Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn
dachte

The thin shape of a shell

As I was slipping through kryten to get to holly, I noticedsomething. Like my ancient essay, 'the color of a jog', I tendto think of BSD systems (kryten runs OpenBSD) as being 'thinner'than Linux systems, like squeezing through a narrow corridor.I might attempt to guess where that impression comes from, but I'mnot sure that such attempts would be anything more than rationalization --maybe it's just a harmless oddity in the brain.

So, it turns out that I was wrong, at least in one aspect, aboutthe person I'm beginning to dislike. The other factors are stillthere though, and unless I have bad data there too, said personstill is lower than a random person on my likeability meter.
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Of recent interest has been direct competition between the open folksand commercial ISPs in the realm of broadband. Slashdot had an article,but, unsurprisingly, got the facts wrong. However, only in that instance --the competition is real. To repeat something I posted on the CMU newsgroups,there are some open folks who are working on community networks, usingwireless ethernet to cover the country with (usually) free network access,in some areas providing linkups to the internet, in some just providingan alternate network. As the hardware is mostly commodity hardware, themasses can easily fund this out of pocket without organizing too much. Theresulting network is a functional anarchy. So, what's the problem? Well,ISPs would prefer that people not do that, so they can provide the same,with internet access, and charge for it. Alas, they can't currently usethe law to stop them -- the wireless band is legal for anyone who wantsto to broadcast onto it, interference happening when it will. They'recertainly not happy about it.

My thoughts? Not everything that could be a market should be a market.This is the exact mirror of what happened when businesses met theinternet -- too much was free, so they destroyed the most beautifulthings so they could recreate that value, with them holding the tickets.Like I stated before, capitalistic forces beat to their own drum -- theyoften care little for the welfare of the people. When it so happens thatthey help the people, they will, and when they hurt, they will. If thefree people can manage to cover the country, or the world, with their freewireless internet, that would be a great thing, and I might even take somedelight in seeing the ISPs fail. If the spammers could be defeated, unplugged,or beaten with baseball bats, that would be a plus too. This does, however,open an entire can of worms that I'll need to sort through. I guess, I'llstart off by tossing an idea up for consideration. When a functional anarchycan coexist with or destroy a market, and can provide similar services towhat the market could've provided, without the typical money extractiongame, it's preferable to support it than to go through the market. Hmm.It's an interesting idea that I might adopt. But it has a few problems.Here's one, although it might be invalid. Chew on it yourself a bit.We'll use the free software movement and the community networks movementas our example. If you're feeling creative, and know your history, you canthink of them as being part of a 'Sixth International' that doesn't existyet. Incidentally, my extreme kudos to those of you who follow history andphilosophy to know what I mean there. For the rest of ya punks, go toWikiPedia and look up 'Fourth International', 'Third International', etc.

One of the thinks that the market does provide is a source of income to thepeople who provide the service. It is very efficient at matching desires(whether created (bad) or already present (often good) ) to fulfillmentof those, making sure that those who do things that people want don't endup bankrupt. The Free software and Community Networks folk, at least on thesurface, are charities, which have the opposite effect -- those who dothe good recieve no funds for it. They meet other needs of the doers --recognition, gratitude, and a feeling of having helped people. However,the doers usually need other jobs to sustain themselves. If we accept thatsqueezing control back out of businesses is desirable, then we run intoa conflict of interests -- we'd eventually start to squeeze our donators'sources of funding. That's a problem. Note that in some cases, it makessense for businesses to participate in these networks -- if they wantto attack each others' cash cows by commoditizing a certain area of themarket, or, if they're not in that particular market at all, or if theyact as customers of that market, it might make a lot of business senseto support decapitalizing it. It's especially interesting when a companymakes money doing consulting and custom coding/integration. Why does IBM likeLinux? It decapitalizes the operating system market, and to some degree formsa base to decapitalize the entire commercial software industry. Does IBM makemoney in that industry? Some, but IBM wants to primarily be aconsulting/integration/custom coding/hardware company, all of which areareas which the open folks are less likely to enter, because the code isless interesting and less reusable. With systems that are more open, IBMcan do what it wants to do more easily, and by sticking a pin into theMicrosoft balloon, it can avoid huge licensing costs that Microsoft wants.

But.. it still might be a problem. Can consulting/integration/etc supporteveryone? I don't know. I know at least that my job is partly rote andpartly custom stuff. Fortunately, CMU is rather accepting of outsidetechnologies, so my job wouldn't change too much, and I still could provideopen software, webspace/email addresses/etc to people I know if the openfolks win in the end. As for the long-term effects, I'll just call it aninteresting question. Here's another interesting thought, which I'm notsure if I agree with -- inefficiencies in markets provide people withthe funds they need to survive. When the markets become more efficient,people are put at risk. If I were to agree with it, is it a superset ofthe problem I'm discussing here?

Tags: philosophy
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