Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Stone Soup

I was looking at "Unnatural postscript hacks" (which points to the original 1988 version of the postscript ray tracer) where various crazy hacks exist including one of the Mandelbrot Set with a familiar quote about the difficulty of simplicity.

A co-worker said that the image rendered reminded him of the Buddha (turn the output to portrait and see what he means). So I explained what it was, a bit about complex systems, fractals, the length of a coastline, Lorenz attractors, etc and that reminded me of Fractint which I played with ages ago and I was surprise to see that it is still maintained. It was written by the "Stone Soup Group" which I vaguely remembered was a fable.

Sure enough, Stone Soup is on Wikipedia and C2 Wiki and it's often used as a metaphor for some aspects of open source software. Which raises the question of deception:

The villagers deceive the soldiers (OK - they lie to them), and that's bad. The soldiers deceive the villagers (tricking them to bring out the hidden food) and everyone benefits - the soldiers get to eat, but so do the villagers (in the version I know, the villagers hide their food not just from the soldiers but also from themselves). So, at a deeper level, the story raises questions of morality. When is deception acceptable? What gives anyone the authority to claim to have 'the big picture?'

I doubt that the villagers are hiding a shared collection of food. If they were, when each of them were getting items for the soup you'd think they'd see other villagers getting other items and discover what the visitors were up to. If the villagers are individually hoarding the food then it makes more sense that they are unaware that by working together they could produce a meal. In this version, the villages aren't being deceptive and the visitors are allowing them to work together to produce something they couldn't otherwise.
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