Just not convinced

I avoid issues — topics, movies, or even software sometimes — that reach a certain, high-pitched whine of popularity, mostly because anything I say about them is going to repeat something already said. There’s already too much low-quality, self-indulgent jaw-flapping on the Internet, and my addition serves nothing.

Occasionally however I feel like I need to touch on a topic because my perspective seems contradictory to that high-pitched whine. When I am among a minority, in other words.

That seems to be the case regarding the clatter that surrounds the HeliOS blog entry from a few days ago, where an e-mail sent from a teacher to the author of the blog derided Linux and threatened legal action. You can read the entire drama here; I really don’t want to waste my time repeating it.

So what, you say? So … what proof have you seen that the e-mail acutally happened? Or for that matter, the follow-up phone call? I’ve been a secondary school teacher, and believe you me, most teachers don’t have enough spare time to dash off e-mails threatening legal action. Schools have other ways of dealing with quasi-legal issues.

But beyond that, it’s just a little too convenient. There’s a surprising level of misinformation in the e-mail, presenting a level of ignorance that is almost comical. And the turnaround — or “conversion,” to use a theological term, since the tone of responses smacks of zealotry — takes place within days of the original event. Now the teacher is supposedly having Linux installed on a machine, if I understand it right. Again, how convenient. No identity? A tearful, unsubstantiated phone call? There’s just too much that happens too easily, and all of it makes the author look like a Linux hero.

Just to be clear, I’m not calling for the teacher’s name. That would be bad. And if the entire fiasco isn’t a hoax, if it does actually turn out to be true, then concealing the teacher’s name is the right thing to do. But the fact that there’s been no third-party corroboration of the story is a little suspicious.

This is the Internet, people. Bloggers are not journalists. Find me a real journalist, one with even a teeny bit of credibility, have them certify that the e-mail and the phone call actually happened, and acknowledge publicly that it’s true. Again, no need for names; just check and confirm. That’s all. It’s something that is regularly done in newsrooms — it’s called “confirming a source.” I’ve done this many times myself, and for the same reasons.

And yes, it is something you should do, all the time, every day, any time you read or hear or see something online. In the “information age,” the accuracy and reliability of your information is critical.

This wouldn’t be such a big deal, if it were not for two things. First, there’s the Tux500 hornswaggle from a year ago, which you can see a somewhat complex summary of here. If the HeliOS site hadn’t been so prominently involved in that, I might not be so skeptical. These days I still read the HeliOS blog, but most of the things I read there I take with a grain of salt.

And that’s the second thing: As I understand it, the blog represents the project, and the project solicits funds through the blog. In other words, there’s a big “Donate here” button on the left side of the page — Visa and MasterCard accepted. A sensationalist post means more traffic, more traffic means more clickthroughs, and even if only one person out of a hundred sends $10 their way, then a few thousand page hits means a lot.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not speaking down to the HeliOS project. I’ve done something similar in the past, albeit on a much smaller scale. But bolstering the coffers by drawing traffic is the nature of our online existence. And if one rather scathing post gleans a few more donations. … Well, that’s probably enough said.

I love Linux just as much as the next person. And I root for my Linux heroes just as loudly as the next person. But in a situation where an unsubstantiated e-mail is leading to threats and harassment — and the derision of an entire profession — then I need to see more proof. I’m just not convinced by what’s out there now.

P.S.: tl;dr … Show me the code. 😈


15 thoughts on “Just not convinced

  1. anjilslaire

    Agreed. When I first saw this, I fell in a bit too, to be truthful, and even put a blurb up on my blog about how people should read the followup.

    A few hours later, though, I began to have some of the suspicions you’ve noted. The whole thing *is* convenient, and some authentication would go a long way…

  2. Richard Querin

    How dare you require corroboration for what you read on the internet. 😉

    I too felt the story was a little too convenient and warranted a little backup. And while it sounds so doubtful that someone could be so clueless, I have to say that a couple of months after installing Ubuntu Hardy on my father-in-law’s laptop (replacing XP) he was convinced that it was just a ‘different version’ of Windows. He honestly had no clue that there were alternative OS’s. In fact, he had no clue what an OS even was, never mind whether or not Windows was one.

    So while I believe the story to be entirely possible, it would still be nice to hear/read/see some reinforcement to its validity.

    Good post.

  3. Timóteo

    Ohh well, I read about the story on some brazilian blogs, but didnt follow up the rest on the helios blog, dont even know what this helios is about. Not interested.

    I really dont care if the teacher is dumb enough to getting into other people business (she had nothing to do with the kid and his linux). If she learns or not, my life will be the same at the end of day.

    But nice points, truly we got know what’s real and what’s not. not just in this case, but in everything we read, from books to webpages.

  4. helios

    First, there’s the Tux500 hornswaggle from a year ago, which you can see a somewhat complex summary of here.

    Care to elaborate on the “hornswaggle”

    You just got finished preaching about taking things with a grain of salt on the Internet then you call my effort a “hornswaggle”? Based on one person’s dislike for me? Editors for three different Linux news sites completely handled the financial transactions of that “hornswaggle”. The event was reported on by 112 American Newspapers and countless websites, the majority of them having nothing to do with the tech world. We put about 4 degrees of separation between us and any money purposely. Yet you take one guy with a mouthful of sour grapes and run with it like it’s gospel?

    You give me too much credit. I’m not near smart enough to concoct a scheme like this.

    Now…..I want you to define “hornswaggle” for me?

    Ken Starks
    The HeliOS Project

  5. anjilslaire

    I’m not commenting on the validity of either your’s or KMandla’s thoughts Ken, but it seems you are jumping to bash this blog post a bit too eagerly, just like you admit to doing to “Karen”.

    Seems all would be served best by not being so aggressive and quick to attack her for her opinion. You say you’re not smart enough to concoct this scheme. Are you too proud to let people have their suspicions?

    BTW, the link ‘Mandla posted about Tux500 seems a bit self-explanatory…

  6. helios

    The Tux500 effort was one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried and accomplished. There was no “hornswaggle”, no “scam”…I’ve worked hard to build an advocacy program and to have people define some of the efforts I’ve made as “hornswaggles” really gets under my skin. I didn’t bring pride into anything…just saying that out of the tens of thousands of people who got involved in Tux500, one, who has a history of really not liking me, attacked and it’s taken as gospel.

    No, anyone can have their doubts…and I sit here and almost laugh at the situation I am in. I’m fairly well screwed and I didn’t see it coming. Damned if I do…sort of thing, ya know?

    I’m just saying that when a person devotes their life and soul to something, they might find a bit of anger floating up when those efforts are questioned as less than honorable and honest.

    Again, it’s funny in a cosmic sort of way…

    I’m sure that when a bit of time passes, I’ll be “cosmic” enough to laugh.


  7. TC

    I have no knowledge of this conversation/incident, but here’s the definition of hornswaggle for those who do not know it’s meaning…

    hornswaggle – Moby Thesaurus II by Grady Ward, 1.0 :

    36 Moby Thesaurus words for “hornswaggle”:
    bamboozle, beguile, betray, bluff, cajole, cheat on, circumvent,
    conjure, deceive, delude, diddle, double-cross, dupe, forestall,
    gammon, get around, gull, hoax, hocus-pocus, humbug, juggle,
    let down, mock, outmaneuver, outreach, outsmart, outwit, overreach,
    pigeon, play one false, put something over, snow, string along,
    take in, trick, two-time

  8. eksith

    Playing devil’s advocate…
    Is there any possibility that your opinion of this is somewhat coloured by your own past as a teacher?

    Let’s exlude the Tux500 mess from it for now…

    I understand most teachers do their level best with the resources available and you certainly get my respect for being of that profession. But being realistic, a lot of teachers are far too concerned with protecting the school and their own repuations.

    Let’s face it. To a teacher, reputation and trust are the real heart of the matter. Without either, a teacher’s qualificaiton won’t mean much, especially in the eyes of parents. If even a hint of illegality is present in a classroom, the teacher and the school bears responsibility. Even if it’s more than their fair share of it.

    A parent would be far more inclined to forgive an ineffective teacher than an unscrupulous one.

    Isn’t it possible that a teacher (being only human) would have overreacted somewhat? Teachers aren’t immune from ego and feigning knowledge of Linux is entirely possible. Teachers aren’t saints.

    It might have been possible that she did try Linux in the past and did see what it was capable of back then. But as Ken points out Linux isn’t the same beast it was even a few years back.
    It’s even banging on Mac OS X’s door!

    And “Open Source” and “Free Software” weren’t prevalent terms back then.

    I’m a programmer now, but just 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have even dreamed of it. And that was also due to a teacher.
    To paraphrase her :

    You’re a disaster! You’ll can’t work with computers because you fiddle around with what you don’t understand and ruin the system.

    . And this was back when Win 95SE was all the rage.

    I understand now that she was upset at allowing some punk ruin a perfectly good system. If the damage is irreperable (I.E. warrant a reinstallation and she didn’t have the install disk) then it would have been partly her responsibility. A teacher who can’t even keep her eye on a handful of students is a detriment to the school… As her inner voice would say.

    It happens. Maybe not often, but it does.
    To me, the teacher’s response is more that within the realm of possibility.

    Of course, my impression could also have been coloured by my own experience.

    Now let’s add the Tux500 point back in…
    If you weren’t a teacher and you came across this same blog post, knowing HeliOS’ past what would your impression of the situation be now?

  9. mentallaxative

    Seeing Helios’s irrationally furious reply here makes me even more wary of that article.

  10. damaged justice

    Apparently you have a far looser definition of “irrationally furious” than I do. I don’t even see Helios’ comments here as “furious”. It was certainly far more calm and nuanced than his initial response to the teacher.

  11. teknologist

    lol mentallaxative, you’re funny.

    Seeing your response here makes me think that people need to insert their foot in their mouth more often are more prolific than I originally thought.

    The response you reference seems pretty normal to me. Perhaps your mental laxative isn’t as effective as it needs to be…or maybe you need some mental fiber.

  12. mentallaxative

    Apologies to KMandla for responding to trolling–

    damaged justice, I was referring to the fact that Helios chose to avoid the recent teacher issue and instead berate KMandla about tux500. It is certainly irrational to me to focus on what happened in the past instead of the current situation–and furious because of hyperbole like ‘preaching’ and ‘grain of salt’.

    teknologist: it’s too bad you have to be rude about it. I did not personally attack Helios, as you did to me.

  13. eksith

    Folks, please!
    We’re not kids any more.

    People get passionate about things they belive in and do tend to be a bit strong-worded (I’m one to talk, heh). But that’s no cause to set aside our objectivity.

    Maybe I’m must not convinced that the Tux500 was malice. Incompetence, maybe. But not malice. After all, even Penguin Pete, who’s site KMalinda linked before on Prosenjit’s blog, had second thoughts on the matter.

    So it’s entirely reasonable to take the matter with a grain of salt. But maybe not so resonable to call it a hornswoggle.

    I can attest that it’s maddening to be accused of something you didn’t do and to be doubted thereater to eternity for the same incident. So maybe there’s plenty of misunderstanding to go around?

    I was referring to the fact that Helios chose to avoid the recent teacher issue and instead berate KMandla about tux500.

    Do you honestly think Kmandla was the only person to refer to this incident and perhaps show disbelief?
    After a day or two of that, let’s see you hide your irritation.


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