What do you do after you win?

Eric Raymond has popularized the Ghandi quote (“First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”) in the context of the open source movement. Danny O’Brien had a great keynote at OSCON on this topic.

I was thinking about the parallels of the open source movement to the object-oriented movement in the 80’s. In the beginning, there was Smalltalk (with all deference to the Simula roots — that was the ignoring part) which was the “pure” object-orientation. Then came Objective-C which was the “evolutionary hybrid”. I sat through the obligatory “What is Object-Orientation” slide (1. Encapsulation. 2. Polymorphism. 3. Inheritance) thousands of times. That was the laughing part.

Then came the fighting part. Object orientation ceased being a binary (is or ain’t) discussion — they were all “hybrids”. C++ and Java. Perl and Python. PHP. We got object oriented COBOL. And object oriented Fortran. And, of course, object oriented Basic.

When every programming language is object-oriented (for some definition of object-oriented), one has reached the “then you win” stage. Then what happens? We have no guidance from Gandhi.

In a similar vein, following the ignoring phase, we got Linux (which arguably began the laughing phase) and the thousands of “What is Open Source” slides (1. Run 2. Study 3. Distribute 4. Modify) — followed by the hybrids in the fighting phase. And then, one sees the Microsoft Windows XP release notes (KB306819). From which I quote:

Copyright 1985, 1988 Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.

And also

Copyright 1998-1999 Greg Roelofs. All rights reserved.

which presumably refers to an open source implementation of PNG. There are more such copyright statements embedded therein. So, for some definition of “open source”, Microsoft Windows XP is open source. That is to say, it contains open source components — it is “hybrid open source”. I guess that marks the “then you win” phase.

Then what happens? Well, in Gandhi’s case, one needs politicians, and the work of governing must go on, but the work of the revolutionary is done. In the object-oriented (and open source) case, there is implementation work related to specific technologies, products, and industries — but the work of evangelism is done. You can still attend OOPSLA — but the “What is Object-Orientation” presentations are gone.

Different people will define victory differently. But, given that you think you’ve won, then what do you do?

You do something else.

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Lead Poisoning

When I was in junior high, I had a class called Problems of Civilization (today it would probably be called Social Studies). One of the things I learned was that the Roman Empire collapsed because of plumbing.

You see, the word plumbing comes from the Latin plumbum which means lead; plumbing was made of lead. Which meant that people who could afford plumbing (the rich Romans) and the members of their household, were exposed to lead poisoning — which causes mental retardation and various forms of dementia. Hence the notorious Roman stories about Caligula and Nero and others.

Wikipedia attributes the lead poisoning to the use of lead acetate as a wine sweetener. But the idea that a technological innovation that seems so indispensable (like plumbing) could be the cause of the collapse of an entire civilization, is a much more intriguing meme. It suggests the following question: What ubiquitous and seemingly indispensable technology is potentially the cause of the collapse of our civilization?

I think the answer is advertising. Wikipedia’s entry is quite damning. Here’s a quote — the rest of the exposition is equally disconcerting:

Over the years, the public perception of advertising has become very negative. It is seen a medium that inherently promotes a lie, based on the purpose of the advertisement – to encourage the target audience to submit to a cause or a belief, and act on it to the advertising party’s benefit and consequently the target’s disadvantage. They are either perceived as directly lying (stating opinions or untruths directly as facts), lying by omission (usually terms or conditions unfavorable to the customer) or portraying a product or service in a light that does not reflect reality.

Spam and splogs are merely the latest incarnation of lead poisoning. (Advertising is about generating leads). That’s why we don’t have television at home. We’re trying to protect our children from lead poisoning. It’s not easy. There are a lot of transmission vectors.

As long as people want to get paid for providing content, the money has to either come from viewers or advertisers. I favor charging the viewers; like cable television or Netflix — then we get to decide what we see. I’m also hopeful that ideas like AttentionTrust can divert the money flow in ways that will provide more control to the viewers.

As long as we rely on advertising to fund content, we’re going to get advertising in our content. And if viewers are unwilling to pay for content, isn’t that a comment on the value of that content to those viewers?

I wonder what an ad-free Google account would cost.

Pro-Am

The latest issue of the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing has an article entitled Between Expert and Lay — talking about the blurring of boundaries between amateur tinkerers and professionals. The article used the word Pro-Am to describe this blend.

I had never heard the word before. It is not a new coinage. The word is apparently used in the sports world. I guess that says something about me.

The article cited this essay / study / book as a reference. The essay is entitled The Pro-Am Revolution.

The first sentence of the essay mentions Linux. The discussion begins with open source. However, having introduced the topic via Linux and open source, the article goes on to explore the idea of collaborating amateurs blending into professional domains for a variety of other activities — and open source fades out. In fact, on page 31, when surveying fields of endeavor for pro-am activity, the list includes photography, playing a musical instrument, many others, and “maintaining a web-site”. That’s as close to “programming” as anything on the list gets.

There are some interesting observations. Like the fact that men are much more likely to be pro-ams than women. This is not restricted to any particular field of endeavor. Which seems to suggest that those fields of endeavor where “pro-amishness” is rising will tend to have fewer women involved.

Another observation is that most of the fields of endeavor tend to be age specific. Different fields, different ages. What’s the age range for pro-am software, I wonder?

Recommended. It ends with this observation:

Knowledge, once held tightly in the hands of professionals and
their institutions, will start to flow into networks of dedicated
amateurs. The crude, all or nothing, categories we use to carve up
society – leisure versus work, professional versus amateur – will need
to be rethought. The Pro-Ams will bring new forms of organisation
into life, which are collaborative, networked, light on structure and
largely self-regulating.

Dieting

Gina’s on the Warren program.

Perhaps I’d better explain that one. It isn’t actually the Warren program, we just call it that. It’s actually the Apex Fitness program. It’s just that the guy we work with at our local gym is called Warren. As people are wont to, we prefer the personal touch to the corporate branding. Hence, the Warren program.

Anyway, I’ve just finished my 12-week tune-up, and Gina’s in the middle of hers. We’re always astonished by how easy it is to lose weight and get in shape by following the Warren plan. Gina was commenting on this last night, and said something that reminded me of IT (as most things do). She has been thinking about this study from the National Institute on Aging and worrying that our children will have lower life expectancies than we do.

(There’s a scary chart on page 2 showing our increasing caloric consumption.)

“Americans don’t need to be fat.” Gina said. “But there are whole industries devoted to making them fat and keeping them fat.” She then went on to catalog those industries, and point out how it was more profitable for them to make sure we over-eat — and profit growth would require ever more obesity.

This is the part where I’m thinking: isn’t the packaged food industry just like the packaged software industry? (Yes, Gina hears everything through physical filters, and I hear everything through software filters.) Well, the average family spent $76.39 buying 31.8 pounds of salty snacks. We consumed around 6.2 million pounds of confectionery at a cost of around $13.5 billion. Clearly, snacks run over $2 / pound. But, apples, say, run around 30 cents a pound. Or, as in this article, 13.6 million pounds of peaches at $4.5 million would indicate that 30 cents / pound is a pretty good estimate for fresh fruit.

And, of course, fruit is better for you. So, here we are. Fresh fruit is healthier than packaged snack foods, costs about 8 times less (per pound), is just as convenient to pack in a lunch box or eat on the run, doesn’t result in environmentally unfriendly litter, but isn’t manufactured as much as grown. Fresh fruit isn’t branded, packaged snacks are.

Open source software development is more like growing software than manufacturing it. Why would it be hard to believe that it might be 8 times cheaper and better for your IT health? Well, there is at least one industry (maybe more) whose profitability depends on convincing you otherwise.

That’s when they start to make processed fruit snacks and marketing fruit juices. Or am I mixing metaphors again?