The goal of the Linux-Society (LS, dating back to the mid-90s as a professional club and tech-mentoring group) has been a purely-democratic Information Society; many of the articles are sociological in nature. The LS was merged with Perl/Unix of NY to form multi-layered group that included advocacy, project-oriented learning by talented high school students: textbook constructivism. Linux has severe limitations such that it is useless for any computer that will, say, print or scan. It is primarily used for webservers and embedded devices such as the Android. (Google is high-invested in it).

Technology is problematic. During the heyday of technology (1990s), it seemed it had the democratic direction Lewis Mumford said it should have in his seminal
Technics and Civilization.

Today, we are effectively stuck with Windows as Linux is poor on the desktop and has cultured a maladaptive following. Apple is prohibitive, and all other operating systems lack drivers, including Google's Android, an offshoot of linux.

In the late 90s there was hope for new kernels such as LibOS and ExoOS that would bare their hardware to programs, some of which would be virtual machines such as Java uses. Another important player was the L4 system that is a minor relation to the code underlying the Apple's systems. It was highly scientific but fell into the wrong hangs, apparently, and has suffered from having no progress on the desktop. There is a version, "SE" that is apparently running in many cell phones as specialized telecom chips, but is proprietary. SE's closed nature was only recently revealed, which is important because it is apparently built from publicly-owned code as it is not a "clean room" design it may violate public domain protections, and most certainly violates the widely-accepted social contract.

Recent attempts to enjoin into L4 development as an advocate for "the people" have been as frustrating (and demeaning) as previous attempts with the usual attacks to self-esteem by maladaptive "hacks" being reinforced by "leadership" (now mostly university professors).

In short, this leaves us with Windows, which is quite a reversal if you have read earlier posts here. But, upon Windows, we have free and open software development systems in the forms of GTK+ (the windows usually used on Linux) and the Minimal GNU Windows (MinGW and MSYS) systems. It is very likely this direction that development should go (that is, on Windows) such that s/w can then be ported to a currently-valid microkernel system that includes a driver system that can be adapted by hardware developers to reuse of their windows and apple drivers.

From a brief survey of L4, it appears that the last clean copy was the DROPS system of the early 2010s, was a German effort that used the Unix-like "OS kit" from an American University.

If we are going to be stuck on Windows, then it seems that a high level approach to free and open systems integration, such as creating fully transparent mouse communication between apps so that they can seamlessly work together as a single desktop (rather than deliberately conflicting). This would be very helpful for GIMP and Inkscape, both leading graphics programs that are strong in the special ways, but suffer from an inability to easily interrelate.

Another important issue is the nature, if you can call it that, of the "geek" or "hack." Technology is formed democratically but "harvested" authoritarian-ly --if I can coin a term that Mumford might use. Authority is plutarchy: a combination of aristocracy and oligarchy that is kept alive after all these millennia by using, or maligning, the information society as a part of the civilizing (or law-giving) process that embraces the dialectic as its method. Democratic restoration, that is to put humanity back on an evolutionary (and not de-evolutionary) track, I think, will require the exclusion of the "geek" from decision-making. As is, the free/open s/w culture attempts to give leadership to those who write the most lines of code --irrespective of their comprehension of the real world or relationship with normal users. We need normal people to somehow organize around common sense (rather than oligarchic rationalism) to bring to life useful and cohesive software and communications systems.

Interestingly, the most popular page on this site is about Carl Rogers' humanistic psychology, and has nothing to do with technology.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Natural Life of a Networked Machine

Defining the Information Society in Terms of Humanism

In a momentary departure from the usual cycle of the development of control systems by the Orwellian types of industries, the Internet sprang into being as a collaboration of some unusually nice folks working in the labs of the then phone monopoly, and students at the then most radical school in the world, Berkeley.

There are many versions of the birth of the Internet. It is true that it was started to facilitate military development during the Cold War, but like army fatigues, it quickly became a symbol of freedom and the free access to information as well as a democratic path to participation in the creation of information.

What is remarkable about the Berkeley effort, is that it presented a publicly owned version of one of the phone monopoly's controlling computer systems, Unix, as well as adding an important feature called sockets. With a socket system, one computer, in effect, opens a socket, and another binds to that opening to create a communication connection. A web server, for instance, offers sockets to computers out on the Internet, and user applications such as web browsers bind to them. During the development era, a server was always called a daemon and was graphically represented by a cute little devil. The Unix system they developed is the BSD Network Release. This system is still well used and continuously added to and is considered the most reliable. Linux is a similar system in many respects especially the part about public ownership but it came later. The unbelievable growth of Linux was a phenomenon to be respected, but it could not have started in void. There had to be futile ground for its sudden development.

The Berkley system was developed with the help of people using the Stanford University networks, and when they graduated, they named their company for the network, Sun Microsystems. The inspiration for de-isolating individual machines and joining them into vast networks was termed open systems and Sun's favorite slogan was that the whole network was now the computer. It was a purely capital based movement, but anyone with computer talent could easily gain employment and access to these new machines, called workstations. Because of the intentional openness of the environment, technologists formed into groups and enhanced their machines with openly developed software, creating a concept that the protection of the freedom of openness was protected by secure software, security for the first time equals freedom.

Socket software and daemons are very special. Only in cartoons and in toys have technological devices taken on lifelike traits. Because sockets work with computers and computers can attain nearly lifelike status, as in a Turing machine, and because sockets are for communication they are well loved and have been well nurtured and cared for. .

This mindset may actually be a thing of the past, affectatious connections with old computers, feel difficult. Unlike old houses or classic cars, their value does not persist, and many of the old-timers of the computer age, because they were senior and well paid, were fired during the crash of the technology economy in early 2000. It feels dangerous to think about the early days of the Internet and the networked computer, there seems to be a psychic trap of falling into the old patterns where hard work, imagination and a kindly boss would result in prestige and a good paycheck.

Nonetheless, as it happened, groups of people and their networks of computers, experienced a high level of synergy. They all worked together using the same conditions for facilitating successful groups that Carl Rogers had formulated. Other social concepts and technological philosophies also applied well to the inventions leading to machine intelligence. Ruth Benedict's synergy helps balance the uses of the machines between capital growth and social contributions. Buckminster Fuller's sophisticated geometric structures, another definition for synergy, foreshadowed the matrix of the world of Internet users. He also predicted public polling through information technology. His vision was the use of the telephone whereas today the Swiss government uses the Internet for direct polling.

Sadly, success blinded the new technologists to the darker realities of the cycle of the development of major innovations.

The 1990s experienced slow steady and healthy growth pulling the nation, and much of the world out of a recession that had really started in the 1970s as a result of debts incurred by the US because of the Viet Nam War. Relationships were surreal; bankers embraced longhaired technicians who society would have normally banished to garages and basement laboratories. International investment, in particular, took on a beneficial cause, bringing capital to the impoverished parts of the world while creating information technologies to efficiently facilitate the process. This good will was previously unheard of and any innovative and hardworking person could make incredibly good money doing only good deeds. Bringing internetworked technology to the emerging world would fuel the tide that would raise all ships.

Necessary services such as insurance and banking could be handled in the relatively uncorrupted nations of the US, Canada and in Europe. Citizens and businesses in unstable countries could function safely and the first world would presumably continue the globalization of the Internet and support growth in these nations in rational and well-conceived ways. The single biggest indicator to the immense synergy of this new culture was that the communicating and thinking machine would provide its developers huge benefits purely by creating efficiency and reducing waste in our world of eight or more billion people.

But unfortunately, things didn't work out that way, corruption in the US banking industry came to critical mass, and suddenly we were working with the older more cynical definitions of the investment industry, which is to separate good people from their hard earned money. We were wakened to the reality that jobs and workers are commodities traded by owners and managers who take possession of the inspiration that ultimately provided to us by society's synergy. The fallout was huge and resulted in a seemingly endless recession that could be called a depression at its lowest level. In the end, almost none of the corrupting forces felt the slightest punishment for record fraud and stock manipulation. The worst of the offenders, those at the very top of the banking pyramid, are oddly still protected even by the investors who lost the most, probably because the banking culture and the owners of industry have long responded to signals from above, the conditioning of vast sums of money being so strong.

Lewis Mumford, in the thirties, and Christopher May, in the new millenium, talked about the growth of technology as being the structure for the development of humanity, and information is the substance that creates technological innovation. Power, or failure, also rests in the transport of information, which is communication. Transportation and communication were virtually the same thing prior to the electronic inventions of the telephone and the radio. The big empire of the Romans died as a result of cuts in the lines of communication and was replaced by smaller cultures who where barbarian at first but then formed small nation states able to accumulate their wealth without the threat of attack by some empire. Gradually, wealth, knowledge and good intentions brought us to the most important invention of the past thousand years, the moveable type printing press. It is hard to say that a book can be bad, but not all innovation was so beneficial and ultimately some, particularly in mining and manufacturing, brought back the controlling, authoritarian and enslaving principles of long gone empires. Here Mumford and May describe cycles of innovation where common but very intelligent people, working almost as craftsmen, invent things that can potentially boost the overall value of the society. But then, control over these innovations gets taken from these common people, often without financial compensation, and put to the task of building bigger and better mechanical and financial empires.

Mumford used the inventions of the steam engine and flying shuttle as examples where the innovators were never compensated despite the strong patent laws in place at the time, and the immediate used of these beneficial developments was actually to degrade humanity. Industrial owners reduced conditions to levels far worse than the slaves of antiquity had even co-opted religious leaders to help raise the birth rates to cheapen a key resource commodity, human beings.

Because freedom is associated with the inspiration to create great and helping inventions by common people, Mumford refers to this portion of society as the Democratic Technic. The culture that dominates mass numbers of people to create singular yet diffuse empires is called the Authoritarian Technic. The Democratic Technic is more natural, where its members work everyday for the enrichment of their lives, and ultimately settle into a live-and-let-live version of the life cycle. The Authoritarian Technic functions based on principles where work is done for work's sake where effort is always pushed upward to level where benefits are only enjoyed at a higher stratum. The Democratic Technic is often manifested as the revolutionary throwing-off of the chains of empires demanding tribute. The Authoritarian Technic manages to lie dormant, often for centuries, yet always returns to assimilate the innovations, ultimately self actualizing them by advancing them completely in its own, inefficient, development facilities (Microsoft).

Clearly the Authoritarian and Democratic Technics are polar opposites in the view of history, but their differences are not so clearly defined in modern technology. While computer innovation requires liberally applied freedoms to achieve increasingly complicated solutions, its operational aspect requires near military discipline. Keeping networks online and accessible to a world of information workers requires a complete denial of self. There will be no innovative reactions to system outages, just a review of similar problems, often using just memory, where hopefully solutions will manifest themselves quickly. A good analogy could be the airline pilots union. They are democratic by definition, being loyal to a union and to their trade and not to the leaders of industry who loathe unions. Yet, when they protest in strikes, they march in precise military step, giving comfort in that they seriously follow procedure to specific detail while operating their sky vessels. There have been no unions in the major computer operations, though they would be very helpful, not so much in securing wages, but in helping prevent corruption associated with the controlling stratum by allowing operations technicians the option of obeying the law and keeping malfeasance from reaching operational levels.

In the creation of software, adherence to controlling principles is also necessary. Where an artist creates the best art for art's sake, the programmer needs to be continually mindful of how his audience will be using his creation, if others can improve it and if it can be easily fixed when broken. These needs are too often unmet since much of it is funded based on market timing analysis.

The relatively new Linux operating system is fine example as a product of the Democratic Technic. The license that governs its use and creation is actually socially inspired by a well-known figure, Richard Stallman, who has forgone possible millions in personal profits to promote free software. Quite surprisingly, important publicly developed software systems are vastly more reliable than their commercially developed counterparts. Peer review is used to assure quality and the review process can be brutal.

There appears to be a greater adherence to the disciplines of innovation in recent years. The ultimate corporate example of the Authoritarian Technic, Microsoft, who runs a monopoly that would make the Caesars blush, cannot for the life of its existence, write reliable and secure software. Only by illegally side stepping American anti trust laws can they survive. When plans to force free competition on the operating system level failed after the first election George W. Bush, the dominance of the faulty XP operating system was guaranteed. Had the Justice Department succeeded in its plans to separate the office software divisions from the XP operating system division, the much more reliable and free Linux system would have obsoleted the XP operating system, instantly halving the market value of the richest corporation in the world. This is not apply to all commercial operating systems. Some systems boast perfect reliability, especially those in aircraft and military controls but they occupy a minor computer niches, and will never touch the majority of people.

Definitions of the publicly owned software, their guiding copying licenses, have varied considerably. Richard Stallman likes to say his umbrella operation, GNU (which stands for "GNU is not Unix"), is copylefting. Software is copyrighted in the name of all people to prevent any single entity from proprietarizing this software. The use of the word left is a symbol of his socialist leanings. Another license version is Open Source, which is more businesses friendly, has been created by Eric Raymond. The differences are minor though they enjoy an annoying, yet amusing rivalry.

It should be noted that the majority of web pages come from the publicly owned and developed Apache web server.

When digesting all that Mumford's Technics and Civilization, and after regretting not reading his book before the technology crash (he could have saved me many tens of thousands), I compared it to humanistic thought in relation to the freedom principles of the publicly owned software movement. It seemed natural that the Technic version of the newest chapter of the Information Society should be called the Open Technic. Mumford deserves to be recognized in this way though he probably had nothing to do with computers during his lifetime. He, along with fellow technologist Buckminster Fuller, is associated with the group that organized the humanists, Maslow's Third Force.

Rogers, the leader of the Humanistic school, was not afraid of technology in any way. He pioneered the use of tape recorders and film in therapy to help other therapists learn from his experiences amid the protests of other therapists. He attributed these complaints to a fear that their therapy might not be revealed to be as successful as they claimed. He was dogmatic in systematically quantifying the success of his efforts, though he insisted that subjective feelings are often more relevant even than scientific thought. He cited how Albert Einstein had used his mind, in a form of meditation, in modeling conditions or problems, to conceive his theories describing our existence. As computer modeling came along towards the end of his life, Rogers encouraged his students to experiment. Rogers was a revolutionary, but he certainly was not prone to the Luddite tendencies of hating technology. This is a difference that helps define the Democratic Technic's efforts from, say, Anarchistic rebellion. It also helps to show Humanism as an integral part of society, whereas the Third Force's offspring had been marginalized as a result of the political and cultural struggles associated with rebellion and often with the alternative drug culture.

Strong evidence linking Humanism to the openness of computer systems, which I now call the Open Technic, is circumstantial in that it relies to a large degree on similarities of concepts and terminology, but it is possible that the idea is so obvious that it has never seemed interesting. Now that Authoritarian Technic monopolization has appeared to grab control of the Information Society in the form of unreasonable and probably illegal knowledge systems control laws, there is a call to the Humanists to continue Rogers's quiet revolution. A disappointment probably breaking the hearts of Humanists is the failure of the WSIS to enhance the clauses of the UN Charter guaranteeing the free passage of knowledge over international borders by extending it to include the electronic, packetized, passage of knowledge. They effectively denied digital communication's unique two-way capabilities for dialog as an open avenue to resolve disputes and old hatreds through connectiveness and empathy.

Here is chart comparing systems concepts with Humanism, joining them into the Open Technic.

Networked systems communicate openly

Open communication must exist between therapist and client
Trust between systems on a network frees systems and users from fear and allows open communication and mutual support
Genuineness between client and therapist, between facilitators of peace and groups in conflict.
ICTs require two way communication, allow the questioning of information presented. Allow persons to bridge as individuals.
Free exchange between client and therapist, especially where the therapist reflects feelings on the healing process. The bridging of peoples with communication to end hatreds.
Democratic Technics Quite revolution, emerging persons
Evolutionary development of open systems (Technics)
Self actualization
Vast new communication potential through telecom, travel and now the Internet. New person emerging since the 60s, where today’s influences are more quiet (subtle)
Internet e-mutualism Volunteerism, quite revolution, emerging people
Inner space
Synergy -- Buckminster Fuller
Synergy -- Ruth Benedict
Information access (conglomeration) based on interest, without the interference of bias
Digital divide keeps some nations in a state of ignorance
Discrepancies between rich and poor creates the basis for hatred
E-mutual development
Self discovery, experimental and experiential learning
Order in the computer and on the network frees the user by creating safety and an effective work environment. Standards are not used to judge people but create predictable systems conditions so that computers know what to expect from each other (prevent Tower of Babel syndrome)
Structured conditions for effective healing create a comfortable environment for the free expression or the client and the helper’s empathy. Similar conditions create a climate where the personal bridges can be made between individuals at meetings to resolve bias issues.
Open systems scale to the globe by their design Rogers’s solutions ultimately earned him nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize

The most important invention of the last millennium, as surveyed by Time magazine, was the printing press. While the printed book is historically a relatively new invention, hence a luxury in the long scheme of things, it is hard to imagine a world without books.

As a new technology, printing was hard to control by the controlling crafts guilds of the time. They had successfully developed monopolies of their crafts prior to the invention of the press and moveable type. Guilds provided some benefits for their monopolistic control; offering protection from foreign controllers, social benefits, economic stability, civility in trade and a good working and living environment.

Early intensely capitalized industries were established away from the civilization. Mineral mines were usually near mountains and energy, either in the form of wood or coal, was also found in remote forests. Wood was used for making glass, and metal refining first relied on charcoal and then coal. Being remote, they easily escaped the civil guidance of the crafts guilds and city governments. They where able to create local economies without having to offer the protections and support which civilized society would have required of businesses through the guild system. One mill and one mine in a forested area would create a town, but a number of mills and mines would blight the land with soot. Once powerful enough they were able to ignore any civil controls and they degraded society and the environment in their industrialized areas for centuries. With the dawn of our present age of information sharing and social protection workers finally became able to organize and create unions to engage in collective bargaining.

The printing industry existed within cities, yet it escaped the control of guilds. In its inception it was more of a craft than an industrial process, and it utilized the arts of language and print pictures as the basis of its product.

Part of the printing process was the dissemination of the music and the dance and music halls of the early industrial society. No matter how bleak environmental and economic conditions may have been, music has been alive, moved forward, and has been available to the vast majority of the people both in live performances and printed music. Music today is still far ahead of the rest of artistic culture, in recent decades every compositional potential has been explored, yet older genres still feel fresh and relevant in the popular culture.

Education certainly benefited from the printing industry where books could be used and reused giving virtually anyone interested enough the opportunities to develop a sophisticated professional life.

In the most recent era of the last century and a half, technology becomes sophisticated enough to join the contributions of renaissances, that where with educational systems and popular culture. Factors of growth in the public support system have created vast new fields of social thought developed with scientific theory. Though this social activity is very likely not entirely new, it has been buried so long as to appear to be a recent invention. Activity is certainly much greater and the exchange of knowledge has increased steadily to the most recent chapter in the information age. With the use of the Internet, information distribution has exploded to the point of being considered an overload.

All of society benefits from social support systems; even stay-at-home-moms contribute by raising children with more potential by having dialog with those who study their development. Nurses, doctors and teachers all also contribute indirectly to the daily activities of the general economy, including the vestiges of early industry that cannot be dislodged.

Probably the most important contributions bringing society into an enlightened community are the efforts of the more experience-based side of social research that seeks to make everyday life important unto itself, where everybody can share in the world’s body of knowledge. Very much linked to the revolution of the 1960s, which, in the US, centered on the Viet Nam War and equal civil rights for all, it has only so far planted a seed. Rogers states flatly that a true advances are slow to perfect and even slower to be accepted. Gestation periods can be measured in half centuries. The final stages leading to the introduction of the recent age of electronic communication where blindingly fast and society is only grasping the new breadth of potential global access. The other revolution, one to enhance the new age with enlightened principles only partly succeeded. Much of the failure in the US is attributable simply to the infiltration of gangsterism brought about by globalization and by exploitation of age old biases to continue the domination of control by the few elite, on all sides of the political and industrial spectrum.

The New Economy was probably the most obvious example of the Humanist revolution affecting technology, but it was doomed for a number of reasons, least of which is that the older economy, the one based on the destructive and exploitative industries, was not going to let it succeed. Instead the industrial capital markets skillfully translated the excitement of a new age into financial corruption where the stock trading divisions of most financial firms offered stock along with over valued perceptions while selling the stock that they themselves owned in a manner so coordinated that could only have been operated from the very highest levels.

None-the-less, the few seeds planet in the name of openness that nurtured socially during the 1960s and 1970s proved their value during the 1990s with the highly synergized growth of the global electronic network. As failure struck Humanism during the 1980s when cocaine and heroin weakened the youth culture, Humanism reasserted itself, ironically, in the high synergy of the corporate world of the 1990s.

By 2000 a recession had been engineered that resulted in mass layoffs and the transfer of stock values away from liberals interested in promoting the Information Society to the original controlling elite of the financial and industrial cultures. Workers were also stripped of their savings, sometimes with the usual corrupt methods but also because of their optimistic faith in the future of the Information Society. Particularly painful was the double loss endured by technology workers who lost both their saving as well as their jobs. All of the technology and global stocks plummeted while the main US bank raised interest rates. It was obvious that a small amount of inflation would have to be endured to maintain US domination of the information technologies, a necessity, because US capital leads the world economy. Yet the main bank continually raised interest rates starving the research community of necessary investment capital. The only explanation offered by its leader was intensely arrogant. “Investment is risk”, he said. Even more telling to the need to hurt the economy was a statement by New York’s unpopular billionaire mayor. He stated that he liked recession because it allowed him to fire teachers.

Still, progress cannot be stopped, as industrialists know. The most recent attempt to make bring the Information Society to its potential was, on the surface, a failure. The UN’s World Symposium for the Information Society was convened to strengthen the 19th article of the UN charter, to remove barriers of information caused by international borders. Instead, the controlling elite used it to confirm nationalized control of information, no matter how despotistic, and the monopolistic accumulation of information property and technology patents by those with the greatest capital resources, the elite.

The very notion that all nations could benefit form information has been enough to bring together, through the Internet, socially aware people, who will very likely adapt existing technology to in fact bring isolated cultures into the Information Society and enhance the social aspects of the wealthier nations. By virtue of the physical nature of the electron, from which information packets are constructed, there is no controlling force that can prevent its traveling through the air, across international borders.

And because of the two-way nature of Internet communications, technological and social advancement will continue to support each other. The technology of the Information Society, organized within the facilitative environments created by the Humanists, will grow along a path of goodwill by tapping into the positive resources of every individual.