THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
Friday, July 04, 2008
View 524 June 23 - 29, 2008
Highlights this week:
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June 23, 2008
1330: I just got up. Last week was pretty much a blur. I started many projects but finished none, and I am so far behind it hurts. The good news is that the bronchitis seems to have succumbed to antibiotics. I had zero appetite all last week -- I sure do LOOK slim and trim! -- but this morning I managed about 3/4 of a full breakfast, and all my other systems seem to be working. My head is stuffed up, feeling as if someone had injected cotton wool, but since last week it felt as if I had my head filled with GE Silicone Cement that was slowly hardening, this is an improvement.
Saturday was to have been a big day. The brothers Rutan had a big birthday party in Mojave, and I had intended to go to that, but I knew a week in advance that I wasn't going to make that. Then there was Niven's birthday party, his 70th, a big deal. I got to that for about an hour. It's true I could have stayed longer, but Roberta had to get back home -- she was thrilled to be babysitting while Richard and Herrin went to Richard's high school reunion, and once I got home there was no way I could go back out. Or I could have stayed and got a ride home but I wasn't really up to that. And by Saturday night I was really out of it.
And I spent all day Sunday in a blue black funk. So I woke up this morning and went back to bed.
Now here I am, and while I don't have a lot of energy, I have some, and I think I may manage to catch up on some of the work here. First of course is this journal. Then there's a lot of mail. Then there's Chaos Manor Reviews and its mail bag. And I have the partly paid bills cluttering my desk -- one of those started but not finished projects. And there's my fiction.
I have a lot of advice from physicians and cancer survivors and radiation specialists, and all say in essence that if my body wants to sleep, sleep; don't think of this as funk I can defeat by sheer will power. All good advice, but if I don't do something, I'll starve! The truth is that when I don't add to Chaos Manor Reviews and do some substantive work with this journal, the subscriptions stop coming in; I can hardly blame anyone for that. Of course I get some residual payments from past work, and Inferno I is coming out this summer with some fanfare -- it may be a reprint but it has been out of print for a long time, and this is the authors' definitive edition; and Escape From Hell will be out next January, with promotion -- I do have to be in condition to do an author death march on that one -- and I am determined to finish Mamelukes this summer; but none of those are immediate income, and the bills keep coming in.
On the gripping hand, I have a lot of new good stuff to write about. Intel's latest wonders. Juicy rumors about future technology and what that means for all of us. Lots of new Mac stuff and more reasons for moving toward the Intel Mac as Microsoft continues to flub it with Vista -- or have they? We have a very good Vista system, a Core 2 Quad 6600 with lots of memory: it works pretty darned well, actually, networking and all, and I am about to convert it into a Main system. My only issue with it is Office 2008, which I continue to find too much trouble for what it does; Office 2004 or Office XP work plenty Good Enough, particularly with Quad systems. So I need to get the energy to dump Office 2008 from Bette -- the "sweet spot middler Quad 6600 system -- and put in Office 2004 and FrontPage 2004, which is what this system runs but under Windows XP, not Vista. Then I get to use that a while as a main system and I can tell you about the results. I still do lots of silly things so you don't have to.
And I have the new Mac stuff, and the whole business of converting from Windows to Mac and Windows; I have to confess I haven't been as diligent as I should have been about experimenting with programs run under Windows on a Mac.
There's a lot of good stuff to do. Now all I have to do is Catch Up!
Appointment with the radiation oncologist tomorrow. I presume I will find out that my loss of appetite and general funk are to be expected, and the proper treatment is to humor some of my conditions and use will power to do enough work to prevent starvation without overworking to the point of getting pneumonia or whatever.
I know I am good for about 4 hours of real work a day. It's when I push past that that I find bad things happening.
And I get letters like this:
I'm not a doctor, but from personal experience I can tell you yes, recovery and recuperation is pure hell, and takes far longer than one would expect. A year might not be an overestimation.
And, it is possible that you are fighting some form of clinical depression at this point too. That is every bit as debilitating as the damn radiation therapy. Zero energy, zero ambition, difficulty in focusing on a task, and so on. The only thing good about it is that it is temporary, and will eventually go away.
And remember you have a whole boatload of friends, most of whom have never met you in person. Not many folks can say that! :)
Count your blessings. I keep reminding myself.
Congratulations to Chaos Manor Advisor Peter Glaskowsky:
I came across this short article a moment ago:
McCain is supposed to make a speech this morning, announcing that the government should offer a $300 million prize to the person/organization who develops the next automotive battery technology.
Interesting idea. Maybe he reads your site.
Actually, people who give him money read my site. I doubt he does....
1530: Ok I have caught up with the journal and letters here. Now to see if I have enough energy to plug away at other matters that clutter my desk.
For those interested in what was going on at Montalvo, see
|This week:||Tuesday, June
The radiation oncologist thinks all is well. What with 50,000 RAD it takes a while to recover. I don't have enough energy because I don't eat enough. I don't eat because I don't have an appetite. We'll try to fix that.
Last night I took Sable out at 10 PM for a full 2 miles, and while I am sleepy enough today, I am functioning.
From every external sign, I am recovering, everything is going well, I look great, my voice is back, and getting 3 or 4 hours work done every day is about as much as most people my age manage.
Count your blessings....
There is a night talk show on KFI. It mostly fills in the gap between the evening traffic shows and Coast to Coast at 10, and while it can sometimes be amusing, neither the original solo host, nor the combination of him with Mrs. Kennedy works very well.
Last night, though, they hit a new low. They went on and on about how stupid McCain was for proposing his $300 million battery prize. Apparently neither of them bothered to look up "prizes" in any way. They both seem to think that a prize is some kind of contract that requires you to sign over all rights to your invention in order to get the prize. Why they would think anything like this is not known to me, but I blame the school system, which teaches not much. Suits was apparently an officer in Iraq, which in theory puts him on the right side of the Bell Curve, but listening to him rant about how stupid this prize is makes me wonder. I suspect that he favors McCain and wanted something to trash him for, but perhaps that is assuming too much about Suits. Kennedy is clearly clueless.
Now: for those who don't know. The purpose of prizes is to focus attention on a goal. Lindberg flew to Paris alone for a prize. Prizes did a lot for early aviation. The X Prize got a lot of attention for commercial space. Heinlein left much of his estate to be used for prizes in advance of commercial space. The only obligation the winner of a prize should have is to win it: prize money does not purchase the rights to the invention.
Now it is probably true that anyone who wins this McCain battery prize will make a great deal more money for that technology in the market place. Probably true: but the market is uncertain, and raising capital always has to compete with other places to invest. One of the problems we have always had with commercial space is that there are both technical and market risks, and those who understand the one kind of risk generally don't comprehend the other; so they invest elsewhere.
Prizes reduce market uncertainties by providing a floor. If the US were to offer a $1 billion prize for the first American company to fly a ship to orbit and bring it home 6 times in one year, we would probably have reusable space ships within five years, possibly sooner: a billion is a pretty good market incentive. And if the US were to offer $10 billion prize for the first American company to put 31 Americans on the surface of the Moon and keep them there alive and well for 3 years and a day, we would have a Lunar Colony within 7 years and probably sooner.
The neat thing about prizes is that we spend no money unless someone wins. Now surely it would be worth far more than $300 million to have any capitalist have the battery technology McCain describes. Indeed it would be worth far more, and the only real criticism of the McCain prize might be that it wasn't large enough. On the other hand, how does it harm us to have the $300 million offered? This is a very good move on McCain's part, and makes me a lot happier to support him than I was. It makes him something more than the lesser evil...
First, my health report. According to the radiation oncologist, after 50,000 RADS of hard x-rays it is not unusual for recovery from that and the tumor itself to take months. All my symptoms look to be improving. There is no trace of Bell's Palsy. I have some liquid that is said to improve appetite although it may take a week for it to do that.
On the other hand, I ought to have felt better today, and I did, but I slept until 11, and after a large breakfast I wanted nothing but to lie down again. It's now 2045, and I am just getting to this log book. I did manage to finish the bills -- at last! -- and deposits, and the incoming subscriptions. Those subscriptions are important. You're buying me the time to get on my feet so I can finish Mamelukes and do all the other stuff I have to do; I am convinced now that I really do need most of the rest my body is demanding. Of course if I starve while getting that rest it will not have a good ending. Anyway, I am up and about and working and trying to catch up.
For instance: suppose we have a prize of $1 million for repeatable transmission of information at speeds faster than light and distances over 10 kilometers. That is a trivial amount of money for something that important. It is also extremely unlikely that anyone would win it, or that the million would noticed among the amounts the inventor would gain from the discovery. (On the other hand, it sure would help with his legal bills as the legal eagles tried to take his discovery away from him. But that's another story.) But surely no harm has been done by making the prize offer?
Suppose a prize of $100 million for the first space ship to orbit and return three times. Depending on who you talk to, that's either plenty of money, or not enough. Either way, it costs nothing unless someone achieves it; and surely the achievement would be enormously beneficial to the people of the United States, just as the development of the chronometer to determine longitude had great benefits to the people of Britain and eventually to the world.
But the prize money was taken at the point of a gun! In taxes! And that's wrong!
Surely that argument is a bit odd? What is the legitimate use of taxes? If you say that planning for the future is not a legitimate function of government, then the deliberate USAF investment of funds into Large Scale Integrated Circuit research that followed the USAF study Project 75 was not legitimate. Now it is certainly true that when we -- I was the Editor of Project 75, Mr. Dorrance was the Director -- did Project 75 we were trying to improve national security by making ICBM's more effective. The whole computer industry came out of that, but I certainly didn't foresee that. I just knew that small computers would be very useful for the US military, particularly airplanes and missiles.
But that was a direct investment. Might more have been accomplished with less spending by a series of prizes?
Obama says McCain was silly to offer his prize. Kennedy didn't offer a prize. He built NASA and had the government spend $30 billion dollars.
I don't know what would have happened had Kennedy instead offered $15 billion tax free to the first American to land on the Moon and return, but had he done that it might have worked out better than NASA: we might not have built an enormous standing army of development scientists who conceived Shuttle as full employment insurance.
I have read the various letters attacking the concept of prizes, and I fear they do not persuade me. I believe government really ought to give some thought for the future; I believe that building bureaucracies is not always the most effective means for developing new technologies (See Possony and Pournelle, The Strategy of Technology http://www.jerrypournelle.com/slowchange/Strat.html ). Sometimes it is the quickest and most effective means, but sometimes it is not.
I have written about this before. Government can try to influence the future, and should, but government often mucks things up. Prizes and X Projects are ways that have been effective in the past. Of the two, prizes have the least effect on everything else: they don't build bureaucracies, and nothing is paid unless the technology is developed and demonstrated.
You know, I do wonder what might have happened had Kennedy promised $15 billion tax free to the first American to travel to the Moon and return safely....
There is some discussion of prizes in Mail.
June 26, 2008
You may like the review of Lucifer's Hammer over in mail.
So: it is a luxury to try to cut back on the trillions sent to the Near East. It is luxury to try to cut back on sending out the money that allows the Princes to buy the country. What, I ask, would be a necessity?
This is odd: some years ago I proposed that instead of going to war in Iraq, we build nuclear power plants and develop new means for using electricity in transportation in place of oil; in fact I think I proposed about $50 billion in X projects for that purpose. Those were X projects: actual government funded research. At the time I'd have preferred prizes, but I'd been advocating prizes since 1980 without much result. A prize doesn't create a bureaucracy, and no money is paid unless the objective of the prize is achieved. I continue to believe that government has an obligation to think a generation ahead -- no one else will do it, certainly not venture capitalists, we no longer have kings, and with death taxes the great families who look to the future are vanishing. Politicians look ahead to the next election and not much further. Venture capitalists look at bottom lines with return of investment a few years out at most. Foundations always get converted to purposes antithetical to the intentions of their founders.
Now McCain proposes a prize for development of a battery that would help make use of electricity in transportation (as well as nuclear power plants) and Obama calls him silly -- not a surprise I suppose -- but others, who don't seem to have loud objections to a lot of government projects that do nothing but create bureaucracies, think this is evil. Amazing.
Luxury? It is not a luxury to reduce the costs of transportation for everyone. As to necessity, I do not think the US can continue to sell its entire capital value to foreigners and not suffer some terrible consequences. Something must be done, and soon. The biggest problem with McCain's prize is that there's only the one; there ought to be a lot of prizes that tend to move the US toward energy independence. They may not do the job, but at least one gets the technologies. More power to him.
As to whether the greens will allow nuclear power plants, that remains to be seen: on their own logic nuclear plants are the best alternative. They emit no carbon dioxide. And the people have about had it with energy costs.
Prizes can be done badly. The Google X Prize seems to be done badly. But because something can be done badly doesn't mean that it will be, or that it should never be done because it might be done badly. Prizes are a good way to encourage new technologies without creating bureaucracies.
The US Supreme Court has told DC it can't have a law banning ownership of firearms. Cheer.
It is possible to disarm citizens. It is not possible to disarm all the criminals. Even if you can take all the firearms, the bad guys still have weapons. The Colt .45 Equalizer had its effect. I leave drawing the conclusions to you.
It does read like one of mine, doesn't it?
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June 27, 2008
Yesterday wasn't bad. Still sleepy this morning. Between Roberta and Sable I was dragooned into getting up at 0930 for our usual walk. I'm still sleepy, but I'm up.
I still don't have much initiative or energy. I do think I am recovering, but it sure goes slow.
This rumor :http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/06/25/et-tu-intel/index.html
says a very great deal.
My experience with Vista has been that Vista Ultimate with an Intel Quad 6600 has been satisfactory; any less computing power will have problems with networking, or be just plain slow, or have unexpected glitches. But we will have a discussion of this in Chaos Manor Reviews Mailbag which I am preparing now.
Sharon Stone made the mistake of asking if the Great Earthquake in China was a result of bad karma over Tibet. She was ridiculed in the West. The Chinese government went mad and has blackballed The Lady; her movies are banned, and she can no longer visit China. Her apologies are ignored.
Even National Review clucks its tongue about the heartlessness of Stone's remarks.
And I despair of the education system in the US.
For millennia the Chinese Emperors worked to show that the current dynasty had the Mandate of Heaven. The Mandate of Heaven was generally expressed by mildness of floods and earthquakes. Great catastrophes, particularly if the Imperial equivalent of Civil Defense or more likely FEMA did not respond properly, were a sign that the Mandate of Heaven had passed from this Emperor, and perhaps from this Dynasty.
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution tried to purge China of its history, but it didn't manage that. Indeed, by sending the intellectuals to the rice fields and dam building sites, a great deal of peasant superstition was even more deeply rooted into the populace: who was around to teach anything different? Leave that: my point is that the myth of the Mandate of Heaven is taken very seriously in the current Chinese Leadership; perhaps more so than among the populace, but we have less evidence on that score.
So of course the government took Stone seriously. And Stone said better than she knew.
The Earthquake could have been a very serious blow to Chinese stability, and there is residual resentment over some of the shoddy workmanship in those buildings that collapsed; but the government did respond quickly, and apparently effectively, and does not seem to have suffered as badly as it might have.
But in the Chinese culture, disasters remain one measure of the Mandate of Heaven.
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June 28, 2008
The morning paper had a "science interview" about time and time's arrow that disturbed me, in part because it raised some doubts about my understanding. Ever since The Big Blob appeared in my head I have been very sensitive to this. I certainly do not understand what was said here. The late George Alec Effinger presented us with a novel entitled "What Entropy Means to me." Alas I never read it (the cover depicted an attack by a giant radish, as I recall), but now I wonder if I shouldn't go find it, because I discover that I don't understand entropy as Professor Carroll understands it.
First the article:
And at this point I raise the question. We have, most of us, heard Carl Sagan give his "We are all made of star stuff" ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iE9dEAx5Sgw )speech. I also heard Nobel laureate George Oswald give essentially the same lecture at the Library of Congress symposium on Science and Science Fiction featuring, among other participants, Oswald, Gene Roddenberry, Sir Fred Hoyle, and me. Needless to say I was very pleased to be in that august company.
In every case the theme (I greatly simplify) was that once the Universe was a big blob of matter/energy, uniform and undifferentiated, but with too much energy density to remain in that state: it exploded and formed universes. The stars on those universes cooked their atoms in their interiors and spat out a rich goo that became more stars and planets. Eventually in at least one place life evolved, and evolved, and evolved until we appeared. We evolved from fish, but it might have gone another way, and perhaps on some other planets it did: intelligence might have come by way of worms, or beetles.
It's an interesting lecture, made more so because Carl was one of the best lecturers I have ever seen. It presents the Big Bang and Darwinian evolution view with as little question as an Evangelist presents Holy Writ; but leave that; those are the accepted views of Big Science, and this isn't an essay questioning that. My question is: if time's arrow marks the increase of entropy -- that is from a state of organization to disorganization -- how is any of this possible?
For that matter, when the Big Bang happened (and Then A Miracle Occurs) was not the Universe in as disordered a state as it could possibly be? There was no structure. Then "inflation" happened. Inflation is a means for allowing the Big Bang Mess to expand at speeds far in excess of the speed of light (and Then A Miracle Occurs) to create the Universe consisting of billions and billions of universes, each with billions and billions of stars, nearly all of them undifferentiated and made of very low Z atoms. Those stars cooked and exploded, and in one particular case (the only one we know) proceeded to generate Carl Sagan, perform Swan Lake and Beethoven's Ninth, write the plays of Shakespeare, generate Sir Fred Hoyle with his dry sense of humor and his rejection of the Big Bang, and produce this essay, all through the natural selection of random mutations.
And time's arrow marks the passage from less to more entropy, which is to say, from order to disorder?
The explanation, we are told, is that Life is an anomaly of some kind, and on a local level is able to expend energy to create order; and eventually that will cease, and we will find ourselves in a Universe of universes of iron suns, all cold, and all alike, a state of maximum entropy.
How can this be? As far as I can tell, the Universe started in a state of high energy, but I do not understand how that Big Bang Mess was in a state of low entropy. High energy, yes but surely not low entropy? How was it organized or differentiated?
Professor Carroll in the interview that got me thinking about this said
That's not quite what I learned back in the last Millennium, but it's close enough. Now tell me: just what differentiated anything in the Big Bang Blob? If you stirred it with a Cuisinart how would you know you had done so? And, I think, it's the same with those young stars which had not managed to cook up oxygen and nitrogen and carbon and silicon and all that other stuff that makes the world a more interesting place.
Clearly something is wrong with my thinking here. Clearly I do not understand entropy in the way that Professor Carroll does.
I invite comment. Actually, I invite enlightenment.
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June 29, 2008
I am not making myself clear. I know what entropy is. What I do not understand is how or why the Big Bang Stuff is considered low entropy or highly organized. First, is there any reason it should be highly organized? Is there a theory about this? And for that matter, wasn't the original Big Bang Stuff just a lot of highly energetic very low Z particles?
I thought the point of Carl's Star Stuff lecture was that the first stars were made of low Z materials, and they cooked up the more interesting elements like oxygen and carbon, and exploded, and this made planets like Earth where the blind forces of chance could produce Swan Lake, Beethoven's Ninth, and Carl Sagan. Now surely planets that can evolve you and me are less entropic than the Big Bang Stuff? If not, why not?
Lucretius had this pre-universe of atoms streaming along, then one atom swerved, and the blind forces of nature did the rest. It was a brilliant invention of the mind, but it began with high entropy and went to low; not that Lucretius understood any of that.
Look, I know that the notion is that in local areas, like the Solar System, there can be decreases of entropy, or apparent decreases of energy, but over a long enough time they are doomed and we'll all be part of the Universe of the Iron Suns, and nothing can be done about it. From Big Bang Dust we came and to Iron shall we return, or something like that, but perhaps one or two of the drops will shine; not that there will be anyone or anything to remember either the best or the worst. What I do not understand and have seen no theories of is what it means to say the Big Bang Stuff was highly ordered, high energy, low entropy. Thanks to all of you who explained entropy to me; it was a decent refresher course, or actually, a reasonable reminder that I haven't forgotten how it was explained to me by Van Allen at the University of Iowa a very long time ago. But he never said that time is measured by increase entropy, or if he did, I didn't think to ask how the Universe came into being at LOW entropy, and is devolving over billions and billions of years into the high entropy Universe of the Iron Suns.
Actually, I thought the evolution of Carl Sagan from a fish -- surely a move from higher to lower entropy? -- far more interesting than I would find the eventual decay of Carl Sagan into dust. Perhaps my mind really is going.
There is mixed news:
The bad news is that they haven't a clue as to who actually sent the anthrax.
The US has decided that special education (for the handicapped, mentally deficient, attention deficient, etc.) is far more important than gifted student programs. Surprise!
I told you that No Child Left Behind meant No Child Shall Get Ahead.
We sow the wind. We shall reap the whirlwind.
2330: A good day. I had a healthy appetite and ate well. We took our walk. There is considerably less ringing in my ears, and the sudafed seems to be clearing that out. Joint pains are less. I am still sleepy far into the morning, but if I refuse to let that conquer me I manage to get some work done. I may be back to 4 hours of work a day, which is not a lot for me, but it sure beats what's been going on.
Of course we need to find out how I'll feel in the morning, but today looks good. I have some ambition to get real work done.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the weekly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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