Jerry Garcia – Father of Open Source

Yesterday was the anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death. I met him once, backstage at the Oakland Coliseum in 1988 during the Grateful Dead’s New Year’s Eve show, and we talked about banjo playing, Steve Martin, and his fondness for Forbes Magazine. A very nice man.

I was in a conference room at CompuServe’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio when I heard the news and I had to excuse myself from the meeting to collect my thoughts. It was also the day of Netscape’s IPO. Ironic that I was in the bastion of closed online systems and mourning the death of the Godfather of OpenSource.

I had been a Dead Head since a friend left me a copy of Mars Hotel he “borrowed” from an older brother. I was in my formative years in terms of music taste and one song on that album — Unbroken Chain — mystified me enough to propel me to start buying every Dead album I could get my hands on. This was in the very early 1970s, when the band was arguably at their zenith, and I was old enough to wish I was a hippie, but young enough to know I wasn’t. In August of 1976 — thirty years ago — I saw my first Dead show at Colt Park in Hartford. It was chaotic, amazing, and the beginning of a fondness that hasn’t passed yet.

In the mid-80s I found a BBS called the Brokedown Palace where Dead Heads posted ASCII files of the shows they owned and the shows they wanted. You could download other Dead Heads’ lists, see what they had, and propose a trade. It was strictly honor system. The preferred media were Maxell Gold 90 minute tapes. So I invested in a dual deck cassette recorder and started swapping, finding along the way one of my best friends, Ben Lipman, who was a senior at Milton Academy and thought it very funny he was swapping tapes with a writer at a business magazine with two babies in a Boston apartment.

The process was simple. You’d identify the ten tapes (two per show generally) from another trader’s list which were usually annotated in terms of their quality and “generation” or the degrees of separation away from the original recording. A first generation tape was one recorded either directly by a taper — who was a fan who purchased a ticket for a special section set aside by the band. There, in the company of other tapers, they would use a Sony D5 or D6 and stick a forest of microphones up in the air on telescoping poles. Very coveted were so-called Betty Boards, or tapes made by a woman who worked for the sound crew and were directly patched off of the band’s soundboard.

An email would be sent to the person you wanted to trade to, and they in turn would look at your catalogue. select ten they wanted, and off you went to the store to buy a box of Maxells. For a day or two you’d copy your tapes to the blanks, provide the set lists, stick everything back in the box, wrap it up, and snail mail it off. A few more days would go by and like a miracle a box of tapes would arrive in your mailbox. I never once was screwed in the transaction.
A compendium to all the Grateful Dead’s concerts, DeadBase, was compiled by some Dartmouth geeks. It became my bible, ranking every song, every concert, every set list.
I accumulated well over 500 cassettes which I still have today, slowly rotting in the attic, but the source of covetous fascination by my son’s friends, all of whom are Dead Heads in their own right. The band decided to release their own recordings under the Dick’s Picks label, and I think there are about 50 live shows now available on CD. Definitely not as fun as the old Brokedown Palace days, or trading on the W.E.L.L., but the quality can’t be argued with.

The Dead were the first band to encourage their fans to record shows and share them. As Garcia said, when the band was done with the music it was the fan’s to share. The only rule was no selling or profiteering and the fans were self-policing, criticizing anyone who tried to sell bootlegs.

Other bands followed suit — notably (and ironically because of their lead role in criticizing Napster) Metallica and Phish. The advent of digital recording technology and the ride of the Internet, specifically Brewster Kahle’s sparked a renaissance in the past decade, leading to the controversial decision to shut down the availability of shows through a year ago.

So, why is Jerry Garcia the god-father of OpenSouce? It’s pretty simple — Garcia’s support of profit-free trading marked a breakthrough in the music world in terms of intellectual property rights. The engineering-geek slant of many of the fans (the W.E.L.L. was dominated by it’s Dead conferences, many of the participants were Valley engineers) permeated the tape-trading culture.

This post was sparked by J.P. Rangaswami’s “about” page at Confused of Calcutta.

“…given that my thoughts on opensource were probably more driven by Jerry Garcia than by Raymond or Stallman or Torvalds et al.”

The sharing ethic that drove the development of the computing industry in the 60s and 70s (see John Markoff’s What the Dormouse Said) evolved into the shareware movement of the late 80s and eventually was a driver behind the Free Software Foundation, the formation of the General Public License, and today is, it may be argued, the basis of the OpenSource movement. Stewart Brand, the founder of the W.E.L.L., uttered the famous quote at the first Hacker’s Conference:

“”Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine—too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, ‘intellectual property’, the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better.”

When launching in 1994, there was intense debate about whether or not to lock the content behind a subscription wall. I stuck to my guns that we needed to be free and big, not paid and small, and philosophically my instincts were driven by Captain Trips more than anything else.

tecosystems: What Lenovo Should do with Linux


Steven O’Grady is putting an X60s ultraportable Thinkpad through its paces with an installation of Gentoo Linux. He blogs some good advice for us:

Q: What do you think Lenovo could do to better support users like you that want to run Linux?
A: There’s been a lot of press about Lenovo and its support or lackthereof for Linux in recent months – see CRN here or here. While I will not presume to speak for or on behalf of Lenovo in this context, as a user of desktop Linux I’ve been encouraged by Lenovo’s willingness to have a dialogue on the subject. Particularly when that dialogue results in me getting new hardware.But in all seriousness, based on the conversations that we’ve had and the fact that I’ve been given this machine for testing I’m relatively convinced that Lenovo does perceive in Linux an opportunity – and just as importantly, they’re willing to listen. What they’ll do with that remains to be seen, but I think a very nice start would be by assessing – via the community, if possible – the degree of Linux support for the various devices and peripherals, and delivering around that. It’s no secret that some hardware makers are serious about providing Linux drivers for their hardware (e.g. Intel), and some are much less so (e.g. ATI & Nvidia). It’d be nice to see a hardware manufacturer take that into account, centralize and make transparent the level of support available, then design a model or models accordingly. There’s a lot more that could be done, and we’re pushing in some other areas and trying to make certain conversations happen, but that’d be a great start.

tecosystems: Meet Bishop [Linux on a X60s]

tecosystems: Meet Bishop

Stephen O’Grady at Redmonk is doing a Linux install on our hottest ultraportable — the X60s. I didn’t dare do my first Ubuntu build on my primary office machine due to Lotus Notes concerns, so I’m going to follow his smart commentary on how well the X60s does when put through its Linux paces. Stephen points to the Think Wiki, which is an excellent resource for Thinkpad owners looking for Linux info.

“I’ll have to put my more detailed review of the x60s off for a bit – particularly its Linux compatability – because at the moment I’m hung up with my installation of Gentoo Linux. First impressions were excellent but brief, because about 10 minutes after I first booted the machine I was shaving down the XP partition (using Acronis Disk Director) to carve out space for my Linux instance.”Installation from there went smoothly until I tried to boot into Linux for the first time and was unable to (the XP partition is just fine, and is there if I need it). Before anyone jumps to conclusions and decides either that x60’s are incompatible with Linux or that installing Linux on the desktop is hard, let me say that I’ve purposefully chosen one of the hardest installation procedures – a fully manual Gentoo setup. According to Thinkwiki, people have had little difficulty getting both SuSE 10.1 and Ubuntu Dapper set up on this model. While I may be forced into taking that route (I’ ve got Dapper downloading now just in case), I’m going to continue with my efforts to get Gentoo installed because that’s what I’m most comfortable with.

Desktop Linux at the Tipping Point?

tecosystems: A Lazy, Pre-Holiday weekend Post
Steven O’Grady at Redmonk asks:

Linux at the Tipping Point?:

“You remember how I said the Tipping Point for desktop Linux was not yet in sight? That’s probably still true, but I have to admit, when a near 20 year Mac user with a Mac tatoo decides to leave the platform I might need to rethink my timetable just slightly. And where are all the ex-Mac folks going to? Ubuntu, almost universally. Interestingly, they also seem to be choosing Lenovo’s Thinkpads in large numbers.

I’ve been running Ubuntu for a week now on an X41 Thinkpad and am very, very happy with the experience. As O’Grady also notes in his post, Ubuntu’s package management for apps is superb and makes the entire experience a friendly one. However, I can predict this machine I am running will fall silent the second I try to depend on it for corporate communications due to Lotus Notes lack of support and my technical lassitude in getting Notes to run within the
Wine emulator. That, and knowing the security parameters of the corporate network, this machine will not integrate well. I need to figure out how to integrate it into the home network so I can pull music off of a shared server drive. Ah, holiday weekend beckons and I have better things to do.

Ubuntu Essentials, 2006 edition

Essentials, 2006 edition [dive into mark]

Mark Pilgrim’s (former Mac man, moved to Ubuntu on Lenovo Thinkpad) list of essential Ubuntu apps.

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