Monthly Archives: November 2007

Video of Eben Moglen’s Talk at IBM Research Now Available Online – Ogg Format

Courtesy of Joe Latone of IBM Research, a video recording of Eben Moglen’s Talk at IBM Research, on October 29, 2007, is now available online in Ogg-Theora format

Back In The Day: Computing in 1959, 1971

I was just cleaning up some old papers and came across the following.

Here are a few pages from the manual for a Bendix G-15 computer, dated June, 1959. I recall writing a few programs on this machine some time in 1960 while a member of an Explorer Troop at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The machine had 2000 words and used punched cards for input. The *entire* manual, with instruction set, list of terms, operating instructions, and summary table, fit into less than 30 pages of text. Those were the days!

Bendix G-15 Table of Contents

Bendix G-15 pp 1-3

There was some progress by 1971. This is part of of the first SETL implementation, BALM-SETL. I wrote most of it. It was implemented in MBALM, a LISP-like language created by Prof. Malcolm Harrison of NYU/CIMS.

11971 MBALM output on teletype paper

I haven’t a clue what this particular computation was about, but seeing the yellowed paper after decades sure does bring back the memories. This was probably run on a CDC 6600, then the world’s faster computer, with a speed of about 3 MIPS. It had 1MB of main memory, and jobs over512KB were run overnight!

A few months back my daughter Alison bought a $400 e-machine with 512MB running Vista. It took 20-30 seconds to load a single web page. The performance improved when I bought another 1GB of memory for about $100, increasing the cost of the machine to $500.

The entire manual for the Bendix G-15, hardware AND software, came to less than 30 pages of double-spaced text. Microsoft’s OOXML spec is over 6000 pages in length.

Thank God we have open-source. Otherwise there wouldn’t be any fun left in programming.

Talk to CUNY Librarians: Trip Report

I gave a presentation to some of the CUNY (City University of New York) Librarians at the Cohen Library on the Uptown Campus on November 16, 2007. I wrote several posts in preparation for the talk, and a list of them can be found at Promoting Open Technologies in Libraries

I had the more fun giving this presentation than any other I have given in the past few years.

What could be better than talking about computing, open-source, writing, books, libraries, to an audience of … librarians; moreover, giving that talk in a library. It doesn’t get much better, at least for me.

Here are some pictures:

Dave and Tuxers Talk to Cuny Librarians
Dave and The Tuxers Talk to Cuny Librarians

(Note the screen shows the video of Eben’s recent talk at IBM Research. I brought it up to make sure I put the Tuxers in the same orientation, providing an example of how you can answer questions using the web.)
Dave with Cuny Librarians
Daisy Dominguez, CCNY Cohen Library, Dave; Steve Ovadia, LaGuardia College

 Cuny LibrariansLisa Ellis, Baruch College; Steve Ovadia, LaGuardia College; Daisy Dominguez, CCNY Cohen Library

Daisy gave us a tour of the Cohen Library after the talk. In the background can be seen part of an exhibit on Women and Medicine. I took some pictures of it for use in the Women In Technology Project. I asked Daisy to take this picture so you could see Lisa, who took the picture displayed above this one.

I selected a subset of these posts for use during the presentation and they can be found below listed under “Talk Notes.”

Here is a short report on the presentation itself and some of the lessons I learned giving it.

There were about twenty librarians in the audience, as well as two geeky types who knew their way around computers. I say this as a “geek” myself, and mean no disrespect.

I used my T41 Laptop running Ubuntu 7.10 for the presentation. I put up Firefox in full-screen mode and kept it there for the entire presentation.

This was by design, as I wanted to demonstrate that you only need to have Firefox to use WordPress, and also that if you can do so much via the browser, then why should you care what operating system delivers the browser? Put another way, an operating system is just the “thing” that lets you run the browser. It is the browser that counts, not the operating system. (Bad news for Microsoft, but that is how things have evolved.)

I also spent a fair of time showing how I actually use the computer. For example, how I edit and review changes to my blog on the fly, using one tabbed window to do the edits, and another to view the effect (exactly as the reader will see them too). I also brought up many windows from places such as, technorati, and so forth; all to point out that, for the most part, the browser is the key piece of software today.

For example, at the start I had a list of some of my blog posts, originally written as an unordered list. I then changed this to an ordered list by changing “ul” to “ol” in the beginning and ending tags, displaying the result in the review window. I then stripped out the “ul” and “li” tags to all the links appeared on a single line.

I then asked if anyone knew what language I was using to write my blog. A few knew it was HTML. I then pointed out it was “almost” HTML, in that WordPress recognizes line breaks while strict HTML ignores whitespace.

I then spent a few minutes trying to make the following points:

  • HTML is very simple. It is a core piece of the Web, especially the links. Yet few people appreciate this, as most just work with large programs with lots of buttons and options, which have the effect of making a simple thing look very complicated.
  • I then gave as an example of button/menu mania my experience a few months back observing a group of fifth-grade students trying to use Microsoft Word. While watching many of them raise their hands asking for help, I opened up a blank document, and then noted that if you visited the various actions and suboptions there were over 150 possibilities immediately at hand.
  • I also related a conversation with one of the teachers, who said that, since some of the buttons could have global effects, he had had to threaten his students if they made changes in the setup/conventions in such a way that a student who came after them might be affected.
  • I then gave an example of some of the key standards of the Internet/Web: Bind, Sendmail, Apache, and so forth.
  • I remarked that a key reason for the success of the Internet was that it was not monetized. For example, people may have to pay their cable company access, but they don’t have to pay a fee for each email they write, or web page they compose.
  • Key to this success was that the standards were implemented in open-source.
  • I also pointed out that just as the internet was based on open standards and open-source, then growth of the internet enabled the global collaboration that has allowed so much open-source to be created. There has been a synergistic effect here.
  • I also gave some examples from my experience, dealing with open-source issues all the way from the BIOS level up to BlueGene/p (peta) supercomputers, noting there is a near-complete software stack worth at least $5B available for the asking, at no charge

In the “survey of computing technology” I tried to make these points:

  • Good computers can now be had for $200, of which the XO is the most recent example
  • I spoke of my excitement about the XO and said I would be blogging about mine when I got it. After the talk one of the librarians came up and said she had bought one for use with her child; that is the reason the previous post is about
  • XOBytes, as I then realized I couldn’t wait any longer to start up this new project.
  • Windows+Office now costs the same, $200, and the hardware needed to run it, while ten years ago that software cost was a fraction (about one-tenth) of the cost of the hardware.
  • The browser is key; you want the cheapest platform that will give you one (though I didn’t say this using these words)

I also spent some time on the importance of open standards and open document formats, drawing in part of some of the material from my K12 presentation this past May. I used the “Gettysburg Address in PowerPoint” example as a starting point, and then asked how librarians a century from now will deal with the issue of archiving, cataloging, and retrieving the vast volume of information we are now creating in digital form. I point out that dealing with the vast volume of documents in Microsoft’s proprietary formats will post a particular challenge.

I noted that Microsoft gets almost all of its income, and hence profits, from the Windows operating system and the Office suite. This is extraordinarily profitable business. For example, it made Bill Gates the world’s richest man. Much of the profits come from a special form of tax that is levied on anyone who writes a document using Microsoft Office. The author has to pay Microsoft to get a copy of Office. Then, after composing a document and making it available to someone else, either by mailing it or posting it on the web, anyone who wants to read the document has to by a copy of Office. One document, all the work of a single author, yet Microsoft gets a double payment!

I also spoke at length about my recent work on Authority, Power and what I call “Unexpected Authority.” To see an example of that, go to, select “The Web,” and search on “authoritative opinions.” You will learn I am the author of the two most authoritative opinions known to, both of which were written as part of preparing my talk to the librarians!

By the way, not all my authority is unexpected. By a series of artfully crafted blog posts I have become a recognized authority on “JE Sux.” Though obscure, the topic is, I think, important to a full understanding of Yale’s pre-eminent position in American higher education , arachnids, dances named after arachnids, and the Harvard-Yale football game. For example, I get a surge of views each year about this time as folks search for “Harvard Yale football”. Also, , do the folks at Harvard know that when my daughter Jen, JE ’06, went to Cambridge a few years back to watch a Harvard-Yale, she stayed in Eliot House, named after on of Harvard’s greatest leader?

She was accompanied by a fellow JE ’06 friend and roommate. Her friend has the surname Eliot, and she is a direct descendant of the same famed Eliot of Harvard, yet she is an Eliot who went to Yale, not Harvard, demonstrating that at least some of Eliot’s descendants have come to appreciate Yale’s ascendency. Ponder that bitter news, Harvard wannabe’s.

I also realized that my blog is itself a library of my writings, and then asked myself, “where is the catalog.” I noted that I have created several pages to assist others in finding and perusing my writings, including most of the pages that are linked to at the top of my blog page: Posts, Topics, Trivia, and Ubuntu, for example. I will soon combine them all into a single page, Catalog.

Returning to unexpected authority, I think I see how this is so. I have for some time maintained a page called “Trivia,” in which I have recording sum of the surprising results of Google search strings that have led people to my blog. Try for example two of the most profoundly meaningful words to Jews in the last half-century are “Sabbath” and “Kristallnacht.” Do a search on both of them, “Sabbath Kristallnacht,” and you will be directed by my blog, by ANY of the first five results returned by Google.

I conjecture this is due to two aspects of Google’s search algorithm:

  • Google lends much more weight to the words in the title of a blog post than in the body;
  • Google lends more weight to recent posts and articles than older ones, preferring timeliness to number of references.

If both these observations hold, and I expect they do for it is hard otherwise to see why I should have achieved so much Unexpected Authority, then it is possible to game Google not to sell merchandise, but to sell ideas, in the form of your writing.

I have also come to appreciate that the greatest library assembled in human history is the Internet/Web.

The question then is, “Who is the librarian of mankind’s greatest library?”

That would be Google, a company that is based on seolling ads, primarily to make oodles and oodles of boodle, so much so they the company’s senior executives share their own jumbo jet.

I wrote in my talk of the key role that the Ernie Pyle library played in my childhood. That library was Albuquerque’s first branch library.

There are no branch libraries on the internet, just one library. After the talk, in which I had spoken often of my renewed appreciation for the important role librarians play in our culture, one of them remarked that librarians are the “gatekeepers” to knowledge.

Indeed they are, and now we have as that gatekeeper not a friendly, trained person in our neighborhood, but a commercial company, that while it proclaims it will not “Do Evil,” has due to its skills and good fortune found itself to be the world’s librarian.

There were a few personal moments worthy of mention.

I had listed as an example of a “life changing” post my first post on SSgt. Kyu Hyuk Chay, written this past Memorial Day. When I brought up the picture of the Chappaqua War Memorial, tears started to come to my eyes. I had to turn my back to the audience and collect my thoughts before I could continue. (This was the first time I had discussed this event publicly, and I should have foreseen that this might happen.)

After the talk I had a few conversations with the librarians.

I had mentioned that two of my grandparents were medical missionaries in China a century ago. One of the librarians said that here great-grandparents had also been medical missionaries in China about that time, as part of a special mission set up by Yale’s School of Medicine. (She also said that this effort still continues in some form today.)

I had said that I had ordered an XO Laptop and that I planned to blog about it extensively as soon as I got my hands on it.

She said she had also ordered one, as she wanted to use it with her children.

That comment become another moment of change in my life, or at least my blogging life, as I expect you will soon note.

Though I had planned to postpone blogging about the XO Laptop until I got mine, learning that educators and librarians had also ordered some for their families made me appreciate that I can’t wait.

This work is so important that I will begin on it soon, very soon — starting with my next post.

Talk Notes


On Libraries: The Ernie Pyle Memorial Home/Library

The Loss of Innocence




First Post Personal Post Most Popular Post Life-Changing Post Chappaqua Girl Scouts Veterans Project (coming)

Demonstrate Use of WordPress.

Fallen Soldiers

Goodnight Windows, Goodnight Mush

A Sabbath Kristallnacht in the Temple Beth El Library

Current Computer Technology

The Two Hundred Dollar Computer

Visit Newegg: Show ASUS Barebones, 1TB Hard Drive for Under $300

(Commercial) Software cost now equals hardware cost

Open-Source Software

What is Open Source?

Locate video; position friends, take group picture.

Linux: Meet the Tuxers


OSD: Open-Software Cost Equals Zero

Annus Horribilis, Annus Mirabilis

History / Remembrance

Within a decade no more authoritative opinions will be available from Holocaust Survivors. See An authoritative opinion on the accuracy of the Holocaust movie Fateless

Within twenty years no more authoritative opinions will be available from WWII Veterans. See Lou Colangelo and Swanson Shields.

Half of IBM’s employees have been with IBM less than five years

Brief History of Operating Systems

Fallen Soldiers

The Titfield Thunderbolt

Wikipedia entry for Chaim Stern

Rabbi Chaim Stern Project


Why is Dave Shields the Authoritative Expert on Authoritative Opinions?

An Authoritative Opinion on Libraries and Authoritative Opinions

Web 2.0 / Social Networking

Demonstrate flickr, technorati, twitter,

Software Status Report

What To Do?

Libraries And Librarians

Thin Clients

Open Document Formats

What is Open Source?

Open Data/Document Formats

Gettysburg Address in PowerPoint

What Do Librarians Need To Know About Technology?

Technology and the Library

Promoting Open Technologies in Libraries (Full Presentation)

What Do Technologists Need To Know About Librarians? TO BE DONE

Software cost now equals hardware cost

What Next?

A Library You Should Visit Soon: Thomas J. Watson Library: The Gates of Paradise

Tagline: WordPress gave me a blog to see how I was going to handle it

WordPress allows you to define a “tagline” that gives a short description of your blog.

I often cite the advice of Ms. Leigh Ann Tuohy:

“God gives people money to see how you’re going to handle it”

I recently noted I hadn’t yet defined a tagline, and have just done so:

WordPress gave me a blog to see how I was going to handle it

On Claiming a Piece of the Blogosphere

See Results for “watson library”.

I am the only person in the last two months to blog about a “Watson Library.”

Video of Eben Moglen’s Talk at IBM Research Now Available Online

[Update (November 21,2007) Ogg-Theora format at

I just got a note from Joe Latone of IBM Research that brought the happy news that the video of Eben Moglen’s talk Copyleft Capitalism, GPLv3 and the Future of Software Innovation, given at at IBM Research on October 29, 2007, is now available online:

it was too long for youtube, so i put it on google video.

I was able to view it using my Ubuntu box running 7.10. The video is a bit grainy, but the audio quality is very good, and that is what counts.

Joe can be seen at the start in his spiffy leather jacket introducing Eben. [1]

You can see two of the Tuxers on the podium in front of Eben. (I suspect they went up so close so that they wouldn’t miss a single word of his speech. I learned later they enjoyed it even more than I did.)


1. Joe commented on my post that included a picture of me selling baloons “back in the day,” over thirty years ago, that my mustache made me look like a cross of Dan Ackroyd and Borat. Here’s back at you, Joe.

Promoting Open Technologies in Libraries

I am to give a presentation to some of CUNY’s librarians in less than two days. When I spoke with my host, Steve Ovadia (he is a librarian and also a blogger) about the content of my presentation a few weeks ago, I said I would base it largely on my presentation this past May to k12 educators, Open Technology Solutions for K-12 Education. I also said I would talk about the then upcoming K12 Open Minds Conference.

However, as I started to put together the presentation I found myself creating much new content, much more content than I would have expected, and that content will comprise the core of my presentation:

Written in October:

TWWP Puzzler: Name The U.S. Presidents Known To Have Made Use of The Library of Congress

On Thin Clients and Hospital Waiting Rooms

K12OpenMinds07: Trip Report

On Education, Innovation, OLPC, And Open-Source

On Open Content: Libraries Shun Deals to Place Books on Web

The Long March Up From Obscurity: Technorati Authority Now 40, Rank 199700

What Are Your Favorite Web Sites or Blogs?

Announcing The Women In Technology Project

I’ve Been Grokked

Open Source Divertimento K. 2007

Golden Oldies With a New Sparkle

Can you explain open-source in one sentence?

Written this November:

The Vanished Posts

Goodnight Windows, Goodnight Mush

Ubuntu 7.10: Inflection Point or Tipping Point?

New York Botanical Garden: Kiku

December 1999: Three Predictions

An Open-Source Experiment: Google Enters the Wireless World

Time-ly Technology

New Life Forms in the Open-Source Ecosystem: Redmonk, Mellon Foundation, And Some Newbies

An Authoritative Opinion Comparing Security in Linux and Microsoft Windows

An Authoritative Opinion on Libraries and Authoritative Opinions

On Libraries: The Ernie Pyle Memorial Home/Library

On Libraries: The Library of Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester

On Libraries: On Searching for the Meaning of “Sabbath Kristallnacht”

k12openminds07: I just ordered my XO Laptop. Have You?

Search Engine Terms for November 12, 2007

Thomas J. Watson Library: The Gates of Paradise”>

The Two Hundred Dollar Computer

Software cost now equals hardware cost

Annus Horribilis, Annus Mirabilis

First Memories of Reading And of Being Read To

dsandroid count now 2

On Authors: Ira Levin, of ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ Dies at 78

On Unexpected Authority: Recent Examples

Technorati Authority Now 50, Rank Now 154,301

On Authority and Rating Programmers. Making Linus Number 1

On the Authority of Librarians

Technology and the Library

Written in November as part of the Rabbi Chaim Stern Project:

Shabbat Kristallnacht in the Library of Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester

On Searching for the Meaning of “Sabbath Kristallnacht”

Of course I can not go over all these posts, nor would I even attempt to do so.

I had a lot of fun writing these posts, and I draw the following conclusions from what I learned writing them:

  • Librarians are also educators, but they have their own distinct mission and associated responsibilities
  • Librarians are also amongst our key arbiters of authority. I did not fully appreciate this until I wrote these posts, and I think it fair to say it emerged as a dominant theme;
  • While librarians face many of the same challenges in learning about and effectively deploying open techologies as do our educators, they have their own unique challenges and responsibilities;
  • They need as much help as do our educators, and they are equally fun to learn about and to work with.

I have a two-hour slot, but do plan to spend as little time as I can muster presenting my own thoughts, as I would like to spend most of the time in an open discussion about their view of the challenges they face, and how best they can make use of the available open technologies such as open-source to become more effective in their vital mission.

I hope the presentation is not too far from one of the CUNY libraries, for I have spent many of the best moments of my life in a library, and so would like to visit one of theirs.

Technology and the Library

The most significant invention of the last thousand years — at least in my view — is the invention in the 1400’s of movable type and the printing press. This innovation allowed the production of books at a low cost, a cost so low that it enabled the mass distribution of information to the general general public for the first time.

That innovation led to another innovation, for a place had to be found to house and categorize those books. That innovation was the modern library as we know it today.

These innovations have led to the other innovations and discoveries that have shaped the course of our civilization ever since.

Here are just a few of the numerous inventions that relate directly to printing and libraries:

  • The Typewriter
  • The Linotype
  • The High-Speed Printing Press
  • Microfilm Cameras and Viewers, including Microfiche
  • The Xerox Copier and its descendants

Each is of course worthy of one or more posts on its own, but for now let me just remark on two of them: the typewriter and the copier.

I first visited Russia in late 1973, just a few days after the end of the Yom Kippur Way. My wife and I traveled alone. I had enough Russian that we didn’t need to rely on a tour-guide and translator, though we did have to pay exhorbitant rates for hotel accomodations and the occasional official tour.

For the large part we fended by ourselves. For example, we met a young couple while taking the train from Moscow to what was then called Leningrad, and is now known as St. Petersberg. They offered to take us on a tour of Leningrad, and we met them about 8PM near the Peter-and-Paul Statue. Their car stopped suddenly, and we were whisked inside. We then sped off, and I started to worry a bit, as I knew no one else would know where we had gone, or with whom.

It turns out they just wanted to talk about America, but they knew the authorities strongly discouraged contact with foreigners, especially Americans.

We also visited some of my wife’s relatives in Kiev. Both her parents were born in Russia, and each came from large families. The families were separated according to the age of the men. Those of age that could serve in the military had to stay behind; the younger ones could leave. We were met at the Kiev train station by the descendants of those who had to stay behind; there were about forty of them.

It was during a visit to one of their homes that I first saw real samizdat, “underground” writings prepared by using a typewriter and carbon paper. That was the only technology available to most writers, for the few copying machines then within the Soviet Union were carefully locked up and guarded.

I also recall once, while sitting in a relative’s living room, asking if any of them ever went to the Synagogue. They refused even to answer, while in their own home, for fear the conversation might be overheard. It was then I first fully appreciated that Anti-semitism was a worldwide phenomenon, not one confined to Germany and Austria.

In the last few decades we have seen the arrival of a host of new techologies, technologies that will over the course of time have a collective impact as great as that of the printing press:

  • The computer
  • Disk drives that have now grown so cheap as to be essentially free
  • The Internet
  • The Web
  • Digitized information: pictures, photos, recordings, films, and so forth
  • The laser printer
  • The XO Laptop (the most recent arrival, and a harbinger of world-wide access to computing) techology
  • Wireless

A key part of many of these technologies is software. For example, most of Lexmark’s printers use Linux to drive the printing engine.

And thus a key question is how to best make use of that software to help our librarians, especially the software that is available in free and open-source form, since libraries — as is the case with our schools — never receive the funding and recognition that should be their due.

I wish I had the answers. I don’t yet, but I do know that I plan to spend as much time as I can in the coming years seeking ways to apply open technologies such as open-source, open-standards, and — especially — open document formats, in order to assist educators and librarians in their vital mission.

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