It’s 11am the first day of the Boston GNOME Summit and I’m sitting here in room 10-250 at MIT listening to Jeff Waugh’s post mortem on the GNOME 2.0 release process having just given the "Opening Address," which, calling it an "Address" betrays a savage and inappropriate conceit, since essentially it was just a half-hour hung-over extemporaneous rambling about how we as a project need to deglorify architectural work and focus on building a functional & rich & well-integrated desktop for users.
It is a bit funny being back here at MIT. My last clear memory in this room is falling asleep during one of the few early morning classes I attended, a freshman-year solid-state physics course, and then, slumped over in the chair no doubt with mouth open and a silvery trail of saliva peeking out of one mouth corner and making its way down the side of my face, sleeping for what must have been two or three hours, through a biology course and perhaps another and then with a horrifying start waking up confused and foggy-headed in what appeared to be a diff eq class and in the front of the room a German professor with a thick accent was making a joke of some kind no doubt unrelated to my predicament but when the entire room of three hundred some fresh-faced students began all at once to laugh I was gripped with fear and bolted from the room.
(Later in the day.)
One of the things about GNOME is that there exists this whole set of active & vibrant projects which sit on what you might call the periphery of the “GNOME community,” these large satellite projects like Galeon and Gaim and GStreamer, and historically we have done a terrible job of getting all of these projects to work together, to consider themselves a part of the core desktop. I think this is in part a tendency to clique in the GNOME project and in part a desire of those independent projects not to depend on core GNOME libraries, not to be considered part of GNOME so that they do not lose potential users who might choose KDE. There are other reasons too, and other interactions happening here, but I think that these are some of the principal ones.
And the effect of open source cliquishness is that the user loses: the desktop as an umbrella project misses the opportunity to do the kinds of deep integration that make for a rich, fully-integrated user experience. Things like being able to right click in the file manager and send a file to a buddy with your instant messenger or to have a unified set of bookmarks between your browser and your file manager.
And so in scheduling this conference, in organizing it and assembling it, or, perhaps to be more accurate, "throwing" it, I have made an attempt to bring together people from these outlying projects, and it is interesting to see how that is playing out.
The energy level here is very high (though perhaps that is in part for me a personal high) and this morning I was surprised to see after Jeff Waugh’s talk a rational discussion ensue between the sixty or seventy people assembled there in the room, large groups of smart and opinionated people usually being incapable of engaging in those sorts of activities without undergoing a rapid devolution toward stupid and partisan infighting. But there was none of that this morning and in fact I think there was a sense that we are all in fact on the same page, which to me even after the positive experience of GAUD3C in Sevilla this April, was a pleasing surprise.
Thomas Stichele gave a fantastic talk on the GStreamer architecture this morning. He is an excellent speaker — intelligent, clear and well-prepared — and GStreamer is a rich architecture for manipulating media streams. It allows you to create and string together sets of elements which can source, modify, and sink video and audio streams. You can connect these elements in arbitrary topologies, and I was quite impressed to learn about and see the pipeline editing GUI which you can use to point-and-click to build pipelines, save them as XML, and then programmatically load and use, Ã la Glade.
Dave Camp held a workshop on extending Nautilus through scripts & views, which I did not attend but which people seemed excited about. Nautilus does have a rather powerful extension architecture, and so hopefully we’ll start to see some of that actually get employed in the next few weeks.
Last night at NHLUG was a lot of fun. Lately I’ve been beginning each of my talks with a math trick, based on the principle that even if the rest of what I have to say is total crap, at least the audience learns something. Yesterday I presented the quick test for divisibility by 11, which everyone learned in sixth grade, but has since forgotten.
Maddog was at the event, and it’s always great to see him, even though we just ran into each other in Ottawa a couple weeks ago. That man is a genuinely good person, and he’s provided some helpful advice for the Summit, which I’ve found ways to grossly mismanage anyway .
Interestingly enough, New Hampshire seems to have a very active Linux community. I’ve been to two LUG events up there, and never a single one in Boston, which says something I suppose.
I’ve been reading a lot lately, again. I recommend Blindness, by Jose Saramago, which Miguel lent me and which my sister and I read to each other a few weeks ago, during a thirteen-hour drive up I-95 from Virginia to Boston. It’s a bit platitudinous, but very good and if nothing else very engaging.
Back in Beantown, and now entering a frenetic phase of coordination and setup for the Boston GNOME Summit.
At the end of May, Joe and I attended the Beyond the Big Dig public forum in Faneuil Hall. I meant to write about this before, but things being what they are, I haven’t gotten around to it till now — on AA flight 193, headed out to the left coast for continued adventures in open source capitalism. One nice thing about airplanes is that they do make it easy to sit down and do some reading, get some work done, generally be disconnected.
If you don’t know, The Big Dig is a massive federally-funded civil engineering project to bury several miles of major highway that cut scar-liked across the face of Boston, filling the most central parts of the city with noise and pollution and effectively disconnecting the city from the harbor.
This project is extraordinary in many ways, not least for its ambitions to inter one of the most active stretches of highway in the country in the middle of one of the densest cities without shutting down either highway or city, or for its well-publicized 460%, $11.5 billion budget overrun. But its potential for positive consequences for the quality of life in Boston is what makes it interesting to me. In particular, I think that we as a society have forgotten that city life can be pleasant and can include a strong sense of local community, and I think that it can.
So, the Beyond the Big Dig program was a joint project between WCVB, MIT and The Boston Globe to help determine what will become of the twenty-seven acres of prime real estate that will be freed up once the hideous route 93 skyway comes down.
It is sad that two media entities have to get together in an act of "civic journalism" to stimulate and organize popular involvement in a governmental decision of the most physical and obvious local significance. We really do have very little public engagement in government in this country, even in one of the most liberal and well-educated cities in the US.
Distilled down to its most basic elements, the event played out a four-way tension between: (1) the interests of the Boston public who want the optimal impact on their communities and city, (2) the interests of the government, in principle acting in the interests of the people of Boston but in practice driven by a much more complex set of interactions, (3) the pure journalistic interests of the media organizations — in theory a public trust — to uncover and fairly report the truth about what is happening, and (4) the commercial interests of the media organizations to maximize profit.
Most plainly offensive, the entire event was televised and broadcast live to the WCVB viewing audience, and consequently wholly structured around the task of producing a television show. For the first thirty minutes, in fact, those of us seated in Faneuil hall — under portraits of Washington and Lincoln — were subjected to commercial interruptions in full video and audio, a ridiculous scene with Senator Kennedy and Michael Dukakis shifting in their seats and chatting with the people next to them, a room-wide murmur growing until the WCVB engineers played a tune to signal that they were beginning again, and we all dutifully fell silent and looked around the room to see where the cameras were positioned, were we on TV?
Anyway, I could talk about this for a long time. In short, it was a disgusting spectacle, and it will be a fucking miracle if that space is well portioned out, well used, well governed, if the opportunity to create a beautiful and useful and vibrant public space is not pissed away in orgies of self-interest and aimless bickering.
Oh, but one interesting thing we found out is that Dukakis looks about three decades younger than his nearly seventy years.