Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Linux

Kernel Dev Tells Linus Torvalds To Stop Using Abusive Language 1501

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the cool-to-hate dept.
darthcamaro writes "The Linux Kernel Development Mailing List can be a hostile place for anyone. Now Intel developer Sarah Sharp is taking a stand and she wants the LKML to become a more civil place. Quoting her first message: 'Seriously, guys? Is this what we need in order to get improve -stable? Linus Torvalds is advocating for physical intimidation and violence. Ingo Molnar and Linus are advocating for verbal abuse. ... Violence, whether it be physical intimidation, verbal threats or verbal abuse is not acceptable. Keep it professional on the mailing lists.'" The entire thread is worth a read, but Linus isn't buying it: "Because if you want me to 'act professional', I can tell you that I'm not interested. I'm sitting in my home office wearing a bathrobe. The same way I'm not going to start wearing ties, I'm *also* not going to buy into the fake politeness, the lying, the office politics and backstabbing, the passive aggressiveness, and the buzzwords. Because THAT is what 'acting professionally' results in: people resort to all kinds of really nasty things because they are forced to act out their normal urges in unnatural ways.' He also offered cookies in exchange for joining the dark side. An earlier reply by Linus further explains why he thinks it is OK to be mean: most of the time, he's only yelling at people who should know better (cultivating a crew of lead developers bound to him by Stockholm Syndrome?).
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Kernel Dev Tells Linus Torvalds To Stop Using Abusive Language

Comments Filter:
  • by lvxferre (2470098) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:14PM (#44290689)

    Torvalds was always like that and whining won't change him.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:38PM (#44290979)

      Torvalds was always like that and whining won't change him.

      Maybe it's time to eject him from the LKML and give the reigns to someone else ?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 15, 2013 @09:11PM (#44291339)

      "Linus, eat a Snickers."
      "WHYYYYYY?!?"
      "Because you turn into Steve Jobs when you're hungry."
      *om nom nom*
      "Better?"
      "Better."

  • by cheesybagel (670288) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:16PM (#44290695)

    If someone else managed to do his job better than him it would be trivial to do a fork. That this has not happened is a testament that his way doing things works. Simple as that. So what if he is verbally abusive.

    • by ISoldat53 (977164) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:24PM (#44290799)
      Sounds like MS in the early days. Management by screaming. I guess it was successful too.
    • by quantaman (517394) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:29PM (#44290867)

      If someone else managed to do his job better than him it would be trivial to do a fork. That this has not happened is a testament that his way doing things works. Simple as that. So what if he is verbally abusive.

      The fact Linux is awesome and Linus is an abusive and profane manager doesn't mean the profanity and abuse is necessary to make Linux awesome. It could be it helps cut through the BS and makes things more clear and efficient, it could also be being clear and direct would be just as effective and the profanity actually makes people emotional and irrational.

      The fact it's working doesn't mean it can't be improved.

      • by turbidostato (878842) on Monday July 15, 2013 @09:09PM (#44291323)

        "The fact Linux is awesome and Linus is an abusive and profane manager doesn't mean the profanity and abuse is necessary to make Linux awesome."

        No. But the fact that Linus is sometimes abusive, plus the fact that he thinks that sometimes he has to be abusive, plus the fact that he leads no less than Linux as a testament to his management abilities does mean something.

        He has a theory, he practices it and he has success backing him. You have a theory and... what else?

      • by the_B0fh (208483) on Monday July 15, 2013 @10:48PM (#44292193) Homepage

        The fact that he is only abusive to stupid ideas, and very rarely, stupid people, is a good thing. Not suffering fools or stupidity is a good way to move the quality of the kernel forward.

    • by DRMShill (1157993) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @02:52AM (#44293487)

      Absolutely. When people criticize Michael Jackson for allegedly molesting children, I tell them the exactly same thing. It's a fact of life. It's impossible to make music that great without touching a few kids. Likewise it's impossible to write some code without impersonating a high school.

  • hes right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by luther349 (645380) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:16PM (#44290703)
    if you ever worked well any job you know what hes talking bought. people nice to your face wile they back stab you in backroom office talks.
    • Re:hes right (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Seumas (6865) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:37PM (#44290959)

      Yep. I used to sit about five feet from a guy who was in management (but not my management) who for some inexplicable reason disliked me. Not only did he dislike me, but he talked shit about me to other managers and employees behind my back. He was very nice to my face, though. I would never have known any of this if it weren't for a colleague and another manager who clued me into what this guy was saying. And, fortunate for me, these people always countered his comments, told him he was wrong, and otherwise stood up for me in his non-sense rally to bash me to people.

      I would have rather he had just been an asshole to me and lay it out, so we knew where we stood.

  • linus is frank (Score:5, Interesting)

    by n Rahimi (2983451) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:17PM (#44290709)
    i love this guy (linus). he is kinda zen master ,he says what he think, without any fear
    • Re:linus is frank (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ifiwereasculptor (1870574) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:25PM (#44290815)

      As long as he doesn't dabble in hypocrisy, by complaining when someone is rude to him (and I have not heard of that kind of behavior, so I assume he doesn't mind), and as long as he has a point, I think it's both effective and entertaining. What's not to like?

  • The English have mastered delivering withering insults very politely. Simply being polite does not make you "nice". Is it more "professional" to wrap your disdain for an idea in language that is courteous on the surface? Maybe. Is the emperor going to change? Unlikely.

    • by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:50PM (#44291119)

      The English have mastered delivering withering insults very politely. Simply being polite does not make you "nice". Is it more "professional" to wrap your disdain for an idea in language that is courteous on the surface? Maybe. Is the emperor going to change? Unlikely.

      They got nothing on the French. Voltaire's criticism led to suicides. But regardless, this represents a change in Linus' historical behavior. It could just be stress, or it could hint at the onset of a mental illness. Increased aggression, changes in mood or attitude, impaired judgement, black and white or "us versus them" thinking... while many might chalk this up to poor manners on the internet, it could hint at something more substantial.

      Either way, people are focusing on the behavior, but are neglecting to take notice of the fact that while the kernel-dev mailing list has always been, achem, heated... this is still a significant departure from baseline -- it's starting to make headlines in a big way too. People do not simply wake up one day and decide they're going to be abusive assholes -- there are triggers, changes to the person's environment or biology.

      Separately, I'm not sure abusive language is ever good for the long-term health of a cooperative project -- it may not be a professional environment, but it's not exactly amateur hour either. Repeated abuse and disrespect is not conducive to a productive and cooperative environment. See also: The reason why there are so many flavors of BSD.

    • by MrNemesis (587188) on Monday July 15, 2013 @09:57PM (#44291779) Homepage Journal

      Yeah, as a Brit I'm somewhat confused by this article; is Linus being hauled over the coals for telling people off for making mistakes? Or for using "cuss" words? Or just both at the same time?

      In the type of circles I move in, I really only think I've witnessed the following three attitudes when it comes to dealing with/confronting failure:
      People who'll call you a fucking idiot
      People who'll call you a pusillanimous carbuncle with the intellectual capacity of a particularly forlorn used condom
      People who won't really tell you whether you've fucked up or not, but will often go away thinking you've failed, and acting upon it, without giving you the chance to learn from your mistake or even show you you made one, all under the guise of "politeness" or "professionalism"

      Assuming of course they're correctly identifying faults, of the three types, IMHO the first two are capable of forging a good working relationships whereas the third passively destroys relationships by having no feedback system. Sure, there's a difference in the degree of skin thickness required between types 1 and 2 but if you're the sort of person that can accept constructive criticism in the first place you're already doing better than most.

      There are various degrees of the above of course, depending on the magnitude of the mistake, but when I fuck up, I'd prefer someone to tell me I've fucked up. Disguise the swearing with some floridity if you really feel you want or need to, but the intent is still the same and it's the intent that's all important IMHO.

      Linus' job is more than just that of a manager, he's also a mentor and a teacher as well. Occasionally this means hauling out a particularly daft member of the school for everyone else to see and making an example of them. If Linus doesn't tell people off when they start going wrong sooner or later someone pushes there luck and eventually you get 20MB patches dumped in rc8 to break the last 10MB patch that went in in rc7.

      I don't know if it's a cultural taboo about the word fuck and friends (it seems that way on slashdot sometimes with lots of people self-editing themselves with pithless hackronyms like "BS") but I've not met anyone in/from europe (including Finns) or any commonwealth country that doesn't make liberal use of swearing, just adjusting the level of it for the audience. "I've fucked up the teas" has the same literal meaning as "Bloody hell, I've put too much milk in" or "I'm sorry ma'am, but the head footman appears to have upended the teapot", merely adjusted for either politeness or expediency. Fuck is a highly expedient word. Linus isn't polite (he's spent 20yrs herding cats and to be honest given the intractably varied milleu he inhabits I would consider politeness an actual hundrance) and is expedient and to be honest I think he uses much less profanity than I'd expect for a person in his position. Every time I've seen a /. headline about Linus going off on one, the ticking off he's given always seems to have been warranted for technical reasons, I've never seen him threaten someone. As far as most technical people go, I'd go so far as to cal him highly eloquent, and I don't see what's ineloquent about the occasional "fuck". He didn't even use that this time, he was merely telling people in his own sardonic way that they need to rattle sabres once in a while, and his response to Sarah's email was spot-on, deadpan, and attempting to defuse the situation:

      That's the spirit.

      Greg has taught you well. You have controlled your fear. Now, release
      your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me.

      Come to the dark side, Sarah. We have cookies.

      Linus

      Storm in a bloody teacup.

      More directed to the OP, for what it's worth, I don't think there's anything inherently superior about british/english swearing, I just think it's sometimes seen as supe

  • by blankinthefill (665181) <blachancNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:20PM (#44290745) Journal
    I just recently graduated with a degree in mathematics, and a minor in computer science. I can program well, for the amount of experience I have, and I would love to get better. I, personally, think that one of the best ways that I could get better is to contribute to OSS projects. However, I can't lie, reading stories about the abusiveness of the community is a huge turn off. Now, I realize that I am probably not one of those people who 'should know better,' and I realize that really extraordinary outbursts are rare (which is why they get reported on, obviously), but I still have enormous trepidation about joining the OSS community. I feel I may have talent and ideas to contribute, but when I see stories about the way that people get treated when they make mistakes, it makes me want to avoid the whole thing. I wouldn't be doing it for money, I would be doing it for fun, and to learn. And as far as I'm concerned, if I'm going to be abused for making mistakes, I am not having fun, and I am likely not learning much either. Now, again, I understand that this is not usually the case as far as OSS development, but I'm just relaying my gut reaction to hearing about behavior like that.
    • by blankinthefill (665181) <blachancNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:25PM (#44290817) Journal
      Also, I know it's rather passe to reply to your own comment, but there were 13 other comments posted while I was reading and writing my post, and in that time 9 comments were posted supporting that kind of harsh, abusive, abrasive technique. I think I couldn't sum up any better myself why I fear getting into OSS. With this behavior so acceptable to the community, why should I even try to get into it? I wouldn't put up with it at a job for money, yet I'm expected to just ignore it, or quit the game, when I am contributing my own effort, free time, and enthusiasm?
      • by cold fjord (826450) on Monday July 15, 2013 @09:11PM (#44291341)

        Some of the high visibility mainline projects may be more prone to intolerance and abuse of, for want of a better phrase, newbie errors. You could try dipping your toes in the water in one of the useful if unglamorous projects that might be less harrowing. There are various orphan projects out there, others that get little attention, and some potentially useful but incomplete ones as well. Then there are projects designed for the newcomer. You might want to take a look at this:

        KernelJanitors [kernelnewbies.org]

  • gotta be honest (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:20PM (#44290751) Journal
    I once read a study of string quartets and communication methods. Some quartets were nice to each other and polite and tried not to hurt each other's feelings. Others insulted each other and said just what they thought.

    The quartets that were willing to insult each other, and even sometimes get into fights, ended up playing music much more as a team, whereas the 'polite' quartets played poorer music, because instead of resolving disputes, they ended up each playing their own way.

    Linus doesn't insult people, he insults what they do, when they do stupid things. Don't break the build/submit poorly written patches/etc and there isn't a problem. It is not personal at all.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:24PM (#44290795)

    Anyone who has worked with her in her capacity as the USB3 driver majordomo knows what a PITA she can be.

    I don't think she is in any position to offer advice on professional behavior.

  • quote (Score:5, Funny)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:24PM (#44290797) Journal
    This exchange is brilliant:

    Sarah:
    > Let's discuss this at Kernel Summit where we can at least yell at each
    > other in person. Yeah, just try yelling at me about this. I'll roar
    > right back, louder, for all the people who lose their voice when they
    > get yelled at by top maintainers. I won't be the nice girl anymore.
    >
    Linus:
    That's the spirit.

    Greg has taught you well. You have controlled your fear. Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me.

    Come to the dark side, Sarah. We have cookies.

  • by oldhack (1037484) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:25PM (#44290821)
    Sarah: Hey assholes, let's not be so mean, ok?
    Linuz: bitches, please.
  • Not acceptable? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TsuruchiBrian (2731979) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:30PM (#44290873)

    Violence, whether it be physical intimidation, verbal threats or verbal abuse is not acceptable. Keep it professional on the mailing lists.

    Not acceptable? By who's standards?

    It's seems acceptable by the law in most countries that matter for the development of the linux kernel.

    It seems acceptable by the main dude (Linus)

    It seems acceptable by the developers, as they could have forked and started their own project with a more acceptable mailing list policy.

    Who is it not acceptable to? and why can't those people make their own fork or simply not participate in the mailing list? (besides Sarah Sharp) If we were losing lots of talented developers because they just couldn't bear the mailing list, that would be a different story.

    There is no absolute morality of the way things should be. There is what works. If you have a way to make something work better, no one is stopping you.

    • Re:Not acceptable? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by artor3 (1344997) on Monday July 15, 2013 @09:03PM (#44291251)

      Who is it not acceptable to? and why can't those people make their own fork or simply not participate in the mailing list? (besides Sarah Sharp) If we were losing lots of talented developers because they just couldn't bear the mailing list, that would be a different story.

      Honest question: how would you know if you were losing lots of talented developers? Not many people are going to speak up to let you know that your behavior is toxic. They'll just leave and take their skills elsewhere.

      There is no absolute morality of the way things should be. There is what works. If you have a way to make something work better, no one is stopping you.

      This isn't really related to the main discussion, but it's such a terrible attitude that I felt compelled to comment. Slavery works. Human experimentation works. Spying on every citizen in the country works. Morality matters. Being rude to people on a mailing list really isn't a big deal, morality-wise, but let's not go saying that the ends always justify the means.

  • by HockeyPuck (141947) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:43PM (#44291027)

    Does he use "violence, whether it be physical intimidation, verbal threats or verbal abuse" to get his wife and kids to do something?

    I'm guessing he does not.

  • by bmo (77928) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:43PM (#44291029)

    ...with their faux outrage at Linus' "tantrums." They're not, if you read context, but this isn't about context. This "controversy" is all about slamming Linus personally and Linux by implication by comparing his management style against a non-existent ponies-and-rainbows environment. And this isn't the first time it's happened here.

    Such bullshit.

    --
    BMO

  • by gman003 (1693318) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:48PM (#44291081)

    Being blunt has gotten me a lot further than being polite ever did.

    There was this one customer/client/coworker (yeah, fucked-up business relationship), who just did not get what was going on. I tried being polite. I tried using all his lingo, "actioning" this and whatnot. I tried. It got me nowhere.

    One phone call where I straight-up said "that problem was *your* fuckup, and I am tired of cleaning up your mess then getting blamed by you for it because you weren't even aware of the problem until I took care of it", and that got me further than months of politeness.

    Hell, we still seem to get along. I think we've been communicating even better now that I've stopped "artificially limiting" my communications. I actually just made a note to myself to yell at him to check his code before he checks it in - there was a SQL file with an *obvious* syntax error, one that our standard IDE (which he uses) highlights...

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:52PM (#44291129)

    I'm sitting in my home office wearing a bathrobe.

    Linus is one beard away from becoming RMS.

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Monday July 15, 2013 @09:06PM (#44291271) Homepage Journal
    And there was never any verbal abuse. We were all good and we all trusted one another to know our parts of the code. Pretty much the only time I ever saw a voice raised was when one of our guys got pretty well fucked over by a developer who was assigned part-time to the team. He'd worked a few months on a piece of code and claimed it was finished, and we'd just discovered that it wasn't really even actually started.

    I've worked projects since then where I'd wished I could verbally abuse co-workers. There's a general theme there. All those people who I wanted to abuse sucked. I think the moral of this story is, if you don't want to be verbally abused, try sucking less. :-P

  • by blahplusplus (757119) on Monday July 15, 2013 @09:27PM (#44291497)

    ... is fucking complicated. Especially if you have a good idea of what principles need to be followed as how to make decisions on what stays and what goes in terms of quality or goal of the overall project.

    There's lots of people out there who THINK they have skill but are garbage since most people suffer from the Dunning Krueger effect in a similar way that most people believe they are 'above average'.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect [wikipedia.org]

    "The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes."

    The problem is as you advance in skill you have limited time and options in order to convey the vast warehouse of knowledge in your brain as whether to something stays or goes on any given project. Any project has a tendency to become a big mess or fall apart over time since. How many OSS projects are started only to be abandoned? Lots.

    Someone has to make the big decisions and when you have seen and worked on so many projects you develop techniques to quickly shut down bad ideas and often time that means being direct and even rude to the clueless because you simply don't have the time, energy, means to communicate to the other party on what's and why's.

  • by bferrell (253291) on Monday July 15, 2013 @09:30PM (#44291525) Homepage Journal

    Lack of conflict, and harsh language does NOT mean civil. In practice, in the US, it means dishonesty.

    That said, honesty without compassion is brutality.

    I've never seen Linus be brutal

  • by sjames (1099) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @12:20AM (#44292795) Homepage

    Let's see what horrible thing Linus said to set this off:

    On Fri, 12 Jul 2013 08:22:27 -0700, Linus wrote:

    Greg, the reason you get a lot of stable patches seems to be that you make it easy to act as a door-mat. Clearly at least some people say "I know this patch isn't important enough to send to Linus, but I know Greg will silently accept it after the fact, so I'll just wait and mark it for stable".

    You may need to learn to shout at people.

  • by mlwmohawk (801821) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @06:58AM (#44294629)

    I posted on Sarah Sharps' blog. I didn't use profanity, I even quoted Eleanor Roosevelt: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." I disagreed with her and stated that the most vile and ruinous censorship starts with a call for civility and that these are almost always from dubious motivations.

    So, low and behold, it was moderated out of existence. It seems to me that Sarah has no interest in alternate viewpoints. It is her blog and she has the right to delete comments, but it is quite telling that she will silence a voice which does not agree with her while she is saying she wants to protect people's voices. Her calls for "civility" can be seen as nothing less than a call for censorship. We all must resist this sort of behavior because it is a direct attempt to diminish free speech and impose one person's morality on a larger group.

Computers are unreliable, but humans are even more unreliable. Any system which depends on human reliability is unreliable. -- Gilb

Working...