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Leadership, fawgawdsake!

September 20, 2014 1 comment

In a Google+ post last week, Aaron Seigo rightfully ripped into “community managers” — quotes intentional, because it doesn’t really apply to all who are in charge of keeping a community functioning (more on this later) — generally who lead from above or by “star power” rather than leading by the consensus of the community. I wrote about it briefly in my weekly wrap-up on FOSS Force on Friday, but it started me to think about what makes good project leadership.

As I said in my FOSS Force item, I think overall Aaron is right in his tome on G+, yet part of the problem is the term “community manager” itself, which might lend itself to the boss/worker dynamic, and whether this makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy in many communities. It very well might, and that aspect needs changing.

I would rather see the interpretation of those who are given the responsibility of communities — hopefully an earned responsibility granted by the consent of the wider community — to be titled something differently: community gardener, community facilitator, community cat herder, whatever. Those in leadership positions are neither bosses giving orders nor “rock stars” to be adored. Those in charge, regardless of what they’re called, are the ones who facilitate the project through inspiring a committed and focused community.

Reading Aaron’s latest salvo and the myriad of interesting comments that followed, it made me think about what makes a good leader and who might serve a project community well as a facilitator.

One name kept coming up.

My Dad.

Larry Cafiero, Sr., more "happy warrior" than "grammar hammer," would have made a good FOSS project facilitator.

Larry Cafiero, Sr., more “happy warrior” than “grammar hammer,” would have made a good FOSS project facilitator.

Larry Cafiero, Sr. — known as Larry the Elder to my Larry the Younger, or Senior to my Junior (prepare for some pain if you call me that to my face) like the Griffeys — was really more “Happy Warrior” than “Grammar Hammer” as a newsman, but one of the traits that made him exceptional in the field was that no job was too small for him — nothing too insignificant, nothing beneath him — either as a city desk editor at The Miami Herald or as the Herald’s longtime Special Publications Editor, the position at which he worked for the last decade of his journalism career.

It was really no accident that I followed my father into the field, and I always looked to him for guidance. It always impressed me that his staff, never more than one or two, always seemed to go the extra mile, and always went above-and-beyond, for the department. One time, I asked one of his assistants why, and I was told — and I’m paraphrasing — that my father “was one of them.”

I didn’t know what he meant by that until Dad and I talked about leadership when I had been given the keys to a weekly newspaper in Dade County and I had to lead a group of reporters and photographers.

“Did you ever read ‘Henry V’?” He asked me. I hadn’t. He said I should read it, paying special attention to the preparation for, and the fighting of, the Battle of Agincourt.

So I did. And I got it.

It also made something else he said several months before a little less obtuse. We were at Johnny Raffa’s Lobo Lounge — one of Miami’s press bars in the late ’70s — and we talked over identical bourbons about what makes a great newsman. Dad’s answer was simple: You had to be like Captain Kirk.

Actually, I found it odd that my father was referring to a show I knew he didn’t really watch.

“You mean, I have to kiss all the green alien women on the planet?” I asked.

I got the look, then the eyeroll, followed by the admonishment, “Oh, fawgawdsake,” in the New York accent borne of his rearing in the Maspeth section of Queens, New York.

I can still hear him explaining it this way: Kirk had the ability to do everything on the Enterprise by himself, if necessary. The entire crew could drop dead and he’d still be able to fly the ship, at least in theory if not in practice. So a great newsman knows everything about producing the news — he can report, edit, lay out pages, crop photos, set type (what we did back then), make plates, put the plates on the press, and run the press.

So what it comes down to is this: Creating software, or even hardware, as a community in the open-source realm means encountering many rhetorical Battles of Agincourt, and it takes special kind of leader to marshal a team of developers to perform this task, day in and day out, like clockwork. Also, it takes a special leader to be able to “fly the Enterprise” by himself or herself if necessary, having both the knowledge and the desire to pick up where parts of the team may be lagging to bring the project up to speed.

You don’t get that with so-called leaders following traditional management tenets in a traditional manager/worker role. You certainly don’t get that with “rock stars,” as if that needs saying.

But you get that with leadership modeled after Henry V. And Captain Kirk. And Larry Sr., fawgawdsake.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Among the many things he does, Larry Cafiero writes news and commentary once a week — and occasionally more frequently — for FOSS Force.)

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Eliminate DRM!

Four simple words

January 26, 2014 3 comments

I wrote a blog item back in October 2011 that garnered the highest amount of hits (well into five figures), and the highest amount of comments (around 200), that this blog has ever achieved. Even the follow-up blog item garnered an abnormally high number of eyeballs. No, I’m not linking to either because I’d prefer not to go another round in the ring, so to speak, putting aside the fact that both blogs still get a considerable number of daily hits.

But if you Google “larry fsf” (no quotes), it comes up first — at least it did for me just now (sorry, “Larry Lessig”).

The back-and-forth in the comments is sometimes civil, sometimes not, and since this outpouring of vitriol — mine included — is abnormally high, I have given a lot of thought about the range of civility in the FOSS world.

I’ve been sitting on the following commentary for a long time. I even wrote an unpublished draft months ago that sits in the Larry the CrunchBang Guy draft queue because, well, I didn’t pull the trigger on writing about the incident in that forum which pushed over the first proverbial domino.

Personally speaking, I have no problem with the fact that I’m not going to agree with everyone, nor is everyone going to agree with me. My opinions, here and elsewhere, on the purposes and goals of Free/Open Source Software (or just about everything else) are going to clash with the opinions of others, and I’m at peace with that. In fact, I welcome the exchange of ideas with those with whom I may not agree to see if, perhaps, my mind can be changed, and conversely I would hope that others would take the same attitude. More often than not, I am disappointed here, but never mind. That’s another topic for another time.

So to those who “get it” — those who understand we’re not all of the same mind and there is room for debate and discussion, to say nothing of the fact that one does not have to be disagreeable in order to disagree — a deeply grateful “thank you” goes out to each one who deserves it. This item is not for you, though you’re welcome to continue reading.

It took me awhile to understand this, and as I’ve written in the past, there are times when the “current me” would take the “past me” and slap him in the back of the head, multiple times, and show him the best way, or at least the more civil way, to do things.

But I’m a little tired of appealing to some people — an annoying, yet tirelessly vocal, few — to be more understanding when they seemingly can’t hear me because they need their own individual proctologist to help each of them find their heads.

Nevertheless, this blog is a call out to those who don’t get it: The ones for whom dissent or disagreement is a good excuse to start playing “Call of Duty” verbally, escalating what started as a disagreement or a misunderstanding into a holy war with massive collateral damage.

The problem here is that this lack of civility, this absence of open-mindedness, and this departure from decent behavior scales in an enormous way in FOSS: from the new user warmed in the glow of their new-found FOSS enlightenment thinking their first distro is “the Holy Grail,” to some of those who got the ball rolling back in the day and are responsible for the world-altering digital movement in which we now find ourselves.

Most of the time we wrongfully give a pass to $FOSS_ICON because he or she is just “being $FOSS_ICON” when in reality we should be saying, “Seriously?”

“My way or the highway” is not a FOSS tenet. If you think it is, then the four simple words below are for you.

“Populating forums or IRC channels with troll-worthy posts and abusive behavior is clearly OK, and rules don’t apply to me especially when I have made it my sole purpose in life to shut people up who disagree on this insignificant issue.” If you think this way, then the four simple words below are for you.

“My desktop environment/FOSS program/Linux distro is the digital equivalent of perfection, we should all unite behind one (the one I’m using, of course), and if you disagree, you’re a moron.” If you think this way, then the four simple words below are for you.

“Not being mature enough to handle one’s behavior (or, in some cases, urges) in a large group of people, thereby forcing gatherings to enforce elaborate codes of conduct, is normal and acceptable.” If you think this way, then the four simple words below are for you.

There are more examples, but you get the point.

The Fedora Project, in a motto that embraces that distro’s workings and is oft-quoted in discussions, has boiled this concept down to five simple words: “Be excellent to each other.”

I’ve narrowed it down to four simple words: “Don’t be a douche.”

I’ll let you in on a secret, too: Adhering to these words, whether they’re Fedora’s or mine, also works in real life outside the FOSS realm. Don’t take my word for it — try it for yourself.

See you here next week. Agree or disagree, I’ll still be here, and you’re clearly welcome to return.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Eliminate DRM!

May the Fourth Be With You

May 4, 2013 4 comments

In what would rank as probably the shortest Larry the Free Software Guy blog item in the history of, well, Larry the Free Software Guy (and the blog’s predecessor, Larry the Open Source Guy), here’s a classic Mark Terranova mash-up of Red Hat’s Karsten Wade — Obi-Wade Kenobi — and Larry the Free Jedi Guy.

May the fourth — I mean, force — reamin strong with you always.

FOSS Wars 2

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Eliminate DRM!

Sometimes the best response is a shrug

September 22, 2011 3 comments

This week there was a sort of back-and-forth starting with Brian Proffitt in one blog item about Richard Stallman’s somewhat verbose Guardian article and a response by Bruce Byfield in a blog item about how he notices that lately people are picking on the Free Software Foundation. This kind of tete-a-tete is normally custom made for my participation, and last night I had thought about jumping in with both feet and an arm.

But you know what? Never mind. Just never mind. I had a whole blog item written last night. I went to bed. I woke up this morning and read my item. Then I deleted it. It’s just another “fuel, meet fire” situation that, despite my standard-issue remarkable and compelling prose (ahem), would have just removed focus from more important issues and would have created ill feelings.

So I’m just going to shrug, say “Ho-kay,” and write about something else.

Before I do, however, I will say that I do think Brian is right when he says that the Guardian article is another FSF broadside against open source, and that I don’t agree with Bruce’s arguments that the FSF is being picked on. Let’s look more importantly at the latter: The FSF does a lot of great things on behalf of software freedom, and does so with remarkably few resources. For this we are truly thankful. On the other hand, the FSF tragically has made an exact science of cultivating a “my way or highway” attitude (bring up dissenting viewpoints, as I have, and see how far you go), which makes its prevalent dogmatic stance a formula for organizational rigor mortis. For this reason alone (though there are others I won’t go into here), the FSF hand-delivers invitations for criticism — some of it deserved, some not — rather than than being victims of attacks for whatever reason externally. For all the great things he has done, Richard Stallman is largely responsible for this culture of dogma and rigidity, and when some — not me, but others — equate the FSF to being the FOSS equivalent of the Taliban, I’d like to argue against that comparison but, honestly, I really can’t.

But never mind.

Let’s go from one train wreck to another, shall we?

One of the items that is high on the tech radar today is the fact that Hewlett-Packard is about to push Leo Apotheker off the top of the building (the sentiments of some board members, it’s safe to say) and replace him with — I kid you not — Meg Whitman.

Meg Whitman. I would have prefered Slim Whitman — link to Wikipedia provided so the kids here don’t have to Google him. So while you read who he is, get off of my lawn.

This Whitman-for-Apotheker swap has been described as a “hangover solution” in one ZDNet blog item, a sort of “hair of the dog” after an all-night bender where the first question is, “I did . . . WHAT?!” And the best decisions are usually not made when you’re hung over. Hence we have Meg Whitman waiting in the wings when, according to people at HP, they have a very capable CEO choice in house with Ann Livermore.

While it would probably be best for HP to keep someone in house at the helm — that’s one vote for you, Ann, over Meg — whomever takes over hopefully will say, with one of their first utterances in charge, “Remember what we said about dumping our hardware and WebOS? We take that back.”

That would be nice, but on the whole that, too, probably deserves another shrug.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)

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Dropping the grammar hammer

September 5, 2011 5 comments

OK, it’s crunch time. At the end of the week, you should be in Columbus, Ohio, at Ohio Linux Fest –if you’re going to a Linux show before the year’s out, make it this one. This is the last big show on the North American continent until SCALE in January. At OLF, Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting — along with Jon “maddog” Hall — so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!).

Many of you already know this, but for those of you who don’t, I don’t do tech for a living. I’d like to it for a living, and I’m working on that. This is why you’ll find me with my nose in a book, studying for the Red Hat Certified Engineer certification test I’ll take someday (and, if I ever scrape up enough money, Red Hat classes).

What pays the bills — what I’ve done since my first day on the job at The Miami Herald on President Carter’s inauguration day (yes, I’m that old, and get off my lawn) — is newspaper work. I currently work as a copy desk editor at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, but it’s a news career that has spanned three decades, three different media (print, TV and radio) and two continents.

I am a third-generation man of letters: My father was also a newsman and his father was a mailman.

I bring this up because at the Sentinel I am known as the Grammar Hammer; a moniker which I am honored to have and one that I constantly strive to live up to. I have a three-pound sledge at my desk. I wield it with the same conviction and passion that Thor might wield his hammer, only instead of vanquishing bad Nordic guys, I’m vanquishing bad grammar and spelling.

As you might imagine, I spend a lot of time reading; more than I spend writing, as a matter of fact (isn’t that always the case?). In much of the tech realm — most in forums and comment sections — the spelling and grammar aren’t always what they should be for people who, generally speaking, are smarter than the average person (and sometimes are smarter than the things they say. But I digress . . .). In the grand scheme of things, that’s OK — I’m not really that interested in picking nits, gramatically speaking, as much as I am concerned with content.

[Note to those who speak English as a second-, third- or fourth-language. This does not apply to you, and thanks for making the huge effort to communicate in tech's lingua franca. My hat is off to you, and thank your lucky stars you don't have to communicate with me in Spanish or Japanese, the only other two languages in which I can communicate. I dare not say I "speak" them.]

But there are a few things that drive me up the wall and across the ceiling when it comes to grammatical and spelling morsels I see in comments and forums (and even in tech stories and blogs, albeit rarely), like:

MAC, as in Macintosh: It’s not an acronym. Mac is short for Macintosh, the product from the new evil empire based in Cupertino called Apple. It’s big-M small-a small-c. Not to be confused with MAC, as in MAC address, which is the Media Access Control address, and the MAC there should be all upper case. The next person who writes MAC to refer to the Macintosh, I’m going to come through your screen with hammer blazing.

It’s Xfce, but LXDE: With all the desktop hubbub going on, these two up-and-coming environments sometimes get mislabled. I’ve seen it XFCE and Lxde, most recently in discussions on the Felton Linux Users Group, which is going great guns in the desktop debate on the mailing list. I’ve never understood why Xfce is 75 percent lower case, but it is. LXDE, according to its site, is all upper case. Speaking of all upper case . . .

GNOME, not Gnome: This is not a GNOME 3 issue, surprisingly. A general rule of thumb is that if it’s an acronym, it’s all upper case. GNOME originally stood for GNU Network Object Model Environment, though I understand that this was so long ago in a galaxy far, far away that some want to drop the caps. I can live with “Gnome,” but on a purely grammatical stanpoint, I’ll keep capitalizing it, thank you. Besides, GNOME folks, do you really want KDE to be the only major desktop environment to be all caps? Fuel, meet fire . . . .

There are more, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be the Linux curmudgeon that you all know and love; at least the Linux curmudgeon you all know. But you get the idea.

All of which is to say, when posting here or elsewhere, let’s be careful out there. Dot each i. Cross each t. Don’t dangle your participles.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
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Must reads for a Wednesday

August 24, 2011 1 comment

Now that LinuxCon North America is over, and it was quite a show, I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the gangster-themed gala and all the great presentations that were given at the event. But if you’re going to the next show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting, so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!)

Larry the Free Software Guy — there he goes again with the third-person reference (sorry, but I have a strict rule about starting off a blog with “I”) — is grateful that there are folks out there that can articulate what he’s thinking far, far better than he could. Frankly, I’m at peace with that because, for starters, it means that I can just put a link here and say, “Yeah, what $NAME said.”

So it’s with great thanks offered to all the dieties one can come up with that there are folks like Bruce Byfield and Carla Schroder around to write such great stuff that allows me the laziness of pointing a finger to it and saying, “See? I agree. I wish I had written that.”

Bruce Byfield wrote an article last week, “The GNOME 3 Meltdown” was the over-the-top (literally and figuratively) headline, about how Linus Torvalds’ opinion of GNOME 3 may have set off an avalance of GNOME 3 criticism, and the article goes into detail about how we arrived there and what may follow. It’s pure Bruce — an essay which goes beyond the mere provoking of thought and should cause wide discussion.

As usual, Bruce nailed it.

This article was followed by another by Bruce after receiving an e-mail from Aaron Seigo of KDE, where Aaron points out to Bruce that the FOSS press could stand to be a little more positive, or lacking that, offer solutions (or ways to for others to find solutions). Under the headline “I’ve Got Some Good News and Some Bad News,” Bruce points out the start of there discussion — a discussion that has yet to have an ending.

Along the same lines on this particular topic, Carla Schroder writes an outstanding piece entitled, “Linux Desktop Flamewars: Is The News Media Too Negative?” Carla — author and editor par excellence — aptly points out that the problem isn’t with the media coverage. It’s not the FOSS media’s job to be advocates or cheerleaders, which is true — its job is to present the truth, beautiful or blemished as it might be.

Grab some coffee or other beverage, set aside some time and read these well-written pieces, if you haven’t already. It’s well worth the time.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the current version of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
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Watching our backs, and paging Dr. Godwin

July 20, 2011 6 comments


OSCON 2011
Next up: OSCON. Get there if you can, and give them my regards because I can’t make it this year :-(

Susan Linton at Ostatic writes a blog post about a poll taken by Tuxradar where the question is asked, “Is it time to start trusting Microsoft?”

I’ll wait for the laughter to die down.

The answer is clearly, “No. Absolutely not.” We should not trust Microsoft any farther than Steve Ballmer can throw a chair.

I’ve said this before publicly and despite being rebuked for it, I stand by it even though it’s a somewhat dogmatic position on the issue: You do everything — everything — in your power to keep Nazis from entering the synagogue. Clearly and historically, Microsoft has reveled in their role as digital brownshirts since one of their many ill-conceived, all-conquering goals was to strangle FOSS and Linux — which they consider a cancer — in its proverbial cradle; though 20 years later FOSS and Linux provide a more-than-viable alternative to the products coming out of Redmond, both in a commercial and a personal-computer realms.

Microsoft uber alles? Not on my watch, pal.

So don’t get me started on those who would be like Neville Chamberlain trying to achieve “peace in our time” with Microsoft when the results would more than likely be, well, catastrophic as they were in Europe in the late ’30s and ’40s.

A leopard (even a Snow Leopard, but we’re getting off-topic) can’t change its spots, and to hear folks even discuss bringing up the possibility of working with Microsoft arguably is akin to collaborating with the enemy.

Microsoft’s participation in contributions to the Linux kernel, as discussed here yesterday, is based on fixing virtualization code they contributed to the kernel when it appeared that they had taken GPLed code to include in their program. So their original contribution of the code to the Linux kernel a couple of years ago was to comply with the GPL; fixing it, too, was their responsibility as outlined by the license as well. Do they deserve any special consideration for doing what they’re supposed to do?

To think, even remotely, that Microsoft has somehow “seen the light” and has come around to embrace FOSS and Linux is pants-wetting laughable. Additionally, it remains to be seen how much “participation” will remain now that most, possibly all, of what they contributed may have been fixed this time around. My bet is that we’ll see Microsoft drop like a large stone from it’s “perch” as the fifth leading corporate contributor to the kernel, and very quickly.

So, you might ask — and even if you don’t — what can Microsoft do to earn the trust of FOSS/Linux advocates?

Simple. For Microsoft to earn my trust, they can merely do one thing: Open the code on their products, GPLing or releasing it under another acceptable license — that plain, that simple.

Let’s not hold our breaths for that one, since that will not happen, period. And let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that Microsoft, as they are today, even remotely would be a good corporate neighbor — let alone a trusted contributor — in the FOSS/Linux realm.

As my friend Ken Starks likes to say at the end of his blog posts, “All-righty then.”

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
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