Plans for Oneiric: Playing with Brains

While I was at LGM I got into an interesting discussion about communities and how much they are like biological organisms. When the organism is doing well and all the parts are working on their own little jobs, the rest of the organism doesn’t have to pay much attention. But if something goes wrong then all sorts of attention is paid to the damage/infection.

The conjecture I tested this morning was that “negative posts in a community will attract more comments and longer comments than positive posts” this in essence was a critical look at weather it’s hard work to praise but easy to complain on a unit level. So, apologies to all my test subjects below, I turned a fairly positive post into a fairly negative post to see what would happen.

Conclusion: There was a strong community reaction to the negativity, taking data from a number of older positive posts I’m able to confirm that communities do act like complex organisms focusing on damage.

My post is this: I had a good time at LGM and though I missed UDS in Budapest last week, I have some plans of my own for Oneiric:

  • I’m running a community Center for Boston Housing Authority (ubuntu 10.10)
  • I’ve got a community greeter login project to allow users to register at login.
  • A new deviantArt upload library using their new stash API (OAuth 2.0 draft 10).
  • Some new plugins using said library for inkscape, gimp and nautilus.
  • Edubuntu wallpaper refinement for the next release.
  • More free culture artwork and posters promoting use of creative tools.
  • Getting more involved with Inkscape bug fixing (already fixed one bug).
  • Worrying about the release of baby 1.0 in October, new father syndrome.

Apologies again for playing with your collective. Thanks for posting comments 🙂

Negative Community Reaction Development

I’ve been thinking about what it is that cultivates a negative reaction from people who use your software and who are invested in it’s success. This line of thinking has obviously been brought about by the new Ubuntu Unity interface and the strong reactions to both technical implementation and implementation method.

Firstly I want to separate out the general masses and the competition (no offence Jeff), there are plenty of people on the internet who just love to troll and there are plenty of people in other distro that talk nonsense based on tribal affiliation. Ignore them, I’m talking about negative reactions from people who make up the fixtures and fittings in the community, for Ubuntu, this would be Ubuntu Members (but not MOTU).

I’m sure we’ve all seen comments such as:

I really liked Maverick, but now with this new Unity thing that Mark has dictated will will all be using, I guess I’ll stick around for 11.04 but then move when 11.10 comes out and we have no choice but to use Unity.

The user in the quote is frustrated that development on Unity has seemingly come out of nowhere to crush all the familiarity they used to have and in order to continue to use the latest and greatest Firefox and OpenOffice they’ll be forced to put up with design decisions that will be against their own personal internal aesthetic. They’re not wrong in their concern, but of course this is a risky move that their distribution is attempting; a massive coarse correction which delves deep into the bowls of the ship we’re all sailing in and is tinkering with the engine and reshaping the hull to see if it’ll make the thing go faster.

Much like someone below deck messing about, we can’t see what the hell is going on, all we can see is the speed of the boat. So for a while the ship starts to slow down and we start to wonder if our friendly hacker is down there hitting the engine with a wrench and drilling holes in the hull. Of course the truth is that they’re risking everything on thought out designs will the same goals as most on deck, that part needs trust.

Alternatively we read official messages like:

Unity is a new interface to attract new users to Ubuntu and to attempt to jump the chasm, not everyone will be happy with the design direction; but we can’t hold back developing a user friendly desktop operating system waiting for a consensus that will never arrive.

And this too is true, but again is missing bits of the puzzle. Nothing about this kind of press release calms the fears of users, in fact it may only work with casual users and those that really trust where the ideas are coming from. It’s just as nutty to ask everyone in a committed community to trust you while you ignore the majority of what they say in order to get on with the herculean job before you as it is for users to suggest developers are deliberately planning to remove functionally just to hear the sweet screams of users.

The key is probably trust. The community members can trust the corporate development because we’re all in the same boat and they’re hardly likely to throw us overboard and corporates need to trust their community more, they’re not as design blind as we like to think, sometimes they’re just really bad at describing why they’re having trouble. This is especially true when a community member looks after lots of ubuntu user’s computers. We as developers just need to be better at reading/translating them.

I drew this graph to try and illustrate what it is about the development method that annoys people and provokes them into irrational opposition or productive support for any given project:

What are your thoughts?

What to do about Moral Uncertainty

We human beings can be wrong; in fact we’re more likely to be wrong than right because we do not have the ability to know everything. The problems we have with this limited knowledge is that it leads us to think we’re mostly right almost all of the time. (go watch the video linked, it’s really good)

And as Kathryn explains in the video above, even when we’re wrong, it feels just like we are right until we have the realisation of being wrong and then the shame and emotional trauma begins… So what to do with morality? That most important of personal philosophies that helps us decide how to treat our fellow human beings. The very ether that bases interaction and decider of trust and reciprocation?

I attempt to accept the fallibility of the data I have available. I do my best with what I know so far and attempt in every way to be defensive about causing harm. This defensive stance requires that I trust a set of moral beliefs which I may not be able to thoroughly prove before I act on them.

For example I support Free Software. For me it’s a moral choice, to deny users ownership is morally bankrupt in my current world view. Of course I could be wrong; it may be that denying users ownership doesn’t actually harm them in any significant way. At which point my assumptions about the moral vanguard of Free Software would in and of itself be wrong and wasteful.

I have some data to guide me in making my decision though, it’s not all guesswork. Personally experiences have shaped how I see code, my socialist roots teach me that the working-class should politically resist further rents and propriety, whether from housing, tools or software. My views on liberty push me towards any system that breaks down large centralised organisation and authoritisation and towards distributism.

With those feelings I can make my conclusions, but of course these are not the kind of experiences that most people have to guide them. So what do I conclude? If you’ve watched the video you should see that assuming other people who come to different conclusions are ignorant, stupid or malevolent isn’t quite the best way to approach interaction with other human beings.

So talking more about Free and Open Source with most people really allows me to challenge my own conclusions as much s I try and educate and help other people further their understanding.

Your thoughts?

No Business Like Bad FOSS Business

In response to Bruce Byfield’s article on how We shouldn’t feel bad when businesses have no morals. I feel compelled to point out the flaw in his logic and hopefully add some sense to why moral outrage is the correct response to unscrupulous behaviour by companies.

It’s not a surprise when companies are inconsiderate/naughty/evil, but that doesn’t make what they do any less wrong and it doesn’t make a negative reaction any less justified. The most important thing to remember as a consumer is that your aversion to certain behaviours of others directly affects your willingness to engage in business with someone. To put it another way: What we think about a business being bad, effects their profit. Just ask BP or Toyota.

The purpose of a corporation is to fulfil all of it’s responsibilities. It’s responsibilities to it’s capital investors is to maximise the return on their capital investment through profits, but it’s responsibility to their employees is to pay them the contracted amount. Two conflicting responsibilities… and yet somehow companies manage to balance them.

To list just a few possibly conflicting responsibilities that all companies have: Shareholders to extract profits, employees to pay, business to continue, customers to serve, environment to maintain, suppliers to pay and even maintain, society to improve and government to appease. Here’s Bruce Schwartz doing a much better talk on why scruples are a good idea.

When a company hurts the FOSS ecosystem (in this case Novel), it’s neglecting it’s responsibility to maintain it’s suppliers, it’s hurting it’s relationship and ability to serve it’s customers and it’s endangering the continuation of it’s business. We don’t even need to bring in it’s possible legal responsibility to know that what Novel did was damaging and wrong. Yes I used the word ‘wrong’, because sometimes there is a right way and there is a wrong way to “maximise profits”.

Having a social responsibility shouldn’t be impossible for companies and we shouldn’t put up with companies that have the audacity to claim it isn’t their responsibility. Too often they hide behind “My responsibility is to the share holders” which is about as nonsensical as looking after sun, but not the earth.

If your business has short sighted, profit motivated share holders, my advice is to get rid of them as soon as possible. As a business owner you don’t have to take up extra responsibilities of having investors…. No wonder Canonical and Facebook don’t want to float on the stock market, I know I wouldn’t want to have share holders in the current ethical climate.

Your thoughts?

Secular Distributism; Moral Absolutes

I’ve been keeping a curious tab on the Distributionist’s Review which is a news blog with the focused aim of distributing the ideas of the easry 20th Century catholic philosopher G. K. Chesterton called Distributionism.

I’ve talked before about how the system of thought surrounding the old distrobutism has remarkable similarities to Free and Open Source models and I’m not the only one to think so. But in this blog entry I’d like to outline where I fundamentally disagree with a lot of distrobutionists: Religion and absolute Morality.

As a good apathist I’m not keen on god. By not keen I mean to say I think it’s a brain disease, a mental disorder which poisons reason and is the resting place of unfounded faith and the denial of evidence. The undoing of self understanding and in an attempt to explain the outside world with inside your head data really misses the point of philosophy.

OK so now I’ve made it clear that I’m not a supporter of religion or gods (whether they exist or not I don’t care), the one thing about the Distrobutionist’s review that sticks in my craw is the way there is often a forced joining of moral thinking, religious fundamentalism and economic process.

It’s true that many factors of economics do need to include morality, but morality isn’t absolute, you can find yourself in a position of having to commit immoral acts by virtue of being stuck between decisions which are all immoral, all cause suffering and in these cases I will have to apply the same underlying personalisation of moral responsibility which governs the rest of the distrobutionist philosophy.

Take abortion, which is far harder a topic than contraception which I consider to be perfectly solved, it is a hard question because the assessment of what is life, what is murder and what is suffering give us a negative sum game. No matter what you do, you loose. I’m happier giving this question over to the people and person who will ultimately loose from the decision: the mother. they are the ones who must make the decision because child-in-potentia is their responsibility, not the state’s. But why should the state not punish the murderer after the act?

So long as the state can’t take responsibility for a life immediately, it has no business being a moral authority. Take an extreme case; if a child born can not be looked after by the mother animal and there is no society to take responsibility then it’s very hard to force the mother animal to have a morality that respects the sanctity of life and at the same time rejects the suffering of life; often nature has right the answer where excessive stress in a mother will cause them to kill their children (and possibly eat them).

But where would religions possibly find footing in this apparent abhorrent behaviour? Often this is summed up by the quip about American Calthics: “the foetus is precious, the mother is sinful and the born child is a nuisance to be ignored”. Basically that religions concern themselves will unrealistic absolutes like “life for everyone” without considering the resulting suffering that it causes. This perhaps why my own morality is based on suffering and not on life, to me it’s quite possible for “Thou shall not kill” to become immoral in rare instances.

And besides we can’t very well go around convicting mothers on a morality which is based on their own internal responsibility, it’s not societies place to force individuals into responsibility and suffering. Of course the question then becomes; well how can you support society helping abortion with medical practice?

Another hard question but I put it like this, the mother after careful consideration has requested the help of their community to both help with the consideration and help with the safe medical procedure that will ensure a minimisation of suffering. In this way the community can be more sure the decision was not made lightly and the mother can be sure of not dying from the procedure. Surely this must be the most balanced approach for both women and community.

To the conclusion.

Plenty of anarchists would suggest that as well as being economically distributed an ideal society must also be morally distributed. This might be a little extreme for most who need the reliability and security of a normalised legal morality with which to work from and with other people around them. So a rejection of a moral consensus is not really the way to go.

But I would argue that when considering how your moral consensus ties together with your ideal world view about economic distrobutism, that you must consider it to be an under-developed philosophy and not as many Catholics see it; an absolute perfection delivered by god. Because unquestioning religious dogma has no place in a truly compassionate, thoughtful and moral world view.

Your thoughts?

Community Team Visual Spectacular

You can see here a fantastic map of the Ubuntu community team and how they communicate with each other on IRC to organise the events, talk about problems and socialise.

I’ve developed a method for processing irc logs and generating communication graphs. It would be fairly easy to develop a similar graph for any other irc channel to see relationships.

There are some improvements still to be made in the visualisation, but I’m happy with this so far. Enough to put it to one side and work on other things.

Hold on Tight to Principles

I wanted to take this comment I made in an email and post it to my blog. I’m fairly principled and I try my best with all sorts of things. There is something about principles which I think is not well understood and I’d like to offer a tentative explanation:

Principles are a view of the world which can be seen to be idealistic, they are in their nature the very way in which given the way you understand the world to work you could see things being made better and more ideal. Ideals are not always practical, you have to deal with real world issues that are not ideal.

Practicalism isn’t a principle, it’s the ways real world problems can be solved. You use your principles to weigh up the cost of actions that solve the problem. You do _not_ replace your principles wholesale with a view that cheapens and makes light of principles in general but instead use them to dialectically make new and creative solutions to the problems.

Free and Open Source as a principle: It’s both a long term practical benefit (investment) and a universal social good which respects users and brings down the cost of computer software development. I would say that FOSS is one of those unique common sense type principles that have immediate and far reaching effects. The difficulty with spreading the ideas and philosophies are not due to the general public not being able to understand, but instead relate to how tightly vested interests hold onto their own principles about the appropriateness of their product’s terms.

All these things have cultural and political consequences in my view. You don’t have to be a raving supporter or a crazy Ubuntu advocate. I think just being more aware of exactly what the proposition is and why proprietary software is very costly and not worth your time would be very valuable in bringing about a cultural shift.

Thank you for reading my ramble, what are your thoughts? Am I talking out of my hat again? Should I be less concerned with the adoption of practicalism as a principle?

Secular Commandments

I got indignant at the popes suggestion that atheists (he really means secularists) are a threat to moral society. Oh sure, he just compared secularism with the German Christian Socialist movement of the 1930s. It’s not like he was trying to suggest that these Nazi people were atheists and therefore immoral… no wait that’s exactly what he was trying to suggest and attempting to rewrite history in order to do it.

Typical mythology that gods bring morals and to lack faith is to lack morals. “Plato voiced it best in Euthyphro – is that which is pious what is beloved by the gods, or is it beloved by the gods because it is pious?”

Here is some secular commandments.

As a System of Social Rules

Thanks to Sirrus for providing an interesting comment for me to respond to. I’m making a new blog entry because the original one wasn’t as seriously intellectual and I want a space to talk about this more:

Any machine-based redistribution is bound to fail just like the human-based one, because it does not take the human nature into account. Real world economics work because of human greed; communism failed because of it as well.

I think the best way of going about it is having market economics with constraints, which is more or less what many capitalist economics of today are using.

Coming back to your pretzel economic theory on capitalism vs communism. Human greed is a very interesting psychological mechanism which isn’t as absolute or as pervasive as the capitalism culture tends to teach. In fact this this is an inside, outside box problem. Greed is generally split between gluttony and selfishness and from what I’ve been able to gather we are wired to be in a constant state of contention between consuming as much as possible and doing whatever suites our own self interest (in the way _we_ think it’s best served) and taking care of our social obligations, collaborating and dare I say it: caring about other people.

So what do I mean by an inside, outside box problem? If greed is counter weighted internally by social obligation then a culture that teaches both the virtues and naturality of personal greed removes all those pesky social obligations. The culture becomes self fulfilling through a quirk in human social mechanics.

Mechanisation isn’t actually a big scary thing to me. Capitalism is mechanisation and it basically, mostly, sort-of works because it does fit the majority of resource exchange interaction psychology. It’s not a _machine_ in the same way a printing press is a machine, it’s a systematic rule based software which runs upon an existing machine; that of course being society in general.

Having software that works on this machine requires that it take account of the way the social machine is organised, how it self assembles and how new mechanics can be run on it without error. Capitalism mostly works, but at the same time it doesn’t. It’s at a loss for 2/3rds of the economy, and that’s a lot of work to be done that isn’t recorded anywhere and doesn’t involve money. It’s probably a good thing that doing your chores isn’t run like a business to be honest; I’d rather prioritise teaching children the importance of looking after each other then the art of business making.

At the same time as not coving a lot of interaction; capitalism as a system of rules is failing to keep itself internally consistent, in check, in balance and not attempting suicide every 8 years. If as a social system it was so good at matching the nature of human interaction then these things would not happen, or would not happen nearly so much.

Thoughts?