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[liberationtech] fossjobs - first job platform exclusively for FOSS jobs

Shava Nerad shava23 at
Sun Nov 18 00:08:52 PST 2012

On Sat, Nov 17, 2012 at 7:32 PM, Seth David Schoen <schoen at> wrote:

> Tianay Pulphus writes:
> > What's the story behind the name? What's a foss? Is it a play on "boss"?
> It's Icelandic for "waterfall" :-þ, but in this case it refers to free
> and open source software.

So, FOSS also can't use Agile(tm) development, because that would be
proprietary (and you know, the whole waterfall thing...;).  <-- corporate
and FOSS in joke all-in-one! ;)

Free and open source software are historically different names for the
> same software, but each name is preferred by different people who have
> different emphasis.

So, more trivia, why not...  Sit around the virtual fire, children, and let
gramma Shava tell you a story of the DIgital Elders, back when we were
young and spry.  Thirty five years from now, you too will tell stories of
how you danced with the young revolutionaries!


In 1984, I think it was, I was the volunteer original PR person for the
newly formed Free Software Foundation.  But Stallman fired me.

This is how that went down, and how that relates to why FOSS is forked by
about a decade and a half.  And the whole thing is haunted by the shadows
of two girls dancing with two boys who never met each other for twenty

The first paper I ever published (with Mark Chilenskas) was *Tailoring EDT
for the Structured Languages Programmer*, in 1981, the same year Gosling
adapted Richard Stallman's emacs for Unix (previously it only ran on LISP
machines or MULTICs or something...?).

Anyway, I remember it wasn't on Unix until then and Mark and I were
desperate to adapt the EDT editor on VAX/VMS so we'd have *something* like
emacs that was made to edit *code* not human language on DEC VMS machines
where we didn't have privs to install software as we went from site to site.

Mark couldn't make it to DECUS that spring so I presented the paper myself
(I was 22, and my last year before starting to work on Internet and society

The paper was hugely well received, and they scheduled a second session on
Friday because so many people got locked out of the Tuesday session.  Who
knew?  DEC started working on the Language Sensitive Editor (LSE) product
as a result.  I got invited to sit on DECUS' Languages and Tools SIG and
DECUS UNISIG and be liaison between the two, and also moderated the Editor
Wars panel for a while.  Big fun.

And I was probably one of the youngest and certainly the youngest female
and probably the youngest un-degreed chief software engineer at DEC the
next year.  Enfant terrible.  At which point I was matrix managing a group
of forty on prototype projects, authoring the first commercial multimedia
productions integrating video, voice, and color graphics in the world.
 Would I have hired me at 23 for that job?  Naaaah.  Heh.

Anyway, Stallman and I had been friends since I'd landed in Boston in the
late 70s.  We used to go folk dancing sometimes, and argue philosophy and
what not. When he started FSF in 1984, I figured I'd help with PR.

My thought was, I had been working with free software promotion for a few
years in DECUS, as UNISIG liaison to L&T (which was really, by implication,
VMS languages & tools, because BSD Unix on the VAX was poor cousin in that

But I was also very much at peace with corporate and government and various
contexts, being something of a chameleon and bridge builder.  So as FSF PR,
I felt it important to reach out to corporations and engage them in the
enlightened self interest they had in supporting free software as de facto
standards and Good Things(tm), and then talked about that to the press too.
 It was an attractive message.  It had reach.  Briefly.

Well, Richard went BALLISTIC.  Never mind chewing his hair he was chewing
me out and chewing the carpet.  He is very anti-corporate, and the idea
that I had said that corporations should see their enlightened
self-interest in supporting FSF and free software and implied that he might
be courting corporate support made him really incensed.  Of course, as a
nonprofit fundraiser, I thought that was exactly what we should be doing.

So that's how, a couple months in, I got fired from my volunteer PR
position at FSF...  NUCLEAR. And if you know me, I'm not shy.  I didn't go
down easy.  I spent three and a half hours over lunch one day debating with
Richard whether it was justified for me to wear a dress to give a
presentation when I always wore jeans to work. (long story) and I won.  But
this went over the top of anything and very public, because both of us saw
it as very very important.

Result: it was a huge disincentive for anyone to mention the notion of
cooperation with anything corporate, any compromise, anything off message,
anything that wasn't checked through the ministry of rms before it hit
public channels for a long long time.  And I doubt Richard even understands
this to this day.

Now, anyone here who's familiar with the culture of the Open Source
movement, the point Richard and I parted on is one of the
F|OS differentiations.  And you can easily crystallize those
differentiations in rms (Richard Stallman) and esr (Eric S. Raymond).

Eric S. Raymond, who wrote *The Cathedral and the Bazaar* fifteen years
after rms fired me, espoused a lot of the same basic notions as I had.  And
Eric just kind of ran with it, partly due to being a stubborn SOB in
parallel ways to rms being a stubborn SOB, and as revolutionary genius
types often are. (Although a very different flavor and ilk IMO -- Eric is
not as God-touched code-Dali cthonic brilliant and monastic mad monkish as
rms, but he's damned good at what he does, and manages to be a completely
different sort of PITA who makes himself too useful to be ignored! :)

Where I truly believe that Stallman lives in the world of Platonic ideals
(maybe in that cave...?),  Eric is a bit more pragmatic and flinty as hell,
and I think just got sick of the cult and politics around GNU/Linux
development at the time, and decided to be a heat sink specifically to
differentiate some of the ideas into factions because Stallman's ideas are
ideological in one particular direction.

Eric dug in heels, but didn't really think he was doing what he got set up
as.  It's just that, not many people have enough asbestos to do what he
did.  I mean, I walked, I own that.  There wasn't a loyal opposition to
rally at the time.  Eric kind of became a rally point, from what I can see.
 "What he said!"

Where Stallman's idea of free software is, as many ideological sets are, a
philosophy that tends to not flourish until a revolution should occur to
plow new ground ("Come the revolution!"), open source is more inclusive and
co-exists side by side with proprietary software.

Free software would be a perfect system in a world where IP laws were
abolished and people shared freely -- it is an idealistic system (and
really beautiful, sort of the Erewhon of software) if you hear Richard talk
about his vision of it, revolutionary in origin, radical, like any perfect
community property/communistic/commons sort of schema.  It requires a
pre-existing community of integrity and common values to function

Happily, as it's evolved (revolution often capitulated to evolution!) it
doesn't have to function perfectly, and it's been modified and been
introduced to lawyers and balkanization and elaboration that allows it to
interface with the real world so we can enjoy it on a pragmatic basis...;)


The funny thing is...  I've known Eric Raymond *too* since we were in our
late teens, haunting the F&SF cons on the US eastern seaboard.  Both he and
rms in completely separate contexts use to hang out with me and my best
friend from college; they both had terrific crushes on her (geez, she was
always the one they fell for hard...), but neither Eric nor Richard knew
the other at the time.

My friend and I would go dancing with Richard.  We called Eric "Eric
Goat-boy" or "Eric the Flute," and he would play his flute for us to dance
like little teenage Roma girls in the halls of cons in flounced skirts and
poet shirts, our shoes and packs in a jumble.

Fandom, Unix, cons.


Personality politics.  Technology



Thirty-five years...

Heh.  "If I can't dance..."


Shava Nerad
shava23 at
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