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A new book - Journal of Omnifarious

Jun. 17th, 2004

11:30 pm - A new book

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I got a new book in the mail the other day: "Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman".

I will posit that this is probably the most important work of philosophy to have been produced in the last 20 years. Every single person in the US should be familiar with the ideas in this book. The politics of software will have a deep and fundamental impact on everybody's lives. Increasingly the architecture of the spaces we move in is made of software. The limitations and freedoms of everyday life are controlled by software. Our social spaces (like this one) are increasingly controlled by software. So, understanding its nature from a political standpoint is very important.

The introduction of this book was written by Lawrence Lessig. If you doubt the importance of software, I would suggest you go read his book "Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace".

If nothing else, perhaps it will help you understand why many computer scientists and hackers feel that it is an absolute, non-negotiable requirement that any software for voting machines must fit the Free Software definition.

Current Mood: [mood icon] thoughtful
Current Music: Coldplay - Yellow

Comments:

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From:scottscidmore
Date:June 18th, 2004 01:43 am (UTC)
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Not to mention that 20 years from now it's likely to be biological information that forms a large part of our society.

I'm not sure that Free Software is needed for voting machines, just Open Source. For practical purposes, merely being able to study the code is the main important item, modifying it would seem to be secondary or even of no real use.

There's a lot of material for discussion in the topic. Even taking the "Free, as in free speech, not free beer" view you quickly run into the area of IP. When patents were first being issued, they referred to ways of arranging or processing matter in physical (broad sense) ways. Now, as you said, it is information that is the 'material' being manipulated Avoiding the issue of whether or not patents are desirable (Jefferson didn't like the idea at first, but changed his mind later - but the limited duration was important to him), there's still a lot to argue over in the area. For instance, why should one type of information - 'code' be free, and another - 'data' as well, while still another type 'personal information' not be?

I'd personally rate Lessigs book of Stallman's, but they are both are important reading.

(BTW - the Amazon reviews for :essig include this bit of text Keane, author of Tom Paine: A Political Life (1995) and editor of Havel's Power of the Powerless (reprint 1990) )
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From:omnifarious
Date:June 18th, 2004 09:22 am (UTC)
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Stallman actually thinks that information can be divided up into a small number of categories that have different rules apply to them. I rather agree with him and the categories he's chosen. Though, since he tries hard to make sure all of his public statements are focused on the idea of Free Software, it's difficult to find his statements about other kinds of information.

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From:agnosticfont
Date:June 18th, 2004 08:00 pm (UTC)
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I often wonder if the inventors of other world changing inventions (like the airplane, satellites, radio, TV, penicillin etc) thought of themselves with the glowing self praise that software engineers seem to do.

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[User Picture]
From:omnifarious
Date:June 18th, 2004 09:03 pm (UTC)
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There is no reasonable response to your musing.

In my opinion, all of those inventions even taken together have a small fraction of the importance of software. Software is the art of arranging matter so that it interacts with itself and the rest of the world in a manner designed to accomplish a specific purpose. All technology, any invention at all, can be thought of as software. It's all figuring out new and novel ways of programming matter to do things we find useful.

As for my own ego... I feel that I am a better than average programmer. Significantly better. But, I also know that many programmers feel that way, and they can't all be right. In the end, I don't really care how good a programmer I am as long as what I make is useful to others and largely works. And that's pretty much how I feel about other programmers as well.

So, while I take pride in working with a technology that I feel is extremely important, I would be happy working with it even if I didn't feel it was that important.

I find your comment to actually be a really rude way of dismissing a point that I think is valid with an inflammatory and tangental argument.

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From:agnosticfont
Date:June 19th, 2004 06:46 am (UTC)
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I apologize if you felt I was attacking you. Really it was a comment about the IT industry as a whole.

It seeems that we are great and standing around and admiring ou work. Whilst ignoring the fact that 90% of it is delivered late, over-budget or lacking required functionality.

Sure we do some great stuffbut out of all the code written in the last 20 years I can only think of a few examples that have seriously impacted normal peoples lives (and less examples that are free).
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From:omnifarious
Date:June 19th, 2004 07:51 am (UTC)
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I think that software designed with a grand, overarching plan is doomed to failure. I think the best software starts small, and grows with the needs of the people who use it.

Small software affects people's lives in important ways all the time. I think LJ is a great example. LJ is not small now, but it started that way. The people who make it have had to grow the software, and be very careful about the features they add and how they work lest they destroy the community. I think LJ, and things like it, are having a huge impact on people's ability to create and maintain social networks.

For example, I think because of LJ I will be able to build a network of friends here in Seattle within a couple of years that would've taken me 10 years to build before something like LJ. That's not a small impact. And it's an impact that relies on things like Apache, Linux, perl, and XML that don't seem to have any obvious effect on the lives of the average person.

But, I agree, software people could get a lot better at what they do. And I also agree with you that the field is ratherly over self-congratulatory.

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