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Open Letter to Bob Metcalfe and the Pundits

Aug 22, 1999, 19:53 (39 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Nicholas Donovan)

Paradigms, Pundits and Proof of Concept

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today. ]

By Nicholas Donovan

There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.
-- Indira Gandhi

I first started training in the art of Ninpo Taijutsu in 1978. As one of the first three non-Japanese to train in Japan, I recall how pundits scoffed at me, whose only exposure to the art had been a James Bond movie. I spent three continuous years training in Japan and have continued to return to Japan over twenty years that have followed. The media of the time knew little of what they wrote. Ninpo was a very new concept in the US. The popular martial arts media commanded a fairly large audience. It was their magazines the novice read to keep up on current trends.

I compare much of what I see in the Linux community to my experiences in Japan. With Ninpo, everyone wanted to train in Japan in the mid 1980's and it became sheik to fly to Japan to obtain the gratuitous photo opportunity with the Grandmaster. You saw and heard about it in every publication and it made the media in both positive and negative light. The uninformed but interested media provided information to an interested public that soaked up everything in the popular press instead of experiencing it themselves. Every "karate guy" in a black outfit was now a Ninpo practitioner, and when something came out about it in the press it was usually pretty clueless and laughable.

Do the trends appear familiar? We have pundits in the form of "Industry Analysts" making every prediction under the sun from "Linux is a fad and will be gone next year.", to "Linux is making small inroads to small amounts of a divergent population of hobbyists in northern Idaho." and every variant of the above statements. Funny, they said the same thing about Microsoft when it took on the mighty IBM in the 1980's.

I believe Bob Metcalfe fancies himself a pundit. He played in the industry for many years, and now writes while we anxiously await his retirement. He writes unflattering statements about Linux designed to raise ire and get hits on his Web page. Positive or not, maybe it makes him feel better knowing that people will still respond to him regardless of the gratuitiousness of his message and allegations.

I hear from the editors of major on-line publications that the mere mention of Linux in articles doubles their hits. Just as the mention of Microsoft vs Linux brings on the hits.

Mr. Metcalfe, I have to say Linux and Open source is in no stretch of the imagination a communist piece of "balderdashery". I have the privilege of being a former United States Marine officer. I find it offensive that anyone should classify Open Source as such. Having traveled to, lived near or stood guard against communist countries in my military career, I speak from knowledge of both. Open source has nothing to do with whether labor or the owners of the means of production own the profit of an enterprise. Open sources deals with the components of value in a product. Communism doesn't enter the discussion at all.

Think of Open Source as the town hall meeting, where people are getting together and discussing ideas and attempting to resolve issues of the day. It would, in fact, be the advocate of a communist regime that would abhor any group of citizens getting together to remedy any issue themselves without the express consent and approval of the party head in that district.

Who do these people think they are anyway? How dare they attempt to create something without the express written permission of the party chief? Do they have a license to meet and resolve issues? If not, then they are intolerable!

A party head would continue asking: How dare they think they can write an operating system that does not have sanction of the local chief! Under communism or a highly centralized government system one would ask if the offender said they thought they could create something meaningful without direct party affiliation! You think you can just go and start your own company with our blessing? We will crush your resistance like grapes!

Au contrare, Open Source philosophy espouses freedom. The paradigm of Open Source doesn't signify a grassroots socialistic movement. Open Source represents a shift in how we think about value and work out the management of a service economy evolving from a factory economy.

People consider the word paradigm a cliché, at least in the psycho-babble ridden corporate culture of today. Joel Barker, who helped to bring the power of paradigms to our attention and into management theory in 1974, might not understand our popular use of the word paradigm. Barker fancied himself a futurist. He taught people how to think about the future instead of predicting it. People attended hundreds of his lectures on the subject of paradigms and its relevance to enterprise efforts. His illustrations helped shape the course of modern technology.

Often, I hear management use this word completely out of context, especially when conducting business meetings and during negotiations. Unwittingly, people lose the power inherent in their ability to shape paradigms by misuse of the word.

For our purposes here, let me preface my use of this word by qualifying its meaning. A paradigm illustrates a methodology or template for intellectual speculation followed by decisive action that results in a desired outcome. While this may border on abstractionism, we can solidify it by the examples of democracy and capitalism. We can see it in phonetic verses and in look/say methods of teaching reading and spelling.

Another example of successful/unsuccessful paradigms is in the instance of phonetic verses in look/say methods of teaching school children to decode words to read and write the language. I use this in the case of English and applied to the U.S. In the case of Japanese, which is part of my ancestry, the look/say method is a necessity for learning the Kanji or representational ideograms that are the foundation of the written Japanese language.

The Look/Say method does not teach children to decode words phonetically. Instead, it teaches them rote memorization of word patterns hoping that they will never have to go outside the narrow scheme of language structure passed on to them by well meaning, but unaware teachers that most likely were not taught this manner of reading and decoding themselves. The results have been pretty devastating to the U.S. public schools in general with an entire generation of students finding themselves suddenly grown and thrust into the competitive job market where Harvard grads and MIT science majors compete for the same job space. If anyone has any doubt as to the teaching methods used approximately 100 years ago, look at some of the well preserved, one room school houses in the mid-west US that are fortunate enough to contain examples of the kind of work students did. Ten thousand word essays in beautiful penmanship and correct grammar about trade laws and how they impacted the colonies. This was the requirement for graduating eighth grade English.

Products like "Hooked-on-Phonics", and "The Phonics Game" are highly successful due to the need for this paradigm of phonetic instruction and the ability to decode words and grasp their meaning through deductive and inductive reasoning. Skills absolutely essential in our technology based job market.

The word paradigm suggests a methodology or template for intellectual speculation followed by decisive action that results in a desired outcome. That being said, in the case of look/say methodologies, these achieved their initial desired outcomes by actually being conceived and brought to fruition by their very existence. Their inability, however, to adapt and survive are indicative of their status as unsuccessful paradigms.

Unsuccessful paradigms will attempt to repeat themselves but eventually will be converted to the criteria for successful ones or fade from existence. For example, how many times has a given religion tried to restrict knowledge to a given few. How many times has it been successful? Most religions achieve their greatest success when they finally open up and embrace the people they claim to serve. How many times has a decent closed technology failed? You can name them and so can I.

Successful paradigms tend to repeat themselves throughout history, (as in the case of democracy and capitalism). This being said, what is the previous example of open source methodologies in historical context? What means do we have as open source advocates to state with complete certainty that this method works long term and will be able to achieve the status of a successful paradigm? The answer may surprise many and hopefully will be of interest to all.

"Open Source" Warfare
The T'ang Dynasty in China a.d. 618 to 905 was distinguished by the founding of the Imperial Academy (the Hanlin), by the invention of printing, and as marking a golden age of literature. The first and only female ruler, Empress Wu led the provincial palace. It also produced some of the most accomplished warriors and sages in martial history.

Taoist and Buddhist sages and warriors fleeing the fall of the T'ang dynasty found their way to the Korean peninsula and Japan. They found welcome ears in Japan in particular with the families living in the surrounding Iga and Koga regions of Japan (modern Kanto/Tokyo and Kansai/Kyoto areas.) These families were vastly outnumbered, outraged and lacked the status in Japanese society to bare arms. In short, a member of the ruling elite, who sought to keep education restricted to a few select persons in society, who controlled the means of commerce and food supplies, took exception to the stories of accomplished warriors who had mastered these practices inherited from their Chinese instructors. Enlightened minds and spirits are no match for the cold steel of the ruling elite who waged an over 1500 year campaign to eradicate them from existence.

By subjecting themselves to the fire of battle, the martial techniques of these families became honed by the purest fire known. The fire of life or death combat. If a technique didn't work on the battlefield it died with the unfortunate soul who attempted it. These collections of successful techniques were then put to cypher scrolls and passed from one generation to the next as family and organizational methodology. These collections of families realized that by working together, they could form sophisticated intelligence networks, utilize unconventional/guerilla warfare tactics that their pompous attackers of the military regime were forbidden to use. The shared utilization of resources, a knowledge base that was accessible to these families, the ability to be adaptable and trap the enemies in their own binding codes of rigid, static behavior, allowing the adversary to believe their plans of knowledge restriction, intimidation techniques and domination were successful worked to their advantage. These families continued to thrive in Japan and eventually they found their way into Japanese commerce and trading concerns. The names of some of these families should sound familiar to many. Honda, Kawasaki, and Suzuki -- transportation, Hattori -- Telecommunications, Iida -- construction, Iwasaki (known as Mitsubishi).

Little known, is that many of these families did not like the way that post World War I Japan was going. An increasingly socialistic fervor that grew within Japanese military ranks made it difficult to make a free market work. The encroachments on the people's freedoms made it difficult to stay competitive with other industrial nations of the world. While many of the resultant industries which were created by these families helped in Japan's war effort during the Second World War, many were increasingly uncomfortable with the way things were progressing. While maintaining "wa" or outside harmony, many had actually run interference for the Allies. By making production output slow, mysteriously many train shipments were blown up by "Allied saboteurs" and manufacturing orders were lost. Misdirection was given to military planners with far flung ideas about the "Balloon Bomb" that would ride the pacific air streams and drop bombs on American soil. Many made it in but no casualties ever resulted. A farmer in Main reported cattle being scared by an explosive. All the while these families kept in contact, shared their knowledge base, and made plans to thrive in post world war Japan.

I've used the historical accounts of the Ninpo warriors to demonstrate the feasibility of flexible, open source methodologies that were the direct result of the successful paradigm brought about as a life and death need to survive by numerous collections of families. Feudal Japanese lords do not rule Japan from lofty castles in Kyoto or Tokyo but the people they attempted to oppress for so many years are the rulers of modern Japan and her economic future.

Question to Bob
Who is the communist now, Mr. Metcalfe?

I could go on, but I think a majority of people get my point and will probably start to blast me if I don't wrap this up soon.

In closing, successful paradigms don't repeat themselves. They work themselves until they cease to solve the problems that brought them about in the first place. The Communist Manifesto occurred during a time when power and authority over workers passed through family bloodlines. Today, 80% of the millionaires in the world are first generation wealthy. Child labor laws, unions, improved working conditions and profit-sharing plans stopped the hardship of laborers. The paradigm had no reason to exist.

Paradigm shifts begin as flexible in nature, reflect an innovative mindset and have shared knowledge sources as their base. Don't take my word for it, read history and find out for yourself to see this common thread. Successful paradigms have early adopters that eventually go mainstream. Successful paradigms -- like Open Source.

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
-- John Quincy Adams

Nicholas Donovan enjoys kernel tuning, martial arts, and spending time with his wife and children. When he is not programming in Ada95 or compiling a new kernel he enjoys a good beer with friends as well.