Daily Archives: October 10, 2007

Is Twitter starting a school?

Someone just reached my blog via the search string “the twits lesson plans,” and viewed my post Making book on textbooks.

Is twitter going to start a school?

I know I’m not. Though I do attempt to provide some education in this blog about open-source, I don’t have a plan other than to have fun.

Or is Monte Python planning a comeback?

Most likely it was just a student searching for the lesson plans of one their less-favored teachers.

Then again, one of my open-source colleagues may have been seeking insight into Steve Ballmer’s plan to teach open-source folks a lesson.


Near the end of my previous post, On Taking License With Language: Using Links To Explain Jokes, Licenses, and Pun Fun I made a play on words with the phrase: [1]

Good Will, Hunting.

The playful part is the comma, for without it there be no play, no ploy.

This example illustrates that not only should you AC-CENT-TCHU-ATE THE POSITIVE, you can also add spice to your blog by the clever use of punctuation.

For example, my insertion of a comma goes against one of the suggestions that can be found in the lyrics to the song: “Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.”

I messed around by inserting a comma between two words. Sorry about that, Mr. In Between. Read ’em and weep. [2]

I made another artful use of punctuation in the post On Steve O’Grady’s post: “Where to Innovate? Let Others Make the Call”, in which I made mention of what is believed to be the longest sentence ever written, and the shortest meaningful letter ever written, a letter consisting of the punctuation mark “!” on a page with a company’s letterhead!

Here I ask you to pause so I can share with you an amazing phenomenon I just discovered, an aspect or blogging I haven’t seen before.

I noticed several days ago that some had viewed the post as a result of a search for the longest sentence, yet I was unable to duplicate the search string they used. I then stopped writing this post to call home and say good night to my wife. When I returned to resume writing the post I noticed someone had just reached my blog via a search for “longest sentence les miserables!” I then updated the Trivia page in which I track assorted trivia, among them the search strings that have led people to my blog because one of my posts was returned among the first few found by Google. In this case, I ranked #4.

I think this is a unique aspect of blogging. As you write a post in real time you may ask yourself a question only to get the answer to it with minutes because someone has just read one of your earlier posts! [3]

By the way, these last few minutes have provided yet another demonstration of the beauty of WordPress. In order to recover that search string, I saved my draft, went to the Dashboard, and then Blog Stats to get the exact text of the search string, which I then copied, concluding by returning to my post and pasting in the search string.

I did all this in a few seconds without ever leaving Firefox. WordPress is the best example I have yet seen of a browser-based app.

You can go for hours without having to leave Firefox, which, like WordPress, is open-source.

This is one of the reasons open-source is speeding ever fast right at Microsoft’s heart.

For as software moves to the web, the underlying operating system on your machine will become less and less relevant.

What more do you need once you have Ubuntu and can use it to run Firefox, which gives you access to Google, WordPress, gmail, yahoo mail, as well as technorati, deli.cio.us, twitter, and all the other great social networking stuff?

Add a dash of Google docs and away you go.

Need backup? Go to s3.

Why in the hell will you need anything from MS!? [4]

Beats me, and I expect it will beat them, too!

Having dispensed with the observation that open-source has got Microsoft’s number, as can be seen by the frequent posts on slashdot, and is going to cause ever-increasing pain to Microsoft’s colon, thus putting the end to the “Microsoft Period,” let us return to punctuation, with a dash of zest as we do so, answering questions; marking our progress as we sally forth, perhaps with a few quotations that you may wish to bookmark; as we try to limit exclamations as I make my point, as a mark of progress; dealing with a matter that, while not grave, will require the use of HTML to accent words of special intererest; and also trying to limit parenthetical remarks; with each sentence just a comma, or ellipsis in this ever-growing sentence that may become one with no equal, even though I am writing it without the hope of making a single $, as I know that each observation is just a punctuation mark in this long chase, one which I hope will end with the same happiness as does a rabbit when he finds a tasty caret. [5]

By the way, I came across a great post on punctuation before I wrote the previous paragraph. It was written the folks at the Bank of America, which happens to be my bank, and I noted therein that the symbol they know best — $ — is not a punctuation mark. The BofA post also makes mention of National Punctuation Day, an event celebrated near the end of September, so this post is this a belated part of its celebration.

I also recommend a great book on our wonderful language: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss.

The title is yet another example of the importance of what many deem to be the lowly comma:

The panda “eats shoots and leaves.”

An armed robber who works while dining thus “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.”


1. This the second consecutive post that begins by quoting the end of the previous post, thus chaining one post after another. I could go on, but will not do so, IBM has a policy of not allowing the creation of chain letters, or their distribution.

2. See Read ‘Em and Weep: A Bedside Poker Companion and Meat Loaf: Read ’em & Weep.

3. I try to limit the use of “!” but went overboard in this post for the obvious reason.

4. This is an instance of the interrobang. My mom liked it so much that she had a local shop make a rubber stamp with it.

5. This sentence is almost two hundred words long, yet still much shorter than Mr. Hugo’s, who remains the the Victor in the race to write the longest sentence. Way to go, Hugo!

Then again, I can use what we programmers call a “wrapper” to beat Hugo into submission.

“Here is what is believed to be the longest sentence yet written, though this sentence itself is even longer, and is thus parodoxical: The son of a father to whom history will accord certain attenuating circumstances … and if he had had the sentiment of what is great to the same degree as the feeling for what is useful.”

Read it and weep. There you GO, Mr. HuGO. It’s time to start coding. But don’t forget that I know it is considered harmful if you try to GO TO attempt to write an even longer sentence.

On Taking License With Language: Using Links To Explain Jokes, Licenses, and Pun Fun

I ended my previous post with the line:

I won this one for: the kippah-er, for:shane.

This play on words occurred to me as I was writing the post. Since the rhyme of “gipper” with “kippah-er” was not obvious, I published the line in the form of a link that clarified my intent.

I then realized that I can’t recall explaining a joke or a pun this way before, though I probably have.

One of my goals in writing this blog about the fun that is open-source is to do what I can to have fun while writing it.

For example, I wrote nineteen posts on the topic of open-source forking about a year ago. The title of each begins with the words, “Yogi Yarns.”

Though I didn’t know how many posts it would take, I did know before I wrote the first that the title of the last would contain this phrase:

If you come to a fork in the road, pick it up

One of them — Yogi Yarns – Inbound and Outbound Licenses — was visited yesterday as a result of a web search on “what is inbound licensing.”

The phrases “inbound license” and “outbound license” are often used by attorneys who deal in open-source matters.

For example, the response to the query “What is the outbound license?” is usually “IPLA,” an acronym for IBM Program License Agreement, which is an example of what is called a “commercial” license.

Licenses such as BSD, MIT, and Apache are said to be “liberal” in that they permit the code to be relicensed under a commercial license. For example, “The inbound license for this package is BSD, the outbound license is IPLA.”

Licenses such as GPL and GPL are said to be “conservative,” or “viral,” in that they dictate the outbound license. For example, “The inbound license for this package is GPL so we have use GPL as the outbound license.

Licenses such as Mozilla, Eclipse, IBM’s CPL (Common Public License), and Sun’s CDDL (Common Distribution and Development License) fall in between. They allow the use of a commercial license for the code you write, but also required that if you made any changes to the underlying code then you must make those changes available under the terms on the inbound license.

As is always the case when discussing the licensing of intellectual property such as open-source code, you should consult your attorney and not rely on the statements of non-attorneys such as the author of this post.

As a further cautionary note, licenses should only be interpreted, or written, by attorneys versed in this art.

Certain words and phrases have very precise meanings when they are included in a license, and so, as a non-attorney, you can not apply your everyday, “common sense” knowledge of language to interpret a license.

Programmers are especially likely to make false interpretations when they view “license language” as just another kind of programming language. Indeed it is, but you have to go law school to learn how to code in it.

I was first made aware of this soon after the Jikes code was released late in 1998, and related posts can be found in the Jikes Archives that are part of this blog.

Soon after the Jikes code was released in open-source form, there were a number of queries about the license — one that had been created by IBM — mostly as comments to a Slashdot story about the release. I responded to several, but was soon called by an IBM attorney (yes, IBM attorneys do read Slashdot from time to time) who said that while I had played a role in drafting the license, now that it was out only IBM attorneys should make statements about it.

Some of the objections to the license were valid, and I arranged for a call with Bruce Perens, whom I had engaged as my advisor on licensing issues several months earlier. During the call, which included me, an exec, and an IP attorney on IBM’s side, Bruce said that he found some of the language used in the license to be quite obscure, and suggested that IBM should “clean up” the license by using simpler language.

The attorney responded by saying that first-year law students shared his view when they took their first course in drafting license and contracts, and that the professor then demonstrated why things were as they are by asking them to attempt to draft that “simpler” language on their own.

Try, for example, to fully explain the language that can be found at the end of the BSD License, language that reflects centuries of legal practice and court decisions: [2]


It was shortly after that call that I announced my policy of dealing with future questions about open-source licensing only with “a pleasant nod and a smile,” though I must confess I have violated that policy in this post. So please try to imagine that the smiling face that can be found at the top right of this blog’s home page is nodding as you read this post.

But I have digressed, as I am often wont to do, and so hereby “licence your departure.”

To get the licence, search for “licence your departure ” at Open Source Shakespeare: An Experiment in Literary Technology, where, in the play Henry IV, Part I can be found the words (emphasis added):

Thou dost belie him, Percy, thou dost belie him;
He never did encounter with Glendower:
I tell thee,
He durst as well have met the devil alone
As Owen Glendower for an enemy.
Art thou not ashamed? But, sirrah, henceforth
Let me not hear you speak of Mortimer:
Send me your prisoners with the speediest means,
Or you shall hear in such a kind from me
As will displease you. My Lord Northumberland,
We licence your departure with your son.
Send us your prisoners, or you will hear of it.

I do wish that my last name were Hunting, for if it were then this post might have resulted in my hearing of it by receiving the following comment to this blog post:

“Good Will, Hunting.”

Someone might even have then made a movie about me with that phrase as its title …


Indeed, this is one of the reasons I wanted to join the project that led to Jikes, as I knew Philippe was already on the team. We had worked together at NYU before he left for IBM. I worked with him briefly when I joined IBM, but he soon left to get his Ph.D. on IBM’s dime. Soon after he returned from NYU he left to spend several years working for IBM in Silicon Valley. We only got to finally collaborate in what has been the most productive collaboration of my IBM career when we started to work on what became Jikes. He had already produced the front-end of the compiler, and I volunteered to write a bytecode generator so we could run real programs. The rest is history.

I attended IBM’s first “Open Source Summit” in Austin in the early days of September, 1998. The first part was open to a few invited non-IBMers, and it was there I first met Jon “maddog” Hall, and I also recall that I may have met Joe Barr, too. I learned later that IBM was drafting a new open-source license to replace the Jikes License.

That work led to the IBM Public License, the IPL. It was flawed in that it identified IBM as the “original contributor,” and was thus replaced by the Common Public License, the CPL. The Eclipse License, EPL, is based on the CPL. I’m not an expert on either, as I leave license analysis to attorneys, though I think they are very similar except for small differences in the language about patents.

I have often boasted that I am one of the few people who can say their caused their employer to write an open-source license that was then approved by the Open Source Initiative, and that I am thus entitled to a free drink in any open-source bar in the world.

Sad to say, I have yet to find such a bar. So if you know of one, please post a comment here, and I’ll see if I can get a beer there for free, where by “free” I mean:

free as in beer

2. I now license my writings using License Dave Shields, LDS. (My initials are also LDS.).

There are two forms of the license, one for writing that is not code, the other for writing that is. They differ in that the code license includes the text of the BSD license that is in capital letters.

The Wayward Word Press Software Of The Year Award For 2007: WordPress

I first appreciated the importance of awards over fifty years ago, as a child growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

My mother, Janet Shields — May Her Memory Be A Blessing — was then employed by the local theater chain, and so took great interest in the Academy Awards. I recall listening to some of them on the radio (we did not then have a TV), observing her interest and so became quite interested in the awards.

I have come to appreciate in the decades since then that awards are of value not in the recipient but in the namer. For after all, the recipient’s work stands on its own merit, or lack of same, and thus needs no “award” to give credit where credit is due. [1]

Awards do not create truth. They only attempt to recognize it.

And so, to give credit where credit is due, I have created my own awards as part of this blog, and thus have just announced my first two “Man Of The Year” awards.

By the way, the award for 2008 will go to a woman, not a man. I have one such woman in mind, one who has been a friend for close to forty years, but she has received so many honors that I am looking forward to naming someone else a few months down the road, and I look forward to starting the search for that as yet unnamed recipient going forward.

I am a programmer through and through, and thus announce in this post my own choice of software that I believe merits recognition. Though this award may not mean much to you, it means a great deal to me, as I award it based on my experience of forty years as a professional programmer, and also a programmer who acquired a Ph.D. along the way.

It is thus with great pleasure that I am pleased to announce that the recipient of TWWP’s Software Of The Year Award for 2007 is WordPress.

WordPress is a fabulous piece of software, so good that it has become one of the few programs that I wished I had written myself, because I know that had I done so I would have received universal acclaim.

I have used WordPress for hundreds of hours over the past year writing this blog. It has been a constant companion, one that has never betrayed my trust, and one that has not only amazed me by its quality and reliability but has also demonstrated each and every day that I have used it what can be accomplished by elegance in design.

Moreover, WordPress is not just yet another software package, but a community and a company based on that community.

I am confident that both the xompany and the WordPress community will be with us for decades to come, so much so that I am basing my own volunteer efforts to honor our Fallen Soldiers and their survivorrs entirely on WordPress. I also plan to rely on WordPress to maintain this blog and my other web-based activities for the years left to me.

I am so impressed by WordPress that I would rely on it if it were proprietary, as is the case with vendors such as IBM, Adobe, and Microsoft.

Yet WordPress is open-source. Indeed, I have found it to be the best web-based application I have yet used.

Though WordPress deserves this personal award on its merits, I take special pleasure in that it is open-source.

I concluded a recent post, Linux At Your Service: The Linux Service Agreement, in which I made mention of the remarkable reliability of Linux and IBM’s hardware, as follows:

I have told you about several incidents where people have been woken in the middle of the night to be informed of a problem.

I am sure that Linus Torvalds, the CEO of Linux, and Sam Palmisano, IBM’s current CEO, have also received such calls.

But I doubt they get many such calls these days. They can go to sleep with such confidence in their product that they know they will sleep like a baby, for after decades of work they are no longer babes in the woods.

Sweet dreams.

I conclude this post by noting that software is inexorably moving to the web, and as it does so, especially as open-source, then the powers-that-be will face a great challenge:

Dear Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer,

Software is moving to the web, much of it as open-source.

You know that, I know that.

I also know that you go to bed each night knowing of the nightmare headed your way, a good example of which is WordPress.

I know also that as you try to fall asleep you are well aware that there are thousands of programmers hunched over their terminals –across the globe –doing their best to make Linux and other open-source projects better and better, each and every day.


No sweet dreams for you.

Just nightmares.

I hope the sweat is as cold as cold can be.


1. I have on occasion received an email from an IBM marketeer urging me to cast a vote for an award, to help IBM receive some recognition. I have ignored all such pleas.

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