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Week of 24 February 2003

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Monday, 24 February 2003

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10:41 - Plextor begins shipping the PX-504A DVD+R/+RW drive into the channel today, with general availability scheduled for the week of March 10th. I don't have an evaluation sample yet--I didn't think to ask for one early enough, and they ran out of samples--but I should have one on the way in shortly. I don't doubt that, like all Plextor drives, this one will be the best on the market. Plextor as a company is engineering-driven, like HP and Compaq in their glory days, and Plextor doesn't ship a product until they're sure it's the best product possible.

I have so much respect for Plextor that I am willing to accept the fact that they have chosen to support only +R/+RW as an almost certain indication that DVD-RAM and DVD-R/RW are dead technologies. I've held out longer than most in believing that DVD-RAM has a place in the market. DVD-RAM is still technically superior to DVDR/RW for writing data, but DVD-RAM lags in speed and compatibility with DVD-ROM drives and players. Apparently, DVD-RAM's technical advantages for recording data will not be enough to ensure it a place in the market, particularly once Mt. Rainier technology becomes widely available. Nor is Plextor's choice the only indication. Many others, including John Dvorak and Francisco Garcia Maceda, have declared DVD-RAM moribund, so I suppose it's time to admit I was wrong and move on.

The status of DVD-R/RW is less clear. In some respects, R/RW seems to be competing successfully. In terms of number of drives and discs shipped, R/RW is actually doing better than +R/+RW. But I think that's a temporary aberration that is true solely because the Pioneer DVR-A03 and its follow-ons beat DVR+R/+RW drives to market. DVD-R/RW has only two advantages over DVD+R/+RW--cheaper media and 4X rewrites. Both of those advantages are less significant than they seem. DVD+R/+RW discs are coming down in price, and the price gaps between -R/+R and -RW/+RW are closing fast. I don't see media cost as a good reason to choose one over the other. The 4X versus 2.4X rewrite speed advantage of -RW over +RW is largely illusory, because -RW has the advantage only if you are rewriting an entire disc. The fact that -RW does sequential rewrites and +RW random rewrites means that a +RW drive is actually faster for many rewriting tasks. The fact that +RW supports lossless linking whereas -RW does not is an almost incalculable advantage for +RW.

I don't doubt that many -R/-RW drives will continue to be sold, along with hybrid DVDR/RW drives like the new Sony unit. But I think the introduction of the Plextor PX-504A is a death knell for DVD-R/RW as well as for DVD-RAM. I'll have a lot more to say about this issue once I have a Plextor PX-504A running in the lab, but for now I will say that if you plan to buy a DVD writer any time soon, DVD+R/+RW in general and the Plextor PX-504A in particular is probably a very good choice.

 

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Tuesday, 25 February 2003

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10:30 - Here's something important from Roland Dobbins.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: That's it, I'm buying a Macintosh.
Date: 24 Feb 2003 20:45:16 -0800
From: Roland Dobbins
To: jerryp@jerrypournelle.com, thompson@ttgnet.com

That's it, I'm buying a Macintosh.

http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=7942

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.

I had an exchange of email with Allan Nelson about running Red Hat 8.0 Linux on the ASUS A7N8X Deluxe. I told him that I'd never tried it, but that I expected Linux would generally work properly, but perhaps would not support some of the more esoteric features of the board. Mr. Nelson did some further research and sent me the following:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: Some Info please
Date: Sat, 22 Feb 2003 20:07:29 -0600
From: Allan Nelson
To: Robert Bruce Thompson <thompson@ttgnet.com>

Well, I did some checking out on the web and here is a sort of summary of what I found. The NForce2 chipset is not really all that well supported in the stable 2.4 kernel series. It is possible to get most of it working by making just a few code changes to things like nic drivers and audio code. Not surprising, given that it is a fairly new chip set and that the first interation of the NForce was not all that well received. Over on the development side at about 2.5.50 or so most stuff just works. Note the qualifiers. So, I think I'm either going to have to wait for 2.5 to become 2.6 or go with another architecture. A pity. That Asus A7N8X Deluxe is one sweet board for what I want to do.

On the Intel side about the only rap on the 845 chip set is that the built in audio is not too well supported. I can go for whole weeks at a time without missing any of the variety of sounds that my computer is capable of so that's not too big a deal. I'm just going to have to get another nic per machine and a firewire port or two for each box that will work under Linux. I forsee some rather extended research on my part with perhaps the necessity to build one proof of concept machine just to show I can make the whole thing work.

Anyway, here are a couple of informative URL's on the Asus board.

http://www.linuxcompatible.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=187
This one deals with a relatively encouraging experience with RH8

http://www.kinjo.com/www/cyclox/officer.html
This guy is selling it, also with RH8

http://home.t-online.de/home/Johannes.Deisenhofer/nforce2linux.html
And this guy has a relatively pessimistic near opinion and a more optimistic in the mid term outlook.

C|NET ran a very disturbing article yesterday, entitled A Secret War. I hadn't realized how bad things have gotten with adware/spyware. Its creators are intentionally making it difficult or impossible to remove without editing the registry or jumping through other hoops that few users will be comfortable doing. For example, the article says in part:

"Some of these [spyware] programs are getting better at sinking roots deep into a computers' operating system, making removal impractical. A widely distributed marketing program called "CommonName" recently changed its code, so that removing it with software such as Spybot made it impossible for the affected computer to access the Net."

What to do about malware is another question. In the immediate sense, the answer is to run an anti-malware scanner and remove any malware you find. For the last couple of years, Ad Aware was been the program of choice for doing that. Ad Aware is now pass, however. SpyBot Search & Destroy is the new standard. If you're using Ad Aware (or nothing at all), download and install SpyBot Search & Destroy. Do it right now, before you read the rest of this page.

A longer-term solution is to lock up your system--disable scripting and so on--and to migrate away from applications like Internet Explorer and Outlook that provide fertile soil for malware. When I ran SpyBot on my main systems, it found no malware, mainly I'm sure because I don't use Outlook or IE.

The real question, though, is why Norton AV and similar products do not detect malware. I'm sure they'd tell you that malware doesn't qualify as a virus, worm, or Trojan because it is installed with the user's permission. Yeah, right. Malware is installed with our permission in the same sense that not noticing we've left the door unlocked gives a thief permission to carry off our belongings. The real reason that Norton and McAfee don't detect malware is that malware producers, unlike virus/worm/Trojan producers, are real companies that might sue. It would be trivially easy for AV products to detect malware and alert the user that it is installed. At that point, the user should be given the option to remove the malware or to leave it in place. The problem, of course, is that something like 99.99% of users would elect to delete the malware. Knowing that, malware companies would sue, and the AV companies have no desire to defend such lawsuits.

There is simply no excuse for AV products not alerting to the presence of malware. The real purpose of AV software is to alert the user that software of which he is unaware is running on his system, doing things he'd rather not be done. If malware doesn't qualify on that basis, I'd like to know why not.

18:35 - Francisco Garcia Maceda gently points out to me that I mistakenly attributed 4X rewrite speed to DVD-RW, and that the only real advantage of -R/RW is media cost. He's right, of course. CD-RW rewrites are 2X max. That's what happens when I blast out a journal entry with my brain disengaged. I appreciate the catch.

Pournelle has posted the ongoing DRM discussions among him, Roland Dobbins, and me. (That link will be dead after this week, when you can access it here.) Like many authors, Jerry wants copyright protection, but not at the expense of crippled hardware. My own feeling is that Jerry wants too long a term, so I sent him this:

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 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;"

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.

 

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Wednesday, 26 February 2003

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9:00 - Something I meant to mention about SpyBot Search & Destroy is that it includes an extensive hosts file that maps bad URIs to localhost, or 127.0.0.1. For example, one line in the S&D hosts file is

127.0.0.1    ads.bfast.com 

In the ordinary course of things, when your browser attempts to access ads.bfast.com, the first thing that happens is a DNS lookup to determine the IP address that corresponds to that hostname. This line in the hosts file prevents that lookup from happening, because addresses that are explicitly mapped in hosts always take precedence over DNS lookups. So, if your browser attempts to access ads.bfast.com, the hosts file immediately informs the browser that the address for that URL is 127.0.0.1, which happens to be your local machine. Obviously, that hostname won't be found, so the browser very quickly determines that the host is inaccessible and goes on with its other tasks. The result is that the content of ads.bfast.com (probably a banner ad) simply won't be displayed when the page is rendered. That's a good thing, and is a reasonably effect method of blocking banner ads, as well as known-malicious sites.

The problem with the S&D hosts file isn't the fault of S&D at all, but has to do with how Windows handles (or mishandles) large hosts files. The current S&D hosts file is something over 8,000 lines, which in some situations makes Windows respond very slowly. There's a fix in the FAQ section of the S&D web site, but it pertains only to standalone systems. If you have even a two-machine network, the suggested workaround is ineffective.

I've been using the S&D hosts file on several systems, including my main office system and my den system, for several days, and I haven't experienced any major problems. I had to reboot my den system last night, however, and doing that exposed what some might consider a pretty major problem. Windows 2000 started to boot normally, but when it got to "establishing network connections" it appeared to hang. The first time that happened, I let it sit for two or three minutes without any progress. I restarted the system again, and again it appeared to hang. 

Finally, I remembered that I'd added an 8,000+ line hosts file, and figured that might just have something to do with the long boot time. So I just let the boot process continue. Finally, after five minutes or so, Windows 2000 completed booting normally. So, if you restart your Windows 2000/XP system frequently, you might want to give the S&D hosts file a pass.

An article on FoxNews yesterday got my attention. It's entitled, Teacher Charged With Sex Assault on Seventh-Grade Boy, and begins, "A 35-year-old seventh-grade teacher was charged with having sex with one of her students at least 20 times at the teacher's home." The boy is now 15 years old, and the so-called assaults allegedly occurred between June 2001 and September 2002.

Now, I remember being 14 and 15 years old, and if that had happened to me at that age I'm very sure I wouldn't have considered it an assault. In fact, I'm very sure that no 14- or 15-year old male anywhere in all of recorded history on this planet or any other planet in the known universe would consider such an event to be anything other than unimaginably good luck. Teenage males desperately want to have sex. All of them, without exception. It's hard-coded in human DNA.

I've said this before, but I'll say it again. Establishing a de jure "age of consent" is stupid. Nature takes care of that via a phenomenon called "puberty" and there is no good reason to override nature. Educate kids, sure. Teach them about birth control and venereal diseases, absolutely. But when their equipment starts to function, it should be up to them to decide what to do with it, and when. The emphasis should be on avoiding pregnancies and venereal disease. Attempting anything beyond that is simply futile. Having sex with a child is reprehensible, but these are not children we are talking about, whether legislators (or the parents) care to admit that or not.

So now this woman faces twenty years in prison for doing something that, although ill-considered, should not be illegal in any rational system. Fire her, certainly. "Thou shalt not have sex with your students" is a perfectly valid rule for school teachers (or university professors, for that matter). There are certainly potential color-of-authority issues, although such things are more likely to come into play with older men and teenage girls than the converse. But twenty years in prison is a ridiculously harsh penalty for an action that was, after all, consensual on the part of both people involved. To argue otherwise is to argue that teenage males do not want to have sex or that they are children not entitled to make that decision, either of which is both stupid and futile.

10:51 - Here's one of those news stories that may not seem important at first, but could turn out to be very significant. The Inquirer reports that LG is entering the DVD writer market. Right now, Sony effectively has that market all to itself right now with its $340 DRU-500A DVDR/RW drive. Plextor is just about to introduce their $275 PX-504A DVD+R/+RW, which should grab some serious market share from Sony. And now LG is going to introduce a DVD-everything writer at CeBit. As The Inquirer says, "expect to see the market commoditized in about an hour."

Maybe not that soon, but soon enough. LG is a volume player, and as always they'll make their money on shipping large numbers of drives at low margins. When it is introduced, I'd expect the LG drive to sell for noticeably less than the Sony and Plextor drives, perhaps something in the $200 to $225 range street price. If not exactly a commodity price, that's at least low enough to jump-start DVD writer sales big time. With large numbers of drives shipping, the price of media will drop rapidly as well.

Expect a flood of relatively inexpensive drives from LG and Lite-On, which will put severe price pressure on the top-tier brands. A year from now, I expect CD writers to be an endangered species (although media will continue to be available for many years). We'll probably see Pacific Rim writers selling in the $100 range, with the top-tier brands in the $125 to $150 range. Likewise, I expect to see name-brand write-once discs selling for under $1.00 each and rewritable discs for perhaps $1.50 to $2.00 each.

There's no real reason for DVD writers and discs to be so expensive, other than low production volumes. Once volumes ramp up, manufacturers will benefit both from economies of scale in production and from having much larger unit sales to distribute their fixed costs. DVD technology itself is a bit more expensive than CD technology because of licensing/royalty issues, but not enough so to make much difference in the commodity pricing that's sure to result.

Cheap DVD writers and discs are the nightmare of the MPAA. Just as the RIAA hates and reviles cheap CD writers and discs, the MPAA will soon be screaming about cheap DVD writers and discs. In theory, it's impossible to duplicate a DVD-Video disc on a DVD writer. In practice, of course, it's trivially easy. So it seems that soon a lot of people will be duping commercial DVDs onto $1.00 discs and trading them amongst friends. The movie industry will soon have to face the reality that's already staring the music industry in the face. Expect even louder calls from the MPAA for mandatory Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). That's doomed to fail, of course, but you can expect the MPAA to go down fighting.

11:37 - Arrrghhh. Buffy is no more. There goes my last reason for owning a TV set. They're still undecided about continuing Buffy without Buffy, but somehow I can't see Kennedy the Vampire Slayer as viable.

And another CNN article, this one about the SUV witch hunt. The real reason these people are attacking SUVs is because they're much safer than cars, which they think isn't fair. Here's the truth of the matter. In a severe collision between a car and an SUV,  there is a much, much higher probability that people in the car will be killed or seriously injured, whereas people in the SUV will probably survive, and any injuries they suffer are more likely to be minor. It's not a small difference, either. I can't be troubled to look up the difference, but it's huge, something like 50:1 or 100:1.

Anyone who understands basic physics understands why this is true. In a collision between two vehicles, one of which weighs X and the other 3X, guess which one is gonna win. I like it that way. I wouldn't have Barbara drive anything but an SUV, and that's one of the major reasons. I regard it as a form of insurance. We pay more for our vehicles, more for gasoline, tires, and maintenance, more for insurance, and so on. Someone who drives an econobox enjoys the benefit of lower prices for everything, but assumes the risk that in an accident he will come off second-best.

Barbara used to drive a Toyota Camry that weighed something like 1,600 pounds. That made me nervous. I'm much more relaxed with her driving a vehicle that weighs 5,500 pounds full up. If Barbara is ever in a serious accident, I hope the other guy is driving something light and collapsible, because that will cushion the impact for Barbara. I don't care if the accident is her fault or the other guy's fault. I don't wish the other guy ill, but then I don't really care what happens to him either, when Barbara's life and safety is in the balance. If his death is the price for Barbara avoiding serious injury, well that's an exchange I'm willing to make. If he doesn't like it, let him drive a heavier vehicle.

13:42 - More on DRM and copyright. In response to Pournelle's comments about copyright terms, I sent him the following:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: More on copyright
Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2003 18:25:54 -0500
From: Robert Bruce Thompson <thompson@ttgnet.com>
To: Jerry Pournelle

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.

There has subsequently been a flurry of messages back and forth, which Jerry asked that I not post. But my arguments have swayed him, albeit not as I intended. Jerry now says that I've made him a convert and that he will now support the Authors' League position of Life Plus 90 Years. Hmmm.

 

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Thursday, 27 February 2003

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8:03 - I'm trying to write a section on configuring sound cards under Linux. The problem is, I don't know what to write about. My experience thus far with sound cards under Linux has been either (a) it just works, or (b) I can't make it work no matter what I try. So far, here's all I've come up with for that section:

Code Listing:

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

That so far seems as effective as anything, which is to say not very.

Most of the stuff I've found on the web is either extremely outdated (as in 1999 or 2000), or pertains to configuring or troubleshooting specific sound cards with specific Linux distributions. What I'm about to write is something like, 

"Linux support of audio adapters is very much specific to the particular Linux distribution and audio adapter you are using. You can avoid most audio configuration problems by making sure your sound adapter is explicitly supported by the Linux distribution you intend to run. Recent Linux distributions automatically detect and configure many recent sound adapters. If your sound adapter is not detected but is AC97-compliant, you may be able to enable sound by using the i810 audio module, which supports many AC97 audio chipsets to provide at least minimal audio functionality. If you have an older audio adapter, or a recent adapter that is not supported by your Linux distribution, you may be able to use the adapter by installing the ALSA ..."

I would then weasel out of the problem by recommending that users check the hardware compatibility list and support pages for their specific Linux distribution and version, as well as the web site for the audio adapter manufacturer.

So, what do you think? Am I missing the point entirely? Is there something additional I should be saying? Let me know over on the messageboard.

The following is extracted from an exchange of many messages between Jerry Pournelle and me. Jerry's comments are in indented monospace, with mine proportional. I've done some minor editing for readability, but nothing that affects the substance of our exchanges.

> As I said you have made a convert of me. Not an inch.
>
Repeal "progressive" taxes and I'll think about such
> limits on my ability to profit from my work.

Of course, we should repeal progressive taxes, and the chance of that happening are about the same as a comprehensive overhaul of copyright, so we're talking hypotheticals here anyway. No reason to get upset.

In practice, of course, copyright is probably doomed anyway. What is possible to enforce when few men own printing presses is impossible to enforce, or even track, when every man has his own press.

> You have made a convert. In future I will support the
> Author's League position of life plus 90 years.
>
> It beats hell out of being robbed.
>
So anyone can now publish The Prince and not pay me,
> because the core stories were done in the 70's.
>
> And since all the money I get comes when I first write
> it under your scheme you can tax the shit out of me for
> being rich and then see that I can't get anything for
> my work when I am 70 and not writing so fast.
>
> Thanks a whole bunch

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.

> You get rid of progressive taxation and social security
> and I'll consider your alternative.

Okay, I'll get started on that.

> So what is your thirst for being able to make money off what I write? While
> I am alive? Why do you merit my work? Yours isn't valuable for more than 10
> years. Neither is most of my non-fiction. Of my fiction, most isn't valuable
> for long either although sometimes it will surprise me.
>
> You are saying in essence that I ought to have spent my time writing stuff
> that would make money NOW, and totally neglecting stuff that takes years to
> make any decent return.

Eh? I don't want to make money on what you write.

As to "for long", isn't 28 years long enough for an author to have the exclusive right to commercial use of his work? I think it is, and I'd feel the same if I wrote fiction. We obviously differ on this.

> Fiction is hard work. A lot harder than non-fiction, and most of it isn't
> worth a lot, and of what is, it may take many years for it to get there. The
> first stories in The Prince didn't earn much. The volume incorporating all
> of them is making me some money.

I don't doubt that. Writing is hard work, period, as we both know. But the laborers who built your house don't earn a continuing annuity for their work. Nor does the doctor who treats your illnesses, nor just about anyone else. I'm happy to hear that your collection is earning money.

> You tax my savings, you make me pay for other people's retirement, and you
> begrudge me the right to have anything that accumulates value. I bet you
> won't let me confiscate your bank account after 14 years.

Come on, Jerry. We all pay for other people's retirements, and I don't in any sense begrudge you the right to have anything that accumulates value. You can do what everyone else does: buy stocks or mutual funds, or otherwise invest a portion of your income.

You are as aware as I that so-called "intellectual property" is a wholly artificial construct. If you confiscate my bank account or steal my car, you deprive me of the use of that asset. If I make a copy of one of your books, I have not deprived you of the use of that book. I am using your ideas without paying for them, which is a very different thing than depriving you of the use of a physical asset.

So am I in favor of eliminating the ability of authors to profit from their work? Obviously not. I am an author. However, I realize that my ability to profit from my work is based upon an implicit deal. I am given the right to profit from my work for a "limited" term, after which and in return for that protection, I give up my exclusive right to the use of my work and ideas. It seems to me that our only argument is about what period of time is reasonable to consider "limited", and furthermore our opinion of how short a period is necessary to fulfill the original purpose of copyright law, which was to encourage writers to write.

Let me ask you this: if when you were first starting out as an author, the period of copyright protection had been only, say, seven years, would you have not chosen to be an author? What about if it had been 14 years? Or 28 years? I'd be willing to bet that if you answer that question honestly, you'd say that you would have probably have chosen to write for a living even with only seven years of protection, let alone 14 or 28. If that's the case, does not the shorter term fulfill the original goal of copyright?

> It is impossible for me to protect my home from home invasion when every man
> is armed. I take it you would then give up laws against home invasion as
> unenforceable?

Well, if that in fact were the case, would laws against home invasion serve any purpose?

To my way of thinking, laws are effective only in the sense that they codify what most people consider reasonable behavior. The fact that a law against common behavior exists may have some effect on how many people engage in that behavior and how frequently, but it cannot eliminate the behavior. Take for example, speeding. Most people drive the "free market" speed limit regardless of what the signs say. They do that not because they're criminals, but because they perceive unreasonable speed limits as, well, unreasonable.

It's impossible to stem the tide of copyright violations, simply because most people do not consider violating copyright to be wrong. Your own built-in morality-ometer will tell you the same thing. Have you ever knocked off a copy of a CD or a software package and given it to a friend? Or installed software on more machines than you were licensed to use it on? Of course you have. So have I, so has everyone, and we're not criminals, no matter what the law says. We are acting reasonably, and that's the problem with enforcing copyright.

Would you (or I) go into business duplicating CDs and selling them on street corners? No, and it's not because it's illegal to do that or that we're afraid we'd be caught and punished. It's because doing that would be wrong, and we both know it. OTOH, if I knock of a copy of a CD and give it to you, that's not wrong, and we both know it.

> If it had been only 28 years non-renewable I would have concentrated on
> journalism.

Which is in fact an argument in favor of longer terms. However, I suspect you're pretty unusual in that regard.

> Children's books, for example, never earn much, but they do earn it for a
> long time. So does most science fiction unless it just earns essentially
> nothing.

And the argument there is interesting, because the only titles likely to be "cherry-picked" are those that are big earners. A children's book that stays in print for many years but sells in very small numbers is likely to continue to be available only from the original publisher. Why would I, as a "robber publisher", waste resources on such books when I could devote those resources to something with a higher return?

> The notion of "real property" as private property is as much a construct as
> intellectual property. The "natural" thing is a commons. The result of a
> commons is not good for the community.
>
> Why is your "right" to a chunk of land any more "natural" than mine to my
> works?

Ooh, this could get very interesting. Twenty plus years ago, I collaborated on a book for the Libertarian Party entitled _Tragedy of the Commons_, so I have thought about the issue somewhat. I agree that in general commons are not good for the community, but there are certainly exceptions.

As to my land versus your book, I propose we treat them exactly the same. I have the absolute right to my physical land forever, and you have the absolute right to your physical book forever. However, after a reasonable period, which we can debate, anyone is free to copy your book, just as he is free to copy my land.

10:25 - Amongst other things this morning, I got Jerry Pournelle's Current View and Current Mail pages set up to use a redirector. I did that in self-defense, because the way Jerry had been doing things made it difficult and ugly to link to his current pages. Jerry had been updating the currentview.html and currentmail.html pages directly during the week. Then, every Monday morning when he rolled his pages, he'd copy the current pages to numbered pages (e.g., view246.html) and then start the new week by adding material to currentview.html and currentmail.html. That meant if I wanted to link to something Jerry had written, I had to put two links in, one that was valid for the current week and dead thereafter, and one that was valid for the future but dead now. Ugh.

Jerry's site is now set up with two redirectors, one for the Current View and one for the Current Mail. I hope he decides to leave things the way I've set them up (which I did with his approval, of course). It should would make it a lot easier to link to his pages.

Barbara ended up not going to work, and I didn't go over to visit my mother. We've been sitting here all morning listening to cracking sounds as branches fall off the trees in our yard. No major power failure yet, but we keep expecting it. The UPS have been chirping periodically all morning, but so far all of the power glitches have been minor. That may not last.

 

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Friday, 28 February 2003

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16:46 - Our power failed about 13:00 yesterday, due to a severe ice storm. Duke power reports 284,000 homes in North Carolina lost power, and nearly half of those are in Winston-Salem. Many people are likely to be without power until early next week. We were lucky. Our came back on about 15:20 today. I've gotten the network back up, but Barbara and I are both buried. In 26 hours, I got 444 new email messages, a significant number of which are things I need to deal with.

Our natural gas logs worked fine. We fired them up as soon as the power failed. They gave us one bad moment last night about 21:30 when they just died for no apparent reason. Barbara and I walked the dogs, and when we came back I tried restarting them. They fired up normally and ran uninterrupted until the power came back on this afternoon. We fired up the generator about 13:00 today to get the freezer and refrigerator cooled back down. It worked fine as well.

We had tree limbs all over the yard, but we've dragged most of them out of the way, so we're able to get in and out. I went over to visit my mother this morning, and while driving was nearly hit by a chunk of ice falling from a tree. It looked to be about a foot square and several inches thick. Fortunately I was driving down the middle of the road, straddling the double yellow line, trying to stay out from under the tree limbs, some of which fell as well. Barbara is cooking an early dinner as I write this. It'll be nice to get back to normal.

 

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Saturday, 1 March 2003

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10:03 - Thanks to everyone who pointed out that my post yesterday afternoon was in the 1 March slot rather than the 28 February slot. I guess those 26.5 hours we spent without power just felt more like two days than one day. Barbara has more details and pictures posted on her page.

The morning paper reports that the power outages peaked yesterday morning at more than a third of a million homes without power, most of which are in Forsyth (us) and Guilford counties. The number of homes without power in the city of Winston-Salem peaked at 137,000 at 11:00 yesterday morning, but were down to just under 100,000 by 11:00 yesterday evening. There are many thousands more in Forsyth County outside the Winston-Salem city limits. Duke Power has thousands of workers trying to get power restored, but says many homes will remain without power until the middle of next week.

There are always tragedies during such widespread power losses, and this time was no exception. People will do anything to keep warm, including such grossly stupid things as burning charcoal grills indoors. There have been numerous reports of fires, deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning, and so on. Many of them are all the more tragic because shelters were available. I suspect that, as usual, many of the deaths occurred because people insisted on staying in their own homes rather than going to a shelter. The reason for that is often that shelters refuse to accept pets. Why do those in authority refuse to understand that people are no more going to leave their pets to freeze to death than they would their children? A no-pets policy is simply viciously wrong-headed, and invariably results in people dying. There are always numerous shelters open. Why can they not designate some shelters as "Pets Allowed"? If necessary, they could designate shelters "Dogs Only Allowed", "Cats Only Allowed", and so on. They could also designate a few shelters "No Pets Allowed" for those with severe allergies to animals. But an absolute "No Pets" policy kills a lot of people.

We were fortunate. We have natural gas logs and a generator. The outside temperature never got much below freezing, and our gas logs running on low produce 24,000 BTUs, enough to keep the entire house reasonably warm. Even in the back bedroom, it never got much below 60 F (15 C). The last time we lost power for any significant time was in the big ice storm of 1996. We were without power for three days, and many people were without power for as much as a week or 10 days. During that one, the outside temperatures were down around 10 F (-12 C), and we hadn't had the natural gas logs installed yet. We ran out of firewood, and were debating whether to burn books or furniture.

It was after that storm that we decided we'd never risk that happening again, and so installed the gas logs and bought a generator. We also always keep enough firewood on hand to keep the house at least minimally heated for a week or so, just in case the natural gas fails. We didn't use the wood burning fireplace this time. The natural gas logs were sufficient. Even if the outside temperature had fallen near zero, the gas logs running on high (40,000 BTUs) would have been sufficient. Actually, they'd probably be sufficient to prevent our pipes from freezing and to maintain livable conditions in the den, kitchen, and hall bathroom even if the temperature got to -40 or so, which isn't going to happen around here.

We did finally fire up the generator about 1:00 p.m. yesterday, because we were worried about the food in the freezer and refrigerator. The generator did give us a bad moment, as it refused to start despite repeated pulling on the starter rope. Barbara saved the day, though. She dug around in the garage and came up with a can of ether starting fluid. One good spray of that into the generator's air cleaner, one yank on the starter rope, and it fired up instantly. Reminder to self: always keep a can or two of ether starting fluid handy. That stuff must have an octane rating of about 10, so it pre-detonates on the slightest excuse. Useless for fueling an engine, but great stuff for getting it started.

More on French military prowess:

"I'd rather have a German division in front of me than a French one behind me." -- General George S. Patton

I'd feel a lot better about our imminent invasion of Iraq if George Patton were leading our forces. He was the best tactical commander the US had in WWII, and very possibly the best ever. The Nazis certainly thought so. They couldn't believe that the US would be stupid enough to dispense with the services of a brilliant commander like Patton simply because he'd slapped a private soldier. The Allies took advantage of that, putting Patton in command of the wholly imaginary First US Army Group (FUSAG) during Operation Overlord. That tied down a lot German resources during the Normandy invasion, because they were convinced that George S. Patton was about to descend on them with an entire army group. By the time they realized the deception, the Allies had a foothold on the continent and Germany had lost the war. Patton was a warrior. I wonder how many of those we have left.

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Sunday, 2 March 2003

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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.