[Discuss] Free Hardware

Nancy Ouyang nancy.ouyang at gmail.com
Thu Mar 12 22:09:06 UTC 2015

Hi --
Thanks Matt, Alex, Javier, I really appreciate your inputs into the
community and know you meant these comments as a general statement -- but
I'd like to understand how to personally adopt them.

1. Welcoming community is good -- agreed!

However, how do I deal with pent-up frustration with the current state of
affairs as we slowly move toward the "north star"? I think this frustration
can be an organizing and catalyzing force where a lot of work gets done.
Sometimes, confrontation is good
and I don't think we should be afraid of it as long as it's constructive
instead of toxic.

2. North star vs bold line -- agreed!

However, Is it important to distinguish between people we think are
adopting North star practices "for wrong reasons" (whatever those are) who
are throwing up false flags vs people moving toward the North star because
they actually want to join our community? We definitely want to welcome the
former into our community (convert them to the latter) instead of burn
bridges with them, however, again, confrontation may be useful here, or
else they will have more important things to worry about (making money).

That is the source of my "bold line" declarations about Intel Galileo OSHW
(PDF of schematic) not complying with "North Star" OSHW (presumably

3. Our economic system is not going to move to using praise instead of
money anytime soon -- agreed.

However, I think it can be beneficial in cold hard cash even in today's
economy to be open-source. You can get free work done for you, free
peer-to-peer marketing to your customers, become the industry standard,
etc. My gut feeling is that the issue is actually -- developing new
business models is hard and risky. Much easier to rely on old
tried-and-true models.

This risk aversion translates into lack of money very concretely -- try
convincing a skeptical VC (in charge of millions of dollars) about your new
open-source business model, for instance. Good luck! This positive feedback
cycle of aversion/lack of investment in actual "disruptive" business models
is what slows down adoption of North Star ideal, from my perspective.

narwhaledu.com, educational robots <http://gfycat.com/ExcitableLeanAkitainu>
 [[<(._.)>]] my personal blog <http://www.orangenarwhals.com>,
arvados.org (open source software for provenance, reproducing, and scaling
your analyses)

On Thu, Mar 12, 2015 at 5:38 PM, Matt Maier <blueback09 at gmail.com> wrote:

> On Thu, Mar 12, 2015 at 1:23 PM, Javier Serrano <Javier.Serrano at cern.ch>
> wrote:
>> I am trying to find a way to involve some
>> of the 99% of the people out there who are great folks and have this
>> legitimate expectation of being able to guarantee their physical
>> survival, and that of their families, through their work.
> How broad is your definition of "involve?" There are millions of people
> "involved" with baseball. They never play baseball, and they never coach
> baseball, but they pay attention to it and they laud the people who do it
> well and they spend time/money on it directly or indirectly.
> Making a living doing free/libre/open work isn't the only way to support
> its availability.
>> I am an
>> electronics designer. I think I can assert without much risk of being
>> wrong that a majority of the best electronics designers in the world are
>> working on proprietary designs. I might be mistaken, but I don't think
>> any amount of praise would make many of them drop their paid jobs and
>> start designing openly for free.
> There's a distinction between "give work away without charge" and "share
> the rights to the work." The important part of free/libre/open is the
> sharing of the rights to the work. It's entirely possible to make a living
> doing something that has absolutely no secrecy. Take food for example.
> Plenty of people make their living feeding people, but they don't keep any
> secrets regarding where the food came from, or how it was prepared, or how
> it was delivered. They get paid for doing the work because there is always
> work to do.
> I believe the way it works at Sparkfun is that they produce new products
> so quickly there wouldn't be any time to profit from secrecy anyway. They
> don't squeeze out one good idea, then lock it down with IP, then milk it
> for as long as possible. Instead they put out a lot of decent ideas,
> iterate on them based on experimentation and feedback, and then quickly put
> out improved ideas. But they don't "work for free." Instead they share the
> right to do things with the work so that other people can participate which
> is where a lot of the speed comes from.
> Besides, we're getting into the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic
> motivation. Somebody can design electronics only when they're paid at
> market rate and somebody else can do it only when they get to share it with
> all of the other ham radio operators in the world. Same activity; different
> motivations.
>> Do you think it is a worthwhile goal to
>> try to attract some of that talent to free/open design, and if so, do
>> you have a recipe for doing so that does not involve money?
> Of course. I think an awful lot of tangible industries are going to end up
> incorporating free/libre/open principles over the next couple decades. It
> seems inevitable. But that's more like a bucket full of different
> incentives than one cohesive goal. Hardware businesses are going to be
> inherently more conservative than software businesses because all other
> things being equal they have larger capital costs. The community can help
> out by emphasizing the non-monetary incentives, but at the end of the day
> hardware always costs money.
> The community can praise individuals and organizations for each
> incremental step they take towards free/libre/open and can always be ready
> to explain it again and answer questions and clarify what the next step
> could be. The community can also reach out to acknowledge or reward actors
> who did things that are important to free/libre/open but don't come with
> automatic reward (like documentation and interface refinement). The
> community can also glorify the ideals so that the idea that free/libre/open
> is "better" seeps into the collective unconscious. Another thing the
> community can do is police itself so that it's a place people want to be
> just because it's a nice place to be, not because they get something out of
> it that makes putting up with the community tolerable.
>> Since free software is a source of inspiration for many of us, let's ask
>> the question: do you think the Linux kernel would be the same without
>> Linus Torvalds and many other brilliant developers being paid to work
>> full-time on it? If not, do you think it would be better or worse?
> Well..."would it be the same" isn't much of a standard. Of course it would
> be different. If nobody had ever been paid to work on it then it would most
> likely perform worse than it does. A more interesting question is would the
> Linux kernel perform better/worse if Torvalds had enforced community norms
> like not swearing at each other. Torvalds himself seems to think so.
> http://readwrite.com/2014/10/16/linux-linus-torvalds-community-mistakes-toxic-environment
> If we agree that thousands of little improvements can collectively benefit
> the technology, then by extension missing out on thousands of little
> improvements can collectively harm the technology.
> Back to your question of people making their living off of free/libre/open
> work; it's possible that many of the electronics engineers you mentioned
> want a certain salary mostly because they have to put up with a lot of BS.
> If the way they spent their day was just inherently more enjoyable maybe
> they wouldn't need as much money to do it. What if the free/libre/open
> community could make itself an inherently pleasant place to be? Maybe the
> community could approach disagreements as opportunities to compete and
> explore rather than battles to decide winners and idiots.
> That's not to say that people can pay their mortgage with love ;) just
> that if free/libre/open hardware is always going to inherently cost money
> we can at least reduce the other barriers to entry.
> Thanks, this is a really interesting conversation :)
>> Thanks,
>> Javier
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