Five and a half couples who shared love and work the open source way

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It's Valentine's Day, which is about love and relationships, and successful relationships are always based on the same principles that make open source projects successful--transparency, sharing, and generally working together for something better than either could have alone. Here are five couples who were not only partners in love, but in their work that also reflected the open source way.

Charles and Ray Eames

Charles and Ray Eames were colleagues at the Cranbrook Academy of Art and married in 1941. They're most well known for the Eames Chair and the Eames House. They also created the Mathematica: A World of Numbers... and Beyond" exhibit for IBM in 1961, not to mention much other work in architecture, design, and even film. The Eames' philosophy was one that we might now call rapid prototyping--a process of repeat trial and error that sometimes lasted years. Charles gave lecture noted for its "banana leaf parable," in which he discusses the change from a simple banana leaf as eating dish into a greater design.

Pierre and Marie Curie

As all of science is built on the fundamental open source principle of knowledge sharing, this list would be incomplete without Pierre and Marie Curie. Their work resulted in Curie's law, the Curie constant, the Curie point, the Curie Dissymetry Principle, and of course, the Nobel Prize in Physics. As a bonus couple (the "and a half" noted in this article's title), their daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie and her husband, Frédéric Joliot-Curie continued their work in physics and love, winning the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their work in the artifical productive of radioactive elements.

Mary and Percy Shelley

Mary Shelley's writing spanned many themes but was often politically motivated. She believed in reason and cooperation as keys to making the world a better place. She also struggled with and wrote about the way women were seen and treated at the time, which 200 years later, is a challenge for many open source software communities. Percy Shelley was also known for his radical ideas, largely about sharing--specifically wealth sharing, which didn't thrill his aristocratic family. The 1995 novel Shelley's Heart features a plot based around the very opposite of governmental transparency: a secret society whose member-identifying question is about Percy Shelley's heart, which was legendarily stolen from his funeral pyre.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Christo and Jeanne-Claude worked as one--in fact, they were even born within an hour of each other on the same day. They would speak together, finish each other's sentences, and generally behaved as two parts of a whole. It would be easy to describe their work as counter to open source principles. Christo told National Geographic in 2006, "All our projects are absolutely irrational with no justification to exist," contrary to most open source projects, which exist to scratch an itch. Much of their work involves concealment--"Wrapped Reichstag" could arguably be described as a demonstration in governmental non-transparency. But what they also created was community. "The Umbrellas" became gathering spots for three million people for purposes ranging from friends meeting to weddings and represented international parallels with its simultaneous installation in Japan and the US.

Robert Wright and George Forrest

Great musical theater is full of great collaboration. Gilbert and Sullivan. Rodgers and Hammerstein. George and Ira Gershwin. But Robert Wright and George Forrest were together not only in work, but in life for more than seventy years. Together they created more than 2,000 songs, which were known for being derivative versions of great classical music.


Can you think of others we could add to the list?

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Ruth Suehle is the community leadership manager for Red Hat's Open Source and Standards team. She's co-author of Raspberry Pi Hacks (O'Reilly, December 2013) and a senior editor at GeekMom, a site for those who find their joy in both geekery and parenting.

1 Comment

Here is another geeky Valentine's Day story: Not only did my husband (a GNOME hacker) have a beautiful bouquet of flowers delivered to my desk, he also fixed one of my pet GNOME bugs that affects Fedora 16 and built the fix in updates-testing!

(a bug fix *so* much better than chocolate!)

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