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Re: Future Direction of GNU Hurd?

From: Paul Boddie
Subject: Re: Future Direction of GNU Hurd?
Date: Sun, 13 Sep 2020 15:01:44 +0200

On Sunday, 13 September 2020 12:26:06 CEST Richard Braun wrote:
> OK let's clear up this idea of "top-level OS architect". I just want people
> who are right for the job. For projects like the Hurd, they're usually good
> students with the right kind of mind. It happened multiple times in the past
> and it could happen again. Google summer of code is a good catalyst for
> that.

Yes, you have been lucky to get a couple of good people via GSoC to work on 
the Hurd. Evidently, last time I checked, there wasn't the bandwidth in the 
project to mentor people for that or similar initiatives any more, which 
should be a pretty worrying sign.

[Opportunities for non-experts; volunteer culture and burn-out]

> Wow you're going way too far with this. First, we're not waiting for fully
> trained experts to do the job. Again, it's really about the right kind of
> mind, in particular someone who is able to both create an accurate big
> picture of how things work and are supposed to work in their mind, and
> at the same time pay extreme attention to the tiniest detail to avoid
> rare corner cases as much as possible. They also would have to be motivated
> enough to just look up things for themselves instead of waiting for others
> to put that in their mouth.

One of the most frustrating things about certain projects and certain 
workplaces is the neglect for systems that retain and disseminate 
organisational knowledge. Many people have presumably had the experience of 
being told that they should ask this person or that person about some piece of 
code or other, and since nothing gets written down, they have that experience 
over and over again. Eventually, this wears them down, makes them feel 
inadequate, and they wonder how anyone gets anything done.

It is one thing to say that people should be able to "look up things for 
themselves" - after all, we have Google these days - but it is another to 
actually curate resources that allow people to find these things without 
spending days of their own time doing so (or, frequently, just digging into 
the source code, running programs to stress that code to figure out the corner 
cases, and so on). With the Hurd, plenty of documentation enquiries end up on 
wiki pages showing copy-pasted IRC conversations in their usual tedious style.

If you think that people are inconveniencing you or others by asking questions 
whose answers are obvious to you, you might want to consider the inconvenience 
those people are experiencing and the impact that has on their motivation. And 
again, a project of this scale needs a broad range of contributors, some of 
whose questions might seem superficial or "lazy" to you, but which actually 
might be quite reasonable more generally.


> Finally, noone is implying to "burn out" on the job. One huge advantage
> of FOSS projects is that there is absolutely no obligation to work.
> So those questions of getting paid or whatever else you're referring to
> here really don't apply. I'm going to completely dismiss that comment
> about the free software movement since, despite it being a GNU project,
> the people who work(ed) most on it are clearly not zealous free software
> advocates. Again that just doesn't apply.

You are so utterly wrong about volunteer burn-out that I can only assume you 
are unaware of the social dynamics around many Free Software projects. And 
while I would normally steer clear of using such absolute words as "wrong", I 
can use them with confidence in this case because I have followed various 
significant projects over many years and have seen well-known contributors in 
such projects document their own burn-out experiences. So to dismiss such 
concerns as things that do not apply is actually rather offensive to people 
who did burn out working on Free Software.

> If your point is decency, I don't see where I or anyone else hasn't been
> decent. We're not expecting someone to just show up and do perfect work,
> we're hoping for it. If they don't, so be it, and if they quit, like almost
> everyone except Samuel did in the past, it's perfectly fine. Not great for
> the project but hey, thanks for the contributions and good luck with
> whatever's next.

You have already spent quite a bit of time defending what I would call 
"audition culture", meaning that people have to meet a particular set of 
admission requirements before you will apparently even interact with them. 
Many people would recognise this as a counterpart to internship culture in 
wider commerce where people are encouraged to do unpaid work with a vague 
expectation of being offered paid work after a certain period of time "proving 
themselves". In recent times, such practices have seen more scrutiny because 
people have realised that they might be a form of exploitation.

Now, I am not accusing you or anyone in particular of exploiting people, but I 
want you to be aware of the social factors involved. People who are 
enthusiastic about contributing to an initiative that has been promoted as 
worthwhile, and in alignment with their own views or beliefs, are more likely 
to "go the extra mile" to make it succeed and to try and make their own 
contributions count.

What one sees quite a bit in the Free Software arena is a very casual attitude 
towards the well-being of those people: from the perspective of a project who 
just "needs labour", somebody quitting is just "too bad for them" and there 
are always more volunteers to be found; nobody seems to consider the 
perspective of the person who had to decide whether to abandon the investment 
they had already made in a project due to the costs of remaining committed to 
it. It is no wonder that interpersonal issues arise: does anyone even consider 
why people start behaving in a way that is then framed as irrational (often to 
justify excluding such people)?

> The only exception would be Svante Signell who's the main reason for me not
> working on the project any more [1].

See above.

> > So why are you so against people improving the Web site and documentation?
> I'm not. See [2]. Again, I'd like the right kind of person for the job.
> Someone who understands that a mere website isn't going to "save" the
> project.

Nobody seriously claims that a "mere website" will "save" anything. However, 
quite a few people would seriously claim that a "mere website" and the 
associated assets of a project would certainly improve a project's viability.


> Have you looked at my own projects and how I do documentation ? You either
> didn't read my messages, or got a very twisted impression of what I was
> trying to convey.

I'm sorry, but I have looked at your own projects and I have read your 
messages on these lists, and then I wonder why you are so negative towards 
people whose only mistake is not to offer "top-level" contributions. But I 
feel like I am not really getting through on this point.


> > Yes, certain development tasks and situations are challenging. The other
> > issues are simply project management issues. If someone improving the Web
> > site and documentation is somehow driving down productivity of the
> > "top-level developers" then, well, you are doing it wrong.
> I've never said or implied that. That's mere extrapolation from your
> previous misunderstandings.

Which misunderstandings are these? You want "top-level developers" who don't 
spend their time pestering you and others with the organisational knowledge, 
but you don't want people who are willing to improve the systems that provide 
such knowledge and make it possible for other kinds of people to make a 

And since it would rather appear that the "top-level developers" are not 
likely to improve those systems (which is an industry-wide phenomenon, of 
course), and since they generally aren't showing up anyway, I actually do 
wonder what kind of future the project has, whether someone else will be 
having this conversation on this or another of the lists in a decade's time.


> I disagree. "Morally charged misinformation" referred to the fact that you
> didn't get your facts straight and offered moral judgment to newcomers from
> those invalid facts, such as how we wouldn't be behaving decently, or that
> we somehow wouldn't want diffrent types of contributors.

Honestly, are you interested in welcoming new contributors or not? Is it 
welcoming to take fairly valid observations about the way the project is 
portrayed and communicated, frame them as superficial and then to tell such 
people to (in your own words), "Grow up and focus on what matters."


Let me reserve making a "moral judgement" on that and leave it to other people 
to decide what to make of it.

> And no, you're not accurate. You're almost implying that Hurd developers
> are too dumb to make a switch to an L4 based kernel because they're
> drama queens. The truth is simply that there is too little manpower to
> make such a switch, and too little interest *overall* in the project.
> It's not about L4 at all.

Sorry again, but I didn't assert or even imply anything about people being 
"too dumb" or "drama queens", although one can certainly find drama in the 
mailing list archives. My only suspicion was that people decided that various 
L4 kernels weren't suitable and then may not have reviewed their assumptions 
when newer kernels emerged. Instead they went off and started new microkernel 
projects, which the other Richard feared would be a bad idea. Well, I guess he 
was right about something else.

Since the enquiry mentioned L4, being on a list somewhat concerned with its 
potential role in the wider Hurd endeavour, I felt that someone should inject 
some slightly more up-to-date information about L4-based systems, even though 
there are plenty of people in the L4 community who would be in a better 
position to do so, were they even paying attention to the Hurd any more.

You might not appreciate my remarks about the apparent culture of the wider 
Hurd endeavour, given that in your own words "L4 variants of the Hurd are dead 
projects", which in itself is hardly a motivating signal to those who might 
see things differently and be looking for encouragement, but I honestly think 
instead of pointing the finger at apparent critics and claiming to be 
misunderstood or misrepresented, you might wish to review that culture and 
consider realistic measures that might actually get people to contribute to 
the effort and, crucially, to continue to do so.


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