Tue, 28 Jun 2005

Pain and Trust

I just got back from Boston, where I took Master Yang, Jwing-Ming's Qin Na seminar at YMAA (Yang's Martial Arts Association). Qin Na is chinese joint locks, used to subdue or control someone while you do something else to them. I had already attended a Saturday morning class taught by Jim Noble. Jim is a really good teacher. I enjoyed that class, so when my friend invited me down to Boston to take the seminar with him, I jumped at the chance.

Qin Na is interesting because you have to hurt your opponent to practice, and he you. "Hurt", though, has two components: pain and damage. When you're practicing, you want to restrict yourself to causing pain, and you want the person working on you to restrict himself to causing pain. Damage is undesirable.

So how do you learn how to accept pain without fear of damage? You see, if you tense up, if you resist the joint lock, that causes your muscles to be torn, which increases the soreness. It's best to relax, which allows your tendons to stretch and increases flexiblity. The only way you can do that, though, is if you have no fear of being damaged.

Trust, you see, is the key. The trouble with a Level 1 class, which is what I was attending, is that everybody you're working with is also a beginner. Beginners tend to use too many muscles (this is true of all sports) and too much strength. Qin Na is all about technique, not strength, and a beginner doesn't have the technique, so they try strength.

I really, really didn't trust some of the students in the class.

I learned to trust the instructors and Master Yang. He's the worst of all. He causes so much pain so quickly that you can barely see it coming. Suddenly you're in his control. The instructors don't cause as much pain as Master Yang, but they cause more than the other students. I also learned to trust a few of the students.

I didn't get damaged this weekend, but I sure felt a lot of pain.

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Thu, 23 Jun 2005

Parentalism

Don Boudreaux posted about a particular kind of socialism called "parental socialism". He quotes James Buchanan's Public Choice article on the subject:

In one sense, the attitude is paternalism flipped over, so to speak. With paternalism, we refer to the attitudes of elitists who seek to impose their own preferred values on others. With parentalism, in contrast, we refer to the attitudes of persons who seek to have values imposed upon them by other persons, by the state, or by transcendental forces. This source of support for expanded collectivization has been relatively neglected by both socialist and liberal philosophers, perhaps because philosophers, in both camps, remain methodological individualists.

Parentalism as an alternative to freedom is an interesting idea. Let me relate my personal experience of parentalism. I'm a very experienced computer programmer with 30 years of experience. I've written every kind of program imaginable: graphical editors, computer language interpreters, operating systems, text editors, file browsers, map browsers, etc. I'm listed as one of the authors of the Linux kernel. It is perfectly within my ability to grab the source code of any open source program, and improve it, should I find a flaw.

But here is the thing: my life energy is limited. In order to do a good job of hacking at any one program, I would need to know quite a bit about that program. There are a large number of programs that I merely want to be a user of. I'm not afraid to be free to change them. Nobody is forcing me to not make those changes. I prefer, in that certain realm, to be infantilized. I want a parent who will look after that program for me. I want that program to be reliable. I want to trust it, just like I trusted my parents when I was five or six.

The key here is not particularly that this is socialism, it is that I am choosing to be infantilized. I want somebody else to be responsible for gcc compiling my C code into the correct binary code. I want somebody else to be responsible for the reliability of the filesystem on which my files are stored. I want somebody else to write the damned serial driver, 'cuz I've already written way too many serial drivers in my life.

Similarly, many people do not want to have a choice of health insurance. They want to pay their taxes, and hold somebody else responsible for their health.

The lesson for public choice economics is, I think, that people should have the choice to be infantilized. Vive le states rights!

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Wed, 22 Jun 2005

Ride starting Wed Jun 22 19:07:25 2005

29.00 km 95148.06 feet 18.02 mi 6545.00 seconds 109.08 minutes 1.82 hours 9.91 mi/hr

Went out on the Rutland again today. I'm writing a letter to the Town of Stockholm supervisor, asking him to spend some of the grant money on filling in the worst mudholes. In order to do that, though, I have to tell him where they are. So today was a survey of the worst parts of the trail. And then, on the way back, I decided to explore an old road intersecting the trail. So after I left the Rutland, I rode northwest for a bit on an abandoned road. Then it intersected with a dirt road that I rode up to the highway, and then over to Cook Rd back to "North Stockholm" aka Knapps Station.

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Mon, 20 Jun 2005

Open Source Copyright Infringement.

I'm not a lawyer, but I've talked to enough lawyers that this posting will be more correct than incorrect. If one of the Open Source Initiative's lawyers was to read this, I don't think they would blush. Naturally, you're a fool if you rely on an amateur for legal advice, but I plan to give no legal advice here. The US Copyright Office's section on copyright infringement may be a useful reference here.

Copyright enforcement, at least in the USA, is sometimes a civil offense, and sometimes a criminal offense. If you violate copyright in a particularly egregious way, it can be a crime and the police will come after you. Shipping 100,000 DVDs of Star Wars Episode III (obviously not legally on DVD yet) to New York City to be sold by street vendors is clearly criminal copyright violation, and the police would arrest them.

I've never heard of any criminal copyright violation of an open source program. More often, it is a civil offense. The government doesn't get involved in civil offenses. Citizens have to prosecute civil offenses themselves. So typically the copyright holder will initiate a lawsuit against the copyright violator.

But! The last thing you ever want to do is go to court. It's messy, it's expensive, and emotionally unsatisfying. Fortunately, in the open source world, copyright infringement is its own punishment. Let me explain. Open Source is not about the Source code. That's why "Free Software" is a truly inadequate term. It's really about being Open. It's really about the relationship between the users, developers, and vendors of the code.

If you're violating a copyright, then you're actively harming your relationship with other users, developers, and vendors of code. If you want to avoid the legal penalties that go with copyright infringement, you cannot be seen to have infringed the copyright. All of your efforts have to be secret. You can't explain what you're doing; you can't ask for help; you can't hire any outside developers; you can't ask for feature enhancements. It's clearly not worth jeopardizing this relationship for the scant benefit of not complying with an open source license.

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Sun, 19 Jun 2005

Father's Day, 2005

My father, Russell Edward Nelson died ten years ago last January. I feel like I should write something about him on Father's day. I'm not sure what to say, so I'll just ramble. My father worked for New York Telephone for most of his career. He was a kind and gentle man. I never saw him raise a hand in anger. Fear ... maybe ... particularly the one time when he spanked me because I crossed the road by myself. Apart from that, I was never struck by either parent. Dad wasn't the tallest of fellows. I remember growing taller than him with the pride of having surpassed my father at something.

My father knew how to build a building. I don't know where he learned. He built the extension to my family's summer home in Shohola, PA. Hired out the foundation, but he built the rest himself, during weekends and vacations. I think that he always wanted me to teach me how to build, but I was never interested.

Dad was "handy", in the sense that he had a decent collection of tools and knew how to use them. I was so used to having tools, and having been taught to use them, that I was surprised to realize one day that my Uncle Paul wasn't handy. He had a screwdriver or two, and a cheap adjustable wrench, but I'm sure he had no idea how to change the oil on his car.

He worked initially for the telephone company -- probably 15 years -- as an installer. He was affable and made a good representative for the telephone company. He got a BA in Business at Hofstra going to night school. He started in Physics, but couldn't handle the math. For some reason, they sent him off to train for a management position, and during that time, reorganized his department out of existance. They offered him a position in Traffic Engineering. That position entailed writing reports about the amount of facilities that would be needed based on residential and commercial growth. He didn't like doing that, because it wasn't concrete enough for him. Too much guesswork. Anyway, it paid well -- very well -- and he wanted his family to be well off.

My father was a racist. It was popular at the time. I remember him being somewhat disturbed that a black professional had moved into the house kitty-corner behind us. My parents were worried that Baldwin was going to become like Rockville Center and Freeport (the towns on both side of its) and become majority black towns, with an accompanying decrease in real estate values. No concern as far as that fellow went.

I remember him being disgusted by the new laws that required Bell Telephone to hire unqualified candidates simply because of their color. He told a story:

"I remember walking through the CO (Central Office) and hearing a newly hired black employee being trained. He was told "Now, you take your screwdriver" and he interrupted the trainer saying "What's a screwdriver".
This confirmed his racism, I'm sure.

He was a Reagan Republican. Had an autographed picture of old Ronnie on the wall. On the other hand, (or maybe it's the same hand) my parents were sponsors of a child in some third world nation. My father was always disgusted by the editorial decisions of the Long Island Newsday. They were the only Long Island paper, though, and he wanted the local news, so he put up with them.

My father fought in the war, but he hated war. He didn't like the fact that the USA was the only nation that had ever exploded a nuclear bomb, but he also knew that he would have been a part of the invasion force had it been necessary to invade Japan. He flew a C-47 in the Pacific Theater, part of the 63rd Troop Carrier Squadron. Basically, a glorified bus driver in the air. But still, a necessary service for the war effort. Sometimes they would do cargo drops to troops on isolated islands without a runway.

My father was of the opinion that provision of services by private parties was always better than government provision. He worked for the telephone company, so he knew how badly private parties could be. Still, he didn't like it when the government did something that could be done peacefully instead. I had a brief unthinking flirtation with socialism for about five years, and had some arguments with him over it. But I came to my senses well before he died, so we made our peace.

I love my dad, and I miss him.

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Ride starting Sun Jun 19 15:55:26 2005

32.97 km 108169.91 feet 20.49 mi 8097.00 seconds 134.95 minutes 2.25 hours 9.11 mi/hr

This ride begs some explanation. First, I left home. If you've been following my rides, then you know very well where my home is. Then I rode through West Stockholm and visited my geocache in the Southville State Forest. Spent some time wandering around because the trees have grown substantially since the last time I visited it.

Then I rode towards Potsdam with the idea of visiting another geocache. Took a side trip on Perrin Road just to avoid the monotony of riding on 11B. Rode through Potsdam and out on the River Rd., heading for the geocache. I couldn't find it, and in the meantime, the family was getting hungry. They called, and I rode back into town to meet them for a Father's Day dinner at the Cactus Grill. I turned the GPS off at that point, but given the two hunts for geocaches, my average speed was already screwed. It also explains why my GPS track disappears.

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Sun, 12 Jun 2005

Ride starting Sun Jun 12 19:32:37 2005

35.10 km 115146.23 feet 21.81 mi 7175.00 seconds 119.58 minutes 1.99 hours 10.94 mi/hr

Wanted to explore the other end of the old bridge across the West Branch of the St. Regis, which I saw yesterday. There are some very nice houses along the river, with more under construction. Came most of the way back on the Rutland Trail. It was getting a bit dark. Got slapped in the face by branches several times. And by the time I got home, it was dark enough that I had completely lost my color vision. All in all a nice ride, however.

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Private Currency

A fellow local to me, Jason Rohrer, is setting up North Country Notes (NCN), a private currency. He means for it to be an exchangable currency which can only be spent locally. This is a poorly-thought-out idea. It's tied up in the mistaken idea of trade deficits. Worrying about America's trade deficit with China is as silly as worrying about your trade deficit with your local grocery store. Do they ever buy anything from you? Is this a cause for concern? Of course not.

Here's my explanation of how money and private currencies relate. Money is simply that thing which everyone will accept in trade. A private currency can serve as money. Here's how:

In a free market, a currency naturally deflates (becomes more valuable) over time. This is because each trade increases the value. Thus the natural tendency is for prices to fall. This is somewhat disconcerting to people, because wages fall, too. Thus, a good currency manager will keep prices constant (of course, the price of everything is changing over time, so this is at best a general guideline). He will print up new bills and spend them first. That is how the manager makes money. The incentives align here, because a good manager will make sure that as many things as possible are tradable for the currency. This increases the value of the currency for those who hold it.

Some people, called gold bugs, believe that a currency has to be backed up by gold. There are a number of reasons why gold makes a good backing for a currency, but, really, gold is not necessary. What is necessary is that a currency remain as money. If the currency manager makes a mistake, and does not ensure that the currency serves as money, then the value of the currency will decline.

One way (but only one way) a currency manager can keep the value of the currency stable is to offer to trade the currency for something else of value. Gold bugs want that value to be gold. Some economists say that a basket of commodities can be used. Rohrer is going to back his currency with US treasury notes; that is, for every dollar of his in circulation, he will trade it for a one dollar treasury note.

So if one NCN is always worth one dollar, what is the point? Well, Rohrer wants to discourage people from trading. Yes, he wants to make people worse off, only he doesn't see it that way. He claims (as do many others) that local trade is better. I don't want to address local trade here. Local trade is an idea which seems to be poorly thought out, but upon closer examination, it proves to be deeply stupid. By establishing a private currency, Rohrer means to make global trade harder than local trade. You see, global traders will have no use for the local currency except to spend it among people who will accept it.

Someone running a private currency doesn't want to restrict trade. They want trade using their currency to be as widely spread as possible. The more people trading, the more value available, and the more value the notes have. The more value in the notes, the more money the currency manager will make. Rohrer isn't in the business of making money, though. But look at it this way: If local trade really is a good thing, then why not more of it? Why not expand the region where the local trade occurs? If it's good for Potsdam, let's bring Canton in, and Morley, and Gouveneur, and Watertown and Plattsburgh, Syracuse and Albany, New York City and Boston, Miami, Denver, and Los Angeles, the entire globe, galaxy, and universe. There is no point at which the benefits of local trading diminish.

Tip O'Neill famously declared "All politics is local". Similarly, all trade is local.

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Ride starting Sat Jun 11 19:45:07 2005

28.78 km 94414.65 feet 17.88 mi 5890.00 seconds 98.17 minutes 1.64 hours 10.93 mi/hr

Way too hot today. Must have hit 90 degrees F, and humid enough to drink it. Waited until late to start the ride so I wouldn't become a crispy critter. Went out on the Rutland Trail. It's been so hot and dry lately that I figured that most of the mudholes had dried up. Mostly, they have. The really bad ones are going to need to be filled in. Got to get the drainage ditches cleared out.

I thought about wading across the West Branch of the St. Regis. In the upper-right of the map, you can see where I went down the road that crosses the river. The bridge was closed and removed some years ago. Probably didn't have enough traffic to justify replacing/repairing it. The river is low enough to easily wade, but there's no good way to get down to the river from the end of the road. I'll look at it from the other side some time.

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Sat, 11 Jun 2005

Supporting the Free Software Foundation Latin America

At FISL in early June, I attended a talk by Fernanda Varden of the Free Software Foundation Latin America (the domain name is currently parked at the FSF Europe's site). She was talking about the difficulties of starting an organization. Since I went through all of that with The Public Software Fund, I sympathized with her. When, as part of the list of difficulties, she said "And we have no money", I immediately jumped up and gave her 50 reals (about $20). The audience laughed.

I did this with no thought to the political implications. I simply and honestly desired to help them. Two misconceptions apparently arose from that action. First, Fernanda said later in her talk "and we know that OSI has money." And later, I heard from someone that I was perceived as having thrown money in their face. I can understand the first (because I was at the conference as an OSI representative), but not the second. When it was time for questions, I jumped up and said (basically) "Hey, every organization needs money. There's nobody in Brazil more likely to support the FSFLA than the people in this room. You should make a donation to the FSFLA, because if you don't, nobody will." And then I added that my donation was personal, and not OSI's money.

Why support?

First, the OSI and FSF (USA) are perceived by a lot of people as being enemies. We aren't. We want the same thing: for people who write and receive software to be able to modify it and give it away. Freedom for programmers and freedom for users.

The trouble is that we think that the way they advocate freedom is actively harmful, and they think the way we advocate it is actively harmful. We're not fighting about the ends; we're fighting about the means. In a large part, this is due to Richard Stallman's insistance that the free software movement tell people who write non-free software that they are being unethical. However, not everybody in the free software movement agrees with him.

It is my judgement that Fernanda, and others in the FSFLA, do not buy into RMS's method of advocacy. They are happy to use OSI's quality argument when that's appropriate, and RMS's ethics argument when that's appropriate. I think that those arguments must be used carefully because the ethics argument works really well, but it only works for about 5% of the population. I explain more in an earlier blog posting entitled Quality vs. Ethics.

So, to the extent that the FSFLA can free itself from RMS's harmful advocacy, I think we should support them. ... and I have.

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Fri, 10 Jun 2005

Ride starting Thu Jun 9 15:50:25 2005

9.88 km 32416.58 feet 6.14 mi 7329.00 seconds 122.15 minutes 2.04 hours 3.02 mi/hr

Hehe, 3 miles per hour, eh? That's not quite accurate, since I had bicycled to a client's office to do some work for him. I actually did about 12mi/hr when you trim off the time spent in the offiice. I'm writing this on Friday. I could have gone for a ride today, but it's beastly hot AND humid. Not fit for man nor beast.

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Thu, 09 Jun 2005

Ride starting Wed Jun 8 16:49:31 2005

18.02 km 59104.81 feet 11.19 mi 3905.00 seconds 65.08 minutes 1.08 hours 10.32 mi/hr

Had to run an errand in town, and the weather was fine and I had the time, so why not bicycle? Decided to make a loop of it, so I came back via 56. It's a bit heavily trafficed, so I tend not to bicycle that way, but the shoulders are nice and wide.

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Quality versus Ethics

There are two main tactics people use when explaining open source and free software to people. One argument, mainly spread by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), is that denying people a list of freedoms is unethical. If you want to be a good person, you should write only free software, not proprietary software. Another argument, mainly spread by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) is that open source software is higher quality than proprietary software. I fall squarely into the OSI camp, for reasons I will explain below.

There are problems with both "open source" and "free software", which I won't address here. I want to talk about the persuasiveness of Quality versus Ethics in selling the idea of freedom. If you read other sections of my blog, you will see that I am passionate about freedom. I am a pacifist, and the only way to take away someone's freedom is by threatening them with violence. Thus, peace is only possible if there is freedom. All the advocates for both free software and open source are equally passionate about freedom. The only question here is what is the best way to spread this passion.

The argument from ethics starts with the idea that people must first come to value freedom. Once they understand the value of freedom, they will seek it out. This argument stems from the idea that unless people explicitly value freedom, they will not defend freedom above all.

The argument from quality says that first people must experience freedom. To get them to experience freedom, we must give them better software. Fortunately, free software can produce better software. Without the concrete example of the benefits of freedom, people will not value freedom as an abstract idea. After all, if a course of action does not convey benefits upon someone, why should they embark on it?

The FSF has been very effective in convincing programmers using the ethical argument. I, myself, am one of its converts. I am not a representative example of humanity, however. Most programmers think differently. That's what makes them programmers, and that's what makes them susceptible to the ethical argument. It is important to convince programmers, but it is not sufficient. Many programmers have no control over the licensing of their code. We can convince them, but they don't have the power to free their code.

In order to convince the general population, we must use effective arguments. We can tell programmers "Writing proprietary code is unethical", but that argument doesn't work with non-programmers and non-intellectuals. The problem is based on the structure and operation of the brain.

The human brain is roughly split into three hierarchical sections. You have the hindbrain (aka reptilian brain), the midbrain (aka mammalian brain) and the forebrain (aka human brain). The forebrain is the respository of your self identity. When you think about things (as opposed to thinking things), you are using your forebrain. Your midbrain handles all the things that your forebrain does not do. It is very clever, and the forebrain can train it to do many things, e.g. juggling, brushing your teeth, and driving a car. It is very quick to act where the forebrain is slow. It does not learn new things easily, though. The hindbrain handles the things which need no thinking, e.g. beating your heart and breathing. The hindbrain is (in essence) distributed between the bottom of your skull and your gut. The part of your brain in your gut communicates very basic ideas back to your brain, e.g. "you're hungry", or "you're going to throw up now". This part of your brain can be trained, but doing so is extremely difficult.

When you are threatened, your midbrain will shut down your forebrain. "Get out of the way ... I can take care of this." It is the source of the "fight or flight" response to an attack. What this means is that you cannot easily learn new things when you are attacked. The ethical argument simultaneously requires people to learn a new idea and attacks them as being unethical. People who have strong forebrains (e.g. intellectuals and programmers) do not resort to thinking with their midbrain. The ethical argument works with them. Other people shut down their forebrain, and their midbrain cannot make any sense of the argument.

In order to appeal to the 95% of people without a strong forebrain, you must use a different argument. You cannot threaten them. Instead, you must offer them something which is aligned with their goals. None of these people use a computer for the raw pleasure of it. All of them use a computer to solve a problem. In order to change their behavior (so they value freedom), we must help them solve their problem better with software which can only exist because of freedom. Once they get used to the level of quality which only free software can provide, they will learn to demand freedom. By not threatening people, the quality argument wins converts that the ethics argument can never reach.

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