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Res publica non dominetur

June 9, 2010 2 comments

With the passing of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, I was reminded of the IBM “Prodigy” ad in which he appears. “Prodigy,” quite frankly, is the best tech ad ever — ever (sorry, “1984,” despite Apple’s ad introducing not only the Macintosh but Ridley Scott’s directing prowress) — and it joins Red Hat’s “Truth Happens” (QuickTime / OGG versions) as two short video pieces I show people when talking about GNU/Linux.

The ad is here on YouTube. Take a minute and 33 seconds to watch. I’ll wait. You may want to keep it open in another window to refer back to it.

What occurred to me while watching Wooden tell the kid, “A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player. Losing yourself in the group, for the good of the group, that’s teamwork” (emphasis mine), was that this quote applies not only to basketball in particular or sports in general, but specifically to those participating in making Free/Open Source Software work.

Watching the ad, then, with an eye toward how IBM addresses FOSS allowed me to watch with a new perspective. Other aspects of the ad also draw the same conclusions — pointing to the FOSS paradigm — even though all of those who instruct the lad don’t impart anything that can be directly tied to FOSS.

An anthropologist tells him “Homo habalis was the first to use tools.” It rings true because we are the first to use tools that we can’t actually hold — the digital bits and bytes that course through our hardware and over the World Wide Web.

Harvard professor and Boston police harrassment victim Henry Louis Gates tells the boy, in what I think is the most profound English sentence in the ad, “Collecitng data is only the first step toward wisdom, but sharing data is the first step toward community.” No additional commentary is needed there, and the overwhelming irony of having someone named Gates imparting something so profoundly insightful about the open source paradigm is almost too perfect.

A poet speaks: ” Poetry. There’s not much glory in poetry, only achievement.” Replacing “poetry” with “FOSS programming” is a simple and complete fit.

Even the male narrator says, after the poet: “What he learns, we all learn. What he knows, we all benefit from.” Where have we experienced that before?

Author Sylvia Nassar and actress/director Penny Marshall: Nassar says “One little thing can solve an incredibly complex problem,” and who hasn’t been there scripting or programming? Can I see a show of hands? I thought so. Marshall: “Everything’s about timing, kid.” Indeed.

Skipping over the businessman and the pilot — though the businessman does teach “constant improvement,” which is a FOSS tenet — we get to the heart of the ad: The Latin teacher and the plumber — the intellectual and the worker — both stating profound truths that apply to life in general and FOSS in particular.

The Latin teacher: “Res publica non dominetur,” which translates, as far as I can tell, literally to “(The) thing of the public (let) not be dominated” — more idiomatically, “Don’t let something that belongs to the public get taken over by a despot” (thanks, Willy Smith, for the quote on the translation, from his more eloquent blog on the “Prodigy” ad here). Like the Gates quote, notihng to add here, however I think I’m going to add that phrase to my personal Coat of Arms.

And the plumber, with the most succinct and direct quote: “Plumbing. It’s all about the tools.” Which the same can be said for FOSS: It’s all about the tools.

The others may or may not speak directly to the FOSS paradigm and philosophy, with the remote exception of Muhammad Ali’s chiling yet inspiring two sentences: “Speak your mind. Don’t back down.” I’m trying to find where the guitar player, the soccer player, the astronomer and the pilot fit in, but nevertheless, it seems that seven years ago, IBM did the Free/Open Source Software community a huge favor by producing this ad.

[Thanks again to Willy Smith for his insightful blog, which not only helped me translate the Latin, but also points out better than I do the FOSS nuances of this ad.]

[FSF Associate Member](Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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Changing teams

August 16, 2008 3 comments

Growing up in the Maspeth section of Queens, my father grew up a New York Giants fan — the baseball Giants that played at the Polo Grounds, not so much the football Giants (although I believe he never forgave Frank Gifford for fumbling away the championship 50 years ago). If you fast forward to 1987, I moved to San Francisco from Miami (long story) and picked up where my father left off, being the second generation of Cafiero to live and die with the orange and black.

My father’s favorite Giant was Mel Ott, but then there were also Johnny Mize, Carl Hubbell, Eddie Stanky. And there was Bobby Thomson, who hit the legendary home run the year my parents were married. I got to San Francisco in ’87, the year Candy Maldonado lost a ball in the lights against the Cardinals in the playoffs which brought me, and the Giants, back to earth. Two years later, it was Will Clark acing the Cubs’ Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams in the league championship, sending the Giants to “Bay’s-ball” against Oakland and to the first World Series interrupted by a natural disaster.

In addition, I have five Croixs de Candlesticks — awarded to Giants fans who braved the elements at Candlestick Park during extra-inning games — on a cap which also bears the ’89 National League Championship pin.

What does this have to do with FOSS? The reason I’m waxing nostalgic about the Giants is because it looks like I’m going to have to leave them on Oct. 1: Microsoft attorney Bill Neukom takes control of the ballclub in October as president.

It’s impossible for me to support a team that is run by a shill who has made his fortune representing a company that has made its sole raison d’etre squelching any semblance of digital choice; all that while forcing on the public some of the worst software in the short history of personal computing.

This may not make a lot of sense to the Europeans reading this. But imagine a Manchester United fan having to switch his or her support to Manchester City; Real Madrid to Barcelona; Juventus to AC Milano; All Blacks to Australia. Change can be necessary because team allegiances should include principles and mean more than just root, root, root for the home team.

So once this season ends, I’m going to hang up my hat, hang up the jacket and shop around for another team to support. The Oakland Athletics, more than likely, will keep my heart in the San Francisco Bay Area. But perhaps I’ll take the winter off while hoping the San Francisco 49ers do something resembling anything (thanks, Pam) and also root for the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, since co-owner Bob Young is one of the founders of Red Hat.

Go Cats.

[FSF Associate Member](Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs HeliOS Solutions West in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Eight Distros a Week: Epilogue

February 16, 2008 1 comment

Eight distros. Seven days. One tired blogger.

In seven words, that pretty much wraps up the “Eight Distros a Week” series, named after (of course) the Beatles song “Eight Days a Week.”

I have used more than eight distros — AntiX, Debian, Fedora, Fluxbuntu, gNewSense, Linux Mint, Wolvix and Xubuntu — but these eight are the ones that I use most, talk about most and would recommend to those looking for a distro.

I do sometimes — and have in the past — used others. These include:

Yellow Dog Linux: While Yellow Dog seems to be putting its proverbial eggs in the PlayStation 3 basket, the distro does have a history as being the distro for Macs. Yellow Dog 3 “Sirius” is a better-than-average distro for Old World Macs using BootX on a separate partition, and its Red Hat roots make is very adequate for those Macs that predate the turn of the 21st century. However — you knew that was coming — Terra Soft Solutions, the parent company for Yellow Dog, is not exactly the most user-friendly company, unless you plop down $70 for an “Enhanced User Account” for YDL.net. By the way, if you’re tired of digging around for the download page for Yellow Dog, it’s here. You’re welcome.

Red Hat: I use Red Hat at school (Go Cabrillo College Seahawks!). Red Hat works behind the scenes for a variety of companies with which I have daily contact. As a distro, Red Hat is ubiquitous and there’s really nothing I can add to the volumes written by one of the oldest distros. It’s huge, it works, it’s corporate — what more can you say?

Mandriva: I can’t figure out Mandriva. At a recent installfest at Cabrillo College in Aptos, Calif., an 11-year-old installed Mandriva on his Dell boxes. In the process, I put it on a Dell box that was doing nothing but sitting there, and I thought the distro worked well. But I installed it once on a laptop and, for some reason, when I went to change the distro, the BIOS had changed to where I couldn’t boot from the CD. Easily fixed, of course, but the thing is I didn’t change the BIOS. My wife and daughter didn’t, and neither did the cat. Mysterious, I know, and more than likely it had nothing to do with the use of Mandriva, but until I can explain some of the strange things that happen when I try Mandriva, I’m avoiding it.

Knoppix: I’ve had this Knoppix CD that I’ve been carrying around for nearly two years, but it wasn’t until recently that I used it for an emergency. If there were a Nobel Prize for distros, Klaus Knopper should top the short list — not only was the disk helpful in solving my problem, I kept it on the machine for a significant amount of time while I waded through what it had to offer. It’s great, but I don’t use it too often.

Ubuntu: While I’m happy with Xubuntu, whenever I try Ubuntu on an Intel box or laptop, I keep thinking, “You know, this screams out ‘Debian’ to me,” and I generally lose interest. Another thing that usually keeps me at an arm’s length from Ubuntu is the split-screen syndrome — the Live CD always gives me a bonus in the screen department with two screens, and I know how to fix it (and do), but I have to say I’m just not a bandwagoner, although I recognize and appreciate Ubuntu’s contributions to FOSS.

One of the universal digital truths is that the difference between most distros is painfully minuscule, and that the object with having a plethora of options — some 350 active distros, according to Distrowatch‘s count — is the beauty behind the freedom of choice you have regarding what runs your computer.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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