Older blog entries for mslicker (starting at number 57)

I'm looking for the origin of an idea. The idea is that all proprietary software should a have a "free" (RMS definition) equivalent.

This idea is very pervasive within the free software community. My thought is that it originates with Stallman. He says the only aspect of software that matters is whether it is free or not. Therefore the problem with Microsoft Windows is not that its purpose is to extract maximum profit in the market place, but that its users cannot freely make changes to it and share those changes. It is small leap to say a proprietary software with large user base should have a free equivelant.

On the other it might be purely a strategy of a certain kind. If you create free equivalents, you bleed the company producing the proprietary software of its revenue source. In the process, according to a certain line of thinking, you promote free software and expand its application base.

A third possibility is that people are so ingrained with the ideas and concepts proprietary software, creating something original is beyond their capacity.

A forth possibility is that knock offs are created for the same reason proprietary software companies create knock offs. Similar software can ride the popularity of existing popular software.

Even if no one has explictly sugested this idea, there may be sufficient reason for it to be implicitly accepted. The obvious problem is that at the end of the day proprietary software companies have defined the adgenda for free software. The fundemental purpose of proprietary software is extracting profit in the market place. This is not deny there may be interesting and original ideas in proprietary software nor that the developers of the proprietary software have talent. However, I don't see free software reaching a fraction of its potential until it can succesfully break free of the proprietary software establishment.

chalst, Apology rescinded. You only use my apology further vent your anger toward me. Why I am singled out for a run away disscussion, which includes the pontification of a well known troll, is only hinted at.

In end it appears to be political difference which constitutes your anger toward me:

"I don't think these opinions are in bad taste. I think they are very badly wrong"

That thread comes to a truely absurd point when you nominate the troll, and neo fascist as Advogato's most decent human beings.

I take partial responsibility for the argumentative direction of chalst's article. Apologies to chalst.

GNU/Linux

I'm beginning to reconcile myself with GNU/Linux. In particular I think it is perhaps the ultimate legacy system. Making a system compatible with every exisiting public and proprietary standard is no easy task and certainly not a desirable one. Even if the mind set is still within the proprietary realm, the software is generally more friendly, open and acessible. GNU/Linux is certainly a positive result and a step in the right direction.

colorForth

With colorForth I decided to move the editor out of the kernel. The editor is the only application included in the kernel and requires graphics and input available in the kernel. With the editor in colorForth source, there is more flexibility in implementing the graphics and input. Besides this colorForth will be easier to port, as the editor is currently a signifigant application implemented purely in x86 assembly.

With editor in source, I'd like to implement the graphics in GLX/OpenGL and the input in X11. This will result in one C file which will be the bridge from the archaic disorderly world of Linux to the orderly logical world of colorForth. I think the words implemented in C will simply be passed to colorForth as a symbol table. This way C can handle all the linking and loading of libraries. This is also how XcolorForth works, except C words do not become part of the dictionary.

The point of all this, is that colorForth will be suitable for C platform applications while keeping the simplicty and interactivity of native version. The troubling part is of course all these layers of complexity that are present, and all the possible bugs that are not related to your code. Of course this is the result in any C platform based application development. Abstracting from the C functions at least the colorForth code can be easily ported from compromised state to the native state.

2 Sep 2003 (updated 2 Sep 2003 at 19:58 UTC) »
Performance

The motivation for high performance software should be obvious. The less computational resources required by software, the cheaper hardware can made to support this software. The cheaper hardware is the more affordable it is to those with less wealth. This is something that completely bypasses the consideration of wealthy people in countries like the United States who enjoy an abundance of computing power. If the Free Software movement has any precepts regarding democracy, it should lower the computational hurdles of its software. An additional benefit to stagnating or decreasing computational needs is that computer hardware will have a longer life, and therefore the environmental impact of largely disposable computers will greatly decrease.

A good way to achieve performance in software is to make things simple. This idea did not originate with me, its echos can heard from the giants of computing. I'm in the process of rewriting my jpeg decoder. Analyzing the common types of images distributed, I was able to simplify the decoder in a way which yielded a 30% increase in performance. I now have less code, and a superior result. With simplicity comes transparency. Any software sympathetic to democracy should be transparent, that is the operation and structure should be as readily apparent as is possible.

I think an emphasis on democracy would be a positive direction for the Free Software movement. However, this would require a large break from the mainstream thought of how software should be created.

15 Jul 2003 (updated 15 Jul 2003 at 21:41 UTC) »
freetype, If my last post seemed to you an emotional reaction to "anti-aliased" fonts, my apology. I have nothing against this technology.

I think we agree it is a matter of aesthetics. I add in case of the implied context (application fonts), that is vanity since it apears there is much investment in the technology for little or no added benefit. Arbitrary scale, for instance, is not needed for general display of information. The only place I've seen it needed is desktop publishing. Desktop publishing can be considered a specical case, and characters for the most part can be treated like any other shape.

Aesthetically I find current user interfaces repulsive. Gnome, KDE, OS X, Windows XP have all taken the same path. Lots of what is called "eye candy" (vanity), little of any actual thought is put into these interfaces. It is not too different from the latest blockbuster movies when you think about it. Perhaps this is something that is intrinsic in our present culture. In any event I'd like to show that a different way is possible.

To raph (and anyone else interested in computer display typography), I sugest you visit Suzan Kare's site, and look through her portfolio. She has a good eye for bitmap fonts, and produces very good results in the medium.

I happen to like bitmap fonts, they are crisp, clear, and very readable. Besides they are dirt simple to display. I think the fuzzy fonts are mostly vanity, if not please point me to a usability study which shows otherwise.

johnnyb That is a rather amusing take on the capitalist social system. What you didn't mention is that the gift that is given in this "gift economy" is a portion of laborer's working day to the capitalist gratis. Somehow in this "gift economy" some indidivuals wind up with unsurpassed ammounts of gifts. Perhaps in this case we can blame the immoral mass of workers for "giving" too much of labor.

Of course socialism would abolish this state things and make all people earn their keep on an equal basis, what you call "forced giving". You're right, socialism provides no means to "excel" like in the "gift economy" you mention.

13 Jun 2003 (updated 13 Jun 2003 at 23:53 UTC) »
sye, This is whishful thinking. XcolorForth is just Chuck Moore's pentium colorForth tweaked to use operating system functions. A Zaurus colorForth could run on Linux/X11, but you need to recode the whole thing in ARM assembley.

I have actually made progress toward a full hardware Zaurus colorForth. Specifically:

  • LCD framebuffer
  • Front light
  • Cross compiler/meta compiler (incomplete)
  • Custom Font
  • touch screen (incomplete)
  • source code display

Finishing this would be a remarkable result, but it would require perhaps more than just me. I'm relectant to make this a full blown open source project, but I'm willing to work with others who show an interest. It would be a great stride toward what I think is the real goal of free software, full mastery of the machines and their software.

Update

sye, The 5600 uses another arm chip called XScale. I don't intend to support the whole Sharp product line, but I imagine once I have a consise working system for the 5500 porting effort will be minimal. If you want talk buisness, give me an email.

Some comments on Paul Graham's latest essay:

I think he is right about the term "Computer Science", it is a misleading term for an agglomeration of activities. The greatest computer scientists: Church, Turing, Godel are all mathematicians. However, people trained in computer science have little to do with the tradition of the these great mathematicians.

Graham is too derisive about mathematical foundations of computing. He equates programmers understanding the theory of computation to painters understanding the chemistry of paint. This analogy is wrong. A more direct analogy to the chemistry of paint is the physical make up of computers. For all intents and purposes, we don't care to understand the physical processes that make computers work. The computer is assumed to be digital, operating in discrete states.

Moreover it is oversimplifying to make direct comparisons to the work of a programmer and the work of painter. Although a great deal may be shared in the creative process, there are great differences in the function of the art. Programming is a precise art form built on logical foundations. There is simply no notion of correctness in painting, where in programming correctness is vitally important.

Graham says "a good programming language should, like oil paint, make it easy to change your mind". What about water color painting? There is little room to change your mind in water color painting. Programs, by fact of being entered interactively, are changeable. Graham connects this to an argument for dynamic typing. Dynamic typing may or may not have merit, whether painting can give us the answer is another question entirely.

Graham call for empathy in programming is welcome.

Overall I think Graham overemphasizes hacking and code in talking about programming as an art. Somehow "hacking" does not conjure up images of an artful process. Programming is about ideas, precisely that is what ties us to all other forms of art. In mathematics or music composition, the symbols are but a representation for the real ideas mathematicians and composers work with. In contrast to Graham, I find myself more and more working out computational ideas in pen and paper. Code, if it is produced, is only the final expression of this process.

tk, Yes, axiomatic systems are not infallible. Godel showed at best higher order logic is either inconsistent or incomplete. Does that mean we throw logic out the window? All Russell is saying in the quotation is that if we value logic, at some point we must rely on axioms and these axioms are necessarilly self evident, known without demonstration. Although ancillary to my point, this quote comes 1911 (The Philosophical Importance of Mathematical Logic), well after Russell discoverd his paradox (1901).

For now I am in agreement with Marx, his analysis of society, yet I have only read a fraction of his works. "Marxism" seems to have taken a life of its own, sometimes contradictory to Marx himself. How the "Marxists" Buried Marx is an interesting discussion of the Marxism phenomenon.

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