Go forward in time to December 2012.
A few days ago I followed the steps in this Electronic Frontier Fondation's page about stopping online tracking.
And only days later I discovered that I could no longer log into Gnome's wiki, live.gnome.org. I had no idea that those changes were the reason for not being able to log in, so I had trouble figuring out what was wrong. Thankfuly Andrea Veri helped me out.
EFF's page recommends setting the value of Firefox's network.http.sendRefererHeader (in about:config) to 0, so that it never sends the HTTP referer header. This breaks logins in live.gnome.org; I guess it wants you to log in only from that site and that's the way it checks for this. Changing the value back to 1 or 2 fixes logins (explanation for network.http.sendRefererHeader).
This has been a public service announcement.
This rant is a continuation of last Friday's. You may want to read that first.
Over the years I have participated in several different online forums. For the purposes of this rant, I'll mention three of them: photography, woodworking, and free software development — they all have something in common.
Years ago I was very much into learning photography, and specifically, street photography. You go out to the streets with your camera in hand, and you perfect your technique so that you can instantly shoot something interesting as it happens, without having to think about what the camera needs — because if you don't do it instantly, then the scene is gone.
I gravitated toward street photography for a few reasons. First, I had just gotten a good camera — my first good camera, not a point-and-shoot "with no controls" — and wanted to learn to use it. Second, I actually liked street photography as had been done by artists like Garry Winogrand, Robert Capa, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Third, although I also liked studio photography, I didn't really feel like spending a lot of money on sophisticated flashes, cables, backdrops, and "exotic" equipment. I liked the idea of going out, just with my camera, and capturing interesting pictures.
This was the year 2000, when the web was a lot smaller. Photo.net was a popular site and I started posting there. It had interesting tutorials, and some lively discussion forums. Most of the forums, though, leaned toward the technical side of things. Gear. Cameras, tripods, lenses, flashes (these last two, "glass" and "strobes", as photographers like to call them).
There are a few big makers of camera systems: Nikon, Canon, Leica, etc., and people get very attached to the system they own. This is understandable; for interchangeable-lens cameras, both cameras and lenses are substantial investments and it's not like you can just throw away or sell your complete system and get a different one. They have different user interfaces, and it is possible to argue endlessly about which system is more usable (knobs vs. buttons vs. barrels that you rotate).
Many people who participated in Photo.net's forums did it only to talk about gear. They had interminable discussions on whether Canon was better than Nikon, while the Leica snobs looked down on them, for Leicas were far more expensive. Every time a new camera model came out, people would argue about the specifications, whether it would solve long-standing gripes about the model's predecessor, whether another older model would be discontinued...
It seemed that people were happy to act as collectors of camera equipment, analyzing and memorizing every technical detail, but paying only casual attention to making photographs.
Arguing about equipment is fun for a while. You learn a lot of technical detail. But once I had inhaled enough technical data about the camera and lenses I owned, I just wanted to take pictures.
With time I picked up a pattern in the discussions. Amateur photographers would argue endlessly about those things, and they didn't seem to post very many pictures. The professional photographers wouldn't argue very much, or if they did get into a discussion, it would be to provide hard, personal evidence about things that worked better for them and in their particular situations. Things that you couldn't figure out from the specs of the equipment. You know, that tripod head wobbles with a lens heavier than N kilograms, which is what you need to do bird photography in this kind of jungle. Watch out, if you go to a mountain with *that* camera, the battery is going to die pretty soon on you because of the cold. This camera is way easier to reload (this was the days of film) when you are wearing gloves. And the pros would definitely post a lot of pictures, very good ones, as you would expect, and using all sorts of brands of equipment.
Eventually I found a mailing list called Streetphoto, which was run by a very competent photographer called John Brownlow. The list had an unwritten rule that you didn't talk much about equipment: you went there to show your photos and get good critiques. People really were able to improve their technique there. You learned about prefocusing (so you didn't have to take time focusing and risk losing the shot), hyperfocal distance (so you could prefocus and have as much depth of field as possible), about rules of thumb for calculating exposure ("sunlight at ISO 100 is f/11 1/125 sec", "cloudy is two f stops wider", "shaded is three stops", "indoors it's seven stops", "with candlelight you either have an f/1 super-expensive lens or you are fucked"), about getting used to the field of view of your favorite lenses so you could predict what would fit in the scene before raising the camera to your eye ("75mm is only your fovea", "50mm is your direct vision", "28mm is your peripheral vision"). You learned how to mentally prepare yourself to go out and shoot people while not appearing like a stalker, you learned what to do should somone complain. It was the first place where I read about "the photographer's rights", which are now widely circulated. And then, there were weekly contests with a certain topic where not only did you get good critiques about your photos, but you also learned to evaluate photos based on something more than technical aspects (not "your exposure is off", but "the subject is not clear, and the composition would be stronger if your had used this angle...").
So, most of the people on that mailing list were amateurs, but there was a distinct lack of mindless discussion about equipment. Conversations sometimes did gravitate toward the technical side of things, but it was more about the practicalities of certain equipment ("this kind of shutter release gives you less camera shake with low shutter speeds") than about battles of the hardware.
A few years ago I started learning traditional, hand-tool woodworking. My brother had made a few bookcases when he was a teenager, and I was always kind of jealous about them. Now, as a busy medical doctor, he had told me a few times that he wished he had really learned to make furniture. That gave me an excuse to learn; maybe one day we could make things together.
I wanted to focus on hand tools as a wishful "plan B" for when peak oil really hits the fan and electric tools no longer work. That, plus I didn't want to spend a lot of money on big, bulky, noisy, dangerous machine tools for which I have no space (and I'm also rather clumsy and careless, and I can totally see myself cutting away a finger on the first days of using an electric circular saw).
I bought a few hand tools — saws, planes, chisels — and started looking for information on how to use them. Online forums seemed to be of two kinds: those focusing on power tools only, and very few ones focused on hand tools. In the power tools ones, there were even people whose posting signatures were actually equipment lists: "20-inch Delta planer, Grizzly 3-horsepower table saw, aircraft-carrier sized jointer". People would brag about the size and horsepower of their tools; they would talk a lot about how to adjust and fine-tune them, and the best brands for each type of machine... and I couldn't see a lot of furniture building being done. In the hand tools forums, people would argue about the best (antique) brands for chisels or planes or saws, how they just don't make them like that anymore, how this or that technique was the best for cutting those trapezoidal joints or for sharpening plane blades ("dovetails" and "irons", respectively, as woodworkers like to call them)...
It seemed that people were happy to act as collectors of woodworking equipment, analyzing and memorizing every technical detail, but paying only casual attention to making things with wood.
And then I found a pretty comfortable forum, the "Neanderthal Haven" area in the Sawmill Creek woodworking forums. There are some extremely skilled people there, always showing off their latest projects, and a great number of hobbyists who actually use their tools to build stuff. In there you can learn the little tricks of the craft, of actually doing the craft, rather than talking like tool collectors only. You learn to build your own workbench as a rite of passage (in any of a number of styles and variations), you learn that there are dozens of sharpening methods and they all work, you learn many ways of cutting different joints and they all work — no need to argue; you can choose among them as they suit you.
Back in the nineties, when I was still in college and we had a functioning Linux Users Group, we had certain group members who didn't actually do much with free software other than try it out and use it. Whenever they found something annoying in one distribution, or when they could not figure something out, they would chooser another distro. That is all they ever seemed to do: try out distros, reformat their hard drives, and wait until the next version came out.
Years later I learned the term "distro hopper" for that kind of people.
Places like Slashdot, OSNews, Phoronix, LWN, are infested with those people. Free software applications are scarce enough that we don't yet have rabid fans of the GIMP fighting with rabid Krita users (yet — or maybe I'm not looking in the right places for them). But desktop shells and distributions are easy enough to find, and similar enough to each other, that comparing them is just a sport of endurance. See who can amass the greatest amount of meaningless technical detail, and fight it out.
It seems that people are happy to act as collectors of nearly equivalent software, analyzing and memorizing every technical detail, but paying only casual attention to producing things with their computers.
Those Photographers(tm) would agonize when a new camera model came out, or a new lens came out, and it didn't include (or it included) something that they thought was obvious that should be present (or should have been removed) in that new version. How could the company screw that up!? How could they dare to break compatibility with this or that aftermarket accessory?
Those Woodworkers(tm) would tear their clothes in anger when a new tool came out (by the few remaining makers of high-quality hand tools) and it wasn't exactly like an antique model, or when the cutting edge bevel wasn't just like so, when it broke compatibility with an aftermarket accesory (yes, those exist even for hand tools).
Those Users(tm) will throw a spitting, drooling, kicking-on-the-floor tantrum when a new version of the software comes out and it doesn't include a feature that they were sure would be in the next version, or when it still has something that should obviously have been removed years ago.
And in all three groups, those are often the people that don't produce much at all. They have the equipment, they cherish it, they brag about it, but they don't really accomplish much with it.
I'm not saying that being a collector is bad. There are exquisite collections of things, lovingly kept by careful curators, but they understand their activity. They are happy to give you endless technical or historical detail on their objects of attention. They may even have strong opinions on how things should proceed, should it be the case that whatever they collect is still developed and produced. But unless they take direct part in developing and producing, they remain only collectors.
It turns out that companies, craftsmen, and software developers do pay attention to people who use their products for meaningful means. They don't pay much attention to collectors — because they know that collectors will be happy with whatever is thrown at them, because collecting is what they do.
Given real world evidence...
... we will get stuff fixed. But don't just rant on shit you collect.
This kind of useless-discussion bullshit, with rabid dilettantes, happens in all subjects in online communities. Maybe it seems to happen more in software-related ones because people there are already sitting on their asses in front of the computer, whereas in the others they are out there fiddling with something in the physical world.
You should read this excellent post and if you have a few afternoons, the whole blog. It is enlightening.
Remember the pattern done with straightedge and compasses that I put on my alcove wall?
I've been adding a smaller level of scale to the decoration, dark purple flowers between the big arches. I like how this gives a visual baseline and ceiling to the whole thing.
This time, instead of outlining everything by hand with compasses, I just placed some tracing paper on top of the pattern on the wall, freehanded the flower, transferred it to cardboard, and used the cut-out template for all the flowers. Much easier!
First, read Karen's post and the pages to which it links. I'd advise you to take a stiff drink before reading the links.
Then, take another drink or two and go for the cherry on top — the vent-fest of the day on Hacker News. Warning: this will make you feel miserable.
Now, to make you feel better, read Aaron Seigo's excellent post on cults of personality and how they harm free software.
I've been in free software for a long time, and let me tell you: this kind of shit rains regularly. And it is thoroughly demoralizing until you, as a developer, learn to live with it.
Just to mention some assorted examples, roughly in chronological order. When Gnome was in the pre-1.0 days and people complained that it was always breaking things (it was!). When Gnome was in the advanced 1.x days and people complained about Eazel and Ximian and Abisource and all the little companies (as if making a living were forbidden in free software). When Gnome was in the early 2.x days and people complained that everything broke (kind of; we changed widget toolkits, what did you expect?), and that the usability nazis were dumbing things down (but apparently to the right level, for the big public-sector deployments chose us for being more usable). When Gnome was in the intermediate 2.x days and there was bitter rivalry between Red Hat and Ximian/Novell. When people raised so much FUD about Mono that they killed enthusiasm for an excellent chance at having a modern development infrastructure, and killed Beagle, the first desktop-wide search for a major desktop system (yes). When Gnome was in the late 2.x days and people complained that it was stagnating compared to KDE 4 (kind of, but maybe we were afraid of the flames!). When Gnome went 3.0 and people complained that everything broke (what did you expect, we changed widget toolkits and the desktop shell!). When the file chooser moved things around, or when it didn't move them enough (cough). More recently, when rockstar kernel hackers got Google+ accounts and finally people could read their non-kernel-related rants outside of the Linux Kernel Mailing List, that wretched hive.
I am ashamed to say that I've been part of Those People from time to time, particularly recently when I had a stretch of spite against the Gnome 3.0 designers. I am deeply sorry about it. I apologized to them during the last GUADEC and everything seemed better after that, but I still feel bad about it.
Let me take a breath. Here is a kitten, because I can't give you Pepto over the net.
So, you see nominally Regular People complain and bitch and moan about the software you write. You know, the regular, everyday people with blogs and personal domain names and accounts in bug reporting systems, and knowledge of different window managers, and knowledge of the difference between zsh and bash. Regular people.
We developers have evolved different survival mechanisms against their vitriol, different rationalizations and ways of ignoring or of feeling better.
We rationalize that maybe Those People are not so regular after all, that they are either casually or deeply technical people who are so far removed from the Real World that they don't really know how to design and implement things for Really Regular People.
We invent little uplifting phrases like "haters gonna hate" and use them to ignore the roar of the perpetual motion engines that propel shit-spewing ceiling fans.
We dismiss people who "don't contribute on a regular basis", as opposed to us, because what kind of meaningful opinion could they have, anyway.
We think, "good riddance" when someone threatens to stop using Gnome. (And our next thought is probably, poor people in the next project, who are going to suffer this person soon.)
All of those poisonous people are relatively easy to brush away. The crazies. The slashdot hordes, the peanut gallery. We make names for them — we encapsulate them, give them a name, go up one level of abstraction, take a gulp of Pepto, and move that named entity into a mental /dev/null. But they leave some residue.
There is another kind of Those People, smaller in number, but subtly more hurtful: the yellow journalists.
Let me digress a bit.
When I was a teenager, I had a (paper) subscription to PC Magazine in Spanish. And my dad generously bought every issue of PC Computing that came out, for me. Aside from pretty good hardware reviews (the yearly laptop drop test!), reasonably good tips on using (proprietary) software, and an incredible amount of advertisements, they had regular columns by The Pundits.
The Pundits back then seemed like well-learned people, at least to me as a teenager. They gave their Valuable Opinions on important and popular software. They somehow got word of the doings and makings of (proprietary) software companies. Eventually you read enough of several regular Pundits that you found out patterns. This guy hates Apple, doesn't really love Microsoft but is stuck with them for PC operating systems, and doesn't like it when word processors don't have an obvious "word count" feature (useful to know if they've met their monthly Pundit quota). This other guy likes to tinker endlessly with his hardware and doesn't seem to use much software. This third guy never makes any sense, but writes good jokes.
When I got into free software, PC Magazine and all those publications became useless to me. I let my subscription expire. The Pundits disappeared from my life.
Years later the Mainstream Web happened, and the Pundits reappeared. I was surprised to see that some of the old names I knew were still writing exactly the same kind of thing, and this time they were very occasionally mentioning Linux and this newfangled thing called "open source".
I thought, man, that's some stamina on their part.
As I have become a more experienced developer, I have acquired a lot of pity for tech journalists that cover proprietary software - they can't know the details of the things they are writing about. They are prevented from doing better than reading the tea leaves, and hoping to get the rare leak out of a proprietary software company. They don't really report news; they are columnists.
But for free software, not being deeply informed sounds irresponsible. You *can* dig for things and find the root cause of changes. You *can* visit wikis, design documents, logged conversations, anything. There are no non-disclosure agreements. Do "open source tech journalists" lurk on mailing lists and IRC channels, do they converse regularly with actual developers, do they actually make an effort to be as well-informed as they could be?
Or are they just bloggers with a job?
There are good tech journalists. They are not hardcore hackers, but they try to understand issues as best as they can. They sometimes even mail you, as a developer, for confirmation on some particularly unclear issue.
And then there's yellow journalism for tech. The hater bloggers with a job. Some of the things they do:
They pick up the latest flamewar, however minor, and make a big deal out of it.
They summarize blog posts and quote things with not enough context. "$last_name said, 'blah blah blah'" is the only content in their columns.
They predict the decline and fall of a software project because there is a flamewar going on.
They build an ongoing, not entirely consistent, self-serving narrative of the soap opera that they want free software to be.
To the inexperienced, thin-skinned hacker, the danger of such "journalists" is that they'll feel criticized by someone who appears to have a modicum of credibility. It's a journalist, so they must know, right?
My humble advice is to ignore most tech journalism altogether. Or if you can't ignore it, as links to stories manage to make their way to you all the time, at least remember to fully engage your bullshit filter before reading them.
Here is a tech yellow journalist gathering material for his next column. Just remember that the next time you see one.
At least within Gnome we have the Code of Conduct, although we haven't always disciplined people who deserve it (myself included).
But outside Gnome, with Those People and the yellow journalists, well, it's a fucking jungle out there. There is not much we can do about them, except grow a thick skin and learn to ignore them — or learn not to be hurt so much when they hit.
It's not that you should completely ignore complainers. It's just that you should run a very, very low pass filter over what they say, and try to pick up the real root cause of their gripes. Maybe there is something that you can fix technically. Maybe they have identified a systemic problem intuitively but they don't have enough knowledge to really be able to verbalize it.
Haters gonna hate and spew shit, but remember that poop can be excellent fertilizer.
Go backward in time to October 2012.Federico Mena-Quintero <firstname.lastname@example.org> Fri 2012/Nov/09 17:03:58 CST