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Week of 14 November 2005

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Monday, 14 November 2005
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08:27 - I get very tired of hearing people say that you can't save money building a PC. It's simply not true. So, this weekend, I set out to prove it. The first thing I did was search out the prices of minimal configurations from many vendors, from Dell to no-name stuff like you'd find at Fry's. A typical minimal configuration was something like:
A typical price for such a configuration, after rebates if any, was around $225, not counting shipping, for systems without an OS or with Linux installed. Similar configurations with Windows XP Home were typically about $50 more. So I set out to configure a similar system, using mostly products carried by NewEgg, to see what the total would come to. Here's what I came up with:

Rosewill Value R203A Black Steel ATX mid-tower case w/ 350W power supply 19.99
PC CHIPS M863G Socket A motherboard 35.99
Sempron 2200+ with HSF 57.73
Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 8 6K040L0 40GB 7200 RPM IDE Ultra ATA133 Hard Drive - OEM 46.00
Samsung SH-C522C/BEBE CD-ROM drive 13.99
pqi POWER Series 128 MB 184-pin DDR SDRAM DDR 333 (PC 2700) MD3428UOE 11.74
DCT Factory KB-790A Beige PS/2 Wired Slim Keyboard - Retail     4.25
KEYBOARD-2000 HM2002/42P White 2 Buttons 1x Wheel PS/2 Ball Mouse - Retail     2.79
$ 192.48

Yes, that's right. The commercial systems cost about $32 more, or 17% more, than the home-built one. Shipping actually cost more for the commercial systems than for having the individual components shipped. And, although we've used some truly garbage-quality components--everything except the processor, hard drive, and CD-ROM drive is crap--they're at least as good as those you'll probably find in a cheap mass-market commercial system.

So, how much more would it cost to build an inexpensive but high-quality budget system to these specifications? A decent case and power supply, something like the Antec SLK1650B, adds about $40. A decent motherboard adds $35 more. Replacing the no-name memory with a 128 MB Crucial DIMM adds $6. And replacing the garbage keyboard and mouse with a basic Logitech optical mouse and keyboard adds $9. All told, upgrading the junk components to high-quality components adds about $90 to the price of the system, which puts it in at $282.48 range, or $57.48 more than the mass-market system built around junk components.

Of course, I wouldn't be satisfied with that. Even for a budget system, I'd boost the memory to 512 MB and replace the $14 CD-ROM drive with a $40 NEC or BenQ DVD writer. Of course, that'd mean the price of my system would skyrocket into the $320 range, which is to say about $45 more than the garbage system costs with Windows XP Home installed.

And I'd install Xandros OCE, which is free for personal use. That'd give me a $320 system that's perfectly capable of doing just about everything that most people want to do, and is a lot more secure than the Windows system. Linux sucks for gaming, of course, but then you're not going to be playing games on the cheap Windows system, either.

Heads-down work this week, getting the decks cleared for Thanksgiving week. Barbara and I are taking that week off. We have some friends coming down from Virginia for the week.


Tuesday, 15 November 2005
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08:50 - It is a sign of Microsoft's increasing desperation that it is considering making Windows free-as-in-beer, albeit with embedded ads.

It may sound strange to describe a corporation that has the resources of Microsoft as "desperate", but desperate it is. Microsoft is losing the server room to Linux. Its Windows monopoly faces the growing threat of desktop Linux, which is a superior operating system in every sense except breadth of application support, and that gap continues to narrow every month. MS Office, which is the keystone of the Microsoft monopoly, is threatened by OpenOffice.org, and more particularly by the rapidly growing sentiment that favors open OpenDocument Format. And then there's Google and web-based services.

Windows and Office contribute most of Microsoft's revenue and more than 100% of its profits. Every other Microsoft endeavor, including Xbox, is either barely profitable or a major money loser. Microsoft is losing key senior staff to sexier companies, and the best and brightest college graduates no longer want to work for Microsoft. At high-tech job fairs, job applicants are lined up six-deep at the Google and Yahoo booths, while the staff at the Microsoft booth look like the Maytag repairman. No longer can new Microsoft hires hope that they'll eventually be able to cash in stock options for millions. There is no new generation of MicroSerfs.

So, like all doomed companies that are no longer able to compete in the marketplace, Microsoft has turned to the legislature and judiciary to prop up its failing business. Years ago, people laughed when I said that Microsoft would attempt to make Linux illegal, but that's exactly what's happening now. The only reason Microsoft hasn't launched a major patent offensive against Linux is, as I've also said before, that one doesn't bring a knife to a gunfight. Although Microsoft is filing numerous patents every month, it's still far behind IBM, which is committed to defending Linux and would like nothing better than to watch Microsoft fall flat on its face. IBM remembers OS/2. Other companies like Google, Novell, Sun, and Red Hat are also joining the fight to prevent Microsoft from tying up Linux in patent battles.

Nor does Microsoft's roadmap promise much. Vista is many years late, and at this point looks unlikely to ship by Microsoft's latest promised date of late 2006. Even if Microsoft does make that date, it will be with a gutted version of what had originally been promised for Vista. In effect, Vista will be nothing more than a service pack for Windows XP, although one you'll have to pay for. And I don't think many people will. Pay for it, that is. Of the very few "new" features in Vista, nearly all will be back-ported to Windows XP, further reducing the incentive for companies to upgrade. Even the pro-Microsoft Gartner has recommended that corporations not consider upgrading to Vista until at least 2008.

When I look at where desktop Linux was three years ago and imagine where it will be three years hence, I can only pity Microsoft. Vista is going to be much too little, and much too late.

13:53 - Thanks to Roland Dobbins for this heads-up. If there is any chance that your system has been polluted by the Sony XCP DRM rootkit, I suggest you read this page.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Sony DRM uninstaller opens up huge security holes, Sony to recall discs
Date: Tue, 15 Nov 2005 10:33:52 -0800
From: Roland Dobbins
To: Jerry Pournelle, Robert Bruce Thompson

Sony DRM uninstaller opens up huge security holes, Sony to recall discs.


14:29 - More from Roland Dobbins:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Potentially millions of hosts compromise by Sony rootkit
Date: Tue, 15 Nov 2005 11:08:11 -0800
From: Roland Dobbins
To: Jerry Pournelle, Robert Bruce Thompson

Potentially millions of hosts compromise by Sony rootkit.


The maps that show rootkit infections are particularly interesting.

Barbara has been a member of the BMG music club for years, and has bought several hundred CDs from them. Every once in a great while, I'd mention that I'd really rather she not buy music from RIAA companies, but she always shrugged it off. Sunday night, she announced she was canceling her BMG membership. Last night, she told me she'd canceled, and on the on-line form she'd had to fill out she'd answered the "why" question with one word: "rootkit"


Wednesday, 16 November 2005
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08:45 - The CyberHome DVR1600 DVD recorder arrived from NewEgg yesterday afternoon. After dinner, while Barbara was at the gym, I hooked it up. It works as advertised, an $80 replacement for a VCR and DVD player.

Some people had reported that some DVD recorders have significant overhead when beginning and ending a recording, so I set up a 10-minute test recording to check. With a freshly formatted DVD+RW disc in the recorder, it fired up about 10 seconds before the scheduled start of the recording and initialized the disc. Recording started at the designated time, to the second. (I'd sync'd the DVD recorder's clock with my computer's clock, which is sync'd to an Internet time server.) The DVD recorder stopped recording at the designated time, to the second, and then spent another 10 seconds or so finishing up. I don't know if the overhead at the end of the recording is dependent on the length of the recording or not.

When I played that disc, the first thing it displayed was a list of the recordings on the disc. There was only one in this case, and it was represented by a thumbnail icon screenshot of what was on screen when the recording began, along with the date, time, and channel. I'd recorded at Standard Play, which fits two hours and three minutes on a DVD+RW disc. Video quality was DVD-like, as good as the original broadcast signal.

I stuck the disc into a computer to look at the file structure. The actual recording is in the video_ts directory, just as it would be on a normal DVD, with the usual filenames. There's a second top-level directory that apparently contains meta data, and which would be ignored by a normal DVD player.

With such devices available for under $100, the VCR is deader than King Tut. We happened to catch a segment on the evening news last night about the death of VHS. Hardly any stores are still carrying pre-recorded VHS tapes. They interviewed a salesman at Best Buy or Circuit City, who said they sold more than 100 DVD players a day, but only one VCR per day, if that. But I have to wonder how much longer it'll be before DVD players are a dead product category. Why buy a playback-only device, when for not much more you can buy one that also records?

Of course, there's still the looming shift to digital TV, but analog TV feeds--via cable and converter boxes--will remain available for many years to come.

09:23 - I'd forgotten that I intended to post an exchange of messages between me and Jerry Pournelle on the topic of Intelligent Design. Usually, Jerry and I have such discussions on the phone, but this time we used email. It all started when Jerry posted the following on his Mail page.

Subject: Interesting Take on Darwinism vs. Intelligent Design

From Lee King

Dr. Pournelle:

From the blog of Scott Adams, the creater of "Dilbert":


Intelligent Design, Part 1

To me, the most fascinating aspect of the debate over Darwinism versus Intelligent Design is that neither side understands the other side’s argument. Better yet, no one seems to understand their own side’s argument. But that doesn’t stop anyone from having a passionate opinion.

I’ve been doing lots of reading on the subject, trying to gather comic fodder. I fully expected to validate my preconceived notion that the Darwinists had a mountain of credible evidence and the Intelligent Design folks were creationist kooks disguising themselves as scientists. That’s the way the media paints it. I had no reason to believe otherwise. The truth is a lot more interesting. Allow me to set you straight. (Note: I’m not a believer in Intelligent Design, Creationism, Darwinism, free will, non-monetary compensation, or anything else I can’t eat if I try hard enough.)

First of all, you’d be hard pressed to find a useful debate about Darwinism and Intelligent Design, of the sort that you could use to form your own opinion. I can’t find one, and I’ve looked. What you have instead is each side misrepresenting the other’s position and then making a good argument for why the misrepresentation is wrong. (If you don’t believe me, just watch the comments I get to this post.)

To make things more complicated, both sides have good and bad arguments lumped into them. If you make a good argument on your side, I respond by attacking your bad argument instead. If it were a debate contest, both sides would lose.<snip>

I've said much the same things. Clearly some evolution has taken place. Clearly there is a universe which may or may not have a purpose. Clearly there is no current scientific method for determining that purpose if there be one. Clearly science is the best weapon we have for understanding how things work.

And clearly children will be contaminated beyond belief if anywhere in the country there is a school teacher who suggests that the Hand of God might guide certain events, and all those teachers need to be rooted out and sent to the salt mines. How we ever survived as a nation with all that talk about Divine Providence from the Framers and the Patriots, and all that religious stuff put out by chaplains to the military is beyond me.

To which I replied:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: ID
Date: Tue, 15 Nov 2005 17:15:03 -0500
From: Robert Bruce Thompson
To: Jerry Pournelle

>> And clearly children will be contaminated beyond belief if anywhere
in the country there is a school teacher who suggests that the Hand of
God might guide certain events, and all those teachers need to be rooted
out and sent to the salt mines. <<

Um, you're doing it. No one I know who is against teaching ID in science classes has said anything remotely like what you suggest. Their (and my)
argument is that ID is not science, and should not be taught as such. ID is not a theory. ID is not even a hypothesis. You surely know that.

Although I am an atheist, I wouldn't have the slightest objection to public schools teaching courses on Christianity (or any other religion, come to that), as long as students (or parents, on their behalf) could opt out. What I do object to, most strongly, is religion masquerading as science.

I would have thought that you, given your education in science, would have the same objections.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: ID
Date: Tue, 15 Nov 2005 14:36:21 -0800
From: Jerry Pournelle
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

What I object to is hypothesis labeled as certainty.

But let's burn teachers at the stake who point out that there are alternative views.

You elect your school board, I will elect mine, and we can leave each others schools alone; but that is not what happens.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: ID
Date: Tue, 15 Nov 2005 16:44:00 -0600 (CST)
From: Robert Bruce Thompson
To: Jerry Pournelle

> What I object to is hypothesis labeled as certainty.

Theory, surely? Perhaps Gravitational Theory is better established than Evolution Theory, but there are many accepted scientific theories with less basis.

> But let's burn teachers at the stake who point out that there are
> alternative views.

I don't know anyone on the anti-ID side who wants to burn teachers. As to pointing out alternatives, that of course is acceptable when in fact alternatives exist. There is no scientifically accepted alternative to evolution. If you want to teach ID in religious class, that's fine, but don't label it as science.

> You elect your school board, I will elect mine, and we can leave each others
> schools alone; but that is not what happens.

I agree, unfortunately.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: ID
Date: Tue, 15 Nov 2005 15:00:33 -0800
From: Jerry Pournelle
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Please. There is evidence of the evolution of species. There are also big gaps in the evidence.

None of which is important to being with. What is taught is not evolution but militant reductionist humanism with no room in it for anything else. Perhaps that is good. Perhaps that atheist humanism (see The Drama of Atheist Humanism for more details since this has a long historical record) is doing us good although the evidence of history (see The Drama of Atheist Humanism again) is to the contrary.

It is not the case that Darwinian Selection is known to be correct: for a hundred years anyone who postulated that there were catastrophes in earth's history was thrown out of the scientific community on the grounds that they were fools or  religious fanatics: this because Darwinian Selection was thought then to require LONG periods of relatively changeless conditions to allow selection to work. And that was done with fanaticism.

To forbid teachers to point out that there are oddities in the Universe; that our existence depends on about 6 independent numbers all of which have to be about where they are or we won't be here -- is silly. The real fanaticism now is from the atheist humanists and reductionists.

And while the Darwinian fanatics assume that they know how to explain all of the problems with irreducible complexity, they fact is that they don't: they say they do, they say they have computer programs that show how certain gaps can be bridged, but when challenged they don't have it yet. They just have faith.

I have yet to see a real confrontation with Sir Fred Hoyle's critique of Darwinian evolution. Sir Fred ended up postulating "evolution from space" by the introduction of DNA chains broadcast through the galaxy by some entity; the entity may well have itself evolved, but on Earth there are some gaps that are extremely difficult to explain. Again you can have faith that they will be explained; but they haven't been. Sir Fred ended up postulating what he thought was a simpler hypothesis, and that was hardly simple. He wasn't a theist.

I find the fanaticism of the scienticist about on a plane with scientologists. Both want to control all input to other people in the vain hope that the other people won't think about the matter and will be just like them.

Me, I got all my religious beliefs challenged by experts. You ain't had your faith shot up until you have had Jesuits and FSC Brothers go after you. I have absolutely no problem with teaching evolutionary biology, and I encourage people to take evolution seriously (and that leads to the conclusion that homosexuality cannot possible be hereditary since the genetic burden is so high). I think if you are going to teach evolutionary theory you ought to be honest and say that there are gaps that you have to HAVE FAITH in science to get past. And if you do that, then I see no great harm in pointing out that another explanation is that the gaps were bridged in another way.  By DNA from Space. Or by the Hand of God.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: ID
Date: Tue, 15 Nov 2005 15:00:58 -0800
From: Jerry Pournelle
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

No they just want to fire them. Not burn them. Excuse the hyperbole

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: ID
Date: Tue, 15 Nov 2005 15:04:26 -0800
From: Jerry Pournelle
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

What you  call "scientifically acceptable" is the crux of the matter. If you HAVE FAITH IN SCIENCE then you can never admit that there are gaps in the theory that not only have not been overcome, but can never be overcome.

Now of course the notion that the gaps cannot be overcome is itself an act of faith. But that's my point. To be scientifically acceptable you must BELIEVE that SCIENCE IS THE ONLY PATH to knowledge, and that eventually all questions will be answered by science, and those questions will be answered by physics or be reducible to questions answered by physics. If only we understood enough we would know all. That is an act of faith no less sweeping than belief in the Book of Genesis.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: ID
Date: Tue, 15 Nov 2005 15:05:57 -0800
From: Jerry Pournelle
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

And finally: I don't spend much time with the Intelligent Design and Irreducible Complexity people, but I know a few of their leaders, and I have yet to hear ONE of them tell me that their view is "scientific"; what they say is that it is not contradicted by real science, but only by faith in science.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: ID
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005 09:21:22 -0500
From: Robert Bruce Thompson
To: Jerry Pournelle

To my way of thinking, Intelligent Design is an "alternative view" in the same sense that postulating that the moon is made of green cheese is an alternative view. ID is a philosophical belief, not a scientific theory, nor even a scientific hypothesis. There's no science in it, and teaching it as science cheapens science.

I've never heard a scientist claim that evolution was proven, let alone perfect. That's why they call it a "theory" rather than a "fact". Nor does evolution make any claim to explain the origin of life, but merely the origin of species. There is nothing in Evolutionary Theory that denies the possibility of a Creator, and I've never heard any scientist argue otherwise. Evolution is merely, like any theory, the best scientific explanation we have for observed facts. Neither does any scientist I know believe that everything can be known by using science as a tool. The Uncertainty Principle alone demonstrates that.

As to "irreducible complexity", that again is philosophy--and bad philosophy--not science. Its logical fallacy is that it assumes that what we observe as fact is the only possible outcome. By the arguments of the irreducible complexity folks, it's impossible for me to be dealt any bridge hand at all, because the probability of my being dealt that particular hand is so vanishingly small.

14:48 - More on ID.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: ID
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005 11:44:14 -0800
From: Jerry Pournelle
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

I see you have faith.

But faith in reductionist rationalism is still faith. If you want to argue epistemology I will be glad to do so. We can add metaphysics. 

Scientific method is a way of discovering a great deal about the rules of the universe. There is no way to prove it is the only way.

As to what you call science, can you define what you mean?  I can.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: ID
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005 15:13:05 -0500
From: Robert Bruce Thompson
To: Jerry Pournelle

I have no faith. The Scientific Method is the best way I know of to discover truths. If someone proposes a better way, I'd adopt it. Nor do I assert that the Scientific Method is capable of revealing everything.

There are things I believe are probably true, based on the preponderance of the evidence, but I would not deny that they may be disproven or even, in some cases, turn out to be unprovable.

What I call science is the accepted definition, and has been since the birth of the Scientific Method. The ID folks are trying to redefine science to encompass their philosophy. By definition, no scientist supports that attempt. In fact, there are many scientists who are devoutly religious but who condemn the attempt to weasel ID into science curricula.

Science depends on facts. ID has no facts. Science depends on observations. ID has no observations. Science depends on theories. ID has no theories. Science depends on hypotheses. ID has no hypotheses. Science depends on rational arguments. ID has no rational arguments. ID has nothing.

Please understand that, although I regard all religions as superstitious nonsense, I also defend your right to believe whatever you wish and to teach your children about your beliefs, as long as you don't attempt to enforce your beliefs upon me. Most particularly, I will fight the attempt by religious people to pollute science with superstition.

Of Microsoft's many abominable business practices, one of the most despicable is their "Get the FUD" campaign. Microsoft released another of these so-called "independent" reports [PDF] today. As usual, they're trashing Linux. They've followed their usual methodology: set up a straw man and then knock it down. Shouldn't garbage like this have to be labeled for what it is, a Microsoft-sponsored advertisement? I wouldn't object in the slightest to such ridiculous documents if "Paid for by Microsoft" were stamped at the top of each page.


Thursday, 17 November 2005
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08:47 - More on ID.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: ID
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005 16:12:31 -0800
From: Jerry Pournelle
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Tell me again what is the "accepted" definition of science?

As you say, if you set up the definition properly it encompasses all knowledge: but that is a word game with no relationship to reality.

In addition, there is the way science really works: progress happens when the old guys die off. Until then orthodoxy pretty well prevails in the face of all scientific evidence.

But you clearly have Faith not only that Scientific Method is the best way to determine facts and study nature, which is not a hard faith to have; but also that it is the only way, and that is by definition.  Which is an act of faith.

Epistemology is fascinating, and not on such sound ground as many seem to think. It may be that scientific method is the only way to know something -- which seems to be what you are saying -- but there is most certainly no proof of that.

Science studies the repeatable. Thus by definition the miraculous, which is exceptional, cannot be studied by science and is not science. So if a miracle happens before your very eyes, you have to say, well, I don't know the explanation for that, but there has to be one, because by definition there is no other possible explanation.  That's what the Portuguese Socialists said with regard to Fatima.  That's what rationalists continue to say about Lourdes. These things MUST have a scientific explanation even though the best scientists we can bring to look at the evidence cannot find one, but there must be one, because there has to be one, because no other explanation exists, and boy do we have faith in that.

Science hates the notion of the miraculous because by definition there can't be any miracles within science. Just as it hates the notion of magic. Magic is a bit hard to demonstrate; quite possibly impossible. But then magic purports to be manipulation and that has a regularity to it, and can be studied by scientific methods.  The miraculous makes no such claim.

But when a long series of highly improbably events brings about a particular result, and there is no possible "explanation" of the chain of  events or how they fit together, and the sum total of them is a probability quite low given the age of the universe, then one can either say, "well, we got the assumptions wrong, and there must be a scientific explanation because there has to be one because there is no other kind of explanation"--

On the practical side, if you continue to encourage the ethical positivists and the atheist reductionists to spread their view of the world throughout the citizenry and the children of the citizens, you may soon enough wish you had not done that. As Chesterton said (along with Karamazov) when a man ceased to believe in God he will quite likely believe anything at all. And that I assure you has been demonstrated again and again. The Drama of Atheist Humanism is a fascinating study. I recommend it to you.

Me I'd rather the schools be teaching belief in The Old Gods, Nemesis and Catastrophe and pursuit by the Furies, than what they are teaching, but that's merely a scientific observation of the likely effects of undermining the basis of ethical belief for most people. I'd far rather they taught about Odin and Thor and "A man must stand by his master, until one or the other is dead," and what happens to oathbreakers, than ethical culture and atheist humanism. But again that's merely a scientific observation.

It's an epistemological observation when I say that if you define all knowledge as science and define science so that it excludes anything not studied by the scientific method, you have pretty well limited yourself in what you can say about epistemology.

And you're in a spot of trouble when you come to try to explain just what the hell consciousness has to do with all this and just what we mean when we say people are responsible for their actions.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: ID
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005 16:13:24 -0800
From: Jerry Pournelle
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

I got long winded. tell me again what is the accepted definition of science and what is scientific evidence, and how non-repeatable phenomena fit into that.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: ID
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005 19:42:23 -0500
From: Robert Bruce Thompson
To: Jerry Pournelle

I fear I haven't as much time as I'd like to respond.

Science, as you know, is the organized study of natural phenomena. A scientist observes a phenomenon, constructs a falsifiable hypothesis as a tentative explanation of the phenomenon, constructs experiments designed to prove or disprove his hypothesis and continues to observe the phenomenon to gain additional data. Any datum that is at odds with the hypothesis requires the scientist to go back to the drawing board and create a new hypothesis that takes all of the data into account. As additional scientists repeat the experiments and observations and achieve the same result, and as new experiments are devised and run that confirm the hypothesis, and as that hypothesis is found to have predictive value, it achieves the weight of theory.

As you know, despite the attempts of ID proponents to denigrate theory as nothing more than guesswork, a scientific theory is the next closest thing to observed fact. As you also know, a theory needn't explain all aspects of an observable phenomenon to be a useful working approximation. Even today, we use Newtonian physics, which are merely an approximation, but I doubt you'd question their utility.

As to non-repeatable phenomenon, by definition they are outside science. Science requires that experiments and observations be reproducible by other scientists. As to my own beliefs, I've never seen a miracle or heard of one reported by credible observers. If I did see a miracle, I would suspect it had a natural explanation, but I certainly wouldn't rule out an explanation that was outside our experience.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: ID
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005 16:46:40 -0800
From: Jerry Pournelle
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

In which case I fail to see the horror of showing in school that intelligent people think there is more to the universe that a blind watchmaker.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: ID
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005 18:53:15 -0600 (CST)
From: Robert Bruce Thompson
To: Jerry Pournelle

Well, as I said originally, I have no objection at all to that. What I object to is calling it science, which it ain't.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: ID
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005 16:33:48 -0800
From: John Jacobson
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Hi Bob,

Thanks for the info re your recently finished book chapters. I'll be sure to take a look.

A brief bio, I was raised in a fundamentalist sect, received education to a postgraduate/specialist level, and am currently agnostic in my beliefs re origins. My basic philosophy might be best expressed in the Linda Ronstadt Aaron Neville song "Don't Know Much."

I've been interested in the discussions re ID on the net over the last few months. Discussions is too strong a word, it is more in the realm of shouting matches. One thing we seem to have lost in this country is the ability to have a civilized discussion. If I can't answer questions I can at least call into question your mother's ancestry.

I think one problem is that we're discussing the finished product, i.e. we're here, how did we get here. It would be helpful if the discussion would be more in terms of the process by which we arrived. If each camp would list their "axioms" and the "progression" from those axioms that has led to the finished product, it would be much easier to have a discussion. I get a little tired of the shouting, which doesn't clarify origins at all.

Popper stated that "One can sum up all this by saying that the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability." Most people in science would agree with that approach.

At the earliest level, "evolution" is vague at best, and clueless at worst, as to how the first cells managed to reproduce. I'm unaware of any mechanism that would explain the process, we certainly haven't produced it in the laboratory, and there have been a  few attempts to reproduce the early earth's atmosphere and pass electron flows through it to see what would happen. Some organic molecules were created, hypotheses floated. That work was done 50 plus years ago, but the basic process remains to be elucidated.

Many (not all) who espouse ID (as I would interpret it - there are bound to be many interpretations of both ideas) don't actually say that the events in the later history of life are any different than "evolutionists" say they are. ID adherents may be somewhat deistic, stating the "God" got it going, then left for another galaxy, and will come back sometime to see what's happened. Other think he's been there all along, "stirring the pot" as it were. If so, seems like he could have stirred it a bit more skillfully, and saved a lot of people a lot of grief. And others of course believe in a short chronology, and a literal interpretation of the Genesis story. Each of those ideas is clearly not falsifiable, and not science by Popper's definition. But among ID adherents are many who practice good science in the strict sense, and choose to invoke a "higher being" to light the first spark of life, if not shepherd its development over the ages of the earth.

I would argue that at an early chronologic level, both ID and Evolution suffer from not being falsifiable, and hence are both theories. There is actually a lot of agreement on many levels re biologic processes between the two camps, at least between some members of both camps. But in the main they're not talking in a civilized fashion. So it has become a religious debate, religion being defined as a belief system that is not falsifiable.

Anyway, thanks for your daily thoughts, and the real help you've provided over the years re computers.

Jack Jacobson

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: ID
Date: Thu, 17 Nov 2005 08:41:29 -0500
From: Robert Bruce Thompson
To: John Jacobson

Well, that is the problem with ID. It has no axioms or progressions, nor hypotheses nor theory.

Evolution makes no claims about the origin of life, but merely about the origin of species. Life may have originated in any number of ways, although applying William of Ockham's Razor leads me to believe that the origination proposed by religionists is unlikely. There are simply many too many required degrees of freedom.

No ID adherents practice "good science", at least with respect to ID. A good scientist, in the absence of data, simply says, "we don't know" rather than proposing an unfalsifiable, untestable explanation.

I think you misunderstand what a theory is in science. You say that "both ID and Evolution suffer from not being falsifiable, and hence are both theories." A theory *is* falsifiable. Evolution *is* a theory, and a well-established one with immense amounts of evidence supporting it. ID is no theory at all, nor even a hypothesis.

And on a different subject:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Britannica
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005 17:29:18 -0800
From: John Jacobson
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

You've referenced this before on your site. Britannica now is offering their DVD encyclopedia for 19.95 plus shipping/applicable state tax if you have an upgrade code, which you would have if you've purchased from them before.

Thanks. I still have the original version I bought, which I think was the 2000 edition. I've not upgraded it since, mainly because it requires WIndows to run. That's a shame, really. There's no reason the EB couldn't have used industry-standard tools to build their product instead of a bunch of proprietary Microsoft crap.

13:10 - A reader reports that if you search the Sony DRM files for "pbclevtug" you'll find the following string:

pbclevtug (p) Nccyr Pbzchgre, Vap. Nyy Evtugf Erfreirq.

ROT13 that string, and you'll find:

copyright (c) Apple Computer, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

You couldn't make this stuff up. Sony has betrayed its customers, violated any number of laws, infringed copyright on both commercial and OSS software, and probably tossed in the kitchen sink for good measure. If any of us did even a small part of this, they'd probably lock us up and throw away the key. What will happen to Sony? Nothing. It's a corporation.

More on ID:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: ID
Date: Thu, 17 Nov 2005 09:26:22 -0800
From: John Jacobson
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Hi Robert,

You are of course correct in your statement re theory and science. I admit that despite my education, when I write late at night I oversimplify or mistate what I should know. The confusion arises partly because theory is defined in many ways, e.g.

theory (thê´e-rê, thîr´ê) noun
plural theories

1. a. Systematically organized knowledge applicable in a relatively wide variety of circumstances, especially a system of assumptions, accepted principles, and rules of procedure devised to analyze, predict, or otherwise explain the nature or behavior of a specified set of phenomena.

b. Such knowledge or such a system.

2.      Abstract reasoning; speculation.

3. A belief that guides action or assists comprehension or judgment: rose early, on the theory that morning efforts are best; the modern architectural theory that less is more.

4. An assumption based on limited information or knowledge; aconjecture.

So I was not being scientifically rigorous in my statement, you, being a blogger and an author, probably check definitions on a regular basis to be sure that you are not called out on a simple statement. I apologize for my incorrect statement.

I should have stated that "I would argue that at an early chronologic level, both ID and Evolution suffer from not being falsifiable, and hence are both speculations or conjectures." While you may be correct in stating that evolution only discusses the origin of species, most evolutionists, if I may use that term broadly, probably accept that the processes that are responsible for species differentiation may be extrapolated back in time to predict probable mechanisms for the "origin of life." You may have seen the book "Vital Dust: Life As a Cosmic Imperative" written by Christian De Duve, a Nobel prize winning biochemist. In a technical sense, it may not be an evolutionary tome, but it is written by an evolutionist to explain the probable origins of life.

As I stated in my previous letter, a clarification of definitions as I'm attempting here would move the discussion to an area where there is actual agreement. As a former creationist, knowing many creationists well, my understanding of the viewpoints of many of them is that they accept many if not most of Darwin's ideas about the origins of species, as well as the extensions of that idea by modern geneticists. They don't accept the conjectures about the origins of life. There are of course many "short chronology" creationists, and they vehemently disagree with "evolution." I am leaving them out of the discussion because I don't agree with their approach either, it is definitely not science.

To me the more interesting discussion is about the origins of life, or abiogenesis. I believe for many evolutionists when the term "creationist" is used, they think of one who doesn't believe in genetics, biochemistry, or science in general. On the other side, when a "creationist" thinks of an "evolutionist," they think of one who denies the possibility of a higher being ever having been involved with ANY of the many steps that led to the world as we know it. So the discussion is more of a shouting match because the two parties are not even discussing the same thing.

The statement below is from information theorist Hubert Yockey in a book written in the early 1990s discussion of the primeval soup hypothesis of the origin of life.

    "Although at the beginning the paradigm was worth consideration, now the entire effort in the primeval soup paradigm is self-deception on the ideology of its champions. …

    "The history of science shows that a paradigm, once it has achieved the status of acceptance (and is incorporated in textbooks) and regardless of its failures, is declared invalid only when a new paradigm is available to replace it. Nevertheless, in order to make progress in science, it is necessary to clear the decks, so to speak, of failed paradigms. This must be done even if this leaves the decks entirely clear and no paradigms survive. It is a characteristic of the true believer in religion,  philosophy and ideology that he must have a set of beliefs, come what may (Hoffer, 1951). Belief in a primeval soup on the grounds that no other paradigm is available is an example of the logical fallacy of the false alternative. In science it is a virtue to acknowledge ignorance. This has been universally the case in the history of science as Kuhn (1970) has discussed in detail. There is no reason that this should be different in the research on the origin of life." (Yockey, 1992. Information Theory and Molecular Biology, p. 336, Cambridge University Press, UK, ISBN0-521-80293-8).

Dr. Yockey is clearly an evolutionist, as a cursory examination of his web site makes clear. http://www.hubertpyockey.com/ . He is also very derisive of ID.

ID finally, by admittedly my own interpretation, is most interested in the "Prime Mover." It attempts to use arguments such as "irreducible complexity" to buttress the idea that there was a "Prime Mover." And you are correct in stating that the word "theory" is not properly used by many in the ID camp. And ID is not science. But any paradigm re the origins of life is probably not a theory in the scientifically rigorous sense of the word, as I believe Dr. Yockey is arguing.

You stated, "A good scientist, in the absence of data, simply says, "we don't know" rather than proposing an unfalsifiable, untestable explanation." There are few on either side of the discussion who are willing to state "We don't know." <G>

Thanks for your time.

Jack Jacobson

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: ID
Date: Thu, 17 Nov 2005 12:55:39 -0500
From: Robert Bruce Thompson
To: John Jacobson

I always try to speak precisely, although at times I do not.

I don't know any scientist who claims that evolutionary theory explains the origin of life. And, at best, we can never know for sure how life originated on earth. Even if scientists succeed in creating primitive life in the laboratory from a primordial ooze stimulated by electrical discharges, that would at most prove one possible explanation, not establish that that was the actual explanation. Life may have originated spontaneously, or it may have been "seeded" here from outer space. My own guess is that it originated spontaneously, but it's only a guess.

My primary objection to ID is that it tries to present itself as science, which it is demonstrably not. ID is also intellectually dishonest and sloppy, full of logical errors. Most of those, I fear, are intentional, because there are some very intelligent people supporting the ID agendum.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject:     "Evolution" vs. "Intelligent Design" ...
Date:     Thu, 17 Nov 2005 09:34:54 -0800
From:     Sam Olson
To:     Robert Bruce Thompson
CC:     Jerry Pournelle


Jerry Pournelle  --  Current View

Robert Bruce Thompson -- DayNotes Journal

Hi Bob (and Jerry),

Thanks for the fascinating dialogue on Evol vs. ID -- it's probably some of the most important questions that we all can endeavor to answer.

My own "label" has /evolved/ over the years, and I now describe myself as a "meta-agnostic".  Both theism and atheism are untenable in my limited understanding of reality -- as neither one seems to be "provable" with the tools we have available.  I used to call myself an "agnostic", but even that level of understanding is untenable -- as one might someday discover or find out the answers to these ultimate questions about reality.  I guess you could say that I'm the ultimate "fence-straddler", not wanting to make any kind of commitment to any kind of belief-system.  I've not come across anyone else using this particular self-created terminology to describe their beliefs.  I also look at myself as the ultimate "optimist", hoping against experience that someday someone may know the answers.

I also personally am attracted to Fred Hoyle's hypotheses about life arriving on planet earth from other systems, possibly having "evolved" on those far-distant planetary/stellar systems.  We are thereby not so limited to the age of the earth (a few billion years), but have the entire age of the universe to facilitate the creation and evolution of life forms.

Another hypothesis that captures my imagination is Arthur C. Clark's intriguing idea that stars have embedded intelligent life.  Look out at the night sky, and what do you mostly see -- STARS!  We don't understand how such life could exist in the inferno inside a star, but it's certainly a possibility.  There's so much we just really don't know or understand.  Instead we are so busy fighting our "turf wars", and destroying so many chances and opportunities we have of answering and better understanding these important questions -- quite disgusting. "Life" doesn't have to be limited to biological forms involving DNA.

One of the things that really bothers me about evolution as taught in our schools: the "survival of the fittest" concept, which promotes our advocation of serious competition and the consequent "dog-eat-dog" culture of our society.  A far more powerful force is "symbiosis" -- which is the working together of species to ensure survival and prosperity.  Jesus of Nazareth may or may not be "God", but the ideas he did promote about "loving your neighbor as yourself" follow these same concepts and could transform our society "miraculously".  Jiddu Krishnamurti is one person who explored many of these possibilities.  Robert Pirsig (Metaphysics of Quality) is another.

When one attempts to answer these ultimate questions, one must also consider the possibilities explored in the "Matrix" movies -- that reality is not what it seems, but we may only be "programs" running in a vast complex "computer system" that is the "mind of God"!   Our apparent "physical reality" is a mere (convenient) delusion!  Then the question one must ask is:  how does one induce a system interrupt ?  Eureka!! (I.e., how does one get off the merry-go-round without getting hurt?)

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: "Evolution" vs. "Intelligent Design" ...
Date: Thu, 17 Nov 2005 13:08:43 -0500
From: Robert Bruce Thompson
To: Sam Olson
CC: Jerry Pournelle

I don't think of my atheism as something that needs to be proven or is in any sense provable. I see no evidence that religion has any basis at all. Show me data and I'll reconsider. But, worst case, if it turns out I'm wrong and I end up at St. Peter's gates, I won't be at all upset if he points toward the down escalator. From what Christianity and other religions teach of heaven, I have no interest in being a citizen there. As Billy Joel said, "I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun..."

As to survival of the fittest, we don't have that other than in the limited Darwin Awards sense. And Jesus Christ, if he even existed--which, having examined the data for and against the historicity of Christ, I doubt--was nothing more than a communist, at least if the gospels can be believed.


Friday, 18 November 2005
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09:55 - UPS was supposed to deliver two boxes from Antec on the 16th. One arrived, and when I checked tracking it said the other had been rescheduled for delivery yesterday. It hadn't shown up by the time we took the dogs out last night for the last time of the day at around 9:00 p.m. Sometime between then and 6:55 a.m. today, the UPS Fairy showed up with a large, 50-pound box. Incredibly, the dogs didn't hear him, or, if they did, they didn't say anything.

I think the Evolution/ID debate between Jerry and me is over. We're not really far apart, as it turns out. I got what I was looking for. On his page yesterday, Jerry posted the following:

Of those who claim "Intelligent Design" is "science" I can only say they don't know what science is.

Which is all I really wanted to hear him say. A scientist friend of mine adds some useful comments:

I saw a bit of the discussion but haven't kept up.  I don't doubt that that really is his position.  I've taken his comments more as political speech than scientific or theological.  He objects to local school boards having folks come in and dictate what and how things are taught.  A local school board in Kansas wishes to teach ID as science; he objects to the idea of folks outside that town/county telling them they must do otherwise.  In this I agree with him as I suspect you do.

I think a lot of (the more visible, anyway) scientists do arrogantly state that the theory of evolution explains more than it does (i.e. that it explains the origin of life and disproves the existence of god(s)).  At least, I've seen enough arrogant condescension to make me understand why a lot of ID folks take up that banner.  I don't know Jerry that well, but I suspect that is some of it.  The crux of it, to me, is that while ID shouldn't be taught in a classroom, neither should evolution (or any science) be taught the way it is.  Science is absolutely presented to students as a set of facts to memorize and that one shouldn't question.  The drive toward standardized exams is at the heart of it.  And a lot of science types do overstate how much we understand.  Or worse, they really do think we understand everything pretty well.  Ask any professional researcher in any field and he'll quickly come up with half a dozen fundamental problems we really don't get.  That is the heart of science: discovering what we don't yet know in a rational manner.  That doesn't fit well into the current science education dogma.

In other words, I think this debate is mostly a political one focused on who controls the education of our children.  Thus, we all miss the point when we make it about science v. theology, as that is a false debate.  Science can't speak to the supernatural nor should it try.

If anyone does sincerely believe that ID is science and should be taught in science classes, then they're ignorant or loony.  But someone who thinks their locality should control the schools is right even so.

Hope that makes sense.

Yes, I agree with Jerry on local control of schools. In fact, as I've said repeatedly, public schools raise a false dichotomy. Any time there is an apparent conflict of rights, it's likely that the underlying assumptions are at fault. I can certainly understand the outrage of religious fundamentalists who are forced to support public schools by their taxes and then watch those public schools require that their children attend and be taught concepts that are abhorent to them. The solution is to get rid of public schools. Issue vouchers if we must, but allow parents to choose a school that they consider best for their children, without any state certification requirements or other government control.

Perhaps I'm too dismissive, but if someone tells me that Evolutionary Theory explains the origin of life and disproves the existence of god(s), it wouldn't even cross my mind to consider that person a scientist, regardless of what degrees or other qualifications he might hold. I'll defer to your and Jerry's superior knowledge of what passes for science teaching in today's schools. I guess I was lucky to be in school in the 60's, when science was taught correctly.

And you're correct that it's a political debate rather than science versus religion. Although Jerry and I are both in favor of strictly limiting the power of state and federal governments, where we differ is just how much control local governments should have. Jerry, for example, thinks that it should be within the rightful power of Winston-Salem city government to ban books it doesn't like, to require everyone to attend a church every Sunday--not just church in general, but a specific church designated by the city government--and to require everyone to pay a tenth of his income to that church. If you don't like it, says Jerry, move.

I consider that intolerable, although I recognize the conundrum. In order to put limits on what actions a local government can take, there must be a superior power. And that superior power, as we've seen demonstrated, can be even worse than the tyranny of the localities.


Saturday, 19 November 2005
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12:06 - Here's something I should know the answer to off the top of my head, but I don't. We have Time-Warner analog cable service. If I record a program on our new DVD recorder, how does the image quality of that recording compare to the quality of a commercial DVD-Video disc, assuming that we choose SP mode (2 hours, 3 minutes per 4.4 GB DVD+R/RW disc)? How about in LP mode (3 hours, 3 minutes per disc)?

IIRC, DVD video is 720X480, and I'm assuming that our DVD recorder records in that resolution, but with differing degrees of compression. It offers HQ (61 minutes on a 4.4 GB DVD+R/RW disc), which the manual describes as "best quality", SP (2 hours; "better quality"), LP (3 hours; "good quality"), EP (4 hours; "better than video tape quality"), SLP (6 hours; "video tape quality"), and SEP (8 hours; "worse than video tape quality"), which I assume differ only in the degree of compression used.

I assume that standard DVD-Video quality uses 4.7 GB to provide two hours of video (plus multi-channel sound and so on), so SP on this recorder at 2 hours on a 4.4 GB disc should be DVD-Video quality, assuming the cable TV feed is in fact DVD-Video quality. Using LP puts three hours of video on a 4.4 GB DVD+R/RW disc, which translates to what DVDshrink would call 67% compression (the duplicate is 67% of the original size.) Frankly, Barbara and I can't tell the difference visually between 100% and 67%, so I'm assuming we can safely use this recorder up to LP mode without noticeably degrading the video quality.

Any advice appreciated. Please post it on the messageboard.


Sunday, 20 November 2005
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00:00 -


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