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Interview: Ask Eric Raymond What You Will 126

Author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar and The Art of Unix Programming, Eric S.Raymond (ESR) has long been an important spokesperson for the open source movement. It's been a while since we talked to the co-founder of the Open Source Initiative so ESR has agreed to give us some of his time and answer your questions. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
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Interview: Ask Eric Raymond What You Will

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @01:46PM (#46398157)
    What are your feelings about protocols and file formats and keeping them open? Where do the efforts to keep protocols and file formats open and accessible to others fall on your list of priorities?
  • How many roads must a man walk down?

    • 42. Easy one.
      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        Yes, it sure is easy to repeat the same old tire and beat to death joke instead of come up with your own answer.

        42 is the most overused number in the history of man...
        You heard me.

        • If I had to guess the most used number in the history of man, I would think 1 and 0 would be close to tied for first.
          • Depending on how you are counting or weighting the count (ie do the number of times 0 and 1 are used in binary/computers count?), I would say that 1 would win against 0, since zero only showed up with the Arabic numbering system. So, releative to the whole history of man, it is a fairly new invention.

            Now, to keep on topic, I suppose that I should put this in the form of a question for ESR, so...

            What is your opinion of the relatively recent Arabic introduction of the number Zero to the field of mathematics?

            • Depending on how you are counting or weighting the count (ie do the number of times 0 and 1 are used in binary/computers count?), I would say that 1 would win against 0, since zero only showed up with the Arabic numbering system.

              That had occurred to me. Perhaps we can at least agree that 1 is the loneliest number.

  • Slashdot Beta (Score:2, Interesting)

    by linuxci ( 3530 )

    What do you think of Slashdot beta?

  • by stox ( 131684 ) on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @01:47PM (#46398191) Homepage

    What's your opinion of the damage done to the Internet by the NSA scandal, and potentially by, the Comcast TWC merger?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Did you get to cash out before the crash? After you infamous gloating here,, inquiring minds want to know.

    • He received 150,000 shares at the IPO
      If he held until today after a 1:10 reverse split he would now have 15,000 worth $14 each

  • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @01:51PM (#46398255)

    I believe, but cannot prove, that global “AIDS” is a whole cluster of unrelated diseases all of which have been swept under a single rug for essentially political reasons, and that the identification of HIV as the sole pathogen is likely to go down as one of the most colossal blunders in the history of medicine.

    Do you still deny a link between HIV and the disease known as AIDS []?

    You picked an extremely bad example there; Turing was atypical in a way that damages your case. If you examine the actual circumstances of Turing’s exposure, you’ll discover that he was remarkably and willfully self-destructive about it. Outed himself, under circumstances where he could easily have covered and (as I read it) the cop was trying to look the other way. Still, I’m not “pro” Turing’s suicide, just refusing to blame anyone else for it. He made his choice and died. End of story.

    Do you still blame Alan Turing for his fate? [] So have you become a total crackpot since September 11th, or was it something that was always sorta brewing under the surface.

    • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @02:07PM (#46398497)

      We can go on like this for days, by the way. []

      In all seriousness, why is this guy still a thing in the Open Source movement? He wrote a few books in the 90s, very good ones, but he's been irrelevant for years and he's a nut. He has nothing to offer.

      • by Jiro ( 131519 )

        I just looked up that Haitian earthquake quote using your own link. Eric is not arguing that the earthquake was caused by a voodoo curse. All he's arguing is historical accuracy--someone really did perform a ceremony that's pretty much a curse. He's not saying that the curse caused the earthquake, only that the curse ceremony itself was not something someone just made up yesterday because they didn't bother to check the history books.

        • All he's arguing is historical accuracy--someone really did perform a ceremony that's pretty much a curse.

          You're giving him quite a lot of credit, not only does he assert that the curse was real and effective, he also declares that he's a "third degree wiccan" and then identifies the deities he would have would invoked. There's no question that he believes the Haitian people actually invoked the santeria deity known as Ogun to liberate them from French domination, and that the earthquake may have been Ogu

          • by porges ( 58715 )

            I think if you read "invoke" in Eric's posting as "appeal to" rather than "cause to appear" you'll see what I took him to be saying. The one thing he doesn't believe in is literal religious magic. I am with you on all the other examples, though.

            • by porges ( 58715 )

              Late update to my own post: on the other hand, later in the comment thread on that same posting, he clearly believes in literal faith healing, in one case of a sprained ankle, so, uh...

          • by ESR ( 3702 )

            I think I see why you're confused. The curse was an effective way to kick off the revolt, yes. Not any way to start an earthquake, though. Reality doesn't work that way.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        That one is incredible. The fact that he isn't asking "Do you accept these negative observations about black people as fact without any evidence?" shows what a massive, unthinking racist he is. And I've emphasized "unthinking" for a reason; for all his squawking about rationality, he consistently makes judgements based on his emotions and prejudices rather than basic logic, in a way that a barely-educated child would have learned not to do.

        Every esr argument ends up with him insisting what he wants to be tr

      • by ESR ( 3702 ) on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @04:24PM (#46400439) Homepage

        OK, let's squash some of this nonsense right now.

        I never believed the 2010 Haiti Erthquake was caused by a voodoo curse, and I'm astonished that anyone interpreted that post in that way. What I found anthropologically interesting is that something like Robertson's "satanic" invocation seems actually to have taken place. Not actually "satanic", but within Robertson's impoverished terms of reference that's about the only way he could describe an invocation of the loa.

        I believe, and have repeatedly said, that the supposed "scientific consensus" on CAGW is not a conspiracy but an error cascade. I think most scientists are honestly trying to do right, but have been overly credulous about data and models that have been (and continue to be) fraudulently manipulated by a tiny minority of them. Those of you who think this makes me some sort of nut are going to have some explaining to do when measured GAT drops out of the bottom of the IPCC's 95% confidence band, which looks set to happen before the end of 2014.

        I might reply to some of these other questions at more length, but these two deserved to be dispatched immediately

        • I believe, and have repeatedly said, that the supposed "scientific consensus" on CAGW is not a conspiracy but an error cascade.

          With all due respect, human beings do not cascade errors, machines do. What you're suggesting is that hundreds, thousands of PhDs, all taking either their own measurements or analyzing a broad corpus of measurements collected by generations of researchers, of all manner of phenomena, are all arriving at the same erroneous conclusion, over and over, and that no one with the qualific

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Quoting directly from your blog dated 2009-11-24

          This, people, is blatant data-cooking, with no pretense otherwise. It flattens a period of warm temperatures in the 1940s 1930s — see those negative coefficients? Then, later on, it applies a positive multiplier so you get a nice dramatic hockey stick at the end of the century.

          All you apologists weakly protesting that this is research business as usual and there are plausible explanations for everything in the emails? Sackcloth and ashes time for you. Th

    • by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @02:09PM (#46398521) Homepage

      So have you become a total crackpot since September 11th, or was it something that was always sorta brewing under the surface.

      It was always brewing under the surface.

      He is a blind follower of extreme libertarian ideas. For example, a long time ago in a personal discussion I showed him how under the specific libertarian rules he was suggesting I could buy all the land around a person's house and starve them to death since they couldn't leave. He didn't bat an eye. He kept insisting that "free market rules" wouldn't allow this, as if by magic, rather than rethinking his simplistic position.

      Frankly ESR is an embarrassment to the open source movement.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Yes, because political ideology makes everything else in a persons life irrelevant. What have YOU done for the open source community? I mean other than make bad political analogies that have no baring on reality. Any political system taken to an extreme is bad. A glass of water is good and healthy, downing in an ocean is not. That doesn't make water bad.

        • by fsck-beta ( 3539217 ) on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @02:39PM (#46399003)
          What has ESR done in the last decade for the open source community? Well he has spread a lot of ignorant and hurtful ideas outside of the open source community...
        • Yes, because political ideology makes everything else in a persons life irrelevant.

          Ask ESR what he had for breakfast that morning and you're likely to get a lecture on Murray Rothbard. Everything he contributes is subsumed by his ideology, his politics, and his bizarre peccadilloes.

          • No, you're likely to get a recipe [].

            FWIW, this is a good one. I make it about weekly, though I use chorizo; real andouille is hard to find in the wilds of rural Minnesota.

      • I could buy all the land around a person's house and starve them to death since they couldn't leave.

        Hmm... I don't think so. Planning law would require that the house has a road leading to the house, and the road is publicly owned.

      • by Jiro ( 131519 )

        I would expect that in a libertarian society, when you buy a house you'd buy the right-of-way to get to the nearest road system, so nobody could cut off your access. You would also buy title insurance on your right-of-way just like you buy title insurance on the rest of the house today. Eventually there would be an ecosystem where anyone who registers themselves as owning property also registers the status of the rights-of-way through their property (because nobody will transact with you if you don't do i

        • by Alomex ( 148003 )

          Buying a right-of-way into a "road system"? ESR libertarian utopia has no such thing.

          Once you have "an ecosystem of roads" as you suggest which is maintained by road fees and requires public access so you can get to all places you want to go, you have just reimplemented government owned public infrastructure under a different name. This is what typically happens when people get a chance to implement their simplistic libertarian philosophies: it either devolves into a lord of the flies scenario (Somalia, Sea

          • Once you have "an ecosystem of roads" as you suggest which is maintained by road fees and requires public access so you can get to all places you want to go, you have just reimplemented government owned public infrastructure under a different name

            Nonsense. In the libertarian utopia, the network of roads is a monopoly owned by someone else with no accountability or democratic input. Hooray!

  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @01:53PM (#46398281)

    So how annoyed are you that RMS got to do an interview a week before you did.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Getting an update to the Jargon File? Or have you given up on maintaining it?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Some background: ESR changed portions of the Jargon File to reflect his nutty personal politics, there was a predictable shitstorm, and since then ESR took his Jargon File and went home, no more updates.

  • How many Apple products do you have in your house? More to the point, looking backward to Opensource projects trying to produce a desktop/laptop replacement and comparing those projects to proprietary like Apple, does it change your perspective or thinking in any way? Oh and currently, what is your favorite handgun?

  • Android (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Do you consider the widespread global adoption of the Linux-based Android operating system to be a victory for Open Source, or a danger to the cause?

  • Hard work or talent? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    You often come across as classless and creepy. Do you work at it or does it come naturally?

  • With all the ups and downs in the industry, are you still surprised? []
  • by Connie_Lingus ( 317691 ) on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @02:09PM (#46398523) Homepage

    it's been almost 20 years since your write tCatB...i gave it a quick read and thought, "well, it *is* dated now, isn't it?" altho i am old enough to remember when its' ideas were pretty cutting edge.

    given the current state of software development (ie the ease of use of PHP and the fact that, without a doubt, the cathedral model has won), what would you either like to change or add to your original thesis?

    • The cathedral model has won? I'll admit I haven't actually read the book, but I understand the basic premise, but if you're pointing to the Apple and Google app stores as proof of "winning", I think you're overly simplifying things. The existence of Android itself (with its Linux kernel) is proof the bazaar is also winning, not to mention the fact that most servers are running LAMP stacks, and that Linux itself (Android or otherwise) is found in all kinds of places now. Don't forget the success of the Fi

    • Also, what ever happened to The Great Brain Race? Do you see it as still a thing, or a product of the dot com bubble-era Silicon Valley myopia?

  • Why the attitude? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Slartibartfast ( 3395 ) <ken @ j> on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @02:33PM (#46398897) Homepage Journal

    It permeates everything you write: the moral assuredness that You Are Right. I'm all in favor of positing that a position someone takes is the right one -- that's human nature. But your whole "I speak for the hackers" tone, wherein you seem to feel the need to put your views forward as representing others', puzzles me. I give, as a case-in-point, your "Sex Tips for Geeks []" as exhibit A, but, really, most any of your writings -- most definitely including your handling of The Jargon File [], as well as your stance on homosexuality [] -- qualify. Care to comment?

  • systemd (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Canek ( 37105 ) on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @02:46PM (#46399123) Homepage

    As a long time "Unix philosophy" advocate, and in the light of the announced switch to it by Debian, Ubuntu, and basically every other major Linux distribution, what do you think of systemd, and the tight vertical integration it intends to bring as a standard plumbing for (most of) all Linux distributions?

  • How to ask questions (Score:4, Interesting)

    by houstonbofh ( 602064 ) on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @03:06PM (#46399453)
    When you wrote "How to ask questions" did you have any idea how big it would be? Or how long it would be relevent?

    And how do you feel that your most referenced piece of work is a howto for the clueless? :)
  • I don't suppose you have any pointers for breaking into an entry-level managed IT position from a short lifetime as a freelancer (ages 10-23?). Anyways, guess what your book taught me: alias joke="fortune -o | tee $(tty) | sed -e 's/\n/\.\.\./g' | espeak -v en-us+f2 -s 150"
  • Halloween Documents (Score:4, Interesting)

    by frdmfghtr ( 603968 ) on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @03:43PM (#46399947)

    I recall reading (and re-reading on occasion) the Halloween Documents. Have you written anything regarding any other opponents to OSS, or perhaps a look back on them and see what the end effect of Microsoft's attempts did long term?

  • by unixisc ( 2429386 ) on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @03:53PM (#46400075)

    One of the issues w/ Open Source has been the freedom to redistribute software downstream - be it just binaries, just source or any combination of the 2. Do you think there are any good ways for software companies who make their software open source to prevent their customers from effectively becoming their competitors - by giving away or selling cheaper what they were sold? Or is the only alternative going for a shared-source approach, as opposed to open source, where redistribution can be explicitly prohibited?

  • What do you think about shared consensus technology (i.e. bitcoin)? Are they the bazaar while centralized entities (like the Fed) are the cathedrals? Do you think these technologies can be used in other areas in addition to bitcoin and play an important role in the future Internet?
  • Hi, Eric,

    Haven't seen you since Philcon. Yep, back to heckle you....

    So, in the light of a) the bubble, massively under- or non-regulated, and the as close to free market as they could make it economic collapse of '07-08, in what way Libertarianism's goals have prevented the collapse, or moderated its affects on all the folks hit hard by it, as opposed to government intervention, as weak and cut back as early as it was?

    And directly re

  • Hi, there is currently some debate about the many eyes theory over on HNews ( about why it's a fallacious argument, but in my view they have it all wrong, in that a core component of Linus's Law is that the amount of code is directly inverse to the amount of eyes that can hit all of that code (or a significant percentage).

    Therefore, in my eyes it is the problem of code bloat that is undermining the open source movement more than anything. For example, the Linux kernel is now at, what, 10mil+ lines of code? That's insane. Minix 3, on the other hand, is at ~15k?

    What are your thoughts on this problem?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Really? []

    "...and consequently cuts a wide sexual swathe when he cares to..."

    Seriously? Because you look like a fucking troll, dude.

  • Are you sincere in your vehement G+ rants on Global Warming or is this a clever exploitation of humans "Backfire Effect []" (when given evidence against their beliefs, people can reject the evidence and believe even more strongly)?

    What particularly made me think this at one point was: "Does that kind of language persuade anybody"?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    He's the biggest most pretentious shitbag on the planet. and I'd rather he just went away.

  • haha, I kid.
    Don't you mean GNU/ESR?
    haha, I kid again.

  • So it seems these days the most effective method of DRM is a network interface, like that used by Facebook, Google, Pinterest, etc... You cannot run your own instance of Gmail or Facebook, and you certainly cannot see or modify the code. At the same time all these companies are pressuring us to push our data into their servers by not supporting or coming up with solutions that let us continue to control/manage our data on our own machines and private networks. What can open source do to stem that tide? What about open source licensing? Could webkit or mozilla have slowed down the encroachment of Chrom/ium and its pro-Google agenda if it had more defensive licensing terms like something similar to the GPL? How do we convince hackers to hack on open-source 'website programs', like an open Gmail or an open Facebook (e.g., Diaspora)?

  • Apple today (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wordtech ( 774952 ) on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @07:01PM (#46402539) Homepage
    Your comments in The Art of Unix Programming about Apple/Mac developers being diametrically opposed to Unix developers in development style and emphases (designing simple, user-friendly interfaces from the outside in) were quite interesting. I am wondering about your perspective on Apple now. My interest is specifically in Apple's contributions to open-source (WebKit and LLVM, chiefly) and your take on those. It seems to me that Apple has done quite a bit to foster an alternative ecosystem to the GNU environment, for instance in FreeBSD's adoption of clang as their default compiler; and also it seems to to me that WebKit has supplanted Gecko as the most widely used browser framework. Curious about your viewpoint here.
  • Do you think it would be possible to break into those computers that control the nuclear missiles and launch all the missiles like in that movie Wargames and start a nuclear war with the Russians, and if you think it's possible could you like tell me how, and could you like send it to my email and use like super secret encryption so that the NSA won't detect it, and make the instructions really clear so I can follow them. THANKS!
  • Which is the better battle rifle, an AK-47/74 type or an AR-15/M-16/M-4 type? Please give your criteria as well as your answer.

    Bonus: favorite handgun platform/caliber that isn't a .45 1911.

  • Which editor do you use on a daily basis? Emacs or Vi? :)
    • In his book on the Unix philosophy, he held up emacs as an excellent example, and said some definitely negative things about vi. I thought it detracted from the book. By rejecting software used very heavily by a large number of Unix/Linux geeks, it seemed to be overspecifying the group the philosophy belongs to.

  • You raved about Python in the past. Is it still your preferred language/platform for slinging code?

  • Do you think they need to embrace Open Source to survive? Will they?

  • Do you still feel that you are an accurate and complete proxy for the linux community? You stated as such about 10 years ago...

    And if so why have you thought so over time? If not....what changed?

    You many years ago claimed you were a proxy for the web community and I disagreed in public with the IETF. Just a curiosity.

    I have changed over the years...perhaps you have grown a bit as well...


  • I would like to know how he feels about being a male and having to 'earn' his procreation right. Especially since, if he had born a women and wanted a child - the ease of enslavement of a male (not always the father) for up to 24 years would be the only hurtle. And she Never Never Never Never a need to show even sanity - never mind the hellish torture males are required to go through today to even be considered. Could and should society do the same for women?

    Anyway - it would be good to get his impression o

  • Have you managed to get printing to work on Linux yet?

  • by DavidHumus ( 725117 ) on Wednesday March 05, 2014 @12:36PM (#46409251)

    Your stance on AGW seems to deny the error-correcting features of the scientific method.

    So which do you think is more likely: that AGW-deniers are primarily politically-motivated and don't give a crap about simple facts (like the greenhouse effect of CO2) or that the scientific method is deeply flawed?

  • I know that you do not like GPLv3 due to the fact that you stated that it "punishes" those who use it. The question being, do you think that there is a way to influence large corporations, who have no intention of being a part of the Free Software Movement, without the use of licenses such as GPLv3? Also curious as to whether you have read the comic Everybody Loves Eric Raymond
  • It seems most questions were asked last Tue or Wed, and there's only, about three ESR responses I can find. Am I missing something?

If graphics hackers are so smart, why can't they get the bugs out of fresh paint?