Archive for the ‘FOSS’ Category

Melvin Conway, How do committees invent? (1968)

Committees Paper.

As Conway states in his retrospective summary:

To save you the trouble of wading through 45 paragraphs to find the thesis, I’ll give an informal version of it to you now: Any organization that designs a system (defined more broadly here than just information systems) will inevitably produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure. This turns out to be a principle with much broader utility than in software engineering, where references to it usually occur. I invite you to read the paper, then look around to find applications. My current favorite is the complex of social issues encompassing poverty in America: access to labor markets, housing, education, and health care. After reading the paper, think about how the structures of our various governments affect their approaches to this system.

Does this principle also work inversely? In organising productive communities, especially those working on sourcecode, my working thesis has long been that the architecture of the code informs the architecture of the community. “Monolithic” architectures (which some would just say is another term for, “too big”) tend to processes that more modular ones would find at best hierarchical and probably unacceptable. And we all know how very hard it is to change a system of power, especially one that has operated more or less well enough for years, to something that implicitly limits the power of those who had it before.

Conway’s very famous paper is here.

Entrepreneurs or the state: Innovation comes from public investment.

Entrepreneurs or the state: Innovation comes from public investment. – Slate Magazine.

I came across Mazzucato a while ago and what she and Fred Block (and other economists and even non-economists) argue fits what I and (many) others have long observed and noted: that government’s role in innovation investment has been deprecated and even obscured. Mazzucato’s new book, The Entrepreneurial State, expands on the subject. Mazzucato is a good writer and the book is interesting. It does the great service of unpacking (thoroughly undoing, actually) the persistent myth about innovation in tech: that it is all about individuals and sometimes, grudgingly, garage bands, working outside the destructive gravity of the government to come up with that something new. Of course there are brilliant individuals and of course many do new things on their own, in the isolation of their garage or apartment or cabin in the woods, that change the shape of the present and future. But that’s not the point of her or any rational examination. It is rather to examine the logistics of innovation so as to strengthen the likelihood of effective investment. And pretending that it’s all done in Libertarian isolation is not the way.

The FSFE on securing data from compromise

New Snowden leak: Storing your data at Microsoft is negligent.

Hacking the World

Hacking the World – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

It’s Time to Legalize Cell Phone Unlocking | We the People: Your Voice in Our Government

It’s Time to Legalize Cell Phone Unlocking | We the People: Your Voice in Our Government.


Democracy Now!, the morning news hour that one can listen to any number of ways (I listen to the podcast), has an excellent set of interviews with some of the principal speakers at the Freedom to Connect Conference (where I wish I were). The petition to bock the unlocking provision features.


Readers’ Choice Awards 2012 | Linux Journal

Readers’ Choice Awards 2012 | Linux Journal.

So here’s a simple test I undergo from time to time: Create a simple, informative presentation with charts and images. Do this while travelling to the conference via plane or train. Assume that the venue will offer a rich choice of incompatibilities and idiosyncratic setups. So save it as a PDF, and, for fun, as a SWF file. Further, put it on a USB stick or, as I also do now, slot it into one of the many slide-sharing and storage sites.

And, if you are like me, the presentation is likely to be fairly skeletal and won’t include the language you use in the actual lecture. But the conference organizers (or panel organizers) will want that, and you may also want to stay on script, so you’ll need notes.

I am quite sure–no, actually, I’m just guessing–that one can do all this with Keynote or PowerPoint. But could you do it for free? No doubt, the experts among us could do it speedily. But my experiences with MSFT have been anything but speedy; the opposite. Whereas I have never really had frustrations with OpenOffice, though I’ve surely encountered oddities. But I’ve also encountered, and indeed helped to form, a community of sympathetic and friendly experts who have generously offered their help. And also created some terrifically useful templates–and then sent them to me, at 1 AM, when I really really needed them.

ircmaxells blog: The True Problem With PHP

ircmaxells blog: The True Problem With PHP.


An interesting summary, though not sure I’m persuaded. But the problem described–one of community and its identity–is probably true for many Foss communities. Actually, I’d be interested to learn of those that do not suffer from fracture. (And isn’t it the privilege of open source to have forking rights? A fork is not necessarily a death; the opposite is often true. The further virtue is that the risks–economic, technological, social–are simply lower with a lot of open source endeavours, though not for all.)

Feyerabend, Open Source

Paul Feyerabend – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

It’s perhaps a measure of my ignorance that it seems to me that the great Paul Feyerabend is not cited more in the fields of open whatever. His central argument, on behalf of a radical pragmatism in science as well as everything else having to do with obtaining knowledge and information (usable or not; and post-Kant, what is not usable, in the end?), is relevant as few other things are to open access, open knowledge, open source. In practical terms, it means that one puts outcomes over prescribed methods. It does not mean that one must abandon a consciousness of method; indeed, it argues the contrary, for a relentless inquiry into what one is doing and if there is another way of doing it. I think that’s what Feyerabend meant by scientific pluralism.

How do we apply this insight to open source production? Productive open-source communities resist are resistant to fixed methodologies. They require agility and flexibility on the part of the manager, community members, sponsoring entities. I don’t mean by this that obvious protocols of behaviour, such as not being rude on lists, ought not to obtain. But I do mean that the methods of production, the tests of product quality, of merit, are necessarily flexible enough to accommodate the divergences of style and character found in larger projects. Yet, clearly, for there to be communication of any sort, there must be agreed-upon standards–conventions of identity–that allow for difference of implementation and use without mutual incomprehensibility.

This coupling of the anarchic with the conventional makes open source production management an art form: something virtually impossible to codify (at least not without losing its dynamic essence) yet utterly recognizable as producing a valuable object others not engaged in the community can use.

Scientists tout \’open source\’ drug discovery – university of sydney, open source – Open Source – Techworld

Scientists tout \’open source\’ drug discovery – university of sydney, open source – Open Source – Techworld.


Few efforts as fraught with intellectual property issues as laboratory discovery; exceeds software, probably, if only for the amount of money involved. I can well believe that the only effective way to promote an open source process would be to favour it via governmental policy. Else, I’d guess that the vastly powerful multinationals would overwhelm any local effort.

Slavoj Žižek · The Revolt of the Salaried Bourgeoisie: The New Proletariat · LRB 26 January 2012

Slavoj Žižek · The Revolt of the Salaried Bourgeoisie: The New Proletariat · LRB 26 January 2012.


A thoroughly good read, and one (at least in parts) that echoes my own points…. I mean in regards to the privatisation of intellectual work and thus public thought. And that this is particularly pernicious *now* because hundreds of millions of children (of all ages) are routinely and necessarily using computer technology and proprietary software for all classroom work. (Sure, they also use those fine branded pens and pencils and pads of paper, but you don’t need a special hand to use the pencil or pen or special tools to use any such equipment, and it can be read simply by learning the secret codes, which are taught for free, usually, to all.)

So the question is this:

* A lifetime of licenses routinized into the cost of living, and invisible in the enormous harm such a licensed life would put in play if only by suturing close the possibilities of having it some other way; or

* A lifetime open to innovation, collaboration, production unencircumscribed by closed licenses; markets would be built and profits made on the merit of one’s work and not on the right to work itself.

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