Quick
index
main
eev
maths
blogme
dednat4
littlelangs
PURO
(GAFM,
etc)
(Chapa 1)

emacs
lua
(la)tex
fvwm
tcl
forth
icon
debian
irc
contact

A Brief Statement About Tourism

I need to start by quoting some paragraphs from the transcription of a speech that Richard Stallman gave at the KTH (Royal Institute of Technology) in Stockholm, Sweden, at the 30th of October of 1986. They'll probably make clear enough how we are far nowadays from being in a perfect world.

In the old days on ITS it was considered desirable that everyone could look at any file, change any file, because we had reasons to. I remember one interesting scandal where somebody sent a request for help in using Macsyma. Macsyma is a symbolic algebra program that was developed at MIT. He sent to one of the people working on it a request for some help, and he got an answer a few hours later from somebody else. He was horrified, he sent a message “so-and-so must be reading your mail, can it be that mail files aren't properly protected on your system?” “Of course, no file is protected on our system. What's the problem? You got your answer sooner; why are you unhappy? Of course we read each other's mail so we can find people like you and help them.” Some people just don't know when they're well off.

(...)

But gradually things got worse and worse, it's just the nature of the way the system had been constructed forced people to demand more and more security. Until eventually I was forced to stop using the machine, because I refused to have a password that was secret. Ever since passwords first appeared at the MIT-AI lab I had come to the conclusion that to stand up for my belief, to follow my belief that there should be no passwords, I should always make sure to have a password that is as obvious as possible and I should tell everyone what it is. Because I don't believe that it's really desirable to have security on a computer, I shouldn't be willing to help uphold the security regime. On the systems that permit it I use the “empty password”, and on systems where that isn't allowed, or where that means you can't log in at all from other places, things like that, I use my login name as my password. It's about as obvious as you can get. And when people point out that this way people might be able to log in as me, i say “yes that's the idea, somebody might have a need to get some data from this machine. I want to make sure that they aren't screwed by security”.

And another thing that I always do is I always turn off all protection on my directory and files, because from time to time I have useful programs stored there and if there's a bug I want people to be able to fix it.

But that machine wasn't designed also to support the phenomenon called “tourism”. Now “tourism” is a very old tradition at the AI lab, that went along with our other forms of anarchy, and that was that we'd let outsiders come and use the machine. Now in the days where anybody could walk up to the machine and log in as anything he pleased this was automatic: if you came and visited, you could log in and you could work. Later on we formalized this a little bit, as an accepted tradition specially when the Arpanet began and people started connecting to our machines from all over the country. Now what we'd hope for was that these people would actually learn to program and they would start changing the operating system. If you say this to the system manager anywhere else he'd be horrified. If you'd suggest that any outsider might use the machine, he'll say “But what if he starts changing our system programs?” But for us, when an outsider started to change the system programs, that meant he was showing a real interest in becoming a contributing member of the community. We would always encourage them to do this. Starting, of course, by writing new system utilities, small ones, and we would look over what they had done and correct it, but then they would move on to adding features to existing, large utilities. And these are programs that have existed for ten years or perhaps fifteen years, growing piece by piece as one craftsman after an other added new features.

Sort of like cities in France you might say, where you can see the extremely old buildings with additions made a few hundred years later all the way up to the present. Where in the field of computing, a program that was started in 1965 is essentially that. So we would always hope for tourists to become system maintainers, and perhaps then they would get hired, after they had already begun working on system programs and shown us that they were capable of doing good work.

But the ITS machines had certain other features that helped prevent this from getting out of hand, one of these was the “spy” feature, where anybody could watch what anyone else was doing. And of course tourists loved to spy, they think it's such a neat thing, it's a little bit naughty you see, but the result is that if any tourist starts doing anything that causes trouble there's always somebody else watching him. So pretty soon his friends would get very mad because they would know that the continued existence of tourism depended on tourists being responsible. So usually there would be somebody who would know who the guy was, and we'd be able to let him leave us alone. And if we couldn't, then what we would do was we would turn off access from certain places completely, for a while, and when we turned it back on, he would have gone away and forgotten about us. And so it went on for years and years and years.

We can't have such level of tourism anymore, except maybe in few cases where we can be quite sure that no irresponsible script kiddies will have access to the machines; but by packing the public parts of our home directories and making them available we can give an offline way to let outsiders spy us, and if things work right then some of those outsiders will start doing the same.

(By the way, how many times have you programmed together with other people? In more than fifteen years programming in my spare time I did it together with other people a couple of times, at most. Is there anybody else in the same situation?)


Eduardo Ochs, ?/?/2000

Important links:

# (find-angg "run-zsh")
# (find-angg ".zshrc" "prep-apti")
# (find-angg ".zshrc" "ae")
# (find-es "lua5" "install-5.1.2")
# (find-es "lua5" "lpeg-0.6")

* (eepitch-shell)
mkdir /tmp/edrx/
cd    /tmp/edrx/
wget http://angg.twu.net/edrx.tgz
tar -xvzf edrx.tgz
./run-zsh
ae