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Mail 608 February 1 - 7, 2010
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February 1, 2010
Be happy you have a government that has to listen!
I had an interesting discussion Friday with the lecturer who is putting together our new computer science curriculum. I was curious why it didn't include such subjects as data structures, algorithms, finite math (for algorithm analysis), languages, and compiler theory. To understand the issues that he claims drove the new curriculum, you need think of a university in microeconomic terms. A university--which in the UK is always a private institution--has to budget for the cost of the capital plant, university administration, management of the degree programmes and classes, and for the per-student marginal cost of teaching. Almost all of these costs are for labour, so efficiency savings are hard to find and costs rise faster than the cost of living. These expenditures have to be balanced by net income from all sources, which in the UK is mostly Government payments and (net) student fees. The Government payments per student are more than the marginal cost of teaching another student, so changes in student numbers have a disproportionate impact on the university budget. In both North America and the UK, about 25% of colleges and universities are in a 'fragile' condition even in good economic years, with few cash reserves and their budget barely balanced, often by deferring maintenance, avoiding capital expenditures, and taking on an increased loan burden.
Despite similarities, the college and university systems in North America and the UK differ in a number of significant ways. Universities in the UK are much larger--if North America was reduced to a proportional number of institutions, six out of ten of the existing colleges and universities would close, including all of the smaller institutions, the church-related colleges, and the profit-making sector. There would be increased central control--the number of students a university recruits within the UK and the income per UK student are both capped by the Government. Students would be taking on a higher loan burdens at graduation, and the loans would be paid off by a surtax on their income.
The UK Government is planning to make two changes in the system over the next three years. First, they would like the length of the bachelor's degree reduced to two years. This violates the Bologna Accords <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bologna_process> and reduces a UK bachelor's to the equivalent of a North American Associate's degree. This change is thought to meet the needs of UK industry better than the current 3-year degree. Second, they will be reducing the total Government funding by 30%, with the expectation that much of the reduction can be covered by efficiency savings. Unfortunately for this idea, the effects of reduced funding will affect the most elastic part of the equation first--the university student population can be expected to drop from the present 38% of the 18-20-year old population to 20 to 25%. To keep it above 30%, about 50 of the 160 existing universities would have to close. This would be like closing 1200 colleges and universities in North America.
The local university serves mostly local working class students. Our budget runs a deficit on the UK side, so we also recruit internationally to cover our deficit with international fees. One might expect that with the concern about the increasing class gap, the UK Government would want universities that serve the working class to teach courses that allow their graduates to move up in income and social class. Instead, we find neither the Government nor students are interested in this. Instead, they would prefer us to be a degree factory training people for the new working class jobs of the information age. Hence none of the more advanced topics I would expect a CS curriculum to include.
UK Climate Secretary 'declares war on climate change skeptics' <http://tinyurl.com/yjyba34> . I sent you this earlier story: <http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/01/28/cru_foia_guilty/> . The leaker was protesting the deliberate flouting of the UK FoIA.
This is better than the Rumanian orphanages, but is a bit down the same road. <http://tinyurl.com/yljghat>
-- "If they do that with marks and grades, should they be trusted with experimental data?" Harry Erwin, PhD
[Emphasis Added] Computer science degrees in which no one has studied data structures seems a guaranteed way to a Dark Age...
A two year degree cannot be an actual degree can it? My mother was always a bit ashamed of having a two year Associate degree rather than a full BA.
"There is no way current climbers and mountain guides can give anecdotal evidence back to the 1900s, so what they claim is complete nonsense."
--- Roland Dobbins
Yet I have seen many insist that it was a "typo in the executive summary".
Global warming vs clojure
is mainly a great example of programming techniques in a new lisp variant, but your readers might find his conclusions of interest as he processes huge amounts of temperature data from NOAA.
-- Phil Rand
: Data breaches, statistical analysis, media and solar flares
Since I do Information Security for a living, I’m always trolling around security website and issues, and I was reading this article. It occurs to me that this is a good example of how statistics can mislead you…and the wild speculation that ensues (the website even suggests it). And then I started thinking … Anthropogenic <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropogenic> global warming <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming> .
Tracy Walters, CISSP
AGW sometimes also stands for Arrhenius Global Warming... He predicted about a degree per century from CO2 in about 1895. That seems to be as good a prediction as the most sophisticated models. During the colding period there was even some thankfulness for CO2 mitigating the Global Cooling. I find the linear growth plus a cyclical process hypothesis compelling.
Why the Climategate E-mails were Leaked
See <http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/01/28/cru_foia_guilty/> . The leaker was protesting the deliberate flouting of the UK FoIA.
-- Harry Erwin
The IPCC: Does Napoleon's maxim apply?
Can they really be this inept?
Embellishments of rumors masquerading as science.
Amazon Pulls Macmillan Books Over Pricing Rift - NYTimes.com
Amazon caves in to Macmillan.
--- Roland Dobbins
Amazon Accepts Macmillan’s Demand for Higher E-Book Prices - NYTimes.com
Someone blinked. Amazon, for all its pretensions to the contrary, does not have that big a share of the market.
An author explains why he no longer allows Amazon to publish his book as an eBook
'The volume is so low that with Amazon taking its cut, and so forth, most people are seeing a couple hundred dollars here and there.'
-- Roland Dobbins
Francis Hamit came over for tea Friday afternoon. We discussed eBooks and self publishing and he was kind enough to write up these notes:
Follow-ups to our talk yesterday
The entire area of e-publishing has gotten very complex and I though I should give you some additional material on where publishing is going.
First of all, I do not agree with the popular current notion that e-books are a replacement for those in print. It's really an apples and oranges comparison (no pun intended) because the presentations are so different, as are the costs associated with them. Currently, the preparation costs for e-books are quite high in terms of labor. This is not just because to the multiple formating problems associated with the software but the necessity of providing "covers" for every title. The design parameters are different that for print books alone. There the cover is the "sizzle that sells the steak". Social science research has proven that if you have a cover that makes someone actually pick up and examine the book, perhaps read a few pages or the reviews and summary on the back or the inside jacket, then you hare halfway to selling it to that customer. If you can get it into their hands, they already begin to feel a sense of ownership. In the online world there is no such physicality, and , because every one else has them, you need a readily discernible thumbnail image to get people to click into the page for that book. Such thumbnails are deliberately crude so that they can be seen and noticed. Designing the right cover for a print book involves not just the cover image but also the typography and the overall design. Very tricky stuff where you really want to hire some help so you have that book whose cover makes people stop, look, say "wow, what is this!' and pick it up. There is no thumbnail equivalent . I think that we are now in a position where we have thumbnail images because everyone else does. You design your print cover with the thumbnail in mind and also the poster. It has to be scalable and work at every size. Doing it properly costs. That book you mentioned as a possible Print on Demand (POD) title will need a cover and your best bet there is to hire an illustrator to do one for you on a work for hire basis so you can use the same image for advertising everywhere. Our cover for "The Shenandoah Spy" has become pretty ubiquitous and that is part of our strategy. We use in ads, online and in print, on book marks, posters and even coffee cups and t-shorts. It took several months to get right and was a major part of our initial preparation costs. We used outside contractors and spent a lot of money on it.
One of our problems with Smashwords,com is that they want everything to have a cover image. That's in addition to the their unique formatting requirements. There are services that do either one of these, but that raises the initial costs and changes the initial investment recovery equation. The problem is that none of the titles we have published electronically sell well enough to justify the time and money required and we have many other demands on both at the moment. We plan to fix this in our free time when we have some. Smashwords.com is a distributor founded by Mark Coker, who was frustrated by the fact that he couldn't get anyone to even read the comic novel he and his wife had written about the television business. Smashwords.com allows people to distribute to ten different e-book formats, including Kindle and Sony with one upload, but the files have to be formatted their way. There is a service that will format them for you, but it costs, of course. (Smashwords, in a very short time, has obtained wide distribution in many channels. And they don't charge set-up fees or require ISBNs. They are a place for self-publishers to start.) Anyone doing self-publishing confronts these "make or buy" decisions at every turn. There is no way to do it on the cheap. It's cheaper to do and easier to do, but it's not cheap.
We did do the interior type design ourselves for the printed book. We spent two days just picking out the type and then this means printing our two pages from the book in types of various sizes and with different spaces between the lines. The amount of white space on a page has a huge impact on readability and consumer comfort. One rookie mistake with POD publishers is to use a sans serif typeface and too many lines to a page to get the overall page count down for the book, which lowers per-copy production cost but makes the book itself hard to read for any amount of time. That physical difficulty can impact the reader's impression of the content and they mistake the bad design for bad content. If they can't finish the book because of eyestrain, then the word-of-mount for that book is going to be unfavorable. You can't just publish a book, willy-nilly. You also have to design it as a product for easy use.
With e-books, on Smashwords.com and elsewhere, the reader has to option of designing the page to suit themselves. They control , within a limited range, both the type face and the size of the type, and even the color. Most people don't bother and use the default, but this is one of the drawbacks for e-books for the publisher and author; they loose control of the presentation. Because of my vision problems I routinely read Google Books at 125% of the original size, but because it is a scanned image, I'm stuck with the original typeface. That hasn't been a problem because those faces were actual designed to be read rather than created as artistic elements. There are a lot of typefaces that work only for short presentations, such as signs or short one page items. Anyone who self-publishes has to consider these craft elements to make the best possible presentation and product they can.
As someone observed on one of the LinkedIn groups, printed books are intellectual comfort food and , as 7/11 proved long ago , people will pay extra for convenience. They pay not so much for the item itself as for being able to get it when and where they want it. So e-books are not going to replace printed books. They will be, at best, yet another level of distribution. The big appeal of them right now is that they are cheaper. But they are not easy to use. Certainly not as easy as the old familiar printed version.
Let us turn now to the current condition of traditional publishers. They have created a writer-hostile environment that is driving self-publishing. One can only submit through a certain class of agents. One hesitates to call them "literary agents" because what is going on has little to do with literature. Traditional publishing is a commodity business, from head to tail. I was somewhat amazed to discover that thirty percent of the books, by volume, are sold in those airport bookstores. They usually have about a hundred different titles, all "best-sellers", at a time and they sell the same way that the warehouse stores do; by limiting consumer choice. The warehouse stores are another ten percent of sales by volume. But they do occasionally stock a non-traditional or even self published title. One of the most notable examples was Mike Ramsey's memoir of a CIA mission he did in the Soviet Union which was sold exclusively through CostCo and sold over 66,000 copies. Of course, give that CostCo has over 400 stores and millions of customers, it would have been more remarkable if it hadn't sold that many. Books have been devalued to the status of commodities. But getting them on the shelves in the brick and mortar spaces is the key to getting large sales. In a chain bookstore a book competes with about ten thousand other titles and it in the ones up in the front of the store that sell the most. Because they are the easiest to find and why publishers pay the same kind of shelving allowances and co-op advertising that cereal companies do to grocery store chains.
Of course, the warehouse, airport and big chain bookstores have skimmed off most of the volume sales, usually by offering huge discounts which the independents couldn't match. That, in turn has driven most of the independents out of business entirely by robbing them of their bread and butter sales. If books are a commodity then lower prices will predominate the market. But. now having destroyed the competition, the big chains are in retreat everywhere because the products are not attracting enough buyers. This means that Amazon.com has become the most convenient bookstore for about half the population. Especially with free shipping. And they sell lots of other things, too. I buy foot powder there because I can't find my brand in the brick and mortar stores. But, for publishers, it's not such a great venue. They have over three million titles and while they give you a virtual page and runs click through ads and otherwise put you out there, even providing a blog page, the volume is minimal. A bookstore manager I know says that Amazon does two things very well; harvest the low hanging fruit of 'best sellers" by offering steep discounts and exploiting the Long Tail where the last few sales of an time can be wrung out over time. Most self publishers are in the Long Tail part of this. It's not a volume business and you are not competing on price alone. The problem with Amazon is that they control the price, which is the big argument a lot of publishers are having with them about Kindle. They can off huge discounts on a Kindle edition because they work on the Theory of Incremental Income. If they make a penny more, its enough for them. For the publishers, even with a big percentage of those few sales, the damage to their mainline; hardbound books, is significant. Anyone who owns a Kindle has a lot of money. They are still rich enough to buy the dead tree version. And will, if that is the only one available. Every book is unique. People pay for that. They don't buy another book instead, because books are not really commodities. They are entertainment and information products, each different from all the others. .
They have also reversed the old King Gillette formula. Gillette gave away a very expensive razor that only his blades fit and and over a lifetime sold thousands of blades. With the Kindle, Amazon.com has gone the other way, selling, exclusively (You can't buy one from anyone but them) the "razor" for a lot of money up front and giving away a lot of public domain material and hurting sales of other forms of book publication by controlling the price of the Kindle editions. Publishers at all levels have caught wise to the scheme and are not holding off the electronic versions until the hardbounds and trade paperback have sold a decent amount. If e-books are sold mainly because of their low price, then they as a mass market product and should be released when the mass market paperbacks are. (Of course if you are publishing only e-books, then this does not apply, but you can charge whatever you like.)
Going back to the agents. The dynamic there has changed. I've done sales on straight commission several times in my life and I understand the pressures they are under, but the fact is that they generally are not looking to serve authors, but to serve publishers. This is my big objection. They have forgotten who their clients are and some of them now want to be seen a cultural mavens and "taste makers". So they chase what sold last year. They dictate what gets written. Innovation and new talent is no longer welcome. Neither is long-term thinking. There is also a certain amount of ageism. Carol Buchanan, who I mentioned yesterday, wrote a novel that was good enough to win the SPUR Award for Best First Novel last year. She could not even get it read and agents rejected it , not on merit, but because they thought historical novels won't sell. She did it herself though Amazon.com's Booksurge unit, promoted it heavily and now has sold audiobook rights to BooksInMotion. Jana Oliver, who led the self-publishing panel at the WorldCon last year, was so turned off by the submission process demanded by agents now that she refused to play and published her first three books herself.
Selfpublishers come in for a lot of fear mongering, and pejorative assumptions about product quality from traditional publishers and writers organizations, but the fact is that anyone who take sufficient care can produce an edition as good or better than those from the mainstream at a competitive price and get it distributed. And this is the future of publishing because the current system is way too slow and rude.
I have been giving more thought to the concept of "enhanced" eBooks: illustrations, many maps, diagrams, charts, possibly music and cut scenes; it would all depend on the artist, artistic resources, and ingenuity. In reading David Gerrold's Star Wolf I was struck with how convenient it would be to have a sort of virtual ship the reader could walk through; or in Mote in God's Eye a virtual command bridge. We can all think of other possibilities.
Amazon.com: God's Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana (9781419697098): Carol Buchanan: Books
This is the award-winning self published book I mentioned yesterday.
The point being that awards draw attention to books. This book was self-published. Just as film festival awards can make commercial success from independent films (think Juno)...
: Book reader opinion
One opinion on book readers: Most of the current reading audience is older people who are used to holding paper in their hands; for such people, ebooks are teasers (I've downloaded any number of free books but read very few of them, and strongly prefer to print technical papers to hardcopy for serious study). The current generation, more adept at reading on computer, is also more likely to pursue entertainment through alternative media and hence less likely to purchase books in large numbers. (For that matter, a lot of my book purchasing is on momentum; I'm far from caught up with even current fiction.)
Bottom line: as e-book reading becomes more prevalent and the audience for e-books becomes more used to the market, pirating will become more prolific. Scribd is the model of the future, not Baen e-books. That's unfortunate, and a DRM that protects authors rights while not interfering with the reading experience might change that model.
From: Stephen Sniegoski <email@example.com>
While I can't seem to get publicity for my book, "The Transparent Cabal" in the United States, I was able to get on a news panel on CRI (Chinese Radio International) English dealing with the subject of a possible U.S. attack on Iran.
It is rather ironic that I was allowed on a major Chinese government radio station but have a hard time getting on any station in the U.S., no matter how small.
The radio program was "Today on Beyond Beijing" hosted by Chris Gelken. The specific discussion topic was: "Is Iran Next?" The description of the program follows:
"The threat of military action against Iran over its nuclear program has hung over the Middle East for a number of years. Does Iran pose a 'clear and present danger' to US or global interests? What would be the basis for a military strike and what would be the consequences? 'Today' asks the experts." The archive is at: http://english.cri.cn/7146/2010/01/28/481s546118.htm (hour 1)
This was a very relevant topic since the New York Times writes that the US is increasing its missile defense system in the Persian Gulf against a possible Iranian attack. Of course, the US would only need to strengthen its defenses to deal with an Iranian counterattack after the US had first bombed it. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/world/middleeast/31missile.html
Best, Stephen Sniegoski
I do not necessarily agree with this analysis but it deserves presentation. I can think of circumstances in which Iran might launch missiles at targets of value to the United States, and a missile defense capability would b valuable. My preference for MRBM defense has always been for sea-based when possible. I was not in favor of ringing Russia with US bases on European soil. Strategic and Tactical rocket defense bases don't look a lot different from other kinds. I see no irreconcilable difference with Russia, and I see no reason to tease the Russian Bear. On the other hand, I am not alarmed at US missile defense deployments in the Persian Gulf.
What would Iran counterattack? The fleet? Our field army? I suspect most Iranian targets would not be American.
Increasing taxes on people who fuel the startup engine to gain a mere 100 billion a year out of a 3.8 trillion dollar a year budget is stupid.
more on taxes
Of course they would quash the startup engine to raise these paltry sums because they have yet another social program to fund, most of which will get wasted on the bureaucracy.
I see that there will be over $2 Billion in stimulus money coming to California for high speed rapid transit, aka bullet trains. That should about cover the cost of the environmental reports and subsequent law suits. I don't expect any real ground breaking for that much. Of course the lawyers will eat most of it as the state attempts to secure rights of way. Some may already be state owned, but the rest will probably be held up in court past my expiration date. This is the can-don't state you know!
A bullet train across the San Andreas Fault does not immediately seem attractive to me.
Jerry: Canada, not US, so can't blame NCLB (no child left behind) for this:
(near) universal literacy could be dead in North America.
February 2, 2010
The Climate Story You're Watching
-- Harry Erwin
All from the Guardian. It's quite a story.
"When we started on the paper we had all the station location details in order to identify our network, but we cannot find them any more."
-- Roland Dobbins
One of the stories referenced by Harry Erwin. Data vanishes, journals boycotted; it's a large industry.
I know that I promised to behave, but I just ran across this preliminary report on a new stereo amplifier that retails for $5995 (actually, pretty darn cheap in its world), but requires 600 hours of operation to reach the peak of its sonic excellence. And off the wagon I fell.
Actually, much to my surprise, in the rarified world of audiophiles in which power cables costing several thousand dollars are all de rigueur, it is apparently accepted that ANY high end audio electronic component requires at least SOME and up to several hundred hours of 'break-in' time before it is 'ready for prime time'.
Odd, I always expected our Tektronix scopes and HP(olden times)/ Agilent (nowadays) microwave network analyzers, spectrum analyzers and signal generators to meet specs right out of the box. And they did, too. But of course neither my ears nor any other part of my body is 'golden', so what would I know?
But that was in another country. My hearing has been a mess since 1951, so I can't comment. I've always had to rely on instruments, not my hearing...
For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:
February 3, 2010
You are even more correct than Duane however in that the purpose of Tek/Agilent/name-your-commercial-test-equipment-manufacturer 'burn- in' (not break-in) is exactly as you stated. To weed out infant mortality. Not to allow it to--gradually--reach the peak of audio perfection. As you noted, if a piece of electronic equipment is going to break it is almost certainly going to do so in the first few hours. After that it is good to go. Hence factory burn in, calibration, and shipping.
Duane is also correct in the requirement for periodic calibration of instruments that are being used to certify ANYTHING. And, as YOU noted, the climate data acquisition system is not now nor has it EVER been 'calibrated'. Once. Let alone being subject to the normal calibration cycle. Not only is it not traceable to NIST, it is not traceable to the Grace L. Ferguson Airline and Storm Door Company or any other known entity. Yet we are seriously proposing to bring western civilization to a halt, make a lot of greenunists fabulously wealthy, and grant politicians and bureaucrats total control over our lives based on data collected by it and 'adjusted' according to some unknown algorithm. And then lost. So, referring to Duane's final comment and bearing in mind that the consequences of having an uncalibrated climate data acquisition system are many orders of magnitude greater than the consequences of having an uncalibrated instrument in any analytical chemistry lab that he has ever worked in, who do we sue?
It is probably breaking a butterfly on the wheel, but I did want that last point emphasized. We have no real calibrations of our measurements; we have models of what we think various measures we have actually indicate. Those models are then used to authenticate the climate models. This is an admirable practice and some of the work done in that area is astonishingly good, but the fact remains that we don't have tenth of a degree accuracies; we don't really have one degree accuracies. We can see there is a trend to warmer since 1776, but those who know the history of Washington's defense of Harlem Heights knew that already: the Hudson no longer freezes over solidly enough to walk across. For that matter, the brackish canals in the Low Countries don't freeze over solid enough to do serious skating every winter as they did when the Hans Brinker story was written. I could go on, but it's obvious: we know that since the Little Ice Age ended sometime in the 18th or early 19th Century, the Northern Hemisphere has been warming noticeably. Just how much we don't know, and we don't know the cause; but to the best we can tell, the warming was steeper (things warmed faster) in the early part of the 19th Century.
Arrhenius estimated that doubling the amount of CO2 would bring about 5 C warming, but then put in water vapor feedback and reduced the estimate to under 2 C. He also thought it would take a thousand years to get there. Of course we have added more CO2 much faster; on the other hand, the observed warming is something less than predicted, probably because feedback loops that Arrhenius didn't know about are in operation. Just how much "natural" warming (warming that would happen without regard to CO2) and how much "greenhouse effect" warming we experience is the very essence of the controversy between True Believers and Deniers, and the lack of calibration data to allow a comparison of the Earth Temperature in 1885 to that of 2005 is one reason the question isn't settled.
CO2 has an effect. We don't know how much. There is also a warming trend that apparently operated before the rise of CO2 from anthropological causes, and of course there were climate cycles long before civilization. We don't know the Earth's temperature during the Ice Ages and the temperate periods between them, but it does seem obvious that it was colder when there were ice sheets over Scandinavia and Canada, and warmer when there were none, and those cycles were not influenced by human activity.
According to Climategate emails, the concept of the Little Ice Age was confusing, and some of the science policy people involved with the UN climate studies and recommendations thought it would be better to get rid of the Little Ice Age since it confused the public. Phil Jones thought it best also to keep it from the public that the Earth has been cooling in the past few years. He could have just waited; we're probably due for a new warming cyclic change.
Meanwhile California seems to have the money to monitor cow flatulation, but not to retain a prisoner who, on early release, almost immediately went out to commit attempted rape. Perhaps chaining him in a cattle yard with appropriate instruments would solve both needs?
Levity aside: the lack of calibration is the key problem of modeling past climate changes.
Dear Dr. Pournelle,
You’ve said “half the children are below average” many times, but are they really?
If the flip side is true, than half the children must be above average, which leaves none that “are” average.
The way I see it much less than half are below the average, and much less than half are above the average, while a large percentage are average.
This doesn’t change what you are saying, and maybe I’m splitting hairs, but it is one of those things that nag at my subconscious. Or am I looking at the Bell Curve all wrong?
Who likes to think he in the above average crowd, but has his suspicions.
Depends on how many decimal places you want to carry. A Normal Distribution (which is a theoretical thing and continuous, not discreet as people are) has a mean (average score) median (middlemost score) and mode (most frequent score) and all three are the same score. A discrete collection will approximate a continuous distribution, but not perfectly. We can't really measure intelligence well enough to discriminate between two people both with score that give them IQ 100, but it's unlikely that they are identical. In that sense some are above average and some below average, but it's also impossible to sort them accurately.
It's obvious that IQ 110 and above are brighter than 9o and below. It's also obvious enough that we can't use cookie cutter scores; on the other hand, we have to do something since the 110 and above should have a different education than the 90 and below. Most of the population will be between 90 and 110 of course, and tests aren't really good enough to sort those people into discrete piles. When it comes to actually constructing educational policies, this clumping matters and a lot, and it's one reason I advocate leaving as much of it to local boards as possible on the grounds that we don't know that much about it.
Your point isn't trivial, but it's not relevant to the points I am trying to make.
: A breakdown on book costs
In response to this, I found this to be interesting as well:
And here is yet more:
Well worth your time, I'd think.
February 4, 2010
calculating 'hot fudge sundae'
Dr. Pournelle, you can now calculate the effacts of 'Hot Fudge Sundae' (which falls on tuesday) Hamner/Brown, 'The Foot' or any other 'Big Rock' that hits the earth. Story http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/mystery_monday_040412.html calculator
Enjoy. Lee Rose
"We in the writing profession Have a technical term for people who believe that the authors believe everything their characters believe. We call them 'idiots'." Larry Niven
I predict right-wing pundits will not feign outrage at Mr. Niven for his comment, as he is not a political opponent. The left however, may, as Niven is neither a political ally, nor a member of a protected group. The left started all this PC crap, and are masters of feigned outrage to boot. While I think Emanuel's currant perdictament is much to do about nothing, I can not help but enjoy watching the left getting curcified on their own alter.
Agin, Lee Rose
"The purpose of political correction is to delegitimate opposition; to make the most basic facts of life undiscussable, and thereby eliminate debate. It is a device for seizing power." --David Warren
"The two-year-long inquiry supervised by the board chairman, Senator Carl Levin, implicates high-ranking foreign officials, including former Nigerian vice president Atiku Abubakar and the son of Equatorial Guinea's president, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, for using American banks and financial institutions in order to transfer a combined figure of around 150 million dollars into the US without proper scrutiny." (emphasis added)
Guess I should have answered some of those emails...
Haven't I seen this idea here?
So here's where my idea comes into play. The Navy already operates dozens of small nuclear reactors in aircraft carriers and submarines, with an outstanding record of safety and reliability. They have an established training program that churns out nuclear-capable officers.
By analogy to the Army Corps of Engineering, we could create a Navy Corps of Nuclear Engineering. It would build and operate dozens of small nuclear power plants around the country. To address security concerns, the first plants would be built on military bases, where the garrison can provide security. Licensing costs would be cut because the government would own and operate the plants.
The proposal should not offend small government sensibilities. Nuclear power is rife with market failures (and government failures). Huge research and development costs associated with traditional large scale nuclear power plants may be beyond the ability of private firms to finance. In addition, we know that private firms tend to underproduce the sort of basic R&D necessary to develop new generations of power plants. But the Navy already spends money to develop new naval reactors, which presumably could be scaled up at reasonable costs. Since the Navy need not worry about earning market competitive rates of return on its investment in R&D, moreover, there's no economic disincentive to conducting that sort of R&D in the Navy.
Private utilities are subject to state utility regulators who notoriously meddle, typically to "protect" consumers from rate increases, but usually with the outcome of making plants nonprofitable. A federal Naval Corps of Nuclear Engineering presumably would be outside the scope of state regulation.
Your reference to Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" in today's "View" was the second time today I've thought about that story (which I first read perhaps 25 years ago or more). The first was this story from the Washington Post:
Quote: << After decades of effort, advocates for the disabled in Montgomery scored a major victory Tuesday when the County Council unanimously voted to create a local-government hiring preference for people with developmental, psychiatric or severe physical disabilities. >>
I am staunchly in favor of equal opportunity. And I suppose I feel that Veteran's preferences in government hiring are reasonable given the service to our country (assuming equal qualification of course).
I honestly have nothing against any disabled person, and in fact I'm a pretty big fan of the ADA (I know you may disagree on that). But this story definitely reminded me of the Vonnegut story.
I have to ask, what comes next? Preferences for people with depression? Preferences for people who had an unhappy childhood?
One would think that taxpayer money ought to be spent on getting work done, not to "create jobs". Preference by definition means lower performance, else the preference wouldn't be needed. What is the purpose of a government job in Montgomery County?
If we decide to subsidize the handicapped there are better ways to do that than to assign them to do necessary public works. If the public work is important enough to be paid for by taxes, it ought to be done by the most competent, not the neediest. The world is not a perfect place.
Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.
I got this from Carl Heinz. Stunning!
You may have seen/heard a “drum line” before but you’ve never seen one like this.
Watch the entire video at the link below because it gets progressively better throughout, including the climatic (or climactic) ending.
Best, Bill Ellern
First let me state that I'm Canadian, and as such am not really qualified or entitled to pass judgment on American spending.
I grew up a space cadet following NASA with Apollo (I was 8 when Apollo 11 happened). I followed the development and deployment of the space shuttle through its 30-odd year history. I've marveled at Viking, Voyager, Hubble.
I watched with disappointment and resignation as successive administrations feigned interest (can't think of a better term) in space exploration, while not actually doing very much about it. Yes, the shuttle, with all its complexity and problems, is a great technological achievement, but it has always seemed to underwhelm. ISS is another great achievement which underwhelms.
So, is it just me, or does America seem to be backing out of such endeavors, or is it that NASA has become irreversibly senile?
Is Obama right? Is it best to hand over the nearly 50 year endowment of technological achievement to private industry? Will America ever go back to the moon, let alone make it to Mars?
I should note that I did believe that a return to the moon was the right thing to do. Given that advanced technology is difficult (and frequently dangerous) to develop, it seems sensible to develop Mars-class technology by deploying to the moon first, where help is just three days away.
I'm trying not to let emotion rule over logic; but it seems that Feb.1 marks the beginning of the end to your country's manned space exploration.
February 5, 2010
Guild Launches Who Moved My Buy Button? Website
The Authors Guild is pleased to announce the launch of
Simply register the ISBNs of any books you'd like monitored, and our web tool will check daily to make sure your buy buttons are safe and sound. If there's a problem, we'll e-mail you an alert.
Although we've launched WhoMovedMyBuyButton.com in response to Amazon's wholesale removal of buy buttons from Macmillan titles, we believe Amazon should be monitored for years to come. Amazon's developed quite a fondness for employing this draconian tactic (there's a chronology at the website); it's only grown bolder with its growing market clout.
Vigilance is called for: sounding off is our best
collective defense. Register your ISBNs today -- it's free and open to all
authors, Guild members and not. (Though we'd prefer you join
Here's a screen shot from the new site:
A typo in the Lee Rose letter (Thurs) is one of those à propos ones: "seeing the left curcified". Maybe "cursified" would have been even better!
And a simple question to challenge your repetition of the truism that "CO2 has an effect. We don't know how much." The question: how much fuller can you fill a full bucket? The first 20 ppm had as much effect as the next 400 ppm. Call it saturation or opacity; there's no more "there" there.
I am not an expert on CO2 and climate, but like Freeman Dyson I find it hard to believe that CO2 has much effect in places other than cold dry areas; elsewhere it is swamped by other "greenhouse" factors. On the other hand, Arrhenius did calculate a 2 degree rise from doubling CO2. We haven't had a doubling of CO2 nor a 2 degree rise since his 1895 prediction, but we do have a constant but small rise in "global temperature". I put that in quotes because there doesn't seem to be any consistent way to compare 1885 global temperature with 2005 global temperature without error bars considerably larger than the measured rise. (I hasten to add that there has certainly been a temperature rise since 1885 and we can infer it from various news reports of the time. It's the exact magnitudes we don't know.)
I am not a fan of running an experiment in which we raise CO2 levels without limit. If the warming concerns induced us to greater efficiency, nuclear power, and space solar power I'd probably cheer -- but I'd still be skeptical of the AGW hypothesis.
I am amazed at your contributors who think Obama would be doing some sort of Bad Thing by cutting back NASA's current boondoggles.
Do your contributors really think NASA is going to accomplish anything useful? The people who connived with LockMart to turn the X-33 program from a demonstration of Single-Stage-To-Orbit technologies into a Yet Another (contrived) Demonstration that SSTO is technically impossible? How many more decades of feckless mismanagement and sabotage will it take to wake your contributors up?
There are competent people in NASA, but the organizational culture in general, and the top management in particular, are rotten to the core. Tear them down, clear away the rubble, and start over. Salvage a NACA from the ruins if you can, but disband the standing army.
I'm no Obama fan, but if he -- for whatever reason -- succeeds in burying the rotting corpse NASA has become, it will be a substantial public service. If he diverts funding away from those absurd NASA designs based on man-rating solid-rocket boosters and towards reliable liquid-fuel designs like SpaceX's Falcon/Dragon vehicles, it'll be a step in the right direction.
Manned space flight
Some of your readers are sounding very pessimistic because of the proposed NASA budget. Maybe things won't turn out quite so badly.
A few years ago I read a science fiction novel by Buzz Aldrin & John Barnes called Encounter With Tiber. One of their plot elements really struck a chord with me.
Set around the year 2000, NASA is still flying the shuttles. A wealthy businessman starts a company to provide private access to space. There's an accident with one of the shuttles, and while that's investigated, the private venture takes over manned space flight. In the story, the authors postulate something on the order of five years for the private sector making the shuttle flights become superfluous. NASA soon buys flights from the private company.
The timing of Real Life is a bit different, and things are not nearly that simple. But a wathershed of that sort does appear to be within the realm of possibility. Bigelow, Space-X, X-Cor, Scaled Composites, Armadillo Aerospace. And those are just the American builders I can think of off the top of my head.
Those are a lot of opportunities for success. Routine tourist access to orbit probably isn't going to happen in five years. But I think I'll be surprised if it takes longer than fifteen. (Assuming we don't ruin ourselves through completely unrelated mistakes.)
When it happens, it'll probably happen very quickly. Of course, making it affordable will likely take couple of decades longer. But somewhere in there, entirely new deep space missions begin to make sense.
So, one can still hope.
I have for more than thirty years advocated getting rid of the standing army of development scientists at NASA. That appears to be happening. But if NASA is directed to pay for launches, but no launches are paid for, it all depends on commercial returns from space; and that is largely a function of regulation, as with the nuclear power industry.
We're going to space, but what language will be spoken there is not assured.
NASA vs Private Industry
In response to Keith Montgomery. He is absolutely correct in saying that the "achievements" of NASA for the past thirty years or so have been rather underwhelming. Sitting on the outside as I am when observing NASA the problem seems to not just be that NASA has become a large bureaucracy that stifles any hope of excellence but that it also doesn't want anyone else poaching on its territory. A perfect example of this is the DC-X project. Despite its clear success as a proof of concept project on a small budget the NASA response to it I felt could best be described as "sullen." Like a spoiled child having obvious faults pointed out publicly. They certainly buried it with unseemly haste.
In short I have no qualms with the U.S. government putting a great deal of effort into getting private industry more involved with space exploration. When it comes to manned exploration no private company has the funds to fail on the scale NASA has in this regard. The catch of course being that there would have to be a profit motive. Another option would be to hand over manned exploration to the DoD. The big problem would be the lobbying NASA would do to stop anyone else from playing in their pool.
Subj: Does it really make sense to produce, or scale up, naval nuclear reactors to produce power on land?
I'm no expert, but my impression is as follows:
Naval reactors are engineered for use in warships. They need to be small, so they can fit in ships. They do not much need to be inexpensive. They are probably engineered to survive some substantial amount of blast and shock damage.
They probably use highly enriched uranium and/or plutonium, to achieve high power densities and long times between refuelings -- maybe not weapons-grade, but substantially more expensive to produce than the low-enriched uranium used in civilian power reactors. Maybe that's not a concern at the moment, given the existing stockpile of weapons-grade fuel from decommissioned weapons, but for how long? The neutron-detector industry is scrambling right now to cope with the end of the supply of relatively inexpensive Helium-3 that was available from the decay of the Tritium originally produced for weapons. Do we really want to set ourselves up for a fuel-price spike when we run out of "surplus" high-enriched uranium and plutonium fuels?
Seems to me that if we remove the real obstacle -- which is the legal and regulatory morass -- there are plenty of civilian reactor designs available that are quite safe and much more economical to build and operate than naval reactor designs.
Is there an experienced nuclear engineer in the house?
February 6, 2010
: Really big volcano
Pardon me, but I'm wondering if it isn't crazy to use 1885 as a temperature baseline. Isn't that when that volcano drastically lowered world temperatures for a couple years? I keep thinking about that July 4 snowstorm. Is my timing off?
Krakatoa went off in 1883, and I'm not sufficiently familiar with climate science to know how the models deal with that. One presumes that its interference with weather was less severe than that of Tambora, which gave us the year without a summer or "eighteen hundred and froze to death". We also presume that the climate models take account of temporary events such as volcanism.
The base year for most models tends to be about 1940 for some reason, with 1885 being "negative" and 200o being "positive."
Sun acting more like normal
The sun may be picking up more sunspot activity finally. http://www.solarcycle24.com/
Three new groups have formed in the last 48 hours (one of which has decayed away) and the sun is generating C-class flares over a growing background X-ray radiance.
With luck we are not entering a new Maunder Minimum. I fear ice a lot more than I fear warming.
: Green Police Superbowl commercial
Did you see the Superbowl commercial for some brand of car to the tune of Cheap Trick's "Dream Police" rerecorded as "Green Police?" I think it was supposed to be humorous, but I would call it chilling, Orwellian, or Brazilian (as in the movie "Brazil"). It just didn't seem that farfetched.
I didn't see it. Doubtless it will be on line sometime.
"If people are your most important assets, why would you get rid of them?"
--- Roland Dobbins
'In the past two years alone, a Malaysian man was fatally stabbed for hogging the microphone at a bar and a Thai man killed eight of his neighbors in a rage after they sang John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”'
--- Roland Dobbins
Dr. Geoffrey Burbidge, RIP.
- Roland Dobbins
“That, to me, is the essence of the Chinese strategy. Just keep the machine going fast enough.”
- Roland Dobbins
'But when punishments don't fit the crime, it encourages public cynicism and lawless behavior.'
- Roland Dobbins
"There is a fundamental uncertainty about climate change prediction that can't be changed.”
--- Roland Dobbins
: Global Warming
This was in the Times of London:
Robert Watson, chief scientist at Defra, the environment ministry, who chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 1997 to 2002, was speaking after more potential inaccuracies emerged in the IPCC’s 2007 benchmark report on global warming. The most important is a claim that global warming could cut rain-fed north African crop production by up to 50% by 2020, a remarkably short time for such a dramatic change. The claim has been quoted in speeches by Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chairman, and by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general. This weekend Professor Chris Field, the new lead author of the IPCC’s climate impacts team, told The Sunday Times that he could find nothing in the report to support the claim.
So here we have two top =IPCC= scientists complaining about the growing list of errors, inaccuracies, and questionable citations: the former chairman and the lead author of the climate impact team.
Solar geomagnetic index
Dr. Pournelle --
Yes, we are getting more sunspots, but there's this from December:
Solar geomagnetic index reaches unprecedented low ...
" ... sunspots are just one proxy, the simplest and most easily observed, for magnetic activity of the sun. It is the magnetic activity of the sun which is central to Svensmark’s theory of galactic cosmic ray modulation, which may affect cloud cover formation on earth, thus affecting global temperatures."
It seems that nothing is ever simple and we still have a lot to learn.
|This week:||Sunday, February
'Bad times are a good stimulus for conversation.'
--- Roland Dobbins
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