Waste to the Top

Humans are interesting creatures, we are animals that need a certain amount of resources to survive and then again some more resources after that to make life easier, or just less likely to collapse after a trial.

But on the other hand we’re social beings which brings with it a competition innate to nature as much as hunger which drives us to greater social standing. To prove that social standing is important one only has to look at how stress can be measured by how big your house is compared to the houses near to where you live. Think about it for a second, not your house compared to all houses, but your house compared to your immediate neighbours.

So we have this drive to prove ourselves to our peers. That we’re just as good if not better than everyone. This might explain why most people think they’re better than the average for driving, it’s just a part of the whole ego and social standing system.

We also live in a world of terrible waste. I should say, it’s not the natural world that’s wasting, it’s the human world that is using more earths than earths per year and those earths only furnish a tenth of the people with SUV level consumption.

I think that these two things are linked. The passion for proving your place in the social order and the huge amounts of waste. It certainly makes sense that we’re always hitting the upper buffers of what’s available to exploit and never seem to have enough. Because our frail egos depend on having more and proving more. We’ve encouraged this system of waste, with advertising that targets the social climbing “aspiring nature” of consuming products and the way governments want to keep people happy with more and more consumption… this is especially dangerous with energy.

What’s ironic is how egalitarianism has caused some of this. Think about it, in the past if you wanted social stature, you’d fight for it and earn actual titles and patronage or demonstrate piety, politeness or intellect. But when we dismantled all alternative social standing devices to make everyone equal, what we did was leave the last man standing to dominate. That last man of inequality is of course capital. So money and specifically ability to purchase largess becomes the only way to show others your standing. Not to say largess is a new thing, oh lord no, but now it’s pretty much the only thing.

As an environmentalist this is all frightening. And I’d dearly like to think of ways to change the way we talk about and think about the issues of waste.

And I see some movements over the years. More people take pride in recycling, or reusing supermarket bags.

But I think we have to go further, much, much further. Entire nations have to somehow change what national pride is based on and what each person inside considers important for their social position. A full 180 would be using the amount of resources you’re not wasting as a mechanism, you can see these in those letters you might get from your water or gas company comparing your usage to your neighbours.

But that doesn’t have to be only way to show standing. We could get all the ego buffs we ever could want online, the social standing of being the best, most police, most rational debater. Or the most helpful contributor. Or perhaps the best player in Wesnoth. It doesn’t actually have to matter and you don’t need to get really deep philosophically. It only needs to be something you can compete it, something that’s visible to you and your neighbours and if it includes your actual physical neighbours, so much the better!

What do you think? What would you use to show you’re better than everyone else?

Story: Over here

To whomever Finds this,

I don’t know how long I have to write, for once, my brevity rather than my verbosity is sought. For you see, I am hunted by something unholy, and I don’t know how long it will let me write here at this desk. I hear the wail of the storm outside that brought this upon me and wonder why I’m spared. I only hope that this warning finds the next owner and that they can understand what happened here.

My story started rather joyously, for, you see, I had the good fortune of being in the company of the new Lord-Lieutenant of all of Ireland, and he had promised that, in exchange for my support in his settling the Kings local affairs, I would be granted lands and a house more splendid than anything I could have looked forward to with my standing in England.

Foolishly, I know now, I also took someone very dear with me on my journey, my grand daughter Felicia. She was, quite tragically, orphaned at age eight by a terrible business in York County that I would rather not go into. She had accompanied me for two years since, and I had enjoyed her youthful naiveté and playful inquisitive nature. In our exchanges I taught her of the high ranks of England and introduced her to many great families who she may one day hope to marry into. I didn’t care for too many servants to come between us, as the dear child being my only remaining family, was special to my sentiment and a cure for my ongoing progression in years. I would always remark to myself how grateful I was to be succeeded so graciously and fortunately by this one remaining heir.

But outside it is still ghastly, thinking of her now hurts so much, and I still do not know why I’m being allowed to continue to document what feels like a last testament. Perhaps the spirit is toying with me before it gets me as it has gotten the others…

…Yes, I should explain. I’m so very sorry about them. I journeyed from London to Drogheda with my three servants and my kin. My dearest friend, the Lord-Lieutenant, met with me for tea there, and we discussed our plans, oh so very many political plans, which I now not care much. The one which finds me here had us planning to allow a fellow Lord to have his way and build his new dock in Kinsale. The local millita was proving obstinate and unreasonable, even with requests from the Crown. My new job was to bribe or otherwise convince the locals of the British plans and further the strength in trade from the Americas. I was given this house here in Dunderrow to be close enough to have control but far enough to not be in danger of attack.

I moved in here last week and was just getting settled with Felicia enjoying the trouble of it all. I remember sending messages to the village to have new furnishings sent to more properly dress my new home here in Ireland.

It only took but five days to break the peace of the fine springtime with an unholy storm, which creped over the landscape, and from the north and upon this house it struck. The wind and the rain battered the windows angrily. Going outside was like entering a winter, even though the calendar would suggest pleasant warm showers, it was freezing and the foreboding dark from clouds even in the midst of the day did nothing for my mood.

I don’t say this candidly of course, at first I thought they were suicides since the nature of their demise would suggest it. One by one they ended themselves in the same spot on the grounds. Mrs Crawdford, my cook for fifteen years, was the last to walk with apparent calmness from the tallest part of the building in the howling wind and cold thunderous rain with myself calling out to cease. Her eyes filled with some other scene, and only the surrounding weather showing the emotion of the danger she was in. I was in terror that my dearest grand daughter would soon find herself calmly taking her life in repeat of what I had just seen. I quickly got together our things and decided to make way to the village despite the weather.

Calling after Felicia in the house left no reply. I searched where I knew she should be, but there was only the grand fire place still warming the only human part of the house, abandoned without struggle. Wrenching at the thought of the worst, I became unstable and grabbed at the mantle to steady myself with tears. I caught in the very mirror above the fire a series of fine cracks as they starting running over the glass before my eyes forming the terrible words: “your kin is to the land in debt and warning”

Shocked and upset, I must have succumbed right there as I brought myself up from the floor an hour after. I still can’t believe what I saw and what it meant for my dearest. All I know is that she is gone, the monsters of this land have taken her from me. That is how I come to write this, in anger at the land that took my happiness and in misery at my misfortune to be subjected so.

It’s only a matter of time before the awful wailing outside goes abroad to darken some other shores and I can quit this place forever, or either what malicious force caused my suffering will also cease it soon as I would welcome it. Only you who find this letter will know which.

CLt. Arthur Mercal

Originally written: 2011-11-30

Responsibility in Software

Pepper & carrot creator David Revoy has created a good blog post that goes into the problem that he’s personally had with the new release of Inkscape 0.92.

The issue with text and svg is actually kind of complex. It’s at the junction of specification, feature management and dealing with old formats. But it’s also a lot about how Free Software projects deal with users to a degree too.

This is because Inkscape is entirely volunteer driven, which means when Inkscape fails for us developers, only our pride is hurt. But actually out there in the big world there are real people who will be materially hurt by a bad inkscape release.

And my frustration is that there’s no serious Free Software way to connect developers to users in that essentially material way that binds them strongly. I’ve been banging the Money and Economics drum for A VERY LONG TIME, but fellow developers are just not interested in the idea that either Free Software could be a job of service instead of indulgence and that there really is a responsibility that we quite often neglect when we don’t have the right resources to deal with them properly.

This isn’t the case for all projects. Quite a few projects have key developers that manage to turn their pet project into a real full time job. OK so they’ll sometimes get some bias from their employer and the project can turn corporate, but that’s the trade off.

This is where the Inkscape projects really hits the wall. It’s a very big and useful project, that has an incredibly poor user to developer material binding. We need about 50 cents from every inkscape user to hire ten to twenty full time developers, managers and ancillary support. Of course the money would likely be bunched up into a few hands, but the project yearns to be in the greatest number of hands and not a few big players.

And maybe that’s the big barrier, a cultural one. Inkscape is built on the idea that all developers are equal and the project can be driven forwards in many directions by lots of developers at once.

I really wish I had some solutions. But given Inkscaoe’s current issues, I’m going to focus on actually fixing the issues we have and I’ll have to come back to how we solve the resources problem more fundamentally.

Responsibility & Cost

These are some notes about a open source presentation I may make at some point in the future. It’s target is programmers and technical staff and project managers who want to understand Free and Open Source better.

Back in the old days of programming, everything you made was your responsibility. Computers were simple, programs were simple and programmers were self reliant. It was a golden age of programming innovation where programmers could explore their entire field and stake claims in the uncharted areas of the software hinterland and most of the time were able to earn decent money while doing so.

But progress meant complexity. Complexity brought with it a phase change from programs developed by single individuals to programs developed by teams, or entire large corporations. No matter how large you made the company or how much money you could push into a project, software projects just seemingly grew to fit their environment, always growing more in complexity than any company could reasonably keep up with.

And so there developed a solution to the complexity. We pay someone else to create a generic system that allows our team to create more complex software at a higher level. These generic systems always had limitations, but with competition, systems like operating systems, databases, web-servers all came into existence to solve to major problem in software: Just how much complexity can a programmer possibly write before they can’t remember it all or how complex a piece of software gets before a team can no longer coordinate effectively around it.

So we have this desire for every greater complexity, but also a growing need to reduce which bits of the complexity that we are personally responsible for.

It’s not difficult to see how paying a company for a piece of software that solves the problem is a fine way to reduce the personal responsibility. You get a piece of software that does almost everything you need and your work then only consists of learning how to use the software and how to customise it for your specific business.

The way the software was sold was very much like selling bananas off a shelf. You’d get the rights to run a single copy that you paid for and that would be that. Any copying would be as if you stole a bunch of bananas from the grocers. This thinking is required if you want to sell software like this, but it isn’t the only way software can be sold.

This is where Free Software comes in. It’s a way of licensing software that works with the realities of software instead of against them. It doesn’t pretend that code is a banana, it treats the code as if it WILL be copied. And that’s ok. What’s specifically important about Free Software is the freedom that it demands users have. No matter how much money you pay for a piece of software, the user must ALWAYS have control over their own software and must ALWAYS be free.

More to follow…

Software Freedom Society

I’ve been mulling over a new idea and I’ve come to my blog to draft my thoughts on it. I’m probably wrong, but I really want you to comment your thoughts below.

We have a Free Software world which is dominated by schools of thought, each focusing on a particular piece of the Free Software problem. Some of them know that they have a limited scope such as the Freedom Software Law Center and Software Freedom Conservancy (legal and sub-incorporation respectively) and then there are groups which try to be all things to all people like the grand daddy of them all, the Free Software Foundation.

I think the FSF itself wants to have a very limited scope, but it just can’t shake the fact that it’s political protests have implications outside of what it wants to do. Things like economics, interpersonal relationships, community culture and creative rights and remuneration to name a short few examples. I think perhaps that people who believe in the FSF’s political campaign, want it to be more. I know I’m frustrated with it’s lack of “do anything productive at all”, that seems to defined the last nine years. Many people who I know here in Boston voice similar low level grumblings think it’s lost focus a great deal because of what users want it to be.

Then there’s another organisation, the Canonical Ltd hype machine that is the Ubuntu community. It’s a pretty good force in the Free Software world (some people will disagree) but again, it’s members want it to be more than a corporate cheer-leading squad. They desire an authority that can standardise, set example, lead. But let’s be honest, Canonical can’t possibly do anything right in a lot of eyes outside of the Ubuntu community itself (even if it empirically did so). So the route to using the boundless capacity of enthusiasm and good ideas about community management and treating non-coders with respect has been watered down or rejected, ever tied to a company that is desperate to make money and over eager for your attention about it’s latest announcement that it drowns it’s own community out.

Now imagine a community that’s dedicated to Software Freedom like the FSF, as respectful and energetic as the Ubuntu Community, as transparent as Debian and as well defined as the Law Center. It’s goals would be to host an open membership, be an arena for debate about community structure, a place to document and explore social standards in both projects and the user communities surrounding them and to invite all to participate in projects as non-coding members.

We could take charge of the areas that the FSF struggles to host, help generalise existing community wisdom that might be tainted by the Canonical brand and provide valuable guides and education on the best ways to run projects and all the pieces needed to make them work.

We could do this by beating a drum and collecting together everyone until we get a critical mass that the social project works. But there is another more useful way too. Many coding projects suffer from a lack of infrastructure for their community operations, not just a lack of know-how. So we’d also start providing the-best-we-know-how pieces of community infrastructure such as mailing lists, forums, chat servers and social media mechanisms. The idea would be to share a lot of the technical burdens and let smaller projects have all the things they need to run a fun, inclusive and accessible community.

This project would of course ask other organisations to dismantle some of their existing structure. We’d have to gain trust and try and close down duplication as much as creating new spaces. This is after all about standardisation of social and community tools and practices and like the xkcd comic states, making new generic standards often leads to more standards. So making our infrastructure fast, pretty and reliable would also be important goals.

So, given that I’ve just rambled on about a passionate but off the top of my head idea (thanks for reading it!), what do you think? Please do comment below, comment in the social media link you might have used or you can email me at doctormo áŧ gmail.com with your thoughts. I really do want to hear from people as this idea could be important to the whole Free and Open Source Software universe.