% fortune -ae paul murphy

huh? knowing what I don't know

One of the things I'm sure you'll have noticed for yourself is that the accuracy and completeness of news stories seems to vary inversely with that you know about the subject -the more you know, the less accurate and/or complete media coverage generally seems to be.

Conversely, the less independent knowledge you have about some subject the more credible news reports tend to seem - at least until you suddenly need the information, act on what you remember from the news, and find yourself deeply in the wrong.

What I think is behind this is one of those oddly counter-intuitive consequences of how intelligence operates: namely that expertise manifests as the ability to see differences where people with no prior knowledge of the subject see only commonalities.

Thus, to me, a Thendrin is no more distinguishable from a Draherin than a Toyota is from a Chevy - simply because I'm neither an expert on Irish setters nor particularly interested in cars.

Notice, however, that I'm excusing the absence of knowledge as a consequence of a lack of interest and that's actually wrong: dig a bit deeper and what you'll find is this this is mostly an adaptation to capacity limitations. Given the combination of rapid growth in available information with finite learning time, our tendency to learn more about stuff we're interested in and then maintain that interest because we know more, has the exclusionary consequence that there's generally more and more about which we know less and less.

Less abstractly, whatever we do know colors our response to new or external information - thus a reporter whose political agendas and editorial pressures lean toward scoring points against the Bush administration will naturally see any hint of a developing hurricane as inevitably another Katrina while refusing to accept that the damage occured largely because first Carter and then Clinton choose to appease the environmental lobby by with-holding funding for Army Corps of Engineers projects to protect the city and its environs.

I think reporters who do that kind of thing are guilty of intellectual dishonesty - but I know exactly how it feels to do it because I'm as guilty as anyone else. With respect to the SCO case, for example, I'm convinced that I know who did what to whom and when with respect to the core contractual breach allegations and had, correspondingly, dismissed this whole Novell copyright business as utterly beside the point.


Or maybe not, because the judgement raises major questions to which I haven't got an answer.

When AT&T sold USL to Novell they transfered everything - and Novell did the same when it sold everything to SCO, which sold everything to Caldera, which became the new SCO.

But lawyers love boilerplate and it's hard to believe that all of the agreements got rewritten at each stage, so if the Judge's decision holds up - then if one agreement in this chain of transfers impossibly separated copyright from intellectual property, can we ask whether the same split is implicit in the earlier or later transfers?

I'm not a lawyer and I don't understand how that could happen or what it would mean - but it's suddenly become interesting because if it's possible to argue that the same split is implicit in either earlier or later transactions, a lot of very important deals, including Sun's 1993 royalty buyout from Novell would have to be revisited.

Most importantly, if the split is arguably present in the original transaction, wouldn't the new AT&T be compelled to review SCO's allegations with a view to settling or joining the lawsuit - against both Novell and IBM?

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.