EditorsAbout the SiteComes vs. MicrosoftUsing This Web SiteSite ArchivesCredibility IndexOOXMLOpenDocumentPatentsNovellNews DigestSite NewsRSS


Joe Barr, Linux.com Editor – My Obituary

Posted in Deception, FUD, Microsoft at 4:56 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Guest post by Mark Kent

I find the lack of morals displayed by the trolls and by so many “business” people to be deeply disturbing. The willingness to lie in order to make money is appalling. Who doesn’t despise disingenuous people?

One interesting thing I’ve found in my career when coming across such people is that they assume that everyone else is as crooked as they are, so that anyone taking any position on anything must, by definition, be pushing an convenient viewpoint rather than a well-researched and understood assessment of the facts as they are presently understood.

A particular upshot of this is that ignorance of facts begins to become an advantage, at least to the spinners and liars, since they have yet less reason to apply any value system against their dishonest spiel.

“We rely very much on journalists to help us sift through the muddier waters of the river of truth, and Joe Barr was one of the best.”The “mad scientist” as an amoral and dangerous character has often been the focus of daemonisation in literature and the popular press, yet it is the genuine scientist who is typically best-placed to assess facts in a rational and dispassionate way. Why don’t politicians like this? Well, because it means that the scientists will not necessarily uphold the position the politicians are taking. Why is this bad? Well, probably, because lots of companies have spent large sums of money securing the support of politicians for their wares in some way or other, and politicians fear scientists more than almost anyone, because they are clearly learned and are considered to be fiercely independent of political influence. Should a scientist stand up in public and say, for example, that global warming is a problem, and it’s likely that burning oil is contributing to that problem, then politicians and companies need to think fast indeed in order to address the distinct possibility that the scientist will be listened to.

Much the same applies in this technology and computing world. If an apparently learned person speaks out to say that, for example, Windows is not very secure, and Linux is more secure, then it’s highly likely that the learned person might just be listened to. Particularly if there be a lot of evidence to support that position, for example, counts of the number of viable viruses and exploits in the wild for each system, or the number of each system currently compromised in some way.

One way of reducing the impact of that learned person is to invent other knowledgeable folk (Bartko et al) and use them to pollute the river of information with suitable disinformation. If enough people contribute enough pollution to the river of truth, then the impact of the learned people will surely be diluted in the minds of the interested by not so knowledgeable observers. We rely very much on journalists to help us sift through the muddier waters of the river of truth, and Joe Barr was one of the best.

In the linux advocacy HOWTO, it suggests that good advocates will avoid hyperbolae in discussions, and ideally avoid any kind of unsupported opinion, and stick only to facts. Whilst this is an admirable goal, it suffers a singular drawback, which is that there is no real definition of a “fact”. There is, however, scientific method, which aims to establish provable models by trying to disprove them. Any model which withstands such testing gains credence amongst the scientific community, and will be adopted, at least until a better model is found. The whole approach is dependent on some key pre-conditions, however. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, in order to attempt to disprove a “current” theory, it’s usually necessary to have a good grasp on all of its antecendants, and how they were disproven. The upshot here is that it can take many years of learning before an averagely competent scientist can begin to criticise the models of others, let alone propose one of their own. Thus, there is an ever widening gap between these day to day practitioners of scientific thinking, and the normal, non-scientifically trained public.

“Joe did an excellent job of this, both through his “dweebspeak” primer, and by exercising his very broad knowledge of computing languages and machines.”That gap, the one between the scientific thinkers and the non-scientific general public, is the one which is occupied by marketing and sales activities, by propaganda machines, by trolls and by liars. Is the propagation of arguments by scientific method ever going to be able to clean the polluted river of truth? Without educating the public in general, it seems unlikely. The tactic of out and out lying is hard to deal with. Unless you’ve sworn some kind of oath, like in a court of law, say, then being dishonest is not generally considered to be illegal, even when it’s being done deliberately in order to relieve people of money. By ensuring that the dishonesty is hard to track back to the originators, by, say, employing “advocates” in different geographies, or using Usenet in order to plant anonymous insults, then the usual laws against dishonest trading can be avoided. The gap, however, can also be filled by good journalism. For every press release and marketing or sales pitch, we can have a good journalist or commentator, explaining the issues in a form which is valid and yet more accessible to those without the detailed training. Joe did an excellent job of this, both through his “dweebspeak” primer, and by exercising his very broad knowledge of computing languages and machines. His CLI for Noobies book is another excellent example of how he was able to bridge the gap.

It’s rather sad to reflect that the laws being enacted as a part of the current round of globalisation seem to be almost 100% aimed at furthering the financial gain of existing global players, with almost no consideration for the rights of small businesses, consumers, citizens, education, charity, poverty and so on. Patent laws are being reviewed, but only in order to extend the number of things which can be patented, and the scope of those patents in terms of objects, time periods and so on. The push by “media” companies to force ISPs to police the activities of internet users is an interesting first step towards making the ISPs some kind of semi-independent state, but without any kind of independent or quasi-independent legal system, political system, police force, advocates and so on. To date, I think such states only exist within aircraft and ships which sail or fly through international waters or air-space, where the captain of the vessel in question is the undisputed authority in all respects.

We don’t expect expert witnesses to be necessarily available on ships or aircraft, however, we do very much expect them to be available in our normal judicial process. There is no room at all for expert witnesses, however, in the proposals from the ISPs. The judge, jury and executioner is the media company. If that company decides that they suspect a user of doing something illegal, then that, in their view, is enough to start a process which in fairly short order can result in an ISP disconnecting a paying customer who may have done nothing wrong at all.

Why does this relate to trolling on usenet? Quite simply because both are based around assertions being made for pure financial gain, with no expectation of or requirement for supporting evidence. Whilst I do not condone copyright violation, I equally do not condone media companies being given control by proxy of ISP accounts of the general public, nor do I condone the establishment of ISP’s networks as jurisdictionally independent entities, like ships or aircraft. There is a clear and strong moral requirement for time and effort to be expended in the search of the truth, in terms of the scientific establishment of a series of statements which best fit the available evidence, through the debate by independent parties and assessed by an independent audience.

When all that has failed, then our final recourse is for an independent press. For journalists to seek out the failings in the system and to expose those failings to the public at large, combining their knowledge of technology, scientific method, legal debate and the practicalities of marketing. This is precisely what Joe Barr did, many many times over, in between his perhaps more mundane but more idealistic work of editing the learned debates and articles about the linux community and its works. His best known was the Barkto affair, and he will always be remembered for that work.

He will be missed by all of us.

Share this post: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Reddit
  • co.mments
  • DZone
  • email
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • NewsVine
  • Print
  • Technorati
  • TwitThis
  • Facebook

If you liked this post, consider subscribing to the RSS feed or join us now at the IRC channels.

Pages that cross-reference this one


  1. me said,

    July 30, 2008 at 5:58 am


    Good article. Hyperbolae should be hyperbole.

  2. Mark Kent said,

    July 30, 2008 at 6:49 am


    me: thanks & well spotted!


    Mark K.

  3. Needs Sunlight said,

    July 30, 2008 at 1:01 pm


    Thanks, Mark. Joe will be missed. That the trolls go in for character assassination (ad hominem) only means he wrote well and covered important, relevant topics in a timely manner.

    He was a rare breed, but more of his kind are needed today. Maybe some can step out of retirement for a few hours per week and step up to the plate and deal M$ &co’s “saturate, diffuse and confuse” campaign against computer knowledge.

  4. Mark Kent said,

    August 1, 2008 at 3:11 am


    Needs sunlight: as you say, the trolling was a notable symptom of both the methods of trolls, and his effectiveness at identifying and addressing germane issues.

    Do journalists really retire? I thought they migrated to opinion columns :-)



What Else is New

  1. Battistelli-Commissioned PwC ‘Study’: Survey Comparison Shows Serious Deterioration and Efforts by PwC to Disguise the Truth

    The latest output from PwC turns out to be even worse than initially thought, indicating that not only did it find a degradation in the EPO but also attempted to hide/obscure it

  2. EPO Teaser - The "Iberian Connection" - Some Photos of García-Escudero and His Royal/Government Connections

    A look at the undeniably close connections between Mr. García-Escudero and the most powerful people in Spain

  3. Disruption to Site's Service

    A technical note about why Techrights has not been publishing many articles recently

  4. Links 21/10/2016: MPV 0.21, Mad Max for GNU/Linux

    Links for the day

  5. EPO Caricature: Battistelli's High Five

    Another cartoon about the sad state of the EPO

  6. Battistelli Ruins Not Only the EPO But Also the Whole of Europe By Ushering in Software Patents That Patent Trolls Love So Much

    Battistelli's bad leadership at the EPO threatens to bring to Europe all the ills and menaces of the patent system in the United States

  7. EPO Spokesman Lies to IP Watch in Order to Save Face and Save the King (Battistelli)

    Rewriting history (revisionism) regarding Battistelli and what was demanded amidst abusive behaviour from him

  8. Unitary Patent (UPC) is Dead, But 'Managing IP' and Selfish Patent Law Firms Still Try to Resurrect It

    The latest attempts to shore up the Unitary (or Unified) Patent Court and who's behind it other than the usual suspects

  9. Links 20/10/2016: Linux 4.10 Preview, ONF and ON.Labs to Merge

    Links for the day

  10. Battistelli-Commissioned PwC 'Study': The Raw Outcome Shows Distortion of the Facts at the EPO's Notorious 'Social Conference'

    Results of the Staff Survey carried out by PwC, in order to provide some propaganda for Battistelli's expensive Social Conference

  11. Addendum: EPO's Alberto Casado Cerviño, WIPO's Francis Gurry, and EUIPO's Archambeau

    Photos taken as part of an IP event which took place in Riga (Latvia) in March 2015

  12. Worrisome Connections Between EPO VP2 Alberto Casado Cerviño and Patricia García-Escudero Márquez

    Exploring the potential conflicts of interests implicating the EPO's Boards of Appeal Committee

  13. Site's Infrastructure Under Attack and Upgrades Ahead of Major New Publications

    Protections for the Web site have been improved and capacity increased in order to avoid or at least prepare for another week of abusive/spam traffic

  14. Team Battistelli's Conspiracy Theory: SUEPO is Behind Everything, EPO Management is Trying to Tell the Media

    Attempts to blame SUEPO, the staff union of the EPO, even though SUEPO has nothing to do with articles that are critical of the EPO while many thousands of EPO employees are disgruntled

  15. Links 19/10/2016: Canonical Livepatch Service, Plasma Plans

    Links for the day

  16. The 'Sarah Sharps' of Microsoft: Not the Kind of Scandal the Media Cares Enough to Write About

    Another example of the large (industrial) scale of sexual discrimination at Microsoft -- a company that tries to advertise itself as diverse or tolerant and stigmatise Free/Open Source software (FOSS) as intolerant and/or not diverse

  17. EPO Caricature: EQE Questions

    The latest EPO cartoon, this time about European qualifying examination (EQE)

  18. The Long History or Seeds of Control by Fear and Punishment at the EPO

    The latest hogwash from Team Battistelli (Pinocchio), the latest instance of software patents promotion by EPO Principal Director, and an old (decade-old) nugget of information from the Forum for Principal Directors

  19. Subject of the European Patent Office's Abuses Raised in European Parliament by Ulrike Müller (ALDE)

    A local copy of a bunch of questions asked less than a month ago by Ulrike Müller at the European Parliament, regarding the unacceptable state of affairs at the European Patent Office (EPO)

  20. French Article About the EPO "Crisis"

    Le Monde, which covered EPO suicides and nervous breakdowns a year and a half ago, revisits the subject

  21. Battistelli Wants Us to Believe a Patent Office in a Freefall (EPO) is “Stronger and More Sustainable”

    Still in denial (or self-deluding for self indulgence), Battistelli writes about the EPO as though everything is rosy and people are happy

  22. Leaked Documents Shed More Light on What Happened to Alison Brimelow and How Battistelli Rose to Power

    How Battistelli's (almost) all-male (and all-white, mostly French) management came into being, not too long after Ms Alison Brimelow got elbowed out the Office

  23. Leaked: Outcomes of 149th Administrative Council's Meeting at the European Patent Organisation

    The raw details or a summary thereof, based on the above which serves to confirm what we wrote about several days ago, right after the quarterly meeting had ended

  24. Danish Press Coverage of the European Patent Office and the Problems Explored by Techrights

    Jesper Kongstad does virtually nothing to deny the arguments (or "accusations") and instead alludes to the style of the writings about him

  25. Links 18/10/2016: Release Candidate of Leap 42.2, Looking Ahead at GTK4

    Links for the day

  26. Links 17/10/2016: JS Foundation, Ubuntu 17.04 Named ‘Zesty Zapus’

    Links for the day

  27. EPO Updates: Battistelli in Trouble, Grossenbacher and Battistelli Having a Fight, EPO Doubles Down on Željko Topić

    Interesting updates from the European Patent Office (EPO), where things have taken a turn for the worse for Battistelli while Željko Topić secures an extension of his notorious contract

  28. EPO Social Conference Another Example of Astronomical Waste of Money by Benoît Battistelli

    Having paid the media and attempted to scare/intimidate staff into silence (even among one another), Battistelli now pays some firms to lie for him and present the lies while staff representatives are blocked from entering the presentation

  29. As Expected, Benoît Battistelli Puts Longtime Ally Roland Grossenbacher on Top of Boards of Appeal

    Benoît Battistelli's predecessor Roland Grossenbacher, who has a track record of protection and support for Battistelli (no matter the magnitude of abuses), reportedly takes a key position with Battistelli's approval, debunking the notion that the appeal boards will enjoy greater (perceived) independence from the Office

  30. UPC Preparatory Committee Projects Optimism in an Effort to Salvage Its Dying Project, the Unitary/Unified Patent

    Refusing to let the UPC stay in its grave, Team UPC keeps digging up and dishing out UPC misinformation, in front of an audience that need not be preached to as it's already converted (effectively an echo chamber)


RSS 64x64RSS Feed: subscribe to the RSS feed for regular updates

Home iconSite Wiki: You can improve this site by helping the extension of the site's content

Home iconSite Home: Background about the site and some key features in the front page

Chat iconIRC Channel: Come and chat with us in real time


Recent Posts