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A $10 cab ride apart

Friday, July 27, 2001 by Dave Winer.

Acts of Puppeteers Permalink to Acts of Puppeteers

My Jamaican uncle calls them non-functional probabilities, events that seem related, with no apparent cause and effect linking them. They're so improbable that they couldn't fit on a numercial probability curve. In statistics such events are called outliers, some call them Acts of God, but I think they are Acts of Puppeteers, which is basically the same thing with a different spin.

All around us are puppeteers, beings so different from us that we can't perceive them, but they're here, like children playing with dolls, and we're the dolls. Each has temporary control of some number of puppets. The more powerful the puppeteer, the more interesting or numerous his or her puppets are. They make deals, one day the evil puppeteer has my strings, other days the insecure puppeteer. And on some days the Great Hair puppeteer controls my existence.

Human dramas are merely plays that entertain the puppeteers, and to the extent we're conscious, teach us the lessons they wish us to learn. Over and over. And then again and again. The puppeteers only know a few plots.

This is my religion, it's how I explain the ridiculous improbabilities of life on our planet earth.

A $10 cab ride between two worlds Permalink to A $10 cab ride between two worlds

Earlier this week there were two conferences in San Diego. One was the Open Source Convention, which is a rebel cause, hippies and programmers, often in the same body, high-fiving each other, reminiscent of the early days of the Mac, the Web, and whatever else is interesting, colorful and smelly in the software world.

The other conference was The Burton Group's Catalyst conference, a large convention of infrastructure managers in corporations, government and education. They get their software from Microsoft, Sun, IBM and a host of smaller infrastructure technology developers.

Earlier this week these two worlds were a $10 cab ride apart, although few participants knew of the existence of the other conference, I was invited to particpate in both, which lead to some interesting connections.

Connections Permalink to Connections

Here are some random notes of things I learned from taking the $10 cab ride several times in both directions earlier this week.

1. Most of us are Internet developers. Maybe we all are. This is important because the philosophy of the Internet is a good philosophy.

2. Another thing we seem to agree on is freedom. I don't mean freedom as in free beer or in depriving honest software developers of their ill-gotten gains, I mean freedom as expressed by Nelson Mandela or Abraham Lincoln or Aretha Franklin or Annie Lennox. After too many years of being locked in trunks by platform vendors it's time to Do It For Ourselves. (Lyrics.)

3. This reminds me why I came out of retirement in 1994. "The Internet is the platform with no platform vendor." That's a big deal to me.

4. Freedom and money are related, but you don't need very much money to be free.

5. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole is one of my favorite books. It's very funny. Highly recommended. If you want to understand what's going on don't think of others being such a confederacy. Instead think of us all as dunce-like dancing puppets, and you'll be closer to Great Hair.

6. Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig says it's a long shot that the Bush Administration will pursue Microsoft effectively even though the Court of Appeals upheld the lower court decision, unanimously, 7-0. Today's it's not just one judge, but eight, who say Microsoft broke the law. Now Lessig is the expert on the courts, but I know something about developers. Microsoft's pitch to developers is weakened because of the upheld conviction. Developers have minds. They can see how the locked trunk works. Who wants to help Bill build another sub-campus in Redmond? Maybe that's not such a bad idea, but only if we have freedom of choice everywhere. We ask that Microsoft adopt a new philosophy, consider it a bug when users and developers don't have choice. It was not just illegal to integrate the browser into the OS without user choice, but it was also a breach of our common values as technology professionals. Microsoft has always had a one-sided conversation about ethical behavior of operating system vendors. Thanks to the court for making this a multi-sided conversation.

7. At the open source summit on Tuesday we had long discussions on patents, identity and vision. I said it was time to lose the Unix religion. It's a great OS, in all its incarnations, but let's also include the popular user-oriented operating systems, Windows and Macintosh. On patents, I said the train had left the station, there's not anything in particular we can do about them but wait for a meltdown and when it happens make sure that people know that patents are the reason they're not getting the software they want.

8. I preached inclusion, as did Tim O'Reilly and Doc Searls. This relates to everything for all time. A commercial developer who doesn't patent is a friend of the open source community. An open source platform that fosters commercial development is a friend to the venture capitalists. Anyone who innovates is good for progress. Let's stop being so black and white, as more leading companies of open source shift to a mixed model, we all have to hit the reset button, as Microsoft does, and figure out who our friends are. The philosophy of inclusion, support for independent developers, and a disclaimer of lock-in are the things that matter as we go forward. To me, this is what it means to be an Internet developer.

9. We can work with Microsoft. Looking back over the last few years, most of the time our collaboration has been open, productive and fair. They listened, we did too, and we developed some new interesting software. There is a precedent for fair competition. Let's make the most of that.

10. We also discussed identity in both venues: Passport and AOL's leaking Magic Carpet, Jabber, XNS, etc. I said let's do an API that flattens the differences between the services and support them all. (Applying the inclusion philosophy, which applies to BigCo's as well as small ones.)

That's about it for now.

Keep on truckin!

Your friend,


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