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news selection 20180615

June 15, 2018

Jacobin on North Korea – South Korea and its media are a lot more supportive of the tentative rapprochement than in the US.

Jacobin on Public Education in the US – a review of the toll taken by the transition to the public-private partnership model in education (i.e., vouchers system). Why’re all them square state voters so freakin ignorant? Here’s one possible reason. Interesting history as well.

Jacobin on Microsoft’s recent acquisition of GitHub – open source software is near and dear to me, and Richard Stallman is definitely one of my heroes in the professional world. So it certainly is an interesting and slightly ominous turn of events that the currently premier forum for hosting open source code is being acquired by the great villain of the 1990’s and early 2000’s open source software world. But that was prior to Google’s dominance of the tech world, and before computer nerds figured out how much they’re worth to corporate America.

Several postscripts to that last one. First, as a historical note, I believe Git [Git-wiki], the open source software that GitHub runs, had a vaguely similar history. It was itself created rather quickly as an alternative to an attempt to corral one of the previous open source collaboration tools by an unprincipled corporation, which in turn was a replacement for the ancient CVS.

The article doesn’t go far enough in distinguishing between the forum and online ecosystem, and the licensing choices made by open source projects. You put something on GitHub under GPL, and GitHub could be destroyed and you could just recreate it elsewhere, and all the coders would simply leave and go to the new one. This has happened. More insidious would be if MS uses control of the forum to push alternative licensing forms designed to lock out competitors.

Also, in my professional life I very happily use a hybrid of Microsoft and GNU tools (Visual Studio and GCC). It’s a convenient, mature, no-nonsense toolset. Since I’m not nearly a full-time coder and I’ve completely escaped PC/phone/web platforms, this has worked well for me. In such a hybrid, the level of lock-in to the MS toolset is relatively light. If you had to quit MS software cold turkey, you would need only to recreate the configuration files that generate the “makefile”, and doing this isn’t more than a day or two of work for what I think are moderate-sized projects (~50,000 lines ballpark). And I am selling out a bit, using the maximally business friendly BSD/MIT licensing form – but then you try justifying GPL to whoever pays your bills 😦

Lastly, I do firmly believe that the proprietary software model more often than not ruins a piece of software, if given enough time. This is probably a function of (1) corporate decision making and (2) ability and incentive to lock in customers, and (3) need to “innovate” to make new sales – which can mean changing that which actually works well just for the sake of having something “new” to present at the annual tradeshow or whatever. (case in point: MS Excel, which once upon a time used to be their best product IMO).

Finally, this week, Tesla…. lays off 9% of staff in the name of profitability (sorry, no link).  Expect more. Decent sized warning sign now. For back-of-the-envelope calculations, use $100k per headcount.

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