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Phil Shapiro: Slashdot Reader, FOSS Activist, and Library Computer Guy (Video)

Roblimo posted more than 2 years ago | from the not-all-important-people-are-famous dept.

Education 30

Phil Shapiro isn't famous, but he's a pretty good writer whose work appears regularly at opensource.com. He makes his living as the tech support person (he calls it "public nerd") at the Takoma Park Maryland Library. He has also -- see the link to his bio page above -- lived in New Delhi, India; Copenhagen, Denmark; Paris, France; and Scarsdale, New York. He got started with Linux as a "social justice" thing; because Linux and FOSS helped make it possible for people of modest means (we used to just call them "poor") to learn about computers and get on the Internet. He's still a big "computer for the masses" advocate and computer rehab volunteer. What's especially interesting about this interview (which is slightly out of sound/visual synch; you may prefer reading the transcript) is the amount of credit Phil gives Slashdot for spurring him on and getting him excited about FOSS. He also sees Slashdot as instrumental in helping start the Maker subculture. Do you agree? If so, should influencing the future of technology be Slashdot's main mission? Also: If so, how do you suggest we do it? And more specifically, do you know any other non-famous Slashdot readers (or people in general) we should talk to because they are doing interesting things?

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How about that rob limo guy? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41885865)

Oh wait, you said interesting. Nevermind!

On Slashdot's Maker-ness (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 2 years ago | (#41885875)

He also sees Slashdot as instrumental in helping start the Maker subculture. Do you agree?

The software side, maybe. Slashdot leaves much to be desired on the hardware side of the necessary skills in engaging in the Maker subculture.

If so, should influencing the future of technology be Slashdot's main mission?

Regardless of my prior answer: yes, please yes, oh for the love all things noodly yes.

Also: If so, how do you suggest we do it?

Well, I know that this is popular in the comments but probably not so popular with the new Dice overlords but I will be frank for the betterment of Slashdot. Slashdot BI [slashdot.org] is bad. The people that write for it aren't bad but the material they are told to cover is bad. It represents a lot of things that are wrong with technical journalism today: buzzwords, lists, how-tos that tell you how to do nothing, focus pieces on companies and the worst part about it all is that it's largely positive "news." I suggest that you swap this out and you go here [slashdot.org] and you ask yourself why it doesn't look more like this [hackaday.com] , this [makeprojects.com] or even this [spritesmods.com] .

Tell me, you have this formatted page for Business Intelligence with subdirectories and paid authors and all sorts of stuff. Where, oh where, is the equivalent for Makers? What, the exposition pieces you do for Amazon's latest cloud launch bring you more revenue than a how-to on hacking USB I/O with the Raspberry Pi? Well, if that's the truth, that's the truth!

Why is it that story submission has special entry fields for book reviews but not for Make projects? You get my book reviews because you have made a space for them. I feel like there is no space for Maker stuff on Slashdot and, most importantly, there is no space for non-news maker stuff. Your commitment so far is to hit the big things [slashdot.org] and that's very cool but the Maker subculture isn't only about high value targets. It's also about the small projects and replicating projects you find all over the place like here [themagpi.com] .

Let's face it: if somebody does a learning project and uploads a video to YouTube that shows how to integrate a very specific Arduino board with a very specific LED board and puts up some ugly source code on github, it's not going to make Slashdot's front page. And most of the comments will be "I could do better" and "congratulations, you're doing what I did in fifth grade." However these are some of the resources that get Makers started and drive the community. There's tons of not-news-worthy stuff going on in the background and right now the Slashdot front page isn't the place for this nor does there even exist a subpage for it.

Slashdot is only interested in hunting elephants and bringing one in once every six months while there are Makers trying to learn how to cultivate soy beans. You could try having a subpage like BI where people can grow ideas and share tutorials no matter how inane and besotted with errors they are. But that stuff will probably have to stay off the frontpage.

And more specifically, do you know any other non-famous Slashdot readers (or people in general) we should talk to because they are doing interesting things?

Why not reach out to the other pages I linked? They're doing it right but they lack the readership. You have the readership but lack the Maker diversity. Surely there could be some value shared there?

Re:On Slashdot's Maker-ness (0)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 2 years ago | (#41886683)

Slashdot is only interested in hunting elephants

This better be an euphemism for pageviews, if not, you're just trolling.

Thinking of Slashdot as some community driven thing is great until you realize that editors have to pick the stories on the home page. We do all the hard work of searching out stories that are interesting for them, so what gives? Why don't the users get to do that last bit too? Just grant "meta moderator" status to a select few, as they do moderators, and call it a day. Seems like all you ask and more would be possible if users actually ran the site instead of the editors...

Essentially, what you want is a purely crowd sourced Slashdot, the problem is that existing entrenched systems and stigmas against new systems keep such things from becoming a reality.

...oh, wait. Reddit exists. They have subreddits for the things you like. Is there some stigma that keeps you from them? It's like someone gave you exactly what you wanted, and you turned your nose up at it because it's not from the people you want it from...

Should the innane elitists and popularist tech-news jockeys at Slashdot direct the course of technology? FUCK NO. The people making technology should. It's like no one remembers 1984.

Re:On Slashdot's Maker-ness (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41886701)

Slashdot is only interested in hunting elephants

This better be an euphemism for pageviews, if not, you're just trolling.

Read the rest of that paragraph and you'll see it's an analogy for the size and impact of the project. Quoting half of a sentence out of context can be really hilarious:

Thinking of Slashdot as some community driven thing is great

Awesome! I'm glad you're on bored!

Poor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41885883)

because Linux and FOSS helped make it possible for people of modest means (we used to just call them "poor")

And the number one way to be poor in America? Get knocked up at a young age, or knock somebody up at a young age.

You have to do 3 things only to have above 80% chance of never being poor as defined by the gov't poverty level. 1) finish high school, 2) don't have children before you can afford them, 3) have children after getting married to have two incomes.

Of course suggesting people could make different choices to better their situation is highly offensive, somehow. I guess they'd rather be helpless? But facts are facts. Deal with it.

Re:Poor (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#41886079)

And the number one way to be poor in America? Get born poor.

FTFY.

The reality is those who are born poor are not going to even have anyone to teach them that stuff. The last thing they need is your sorry self righteous ass making unsolicited and ignorant comments.

Re:Poor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41886423)

And the number one way to be poor in America? Get born poor.

FTFY.

The reality is those who are born poor are not going to even have anyone to teach them that stuff. The last thing they need is your sorry self righteous ass making unsolicited and ignorant comments.

So negligent adult people say "hey I am poor and can barely afford to feed my own self ... ... hmm what to do, what to do ... oh hey I know!! I'll have a bunch of unprotected sex and make a bunch of babies so I can damn them to a life at least as bad as mine! Yeah that'll be great, oh what a wonderful person I am!"

These people don't need children. It's a judgment call and I'm making it. "Who are you to judge?" I'm me, it's true, deal with it.

Oh and by the way I am not rich myself. I make about 35,000 dollars a year. I am not in a position to give a child any kind of life. So ... get this! I have decided not to become a parent until that changes. I mean wow, right?! An adult being responsible. Imagine that. Do tell me why other people can't do that? They don't know how babies are made? Or what?

I am tired, tired, tired of all the excuses and downright worship of people who fail at life. It's like they can do no wrong in your eyes, no, not even when they harm innocent little children by bringing them into what they knew would be a terrible situation. Just build an altar to them already. Maybe you can sacrifice babies on it since you don't seem to care so much about their wellbeing and the ways adult people knowingly harm it.

Seriously what kind of mental gymnastics must you perform, to say that any of this is alright? See you're one of those who makes the conclusion first and twists the facts to fit it. I do the reverse. I look at the facts and then make the conclusion. The facts are, adults are making bad decisions and children are suffering for it. The conclusion is, these adults are negligent at best, bad people at worst and they ABSOLUTELY COULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY AND THEY CAN AND SHOULD BE EXPECTED TO, JUST LIKE I DO MYSELF. Tell me how my logic is wrong. How DARE I expect adults to consider their decisions, right? Oh holy outrage.

Re:Poor (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 2 years ago | (#41891631)

Go fuck yourself. Being a good parent has very little indeed to do with being rich or poor. At least in any civilized country, your kids aren't going to starve or freeze to death, and as long as they are loved they will be OK.

Re:Poor (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 2 years ago | (#41886467)

Being poor doesn't mean you have to stay poor. Staying poor, blame yourself. I've been dumpster diver and now am fairly secure making a half way decent wage. Being born poor is not your fault, staying poor .. well that is your fault.

Of course, it is much easier to blame the evil Republicans (or Democrats) for your poverty than it is to actually do something about it. Blame only goes so far, and that is why I'm Libertarian. Government has never actually "helped" me. More like Co-dependent.

Re:Poor (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#41886515)

I am not poor. I have a far above median income, as did my parents.

It is much easier to blame poor people for being poor than to see what things we could change to give people a chance. The government has actually helped me a lot though, the roads and trash collection especially. I also appreciate the police protecting my property.

Re:Poor (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 2 years ago | (#41894459)

" roads and trash collection especially. I also appreciate the police protecting my property."

So, you bring up what government should be doing, as evidence that it should do everything it does? My city's city council, while having huge budget issues and other problems is arguing over paper or plastic bags. Can you tell me, does a plastic bag ban fix the budget issues? Meanwhile they haven't addressed fiscal problems because they are all left wing nuts running the city. Priotitys

Re:Poor (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#41895503)

Banning plastic bags may not fix the budget issue, but it can be a help if it means less staff and cleaning of public parks. Here they have to remove plastic bags from trees pretty regularly.

Re:Poor (1)

Iskender (1040286) | more than 2 years ago | (#41886283)

Trust me, if you think there are just three ways to get poor you haven't seen much of life. That, or you haven't been paying attention.

Re:Poor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41886523)

Trust me, if you think there are just three ways to get poor you haven't seen much of life. That, or you haven't been paying attention.

Perhaps by practicing the twin religions (and they are articles of faith) of "the poor can never make better decisions" and "no adult should be expected to consider the effects of their decisions" you have failed to comprehend what I clearly wrote.

What I wrote is that doing those three simple things gives one a greater than 80% chance of never being poor.

You do understand that 80+ is less than 100, right? You understand I never said it was a perfect guarantee, right? Because if I had, then what you say there would have been a meaningful contribution. It wasn't. It was redundant, obvious, and reveals a failure on your part (unwillingness or inability) to comprehend what I said.

Just try finding a poor person without a bastard child. Or three. It's a lot harder than you think. Now if you hate children or have some problem with them then hey, what the hell, who cares if they get enough to eat, right? Ketchup soup, yum yum, right? I mean it's not like their baby mamas knew that having unprotected sex was a good way to get knocked up, right? It's not like they knew their financial situation, right? Who could have known? It must be God's fault, yeah. How silly of me to blame the bad decisions of adults.

You are a little pre-programmed pawn on a chessboard. The chessboard is a battlefield, the war is against adulthood, individualism, and personal responsibility. But it's okay. You will be well rewarded for playing your role. You will be told what a great big-hearted person you must be, never calling failure what it is, never holding anyone responsible for their actions, etc. You can pat yourself on the back. You can sleep like a baby tonight. And this nation will slide further into its rapid decline. But at least you didn't suggest adult people could make better decisions. That's the realm of evil. That would be like Galileo asking the Church to look into his telescope, spreading the heresy that maybe the heavenly bodies are cratered and not perfect spheres like the Church taught. What a fucking heretic he was.

Re:Poor (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 2 years ago | (#41891651)

What I wrote is that doing those three simple things gives one a greater than 80% chance of never being poor.

You do understand that 80+ is less than 100, right? You understand I never said it was a perfect guarantee, right?

Yeah, it's a good thing that correlation is the same as causation isn't it?

What you wrote is utter bollocks. Do a lot of poor people not have college dgrees, but do have one or more children? Well, duh.

Re:Poor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41886579)

> 1) finish high school,

You obviously have missed the power of the brain wash. I teach my kids almost every day that they can learn almost anything if they just practice enough. I've used simple examples of this and the older one already completely buys it. I also teach them math, biology, languages, computers, history, geography etc. so even if the school is not able to teach them anything, they would still know and learn.

If instead I had been teaching them that they are stupid and they will never be any good, no matter how much they try or study and just let them watch cartoons their whole life. They would have completely different set of brains in their head. They wouldn't even want to try to study, because they would know it as a fact, that they can't learn anything. For them to reject that idea, would be similar to someone to reject religion. Sure, it can be done, but it requires quite extreme measures.

Now, that is just the mindset. Now imagine a family where the father is in jail and mother is on drugs. You have 5 siblings and you are the only one who can provide them food. At school people laugh at you, because you wear poor clothes and stink. A friend offers you a big pile of cash for doing something illegal. Perhaps that would be your ticket out. Now, study there.

Sure, even the poor can become rich. But for some, it is just so much harder.

Re:Poor (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 2 years ago | (#41891601)

You know the best way of ensuring you're never poor? Be a complete psychopathic bastard to everyone you meet, think of nothing but money 24/7, have no hobbies, friends or lovers, don't drink or take drugs, don't spend time listening to music or watching movies or reading or looking at art or nature, never donate to charity, live off a simple vegetarian diet, don't spend money on expensive clothes or toiletries, or parking spaces.

But, above all, make sure you're born to well off parents.

Zarf (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41885895)

He hasn't been active around here for a while, but you should look into what interactive fiction god Zarf (Andrew Plotkin) has been up to since his mad successful Kickstarter.

How to say this diplomatically? (1)

phrackwulf (589741) | more than 2 years ago | (#41885929)

"Influencing future technology" isn't really a thing. People are influenced by Slashdot as evidenced by this very nice gentleman and his video. Slashdot is a social space, not a technical workshop.

"Without me, my rifle is useless, without my rifle, I am useless." Making techology into this sort of monolithic, God like entity has always been a major failing in the computer geek culture. You need human's first to have technology. If no one wants to play with your neat toy, it may be very neat, but it may not be very useful.

Re:How to say this diplomatically? (1)

Revotron (1115029) | more than 2 years ago | (#41886393)

I read 13 tech blogs today. And I commented on THREE of them! And I tweeted @Apple. I'm SO influencing future technology.

Honestly: me (1)

vikingpower (768921) | more than 2 years ago | (#41886233)

Interview me. Not because I am an arrogant, breast-thumping prat. But because now, at age 45, I look back upon about half my career - a career in which Slashdot was highly instrumental, since 1999, in making choices. A career that was deeply marked by the advent of Java, in which I started programming in 1996 ( !! ). A career that was, also, marked by countless attempts, some successful, to introduce open source software and open source design in various european government agencies, major and minor corporations... A career, also, that could not have been more marked by the availability of internet-for-all.

I may be the exponent or the perfect "Joe the Plumber" for thousands of mid-career /.ers. Not more, not less.

Re:Honestly: me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41886273)

Write it up in your journal. There's an option to submit to Slashdot when you save your journal.

Re:Honestly: me (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41886599)

But because now, at age 45, I look back upon about half my career - a career in which Slashdot was highly instrumental, since 1999, in making choices.

Didn't you read the discussion above about poor people? Obviously you are wrong. Adult human beings can't make choices. That's why it's EVIL!! to suggest that choices have consequences, and when those consequences are a life of misery and poverty for children, maybe the adult could have chosen better.

Now I do not play favorites. So if poor people cannot make choices, then it's 100% perfect fatalism for you too. No choices. Ever. Choice is evil, blasphemy against the Holy God of Eternal Blamelessness And Victimhood. And you are a horrible, horrible person if you question that. Even worse if you say hey, I denied myself things I wasn't really ready for, maybe other people could do that too? THat's the devil talking!

Remember, nothing is ever anyone's fault. Ever. And fault somehow doesn't mean you have the power to do differently, that doing better is just a realization away. No, we must pass the buck and never accept responsibility for anything. That's what mature adults do.

Matter of fact I could not have chosen to say this now, so I deserve your sympathy and understanding and a +5 Informative. Because just like poor people, I am a perpetual victim. I could not possibly do different, so feel sorry for me would ya? Agree with me and embrace everything I say and do, just like you do with poor people.

Tired of the Maker Bullshit (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41886373)

Oh, look, you built something using instructions from the internet. Or maybe you thought of it yourself. Yes, you qualify as a "maker." But posting it on the internet doesn't make you a special little snowflake. No, that does not make you part of some mysterious internet "subculture".

Does everything have to have its own subculture? If I take a dump on the toilet with the toilet seat up and talk about it on the internet, am I some maverick? Do I become a member of the "Seat-Up-Dumper" subculture?

Kids these days.

Is that me? (1)

teaserX (252970) | more than 2 years ago | (#41886447)

Wow. Except for having a full head of hair and not having a job, I could be mistaken for this guy. :p

How to become an FOSS activist? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41886535)

Wait, nevermind, I found some directions on Buzzfeed.

1. Add "FOSS Activist" to your title.,
2. Write a blog post about how cool FOSS is.
3. Tell someone to install Linux.
4. ???
5. Profit!

Maketronics used to be taught in my highschool. (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 2 years ago | (#41887179)

We were all makers then. Except, we called it Electronics.

I remember creating an FM transmitter for my term project. I asked to go to the bathroom before my turn to show off our projects, and walked behind the out-building our lab was in, then tuned into the Oldies station my teacher always listened to in the background. I keyed in my transmitter and stated that my electronics teacher "has won the student's choice award for best teacher, call in within the next 10 minutes and mention the phrase 'Chicken Doughnuts' to claim your prize! We now return you to your regularly scheduled program--". Ten minutes later my teacher was still calling the oldies station yelling at the disk jockey, "I'm the Winner! I'm [teacher's name]. 'Chicken Doughnuts'! See?!" The DJ found it hilarious enough to air "The all request hour will continue in a moment, but first, 'Chicken Doughnut' Guy, [insert my teacher's frantic exclamations], Stop calling. You've got the wrong number buddy, but thanks for the laughs."

When my turn to show my project came around, my teacher gave me an A+, and a week of detention.

Where was Slashdot?! Wouldn't they have run my "maker" story? Maybe that would have helped me gain publicity for my crowd sourced "software defined radio" projects? (hooking parallel ports up to short-wave radios a decade before you could buy a 'WIFI' device). Oh, that's right... SLASHDOT DIDN'T EXIST. However, HAL-PC (Houston area league of PC users) did, and their SIG groups were excellent forums for meeting face to face with other like-minded folks, and their BBS was full of amazing shareware.

Slashdot has never been required for common folk to be "influencing the future of technology". It's just your opinion if you think Slashdot is the best, most influential, or only 'collaborative forum'. If influencing future technologists is your goal, then start a chain of Hackerspaces & Makerspaces for folks to get together and make stuff happen. Now that the Internet exists it IS hackerspace incarnate, and Slashdot is just one of many ports, not 'The' port by any measure.

Influencing the future of technology (2)

Tough Love (215404) | more than 2 years ago | (#41887239)

should influencing the future of technology be Slashdot's main mission?

Maintaining as high as possible a concentration of clueful posters and interested readers should be Slashdot's main mission. Then influencing the future will take care of itself.

Re:Influencing the future of technology (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 2 years ago | (#41891677)

Maintaining as high as possible a concentration of clueful posters and interested readers should be Slashdot's main mission.

YMBNH.

Maker Project: The Free Charge Controller (1)

troutner (1949104) | more than 2 years ago | (#41897709)

I've been working on the Free Charge Controller project for the last three years. A charge controller is a black box that sits between a solar panel (or wind turbine) and a load (like a battery) and makes sure the two 'play nice' together.

The project is still very much in it's infancy, but we've been working with Jameco, and electronics part supplier, to create kits. The kit will be launching in the next day or two.

See FreeChargeController.org [freechargecontroller.org] for more information if any Slashdoters are interested in participating.
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