Tag Archives: rms

Learning to grok Lispen

This is not my late entrance into the Unix editor flame wars. I’ve always disliked vi and emacs about equally. I’m sure that both are amazing if you have a memory and use them every day. I don’t. I am, however, interested in computational models. The Unix ‘small pieces loosely joined’ philosophy had always leaned me towards vi. I knew emacs had ‘Lisp inside’ but I didn’t care. I had a bad experience with Lisp at university, but what really put me off was that emacs isn’t just an editor; it’s an environment. It duplicates things that happened elsewhere in Unix. You go in there and you don’t come out until home time. In the Winter, you don’t see light. It is neither small nor loose and I didn’t understand why. Was it the first IDE?

Richard M. Stallman hacked on emacs at MIT’s famous AI Lab. The Lab and its culture were torn apart by a war over intellectual property¬† of the family Lisp machines. It was a difficult breakup and RMS was abandoned by both halves of his family. In reaction to creeping commercialisation he started the GNU project which later enabled GNU/Linux &c.

I’ve realised only recently how incredibly unimportant Unix was to RMS. He simply wanted somewhere to run a Lisp environment that couldn’t be taken away from him, or others who subscribed to the original MIT AI hippy culture and ethics of free sharing of code and information. He ported a ‘C’ compiler to port emacs and started a movement to maintain everything else he needed.

The latest trend in current computing is ‘platforms’. We have gone back to worrying about the ancient concern of application portability. We’ve divided into language tribes: Java, JavaScript, Ruby, Python, .Net, Apple, Google – each with their own library system, to free us from the tyranny of operating systems, designed to free us from hardware. RMS did that in the 70s/80s.

I fought against the idea of Clojure (a Lisp dialect) running on the Java VM rather than a real OS. Another version runs on .Net and one is being ported to JavaScript. I get it now. People want to get stuff done and to do that, they need the support of a tribe (or two.)

MIT’s free educational videos contributed to my understanding of these issues. They used Scheme (another Lisp) before moving to Python to get access to more libraries. Perhaps they should move back to Clojure.


IF socialist THEN IF democratic AND distributed_power THEN Green_Party

I always like ‘crossing the streams’ of my apparently disparate obsessions. Last night my long term fascination in whether the Free Software movement can survive a war with software capitalists, collided with my recent interest in the Green Party.

I have struggled for years to find any political party in the UK that comes close to my political ideals. I am economically Left, Right in terms of Liberty and think the environment is sending us very strong signals that capitalism has been a more destructive failure than communism. I believe in equality of opportunity rather than equality and in distributed rather than centralised power. I prefer incremental change to the unpredictability of revolution. I see little difference between nationalism and racial or religious hatred. No party quite fits my shopping list but at the recent General Election, I decided that the current Green Party comes closest, so far.

Richard M. Stallman, instigator of the GNU Project, who kicked off the the GNU GPL (General Public Licence) and indirectly, the CopyLeft movement has turned his attention to politics in recent years. Arguably, his life’s work, Free Software, is the practical application of ‘social ownership of the means of production’ but RMS is the ‘Marmite’ of the Free Software community. His almost total lack of pragmatism and slightly abrasive personality towards anyone who disagrees with him divides opinions but I have learned over the years to never question his basic logic. He has a habit of being right, even when it is inconvenient.

I have become increasingly suspicious of large corporations and hierarchical power structures. RMS’s idea on ‘too big to fail’ is the best economic solution to monopolies I’ve ever seen: http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2013/02/04/fixing-too-big-to-fail/

In his ‘political notes’, at (https://www.stallman.org) on the day of the UK election, RMS wrote this:

“18 May 2015 (Revitalizing the Labour Party)

Making the Labour Party good for something depends on bottom-up community organizing. Acting like a right-wing party produces a right-wing party.

Perhaps instead of revitalizing the Labour Party, Britons should go Green.”

I also noticed that his preferred US presidential candidate is an independent who describes himself as a ‘Democratic Socialist’. This is surprisingly different to the ‘Social Democrat’ “…view of reform through state intervention within capitalism” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_socialism

“Decentralised socialism”. “…seeing capitalism as incompatible with the democratic values of freedom, equality and solidarity.” Maybe I’m a Democratic Socialist now. Are you?

If RMS thinks the British Labour Party has lost touch with socialism, then I’m a little more comfortable about having thought the same for the last few years too. I was unhappy with the LibDems prioritising economic growth over environmental danger and perhaps I understand better now where my intuitive reaction to that came from.

ESR’s ‘The myth of the fall’

An excellent blog post by Eric S. Raymond (the man who wrote ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar’) on back-projection of current values onto an idealised historical past (with a bit of personal revisionism about his old sparring partner Richard M. Stallman thrown in for good measure)


I found this while researching precise meanings of “Free” (not necessarily free) and “Open Source” (also Free, but with a right-wing personal freedom rather than a left-wing community-ownership stance. The outcomes are virtually indistinguishable.) The thing you probably thought was Open Source, if you’ve ever thought about it, is called “Shared Source”, a term invented by Microsoft.

This is why the FOSS movement isn’t popular with managers. It can’t be explained with a pie-chart.