Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Classic essay and case example of open-source software development, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, by Eric S Raymond.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The evil slavery of science: http://www.miller-mccune.com/science/the-real-science-gap-16191/

HT: takchek, via ChemistryBlog (you have got to see the scanned letter on this link).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Word of the day: exiguous.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

First paragraph of Why hackers do what they do: understanding motivation and effort in Free/Open Source software projects, by Karim R Lakhani and Robert G Wolf:

"What drives Free/Open Source software (F/OSS) developers to contribute their time and effort to the creation of free software products?" is an often posed question by software industry executives, managers, and academics when they are trying to understand the relative success of the Free/Open Source software (F/OSS) movement. Many are puzzled by what appears to be irrational and altruistic behavior by movement participants: giving code away, revealing proprietary information, and helping strangers solve their technical problems. Understanding the motivations of F/OSS developers is an important first step in determining what is the behind the success of the F/OSS development model in particular and other forms of distributed technological innovation and development in general.
[italics mine]

*hacker =not in the pejorative sense. See http://catb.org/~esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html .

Monday, June 21, 2010

Managing volunteers! Karl Fogel again.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Again from Karl Fogel's Producing open source software: how to run a successful free software project, a chapter on how money does and doesn't talk in a free-thinking environment, particularly about displaying one's motives and motivations. An excerpt follows.

The key, of course, is presenting it right. It will never do to insist that simply because you deal with a large number of users, and because they need (or think they need) a given feature, therefore your solution ought to be implemented. Instead, you should focus your initial posts on the problem, rather than on one particular solution. Describe in great detail the experiences your customers are encountering, offer as much analysis as you have available, and as many reasonable solutions as you can think of. When people start speculating about the effectiveness of various solutions, you can continue to draw on your data to support or refute what they say. You may have one particular solution in mind all along, but don't single it out for special consideration at first. This is not deception, it is simply standard "honest broker" behavior. After all, your true goal is to solve the problem; a solution is merely a means to that end. If the solution you prefer really is superior, other developers will recognize that on their own eventually—and then they will get behind it of their own free will, which is much better than you browbeating them into implementing it. (There is also the possibility that they will think of a better solution.)

This is not to say that you can't ever come out in favor of a specific solution. But you must have the patience to see the analysis you've already done internally repeated on the public development lists. Don't post saying "Yes, we've been over all that here, but it doesn't work for reasons A, B, and C. When you get right down to it, the only way to solve this is..." The problem is not so much that it sounds arrogant as that it gives the impression that you have already devoted some unknown (but, people will presume, large) amount of analytical resources to the problem, behind closed doors. It makes it seem as though efforts have been going on, and perhaps decisions made, that the public is not privy to, and that is a recipe for resentment.

Naturally, you know how much effort you've devoted to the problem internally, and that knowledge is, in a way, a disadvantage. It puts your developers in a slightly different mental space than everyone else on the mailing lists, reducing their ability to see things from the point of view of those who haven't yet thought about the problem as much. The earlier you can get everyone else thinking about things in the same terms as you do, the smaller this distancing effect will be. This logic applies not only to individual technical situations, but to the broader mandate of making your goals as clear as you can. The unknown is always more destabilizing than the known. If people understand why you want what you want, they'll feel comfortable talking to you even when they disagree. If they can't figure out what makes you tick, they'll assume the worst, at least some of the time.

You won't be able to publicize everything, of course, and people won't expect you to. All organizations have secrets; perhaps for-profits have more of them, but nonprofits have them too. If you must advocate a certain course, but can't reveal anything about why, then simply offer the best arguments you can under that handicap, and accept the fact that you may not have as much influence as you want in the discussion. This is one of the compromises you make in order to have a development community not on your payroll.

Footnote about "honest broker":
honest broker: posting periodic summaries of the various arguments and keeping track of where the core points of disagreement (and agreement) lie. These summaries help everyone measure how much progress has been made, and remind everyone of what issues remain to be addressed. Those same summaries can serve as prototypes for a ballot sheet, should a vote become necessary. If the honest brokers have been doing their job well, they will be able to credibly call for a vote when the time comes, and the group will be willing to use a ballot sheet based on their summary of the issues. The brokers themselves may be participants in the debate; it is not necessary for them to remain above the fray, as long as they can understand and fairly represent others' views, and not let their partisan sentiments prevent them from summarizing the state of the debate in a neutral fashion.

From Producing open source software: how to run a successful free software project, by Karl Fogel, some thoughts on the legitimacy of contributors to the project, generally applicable to all public fora and free societies:
When To Vote

The hardest thing about voting is determining when to do it. In general, taking a vote should be very rare—a last resort for when all other options have failed. Don't think of voting as a great way to resolve debates. It isn't. It ends discussion, and thereby ends creative thinking about the problem. As long as discussion continues, there is the possibility that someone will come up with a new solution everyone likes. This happens surprisingly often: a lively debate can produce a new way of thinking about the problem, and lead to a proposal that eventually satisfies everyone. Even when no new proposal arises, it's still usually better to broker a compromise than to hold a vote. After a compromise, everyone is a little bit unhappy, whereas after a vote, some people are unhappy while others are happy. From a political standpoint, the former situation is preferable: at least each person can feel he extracted a price for his unhappiness. He may be dissatisfied, but so is everyone else.

Voting's main advantage is that it finally settles a question so everyone can move on. But it settles it by a head count, instead of by rational dialogue leading everyone to the same conclusion. The more experienced people are with open source projects, the less eager I find them to be to settle questions by vote. Instead they will try to explore previously unconsidered solutions, or compromise more severely than they'd originally planned. Various techniques are available to prevent a premature vote. The most obvious is simply to say "I don't think we're ready for a vote yet," and explain why not. Another is to ask for an informal (non-binding) show of hands. If the response clearly tends toward one side or another, this will make some people suddenly more willing to compromise, obviating the need for a formal vote. But the most effective way is simply to offer a new solution, or a new viewpoint on an old suggestion, so that people re-engage with the issues instead of merely repeating the same arguments.

In certain rare cases, everyone may agree that all the compromise solutions are worse than any of the non-compromise ones. When that happens, voting is less objectionable, both because it is more likely to lead to a superior solution and because people will not be overly unhappy no matter how it turns out. Even then, the vote should not be rushed. The discussion leading up to a vote is what educates the electorate, so stopping that discussion early can lower the quality of the result.

Monday, June 07, 2010

From the author's dedication in a very interesting textbook:

To J----
For teaching me daily that:
What's useful is knowledge,
What's important is love.

And the detailed Acknowledgements say,

"J---- C---- has been editor, critic, colleague, and collaborator. Most of all, she has been a source of power through her caring, belief, and support. She has helped me keep my priorities straight in the struggle to balance family, writing, teaching, and consulting, and somehow integrating them all in a rich and loving life together with our children. My daily experience of her provides ongoing evidence that getting older does mean getting better."

May we all love our significant others like this. =)

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