June 30, 2006

Things You Find While Cleaning Your Office

I was going through a bunch of old papers trying to find some old crap I could throw away to make room for all the new crap I keep accumulating, and I came across a document I had written for Xanadu back in 1984. This was a tome documenting the various Xanadu data structures. It was written as part of a deal we were doing to try to get some funding from the System Development Foundation. This was back in the day when we were still stupid about intellectual property and regarded all our secret knowledge as highly proprietary magic to be guarded jealously.

Our lawyer wrote a paragraph for the cover, indicating to potential readers the proprietary nature of what they were about see and reminding them of the non-disclosure agreement that they were bound by:

This document describes data structures, designs and concepts which are the proprietary intellectual property of Xanadu Operating Company, Inc. The contents of this document are not for distribution or release in whole or in part to any other party without the express permission of Xanadu Operating Company, Inc. All portions of this document are to be considered trade secrets of Xanadu Operating Company, Inc. including the fact that some previously published data structures may fall into the classification of “enfilades”.

All pretty standard stuff (except possibly for the last sentence, which I’ll admit is a bit weird). However, being the snide young whippersnappers that we were at the time, we felt that though this covered the legal bases it didn’t quite communicate the significance of the message we were trying to convey. So I added the following beneath it:


He who transgresses against the propriety of the Information contained herein shall be Cursed! Woe unto all who reveal the Secrets contained herein for they shall be Hunted unto the Ends of the Universe. They shall be afflicted unto the Tenth Generation with Lawyers. Their Corporate Bodies shall be Broken and cast into the Pit. Their Corporate Veil shall be pierced, and Liability shall attach to the Malefactors in personem. They shall suffer Ulcers and Migraines and Agonies Unimagined. Yea, Verily, for such shall come to pass against all who would Dare to Test the Powers of Xanadu unto their Doom.

Just thought it would be good to get that on the record before I lost the piece of paper again.

Charlie Smith, the head of the System Development Foundation, did not object to this. However, Jeff Ullman, one of his technical reviewers (and chairman of the Stanford Computer Science Department at the time), was entirely put off. He said, “I’m not going to read this. It’s got a curse on it!”


Any chance that document could be made available? There are still a few of us maniacs out there (http://www.sunless-sea.net) that are interested in just how Xanadu as supposed to work.

Rereading what I wrote there, I realize that I was unclear about precisely what the artifact was that I came across. The thing I found was the cover sheet with the curse on it, not the greater tome that it was attached to. No doubt that’s laying around the place somewhere too, but as of now I haven’t a clue where.

If I find it I’ll let folks know. I do recall that it had one of the more complete explications of what enfilades were all about. It goes into some detail about the Model-T and 2-D enfilade designs, though of course it predates the Ent.

(If the rest of you find the preceding somewhat opaque, see http://udanax.com/. Then at least you’ll really be entitled to be confused.)

Back in the day, I was part of a research group at the University of Chicago. We spent a lot of time reading over the Xanadu stuff, such as was released. I will never forget the words “proprietary data structure” in the context of Xanadu. While we found the things we read to be very intriguing, the insistence on not revealing anything that would actually allow anybody else to participate killed it for us. We actually made a sign that adorned the wall for many years with “PDS” in one of the circles with a bar through them.

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