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I have been thinking about the disaster caused by BP's negligence and I have a number of questions that make me believe that BP has no business drilling or operating ANY oil or gas wells on shore or off.

Why were there NO disaster plans in place? It would seem to be prudent to have plans in place to secure the riser so that in the event the rig sank the riser would not sink with it. Evidently it eas thought that this was not required since the blowout preventer would seal the well.

Why was no attempt made to immediately unbolt and remove the riser from the blowout preventer and attach either a new riser or a blowout preventer?

Why were BP's estimates of the volume of oil so far below the actual volumes? The initial estimate of 5,000 Bbls per day is only one third to one quarter of current best estimates.

We are now seven weeks into this BP Created disaster and, while the flow has bee reduced, oil is still leaking into the gulf. The final solution, the two relief wells, is at least another five weeks off. With BP's well demonstrated incompetence, I am not confident that this will be successful.

Bob Holmes

And see below


Subj: BP's Oil-Spill Response "Plan"


Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


Letter from England

Marking is done! See <http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=974

Gaza flotilla attack leaves Israel isolated. See <http://tinyurl.com/3xhjxfe>  <http://tinyurl.com/34yushh

Bonfire of the quangos: <http://tinyurl.com/372sewe>  For a definition of 'quango', see <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quango> . I don't think they're legal in America--any organisation delivering government services has to remain under the effective direction of the state or national executive.

Will Lesotho be annexed by South Africa? <http://tinyurl.com/37degb4

Local laws to be ditched by coalition: <http://tinyurl.com/2u5agpc

Euro may be abandoned: <http://tinyurl.com/24vws8r

-- Harry Erwin, PhD


: Aliens 

Currently the best direct evidence for extra-terrestrial life is for Venus--the Venusian atmosphere contains particles with the right characteristics for cells. Next, both Mars and Titan have atmospheres out of chemical equilibrium in ways consistent with life. Then that meteor from Mars remains very suggestive of microbial life. Finally, we're pretty sure live microbes have hitched rides with meteors originating on Earth to most solid bodies in the inner Solar System.

-- Beware Outside Context Problems--Harry Erwin, PhD


Heinlein Retrospective...


"...in his books, Heinlein was his own man. He found social and political ideas – ideas about the different ways human beings might figure out to live together peaceably in large groups – endlessly fascinating. He liked to fool around with such ideas, speculate about how they might work out in practice."

Charles Brumbelow


Subject: I don't think the Pirates southwest of Yemen were properly respectful

GULF OF ADEN: SS (THE OCEANIC), a former passenger ship used by the Peace Boat, a Japan-based international non-governmental and non-profit organization to promote peace, fired upon 5 May 10 at 2122 UTC while underway in position 13:06N – 048:37E, approximately 90NM southwest of Al Mukalla, Yemen. One skiff opened fire on the vessel with automatic weapons and RPGs. The vessel increased speed and conducted evasive maneuvers and was able to successfully avoid the attack. No injuries to the crew were reported (IMB, Mercury chat, American Shipper Online).



Subject: The Old Jarhead Speaks


“…I’m tired of being told how bad America is by leftwing millionaires like Michael Moore, George Soros and Hollywood entertainers who live in luxury because of the opportunities America offers. In thirty years, if they get their way, the United States will have the religious freedom and women’s rights of Saudi Arabia, the economy of Zimbabwe, the freedom of the press of China, the crime and violence of Mexico, the tolerance for Gay people of Iran, and the freedom of speech of Venezuela. Won’t multiculturalism be beautiful?....”

Tracy Walters, CISSP

There's a lot more in the full speech.


Subject: iPeds, iRobots, and the Chinese iPad clone machine


Tracy Walters, CISSP


: Neutrino Oscillations 


Experimental evidence of neutrino oscillations:


<snip>According to physicists at Gran Sasso, after three years of monitoring multiple billions of "muon" neutrinos beamed to them through the earth from CERN 456 miles away, they had spotted one that had turned into a "tau" neutrino.<snip>

This means that lepton number is conserved only weakly, rather than strongly; that the muon and electron (and tauon) are more strongly coupled than previously believed. Which has strong implications for the "standard families" of particles and for quantum field theories. It could be the first experimental evidence for a substructure of quarks and leptons, something I have believed for some time. Whether or not it also has bearing on Dr. Forward's contentions that neutrinos are intrinsically superluminal remains to be seen.



Soaring costs force Canada to reassess health model:


Never happen here, of course . . .



Re: natural-language programming 

"Why should we have to spend years learning how to tell the computer to do something?"

Because the people who run the CS departments at colleges like their teaching jobs and want to keep them ;)

-- Mike T. Powers


British pound

Jerry: You mentioned that the UK still has the pound currency. If they don't fix their finances (and soon) it will be worthless. They are very close to being in an unrecoverable situation, without immense social dislocation:


"The Centre for Policy Studies (at end of 2008) argues that the real national debt is actually £1,340 billion, which is 103.5 per cent of GDP."

-- The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. -Mencken


Doom and Gloom

This is an interesting read. As if we need another debacle. I believe that if this happens, we may hear calls for a world government to regulate the energy outputs of the sun or some such nonsense. Maybe we need a solar tax? -----

"The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity. At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The intersection of these two issues is what we're getting together to discuss."

The National Academy of Sciences framed the problem two years ago in a landmark report entitled "Severe Space Weather Events—Societal and Economic Impacts." It noted how people of the 21st-century rely on high-tech systems for the basics of daily life. Smart power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications can all be knocked out by intense solar activity. A century-class solar storm, the Academy warned, could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.


-- BDAB,


Given a sufficiently large solar flare, there won't be the resources for a world government, and you may discover just how precious a gift government can be.

In the days when I was a SURVIVE Magazine columnist I noted a lot of people who really wanted a big disaster. They felt inadequate, cowed by government and events, and had mental pictures of being valuable after a disaster. They were not fools or jerks, and they didn't really want things to collapse, but they could fantasize.

One of the problems with the nanny state is that it leaves little for the citizens to do and be proud of, and oddly enough weakens respect and loyalty to government as it does that.

If we have a big solar flare, putting things back together may not be very easy.




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Tuesday,  June 8, 2010



The NYT has taken notice of Bigelow.



I'm working on a space position paper.


: Weather watch 


While temperatures over most of the country have been more or less seasonable, I've been noticing mountain snows near the Wisconsin-Montana-Idaho corner through yesterday afternoon. That's a week later than I saw mountain snows last year, for what it's worth.


Thanks. Snow is likely more a function of El Nino than global temperature isn't it? Of course more snow is brighter land is more heat reflected back to space. But CO2 will have more effect in cold dry areas than elsewhere. So --

I find data collection important, but my position as an AGW Denier is more based on our singular lack of data based theories. I have seen nothing that can account for Medieval Warm and the Little Ice Age, both of which were very real and apparently global -- more and more evidence shows they were global. Of course we have little data from the Southern Hemisphere prior to the Voyages of Discovery.

But mostly we don't have the data and our theories including the consensus theories simply don't match the data we have. I see no reason to base policy on computer models when the models can't and don't account for history. Again we know that in Viking times there were grape vines in Vinland, dairy farms in Greenland, grapes in Scotland, longer growing seasons in Poland and China, and other signs of a considerably warmer planet; and we have plenty of records for 1776 and that era showing it was colder then.

Basing our policies on models that don't account for what we know makes no sense. Which is why I remain a Denier.


I am laughing


I just got the biggest laugh that I've had all week.

"Their success in reducing the size of the bill reflected a deepening debate in Congress — and on the campaign trail — about the long-term consequences of using deficit spending to fight the recession." http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/08/us/08medicaid.html 

Wow, 'a deepening debate in Congress...about the long-term consequences of using deficit spending to fight the recession'. You know, this is like being on your last dollar at the craps table. Do I borrow money from the friendly men in cheap suits with pipes in their back pockets? Gee, maybe that's not such a good idea. Finally Congress suspects that deficit spending may be the friendly man in the cheap suit who might decide to lower our national credit rating. Connecticut just dropped from AA+ to AA. Connecticut lost its AAA rating--and they are the richest state per capita in the United States. The raw data portends a trend of this manner manifesting soon. Indeed, you and I can see it in California.

What do we do to get out of this unpleasant position?

-- BDAB,


I'll bite. What do we do to get out of this unpleasant position? California has no choice but to default on pensions and civil service pay.


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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Synthetic Life 


On May 19. Craig Venter announced that his team at the Venter Institute in La Jolla had succeeded in creating synthetic life. Why has this attracted so little attention?

Venter became famous a decade ago because he was frustrated with the slow progress and high cost of the NIH Human Genome Project, which began in 1990. In 1997 he founded Celera Corporation, which did the job in 3 years at a cost of $300 million. The government-funded effort took 13 years, finishing in 2003, and cost $2.7 billion.

What Venter et al have now done is as follows:

(1) They sequenced the genome of the bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides (which causes lung disease in goats). Its DNA has 1.08 million base pairs.

(2) Starting with the chemicals adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T) which make up the genetic code, they synthesized stretches of DNA corresponding to segments of the M. mycoides DNA and then managed to get them all to hook up in the right sequence. Thus they constructed from scratch a copy of the bacterium's DNA.

(3) They inserted this synthetic DNA into a different bacterium, M. capricolum, which had had the genes for its restriction enzymes removed (which means that it had no defenses against foreign DNA). The synthetic DNA took over, and the cells started reproducing and behaving just like natural M. mycoides.

A good way of looking at this is that they have taken the cell machinery ("hardware") of M. capricolum and replaced its software (the DNA), which tells it what kind of creature it should be. Having a cell "boot up" with entirely artificial software is an astounding achievement.

There is now a live bacterium in La Jolla whose genetic code was not determined by evolution but by typing it on a computer. This is the first unequivocal example of Intelligent Design – but the Intelligent Designer was Craig Venter, not God.

In my opinion, there have been five major revolutions in human society: the Agricultural Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the breakout into space, the computer revolution, and now the creation of artificial life. This is HUGE.

In this first test, the team copied natural DNA, but now they can begin exploring variations, perhaps producing wholly new life forms. A major goal is to understand what features of DNA are essential for viable life. Venter's company, Synthetic Genomics Inc., hopes to start producing designer bacteria that can do things like making fuel from algae or cleaning up oil spills.

It is a long way from synthetic bacteria to synthetic differentiated creatures (e.g., living androids), but the way is now open. It will happen sooner than we expect. We need to start thinking about the ethical implications.

All DNA has long stretches of base pairs ("junk DNA") with no known function. Although some of it surely does things we don't yet understand, it appears that you can add arbitrary segments without affecting viability. There are 256 ways to choose the 4 bases in a stretch of four, so you can use combinations of four base pairs to represent letters, punctuation, etc. Venter & co devised such an alphabet, and included quite a bit of text in their synthetic M. mycoides. The information includes the following quotes: "TO LIVE, TO ERR, TO FALL, TO TRIUMPH, TO RECREATE LIFE OUT OF LIFE." - JAMES JOYCE; "SEE THINGS NOT AS THEY ARE, BUT AS THEY MIGHT BE.”- J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER; "WHAT I CANNOT BUILD, I CANNOT UNDERSTAND." - RICHARD FEYNMAN.

We need an international agreement about the code used to include text in synthetic DNA, and a requirement that it include info about its origin (so that any life that escapes control can be identified).

Incidentally, the human genome has 3.3 billion base pairs, and 96% of it is thought to be junk. This suggests that you could encode the St James Bible four times over in a strand of human DNA, and still have it work to create a human being.

Science fiction story: we find that human junk DNA is not random; we crack the code, and find a long message encoded in our genome. It could be instructions for interstellar communication, left by aliens who created us, or it might be a version of the Bible, in Aramaic…

Phil Chapman

I expect this will generate a lot of comments. Some will be mine, but that will require more time than I have this afternoon.


US intel leak arrested in Kuwait


Seems that a disgruntled and apparently underworked 22 yr old Army intel specialist took it upon himself to release a bunch of stuff he found on 2 of our primary classified networks. collateralmurder.com is the result of one of his leaks and wikileaks appears to be sitting on 1/4 million documents he claimed to have sent them, based on what he said in a chat with another wikileaks supporter/ex-hacker.


The only saving grace I can see is that he doesn't appear to have been influenced by an adversary. Maybe he watched too many Hollywood movies where the hero is a US agent who stumbles upon some sort of coverup, and then saves the world by breaking every rule and law they come across. Explosions are apparently optional, but who knows how far he would have gone if he hadn't been ratted out.

I find it disturbing to read how he got the information out... An obvious vault security procedure is that the vault "airlock" is supposed to be a one-way door for any recording media, whether it is a cd or the general's blackberry. That he was able to routinely leave the vault with a CD on his person (except when acting as a classified courier) is a serious violation for the whole facility.

Of course, the USAF recently RIF'd a whole bunch of intel Lieutenants... Maybe instead of firing dozens of young intel officers they should have kept them on to ensure the unit and base security managers were not stretched past the point of being able to do their jobs.


Porting Digital Memory.


----- Roland Dobbins


It seems that the Moon poses a hazard of static electricity:


"The Moon tilts only slightly toward the Sun, so the solar wind flows fairly evenly over its poles. But as it does so, the wind does not flow evenly into the bottoms of the deep craters at the poles. Instead, the institute’s computer model shows its low-mass electrons easily flowing over the jagged edges of the craters and into their bottoms, creating a negatively charged cloud. The ions, a thousand times heavier than the electrons, want to follow. But it is much harder for them to negotiate the steep rim. Most do not make it. Those that do create an electron/ion separation effect, or ambipolar electric field. It is at its most extreme on a crater’s leeward edge—along the inside crater wall—and at the crater floor nearest the solar wind flow.

On this leeward edge, the electron cloud “can create an unusually large negative charge of a few hundred volts relative to the dense solar wind flowing over the top,” says Farrell.

The situation is complicated by the extreme cold in the permanent shadows of these craters, many more than a mile deep, where temperatures can be -400F or lower.<snip>"

A mile deep. Sobering.




I was reading the view, and I felt compelled to comment. I would like to preface this by saying that this is slightly awkward for me. However, I noted your focus on the location of the new polling place. Personally, I vote by mail. They send you a book with arguments, counter arguments, and other information concerning the referendums. They also list all the candidates.

I just voted, and I followed a simple process. First, I looked at the names and listed occupations. If I had any bias or prejudice I examined it at this point. For example, I might not be included for vote for Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Bombs, Bullets, and Banks--as Gerald Celente phrases it--this year. After eliminating candidates where compromise was not possible, I sat down at my computer and looked up all the candidates for each position and figured out who they were. I researched education, life experiences, their website, articles about them, etc. People who did not take the time to make a personal website with succinct yet substantial information that gave me a bio, positions on major issues, positions on issues important to me, and relevant experience--if any. If I found someone offered nonsense about issues important to slogan slinger and the emotional outburst crowd and not much else--and I found a few like this--they were taken off the list of successful candidates.

Finally, I would have two or three people for each position. I would then look over their personal websites and would google for criticism or scandals about these people. When finding criticism or scandal it is important to first decide if it is something that can eliminate the candidate and if it is, can we be sure it is true? All instances where I found compromising situations--a candidate allegedly lied, one candidate kept flip flopping, etc--were found to be minor issues and speculation at best. So nobody was disqualified. Then, I would look at all three candidates again and pick the one that offered the most comprehensive fit. If I really had enough data on these people, I would do a pair-ranking analysis or some other structured analytical technique to advise myself on the best choice. As an aside, the experience taught me that we need to organize a database on politicians that is more complete than wikipedia and reviewed in a scholarly--rather than wikipedia--process.

For the referendums, I have certain positions where compromise is not possible. For example, continuing the raising of costs or taxes is not something I would support. Often, I find these referendums are worded as some sort of bizarre compromise. The drafters name these referendums to imply that these do one thing, but these referendums really do several things. Among the several things done through the referendum, is one or a few activities that could fit the glittering generalities used in the popular title of the referendum--but we're never really sure sometimes. So, I see it like a huge buffet of BS in many ways. Once in a while, I'll see a good referendum and go for it. That's personal choice.

Perhaps I seem verbose? Well, all of these points come to a final advantage on voting by mail. This research and reading is time consuming. I am not sure how the materials handed out at the polling place differ from those sent to the vote by mail citizens. However, I am confident that your home offers more comfort and convenience than a polling place. It also allows you to comfortably research for a few days--if you so desire--or more realistically take an evening and vote for the right people. I wonder if it would actually be cheaper to vote by mail? It would certainly allow technological augmentation of the democratic process of electing popular representatives in our Republic in 2010 and beyond. -- BDAB,


I would not call that a simple procedure...




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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Decompiled DNA Source

Jerry -

Without minimizing the Ventner Institute's technical accomplishment, I think that Phil Chapman may have overstated its significance somewhat. I really think that to follow the software metaphor, what has happened is:

1. Given a fully working computer, complete with operating system and development tools, a working executable has been decompiled and the source printed-out; 2. A human (who may or may not understand what the code does) has keyed-in the print-out character by character; 3. The new source, slavishly copied from the decompiled source, is recompiled, linked, etc. 4. The new executable works identically to the original executable, if and only if it is installed in a suitable host machine with a fully working operating environment.

As I said, this is a significant accomplishment, but note that 1.08 million base pairs were slavishly copied. The next step will be to tweak some of those to modify the resulting "software" - this will be maintenance programming, not creating new software.

More significantly, a naturally-created living cell was necessary. Until they create the living cell that they squirt their originally designed-from-scratch DNA into, they haven't "created life" IMHO.

Your mileage may vary.

David Smith

I agree, it's not creating life from four elements while on horseback and playing two trombones (the reference is from Miller's Fiat Lux) It is impressive nevertheless.


Shock: Sen. Graham reverses climate view! 'The science about global warming has changed...they've oversold this stuff, quite frankly. I think they've been alarmist and the science is in question' <http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2010/06/graham-takes-climate-denial-plunge>

 <http://www.ClimateDepot.com>  for latest!

What a difference 8 months makes! Flashback Oct. 2009: Sen. Graham & Kerry: 'Climate change is real and threatens our economy and national security' <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/opinion/11kerrygraham.html?_r=2

Understand, the link is to one of the major "Denial" sites. It doesn't pretend to be impartial.


: UK police used 'stop and search' illegally 

Many police stop and search operations since 2001 turn out to be illegal. <http://tinyurl.com/25kjacw>  <http://tinyurl.com/383ddvt>  <http://tinyurl.com/3yko4np

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


The intersection of Fred and the Gods of the Copybook Headings

Dr. Pournelle,

Happened on the short ad for Glenn Beck's new book ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBoeHgy7svg ) which features a quote from Kipling's The Gods of the Copybook Headings. Thank you for having explained to us youngsters what copybook headings are, by the way! Then comes Fred's column on Commentator's Disease and your discussion thereof while that was still fresh. Wow. As you say, "Compassion is all very well, but it can't actually change the way things work."

The Gods of the Copybook Headings are about due to come and explain it all again. It will not be pleasant.

Very Best Regards,

Robin Juhl
Past chairman, San Antonio Tea Party



  Or, how an engineer and a politician approaches a problem...

  "Let's work the problem people."
   (~NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz, during the Apollo 13 crisis - 1970)


 "I want to know whose ass to kick!"
   (~President Barack Hussein Obama, during the gulf oil spill - 2010)


Paul Gordon 

  "When faced with a problem you do not understand,    do any part of it you do understand;  then look at it again."

     (Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress")


Obamacare and Medicare Advantage.


This is probably where your Kaiser Plan is headed.

Larry Bayern

June 8, 2010 01:10 PM UTC by John Stossel


This is What Obamacare Looks Like

The Wall Street Journal reports this week on a threatening letter sent by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to insurance companies, regarding their upcoming bids for Medicare Advantage plans. (Medicare Advantage pays private insurers a set amount and typically the patient pays an additional premium.)

[Sebelius] warned the companies not to increase premiums...

... The health overhaul will impose drastic payment cuts to insurers that run [Medicare Advantage] plans, and consultants say insurance companies need to begin adapting now. … the law calls for a gradual reduction in government payments to insurers, totaling $136 billion

The Obama administration and Senate Democrats say that passing those costs [to seniors, through higher premiums] ... is unfair. In her letter, Ms. Sebelius warned insurers that she will deny insurers bids if they include excessive price increases. <snip>


The incompetent plans of BP and the Feds

Article from the AJC - http://www.ajc.com/business/

It details how the 2009 Gulf disaster plan that BP submitted to the Feds included protecting walruses and said that they would call in an expert who passed away in 2005.

Its an amazing little read.

John Harlow, President BravePoint


Photos from the crackdown in Bangkok.


-- Roland Dobbins

One of the problems of monarchy is that the Crown Prince may not be so popular as the King...


What do we do to get out of this unpleasant position?

In the macro sense the answer is unambiguous: The standard of living in the United States is going to go down. The uncertainty lies in the details. Individual tax increases will decrease the standard of living of those who pay the increased taxes. Corporate tax increases will decrease the standard of living of those invested in the corporations and those who lose jobs because their company could not remain competitive with a higher tax load. Spending cuts decrease the standard of living of those receiving, directly or indirectly, the spending. Inflation decreases the standard of living of everyone, but not equally. Default, I don't want to think about that!

John Abshier

Throughout history up to about 1800, the average calorie consumption even in rich countries like England was no higher than it had been since before the agricultural revolution. Productivity gains were converted into larger populations. The English middle and upper classes were fairly small, and the lower classes did not live so long; indeed generally did not even reproduce themselves.

Perhaps that is where we are going again. Subsistence levels.



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Friday,  June 11, 2010

: A few numbers

I see in the news that Obama is again (still?) calling for a $30 billion jobs package.

Last time I looked, the F-16C/D Fighting Falcon cost about $50 million per airplane, almost all of which is skilled labor, in Fort Worth and elsewhere. $30 billion is 600 brand-new fighters. At all-out peak production, GD was building 15 airplanes a month. 600 airplanes is all-out peak production for 3 years 4 months. Do you suppose reopening Air Force Plant Number Four and running it wide open for over three years might provide a little "economic stimulus" for Fort Worth?

It is also worth mentioning that the F-16 was GD's cash cow for a number of years: they made enough profit on that one contract to keep the rest of the company running. If the goal was "economic stimulus", one might be able to argue for a reduction in the profit margin per airplane, and a corresponding INCREASE in production, which means more jobs longer.


At least we would have something for the money. Borrowing to invest in something we may need seems more sensible than borrowing to pay unemployment compensation.


SSX/DC-X Today

While SSX/DC-X may have dies as government programmes, as least two "NewSpace" companies are working on VTVL rockets (for suborbital work initially). In recent days both Masten Space Systems and Armadillo Aerospace have demonstrated in-flight relights & (safe landings) of VTVL craft:

Masten: http://masten-space.com/blog/?p=532 

Armadillo Aerospace (no official announcement but videos are on YouTube): Ground-view. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRFSwA0UL9s&sns=em  4-view spit-screen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9u0qlIoSSkQ&sns=em 

This healthy completion between AA and Masten is exactly what we need IMHO. Note AA is operating in the black, though some of their income is form Nasa contracts and they also won some Nasa prise money (as did Masten).

Of course, as suitably framed SSTO Prize would accelerate such efforts.


All to the good. Note that X programs develop technology for public licensing. X Projects are not prototypes or operational vehicles.


Gov't & Plans

"It details how the 2009 Gulf disaster plan that BP submitted to the Feds included protecting walruses and said that they would call in an expert who passed away in 2005.

Its an amazing little read."

Government bureaucracy says you have to have a plan. It doesn't say it has to be reasonable or even viable. As an example. I work for a Medicare contractor. During the Y2K scare (and at the time I recognized the world was tilting at windmills), I was designated as the Y2K Project Manager with portfolio to insure that all of the computers and electronic data (i.e. PCs and network) would remain viable and working at 0001 on 1/1/2000. I had been doing operational (and, don't tell anyone, Project Management) planning throughout my Marine Corps career. So I, with a small staff, devised a tight plan of action, adjustment and testing for the company along with an implementation plan. Came out to about 60 MSWORD pages, including spreadsheets. Submitted it to HCFA (now called CMS - Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) as required. Other carriers and intermediaries submitted BOXES of documents for their plans. I was immediately told that our plan was insufficient and to redo it. No amount of my explanation would convince them - "... you've only submitted this small booklet as a plan and other contractors are giving us reams of paper for their plans!" (Direct quote). So, I went back to my document, increased the font to size 14, double spaced it, increased the margins, put a header and footer on each page, added in some charts made from the included spreadsheets (i.e. same info), then made 3 copies and put a title sheet on each of the 3 copies labeled: Phase I, Phase II and Phase III. Put it all back together and had a document about 700 pages large. Resubmitted and had the damned thing approved. In other words, no one even bothered to look at, much less evaluate, the contents (on first or second submission). But, I had a plan! And it weighed a lot, too!

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

I don't think this needs comment...


BP negligence


I couldn't restrain the impulse to respond to Bob Holmes' letter concerning British Petroleum's negligence. I'll concede that BP doesn't have an excellent record and obviously they didn't do this right on the Deep Horizon. However; they are getting a bum rap.

First and foremost all of BP's disaster response plans were predicated on the presumption that the drilling rig wouldn't explode, burn and sink. There was a lot of equipment on the rig to deal with blow outs. Unfortunately; what happenned was comparable to having a building burn because there was an earthquake that breaks the water lines which disables the sprinklers

It would be nice to have some way of keeping the riser from sinking in the event that the rig sinks, but how would one do that? The riser is a slender, 22 inch diameter tube that is over a mile long. This is taller than the tallest tower ever built. The most severe loads on a tower are actually bending moments caused by wind loading rather than compression loading from gravity. Since water is a thousand times denser then air and has a higher viscosity, the structural loads from ocean currents are about a thousand times greater than the structural loads from wind. Building a self supporting riser isn't practical. The riser is a cable under tension, not a tower under compression. The only thing that might work is to have bouyancy tanks installed along the riser. Unfortunately; this isn't going to help if the drill rig simply sinks on top of the riser.

It is true that the riser pipe should have been cut free from the blow out preventer (unbolting 2" diamter bolts that have been torqued to a couple thousand foot pounds underwater using a remotely piloted submerisible isn't practical). Unfortunately; our President and his science adviser and the EPA didn't allow BP to cut the riser pipe free because they were afraid that it would increase the rate of oil flow!! As a result, BP was obliged to struggle with trying to cap some of the larger ruptures on the collapsed riser pipe. Unfortunately; the oil and gas was getting chilled as it flowed through the ocean water so that formation of Methane Hydrates became an insurmountable problem. This came as no surprise to anyone who knew anything about Petroleum engineering, but niether Obama or his advisers are members of the subset of people who know anything about petroleum engineering. Of course Obama and his minions were somewhat right but allowing the well to leak at 50,000 bbls per day for over a month is worse than allowing it to leak at 100,000 bbls per day for a few days while you get a containment apparatus installed and operating. Getting it operational is a gradual process.

Estimating the rate of oil flow from a blown out well isn't easy. A back of the envelope level calc taking note that the riser pipe is 22" in diamter and the flow velocity is about 3 feet per second suggests that the leakage rate is about 100,000 bbls per day. However; this calc couldn't be done until the riser pipe was cut loose. Also, the flow rate was probably lower before the riser pipe was cut loose. To do any estimate one would have to survey the entire length of the riser pipe, estimate the size of all breaks in the pipe and observe flow velocities. However; oil wells produce natural gas as well as petroleum. What percentage of the flow volume is natural gas and propane and butane verses heavier, nonvolatile hydrocarbons? BP had a lot better idea of what the percentage is than Obama's flunkies and all of the so called independent experts. The data on petroleum gas and petroleum liquids that are now being recovered from the well suggest that BP's estimates were very reasonable.

Finally; implementing BP's recovery plan is a gradual process. The apparatus is equipped with vents that allow it to be installed without having to overcome the static pressure of the well which might be a few thousand pounds per square inch. Overcoming just dynamic pressure with vents open is difficult. The vents are being closed slowly while the rig is monitored to ensure that the static pressure doesn't blow it off the well head. They also have to be careful not to get methane hydrates forming again (although this isn't as likely so close to where the casing emerges from the sea floor).

The bottom line could be well illustrated with a cartoon of Obama standing with his foot on the throat of a prostrate BP that is struggling to cap the oil well. You can take the Lordkin out of the Burning City but you can't take the Burning City out of the Lordkin.

James Crawford



Ringworld visualization.


--- Roland Dobbins



Paging Velikovsky . . . .


-- Roland Dobbins

Velikovsky built his theories from myth and legend, and perhaps this would have been a bit early to generate eyewitness records?

So the Earth is younger than we thought...


'The principal erased bubbles on the multiple-choice answer sheets and filled in the right answers.'


- Roland Dobbins

A nation at risk. Again.


Peggy Noonan tonight: http://online.wsj.com/article/

"We are Totally Unprepared"

<snip>I speak of the report from the Inspector General of the Justice Department, issued in late May, saying the department is not prepared to ensure public safety in the days or weeks after a terrorist attack in which nuclear, biological or chemical weapons are used<snip>

(The government emergency response planners) must not be reading all the government reports of the past eight years, declaring terrorist attacks on U.S. soil not only likely but virtually certain. There are many reasons for this, and just one has to do with something Ronald Reagan mused about in his office 25 years ago. "Man has never had a weapon he didn't use," he said, to a handful of aides. If you develop the atom bomb, it will be used, as it was. If man, in his darkness, can develop and deploy nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, they will be used, too. <snip>

Henry Kissinger spoke before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ... "What happens if we woke up one morning and found that 500,000 people had been killed somewhere?" <snip>

Reading of full essay recommended



Meanwhile, back at NASA and the contractor base...


<snip>Boeing spokesperson Ed Memi said (Boeing's Huntsville operation) could possibly lay of 60 percent off the 300 people who work on the Constellation and Ares project.<snip>

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) gave WAFF this statement:

"NASA's leadership has taken another step to cede America's leadership in space exploration. NASA is reprioritizing funding based on a future budget that has not been supported, or approved, by Congress. They appear to be ignoring current law and the reaffirmation of Congressional intent to continue Constellation funding as underscored in the provision that passed the Senate as part of the Emergency Supplemental in May.

"The President's plan has no clear mission or defined plan other than to prop up a so-called commercial venture no matter what the cost to the nation. NASA has unilaterally taken steps to cancel our nation's only realistic return to low earth orbit, and is terminating thousands of jobs nationwide during a time of economic difficulty in the process. America's leadership in space is now further jeopardized by the decisions being implemented by an Administration intent to destroy our entire human space exploration program."<snip>



Scientists Uncover Protein That Thwarts Tumor Invasion

Real science



Another step farther out...



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This week:


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Saturday, June 12, 2010

I have taken the day off.







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CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


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Sunday, June 13, 2010    

Subject: Programming: Languages, Vulcans and Apes

The Myth of the Super Programming Language:


>>There are no super programming languages, only super programmers. And they tend to be super jerks. I should know – I used to be one. What would really make a programming language be super powered is the ability to be used by normal people.<<

Personally, I think this point is to some extent true, but overstated. Flon's Axiom says that "There does not now, nor will there ever, exist a programming language in which it is the least bit hard to write bad programs." That's true, but it's subtly and importantly different from the claim that there are no languages in which it's hard to write *good* programs.

In programming, as in (the rest of?) mathematics, to do anything non-trivial is to walk a fine line between (a) working in a context complicated enough to make simple what we are trying to do and (b) working in a context so complicated that we lose track of what we are trying to do, what we have in fact done, and what the differences between those two might be.

Which leads to ...

Vulcans vs Apes:


>>[O]n Vulcan, programming is a form of applied mathematics. All software is precisely specified using logic and mathematics. What’s more, these formal specifications rarely change. So programming is like proving a theorem, and Vulcan programming languages are like mathematics. ...

[O]n the Planet of the Apes ... [t]here are no written rules, and the rules are continually evolving, yet Apes can simultaneously fulfill a dozen different roles without breaking their rules. On top of this, the Apes have integrated software throughout their society. All sorts of automated systems play central roles: communication, entertainment, accounting, manufacturing, distribution, you name it. All these systems exist primarily to interact with Apes in their informal shifting social games. So there are no formal specifications, nor can there be any. As a result the Apes have developed a style of programming inconceivable to Vulcans. Their software is constantly being redesigned, so they make it as lightweight and clear-cut as possible. The Apes can’t prove their software is correct, and they seem puzzled by the very idea, as if they were being asked to prove correct a chair. However they design amazing user interfaces that harmoniously blend cognitive, artistic, and emotional significance. ... If the purpose of your system is to interact with sentients in a social or economic context, you get an Ape to program it. Using Vulcan tools.<<

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com

That is sufficiently interesting that I want to think about it before commenting. But I do know that maintaining code written by others is difficult, no matter how many comments are made in the code; and code in some languages is far easier than maintaining code in other languages.

Clarity and comprehensibility are important, and now that the hardware is as good as it is, compile times, bumming code to save bits, and all the old tricks are not important -- indeed are counterproductive.


SUBJ: You don't have to be George Orwell to find these two items disturbing. Steadily, incrementally, more and more parts are falling into place for something horribly Frankenstein to emerge.

1. Senators propose granting president "emergency Internet power"


"The idea of an Internet "kill switch" that the president could flip is not new. That emergency authority would allow the federal government to 'preserve those networks and assets and our country and protect our people,' Joe Lieberman, the primary sponsor of the measure and the chairman of the Homeland Security committee, told reporters on Thursday."

Don't you safer already?

coupled with . . .

2. US Air Force's first homeland defense ORI


"For the very first time, the U.S. Air Force has validated a unit's wartime capability to defend the homeland by fighting an enemy right here on U.S. soil,"

What enemy would that be, exactly?

Cordially, John

"Paranoia is Liberty's first line of defense."


Subject: The Iron Law in Action?

Hi Jerry

In one of your books or columns, you state that unrestrained bureaucracy leads inevitably to so much spending on structure that organizations eventually become so admin. heavy they are no longer capable of accomplishing their stated goals.

It seems to me that when Military Hospitals cannot care for wounded war veterans without causing scandal, Arlington cannot certify that remains have been properly identified and accounted for, and an oil company is incapable of stopping their own well, we may have reached that point.

Near my home, the city of Detroit is threatening to lay off dozens of cops and firemen, but has hired, in the last few years, dozens of administrators and consultants for jobs paying 100K + per year. Similarly, if it is indeed true that more and more people are losing their health insurance, why are there more and more jobs needed in the health care administration career field?

We live in interesting times.

Dave Porter

Throughout 100,000 years of human history, technology advances such as the invention of agriculture have resulted not in greater standards of living for the masses, but in more people living at subsistence levels. The average calorie intake, the average standard of living in England in 1800 turns out not to be all that much greater than it had been in Roman times, or even in huner gatherer times -- but there were a lot more English. (And, of course, there were more rich people in Regency times than in Roman times.)

The Industrial Revolution is supposed to have changed all that Malthusian stuff; but looking at Detroit now, one wonders. The late Beam Piper was concerned with what he called 'decivilization' of planets. Perhaps we will get to see it first hand. We used to invest in real education that increased productivity of those educated. Is that true now? Certainly it is for some, but over all, does our expensive school system increase productivity? Is it a good investment?

The Iron Law is unforgiving. And it may well lead to subsistence living for the masses. The administrators will do well, of course. There is always an aristocracy that is well fed. What it does to deserve this varies from aristocracy to aristocracy.




National radar is still showing significant precipitation as mountain snow in Utah and Wyoming as of 0700 MT Saturday 11 Jun.


(Note: situation will likely have changed; this image updates regional radar roughly twice per hour)


And we still have a quiet Sun. Snow patterns are more dependent on rainfall patterns, and I don't think we understand those much better than the Farmer's Almanac.


NASA solar activity 


Regarding the NASA report on solar activity: I'd certainly be the last person saying that we shouldn't study or take precautions, but the data currently shows that the Sun is currently heading into a downturn rather than an upswing. Of course, it could still try to cram six years of normal activity into a shortened solar maximum -- and if I recall correctly, the great flare of 1859 was in the midst of a solar minimum.

Right now, the sun is quiet with barely a spot....


He hasn't uploaded the May averages as of my most recent check, but my rough average over the month is that May is more or less on par with April's values, representing a sharp shutdown of the what had been anticipated from the trend curve.


1859 was a time of solar minimum


BP Negligence


I would like to respond to James Crawford's response to my suggestions concerning what might be considered to prevent future disasters and possibly bring the current disaster under control.

I have no doubt that Mr. Crawford's descriptions of the problems involved in securing the riser or unbolting it from the blow out preventer are accurate. However, it is exactly these difficulties that make BP's actions prior to the blowout so egregious.

Perhaps the most dangerous situation that can occur during the drilling and completion of a well is the uncontrolled escape of natural gas. This is, most likely, an order of magnitude greater on an off shore rig than on shore. On shore it is much easier to remove potential sources of ignition from the vicinity of the well head than it is on an off shore rig.

Testimony that has been presented indicates that BP made a decision to continue replacing the drilling mud with sea water as final steps to closing in the well when there were a number of indications that the cement job had not successfully sealed the well.

We do not need to make any evaluation of BP's clean up efforts or their perhaps fraudulent disaster plan to state that the current situation was caused by gross negligence on the part of BP.

Bob Holmes

Sent from my iPad

And their preparation report included how to deal with oily sea otters. BP certainly did not take proper precautions. Nor did the US government.


BP's Spill Response Plan for Deepwater Horizon

Jerry -

It takes more than just requiring that detailed contingency plans be approved before drilling - the authors of the plan, and the bureaucrats approving them, have to be capable of critically examining what's been written.

The AP actually read the contingency plan that BP presented last year (and which the current administration approved), and noticed that it included a reference to an expert who had been dead for four years, plans for saving arctic sea-going mammals like walruses, and incorrect contact information for Texas A&M marine wildlife experts. Need one be overly partisan to seriously wonder whether the current crop of bureaucrats (and legislators) can read:

"BP PLC's 582-page regional spill plan for the Gulf, and its 52-page, site-specific plan for the Deepwater Horizon rig are riddled with omissions and glaring errors, according to an Associated Press analysis that details how BP officials have pretty much been making it up as they go along. The lengthy plans approved by the federal government last year before BP drilled its ill-fated well vastly understate the dangers posed by an uncontrolled leak and vastly overstate the company's preparedness to deal with one."


David Smith


BP Riser

I've seen a number of readers wondering why the riser wasn't unbolted from the BOP and replaced with something that could capture the oil and contain the spill. No doubt the BOP/Riser flanges were put together with full sized bolts which fit snugly in the flange bolt holes. After only a few weeks in salt water, those bolts would have become "body-bound" inside the flange bolt holes. Corrosion expansion inside the close tolerances would have rendered the bolts virtually welded to the flanges. Even if the nuts could have been removed from the bolts, the bolts would have had to be pressed out with a very powerful hydraulic press. Large portable hydraulic presses are not particularly user friendly. I have seen such a procedure fail in open air on accessible flanges, with the bolts having to be burned out with a torch. The hydraulic press set that would fit was not powerful enough, and the press set that was powerful enough was too large to fit. Probably not a viable solution at 5000 feet.



If the government wont do it, people will.


"It's illegal to block this waterway. But if the oil comes, we're going to bring a barge in and use it as a gate to block it," said Hixon. "They can arrest me and Jamie if they want to."

David March

Beware the boot on the neck.


Tweaking a Camera to Suit a Hobby - NYTimes.com (Hacking Nikon cameras)



This is a really cool hack. Worth a read.

Randy Lea


The Kindle


According to The Register the large number of students who have been issued with textbooks on Kindle e-book readers generally dislike it as a learning and research tool. This is because it is not easy to make marginal notes, use bookmarks, or just flick through it to find the desired passage. They did like it for linear reading though. The Register story is at:- http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/05/26/kindle_flunks_out_of_college/ 

Glad to hear Sable is better.

John Edwards

If you use a Kindle to read a technical book you will need a paper log book for notes. That's probably true with iPad for really technical stuff, of course.

The biggest problem with Kindle books on Kindle as opposed to Kindle books on a Kindle App on iPad is thumbing through pages. It's much easier with iPad. Much.


Most Students Prefer Print Textbooks to Digital Versions, Survey Finds - The Ticker - The Chronicle of Higher Education


Dear Jerry:

The Digital Revolution is not yet accomplished, it seems. This and the comments following indicate why.


Francis Hamit


'Each time she was hired back, it seems, Census was able to report the creation of a new job to the Labor Department.'


--- Roland Dobbins


RE: Improving economic growth while reducing carbon dioxide emissions

You discuss Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) frequently on your site. One issue you have raised several times is that the AGW movement seeks to impose very costly solutions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Solutions such as cap and trade impose high costs for uncertain benefits.

One way to avoid the problem of definite economic costs and uncertain environmental benefits is to develop a solution that improves both. There is at least one win-win solution for the US. A green shift in tax revenue -reducing income and payroll taxes while raising fuel tax to keep total revenue constant- would provide large benefits to the United States. Benefits include faster economic growth, more jobs, a cleaner environment, less global warming, and enhanced national security.

The maximum benefit would come from a $175 billion shift from FICA payroll taxes to gasoline and diesel tax. This shift corresponds to reducing payroll taxes from 12.4% to 10% without changing the income cap, and increasing combined federal/state/local gasoline and diesel tax from $0.40 to $1.01 per gallon.

Economic growth. Consumption taxes do not reduce long-run economic growth as much as income and payroll taxes of the same amount. Shifting from the current tax regime to gasoline and diesel taxes would increase investment and saving, which would increase GDP by 2-5%.

More jobs. Payroll taxes kill jobs. Lower payroll taxes kill fewer jobs. Reducing the payroll tax by about $175 billion through the green shift would result in about 2 million more jobs.

Reducing pollution 1. Burning gasoline emits nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and soot. The green shift would reduce transportation fuel use in the US by about 15 billion gallons per year after a transition of about 5-10 years, which would reduce pollution.

Reducing pollution 2. Assuming that accidents such as the current Deep Horizon blow-out are correlated with fuel use, using less petroleum fuels would reduce pollution from spills in extracting and processing.

Global warming. Reducing fuel use by 15 billion gallons per year would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 75 million tons per year. Higher gasoline taxes would address environmental concerns.

Road congestion. A higher gas tax would reduce congestion on streets and highways. The social cost of congestion on time lost and reduced production is very high.

Regulatory relief. The United States addresses energy dependence through corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. These rules have unintended consequences such as promoting SUVs (light trucks have laxer standards than cars).

National security. It is hard to judge how much high oil consumption drives U.S. involvement in Middle Eastern politics. As higher US gas and diesel taxes discouraged oil consumption, the price of oil would fall. The tax burden would be shared by consumers, and producers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. With less revenue from oil, these countries may not spend as much promoting terrorism, and imported oil less important, the US might reduce involvement.

References The calculation of the optimal level of gas tax in the United States was done by Parry, I and Small Does Britain or The United States Have the Right Gasoline Tax? American Economic Review September 2005. A free version is available at:


The recommendation to replace payroll taxes with enhanced fuel taxes was made by Prof G Mankiw during the debate on the US stimulus package. The theoretical arguments for improving social welfare by increasing the fuel tax are found at:



The specific calculations of jobs and carbon dioxide reduction are my own based on published elasticities. Your readers can duplicate them with little effort.



I find static analyses somewhat unconvincing; and alas, I do not concede that reducing CO2 is worth the costs it will in my judgment inevitably impose on productivity. The best way to reduce CO2 in the long run is to go nuclear; and to do more research on carbon fixing with methods like iron filings in the sea to cause plankton blooms. In my judgment.

I don't disagree that reducing the trade deficit by reducing dependence on oil is a Good Thing. I am unconvinced that this will accomplish it.


SUBJ: GAO: half a billion dollars wasted for TSA voodoo science


"TSA behavior detection officers’ (BDO) current behavior detection performance has no more validation than having TSA screeners wear masks and shake rattles at passengers."

"When all is said and done, it appears that over the years, more than half a billion dollars has been spent without a single terrorist suspect being apprehended."

The TSA is a striking example of what happens when Permanent Underclass attempt to become Nomenklatura.

Cordially, John

From watching its effects I infer that the purpose of TSA is to convince Americans that they are subjects, not citizens, and that it accomplishes this well indeed.

Do we not feel safer already?









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