-7: anche l’INPS è sistemato

E adesso da che parte inizio? Il primo messaggio, le prime righe su una pagina bianca sono un’enorme responsabilità. Fino a che la pagina è vuota contiene, in potenza, tutte le possibili storie. Fino a che la pagina è vuota chi scrive si può considerare, non a torto, il migliore scrittore. E’ solo dopo aver tolto gli spazi bianchi per far posto alle lettere che viene colpito dalla dura realtà. Questa pagina bianca però non è solo l’inizio di questa sezione del sito (una sezione non particolarmente testata e un po’ ballerina), ma dovrà contenere l’inizio della nostra vita a 4. Tra sette giorni non saremo più solo io e Ale, ma Juan, Mariana, Ale e Max.
Inizierò a spiegare perchè questa sezione si intitola c’era due volte. Molte storie iniziano con “c’era una volta”, questa inizia invece in due posti distinti, lontani tra loro, dove si parlano lingue diverse, dove le persone mangiano cose diverse, dove parlano di cose diverse (anche se spesso in tutt’e due i posti si parla di calcio). E la storia continua per un po’ su questi due binari che sono destinati ad incontrarsi il 6 giugno 2008 per diventare una sola. Si capiva già e non era il caso di spiegarlo? Be’ ma da che parte iniziavo allora?
Lo scopo di queste pagine è doppio (tempo ed energie permettendo): da una parte comunicare con tutti i nostri amici e parenti quello che succederà mentre siamo in Colombia, dall’altra registrare il nostro viaggio e la storia di “c’era due volte”, perchè col tempo non si perdano quei particolari, quelle emozioni, quei momenti che riempiono la vita di tutti i giorni.

-7 questa mattina c’è stato l’ultimo incontro/scontro con l’INPS. Anche oggi l’impiegato allo sportello mi ha “sbarilato” a un’impiegata di un ufficio interno. Dopo circa un’ora finivo di compilare tutti i moduli (tutti in duplice copia) e l’impiegata mi diceva che avrei dovuto portare una lettera di Ale. “Non dovrò tornare anche domani?!”. L’impiegata ci pensa bene e poi mi accontenta: “Se vuole può mandare un fax”.
Domani invece Ale dovrà tornare a Milano, all’ambasciata perchè hanno sbagliato a indicare sul suo visto il numero del suo passaporto.
E’ difficile descrivere le emozioni di questi giorni. La fifetta è probabilmente la nota ricorrente che combatte con la voglia di partire subito. “Tra 7 giorni?? Ma non siamo ancora pronti!”. Ci sono poi tutte le cose che si accumulano negli ultimi giorni, per quanto siamo stati bravi a non rimandare e a evadere tutto al più presto, restano comunque impegni già presi e attività che dovevano essere svolte comunque adesso che intasano e prendono ogni secondo libero.
E intanto loro ci guardano e ci sorridono, rassicuranti da tutte le loro foto che abbiamo in casa e sembrano dire “su, su, fate gli adulti. Noi ne abbiamo passate ben di peggio, abbiamo molta, ma molta più paura di voi, eppure siamo qui che sorridiamo e vi stiamo aspettando”.

Justice for everyone, sort of

The more I think of it, the more it looks wrong. The current proposal against irregular immigration aims to deter immigrants from committing crimes by increasing the punishment by one third if the criminal is an irregular immigrant. If we start from the ones damaged by a crime – the damage is the same regardless to whom committed it. Regardless he is Italian or Rom, regardless he is rich or poor, regardless everything.
According to this proposal it is like Italians (or regular aliens) are somewhat more entitled to commit a crime than others. It doesn’t make any sense.
The real problem is how justice is clobbered and ineffective in Italy. It is clobbered and ineffective to everyone, not just non-regular people. Way too often Italian can’t see their rights acknowledged just because of byzantine laws, never ending trials (that could last decades!), expensive lawyers, ineffectiveness of class actions. The only chance we get is lower the head and carry on (or migrate to a more ethical country).
Therefore the real solution would be to empower courts and lighten up procedures so that we can get real justice for everyone, not just against a class of people – that’s called racism.

Free as in beer

Writing free software is like being paid for doing something you would do anyway, but without the “being paid” part.I suspect that the double meaning of the english word “free” is causing a major damage to the software industry. Although I plenty support the “free-as-in-speech” concept for the software, I am quite contrary to the “free-as-in-beer” wildly applied to every kind of software.
I consider “free-as-in-speech”, as I understand it, a sort of right of the customer – she/he is entitled (possibly for an extra) to have the source of the software you bought. That makes sense because your needs may be different from those of anyone else, and, in this way, you can customize the software to suit your needs.
You pay professionals to write an industrial strength, well polished, product, then you twiddle the ends to match your environment.
The “free-as-in-beer” is quite the opposite, you get the software for free sources and all, then, if you need, you pay someone to fix the loose ends.
From the customer point of view this is great. It would be like someone designs and builds you house for free, then you decide to keep it as is, or to pay someone to move a wall or a door.
From the software industry is a major damage at two entangled levels – money and competition. This model pushes much less money in the developers’ pockets, because customers pick free alternatives and even if they decide to pay someone for customizing them, the total money are less than what would be if everybody paid for a non-free product.
The “free-as-in-beer” has moved in the past 30 or so years, from filling empty niches for small utilities (where it could make sense) to competing against full featured applications. As Netscape teaches – you can’t compete with something given away for free.
Competition against a free product is hard, not to say, impossible. You have to compete on quality, innovation and features. And all those cost money. Though there are exceptions, free software usually tends to copy innovation from industry leaders. Quality is hard to achieve, but quality itself does not sell. What sells is “perceived quality”, i.e. the quality that the customer believes your product has. This is even harder to achieve because you have to issue focus groups, interviews, you have to work on your brand and promote it. That means a lot of money, too.
Features is another hard field, because most users exploit a few percents of all the feature-load that comes with the application. It is hard to invent something new that could appeal the customer to make a choice. New features come either from increased computing power and from research. Computing power is provided by the hardware manufactures and it is out of the developers control. Research is expensive if done in-house.
This train of thoughts brings me to the following question: “Why are we doing this?” Why programmers are happy to work for free and not, say, dentists? Ok, let’s take a less dependable example – plumbers. Why plumbers do not their job for free? I suppose that there are two reasons for this. The first is that a plumber’s work consumes materials. They need to buy and lay pipes that are not for free. A programmer does not consume any material, it is just a matter of time. Next the work of a plumber is not freely replicable, i.e. if the plumber installs a building, than he can’t copy’n’past his work on the next building.
It is all about perception – programmers are caught in a trend that is grinding music and movie industries. Among the three industries the software one is the one in the worst position, in fact the other two can count on well established labels and brands – usually you don’t consider novice singers and amateur musicians as a free alternative, a valid replacement of the work of known composers and singers.
Then there are economic interests – IBM and Sun are two of the most prominent free-as-in-beer software supporters and it has nothing to do with philanthropy. IBM and Sun business is selling hardware, usually expensive hardware and free software helps in selling more hardware because customers do not need to pay software licenses when upgrading or expanding their installed base. Google also sponsors good free-as-in-beer (but not free-as-in-speech) software because their business is advertising and free software provides the vehicle for their business.
All said, what are the chances for us programmers in the future to be paid for programming? I think there are three options – work on integration, i.e. customizing free software to suit specific user needs; work for niches where no free software exists; work for IBM, Sun or Google where people gets paid to write free-as-in-beer software.

Thank you for welcoming

It was quite a time I wished to add this old document to the my website. A new section (not yet visible from the blog, but visible from the rest of my site) is intended to host my memories of those bright days the Universe was young, full of High Ideals and Good Ideas and I worked in the Videogaming Industry. The story of “Grazie di Benvenirli”. I started that document somewhere in 2001-2002. From a chronological point of view I would say around the Silver Age. Soon after I started typing some HTML code I realized that the right choice was to use some software to manage dictionary entries. The then-new wiki seemed to be a good idea, but it lacked a dictionary-oriented style and the “printable” layout. So I wrote Webdict a rather rough web application, my first PHP program, and installed on a company internal web server. My coworkers accepted enthusiastically to add their contributions and the dictionary grew for a while. Unfortunately the server was put off-line and recycled and the webdict content went lost.
The surviving part you can read is mostly my contribution, what I wrote in HTML. I gladly welcome terms and definitions to add from all my friends and coworkers of those glorious days.