...making Linux just a little more fun!

The Backpage

By Ben Okopnik

During the past month, LG has gone through several changes. For one thing, our former proofreading coordinator, Rick Moen, is no longer associated with LG in any capacity as of the 4th of last month; for another, our lists are now hosted at a competent, reliable, responsive webhost (on a Linux box, of course!) This provides additional reliability in our infrastructure: if something should happen to our list server, LG itself will not be affected; if the LG server should get whacked by an asteroid strike, we'll still have a communication channel where we can organize asteroid removal efforts and silicon chip-gluing parties, or whatever else is necessary.

(A request for anyone who was subscribed to 'lg-announce', or anyone who would like to be notified when the new issues come out: the membership roster for this list was the only thing that I didn't manage to save from our previous hosting arrangement - sorry about that! If you'd like to be pinged about new issues, please go to http://lists.linuxgazette.net/listinfo.cgi/lg-announce-linuxgazette.net and sign up. Thanks!)

The Linux Gazette itself, by the way, remains hosted at Fullhart Software, through the kind offices of Thomas Fullhart, who also provides us with his stellar system administration services. (Unprompted ad: Thomas is awesome. I've known him for years now, and can personally tell you stories of generosity, grace under pressure, and great responsiveness and flexibility in tough times. If you need great hosting, talk to him.)

In addition, we've also decided to commit more time and effort to a "pet project" that's close to my own heart: improving the quality and quantity of technical writing available to the Open Source community by finding interested authors and supporting them with positive editorial feedback and critique. During my tenure as Editor-in-Chief, I've received a lot of pleasure from watching a number of our authors grow and mature as technical writers, and seeing their talents recognized in the business world. I take a lot of pride in believing that LG was at least partly instrumental in their current success, and that their experience here will improve their lives and careers from here forward. It's all part of "Making Linux Just a Little More Fun!" - by improving everyone's experience with Open Source projects.

Recent Events: A Look Inside LG

Right after publication of the last issue, LG went through one of those shake-ups for which Open Source projects and communities are well-known. Tempers flared, metaphorical furniture was stomped into kindling, high horses were brought out of their stables and ridden hard... and the end result was a change in methods and policy. In this case, a change designed to better serve our readership and our community.

I want to emphasize this point: as LG's Editor-in-Chief, I do my best to avoid setting policy. I believe that, when given a mission and left to their own devices within wide bounds, people will create solutions and answers that will range from more-or-less reasonable to breath-takingly wonderful. Policy is the thing that sets those bounds - and so, in the traditional spirit of the Open Source community, I try to keep them as broad possible.

UNIX was never designed to keep people from doing stupid things, because
that policy would also keep them from doing clever things.
 -- Doug Gwyn
The handles of a craftsman's tools bespeak an absolute simplicity, the
plainest forms affording the greatest range of possibilities for the user's
hand. That which is overdesigned, too highly specific, anticipates outcome;
the anticipation of outcome guarantees, if not failure, the absence of
 -- William Gibson, "All Tomorrow's Parties"

There is, however, a failure mode inherent in this method (as there is in all methods). It is that of doing too little for too long - at which point, flamewars erupt and furniture turns into splinters. In effect, the failure is mine: as always, the captain of the ship is responsible for the welfare of the ship and crew, and any failures are completely and utterly his responsibility. For that, I apologize to anyone harmed by my previous unwillingness to do the ugly but utterly necessary housecleaning - and hereby, publicly, set the LG policy to handle those problems from here forward.

In the "This shouldn't be news to anyone" category, we have...

  1. Be Polite. No Rudeness Allowed. This is the all-encompassing policy statement that should have been at the top - Rule #0 - of the LG list. Again, my fault - and my apologies to everyone - for not realizing that it needed to be spelled out explicitly and that it was this critical of an issue. This omission has now been rectified, and will be enforced; by our list administrator in The Answer Gang (my own posts explicitly not excluded; I confess to owning a temper), and by me in our published material. 'Nough said.
  2. LG is not anyone's personal rant forum. As the Editor-in-Chief, I have entertained - and invited - viewpoints and styles including some that I disagree with, some that can be seen as inflammatory, some that are completely opposite of my own thoughts on best computing practices, and so on. There's almost no restriction on content other than LG's loose mandate of "making Linux just a little more fun" - which, for the purposes of article acceptance, means "related to Open Source computing, or at least humorous and relevant to computing in some fashion."
  3. There's no such thing as a stupid question. The Answer Gang list exists, and has always existed, for the purpose of answering Linux questions. As many such lists do, it has developed its own culture, one that is amazing and powerful in its own right: it has produced some hilariously funny exchanges, a huge number of excellent answers and solutions, and - for those who participate - a terrific learning environment. It has also, however, had instances of treating "clueless" questions - or, more to the point, the people who ask them - less than respectfully. I want to make it clear, here and now: there is NO such thing as a clueless question, this is not alt.sysadmin.recovery, and there's no one here entitled to be a Bastard Operator From Hell. Everyone is welcome to post and participate in TAG; no one is allowed to be rude. The rule is, "if you can't be pleasant, don't post."
These rules also apply to the editing process all articles pass through. The rules are not written in stone and shouldn't be too complicated. If you have ideas for improvement or suggestions, we'd like to hear your opinion.

(For those who, in times past, stopped by TAG and left due to a high level of spam: that's gone as well, since we've changed our subscription policy. Come on in - the water is fine!)

So, what's left in LG?

Everything except the unpleasantness and the rudeness. In fact, from a certain perspective, you might say that there are now more possibilities and open avenues within LG: all relevant questions are now welcome in TAG, and everyone will be treated in a civil fashion. Let's focus on the answers to your questions and on how to exchange knowledge.

None of the foregoing should be a surprise. Perhaps one way to put all of this into context is to consider the Linux Gazette as a Linux-representative "business": although none of us get paid in cash for our work here, we get "paid" in community respect, in recognition, and in reputation - things that are important to every other service-sector business. All of the above, points of policy and all, is nothing more than clarification of LG's stance toward you, its "customers":

There will probably be some bobbles as things shake down; there inevitably are. I don't expect instant perfection out of anyone (least of all myself.) But I want everyone to know, and understand, that these are our goals; this is what we're aiming for.

Welcome to your new, and hopefully ever-improving, LG.

B. Okopnik

Talkback: Discuss this article with The Answer Gang


Ben is the Editor-in-Chief for Linux Gazette and a member of The Answer Gang.

Ben was born in Moscow, Russia in 1962. He became interested in electricity at the tender age of six, promptly demonstrated it by sticking a fork into a socket and starting a fire, and has been falling down technological mineshafts ever since. He has been working with computers since the Elder Days, when they had to be built by soldering parts onto printed circuit boards and programs had to fit into 4k of memory (the recurring nightmares have almost faded, actually.)

His subsequent experiences include creating software in more than two dozen languages, network and database maintenance during the approach of a hurricane, writing articles for publications ranging from sailing magazines to technological journals, and teaching on a variety of topics ranging from Soviet weaponry and IBM hardware repair to Solaris and Linux administration, engineering, and programming. He also has the distinction of setting up the first Linux-based public access network in St. Georges, Bermuda as well as one of the first large-scale Linux-based mail servers in St. Thomas, USVI.

After a seven-year Atlantic/Caribbean cruise under sail and passages up and down the East coast of the US, he is currently anchored in northern Florida. His consulting business presents him with a variety of challenges such as teaching professional advancement courses for Sun Microsystems and providing Open Source solutions for local companies.

His current set of hobbies includes flying, yoga, martial arts, motorcycles, writing, Roman history, and mangling playing with his Ubuntu-based home network, in which he is ably assisted by his wife, son and daughter; his Palm Pilot is crammed full of alarms, many of which contain exclamation points.

He has been working with Linux since 1997, and credits it with his complete loss of interest in waging nuclear warfare on parts of the Pacific Northwest.

Copyright © 2010, Ben Okopnik. Released under the Open Publication License unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 172 of Linux Gazette, March 2010