Subject: Re: New member intro and questions
From: Lynn Winebarger <owinebar@free-expression.org>
Date: Fri, 3 Dec 1999 12:20:00 -0500 (EST)

On Fri, 3 Dec 1999, Crispin Cowan wrote:

> Pure research is rarely profitable all on its own.  Research is, almost by
> definition, externally sponsored in some form or another.  IBM's research
> labs are funded by IBM's product revenues, because the research enables the
> products.  University research is funded by the government and by various
> industries, because the research enables advanced capabilities and products.

   Pure research isn't exactly what I'm after.  More like people who are
able to both (a) do pure research, (b) turn around and apply it to
practical problems.  The key here would be accelerating the turn around
time between applied problems generating pure theory questions and then
seeing other areas where solutions to those questions could be applied.
Not a particularly simple task, but one I think can be done.  

> So while you say that you don't want to do industrial or academic research,
> those are in fact the easy ways to get research done, because those are
> established institutions for funding and conducting research.  Your plan to
> bundle research (a revenue-negative activity) with free software business (a
> nascent business model with uncertain revenue prospects) sounds rife with
> difficulty.
> 
   Well, there's kind of a difference between the kind of research I want
to do and the kind the sort that is typical in universities (at least as
it relates to mathematics). It was talked about here last month (one
discussion I followed from the archives): mathematical research is very
rarified these days.  Most research that's done is very narrow, and
they're probably only a handful of people in the world who would
understand what you're working on, much less care.  Usually, the older
mathematicians get, the more this is true.  This is not the kind of
research I'm interested in.
   Probably this seems possible to me because I happen to know of an area
of crossover that's ripe for exploitation, while still needing pure work
to be done.  Actually, it's already being exploited - but there's still
pure work that needs to be done that can be widely exploited, in a variety
of ways.
   
> To realize your vision, like Leonardo Da Vinci, you will need to find a
> patron or two.  You will have to convince someone with deep pockets that the
> research & free software that you will create are in their interests.  Figure
> out what area you want to concentrate on, determine which deep-pocket FSB's
> have both money to pay and an interest in those areas, and convince them to
> fund you in some way or another.  Some business models that might inspire
> you:
> 
>    * Start a small company and sell consulting services, e.g. like Schneier's
>      Counterpane.
>    * Start a small-ish company and sell customized software like Cygnus.
>    * Go direct:  try to get hired by a big FSB, e.g. Red Hat, Turbo, or VA
> 
   I was thinking something along the lines of (1) and (2) (or actually 2,
since Cygnus sells consulting services), as well as writing
books/seminars/etc.  Patrons would definitely be helpful, but I don't know
how difficult it would be to convince companies to not be free riders.
It's the old prisoner's dilemma problem.

> Of course, you also face competition.  All of these things have been done
> before, so you have to do something better than the previous people, much
> better.
> 
   There's the rub.  

> This reads like a naive attempt to re-invent universities and research
> institutes.
   Yup.  

>     People who build and work at such institutions generally do so
> for love of the work and stupidity :-) and not for the money.  They tend to
> be very marginal financially.  If you feel that your kind of organization can
> do better in the research business, you're going to have to have a deep
> understanding of how the existing institutes work, and find real ways to do
> it better.  This is in addition to the usual enormous problem of convincing a
> brain-trust's worth of people that your way really is better, etc. etc.
> 
   This is very useful advice (having a deep understanding of how the
existing institutes work).   As for the brain-trust's worth of people,
that would depend on how they feel about the current situation, and
whether they're the type of researchers that would work in this situation
anyway (I don't think there are a lot, unfortunately).

Thanks,
Lynn