Home > Bodhi Linux, Eric Raymond, Fedora, Jared Smith, Jono Bacon, LXer.com, Rick Moen > Take a breath, then respond

Take a breath, then respond

May 6, 2011

[Note: I wrote this in the LXer.com forum in response to Jeff Hoogland’s blog posting on #fedora that was linked to LXer.com. I did spell out “asshat” below, where I did not do that in the forum posting. Jeff’s blog item is here, and I would invite everyone to read it first before reading my response below. Or not. It’s up to you. Also, I fixed the link to the Eric Raymond/Rick Moen tome that’s worth a read as well.]

Truth in advertising disclaimer: Many of you already know that I have been an active participant in the Fedora Project for several years; for those of you who don’t, that secret is now out (and, man, do I feel relieved admitting it!). I have also been a regular in many IRC channels, both Fedora and non-Fedora related, though I am not a regular in #fedora — in fact, I avoid #fedora for the same reasons Jeff outlines in his self-proclaimed “rant.”

That said, Jeff accurately points out a situation that has been a sticking point, and one that is being addressed and corrected, in the Fedora Project around the types of caustic responses that sometimes come up in #fedora. Also, while I don’t frequent the channel and usually find answers to my questions elsewhere — a good practice (and more on this later) — I can say that it’s something that has caused some of us in the Fedora Project some concern.

However — and you knew that was coming — just as an observation on my part, it appears Jeff shot from the hip on this one rather than giving it some thought before writing.

Believe me, I am not casting the first stone against this “sin” — I speak from experience here: lots of experience in which I have fired off unretractable words that a walk in the redwoods or shooting a few hoops would have tempered into something more reasonable and justifiable.

So, Jeff, with apologies, I think your blog goes over the top in the following ways:

a.) #fedora has not cornered the market in asshats by any stretch of the imagination, despite our mutual experience in this particular channel. The cantakerous tards who have an inflated self-worth exist in most IRC channels in every distro across the board — maybe not in Bodhi, if their leader has any say in it (I sincerely hope) — but I think it’s more the nature of things like how IRC operates as well as a wake-up call for the need for change, positive change, in this regard.

b.) It’s a little myopic to judge the performance of a distro by the people “representing” it (and, arguably, any bad experience in any distro-related IRC channel does not accurately reflect the community as a whole, but rather reflects personality flaws in those responding to questions, regardless of whether they’re chanops or not). If that were the case, I would never, ever, EVER use PCLinuxOS, since I have had the same experience seeking information from them that we have had with Fedora (and I do have a box in the lab with PCLOS).

c.) An aside: When I first started using Linux, I was told to read this tome by Eric S. Raymond and Rick Moen: “How to Ask Questions the Smart Way” which lives here:


(You may have to copy/paste the link above — there is no space before the ~ though each posting insists on inserting one)

Why this isn’t a README in all distros is a mystery, but it should be. I am not suggesting that Jeff asked the wrong question here, but often times questions are not asked in the most efficient or direct way. But as Jeff points out in his blog, we don’t know the circumstances that the user is facing in finding out an answer, but it does help immensely to ask the right question. Immensely.

d.) Another aside: I can’t imagine Jared Smith of Fedora or Jono Bacon of Ubuntu firing off a rant like this. As a project leader for what I think is an up-and-coming distro, I hope you understand, Jeff, that as a project leader, you’re in the bigs now and what you say and do reflect on your project for better or worse.

For those of you who have gotten this far, thanks for staying awake. I’ll now put on my Nomex and feel free to flame away.

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation. He is also one of the founders of the Lindependence Project.)
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  1. May 6, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    I don’t believe you’ll see any kind of change at all. I brought a similar issue up myself and had many people in Fedora (Red Hat employees, volunteers, etc) aware of it and nothing had be done, at all. Now we see a similar situation.

    My understanding was that it’s ‘not official’ so nothing to do with Fedora, and especially nothing to do with Red Hat. I found that kind of odd since Red Hat employees conduct Fedora business in the IRC. That denotes an official work environment.

    So in essence, the claim what it isn’t official and has nothing do with Fedora based on the above was just a way for them to attempt shrug off responsibility for the actions of anyone in #fedora or any of its sub-channels.

    Change is not going to happen there. I’d put money on it, and would happily lose it to be wrong too.

    BTW, I’ll be taking a peek at the book. Thanks for the link.

    Keep your stick on the ice…


  2. Colonel Panik
    May 6, 2011 at 6:35 pm
  3. June 2, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Hi, Larry. Sorry to hear that you got caught up in that unpleasantness.

    Thanks for the mention of the essay I co-wrote with Eric. We meant well in writing that, though I could bore you with the reasons why it failed to help the people we wished it would. (People kept telling us, ‘But you also need to add a section about [foo]’, and we kept good-naturedly doing so, so it’s ended up way too verbose, for starters.) And thank you especially for recognising that our basic intent was to help reduce the frequency of inefficient and ineffective help-seeking: People actually communicating reduces the frustration levels all around, and gets them help in a way that ignoring the syndrome notably doesn’t.

    One of my greatest regrets is that, sometimes, people cite the essay in such a way to excuse and justify being an asshat in public forums. Not our intention (speaking, I hope, for Eric, too). We just wanted to tell the truth about why problematic help requests tend to fail, and help people fix that. Part of that truth is to warn that bluntness happens, and to say that it shouldn’t be too hastily interpreted as hostility if you encounter some.

    Yet, the advice to take a breather before posting, and to watch (what might come across as) caustic tone, is well taken and should be heeded more widely.

    Rick Moen

    • June 2, 2011 at 9:28 pm

      Thank you, Rick (and Eric, too), for writing it. At the Felton LUG, we ask all our members to read it as part of the membership requirement (though we don’t test them), along with the requirements of having a pulse and regular breathing 🙂 . It’s hard to imagine how someone can turn the essay around and justify being an asshat, but I’m sure it’s possible.

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