About an Embarrassing Triple Moral

As a programmer, I'm used to the boolean data type of many programming languages. It's main advantage is the ease of working knowing it may only be in one of two states: true or false. Yet, binary states has been proven not that useful on some areas of sciences such as circuit designs, and the concept of high-impedance was introduced under the 3-state logic theory. Even then, any device can only be in one of the 3 possible states, otherwise many things would not make sense or would be uncertain in the whole design.

Given the fact that it's simple to work with devices when you know they can only be in one of a set of possible states, I would like people to behave that way: having a firm opinion on any particular topic and not changing their states unless there are strong reasons to do so, even if that opinion is against mine, for it would be easier to debate about it. But then, of course, that's too much to ask from a non-deterministic set of species, and (fortunately) not everyone in the world is a programmer so I can't expect them to understand the advantages of holding one firm position about something.

But I know an institution, my dear readers, that holds not only both boolean values, but all of the 3-state logic possible values at the same time on a particular topic: the Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá... unfortunately, my University.  Of course, the particular topic is Software.

For starters, there's a great deal of interest in promoting Software Patents among students. Based on past experiences of failure cases wrongly attributed to the lack of software patents for the projects some of the students did, all of the students that come up with any interesting computer program during their careers (which are not many, most likely because of the lack of emphasis on creativity in the courses of the career) are encouraged to hold copyrights of their projects. I myself got a proposal of that type a couple of months back for a (lame) program I did as a final project for a course, just because it looked cool in my Nokia N800. These professors are usually equipped with the well known speech on the benefits and importance of holding copyrights for your software: you'll win money, no one will steal your idea, etc. I also know that some of the Faculty members belong to a local organization that protects copyrights and I remember one of those professors trying to decomise a CD from my friend di3go just because she thought it may be an illegal copy of a copyrighted software. This behavior is, of course, encouraged by Microsoft, who through an agreement with the Computer Systems Faculty, distributed free student licenses for some of the Microsoft Software at no cost to all of the students, who only had to pay a dollar for the DVD they were borrowing.

But on the other hand, there's a widespread trend of software piracy: from the old-school Turbo C (you would expect something that old wouldn't have  copyrights, but check out their legal disclaimer), to the whole .NET Development Platform, passing through Rational Rose, MS SQL Server, 3D Studio Max, Adobe's Web and Design Platforms... you name it, all of these copyrighted programs are not only commonly seen in student's USB drives, but their use is encouraged among professors of the same faculty that encourages students to patent their software so that no one will ever steal their ideas and use their software without permission. I invite you to check out di3go's post about one of the courses he's currently taking, where he mentions some of these faults (you can also check my comment on that post, under my other name, David). And this goes way beyond the Computer Systems Faculty, as Matlab is one of the most commonly distributed programs in the other faculties, and I have even seen thesis projects presented on illegal copies of Matlab. Back in the Computer Systems Faculty, though, a stronger and more dangerous form of piracy is usually ignored by the students that attend to that faculty: The Data Communication courses (I and II) are solely based on Cisco Academy's CCNA Certification program, which means all of the course materials they provide to students enrolled in that certification are being illegally distributed to regular students of the faculty. Sum up the cost of the licenses I've mentioned here, do you think this University should be so called? are they shaping professionals? furthermore, are they shaping IT professionals while stealing from the same industry?

But yes, there's still another hand: My University is the main authority on Free Software since who-knows-when. Since it's creation, CIDETYS, an organization created to promote the use of Free Software in Technology... or something like that, has been presided by the President of the Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá. Furthermore, the the director of the Technical Group of the organization is one of the Vice Deans of the Computer Systems Faculty. None of them, my dear readers, knows anything about Free Software: No participation on projects, no funding to any free software project or community, no nothing. In particular, the Vice Dean of my faculty is a Windows user who eventually installed Firefox and OpenOffice to avoid copyright infringements and now considers herself an Open Source activist. Yet, this spectacular team decided to organize a Iberoamerican Congress on Free Knowledge, inviting personalities (that is, real-life Free Software Activists) from Spain and South America to give talks about things these guys had never heard of, like the fact that Free Software has nothing to do with money; and also some local participants: some of them prominent members of the Free Software Community, like Aristides Villareal, who gave a great talk on NetBeans; and some of them who didn't even care about Free Software until now. I surely can't say it was a complete waste of time: I met interesting people, made some contacts, ate a lot and of course... lauged a lot :) But first of all, it was embarrassing to know you were part of a University that could organize such a congress while holding two other rival positions back in the classrooms, and second, it's a great deal of an insult to see the authorities that have denied us help to develop the community (they have never funded any traveling done by any member of the Free Software Community working or studying at the University; nor did they help me push Free Software into the career plans) now sporting a Free Software attitude and claiming to be activists of a movement they have actively tried to stop. They even sold students' freedom at a dollar on that agreement with Microsoft, so who are they trying to counterfeit?

I would really love to know any of the authorities here mentioned read this post, as I'm not afraid to sustain these facts before them, but I know that's not likely going to happen (I can't even assure you they surf the web at all). I would also love to see them sued by any of the companies here mentioned for a couple of millions of dollars just to see them embarrassed before the IT community worldwide, as everyone knows there's no way to hold more than one position forever, but there are also very little probabilities for that to happen. Yet, what I would really like to see is the whole system at my University changed to Free Software once and for all, without any two-folds and disguises, but that my readers... that's just impossible.