The recent discussions of Open Source may have missed one point (Maybe not, I haven't read them all.) It only happens with apps that programmers find cool. Things like Linux or Apache pay big rewards to programmers in the form of the esteem of one's peers (and also look good on a resume). No one is esteemed for improving a spreadsheet, or writing Dental Office Management software. Open Source will never be more than a small part of software, because most software is mundane.
Update: Arnold Kling made this point several years ago, in an interesting article:
...The allure of the "open source" movement is the way that it dismisses that most irksome character, the ordinary user. With "open source" software, the only user with any influence is a user with the "right stuff" to go into the code and enhance the software...
...However, if most of the requirements come from business and consumer users, the expectation is that open source software will not win. For example, do not hold your breath waiting for an open source general ledger program to become the market leader.
What is profit? I was reading an interesting piece in Samizdata by David Carr.
...Like all unreconstructed lefties, Mr.Soderberg believes that capitalism insists on the pursuit of profit. Capitalism neither insists nor requires any such thing. It merely requires the voluntary exchange of goods and services upon whatever terms contracting parties agree. People labouring for free is not marxism; people being forced to labour for free is marxism. It is a very easy distinction to grasp and you certainly don't have to be a software designer to do so ...
He's writing about Open Source software, but it made me think about profit.
What is profit? We commonly think of profit as what's left over after a business pays all its costs. In fact, profit is one of the costs. It's the cost of capital.
We get confused because capitalism is so conspicuous. In capitalism, much of the necessary capital is provided by investors, who receive large payments for their capital, balanced by large risks of losing it, or getting no payment at all. If something is left over after paying for labor and materials, the investors get it.
Leftists can make hay with this, because It looks like fat cats are skimming the cream, while workers toil in poverty.
But imagine a business that got all its capital in the form of a loan from a bank. There would still be profit. The profit would be whatever is needed to pay the interest on the loan. You could even extend this example and imagine a situation where the workers invested their labor and were paid only if something was left over after paying for materials and capital! Bloodsucking labor!
Even if Hillary had her way, and the government owned everything, there would still be profits. Peter Drucker has pointed out that Soviet enterprises really had much higher profit margins than capitalist ones. A larger portion of their incomes went to capital investment, because they used their capital much less efficiently.
Even non-profits make a profit. They have to pay for their capital somehow. If their capital is donated, someone is still paying for it. The donor also forgoes the income he could have earned, so he is donating the profit.
(The whole non-profit thing is mostly a useful fiction. If you wake up in the hospital emergeny room, and look around, you won't know if it is for-profit or non-profit. You might spend weeks there and not know if you are being cared for by the government, or a business, or a church, or a university ... ) _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Our DSL is now -- dare I say it -- knock on wood -- working reliably. It is so intense, with pages loading in a finger-snap. We just love it. If it ever stops working we will simply curl up and die.
The new inside wire that I ran seems to have made the difference. We are right at the limit of distance from the central station for DSL, so any extra interferance was too much. I used Cat-5 (Ethernet) cable. It uses the same gauge of wire as Cat-3 (phone wire), but with more twisting, which protects the signal against interference.
Just for your information, a phone line (American) runs on 2 wires (1 pair). The commonly used cable has 2 pairs, but unless you have 2 phone lines on the same stretch of cable, you can just ignore the yellow/black pair. The red/green pair are the ones that have to be hooked up. You attach the wires to those square plastic gadgets with 4 posts (labeled for the colors R,G,Y,B). They are called 42-A Blocks, and they have various screw-on covers with or without phone jacks.
One more morsel of information: Home Depot now sells Cat-5 cable in 100-foot lengths. You no longer have to buy a 500-foot roll!
We just got back from a school fund-raising event. There were two different people at our table who owned Pomeranians named Tyson! I picked him up at the pet store, and he bit my ear, so I named him Tyson...
This sort of coincidence always frustrates me. It should be a portent, have some mystic significance. Oh well, the Universe never seems to send me any messages.
Statistically speaking, a million-to-one chance is no big deal. Add up all the things you see or hear or think or read ... how long until you reach a million? A month or two?
Now, a billion-to-one coincidence, thatís interesting. I once picked up the phone to call a girl I hadnít talked to in weeks. There was no dial-tone. Why? She had just called me, and I had lifted the handset in that split second between making the connection and the start of the ringing.
So, did it mean anything? Was she destined to be the love-of-my-life? Nah. Phooey. No cosmic significance at all. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Ken Layne posted a slight correction to my quoting him on J-school students. Dr Frank is right, Ken's a great talker. (If you ever need a listener, Ken, c'mon by -- I'm good at that.)
Actually, I've found being a good listener can be very educational, because interesting and loquacious people often need an ear. Sometimes too educational. Memo to women: Guys fall for pretty gals; gals seem to fall for fast-talking guys. Just remember, the quiet fellows may seem boring, but they are not likely to tell their friends the details of their amorous conquests ...
One thing struck me at the bloggers gathering last night: Richard Bennett is just like his weblog. Not only does he look like his picture, but the flavor of his personality comes across the same. I didn't feel like I was meeting him at all. More like he was someone I've encountered from time to time around the neighborhood ...
Dr. Frank, of Blogs of War, I had no idea of. He looks like an ordinary smart articulate chap. But wait, he's also a punk-rocker of note ! There are realms upon realms I know nothing about ... _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
SOFTWARE IN THE 1600's My readers probably think I'm an antiquarian crank for occasionally quoting Samuel Pepys. Little do you know. Sam Pepys was one of the people who invented our world.
Pepys (pronounced 'peeps') lived in the 17th Century. There was at that time a movement of radical young software developers who were deploying a powerful new operating system; one that was to change the world in remarkable ways. Pepys was one of them.
The goal of these revolutionaries was to replace ad hoc management by cronies of the King with a corps of dedicated experts operating out of permanent government departments. They wished to replace rule of thumb with rational analysis, and improvisation with orderly procedure. Their success was an important part of what made it possible for the West to dominate the entire globe.
We call that new OS Bureaucracy. Now of course it's an old OS; old and creaky and inefficient. Our modern world runs on top of it, sort of like Windows running on top of DOS.
What about Pepys himself, what did he do? Well, have you ever wondered why we have a Secretary of Defense? Secretary seems like an odd word to use. Secretaries and clerks were sort of the nerds and techs of that new OS. The were the systems guys, and, like now, they rode new technologies into positions of power.
Samuel Pepys himself was Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board (which was responsible for ships and supplies). It was not then an important position, but under the new system the person controlling the paperwork could become very influential. Pepys hated the waste and disorder he saw around him, and began organizing the office, and learning everyone else's jobs. Filing and accounting were information technologies that he wielded to great effect.
One result, typical of his style, was a book of abstracts of every contract the Navy Board had ever let. With this database in hand he could quickly compare prices and terms with what had been done in the past. Though the other members of the Board were, initially, greatly senior to him, his stock began to rise. He went on to become an important administrator, and when you hear of the glorious history of the British Navy, some of the credit goes to him.
Historically minded readers will be aware that I've grossly oversimplified various complex matters. but this is my fun. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
We had a great time at a webloggers get-together in Berkeley last night. Ken Layne and Matt Welch were in town to give a talk at the Journalism School so we met at Peter Pribik's, a friend of theirs. Many bottles were broached, the air was smokey, (I love it--so non-PC) and Christina stuffed us with great food. Dr Frank, Richard Bennett, and Nick Denton were there. Bill Quick couldn't make it.
Ken and Matt are real journalists, and to hear them talk about these poor callow journalism students and their questions was hilarious. "What do I do if the person I'm interviewing wants to have a beer with me?"
The evening started with everyone discussing their DSL problems. I'm not alone! (I have a technician here right now -- he detects a problem 375 feet out -- that's a big relief, I would be humiliated if my own home wiring was bad. But he suggests that if I can contrive a shorter cable run, and use Cat-5 cable, I might get a better signal. )
I just had to snap back a bit when I read this thing by Robert Kuttner.
...But the experts reassured us that Sept. 11 was a ''one-off'' - a fluke. It had been years in the planning.They had thrown at us everything they had. Our security was asleep at the switch. But now we were wide awake. Nobody would ever successfully turn an jetliner into a human bomb again.
What experts? The voices in your head? The Administration said clearly that the danger remained great and the war would be long.
Now, however, dread has returned. Now the experts are telling us that a suitcase bomb, smuggled into America in a container ship, using easily available radiological materials, could render Manhattan uninhabitable.
This is new? Experts have been warning about this for decades.
Even at the height of the Cold War, the fear was of a different sort. There was simply a slight chance that we would all be blown to bits. So we went into a mass denial and resumed normal life.
That wasn't denial, it was just common sense. There was nothing we could do about it, so we went on with our business. Life is always like that -- you could die tomorrow.
This war is different. The entirely reasonable fear is of more incidents, sooner or later, of large-scale random terror. Denial is harder, and less justified.
YOU may be in denial. I, and probably most Americans, are aware of these and many other dangers. We do what we can to prepare, but stay calm.
Now, however, nearly everything the administration does only intensifies one's fears. There is no coherent plan for the next phase of the ubiquitous war on terrorism,
They seem so far to be making cool deliberate plans and following through with them. Ignoring idiots in the press who want them to speed up or slow down.
only scattershot policies that will make the world an even more dangerous place.
The terrorists are scattered throughout the world. Of course we are going to scatter our shots. War against terrorists is necessarily free-form and improvisational.
Whether it is an ill-specified axis of evil... You may not agree, but he specified clearly who and why. ...or a decision to make tactical nuclear war thinkable, We've been thinking and planning tactical nuclear war since the 1950's. We've never done it, and probably won't. We haven't changed policies, just rattled our sabers a bit. To make you safer. (The army even has explosives that simulate tactical nukes. They sometimes let them off during war games at Fort Irwin, to jazz things up a bit.)
or a domestic ''shadow government,'' likewise normal for decades or deliberately leaked plans to attack Iraq, now why would we do that... George W. Bush in his own way is as frightening as Al Qaeda. You just can't stand it that a Republican is doing a good job.
Unlike the divisive Vietnam War, antiterror remains a popular crusade, which means scant restraint on lunatic schemes that increase the risk of wider war.
Which schemes are lunatic, and why? What do you recommend we do differently?
All it will take is one more major incident on American soil to push the president's ratings back over 90 percent and the Democrats back into their bunkers ...There is only so much we can do about the risk of random assault, but we can at least reclaim our own democracy.
If the Democrats are going along with what 90% of the people want, is that not democracy? Maybe you have another definition -- something like "rule by small left-wing elite?" Or maybe "rule by small left-wing journalist elite?"
DSL is on ! Hooray ! (At least part of the time. Sometimes it disappears -- technician is coming) Now I'm working with my new router, so as to have DSL available on all the Macses on our little network. So far, no go. The LED's go on, but I can't access it or ping it. I've got temporary wires and cables snaking all around me. I fel like that Greek fellow who was wrassling with the snakes.
Someone I read recently mentioned how pleasing a modern home is in the dark -- all those little green lights softly glowing. It's true.
The chief cause of problems is solutions. --Eric Sevareid
I find John Adams to be the most admirable of the founding fathers. He was also quite a curmudgeon. That doesn't bother me much, there's a lot in this world to be curmudgeonly about ...
"Statues, paintings, panegyrics, in short all the fine arts, promote virtue while virtue is in fashion. After that they promote luxury, effeminacy, corruption, prostitution, and every species of abandoned depravity."
(marginal note by John Adams in a book about busts and statues being used in ancient Rome to promote civic virtue)
I was among some fairly typical Bay Area liberals the other day, and I was struck by how often they referred to the corporations, as if to some alien life form. I wanted to say (but didn't, our attention was needed elsewhere) "But they are your corporations. You own them. Most of the shares of American companies are held by pension funds and mutual funds, and those are the investments of ordinary Americans like you, not the wealthy. When you put your 401-K money into a hot Fidelity fund, you are giving marching orders to corporations. None of you put your retirement money into the Fidelity Good-Time-Charley Fund" (specializing in genial mediocrity and few surprises).
Of course, in another sense they are right. Corporations, like government, have a governing class, they are usually run by people who specialize in it. These folks may respond to market forces, or to elections, but day-to-day they are mostly influenced by each other and their shared culture. They really are alien to ordinary people. We may own corporations, but we don't run them.
In fact, we live in a world of big organizations, and they each develop their own oligarchies. If you hear of a judge letting some subhuman criminal slimeball off on an obscure technicality, you may wonder why he is acting irrationally. But he's not; among his peers, the other judges and legalistas, he's being really cool. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Perry de Havilland and the Samizdata crew named me Blog of the Week! Thanks, friends, a compliment from you is valued. Perry wrote: Random Jottings is a rambling, strangely structured blog that reminds me of wandering through an antique shop... This just goes to show how naive I am; I didn't even know blogs have structures...
Button hooks, yep, I'm well supplied.
Monday, March 11, 2002
10:21 AM I hope that in the months and years to come, we will not forget our moment of truth and return to the way we were. I pray we will not allow the lessons of this tragedy to be gradually undermined and chipped away by those among us who secretly consider our national renewal of faith and unity a setback to their agenda." --Linda Bowles
BloggerPro tip: (This pebble was casually dropped on the blogshore by Suman Palit, and I will share it with my many readers) BPro is messing up some dates. If your post disappears, check first in the Future window .. I just found one orphan there ... (and always have a backup)
If you look at status.blogger.com, you will see that these problems are the by-product of much hard work improving (I hope) BloggerPro. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
I hesitated before clicking on that link to the picture. I have my own mental picture of Natalie (a sort of ninja librarian) and I didn't want to have it spoiled by quotidian reality. I needn't have worried.
I just hope she reveals to the waiting world what exactly happened in that automotive mishap ... _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _