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On Free Software and Motivation (again)

You can skip this post; seriously; it’s one of those depression-related post, this time combined with some things I discussed about with a friend of mine the other day. It won’t tell you anything new about Gentoo or any project I’m working on. It might tell you something you don’t know about me, but I can’t tell if you really want to know that. The time spent reading this post might be better spent fixing some bugs; while the converse is not true: the time I’m spending writing this post cannot be employed any other way.

So I was thinking about why am I still doing so much Free Software work, considering that with a very few exception, not even my colleagues thank me any longer. Today I went through almost all the --as-needed bugs, and committed straight to portage fixes for all the trivial ones and those with an attached patch I could recognize as good (thanks again to Kevin Pyle for submitting so many good patches!). This resulted in about twenty packages fixed in tree, a few calls to treecleaners to see whether to get rid of some software, and a few considerations about the state of the software in the tree.

I also restarted the tinderbox, adding a few more packages, in particular, KDE packages, after syncing with a copy of the tree with most of these issues taken care of. The list consists of 11K ebuilds, and this is after a few that are known broken have been masked, and including old versions of Python, Qt, and other stuff. This is a lot of work for my box, even if it’s quite powerful by itself. Add to this that I’ve also enabled tests, and from the old 10 days run of the tinderbox, I’m probably now over a month of work that has to be taken care of by the scripts; and I’ll probably have to change it to rebuild stuff once every 10 instead of 6 weeks.

It’s a massive kind of work for a box that is, after all, at my home, consuming power on the standard line and so on. Although I try to avoid energy waste with lights and all the rest, Yamato is probably consuming more I could save in a lifetime at this point. I do spend that money out of my own wallet: I’m not paid to do that, I do that for … yes what do I do that for?

I know that most people that do work on Free Software are pushed both because of their ideology and because they get a net gain out of it; being paid to work on Free Software is one of the gains, but there are other, like being paid to support people and it’s much easier to support people with Free Software than with proprietaryware. On the other hand, I’m not a support kind of person, and even if I were, I’m afraid that most of the people I support do have to work on Windows for various constraints. Which means that my Free Software involvement on that side is ridiculously low.

While I am paid to work one particular project this does not involve me working on so many things in Gentoo especially not on the tinderbox; other proprietary projects I work on push me to work on ruby support but even that is extra: I’m explicitly not paid to work on that, and my own lead told me not to waste time on it if I’m doing it for that project.

What remains? I guess I’m mostly doing this work “for the glory”; but which glory? I wish I knew. Usually when one does work “for the glory”, it’s actually with a second hope. Not even the heroes of novels and games do stuff for the pure hope of glory. It might be for necessity, it might be just to learn (and why you’d like to learn that’s another topic altogether) it might be for some privileges coming from being famous, it might be for the women (or the men if that’s what you like). Given that Free Software does not look like anything useful to find women (and if it is, then I missed something and please do tell me what did I miss here!), and that my will to learn is fading away because I lack the time to enact this kind of things, I guess I have to find some other excuse.

Why did I start working on Free Software; and why did I start working on Gentoo in particular? Well, I actually didn’t start working on Free Software out of the blue; my first experience was related to Ultima OnLine since it was on a server emulator software that was released, at the time, under the equivalent of an Affero GPL, that me and a few friends wanted to use to set up an unofficial shard. From there, I just bounced around to whatever provided me the options to continue working and toying with things.

But while gratifying this alone would never have cut it for me on the long term; when I started working on Gentoo/FreeBSD in particular it was both will to learn and the idea that, if I were to learn and show that I could do stuff , I would have found a job that would have been as gratifying and would have let me put away some money. This didn’t really work out as well as I hoped; while I did get a few job offers, a few weren’t really my cup of tea (got better jobs here, or required me to move when my health didn’t allow me to), and those offers that did interest me, well, ended up never actually going beyond the first contact.

I’m still doing this, I’m still devoting most of my time for Free Software, I still am spending money out of my wallet for Gentoo and I’ll do that even if all the other devs turn against me or if users stop liking me, I’m sure of it. Why? I don’t know yet, I hope I will know one day and not feel miserable because of it. Nothing motivates me right now but if I were to take this out of my life, like many people have suggested me, I’d be left as an empty shell. For good or bad, Free Software is what defines my life.

And sorry if sometimes I link my wishlist on the posts; I don’t feel particularly good about doing that, but sometimes it helps to get motivation; even though, to be entirely honest, I doubt that all the donations up to now sum up to anywhere near the money I continue to spend on Gentoo. This is not to reduce the gifts; I’m very grateful to everybody who contributed and contributes; they are the best way to show your thanks to me, but please don’t read my rants or my whining about having to spend money on hardware as avarice or me trying to spill money out of someone else. It’s just that I really am not swimming in gold…

Comments 4
  1. * hobby* its fun, strangely, even when it isn’t.* even when people don’t recognise you for doing something that you know of, they gain benefit that they don’t know of. Generally people only know about you when you royally screw up, thousands of users not having to file bugs ( and thus, never knowing who you are ) means you’re doing it right 🙂 * Alternatively, you could be wasting time playing world of war craft ( scoff ). Seriously, keep hacking, self embetterment++. Theres 2 ways to learn things imho, one is by teaching, the other is by doing. If you’re not doing, or teaching, your brain is going to waste :)* Somebody has to do it, or the ideals we hold would never be possible, and the world would rot into corporate buggery.–p.s. Got bitten by your nameserver change and got stung by 12-hour ttl DNS where it kept forwarding me to xine-project 🙁 , and annoyingly, due to xine-projects choice of redirect, firefox cached the redirect `-_-`. Fun times!

  2. Sorry about the DNS mess :/ It’s my first server migration and I didn’t plan for it too well, if at all; I should have set the old instance to forward to the new database in the mean time. Well, one lesson learnt for the future 😉 And thanks for the note about the redirection, I’ve now fixed the catchall in the xine configuration; hopefully Firefox won’t cache a “See Also” response.As for your points, well, they are all very valid. I also guess that filing the thousands bugs myself before times is what is hiding me lately 😉 But still, somehow I’m still not sure why I’m keeping on doing this.. yet, I am :)I guess it’s just season…

  3. This kind of work is bad for getting rewards. If you’re doing it right, people just take software working as it should for granted. If you write very good code, it’ll be simple and obvious to others. All the hard work on the road there will be hidden.

  4. I will try to make some advices from the man who makes some work for free too (me). First of all it is about hobby. If it is interesting for you – keep doing it. I am sure that you will get more job opportunities in the future because people see your free software and they will hire you. If you don’t have enough time for developing free software because of paid work – stop doing it. I think that you can work on your free applications only if you have enough time for it. Hope it helped a little bit.

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