Monthly Archives: October 2006


Here’s a story, a story about IBM and open-source. It is also a kaddish story.

Since early in 2003 I have been a member of the team responsible for the day-to-day management of IBM’s open-source activities. When an opening came up and my name was suggested I eagerly sought the job, both because I was looking for something new to do and also because I wanted to see how a major corporation engaged with open-source as a serious business activity. One of the first proposals I dealt with was brought forward in March of 2003.

The proposal was called “C Vacuum Cleaner” and came from a team in the Netherlands. It related to a project started in 1999 by an IBM employee, Jan Willem Wissema. It was described as an “Automated C/C++ Preprocessor Statement Cleaner” and had evolved to a point where it had become a “Tool used within IBM’s Internal Mission by IBM AMS Netherlands” and the “CFSW Project – IBM’s High-End Software Configurator for our Sales force.” The proposal went on in the next few sentences:

Jan Willem Wissema fell ill, 2001.

Last wishes on his last day — request to IBM to consider “open-sourcing” his Vacuum Cleaner work.

Open-sourcing the Vacuum Cleaner has business benefit to IBM.

Though one might assume that the nature of the proposal would make approval obvious, I was impressed by the thoroughness of the presentation. The proposing team met all the requirements and answered all the questions asked about proposals to start a new open-source project. The proposal was approved.

I’m proud to work at IBM, because I get to work with the kind of folks who didn’t ignore Jan Willem Wissema’s request, but worked to meet it, and in so doing made his work available after his death so others could see it and perhaps even make use of it. They honored his memory. That’s why my IBM badge is one of my proudest possessions.

As I have recently come to appreciate, this story is not just about IBM and open-source, but is also a kaddish story.

A few months ago I noticed a new book in our house: Living a Year of Kaddish: A Memoir, by Ari Goldman. Ari Goldman is, in his own words:

Ari L. Goldman, a nationally recognized expert in religion and journalism, is the author of three books, including the best-selling The Search for God at Harvard. He serves as a tenured professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he is the director of the Scripps Howard Program in Religion, Journalism and the Spiritual Life. Professor Goldman came to Columbia in 1993 after spending 20 years at The New York Times, most of it as a religion writer.

My wife said the book would be the first book to be discussed by a reading group at our Temple this fall. The book is about his experiences mourning his father’s death and the people who formed the community in which he mourned that death over the course of a year.

It is also a book filled with stories, stories about people gathered together in that community in a process of collective mourning, a process which collectively leverages the power of the community to assist each individual mourner.

Here a few of the quotes and writings that can be found in the early pages of the book:

After the grave is covered by earth, the son takes off his shoes, walks a few steps from the cemetery and says kaddish, for it is a prayer that renews the world.

Rabbi Joseph Caro, in his sixteenth-century code of Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch

At the age of fifty, I was no longer the child of divorce. I was no longer the child of anyone. Losing my parents altered my view of myself — and of them — in ways I had not anticipated. My year of mourning, for all its hardships, became a time of insight and growth

Mourning also became a time for mentoring and modeling. I lost my father, I reasoned, but I myself am still a father. …
for me, kaddish was as much a chain as it was a prayer. It was a chain that in some way continued toconnect me to my parents, and will some day connect me to my children.

And, finallly, mourning became a time of community.

We came for prayer and we prayed, but we also talked, joked, laughed, and gossiped. We shared each other’s stories and helped dissolve each other’s pain. We became a community in the very best sense of the word; we knew that as individuals we were bound to the earth, but as a minyan we could reach the very gates of heaven. My kaddish connected me to my family, but it was empowered by my community. The story of my year of kaddish starts with me, but it derives meaning and context through the people I touched and the people who touched me every morning.

The book club met to discuss the book this past Sunday morning. By a stroke of great good fortune Mr. Goldman was at our Temple that same day, to discuss his book at a “Brotherhood breakfast.” We all got to hear him speak and the book club members were able to engage with the author of a book just after discussing it.

Kaddish is both a prayer and a ritual process. The Kaddish Prayer is, as Professor Goldman said in his talk, the most well-known prayer after the Sh’ma. Almost everyone knows of it or has heard it at some time, most likely at a funeral. For example, back in the 60’s, decades before I became a Jew, I recall seeing an episode of the TV series Combat! with a scene in which a soldier has just died. There’s a short part, just a few seconds long, in which a friend learns of the death, and then says the first words of the prayer, “Yitgaddal v’yitqaddash sh’meh rabba,” before moving on. [1] Just by that I knew that both the dead soldier and his comrade were Jewish.

The prayer is also central to the Jewish process of mourning, of bereavement; see Bereavement in Judaism.

He gave a very moving presentation. At one point he said he had spoken many times about the book and that he could usually see the effect on the audience. I can personally attest to that in that, while I never quite cried, I came close to doing so, because of the power of the memories his words brought to mind.

One of the stories Ari related was one that struck me when I first read the book, because it turns out some people say kaddish for others, even though they have no obligation to do so. As he relates on page 54:

Allan had a kaddish story of his own, too. He had been attending our morning minyan for a year when a neighbor and friend, Deborah Norden, died in an airplane crash near Pittsburgh. At the memorial service he learned that no one would be saying kaddish for her because her parents were not observant and her husband considered himself a Buddhist. Allan felt that someone should remember Deborah with a year-long kaddish, and so he assumed the obligation himself. Most of all, he was moved by the death of this young woman who had been his friend. But, as he also told me, “In the back of my mind was that I could in some way perhaps make up for not saying kaddish for my father.”

Where did he get the idea? He said that he was following the example of a friend of his father’s named Archie Green. When Archie realized that Allan and his brother would not be saying the year-long kaddish for their father, he decided to take on the obligation himself in memory of his friend. “I did for Deborah what Archie did for my father,” Allan said. And several years later, when Archie died and left no one to say kaddish, Allan Koznin spent another year saying kaddish, at Ramath Orah, this time for Archie Green.

During the discussion after his talk, I posed the following question to Professor Goldman:

I started blogging quite intensively back in mid-September. Though I have thought of myself as a solitary person one of the things that has struck me is how much of my blogging has been about specific people and stories about them.

But the one thing that has surprised me the most, something I would have never have thought of when I started blogging, is how many of my posts have been about me as a Jew.

Aside from the book itself, has the experience of writing it changed how you write or what you write about?

He responded, as best I can recall, that it had indeed changed him. He has kept a diary since the age of 19, and writes to clarify his thinking, to learn more about himself. He said he had learned much from the writing of the book, and that he had been especially moved during many of the talks he has given about the book since its publication.

He asked for the name of my blog. Realizing he might actually read it, I copied back some of the posts I had spun off the the “Tracking Tom Friedman” blog, as one of them is the first in which I mentioned my being a Jew.

Here is a list of the posts on this topic, in the order in which they were posted, earliest first:

In closing, I have often said that open-source is not just about the code, but about the people who write it. And it’s not just about the individual developers but the communities they build. And it’s not just the communities but the relationships you can build with those communities.

Both Kaddish and open-source are about communities. For the last few months in my volunteer activities trying to find ways to encourage folks with open-source skills to use their skills to make the world a better place — what we Jews call Tzedakah, or Charity — I have come to appreciate that open-source is very important in that it offers new ways to make our world a better place; for example, the Sahana project I have mentioned in early posts and also in the area of education, an area which I intend to make my focus going forward. So those of us who engage in this effort should understand that what we do is not only important, but in some way is sacred, and hence we have an obligation to preserve and strengthen open-source as much as we can, so it can be used by communities yet to be formed.

Jan Willem Wissema – may his memory be a blessing.


1. The Kaddish prayer is in Aramaic, not Hebrew. The two are closely related. One of our Temple members, a native of Israel, saw Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ soon after its release. The soundtrack includes Hebrew and Aramaic; see The Passion Of The Christ – Aramaic an ancient language comes alive. She said that because of her native fluency in Hebrew she was able to understand much of the Aramaic portions of the soundtrack and that she found it virulently anti-Semitic.

Tom Friedman Effect

The “Tom Friedman Effect” (TFE) postulates that if a blogger posts a “Tom Friedman post” (TFP) shortly after the New York Times publishes a new column by Thomas L. Friedman then the blog will enjoy a measurable increase in web traffic as a direct result. A TFP is a new post with a title of the form “Thomas L Friedman title-of-toms-column.” Whether or not the content matters is an open question.

TFE is to blogs as the Slashdot effect is to web sites.

TFE also provides a way to measure the Level of Obscurity of a blogger. Almost all bloggers labor in obscurity but few are willing to admit it Here are the initial levels:

  • 1. True obscurity: Less than 5 views/day;
  • 2. Bitter obscurity: TFP posts account for more than half of each week’s views;
  • 3. Little Obscurity: TFP posts account for more than half of the views on the day after their posting;
  • 4. Non-obscurity: TFP posts account for less than half the views on the day after their posting;
  • 5. Fame: TFP posts have minimal or no effect on the number of views.

It is conjectured that Fame means one of the following:

  • You *are* Tom Friedman. [1]
  • You are more famous than Tom Friedman. Tell Tom to read your web traffic figures and weep.
  • You have lost your internet connection. Traffic has gone to zero but you haven’t realized it because you have become so used to obscurity that you don’t even examine these figures any more.

Is Tom Friedman effective? You can bet your web traffic on it.


1. The New York Times hosts Tom’s blog. Each of his columns therein published is a primordial TFP.

twit-tag: tom-friedman-effect open-source-twit

Thomas L Friedman Big Ideas and No Boundaries

Tom hit another one out of the park today. Here are some relevant parts:

My rabbi told this joke on Yom Kippur: At the front of the lunch line at a parochial school was a bowl of apples with a sign that read: “Take only one. God is watching.” At the end of the lunch line, after the entrees, was a bowl of cookies, where a student had put up a sign: “Take all you want. God is watching the apples.”

Because in this new era of globalization, so many people now have the communication and innovation tools to compete, connect and collaborate from anywhere. As a result, business rule No. 1 today is: Whatever can be done will be done by someone, somewhere. The only question is whether it will be done by you or to you. In such a world, the way our society flourishes is by being as educated, open and flexible as possible, so more of our people can do whatever can be done first. It matters that Google was invented here.

“That society which has the least resistance to the uninterrupted flow of ideas, diversity, concepts and competitive signals wins,” says Nandan Nilekani, C.E.O. of the Indian tech giant Infosys. “And the society that has the efficiencies to translate whatever can be done quickly — from idea to market — also wins.”

A few days later, in Silicon Valley, I met Arijit Sengupta, a young Indian-American educated at Stanford, whose company, “BeyondCore,” developed a software algorithm able to detect and reduce errors in outsourced back-office work. When I met Mr. Sengupta, he handed me a card with his logo, which, he explained, was designed by a graphic artist he found online in Romania. His database and Web server are freeware [Ed: emphasis added], and he has outsourced his marketing, sales support and patent filings to Indian firms. When I asked, “Where’s your office?” he held up his BlackBerry, which takes calls forwarded from numbers in India, Boston and Palo Alto. He and his seven workers already have one Fortune 500 client.

“When I started this company I never had to think about geography,” he said. “All I had to think about was: Where was the best resource to get something done. … What you need are the big ideas. That is the tough thing to come up with.”

The way you keep good jobs in this country is not by building big walls, but by attracting people with big ideas — and then giving them the freedom to do whatever can be done with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Note especially the mention of freeware. I expect Mr. Sengupta was talking not just about freeware its usual sense but also about open-source-software.

And speaking of Big Ideas and No Boundaries, there is a wonderful and very important open-source-software project called Sahana. Started by a group in Sri Lanka following the 2004 Tsunami: it is not only a project dedicated to providing humanitarian assistance in any country — in a world without boundaries — but is being developed by a global virtual team. For example, I am writing this just after ending an hour-long call on how IBM can provide even more assistance than it has in the past; current work includes the design and implementation of a Logistics Support module being put together by Mark Prutsalis, a man with years of experience in this area. My colleague Rob Eggers is working to enlist IBM volunteers with LAMP skills to provide some assistance to the open-source-software developers at Sahana. I again encourage any interested parties to lend whatever help they can to the Sahana project.

Tom Friedman is truly growing into his new role as a leading member of the open-source-twit team. His contributions are ongoing, as I have found that every time I publish a post with the title of the form “Thomas L. Friedman column-title,” I get a significant bump in my web traffic. I’ll try to start posting a record of this so you can see what I mean.

Keep up the good work, Smart Guy #5.

Thomas Friedman Fill ‘Er Up with Dictators

Tom’s column in today’s New York Times has the title

Fill ‘Er Up with Dictators

and begins with the words:

Are you having fun yet?

Makes you wonder if Tom is already reading this blog, doesn’t it?

I’ll write more on this in future posts. I’m taking the rest of the day off. I have to drive to Brooklyn and back to fix an IT problem my son has run into. When you think about it, as I will relate soon, it involves collaborative innovation in DUDness and BLOATness involving several major IT companies. Sigh.

I haven’t yet read Tom’s article, but I’m taking it along. On my way back I’m going to play some golf. Maybe Tom will be out there too on the links. But if he isn’t he knows he’s always welcome here to play a round on my course, on my links, the links that can be found at this link: The Wayward Word Press.

And while I’m gone you can put your thinking caps on and think how Tom’s column applies to OSS and our work here. For example:

  • If you are responsible for a widely-used OSS license and seek to change it, are you taking action that will limit the freedom of action to folks seeking to innovate by using OSS to save lives? Or are you subject to the whims of a dictator.
  • If you are part of the group responsible for managing a large OSS Linux distribution, are you managing the project effectively? Or are you causing needless delays in delivering the next release, a release that should make it even easier to innovate to save llives

And while many in the OSS arena fret and spar over Digital Rights Management (DRM), Tom has shown that no form of rights management matters more to people everywhere than the subject of his post, the really important DRM: Dictator Rights Management,

Are we too full of ourselves? Are we taking unfair advantage? Are we having fun?

Thomas L. Friedman: Anyone, Anything, Anywhere

Tom’s column posted today is about an outsourcing operation in Uruguay that is partnered with Tata Consulting Services, India’s biggest technoloy company. It has a few thoughts that directly relate to our work:

The New Yorker once ran a cartoon by Peter Steiner of two dogs, with one sitting at a computer keyboard saying to the other, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” …

One of the most interesting features of this era of globalization is how any entrepreneur — with the right imagination, Internet bandwidth and a small amount of capital — can assemble a global company by matching workers and customers from anywhere to do anything for anyone. Maybe the most important rule in today’s increasingly flat world is this: Whatever can be done, will be done — because so many people now have access to the tools of innovation and connectivity. The only question is: Will it be done by you or to you?

… in today’s world having an Indian company led by a Hungarian-Uruguayan servicing American banks with Montevidean engineers managed by Indian technologists who have learned to eat Uruguayan veggie is just the new norm.

That cartoon illustrates a crucial aspect of the Internet. People don’t know if you’re a “dog.” They also don’t know your sex, race, religion, or political beliefs — unless you tell them. Yes, Google can discover this information sometimes, but in the OSS world even that doesn’t matter: You are measured by what you do, not who you are.

There’s another kind of flattening going on. It’s not new; it has always been with us and unfortunately it always will be. It is the “flattening” wrought by the earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, mudslides and hurricanes that can level large areas in an instant.

But something is being done about it, using the global access to the tools Tom’s mentioned. For example, just after the devastating 2004 Tsnuami, IBM was one of serveral organizations that worked with a small group of programmers based in Sri Lanka to assemble an open source system to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. It is called Sahana. The project has some received some recognition, for example it was the SourceForge Project of the Month for June 2006.

It’s worth noting the initial effort was led by Sanjiva Weerawarana, a former IBM Researcher who voluntarily left IBM to return to his home country to help improve its economy and educational system. In short, a volunteer effort of the highest order.

Work on Sahana continues to this day, but much remains to be done. Indeed, I started writing this note immediately after concluding a call with an IBM team that is working with other groups on the design of new function to be added to Sahana.

This illustrates perhaps the greatest challenge facing our project: Is it possible to assemble a team of volunteers that can work with — and create as needed — major projects that will require a sustained effort — one measured in years or even decades — to make real progress?

There’s only one way to learn the answer — try to do it.

Thomas Friedman: Smart Guy #5

We all keep lists. We need them to manage our lives, to know what to do next.

And as a Jew I have an obligation to keep a special list, one that tracks what I said I would do, what I have done, and what I hope to do. And I spend this part of the year, the time between Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur thinking about that list. Thinking hard.

And others make lists. We see them usually as “Top 10”, or “Top 100”, or whatever. They are a staple of our mass media.

We each have our own such lists. My guess is that they share a common property.

To explore that, please write down your list for the following questions:

  • List your favorite movies.
  • List your favorite books.
  • List your favorite teachers.
  • List your favorite musicians/composers.
  • List the smartest people you have ever met.
  • List the wiseset people you have ever met.
  • List the people you have met about whom it is impossible to say anything bad.

My guess is that when you started to write down the lists you had no problems with the first few entries. Then you found it harder to think of the next entry, and even hard to think what should be listed after that. You probably stopped around five or so, and almost certainly by the time you got to seven.

This is not an original observation on my part, as can be found in a famous paper about the number “seven” by a psychologist. I think his name was George Miller; I’m sure a kind reader will correct me via a comment if I got it wrong.

He found people can’t keep track of more thanseven things at one time.

Let’s now focus on just one list, the list of the smartest people you have ever met. By the way, that won’t be the same as the list of the wisest people, but that is a topic for another day.

For several decades my list of the smartest people has had four entries:

  • Richard P Feynman
  • Murray Gell-Mann
  • Jack Schwartz
  • John Cocke

The common link is science.

There is no clear order except that Richard Feynman was clearly #1. His was the finest mind I have ever encountered by far, very far. I had the great good fortune to be a Caltech undergraduate while he was alive, and plan to speak of him more in future posts.

I had the great good fortune to have Jacob “Jack” Schwartz as my thesis advisor, friend and colleague for many years. What was notable about his mind was that he made fundamental advances in many different areas. He would find a new area, start reading, start doing research, start building a team when necessary, and would then write what he had discovered.

Today I have added Tom Friedman to the list. He is not a scientist, but a man of words. Yet he has made fundamental contributions in so many areas that he is closest in spirit to Jack.

Tom has taken us on road from Beirut to Jerusalem, under the olive tree, across a flat world, and most recently has wandered the globe exploring green-ness and ways we can escape from the clutches of those countries who by the fortunes of geology happen to have petroleum under their ground.

Tom is also the pre-eminent blogger of our time. He doesn’t use Word Press, or Movable Type, or any of the standard blogging engines. He has the most powerful Word Press in the planet at hand: The New York Times.

He blogs just twice each week. I read his columns every Wednesday and Friday mornings, as I hope do many of you.

Those readers with some programming skills who have read my note about the “Release Early, Release Often” school of software development know Tom has his own release schedule. I could figure it out myself, but don’t have time to do so now, so I will look for replies by comment to complete the following:

What is the crontab entry for Tom’s column: every Wednesday and Friday, 8AM GMT?

Today I have added a new entry:

  • Richard P Feynman
  • Murray Gell-Mann
  • Jack Schwartz
  • John Cocke
  • Tom Friedman

Thomas Friedman Islam and the Pope

Tom’s column today, as always, speaks for itself. Every word is worth reading and trying to comprehend. Here are a few parts of particular interest:

We need to stop insulting Islam. It’s enough already.

No, that doesn’t mean the pope should apologize. The pope was actually treating Islam with dignity. He was treating the faith and its community as adults who could be challenged and engaged. That is a sign of respect.

What is insulting is the politically correct, kid-gloves view of how to deal with Muslims that is taking root in the West today. It goes like this: “Hushhh! Don’t say anything about Islam! Don’t you understand? If you say anything critical or questioning about Muslims, they’ll burn down your house. Hushhh! Just let them be. Don’t rile them. They are not capable of a civil, rational dialogue about problems in their faith community.”

Now that is insulting. It’s an attitude full of contempt and self-censorship, but that is the attitude of Western elites today, and it’s helping to foster the slow-motion clash of civilizations that Sam Huntington predicted.

I don’t get it. How can Muslims blow up other Muslims on their most holy day of the year — in mosques! — and there is barely a peep of protest in the Muslim world, let alone a million Muslim march? Yet Danish cartoons or a papal speech lead to violent protests. If Muslims butchering Muslims — in Sudan, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan — produces little communal reaction, while cartoons and papal remarks produce mass protests, what does Islam stand for today? It is not an insult to ask that question.

I’m all for a respectful dialogue between Islam and the West, but first there needs to be a respectful, free dialogue between Muslims and Muslims. What matters is not what Muslims tell us they stand for. What matters is what they tell themselves, in their own languages, and how they treat their own.

Without a real war of ideas within Islam to sort that out — a war that progressives win — I fear we are drifting at best toward a wall between civilizations and at worst toward a real clash.

His words rang true, as did the words I heard from someone else who spoke of this topic, at the Rosh Hoshanah service in our synagogue, Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester.

I think we are blessed in that we know at least one person, and if we are lucky more than one person, about whom it is impossible to find anything bad to say. Just impossible. To attempt to do so is to expose your ignorance.

The man who spoke at our Temple is such a man. He is a physician who has dedicated his life to healing and helping children.

I hope to say more about him in future posts, but for now I’ll just relate part of what he said. I will be paraphrasing his words, in doing so will not be doing them full justice. He said,

We are Jews are supposed to be forgiving. That is one of our responsibilities. Yet I just learned that a nun had been slaughtered in some African country. She had spent several decades living in that country and educating its children.

She was murdered a few days ago, by fanatics who had taken offense at the words of her Pope.

I try to forgive. I do try. But this act, this murder, that I cannot forgive.

Untracking the TrackingTomFriedman blog

A couple of weeks ago I spun off my posts about Tom Friedman, the NY Time’s columnist, to a separate blog, Tracking Tom Friedman (TTF) , in an attempt to measure what I called the “Tom Friedman Effect,” a theory that Tom’s legions of fans are eager to read what others have to say about Tom and some of them use Internet search engines. Thus, writing a post with Tom’s name and the title of a recent column should attract traffic from Tom’s searching fans.

However, TTF has had only 45 hits in the two weeks since its launch, with almost a third on the first day. I hadn’t realized that Tom’s fans are also smart and so only search out comments about his recent writings, not about his old ones.

So I’m going to copy back the posts about Tom that I had moved over to TTF. I need to have there here in part for an upcoming book review.

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