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Monday  September 22, 2008

Gingrich on the bailout



I don't agree with all of it, but he is spot on that we should slow down and not rush into a a $700B bailout (which I think will really be $1T in the end).


Newt is always worth paying  attention to. He knows the Washington political scene a lot better than I do. We are not always in agreement -- obviously -- but his views deserve respect.


Fury at $2.5bn bonus for Lehman's New York staff.


-- Roland Dobbins

With reason


Essays: 'The return of goodness' by Edward Skidelsky | Prospect Magazine September 2008 issue 150



I thought you might find this interesting.

The thesis is that the definition of 'goodness' has been eroded by J. S. Mills' philosophy, succinctly paraphrased by the phrase "You freedom stops at my nose" and not valuing and promoting ideals of personal excellence and self-improvement.

I feel that in some cases it's a little more restrictive than a society I'd wish to inhabit, but makes interesting points concerning the effect of society changing ('the dilemmas of affluence') and reducing the impact of the message of religion. It also seems to take into account (implicitly) the end of anonymity that lasted from the beginnings of easy mechanical mobility (call it the ability to flee problems, sometimes repeatedly [if not necessarily ceasing the personal practices that underlay said problems] ) until the recent stages of relatively easy, cheap Internet access. This development will lead to personal responsibility and the reputation derived from it being likely to exercise influence again in society.

Best Regards,

Doug Hayden

The real secret is that all forms of government work about the same. The Framers tried to build something new and different, and for a while that was successful, but the Iron Law of Bureaucracy always prevails.

You should obey because your father swore allegiance to my father, and when you were young swore to me. Bow to your king.

You should obey because, etc. and I am the rightful duke here. I answer to the king but no other, and I protect you from the king and from the rabble.

You should obey because more people voted for me than for anyone else. True, they were not people you know or want to know, but they did vote. Obey.

And so forth.


How Wall Street uses statistics 


In the light of recent developments on Wall Street, you might be amused by the following quote I came across last year:

“Given the non-normality of daily returns that we find in most financial markets, we use as a rule of thumb the assumption that four-standard-deviation events in financial markets happen approximately once per year.” (‘Hot Spots and Hedges’, Litterman, R. Risk Management Series, Goldman Sachs, 1996).

Despite (or perhaps because of) the mixture of normal and fat-tails thinking going on here, Goldmans appear to have come out of the Panic better than most.

My continued best wishes for a speedy recovery

Andrew Colin.

Look out for black swans.


The Black Swan Mortgage Co.

Wanna buy some shares?

I think the obvious problem with the packaging of high-risk mortgages is that it implicitly assumes the failures to pay will be statistically distributed, average-type failures, not that the whole class might move at once -- a Black Swan move. As Taleb points out in the Fourth Quadrant, there is no way to estimate the likelihood of such a move, or in fact any way to quantify the consequences and mitigate them. Further, even the size of a move required to induce catastrophic outcomes is unknowable.

The only workable strategy is to avoid making bets in that quadrant.

So the money managers and brokers deluded themselves and 'most everyone else when they claimed to have "packaged" such risks. It can't be done.

Brian H


Regarding Ships That Won't Sail...

Dr. Pournelle,

About those ships that won't sail...

I heard a while back that US shipbuilding companies were no longer competitive in the ship-building trade. This supposedly isn't due to higher labor cost; Norway is competitive, and they certainly have high labor rates and taxes. It supposedly is due to US shipbuilders being the only location where the US military allows their ships to be built. Since they have a large captive market strongly influenced by marketing/lobbying, the US shipbuilders don't have much incentive to go after the more difficult commercial market by reducing costs and increasing quality. Over the years, that means they *can't* go after the commercial market.

I don't know if this story is true or not. Looking at the shipbuilder mentioned in the article, it does seem the great majority of their work is US military. Looking at http://www.trb.org/committees/mb/oc-06/Michel.pdf,  it says the US/Europe built 80% of the shipping in the 1950's, down to 13% in 2005. This chart ( http://shipbuildinghistory.com/today/statistics/shipprograms.htm )  shows there are some commercial buys happening in the US, but not many.

I always wondered when this sort of thing would start affecting our ability to build quality military ships. Perhaps this is a sign; perhaps another reader would know more. You stop building things, you stop getting good at building them.

Name Withheld

If you have to learn how to do it, you won't do it as well the first time...




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Tuesday,  September 23, 2008

I spent much of the week cloistered in a little hearing conference. It was worth it, both for what I learned and for being away from the new about the financial crisis. One of the things we discussed was the forced resignation of Professor Michael Reiss. The consensus was that it was another example of British political correctness gone mad.

Guardian story <http://tinyurl.com/4kp28m> Globe and Mail story <http://tinyurl.com/4ay9be> Telegraph story <http://tinyurl.com/4ghwxc>


Prince Philip's four-letter reaction to Labour messing around with the funeral plans for Princess Diana.

Guardian reporting <http://tinyurl.com/4rx4jr>


Cromwell, despite his leftwing popularity, was a mass murderer.

Guardian review of _God's_Executioner_



Press freedom in the UK is under attack by the security services Guardian story <http://tinyurl.com/3g92jw>


UK taxes expected to soar during credit crisis.

London Times story <http://tinyurl.com/3f2xys> Act now or face disaster--Guardian story <http://tinyurl.com/43flqc> And crime will likely soar, too--Observer story <http://tinyurl.com/4cn6s8  >


Labour's current popularity

Guardian story <http://tinyurl.com/4wd9k3> London Time story on internal rebellion in Labour <http://tinyurl.com/4653he  >


Banning teachers for religious intolerance:

BBC story <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/wear/7627055.stm>


The poisoned formula story is a major concern for people with relatives in China:

UPI story <http://tinyurl.com/3mhmkt>


Look for a faculty strike in the UK over this:

Time Higher Education story <http://tinyurl.com/4jmfqr>



"Truth is the intersection of independent lies." (Richard Levins, 1966) Harry Erwin, PhD



California Ballot Proposition 7


There has been a flurry of TV ads opposing Proposition 7 that appears on the November, 2008 California Ballot. The ads let me know that it had something to do with renewable energy.

Since one of the entities listed as against the proposition was the Union of Concerned Scientists I jumped to the conclusion, based on past stands of this organization, that Proposition 7 must be something good.

Boy, was I wrong!

California Proposition 7, would, if approved, require California utilities to procure half of their power from renewable resources by 2025.

Of course, in this case renewable resources are wind, solar, geothermal and the usual suspects. Not a mention of Nuclear, which with fuel recycling and breeder reactors certainly is a renewable resource. No way that this can be accomplished without enriching a few well placed individuals at the expense of ALL California Electricity users.

I am amazed. I find myself on the same side of an issue as the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Bob Holmes

[Emphasis added]


David Friedman on Taleb

I asked David:

>Two queries: Have you any take on what's happening in the >economics/finance world,

Not a lot. Part of it pretty clearly is what happens when the government, at least implicitly, guarantees firms against the downside. But my interests as an economist aren't mainly the economy, so I don't know enough to offer predictions.

> >And > >What do you think of Taleb's works?

I haven't read them. Looking at the piece you link to, I certainly agree that statistics is a tricky field and can be used to draw mistaken conclusions or prove what the researcher wants to prove. I discuss that a little in _Future Imperfect_, in the context of specification searches--analyzing the data in lots of different ways, each reasonable, but then only reporting the way that gives the result you want.

His turkey graph corresponds to a point I remember my father making many years ago, I think in the context of gambling on the future value of the Mexican currency. Each year for many years, you could make money by betting on the peso--buying one year futures, then selling them for a higher price when the year was passed. The reason was not that the futures market was irrational but that devaluation was a rare event. So you would make a little money each year for fifteen years, then lose it all on the sixteenth when the Mexican government devalued the peso. More generally, there are real problems in using statistics to predict things if you don't know the form of the underlying probability distribution, which is part of his point.

A different version of his point about binary vs non-binary risk ... . A long time ago, a friend who ran an investment newsletter discussed with me an idea for evaluating investment advisors. Let each of them give the newsletter a series of buy and sell decisions, the newsletter would keep track of the results and report which one would have done best over (say) a six month period. I pointed out that the sensible advisor wouldn't bet to maximize the expected return but to maximize the probability of a high return--and the fact that one advisor won his bet wouldn't tell you how good his advice was.

Taleb sounds bright and interesting, and his basic point about what sorts of problems statistics is more or less useful for seems right, but I would have to read more to say more. Since I have no involvement in the sorts of applications of statistics he is criticizing, I don't know how fair his criticism is. He never seems to say just what black swan he believes showed up to cause the present problems.

At a slight tangent, involving a simpler error ... . In my experience, most non-statisticians who talk about confidence intervals and related ideas have them backwards. They think that a .05 result from an experiment or statistical analysis means there is only a .05 chance that the theory is false. In fact, what it means is that if the theory is false (in a particular way, the null hypothesis), there is only a .05 chance that the evidence it is true would be as good as it is.

My standard example is to pull a coin out of my pocket and, without examining it, flip it once. The theory is that it's a double headed coin, the null hypothesis that it's fair. It comes up heads. The probability that it would come up heads, thus supporting the double headed hypothesis, if it's a fair coin is only .5. It doesn't follow that the probability that it is double headed is .5.

I've now read the essay you linked to, and see nothing to disagree with, aside from the factual claims about how people have been acting, which I don't know enough to judge. His point about moral hazard is actually one I made in _Law's Order_, in explaining why a firm large enough to self-insure might choose to buy insurance instead. The manager in charge of a single factory has an incentive to take suboptimal precautions against fire, since fire is a rare event. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the $10,000 he saves makes him look good, gets him a bonus or promotion. One time out of a hundred the factory burns down, the company loses $10,000,000, and he gets fired and goes to do something else. By insuring the factory, the company transfers at least some of the decisions to the insurance company, which it can trust more than it can trust its own employee.

One of my phrases for my kids is "redundancy is your friend."

-- David Friedman


Mark has been taking calculus and other classes in a distance learning situation and has been sending me detailed reports. It's clear to me that he is learning the subjects better this way than one would learn in an attendance university with the usual grad student instructors.

He has also been taking instructions on the use of AutoCad. I am sure that he will have a full report when he's finished, but I thought this worth sharing now:

CNU Update: Bricks 'N Mortar AutoCAD 2008; A Second Derivative Ripoff 


I spent 15 minutes of break time looking at BRL-CAD some more. Still being supported by the US Army Ballistic Research Laboratory , professional level documentation and programming continuing to be done under government contract.

Started circa 1977. Supports many more file formats for import and export than AutoCad does. Full 3D, rendering capabilities, advanced simulation and signal processing modules to merge into finite element analysis...

100% free to the public in fully functional form. Download, install, learn, use indefinitely.

otoh we have AutoCAD 2008. Student materials were the semi-standard $200. And that provides a time limited student license that also watermarks printed drawings as "Educational". Following graduation, pony up several thou$and more to license one seat with a commercial version. And then we have 3-6-9-12 credit hours times x per hour tuition.

Sure AutoCAD is popular. It's essentially the only CAD program taught to students by the government subsidized and pedigree granting Higher Education Cartel. This is why it's 'popular'. Retraining costs. But without that captive market - and who paid big bucks for their captivity btw - it's very unlikely AutoCAD would occupy its dominant position in the non-free market.

At some point someone writing an economics article for National Review will point to AutoCAD as an example of the 'free market'. 'Free market'???? It's not an intellectual thought anymore. It's just a post-hypnotic suggestion keyword.

Let's assume a non-hypothetical situation. Consider determined but impoverished Americans whose jobs in construction and consumer marketing are disappearing by the ten thousand each week. They wish to retrain for productive activities, such as manufacturing repair and maintenance parts for existing homes and vehicles, and starting with a readily available waste stream. The AutoCAD way represents many thousands of upfront 'capital costs'.



BRL-CAD also compares with programs like Rhino 3D and SolidWorks, which also have AutoCAD sticker shock prices.

fyi, a very similar situation exists with $MATLAB 7$ and free open source SciLab. http://www.scilab.org/consortium/index_consortium.php?page=members Sci Lab has EADS, Renault and other large Euro institutions backing it. SciLab's base language is English.

Which is to say the tools are available and free. Given the financial situation today, this is a matter of considerable interest.

Free Markets are thwarted by credentialism; indeed, free markets were ever the enemies of the guilds which restricted entry to various professions.

Now an unrestricted free market is an ugly thing and becomes a race to the bottom; but the alternatives are not always a great deal prettier. At the moment the vector I favor is toward more freedom and less regulation, and yes, I know about the real estate scandals. See my September 2008 columns in Chaos Manor Reviews.


individualism vs collectivism 

Hi Jerry,

I thought you or your readers might find this interesting.


This site has links to 6 youtube videos that discusses and compares the differences between individualism vs collectivism. Total time is about 50 minutes.

The introduction is 6 minutes which should be enough time to decide if the rest is worth watching or not.

- Paul


Subj: Return of the US Army Air Forces: Treaty of Key West amended


>>... [T]he army was doing most of the fighting in the current war, and had the clout to persuade the air force to change the rules about what kind of aircraft the army could have. Now the army can have its fixed wing combat aircraft (over 500 Sky Warriors are on the way). ... The U.S. Army Air Force, which dissolved into the U.S. Air Force in 1947, is back.<<

's 'bout [expletive deleted] time!

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com

The proper solution to this problem is to abolish the Air Force as a separate service, but this is unlikely. USAF does not want the close support missions that are the key to military dominance in actual battles. It doesn't want those missions and scorns the pilots who fly close support aircraft. It doesn't want to build airplanes that can directly support the field army. It wants hot jets, which aren't particularly useful for close support. They're better than nothing, but many things are.

USAF wants the air superiority mission and it wants that to be independent of the Army's needs. The result is we have the wrong airplanes for much of what we have to do.

The UAV movement may change all that.


Pharyngula: An Islamic assault on human rights

Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights

Which appears to be a right to submit. Some may find PZ Myers distasteful, but this is worth reading.

Good heath to you and yours,
 Tim Harness.


Financial crisis and mixed economy


Yours is the first site I’ve yet run across (and that surprises me, because I’m fairly well read) that has laid out the cause of the current financial crisis as government intervention into the market. Thank you. I cannot say how refreshing it is—and “refreshing” is not nearly strong enough—to hear something other than “Wall Street corruption, greed, and excess” as being the cause of things.

Now, interestingly, you did point out that corruption, greed, and excess (although, not specifically on Wall St., I don’t think) contributed to the crisis, and I can’t disagree with that. I think it’s valuable to point out, however, that it’s not free market businesspeople who are to blame. Just as a certain kind of person is attracted to government service, when that service really means power, there’s a certain kind of person who is more than happy to exploit the sort of market perversion that’s existed in our mixed economy. They’re like sharks that can smell blood in the water from miles away.

It think the worst result of all of this is that, because not enough people read Jerry Pournelle (or perhaps some others out there who also point out the reality of the situation), it’s not government intervention that gets the blame, but rather a lack of it. Things should be more regulated, they say, as if it’s the lack of regulation and not the suspension of free market rules (e.g., credit worthiness) that cause crises like this. Once people believe that government can run the economy better than the millions of free people who constitute it, then of course people are only happy when government is running the economy.

Someone interviewed Carley Fiorina about Palin (who, incidentally, I don’t really like) and asked her, “Could Palin serve as the CEO of a major corporation?” Fiorina answered, quite appropriately (and, in another interview, about McCain as well), “No, she couldn’t.” She meant, of course, that there are specific skills to running a major corporation, and they’re not the same as those skills needed to be President. However, the talking head who mentioned the interview then asked, with an audible sneer, “If Palin couldn’t run a major corporation, then how can she run the American economy?”

To my mind, we’ll survive the collapse of the financial institutions that gleefully handed out $500 billion in bad loans. We won’t, though, survive for long the mentality that it’s the job of the President of the United States to “run” the American economy.

Mark Coppock 


Cramer Article in Analog

The Alternate View in the December 2008 Analog discusses some ongoing results that suggest the universe is holographic. Cramer doesn't know what they mean, and I don't either, but they remind me of Karl Pribram's speculations that the mind is holographic. Perhaps the universe is really 2+1 dimensional, and the spooky non-locality of quantum mechanics goes away when you move from 3+1 to 2+1 dimensions. Cramer also speculates that a Holo-drive might be possible that takes advantage of the nearness of points in 2+1 dimensions.

-- Harry Erwin, PhD,

 Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroethologist: http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw/phpwiki/index.php/AuditoryResearch


Re: CAD program prices

All professionally-packaged CAD programs are expensive. This is because they are sold to businesses as part of the physical plant, rather than sold to end-users as an application. Yes, two thousand dollars for a "seat" seems exorbitantly pricey; but if you're a business, it's just another two grand in the "business expenses" write-off column.

And I'm not sure what emailer Mark means about "retraining costs". All of my CAD training to date has been on-the-job. And beyond that, each and every CAD program has a unique way of doing things; making a square box, for example, is completely different in I-DEAS than it is in Pro/Engineer. And the things you can do with that box after you've created it are also different. Any CAD package is going to "lock in" its users in the sense that Mark means--which is to say, they're not locked in at all. The skills involved in structural and mechanism design are package-independent; like the man says, it's not making the chalk mark that pays the bills but rather knowing where to make the mark.

There _is_ a way that CAD packages lock in users, though; or, rather they lock in the business. And that's the question of file formats. CAD systems invariably use a unique file format to save their data; while there are "transfer" formats like STEP and IGES, these both destroy the Boolean history of the model (so it cannot be modified without completely rebuilding it.)

So while the users might not be "trapped" in a single CAD package, the businesses that use CAD almost invariably are.

I am interested by the idea of BRL-CAD, though; I enjoy doing a little 3D modeling on my own time, and it would be nice not to have to drive all the way to work to use the CAD software.

-- Mike Powers





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Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Here's how the Mexican handle disasters:


Reminds me of us, before FEMA.


We used to have Civil Defense. And when I was growing up in Tennessee that's how we dealt with tornadoes and such. That's what de Tocqueville described as uniquely American. Cry for what we have lost to the liberals and socialists who do not believe in government by the people. They believe in government of the people by elites.


GPS accuracy for Train Control

Dear Doctor Pournelle,

An unidentified correspondent wrote in Mail for 09/17/08:

"However, GPS is not precise enough to tell the difference between two tracks, side by side, or to tell whether a train is clear of a switch by only a hundred feet."

I am not an expert, but I am gifted with some common sense, and a ten minute bout of research gave me the following facts/data indicating that GPS actually could either do that job either today, or if not today, then very soon with upgrades to the GPS satellite system that are being implemented right now:

Civilian C/A Coded signals used by civilian GPS receivers have an accuracy of:


:The DoD estimates the accuracy of civilian GPS to be better than 50 feet at least 95% of the time, anywhere in the world. This is what’s called the 2drms (twice the distance root-mean-square) accuracy. It is based on statistics. Don’t worry about the math, just remember that the 2drms number means that over an entire day, a receiver’s accuracy should be better than 50 feet at least 95% of the time."

BUT, the CA code is lightly encrypted and easily "spoofed" (think hackers, psychopaths and terrorists jamming a trains' "CA" code GPS system). Any secure system would use the current heavily encrypted military "P" code. When the upcoming (2011-2013 expected) Block III satellites are available, there will be a more accurate military "M" code available.

The current military "P" code is much more accurate than the current civilian CA code. How much more? It's a secret. the exact numbers. Here's an anecdotal report of how accurate they can be in practice:


"The mil GPS has 2 modes. In the uncoded mode they are a bit more accurate than the civilian handhelds. However, in the coded mode they are really accurate. The 2nd night out we were to locate a .30 cal ammo can hidden in the desert that had a message in it. The purpose was to simulate hooking up with a covert agent who had left us instructions. Again, moonless night, we were moving tactically which means absolutely no lights, and it was a 7+ kilometer hike thru some pretty tough ground. Using the mil GPS in the coded mode I stepped on the can."

A .30 cal. ammo can, IIRC, is about the size of your average lunch box. "I stepped on the can", that's fairly decent accuracy. Sounds as if, judging by that account, a military "P" coded GPS signal is likely accurate enough to distinguish between two trains side by side, and almost certainly able to distinguish between two trains on the same block of track.

Further information available at:


"Using both P-code frequencies, PPS position accuracy has been published by the US military as being able to provide 9 meters CEP, 16 meters SEP, or 22 meters R95. UTC time is accurate to 200 nanoseconds. This is quite impressive accuracy, particularly considering that the position can be calculated after only a few seconds of observation from a complete "cold start." Methods for improving accuracy down to the meter level have also been proposed.

For non-privileged SPS users, the accuracy is about half as good. Before May 1st, 2000, SPS accuracy was significantly worse (approximately 76 meters SEP) because of something called *selective availability* (SA). SA is an operational mode of GPS, which introduces an intentional degrading of the CA-code signal. While now disabled, users should be aware it can be reactivated in (wide) areas during times of hostilities."

So the military will admit to being twice as accurate as the civilian GPS.

But it gets better (I love this part!): From later in the same article linked above:

"In a classic case of one branch of an organization directly working against another, the US Coast Guard installed the Maritime Differential GPS (DGPS) service. This works by having GPS receivers placed at fixed, known locations, and having them transmit information about each satellite's error.

DGPS-equipped receivers, when getting good signals from both the GPS satellites and one or more nearby DGPS stations, can resolve their position with an accuracy of 10 meters (R95) or better, depending on how close the receiver is to the DGPS station."

So if your "Train Locating System" sets up a ground network of DGPS stations, you get even more accuracy! As a bonus, those same DGPS Stations would make even the CA code civilian systems more accurate. You get door to door accuracy for cell phone GPS and automobiles as a bonus for your investment. Think of blind people having "P" oir eventuall "M" code GPS "glasses" that guide them step by step. Children with similar GPS bracelets or GPS in their clothing that allows them to be tracked in real time, locating lost or kidnapped children in minutes (sort of a "LOJAC" for kids).

By the way, for those worried about CA code systems being used by Bad Guys: DOD can flip a switch at any time that degrades the CA code signal, making it only half as accurate. I would imagine they could also disable selected DGPS ground stations if there was a localized problem. It's a system feature I would certainly insist upon.

If these sources are accurate, then GPS can handle the train job rather handily.

I cannot imagine any train, or other transportation mode, anti-collision system not using GPS as a Very Important Component of the location sub-system, with non-GPS components (track sensors, inertial guidance, terrestrial radio signal positioning and even celestial navigation) playing roles.as verification/redundancy components. At the least I would put GPS right next to track sensors, or right behind track sensors in order of importance. Since a track sensor is actually easier to spoof or sabotage than a "P" signal GPS, I think GPS is likely more reliable and "fail safe". But use both. Satellites can fail too.


PS IIRC, didn't your GPS system in the Death Valley Rollover Incident (as related in Chaos Manor Reports by you) a few years ago, actually show that your altitude had changed after the Bronco rolled one-eighty?


A couple of favorite iPhone apps


For a calculator, you really can't beat the oddly named i41cXp, which is a PERFECT emulation of the old HP 41c calculator (circa 1980, and what I used in graduate school). You can even write RPN programs with this thing. Obviously a labor of love and I recommend it.

You can also have Pandora radio (http://www.pandora.com/) on your iphone. If Pandora survives the increased song licensing fees, this will continue to be a great thing. Your music, selected by you to your tastes, streaming to you wherever you want it. It doesn't get much better, and it's free.

My overall impression of the App store is that it is 90% dreck, typical calculators and multiple versions of old (and the same) games, but the gems are interesting and some are opening up interesting new territory.

The iPhone has the computing power of a mid-late 90's(?) PC. It will be interesting to see how this platform evolves.



Embezzling broker invests proceeds in 419 scam.


-- Roland Dobbins


About Bad Fannie & Freddie...

New York Times article from September 11, 2003:

The Bush administration today recommended the most significant regulatory overhaul in the housing finance industry since the savings and loan crisis a decade ago.

Under the plan, disclosed at a Congressional hearing today, a new agency would be created within the Treasury Department to assume supervision of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored companies that are the two largest players in the mortgage lending industry.

The new agency would have the authority, which now rests with Congress, to set one of the two capital-reserve requirements for the companies. It would exercise authority over any new lines of business. And it would determine whether the two are adequately managing the risks of their ballooning portfolios.

The plan is an acknowledgment by the administration that oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- which together have issued more than $1.5 trillion in outstanding debt -- is broken. A report by outside investigators in July concluded that Freddie Mac manipulated its accounting to mislead investors, and critics have said Fannie Mae does not adequately hedge against rising interest rates.

Source, Instapundit. Apparently, Congress did nothing.


Of course they did nothing.


Hand Held Computers like in the Mote in God's Eye. 

In your column today you talked about how your IPhone was getting close to becoming like the hand held computers you wrote about in the Mote In God's Eye.

Big deal, I'm waiting for the computer implants you promised were coming in the Oath of Fealty!

Love your work! I was sure glad to hear that you beat your tumor or what ever it was.




Passing thoughts on the mail you posted overnight Monday...

1) From personal observation, the comment about US shipbuilders building for the military affecting their commercial competitiveness also applies to US aerospace, particularly after the consolidations that eliminated McDonnell-Douglas as a competitor and seems to have closed Lockheed's commercial aircraft capability. Locally, the surviving US commercial aircraft manufacturer is a laughing stock for their government contract work due to low-quality product delivered late with every deliverable parsed for legal consequence (e.g. only the minimum necessary contractually required deliverable, etc.) and with complex, expensive "quality controls" that are impossible to apply due to their complexity.

2) Autocad owns the entrenched market because it was there first -- in my (limited) experience, BRL CAD did not have a competitive capability until recently. Certainly if BRLCAD is competitive now it should be used as a viable alternative (and I'll be exploring it for CAD work on some of my current projects as required).

3) Black swans. The current financial crisis is only a surprise to those who haven't been paying attention (though it is a shock in the sense of "happening now"), and while its probably impossible for McCain to successfully lay all the blame at the feet of the Democrats, the fact remains that the Democrats contributed more to the regulatory and political environment which created and nurtured the crisis, and lead the charge to delay investigations particularly of the federally-chartered organizations that contributed to their campaigns at such high levels. I've never been comfortable with the concepts of short selling, hedge funds, and investment reinsurance (capitalize at $10 million. $2 millions goes to an insurance company that repays the $10 million to the investors if the company fails), and despite the pro-short selling essay in yesterday's Wall Street Journal -- which I must admit I didn't read -- shorting done honestly may be a viable method for regulating "overheated" markets but is far too prone for abuse. Similarly, reinsurance eliminates the incentive to honestly assess risk in investments -- hence the current crisis, and the reinsurers leading the charge to the bottom. The two reforms I would make: (a) federally chartered corporations are prohibited from lobbying and donating to Congressional candidates as an obvious conflict of interest; (2) a large fraction of executive bonuses should be tied to three-year performance (e.g. options at market which mature in three years, or cash bonuses placed in escrow for that period with the deferred bonus pool -- vice Lehman's bonus pool -- available back to the corporation to repair financial problems during that period. Unfortunately, it looks like the solution will be taxpayer infusions of money and Congressionally-appointed scoundrels replacing the shareholder-appointed scoundrels who created the problems. (And what happened to the responsibilities of the corporate boards?)

It's a mess, but it's a mess that the government created and perpetuated by messing with the free market. Unfortunately, the solution will be more socialism (government ownership of corporate institutions) and fascism (government control of privately-owned corporate institutions).

And -- dare I say -- Palin is the only candidate with both the experience and the isolation to resolve the problem. Which has lead to some thoughts that I would rather not have thought of and prefer not put into writing explicitly (think of conspiracy theories and the "down side" elements of Mr. Heinlein's "Through the Looking Glass" from Expanded Universe).


Every dollar removed from the economy in taxes reduces GDP by at least a dollar.

on shorting: he who sells what isn't his'n must buy it back or go to prison...


Climate Science: Is it currently designed to answer questions? 

Paper by Richard S. Lindzen, 19 Sep 2008.


The abstract ends with: "....When an issue becomes a vital part of a political agenda, as is the case with climate, then the politically desired position becomes a goal rather than a consequence of scientific research. This paper will deal with the origin of the cultural changes and with specific examples of the operation and interaction of these factors. In particular, we will show how political bodies act to control scientific institutions, how scientists adjust both data and even theory to accommodate politically correct positions, and how opposition to these positions is disposed of."


Re: CNU Update: Bricks 'N Mortar AutoCAD 2008; A Second Derivative Ripoff

It would be easy to sustain the Great CAD War debate with Mike Powers. I have QuickCAD 7 & 8, AutoCAD 2000i, DeltaCAD and TurboCAD Deluxe r14. And now AutoCAD 2008 Inventor/Mechanical.

And he left out a primary file interchange format, the Drawing Exchange File, *.dxf.

I've used CAD programs since 2000 to make drawings for CNC cut parts. Elena was having trouble with 3d parties in her work. I bought QuickCAD 7 at Office Depot and discovered it was very similar to navigation with a map. Points and vectors in a Cartesian coordinate system after all.

All irrelevant.

He's right about the multiplicity of programs. Which further highlights the question of why AutoCAD is the default program at Lemon Bay HS, the Charlotte Technical Center, Manatee Community College, CNU, Penn-Foster...

You caught my real point, which is radical capital cost reduction for people retraining and new productive enterprises. And not just with CAD programs, which after all are only one tool in the tool box.



Energy capital 


Note on the radio news this AM, that a substantial majority of Obama supporters and about half of McCain supporters believe energy companies need to be investing in renewable energy even if it drives energy prices up.

Uh..hasn't most of our capital to support such projects recently evaporated?




NASA - Solar Wind Loses Power, Hits 50-year Low


According to NASA, the solar wind has been losing power, and has hit a 50-year low:


"[T]he speed of the million mph solar wind hasn't decreased much—only 3%. The change in pressure comes mainly from reductions in temperature and density. The solar wind is 13% cooler and 20% less dense."

Hmm. I guess now is not the time to move to Canada.



'The GPO officials estimated that the GPO amassed as much as $180 million in profits by charging an additional $1.83 per passport on its sales to the State Department.'


-- Roland Dobbins

The Iron Law in action.


China building reactionless drive

Dr. Pournelle,

I remember seeing an article about a reactionless drive based on relativistic theory a few years ago. Apparently China's decided to see if it works:


It's not theorized to work well, but then it doesn't have to work well. It should be interesting to see what happens.


Ryan Brown

It doesn't have to work well. It just has to work at all to revolutionize physics. The way to bet is that it won't work, but the payoff is enormous if it does.


Spraypainted Swans

I've been seeing the term "black swan" bandied about quite a bit on the internet these days, in reference to the whole subprime mess.

This is not one of those cases. Black Swans much, much rarer than people think. A Black Swan is a healthy twenty-three-year-old having a massive aneurysm. A Black Swan is a gas bubble in a cast-aluminum structural frame that makes your car break in half at fifty-five miles an hour.

What happened in this market was that everyone decided that they just would stop worrying about risk. Securities were securities, and a 3/1 interest-only nothing-down ARM was exactly as risky as a T-Bill. Now everyone is realizing that most of those 3/1-IO's aren't ever going to be paid off; but instead of saying 'well, we screwed up', they're blaming it all on a Black Swan. Nobody could have predicted this or prepared for it, right? This certainly isn't OUR fault, right?

This is not a Black Swan. What happened here was that a bunch of sheep wandered into a field, and instead of looking out for wolves they tucked right in, because that grass was just SOOOOO TASTY. And now the wolves are here, and the sheep are trying to claim that there was no need to watch out for them, because who would have thought that wolves would come?

-- Mike T. Powers

Come now. No one is "blaming" anything on a Black Swan which is a simple phrase use in Taleb's book by that name to indicate that normal Gaussian statistics do not give sufficient attention to the really far out outliers, and do not apply in very complex situations where we do not know the distribution. That's not blame, it's an explanation intended to teach something to those who will take the trouble to understand.

Black Swans were thought to be impossible, because in Europe all swans are white. "All swans are white" thus became an irrefutable assumption. Now there were no fortunes made or lost because of that assumption and its refutation by the existence of black swans in Australia; but it is very much a warning that the map is not the territory. Your model of the world is not the world.

There are realms where there are no Black Swans. When you shoot craps in Las Vegas, the rules don't change in mid game; the probabilities are known to many decimal places. The pass line gives the house 1.41% advantage; but if you get a number on the first roll, you are permitted to back up your bet at the true odds and be paid at the true odds (6:5  on 6 & 8; 3:2 on 5 & 9; 2:1 on 4 & 10) if you win. This dilutes the house advantage (for full explanation, see this posting). The statistical model of craps at Las Vegas is exact, and you can calculate the expected value of what you do at the crap table. You can choose the proper strategy (pass line and back up your bet) or you can choose a strategy that gives the house a much better chance to win (Field, Hard Way, and various other proposition bets). A Black Swan in this case would be a raid on the house with the police confiscating all the money on the table, or a robbery by Southsea's Nine, or a hole opening in the floor that you fall through. But note that the model of what happens at the table is exact because this is a game. It also assumes that the house will not bring in loaded dice.

That was the point of Taleb's essays and books, and that is the point I am trying to get across to my readers. It's an expansion of the General Semantics axiom that the map is not the territory; and there are realms in which we have no decent maps, and in those regions are territories that on the map ought to be noted "Here there be Monsters" or some such. We do not have good models of a market place, nor are we likely to have them, because there are intelligent opponents in the game, and they have choices. No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

The experts and stock analysts know what they are doing in some parts of the realm in which they operate because their maps do correspond to the territory; but as the real world repeatedly has shown, they have no better idea of where their models fail than anyone else does.  They also have strong temptations to change the rules just as the house can be tempted to bring in loaded dice.

I spend a good bit of time on this because it's something I want my readers to understand. After all, you can't subscribe to this web site if you've been wiped out.

The proper way to think about Black Swans is, "Don't bet all you have on a proposition whose only proof is empirical observations and confirming instances." That's an oversimplification, but it's worth remembering. And it has nothing to do with "blaming" Black Swans.


Of course if your point is that those who made this mess are now blaming a Black Swan that suddenly and unexpectedly appeared from nowhere, then of course that is "blame"; but I haven't heard that this is happening. Indeed, I would be happy to learn that the Masters of the Universe have finally learned that in this world there are Black Swans, and that their maps are not the territories.

Note also that the concept of a Black Swan event applies in climatology, and in much of our everyday lives. Highly improbable disasters do happen.

"In the last analysis, luck comes only to the well prepared." Helmuth von Moltke the Elder


"The findings indicate that even those people who appear to be very committed to environmental action find it difficult to transfer these behaviours into more problematic contexts."


- Roland Dobbins

Most green activities are irrelevant to the real problems, because the green map is not the territory. Mind you, I don't say we have adequate maps; indeed most of what I write is on the subject of getting better maps (better data and theories of climate change) instead of pouring resources in what may or may not be useful remedies.

If we are truly concerned with CO2 in the atmosphere we need do develop ways to remove it; If we are truly concerned that there is excess solar heat entering the Earth's climate system, we need to find ways to reduce the amount of solar heat that come into the climate system and stays here. (Google albedo for some helpful suggestions.)


Fred's Experience in Mexico

Ever read this about Los Angeles?

McPhee, John, 1990, The Control of Nature. One of the articles is Los Angeles against the Mountains. It describes how the city deals with similar problems.

-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland. <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw> Weblog at: <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw/blog/index.php>

Read it years ago, have forgotten the LA part (it's mostly about the Mississippi and New Orleans). I'll look it up. It's somewhere around in the swim here.






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Thursday, September 25, 2008

"It was amazing to me that in an area where there was such growth and economic prosperity, that these employees of Fortune 1000 companies were living in such poor conditions."


- Roland Dobbins


Carley Fiorina on Palin

I am quite sure this isn't the first note you've had on the subject, but......

Having Carley Fiorina, the CEO Who Couldn't (and who turned HP Research into a big steaming hole in the ground), is pretty laughable. In a bull market, with operating/expansion capital and more laying on the ground waiting for the right shovel with which to pick it up, CF very nearly ran HP into receivership.

One thing more laughable is that a Media Droid sought out Ms. Fiorinas' opinion on another Executive.

Be Well.....

Chuck K.

Neither the first nor the last....


Re GPS and trains

GPS accuracy is a mixed bag. If you can get into a carrier tracking mode on GPS by getting an initial fix within one cycle at 1.5 GHz you know a position value well within about 2/3 of a foot. That position value can be reasonably repeatable, especially with a rather undisturbed atmosphere. The recent reduction in Solar disturbances plays right into that scenario. You can use bogey values for ionosphere ionization and get reasonably correct answers.

The military GPS tracks a pair of frequencies at roughly, 1.5 GHz and 1 GHz. That allows it to estimate ionospheric disturbances and correct for them. So your position will be even more accurate. The military code also works at a higher "chipping rate", 10.23 MHz rather than C/A code's 1.023 MHz. So that helps achieve the accuracy AND cycle level ambiguity solution better than C/A.

With either mode you can "return" to a precise location very well presuming you do not break lock or can transfer that lock to another satellite as one you are using goes out of view. You get that one foot accuracy.

A lot of this is predicated on the accuracy of the satellites. Their transmitted ephemeris is an estimate. Surveyors average for a fair amount of time, have very low dynamics, and post process with provided error figures. Improved ephemeris transmissions will help improve accuracy.

Improved clocks will help, a little. There's a little feature involved with the clocks that's sort of a gimme given the frequency dithering that the military built into the satellites. It can also VERY precisely compensate for the drift of the standards, about 2 parts in 10 to the 13th power worth of direct setability. That can be dithered up and down by one LSB to interpolate closer using standard frequency synthesizer tricks. (I know this because I designed that feature and proposed it to the people running the program.)

I mentioned dynamics above. The motion dynamics of the antenna have a lot to do with GPS accuracy. With relatively light dynamics and no jamming you can open up the tracking loop slightly and still maintain excellent precision. The military AF specification was predicated upon the motion dynamics of Air Force jets in combat maneuvers or cruise missiles in motion. That's pretty high dynamics and pretty much requires fancy aided GPS sets to track. A car doesn't need that. It's dynamics are somewhat less than a 10+G turn in a fighter or even the motions of the top of the bridge on a naval vessel in a storm or under combat shocks.

So, yes, you can get reasonable accuracy for the trains with GPS. But, why bother? You are putting control right back where it was when the engineer on the Chatsworth Metrolink train became inattentive and lost his and a lot of other lives.

Techniques already work that tell you what track the train is on and to a fair degree of accuracy where it is in its current "block". If you look at the rails, ties, roadbed, and train wheels you have a fancy but low Q factor resonant circuit. The frequency of this resonance depends on where the train is in the block. Ba-da-bing, you know where it is. This is a technique that is in use. It's made by Safetran here in town, among other companies.

I'm note sure more BSOD prone hardware is the solution, particularly in the somewhat brutal cabs of locomotives. Road engines don't go through quite so much shock and vibration as the switch engines. But they do still get pretty good lurches.

A positive train control is required so that a dispatcher can decide with 100% certainty that any engine proceeding past point A when the signal just ahead of point A is red will not go anywhere until the train comes to a full stop and is restarted - a penalty stop it is called. In the Chatsworth situation that stop should have been initiated at least a half mile from the signal at the speed the Metrolink was traveling if the engineer had not already initiated adequate braking. Tools exist. Railroads are too cheap to install them. And their lobbyists, and the railroad union lobbyists, tend to lobby against these regulations. So rather than feed honest equipment manufacturers some money for safety they end up feeding hoards of rapacious lawyers. Ah well, it's a business decision.

In summary GPS alone is worthless on a train. The agency that initiates the stop must know position, signal state appropriate for that location, train speed, and a host of other details. Using existing trackside boxes to initiate a penalty stop for a train going past a point with a red signal lit is somewhat easier AND it knows all the data it needs, in a rude sort of way.




I see that Petronius (Wednesday, September 24, 2008) has commented on my first letter, which you posted. He has not, of course, seen my follow-up letter. I would not call myself a railroad expert-- I've merely read about twenty thousand pages on the subject over the last twenty or thirty years. There is an immense body of expert knowledge, the cumulative product of fatal accidents over the last hundred and eighty years, which one ignores at one's peril.

I would point out that track spacing is as little as thirteen feet, and the safety clearance is as little as three feet. There is a move to increase the safety clearance to nine feet, for the greater safety of Maintenance-of-Way crews on the ground, who might get caught between two trains, but this may take twenty years to be put into effect.

Trackside is commonly dominated by irregular structures, buildings, etc., mostly made of steel, belonging not only to the railroad but also to assorted heavy industries, bridges and overpasses, etc, which commonly change every fifty or a hundred feet. From the standpoint of radio reflection, it is a very noisy environment. I notice that Petronius cheerfully ignores the caveats in the reference he himself cites. I can only conclude that Petronius has no real sense of what trackside looks like.

Ninety-five percent reliability is not remotely good enough for safety equipment. If the equipment generates a false alarm and an automatic brake application at one block out of twenty, that will be about one false alarm per hour, and the equipment will surely be sabotaged by the train crews.

Andrew D. Todd

Well of course GPS alone is worthless on a train. That was hardly the point. I don't claim to be an expert on train operations or equipment design; what I am damned sure of is that if there were GPS units on trains that transmitted the location to central dispatch, and if the train control center could see a display of precisely where each train was and which way it was moving, it wouldn't be hard to come up with ways to make collisions less likely.  That kind of location and display system won't cost a billion dollars. It takes a big server to process the data, and a GPS and probably a laptop on each train.

Add warning horns and loud speakers in the cabins, and you certainly have improved safety, and unless the Metro collision was the result of the engineer committing suicide -- which I doubt -- the warning horns alone would probably have prevented the accident. 

No doubt there are better systems. No doubt there are reasons this won't work. The prefect is always the enemy of marginal progress, and sometimes rightly so. In any event the discussion is not likely to affect the outcome, although I have learned something from it. My conclusion is that so far no one is considering the technology advances of the past few years, including the display capabilities now existing in Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Games; certainly I have heard nothing that would make me think so.

It likely doesn't matter. My guess is that nothing costing less than billions will be employed because of  the politics of the situation. In any event, Los Angeles politicians say they'll solve the problem by adding a second engineer -- whether or not they'll call him a fireman isn't clear -- to each train.

I don't think I have anything else to contribute here, and we've heard from most of the experts, so I think this will end this discussion.


Black Swans and the power of knowledge


You wrote:

"In the last analysis, luck comes only to the well prepared."
 Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

Indeed. Moltke was one of the most profound -- truly profound, not in the cult-of-personality sense of some self-appointed guru profound -- thinkers on the nature of human competitive environments of the last couple of centuries. Too bad he has gone largely unheralded outside the military history and analysis communities.

I also like Branch Rickey's:

"Luck is the residue of design."

IOW, is a run scored on a passed ball or wild pitch really "unearned"? The scoring team had to have enough knowledge of the competitive environment of baseball, and enough skill to use that knowledge, to have a baserunner at third base, right?

In almost any human competitive endeavor -- markets, games, wars, whatever -- accurate knowledge of what's really going on, and the ability to use that knowledge the skew the odds in your favor (even slightly), is the recipe for success. Thinking that what you know is all there is to know is a recipe for disaster.

Isn't that the core message here?

Tony Evans


Subj: Programming Language Wars: US Navy Open Architecture Computing Environment

I just ran across this, from 2004:


The "Design Guide" says the OACE should support C/C++, Ada and Java. (p. 3-88 of the document, p. 110 of the PDF)

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com




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Friday,  September 26, 2008

Neal Stephenson's _Anathem_.

It's typically long nd a bit precious, in places, and it can be annoying at first, until you understand what he's doing with language, and why.

_Anathem_ is essentially an argument about cosmology and the nature of consciousness which has been crafted so that the non-mathematically- inclined can grasp and enjoy it. Despite the abovementioned annoyances, coupled with a single gaping plot hole and a rather lame ending, it's still worth reading, IMHO.

-- Roland Dobbins


Subject: A startling explanation for bizarre interday behavior of individual stocks


I learned something today that I had managed to miss that may explain some of the extreme volatility that we have been observing in stock prices.

In 2007 the rule that a short sale of a stock could only be made on a up tick, an increase in price, was repealed. This rule was instituted in the early 1930s to restore some order to disorderly markets.

I no longer need to scratch my head and wonder why stocks like the following:

STT <http://www.google.com/url?q=/finance%3

- State Street Corporation (NYSE) 59.00 -5.75 (-8.88%) Sep 18 4:08pm ET Open: 66.08 High: 68.70 Low: 29.09 Volume: 69,037,762 Avg Vol: 4,902,000 Mkt Cap: 25.47B

show such volatility.

McCain is truly right when he suggests that Cox, head of the SEC, should be fired summarily.

There have been some changes in the short sale rules in the last few days. Reinstating the rule requiring an up tick for a short sale was not one of them.

The inmates are truly running the asylum.

Bob Holmes

I have seen a lot about the effects of the uptick rule, both pro and con, and I fear I don't understand: that is, I haven't the background or the smarts to decide whether it's a good thing or not. The theory is that by preventing shorting in a down market, one prevents piling on and thus makes the slide less steep. That makes sense; but rigorous application of the rule prevents the important information exchange that makes markets work. If I know that your company is hollow and due for a fall, why must I wait for an uptick before I sell you short?  But I say all this in theory, because I don't play the market.

Unfortunately, even though I don't play the market, I still have skin in the game. I'm rather dreading the next reports from CREF.


very rigorous maritime standards 

Hi Jerry,

2 minute video. a must watch, I think. it's brilliant in a Pythonesque sort of way.


- Paul


Education and Parents.


Upon reflection of your comments and a debate Wednesday, night on the News Hour, I believe we are forgetting why quadrupled funding (in real dollars since the 50’s) for schools has not produced results. Parents that are involved in encouraging kids to learn produce children who excel. Neither campaign wants to put it bluntly, “Parents have failed their children.”

Areas that have a higher percentage of stable families tend to have children that do better on standardized test than areas that have a high percentage of unstable families. A community organizer should realize that the basic building block of a community is families. An army brat should remember if not for strong parentage children go over the wall into trouble.

-Mark D

Actually just about every study ever done shows that once schools meet a pretty low minimum standard, putting more money into the system has absolutely no effect on general education and particularly on helping the left side of the bell curve. It's certainly true that improving discipline in the classrooms improves results across the boards, but that doesn't cost much. Just  about every school has long had enough money to do its job. Pouring in more doesn't help.

One thing would help: removing from first grade classrooms teachers who cannot teach 90% of those children to read English and replacing them with teachers who can do it. Pay a bonus to first grade teachers on that condition. But once again most schools already have the means to do that, but unions will never allow it. (And yes, there needs to be some adjustment in the case of schools with large populations of children who do not speak English; but only an adjustment that assumes it may take two grades -- although my wife's experience in field testing her reading program was that the problem is greatly exaggerated, and both Spanish and Chinese speaking children learned to read English in 70 half-hour lessons.)

If the kids learn to read, they have a chance. If they don't they are doomed. That's pretty simple.


When Students Run the Classroom


"Homework grades should be given only when the grades will "raise a student's average, not lower it." Students who flunk tests can retake the exam and keep the higher grade. Teachers cannot give a zero on an assignment unless they call parents and make "efforts to assist students in completing the work." Teachers must accept overdue assignments. High school teachers who fail more than 20 percent of their students will need to develop a professional improvement plan and will be monitored by their principals."

I keep thinking back to the act of war comment.


If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightly consider it an act of war. -- G T Seaborg, National Commission on Education, 1983.


Subj: Book: The Rocket Company


Richard Pournelle should actually review this, but...

How might it go, if seven billionaires got together and decided to play Delos Harriman?

Two of the co-authors are Senior Members of the AIAA. The book goes more deeply into business and tech details than a typical Jerry Pournelle story or than Mike Flynn's _Firestar_ stories. Plenty of eccentric heroes and heroines, though I don't think the characters are up to Pournellian standards -- in a way, it reminded me of Tolkien's _Silmarillion_. Plenty of obstacles and triumphs.

This is the hardest of hard science/engineering fiction. You can quibble with the engineering choices made, but there's no magic I could see -- unless maybe it's the existence of a group of people so wealthy who're so willing to spend their wealth *as a team* (rather than as individual eccentrics, each with his own pet approach) on making cheap space-launch a business.

Highly recommended.

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


Lost for words 

Hi Jerry

I've just watched a TV programme, here in Britain, about a school that has made great improvements in its children's reading ability using phonics. There are a couple of web sites to go with the programme: http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/dispatches/


Until I saw this I was under the impression that the use of phonics was more widespread in British schools than it really is; apparently the main government policy is not for the general use of phonics but for Reading Recovery: http://www.ioe.ac.uk/schools/ecpe/readingrecovery/index.html 

Although RR is also based on phonics it's a one to one teaching method for just a few of the poorest readers, while the school featured in the programme - Monteagle - retrained all of it's teachers and now teaches their children with phonics. The difference in cost was thousands per child for RR compared to not a great deal more thousands to teach a whole school using Monteagle's methods.

Unfortunately Monteagle's success in teaching their kids to read hasn't improved performance in other subjects, specifically maths. But I can't believe that it has done any harm, and in the long term getting all the kids reading can only be a good thing.

On a personal note, two years ago I wrote to you that my youngest was starting school and that it looked like the school would be using phonics. My older two children weren't taught using phonics, but we taught them ourselves at home and they've both always tested as having a reading age one or two years ahead of the average for their age.

With less time now, and with the two older ones taking on some of the responsibility of reading with the youngest, I haven't spent as much time with her as I did with the other two. Watching her try to read I could tell that she was sounding out words phonetically, so I assumed that the school was doing its job. But when the subject came up she insisted that she couldn't read even simple stuff and that we had to read it to her.

A few months ago, just as I was starting to get worried, I realised that she actually could read and now, a month before her 7th birthday, she's reading books intended for 8 and 9 year olds. I suspect that she's inherited an unfortunate character trait that I, and my father, have - we don't like anyone to know we can do something until we've completely mastered the skill.

Best wishes, and great news hearing that you're cancer free.

Paul Dove

Get Mrs. Pournelle's reading program and you can be sure that your kids will know phonics and can read anything. Thanks for the kind words.


"Globalization has gone a little bit too far. It has overshot."


-- Roland Dobbins







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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Climate Science and Questions, 


Climate Science: Is it currently designed to answer questions?

by MIT's Richard Lindzen. 35 page pdf.








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Sunday,   September 28, 2008    

Today we will have a mixed bag of recent and not so recent mail. It is done in short shrift mode; apologies, but I am running out of time.


"The Chinese are not here as investors, they are here as invaders."


---- Roland Dobbins


Muslim sues Tesco over alcohol 


Here's a news item (albeit not in a national UK newspaper but in a local newspaper) that shows how badly the multicultural model is broken:


If you work in the warehouse of a company that sells alcohol, then it's not unreasonable to assume that you might be expected to handle containers of alcohol.

Best regards,



Dr Alun J. Carr
School of Electrical, Electronic, and Mechanical Engineering University College Dublin Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland


Proof-of-concept for directed panspermia?


- Roland Dobbins


Rasmussen: Only 29% of Obama supporters think Supreme Court should decide cases based on Constitution


"While 82% of voters who support McCain believe the justices should rule on what is in the Constitution, just 29% of Barack Obama's supporters agree. Just 11% of McCain supporters say judges should rule based on the judge's sense of fairness, while nearly half (49%) of Obama supporters agree."

Interesting. I suppose that might be a reason I'd not considered for the Republican majority in the Armed Forces, that whole "support and defend" clause. I don't think Rule of Law is doomed yet, but this doesn't give me a warm fuzzy about it.



Wind energy needs to be stored - all forms of storage involve efficiency losses, but hey ... the wind is free right?

The wind is free. But the equipment to trap, convert and ship the energy is quite expensive. It's even more expensive when you consider that capital resources are not productive around 2/3rds of the time.

When you consider that it costs 2 cents a kilowatt hour to generate electricity around here and wind energy is still uneconomical even with a 1.5 cent subsidy you can see that it's not the power source of the future.

Why would we accept a power source that won't be there when we need it?


In some places wind power is a very valuable asset. In others it is not. It depends on the size of the grid (in longitude), the constancy of the wind (in some places it never ceases), and the availability of storage (in some places there are already pumped storage reservoirs). In other places it's not very practical.


Telling Interview With T. Boone Pickens 

Dr. Pournelle,

Some months ago I ran across this remarkably candid interview with Mr. Pickens.


Money quote:

Pickens: "I'm not going to have the windmills on my ranch. They're ugly. . . ."

Question: "So whose land is it going on?"

Pickens: "My neighbors', . . ."

Question: "What happens if Congress doesn't extend the $20-per-megawatt-hour Production Tax Credit for wind -- set to expire December 31? On a project this size, that's an $80,000 deduction every hour at full capacity."

Pickens: "Then you've got a dead duck. It would be hard to go without a subsidy."

Question: "What about when the wind doesn't blow?"

Pickens: "That's the problem with wind generation. You've got to supplement it with a gas-fired or coal-fired source so whoever buys it gets continuous 24-7 generation."

The Pickens plan seems to be a means to bundle subsidies and get the public to clamor for giving said subsidies to Mr. Pickens...Or perhaps I'm cynical. (Via http://thoriumenergy.blogspot.com

The money could be better spent to tool up a production line for gen 4 reactors like this one http://gt-mhr.ga.com/  or the little reactor in New Galena Alaska. http://www.atomicinsights.com/AI_03-20-05.html  Of course the money could be even better spent in prizes.

Very Respectfully,
 Ken Talton


Subj: Better Bug to Make Cellulosic Ethanol


>>New genetically modified bacteria could slash the costs of producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass, such as corn cobs and leaves, switchgrass, and paper pulp. ...<<

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


Subj: Bin Laden: martyrdom or slow rot?


>>"Bush can't get bin Laden" is a frequent taunt. But in terms of forwarding America's long-range strategy for defeating Islamo-fascism and helping Middle Eastern Muslim nations address their long-term challenge, bin Laden's slow rot -- in lieu of ascent to martyrdom -- may prove to be ironically useful.<<

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


Obama malware


If we haven't already, I would expect a similar attack using Palin's name. (Who wants to see Biden or McCain in this context?)


Obama is victim of fake Internet sex video

LONDON, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- U.S. Democratic Party nominee for president Barack Obama has become a victim of spammers who use fake sex videos to spread malicious spyware.

An e-mail message written in broken English is making the rounds on the Internet offering viewers a video of Obama having "sex action" with Ukrainian girls, The Daily Telegraph reported Wednesday.

The newspaper says downloading the fake video will result in a virus infecting the computer.

The Obama spam was identified this week by the Internet security firm WebSense.

The e-mail has the subject line "Barack Obama sex story with girl" and says in broken English that the U.S. senator from Illinois "in 2007 was travel to Ukraine and have sex action with many Ukrainian girls."

Clicking on the link in the message takes the user to a site that plays a short snippet of an unrelated pornographic video.


An overlooked economic stimulus

Jerry –

Tuesday, Ken Mitchell wrote: “You could do much the same thing with an internet-driven "load shedding" plan. Let's hypothetically divide all electricity use into, say, five - pr five hundred - categories. Hospitals and critical infrastructure, Cat 1. Residences, Cat 2. Industry, Cat 3. Less critical industry, Cat 4, and lob everything that isn't especially time-sensitive into Cat 5. Devise some simple internet-connected devices that will accept a shut-off command and program each device with a random-number generator and the category. When the wind blows, there's lots of power and all Cat5 devices are enabled. When the wind fades, the control grid (here in California, it could be CalISO, the "Independent System Operator" in Folsom, CA) generates enough random numbers to shut off enough Cat5 devices to balance the supply. As the wind continues to fade, the grid operator shuts down more and more of the non-critical electrical load to keep the supply and the load in balance.”

And let’s not overlook the economic value of all the kits which would be sold so that people could upgrade their air conditioners to Cat 1.


Jim Martin


More on category error

Hello Jerry,

The federal government has decreed that employers must accommodate Muslim religious sensibilities in the workplace, as confirmed by this court case:


Christians, on the other hand, must adapt to the workplace or seek employment elsewhere.

It seems that the First Amendment right of Muslims to practice their religion incorporates the duty of everyone else to participate in their rituals.

Category error: When you can't state the problem (or in this case you are not allowed to, under penalty of having the statement prosecuted as a 'hate crime'), it is unlikely that you will be able to solve it.

Bob Ludwick


I may have posted this before; it is worth your attention. Especially in these perilous times. I do remind you to beware of black swans.

Bayesian Analysis

Doctor Pournelle,

In researching Climate Change I came across this interesting site on Bayesian Analysis:

International Society for Bayesian Analysis (ISBA)


It's a pretty good summary of Bayesian Analysis.

A sample:

"Scientific inquiry is an iterative process of integrating accumulating information. Investigators assess the current state of knowledge regarding the issue of interest, gather new data to address remaining questions, and then update and refine their understanding to incorporate both new and old data. Bayesian inference provides a logical, quantitative framework for this process. It has been applied in a multitude of scientific, technological, and policy settings."



Fiorina Interview Question 

Dear Jerry,

For me, the most telling part of the Fiorina Interview is the part where the interviewer asks "If Palin couldn't run a major corporation, then how can she run the American economy?"

Since when, in our free market system, does the President RUN the economy?

Dave in St. Louis







 read book now





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