Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Need A Laugh - Here You Go

 A first grade teacher had a small number of children gathered around a table for a reading group. After the story was read she gave the children a work sheet to do.

While they were working she heard a little girl say very softly "damn!"

The teacher leaned over and said quietly, "We don't say that in school."

The little girl looked at the teacher, her eyes got very big and she said, "Not even when things are all f***** up?!"

Being A Non-Coding Contributor

 I am not a programmer. With that last statement many would be surprised to also learn I am heavily involved with a software project.

Though I don't write code, I do handle a lot at the project tracking site. Bug reports, documentation, Answering questions, writing FAQs and blueprints.

I write most of the blueprints for the project, act as the bug report manager and I am the main contact for answering questions when they come in. Even had to answer one question in Spanish though I barely speak a word of it. Love translation programs.

The point is I am doing a lot for the project, freeing up time for the developers handling the day to administration that would otherwise fall behind. Its also a statement that even non-coders can become big time contributors to projects.

This is an important realization for people. You don't have to write code to help on a project. There are many aspects of project development that you can help with:

Specification Tracking: Drafting Blueprints for developers to work from. You only need a basic understanding of software operations and standards to do this. Blueprinting a feature basically involves stating what the feature is, how it should work and even in some cases how it should look. Most often you will most likely build a Blueprint from a bug report, as many bug reports are feature (or lack of) requests.

Bug Tracking: This one is a lot harder because some bug reports are really questions, some are feature requests and some are legitimate issues. Experience in beta testing will be very helpful here. Also knowing the software that is being developed is vital as well. Basically you have to decide if the bug reported is one of the above three. If its a question or a feature request then obviously its not a bug and should be reclassified appropriately. Keep in mind though you may decide to make a report a question only to later find out its actually a real bug. However running the issue as a question allows you to create a much more accurate bug report if necessary.

Answering Questions: This is usually where people can help the most. If the software project proves to be popular (as the one I am working on has) among users then people are going to need some level of support. Helping others fix small to large issues or referring them to the correct FAQ can be tremendously helpful to the developers. They don't always have the time to answer a question. The hardest part of dealing with a question is narrowing things down till a resolution is reached. This is a great way in honing your trouble shooting skills. Sometimes you will know what the answer is, or you know there is a FAQ that has the answer. One should always refer the question to the available FAQ if possible before stepping into the world of step by step trouble shooting. Most questions I work on find themselves becoming a FAQ. This is because it keeps me from having to trouble shoot the same issues over and over when I can send the user straight to the answer. Does the FAQ I send them to always work? Nope, but I either update that FAQ with more information or create a new one when done trouble shooting that particular issue.

Step by step trouble shooting is very tedious because its all done by email. Sometimes you will give an answer and sometimes you will need ask a question. I honestly have a sense of accomplishment when I help someone resolve an issue. Especially when we spent days working on it. (Yes I have had those happen and yes they are now FAQs.)

One of the last things I do is try to get people involved. Coders, interface designers and graphic artists in my case. I even try to find people to help me do the day to day stuff. Our project is small but popular. More popular than we expected to become really.

Small to large projects are always looking for help. Non-coders can be very helpful in the right project. It is time consuming but well worth it if one is looking to get a sense of being part of the community.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Brutal Lessons And Hopefully Positive Outcomes

I was not going to talk about this in my blog initially. There was no real need to at first, when this storm started as it was Slashdotted and I myself created links to it as well so people would find it. More significantly, I was not expecting Ken to have this situation reach this level of communication this soon. However, the Slashdot effect played a major role in bringing about communication between the two antagonists. And yes Ken admits his antagonism. Though we may never know Karen's full side of the story I believe we know enough to say she too is apologetic. I believe and gather from the gist of things that she has apologized to both Ken and Aaron. If this is the case, that is good enough for me, and it should be good enough for everyone else as well.

Yes Karen was ignorant about Linux and F/OSS in general. Yet the perception about ignorance is that its a sin major sin in the F/OSS community. A sin that one should be burned at the stake for. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ignorance as follows:

13th century

: the state or fact of being ignorant : lack of knowledge, education, or awareness

Harsh reality check. Everyone on the planet Earth is ignorant about more thing than they are knowledgeable of. To be ignorant is not a sin. However, ignorance can only be countered with education and discussion in an honest and open dialog. It can not be countered with statements of hate, harranging and harassment.

Many of the community responses were outright derogatory, hateful, threatening and unwarranted.

Even in Ken's follow up blog post there are still statements like "Throw that b**** under the bus..." Despite the fact that Ken made it very clear that communications had been established and Karen had learned more in the last few days than in the five previous years.

Yes Ken went a bit overboard in his initial response to Karen. Karen definitely crossed the line with her first email to Ken. However, and this is the lessen all of us F/OSS supporters must learn, Ken used this as an opportunity to educate another person about F/OSS. Despite all the negativity that arose towards Karen (most were outright attacks and character assassinations) she became educated about what F/OSS is, how it works and what it means to technology.

People, people, people we must never ever attack someone for being ignorant. Ignorance is simply a fact of life. No human being is omnipotent and has knowledge of all things. That is simply not possible. What made this situation explode more than anything else is that Karen is a teacher and the initial response from the F/OSS community at large was "OMG a teacher doesn't know what Linux is or what F/OSS is. You mean she has never heard of GPL?"

Folks as much as it pains mean to say this, I doubt many teachers do, those that do fall into one of two categories:

1.) They are Linux and F/OSS users themselves but they don't teach on them at school. Though they may show a interested student here or there.

2.) They are teachers whom teach technology and have formed opinions about F/OSS, some for, some against and some remain neutral.

Here's another fact we have to accept as well. Most people whom use computers don't know, and don't care, what F/OSS is. To them all the computer is, is a tool. As long as that tool does what they want, when they want and in the manner they expect it to then they are happy.

In the thousands of comments most were militant F/OSS advocates spewing hatred and contempt for Karen that was neither appropriate or warranted. There were also posts from Microsoft advocates adding even more fuel into an already out of control fire.

My issue with Karen was never her ignorance, it was her threatening Ken with legal action without researching the subject first. A mistake I can be reasonably assured of Karen will never make again.

Militaristic attitudes do not help F/OSS any more than a RTFM attitude does. We cannot advance the use of F/OSS by attacking those whom are ignorant about it.

There was, in the melee, a comment posted that should become the definition of how F/OSS advocates handle situations. "It is better to convert an enemy, than defeat him." What does this mean? It means we should inform and educate, not attack, even if they attack us first.

When SCO first brought about their lawsuit in 2003 against IBM and threatened Linux, Pamela Jones at Groklaw used this philosophy and created one of the most powerful and influential information resources to counter SCO. So powerful, in fact, that opposing lawyers began using information from her blog and links to counter SCO's arguments. It worked to.

Did she convert SCO, no but she definitly had an impact on many SCO supporters whom eventually converted. Ah yes and there we smell victory.

If we are ever going to bring F/OSS main stream to the general public we best learn our lesson about what ignorance is. It is not a crime or a sin, but rather, an opportunity to educate and open communication.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Because we all need a laugh

How fights start

When I got home last night, my wife demanded that I take
Her someplace, I took her to a gas station...... And then
The fight started....

I tried to talk my wife into buying a case of Millers
Light for $14.95. Instead, she bought a jar of cold cream for $7.95. I
Told her the beer would make her look better at night than the cold
Cream. And that's when the fight started.


After retiring, I went to the Social Security office to
Apply for Social Security. The woman behind the counter asked me for my
Driver's' license to verify my age. I looked in my pockets and realized I
Had left my wallet at home. I told the woman that I was very sorry, but
I would have to go home and come back later.

The woman said, 'Unbutton your shirt'.
So I opened my shirt revealing my curly silver hair. She
Said, 'That silver hair on your chest is proof enough for me' and she
Processed my Social Security application.

When I got home, I excitedly told my wife about my
Experience at the Social Security office.

She said, 'You should have dropped your pants. You might
Have gotten disability, too'

And then the fight started.....


My wife and I were sitting at a table at my high school
Reunion, and I kept staring at a drunken lady swigging her drink as she
Sat alone at a nearby table.

My wife asked, 'Do you know her?'

'Yes,' I sighed, 'She's my old girlfriend. I understand
She took to drinking right after we split up those many years ago, and I
Hear she hasn't been sober since.'

'My God!' says my wife, 'Who would think a person could
Go on celebrating that long?'

And then the fight started.....


I rear-ended a car this morning. So, there we were
Alongside the road and slowly the other driver got out of his car.

You know how sometimes you just get soooo stressed and
Little things just seem funny?

Yeah, well I couldn't believe it.... He was a DWARF!!!

He stormed over to my car, looked up at me, and shouted,

So, I looked down at him and said, 'Well, then which one
Are you?'

And that's how the fight started.....


I took my wife to a restaurant. The waiter, for some
Reason, took my order first.

'I'll have the strip steak, medium rare, please.'

He said, 'Aren't you worried about the mad cow?'

'Nah, she can order for herself.'

And that's how the fight started.....