On open source, bigotry, and having a (sex) life

Posted 5 Apr 2000 at 13:57 UTC by Skud Share This

I'll admit it: unlike some advogato authors, I don't have a girlfriend. Nevertheless, here are a few more opinions on hacking, socialisation, and how to find the perfect partner to complement your coding lifestyle.

I'll admit it: unlike some Advogato authors, I don't have a girlfriend.

It's a lonely life, sometimes. I work for an Open Source startup, doing anything and everything from ideas to coding to documentation to management, and in between I write columns for various Linux websites and do editorial work for Freshmeat. After (yet another) 60+ hour week, all I want to do is sleep.

It's been over a year since Netizen became more than a vague idea and started ruling my life. In that time I've occasionally made an effort to go out, to "have a life", but with minimal success. Why is it that hacking, and Open Source in particular, has such a strong inverse relationship with, well, relationships?

Firstly, I think it's because Open Source software is a topic worth obsessing over. Make no mistake: the technological world is changing, and we're at the front of it. That's exciting, exhilarating and fulfilling -- or if it's not fulfilling yet, "just wait five minutes" (as Nicholas Negroponte would say). Sex has been around for millennia, and will still be around for years to come, but this is something that's happening now, and which requires our full attention to keep up with it.

Coding isn't for dilettantes. You can't just mess around with it occasionally in between having a hectic social schedule. As I've said in previous articles, a totally focussed "larval phase" of six months or more and an ongoing dedication or obsession are vital to becoming a more than adequate coder. I should know; I didn't obsess enough, and here I am in management.

While it's obvious from slashdot comments, if nothing else, that most Open Source people would dearly love to find a compatible MOTAS, the problem seems to be the whole "compatibility" issue. You wouldn't try to use a WinModem under Linux, and most hackers would find similar compatibility problems when dating a Microsoft apologist.

A significant other should either be an escape from one's technical life, or a partner in it. I've had successful relationships with both, and believe that they're equally valid ways of integrating code and sex. Slashdot's Robin Miller believes that what geeks really need is a non-technical female partner to cook and clean for them while they hack. I can't say I agree with his opinion, and not only because I'm female, a feminist, and pretty much guaranteed to get upset by such broad, stereotype-reinforcing statements.

My personal opinion is that you can't beat rolling over after sex and discussing the how to deal with the latest bug you're working on. I would even go so far as to opine that hacking on code with your partner is an extraordinary act of trust and closeness rivalled by very few other activities. Code review is an important part of the Open Source development process, and criticism from someone you trust and with whom you share an emotional bond can be incredibly rewarding. If your coding styles are complementary, the whole can easily be greater than the sum of its parts, and great projects and software can ensue.

A bit of advocacy to partners or potential partners can't go astray, either. On Monday night I was fortunate enough to have dinner with a young woman with a good dose of technical clue and a strong urge to get into the IT industry. Her problem? She needs experience to get experience. My immediate suggestion: buy a cheap secondhand machine, install Linux, set up a home network between it, her Windows box, and her father's home office system, then repeat with at least two or three distributions. That will add depth to her resume and be sure to get her a good entry-level position. Meanwhile, it makes her a much more attractive partner for future dinner dates, and she's sure to be asking me for assistance on a regular basis. Not that I'd ever indulge in advocacy for anything less than completely pure reasons...

The only question remaining is whether Linux people should sleep with BSD bigots, or whether Perl and Python weenies can ever make beautiful code together. I'm convinced that they can. Face it, we're all on the same side in the end: us against the forces of proprietary crapware. And just as some partners can give you new experiences in bed, they might also be able to teach you a thing or two about software. And learning is never a bad thing. Right?


Nice article!, posted 5 Apr 2000 at 14:47 UTC by Raphael » (Master)

You will have to excuse me if this comment is a "me too" coupled with a "first post", but I just wanted to say that I like your article... including your opinion of Roblimo's old rant and the fact that you can do great things if you find a MOTAS with whom you can sleep and hack with equal pleasure.

On the other hand, I have been happily living with my girlfriend for a couple of years now, and she is neither an escape from my technical life (she groks computers) nor a partner in it (she uses Windows). The important thing is that we both understand the merits of each system and we do not try to convince each other to switch. If you are looking for a SO, I think that you should not pay too much attention to her/his coding skills: unless she/he is a stubborn advocate of a competing system, you will certainly find a way to be happy together. There are so many more important things in a relationship...

Sleeping with the enemy, posted 5 Apr 2000 at 15:32 UTC by ajv » (Master)

The social aspect of the collective diaries here on advogato tell me that unlike the geeky stereotypes that often pervade the media (especially after a Columbine-type item), we geeks actually have really healthy and diverse social lives. And we should not apologise for it or shy away from it. I'm glad that Skud (see disclaimer below) and phk bring it up.

We may not get laid as often as we like. We might not have truly beautiful partners, or indeed have had a partner in the recent past. If you resemble my last remark, so do I. According to Woody Allen, I'm supposed to have twice the chances of finding a partner, but that's not been the case for me. I'm unlikely to get a Sarah Michelle Gellar, Natalie Portman or Rupert Everatt in my life. And realistically, with no disrespect to the people I've mentioned, I'd rather have someone with brains first and looks second. Expectations count when you're looking for a partner. Get your priorities straight and see what happens.

Some of the best advice I ever had for a healthy relationship was from a 65 year old co-worker when I working my way through uni. He said that you have to be best friends with the other person, and have a healthy sex life, or else the best friends bit goes down the toilet. He had been married for 45 years when I knew him. In the 11 years since, I've noticed that all the really healthy relationships and marriages of my acquaintences, friends and family have this in common - they are best friends with each other. I've seen three sets of my friends get divorced, and it's terrible to watch.

Most of the achievers (both geek and in business) I've met don't watch TV much. They do stuff. And from what I read, we do stuff, and I would be surprised if there are many of us who watch more than a minimal amount of TV, unlike the "normals" like my parents who come home from work and veg out in front of the TV every night.

Sometimes we do stuff to the detriment of a "normal" social life. But I don't go out because the "normal" social places do not cater for me. They allow smokers. They are too loud (and I treasure what I have left of my hearing). They have knuckle draggers on the door who have one look at my 50 kg spare tyre and exclude me. So I rarely go out to "normal" social spots, like nightclubs, etc. So how do I try to meet people? I try go to parties and I am on the national exec of SAGE-Au. Probably most of you are aware of a local Linux user group, so you could subsitute that instead of the System Administrators Guild. But if you're into sysadmin, SAGE is pretty good. You probably will not meet too many MOTAS* at these places, but you will get invited to more parties as you'll have a wider variety of friends. That's what I aim for. Alternatively, I did some volunteer work for Amnesty International a while ago, and there are plenty of really smart people there. Pick a charity of your choice and help out. Find new things to do.

I'm going to ignore the Linux vs BSD or Microsoft bigotry because I live with a BSD guy (Dan Carosone, dan@netbsd.org), and I'm a Linux and Win2K kind of guy (we have 7 computers here, and only one runs Win2K). Three are non-Intel based. We get on because we have got past the immature <fav os> against World+dog thing. Last week, it was annoying on the reiserfs mail list to see 50+ posts with no actual reiserfs content - simply a BSD vs GPL license flame fest. It was completely irrelevant.

The people who count are the people who code and do stuff. And in my travels, the people who do stuff the most (and thus are respected, like the Masters on advogato) seem to care this >< much about the various licenses or Microsoft stuff. They get on with doing stuff, and so do I. I don't care, and you shouldn't either. Leave license ideology to ESR, RMS and Brett Glass. Leave advocacy to the idiots in various advocacy newsgroups who have time for that sort of thing. Disclaimer: I've been to one of Skud's parties a few years ago, and it was excellent. So excellent that even when I had the glass shard from a broken bottle removed from my foot by a doctor and a tetanus injection it was still a party that I fondly remember (I just wish I could remember the name of the guys I was playing with in the spa).

* MOTAS: Member of the appropriate sex, I think, which covers both MOTOS and MOTSS as well as the bits in between. I'm bi, so male and female partners are appropriate for me. If you're gay, you'd want a MOTSS (member of the same sex), and if you're straight, you'd want a MOTOS (member of the opposite sex).

On relations, posted 5 Apr 2000 at 15:38 UTC by ingvar » (Master)

Being somewhat compulsive computer user, I was more than delighted to find a girl who (not only) liked computers, but actually liked them a lot, used them and was very interested in learning more about them. A happy time together started.

I haven't had that many serious relationships over the years, but when I've had them, we've always had at least one large common hobby (medievalism, computers, photography, whatever) and, well, I believe that that's needed. Having a few disparate hobies is probably also very good...

Nowadays, working for an ISP, computers tend to take over all my waking hours, so switching to another mental track would probably be a tad difficult, so I think my next SO will have to be interested in either computers or routers...

Dear oh dear...., posted 5 Apr 2000 at 16:01 UTC by Skud » (Master)

My sordid past is coming to haunt me. I never realised my spa parties caused *tetanus*.

*boggle*

(further followup by email)

don't /silence +partner, posted 5 Apr 2000 at 16:08 UTC by Ankh » (Master)

Married here (we think it's legal, at least, despite both being male) and with good and bad times, ups and downs.

The hardest part for me is finding time for my partner; he isn't a programmer and for him a computer is a mildly frightening tool. But then, my experiences with a pottery kiln didn't equate to Art.

I can happily sit in front of a computer totally oblivious to the world and eating nothing for days, until a bug is fixed. But that means I'm oblivious to my partner too, and that's bad. He's more or less used to the idea that I go through addled and oblivious phases, though. Sometimes I notice a cat has arrived in my lap and I can't say when or how. They used not to sit in my lap because I move too quickly and frighten them, or because they aren't allowed in naked laps :-)

Being technical doesn't mean having to be single, but I think it does mean you need a partner who understands what it means to share a life with a computer. Or with a dozen computers. And you in turn need to try and understand your partner's needs. This is true in all relationships, but the obsession with things virtual exacerbates the effectst almost intolerably.

"without you... the boys run... the birds sing... but I die.. without you"

The Social Geek, posted 5 Apr 2000 at 21:27 UTC by dancer » (Journeyer)

I'm working on the first coffee of the day. I should not be posting until at least my second. I'm posting anyway

I'd like to modify ajv's comment just slightly. Some of us geeks have healthy and diverse social lives. There are certainly people who are surprised that a bunch of us can get together for a lunch, or drinks or some other kind of gathering of people that involves at least rudimentary social skills (No, ma'am. It's Lent. I hardly ever hurl handfuls of feces at social occasions during Lent) and is usually reserved for (sigh) normal people.

And yes, some people are not only confused that we can be social, but actually mildly offended by it. They're afflicted by the stereotype that says we start to twitch and drool and stammer when confronted by a real human being (of any gender).

Face it. We are no more or less social animals than the non-geeks.....but working on a deadline given by a Pointy-Haired-Boss (because I can refer to stereotypes too, if I want to) often doesn't leave you with enough time to do more than grunt at people in passing. 86400 seconds in a day. It's not just the law, it's a bloody nuisance.

whats so special, posted 5 Apr 2000 at 22:21 UTC by Netdancer » (Journeyer)

Kirrily will probably disagree, but in my not so humble opinion, this is all very mundane. Hey, come on, geeks/hackers/whatever aren't that special. 60 hour weeks aren't special (if you disagree, just ask your grandma about it...), neither are obsessive workers. Medieval people took great pride in their work, often to the exclusion of everything else (and sex is for reproduction, you know ;-)).

We're a bit more idealistic than the typical worker, but that isn't very different from the folks that smoked pot in the sixties and nobody accused them of having a bad social life, right? So, lets just don't take ourselves too seriously (and shrug of the mainstream press trying to draw an asexual picture of hacking).

don't get me wrong though, I'm as happy as anyone about the fact that hackers have a social life ;-)

computers are warm, too, posted 7 Apr 2000 at 04:56 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

it's slightly unfortunate that i am very tactile-sensitive. the warmth and the ridges of the top of a 17-in monitor... never mind. let's just say i've had people tell me, "you're enjoying that, aren't you? *giggles*" and i've had to walk out of their office :)

But Seriously...

i manage ok with all worlds. i swear that i am beginning to develop an autistic side, available at will when Coding Calls, for weeks on end. i manage by finding other interests, usually scary ones such as speed-skating (top speed so far, about 45mph in a train of five people downhill, and 41mph on my own. SVT cobra, lots of noise and enthralling (literally!) harmonics from the twin-exhausts, and acceleration above 4,000RPM; brakes in 200ft at 70mph - you get the picture). the more sane activities: communication through poetry and music. an appreciation of nature. xien tai-ji. basically, not the sorts of things that a Traditional Geek would go for, if you ask me.

so, it means that i _can_ communicate with people on non-computing subjects. however, i just recently had to explain to someone that well, no, they probably couldn't talk to me at my level of understanding of computing and packet-level analysis of windows nt, but then again, neither can anyone else except about ten to twenty people in the entire damn world, five to fifteen of whom are under NDA because they are microsoft or other-commercial employees. (as it turns out, it didn't make any difference: still recovering from that one)

my advice, for what it's worth: don't take the computer home with you. disconnect the modem, the ISDN or the SDSL. go home, evenings and weekends, leave your brain switched on but in idling-mode, it will fool your partner into thinking that you're present and correct, plus you'll probably find that you get more work done subconsciously than you expect!

i also want to say, the bit about being friends, the old guy is absolutely right: find a friend who is special and close. just-sex? can be great. fills a need. that's about it. sex - as an expression of something deeper? fantastic, wild.

Not For Me, posted 7 Apr 2000 at 12:08 UTC by pudge » (Master)

Personally, I need a partner that is NOT a geek. I spend so much time on programming pursuits, when I stop for the day, I need to really stop for the day. My wife is wonderful, smart, funny, and doesn't know the first thing about programming. Well, maybe the first thing, but not the second or third. I take her with me to all the geek things I do (conferences, Perl Mongers meetings, Geek Pride thing) and she talks to all the geeks about non-geek things, and we all enjoy ourselves.

But then again, I've not always been a real geek (I didn't start programming, aside from some BASIC on a C-64 as a kid, until after college, after I married my wife), so my case may be a little bit different than some of you. I'll stop typing now before I begin to ramble.

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