I mean, yes. But, also no.
You do not know me, but you have been an inpiration to me. I came across several of your books during a year of post-bac study. They spoke to me, especially "Algebraic Number Theory,
a Computational Approach". They also steered me toward your home page, and your work on Sage Math. I thought to myself, "yes. yes!"
Though I'm not punk as fuck, I'm definitely a 'walk to your own drum beat' believer, and a skateboarding professor that heads an open source project taking on Mathematica would make an awesome lodestar. I was 32 when I quit a great job at a very well know Wall Street investment firm (back-office, not master-of-the-universe stuff, but definitely a good place to be) so that I could study nothing but math for a year. I should point out, my math grades up to this point were:
- D in my senior year in high school
- C in the only undergrad math course I had to take
So, everyone was like, "You're effin crazy, what the eff are you doing, you're making an effin bad decision..." Etc. Well, it was the best decision I ever made. Two weeks after leaving my job I was in a dorm room with an 18 year old football player (very, very awkward), but a year later I was a class or two away from a degree in math. My wife and I decided to add moving (again), wedding planning, and another thing to our life, so I didn't quite finish a degree. I received a bunch of As and a few Bs. It was a miracle. (No, it was a lot of hard work, and having seen the light which is the beauty of mathematics).
I've thought many, many, many long hours about the issues of open source development and how it might be made sustainable. I've had to, as it relates intimately to the reason I left my job and went off on this new path. I've got a couple ideas that I believe are very realistically workable. In short, the first go I'll be making at one of these ideas is, software is developed by a community which then makes the source code open source but not compiled into programs, and with no beautify logos or easy to use UIs. They then copy right that code for a month and charge non-members a small (think Spotify) amount to have access to the compiled, bundled, UI'ified versions that are encrypted with a monthly key. Then, at the end of the month, that software is all marked as "old", put in the public domain, and the keys are "unlocked". If the software is useful, the price is right, and the user is not a programmer, then they'll hopefully pay $10 or $15 a month even though they could use last months software for free. Also like Spotify, paying this fee would gain a user access to all the communities software. The subscription fees will be allocated to programmers who will be paid to work on software per rata according to some weighted combo of votes from users and votes by community members. Community members are, of course, free to work on whatever they'd like to in addition to that. Community members receive a payout from the subscription, basically whatever subscription revenue there is minus that paid out for paid development (per previous mentioned mechanism) minus operating expenses. You can only have your software in that "repository" if you are a member, and you must buy in to be a member, sorta like a co-op.
So, that was a very sloppy explanation, but hopefully you get the general points. My main point however, is, please don't go corporate. Even companies like Patagonia, though it is a "B-Corportation" for the public benefit, are clearly driven by the bottom line. How else could one explain why they charge $35 for 40 different types of hats. We don't need 40 different types of hats. But, it drives their bottom line, so that's what we get (albeit, in addition to the great things they also do).
"You know what I hate about f*cking banking? It reduces people to numbers..." You know, the line from "The Big Short". It's not just banking. It's any venture that is driven by the profit motive. Pure and simple.
Profit motive => Reduce everything to numbers
Not right away. Not in a loud and crash fashion. Not one person. But systematically, insidiously, creeping, all together, a step at a time, with the flash of amazing marketing departments and the financial soundness of a well disciplined finance department. Whatever it is you think you're doing, will be metamorphosed into the fungible unit of exchange, like something out of a Kafka book, both absurd and meaningless, while at the same time horrifying.
This 'comment' is very sloppily written because it is being written with some urgency because, (god bless HN, where else will I get to randomly interact with Prof. Stein?) I sincerely believe that you have changed the center of gravity in the world and this is an impassioned plea to keep on keeping on when it comes to helping us that are building a future where (given that intellectual property will clearly make up the bulk of our wealth) the wealth is a well tended commons and not a well guarded garden.
(Speaking briefly to the "academic" angle of things. I understand a bit what the atmosphere is like. I'm going through a divorce at the moment, and my wife just successfully passed her major comps exam and is on her way to a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins in their political theory department. I am very happy for her and wish her the best, but my point is that, I get the pressures in academia to prioritize certain things while other things, which should really be valued and promoted, are totally overlooked or even punished. But, the business world is not the answer.)