What is hacker culture?

Nov. 29th, 2015 12:00 am
[personal profile] mjg59
Eric Raymond, author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar (an important work describing the effectiveness of open collaboration and development), recently wrote a piece calling for "Social Justice Warriors" to be ejected from the hacker community. The primary thrust of his argument is that by calling for a removal of the "cult of meritocracy", these SJWs are attacking the central aspect of hacker culture - that the quality of code is all that matters.

This argument is simply wrong.

Eric's been involved in software development for a long time. In that time he's seen a number of significant changes. We've gone from computers being the playthings of the privileged few to being nearly ubiquitous. We've moved from the internet being something you found in universities to something you carry around in your pocket. You can now own a computer whose CPU executes only free software from the moment you press the power button. And, as Eric wrote almost 20 years ago, we've identified that the "Bazaar" model of open collaborative development works better than the "Cathedral" model of closed centralised development.

These are huge shifts in how computers are used, how available they are, how important they are in people's lives, and, as a consequence, how we develop software. It's not a surprise that the rise of Linux and the victory of the bazaar model coincided with internet access becoming more widely available. As the potential pool of developers grew larger, development methods had to be altered. It was no longer possible to insist that somebody spend a significant period of time winning the trust of the core developers before being permitted to give feedback on code. Communities had to change in order to accept these offers of work, and the communities were better for that change.

The increasing ubiquity of computing has had another outcome. People are much more aware of the role of computing in their lives. They are more likely to understand how proprietary software can restrict them, how not having the freedom to share software can impair people's lives, how not being able to involve themselves in software development means software doesn't meet their needs. The largest triumph of free software has not been amongst people from a traditional software development background - it's been the fact that we've grown our communities to include people from a huge number of different walks of life. Free software has helped bring computing to under-served populations all over the world. It's aided circumvention of censorship. It's inspired people who would never have considered software development as something they could be involved in to develop entire careers in the field. We will not win because we are better developers. We will win because our software meets the needs of many more people, needs the proprietary software industry either can not or will not satisfy. We will win because our software is shaped not only by people who have a university degree and a six figure salary in San Francisco, but because our contributors include people whose native language is spoken by so few people that proprietary operating system vendors won't support it, people who live in a heavily censored regime and rely on free software for free communication, people who rely on free software because they can't otherwise afford the tools they would need to participate in development.

In other words, we will win because free software is accessible to more of society than proprietary software. And for that to be true, it must be possible for our communities to be accessible to anybody who can contribute, regardless of their background.

Up until this point, I don't think I've made any controversial claims. In fact, I suspect that Eric would agree. He would argue that because hacker culture defines itself through the quality of contributions, the background of the contributor is irrelevant. On the internet, nobody knows that you're contributing from a basement in an active warzone, or from a refuge shelter after escaping an abusive relationship, or with the aid of assistive technology. If you can write the code, you can participate.

Of course, this kind of viewpoint is overly naive. Humans are wonderful at noticing indications of "otherness". Eric even wrote about his struggle to stop having a viscerally negative reaction to people of a particular race. This happened within the past few years, so before then we can assume that he was less aware of the issue. If Eric received a patch from someone whose name indicated membership of this group, would there have been part of his subconscious that reacted negatively? Would he have rationalised this into a more critical analysis of the patch, increasing the probability of rejection? We don't know, and it's unlikely that Eric does either.

Hacker culture has long been concerned with good design, and a core concept of good design is that code should fail safe - ie, if something unexpected happens or an assumption turns out to be untrue, the desirable outcome is the one that does least harm. A command that fails to receive a filename as an argument shouldn't assume that it should modify all files. A network transfer that fails a checksum shouldn't be permitted to overwrite the existing data. An authentication server that receives an unexpected error shouldn't default to granting access. And a development process that may be subject to unconscious bias should have processes in place that make it less likely that said bias will result in the rejection of useful contributions.

When people criticise meritocracy, they're not criticising the concept of treating contributions based on their merit. They're criticising the idea that humans are sufficiently self-aware that they will be able to identify and reject every subconscious prejudice that will affect their treatment of others. It's not a criticism of a desirable goal, it's a criticism of a flawed implementation. There's evidence that organisations that claim to embody meritocratic principles are more likely to reward men than women even when everything else is equal. The "cult of meritocracy" isn't the belief that meritocracy is a good thing, it's the belief that a project founded on meritocracy will automatically be free of bias.

Projects like the Contributor Covenant that Eric finds so objectionable exist to help create processes that (at least partially) compensate for our flaws. Review of our processes to determine whether we're making poor social decisions is just as important as review of our code to determine whether we're making poor technical decisions. Just as the bazaar overtook the cathedral by making it easier for developers to be involved, inclusive communities will overtake "pure meritocracies" because, in the long run, these communities will produce better output - not just in terms of the quality of the code, but also in terms of the ability of the project to meet the needs of a wider range of people.

The fight between the cathedral and the bazaar came from people who were outside the cathedral. Those fighting against the assumption that meritocracies work may be outside what Eric considers to be hacker culture, but they're already part of our communities, already making contributions to our projects, already bringing free software to more people than ever before. This time it's Eric building a cathedral and decrying the decadent hordes in their bazaar, Eric who's failed to notice the shift in the culture that surrounds him. And, like those who continued building their cathedrals in the 90s, it's Eric who's now irrelevant to hacker culture.

(Edited to add: for two quite different perspectives on why Eric's wrong, see Tim's and Coraline's posts)

Super hilarious 2nd Sabriel book

Nov. 23rd, 2015 06:45 pm
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[personal profile] badgerbag
Re-reading Lirael. It's even more hilarious and indulgent feeling than Sabriel. The first 10% of the book is all 14-year-old Lirael sulking and contemplating suicide because she hasn't gotten her special talent and doesn't fit in and no one understands her.

Then she gets to be an assistant librarian, creates a magic companion dog, and learns three shape-changing shapes: ice otter, russet bear, and barking owl.

Barking owl... bwahahah!

I love her adventures in the library.

I'm reminded of some other teenage librarian book but can't remember what it was.

Note that she also basically has selective mutism (because it is traumatic that she can't talk about the special skill that everyone else has that makes her not fit in)

Fantastical journey

Nov. 22nd, 2015 09:09 pm
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[personal profile] badgerbag
I got through all this running around on trains and cabs and staying out all day beautifully just on the one tramadol in the morning and some coffee. I did also have a beer with dinner. No vicodin necessary. Pleased! I am not destroyed. This is a good sign for my ankles.

Moomin's play was very amusing. They all looked great in kilts and knee socks. Moomin curses the kilt for being confusing to put on and take off with pins and the shoulder strap thing and some mysterious underneath part. (They all wore shorts). Brigadoon is very sexist and a bit stupid. There should be a Brigadoon 1,000,000 A.D. fanfic where the characters from the future present (while the Brigadoon people are 30-years-from-their-beginning) are intelligent giant rats and squid-roaches and Brigadoon is tropical and covered in active volcanoes and they instantly die from inhaling the pure methane atmosphere or something or if not, fall in love with the giant squids.

Forging onwards!

Nov. 22nd, 2015 11:36 am
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[personal profile] badgerbag
Very bad ankle pain since Paris, not really getting better. But I am reasonably functional most days with the walking casts. By mid to late afternoon though I start crying and feel incapable and just waiting for when I can take ambien and sleep. At best that happens more like 7pm so I get through my work day. But, i am getting out of the house at least once every few days. Not painkillering up too much, at least, not every day. I am about to start putting a little painkiller ration into a weekly pill box so I will know how much I'm taking, if it's every day, etc. And a written record too.

Yesterday, both kids were here which was just lovely (and won't happen again until January, or maybe a Fakemas afternoon). I try to appreciate it when it happens even if they are just hanging out playing minecraft while I feed and clean up after them. Only 1.5 years more of Moomin living at home (!!!) I am starting to pray atheistically that he will go to Berkeley.

Anyway, we dug up the new dirt around the front yard tree with trowels, put in our tiny palisade edging, and planted things. It looks super nice. Satisfyingly!!! they were not complaining or lazy and were both kind of into it. Zond7 came out and dug for a bit too. I am aiming for everyone feeling somewhat invested in keeping the sidewalk looking nice. I have some evil plans to build another little bench on the north side of the tree with 2x4s and make it super nice!!!

So, then, despite my plans to chill out and then cab to berkeley to buy a mattress....complicated timing of everything.... we instead all four piled in a cab to my sister's. I took a tramadol in preparation for more car riding and going up her giant steps. Up the steps, lovely time with family, her 3 cats bopping around, everyone bustling or loafing as their temperaments require. My sister came with us to buy the bed, since she has had a great mattress for the last 10 years from this place!!! Zond7 and I decided pretty quickly and got a bed frame which i'm super excited about as it is especially pretty. The headboard is a section of a giant madrone log and has a sort of line where the young sapling must have been. Or maybe madrone tree vascular systems just look like that. It looks like a network diagram or some sort of electronics circuit and also made me think of the napoleon's march chart in the Tufte book. I think it will make me happy every time I look at it. The bed was $4000 total which is basically my quarter's bonus (yes.... raking it in) Every quarter I think I will save the bonus, and instead this year I went on 2 vacations and bought a mattress. WORTH IT. This time of my life I am living high. So!!!!! New bed, super comfy, I practically live in the bed so it better be good!

We then had to haul ass home (another 30 dollar cab ride) so Moomin could go off with his dad to be in the 2nd night of the school musical. I was crying in pain again, and drank half a beer and took 5mg vicodin and 100mg gabapentin. This helped quite a lot and I felt cheerful for the first night in weeks, and was even hobbling around without the boots a little. I fell asleep easily and stayed asleep until Dashboard the Foster Cat brought a mouse up into our bed at 6am. Oh cat. Please kill the mice. Food not toy.

Dreamt that I was in Paris suspected of blowing things up and could not explain since I can't speak French. At the same time I had a sort of cinematic view of a guy who was really blowing things up with a giant radio antenna he would stick out of his window. I was doing a lot of having to quickly pack my suitcase but it taking forever in the dream. Anxiety dream I guess.

Reading, I went through a book of Garth Nix short stories and really enjoyed them. Better writing than Sabriel. I went back to read Sabriel again anyway, and it's making me laugh super hard as it is so indulgent feeling of gothy teenagerness! I love that! Even though I don't really like Sabriel herself or any of the characters, and am not gothy. But it cracks me up. Really.... you are basically in handbell choir and have a demon cat and can sense death. OK. A bandolier of handbells. LOLLLLLLLL. I admire the setup of being condescendingly best at everything in boarding school and then just breezing off from school with everyone's total permission, then going back to be the hero of everything (and dramatically killing off some of your schoolmates and favorite teacher as you suck the magic out of them or whatever.) And, getting royalty and swords and sorcery PLUS a sort of romanticized bunch of ... happy and ready to die World War One soldiers. Plus a sentient glider plane. What. Also, the villain turns into two extra demon kittens that barf up more magic rings. What an excellent use of kittens. Can't remember if they ever turn up again in the sequels. Didn't her magic boyfriend or husband die at some point but they stay married and even have zombie magic babies? I am going to have to re-read the whole thing now. None of it really makes any sense and that doesn't matter at all.

I was reminded while re-reading this (as there is a minor character named Horayse) that it took me till I was like 35 to realize that Horace (greek) = Horus (egyptian god). Mind blown! Doesn't it seem amazing and weird that thousands of years later, in the US halfway around the world, people still get named after Horus?

Today I went out to get cat litter and some groceries, happily blew up ingress portals, and then laid in bed recharging all my portal keys. I am not too far away from finally leveling up to level 12. I think in December or early January. It's absurd how much I still enjoy this game.

Ada and I placed more bricks from my sister's house and she helped me bring up laundry and groceries. Then I rested some more (this blogging counts as resting) with my feet up.

Now, for a bath, compression socks, walking casts, and we Caltrain down to Moomin's school to see the play. we are meeting my parents and sister there. I plan on another tramadol and then when I get home a vicodin and ice.

Work pissed me off on friday afternoon as someone emailed a giant public list with a thing that on one level is a reasonable question, but didn't need to go to everyone and the not-very-subtext of it was that what i do all day in my job is useless and a bother to everyone. Uh yeah fuck off. So cue a bunch of dudes abstractly batting around that my entire team's work is pointless. Oh, I'm pissed! But, I am trying to keep level headed and take from it whatever turns up that may be useful, in expressing the frustrations of developers who want a faster release process, which on the whole I agree with. and what we do is somewhat more intuitive than otherwise and a bit scrambly because our test automation has not kept up with actual development. (no one's fault really). And I think what I do is quite helpful. I'm just annoyed because I have felt this position has got me more respect and now that is undermined in a stupid way. I also thought this particular guy and I had a fine working relationship. NOt sure if it is worth explaining anything to him now. Maybe after a couple more days. He sees a good bit of his part of the process but not the scary overview my team sees.

Beware the Fine Print

Nov. 20th, 2015 07:13 pm
[personal profile] bokunenjin
This seems worth sharing:

The New York Times recently ran a three-part series of articles entitled "Beware the Fine Print" that describes the disturbing rise in the anti-consumer/worker use of arbitration clauses in contracts:
  1. Arbitration Everywhere, Stacking the Deck of Justice
  2. In Arbitration, 'A Privatization of the Justice System'
  3. In Religious Arbitration, Scripture is the Rule of Law
[personal profile] mjg59
I've previously written about Canonical's obnoxious IP policy and how Mark Shuttleworth admits it's deliberately vague. After spending some time discussing specific examples with Canonical, I've been explicitly told that while Canonical will gladly give me a cost-free trademark license permitting me to redistribute unmodified Ubuntu binaries, they will not tell me what Any redistribution of modified versions of Ubuntu must be approved, certified or provided by Canonical if you are going to associate it with the Trademarks. Otherwise you must remove and replace the Trademarks and will need to recompile the source code to create your own binaries actually means.

Why does this matter? The free software definition requires that you be able to redistribute software to other people in either unmodified or modified form without needing to ask for permission first. This makes it clear that Ubuntu itself isn't free software - distributing the individual binary packages without permission is forbidden, even if they wouldn't contain any infringing trademarks[1]. This is obnoxious, but not inherently toxic. The source packages for Ubuntu could still be free software, making it fairly straightforward to build a free software equivalent.

Unfortunately, while true in theory, this isn't true in practice. The issue here is the apparently simple phrase you must remove and replace the Trademarks and will need to recompile the source code. "Trademarks" is defined later as being the words "Ubuntu", "Kubuntu", "Juju", "Landscape", "Edubuntu" and "Xubuntu" in either textual or logo form. The naive interpretation of this is that you have to remove trademarks where they'd be infringing - for instance, shipping the Ubuntu bootsplash as part of a modified product would almost certainly be clear trademark infringement, so you shouldn't do that. But that's not what the policy actually says. It insists that all trademarks be removed, whether they would embody an infringement or not. If a README says "To build this software under Ubuntu, install the following packages", a literal reading of Canonical's policy would require you to remove or replace the word "Ubuntu" even though failing to do so wouldn't be a trademark infringement. If an @ubuntu.com email address is present in a changelog, you'd have to change it. You wouldn't be able to ship the juju-core package without renaming it and the application within. If this is what the policy means, it's so impractical to be able to rebuild Ubuntu that it's not free software in any meaningful way.

This seems like a pretty ludicrous interpretation, but it's one that Canonical refuse to explicitly rule out. Compare this to Red Hat's requirements around Fedora - if you replace the fedora-logos, fedora-release and fedora-release-notes packages with your own content, you're good. A policy like this satisfies the concerns that Dustin raised over people misrepresenting their products, but still makes it easy for users to distribute modified code to other users. There's nothing whatsoever stopping Canonical from adopting a similarly unambiguous policy.

Mark has repeatedly asserted that attempts to raise this issue are mere FUD, but he won't answer you if you ask him direct questions about this policy and will insist that it's necessary to protect Ubuntu's brand. The reality is that if Debian had had an identical policy in 2004, Ubuntu wouldn't exist. The effort required to strip all Debian trademarks from the source packages would have been immense[2], and this would have had to be repeated for every release. While this policy is in place, nobody's going to be able to take Ubuntu and build something better. It's grotesquely hypocritical, especially when the Ubuntu website still talks about their belief that people should be able to distribute modifications without licensing fees.

All that's required for Canonical to deal with this problem is to follow Fedora's lead and isolate their trademarks in a small set of packages, then tell users that those packages must be replaced if distributing a modified version of Ubuntu. If they're serious about this being a branding issue, they'll do it. And if I'm right that the policy is deliberately obfuscated so Canonical can encourage people to buy licenses, they won't. It's easy for them to prove me wrong, and I'll be delighted if they do. Let's see what happens.

[1] The policy is quite clear on this. If you want to distribute something other than an unmodified Ubuntu image, you have two choices:
  1. Gain approval or certification from Canonical
  2. Remove all trademarks and recompile the source code
Note that option 2 requires you to rebuild even if there are no trademarks to remove.

[2] Especially when every source package contains a directory called "debian"…

Angry angry

Nov. 17th, 2015 11:30 pm
shadowspar: Sailor Jupiter throwing a punch; caption: "NOPE" (Sailor Jupiter: NOPE)
[personal profile] shadowspar
Angry )

I had a long post

Nov. 17th, 2015 07:55 pm
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[personal profile] badgerbag
About my trip to Paris but now feel diffident about posting it.

I want to keep the foster cat. It sits on me all day and is sweet tempered and it caught a mouse!

Feeling very achey physically, ankles suck, spent a week in the walking casts, still using them to go down the stairs. Not that I want to do that much.

Yesterday I went downtown for a work "diversity training" sort of thing. It wasn't too bad. Funny how they are always a bit depressing.

Finished Elena Ferrante quartet. Oh, so good! Do read them!!! Very intense and great.

I have some spoilery analysis. Spoilers below! Warning!

Below the cut! Do not read if you haven't finished book 4 (The Story of the Lost Child).

Read more... )
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