Deadlines are significant when debating the pros and cons of proprietary and open-software development.

In former pure-market-driven days, circa 1800 C.E., a product specification and honest delivery date was announced. I know, I was there. “Stan,” said George Stephenson, “you don't have to be a Rocket scientist to appreciate my latest steam engine.” Rivals would rush to improve the spec and/or beat the “to-market” deadline. Time passes, things change. You know, you've been there. In these PC (pronounced Pursey by Shakespeare) days, software announcements are now announced as soon as someone devises a catchy acronym. The current ploy, successfully borrowed by Microsoft from IBM, tries to discourage the competition.

Part of the problem is that software predictions can be woven into a bland, grandiose, uncontroversial jargon. Who could dispute the value of a globally web-aware, multi-paradigmatic, pattern-sensitive, cross-development architectural environment? (Have I missed your favorite desideratum?)

Nevertheless, deadlines are significant when debating the pros and cons of proprietary and open-software development. The former is often driven and accelerated by corporate job pressures. The latter, alas, relying on “casual” evolution, lacks the “next-week-or-else” imperatives. Replacing the trad Vaporware, we now meet the corporate term Vampireware (related to the Death March syndrome). For once, we can pin down the originator, Trygve Lode, CEO, Lode Data Corporation. Vampireware: A project capable of sucking the lifeblood out of anyone unfortunate enough to be assigned to it. The project never actually sees the light of day, but nonetheless refuses to die.

Yet many open and closed projects eventually emerge from the agonizing shadows to our clear screens. Dum codo spero?

I Have Mail

Dan Jurca writes from California State University, Hayward:

I just read your article in the October 2000 issue of Linux Journal. Because of your interest in (2^6,972,593--1) I thought you might enjoy visiting:

By the way, this Landon (Kurt) Noll is the person who, with one Laura Nickel, discovered in October 1978 that (2^21,701--1) is prime; and soon after that, and after Miss Nickel lost interest, he discovered that (2^23,209--1) is also prime. They used the library and computer resources at California State University, Hayward to do their research and perform the long boring computations.

Also, because you appear to be interested in “long numbers” you might enjoy the following tidbit. Consider the equations:1. A^(A^A)=10^(10^(10^10)) and2. B^(B^(B^B))=10^(10^(10^(10^10)))

Reader challenge (huge prizes): Determine

a. Which of A and B is the greater, andb. the numerical difference between A and B.

I'll report Dan's solution anon. Meanwhile, I see you rushing to the sublime Mathematica. We older farts still swear by Napier's Bones.

Stan Kelly-Bootle ( has been computing on and off since his EDSAC I (Cambridge University, UK) days in the 1950s. He has commented on the unchanging DP scene in many columns (“More than the effin' Parthenon” Meilir Page-Jones) and books, including The Computer Contradictionary (MIT Press) and UNIX Complete (Sybex). Stan writes monthly at and


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