Daily Archives: December 7, 2006

Intrepid open-source

Wednesday’s New York Times has a beautiful photo of the U.S.S. Intrepid being towed down the Hudson River to Bayonne, New Jersey, for extensive refurbishment, to be followed in 2008 by return to her home on New York City’s West Side at 47th Street. There is another photo on the inside page that shows a view of the Statue of Liberty as seen through a window in an airplane on the deck, as well as a picture of a huge flag that was unfurled as the Intrepid passed ground zero.

Sad to say, ground zero has become such a common term in today’s language that the Times sees no need to put the phrase in quotes. We all know what it means. We will have to live with it for the rest of our lives, as in agony will the families of those who perished that day, and as well will the sailors and soldiers in whom we have placed our trust to defend us in these perilous times.

I spoke of the Intrepid in the first post in this blog, Letter to Robert J Stevens, CEO, Lockheed Martin.

The aircraft carrier is the most complex moveable machine yet created by man. Not only is the ship itself a marvelous machine — one requiring about 5000 people to operate — but it exists solely to transport aircraft, each of which is a complex machine on its own. It is a perfect example of componentization, the assembly of complex subassemblies into a working whole, as is the case of the integration of Linux and all the other open-source packages that comprise what I refer to as the “open-source artifact.”

The open-source artifact is extraordinary in its reach. In the last few months, as part of my job at IBM, I have handled open-source proposals for the contribution of some code in the Forth language to enhance an open-source BIOS effort, as well as the use of open-source in BlueGene, the world’s largest supercomputer. This shows that there is a complete open-source stack, one that extends from the first software used to boot up a computer all the way to the most powerful computers on the planet. This is a platform that provides possibilities limited only by our imagination.

The Intrepid carries on its deck one of the few surviving SR-71 “Blackbird” aircraft, itself one of the greatest innovations in aviation history, created by Lockheed-Martin’s legendary “skunkworks” group.

Few appreciate that the skunkworks group not only produced extraordinary innovation, but did so under budgets so small that they seem laughable now. Their small team made thousands of hithertoo undone engineering calculations while expending only modest resources. They relied on their brains, as have the team of programmers who have worked for well over a decade to give us Linux.

The aircraft carrier gave the U.S. global military reach, as did the man-of-war that was the key machine that made the British empire possible, as it provided a portable platform for projecting cannon-fire, on sea and towards other ships or towards land, that was truly awesome in its capabilities.

The outcome of the war in the Pacific in World War II was decided in a few hours near Midway Island by aircraft launched from U.S. carriers. They were aided in reaching the scene of battle by the ability of the U.S. to break the Japanese naval codes, itself one of the key innovations in that war.

The U.S. Navy continues to innovate to this day. For example, the next generation of destroyers will rely on software that includes Linux.

These ships will include open-source. See IBM and ANTs Tapped for U.S. Navy’s DDG 1000 Program, and Raytheon Selects RTI Real-Time Middleware for U.S. Navy Destroyer Program. IBM is contributing advances in real-time Linux and real-time garbage collection in Java, among other technical innovations.

What more can you say about the maturity of open-source than that it has become part of our nation’s defense?

And also part of our educational system, as I have I have come to appreciate this week while at the Sixth Sakai conference.

Open-source. Dauntless. Resolutely fearless. You might even say it is intrepid.

Moving up the long tail

My technorati rank just went below 200000 for the first time. (I was in the 200000’s for the last few weeks.)

My ranking is now 176057 (33 links from 20 blogs). It went down about 80000 positions in just 15 hours, from 258105 (21 links from 14 blogs). (The blogging tail is so long that just a few more links kick you much further along the tail.)

I wonder what’s the lowest ratio ever measured for technorati-ranking / number-of-posts ? Next goal is a five-digit ranking. That’s when technorati starts to track the number of posts each day.

Thanks to all who are helping me on the long trail up the long tail in my mission of escaping from obscurity.

At this rate I could be the world’s favorite blogger by Monday. Fasten your seatbelts … then start linking to my blog from yours. I’ll try to return the favor. Let’s work together using a new form of collaborative innovation in the race to the bottom that will put me at the top. [1]

Look out, 26167 (400 links from 123 blogs). Look out, 25743 (652 links from 125 blogs). Look out, 14316 (710 links from 218 blogs). Look out, 12563 (656 links from 246 blogs). My number isn’t up — it’s going down, way down.

Look out, but don’t look back. Something is gaining on you.

I’m going to rock you folks into blogging limbo. [2] How low can I go?

Every blogo boy and girl
All around the blogo world
Gonna do the limbo rock
All around the blogo clock
Dave be blogo, Dave be quick
Dave go unda limbo stick
All around the blogo clock
Hey, let’s do the limbo rock

To assuage his grief, I vow to send 25743 a copy of Bob Dylan – Don’t Look Back if I manage to pass him on my way up the tail.


1. IBM’s annual employee ranking is similar to technorati’s in that the lower the number the better. However, IBM doesn’t publish the rankings on an open web site, as does technorati.

2. I used to have this record in my 1954 AMI jukebox. I regret that I threw it out a few months back. I should have been more aggressive in putting it back into working order.

Blackboard’s Matthew Small on life in the jungle

I sent Matthew Small, VP and general counsel of Blackboard, the following note:


I wrote several posts on yesterday’s presentations at the Sixth Sakai conference that relate to BlackBoard:





Thanks again for taking the time to come to Atlanta and represent your company at this discussion.

I expect it was somewhat intimidating. I know the feeling.

I have shared the stage with Richard Stallman and Bill Clinton, though not at the same time — that would be really intimidating!

As I say in my posts, I have no particular brief on this matter, favoring one side or the other.

However, I do hope that — in the midst of all this furor — folks don’t forget what your company is all about — helping our educators.


Here is his reply:


Thank you for your note. I will be sure to read your posts.

I agree with you completely that we cannot afford to lose sight of the big picture– improving education. Bb and Sakai need to build bridges if we are going to effectively serve the mission of our mutual user-base.


James Kim–family man, technologist

I noted with sorrow the death of James Kim. See also Father’s effort to save his family called ‘superhuman’

He was a senior editor for Cnet, a site I have followed for years, both for their insight into open-source and the computer industry in general.

I never saw his name on a byline, though I realize that he was an editor, and as such helped shape the posts I have found so informative.

He died trying to save his family after they had become lost in difficult terrain.

We all, I am sure, mourn his passing.

James Kim — may his memory be a blessing.

Eben Moglen on life in the jungle

I sent a short note to Eben Moglen listing my recent posts. Here is his reply:

Thanks, Dave, I really appreciate your thoughtfulness and
consideration. Your criticisms of the harshness of the role I played
this afternoon are well-taken, and my only plea in defense is that
lawyering in contentious circumstances is an exercise in theater.
Even gentlemen sometimes have to talk a little tougher than they
really are in private life. Your forbearance is generous.

All my best,

I also forwarded my note to Eben to rms with the following preface:


You are indeed fortunate to have Eben at your side.

As are all of us in the free software community.


and got back a reply indicating he is on the road and will respond as soon as he can.

Attention must be paid

Some of the key scenes in Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman” recount how Willy Loman’s brother went “into the jungle and made my fortune,” implying that Loman is a failure for not taking a similar risk.

As I have related in the two previous posts, I spent part of today in The BlackBoard Jungle and The Patent Jungle. It didn’t make my fortune, but it did change some of my views.

I strove in the two previous posts to just reflect what was said, and write this post to report on some of the lessons I learned today.

First, I introduced myself to Eben Moglen before the lunchtime session and said that I had some concerns about gplv3 in that I feared that if it went forward it might result in needless forking. He said he didn’t think this would happen. I also said that it seemed unlikely that Linux would move away from gplv2 as this would require the consent of its many contributors. He said that one of the main driving forces for gplv3 was to add the appropriate language that would address the law as defined outside the borders of the United States, as he feared that a judge outside the U.S. might rule against gplv2 since some of its language reflected only the legal system of the U.S., and that Linux might want to move to gplv3 if only to avoid this possibility.

As I noted earlier, Moglen was very forceful in the lunchtime discussion. Indeed, he seemed dismissive at times. After the debate I was one of the few people to approach Matthew Small from Blackboard. I said that I appreciated his appearing in what he knew would be a hostile forum. I also said that he had just seen an instance of the schism in the open-source community, that between the “free software” folks and the “open software” folks, and that his views were more consistent with the “open source” folks in that they were more pragmatic and recognized a more nuanced approach. He said that he had found it difficult to deal with Moglen et. al, as they seemed unwilling to compromise.

However, as should be clear from my post on the afternoon session, this is very serious business indeed to Eben. It is not a matter of reaching a compromise, but in his view of taking Blackboard’s actions as a serious threat that requires a forceful — perhaps even punitive — response.

That is of course his call to make. It’s also worth noting that he is doing this work on behalf of Sakai for little, if any, compensation. For him it is a labor of love, love for free software and what it represents.

For example, he mentioned that rSmart had paid the filing fees necessary to instigate the patent re-examination process, and publicly thanked them for their contribution.

It was also clear from the afternoon session that we in the community have a valuable ally in Eben Moglen and his colleagues. Whether “free,” “open,” or “ignorant,” we all own him a debt of gratitude for his work that has gone on for almost two decades now.

Attention must be paid to his work, and credit should be given where credit is due.

I do so now, and trust others will do so going forward, though of course I know his beliefs are deeply held and he has no need of the approval of others to continue on what he deems an essential mission.

I also realize that my own modest efforts to sort out the “open” versus “free” issue may be doing more harm than good. Certainly they no longer serve any useful purpose and so I will try to remove myself from this issue.

All I ask, from those who know of the Jikes Coupon, is that a few folks take the opportunity from time to time to offer me a Dave Coupon, which reads as follows:

This Coupon entitles Dave Shields to ten minutes of peace. During that time you promise not to say any of the following:

  • GNU/Linux
  • Corporations are evil
  • All software must be free

In return Dave will buy you a gentle gambrinian or other beverage of your choice at the nearest pub.

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