August 6, 2006

How I Got Kicked Off of Craigs List

I got kicked off of craigslist.

The only thing I did wrong was to want to sell some stuff fast - so I put a low price on the gear.

Trouble is that some internet NIMBY's felt that by asking for a low price I must be some sort of scammer.

The details are this - My grandfather was both a perfectionist and an audiophile - so what do you thin was the label on his gear: McIntosh.  So when my grandparents died, I ended up with a stack of vacuum tube McIntosh components.

Now, this stuff had been running, constantly, for 30 to 40 years.  The insulation on the power cords had gotten soft, the chassis had corroded, and the pots were scratchy (yeah, I know that it's easy to temporarily clean a scratch pot - some contact cleaner spray and a couple of dozen turns of the knob - remember I come from a family of radio and TV repairmen.)  Basically it was this - I don't really need any old vacuum tubes in my life.

So I posted it with a price tag of $250 for the lot - yeah, I knew that that was far under market value.  I just wanted it to move fast.

Fast wasn't the word for it - within 20 minutes I had several dozen bids from people who would close the deal that day, come pick up the gear, and pay me several times my asking price - exactly what I had hoped for.

Within one hour the NIMBY's got to work, reported me as a scammer, and I was kicked off of craigslist.  Fortunately my transaction was already completed.

It's a sad day indeed when internet NIMBY's prevent others from getting a good deal.

Posted by karl at 1:03 AM

GPL v3 and The Rule Against Perpetuities

One thing that has always bugged me about the GPL is that has a clause that allows escalation to new versions.

There is this bizarre and old rule in law known as the Rule Against Perpetuities or RAP.

Now, the RAP is often considered to apply only to real property - land.

But the statutes that today restate, in statutory language, the RAP, are not always clear that they apply only to real property.  For example, here in California the rule is embodied in the probate code.  Now, I'm no expert in probate, and I have not researched the issue, but I do wonder whether here, or in other states, that perhaps, just perhaps, it might be possible that as we programmers die, our rights under the GPL might descend to our heirs and be subject to the RAP.

And why might the GPL, in such a circumstance, be potentially in trouble?  Because the escalation to new version creates an uncertainty, a kind of contingency that casts a shadow over all the rights conveyed by the GPL.

This is probably a pretty far-fetched concern.  And it really probably amounts to no more than a hill of beans in this crazy world.

I have come to dislike the GPL - as a writer of software I have to be very careful these days to check on the licenses of the open source packages I use.  I avoid blending GPL based code with my own code - I don't like the fact that the GPL, like some bad horror movie, is filled with the ghosts of the programmers who contributed to the GPL code.  As a programmer myself, I greatly appreciate their work and have empathy with their concerns.  However as a person who sells software based products, the GPL raises questions in the minds of my customers as to the title of software in the product.

I have released code under the GPL.  But I prefer, when I do put my code into the open, to use a MIT/BsD style license - one that cauterizes my rights over how successors might use my code.  In that way I feel that I'm really contributing to the evolution of open source far more than I would had I used the GPL and let my cold dead hand forever, or at least as long as the copyright applies, lay upon use of my work by others.  I want my gift to not have any GPL-like strings attached.

Posted by karl at 12:43 AM

August 4, 2006

Oy Vey!

I heard a really good one!  ICANN is asking for "comments" about how they could improve their web site!

Have you ever heard anything so nutz?  I mean, ICANN, has created yet another "forum" so that we can "discuss" ideas - this time about their web site!  Wouldn't 'cha think that sometimes they might actually use their web site to tell us something - like promptly telling us what happened during those telephone meetings of the board?  Do they really need a "forum" for that?!

We don't need no stinkin' forums!

ICANN has a very bad habit of believing that it has to create playpens for people to discuss ideas.  Well thank you ICANN, but we are perfectly capable of creating our own forums - we've had 'em for years.

ICANN's website should be a means for ICANN to publish information, like audio recordings of board phone meetings or timely postings of minutes.

The last thing we need is yet another ICANN managed gathering place.  Didn't ICANN learn from the failed ALAC that people don't like to be herded like sheep and forced to perform on ICANN's stage?  (Yes, I know its a mixed metaphor.)

(By-the-way, ICANN doesn't seem to have noticed that the community of internet users has ignored ICANN's over-managed ALAC in droves.)

So ICANN - please give up trying to make your website into a Disneyland of forums and interactive aids.  Instead please recognize that the purpose of your website is to herald timely information about what ICANN is doing.  We will be discussing it - but not on your website.

Posted by karl at 1:24 AM

August 2, 2006

Looking Backward - Internet Naivete

I'm sitting here near Mendocino, California at the Heritage House.  It's a very nice place to get away and relax.  I've been coming here on and off since the early 1980's.  Right now I'm looking down on the waves of the Pacific as they break across the outer rocks and come into the cove.

The nearby town of Mendocino is often used in TV and films as a New England town.

While driving here we dropped a friend off at at her house up on the ridge over the Navarro river.  Doing as I always do I scanned the books on the bookshelf and my eyes landed on a book that I had read about but had never read - Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward 2000 = 1887.

The book is the story of a man who, in 1887 goes to sleep and wakes up in the year 2000.  The world of 2000 that he encounters is a Utopia in which all goverment, production, and enterprise is through a single industrial system that is merged with the government.  It's a begnin system that provides a safe and equal life to everyone.  But every person is channeled from birth to be a cog in this system.

The Utopia described in the book is very naive - it is a world in which individuals are coerced into rough conformity.  Career paths are predefined - there is little room for personal creativity or enterprise.  Goods and services have a Wal Mart uniformity - quite the antithesis of the hand crafted, one-of-a-kind people and things that so much populate this Mendocino area.

What struck me was how closely this kind of 1880's Utopian thinking - which is so amusing today - is mirrored in the way people think of the internet and internet governance.

We know that real life people are sometimes dishonest, and they are often avaricious or seek positions of power.  We know that the unique and different are often highly valued.  We know that people have different tastes and preferences and that people change greatly over their lifespans.  And we know that real life corporate structures tend to ossify into non-responsive bureaucracies and that the products are uniform and fungible.

Yet when it comes to internet governance we seem to forget what we know about human and corporate nature.  We look at the internet as if it were a kind of new-world, not all that different from the Utopian world described in Looking Backward.  The imagined world of the internet is full of vague, Utopian concepts - such as governance by "consensus" and revulsion when a for-profit corporation actually goes out and tries to make some money. (I'm referring here to the revulsion that is expressed when Verisign uses its position to create new products, such as SiteFinder.  Sheesh, did people think that Verisign, or any other for-profit corporation would sit still and let business opportunities pass?)

And there's all this Utopian nonsense about "stakeholders".  There is no idea in internet governance that is more pernicious than the idea that internet governance should be open to "stakeholders" and closed to everyone else.

Every person who uses the internet has a stake in the internet.

And every one of the "stakeholders" we frequently find in internet governance is really an aggregate composed of individual people.

The stakeholder idea is really a way of saying that the only thing that matters in internet governance are organized aggregations, mainly ones that have a commercial interest in the internet.  The corollary is that individual people do not count except insofar as they happen to be employees or members of some aggregate that has been gifted with the lofty title of "stakeholder".

Just as Bellamy's future perfect society forced individuals into pre-conceived channels and created a worldwide uniformity of goods and services, the present thinking of internet governance elevates industrial aggregates and subordinates the individual.  This is not democracy.  Rather it is a kind of industrial oligarchy, slightly mitigated by the presence of non-governmental organizations, in which individuals have value and voice only as members of some aggregate entity.

If we are to have democracy, representative democracy, in internet governance we must abandon the dangerous concept of "stakeholder."  Otherwise we will build a system as flawed as Bellamy's Utopia.

Posted by karl at 12:45 PM