The tortoise and the scorpion

Once upon a time, many many years ago, there was an era when all animals lived in harmony in the jungle of Aipotu. During that time it was common to find animals e.g a monkey and a giraffe in great conversation at the top of a tree. Discussions would range from the petty matters of how best to tackle a storm, to more serious matters about whether bananas were better to eat than acacia leaves..

In that picturesque land, harmony was also built of in-depth knowledge about each other. Everyone knew to beware of a nut-storm when the giggling baboons arrived with their hands behind their backs. Similarly, it was accepted as a fact that the carnivores would eat, and that they would eat other less fortunate animals. It was therefore customary to have conversations with them from a safe distance, or better, from places where they couldn’t reach. Rabbits, for example, would stay just within the boundaries of their burrows.

It so happened that one day a fire broke out in that not-so-perfect forest.. Seeing that the huge river Agnag ran through the middle of the forest north to south, the desperate fauna all made for it, hoping to make the other bank before the fire reached it. Unfortunately for them all, the wind was also blowing towards the river, lending speed to the greedy flames..

Coming to the edge of the river, each made do with what they had to try and cross.. The deer bravely took to the torrent and were followed by all others that could swim. Those that couldnt tried their best to hitch a ride on the backs of others, and so the rabbits were able to get across on the backs of the bullocks. The beavers being good swimmers got through without problem.

It so happened that a scorpion arrived on the bank and with no twigs or trunks left, found no means to cross the torrent. In sheer panic it started pleading with everyone to please help it to cross. Every animal it encountered declined, in fear of being stung half-way through and meeting a ignominious death. However much they empathised with it, noone dared risk that venomous sting, because, as we all know, scorpions sting. So the poor scorpion was left all to itself on the bank of the river with the raging fire coming closer and closer..

Just as there seemed no hope left for it, the scorpion noticed a dark rounded silhouette slowly appearing against the backdrop of the crimson sky. A tortoise was making its way along the forest floor, racing the flames at its own heavy pace. A last glimmer of hope appeared in the eyes of scorpion and it immediately ran toward the tortoise.

– Please, i beg of you, help me get to the other side of the river. Its a matter of my life or death.

Tortoise focused on him and said with distrust:

– You Scorpion, I cannot trust. You will sting me.. Im sorry but i’ll be risking my life with you on my back, and that is a risk i cannot take.

Scorpion went on to beseech tortoise:

-You’re my last hope Tortoise, if you dont get me over, my whole lineage will disappear. If you just allow me to travel on your back, we can both reach there safe and sound.

Unfortunately, Tortoise couldnt carry someone on its back while swimming, but would have to turn over and expose its soft underbelly. It again told Scorpion it could not take that risk, and this went on for a few minutes, scorpion countering that it couldnt sting Tortoise knowing they would both sink as a consequence.. All the while the flames were coming closer and Scorpion was getting more and more desperate.

– I promise you, i’ll do whatever you want if you help me across. i’ll be your slave all my life, i’ll sting everyone who hurts you or says something bad about you. I’ll be your bodyguard and i’ll find all the best food for you.

Tortoise was someone too good at heart for its own good. Seeing the mounting panic on Scorpion’s face, its heart melted.

-Ok Scorpion, for this once i trust you. But remember, control your sting, because if you sting me in the middle of the torrent i will sink and so will you.

The elated Scorpion jumped with joy and said thanks a million times, promising never to sting a tortoise again in its whole life, and never to say any harm of reptiles. And so tortoise waded into the torrent and turned its stomach up to allow Scorpion a place while it swam. As it pushed off the flaming bank, scorpion watched with growing relief as the flare receded in the distance.

Halfway through the Agnag, the only relics of the burning trees was a crimson glow in the dark sky. Scorpion started talking about its family, and how its parents hailed from a proud dynasty of Stingers. Tortoise waded quietly, concentrating its efforts on its arm-strokes. It was also silently praying that Scorpion would keep its promise of not stinging.

Unfortunately, that was precisely what was on the mind of our proud Stinger. Slowly, the itch to sting was growing, and the soft flesh of Tortoise’s underbelly was like a dish waiting to be savoured. Scorpion started talking more and more to hide its discomfort, while Tortoise waded on.

Finally, Scorpion could take it no longer. While Tortoise was continuing its purposeful strokes and although they were just a minute or two away from the shore, Scorpion poised, stood straight and directed a full-fledged blow with its sting, right at the centre of Tortoise’s underbelly. Scorpion’s poison was fast-acting and had a paralysing effect as well. This caused an immediate seizure in poor Tortoise who was petrified, being able only to move his head. Its eyes widened in shock as it registered both the pain and the realisation that Scorpion had broken its promise.

“Why?” Tortoise managed to utter, as they both started swirling to the bottom, “Why did you sting when you knew we would drown?”

Scorpion turned and replied with some part fulfillment and some part guilt:

“Because it is my nature to sting..”

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The Open Source debate..

Open Source

About a year ago i started writing this post, after watching one of the debates on television..

like many others, i followed the Cyber-Rite/Cisco debates, whenever my busy schedule permitted it.  I must say there were many good debaters there, and some were even very good. There was the eternal typically Mauritian problem of totally mangling up the pronunciation of some words in order to make it sound “British”or “American”. Wonder how come people calling themselves the elite, and vying for a million rupees, no less, quoting einstein and shakespeare, could come so badly prepared in pronunciation matters. If you are unsure of the pronunciation of a word, what does it take to open up the dictionary and look up how a word is pronounced? Of course the assumption here is that the person should know the phonetic symbols as well. But again, if you are vying to be the best debater and you dont know how to read or at least look up a phonetic symbol you better stay home.

The thing that, however, always strikes me in this kind of debate, and again in the debate about our government having to support open-source, was the fact that these guys hadnt got all their facts right. Yet 1 group managed to get 903 marks.  One has to reckon that the marks were given for debating skills and presentation of the matter. They wouldnt score much where understanding of their subjet matter was concerned. Especially from me, who have worked with open-source and free software for my whole career.

Proprietary Software:

One of the most blatant mistakes i noticed, was that both the proponents and opponents seemed to think that open-source meant appropriation of proprietary software. Let’s get things clear here. Use of any software is governed by its licence. A licence is the agreement (one can think of it as the contract) between the software provider, The provider of the software decides, when launching his software, which licence he wants to use.  There are two main categories of software licences. Those that are free and those that are not. Copyrighted (with limited rights to copy -this is the traditional closed-source)  and free.

However, the free licences are further categorised, something that none of the debaters that day seemed to realise.

There’s copylefted ( a pun on copyright, which means unlimited rights to copy, but liable to legal pursuit if the original copyright holder is not mentioned in every copy).  You get the software for free, can change, modify or distribute or use it at will, but you HAVE to give it away free, just as you got it.

And then there is free but non-copyleft. Like something that is in the public domain but on which there is no condition to keep it free. I could for example use your source-code, compile it and make someone pay for it. But copyleft licenses prevent this. If you get a software free, you have to give it free.

Linux and most open-source software are copylefted. Red Hat is open-source but copyrighted, but its copyleft clone Centos is fully, copyleft.

The Gnu General Public License  (The reference in terms of copyleft) is found here for further understanding.

http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html

And here is a classification of the different types of licenses:

http://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html#GPLCompatibleLicenses

Ms v/s Linux: From this fundamental point, all the debate was centered on something totally different, Microsoft Windows v/s Linux. If those contestants had prepared themselves a bit better, they’d know that the source code for Windows had just been released as open-source. The two groups focussed on whether the government should promote Linux or Windows. I guess i would have given them zero, NYET, NIL

open-source security:

One point raised by the kids there that showed a blatant misunderstanding of IT research was stating that something that is open-source is less secure. I dont usually recommend Dan Brown coz he’s a great fibber, but in this case i found it illustrates a great problem of ClOSED-SOURCE security.

When someone designs an algorithm that is closed source, no-one can tell if there is a back-door (read trojan) Does that ring a bell? Trojan is a class of virus that allows a person to surreptitiously take control of your computer.  Similarly, if someone has written an encryption algorithm which is closed source, how do you know he hasn’t factored in a code that will open up all your secret transmissions to him. Skype has its own closed-source encryption algorithm and this is exactly the debate going on about it.

Another point they raised was that if there is a loophole in the security of an open-source program a cracker would get to it. Totally missed the point of open-source. The reason professionals like open-source is specifically because there aren’t just 2 developers and 2 testers working on a piece of software, but because everyone, including you and me can review it, design and develop unit tests if required. And errors, critical bugs and problems are detected much faster than when closed-source developers are relying on simple-end users. In fact what is even better is that the end-user can himself change anything he wants to.

hackers,crackers, terrorists:

Along the way I really don’t know what caused those kids to start talking about hackers, crackers and terrorists. Open source is perfectly legal, perfectly fair software, judged by some fairer than closed-source software such as MS-windows which at one point forced users to use Internet Explorer and caused Netscape Navigator to crash.

Some Definitions:

Hacker: A person who uses a little known technological quirk to find a hidden/unknown entry into a system or make a system work differently. (read Geek)

Cracker: A person who uses specific methods to break down security protocols, e.g. to pirate a closed-source software.

piracy:

definition: Using a copyrighted software outside its terms of use, or without paying for usage rights to the owner of the copyright.

It seems they were lacking ideas on what to talk about, and started implying that open-source software is pirated software. Everyone totally missed the point of successful open-source products, like e.g. MySQL, which gives its software for free , but makes people pay for additional services such as real-time help and and online assistance. The point is if a software is open-source its that the company owning it, consciously decided to release all its code to the whole world, so that everyone could review, check and compare it and try it. Nothing to do with piracy, kids.

open-source leading the way:

Everyone has heard of Java. Its a huge buzz-word rite? It seems to be THE open-source technology. Well fact is, it is developed by a huge multinational company, SUN listed as JAVA on stock markets. And it leads the way not only in open-source, but also in Object Oriented technology. I have worked with Java, ask me. Java defined Object Oriented Technology, and java software has been Object Oriented from the word go. Compare that to VB which from 1997 till 2003 never changed, then was replaced by visual studio .Net which to me Java professional just stopped short of being a byte for byte copy of Java. Think Just in time compilation, Intermediate Language, platform interfacing between hardware and code, portability. The ONLY technological difference was that Java uses a single language- Java, which is compiled to byte-code,  while any of the microsoft languages can be compiled to MSIL. And the names have changed. Java packages are .Net namespaces.

Thats what I had to say on this debate. Hope the message passes. There seemed to be so much misinformation about this topic and the sad thing is the whole country, or almost, watched that debate.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Ever wondered why the chicken crossed the road? here are a few attempts at an answer. 😉

<a href=”http://homepage.mac.com/mseffie/handouts/chicken.html”>Answers in terms of famous people</a>

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<a href=”http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Why_did_the_chicken_cross_the_road”>Answers.com</a&gt;

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<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Why_did_the_chicken_cross_the_road%3F”>Wikipedia</a&gt;

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I guess the last post is interesting enough for an understanding of where this riddle came from. ;-p

Upon open-mindedness..

I’v got Kubuntu at work, and discovered this quaint application “fish” (mine’s) named Wanda and coughs up a quote such as the one below every so often (or rather, every time clicked). I found it nice, so decided to post it. I dont know whether Wanda really got it from the senator Goldwater, however i find the idea englobing the text thought-provoking…
However, on religious issues there can be little or no compromise.
There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious
beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than
Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being.
But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf
should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing
throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom.
They are trying to force government leaders into following their position
100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a
particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of
money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political
preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be
a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D.” Just who do
they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the
right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as
a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who
thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll
call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every
step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all
Americans in the name of “conservatism.”
— Senator Barry Goldwater, from the Congressional Record, September 16, 1981