The problem with “patches welcome” culture

I’m going to tell you a secret.

Most computer users cannot write computer code. (Shock!) This is not anything new, and I would dare say this is not even necessarily a problem that needs to be corrected. In a similar vein, a great deal of first-world citizens use cars daily, but I doubt many drivers would be able to fully rebuild an engine, or even describe the difference between EFI and carburetors.

This is the fundamental flaw behind the “patches welcome” culture, and why some libre open source projects have less-than-ideal user experiences, and some even have communities that most would describe as “elitist”.

While drafting this article, a few people told me that they agreed with the substance but did not like that I was using “patches welcome” to describe the culture. While it is correct that most libre software projects should be welcoming of patches, that is not what this article is about. When these people say “patches welcome”, it is a deflection; they don’t want to put forth the effort to properly maintain their software.

Let’s consider an example of this. In a welcoming environment that fosters participation and communication, a request for a feature from a user typically goes somewhat like this:

User: I would really like to be able to select an entire sentence using a key combination so that I can make the sentence bold or underline without dragging.
Developer: Okay. We’ll add that to the list of features that have been requested. Thank you for telling us!

Sometimes these features take time to add; maybe some will never see the light of day. Nevertheless, the user still informed the developer of the software what they needed, which allows the developers to make better choices about how they approach building the software, and what features to prioritise.

Now, in a project with “patches welcome” culture, the users are ignored or even chastised. I’ve actually seen discussions very similar to the following take place:

User: I would really like to be able to select an entire sentence using a key combination so that I can make the sentence bold or underline without dragging.
Developer: patches welcome
User: I don’t know how to write code.
Developer: Then you shouldn’t ask us for help.

This behaviour undermines what libre software is supposed to stand for. It gives the user reason to go back to using proprietary software, where they can call up Microsoft or Apple and tell them what they want or ask for help when they need it. Even if the proprietary software corporations never add their suggestion, they still feel more connected and respected than they do by this example libre project. This behaviour gives the user no reason to use the software that respects them and their freedoms. Free Software is meaningless if it has no users to use it.

Some may argue that people should be empowered to learn to program, and there definitely is a case to be made for that. However, you really need to consider all the reasons people *would not* want to learn to program:

  • They would rather spend that time with family, friends, or their hobbies.
  • They have learning or mental disabilities that make algorithmic reasoning, logic, or concentration required to program difficult.
  • They have physical disabilities that make programming difficult.
  • They simply aren’t interested.

That last item is especially important. Do you want someone who has no interest in programming – no interest in security, or correctness, or doing things the Right Way (or even the way you want them done) – to commit code to your repository? Are patches really welcome, or are you just deflecting the requests of your users so you don’t have to maintain the software you’ve written?

All people deserve Free Software. Nobody deserves to be denigrated, shamed, or ignored because of their inability or lack of desire to program a computer. My personal suggestion to those who do not want to accept feature requests unless patches are attached is to not publicly release your software. If you do, add a notice stating that you do not wish to be contacted about your software by users, so that they may make an informed decision about the software that they use.

Happy Workaholic Day!

I’ve never been a big fan of stores being open on Thanksgiving Day, because I feel that American culture already emphasises consumerism and unhealthy obsessions with work enough. However, I rarely say anything, because what are you going to do with big-box retailers? They want some of that Black Friday money, and they typically don’t open until 9 PM or later on Thanksgiving — that’s late enough that I could see a reasonable amount of relaxation or family time being spent.

That is, until I opened my email yesterday afternoon and received this email from our local, “Oklahoma Proud” grocer, Reasor’s:

Open Thanksgiving - Regular Store Hours

I was definitely not Oklahoma Proud. I was Oklahoma Ashamed. I was also appalled and disgusted. They aren’t even treating Thanksgiving as a holiday. It’s just another work day in another work week. Some of their stores are open 24 hours — they won’t close at all for this holiday!

And it just kept coming. I received this email shortly after picking up our family’s meal package at The Fresh Market:

Open until 3pm Thanksgiving

That’s slightly better, but still doesn’t allow employees much freedom to spend Thanksgiving morning and afternoon the way they want to be able to.

American culture already penalises people enough for wanting to have a holiday outside of the federally-recognised ones. Some workplaces do not even allow you holidays (or “vacation days”), and the ones that do typically require you to work for a certain amount of time before receiving any. This is the next level, and in my opinion, going too far. When you start taking away the ability of people to have holidays at all, even when they are federally recognised, that is where I draw the line and say something is wrong. This is unhealthy for all involved, and will only lead to problems.

Identity, shame, stigma, and intolerance

I have seen a great number of people in the past few years disavow being a part of a culture or community that they once enjoyed or identified with due to an influx of sexism, nationalism, or other intolerance. I feel like this is a mistake and will only serve to strengthen intolerance amongst the masses, and this is what I’d like to write about and discuss today.

Virtually every person alive on Earth has at least some groups with which they identify. This could be a certain interest or hobby, ranging from music to photography to hiking and beyond. This could be their gender, male, female, or other. This could be a favourite pastime, whether that is sports, video games, or visiting museums. This list could go on for paragraphs and paragraphs. There are the fanatical and obsessive – just search your favourite social media platform for “Game of Thrones” for some decent examples. There are the truly interested and passionate – one of my favourite examples of this is Lazy Game Reviews, a channel on YouTube with enjoyably thorough reviews of old games and computer systems. There are all kinds of people and all kinds of ways to enjoy being part of a group or having an identity that is shared with others. This is typically a very healthy and normal thing for us social creatures.

In the past few years, political discourse has moved towards the more extreme. This has pervaded everyday communication in a way that had not yet been seen in the Millennial generation. The Millennials, in my experience, are generally some of the most open-minded people; however, this leads to a darker side. Just as most Millennials are open-minded towards acceptance of so-called “non-traditional” lifestyles and viewpoints ranging from economics to sex to religion and beyond, some Millennials are open-minded towards violent rhetoric, nationalism, anarchy, and intolerance.

This has sent a great number of the first sort of Millennials running scared from groups and identities that they would otherwise enjoy, because they do not want to be seen as supportive of these views that they feel are regressive. Unfortunately, this may indeed backfire on the ones that want to see the regression stop; when the tolerant leave, the intolerant remain. Let us look at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s report on the horrific 2015 church massacre in Charleston, S.C. for an example. The summary: a young man who was raised to respect all people found a series of blogs and Web sites condemning a race, and was so moved by it that he committed a mass murder of that race. How did these blogs and Web sites, written specifically to influence young minds to become hateful and enraged to the point of violence, end up so highly ranked by a search engine?

One answer is that there are so many communities today overrun with people who legitimately believe in the hate and intolerance spread in such writings. This is in part due to the mass exodus of more tolerant people from those communities. As more people put shame and stigma on something as simple as playing video games – the media claims that video games somehow led sick and twisted Internet trolls to threaten rape and murder to women – less people want to admit to being gamers. This causes a vicious cycle, as the ones left stating they are gamers are the ones who are intolerant. This leads to a form of normalisation of the idea of intolerance amongst gamers; it’s no longer out of the ordinary to think that anyone who enjoys video games might also enjoy threatening or committing violence towards other groups in real life. Couple this with the fact that teenagers have loved, do love, and will continue to love playing video games. Teenagers also want desperately to fit in with groups, to feel a part of something bigger. If they feel that people who enjoy video games should also hate women, that is what they will begin to do.

This could apply to any number of groups. Many secular people in the United States look down at religious people as being “backwards” or “traditionalist”, when the truth of the matter is well over 60% of Catholics and Protestants support gay marriage and homosexuality. Many people view country music as regressive while attitudes, they are a-shifting. The stigma of being a gamer, or religious, or listening to country music comes not from any endemic intolerance, but from the tolerant people from these groups being too ashamed to admit their membership.

The most powerful statement that tolerant people can make in the groups they identify with is the very statement that they are tolerant and identify with said group. Don’t erase your group identities to avoid being identified as intolerant. Show your group identity and tolerance; say out loud that you respect all your fellow humans and enjoy what you enjoy. This is the true path towards acceptance and togetherness.

Trump and change

Hello, people of the future!  I wrote this in 2016, way before Orange was even inaugurated.  I feel like a fool for believing anything I wrote here, but I’m not going to change the past by removing this article.

 

The ball is in your court now, American Republicans.

I normally avoid politics and other controversial topics on my blog, because I have always felt it is important to keep my audience focused on the technical. Our common ground is unifying and allows us to look past our differences and learn from one another. I feared that if I started talking about politics, people would look at me differently, and I’d lose some of that audience. They wouldn’t trust me and I wouldn’t be able to enrich their lives.

I feel like that part of life in America is over now. President-Elect Donald Trump talks outlandishly, without filter or censor. People love him, people hate him, people think he’s a joke, people think he’s the best non-politician the political world has ever seen. As for myself, if I have learned a single thing from Mr Trump, it is that the world will not end if you speak up and say what is really on your mind. And perhaps this is a good kind of change. Without open discussion, we can’t ever heal the divisiveness that permeates the entire country’s political landscape, and indeed, the entire world’s. There is a not-too-distant past where the words ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ were words that describe someone’s political views, and were not used as slurs or to denigrate someone. Perhaps now that the precedent has been set, we can have open and honest discussions with one another. I’m not sure if that is where we are headed or not. I can only hope that we can learn to be respectful of each other’s differences.

Mr Trump has said some things I agree with; per I Side With, I agree with almost 30% of his policies. It’s not perfect, but it isn’t exactly a disaster either. (For full disclosure, I only had just over 70% of agreement with Clinton.) He has also said a great deal of very offensive things. He has said things that have made some of my friends sick, depressed, and suicidal now that he has become President Elect of the United States. I urge these people especially to remember that first and foremost, Mr Trump is a showman. He knows how to pull in ratings, and was a reality television star. He may think less of Muslims than he should, but I don’t think he will actually have every last one deported back to their homelands — especially since some of them were born and raised in the United States. He may think far less of women than he should, but that thinking is common in men from his generation. His objectification of women and misogyny is of course never acceptable, but women have had much worse oppressors than he ever could be.

I have friends of many classes. I have friends who are very well off — the typical Silicon Valley millionaire. I have friends who are destitute and live pay stub to pay stub, and would likely go homeless if they had even a small hiccup in work. I have friends who are in minority classes: African-American people, transgendered people, people with disabilities. We are all Americans. We all deserve a place in general society. Our society is built on the fact, not opinion, that everyone is created equal. There is room in the United States for the rich and poor, and the different races and religions that comprise this great country. No matter who won the United States election this year, our society has been broken, is broken, and will remain broken until it is healed.

Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, other party members, independents, and even those disillusioned with the political system as a whole: society will only begin to be fully inclusive when we all learn to love each other. We have to work together. We have to stand up for what we believe in. Conflicting interests only break people into hate when they do not bend to compromise. I plan on writing letters to my state Senator, who is a Republican, and telling him my concerns going forward. I will have my voice heard. My Senator will, of course, have to balance my voice with others in our great state of Oklahoma. But together, I feel that we can find common ground and be able to find peace and happiness no matter what our political views.

Mr Trump. You promised to make America great again. If you can set an example with moderation and fairness, balancing differing viewpoints to create a clear path forward, you just may be able to succeed. I did not vote for you, but I still wish to work with you to create a common good for all of the United States.