Stardate 20010416.1545 (Crew, this is the Captain): It's easy to forget just how different British and American culture and attitudes really are.
Stardate 20010416.1330 (On Screen): It's all science fiction. We're actually to the point where we're running up against physical limits. We in the electronics business ran into the speed of light a long time ago, for instance. For most people except astronomers and electronics engineers, the speed of light is "effectively infinite". Not so, and it becomes obvious when you express the speed of light in terms of time units used by computers: light travels just about a foot (about 30 centimeters) in a nanosecond. Electrical signals move slightly less fast than light, and in a nanosecond an electrical signal travels about ten and a half inches (about 26 centimeters). We're at the point now where computers have to be small to be fast because the speed of light is too slow and long circuit paths introduce too much latency. (It's rumored that at least one of the P4's 17 pipeline stages is there simply to get data from one side of the chip to the other; it doesn't actually actively process anything.) And once the signal arrives at the receiving transistor, it takes time for the junction to change. This decreases as the device becomes smaller.
Now the semiconductor industry is running up against the size of atoms, an irreducible limit which affects how small devices can become. This article describes how they're making structures which are no more than 100 atoms across. The technology isn't ready for primetime, but it will be in general use within five years. Moving to diamond semiconductors will give us about one more notch shrinkage since carbon atoms in diamond are packed more closely than silicon atoms are -- but eventually shrinkage has to stop. The fewer atoms involved, the less consistent will be the behavior of the transistor. At that point the increase in processor speeds will also slow.
Which is not to say that Moore's law is about to become obsolete, just that the new gains will come from somewhere else. Future increases in compute power will come from parallelism, not in improvements in serial processing speed. (Which is why the next ship's computer here at U.S.S. Clueless is going to be a dually.) A typical desktop computer in ten years will have at least four main processors running at least 3 GHz. In fifteen years there will be more processors but they won't be running a substantially faster clock rate.
Stardate 20010416.0855 (On Screen): Nice try, guys. Abortion clinic access laws aren't based on the "Interstate Commerce" clause of the Constitution; the court turned down your appeal because it was frivolous and irrelevant.
Roe v. Wade, the legendary Supreme Court decision which discovered a right to abortion in the US, was based on the implicit right to privacy and personal freedom. This fundamental constitutional right comes from the Ninth Amendment, probably the least well understood clause in the entire Constitution. The Ninth Amendment states explicitly that the people of the US have rights which are not explicitly described in the Constitution. It establishes this precedent: that the powers of the Government are limited to those explicitly described by the Constitution, and that in any case where there is ambiguity the default is that rights devolve to the people and not to the Government. Many of the rights we citizens of the US now take for granted are implicit, and are based on the language of the Ninth Amendment. In particular, the "Right of Privacy" is implicit in many parts of the Constitution and is thus explicitly protected by the Ninth Amendment.
Some of the bases of the Right of Privacy are implied by the Fourth amendment (which restricts the ability of the Government to perform searches) and the Fifth amendment (which among other things prevents the Government from forcing people to testify against themselves in criminal trials), as well as First amendment rights to freedom of religion. It's also implicit in the otherwise unimportant Third amendment (which prevents the government from using private homes to house soldiers without consent of the home-owner). All of these things imply a strong belief by the Founders that people have a fundamental right to be left alone.
Laws protecting access to abortion clinics are an extension of this Right of Privacy. If a woman has a right to an abortion based on the Right of Privacy (which is the legal basis for the Roe v. Wade decision), then they have a right to access abortions without harassment. The protesters have a right of free speech and free assembly as long as it doesn't prevent women from utilizing their right to access safe abortions. The access law does not ban protests at abortion clinics (and if it did it would violate the First amendment protections for free speech and free assembly) but it does prevent those protesters from unnecessarily hampering women who want to enter the clinics. It's a fine balance. To accomplish this goal, the law states that the protesters must remain a certain distance (a couple of hundred yards) from the clinic and must not physically harass people who are entering and leaving the clinic, and not disrupt the operation of the clinic (by setting up loud speakers, for instance). I think this is a very good balance.
The abortion protesters don't. That's because they're not interested in freedom; what they want is to shut down the clinics. They're not going to accomplish that using irrelevant court challenges, though.
Stardate 20010416.0840 (On Screen): There's a good reason why the "Bible Belt" is held in contempt by the more enlightened parts of the US and the world. The people there have never truly understood the idea that Christianity is just one religious position among many, and that all are equally valid and all have a right to exist. (There's this little thing called the First Amendment to the US Constitution which explicitly states that position.) The idea that dancing in night clubs should be banned is simply stupid.
We're not talking about nude dancers here; we're talking about a bunch of normal people on a dance floor just having a good time. It's clear that this law was passed with religious motivation (because dancing might lead to sex! Oh no!). That directly violates the "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment. It's equally clear that dancing is a form of personal expression, so it is implicitly protected by the "free speech" clause of the First Amendment. Finally, the Ninth Amendment applies: unless there's a good reason for the government to control something, the default is that it remain uncontrolled. What possible harm can there be in a 65-year-old widow suffering from depression who is cheered up by getting down to the strains of "Cotton-Eyed Joe"?
Stardate 20010416.0730 (On Screen): This is truly ugly. The US unquestionably has the means to locate this slave ship and should do so immediately. We should also either move Navy ships into the area to intercept it, or cooperate with the French to do so. All US citizens should immediately write to the White House to urge that this be done, and it certainly wouldn't hurt for non-citizens to do so as well. (Update: the US has decided to help.)
Stardate 20010415.1900 (Crew, this is the Captain): Well, I'm experimenting with formats again. This one is temporary; when I get motivated I'll come up with something better. My problem is that I'm really not very artistically inclined. I hope to get a discussion board implemented, but the one I wanted to use isn't accepting new accounts now. I have no idea when it will become available; I hope fairly soon. In the mean time, the "discussion" button is a place holder.
Stardate 20010415.1400 (On Screen): "Uh, you know those people of yours we were keeping last week? I hope you're not sore at us about that. We didn't really mistreat them, you know. I mean, it's true that we interroga..., er, spent a lot of quality time in convivial discussion with them in the middle of the night, but that was just because they were such nice people that we couldn't stand to not spend as much time with them as we could. Really! I mean, we wouldn't hurt a fly. Americans are our friend; we love Americans. And the only reason we didn't let them contact their loved ones was because we just couldn't stand to be apart from them for that time. So let's just let bygones be bygones, and when our Most Favored Nation trading status comes up for renewal in June, why don't you just pass it. After all, that doesn't really have anything to do with this, does it? You're such wonderful folks; I know you can find it in yourselves to do this for us."
Sorry, comrade Gao, it doesn't work like that. There's this thing called deterrence. It means "if you do something nasty to us, we'll do something nasty back to you. So if you don't want that to happen then you better not start anything." If you guys can hold our people hostage for a week and a half, and accuse us of causing an accident which was really the fault of your own people, and if you don't suffer any reprisals because of it, then everyone else thinking of doing the same thing will be emboldened. We can't let that happen; if we did, none of our people would ever be safe anywhere.
[Note from the Captain: deprival of sleep during extended interrogation is a form of torture.]
Stardate 20010414.1815 (On Screen): California governor Gray Davis is a bloody liar. I wish he'd start being honest with us. He's promising two things: No rate increases for electrical power users, and reimbursement to the state of all money spent. Where is the money going to come from? PG&E and SCE don't have it, and he isn't going to get it from the power providers. Who does that leave?
Stardate 20010414.1745 (On Screen): It's interesting (and pretty cool) to see Naloxone in the news. Naloxone is neat stuff. It's been the standard treatment for opiate overdose for a long time; it works by binding to the same receptors as opiates do, only better and without stimulating them. When someone comes into the emergency room and is near death from heroin OD, a shot of Naloxone is administered and in seconds they're awake, aware -- and in full withdrawal if they're addicted. It is used in prison hospital wards to treat addicts and force them to go through withdrawal, because while a person is dosed on Naloxone, even if they can get some heroin it doesn't do them the slightest bit of good.
But Naloxone is neat for another reason, because it was the key in identifying and proving a physiological basis for one of the known forms of "placebo effect". It's long been known that some people who were severely injured would not feel pain, at least for a while. (I have been through that; in high school I broke my arm and didn't feel anything at all for several hours.) Moreover, in some cases people who are in great pain can be given a useless treatment -- a sugar pill or an injection of sterile water -- and can have their pain relieved if they're told that they've been given a powerful drug. But no-one knew how. (Many a quack has built a career out of the placebo effect.)
Then a naturally occurring group of compounds now known as endorphins were found which were chemically similar enough to opiates that it was clear that the receptors which were stimulated by opiates were really intended to respond to the naturally occurring endorphins. But were endorphins responsible for the placebo effect? How to prove it? Enter Naloxone.
Volunteer subjects who had just had had wisdom teeth extracted participated in a study. This was a good choice; they were in significant pain but had not sustained a potentially life-threatening injury, and were not at risk of shock from the pain. So deferred pain relief was not dangerous.
Initially each subject was asked to evaluate their pain level, on a scale of 1-10. Each subject was given an injection which they were told was a pain reliever. After a short delay each was asked to make another subjective evaluation of their level of pain. Then each was given a second injection and again told it was a pain reliever, and shortly thereafter were asked yet again to evaluate their pain level.
The first injection was either morphine or saline solution (with the majority getting saline). The second injection was either morphine, saline or Naloxone. The study was double-blind, with neither the patients nor the person administering the injection knowing what each injection was.
When the results were studied, it was found that many of the patients receiving saline in the first injection reported pain relief -- a standard placebo response. When such patients received Naloxone as their second injection, they reported an increase in pain back to original levels.
Which mean that whatever was causing the pain relief was being prevented by Naloxone, which interferes with the behavior of the opiate/endorphin receptor, thus dramatically demonstrating that there was a chemical basis for the placebo effect.
Stardate 20010413.1525 (On Screen): Is the Internet the new CB radio? In the 1970's, there was a period in which the American public had a brief romance with the Knights of the Highway: long-haul truckers. The song Convoy hit top 40 (very unusual for C&W). The song inspired a movie. At least one TV show about truckers had a brief run. Terms like "Smokies" and "10-4" and "good buddy" entered the American lexicon. Everyone now knows how many tires there are on a semi (eighteen, for those of you living outside the US or who are less than twenty years old and didn't go through this insanity). Hats with "Peterbilt" and "Kenworth" logos started sprouting everywhere on the heads of men who'd never even touched a truck (let alone driven one) -- and the CB radio became the thing to have in your car. All the places that sold car stereos began to advertise CBs as well. There was so much traffic on the Citizen Bands that the FCC had to add more spectrum, expanding from 23 channels to 40. For a while, certain companies in the business of making CB radios were up against a capacity limit, and there was actually an industry shortage of crystals at certain frequencies. And it seems as if everyone had to have a handle, the stranger the better.
And in about ten years it was all gone leaving no trace, like a snowman during a spring thaw. Truckers went back to being "those obnoxious bastards who make the roads unsafe."
Now there's a new romance, with the Knights of the Information Highway: the hackers. Geek Chic is in, and young guys with black rim glasses are suddenly "cool". There have been movies. New phrases like "hax0r" and "pr0n" and "signal-to-noise ratio" have entered the lexicon. Internet vandalism gets coverage on network news. T-shirts with Cisco or Apple logos on them are everywhere, worn by people who wouldn't know a router if it bit them on the ass. And handles are back with a vengeance, in messaging systems and online forums and online games and nearly everywhere on the web.
Still, this article notwithstanding, I don't think that the Internet is a passing fad, though I do think some people will become bored with it, which is just as well; the signal-to-noise ratio in a lot of places is "down in the mud" as we communications engineers put it. The romance will end, which is also just as well. But the Internet itself will continue to grow.
For one thing the Internet a lot more versatile than CB was. For another, it's sexier. (Kind of hard to download pictures over a CB radio. Though in the CB era, some enterprising hookers working truck stops would make appointments over the air, that's nothing compared to what's going on now.) Finally, the fascination with CBs was mostly among older men, but the Internet has much broader appeal, and it's simply more useful in more ways. So I don't think it's going to fade into obscurity any time soon.
Show's over, folks. Go home. There's nothing to see here.
Stardate 20010413.0600 (On Screen via Motion Detectors): Now this is bad. Ever since Intel released the P4, the hardware review sites have been full of reports that its blazing clock speed and equally blazing memory bandwidth weren't actually doing anyone any good (with the notable exception of running Q3Arena rapidly). It's churning lots of cycles and lots of bytes but strangely doesn't seem to be getting any more work done. On existing applications, usually a 1.5 GHz P4 tends to run just about the same speed as a 1 GHz PIII -- and substantially slower than a 1.2 GHz Athlon. Now the explanations for that disturbing fact are beginning to come out. It's true that the first iteration of any given Intel CPU family tends to be mediocre -- witness the "Pentium Pro" (the first chip of the PII family). But in this case the problems run deeper. The exceptionally long pipeline means that the cost of a predict-miss is extremely high. And a lot of that fantastic memory bandwidth is going to waste on useless fetches. This is not a problem of implementation (as was the case in earlier first-releases) but are fundamental architectural problems. I don't see how they can easily be surmounted. This is thus a golden opportunity for AMD if only they can keep executing themselves.
AMD's problems aren't architectural (or contractual -- what in hell is in Intel's contract with Rambus which would cause them to jump on a grenade this way?) but rather more prosaic: they're short of fab space. Demand has been outstripping capacity for a long time, and with good reason. The year-old Thunderbird is still the fastest x86 on the market and Palomino is coming soon. The ship's computer at U.S.S. Clueless will be getting upgraded to a 1.33 GHz Thunderbird (ABit KT7A mobo) in a couple of weeks (ending a long Intel-only streak).
In the meantime, Intel has been saying that they'll be shutting down the PIII line and that P4 sales are going to boom, so everyone had better get on the bandwagon. Only they haven't been, and I don't think they will be, and Intel is in big trouble. The market isn't buying the hype, and AMD is about to eat their lunch. Sign to look for: Dell offering their first AMD-based system. You'll see it within the next six months. (Dell is the last remaining Intel-only holdout among the majors.)
Stardate 20010413.0545 (On Screen): File this one in the "What did they expect?" folder. "Smell-O-vision" has been a running joke since I was a kid, and finally someone decided to implement it on a computer. Did they really expect that someone would want to be assaulted by weird odors while they browsed the web or played games? Myself, I'd just as soon not smell what it's like when Duke Nukem is fighting aliens in a sewer, or walking through a pile of gibs. Eeewww.
Stardate 20010412.0815 (On Screen via Long Range Sensors): I keep running into this: someone says "the traditional evolutionary explanation for this feature is wrong; here's the real reason it happened". First, too many of these explanations are post hoc: "it makes sense that" and therefore it must be the reason. There's some justification for that, but not necessarily as much as some people would like to believe, because evolution is very opportunistic.
But the other problem with it is that it assumes that there's only one evolutionary pressure involved in designing a certain feature, and that's wrong. Did human female breasts evolve their modern shape to attract men, or to keep babies with flat faces from smothering? Yes.
The two aren't mutually exclusive. Both probably were involved, and maybe other factors as well. The fact that a protruding breast helps protect a nursing baby from suffocation doesn't prove that breasts aren't also a means of attracting men. And there's strong evidence in a number of ways that they do. First, the evidence that "noble savages who don't hide the breasts are also not as fascinated by them" is suspect on its face; there's much too much history of error in those studies for them to be believed.
But there are directly observable facts about human females which suggest the sexual roles breasts have. First off, the nipples are extremely sensitive and stimulation of them tends to help a woman get ready for sex. If their only function was feeding babies, it's difficult to believe this would be true. Second, despite claims to the contrary men really do like women's breasts. (It's not just cultural, either.) This isn't exactly rocket science.
But a more interesting fact is that among the various physical features of humans none varies as much in size and shape as female breasts. (Interestingly, the next most variable structures are the genitalia of both genders.) Indeed, the breasts on human females vary far more than do the equivalent organs on any other known mammal. This is interesting, because there are other sexual differences between humans and other mammals. The most important of those is the fact that human females, alone among all known mammals (with the exception of our nearest living relative, the Bonobos), are sexually receptive nearly all the time. For most female mammals, sex is a once-a-year thing (if not even more rare than that). But for human females (age 20 or so) in the wild it's nearly every day.
Why would that be? There's been a lot of speculation about that (not to mention abundant gratitude) and the consensus is that it's a means of bonding the males so that they stick around even after fertilization, to help rear offspring. Humans are the only primate species where mated pairs (mostly) stay together to rear offspring. (Not even the Bonobos do that. Understand, again, that these are not necessarily the only reasons. Nature is not that reductionist.)
There's another weird fact about human females, apparently known to women forever but only discovered by "medical science" (that is, by men) in the 20th century. If a large number of women start living together, initially their periods will be out of phase and possibly different lengths. Which means that they'll be fertile at different times. But after a relatively short time (2-4 months), one or more of them will "stutter", and after that all of them will be in phase, which means they'll all be fertile at the same time. Why would that be? No-one really knows but it's beyond belief that it's accidental. One game theory analysis of the struggle between men and women points out that in terms of spreading his genes a man wants to sleep around because a 20-year-old man is physically capable of becoming a father twice per day compared to once per year for a woman -- but a woman wants the man to bond. If he "loves her and leaves her" then her baby has a far greater chance of dying, and with it her rare opportunity to reproduce. In other words, when a woman has only ten chances at reproducing in her lifetime, she needs a high survival rate. But if a man can father a thousand children, he can tolerate a much lower survival rate and still have far more children than any woman can.
So the best strategy for men is to sleep around, while the best strategy for women is to bind a man to her. If all the women in the tribe are fertile at different times, then a man has the opportunity to impregnate many women more easily. If all the women are fertile at the same time then this diminishes the man's ability to breed, thus reducing his opportunity to produce offspring and requiring a higher survival rate among his offspring, which means he's more likely to care for those children -- which is the strategy the woman needs. There's no proof of any of this, but it does make sense. (Ahem.)
So we have enormous variation in human breast size, the attraction they hold for men, the fact that stimulation of them helps make a woman ready for sex, and other clear evolutionary differences in sexuality between humans and other mammals and it's clear that breasts perform a sexual function (as if that needed to be proved).
Stardate 20010412.0730 (On Screen via Long Range Sensors): Hmmm. I say, Hmmm. ESPN, a network known now for very creative advertising, recently started running advertisements for a web site which was ostensibly a JenniCam ripoff. But you visit and you don't really find anything too racy, but you do find a lot of criticism (sort of) of ESPN accompanied by links to ESPN's own web site. It wasn't intended to deceive; it becomes quite clear very rapidly that the site is a spoof. Still, it establishes that you can't always tell who is really behind a web site. Some other companies have been doing this kind of thing deliberately only have not left clues around like this phony ESPN critic. Which makes me wonder: is this "National Enquirer of the XBox world" really unauthorized? And if it was, how could we be sure? Hmmm.
Stardate 20010412.0700 (On Screen): Now this is a cool idea, and if someone pulls off an Apache XBox port, I'll definitely buy one. From the description, I don't see how anything could prevent it short of a deliberate throttle on network communication speeds in the XBox firmware -- and since one of the things they hope to do is to download programs into it, a throttle seems extremely unlikely. (I suppose they could throttle the upload speed only, which would kill this idea. Maybe I shouldn't give them any ideas. Of course, this also strikes me as the kind of thing someone could figure out how to "patch".)
Stardate 20010412.0415 (On Screen): This is a sure sign that someone has way too much time on their hands. I certainly think that it's important to recognize and study native American culture, but theme parks? Leave us be reasonable here; exactly what is someone going to learn riding roller coasters? (And why in God's name would they want to put one in Calgary, which is snowed in 6 months of the year, and is not any great shakes the rest of the time? I've been to Calgary; it's not exactly one of the places you think of as being a tourist destination unless you're into rodeo.) Fortunately, the last sentence of this report contains the seeds of its failure: the author of this fiasco (the province of Alberta) isn't actually willing to pay for it. I don't see how anyone could be foolish enough to invest in this. Now, isn't there anything else you could be working on?
Stardate 20010411.1745 (On Screen): So our 24 captured servicemen are free and on their way home. I'm glad to hear this. And despite a hard line from the Chinese, they got neither an acknowledgement of responsibility (which would have been a lie) nor a commitment to cessation of observation flights.
Apparently much of the wrangling was over exactly how to word a certain letter, which will be published in both English and Chinese. This strikes me as complete idiocy, but then I'm an engineer and clarity is a virtue in engineering documentation. Deliberate ambiguity and obfuscation goes against the grain, which must be why I'm not Secretary of State. Still, one way to tell that the Chinese caved was that they claimed "humanitarian reasons" for releasing our people (which is a code word for "We didn't get everything we wanted, and we're not going to, so we're going to be virtuous and release our hostages anyway and hope the voters don't notice we got snookered"). And President Bush and his team performed far better than a lot of people thought they would (including me: I expected Reagan-style saber rattling and not the restraint we actually saw).
What, exactly, did we say? We said that we were sorry that the Chinese pilot died -- and that's true. At least for me it is; I really am sorry he's dead. This wasn't worth anyone's life. We said we were sorry for intruding in Chinese air space after the collision (and the Chinese agreed that the collision happened in international airspace). It shouldn't have been necessary to say that, because international law says that aircraft in distress are permitted to use any airfield they can reach. But given that our "hosts" were unwilling, such an apology is pretty pro-forma. What we didn't say was that it was our fault, or that we promised to stop the monitoring flights. The letter said that the cause of the crash was unclear -- which is a crock; the crash was caused by the dead man, sad to say, though he was probably following orders. Apparently this kind of deliberately intimidating near-misses have been going on for a long time, so it was inevitable that one of these jets would screw up eventually and get into trouble. It will be interesting to see if they approach so closely in future.
So we get our people back, which is the important thing, and they get to keep a thoroughly ruined plane from which they'll learn damned little, which is fine. In the long term, the most important thing about this is that it will set back US-China relations at least five years. That's a damned shame. For instance, there's a good chance China will lose Most Favored Nation trade status next time their eligibility comes up before Congress. It's also virtually certain now that Taiwan will be permitted to buy any weapons they want.
Most amazing of all, though, Jesse Jackson's help wasn't needed. Imagine that!
Stardate 20010411.1215 (On Screen): What is the only part of the new economy to be successful? The nude economy, of course! Online porn is the only segment of online business where winners far outnumber losers. It's also the only part of the web where the subscription model has been a success. (Why? Because geeks are horny, rich and don't get any.)
So when new economy companies like Yahoo see their ad-supported business model crumble, they can either surrender and die -- or go with what works. If advertisers won't pay, then you need to come up with something that readers will pay for. Which is why it really shouldn't be any surprise that Yahoo's new plan to regain profitability is to start selling pictures of naked people having a good time. Expect apoplexy from conservatives, and a great deal of moral outrage.
So what's next? Google starts indexing porn sites. (I mean deliberately, not by accident.) Salon will start reviewing adult DVDs. Egghead will add a porn section. Metafilter will add a section where every post is required to use at least one reference to a body part. Remember, you read it here first!
Stardate 20010411.0815 (On Screen): The Dutch now have a hat trick. They legalized prostitution, they legalized same-sex marriages, and now they've legalized euthanasia. While I happen to agree with all three of these things, it remains true that they're about to enter treacherous ethical and legal waters. Each of the three has the potential to cause enormous difficulties. Amsterdam could become the sin, gay and death capitol of Europe.
Of course, that can mostly be avoided with strict residency laws: no-one can get married, be a prostitute or get help dying unless they're a legal resident of the Netherlands. That still won't affect the sex-tourism issue, but it's not clear that this is significant given that the Netherlands is already a major tourist destination. I've been there (about fifteen years ago) and it's a beautiful nation. Amsterdam is possibly the most lovely city I've ever seen, rivaled only by Vancouver BC. It is particularly friendly to English-only speakers; we never had any trouble anywhere. Anyway, the legalization of prostitution was more a de jure acknowledgement of a de facto situation, since the laws have largely not been enforced for a long time. We wanted to attend an organ recital at the Oude Kerk ("Old Church"), and it turns out that it's right in the middle of the red light district, which we walked through. Where we were, most of the prostitutes looked like they were Indonesian, though I'm told that other ethnic groups cluster in other areas.
In fact, the city government of Amsterdam long since issued a pamphlet for tourists telling them how not to get ripped off by prostitutes, and where to go to have a good time safely. Clearly the change in the prostitution law will have little effect. But the others could cause enormous difficulties. I wish the Dutch well as they enter the 21st century. (Too bad the rest of us are still stuck in the 19th.)
Stardate 20010410.1645 (On Screen): There's really very little here to be concerned with. Perhaps the Chinese are ransacking the surveillance aircraft, but what are they really going to learn? Not much, actually.
Now it's blatantly obvious to even a casual observer that this kind of craft could fall into unfriendly hands; it could, for instance, have been intercepted illegally in international airspace by fighters who ordered it to land and be captured. Since it is unarmed and since the US doesn't require these kind of personnel to commit suicide, they would comply. So if the intelligence community is at all intelligent, they will have prepared for this possibility. (And they have. They regularly practice a destruction drill.)
So, just what is in the craft which can be a problem? First, there are inevitably going to be some manuals and other pieces of information written on paper. Disposal is easy: dump 'em overboard. (The ocean is a big place; the chance of recovery is negligible. Note that the Chinese so far haven't even located their jet or pilot, let alone a few notebooks dumped by the Americans inside lead-lined bags.)
Second, there's a lot of sophisticated electronics: sensitive receivers, crypto-equipment, radars, and so on. It would be trivially easy to rig a big red button which, when pushed, dumped about 200 volts onto the power supply line of all that electronics and instantly (microseconds) smoked all the silicon. One person could push that button in about twenty seconds, while everyone else was collecting paper to be dumped.
Third, hard disks. An over-voltage would kill the disk electronics but the disk platters and the information on them would survive that, and could conceivably be retrieved. Now the information is almost certainly big-time encrypted, but if you really want to make sure that a disk drive doesn't get captured then a piece of C4 about the size of your thumbnail set off on the surface of the drive housing would be more than enough to irretrievably destroy the platter, without harming the plane or crew. (It doesn't take much.) The piece of plastic explosive which inflates the airbag in your car would be more than enough. If you wanted to destroy circuit boards, the same thing would work on them. C4 is very versatile. Rig it to that same big red button.
Lastly, the plane itself. It should be obvious that a certain irreducible amount of the equipment necessary to permit the engines to run and the plane to be flown would still be working when the craft landed (though destruction might be possible to some of that after it stopped moving). But just how critical is that? Certainly it's the case that US aircraft design is more sophisticated than anything the Chinese are doing now, but this is not exactly as important as leaking working crypto equipment.
So I have to say that I'm not particularly worried about the equipment on the plane being captured. If it tickles their fancy to look at a bunch of totally destroyed equipment, then they should knock themselves out. About all they're going to learn is that we're 15 years ahead of them technologically, which I suspect they already know.
Stardate 20010410.1330 (Crew, this is the Captain): I'm trying something a bit different in terms of the format for U.S.S. Clueless, which will probably justify the name. If you happen to notice that you can't fully see the top or bottom sections, please let me know.
Stardate 20010410.1015 (On Screen): Reverend Jackson, would you please shut up? If someone wants your advice or assistance, I think you can be certain they will definitely ask for it. Until that happens, please keep the heck out of it.
The last thing we need is a demagogue getting involved in the issue of our servicemen being held in China. I have enormous confidence that Colin Powell can handle this. And as our Secretary of State, it's his job. So let's all stand back, take a deep breath, and let him take care of it, OK?
Stardate 20010410.0735 (On Screen): Someone breaks into a computer and hijacks a mailing list there to send out an unauthorized letter. This is, of course, a crime (it happens to be a felony under US law). So what does our hero send out? A chain letter, trying to get people to send money to five different addresses (you've all seen it). Needless to say, there will be a criminal investigation, and where do you think they'll start? Why, with the five people listed in the letter, who carefully provided legitimate addresses where they can be reached.
Some people deserve to be in jail.
Stardate 20010410.0605 (On Screen): They did it! After eighty-eight hours of surgery, two baby girls who were joined at the head have been separated. Their brains were actually connected to each other; it's no wonder it took so long. This is only the sixth time this surgery has been attempted, and only the second time it has succeeded. OK, surgeons, you have permission to have an attack of the shakes -- and then sleep for a week. (And then get drunk.)
Stardate 20010410.0600 (On Screen): Script kiddies of the world, crack open that champagne! Your opportunity for real mischief has arrived! Imagine the fun! You, too, can set the temperature at the NY Stock exchange to 110F. Just imagine! Be the first on your block to change world history!
"Today the Fed interest rate committee met to decide what to do about the sagging economy, but before they could come to a decision they were forced to leave the building when the temperature in the room plunged to 45F." Fun fun fun!
Stardate 20010410.0545 (On Screen): Now despite whether you think it should be the case, the vast majority of data moving over the Napster system has been violating copyright. The songs being traded are copyrighted under US (and international law) and this is emphatically not "fair use". Perhaps the law should be changed, perhaps not. That's a subject for a different time.
But it hasn't been changed, and the Napster company knows that if they really do clamp down and stop all illicit trading of copyrighted work then their system will cease to be valuable to their users, who will move on to something else. So when the original court order was issued, Napster wanted to satisfy the letter of the judge's order while still leaving their system as porous as they can. RIAA is upset because the filtration process has failed to stop the movement of copyrighted material; Napster will go to court today and say "But we tried!"
I predict that Judge Patel won't buy it. She gave them a chance to clean up their act and they didn't accomplish the spirit of her order. There are really only two solutions which will satisfy her: either change the "deny" filter to a "permit" filter (i.e. only music which is on a specific list will be permitted onto the system, with a place where users can request that new titles be added to the list), or total shutdown. And a "permit" system could be abused, too. So I predict that after today's hearing that the judge will find Napster to be in contempt of court, and will order the system shut down completely. (A decision by the judge is unlikely today, however.)
Stardate 20010409.1300 (On Screen): Apparently the future of commercial web development is also low budget. Dan's Data makes an interesting point: the web is the first place in history where a small commercial operation has a better chance of success than a big one. I think he's right. (Lessee -- anyone looking to sponsor a middle aged curmudgeon with a very small readership? I guess I'd have to figure out what my reader demographic is. What, exactly, do curmudgeons buy?)
Stardate 20010409.1300 (On Screen): The wheels of justice turn slowly but sometimes they do arrive at the right place. Some order is beginning to emerge in the scandal of the "Internet Twins", which will soon be settled. To review, a woman in Missouri decided to offer her twins for adoption through a broker here in San Diego. The broker gave the twins to a couple in LA in exchange for a fat fee. After two months, the mother came and asked for a chance to take the babies away to spend a bit of time with them "one last time", and the couple in LA agreed. But rather than simply going to a hotel and spending one day with the babies, she took them to Arkansas, where they were adopted by a couple from Wales who had also given the broker a fat fee. The babies, having already been adopted in California, were then adopted again by the Welsh couple in Arkansas, who then took them back to Wales. Then the mother changed her mind again and decided she wanted the babies back.
Since then, the steps towards rationality have been slow but sure.
One of the big questions has been which court had jurisdiction. Would it be a California court (where the first adoption took place)? An Arkansas court (where the second adoption took place)? A Missouri court (where the natural mother actually lives)? A court in the UK (where the babies are currently located)?
A court in Missouri has declared that it has jurisdiction, and "requested" that the British government return the babies to Missouri.
There seem to be four folks who might have a claim. There are the couple in California, the couple in Wales, the natural mother, and the natural father.
California adoption law permits the natural parents 90 days to change their minds. While the actual means the natural mother used to take the babies back was highly unorthodox (and possibly felonious) it remains the case that within 90 days of the adoption she does have the right to reverse it just by saying so. She has indeed "said so" and the California adoption is null and void. (Since then, the man in California has been charged with a crime and the couple here have withdrawn from the case.) They're out of it, and California courts have no jurisdiction.
So, too, are the couple in Wales. A court in Arkansas has investigated the adoption which took place there and declared it null and void. For an adoption under Arkansas law, at least one of the participants must have established residency there (by staying in the state for 30 days) and neither the natural mother nor the Welsh couple did so. Therefore there was no adoption. Under US law, the Welsh couple have no more rights to the babies than I do. Also, this means that the Arkansas court has no jurisdiction, and has said so.
But the babies are in the UK, and it was left to a court there to make its own decision on jurisdiction. Now it has agreed that there is no adoption and that the babies will be returned to Missouri. So we're finally left with the Missouri court which is the only one claiming jurisdiction.
The natural mother and the natural father both have said that they want custody. Let us remember that the father has just as much right to the babies as the mother did. (It seems the mother didn't consult him before offering the babies for adoption in the first place, and even with everything else there is serious question as to whether any of the adoptions would be legal without his permission, which was never granted.)
The Missouri court will decide which natural parent gets the babies. The decision is, or should be, made on the basis of fitness of the parent and the best interests of the children. Historically speaking, mothers are given the benefit of the doubt (a sore point with many men). But when a mother has shown herself to be as seriously irresponsible as this one has, I think that her chances of getting custody are very low. (I wouldn't trust her to care for my cat.)
So the father should in my opinion get them. I know nothing whatever about him, except that it's nearly impossible that he could be as despicable as any of the other participants in this circus.
If there's any tragedy in this it's that the decisions took so long. In a case like this, normal judicial process should have been abbreviated. At the age these babies are at, they should be beginning to form strong emotional bonds to caretakers. Instead, they've been getting shuttled around. On the other hand, the court in Missouri is experienced in dealing with child custody cases and I trust that they will do the right thing, now that jurisdiction has been settled.