[conspire] (forw) Re: [TAG] "I'll do it myself, thanks" open-source app: Gobby (cf. SubEthaEdit)

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Tue Nov 1 17:23:06 PST 2005

Warning:  Long.  (Well, he did ask.)

----- Forwarded message from "Benjamin A. Okopnik" <ben at linuxgazette.net> -----

From: "Benjamin A. Okopnik" <ben at linuxgazette.net>
Date: Mon, 31 Oct 2005 23:11:20 -0700
To: tag at lists.linuxgazette.net
Reply-To: The Answer Gang <tag at lists.linuxgazette.net>
Subject: Re: [TAG] "I'll do it myself,
	thanks" open-source app:  Gobby (cf. SubEthaEdit)

On Mon, Oct 31, 2005 at 06:54:42PM -0800, Rick Moen wrote:

> I do know that hardly a week goes by with canned invitation messages for
> such services (e.g., "social networks") don't hit my mailbox, many
> purporting to come from friends or acquaintances who probably just hit a
> button saying "Please send invitations to this list of friends' e-mail 
> addresses I've entered."  That is, it professes to be from someone I 
> know, but the writing style (and, X-Mailer header, etc.) are wrong, and 
> -- who'd have thought? -- it's attempting to leverage my acquaintance to 
> get me to "join" something that just coincidentally happens to feed
> someone else's business model.
[ snip ]
> It's nice to know that we of the open-source world have a long-term
> advantage:  Our stuff doesn't go away.  If/when del.icio.us,
> LiveJournal, Flickr, BitKeeper, LinkedIn, Friendster, Frappr, Backpack,
> etc. all fold up their tents in the night, we'll still be here,
> gradually making progress and making certain that all work is available
> for others to use, too.

Rick, I think that I'm failing to understand your argument. I've seen
you make it before, and it just didn't seem that compelling - but the
fact that you keep making it leads me to think that there's something
there that I'm just not getting.

Is is the fact that some form of, say, my personal data (zipcode-based
location) is out on the Net? That the resources with which this is being
done are not under my direct control? I'm definitely not understanding
something, then, because in any application of this sort, the ownership
of those resources - barring some sort of a cooperative agreement among
all the users - is going to be restricted to some small subset of all

Is it that you believe that there just can't be any benefit in this kind
of thing - Frappr, to cite the most recent example to come up here -
unless it's explicitly Open Source? For myself, I see no harm in using
their service; I've read their TOS and their FAQ, as well as their
disclaimer, and the "worst" thing I saw in there was that they might
advertise on their own site, and you're not supposed to complain when
they do. I don't really see this as a bad thing; my "cost" is nearly
zero (yeah, it took a few minutes to set it all up, hunt up a pic, etc.)
and I get enjoyment out of seeing where my friends are.

Yeah, their business model - whatever that happens to be ("we'll get a
billion users and that will allow us to sell ads" seems to be it) may
well be what drives their site - although I note that their server space
was donated by some company. I still fail to see how this increases my
cost, damages any of my rights, or restricts me in any way.

If you can explain what I'm missing, I'd be grateful.

* Ben Okopnik * Editor-in-Chief, Linux Gazette * http://linuxgazette.net *

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----- Forwarded message from Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com> -----

Date: Tue, 1 Nov 2005 16:12:59 -0800
To: "Benjamin A. Okopnik" <ben at linuxgazette.net>
From: Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com>
Cc: tag at lists.linuxgazette.net
Reply-To: The Answer Gang <tag at lists.linuxgazette.net>
Subject: Re: [TAG] "I'll do it myself,
	thanks" open-source app:  Gobby (cf. SubEthaEdit)

Quoting Benjamin A. Okopnik (ben at linuxgazette.net):

> If you can explain what I'm missing, I'd be grateful.

On a "What the Hell?" theory, let's take a historical approach to the

Entering Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine with the dial set to 1986, we 
find me mostly relying on third-party services for my computing, and
particularly for my presence on public data networks.  My e-mail
address, to the extent I had one, was various peculiar ones like 
Rick_Moen at f207.n914.z8.rbbs-net.org, Rick.Moen at fidogate.fidonet.org,
Rick.Moen at f27.n125.z1.fidonet.org, and 76711.243 at compuserve.com.
(Don't bother to try those; they've metaphorically gone 404.)

This was still back in dinosaur days, when the term "address book"
unambiguously referred to a dead-tree artifact I kept in my rucksack's
pocket, and I would joke about certain people being "pencil people",
i.e., that you had to pencil in their contact details because those
changed so often.  The irony is that I was too close for my personal
liking to a pencil person myself, as to my on-line presence.  

I noticed, at that time, that it was standard managerial practice during
layoffs to separate the portion of the herd to be culled and escort it
out of the building without contact with the remainder, in part so 
as to deliberately cut off that contact.  Because departed employees
most often lacked an established and findable public identity -- or,
worse, only one issued to them by the company -- they were usually
somewhere between difficult and impossible to re-establish contact with.
This situation triggered the previously described hot-button I have
about sudden, freakish personal loss, and I decided it was
impermissible, and that I would put an end to it.  Which is what
basically made me a mailing list admin. 

My establishment on 1988-10-16 and gradual development of my public
dial-up BBS, The Skeptic's Board, started the process of more
comprehensively fixing that situation: Though gradually it became very
complex and technologically sophisticated, it was unusual in relying on
only what we would now call genuinely open-source codebases, other than
MS-DOS, QEMM, DesqView, and my BASIC compilers.  Even the core BBS
software, RBBS-PC (originated circa 1983), was open source, which meant
that I was enabled in perpetuity to fix any problems and to implement my
own policies in fine detail.

Although it came attached to annoying maintenance and other
responsibilities, the control and autonomy that running my own system
gave me were eye-opening, especially when I started using bidirectional
gating to UUCP for e-mail and Usenet netnews, first through friends' 
setup and then on my own using Tim Pozar's open-source Fidogate package.
Suddenly, I was not only running a sovereign system, but could offer 
arbitrary data to the rest of the world, including something close to 
ftp offerings via mail transport.  My site became a major publisher of
selected sorts of text files -- and a truly independent point of

My BBS pushed the outer limits of what was possible with MS-DOS-based
processes and FAT16 filesystems:  To get around some of the uglier
limitations, I employed the storied "CRITMON" method -- Creative
Renaming In The Middle Of the Night.  That is, the BinkleyTerm scheduler
that ran as the master process and served as, effectively, a
single-tasking crond, would terminate to run a batch file at 2:00 am,
whose sole purpose was to swap in temporary substitutes for the normal
AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files, set a flag file, and do hard reboot. 
The system came back up in a system-maintenance environment, and ran
through numerous maintenance and network-contact-related jobs that
normally would not run because either the BBS was changing the system
state too rapidly or too little free RAM was available.  At the end of
the maintenance run, the maintenance routine put the regular
AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files back, removed the flag file, and hard
rebooted again, bringing back online the regular system regime.

The normal operating environment had the most amazing job of shoehorning
drivers and processes into the 386/40's 1 MB real-mode address space
(out of the 4MB total EEMS expanded memory) that you'll ever see:  I was
able to cram QEMM, DesqView, special FOSSIL serial drivers and secure
ANSI video drivers, a TCP/IP stack(!), and a full-blown multinode
BinkleyTerm/RBBS-PC environment into that tiny amount of RAM -- and have
it utterly reliable and all maintenance automated -- and even have it
documented so the entire thing was comprehensible.

That and everything else I owned got moved up to San Francisco around
1993 when I moved into a gutted light-industrial building in South of
Market district to help construct a Linux-based Internet cafe (The
CoffeeNet, mirror site:  http://linuxmafia.com/coffeenet/), which not
coincidentally landed all my machines on a full 1.54 MB/sec T-1 line,
connected live with no filtering whatsoever to the Internet.  The BBS
became "munin.imat.com", my desktop 486 (initially running OS/2 3.0)
"ymir.imat.com", and my Unix host "hugin.imat.com" (first 386BSD, then
Linux) -- using my landlord/friend (and CoffeeNet proprietor) Richard
Couture's "imat.com" domain, standing for Imagine That.[1]

The BBS's DOS/FAT limitations were becoming ridiculous by 1994, and I
developed tentative plans to migrate the system to Maximus BBS, which
was (unlike RBBS-PC) _not_ open source but at least source-available and
free of charge for non-commercial usage.  I planned to eliminate FAT's
absurd file-metadata limitations by using the OS/2 version of Maximus on
HPFS filesystems instead of FAT.  But the more I prototyped and explored
it, the more I realised that many of the more subtle limitations were
deeply embedded in BBS culture and technology, and were no substitute
for having a real Unix system -- and running FidoNet-type BBS software
on a real Unix system seemed foolish when that class of technology
(Fido/BBS) had basically reinvented Usenet poorly in the first place.
So, instead I closed The Skeptic's Board in January 1996, transferring
the portion of its substantive contents that I still cared about to my
Linux host hugin.imat.com (which is now linuxmafia.com).

But I'd spotted the pattern:  The more I became directly involved with
open-source Unix, the more control, autonomy, and stable, consistent
presence on the Internet I enjoyed.  The better I understood that
technology, the more I was able to protect and extend that control and

Friends had to endure shifting presences on the Net -- being pencil
people, to some degree -- as companies went out of business or were
bought up, or as they changed employers, or as something they did was
held to violate someone else's Terms of Service, or some aggrieved 
business interest complained and got an account cancelled.  In _theory_,
their creations were always backed up and moveable to other hosting; 
it practice, there was also lossage both literal (if only from subtle
differences in handling data) and social in the sense of no longer being
consistently in one place.

Also about that time, it occurred to us early Linux people to do what 
Linux people _characteristically_ do (and online communities and the
better sort of microcomputer groups did before them) -- to use the
technology to form communities.  I started helping to run the PC-Unix
Special Interest Group in San Jose that was soon to become Silicon
Valley User Group, and helped found BALUG and a number of other Linux
user groups in my area (including my group CABAL, which is an offshoot
of BALUG) -- all of them with major online presences, which they used to
organise and run publicity stunts and other events.

And here's the thing:  Both our individual and collective Internet
presences express _our_ identity and promote _our_ interests, and aren't 
subject to control, interference, whimsically imposed third-party
advertising, sudden cancellation, third-party bankruptcy / changes of
business model.  The final change I personally had to undergo was 
when Richard Couture (a year or two after he moved himself and his
business to Jalisco State, Mexico -- see http://www.linuxcabal.org/)
ceased offering nameservice for "hugin", and I had to cut over entirely
to my personal "linuxmafia.com" FQDNs.

And there I stand.  The _only_ third-party service I rely on is
unfiltered IP routing, and that's fungible and purchasible from anyone
-- and equally fungible DNS registration that's heavily protected and 
paid many years in advance.  Anyone who tries to dislodge, threaten, 
or manipulate my presence and writings on the Net with anything short of
an uncontested court judgement is in for a rude shock:  The only place
to complain about me or my users is not to some twitchy corporate
manager but rather directly to _me_, the guy who reads law books, takes
only careful risks, looks out for his users, and really _hates_ being
pushed around.

(My mother, during my teenage years, declined to be pushed around by
various Boeing Company agents, and I'm very much my mother's son in 
certain ways -- and have a lot of my key interests mediated via the 
Net.  ;->  Even Google and the Internet Archive sometimes silently
purge contents to appease special interest pressure -- see
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Clambake -- but I do not.)

Also, I care about the message we veteran Linux users project to the rest
of the world in other matters:  The very deliberate message the
Linux community have conveyed to the rest of the world, from the very
beginning, is:  "Sure, we can do that -- and with open source, too.
With documented, stable file formats, openly documented protocols,
totally platform-neutral."  Sometimes, that message has been a bit of a
stretch, e.g., PostgreSQL was only barely credible as a database for a
long time, and open source identity management / enterprise access
control is still a mess, and even open source source control management
(Bazaar2, Mercurial, Codeville, DARCS) is only just now overtaking the
best proprietary offerings (ClearCase, BitKeeper).  But we get there --
and we _stay_ there, once we arrive.

Every time I decline to use some third-party, usually proprietary
service that I can reasonably do with Linux and open source on my own
systems, instead, I am protecting and promoting the perception by
onlookers that Linux and open source are the right solution -- not to
mention improving my own competence.  Internet services are supposed to
be the Linux community's core competency:  What sort of message does it
send to go moving our affairs onto other people's third-party services
as a convenience, in an area where we're supposed to be the leaders?

That is not to say that I don't use some upstream services:  I don't 
spider the Web and run my own search engine.  I don't have my own atomic
clock.  My NNTP news spool is not full-featured, so I rely on one of a
couple of upstream full news feeds and spools.  All of those services 
are kept as fungible and moveable as feasible.  I occasionally put data
I don't care centrally (to my affairs and online presence) and lastingly
about on third-party hosting sites.  Frappr could easily be one of

And of course, I participate in collective efforts that I don't
personally run -- like this one, and even Eklektix, Inc.'s LWN.net.  But
I put limits on the extent of that latter stuff, having been burned one
time too many by third-party outfits, and deciding I can do better in
aspects that matter such as continuity and sane management over time.

Let's take "social networks" like LinkedIn as an example:

If "social networks" become sufficiently compelling, I expect I'll
see development of a _distributed_ one rather than one that is centrally
controlled, one in which peer nodes can form/reform their own associations
as their needs change.  LinkedIn is someone else's (centrally
controlled, proprietary) game; I as a participant would not be in any
way on a level playing field.  There's a management that decides what to
offer you as a service product, and whether and when you can participate
at all, and in what way.  And, when they decide they aren't making
enough money and plaster banner adds all over "your" information, or
decide to sell information about you to arbitrary other parties, you
would have no say in the matter.

I might be willing to put up with those drawbacks, if the advantages are
sufficiently compelling, and doing something functionally similar on my
own is a truly excessive amount of bother.  My reluctance might be
reduced to the extent the service is fungible, easily moveable, and
providable by others -- analogous to the IP transport, NNTP access, and
NTP syncing I use.  On the other hand, it's not just an Internet
service but also a form of community, and both as mentioned have
traditionally been the Linux community's core competency.  So, we're
going to buy that from others?  Really?  Have we no sysadmins and
software architects among us?  I rather think we do.

The sacrificing of control and autonomy is social as well as individual:
It starts with "Well, they needed to add banner ads in order to support
their business", and continues with "Well, they needed to throw that guy
off because somebody might sue them", but ends up with "We all buy cool 
stuff when and if it's offered by some central authority."  You become,
to that degree, a technoserf.  That's one of the longer-term reasons why
the hackish reaction to something like LinkedIn or SubEthaEdit or Flickr
isn't "Wow, that's cool; where can I get it?" but rather "Wow, that's 
cool; how can we help make everyone able to do that on their own?"  The
way to stay in charge is to, well, insist on being in charge.  The habit
of dependency, instead, at minimum creates bad precedents and a bad
balance of power.[2]

Moving on from the historical approach, we might switch to analogy --
always one of my favourite forms of distortion and self-delusion:  I go
to restaurants a good bit.  Sometimes, it's to be where friends are.
Sometimes, it's for convenience at a cost.  Sometimes, it's to eat
something really interesting.  Most of the time, when I'm there, I try
to favour dishes I don't personally know how to make, or that I know
would be ridicuously complex for the payoff -- e.g., filo dough

One difference, of course, is that I'm only a casual cook, and
restaurants are seldom even an indirect threat to people's operational
autonomy or privacy.

I have little confidence that I've covered the core of my concern, in
the above, as I fear it's based primarily on instinct and the deep-down
lessons of personal computing history.  However, I hope at least you
find parts of it interesting.

[1] Richard had announced that he'd be naming all the CoffeeNet hosts
for names from Celtic mythology (which never actually happened, as 
it turned out), so I decided to be contrarian for my own machines and
use Norse mythology the same way.  However, Sam Ockman of Penguin Computing
then bought me "linuxmafia.com" as a gift, in part because I discovered
the hard way that hardly anyone could remember "hugin.imat.com".

[2] Anyone who thinks the software industry customer model (and, by
extension, Internet hosting) doesn't entail a power relationship hasn't
been paying attention.  This extends down to the concepts and terms
used:  I've several times demurred at being characterised as a
"consumer", pointing out that a model that reduces me to a digestive 
tract is a poor place to start.  I've suggested that I'm better
characterised as "producer" -- or, depending on context, "citizen".

You've asked a question of The Answer Gang, so you've been sent the reply
directly as a courtesy.  The TAG list has also been copied.  Please send
all replies to tag at lists.linuxgazette.net, so that we can help our other
readers by publishing the exchange in our monthly Web magazine:
              Linux Gazette (http://linuxgazette.net/)
TAG mailing list
TAG at lists.linuxgazette.net

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