Stardate 20010524.9999 (On Screen): Another test entry.

Stardate 20010524.9999 (On Screen): A test entry. Did I get another stupid font tag?

Stardate 20010524.0735 (On Screen): We should preach abstinence! The way to keep them out of trouble is for them to not do the things which are dangerous! But they're going to do it anyway, and if they do they'll get hurt. So the thing to do is teach them not to get hurt and give them protection.

This argument applies equally to the question of giving condoms to teenagers, and giving survival kits to Mexicans trying to illegally cross the US border. I support the former. I guess I have to support the latter, though it makes me uncomfortable.

Stardate 20010524.0720 (On Screen): I think I'm glad this has happened. When I was in high school, I remember having a conversation on a bus with two girls from the UK who were complaining about the fact that our government was divided and deadlocked, since one party controlled the Congress and the other the Whitehouse. They contrasted this to the Parliamentary system, where one party always controls the legislature and the executive branch (because the legislature chooses the executive). I defended our system, mostly out of knee-jerk patriotism. I didn't know much then.

As I grew older, I came to realize the wisdom of their words. Indeed, there have been times when our government has been deadlocked in party politics and unable to react to things.

But when I was faced with a unified government whose policies I did not like, I realized the danger it represented -- and I've returned to my earlier view. A split government is more desirable. The reason is that when there are things which are truly important and necessary, the parties will come together and get them done. It's the ideologically-motivated government actions which get stalled. Which suits me fine.

In any case, this particular event means that the Republicans don't get to pack the federal court system with conservative judges. Now that the Democrats control the Senate (just!) then the judges that Bush nominates will have to be more mainstream. He certainly isn't going to be nominating raving pinko liberals, but he'll have to stay to the center. Of all the things the government can do, the one which scares me the most is the politicizing of the judiciary. That's always happened to some extent, but I think the temptation has been there to be more radical about it starting with Reagan. For the next four years, at least, we're free of this scourge. Of necessity federal judicial appointments will be bipartisan, because they'll be nominated by a Republican president but approved by a Democratic senate.

The politics of the US is about to get a lot more contentious.

Stardate 20010524.0700 (On Screen): Brian Clair is making a fundamental mistake. He's assuming that he is indispensable. He's correct that the collapse of the online advertising model means the doom of his site and those like it. He's not correct that this is some sort of catastrophe. He's also not correct that Something Must Be Done.

It will be a catastrophe to him; it's his job. But it won't be to me, or to the majority of web users. I just got involved in this same discussion on a news server I use; the owner of the site posted a similar lament about how the advertising model for the web was collapsing, wondering what could be done to reverse it. He was rather stunned when I posted that I was glad it was collapsing and that I intended to do everything I could to make that process move forward faster and become more complete.

Stardate 20010524.0615 (On Screen): It's been suggested before that we're actually living inside a big simulation. (It also figures highly in the denouement of Jack Chalker's "Flux and Anchor" series, which I recommend highly.) I actually was thinking about this the other day, and considering some of the digital aspects of the universe. The most prominent of these is of course the quantum theory: a photon's energy state isn't analog. It has distinct steps it can occupy and isn't capable of occupying any energy state in between.

What I was wondering is whether position might be quantized. Can the exact location of an object be represented in a finite number of bits? No, Special Relativity doesn't permit it. "Absolute location" is a meaningless phrase.

Can an object's position relative to another object be represented in a finite number of bits? That's tougher, but again I think the answer is "no". Take two planets rotating about two stars, and assume that the positions of the planets are granulized relative to their two stars. Then assume that the position of the stars are granulized (Geeze; that word's in FrontPage's dictionary! I thought I made it up) relative to each other, and to the center of the galaxy in which they exist, and essentially relative to everything. No matter how you add it up, you end up with a fixed frame of reference, and there can be no such thing. As soon as it's proved that there is a fixed frame of reference, Special Relativity falls down -- and someone has to explain why atomic bombs explode.

Which is why I find the "cosmic background" disturbing, because it seems to me that that is a fixed frame of reference. It's the heat left over from the Big Bang, detectable now as residual radiation representing a temperature of a couple of degrees Kelvin, and we can measure our velocity relative to it by measuring the doppler shift in different directions. Am I missing something here? (Where was I going with this? Oh, that direction at 1488 km/s. Now I know where I am.) 

Stardate 20010524.0550 (On Screen): I think this is a really bad idea. We have a system now which supports debit cards (I've used one for years) but it uses telecommunications and a central database. When I buy something with my debit card, the transaction is confirmed with my bank in real time. That doesn't prove that my debit card is real (it could be a forgery), so it is still possible for someone to rip me off.

But on a more global level, that would be theft, not counterfeiting. Someone would be taking my money, but the total amount of money wouldn't change. When the electronic money becomes self contained, and when the system becomes widespread, then if there's a crack it would become a perfectly undetectable way to counterfeit, and the potential exists for a huge flood of new money to be introduced into the system, resulting in inflation and financial ruin.

The people trying to design this are going to do their best to make it invulnerable (though I'm always suspicious of any design-by-committee -- I've been in one of those industry standards bodies and I know how lousy they can be) but for something like this the certainty required is too high. There's just too much at stake. I think that the whole concept of electronic money which doesn't check a centralized database as its used is a bad thing.

Standardize on this and use it broadly, and you're setting yourself up for a single-point-failure which could take the entire economy out.

Stardate 20010523.1930 (Crew, this is the Captain): The server is running and works fine. I've upgraded the memory (from 64M to 512M) without managing to kill it. It's not doing much interesting yet; I've got a lot to learn. But so far things look good. (Wonder if this old dog can learn a new trick? What's a PHP? sob)

Stardate 20010523.1230 (Crew, this is the Captain): It's here! It's here! UPS just delivered the server! (Now everyone go away and leave me alone for a while.)

Stardate 20010523.0930 (On Screen): The single most critical battle of WWII in the Pacific was the Battle of Midway. And the critical decision of that battle was made by Admiral Frank Fletcher.

Midway was the battle where Japan wanted to finish the job they started at Pearl Harbor. At Pearl Harbor they had destroyed most of the battleships in the US Pacific fleet; at Midway they intended to destroy the carriers. Having done this, they hoped the US would capitulate and negotiate a peace.

What they didn't count on was that the Americans were reading the Japanese codes, especially a code known to the US codebreakers as "JN-25B". This was the Japanese flag code, and carried the top level information to the fleet. It was used to send out the Japanese Midway plan, and American codebreakers read that plan. The story of how the Midway attack plan was deciphered by the Americans is an exciting one but much too long for me to describe here. However, this permitted Admiral Chester Nimitz, CinCPac (Commander in Chief, Pacific) to move all his carriers into exactly the right position to attack the Japanese carriers. There were three, in two taskforces. One taskforce should have been Lexington and Yorktown (plus cruisers and destroyers), but "Lady Lex" had just been sunk at Coral Sea, and Yorktown was badly damaged in that battle. The other taskforce was Hornet and the legendary Enterprise (probably the single most celebrated ship in the history of the US Navy). (Saratoga, which probably was damaged more times without sinking than any other carrier in US history, was in drydock. Wasp was in the Atlantic delivering planes to Malta. Langley was obsolete and not suited for combat.)

The Enterprise/Hornet taskforce should have been commanded by Admiral William Halsey, but he became sick and had to report to the hospital (to his bitter disappointment). Nimitz asked him to suggest a replacement, and he named his old friend Admiral Raymond Spruance, who had never before commanded carriers but who had been Halsey's cruiser commander in the taskforce. However, Nimitz knew and respected Spruance, and accepted the recommendation. Since Admiral Fletcher was senior and also more experienced with carriers, he was placed in overall command. (Had Halsey been fit to serve, he would have been senior to Fletcher.)

The two taskforces launched the single most effective air strike made by the US to that time, and through a combination of courage, skill, impeccable timing and incredible luck managed to destroy three of the four Japanese big deck carriers. The fourth then launched a counterstrike which found the already damaged Yorktown and hit it with both bombs and torpedoes. Fletcher had been commanding the battle out of Yorktown and was forced to leave it, moving to the cruiser Astoria.

At which point there was a serious problem. One of the reasons that a taskforce commander operated from a carrier was that it was big enough to have the facilities on board needed for command of a battle. The admiral's staff was large and critical; no admiral controls a battle in a vacuum. Astoria didn't have the facilities (including in particular enough radios).

On the other hand, Spruance had never commanded carriers before. He was a good, experienced admiral but his experience had been in cruisers and destroyers. Fletcher was more than a hundred miles away from Enterprise and Hornet (which is why the Japanese never found them) and joining them wasn't an option. What to do?

In my opinion, Fletcher made the decision which won the Pacific war: he turned over command of the battle to Spruance. This was not an obvious decision to make but on retrospect it was absolutely correct, because Spruance did a superb job. Admiral Spruance proceeded to find and destroy the last Japanese big-deck carrier, and later destroy or severely damage several other Japanese ships (including at least two heavy cruisers). The Japanese retreated. Midway was saved, but that's not as important as two other things:

1. This was the high point in the Pacific war for the Japanese. Until that point they had held a superiority in both quality and quantity. After that, they never again had a superiority, and in 1943 when the next generation of American ships (including the superb Essex-class and Princeton-class carriers) started to go into service, as well as the new American planes (especially the Lightning, Corsair, Avenger and Hellcat), the Japanese began to be progressively more and more inferior, and the naval battles more and more one sided. They were never able to match American production, and their head start was lost at Midway. Ultimately, at the Marianas the Japanese air forces were destroyed, and at the Phillipines their surface fleet was destroyed. After that they were helpless.

2. It lead to Spruance sharing field command of the Pacific fleet with Halsey, in an unprecedented arrangement where they took turns. Halsey commanded the last half of the Solomons campaign, Spruance at the Marianas, Halsey again at the Phillipines, and Spruance at Iwo and Okinawa. Halsey was in command at the end of the war when the Japanese surrendered, though Spruance would have commanded during the invasion of Japan had it been necessary. Spruance's performance at the Marianas and at Okinawa was superb; Halsey tended to make big mistakes (though fortunately none of them really resulted in catastrophe).

Fletcher himself fades from history a few months after this. He was competent but simply wasn't as good as either Spruance or Halsey. He served through the end of the war but not on the front line. (He was given command of the North Pacific theater, a backwater where no important actions took place.) It is rare in history for a top commander to have the courage to yield command when he is not wounded, knowing full well the effect it might have on his own career. Fletcher was an uncommon man.

Why am I discussing all this? The article referenced above claims that Gil Amelio saved Apple. It's not yet obvious that Apple has been saved, but it is clear that it was in deep trouble and is now in far better shape than it was four years ago. I believe it is indeed true that Gil Amelio saved Apple by his decision to purchase Next and bring Steve Jobs back into the company. On a technical level, BE would have been a better choice for an OS than NextStep (once Apple proved beyond any doubt that they were incompetent to create their own replacement internally for the obsolete "classic" MacOS), but on the more important level of management, Jobs was more of an asset than Agassiz. Now it is not true that Amelio voluntarily yielded command to Jobs, so in that sense his actions are not quite the same as those of Admiral Fletcher's, but the effect was the same.

Much as I am contemptuous of Jobs as a flaming liar (don't get me started) I do not think there is anyone else who could have turned the company around the way he has. Jobs's ego will certainly never let him publicly acknowledge the debt Apple owes to Amelio, but the Mac Faithful should hoist a beer to him the next time the Reality Distortion Field wears off.

Stardate 20010523.0850 (On Screen): This has to be the strangest campaign promise I've ever heard. "Free plastic surgery for all"? And I thought the Americans fielded crack-pot candidates.

Stardate 20010522.1155 (On Screen): This is being advertised as a potential "cure" for Alzheimer's disease. While this is amazingly good news, it's important to understand what this could, and could not, do. If it works as advertised, then it will stop the progression of the disease.

What it won't do is to reverse existing damage. Nerve cells which are dead won't come back to life. A person who is already severely handicapped by the disease won't get better; it's just that they would stop getting worse.

Stardate 20010522.1145 (On Screen): The Khmer Rouge took over in Cambodia and imposed increasingly draconian measures on its population, until there started being wholesale executions, the now notorious "killing fields". As much as a third of the population may have died. The world stood by and watched, and did nothing. Now we're seeing an equally extreme group impose progressively draconian measures in another country, indicating that they also will stop at nothing. Will the world stand by and watch again?


Stardate 20010522.1120 (On Screen): An interesting addendum to my essay on beautiful women: it seems that if you take any random 32 faces and use a computer program to digitize them and average them, you end up with a face which is perceived to be "attractive". I'd be interested in seeing what they look like.

Stardate 20010522.1110 (On Screen): It's nice to see that someone in the Linux community is finally waking up to the essential difference between Linux and Windows for desktop use: applications. No matter how good Linux itself is, it has never had and never will have the rich variety of applications available for it for desktop use which Windows has, and thus will never become a serious threat to Microsof

Captured by MemoWeb from http://denbeste.nu/pregrey/20010521.shtml on 9/16/2004