Who Can Contribute to Free Software

A common misconception is that only programmers can contribute to free software. The first significant reference I recall to this was in a presentation by Pia Waugh [1] where she mentioned that she felt that the way words such as “coder” and “hacker” are used in the community as synonyms for “contributor” are denigrating to people such as herself who aren’t coders!

I’m certain that no-one in the Australian Linux community would have any doubt about Pia’s contributions, not even when they mis-use terms such as “coder“.

Non-coding ways of contributing include writing documentation, arranging meetings and conferences, and serving on the committee of LUGs and other organisations. I’m sure that there are many other ways of contributing that I can’t think of at the moment.

The development of the free software community depends on a wide range of skills, and many of the best coders don’t have great skills in other areas. The meme that you have to be a great coder to contribute causes two problems, one is that there is a lack of contributers to non-coding tasks, and another is that coders end up doing non-coding work that they are often not particularly good at and which takes them away from things that they do well. I recently refused a nomination for the committee of my local LUG because I believe that most members can do the committee work as well as I can and many of them can do it better than me – so it’s best if I spend my time coding and preparing presentations about code that I write instead of joining the LUG committee.

I was reminded of Pia’s presentation (from some years ago) by a comment on my blog post about Ideas for a Home University [2] where the commenter seems to believe that they can’t adopt the university degree equivalent via free software contributions that I suggest because of not being a programmer or sys-admin. I really doubt that anyone would care if Pia has a university degree (I don’t know whether she has one), I’m sure that the companies that hire Waugh Partners [3] do so because of the reputation that Pia and Jeff have for getting things done and for their positions in the community and not because of whatever certificates that the partners may have.

I suggest to the commenter in question (and anyone else in a similar position) that they become involved in running their local LUG (or starting one if there isn’t one already). You would really be surprised by the number of job opportunities that arise from running such a community organisation.

Music Videos

I’ve been thinking about music videos recently while compiling a list of my favourite videos of all time. It seems that YouTube has changed things through the re-mixes of videos and the ability of anyone to publish for a mass-market (although without the possibility of directly making money from it).

Also today all new PCs (and most PCs that are in use) are capable of being used for video editing and the compute power needed for 80’s and 90’s quality special effects is also commonly available (in most cases good art doesn’t need more technical quality than that). So anyone can produce videos (and a quick search of YouTube reveals that many people are producing videos for their favourite songs).

I think that we need a music video for the Free Software Song. One possibility is to base it on the 1984 Apple advert (because it’s the free software community that is opposing Big Brother not Apple). I think it would be good to have multiple versions of the Free Software Song (with matching videos), there could be the version for young children, the Hip-Hop version, the Punk version, etc. Also I think that there is potential for the creation of other songs for the free software community.

One possible way of doing this would be to have a contest for producing music and videos. Maybe a conference such as LCA or OLS could have the judging for such a contest. I would be prepared to donate some money towards the prize pool and I’m sure that other individuals and organisations would also be prepared to do so. If I get some positive feedback on this idea I’ll investigate how to run such a contest.

Here are my favourite videos of the moment. Please let me know of any videos that you think I would like based on this list.

  • Placebo:
    • Infra-Red – I love the Haxor ants (I Lied to You – We Are the Enemy says the CEO), I first saw that idea in the book City by Clifford D. Simak’s
    • A Song to Say Goodbye – strange and sad. Like much good art it can be interpreted in several ways.
    • Pure Morning – strange video that seems to have nothing to do with the music, but still good
    • Slave to the Wage – interesting and not strange by Placebo standards. I’ve recently decided that I don’t like working in a corporate environment so I can relate to this.
  • Smashing Pumpkins:
    Ava Adore, interesting way of changing scenes, and a very artistic and strange video (matches the song)
  • Duran Duran (who incidentally named their group after a character in Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy – strangely the spelling is different though):
    • Come Undone, interesting aquarium scenes
    • Too Much Information – they should re-do this and include a reference to the Internet in the lyrics. ;)
    • Wild Boys – Mad Max 3 as a film clip
  • UNKLE:
    • Eye for an Eye – strange and disturbing, as any serious art that is related to war must be
    • Rabbit in Your Headlights – surprising end, I wonder if anyone was injured trying to emulate this clip
  • Nine Inch Nails:
    Head Like a Hole, strange and a bit bizarre at times. Not the greatest of my favourite clips but the music makes up for it.
  • Queen:
    • I Want to Break Free, strangely amusing and very artistic
  • Chemical Brothers:
    • Let Forever Be – my favourite clip of all time. Fractally weird, you can watch it dozens of times and still be missing things.
    • Setting Sun – the world would be a better place if more cops could dance like that! Also is it just me or does the drummer guy look like a Narn from Babylon 5?
    • Out of Control – surprise ending. I would appreciate it if someone who knows the non-English language (probably Spanish) in the clip could point me to a translation.
    • Star Guitar – a real work of art but no plot and I didn’t enjoy the music, I recommend watching it once
    • The Golden Path – I used to wonder whether office work was really so grim in the 60s and 70s, but then I worked for a financial company recently…
  • Fat Boy Slim:
    Praise You – why can’t reality TV be this good?
  • Falco:
    Rock Me Amadeus – let’s represent two totally diffent cultures (bikers and Austraian high society) in a film clip, silly but amusing
  • Madonna:
    Like A Prayer – I wonder how many racist organizations banned that
  • A-Ha:
    Take On Me – mixing multiple art forms (in this case film and animation) can work really well. Beat Kill Bill to the idea by a couple of decades.
  • Robert Palmer:
    Simply Irresistable – pity that they didn’t hire more women who can dance or at least put the dancers in front of the models. It’s interesting to note that one of the models appears to be actually playing a guitar.
  • Garbage:
  • Michael Jackson:
    Billie Jean – class is timeless.

Two Questions for All Serious Free Software Contributors

What do you think is the most important single-sentence of advice that you can offer to someone who wants to contribute to the free software community? I intentionally didn’t mention what area or type of advice or what “contribute” means, interpret it how you wish and give multiple answers for different interpretations if that seems appropriate to you.

If you had the opportunity to say one sentence to someone who knows about computers and free software (EG they have used both Linux and Windows and done a small amount of programming) to convince them that they should join the free software team, what would it be?

Writing an essay about your thoughts is fine (and I’m sure that many readers of my blog could easily write an interesting essay on each of those topics). But please preface it with what you consider to be the most important sentence.

Please either track-back to this blog post or post a comment with a URL of your post (comments are moderated but I usually approve them in less than 12 hours and often much faster – I approve all sensible non-spam comments). If you only offer two sentences (and decide not to write an essay) then the comment section can contain your entire answer.

Note that by Serious Free Software Contributors I am referring to people who feel that they are serious about it. If free software matters to you and you go out of your way to help the cause in the way that best suits your abilities then it means you.

I will write another post with a summary of what I consider to be the most interesting responses (including links to any blog posts with long answers).

PS This post is not what I consider to be a “meme”.

A Free-Software Only Laptop

Mark Shuttleworth asks if people are interested in a high-end free-software laptop (it seems that Linspire is leading in the low-end free-software laptop stakes).

I am interested in such things. My last couple of laptops have been Thinkpad T series. They are reasonably light (not really heavy), are reasonably fast, have full-size keyboards and reasonable size screens (currently got a 1400×1050 screen on a 3yo laptop). Unfortunately for Mark I’m planning on making my current Thinkpad last for another three years.

The idea makes a lot of sense because laptops are not re-purposed very often. It’s quite common for a desktop machine or a server to be re-installed several times over it’s life – and often having significant hardware changes during the process. Laptops are extremely difficult for hardware upgrades to the degree that by the time people desire an upgrade it often makes sense to buy a new one. So having a BIOS that only supports Linux and prevents the machine from ever being used to run a lesser OS is not likely to reduce the utility of the machine.

The benefit of better Linux integration is that the greater degree of hardware control would decrease the power use and extend battery life.

Maybe in three years time I’ll buy a LinuxBIOS machine second-hand from a Ubuntu user.

Advertising Free Software Projects

Today I just noticed the following advert on one of my web pages:
MINIX3 is a new reliable
free operating system. Smaller
than Linux. Try it It’s free!

This made me think about some of the potential ways of advertising free software projects. It seems that in some ways Google Adwords is not the only way that can be used for advertising free software, and in some ways isn’t the most effective.

I believe that the most effective method would be to ask people to advertise the project. I am generally positive towards the aims of the Minix project and am happy to give them some free advertising if asked (I’ve just given them a free advert above without being asked).

While Google adlinks and equivalent things in blog posts are easy to set up, effective advertising may require something more. A series of pictures (in different sizes and color schemes) for the link would help, and the project would ideally have a specific landing site for people who see the advert. Someone who sees an advert targeted to newbies will have different requirements from the web site to someone who already knows about it and typed the URL in from memory! For a big campaign you would probably want to have multiple landing sites for different adverts targetted at different people.

One example of how this can be used is my Bonnie++ page which gets about 6000 hits a month – many of which are from users of proprietary Unix. Linux users often have Bonnie++ as part of their distribution and don’t have much of a need to visit my web site so I expect that even though the vast majority of Bonnie++ users run Linux the proportion of site visitors might not be so strongly in favour of Linux. I would be happy to place an advert on that page to encourage proprietary Unix users to use the most free distribution of Linux if someone was to prepare the advert and give me some HTML code I can easily add to my site.

To some extent the web site for every free software project could be used to advertise some related projects (or projects that are liked by the people who run the site).

If you are a contributor to a free software project that you think I would like then feel free to prepare an advert and send it to me. If it fits with what I’m doing then I’ll give you some free advertising!

Blogs are also a good mechanism for advertising free software projects, but it seems that this is already being used a lot – having said that…

As a gratuitous plug: my favourite distribution of Linux is Debian (here are my Debian blog entries) and I run NSA Security Enhanced Linux (SE Linux) on all my machines (here are my SE Linux blog entries).