Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?
GNU is Not Unix

Essay on the GNU Community 143

Rowan writes "I've written a longish (but nice, I hope) publication about various matters in the GNU Software Community. It ends with describing how important conflicts are to learn and discover errors. It's meant to be the first in a row and I think they'll all be worth the read. "
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Essay on the GNU Community

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I think this article represents an all-time low in Slashdot editorial quality. After reading the article, I think I can sum it up as:

    • Here's a bunch of things that I think suck about my hardware/GNOME/KDE/Linux in general.
    • Let's try to all live together as friends and learn from each other's comments.

    Your point is valid, in that we have to look at criticism as a tool for building better systems, but I'm not sure why I have to wade paragraph after paragraph of criticism in order to get to this point. Your goal would be better served if you showed examples or instances where this criticism served to improve things. In fact, what apparently should have been the crux of the article somehow turned into some kind of justification for your personal opinions.

    As an aside: I know your native language may not be English, but would it hurt to use a spell-checker? There used to be a time where public writing was considered important enough to care about presentation...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Wordiness is almost as bad as poor grammar. :)

    "Hey guys, he's Dutch. Cut him some slack on his English."

    One line, one point. :)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    What many people here seem to be forgetting, is that Rowan, in his essay, actually did make some points - and fairly good ones, at that. He has some kind of vision for the future of collaborative software development, and it is nice that he had the courage and courtesy to share it with others.

    Now, as to the topic alluded to by the subject of this post - the original thought is not lacking in Rowan's material, but rather in the content of the comments posted in response to it. Given, his spelling and grammar are less than perfect, and the focus of this (not complete) work is a bit fuzzy. These facts are fairly obvious - as obvious now as when the first of the dozens of posts blasting him for his english skills appeared. Stop beating a dead horse - the point has been made!

    In this entire discussion there have been maybe 10 posts with anything constructive to say on the content of the essay. It is easy to think of criticism on technical points like writing, but much more difficult to attack or defend ideas. Certainly a post or two about the writing style would have been more than sufficient to make this very simple point clear.

    It seems kind of interesting that Rowan's creative prowess, and lack of technical writing prowess is mirrored by many readers' grammatical competence, and lack of original ideas.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    In real life, names can be overloaded. There,
    as in programming languages, overloading is well
    defined, but may lead to confusion for the uninitiated.
    A more suitable model for the space of ideas can
    be found in the OMG Common Object Services Spec Vol 1:
    Naming Service. I believe that each name has a relatively precise
    meaning for the speaker, but may be understood differently by a listener.
    Namespace federation is an ongoing research problem and automatic mapping
    is not going to come about easily. A rigid framework (like rdf, if it wasn't just for commercial purposes) would help,
    but who in this world can muster the discipline (well, computers, maybe).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 1999 @06:17PM (#1955873)
    Well, hope you orcs had fun torching Rowan, but perhaps
    Taco is developing some editorial style, finally A great article.
    I look forward to more from Rowan..

    The anger I can somewhat understand, but there is also a call
    for dialouge. GNU means nothing if people can't use the software
    for much. I have said it before, and I'll say it again, that many
    regular posters here ARE using Windows to connect to Slashdot
    because regardless of their pretensions, they *can't* get their
    LInux boxes configured at home, sysadins or no. Look at Taco's
    about link. Yet, most of you deny it.

    Windows can be frustrating when it crashes and when one comes
    upon its limitations, but so can Linux be frustrating to very
    intelligent people. I think a large part of the frustration is that much
    of unix, at least the documentation, is intentionally arcane to protect
    the job security of sysadmins, who are not necessarily very intelligent
    or creative people. They are just people who have been through
    the hazing and have learned some of the ropes. Therefore, one
    can argue that GNU software which is intenionally arcane and
    poorly documented is *NOT FREE". It is only of use to a few people,
    usuallly people working fo large institutions (the usual unix
    clients) who parcel out rights and priviledges to "users". And, just
    like MSCEs, reboot machines and install most of the time.
    Yet, you think so much of yourselves. The fact that you
    occasionally cut a and past a perl script does not make you
    a developer. Sort of like the "tech men" managing the dying
    atomic power plants of the old empire in Asimov's Foundation.

    So, is, in effect, much of GNU only for a very narrow and selfish
    guild or fraternity, which has probably done more to retard the advance
    or computing than to promote it? That can be argued. These
    are by no means creative geniuses - just careerists. Persons with
    any kind of creativity or wisdom would not post the kinds of
    comments I've read here. I say these negative posts are motivated
    by envy at something real and refreshing.

    Well, Rowan has done some work and research to "hack"
    his own system, yet still admits that the whole system is very
    frustrating to work with, sometimes. He also points out possibilities
    in ways GNU can advance computing into the 21's century.
    I agree with much of the specifics (though Rowan wasn't too
    specific) except that I like KDE. "Themes" are the least important
    aspect of a desktop to most users, and I like the way the
    default KDE looks anyway.

    Really, there is a lot that can be done to make computing more
    creative for most users - even with text based applicatioins.
    Especially in the area of "idea" databases using AI and fuzzy
    searches, where users don't need to work with files at all.
    (Unless they are repairing the system). Much of that can be
    done with XML already - it just isn't.

    We need more articles like this from people who have actually
    tried to use GNU and Linux who are free from much of the
    pretension (and dishonesty about one's own experiences with
    Linux) I see here. A refreshing change from carefully edited,
    pompous and preach articles by known personalities in the
    Free Software movement. The rambling style and lack of
    editing is ok. Content rules here.


  • by Jordy ( 440 )
    Linux GUI isn't ready for prime time and I believe most people know it. There is such fragmentation in the X world it makes the Unix (R) world look unified.

    You have a few dozen toolkits, several window managers where approx 80% of the code is duplicated, an immense codebase consisting of code designed to be backwards compatible with features people haven't used in 10 years, and a company which until recently wanted to close X off to the open source community.

    Hack ontop of hack ontop of hack to make what was originally a glorified drawing API, a graphical user interface.

    Linux is ready for corporate computing, server environments where you don't need a 600 meg GUI to run a 2 meg web server or mail server.

    Linux will be ready for the desktop arena soon, just not right now.

  • slashdot posts excepted, right? heheh.

    taco, hows about a "submit to ispell" button? Return highlighted mispelled words.

  • The article is posted from a ".nl" domain, so it is possible, indeed likely that the writer is not a native English speaker. Please keep that in mind when assessing the essay. Also keep it in mind when (as someone already has) questioning the notion of this person writing a book.

    English is the lingua franca of the Internet. Since it's the only language I speak and for other reasons I won't go into to avoid a flamewar I think that's a good thing. However, it can put people who aren't fluent in it at a disadvantage. Even people who can speak/read/write it fairly well might not be able to write fully grammatically correct idiomatic English. Unfortunately, this can put people at a disadvantage in discussions as it can make them seem confused when in fact their ideas might be clear. Of course, their ideas might possibly be murky as well, which makes comprehension doubly a problem!

  • Nope...because the average nerd doesn't use M$ apps, and hence is immune to Melissa.

    Incorrect. Look at the slashdot stats page - more than half the slashdot visitors read the page using Windows. That means that somewhere, either at home, at work, or both, they have Windows. Many of those Windows users also use MS Office (especially those at work), so it would be of interest to them.

    Also, many slashdot readers are sysadmins. Any sysadmin whose network contains windows machines running Office (the majority of corporate networks) needs to be concerned about this, since thousands of messages propagating exponentially will take down their network.
  • Posted by OGL: much would someone have to pay you for you to read this guy's book? Personally I'm in the 50-100k range. That is if he ever "archives" the feat of finishing it. I'm somewhat scared at the prospect of this guy spewing forth even more vile drivel. I really hope Rob is not planning on posting the next one.

  • Posted by LarkMan:

    Yes, he does need a grammar check and a spell check. His essay is not focused. In short, he could use a good writing class. But....

    HOWTOs often have misleading or, in some cases, simply inaccurate or outdated information. The assumed user knowledge in HOWTOs can, at times, be above the level of what I think the target audience. Remember a HOWTO is not a man page. It is reference of first resort. While our (the Linux User community) online tech support is considered by most as superb, we can sometimes attack those who we consider to be below us. I know, I've been on the receiving end of this. Why do we do this? This only reinforces the stereotype of Linux being elitist. Not a good thing.

    On his point of KDE vs. GNOME vs. everybody's favorite X-widget set du jour, he is right on the money. Why is there so much duplicative effort? Do we really need that many different ways of looking and manipulating the VFS tree (MC, xfm, xfilemanager, and on and on). Just how many different variants of FVWM are there? This concept of having to reinvent the wheel is gonna kill Linux from the inside. Maybe we should look at Linus' example with the kernel. One vision (or direction, if you prefer) has kept it on an even united (more or less) path.

    Maybe I'm just bitter having to maintain an NT LAN for a living. All but one one of my users is on Winblows 9x (the exception is NT, btw). I find myself dealing with even worse and sadly less coherent rants. The punch line is they expect me to fix inheirently broken software. This guy is a technical genius in comparison. I would gladly take an office full of Rowans. He, at least, has shown he has the ability to learn. My users... Well let's just some are better than others...

    I will fight to death to protect Rowan's right to speak - grammatically incoherent or newbyish (is that even a word?!?) as it might seem. There are a lot more Rowans out there than than there are Alan Coxes or Linuses, or even ESRs. We need to embrace them, as well.

  • Silly Stupid Question to ruin your day:

    Do we know this post really came from Rowan? I can well imagine any high school freshment appending the name "Rowan" to an AC post. Why should we believe him? There is no entrance exam to Slashdot. One does not need to present a photo id. The only way to trust an identity is using an identity scheme (PGP or similar).

    For instance, I could, at this moment, append an article with the name "W. Clinton" and confess to a global conspiracy that cumulates in the fabrication of a war in a made-up country called "Kosovo". We all know this is fake, but it takes just as much ease in writing as it would for someone to sign "Rowan" Did I make my point?

  • Well Rowan, although I think your point about conflict resolution is well-taken, the vast body of your essay was pretty much incoherent.

    Yes, the current state of computers sucks. Yes, most of us can imagine something better. That must have been really chewing you up for it to come out in a nice long rant like that.

    But _why_ did this end up as an article on /.?

    - Ken
  • I have a feeling that I might agree with much of this article if I could understand what it meant. I'm usually quite tolerant of attempts to write in English, but this was beyond Babelfish. I certainly hope that Rowan's book will be in his native tongue, whatever that is, or that he at least get an editor.

    I tried to get beyond the linguistic aspects to follow the train of thought in the content of the article, but it eluded me, unless it was "I like computers. Computers suck. I like Linux. Linux sucks. The best way to do things and the worst way are the same thing. I don't understand any of it. So I'm writing a book about it." Would the next paragraph have said "I like jello"?
  • by mholve ( 1101 )
    You lost me at GNU/Linux... ;>
  • Hehehe. Memories indeed...
  • TRS-80 forever! :)
  • Slashdot: News for nerds. Stuff that matters.

    Sorry, but somehow I think the Melisa virus is much more likely to matter to the average nerd than yet another OSS peice.

  • by williamc ( 1726 ) on Tuesday March 30, 1999 @02:10PM (#1955887) Homepage
    No disrespect to Rowan, but I think slashdot articles need to more concise, better written, better edited and better presented than this. If we want an unmoderated source of amateurish rambles then we still have Usenet.

    Rowan: it has a certain charm and I accept that you may go on to say something interesting, but that's an awful lot of grey text to wade through before reaching it.
  • This should have gone in the parent message, but anyway ;-)

    Rowan: your piece about modularity feels like it's missing a dozen paragraphs somewhere.

    Let me explain you why I feel that:

    In one paragraph you say "Some of the KDE Developers are working on a really good and promessing Office package."

    And you even go on to say that "This Office package consists of a level of modularity which I quitte enjoy to read about."

    Then you switch suddenly to saying KOffice is somehow flawed because it is not "the system which will finally save us from uninspired influences."

    First, I fail to see how a simple office package (or any software, really), is supposed to do that, but then you switch again to "KOffice sucks"!

    You change, in two paragraphs from promising and something you like to read about to "it sucks", and the only reason you give is some cryptic message about uninspired influences.

    As I said before, if you want to reach the reader, you need to make sense for the reader. I simply can not digest what happened between those paragraphs, and seing such a 180 degree turn in opinion makes me queasy about the validity of your point.

    Imagine if I started an essay by saying "George Washington was a fine guy, I like to read about the good acts he made" and suddenly you said "but he was a bloody tyrant!".

    The least the unsuspecting reader would expect is an explanation about *why* you change your point of view so quickly. And if your explanation was "because of all the uninspired influences he had", well, let's say your history concepts would be considered shaky.

    You say you have studied and learned the GNU system a lot. If after taking all that trouble, you give us an essay, why not put in the essay some of the insight I am sure you gained from the study?

    How about some reasoned foundation for your ideas and opinions?

    How about some coherence between what you say in one paragraph and the next, or was it just a rethoric trick?

    If you want your essay to be considered, you may also like to get down the high horse. "it sucks" is not an argument any developer is going to consider.

    Finally: please consider adding a notice explaining us your qualifications. I would consider modularity complaints from a member of the OMG more than from a member of the NRA , for one thing ;-)
  • by Roberto ( 1777 ) on Tuesday March 30, 1999 @03:18PM (#1955889) Homepage
    "I am not getting into the KDE customizability argument", followed by:

    "it sucks", "it looks worse than a windows theme", "it will get better using Qt 2.0".

    Gee, wonder what would happen if you *got* into the argument.

    Ok, let me explain you a few things, please take it kindly.

    1) The goal of KDE is not to provide themes to you. There, I said it. Themes are 99% of the time pointless, distracting uglyness, which only detract from your productivity.

    2) Configurability != themes.
    Configurability is providing the means to adjust the behaviour of your environment to different ways of working.

    KDE's mac-like menu bar is more configurability than all the gtk pixmap themes. Why? Because it's useful. Because it provides you a different feel, not just a different look.

    It's an option, you change it, you adjust KDE to your preferred way of using it. It's configurability.

    3) Why leave windows and go to KDE?
    Put like that it makes no sense, of course.
    Then again, that should come as no surp[rise, since it actually makes no sense.

    People don't like windows for KDE (or GNOME). They leave windows for Linux, or FreeBSD or whatever, +X +KDE.

    So, what do you get by making that switch: you get multiuserness, you get remotability, you get stability, you get some extra software, you get some software cheaper (say, WP), and you get a GUI that is not terrible, from the point of view of a person who is used to windows.

    You see, if you switched instead to Linux+X+twm, several of the advantages you would get are not accessible to you, or are accessible through a higher learning curve, which often means the switching user won't care.

    It's a golden rule of UI: if the user doesn't know it's there, or if the user can't *use* it, it could as well not exist.

    Hope this helps you, it looks like you have something you want to say, but I can't see it behind the things I see as wrong or disagree too deeply with. If you want to reach a reader, you need to make sense to him.

    Then again, I may not be your intended reader (I'd say it's likely I am not ;-) and my opinion holds no weight, but who am I to say that?

    Disclaimer: I am a KDE developer.
  • 1) Are you just functionally nasty?
    2) Does anyone really care what pundits think?
    3) Do you have any realization of the fact that you probably couldn't spell "bathroom" in his language?
    4) I missed the adolescent rage in the piece. He seemed like a genuine nice person attempting to communicate, unlike your sorry ass. How many raging adolescents go out to do a little gardening when they've got a head of steam?

    Geez, some people....

  • You're not interested in the essay, good or bad, it's just another excuse to spew your venom. I'm well-known for pouncing on spelling and other errors, but I'm mature enough to cut a guy some slack once in awhile if his heart's in the right place.

    And using "every vernacular profanity"? I count 5 "damn" and 1 "shit" in the essay. I don't think even my mother would have a problem with that, given the length of it.

    Finally you have resort to calling me illiterate, which I think pretty much proves my point that you're more interested in personal attacks than anything else.

    Not much of a "thinker", after all.
  • English is the lingua franca of the Internet.
    Does anyone else find this ironic - a *latin* term meaning "French language" defining english?

  • someone with enough guts to point out reality. Linux is far too complicated to head for the mass desktop market anytime soon. And the documentation is really poor. I don't know about other distributions, but Red Hat's documentation is chaotic, incomplete, and often incorrect. There is virtually no comprehensive documentation to explain how modules work together. Maybe I've overlooked something.

    If I knew more, I'd write it myself. But if I had the documentation, learning it would be a lot easier. It's a vicious circle.

  • Does anyone edit for spelling anymore or just throw it out there?


    "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." - Albert Einstein
  • Now that Slashdot has moderators for comments, perhaps we need editors for the articles. Then you can filter features based on who edited them..


  • E.B. White has offered the immortal advice, "if you don't know how to say a word, say it loud!"

    Was it really E.B. White who said this? As far as I know this was to help people to learn how to pronounce words, it was not a statement of philosophy.

    E.B. White was a meticulous writer and would not be impressed by this essay. One of the things he said in "The Elements of Style" was: Edit ruthlessly.


  • I think that's a great idea! There should be a forum for discussion....

    Use the net, Luke! (or should I say Lisa). you can start with the USENET group "misc.writing", or just go to Yahoo and do a search on "writing".


  • I think the Melisa virus is much more likely to matter to the average nerd than yet another OSS peice.

    Nope...because the average nerd doesn't use M$ apps, and hence is immune to Melissa.

    Interestingly enough, although I get a ton of email, I've gotten zero Melissa-virii emailed to me, which implies that no one I know uses M$-based-email, either! Kind of surprising, since that includes my non-nerd family. But encouraging.

  • Incorrect. Look at the slashdot stats page - more than half the slashdot visitors read the page using Windows.

    Oh. Okay, okay. In that case, I should have said that most nerds don't WANT to use M$ apps. ;-)

    I also think that the appeal of /. has been steadily broadening. I'm much less sure of who is the readership than I was last year.

    ...Except that I keep seeing more and more names I recognize, such as some of the (in-)famous Net God Cabal people from the 80's, and other previously high profile folks that I'd completely lost track of.

    ...And by the same token, /. seems to be getting more and more of the general public than before. I mean, lawyers and columnists, fer krisake! (just kidding)

  • but it eluded me, unless it was "I like computers. Computers suck. I like Linux. Linux sucks.

    Contradiction does not always mean bad writing nor unclear thinking, all by itself!!!

    "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
    it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.
    it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
    it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
    it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,
    we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
    we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--
    in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

    From A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

    Another example:

    "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)"

    From Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (book III, Song of Myself)

    A tolerance for ambiguity leads to an effective increase in wisdom and intelligence, and indeed it's ironic that the author of this Slashdot essay claimed that it was about conflict -- perhaps even self-conflict? Let paradox and contradiction reign.

  • LOL! :-)
  • He made a lot of good points; I even agree that Pliant is an interesting language (although be warned that it's not currently for the typical programmer).

    However, aside from his advice about approaching conflict in a positive way, he had little to say about what to do about the problems he raised.

    So in that sense, he's preaching to the choir here at Slashdot, to very little point. It's relatively easy to identify problems, but it's often quite difficult to solve problems.

    On the other hand, there's a place for this... I've been complaining about Microsoft for ages, but I didn't have a concrete suggestion about what to do about them, I've just been frustrated.

  • by Trick ( 3648 ) on Tuesday March 30, 1999 @02:55PM (#1955903)
    Rowan, you've made some valid points. Quite a few of them, in fact. I've got to admit, though, that they weren't easy to find.

    I confess that I'm probably a bit more critical of others' writing than most (life's hell when you were a double Comp Sci/Englsh Lit major), but I hope you're open to a little constructive criticism.

    Focus, my man! I think you tried to make too many points too quickly, and I often had a difficult time figuring out where one point ended and another began. I know it can be difficult to have a lot of things to say, and a limited space to say them. You're sure to lose readers, though, if you try to cram too many of them together at once.

    As an example, CmdrTaco's title for your article was "Essay on the GNU Community," but that was only a small section at the end. I'd be very hard-pressed to come up with a title that fit the entire article... and that should be a sign you're trying to say too much. Select a topic, and write about that topic. You can always write more later.

    You've got several distinct ideas there (and more than a few major complaints) which could easily be articles of their own. Think them out, come to conclusions where you can, and take some time to decide if they might be worthy of their own article. If they're not, see if they help make the main point if the article you're writing. If they don't, throw them away -- they're only cluttering things up.
  • Would someone mind explaining to me exactly what the point here was? To me, the article sounded like someone saying "Here's all the bad stuff I know about Linux, I hope you don't hate me for it." Maybe it's my short attention span, or perhaps its my internal instinct to say "Feh! I've configured things 100 times worse than that! With a hangover!" but I just didn't see any reason at all for this to be on slashdot.

    A poorly written, stop-and-go, nearly incoherent rant about what someone found wrong with Linux is something I can easily pick up from or any of a dozen other Usenet groups. In the mean time, real news like the NATO airstrikes in Yugoslavia gets ignored.

    At least the comment section is nice and pretty now.

    Leapfrog, the mediocre.

    PS: Moderate me! Go ahead! I dare ya! (insert rabid frothing-at-mouth here) I don't need this! arragagea bbleaergh!

  • No! A single mistake turns the RancidTaco into a bumbling moron! No errors are allowed!

    I say we organize a lynch mob post-haste and go seeking vengeance!


    Leapfrog, the slow-witted.

    PS: Yes, it's a joke. Sarcasm. Satire, if you will. I mean no ill will towards Rob Malda or anyone else on the Slashdot crew. What they decide to put up on their own web pages is none of my business.

  • I am very disappointed why this article appeared at Slashdot. And this time it is someone at Slashdot (maybe CmdrTaco) that screwed up. They/He should have read through and pointed out the obvious errors, both spelling and grammatical. No disrespect to Roman, which (probably) like me isn't a native English speaker.

    Shame on you /.
  • A suggestion.

    E.B. White has offered the immortal advice, "if you don't know how to say a word, say it loud!"

    That is: don't apologize for yourself. If you're wrong, you'll be forgiven. Move on. Don't call attention to the fact that you might be wrong ('cause what if you're right?).

    The online equivalent is: "if you're worried you might be flamed for something, say it loud!"

    Jamie McCarthy

  • Many slashdotters do not speak english as their first language, and I for one, as a veteran of a foreign language, can appreciate how damn hard it is to say what you're trying to say while speaking or writing a foreign language.

    And besides, it may be a bit distracting to read the spelling and grammar, but who is it really that needs a shiny package to appreciate what's inside? I don't... and that's why I get my linux over the internet. I don't need a shiny box to enjoy the contents, and I don't think that the author of the article has to wait and study and learn perfect oxford, (or south compton) english before he is permitted to express his views with the slashdot community.

    Give the guy a break, and hopefully along with me you'll realize that he deserves to be commended on his article's content AND his english skills. (Whatever his native tounge is, I doubt most people can speak that as well as he speaks english)

    Bottom line: The point is the point. If you understood what was written in the article, then I'd say that the article was good enough for slashdot. This isn't the New York times, and I think it would totally SUCK if people got flamed for writing poorly. Think about the people that WOULDN'T write in who SHOULD.
  • it may be a good article, but i was bored and confused by too many twist and turns in the article, i think i was almost halfway through it and i still had no idea what point he was trying to make.
    I don't clain to be a writer, but my teacher once told me that to get folks to read your work, you must say what you are going to talk about in the first paragraph, then talk about it in the rest of the essay, then end it by saying what you talked about.
  • It's not about fonts. It's about a rather difficult-to-read layout, caused by HTML misuse.

    For example, there are no paragraph breaks in the article at all. It's all
    s, sometimes with two in a row. No , , etc, just font size tags. Sure, these aren't big things, but it makes a difference and makes the article looks worse than it should.
  • I think you misunderstand Slashdot, this article and the Melissa virus. Melissa only attacks people with Word and MAPI running, meaning mostly Windows people and a couple Mac people. It's a fairly lame virus that's only dangerous because it swamps mail servers.

    Slashdot tends to appeal mostly to users of alternate OS's, like Linux. Thus, the Melissa virus wasn't a terribly big deal to those people reading /. (with the exception of the people running mail servers). Also, it was covered extensively in more mainstream press. /. coverage would have been redundant.

    This article talks about a bigger topic than yet-another-windows-virus (well, worm I guess). That is the potential for alternate OS's to be accepted in the mainstream. Rowan has some interesting insights and it's part of /.'s concept to share those with everyone else. If nothing else, it's /.'s way of giving the news medium over to its users.

    Posting this article shows more than yet-another-OSS-opinion-peice, but it shows CmdrTaco's continuing goal of bringing the news to the people and the people to the news. "News For nerds" also means "News By Nerds". What matters is the medium, not necessarily the message.

  • Okay, I tried to read it, but maybe it's my short attention span or whatnot, but I lost track.

    All I got was that Koffice is bad, GNOME/KDE are going in the wrong direction with Corba. That we're not really modular. That there's name-space pollution. Could someone give me a quick summary of what he's saying?

    A lot of people said he had some very good points, a quick summary would be helpful when I take the time to re-read it again.

  • Apart from the 1 year of German, you should try to take 1 year of geography as well. The name may look 'German' to you, but it is really Dutch.

    It is very nice of you to offer help with the translation of German grammar into English, but in this case, it isn't necessary. Rowan is Dutch, not German.


  • /. is in my "top three" list because the quality of the links and stories is generally very good. Unfortunately, the moderation system failed in this case. I hope the generally negative reaction to this poor guy's story leads to an improvement in the system. Would have let this get through?

  • Better edited? Yes. This article reads like a rough draft. Better written? Perhaps.

    Better presented? Hmm. I had no trouble at all with the presentation. If you dislike the default colours and fonts your web browser presents, change them. If you can't change them, it's time to change your web browser.

    I found that this article presented many very good points. A bit more focus might have done good, though. :)
  • Why did I get the sneaking suspicion that this essay is a bait for all the wannabe essay writers. I know my first thought on reading it was that I could do better...maybe I should put together something and submit it.

    If Cmdr. Taco et al wanted a whole raft of submissions, I can think of no better way than to post an 'essay' like this one.
  • This reminds me of the mid 70s when many people owned CB radios. You could occasionally hear someone screaming at the top of his/her lungs about something very important.

    Usually it was done in a song, though.

  • There are numerous people in the free software
    community for whom English is not their first
    language. They have no trouble communicating ideas
    without using every vernacular profanity in the
    American lexicon.

    If you think this essay had any merit, you are illiterate.

    "The Internet interprets censorship as damage,

  • Was Daddy absent or unattentive?

    I know how that is. :^(

    My sympathies.

    "The Internet interprets censorship as damage,

  • (Reposted due to its relegation to -1 status, no
    doubt by one of /.'s many illiterate moderators.
    Cannot handle the truth? Fine. Ignore it. But do
    not censor it.)

    You only fuel speculation that you are indeed
    functionally illiterate by linking to such tripe.

    Not only that, but you lend credence to pundits
    who claim Linux is the ``domain of pimply geeks''.

    If you wish to expand /. into ``News and Essays
    for Nerds'', get an editor who can read.

    /. is a great site and provides a valuable
    service to...


    ...``pimply geeks'' who like to vent their
    adolescent rage?

    Well...if that is case...nevermind.

    "The Internet interprets censorship as damage,

  • This has absolutely nothing to do with the moderators - the article was posted by Rob and Rob alone - the moderators don't influence the content of the topics, just the rating of the responses.
  • by faassen ( 8733 ) on Tuesday March 30, 1999 @03:20PM (#1955923)
    Hi there,

    I'm Dutch too (assuming Rowan is Dutch). I don't think there's much of an excuse for the amount of misuse of the English language displayed by the article.

    Granted, non-native speakers make mistakes. But Rowan chose to write this in English and submitted it to Slashdot for 'publication'. I think more care could easily have been taken.

    And even if the language excuse were valid, there is no excuse for the lack of coherence of this rant. I've read rants by Rowan before (on the ggi mailing list and I think he's also been active on the fbcon mailing list). This is one rant too many. Now I'm going to give some potentially unflattering suggestions:

    * I think you mentioned you wouldn't learn C on that list, but would start with C++. If you want to have a say in GGI development or Linux kernel development, I strongly advise you to learn C. If you then want to influence the direction of a project, *code* (or document, or test, but do something constructive). If you do that, you may find people may actually listen more carefully to what you have to say.

    * If you haven't experience with any programming language yet (though I've seen a reference to Pliant), then with Eric Raymond I suggest you learn Python, which I consider to be a great language. If you come to comp.lang.python (or with questions I'll personally help you. But really, any language will do. Even Perl. :)

    * Please read a book or web page about writing coherent essays.


  • Okay...everything negative that can be said about this article and about Rob's editorial policy has already been said.

    I would like to point out that:

    a) nobody's perfect, not even El Taco himself
    b) everyone has a bad day
    c) everyone makes the occassional blunder

    Now, that said, I think that we can all agree that the general quality of slashdot is pretty damned high, and getting higher all the time (thanks be to the gods for comment moderation...*hallelujah!*).

    Just 'cuz CT fumbled the ball this once doesn't mean that the overall quality of slashdot is suddenly dropping. Just 'cuz ol'TacoHead had a bad day doesn't mean that he's suddenly turned into a bumbling moron.

    Rob has done a *phenomenal* job with this site and everything related to it. My god people, have some respect.

    Now, since everything negative has already been said, let's give it a rest and move on, okay?


    - deb
  • There is a message, but one has to wonder whether or not that anger is also part of the message as well.

    For everything and everyone, their time will come at some point, but one can't help but wonder whether or not Linux's penetration into the more general populace is moving more quickly than people can adopt to it. One might wonder whether or not it would really matter.

    But the frustration the article radiates seems to echo what others are feeling when dealig with something like Linux which is so different from their previous OS. In most cases, this would be Windows.

    But the ironic bit is the tone the writer had towards learning. Combined with the lack of thought and re-reading before posting, I think it conveys a sadder message, one which has little to do with Linux itself, but more with the current attitude that seems to pervade many people.

    The attitude of, "Why should I have to learn this? Shouldn't it be done for me? What a bother.".

    Dealing with that anger and that attitude might help that guy alot in the long run.

    - Wing
    - Reap the fires of the soul.
    - Harvest the passion of life.
  • In order to move the focus of debate to style and content issues as opposed to spelling and grammar, does Rowan mind if I take this essay and manually fix all spelling and grammar errors so that it can be re-posted?

    Also, does anyone (Rob?) have web space to post the edited article? My workplace would be most annoyed if our web server got slashdotted.

  • I've finished an edited and nicely-formatted version of the essay. I need either Rowan or CmdrTaco to give me the go-ahead to post it.
  • Thanks for the offer; I'm just waiting for direct approval from either Rowan or CmdrTaco, and then I'll email a copy to you.

  • That article was a total waste of my time. It is poorly written, poorly structured, and poorly supported. Granted there is a language barrier, but even in his native tongue it would still be shoddy. He sounds like he is 14 years old. Please don't post 'essays' like this!

  • This essay was poorly formed. It rambled on with no real direction. There was no real argument made, and damn little evidence given. It wouldn't matter much if this were written in French, German, or what have you. I can tolerate mispellings, a few overly literal translations, etc. I definetly get the indication that this person has next to no experience writing essays and argumentation. Hence, I assume him to be young. I did not say that the writer was neccessarily unintelligent. His product, however, is essentially worthless in my opinion.

  • If you are trying to spread your ideas than the optimal form is in the most logical order. As I stated earlier in the thread, it wasn't the typos, spelling mistakes, or minor grammer errors that bothered me. It was the basic structure, or lack thereof. Most people will simply stop reading an article this poorly written. It was less than optimal to say the least. To compound the error the author has no programming credentials and no authority that will compel the majority of people, even Red Dotters, to pay heed to your words. When one is in such a situation, one's best bet is to make a strong, clear, and concise argument. Proper grammer is a plus.

  • If it is elistist to demand proper communication, then I am by all means elitist.

    Most of what Rowan said was _obvious_ to the informed individual. To the uninformed individual there is no argument supporting his positions. He certainly does not have the kind of clout for anyone to just take his word for it. The point is that this paper really has no point. Other than something for 15 year old slashdotters to clammor around.

    For example, while he does point out that there is a lack of unity in window managers he doesn't really offer a good reason why there should be. Or the fact that "Open development" might actually have a few inherant flaws. While some believe that "Open Source is the ultimate standard", I would beg to differ. Empirical evidence backs me up on this, eg: window managers, GUI libraries, etc. Just because you release your source, does not mean people will rally around yours. It takes a great deal more than this. This is one strength that the corporate world has enjoyed.

    When IBM entered the PC market, there were already many other machines out there. All of them incompatible. IBM became THE standard virtually overnight. The writing was on the wall, virtually everyone knew it. IBM had sufficient clout to make it happen. While some may argue that the IBM PC was not the optimal platform, I'll still argue that this was the best thing for the industry and the end user. Having ONE platform, meant that individuals and companies could code for ONE platform and be able to rely on it still being there when they're done. Companies could develop sound cards, and video cards, etc. As the market grew, IBM compatibles started rolling in... Overall this was a good thing.

    This is one quality that the Open Source movement lacks simply lacks. This is in some ways a desirable feature. Perhaps some will say there is a certain amount of personal clout that will achieve the same effect. That RMS, Torvalds, Raadt, and co. can bring similar forces to bear. While this may be true to some extent, I do not believe it is anything as close. There will still be significant fragmentation.

    Let us imagine if the Linux community wanted to create ONE 3d graphics API, sort of like OpenGL, only absolutely free. There is a certain neccessity for unity if we desire hardware accelerated video cards. I suspect it would never happen, atleast not on a large enough basis to really compete with the alternatives such as OpenGL. You would still have Joe Schmoe, saying. Hey wait, I can do it just a little bit better. And a few bleeding edge types who say 'you know, he's right'. This happens all the time. Unlike the commercial market Joe Schmoe is coding for his own personal edification, not for profits. The fact that he doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell in getting it off the ground won't deter him. The end result is fragmentation, and maybe excessive fragmentation.

    My point is not that Linux, or OSS sucks. Rather that OSS has certain qualities. Not all of them are optimal. I wish people would speak frankly about these issues, so maybe they can be addressed. I'm sick of hearing 'arguments', that all needs will be meet(and better than the commercial markets) because 'if there is an itch, someone will scratch it'. This is not an argument, it is conjecture. Let us think as individuals, don't just take RMS' words at face value.
  • I don't mean to offend Rowan--I actually appreciate his enthusiasm--but I'm not sure it's wise to turn every Tom, Dick, & Harry's rant into a Slashdot topic. Especially when it just isn't that well-written. If you get something like this, Rob, you should send it back to the author with a nice note asking him to clean it up a bit, not just in terms of spelling (I was just having some fun with my Subject:), but in terms of focus. I'm sure that a good portion of the readers never made it to the end of the article because it was a bit rambling and scattershot. Again, I don't see why this rated an entire topic of its own.


  • Can we set the threshold to filter out crappy *stories*??? I don't like offending people when I can avoid it, but I don't think this story should have been posted. I look to Slashdot for intelligent, well thought-out articles and useful links. And then I come to an article like this one with enough typo's to make it painful to read, and frankly the author didn't have anything interesting to say.
    -------------------------------------------- --------
    Jamin Philip Gray
  • by BlackHawk ( 15529 ) on Tuesday March 30, 1999 @02:34PM (#1955936) Journal
    Alright, Rowan. You seem to have understood the basic tenet of facing conflict over issues: do so with grace. You might as well, since to do otherwise merely means you'll be stumbling around. Now, however, you'll get to practice what you preach.

    First: Just because you're a hacker and spend time configuring the guts of your system doesn't cut you any slack when you're trying to communicate. A good bit of your text was rambling, pointless, poorly constructed and ungrammatical. It is no excuse that you're a hacker. If you want to say something to the larger community, learn to say it clearly and well. Judging by other comments, you nearly lost most of your readership before they got to your point.

    Speaking of points, wasn't yours, "We need to be willing to gracefully concede a point to others, to compromise for the good of the movement"? Or did I miss that?

    In case that was his point, tho, speaking to the rest of the community, I'll say I can agree. Being prepared to work for your ideals is critical, particularly in the face of opposition. But above all, being willing to work even when the credit doesn't come to you, even if it means "trying on" someone else's vision for a day. That will be where advances can be made. On the other hand, there comes a time when compromise is not possible. When Vision demands that you move this way. There are going to be collisions. Live with them! Conflict is not evil, but what is done in the name of "resolution" can be. When conflict rears its head, we would do well to look beyond the shouting, to the root cause, and strike there.

    So back to you Rowan. You've thrown the gauntlet; I'll flip it back. Pick one conflict in the Open Source/Free Software movement, and recommend a solution. Demonstrate the skill we need more than temper-control: discretionary judgement.

  • The grammar and speeling was terrrible. Its raelly distructing from the poirpose of the article.

    By far, my favorite one was not regreting missing shool.

    Frankly, this makes Katz look like a pretty careful writer (and he would be considered good home page quality, at the very least). Please ask the authors to clean it up, and not post it until they do. Our time is valuable, and considering the potential readership, time "lost" in fixing the grammar will be recouped by the readers very, very quickly.
  • It is difficult to gauge the age of the author of a piece if the author is a non-native speaker. My four-year-old son can speak better English than his 75-year-old Polish-American grandfather (my father-in-law), but I don't mistake that faculty for either intelligence or wisdom. Speaking to my father-in-law is a lot like talking to my two-year-old daughter; I can glean about 75% of the meaning if I look at him and concentrate real hard.

    The article was a waste of my time, too, because I really couldn't see a point that I hadn't already beaten to death in my own thinking and reading. But that had nothing to do with the language.
  • Well, I understand that you mustn't know everything. But, some HOWTO's aren't that bad. Also, you must know that not all documentation is written by gurus.

    I think it would be a good idea for you to write some documentation on what you know. I used to be a beginer, and some friend's helped me out to understand more and more.

    Now, I feel that I am a prety knowladgable person on Linux (and other UNICES). The thing is, that if you write down a document, there is at least one person out there that would appreciate reading it. And, if you write it, it will save some time to gurus that just don't feel like writing documentation for begginers.

    As for Linux beeing complicated, I don't think so. It very easy to understand once you got the hang of it. It's just that it permits so much control over your hardware that knowing everything is almost impossible. For basic opperations, it is not worst that dos.

    For an example, my brother doesn't know anything about computers. But, he can do anything he wants to with my box. I've just set up a few aliases, and explained him how to configure Window Maker, and now, he can do everything he feels like doing as if he was working with windows.

  • Hmm, I think you've missed something on the PII architecture. It isn't just an i386 with mmx support.

    Did you know that the PII and pentium-pro can process up to 3 instructions an the time ? It does so by splitting instructions into microinstructions that are sent to a pool of instructions.

    Then 5 processing units execute microinstructions at the same time (if they are independant, of course).

    This is just A feature of the processor, but a big one that shouldn't be neglected. If you want to learn more (and speak french) here is
    a link to more information on the processor. []

  • Bottom line: The point is the point.

    I agree totally. I don't really care about the spelling, or the grammar even (although in this case it did make the article difficult to parse). But there has to be a point. I read all the way through this article twice, and I just don't get it.

    Rowan, what are you trying to say?

    What is your point???
    - Sean
  • He does have something important to say hidden deep within.

    ...which is? Sorry... I read it twice and didn't get it. I would be more than grateful if someone could elucidate it for me...

    - Sean
  • "It is finished not when I have nothing more to add, but when I have nothing more to take away."

    (And yes, I'm paraphrasing, and no, I can't remember who originally said it. Source, anyone?)
    - Sean
  • The author should have taken a long walk in the countryside before writing this article. He was very angry at something, but it was hard to discern what. I was almost ready to hit the back button and ignore him when he finally reached the point he was trying to make.

    Read beyond the anger. He does have something important to say hidden deep within.
  • I talked a lot already in this publication and I also talked about a lot. I din't finish every subject I started. Some I didn't finish because they simply aren't worth finishing but most I didn't finish because they're simply meant to open more interesting subject, lay down the path of a fantastic publication rather than the path of a good one with positive reactions but without the desired effect.

    Unfortunately, without finishing subjects with at least a pertinent question, there is no discussion, much less a fantastic publication. Little that was mentioned was examined deeply enough for me to even ask myself any interesting questions.

    I agree with the evident general thesis that we should handle conflict gracefully. We can learn much more in this fashion. But when the miriad of subjects presented are merely glossed over without insight or thought-provoking examination, both conflict and grace are pointless.

  • There is a massive difference between a simple document laid out in a structured manner and this piece.

    The presentation *did* "suck" -- the paragraphs are sometimes seperated by double
    tags, and sometimes by single tags. His headers are font tags with varying size paramaters, with no rhyme nor reason behind the size selection.

    I don't require fancy CSS or layering to call a web site an attractive work; default tags and

    work wonders to format an essay. But this was not well paragraphed, sectioned or laid out.

    When I read comments on Slashdot, I don't expect correct spelling or grammar. I hope for an effort, and a thought out response. But when you have the time to prepare a work for publication, you are expected to put the effort into presentation and proper english. Broken grammar due to ESL is acceptable. Broken grammar on a published work due to laziness is another matter entirely.

    Everybody else has said how bad the content was, so I won't add but a small "yup, it sure was a stinker". It was a viewpoint, yes, but a fairly muddled and non-thought provoking one.

    Evan "JW" E.

  • You should try to get rid of the spelling errors in the text, aswell as some gramaticall issues. I'm not an experienced writer, but I always make sure that someone proofreads my texts before publishing them. That makes me able to avoid the worst errors and makes the article more enjoyable to the reader.

    I'm looking forward to reading more from you, because I think you can do much better when you get some practice.

  • Perhaps there are some writers guilds one could join? It seems it is a very good idea to make some "practice-writings" before you really get down to business.

    Until today I've written three essays related to the free software community. My first was a nightmare, the second is the one that was acctually posted on slashdot and it's a little better. The third one I'm working on now is much better than either of the earlier ramblings.

    Life == Learning.

  • Thank you :) When are you done creating such a forum? Be sure to tell me ;)
  • It's proven rather successful for me to write what I want to say, then read it again and cut out about half of it.
  • I think that's a great idea! There should be a forum for discussion, and although slashdot seems like it could be a good place for it, there really are too many people not interested in these essays. I wonder if there are any mailing lists or newsgroups dedicated to that yet? If not, there should be...


  • Interesting subject line...
  • by lisa ( 19611 ) on Tuesday March 30, 1999 @02:13PM (#1955954) Homepage Journal
    I guess my interest in the piece dwindled after I read: "I'm currently busy writing a book about the whole OpenSource thingy"

    Thingy would not have been the term I would have used if I wrote an piece like this. It seems to me that a lot of people are jumping on the 'write an editorial and get it posted on slashdot' band wagon. This can be a Good Thing, if only the same thing wasn't being said over and over.

    This is my favorite line:
    "My vision allows me to see a glimpse of what computers will be like in the long term and that glimpse makes me even more sick of the old." I wish I had that super power, too :)

  • A few minutes with a spell checker would have improved this a lot. Setting it aside until tomorrow, re-reading it and straightening out some of the prose would have helped it even more. Rowan -- I am all for encouraging people to write for /. etc, but it needs to be easier to follow what you are saying.

    However, unlike Richard Thieme, it was quite obvious that Rowan is trying to say something, and I have some clue about what it is.

  • Nice post, Martijn.
  • Kinda reminds you of the old days and DOS, doesn't it? :) Back when only a few of us actually felt comfortable with computers... When BBS's were more popular than the internet...

  • Might want to try a grammar checker too... to get those misused 'than' vs. 'then' words, etc.

    Rule #1) *Always* have someone *else* proofread it, and find someone that has no problems telling you off in person! :) They will have much better advice.
  • >>like I said I was sick of writing at
    the end of this article.

    One of the widely-held rules of good writing: revise, revise, revise. It's natural to become fatigued in the middle of writing, but as long as you aren't pushing a deadline, you can just take a break. Come back fresh and turn it into something you can be proud to attach your name to. Read it out loud to check for clunky-sounding parts. Have a friend read it and then tell you what they thought you wrote - might not be what you intended to say. Read some good writing so that you have an idea of what your goal should be. If you do these things, then you can expect people to focus more on your ideas than on your presentation.
  • Yikes!

    This reads like some wordy, rambling and largely non-sensical post that would have been quickly moderated below my threshold.

    What is this stuff doing getting posted on /.??

    This has got to be an all-time low.
  • Well I struggled through the whole rambling article and I have NO idea what it was about. The author spends so much time commenting on his boring life and apologising for putting forward his point of view that I must have missed what his point of view actually was.

    With your "Open Source Thingy" book, I have some advice. Don't quit your day job just yet. Keep at it and practicing.

    Don't tell us what you've been doing until you've made your point and want to back it up with experiences. Don't apologise for your point of view or try and say who you are targeting. Say what you've got to say.

    What was that thing Mark Twain(?) said, I wrote you a long letter because I didn't have time to write a short one?
  • I suggest that for the other editorals, you give me a copy (through email) so I can weed the grammer and spelling that you didn't quite (not quitte) get right out.

    may you have better luck with the spell checker. it's spelled GRAMMAR.

    sorry...that's just one of my pet peeves

  • Thank you for providing a much-needed humorous interlude in the midst of what was an otherwise stale thread. It's always nice to read comments from 'intellectuals' whose main purpose in posting is simply to show off their enviable eclectic vocabularistic eccentricities, whilst providing the layman with an affecting, albeit anticlimactic aphorism or adage. Alas, too many people in this world seem to think that by emulating the style of Martin Amis they'll actually impress someone.

    Sad, when I saw your handle Thinker, I figured your comment might actually be something clever. I am a believer in constructive criticism however, so I'll point out that I really enjoyed your creative use of boldface - that was quite good! You need to work on the anger management though; consider looking into professional counselling. :)
  • >like I said I was sick of writing at the end of this article

    I can't help but wish he'd been sick of writing at the beginning of this article...
  • > They have no trouble communicating ideas without
    > using every vernacular profanity in the American
    > lexicon.

    Let me quote you from your high-scoring comment insecure, teen-age egotists (Score:1)
    on Fri March 12, 13:49 EDT

    >I guess you cannot see it through all the piss.
    >Nobody who understands free software gives two
    >shits about Bill Gates or Microsoft.

    Who needs GUIDs when stupidity and hypocrisy leave a more obvious trail?

  • > Why are you trying to impress me?

    Don't flatter yourself.

    > Was Daddy absent or unattentive?

    What the hell? Are you drunk?

    > I know how that is. :^(

    That's quite obvious.

  • "a 14 inch screen" could easily be enough to create this kind of anger in a person.
  • Hi Rowan,
    Some comments to your rant:

    The processors are backward compatible, not because of the OS, but because of APPLICATIONS. Your applications are all architecture specific, and you will never get millions of users to chuck their apps just to try your funky new microprocessor. Also, the Pentium II (or K6-2) is not a simple and faster x86 with MMX "slapped" on it. I work in Intel (though this post is my opinion, not theirs) and I am awed at the pace that we've made progress through just these few years. Despite many problems, the many, many engineers and scientists in academia and industry have managed to keep semiconductor technology following Moore's law, which is no easy feat.

    Now, on to your comment on why people still use Windows instead of Linux. It may be because of the GUI or Hardware support like you mentioned, or lack of ease of use, but I think that the main reason is market inertia. Frankly, windows and unix are both difficult to use, in their own way. Both windows and linux can be difficult to install when your system has unsupported hardware. THE DIFFERENCE IS PEOPLE ARE MORE USED TO WINDOWS, and don't want to RELEARN a new OS. Linux is gaining popularity at an unbelievable rate, and I, as a Linux user and not a developer, am grateful that development is moving so quickly.

    Lastly, a word about ranting. While it is generally acceptable to rant (and I do it in my spare time as well), you generally do not post rantings to forums, since this increases the signal-to-noise ratio. Posts to ./ should be treated somewhat like a term paper (which you are graded for). This will help you get better and clear comments (instead of flames) and will help ./ readership in general.

  • /. gets a lot of readers. While he may not be a native speaker of English, there are plenty of /.-ers out there who probably would have been willing to edit his writing for him. Generally I expect as clear and concise writing on /. as I do on CNN or Time. /. being a "geek" zine doesn't give it an excuse for poor writing, a lot of people read it and deserve well thought out and well constructed features.

    Now I think his essay was worth the read once you got past the spelling errors, but for the next one, he really should find someone to edit it for him. Besides, not only will it be easier to read but it'll improve his writing skills. Everybody wins.
  • Rob has done some amazing things with slashdot. I respect his perl-hacking skills. He could do so much better if he worked on his editorial skills. I would suggest reading something well-written like (a good translation of) Anna Karenina, Lolita, Huck Finn, anything by Eco. Put down the SciFi trash and O'Reilly books, they are rotting your brain. And I would suggest regularly reading a good news journal like The Economist. I suggest this to all my physics grad student friends who can't write (publishing is a necessary part of physics).

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.