Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lighting Idaho on Fire --> GNU/Linux on Fire


Love [FLOSS] is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable. 

Bruce Lee

At conferences it is fun to see the different attitudes towards FLOSS, the different motivations of people who are:
     1. energetic, rushed, enthusiast, do-something-now
     2. mellow, calm, but rock solid in their beliefs regarding intellectual property
     3. pragmatic, do whatever works
     4. idealistic, don't compromise

Ever wonder about the subtext of people's choices?

Today, Independence Day (for US), I got a bit of a glimpse into why people approach FLOSS the way they do. The realisation is buried in the summer of 1997, the summer we nearly lit Idaho on fire.
Released into the public domain by its author, BigDogGraphics (we love you) 
We lived in Washington state (MSFT and Boeing country). In WA there are many Indian reservations. Fireworks are not regulated on the reservations, ie you can get crazy-powerful fireworks alongside the road in WA starting in mid-June. Having two little boys who loved blowing things up, we got a small arsenal of fireworks and planned a great holiday.

But, at the last minute, we decided to drive to a family reunion in Idaho. We crossed state border naively unaware that we were carrying illegal fireworks across state lines.

Skyshow Adelaide CC-SA Alex Sims
There were 50+ people at the family reunion. Dinner. Chatting. Large beautiful new home out in the country, surrounded by brush, farm land and an unusually dry forest. Even the small fireworks were banned. Some kids had sparklers and a few people lit fireworks (the legal kind, but still banned). We figured we'd contribute and got our OP (overpowered) gear out of the trunk.

The first one we lit tipped over sideways after the first shot and then shot five more fire rockets into the dry Idaho brush. Instant fire.  

Green Jello, CC-SA begojohnson
People in their bathrobes and pyjamas ran to get water. A guy with a hose pulled it as far as he could but only had a piddely little stream of water, meters from the fire. One woman ran from the house with a large bowl of Jello (not kidding) and dumped that on a patch of fire. Everyone stomped and squelched it. There was a 20 minute span of sheer terror then a sleepless night knowing that hidden embers could spark it again.

I shook for days and still don't like fireworks. 

But I do love fire. I love the fire in people's eyes when they talk about the things they can do when they have access to the code. I love that look of passion when they do something they love (when the volunteer part of the brain is functioning at expense of the money-earning side, those two sides are mutually exclusive, read Sway.) 

I even love that hot, fierce flame that erupts when people disagree. Why else would we have given a presentation at the Southern California Linux Expo on "RetroGNOME: Bringing back the glory days of Ubuntu pre-Unity"? (Yes, it did spark a delightful little fire in the conference room. So fun!) But at the core, I am a burning coal. I like safe, slow, sustaining fire, long-term.
What did I learn about FLOSS, GNU/Linux and the world at large? Two things: 

1. For people who have a solid, stable "deep-burning and unquenchable" (Bruce Lee, we love you) belief in FLOSS, they can be relied on for support. For example, I recently had a few insights about how to handle UEFI / SecureBoot at OEM level (submitted to LCA's CFP, fingers crossed). I floated a few of the ideas to people at Catalyst at their Beer o'Clock (casual weekly get-together). There was a minor disconnect, took me by surprise, and I didn't understand until now. In that instance I was a flame trying to tell a coal to burn. It's already burning. Duh. Catalyst can be relied on for the long-haul.

A quotable quote by @piawaugh lately:
"Exactly! Awesomeness is it's own self generating energy source!"

Coals don't need flames as much as flames need a constant energy source. The coals in FLOSS are our absolute most valuable resource. They are the sustaining warmth that will keep things going when the air turns chill and the world seems more scary than usual.

2. For people who are fresh to FLOSS, the flame is often "hot and fierce". There is an energy and enthusiasm unparallelled. (Only once have I met someone who was both a coal and a flame: @einfeldt, Christian Einfeldt who has both intensity and longevity.)

Earth Erde CC-Share Alike Heikenwaelder
Typically the flame (at least the one Bruce Lee is referring to) is "light and flickering". They need an energy source to keep going. Stormy Peters often talks about this energy source, the sustainability of motivation to contribute as a volunteer. Personally, I don't have a decade of FLOSS under me yet and I need to keep in mind how easily I can be blown out. 

@piawaugh summed it up:
"It always saddens me when I find awesome people who have burnt out. Take care of yourselves people! I need your help to change the world ;)"

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