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2008-03-08

On the Giving Away

I behaved badly.   Very badly.

      1. Apology Necessary
      2. Seeing What Drives Me
      3. Appropriate Actions

1. Apology Necessary

On Thursday, March 6, I learned from Brian Jones's blog that a DIN (German Standards organization) working group has provided its first working paper draft on their study of ODF-OOXML translation.  The PDF can be downloaded at the DIN NA 043-01-34-01 VT Working Group Translation 29500-26300 page.

When I downloaded the draft, I threw a tantrum.  I was outraged: hurt, upset, and indignant.  I was dismayed by the ISO/IEC proprietary notice on the second page of the document.  And I vented my disdain in a comment on Brian Jones's blog and an update to my February 6 "Harmonization Hope Chest" post.  I had completely gone off the rails over a small matter, something that should have been no surprise to me, and I said insulting things about the DIN activity.  And I posted quite deliberately while angry, also failing to read the ISO/IEC notice more carefully first.

I'm apologizing.  Right here, right now.  My behavior was uncalled for and unprofessional.  I also created a diversion from what I should have been observing and commenting on, the welcome visibility of this valuable activity.  I apologize.

  • I have communicated my apology to the two individuals who seem to be behind the creation and conduct of the DIN effort.
      
  • I have cleaned up my statement on the Harmonization Hope Chest post.
      
  • I will add a link to this apology near my comment on Brian Jones's blog.

I'm promising.   That I will not go off half-cocked and jump to bone-headed conclusions.  And if I stumble, I will clean it up.  You can hold me to account for that, whoever you are.

With regard to the DIN working group, I am promising that I will be respectful of their work and the contribution that it makes.  I will also bite my tongue and re-read (several times) material that I find myself having a knee-jerk reaction to.  I will use instant-indignation as a warning sign to me, not as an occasion for venting outrage.

In all matters, I will be civil and respectful.  I promise.


That's all there is to say about that.  The apology stands alone. 

The remainder of this post is about what I learned about myself and the blind spot that I have. I do not wish to be excused for that. I am looking at conduct that can avoid that pitfall in the future.  I am putting that here because it is the reflection on my inexcusable behavior that led me to see this.

2. Seeing What Drives Me

I just want to give it away.  I am in a stage in my vocation where my focus is on paying it forward and giving it all away.  I love computing and information processing and the experience I have gained in the fifty years since Bob Deverill showed me a computer program in-the-making at a table in Caltech's Dabney House lounge.

I just want to give it away.  There are contributions I want to make.  They itch at me.  I don't know whether they are valuable.  I do know if I don't contribute, it will be of no possible use to anyone.  I will be ashamed to leave this life having failed to give away everything I could at every opportunity.  I'm at (or beyond) the point where I need to pay attention to that.

I just want to give it away.  I'm not taking a vow of poverty or anything like that.  I can always use work that provides subsistence and preservation of retirement funds.  The most gratifying work is where I can give it away (and not hide it in the bowels of proprietary possession somewhere).  That is an useful way to prioritize on something that is immediately useful to someone. 

I just want to give it away.  I have not been honoring this drive.  I allow too many distractions, I attempt too many things at once, and I am careless about maintaining focus.  And I know I must ration my energy and stamina.  That was probably always true, but my body tells me every day how much it is true now.  (I used to think all-nighters were a sign of my strength and it is shocking to realize that I have not had the capacity for that for a few years now.  These days I take naps and pray for an undisturbed night's sleep.)

I just want to give it away.  I am my own worst enemy.  I react to events as if they are denying me the ability to contribute when I am the one that is taking my attention away from what I say is important to me and the opportunity for accomplishing that.  (This is what I saw about my stupid reaction to the DIN working-paper copyright notice.)

I just want to give it away.  People who know me have heard me say this.  Yet I don't think I have declared myself out where it matters: out where I want to give it away.  I see that I need to repair that.  This is a public commitment.  I will not be stingy about it.

3. Appropriate Actions

When there's a breakdown, as this incident was for me, a great question for me is to question what there is about the proposed action that will lead to a different outcome.  I see three things:

  • I will train myself to examine every activity for its giving-away:  How is this giving it away?  Is this the most valuable contribution I could be making at this time?
      
  • I will organize my work for giving it away.  I live in an awful clutter.  I also spend too much time on get-ready activities.  I don't mean envisioning I mean obsessive organization of clutter.  I can simplify and streamline.  I don't use my computers as the powerful tools they are.  There's way too much muda.
      
  • I will organized for others to play too.  It is useful that I have my own ball and bat.  It is not useful that I don't play catch with anyone.  I have useful output processes but not useful participation and engagement processes.  I keep saying I will remedy that.  I am making that a giving it away priority.  This is also a great way to have the support of others in checking on my giving it away.

I already have outlets.  This is the ridiculous part of my distress over the DIN working-paper.  I was so wrapped up in "they are preventing my contribution by making me submit to this" that I forgot I already have structures for dealing with that.  I can always contribute to work on document interchange, document-process interoperability, and format harmonization in ways that are not so confining:

  • Public posting of my original writings under Creative Commons Attribution license.  Others are free to quote, reuse, and re-purpose with only the simple scholarly/accountability requirement of satisfying the attribution requirement.
      
  • Public posting of my original software code under the BSD template license.  This makes contributions as available as the Creative Commons license.

Heck, I'm already creating my own place for that and others have provided SourceForge projects that operate under these conditions.  So there was nothing real to be torqued-off about.  I made up something that doesn't even matter if it were the case.

Those are the ways I already avoid high-friction, low-contribution situations.  If I had something that I wanted to have freely available and not locked into, e.g., the ISO/IEC copyright restrictions, I can put it out here and the DIN folk are free to use it and reference it and so on, as is everyone else.  There's no problem.

Furthermore, there are many contributions that I don't need to assure availability of in any respect (such as bug reports, feedback on proposals, review of specifications, etc.).  I can do that if the friction isn't too high.  And after I've answered the important giving-away questions for myself.

One more thing.  I take some things way too seriously (certainly as illustrated by my DIN outburst).  There's  a practice that I know about, yet I have never taken it on as my own.  Even though our eldest son is a recovering rock musician and we often talk about the twelve steps, I have overlooked the Serenity Prayer:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other

I am putting that where I see it and say it every day.


This article's title is inspired by the Pink Floyd hymn-like song, "On the Turning Away."  I don't know why, it just kept coming up as I was pondering what I wanted to say here. 

I'd not paid careful attention to the lyrics or the "Turning Away" theme until choosing to mention it here.  I thought I'd better check to see if there was any harmony with "On the Giving Away."  The resonance goes beyond the titles.

If I could have been at a Pink Floyd concert, it would have been for the "Delicate Sound of Thunder" tour.  (The Berlin performance of "The Wall" is in a completely separate category, of course.)

When I reviewed this video in my home office, Vicki shouted down for me to turn it up.  That is not what she usually asks for and I first turned it down so I could hear what she was saying and find out what wouldn't be too loud (maybe headphones for me).  She wanted it the louder the better.  Who knew?. Vicki asked if there is more of this. 

 
Comments:
 
Hmm, a recovering rock musician on one side, and Vicki yelling "turn it up" from the other. Glad to hear I'm not the only one whose life is complicated.

Nice post ... unnecessary, in my opinion, as you've been one of the only consistently civil and respectful voices in the document formats debate, but I think it's good for people to know where you're coming from. Not everyone is out to slay a dragon, make a killing, or take the world by storm, regardless of how it appears some days.
 
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