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Mail 246 February 24 - March 2, 2003






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I try to answer mail, but mostly I can't get to all of it. I read it all, although not always the instant it comes in. I do have books to write too...  I am reminded of H. P. Lovecraft who slowly starved to death while answering fan mail. 

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Monday  February 24, 2003

Subject: AMD gets the shaft.

 -- - Roland Dobbins

I will have to ask about this one. It seems a bit odd. But then we have:

Saw this over on HardOCP:

A NforceFX server motherboard chipset would certainly make for a high performance server chipset and is needed since the AMD 760 MPX chipset is somewhat dated at best. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

-Dan S.

Indeed. And I wonder if these are connected events?

This is an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal "Best of the Web" for February 24th --

"Who is this Régis Debray, anyway? The Times describes him as "a former adviser to President Francois Mitterrand of France, . . . editor of Cahiers de Mediologie and the author of the forthcoming 'The God That Prevailed.' "But a 1995 Wired magazine article tells a more, shall we say, interesting story:

Twenty-seven years ago, French radical theoretician Régis Debray was sentenced by a Bolivian military tribunal to 30 years in jail. He had been captured with the guerrilla band led by Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Fidel Castro's legendary lieutenant. Released after three years, largely because of the intervention of compatriots such as President Charles de Gaulle, André Malraux, and Jean-Paul Sartre, Debray returned to writing. (His 1967 Revolution in the Revolution is considered a primer for guerrilla insurrection.) He spent five years in the early '80s as a special advisor on Latin American relations to French President François Mitterrand.

So this defender of reason, this proud opponent of "fundamentalism," spent the 1960s as an acolyte of Che Guevara and an author of a manual for revolution. Mightn't the Times' readers have wanted to know a bit of this background?"

Allan Smalley EnPRO 


And this one will tear your heart out:

Dr. Pournelle,

I direct your attention to the story about the Navy wife getting evicted while pregnant and then having a baby while on the phone with her deployed husband. I'm a heartless brute, yet the tears were splashing the insides of my glasses.

God Bless our men in uniform. If they were evil, like the "Blame America First!" crowd think they are, there would be no such support system for their families.

Dad on a ship coaches mom giving birth in hospital

Thanks for ALL you do, Robin K. Juhl, Captain, USAF (retired)


I got out Max's book THRUST INTO SPACE and did some back-of-the-envelope calculations that show the first stage of the Saturn V could make it into orbit all by itself. Of course Gary Hudson has proved SSTO with existing hardware combinations several times. If the first stage of the Saturn V can make it into orbit all by itself (remember the structure had to support the rest of the stack at MaxQ) then with modern materials and computer aided stress analysis surely SSTO with some payload is possible. Bob J.

Yes Max used to say they were worried that THOR might make orbit, which would have been illegal...

Hello, Jerry,

Yesterday, I was letting my mind puddle though the reports that Turkey wants more money before they allow Americans to pass through when we attack Iraq.

I blinked, and suddenly thought, Turkey is powerful enough to swat Saddam any time they like, if they were concerned enough to care. So maybe he doesn't worry them all that much.

Then, I noticed this:

"Well, Saddam is supposed to be a threat to Middle East security, but I think there is one and only one country over there that is in favor of toppling him through a US invasion. Most of his neighbors do not seem so anxious to have us go in and replace him.

"I have no idea of whether this is significant. Nor do I think it matters. We're going in."

Yes, we seem to have talked ourselves up to a branch from which we can't climb down..."must" jump. A weird reason to do something this serious.

Leads me to consider that Jefferson had some foresight when he limited the regular Army and the deep-water Navy. A militia, he thought, would be strong enough to defend the country from anyone foolish enough to invade us; no American milita-based army could be useful to wander off to foreign countries. That was proven in the War of 1812, when our militia armies were tossed out of Canada, but the Brits were also hurt messing around Baltimore and New Orleans. (I see the Jeffersonian gunboat navy as a sort of floating militia; didn't work so well.)


John Welch


On Gaza

You've obviously spent some time over there but missed some important facts. It is true that the land in Gaza itself appears to be useless. Mark Twain made the same observation about Israel proper when he toured the area and incidentally noticed that it was virtually devoid of human habitation. While the Arabs were never able to do much with the country, the Israelis have created an agricultural miracle. Was it you who noted in a story that contrary to the "you can't see national borders from space" cliche, the Israeli border is extremely obvious. I seem to recall some reference to this in "Lucifer's Hammer." While it can be argued that the Gaza strip isn't a highway of conquest like the west bank (I disagree) it can be used as a firing platform from which to bombard most of the Israeli state. I seem to recall that you used to be an artillery officer, so you should have a deep appreciation for this threat. Gaza has been used as a firing platform in the past and the Palestinians are now using their Kassam rockets for full effect.

As you point out, the extraordinary response to the bombing of a tank seems strange because it is a legitimate, military target. Unfortunately, the Israelis are making the mistake of transforming their army into a police force. Police the world over invariably cling to the elitist notion that their lives are far more valuable than the lives of mere citizens. This attitude is a direct contradiction to the traditional, military virtues extolled in "Starship Troopers" by the late, great Robert Heinlien. LA is a big town with a statistically significant number of murders. You may have noticed that while killings of citizens usually remain unsolved, the slaying of a police officer is almost invariably solved.

I just revealed my nemesis here. While yours is NASA and the Shuttle, Dean Ing's is the triple trailer truck combo (having driven one I have to concur that they are a menace), mine is the incompetence of law enforcement. I developed an interest in criminology after my brother was murdered. We hadn't even buried him yet when the detective who'd been assigned to the case warned me that unless you have the dubious good fortune of being murdered by someone you know, your killer will never be identified much less arrested. Since then I've done a lot of research which confirms this statement. More importantly, the inability or refusal of police to solve crimes is second only to single motherhood as a causative factor in crime.

James Crawford

The new police chief of LAPD discovered that 20% of the force are detectives and they make fewer than 2% of the arrests. They spend most of their time in offices. He says he intends to fix that and get back to Dragnet...

Surely there is a difference between "firing platforms" (you can say that about Jordan and Syria) and "a place to put colonies while taking land and irritating hell out of people"?

As the number of troops continues to grow I am still wondering if Bush has some strange plan to go to the brink and then turn back. The weapons inspectors are starting to see some results from the Iraqi officials due to the threat of force. With that in mind I wonder if a sudden discovery and destruction of some sizeable stockpile would not present an excuse for our president to show his temperance and turn the troop ships around. The results could be spun in many ways with both the hawks and doves agreeing that the threat alone was enough. Of course a convenient helicopter crash in Baghdad could also solve many of these problems for our president.

Al Lipscomb

I have wondered that myself, and Joanne Dow thinks we will force Saddam Hussein to eat crow thus demonstrating our victory. Perhaps. 

A long time ago I recall having to memorize MacArthur. 

"From the Far East I send you one single thought, one sole idea -- written in red on every beachhead from Australia to Tokyo -- "There is no substitute for victory!"

My guess is that Bush may have learned this from his father.





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Tuesday,  February 25, 2003

This began with Roland:

That's it, I'm buying a Macintosh.
 --  Roland Dobbins

And you should go read that first. Roland set up my Windows NT system, helped me convert to Windows 2000 Server, and has no choice but to work with Windows security, but it's safe to say he is no fan of Microsoft, and manages to get Linux running on nearly everything he touches.

Then came the reply by Robert Bruce Thompson:

I'm not sure what good that would do.

What makes sense to me is to boycott DRM-enabled hardware from any manufacturer. The D845PEBT2, for example, is plenty good enough. There's no real need for the i865 chipset. What's important is to tell people that DRM, despite the marketing efforts of Microsoft and the rest of the industry, is a Very Bad Thing, and not for their benefit. We should always refer to DRM as what it is, Digital Restrictions Management, rather than Digital Rights Management. We should do everything possible to make everyone aware that DRM is very much against their interests, that the benefits promised by its proponents are illusory, and that this is simply the first major step in a huge rights grab.

I hope that Jerry and others with large public fora will take DRM to task at every opportunity until everyone knows just what a bad thing it really is.

Now understand, I am still thinking about all this. As a professional writer, I certainly believe in intellectual property, and in enforcing the rights of artists and inventors; but I believe in them in the same way that the Framers did:

To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;

which is the exact language of the grant of legislative power over patents and monopolies to the Congress. The Framers were very suspicious of legal monopolies, in part because the Kings of England used to reward their favorites with monopolies in all kinds of things, like matches, and importation of paper, and the Framers were opposed to all monopolies; they persuaded themselves that limited monopolies were a Good Thing.

The problem is that corporations like Disney have made the "limited times" an absurdity, extending them beyond reason to no real benefit of the creators. The old 26 years renewable in the 26th year by the original author -- and thus giving the original author a chance to recover rights long ago "sold" but no longer in use -- made a lot of sense. (Actually the original was shorter than that, but in a time when people didn't live as long' 26 + 26 then it's public domain has always seemed fair to me, and if no one bothers to renew after the first 26, it's probably as well...)

But the Xerox machine and e-books are making protection of any digital rights a chancy proposition. Until recently, though, books at least had the protection of convenience: reading a book on a Palm Pilot is possible, but it's not terribly satisfying, and making Xerox copies is not only inconvenient but produces less than satisfying copies. Now we have Tablet PC, and frankly, it's about as convenient to read a book on the Tablet as it is to read any hardbound copy; I can carry dozens of books in my Tablet; it's easy to obtain pirate copies of books including of every book I ever wrote; and I can see the end of profits in hardbound books, which is the only place there are any profits in publishing. Paperbacks don't make much for anyone but authors (which is good, but if publishers don't make money they aren't going to do a lot of publishing).

And of course that's me with my ox being gored: the music and film industries are also very concerned.

Last year at WinHEC I sat through all of the Digital Rights Management sessions, and I went to another discussion at the Media "Summit" in the new Kodak "Oscar" theater last Fall (see for my thoughts at those times) and I wasn't horrified; what they were trying to do at Microsoft didn't seem unreasonable to me. If there is some way that Digital Copies can be made "just like a book" : freely loanable, freely resalable, difficult but not impossible to copy, very difficult to make mass copies -- I for one would not be unhappy at all. Whether that can be done is another story. The DMCA is a horrible example of how good intentions can go wrong.

And crippling your machine is not likely to be a good solution to the problem.

Roland then replied:

I'm going to do everything you suggest - but Apple isn't participating in this foolishness, at least not yet, and supporting the one major manufacturer who isn't caving seems worthwhile to me.

I'm typing this on a T30 running Slackware right now; it has some sort of 'rights chip' or somesuch already built-in, but I disabled it in the BIOS (at least, I think it's disabled; I can't tell any ill-effects from it at the moment). According to this article, IBM are going to embed more and more of this stuff into their line, so that it -can't- be turned off - the next step being that they'll refuse to let the machine boot an 'untrusted' OS.



And Thompson replied

Adding DRM is a really stupid move for numerous reasons, but the most obvious one is that the PC market is moribund. Manufacturers are doing everything they can to encourage people to buy new PCs, so how stupid is it to add a "feature" that no one in his right mind wants? Of course, they hope people won't notice, and that those who do will buy into their propaganda about the supposed "benefits" of DRM. I'm sure they'll get a lot of sheep buying into this, but I think the backlash is going to hurt them badly.

It's by no means clear to me that all major manufacturers other than Apple are buying into DRM. Certainly, most component makers are or will soon be introducing DRM-enabled stuff, but their customers (the OEMs) have a lot to say about it. If, say, one motherboard manufacturer opts out of providing DRM-enabled boards (assuming it is not a non-optional chipset function), that manufacturer will be at a competitive advantage relative to other makers.

Every time copy-protection has gone up against non-CP products, CP has lost. The goal of this whole DRM thing is to make it non-optional, so that CP can win by default. So long as another option exists, I can't see CP winning. Sure, the MPAA and RIAA will rush to produce stuff that only works on DRM-enabled platforms. But I don't see that working for them, any more than copy-protected CDs have cut down on peer networks.

Bob's first paragraph reminds me of Detective Pemberton in the old Homicide TV series. He was often able to get people to confess to murder. He used to say "I'm selling a product no one wants to buy..."

"Crippled Computers! You don't need an upgrade, but do it anyway, and get your crippled computers here!"

You will not that my featured items in this month's BYTE column are Tablet PC's -- and the Intel D845PEBT2 motherboard. Indeed my wife's new system has that board. And that board doesn't have a DRM chip in it...

Continued below.

Sort of on track:

This may/may not have any interest to you, but I find it rather crappy: has an interesting analysis of MS's 'Windows Update'; What info is transferred, and how, etc. I include the last couple of paragraphs from the purchased article for your reading pleasure.

"...As can easily be seen the » <regKeys /> « tag causes a list of registry subkeys of

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\ SOFTWARE, i.e. a list of the vendors of all software

packages installed on the user's computer, to be included in the result.

The tecControl utility is complemented by the tecDecode tool, which extracts the PID

attribute from a saved XML file, decrypts it and displays the product ID and the

timestamp. If a product key is specified, then its SHA-1 hash is compared to the SHA-1

hash stored in the PID attribute and the tool indicates a match or a mismatch.

› Conclusions

The details that we have documented in this article match the vague information provided

by Microsoft. We believe that the biggest privacy issue with Windows Update is the list of

hardware components that is transferred to the Microsoft server, which reveals the make

and model of all installed PCI cards, mass storage devices, and other hardware."

It will only get worse. 





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Wednesday, February 26, 2003

The Digital Rights Management (DRM) discussion continues. Roland had opened by announcing his intention to abandon Intel systems and switching to Apple. 

The real problem with all this DRM stuff isn't its use for DRM - it's the fact that in order to perform DRM, it has to be all-powerful and pervasive.

Which completely opens the door for compromise and abuse writ large.

Remember the Clipper Chip? Policy issues aside, there were huge technical problems with it, not the least of which was that it was an explicitly-defined backhole which could be exploited by miscreants.

This is Clipper for your PC, only it has far more power and reach into your system than Clipper would've exerted over your encrypted telephone. This thing can be used to -prevent you from doing things- with your hardware and software, and since by definition it is preventing you from doing things by -doing its own things behind your back-, it is a diabolus ex machina for which you will be paying good money.

This is a HUGE security risk. Once exploits for this system have been developed (and, trust me, they -will- be developed; just look at the progress made on XBox by a ragtag bunch of games-fetishists, then magnify that 10000x with the interested parties and concomitantly higher level of interest, and thus expended effort, of those who'll be VERY to gain the keys to the Intel-based-PC kingdom), and once it's become pervasive because people are forced to buy it if they want to use content (watch DVDs, play games, access an online game, whatever), your data will never be safe again.

Money is fungible - every dollar spent with Intel furthers the implementation of this abomination. So, spending money -now- on non-DRM-enabled Intel processors and so forth provides them the funding to develop and deploy this stuff (much like spending money -now- with Microsoft funds -their- ongoing and future misdeeds; I don't think it's coincidence that Microsoft just announced their new 'rights server' at the same time that this Intel TPC crap comes to light).

No, thank you. I'm opting out, and the best way to do that, IMHO, is to support one of the two major manufacturers who ISN'T beholden to Intel and its schemes - i.e., Apple (Sun doesn't make laptops at the moment, AMD isn't a major manufacturer, though this stupidity of Intel's may change that). Because I am metaphysically certain that forthcoming generation of Intel processors won't work without this stuff, irrespective of whose motherboard one uses.

Otherwise, it just wouldn't make sense.

Roland Dobbins 

I don't find that as compelling an argument as Roland does, but for the moment I'll stand aside and let Bob Thompson answer:

AMD isn't any better. They're just as guilty as Intel. They sit on the same committees and sign off on the same standards documents.

Roland replied:

Then it seems to me that Apple's the only logical choice, at this point. They haven't participated in TPC-type foolishness, at least so far. They can certainly be -obnoxious-, but they aren't -dangerous-.

I now view Intel, along with Microsoft (and AMD) as downright -dangerous-.

This is unlikely to be the end of the discussion. My own view is that it is difficult to stop a juggernaut by standing in its way; and that Intel has done a lot of good for this world. We would be better off without the need for boycotts.

Moreover, it wouldn't take a lot for government to get into this act and require some kind of hardware DRM in all new systems sold. I doubt that boycott of Intel and a switch to Apple, even by 10% of the computer using public -- and that's a lot of people to persuade -- will have much impact.

Clipper was stopped without boycotts.

I also suspect that technology has a way of overcoming wishful thinking.

And finally, everyone seems to have lost track of the real point: is there a way to protect intellectual property without causing a train wreck? (Hint: we might begin with more realistic expectations of what we are protecting: I doubt anyone can enforce the perpetual monopolies Disney wants, nor do I suspect anyone I much respect, including the ghost of Walt Disney supports the Big Corporate positions.)

More on copyright itself below.

I would also suggest that the following story is more relevant to the DRM discussion than you might at first think:


File this under the "You've GOT to be kidding!" department:

From the article:

"By 6 p.m. Saturday, 71-year-old Margaret Richitt had already endured a difficult day."


"Tired and shaken up, Richitt walked to the baggage claim area, planning to rent a car. Then she realized she had left her coat on the plane, and that's when her bad day got worse.

Bomb-sniffing dogs were called, and checkpoints were shut for 55 minutes after Richitt retraced her steps to Gate F6, walking the wrong way through the terminal's checkpoint exit lane.

"This woman breached the screening process," Philadelphia Police Capt. Dominic Mingacci said. "I checked the ladies' room, the men's room, the trash cans, any place something can be hidden."

Henry Stern

As Mr. Stern observes, "But we were born free."

Arbitrary and discretionary authority to public officials are dangerous powers to give, but taking away all discretion leads to idiocies like shutting down an airport because a 71 year old woman forgot her coat.

The proper remedy is to keep jurisdictions down and limit the scope of government, and then stop trying to reduce everything to a set of "zero tolerance" rules. But that would not only be sane, it would limit the number of government employees: and the purpose of government is to take tax money and use it to pay government employees.

On Schools and the military:

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Thanks for bringing to my attention the issue of teachers harassing children of the military. I have forwarded the article to friends and family and my ex-wife, who is also former military. My own children, right in the age group mentioned, attend a school which borders the senior NCO housing area for Fort Bliss; I don't think it should be a problem for them. I know their teachers this year and we get along very well. If, however, I find that this harassment ever has gone on during my tour here in Korea, I plan to return to El Paso with blood in my eye and violence on my mind. This is foul even given the state of modern education. "Oppose the war if you wish, but hurt my children and I will hurt you."

Disgustedly yours, Frank 

PS: all is still quiet here, despite wandering MiGs and missile firings.

"Make haste to assure us that you at home love and support us as we love and support you; for if we find that we have poured our lives into these desert sands for nothing, beware the fury of the legions."  A Roman Centurion writing to his Senator uncle in about 400 AD

I'm not a big proponent of the war (but I also admit I don't have a better solution)

At least someone in Denmark remembers who their friends are.

Interesting that the ban on Germans is conditional, the ban on the French is forever.

-- John Harlow

Then we have this logic:


Your reference for current math thinking < > is copy written May 1997 (6 years old). In our current instant society this is ancient history.

Along with "The Bell Curve" (Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray1994)

this belongs in the good intentioned but Stupid Idea bin.

I believe this is just another case of someone dragging some obscure reference

and trying to play it as the "Liberal/NEA" norm.

As the child of 2 dedicated school teachers, this is a bit unfair.

They both worked very hard and believed in teaching and living diversity as well

as requiring complete and accurate work form their students.


Douglas McCaw Senior Web Applications Consultant

PS - I won't think that Conservatives are all Racist Pigs if You don't think Liberals are all Commie Pinko's, agreed?

I am not sure this needs any comment. Is it self parody? Meanwhile, you may -- and will -- think as you like. I don't know what a Commie Pinko is. I do know fuzzy thinking when I see it.

I also know that most of the anti-war demonstrations are organized through the Worker's World which is subservient to His Amazingness Kim Il Jong and North Korea. Are they Commie Pinkos, or have the Communists thrown them out for left deviationism?

And if you are convinced that your meritorious parents are typical of today's school system, words fail me. For the Bell Curve comments see below.

Robert Bruce Thompson on Copyright:

It seems to me that 28 years renewable for another 28 years is only slightly less ridiculous than the current terms. By "limited" the Founders certainly were not thinking of a 56-year term. In fact, as I'm sure you as a Constitutional scholar are aware, many considered the original 14 year plus 14 year term grossly excessive.

The relevant portion of Sectin 8 says: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;"

which seems pretty clear to me. The intention was to encourage authors and inventors to make their creations public, not to provide them with a lifetime annuity. It's also pretty clear that there is no Constitutional basis for protecting recorded music, movies, and so on under copyright. Such things can in no reasonable way be regarded as "Writings", and to cover them under copyright would require a Constitutional amendment.

As far as term, you argue that lifespans were shorter then, but that seems to me to miss the point. A lot of things are different now, and most of them argue in favor of shorter copyright terms, not longer ones. At that time, the pace of life was much slower, as was the rate at which knowledge grew. Many fewer books were published, and it might take literally years before a book published in one country was eventually published in another.

If we are to continue to have copyright at all, and it is by no means clear to me that copyright is any longer viable, the term should be much shorter. I think one year non-renewable is reasonable. As you know, the vast majority of books, fiction and nonfiction, earn close to 100% of their eventual profit within one year. In fact, most novels earn 90% or more of their eventual total profits within one month, as any honest publisher or bookstore owner will tell you.

Certainly established authors like you may enjoy residual royalties over a period of years, but that is the exception rather than the rule. But you might argue reasonably that, for example, a movie studio might wait a year and a day to begin making a movie from one of your novels, and that would be unfair. You're right, so let's take a two-tiered approach. You enjoy absolute copyright protection for one year. After one year, anyone may freely copy your material for non-commercial use, including posting it on the web, making freely-distributable e-books, etc. But for any commercial use, such as making a movie derived from it or publishing and selling the work in hard copy, your work remains protected for, say, 14 years renewable for 14 more years. How does that strike you?

Incidentally, I put all of my own work under the Founders' Copyright <> and I encourage any author to do the same.

-- Robert Bruce Thompson

You thirst for my property, don't you? What you write is, like my columns, essentially worthless after a dozen years; you need to get all your money up front, as I do for topical non-fiction. Of course the State has its means of punishing that with "progressive" taxes. It also taxes me for Social Security I will not get, and taxes the interest on my savings unless I put them into strange accounts that I can't touch until I am old.

But one thing I have, or would have if it were not for people like you, is the accumulated value of my works. I recently sold an option on BIRTH OF FIRE, for quite a lot of money if they make the movie, which may well happen. I wrote BIRTH OF FIRE in the 70's, and got very little for it; but over the years it has been in print and made me some every year, not a lot, but some. 

MOTE IN GOD'S EYE was written in the 70's, more than 30 years ago. You would now put Moties in the public domain; as well as the words Niven and I wrote, and all the concepts in that book. I make no doubt there are many out there who would just love to take those concepts and write about them while paying me nothing. Over the years MOTE has made me a bit every year, and only recently has technology got to the point that one might make a movie of it; but if you have your way the studios will be able to grab that book and make their movie and pay me nothing at all.

Writing fiction is hard work, and not all that rewarding. There is, as you know since that's what you do, more immediate money in topical non-fiction. I used to do well out of writing the science columns for the National Catholic Press. The pay was good -- darned good in the 70's when I was first trying fiction -- and there were no residuals. Just as you seem to want.

And if I had been trying to maximize immediate income, I would have been forced to expand my topical non-fiction. More articles for American Legion (which paid $1,000 and more for 20 double-spaced pages back in 1976 when that was real money). More journalism. 

Would the world -- would you -- be better off if I had done that and not written BIRTH OF FIRE and MOTE IN  GOD'S EYE, and THE MERCENARY, and WEST OF HONOR? And do you really think publishers will pay much to fiction writers if they can't have the copyright for more than a dozen or so years?

Why do you thirst for the fruits of my labors? Why do you want to confiscate my work as quickly as you can get your hands on it? Why do you want me to concentrate on what pays quickly and not bother with a work that might take years to write and won't earn much for many more years?

I replied to Thompson's letter with a shorter version of the above, and added "You have made a convert. In future I'll support the Author's Guild position of Life Plus 90 Years, since my opposition to that in favor of going back to 26 + 26 seems to have earned me some dislike by my fellow authors, and doesn't seem to be winning many converts elsewhere. His reply:

I fail to see how your position differs in substance from that of Disney. You apparently believe that copyright was intended to provide a lifetime annuity for authors, which I don't think was the intention of the Founding Fathers. Realistically, your 56-year term is a lifetime annuity, except for those very rare authors who publish before they are, say, 20 years old and then live longer than their expected life spans.

As I understand it, "limited" was intended to encourage authors to write and publish their work by giving them a short period during which they could benefit from a monopoly on selling that work. The trade-off was that authors in return agreed that after that short period their work would become public domain, for the benefit of everyone.

I don't think I recall signing that social contract. In any event, I had my say above.

Dear Jerry: And here I thought we were all done with this topic. But someone got your Irish up, I see. Of course I fully endorse your position, especially regarding fiction, which has a higher level of protection under copyright law than factual works. It is damned hard work. As you know I've been working on a "first" novel for the last two years, with another one to go. Despite the fact that I've written and published hundreds of non-fiction articles, the funding for this effort does not come from that work but from an inheritance.

Having made my living doing magazine articles for a number of years I can tell you that it is far from the path to riches that most outsiders imagine it to be. I am often complimented for having done so much work. My reply is that "It's called 'making a living'." Most of it was purchased for one-time publication at a low rate of pay. Other rights were not discussed, much less purchased.

The Copyright Act is supposed to provide incentive for people to take the time and effort to create new work. That incentive should consist of being comfortable if not rich and free from care so you can concentrate on the work. The public already enjoys certain freedoms from cost. If they don't want to buy a book, they can borrow it from a friend or a library. No charge, as there is in other countries. They can make a copy for research or archival purposes as long as its done without commercial intent. It's called "Fair Use".

That's not enough for a lot of people. They simply don't want to pay, ever. They would be outraged if someone wanted them to work for free or for insufficient wages, but they expect writers and artists to do so. Copyrights are valuable property and Big Media firms are currently intent on grabbing all that they can. However, the Copyright Act provides a level playing field for the little guy...if you meet the registration requirements and can find lawyers brave enough to take on the big firms.

Part of the problem is that writers and artists are usually such lousy business people. They don't know what they have has value beyond the moment and they are too easily persuaded to give up rights they should keep. Copyright can be overridden by contracts.

My own solution for all this is to amend the Copyright Act to include compulsory licensing for short text, just the same as for music works. That way everything would be out there, available, but everyone who creates would get paid for the use made of their work. This is probably too simple a solution.

As for DRM, its a way to make sure that everyone gets credit where credit is due. Right now publishers routinely claim copyrights they don't own and use that to steal rights. Publishing has become the only business that makes Hollywood look moral.

If consumers don't become more sophisticated about these issues and quit trying to ride for free every chance they get, then creative people will not be able to make a living at their art and will stop producing, at least in part, because they will be forced to make a living someway. We all lose when that happens.

We all live in a global market economy. We all expect and deserve to get paid for our work. There is nothing romantic or fulfilling about "starving for your art". That just sucks. The thing that irritates me most is the implied insult that the work has no real value. If that were true no one would bother to steal it, would they?


Francis Hamit

Well, the usual protest is that intellectual property is a construct. Making copies of something doesn't deprive the originator of it, so therefore it's all right.

Note, though, that ownership of land is a construct also. Indeed, Henry George pointed out the essential unfairness of land ownership, and based a rather libertarian economics on the "Single Tax" which would tax rents and land ownership and not much else.

The "natural" state for land is a commons, only we all know that a commons is a very bad concept for both environment and production; see "farms, collective, USSR" for more details.

Oh. Well. And see below


Subject: The tactics of technology.

 Roland Dobbins

Good article.

And then we have JUSTICE, new American style:

Subject: " . . . property isn't worth human life"

  Roland Dobbins

Brave new world that has such jurors in it. And see below.

And for those who like real literary criticism, I bring you (with permission of course) a letter from another discussion group. It's very much worth your time:

Subject: RE:  Was Joseph Conrad racist?

Hi Steve. Good to have something new over which to disagree with you! I visit the topic of Achebe's attack on Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" in my new book, "Diversity: The Invention of a Concept." A summary: The controversy Achebe has stirred up is whether Conrad's views of Africans (and by extension the views of a lot of other Europeans) are essentially dehumanizing. Achebe wrote at one point that the novel is "a story in which the very humanity of black people is called into question." With this in mind, Achebe enlists Conrad to the ranks of those who made colonial exploitation of Africa easier on the conscience of white Europeans.

But Achebe is mistaken. The story shows Kurtz--the one time idealist and philanthropist--as someone who gives in to a morally disastrous temptation to identify with the primitive "other." The book is not an unintended lesson in the need for greater open-mindedness in the face of cultural diversity. To the contrary, Kurtz is open-minded--way too open-minded. He meets his downfall not out of hatred for the culture of the Congolese, but through some kind of infatuation with them.

True, the narrator doesn't share this infatuation (though he feels it a little) and Kurtz recovers his sense of himself in his dying words, but the novel offers us a completely compelling account of a European man losing his own cultural identity in a self-destructive embrace of another culture. We should recognize this for its familiarity. Millions of Europeans and Americans today feel a similar temptation. Readiness to make such imaginative leaps, out of one's own dreary culture into worlds (falsely) imagined to be richer, more "authentic," and closer to root human identities is what drives a lot of the idolization of Third World Cultures and cultural self-loathing that is characteristic of our diversity-besotted civilization.

Is Conrad's portrait of the Congolese unfair? Well, he is representing the views of ordinary men making their living as sailors and riverboat adventurers, not the views of anthropologists and professional interpreters of foreign cultures. In that sense, Conrad is true to the characters he imagines. But beyond that, this is the same river flowing through the same country that we have watched tear itself apart in civil strife, invasion, and unfathomably brutal slaughter for the last ten years. Was Conrad's portrait that far from the mark, even today?

Achebe, who is really a so-so novelist and nowhere near Conrad's class (What has he written besides his very early novel "Things Fall Apart" that is worth bothering with?) is just egging on the Western-culture-hating pseudos at American colleges and universities.

Peter Wood

Professor Wood adds

Dear Jerry:

Feel free. Please do send me a link to your website. (Incidentally, my comment on Conrad and Achebe in my book is a little fuller and maybe better. Consider this the obligatory advertisement.)


The infatuation of the West with "the noble savage" has caused no end of mischief...





This week:


read book now


Thursday, February 27, 2003

Over in View I commented that we changed over to a slightly different system, in which the currentmail and currentview pages are now merely redirectors, and the permanent page title will be assigned from the beginning; prior to this I put all new stuff in currentmail or currentview, and then when the week changed, I changed the name of the page to where xxx is the permanent number for the page. This was simple, but it broke people's bookmarks and links to particular items. 

Bob Thompson set this up for me. I had done some minor work on currentview that I had not sent up to the web site; that part was lost, but it was simply because Thompson never had a copy, and this morning I didn't think too hard about what I was doing. No big problem. Now I have this mail:

You know, one thing that I just don’t understand about Chaos Manner is the architecture of your website. I’m pretty sure that you have to be running one of the largest and most complex FrontPage sites in existence. It seems to me that scarcely a month goes by without you commenting on how FrontPage, your PC and/or your internet connection has been possessed by demons and has cost you a whole afternoon’s work. Yes, I know that “you do these silly things so that I don’t have to.” But the lesson that I’d think that most of your readers are learning is “don’t use FrontPage for large sites.”

Somehow, it pains me to see someone as bright and time-constrained as yourself toiling away at the internet equivalent of a Selectric typewriter.

It’s probably just my bias as a developer that tends to push me towards automating virtually anything that’s dumb and/or repetitive, but if it were me, I would have converted the site to a database-backed system that allowed me to update it from anywhere via a simple WYSIWYG front-end. Of course, the system would handle all the housekeeping for me. These things are relatively trivial to write and would allow you to offer all kinds of other features (bulk mailing without outlook, spam-free email, subscriber sections of the site, better searching, etc, etc.)

Have you been thinking about trying to go dynamic at all? Most of your old content could probably be converted into a newer system with relative ease. If you need help, I volunteer. Free!

Sorry, don’t mean to come across like I know better and that you _should_ know better, it’s just that I almost feel obligated to point this stuff out and at least make the offer…


And I have to say I must be giving the wrong impression. The reason I use FrontPage is that it's very convenient; too convenient. It works well. Roland and Bob Thompson and others have offered to help convert this tangle of thoughts and letters and general stuff to a data base driven system that would make it easier to keep subject links and topics and such, but the work is a bit daunting, and FrontPage in general works well. 

If, for instance, I want to take all the threads on Republic and Empire and consolidate them into a couple of pages, it's very easy to do, once I find them. I can copy and paste onto new pages and set up links, and the whole thing wouldn't take more than an hour: and moreover, I can be selective and leave out repetitive and irrelevant pages and comments so that the end product is not only all on one page, but is integrated in a way that simply having a bunch of dynamic machine-generated links never would be. Now true: I haven't DONE that, and having the automated system would be a lot better than nothing. But that's not FrontPage's fault.

I don't really hesitate to recommend FrontPage to people who just want to put up content and have some control over how they do it. My complaints are pretty minor compared to those of people who use more sophisticated tools that would let them do wonderful things.

And I don't recall complaining about FrontPage losing anything for me. I have managed to lose stuff before I post it. And we did for a while have a problem with the search feature, but that again was all my fault, and it's fixed again now.

As to FrontPage on large sites, well, there are probably better ways to set up a large site, assuming you know it's going to be large. I didn't have any notion of just how BIG this place was going to get, or just how MUCH stuff there would be here, or just how MANY subjects I would be covering, or that I would begin to write like Dvorak when talking about it...  This place Just Growed, and while there would probably have been better tools to use, I am not sure it would have got here had there not been FrontPage, which for all its goofiness made it possible for me to do this without any training.

colosseum_sm.gif (15624 bytes)

But I do thank you for the offer, and one day I may in fact try to get this place better organized. Real Soon Now.

Now more on Digital Rights

As others have mentioned:

The relevant portion of Section 8 says: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;"

Note that the section says "to AUTHORS", not "to publishing houses." I think this is a critical term that most in the current discussion have, deliberately or otherwise, lost sight of.

The section also says "To promote PROGRESS." Not stasis, PROGRESS. The concept of things moving forward, rather than sideways, backwards, or not at all.

Ok. So how can we both reward authors and promote progress? Well, first, how would rewarding an author promote progress? Presumably there are several ways. One might be keeping him fed so he can think about writing rather than mooching meals. Another might be appealing to basic greed: he can see that there is a chance of reaping a reasonable reward for his works.

Its possible also that an author might be motivated to publish a work so that he can feel assured that his great-great-great-grandnieces will have a guaranteed income. Possibly. But would he be motivated to publish a second work after publishing a first work on this basis? And would any of the general public likely be interested in reading a work published for such purely mercenary motive? I hold until shown otherwise that these are unlikely to be motives that will result in Progress of the Arts, and therefore unlikely that copyright should cater to these motives.

So: we want to promote progress, and we want to reward authors reasonably, such that they will be motivated to produce more works for the benefit of the nation. Not so that they can necessarily retire for life after one magazine article.

It seems to me that the answer then is to craft Copyright such that it rewards authors, and does so for a reasonable time. What is reasonable certainly changes wiht the times. I personally see no particular reason that Copyright shouldn't be valid for the life of the author(s) perhaps plus 10 or 15 years.

Why the entire life of the author? Because he produced the work by his effort, and I see no reason to refuse him potential payment for it just because he grows old. If the work is not of great worth then it will not earn the author monies in later years, despite him still holding copyright. Likely in that case also others will not be screaming to violate said worthless rights, and the public will not be harmed by the author witholding the rights from others.

But why should the rights extend past the author's death? If the author has no progeny and has not willed the rights to any person or organization, it would be quite reasonable that those rights dissolve rather than benefitting some State agency, or nobody at all. But authors can have progeny, and authors can die young. It is reasonable therefore that the rights the author holds at his death be treated as real property for a time and pass to his heirs, just as a house or a business might (barring inheritance taxes, of course). But the rights should not extend for any appreciable time after the author's death, for then they are failing in their main goal of insuring progress. After all, the author will no longer be publishing (he's dead), and if the children are to become authors they can do that on their own.

But what about the poor publishing houses that spent good money on publishing these works? Shouldn't they also be rewarded for the length of time the corporation and its assigns and successors survive? Of course not. Unlike an author, who is a creative entity, a publisher is a business. It obtains monies by publishing works and being paid for the resulting output. It can make more money by publishing more works. It can go out of business by not publishing any. The Constitution gives no special protections to "businesses in general" to attempt to foster progress. It is not in the slightest clear to me that it gives a business any special protections simply because the business owns a printing press and publishes for hire the works of others.

So, in summary: Copyrights apply to authors. They do not apply to publishers. Authors should be able to benefit for a reasonable time from their past work, in the hopes this will encourage and/or enable them to produce future works. Publishers are businesses, and should need no special government encouragement to operate in a business-like manner and recruit works that they can publish for a profit. Copyrights however should behave like real property for a time, and so can be sold or assigned by the owner, as can any real property. However, they are a wasting asset, and after a time will vanish, regardless of who holds them or how recently the holder has acquired them. As with options and other wasting assets, the prospective purchaser should take this into account when fixing a value on the asset.

Which doesn't cover the Disney wish for propetual copyright, save by implying that "The Disney Company" isn't an author, so never should have had a copyright in the first place. Note that Companies are NOT granted patents on inventions. The individual employees of the company who did the inventing get the patent, and it is simply assigned to the company by prior agreement between the properties. The length of the patent is still related to when the invention was performed.

Loren Wilton

But then

"Loren's proposal"

Loren Wilton proposes a re-working of the theories behind copyright. The rights to a work would be tied to the author, and evaporate at his death, even if he had assigned those rights. One bizarre oddity that would result is that every work that the author considers to have lasting value would assign three or four six-year-olds as minor co-authors as insurance for the value of the work if the primary author should try to sell it.

"Hello. Random House? It's Joe Agent here. Jim Author has a great new book that you want to read. Yeah, he co-wrote it with his nieces again, so that you still have a book if he kicks it tomorrow. He admits that his lifestyle ain't conducive to your contracts. Yeah, the kids' mother likes the 5% again. The cuties didn't contribute THAT much to his blockbuster.

Oh, and your in-house tyke that you assigned to Jane Writer is going to be a problem. The kid didn't like it that the dog died on page three of the last book. You actually let the kids READ these books?"

G Goss



And Joanne adds

What do we do if your DRM file becomes corrupted. You still have all your original files, all the data you paid for, and there is no way on Earth you can access it. Is the DRM key locked to one particular CPU? Is it locked to one particular machine configuration? Has my long term data storage I have carefully nurtured from the 80s to present in jeopardy with respect to all new data I purchase? The whole concept is flawed unless it protects a user from losing use of his or her data just as much as it "protects" the vendor from "theft". How does DRM handle short term sharing as with a paper book? How does it handle "fair use"? I am FAR more interested in how it protects ME and MY investment than I am concerned about the Microsofts and Disneys of the world.



In reading the letters about how copyright issues should be resolved I have some thoughts of my own. I have to agree that the current rules are a mess, but can the situation be fixed and still strike a reasonable balance between all parties?

I guess the first thing I am going to have to say is that all rights are a construct. If I am alone on a large island, I can do as I please. If there is another person introduced to the island we would have to work out some rules or remain in conflict when we interfered with one another's actions.

With copyright and patent law, the government is trying to allow creative people a way to display their works while limiting what other parties can do. In theory, this would encourage work in areas where it is not otherwise practical to devote time and energy. By allowing the creator to have control over the creation they may request compensation for their efforts. The only other alternative is to maintain secrecy and try to enforce non-disclosure agreements with the viewers.

The advantage to society should be that authors can be more open as they have a default protection under copyright. Patents are a little more complex but the idea is the same. The creator is protected so that society can gain more rapid access to the work. While patents are not as big a concern here, I would include them as part of my overall thought process to try and keep some consistency between them and copyright.

With patents I would suggest that at the time of filing, a license structure be included by the inventor with the application. If the invention is found to merit patent, then it is registered along with the license requirements. Use of the patented idea would require compliance with the license by anyone, including the inventor. At the time of filing the inventor would be required to put up money based on the license fee. This money, as well as any license fees would be held in an escrow account until the patent expires. If the patent is found invalid (for example by discovery of prior art) then the escrowed funds could be returned to the licensees. Over the life of the patent the inventor may draw off a percentage of the escrow each year. When the patent expires the remaining escrowed funds are paid to the inventor.

As an example lets say I invent a better mouse trap. Wishing to keep this invention under my control I apply for a patent. In the application I require a licensee fee of $1.00 per unit. The application is granted and based on my fee requirement I am required to deposit $1,000 into an escrow account. If I manufacture one of these traps I must deposit $1.00 into the escrow account. Anyone else making this new trap must also deposit $1.00. At the end of the first year I may withdraw 10% of the escrow funds. At the end of five years the rest of the fund is withdrawn and the patent is over.

Now for copyright. The original author should hold copyright indefinitely. Normal inheritance rules should apply so the authors heirs can maintain benefit indefinitely. For license I would allow the author to grant exclusive license for the first ten years. After the ten years are up they may only permit open licenses that are equally available to anyone who can meet the terms. So for 10 years a publisher may have the exclusive rights to print a given book. After 10 years any publisher who can meet the terms offered may publish the book. Fair use rules would still be available to allow limited quoting and citations. Copyright could never be sold or otherwise transferred. If there are no heirs, the work is public domain after the original 10 years.

In my thinking these rules would be somewhat consistent with other property laws that exist in society. I am also sure others can improve these ideas as well as find flaws in them.

Al Lipscomb.

And an interesting suggestion:

Dr. Pournelle, My two cents worth on the debate of DRM and copyrights, I have no particular problem with paying for a work of art, be it book, movie etc..., I just want to be able to view that work in the manner that is most convenient for me. As an example, I have many ebooks, including several of your own works, which I purchased from Baen books. I prefer that format simply because it's convenient for me. I can load the ebooks on my palm pilot and always have something to read when I'm stuck waiting for something. I can load the same ebooks on my pc and be able to read them on a larger screen without having to dig through my piles of books. I can also buy a hard copy version, either paper or hardback and enjoy the book in a more traditional manner. Indeed most of the books that I have bought as ebooks, I also purchased in hard copy. The same applies with music and movies.

What I object to is the copy protection restrictions that DRM implies. I object to buying an ebook and not being able to view it on my palm pilot, or if I buy a new palm pilot, having to buy a new license for that book. I object to buying a cd and not being able to listen to it on my computer and not being able to use it to create musical cd's for my own listening pleasure in the car. Unfortunately, the DRM people seem to feel that if I don't use their product only in the manner they specify, then I am stealing from them.

My solution is fairly straightforward. Congress shall make no laws concerning DRM. It should be no more illegal to buy pass the copy protection on a DVD, CD or ebook than it is to make a photocopy of a book. If Microsoft and Intel want to incorporate DRM into the operating system and chip set, then let them. The enough people dislike this then sales for open systems such as Linux will start to pick up. This is one of those issues where, if government stays out of it, then the market can decide quite nicely.


And I'll let you all digest that while I go have lunch. I've just learned my son has found a house to buy, and everyone's excited, and

And Joel Rosenberg is shocked, shocked...

Contrary to assertions at the Windows Update webpage, Windows Update does indeed send lots of information to Microsoft.

"Embedded in the data stream were lists of what software you have installed on your PC--and not just Microsoft products. Apparently the folks in Redmond can find out just what you've got installed on your PC, all without you ever knowing about it or explicitly consenting to it."

Quelle surprise, eh?

-- ------------------------------------------------------------


The question is, does it identify you, or merely take statistics?

On Juries and Jurors:


You wrote, "Brave new world that has such jurors in it."

From my own experience as a juror, and from listening to discussions about legal actions, I've come to the conclusion that at least as much of the problem can be placed in the laps of jurists. As a juror, I've had the task of wading through jury instructions that made only a little bit of sense, and finding out after the fact that crucially relevant facts were excluded under the rules of evidence.

From what I understand, jury instructions are compiled by the judge, with the collaboration of the lawyers in any given case, out of a book of standard instructions, written by lawyers. The rules of evidence have been designed by lawyers, for lawyers. I have no idea what the purpose of these rules and instructions is, but the effect seems to be to herd a theoretically independent jury toward the decision the judge wants.

Yesterday, for example, the US Supreme Court ruled that pro-life groups are not committig extortion when they block access to abortion clinics. According to the lawyer who argued the winning side before the court, the reason his clients were found guilty of extortion in the first place was that the jury instructions defined any interference with anyone's rights as a form of extortion. This usage has now been held, by the Supreme Court, to be overly broad.

But the jurors in the original case were not allowed to make any judgments about that on their own.

............Karl Lembke

It has been far too long since I did any kind of study of this, but I suspect you are right.

On The Bell Curve:

Douglas McCaw wrote:

> ...Along with "The Bell Curve" (Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray1994) > this belongs in the good intentioned but Stupid Idea bin.

*Sigh*. Someone else who hasn't read the book, yet is so quick to state how wrong it is.

The "Stupid Idea" was from one small section of the book. The following points from the book are what so infuriated the leftists:

1) There appears to be both a physical and an environmental component to intelligence. 2) Even when allowing for testing bias there are differences in the intelligence between races, in their examples between blacks and whites. 3) The difference is small, but measurable. 4) The differences have steadily decreased throughout this century.

The authors conclude that there is some environmental factor (possibly nutrition) that accounts for the small measured difference that is decreasing with time.

This is what is called racism today. That there is a slight difference but it is unlikely to have anything to do with genetics.

Gene Horr

The Bell Curve may not be a perfect book, but most of its critics clearly have not read it, and of those who have, most cannot follow a statistical argument, don't know what a correlation is, and parrot arguments by people who don't either. Murray raises important points, but those who ought to be concerned with them don't address the problems raised in the book; and that's very sad.

Copyright revisited:

Dear Jerry:

Its interesting that you should use land ownership analogy for copyrights. The two are very similar since the passage of the 1976 Act, which made copyright an infinitely divisible bundle of rights, much the same as you have with a piece of land. (I worked my way through Graduate School at the Iowa Writer's Workshop as an industrial and commercial real estate broker. This was valuable learning experience which had some very creative moments.) With land you can rent it or sell it outright. It's always better in the long term to rent rather than to sell and at least one economist has described the Tasini decision as "rent-seeking behavior" by the freelance writers who were the plaintiffs.

I find this very accurate. Certainly the possibility of future income was on my mind when I sold articles and retained all of the other rights than First Serial. If I did sell "All Rights" then the price was about three times as much.

With land you can divide out the rights for minerals, can lease the surface, grow a crop or even, in rare instances, rent out the right to use the airspace over it.

With a written or artistic work you can lease the right to use it once in a particular publication and then sell it again to another publication, or make or license what are called "derivative works" (Someone making a film from your novel is such an instance).

I submit this in the hopes that it adds a bit of clarity. At the risk of straining the analogy, let me note that the maximum lease term for land is 99 years. Anything longer is considered a sale. With a 95 year term for corporate copyrights, we're close to that limit. I doubt if works can be kept out of the public domain forever.

People should remember that all of these recent changes to the copyright law have been efforts to comply with international treaties on copyright law. A global market demands global protection. Especially when you have an international communications system which allows the instant, near perfect reproduction of all kinds of creative works.

Sincerely, Francis Hamit

The problem is that when the technology to ignore the law is widespread, you need some willingness to comply or the law is meaningless. Enforcement isn't easy. Of course when every man is armed, it's impossible to prevent home invasions, but that doesn't make home invasions inevitable.







This week:


read book now


Friday, February 28, 2003

And the discussion continues:

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I would like to comment on Mr. Lipscomb's letter. I do not see the reasoning behind his idea to require both a set license for a patent, and also the deposit of the amount that one would require from someone else for a license. A very simple example could be used here. For example, what if an engineer in a burst of inspiration thinks of a way to design a 10% more efficient wing form than anything currently used. Of course now everyone would be scrambling to get a hold of a license for that patent as soon as it is made public. Considering the time required to work out the details of such a design, and all other work involved with the patent, and it's *sheer value*, the person filing it might ask for (hypothetically) $10'000. Now let's say this engineer was a very poor person. He would unlikely be able to gather that amount of money without taking out a loan, or a second mortage on his/her house, etc. Or if they did have $10'000 handy, I doubt they would be able to give it away for 5 years (even with the percentage they get back each year.)

"Use of the patented idea would require compliance with the license by anyone, including the inventor." This is just silly, why would the inventor need to pay for something that he invented? His whole letter does not make much sense to me.

Now, concerning the license. Why would one license be needed everyone? It's quite possible he would like to give a license away to someone, or offer it at different rates to different customers, etc. I think these rules are just uneccesary restrictions.


P.S. Another thing he didn't mention is the fact the anyone can use the design in a patent for free if they don't use it for commercial purposes. I.e. a hobbyist could use the wing design for his model plane, as long as he didn't plan on selling the plane. (Although Mr. Lipscomb might have assumed everyone already knew that, then it's my mistake.)

A patent is a license to sue and little else; in recent times the patent system has become insane, with patents issued on all kinds of concepts and ideas. Patent examiners are apparently promoted on the number of patents they issue, so that we now have to major American companies in expensive lawsuits over peanut butter sandwiches. With a name like Smuckers, you've got to be suing people.

But if I were to get a patent on the letter 'e' or the concept of zero -- and some of the patents issued in computing have been just about as ridiculous -- it would do me no good unless I could sell shares in my lawsuits or find a large and wealthy backer to finance my suits against infringers. But perhaps not. I could try the extortion route: sue only people with fewer resources than I have, sue for big amounts, and offer to settle for small amounts. Many would cave in since the cost of making me go away would be large compared to what I want. (In the case of the wonderful gentleman who is suing Vietnamese Nail Parlors, the ladies have suggested that they could hire juvenile gangsters to make him go away for a lot less than he is asking for; I haven't heard how that turned out.)

The whole patent process has become absurd, yet without some kind of patent process you would never get drug companies to pay the kinds of tribute demanded by the FDA to demonstrate not merely safety and truth in labeling, but "effectiveness". We haven't solved that problem either, although a good part of it is created by the FDA bureaucracy which operates to protect its turf and increase its staffing with about the same ethical concern for the public safety as the man suing the Vietnamese Nail Parlor ladies for using the same bottle of fingernail polish on more than one client (also in the name of public safety, and no, I am not making that one up.)

My real point in running this discussion on patents and copyrights is to demonstrate that the whole state of patent and copyright law needs revision, and the first step is to go back and think about what we want to accomplish with these laws.

And I suspect that absent a reform of the whole legal system we won't get anything more than patches and Band-Aids on the intellectual property problems.

And here is the Lawyer's View personified:

Subject: Brave new jurors?

I read the story about the electric booby-trap and the fried burglar. I do not understand your comment about "Brave new world that has such jurors in it."

Citizens have never had power under the law to kill. (For that matter, neither have police officers.) The legal standards for the use of lethal force are clear: defense only. Massad Ayoob has written at length on the subject of what you can and cannot do in self-defense, and his summary goes like this:

Potentially lethal force is justified only when there is immediate, otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm to the innocent.

No one, in this case, has seriously argued that the burglar was about to kill someone. A lethal booby trap is excessive in this situation.

In fact, the bar owner is lucky he was only sued in civil court; he could easily have been charged with some form of murder!

I have heard of some pretty stupid legal verdicts, such as the one where a burglar successfully sued a museum for having an unsafe skylight after he was injured trying to sneak in through it. But this verdict, as far as I can see, is completely expected under the laws we have in all 50 states.

P.S. The criminal's usual defense is "I didn't do it." The citizens usual defense in a case like this was "I did it, but it's okay because it was self-defense." In the former case, the burden of proof is upon the government to prove that the criminal did it; in the latter case, the burden of proof is on the citizen to prove that it was okay under the law.

It's harder to successfully argue that the law permitted you to do something than to argue that you didn't do it. It helps a lot if you understand what you can and cannot do before you do it. Anyone interested should read Massad Ayoob's book _In the Gravest Extreme_:

-- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est"

Sure. The lawyers view.

In other words, you have the right to steal from me, and if I warn you to stay the hell out of my property it doesn't matter; and if you coke yourself up so that what wouldn't harm a normal person will kill you, then you break into my place and scrag yourself, it's all my  fault.

Fortunately I won't live long enough to see the results of this imbecility which is of course another transfer of power from citizens to the bureaucracy and "security professionals" and the lawyers. Always the lawyers.

There is no responsibility, and there are no rights: there are merely the actions of the officials.

And what is this "law" you praise? We have not had the rule of law in a long time. The law is whatever those with the deepest pockets can manage to convince a court of.

The police will not defend me, but if I defend myself on my own property, the burden of proof is on me, even though you are where you have no right whatever to be. But it sure makes for lots of work for lawyers.

As to my saying "you have the right to steal from me," don't you? That is, if I can't defend myself and the police won't or can't defend me, and I can be prosecuted for trying to defend what is mine, tell me how that is different from your having the right to steal from me?

It has been pointed out that setting death traps has been illegal under the Common Law for a long time. While this is technically true, it depends in part on the state.

But the real concern here is our new found concern for the criminals: which isn't really concern. Watch Law and Order for a picture of the "concern". What is of concern is the notion of individual responsibility, and that anyone has any rights in law enforcement other than "professionals".

I am a alarmed that any collection of 12 jurors would unanimously choose the criminal in this case. I can imagine them awarding the criminal's family something toward funeral expenses.

And it gets worse, not better.

From a Robert X. Cringely article on INC:

"WiFi exists primarily thanks to Apple Computer, which years ago proposed to the Federal Communications Commission that certain radio frequencies in the 2.4 to 5.8 gigahertz range be allocated for unlicensed data communication."

I didn't know this. The entire article is at: 


I didn't know that either.


As documented here <
> by an ex-Apple employee involved in the FCC negotiations at the time, Apple did -not- 'create' the WiFi standard. In fact, they petitioned for slight different spectrums, as they did not believe WiFi would reach feasibility in time for the Newton, the platform they intended wireless access for at the time.

Open nets... -- Norman Ferguson | Dir. of Technology Services | Tekgnosys Member, Apple Consultants Network |

I didn't know that either.

It's good to see that Maine is sensitive:

In Maine, Department of Education Commissioner Duke Albanese sent a memo to superintendents and principals, writing that it had been brought to his attention some school personnel had been "less than sensitive to children of military families regarding our continued strained relations with Iraq."

Just curious Jerry, what circle of Hell would someone who calls abusing children being "less than sensitive" be sent to by Minos?

P.S. Is Inferno in print, or do I need to get a copy at the used store (I prefer new so you and Larry Niven get something out of it). I really want to reread it, after 28 years (I read the serialization in IF (I think it was IF) on 1975 whilst in the Army, and riding a train across country (a long story), and loved the book!

Kim Owen Smith


In Maine, Department of Education Commissioner Duke Albanese sent a memo to superintendents and principals, writing that it had been brought to his attention some school personnel had been "less than sensitive to children of military families regarding our continued strained relations with Iraq."

It was serialized in Galaxy lo these many years ago. It goes in and out of print...









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Regarding Sable, Daniel Pinkwater says

Subject: Re: Jerry Pournelle and his husky puppy

Sweet. Maybe a little cloying. A variation on those calendars with golden retriever puppies in a basket, playing with a length of ribbon. Perhaps his puppy is merely a slow developer, or on the shy side, maybe needs a vitamin supplement. Where is the blood-curdling screaming? Where is the hurtling through the house at blinding speed and caroming off the walls three feet off the floor? Where is the going through oak furniture like a buzz-saw while your back is turned for five minutes? Raising a sled dog as a pet will sooner or later have one talking, out loud, to God. It's a character-builder.

All of which is true, but I was sparing the readers some of the horrid details...






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I got this some time ago, but just got around to looking at the referenced site. It's certainly odd, and worth the time to someone curious about the subject.

Dead Media [ ] is a fascinating website dedicated to documenting obsolete and otherwise unused media, technology, etc.

Of particular interest is this discussion:

Information technology of Ancient Athens in 5 parts 

with a follow up at 

There is a FAQ of course 

List of Categories: 

numeric index 


mike zawistowski 

I found the site navigation to be difficult, but the information certainly interesting....







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