Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Open Source / Free Standards vs ISO/IEC

Intro

While trying to use Galaxy Note 10.1 as a tablet and remote control device for my Windows and Linux stations, I discovered awesome MIT licensed GfxTablet project (draw on your PC via your Android device):
GfxTablet shall make it possible to use your Android device (especially tablets) like a graphics tablet.
It consists of two components:
  • the GfxTablet Android app
  • the input driver for your PC
The GfxTablet app sends motion and touch events via UDP to a specified host on port 40118.
It was so awesome in its simplicity and protocol that I couldn't resist to build a Python client for it. It didn't take long (well, a day maybe), before I noticed two errors in its protocol. First is that byte order for fields with 2 bytes length was not described and appeared to be big endian (while I assumed the opposite). Second is that one of the fields described as 2 bytes ushort was actually 1 byte size octet. After reading the source, I found the mistakes and edited the protocol description from the web to fix them, which resulted in this (already merged, yay!) pull request.

Standard on Byte Size

I've got an interesting comment on my pull request:
"octet" is more accurate than "byte" because there are systems and programming languages which have a byte size that is not 8 bits
My natural reaction was "No way! That's can't be true.", but Wikipedia said I am wrong. Luckily, it also said that:
The de facto standard of eight bits is a convenient power of two permitting the values 0 through 255 for one byte. The international standard IEC 80000-13 codified this common meaning.
This was the first time I thought that ISO did something right, so I decided to take a look myself at this standard. I found two copies - IEC and ISO. ISO site has a better SEO department, so they've got a better Google position for their shop. Yes, the ISO and IEC are shops - the price to get official size of byte is ISO CHF 154,00 or IEC CHF 150. They really like to have accounts in Swiss banks for some reasons. I'd advice to sell those standard in Bitcoins instead - it is more profitable in a long term.

ISO/IEC as Commercial De-Facto Authorities

Why do we need some organizations like ISO/IEC that place their name and put limitations around access to de-facto standards that more like any other information want to be free? I'd say that our awesome decentralized and independent approach to develop what do you feel and support what do you want is just not widely exposed to those conservative oldschool bureaucrats, who still live in their own world of central authorities that should dictate people what to do.

Don't get me wrong. There are conflicting points when you DO need to set a standard, and an enforcing organization like ISO/IEC is required (enforcing, because market force business to comply no matter how "recommended" the standard is). The costs of dealing with conflicting parties and convincing them is high, and that's why they set price on papers (the calculation if the price is fair is thankfully out of scope for this post). But the thing that bothers me more is that they set price on assessing the facts that are de-facto standards and common knowledge.

The problem here that we separately don't have a tool to say something as whole. The problem here is that if anybody will try to speak for the whole net, the net would resist and that's natural. Because people tend to say too much in one phrase and they are too smart. The reason is to keep the facts short, clear voices from responsibility and make it all countable and strictly out of politics.

What can be fixed here?

Usually people sign petitions. I propose to extend this just for fun. Make a technical statement that countries should agree on (no politics, please), give people an opportunity to support these openly, say if they don't want to support openly and give ability to support in closed manner (?respect privacy), the same way for disapprovals. Disapprovals may carry a reason. Once this data is in place, let people upvote and see what will happen.

The statement - "the byte is 8 bits".

Then build a list of countries that nationally accepted this statement. Then name this initiative somehow - it is important to keep this strictly technical to shot the zombies.

Once a statement reaches some degree of exposure and human votes per country, country can decide to accept it by placing official signed statement online. Over the time, the statements can be combined into free will packs and signed too. This will allow to sync.

Arguments. I am not sure they are needed for de-facto standards, because you reach consensus not by persuasion, but by collecting overall feeling. However, if there are problems with de-facto ways, and people feel there is something wrong, there should have an ability to "opt-in for a change" to upvote/downvote such arguments too. People should not be ashamed to set a value of "my butthurt" meter when voting or proposing counter-arguments, because we are irrational by our design, and technical problems with standards need more feedback than any other area of development on the butthurt effect.

So, simple statements, public voting, open process, feddback, realtime status and summary on nation adoptions.

Who should do this?

I'd be interested in working on this if I had some place to live in of my own. I'd start from contacting guys from Stack Overflow to reuse open source parts of their experience. Quite boring, right? Well, I am not saying that I want and plan to work on this alone. I am just saying that I am not in a position to take a role of coordinator. I just want to says that if you like the idea, maybe even in some crippled variant, found the resources to go, and want to try, feel free to ping me.

One of the tools that was really close and impressed was (now defunct) http://hammerprinciple.com/ which helped me to discover bad things about my favorite version control and programming language without too much butthurt injury. Hopefully, it will strike back again.