As you've probably already read, the CP consortium has recently gotten a hold of the draft of the Alex de Tocqueville Institute's new Samizdat paper. Although it purports to focus on the economic implications of open source and so-called "hybrid source," a large part of the paper focuses on the creation of Linux, and whether it was done legitimately.
The paper suggests that writing Linux in such a short time was a fantastic feat, since only magickal code wizards can write OSes in such a short time - after all, look how long it takes Microsoft to release new version of Windows!. The catch: Linux isn't an OS. That's right, as you probably knew already, Linus didn't write a full-blown OS in 6 months. He wrote a kernel, in fact a hardly working one as of its first release, which was later combined with the GNU tools that already existed. It took years to get it up to par with Minix and Unix. So it wasn't really THAT amazing that Linus made the kernel at the speed he did. By contrast, Microsoft churns out new tools, interfaces, filesystems, web browsers, media players, drivers, and other bloated features with every release of Windows these days.
As one of its main arguments, the paper brings up the fact that Linux was written out of modified Minix code - something which has been said by Eric S. Raymond, among others, as how it was made. However, it is accepted that there is no Minix code left in Linux. Since it was based on Minix, it's a derivative work, says the paper. Well, obviously the author of the paper isn't really aware of the meaning of the term 'derivative work.' A derivative work is "A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship...." according to 17 USC 101. Is Linux a REVISION of Minix? No, clearly they are different products.
Consider the following.
I want to build my own car. Luckily I already have a Ford Taurus, although it is a Ford that I've leased, and as such I can't use Ford's special parts to make my own car (a derivative work, so to speak) due to the leasing agreement, which seeks to protect Ford's unique way of making car parts. So I start by replacing the engine. Then I replace the frame. Gradually I remove all the Ford parts from my car, replacing them, until all the Ford parts are gone. In fact, I even take the "special" Ford parts and reassemble them so that I now have two cars, and I return the original car so I can end my lease. The Ford reps never know that I used the car part "code" if you will to make another car.
Is my new car a Ford too?
Does Ford own my car? Can they sue me for making a derivative work of their car, thus violating my leasing agreement? What if I used the Ford parts as a framework for a giant bowl of cheese ravioli, replacing the engine with a block of mozzarella cheese, the frame with pasta, and the leather of the inside with tomato sauce, until there are no more Ford parts? Does Ford own the rights to my ravioli? When I go to enter my bowl of ravioli into the Guiness Book of World Records, whose record is it - mine or Ford's? If I decide to mass produce Giant Cheese Ravioli Bowls and sell them, does Ford get a cut of my profits?
Did I create my bowl of cheese ravioli, or is it just a derivative work of the Ford Taurus?
Did Linus Torvalds create Linux, or is it just a derivative work of Minix?
Thanks to CP writer Domingo Galdos for the metaphors, and Google Images for some pictures.
Recently, our readers may have likely heard about a nebulous study from the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute on open source-- and as has been more mentioned particularly, although I'd like to stress that it's important not to miss the point by focusing on a single point, the allegation that Linux is legally a derivative of Minix. We were able to obtain a review copy of the forthcoming paper and I will be able to report on the merits of the points brought up by it. I also understand that my editor will be posting an opinion article on it soon.
By the way, there have been allegations of sneaky fingers-in-pies style manipulation between AdTI and Microsoft in regards to this paper. After reading it myself I found that this is not very likely. The most possible linkage that I could ever estimate is that somehow it was Microsoft funding or Microsoft's prominence in the market that lead to the inspiration for this paper. But that is of course contrived. In any case I would tend to take Brown's statement in other press recently that what he wrote were his own thoughts basically at face value.
However, I'd like to note that the behaviour of the Institute in regards to pre-release press is somewhat shameful, inasmuch as the scandalising headlines: "Torvalds claim to 'invent' Linux probably false, says new study." On the contrary, though this is a claim of the paper, it is not a central thesis and I can only imagine that it was spun up this way to attract media attention (which it certainly has).
This is part one in a series of articles to appear on Cynicism Personified on the Samizdat study.
The Samizdat paper opens with some interesting parables and a foreword about the era of Samizdat, the paper's namesake period in Russian history in the Soviet era when freedom fighters would copy and distribute dissident materials against the will of the state censorship apparatus. It's an interesting analogy that gains relevance. In the first place the paper opens up discussing the idea of three spheres of source code control: Proprietary, True Open Source, and Hybrid. Brown classes academic style licenses like the Apache and BSD licenses as truly open, while suggesting that GPL style licenses which have the very interesting Pandora's box property of allowing derivatives but placing restrictions (compare to the truly open that flatly allow derivatives, and to the proprietary which flatly deny the right to create them) are "Hybrid" licenses.
This seems a reasonable term. It goes on to define it economically. This is the very thesis of the paper, the economic impact of open source. Brown states, "Mandated openness ends an individualís ability to leverage its scarcity. Simply put, mandated openness, eliminates value because in essence everybody can have it." This is the fundamental basis of the paper and to understand it you must understand this.
Brown's specific idea and problem with Hybrid License is that it does mandate openness, wanted or not, and causes any contributed code to be 'valueless.' This is the foundation for which the work is based on and I am sorry to report that the foundation is rotten. It's a good point that Hybrid prevents commercial exploitation of software that is Hybrid licensed, after all this is precisely the point and idea.
Suppose you write a program and want to make it open for anyone to enjoy. If you use a traditional open license, you may worry that a company will appear, take your hard work that you intended to be useful for everyone, and then sell it and make money off of it. However if you place your code under the GPL you prevent this, legally enforcing your standard academic atmosphere of any new discoveries and developments on the program being contributed back to the public. This seems reasonable.
The thesis of this paper however is that the problem is that this prevents the great economic benefit of commercial exploitation of the source code and software under Hybrid licensing, and effectively destroys value that was there before. The problem is in the assumptions. In the first place, Hybrid based commercial software has been a proven business, as Brown notes in a different context for such companies as Redhat. Therefore there isn't a real world basis for the idea that Hybrid licensed code cannot be used for commercial exploitation.
More fundamentally, much stock is placed in the idea of fundamental value of the source. If anyone can have it, then it is worthless because it is not scarce. But this is flawed thinking based on material economics where scarcity can never be escaped. On the contrary, there can still be much value. Suppose I build an open source car, called the Pinto. It's magickal, so I can make it replicate itself infinitely. It is not scarce. And I license it legally so that no one can ever remove the magick from it, allowing them to modify it and then sell it copy by copy.
In this world no one could profit from selling Pintos. But many people could benefit from using it. Because it is not scarce so to speak, there is not value in selling Linux, as is. But even so, even if it were only distributed completely freely, it would still create value in the economy. Just ask anyone that is using Linux as an operating system and saving money by lessening security and other problems as well as initial purchase cost, and increasing configurability, among other alleged benefits of Linux. Brown completely forgets that source code is not just property, chunks of things that have some sort of inherent value.
If there is a value it is because there is a utility, and the highest value of software is found not in the money that is transferred away and lost by consumers, personal and corporate, that drains the public treasuries and the company accounts destined for the ledgers of the hard-working software houses. Cars are not valuable because Detroit makes money off of them. Cars are valuable because they take us places. Our economy is helped by the impetus that the automobile industry gives us, but to put it above the very source and reason for value in a product is folly and sadly the Samizdat commits this folly. You don't buy junk. If software has value it is not because someone can charge you for it. It is because people find it very useful and need it. The problem is that once your basic thesis is flawed, not many good points can be salvaged from the rest. That said, the paper contains many interesting and provocative thoughts and pieces of research which we'll examine in our next article.
In the meantime, read the upcoming opinion piece by our editor, which being such I expect to be fairly opinionated.
Bahama Beach Club - A Truly Bad Vacation Spot has an interesting critique of a place I went on vacation not that long ago. I experienced much of what they discuss on the site.
After existing based in Jersey City as a part of history since the 1800s, the Trust Company bank has vanished without a trace. For decades and decades it was an upstanding business and a Jersey City landmark-- physically even. The large Trust Company Building in Journal square, with the huge metalli-concrete red heart logotype on top of it attests to this. They were a nice bank too, besides that.
The Trust Company was a great New Jersey bank with 91 locations statewide and $4 billion in cash, based out of here in Jersey City for centuries. But, as is typical of the dangerous (for the economy and for consumers) rampant consolidation and total centralisation that has been taking place in the banking industry the past few years, it has been bought up by one of those conglomerates from New York state-- North Fork Bancorporation, Inc. They've acquired it, since it provides a strong platform for their launch into this lucrative new market (New Jerseyians). Now many Trust Company branches are being closed.
However, that is not all. As is typical of NFB, they are restructuring the bank under the North Fork name. So, as of the 15th of may, a week or so ago, the Trust Company disappeared in name, just as it had disappeared in law a few weeks prior. All the insignia and logotype of the Trust Company will disappear. The Trust Company Building, a historic building in Journal Square, will have its heart sign removed and it'll probably be sold off or something. The entire intellectual property inasmuch as trademarks will be eliminated. There is no Trust Company any more.
Now, what we'd like to point out again here is that this trend, in general, forgetting about this local experience, of many banks, large and small, acquiring each other, is somewhat unsettling. Lessened competition and centrally controlled banking seems like the future and I don't expect the future to be better than the past.
Get ready for a financial environment with just a few big national and multinationals in this country, much like our media environment.
In the meantime, mourn the passing of one of the most historic institutions in New Jersey. Banks are central to finance and the economy and they've been around as an industry for a long time. So these mergers probably cause a lot of things like this. But it really is a shame.
I have a plan, a ready-to-fail plan though.
I want to buy the The Trust Company brand from NFB. They won't be using it anyway; it'll be destroyed as all the branches are rebranded as North Fork and the The Trust Company name and logotype and service marks are eliminated sysematically. So I move to attempt to buy up the legal rights to those marks and the intellectual property of The Trust Company from NFB.
Itself The Trust Company may be gone but if only its name didn't need to do so too.
According to this story at Yahoo!, which was originally posted at the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute, Linus Torvalds did not invent Linux. Clearly the writer of the article is a bit confused. Linus' brilliant response: "Ok, I admit it. I was just a front-man for the real fathers of Linux, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus."
The President just signed an executive order which for some reason creates a commision and office and some other bureaucracy in the Commerce Department which basically aims to "help Asian/Pacific-Americans in their businesses" or something to that effect.
We wonder what this is is about. Election year measures maybe?
The FCC is seeking comments from the public, starting today, on how/whether it should pursue policies that encourage broadcasters to switch from analogue to digital or at least hybrid A/D broadcasting.
The slow but sure spinning off, downplaying, and damage control of the AOL unit at Time Warner continues with the selling off of their Japanese unit to a local DSL provider there (eAccess).
Their brand will continue to operate there but we see this is an obvious part of what has been going on since a few years ago. America Online is losing value and flogging it off while you can, so to speak, is the strategy of the day.
So, make hay while the sun shines, eh?
Remember a bit ago-- just about a year now, wow-- when that US Patriot missile launched at a Royal Air Force plane in Iraq, killing Kevin Main and David Williams, the crew? Maybe you do. Well, the BBC is reporting that it was due to a technical failure, a computer bug, in the system.
That's right. The missile computer failed to identify the craft as friendly so it shot it down. But the most startling part is the one I'm about to quote you which explains why such a thing could happen, bug or no bug:
"It painted a picture of inexperienced US troops, heavily reliant on technology to make decisions, but lacking crucial equipment which could have helped them identify the Tornado as a friendly aircraft."
It's evident then that there's a problem here. As in many parts of life, even the military is becoming dependent on this sort of technology. It's a pity.
A deadly pity.
Good news! More security theatre from the Bureau of Engraving et Printing. From the people who have been changing and making your money colourful starting with the twenties, they'll be unrolling a new fifty soon. The CP consortium has gotten you one image of the bill ahead of time.
Now we, too, can be like the French.
Here it is, inline for you:
Everyone knows matzoh (sometimes spelled matzah), the famous Passover crackers which actually exist due to Moses and Co. not budgeting their time properly. Well, I'm sure if you're not Jewish, for some reason you think that Jews LIKE eating matzoh. As a matter of fact it's unbelievably tasteless and dry; it's supposed to be some kind of reminder of the pain and suffering experienced by the Jews in Egypt.
(Jew) You know, in Egypt, Jews were slaves, and they were mistreated, and all that.
(Gentile) That's terrible!!
(Jew) But now, we have to eat matzoh.
(Gentile) GOOD GOD, MAN!!
* Gentile faints in shock.
So matzoh is tasteless. Well, why sit around and just LET IT be tasteless? It's one of the tenets we follow here at Cynicism Personified that when something isn't good, you need to complain about it and hatch a plan to fix it.
Enter Matzoh Bits. Take matzoh, slice it up into chips, and add salt, sour cream and onion, barbeque, nacho cheese, cool ranch, pizza, garlic and herb, or honey mustard, among other flavors. If it's possible to do this, add grease. Put into bags and market. Instant snack!
The same could be done for other ethnic cracker things. Like those Chinese noodles that you put in soup. Just ripe for the snackifying.
The sad part about all this is: these things would actually sell.
The Defense Department patented a chemical compound a couple of months ago.
What do we stand for here at Cynicism Personified? Very little. In fact this entry is quite short on purpose to demonstrate this. We are committed to periodically bringing our readers news filtered through the cold unbending light of cynicism. Let's put it simply. We don't take things at face value. It is not the policy of the publication. This post was necessary because despite the obviousness of the name it has never been clarified explicitly. Implicitness is our enemy. Assumptions are the ones we fight. Thank you for support.
This is a short first article on my part. I just want to call our readers' attention to a particularly disgusting bit of marketing on the part of McDonald's. It seems that they've contracted the IW group to set them up a website-- www.i-am-asian.com -- which reaches out to Asian-Americans.
The presentation is creepy, pandering and degrading, it seems to me. From the side images that say "LOL rolling on the floor" to the woman of korean and hispanic ancestry who says something to the effect of "my kids say they're mutts, in a playful way-- but throughout it all McDonald's is there for us, so you could say there is ketchup in my blood," I wonder whether the marketing operations at McDonald's have any integrity left.
Probably not. Ever since the start of the "i'm lovin' it" campaign, the marketing operations of the McDonald's corporation have been at the forefront of the corporate movement to exploit races and cultural differences among Americans in order to sell their product by appealing to stereotypes and pandering to their audience.
You've heard the term blacksploitation? McDonald's has got that. But no worries. They don't discriminate! They do it to everyone, yeah! So just wait for the next wave of advertising from the marketing operations division of McDonald's: McSican. Or maybe, McWhite's.
Funny other things about this little I am Asian business. Seems they're trying to trademark that phrase. "I am Asian." Yes, you read correctly. Look on the site.
This is a test. This is just a test. This is only a test of the emergency information distribution system. This is merely a test. In a real emergency, you would be illiterate by now.