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Monday  October 26, 2009

Letter From England

I can't make this up--league tables for universities. See <http://tinyurl.com/yfhk2mb  >. From the Guardian article: "A rating system for every course, setting out five key measures: the pass rate, student satisfaction (from surveys), employment rate, wage gain for students, and inspection results." This was an obvious next step ever since they put the 'Ministry for Business' in charge of higher education. Comment by Sally Hunt: "The league table culture has been a disaster in schools and hospitals. If applied to colleges it will lead to a narrowing of the curriculum and an impediment to innovation." I have watched a local university restructure itself to improve in those five measures, and as part of its process, it dropped its advanced programmes and research. You want it bad; you get it bad.

 UK economy still in recession. <http://tinyurl.com/yj8gnlw> <http://tinyurl.com/yjlnzmg  > <http://tinyurl.com/ylzgut5> <http://tinyurl.com/yjhywf3>

 BNP leader on radio. I listened to a bit of it, and heard him express some really nutty ideas. Apparently, some people found him convincing. 

<http://tinyurl.com/yh5onjv> <http://tinyurl.com/yfy57vs> <http://tinyurl.com/yjqqb7u  > <http://tinyurl.com/yj3s6o7>

 Postal strike continues. Union activists are collecting donations to help the strikers, but are shaking their heads privately--neither side can win. The 'Ministry for Business' is using this as an opportunity to break the union, but it's also destroying the Royal Mail. You want it bad; you get it bad. <http://tinyurl.com/ykrhtl5> <http://tinyurl.com/yjbmqho  >

 Swine flu worse than expected. <http://tinyurl.com/yld7cjf> <http://tinyurl.com/ygh67x9  >


Harry Erwin, PhD

"If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning." (Catherine Aird)


Keeping the Subjects from Rebelling 


The snoops expand their snooping. <http://tinyurl.com/yzbr7zzhttp://tinyurl.com/ykgoxbs 

 > <http://tinyurl.com/yldrch9>  <http://tinyurl.com/yhd8xn6http://tinyurl.com/yfpemmy 

 > <http://tinyurl.com/yj6x5fm>


Meanwhile the probation service can't keep tabs on offenders out on 

release: <http://tinyurl.com/ykt2sos>  <http://tinyurl.com/yzgh7y8>

 Possible but unlikely changes to vetting scheme for parents http://tinyurl.com/yjbxfj3 


Criminal libel laws to be repealed? <http://tinyurl.com/yjy4gp2>.


Ministers back down from cutting the Territorial Army http://tinyurl.com/yl8bul8 


Harry Erwin, PhD

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." (Benjamin  Franklin, 1755)




'Amazon for example, says that people with Kindles now buy 3.1 times as many books as they did before owning the device.'


--- Roland Dobbins

A really fascinating statistic. One wonders if it will hold up. We can hope so.


Reinventing Heinlein - again.


Rigid sky-train to fly through magnetic rings on sticks. The story covers the sky train as well as highways running hovercraft at 500 mph:


Hmm. Robert featured exactly both of these in Starman Jones <http://www.amazon.com/dp/1416505504>  , which is still in print.

Hmm again. I haven't read my copy in a few years. Time to reread it.


I want my future back. We used to look forward to seeing such things in our lifetime.


Then there's

An article on "the future" from Big Hollywood/Breitbart

Dr. Pournelle:

An interesting article that calls out your High Frontier and Niven's Known Space.

Is safety really stifling the future?


While we've had some incredible advancements in the last fifty years, they havn't been in the areas Mr. Heinlein and Dr. Asimov thought.

We've had revolutions in communications, computing, medical care, and even in distribution. That's great, if you want to talk to your Mom in Paducah, surf the net for the perfect hummus recipe, get an MRI, or find fresh strawberries in December at your local supermarket. A lot of these technologies are safe. There is little "daring" anymore. I see the private company adventures toward space as thrilling, but will they ever lead to anything more than LEO? I'll be 49 in December. Will I ever go to the moon? Thirty years ago I thought, "Yeah, baby!" Today, not so much. Alas.

Best regards,

Bill Kelly
Director of Technical Writing

I want my future back.


the tax returns of F. Scott Fitzgerald


<http://www.theamericanscholar.org/living-on-500000-a-year/print/>  He fairly consistently earned 24,000 /year; roughly equal to half a million today an interesting read from several points of view



Iron Law and Canada


The breakdown for the Canadian public service, is hardly an aristocracy that permeates all our lives.  Over 40 percent of our public service consists of the military and the Federal police department.  When it comes to recessionary periods, there is usually a giant layoff of public service employees, in the 90’s over 40000 layoffs, I believe.  Then it tends to gradually rebuild itself.  The US has 1.2 percent in the public service, though I don’t believe the Military counts for that total.


Size and distribution

The public service has expanded over the years as population has grown, the number of services provided to Canadians has increased and with the introduction of new offices throughout the country. The service has also been reduced several times, often due to restraint programs designed to reduce the cost of the civil service.


Year    Size of civil service (CS)[3] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Service_of_Canada>  [4] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Service_of_Canada>        national pop. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_Canada>  [5] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Service_of_Canada>        CS as a % of national pop.    

1918    ~ 5,000 ~ 8,500,000     0.05% 

post-World War I <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I>         55,000 (1923)   ~ 13,500,000    0.41% 

1970    198,000 21,500,000      0.92% 

1975    273,000 23,400,000      1.2%  

1986    217,000 26,101,000      0.83% 

2006    454,000 32,248,000      1.4%  

As of September, 2006, there were approximately 454,000 members of the Canadian civil service,[6] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Service_of_Canada>  divided as follows:


      *     Core public administration: 180,000

      *     Canadian Forces <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Forces>  and Royal Canadian Mounted Police <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Canadian_Mounted_Police>  (RCMP): 106,000

      *     Federal business enterprises (including crown corporations): 88,000

      *     Separate agencies: 60,000

      *     Other (e.g., Senate <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senate_of_Canada>  and the Canadian House of Commons <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_House_of_Commons> ): 20,000


There are approximately 100 distinctly different positions in the Canadian public service; most work in policy, operations or administrative functions. About 15% are scientists and professionals, 10% work in technical operations and 2.5% are executives.[7] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Service_of_Canada>


About 42% of Canadian public servants work in the National Capital Region <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Capital_Region_(Canada)>   (NCR) (Ottawa-Hull), 24% work elsewhere in Ontario <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontario>   or Quebec <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quebec>  , 21% in Western Canada <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Canada>  , and 11% in Atlantic Canada <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantic_Canada> . Since the headquarters of most agencies are located in the NCR, about 72% of executives work in this area.[7] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Service_of_Canada>


Canadian civil servants are also located in more than 180 countries and provide service in 1,600 locations in Canada.


David March

Transport Coordinator




Again, the demand for something free is infinite...


 David Couvillon
 Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired.; Former Governor of Wasit Province, Iraq; Righter of Wrongs; Wrong most of the time; Distinguished Expert, TV remote control; Chef de Hot Dog Excellance; Collector of Hot Sauce; Avoider of Yard Work 


Coming soon to a bank near you?

British cops raid safety deposit boxes. Thousands of law-abiding people's assets confiscated to catch a handful of criminals.


Most poignant was the line "POCA was never intended for this. No one objects when criminals are caught and their assets seized - but shaking down everyone to get to them is specifically not what lawmakers wanted."

Perhaps "never intended" should become some sort of enshrined classicism for out-of-control law-enforcement and the laws that abet them? As a wordsmith, perhaps you can give us the proper phrasing?

I envision something like: ". . . but we _never_ intended _that_ when we changed the law!" or something similar. Might make a thought-provoking bumper sticker, no?

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.


"Better a thousand innocents convicted than one guilty man go free." - attributed to Heinrich Himmler


 Why we're losing in the Middle East

They are JUST NOW getting around to thinking about maybe painting the Stryker armored vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan tan. Instead of dark green.


This is wholly unbelievable.

-- Tim of Angle


Train them up young! -


ARRGH! Teach them to read, write, and do arithmetic. Have them do some homework and chores. Let them play! I can't imagine having to decide what to do with your life at age 9.



: re: runaway Lexus

When I was in engineering school around 2000 there was talk that the car companies were talking about eliminating the mechanical rack and pinion steering mechanism in cars and replacing it with sensors in the steering wheel and servos to turn the steering. Everyone seemed mightily impressed by that until I said, "But what happens if there's a malfunction and the motor goes on and you turn a sharp left on the expressway?"

"Well, they'll have failsafes on that."

I shook my head. "I wouldn't trust it. Nothing replaces having a mechanical conection between my hands and the ground."

I couldn't convince the rest of them that it was a Very Bad Idea.

Looks like some of them work for Lexus now, maybe...



Simulations and Reality

Some interesting thoughts about simulations that don't necessarily head where one might think...


"...All of these models were simulations of reality. Mine were merely crude simulations of reality, but the ones my dad built were more refined and accurate, with the model aircraft being the most accurate of all of them. None of them worked exactly the way their real world counterparts did though, although the aircraft came closest. And, while my models and my dad’s were built over thirty years ago, people still do this kind of model building today. Some still choose to do it with physical materials, but not all models can be built that way.

A computer simulation is a tool that can show you what /might /happen when a particular event occurs. The accuracy of a simulation depends on many things. The most important part of a computer simulation is the underlying model. For computer simulations this generally involves iterative calculations of many mathematical equations. How accurately the mathematical equations describe the physics of the world has a significant effect on how accurate the simulation is when compared to reality. Another factor that affects the correspondence of a computer simulation’s results to reality is the fudge factors used – values supplied to various parameters in the equations being processed that have to be assumed or measured and input. Yet another factor affecting how closely a simulation matches the real world is the assumed initial conditions. In chaotic systems, like particle flow in viscous media for example, small differences in initial conditions can have significant effects on the end product of the calculations...

...Computer simulations are fantastic scientific tools, but they’re NOT science. They’re merely technology applied to scientific theory. You cannot prove a theory using a simulation, but you can disprove one by comparing the results of the theory’s predictions against reality. Ultimately, scientific theories, and computer simulations are nothing more than models. They’re not reality. They can help you predict what might happen if your assumptions are correct, but they’re not a substitute for actual experimentation and measurement...."

David Needham

An old discussion in the operations research community.

Even older:

The map is not the territory.  
First principle of General Semantics.




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Tuesday,  October 27, 2009

Cold Fusion

I recall the Pons and Fleischman announcement years back when it first came out.

There were two items worth note.

No buildup of Helium or any fusion byproducts were found.

The electrodes used were ones which had not been 'annealed' that is, there were internal stresses which were releived in the course of the experiment, releasing energy. Attempts to reproduce the experiment showed annealed electrodes gave no extra energy.

At the time I recall thinking it was not a fraud, but careless science. Much like the AGW controversy today.



Cold Fusion Again.

Jerry, You make a good point that a supposed cold fusion device may merely be storing and then releasing the energy that has been put into it, possibly even including some of the energy used to fabricate the electrode. If this energy were then released after time had elapsed in response to an unknown trigger it would look like cold fusion. Rather like recharging a dead car battery.

I guess this is why you have an influential blog and I'm just a retired odd job man. Reluctant to abandon my theory I come up with the analogy of the unlucky alchemist who overturned his rack of chemicals,. By chance he had stacked the saltpeter, the sulphur, and the charcoal next to each other. A spark from his shovel set off what was the first blending of gunpowder. When the alchemist's lightly singed apprentice reported what had happened other alchemists tried to replicate the results. Naturally they mixed all of the chemicals that were known to be on the rack together on a small scale using a wooden spatula and were able to report to their funding client, The Guild of Bowmakers, that the reports were untrue since they could not be replicated

Perhaps this is like the elucidation of the basic laws of electromagnetism. Faraday, Ampere, Volta, and Ohm, all very good scientists just groped in the dark until the truth emerged.

John Edwards

There were many attempts to replicate the Pons and Fleischman experiments; most failed and those few that got odd results got lost in the noise of rejection. Apparently there is something there, but no one quite knows what; the Navy has quietly been paying for continuation of the research. I have no explanations, but it does turn out that there are data that need explaining. It may well not be fusion. It may be an energy storage effect, but something is happening. I recall that at the time, some prominent physicists thought of several ways that a fusion phenomenon wasn't impossible, but we'd need more data before it was worth a lot of time thinking about.

Edison said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration (I believe I have his proportions right). Bob Forward and Richard Feynman used to say that what was needed was more data. Preferably from experiments directed by theory, but mostly more data.


No Diamonds

Saw the article about Botswana diamond cutters and, while the larger education issues are worth considering, the real issue is that New York City doesn't have diamonds.

"in 2006. Renegotiating its mining deal with De Beers that year, Botswana announced it would license 16 international cutting firms willing to build factories here. In return for training locals to polish diamonds, the government said, these firms would eventually gain the right to buy rough diamonds in Botswana."

As for Canada, it's probably similar: "In early 1999 ... Tiffany purchased a minority stake in the 40%-owner of a mine in Canada's Northwest Territories."

I don't know if transportation of raw diamonds is a major factor in managing the supply chain, but they seem to be putting their polishing operations near the mines, which the U.S. doesn't have.

Patrick A. Bowman


Subject: Diamond cutters and education


I don't disagree with any of the points you make about education. But I'm not sure that the loss of diamond cutting jobs was a particularly good example to cite for problems in our educational system. From what I find on the internet, it appears that diamond cutting is almost entirely a skill based job, one that can be learned in 3 to 5 years, by someone with little education. At present, most of the worlds diamonds are cut and polished in India, with low wages being one of the reasons why cutting has migrated there:

----- http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/GD26Df03.html 

India threatens to dim Antwerp's glitter By Indrajit Basu

KOLKATA - The winds of change are sweeping across the global rough-diamond industry, a segment that lies at the core of a pulsating US$100 billion-plus jewelry industry. India, considered a rookie in the world of diamond processing until recently, is fast emerging as the epicenter of activity in this regard, and, much to the disbelief of many, is even threatening the global pre-eminence of Antwerp.

According to Hoge Raad Voor Diamant - HRD, or the Diamond Council of Belgium - diamond processing has completely moved away from the Belgian city of Antwerp to Surat in India, "which is the new epicenter", going by the volume of diamonds processed and the number of people involved.<snip>

But my point is that it is a skill based job, and we are not training workers in how to acquire skills. Why can we not compete in high skill jobs?

I've always advocated better education and an across the board tariff to level some of the playing fields. Ah well. Breakfast at Tiffany's

It does appear that Botswana has set conditions on access to its mines (smart move). But we can't compete with Canada?


Teacher Effectiveness

Dr. Pournelle,


 Perhaps it would be better to say that almost everyone thinks that teacher effectiveness is the single most important factor in education because the students' intellectual ability is usually not taken into account. I can understand saying so, because we do not know how to adjust intellectual ability, and getting better teachers is in fact straightforward as you say. However, as Charles Murray points out in his first simple truth of education, this work will be limited by the raw material, so to speak.

In this, as in most other things, I suspect that intellectual ability is the biggest single factor, but once this has been accounted for perhaps we could begin to start evaluating teacher effectiveness. I suspect that C, conscientiousness, from the OCEAN personality model would be a bigger factor than the teacher one has, but this is just my intuition. I have heard this bit about teacher effectiveness a lot recently, and I'm honestly not sure where the idea comes from that "studies" prove this to be true so conclusively that everyone can be said to know it. The work that I am familiar with is that of Dr. William Sanders and the Tennessee Valued Added Assessment System, and derivatives thereof. http://www.shearonforschools.com/TVAAS.html

I began looking into this because my Catholic school wants to be able to assess the actual amount of learning of each student each and every year. One system that has been used is the TVAAS, so I began reading up on it. It seemed promising, the attempt is to measure how much a student learns in a year compared to prior years based on an achievement test, and build up a model to predict the effect of the teacher on this process. As much as I like the idea, I found the execution of the TVASS wanting.

The two biggest problems I found were poor model building, and a basic failure to distinguish correlation from causation. The model Sanders used was very simple, school mean, plus teacher effect, plus error. Later analysis extends this through multiple years, but the model is similar. That model in itself isn't wrong, but really the problem is the effect in question being labeled as the teacher effect when all we really know from the data is that all these kids did in fact have the same teacher for one year. The question was never asked, were there *any* other relevant factors they had in common? I can think of three off the top of my head that are probably all correlated with student achievement, and each other. Any of the three could easily be substituted in the same model. Sanders simply assumed that all the variation associated with a cohort of students in one classroom must be due to the quality of the teacher, rather than investigating whether it was the case. No amount of statistical sophistication can fix the failure to investigate relevant factors, especially if the factors might be correlated.

The second problem is really just the observational nature of the study. I saw some references to this as a repeated measures study, but in fact it is not. I think there is a confusion here between the same students being part of the study, and what is actually measured, the improvement of a given student in a given year under a given teacher. That cannot be repeated, even though the same student can be assessed again in the future. We simply cannot take the same student and make them do the third grade over again with a different teacher, or even the same teacher. Thus we have a more limited scope for interpretation of results. At best, we can establish a correlation between whatever it is a given cohort of students has in common and their academic improvement over a given year. A more robust experiment would require rather more control over who goes to which teacher.

RAND did a good summary of all this. http://www.cgp.upenn.edu/pdf/rand.pdf 

For all that, I'm not against encouraging effective teachers. I certainly can remember the teachers I liked the best usually were the best at teaching, but on the other hand, those teachers were clearly happiest when they had students who were willing and capable of learning themselves. Those teachers probably deserved to be paid more than they were. I just don't want us to pretend we know more than we really do.

-- Benjamin I. Espen

Apparently I haven't been understood; of course quality of students is important. But half the students are below average, and we can't drown them. Effective teachers can be effective at many different levels, and some teachers who are very good with bright kids can't teach normal and dull normal; but there are effective teachers who can. Our system is designed to keep them out of the system, or so it appears; but it's know they exist and are the main reason some schools are better than others. Throwing in more money does essentially nothing.

OF COURSE it's more fun to teach bright kids -- unless you are pretty stupid, which, alas happens. I have seen bright kids destroyed by dull teachers. When I had a clinical psychology practice lo these many years ago I only saw bright kids who had trouble in school (I get my patients from a pediatrician). But that's another story from long ago.

As to measuring teacher effectiveness. come now: we all know of both good and bad teachers, and if we don't it's not hard to find them. See some of the studies Gates has recently funded. We can find good teachers. No, the process won't be perfect. The perfect is the enemy of the good enough.


(5.1) The best high school level math teachers I ever heard of are USAF sergeants who teach math to USAF recruits. Having done this for 20 years they retire -- and are not considered "qualified" to teach math in public high schools. They haven't the proper credentials. To get the credentials they have to take a lot of Mickey Mouse courses on how to teach, which is discouraging and demeaning.


I feel compelled to point out that military instuctors teach to a different set of people than the public school system does. The operative word is 'discipline'. The students have discipline and the instructors can dispence discipline in a fashion not available in the public schools. Maybe it should be, but we both know that will not happen.


Of course, but often discipline comes with learning. It's another conversation. My point was that the credentials we require don't have any value we can show.


The Eggregious Frum gets taken to the woodshed by Hugh Hewitt

Dr. Pournelle,

The Eggregious Frum gets taken to the woodshed by Hugh Hewitt (via Hotair.com). 'Tis a wonderful thing!

“HH: You know what? I can’t swear, David. I can’t swear. But I have really had it with this stuff. Your drive-by treatment of fellow conservatives is outrageous. And then not to be able to back it up and defend it by citing line and verse, is outrageous. It’s slanderous. It’s the worst kind of yellow journalism practiced by drive-by leftists who you ought not to have anything to do with. And I am P.O’d about it now.

“DF: I’m sorry, are you, you are now saying that, the way, the things you just said, that’s responsible talk?

“HH: Yes, I am, because I’ve got you on the air talking to me, and I’ll let you tee off on me. But when you drive-by me in Newsweek, when you put on your blog that in essence accuses me of hypocrisy, you don’t recognize it, and you won’t own it, and you can’t cite anything, David Frum. You are an outrageous example of the worst kind of yellow journalism out there. And the way you treat Limbaugh and Levin and Hannity, who do 50 times the work of keeping conservative principles alive in this country, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”


-- Robin Juhl


For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:



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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I don't remember whether I posted the last of yesterday's mail with the note about the Egregious Frum.

Wina Sturgeon (widow of Ted Sturgeon) writes:



Hi Jerry,

Wow, came across your blog and you yourself, after all this time! Hope everything is well in your world. I'm still doing the organic garden thing, and after our big winter freeze storm two days ago here in Salt Lake City, my kitchen is filled with hastily picked tomatoes, cantaloupes and pumpkins---I will be spending the day working on assignments and dehydrating tomatoes.

I have a small correction to offer regarding your comment: I've told the story of Ted Sturgeon who raised rabbits and insisted on introducing you to your dinner if you came to his house for dinner. You got to pet it before he whacked it and skinned it. Oddly enough a lot of people only went once...

First, I actually raised the rabbits, Ted was the one who dressed them out, but it was never, ever done in front of anyone. He would kill the "dinner" long before any invited guests arrived. And in fact, rabbit takes about the same time as chicken to cook, so the rabbits that I roasted would have had to go into the oven long before any guests were scheduled to arrive.

Guests and friends who knew we raised rabbits would occasionally ask to see them. We would take them out the kitchen door to the hutches. We did not encourage anyone to pet them, ever. These were food animals. They weren't pets, and were never treated as pets, any more than a farmer's chickens would be treated as pets.

Perhaps you were just being satirical; but I'm concerned that someone may take your comment seriously. In addition, the "Oddly enough..." part of the comment may be humorous to you, but since it's far from the truth, I must tell you that I don't find it funny. I'd really appreciate you amending your comment. What I would consider more appropriate, if you don't mind the suggestion, is a comment on the fact that I tried to take responsibility for being a meat eater by raising our meat and creating a "green" lifestyle, long before green was cool.


Wina Sturgeon

 To which I can only say she certainly ought to know; I admit that I never experienced watching Ted slay a rabbit. He did, however, tell the story of doing so, with gestures, not just once, and not just to me, and I will admit repeating it as if I might have seen it happen. I suppose I shouldn't have, since I didn't really believe he had done it -- but Ted wanted us to believe it.

Wina was really the green in the Sturgeon family, and this was long before green was cool. When I ran the Nebula Awards the year I was President of SFWA (early 1970's) I asked Ted to be one of the speakers, and his speech was a short warning against what he called "fossil fuels" collectively meaning coal and oil and I presume natural gas; the thrust of the speech was environmental impact. He was for nuclear power. This was very early in the green game. The notion of "living lightly" wasn't so much Ted's thesis as part of the Gaea movement, and I think all this predated the worries about CO2 and global warming: the big fear in those days was the return of the Ice Ages, and one of the indictments of fossil fuels was atmospheric particulate contamination which increased albedo and thus contributed to global cooling. Most was concern about "pollution" without a lot of specificity. Some of this is in A Step Farther Out, (the book) and more in the Galaxy columns of that time (Step Farther Out was the title of the science fact column I did every month in Galaxy). Wina used to do a regular radio broadcast on living lightly, and wrote a lot about it, and as you can see from the above, she certainly was into that a long time before it was fashionable; Ted was, let us say, not always eager to share the credit when he was out with the boys and Wina wasn't around, hence the story.

So to be clear, Wina gets the credit for living the soft path life, and she wasn't blatant about taking that credit. As to my remark that few came back a second time after watching their dinner be slaughtered in front of them, I honestly have to say I don't know if I made that up to be sardonic or Ted said it to be funny. It was certainly within his humor range. I should also make it clear that most of the interactions I had with Ted involved several other writers and a fairly large supply of free alcoholic beverages of many flavors and descriptions. In other words, we fell among evil companions...


Strykers Counterview

Dr. Pournelle:

For a different view regarding the color choice for Stryker vehicles, please see this piece by Michael Yon.


Lee Keller King


China accuses Google of 'malicious' censorship • The Register


Dear Jerry:

I think nothing more need be said here.


Francis Hamit


Afghan strategy

Mr. Pournelle-

You may have already seen this but, just in case, I send it along anyway. I found it fascinating, though it does raise some questions it does not answer. Such as, what do you do when 'your' tribal leader finds himself in direct conflict with the local, nationally sanctioned, police? That very thing happened to my outfit at the same time Gant was in country, just further east in Gereshk.


And it always will. What we call Afghan law and order is seen by tribal leaders as submission to the mayor of Kabul...    

Jerry Pournelle

Absolutely. The paper, if you have time to read it (I know you're extremely busy) addresses that very point. Pretty well I thought.


The paper is a 2 MB pdf that is well worth reading but I don't have a pointer to it on line. I agree with the premise. Understand that if you pay tribute to a tribal Kahn you want to be careful to monitor what you get for your money -- and not to ask for too much. "Keep Al Qaeda out, and if they give you too much trouble invite our special forces in to kill them" is not a bad thing to pay for.

: Link to One Tribe at a Time PDF

Mr. Pournelle-

My apologies, I should have included a pointer in the original email. Here it is:




“This is the problem of my country — there is either total control or no control at all. These are the only two possible positions.”

/europe/28petersburg.html?&pagewanted=all >

---- Roland Dobbins


Undetected 10m-diameter asteroid explodes over Indonesia, 50kt yield.




-- Roland Dobbins


: Obama putting $3.4B toward a 'smart' power grid - Yahoo! News


Dear Jerry:

You may recall when we had all that coverage on the Y2K problem that the power grid was considered one of the nightmare vulnerabilities. At last, ten years later, the work to fix it begins. This isn't stimulus, but deferred maintenance.


Francis Hamit




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Thursday, October 29, 2009


"Smart" Power Grid


Let's see, we are now proposing to build a Coast to Coast "Smart" Power Grid. Looks to me as if we are setting ourselves up for a National rather than a Regional blackout.

I have little confidence in our ability to produce "man" rated software. At one time we were able to do it, but somewhere along the way the most basic concepts of producing reliable software have been forgotten.

Among these concepts are:

Allowing for ALL possible conditions.

Fully and rigidly defining ALL inter-program interfaces before writing a line of code.

Complete range checking, i.e. no possibility of "buffer overflow."

Complete inter-program parameter Type checking.

The recent fatal crash of two Washington DC Metro trains is an illustration of the idiocy that passes for program design and implementation.

This crash was blamed on a faulty sensor that failed to indicate to the system that the lead train was stopped at a station. Obviously, the control system knew about the lead train at some point before it got to the station. The incompetent developers of the train control system did not include the ability for the system to realize that, suddenly, a train that had been under control of the system was no longer being tracked by the system.

I wrote my first computer programs in 1964. If I had been so lax I would have been out of a job forthwith and my error would have been discovered long before any of the faulty code had actually been put into service.

Bob Holmes

Centralization creates point failure systems; I have never thought that a good idea. The notion of the ARPA net was to decentralize and provide multiple routes in case of disasters. I don't see how to do that with a national power grid. On the other hand, I was much opposed to the idiotic power giveaways that separated generation from delivery. The Independent power distribution system (ISO) in California doesn't seem to be working as well as predicted. Odd, that.


smart grid v sun

Everyone says we must have a "smart" power grid. I don't know what that means. If it means a computer at every node, what happens when we get a solar storm like the one in the 19th cen that lit up the telegraph grid like a Christmas tree? If the smart grid nodes are all fried it will take months to get power back and meanwhile we will starve. Please tell me where I am wrong.



'The discovery suggests that massive stars were being born and exploding in very short order after the birth of the universe.'


- Roland Dobbins


The following is more typical than I would like; I spare you some of it.

Congress' four murderous words, and they are

....and for other purposes.

Four DANGEROUS little words read at the end of titles of every bill submitted and put up for debate in both houses of congress.

On rare occasions one of the House Reps or a Senator that author or support the bill will divulge one of the other purposes and briefly skip though what the purpose is which is normally pork or something else that will benefit one of their special interest parties revealing as little as possible with their usual pedant's politicobabble misdirection.

I don't know about the rest of the people in this nation, but I find those four word more than a bit ominous. We have no clue as to what's been tacked on as an other purpose because the bills and their attachments go unread; no more that the bill's title and those four words read out loud, and the other purposes never mentioned again during the debate or anywhere else to the best of my knowledge.

And we sure as hell aren't going to learn anything about those other purposes from Fox, CNN, political propaganda radio Air America or lush limbaugh and newspapers and TV news.

Darned few people in this nation outside people like me that tune in to both houses of congress every day they are in session, are even aware of these tacked onto bills "other purposes" evem exist until they get caught unaware off guard and have to empty their wallets by whatever one of the other purposes were.

The steeply declining lack of interest and lack of curiosity among the populous as to what's going on inside their own government in this nation, to this one person. is terribly disturbing. Unfortunately, and for the most part, the people I try to stay in contact with are permanent members of the choir so please turn to page fifty three...those that need the information the most....well what can ya honestly say about those poor souls and be nice.

A president named Pavlov is what this country needs and that name does ring a bell..what an inticing unconfuse the sheep idea.

Yup....that's it...president Pavlov first name Judas.

What's in those GD other purposes attachments you congress [expletive deleted].

These filled with ambiguity other purposes don't even appear in the online pubilcations and they can't be found in the Federal Register.

TP  [emphasis added]

I have a new thought. Eternal vigilance is the price of victory.

There are sources, and despite your disdain I note that Limbaugh actually read portions of the proposed health care bill. Incomprehensible, of course, but that's not his fault.

It is still the case that Americans get the kind of government they seek, and they get it good and hard.


I feel like screaming from the battlements... am I wrong?

I don't normally believe everything on Mike Gallagher's show... too alarmist and self-serving (even when I agree with him). When he claimed senior citizens were hooked and booked from today's healthcare presser at the Capitol, I figured he was being an alarmist.

Then came this:


IF this is true, then the Democrats have simply pushed aside the opposition party, the public, and all objections. I don't mean to be an alarmist, but (Again, if this is true) isn't this a plain assault on the Republic?

Anyone--ANYONE--who asserts he or she is acting as the Speaker, to tout the people's business, and who orders the exclusion of all who would object from a "pubilc" event, must be resisted by any legal means.

Please, please, tell me how I'm wrong.


This is hardly a new phenomenon.

Speakers are replaceable. Foley failed of reelection. Pelosi could be voted out of the position.

Eternal vigilance...


: Link to One Tribe at a Time PDF

Mr. Pournelle-

My apologies, I should have included a pointer in the original email. Here it is:








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Friday,  October 30, 2009

Eve of All Hallow's Eve

Belated happy birthday wishes


I was browsing through Der Spiegel and noticed yesterday was the 50th birthday of Asterix the Gaul, his friend Obelix, and the entire gang.

The first publication of Asterix the Gaul was October 29, 1959, in a two-page layout.

So raise a glass of Druid potion in their honor!

..............Karl Lembke

But Getafix won't permit Obelix to drink the Druid potion...



Either this is just a fun exercise or those folks in Florida have gotten into a stash of really good stuff…. J


Tracy Walters, CISSP



Dear Jerry Pournelle,

I found the following article in the weekly standard which you, as a much better studied classicist than I am, would be better able to comment on:


The Byzantine Doctrine

Key graf:

"It got there not by opposing force against force, the classic "Roman" strategic approach, but through stealth, guile, propaganda, bribery and deception. With a relatively small but highly trained and professional army (generally recruited from the hard mountain tribes of Isauria or Anatolia; foreign mercenaries did not become a significant element in Byzantine armies until the 11th-12th centuries), Byzantine military power was potent but fragile. Capable of sophisticated combined arms tactics, even a small Byzantine force could defeat several times its numbers in barbarians or steppe warriors..."

Specific recommendation in the article are well worth reading, but too lengthy to discuss in this missive.

We have discussed on your web site the advisability of Republic versus Empire. It seems that our choices -- presented by the major parties -- are Scandinavia or Byzantium.

I'm a little bit surprised that the Byzantine approach is being recommended, because as stated in the article the Byzantines adopted the approach because it was "relatively impoverished, lacking the overwhelming material and manpower advantage possessed by Rome". Does this describe the United States?

It seems to me that the strategy they advocate is one which is best adopted by a culture in permanent decline. A culture which no longer has the courage and will to defend itself, which relies on deception and bribery (didn't they used to call it danegeld?) because it has lots of money and wealth but no courage or will.

And these are our hawks.

The really sad thing is, that there is *no reason* for the decline to occur in the US. We have wealth and territory exceeding Rome at it's height. We have technology the Romans never dreamed of. In your lifetime, we liberated the world twice, broke the sound barrier, and sent men to the moon.

If the US is sick and behaving like an enfeebled, decadent empire in its last gasps, then it is a disease purely of the will, like an eagle raised by chickens. We are still capable of great things if only we could remember who we were and what we are.

How can this evil spell be broken, I wonder? Where can we ditch the Scandinavia party and the Byzantine Party? Where's the Federalist party, blast it?


Brian P.

Byzantium was in many ways an admirable place, but hardly a model for a Republic. The Framers knew this. They did pay attention to Venice, as they should.

The US could still be a Republic, with few to no entangling alliances, and no involvement in the territorial disputes of Europe or Asia, and remain safe. It would cost less to be energy independent than the wars have been costing and will cost. It is not likely we will take that path.

As to the Federalist Party, I suppose I am one of it's theorists...


Shuttle Risk to Reach Hubble

There was an interesting comment in a recent article in the Air Force Magazine regarding the danger to the space shuttle on it's mission to service the Hubble Telescope. I'm curious as to how good an estimate that is?

"Traveling up to the Hubble telescope’s altitude required transit through a major debris field. As Palowitch described it, the worst debris in LEO is right in the Hubble’s band. The known debris put Atlantis “at a one-in-200 chance of being totally destroyed by impact in flight,” he said. When it landed, Atlantis was pockmarked with more debris hits than any other shuttle in history."

Insecurity in Space



Large meteors are Common

"The late Eugene Shoemaker <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Shoemaker>  of the U.S. Geological Survey <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Geological_Survey>  came up with an estimate of the rate of Earth impacts, and suggested that an event about the size of the nuclear weapon that destroyed Hiroshima <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiroshima>  occurs about once a year. Such events would seem to be spectacularly obvious, but they generally go unnoticed for a number of reasons: the majority of the Earth's surface is covered by water; a good portion of the land surface is uninhabited; and the explosions generally occur at relatively high altitude, resulting in a huge flash and thunderclap but no real damage


All in all we have been rather lucky. The only meteor in historic times to have, arguably, done real damage was the one that created the Burkle Crater in the Indian Ocean (app 2,800 BC) & even then there usn't real written evidence to support the calculated effects. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burckle_crater 

But the world is getting much more crowded.

Neil Craig



A topic for discussion

Robert Frank: Will the Rich Evolve Into Different Species?
will-the-rich-evolve-into-different-species/  * October 28, 2009, 10:30 AM ET

The rich have already created their own country. Are they about to create their own species?

Futurologist Paul Saffo says rapid advances in biotechnology will enable people to grow their own replacement organs, take specially tailored drugs and use robots and artificial limbs to live longer.

But, he says, the advances will be affordable only by the super-rich. That raises the prospect of a new, biological divide between the classes, with the "rich evolving into a different species entirely, leaving his not-so-rich counterpart behind."

"I sometimes wonder if the very rich can live, on average, 20 years longer than the poor. That's 20 more years of earning and saving. Think about wealth and power and the advantages that you pass on to your children."

This is, of course, a disturbing and somewhat shocking prospect. Our wealth divide could become a health divide, which would further increase the wealth divide.

But is it realistic?

For one, we already have a health divide, where the wealthy receive (on the whole) much better care and technological benefits than the nonwealthy. Indeed, they have enjoyed better health care for centuries, and they have yet to form a race of super-rich cyborgs-in part because the wealthy in America is a fluid and rapidly changing group. <snip>

Species may be an exaggeration, but is the general hypothesis viable?







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Saturday, 31 October, 2009

I have been under the weather and took the day off.






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Sunday,  November 1, 2009     

APOD: 2009 November 1 -The Average Color of the Universe, 


Astronomers have not only found the color of the universe, but they had a competition to name that color:


And here we thought the sky was black (or, in LA, the color of low pressure sodium lamps reflected against the smog).


We actually don't have much smog in LA now, and the skies are blue in daytime. Alas, the battle for low pressure sodium bug lights was lost long ago.


Mass web infections spike to 6 million pages

Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/

Mass web infections spike to 6 million pages

640k sites out to get you

By Dan Goodin in San Francisco

Posted in Security, 27th October 2009 17:47 GMT

An estimated 5.8 million pages belonging to 640,000 websites were infected with code designed to launch malware attacks on visitors, according to a report released Tuesday.

The numbers, compiled over the third quarter by security firm Dasient, represent a significant jump in number of legitimate websites that have been compromised. According to numbers Microsoft released on April, some 3 million pages were infected. The number of sites blocked by Google more than doubled http://www.theregister.co.uk/
2009/08/27/mass_web_infection/ )  between December and August, to almost 350,000.

"The bad guys are significantly taking advantage of attacking servers so they can distribute their malware to a very, very large number of clients," said Dasient co-founder Ameet Ranadive. "A lot of these infections are complex and often pretty obfuscated, so it's difficult for experienced webmasters to figure out what parts of their site have been infected and then to remediate it."<snip>


Subject: England has moved?

Hi Jerry

The powerpoint presentation of pictures of Earth from space is spectacular - thanks for the link.

One minor point for the less well travelled of your readership - the arrow purporting to point at England is actually pointing at Scotland. Both countries are part of the United Kingdom (for the time being).


Kevin Crisp


Green jobs 

"Mr. McGarr said the project should create 2,800 jobs -- of which 15% would be in the U.S. The rest would flow to China, where Shenyang employs 800 people. http://online.wsj.com/article/

"China is already a dominant player in solar panel manufacturing, and exports 95 percent of its solar components to the United States and Europe. http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/



Did an Asteroid Impact Cause an Ancient Tsunami? - New York Times 

Dear Doctor Pournelle,

More on the Burckle Crater in the Indian Ocean, and the dire implication: That the astronomers have it wrong, that we don't get hit with ten megaton range rocks "about" every ten thousand years, but rather an order of magnitude more often, i.e. once every thousand years.

The astronomers say not to worry, they know what is out there pretty much, and where the big ones are.. The problem with that is, they base their assurances on what they can see. If the rocks out there should prove to be denser and darker (lower albedo) than we think or expect them to be and hence harder to see, then they won't be detected until a big one goes "wham"

The implications for getting the human race to a point where we don't have all our "eggs" in one "basket" are obvious.

Once again,, :The map is not the territory", the model is not reality, and the "consensus" of the experts is likely wrong.


"But they might have more trouble believing one of the scientists, Bruce Masse, an environmental archaeologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/
/index.html?inline=nyt-org>  in New Mexico. He thinks he can say precisely when the comet fell: on the morning of May 10, 2807 B.C.

Dr. Masse analyzed 175 flood myths from around the world, and tried to relate them to known and accurately dated natural events like solar eclipses and volcanic eruptions. Among other evidence, he said, 14 flood myths specifically mention a full solar eclipse, which could have been the one that occurred in May 2807 B.C.

Half the myths talk of a torrential downpour, Dr. Masse said. A third talk of a tsunami. Worldwide they describe hurricane force winds and darkness during the storm. All of these could come from a mega-tsunami."



article re TSA screening worth reading


-- Brian



Ms. Noonan today: http://online.wsj.com/article/

We're Governed by Callous Children

Americans feel increasingly disheartened, and our leaders don't even notice.


Part of the reason is that the problems—debt, spending, war—seem too big. But a larger part is that our federal government, from the White House through Congress, and so many state and local governments, seems to be demonstrating every day that they cannot make things better. They are not offering a new path, they are only offering old paths—spend more, regulate more, tax more in an attempt to make us more healthy locally and nationally. And in the long term everyone—well, not those in government, but most everyone else—seems to know that won't work. It's not a way out. It's not a path through.

And so the disheartenedness of the leadership class, of those in business, of those who have something.<snip>I talked with an (insurance) executive ... Rep. Barney Frank had just said on some cable show that the Democrats of the White House and Congress "are trying on every front to increase the role of government in the regulatory area." The executive said of Washington: "They don't understand that people can just stop, get out. I have friends and colleagues who've said to me 'I'm done.' "<snip>

(1) Ms. Noonan apparently still believes that this "change" that nobody cares for is due to inept accident. An increasing majority of people, including her peers at the Journal and those who listen to Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck, are convinced that this is as definitively planned as Frank's comment would suggest. It's characteristic that over the past few weeks as her negative reaction to the Administration has grown, many of the comments to her column have expressed that opinion and expressed gratitude that she is waking up to a truth that her anti-Bush attitude of the past few years has kept her from seeing until now. It's noteworthy that comments have apparently been disabled for her column this week; I would expect accident, but must wonder if it's a desire to avoid having hundreds of people post the observation I made at the start of this paragraph. (And yes, Beck has pulled together a convincing array of observations and connections. Also the increasing number of comments regarding Chicago-style intimidation politics. However, in both cases those memes have been there since long before the election. I have several friends and acquaintances who have become "birthers" -- I'm not sure whether to join them, or tell them that we have to focus on the ideas that we're fighting rather than the personality because the machine that is destroying the country will carry on more than adequately with Biden and Pelosi as the standard-bearers.)

(2) Having never done so before, I recently discovered an abridged audiobook of "Atlas Shrugged" -- 10 CD's, approximately 20% of the full text, which I have now also acquired -- and the parallels to current events are stunning. I was particularly taken with the observation of why Mulligan closed his bank in regards to those events.



So where did the polar bears go? - 

And if the ice is gone, why didn't the ocean water level rise?


R, Rose

The polar bears are just fine. When floating ice melts, it doesn't raise the water level -- Archimedes and all that.


'Students watch monster films and write about what the creatures represent. They also make their own monster films as a final project.'


-- Roland Dobbins


Too many college bound students?


You've commented on this, and now someone else is saying something similar.

Send Fewer Students to College College is the wrong choice for many students, and will be for the foreseeable future.

By Robert VerBruggen

Marcus A. Winters says <http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=
ZDk5MjJjNDEyYjFhZjE2M2MzNDIzMTE5MTZlOTZiYjk=>  we should “send more students to college <http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=
0NTliOTRkNTdjODE=#>  .” He is responding, in part, to my NR piece <http://nrd.nationalreview.com/article/?q=ZmMzMjk3NzUwY2Y3MDlmYzM0OWM3NTM0ZTFkMDExYjk=> making the opposite case. My argument is that when 40 percent of college students fail to graduate in six years, and when about a quarter of employed college graduates have jobs that don’t require degrees, it’s obvious we’re pushing too many kids into higher education <http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=M2I2NmZiNmY

Winters essentially (though not explicitly) concedes that now is not the time to ship more kids off to postsecondary institutions. He notes Charles Murray’s documentation of the fact that lots of today’s high-school graduates are not ready for college-level work. Winters disagrees, however, when Murray says there is very little we can do to change this.


Karl Lembke

I do note a trend toward new polytechnic colleges on line.


Arrogance from Amazon.com

Dear Jerry:

I have not authorized Amazon.com to enable text-to-speech on the Kindle version of "The Shenandoah Spy". I am negotiating for an audiobook version with another publisher and don't want to mess up that deal. They went ahead and did it anyway. I also tried to drop the price on the Kindle version because the sales are so bad.

Here is their reply:

Hello from Amazon DTP.

I see that you've entered the new price for your book, however, it is not updated on our website, as your book was not re-published after changing the price. Please note that your new changes will not be updated on our website, until it is saved and published again. Also, note that whenever any book is published / re-published with new changes, it has to go through the review process by our kindle operations team, it takes up to 5 business days for the review to be completed.

Please note that at this time we are not supporting the feature to manage Text-to-Speech (TTS) settings through Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (DTP), by default all the books are published with TTS enabled, we are unable to turn it off. We will continue to evaluate options for adding this to DTP customers in the future. If you still have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us at dtp-feedback@amazon.com.

Thanks for using Amazon DTP.

Given that the sales of the Kindle version are less than one percent of that of print version -- far less-- I begin to wonder if I should have a Kindle version at all. Amazon has never been vendor friendly. their arrogance here is breathtaking.


Francis Hamit


"In light of this, it's not surprising that two cases of whisky were overlooked."


---- Roland Dobbins





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