A patently good idea

When I was in USA, diplomas on the wall was very much a thing.

I don’t think I fully reverse-engineered the protocol for which diplomas would get hung and which would be filed away, apart from the unbreakable rule that, like it or not, anything your company handed out was mandatory on the office-wall, no matter how embarrasing.

Our paediatrician had diplomas for five or six steps of her education.

My favourite pizzeria had a diploma for “Authentic Italian Food” from a US organization suffering from fuzzy territorial perception.

Co-workers had diplomas from their universities, OSHA, USAF, DoE, CalTrans and who knows what.

But the gold-standard of diplomas, at least amongst the engineers, was having a US Patent on the wall, even if it only ever made them a single dollar in assignment fee.

I asked one of them about his patent and he answered wryly: “It proves to my boss and my mom that I had at least one unique idea in my career.”

Personally I do not think the patent system does what people think it does, ie: protect the small inventor from big companies, so I have no patents to my name, and in fact no diplomas on my wall at all.

But I still mentally carve a notch when I see one of my ideas being validated in some form.

Containers and Zones are not jails, but they know, and I know, where they got the basic idea from, and that is plenty of validation for my ego.

Today is Store Bededag in Denmark, loosely translated “All Prayers Day”, by definition a friday and we, like many other danes, have eloped to the beach-house for a long weekend.

But being self-employed I puttered around with VCC, the VCL compiler, this morning, and as a result, you will soon be able to say:

import vmod_with_impractically_long_name as v;

(You can thank Dridi for suggesting that)

My idea that Varnish would be configured in a Domain Specific Language compiled to native code is obviously one of my better, and about 10 years ago, that was becoming very obvious.

In Norway Varnish Software were being spun out of the Redpill-Linpro company.

Artur Bergman, one of the first Varnish Cache power users, who ran Wikias content delivery and hit our project like a blast-oven with ideas, patches, measurements, general good cheer and incredibly low tolerance for bull-shit, started the Fastly CDN.

Prior to that, I had done a bit of soul-searching myself, wondering if I should try to take Varnish and run with it?

In conventional economic theory, I would have patented the VCL idea, and become as rich as the idea was good.

But in all probable worlds, that would only have meant that the idea would be dead as a doornail, I would not have made any money from it, it would never have helped improve the web, and I would have wasted much more of my life in meetings than would be good for anybodys health.

As if that wasn’t enough, the very thought of having to hire somebody scared me, but not nearly as much as the realization that if I built a company with any number of employees, sooner or later I would have to fire someone again.

Writing code? Yes.

Running a growing company? No.

The result of my soul-searching was this email to announce@ where I took myself out of the game:

Subject: For the record: Varnish and Money
From: Poul-Henning Kamp <phk@phk.freebsd.dk>
To: varnish-announce@varnish-cache.org
Date: Fri Nov 19 14:03:22 CET 2010

Just so everybody know where I stand on this...


Hash: SHA1

- ------------

As the main developer of the Varnish Software and the de-facto leader
of the Varnish Open Source Project, it is my desire to see Varnish
used and adopted as widely as possible.

To the same ends, the founders of the Varnish Project chose the BSD
license to facilitate commercial exploitation of Varnish in all
forms, while protecting the independence of the Open Source Project.

The BSD license is non-discriminatory, and makes no attempt to
separate the good guys from the bad guys, and neither should it.

The Varnish Project, as a community, is a different story.

While the BSD license can guarantee that Varnish, as software, will
always be available, a thriving Open Source Community takes a fair
bit more effort to hold together.

Nothing can rip apart an Open Source project faster than competing
commercial interests playing dirty, and since Varnish has started
to cause serious amounts of money to shift around, it is time to
take this issue a bit more seriously.

Non-competition pledge:
- -----------------------

My interest in Varnish is developing capable quality software, and
making a living at the same time.

In addition to Varnish, I have some long time good customers for
whom I do various weird things with computers and software, and
since they have stuck with me and paid my bills, I will stick with
them and send them more bills.

The Varnish Moral License (VML) was drawn up to provide a money-stream
that can fund my Varnish-habit, and it was designed as an "arms-length"
construction to prevent it from taking control of the projects

Therefore acquiring a VML does not mean that you get to tell me
what to do, or in which order I should do it.  There is no "tit for
tat" involved.  The only thing you get out of the VML, is that the
next version of Varnish will be better than the one we have now.


 As long as I can keep my family fed, happy and warm this
 way, I will not enter any other commercial activity related
 to Varnish, and am more than happy to leave that field open
 to everybody and anybody, who wants to try their hand.

Fairness pledge:
- ----------------

As the de-facto leader of the Varnish community, I believe that
the success or failure of open source rises and falls with the
community which backs it up.

In general, there is a tacit assumption, that you take something
from the pot and you try put something back in the pot, each to his
own means and abilities.

And the pot has plenty that needs filling:  From answers to newbies
questions, bug-reports, patches, documentation, advocacy, VML funding,
hosting VUG meetings, writing articles for magazines, HOW-TO's for
blogs and so on, so this is no onerous demand for anybody.

But the BSD license allows you to not participate in or contribute
to the community, and there are special times and circumstances
where that is the right thing, or even the only thing you can do,
and I recognize that.


 I will treat everybody, who do not contribute negatively to
 the Varnish community, equally and fairly, and try to foster
 cooperation and justly resolve conflicts to the best of my

Policy on Gifts:
- ----------------

People sometimes prefer to show their appreciation of Varnish by
sending me gifts.

I really love that

But please understand, that any and gifts or other appreciations I
may receive, from cartoons on my Amazon Wishlist, up to and including
pre-owned tropical tax-shelter islands, with conveniently unlocked
bank vaults filled with gold bars (one can always dream...), will
all be received and interpreted the same way:  As tokens of
appreciation for deeds already done, and encouragement to me to
keep doing what is right and best for Varnish in the future.

Poul-Henning Kamp

Signed with my PGP-key, November 19th, 2010, Slagelse, Denmark.
Version: GnuPG v1.4.10 (FreeBSD)

Poul-Henning Kamp       | UNIX since Zilog Zeus 3.20
phk@FreeBSD.ORG         | TCP/IP since RFC 956
FreeBSD committer       | BSD since 4.3-tahoe
Never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by incompetence.

Today (20190517) Arturs Fastly, company went public on the New York Stock Exchange, and went up from $16 to $24 in a matter of hours. So-called “financial analysts” write that as a consequence Fastly is now worth 2+ Billion Dollars.

I can say with 100% certainty and honesty that there is no way I could ever have done that, that is entirely Arturs doing and I know and admire how hard he worked to make it happen.

Congratulations to Artur and the Fastly Crew!

But I will steal some of Arturs thunder, and point to Fastlys IPO as proof that at least once in my career, I had a unique idea worth a billion dollars :-)