QotD: Jon Corbet on linux.conf.au and Linux Australia

In summary, LCA remains unique in its combination of strongly technical talks, freedom-oriented and hands-on orientation, wide variety of topics covered, and infectious Australian humor. There is a reason some of us seem to end up there every year despite the painful air-travel experiences required. Linux Australia has put together a structure that allows the conference to be handed off to a new team in a new city every year, bringing a fresh view while upholding the standards set in the previous years.

— LWN’s Jon Corbet on linux.conf.au, An LCA 2012 Summary

Linux Australia puts a lid on the linux.conf.au 2011 distraction

Two weeks ago I wrote about the unfortunate controversy and aftermath of a keynote speech given at linux.conf.au 2011. I am pleased and impressed by the Linux Australia statement, released today, which should put a lid on the distraction. Well, one can hope.

There were a couple of thoughts in the statement that I wanted to highlight:

“[Our] policies have enabled us to respond in a manner which we believe reinforces [our values and principles].”

and,

“Like the software that our community is founded on, our policies are works in progress and can always be improved.”

Great stuff. None of that senseless hooey people spout like “Open Source is about choice” or equating the “freedom” in Software Freedom with absence of rules, responsibility or respect.

A few thoughts on the aftermath of a linux.conf.au 2011 keynote

During the final keynote of linux.conf.au 2011, Mark Pesce used some images in his slides which breached speaker guidelines and conference policy. Linux Australia and the lca2011 team responded quickly, announcing an apology at the next available whole-of-conference plenary event.

As incidents like this go, it wasn’t a big deal. Although it did distract everyone from the message of Mark’s talk. Hopefully a lesson learned.

The problem was what happened next… here are some thoughts about the aftermath which I originally sent to the attendees’ mailing list.

A few thoughts on the aftermath

  • The response to the keynote was not “blown out of proportion”. There was a breach of policy and an apology was offered by Linux Australia (LA) and the linux.conf.au 2010 team (LCA). The speaker also offered his apology. Done.
  • No “censure” was made, despite the unfortunate subject of an early reaction on the conference attendees’ mailing list, and wilful mischaracterisation by a single, ambulance-chasing opinion writer. Consider that neither LA or LCA have publicly criticised the speaker.
  • We’ve heard some reasonable, well-stated criticism aimed at improving future events and experiences.
  • We’ve seen a fair amount of silly, predictable, confected outrage on the attendees’ mailing list, with debate about censorship, “sexual images” and so on. Here’s an easy answer to those contributors: It’s not your call. Linux Australia and the conference team define the parameters for linux.conf.au, ran the show, and took responsibility for what happened.
  • There has been a small but vocal group who have chosen to debate more general issues, such as how real or prevalent harassment might be. I do hope these people — particularly the more prominent members of our community engaging in it — receive a short, sharp talking-to from their less Neanderthal friends.

What’s next

  • There will be a shit-fight over whether or not the video of the keynote should be published. If it is published, LA/LCA will be criticised for promoting the breach or being complicit in it. If it is not, LA/LCA will be criticised for censorship. Both of these conclusions are bullshit, but I’m sure there’ll be someone willing to give them a red hot go. Either way: It’s not your call. I hope everyone can imagine the range of problems this situation might pose for LA/LCA (including venue, sponsor and hosting considerations), but we entrust them with the responsibility for doing so, and self-righteous indignation won’t help. Those concerned about a gap in the historical record will be relieved to know that Mark has published his slides and an essay based on the talk to his blog: Smoke Signals.
  • We don’t want future events to end on a sour note due to continued haranguing over an issue like this on the mailing list, so there are some bugs to fix.

My suggestions

  • Dump the anti-harassment policy. Apologies to the authors, but it’s badly written (both the lca2011 and Geek Feminism Wiki versions) and unhelpful as an expression of policy or communication, both of which are important. It’s well worth including in references though (as the 2010 team did by mentioning LinuxChix in their T&Cs).
  • Although the lca2011 team adopted Andrew and Susanne’s T&Cs, they were still relegated to the “registration” section of the website, and largely forgotten. This is the right document for policy, and it already very capably expresses the pointy/policy end of the principles LA has adopted. It should be more visible.
  • Pia suggested a Code of Conduct. That’s a great way to adopt a communications document to go with the existing policy (T&Cs), and we already know that Codes of Conduct have found success in other communities. The trick is to ensure it is clearly understood to be a statement of principles, not a policy document.
  • The guidelines provided to speakers regarding slides were already crystal clear: “Please be aware, and ensure your Co-Presenters are aware, of the Terms and Conditions to ensure that Presenters’ material and behaviour is appropriate for the LCA2011 audience, that includes keeping slide-decks G-rated.”

If only “Be excellent to each other” would suffice.

Devils and Penguins

Tux passes the baton to Tuz, the hastily-disguised Tasmanian Devil… at least for this release. Great to see one of the more high profile pledges of the madcap, ridiculous, wonderful and incredibly generous linux.conf.au 2009 auction being paid off. :-)

Tuz

linux.conf.au 2009: Tuz

Impact: help prevent extinction of species

The Tasmanian Devil is a shy iconic Australian creature named for its
spine-chilling screech.  It is threatened with extinction due to a
scientifically interesting but horrific transmissible facial cancer.

This one is standing in for Tux for one release using the far less-known
Devil Facial Tux Disguise.

Save The Tasmanian Devil http://tassiedevil.com.au

Signed-off-by: Linux.conf.au Hobart Team <contact@marchsouth.org>
Signed-off-by: Rusty Russell <rusty@rustcorp.com.au>
Signed-off-by: Linus Torvalds <torvalds@linux-foundation.org>

Cliques, invitations and meritocracies

So am I paranoid? Are invite-only events a necessary evil? Or should I let my curiousity overcome my principles? Hey, maybe one of those web 2.0 types could help me enable comments on my blog… — Rusty Russell, The foocamp clique?

… so I wrote down some of my musings for Rusty in an email, but then another discussion prompted similar thoughts, so I figured I’d blog about it. Of course, I did take the opportunity to suggest that Rusty try WordPress. ;-)

Pia and I went to baacamp (ha ha, “baa”, etc.) last year, being on the O’Reilly radar through my participation in OSCON and stuff like that.

Although it was sponsored by O’Reilly, it was very much a Nat thing compared to the “real” O’Reilly FOOcamps. They’re all very skewed towards Web 2.0 people and topics, but working with a different crowd who care about Freedom in different ways is great… It resets your reality distortion field, no matter how much clarity you start with!

It’s easy to forget, but linux.conf.au is also very cliquey, even beyond the silly name. :-)

The invite-only thing is a bit weird, but if you have faith in the person doing the inviting, it’s very similar to the trust we invest in our FLOSS leaders, and the meritocracy which stems from them. For instance, Nat asks the people he invites to suggest other people, and uses that feedback very well. So, it’s like accepting or rejecting patches, and filtering good and bad contributors. :-)

There’s also the problem of trying to inflict ideas about Software Freedom onto other, sometimes incompatible, structures and interactions. I think there are a lot of dangers to that route — largely because I’m not a crazy libertarian or genuine anarchist — and because I think misapplication of those ideas leads to the kind of behaviours that are well described in Geek Social Fallacies.

Finally, foocamp inspired greatness in its bizarro mirror image arch nemesis, barcamp. I had to say arch nemesis for effect. I like the idea of conference philosophies competing with each other in some kind of comic book Dante’s Inferno thinking man’s action-comedy.

If baacamp didn’t conflict with linux.conf.au, we’d be there in a jiffy. I’m falling in love with New Zealand and its inhabitants. We have a lot to learn from them, but also a lot to share. Some of our NZ friends are here this week, helping us turn Australia’s OOXML vote from “abstain” to “no” — hooray! :-)