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Mail 146 March 26 - April 1, 2001

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Monday  March 26, 2001

Peter Glaskowsky says:

On your Mail page from the week of March 19, Calvin Page and Alan Hart opine that Intel made the transition from Socket 7 to Slot 1 in order to force AMD out of the market. They also suggest that it was the form factor-- the slot-based cartridge-- that was the key factor in this effort.

The truth is less sinister. The key is not the form factor, but the processor bus. Socket 7 is nothing more a physical connection for the Pentium (P5) bus between the motherboard and the CPU. The P5 bus was designed to achieve specific performance goals at a given level of complexity for the bus-interface logic.

When Intel was developing the Pentium II (P6) family, it knew that the P5 bus would not scale to the levels of performance and efficiency appropriate for the new processor core. Improved process technology allowed Intel to use a more complicated bus interface and higher clock speeds on the P6 bus.

Intel also moved the Level 2 cache off the processor bus to a private "back side" bus. This change allowed the L2 cache to operate in parallel with the processor bus, greatly improving overall throughput.

The nature of these improvements precluded making the P6 bus compatible with the P5 bus, and this is the essence of the P5/P6 incompatibility.

The change in form factor was a consequence of the switch to a back-side L2 cache. Intel decided to use a daughterboard to connect the CPU to the cache. The CPU and cache chips could be soldered directly to this board, allowing the cache interface to run as fast as possible. The slower processor bus could be brought out to a card-edge connector on this daughterboard, since motherboard manufacturers could easily manage the interface to the north bridge.

Eventually, further improvements in process technology allowed Intel to move the L2 cache onto the processor die itself, a move that eliminated the daughtercard and made it possible provide the Pentium II and III in a standard package for socket mounting.

The exact same process took place at AMD. AMD did not adopt slot-based packaging because Intel did, nor did it adopt the Alpha processor bus for Athlon simply because Intel failed to reuse the P5 bus on Pentium II. AMD made these changes for exactly the same reasons that Intel did-- engineering necessity. Indeed, PowerPC processors went through exactly the same evolution, and obviously there's never been any issue of compatibility or competition of this particular type between the x86 and PowerPC families.

If I might retarget one of your favorite phrases-- never ascribe to malice that which is inevitable.

And just because it's my job to look into the future of computer technology, I'll add that we're just about to start seeing Level 3 caches in personal computers. These caches will tend to be much larger and somewhat slower than L2 caches, but still smaller and faster than your PC's main memory. They will first be implemented off the CPU die and move closer over time, and eventually we may see a temporary return to CPU daughtercards shortly before L3 caches can be integrated onto the CPU die.

. png

Thanks for the straight dope. More after WinHEC of course.

Dr. Pournelle,

I read some of the posts at the link that you were sent 50 copies of. It was interesting in an anthropological sort of way -- kind of like observing the inner workings of a weird new religion. (You get trashed pretty heavily.)

The posts are viperous, repetitive, poorly informed, and often illiterate. Someone will state something and two or three posts later it is taken as gospel. Nobody bothers to check facts, verify quotes, or backup their claims with any substantive evidence. Like all religions, if a true believer says it, it is assumed to be true. Kinda has the feel of Communistic or fundamentalist religious rantings.

This cannot be the Linux mainstream, and it definitely isn't worth spending any of your heartbeats on. Just my two cents.

Keep on chugglin, Clyde Wisham

------------------------------------------ "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." -- Albert Einstein -------------------------------------------

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

As a Linux user and enthusiast, I want to make it clear that I disclaim and denounce the rude behaviour of any and all self-styled "Linux Advocates" who have sent you abusive email or posted abusive comments. They are not Linux. They only spew -- the "cause" is secondary.

Please note that the people who do the work are of a very different manner.

I'd greatly appreciate it if in future you'd highlight the distinction, rather than tarring us with their brush.

Thanks and best wishes. I'm glad Sasha is recovering well,

Gordon Runkle

-- It doesn't get any easier, you just go faster. -- Greg LeMond


I tend to agree, and I generally post hate mail only when I think the example may cause some others to think about it before sending poison pen letters...

Dr. Pournelle:

Went to the Linux BBS you linked, and read some of their stuff. I'm glad they can dwell in the lofty upper reaches of computer science, where they can gaze with amused condescension at us poor dupes who actually use computers to get some work done. I hope they realize that for every Ubergeek like them there are ten thousand like me who need only hard work, reliability, and software compatibility from a machine and, when it comes down to it, could care less if there is a Pentium chip inside or a bionic lemming on a high-speed wheel with liquid-cooled axle bearings.

When I was young, guys like this were car freaks, constantly rebuilding engines, waxing lyrical on four-barrel carbs and other arcane lingo, and banging around under hoods most of the day with their butts hanging over the grill. My view of cars then: turn the key, drive away. If that doesn't happen, I'll fix it if I have to, but I won't enjoy it. Again, I think most of the American population fell into my category.

These Linux guys sound about the same, only they're dealing with smaller parts than a Mustang. At least the car freaks were considered cool back then. The Ubergeeks never will be. And you can bet they know it.

Tom Brosz


Hello Jerry--

First, thanks for putting up a link to my Bad Astronomy Moon Hoax rebuttal. The traffic that page has generated has been astonishing; I think the people that have seen my page and emailed me about it is now rivalling the number that actually saw the Fox program. Seriously, I am well over 1.2 million hits to that page since the program first aired in February. I found your link to me via a webtracker.

Second, I should note we have met once, not that you'd remember. In 1981 or 1982 you and Larry Niven were at a AAAS meeting in Washington DC. I was a senior in high school then, and was at the meeting volunteering (I ran Steven Weinberg's slide projector!). You and Larry were sitting on stage after a panel discussion, and I approached you both: I had a first edition of "Ringworld" I wanted Larry to autograph. He asked me how I wanted him to sign it. I hadn't thought of that; I had assumed he would just sign his name. Without hesitating, I said "How about 'To my good friend Phil, thanks for pointing out the mistakes."

Needless to say, the charming smile disappeared rather abruptly, but I distinctly remember you laughing *very* hard at that. It's a cherished memory of mine (so if you remember it, and I have it wrong, don't tell me). I reminded him of this story at the Baltimore worldcon last year, and he claims I wasn't the first to say that to him. I'm sure he's right!

Anyway, thanks again for the link!

-Phil Plait

* * * * * The Bad Astronomer * * * *

Phil Plait The Bad Astronomy Web Page:

Member of the Outerspace Advertising Network ---> <---

Well, I had corrected a couple of mistakes in it myself. Larry published Rinworld before I met him, of course. And it's still in print....


I just read your article about Allchin vs. Stallman and would like to make a comment.

The way the GPL has been interpreted thus far holds that a program generated by a GPL'd compiler does not have to be GPL'd itself. There are many commercial, non-GPL packages that are compiled under the GNU C compiler. Where you would have a problem would be the run time libraries and for this there is the LGPL which allows linking without putting the product under the GPL.

Compilers are sort of a special case. Perhaps a better one would be something like ASPEN which was developed at a college with public money and then sold by the company ASPENTECH at a very high price to chemical engineering companies. What did the public gain from this?

I do not completely agree with either of the two parties but think that both have valid points. What I think I think Allchin was aluding to was when MS took Kerberous an open standard for authentification (i think) and added proprietary extensions to it to make it incompatable with other implementations. They eventually published it, but only after a great deal of pressure. MS knows that the way to control is to make proprietary extensions and then say... "Hey their stuff isnt compatable with the MS standard."


Matt Henley (who started reading your articles as well as your sf after his dad got their first pc back in 82 or so )

Microsoft tactics work only if users and buyers let them (and think it's worth continuing to buy their stuff)...

Peter Glascowsky said: > never ascribe to malice that which is inevitable.

One point he didn't mention: AMD could have made the Athlon plug into the same slot as the Pentium II, except for the fact that Intel holds *patents* that prevent AMD from doing so. Without a patent license from Intel, no one can legally make a chip that plugs into a recent Intel chip socket.

AMD's first choice would be to make chips that work in any Intel motherboard. With that path closed to them, they went to their second choice: use a better CPU bus standard than Intel did. Thus they used the same standard the Alpha chips used, the EV6 bus.

AMD did however make their "Slot A" standard *physically* compatible with the Pentium II, so that things like cooling fans could be compatible.

I'm actually happy with the way things worked out. AMD's Duron is much faster than a Celeron, in part due to the faster CPU bus.

Steve R. Hastings 

One of the consequences of the old IBM "plug compatible" cases was that patents that prevent computer equipment from working with rival equipment were pretty well voided. I am no lawyer but I would be surprised if a patent that prevented someone else's chips from being compatible in an Intel socket would be enforceable.

Nor would I think it good politics for Intel to try.







This week:



Tuesday,  March 28, 2001

A lot of good mail has piled up while I get through WinHec. I have appointments tomorrow afternoon so this won't get caught up until Thursday or later.

Hi Jerry,

It is worth reading, if only to make you roll your eyes in amazement. 

- Paul D. Walker


It's Glaskowsky,

Not 'Glascowsky'. Otherwise, thanks for posting my comments. :-)

Steve R. Hastings wrote,

> One point he didn't mention: AMD could have made the Athlon plug into > the same slot as the Pentium II, except for the fact that Intel holds > *patents* that prevent AMD from doing so. Without a patent license > from Intel, no one can legally make a chip that plugs into a recent > Intel chip socket.

This is true, but not terribly relevant unless it's meant to support an argument against the patent system. If it wasn't for those pesky copyright laws, AMD could simply manufacture the Pentium III itself. Other laws prohibit AMD from simply printing its own money; the optical technology behind 0.18-micron fabs would make child's play of counterfeiting. :-)

> AMD's first choice would be to make chips that work in any Intel motherboard. > With that path closed to them, they went to their second choice: use a better > CPU bus standard than Intel did. > [...] > I'm actually happy with the way things worked out. AMD's Duron is much faster > than a Celeron, in part due to the faster CPU bus.

The conclusion casts some doubt on the premise, hmm? When AMD was just following Intel's lead, it was unprofitable. Today, with clearly distinct products, AMD is highly profitable.

. png

I cannot understand why I so often manage to misspell your name. Alas. Well, tomorrow I find out everything you know...


I'm afraid I must disagree with you on the issue of legal roadblocks to hardware compatibility.

On your latest mail page you said "One of the consequences of the old IBM "plug compatible" cases was that patents that prevent computer equipment from working with rival equipment were pretty well voided" and "Nor would I think it good politics for Intel to try".

May I refer you an authoritative source? (at least, I consider that late (dead-tree version, anyway), lamented magazine to be rather authoritative). See for the details.

Note that the page mentions that AMD was _forbidden_ to clone the Slot 1 interface, as result of previous legal wrangling over intellectual property. In other words, Intel WAS using patents and/or licensing to keep AMD out of the "Slot 1 pool". In that respect Intel was like Microsoft - big enough to declare the new "standard", and not worrying about possible public outcry over "lock-in" issues.

(thank Byte for putting their dead-tree information online, and Google for leading me to it).


Calvin Dodge

As I said I am no lawyer, but I did review a couple of books about the IBM anti trust cases. Of course in this modern world stare decisis doesn't seem to hold for more than a decade either.




This week:



Wednesday, March 29, 2001

First a fascinating article:

Hi Jerry,

This article claims this mathematician has discovered unknowable numbers which weaken or even destroy the very foundation, the "faith", of man in mathematics. Is this something to take seriously? 

Joey P. Macrofund, Inc.

I don't think it destroys the foundation of faith in reductionism, but if it does that's no bad thing...  Anyway it's interesting.











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The net was so slow it would have been silly to post mail.








This week:



Friday, March 30, 2001

Roland calls this a travesty:

This article says that geophysicists are now using good GPS equipment to detect land mass movements of as little as a millimeter a year.

The URL is: 

--Milton-- (Milton Pope)



Here are some notes on where to get PYTHON. I have the O'Reilly books 0n the subject; they appear to be the right place to start. More on PYTHON later.


The place to start with Python is

If you're just looking to download it, you can find Python (v 1.52) installers for almost any OS at (here's an unusual URL) 

Apparently versions 1.6 and 2.x are available only for Windows and Linux (well, any OS with a suitable compiler) systems right now. Those URLs are  and , respectively.


Calvin Dodge (who occasionally dabbles in Python)

Jerry:  is a place to start. Python is available, by default, on linux systems. It is, in fact, cross platform: available on just about everything. It limits it to much to say that python is an enormously powerful scripting language, with the easy accessability of an interpreted language. I use it for a calculator. Extensions such as numpy allow matrix math of (fairly) arbitrary size limits. It is relatively easily extensible by many programming languages. It integrates very well into a Unix or Linux system. It is a very economical language. It is very typically Unix in being a sparse, easily extensible, tool. Its weakness is that it is free, i.e., poor hardcopy documentation: you'll have to buy a book (there are extensive web resources, including code examples). I have several books, but none to recommend, perhaps your other readers can help. I would like to hear.  < an unusual application framework for interactive gaming, including a web server, all written in python.


Chris C 

There's a link to a Windows installer, as well as the source archive and prebuilt binaries for Linux. The 2.0 is the latest official release.

If you're adventurous, the 2.1 is in beta at 

I assume the books might be for the older version; if so, the final release of 1.6.1 is at 

I love people with easy URLs.


If you go for the Python 2.0 version, be aware that they made a minor goof, and some of the tools (like IDLE, the Python graphical development environment), didn't make it into the original installer. You can get the tools out of the source archive, and they promised to fix the installer soon (it may be fixed by now). Check the FAQ at  for details.


For the Python Wars see below.

I love my ICS-124. My only regret in not buying 2 of them. I got mine at Fry's but haven't seen them in there since I got this one. I have 2 Belkin Omniviews but they aren't great about the ps/2 to serial conversion for the mouse. Have you ever found the manufacturer of this unit? I notice you had mail asking about the key sequence. CTRL_ALT_SHIFT <computer number> return.

Dave Shiels

And indeed it works. Thanks. Mine continues to work just find, but I am not sure I have seen more for sale.

Mike Z says

I can see how this can get out of hand.  --


Read you latest article tonight. Regarding why 98 machines sometimes have problems shutting down properly...

At our company some clever person discovered huge streams in the registry. Removing them solves the shutdown problems every time these huge strings are present. MS was informed but we have never seen anything posted in KB about it. Next time you have a problem look under this entry.

Current user



          Current version


                    streamsmru (streams - not stream) 

Remove everything under it.

Maybe other readers will find it useful.

Fred L Stephens Oak Ridge, TN

Anderson News Company


A few weeks back, there was a mention on your mail page of a thing called "2xExplorer" being the Windows equivalent of the old Norton Commander. You're going to love this: it is!!

I played with it over the weekend, and the author has attempted to implement everything possible from NC, including all the old keyboard and function shortcuts. It's the old Commander with all the Windows GUI functions added, too. What's more, it rides on top of the Windows Explorer interface, so it will call most all of Explorer's features and do all of that automatic Registry housekeeping that Explorer does.

Begin by dumping the folder tree and all toolbars except address and status, and try it first with just the two panes--like the old NC.

The only downside I have found is that the column headings can't be moved (reordered), nor will it read virtual folders usefully (like "Offline Web Pages"). But for copying/moving/housekeeping chores, nothing beats it! It will even do the old "compare" functions.

The programmer has done an amazing job, considering he's just an independent hacker, without access to all of Windows API calls.

2xExplorer home page: 2xExplorer download:

Chuck Waggoner

And I haven't read this yet but it sounds ominous:

Dear Dr. Pournelle

Apparently all our data are now belong to Microsoft (sic), at least if we use Hotmail: 

I am just dumbfounded. Be careful who you E-mail manuscript drafts to- I don't want to see "Burning City II" by Bill Gates!

Cheers, Rod Schaffter

Then I get letters like this:

Jerry Pournelle wrote: Woud you people please read what I SAID? Or donít. It Ďs on my web site in any event. I chose an example I had hoped people might be intelligent enough to see was absurd; that was the point.

But Apparently I didnít communicate well. On the other hand given the guerrilla journalism being practiced against me now I donít really much care.

I was specifically reading your BYTE column, and all comments were based upon that. Upon reading your second comment on it, mine were still relevant (I include them below, in case you choose to read them). The ADA case was intended to be absurd, OK, but the problem is still more one of unrelation. There is no choice to use ADA, there is ALWAYS a choice not to make use of GNU software (If Stallman is arguing that all software is or should be GNU licensed, then he has done The Human Thing: "taken a good idea and run straight off the Earth with it...").

OTOH, Copyright CANNOT work -- it is a legalized form of censorship, nothing less: "You have not paid, you may not access this information -- you have paid, so you may...". Any way you slice it (except the "moral" end of things), that is clearly censorship. The notion that the Net was made to treat censorship as noise, and route around it is debatable -- that that is, in fact the (ahem!) net effect is not. Hence, copyright itself (and just about any other form of IP control, I think) is anathema to the Net and, by extension, to Information Society in general.

Don't get me wrong, I am not arguing the juvenile "information wants to be free" argument -- Data wants to be free, Information is someone's hard work creating a specific point of view of a set of data. What I am saying is that the free flow of information is the driving force of our economy for the indefinite future -- anything which restricts that free flow, for any reason, is almost inherently double-plus-ungood (yes, the free flow of critical nerve-gas data into Saddam Hussein's hands would be "double-plus-bad" -- but he is not really a functioning member of our society).

The point, overall, is that extension of existing IP concepts cannot, in fact, work. People -- creators of all kinds -- need to be rewarded for their labors, or a society becomes stagnant at best (water-empire China) or outright dysfunctional (Soviet Russia). The question becomes, instead, how do we amply reward creators for their creations such that they will continue to do so? The answer certainly does not necessarily require that we either provide them with virtually any specific recompense they demand, nor that we retain any of the existing structures we have created for the reward of creators and doers. This includes the existing corporate structure in its entirety. It may well be that 200 years from now "President" and "CEO" will have become nominal titles of little to no significance, just as "Lord" and "Lady" have. It certainly seems to me that we can do away with the RIAA, and probably the MPAA. The book and film editors and music promoters out there who find and develop good music for people may well find they can make more money freelancing than by working for some lame corporate behemoth that pays some rich bastard 'x' number of dollars a year to sit on their fat asses and do nothing, and contribute nothing, to society.

That may well piss off a few people, but unless you're ready for a Police State, it may well be the only other way things will go. I currently buy most SF books I read because authors I like recommend them or expose me to them in "shared universe" short story collections. What's to stop editors and authors from making a living that way? The corporate behemoths work fine for production, but they represent a lousy model for an information society. A corporation is only as smart as the Big Guy making decisions -- it reduces the intelligence of all those employees to that of virtually one person. A looser structure may well be more appropriate. I've spent a fair amount of time considering that notion. I think the SF people have mostly missed the boat on it. No surprise, as we are talking about tertiary and quaternary effects of something like the Net, but there's a lot of difference between most SF views of the future and what I consider the likelier "positive" ones.

Enough for now

-- Nicholas Bretagna II

I would concur that there are and should be the possibility of "protected" properties, but part of the problem is, among other things, that: many of the things we are attempting to protect with copyright is not in the public interest to do so -- that the currently "threatened" endless extension of copyright terms (despite the Bono bill's clear violation of the Constitutional proscriptions against "post facto" lawmaking) is anathema to the public weal -- that copyright and patent terms (and perhaps their "initialization period", as well) in general are ill-suited to current societal needs. Both need to be set to much shorter terms for most forms of media, in some cases as little as 18 months, perhaps. Instead, we are lengthening them to ridiculous times.

The argument that, because Ada is public means that all Ada programs should be public is not analogous to the Gnu licensing idea. Unless I misunderstand it, you are not required to utilize any GNU subcomponent in your works, and there is virtually always an alternative to the GNU subcomponent -- writing its equivalent yourself if nothing else. There are plenty of non-GNU softwares out there for just about any purpose. When the DoD demands Ada, you write in Ada, and no choices exist. Not the same notions at all.

I ack that, probably, there ought to be a "pay instead" alternative to the "free it" elements of GNU code distribution -- i.e., you could, at option, retain all rights to it by paying royalties to some GNU fund which would assist further GNU development. How to set and utilize such royalties to be debated at some future point... This would allow a middle ground which would be in the best interests of all concerned. Probably the royalty rates should be set moderately high just so that businesses would be encouraged to not "restrict" their software without due cause, and this would also encourage continued development of non-GNU alternatives.

I do believe it is in the best interests of society that code be open and available as much as possible, while recognizing that it might well provide a short-term corporate advantage to retain it, and I personally think copyright is doomed in the long run (censorship simply does not work on the net), and so we really need to be looking at alternatives to it as a whole.

We should not expect industrial society to closely resemble information society, any more than we see that feudal society resembled industrial society. Things will change. A LOT. I've spent a fair amount of time considering that notion, but this little missive isn't the place for it.

-- Nicholas Bretagna II Regional Network Administrator Flad &; Associates of Florida, Inc. 

If you believe copyright is censorship then you will believe anything. Copyright is not control to ACCESS it is control of the RIGHT TO MAKE AND SELL COPIES. Great heavens. If you incorporate my short story into your anthology without my permission you are a thief, but I am not a censor for not allowing you to do it without paying me.

That is as silly an argument as I have ever heard, and if you believe that you will believe anything.






This week:



Saturday, March31, 2001

Dr. Pournelle:

Regarding copyright:

It seems to me that Congress was at least partially correct in extending copyright to author's lifetime plus X years. I understand that, originally, the extension was a response, in part, to Irving Berlin outliving his original copyrights. However . . .

Some years back, the reported purpose for the creation of a 'sequel' to Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind was to keep the character names and whatever else possible from falling out of copyright so as to allow Mitchell's heirs to continue to receive royalties on the original book. I have no idea how this works in a legal sense, but as the purpose of copyright is to promote the useful arts, I fail to see how copyright law can be twisted to support an author's heirs more than sixty years after the original was published.

Agatha Christie's play, The Mousetrap, has made quite a chunk of change for the relative to whom she assigned the royalties.

Surely a copyright holder may use royalties to provide financial security for loved ones, but when does this stop?

Nor do I see a problem with a corporate copyright holder protecting copyrighted and/or trademarked items from infringement--Disney won a lawsuit about a drawing which showed many cartoon characters sitting around a table while obviously stoned.

Some uses of copyright do border on the absurd, though. Baronness Maria von Trapp and her family didn't earn any royalties from the movie The Sound of Music, she claimed in a memoir, because she sold the movie rights to her book The Story of the Trapp Family Singers to a production company, and 20th Century Fox bought the movie rights from that firm. (I saw that movie as a very young child; it concluded with the Trapp family building their home in Vermont--I've often wondered if any copies still exist.)

But clearly the Founders did not intend for copyright to be effectively infinite.

There are, I think, two necessary components to a solution. First, rational copyright laws with reasonable limits. Second, the development of an ethic that regards copyright as a reasonable and necessary protection for creative people. I think the argument can be made that the US, by embedding patent, trademark, and copyright protection in the Constitution in addition to the protection afforded basic human rights, made possible the enormous burst of creativity in engineering, invention, and science that has so far characterized the nation.

If, for example, Mr. Heinlein's works had not earned him money, he would have been forced to seek other means of earning a living, massive numbers of people would not have considered science as a career as a result of reading those books, and the Apollo missions really would never have taken place.

Nor do I think Mr. Heinlein's copyrights should expire within Mrs. Heinlein's lifetime.

However, Shakespeare's works would have limited circulation if his estate received compensation for every high school production of Hamlet. Somewhere, there has to be balance.

The recording industry, even if it treated its artists fairly, will have to come to terms with the Net. At least, copyrighted out-of-print recordings will need to be treated as do out-of-print books, reprintable with permission &; royalty payment.

As Congress has recently "reformed" copyright law, it's probable that the issue won't be touched for the next several years. If "pro" is the opposite of "con" then what is the opposite of Progress?

Teaching an ethic that respects author's rights is possibly the most difficult task there is. I suspect we don't really have a choice, though. Hey, there's an IDEA! Let's teach ethics! Maybe America can amaze the world. Again.


Mark Thompson

I opposed the notion of Life Plus 50 Years, and even more the Life Plus 100. Life plus 25 would have made sense I suppose. But in fact I had no strong objections to the 26 years renewable for another 26 that prevailed when I got into the writing game. Yes, I have works written more than 52 years ago now that would have fallen into public domain, and so what? I can live with that.

26/26 made sense. Life plus some adjustment time might also, although that one falls afoul of the Phillip K. Dick phenomenon: Phil died just as his properties were worth something, and for any of that to go to his estate the time past death had to be long. On the other hand, 26/26 would have taken care of the situation nicely.

"Copyright is not control to ACCESS it is control of the RIGHT TO MAKE AND SELL COPIES". Once one adds "and sell copies" to the definition there is no room for argument. Content creators are and by rights ought to be endowed with control of the RIGHT TO MAKE AND SELL COPIES taken together and may properly transfer it or so it seems to me.

However I see A-Clue.Com by Dana Blankenhorn ("Instead of encouraging (even demanding) that copyright holders negotiate with the market, this President will use police ") and many other widely distributed pundits suggesting there are indeed issues worth discussing. Perhaps there really are however poorly framed at this point in the discussion.

In this case perhaps whether it is the right to make and sell copies, the right to make or sell copies and even the right to make xor sell copies. That includes perhaps what is fair use and what are the limits of copyright?

Even assuming the broadest limits of copyright under say the Berne Convention - using the Berne Convention arguendo just to define terms - it is not obvious that suspicion of copyright violation should justify abridging the Forth Amendment to the Constitution as against government agents or agencies inside the United States, nor to me is it obvious that the government of the United States should ask other Sovereign entities to enforce copyrights with extreme measures. For a specific instance of excess I see content creators/copyright holders saying that protection of copyright is such a supreme good that the proper deterrent to copyright violation is the threat of prolonged and repeated homosexual rape by HIV positive males in prison settings and the proper punishment for copyright violation is the carrying out of that threat. That seems to me to both excessive in the 2 wrongs don't make right sense and inappropriate. Assuming the copyright violation as above it seems to me the copyright holder can in almost all cases be made whole with money - as in the Microsoft appropriation of file compression technology case you write about with fair frequency and I think approval of the outcome.

However that could be read as a Court imposed licensing fee. Perhaps licensing ought to be so compulsory in all cases of widely published work - if creators want to preserve all rights in say their own diaries then the creator may have a positive duty not to publish. This leaves open the various Church related publications of limited circulation for instance. There is a parallel in legal privileges for attorney client or priest penitent in which selective disclosure may void protection for the whole.

Or in another context I quoted of "courtesy at least to living authors" - a more extended quote as I remember it - perhaps fair use perhaps not - is "Those who believe in courtesy at least to living authors will buy this edition and no other" which seems to have provided a market solution to a copyright issue. Again I am not advocating a particular position I am suggesting that truly there is both room and need for discussion.

Perhaps with your own experience as a creator and at SFWA and the apparent bootlegging when you sell only one copy of the reading instruction program yet also posting shareware books and things on Baen's web site you could frame some issues for reasonable discussion.


I have no idea what Dana is talking about or how the heck he knows what's in the President's mind. I don't, and I sure know more people in the government than he is likely to. Bush has good control over his policy people, unlike the leaky White House of previous administrations.

The SFWA organized boycott of the legally pirated edition of Tolkein's works in the US -- allowed by a defect in copyright law that allowed works published first in England before copyrighted in the US, a defect that is now remedied -- was partly mine. We appointed Tolkein as an honorary member of SFWA precisely because he was not published in the US prior to that pirate edition (and thus under the then SFWA rules was not eligible for regular membership) so that we could represent him. But that was a particular time and place, when most Science Fiction was bought by a fairly small readership. Lucifer's Hammer was one of the break out of category books that changed that; prior to Hammer and a couple like it, it was pretty well possible to communicate with a large number of SF buyers, and the pirate publishers understood that they were about to lose readership of ALL their SF works. So they suddenly announced that they had held royalties for Tolkein but did not know his address!

I informed them that SFWA would gladly convey checks to Professor Tolkein although we suspected that "Professor J. R. R. Tolkein, England" would get to him. And that settled that. A legitimate edition that did pay royalties by contract was brought out, and the old pirate one is a collector's item.

But that was a special case at a special time when SFWA was considerably better organized. Writers' Associations suffer from this dilemma: the Old Guard, the recognized writers, do not much NEED the organization, but it is their clout that makes it have any power. The young writers DO need it, but they have no real clout. Yet the young and sometimes writers insist on full voting membership and "equality" and control over policies, although most of the occasional writers are not risking much: but they want to put the professional writers' income on the line, or at least they want to have voting control over policies that might have that effect.

Thus as the organization gets larger and more under the control of newcomers, beginners, sometimes writers, and wanna-bee types, the Old Guard is less and less willing to put anything important on the line. In the Tolkein days that was not true, and no SFWA member would sign a contract with the offending publisher until the piracy was remedied. (Well almost none, and not one of the big names would.) Today, there are really no policies and none at all that are enforceable, and SFWA is largely an organization to throw parties and give awards. It can sometimes help writers, but the days in which we had private sessions to discuss contracts, and the publications had analyses of contract terms and the dirt on what publisher was trying to grab which, and which agents were good and which were not, are pretty well gone or relegated to private parties behind closed doors. So it goes.

As to fair use, that needs defining, and it's not getting it. Clearly quoting an entire work isn't. Or is it?  Wm. Saroyan's son won a national prize of some $10,000 in public money for a poem:


That alas is both the title and the entire work. It is difficult to refer to it without quoting it (and to make it worse I have probably misquoted it, this being from memory, but it's close enough).

Saroyan was arguably the best playwright America ever produced (we can argue over whether his best work was Time of Your Life or Jim Dandy or ..  ) and the endowment wanted to honor him but he was dead. Or you can add your own explanation. My point is mostly that fair use becomes difficult with short works.

At some point works OUGHT to be in the public domain. And at some point artists ought to be out from under options clauses in their contracts. And at some point we ought to choose laws that we will ENFORCE and get rid of a bunch of them that sound nice but are not enforced so that suddenly we are accusing Presidents of calling out the police to enforce laws that have existed for years...

Subject: Poem


It's "lighght".

Obviously, this changes the entire meaning of the poem, and I hope Aram Saroyan doesn't sue you over the misrepresentation.



Calvin Dodge


And now this:

Dear Dr Pournelle, 

I'm glad you're playing with Python, since it is worth the enthusiasm of its adherents, but be warned: there is an ongoing war between PERL and Python users reminiscent of the AMD/Intel and Apple/IBM bunfights of yore.

PERL is vital to the web, especially CGI scripts, and Python is without a doubt one of the handiest engineering tools around. Even the physicists use it (esp. with Matlab as a front end). Why oh why can't people leave it at that and allow new users to make up their own minds about suitability for a given task?

Regards, TC

-- Terry Cole, BA/BSc/BE/BA(hons)  System Administrator, Dept. of Maths and Stats,Otago Uni.

Just what I need, to get into more flame wars! What I want is a good general purpose language easy to use and simple of syntax, with a compiler that catches most of the errors.  "The compiler won't let you shoot yourself in the foot" is exactly what I want...





This week:


read book now


Sunday, April 1, 2001

In general I do not do April Fool jokes.

We are pleased to hear from Talin after too long an absence from Chaos Manor mail.

On Python:


My congratulations on choosing a very wise course of study. Python is, in many respects "Visual Basic done right". It's a well-organized, well thought-out language that is both powerful and easy to learn. And, unlike Perl which is it's nearest competitor, the resulting code is highly readable.

Python has one feature which is hard to get used to, at least for experienced programmers. In most languages such as C++ and Java, the block structure of the language is specified using curly braces {}. However in Python (as in some other scripting languages such as Hypertalk), the block structure is specified using the level of indentation. That's right, white space at the beginning of the line is syntactically significant. This drives long-time coders nuts, at least for about a week. Then you get used to it, and you don't notice it any more. (Especially if you use an editor that knows about Python syntax, like IDLE or the Emacs Python mode.) I resisted learning the language a long time because of this, and I'm sorry I waited so long. It's a really nice language overall.

Python is getting a lot of interest in the games industry (BTW, I should mention I'm back to doing online games, I was just bored working on e-commerce web application servers).

Traditionally, game developers have created specialized game scripting languages which are embedded within the game engine, so that new scenarios and game rules can be added without going through a lengthy and cumbersome build process. This has benefits for servers, clients, or standalone games. My own scripting language, SAGA (Scripts for Animated Graphic Adventures) is an example of this. However, it would be nice to be able to leverage an existing language, especially if it could be easily embedded within the C++ code, and it could be extended to provide "game-like" functionality. And using an existing language allows you to leveage a large body of existing libraries and application code. Want to parse XML, or add HTTP downloading of new artwork and game updates? No problem, just use an existing library and add it to your product.

Both Python and Java are obvious candidates for this, because they are both very easy languages to "embed" within a larger C++ application, and they both have large archives of free code on the net. At first Java seems the obvious choice (and it's a choice that a lot of game developers have made) because Java code runs substantially faster than Python, due to the advanced "Just in Time" (JIT) compilation technogy of many Java virtual machines. However, Java has a serious performance problem calling C++ code - whenever you transition between interpreted code and native code, the Java VM has to "lock down" the garbage collector, and in some cases it will actually have to move arrays around in memory in order to make them accessible to the C++ code. These operations take a lot of time, resulting in a "speed bump" whenever you call a native function. Thus, Java/C++ hybrids tend to be designed so that there is very little interconnection between the Java and C++ code, so that each part can run relatively independently. This kind of design approach greatly reduces the benefits of having a scripting language - the ideal architecture is one in which just about every object in the application is potentially scriptable. So Python, even though it is potentially slower, actually ends up being faster in some cases, and allows a much more "integrated" and fine-grained scripting solution.

Also, because Python is weakly-typed and more "late-binding" than Java, it is typically more suitable for rapid prototyping. I have observed that the more dynamic a language is - that is, having dynamic types, late-binding semantics, and so forth - the faster you can write programs in it. I can write Java code twice as fast a C++ code, and I can write Python code twice as fast as Java.

And in truth, the performance difference between the two languages is really not so important given that C++ code is doing the heavy lifting anyway. For example, I wrote a little 3D polygon editor demo using Python. The actual 3D drawing was all being done by OpenGL, using the PyOpenGL library which provides Python equivalents of all of the OpenGL calls. 95% of the execution time is spent in the OpenGL code, so the performance of the scripting language is really unimportant.

Another nice Python library is wxPython, which is a Python interface to the popular C++ wxWindows library. wxWindows is a cross-platform GUI library, similar in concept to Tk or Java's Swing. However, wxWindows has a number of advantages over these other libraries: 1) The widgets, such as buttons and scrollbars, are real "native" widgets, with thin cross-platform wrappers around them. I'm continually frustrated whenever I run a Java application under Windows, because the mouse wheel doesn't scroll the window. The "synthetic" widgets used by Java are immune to all of the various platform-specific enhancements related to alternative input devices and accessibility for disabled users. The widgets used by wxWindows don't have this problem, since they are native widgets. 2) Many cross-platform libraries take a "least common denominator" approach - they provide only the features that are the logical intersection of the features of the individual platforms. wxWindows takes the approach of bringing all of the platforms "up to par" with each other, so that you get the full feature set regardless of whether you are running on Mac, Linux, or Windows.

Using Python and wxPython together allows you to quickly make simple GUI-based applications that run on a large number of platforms. Add in OpenGL, and you have the ability to construct sophisticated 3D editing, modeling and visualization applications relatively quickly compared to C++ development. It takes some time, of course, to learn the various APIs, but all of the components I have described are extremely well documented, with extensive tutorials, samples and reference materials on how to construct an application. And all of them have a strong community of enthusiastic supporters, which is an important factor in choosing a development environment.

-- Talin 

"I am life's flame, respect my name,
my fire is red, my heart is gold.
Thy dreams can be, believe in me,
 if you will let my wings unfold!"

 -- Heather Alexander  

Python is an interpreted language so it is not for you if you want to compile. It is certainly fast enough for anything I want to do except long simulations.

My impression is that Python is to Perl as Pascal is to C. I can understand my Python scripts a week from now, while I have a lot of C code that takes as long to understand as it took me to write it a year ago.

Nesting is determined by indentation, which some find annoying but which I find to be elegant and simple. Just don't mix tabs and spaces.

Henry Harpending

Henry Harpending 

Dept. Anthropology, University of Utah

With modern computers interpreted vs. compiled is no longer such a large issue; and of course any popular language can generate a compiler. Pascal for a long time ran on a P-Code as did many commercial Basics in the early days of small computers. Eventually Pascal compilers were written in Pascal (the original Pascal was a teaching language and didn't even have an interpreter much less a compiler). I make no doubt that if Python catches on someone will write a Python compiler...

And of course the very picky Pascal compilers with range checking were one of the reasons for Pascal's success before the lack of I/O libraries and file structures overwhelmed it. Wirth went on to Modula 2 and Oberon, and Pascal was neglected except by Borland. Alas.

To me the important thing is to be able to see what I have done 5 years later. This is why I will never be able to program in C. Of course as I get older this may be a moot point...


I will probably collect all Python related materials onto a report page, but let's let things go ahead in mail for a while. Thanks.

On the Power crisis:

Dr. Pournelle,

I wondered if you had seen these two articles regarding the power crisis in CA. Upon reading the first I felt minor alarm, but gave incompetence greater weight than malice. However, after reading the second, I have reversed my position.

This fragment taken from the opening paragraph of the second article frames the series well: ". . . The Third Way and Loretta Lynch, Commissioner of the California Public Utilities Commission, which orchestrated the state energy crisis." 

This is scary stuff! I certainly hope it is not true, but given the debacle of the last 8 years of Clinton leadership I'm afraid it may be so. . .

A side note: The statistics put forth in US electricity cost map in the MSNBC article posted early (  )are a typical example of the press either misinterpreting or misrepresenting facts. The numbers given in that map regarding avg US electricity costs are meaningless. They don't take into account the fact that all US households don't use the same energy source for heating and cooling or that the heating and cooling loads are quite different across the nation. The meaningful comparison would have been kwh cost, not avg annual bill. The comparison would have been dramatically different had that been the case.

Brian Innovate... relentlessly.

I don't know the World Net Daily. From the layout it looks a bit like The Washington Times Insight magazine, which is one of those odd operations ultimately owned by the Reverend Moon. I know some of the editorial people at Insight (at one time edited by Arnaud de Borchgrave) and they are not Unification members nor are they controlled or controllable by Moon, so this isn't a problem with me, but it is the kind of thing people ought to know. I subscribe to the paper version of Insight and have for years.

IN the case of World Net Daily I don't know a thing: the masthead doesn't reveal anyone I know, which given my memory isn't surprising, but given where WND is published it's hardly likely to be part of Moon's group. Given the advertisements it doesn't look to have a large liberal readership...

Thanks for the pointer to it. Looks like an interesting news source. Now regarding the power crisis:

I find the whole subject depressing, but then I did when I had all those debates on how conservation wasn't going to do the job and we needed new energy sources. And note that if the Washington Public Power Systems reactors had been built at what was then said to be inflated costs for needless systems, the low snowfall (which is what they were designed to compensate for) would not be a problem now.

Conservation does not expand an economy. It may be necessary or even desirable, but it is usually best achieved by allowing products and services to reflect their true market costs, thus encouraging resource substitution and conservation where those are appropriate.

Incidentally why does anyone expect a bureaucracy to act in any but bureaucratic ways? Power corrupts.

I wrote about the fallacies of the Club of Rome and the Forrester/Meadows models of doom in my A STEP FARTHER OUT more than 20 years ago. No one listened then either.

Subject: Dual CPU boards

Perhaps you'd be in a position to know this...I'm in the position where I have to configure several workstations in the near future....AMD has been promising its chipset for dual Athlons forever...Intel must be working on a DUal PIV you know if either of these are likely to show sometime soon? Any help or direction to info would be greatly appreciated

Thank you Louis Markoya

There was a dual Athlon board in the AMD booth at WINHEC. NO ONE was allowed to look inside the box (and I mean no one including Carl Stork; I was there when he asked, as I did) and no announcement schedule much less shipping date was announced.


Many thanks I have come to find out that AMD will "offically" announce their Tyan dual Athlon motherboard on June 4th (right from Tyan) with production quantities available 1 month after...and it's supposed to be an absolute screamer (and very expensive)

Thanks again Louis

Interesting. They didn't tell us that at WINHEC.

The April issue of The Atlantic Monthly contains an article by Steve Olson ["The Genetic Archaeology of Race"] which in essence denies the concept of race. Olson writes that "people are too closely related -- and have mixed too much throughout history -- to differ in fundamental ways," adding that we "have to remember just how small the genetic differences among groups are."

But simply because human populations share roughly 99.9 percent of their genes does not mean that there are no significant differences. Since there are approximately 30,000 to 40,000 human genes, each made up of hundreds of thousands of base pairs, a 0.1 percent difference is actually quite a large degree of variation, even though the layman may not realize this. The number of genes involved in racial differences may be very small, but that does not mean that the effects are necessarily small.

Even if all of the genes other than one were identical between two groups, one difference within that one gene would be sufficient to produce large group differences, since it is not the quantity of genetic difference that is important but the nature of the difference.

For example, current evidence suggests that all of the sex differences between men and women are the result of just one gene. This would mean that men and women are almost 100 percent genetically identical, yet no one suggests that sex is a mere social construct. It is worth noting that a butterfly and the caterpillar from which it developed are 100 percent genetically identical. The genes do not change; the enormous differences between caterpillar and butterfly result from the activation of different genes at different times. Olson seems not to realize that the fact of shared genes is not nearly as important as is the timing involved in adding their products to the mix. Even a small number of genes, each blinking on and off over time leads to an incalculable number of possibilities.

Breeds of dogs are analogous to human races, and it is likely that they are as close genetically as different races of humans, but there is no doubt that these subtle variations result in significant differences in appearance, behavior, and intelligence. Ask scientists working on the Dog Genome project about how few genes separate Golden Retrievers from Dachshunds. Cattle breeders know that there only a few genetic differences between Guernseys and Longhorns, yet these breeds are immensely different, and the difference is not cultural...

Name withheld by request

This is one of those topics it is impossible to write about: scientific discussion of such matters is taboo. Of course the Christian view is that we are all wretches and thus the individual differences are unimportant; and the Declaration of Independence proclaims legal equality (but once again invokes a Creator, leaving the mechanisms of equality as a mystery of faith).

Absent religious reasons to assert equality we are confronted with evidence. Every farmer knows that Guernseys don't make good steers while Longhorns aren't useful as milchcows, and every child knows the difference between a Rotweiler and a Cocker Spaniel is not cultural. The question is what ought a republic to pay attention to? And if we decide we will ignore race -- 'equal protection of the laws' only this time we really mean it -- then we do have any business collecting or being legally aware of race?

Clearly all races produce both bright and stupid people, and racial statistics deal in averages, not with individuals. We can make predictions about collections of people that we simply cannot make about individuals. Now what?

Thorny questions, but putting on scientific blinders is not likely to solve them.

And while I am at it:


I read your remarks about the incident. Actually, the TMI accident seems to have been a much bigger one than Cernobyl. What kept it from becoming a "GAU" was mostly the solid construction of the building that contained the melting core. Am I right in this, or could you correct me?

Sincerely, K.B.

Construction had a lot to do with the difference in the events, but design was the important factor. Chernobyl was a "positive void" reactor, which ejected a large part of its nuclear inventory into the atmosphere following operator errors.

Positive void reactors (fail dangerous design; fail disastrous design) cannot be licensed in the US.  Edward Teller had that written into US public law a long time ago. There are none and none can be built here.

Containment and the like were important in making TMI a trivial event for public safety (financially it was another story). Had you tried to get the largest possible dose of radiation from TMI by traveling around the perimeter with a counter and placing yourself in the hottest places you found at all times, you would have managed about 2 chest x-rays worth of radiation during the entire event. Trivial.

I know that Sternglass and Gofman are still saying what they always have said, that any radiation is horrible, but in fact the data are now in about hormesis. And interestingly, cancer rates in Denver where you get more natural radiation than in Los Angeles, are lower than for Los Angeles. And all the data are in that direction. Small amounts of radiation don't harm, and may even do you some good. The Swedish Army has some similar data (there are several places with natural high radiation and Sweden has universal conscription so the studies aren't t0o expensive). So TMI was a trivial event, healthwise.

It was also a good test in that everything that could go wrong did.

Japan is about 40% nuclear powered now; interestingly most of their reactors were built by US companies. France is 70% nuclear using French nuclear engineering.









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