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Mail 482 September 3 - 9, 2007







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Monday September 3, 2007

The Day SFWA folded. See View

Harry Erwin's Letter from England

After the recent neural network conference that I attended, I mentioned that I believe we will be able to model goal-directed behaviour within five to ten years. This is relevant to true artificial intelligence--which I expect will be very difficult. There were a number of presentations at the conference that people might find interesting.

Chip Levy spoke about his work on the hippocampus. This is a complex structure in the centre of the brain that seems to play a role in storing episodic memory. We've known that since the 1950s, when HM (how he's referred to in the literature) received neurosurgery to treat intractable epilepsy. His surgery involved the removal of his hippocampus and nearby regions. After he recovered from the surgery, it was found that he could no longer store long-term memories, although he could retrieve existing memories fine.
The hippocampus is now suspected (by Chip Levy) of being the associative memory system of last resort. It associates events in multiple parts of the brain based on temporal synchrony, and replays them during sleep to set up associations in the various cortical regions that lit up when the events occurred. The hippocampus (and the entorhinal cortex that feeds into it) also contain "place fields" that light up when a rat is at specific locations in its environment.
The replay involves 'sharp waves', which replay events at about twenty times real-time. Recently, researchers have also shown that the hippocampus can also replay events in time-reversed order. The time tags associated with these events seem to be phases of a couple of periodic brain wave patterns, called the gamma and theta rhythms. Christo Panchev was actually able to model this in his thesis work, but a lot of the biology remains completely unclear.
In my bat work, I found that bats could predict the movement of targets (mealworms) much faster than real-time. When they realise that a target is inedible, they shear off immediately, which suggests that can extrapolate their plans backwards to rapidly re-estimate the reward values of various actions. Finally, they seem to be able to plan ahead and/or extrapolate backwards for multiple plans at the same time. In a sense, they can communicate with the future to optimise their current actions.
This bidirectional communication with the future becomes more complicated for people, because we're not restricted to predicting movement, but also can use internal models of other minds. We can look into the future, see what someone else--who has a similar model of us--may do, and change our current behaviour. AI's are unlikely to have the necessary parallel processing to simulate this in the near future, but it may be possible for us to work with a fast parallel computer to emulate what a real AI might do. I'll leave it at that until I have some time to write a story about it.
It's the end of the summer. Diane and I did some walking and bicycling this weekend in the Lake District to celebrate Labor Day.
Tory school proposals: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6974558.stm> <http://www.guardian.co.uk/uklatest/story/0,,-6891896,00.html> <http://tinyurl.com/2kj4p8>
Public ("private") school advantages. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6973922.stm>. Something the public schools also do that the comprehensives don't is teach their students how to "think outside the box" in the ways that the most selective universities are looking for in applicants. This gives them a marked advantage.
Challenge to the NHS funding lottery. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6974681.stm>
Harry Erwin, PhD, Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland.



Copyright, Infringement, and Enforcement

Unfortunately, copyright laws are written in such a way that there's really no incentive to follow them. The burden is ENTIRELY on the aggrieved party to identify the violation, attempt a resolution through private negotiation, and then bring the matter to court.

As you say, there's probably no way whatsoever that Saberhagen's works will ever be defended; and the only way that copyright law can be enforced is if the copyright holder actively defends it.

Indeed, I can pirate copyrighted material WHILE THE POLICE ARE STANDING THERE WATCHING ME, and unless (and until) the copyright owner tells me to stop, there's NOTHING they can do about it.


Moreover, the Electronic Freedom Foundation will be right there defending their right to do it in case one of the constables  blunders. However, thanks to you and many other readers who have taken the trouble to find out the truth of these matters, scribd seems to have changed course and is now acting cooperative: a large number of the pirate works that have been on their site for some time have been taken down.

If they had shown anything like that level of cooperation in the weeks when Dr. Burt was trying to negotiate with them, we would not have had this flap, EFF would not have covered itself in glory by writing on behalf of a site where there were thousands of copyrighted works without permission to an author's associate trying to get some justice for its members, and I wouldn't have wasted a weekend with my stomach tied in knots. Ah well.


I could easily fill this day and week with comments on the Great SFWA/boing boing/scribd/ars technica/EFF flap; I will include only a few representative  letters.

On Copyright and Books

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I think you are over reacting.

First and foremost, you are incorrect about the impact of portable devices like an iPhone on the book trade. No matter how convenient they are, they simply do not have the battery life. You really fear that I am going to pass the time in an airport waiting for my delayed flight by reading a copy of one of your novels on my iPhone for which you didn't receive any royalties? Not only would the battery not last long enough but when the battery dies, there goes my phone! Now if they ever come up with a battery that will last a whole day, recharge in a couple of hours while I sleep, and not wear out then and only then do you have something to worry about.

Second, you and the SFWA underestimate your fans. I am not going to download a book from that site. I have not YET been able to budget for a copy of Burning City and Burning Tower; I checked them out of the library and read them. I loved them and will one day buy a copy of each. Didn't you mention a third one that might be set in Iceland? When you write that and your publisher offers a 3 book, hard bound set then I expect that I will have enough disposable income to pay for it. Now if the battery I want were available, I might want an electronic copy of my book to carry with me so I don't have to worry about losing my treasured print edition and I might will balk at paying for the book again. But that is speculation.

Books are not like music in one way that is important to you; there is not a perception by the public that we have been ripped off for years.

You have been helpful. When I initially read the stories about the takedown notices, I immediately visited your site to find out the other side of the story. What I was initially told was the opposite of what you are saying and I find you to be the more credible source.

Greg Brewer

You are certainly correct regarding the current situation and financial impact; I doubt I could prove a hundred dollars loss to electronic piracy. Eric Flint insists that having a novel on a pirate site may actually increase the number of paper sales.

I have not seen any claims that pirate sites do not affect electronic sales. So far those are so small as not to matter; and I rather hope you are right, and that the book business, which I sort of understand, won't change substantially in the decade or so that I have left for writing.

On the other hand, I see indications that a substantial part of the paperback book sales will in future have to be electronic book sales; and while fans and serious readers will be loyalists, a great many people act from purely economic motives. Why pay for that which is offered free on a site that uses other people's works to attract visitors, gets its revenue from ads, and gives way other people's works? You won't patronize that place; but for an author to make a living at this, paperback sales have to be in the tens of thousands. I assure you I don't have anything like that many subscribers. I only wish I did. Then I wouldn't have to worry about how my works are distributed. I could simply write them and make them available to subscribers and let my agent worry about publishing and sales to everyone else.

I don't underestimate my fans; but I don't overestimate their numbers, and when pirates get serious about defending their piracy, and organizations like EFF defend the right of places like scribd to post anything they please absent a validly worded takedown order for each and every individual copyright violation, I do wonder where the general public will go for electronic copies. I would hope to my web site, or my publisher's web site, but I don't have a lot of data. But I very much hope you are right.

Thank you for your concluding comments.


Scribd as a symptom

Dear Jerry, This is a minor point and of no legal relevance whatsoever, but as a fan of irony I can't help but appreciate one little remarked upon aspect of this whole flap with scribd.com. On one side you have people who, as a group, heartily denounce the DCMA as an unconscionable restriction of the people's right to 'free' content, insisting that notices of infringement must follow it's form to the letter, while on the other side you have copyright holders, people who obviously benefit from that act whether they wholly approve of it or not, in apparent technical violation of it.

More seriously, stepping back from the debate over copyrights, the most troubling aspect of this affair is that it is one more indication of a degeneration in the tone of debates over public policy. I have no reason to doubt that both you and Dr. Burt first attempted to bring possible violations of copyright to scribd.com's attention informally and politely. When met with silence Dr. Burt took what seems to have been his only course of action, sending a legal notice. While regrettable that his notice included works it should not have, I'm more disturbed by the tone of reactions to it.

It's both reasonable, and even desirable, for people to have different views on matters of public policy, but recently positions on both sides seem to have hardened to the extent of considering opposition to your views to be an indication of moral failing, even evil, and that does not bode well for having a reasonable debate on the issues. You see this hardening of positions across a wide range of issues, from copyright to immigration to climate change, and from my perspective all it will accomplish is to guarantee that those whose positions are not adopted will become embittered, cynical, and even less willing to compromise on the next issue. Is this any way to run a republic? Perhaps saddest of all, I can see no way to reverse this trend that does not invoke Mr. Jefferson's prescription.

Chuck Wingo


subscription, scribd, and a question

Jerry -

I've subscribed for another year; please keep up the column. I like the "NPR style" - gentle reminders work just fine with me. After a while...

Though I am not an Author, I agree with your stance on scribd. It's theft of copyrighted material. As the medium evolves (paperback books into 'readers') the question will become more acute - perhaps it's better to get the matter addressed sooner rather than later.

Now for my question: if I buy a copy of an out-of-print book (e.g. A Step Farther Out) to give to a friend or prove a discussion point, etc., this obviously doesn't reward the author, nor is there a simple mechanism to do so. Since good books do, sadly, go out-of-print, how can we make some process where the writer does get some fiscal benefit? With you specifically, it's easy (just subscribe). With most other writers, it's not so simple.




One must be careful: scribd has not exceeded its legal rights, and thus is not guilty of theft. They merely make copyrighted works easy to post, don't require those posting works even to claim they have the right to put them up, and set up onerous requirements for the copyright holder to get them to consider removing the work. That's not theft, and the Electronic Freedom Foundation, representing scribd, has said so in a letter to SFWA defending scribd rights.

I agree that the question is likely to become a great deal more important as electronic book readers improve.

Regarding used books, authors don't make anything from them unless they invest in remainders; some writers buy up remaindered copies and sell signed copies during their lectures. This is both lucrative and clever, and those who buy from the author are to be commended. But no author I know of really resents used book sales or refuses to autograph used books. I certainly don't have any such objection.

As electronic sales replace paperback sales -- which I believe is inevitable -- the question of used books will be moot, but of course an ebook is eternal, and copies are easily given away.

We live in interesting times.


Power transmission lines

Dr. Pournelle

I thought this editorial in today’s paper would interest you and your readers. It seems that it isn’t enough to just build more power plants, wind farms, or solar farms. You need to build the transmission lines to connect to the grid, which would be easy enough in itself except, it takes even longer to get the permits to build the lines than to get the permits to build and construct a new plant!


Michael Scoggins




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Tuesday,  September 4, 2007

scribd , Ars Technica, EFF Fiasco


While I have generally liked Ars Technica reporting & EFF involvement, I just wanted you to know that at least one (& I'm sure there are many others), I wholly side with you and the SFWA vs. scribd.

Is there anything I can do to assist in this matter?


I don't expect my readers to do anything much different from normal: that is, pay attention, understand that ars techica and boing boing do not present the entire story, and realize that things may not always be as they seem.

I do wish that the real story were available in more places, but those who propagate their own views have been pretty careful not to publicize dissent from their standard line. This is in itself revealing.


Another look at peer review, 


As an old bio guy whose focus was on genetics, I find this story about Craig Ventner's publication of a diploid human genome to be very interesting:


I love this quote: "That a scientist of his ability has been forced to work outside the N.I.H.'s peer-review system puts peer review in a strange light."

So, we now have glaring examples in theoretical physics, climatology and genetics. Who woulda thunk it?


Thanks. The peer review process is deeply flawed. That doesn't mean it ought to be eliminated; by and large it's a good way to govern publication. It does mean that there have to be means for exceptions: ways for controversial and revolutionary views to be published, and for that matter, to be funded.

I will admit that I have no comprehensive remedy in mind. It's a hard problem. But I do think attention needs to be paid to the way we publish and fund in the sciences. I'd suggest a national commission, chaired by Freeman Dyson. I  think of no one I'd trust more in such a position.



...it's been a while since I'd last written, Dr. Pournelle, but considering the flap over the weekend, it seemed like the right time to show a little solidarity and re-up my subscription.

Honestly, I think both of you (yourself and Mr. Doctorow) are right, albeit about different things. I agree with you that it is imperative that authors be able to secure their rights, simply and directly, and to have potential violators act politely and with alacrity when possible violations are indicated. Where scribd is hosting works for which they have no permissions, they hurt everyone (the audience, the authors, and the market) by validating a negative view about digital versions of the intellectual properties. If an author does not want their works pirated and accessible without compensation, they should have every right and tool to do so.

However, I personally believe that digital piracy will ultimately helps sales, much in the same way that the music industry thrived during the heyday of Napster (note that the downhill slide only started for the music industry *after* the RIAA got revved up with its lawsuit campaign). Your reference to Eric Flint <http://www.baen.com/library/>  is key here--I wholly concur with his analysis that book readers are the best form of marketing. I've bought at least four different copies of Lucifer's Hammer over the years, and each copy has landed in someone else's library--at least two-thirds of my own book collection is out and about in other people's hands. I can only hope that some I've given the book to have been inspired to dig deeper into your catalog... Honestly, if I had a way to loan people books and not give up my own copies, I'd be much more of an evangelist...

Anyway: I still think you had it right, going all the way back to Millicent <http://www.jerrypournelle.com/slowchange/Millicent.html>  , and I genuinely look forward to the day that I can pay you directly for your works, empowering you to make the lion's share of your effort. Keep the faith, your audience is listening, and thank you for all the silly hard work you do (so I won't have to).

Cheers, -keith

Thank you. I don't really disagree except that you take a kinder view of Doctorow's motives in inflating this minor error by a harassed SFWA volunteer into some kind of major conspiracy that ever I would.

Thanks for renewing your subscription.

I do point out that in future, a lot of the revenue from paperback book sales will come from ebook sales; and we can't really predict the effects of electronic piracy on those sales. I think the disaster here is that SFWA, intimidated by the Electronic Freedom Foundation, abandoned the field; and if there is no one to assert author's rights for them, it will become easier and easier to violate them. Rights not actively defended have a way of vanishing over time.


Subject: William Kristol on Vietnam 

Good morning, Jerry This column by William Kristol seems to be on the mark. I've read your commentary on the Vietnam era and it rang with truth. I am of an age to have "participated" in that era. Kristol seems to have much the same view of it as you do.


Best Mike Detjen

Agreed. Kristol and I often agree. Alas, when we do disagree it's a doozy.




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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

As one might surmise, there's a lot of mail on the current column on intellectual property. I thank those who sent letters of support; there are far too many for me to post them. I am trying to select a few that raise new questions.

Subject: DMCA takedowns

Both sides are right, of course :-)

Should it be quick and easy to get something that's posted without permission taken down ? Absolutely. Should you be able to get somebody else's work taken down just by claiming that it's copyright infringement ? Of course not.

The problem is that the two are incompatible, and the DMCA tries to find the middle ground that satisfies both.

Of course authors who don't want their works posted are going to be upset that it's too hard to get them taken down. Particularly if their income relies on those works not being available for free. Of course authors who do want their works posted are going to be upset that it's too easy to get them taken down. Particularly if their income relies on making them available for free is as many places as possible.

Personally, I fall back to more basic principles - I like freedom of expression and "innocent until proven guilty". Hence I find the fact that you could get a bad review (if there were such a thing) of your work taken down for 10 days just by *claiming* copyright infringement very worrying. I think this where the EFF comes from, too.

Chris Brand

To say "both sides are right" is to equate the non-availability of a bad review for a day or so with the unauthorized posting of the entire works of an author for weeks and months while negotiations go on about the form of the notice of copyright violation.

I am not willing to concede that equation.

Had scribd exhibited the least willingness to cooperate -- as hundreds of web sites had done over the past few years -- none of this would have been necessary. They chose to stonewall and insist on the letter of the law.

I put it to you that writers don't want to spend time policing the web; writers would rather spend time in their studies practicing the solitary vice par excellence, and time spent wrestling with takedown orders, worrying about legalities, and the like is time not spent writing.

Should not someone speak for the writers?


Scribd and Inferno


Just a thought, as an author you may indeed have the last laugh. Somewhere in the 9 circles must be a suitable location to place these folks, no?

Best Regards,


Oddly enough, I had thought of that.... Thanks!


Freeman Dyson and a National Commission

"I'd suggest a national commission, chaired by Freeman Dyson. I think of no one I'd trust more in such a position."

Jerry, Now that's a good idea. Make sure their remit covers NASA and a couple others...

Do you think we could get him to spring for an Orion or two? That'd be the first proposal I'd put on his desk.





Nature has reported a 90% sure conclusion to the Great Dead Dinosaur Whodunit.

An asteroid breakup , likely of the parent body of ann inner belt object called Baptistina , which occurred some 160 Myr ago is the probable source of the K/T impactor- and the same event may have trashed mars as well. There's even a piece of the lethal weapon:

http://adamant.typepad.com/seitz/2007/09/big-guns-and-sm.html <http://adamant.typepad.com/seitz/2007/09/big-guns-and-sm.html

Russell Seitz


New iPods -

Afternoon Jerry,

Here's a brief synopsis of the new iPod announcements:

Apple released a bunch of new iPods today, across the entire lineup. Most were incremental improvements, but some major. For example, the Nano now has video, which is a big change but limited in functionality due to minimal storage. The iPod (now called Classic) is larger (80 and 160 GB), better battery life, and has a few minor new features so it's an incremental upgrade. For people with current video units, the new Classics are not compelling upgrades.

The iPod Touch is getting all the hype: an iPhone without the phone. Touch screen, flash storage, wi-fi, Safari browser, and a special YouTube icon. No eBook reader built-in yet, so we're still waiting for your perfect paperback replacement. You can use it to buy music from the iTunes store while in a Starbucks or on another wi- fi connection, neither of which seem to be a big deal.

But then again, I don't buy hardly any music online because the quality isn't good enough: I encode CD's (which I own), get better quality and avoid DRM. Neither do I understand the fascination with YouTube and the need to be able to access it on a moment by moment basis. But then again I'm not under 25, actually work for a living and read for recreation, so maybe I'm just a curmudgeon and don't 'get' it.

Apple did drop the price on the iPhone by $200, making it one of the most expensive early adopter experiences in history (~35% in a few weeks).

Still no Beetles on iTunes, which probably doesn't mean much. Most fans already own the CD's, and there is no reason to replace those with lower-quality downloaded versions (unlike the LP->CD transition).

I suspect that the Touch will cannibalize iPhone sales since it eliminates the AT&T service limitation, but not touch (no pun intended) the market for the Classic. The nano with video is nice, but it suffers from the same problems as the Touch: not enough storage for a video unit (it takes roughly .75-1 GB per movie). Apple has a new focus on being 'on-line' all the time, with streaming video and audio. This is impacting the entire product line, from iDVD not gaining a significant upgrade, to the YouTube and small storage focus on the iPhone and iPod Touch. That's great for people walking around a college campus, but it does nothing for those long airplane trips.

What Apple should have done is put the touch screen interface on the Classic storage platform (80 or 160 GB), so you had enough storage for video and a bigger screen to watch it on. That would have put me (and a lot of other people) in the store tomorrow. As it is, I'll wait until my current one dies (iPod half-life is around 18-24 months), and then upgrade.

Summary: Typical Apple hype. Incremental product improvements. Early adopters will rush out and buy, but little compelling reason for mass upgrades. Missed opportunity.



P.S. Full disclosure: I own Apple stock.



CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Who’s our master now?

Man Arrested at Circuit City for not allowing clerk to inspect bag contents (A man after your own heart, Jerry)

“it creates an atmosphere of obedience which is a dangerous thing.”



I have a number of emails on this. Your papers, please.



From opinionjournal.com, Best of the Web for Wednesday (9th item)


Trickle-Down Ecology <http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/3788/>  Brendan O'Neill of the online magazine Spiked calls our attention to an astonishing report that appeared last week in London's Times <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article2337485.ece>  . You thought this "carbon offset" business was a scam? It turns out it's even worse, as O'Neill explains:

In [the Times article] it was revealed that the leader of the UK Conservative Party, David Cameron, offsets his carbon emissions by effectively keeping brown people in a state of bondage. Whenever he takes a flight to some foreign destination, Cameron donates to a carbon-offsetting company that encourages people in the developing world to ditch modern methods of farming in favour of using their more eco-friendly manpower to plough the land. So Cameron can fly around the world with a guilt-free conscience on the basis that, thousands of miles away, Indian villagers, bent over double, are working by hand rather than using machines that emit carbon.

Welcome to the era of eco-enslavement.

The details of this carbon-offsetting scheme are disturbing. Cameron offsets his flights by donating to Climate Care. The latest wheeze of this carbon-offsetting company is to provide "treadle pumps" to poor rural families in India so that they can get water on to their land without having to use polluting diesel power. Made from bamboo, plastic and steel, the treadle pumps work like "step machines in a gym," according to some reports, where poor family members step on the pedals for hours in order to draw up groundwater which is used to irrigate farmland. These pumps were abolished in British prisons a century ago. It seems that what was considered an unacceptable form of punishment for British criminals in the past is looked upon as a positive eco-alternative to machinery for Indian peasants today.

What might once have been referred to as "back-breaking labour" is now spun as "human energy."

What's more, this is all done so that Cameron can avoid making changes in his own lifestyle, which we are supposed to believe is destroying the planet. Global-warmism is not just some harmless enthusiasm; it can be despicable and inhuman.



space based power 

Dr. Pournelle,

Aviation week has in their current issue a short article on how space based power is approaching feasibility due to modern technology that directly fixes some of the largest barriers in the original program. Solar cell efficiency, solid state power converters, and active beam steering to replace heavy mechanical antenna gimbals are a few of the items that have improved enough to allow a system light enough to be lofted by current launchers instead of requiring massive new launchers or on-orbit assembly. The article goes on to lightly touch on some of the potential benefits of such a system, including the political and social ramifications of being able to beam essentially free power to developing nations in return for some sort of concessions or whatever. The power could be turned on or off at will, making it both a carrot and a stick in a post-oil economy world.

I can’t find the article online, but your library might have a copy you can look through.


Heh. I wrote this 25 years ago. Ah well.



This has nothing to do with the recent debate on your site, but I couldn't resist sending it to you because of the hysterically funny reference to Cory Doctorow:




-- Stephen Fleming

I love it!


DRM and ebooks / music / software

Hi Jerry,

I have been reading the http://www.scribd.com items with high interest.

My company sells software using DRM that I wrote. Many times over the last 10 years, our DRM has been cracked and our software has been posted on the cracker websites, like, http://softwarebackups.org/index.php?target=desc&progid=7484  . It is a constant humbling experience for this programmer who feeds and shelters his family with proceeds from selling copies of this software.

The software crackers sell older versions of our software for $15, we sell the latest release for $15,000 per user. We cannot stop them as their websites are in China and Russia. I suspect that you will soon have the same problem if you do not already. We have hundreds if not thousands of users in China, Russia and India who have not paid us a dime.

My take on this is that DRM is extremely hard to implement and even harder to manage. I cannot envision people trying to use DRM on ebooks or movies. It just wont work to manage DRM for small items (purchase price less than $50 ? $100 ? $250 ? $1000). After all, when I buy a CD of music, I expect that CD to work in my den CD player, my truck CD, my bedroom, etc.

I do not know how to fix this problem. It takes much time for people to write a book, create a movie, create a work of music or to create a software program. Most people don't appreciate the time that it takes and will copy the item cavalierly and then share that copy with their 100 closest friends. For nothing ! These same people would return your billfold to you with $100 cash in it if they found it in the street.


 Lynn McGuire

Clearly education is needed?


Scribd and piracy

Dr. Pournelle, I would probably have been more sympathetic to Mr. Doctorow's arguments in the scrib'd matter, had I not recently experienced the unauthorized appropriation of my own electronic IP. I found several of my blog postings on a site replete with Google ads, but with no way of contacting the site owner. Not only were my writings there without my permission but also without any form of attribution, linkage, etc. to indicate they came from anyone other than the unknown site operator. While I ultimately got my material taken down, the process took me through GoDaddy.com, an employee in the back office of a Las Vegas law firm, and a server operated by an "internet pharmacy." Thank goodness I knew nothing about the legal requirements of a DMCA Takedown Order, or I probably would have given up before I started.

After this experience, I find that I feel much more strongly about the primacy of the rights of the copyright holder over those who desire "information to be free." While I can't blame SFWA for backing down from their apparent legal jeopardy, I believe they were right to go after scrib'd in the first place. I know you've taken a lot of flak for defending SFWA, but I find your column on the subject much more reasoned and reasonable than the comments over at boingboing. Even if putting up an author's work without his or her permission might turn out to create more benefit than harm, it's simply wrong for anyone other than the author or his authorized agents to make that decision.

Keep up the good fight.

Geoff Styles http://energyoutlook.blogspot.com


Intellectual Property Rights -- Other Than Books on the Web

I recall seeing somewhere in your writings a plug for the Crosley Songwriter. Apparently its first mention was in The User's Column 323, Part 3, June 2007. This is something I also would enjoy having, BTW.

This device raises a question concerning intellectual property rights, specifically "What are you going to do with the old vinyl records once their content has been copied to CDs?" I think "fair use" permits you to do this copying, probably so long as you cannot play the vinyl record in one location while simultaneously playing the CD elsewhere (like Borland's old software rights statement). Bear in mind, though, that this is not an exhaustive legal opinion.

Are you going to sell or give away the vinyl recordings? If so, doesn't that convert your "fair use" copies into infringing copies?

Are you going to destroy and discard the vinyl recordings? If so, how do you prove to the recorded music watchdogs that your CDs are in fact "fair use" copies?

Somewhat along this line, I recall Garth Brooks complaining loudly and publicly that recording artists should be paid additional royalties each time one of their CDs was resold on the second hand market -- especially in a second hand store.

Charles Brumbelow

Good question. I doubt I'll destroy the vinyls. Actually, most of those records are long long out of print, and there is not likely to be anyone to defend any rights or claims. They're mostly folk songs, British Army songs, border ballads, and the like. I have a couple of tapes that I will never be able to replace either. Including the Ballad of Glencoe recorded at Glencoe when I was there.

They came from Fort William with murder in mind
The Campbell had orders King William had signed
"Put all to the sword"- these words underlined
"And leave none alive called MacDonald"

Of course it's not actually a traditional, and it's available on line, I presume with permission. http://jan14351.tripod.com/id36.html But I have many that aren't replaceable.


Subject: E-books

Jerry: Article in the NY Times  <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/06/
technology/06amazon.html?_r=1&oref=slogin>  about e-books. Apparently, Amazon is going their own way, with a proprietary reader with wireless connectivity (no computer intermediary necessary to buy an e-book), using a proprietary format.

From language log, an interesting anecdote about Ian McEwan trying to give away free novels: only women would take them, suggesting (female) gender bias in reading habits. Probably not true for Science Fiction.




Buckley: World War IV?


-- Roland Dobbins


Subject: For the first time in 10,000 years, farming isn't dominant


"So, firstly, modernization of large ecnomies is largely bypassing industrialization and going straight for service industries - in our western economies the service sector was about two-thirds of the economy, and has grown further (to 71.2%). But the so large parts of the world economy are moving straight to service industries that their roles have changed. Worldwide, in 1996 agriculture employed 42%, industry 21%, and services 37%. In 2006, the numbers are 36%, 22%, and 42%. So in the period, services has overtaken farming on a global scale."

I have to say that sounds like something worth pondering for a while. The dominant human activity for the last ten millenia isn't dominant any more.


An interesting observation!  Thanks.




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Friday, September 7, 2007

On Scribd


There's some interesting discussion of the legalities Scribd is trying to hide behind here:


This is the starting post. Subsequent posts by C.E. Petit makes some very interesting legal assertions. It seems the reason Scribd may be running scared is they don’t have a legal leg to stand on. I’m hoping someone like Ellison gets enough leverage to shut them down, but I’m not holding my breath.

Braxton Cook

Petit is Harlan Ellison's highly successful lawyer and his views are always worth attention. Those of you who know Mr. Scalzi will understand that to say he is unsympathetic both to my views and me personally is an understatement.

Robert Bruce Thompson, whose views are always worth attention, believes the battle entirely lost because no matter what US law may be, there remain overseas pirate harbors and always will. I concede that point, but I do not think their existence automatically implies their use. If authors do not assert their moral rights, and try to enforce their legal rights, the common practices and general moralities will change. Both morality and law tend to reflect common practices, although with some lag, hypocrisy being the tribute vice pays to virtue.

I believe that giving up now would be fatal; and as I have said before, while I regret that SFWA's actions in defending member rights inconvenienced some including Doctorow, my regret is tempered by the small magnitude of their inconveniences (which hardly rose to the level of injury). My real regret is that SFWA chose to cave in although we were on the right side. It is interesting that SFWA seems to have won the battle even as headquarters was running up the white flag.


Now back to our regular mail

Oh My!

Jerry, I’ve no ability to assess this, but if it is really so…..


Mark Huth

The above is duplicated from View because if true it is important...

Dr. Huth kindly provides this reference on the Casimir Force:



: NYT: Envisioning the Next Chapter for Electronic Books 

Excerpt from New York Times <http://www.nytimes.com> Article:

Envisioning the Next Chapter for Electronic Books http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/06/technology/06amazon.html 

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 5 — Technology evangelists have predicted the emergence of electronic books for as long as they have envisioned flying cars and video phones. It is an idea that has never caught on with mainstream book buyers.


Yes, it's interesting. I will probably comment on it in the column. Good readers are inevitable. I believe they will incorporate a browser and a telephone, but that's my view; I make a living writing, not as a consultant...


Long Time reader and subscriber Lindy Sisk says:


You make an important point about your subscribers - people with integrity will pay for what they get.

I buy a lot of ebooks, primarily because we are RV-nomadic, and have very limited space to store books. Before we did so, our house was covered in books, including some on the floor.

With ebooks, suitably backed up of course, I can re-read the book whenever I want, and don't have a physical item to store.

I will continue to pay for those. However, I think they should be substantially less expensive than they currently are. One recent ebook I purchased I paid $6.99 for. That book is available at Amazon in paperback for $9.99, and from Wal-Mart for $9.59.

Given that ebooks require no printing, no distribution, and no remaindering of unsold books, I think the cost of an ebook should be substantially lower than the current price level, while still allowing the same level of profit for author and publisher as printed material.

And I hope to see a higher level of availability of ebooks. Even after they are available as mass-market paperbacks, many books are still not available in that format, which cannot be difficult or expensive to convert to these days, when most authors are writing on word processors - and if they're not, their publisher surely has them rendered into electronic formats for editing.

As to what to do about piracy, I'm afraid I haven't a clue. I think, though, that there will continue to be a lucrative market for ebooks - and I hope to see it expanding.

Best regards, -- Lindy Sisk

I agree that mainstream publishers have a lot to learn about eBooks and price points, and they would do well to study what Jim Baen and his successors have done in this field. One assumes they will.

Note that as the release of a paperback edition kills the hardbound, it may soon come to pass that the release of an eBook edition kills the paperback. (With piracy rampant, if the search engines make it easy to get pirated books, the pirated editions may kill the eBook sales, but let's leave that out of the picture for now.)

A paperback now sells for, say, $3.95 to $5.95. A good author gets 10% of that per book, that is, 39 cents to 59 cents per book sold. The publisher gets half the cover price from the distributor, or about $2 to $3 per book. Putting those together, we get an eBook price of around $2.50 to $3.00 paid to the publisher to accomplish the same income per copy sold to both authors and publishers. Whether the author's share ought not be higher in this case depends on what the publisher does: if publishers continue to promote books, work to get them reviewed, have a sales force that goes out on the web and flogs books to readers, buys advertisements -- well you get the idea -- then perhaps the shares to author and publisher don't need radical adjustment. (I am NOT conceding the 90%/10% that is traditional; this is entirely hypothetical.)

Baen Books seems to have cottoned on to ways to make some money out of eBook sales. Not Lucifer's Hammer and Footfall paperback sales money, but decent money. One supposes that other publishers will learn.

The world changes. Whirl is king. We just hang on...

Thanks for subscribing.


I am sure that no sane and reasonable person would deny the right of an author, or any other creative person, to be compensated fairly for his works. The problem, as I see it, is that the term "intellectual property" has become something of a dirty word due to widespread abuses by various corporations. For example, due to companies such as Disney going to the government periodically to buy copyright extension laws, the term of copyright has become absurdly long. There is no reason why the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Doc Smith, and John W. Campbell, Jr., for example, should not be in the public domain by now.

Examples of IP abuse abound in many areas of creative endeavor. Protection of intellectual property is used as an excuse for DRM schemes, which then allows DVDs to disable your fast forward control so you have to sit through advertising, or impose region coding to prevent you from buying movies from another country at a lower price. Worse, these schemes have extended to Sony's infamous root kit and the invasive technology used by Microsoft to provide them free access to your computer and allow them to disable it whenever they please. I have no doubt that someone will eventually find a way to bypass all of this nonsense, but it shouldn't have been necessary to do so in the first place.

There is more at stake than simply getting books for free, though anything that would encourage impoverished people to read is a good thing. If I just want to read a story, I personally find a book more convenient than reading the work on a computer. However, when I want to look up passages dealing with, say, a particular technology or alien species and write up a set of notes, having a copy on the computer allows me to perform searches quickly and easily. This is why I like to be able to download copies of books from sites such as Project Gutenberg.

There must be some sort of reasonable middle ground that would be fair to producer and consumer alike, but with politics and powerful special interest involved, the only hope that I see for progress is for the creators of books, music, art, and so on to sell their works directly to the public under their own licenses and put the abusive middlemen out of business.

As for the plight of SF authors in particular, you have the fans on your side. This is unlike the situation in the music world, where the seller is seen as the enemy. Fans often have the chance to meet authors and talk to them, and tend to see authors as friends. So they are likely to be willing to provide support. Were you to ask your readers to write a letter or send email to a particular address in order to request that material be removed from a web site, I am sure they would be happy to do so.

Best wishes,


DMCA as written sucks; but then I said that in the column.



Dear Dr Pournelle,

Thanks for mentioning me in your latest column. I have a couple of related

Firstly I got an email from Jared at scribd which seems remarkably disingenuous so I fisked it on my blog today.


 I think that public exposure of copyright violation would be a good thing and the fact that scribd seems rather less happy makes it clear that they realize the immense negative PR hit they get if every third work you browse turns out to be noted "potential copyright violation"

Secondly, and possibly relatedly, I'm getting a lot of ebook related google hits. In part this is because I just wrote about the ebook reading capabilities of the iPod touch (summary: looks good to me for non DRMed ebooks) but also I think it may be because there do now seem to be quite a few cheap enough good enough devices coming onto the market and the rumour is that more and more publishers are going to start distributing ebooks at "reasonable" prices.

I think we'll find out soon whether enough readers are willing to pay authors for electronic works.



I too have been in correspondence with scribd officials. I too wonder if they are naive or disingenuous. In any event, it looks as if SFWA's retreat in horror was premature. Perhaps some of this will put in a bit of iron and there will be a new and vigorous SFWA defense of authors. We can hope. SFWA members who think there should be a renewed defense by SFWA of author rights should make their views known to the officers.









This week:


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Saturday, September 8, 2007


One final note on your comment about SFWA stalwarts vs. Web 2.0 supporters of information freedom:

You had noted before, and it might be worth reviewing in this context, that the flap occurred over the Labor Day weekend, when large numbers of SFWA authors were at WorldCon in Yokohama, Japan (and hence in many cases isolated from whatever level of internet work they routinely do), at DragonCon in Atlanta, or otherwise occupied with holiday plans. Whereas many of the Webbies, even if they happened to be in those locations, were probably much more firmly tuned into the web.

It's worthwhile to note that as the authors returned to their routine (and had time to reflect on the whole picture and not just EFF and the affected authors) that they supported SFWA actions and were upset that SFWA backed down.



This is SO Cool:

A toaster printer?

But of course!


"This toaster by Sasha Tseng incorporates a little message board where one can read quick notes. The message also gets “toasted” into the toast itself so it gives new meaning to “read while you eat”. "



From another conference

This is a story that I believe I have told before here, but not everyone reads (/remembers) every post. Back in 1999 I had the situation of a young (then 28) woman with a totally ruptured left anterior cruciate ligament thrust upon me. While I was able to assist her in getting that knee rebuilt, it was obvious that she could not count on it to hold up forever in her "on-her-feet" job, and she had only 2 years of high school to her name. So what career-transition advice would work?

Well, in the case of a *female* who is the American ideal of feminine athletic beauty (blond hair, blue eyes, and one of our nation's 30-or-so major ballerinas), "Marry Well" was an option I came up with and the one that she in fact took. She is now raising children for the head of a big ad agency in NYC. No similar career (and note that "Full Time Homemaker" is as much a Bureau of Labor Statistics career category as "Physician" is) is available to males, however good-looking. I assume that "FTH" accounts for the great majority of *all* American women who end up with an affluent lifestyle, and in landing this position, beauty matters a lot.


Alas an alternative not open to young males. Be smart, but if you can't be smart, it helps to be beautiful... But I am glad the story had a happy ending.


Perhaps the ability to hallucinate was of value sometime in our past? The late Julian Jaynes argued that we all hallucinated (instead of being truly conscious beings) until about 2500-3000 years ago and that schizophrenia was a remnant of that. Is the percentage of individuals who hallucinate higher among more primitive peoples? What do our anthropologists have to say about this if anything?

Louis Andrews
 Stalking the Wild Taboo

A very interesting speculation.

I recall when very young having eidetic memory and the ability to think in images without words.



Regarding "Grave's" letter about the service economy overtaking agriculture on a world basis and the consequences thereof:

The disparity in the US is substantially greater and has been around longer. I was raised in a rural area, set and harvested food gardens in a society of farmers, and helped my mother with preservation (both canning and, as I got older, freezing). My son has been raised to an urban lifestyle; we planted a few tomato plants a couple of times with variable success, but haven't done significant gardening. I've recently had cause to reflect that he knows nothing about food preservation (and the opportunity that he had to learn something about the subject passed unheeded).

Being somewhat numerate, I can extrapolate to the majority of my generation who were raised in cities, and the vast majority of my son's generation. I am also aware of the chemical (fertilizers, pesticides), biochemical (high-productivity hybrids), petrochemical (fuels), and industrial (farm implements from shovels, hoes, and rakes to high-end harvesters) technologies necessary to sustain the agricultural productivity per acre to feed 300 million people with barely 10 million active farmers.

Not sure where this is going, other than as supplemental musings to the global consequences -- and as a coda to Mr. Buckley's essay today that Mr. Dobbins linked.



Dear Jerry,

'The dominant human activity for the last ten millenia isn't dominant any more."

And for the last time, too, unless the edible food to liquid fuel policies are changed. Magnusson's post showed agro-labor concentrations were highest in sub-Saharan Africa, South & SE Asia and the Pacific. These areas are precisely where palm oil for bio-diesel is taking off, too. We can therefore anticipate retarded progress there in reducing the agricultural laborer fraction. Meanwhile the ethanol boom is raising crop prices. This is putting a huge premium on prime agricultural lands, which will lead to less productive (read: labor intensive) lands being brought back into production.

Best Wishes,



Re: Independence Gardens?


There had been some lamenting in Mail not too long ago (Thursday, August 3) about the negative effects of converting food crops to fuel and a comment as to whether we need to resurrect Victory Gardens. But as a derivative to this what would be the effect if enough people could be convinced to plant part of their yard with a plant suitable for conversion to fuel? We could call them Independence Gardens. If 50% of home owners had “buy in” and planted say 25% of their yard with an appropriate plant, how much bio-fuel could that represent? I’m sure there’s a reader out there who might wish to do some calcs. It certainly wouldn’t solve the problem, but every little bit can help.

Mike Cheek

My guess is that if you run the numbers including energy costs of collection it won't look so good.










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