System Overlord

A blog about security engineering, research, and general hacking.

Review: The Art of Community (Jono Bacon)

I had the privilege of receiving an early copy of The Art of Community by Jono Bacon for review.  It's taken a little longer than I had hoped to get through it, but that's by no means a reflection of the book.

"The Art of Community" tackles a very difficult question in the Open Source world: how do you build a strong community around your project?  Jono addresses this by using anecdotal evidence of good community organization, and discussing the facets that apply to community development.  Jono's varied experiences are shown through anecdotes about the Ubuntu community and other communities he has participated in.  The stories he shares are concise and clear, but demonstrate their points effectively and thoughtfully.  Jono's writing skills are first-rate, with strong points made clearly.  He builds the community idea from grassroots to the enterprise and shows how community participation can help -- and harm -- at each step along the way.  It's obvious that Jono knows what he's talking about, and he communicates it well.  I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the dynamics of a community or any project leader looking to build from the ground up.

Free IT Atlanta

I'm very much inspired by the work that's been done out in Athens by Free IT Athens.  They provide free/low-cost IT services to low-income families and community organizations in the city of Athens, GA.  In their words:

Free IT Athens is a group of like-minded citizens who realize that computers are a necessary component of everyday life. We believe that everyone deserves access to low-cost computer equipment and computer-related services. Our goal is to provide access to information technology resources to Athens-Clarke County residents and organizations. We also aim to create well informed advocates in free software and open information technology.

I'm interested in helping/starting a similar organization here in the Atlanta area.  I know there are a lot of deserving individuals and community organizations, and it provides a great opportunity to showcase the strengths of open source software.  Unfortunately, there is no way I can get this off the ground myself.  I'm looking for some more individuals who might be interested in a meeting (either in-person or via IRC/dim dim/etc.) to discuss the feasibility and planning for such a group.  This (hopefully) serves as my "feeler" for others who might be interested in participating in/organizing such a group.

Sexism in the FLOSS Community

[NB: Obviously I am a man, but if anyone believes I can't comment on sexism because I am not female, well, look up the definition of sexism.]

Mackenzie over at Ubuntu Linux Tips & Tricks has called attention to the greatest dark spot on the face of the FLOSS Community: a man who calls himself MikeeUSA.

This "man" has been posting sexist, misogynist, and violent comments on blogs in the FLOSS Community advocating rape and violence towards women.  His behavior is, to say the least, nauseating and despicable.  Worse, the "man" is a coward who hides behind pseudonyms and tor in protecting his identity.  Whether he really feels the way he does or he gets his jollies on trolling in this dirty manner, he is no better than the likes of Hitler and Stalin.  Needless to say, comments by him on my blog or any site I work with (e.g., will not be tolerated.

That being said, I thought today would be a good day to address my take on the numerous issues of sexism in open source that have been going around lately.  I'll first discuss a few points brought up via Mackenzie's link to the Geek Feminism Wiki, which I wasn't even familiar with until today.

  • Hoss Gifford's Flashbelt Presentation: Hoss's presentation clearly presented a sexist message which was inappropriate for the venue.  It was unprofessional and disappointing.  That being said, it didn't seem (to me) to be anything worse than immature attention-getting, and I doubt it reflects his personal views towards women.  (Or at least, I hope it doesn't.)
  • Richard Stallman's emacs virgin joke: It was a joke, and a bad one at that, but it was delivered by RMS.  Who has ever expected anything politically correct from him?
  • Mark Shuttleworth's Keynote: While his comment was probably politically incorrect, it was hardly sexist to me.  In fact, I doubt anyone would have noticed were it not for all the other gaffes made at conferences this year.  Are we now asking every statement open source leaders make to be run by legal?  Maybe his comments were misinterpreted, or I just interpret them differently than others do.  What I do at work, and what I do in the open source community, can be VERY hard to explain to my fiancee.  From his perspective, this is "hard to explain to girls."  This is not to say that women are not both valued and welcomed in the open source community, but it is more about the technical nature of the work and that being a doctor or a lawyer or a banker is easy to explain, and being a contributor to an open source project is not.  (I am in no way suggesting that Mark Shuttleworth's comments were appropriate, only that they stem from common usage, and I don't believe they reflect a sexist attitude.)

I fully support the movement to reduce sexism in the FLOSS Community, and I welcome and encourage the participation of women in the open source community.  I hope the proportions continue to normalize, and I don't intend to offend by posting these views.

All that being said, I think that it's inappropriate to expect someone to use "he slash she" every time they want to refer to a person in a speech.  The political correctness involved will quickly overwhelm and swamp the efforts that are being made elsewhere.  If we are to spend all of our time thinking about being politically correct, there would be no time for any forward movement, both technically and socially.  The idea that terms like "guys" are sexist is one I cannot wrap my mind around.  Show me a list of suitable replacement words that doesn't make a presentation sound stilted and detract from the central idea, and only then can we expect ideas to change.

As for those who are refusing to use Ubuntu over Shuttleworth's "remark": overreact much?  It's not like the Ubuntu wallpaper has nudes of women on it.  Perhaps when an attitude of discrimination is demonstrated, then it will be time for a boycott.  Until then, words are words and actions are actions, never confuse the two.

Edit: I have earned myself a comment from MikeeUSA, which is interesting in that he seems to be seeking out a fight.  Big surprise.

Depth of Knowledge vs. Breadth of Knowledge

Update: I wrote this long ago, and since then, I have come to terms and even begun to appreciate being a generalist. There's a wonderful book called Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World that explains the value in having a breadth of knowledge even in an increasingly specialized world.

In a lot of circumstances, it can be useful to have a wide breadth of knowledge: that is, to know a little about a lot of things.  It's useful in my job, where I am the System Administrator/DBA/developer/etc.

That being said, I feel like I need to increase my depth of knowledge in one or more areas in order to be more useful to the Open Source and Ubuntu communities.  I feel as though my contributions are not as significant as I'd like them to be, but I'm also not sure in which direction to take them.

So how can someone who knows a little about a lot learn a lot about a little to be more useful in the community?

OfficeMax Cancels Orders Due to 'Typographical Error'

OfficeMax had listed a mediocre 19" widescreen LCD from AOC for a "Clearance" price of $53.74.  A friend of mine ordered one yesterday, but has since received a notice that his order was being canceled as that price was an "obvious typographical error."  For one, that price is not THAT exciting for a generic 19" monitor, and secondly, they did list it as clearance.  I do not believe that a company should be able to arbitrarily cancel orders because they decide that a price THEY set is no longer the price they wish to sell them for.  Essentially, they saw a number of customers rush to buy these and decided "hey, we could have made the price point higher -- let's cancel the orders and jack up the price!"

OfficeMax: congratulations.  I will never again shop at your store, regardless of price or convenience.  Staples and Office Depot will be the only suppliers of office supplies for me.  Hopefully, someone will file a class-action suit against you for this.  This is a classic bait-and-switch routine.  Cheap, unethical, business practices.

Details at SlickDeals: