Centenarians, Freedom, and Innovation

Requiem

One hundred years and four days. That's how long a remarkable guy named Norman Vaughn lived, I recently heard on the radio. Norm was an Alaskan adventurer I've met several times. When I first met him, he was in his 80s, taking a sea kayaking navigation class. He was taking up a new sport.

Norm had visited the South Pole with Admiral Byrd, on the first expedition to make it to the pole. Norm had raced in the Iditarod many times, most often winning the Red Lantern award for the last racer to finish each year. Norm was an irrepressible optimist, living his dreams every day, and an inspiration. He died two days before Christmas.

One hundred years ago, there were no computers, no IBM, let alone Microsoft, and certainly no open source software. It would be interesting to compare common attitudes and platitudes from then and now.

In 1905, did people identify themselves as consumers? Did people say "you get what you pay for"? Were people who taught others the lyrics of songs considered pirates?

You Get What You Pay For

How many times have you heard this phrase? If it's free, how can it be any good? There must be a catch. As consumers, we've been taught this since we were little tykes. You spend more to get better quality, to avoid having stuff that breaks, to indicate our status to our neighbors.

When I meet with a potential new client, this question is always on their mind. Sure, freeware is free, but it comes with a catch--you need to sit through the advertising. It installs spyware on your computer. There's always a downside, right?

Well, not always. If we step out of our consumer roles, and look at other areas of our lives, cost doesn't necessarily have much to do with quality.

School, for example. When you pay for a college education, how much of your expenses go to the curriculum, and how much goes to the professors? Are you paying for the college degree, or the books? While there are certainly technical schools such as those providing aviation training, where the stuff costs more than the people, in the majority of cases, you're paying for the teacher, and the school, and only a tiny fraction for the curriculum. Much of the curriculum of a liberal arts education is completely free, beyond the cost of the paper and book binding, because much of our heritage has passed into the public domain. While some colleges are more prestigious than others, this tends to be more related to the professors at the school and the connections of the alumni, rather than the curriculum--the same books are available at the same prices, whether it's for a class at Harvard or at your local community college.

I could get more graphic with my points here, but let me leave it with this: does paying for sex make it better than getting it for free?

Innovation

Walter Ritter invented a service that found the lyrics to songs and made it possible to download those lyrics to your iPod along with the music. CDs, and before them, record albums, have usually included lyrics and liner notes in the cover. Why shouldn't you get lyrics when you purchase the same music in digital form, through the Internet?

Well, you don't. And the record companies sent Walter some nasty cease-and-desist letters, accusing him of copyright infringement. After a bunch of bad press, they're backpedaling now, and may allow Walter to continue his business--but after the whole experience, he's going to think twice before inventing more cool things.

I'm a writer, and a developer, and I've sold photographs, too. I'm a content producer in our society, and I think copyrights have given far too much control to the owners.

Creativity is nearly always built upon other ideas, other work, other elements in the environment around us. Having to analyze whether it's okay to use bits and pieces of other people's work in your innovations grinds creativity to a halt. Creativity doesn't happen in a vacuum.

All too often I hear from my writer, musician, and photographer friends concerns about other people copying their work. This concern stems from a difficulty making a living doing creative work. The problem is, when you deal in creativity, exposure is more valuable than cash. If you work hard to stop people from "pirating" your work, nobody will bother paying you for it--there's plenty of other content out there available for less hassle. Anything that inhibits the spread of your idea can lower its value.

I'm making the argument that the artists who are the most popular, who've become the most successful, are those who have been copied the most. As an artist, is it better to spend time actively working to stop people from seeing your work, or improving your work, encouraging copying, and developing a name for yourself? People who do very well in creative fields don't waste energy trying to stop people copying--they'd rather get a copy out to anyone who wants it than earn a few pennies off a much smaller group. You don't get rich and famous by being miserly--you do it by being outstanding. And, of course, by being in the right spot...

For more information about these topics, check out the Creative Commons and the Free Software Foundation. Freelock, LLC is proud to be a Creative Commoner, having made a financial contribution to the Creative Commons. This newsletter is published under a Creative Commons Attribution license, meaning you can use it or any part of it any way you'd like, as long as you give me credit for it. And the same principles are behind the whole concept of open source software.

Freelock News

Business booming, we've turned the corner. In 2005, we had 37 paying customers of our services. We added a third server, this one named Rainier and located in a datacenter in Virginia. We're administering over 20 computers on a regular basis, and tracking security vulnerabilities in around 50 applications. For the past few months, we've been booking work a month in advance, which is why we haven't had time to write! We're looking for more Linux talent--if you know of a college student or recent graduate who is good at working with computers and interested in an internship, send them our way...

We have a couple of exciting business operations systems in progress, including an exercise results tracking system for a fitness coaching company, an HTML scraping framework, and our in-house project management/time-tracking system. Our Team Check-in software is powering the schedules for Pacific Little League, which covers the Lynnwood and Edmonds area. We've set up a bunch of new Joomla sites, the most recent of which are http://leslielucas.com/ and http://www.windwood.info, with several others going live in the next few weeks. And our hosting and maintenance business continues to grow.

About Freelock Computing

We provide technology strategy, implementation, and maintenance for our partners at a low monthly rate. We focus on general business processes: marketing systems, sales management systems, operation support systems, financial systems, and reporting. We provide integration of these systems, with particular attention paid to security. We provide custom development services, maintenance, and superior documentation. If you know any small or growing businesses who need a technology partner, we appreciate your referral!

Until next time,
John Locke
Manager, Freelock, LLC

This newsletter is available on line at /news/0306.php. Feel free to forward on to anyone you'd like! Also note that any links to Amazon in this newsletter and on the Freelock sites are affiliate links--if you purchase a book by following one of these links, I get a small commission.

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  1. When I first handed John an initial disaster- an unfinished website that had to be completely rebuilt, he took all in stride and developed our site from the ground floor up, with speed and expertise. In addition, John has continued to take initiative in making our site to be one that we are extremely proud of. John continues to be a collaborative partner in the maintenance and continued development of AnswersForElders.com. I highly recommend him and his team for all your open source web needs.

    Suzanne Newman, CEO
    AnswersForElders.com

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