Passing Through Loops

There is gray, I know
made from too many things.

It happens as each color turns
to fall in the colder (prediction)

Not as dumb luck thinks
blindness and black are one

But more like night, distantly
surrounded by a clarity of voices.

First -
Colors transfixed by the sun
hum immobile yet vibrant
when looking with the eye:
the yellow dot of a dandelion
flat on a brown dirt plane

Second -
Regalia shouldered piled on
with shovels against the hint
of stalking beasts, regalia lifting
imaginatively self's great sky
like a white winged animal spirit
birthed underwater from a crown
wishing to feed and roost

Third -
Orbits know nothing
of day and night
forever locked
in their occasionally
perturbed circles

Fourth -
Light is best
in transition
between day, night
with shadows
accentuating angles
enhancing the most
familiar dandelions

This happens as each color turns
to fall in the colder (prediction).

Time bends in loops like clowns crafting
rubber balloon sculptures for clapping kids.

In the gray that only knows itself
through the accident of strangers

Who could always use
just a little more and then...

Or kept rigidly denied just
for the hell of reinforcing
a struggle that never wins.

For who can hear what came
before everything was new?

Black is the combination
even washed, filtered into gray
clear as words through time
that seeds blow upon wind,
seen only in the light of midnight
by those far outdoors, past bedtime
while the children sleep within.

An Equation, Whose Velocity is Sculptural

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.

– René Descartes

This was a clever Frenchman, born in the late 1500’s. René was a philosopher and a mathematician. In fact, he invented analytic geometry, or Cartesian geometry. For some reason, truth was important to René. He is also considered the founder of modern philosophy, creating a solid intellectual basis from which the natural sciences could evolve.

René believed we must throw out all ideas that cannot be reasonably proven. Often, he toyed with more abstract mathematics as an exercise to better understand truth. In doing so, he laid the foundations that led to Newton’s calculus. He is also the origin of the phrase, “I think, therefore I am.”

Unfortunately, that phrase is not exactly mathematical. But we’ll afford him some leeway. After all, he was bringing philosophy and mathematics together in new and exciting ways, and the “why am I?” question is an oldie but a goody. However, it does bring to light a certain difficulty that we still face today.

Modern philosophers know that “Cogito ergo sum” is not, actually, a very good proof. But René was hindered in large part by not taking his own advice: doubt, as far as possible, all things. René believed that our minds exist separately from the physical world, and as such, were not really subject to ontological considerations. He did not imagine that our consciousness might arise from the physical properties of our existence. So, in a way, he was putting the cart before the horse.

This is not surprising. The duality of mind and body was a concept solidified within the minds of his contemporaries. It was both a social given, and a spiritual “truth”. Interestingly, he did not believe animals had minds. Nor did they feel pain. This was well-reasoned. He often performed vivisections upon live animals to study them. I wonder how he held to his belief, as the animals cried out and struggled. Perhaps it is one of the powers of science, that allows us to carry on in our convictions despite contrary appearances. At least when our convictions are well-reasoned.

Chris and I have had some fun discussions lately, some of which are related to consciousness and existence. There is always something refreshing about returning our attention to origins. One thing is clear, we live in very different times than René, when Western civilization was taking its first steps toward the Age of Enlightenment. They were trying to make sense of the physical within a world of the spiritual, while we are left trying to find at least some room for the spirit in a world of mathematics.

How different we have become, even those of us who claim to lead “the simple life.” Our electricity flows to us through the equations of electromagnetism. Our shoes, ropes, jackets and food containers, formed by petrochemistry. Our money, an imaginary collection of computer memory addresses, modified by equations. Our minds, altered, repaired or enhanced through specific chemicals, electricity and physical modification. The machine work within the cells of our bodies, re-programmed and turned loose by conscious design. And the very fact that my words enter your mind now, a result of quantum positions within the subatomic…

Who needs a spirit any more? When the cells of my body that somehow comprise the mind that speaks to you, are not even real, but are instead a vibrating collection of particles that both exist and do not exist. And each of them, surrounded by a vast sea of empty space. Who needs a spirit, when I am mostly insubstantial already?

When mathematics has all the answers, what is the difference, if you maximize a ledger balance or not? What does it matter, the risk assessments in war? In the collection of particles, of dust, that we are, that move out with our will, which among them is the greatest? Which is the least? Which is me? When all things are functions to be weighed and solved, playing out from their own accord, what does anything truly matter?

This abstraction, with its dehumanizing characteristics, can be attributed to the inherently metaphysical status of mathematics. It brings us far up above ourselves, where we can look back down. It is a peculiar phenomenon. In science, phenomenology is making observations that lead to some conclusion that pays no attention to how we feel things should be, nor what they actually mean. Quite differently, in philosophy, phenomenology is, in a way, the search for a bridge that might somehow lead out from just yourself, to other people, ideas or things.

In philosophy we reached a crisis of sorts with the Existentialists, after our long passage through the the Age of Reason and the Age of Enlightenment. In a sense, it carries us through the processes of logic and mathematics, then plops us down squarely into meaninglessness. We can observe the processes of our world, but in doing so we must acknowledge that these observations originate from our bodies. However, our bodies and the senses we inhabit, are limited. We may construct machines that extend our senses well beyond their limitations, but only along the narrow lines we designate as extensions, i.e., vision or sound. The question arises, is the truth of truths constrained by our physically perceptual and rationally conceptual human limitations? Such a notion is extraordinarily prejudiced and leads us to consider the absurdity that lives at the foundation of science when it purports to be anything more than an art. Art, which merely hints at truths through the tools of its trade. And like all art, what is pleasing to our aesthetic we grant validity, meditation and devotion.

Mathematics exists within its own universe. It is self-referential — self-contained. It follows a logic more pristine than our human thoughts, nestled within the gross confines of language, can achieve. In mathematics, we can determine with certainty whether something is true or not, yet this truth is only valid within the universe of mathematics. If we choose to apply the universe of mathematics to the larger reality we inhabit, we do so only with risk. The bridge between the universe of mathematics and our universe of existence is a metaphysical bridge. In other words, an atom does not work out the equations of quantum mechanics to decide its next action. Nor can we pass laws in mathematics that force the physical universe to behave in different ways. We shape, and reshape our presumptions within the universe of mathematics in an effort to conform to the phenomena we observe within our own. And in doing so, we claim the prize: physics and metaphysics merge. This is the beauty we attribute with truth. However, philosophers, except for the exceedingly naïf ones, understand that truth need not be beautiful. In fact, truth does not, necessarily, require any aesthetic at all.

In this sense, the aesthetically pleasant merging of the physical and metaphysical universe through mathematics can, at best, be considered a metaphor for truth. This metaphor is constrained by the limitations of our senses. Although science can make predictions and often control our physical universe via its metaphysical tools, it is important to remember its more artistic basis when considering the truth of truths.

As we discover an aspect of our existence, even through science, it is often our first thought to re-shape that metaphorical truth toward something even more ideal. In effect, to “correct” a part of our existence within the physics we believe we inhabit. In other words, we may discover a truth, yet even though our understanding of this truth is incomplete, we might have within our minds an improvement upon this truth, which, through our metaphysical tools, we often seek to modify into an idealized state. This is a dangerous flaw inherent within the belief of science as truth: our incomplete understanding of truth often leads us to alter that truth toward an ideal, founded upon nothing but our own prejudices or desires. This is what leads us to consider the prospect of filtering out gay babies, since they will not procreate or will be evil. This is what leads us to ethnic cleansing, based upon a system of rationality. Or war. where millions can be killed based upon probabilities or the maximization of abstract numerics which we imbue with cultural power. Or pharmaceuticals that restrict our minds within the narrow bounds of some normalized function.

Unlike other art, a strongly absolute and literal validity is bestowed upon science. This is, perhaps, why science, like all art, is often under attack by social forces who are determined to instill their own ideas of truth. There is, perhaps, some characteristic of art that we innately recognize as a metaphor for truth. This can easily threaten ideologies based upon weak tautologies. Science, even more than other arts, can threaten as a result of the profound validity we bestow upon it.

However, this power comes at a price. Unlike other arts, science is incapable of critiquing itself. In other words, science cannot question the foundations of science, within the terms of science. In this sense, as a means of determining truth, science becomes, like mathematics, a universe unto itself, self-referential and solipsistic. As such, it lives in isolation as an abstract construction as all beliefs do. We imbue science with its power through a conscious act of attribution: a belief in its indisputable access to truth. To my mind, as beliefs go, this is better than most.

Interestingly, other arts do not suffer in cold isolation like science. Then again, other arts do not claim any absolutism within their basis. What gives science its power is the same force that isolates it from us: the notion of a purely objective and utterly rational universe, despite the limitations inherent within our humanity to fully experience it.

Caught within our consciousness, we seek that which is outside ourselves. Perhaps we desire to understand ourselves within the boundaries of our own perception. Perhaps we simply wish to feel less isolated. In this way, science and the mechanics of rationalism have led us to marvel at the outside world, drawing our attention to the menagerie of pseudo-objective materials that presumably comprise our existence, while simultaneously discounting the importance and highlighting the fallibility of our own subjective experience, and hence, the subjective experiences of others, even though we sense some inherent access to truth within our own subjectivity. Science can only approach this from the outside, and we doom ourselves to conform to its edicts. However, other arts are somewhat gentler. It is a characteristic of all art that we may discover bridges between what might exist within the world, that can span, at least in part, to our experience of individuality; and across those bridges find, perhaps, something truly meaningful. This is, in part, the philosophical meaning of phenomenology.

When we look at the processes of science, we find two primary symbols: theoretical terms and observational terms. “Good” science is generally defined by observational terms linked to correspondence rules into theoretical terms. That is, theoretical entities do not exist unless they can be shown, through correspondence rules, to be connected to observation. What makes science more of an art is the recent lack of distinction between theory and observation, which correspondence rules rely upon as a given. The result is, any disconcerting observations can always, eventually, be accommodated by any theory. Science chooses theories pragmatically: those which fit best with other theories blessed into general acceptance. Observation is no longer required. This is most certainly closer to art than any truth of truths. And as such, it is as close to the truth of truths as art.

The phenomenological philosopher at the outset finds themselves trapped in the isolation of Existentialists, much like science is trapped within its own objectively solipsistic universe. However, the phenomenological philosopher finds themselves in a somewhat different landscape. We suspend any disbelief in ourselves. We assume that we, as an individual, must exist, in one way or another. And in what others might consider a leap of faith, though there are some compelling arguments otherwise, we assume that other things also exist. Even sentient things. Like, and unlike ourselves. Each of us perceives the universe through our own subjective senses. I have no access to the truth of what you see, except through the objects of language and metaphor that we build and share, both within and outside of ourselves.

A phenomenological philosopher is very skeptical of anything claimed to be an absolute object of truth existing within the shared, intersubjective experience we inhabit. However, they are not ruled out. Nor is any object in the intersubjective world blessed into the objective, as a Truth, lightly. It is here that scientists fail as philosophers. They are hasty and reckless in their determinations, with flawed claims of an objective process that is, largely, metaphysical. However, as artists, and even tortured artists, scientists are magnificent. Most scientists will perceive this as a wild accusation.

But, like all artists, an engrossment within your work can lead to a dangerous myopia. It is also the signature of genius. Any passionate pursuit leads inevitably to the darkened beauty of egoism. It is an irony that, in the endless pursuit of the objective truth, the subjective ego should flourish and grow. “The holy egoism of genius,” the The Art of Noise sang.

It leaves me wondering, when you look into the eyes of another — a stranger — and something profound between you is shared and known, without any words, without any hints, that hits at the gut… Who among us is quick to attribute the experience to an equation? Who is quick to say, this is a spiritual exchange? What we do know, is that it is a phenomenon, experienced by us all. And the meaning is to be found within each of us.

It’s Happy Time

I just wanted to share some happy thoughts. They come from the over-the-top well that just keeps giving.

First, the comforting “dark flow” recently discovered by NASA that originates from outside our observable universe, sucking whole clusters of galaxies into oblivion.

Next, the other dark flow, who similarly wants to be outside the observable and accountable when doling out $1 trillion dollars to his former company and their friends — a reward for taking our houses from us, and lending themselves too much money. Some know this force as Henry Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs before he entered into “public service”. That’s some gooood servicing. I mean, in addition to that, the Wall Street firms gave tens of billions more in bonuses to themselves last year than the tens of billions they lost. That is one clever man.

But you know we all have secrets. Like, it might be embarrassing if you were one of these companies lining up for food stamps. Can you imagine? “Oh, Bank of America, what are you doing here?” “Oh, um, nothing. Just, um, thought they were selling tickets for the ballet.” I mean, let those companies keep some of their pride at least — don’t make Paulson tell on them. That needs to be at least as secret as Dick Cheney’s White House visitors log.  You can trust him with secrets. Unless you’re a CIA agent who pisses them off. You shouldn’t be mean to Dick, though. His heart’s broke.

Joseph Naccio was mean. A big mean CEO of Qwest. Can you believe that he refused to spy on us for Cheney and Bush? He pulled some legal bull crap like, oh, you need a court order. He deserves to be in jail now for insider trading. Mean guy.

I’m inspired, too, that we can’t afford to provide health insurance to children, as the President’s veto said. That gave us money enough so we could buy an 80% stake in the country’s largest insurance company for only double that amount of money. We never would have been able to afford to buy a that awesome insurance company if we did something stupid like give kids health insurance.

It makes me proud, as well, that we didn’t waste our money on fixing all the bridges, levies and roads in the country. You just work and pour cement, and then what? And good thing too we cut back on those dumb American’s ability to file bankruptcy. They’re like thieves. But we’re smarter. Because now we have money to buy up all those poor people’s mortgages, and save Wall Street. They just don’t get that it will trickle down like refreshing rain on them if they just would stop bitching.

But still, probably my happiest moments are realizing the great benefit of investing just a small extra trillion dollars to invade other countries and set up prisons around the world to torture people. That’s some awesome return on our investment. I mean, they might hurt us. And we’re worth it.

Now if we could just stop sending so much money to Universities where kids learn so many stupid ideas, and get them going to private, specialized technical schools instead. They’d be so much better positioned for work! Just look at Louisiana, with the school vouchers they get now instead of public education. It’s a great model. No bothersome traditional curriculum to cloud their minds. Plus, all those nasty, dirty, run-down housing projects gone, with funds to replace them with shiny new casinos and resorts. That’s what’ll really help people in the end. Honestly, I think Texas would be better served if we rebuilt there with a nice Disney western theme park to draw tourists in, than replacing all those useless houses and city infrastructures that cost so much money, and give nothing back.

Did you know that Paulson, the Goldman Sachs guy, who wants the $1 trillion to give away, actually helped create the market and business practices that led us here? Lots of people say we’re in a grim situation. But that guy’s a joker — they just don’t get it. He says he doesn’t know how this happened. What a kidder. He’s just messing with you.

I mean, look. Both Obama and McCain’s top advisors were instrumental in the same policies. How could you think that anything might be wrong with that, when they’re all still around? It’s just plain paranoia to think like that.

Oh, and that Pallin chick. She’s crazy. Gotta love her. That Kenyan spiritual leader, Thomas Muthee, praying over her, so she could be Alaska’s governor… all bold-like and stuff? Well, she’s in good company there, with him and God raising her up. That guy even hunts down witches, specially those that cause car crashes in villages. I bet that how she commanded the Alaska militia. How can you argue with someone that God talks to, though? Puuleeez. You’ll being finding your ass out there on the dark flow in no time.

And poor, sad Nader, off on the side being all drown out and unpopular, with nobody listening to his rambling and ranting about all this boring stuff like corporate dominance, 2-party system lockdowns, opening stuff up, workers unions, and blah blah blah…

I mean really, what we need to do is head to the bank. Withdraw our money, and wrap those little green papers into twirly bits, strip naked, and shove them in every orifice of our bodies. Light them on fire, screaming as you run the neighborhood, until you find some piece of metal fence or something you can just leap and impale yourself upon. I mean, just imagine! All that twitching going on at once, with the little smoke clouds over everyone. How can it not just make you smile?

Is Freedom?

I rarely receive such a large response, but the piece on Free Software elicited an unusual reaction — and all of it was positive. The most interesting thing to me was learning that people, even those people who work closely with the information industry, are largely unaware of the history of Free Software. In particular, they did not realize that Richard Stallman played such a significant role as the founder of the the Free Software movement.

This is not really surprising. When you mention Free Software, or Open Source software, most people immediately think of Linux, and the personality most associated with Linux, Linus Torvalds. Undoubtedly, Linus has played a monumental role. However, it is Richard Stallman’s unwaivering adherence to ethics and the cause of freedom that originated the Free Software movement. And it is Richard who continues to act as the little angel (or devil, if you prefer) who whispers within the goodly minds of every Free and Open software developer.

Most end user consumers of Free Software remain unaware of its history and the ongoing forces that drive it. The consumer hears that Free Software is excellent stuff, and that it is free, in every sense of the word. And that is enough to know. That’s fine. In fact, it’s wonderful. Have at it! That’s what it’s there for. Software developers love that you love what they create. They’re happy to help, in fact, they’re usually honored to help. Well, sort of. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, when their creation becomes popular. But strangely, communities tend to grow around such things, and those communities exist to help. They also exist to continue the process of building creations, together. It’s a remarkable phenomenon. In a sense, it is an accidental manifestation of a virtual Socialism. No membership required.

Developers using Free Software for the first time encounter something different than end users do. First, they are happy they haven’t had to pay any money. Second, they are often astonished by the sheer scope and detail that is often available to them within Free Software. It is not uncommon for Free Software developer documentation to exceed any commercial offering by orders of magnitude. I suspect this happens because, as developers, everyone is in the same boat. And that boat should make for a comfy ride. Developers in Free Software also, refreshingly, detect the aura of science behind the tools they employ, rather than marketing. Nothing is hidden, including agendas.

One of the peculiar side-effects of writing with Free Software tools is that your conscience gets tweaked a bit. Even when you are, perhaps, building a system that is meant to be closed and kept secret for some business interest, you feel a compulsion to give back to the community in whatever way you can. This, I believe, is a universal feeling. Perhaps it even speaks volumes about our inherent nature. And it is speaking good things.

But Richard pointed out a few things in that last piece. These are things we should not forget, nor overlook. Speaking of it will require a bit of context. Free Software has been an incredible benefit to the world. As I pointed out, it’s not just about free software. It’s also a statement about freedom. In many ways, we can think of the Free Software movement as a tangible embodiment that represents and vividly demonstrates the benefits available to us from a higher order of freedom. The Free Software movement happened because someone took a stand for freedom, and other people did too. And now, all of us benefit. All of us, except for those who seek to take away freedom, to solidify their own power. There are many ramifications in this, at many levels, both societally and personally. We’ll stick to software, though, for now.

TiVo

I mentioned the TiVo, which created a revolution of its own in home entertainment. The TiVo was the first digital video recorder successfully adopted by the masses. It has always run GNU/Linux. Justin introduced me to the TiVo, and when I first saw it, I was amazed at the capabilities and the sheer beauty of it operation. He had the Series I model, and he could use it just like a normal GNU/Linux computer, as well as a DVR. He could write or install his own programs on it. In fact, a whole community formed around the TiVo where people shared the interesting and amazing new programs they wrote for the TiVo, enhancing its capabilities.

I was sold. I shelled out the money and purchased a TiVo for myself, and now I can’t imagine watching TV any other way. However, by the time I purchased mine, the Series I TiVo was no longer manufactured. I purchased a Series 2. It had a faster processor, more external ports, and more upgrade capabilities than the Series I. However, TiVo had done something bad, too. They began locking down the TiVo, making it impossible to customize it to you desires, unless you wanted to do something risky and radical to gain access. In essence, they continued to take advantage of the GNU/Linux Free Software, but shackled it behind bars, claiming your system as fully their own.

This angered many people, and rightly so. However, TiVo placated the developers by releasing a software development kit, where developers were still unable to access the GNU/Linux system, but they were, at least, able to write custom applications for the TiVo — much like what Apple is doing with their iPhone. TiVo even went so far as to have contests to see who could write the best TiVo application. Many of these applications were very good and eventually found their way onto everybody’s TiVo, through TiVo’s regular software updates. Then, with the release of the Series 3, TiVo closed down all modifications, happily keeping for themselves what others had contributed as part of their own product offering.

Now, although this is somewhat nightmare-ish from the standpoint of freedom, one good thing came about. All GNU/Linux systems are released to the public with legal licensing requirements, just like commercial software. This license is called the GPL (GNU General Public License). When TiVo decided to use GNU/Linux to build their product, they were bound by this license. As a result, and only after a good deal of saber rattling, TiVo released to the public the source code modifications they made to Linux, as was required by the GPL. That may sound a little draconian on the part of the GPL. And it is. This is why:

Free Software is all about freedom (and other good stuff). If someone releases their free software under a GPL license, they get the draconian dragon. It lives within the license for a few reasons. One of the primary reasons is to safeguard the freedom of that software forever afterwards from those would would seek to take that freedom away. The GPL says, in essence, that this software is free! Take it. Use it. Give copies of it to other people. Sell it. Modify it to you heart’s content. But if you do modify it, you must give those modifications back to the community from which the free software was born. And if you sell the free software, or give it away, you can only do so under the terms of the GPL, which basically means, you must always give credit to the programmers who actually wrote it. And other people who accept the software from you must also be bound by the GPL. The freedom dragon follows along, always on vigil.

In this way, once software is made free and released to the world under the GPL, then the dragon works to keep that software free. TiVo didn’t want it to be free. They made some modifications so that GNU/Linux would work with their hardware, but they didn’t want to tell anyone else about it. In other words, they wanted to benefit from Free Software, but they didn’t want to share, and they wanted to lock GNU/Linux into their box. They still do. However, eventually they did release the modifications they made to the GNU/Linux system, which are available for anyone to use.

That is all fairly straight-forward. But as we know, corporations love their money. They like to say, “mine, mine!”, and then make you pay. The record companies are great at this. So are the movie companies. I’m sure many of you remember the CSS encryption fiasco… the young Norwegian boy who cracked CSS encryption that is used to encrypt data on DVDs… Movie companies do not want you to make copies of DVDs. CSS encryption of the DVD data was meant to thwart duplication. However, this boy figured out how to get around that encryption. He nearly went to jail… (thank goodness he was Norwegian).

Similarly, TiVo, to please movie and television companies, does not want you to have the capability to copy shows. However, if you can access GNU/Linux on your TiVo, they feel you are more likely to gain duplication capabilities. As such, they are doing all they can to keep you locked away from your hardware. They are also doing all they can to keep the software locked in.

This is bad enough. But TiVo has done something even more sinister. They are making it impossible for you to use your TiVo hardware for anything other than what TiVo wants. In other words, TiVo must have complete control of your hardware, or your hardware will not work.

They accomplish this by building hardware that expects encryption from the GNU/Linux system TiVo is using. If the hardware does not receive the proper encryption keys, the hardware will not function. So, although technically not breaking the “letter” of the GPL version 2, it does circumvent the intent via technological tomfoolery.

On first glance, it might appear that nothing is wrong with this. Why shouldn’t TiVo be able to do what they want with the hardware they build? They will still release any modifications they make to the GNU/Linux system. But, like many things that appear innocuous on first glance, the more nefarious implications are hidden in subtlety.

TiVo is, in essence, holding GNU/Linux hostage, through a veil of smoke and mirrors. TiVo is using GNU/Linux. However, they have, through hardware modifications, created a requirement that only TiVo can provide you with your GNU/Linux system. If your GNU/Linux system comes from anyone but them, your hardware will not work. This is what flies in the face of the GPL’s spirit. And, it is very terrible for TiVo to do such a thing. Currently, GNU/Linux on TiVo is no longer Free Software.

As a countermeasure, the newest version of the GPL, GPL version 3, contains language that prohibits this sort of circumvention trickery, giving the dragon some new teeth to defend GNU/Linux’s freedom, and ours. In many ways, the GPL behaves the opposite of copyright by protecting freedom instead of restricting freedom. This sort of behavior in a license is often called copyleft. Hopefully, Linus will see fit to release subsequent versions of Linux under the GPLv3, which contains the additional protections, instead of GPLv2 which does not.

So here we have an example of Freedom under attack in some subtle and underhanded ways. I will be discontinuing my TiVo service and building a free Linux MCE system, which is actually a considerable step up in capabilities (and far less expensive). This is my personal act to further the cause of freedom. I’ve been considering switching to MythTV for some time. Linux MCE is a nice bundle of free software, including MythTV. Unfortunately, this requires effort. It is why I have delayed. But I am re-convinced now, after writing this all down. My machines want to be free. Thanks to Chris for pointing Linux MCE out to me.

Apple OSX

Early in Apple’s history they aired a commercial about Big Brother and how you could escape his tyranny if you purchased a Mac. Today, Apple can control aspects of your iPhone without you even knowing. And your computer. Just like Microsoft. In essence, your computer is fundamentally more under their control than it is yours. That is not Free Software.

With OSX, the operating system from Apple that runs newer Macs, Apple has taken a peculiar turn. Apple needed a new, modern operating system for their hardware. They wanted something flexible so they could easily develop, and they wanted something both secure and rock solid. They chose Unix.

Today Apple’s OSX is really FreeBSD Unix. Apple takes FreeBSD, makes some modifications, and re-releases it as an operating system called Darwin. They don’t release their modifications to FreeBSD for ARM CPU’s, however. Those are the CPU’s used in the iPhone. I am not certain about the legalities of this — much of FreeBSD is released under a different license than the GPL. This FreeBSD license does not have provisions to require people to contribute back to FreeBSD.

Regardless, Apple is certainly taking something that is free, exploiting it, and taking away that freedom. Apple will attack any person or company that installs OSX on any hardware that is not built by Apple. In this way, Apple is playing the same game TiVo is. Take something that is free, exploit it, then lock it into a hardware cage where only you have the key. Such an ugly thing, from something as beautiful as Apple products.

Interestingly, too, even if you install Darwin on your computer, you will not have the Apple desktop, nor will you be able to run any of the Apple programs that are so wonderful to look at on that desktop. Apple releases what they feel they should, but it stops there.

Apple is far from a model for Free Software. They happily take from Free Software, but they immediately entrap it. Microsoft does the same. And even as Microsoft takes from Free Software, at the same time they enjoy threatening Free Software with their patent claims. They say, anyone who dares to use and contribute to Free Software is in danger. Thankfully, the Free Software community has been busy on the patent front, as well, and companies like Microsoft and Apple are violating some.

Carry a Big Stick?

These are just two small examples taken from the last piece, addressing some of the concerns Richard raised. It was originally my intention to focus only upon the good stuff that Free Software has brought us, keeping the ongoing war against Freedom hidden. Usually people do not like unpleasant things. There is a tendency to stick your fingers in your ears, cover up your eyes, and run away. Just mind the big pits in the dark.

Unfortunately, we sometimes need to look at the unpleasant. War happens for a reason. The true reasons may not always be clear, and, in fact, may be hidden. Just as I hid them. But the underlying reasons are what contain the broader truths. And broader truths are always important.

A root concept within the struggles of Free Software to remain free is this notion of “intellectual property”. There is a prior post called Healthy Intellecual Symptoms you might want to read for some background information. Keep in mind that copyright (and copyleft) are different from patents. Basically, the question is, can we own thoughts? And if we can, should we?

The piece I just cited goes into some details related to problems we encounter when we try to own intangible things, like ideas. If we believe we can own ideas, the inevitable question arises: where does the scope of this idea begin and end? If I patent, say, clicking on a link with a mouse, does this mean that a patent issued for one-click shopping infringes upon my patent? How about 2-click shopping?

Suppose I invent a new and revolutionary machine. It’s a new way we can interface with computers. This is a tangible, physical object. That’s normal ground for patents. But now let’s look to the intangible patents. Should I be able to patent all possible fundamental uses of this new physical device, as well as the device itself? Can I patent one-eye-look shopping, instead of one-click shopping? Can I make all these new patents on intangible things, before I even release my hardware to the public for sale?

The notion of “intellectual property” is excellent business for patent lawyers. However, it also stifles creativity and innovation. Imagine if the TCP/IP protocol were patented, requiring the payment of royalties for its use. Imagine if Domain Name services required royalty payments. You would be effectively “taxed” for every use of the Internet. Thankfully, we don’t have that. As a result, we can use it, and contribute things to each other across the Internet freely.

Microsoft readily admits that it perceives Free Software as a threat. It also believes Free Software is its main competitor. Free Software is free, so it really doesn’t care what Microsoft thinks. Until Microsoft starts attacking it. By threatening users of Free Software with lawsuits. By scaring businesses who choose Free Software; saying they are violating the law. By funding ridiculous and wasteful lawsuits through other companies, like SCO.

Fortunately, the history of the Internet is difficult to erase, and we see Free Software vindicated on every front. But this doesn’t deter Microsoft. Microsoft has been very busy patenting ideas. Even ideas that were not their own, yet the desire to own. Patents on ideas are like fabricating an arsenal of bombs for warfare. If you have bombs, and deep enough pockets, you can easily prevail over the smaller people, who are the ones supposedly protected by patents. But Free Software has gathered a patent arsenal of their own, in response to threats. And Free Software has many friends, including legal scholars and lawyers, who are happy to do their part in the name of Freedom. So far, this has pretty much kept the patent dogs at bay, curtailing any full-scale confrontations.

If this were not enough, Microsoft has another favorite assault tactic. They call it, “embrace, extend and extinguish”. However, it might be more accurately called, “steal, corrupt and behead”. This is where Microsoft identifies a protocol, data format or program, usually innocent and free, that they either like and want for themselves without competition, or view as a threat. They take it (embrace it), then change it so that it only works with Microsoft products (or sometimes best with) (extend it), and then claim it as their own, forever afterward a part of their closed, proprietary software offerings (extinguishing it). Oftentimes the effect can be devastating to other companies who originally created or rely upon those technologies. Microsoft uses their monopoly position to provide their users with the Microsoft corrupted technology. Then, when this Microsoft corruption becomes the de facto standard, they disallow other companies from using the very technology they “embraced” and “extended”. That’s the “extinguish” bit.

In a sense, this is exactly what TiVo is doing, and very much what Apple is doing with OSX. The only difference is, they are not doing it with the intention to extinguish Free Software. They just want to make a buck. And they are not concerned with any impact they might have upon Freedom while making their buck.

So there you have it. A brief glance into the sordid underbelly of a mostly invisible war. Do not think for a moment that the war’s outcome will leave you unaffected. Many of the same ideologies being fought for are relevant within other sectors as well. Fair use of the Internet, otherwise known as Net Neutrality, shares much in common with Free Software. As does openness in government, through the efforts of such organizations as The Electronic Frontier Foundation, and OpenTheGovernment.org. Actually, when thinking about it, I realize that the tenets within Free Software are similarly shared and held dear by many human-oriented organizations. And unquestionably, the thread that each holds in common is, a firm commitment to fight for what is right and ethical in the world.

So throw off those shackles, me hearties! Ok, so I’m a day or so late. Silly pirates, anyway.

Great Clouds of Invisible Influences

By now, nearly everyone has heard of dark matter. If we ignore dark energy, then dark matter is the stuff that comprises the majority of our universe. However, it is not stuff, as we know stuff. We are mostly familiar with stuff like atoms and molecules that arrange to form the tangible substances around us. As such, it is baryonic. Dark matter, presumably, is not. If the particle physicists are right, dark matter does not interact with us, or any normal matter, in any normal way, except gravitationally. Particle physicists suspect that dark matter is actually WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles). Some claim that dark matter may exhibit charge as well as gravitation, helping to better explain dwarf galaxies.

This may seem a little strange, and it is. It could well be wrong, too. But evidence is growing, only not quite as quickly the wild imaginings of scientists. However, we do know with certainty that something strange is afoot. Vera Rubins was the first person to empirically disclose it. If you remember, she was observing the huge galaxies out there, where you see lots of stars clumped together, turning like giant wheels. The strange thing is, there is not enough substance in galaxies to hold them together in their shapes as they turn. They should be flying apart. But they don’t. And that’s crazy.

More evidence for invisible dark matter comes from subtle observations. Einstein said that any object with mass will warp the space it occupies. That’s what makes gravity, according to him. It’s not really a force. You just slide down that warping, toward the center of the warp. Or rather, you slide toward the center of mass, like the center of the Earth. Or the sun. We orbit the sun because we’re falling toward it, but our centrifugal force of motion counters it, so we keep our distance. (I know, it’s more accurate to talk about inertia…)

But there are other implications to the warping of space. If space actually warped, it should change the path light travels, which is normally in a straight line. People trying to prove Einstein wrong tested this by looking at the stars visible around the sun. They found that they could see stars that should have been hidden behind the sun, but were visible anyway. This is called gravitational lensing, where light appears bent around massive objects, so that you can, amongst other things, see what is behind them. These people ended up proving Einstein right. It appears that objects with mass actually do warp space.

As a side note, this is a huge problem for particle physicists in quantum mechanics. They like to think of gravity as being a force-like thing that is “communicated” between objects with mass through a particle called a graviton. Even if they discover a graviton, it’s a huge leap to tie it back into whatever substance space is made of, so that they can also warp it, as we know that it must.

Anyway, the larger the mass of something, the more it warps the surrounding space. Galaxies have a lot more mass than our sun. And this is where we find another strong case for dark matter. We have observed gravitational lensing happening around galaxies. And the lens strength is far too strong to be coming from the mass of only the visible parts of the galaxy. There must be a considerably larger amount of material in the galaxies to account for the degree of warping we observe.

Cluster MACS J00254-1222 Credit: NASA, ESA, CXC, M. Bradac (University of California, Santa Barbara), and S. Allen (Stanford University)
Cluster MACS J00254-1222 Credit: NASA, ESA, CXC, M. Bradac (University of California, Santa Barbara), and S. Allen (Stanford University)

Another compelling piece of evidence is found in observations of cluster MACS J0025.4-1222. This is a composite image, created by combining observations from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble. This is apparently a collision of two clusters. The red part is Chandra showing the glowing gases of the two clusters being excited as they collide. The blue part is the implied dark matter distribution based upon gravitational lensing effects observed by Hubble. It appears that the dark matter passed through the collision unaffected by any matter, while the baryonic matter interacts in the center. The evidence is compelling. But it is not definitive, as many people portray it.

There are also a couple mathematical arguments that suggest dark matter, but they confuse me. I won’t even pretend to understand them. I don’t trust them, either. String theorists, particularly those with a passion for supersymmetry, are too comfortable building houses of cards, and cheating their way out of death. I’ll stick with the experimental physicists.

So we know something massive needs to exist in every galaxy — a massive thing that we cannot detect. For a long while, many scientists thought it might be brown dwarf stars (very dim) and black holes which might account for all this extra mass. We wouldn’t be able to see them. However, despite having thoroughly watched, we have never seen something unexpectedly blot out any objects behind it, as should occur with large objects. So it seems the invisible stuff is something altogether new.

If dark matter is, indeed, non-baryonic, how can we know for certain that it exists? Well, if dark matter is actually WIMPs, as the theoretical physicists suspect, it would exist as a massive invisible cloud that fairly evenly surrounds galaxies (and us!). Dark matter would annihilate with itself whenever it came in contact with other dark matter, too, possibly creating an electron and an anti-matter electron (positron) in the process, with a burst of gamma energy. In this case, dark matter would likely be neutralinos, which is yet another subatomic particle in the particle physicist’s menagerie.

It is possible some evidence of this will be forthcoming. Remember all those space observatories I wrote about a while ago? One of them was WMAP and its job was to measure and map the background radiation of the entire universe. As it was looking around, it also had to look through the center of our own Milky Way. It was very, very bright. Too bright. And there are many who suspect this might be a result of the energy released by dark matter self-annihilation. And though it’s not saying much with theorists, it does say something — they can make the math work, too.

Dark matter is most certainly strange. Excluding dark energy, nearly 85% of the stuff around us is actually invisible dark matter, whatever it might turn out to be. We would have to ignore a lot of evidence to discount the existence of dark matter — or perhaps we are just not taking something very fundamental into account. And some galaxies are even stranger. For example, the dwarf galaxy Segue 1, which orbits our own Milky Way, looks to be composed of over 98% dark matter. It is a large turning cluster of invisibility, with just a few stars rotating along with it.

So here you go. Hopefully it will help you get into the Halloween spirit, knowing that there actually may be dark, invisible things literally surrounding us. It’s certainly looking more and more true.