My New Blog

Hello to all my readers (the numbers have probably dwindles by now :p). I’ve got a new blog with a new set of feeds now. Feedreaders, please click here for the new feed options. I now have my own domain, and built my new blog using Django. I’ll be posting all my new blog posts there from now on. The syndication to Planet Gentoo should happen once beandog returns from his short hiatus.

To give you the short cuts. my new gentoo feed will be: or depending on whether you prefer atom or rss 🙂

My new universe feed will be: or again, depending on whether you prefer atom or rss 🙂

Meanwhile, please click out of your feedreaders and check my site out and leave me your opinions on my first post there. Please note that this will be the final post I make on Planet Gentoo directly (and furthermore this post will not be duplicated at the new site (though all the prior posts and comments have been ported over).

See you all in my new house!

Matt Kennedy: A long good-bye

This is the first of two posts. Don’t worry, they’re about different people. I’m doing this one first because it ties into the whole ancient history motif of this week’s posts.

Matt Kennedy (mkennedy) is one of my oldest online friends. I’ve known him since early in 2000 (or maybe even late ’99). He, along with Rach and Devdas (f3ew) and of course edge-op, is part of the yahoo! chat crowd. Of course, he was not mkennedy back then, he was matthewbk (and I still think of him that way). See, back in those days, I didn’t use irc (I’d used it 5 or 6 years prior) for getting in touch with linux type people. And Yahoo! had a chatroom called “Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris: 1” that served that purpose. It was in there that I did a lot of my early learning about the linux command line and shell utilities, as well as different distros (I was very much a Mandrake person back then). There was always something interesting going on — we were writing scripts and programmes, teaching each other regex subtleties, learning all about linux in faraway places.

So anyway, I was very much a private and anonymous person back then. I didn’t advertise my real name. Instead, I went with the handle “trinityneo303” which I thought was nicely anonymous. However, people shortened it to “trin” and that led to assumptions about my gender. When I finally did reveal that I was not, in fact, female, there was a vocal minority in that channel that pretty much wanted my blood for it. I’d kept my associations fairly technical up to that time (including with the four people I’ve mentioned above). Matt and Devdas were around the day that stuff went down, and they both of them fiercely defended me, earning my own lifetime loyalty and friendship in the process. See? good things happen when you’re honest!

Anyway, Matt and I were on similar tracks as far as distro-exploration. He was on Redhat, and I had been bouncing around between RedHat, Mandrake and SuSE then back to Mandrake. So, on edge-op’s encouragement, we both tried Debian for a while. I think that lasted a couple of months, but we both found it to be a little stifling. Me, I was testing a chat client that a friend of mine in LFS:1 had written in python. It required python2.1, whereas Debian unstable only had python2.0. So, I’d gotten a hold of a home-made .deb and installed it. At the next update, debian over-wrote that deb with python2.0 and I was locked into this upgrade/downgrade loop.

So I stepped over into #debian on irc (my first foray back into irc in like 7 or so years), to ask about a good way to resolve this cycle. Ten minutes in, I had a couple of people trying to grok what I was trying to do, when out of the blue, the channel op (who went by the name “jim”) asked me “why do you use Debian in the first place, anyway?” which I thought was a rather odd question. So when I responded with “why does it matter?” I guess I deserved to be kicked and banned from the channel. I do remember sending an email to some debian address that I found on the website, but got no response.

At about the same time, Matt was getting sick of his own Debian install and was looking to try one of these new source based distros we’d been hearing about. So he and I agreed to try two different ones. He would try this “gentoo” thing, and I would try “sorcerer gnu/linux” (which has its own checkered history and past that makes for some interesting reading). Anyway, I got into the install and started using it (fluxbox for the win), and I was kinda digging it. I mean the whole “casting” of “spells” out of the “grimoire” was a bit cheesy for my liking, but I was willing to overlook. It also looked like spells were fairly easy to create, so python 2.1 wasn’t looking like a big problem.

Matt, meanwhile, fell in love with Gentoo. So when we talked a few days later, we exchanged notes. He was hesitant to try Sorcerer, because Gentoo was so polished. I thought, “what the heck, I’m a distro-nomad anyway” and partitioned a disk for Gentoo (I did keep sorcerer around for a while). The first thing I noticed was how polished Gentoo was! The start-up messages had this fancy blue and green motif (as opposed to plain text on all the others I’d recently seen), etc. It had the source based thing. It had python2.1 already. Heck, it was based on python — I was getting that for free! I liked that “emerge” thing (and it wasn’t nearly as cheesy as “cast”). I thought I’d try it for a while.

Matt, meanwhile, had progressed to making ebuilds for programmes he used and enjoyed (in those days, the current directory was the portage overlay — so we tended to just create a directory in ~ for the purpose), and shared them with me. I tried to create one for the Yahoo! messenger client, but I was not very successful at it. Matt nudged me in the right directions for it, I even submitted it to bugzilla (and eventually checked it in).

Anyway, we both got really excited about Gentoo, but I started spending a lot more time in the IRC channel for it (which, again, was like paradise, especially coming from the place of banination). A few weeks later, after submitting a bunch of fixes for gnome things (nls removal stuff, mainly), Bruce Locke (blocke) recommended to Daniel that they just give me cvs access. So after a bit of back and forth, with blocke championing me, I got my very own access to Gentoo’s cvs and my brand spanking new email. Oh yeah, at the time I was trinitAX on IRC (which was a shortened form of my prior /nick). Anyway, the day I became a dev, I got the operator status in the channels, and officially changed my online persona and identification to match their real world counterparts.

A few weeks into my own induction into Gentoo dev, I started campaigning hard for Matt to join (since it was he, after all, who taught me all about ebuilds in the first place!). Sure enough, they succumbed to my nagging (but mainly they saw Matt’s capability — and his willingness to handle all things java and emacs), and matt became a developer as well.

To this day, I think Matt and I have fundamental differences of opinion (I don’t _get_ emacs, so I don’t use it; and I don’t do java at all), but he’s one of my oldest online friends and one of the people most responsible for teaching me the ways of linux and gentoo, and I’ll be forever in his debt for it.

Over the years, our paths within gentoo diverged, and eventually he just lost the love for development. I can certainly understand that. I can relate to it quite closely, actually. Matt resigned many weeks ago on the -core list, and his accounts are now in infra’s hands to disable.

I’m a little emotional about him leaving. It’s like losing a link to my past. Matt, you’ll always have a friend in me, and I wish and hope for you nothing except for the very best.

The End of the Poison Trail

I’ll end this poison talk with this final entry. Pylon has been here for 4 years now. Like he said, he’s one of the senior/older developers, so he’s seen a lot of it, too.

I want to clarify that just because infra _does_ control the button does _not_ mean that I think they’re abusive about it. Far from it. The issue is this: trust. Infra’s members have to trust each other. Implicitly. Non-infra developers have to trust infra. Implicitly. Whether we think about it consciously or not, we do place our trust in infra.

But, on to the poison! Another history lesson, this one even more personal than the last (you didn’t even think that was possible, did you?). After I joined, I quickly found my niche in Gentoo (which wasn’t fixing up Gnome packages or cleaning up USE=”-nls” installs). I started off by bug wrangling. That, in turn, gave me a deep handle on where we were understaffed and what our needs were, as a development team. That, in turn, led to recruiting developers to fill those needs. In order to do the recruiting, I had to get to know people, which was basically user-relations. Once recruited, developers (being human) might have issues with others. And that’s where developer relations came in. So, I basically built up this fairly informal structure to handle the flow of developers. My goal was to stay out of developers’ way so that they can concentrate on scratching itches.

And then my ego popped up. All of a sudden, I was the head of devRel, and effectively second in command of Gentoo itself. Power trip? Me? Well, actually, yes. One day, on the -dev mailing list (searching that thing is hard, so if anyone finds the actual post, I’ll be glad to add the link to it), someone asked a question about eclasses or dependencies or something (I don’t even remember). Well, one of the newly recruited developers answered that question. Now, the answer he gave was not completely accurate.

And that day, I turned into the type of manager/boss that I’ve despised. The right thing would have been for me to talk to the newly minted developer in private about the inaccuracy, just to make sure that he knew his facts. In other words, he didn’t do anything wrong. And really, it could have been anything from; not quite knowing some of the subtleties, to not quite expressing himself to convey those subtleties. And as a senior developer, it was for me to gently guide him towards the right knowledge and the right expression of that knowledge.

Instead, yours truly decided to tell him off *on the list.* I not only embarrassed him by doing that, I embarrassed whomever his mentor was, by asking “who mentored you?” And after clicking “Send” I thought “how did this person even make it into Gentoo without knowing this basic stuff??”
UPDATE: Thanks to Bo in the comments, here’s the link to my message. It’s embarrassing to read.

And then reality hit me. This same developer /msg’d me on IRC later to talk with me. Man, he brought my head right out of the clouds. He didn’t fight with me, he just told me the facts. He told me that he’d heard I was a bit of an ass and getting worse. He told me that people were leery to approach me with stuff because of it. He told me that I demotivated him by acting as I did on the list. He didn’t call me stupid, as I had implicitly called him. He didn’t call me dumb, as I had done to him. He just expressed the effect I’d had on him.

I can not even tell you how badly I felt. I mean, my whole life, I’ve always tried to take other people into account. I try not to step on people’s toes or to make anyone feel bad or guilty or dumb or inadequate. I try, above all, to be fair. If someone does something, I try and step into their shoes to try and understand why what happened happened, and to give them the benefit of the doubt. All the early DevRel people probably got sick of hearing me go on about second chances: “everyone,” I used to say, “deserves a second chance.” I think devrel still goes by that these days, actually.

Life’s too short to be a hard ass. Other people’s lives are too short to make them feel like crap. Yeah, you have your standards But they’re your standards. Beating other people with them won’t make anyone jump to adopt your standards. Communicating with them effectively involves showing them why your standards would serve them.

Anyway, I wanted to publicly apologise to Rob for what I did. And to anyone else I’ve made feel that way over the years: my sincerest apologies. I didn’t know it when I did it. If you’d like to vent at me (in public or private), I encourage you to do so. Don’t hold it in (don’t keep that negativity that I caused inside of you: it becomes poisonous); let it out. Give it back to me.

And with this, I’m off my soapbox, people. Thanks for reading along with me. Tomorrow’s entry: an overdue good-bye to the person who brought Gentoo into my life.

A Parade of Poisons

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months, actually. Maybe years. I’m likely to get quite a bit of stabby glares from all sorts of circles because of this. That doesn’t matter to me, because the truth has to be told.

Yes, people, I’m about to declothe some emperors on this one. As I indicated in the prelude posting, Ciaran is only the latest in a series of jerks As up in arms as people get about him every few months, the truth is that he isn’t what will bring Gentoo down. This will be a bit of a meandering journey through some of the jerks in Gentoo’s history.

A year ago, Ciaran’s “case” was being reviewed by some sort of devrel committee with the aim of deciding what action to take to solve the circus of issues around him. I believe (and someone please correct me, if I’m wrong) what got to devrel’s attention was the fight between Brian (ferringb) and Ciaran. Now, DevRel has never been a particularly liked team within Gentoo. And over the past few years, it has gotten undermined pretty severely (each time, its power to actually do anything decisive has been stripped gradually). A year ago was the last time that that happened, and the truth about Gentoo’s actual power structure became plainer to a few more people.

Someone in infra decided that since Ciaran’s case was up for review, he was going to be removed from Gentoo development soon anyway, so why bother with the waiting for the actual trial and review to revoke his access. Instead, it was deemed smarter to just go ahead and revoke it. Despite many logical arguments being made, emotion won out. Sort of. What infra managed to do was undermine devrel to the point of obsolescence. There’s a jerk in this story, but we’ll come back to him in a minute.

First of all, most people can read about the “golden age of gentoo” in any number of blog posts. Well, it wasn’t all that golden back then, either. There were always upset people, hurt egos, stamped on toes. But things were certainly simpler. Daniel was the buck stopper, period/full-stop. That meant that if you didn’t agree with him, you either swallowed your pride and went on, or you left, or you had an argument and/or threw a hissy fit. Or some weird combination of those things. Anyone from the period can attest to my own numerous hissy fits. Or those of Daniel’s. (We had rock-steady forces in the mix though: Grant (g2boojum), Aron (agriffis), Karl (karltk, who also provided the comedy relief), and Martin (azarah). This was a foursome who just didn’t do hissy fits. They did not get emotional. They were rational, cool, level-headed people. People to be admired and emulated.)

Anyway, Daniel was alpha male. Hey, it was his project to begin with, it made sense. But then every so often, someone would come along and vie for that position. There were episodes of threats, hissy fits, accusations, and even bribes by people who wanted the sweet sweet taste of Gentoo power.

There was the zydiot who tried to bribe his way to the top. His m/o was the following: he gave of his time and brain power to gentoo (I believe his pet term for this was “sweat equity” whatever the hell that actually means. Someone find me a powerpoint presentation about it, stat!). In return, he wanted to be able to make money for his business. How Gentoo owed him that is unclear to me. I guess the privelege of having him work on the tree (presumably on embedded things, though I don’t recall any projects actually having gotten completed) put Gentoo in the position of somehow generating business for his, er, business. Annoyingly, he would send tirades of god-knows-what emails to -core almost nightly. You’d wake up to an email with page after page after page of him going on and on and on about i-dunno-what. After a while of the incessant emails wasting time and space, and his sneaky vying for alpha-dog, I made an executive decision. I did discuss it with Daniel (in the sense that I /msg’d him and told him what I was about to do). I fired him. Yes, people, the credit for firing zach belongs to me. I’ve been hearing Daniel getting that credit (not claiming, just getting) for years now and I’m frankly sick of it. I was proud of that firing, and I think I rightly earned the recognition for it.

For reasons unknown (for which I’m willing to give Daniel the benefit of the doubt), Daniel and Zach started talking again a few months after that and Zach returned. I did issue a protest to Daniel, but like I said earlier: he was the buck-stop. Anyway, Zach was up to the same old bull when he did return. The long and the short of it is that he decided he couldn’t stay without being in control, and surely he (of all people) deserved to be in control of Gentoo. I think he offered to buy a certain percentage of Gentoo Technologies from Daniel at one point, too. He also involved lawyers in the thing, it got pretty tense and ugly. Mercifully, he forked off into that zydiot distro (I forget the name, but it sounded like zydiot), and took a good percentage of Gentoo with him. The poison purged itself, so to speak.

However, there was another poison waiting in the wings! Another one who fancied that his business credentials were more important to running a distro. He went about his power grab in a different and more subtle way (and a not so subtle way, as you’re about to learn). He decided he would “help” out with the infrastructure. And that was his way in. He took control of Gentoo’s infrastructure and formed a team of loyalists around him. Daniel no longer had access to his own stuff without Kurt’s say so (if you guessed klieber in the third paragraph, kudos to you). Kurt created a sub-culture of inherent distrust in Gentoo. The developer base was growing (fast) so in some ways, that was bound to happen anyway. And as far as system administration goes, it’s a sound principle, which is why there was very little protest when that happened.

What followed was a progressive pressuring on Daniel to “open up” the leadership of Gentoo to a managerial committee. Kurt advocated having decisions made by committee rather than just Gentoo. It would be “good for the community” or something. Rac was involved in this pressuring as well (the four of us had a meeting at LWE san francisco about it, which left me livid). Rac is an idealist, so I can forgive him for it — he probably came from a good place, even though his statement that “prominent Japanese businessmen that he knew refused to use Gentoo because it was led by one person instead of a group of people” was basically laughable. What did disturb me was his disappearance, shortly after the foundation’s birth. What he championed for so strongly he achieved. Then left the mess for everyone else to deal with — see below.

Anyway, the management structure led to even more pressure, because Daniel retained his buck-stophood. Can’t have that, can we? Kurt increased pressure: Gentoo was still owned by gentoo technologies, inc, which was owned by Daniel. It had to go to shared ownership. The pressure continued and continued and continued on. Eventually, Daniel caved (and it’s something I’ve had a hard time forgiving him for) and paved the way for the foundation to come into existence. He did what is undeniably the single worst thing he could do for Gentoo. He left it headless. There was no buck-stop. The buck-stop is a stop by committee. Congress, anyone? Need I say more?

And he left Gentoo. At the time, Gentoo was my life. It was like my child. I’d put in many hours of work and effort and emotion and sanity into building up a group of developers into kick-ass teams and keeping up morale amongst them. So, while I knew that the whole rule-by-committee was the beginning of Gentoo’s descent into Debian-hell, I stayed on because I loved Gentoo, and I would be damned if Kurt could do any more damage.

There I’ll say it again more clearly. I stayed on in 2003 to be an opposing force to Kurt on the boards and councils etc.

Back to paragraph 3, then. The truth is that it is INFRA which is the true power base of Gentoo. The council, the trustees, devrel — they’re all at infra’s mercy. Ciaran’s access revocation a year ago was just Kurt exercising his raw power (and playing on the emotional tension surrounding that situation). Since then, however, we actually have an infra team and leadership that inspires trust. Between solar, Mike (king of tacos), Robin (robbat2), Chris (wolf31o2, who’s equally amazing as the releng lead (who’s equally amazing as the GWN editor (who’s equally amazing as the head of PR))), and others, I think infra is in great hands. Once devrel and infra actually do follow policy of retiring kurt for inactivity (3 weeks shy of a year now), the poisonous personality will be gone finally.

I’m really really happy that Kurt’s professional career has been as stellar as it has been, because it has left him little to no time for Gentoo. In truth, he did fuck-all once the foundation came into being. Last I read, he said something to the effect of this (ie the board of trustees thing) being a failed experiment.

No shit, sherlock, where were you when I was saying the same thing in 2003? For what Kurt has done for Gentoo, I have nothing but negative feelings about. He was a poisonous character, but thankfully he went away.

And I’m not blameless either. There were many situations when I would think, “jeez, Daniel, just give me the reins for a month so I can fix this situation” (where “this situation” was whatever crisis we were in, of which there were many). See? Everyone wants to be alpha-dog.

The truth is that a lot of this stuff is in mailing list archives, irc logs (if there are any), and other public statements. I’ve not said anything baseless here, but if something is factually incorrect, please do leave me a comment about it.

And for any bridges that this post has burned: my sincerest apologies — it was going to happen some time, the real wonder is that I’ve managed to hold it in all this time (not counting the small number of people in whom I’ve confided over the years).

There may be a part 3 to this, I’m honestly not sure yet.

Edit: My anger got the best of me, so I removed an inaccurate statement.

Edit2: For the real scoop behind the early removal of access mentioned up there, see Lance’s comment on the matter. I tried not to imply that Kurt was the decision-maker, but the overall tone of this article probably makes that challenging for the reader to properly discern. So, formally, Kurt was not the one who pulled Ciaran’s access, he simply put himself in front of infra as its spokesman and shield (a rather admirable thing to do for your team).

Gangrenes, Poisons and Jerk Seasoning

I’ve been unmotivated to write any entries for the past couple of months, because I’ve spent a lot of energy on my personal/professional life, and that took a lot of time. In summary, I’m doing contract/consulting work for a while back at Brontes with my old office-mates. It’s been 3 weeks doing that, and it has been real fun. It’s felt like a homecoming, in a way. I’ll blog more about it later. Let’s first get to the poisonous jerks who are gangrenes.

The gentoo-dev mailing list has seen a lot of activity in the past couple of days. The noise-to-signal ratio has been pretty much infinite. The thread starts with kingtaco’s request for a status update on the package manager spec. The usual suspect (is there ever any other with the ability to rile so many people up?) at work here: one Ciaran McCreesh.

The story is the same. You have someone who’s super smart at technical things. Ciaran probably truly believes that his posts are technical. He may not even see that he comes off like a jack-ass more than half the time (settle down, fanboys). I’ve been observing his behaviour in this most recent thread, and I’ll be perfectly frank: he is an asshole, most of the time. He brings a double standard to the table: it’s NOT acceptable for you to make a mistake, and if you do, you need to apologise repeatedly. He, himself, is above making mistakes. And if he makes one, he is above acknowledging such trivialities. Apologies? Those are what other people do. If you say something, you better be prepared to highlight the relevant syllables in the relevant words of the relevant sub-clauses in the relevant paragraphs of the relevant subsections of the relevant chapters of the relevant documentation. If he says something, you better be happy with “go look it up.” Of course there are no personal attacks _from_ him. Those only exist in this world in one direction: _to_ him (see above about apologies). And finally, he’s happy taking something that’s partly applicable to a small part of a group of people and paint the entire group with that brush. Don’t you even THINK about painting him so broadly (see above about the relevant documentation!).

And so, this poisonous behaviour has been a fixture of Gentoo for a number of years. Is he technically proficient, even superior? I don’t think you’ll find dissent there. The point that most people make is that that is not a currency exchange for bad behaviour. And they are right, it is not. The fact is that the gentoo-dev mailing list is a community. A community is made up of people. Thus, to be a part of that community, is by necessity to interact with the people in it. There is a fair number of people who look beyond all his vitriol to his technical merits. But those are not the people with whom he has a problem. It’s the other x% of the population.

It’s a waste of time, you see, to question him on any of the things he does or says. It’s perfectly fine, however, for you to waste your own time gathering all the evidence to lay at his feet because you said something (that he may even agree with). And, every week, there’s someone who plays right into his hands. And every week someone else gets frustrated.

The above paragraphs are after a tiring, frustrating day where all I’ve been dealing with is tired, frustrated developers about Ciaran. I’m trying my best to be objective on this.

Ciaran is not the devil incarnate. I don’t think he is inherently evil, or inherently out to derail anyone who is not part of his circle of approved people. Rather, I think a number of factors are at play. The root factor is a mystery to me — his behaviour as a developer changed from when he first became a dev to the day he got kicked out. It’s a night and day thing. He retained his sarcasm. But his cynicism increased by orders of magnitude. And with that, the way he addressed people changed.

Most people, when they get kicked out of a project, go away. He did not. To his credit, he stayed, and still is very generous with the products of his labours. He gives back to Gentoo, a lot of good, strong technical stuff. The PMS, when it is done, I have full confidence will be a rock-solid document. The devmanual that was his intiative is a good example of such rock-solidity. Paludis as a complete independently developed package manager is another good example of his capabilities. In all three cases, I’ll note that he’s not the soloist. That he has a lead role in all three is without question, though. And the people who work with him on those projects display a fierce loyalty to him.

So obviously, he knows how to interact in a respectful and civil manner. One can only assume that he chooses not to. Is it a lead-role thing? Could be, I don’t know. Is it a personal issue he has in real life? Could also be, I don’t know. I’ve never met him in person. Those who have seem to come away with a fairly pleasant impression of him. Whenever I have worked with him in gentoo development, I have come away with a favourable impression of him. While I like him on a personal level, I can’t help but shake my head in frustration at his antics on the mailing lists.

The long and the short of it is that there are calls for silencing him on the mailing list by banning him. As tactless, jerky, dickheady, half-truthy, vague as he gets on the list, I don’t think that that is the way to solve “the ciaranm problem.” I’m not alone in my belief that trolls should not be fed. Thus, if you perceive him to be trolling, don’t take the bait. Trolls feed off the attention they get (and ciaran certainly does, too), so the best thing to do is to not give them any. Banning him also does not change the culture that gentoo dev has adopted.

Numerous times just today, people have preferred to assume the worst in others, and proceeded to attack them. The name-calling results shortly thereafter. The real gangrene is that culture that enables this sort of behaviour, the one that tolerates that one dev can insult another (“dickwad”, “dickhead”, “fuckwad” are examples that immediately come to mind), blaming that developer for not doing *exactly the thing that they did*. Mercifully, that particular poisonous individual left the project. Yet, he should have faced consequences. He behaved reprehensibly and then walked away, with nary a consequence. He should have been kicked (there were multiple instances of that sort of abuse from him)!

And yes, he was part of the larger ciaranm circle of people, but that is besides the point.

What is not besides the point is that Gentoo developers every day continue to be rude, disrespectful, insulting, and back-stabbing with each other and users, and there are no corrective measures taken.

I submit to you, my fine Gentoo readers, that the culture of gentoo is what needs to change. These sorts of behaviours should not be tolerated, and their perpetrators disavowed. Not as a matter of policy, bureaucracy and red-tape, but as a matter of common human decency.

In part 2 I will endeavour to trace how this culture got to where it is.

For Love or Money

Update: I hereby rescind the update I made in my Circuit City post: Office Depot has not pulled their creepy hand spots yet. Maybe they’re taking the tack that any exposure is good exposure, in which case I feel sorry for them (but not enough to shop there 🙂 )

Back when I was blogging about Gentoo being a development platform more than a user platform, I got an email from Stuart telling me about a book he’d read called The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. He was very sweet (Stuart, not Mr. Anderson, though he might be well be sweet, I just don’t know him) and even offered to buy the book for me if I put it on my Amazon wishlist (no link, because I don’t actually have one).

A few weeks later, I found it at a book fair where I used to work and picked it up. It took me a few more weeks to finish it, but I did finish it shortly before we left for Jamaica. I found the book to be quite interesting and compelling, and exactly in line with my own thoughts on where commerce is (or should be?) heading.

When we were looking into resorts and all-inclusives in the Caribbean last summer, we discovered a nice place in Ocho Rios, Jamaica that offered very decent rates. So basically, for the amount that we would’ve paid for a basic room in the Bahamas got us a fairly high-end room in Jamaica. So we decided to opt with Jamaica because we’d get more luxury for the buck. Boy were we in for a surprise. We thought we were getting a private type affair, with less people per pool, and a great view and location on the premises. Being an all-inclusive, food and tips were included. Drinks were also included. So at any bar, any restaurant at any time of day, you can get your favourite drink.

What we actually got, then, was all the stuff we expected — the less populated chalet and more private pool, fantastic view, brilliant location, free food and drink, and then also a free minibar in the room. So we had champagne, red & white wines, rum, vodka, beer, a whole bunch of juices, ginger ale and bottled water. Every morning, they replenished it for us. We thought that was just what they did, but it turned out that our “level” of room came with that. And finally, we got concierge service. So, when we got off the bus at the hotel, we got whisked into a private office with champagne and plush chairs and they checked us in.etc. And for our tours and excursions etc, they made all the bookings for us and picked up the tickets etc. They also arranged our check-outs and all of that. Essentially, it was personalised service for maybe a hundred odd dollars more (total). For a few hundred dollars more we could have gotten butler service, but I shied away from that, because it makes me a bit uncomfortable.

In sum, it was a fantastic experience and well worth it. We’ll do it again, but first we’ll explore different places and different hotels in the coming years.

I noticed last night a new set of commercials for Progressive Insurance (which, by the way, doesn’t even exist in this state, so totally not an option for us). They’re offering concierge service there as well. Now, when you’re in a car wreck, you call them. They’ll pick you up and take care of getting your car towed to wherever and getting it fixed, yadayada.
The commercial spot was great — everyone was whispering because they did not want to wake up the sleeping baby who slept through the accident. Quite well done, actually, but mostly because it’s a service that the others don’t advertise. In California, it turns out, they don’t care for this.

And, on the theme of cars and being picked up, Enterprise car rentals has been doing it for years, where you call them and they’ll pick you up. But for taking car rentals “out of the box” (someone shoot me now for that lingo), ZipCar is the best model I’ve seen. You get a membership, call them, and then go pick up your car at some predetermined location. You just wzve your credit card at it, and it unlocks. When you’re done, you just bring it back to that spot or at some other predetermined spot and walk away. It’s nice to dispense with going all the way out to the airport or whatever to return your car.

There’s more to be said on this subject, so I’ll continue that in the next article.

Oh, I almost forgot to explain the cryptic title of this post, which is all about concierge services. It turns out that The Concierge was the working title of that Michael J. Fox movie. I could probably dedicate an entire series of blog posts on Mr. Fox, who’s simply fantastic, but I’ll leave you with this: why isn’t Family Ties on DVD yet?


So, after about a year or so of using the various gtk2-based forks of XMMS, someone in #gentoo-dev recently recommended rhythmbox. This is a sucky post because I can not even remember why I was asking for alternatives in there. I think it was because I was lamenting that audacious doesn’t play my streams.

Anyway, whoever that person was is now my hero. I love that it’s a music management application as well. OK, I just went to my public page, as linked above, and um, wow. I did not realise I’ve listened to that much Michael Jackson lately. Actually, I did not realise that rhythmbox was interfacing with constantly to report that, either. So, in the few minutes it’s taken to write this post, I like it even better.

I realise that rhythmbox is something to get used to (it took me a bit), and that it’s not a straight up replacement for the xmms type applications (nor am I trying to sell it in this post as such). I’m only expressing my own appreciation for it. It also seems to be firmly a gnome application, so that limits the potential audience for it.

Hello T-Mobile, It’s Me: Seemant

I’m filing this in the “me too” advertising section (when I get around to having such a section). So, there’s some US wireless carrier called Alltel which launched this new cool feature that lets you call up to 5 of your friends/family on other networks for free. They call this feature “My Circle,” which is nice and catchy.

And of course, within weeks, you can’t walk through a mall without hearing about T-Mobile’s response, which they’ve cleverly and originally dubbed “My Faves” which allows you to, guess what, call up to 5 of your friends/family on other networks for — you guessed, free.

So here’s a kudos to Alltel for calling out T-Mobile’s “look mommy, I can do what he does” strategy. It’s quite a hilarious response, actually, in that it shows how effortlessly they have the upper hand. My Circle has expanded to 10 of your friends. Just like that. And, their new advertising spots point this out.

Come on, T-Mobile. You guys came to the US a few years ago and took it by storm. You were the first widely known GSM networked wireless provider, you had cool phones, you put hottie Cathy Zeta-Jones in your advertising spots. They were edgy, you were set apart. And you know what? That got me: hook, line and sinker. Verizon was probably a cheaper option, but between the image I had of T-Mobile just being cool, man, and the fact that you offered GSM, Aimee and I signed up to your family plan (with a one year contract).

And I’ll tell you why you’re going to lose us soon. Our phones are fairly outdated, so we’re looking for new phones. For starters, the current line up of phones is somewhat underwhelming. To be honest, I’m not sure if we can even renew our one-year-plan. We’re basically “off-plan” at the moment, which actually suits us fine. However, if we’re to get phones at good deals, we’d have to sign up for a plan. Except, we’d be locked in for two years.

So this gets me thinking. I like GSM, so Sprint/Nextel and Verizon are out. Alltel (see above) is definitely cool but they’re CDMA as well (and they don’t offer any plans in Massachusetts anyway). This leaves us with Cingular. For ten bucks a month more, we get a buttload of extra monthly minutes, with unused ones getting carried over into the next month. Yeah, we lose out on your original MyCircle (couldn’t your marketing flunkies have at least thought up something original, for crying out loud? Did you give them a raise for the blatant copy-catting?). But that’s ok, because most everyone we know is on Cingular, with a small minority on Verizon. And you know something? Cingular just has cooler phones.

That’s just how we’re inclined so far. If OpenMoko does actually get released in the next couple of months I’ll pick one up (maybe two) and that criterion for carrier selection just goes away. Which leaves us with feature comparisons, and I think the minutes-carrying-over plus the lesser amount of dropped calls (this is actually claimed by everyone we know who’s on cingular) will probably win us away.

In short, T-Mobile do a couple of things: get both your marketing and product planning/management departments to pull up their socks and start innovating again. Stop following (or at least don’t be so bloody blatant about it) and start leading (again). We both know you’re capable of it.

All About the Benjies

I’ve not blogged in a long time, I see. Forgive me, dear reader, for that. In fact, a lot has been happening in the week since my last post. In that time, I’ve been poring over the job boards, looking for something to do. I admit, I’ve felt a little discouraged and slightly dejected owing to the lay-off, but life, as they say, must go on.

So, I’ve been doing all sorts of keywords searches on those sites to find things that interest me, and discover how things I’m passionate about can become things that I can make a living out of. And, of course, I’ve been sending resumes out like mad (I’ve not had any callbacks or emailbacks yet). That is really why I haven’t blogged, and why I haven’t worked on any of the django websites, which really need to just get finished at this point. I’ll tackle those this weekend and try to at least get 3crowns out of the door.

So, my passions. Funny (not in a ha-ha sense) story: Last summer, I googled around for some of my old high school chums. I’m sort of in touch with a few — one (who I’ve known since 6th grade) directly and 3 indirectly. I had found that my friend Gordana is doing some cool and major stuff in the world of Art. I thought she’d be in the UN or in politics or something while we were in school, but I guess I’d just taken for granted how great she did in Art class. Well, we exchanged a couple of emails and we got to talking about being passionate about what you do. I never responded to her, because I hadn’t figured out exactly what that is. So a four-month late reply is about to go out to her. Told you it wasn’t funny.

It turns out that I am, apparently, one of those people-people. I said it, it’s now out there: I’m a “people person.” Once the shivers are gone when I say that, the truth begins to sink in. I joined gentoo and I became its evangelist not by technical achievements (there’s no bit of programming that I can point to and say: “there, see that piece of genius? I did that.”), but rather by softer means: I had some great ideas (cascading profiles and g-cpan come to mind). I didn’t have the technical oompf to actually code those things up. However, when I found the right people who could, I knew I’d found them (that’s an indirect shout out to Mike).

And I realised that that’s what I’d been doing at Gentoo. I did it well enough, though I certainly stumbled quite a bit along the way. I’d been building teams. That’s been my modus operandi: find a weakness, apply a band-aid, find specialist surgeons to fix it and strengthen it and build upon it. I’m not trying to toot my own horn, here, please understand that. I’m just airing my thoughts of the last few months. And then, there’s the fact that my blood runs with devrel. That is to say, even though I’m not formally really a part of DevRel any more, I still do devrel type things (lately it’s been talking developers out of leaving the project). That’s just my nature, I can’t help it. I’m not alone in that, mind you — it takes that kind of person to be in devrel (which is a shout out to Bryan and to Ferris — wasn’t there some pop star named Bryan Ferris back in the day, by the way? Have I stumbled upon a conspiracy?).

And, of course, there were the linux world expos (though not really with the more recent ones) where I took the reins at interacting with booth visitors and attracting people to the booth. Some might remember me dragging some Malaysian television crew to the Gentoo booth to cover us.

So what does this all mean? All that stuff made me deliriously happy. Well, not all of it is happy (the leaving of devs, for example, sucks mostly), but it’s all what I do. That’s just who I am. That’s what I need to be doing. I don’t know if there are any corporate titles that cover that sort of thing (and pay well) or not. I don’t know what those titles are, either.

So with this present job search, after the initial round of keyword searching, I decided to try and hone in on some of the industries I’d like to be working in. I don’t think I want to work in the linux industry (such as it is), because Gentoo fulfills that need more than amply. But when I think about the kinds of products and services that excite me, then we start to see a picture forming.

Airlines, for example, I feel very strongly about. I love to fly. I love being on airplanes. I love everything about the flying experience, and on non-American carriers, I love the food. Airline food is probably my most favourite type of food. Too bad you can’t really go out for that sort of thing. Or, heaven help you, order it in. Anyway, yeah, I love the boarding, the pushback, the taxiing, the sitting on the ground during delays, the line up, the take-off (I LOVE the take-off), the cruising, the drinks, the food (did I mention the food?), the movies and music, talking with fellow passengers and the cabin crew when they have some down time, the slowing down, the landing and touchdown (I LOVE the landing and touchdown, and pulling to the gate. I’m not so thrilled about the steps following that. This, after 32 and a half years of flying continually (my first airplane ride was at 6 months old). A relaxing time for me is watching the airplanes taking-off and landing. I love watching the approaches. A couple of years ago, there was an internet feed of KSFO airport and I used to have that as my background, er, music while doing Gentoo things. I didn’t understand most of it, but it relaxed me to listen to the air traffic controllers interact with departing and approaching flights. I hate seeing people off (I love seeing them come in), but I think that’s a tinge of jealousy that I’m not the one boarding the aircraft.

Needless to say, one of my categories for search is now Airlines/Aviation. Whether or not I can score a position there that is mutually suitable remains to be seen. And yes, I’m picky. I’d rather work for the cool airlines like Jet Blue and Southwest (if we’re talking American carriers). Those have a people focus to the way go about things. They have a courtesy and general respect for their clientele, which is lacking in most of the other domestic carriers.

I’m not sure yet, which other products/services I feel strongly about, but I’ll start noting them down as they occur to me. I know they are there, I just need to tap into my brain to get at them.

Branding and Loyalty

Ignoring, for a moment, the conjunction of those two words with respect to cults and organisations (and some fraternities), I’d like to share some thoughts about branding and loyalty in airlines. As you, my dear readers, might recall, Aimee and I had gone to Los Angeles and Oklahoma for Thanksgiving (late November), and then to Jamaica for Christmas.

Well, as it turned out, we had two starkly contrasting airline experiences. For the first trip, we booked all the flights on Southwest airlines. Southwest is well-known as a budget airline. On the flights you get pretzels and drinks galore, which is fine. You don’t pay much, and you don’t expect much. That, and when you get a boarding card, there are no seat numbers on it. You just board (at the right time, because passengers are placed in different zones) and then pick out a seat you might like. Aimee and I tend to prefer the rear of the aircraft, which is not a popular destination, but very very convenient (except if you’re in a hurry to deboard at the end of the flight). Southwest, however, exceeded our expectations. Without exception, all the cabin crew members were friendly and happy and smiley. They were courteous and not once did I see even a hint of a frown. This, despite some of our flights being completely full. And, on another occasion, populated by a noisy bunch of high-schoolers (noisy being the keyword, because they were a very nice bunch of students — headed to LA for a marching band competition (and by the way, some of them played bagpipes, which is simply the coolest thing I’ve ever heard)).

Anyway, the cabin crew: they were also really funny. The ones making announcements always had a funny quip like “if we expected a water landing, none of us would have shown up to work today.” And one of them called the plane the “Love Chub” which is just hilarious.

While I’m gushing about Southwest, I just want to compliment them on their choice of new livery. That old brown/beige/orange scheme just had to go. It was ugly and made their planes look ancient and rickety. I can’t wait for the rest of the fleet to be redone. We even saw Shamu at LAX, which was very cool.

Oh right, I have a point with all this. For Christmas, we booked our flights on the fairly pathetic USAir. The preflight experience (booking, check-in, boarding) was normal and fine. Friendly staff, quick service. Onboard, however, is a different world entirely. I believe one of the cabin crew members even had a scowl. For heaven’s sake, it’s a public facing job — put on your public face! They just wanted people to sit in their seats and get ready to go, because we were running late. What they forgot was that it wasn’t the passengers who caused the delay — the aircraft arrived late. We, the passengers, were just working with what we had. So, lots of down-talking and PA announcements about “please don’t waste time in the aisles — place your bags away as quickly as possible and sit so that we can leave.”

Once airborne on the 4 hour international flight, they serve the requisite peanuts and soft drinks. Here’s the kicker: for lunch, you get a choice of a salad, or a sandwich or some sort of snack box. Now, Aimee and I had gotten up mega-early for this flight so we basically skipped breakfast, and the flight to Philly was too short to have anything to eat. It was that first flight that was late. So in Philly we had enough time to go into the next plane, and that’s about it.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the snack box. All three items could be had at the, um “bargain basement” price gouging cost of 5 dollars. I get it, we’re in the air, you have the monopoly, if not the sense of customer service. Fine, we think, we’ll shell out the five bucks each for the salad, because we’re basically starved. We’re in the rear section (not the very back, but about 10 rows in front of it). By the time they get to us, the only thing left is this mysterious snackbox. We bought one, even though that was simply ridiculous. In it: a bar of candy, a breakfast bar, and nachos and processed cheese or something. Basically, nasty pre-packaged stuff that USAir probably gets for free to promote those products anyway — they just have to provide the “box” part of the snack box.

So, you open your tray table and what do you see? Not a tray table, but a freaking advertisement for Verizon. I paid money to sit in a seat and look at advertisements (this, by the way, is also what disgusts me about movie theaters these days, but that’s a different blog post) for four hours. Five dollars is a magic number on USAir: that’s coincidentally how much the cheap ass earphones cost (we did not, don’t worry).

So top it all off, they ended the flight on a very inappropriate note. The pilot, when announcing our imminent landing procedures, proceeded to inform us about what a great deal the USAir credit card is, and the number of miles that you get for signing up? Excuse me? How about you just fly the fucking plane, ok? Tell me the local time and temperature and other interesting tidbits I can’t see out my window. Don’t pimp.

Needless to say, I’m willing to now pay extra to explicitly not fly USAir. Air Jamaica feeds you well, I hear.

This was a pretty long rant: sorry about that.