Subject: Re: New ESR paper: The Magic Cauldron
From: "Eric S. Raymond" <>
Date: Sat, 26 Jun 1999 12:48:12 -0400

Stephen J. Turnbull <>:
> I don't understand the "not scale" point.  I've looked at this in a
> simple mathematical model, where "hackerishness" is the innate
> propensity to hack, and is distributed randomly in proportion to
> population.  In that case, the problem is homogeneous of degree one in
> the number of users.  In order to get less than degree one, you need
> to assume that in some sense the hackers are "first in" and as the
> number of users rises the proportion of hackers falls.

Yes, that's precisely the case as I understand it.  There are at least
two good reasons for this:

1. Having the hacker nature is not a binary attribute but a gradient -- and
people who have a lot of it aren't merely passively attracted to the culture
but actually seek it out.  Therefore, as the culture expands it tends to
cherry-pick the people with the highest aptitude early on, with a
corresponding relative decrease in the yield per unit time later.

(It would be interesting to model this process with a Monte Carlo simulation
of a whole bunch of points wandering around an attractor and see what the
actual yield curve looks like.  Hm.  I might just do that...)

2. Symmetrically, culture growth is limited by its capacity to educate
new members in cultural norms.  When the medium of education is
person-to-person contact out of limited time budgets, this introduces
non-linearities rather similar to diffusion-limited growth.

> If you take the "all bugs are shallow with enough eyeballs" argument
> seriously, it leads to the conclusion that bugfixing and feature
> provision should be increasing returns to scale in user population.

Russ has already addressed this point in a way I substantially agree with.

> I'm disappointed that old TJ so misunderstood the nature of boldness,
> enterprise, and independence of mind as to think they are encouraged
> by an overwhelming advantage in firepower.

Jefferson was smarter than you think (usually a safe bet in his case)
and the real effect is much subtler and more interesting than you propose
here.  See Jeff Snyder's essay "A Nation Of Cowards" or my own
"Ethics From The Barrel Of A Gun: What Bearing Arms Teaches Us About
The Good Life" for extended discussion.
		<a href="Eric">">Eric S. Raymond</a>

The United States is in no way founded upon the Christian religion
	-- George Washington & John Adams, in a diplomatic message to Malta.