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    Interesting article, but saying we can’t truly fix free software until we destroy capitalism feels at once both a bit extreme and unhelpful.

    It’s a nice idea (Who doesn’t want to live in a world where everything is free? Oh wait. A lot of people :) but I’d rather focus on ideas that help us iteratively improve the current situation.

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      I think the author’s point is that the free software movement is already a radical philosophy, but one which is doomed to failure by its individualist focus. As a movement, it doesn’t offer a solution for how to make free software the natural choice (where the structure of our systems inherently directs people to select it as the best option), preferring instead to focus on convincing individuals that it is the right choice (which may be true, but doesn’t scale, and will constantly fight against whatever the natural choice is, which is why open source has eaten free software’s lunch).

      So the choice is between an ineffective radical philosophy and a potentially effective one.

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        how to make free software the natural choice…the best option

        There are many things that changed since the late 1990s when free software was the dominant ideology. One is that Google, and ultimately all of big tech, co-opted open source to mean “you are free to have all of the source code to the client that talks to our centralized proprietary service.” Having done so, free software isn’t the natural choice, because the benefits of freedom in being able to change the system to do what you want is not present. Its capabilities are limited to what the proprietary service provides, and it only works if the client implements what the proprietary service requires.

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          I’m not sure in what sense it’s the case that “open source has eaten free software’s lunch”. At the moment, free software and open-source software are basically synonymous. An open-source library developed by paid programmers working for some Microsoft- or Facebook-sized corporation is free in exactly the same way that GNU Emacs or Firefox is.

          There are people who would like to change this situation - create and popularize software licenses that are “open-source” in the sense of having the source code be publicly available, but non-free in the sense of imposing four-freedoms-violating conditions on the use of that software. But the two main motivations for doing this are to prevent large cloud providers (such as Amazon specifically) from releasing products based on open-source software that might compete with smaller companies that develop such software, and to prevent organizations and people with political views specific activist programmers find distasteful from being able to freely use useful software. The former consideration is an attempt to limit the power of well-capitalized corporate institutions, and the latter is associated with “culturally leftist” politics but doesn’t directly help or hinder such institutions.

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            At the moment, free software and open-source software are basically synonymous.

            I disagree, because “free software” is actually less free (as in freedom) than open source.

            For example, let’s say that “Bob” wants to release a videogame toolkit. He starts with the Quake III Arena source code (released under the GPL). He spends months building a complete game creation toolkit around it the likes of which could be compared to any modern AAA game engine.

            But, there are still sections of code that are recognizably Quake. If he tries to sell this thing that he spend so long on, he could get a cease-and-desist (and likely will).

            Imagine a similar situation where “Alice” does the same thing with the Sauerbraten engine (zlib license). She gets to sell her work (and it is hers if she’s spent months working on it). She can then decide later that she would like to release the source on her own time.

            Who had more freedom?

            This is a contrived example, because no reasonable person would start with GPL software who wants to sell something. The point is that “Bob” can’t use the Quake source for his own gains even though ID has decided that they are done using it.

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              I don’t know how long you’ve been in the open source/free software realm, but these arguments were done to death 20 years ago.

              The difference is perspective: freedom for the developer vs. freedom for the user. When GNU started, AT&T was exercising its “freedom” to maintain exclusive control of UNIX, and RMS wanted the “freedom” to control what happened on his computer.

              From time to time this is intentionally confused by people with an agenda, as in “free software isn’t free because it doesn’t let us freely screw users.”

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                I don’t know how long you’ve been in the open source/free software realm, but these arguments were done to death 20 years ago.

                Well, I’m only 20.

                The difference is perspective: freedom for the developer vs. freedom for the user.

                As the developer you always have the freedom to not release the source. As the user, you can choose to ignore the license (at your peril). Your freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins. It’s selfish and arrogant to think that you “deserve” to control other peoples use of your product.

                I like to draw a parallel with firearms. You have a right to not own one, but you cannot prevent me from owning one. Substitute any politically correct item for firearm if you wish.

                From time to time this is intentionally confused by people with an agenda, as in “free software isn’t free because it doesn’t let us freely screw users.”

                This is attributing the (perceived) malice of large corrupt corporations to people like me who prefer to keep personal liberties intact. It’s shameful.

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                  This is attributing the (perceived) malice of large corrupt corporations to people like me who prefer to keep personal liberties intact. It’s shameful.

                  I didn’t mean to attribute it to you. As I said at the beginning of the post, I’m not sure about your background (thanks for clarifying it.) I do mean to say that the argument you provided is also provided by people with an agenda, and I’d encourage you to think critically about it.

                  Your freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins. It’s selfish and arrogant to think that you “deserve” to control other peoples use of your product.

                  Very true, but consider what that means in the context of software. Software released without source is trying to exercise control over the use of the product by preventing the user from altering it or improving it. These days it often goes further with code signing, DRM, online activation, etc, which is increasing the degree of control.

                  The point of copyleft is that if we accept as a society that authors control the use of their product, then authors are free to prevent what they would see as misuse of that product, including distributing it without source code. There is an alternate universe where authors have much less control in general, but we happen to live in this one.

                  The genius of RMS, IMHO, was more about economics than software. He observed that in a market where fixed costs are high and marginal costs are low, which software takes to the extreme, the result will be a small number of vendors and a large number of users. In that context, users do not have a remedy through competition: they cannot choose a vendor that gives them the level of freedom they want. Market forces would push any user-respecting vendor out of existence. Taking your example, find a games publisher that releases source code [edit: to their new release game]. In the ultimate, he observed that the degree of vendor control would only increase over time, without limit, which has since proven to be true. In the last 15 years we’ve moved from a world where anyone can write a device driver or application to a world where these need to be approved by platform vendors, for example, and entire classes of software are unavailable to users as a result.

                  If competition among vendors can’t deliver the products users want, then the issue needs to be around restricting what vendors can do to ensure users can do what they want. As you put it, one person’s freedom ends where another person’s begins - but if we accept that anything which restricts the freedom of vendors is bad, then we accept that users should have no freedom whatsoever.

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                    Prologue: This thread has ended up way longer than I thought. Thank you for your time.

                    I think we agree on a lot of principles, we just disagree on where the line between author and user freedom is.

                    Fair warning, my firearm analogies got a little out of hand. If you are unfamiliar, feel free to ask for clarification.


                    I didn’t mean to attribute it to you.

                    Yes, I re-read the comment and I think I was being a little paranoid :)

                    Software released without source is trying to exercise control over the use of the product by preventing the user from altering it or improving it.

                    The same thing happens when somebody releases a product without specifying exactly how it was put together. For example: there are a fair amount of proprietary firearm designs, but the most popular rifle (AFAIK) is the AR-15. A modular design that pretty much anybody is allowed to manufacture and sell (well, if the government lets them).

                    These days it often goes further with code signing, DRM, online activation, etc, which is increasing the degree of control.

                    I see code signing as a net good. I appreciate the assurance that when something runs with administrative privileges that the program is (sort of) verified. DRM can be done well, but most companies do it wrong. Steam is pretty good, but if they were a smaller company I wouldn’t trust them as much (mostly because I would have no guarantee that they would stick around).

                    The point of copyleft is that if we accept as a society that authors control the use of their product, then authors are free to prevent what they would see as misuse of that product, including distributing it without source code. There is an alternate universe where authors have much less control in general, but we happen to live in this one.

                    Code authors cannot control the use of their product, in the same way that a firearms manufacturer cannot prevent people from murdering people. All you can say is “we do not warranty this software if it is used for anything other than…”.

                    The genius of RMS, IMHO, was more about economics than software. He observed that in a market where fixed costs are high and marginal costs are low, which software takes to the extreme, the result will be a small number of vendors and a large number of users. In that context, users do not have a remedy through competition: they cannot choose a vendor that gives them the level of freedom they want. Market forces would push any user-respecting vendor out of existence.

                    I agree with this statement, but I believe the solution is more information. If more people knew how corrupt big tech was then they would use them less.

                    Taking your example, find a games publisher that releases source code.

                    I think the new Unreal Tournament is “public” source. UE4 and Crytek are also “public” source (with EULAs and royalties of course).

                    In the ultimate, he observed that the degree of vendor control would only increase over time, without limit, which has since proven to be true.

                    I assume by he you mean Richard Stallman.

                    In the last 15 years we’ve moved from a world where anyone can write a device driver or application to a world where these need to be approved by platform vendors, for example, and entire classes of software are unavailable to users as a result.

                    Sure anybody can write a device driver. The approval process is IMHO necessary because otherwise somebody could socially engineer people into installing a malicious driver or application (technically still possible, but more difficult). It’s like a carry permit. It (ostensibly) proves that you are competent and stable, and that you won’t use your thing (firearm, device driver) to intentionally harm an innocent person.

                    If competition among vendors can’t deliver the products users want, then the issue needs to be around restricting what vendors can do to ensure users can do what they want. As you put it, one person’s freedom ends where another person’s begins - but if we accept that anything which restricts the freedom of vendors is bad, then we accept that users should have no freedom whatsoever.

                    How does not restricting vendors lead to users having no freedom? I don’t mean to be snarky, I just don’t understand.

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                      I think the high level observation I’d make is that each of us exist in a society that establishes certain “normal” practices. Those practices change over time. When RMS was starting in software, “normal” meant that commercial vendors provide sources, and moving away from that was a redline for him. When I was starting in software, “normal” meant closed source but no signing/activation/forced updates, and moving away from that was a redline for me. Over the next couple decades, “normal” will continue to change and the things which seem normal for you now will become more restrictive due to competitive forces. When you see it happen, RMS stops looking crazy.

                      I see code signing as a net good. I appreciate the assurance that when something runs with administrative privileges that the program is (sort of) verified.

                      “Verified” in this context means it does what the vendor intended, not that it does what you want. If it was done to verify that it does what you want, then you’d be in control of the certificates that you’re willing to trust, and would be able to use software that is trusted by anyone you trust. As it stands, you’re not allowed to run code that you wrote yourself, because the vendor doesn’t trust you.

                      Code authors cannot control the use of their product…

                      (I’m avoiding firearms comparisons since it’s a business I don’t know anything about.) Code authors have an unusually high amount of control due to things like the DMCA which give legal protection to any measure they can create. Control is just an arms race - if it can be enforced somehow, it’s legal and legitimate. The makers of devices have a lot of resources to ensure they retain control of things like the applications that run, and they are highly motivated to exercise that control since they get a 30% cut. The maker of a hammer cannot control how it is used, but the maker of a technical device can and does control the software that runs on it (although you are free to use it to drive nails into a wall, which is often its most valuable use.)

                      I believe the solution is more information. If more people knew how corrupt big tech was then they would use them less.

                      Users are given the choice to use tech or not use tech. They do not have a competitive remedy. Your cell phone company knows where you are at all times and sells that information to marketers. Your remedy is to not carry a cell phone. It is true that if everyone rejects the entire category of tech then the problem goes away, but that seems like a big societal failure that gives us a choice between dystopia or dark ages.

                      I think the new Unreal Tournament is “public” source.

                      It’s an interesting model to be sure, but note that UT4 is cancelled. You’re free to get the source code so long as anything you do with it has copyright assigned such that your contributions can be released as part of UT4. This is a volunteers-develop-a-commercial-product model. I think the reason this thread started - taking issue with the idea that “free software” is more free than “open source” - is because “open source” is often a volunteers-develop-a-commercial-product model. This one happens to be far more explicit than most.

                      Sure anybody can write a device driver. The approval process is IMHO necessary because otherwise somebody could socially engineer people into installing a malicious driver

                      To be clear, you can write a device driver, but you cannot run the thing you just wrote.

                      The argument about needing approval amounts to an argument that users cannot be trusted to make their own decisions. Logically, it applies to anything. Can you socially engineer people into installing a malicious usermode program? Can you socially engineer people to visit a website with a bitcoin miner? Can you socially engineer people to visit a phishing website? If the solution is an explicit approval step, then we’d live in a very different world - perhaps our conversation might need explicit approval, because we might be engaging in social engineering right now.

                      How does not restricting vendors lead to users having no freedom? I don’t mean to be snarky, I just don’t understand.

                      This is exactly the argument you made about one person’s freedom ending where another’s begins. It’s easy enough to illustrate by example, but that relies on examining the examples with an open mind, and remembering that in the not-that-distant past things which appear as normal today were not remotely normal.

                      Personally I’m in the strange position of developing device drivers professionally. There’s a lot of value in them - I’m paid pretty well really - but I haven’t written any open source drivers. Why not? Because nobody could run them. I have written open source applications, because people can run those. But when you’re on both sides of the same fence and realize that you have a skill which is valuable but can’t contribute it to the community, the lack of user freedom becomes very visible.

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                        To be clear, you can write a device driver, but you cannot run the thing you just wrote.

                        I thought that (on windows at least) you could develop the driver and run in unsigned on your own machine? I’ll take your word for it if I’m wrong because I looked at your blog and it looks like you’re a lot more knowledgeable on the subject than I am.

                        This is exactly the argument you made about one person’s freedom ending where another’s begins. It’s easy enough to illustrate by example, but that relies on examining the examples with an open mind, and remembering that in the not-that-distant past things which appear as normal today were not remotely normal.

                        I would appreciate an example. My point is that practically speaking a vendor cannot limit the freedoms of a user. They can get the user to agree not to do something, but what cost would be incurred in trying to enforce that agreement?

                        Personally I’m in the strange position of developing device drivers professionally. There’s a lot of value in them - I’m paid pretty well really - but I haven’t written any open source drivers. Why not? Because nobody could run them. I have written open source applications, because people can run those. But when you’re on both sides of the same fence and realize that you have a skill which is valuable but can’t contribute it to the community, the lack of user freedom becomes very visible.

                        You have a very interesting vantage point, thank you for your contribution to the conversation.

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                          I thought that (on windows at least) you could develop the driver and run in unsigned on your own machine?

                          The bootloader has no way to know whether the unsigned code it’s loading came from your compiler or came from a malicious source on the Internet. The “obvious” way to fix this is to allow for self signed code and allow the user to manage which certificates they trust, but attestation signing is doing the exact opposite of that.

                          The way I develop drivers is by running systems under a kernel debugger, which disables driver signing requirements. A kernel debugger runs on a second machine. So you could run arbitrary drivers if you configure a machine to run multiple VMs so one can act as a debugger for the other, but realistically there’s no point writing drivers for that set of users, and nobody is going to run in that configuration to run code that’s not written.

                          It’s hard to describe the things that don’t exist as a result of restrictions. I can’t point you to a giant repo of things you can’t run; nobody bothered to create the repo because nobody can use what’s in it. But note that every app store restriction exists to prevent some developer from doing something that users want. (If developers didn’t want to build it or users didn’t want to run it, there’d be no point preventing it, because it wouldn’t have a market.) I don’t know how you feel about this, but I don’t think my cell phone has more amazing software now than it did six years ago. Either human creativity just ended, or something is preventing that creativity from getting to our phones - and it’s not hard to find what’s between the developers and the users.

                          Edit: To be a bit more concrete, note that most commercial phones have locked bootloaders, and most PCs are capable of booting arbitrary operating systems. As a result, there’s a large PC Linux community, but a very small Android developer community. Since the community is smaller, there’s not as much benefit to a user using a community Android distribution. I don’t know exactly what we’re missing out on, but the PC Linux community has contributed a ton of value, and there’s no equivalent on the phone, because our phones have locked bootloaders.

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                            So you could run arbitrary drivers if you configure a machine to run multiple VMs so one can act as a debugger for the other

                            But note that every app store restriction exists to prevent some developer from doing something that users want.

                            Ok, I was sorely mistaken on the kernel driver point. You’re also correct that most app store restrictions are BS. Code signing would also be a lot better if you could permanently “trust” an application like on macOS (or a driver).

                            I don’t know how you feel about this, but I don’t think my cell phone has more amazing software now than it did six years ago.

                            The crazy thing is that I feel like we go backwards in a lot of ways. I’m with you on this one.

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                              If developers didn’t want to build it or users didn’t want to run it

                              One of the common complaints in the Windows world is bundled browser toolbars. While there are people who actually like the Ask Toolbar and Yahoo Search, does anybody want it bundled with the JRE?

                              In a strict neoliberal sense, I suppose that users do willingly run the Java installer and consent to everything it installs, but describing it as something that the end users “wants to run” doesn’t ring true. The JRE itself is usually just a means to run some other app, and the bundled toolbars are probably not part of the end-user goal.

                              After all, free software distributions like Debian and Fedora have rules about what they allow in their repositories. And plenty of people complain about those rules. But do you actually think they’re trying to be user-hostile?

                              I don’t know how you feel about this, but I don’t think my cell phone has more amazing software now than it did six years ago. Either human creativity just ended, or something is preventing that creativity from getting to our phones - and it’s not hard to find what’s between the developers and the users.

                              Or, as an alternative explanation, the easy and low-hanging fruit has already been exhausted. Web apps haven’t really gotten better now as quickly as they were improving ten years ago, yet it isn’t any more proprietary now than it was in the past (If you say “Google’s fault”, I’ll reply by reminding you of IE6).

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                                While there are people who actually like the Ask Toolbar and Yahoo Search, does anybody want it bundled with the JRE?

                                No, clearly not. But as you say, there are people who want them, outside of the JRE. Platforms which restrict classes of software will invariably exclude software that some people do want. At least personally, I did use the Google toolbar back when it added value to me by displaying Pagerank. Somewhat cynically, I can’t help but notice these things are designed to redirect traffic to obtain revenue, and platform owners would like to keep that revenue for themselves, so they have an interest in preventing things unrelated to user benefit.

                                software distributions like Debian and Fedora have rules about what they allow in their repositories…do you actually think they’re trying to be user-hostile?

                                No, I don’t. But as distributions, they don’t have a monopoly on software, and a feedback loop exists. If some piece of software is released that breaches a repository rule but a lot of people end up going around the repository to install it, it will spark a conversation about whether the repository’s policies are correct. That’s why people are able to complain about rules. In more closed ecosystems, that new piece of software just can’t exist, so users are excluded from the feedback loop.

                                If you say “Google’s fault”

                                I think the comments and criticisms I’m making here apply to pretty much all of the tech majors and are comments on restrictions that exist now among multiple vendors which did not exist 15 years ago. I don’t mean to single any one of them out.

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                  Both engines are Free Software. Both engines are Open Source. The FSF and the OSI both define their licensing criteria, and the GPL and ZLIB licenses both comply with the Four Freedoms and with the Open Source Definition.

                  You’re contrasting copyleft with permissive licensing, which is a totally different distinction.

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                    Thank you for pointing this out. I thought Stallman’s definition of free software required copyleft.

                    I stand behind my arguments for permissive licensing though.

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                        Thank you for linking it. I’ve just read it. I still disagree with a lot of Stallman’s assertions.

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                          I’m not asking that you agree with him. I certainly don’t.

                          I just don’t want you to misrepresent him, or anyone else.

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                            Understandable. We could do with less misrepresentation these days.

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                    I don’t quite follow the argument you’re making, nor what distinction you’re drawing between “free software” and “open source”. It sounds like you’re saying that even though a piece of software like Quake III Arena is “free software” (that is, released under the GPL free software license), someone forking that software, writing a derivative work, and trying to sell it would be subject to legal action from Id Software for violating their Quake-related intellectual property rights - whereas some other piece of software Sauerbraten (which I’m not familiar with), released under a different-but-still-FSF-approved license, wouldn’t have this problem?

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                      @notriddle hit the nail on the head. I am talking about copyleft vs permissive licensing, the zlib license doesn’t preclude inclusion in proprietary software. The GPL does.

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                        I am talking about copyleft vs permissive licensing, the zlib license doesn’t preclude inclusion in proprietary software. The GPL does.

                        Interestingly, that makes GPL software less free in its own right, copyleft people seem to disagree that this matters but its the root of why some of us dislike it. Sometimes I just want to get my job done and don’t want to involve the legal team. Its also why I don’t put anything I do up as GPL unless I have to. I want others to do the same.

                        GPL’s virality is both a pro and a con. I lean to it being more of a con in that it imposes a philosophy of world upon source code that I find too extreme. We can differ on this but axiomatically they are approaching free from different starting points.

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                      remember that free software has no restrictions on commercial use. so when you say “if he tries to sell this thing that he spend so long on, he could get a cease-and-desist,” you are either mistaken, or employing a rhetorical trick.

                      it would be more honest to say that bob can’t prevent people from reading and modifying the source code of his game. this may or may not make it more difficult to make money on, depending on the circumstances.

                      with a clear view of the situation, people can decide for themselves whether the freedom to violate other peoples’ freedom is a worthy criteria for what makes a license “free.”

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                        it would be more honest to say that bob can’t prevent people from reading and modifying the source code of his game. this may or may not make it more difficult to make money on, depending on the circumstances.

                        The reason I chose a game engine rather than a game, is because the product is the source code. Sure, there are a handful of image assets for the GUI but those can easily be replicated. Am I wrong in my understanding that you cannot sell a GPL program without providing the source for free? (or at least allowing the purchasers to distribute it for free?)

                        with a clear view of the situation, people can decide for themselves whether the freedom to violate other peoples’ freedom is a worthy criteria for what makes a license “free.”

                        My point is that GPL violates more freedoms than permissive licenses.

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                          Am I wrong in my understanding that you cannot sell a GPL program without providing the source for free? (or at least allowing the purchasers to distribute it for free?)

                          yes, the latter is correct.

                          My point is that GPL violates more freedoms than permissive licenses.

                          yes, it violates the freedom to violate other people’s freedoms.

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                            yes, it violates the freedom to violate other people’s freedoms.

                            What “other people’s freedoms” does a permissive license allow people to violate?

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                              the freedom to read/modify/share the code.

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                                Using a closed-source program that is based on open-source software is a choice. Don’t make it if you don’t want to. Vote with your money.

                                Here’s something I think we can all agree on: selling a program based on open-source software without putting any significant work in is immoral.

                                My additional point, is that one can put enough effort into something that they earn the right to keep the source to themself.

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                                  Using a closed-source program that is based on open-source software is a choice. Don’t make it if you don’t want to. Vote with your money.

                                  i don’t see your point. same goes for software that was proprietary to begin with. in each case the software violates freedoms. or does it not?

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                                    Yeah, looking back I wasn’t really saying anything there.

                                    What I should’ve said is: I don’t believe that seeing how everything works and being able to pick it apart/audit it is an inalienable right. (This may have something to do with the fact that I’m a Catholic and I believe things that have no scientific explanation, and to criticize them would be heresy.)

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                                      nor is it an inalienable right to keep proprietary control over one’s modifications to a code base.

                                      that’s why complaints that the GPL is “less free” come off as concern trolling. if you care about software freedom, you would at least acknowledge that the only freedom the GPL takes away is the freedom to take away other people’s freedom. preferring a license that allows modifications to be proprietary would suggest that you don’t actually care about software freedom, so complaining about the GPL being less free seems hollow.

                                      if you simply disagree with free software and would prefer to be able to keep control over a digital artifact with no reproduction cost, fine, but you aren’t arguing for freedom at that point.

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                                        if you simply disagree with free software and would prefer to be able to keep control over a digital artifact with no reproduction cost, fine, but you aren’t arguing for freedom at that point.

                                        I think it depends on your definition of freedom. In a communist sense, the GPL is more free. If property rights factor in at all, then permissive licenses are still superior (even if you don’t think it’s more free).

                                        The only issue I have with the GPL is that people who legally obtain your source code can distribute it for free, which would destroy any business that I built off of it. As an anti-communist, I won’t participate in the spread of the GPL virus.

                                        I wish more licenses required that modified source be distributed, but only if they don’t allow users to distribute it further.

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                                          Whether property rights should apply to intangibles like software is an open question.

                                          “Intellectual property” is actually an artificial monopoly enforced by the state.

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                                            The only issue I have with the GPL is that people who legally obtain your source code can distribute it for free, which would destroy any business that I built off of it.

                                            So what’s your take on Redhat? Their product is GPL’ed, and you can even argue that it benefits them, because anyone who chooses to also use and improve their software, necessarily has to give back their contribution, so that Redhat benefits from it again.

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                                              I wish more licenses required that modified source be distributed, but only if they don’t allow users to distribute it further.

                                              what do you mean

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                                                The GPL requires that modified source be available to users. That’s something that I wish caught on more. I just don’t like the part where the users can distribute the source themselves.

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                                                  so who can modify the source? only someone with a specific license agreement with the company/person that wrote the code?

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                                                    The idea would be that anybody who obtains/buys the software can modify it, but they would need a specific license agreement to distribute/sell it.

                                                    The point would be to put such a clause on an open-source project so that if somebody uses it in a proprietary application, the users can at least modify that portion of the software.

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                            This point has been made may times, and it boils down to “localized” or “downstream” freedom. Do you give Alice the power to restrict/control their users? Alice could have extended the engine with a mechanism that requires her to be paid every month, or that (for whatever reason) only works on Intel CPUs. By not releasing the source, and allowing the software to be modified+shared, “Carol” is dependent on Alice, or is not allowed to port the engine to her Raspberry Pi. That’s certainly less freedom for her (setting aside that this is “just” a game engine we are discussing). And there are a lot more “Carol”s than there are “Alice”es.

                            I’m quite pro-copyleft, and I see it in the same terms (albeit less extreme) as we would dismiss anyone who claims that the fact he can’t own a slave limits his freedom. It’s the freedom to restrict others (“permissive”) vs the freedom from foreign control.

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                              You can also draw an analogy (I think direct but perhaps not quite) to negative vs positive rights. Permissive licenses grant negative rights to do whatever you want with the software, while copyleft grants positive rights to have access to free software.

                              I’m rather sad that all rhetoric about rights tends toward negative rights, even though that’s not what most people care about once a baseline of negative rights is established.

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                            and to prevent organizations and people with political views specific activist programmers find distasteful from being able to freely use useful software

                            what do you mean by this exactly?

                            is there any reason releasing code under the GPL would not satisfy the wants of these smaller companies?

                            1. 1

                              what do you mean by this exactly?

                              The people who promote licenses like this want to be able to write software under a license that is widely-accepted as open-source but that also bans their political enemies from using the software.

                              is there any reason releasing code under the GPL would not satisfy the wants of these smaller companies?

                              The GPL allows software licensed under it to be used for any purpose, and creating a SaaS product that competes with the SaaS product the core developers of the software use to fund themselves is “any purpose”.

                        2. 4

                          challenging capitalism is perfectly compatible with iterative improvements. you can make iterative steps to put more resources and power in the hands of working people, and less in the hands of corporations. the importance of free software comes when you see that proprietary software is one lever of power that corporations can use against working people.

                          1. 5

                            It’s a nice idea (Who doesn’t want to live in a world where everything is free? Oh wait. A lot of people :) but I’d rather focus on ideas that help us iteratively improve the current situation.

                            Capitalism != markets. If you’d like I’d be happy to answer questions, but this is my usual recommendation for friends who have been taught that all market systems are “capitalism”. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ysZC0JOYYWw

                          1. 30

                            Even as it attacked the idea of software as property, it failed to connect its message to a wider analysis that acknowledged the role of property rights within a capitalist framework.

                            Which is a shame, because the movement had the potential to be so much more.

                            Well, let me quote Keith Packard:

                            Unfortunately, Richard Stallman, the author of the GPL and quite an interesting individual lived at 5405 DEC square, he lived up on the sixth floor I think? Had an office up there; he did not have an apartment. And we knew him extremely well. He was a challenging individual to get along with. He would regularly come down to our offices and ask us, or kind of rail at us, for not using the GPL.

                            This did not make a positive impression on me, this was my first interactions with Richard directly and I remember thinking at the time, “this guy is a little, you know, I’m not interested in talking to him because he’s so challenging to work with.”

                            And so, we should have listened to him then but we did not because, we know him too well, I guess, and met him as well.

                            He really was right, we need to remember that!

                            A lot of writings I see like this focus on external factors on why Free Software isn’t a greater success, but I rarely see people being reflective and focus on internal factors. Richard Stallman is a highly intelligent, talented, and driven person who has said and done a lot of interesting things; but his talents and kind of intellect do not apply well to the position he was in until quite recently. There are many examples of this, the above is just a particular striking one. I think it’s very unfortunate and sad for both Stallman and Free Software in general that Stallman ended up in a position he was clearly not suitable for.

                            I had hoped that Stallman’s resignation would trigger this kind of introspection, but thus far I haven’t seen it yet.

                            Meanwhile, the Free Software Foundation Europe – which is independent of the FSF – is much better. This is the kind of work they’re doing. It’s from https://publiccode.eu and the brochure is aimed at lawmakers and other people in the government. Notice how it uses professional language, offers a positive “we can have a better future”-type of message, is well-designed, offers many concrete advantages instead of just vague abstracts like “Freedom”, and avoids meaningless pedantry; i.e. it calls Open Source “a marketing campaign for Free Software” (you can argue left and right up and down about whether or not this “misses the point” or whatever, but it really doesn’t matter here), and it accurately and helpfully explains that “Free Software can be complementary to proprietary software” (insisting on 100% Free Software is not a helpful path forward).

                            This is how you do advocacy. This is how you actually affect change. This is how you’re taken serious. This is why various German cities are running on Free Software, and how you work towards the Netherlands committing to Free Software by default.

                            Oh yeah, they also have a YouTube channel. I bet they don’t like it – for good reasons – but if you want to actually reach an audience and affect change that’s what you do. You can’t fix the world in a day.

                            Unfortunately, not many people are familiar with the work of the FSFE, but I feel it should serve as a model for a new kind of FSF – possible as an entirely new foundation.

                            Does the FSF even do this kind of stuff at all? Because if they do, I can’t find it. I have looked up and down on their website, and I don’t see anything even remotely come close to that. Maybe it exists, but if it does I can’t find it on that chaotic website of theirs (another problem). Much of it is preaching to the choir or just “this is the truth, accept it!”-kind of communication. It’s okay if that’s just what you want to do, but then don’t be surprised if people aren’t going to listen very carefully.

                            So, to answer the “what would it take to set software free?” question in the subtitle of this article: start by setting up a non-hostile, non-pedantic, professional lobby organisation which focuses on a better future instead of what people are doing wrong, and let’s go from there. Also: maybe stop pissing in people’s face because they “recommend non-free software” and similar minor issues at every turn, and just say bloody Linux.

                            1. 7

                              As another example of zealotism that gets in the way of convincing people: many years ago, they had a campaign to ‘DoS’ Apple Genius Bars [1]. While their criticism of Apple may be right, it is strategically totally counterproductive. People who need a Genius Bar are probably some distress and need to get their software or hardware fixed. Possibly their livelihood depends on it. And then this is made impossible by some people who fill up all slots to stick some point to Apple. People will just see them as annoying zealots rather be interested in their criticisms.

                              I don’t think any of their other campaigns were that bad. But at their best they are clumsy, at their worst totally unappreciative of people’s personal situations and needs.

                              [1] https://www.defectivebydesign.org/apple-challenge

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                                “Let’s harass a bunch of $41k/year working class people just trying to make ends meet with complicated questions about the business practices of the company they happen to be working for that they’re in no way responsible for.”

                                The total score will be out of 160 – the IQ level of Einstein, a certified genius. Rate your Genius’s iQ to the same score, and if they get over 130, they’re a genius – any lower than that, and they’re screwed. Glory and infamy awaits!

                                *Groan*

                                If you feel your Genius did particularly well, or particularly badly, please let us know their name, email address, and the store address – it’ll be on their business card. We’ll send prizes and information accordingly.

                                Wait wait wait, what? You want to collect personal information about people who didn’t answer your questions well enough?

                                Good grief, this is really bad even for the FSF. How could anyone think any of this was a good idea? I realize it’s from way back in 2008, but yikes!

                              2. 4

                                I have always thought of RMS as a compass. It’s good to know where north is even if you wanna go south.

                                1. 1

                                  But if you’re just looking at your compass while driving you’re going to crash in to something :-)

                                2. 3

                                  So, to answer the “what would it take to set software free?” question in the subtitle of this article: start by setting up a non-hostile, non-pedantic, professional lobby organisation, and let’s go from there. Also: maybe stop pissing in people’s face because they “recommend non-free software” and similar minor issues at every turn, and just say bloody Linux.

                                  Free software does in fact have non-hostile non-pedantic professional lobby organizations - exactly the large corporations that fund open-source software development that this author is claiming are insufficient for securing true freedom (including freedom in a larger sense than just the ability to run software on your own computer in a way you rather than some outside organization want).

                                  Linux has in fact won, it’s used all over the place as a standard tool, it’s as free as it ever was - but Android smartphones that use the Linux kernel internally are not effectively free for the end user because of other elements of the software/hardware stack. The large corporation Google that runs YouTube uses Linux as one of many pieces of a software stack to do so, but that doesn’t prevent YouTube from being a de-facto monopoly such that Google’s moderation decisions on it are a matter of national and international political interest. These aren’t problems that a “more professional” institution than the FSF can solve, although I agree that the FSF has been unsuccessful in challenging this class of threats to the freedom of people to use software as they see fit.

                                  1. 4

                                    It’s a long game of patiently chipping at it. I think getting governments to use Free Software is a smart move not just because of all the reasons listed on the publiccode.eu page, but also because it familiarizes lawmakers with the concept of it, which will be valuable when those same lawmakers get to decide on other matters surrounding software freedom.

                                    Not that I think that all software necessarily needs to be Free Software by the way, or even that the Freedom angle is a good one. I’m much more in favour of a “Right to Repair” angle, Linux and Android may be Free Software, but I still can’t install a custom ROM on it or uninstall that damn Facebook app without hacking my way through all sorts of stupid games. In other words, I can’t repair it.

                                    I agree that for YouTube specifically, the most pressing problems are with its business practices and sort-of monopoly position, rather than software freedom. I’m not entirely sure what can be meaningfully done about that in the current political climate, other than perhaps developing a competing platform with better UX than YouTube (and no, clones like PeerTube or dtube are not it). This is a lot easier said than done, but on the other hand TikTok came out of nowhere 2 years ago. Something like this could have been Free Software if the community would spend time and money trying to innovate rather than waste time fighting meaningless battles with each other.

                                    This is another thing where I feel the priorities are all wrong, the FSF does spend some money on software ($250k on GNU, only one I could find in their financial statements), but it spends $340k on their license education programme and $600k on their “education and outreach” programme. There are other organisations sponsoring the development of Free Software alternatives (hell, I’m receiving a grant from NLnet right now), but I think this should be done far more. Wikipedia is a great example of what can be accomplished here.

                                    Let’s focus on our own stories instead of getting distracted by what others are doing. Let YouTube be YouTube, whatever. Would you use a product where everyone would rant and rave about how much worse the competition is? “At least I’m not Trump” didn’t work out well for Clinton in 2016, and it’s not going to work for Free Software.

                                    1. 1

                                      TikTok came out of nowhere

                                      Not quite. TikTok sure looks like state-sponsored spyware, with a lot of marketing muscle and geopolitical power jockeying behind it. There’s zero probability that any hobbyist-grade social gimmick would spread organically at that rate. Think of how much all the back-end infrastructure costs, just to start with!

                                      1. 8

                                        Well, or instagram, or Slack, or a long list of other things. While all the Free Software people were saying “IRC is good enough!” Slack came along and took the world by storm and now we’re all playing catch-up games (with some very limited success, because catch-up games will always put you at a disadvantage). And who is catching up with Slack now? Discord, a Free Sof… oh no, wait.

                                        CouchSurfing was around for years before AirBnB was a thing, which took the concepts CouchSurfing pioneered, and added $$ to the equation. What if the Free Software community had helped them out in 2011 so they wouldn’t have to turn in to a for-profit? It could have been a great Free Software community platform instead of the flaming dumpster truck fire it is today. I guess this is easy to say with the benefit of hindsight 9 years later, but these kind of strategic things rarely get done. For the most part the best we can hope for is that some hobby project gets enough traction to form a community and get donations and/or generates revenue on their own power in some other way.

                                        And it doesn’t need to be a “hobbyist-grade social gimmick”; that was kind of my point: why aren’t we spending money on making professional products aimed at “the masses” and marketing them? What if we diverted those $600k to a strategically chosen innovative project that will make a difference? Hire some devs and maybe do some marketing and see where that ends up. It’s a risk that it’ll fall flat on its face, but we’ll never get anywhere if we’re not prepared to take any risks.

                                        $600k is a small start (and I’m sure there’s plenty more money if we want, and like I mentioned there are already some grants like this), so yeah, we need to think about funding this kind of stuff. Maybe even just serve ads. There are ways to do that which really aren’t so bad (or certainly a lot less bad) and if it helps create viable alternatives to the Tech Giants then that seems like a great trade-off. If you take a hard-line principled stand on absolutely everything you’re never going to get anywhere with anything either. Hell, I’ve gotten plenty of shit (even downright abuse) over my analytics project. If you think telling people to “never use analytics” is helpful in any shape or form then you’re just being in denial about how the world works. As it stands, all it’s achieved is leaving me with feelings of disillusion, disappointment, and cynicism about the entire Free Software community.

                                        If you want Free Software to exist beyond backend stuff like kernels, libraries, and server software being taken by Big Tech earning billions from it, we need to think long and hard about this kind of stuff. I don’t have all the answers either, all I know is that that keep doing what we’ve been doing for the last 40 years is probably not a good idea. There are various people/organisations that have gotten great success with end-user Free Software (Wikipedia, Wordpress, Firefox, and probably some more) but I’m not seeing a whole lot of it and it’s certainly not getting sponsored by the FSF – the most prominent advocacy group for Free Software. For the most part, it’s all sponsored on their own power. Wordpress became popular because it took the initiative and innovated, not because it made a (often inferior) copy of some crappy piece of proprietary software. There’s no reason this can’t happen again, but it’ll be a lot more likely to happen if we actively work towards it, instead of passively waiting until someone in an attic has enough spare time to make it.

                                        This isn’t my weblog and I’m sorry for taking up all the space here with my posts 😬 But what I’m trying to say is that I see no reason we can’t build viable profitable end-user Free Software. We just need a shift in attitude and start thinking about how we can make a change in real practical terms, whether that’s effective advocacy and lobbying like the FSFE, or spending time, effort, and money in building appealing innovative end-user software.

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                                          Your posts here are valuable, don’t apologize for them. Some of this might make a good blog post, though, if you’re into that. I feel like the internet at large could benefit from more of your perspective, which is much closer to what I would call “common sense” than most positions I see taken in the internal politics of tech.

                                          FWIW I think I basically agree with you, in that

                                          • I find FSF-style zealotry highly counterproductive
                                          • I believe in open source as a social good
                                          • I’d like to see “right to repair” laws on the books
                                          • I’m not anti-business per se, but I am concerned about monopoly power
                                          • I’m neither cynical nor hard-line about these issues, but I think there’s a lot of context that must be taken into account

                                          Part of the bigger problem, in my opinion, is the tendency of computer people to inflate their own expertise about the basic issues. Just being good at programming or operating exceedingly complex software doesn’t make anybody even competent at economics, law, or politics. As a community, we tend to self-select for chutzpah and oversimplification; Stallman’s just an especially egregious example.

                                          But there’s another problem, and I’m not sure how to give it a polite name. Look at Mozilla or Ubuntu, and where their money actually comes from. If that is “success”, I don’t think I want any.

                                          1.  

                                            this might make a good blog post, though, if you’re into that

                                            Yeah, I’ve been writing one for over a year 🙃 I rarely seem to properly finish them though, not in the least because I haven’t quite figured out a lot of details yet. Posting here is a lower barrier 😅

                                            As a community, we tend to self-select for chutzpah and oversimplification; Stallman’s just an especially egregious example.

                                            Isn’t that the case everywhere? I’ve certainly stopped participating in the “vegan community” because of more or less the same reasons, and I find myself disagreeing with oversimplified left-wing takes quite frequently in spite of having strong left-wing leanings. Generally speaking, there seem to be 2 types of people: loud and simple, or quiet full of doubt. I think Bertrand Russel had a nice quote about this :-)

                                            Interestingly, I was reading Stallman’s biography today (gotta do something when you don’t have internet), and this part stood out to me:

                                            “I didn’t like the counter culture much,” Stallman recalls. “I didn’t like the music. I didn’t like the drugs. I was scared of the drugs. I especially didn’t like the anti-intellectualism, and I didn’t like the prejudice against technology. After all, I loved a computer. And I didn’t like the mindless anti-Americanism that I often encountered. There were people whose thinking was so simplistic that if they disapproved of the conduct of the U.S. in the Vietnam War, they had to support the North Vietnamese. They couldn’t imagine a more complicated position, I guess.”

                                            I thought it was interesting as “they couldn’t imagine a more complicated position, I guess” would be almost how I would describe Stallman’s position on quite a lot of issues. Not entirely sure what to make of that 🤔

                                            But there’s another problem, and I’m not sure how to give it a polite name. Look at Mozilla or Ubuntu, and where their money actually comes from. If that is “success”, I don’t think I want any.

                                            I would define “success” as “a significant improvement over the status quo”, and it seems to me that both Ubuntu and Mozilla are that, in spite of their imperfections. That doesn’t mean nothing more can be done, just that you don’t win a war in a day, but battle-by-battle.

                                            1.  

                                              Generally speaking, there seem to be 2 types of people: loud and simple, or quiet full of doubt. I think Bertrand Russel had a nice quote about this :-)

                                              W.B. Yeats said it best:

                                              The best lack all conviction, while the worst
                                              Are full of passionate intensity.

                                              Joni Mitchell’s version is great too, even if it’s not word-for-word.

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                                          Here’s an interesting view of TikTok’s history and a stab at explaining why it’s so popular:

                                          https://www.eugenewei.com/blog/2020/8/3/tiktok-and-the-sorting-hat

                                          It’s the algorithm (and oodles of VC, of course)

                                          I have no doubt Chinese state security can access user data from TikTok, but that’s a thing US state security can do with US-based apps. In other words they go where the data is, they don’t have to design the capture net.

                                          1. 1

                                            I think you’re missing some of the picture. From the state perspective, wouldn’t it be really handy to have a capture net in a target country? How much penetration “adoption” does Facebook have in China?

                                            1. 2

                                              My point is that security services will opportunistically access data from the app or service that’s the most popular in an adversary country at the moment, not that they will literally design a service that has as great reach there as possible.

                                              1. 1

                                                Why be merely opportunistic when you can also be proactive? Or are you suggesting that Chinese security services have the same level of access to popular US apps as US security services do? Because that seems far-fetched. In China, what you call “VC” (or, really, capital in general) doesn’t have quite the same relationship with the government as, say, Sand Hill has with Arlington or Fort Meade.

                                                1. 1

                                                  I think we broadly agree. This will be my last comment in this thread. Thanks for the conversation!

                                                  In summary: I’m stating it’s possible that the CCP directed capital towards “strategic” investments - social media in general in this case, thus helping TikTok’s rise; not that agents of state security were intimately involved in creating Musical.ly/TikTok to specifically target an audience.

                                                  In other words, TikTok’s success was because its owners, investors and creators are driven by the profit motive of getting ad revenue. The market sorted out what services succeeded, and data could then be accessed by state security and law enforcement.

                                                  Note that I’m not really applying a value judgement here. 99% of LE access to data is entirely legitimate - investigating crimes, fraud, stalking etc. From an internal Chinese perspective, opposition to the CCP can be seen as a crime and LE has a formal right to the data to investigate it. Foreign citizens have no such “rights” though, either in the US or China.

                                                  As noted in this Techdirt article, opposition to TikTok specifically seems more to be driven by political expedience and xenophobia rather than a rational desire to protect American citizens from surviellance.

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                                    Throughout all the comments on this page the recurring theme appears to be ‘If we change the way we teach CS, it will be worse’.

                                    I think that this is a pretty big claim. Everywhere I look in the industry I see bad coders with bad habits writing messy, unreliable and unsafe code. The reason I like lobsters is because it is a tiny haven of well educated professionals who care about doing things properly. Despite the existence of such individuals I think the current state of CS education world-wide is far from perfect.

                                    We are a privileged few for whom the education system worked well. That also means that by the very nature of this forum, our opinions are not statistically significant. We are all outliers. If one wants to put forward a real argument against changing the status quo, one should be able to back it up with statistics that cover the whole population.

                                    I am not supporting this article or saying that its conclusions are correct. But it is full of references to studies, and to opinions from other education professionals and researchers. The comments here all basically translate to ‘Well in my opinion…’ so unless someone can come up with something more scientific I am going to have to trust the article by default, and reject all the opinions here.

                                    1. 2

                                      On the contrary: I haven’t been through the system as a student, except for an intro course I took for an easy A in college (admittedly) and a useful graduate-level database course I took later as “continuing education.” I have an English degree. I have taught at the community college level.

                                      The system as it stands is broken. It is almost impossible for someone to come into it with no knowledge and walk out as a capable programmer. Given what I saw from the “other side” of the education system, I am a firm believer in the “Sheep and Goats” issue (which a badly written paper–now retracted–made famous), but just think that research in that area is not complete or satisfactory enough yet. The core premise, however, is real. (The retraction of that paper is interesting reading and has further links.)

                                      The brokenness, however, is not a reason to simply throw up our hands and say “we can’t accurately assess anyone, because people who can write code are privileged.” What would that imply about the entire premise of education?

                                      1. 1

                                        The brokenness, however, is not a reason to simply throw up our hands and say “we can’t accurately assess anyone

                                        No one said that.The people throwing up their hands are the commenters here. The article is the product of a lot of hard work and study into how we can make the education system, including assessments, more effective. It doesn’t even say assessment is broken, it says the top grades should be accessible to everyone and suggests some relatively minor modifications. Which to me is a no-brainer and I can’t understand why people got upset about it.

                                        Also the original source for the sheep and the goats thing, basically God decided to judge everyone and he likes sheep better than goats. Quite an appropriate analogy really.

                                        1. 2

                                          How is it not throwing up your hands to say that you should give assessments that ignore core skills (like not using pseudocode), don’t test the actual production of code (like scrambled code tests), or we should compromise one of the core tenets of education (by not punishing plagiarism)?

                                          My takeaway from the sheep and goats problem, which I’ve seen occur as a teacher, a tutor, and even as a senior mentor to working programmers, isn’t that “God judged everyone,” but that it’s possible to get through the education system with serious gaps in logical and critical thought that must be taught earlier in the process. You can’t take someone who hasn’t internalized the basic rules of logic and teach them to program (or to be a civil engineer, or to practice law effectively, and so on).

                                          We need to focus on making foundational education more effective, comprehensive, and equitable. We also need to fix higher education so that you can actually learn to program from scratch within it. These are different issues. The article’s proposals fix neither.

                                          1. 1

                                            The article’s proposals fix neither.

                                            As I mentioned in another comment, the article’s proposals claim to be working on fixing the first one. You are basically just saying “NO!”. Do you have any research to back up your claims? I have never used pseudocode in my life but if you can show me that I the majority of programmers do and that it is crucial to doing their work I will trust hard evidence. Do you have studies where plagiarism was not punished with comprehensively measured education outcomes? Do you have some kind of statistical studies of the efficacy of scrambled code tests?

                                            I am not claiming the article answers all the questions surrounding education reform, far from it. But so far your response has answered nothing for me.

                                            Also this thread is getting a bit old and dead now, if you want to continue this discussion in depth please send me a PM. Education reform is a topic that is very important to me. As it seems important to you as well, we could exchange some ideas.

                                      2. 1

                                        The reason I like lobsters is because it is a tiny haven of well educated professionals who care about doing things properly. Despite the existence of such individuals I think the current state of CS education world-wide is far from perfect.

                                        What makes you think that Lobsters is a haven of specifically well-educated professionals? Nothing about asking for an invite to Lobsters references formal educational credentials or a professional resume in any way.

                                        Realistically being interested in talking about computing enough to join this sort of forum does correlate with having formal CS education and/or being employed as a programmer, and so does being willing to submit to Lobsters’ community norms. But there’s absolutely nothing stopping non-professionals with minimal formal CS education from joining this site and contributing.

                                        1. 2

                                          What makes you think that Lobsters is a haven of specifically well-educated professionals?

                                          The comments and the articles.

                                          But perhaps I phrased that badly. I am far less concerned about people’s education and profession than about people caring about doing things properly. I have met plenty of non-programmers and people with relatively little education that have that attitude.

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                                        The Internet in its current form capitalizes and makes billions off of this. Infinite scrolling and live updating pages that make it feel like there’s always something new to read.

                                        There is in fact something new to read, and moreover, there would be something new to read in any system that made it possible to connect with a significant fraction of the billions of people alive and creating interesting content they intend for the consumption of other people.

                                        Fear of Missing Out is real, but I don’t think it’s caused by the specific design of notification and newsfeed software. It’s real because the world is genuinely vast, and there are many more people alive today than for almost all of human evolutionary history, and there’s far, far more things to do and see and read and know in this world than there is time in a finite human lifespan to spend on them. There’s a lot to miss out on in reality.

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                                          This is a really great setup! Is there anything you are looking to add soon?

                                          1. 3

                                            Plex is pretty bad for user privacy and surveillance so I’d like to give Jellyfin another shot. It fork-bombed my server when I just did a basic install the first time around.

                                            1. 2

                                              I’m a mostly-happy user of Jellyfin - there are a few quirks involving music tagging I’ve run into, but otherwise it works pretty well at letting me stream my own music and videos from my media server to any computer with a web browser or a smartphone.

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                                            Note: This and this are important to see.

                                            1. 2

                                              Specifically this is a note about the original author of Invidious deciding he wants to step away from the project, and a github issue about what the future of Invidious will be. Thanks for linking this in this thread.

                                              I’m currently a user of Invidious, and I’ve been running an instance on my personal infrastructure for a couple of months for my own use. I’ve noticed that the Invidious process tends to get into a state where it stops responding to requests and needs a restart, and also sometimes stops updating YouTube channels I’m following. I haven’t spent much time yet investigating exactly why this happens, and it might well be due to configuration errors on my infrastructure. Hopefully development on it will continue in some form, since other than these issues I’m generally pretty happy with the software.

                                            1. 2

                                              Interesting bit of history! I agree that not going with DNA was a good idea, and I think I would’ve preferred Silk to Java, had I been at that meeting. But since I’m not overly fond of Java to begin with, maybe it’s good that they didn’t go with what is (in my opinion) a cooler name.

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                                                This is a classic. It’s a surprise to many people trying to learn Rust that such a CS 101 data structure hits Rust’s blind spot, and ends up being absolutely the worst way to learn Rust (as this article makes it clear).

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                                                  One of the points this article makes is that linked lists are overrated and perhaps shouldn’t be a “CS 101” data structure to begin with.

                                                  1. 4

                                                    Analogy time! Basic math vs basic CS (grade school/high school level).

                                                    Most people don’t use long division after school. But it’s still seen as a fundamental part of teaching arithmetic.

                                                    In analogy, linked lists are a basic part of basic CS. They’ve been around forever, there’s oodles of material, and they can be reasoned about easily. The linked article even says so!

                                                    They’re simple and great for teaching!

                                                    Well, yeah. You’re reading a book dedicated to that premise. Well, singly-linked lists are pretty simple. Doubly-linked lists can get kinda gnarly, as we’ll see.

                                                    I implemented linked lists in Pascal back in the day. I’m sure people are using Python to do so now. If they’re not simple to implement in Rust, that’s fine. Rust is not a good language for introductory programming anyway.

                                                    It’s important to distinguish “linked list, the simple pedagogical tool” from “linked list, fundamental building block in a system”. Nowadays the second choice is probably not optimal.

                                                    Edit added sentence.

                                                    1. 3

                                                      Linked lists are a good way for programmers in mid-level languages (C, C++, Pascal) to learn to juggle pointers and “navigate” a data structure built with pointers, which means they’re a good way to introduce data structures beyond fixed-size buffers which don’t require that much more code.

                                                      They’re also implicitly present in other contexts. Activation records? Singly-linked lists. Object hierarchies without multiple inheritance? Singly-linked lists. There’s a subtle power to having even one pointer per object.

                                                  1. 8

                                                    This reinforces my somewhat unpopular opinion that, despite the common ideology, open source is good for developers, and irrelevant or sometimes even harmful to users. The “user benefits” of open source are only obtainable through the work of developers. Users can’t contribute source (by definition: that’s what I mean by “user”) so they are in the same powerless position whether the software is open or closed source. The difference is just what developers the users get to deal with. Do they work for an old school proprietary software company so you get a binary every year? Are they independent guns for hire who will plug together your solution from open source components for cheap? Are they, as in this case, a messy battlespace of good guys versus jerks, with the jerks winning because the users really don’t care where the software comes from?

                                                    Where the users are developers, as in so many common success stories for open source (editors, compilers, operating systems, databases…) it works pretty well. Otherwise, there’s a chasm that’s hard to bridge.

                                                    1. 2

                                                      Users can’t contribute source (by definition: that’s what I mean by “user”) so they are in the same powerless position whether the software is open or closed source

                                                      (I will rather talk about free software than open source, but in this particular case, it is interchangeable)

                                                      Even if the users do not understand the source code and are unable to read or write it themselves, they benefit from the free software. If the software is free, they always have the opportunity to ask someone else than the original author to improve/modify the software. This is not possible with proprietary software. The users might chose anyone on the market, the best opportunity, to provide the service (either paid or for free). Yes, sometimes you have to pay for someone’s else work, but it is normal – you can not (ethically) force other people to do what you want for free. In case of proprietary software, the original author has monopoly to do changes in the code. In case of free software, anyone can do it (either personally or ask or pay someone else to do it).

                                                      1. 2

                                                        If the software is free, they always have the opportunity to ask someone else than the original author to improve/modify the software. This is not possible with proprietary software. The users might chose anyone on the market, the best opportunity, to provide the service (either paid or for free). Yes, sometimes you have to pay for someone’s else work, but it is normal – you can not (ethically) force other people to do what you want for free.

                                                        It sounds like this was more or less the dynamic going on with the third-party builds talked about in this article - the core Citra developers cared about keeping a clean git history and a maintainable codebase, which traded off against feature and performance velocity. So third parties forked the Citra codebase and threw together something messy but functional, in a way that solved at least some users’ problems better than the official fork: “Users trusted these builds that violated Citra’s license over Citra’s core development team.” Of course it’s problematic that these third parties violated Citra’s license (which looks like the GPL v2) by not releasing their own source code, and there’s nothing wrong with demanding that those third-parties do so. But assuming they were adhering to the terms of the GPLv2, being able to fork code like this to do something different than what the original developers wanted is part of the point of free software to begin with.

                                                        1. 2

                                                          Which is part of my point: If you believe the author, the third parties didn’t solve the problems, they just misled the users with “fake news” and derailed the project overall. In which case this is an example of open source allowing “bad developers” to take over the product process and harm users.

                                                        2. 1

                                                          This is where my formulation is unclear, but I’ll try to improve. The user always has to get help from a developer to implement what they need — regardless of whether the developer is proprietary, freelance, or the user’s own employee — that’s why I say users are powerless without developers. That fact is independent of whether the software is open source or not. Open source just allows a larger choice of developers; it doesn’t inherently make the relationship between users and developers better. In fact, it arguably makes it worse because it tends to subvert the standard ways users have convince developers to meet their needs (i.e., giving them money).

                                                          In other words, users don’t benefit directly from the source being open, and they may benefit from having a larger range of developer options. But in the case where the users aren’t themselves developers, I see a much weaker story for why that’s a net positive benefit.

                                                      1. 4

                                                        As a matter of medical ethics, I’m not convinced that creating and marketing this drug in particular, or in general any drug that has depression and suicidal tendencies as side effects, is necessarily the wrong thing to do. Lots of useful drugs have serious side effects, and while it’s important for both doctors and patients to be aware of those side effects when making decisions about whether to use the drug, I don’t think the existence of those side effects implies that no one should use the drug. That’s a complicated medical question that depends on how likely those side effects are, exactly how bad they are, and what aliments the drug purports to treat, how effectively it does so, and how bad the untreated effects of that ailment are (additionally I wouldn’t assume that because one person I heard about in the news committing suicide while taking this drug, that implied that the drug was specifically responsible for that suicide, or that even if the drug was responsible for the suicide, that suicide necessarily outweighed the aggregate benefits of using the drug to treat an ailment). In any case, it’s certainly not a question that programmers, as opposed to doctors and medical regulators, have any special insight about.

                                                        Part of the reason the societies we live in have things like medical ethics laws, governmental regulatory organizations like the FDA, drug regulations, and so on, is because the ethical questions about when it is and is not okay to market and sell a drug are complicated and require medical domain-specific knowledge as well a shared conception of the common good to answer. It’s a very reasonable position to follow the letter of the law unless and until some knowledgeable medical authority, or the evidence of my own or my community’s experience with the drug, convinced me that the regulatory system around this specific drug ought to be changed. And I feel like, say, a doctor writing a blog, might convince me that more people would die without this drug than with it, just as easily as they might convince me that the suicidal thoughts side-effect was too serious and the medical regulatory establishment erred in letting this drug be sold at all.

                                                        Given that I’m not convinced the drug company actually acted unethically, or that the laws that permitted them to sell and market this drug should be changed, then why should I expect a programmer to refuse to write code on behalf of such a drug company?

                                                        1. 34

                                                          not convinced the drug company actually acted unethically,

                                                          Presenting a neutral-appearing “find the best drug for you!” informational website and then always giving the same answer with a fake quiz doesn’t sound like a bald-faced lie to you?

                                                          The issue here isn’t that companies are marketing their drugs; it’s that they’re being deceitful lying twats about it. You seem to have completely missed the point. As you mentioned drugs and side-effects is complicated and hard, which is why you shouldn’t create fake “informational” websites with fake quizzes to market your drugs.

                                                          1. 13

                                                            Agree completely with your point, I think it’s quite clearly unethical behaviour.

                                                            The issue here isn’t that companies are marketing their drugs

                                                            It could be one of them. It strikes me as an incredibly odd thing when I see American TV and am not only bombarded with drug ads, they are targeted at the patients rather than medical professionals.

                                                            1. 1

                                                              I’ve been thinking about this too. It’s also super weird to me that there’s the whole list of side effects at the end… shouldn’t my doctor be telling me that and not the ad? What is I didn’t see the ad? I’m sure there’s some baroque liability reason they have to do it, but it’s dumb. (American here, FWIW.)

                                                          2. 5

                                                            I haven’t worked on code that’s specifically related to drugs and medication, but I have worked on medical devices so I guess my opinion is… partly informed? :). I don’t have experience bringing drugs to market but I’m somewhat familiar with the regulatory system involved.

                                                            There is no question as to the fact that drugs that have certain side effects should be allowed. Practically all of them have side-effects. Even “natural” medicine, like various plants and whatever, have side-effects and can interact with other drugs, “natural” or not. That’s why the side effects are listed on the fine print – so that physicians and patients can make an informed decision about these things, and so that reactions can be properly supervised. How efficient the fine prints are is another debate, but I think we can safely argue that the benefit of some substances can outweigh the risk of side-effects, as long as administration is properly supervised and so on. For example, if a drug can cause depression and anxiety, a doctor can recommend close monitoring of a patient’s mental state, by another doctor or even a psychiatrist if necessary, especially if they lack a support system (if they live alone, secluded etc.) or have a history of depression. Or they may avoid that drug altogether if possible.

                                                            However, uninformed self-medication is also a thing. That’s part of the reason why some drugs are only issued based on prescriptions, and why you’re supposed to keep some of them out of children’s reach and so on. It’s a very real problem, especially when it’s related to drugs for affections that carry some form of social stigma (mental illnesses, STDs), or for particularly difficult age ranges, where people have difficulties seeking help. Depressed teenagers, for example, are not very likely to go to adults for help, especially if their depression is fueled by adults in their life, like abusive parents.

                                                            “Proving that you have a prescription” over the Internet was pretty easy to do twenty years ago (and I think it still is in some cases). You can often use someone else’s. A teenage girl can generally use her mother’s prescriptions pretty easily, for example.

                                                            Now, of course, there’s only so much you can do to prevent self-medication by uninformed people. At the end of the day, if people think it’s a good idea, they’ll get their stuff one way or another. You can’t keep all drugs under lock and key in a safe and not hand them out unless someone brings in their doctor and three independent witnesses to confirm that they need the drug and that prescription they have is real. You print out (or the FDA makes you print out) big warnings, the drug can only be sold to prescription holders under specific conditions etc.. There a point past which you can’t do much to prevent self-medication.

                                                            But acting in a manner that encourages self-medication – deliberately eschewing a physician’s ability to supervise medication and the patient’s evolution – is absolutely unethical. It’s akin to going into a hospital, leaving a bunch of pills on the table, and telling people to help themselves if they want, as long as they don’t tell their doctors about it. Doing so against a vulnerable age group makes it worse, too. Especially if the targeting deliberately exploits a prevalent vulnerability (edit: someone here mentioned Accutane – that was my guess, too, but I was hesitant to call it out, since the original author didn’t, and I don’t know that much about what was allowed in Canada twenty years ago. Accutane was a drug that was meant to help with acne. Yep.)

                                                            1. 4

                                                              Based on timing, target audience, and the issues it caused, it sounds an awful lot like Accutane. That’s a since-discontinued drug for treating acne.

                                                              That aside, I think I would expect myself to refuse to write the code in question because:

                                                              Remember, this website was posing as a general information site. It was not clearly an advertisement for any particular drug.

                                                              and

                                                              “Well, it seems that no matter what I do, the quiz recommends the client’s drug as the best possible treatment. The only exception is if I say I’m allergic. Or if I say I am already taking it.”

                                                              and

                                                              “Yes. That’s what the requirements say to do. Everything leads to the client’s drug.”

                                                              Quite apart from any ethical judgement about what suicide frequency is acceptable as a side-effect for an acne drug, I’d expect myself to refuse to write code whose purpose is to deceive the public into making a particular health decision for the benefit of my client.

                                                              1. 5

                                                                I’d expect myself to refuse to write code whose purpose is to deceive the public into making a particular health decision for the benefit of my client.

                                                                I would too. But I also remember how I was a lot more naive when I started coding, and I would not be surprised if I wouldn’t have picked up on this, just like the author. You expect that, if this was not okay, someone else would have stepped in already. It comes as a shock when you find out that “someone else” should have been you.

                                                                1. 3

                                                                  Yes. I should have said “I would now expect myself…”

                                                                  I can’t claim with any certainty that I would have caught on 20 years ago.

                                                                2. 2

                                                                  Somewhat off-topic, but Accutane isn’t discontinued, although according to Wikipedia the original manufacturer no longer produces it - was that what you meant?

                                                                  It is highly controlled in (at least) the US though. You have to get monthly blood tests to make sure it isn’t killing your liver, and if you can get pregnant you have to be on (IIRC) at least two forms of birth control. The latter is why it’s so controlled - it causes really severe birth defects.

                                                                  1. 1

                                                                    I didn’t realize anyone had picked up the manufacturing. Wow. I remembered it as having gone away.

                                                                    1. 1

                                                                      Yeah. I took it in 2015, which is how I know. I switched away from Accutane halfway through though because it was cheaper to go with a generic version, which was marketed as something else but had the same underlying active ingredient (isotretinoin) - maybe that’s what you’re thinking of? When I was reading about it last night Wikipedia said the original manufacturer shut down production because cheaper generic versions had become available (and because of lawsuit settlements over side effects…), so it’s unclear to me as to whether in 2020 it’s still actually available under the brand name “Accutane”.

                                                              1. 15

                                                                Galaksija embodies a destratification of today’s technological hierarchy, a tacit ideological assertion that computing machinery should be for the masses, cheap and available to everyone, and that neither money nor technical know-how need be barriers to entry.

                                                                That’s what we have now. A Raspberry Pi is $50 for the latest version. Linus could develop an OS on 386 because Microsoft Windows made 386-based machines incredibly prevalent and cheap on the used market. A modern mobile phone is an hugely versatile communications device and owning one is an acheivable goal for a large part of humanity.

                                                                Anyone can choose between a plethora of free (monetary and licensing) programming languages, and the explanations on how to program in them is generally also free and widely available.

                                                                It’s never been easier or cheaper to access computing machinery.

                                                                1. 10

                                                                  I think you’re missing the point. Most of these technologies require knowledge that is harder and harder to achieve given the increasing scarcity of leisure time. There’ no dark wizard in an ivory tower defending the library where this knowledge is stored. They are inaccessible for structural reasons: time is scarce, work is invading the personal sphere, poverty and misery are more and more common for broader sections of the population everywhere in the West.

                                                                  Technological dissemination practices are not trying to solve this problem. Instead, they cater to a small élite of tech-savvy people for whom all these technologies come for free given a specific set of life choices. The fact that they are super-cheap and freely available once you cross a certain barrier (basically being rich and stable enough to invest in having more leisure time and mental energy) doesn’t mean that this generalizes over the whole population.

                                                                  The Galaksija was the last piece of the puzzle in a society that was ripe for technological dissemination. Ours is not and the small pieces of the puzzle like a Raspberry Pi will empower just a very narrow part of the population. That’s also the plethora of hackerist alternatives to mainstream technologies are having a hard time to gain traction: they ignore the barrier to entry, the politics of time behind technological adoption. The GAFAM don’t and they offer people a more commoditized experience that offers less friction.

                                                                  1. 9

                                                                    It is easy to underestimate how hard it was back in the day, from reading the survivorship bias pieces about spectacular achievers. Remember, no Internet (for your average Joe), very few manuals/tutorials, exorbitantly expensive hardware.

                                                                    I met a middle aged enthusiast back then who was unsuccessfully trying to learn 8080 machine code programming: his only material was opcode cheatsheet. After a year he gave up and honestly can’t blame him.

                                                                    1. 6

                                                                      +1

                                                                      I grew up in Belgrade and my first machine was a Commodore 128 for which I only had a German manual, which I didn’t speak (I was 12 years old). After a couple of months my dad managed to source a second- (more likely third-) hand Serbian manual in very poor condition, but I cherished that book as it was my only source of knowledge for years… We are indeed lucky to be living in a time like this, where access to knowledge is abundant.

                                                                      chobeat’s comment is spot-on though, time is a very expensive commodity and is usually taken for granted.

                                                                      1. 1

                                                                        I’m not saying what these computers have achieved, I’m just saying what they wanted to achieve. Because it’s easy to project the same values, goals and social structures on very different societies and it would be a mistake. Then yes, my father built computers at home and learned to program as a hobbyist in the 80s, so it’s a story I’ve seen too and it wasn’t accessible at all.

                                                                      2. 3

                                                                        I think you’re missing the point.

                                                                        Maybe I am. I think the original quote is really hard to understand. Frankly I think it’s just glib bargain-basement “deconstructionism” without much thought behind it, but let’s try to expand on it.

                                                                        I think the author is trying to say the same as you (which I agree with): access to computing does not mean access to the fruits of computing in the modern world. Just because someone under disadvantaged circumstances might teach themselves to code, doesn’t mean they can get a job coding, or that they can get access to the capital needed to build a company around coding.

                                                                        However, the author seems to believe that in this particular counter-factual case it would have been different somehow. Maybe because a DIY computer under (some value of) socialism would have led to a different outcome than a DIY computer under “capitalism” (i.e. the computing scene in the late 70s/early 80s in the US)? It’s hard to say.

                                                                        1. 2

                                                                          I think you’re missing a large part of the point, too. I grew up with these grokable computers, and spent a great deal of my childhood trying to grok them. But, I did that in the 80s, in Australia, at the very bottom of the middle class. If I could even identify a particular book that might contain the knowledge I wanted, it would take me a year to get it.

                                                                          Having access to the internet makes everything about programming infinitely easier to get a hold of, even if the machines we use are overcomplicated.

                                                                          1. 1

                                                                            I think you’re missing the point. Most of these technologies require knowledge that is harder and harder to achieve given the increasing scarcity of leisure time. There’ no dark wizard in an ivory tower defending the library where this knowledge is stored. They are inaccessible for structural reasons: time is scarce, work is invading the personal sphere, poverty and misery are more and more common for broader sections of the population everywhere in the West.

                                                                            I don’t think it’s true that aggregate leisure time is lower today than in the 1980s in Yugoslavia, certainly not obviously true. In any case, the rise of the cheaply and ubiquitously accessible internet (accessible even to relatively poor people) has made knowledge about everything in the world, including the use and programming of computers, vastly more accessible than it was to anyone in the world three decades ago.

                                                                            One of the reasons we perceive that time is scarce is because the sheer amount of things that a person can do with their limited time is much more salient now, and that increased salience has a lot to do with first and second-order societal changes brought about by the existence of cheap, ubiquitous computing and networking.

                                                                            1. 1

                                                                              One of the reasons we perceive that time is scarce is because the sheer amount of things that a person can do with their limited time is much more salient now, and that increased salience has a lot to do with first and second-order societal changes brought about by the existence of cheap, ubiquitous computing and networking.

                                                                              But these also brought an increased amount of social work to exist in society and also an enormous amount of distraction: in the 80s if they told you that a company elaborated a complicated psychological mechanism to extract informations from you 24/7 through your phone and that they would conduct experiments to manipulate your behavior always through your phone, they wouldn’t believe you. When people speak about “attention economy”, we are the resources being mined. Those resources in the past could have been spent on something else. I’m not arguing against internet in general, but for sure for how it is now, it’s a net negative for the whole society in terms of contributions to time availability for personal development: for every kid that has access to infinite knowledge, you have 10 workers that have been conditioned into coping with stress, alienation and tiredness by mindlessly consuming content and producing data.

                                                                        1. 1

                                                                          Thanks for linking this article - I’ve heard of Goedel’s proof before of course, but never previously tried to understand it. It’s interesting that one of the key insights involves creating a mapping between the typographical symbols of written math proofs, and integers. This insight seems a little more obvious now that ASCII has existed for over half a century and any programmer or hardware engineer is used to treating textual symbols as numbers inside a computer. Goedel had this insight in 1931, which was before the age of the electronic computer - but not that many years before it.

                                                                          1. 1

                                                                            Turing had many of the same insights around the same time, and everybody was, if not talking to each other, at least vaguely aware of each other. What’s really interesting to me is that around three decades later, Lawvere simplified and unified these results of Turing, Tarski, Gödel, and also Cantor and Russell, into Lawvere’s fixed-point theorem, and this unified theorem is still quite unknown, even among folks who grok Gödel’s work.

                                                                          1. 2

                                                                            I prefer the same author’s essay on time zones, which genuinely convinced me that the current system of time zones is broadly a good idea (although we could perhaps make some tweaks around the edges to improve the system).

                                                                            1. 8

                                                                              I get where the author is coming from, but I think there’s merit in trying to protect the term against watering down. Otherwise you might get people coming away with the idea that open source is good for various reasons, so therefore this-thing-that’s-not-really-open-source-but-calls-itself-that is equally good. It depends a lot on what one finds the most important part about open source, and that’s pretty personal.

                                                                              I expect certain things of an open source license, and if that turns out not to be the case, I am sorely disappointed. I would even say I feel deceived, and that’s the probably the reason people act so fiercely against such misuses of the word. We’ve had the OSI definition for 20 or so years now and it’s become standard enough that uses with a different meaning become suspect.

                                                                              1. 4

                                                                                I think the thing is that the ship has kinda already sailed. A lot of developers I’ve worked with don’t really know “Open Source” as more than “the source is available”; those people typically also understand “Free Software” as “it’s free”, by the way. Places like Hacker News and Lobsters consist of a pretty biased set of people when it comes to these kind of things.

                                                                                It just seems like a lost battle to me, and also one of (the many) communication failures of the Free Software/Open Source world. This article was kind of split off from a longer article I’ve been writing about that (these things take forever to finish!) but in short I feel that the entire effort would be much more usefully rephrased as “Right to Repair”. This won’t cover the “you can always distribute the program without restrictions”-freedom but I don’t think that’s actually all that important, never mind that it goes against our entire economic model (you could argue that our economic model isn’t a very good one, but you can’t change the world all at once).

                                                                                I also don’t like telling other people what to do – and like even less being told what to do – I wouldn’t mind so much if people said stuff like “hey, a lot of people understand Open Source as such-and-such, and it may avoid confusion if you don’t use it in a different way”, but a lot of the times I see people being abrasive, challenging, assuming all sorts of weird intent, and generally just being assholes over it (I wish I had bookmarked some of the discussions). So this kind of stuff rubs me the wrong way on account of that, too.

                                                                                1. 5

                                                                                  You probably see people being “abrasive” because they’ve worked on open source in part because of a specific meaning of the term, so to see people arguing to water down the concept to include things that are against the spirit and known definition of open source is frustrating. And many of the people / organizations pushing alternative definitions are ones that are trying to co-opt the understood definition of open source for purposes that are not aligned with the majority of open source proponents.

                                                                                  Let people who aren’t aligned with the OSI definition come up with their own terms and spend the 20 years or so that others have spent making open source popular, rather than co-opt a term that already has goodwill and acceptance.

                                                                                  1. 5

                                                                                    A lot of developers I’ve worked with don’t really know “Open Source” as more than “the source is available”; those people typically also understand “Free Software” as “it’s free”, by the way.

                                                                                    The irony is so rich here considering that ostensibly the term “open source” was created specifically to counter that misconception about “free software”.

                                                                                    Of course in actuality it was promoted to appropriate hacker culture to strip it of its political meaning and turn it into corporate-friendly free labor, so seeing it turn out this way is kind of sweet, in a way.

                                                                                    1. 1

                                                                                      a lot of the times I see people being abrasive, challenging, assuming all sorts of weird intent, and generally just being assholes over it

                                                                                      That’s just nerds being nerds. It’s sad, but the tech scene includes many people who lack any sort of empathy or social graces, or who have grown so bitter that they don’t care anymore. A more charitable way of explaining it would be to say they’re just young, idealistic and have the energy to try to convince people on the internet of their beliefs. These folks also tend to be so loud that they drown out more sensible voices.

                                                                                      1. 4

                                                                                        I see plenty of people being abrasive, challenging, and generally being assholes over all sorts of issues, including ones I strongly support and ones I strongly oppose. And I don’t trust people not to let their object-level opinions of politicized issues affect their judgment about whether people with a strong opinion on that issue are assholes or not. So I don’t even consider whether the supporters of some issue who I happen to see are assholes or not, when I decide what my own opinion is about that issue.

                                                                                        1. 2

                                                                                          I feel that that is the most healthy way to deal with this stuff. Yet I also understand that a bad attitude will turn some people off an otherwise good idea.

                                                                                  1. 17

                                                                                    Here’s the thing: I don’t think you, the Open Source Initiative (OSI), or anyone else gets to single-handedly define a One True Definition of Open Source. Even if the OSI would have unambiguously coined the term Open Source (which is complicated, more on that later) then that still doesn’t mean they get to be the arbiter of all usage of it; it’s just not how language works. If trademarks can be come generic then so can neologisms such as Open Source.

                                                                                    Whether you like it or not for many people – especially those not deeply invested in the entire movement – Open Source means “there is access to the source code in some way”, with varying levels of things you are and aren’t allowed to do with it. They generally don’t mean “it fits the definition according to this checklist some organisation drafted”.

                                                                                    This guy wants to be able to label as “open source” software with licenses that violate OSI definition points 5 and 6 (“No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups” and “No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor”), so that he can promote software written by or influenced by political activists who want the cultural cachet of being involved in open-source software but who also want to discriminate against people, groups, and fields of endeavor they see as politically unacceptable. (In fact I think this about developers who specifically hate US Immigration and Customs Enforcement). I don’t want him and people who share his politics to get away with that.

                                                                                    Consequently, I will be pedantic about the label “open source”. I will insist in any space where I have the power to do so that software licensed under terms that discriminate against people, groups or fields of endeavor is not open source software.

                                                                                    1. 10

                                                                                      In fact I think this about developers who specifically hate US Immigration and Customs Enforcement

                                                                                      No, it’s not. You may surprised to learn that not the entire world is obsessed the political situation in the United States.

                                                                                      Most the discussions about this revolve around “almost Open Source” licenses – such as the Business Source License, Commons Clause, Reciprocal License, etc. – which restrict various commercial usage to protect the interests and long-term financial viability of the original author(s).

                                                                                      I don’t care much for the Hippocratic License as I feel it’s too ambiguous and unworkable in practice, although I don’t really mind if people call this “Open Source”.

                                                                                      1. 9

                                                                                        I will insist in any space where I have the power to do so that software licensed under terms that discriminate against people, groups or fields of endeavor is not open source software.

                                                                                        Seconded. I swear I will do this as well, here on Lobsters and on Hacker News and on Reddit. I already do anyway, but I heard public proclamation is also valuable.

                                                                                        1. 6

                                                                                          There’s good reason that in the list of Four Freedoms, “The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose” is Freedom Zero: it’s the foundational freedom that the others build on (also the authors didn’t realise it needed to be made explicit until after they’d written Freedoms 1-3). The Open Source Definition is the Debian Free Software Guidelines with the word “Debian” replaced, so it’s unsurprising that “the freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose” should be foundational to Open Source, and I stand with you in asserting that.

                                                                                          The original blog post stands in a history that was initiated by the OSI. In wanting to downplay the tricky, political and social aspects of Free Software (and the tricky, homophonic resonances with No Money) they created a term that could be associated with existing business/technology terms like Open Systems and carried none of the political connotations. This opened up the possibility for making arguments that are, accidentally or deliberately, about promoting open source for a particular line of business independent of or even contrary to the social aims.

                                                                                          Where I agree with this blogger is that the OSI don’t have the authority to dictate how the phrase “Open Source” is used, because they didn’t trademark it. This is a bug, not a feature. Where the Copyleft idea subverted the intended protections of copyright, the FLOSS communities have been unable to do the same with trademark protection and have explicitly avoided trying the same with patent protection.

                                                                                        2. 3

                                                                                          A few days ago, someone who was (probably) using my software was annoying me, and I thought to myself “What can I do as the author of this software, to get back at him”. But then I realized, that it is exactly the vice of free software (or “open source” if you insist) that I have no way of excerpting my power over this user, beyond deluding, manipulating of lying.

                                                                                          I argue that this has to be kept in mind as a critical factor when talking about software licenses: “How can the author/owner exercise [power] over me?”. From simple things such as breaking my workflow by changing the UI, or preventing my from using the software, for personal or political reasons. As long as I don’t have the last word, I am at the mercy of someone else’s good will.

                                                                                          1. 4

                                                                                            Urbit’s might get around some of the cross-language issue, since it’s based on a handmade dictionary of syllables (512 consonant-consonant-vowel tuples) rather than using every single combination. That gives them leeway to weed out some particular combinations that are problematic in one language or another. (I don’t know if they’ve actually done so, though.)

                                                                                            #include obligatory disclaimer about the politically problematic nature of Urbit and its founder

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                                                                                            The author provided GPT-3 with training data where all the questions have definite answers, and the answer is always “X is Y”.

                                                                                            Unless I missed something, there was no training data where the answer is, “That makes no sense.”, or “I don’t know.” or “Actually, the U.S. did not exist as such in 1700, so there was no president.”

                                                                                            Is it any wonder that GPT-3 followed suit and answered all the questions the same way, with the best approximation?

                                                                                            I don’t think I would expect any more from a human either, if the human’s knowledge base was somehow made a clean slate, e.g. a child human.

                                                                                            If you were training a child in this manner, you’d probably get similar results.

                                                                                            Also, there was no opportunity for re-training. When you’re teaching a child, they’re bound to get some answers wrong, and then you would correct them, and they would also learn from that.

                                                                                            No such opportunity was provided here, though I don’t know if that is technically possible with GPT-3.

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                                                                                              The author provided GPT-3 with training data where all the questions have definite answers, and the answer is always “X is Y”.

                                                                                              The training data for GPT algorithms is just massive amounts of English language text from the Internet, isn’t it? I’m not sure how that’s consistent with “questions that have definite answers” - most of the training data text wouldn’t be in the form of any kind of question because most English language sentences are not questions.

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                                                                                                Training data is the wrong term - this is better termed “prompt data”, which is used to “set the stage” for GPT predictions.

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                                                                                                I’m unsure if GPT-3 can respond like that, although that would be an interesting thing to add to this. Another option would be to create some sort of autoencoder framework that lets the network determine when it is responding to something it’s never really seen before. Uber has a very interesting write-up about doing that.

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                                                                                                This reminds me of an incident I saw reported several months ago where the Saudi Arabian government paid some Twitter employees with ties to Saudi Arabia to use their access to Twitter’s systems to get the personal information of some anti-Saudi-government Twitter users. This is a good reminder that technology companies that store unencrypted user data (or encrypted data + the keys for it) are vulnerable to social engineering attacks just as much as to more traditional hacking; and that companies that run globally-important platforms like Twitter are awfully big targets.

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                                                                                                  I agree that user-side encryption where users own the keys would solve this issue, but historically users are unable to participate well in public key infrastructures. Even if you get browsers on board think of the education required to deal with bootstrapping initial keys, revocation, and rotation. Users barely understand TLS and what the green lock means. I don’t think it would work. I could be wrong, I know South Korea and Estonia both have ways of strongly authenticating citizens.

                                                                                                  I think there is a different more mundane angle here. Why is a single Twitter administrator allowed to do anything? All internal actions of this severity must require another person at Twitter to say “yep, go ahead”, preferably someone more senior. Requesting too many such internal actions should automatically trigger an alarm.

                                                                                                  Finally there should be some actions that are almost impossible for administrators to do. Why is there even an internal tool in the first place that allows impersonating users? You may respond “sure but there will be some internal API that triggers tweets, in the end a sufficiently knowledge insider can use it”. That’s fine, then lock down that API hard with authentication, authorization, and auditing for who is using the API and when, with alarms on unusual usage. Humans should be prohibited from using it, and prohibited from accessing machines that can use it.

                                                                                                  This is all the realm of security threat modeling…and I’m not claiming this is easy, this is painful to do, and teams hate doing it. But this why security and threat modeling matters.

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                                                                                                  I like the ideal that in a text-based internet communications platform like Lobsters people shouldn’t be judged based on demographic details they can’t control. But I don’t think that “ability to choose a pleasing avatar” is in that class. What avatar you pick, if any, is part of the same expressive ability demonstrated by your choice of username and your contentful writing. I’ve never bothered to pick an avatar here, and I don’t think that affects me much one way or the other. And while I don’t personally care very much about avatars, a lot of people seem to get value out of them, so I’d vote to keep them.