[lug] The changing Linux Community was Re: cp and rm

Alan Robertson alanr at unix.sh
Fri Aug 3 04:11:47 MDT 2001

Tom Tromey wrote:
> But I also sometimes get reports (usually via some indirect method,
> like, say, the gcc mailing list) that say "Automake sucks" (the short
> form) or "Automake is much too complex.  Why can't it `just work'?"
> (actual complaint).  This sort of thing is really pretty useless.  If
> I'm feeling generous, it might get a response and generate a useful
> conversation.  But by itself it conveys nothing but the poster's
> apparent frustration with some unknown facet of the program.

Or, (since they're probably a newbie) with every facet of the program -
since they're *all* unknown ;-)

> So, there's education for us to do with new users.  We have to explain
> to them why the principles of free software are important (at least,
> those of us who think they are can explain this :-).  We have to try
> to help them understand that free software isn't simply a commodity
> like a fork or a spoon, but instead is deeply intertwined with its
> social structures.

This is something IBM is trying to learn about.  I spend some of my time
trying to help individuals understand how to interact with these structures.

> Whether they like it or not, they're in the soup
> with us.  Criticism is really, really useful.  It is much more useful
> than praise! 

Absolutely.  I rarely learn something interesting from someone who agrees
with me,
and often learn interesting things from people who disagree with me.

> But it has to be focussed, and specific, and
> unfortunately making this sort of criticism is not a skill we are born
> with.

And, conversely, listening to comments to pick out the useful criticism
that's hidden in them is not an innate skill for many (any?) of us either.

There was a guy on the linux-ha mailing list who was just as annoying as he
could be -- he asked these questions, and didn't take pat answers -- it was
*so* annoying.  I learned some good things from him -- I learned that I had
solved several very subtle problems in non-obvious ways -- and that they
weren't clearly explained so that the rationale was obvious.  Several of the
issues intertwined and by the time I got done explaining everything I'd
written a paper on it - which I got published in ALS.

Now lots of people understand what I did and why I did it that way.  If he
hadn't been so annoying to me then I would never have written the paper. 
This paper has probably brought around a 3-4 more contributors from
universities who wouldn't work on things unless they had papers written on
them ;-)

By the way, the annoying fellow got special mention as being my inspiration
for the paper ;-).  He served a REALLY useful function.

	-- Alan Robertson
	   alanr at unix.sh

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