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Comments

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Evolution of Intelligence More Complex Than Once Thought

LarsG Re:micro v. macro, flawed argument (453 comments)

....is tantamount to the belief that, inside every cell, there exists a mechanism that prevents mutations which would give rise to offspring if that offspring could not produce fertile progeny with not just its parents' generation, but its grandparents', great-grandparents', etc,....

That is not a belief, but a scientific, experimentally established FACT.

The paper you cite says nothing about speciation, it is about the likelihood of 2 or more mutations (each alone not giving an organism an advantage, but the set of them would) happening.

Besides, speciation has been observed in modern time. Here is one example - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salsify#The_rise_of_new_species

more than 5 years ago
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Evolution of Intelligence More Complex Than Once Thought

LarsG Re:Wow, evolution (453 comments)

Where does it get the additional genetic information to construct feathers? Incomplete, nonfunctional feathers or other structures are useless for survival and are therefore not passed on to succeeding generations.

Please continue running down the path of entropy and irreducible complexity.

Unless a feature confers a distinct advantage on an organism, it is invisible to the natural selection mechanism.

Off the top of my head: Insulation, mating displays, gliding.

(... by choosing which wolves to mate we've managed to created teacup poodles, bulldogs and Saint Bernards in a fairly short time - don't you think similar things happen in the wild?...)

The fact is that none of these things happen in the wild, because the selective breeding of dogs is accomplished by means of the application of human intelligence. In other words there is intelligent design to produce a desired result.

No. The mechanism for evolution in the wild and directed breeding is the same, the only difference is that the selection is done on different criteria.

There is no human effort to does not involve a measure of intelligence. Why is it that otherwise highly intelligent humans credit the existence of even the existence of a single living cell to processes NOT ALSO involving intelligence and thought?

Likewise, how is it that otherwise highly intelligent humans have this desire to turn their reasoning faculties off when it comes to the topic of how life came to be?

Science is not about what was thought to have taken place an unimaginably long time ago.

Might I assume that your position is that science taught in schools should only include "facts" (by your very narrow definition of facts that say that even the fossil record is not a fact but a "witness")? If that is not your position, please clarify.

more than 5 years ago
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Dell's XPS 730x Core I7 Gaming System Reviewed

LarsG Re:Windows again (171 comments)

From what I can remember, it was also management issues at the top.

Not to mention that the Amiga was tightly bound to the custom chips they did in-house (Paula/Agnus, etc). Commodore didn't spend (or didn't have?) enough resources on R&D to keep up with the PC, and was also too slow in changing the platform so that it could use PC components instead.

more than 5 years ago
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How Apple Could Survive Without Steve Jobs

LarsG Re:How, indeed. (331 comments)

But it is really Steve Jobs which, paradoxically, is holding Apple in the position of being the MOST closed company out there.

But is this unhealthy to the commercial result of Apple corp and the satisfaction of most Apple customers? Being closed also means that Apple has vertical control of everything from their online services to operating system to hardware, and Apple has generally been very good at using that control to deliver products that work very well if you stay inside Apple's garden.

I suspect most of us on /. (me included) would be pleased if Apple opened up more, but how much would Apple gain by doing that and risk alienating those that are perfectly happy in Apple's garden?

more than 5 years ago
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SoHo NAS With Good Network Throughput?

LarsG Re:SMB (517 comments)

I cant get it going faster than 10-11MB/sec when copying to/from Windows XP.

It could be something as simple as the network card in the server autoconfiguring to 100Mbps, 11MBps sounds like a saturated 100Mbps link. Check with ethtool on the server and in the management interface on the switch. Bad performance like this can also be caused by mismatched duplex on the server network card and the switch it is connected to.

more than 5 years ago
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SoHo NAS With Good Network Throughput?

LarsG Re:SMB (517 comments)

Wow. I didn't think it was even possible to buy a gigabit hub.

Half Duplex is part of the GigE spec as far as I know, but I've never seen a GigE hub. WJSmythe, could you share the manufacturer and model number on this oddity?

more than 5 years ago
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Intel Developers Demo USB 3.0 Throughput On Linux

LarsG Re:There's throughput and then there's latency (231 comments)

I seem to recall that some Linux drivers try to handle this automatically (Intel gigabit chips?). They do interrupts when the traffic is below some threshold and switch to polling when things get busy. The main reason, as you say, is to avoid interrupt storms; polling becomes cheaper on CPU time than interrupts when there is a higher than x% chance of there being packets waiting. It is also more resilient to DoS or server overload - if f.ex. an Apache server receives more requests than it can handle, throttling the polling speed makes more CPU available for handling requests instead of wasting it in interrupts receiving packets that the web server is too overloaded to handle anyway.

more than 5 years ago
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FSF Files Suit Against Cisco For GPL Violations

LarsG Re:Hypocrisy in action (409 comments)

I hate DRM too, I wish it would die. But that's orthogonal to my point: that IP has value, and the IP creator deserves to be compensated appropriately for that value, somehow. I obviously don't know how given the zero-replication-cost problem.

Is it really zero cost? While the cost is going down, and will go further down in the future with better/faster/larger/cheaper storage devices and transmission networks there is always going to be some cost in maintaining the distribution network, cataloging, indexing, making sure metadata is correct, making sure the content is malware free, updates/fixes. As such, people might find that an all-you-can-eat DRM-free subscription to a music label or software company might be preferable even if the same content is available for free on P2P.

Information goods also don't exist in a vacuum, communities form around many of them. Downloading an album from piratebay does not give the same experience as being a member of a fan club / community and interacting with the rock band. Downloading a software program from P2P is of less value than being part of a community around the author of the software. For information goods where you have a large and/or very faithful fanbase/community, it might be possible for the creator to extract sufficient income from them. (I think I once saw a paper showing that a book author or a band could get a fairly decent living out of a surprisingly small number of faithful fans)

There is also the fact that IP creators are in a rather privileged position compared to other workers. For example, the need for farmers dropped because the work they did were replaced by machines; the same thing has happened time and again, human labor replaced by machines. I don't really see how machines can replace the need for human creativity. Unless we create true AI, we will always need IP creators. We will always want music, books, better medicines, software.. If the market can't find solutions for how to compensate them, government will have to step in.

more than 5 years ago
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FSF Files Suit Against Cisco For GPL Violations

LarsG Re:It's about time (409 comments)

From the complaint, it looks like it is only consumer-grade products that they got when they bought Linksys. Even if they included some IOS software in some of the products, the absolute worst case scenario for Cisco would be that they would have to dual-license those particular files as GPL. It would not force Cisco to GPL the entire IOS.

My guess is that Cisco has been dragging their feet because (1) it would be expensive to get into full compliance (they would have to dig up the build environment / source code repositories for old Linksys products, some of which they might not even have anymore) (2) by providing full source to the consumer-grade products, 3rd party firmware for those could be developed that would compete with Cisco's more expensive gear, and (3) they never expected the FSF to sue.

more than 5 years ago
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FSF Files Suit Against Cisco For GPL Violations

LarsG Re:It's about time (409 comments)

That's fine for hardware companies like Cisco [...] who mainly derive value from their hardware

I was more under the impression that Cisco's business model was more like a software company that happens to sell expensive hardware dongles.

more than 5 years ago
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FSF Files Suit Against Cisco For GPL Violations

LarsG Re:Linksys routers? (409 comments)

According to the complaint: "in
the Firmware for Linksysâ(TM) models EFG120, EFG250, NAS200, SPA400, WAG300N, WAP4400N,
WIP300, WMA11B, WRT54GL, WRV200, WRV54G, and WVC54GC, and in the program Quick-
VPN."

more than 5 years ago
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FSF Files Suit Against Cisco For GPL Violations

LarsG Re:This is why copyright laws are bad (409 comments)

BSD and the like are more "free" for the developer / manufacturer while GPL is more "free" for the user / recipient of the software.

Which license that is more free depends on whose freedom one is concerned about.

more than 5 years ago
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AP Suspends DoD Over Altered US Army Photo

LarsG Re:What the flag means. (622 comments)

Very interesting. Yes, that does help a lot in understanding why the US has such an attachment to their flag.

Combine that with what history has taught Europeans about obedience to flags, and there is no wonder why misunderstandings happen all the time.

more than 5 years ago
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AP Suspends DoD Over Altered US Army Photo

LarsG Re:The US and US flags (622 comments)

How about its easier to say im defending the flag. Most Americans should understand that statement to mean you are defending all the flag stands for etc. Only asshats try to make that statement into something its not. Are you an asshat?

Most AMERICANS would. But this is the Internet, with people from lots of different countries and cultures.

When an American says "defending the flag" as short-hand for what he really means by that statement, it creates opportunities for misunderstanding and confusion when people that are not American read it. This entire thread started because a non-american wanted to understand better what meaning Americans applies to their flag.

more than 5 years ago
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AP Suspends DoD Over Altered US Army Photo

LarsG Re:The US and US flags (622 comments)

Discussions like this unfortunately tend to devolve into flamewars, and it seems other comments on this article has already gone that way. That is sad, because it would be really interesting to get to the bottom of why there is this cultural difference in how the flag is perceived in EU and US.

So what are military personnel?

I think we might be on to something here.

In America, the flag is culturally bound to the military as a whole and personal military service, right? So "disrespecting the flag" is seen as the same as disrespecting the sacrifice and service of both current and past members of the military?

In Europe, the flag does not hold that kind of position culturally, and I think it has to do with WWII. Imagine being born in Germany after 1945. Imagine what coming to terms with what your country did would do to post-war culture and the attitudes it would create towards the kind of imagery used by Germany leading up to, and during WWII. The flag was an important part of that imagery.

I think that is the reason why we see the flag so differently, but I would appreciate comments or corrections.

So, for someone with a US culture the flag is something to be proud of and a symbol of military service and personal sacrifice for the country. For someone with an EU culture, a flag is a symbol for one's country but it is also a symbol of something horrible that happened in Europe's recent past.

Heh, no wonder this leads to flamewars.

more than 5 years ago
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AP Suspends DoD Over Altered US Army Photo

LarsG Re:The US and US flags (622 comments)

Ah, America and England. Divided they are by a common language. ;-p

Culture20, please chill. Who said anything about flag-burning?

more than 5 years ago
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Science's Alternative To an Intelligent Creator

LarsG Re:God (683 comments)

The SETI project is a modern manifestation of mankind's intuition that there may be or should be more to reality than our own existence here in this little corner of the vast universe.

Or it is simply a modern expression of man's need to understand the world around him. We see this behaviour in other animals, too "Curious as a cat". A need to understand the world would be a huge advantage for survival, both in early man and in other animals. I see no reason why this need should somehow vanish now that understanding the world is not that important for the immediate survival of the individual.

"the meaning of life"? Why is there this human quest for finding purpose of existence?

These questions would not arise naturally from sufficiently powerful cognitive abilities and the realisation that our mortal body is, indeed, mortal?

Why is it that the idea of sacrifice, the giving up of something valuable, often needed or at least useful for survival, is seen only in humans?

You want an explanation for the act of sacrifice in, say, agrarian societies? Put yourself in the mind of one of those farmers - one bad harvest and half the kids will starve to death. Would you not do anything and everything that you possibly could to affect the weather?

Combined with the "false positive" inclination to find agency in patterns (that would as I explained be an advantage for survival), is it really such a leap of mind to see that sacrifice to gods would seem like a good idea at that time?

In our modern world, many like to think we can look to science to explain everything

Well, they are wrong. Science can explain a lot (and it turns out, a lot more than people thought possible only 100 years ago), but there are things that are simply impossible to handle with the scientific method. If we are in a closed universe (as current models seem to show), then it will simply be impossible to test various hypotheses about the ultimate cause of the universe.

Science today explains at least some of what people looked to religion for in times past. But again, I see no chance in science explaining everything and everything with absolute certainty. What some religious people would have to do, however, is to change certain literal interpretations of their respective holy texts in order to avoid clash with science.

Science is limited to physical laws and phenomena, specifically the law of cause and effect. Science cannot, is not equipped to deal with effects where a cause cannot be established.

True. I don't think I've ever said otherwise.

"Is it possible for anyone to distinguish sufficiently advanced technology from the supernatural or miracle?"

I'm not sure I follow.. One could distinguish, I guess, based on what effort and energy would be required - at least if one posits an omnipotent god. Fiddling with the background microwave radiation of the universe seems like one, it would take an incredible amount of energy, power and control to put a message there.

more than 5 years ago
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Science's Alternative To an Intelligent Creator

LarsG Re:That's entirely beside the point (683 comments)

...The Bible was translated and spread by humans, not by God.....

Of course God is incapable of employing humans as his agents, isn't he?

If one attributes the acts of humans to the will of God how is that any different than attributing the fact that a stone falls when I drop it to the will of God? That sounds Ash'ari to me..

Speaking of attributing agency where there is none, there is an evolutionary advantage to that behaviour. If one hears a noise in the bushes, it might be just the wind or it might be a tiger getting ready to pounce. If it is just the wind but you think it is a tiger and run away, there is not much harm done. On the other hand, if you think it is the wind while it really is a tiger... Those that are "false positive" in the meaning that they are more likely to attribute agency (even if it turns out to be wrong) have a higher chance of survival than those that are "false negative" in the meaning that they are more likely to think that there's nothing there (and hence have a higher chance of becoming a predator's meal).

I doubt that Newton, Pascal or Galileo or most of the other early scientists would be able to obtain tenure at any modern secular university of our day.

Ah, so you've seen Expelled then? Well, if you want to reinforce a persecution complex.. Is the film still only showed in closed screenings, or is it finally available to the rest of us so that we can publicly correct the factual errors in it?

(...and that rocks, fossils and the total sum of what we can test and observe are "witnesses"....)

They are witnesses, whose testimony is interpreted today with the underlying worldview that there is no God and everything these witnesses tell us is filtered through the presupposition that the entire universe is a result of probabilistic mechanical processes, not involving any thought or planning.

It is true that humans are rationalising animals, we have an in-built bias to choose explanations that confirm what we already believe. We have known this for a long time, and that is why the process of science (scientific method) has all these rules to try to eliminate bias. Just saying "goddidit!" doesn't really explain anything, it does not produce hypothesis, models and predictions that we can put to the test in any sensible way. As such, it is easy to come to the belief that science is hostile to religion or the supernatural. It really isn't, it is just a methodology that tries to eliminate *all* kinds of human bias.

All laws of nature are quite independent of the underlying beliefs or philosophies of the scientists investigating them to learn how they operate.

True. Ultimate cause is likely outside the set of problems and questions that can be processed by the scientific process. As such, our different beliefs about ultimate cause is something that we will just have to agree to disagree on - it is something that is likely not testable, so that is an area where we will just have beliefs and opinions. What one can test is specific predictions that certain religious beliefs profess (in the case of xtianity, for example global flood in recent history, or 6Ky old universe).

Is it not strange that so much of science is devoted to the past, trying to understand how things came to be as they are?

Why so? Everything we see around us are products of what happened in the past, so investigating the past is important to understanding the present and predicting the future.

All of these have to be interpreted and all interpretations are subject to the basic philosophies of the interpreter. There is no way to get around this.

That is more an argument against religion than it is against science. Science does at the very least attempt to minimise or eliminate the bias of the interpreter.

Hubble and others INTERPRETED this shift to be caused by motion of the stars and galaxies due to the well-known Doppler effect.

Countless dissertations and theses have been written on the rapid motion of galaxies and the so-called Big Bang.

Red-shift is not the only reason that current theory posits a Big Bang. Other observations that point in the same direction include microwave background radiation, the relative ratio of different elements (lots of hydrogen/helium, less amount of heavier elements, and the relative abundance of each), the large-scale structure of cosmos, and other things.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_bang#Observational_evidence

You seem to have a cardboard strawman understanding of the scientific process. A hypothesis does not become accepted as scientific theory based on a single source of observational data. It only becomes a theory when it fits with several different observations (and it is still possible to falsify a theory if new lines of investigation show observational data that does not fit).

Rather than dump long-held, cherished theories developed over many years of academic studies, scientists were forced to come up with exotic constructs and ideas.

You mean like quantum physics? There was huge resistance in the scientific community to hypothesis like Einstein's relativity or quantum physics. If scientists were so resistant to throw away their "cherished theories" then they would still stick to Newton. Science is less resistant to new theories than you seem to believe, but science requires that these theories are supported by observational and experimental data.

Dark matter, dark energy, black holes, quasars and neutron stars and all sorts of other weird and wonderful objects are postulated to exist in the distant reaches of the universe.

There is much more observational and experimental evidence for these things than you seem to believe. In fact, I wonder if your dislike for science is actually rooted in misconceptions about what science is, what current accepted scientific theories actually say, the process that science uses for testing hypotheses and the amount of observational and experimental data that is needed for something to become accepted as a scientific theory.

For example, early in our discussion you said something to the effect of "we have never observed a bird giving birth to a plant" as if that in some sort of way was evidence that the theory of evolution was false. The theory of evolution claims no such thing. If you knew what the claims that ToE makes are, you would know that. Instead you argued against some sort of cardboard model of what you *think* ToE says. Which makes me wonder how much you actually know about current mainstream science.

You are mainly arguing against strawmen, against some made up idea you have about what science says instead of arguing against actual science.

When he first published this he was vilified by the mainstream astronomical and cosmological community and his data was dismissed as measurement errors.

"Vilified" as in the way Einstein's theory of relativity was vilified, you mean? Or quantum theory? What you interpret as "vilified" is just the scientific process at work. If a single new observation disagrees with an accepted theory that is supported by many different observations, one of the things that happens first is to see if there is any bias or methodology faults with the experiment/observation. That happens in *all* parts of science, not just those parts of science that you think is anti-god.

To their surprise and chagrin, their measurements corroborated Tifft's research.

Exactly. One other thing that happens is that others try to repeat the observation to see if their is really something there. That's just science at work. Why do you say "chagrin and surprise"? What they found is that red-shift shows some pattern of quantization, but that this pattern is nothing unusual when looking at the large scale structure of the universe.

What do you want, exactly? One observation found something that looked contrary to current theory. People investigated. It was found to not be so contrary after all. That is just science at work.

But for some reason you think that this is "vilification" and "opposition to cherished belief, therefore discounted". That is not what happened at all.

If the cherished interpretation of present-day measurable science is so hard to change with new data

It isn't. It is however hard to change long established theories that are supported by many different sources with just a single observation. If it had been found that the slight patterns in red-shift could not be incorporated in current theories, science would have gone into overdrive by scientists smelling Nobel Prizes.

In the study of origins and history, it is not possible to time travel and determine if the interpretation of the testimony of the witnesses is correct.

"All is witness, all is just interpretation, therefore goddidit". Ash'ari.

more than 5 years ago

Submissions

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SFWA goes Viacom on Scribd.

LarsG LarsG writes  |  more than 6 years ago

LarsG (31008) writes "After the 'webscabs' debacle, one would think that Science Writers and Fantasy Writers from America (SFWA) would be a bit more careful in the future. But no such luck. On behalf of their members they've send DMCA takedown notices to Scribd. And as was the case with Viacom/YouTube DMCA dragnet'ing, they managed to send notices take down stuff they shouldn't have. The list was apparently compiled by a simple grep for "Asimov" and "Silverberg". Here's Doctorow's take on the situation"

Journals

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Randite says: "CTEA good, Lessig bad"

LarsG LarsG writes  |  more than 11 years ago

What do you know, randite Amy Peikoff thinks the CTEA is good and Lessig is a horrible Marxist.

People on Politech are having a lot of fun with this one.

Anyway, time to Shrug Atlas:

In 1998 Congress, pursuant to its Constitutional power to determine the duration of federal copyright protection, passed a law extending the term of that protection by 20 years. This law brought United States copyright protection in line with that already afforded in Europe.

That's half right and half wrong.

Before 1995, the duration of copyright in Europe ranged from life+50 to life+80.

The duration was harmonised in the internal market in 1995 by the 93/98/EEC directive. The duration was set to life+70 for authors of literary and artistic works and 50 years for corporately owned phonograms and films.

The US copyright term extention act of 1998 set the duration to life+70 for authors and 95 years for corporate authors.

It is true that the duration for authors that hold the copyright to their own works were harmonised by the CTEA, but it created an even larger gap than before for works where the copyright is held by corporations.

If you look at the lobbyists in favour of the CTEA, it is obvious that most of them wanted a retroactive extention for corporately owned works. In Disney terms, preventing The Mouse from falling into the public domain.

In addition, as the average life expectancy in the United States now exceeds 70 years, the law brings copyright protection in line with the legal vehicle for the posthumous control of tangible property--the law of testamentary trusts, which bases the term of such control on a human lifespan.

That is an apples and oranges comparision. Unlike rights to tangible property, copyright (and related rights like patents) are not based on a natural right. They are instead derived from the copyright clause of the US constitution which in its entirety reads: "To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

Thus, Congress can only extend the duration and scope of copyright law if it "promotes the progress of science and useful arts". Also, the duration of the copyright must be for "limited times".

The CTEA is the last in a long row of legislation that has retroactively extended copyright from 14+14 years to life+70/95 years.

Lessig would have the Supreme Court extend this perversion of free speech to mean: free of any need to pay for the borrowing of someone else's greatest achievement: original thought. Or worse: free of any need sufficiently to digest that original thought so as to be able to put it into one's own words. Appropriating and parroting the creation of others is now, according to Lessig, "free speech."

That isn't Lessig's argument at all. His argument is that that both the 1st amendment and the copyright clause in the constitution set a limit on Congress' power to extend the duration of copyright. For the last half of this century, due to the repeated extentions, the duration of copyright has for practical purposes become unlimited. He wants the supreme court to tell Congress that they can't continue to extend the duration if they want to stay within the constitutional limit of "limited times".

Also, creation is not something that is done in a vacuum. Disney and other corporations have benefited greatly by creating adaptions of works in the public domain (Snow White, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Alice in Wonderland, to give a few examples) or making fair use of copyrighted works (Steamboat Willie was a parody of Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill). These are the same corporations that today are lobbying to extend copyright and limit fair use, so that noone else can do the same with their works. Copyright is supposed to be a tit-for-tat mutually beneficial contract between creators and the public, and the CTEA is one of the more obvious examples of how this balance is being tilted in favour of corporations.

"Only 2 percent of works protected by copyright," they go on, "create a regular stream of income for their creators." Translation: only a small minority of "non-little" people will be hurt by repealing this law, so why not do it?

If you create a work that "conveys an important artistic or philosophic message", is it not in your interest that the future generations can get access to it? Remember, if the 2% figure above is correct, there is a 49 to 1 chance that the work won't be reprinted by the publisher. How does it promote your quest for giving people important insight in eternal questions if the last copy in existence of your work decompose on a dusty shelf years before the people who want to preserve it are allowed to because of the latest extention of copyright law?

I'd recommend that you talk to people trying to preserve old movies - there is not sufficient commercial incentive for movie studios to do the work, and those that want to are blocked by copyright law. Movies from the 1920s and 30s are getting close to disintegrating from physical decay and the likely result of the 20 year extention is that it will become impossible to restore many of them when they enter the public domain.

in addition, he wants to be sure that the integrity of the work is protected against mutilation as long as possible.

Then you should start lobbying for Congress to change copyright law to mirror the european (and Berne copyright treaties') concept of "moral rights".

If those in the "digital liberties set" plan to have a field day with others' works of creative genius--bastardizing them into whatever fragments they find appealing, adding any distorting content they choose, then blasting the results all over the Internet--what is the point of trying to convey to the world one's own vital viewpoint?

I think you are exaggerating the dangers here.

My experience with efforts like Project Gutenberg that digitise public domain works, is that they try very hard to provide accurate and true copies of the original. After all, why should they spend time and money on preserving something if they don't care about the work?

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The Mouse and the Constitution

LarsG LarsG writes  |  more than 11 years ago

What do you know, Lessig finally had his day in front of the Ancient Ones.

Lessig's Post-argument blog.
Eugene Volokh thinks that the law will be struck down 6-3.

As Adina Levin says: "I hope that the decision in the spring comes out in favor of Eldred and the public domain. Either way (as I wrote on the comments page of Prof. Lessig's blog), this is just one battle in a long war, with battlefields in the courts and congress and the press and the public.

If the Justices understand the problem, and Lessig felt they did, that's one step forward. If technologists understand the problem, that's a step forward. If a few politicians start to understand the problem, that's another step forward. If the mainstream press starts to understand the problem, another step forward."

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"The Free Software Lunch" and GPL fear-mongering.

LarsG LarsG writes  |  about 12 years ago

What do you know, an economist that is doing consultant work for MS thinks that the GPL is a very bad idea

As per tradition, any true Open Source advocate worth his salt must immediately write a rebuttal ;-)

Thus is the following created:

"But some programmers with a taste for the counterculture or an aversion to corporate life have gone their own way. They have chosen to write software collectively for no pay and then publish the source code and allow anyone to use and modify it for free. In some cases, altruism meshes neatly with more self-interested motives - the wish to impress fellow geeks and maybe even win a great consulting job with a Silicon Valley behemoth."

Ignoring the ad hominem for the moment - there are a lot of reasons for why someone decides to develop and release Free Software/Open Source Software. Altruism is only one of them.

To give one example: IBM supports Linux and spend money to make sure that it works well on their lines of hardware. Why? Because it increases sales of their hardware and services, and makes IBM less dependant of Microsoft.

"For one thing, some governments (Taiwan) openly favor open source software in their procurement policies as a means of distancing themselves from giant (usually American) software makers."

Well, if Open Source - due to the special licensing terms - provide features that governments see that they need (say - for example the carte blanche right to tailor and modify, or ensure that it is possible in the future to read data stored in file formats used by current software), what's the problem?

Like you, I have a problem with governments requiring open source software. However, if governments set up a list of features they need and open source software happens to fit the bill better than commercial software I honestly don't see the problem.

"The Pentagon is flirting with open source, justifying its infatuation by the as-yet-unproved assertion that open source software is less vulnerable to hackers because responsible volunteers correct errors before the cyber-vandals find them."

I have not read any Pentagon policy papers, so i don't know why they assert that open source software is more secure. I have been following the general discussion regarding open/closed software and security in some detail.

There doesn't seem to be a real consensus yet in the computer security community regarding whether there is any inherent quality that automatically makes an open source program more secure than an equivalent closed source program. However, open source does provide two features that closed source does not have:

- The possibility for independent review of the source code.
- The ability to fix the problem yourself instead of relying on a single vendor.

If you are a large entity like Pentagon, those two features might be reason enough to prefer an open source solution.

"Under the GPL, created by the non-profit Free Software Foundation, anyone is free to use and to modify software. But unlike other open source licenses, any modifications must also be licensed under the GPL."

That is true.

"Thus if Sun Microsystems were to borrow a bit of code from a GPL program developed under a government grant for its proprietary Solaris computer operating system, Sun would have to distribute Solaris under the GPL or stop using the "borrowed" code."

That is either a gross misunderstanding of the GPL or a blatant lie.

The GPL license is 'viral' in the sense that it infects code that is based on GPL'ed code or is linked with GPL'ed code.

Solaris is a huge system consisting of lots and lots of discrete components. If Sun includes GPL licensed code in one of the components, only that component would be 'infected'.

It is the normal modus operandi of large software companies to license code from other companies for use in their products. In that regard, the GPL is just another license agreement. Their lawyers should be perfectly capable of looking at the GPL and see when and where GPL'ed code is suitable in their products, and what risks are contained in the use of the GPL.

The fact that many companies are using GPLed components in their products today would imply that they find the risks and the requirements in the licence acceptable.

"This "viral" property effectively bars commercial software makers from incorporating ideas from GPL software - which is precisely what the ideologues at the Free Software Foundation had in mind."

Also a misunderstanding or a bald faced exaggeration of the scope of the license.

The GPL is a copyright license. It sets forth the requirements for using copyrighted works licensed under the GPL.

Copyright protects an expression. Ideas are outside the scope of copyright. Let's say that I write a crime novel about a butler killing the cook in the library of an old english mansion. I have the copyright of that particular expression of the idea, but I can't stop others from writing traditional british crime stories.

Microsoft - or anyone else - is free to read GPL software, note the ideas contained therein and write their own based on those ideas. However, Microsoft is not free to verbatim copy (or 'pirate' or 'borrow') the source code.

"But allowing taxpayers' money to be used to promote the GPL through NASA or the Sandia National Laboratories - both of which have developed software licensed under the GPL - is another story entirely."

See above. Commercial software developers are not denied access to ideas created by government funded development. With the GPL, the ideas are there - free for anyone to look at.

It sounds to me that the resistance to the GPL is not founded on the fear that ideas created at NASA or SNL can not be used by commercial companies, but that the commercial companies have to write their own software to implement those ideas instead of just taking source code.

"Imagine where we'd be if pharmaceutical companies had not been allowed to use government research, and the development of drugs based on that research had been left to non-profits or government agencies. Thousands of people would be dead who are now alive, courtesy of some of today's "miracle" drugs."

You are ignoring some very important economic differences between the software business and pharma.

1) Labs and tools for drug development are expensive.
2) Getting a drug approved for human consumption is a very costly process, and is something that would be impossible to do for a non-profit run by a group of bio engineers in their spare time.
3) Drugs tend to be expensive to produce.
4) Drugs tend to be protected by patent law, not copyright.

1) Sufficient equipment for software development is in the $1000-$2000 range.
2) It is perfectly possible for a group of CS engineers to codevelop a piece of software in their spare time.
3) Once a piece of software has been written, it can be duplicated at very low cost.
4) Software tends to be protected by copyright law (and to some extent - trade secret and patent law).

You also have the very important factor that software tends to "stand on the shoulders of giants". The software at the bottom - like operating systems or networking protocols - create an infrastructure that other software can use. You often have situations where creating a cheap and ubiquous infrastructure create entirely new markets for software and services running on top. We are actually using one of the best examples of this right now - the Internet infrastructure was largely created by government funds and open source software.

"The General Public License amounts to an insidious attack on a hybrid system of public and private enterprise for developing software that has served us well. Washington has no business joining the free software conspiracy."

The GPL is a counter reaction to the commercial software companies sucking dry the Public Domain. Microsoft receives copyright protection for their binary software without having to show the source so that other people can get access to the ideas - which is essentially a breach of the tit for tat idea/expression dichotomy in copyright law.

The GPL doesn't deny anyone access to the ideas. In fact, within the limitations of license and copyright law, the GPL tries very hard to make sure that the ideas embodied in a piece of software will always be available to everyone.

Let's return to the core of your argument - that government should not fund the development of GPL software.

I actually agree with you. It should not be the government's task to decide on one model of software development over an other. If the GPL can not survive by the merits of the model and the software produced by it, it should die. It would be far better to release government developed software as Public Domain thus making it usable for both open source and proprietary instead of encumbering it with licenses that only benefit one party.

Calling the GPL a free software conspiracy is disingenuous when anyone who has ever read the license knows that the very preamble contains a candid and up-front description of the goals of the license.

I would contend that it is easier to understand the goals and implications of the GPL than it is to understand the implications of clicking 'Accept' on a modern End User License Agreement.

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Are artists starting to get the point?

LarsG LarsG writes  |  about 12 years ago

What do you know, Bon Jovi has realised that fans is not the cause of Napster - it is the solution.

And then a great comment made my day. (The only thing I disagree with is the steep entry price of $25, but [s]he hits bullseye by showing that dedicated fans will pay through the nose if they feel they get something back.)

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