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Re: [Axiom-developer] Re: AMS Notices: Open Source Mathematical Software

From: root
Subject: Re: [Axiom-developer] Re: AMS Notices: Open Source Mathematical Software
Date: Sun, 25 Nov 2007 22:54:03 -0500

>> >> Third, even if the NSF funded SAGE, how would those funds benefit the
>> >> various subprojects like Axiom? Open source is mostly volunteer work
>> >> done in "spare time". While it is amusing to daydream of being paid to
>> >> develop open source computational mathematics on a full time basis, it
>> >> seems unlikely that this could lead to more than just small
>> >> grants. The expertise and continuity needed to do research work
>> >> requires longer term funding.
>> >
>> > Great questions and comments.  There aren't easy answers.
>> > One possibility is selling "support"... which could bring in
>> > money to support people who are out of country.
>> One possibility I've wondered about for a while would be getting a
>> number of colleges to simultaneously agree to pool small amounts of
>> money into an effort to support a couple of developers working on these
>> programs - i.e. spreading the cost over many institutions rather than
>> just having one or two carry all of the cost.  Start up a small
>> nonprofit or some such to serve as the organization in question.  Surely
>> if grant money can sometimes pay for commercial software it could go to
>> pay for such an arrangement, particularly if the software was all
>> guaranteed to be open.
>> Is this something someone could set up with any hope of success?
>I think something like this could be successful.  Actually, Magma has
>been a very successful example of almost exactly this during the last
>10 years.   They are a nonprofit, they get a pool of small amounts
>of money from a few hundred (?) sites, and as a result hire about
>5-10 fulltime people per year to work on Magma.   The only difference
>is that Magma is not open.  But it is a useful successful real-life
>example, which
>should not be ignored:

My experience at schools has been that money is a scarce and very 
closely guarded resource. At one school, over 50% of the grant money
disappeared into the "overhead" at the provost office before the
money ever appeared.

Either the initial grant had principal investigators at different
schools (or one of the PIs moved), or a visiting scientist arrangement
allowed someone on leave to join the project for a while, otherwise
I don't recall other arrangements. However, my experience is quite

On the federal front, I believe the funding organizations are only
capable of making grants to other organizations that have departments
that handle funds, requiring the overhead. But giving money to open
source is like giving money to the homeless. Even though 100% of it
will go to support direct needs, it appears to disappear.

Corporate funding has mostly (except TI?) shifted to more dedicated
businesses (eg. Wolfram, Maplesoft, etc.) and I've already mentioned
that I believe these will end. The question is, what will replace
them and how will computational mathematics be impacted?

I am of two minds about the whole funding issue.

On the one hand, funding would make it possible to concentrate
completely on the research and development of the code and community.
Given that Axiom has a 30 year horizon this would allow deep planning,
a stronger theoretical basis, and more functionality.

On the other hand, money has strings. And these strings almost always
lack long-term visions, focusing on the quarterly and yearly reports.
Given that Axiom has a 30 year horizon this would be disruptive.

Considering both sides, it seems that disruptive funding is the
greater danger to the long term survival.  In the long run, it's not
the funding that matters. It's the work.


What would you do if you were not paid to do it?
That's what you are. -- Tim Daly

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