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Posts Tagged ‘freesoftware’

It’s tough being pure GNU, especially when hardware is involved.

All my workstation computers are custom-built; I like to know exactly what goes into them, and would do the same for laptops, if I could. The last time I bought a workstation, I decided to break my old habit of buying an ATI video card, and buy an NVidia one instead (Never mind the model number, which usually matters less than the manufacturer would have you believe and is irrelevant here).

The switch seemed a good idea at the time. Not only was the ATI market share being reduced so quickly that the company seemed in danger of disappearing, but free and open source drivers for NVidia seemed closer to competion than for ATI. I felt confident in the decision, and settled down to learn the new arcanery of another manufacturer.

Then, last week I turned on the computer to find that yellow artifacts were cycling down the monitor like something out of The Matrix. I managed to boot once without them, only to have them reappear as I settled down to my morning email. Before long, the artifacts were so thick on the screen that I could no longer read anything beneath them, and I had to do an ungraceful shutdown, haunted by the vague guilt felt by those using a journaling filesystem, who know that, when they do finally manage to reboot, they will be confronted by the announcement, “The filesystem is NOT clean.”

Did I mention that it happened on the morning of the day that I do my usual backup, too? The perversity of the universe was apparently set on stun that day.

Some fiddling with my test computer soon showed that the problem was not the monitor, as I originally thought, but the video card.
Since I had bought the computer system thirteen months earlier, I was sure that the warranty would have just expired. To my surprise, it still had almost two years to run, so I took the system into the shop that assembled it for me.

According to the store’s staff, I was far from the only one whose card was suffering from the same problem. Trouble with NVidia cards of several models were becoming widespread, I was told. Fed up, I switched to an ATI card, also taking the opportunity to double the video memory to 512 megabytes.

I had been thinking of video cards as costing three or four times what they actually do; the old price had stuck in my head, just as I automaticallly assume that a paperback will cost five or six dollars – like most people, for me, the natural price for anything is the price they were when I was newly an adult. I also received a trade-in on my old card.

I switched back because, now, the situation is reversed. Since AMD bought ATI last year, ATI has been regaining market share. Moreover, while AMD’s behavior is far from perfect towards free software, it is still friendlier than any other manufacturer. Now, thanks to AMD, ATI free and open source drivers seem likely to mature first before NVidia ones.

So far, I’m satisfied with the swap. Not only does my workstation run faster, but I can use the highest resolution for the monitor, which I never could with the NVidia card. More importantly, although I can’t use an exact driver for the card, I can use a free one that has at least some degree of support for 3-D, without resorting to an archaic driver like VESA.

All the same, I can’t help thinking that I would probably have had a less troublesome week had I not tried to second guess how the market would react with free software and stuck with my original preference.

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Much to my bemusement, I see that James Maguire has listed this blog as one of the top 200 technology blogs, in the GNU/Linux/ Free and Open Source category.

James is my editor at Datamation, who shows amazing toleration for my inability to edit my own work, so I already know him for a decent sort. So, I figure he just needed to round out the spaces he had allotted for the category. Not that I don’t appreciate the honor, but I can see myself clearly enough to know that I don’t deserve it.

For one thing, look at the company I’m keeping. My entries here certainly aren’t a match for the varied articles at Linux.com, which is also on the list. Nor do they come close to the combination of astute legal analysis and wonky opinion on Groklaw. As for equating my efforts here with the industry analysis in the blogs of Mark Shuttleworth, Jim Zemlin, or Matt Assay – no way, man, as we used to say in my increasingly distant youth. I mean, I didn’t call this blog “Off the Wall” at random, you know what I mean?

What is really ironic is that, when I started this blog, I intended it as a place where I could write about things other than free and open source software. At the very most, it would be a sandbox for ideas that weren’t ready to be articles, or ones that I didn’t think I could sell. Nor do I often write on such topics, although I have plenty to say about my life as a journalist who covers such topics.

Yet, if I’m being honest, I have to admit that, when I do cover free and open source topics directly, the posts attract an entire order of magnitude more readers than my other topics. And I mean that literally, without any exaggeration whatsoever. So, maybe James is right, and this is a technology blog after all.

Anyway, I was taught that, if someone pays you a compliment, you say thanks and smile warmly – especially if the compliment isn’t true. So, that’s exactly what I’m going to do, figuratively speaking.

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When I was a boy, I imagined that one day I might become so skilled as a writer that I would silence all the critics. I was very young, and, of course naive. But I can’t help remembering that dream now that I am a writer and have made some permanent enemies as a result of my modest success.

Even now, I’m close enough to the dreaming boy whom I once was that the word “enemy” sounds melodramatic, even paranoid. Yet what other word can I apply to people who imagine that I am always writing about them, and who spend an inordinate amount of time not only bad-mouthing me, but writing abusive posts and emails to repudiate my opinions? “Critic” or “detractor” might do, but neither word suggests the fury or the personal rancor of these people. So I suppose “enemy” will have to do.

Still, no matter what word I use, the idea of having enemies bemuses me. I seem to be such a poor hater that I have trouble imagining dislike in others. And, to be honest, when I first became aware of the fact, I was taken by surprise. Until about a year ago, I had had a gentle reception as a journalist. Very little of the attacks that other free software journalists have endured had come my way, and never from steady, identifiable sources. So I hardly knew how to react to the situation.

However, over the last six months, I’ve developed a habit of ignoring them. I won’t mention them by name in public, nor respond to their comments. In fact, I very rarely read anything they write, regardless of whether it’s about me or not; with all the intelligent and informative material about free software on the web, why should I waste my time? Most of what I hear about them comes in passing second hand references, or from reading a link on a portal site.

Yet, almost despite myself, I can’t help learning a little about my enemies. For example, I can’t help noticing that none of them seem to be contributors to any free software projects. Moreover, the other people whom they attack (my enemies being very far from discriminating) are among the leaders of the community, and hard workers as well, even if I often don’t share their opinions or think their energies misplaced. So, while I would rather not be among those my enemies focus upon, I suppose their attention is a wry compliment to my articles. After all, if I was completely unsuccessful in expressing myself or providing unusual or thoughtful arguments, then they probably wouldn’t bother with me.

But, even more importantly, when I do come across the writing of my enemies – regardless of whether it’s about me or some other straw man of the day – I’m starting to find that they help define me in a negative way. Just as, in the 1970s being on Richard Nixon’s enemy list was a sign that you were an effective social activist, so being a target of these kinds of people helps me to define the sort of person and writer that I want to be – in essence, everything that is the opposite of them.

For starters, I have no wish for prolonged flame wars. I might toss off an angry reply, or even a second one, but, after that, I can’t sustain the emotion. There are so many more interesting ways to spend my time that I quickly lose interest.

For another, while most of my writing about free software is advocacy journalism in the sense that, by choosing my specialty, I am implying that the subject is worthy of attention, I have no interest in attack journalism (I suppose that comes from getting enough sleep and not being wired on coffee all the time). I can disagree with a person or a corporate policy very well without any need to denounce explicitly. In the end, I would much rather stand for something than against something.

Anyway, if I present the facts accurately enough, I don’t need to condemn – if someone or something is unpleasant, the fact will come through without me belaboring the point.

Even more importantly, while I wince at typos and factual errors, taking them as proof of my own carelessness, I am far more concerned about logical errors. I don’t believe that, just because you find a tenuous connection to Microsoft that you have proved a conspiracy, or that simply because one event follows another that the first caused the second. I try very hard to keep an open mind as I research a story, which is why I usually can’t say the perspective I am taking until shortly before I start to write. I believe that quotes and other evidence needs to be taken in context, not jammed anywhichway into my existing beliefs as if I were some remote descendant of Procrustes. You don’t arrive at the truth by over-simplification or jumping to conclusions; you get there by acknowledging as much of the complexity as you possibly can.

But perhaps the biggest difference between my enemies and me is that I don’t think that my writing is all about me. When I sit down to write, my goal is cover the topic thoroughly, and support any opinions I state so that they are plausible to a fair-minded person. However, I rarely write to justify myself when I’m reporting on free software, nor do I expect everyone to agree with me. In fact, those who disagree with me often force me into a more nuanced and therefore more accurate view of the subject. In the end, my goal is to send off a finished article with what Balzac called “clean hands and composure” — by which I mean the knowledge that, given my material and time restraints, I have done the best job of expressing my point that I could.

Sometimes, I wish my enemies would find another target and leave me alone. Increasingly, though, I find myself accepting the fact that they are not going away in a hurry, even thinking that they are useful to me. For all the annoyance they provoke, they are examples of the sort of person and writer that I do not wish to be. So long as I act in the exact opposite way that they do, I can continue to be a person with whom I can live.

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(This is an article that originally appeared on the IT Manager’s site. Since the site has shut down, I’m reprinting the article here to give it a more permanent home)

Books about management techniques rarely mention how to lead computer programmers. The few that do sooner or later reach for a cliché and compare the effort to herding cats – J. Hank Rainwater, for instance, uses the phrase as his title. Partly, the comparison reflects how much the topic is outside the corporate mainstream. However, the comparison also reflects the conflicting nature of the job. The typical IT department represents a separate culture within a company, and a successful manager must both understand that culture and stand between it and the rest of the company, trying to explain each to the other.

I’ve seen dozens of managers — including me — approach this conflict, each with varying degrees of success. My observations here summarize what I believe are the basic facts that managers needs to know to manage programmers. They apply to any programmers, but especially those involved in free and open source software (FOSS), many of whom develop typical programmer attitudes to an extreme. Although some of the points seem obvious to those familiar with programmers, let me assure you: To outsiders, if their mistakes are any indication, the points still need to be emphasized.

You’re in a meritocracy. Prove yourself.

Management gurus usually focus on the characteristics of natural leaders and how you can imitate them. They give ambitious managers heroic images of themselves as samurai warriors, Antarctic explorers, or Henry V. However, neither the discussion nor the image is much use when you manage geeks, because developers, regardless of whether they are involved with FOSS or not, are more concerned with results than any real or artificially generated charisma. Before you can even start to lead a group of geeks effectively, you have to prove yourself to them — either by showing your competence in their area of expertise or by demonstrating that you have useful expertise that they lack. To become truly effective, you need to go further and prove that your expertise helps the group and everyone in it towards their goals, and that you have at least a high-level understanding of what everyone else is doing.

Until you prove yourself, you can expect to be tested, even if you’re a former programmer yourself. The probing can be aggravating, but the good news is that, if you prove yourself, you can quickly become accepted. At one company where I worked, the CTO had an impressive programming background, but it was some years in his past. The developers questioned his decisions constantly, right up to the time that he started delivering tough but accurate critiques of their code. The questioning stopped overnight.

Just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean you’re better

Watch how people spend their free time with family and friends, and you’ll soon notice a preference for informal structures. Given anything resembling a choice, people choose not to be in formal hierarchies, especially if they’re near the bottom of it. A hierarchy may be efficient, but, by being its local representative, you automatically become the focus of resentment.

This natural anarchism is stronger in developers than in most people. If you think for a moment, a meritocracy implies a constant shifting of status that depends on who has done what recently. Add this political instability to a widespread feeling of being different and misunderstood, and the resentment of leaders becomes stronger still. Moreover, in FOSS, where status is still one of the main coins with which programmers are paid for their efforts, these attitudes may be taken to a further extreme.

Neither being in a position of authority nor being older — as managers often are — is going to command automatic respect in the IT department. You might assume that your position reflects some superior qualities such as intelligence or ambition, but the development team probably doesn’t. Management consultant Tim Bryce insists that most programmers are no smarter than anyone else in a company, but that’s not what they believe.

Rather than relying on any natural or structural authority, IT managers need to see themselves as coordinators or problem solvers, working within the culture of their department whenever possible rather than against it. Nobody has ever shown the causality, but there’s probably a connection between the fact the era in which the corporate hierarchy has flattened corresponds to the rise of the IT industry. Because of the economic important of the computer industry, its values are spreading through the rest of the business world.

What motivates you doesn’t motivate your staff

A few management books, such as Beverly L. Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans’ Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em
emphasize that one management style doesn’t fit everybody. However, many gurus and the managers who listen to them continue to assume that what motivates them — promotion, money, perks — also motivates programmers. For those unfamiliar with programmers’ culture, the process of realizing they are wrong can be disconcerting.

“Leading programmers is different from leading most employees,” career expert Tag Goulet says. “At one of my previous jobs at a startup, I was the vice-president of production, and led a team of three programmers. One of the guys posted Dilbert cartoons by his desk that poked fun at Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss and were quite possibly references to me. I’d never seen cartoons like that in more corporate workplaces. Instead, everyone was always careful to have political decor that implied that they were all team players.” In fact, such cartoons, like the popular Demotivator posters that satirize inspirational corporate art, are often the first indicators that many programmers are skeptical, even dismissive of the values that many managers take for granted.

The trouble is, managers usually have backgrounds in business or marketing, and are outgoing people who prefer to work with others. By contrast, most programmers are the academics of the business world, inwardly focused and preferring to work with inanimate objects. If they’re FOSS-oriented, they may also have a strong streak of anti-corporate sentiment. While they won’t turn down money, for them job satisfaction is more likely to lie in greater challenges or responsibilities, and, especially for those involved in FOSS, credit for their efforts.

Impromptu bowling in the hall may motivate your sales force and marketers, but, chances are that programmers will only feel like they’re being spirited away into a nightmare of frivolity. A weekly pizza night or an evening at a night club to celebrate the successful completion of a project might be satisfying to a human resources team, but your programmers will either resist being dragged away from their projects or, if they’ve just come off a coding spree, resent losing time they could spend with their families. Instead of being events to anticipate, such efforts are more apt to be seen as annoying obligations.

Instead of trying to make such by-the-book motivators work for programmers, think about you can implement the intrinsic awards that actually mean something to them. Reward those who meet their deadlines with greater autonomy in a project, or by giving them the chance to become project leaders or to telecommute so long as they meet their responsibilities. Let FOSS participants have time to work on free projects once they’ve met their deadlines; even if the projects have no immediate use to the company, they may become useful later, and, meanwhile, your sponsorship gives the company a good reputation among potential future employees.

Credit is the most important motivators, especially for FOSS participants, but don’t forget the cultural differences. Most developers are only going to be embarrassed by being singled out for praise or an employee-of-the-month award at a meeting. Instead, let people know that you’ve noticed their efforts and given them credit elsewhere in the company.

Learn when to keep hands-off

Shortly after I became a product manager, I discovered a major bug in a commercial product that was just at the plant and ready to be assembled. Put in charge of disaster recovery, I asked the team to assemble every hour so I could report to the company officers on the state of their efforts. After the disaster had passed, I found that I had left resentment in my wake. Not only did the programmers dislike meetings, but, by keeping such a close eye on events, I was questioning their competence and taking responsibility away from them. The emergency was real, but I was hampering their efforts to resolve it, not helping.

This kind of situation can’t always be avoided, but experienced managers will give all members of a programming teams as much autonomy as they have proven themselves capable of using responsibly. Partly, that means mediating between programmers and the demands of executives, but it also means only making an appearance among the cubicles when absolutely necessary. Instead of calling everyone together, I would have done better to send email requests or appoint a programmer to provide status checks. Better yet, I could have asked the team for a firm deadline and not interrupted anyone until that deadline while explaining to the company officers that the solution was being worked on — which was all they wanted to know anyway.

Minimize meetings

For managers, meetings are times when work gets done. For programmers, however, attending a meeting usually means time away from their work. Sometimes, especially at the start of a project or at a crisis, a meeting is unavoidable, but managers need to accept that programmers are likely to resent meetings and become more impatient with every minute that passes in the board room. The fewer and shorter the meetings, the more easily the developers will accept them.

Beware of fads in programming languages

Every couple of years, programmers become excited by a new programming language such as Java, .NET and Mono, or Ruby. Inevitably, whenever a project begins, some of your team will argue strenuously that it needs to be done in the latest fashionable language. Sometimes, this argument may be justified, but it is more likely to represent intellectual curiosity than sound design practice.

Almost always, the argument is a recipe for chaos. At one company where I worked, so many different languages were represented in its product suite that individual modules only communicated with difficulty. Several attempts to rewrite the suite in a single language only added to the complexity because they were never completed, and legacy support remained an issue. This trap is easier to avoid if you have a programming background yourself, but any manager should be wary of adding another language to the stack.

Learn when corporate values have to take precedence over geek values

Not being interested in business, many developers tend to ignore necessities like deadlines. Many become skilled at dodging them. The problem isn’t that most developers can’t be trusted to work responsibly by themselves, so much as the fact that they can be almost guaranteed to tinker as much as the schedule allows. In such cases, for all that successful management of geeks means understanding their culture, it also means recognizing when moving to achieve corporate goals are more important. At times, understanding needs to take second place to necessity, even at the cost of resentment. Skilled managers minimize conflicts with their staff, but they also recognize that some conflicts are unavoidable.

Conclusion

Managing programmers — especially FOSS ones — is an extreme version of the balancing act that any manager must do. On the one hand, managers need to understand the culture of their departments and how to work within them. On the other hand, they also need to act as intermediaries between that culture and the rest of the company. Combining these goals means adjusting your concept of management to the department. Sometimes, it means interpreting programmers to non-programmers,or shielding programmers from the misunderstanding of executives in order to achieve corporate goals. At other times, it means awakening programmers to the larger goals of the company. It’s a precarious balance, but knowing what to expect as you go into the position can leave you with more time to handle the challenges that arise without being distracted by cleaning up your mistakes or a lack of cooperation from your team.

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In the last few days, I’ve had several experiences that make me think about my role as a journalist in the free and open source software community:

The first was a reaction I had from someone I requested some answers from. Although I thought I was being polite, what I got back was an attack: “I am not prepared to answer any of these questions at this time. The intent of your article is to feed the flames and I will have no part in that. The fact that people like you like to stir up controversy is to be expected, since that is the job of any writer trying to get readers.”

This reply not only seemed presumptuously prescient, since I hadn’t written the article, or even decided what angle it would take, but also unjustifiably venomous, given that I didn’t know the person. Moreover, although I am in some ways a contrarian, in that I believe that questioning the accepted wisdom is always a useful exercise, when I write, I am far more interested in learning enough to come to a supported conclusion or to cover an interesting subject than I am in stirring up controversy for its own sake. The fact that an editor believes that a topic will get a lot of page hits is meaningful to me mainly because the belief sets me loose to write a story that interests me.

Still, I don’t blame my correspondent. He probably had his reasons for his outburst, even though they didn’t have much to do with me. But the fact that someone could react that way says some unpleasant things about some current practioners of free software journalism — things that alarm me.

Another was the discovery of the Linux Hater’s Blog (no, I won’t link to it and give it easy page hits; if you want to find it, do the work yourself). I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more mean-spirited and needlessly vicious blog, and I hope I never do. However, recently as I’ve been preparing stories, I’ve come across some commenters on individual mailing lists who were equally abusive. They are all examples, not only of what I never want my work to be, but the sort of writing that makes me scrutinize my own work to ensure that it doesn’t resemble them in anyway whatsoever.

Journalism that stirs up hate or encourages paranoia — or even journalism whose focus is sensationalism — is journalism played with the net down, and I’m not interested in it. Oh, I might make the occasional crack, being only human, or use the time-honoured tactic of saying something outrageous then qualifying it into a more reasonable statement. But, mostly, I prefer to work for my page hits.

Such sites also suggest that the line between blogging and journalism is sometimes being blurred in ways that aren’t very complimentary to bloggers. While some bloggers can deliver professional commentary, and do it faster than traditional media, others seem to be bringing a new level of nihilism to journalism.

A third is the unexpected death of Joe Barr, my colleague at Linux.com. Joe, better known as warthawg or MtJB (“Mister the Joe Bar,” a story he liked to tell against himself) encouraged me with his kindness when I was first becoming a full-time journalist. Later, when I started writing commentaries, his editorials were an indicator for me of what could be done in that genre. As I adjust to the idea that Joe isn’t around any more, I’m also thinking about how I’ve developed over the last few years.

The final link was a long interview – almost twice my normal time – with Aaron Seigo, one of the best-known figures in the KDE desktop project. One of the many twists and turns in our conversation was the role of journalism in free and open source software (FOSS). As Seigo sees things, FOSS journalists are advocate journalists, acting as intermediaries between FOSS projects and the larger community of users. He wasn’t suggesting that FOSS journalists are fan-boys, loyally supporting the Cause and suppressing doubts; nothing in his comments suggested that. But he was pointing out that FOSS journalists are an essential part of the community. In fact, much of what he said echoed my own half-formed sentiments.

Seigo also discussed how a small number of people making a lot of noise can easily deceive journalists who are trying to be fair and balanced by making the journalists think that the noisily-expressed beliefs are held by more people than they actually are. As he points out, the American Right has been very successful in this tactic, especially through talk-radio. He worried that part of the recent user revolt against KDE 4 might be due to something similar.

Listening to him, I tried to decide if I had fallen for this ploy in the past. I decided that I might have been, although usually I try not just to be thorough, but also analytical enough to sift down to the truth.

I was going to try to summarize what I had learned from these four separate experiences, but my efforts to do so only sounded sententious – to say nothing of self-important and over-simplified. But I’m thought of all four as I’ve exercised recently, and I’ll be thinking of them for some time to come, too.

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A correspondent tells me that Boycott Novell’s Free Software Credibility List gave me a rating of three on a six point scale (I could link, but I don’t want to give the site any more hits than I have to). Until hearing this news, I didn’t know about the list, because, so far as free software is concerned, I only read news sites and blogs with either technical knowledge or expert commentary. Usually, too, I make a habit of not commenting negatively in public on anyone with a claim – no matter how remote – to being a journalist. At the very least, I generally don’t mention them by name. However, since my informant seemed to think I should be upset, I’m making an exception here.

To be honest, I am more amused than angry about a list whose silliness is exceeded only by the self-importance of its owners. I mean,  how does any journalist, no matter how skilled a word-slinger, get the same rating as Stallman, the founder of the free software do? Yet several do. And why are authorities like Eben Moglen off the list?

I also notice that, at least in some cases, the list seems a direct reflection of how closely a journalist’s opinion corresponds with Boycott Novell’s, rather than any criteria that might be mistaken for objectivity. Robin Miller, the senior editor at Linux.com, is apparently denigrated because he took a group tour of the Microsoft campus a couple of years ago (I’m sure the fact that he presided over a podcast in which a Boycott Novell writer performed poorly has nothing to do with his ranking). Other writers seem to rate a 4 or 5 largely because they stick to technical matters and, rarely talking about philosophy or politics, say nothing for Boycott Novell to dissect for suspect opinions.

Strangely, the Boycott Novell cadre didn’t rate their own reliability, although whether that is because they are assumed to be the only ones who rate a perfect six or because the ranking doesn’t include negative numbers, I leave as an exercise to the readers.

From the link attached to my name, my own ranking seems based on the fact that I accepted that a comment signed with a Boycott Novell writer’s name really was by him; when he said it wasn’t, I accepted the claim and he suggested that I was owed “some apologies.” Yet, apparently I’m permanently branded as being only marginally trustworthy because of this minor incident. I suspect, though, that the writer’s belief that I lumped the Boycott Novell writers into the category of conspiracy theorists has more to do with my ranking than anything else.

But these foibles don’t disturb me unduly. Far from being upset, I’m glad of the list, because it gives me a goal. If I write consistently hard-hitting articles in which I dig carefully for facts, build a flawless chain of reasoning, and tell the truth no matter how uncomfortable the consequences, then maybe – just maybe – in a few years Boycott Novell will reward me with the ultimate accolade of a zero ranking some day. Then I’ll know when I have truly arrived.

And that is all that I intend to say on this subject. Ever.

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Once you’ve been an instructor, the habit of teaching is hard to break. That fact, as much as anything, explains why I am not only attending the Open Web Vancouver conference this year, but giving a talk entitled, “Working with the free software media.” Moreover, since Peter Gordon and Audrey Foo, the main organizers of the conference, are kind enough to let me in on a media pass to wander the conference and buttonhole presenters, I feel that’s the least I can do. And considering that I can’t code well enough to say anything worthwhile about programming, and the social aspects of the open web are already being presented by others, I may as well talk about what I know best.

The Open Web Vancouver conference is being held April 14-15 at the Vancouver Conference Center. It’s a rebranding of last year’s highly successful Vancouver PHP conference. Like its predecessor, this year’s conference is mostly a volunteer effort, and takes advantage of both local and international experts to present a well-rounded program to a small audience.

I chose my topic because I’ve been writing about aspects of this topic in my blog for about a year now, and those entries have been well-received – probably because there’s a real need. A few free and open source software (FOSS) organizations, such as the Linux Foundation and the Software Freedom Law Center, have people and policies in place for dealing with the media, but most do not.

The truth is, typical FOSS developers tend to be suspicious of the media – unsurprisingly, since marketing communications experts tend not only to have an entirely different mindset and to be absolutely clueless about technology. Yet many projects could benefit from more publicity in order to attract new developers or funding, and much of the community would like to know about them.

I’m still developing what I will say, and I have to admit that my teaching skills are rusty. However, my instinct is to forego the usual slide show, and make the talk as interactive with the audience as possible. Topics I’m considering include an explanation of where the free software media stands between traditional media and free software, why cultivating a relationship is worth everybody’s trouble, and how to pitch news and have more of a chance of receiving coverage.

It occurs to me that, with this talk, I’ve come full circle. When I was a technical writer a decade ago, I used to say that my job consisted of explaining the geeks to the suits. Now, I could be said to explaining the suits (or, perhaps more accurately, the shorts and sandals) to the geeks.

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