Leadership, fawgawdsake!

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.

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Fosstafarian by and other works by Larry Cafiero are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Resisting temptation

When I found out on Friday afternoon that the lead developer for Bodhi Linux was stepping down, I went into breaking-news mode and contacted Christine Hall at FOSS Force to let her know that I was sending her a story. As an aside, FOSS Force normally “publishes” Monday-Friday and takes the weekend off, but in this case, this is a story that is too important to wait until Monday.

I called up LibreOffice Writer and went to work.

“Lead developer Jeff Hoogland had an out-of-Bodhi experience on Friday, when he decided to step down . . . .”

No. I didn’t go there.

Instead I wrote this. Also, Jeff spoke volumes in his own blog item on why he’s leaving, and I understand completely. To see what Jeff achieved with Bodhi Linux over the last four years — all while in school, grad school, family life and now with a child — is simply remarkable and I salute him for it. He leaves for someone, or to the Bodhi community stepping up, a very viable Linux distro.

My hope is that someone, or several folks who are already involved with Bodhi Linux, picks up the reins and continue what is one of the better Linux distributions, especially for older machines. I have said in these pages in the past that Bodhi is a viable distro — my only qualm, and it’s a minor one, is that it doesn’t come with enough programs by default and that you have to go get them after installing it. That’s by design — I get that — but it’s not my proverbial cup of tea.

Also — and this is a very important point — it’s not necessarily a flaw because it’s a design of which I’m not fond. It’s called “different strokes for different folks,” and the distro has gained many users with the formula Hoogland developed.

In other words, it may not be for me, but that doesn’t make it bad or lacking in some way.

Which leads us to a broader issue, that of whether a distro like Bodhi should continue to have the opportunity to prosper and thrive. The answer clearly to this is a resounding “yes.”

Some might think that there should be only $ONE_TRUE_DISTRO, and usually that distro is the one they are using. Nothing could be further from the truth, to say nothing of the fact that nothing could be more hilariously arrogant and world-class myopic than holding such a position. Clearly and unequivocally, one of the many strengths of FOSS — perhaps its biggest strength — lies in the variety of 200-something Linux and BSD distros out there. Choice is clearly good, and the competition between having more than one choice raises everyone up — the rising tide making all the vessels rise with the waters.

Bodhi Linux captured a niche and, with continued perserverence, the community taking the reins will have the opportunity to continue to excel.

That’s only fair, and that’s what FOSS is all about.

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Fosstafarian by and other works by Larry Cafiero are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Start spreadin’ the news

I want to be a part of this, New York, New York.

New York City Council Member Ben Kallos recently introduced the Free and Open Source Software Act (FOSSA) that, if passed by the City Council, would require the City to look first to open source software before purchasing proprietary software.

Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side and chairs the Council’s government operations committee, also introduced the Civic Commons Act, embracing the notion that government should be sharing technology resources by setting up a portal for agencies and other government entities to collaboratively purchase software.

“Free and open-source software is something that has been used in private sector and in fact by most people in their homes for more than a decade now, if not a generation,” Kallos said in an article on the political Web site Gotham Gazette. “It is time for government to modernize and start appreciating the same cost savings as everyone else.”

If FOSS can make it there, it’ll make it anywhere.

The Web site nextcity.org outlines some of the legislation that’s currently on the New York City Council radar, with some insights from Kallos as well.

Like, “Our government belongs to the people and so should its software.”

European cities like Munich and Barcelona have already shown the benefits of using FOSS in municipal governments. While he was mayor of San Francisco, California’s Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom also got the ball rolling for FOSS in the City by the Bay. There are numerous other examples of how the free/open source paradigm has provided a shift — hugely for the better — in the societies it touches.

These two bills — FOSSA and the Civic Commons Act — hold huge promise not only in the wide range of benefits that FOSS will provide the local government, but it will also show how important to society, generally speaking, FOSS is to the wider world.

Their adoption and implementation in New York — perhaps the world’s greatest city — would signal a quantum leap for those who advocate for the free/open source philosophy and strive for its implementation to create a better world.

So thank you, Councilman Ben Kallos, for going to bat for Free/Open Source Software, and you have my support from 2,967 miles away. Consider done anything I can do from such a distance, if anything.

It’s up to you, New York, New York.

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 in his home office as a consultant providing FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

EFF Binary Freedom Dead button Wordpress button Xfce button dbEntrance button AntiX 7.0 fedora badge GIMP Linux Mint Kororaa Salix OS Fluxbox Conky Thunderbird LibreOffice Crunchbang Bodhi Linux PostgreSQL identi.ca python scale 10x

Eliminate DRM!

Happy Birthday, Bassel

Today marks 799 days that Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil has been detained by the Syrian government. It is also his 33rd birthday today, and as this EFF article — one of many good ones floating around today — aptly points out, “Bassel has not been able to write code, or tweet, or hug his family, or do any of the other things that he should have been doing over the past few years.”

A recap: On March 15, 2012, Bassel was detained in a wave of arrests in the Mazzeh district of Damascus, Syria. As I wrote back some time ago, Bassel is the project leader for an open source web software called Aiki Framework. He is well known in online technical communities as a dedicated volunteer to Creative Commons, Mozilla Firefox, Wikipedia, Open Clip Art Library, Fabricatorz, and Sharism.

The EFF link above can guide you to some valuable resources in finding out more and/or particpating in helping to make the wider public aware and to ultimately work to free Bassel.

Bassel has contributed much to the FOSS paradigm, and we look forward to the day when he can continue.

He’s one of us.

Let’s get Bassel back home to his loved ones, so he can resume his life and, once he’s ready, let’s get him coding again.

[P.S. -- An afterthought, because I'm not tooting my own horn, surprisingly: A while ago -- maybe a year -- there was a move to have people fast on behalf of Bassel's plight. The link is no longer active, but I still fast on Fridays.]

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 in his home office as a consultant providing FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

EFF Binary Freedom Dead button Wordpress button Xfce button dbEntrance button AntiX 7.0 fedora badge GIMP Linux Mint Kororaa Salix OS Fluxbox Conky Thunderbird LibreOffice Crunchbang Bodhi Linux PostgreSQL identi.ca python scale 10x

Eliminate DRM!

Random thoughts, cheap shots, bon mots

He has risen on Easter Sunday, and no longer referring to myself in the third person I’ll get a cup of coffee and a bagel and drop off a few tidbits from the week, or weeks, past.

He likes it . . . hey, Matt! After not really taking to it in the same way, Jupiter Broadcasting’s Matt Hartley actually like GNOME enough to start using it on a regular basis, according to an item in his blog this week. “Like the KDE desktop, GNOME 3 is full of functionality if you’re willing to invest a little time configuring it the way you like it,” Matt writes. “Where I think GNOME really shines, however, is that even without additional extensions installed, it’s still a great experience in its overall flow and layout. Less clicks to gain menu access, easily locate needed applications, for me GNOME has it all.”

Am I going to try it again after reading Matt’s glowing praise? Nope. But it does speak to one of the basic tenets of FOSS: Use what works for you.

Maybe FOSS doesn’t suck after all: What I think is the most interesting race today is whether Malaysian Airlines 370 is found before data compromises from Heartbleed can be stopped. Thanks to Heartbleed — the gift that keeps on giving (or taking) and which will be months before a resolution is in place — the failure of open-source OpenSSL has been the “standard” by which all Open Source projects have been pilloried in the mainstream media and, sadly, in some of the eyeball-grabbing ought-to-know-better tech media as well.

Well, there’s no argument that the Heartbleed flaw was a monumental and historic one, however Coverity seems to think that “open source is still well ahead of proprietary software, generating fewer coding defects for every size of project,” according to an article in Network World last week. So while no thoughtful FOSS advocate has ever proclaimed invincibility, it might give one pause to recognize the old Debian adage that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Or in the words of one poster during a debate on this in social media, we need to play more defense and less offense.

Seems like I’m forgetting something: Oh yeah, Ubuntu released another adjective/animal combination starting with the letter T. Yes, it still sends your data to Amazon and eBay by default, and if you’re OK with that, go ahead and give it a shot. If you have to use it, your best bet here would be Xubuntu, judging from past experience.

Now to enjoy some Easter eggs and commune with my Peeps. Happy Easter to those who observe it.

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Fosstafarian by and other works by Larry Cafiero are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Meanwhile, back at the blog . . .

First things first: I hate being a statistic (I’m truly sorry, Mr. President). But as of a few Fridays ago, I have become a minuscule uptick — or at least, in a very infinitesimally small way, preventing a downturn — in the U.S. unemployment rate. In short, the Santa Cruz Sentinel laid me off after 11 years of editing, which capped a 37-year run in various media, mostly in newspapers.

But never mind. Let’s just leave this at “unemployment sucks,” and move on, shall we?

I bring this up to explain my absence. What I have been doing — NSA take note and pass this on to the Labor Department — is looking for work and hatching some other diabolical schemes, not the least of which is reviving the Lindependence Project to do more events this year. Film at 11.

Now with more free time than I can eat, I can do things like write this blog once again on a regular basis. With this additional time when I’m not looking for work (hello, California Employment Development Department), I also have time to squirrel around with some hardware and software in the home lab which, as you may recall, is dubbed The Jungle Room.

Elvis fans can explain that one to you.

Anyway, while cleaning the house the other day, I found a IBM ThinkPad T60 in a box, partially disassembled, and needing a hard drive. More cleaning later, I found a hard drive for it — such is life in Casa Cafiero, because where people find change between the cushions of their couch, I usually find things like a 1 GB laptop memory chip (don’t laugh, that really happened).

In my backpack, I had a Fedora 20 disk from SCALE 12X so I assembled the T60 and after some wailing and gnashing of teeth with the newly found hard drive (I love GParted to death — honest. And I will name the rest of my children GParted, if it ever comes to that), I installed the Fedora 20 “Desktop Edition.”

Translation: “Desktop Edition” means GNOME. It has always been a mystery why they didn’t just call it Fedora $NUMBER GNOME, but they don’t. It’s Desktop Edition, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more. I’ve written about the current GNOME desktop before — in each case, I believe I hated it — but I thought I’d give it another try.

The jury has reached a verdict, your honor: It’s still not for me.

I’m not doing a swan dive onto the dogpile currently burying GNOME in the wake of its recent financial problems. On the contrary: If I can say something positive about it, setting up the desktop the way you want it seems to be easier than it was when I originally tried it years ago. Also, this may be damning by faint praise, but at least GNOME 3.x doesn’t call Amazon saying, “Hey, here’s Larry’s data” (and I think that’s because, well, “erm . . .” they don’t have root, and I trust them moreso than the U-laden distro).

So I’ll be changing this back to something with real, honest-to-$DIETY icons and a desktop environment, which will bring me to KDE or Xfce. Also, I think I’m going to start using Fedora again a little more regularly.

It’s good to be back.

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Fosstafarian by and other works by Larry Cafiero are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

ZaReason UltraLap 440 Review Part 1: Baptism by fire

scale12x[BLOGGER'S NOTE: Yeah, it's unconventional to do a review in two parts this way, but the timing of my receiving the ZaReason UltraLap 440 coincided by chance with the week leading up to SCALE 12X, perhaps the busiest time of my year. All of which is to say, as you'll see below, that a lot of work was thrown at this machine during the course of the week prior to SCALE 12X, during SCALE 12X itself, and immediately after SCALE 12X. The tl:dr here is that it performed flawlessly and more detail is forthcoming in Part 2].

The e-mail came as expected: ZaReason CEO Cathy Malmrose wrote me the day before asking me if she could introduce me to the new ZaReason marketing manager, Vy Nguyen. “Of course,” I said. Vy wrote me and asked me if I could review the new ZaReason laptop, the UltraLap 440, like I did with the ZaReason Alto 3880 a couple of years ago.

As if you have to twist my arm to try new hardware. Gladly, I said. However, there was a minor detail: With this request coming in February, my attention was locked laser-like on the Southern California Linux Expo and that the rigors of this show had better make this laptop a hard worker with the ability to process a lot of data for long periods of time at the touch of these unusually fat fingers.

In other words, this hardware was going to get slammed under nearly constant 12-hour-a-day-minimum use for the next few weeks.

Long story short, the UltraLap 440 worked like a champ in the weeks leading up to SCALE 12X, during SCALE 12X and immediately after SCALE 12X.

First things first: Off with Ubuntu and on with a distro on which I can get real work done. That would be Korora 20 KDE (though later on, as you’ll read in the next review, other distros were given a test run on this hardware). Copy over my home directory onto the new laptop, make a few adjustments and I am good to go.

As mentioned earlier on many occasions, I’m a ThinkPad guy at heart, so when a smaller, lighter form factor crosses my radar, skepticism rears its ugly head. “So, kid, show me what you’ve got,” was my first response taking the laptop out of the box.

This skepticism was squashed fairly quickly. This hardware is a “lightweight” in form-factor only; the UltraLap 440 did the same tough work, under the same tough conditions under which I put some of the more traditionally hard-core hardware, and it passed this test with flying colors (and, to be honest, I could be easier on hardware. But in my defense I’m not hard on hardware on purpose. I’m just an incredibly clumsy oaf with heavy fingers).

Also, battery life on this hardware deserves special mention. On more than one occasion over the course of the SCALE 12X weekend — usually when picking up the laptop and running with it under my arm, like a football, to some emergency — I had neglected to plug in the laptop. I never ran out of power, noticing at one point that I was somewhere in the 20s, percentage wise, after just over three hours of battery use under some fairly trying conditions that included, but was not limited to, a high number of file exchanges from external drives, USB sticks and SD cards, to say nothing of live streaming video monitoring during the course of the show.

The old saying is essentially correct: Good things actually do come in small packages. The 14-inch screen — the HD display is one of the strong points, despite the fact it took a little getting used to from the nearly square ThinkPad screen — did not hamper my personal work performance. There are even little things that bear big mentions, like the multi-monitor support coming in very handy during the show, or the 8GB of RAM — an optional upgrade for $59 that is well worth the expense — helping to carry a heavy load without breaking a sweat.

For the few weeks around SCALE 12X, the UltraLap 440 gets high marks for grace under pressure, and its use in non-show conditions — let’s call that normal day-to-day use — will be the topic of the next review.

Coming next, ZaReason UltraLap 440 Review Part 2: Daily life with the ZaReason UltraLap 440 that does not include the best Linux/FOSS show of the year, highlighting the upsides of this machine — and there are many — and the downside — primarily one, which is easily overcome.

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Fosstafarian by and other works by Larry Cafiero are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.