Time Heals All Wounds.. And Then Kills the Patient
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Thu Jul 24 16:01:06 2003
The thin shape of a shell

As I was slipping through kryten to get to holly, I noticed something. Like my ancient essay, 'the color of a jog', I tend to 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'm not 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, about the person I'm beginning to dislike. The other factors are still there though, and unless I have bad data there too, said person still is lower than a random person on my likeability meter.


Of recent interest has been direct competition between the open folks and 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, using wireless ethernet to cover the country with (usually) free network access, in some areas providing linkups to the internet, in some just providing an alternate network. As the hardware is mostly commodity hardware, the masses can easily fund this out of pocket without organizing too much. The resulting 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 use the law to stop them -- the wireless band is legal for anyone who wants to to broadcast onto it, interference happening when it will. They're certainly 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 the internet -- too much was free, so they destroyed the most beautiful things so they could recreate that value, with them holding the tickets. Like I stated before, capitalistic forces beat to their own drum -- they often care little for the welfare of the people. When it so happens that they help the people, they will, and when they hurt, they will. If the free people can manage to cover the country, or the world, with their free wireless internet, that would be a great thing, and I might even take some delight 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'll start off by tossing an idea up for consideration. When a functional anarchy can coexist with or destroy a market, and can provide similar services to what the market could've provided, without the typical money extraction game, 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 movement as our example. If you're feeling creative, and know your history, you can think of them as being part of a 'Sixth International' that doesn't exist yet. Incidentally, my extreme kudos to those of you who follow history and philosophy to know what I mean there. For the rest of ya punks, go to WikiPedia and look up 'Fourth International', 'Third International', etc.

One of the thinks that the market does provide is a source of income to the people who provide the service. It is very efficient at matching desires (whether created (bad) or already present (often good) ) to fulfillment of those, making sure that those who do things that people want don't end up bankrupt. The Free software and Community Networks folk, at least on the surface, are charities, which have the opposite effect -- those who do the 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 that squeezing control back out of businesses is desirable, then we run into a conflict of interests -- we'd eventually start to squeeze our donators' sources of funding. That's a problem. Note that in some cases, it makes sense for businesses to participate in these networks -- if they want to attack each others' cash cows by commoditizing a certain area of the market, or, if they're not in that particular market at all, or if they act as customers of that market, it might make a lot of business sense to support decapitalizing it. It's especially interesting when a company makes money doing consulting and custom coding/integration. Why does IBM like Linux? It decapitalizes the operating system market, and to some degree forms a base to decapitalize the entire commercial software industry. Does IBM make money in that industry? Some, but IBM wants to primarily be a consulting/integration/custom coding/hardware company, all of which are areas which the open folks are less likely to enter, because the code is less interesting and less reusable. With systems that are more open, IBM can do what it wants to do more easily, and by sticking a pin into the Microsoft balloon, it can avoid huge licensing costs that Microsoft wants.

But.. it still might be a problem. Can consulting/integration/etc support everyone? I don't know. I know at least that my job is partly rote and partly custom stuff. Fortunately, CMU is rather accepting of outside technologies, so my job wouldn't change too much, and I still could provide open software, webspace/email addresses/etc to people I know if the open folks win in the end. As for the long-term effects, I'll just call it an interesting question. Here's another interesting thought, which I'm not sure if I agree with -- inefficiencies in markets provide people with the 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 of the problem I'm discussing here?