Pay maintainers! No, not like that!

A lot of people who work on open source software get paid to do so. Many others do not. And as we learned during the Heartbleed aftermath, sometimes the unpaid (or under-paid) projects are very important. Projects have changed their licenses (e.g. MongoDB, which is now not an open source project by the Open Source Initiative’s definition) in order to cut off large corporations that don’t pay for the free software.

There’s clearly a broad recognition that maintainers need to be paid in order to sustain the software ecosystem. So if you expect that people are happy with GitHub’s recent announcement of a GitHub Sponsors, you have clearly spent no time in open source software communities. The reaction has had a lot of “pay the maintainers! No, not like that!” which strikes me as being obnoxious and unhelpful.

GitHub Sponsors is not a perfect model. Bradley Kuhn and Karen Sandler of the Software Freedom Conservancy called it a “quick fix to sustainability“. That’s the most valid criticism. It turns out that money doesn’t solve everything. Throwing money at a project can sometimes add to the burden, not lessen it. Money adds a lot of messiness and overhead to manage it, especially if there’s not a legal entity behind the project. That’s where the services provided by fiscal sponsor organizations like Conservancy come in.

But throwing money at a problem can sometimes help it. Projects can opt in to accepting money, which means they can avoid the problems if they want. On the other hand, if they want to take in money, GitHub just made it pretty easy. The patronage model has worked well for artists, it could also work for coders.

The other big criticism that I’ll accept is that it puts the onus on individual sponsorships (indeed, that’s the only kind available at the moment), not on corporate:

Like with climate change or reducing plastic waste, the individual’s actions are insignificant compared to the effects of corporate action. But that doesn’t mean individual action is bad. If iterative development is good for software, then why not iterate on how we support the software? GitHub just reduced the friction of supporting open source developers significantly. Let’s start there and fix the system as we go.

A wrap-up of our No Impact Week experiment

I wrote last week about the movie “No Impact Man” and the week-long mini project we’d be undertaking.  I haven’t updated this blog since then, mostly due to laziness and time constraints, but Angie has had regular updates on her blog, so if you’re interested in the nitty-gritty, see Hippie in Training.  What follows here is more like an executive summary, with the additional comments of a less-enthusiastic participant.

I say “less-enthusiastic” because it was Angie’s idea to participate in this, and her passion that got us here in the first place.  It’s not fair to say that she dragged me into this, but I’ll admit that I participated more to be a supportive husband than for any other reason.  That’s not to say that I don’t try to be environmentally conscious, it is just isn’t the ideal that I get most worked up about (it may come as no surprise that I get most worked up about freedom – especially as pertains to speech and software).

Despite my hesitance, I decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it sincerely.  At work, I took the stairs to my 9th floor office every day, I got water out of the tap instead of the water cooler, and I rode the bus all 5 days (normally I do this 3-4 days a week).  I even brought my coffee grounds (yeah, I guess if I was perfect, I wouldn’t have had coffee at all) home to compost instead of throwing them away.  Other than that, my work life didn’t change.

At home is where the big changes happened.  At first, I was pretty ambivalent.  We already recycle and compost most of what we use, we unplug unused appliances, and we generally don’t leave lights on when we don’t need them.  The big change initially was to eat vegetarian (since we weren’t quite equipped for local-only eating, we decided this was a reasonable modification).  Although we’ve tried to have a meatless dinner once a week, I haven’t gone a week without eating meat since I began eating solid foods.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well I handled the change (at least until about Thursday, when someone described a burger in detail and I couldn’t stand it anymore).  I’ve now gone nearly 9 days without eating meat, and I tell you — that chicken on the grill can’t cook fast enough!

Toward the end of the week, we had to nearly stop our electricity use as well.  I took the rare step of turning my computer off (except for when we did our OSMacTalk broadcast, which we did by candlelight).  Being both professionally and recreationally a computer nerd, I found it a little difficult being away from e-mail, RSS, and Twitter.  Instead, we had lengthy discussions and played board games by the light of our candles.  That was enjoyable, and we plan to make that a regular event (though perhaps with a bit more electrical lighting, at least once it gets really dark).

Where it all fell apart was on Saturday.  The day held the lure of tornadoes as near as southern Illinois, and it had been a long year since my last attempt at chasing.  Storm chasing is about as no-impact of a hobby as rain forest burning or oceanic oil dumping.  I justified it to myself by arguing that the theme of Saturday was supposed to be volunteering, and if spending my own time and money to potentially save the lives of strangers 200 miles away isn’t volunteering, I don’t know what is.  Angie was leary, but she figured since I’ve been so supportive, she should return the favor.  12 hours and 500 miles later, all we had to show was a few lackluster pictures of nothing particular.  We tried to be as low impact as we can, by which I mean we ate vegetarian meals.

On Sunday, we tried to make up for it by doing absolutely nothing.  Apart from a walk to the store, we mostly sat around and enjoyed the day.  Much of the conversation revolved around the week and what we planned to do for the future.  Having recently read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, Angie has decided that the food industry is not something to be admired and wants us to become locavores.  Admittedly, I find the idea of giving up some of my fast food and out-of-season loves uncomfortable.  The agreement we arrived at as that we’d eat locally when possible, but not exclusively. I can live with that.  We also want to make Sunday evenings “eco evenings” which means no TV, radio, or computers.

Some of the efforts we made last week we’re dropping (for example, I turned the space heater on in the bathroom this morning before my shower).  Others we’re keeping (the stairs aren’t so bad).  The point of the week wasn’t to give up everything forever, but to show us what we can do.  I’d like to think I’ve learned some stuff about myself, my wife, and my marriage.  I’d also like that grilled chicken, so if you’ll excuse me…

The impact of “No Impact Man”

Three weeks ago, my wife heard about the movie “No Impact Man”: the story of one family in New York City who spend a year trying to have no net impact on the environment.  They didn’t quit everything cold turkey, of course, but worked changes in in phases over the year.  By the end, they had given up powered transportation, electricity, and even toilet paper.  As you might expect, these changes did not come without some difficulty and sacrifice.

The two-year-old daughter didn’t seem to object to the changes, but Colin Beaven’s wife Michelle seemed less enthusiastic.  It’s hard to distill a year into 90 minutes, but through much of the movie she seems reluctant or even opposed to many of the changes.  In fairness, it’s probably because he rarely seemed to discuss changes with her ahead of time, instead choosing to announce them as (or after!) they happened. By the end of the year, she had embraced many of the changes, but it still makes me appreciate my wife’s habit of discussing ideas with me before we try them.

One thing the Beaven family faced was ridicule and scorn.  This is to be expected: extremism is almost always met with disdain. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve mocked this project and the absurd lengths Beaven goes to, but I also have a degree of respect for them.  We try to be environmentally conscious, but there’s no way I could go to the lengths they did. Or at least, I wouldn’t do it willingly.

The Beaven family didn’t do this permanently, either.  At the end of the year, the lights went back on (I think Michelle cried), and some of the changes were reverted.  But they kept riding their bicycles, they kept getting food at the local farmers’ market, but they will probably resume their use of toilet paper.  The point, Beaven says, is not that everyone has to do what they did, but everyone should do what they’re capable of.

So what does that mean for me?  Well first it means that I got to spend most of my afternoon at the Lafayette YWCA as the screening that Angie arranged in three weeks went off successfully.  This week, we’ll be participating in our own mini-project (see www.noimpactproject.org for more details), and in the future we’ll try to do what we do even more.  I’ve already assembled a compost bin to make use of food waste.  Today we stopped at a local cyclery to find a bicycle for me (if you’re in the Lafayette area and have bike needs, stop by Virtuous Cycles!) for days I need to go places where the bus isn’t convenient.  I’m sure there are other changes we’ll make, in addition to the ones we’ve already made (see my wife’s blog for information on that).  And that’s what it takes as a first step: each person contributing what they can.

Black and Gold and Green

I normally leave environmental blogging to my wife, but I have been personally affected by the environment, so I’ll jump in this time.  My employer, being a large university, generates a lot of trash.  Only recently has there been a big push to improve the sustainability of campus.  A while back, the bathrooms switched to those neat foam soaps and paper made from recycled products.  The new addition to the Mechanical Engineering Building is being designed and built to meet LEED certification.  Now my building is one of the first to participate in a new project: no more trash cans.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Building Services staff removed the trash cans from all of the offices in the building.  Instead, each office now has a recycling bin.  There’s a separate compartment for office paper, and mixed recyclables go in the big part.  The janitor will empty the recycling bins twice a week, but everyone’s responsible for taking their own trash to the public cans in the hallways.  The idea is to reduce the trash by 65%.

So far, it seems pretty well received.  I think most people can probably recycle most of the stuff they throw out. I’m totally in favor of this, and frankly I’m a bit surprised that it took so long for campus to make it easy to recycle.