Linux, musical road-dogging, and daily life by Paul W. Frields
How the mighty have fallen.

How the mighty have fallen.

ESR announced his own obsolescence this week on fedora-devel-list, and I’m sure by the time I post this blog entry, the weight of all the bits wasted on hand-wringing and arguing over his self-important announcement will have collapsed to form a virtual neutron star. I for one found it funny, because in true blowhard style, the reasons for leaving had nothing to do with the larger philosophy of Fedora (despite protestation to the contrary), and everything to do with a combination of social and technical ineptitude.

Now, the technical ineptitude accusation is something I’d never lob at any user who hadn’t spouted as many claims of superiority as ESR. Users are cool: they’re the reason we hack, whether it’s on code, art, docs, or whatever. I’m just a lowly docs writer, and as a user, I’ve encountered horkage like that several times, too. Which naturally implies that I’ve broken things in all sorts of similar, or even worse, manners. (And I can admit that to you, my sweet Internet. Because you’ll never tell a soul!)

I’ve usually been able to fix these problems over the years, some of which go beyond even the mild breakage ESR encountered from forcibly removing important (and requisite) system libraries. But I didn’t fix these problems without getting help and education the first time, though — see the difference? Um, right, I thought not. I asked someone for advice and help. Yes, a descent to the plane of mere mortality may, in fact, be required, however painful an option that might seem. Despite my harsh words here, though, all is forgiven. Seriously: the next time you break Fedora, let me know if I can help you figure out how to fix it. Happy to help. And unlike the Internet, I won’t tell a soul.

Unfortunately, like a lot of blowhards I’ve met — some geeks, some not — ESR doesn’t seem predisposed to ask for any help for vexing issues. To do so, after all, might expose the fact that there’s a technical issue he can’t solve by himself with relative ease, or might require him to subjugate his ego for the temporary purpose of gaining some useful knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with some healthy egotism, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your ability to deal with reality. In this case, “reality” is the practically foregone conclusion that any problem is likely to be more solvable with a few additional knowledgeable individuals helping.

I personally live by the tenet that if something goes wrong, the chief culprit is often my own error. (I’ve hit up many a FUDCon attendee, list subscriber, and IRC participant to increase my storehouse of clue.) It’s not about selling yourself short or being too self-deprecating; assuming that you know everything you need to know is a good way to ensure you’ll never discover the contrary. Might I suggest, then, a teaspoon of humility to go with that heady draught of godhead?

But I digress. As the thread wound on, it became increasingly clear that the broken bits were mainly due to PEBCAK, and not to fundamental flaws in Fedora. Interestingly also not at fault are governance and policy issues. Strangely absent from the list of proximate causes, as well, was Fedora’s failure to trick out our distribution with phat closed-source bling. What? Might this mistake have been prevented, or at least remedied, by a quick note to the appropriate list or other resource? Whatever, I do what I want!

Instead, we were treated to our annual re-enactment of “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” wherein we are sternly reprimanded, “You [Fedorans] are stupid! Stupid, stupid, STUPID!” And better yet, a press release! “Self-proclaimed King of the Geeks toasts /lib, points finger at FOSS! Film at 11!” Pity ESR couldn’t live up to his own standards.


  1. in my first professional IT job, i had the distinct benefit of working with an individual who was a dead-ringer for ESR in myriad ways, notably his personality. he was uber-smart, if tactless. because i witnessed him many times eviscerating those pretending to know things they did not, i quickly developed a tenet which has served me well in my field: “nothing is so stupid as protecting your own stupidity.”

    i found that especially this type of personality does well when you admit you simply don’t know the answer to X. it makes him feel good – and – what you’re really interested in, it helps you solve X.

    what i’ve learned since then is to:

    1. do your own due diligence, investigation. google, for Pete’s sake. that is, unless you know someone who may have the answer on the tip of his or her tongue and a concomitant friendly chat would be nice.

    2. when confronted with a superior or anyone who is looking to you for guidance, be sure to follow up “i don’t know” with “i will find the answer”. the prior is good for your humility, but without the latter, not good for your career. 😉

Comments are closed.