ubuntu politics

Politics is an interesting word. We take it to mean exercising and acquiring power, exerting control, or simply using force. None of us like this notion at all. We like to think of ourselves and independent entities, capable of our own decision making abilities, without any need for outside influence, whether harmful or otherwise. And yet, we have politics, whether it be in our countries, our cities, our workplaces, our hobbyist organizations, or even our homes. Even when considering the battle cry of the early anarcho-punks of the 70s and 80s, "peace & anarchy," there is still a sentiment of using community power to ensure peace. I think, like it or not, politics is something we as humans need to empower us to coexist together. It's the check and balance we need to our own primal selfishness. It's what allows us to exist in community. And that's the really interesting part of the word. Its root lies in the Greek polis, which refers to either a city or a body of citizens. It refers to a community. It's focused on the concerns of the people.

In the world of open source, community often refers to users and volunteers that help development the software (including the people that provide support, documentation, artwork, etc.). The politics that occurs within this community is the leadership that facilitates peace amongst different personalities and expectations and makes the tough decisions about how precious resources are allocated. Usually there is a set of guidelines that allow the leaders (who, again, are often volunteers, thrown into the fire of whatever's happening that development cycle) to judge what decision to make. It's not easy, especially when you have volunteers (have I mentioned this enough yet?) who may have no really formal training or on-the-job experience in management or leadership. It's amazing we can do as much as we can.

This is especially true in that defining poltics as dealing with the concerns of the people does not necessarily say how those concerns are met. This is why we have egalitarianism in one system and dictatorship in another. This is as true in the world of state government as it is in the world of open source community governance. In fact, I have my concerns about our fearless Linux Leader Linus after reading about the concerns behind Matthew Garrett forking the kernel. I do enjoy his bitter diatribes against things I don't enjoy (e.g. "XML is crap") but in reading many of his quotes, I'm really appalled at how terrible he is.

And yet I find myself nearly every day working to encourage users to become contributors, contributors to contribute more, and long-time vets to keep at it. Work is hard. Volunteering is hard. Being in a community is hard. Volunteering to work in a community is downright painful at times. People need encouragement. That may mean a little handholding sometimes, or a simple expression of praise or graciousness. It's not just enough to ensure quality. It's not enough to create a vision and ensure the projects sticks with it. Our open source projects need open source communities and open source leadership. And they all need to work together. The primary responsibility for that cohension is in the hands of the leaders. If they can't lead in a way that empowers the communities to propel the project, then they should move on.

I have a great interest in leadership. Not management. I don't like managing people. I believe that people well suited to a particular project, with the right amount of support and guidance, will manage themselves. Leadership fulfills that conditional. For this reason, I helped create LinuxPadawan, a free Linux mentorship program. But I don't want to just deal with technical issues. I'd like to help with the truly difficult decisions and conversations.

With this in mind, I have joined the Ubuntu Membership Board (which I believe fulfills a similar role as LinuxPadawan, i.e. trying to encourage contributions) and the Ubuntu LoCo Council¹, to help encourage Ubuntu activity on a localized scale. I'm also the Team Leader for the Ubuntu Oregon Team. And though it's more technical, I serve as one of the Release Managers for Lubuntu as well as the Head of QA. I love all of these tasks and have no intention of leaving any one of them, but I'm still hungry to help more.

I recognize that not everyone is a leader. Not everyone wants to try to be. Many don't even want the responsibility. Heck, many folks aren't very social. I have no problem communicating with people, in thinking about things in an objective, balanced manner, and I jump for the opportunity to help in this manner. To be the grease that keeps the community gears turning.

As such, I have accepted a nomination to the Ubuntu Community Council. Armed with the values of the Ubuntu Code of Conduct, their job is to handle both the most high level of concerns (intellectual property rights) as well as dealing with resolving conflict. Ensuring that the community has the tools and resources it needs to function well is what they do. And I couldn't be more excited to join them.

In any case, votes are required from Ubuntu Members² to decide which nominees will go on to hold a seat on the council. That being said, I encourage you to consider me for the task³. You can read more about me, especially as it relates to Ubuntu, on my wiki page (including testimonals from others I've worked with, which you're welcome to add to!). Feel free to use any of those methods and/or the comments on this blog to ask any questions you might have.

¹For those unfamiliar with governance in Ubuntu, the Community Council delegates to boards such as the Membership Board and LoCo Council, so I'm not taking over the whole governance structure. From what I understand, this has been a fairly common model for folks, perhaps a sign of how needed leaders are.

²If you're not an Ubuntu Member, come chat with me about becoming one. It's easy and is not without its benefits!

³As a member, you will get an automatic email with a personal link to make the vote. The results will appear here here (corrected at 15:02pm in response to this). I'd also recommend viewing the official announcement.

Read and Post Comments

Unicode ate swiftly

Unicode 8 has arrived at last. Yes, folks, you may now use the unicorn as much as you want. Well, kinda. Unicode 7 took forever to be widely implemented, even on the mobile devices we most expect emoji from. Despite the fact that Google and Apple are part of the Unicode consortium, they've got bigger fish to fry like plummeting stock and a failed gadget release.

On the other hand, third party developers behind SwiftKey only care about making their keyboard as useful as possible. As a long time Swype user, I'm impressed. I never paid attention before because their main selling point seemed to be themes. It also cost money.

They provide fairly accurate predictability, similar to that of Swype (which far exceeds even the Google Keyboard). There are some other nice customization options that Swype doesn't have and it seems to have everything Swype has, minus the gestures.

But it has really accessible emoji support. Given their new relationship with the Unicode Consortium, I imagine they'll be the first to give us good support for 8 and next summer's 9, which will give us a face palm at long last. That should prove useful to the thumb aching fools using standard soft keyboards and lame old emotions. ;-) 👎

It's also great to see they are an open source-friendly company. SwiftKey may not be freely licensed, but they have an organization on GitHub with repos that at least show some activity this year. Everyone's got to start somewhere. At least they're not freedom haters. In fact, their latest Greenhouse project, Clarity, which is essentially a testing ground for upcoming features, uses the Eclipse-licensed Lispy-goodness, Clojure!

As for Ubuntu, it's hard to say when we'll see Unicode 8 support. I would consider it a priority for Ubuntu developers, at least for the other additions to Unicode 8 that seem like they would be to Ubuntu's larger internationalization effort. There's even some new glyphs for Ubuntu's home continent of Africa. My guess is we'll see it soon. However, I think it's clear that Ubuntu phones will be lagging around those of us who still use Android (or iOS, but who does that?).

Read and Post Comments

happy Haul-a-Days

Christmas tree hauling on a Haul-a-Day

Bikes are a lot like open source.

With public source code and development processes, open source software puts the power of your software into your own hands. Additionally, it creates huge communities of support, testing, and development. Once you discover the beauty of open source, you find yourself wanting to use it everywhere. It's gotten to the point with me that I've even sought out open source hardware. Eventually it gets to the point, I think, where you want everything to be open source.

Bikes put the power of transportation into your own hands. Sure, bikes are fun and good for your health, but their mechanical simplicity makes them approachable to everyone. Additionally, their remarkable efficiency and utility make them appropriate for all sorts of things beyond recreation. Once you've experienced the freedom and joy of riding to the grocery store, you want to use your bike everywhere.

Thankfully now, I truly can. Thanks to Bike Friday's new Haul-a-Day cargo bike, I can bring nearly anything with my bike. With a standard cargo capacity of 200 pounds (upgradable, too!), a mere 32 pounds, and adjustability for everyone, it's practical for nearly every situation. Did I mention it's short enough to fit on a standard bus rack, hanging up in a bike train car, and even disassemble to make taking it with you a breeze?

I've hauled a harvest of quince to share (that's no small feat, I might add!). I've taken a huge load of unwanted electronics to the local recycling center. I've taxied my daughter and all of her stuff and my stuff to school. I've carried my spare bike home with me. Most interestingly, because it is so lightweight, I mostly use it as a normal bike.

Other people in the community of users have used theirs most for hauling kids (it's a nice alternative to a mini-van!), but there have also been such unique things as generating electricity and showing movies. In fact, those very ideas can now be yours with the Haul-a-Day Kickstarter campaign, along with everything from handmade cards to t-shirts.

We have turned to crowdfunding as a way to integrate the community into the development process and to allow for greater capacity to really stimulate major production. We manufacture in the domestic United States and that is great for our local economy but is not without its challenges. This boost will allow us to really propel the project forward. We met our goal a long time ago, but we're very close to meeting our 3rd stretch goal which will allow us to finish some oft-requested developments, including a trailer bike attachment and an electric assist option. Please contribute anything you can, even $1, as it's going to a good cause!

We don't necessarily have the bike design open sourced, but I believe that Bike Friday is a lot like any other open source community. It's full of users more than happy to volunteer their time to help others. It has an inviting and passionate group of project contributors (even though they all may work for the parent dcompany). It doesn't hide behind some corporate image, but is a real workplace of real people, where you can talk to someone, and where humble hoensty and transparency is a norm. Finally, it listens to its users, who often make their own modifications and experiments and document them for us.

We are also a company that values open source software, using FreeBSD and Ubuntu servers and Kubuntu on most of our workstations. Thunderbird, Firefox, and LibreOffice are all common applications we use on a daily basis.

Indeed, we know that open source can save the world. Bikes can, too. Now what if we put two and two together? What about an open source hardware electric bike kit? Or an open source mobile application that keeps track of your cadence? I'm shocked this isn't out there yet.

Actually, there are a number of open source bike things out there (to name a few):

What's your open source bike idea?

Read and Post Comments

happy Ubuntu Community Appreciation Day, phillw!

I swear, I find out about some new event Ubuntu does every day. How is it that I've been around Ubuntu for as long as I have and I've only now heard about this?

Well, in any case, today is Ubuntu Community Appreciation Day, where we give thanks to the humans (remember, ubuntu means humanity!) that have so graciously donated their time to make Ubuntu a reality.

I have a lot of people to thank in the community. We have some really exceptional people about. I really feel like I could make the world's longest blog post just trying to list them all. Several folks already have!

Instead, I'll point out a major player in the community who is pretty unseen these days.

Phill Westside was a major contributor to Lubuntu. He was there when I first came to #lubuntu so many moons ago. His friendly, inviting demeanour was one of the things that kept me sticking around after my support request was met. Phill took it upon himself to encourage me just as he had with others and slowly I came to contribute more and more.

Sadly, some people in high rankings in the community failed to see Phill's value for whatever reason. I'm not sure I totally understand but I think the barrage of opinions that came from Jono Bacon's call for reform in Ubuntu governance may offer some hint. Phill's no longer an Ubuntu member and is rarely seen in the typical places in the community.

Yet he still helps out on #lubuntu, still helps with Lubuntu ISO testing, still reposts Lubuntu news on Facebook, still contributes to the Lubuntu mailing lists, still tries to help herd the cats as it were, though he's handed off titles to others (that's how I'm the Release Manager and Head of QA!). tl;dr, Phill is still a major contributor to Ubuntu.

Did I mention he's a great guy to hang out with, too? I've never met him face to face, but I'm sure if I did, I'd give him one heck of a big ole hug.

Thanks, Phill!

Read and Post Comments

fullscreen slides in Hangouts workaround

More to come on the Ubuntu Online Summit soon but in the interim, I wanted to bring up something I learned a little too late.

Google Hangouts is handy little tool. Outside of providing an alternative to the likes of Skype, it also features some useful apps for using with a virtual tech conference like UOS really is. One of them is called Hangout Toolbox and has a feature called "Lower Third" that will allow you a pretty logo-ized tag line.

But the thing really useful to something like UOS is the default Screenshare app. Clicking on it, you get the option of either sharing the entire screen or one of your windows. So logically, you open the window with your presentation and start the full screen slide show, right?

Yeah, not exactly. I did that and I was going along talking away for my first presentation and no one could see anything beyond the first slide. I was manually advancing and it looked good on my side, but to everyone else, it was just frozen on the title. Since I was in full screen mode and no one had yet joined the Hangout, I had no idea what was going on though people were trying to get my attention on IRC.

I discovered a solution rather quickly: a windowized presentation. That is what I ended up doing, but things can look kind of tiny. Still, there are hoardes of posts out there on people doing similar things in PowerPoint and Keynote.

This is not the right way, though. We want full screen. So how do we do that?

It's simple, really. You share the full screen— not a window— then navigate to your presentation and start the slide show.

I guess that Hangouts thinks that the full screen window is not the same as the app window itself. Which is strange because, according to xprop -root | grep ^_NET_CLIENT_LIST, it's not a different window.

Unfortunately, unlike a lot of the other tools that the community uses, Google Hangouts is not open source. We can't just file a bug report and get to work on it (though you can file a bug report). This is really contrary to the spirit of Ubuntu. In fact, there's already a bug report for this very problem, the proprietary nature of Hangouts (not the first such issue, either).

It seems that especially for this public gathering of Ubuntu contributors and users, that this would be the most important place to put our best open source foot forward. That being said, I encourage you to confirm the bug and participate in helping to find a cure (rather than a mere treatment) to the malady of copyright.

Read and Post Comments