Subject: Re: Questions about Symbolics lisp machines
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: Tue, 26 Mar 2002 03:58:08 GMT
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* Thomas Bushnell, BSG
| Why should software be exempt from the same rules as the rest of the
| world?  General Motors, for example, makes cars.

  No, they spend billions of dollars designing cars in a shroud of secrecy
  that should frighten people, and then they sell instantiations of their
  design to recover their design costs.  Then they make a profit on the
  sale of such instantiations after their cost has been recovered.  Not all
  of their designs pay off this way, and "profit" is simply a way to make
  sure that you can afford mistakes, which is what innovation is all about.
  If they had to give away the design to other competitors, new cars would
  not be made, because there is no way anybody would spend 1 billion
  dollars if they had to give away the means to produce 5 billion dollars
  to people who had not spent that 1 billion to get those means.

| Each car they produce is (more or less) that much more value added to the
| world.  And their profit is (more or less) proportional to the number of
| cars they sell.

  What utter nonsense.  Their costs are fairly fixed and there is not a
  shadow of any profit until a really large number of cars have been sold.
  After that, it is all profit.  Pricing your products and selling enough
  to break even with your development cost is damn hard.

| But they get absolutely no ongoing profit for all the great cars they
| sold in the 50s.

  The cars are unimportant.  The design is what counts.  This is the same
  as for the development of drugs.  An astonishingly huge amount of money
  goes into testing drugs, but if they could not protect their investments
  with patents and secrecy, anybody could make more of the drug at
  virtually no cost, which is precisely what happens when the patents
  expire or some rinky-dink country with a lot of criminals in power and no
  legal protection against theft of intellectual property reverse engineer
  the drugs and make cheap knock-offs.  It is not that the original drug
  company does not make money on producing cheaper pills, but they do not
  recover their research costs with cheaper pills, and thus cannot make
  _more_ drugs.  Requiring the drug companies to lower their profits to get
  closer to "mass production cost" is the same as "give us your research".

| They don't get to say "hey, you should keep paying us for that great car
| you drove back in 1953!"

  What do you think spare parts are?  Why do you think original spare parts
  cost so much more than cheap knock-offs?  Why do you think that a car
  manufacturer loses all interest in protecting you from harm if you do not
  use original spare parts?  They have invested in making things that they
  know are safe to put together.  They have no clue how safe it is to run a
  car with unoriginal parts -- other things might break because that part
  had different resonance characteristics, for instance.

> It's a good recipe to get sick and die and have someone say to you "tough
> luck. we don't owe you for past work. we paid you for that already.  you
> have no entitlement to get sick, to go on vacation, nor to retire".

| Which is *exactly* what *everyone* in *every* industry expects aside from
| computer programmers.

  That is because every other industry has _not_ conflated design and
  production.  I mean, an author gets paid for each book sold even though
  he wrote it only once, but the guy who printed the book gets paid for
  each book.  Airing rights for TV shows pay the company that made it back
  for its successful series so they can innovate and make things that do
  not succeed.  If all series or shows had to be succeesses on their own
  and only recover their costs with no option of getting paid more after
  the work had succeeded, we would have even less intelligent series and
  shows on TV.

| You are not owed for past work, and if you want to be paid for past work,
| you have to bargain for it *at the time* as a condition of doing the
| work.

  You know, in most industries, the designers of things are actually paid
  for past work.  It is called royalties.  Industrial designers are paid in
  large part by royalties.  All kinds of inventors protect their inventions
  so that they can, indeed, get paid for the use of that invention.  This
  is what the whole patent system is for.  Copyright is about paying people
  for past work.  I marvel at the strangeness of the selective ignorance
  that has managed to avoid learing about royalties in _all_ industries.

  However, in most other industries, those who produce objects according to
  a design are much more numerous than the designers.  Mass production is
  _such_ a wonderful thing, as it allows that many times more money to go
  into research and development than hand-made individual objects where the
  design work is even more miniscule compared to the production labor cost.

| Naw, what built things like Lisp Machines was the free software efforts
| of people in the MIT AI lab, until the day came that Symbolics decided
| the owned all that collective work.

  What free software efforts?  Were they "free" as in the billion-dollar
  budgets of MIT, of building the environment that made it possible?  As
  far as I can tell, MIT has always been _extraordinarily_ good at making
  money off of _their_ past work.  In fact, they are so good at it that
  they have remained a central and powerful research institution for a
  _really_ long time, much longer than most of the commercial operations
  that have spawned from their research.  Why do you think this is?

| Hogwash.  It won't be a place to make billions, but why should computer
| programmers make more than steel workers or building contractors or the
| rest of the world that doesn't get to do the job once and expect to keep
| getting paid for it?

  Because they can use their intellect to get work that they keep getting
  paid for.  On other hand, the current crop of programmers are basically
  steel workers and deserve even less money than unskilled labor because
  they are, in fact, unskilled labor in an industry where people pay very
  little for their production tools.  That does not mean that everybody in
  this industry is an unskilled worker.

| You know, people told RMS way back when "this will kill computer
| programmin as a profession".  He said "hogwash".  Well, Unipress went
| under.  But you know what?  Unipress Emacs *sucked*.  Meanwhile, there
| are all kinds of programmers making happy comfortable livings doing
| exclusively free software.

  But will they regret it later on?  And what will they do when they get to
  that point?  Maybe some of us old farts already regret giving away our
  work, or actively regret having to compete with people who have access to
  our past intellectual investment.  Not all that goes into research and
  development end up visible in the products.  E.g., what _not_ to use or
  do never gets out there.  Reverse engineering is generally not allowed
  because it uncovers information not required to _use_ the object, but
  instead is required to compete with the original designer on unfair
  terms.  The whole industrial world is chock full of these things.

| Your claim that "it won't be a place to make money" might have been
| plausible fifteen years ago, but it turns out that you're just wrong.

  Kent is not wrong just because you are also right in some respects.
  Acquire more bits.

  In a fight against something, the fight has value, victory has none.
  In a fight for something, the fight is a loss, victory merely relief.