There are folks out there who wonder about us open sorcerors :) Sometimes, they are ecstatic, and amazed: "How can you do all this for no pay?"
Others are not so nice: "well what do you expect for free. Humph."
The fact is that the programmers and documenters and we here of The Answer Gang who serve as some tech support for free software *do* get paid, and we tend to give a bit of effort in relation to our pay. What our detractors don't understand is that their gripes and grumps sure don't pay us, so why should we help *them*? They need to learn about...
The realm itself is the first thing that is confusing. This is the weekend neighborhood. The crunching of unbzipped tarballs hitting the disk and the tippity tap of new code being typed in and committed to builds is our buzzing of power saws in the garage workshop. The chore of making the documentation begin to describe the program it came with is handled with the same care as mowing the lawn on Sunday - some households are dutiful, sometimes a neighbor's kid will be helpful but only do a half job, some homes obviously hire someone to deal with it regularly, some tea gardens are clearly a well loved art... err, some just give up on having a lawn. It all got turned into workshop space. Sigh.
If it took extra help from the neighbors, we do things for each other. There's give and take, arguments here and there, and often an occasional lost hedge clipper. Sometimes a kindred spirit strolls through, helps a bit (or hinders?) and moves on. The debts that build up here from these little bits of lost balance aren't about money. "Pay back the net" is what I've seen said - once upon a time on BBS' and later on newsgroups and mailing lists and IRC channels. (Check out www.openprojects.net if you don't believe me. IRC doesn't have to be just for idle chatter. And tell lilo that the Editor Gal says Hi.) The loose change of knowledge gathered in your pockets - including the knowledge gained by mistakes - isn't considered worth much if you don't spill it back into circulation.
Like those weekend projects, our projects also vary in their degrees of completeness... and in their likelihood of ever being "done" in their author's eye. "Scratch your own itch" is a phrase I've heard a few times lately. If the neighborhood handyman has a problem to solve and the tools in his workshop, he'll likely solve it right there and never know a better answer was available at the corner store. (Or do it because the corner store wants an arm and a leg for what he could do himself.) For many it's done enough when it works for them, but they post it to public forums anyway.
Why? For many, what fun's a job well done if you can't show it off? Call it "bragging rights" or "a chip on his shoulder" or respect. We like to know whether the trophy we've posted could stand a better polishing or stood just fine on its own. Telling us it just rots isn't cool. Telling us what you tried to do (that didn't work) and what convinced you our stuff was going to work for you, that's what we want to know. And yes, an occasional housewife really might be good enough to go into the jam and spreads business, but it'll take a few neighbors saying so to convince her of it.
Okay, sometimes you find someone whose days in the garage are through. Rare is the time that he or she won't at least lend a hand briefly to someone who's willing to haul that old rattletrap to their own garage and keep plugging away at it. If you have in mind to take up the ropes to a dust covered project, give a shot at letting the old hands know you're interested. You'll never know what extra parts they might bring forward for you if you don't ask.
My editing peeve of the month is "confidential" signature blocks. If you don't want to discuss your problems publicly we understand, but, you're not paying in the coin of our realm if we can't share the results, so don't expect an answer here (unless by chance someone else asks the same question). Check the Consultants-HOWTO instead and find someone who will take your money and sell you their services in a timely fashion, too:
Money isn't bad - but it is the coin of another realm, that strange one called Real Life that keeps roofs over our heads and the bandwidth bills paid up. I'm glad to say that I see a lot of *our* sort of coin change hands here in the *Gazette* regularly. Thanks to everyone who sends thank you notes and especially those Two Cent Tips!
Enjoy your stroll past our garage sales and half tended lawns
[The automobile images are from John Fisk's Weekend Mechanic column which appeared in 1997 and 1998 in LG. -Mike.]