Here's an example of arrogance, eventhough he's right

Subject: A bike shed (any colour will do) on greener grass...
From: Poul-Henning Kamp <[email protected]>
Date: Sat, 02 Oct 1999 16:14:10 +0200
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[bcc'ed to committers, hackers]

My last pamphlet was sufficiently well received that I was not scared away from sending another one, and today I have the time and inclination to do so.

I've had a little trouble with deciding on the right distribution of this kind of stuff, this time it is bcc'ed to committers and hackers, that is probably the best I can do. I'm not subscribed to hackers myself but more on that later.

The thing which have triggered me this time is the "sleep(1) should do fractional seconds" thread, which have pestered our lives for many days now, it's probably already a couple of weeks, I can't even be bothered to check.

To those of you who have missed this particular thread: Congratulations.

It was a proposal to make sleep(1) DTRT if given a non-integer argument that set this particular grass-fire off. I'm not going to say anymore about it than that, because it is a much smaller item than one would expect from the length of the thread, and it has already received far more attention than some of the *problems* we have around here.

The sleep(1) saga is the most blatant example of a bike shed discussion we have had ever in FreeBSD. The proposal was well thought out, we would gain compatibility with OpenBSD and NetBSD, and still be fully compatible with any code anyone ever wrote.

Yet so many objections, proposals and changes were raised and launched that one would think the change would have plugged all the holes in swiss cheese or changed the taste of Coca Cola or something similar serious.

"What is it about this bike shed ?" Some of you have asked me.

It's a long story, or rather it's an old story, but it is quite short actually. C. Northcote Parkinson wrote a book in the early 1960'ies, called "Parkinson's Law", which contains a lot of insight into the dynamics of management.

You can find it on Amazon, and maybe also in your dads book-shelf, it is well worth its price and the time to read it either way, if you like Dilbert, you'll like Parkinson.

Somebody recently told me that he had read it and found that only about 50% of it applied these days. That is pretty darn good I would say, many of the modern management books have hit-rates a lot lower than that, and this one is 35+ years old.

In the specific example involving the bike shed, the other vital component is an atomic power-plant, I guess that illustrates the age of the book.

Parkinson shows how you can go in to the board of directors and get approval for building a multi-million or even billion dollar atomic power plant, but if you want to build a bike shed you will be tangled up in endless discussions.

Parkinson explains that this is because an atomic plant is so vast, so expensive and so complicated that people cannot grasp it, and rather than try, they fall back on the assumption that somebody else checked all the details before it got this far. Richard P. Feynmann gives a couple of interesting, and very much to the point, examples relating to Los Alamos in his books.

A bike shed on the other hand. Anyone can build one of those over a weekend, and still have time to watch the game on TV. So no matter how well prepared, no matter how reasonable you are with your proposal, somebody will seize the chance to show that he is doing his job, that he is paying attention, that he is *here*.

In Denmark we call it "setting your fingerprint". It is about personal pride and prestige, it is about being able to point somewhere and say "There! *I* did that." It is a strong trait in politicians, but present in most people given the chance. Just think about footsteps in wet cement.

I bow my head in respect to the original proposer because he stuck to his guns through this carpet blanking from the peanut gallery, and the change is in our tree today. I would have turned my back and walked away after less than a handful of messages in that thread.

And that brings me, as I promised earlier, to why I am not subscribed to -hackers:

I un-subscribed from -hackers several years ago, because I could not keep up with the email load. Since then I have dropped off several other lists as well for the very same reason.

And I still get a lot of email. A lot of it gets routed to /dev/null by filters: People like Brett Glass will never make it onto my screen, commits to documents in languages I don't understand likewise, commits to ports as such. All these things and more go the winter way without me ever even knowing about it.

But despite these sharp teeth under my mailbox I still get too much email.

This is where the greener grass comes into the picture:

I wish we could reduce the amount of noise in our lists and I wish we could let people build a bike shed every so often, and I don't really care what colour they paint it.

The first of these wishes is about being civil, sensitive and intelligent in our use of email.

If I could concisely and precisely define a set of criteria for when one should and when one should not reply to an email so that everybody would agree and abide by it, I would be a happy man, but I am too wise to even attempt that.

But let me suggest a few pop-up windows I would like to see mail-programs implement whenever people send or reply to email to the lists they want me to subscribe to:

| Your email is about to be sent to several hundred thousand |
| people, who will have to spend at least 10 seconds reading |
| it before they can decide if it is interesting. At least   |
| two man-weeks will be spent reading your email. Many of    |
| the recipients will have to pay to download your email.    |
| 				 			     |
| Are you absolutely sure that your email is of sufficient   |
| importance to bother all these people ? 		     |
| 							     |
| 		[YES] [REVISE] [CANCEL] 		     | +------------------------------------------------------------+

| Warning: You have not read all emails in this thread yet. |
| Somebody else may already have said what you are about to |
| say in your reply. Please read the entire thread before |
| replying to any email in it. |
| |
| [CANCEL] | +------------------------------------------------------------+

| Warning: Your mail program have not even shown you the |
| entire message yet. Logically it follows that you cannot |
| possibly have read it all and understood it. |
| |
| It is not polite to reply to an email until you have |
| read it all and thought about it. |
| |
| A cool off timer for this thread will prevent you from |
| replying to any email in this thread for the next one hour |
| |
| [Cancel] | +------------------------------------------------------------+

| You composed this email at a rate of more than N.NN cps |
| It is generally not possible to think and type at a rate |
| faster than A.AA cps, and therefore you reply is likely to |
| incoherent, badly thought out and/or emotional. |
| |
| A cool off timer will prevent you from sending any email |
| for the next one hour. |
| |
| [Cancel] | +------------------------------------------------------------+

The second part of my wish is more emotional. Obviously, the capacities we had manning the unfriendly fire in the sleep(1) thread, despite their many years with the project, never cared enough to do this tiny deed, so why are they suddenly so enflamed by somebody else so much their junior doing it ?

I wish I knew.

I do know that reasoning will have no power to stop such "reactionaire conservatism". It may be that these people are frustrated about their own lack of tangible contribution lately or it may be a bad case of "we're old and grumpy, WE know how youth should behave".

Either way it is very unproductive for the project, but I have no suggestions for how to stop it. The best I can suggest is to refrain from fuelling the monsters that lurk in the mailing lists: Ignore them, don't answer them, forget they're there.

I hope we can get a stronger and broader base of contributors in FreeBSD, and I hope we together can prevent the grumpy old men and the Brett Glasses of the world from chewing them up, spitting them out and scaring them away before they ever get a leg to the ground.

For the people who have been lurking out there, scared away from participating by the gargoyles: I can only apologise and encourage you to try anyway, this is not the way I want the environment in the project to be.