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  • Did He Say What I Thought He Said?

    Posted by Shannon Love on June 19th, 2011 (All posts by )

    I got into a pissing match with Eric S. Raymond, the famous programmer, author and Open Source Software advocate. I want the opinion of others, preferably people with no specialized programming knowledge, to tell me if I read one of his responses correctly.

    I objected to what I regard as a hysterical over reaction to a patent application Apple filed for an infrared augmented reality tag system. The technical issues aren’t that important at the moment.

    I would like you good readers to read one of my comments and Raymond’s next response and then answer some questions after the jump. Please don’t read my questions until you read Raymond’s response because I don’t want to prejudice your impressions.

    Here is my comment. The only thing you really need to know before reading Raymond’s response is that it was he who used the phrase “complete control” in the parent post.

    Here is Raymond’s response.

    The parent post is here if you want to read it.

    Now, here are my questions:

    If you don’t know much about Open Source or computers in general, how did Raymond’s comment make you feel about trusting Open Source? Did it make you more or less trusting of the Open Source programmers as a group?

    Is it my imagination or did he just pull the geek version of “don’t you know who I am?!!!”

    Did he not claim that I should defer to his opinion on this specific matter because of all the great and wonderful things he and other Open Source programmers had done for all computer users?

    Did he not make the geek version of, “Look you little ingrate! I lost a leg on D-Day so you owe it to me to defer to me in all military and foreign policy matters!”

    Do you think he actually answered any of my substantive points?

    I get a little wrapped up in these discussions and I want to get a little double-checking of my impressions because frankly right now, I am shocked and appalled.

    I guess you never should meet your heroes.

     

    18 Responses to “Did He Say What I Thought He Said?”

    1. Joseph Fouche Says:

      ESR is a marginal figure even within the open source movement. Taking him as representative of anyone or anything except ESR is a sampling error.

      ESR is the open source Tom Paine. Paine had his ESR moment when “Common Sense” and “The American Crisis” were published in the summer and winter of 1776. But his radical politics soon reduced him back to political oblivion. He spent the rest of his life pathetically trying to recapture the fading star power of ’76.

      ESR had his Tom Paine moment in 1998 when Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale read an executive summary of ESR’s “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” and decided that Netscape could beat M$ by open sourcing the alpha code for Netscape Navigator 5. For one bright shining moment, ESR was a star. Corporate titans sought his advice, publicly traded Linux schemes showered him with stock options, and nerd fanboys treated him as if he was almost a Linus Torvalds.

      But Netscape dissolved into some fine print in the basement of AOL’s legal department, Barksdale faded into the anonymity of a chronic corporate board member, Netscape 5 development fell into the slow shadowy Long March that ended in the Firefox browser, and ESR faded back to his original role as an obscure third tier figure in the open source community.

      He occasionally emerges and shouts something silly that reminds everyone how much he’s jumped the shark. But, like the mad uncle at Thanksgiving, everyone in the open source community ignores him, gets back to writing software, and let him fade back to deserved obscurity.

      ESR had his moment. He was the right man in the right place with the right turgid essay at the right time. We should allow him the glory of that moment and its enduring impact on our industry. However, we should pay as much attention to him on other issues as we would a jabbering and deranged bearded dirty hippy holding up a sign that proclaims THE END IS AT HAND.

      But we can talk about RMS another day.

    2. Retardo Says:

      You seem to have retriggered a debate about free (as-in-speech) software (ha!) from the late 1990s. Raymond’s been trolling that ground for a long time.

      As a programmer, I’d like to apologize for the fact that Eric S. Raymond exists. Even when he’s right (and to be fair, he often is), I want to punch him. All you can say in his favor is he’s less annoying than Larry Wall. You should have seen the one where he claimed he was a “natural alpha” pickup artist, and he could sense that waitresses in diners were attracted to him. He’s a vain, pompous little clown with Asperger’s.

      I agree there’s an element of do-you-know-who-I-am in Raymond’s response. There’s an element of that in everything Raymond writes. The mainspring of Raymond’s character is a burning desire to be Somebody Who You Know Who He Is. He’ll never be a great CS figure like Ken Thompson or Dennis Ritchie, so he tries to ape those guys in small ways, while practicing self-promotion rather than computer science. Well, that’s where his (modest) talents lie.

    3. foxmarks Says:

      IIRC, you tried the same maneuvers with another commenter. I enjoyed your explanation of why this issue isn’t the threat it seems (to some). But I also enjoyed esr’s response. I benefited from watching the exchange.

      The battle is about levels of trust in authority. And which authorities are more trustworthy. You argue that there is no such thing as complete control. esr argues that even limited control (in time or scope) is still control.

      Apple makes good and successful products. But the nature of the world is to see power concentrate and corrupt, then collapse. You two just see Apple at different points along that path.

      “Their book has their mission on the cover: To Serve Man…”

      As someone who has evolved from “Mac OS only!” to accepting that M$ does actually offer some value, I am on the brink of learning Linux. Closed-source doesn’t do what I want, so I have to add my own value. Yes, the weak documentation of open-source is frustrating. But the Google has nearly all the answers, and does it really take any longer to refine searches than waiting on hold for some closed-source support team to run you through the steps you’ve already tried?

    4. John Wolfsberger, Jr. Says:

      If you don’t know much about Open Source or computers in general, how did Raymond’s comment make you feel about trusting Open Source? Did it make you more or less trusting of the Open Source programmers as a group?

      Since I do know a lot about Open Source and computers, I’m already more trusting of open source. However, you made a valid point about utility to the end user that he didn’t directly respond to.

      Is it my imagination or did he just pull the geek version of “don’t you know who I am?!!!”

      Yes, but maybe not intentionally. He may have been simply trying to point out work and accomplishments in the area as examples from personal experience.

      Did he not claim that I should defer to his opinion on this specific matter because of all the great and wonderful things he and other Open Source programmers had done for all computer users?

      I think, rather, that he was accusing you of missing the point. You weren’t, but he may have been missing yours.

      Did he not make the geek version of, “Look you little ingrate! I lost a leg on D-Day so you owe it to me to defer to me in all military and foreign policy matters!”

      I didn’t read it that way.

      Do you think he actually answered any of my substantive points?

      I think he responded to all of your substantive points. I don’t think he adequately answered them.

    5. Scott Says:

      Without getting into long-distance psychoanalysis or subjective character deficiencies or assignation of motivations of either of the interrogatories:

      If you don’t know much about Open Source or computers in general, how did Raymond’s comment make you feel about trusting Open Source? Did it make you more or less trusting of the Open Source programmers as a group?

      I can’t answer this one, since I use open source, and trust open source enough to build on. The reason I trust them is because they’ve delivered.

      Is it my imagination or did he just pull the geek version of “don’t you know who I am?!!!”

      Not in my opinion. There is an element where it could be read that way, specifically when he touts what he has done. But he’s not the only person, by a long shot, who refers to what they have done to establish a baseline for arguments. For example, I have stuffed open and closed source software into a box, mounted it on a telephone pole, and established wireless communication links for the server, from two different radio protocols. Does that speak to my knowledge, and establish a baseline for discussing those areas of interest? I’d say yes. Does your area of expertise provide a baseline for your arguments? I don’t see how it can’t, or how it can’t be relevant, or and this is important, why I should take that as a “do you know who I am?”

      Did he not claim that I should defer to his opinion on this specific matter because of all the great and wonderful things he and other Open Source programmers had done for all computer users?

      Did he not make the geek version of, “Look you little ingrate! I lost a leg on D-Day so you owe it to me to defer to me in all military and foreign policy matters!”

      No, I think he laid out some objective facts. I’m unclear on how that therefore requires deference to his opinion.

      Do you think he actually answered any of my substantive points?

      Yes, but from a different angle than the one from which you asked them.

      Additionally, he’s gone on in that thread to address some of the complaints of “do you know who I am?”.

      I believe I can see your points. I believe I can see Raymond’s points. I happen to agree with Raymond’s interpretation of the issues more closely, and perhaps surprisingly, I agree with some of your points.

      Well, anyway…gotta go get on a plane.

    6. Shannon Love Says:

      You know, I wouldn’t be worried about Eric S. Raymond so much except that I sampled a large number of both general public and computer centric sites that covered the story about Apple’s IR augmented reality tags and he and his commenters are fairly representative of everyone else’s take.

    7. John Wolfsberger, Jr. Says:

      What remains to be seen is just what Apple will do if it receives its patent on “… a system for disabling the video camera on an iPhone or iPad when its user attempts to film a concert or other interdicted live event.”

      I can see one of two outcomes.

      1. Apple patents the system broadly enough to prevent others from developing and implementing/selling any similar system. I could see Apple doing this for the point you raised: damage to brand.

      2. Apple patents the system and sells it. This will kill Apple (my iPhone gets replaced ASAP), and will have a bad effect on smart phones in general. Part of Mr. Raymond’s point may have been that an open source system will route around such censorship, which couldn’t happen with iPhone, barring jailbreak.

      I suspect Apple will choose the second. The tell is that they are framing it as an effort to protect IP, as though no authoritarian state anywhere would ever let the possibility of shutting down citizen communications even cross their deranged little minds.

    8. setbit Says:

      I am shocked and appalled.

      You more or less had me up until that point. If you care enough about the opinions of ESR, Stallman or almost any FOSS advocate to let them get under your skin to that degree, you’re giving them way too much credit.

      And I say that as an open source booster myself. My view boils down to, “Open source is a great idea but a lousy religion.” Anyone like Raymond who treats it as an overarching world view needs to be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism.

      For your part, and at the risk of ad hominem, I think you are far too much of an apologist for Apple.

      In many ways, Apple embodies the vision of a single, immensely talented but arguably narcissistic man.

      Apple has been successful in large part because Steve Jobs doesn’t give as much immediate attention to near term market forces as other tech CEOs. That has enabled him to foresee and even create large, long term market shifts in a way that can appear nothing short of supernatural.

      But Steve Jobs is all too human. He has been wrong plenty of times, he has been very wrong some times, and worse, he sometimes has a very hard time admitting his mistakes, especially in the short term.

      Just because some kind of hypothetical secret camera override is a terrible idea doesn’t mean it couldn’t capture Steve’s attention and be the subject of much internal discussion at Apple. While sense and market forces would no doubt eventually prevail, I can’t entirely dismiss concerns about the patent in question, for the simple reason that Apple has previously tried — and then abandoned in the face of outcry from developers and customers — various things almost as nefarious.

      I would characterize ESRs comments as “overwrought”, but not “hysterical.” That’s also how I’d characterize your response.

    9. Bruce Hoult Says:

      esr has done some good things from time to time.

      I read the New Hacker’s Dictionary and was using vc-mode and fetchmail (and using Linux) before “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” was written.

      And he certainly has some of *my* code on his computer too.

      He has however somehow got this HUGE and damaging chip on his shoulder about iPhone vs Android in particular.

      What some events of the last year have shown is that Android is open primarily for the handset manufacturers, and their customers, the telcos. And some of them are locking them down tighter than Apple ever did, including detecting and disabling “rooting”, the Android term for what iPhone people call jailbreaking.

      I think your points in the original article were very reasonable ones. The hysteria is greatly overblown, and Apple would almost certainly do the things people are imagining, for the reasons you state — not to mention because their principles are entirely different. They have a very long and consistent record of pushing content owners to sign much more liberal deals than anyone else has previously managed with them.

      Google’s record has been much more one of accommodating the demands of media companies and telcos.

    10. Shannon Love Says:

      Bruce Hoult,

      The hysteria is greatly overblown, and Apple would almost certainly do the things people are imagining, for the reasons you state — not to mention because their principles are entirely different. They have a very long and consistent record of pushing content owners to sign much more liberal deals than anyone else has previously managed with them.

      I don’t think it’s principle (although virtually everyone invested in Apple one way or another would like to think so) but merely a matter of economics.

      Apple is the only vertically integrated computing device and computing services company in the world. Microsoft, except for X-box, just does software. Intel, Dell etc just does hardware. Google just does software, Android cell manufactures just sell the hardware and so on.

      That means that Apple has much higher pressures upon it to satisfy the end user than do other companies. When Apple negotiates to provide content, they have to get a deal good enough that an end user will buy the entire Apple hardware,software and services package.

    11. Shannon Love Says:

      Sebit,

      If you care enough about the opinions of ESR, Stallman or almost any FOSS advocate to let them get under your skin to that degree, you’re giving them way too much credit.

      Well, I must confess that I had romanticized ESR a bit but then I haven’t really read much from him in over a decade. The other, smaller scale open source people I deal with are much more sane.

      My view boils down to, “Open source is a great idea but a lousy religion.

      I am so stealing that.

      Just because some kind of hypothetical secret camera override is a terrible idea doesn’t mean it couldn’t capture Steve’s attention and be the subject of much internal discussion at Apple.

      Agreed.

      While sense and market forces would no doubt eventually prevail, I can’t entirely dismiss concerns about the patent in question…

      I understand that but I can dismiss the concerns because as I said, I have a real hard time believing that would get through even the most basic market research. Even if they did attempt to sell such a technology, who would buy it? How many units would actually ship?

      I’m not saying it is impossible for Apple or anyone else to make such a boneheaded decisions but I am saying that (1) the odds of them doing so are extremely small and (2) even if they did the units would have almost zero market penetration. The product of those two small number equals virtually zero risk.

      Meanwhile, far, far more significant risk are poised by other areas of the same general technology e.g. Android’s complete exposure to social-engineering attacks. Thousands of Android users have already had their devices compromised and over the next coming decade, millions will. Fretting over a microscopic threat by Apple while ignoring major real world threats is like being memorized by the “threat” poised by finding a single ant in your kitchen at the same time a grizzly is tearing through your backdoor.

    12. Karl Gallagher Says:

      The danger I see from Apple’s patent is that it tells RIAA and Congress “You can totally lock out unauthorized recording, ask me how!” Deploying one phone system with a concert/police lock-out makes it that much easier to require other systems to follow by force of law. Which is why you kill weeds when they sprout, not when they overshadow the corn.

    13. Mike Says:

      The issue seems to boil down to: what does Apple intend to do with its patent? I don’t know and I don’t think anyone else does either, maybe not even Apple. ESR is not off-base in what in what he says, just kind of dramatic about it. But in the end, the market will have the last say, assuming that our beneficient rulers, who have already accomplished so much, graciously permit the market to stay more or less free.

    14. bobby b Says:

      I think this is the key to where you’re each passing each other in the night:

      Do you get it yet, Ms. Love? You rely on open-source software written by me and my peers for “day-to-day functionality” every day you touch the Internet or anything that talks to it. But you don’t see it, because we’ve done our job so well that our part of the infrastructure is almost invisible to you. You are free to make snotty remarks about our inability to meet user needs only because we have created for you the luxury of ignorance. And you are able to dismiss our concerns as hysteria only because more layers of ignorance lie between you and the long struggle we have waged against similar power grabs in the past.

      Can’t you just picture Col. Nathan R. Jessep sitting in front of you (you, being played by Tom Cruise!), bellowing “you can’t handle the truth!” as he explains that the protection of communications freedom requires more sacrifice from people like him than you’ve even allowed yourself to ever know about?

      And, he’s sorta right, mostly, but he manages to cleverly disguise most of his strong points as ridicule, arrogance and a strong self-regard.

      His main point, I think, (which is well-taken, I also think), is that whatever degree of freedom we currently enjoy in our communication, it is as good as it is only because people such as he have fought a somewhat fanatical fight in pursuit of the ideal freedom, a level of freedom beyond what most of us require.

      In other words, you can plug in and surf and serve at will, without government permission, only because he and his ilk fought tenaciously – fanatically – for other, much more tenuous and arguable rights, maybe even carrying logical extensions of various arguments too far, and beyond where you’d be willing to take them.

      It’s the knowledge that these diehards – fanatics – however you consider them – are simply waiting to pounce on their next perceived rights-slight that keeps the would-be controllers honest. And this is done on a level much more basic and essential than your market-based arguments could ever reach. Our history shows fairly conclusively that keeping a populace ignorant of your positions’ weaknesses works well in preventing the populace from attacking those weaknesses – meaning, market-based correction won’t come in areas too technical and arcane for market knowledge to cover.

      So, your argument (that his concern about the patent was specious) struck him as ignorant and harmful – ignorant because, in his world, everyone knows what role he plays and how he plays it, and harmful because a popular acceptance of your argument would jeopardize freedom by pulling in that outside picket line and allowing the controllers to get that much closer to us.

      Well-hidden, as I said, because of the dripping condescension and contempt, his points really are valid – it’s just hard to logically and coolly make a “but you NEED us fanatics out here” argument that doesn’t come off as . . . well . . . . fanatical.

    15. Shannon Love Says:

      Karl Gallagher,

      Which is why you kill weeds when they sprout, not when they overshadow the corn.

      I would buy that that is what is occurring in this case if (1) the the Apple Patent actually covered any camera blocking technology instead of a use case of the actual patent and (2) a multitude of camera blocking technologies did not already exist which people are ignoring.

    16. clazy8 Says:

      I haven’t given this a lot of thought, but it seems to me that it isn’t “open source” per se that keeps companies like Apple in line, it’s the possibility that all those open-source geeks working for free could make money providing an alternative to anything offensive to consumers.

      And as you already noted, there are other technologies for preventing photography. The Apple example is particularly lame, since IR is so easy to block.

      Following is some interesting discussion from a related patent, WO 2007059444 (A2) [http://tinyurl.com/3dzp9m7]:

      [0005] Camera phones, and related consumer technologies, make it easy to capture still and moving images anywhere, creating a legitimate concern among those who wish to retain some level of privacy or secrecy. Companies concerned that camera phones compromise the security of their intellectual property often ban such devices from their facilities. These confiscation practices, however, are not always desirable or practical. Although some legal controls and social boundaries may curb inappropriate capture behaviors, it would be desirable to safeguard against undesired recording without requiring confiscation by an authority or cooperation by the public at large

      [0006] Previous work addresses this challenge by disabling recording features in the cameras. Technical solutions have been proposed to prevent or to react to undesired camera capture. Most of these solutions require some sort of instrumentation in a capture device. For example, solutions, such as Safe Haven(TM), leverage the short-range wireless capability available on camera phones (such as Bluetooth or “WiFi”) to allow the environment to notify the device that the space does not allow photography or other forms of recording. There are many drawbacks to this solution, including that it assumes that the user of the camera would install and use special software on the device and that she would abide by the environmental constraints.

      [0009] A need exists in the industry to address the aforementioned deficiencies and inadequacies. SUMMARY

      [0010] Embodiments of the present invention provide systems and methods for controlling or effectively disabling recordatron by cameras. Briefly described, one embodiment of the system, among others, can include the following: a detector disposed in the environment, the detector configured to detect the camera and including an emitter, and a lens; and a neutralizer disposed in the environment and coupled the detector, the neutralizer configured to neutralize an image captured by the camera.

      [0011] The present invention can also be viewed as providing methods for inhibiting or effectively disabling recordation by cameras. In this regard, one embodiment of such a method, among others, can be broadly summarized by the following steps: emitting light or a signal into the environment, detecting a camera in the environment, and neutralizing the ability of the camera to capture an image with a second light emitted from a light source.

      Here’s an article about the technology: http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/521339/

    17. Shannon Love Says:

      Clazy8,

      Thanks, I’ll have look at the links time permitting.

    18. Shannon Love Says:

      Clazy8,

      That technology is 5+ years olds now. I don’t think it ever panned out.