The Dictator’s Handbook is Self Falsifying

I’ve been reading “The Dictator’s Handbook” this week, a recommendation from CGP-Grey (youtube) and a damn good one. It’s a description of how people who want power, get power and how they keep it once they have it. I won’t go into the nitty gritty, but suffice to say that it has a lot of good things to say about murdering people to get what you want.

The idea I want to explore in this blog post is using understanding, and “Life the Universe and Everything”. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of listening to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; in the story we are told:

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another theory mentioned, which states that this has already happened.

This is why in the story the answer to the question of Life the Universe and Everything is “42”, but that the question itself was unknown. Knowing both question and answer would cause the above self destruction/recreation and it’s imperative that the characters never find out both.

The nature of understanding in that universe is thus that it is not just non-understandable, but deliberately evasive. The rules of the game will change as soon as you know the rules of the game. Not in some god like way of keeping you in the dark deliberately, as if the universe had agency, but because somehow what you know is tied to how things work.

So how does this relate to Dictators?

Well the book is so good at explaining the mechanics of the interpersonal relationships in ruling a country or business that it may change the behaviour of people who have read the book. It may change their behaviour enough to actually make the book’s premise false. Not that it’s false when you haven’t read the book, only that it’s false when you have.

But, this make one giant Saturn sized assumption. That it is possible to change how you act in a certain circumstance given this knowledge. If it’s not changeable, then knowing it doesn’t matter and no amount of self-help or ingenious insights into the human condition will change our society. But the book’s preface is that knowing the rules that rulers rule by can help improve society, so it expects behaviour to be changeable and if is then someone somewhere will figure out how to exploit this new behaviour.

Once you have the sort of second order exploit, you get a very complicated dance between people who understand, people who do not understand and people who want to exploit either group.

Hence the mechanism described in the book will “instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable”. Thanks Douglas Adams.

To drive this idea a bit further. This in my mind creates two quantifiably different types of truth. That which is understandable but unchangeable is solid or foundational truth. Like Mathematics, knowing 2 + 2 = 5 and why doesn’t allow you to change it’s truthfulness. Then there is mutable truth, where knowing how and why something is true allows you to manipulate it into falsity. This is especially true in biological and social sciences where adversarial mechanisms are in constant flux.

What do you think?

Talking to Friends about things

I have a family who aren’t religious. Some of them might go to church, and if they do, they’ve never mentioned it. Others are spiritual, in that they search for ways to understand the world and try to come to grips with everything through a non-academic social philosophy. This is important for most people, but I think especially important to the poor and working class who quite often see their lives twisted capriciously by unknown forces.

On the other hand, I’m a skeptic. A rationalist who has done a bit of philosophical reading (enough to be embarrassing at least). When I was younger I was much more hard line about my rationalism, anti-god, anti-fairy, anti-mystical thinking. I was righteous as only a neerdy teenager with a degree in wikipedia can be. And it did put a strain on my relationships with family. Although to be honest, most of my family at pretty kind to all sorts of odd thinking and my rationalism didn’t seem mad or anything, just one of many colours available in the pallet of local family philosophies.

As I’ve aged and consumed more understanding about skeptical thinking and pro-social philosophy; the two have often been at an interesting contention. How to be rational enough not to get taken in by gimmicks and snake oil, but social enough not to sneer and demean friends and family who have taken to believe in those things.

Over the years I’ve learned that there is an important factor about humans that is important to understand… we take shortcuts. A lot of them. When I say I believe in science, science based policy or health care, or that I trust the data, this is a shortcut. I haven’t gone into all the data, I haven’t read the papers and done due diligence. I’ve trusted that the network of trust I have between the people involved and the ideas we share is enough that my modest reading with my small contributions in critique is enough to be far more confident than my personal data has any right to make me.

A peer group with a shared set of ideas that embellish trust. That sounds like a tribe, a community of people who have created a in-group. And being part of that in-group makes me feel things, positive things when we socialise and anger when I feel it’s threatened.

But peer in-groups are exactly what my ginseng drinking family and friends have too. Just like me, they take short cuts too. There’s a trust there between the people involved and the understand about how the world works. I might claim that it’s moving away from what is true to what is not true, but that won’t change the social dynamics. And just like me, they will feel good when their ideas are verified and angry when those ideas (or people) are threatened.

So how is it even possible to challenge notion when almost anything you say will result in either anger, frustration or a heavy rolling of eyes? I think it is possible, but only if one focuses on two specific points.

Firstly, the social aspect is important. The closer you are to someone, both physically and kinly, the better the chance is that your reasoning will be seen as helpful and not destructive. Having constructive conversations that aren’t about ourselves being verified as right, but about breaking the ideas down as a social activity between friends and then seeing what results are built back up, can I think go a long way to preserving friendships despite radically different views.

The second is to be stateless. By which I mean, you can’t go riding into battle all kitted out in skeptical pennant banners flying. Your ideas are yours and you shouldn’t stand behind a peer group while trying to discuss a contrary idea. That just turns it into a fight between your self-assigned clans. Which you can’t win, because your tribal leaders aren’t here to make peace or barter terms and you aint no hero ready to let your friendship fall on the sword of truth.

Besides, no one ever changed their mind because someone shouted the truth at them.

What do you think? How do you talk to people with drastically different perspectives?

Rebuttal: Crash Course Philosophy “Determinism vs Free Will”

This subject gets my imaginary goat every time I see or read it. It’s a subject that is presented to me as an iron-clad “this is how the world is” sort of fact and I just don’t see philosophy being that cut and dry.

The homunculus free will idea is surely dead and there is no separate non-physical part of us that’s directing our choices. This idea of a super-natural spirit injecting choice into our heads from outside the universe is the old free will idea that is very much defeated by the above video.

But, at the same time, the above argument about determinism requires that we are looking at the system of a person from /the outside/ perspective. Every time proof is presented, it argues that you can’t have free will because the system that makes you is deterministic. This sort of perspective fine if you’re doing science and need a non-subjective perspective to sort out what is objectively true; but this is philosophy and we don’t need to stick to those kinds of rules here.

From the subjective perspective we are physical beings with stored data in our heads. It is ours, we own it. Just like we own the bodies we control. Actually more than own, we incorporate it, we are it. So when the data in our heads “makes” us choose a thing, that data is /us/ making that choice. Even if the data is mixed with data from our sense of smell rendering a tasty oatmeal breakfast in our attention one morning.

The only way we subjectively wouldn’t have free will is if the data that causes the choice never becomes incorporated into the self and the choice is thus forced upon us from the outside. Information in this rebuttal is truly a thing of self and non-self. Information you are, and information you are not. And it promotes the brain further in importance as it stores a great deal of self referential information and both a sense of self and the conscious thought process.

This is fundamentally different from inanimate objects like balls rolling down hills, because they don’t have any information about their trajectory, it only becomes information when we measure it and incorporate it. That’s why we can predict where a ball will go and the ball can not predict where itself will go.

We can pick a harder problem for ourselves though. Imagine your body’s immune system; it’s a bag of information too. It “knows” about different threats and it chooses to fight things based on that information. It’s very deterministic, you can make vaccines to prompt it and prod it in various ways. But at a fundamental level, it is /you/. We talk about our bodies as if they are creatures we look after or meat machines we drive around in. But I think this way of talking obscures the deeper truth that when our bodies fight infection, it is we who are fighting that infection. How it chose to fight is not a matter for our conscious mind, there was no introspection on the data and the systems are simple when compared to the brain at least. But my argument requires that you have to be choosing to fight that infection, the choice is somewhat out of the control of one part of you, but not all of you. The cleaving of self into conscious self and “the rest” would need to be a mistake in order for this rebuttal to be effective and you must take ownership of all of you.

The definition of self gets to a deeper point I like to make about our own extent. I think we want to imagine freedom to mean that we are capable of separating ourselves from the universe, so we’re disappointed when we find ourselves inseparable from it. But just because we’re a mutable constituent of the deterministic universe doesn’t mean that we aren’t owners of that piece of the universe determining it’s path, our view of ourselves must take into account the subjective ownership, the self conjuring separation we make of ourselves from the universe that does create freedom within the determined system. Magic.

We’re always going to need to understand things around us in order to understand ourselves and why we make the choices we do. But I think it’s a mistake to drive so far to the inanimate automaton perspective that we choose to stop enjoying the universe’s wonderful roller-coaster ride that is life.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below and my thanks to Hank Green and the team at Crash Course for delivering such good content for the mind.

What is Art? is code Art?

The musings of today’s Thought for Today on BBc Radio Four are often interesting perspectives that drive at something both personal and social. Today’s subject was the concept of modern art, it’s valuation and the way in which artists invest in the art while knowing little about it.

This got me thinking about code. You see code is something that requires an imense amount of creative thinking. Not just problem solving and puzzle mastery; but down right honest to god design and humble craftsmanship to boot. A piece of code must be more than just functional for the user, it must be maintainable in an ever changing world.

This requires that the code be readable and possibly even attractive to potential maintainers as a learning exercise. The best code is obvious where is can be and smartly presented where it needs to be clever. It must deliver it’s cleverness carefully and in reasonable chunks, much like a classical lesson in latin or a course of antibiotics. The code needs to cozy up to the reader and be as familiar with it’s patterns, syntax choices and variable naming conventions as a well worn pair of slippers.

Start using single letter names, odd abbreviations or inventing undocumented artifice and you’ll lose the audience. You’ll alienate the future from your comfortable seat in the past with a smug sense of converse hindsight. The arrogant developer assumes all things are known in the future and all maintainers are themselves or someone very much like themselves. And the trouble with people is, no matter how many you know, there’s always one strange outliers you’ve never met and one day they’ll be looking at your code thinking to themselves that you must have been enjoying your legal high quite a lot on the day you wrote /this/.

So what is art and how does it fit into this whole “understandable code” thought?

I’m not going to pretend there’s not seven billion ways to define art. But I believe art to be “the intentional communication through emotional language”. This means I consider stand up comics to be artists, I consider Fox news to be an arts show and music like rap to be one of the most powerful forms of art around today. But art can be bad like Fox, art can be good like Banksy and that doesn’t detract from it’s medium.

Art can be a failure when it fails to deliver the intended emotions like most modern visual art (to the general population anyway). We can feel disappointed in politicians for failing to be concise and factual, while at the same time marveling at their artistry for using their home spun bull shit to evoke the emotions they want in their audience. It’s wonderfully successful art, and a terrible education for the public. Not that art needs to be true, or that it needs to not be true of course.

Code in this narrowed definition of art, can be art. Sure as above we really want code to be artful as in crafted well; but we also could have code that intends to and successfully delivers an emotion. It has two ways. The usual way is that the code runs a game or some other intended visual art say. It’s the mechanism by which art is delivered and the code in there is part of the whole art.

I remember the radio head “Big Ideas” video that uses a specrum and hard disk array. That delivers art through it’s code is some interesting ways.

But I think most interesting to developers is how their emotions can be engaged by just reading code and repositories. I think source code poetry is a pretty well established way of making art out of code and I really enjoy reading some of it and running it. There are code flowers and other clever mechanisms that evoke wonder and joy as they are compiled and run.

But what of every day code. I think all our code evokes some emotion in those that have to read it and fix it. Mostly this is frustration and annoyance that you didn’t write it in a way more comforting to the reader. But there’s got to be scope here for making functional code that’s beautiful, interesting, passionate, lovely, hateful or just plain fun.

And not just for the user.

What do you think? Can your code be art?

What is my Work Ethic?

In response to this post about getting a job after graduating.

I think the core of finding a job and being motivated to do it is: How are you going to serve the people around you? At the end of the day society isn’t about what you can get out of it, but what possible super-power do you have which could effect the people around you in a positive way. Is that art? Is that cleaning? Thinking? Programming? I find that in the modern society too much emphasis is put on person gain, noble voluntarism or doing what’s enjoyable. The problem with these perspectives is that the focus is never on the individuals being served by the work and this blog post is a defence of direct service to others needs and having that be a mark of a successful career.

Doing a Thing

Sometimes something just needs doing. I think if you are in a strong community, you can sense when there’s pent up demand. I ran a campaign to raise funds to get aluminium computer case badges printed and this was before Kickstarter existed. I handled $4k and 20k case badges and they were sent around the world and I had an enormously positive experience serving the people who really wanted Ubuntu case badges. I was transparent about the money. I put the leg work into my relationship with the manufacturer and published news as soon as I had it. I published the designs so everyone knew what they were getting and in the end I had a thousand positive recipients and one negative one because they had been mangled in the post (sorry!) and I used my basic talents using a graphics package to put together something acceptable for users. Anyone could have done this, but to act is to be bold sometimes.

The side effects were more interesting. I asked people for ‘at cost’ payments which despite being based on estimates and the shipping costs wasn’t certain. People were generous and they almost always sent more than asked or needed, often with a note saying “keep the rest”. I didn’t feel bad about this, I think because I was honest with the costs and they were being served genuinely. The other effect was that we introduced the manufacturer to the idea of “open source” by licensing the designs under CC-BY-SA. I encouraged other groups or companies to use the designs to make their own. There are now many, many different aluminium case badges for different Linux distribution and I see them at conferences all the time. I feel good about this. Because imagine all the Fedora, Debian and Mint users who get something cool and the organisers who got a pattern to follow and a manufacturer to talk to. In a way I didn’t just serve people directly with the pre-sales, but also incidentally people through positive open source licensing and I can feel good about both.

Validity of Competence

But then, don’t I just feel good about it because I got praise for it? Well that’s true, I feel good when I get praise. But I think praise is more than just the warm fuzzies. It’s an important reminder to us that our work matters, that we’re still good at it and of the kinds of people who we have served.

One Harvard school gives awards to people who do good work in the anti-alarm professions. You know, those jobs where if the work is done well then no one even notices. But if something goes wrong the alarm bells ring loud. The facilities team, the system admins, the people who order those weird coffee machine cartridges. And that’s a really good thing to do, because it reminds those workers that their job is important and effects probably everyone else in some small way as well as for everyone to thank them once in a while. That feedback from server to served and served to server is the validity of competent altruism. I say it’s altruistic because only thinking about one’s self will not make you great at serving others.

There is a cross-walk near where I live where the snow had been repeatedly ploughed into the pavement one and a half meters high and had frozen solid with thaw. People walking to the train station would have to climb this mountain of snow to cross a very busy road. What if they had kids, or groceries or a bad leg? The night I thought about those people I got the ice breaking tools and shovel and cleared the whole corner. The next day as people shuffled to work, they probably didn’t notice their commute was a little better than before and had no way of knowing if it was the city or not. But I certainly reminded myself of all these slightly less miserable faces as I pounded away at the ice with the sweat pouring off me and the echoes of each thwack, crunch late at night for two hours.


I hear about “work ethic” a lot, and it’s usually about “working hard to get on in life”. But anyone successful knows that there’s more to a good work ethic and I believe the largest missing piece is that is “one must work hard for other people, for them and not what one may want to do for them“.

There are communities in the Free and Open Source world who have chosen to work hard at imposing what’s good on their users. That’s a risky service ethic, a sort of pre-emptive competent guess. If your community has set up no way for your guess to fail or you mishandle the push back from your users then you can’t claim to have a good service ethic or to have actually served well. So how can these workers and their work be tied to the people they serve so that it heads in the right direction for the served rather than for the server?

I know that people will pay for good service. there’s no reason to slave away as a volunteer if your work is genuinely in service to others. Caveat, except for people who have nothing, but then grants, government programs, charities can help fill that hole. For my fellow Free Software developers, they do good work and yet many are failing to make the link between the work they do and the people they serve. Thus making it harder for them than it needs to be to earn a living from writing Free Software.

Being Good at what you Like

One part I’ve not talked about is getting a job that you like doing. This is a tricky one because being good at something makes you more likely to enjoy doing it. And Enjoying doing something makes you more likely to do it and thus overcome failures faster and become good at it. I say do what you are good at and like doing that gives the most benefit to others. It’s not as pithy a personal moto though.

A friend of mine who works in mental health once turned a job down for more money. Not just because it would mean serving people who really didn’t need the help, but mainly because being good at helping a certain kind of person with certain kinds of harsh needs is important work. Being good at this job wouldn’t mean there would be lots of recognition from patience, but it would mean truly serving and making a difference to those individuals. And it’s better to have the job one is good at making a difference than the job that could make a difference if only you were good at it or the job that makes no damn difference at all.

And serving individuals I think offers the best perspective on one’s own work. It motivates better than saving the world and feels more accomplished than earning stacks of cash. When one can see the good work well done and be validated for it there is no reason not to go to work every day and earn a living doing it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from me after a year of no blog post. Please leave your comments below as I love hearing from people.

Philosophy: Ubuntu and Trisquel

I wrote this in response to a concern.

The Free Software debate is a long one. There is a principle amongst both developers who want to serve users honestly and users who have been treated badly in the past, that we needed a way of identifying the rights and privileges that any user of software ort to have as a matter of the normal set of freedoms we each have in any other area of life.

Because of computers and software are new to humanity, it’s taken us forty years to go from anarchistic freedom to over-controlled monopolies to a more open market with legal frameworks. Free Software (and the FSF) were critical is finding out what was needed and filling in all the legal and philosophical foundations which would move us, not backwards towards anarchism, but forwards towards freedom with fairness.

Linux and many other software projects owe the FSF, and the philosophies, a great deal. These projects require the structures and foundations laid down by the ideas and principles of people who didn’t think it was good enough to be just practical for ones own benefit.

We’ve been doing a delicate dance for many years trying to move the established order over to this new system; trying to make exceptions, bend the rules and fitting the pieces of the puzzle together by hook and crook. Trying to make sure that Free Software is Free, useful and economical. This we hope, will bring more interest, more developers and more stability.

New users misunderstand why we would put non-free pieces into our systems. Some think that practicality is the only function and that social responsibility is simply not needed. I think differently. We keep track of all the non-free pieces that we need for functionality, but work hard to replace them all the time. This is not fundamentalism, it’s simply that this software is disrespectful. It isn’t a civil member of the software world and despite having to use it to make computers work, we don’t invite it round for tea and support it’s campaign to be elected as the normal method of software production.

But once in, it’s hard to remember why we should spend any time replacing it or even if any work needs doing at all. Projects like Trisquel honour the Ubuntu community by showing us directly what work we need to still do in order to civilize the last few savage packages and drivers. They are our brother who’s uncompromising ideology and courageous functional sacrifice is helpful to our own progression. Even if we, ourselves need to balance both the need for Freedom and functionality.

And surprisingly to some, conversely it’s important to note how important a practical Ubuntu is to the FSF and projects like Trisquel. It’s just too easy to exclude users with difficult hardware or complex needs reducing the size of the user community as it is to thoughtlessly add proprietary components into the system. We offer the FSF a perspective on overcoming user centric problems and a push towards inviting ever more practical people into becoming just a little more concerned with Free Software without having to throw their computer away first.

The very difficult path is not between two hard choices, but between two easy ones.

Muse on Ubuntu TV and renewed interest in Ubuntu

The very visual metaphor that is embodied by the chasm is meant to explain the gap between the customers you do have and getting your product used by everyone. You can see some good explanations here of what it is.

Over the years in the Ubuntu community I’ve grown to dislike this particular metaphor. Not just because we cant seem to learn anything useful from it to enable our community to succeed, but also because its a very weird way to look at the problem. The problem is not number of users or products sold per year, but how your ideas are spread through the population by other people.

For example if we were to think of the chasm as just about getting the majority of people to use your product, then we can consider Apple to have failed to cross the chasm in their desktop computer market. But if you change the concept of success to “people think and talk about” my product then apple is wildly successful. Even the legions of windows users aspire to and understand ownership of an Apple computer. Many of these people will have never used a Apple computer in their lives but will actually change
their way of thinking about desktop computers in order to incorporate Macs into that world view.

So what is the role of advertising? Well that depends on how good the advertising is by how much of an effect advertising has on the population. So if you produce a perfect advert, it can only have a certain effect on the people who see it and then you have to run it a lot or hope those that saw the advert will pass on the ideas your trying to communicate. Since adverts are known for being fairly weak forms of idea transmission you would have to run a lot of adverts for a long period of time to basically force the population to adopt a new set of ideas. This is also known as “throwing money at the problem” since you don’t have to do much leg work with your message in order to get it out there.

What is a strong form of idea transmission is word of mouth. This is easy you might think, anyone who uses your product would be naturally inclined to tell their friends about it! Ah, just because a set of ideas find a home doesn’t mean they’ll find a good way of spreading. You will get a set of customers who enjoy using your product, but no one outside of that group will really know about it. This forms them chasm in the metaphor mentioned above. Its created by a reluctance of your users to communicate your ideas
to the people they know.

As an example i present to you RedHat. Way back before Ubuntu, it was very uncool to run a server with linux, only really technical people did so and usually not with the knowledge of their bosses. Then a company comes along and spreads the idea that Linux can be brilliant on the server, they’ve done something to it or cast a spell of invincibility or something. But even if Linux was exactly the same technically, it was now completely different and new in the eyes of many more people.

The technical users started telling their bosses, other professionals, the word got out not because the technology changed, but because the message was sent with a renewed vitality and conviction that it was new, improved, important and could save you a bag of money to boot.

And that particular war drum has been beating ever since.

Then comes Ubuntu many years later. The same thing happens in fact, Ubuntu creates hope and a renewed vitality for spreading the message. “hey did you know you could run Ubuntu on your desktop computer?” it became cool to tell your friends you used Ubuntu, that maybe they should give it a try or let you
give them a try with a helping hand. Ubuntu wasn’t massively better that Mandrake, Mandriva or SuSE, it was just getting out a clearer and more easily spread message.

Spreading the meme over the chasm

What we’ve done is incredible. Many more people run a Free Desktop now than in 2004. But the message got old over the years, the faith and the vitality has waned and public relations issues have made the message of spreading Ubuntu to everyone you know less appealing and seem more risky.

Nothings really changed. Ubuntu is really getting better and better as a technology, but its message, its “meme spreading” capabilities aren’t what they used to be. New products like Ubuntu TV and Ubuntu phones are interesting and renew some of the flagging faith and in a bring back the old religion in seeing a Free and Open Source platform flourish somewhere.

We secularists tend to think of religion and faith as nasty, dirty emotionally charged system and we should focus instead on proving with data that we are the best and only supporting Ubuntu if it really is the best. But that’s not how humans work, we’re far more emotional and biased and working with that is what produces this chasm effect in the market; if you’re before the chasm then the bias is working against you, if you’re over the chasm then the bias is working for you.

We want to take on the world, and it can be done. Ubuntu can be installed on every computer within a mile of
where you live, that there is nothing it cant do without a bit of persistence and faith that Ubuntu can work. Each and every member of the community is a mass of human interaction; chance after chance to spread our ideas and get the message out there that “you may not use Ubuntu, but think of Ubuntu when you think of computer desktops”.

What about Fixed Morality?

Welcome reader to another “impossible to prove conjecture Tuesday”. Today I’ll be looking at the grievously problematic notions of modern morality.

The Christian church; that would be the catholic one, not the Orthodox, Church of England or any of the Eastern Churches. They believe that morality comes from God and we learn about his morality through his words which are documented in the Bible. Everything from thou shall not kill (Deuteronomy 5:17) to no buggery (Timothy 1:10). There is a golden rule theme running through the Bible’s moral thinking which is especially evident in the new testament.

But ultimately the important thing about the authority of the Bible and God for Christians is that the morality is fixed. It’s not relative to the times you live or person you happen to be interacting with, nor relative to your position in society or attributes therein. It’s something that applies to everyone and it brings Christians a sense of stability.

But I am not a Christian, to me the Bible is a 1,500 year old unaccountable narrative of man’s accent from chaos and into a more ordered society. So I can not use it as an anchor to say what should be moral and what be immoral. But I can use it as a set of good ideas, thinking which was done long before I was born which I can incorporate.

As the modern world progresses and we unshackle ourselves from old religious dogma, there is a tendency to think that everything is relative, even morality. Somehow morality itself is in doubt if it’s possible to show situations where it would be considered the other way about. The best example is murder in self defence, by accident or deliberate? with a weapon or without? all these complicating factors which would suggest the morality is simply a weakened with complexities.

But, that’s over thinking things. Murder is immoral because you intend to do harm to someone else, murdering yourself isn’t immoral in itself because you’re doing yourself harm (however it can be said that you are harming others, especially if you don’t tell them or don’t have their support). As the buda would say: killing things for a reason doesn’t remove the fundamental wrongful truth, it just provides motivation.

So my conjecture today is: The fundamental property of morality is causing harm to other people. The most basic tool to avoid causing harm is the golden rule philosophy. The best way to deal with causing harm is to find ways to undo or make up for what you’ve done and hope for understanding and forgiveness from others.

What are your thoughts?

Plans for Oneiric: Playing with Brains

While I was at LGM I got into an interesting discussion about communities and how much they are like biological organisms. When the organism is doing well and all the parts are working on their own little jobs, the rest of the organism doesn’t have to pay much attention. But if something goes wrong then all sorts of attention is paid to the damage/infection.

The conjecture I tested this morning was that “negative posts in a community will attract more comments and longer comments than positive posts” this in essence was a critical look at weather it’s hard work to praise but easy to complain on a unit level. So, apologies to all my test subjects below, I turned a fairly positive post into a fairly negative post to see what would happen.

Conclusion: There was a strong community reaction to the negativity, taking data from a number of older positive posts I’m able to confirm that communities do act like complex organisms focusing on damage.

My post is this: I had a good time at LGM and though I missed UDS in Budapest last week, I have some plans of my own for Oneiric:

  • I’m running a community Center for Boston Housing Authority (ubuntu 10.10)
  • I’ve got a community greeter login project to allow users to register at login.
  • A new deviantArt upload library using their new stash API (OAuth 2.0 draft 10).
  • Some new plugins using said library for inkscape, gimp and nautilus.
  • Edubuntu wallpaper refinement for the next release.
  • More free culture artwork and posters promoting use of creative tools.
  • Getting more involved with Inkscape bug fixing (already fixed one bug).
  • Worrying about the release of baby 1.0 in October, new father syndrome.

Apologies again for playing with your collective. Thanks for posting comments 🙂

What to do about Moral Uncertainty

We human beings can be wrong; in fact we’re more likely to be wrong than right because we do not have the ability to know everything. The problems we have with this limited knowledge is that it leads us to think we’re mostly right almost all of the time. (go watch the video linked, it’s really good)

And as Kathryn explains in the video above, even when we’re wrong, it feels just like we are right until we have the realisation of being wrong and then the shame and emotional trauma begins… So what to do with morality? That most important of personal philosophies that helps us decide how to treat our fellow human beings. The very ether that bases interaction and decider of trust and reciprocation?

I attempt to accept the fallibility of the data I have available. I do my best with what I know so far and attempt in every way to be defensive about causing harm. This defensive stance requires that I trust a set of moral beliefs which I may not be able to thoroughly prove before I act on them.

For example I support Free Software. For me it’s a moral choice, to deny users ownership is morally bankrupt in my current world view. Of course I could be wrong; it may be that denying users ownership doesn’t actually harm them in any significant way. At which point my assumptions about the moral vanguard of Free Software would in and of itself be wrong and wasteful.

I have some data to guide me in making my decision though, it’s not all guesswork. Personally experiences have shaped how I see code, my socialist roots teach me that the working-class should politically resist further rents and propriety, whether from housing, tools or software. My views on liberty push me towards any system that breaks down large centralised organisation and authoritisation and towards distributism.

With those feelings I can make my conclusions, but of course these are not the kind of experiences that most people have to guide them. So what do I conclude? If you’ve watched the video you should see that assuming other people who come to different conclusions are ignorant, stupid or malevolent isn’t quite the best way to approach interaction with other human beings.

So talking more about Free and Open Source with most people really allows me to challenge my own conclusions as much s I try and educate and help other people further their understanding.

Your thoughts?