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Brian Raiter, proprietor of Muppet Labs, has created an astoundingly wonderful exercise showing how to create a Hello, World executable in quite literally as small a space as possible. I honestly can’t remember where I found this page. When I first started reading it I thought, ho hum, here’s another grad student trying to see how many optimizations they can trick gcc into accepting at once.
What I found, refreshingly, was a romp through the actual contents of an ELF executable and a lot of very good forensic engineering and creative thought to figure out how to get rid of the overhead. This is precisely the kind of engineering effort that embedded engineers do every day, and it is very easy to forget in today’s world of Android and Meego and other userland environments that require hundreds of megabytes of RAM and fast processors even to run at all. Most refreshing was the highly didactic style in which Brian writes.
Be sure to also read the writeup of the rest of Brian’s collection of tiny (and very educational) programs.
This article on Mindtouch.com, written by Mark Fidelman, is being retweeted and reposted in countless places around the open-source virtuasphere. In short, the article shows loosely the opinions that are, if not the most important, at least the loudest.
While there is some value in knowing this figure, I believe it is important to understand what the author is actually measuring, and I believe he chose his words most carefully. These are not necessarily the trend-setters, nor are they the voices we must listen to in order to understand what is going on in open source and how it affects our lives and our jobs, though some of them certainly are. These are the people whose words are being discussed most, and considering that we (humans in general) are actually just simians with clothes who tend to follow leaders blindly, that means that even if the voices we hear from these people are filled with lies or ineptitude, they still will affect us in one way or another.
I believe that the reason Mr. Fidelman did the research and wrote on this subject, and the reason so many people including myself are discussing it and promoting it, is that despite the overt libertarian insistence in our industry for egalitarianism and flat hierarchies, we are indeed still simians with an innate need for leadership. I believe it is important to recognize that and roll with it. For example, I have been a manager of both projects and people, a solo consultant, a captive employee, an author, a freelancer, and a few other types of employee. I have learned through hard knocks that I am not an executive-style leader, nor would I want to be. However, I am also not a blind follower—I question things, and I’m not afraid to bring up issues in meetings even if it means exposing my own ignorance. I subconsciously tend to listen to leaders with the same philosophy and discount those with different philosophies.
Different people listen to different leaders, and even interpret the same things differently, so it is really impossible to say whose voices are actually the most powerful in terms of affecting industry. But Mr. Fidelman has brought a very good point to the fore—there are leaders out there worth listening to, and it is part of your job to go out and find them. By reading his article, considering it, arguing about who should be on the list, and researching leaders you haven’t heard of before, you are helping yourself to fit into the natural hierarchy and also helping open source.