No kindness unpunished

As both a software developer and a musician, I understand the concept of intellectual property.  While the Internet has done a lot to promote people and their creations, it has also been a devastation to others. I’m not talking about corporate executives snarling that their gravy train has finally left the station. Screw ‘em. They could embrace the internet, drop the high fees and go with volume sales like the other people who successfully converted their businesses to the online market. But I am talking about how the Internet can do what amounts to spiritual damage.

A guy I have never met but is still familiar to me has created a software product that has reasonable utility. It is a method of controlling robots, the primary robot it is aimed at now obsolete and no longer even manufactured. You can still get them on eBay, as one person tires of its somewhat limited scope of utility and moves on to other playthings. Many of us watched as version 1 of this software gave way to version 2 and then 3 and so on, and then stood in line for a long, long time, waiting for version 5. Somewhere along the way, the project stopped being a free gift to those with shared enthusiasm and suddenly became a for profit enterprise. The author wanted to get paid for the after work hours he spent, and he began asking all of his supporters to pay him for his time, claiming that for some reason, his hobby had to become profitable.

As I said at the outset, I fully understand someone wanting to profit from their efforts. So I supported this guy in his endeavors to collect monies to pay him for his time. I didn’t support him with money, I supported him by pointing his project out to a lot of people, and posting about him and his work on a number of the forums I participate in. I know for a fact that I am responsible for five or six of his contributors; they didn’t even know he or his project existed.  As he reported his successful attempts at funding himself though, I watched his loyalty swing towards the people whose names were on the contributors list. Mine is not there, in spite of my supporting efforts. But it wasn’t me I thought of as I read his last missive, which explained that the contributors would get to advise him on further developments, get a more complete version of his product software, and generally get treated better than those whose names did not appear on the money list. As much as I know my support helped him, I also know that others like me did the same. One in particular went so far as to say that he planned to purchase a copy of the so-called “Pro” version when it came out, to support the project. But he had to wait to get money from a distant government dole for his schooling and couldn’t cough up at the moment. But like me, he was out there telling people about the project and helping to generate interest and perhaps donations towards the effort.

I can’t help but see an unfairness in this. Perhaps without the push that this other fella and I did, the project might not have reached its fully funded goals. Yet, in the author’s happily worded thanks for all the help and sent to all of those on his mailing list, I couldn’t help but notice the conspicuous absence of thanks to those who probably did as much or more than he did to promote his project.  The funny part of this is, and I mean that it does strike me as humorous, that I no longer have a personal interest in his project. I have moved on from the tethered world of production robotics into the realms of those I create on my own. What’s more, my computer is starting to get jealous of my various Android devices because I use them for just about everything these days. I am using my tablet right now, in fact. Along with the wireless keyboard I bought for it because I really dislike virtual keyboards and am too clumsy for thumboarding. So in truth, his software won’t run on the systems I use each day, much like the robot, they are rapidly becoming anachronisms in the forward flight of Moore’s Law on technological redoubling. As to the robot in question, I have boxed it up and am getting ready to either sell it on eBay or perhaps give it to my grandson, who is showing a welcome affinity for robots.

I guess my point here is that what happens with the software and its abilities is no longer of much importance to me. But I have to admit that I feel a tinge of irritation at the way that money has become such a forefront issue to the author, and how he has taken for granted the efforts to support him that don’t appear boldly on his bottom line. Of course, there is no real way for the guy to know who it is who has helped him. He could surf the Internet forever and perhaps never locate a post or a comment that mentions him and his project, Google notwithstanding. I’m pretty sure that the people who supported him are not the kind to write to him and say “what about me?” in terms of the perks he is bestowing like a politician on his contributors. Like the politician, he is kow-towing to the money rather than his constituents.  So now, no matter what he does, he is stuck in the proverbial rock and a hard place. He can either forego further profits and continue to hand the full package out for free, or he can step on the people who quietly helped him.  Probably completely unawares, he has placed himself in the category of “them” –as opposed to “us.” He is a profiteer now whether he likes it or not.

While he points out that his project can provide ersatz assistance to those of us with profound handicaps, he has to remember that his product depends on a product that is already obsolete. It will take effort for people to go out and find one of the robots necessary to gain the positive effects for the handicapped that he offers. So I would tend to classify his association with handicapped users as the tiniest fraction of his potential market. I also suspect that the other robots his software supports, that will not perform the aspects he touts for the disabled, will probably see a lot more use than what he’s promoting. I intend to send him a link to this article, not out of anger or cruelty, but to point out what he has done. I think he’s a pretty good guy and didn’t realize the collateral damage created by his rush to reach a funding goal. And, if I happen to decide in my grandson’s favor when it comes to the disposition of the aforementioned robot, I will buy a copy of his Pro software to go along with it, because it will teach the boy something about a few different disciplines in technology.

If push came to shove, I suppose that I would admit that my knowledge of robotics has been improved through the use of his software in the past. And I am one who tries to repay kindness with kindness. As such, I have been very careful in writing this so as not to reveal anything about the author or his product, or even the robot it uses for its greatest features. My aim is to do what he did for me: Pass on a little education. That others too might learn a little something about double edged swords, well, so much the better.