My next Last Friday of the Month speaker, this coming Friday (April 26) will be Samizdata’s own Rob Fisher, who has emailed me thus:
These are my notes for the ‘introduction’ section of my talk. I think this should give you a flavour of what to expect:
I am going to talk about open source software.
I am calling it “open source” but as we will see there are variations on that theme.
I will talk about the history because it tells us things about the motivations of the people who work on open source software.
I will also talk about the nature of software in general, to put open source in context.
I want to talk about what it is like to develop software, and to develop open source software and proprietary software. I have done a little of the former and a lot of the latter – developing proprietary software is my day job.
And I will tell you about how open source looks today, what kinds of software are open source, who is developing it, who is using it and how an open source project is run.
And I will talk about ways I think open source software is saving the world (from a variety of bad things that would happen without it).
I don’t have a grand thesis to share, no big new idea. What I’m talking about is mostly well known, but my aim is to provide an overview so we can think about what it all means in a broader economic sense, and I’ll share the few thoughts I have about that.
I am looking forward to this a lot, because I expect to learn a lot. I particularly like the sound of that “saving the world” bit.
This stuff is likely to be central to many of the most vexed political and legal arguments of the next few decades. Intellectual property gets ever hotter as a topic, as they continue to lengthen the number of years it lasts. And as “3D printing” gets into its stride, that is adding a whole new dimension of relevance to such arguments. Open Source manufacturing, anyone?
It is already clear from emailed acceptances that there will be a good turnout. There is room for it to be slightly better, but only slightly. Email me soon (go here and click on “Contact”), if you would like to attend.
Taking offence cannot be equated to being criminally victimised.
- “Cannot” as in: “should not”. Sadly, they just did. That’s Richard Carey, writing at Libertarian Home about the disappearance of the blog and twitter feed of Old Holborn, and other twitter accounts, for the crime of being “inappropriate and offensive”.
One of the many excellent things about the excellent Indian Premier League is the opportunity that it has given to West Indian cricketers to do great things on a cricket field, as impressive as the great things done by their great fast bowlers in the 1970s and 1980s. There are now about half a dozen West Indians making their mark on the IPL. It is no exaggeration to say that what the Indians are doing is saving the West Indies for cricket.
Not that long ago, there was talk of West Indians, dispirited by the failure of their players to do the sort of grafting you have to do to do well in five day international cricket matches in places like England, giving up on cricket altogether, and switching to basketball, or some such American alternative.
Not now. The innings of Chris Gayle in this game, which I am now watching (thank goodness for the recent multiplication of digital TV channels in the UK) on my telly, open mouthed, is already the talk of the West Indies. Got to be. I don’t know what time of day it is over there, but trust me, they are awake and cheering themselves hoarse. As of now, Gayle is 154 not out, off 54 balls. Even if you know nothing of cricket, know this: that’s dynamite stuff. Gayle is only a handful of runs away from breaking the record for the biggest twenty-twenty innings ever, set in the very first IPL game by a guy from New Zealand.
Yes. West Indian IPL Commentator: “This is now the highest score ever in all twenty-twenty cricket.” Gale 161 not out. And counting.
West Indian IPL Commentator: This is now the biggest twenty-twenty total ever. 251-3 and counting. The South African AB de Villiers has just got out for 31, made in 8 balls. South African cricket has been somewhat in the doldrums ever since the Hanse Cronje match-fixing scandal, and the IPL has been a shot in the arm for South African cricket also. They are now the top team in the world, at test cricket. Twenty-twenty mania hasn’t done them any harm either.
Globalisation, commerce, free people spending their own money on what they love, previously poor countries getting rich, individual people in previously poor countries getting rich, by cheering up the entire world – well, my version of the entire world anyway. I love it. Love it. Opposition players all clustering around Gayle to shake his hand. 175 not out. Kiwi Commentator: “You’ve broken record after record tonight. It was one of the best innings anyone here has ever seen.” Amen.
I just wish that more of my fellow countrymen could see all this. The English continue to talk head-in-sand nonsense about the IPL. In this silly piece, David Hopps talks about the IPL being “an essentially trivial Indian T20 tournament”. As so often, the word “essentially”, as the late Kingsley Amis observed many years ago, here means “not”.
There is actually an Englishman playing in this match, Luke Wright of Sussex. And good on him, because he has had a pretty good IPL so far, once he got to play. Good on him today, because he bowled in this game, and his bowling figures were: 4-0-26-1. In a game like this one, those are impressively normal numbers, even if the reason Wright did that well was that he was bowling some of his overs just after Gayle got to a hundred, and Gayle was having a bit of a chill, man.
LATER: The Guardian sums it up.
Plebs is a sitcom set in ancient Rome. They showed the sixth and last of (the first?) six episodes of it last night on ITV2 TV, and they’ll be showing this again tonight.
I’ve been recording Plebs. In the opening scene of this latest episode, the three leading characters, Marcus (who wants to be more successful while still being nice about it, the voice of concerned normality), Stylax (more of a Jack the Lad type), and Grumio (their slave), are out and about in the town, watching the ancient Roman version of the media, i.e. people orating and/or selling in the market place.
Mad Soothsayer Woman: “The seas will rise up and drown the people living in the lowlands …”
Doughnut Salesman: “Doughnuts!”
Mad Soothsayer Woman: “… and the sun shall beat down and burn all those people living in the hills!”
Doughnut Salesman: “Doughnuts!”
Mad Soothsayer Woman: “And those people living on the lands that are neither high nor low will also die through a combination of burning and drowning! None of you are safe! The end is nigh!!!”
Doughnut Salesman: “Come get your doughnuts!”
Stylax: “So, when’s the world ending?”
Grumio: “I dunno, I were listening to that doughnut guy.”
Marcus: “Nigh, apparently.”
Stylax: “Alright, nigh. Hang on, doesn’t that mean soon?”
Marcus: “To the people that say it, it means soon. To everyone else it means you’re a nutter, talking shit.”
Grumio: “I’m going to get a doughnut just in case.”
Sam Leifer and Tom Basden, the two man team who wrote, produced and directed Plebs, are either climate non-alarmists themselves, or at the very least they reckon that a lot of us now are, and that we’re ready for comedy which takes the piss out of our mad soothsayer tendency.
My original title for this was: “Are the plebs starting to see sense about climate alarmism?”, but I reckon our plebs have been sussing this out for quite a while now. Britain’s telly comedians are following public opinion on this rather than shaping it. Until a couple of years ago or so, they were constantly going on about how stupid climate non-alarmists were. Then they went quiet on the subject. Are they beginning seriously to see sense?
Today I received one of those collective emails with a big list of recipients at the top. It was from Tim Evans to the Essex University Liberty League, and copied to the rest of us, suggesting all the copyees as potential speakers to the Essex University Liberty League. I was pleased to be even suggested, because I was a very happy student at Essex University in the early 1970s. Fingers crossed, hint hint.
But much more importantly, following a little googling for the Essex University Liberty League, I found my way to this, which I had not noticed before and which is a video of a talk given by the noted libertarian historian Stephen Davies to … the Essex University Liberty League. Having both hugely enjoyed and been hugely impressed by the talk that Stephen Davies gave to the Liberty League Freedom Forum in London just under a fortnight ago, on the subject of healthcare, I cranked up this video about the history of British libertarianism and had a listen.
Brilliant. The time, nearly fifty minutes of it, just flew by. Davies really is a master communicating a large body of ideas and information, seemingly with effortless ease, in what is (given the sheer volume of all those ideas and all that information) an amazingly short period of time, although in other hands the same chunk of time would feel like an eternity.
Thank goodness cheap videoing arrived in time for Davies to be extensively captured on it, for two reasons. First, it would be very hard to take notes that would do justice to a Stephen Davies talk, and it would be impossible to remember it all. There is, every time, just too much good stuff there. You want to be able to hear it all again, with a pause button available. Second, I get the distinct impression that Davies knows a great deal more about the present and the past of the world, and of the people trying to make the world more liberty-loving, than he has so far managed to get down on paper. Indeed, I sense that Davies’s recent IEA job, stimulating Britain’s student libertarian network, is a calculated trade-off on his part, between one important job, namely that, and the other important thing that Davies ought to be doing, namely writing down many more of his brilliant thoughts and discoveries and opinions and historical wisdoms than he has so far managed to write down.
Although, now would be a good time to flag up a piece Davies wrote for the Libertarian Alliance entitled Libertarian Feminism in Britain, 1860-1910, which is about the kind of thing his talk is about. The point being that most feminists then were libertarians, in contrast to the collectivists that most feminists are now. So, Davies has written some of his wisdoms down, just not as much as he might have.
However, meanwhile, and as a natural consequence of all the student networking that he has lately been doing, Davies does often give a talk, and sometimes someone records it. Like I say, thank goodness for video. And congratulations to whoever did video this particular Davies talk to the Essex University libertarians. Richard Carey, who did the short blog posting where I found the video, does not say who did this. Presumably an Essex libertarian. As I say, kudos to whoever it was.
Sadly, the Stephen Davies talk to LLFF2013 about healthcare was not videoed.
Today, at 1.54pm in the early afternoon, a friend of mine took this photograph at Oxford Circus, in London W1. We were talking on the phone and she mentioned that there was this important looking hearse driving by. I said can you take a photo of it? She managed just the one, and this was it:
Not having paid much attention yesterday to the Thatcher Funeral, and being a very inept Googler for information about such things, I am unsure about just what this is a photo of. The internet is full of news about what happened yesterday, but seems (to me) to be silent about any Thatcher related activity happening in London today.
Thatcher was cremated at Mortlake Crematorium yesterday afternoon:
Baroness Thatcher was this afternoon cremated at Mortlake Crematorium in South-West London.
After a reception for the guests at her ceremonial funeral, the body of the former Prime Minister was driven from St Paul’s Cathedral to the suburban district.
Her ashes are due to be interred next to those of her beloved husband Denis, who died in 2003, at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
The hearse in the photo that my friend took certainly looks like the hearse on duty yesterday, as featured in the pictures at the far end of the link above. And who else, besides Thatcher, would merit a Union Jack?
So I’m guessing that this was indeed the Thatcher ashes, on their way to Royal Hospital Chelsea. If so, by a somewhat circuitous route, back through the middle of London.
But am I right about what this was? Or is egg is even now assembling itself on my face?
I have been interested in Frank Turner, who is a popular singer, ever since he performed at the London Olympics opening ceremony, and a Labour MP got angry about that:
Turns out his libertarianism and belief in the power of the people to resist oppression aren’t of the leftist sort. They’re of the rightist sort.
Oh dear. Not allowed. Can’t be a popular pop singer and even think things like that, let alone say them.
And just now, things on the Frank Turner front are getting rather interesting. NME have done an intereview with him. The NME website reports:
“David Cameron is a twat,” he says. ” He carries himself with the attitude that he’s Prime Minister because he thinks he should be, which is a deeply unpleasant trait. I wouldn’t vote for that c**t. But I’m amused when people spout that ‘Nick Clegg stabbed me in the back’ stuff, because the Lib Dems have always been a deeply unprincipled mish-mash of unrealistic bullshit. They’re all politicians at the end of the day – so fuck ‘em all.”
If that had been the only Frank Turner quote in this report worth requoting, that would have been today’s SQotD. But there is more. Turner also spoke about that Guardian piece (here‘s the link again):
The troubadour, who is set to release his fifth album ‘Tape Deck Heart’ on April 22, also spoke about his political beliefs, after apparently being “outed” by The Guardian as right wing last year. “That article was a misrepresentation of my politics, which are 100 per cent based in punk rock; freedom, independence, self-reliance and voluntary co-operation between people. Broadly speaking, I’m a classical liberal. What riled people was that I’m an economic liberal as well,” he said. Read the full interview with Frank Turner in this week’s NME.
Today, I intend to be doing exactly that.
The ever alert Mick Hartley links to this story:
A mosaic wall erected in the North Hamkyung Province town of Musan to idolize Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il collapsed shortly before the April 15th “Day of the Sun” festivities for the birth of Kim Il Sung, sources from the region have reported to Daily NK. They claim that corruption led to poor construction, and this left the mosaic unable to withstand recent high winds.
This is the first known occasion whereupon a piece of state construction for the idolization of the North Korean leaders has collapsed in this way. Given the rarity of the event and the seriousness with which the North Korean leadership takes the idolization project in general, serious censure is thought likely for those deemed to have been responsible.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Well, I know what I’m thinking. Who gives an expletive deleted about some ridiculous wall of worship that collapses, when people in North Korea are starving in their hundreds of thousands, and probably millions?
The answer, of course, is: the rulers of North Korea. A key moment in the history of a tyranny comes when the tyrannical system in question no long works even by its own tyrannical standards, and instead starts making the tyrants themselves appear ridiculous, even to themselves.
I therefore consider this a significant story. Not the least significant thing about the story being that it got out:
“A lot of people witnessed the collapse because it was built in the town center, so this news will spread rapidly and could easily become political.”
By the sound of it, it already has become “political”.
Indulge me in a little sermon. The tradition among many anthropologists and archaeologists has been to treat the past as a very different place from the present, a place with its own mysterious rituals. To cram the Stone Age or the tribal South Seas into modern economic terminology is therefore an anachronistic error showing capitalist indoctrination. This view was promulgated especially by the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, who distinguished pre-industrial economies based on ‘reciprocity’ from modern economies based on markets. Stephen Shennan satirises the attitude thus: ‘We engage in exchanges to make some sort of profit; they do so in order to cement social relationships; we trade commodities; they give gifts.’ Like Shennan, I think this is patronising bunk. I think people respond to incentives and always have done. People weigh costs and benefits and do what profits them. Sure, they take into account non-economic factors, such as the need to remain on good terms with trading partners and to placate malevolent deities. Sure, they give better deals to families, friends and patrons than they do to strangers. But they do that today as well. Even the most market-embedded modern financial trader is enmeshed in a web of ritual, etiquette, convention and obligation, not excluding social debt for a good lunch or an invitation to a football match. Just as modern economists often exaggerate the cold-hearted rationality of consumers, so anthropologists exaggerate the cuddly irrationality of pre-industrial people.
- This little “sermon” is on pp. 133-4 of The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley (also quoted in this earlier posting here), in the chapter about the simultaneous rise of agriculture and early industrial specialisation, all within the context of a wider web of exchange relationships. What most clearly distinguishes humans from animals, and successful humans from all the failures, says Ridley, is trade.
Early agriculture and early industrial specialisation are both manifestations of the division of labour, which depends on trade. You can’t have early agriculture without specialists supplying crucial agricultural implements, such as axes to clear forests. You can’t have specialist suppliers of agricultural implements without specialist food-growers feeding them.
No, this is not a posting about the European Central Bank. ECB, in Brian Micklethwait World, stands for E(ngland and Wales) C(ricket) B(oard). And IPL stands for Indian Premier League, the twenty overs each way cricket tournament, the 2013 version of which has just got under way in India and which will end near the end of May. I’m watching it now on my television, and very entertaining it is.
What this posting is about, besides cricket, is the rise of India and the necessity for people in England who have dealings with India to acknowledge that India has risen.
From Cricinfo earlier this week:
David Collier, the ECB chief executive, has urged the BCCI …
BCCI is B(oard of) C(ontrol for) C(ricket in) India, i.e. India’s cricket bosses.
… to reschedule future IPL seasons to dovetail more successfully with the England first-class season in response to pressure from England players who are clamouring to participate in the event.
I told you so. That earlier posting, about how England star batsman Kevin Pietersen wants to play both for England and in the IPL, still holds up very well.
It isn’t just English players who are losing out here. Insofar as England’s own county cricket season involves, like the IPL, cricketers from around the world, the England season not clashing with the IPL would also make it easier for top overseas players to play in England over the summer. Playing in England is nothing like the financial windfall that an IPL contract is, but it can be a nice little earner, to say nothing of a nice little learner about the different playing conditions of England. Ricky Ponting, the former Australian captain, is now playing in the IPL, captaining one of the teams. Later this year, Ponting will be playing some English county cricket, for Surrey.
England’s cricket bosses still have a way to go. They appear to have at last realised that they do indeed have a problem, and that this problem is not adequately described by being labelled “Kevin Pietersen”. This is progress. But, this Collier man is still going on about what he and his mates would like.
“We have had very fruitful talks with India,” Collier said. “In an ideal world, we would like the IPL to be concluded by April 30, which is the cooler season for India. We have put that to them, they are doing their best, but they realise there are some limitations.
“It would make things a lot easier for us. …”
Yes, it would. But the IPL is now an established success. It has done wonders for Indian cricket, and for the comfort and excellence of India’s cricket grounds. It gives young Indian cricketers a marvellous stage to impress. It has transformed Indian fielding, once notoriously sluggish. Because twenty-twenty cricket only obliges bowlers to bowl four overs, it has also encouraged Indian fast bowling, which also was once upon a time a joke. (Fast bowlers from everywhere, come to that.) Whereas the typical Indian international cricketer used to a little man in the Sachin Tendulkar mould, of the sort who would have been a bank clerk had he not had the trick of playing cricket, the new Indian cricketer is more likely to be a towering alpha male with the physique of a super-hero, who either bowls like the wind or who hits the ball deep into the crowd with ease.
When Indians think about the IPL now, that is the stuff they are thinking about, not the fact that all the IPL clashes with the frigid beginnings of the English season.
Why on earth would India now rearrange the entire IPL timetable, just to suit the English? Would it not make more sense for the English to rearrange their season by starting that later? Like, after the increasingly cold and prolonged English winter has ended? (I would love to know what Britain’s Meteorological Office has been telling England’s cricket bosses about how the weather in April was going to get more cricket-friendly.) Why cannot the English season start in mid-May rather than mid-April, like it used to? (I can recall when a batsman getting a thousand runs in May in England was a huge deal, because he only had the fag end of May to do this in.) If England’s cricket season must start in the rain, wind and snow of April, then can it really not do without a few increasingly rebellious star players? It can, and it will, because it will have to.
All the English cricket bosses have to do is acknowledge reality. All the Indian cricket bosses have to do is … nothing. If the Indians do decide to shorten the IPL season, this will be entirely for their own reasons, mostly to do with television. Happening to oblige the damn English would probably, for many of them, be a bug rather than a feature.
The basic problem is that the English have for too long treated the IPL as just another foreign tournament, instead of what it clearly has been from the moment it started, namely the premier franchise cricket tournament in the world, based in the premier cricket-supporting nation in the world. Only now, prodded by England players who are becoming ever more desperate not to miss the IPL bus, are the England cricket hierarchy beginning to grasp this obvious fact. Even Wisden, in among having another moan about Kevin Pietersen, realises that the ECB has badly mishandled this issue.
Now, about that European Central Bank, and its need to adjust to reality …
Just about now, I had hoped to be writing in some detail about some of the many interesting things said at the Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013, which happened last weekend. I still hope to. Meanwhile, I have already done a quick posting at my personal blog, with lots of photos, about how good, in general, this event was. And here is another posting about LLFF2013 to say, again, that it was very good.
As I said at my own blog, the best thing about this gathering, excellent though the line-up of speakers was, was the audience that it succeeded in attracting. This audience was big, around two hundred strong. It was mostly young, mostly students. And it was very smart. As you will observe if you take a look at my crowd shots, most of the audience, besides being young, was male. But not all of it was. And the young males looked like they are the types to be going places in the future.
A good way to get across the quality of this whole event is to quote from the comment that Michael Jennings added to what I put at my blog, in connection with the two talks that Randy Barnett gave:
I overheard Randy Barnett talking to an American colleague in the gap between his two talks on Sunday. Essentially, he was saying that the audience of his first talk had been fantastic, and it was great to have a question and answer session full of such smart comments and questions.
At the obvious risk of insulting others who contributed importantly, I singled out for particular praise for their organisational efforts: the IEA’s Stephen Davies and Christiana Hambro, and the Liberty League’s own Anton Howes, not just for their work on this LLFF but for previous iterations of it, in London and elsewhere in the UK. Time was when there was a sprinkling of libertarians and free marketeers in London, but when similarly inclined people outside London hardly knew of each other’s existence. People like Davies, Hambro and Howes, and others of course, are now changing all that. There is now a big and growing pro-liberty network among Britain’s student population, with pro-liberty student groups getting started in university after university. When I spoke with Davies about all this, his main worry seemed to be in finding places to fit everyone in. The answer seemed to be: smaller events, but more of them, in more places. Sounds good. Sounds very good.
I have long had the impression that the organisation which has lead the way in earlier years in building a pro-liberty student network in the UK was the Adam Smith Institute, as I mentioned towards the end of this earlier posting here, about the history of the ASI so far. Now, under Mark Littlewood‘s leadership, the IEA is piling in also. In general, the amount of inter-organisational co-operation that you now see going on (it always has gone on but now especially), between the various UK pro-liberty groups and think tanks, is most admirable.
If I have got it a bit wrong concerning who exactly deserves a pat on the back for all this pro-liberty activity, well, that is but a symptom of the fact that, as has been said before, it is amazing what you can accomplish in life if you do not care who gets the credit.
It seems that another pandemic panic may be about to strike. (Thank you Instapundit, who seems a bit panic-stricken himself.)
It so happens that I have recently acquired and have been reading Matt Ridley’s excellent book, The Rational Optimist, which Johnathan Pearce has often blogged about here, in this posting, for example. (Here is a piece by Ridley, defending his book against Monbiot.)
And it further so happens that The Rational Optimist contains a very interesting passage (pp. 308-310), which I already had in mind to flag up here, even before this latest news of another flu outbreak, about the spread of infectious diseases, which explains why any pandemic panic that now materialises is likely once again to be greatly exaggerated:
In the 2000s influenza, too, proved to be a paper tiger. H5N1 strains of the virus (‘bird flu’) jumped into human beings via free-range ducks on Chinese farms and, in 2005, the United Nations predicted five million to 150 million deaths from bird flu. Yet, contrary to what you have read, when H5N1 did infect human beings it proved neither especially virulent nor especially contagious. It has so far killed fewer than 300 people worldwide. As one commentator concluded: ‘Hysteria over an avian flu pandemic has been very good for the Chicken Little media, authors, ambitious health officials, drug companies … But even as many of the panic-mongers have begun to lie low, the vestiges of hysteria remain – as do the misallocations of billions of dollars from more serious health problems. Too bad no one ever holds the doomsayers accountable for the damage they’ve done.’
I suspect this is too strong, and that flu may yet mount a serious epidemic in some form. But the H1N1 swine flu epidemic of 2009 that began in Mexico also followed the usual path of new flu strains, towards low virulence – about one death for every 1,000-10,000 infected people. This is no surprise. As the evolutionary biologist Paul Ewald has long argued, viruses undergo natural selection as well as mutation once established in a new species of host and casually transmitted viruses like flu replicate more successfully if they cause mild disease, so that the host keeps moving about and meeting new people. A victim lying in a darkened room alone is not as much use to the virus as somebody who feels just well enough to struggle into work coughing. The modern way of life, with lots of travel but also rather more personal space, tends to encourage mild, casual-contact viruses that need their victims to be healthy enough to meet fresh targets fleetingly. It is no accident that modern people suffer from more than 200 kinds of cold, the supreme viral exploiters of the modern world.
If this is so, why then did H1N1 flu kill perhaps fifty million people in 1918? Ewald and others think the explanation lies in the trenches of the First World War. So many wounded soldiers, in such crowded conditions, provided a habitat ideally suited to more virulent behaviour by the virus: people could pass on the virus while dying. Today you are far more likely to get the flu from a person who is well enough to go to work than one who is ill enough to stay at home.
Of course the pessimists could be right, in this or that particular instance. And of course we here are very pessimistic about the future course of the world’s current financial crisis. That is surely going to get far worse before it gets much better. I recall reporting here on a debate on that subject, where the other side was taking it for granted that the crisis that had just happened was now over and done with, and the only question concerned how best to “manage the recovery”. We here regard the people who talked like that, then, as the
Chicken Little Panglossian tendency.
And Matt Ridley himself is careful to include doubts about future flu outbreaks maybe not all being so un-apocalypctic. “Flu may yet mount a serious epidemic in some form.”
Nevertheless, interesting. And it will be interesting to see how this latest flu flare-up plays out.