Web Page

Summer is the season for circus camp. Yesterday was the end-of-session show. In preparation for which, Chris mocked up a schedule and roster for the various events. It turned out that as the show took shape, changes needed to be made (as they always do). The biggest change came with some of the aerialist routines; specifically the Spanish Web act. The schedule and roster needed to be updated.

“I need a new Web page”, said Chris.

By which, of course, she meant the piece of paper upon which were written down the details of the Spanish Web act.

Yes, chez nous, the meaning of “Web page” is seasonal.



Cutting the tree down is the easy part.

It feels like you’ve made a lot of progress when you yell “Timber” and hear the big crash.

But getting the stump out is usually the bigger job.

Paying if you will

Gina is reading Dickens again. David Copperfield, this time. Dickens is one of her favorite authors. The difficulty that arises when Gina is reading Dickens, is that every 15 minutes or so she bursts out in peals of laughter, or exclaims “Just so!” and says “R0ml, you have to hear this.” Sometimes it’s hard to write code when Dickens is in the house.

Here’s the one that made me pause.

In case your Dickens is as rusty as mine, here’s what’s happening: Miss Trotwood wants to send David to school in Canterbury, but he can’t board at the school, and she doesn’t approve of any of the nearby boarding houses. Her lawyer, Mr. Wickfield, offers to take him in. She demurs. Until:

“Come! I know what you mean,” cried Mr. Wickfield. “You shall not be oppressed by the receipt of favours, Miss Trotwood. You may pay for him, if you like. We won’t be hard about terms, but you shall pay if you will.”

Which, of course, made me think about both the Internet and Open Source.

I guess both the Internet and Open Source software would have fared better if Victorian sensibilities had survived. Imagine Miss Trotwood being offered capable software for free. Imagine Miss Trotwood being offered the use of an online service for free. Obviously she would demur. What kind of person would willingly allow themselves to be oppressed by the receipt of favours? Certainly, no respectable person. No, a respectable person would will to pay. There’s no need for the provider to be hard about terms.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that, in fact, one of the (very few) things that Gina and I have in common, is our nineteenth century sensibility — mine deriving more from Conan Doyle than Dickens (which makes me a trifle more modern). And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was, in fact, feeling oppressed by the receipt of all those favours. Last year, I began to prefer purchased software over gratis software. This year, my project will be to choose paid websites over free ones.

I resolved to cancel existing accounts for free services. As I came across things that were too useful to cancel, I would see if there was a way to pay for them, or to find alternatives where I could “pay if I will”.

The initial attempts have been … interesting. And thereby hangs a tale for another time.

Decanting Breakfast Cereal

Yes, we do.

Here’s what it looks like:

Three different kinds of cereals. In their decanters.

Yup, that’s part of putting the groceries away. Milk on the refrigerator shelf. Bread in the bread-box. Bananas on the banana hammock.

And cereals, of course, decanted. And the empty boxes discarded.

It seems that most people don’t decant their cereals, so we sometimes get asked why we do.

The answer is: For the same reason we don’t get broadcast or cable TV; to shield us from advertising. There’s too much advertising on a cereal box.

Some people object to unsolicited messages in their e-mail, and resort to counter-measures to minimize that nuisance. Some object to pop-up ads in their browser, and resort to counter-measures to minimize *that* nuisance. We do those things. But there are also unsolicited commercial messages broadcast on television, and printed on cereal boxes. We take counter-measures against those, too.

A Ruined Evening

Gina and I were registered to hear Malcolm Gladwell speak in New York. The evening didn’t go according to plan.

Traffic was heavy on the way in — we figured there was probably a Yankee game backing up the Cross Bronx onto the George Washington Bridge. We might have made it if we had left the house three minutes earlier. But as we got about half way across the bridge, traffic came to a dead stop. And then we saw the great billowing clouds of black smoke blowing across the bridge up ahead. We weren’t going anywhere for a while.

The lady in the car next to us jumps out of her car and starts running back to the Jersey side, yelling “We can’t leave the children parentless.” The guy gets out and is yelling after her “How are you going to get home?” But she’s out of earshot. Gina points out the “No Loitering” sign, just as the guy who got out of the next car over is standing in the middle of the road saying: “Hey, this is a first for me — I’m standing on the bridge!”.

We all turn our engines off, and stand around trying to see what’s going on up ahead. Loitering, if you will.

I didn’t bring my camera. I should have brought the camera, because it would have made it easier to explain what happens next. Plus, it would make it easier for you to believe me. Luckily, the web helps with the first part — this picture will almost do:

This is about exactly where we were stopped. You notice the sets of steel cables hanging down from the large suspension cables. And the railing between the roadbed and the pedestrian walkway. Well, Gina starts to while away the time pacing back and forth along the top of that railing, taking in the view.

I didn’t have my camera. But, at some point curiosity gets the better of her, and she decides that if she climbed up the cables, she could sit in the little chair formed by the cross brace holding the cables together near the suspension cable — and that would give her a better view. Gina is always very timid about engaging in this kind of activity. She always asks the same question before she begins: “You don’t think I’ll get arrested if I climb up there, do you?” Luckily she was wearing a pants suit instead of a dress. Then, she answered her own question: “Nah, the police are probably too busy dealing with the car fire that closed the George Washington Bridge in both directions during rush hour.” And up she went.

I didn’t have my camera. So there we were, stuck on the bridge, traffic not moving in either direction, everybody out of their cars, and Gina perched up in the suspension cables. You have to admit, it makes for a great conversational gambit. Usually it goes something like: “Hey, how’d you get up there?” Sometimes it’s: “Hey, how’d she get up there?”

So it turns out that the guy whose wife ran off the bridge, and the guy who was excited about standing on the bridge were both going into the City for dinner and a show — they were going to see Spamalot. And, yes, the people in front of them were on their way to a Yankee game. We kind of guessed that because they never stopped waving their Yankee flags. Pity I forgot the camera.

It only took about an hour to clear the burning car, and traffic started moving. As we drove down the West Side, it was clear that our evening plans were scuttled; we weren’t going to see Malcolm Gladwell. On the other hand, we would be getting into midtown early enough to catch a show — if we could get tickets. So instead of heading over to the Oxonian Society, we went here:

and Gina asked (because we’d just been talking about it on the bridge) about tickets to Spamalot. The lady laughed. “It’s sold out until March” she said. “Thank you” said Gina, then added “Where’s it playing?” — and off we went, here:

“Umm, they’re sold out until March”, sez I. “I know,” answers Gina breezily, “but maybe we can get tickets at the box office. You never know.”

Now, you probably can’t see it very well, because I didn’t bring my camera, and these aren’t my pictures, but if you had gone to the Shubert Theatre that night, in the very lower right hand corner of this picture; right at that spot, was a sign that read: “Cancellation Line”, and there were 22 people standing in line behind that sign. It was about twenty minutes before show time. Gina asked the theatre employee at the head of the line “What are the chances we could get in tonight?” And the answer, unsurprisingly, was “None.”

So we got in line.

A few more people joined the line behind us. Occasionally, the guy at the front of the line would go inside, come back out, and announce, “OK, I have two tickets” — and the people at the head of the line would go in. A couple of people gave up hope and wandered off. We fell to talking to the woman behind us. Mostly commiserating about the impossibility of getting in. And as we’re doing so, Gina blurts out: “Hey! There are those guys from the bridge. And she turns to the woman behind us and confides “They have an extra ticket. His wife jumped out of the car on the George Washington Bridge and ran home.” Which, when I think back on it, probably sounded a little odd.

“Really?” asked the woman behind us. “An extra ticket?”

“Sure” said Gina. And she dragged the woman over to the other line, and started waving at our recent bridge acquaintances. “Hey,” says the guy whose wife ran off the bridge. “Didn’t we just see you on the bridge?” And he turns to the woman who was behind us in line and explains “She was climbing up the suspension cables on the George Washington Bridge and sitting on top of them.” Which, when I think back on it, probably sounded a little odd, too.

“You still got that extra ticket?” asks Gina. “Sure” he says, and takes it out of his pocket. “She could really use it” says Gina. “What about you?” they both ask. “Nah, it wouldn’t do me any good,” Gina explains. “I’m here with my husband.” And she rejoins the cancellation line.

We watch the woman offer to pay for the ticket, and the guy refuse to accept the money. Just as they are about to go into the theatre, he turns back one last time and yells out “You’ll never believe this, but we got to the restaurant in time to have some dinner. I managed to wolf down a half a plate of penne and sauce before coming here.””Lucky you,” yells back Gina. “We’ve been stuck in this line the whole time. We haven’t had anything to eat. I’m starving.” And with that, he waves one last time and is inside the theatre.

“Did you say you were hungry?” asks the gentleman in front of us, with a German accent. He’s a member of a party of four in front of us. “We have an extra sandwich from the deli across the street”, and he hands Gina a grilled steak sandwich on ciabatta. Then, the four of them give up on the line and walk away.

The guy at the head of the line comes out a couple more times — he has four tickets. Then another two. Then three. Then two more. Then just one. The couple at the head of the line can’t use it. They leave. The next group is a party of three. We’re behind them. The party of three is three guys. The one wearing the BMC Software shirt volunteers to take the ticket and see the show. He goes inside.

A minute later, he comes back out: “They only take cash on the cancellation line”, he explains. “I don’t have enough. Let’s go.””Nonsense,” retort both friends, and they dig out their wallets and empty them. Between the three of them, it’s just enough to get the BMC guy in. He disappears inside. They close the doors. We’re alone with the two friends.

“Let me get this straight. Your friend ditches you, and you go broke paying for it?” asks Gina. “That’s right,” they say with a laugh. “He owes us big time.” And then they too are gone, and we’re alone in Shubert Alley.

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.

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.