Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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The Mailbag

Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2009 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

June 29, 2009

Thanks for suggesting Tab Mix Plus 0.3.7.3

Jerry,

I just installed the Tab Mix Plus 0.3.7.3 plugin because I remembered your mentioning that you use it to display multiple rows of tabs in Firefox. It took me a while to find it by searching www.jerrypournelle.com, but I really appreciate that you archive your "columns" and make then searchable.

This is exactly what I need when I have a lot of tabs open - thanks!

There are so many Firefox plugins available now that it really helps to have recommendations from a trusted source.

Have a great day,

Adrian in Phoenix

Agree. I am sure there are other plugins that I ought to be using but just don't know about. My only complaint about Firefox and Tab Mix Plus is that sometimes the updating gets annoying: it happens when Firefox is not open, I click a link, and instead of seeing my link in Firefox I see an offer to update one or another plugin. This can cause Firefox to do something silly that makes me go to some trouble to restore my previous session. Since I keep a lot of tabs open (Intel Core 2 Quad machine with 4 GB memory, so that's never a problem) because I need to look at them or they mark something that goes into a novel, I'd hate to lose the session. I never have, but I have sometimes had to go look for a way to open the last session.

But, as I said, I have never lost a session, even though I have had scares. Tab Mix Plus gives me a lot of layout options, and I am quite pleased with it.


Sagan on evidence, the macdevil, and systems analysis

Dr. Pournelle,

Perhaps accidentally, in light of the re-surfacing of your Velikovsky Incident discussion, Discovery Science is running the Sagan series _Cosmos_ on Sunday mornings. As I read Chaos Manor and Mailbag postings from Friday and Saturday, I have the program on, and I am fascinated by Dr. Sagan's analysis of UFO's and the Drake equation. For me there's nothing new there -- since I saw much of the series when it aired originally -- but in retrospect I'm caught by the contrasts between the incident you describe, his concurrent advocacy of "nuclear winter" climate change theory, your characterization of him with Niven in _Escape_, and the popular lecturer persona he presents in most of the _Cosmos_ series. Dr. Sagan demonstrably understood the differences between convictions of faith, evidence, theory, proof, and advocacy. On camera in _Cosmos_, he is capable of rational discussion of theories he finds unsupportable, but notably, his is the only voice presented. Thanks again for the new insight.

Would that the majority of our present day scientific community were motivated to apply the oft repeated Sagan standard of "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" to climate change predictions.

On macsatanism, I did return to that cited Objective: Ministry web site, and noted that it was last updated in 2002 and that a later insertion did cite the BSD daemon connection to MacOS. There was no retraction, so the level of fuggheadedness there is still maintained.

The parallels between electronic troubleshooting and organizational analysis drawn by another of your Mailbag contributors is of interest to me -- I use some of the same techniques in systems analysis, and the writer's experiences have some similarities to my own. I maintain that in the case of a system that is bound by what you describe as the "Iron Law," that revolution (as opposed to incremental repair) too often offers the only practical course for repair. "Tear it down and start over" may seem a drastic action or attitude, but may be the only real path to real "change you can count on" in a system that has lost effectiveness. In my experience, people seldom seem to have the stomach for it.

-d

I knew Carl Sagan fairly well at one time. He was very bright and quite aware of that, but of course he would be. After he became the famous Carl Sagan he was under a lot of pressure to take stands on all kinds of issues, some within his area of expertise and some not. His political friends got him involved with the nuclear winter threat at the time of the First Gulf War - which put us on the same side, against the invasion of Iraq, but for entirely different reasons, since the threat that Saddam would set fire to all the oil wells and the resulting smoke would bring on a new Ice Age seemed even less substantial than the theory that nuclear war would have that result. (My view was that a nuclear war would itself be enough disaster without postulating that it would be followed by Nuclear Winter, and US strategic defenses would lower the probability of such a war; but those are matters for another discussion.)

Those who have read Escape From Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle will know that we put Carl in the book, for reasons that we think we made quite clear. I do not know if he would have been unhappy with our treatment of him; I would hope that he would find it worth friendly discussion. We also noted in Escape that his dictum that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, quite true in my judgment, originated with Descartes.

Note: the "MacSatanism" web site turns out to be a hoax. Ah well.


ASUS Eee PC

Dear Jerry:

Just got done reading the most recent column, and I have some thoughts on why you're finding limited user space in Ubuntu. As I remember when you first set the OS up you have to explicitly partition for where the OS, scratch, and user files are going to be. Don't forget that the machine actually does NOT have one 32GB drive but one 8GB plus one 32GB drive for a total of 40GB. Anyway the problem may be where the disk space for new users is coming from; obviously you want to specify the 32GB disk and leave plenty of room on the boot 8GB for the OS and its scratch files.

I cannot remember just how explicit you have to be about this under Ubuntu, in other words whether or not you actually should remap the hard drives when you add a new user. That seems rather user unfriendly, I admit, but I sort of remember there might have been a choice when I initialized the install about whether it would be for one or multiple users. Sorry I can't be more helpful; the mists of memory have become fogs in this case. But I think the crux of the issue is allocating the right amount of space on the right (32GB) drive and making sure Ubuntu has not shoe-horned new users into the 8GB boot drive.

I hope this helps. It was fun reading your reactions to the little cuss; they closely echoed my own. For most everyday tasks, such as e- mail and Web surfing, as well as basic office productivity, I'd have a hard time arguing most people really need more machine than the ASUS.

I was watching Dvorak on CRANKY GEEKS earlier and there was brief discussion about how MS is trying to cripple the basic version of Windows 7 on netbooks so as to almost require you to spend $100 more to upgrade. This sounds like one of balmy Balmer's worst ideas yet and a certain way to send folks flocking to some version of Linux on the netbook side. Whatever happened to the marketing plan of giving customers a great experience with your product at whatever level and building loyalty so that when they upgrade to better hardware they remember how well your goods ran on their little "cheap" machine? Do such thoughts ever even cross Uncle Fester's so-called mind, do you think?

In any event let's hope we see Steve Jobs back at the helm of Apple this month, kicking ass and taking names; the new iPhone 3G (S) sure looks sweet (I have one on order) but AT&T badly needs an attitude adjustment (upgrade cost, MMS, tethering), and Steve is just the fellow to administer it.

All the best,

Tim

We are still experimenting with user accounts in Ubuntu.


ASUS Eee PC vs. ACER Aspire One

The review section on the ACER Eee PC running Ubuntu was interesting, but you really need to look into the ACER "Aspire One". For only a VERY few bucks more than for the ASUS, you can get the same-size machine with a 250 GB hard drive and 1 GB of ram, running official, factory pre-installed Windows XP. This is REALLY all the computer pretty much anyone needs (and pretty much everyone except the most poverty-stricken) can afford. I keep one next to my easy chair for when I want to do a quick computer task, and am too lazy to run downstairs to my desk tower. My business has bought quite a few of these, which we use for instrument control and data acquisition running Labview. Real Windows apps for the non-computer geek.

Duane

Back in the glory days of BYTE my colleagues would have looked at a number of netbook machines and compared them, and my column would have been about my using one - possibly two - of them for actual work. In those days, though, the column accounted for quite a substantial income and I was able to put a lot more time into it, including going to computer shows and conferences with some regularity. Alas, almost no one does all that now.

On the other hand, my emphasis has always been on machines that are "good enough", and the Acer Eee PC is certainly good enough for a lot of the things people do. As to operating systems, I suspect that if one wants Windows on a netbook, Windows 7 would be preferable. My suspicions are based on a number of reports from readers.

Thanks.


My son Richard is still using the Acer Eee PC with Ubuntu as his main system. I asked if he had anything to add to last month's report http://www.chaosmanorreviews.com/oa/2009/20090611_col.php . This was his answer:

Overall, very happy with this machine.

The good: -Networking - essentially hands free wired & wireless networking. I have to say it's better than windows XP for ease of connection.

-Speed - For a 1.5 Ghz machine clearly runs fast. Firefox sometimes bogs down for a few seconds but that's better than windows.

-Built in programs - E-mail, web browser good out of the box. Probably better than IE & Outlook express.

-Hasn't crashed on me yet - Bends but does not break unless I do something stupid.

The bad: -Linux strangeness - Very mac-like because things are really easy or impossible.

-Command line - touch at your own peril.

-Still needs refinement - little things like the sound volume won't go up high enough. Every now and then you turn up things not quite right.

Rich Pournelle

All of which reminds me a bit of my experiences with Apple.

I have yet to see an Apple machine that didn't need an external audio amplifier - but do note that I have been hard of hearing since the early 1950's. Even so, I haven't had the same experience with Windows laptops including my TabletPC.

And of course Apple's OS X does take getting used to. The Apple Way has its quirks, but once one gets used to them it's hard to remember there ever was a problem - unlike Windows, where getting used to the problem doesn't in general make it go away, you just learn to live with it.

Ubuntu works, and it's cheap, but you do need to pay attention to it. Richard grew up with computers although unlike his big brother Alex he has never shown any special interest in them: they're just tools. His experiences with Ubuntu on the Eee PC have pretty well convinced me that any regular reader of this column could manage Ubuntu on a netbook at need.

The real problem with Ubuntu comes when you need to use the console and do special installation of some program because the Ubuntu community hasn't set up a package that does it automatically. That may work - and may not, depending on your willingness to spend time learning about the inner workings of Linux. But in general, the cure for that is patience: the Ubuntu community eventually catches up.

More On Ubuntu from Brian Bilbrey, Managing Editor of Chaos Manor Reviews:

Another side note:

There's an additional repository that you can use with Ubuntu that gives packaged availability to many of the things that aren't available in the official Ubuntu repositories: Medibuntu.

http://www.medibuntu.org/

From that page: "Medibuntu is a packaging project dedicated to distributing software that cannot be included in Ubuntu for various reasons, related to geographical variations in legislation regarding intellectual property, security and other issues."

There's a link at the top of that page, leading to the documentation for using Medibuntu:

https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Medibuntu

Should you decide to use this, that page needs to be followed, and commands typed (or better, copied) into the terminal to add the repository. Once that's done, you can add/delete all of the programs (including Google Earth) from the normal GUI software tool, or using the command line tools described in the page above. The list of resources that Medibuntu supports (for the latest release of Ubuntu, Jaunty) is here:

http://packages.medibuntu.org/jaunty/index.html

hacking up a lung in MD,

.brian

As I said: the Ubuntu community is active. Thanks.


Passwords and account numbers

I've been using SplashID for years on my Palm devices.

http://www.splashdata.com/ They have an iPhone version. Recommended.

I use a couple of their other apps, too, like SplashShopper. It's hard to describe how much more convenient it is to have that handy on your phone. It's one of those things you have to experience. When I think of something, I put it in there. Every time I go to the hardware store or a computer store I pop up SplashShopper to see if there are some of those little things on the list that I would have otherwise forgotten.

Drake

There seem to be new and useful applications for iPhone and other smart phones every week. It's impossible to keep track of all of them. Thanks for the tip.


Chaos Manor Reviews Column - Google Search

Jerry, you wrote:

"In many cases I find Bing more useful than Google - there are fewer sponsored links, so I am not subjected to ads for the lowest price on buying Jerry Pournelle before I get the information I was after - but using it requires that I use the little search window at the top of the screen, and that doesn't open a new tab."

actually the trick is not to hit ENTER but alt-ENTER and then you get the results in a new tab

Instead of hitting the little 'G' with the mouse you can also type ctrl-K and then alt-enter and you're left with a new tab with the google search page... anyway you don't need it, you just type ctrl-k, then you type your search string and then hit alt-enter

best regards from Santiago, Chile

Jorge

Yes, it only takes getting in the habit. But now there's a Go To Bing plugin for Firefox that works precisely as the Go To Google app. It was written by a subscriber, and alas, I have managed to store his mail somewhere that I won't lose it, meaning that I can't find it at all. The app is called Go To Bing, and I have been using it for a couple of weeks, and it works quite nicely.


Hi Jerry,

I just read about your trouble with the Thinkpad and wifi networking. We only use Thinkpads here and have wifi - one machine is actually a T42. From experience I can say that Access Connections and Win XP, depending on the respective versions and updates, do not always work together very well. In some cases this leads to none of the two wanting to connect.

The obvious solution is to switch off Access Connections, as Windows usually does a fair job of connecting to a wifi network but this is not as easy as it may seem. One utility that comes in handy here is TuneUp Utilities (US-English site: http://www.tune-up.com/products/tuneup-utilities ), which has a Startup Manager that lets you deselect all sorts of drivers and hidden applications that are normally loaded with Windows. No need to actually delete anything, just deselect it from the list, reboot and see what happens. There are several drivers and hidden apps that obviously relate to Access Connections, possibly other IBM tools, and the first step then is to deselect those.

Access Connections is both loved and hated by Thinkpad users, depending on who you talk to, but most agree that it requires some or even a lot of tweaking to keep it working, especially if one starts to update. Any new version usually only works with a specific version of the driver of your wifi card, which thus also needs to be updated from the Lenovo site or from the card manufacturer, and it won't surprise me if a Windows update might disturb that combo. On the Lenovo site all viable combinations of Access Connections and driver versions for your T42p can be found. Update/reinstall both and you may solve the problem; but many Thinkpad owners just don't bother and completely delete Access Connections from their systems. I did, after it gave me too much trouble for a while, and my machines all connect perfectly well through Win XP.

Regards,
Frank Schweppe

We tried almost everything, and nothing worked, until we thought to turn off the Windows One Care firewall. That worked just fine. It does mean that if I am going to use that machine in a place that doesn't let me install a router I don't think I will use it at all, but inside Chaos Manor it's not a problem.

However, I have also noted that the signal strength is attenuated. That may be a consequence of a number of local neighborhood networks all trying to use the same channel; I need to investigate that. It might also be that the latest "upgrades" to Windows XP and One Care have had an effect, although I doubt that. I haven't had time to try changing channels on the wireless router yet, but I'll get to it. First I have to find where I logged the user name and password on the router.

On that score, the obvious place to write those is with Magic Marker on the router itself: if someone can physically get to the router, he's already got control of your system. If I eventually have to hard reset the router and change user name and password (and reconfigure the router, and the rest of the tedious activities that will earn me) I'll write it down this time. The Belkin router has worked for so long without attention that I can't even remember when we set it up, meaning that I'm having trouble finding out when we set it up. Fortunately, I know the password for logging machines onto it.


iPhone Tethering

Dear Dr Pournelle,

Last month you wrote:

[ Closer reading of the press releases indicates that Apple and AT&T don't intend to implement tethering. In some countries the 3G network is subsidized by government or operated as a government owned monopoly; this influences decisions on tethering. JEP]

I'm not sure I understand this comment. While it may well be true (I don't know) it leaves out the important and common case where people pay for what they actually use, just as they do with electricity or gasoline or milk.

AT&T don't want to do tethering because their iPhone plans offer "unlimited" data. Of course it's not really unlimited and there will be some secret limit which if you go over it will get you a stern warning from AT&T.

Even if tethering doesn't cause people to go over this unknown limit, it will still cause people to use more data on average than at present, which will cost AT&T money, for no extra revenue.

Here in New Zealand it is quite different. iPhone plans come with 250, 500, or 1000 MB of data, and if you go over the included data then extra use is charged at a very reasonable per megabyte rate. So reasonable, in fact, that it's cheaper to get 500 or 1000 MB by buying the 250 MB plan and going over it. (this isn't a mistake on Vodafone's part -- the plans with more MB also come with more voice minutes, which are no doubt useful to some people, though not everyone).

In fact, over 70% of Vodafone NZs customers (across all phones) are on prepay, not monthly plans, and this is an option on the iPhone as well.

The data choices available on prepay are (with prices converted to US$):

1) default: 60c/day for daily data use between 200 KB and 10 MB. Prorated for use less than 200 KB e.g. 50 KB = 1c.

2) $6 for 100 MB or 1 month, whichever comes first, automatically rebilled and deducted from your prepay balance.

3) $24 for 512 MB or 1 month, whichever comes first, automatically rebilled and deducted from your prepay balance.

I use about 20 - 25 MB a month on my iPhone and I don't know anyone who goes over about 100 MB, even if they're trying hard so we're all on the $6 prepay add-on.

Given all of this, Vodafone are understandably enthusiastic about anything that makes people use more data. Naturally this includes tethering. Not because some government regulation or subsidy makes them, but because they simply make more money that way!

By the way, when I was in the USA last month I did an informal survey of friends and colleagues with iPhones there. All of them said they valued having unlimited data as they "didn't have to worry about it". But when I checked the data use meter on their iPhones (which they generally didn't know how to get to and had never reset since they bought the phone) I found that they were generally using between 20 MB and 80 MB a month. And yet they were paying $60 or more a month for their plans!!!

Best regards,
Bruce Hoult

You are of course correct. Very few of those paying for unlimited iPhone text use enough to justify the payment; I'm pretty sure it applies to me, for that matter.

The US has rather primitive connectivity compared to much of the world. It's partly a function of sunk costs, and even more a function of lobbying. Back when Bell was The Phone Company and a regulated public utility it was slow to make changes, but it did try to keep up. "Investment" was a matter of what they thought the rate payers would want and need. Now the incentives are quite different, and the structure is different as well.

It is worth discussing which gives better service: oligopoly with lobbyists, or regulated public utilities. Unfortunately no one seems to be having that discussion.


Snow Leopard Mail does not use MAPI

Hi Mr. Pournelle,

I enjoy reading your columns, and have for many years and in many mediums. I thought I should correct Dan's interpretation of Snow Leopard's Exchange support - Snow Leopard's Mail, iCal and Address Book do not use MAPI as their communication mechanism, but Exchange Web Services, which is fully supported in Exchange Server 2010. In fact this support only works with Exchange Server 2007 SP1 and higher, so it is fully 2010-ready!

Thank you sir and please keep on writing.

Sincerely,

Henry Stukenborg

Thank you for the correction.


My old friend Dr. David Friedman wrote about a number of things, some of universal interest:

1. Asus Eee pC. I got one quite a while back--it's named eeep. A very cute machine, but it had one serious fault--the keyboard. The right shift key was small, and the up arrow was next to it, so every time I did a right shift I was quite likely to end up two lines up in my document. I don't know if that's still true with the current model.

I gave eeep to my daughter to take to college for taking notes in class, since she is a fast hunt and peck typist who has no problem with the keyboard, and she is very fond of it. I got myself an Acer Aspire, which is a similar machine with a substantially better keyboard. But in practice I don't use it much, since although it is much smaller and lighter than my MacBook, I'm used to the latter and have my stuff on it.

The Eee PC keyboard is definitely easier to use if one is not a touch typist, but it's not so small that it can't be used that way. I have often regretted that I know how to type without looking at the keyboard: it means that many keyboards are simple unusable for me, because I am not a rapid two-finger typist.

I recall sitting in a Moscow bar with columnist Tom Bethell in 1979. We both carried the Atari Portfolio, a sort of early pocket computer, and while we were talking, Tom took his out and banged out a 2500 word column. He wasn't quite as fast on the Portfolio with two fingers as I was with the NEC portable I carried, but then I didn't have the NEC with me: it was up in my room at the Moscow Cosmopolitan Hotel. I did have the Portfolio because I could carry it in my pocket and it was very useful for making notes - but I sure couldn't write a full column on it. Arnaud de Borchgrave watched this performance and choked with laughter given that I was the BYTE computer columnist and supposed to have the latest in high tech... That was one day I wished I had learned to type in a newsroom.

Nowadays if I carry a portable computer at all, it will be a substantial one, and I find the MacBook Air both useful and way cool...

2. My second novel. Not a sequel to the first. If you are interested and have time, I will be happy to email it to you.

One thing that might intrigue you--I think I have come up with a new version of magic, one whose internal logic is modelled on QMech/linear algebra. Multiple basis stars. All magic can be represented as mixes of earth, air, fire and water. Also as mixes of hot, cold, dry, and wet. Hot is a mixture of fire and air--and fire a mix of hot and dry. "Mix" of course is too simple a description.

The story started as a fantasy version of the central planning fallacy--a spell, invented by a naive but well intentioned theorist, to let one mage get control of the magical power of lots and lots other people and use it--to do good things, of course. It ended up partly about that, partly about the question of in what sense the end does or does not justify the means.

I liked Harald - as I recall I reviewed it favorably, but I have always wondered how popular an alternate world fantasy without magic would be. In any event, it sounds as if you are doing the axioms for hard magic stories. Niven and I (well, mostly Niven) have set rules for The Burning City series and we try to stay with them. And of course we do try to tell the tale of how the King of Atlantis tried to use magic to build a perfect world. Anyway I'll be glad to have a look at your new one.

3. Speaking of my agent ... . She wants me to join a class action suit against the Google settlement; I'm not sure she is right. Do you have any conclusion on the subject? If you want to join the suit, I expect she would be delighted.

The courts have relieved the pressure a bit on opting in or out. My own view is that nothing is ever going to come of this that results in any actual payments to anyone but lawyers. The Authors Guild is proud of their settlement but beginning to realize that it has some hidden problems, the courts are reconsidering the whole thing, and the founders of Google are beginning to wonder about the storm they raised given their good intentions.

There are I think no conclusions to reach because the story isn't over.

4. On tethering. My attempts to get T-mobile online support to tell me whether or not I am allowed to tether my G-1 resulted in two layers of support telling me that T-mobile wouldn't help me if I got into trouble, but didn't forbid me from doing it. I took that as adequate justification, although I'm not entirely sure that if I had gotten another five layers up I would have gotten the same answer.

My G-1 is now rooted and can function as a WiFi router, tethering laptops to the net via 3G.

Interesting. I have an iPhone so of course AT&T, and I'll stay with that for a while longer, but a tethered T-Mobile might serve me even better. Particularly if I can tether it to the MacBook Air.

David adds:

One thing I didn't make clear about the G-1 is that installing the WiFi tethering application is a bit of a pain. I don't expect it would be a big problem for you, but it might be for some of your readers.

The original version of the OS had a hole in it that let you get to root--which the tethering app requires. So you have to downgrade to the original version, use that hole to install something that gives you root access, upgrade to a modified copy of the new version, install the tethering app.

There's a different tethering app that connects via USB, but it only exists for Windows, not the Mac. It doesn't require root, so is much easier to install.

5. You might be interersted in some recent blog posts of mine related to arctic sea ice. I found a claim on a JPL/NASA web page which appeared to me to be clearly false. Discussions on my blog produced no adequate defense of it, and my email contacts with someone at NASA who sent me on to someone as NSDIC ended with a response that I interpret as "it's all right for us to lie about the evidence as long as we tell the truth about the conclusion."

My most recent (and probably final) post on that is at:

http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2009/06/arctic-sea-ice-briefly-continued.html

and contains links to the two earlier ones.

6. Apropos of global warming, on my blog and in some correspondence I've been pointing out the peril of global cooling--along the lines you and Larry offered in _Fallen Angels_. It's true that we have no particular reason to expect the interglacial to end any century soon. On the other hand, if it does, we have massive geological evidence that the result would be quite a lot worse than a sea level rise of a foot or two. So for those people who make arguments about the importance of low probability/very high cost outcomes, it ought to be included in the list.

Hope you are well. We're fine.

--
David Friedman

I had thought that some scientific sanity was returning to the Global Warming debate, but apparently not: as I write this, the House of Representatives has passed by a narrow margin a bill that may or may not have a great effect on CO2 but is apparently (I say apparently because it is not clear that anyone on Earth has read the entire bill) the largest tax increase in the history of the world. Literally. When trillions are at stake, rational debate takes a back seat to clever advertisements, the lobbying arts, and such like. As near as I can make out, the climate modeling community is convinced that the models are good and human activity is driving the temperature ever upward, but the climate data collection community isn't so sure - and there do not seem to be many falsifiable hypotheses generated by the models. Those that are - temperature predictions - are not supported by the actual data. This is answered by tweaking the models, but they all continue to give the same long term predictions while failing to generate falsifiable hypotheses.

Meanwhile, sunspot activity remains very low (see http://www.solarcycle24.com/) and some believe we may be entering a period similar to that of the Maunder Minimum, which may or may not have had an effect on the Little Ice Age; but there seems little discussion of that. This seems an odd way to settle a scientific debate, but apparently a majority of the House has made up its mind. They are making quite a sizable bet on the CO2/Global Warming hypothesis.

Glad all is well.


Next Big Boom

Jerry,

As you well know there will ultimately be a huge growth in wealth and output fueled by the exploitation of the resources available in space. The only real question is when it will happen. As long as Governments monopolize the development and use of the lifting vehicles it aint gonna happen anytime anyhow.

There are real signs that this Government monopoly will be broken and relatively soon. A few more X style prizes and daring entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk and it can happen early in the next decade.

If the government wants to get involved, the best way would be through offering X style prizes with magnitudes of hundreds of millions or several billion dollars for specific achievements.

Bob Holmes

Prizes are probably the best way to break government monopolies on research and development. And, of course, other governments can sponsor R&D. The universe has not decreed that the language of space has to be English.


Long time friend and colleague Marty Winston says:

RE: June International 2009 Column

A footnote -

Many local TV stations, driven by a starvation economy, are nonetheless planning to "upgrade" their Avid video editing systems by replacing them with - drum roll - Macs running Final Cut Pro.

My PC running Sony Vegas Pro can run rings around that, and I'm not stuck with a single source for the hardware. (I don't particularly like Avid, or Adobe Premiere; FCP is OK but I find more versatility, flexibility & ease in Vegas).

At many of these same stations, as it happens, every employee age 50 & up is getting a buyout offer.

So wisdom & experience are going to be even less of a factor going forward.

Marty Winston

Thanks.


Self-Publishing on Kindle

You probably have seen this, but just in case:

http://johnaugust.com/archives/2009/kindle-formatting-for-web-geeks

Sounds delightfully straightforward.

Stephen

--
Stephen Fleming

They are clear instructions, and some people have done well with Kindle publishing. Usually the returns are small but there's always a chance of viral marketing and a runaway sale. It has happened....


Subject: Kindle trouble

Jerry,

As an avid book and eBook reader, I've owned an eBookwise, a Sony PRS-500 Reader, and now a Kindle 2. I've liked them all, the Sony probably the least, mostly because of the button layout. They've all worked fairly well and given me good service. I've had my Kindle about three months now, and purchased about 20 books for it, and three periodicals.

I've only had to charge it three times as I turn off the wireless when not using it. It let me know it needed a charge last night, so I attempted to plug it in this morning. Unfortunately it didn't start charging...the cord even seems loose at the base of the Kindle.

I called the Kindle support line...interesting way it works...you get to the website, enter your phone number and it calls you. My phone rang and in less than a minute I'm talking to a human who speaks English. This is a good thing. We went through troubleshooting which consisted of me plugging the cable into the adapter, a different outlet and the USB cable into my computer. None of these worked, so he is sending a replace power cord. I even offered and he accepted to allow me to plug a foreign mini-usb cable in which didn't work either. His hands were evidently bound, however, and he is sending out the cord which will get here Tuesday due to the holiday. He said if that doesn't work, call back and they'll ship a replacement Kindle, which is clearly what is needed.

All in all, I can't gripe...pretty good service. I'm going to hate being without my Kindle for a week though.

Tracy Walters, CISSP

Opinion seems divided on the Kindle, and Amazon is losing money on many of the Kindle books - they pay the full 50% of cover price to the publisher then publish the book at a lower price - but for the most part, all my reports from Kindle owners are positive.

I continue to use my Kindle. I haven't used it for newspapers yet because Los Angeles still has three morning papers (two local plus the Wall Street Journal) that are delivered to my house every morning, and I seldom have time to read all of those; but I can see that as time goes on, something like the Kindle will substitute for all those dead trees, printing presses, trucks, and delivery cars that drive up the cost of newspaper distribution.


Email password

Jerry,

"Meanwhile my iMac has decided to reject my mail password, and I can't figure out what to do about that. I'll work on it after I come back. This is madness. "

This happens to me with my Macbook Pro. It may be an ISP issue, not Mac related, but I can't swear to that. When I enter the password again and tell the Mac to remember it, it works again for months and then the cycle repeats. Mac or ISP? Interaction of the two? Not sure...

Chuck

Thanks. Glad to hear I have not lost my mind...


Education

Dr. Paul J. Camp states "Output is limited not so much by the ability of the educational machine to deliver knowledge, but by the intrinsic limitations of the human mind to absorb it and integrate it with existing knowledge"

That is exactly right because from what we can tell, the human brain has a finite capacity to store information ( unless proven otherwise ) which means that as the body of knowledge that the human race has grows, the percentage of that body of knowledge that any one human can absorb becomes less and less. Eventually it will become close to zero.

This has two implications.

One is that the system of education that was invented however many years ago that we still use today only worked when the body of knowledge was small. At some point in the past the point of no return was reached when the body of knowledge became so large that the system of education no longer worked.

Two, is that if we use technology to augment our human minds, like is happening in research departments already ( where say you wear special glasses that continually scan what you are looking at and displays relevant information to what you are seeing ) then we can access a greater percentage of the body of knowledge if the data accessed is correct.

Either way the current system of "education" will no longer work.

The best that we can hope for is on demand knowledge access and isn't that what we want anyway ? I mean does it all HAVE to be in the brain for us to be smart ? I think what needs to be contained in the brain is how to live a good life as a good person and how to have street smarts.

Dean Peters

Education may well need a thorough reexamination and redesign, but for the moment we don't seem to be able to do what we used to do. Until we lose the notion that this is Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average and thus all should have a world class university prep education in high school, we doom the bright kids to stay at the pace of those less so. This can't be good for anyone.


Another opinion on Wolfram Alpha:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/05/19/dziuba_wolfram/

I find it useless in its current form, for hard science technical searches:

Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input.

My understanding is that Wolfram intends to monetize the service eventually. There will have to be a lot more compelling (and findable) content to make me part with any money, and that doesn't mean cribbing data from wikipedia.

Chris C

And yet Wolfram Alpha really is fun to play with. I agree that it won't replace Google or Bing, but it wasn't supposed to. When it does work, it works extremely well - and they're refining it continuously.

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info harvester for CircusPonies notebook

Hi Jerry,

about the human user acting as an information harvester for CircusPonies notebooks:

It seems the Multidex creates several outlines, for instance TEXT = all words (no stop words like the, an currently)

When you first look at the M - TEXT page you can only see to a certain level of the outline, that is: the alphabetized word list only.

Clicking on a word takes you one level deeper in the outline, to a sentence or fragment that presents the highlighted keyword in the context of surrounding words. This shows something of the meaning of the keyword as you were using it at the time.

If there were multiple uses of the word in your notebook, you get to see all of them at this cursory level.

For a human to be the information harvester it might be better to right away see all these parents and siblings, to be able to scan without all the key-clicking. (what if just the alphabetized list of keywords does not automatically trigger the writer to recognize what he wrote?)

The current program rules for expanding and collapsing levels of the Multidex outlines seems to prevent revealing this comprehensive display, at least from the menu bar.

Would there be any other function that an automated info harvester could bring to the process?

Regards,

Joe O'Laughlin

Interesting questions. I suspect that information harvesting is one of those "next big things" we're all looking for.