerichomonster.blogspot.com
/2008/02/bjo-trimble-saving-enterprise.html>  get people writing to him, indeed to both candidates, to say so."

I also make a small nod to the Scottish government's recent issuing of what sounds like an X-Prize for a commerially viable undersea turbine which may, or more likley may not, have influenced him.:


"To emphasise this point, he announced that the Scottish Government would put up £10 million to fund the world's biggest single prize for innovation in marine energy."

Neil Craig

Actually, Congressman Rohrabacher was interested in setting up a US Prizes Foundation to hold prize money. This was when we had lunch perhaps 3 years ago before the forseeable election disaster. And Mrs. Trimble was the recording secretary of the Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy back in 1980. We did a bit of campaigning then but SDI took over. The Cold Was was still on...


Barak Obama belittles prizes


After all those years in Washington, John McCain still doesn't get it. I commend him for his desire to accelerate the search for a battery that can power the cars of the future. I've been talking about this myself for the last few years. But I don't think a $300 million prize is enough. When John F. Kennedy decided that we were going to put a man on the moon, he didn't put a bounty out for some rocket scientist to win – he put the full resources of the United States government behind the project and called on the ingenuity and innovation of the American people. That's the kind of effort we need to achieve energy independence in this country, and nothing less will do. But in this campaign, John McCain offering the same old gimmicks that will provide almost no short-term relief to folks who are struggling with high gas prices; gimmicks that will only increase our oil addiction for another four years.

Indeed. As I speculate elsewhere, what might have happened had Kennedy trusted capitalism and put up a $15 billion prize for the first American to land on the Moon and return safely...

As to the full resources of the government, alas, I was part of the space program in those days and we didn't think we had unlimited resources. We did have decent budgets and we got some good work done, but there were limits. And the result was that we went to the Moon and built a standing army that ate the rest of the space program.


Ecologists Strike Again -

Jerry, Looks like the eco-freaks have struck again. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25352380/  Seems that they have talked the state id Florida into spending $1.75 BILLION to put a company out of business. Not only does this remove 1700 jobs (most of which will be center to left bell curve jobs) from the economy, but it removes the largest sugar producer in the nation from production. Unbelievable!

Hope you are feeling better,

John V

Well, I am not so sure I disagree with this. What bothers me is the big import quota system on sugar. Make alcohol from sugar and eat the corn...


"But a lot more is needed. One of the main reasons out-of-wedlock births have skyrocketed in recent decades is because it has become so difficult for poor and poorly educated young men to earn enough to support a family"

Don't worry. Bob Herbert remains a rabid Open Borders guy.



Low earnings are the reason 50.4 percent of births to women under 30 are out-of-wedlock



June 21, 2008


A Dubious Milestone



Lucifer's Hammer reviewed in Nature Magazine

Hi Jerry,

Lucifer's Hammer got a book review in this week's Nature magazine:


It's a mixed review, but does acknowledge some points:

"The authors' main theme is that, comet or no, a civilization has the morality its machinery allows it to afford, and that saving the last nuclear power plant is worth a war if it avoids a return to serfdom and slavery ... It is hard not to feel a sense of uplift as, on the last page, emblems of industry and trade -- electricity, an IOU and, most beautifully, an aircraft's contrail -- herald returning life and dignity."

--Erich Schwarz

If that one is "mixed" I'll sure take it. Thanks







 read book now




CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Supreme Court Duh...

The Supreme Court today ruled somewhat in favor of the right of individuals to keep and bear arms. The dissenting justices said this:

"would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons."

Okay, or is it just me, or is this a big 'Duh!'? What *else* would they have meant? The militia of the day didn't always issue arms, citizen's were often expected to come armed.


At one time towns owned cannon; those court house lawn cannon were not always mere decorations. Wealthy plantation owners might well have crew served weapons.

The Danes, at the end of WW II, tried a unique experiment: since Hitler had used their weapons registration to find and confiscate all the weapons owned by the Danes, they thought about this. I do not know why they didn't just go the Swiss way and make sure every citizen was armed; but what they did was to put stashes of weapons and ammunition at lonely crossroads and in out of the way places -- and look the other way. This included bazookas and machineguns, even AT cannon.

The weapons vanished. No one knows where to or who has them. They do not seem to have resulted in a crime wave -- these are Danes, after all, and this was in the 1940's before wide spread immigration. They just vanished. But they're still out there...

I prefer the Swiss system that guarantees an automatic weapon in every household. Use of that weapon for criminal purposes is a military offence and tried by courts martial.


Questions I never hear answered

Every few years someone demands a giant leap forward in battery tech. They always make it sound as if all it needs is a sufficient engineering push. The unanswered question is is this true or is there a hard limit based on the laws of chemistry or physics.

Should we put our future in the hands of a fivefold increase in battery performance?

R Hunt

P.S. As you point out offering the prize has no down side - no result no expenditure.

P.P.S I saw where the Japanese have a solar power satellite development program and are planning to build one if the development works out. Reminds me of the old saw (that I just made up) that if we don't have the b---s to do something the Japanese will eventually. I think they just plain LIKE high tech.

I don't know if there is a hard limit on energy density in batteries; but I hardly think that a $300 million prize is putting our future in the hands of a fivefold increase in battery performance. Surely that is an overstatement.

We did a lot of work on Solar Power satellites in the 70's and 80's. It is entirely dependent on the cost to orbit, which is why I tend to put emphasis on commercial orbital systems.

I would also put up a $8 billion prize for the first American company to beam down 10 megawatts of power from orbit for a year (with 90% on-line performance).

But if we have electricity we will still need new ways to use if for transportation. That is why I once proposed X projects in that area. Prizes would work as well, since we don't seem to know as a nation what X projects are (we used to)...


Automobile Battery Prize.

Dear Dr. Pournelle

I've been reading your site off and on for a while now, and first I would like to wish you a speedy recovery.

I see this prize as being of little help, either now or in the future. No matter how efficient a new battery would be, it misses the point. It's simply a method of storing and delivering energy. If you don't have the energy to store and deliver, then it doesn't really help solve the problem. That problem simply stated, is that the US doesn't contribute enough to the production of energy, to cover it's own needs and must buy it at world prices. If McCain was really serious he should offer a prize, of say $10 Billion to the group who produced an actual working, (i.e. a commercially viable), method of producing electricity from fusion power. To produce a better battery is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.


P. J. Alling

If someone magically converted all our cars to electric, we would be ruined because we don' t have the Kilowatts. If we had the Kilowatts we would not have the technology to use it for transport.

If your objection is that the prize is not large enough, I tend to agree; but the fact that a major candidate has come out for prizes at the same time that Newt Gingrich makes prizes the focus of his space speech is a Very Good Thing. I have been trying to get politicians thinking in terms of prizes for 28 years now, and it looks as if >>$100 oil is finally getting some attention.

We cannot continue selling the nation to the Middle East.

As to serious, let me point this out: if there is something that a small inventor can do, $300 million is serious money because it allows defense against lawyers. It is "I can afford to turn down your offer" money. Whether sheer ingenuity will invent better batteries is beyond my expertise, but I can think of a number of useful inventions that came from very unlikely sources. As one of the authors of The Strategy of Technology I would hardly be expected to say that government labs and arsenals cannot create technology on demand. They can, and have done. But they can also create bureaucracies.

I'd love to see a $10 billion prize, but I'd save that one for a working Lunar Colony. We'd get a LOT of new technologies out of that one!


Pretend you are an oil field!

Slow extraction rates, with some judicious new technology, provides the best overall yield. Quality has a quantity all its own!

John Monahan


The Supreme Court's Decision in Heller v. D.C.


This morning, I read Scalia's majority opinion in Heller v. D.C. when I should have been working (haven't read the dissents). ;) My initial impressions:

1. The Court held that the Second Amendment ("2A") protects an individual right, one not dependent upon membership in an organized militia. The right exists for otherwise lawful purposes, specifically noting that self defense is one of the bases for the right. The Court recognized the pre-existing nature of the right, as well.

2. Some restrictions of the RKBA are permissible. E.g., licensing is not forbidden by the 2A, but only when imposed in a manner that is not arbitrary or capricious. That would seem to disallow much of the discretion typically exercised by issuing officials in places like New York.

3. Outright bans of classes of arms in common use by the people are forbidden. This is a key point because it disposes of the frivolous argument that even if the 2A protects an individual right, it only protects the right to keep and bear arms of a type common in use during the 18th Century. In particular, the Court notes that handguns are in common use and overwhelmingly chosen by Americans for self defense. In dicta, the Court noted that machineguns could *possibly* be banned. However, it left open the argument that the reason machineguns are not in common use is because they have been so heavily regulated since 1934.

4. The Court declined to specify a standard for review in 2A-based challenges to gun control laws. For example, it will leave the matter of whether gun control laws must pass rational basis or strict scrutiny to later challenges. This wasn't unexpected.

5. The Court did not explicitly incorporate the Second Amendment against the states. However, it did cite several state cases in its decision supporting the idea that the 2A protects an individual right. This leads me to believe that the Court would be open to incorporation in a future case where a state law is challenged, e.g., Chicago's handgun ban. Again, this isn't totally unexpected, since the D.C. law which was struck down was a Federal matter, not a state law. The Court tries to craft most decisions narrowly.

In my opinion, it's a sound decision. It also provides pro-liberty groups a solid foundation to use in challenging several onerous laws, such as Chicago's handgun ban.

-- Dave Markowitz, KB3MNK

Thanks! Good analysis. I will have to read the decision and the dissents.





 read book now




CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  June 27, 2008

Subject: Apollo and Prizes 

Dear Doctor Pournelle,

The first thought I had when Barack Obama belittled John McCain's "Battery Prize" idea by referring to John F. Kennedy's not offering a prize to get us to the moon in the sixties was "Yeah, if he had, we wouldn't be talking about getting back to the moon for the first time since 1972 by MAYBE 2015. We'd have something like the "moonliner" of Sir Arthur's 2001 running regular flights for anyone with the bucks!

Seriously, if Kennedy had offered enough prize money to make it profitable to develop efficient technology for space travel, we might not have made it by 1970, but once we had made it, we would have been able to return, settle, develop and made it all back ten times over in new industries and technology (Solar power Satellites? Helium-3 fusion, anyone?).

Apollo was a Cold War based initiative. Getting to the moon was not something Kennedy was all that interested in as a goal in and of itself. Getting there BEFORE the Soviets, beating them on the world stage and avenging the humiliation of Sputnik and Gagarin, that was his real goal. As important a front as the "Space Race" was in the Cold War, that mind set of "we're in a race we have to win at any cost" led directly to the design of Apollo as an "Any way we can, as fast as we can" system that made lunar flight expensive, dangerous and a technological dead end.

Apollo was a tremendous effort, a great success, but ultimately led nowhere other than (as you have pointed out many times) todays standing army of shuttle "locusts" who daily consume the dream.

Then again, if Kennedy had suggested a prize, his Harvard Brain Trust would have laughed at him, and Robert Strange McNamara would likely have proven with charts that prizes were "a non-optimal cost ineffective measure inexorably leading to a system failure of the first-magnitude."

What do you want to bet that if Obama wins, the first lab for researching battery tech will be located in a suburb of Chicago?

Ya think!?



Hi Jerry,

Nice to hear from your blog that things are improving.

You may be interested in this for the Mail file.


Unequal America Causes and consequences of the wide—and growing—gap between rich and poor

by Elizabeth Gudrais

Given the publication source much of this is hardly astonishing, but some of it is very much worth thinking about.

The real question is, can you provide public services? The demand for a free good is in theory infinite, and experience shows this is nearly correct.

Take free public health: it might be possible to provide free emergency room services for a given population, but if you add illegal immigrants to the mix, the result is that the emergency room close down lest the rest of the hospital be consumed. So it goes.

The demand for free services may not be infinite but if you add an infinite needy group it will certainly appear to be so.

Also: improving public health in some parts of the city requires considerable government power and intrusion. Some "diverse" cultures have positively unhealthy practices that spill over to the rest of the population...


power grid 

Dr. Pournelle,

“As an aside, the power grid doesn't have the spare electricity generating capacity to support electric cars anyway. And there's no indication the greens will ever let it be built.”

Interesting. Not enough power? I was touring a wind farm in Sweetwater, Texas yesterday. I asked the technician accompanying us why so many of the windmills were not turning. Were that many of them (about 20% at one site) down for maintenance? No…the answer was “We’re producing more power than the grid is using, so we have to turn some of them off.” There are over 800 1.5 MW wind turbines in this area right now, and I was told there will be 1100 by the end of the year. How many electric cars can you power with 1.65GW of electricity? And the wind is almost ALWAYS blowing in West Texas…

Take it easy, and don’t try to do too much too soon.


Paul Freed

There will always be local anomalies, but we don't have the kilowatts to run our transportation system on electricity.


Despair and luxury 

Dear Doctor Pournelle,

I am sure you get more (!) than your fair share of "loopy" mail, but I must comment that your correspondent claiming that the offer of $300 million dollars of tax money is a luxury for which "money taken at the point of a gun" (a "duh" moment of the First Water ) is one of the loopiest you have openly discussed.

The "luxury" correspondent seems to have succumbed to the sin of despair, in writing that the greens will never allow the expansion of the power grid to such a size as to be capable of charging all those batteries if we ever obtained such a "luxury" as a feasible battery powered electric car.

Leaving aside the likelihood that when we have seven dollar/gallon gas in 2010 (which we will, it's coming as sure as, well, you know what) the moniker "Green" will be well on its' way to being about as popular in the USA as "Red" is in Eastern Europe these days there is the fact that if offering 300 million dollars for a prize is a "luxury", then what is spending 437 million dollars in FY 2007 on "Price Support" for rice? You can see that line item at:


Yep, we can actually SPEND 437 million dollars to make sure rice doesn't have a price crash (A policy that seems to have worked. Remember last month all those people raiding Costco for the last fifty pound sack of rice at ANY price!?), but fostering new technology, at ZERO out of pocket cost failing production of said technology, ooo, no no no, -that- is a luxury we cannot afford.

As if neolithic man needed the wheel. After all, the Indians of Meso-America built bustling cities with indoor plumbing but never invented the wheel. An obvious luxury.

How in the world did such a Luddite ever come to a site devoted to technology as yours? Through the "luxury" of the government funded development of the Internet? Oops!

No wonder you are tired, if such is a representative sample of your mail box!

Yours for a full recovery from health AND fools.


Well, without dissenting mail there would be little to discuss...


Mexican army invades Phoenix?!


-- Roland Dobbins

Where is Black Jack Pershing now that we need him?



 read book now





This week:


read book now


Saturday, June 28, 2008


“The US Supreme Court has told DC it can't have a law banning ownership of firearms. Cheer.

It is possible to disarm citizens. It is not possible to disarm all the criminals. Even if you can take all the firearms, the bad guys still have weapons. The Colt .45 Equalizer had its effect. I leave drawing the conclusions to you.”

It is one thing to cheer the Supreme Court decision as a vindication of the 2nd amendment but what is the solution? I am not a fuzzy headed liberal who goes around and bleats that guns are evil and must be controlled and/or eliminated, but what is your solution to the gun violence that plagues us?

You may not fear it in Studio City, but there are times in downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, South Central, the East Side or other parts of the country that I do. Do we just give up and allow it to run unchecked? Or carve a large swath of Nevada out and make it a federal prison like some bad Hollywood vision of the future and lock everybody up? Or arm everybody and return to the glory days of the Wild West?

Like it or not, we cannot turn back the clock to a simpler, less complicated time. Our society is what it is. Would you feel the same if a member of your family or a close friend, was the victim of random gun violence for the sin of just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have personal acquaintance to those who have been, or have seen the elephant up close and are now some of the most stringent proponents of handgun control. It is not as simple as holding a gun in one hand and dialing the Police with the other to paraphrase the majority opinion.

I think this is a legitimate question that should be open for discussion without polemics from both sides.

Robert Grenader

I have not time to answer this in all details, but let me ask this: have drastic gun control laws worked? Is New York City safer because the Sullivan Law disarms law abiding citizens? Los Angeles has severe laws against carrying pistols without a permit, and as you point out, we have what amounts to a civil war in parts of the city.

Would Los Angeles be safer if no one in the city were allowed to own a pistol? Or even more drastic, no ownership of firearms at all?

In Utopia no one would own a firearm, and gangs wouldn't stab or club each other, and everyone would be happy; but your major argument seems to be the pathetic fallacy. In the real world, crime rates have not risen in places that repealed their strict gun control laws. In some places rather the opposite.

None of which addresses the Constitutional question. The Framers understood thoroughly the consequences of a disarmed citizenry. The English Civil War had shown that local militias were generally no match for the New Model professional army, but also showed that local militias were easily disarmed by seizing their weapons and ammunition: that, indeed, was the purpose of the expedition to Lexington and Concord.

The modern view of the world is that we do not need to defend ourselves: the professionals will do that for us. That is one view. Another is that each of us has the right to self defense and the duty to defend his family, to keep and bear arms, and face the consequences of misuse of those arms.

There have been disarmed societies that were relatively peaceful; the England of the days of the drawing room murder novels, roughly the period from 1920 to 1938, is a good example. That was also a unique society with little diversity; a society that almost inevitably hanged murderers and rather quickly at that; a society the flogged perpetrators for crimes of violence, so that burglars often gave themselves up and waited for the police if surprised by householders ("OK you got me Governor, can I have a drink while we waits for the constable?"). It was a society of rather simple and speedy justice. And even then there were firearms. Nearly every former officer kept his service revolver, and shotguns and rifles abounded in plenty on country estates. It was not even in theory an egalitarian society.

There have been armed societies that were relatively peaceful. Switzerland comes to mind.

What we have not seen, I think, are societies that are theoretically egalitarian, are diverse rather than homogeneous (the Melting Pot either failed or was discouraged) and totally disarmed.

You are basically asserting that disarming the society will work: the good guys will give up their guns, and the professionals will take care of them; and either the bad guy will give up their guns, or the professionals will be able to disarm them.

I am not sure that will work as well as we wish.


On Power and Batteries

Electric Grid Capacity and Power Availability


When would the owner of an electric car normally recharge it?

I would hazard a guess that it would be at home and sometime after midnight.

This would be at a time when there was plenty of capacity on the grid and demand was less than base load capacity.

Of course, if everyone had an electric car.... That isn't going to happen soon, so there is plenty of time to build base load capacity with nuclear plants and increase grid capacity.

The current debate over opening up closed areas for petroleum exploration and production seems to omit a rather important fact. Without adequate refining capacity what good does an increase in domestic production do? Admittedly it could offset some crude imports, but we still import a lot of refined products.

The whole energy picture is a complex one that has been exacerbated by the Congress, both through action and inaction. It is going to take at least ten years to see significant results from a rational energy policy. The fact that it is going to take that long is a very poor argument in favor of doing nothing!

Bob Holmes


You said...

"There will always be local anomalies, but we don't have the kilowatts to run our transportation system on electricity."

And even more to the point, we don't have the infrastructure to deliver the electricity if we make it. Remember the huge brownouts across the northeast several years ago? Even led to one or more movies. Well, think brownouts nation wide. Then think overloads in birthing rooms nation wide nine months later.

Charles Brumbelow

Back in 1964 Aerospace and RAND Corps had a study of electric cars and transportation. I was a participant. I haven't seen much new in the discussion since. The technologies are better, the batteries are better, but the debates remain about the same. I am astonished.

It is certainly the case that more electric transport with the vehicles charged at night is possible; but we'd soon run into limits there, too. We need more kilowatts.

As to oil prices, there is this thing called Supply and Demand. Demand (including speculator demand) is high. The speculator part of demand falls dramatically when there is even a glimmer of an increased supply.

Five years ago we were told that increased refinery and oil pumping capability in the US would do no good because it would take five years for those to affect gas pump prices. Query: if we had greatly increased supply over the past five years, would not oil be at about $75/bbl, still high, but not headed to $200? And if we do nothing to increase supply now, where will oil go?

What will happen to the US economy in a time of $7/gallon gasoline and diesel fuel? And how long can we continue to send trillions to the Near East where it is used to buy the most profitable parts of the United States?

Are any politicians actually addressing these problems? Obama would hit the oil companies with new taxes. I do not recall a time when increasing a tax on a business caused a lowering of prices for that  business's goods.

The US does not need to be crippled. We have enormous energy resources in the US. We need to develop them: or we will soon have a very green, very clean, US -- only we won't own much of it. And as energy prices rise, we won't commute and we can't afford to change jobs. Like peasants.


Subject: Power Grid

I threw together some swag numbers to estimate the "impact" on the power grid of 100 million (as a round number) electric automobiles that get about 5 miles per kWh, a number roughly yanked from Wikipedia.

Then I yanked a commute of 10 miles for each of the cars, be it the commute to work or the commute for shopping and other soccer-mommy duties. That's 2kWh per day per car, or roughly 200 gigawatt-hours of electricity. That's a not inconsiderable amount of energy. If spread out over a day it's "roughly" 10 gigawatts of continuous drain on the grid. But if the cars charge over 5 hours and are all plugged in within a couple hours of dusk then figure the drain from the cars becomes 40 gigawatts peak. That's like adding a second California to the power grid day in and day out 365.24 days per year, at the very least. I figure week-end travel may amount to more miles than commute travel. That's why I figure all 365.24 days of the year. But what really matters is the peak drain all hitting at about the same time.

Where is that power coming from Pelosi? Please tell me Reid? I want to know Obama. I demand an answer, now.

You all claim "no respite for 15 years" from drilling for oil. I claim no respite for 20-30 years if we have to rely on building power generating sources of the magnitude required out of wind farms and solar energy.

I want respite NOW. I am a selfish boomer-immediate-precursor. Since I am not a real boomer, I am willing to accept oil coming in and making a dent in the market inside of 5 years and killing the price gouging futures speculators within 7 years. I'd be really pleased if Bush were to say, "I am releasing 1/3 the US oil reserves, tomorrow." I'd love to see the oil futures speculators hung out in the breeze to die. And we could use the cost of fuel from that reserve as financing for improved efficiency without destruction of our economy or way of life.


We are in a time of national emergency, but it does not affect the politicians, who continue business as usual.

The only way I know to bring prices of energy down is to produce more energy. Some can work in different time frames.

I said in A Step Farther Out back in the 1970's that Survival With Style would require new energy production; that the correlation of economic growth and energy prices was high and negative and necessarily so.

We didn't do much about it then. We continued to sow the wind.

We have sown the wind.



 read book now




CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, June 29, 2008      

Life as the 2nd Law's Servant

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

Best wishes for a strong and continuing recovery.

You ask how life, which accumulates information ( = negative entropy) is consistent with the Second Law, according to which the universe accumulates entropy ( = negative information).

The 2nd Law applies to closed systems, but life requires an open system, exchanging energy and entropy with its environment. Living systems accumulate order locally, at the price of exporting even more disorder to the environment; so in net, life is also an entropic process. Life is like a backwards eddy in a turbulent flow. So yes, we have Mozart and Beethoven and Shakespeare and Hoyle; but think of all the quadrillions of tons of hydrogen that fused to helium in the meantime. It's like spending a gigabuck to earn a penny.

In fact life _accelerates_ the production of entropy. Consider some sunlight shining on a bare patch of ground. It absorbs visible-light photons, and re-radiates the energy in the infrared; each infrared photon has less energy than a visible-light photon, so there are more of them; and this means increased entropy. Now consider some sunlight shining on a green leaf. It diverts the energy to its own metabolic pathways, but in the end that energy too is re-radiated; and this is at a lower temperature than the bare patch of ground. Cooler re-radiation, even more photons, even higher entropy. Life generates entropy _faster_ than does non-life.

So life does not defy the second law in any sense; in fact it serves it. I see this as a kind of Faustian bargain; life gains local order by collaborating with the trend towards global disorder.

As for the Big Bang, please don't ask me to explain cosmology. I too get fuzzy in the head when listening to the cosmologists. As near as I can figure out, the entropy of the baby universe was low because it was small, and there weren't yet that many microstates it could occupy. It was at the maximum possible entropy at the time, but that maximum wasn't very big. Now the universe is much larger, so there are more places to put all the particles, so the maximum possible entropy is bigger; a maximum that it hasn't caught up to.

That's as near as I can figure out what the cosmologists say.


Nathaniel Hellerstein

Not quite:

I asked why the Big Bang Mess is considered Low Entropy, given that it appears to contain only very light elements, all undifferentiated. Yet it is thought to be Low Entropy.

Why? How can this be? And assuming it is true, how did this Big Bang (and Then a Miracle Occurs) become highly organized in the first place?

As to the Second Law and entropy, if the definition of entropy is the number of unique discernable ways a system can be organized increases as entropy decreases, it is not clear to me that this is exactly equivalent to the Second Law.

I am sure that any planet on which they perform Swan Lake and Beethoven's Ninth must be generating entropy faster than a place where only worms have evolved. Of course the worms don't care. And who knows, maybe the worms will one day write Paradise Lost.


Carroll's take on the origin of the universe

Dr. Pournelle,

The most interesting speculation in the article by Carroll is that, “Our universe may be the offspring of some other universe.” This would answer the question of what caused the Big Bang. Now, one might ask what caused the previous universe and the universe before that and so on. There is no logical reason to assert that this process is infinite (--the claim is as justifiable as an infinite god).

Best wishes,



I think they keep making my point for me.


Entropy and Time's Arrow


You asked how the homogeneous soup of the Big Bang differentiated itself. I'm not a physicist, but its my understanding that quantum effects and inflation are the answers.

At the sub-subatomic level, the quantum level, matter loses its structure - its chaotic, mathematically similar to a bubbling cauldron. It's foamy.

It also appears, though no one seems to have a certain answer why, that the universe expanded in volume exponentially for a short period, faster than the basic physics of Big Bang expansion would predict. This period of hyper-expansion is referred to as inflation.

The result of inflation was that the underlying quantum foam of the overlying and highly homogeneous Big Bang soup was expanded up from the quantum level to the large scale and became the actual physical structure of the macro scale universe. If the quantum level of space existed for no other purpose, it served as the "differentiator" during that instant of hyperinflation, imprinting its foamy structure on the universe. The universe, as a result, is structured like a massive bit of foam, with walls of matter - long strings of galaxy clusters - and vast voids of empty space in hollow shells enclosed by those galaxy-matter walls. At least that's my understanding from my reading.

As to your question on entropy, I have often had similar thoughts to you. Why did stars and planets and life form if the universe can only move toward greater disorganization? Aren't they examples of disorganization moving towards greater - much greater! - levels of organization? Clearly, the "law" of entropy has a domain wherein its true; a car will, over time, gradually rust and decompose back into its constituent atoms and molecules, but random atoms and molecules never auto-assemble themselves into a BMW.

However, one thing mathematics teaches is that many things that function in a highly predictable, law like manner within a given set of limits fail utterly and completely outside of them. Knowing the limits of a functions applicability (its domain) is one key to applying it correctly. As an example, consider the natural logarithm. It's a function that appears to accurately describe a huge number of natural phenomena that involve exponential growth and decay. A capacitor discharges its electrons (its charge decays) according to the natural logarithm. Bacteria multiply accordingly. It's a very useful and accurate predictor of these things. However, it fails at and before zero. It has no meaning there, and that makes perfect sense when you think about it. What is the rate of radioactive decay of cesium before it begins to decay (right at or before time zero)? It's a meaningless question.

So the law of entropy seems to have applicability under certain conditions - the car that WILL decay yet WON'T self assemble - yet fails when applied over the domain of the history of the universe for reasons I'm sure we just don't understand and may never understand. Clearly, stars self assembled. Galaxies self assembled. And, most amazingly of all, there is life.

Cheers! ~Mike

I am sure that makes a great deal of sense, and we all understand it.

Perhaps not as poetic as


    1: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2: And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3: And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4: And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5: And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
6: And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
7: And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
8: And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

But not so easy to understand, either.

Actually, I thought that chunks of iron and tungsten and silicon DID assemble themselves into a BMW. It took some intermediate steps: carbon and water and nitrogen and oxygen and such had to assemble themselves into automobile designers and builders -- but eventually the Big Bang Soup managed to do the job. That was here, where the dance of the atoms produced Carl Sagan, who like the rest of us was descended from fish. We don't know what Carl would have been like if he had been descended from worms, but then we can't really predict what the Big Bang Soup will inevitably produce.



Dr. Pournelle,

It was my understanding from college lo these decades ago that entropy was the equalization of energy. As with a river, it can be coerced to perform work on the way downstream. 8) The question is: Pre-Big Bang, where was upstream and where was downstream? And how did we arrive at upstream? AFAIK, "Let there be Light." is as valid an answer to that as any.


Valid I don't know, but at least it's comprehensible.


Entropy and Arrow of Time 

The problem with understanding entropy is that gravitational entropy *increases* as mass clumps together. See <http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/entropy.html >.  Hence the local universe at the end of cosmic inflation with its essentially uniform distribution of energy (the variation was about +/- 0.01%) had extremely low gravitational entropy, despite its non- gravitational entropy. Time's Arrow reflects the increase in gravitational entropy over time.

That's also the reason some cosmologists suggest the universe is a put-up job--the gravitational state at the end of cosmic inflation was an *extremely* low probability state--it gives the universe what I call a 'flat end' in the past.

-- "If they do that with marks and grades, should they be trusted with experimental data?" Harry Erwin, PhD

Put up job? Are we not CERTAIN that it only takes a Big Bang to inevitably produce Carl Sagan?


another reference to "Lucifer's Hammer" and/or "Footfall"

Hello, Jerry:

Sorry to see the struggles you are going through, but glad that you are still with us to go through them. I'm looking forward to your new books as you are able to finish them.

While reading the very nicely done book "The Great Comet Crash: The collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and Jupiter" (a very well illustrated collection of essays by leading persons involved in the discovery and study of the comet and its demise), I found the following:

Chapter 10, "What If? ..." by Clark R. Chapman, page 103 - paragraph 3

"...Debate during the 1980s centered on what had happened in Earth's geological past, not what might happen today. Until the last few years, only science fiction writers like Arthur C. Clarke, Jerry Pournelle, and Larry Niven had the imagination to slam a comet into Earth and speculate about the consequences for civilization."

Good to see that at least some of the scientists are paying attention! The book is a good read, and I hope to find a copy for myself. This was borrowed through inter-library loan. The book was published in 1995 through Cambridge University press, and has color plates from a variety of sources including the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as computer simulations in 2-D of the collisions, and a great deal of explanatory matter. Besides being educational, some of the images are just flat-out BEAUTIFUL. Highly recommended.

Marcus P. Hagen


A recipe, 


Quinoa, an Andes grown grain, is rich in protein. Eat a little, gain a lot.

I love it best as a base for fruit salad. The quinoa gets cooked in a fruit juice and mixed with fresh fruits and yogurt. It's a great way to get lots of vitamins and proteins without a heavy meal.

Look here:





Thanks. The medicines they have me on have increased my appetite, but I am wary now.


OC Register to outsource some editing to India,


Of course it has come to this: a local paper outsourcing its editing and layout to India:


"In a time of rapid change at newspapers, we are exploring many ways to work efficiently while maintaining quality and improving local coverage."

Heh. We all believe that, of course.



When Cornell lost its e-mail,


Cornell lost its e-mail for nearly a week:


The kicker is that it was a disk array that went down, and mail for was lost 3800 of the users.

Not supposed to happen, eh? Redundancy in multiple drives. We can trust in our electronic infrastructure. Heh.

Some people were forced to use the telephone, of all things. The horror!







For Patron Subscription click here:

Other subscription options:


 read book now





The current page will always have the name currentmail.html and may be bookmarked. For previous weeks, go to the MAIL HOME PAGE.


If you are not paying for this place, click here...

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. 

Monday -- Tuesday -- Wednesday -- Thursday -- Friday -- Saturday -- Sunday

 Search engine:


or the freefind search

   Search this site or the web        powered by FreeFind
  Site search Web search

Boiler Plate:

If you want to PAY FOR THIS PLACE I keep the latest information HERE.  MY THANKS to all of you who sent money.  Some of you went to a lot of trouble to send money from overseas. Thank you! There are also some new payment methods. I am preparing a special (electronic) mailing to all those who paid: there will be a couple of these. I have thought about a subscriber section of the page. LET ME KNOW your thoughts.

If you subscribed:

atom.gif (1053 bytes) CLICK HERE for a Special Request.

If you didn't and haven't, why not?

If this seems a lot about paying think of it as the Subscription Drive Nag. You'll see more.


Search: type in string and press return.


Strategy of Technology in pdf format:

To order the nose pump I recommend, click on the banner below:

Entire Site Copyright, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Jerry E. Pournelle. All rights reserved.

birdline.gif (1428 bytes)