Public reading – the Kitchener-Waterloo Bookstravaganza

Last night I attended a public reading session at the Starlight Lounge in Waterloo organized by Coach House Books but with the participation of a number of other small presses including  ECW Press, Blaurock Press, and House of Anansi. The 8 authors and poets (alas only 7 showed, the inevitable effects of flu season in Ontario) each read for about 10 or 15 minutes, time enough to get through 4 or 5 short poems or enough of a chapter from a novel to whet your appetite. This was a ‘free’ event in a great location with a cash bar and plenty of atmosphere. A few of the authors were local, or had local roots, with the rest primarily coming from Toronto. I can only hope that we get more of this type of event in Waterloo.

I have a great deal of admiration for anyone who sticks with writing poetry or literature and eventually gets published in whatever form. All of those giving readings last night were experienced writers some with a number of books in their portfolio. Of course a public reading is as much about stage presence and voice and a bit of charisma. On those points I would single out for special praise Cordelia Strube, Emily Schultz, and Eric Schachter.

It is difficult to evaluate works such as these on the basis of a brief reading so I will hold off on any recommendations until I read one or more of the actual text. Most important is that the evening helped raise awareness about these writers, whose work I will be pleased to pick up in the library or a book store as time allows.

The full list of authors/poets from the evening was: David Derry, Damian Rogers, Eric Schachter, Jason Schneider, Emily Schultz, Cordelia Strube, Matthew Tierney, and Zoe Whittall.

What I look for in project governance

A lot of my FOSS friends are busy these days thinking about Foundations, not-for-profit organisations, and Associations. This kind of thinking is almost always useful. But I do not have much of substance to contribute to such a discussion. Instead I thought I would spend a few words and minutes setting down what I look for in FOSS project governance. These are merely my personal reflections. I would not be surprised if they do not have universal application.

To be clear, I am not a vendor of software or of software services. And I do not work for a vendor of software. So the concerns of vendors, though I am certain they are perfectly valid, are not my concerns.

When I consider whether or not I want to spend any of my personal time involving myself with a FOSS project, the first thing I look for is how it governs itself. This is my time (and effort) that I am contributing. And while my time (and effort) is no more valuable than anyone else’s, it is no less valuable either. How a project values my participation is expressed, I think, through the way it governs itself.

For example, I do not want to participate in a project where the voice someone has within the project depends on something that is not directly related to the contribution they have made within this very project. It seems to me that it makes good sense for some people to have commit rights for the code and for others not to have those rights. But that only makes sense if the route to attaining commit access is a result of contributions made to the project. And it must be at least possible for me similarly to attain such rights, given sufficient contributions of my time (and effort). If that is not possible, then clearly my contributions are not being equally valued. I will go elsewhere.

Who would be in an appropriate position to judge whether my contributions were of sufficient worth to merit my gaining commit rights? I can only imagine that it would be those who themselves have already attained such a position due to the strength of their own contributions. And thus the meritocracy.

I imagine there are many occasions when a project could go in one direction or a different direction. How do such decisions get made? The particulars do not matter so much to me. What matters is whether my opinion, as a project participant, counts and whether it counts equally with the opinions of others. Yet, again, I do not think that counting equally means a project needs to devolve all decision-making to mere majority voting. It seems obvious to me that some participants will have more experience than I do. They will have made longer term or more substantial contributions. It seems right to me that they should have a greater voice in current decision-making about the direction that the project should take. In part this greater responsibility will already have been signalled by the project because these individuals will have commit access to the codebase. And even within those with commit rights, there may need to be a further level of distinction such as a project management committee. This could help the project make some of its decisions. I can even imagine projects where ultimately there is a final authority, a single individual, who casts deciding ballots when necessary. But I cannot imagine participating in such a project unless there is some route by which I too might eventually attain such a position and that such attainment would be based upon the contributions I had made to the project.

And so it comes back to whether or not my contributions of time (and effort) are equally valued. It seems to me that there are many, many ways to organise the particulars of project governance each of which express this principle. There are also, I’m sure, many examples of projects that forego such equality of participation. That’s fine. I have no wish to insist that all projects conform to my ideals. Since this is my time (and effort) we are talking about, I can simply vote with my feet. I will go elsewhere.

I could be wrong, but I suspect that over time more and more projects will move toward the view that all participation needs to be valued equally. And from this starting point they will organise themselves in different ways which they think best expresses that belief.

One final observation. It seems obvious to me that if a project does organise itself in such a way in which each participant’s contribution is valued equally, the project will want to make this clear to one and all. It may lay out just such a principle when it explains how participation in the project works. More, however, I would expect the project to be telling me how decisions are made, how commit access is attained, what I need to do to get started and how I will be able to move through whichever levels of contribution the project has deemed necessary. When a project website does not explain very, very clearly how my participation will be valued, I almost immediately head for the exit.

I hope there will be more thinking and talking about Foundations, and not-for-profit organisations, and Associations amongst the FOSS projects that I have an interest in. I think it is usually a sign that the project is heading toward some sort of clarity about its own governance. And that kind of clarity can only help, if only to help me decide whether I want to continue to participate in the project.

This and that and a bit of LUG

Last night I attended my local Linux User Group (LUG) monthly meeting for the first time in over a year. The KWLUG is reasonably active and very good about arranging a talk most months. I have not been very good about getting out to them. For some reason the first Monday of every month (displaced this month due to Labour Day) I have found myself with other commitments or travelling to distant lands. This month the meeting was held at a venue within walking distance of home and, as my other commitments have lessened of late, I was determined to attend. I am glad I did. Khalid Baheyeldin gave a two-hour presentation on The Apache Web Server which was delightfully comprehensive without getting bogged down in esoteric matters. There were more than 30 people in attendance, which speaks well for the health of this LUG.

Members of the LUG are active at numerous events, with mention last night of Ohio Linux Fest and the forthcoming Ontario Linux Fest. The latter is on Saturday, 24 October, and is being held just down the road (in Canadian terms) in Toronto. I shall have to see about getting out to that. And this reminds me that FSOSS 2009 can’t be far off as well. Indeed, it will be held on 29-30 October at the end of what is being billed as Toronto Open Source Week.

But up first are the activities taking place in many, many places on Saturday, 19 September, as part of the Software Freedom Day celebrations. Of course members of my local LUG are busy with a slate of talks and demonstrations for the day, all taking place at The Working Centre under the event theme Working as If People Mattered.

It’s great to see that FOSS is alive an well in the region. I hope to get more stuck in to the local scene in future.

The craft

Last night I witnessed David Lang’s elevated at our local new music festival. The composer spoke to the audience prior to the performance. He is a professor at Yale University and speaks with passion and authority about his musical explorations, his willingness to take risks, his desire to be emotionally expressive but not to constrain a listener’s emotional terrain. The performance itself revealed more. Along with the theoretical understanding of composition and the emotional commitment in each project, there is also the craft. There could be little doubt that David Lang is in full command of his craft. An honour to hear his music and his own thoughts about his music.

I admire master crafstmen, men and women who toil long in acquiring the skills they bring to bear in the accomplishment of some act. Amongst writers I find the mastery of the craft is almost as admirable as the product itself. For example, I find Ian McEwan’s novels to be troubling but his evident control over each sentence, each phrase, each word choice is exhilarating. Craft. I see it to varying degrees in all of the writers I appreciate. My recent finds include Michael Chabon, Richard B. Wright, Guy Vanderhaeghe, and Francine Prose. Learning the craft of writing, developing the skills, the habits, the understanding – this is my task.

Music games

Yesterday I did something that I haven’t done in 30 years. I attended a music festival, the Kitchener-Waterloo Music Festival. My niece was competing in a piano class and as the venue was just around the corner I decided to walk over and hear her.

I have very few pleasant memories of piano competitions and all of them are from before the age of 11 or 12. My sisters and I were usually entered in to as many classes in the festival as we could accommodate. I remember my first festival in London, Ontario, when I must have been 6 or 7 years old. I was in 6 classes in one day, an absurd feat of scheduling. I placed first in every one. It was the zenith of my career in competition. There were lots of other highlights over the next 5 or 6 years, but I never managed to fully dazzle in quite that way again.

In fact within a few years I found myself increasingly incapable of going on the stage. Perhaps I was unconsciously acknowledging a lack of preparation; my habits of practising did degenerate as I got older. It may have been something else entirely. I have not managed to ferret out precise causes. The experiences alone were bad enough. These days I think they might be described as panic attacks. Circumventing them required ever more extreme measures. By the age of 15 I was at an end and competed no more.

It has taken me almost 25 years to be able to even sit down with any degree of comfort at a piano keyboard. Thus the gifts we are given in our youth both bless and curse us.

So it was no small thing for me, though few might guess it to see me, to head over to the hall in which this present festival is taking place even though I was merely an audience member. My niece does not suffer from whatever hindered me. She acknowledges a flutter in her tummy but nothing more. She is lucky. Perhaps she will not need to set aside a formative aspect of her childhood and youth for the greater part of her life as I did. I hope not.

Memories – inchoate, unsavoury, uncertain. How do you turn them off, make them safe?