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December 10, 2006 2:14 PM   Subscribe

Watch Even Moglen's 2006 Keynote at the International Plone Conference Eben delivered an inspiring and wide-ranging talk that traced the connections between the free software movement, the One Laptop Per Child project, and the past three hundred years of modern industrial economic development, and placed our work into the larger context of the ongoing journey towards freedom and equality for all people.
Links: QuickTime | MP3 | YouTube | Transcript
posted by commonmedia (25 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Eben! Eben!
posted by gsteff at 2:15 PM on December 10, 2006


Sorry, typo.
posted by commonmedia at 2:35 PM on December 10, 2006


I was confused for a moment, gsteff, because eben! means exactly! in german, and it kinda fits in this context...
posted by kolophon at 2:36 PM on December 10, 2006


(and I like the math analogy. but can you really compare software to mathematics?)
posted by kolophon at 2:51 PM on December 10, 2006


Software IS mathematics.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 3:03 PM on December 10, 2006


That's what I always hated about my university's computer science program.
posted by commonmedia at 3:06 PM on December 10, 2006


Software is as much mathematics as industrial engineering, chemical engineering, and architecture. That is, you can do software without understanding the math since algorithms can be perceived as narrative just as well-structured buildings have aesthetically satisfying ratios and dimensions.

Will WTFYT later.
posted by abulafa at 3:13 PM on December 10, 2006


Software is no more math than english is math. Sure, you can describe it, and translate it into math, but that doesn't mean they're the same thing.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:00 PM on December 10, 2006


That was a fun talk by Moglen. I think he's over-optimistic about the power of networking to prevent genocide, but overall the vision is pretty compelling.
posted by peeping_Thomist at 4:15 PM on December 10, 2006


Nuclear bombs = freedom!
posted by delmoi at 4:28 PM on December 10, 2006


Software is as much mathematics as industrial engineering, chemical engineering, and architecture. That is, you can do software without understanding the math since algorithms can be perceived as narrative just as well-structured buildings have aesthetically satisfying ratios and dimensions.

Well, it's more like: You can make a Baking Soda/Vinegar volcano or crystal meth without being able to do stoichiometry, you can make an airplane without being able to solve the Navier-Stokes's equations and you can build a stable building without understating statics, you just have to go by brute force. There are lots of "obvious" solutions that can be used to all of those problems, it's just when you want to get elegant and push the edge of what's possible that you have to break out the calculator (or super computer)

Software is similar. Anyone can bind a web form to a database in visual studio, drag-and drop style. but not everyone can implement a Bayesian network.
posted by delmoi at 4:35 PM on December 10, 2006


Software is no more math than english is math. Sure, you can describe it, and translate it into math, but that doesn't mean they're the same thing.

First of all, you can't really parse English mathematically. You can write a context free grammar that would encapsulate a lot of it, but that CFG won't be able to parse everything said, and it won't give you any understanding.

Similarly, (as I said) some programming does require math and some dosn't. If you're just writing a web form you're not going to be needing to use a lot of math, but if you're writing something complex, you're lost without it. A database itself is highly mathematical.

It seems like the vast majority of programmers spend their time taking the output from one program and sending it to another. Those 'glue' applications are not very complex, but they're not very interesting either.
posted by delmoi at 4:39 PM on December 10, 2006


Actually, blue_beetle, if I understood what I was told by some educated programmers I worked with, software IS math. Any program can be reduced to a series of mathematical equations and proven to work correctly.

It's extremely difficult to do this, and proving a program that's past a trivial level of complexity is a gargantuan undertaking. That's why we still have bugs; proving a program is many, many orders of magnitude harder than just testing and debugging.

Difficult or not, though, all software can apparently be expressed as equations. A program can literally be proved correct.
posted by Malor at 4:40 PM on December 10, 2006


Difficult or not, though, all software can apparently be expressed as equations. A program can literally be proved correct.

Dijkstra was into this. That's why programmers don't like Dijkstra.
posted by gsteff at 5:03 PM on December 10, 2006


I think more precisely, all programming is logic, and a lot of math falls out of this.

Of course, not all math, as some would have had us believe.

Anyway, programming is different from chemistry, english, or physics. At its core, we built it. There's very little missing about our understanding of the core mechanics of a programming language, unlike with the sciences, where who knows if there's another hidden layer.

And that core of programming is logic and mathematics.
posted by Alex404 at 5:48 PM on December 10, 2006


I don't think Moglen's analogy is meant to say anything about the relationship between math and software. It's meant to be say something about the relationship between knowledge and ownership. So, on that level, is it a good analogy?
posted by footnote at 6:21 PM on December 10, 2006


It's extremely difficult to do this, and proving a program that's past a trivial level of complexity is a gargantuan undertaking. That's why we still have bugs; proving a program is many, many orders of magnitude harder than just testing and debugging.

Functional programming makes this, if not easy, at least tractable.
posted by cytherea at 6:42 PM on December 10, 2006


There's an assumption made in this speech which is eating at me. It's that providing access to information and communications is going to positively transform any community. To me that seems to be as simpleminded as saying "Democracy will bring prosperity to Iraq"-- there's a lot of other factors in play, and you're just as likely to sow chaos as not. He may be implying that universal communications will bring about an age of cultural homogeneity which would lead to stability, which might make a little more sense to me.

(I'm also a little freaked out by his insistence that "we don't live there, and we don't live there-- we live here." Who's "we"? Plone hackers?)

Rambling aside, this is an excellent speech.

(And in my experience, programming is about interfacing math to an unrelated topic; you need to deeply understand both.)
posted by phooky at 7:05 PM on December 10, 2006


It's interesting that with the end of the cold war, communism has become more popular, not less. And the further in time we move away from USSR's collapse, the fewer people remember the cold war first hand, the easier it is to romanticize it, to find truth in it.

But this fool is confusing the two, communism (or at least his version of socialism) with the open source movement. They're not the same, though he wants them to be. Linux may be better than Windows, but that doesn't mean Windows shouldn't exist or that it does not quite satisfactorily serve the majority of its customers. If Linux is so great AND free, why don't they use it in Pakistan? Or China?

The problem that socialism has is one the open source movement doesn't have: it is mandated. When he makes the ridiculous claim/metaphor that a loaf of bread should be almost free because it costs almost nothing to make it, then who would he have to make it? I'm not making any bread for free. Similarly, open source in fact costs quite a bit to make (education, computers, time, etc) which is essentially subsidized by the rest of the (capitalist) economy. It is used in rich countries because they are rich countries, because the developers have enough money to work for free on the projects.
posted by tomrac at 7:29 PM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


Software is math in the same sense that humans are chemistry.
posted by lodurr at 7:34 PM on December 10, 2006


You know, I'm really sympathetic to the aims and aesthetic of the f/oss movement. But this is really just a load of crap. It's a sermon passing itself off as analysis. Just to pull one random paragraph that struck my eye:
That’s where we now are: at that moment, on that cusp. In this neighborhood at this moment, the most deeply funded monopoly in the history of the world is beginning to fail. Within another few months, the causes of its failure will be apparent to everybody, as they are now largely apparent to the knowledgeable observers of the industry who expect trouble for Microsoft. The very engineering limits of trying to make software that you own work as well as software that the community produces are becoming apparent. It used to be suggested that eventually software produced without ownership relations might achieve superiority beyond that of software produced by proprietary producers. It used to be argued that that might eventually happen. When those of us who have some theoretical experience in this area said, “why do you only think it’s going to happen eventually – it’s happened already”, people had a tendency to point at the monopoly products and show the ways in which they are, in one way or another, better. “You see, you can’t do it.”
I mean, let's get real: Not only will everybody be able to see within the next few months that Microsoft is dead, but they'll also be able to agree on the reasons why?

Vapid hyperbole.
posted by lodurr at 8:09 PM on December 10, 2006


I don't know much about software, but are we seriously saying a company with no debt, billions of cash-- is going to disappear? That they stand no chance of adapting? Of finding a new niche and revenue source?

Hell, they could become a hedge fund if they wanted. Sears has.
posted by TheLastPsychiatrist at 8:14 PM on December 10, 2006


i was there for this talk. moglen kept an audience of a few hundred developers transfixed for and hour an a half. you could hear a pin drop in the room. i take moglen's utopianism with a large boulder of salt. and i don't care much for gpl3. but i find his sense of urgency compelling. there aren't many historian/attorney/developers of his calibre. it was a keynote the plone community will have a very difficult time topping next year.
posted by 3.2.3 at 9:07 PM on December 10, 2006


Ah...so that is what Plone devs do instead of documenting their software. I have been wondering.
posted by srboisvert at 7:52 AM on December 11, 2006


Thanks commonmedia for this; I just finished watching the whole thing.

I've long found the general concept of "information wants to be free" to be very interesting. Mr. Moglen talks about what things might happen when you suddenly empower the previously disenfranchised (e.g. poor children in the third world) to communicate with the rest of the world without intermediary.

My concern is that recent world history shows that people aren't getting smarter with all these new communications capabilities, they're getting more insular and more efficient at executing on their violent tendencies.
posted by intermod at 10:13 PM on January 1, 2007


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