Thursday, July 26, 2007

OSCON 9: Keynotes (continued)

Ben Fry delivered an ultra competent and intriguing set of slides, animations, demos. Lots of allusions to Elastic Interval Geometry, math through programming, bridging CS to the humanities (art students did some of the best work in this exhibit). He wasn't touting Python, but a competing new language called Process.

Robin Hanson is teaching that although we know we're biased, that doesn't keep us from being biased, leading to warped results that are counter-productive, even speaking purely selfishly. It's like the comic strip Dilbert with the pointy haired boss.

The guy speaks "economist" a rhetoric (namespace) spun more by Nietzsche (Twilight of the Idols) than it probably realizes. The "will to truth" is often just a mask, whereas the "will to power" more nakedly describes more biased behaviors (even the ones that backfire). Anthropologists take note.

Bill Hilf is "our man in the inside" helping to create the DNA and synapses of open source within Microsoft, a big company. MSFT has overcome most of its paranoia regarding open source and by now includes an internal culture that understands and feels comfortable with our many liberal ethnicities.

Getting the DLR committed to the community took much less time than getting Rotor injected years ago (an early .NET). The guy quotes Mark Twain, disses politicians, priests and pundits, touts programmers. Kwel.

Although Bill was glad we weren't politicians, the next guy was one, a pro: founder of Pirate Party, Rick Falkvinge. Policing to protect copyrights on digital properties violates centuries old principles of postal secret, carrier independence, other democratic principles around privacy. Lots of applause.

Our final gifted speaker, Steve Yegge of Google, gave an off the cuff lecture on branding that ranked with the best of the best, even with the slides gone kablooey. He thinks "open source" is a problem brand, but I'm not so sure. It's meant to be "backroom boring" so as not to compete with our sexier and/or flashier flagships, such as Python and Apache. Let's keep public attention focused on our illustrious track record, our heritage, not on our various brands of legalese (yawn).

So it's OK if generic discussions of open source send you to sleep. We don't necessarily want that many people fixating on licenses as ends in themselves, endlessly bickering and concocting new ones. A few is sufficient. Otherwise, the field gets too committified and log-jammed. Let's not waste too much talent.