Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bruce Sterling on the future.
Why isn’t it grand? Why isn’t it as fantastically grand as the spectrum of all possibility? Well, why isn’t today grand? Why didn’t we wake up this morning in direct confrontation with the entirety of past and future? The present day is the only day we’re ever given.

Sterling's post is also an indirect explanation of what happened to the Cyberpunk writers - their grand visions of a cyber-future became all too real, and hence banal, so they were reduced to writing about the present (William Gibson), the past (Neal Stephenson), or the real future (Sterling).

(h/t to O'Reilly Radar).

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Shoal Creek Crossing
It finally rained after almost a month, so I took a walk in the early evening. I walked down to Shoal Creek Boulevard and decided to cross over just to see if there was any water in the creek. As I came up to the 38th Street Bridge, I saw that a trail led down from the sidewalk under the bridge - as many times as I've gone by there, I had never noticed it. So I followed the trail, which went under the bridge. On the other side of 38th Street, there is a beautiful trail that crosses over the creek at several points. There are signs that mark early settler's homes and dinosaur fossils and an old concrete bridge next to the street bridge on 34th Street that I didn't know existed. The picture shows one of the crossing points past 34th Street, right near an old pavilion.

The trail continues all the way down to Town Lake. I can't wait to take a longer walk once the weather is cooler. It's always one of life's unexpected pleasures to discover something in your backyard that you didn't know existed. But all too often the reason you discover these things is because you forget to look - you fall into workaday patterns and so much of what exists around you becomes invisible, simply because you forget to look.

I need to start looking more.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Rediscovering George Harrison

I heard "Give Me Love" on KGSR a few days ago and haven't been able to get it out of my head since:
Give me love
Give me love
Give me peace on earth
Give me light
Give me life
Keep me free from hurt
Give me hope
Help me cope
with this heavy load
Trying to touch and reach you
with heart and soul

And I hadn't heard this in years. For all my family and friends:
What I feel, I can't say
But my love is there for you anytime of day
But if it's not love that you need
Then I'll try my best to make everything succeed

Tell me, what is my life without your love?
Tell me, who am I without you, by my side?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Lucera, and trying to change my life
I started a new blog ( for an open-source product I'm trying to create. I originally posted this on that blog, then decided it was too personal so I moved it here

I love being a software developer. My idea of a good time is still just sitting down and writing some code that works and solves a problem. But after 20+ years of doing this, I'm very tired of working for other people in the constraints of some corporate environment (and that includes the start-ups that I've been part of). I want to start working for me, doing what I really want to do, and doing it in a way that suits me. I want my work to improve my life, not diminish it.

A common, even cliched complaint, no?

But I've reached a point where I'm willing to do whatever it takes to reach this goal. Here's what I really want:
  • Work for myself or with/for friends who I respect.
  • Work at home whenever I want. Ideally, this is the main place I work. Any other place I work has to allow dogs.
  • Have the freedom to work anywhere else in the world where I can get an internet connection.
  • Work hard, but when I want. I want a _lot_ more vacation.
I want all that not just for work, but because it ties to a lot of personal goals I have:
  • I want to simplify my life. There's a lot of things that I don't want or need anymore.
  • I want to be a lot closer to my family, especially my parents as they get older.
  • I want to travel a lot more and see a lot more.
  • I don't want to spend summers in Texas any more, and I'd like to go back to my Minnesota-Wisconsin roots (at least for part of the year).
I'm perfectly happy to trade salary for freedom. Obviously, I need to pay all my bills, and I'm not willing to take any financial risks that jeopardize my future or my relationships with the people that I care about. But I think I can achieve my goals without taking unnecessary risks and be perfectly happy with less money and more freedom.

Lucera may or may not be one way to achieve this. I'm open to any other path that takes me to where I want to be.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I'm reading This New Ocean by William E. Burrows, the story of the space race between the US and the Soviet Union and came across this gem:
The father of the space suit, the Calvin Klein of astronautics, was undoubtedly Russell Colley, a B.F. Goodrich engineer and frustrated women's fashion designer...Colley invented a rubber pressure suit and an aluminum helmet for Wiley Post, a one-eyed daredevil who flew his Lockheed Vega, Winnie Mae, to a record 55,000 feet in 1934. Colley stitched the suit together on his wife's sewing machine while Post passed the time teaching their ten-year-old daughter, Barbara, to shoot craps. The metallic cloth and tin-can shaped helmet, complete with an off-center viewing window to accomodate Post's good eye, made him look like he belonged on the set of a Saturday morning sci-fi movie serial. In fact, the celebrated aviator reported that a bystander, seeing him in the eerie getup as he walked away from an emergency landing, took him for a Martian and nearly fainted from fright.

And a little later, this...
It was the combination of artistic imagination and technical expertise, to take only one example, that gave Colley the idea of adapting the movement of a tomato worm to solve a flexibility problem in a space suit. Yet even Russell Colley and his colleagues had one notorious lapse...the space suit designers forgot to provide [Alan] Shepard and the other astronauts with a waste relief system.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend the book - it's almost 700 pages long and is still so broad that it glosses over lots of interesting stories - but every so often the author's droll humour, as above, pokes through the drier facts of US-USSR competition and each country's bureaucratic infighting.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The difference between Neo-Cons and the Kremlin
The former are stupid and dangerous, the latter are clever and dangerous...

I'm commenting on this because I'm watching a faux-objective point-counterpoint exchange on PBS's News Hour between neo-con Fred Kagan and some token liberal about the crisis in Georgia. Kagan's record of stupidly belligerent ignorance posing as tough-guy realism would, in a better world, disbar him from the ranks of public commentary. But once you're a member of the club, you stay - no matter how wrong or clueless you are.

Unless, of course, you opposed the war in Iraq in 2002 or 2003. Then you're persona non grata on the public airwaves. Any other deviations from the Beltway consensus will be dealt with in the same way.

And while we're on that subject, let me just point out that the News Hour is really no different from the other network news - except that they're a half hour longer. Just because they're a little less superficial doesn't make them substantively better. They're just presenting a kindler, gentler version of said Beltway consensus. And that consensus, by its very nature, favors a parochial, status-quo, conservative view of the world. So what you're getting isn't news in the sense that what is being presented is designed to inform you about what's really going on in the world. Instead, it's a narrative that picks and chooses from current events in a way designed to tacitly reinforce an already agreed-upon worldview. Whether you choose to consider this as mythology or propaganda is a matter of personal taste. But it's not news.

Back to the real world...

There's no doubt Russia has been on a path to reestablish their traditional borders and spheres of influence for some time now - from the cyber-attacks on Estonia to the energy exortion of the Ukraine and now to the de facto occupation of Georgia. But the Bush administration's combination of total inattention with occasional bouts of feckless belligerence is probably the worst possible way to deal with Russia's ambitions. Urging Georgia to poke the bear with a sharp stick has obviously backfired badly. And that's par for the course with these guys - there's no situation that they can't make worse.

And they've still got 5 more months - plenty of time to really screw up again. But don't count on learning about it on the news until after it's already happened.

Monday, March 17, 2008

In Memoriam: Rufus ? - March 15, 2008

He came to us on a beautiful day in fall and left us on a beautiful day in spring, and every day in between was a gift. I only wish there had been more.
He’d been dumped at Town Lake Animal Center in a horrible state - filthy, with matted yellowed fur, a serious skin infection, hookworms, whipworms, a disconnection from people, and an aggressive attitude towards other male dogs. Fortunately, someone called GPA/CT right away instead of just treating him like another unwanted stray. Fortunately, some of the folks at GPA decided they had to take him even though he was not a former racer (no tattoos) and may have not been 100% greyhound. We heard rumours that he caused quite a controversy because of this and because he was considered unadoptable. But they did take him in and he got the care and treatment he needed to cure his physical ailments. Fortunately, two experienced trainers did a pro bono evaluation and decided he was shy and scared, not mean and aggressive. Fortunately, Kristen and the other wonderful folks at Dog Camp took him in and gave him free boarding and lots of love for 10 months. As a result, the real Rufus emerged as he became more socialized - a sweet, loving hound with a shy disposition. Fortunately, the folks at GPA kept working to find him a home even as time at this sanctuary was running out.
If anyone involved in rescuing Rufus ever reads this, thank you. I don’t have the words to express the deep and profound gratitude we will always feel for everything you did for him. Without you, he would have never become part of our lives and for that we will always be grateful.
I don’t believe in predestination, but I do believe that some things happen for a reason and aren’t just happenstance or random accidents. That’s why Barbara Clark put his leash in one of my hands and a bag of hot dog pieces in the other when we went to the Greyhound reunion in Zilker Park one September afternoon. That’s why he and Sophie - our then 8-year-old alpha-plus warrior queen - sniffed, rubbed noses, and decided they’d get along without any fuss.
I fell in love immediately, even though I didn’t admit it to myself. But I kept thinking about him for the next few weeks, and then Pam Cook sent out a message late in October that he needed a foster home. We decided we would take him in as a foster and think about adopting him if things worked out well. Pam picked him up from Dog Camp and met us at Zachary Scott theater, near where we lived at the time. Without a moment’s hesitation, he jumped in the back seat of my car and settled down like he’d done it every day of his life. When we got home, we put his bed in the living room and he settled down like he’d always lived there.
The next day, Sara called Pam to let her know that we’d be adopting him, and that was that. He was meant to be with us, and we were meant to be with him.
In the next few days, he discovered the furniture. First, there was the living room chair - comfy, but a little small. Then the couch - perfect for stretching out on. Finally, the king-size  bed - a good jump up, but the softest thing he’d ever found.  And he discovered a whole new world of treats. And he discovered that he loved Sara more than anything else in the world, and that she felt the same way about him.
He was home. There was a greenbelt to walk on, a stream to dip his paws in, cats next door to bark at, and an armadillo to chase under the shed in the back yard. A year passed, we moved to a new house, and he had a new neighborhood to explore.
Of course, you can never leave the past completely behind. He still reacted aggressively to cats and other male dogs (egged on by Sophie, who never met a non-grey she didn’t want to challenge). Certain things terrified him - especially pre-adolescent boys, small yappy dogs, and loud garbage trucks. Occasionally, something would trigger a panic attack - usually the garbage truck or a group of people. I learned to recognize when one of these was coming on and would just hold him until he calmed down. 
We speculated about his past, wondered if and how long he’d been a stray, felt he’d been abused, and guessed at his age. He probably came from the illegal racing that goes on east of Austin and had been thrown away when we he was no longer useful. Maybe somebody adopted him and treated him badly, or maybe he ran away and was a stray until someone caught him and dumped him at Town Lake. We’ll never know.
But as time passed, he became calmer and more confident. He filled out, his coat became thick and glossy and silky soft, and he discovered toys and would play with them every day. No squeaky toy was safe - he’d toss it, paw it, and gnaw on it until he killed the squeaker. We sewed them up when we could and bought new ones when we couldn’t. 
My favorite thing was to get up in the morning, discover him lying on the the couch cockroached on his back, and rub his chest. He had the best chest ever - silky soft and broad enough the I could lay my whole hand flat and rub. I don’t know who enjoyed it more, but he could never get enough. Sometimes I’d rub his chest or his haunches until my hands cramped, and still he’d want more.
Rufus never sulked or pouted, never got jealous, never was mean, never got snarky, and never acted sad or depressed. Except for the things that occasionally scared him, he was always happy. In the beginning, he was grateful for everything with a look that seemed to say he couldn’t believe that this was happening to him. Eventually, he got used to it but still wagged his tail for every little thing.
I always wondered about the breadth of his chest, and the robustness of his midsection, and the crook in his nose that reminded me of a Borzoi. People came up to me at various times and asked if he was a short-haired Afghan. I always wondered if he was a mix of greyhound and some other sighthound. Again, we’ll never know.
The one thing he didn’t do much of was run. He had a happy trot that he would break into when he was feeling good, or wanted to catch up to Sophie, but he very seldom broke into a real full-out run. I noticed that his back right leg seemed a little stiff and wondered if it had been injured. 
We started taking him to the dog park at Clarksville to both give him a chance to run and  a chance to socialize with other dogs. This had mixed results, especially if there was a yappy little dog. But one day last summer he took off running full-tilt after another dog he’d been playing wth, which thrilled us.
A few days later, though, he was limping a little bit on his back leg. We assumed he’d hurt it running, took him to the vet, and treated it until it got better. The limp went away for a while and then came back a few weeks later. We took him back to the vet and this time she diagnosed it as arthritis because the xrays seemed to indicate calcium deposits on his leg. This came as a big surprise to us, because we had been assuming he was about 5 years old. But this diagnosis seemed to indicate he was at least 7 years old. It made us sad when we thought about it, because it meant that his former life had lasted even longer than we’d been assuming.
But he was with us now, and we were going to have years to love him to make up for whatever had happened before his rescue. But the limp got worse as the fall passed, and Sara took him back to the vet. The diagnosis shocked us all - Rufus had  soft-cell sarcoma that had already spread to his lungs. 
The vet gave him two months. He got three and a half, and we were grateful for every single extra day. His back right leg got worse until he could no longer walk on it at all, so he learned to hop around on three legs. We had to stop taking him for walks, so he decided his job was to keep the back yard free of cats, birds, and possums. We worried constantly, afraid he’d fall or hurt himself, but he just kept going. His tail kept wagging, his appetite was good, and the possums stayed up on the power lines.
He turned nocturnal, sleeping on the bed all day and prowling the backyard at night. One of us would sleep in the back to watch over him, and his increasing restlessness would keep us up most of the night. We could see the end coming, especially when he began to loose muscle mass in his legs, but his days were still good and he seemed happy in spite of everything.
The end was very peaceful. We saw that he wasn’t having good days anymore and his breathing was getting increasingly labored. We made our decision and called the mobile vet. On his last day, he climbed up on the bed - his favorite place - one final time. It was a beautiful day and we opened the front window so he could look outside and watch the cars and people go by. We laid next to him while Dr. Wyatt ministered to him and held him as he slipped away.
I regret not doing all the things we wanted to do with him. He loved the water, and we never got enough chances to take him places where he could splash around. He loved riding around in the car, and we never got to take him on a road trip, and we never found a perfect meadow for him to run around in. We never planted the grass in the garden bed that we were going to dedicate for him and Sophie. And I regret that he wasn’t with us long enough to overcome his fears and his shyness, because we always wanted everyone else to see him the way we saw him. 
But there is no way that we could have loved him more, and no way we could ever regret having him in our lives.
He was our miracle boy, and just because a miracle doesn’t last forever or even for as long as you expect doesn’t make it any less miraculous.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Molly Ivins Calls Progressives To Arms
I don’t know about you, but I have had it with the D.C. Democrats, had it with the DLC Democrats, had it with every calculating, equivocating, triangulating, straddling, hair-splitting son of a bitch up there, and that includes Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Damn straight. I really don't want to vote for Hillary or for Joe Biden or for whatever other stiff that Demo party establishment throws out there. I didn't want to vote for Kerry, either, but I had to vote against Bush. I'd like to vote for Russ Feingold, although I worry he doesn't have the charisma to be elected. Barak Obama does, but his time hasn't come yet. I wouldn't vote against John McCain - unless I could vote for Feingold instead.

I'd also vote for the this platform, regardless of who proposes it:

1) Getting out of Iraq.
2) Balancing the budget.
3) Fixing the health care crisis, which includes both universal health care and getting Medicaid/Medicare under control (these are not mutually exclusive goals).

And recognizing that we're not fighting a war on terror so much as getting caught up in an Islamic Reformation would be a real bonus.
Three Years Gone, and Almost Three More Years To Go

Monday is the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, as you probably know. The war is bound to continue for some time, but I'm guessing it will come to some sort of close within 2-4 years. The Bush administration cannot afford to withdraw quickly - doing so would destroy whatever credibility they have left on the subject of national security. Neither can they afford to try to stay indefinitely; most of the public has turned against the war, and more join them every day. Whether the administration withdraws our forces while loudly proclaiming victory (again) or leaves the dirty job of cleaning up the mess for the next president depends on circumstance. I'd bet on the former; another year of this slow-motion train wreck of a war might see Bush's approval ratings plummet to Nixon/Watergate-like numbers.

In the big scheme of things, I don't think it matters much what the timetable for withdrawal is (although sooner is better, since it means fewer soldiers and maybe even fewer Iraqis will get killed). The war was lost the day we invaded, because we invaded, and made worse by the collateral damage from the occupation, e.g., Abu Ghraib. It's a setback, not a defeat, but the consequences may last for decades. We've damaged our standing in the world, weakened our alliances, damaged our economy, eroded our civil liberties, and polarized the electorate, as well as destabilizing the Middle East even further.

The agony of the occupation may continue for several more years but politically it's over, in much the same way Vietnam was over after the Tet offensive.

The only possible non-bad consequence of this ("good" is too strong an adjective) is that the administration's ability to make bold unilateral moves is gone. And that makes them less dangerous, because the two things they've consistently demonstrated is their inability to make good decisions and their inability to competently execute any policy or strategy.

And because incompetence is the hallmark of the Bush Administration, we should all pray that no more disasters on the scale of 9-11 or Katrina happen while they're still in office. The failure of their Iraq adventure is not the worst thing that can happen.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Triumph of Conservative Economic Policy

Max Sawicky (via Brad DeLong):
The upshot is that the triumph of Republican-conservatarian economic policy consists of an expansion of government jobs financed by loans from the Communist People's Republic of China.

Saturday, December 31, 2005


"The best thing for being sad," said Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lay awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then - to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting."

T.H. White, The Once and Future King

Sunday, June 26, 2005

In Memoriam

Mr. Cracker April 1993 - June 25, 2005

He was beautiful. He had a gentle grace and dignity that made everyone love and admire him. And everyone who ever petted him remarked on how soft his fur was and how calm and sweet he was. Sooner or later, the same phrase came off of everyone's lips: "Sweet boy".

I brought him home the same weekend Sara and I had our first date. He rapidly became the center of our lives. Every day started with him and ended with him, and he brought a kind of joy into our lives that no words can really describe. It's hard to believe that so much happiness could come from the simple acts of walking him, feeding him, and taking care of him.

He was the aristocrat of Town Lake, the bad boy of the dog park (where he discovered the sport of Weimaraner tipping), the unofficial mascot of the K-State girls rowing team when they came for their yearly regatta, and an ambassador of goodwill for Greyhounds. He hated the rain but loved the water, shied away from crowds but would walk right up to people if they smelled or felt right, was fiercely independent but came on command when he needed to, was reserved and regal but silly and uninhibited when he played.

We would go for walks past the Four Seasons on Town Lake along the hike and bike trail, and every day people would stop and stare and ask me about him. I soon developed my standard speech about him and about greyhounds, and maybe somewhere along the line we influenced someone to adopt a greyhound.

We moved to San Francisco, and he discovered the joys of the ocean and of the mountains. He loved to run along the shore and then sit in the water almost up to his neck to cool off. I use to worry about him getting a chill - greyhounds supposedly being susceptible to that kind of thing - but we decided he knew what he was doing. When we took him to Yosemite and Mount Shasta and introduced him to snow, he was enraptured. He ran in it, rolled in it, tasted it, danced in it, and generally had the time of his life. His usual reserve disappeared at the beach and in the snow, and he expressed his joy and love of life.

His life got even better when we moved to Santa Cruz, because now there was a yard for him to lay in and catch the smells on the breeze and see and hear life go by. When we bought a house, his life was complete because now there was a backyard full of beautiful cool grass to lay in. There's a spot in the center of the backyard where the no-longer-functional sprinkler system leaks and it's cool and damp and the grass grows greener and lusher than anywhere else in the yard, and that became his favorite spot of all. I like to think he also loved the smells of the wisteria, honeysuckle, trumpet flowers, roses, and jasmine in spring and summer. It was his oasis, and we were delighted to have pleased him so.

His generosity of spirit allowed us to bring in another greyhound whose personality was 180 degrees different from his and who brought a load of anxieties and problems from having been ill-treated as a racer. He accepted her, made room for her, and never acted jealous or hurt, even when she tried to bully him. Instead, his personality rubbed off on her slowly and surely, and she became calmer, a little less anxious, and more loving as time went on.

He made us better people, too. Sara treated him like a king, and he responded by being even more loving and lovable. He was a finicky eater, but he never acted spoiled or petulant. Both acceptance and decline had a graciousness that I, awkward and graceless, admired without envy. I'm not ashamed to say that, like the other role models in my life, I wish I was more like him.

His decline was slow and gradual and then came swiftly at the end. Two winters ago, he stopped running. We thought that the arthritis he'd developed was the cause. But he still loved his walks, especially after we discovered the trails at DeLaveaga park. We could see that he was slowing down and that his back legs were getting stiff and awkward, so it was no surprise to learn that he had degenerative myelopathy that was robbing him of the ability to control his back legs. But he developed a limp and when Sara took him to the vet 2 Fridays ago, we discovered that he had cancer in his leg and his lungs. Mercifully, his suffering did not last long. We almost lost him the next week, but shifting to a steroid-based medicine got him walking again and gave him 6 more good days with us. He let us know that he was ready to go, and we called the vet and put him at peace.

I wish he were still here so I could rub his chest, kiss his head, look in his eyes and have him reach out his paw to me to tell me to rub him some more. This house feels so empty without him that I can hardly stand it. Yesterday after the vet left I though my chest would explode. But my sadness is tempered by the knowledge that he had a long, happy, and beautiful life and that the love he gave us will eventually fill the holes in our hearts back up.

I do believe that all creatures have souls and I believe in an afterlife, although I have no idea what form it takes. But I like to imagine that he's running on a beach somewhere with all his greyhound buddies that went before him, and that nearby is a snowbank that he can just dive into whenever he feels like it.

Goodbye, Mr. Cracker. We loved you so much, and you gave us so much more. you know what love is?

Sure I know.
A boy loves his dog.

Harlan Ellison, A Boy and His Dog

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Only in Santa Cruz

News from the land that time and neo-conservatism forgot:

Headline in today's Santa Cruz Sentinel:

Drug Suspects Rolling in Dough, Deputies Allege
Marijuana, Mushrooms, Hash, Cheesecake, and Cookie Dough found

The subtitle is only in the print version, not on-line, and I may have not gotten it exactly right. But I'm not making up the cheesecake part. Here's what it says in the 2nd graf:
...deputies found butter, cheesecake, chocolate chip cookies, cookie dough and a nut ball all laced with THC...
Thank God we're safe from these Cookie- and Cheesecake-altering fiends. I know I'll sleep better tonight.

Then, from an article (registration required, grrrr) on yesterday's record heat in the San Jose Mercury News:
Beaches from Santa Cruz to San Francisco were full of revelers, some of them nude, until the fog rolled in.
So at least they had something to cover them.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

More Old-School Thinking
The very first step towards the management of disease was replacement of demon theories and humours theories by germ theory. That very step, the beginning of hope, in itself dashed all hopes of magical solutions. It told workers that progress would be made stepwise, at great effort, and that a persistent, unremitting care would have to be paid to a discipline of cleanliness. So it is with software engineering today.
Fred Brooks, No Silver Bullet - Essence and Accident in Software Engineering

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Future of Software Development - Open Source

I think I've flogged Agile/XP enough, so let's move on to Open Source Software (OSS) development.

Once again, this is a subject that's been done to death, so it's hard to say anything new. But I can think of at least two facets of OSS development nobody seems to talk much about even though they're pretty central:
  1. The Absence of Senior (Non-Technical) Management, i.e., No Suits

  2. The Absence of Originality
It's hard for me to see the first as anything but positive - perhaps I've spent too long in the trenches - but it is unfortunately a partial cause of the second. On the other hand, the lack of originality in most OSS products is not necessarily a bad thing. It's even something of a boon in the area of programmer tools, as I'll explain farther down.

But first I want to take about what No Suits means to OSS. I think I can sum it up in one word: freedom. The 80/20 rule, that fundamental law of the universe that masquerades as a useful heuristic, applies to the Suits as well as it does to anything else. About 20% are competent enough not to be actively harmful to the process of developing good software. (A very small percentage are competent enough to provide the real leadership, motivation, and skilled management that actively aids and improves the process, and I have been lucky enough to work for that small percentage a couple of times in my life). The other 80% are the incompetent, egomaniacal, soul-crushing bastards we've all the bad luck to work for too often in our careers. "Pointy-haired boss" is far too forgiving a term for these fools. And doing good work in the environments they create is a Sisyphean travail.

So getting rid of the suits is a big win at least 80% of the time. And most self-selecting teams can manage themselves as well or better than the merely competent portion of the remaining 20%. The freedom gained from removing management overhead that is at best neutral but more often malignant results in software that works considerably better than the software created in for-profit enterprises. This freedom results into the ability to release new versions of the software when its creators think it's ready. It results into the ability to recast or reinvent the project, the team, or the product at a moment's notice. It results into the ability to continually refine a software product until it meets a desired level of quality and customer satisfaction.

The usual counter-argument to this is that OSS development lacks the spur of the competition that is provided by the commercial market. This point of view asserts that higher-quality software is created as a result of companies competing for customers. The ultimate driver here is the customer, and only commercial competition provides the impetus to create what the customer wants.

This might be true if in fact your average software company was driven by what customers want. In fact, they're more usually driven by a fragmented view of what the company's leaders think the customers want, which is further distorted by what the suits think they need to do to a) retain control and b) make money (usually the best way to accomplish a) is b), but it isn't always necessary).

The absence of the suits in OSS means that the development team has to deal directly with their customers. All of the usual institutional filters get removed, and suddenly developers are getting direct, unmediated feedback from real users. This kind of disintermediation can have some really positive benefits - OSS projects don't succeed unless they have users, and they don't get them unless users get something they find truly useful. So they either listen to their customers and respond to them, or they get ignored.

So it shouldn't surprise us that better software results when the feedback loop is tighter, more direct, and less subject to distortion, when the process can be as flexible as it needs to be, and when the developers have greater creative freedom in a less restrictive and less hierarchical environment. And it shouldn't surprise us when users respond by replacing commercial software packages with OSS equivalents.

Now, I don't want to give a completely Polyanna-ish view of OSS. From the standpoint of an ordinary, non-technical user most OSS products are effectively inaccessible. Even products intended for regular people are often too difficult to install, too difficult to use, or too far out of the mainstream to be comprehensible. The very best OSS products are the ones produced for technical users, especially programmers, not for people to whom a computer is a tool that helps them do their real work.

Here's where the absence of that very small percentage of highly competent executive leaders hurts. These are the people who are capable of bringing together the innovaters, the creators, the customers, the marketers, and the money to create truly innovative products. I'm not saying that OSS can't produce brilliantly innovative products. But it's a lot easier to produce products when all of the requirements are known and when the market is well understood. So OSS produces a lot of "me-too" products that are effectively commoditizing what were once profitable innovations - think operating systems (Linux, BSD *nix), programming languages (gcc, perl, python), personal productivity software (Open Office, Star Office), browsers (Firefox, Mozilla, Opera), and databases (MySQL, Postgres). I'm hard-pressed to think of any truly innovative OSS products. Maybe Apache, although that's a little bit of a stretch.

I mentioned earlier that this lack of originality is mostly a positive when it comes to programmer tools. That's because developers work in teams and usually need to use all the same tools. A decade or more ago, this was a real problem. The first IDEs, like the C++ environment from CenterLine, cost big bucks. Compilers, modeling tools, source code control systems, and the like also came with big price tags. OSS changed that. Today, anyone with access to the Internet can quickly download every tool they'll ever need to develop software. It's still true that many of the commercial tools are better than OSS ones - e.g., Idea IntelliJ and Borland's JBuilder are better than, say, Eclipse or NetBeans, and Perforce is clearly superior to CVS - but this gap is narrowing all the time. Eventually the differences in features, quality and support will diminish to the point where it's unreasonable to pay for the commercial tool. In this situation, developers don't need or even want constant, radical innovation in their toolsets. They want continuous evolution among a set of alternatives - so that they can both grow with the tool without having to confront steep learning curves on a regular basis and so that they can easily switch when something more convenient comes along.

Convenience, of course, is one of the hallmarks of commoditized consumer products. And that's what we're talking about with OSS, and that's why OSS is no threat to innovative commercial software. It is a threat to the stagnant commodization of software, and that is an entirely good thing; the alternative is having MS selling Windows, Office, and IE for the next 20 years with no more than the occasional "update".

So what does all this have to do with the future of software development?

First, both the success of OSS without suits and its inability to innovate are clues. We don't want to eliminate the suits - just subtract the losers and keep the value and innovation added by the winners. In an ideal world, we'd eliminate that 80% of managerial incompetents and keep the competent 20%. Fortunately, there is already a widely accepted way to do this - by flattening organizations and their management structures. Flattening the organization eliminates a considerable number of the suits. And that might end at least some of the internal political jockeying and infighting that, among many other negative consequences, tends to choke and distort communication in the organization. If organizational flattening can be accompanied by tearing down the walls between the executive suit and the cube farm, we might find ourselves with companies that are more able to produce quality software that their customers want.

The second thing is that the standard programmer's toolset for mainstream development will be almost completely composed of OSS products. There will be the occasional vendor who makes a splash with a great new tool that redefines the market but this will become increasingly rare, and chances are good the vendor will come from somewhere other than the US - for example, Idea is a Czech company. The one big exception to this is .NET, but that will only be true if Microsoft manages to litigate or intimidate any attempts to clone .NET as OSS - and up to this point, they have not been able to kill Mono.

Third, the success of OSS will increasingly be held up as an example of how to produce higher-quality software. The obvious counter-example is Microsoft, again; the contrast between the security, reliability, and performance of Linux/Apache/FireFox versus Windows/IIS/IE does not favor MS. The comparison of turnaround times for patches and fixes does not favor commercial products. The walls thrown up by marketing, support and PR in most companies versus the transparency of OSS - where anybody can query the bug database, enter a bug, write an email to the project leader, or even submit a fix to a bug - does not favor commercial companies. The only factor commercial vendors have in their favor is the ability to leverage innovation into breakthrough products. Very few vendors will have the vision and skill to do this; but they will be very successful even as OSS commoditizes yesterday's innovations.

A few good software companies - especially those that have already embraced OSS - will follow at least one of two strategies. The first strategy will be to build product suites around OSS that their professional services organizations sell and support. The second will be to copy the environment and attitude of OSS projects in their own development organizations, giving development teams unprecedented freedom and control (note that this will include the freedom to fail spectacularly). Companies like IBM will be able to do both, and augment the suites sold by their services organization with products produced by their developers.