Hello, readers! Here’s hoping those of you in the US had an enjoyable Thanksgiving on Thursday. I thoroughly enjoyed the company of my cousins, though I did rather poorly in our board game of choice. I blame the dice. Throughout the week I finished up a couple of titles and wanted to comment on them.
First up is The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which is less a book and more of a long essay on Linux, an open-source operating system — and specifically, how Linux’s bottom up, emergent order approach is much different from the controlling top-down approach of Microsoft and Apple. I was interested because I recently used a boot disk with Ubuntu (a Linux variant) to access a computer and extract files from it after it stopped booting Windows. I was pleasantly surprised by its intuitiveness, because I’d previously regarded Linux as something of interest chiefly to programmers and system administrators. Everything I had to do I managed through the graphical interface, just like Windows or Apple, and I made another boot disk with another Linux variant (Mint) to test next time. An interesting quote from the book:
“The Linux world behaves in many respects like a free market or an ecology, a collection of selfish agents attempting to maximize utility which in the process produces a self-correcting spontaneous order more elaborate and efficient than any amount of central planning could have achieved. Here, then, is the place to seek the ‘principle of understanding’.
The ‘utility function’ Linux hackers are maximizing is not classically economic, but is the intangible of their own ego satisfaction and reputation among other hackers. Voluntary cultures that work this way are not actually uncommon; one other in which I have long participated is science fiction fandom, which unlike hackerdom has long explicitly recognized [ego-boosting] as the basic drive behind volunteer activity.”
Although a lot of the content of The Cathedral and the Bazaar is over my head (given my status as definitely-not-a-programmer), I like the idea of the open source movement, and not just because it produces good programs that are free of cost, like VLC Media Player, LibreOffice, and the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP), two of which I use. Developers are becoming insanely clingy about controlling users, and about what they allow users to control; these days the proprietary software on computers isn’t so much owned as rented. And some of the software produced by these places isn’t even that great: my favored music player, Winamp, makes it far more easy to build and edit playlists than iTunes or Groove, and it’s been using the same simple approach for all the 15+ years I’ve been using it.
Also up is Coffee to Go, a truck-driving…journal from a Scottish author who drove principally between the UK and western Europe. This book was recommended to me on the basis that he travels to Russia, but no such trip was recorded here, with the farthest reaches being Austria and northern Scandinavia. (There may be multiple editions?) Although I like trucking memoirs generally, this one was….well, less a memoir and more of a journal. Hobbs records every bit of his trip, from how much he paid for coffee to what he said to the fellows as customs, and I found it tedious. The last fifth of the book are recollections of his trips from before he started keeping a diary, and those are much more interesting to read because of all the play-by-play action is absent, replaced by a general narrative with thoughts on traveling to tiny places like Andorra. Easily the most interesting chapter were his memories of driving into Western Berlin during the Soviet era, when the western side of the city was a pocket surrounded by the dismal DDR. Hobbs seems like a nice guy, but this wasn’t one I’ll remember much about, I’m afraid.