Tag Archives: floss

OSI Board elections – 2019

I’m running for the Open Source Initiative board of directors!

To be more precise, I’m running for re-election, as I’ve served on the board for the past three years.

Deciding whether to run again has caused me to ask a few questions:

  • Do I feel like I accomplished enough over the past three years?
  • Do I think I would do a better job than other candidates?
  • Is this the right use of my time?

What have I accomplished?

The first and foremost responsibility of a board member is to participate in calls and meetings. I’ve participated in weekly check-ins with the general manager, team calls for the Membership team, monthly board calls, twice a year face-to-face meetings, and other miscellaneous calls and meetings as they became necessary.

When talking about the election, I keep emphasizing the mundane aspects of being on a board. Having policy opinions and vision and ideas are great — but can you focus during a six hour meeting?  (I knit and keep my laptop mostly closed to help with that.)

I enjoy tabling at conferences, and have done a lot of this on behalf of the OSI at events like Paris Open Source Summit and OSCON.

I served as assistant treasurer of the organization, and helped with fundraising activities — I consider it part of the duty of a board member to help with the fiscal stability of an organization. I participated in the organization of activities to expand affiliate engagement in the OSI, and helped instigate initiatives to expand the membership of the organization. I regularly read license-review and license-discuss, to keep up with the conversation around FLOSS licensing.

Above all, I’ve been an advocate for the necessity of recognizing user freedom in all conversations around FLOSS.

Do I think I would do a good job over the next three years?

As I said in my platform, working on a board isn’t glamorous. I’m interested in organizational sustainability and keeping the lights on at the OSI. Having vision and ideas is important, but you have to also be interested in seeing an organization continue to exist and being able to do the work required on a basic level.

In general, the OSI needs a working board. It can be hard to build one from community votes, when everyone involved is already accomplished and hard working in FLOSS. I have a number of other projects I am involved with (most notably my day job in free software, my work on the Debian Outreach and Anti-harassment teams, and baking, biking, climbing, and music). I’ve already proven that I am willing and able to make time for the OSI.

I know I can help the OSI, and that’s my primary goal. I have started projects, and there are more projects I would like to start, that are only possible as a member of the board. I would not like to abandon my work half-way finished, and instead see it through to fruition.

Is this the best use of my time?

I dedicate most of my professional and personal time to creating a world where rights respecting technology is the standard.

With licenses like the Server Side Public License, proposals like the Commons Clause, and criticism of the Open Source Definition, it’s become more important than ever to push for the integrity and necessity of open source. Open source is not a developmental model — though there are certain models of development enabled by using an open source license. Open Source is about user freedom. If I want to make sure our rights are respected in technology, there is no better place to do it than on the front lines.

In summary

Vote for me! I’m running for an affiliate seat. If you know someone who is at or representing an affiliate organization, please share this with them or put them in touch with me! If your user group, community organization, or FLOSS nonprofit isn’t already an affiliate, consider becoming one — even if you miss the opportunity to vote for me.

The OSD and user freedom

Some background reading

The relationship between open source and free software is fraught with people arguing about meanings and value. In spite of all the things we’ve built up around open source and free software, they reduce down to both being about software freedom.

Open source is about software freedom. It has been the case since “open source” was created.

In 1986 the Four Freedoms of Free Software (4Fs) were written. In 1998 Netscape set its source code free. Later that year a group of people got together and Christine Peterson suggested that, to avoid ambiguity, there was a “need for a better name” than free software. She suggested open source after open source intelligence. The name stuck and 20 years later we argue about whether software freedom matters to open source, because too many global users of the term have forgotten (or never knew) that some people just wanted another way to say software that ensures the 4Fs.

Once there was a term, the term needed a formal definition: how to we describe what open source is? That’s where the Open Source Definition (OSD) comes in.

The OSD is a set of ten points that describe what an open source license looks like. The OSD came from the Debian Free Software Guidelines. The DFSG themselves were created to “determine if a work is free” and ought to be considered a way of describing the 4Fs.

Back to the present

I believe that the OSD is about user freedom. This is an abstraction from “open source is about free software.” As I eluded to earlier, this is an intuition I have, a thing I believe, and an argument I’m have a very hard time trying to make.

I think of free software as software that exhibits or embodies software freedom — it’s software created using licenses that ensure the things attached to them protect the 4Fs. This is all a tool, a useful tool, for protecting user freedom.

The line that connects the OSD and user freedom is not a short one: the OSD defines open source -> open source is about software freedom -> software freedom is a tool to protect user freedom. I think this is, however, a very valuable reduction we can make. The OSD is another tool in our tool box when we’re trying to protect the freedom of users of computers and computing technology.

Why does this matter (now)?

I would argue that this has always mattered, and we’ve done a bad job of talking about it. I want to talk about this now because its become increasingly clear that people simply never understood (or even heard of) the connection between user freedom and open source.

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, and I think it’s important context for everything else I say and write about in relation to the philosophy behind free and open source software (FOSS).

FOSS is a tool. It’s not a tool about developmental models or corporate enablement — though some people and projects have benefited from the kinds of development made possible through sharing source code, and some companies have created very financially successful models based on it as well. In both historical and contemporary contexts, software freedom is at the heart of open source. It’s not about corporate benefit, it’s not about money, and it’s not even really about development. Methods of development are tools being used to protect software freedom, which in turn is a tool to protect user freedom. User freedom, and what we get from that, is what’s valuable.

Side note

At some future point, I’ll address why user freedom matters, but in the mean time, here are some talks I gave (with Karen Sandler) on the topic.


Since 2010, I’ve been paid to work in free and open source stuff, in various fields, sub-fields, and roles. Sometimes I hear people talk about how they want to work in free software as well, and sometimes I get asked about how I ended up here. It was pretty easy: I spent a lot of time paying to do things other people get paid to do.

I’m proud that I am on the Open Source Initiative board. I think it is a serious accomplishment. It is also tied very directly to me spending thousands of dollars a year on things related to free software–namely travel.

This past February I had my first trip of the year–I went to Brussels for FOSDEM. In March, there was LibrePlanet (more on this later). In April I’m going to Paris to lecture at two universities. May is Linux Fest Northwest and OSCON–so I’m doing the two-for of going from one directly to the next. In August, DebConf and Wikimania are both in Montréal     (at approximately the same time), so I submitted talks to both.

I spent 96 days of 2016 out of Boston and 74 in 2015. Among my friends in the field, I don’t actually travel all that much.

I live a fabulous life in one of the most expensive cities in America. I also have student loans and not a lot of savings.

I can’t make a good average guess about how much I spend per conference. I usually stay with friends who live in town, or a friend kindly lets me sleep in the hotel room their company is paying for. C3 and DebConf have been the exceptions (though, I paid for my accommodations at LCA 2016 after a miscommunication with my employer at the time). Other than C3, I only go to conferences that don’t have a fee–which means I only go to one if I’m speaking or volunteering.

Conferences mean having to eat out. They mean coffee from shops and carts. They mean late nights at bars and, not infrequently, car service back to where I’m staying. LibrePlanet 2017 was in Boston, where I live. Still, I ended up not having the time or energy to eat at home, and, most nights, threw myself into a car I paid for.

I have self-funded nearly all of my travel.

As I post this, I am at Linux Fest Northwest and it’s Sunday. My flight cost around $300. I got a ride with a friend from Seattle to Bellingham. I’m staying at someone else’s hotel. Breakfast this morning cost $8, and lunch yesterday cost about $15. Post-dinner drinks ran $11–someone else expensed dinner. Friday night dinner was provided by the conference (that’s rare). With some other miscellaneous charges, the conference itself has run me about $350. That’s with a lot of help from friends, which I have because I’ve been doing this for a few years now. As I read that number, $350 doesn’t seem that bad, but then I remember it’s half of my rent and not actually the total cost of just the Seattle portion of this trip and this is a very cheap trip.

I do this because I want to have a career in free software–I want to progress and grow. I want to see the movement be successful.

When you work in a small field, being known is important. It gives you “the edge” over others when you’re being considered for jobs. It gives you cred. Recently, in a totally unrelated meeting, someone referred to me as an “expert” on something–without ever really having talked to me about it, because he knows I go places to speak about it.

That’s the secret to having a free software career: work really hard and spend a lot of money self-funding travel.

FSRG: Anarchism in Action

The Free Software Reading Group will be meeting in a few weeks (September 30th) to talk about FLOSS project governance. We’re giving the session the exciting title Anarchism in Action. Spectranaut and I are very excited about Debian after our trip to Debconf15, so we wanted to dedicate a session to Debian related topics.

The main reading for this meeting is Yochai Benkler’s Practical Anarchy: Peer Mutualism, Market Power, and the Fallible State (2013). It’s long, so we will be reading the following selections:

Abstract through “Working Anarchies” (pp. 1-5)
Free and Open Source Software through Wikipedia (pp. 8-18)
Peer Production of Public Functions (pp. 23-24)
~15 pages
Skim the rest

Debian Social Contract
~3 pages

Debian Constitution
~13 pages

Poke around Category:Wikipedia administration
No need to read anything here, but it might be a nice addition to some of the stuff Benkler talks about.

(FS) Privilege

A friend was trying to install something on their computer and asked me for help. Being an expert has nothing to do with knowing how to do something well, but just knowing how to do it better than anyone else in the room. In that room, I was the expert at installing things. The only problem was that I am an expert at installing things in Linux, or, more specifically, via shell. This actually means I am extremely competent in typing:

apt-get install

Ninety percent of the time, guessing what goes after “install” works out (icedove or anarchism, e.g.). Sometimes, that doesn’t work and you have to:

apt-get install nethack-console

(as opposed to just nethack). This is easily determined, for me, by searching “[package] debian.”

That won’t actually get you everything you need, but it’s really simple and I know it. I actually think it’s a lot more simple than trying to install something through a graphical interface. When it comes to doing weird things on your computer, I am at a huge advantage.

As my friends have been adopting encrypted e-mails and OTR as their standards, I have had people ask me to help them set up tools, give advice on mail clients, and generate keys (ha!).The thing is, this is all really easy on my system because my system was designed by people who do those things for people who want to do those things. For me, generating a GPG key came down to telling a terminal

gpg --gen-key

and then watching some kpop videos. All things considered, this is a lot easier than the order of operations for Windows, which involves installing Gpg4win. Gpg4win has really great documentation, but, at installation, asks you to make decisions about components to install and than asks you to reboot. (I know there’s this thing called keybase.io, but I don’t know anything about it yet.)

Sometimes I think of Linux as “easy stuff is hard, hard stuff is easy.” I have the most awful time trying to do things like watch Netflix, but generating a GPG key and getting a mail client to use it was so easy.

I jokingly refer to this a free software, debian, or FLOSS privilege. Some things are just designed to work better with my computer. (Un)fortunately, those things are not Netflix.