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Richard's Dream and Institutionalized Mental Illness

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Way back in the very olden days, or so the story goes, Richard M. Stallman was motivated to launch the Free Software movement because of something that afflicts us to this day- crappy binary-only printer drivers. How's that for innovation? 38 (correction, it's 28) years later and we still have sucky printer drivers, and printers that don't give us any kind of useful warnings or status messages, and that take a malicious delight in failing silently. I guess the one bit of advancement is now we have these same problems with FOSS printer drivers.

But I digress. I got to thinking about this because I think the future of computing is ever-smaller, more-specialized widgets.

Ever since microchips were invented they've been worming their way into

everything- toasters, washing machines, cookstoves, timepieces,

agricultural machinery, factory machines, you name it, it's controlled

by microchips. Cars and trucks have dozens of them controlling

different subsystems. My old '95 diesel pickup is powered by a

programmable engine that is used for all kinds of different jobs, such

as ambulances, heavy hauling, and plain old pickup-trucking. These

engines leave the factory programmed to specific performance standards.

You can buy devices to re-program your engine on the fly, such as for

maximum fuel economy or more power. Very handy when you're driving a 

6500-pound behemoth with no load, or pulling a trailer full of big

animals over mountain passes.

Something else that hasn't changed

is vendor's annoying, no, make that pathological mania for secrecy.

Another gadget you can get is one to read and decipher the trouble

codes emitted by your vehicle's engine. There is just a tiny bit of

built-in data storage in your vehicle, so if you don't capture the information quickly it's lost,

which makes diagnosing a transient problem ever so much fun. Auto

manufacturers hate these code-readers and try to keep their codes as Big Important

Sekkrits. Which is another question I often ponder- when did

manufacturers and retailers decide they had the right to control what

we do with our own possessions? Fortunately, in the automotive world

someone always blabs the Sekkrit Codes and posts them on the Internet.


will now meander back to my main point, which is twofold: the struggles

for freedom and common sense are inextricably linked and never-ending,

and embedded Linux programming is where the action is.

"Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software" is available free online, http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596002879/

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