On vacation: And acting like it!

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, We can work almost anywhere, anytime. That’s… probably unhealthy. I mean, it’s great when you’re supposed to be working. As long as you have a solid Internet connection(*) and a quiet room (and electricity), you can be productive anywhere.

Which leads to temptation to … work from anywhere. Even when you’re on vacation. (This phrase may be less applicable outside the United States. Insert joke here about European vs. American vacation response messages.) This has certainly been true for me, when I’m on vacation I have generally felt compelled to check in on email, which leads to responding to email, which leads to… not so much really feeling like I’m on vacation.

This week I’m going to be in Churchill, Canada to observe polar bears, Northern Lights, and generally take a breather. While I occasionally grab a day or two of PTO here and there, I’ve not done much proper vacationing. For many years I was freelancing and… I was never very good at feeling that I could step away for a week or three to vacation when I was being paid by the piece or stipend. So, I’m going to do my best to make it stick and actually not do any work while away.

() Don’t make your co-workers put up with lousy connectivity. Sometimes it’s unavoidable (e.g., during conference travel) but if you can’t count on reliable connectivity and quiet surroundings… maybe re-think whether working from a cafe is *really workable.

Proprietary tools for FOSS projects

slackMy position on free and open source software is somewhere in the spectrum between hard-core FSF/GNU position on Free Software, and the corporate open source pragmatism that looks at open source as being great for some things but really not a goal in and of itself. I don’t eschew all proprietary software, and I’m not going to knock people for using tools and devices that fit their needs rather than sticking only to FOSS.

At the same time, I think it’s important that we trend towards everything being open, and I find myself troubled by the increasing acceptance of proprietary tools and services by FOSS developers/projects. It shouldn’t be the end of the world for a FOSS developer, advocate, project, or company to use proprietary tools if necessary. Sometimes the FOSS tools aren’t a good fit, and the need for something right now overrides the luxury of choosing a tool just based on licensing preference. And, of course, there’s a big difference between having that discussion for a project like Fedora, or an Apache podling/TLP, or a company that works with open source.

Fedora is generally averse to adopting anything proprietary, even using things like YouTube or Twitter to promote Fedora tends to generate discussion and questions about whether it’s proper to use proprietary services. Grudgingly, though, most folks have accepted that to promote Fedora you have to go where the people are–even if that means using non-FOSS services. Apache has been more willing to adopt non-free services (e.g., Jira) where acceptable FOSS services exist. Not surprising, because Apache’s culture is more “use open source because it’s pragmatic” rather than driven by ideology. (That is painting with a very broad brush, and I think you can find a diverse set of opinions within Apache, including mine.)

Generally, though, I worry about making too many concessions to non-free software. I worry that we’ve gone too far towards business concerns, and too far away from wanting to change the world for the better. There’s a balance to be struck, I think, where we put food on the table, build successful companies and successful and sustainable communities. Where we use tools we’ve built to do our work, and tools we can improve, but don’t rake people over the coals because of the tools they choose or make bad business decisions out of a desire for purity.

This post asking people not to use Slack really resonates with me. I see this as a wholly unnecessary adoption of proprietary software where there’s a reasonable and serviceable alternative. The good news, I think, is that Slack seems to be spurring some development of better IRC alternatives that might not have developed without Slack. And it’s spurred more people thinking about the tools they use, and whether they’re open, and what that means. Full disclosure, I have a personal Slack account. I’ll use it to chat with friends, just like I’ll use Facebook or Google Hangouts. But I don’t see recommending it for an official channel for, say, Project Atomic.

Headed to OSCON

oscon-logoOnce again, time for the annual trek to Portland, Oregon for OSCON — perhaps for the last time!

Next year, OSCON is going to be in Austin, TX — which seems like a bit of a mistake to me. Portland and OSCON go together like milk and cookies.

If you’re going to be at OSCON, make sure to drop by Open Cloud Day on Tuesday, and come by the Red Hat booth to say hello!

Why PR Spam Makes Me Crazy…

It’s been nearly two years since I stopped working as press, yet I still get pitches almost daily from “pray and spray” PR folks – almost always about things that I wouldn’t have covered even if I was still doing my old beats.

One of the reasons this makes me crazy is obvious: I don’t need more email to sort through. I get plenty of email to sort through as it is, I don’t need spam from PR folks who can’t be bothered to keep a decent list of press. What makes it worse is that they often will do the “just making sure you saw this” follow-up w/in 24 hours if I just hit delete. (Few things strike me as more entitled than PR folks who think they’re owed a response from a person they’ve never corresponded with before and they haven’t done their homework enough to know that you’re not even in their target demographic.)

Aside from that, though, it makes me crazy because it’s a reminder just how lousy tech press has become in general. There’s no attempt to build relationships with tech press these days for the most part, because there’s damn little real journalism going on. The bulk of stories are reactionary – Acme Corp did Y today, so we’ll put up a 600-word post about it that only skims the surface and never revisit the topic again, unless it’s an outrage post of some sort that has a lifetime of a few days.

It also makes me crazy because people get paid ridiculous amounts of money to… spam journalists. I’ve seen the rates offered by third-party firms that spam me, and they’re ridiculous when you take into account what they actually do. Companies should be paying PR people who have contacts in the industry, who know and understand the products they’re pitching, and know the publications.

If you’re doing tech PR and you can’t name the current masthead of publications that are important to your client you have no business in the industry. If a person has left a publication and you still don’t know about it months later, you have no business being in the industry. Seriously, how can you be responsible for relationships with, say, ReadWriteWeb and not notice that someone’s posting frequency has gone from three times a day to zero for months? You’re clearly not paying attention to what they’re writing about, how can you possibly be effective in pitching them?

Finally, it makes me crazy because one of the reasons the tech press sucks so much these days is there’s damn little money to pay people to do good coverage. And one of the reasons there’s damn little money is because it’s been diverted from advertising to ineffective social media and PR campaigns from over-priced firms that aren’t doing their damn job! So tech companies are basically shooting themselves in the foot, paying huge retainers to PR folks and skimping on supporting the publications that … they’re paying the ineffective PR firms to get coverage in. Then they’re surprised when they don’t seem to be getting good coverage. Sigh.

A Response I’d Never Like to Hear or See Again: “Just Don’t Use X”

Well, Actually TrollcatLet me say this up-front. I’m guilty of this myself. I’ll own it, I’ve said variations of this about plenty of technologies or services.

Someone complains about a mobile OS, “oh, don’t use that. Use [insert speaker’s favorite mobile OS here].” Someone complains about Windows/Mac/Linux, “simple, just use [Windows|Mac|Linux] and your problem goes away.”

Someone complains about a problem with Facebook, Gmail, Google+, Twitter, etc. “Oh, just don’t use it. Simple.”

You get the idea.

The speaker may be the best kind of correct, technically correct, but they risk invoking the “fail mode of clever” which is (as John Scalzi so eloquently put it) “asshole.”

You may think your absolutist, well-thought-out, well-reasoned manifesto against $thing is convincing. It may even be convincing to anyone willing to 1) take the several hours it takes to hear the diatribe, and 2) trade off the benefits or perceived benefits of their choice to embrace the alternative. (This is assuming you offer an alternative. Many folks like to bash things and then not even up an alternative, which isn’t a winning strategy. Yes, I’m looking at the whole “Defective by Design” campaign when I say this.)

It’s totally OK for you to refuse to use a service, operating system, program, or whatever. More power to you. Just don’t assume that your choices are applicable to others.

People use Facebook for complicated reasons, and often actually are aware how annoying the service is and how shitty it is that Facebook continually tweaks privacy options/settings and the flow of posts, etc. People use Windows for complicated reasons that depend a lot on their level of comfort with computers, applications they need, etc.

“Just don’t use X,” is not a constructive comment. That’s not to say offering an alternative is bad or wrong, if done reasonably. But “just don’t use X” is pretty much a non-starter.

And don’t even get me started on the folks who recommend telling others when they encounter problems with X “simple, just tell them not to use X and to use a better service/technology.” Yes, because what will win users/customers is to reply to their issues with an invitation to make changes on their end that will be perceived as disruptive. Way to go champ, pick up your prize for customer service at the front desk.

You can advocate for better options, but leading with “just don’t use X” as an absolutist statement pretty much guarantees you’re going to be ignored and annoy the other person or people. Take a stab at being empathetic with others and realize that your set of choices and values may not apply well to their situation.

Google: Have You Heard of It?

I firmly believe that it’s important to adopt the “there are no stupid questions” attitude when working with open source communities and those who are new to them. However, the temptation to say “sorry, do you not get Teh Googles on your computer?” is so very great sometimes…

Then I remind myself, we’re all busy people, we all jump straight to “I want to engage with people RIGHT NOW” (or something similar) and I’m not immune to those things myself. Still, tempting.