On being DPL

It’s almost the end of financial year in Australia, so what better time to take stock?

I’m actually a bit surprised at just how much I need to do that — I knew being DPL would involve some new challenges, but it’s barely two months in and I’m already just about in shock. Guess it serves me right for putting “increasing Debian’s tempo” in my platform…

The two other roles I’ve been in that I would have expected to prepare me more have been Debian release manager, and secretary of Linux Australia. They’re both similar in a way — the release manager does a lot of cat herding within Debian, and has to make some calls that will leave people aggrieved; and Linux Australia has some contact with the press, and some reasonably serious projects going on. So a few issues were completely expected: a random initial slashdotting, a press report, an interview or two, some requests for quotes in articles and press releases, or ongoing opposition and arguments from dedicated Debianites who don’t happen to agree with me on some decision.

There were other things that were new and interesting though not really surprising. The leader@ mail address turned out to have just as much spam as I expected, though also some unexpected interesting stuff too, including my first ever personally addressed open letter — in this case by Keith Curtis who also wrote the 10,000 bugs away from World Domination article that got slashdotted a while back. A tidbit:

Everyone agrees that Ubuntu couldn’t exist without Debian, but I also believe that Debian is better setup to take Ubuntu where it needs to go. There are hints that the Ubuntu team feels like they brought a pork chop suit to a lions den. Ubuntu’s user base and development team is growing exponentially, but I believe they could get there much faster with more of Debian’s help.

Keith also forwarded an open letter he’d written to Mark Shuttleworth, and had some interesting comments on the whole Java thing. As well, I suddenly started receiving SPI board mail, as Debian’s advisory representative to the SPI board, and started getting a couple of requests for authorising expenditures (Debian UK reimbursing Matthew Garrett for travel costs to the Gnome Advisory Board meeting in 2005) or providing a Debian representative for a meeting or joining the Google Summer of Code. And then there were the cool things I knew absolutely nothing about, like the excellent news Christian Perrier passed on about the launch of Dzongkha Linux, featured in news reports from Bhutan, India, and Australia.

Of course, I completely expected that all this would overload me a bit, and I’d end up getting distracted from what I wanted to do, and not being able to keep up with stuff other people wanted me to do. To help with this a little, I delegated Steve McIntyre as, essentially, a co-DPL, and he’s been working on a few things, including the now successful switch of irc.debian.org over to OFTC, and another fun little endeavour that I won’t spoil just yet.

Things started getting a bit weird as I was preparing to travel off to debconf in Mexico — with some frustrated comments from damog and Marga and Gunnar, which was odd coming from the conference organisers themselves; and independently the reinflamation of some old tension on the debian-installer team. That got compounded at debconf itself, with the controversy over the inclusion of Sun Java in non-free extending not just to the lists, but an article in LWN (with a followup) as well as numerous other places around the net.

That issue came to something of a climax when John Goerzen (with whom I’ve had some entertaining disagreements in the past) questioned whether SPI had been sufficiently involved in the decision (“I am becoming increasingly concerned at the unilateral method in which you and/or the archive maintainers have taken this decision.”), to which I responded fairly curtly to defend the way Debian makes decisions (“If SPI wish to withdraw from their relationship with Debian, then that’s entirely possible to arrange. I don’t think it’s at all proper that you try to obtain veto power of Debian’s activities as conducted by the duly authorised members of that organisation.”). Nothing’s really news there — flamewar on Debian lists between influential project members? Next thing you know the sun will rise in the East every morning, and then where will we be?

What’s not so normal is those flamewars getting front page coverage on slashdot, or noted in an article on distrowatch. As far as Debian’s concerned, we had a couple more rounds, both in public and on the developer only -private list, then moved onto actually getting the legal advice John wanted. That’s actually still pending, and the debate has pretty much abated while that’s going on. And meanwhile, Wouter Verhelst, Manoj Srivastava, and others have started a much more productive look at Debian’s relationship with SPI and similar organisations, which has continued on to a draft of a constitutional amendment.

But there was more stress and chaos at debconf than just the Java stuff, but what’s really impressive is the way people ended up dealing with it. Take damog for example:

Just as Tore said: This is the best DebConf ever. Isn’t it great?

I started really enjoying this DebConf once I stopped worrying about bullshit, once I stopped worrying about senseless things and started to really give a shit about almost anything. Why do I need Gunnar to tell my girlfriend Ana, “you picked up the irresponsible one”? Why do I have to worry about the DPL giving a shit or not on the Latinamerican Debian community, even after being invited to meet the guys or to attend our BOF? […] I enjoy people here, thanks to all the organization cabal, thanks for your effort and your time on this.


But after leaving all of this behind, I think Ana and me are having a great time sharing time with friends around us (the friends, los cuates, we are here for).

After seeing that post, and figuring out who damog actually was when he gave a lightning talk towards the end of the conference, we had a chance to briefly chat about what was going on — somehow I hadn’t taken in the invitation to attend the BOF, and had been told it was all in Spanish anyway, so hadn’t gone; meanwhile they’ve been thinking about holding a Debian miniconf in Latin America somewhere and wanting to know what sort of support they can get from the rest of the project — particularly moral support rather than financial, at that. Hopefully we’ll see news on that score in the coming months.

But really, damog was right in the first place anyway: why care if the DPL supports you or not? Debian’s about everyone doing what they think is good and worthwhile, and that combining to produce something great — it’s not about what some guy who got six votes more than the next guy happens to think is important.

But support is important, whether it comes in the form of a DPL saying “good idea!”, or something else. Gunnar’s response to the latter, eg:

Debian is love.

After my scream for help a couple of days ago, and after a mountain of hard work, things are just running. No, we are not -by far- free of incidents, and it would be foolish to expect it to be so, but we are working nicely. And by the way, thank you, I have been receiving the largest amount of hugs ever, and believe me, each of them has been important.


Thank you all, folks. I am in Cristoph Berg’s talk about reworking NM – And this comes very good to wrap up my post. Debian is much, much more than technical work. It is a social club. I love this social club. Just sitting here makes long months of work really worth it.

A great hug back to you all!

And in the end we got quite a bit out of debconf6, for example more movement on the forthcoming release, improvements on i18n stuff, a new publicity project, movement on updating python, amongst other things. Who knows if the next debconf will manage to be anywhere near as much of an experience, but at least we’ll find out fairly soon where it’s going to be (though that process isn’t without hiccups of its own).

Post debconf, there’s also been a notable influx of trolling going on too; with the most obvious and odious example being the insane, anonymously-posted prayers for a female developer’s death. Fortunately those have mostly been ignored as the mindless spam they are, though one might argue that Marcela Tiznado’s acceptance as a DD on her birthday, and the inclusion of women.debian.org in the official debian.org namespace are a more appropriate response to that sort of harassment than any sort of direct reply anyway.

Not all our problems have conveniently been resolved right now, of course, the difficulties related to the installer team I alluded to above are ongoing, and at the moment a really good solution is still eluding us, though development continues anyway.

And then, of course, there’s more to come — half the point of posting this is so I can stop worrying about all the stuff that’s been and gone, and get on with interesting things like the next point release, and the various other projects that I’ve let languish for the past few weeks.

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