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the sun is a billion little spotlights

Published Nov 13 2012 via RSS

The sun is a seething sphere of plasma consuming approximately 600 000 000 tons of hydrogen per second,  lighting our solar system with its raging burn.  Even at 150 000 000 kilometers away from the sun, our little blue planet receives 1 800 000 0000 000 000 000 Joules of energy from it every second, or over 10 000 times the energy humans consume. This immense amount of energy, spread across the Earth, allows all the weather, all the life and so much of the beauty we see around us.

You can focus the energy of a square meter of sunlight on earth with a Fresnel lens and this will provide over 1000 Watts of energy in a very small space. This is likely to hurt, or even extinguish, any living thing that finds itself in the way of this energy. Which is why it is pretty handy that the energy from the sun does not simply come out in a single beam of light, striking the earth in one place. Even with a handful of such sun powered spotlights, there would be a few areas with hellishly intense levels of energy while the rest of our Earth (assuming it would exist at all) would lay cold and desolate.

This is why I like to think of the sun as a billion little spotlights, each shining on some patch of our earth. Every plant, every animal big and small, gets an opportunity to have a little light shone upon then. Enough to power life, but also not so much that it is destroyed. Perhaps more fancifully we could think of daylight as the combined effect of all those spotlights. :)

The free software community (you knew it was going there, right? ;) is a seething community of millions of humans generating amazing amounts of creative work. This is an amazing source of attention energy with people looking for answers and answering questions and creating new questions for people to find answers to. This energy tends to get hyper-focused at times, robbing some areas of our little planet of code of needed sunlight and bathing others in cancer-causing dosages of it. I think we can be like the sun and spread it out a bit more. We can cast a million smaller spotlights, and while that may make the light a little less exciting, the results will be a rather more lush environment.

Armageddon levels of energy may be exciting, but I'd rather spend my days in a field full of flowers.

On Google+ today I read this from John Layt:
Great weekend in Brno at the Linux Color Management Hackfest, a mix of Oyranos, colord, KDE, Gnome, openSuse, Red Hat, and Ubuntu people all just getting on with figuring out how to get things done.  There wasn't even a single heated argument, so don't expect it to hit the headlines any time soon :-)  We really need more of these type of events to build communities around the common desktop infrastructure.  Now to try organise and write-up my thoughts for posting to kde-core-devel and qt-development, could be an epic!
Awesome! But ... "there wasn't even a single heated argument, so don't expect it to hit the headlines any time soon"? Really? Can any of us be proud that this is where we are, that unless arguments surpass a certain (arbitrary) threshold of controversy we don't expect it to get attention? Is this not the best way to breed bad behavior and rob the spirits of those who put in honest efforts?

So let's shine a million spotlights on the things we're achieving, like this color management hackfest. Let's take a low-powered moment to celebrate the working-togetherness and positive results of it. Let's see that on the front page of Slashdot; let's read about it (and a dozen other daily events) on our blog planets. We'll have less time and energy left over to fanboi obsessively over other things that are, relatively, less consequential. And that's OK. It would be a more complex story to follow, just as it is harder to pick out an individual plant in a dense youthful forest, but it would be thick with life.

In a technology industry where the dominant pattern right now is to hyperfocus on a few products from a few companies driven by a few myth-level superstar heroes (who, like all myths, are mostly not real), this would be an amazing source of advantage for Free software in the same way as the sun's light being spread across the whole of our planet is to biological life.

It may seem that there is a fly in the ointment here: this may not scale since people who wish to just sample what's going on, rather than devote their life to keeping up with Free software, only want to hear about the "big" events and high-level summaries. Fortunately for us, we have news organs such as Linux Weekly News that can do just that. Interestingly, I have noticed a lack of obsessive hyperfocus dysfunction in such "we summarize the news for you" outlets, particularly when the community being covered is diverse and doesn't hyperfocus. In the grass-roots Free software community, we need to set the (plurality of) topics in the community rather than allow ourselves to pulled about by the gravity of these "summary level" efforts. We need to be (positive) sources rather than reactive agents.

So let me put my spotlight where my mouth is: To everyone who was at the Linux Color Management Hackfest: you are my inspiration for today. I hope you had an awesome time and I can't wait to use (and tinker with, of course ;) the results when they find their way into a nearby source code repo. :)

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