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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Self-Delusion and Debian - Codehelp

I am not a programmer at all. Therefore I see GNU/Linux in a different way than how programmers do. I was wrong. Some, developers. specially of Debian seem to view GNU/Linux and understand it in a manner that is different from how or what a commercial enterprise views a 'free' Operating System. I am glad they do. The fact that they view it as more than an operating system always appealed to me as a novice GNU/Linux user. People accused me of having my head high up in the sky for holding my beliefs - therefore it has been a great relief for me to know that I am not alone in how I view GNU/Linux, specifically, Debian. How I came to this idea is a matter of serendipity. It started from Daniel posting this:

So, I decided to try deliberately believing a false thing: namely that my Debian work is valuable and worthwhile. And hey, it worked! I still know that what I'm doing is worthless, but I can convince myself otherwise for stretches of time, and I have enough fun while I'm working on the project that I consider it worth a small amount of unreality. It sure beats the heck out of computer games (which I still spend a distressingly large amount of time on). The doublethink aspect of it creeps me out, but I can't argue with the results.


It came like being doused with a bucket full of ice water while sleeping. I began to question myself. I began to doubt.

Is using GNU/Linux only about the code? Is it merely a bold marketing ploy to lure computer users away from Windows? Is it limited by all of that?

I guess I will always be a man of questions. To some extent, the answers are forthright. Computers were invented to be tools. Code is a tool. GNU/Linux is a tool. As to what it is used for, is a matter of choice. It could be used for good it could be used for evil. It is a tool.

An even greater question lies: to what end should the tool be used? Who decides on how it should be used?

The easy answer to that is the user. Me. You. Everyone. Should it be like that? Yes and no. The developers call Debian the Universal Operating System. Use it for all intents and purposes as you see fit. It is therefore apolitical, agnostic and stand to be used only as a tool.

In my opinion, I hope that I don't offend anyone with it - that is sad but all too realistic. I don't know why I believe that it should be the other way around. I know I am wrong to say that it should be just like that. Somehow, deep inside, I feel that it is something more than that. Maybe I have watched too many movies and too much Matrix. Just maybe.

A screwdriver is apolitical. It was meant to screw. But for some reasons it could also be used as a weapon, a lever, a magnet, whatever. All of those are possibilities.

But again, for me: code is different. It was created at a higher level of thought than the screw driver. Not anybody could make software. People who can are usually those with adept analytical and mathematical skills beyong that of the average human. But apolitical, amoral it is.

The conflict that is happening on my mind now is this: if it were only a tool why come up with a blind adherence to guidelines. Come to think of it, I figured out just now - to make a good tool.

It's like the effort to make the best darn screwdriver in the world. Which is not bad. It gives everybody the chance to screw efficiently.

I am failing at this rationalization.

Neil says,

Voluntary work is generally for the benefit of others. In free software it is about writing code to solve our own issues in a way that others can use without facing the problems that we had to solve. Writing new code to solve a problem or fixing bugs in existing code to solve a new problem can only help others if the solution is shared. So the validation of that work is in helping someone else accomplish a task without having to spend the time fixing that issue, leaving them time to fix the next one.


Improving Debian won't make us more important to the universe, life and everything (the answer to that is 42 as we all know), but it will help others do what they do, it will improve their lives and their ability to spend their time on what they want to do instead of having to fix problems that we have already solved.

Debian, to me, is about sharing solutions. Helping someone else do something that Debian could not do before, without requiring them to fix all the problems that I had to solve to devise the solution in the first place. Sharing not just the solution but the method of the solution and the means to extend the solution to new problems.


Well said. But still the questions remain: solutions to what end?
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