Office Banter

One of the nice things about working here is the lunch. I go out to lunch everyday, with some of my colleagues in office to different places around the Atlanta midtown area. More than the food I think what attracts us is the rants and raves and the passionate discourse. For I started a thread on my blog about a topic and here is how it went :-

Me (starting a topic):
Everyone has heard of the GNU Public License which is used to keep software free of the greedy corporates and their patents.
I read in an article in Slash-dot – a couple of guys have created a license that makes their software free for use except for military use. Do you think this violates the spirit of “free” software?

Riz (the contrary one in the bunch):
Uhhm, OK let me be the first to say that I am not comfortable about discussing my brass tacks. Don’t get me wrong, my brass tacks have/are served me extremely well, but I don’t want to discuss this with you guys.

Riz: I don’t know what you own that you refer to as brass tacks, or why you are uncomfortable talking about them. But it seems like you should be more embarrassed at the fact that you have this awkward nickname for such an unsaid set of objects.

Rishi (bringing the discussion back into focus):
What happened to the discussion about GNU public license and the software talk?
Riz always has to bring up something that is totally out of context and like Bilal would say “gayish”.

As for the article, I like it. I believe in open source / free… it’s almost like volunteer or “Community work” for geeks. You want to advance technology etc. in a public interest… but you don’t want to volunteer for a destructive purpose. Kind of like running a Non-Profit for the Mob, or something to that degree. I understand the concept and the thought behind it, the problem is the precedent. If you want to generalize it and say, “I want this to be free to everyone except for those whose cause or belief I don’t stand behind” then everything would be too complicated and eventually go back to licensing for specific interests… usually profit. I think a better approach is to say that even if the military / government or anyone else without exception makes a modification to the code they need to post the modifications to it and without doing so they violate the license. This would either force the military not to use it for legal purposes (if their government cares) or the military will contribute to the project as well. We can’t forget that there have been a lot of practical inventions born from the military.

What I find particularly interesting is the way they have phrased their modification to the license “the program and its derivative work will neither be modified or executed to harm any human being nor through inaction permit any human being to be harmed.”. They have said they picked it up from Isaac Asimov’s – Three Laws of Robotics – “A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.”

Even that is flawed, and easily tainted by today’s standards. “I wasn’t harming, I was defending” or “There would have been more deaths due to inaction so action was necessary” all of this is easily spun into politics, we need to try and abstract the technologies from politics… the open source licenses were designed in the spirit of advancing technology as a community, it should stay that way… it’s inevitable that some of it will be used maliciously, sometimes to an extreme, but if the intent is there, they would have accomplished the goal regardless of a license.
Can you imagine this? “The US Government is being sued today for breaking the licensing model of an open source application they installed into their upgrade to the cruise missile navigational system. The case has been put on hold indefinitely for reasons of national security.” Good luck with that… I call this philosophy “Geeks without borders” :)

THE 3 LAWS, by The Riz (all bow your heads)
Law 1: The law of paper bag: Just bag it!
Law 2: The law of light: Beauty is a light switch away!
Law 3: The law of boos: When in doubt drink more, she’ll get prettier.