Sincerity of the Pin

This last two weeks I’ve been wearing a safety pin. It’s a small symbol of my personal commitment to support and interfere with public displays of hatred and intolerance.

In the last week there’s been backlash. Some calling it white guilt, others calling it a twitter action and many being critical of the sincerity of people who want to show that they will do something.

The first criticism that this symbol is a matter of white guilt is completely daft. Firstly because it’s a symbol I’ve seen non-white people wearing and also because I’m not guilty that I’ve had privilege thrust at me, I’m angry about it. I know what it’s like to be on the opposite end of that particular stick and moving between my home town in the English north to the USA has turned the way people see me around. From being an uneducated criminal class waste of space to being a quaint English, articulate, sensible Beatles accented gentleman in the space of a six hour flight.

If anything, I would stand up for the working class of any colour or creed. It’s a built in part of me and it will probably get me into trouble. There might be people out there who will wear it as fashion, or guilt, but I see no value in doubting the sincerity of people. And that’s realyl what the backlash is, a disrespectful doubt that the motives or the carry through will not live up to the symbol.

That leads me to that second point. That this is a Twitter action. That is, a re-share of an idea with no substantive action backing it up.


This is something which will remind me to do something, if that means putting myself in danger, calling the police or just comforting the victim. I have made a vow to myself to be that voice if called upon. I know I live in a liberal city where I will not be called upon often, and that habitation does make it less useful. But there is racism here, there is misogyny here. It’s always been in Boston and I’ll always disprove of it.

But now, if it manifests in public, I’ll have to do something about it.

2016 Sucked

This year was the focal of manure. We have no idea what the future will hold, but the probability for happiness and a quiet life is diminished.

Good luck everyone.

To Parent or not to Parent

I was reading “Leave them kids alone” in my New Scientist last week and thought back to discussions I’ve had with my dear sister about how unhappy or happy our upbringing was and what it might have done to our resulting adulthood.

This is a difficult topic because our childhood contained many horrors, much that was difficult and down right damaging. But speculating on which parts of it have made us weaker and which parts have made us stronger, is just as subjective to us as it would be from anyone from the outside.

Poverty is like that. Not all bad, but not at all good.

But getting back to the thrust of the book review above. The warning there is that modern parents are far too attentive to their children. They structure their lives too much and expect far too much from them.

As someone who came from a family that was too insecure to provide much structure at all, I have to reflect on this. Was my ability to hang out with friends until 2am from the ages of 13, good or bad? Was I ever given too much latitude? Probably.

But then I think to the if the goal is to make your child’s environment supportive and loving no matter what they do, seems to have produced the most positive of my friends and the most well behaved children I know.

I think kids are all different. They’re born different and they grow differently as they come of age and learn. I think natural development of brains mostly shakes out the stupid from most people I know. It might be that we’ve all had experiences that changed us, or I think, it might just be something human brains do.

So in a way, I don’t think we should be too anxious about our children. They’re going to be ok so long as they don’t get injured, or have severely negative mental issues. Letting them play will make them wider and more social individuals, and providing them ways to study will make them deeper and more capable. But only so much as the balance between nature and nurture will allow itself to be bent and even then I think most of the middle class in both the UK and USA have left that balance far behind.

My plan with violet, for as much as I have one at all, is to provide her with as much opportunity as possible without being disappointed if she doesn’t take to any of them. I can only keep her safe in a loving home and that must be my primary goal beyond thinking too hard about her personal development.

What are your thoughts? and do you think the article above should have mentioned Gen-X vs. Gen-Y like it does?

Talking to Friends about things

I have a family who aren’t religious. Some of them might go to church, and if they do, they’ve never mentioned it. Others are spiritual, in that they search for ways to understand the world and try to come to grips with everything through a non-academic social philosophy. This is important for most people, but I think especially important to the poor and working class who quite often see their lives twisted capriciously by unknown forces.

On the other hand, I’m a skeptic. A rationalist who has done a bit of philosophical reading (enough to be embarrassing at least). When I was younger I was much more hard line about my rationalism, anti-god, anti-fairy, anti-mystical thinking. I was righteous as only a neerdy teenager with a degree in wikipedia can be. And it did put a strain on my relationships with family. Although to be honest, most of my family at pretty kind to all sorts of odd thinking and my rationalism didn’t seem mad or anything, just one of many colours available in the pallet of local family philosophies.

As I’ve aged and consumed more understanding about skeptical thinking and pro-social philosophy; the two have often been at an interesting contention. How to be rational enough not to get taken in by gimmicks and snake oil, but social enough not to sneer and demean friends and family who have taken to believe in those things.

Over the years I’ve learned that there is an important factor about humans that is important to understand… we take shortcuts. A lot of them. When I say I believe in science, science based policy or health care, or that I trust the data, this is a shortcut. I haven’t gone into all the data, I haven’t read the papers and done due diligence. I’ve trusted that the network of trust I have between the people involved and the ideas we share is enough that my modest reading with my small contributions in critique is enough to be far more confident than my personal data has any right to make me.

A peer group with a shared set of ideas that embellish trust. That sounds like a tribe, a community of people who have created a in-group. And being part of that in-group makes me feel things, positive things when we socialise and anger when I feel it’s threatened.

But peer in-groups are exactly what my ginseng drinking family and friends have too. Just like me, they take short cuts too. There’s a trust there between the people involved and the understand about how the world works. I might claim that it’s moving away from what is true to what is not true, but that won’t change the social dynamics. And just like me, they will feel good when their ideas are verified and angry when those ideas (or people) are threatened.

So how is it even possible to challenge notion when almost anything you say will result in either anger, frustration or a heavy rolling of eyes? I think it is possible, but only if one focuses on two specific points.

Firstly, the social aspect is important. The closer you are to someone, both physically and kinly, the better the chance is that your reasoning will be seen as helpful and not destructive. Having constructive conversations that aren’t about ourselves being verified as right, but about breaking the ideas down as a social activity between friends and then seeing what results are built back up, can I think go a long way to preserving friendships despite radically different views.

The second is to be stateless. By which I mean, you can’t go riding into battle all kitted out in skeptical pennant banners flying. Your ideas are yours and you shouldn’t stand behind a peer group while trying to discuss a contrary idea. That just turns it into a fight between your self-assigned clans. Which you can’t win, because your tribal leaders aren’t here to make peace or barter terms and you aint no hero ready to let your friendship fall on the sword of truth.

Besides, no one ever changed their mind because someone shouted the truth at them.

What do you think? How do you talk to people with drastically different perspectives?

What is my Work Ethic?

In response to this post about getting a job after graduating.

I think the core of finding a job and being motivated to do it is: How are you going to serve the people around you? At the end of the day society isn’t about what you can get out of it, but what possible super-power do you have which could effect the people around you in a positive way. Is that art? Is that cleaning? Thinking? Programming? I find that in the modern society too much emphasis is put on person gain, noble voluntarism or doing what’s enjoyable. The problem with these perspectives is that the focus is never on the individuals being served by the work and this blog post is a defence of direct service to others needs and having that be a mark of a successful career.

Doing a Thing

Sometimes something just needs doing. I think if you are in a strong community, you can sense when there’s pent up demand. I ran a campaign to raise funds to get aluminium computer case badges printed and this was before Kickstarter existed. I handled $4k and 20k case badges and they were sent around the world and I had an enormously positive experience serving the people who really wanted Ubuntu case badges. I was transparent about the money. I put the leg work into my relationship with the manufacturer and published news as soon as I had it. I published the designs so everyone knew what they were getting and in the end I had a thousand positive recipients and one negative one because they had been mangled in the post (sorry!) and I used my basic talents using a graphics package to put together something acceptable for users. Anyone could have done this, but to act is to be bold sometimes.

The side effects were more interesting. I asked people for ‘at cost’ payments which despite being based on estimates and the shipping costs wasn’t certain. People were generous and they almost always sent more than asked or needed, often with a note saying “keep the rest”. I didn’t feel bad about this, I think because I was honest with the costs and they were being served genuinely. The other effect was that we introduced the manufacturer to the idea of “open source” by licensing the designs under CC-BY-SA. I encouraged other groups or companies to use the designs to make their own. There are now many, many different aluminium case badges for different Linux distribution and I see them at conferences all the time. I feel good about this. Because imagine all the Fedora, Debian and Mint users who get something cool and the organisers who got a pattern to follow and a manufacturer to talk to. In a way I didn’t just serve people directly with the pre-sales, but also incidentally people through positive open source licensing and I can feel good about both.

Validity of Competence

But then, don’t I just feel good about it because I got praise for it? Well that’s true, I feel good when I get praise. But I think praise is more than just the warm fuzzies. It’s an important reminder to us that our work matters, that we’re still good at it and of the kinds of people who we have served.

One Harvard school gives awards to people who do good work in the anti-alarm professions. You know, those jobs where if the work is done well then no one even notices. But if something goes wrong the alarm bells ring loud. The facilities team, the system admins, the people who order those weird coffee machine cartridges. And that’s a really good thing to do, because it reminds those workers that their job is important and effects probably everyone else in some small way as well as for everyone to thank them once in a while. That feedback from server to served and served to server is the validity of competent altruism. I say it’s altruistic because only thinking about one’s self will not make you great at serving others.

There is a cross-walk near where I live where the snow had been repeatedly ploughed into the pavement one and a half meters high and had frozen solid with thaw. People walking to the train station would have to climb this mountain of snow to cross a very busy road. What if they had kids, or groceries or a bad leg? The night I thought about those people I got the ice breaking tools and shovel and cleared the whole corner. The next day as people shuffled to work, they probably didn’t notice their commute was a little better than before and had no way of knowing if it was the city or not. But I certainly reminded myself of all these slightly less miserable faces as I pounded away at the ice with the sweat pouring off me and the echoes of each thwack, crunch late at night for two hours.


I hear about “work ethic” a lot, and it’s usually about “working hard to get on in life”. But anyone successful knows that there’s more to a good work ethic and I believe the largest missing piece is that is “one must work hard for other people, for them and not what one may want to do for them“.

There are communities in the Free and Open Source world who have chosen to work hard at imposing what’s good on their users. That’s a risky service ethic, a sort of pre-emptive competent guess. If your community has set up no way for your guess to fail or you mishandle the push back from your users then you can’t claim to have a good service ethic or to have actually served well. So how can these workers and their work be tied to the people they serve so that it heads in the right direction for the served rather than for the server?

I know that people will pay for good service. there’s no reason to slave away as a volunteer if your work is genuinely in service to others. Caveat, except for people who have nothing, but then grants, government programs, charities can help fill that hole. For my fellow Free Software developers, they do good work and yet many are failing to make the link between the work they do and the people they serve. Thus making it harder for them than it needs to be to earn a living from writing Free Software.

Being Good at what you Like

One part I’ve not talked about is getting a job that you like doing. This is a tricky one because being good at something makes you more likely to enjoy doing it. And Enjoying doing something makes you more likely to do it and thus overcome failures faster and become good at it. I say do what you are good at and like doing that gives the most benefit to others. It’s not as pithy a personal moto though.

A friend of mine who works in mental health once turned a job down for more money. Not just because it would mean serving people who really didn’t need the help, but mainly because being good at helping a certain kind of person with certain kinds of harsh needs is important work. Being good at this job wouldn’t mean there would be lots of recognition from patience, but it would mean truly serving and making a difference to those individuals. And it’s better to have the job one is good at making a difference than the job that could make a difference if only you were good at it or the job that makes no damn difference at all.

And serving individuals I think offers the best perspective on one’s own work. It motivates better than saving the world and feels more accomplished than earning stacks of cash. When one can see the good work well done and be validated for it there is no reason not to go to work every day and earn a living doing it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from me after a year of no blog post. Please leave your comments below as I love hearing from people.

Ubuntu Membership

Launchpad asked me if I wanted to continue to be an Ubuntu member. I thought about it, and have decided that I don’t. The one thing I’ll miss is being able to post to Planet Ubuntu. But I have to be honest, there isn’t an Ubuntu community any more. There’s a Canonical community, an ubuntu-users gaggle and maybe an enthusiasts posse. But no community that makes decisions, builds a consensus, advocates or educates. It’s dead now, it’s been that way for a while.

Hopefully this post will make it to the planet before my membership expiry stops it. I’ll still be working and using Ubuntu, launchpad, bzr, maybe even ubuntu phone and tv. I won’t stop championing Free Software, economic involvement and good design either. Important principles for me. In fact nothing about what I do, projects I work on will change. This is just a realisation moment that Ubuntu doesn’t have a peer community to be a member of.


You were warned plenty. It’s not your fault. You had to deliver decisions against the best interests of the Ubuntu peer community and in favour of the Canonical community. Driving so hard towards product nirvana that peer relationships were driven into the ground. I’m sure you disagree that the community is dead, but eventually those scales will fall or the fake smile will stop. I don’t know what kind of Community you want, but it sure isn’t the peer community I signed up for.


Unless you can see a way forwards to rebuild this broken dream, disband. Focus your great skills on Debian. I’m sorry we couldn’t make it work, we were overpowered.


Keep up the great technical work. If your working on Ubuntu, don’t let the death of the community disrupt you. Let it pass like the breaking of an ulcer and carry on with your important and excellent work. The lack of a community outside of your company is not an impediment or even a problem to making great software. Keep calm and code on.

I’ll be making apps and code, most likely targeting Ubuntu. App developers need not change their behaviour, being an app developer doesn’t make you part of the old peer community. Just devs making good apps that should target all distros. Release your code, don’t get locked in, earn your bread, keep up the good work.

Everyone else: Good Luck, Code Speed.


Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father’s day to all you hackers with children. Keeping the two projects going is quite a challenge and I salute you all!

Here I am on my new door step (bought a house), relaxing with my lovely little Violet in the sun today.

More Issues Than You Can Shake a Kernel at

Today I made a video about my System76 laptop (COMPAL CL90) and it’s disastrous functioning with modern Linux kernels and the urgent need to get this bug fixed by the right expert. To help people understand the issues, I’ve created a video. It’s rather cute, check it out.

View Video Online, MPEG4 Video

  • Hardly working Power On
  • No Suspend
  • No Hibernate
  • Error causing virtual terminal
  • Hibernating battery detection

Do you have any ideas?