Notes from Ubuntu Community Summit – Riga, Latvia, November 2023

There were several talks I enjoyed and a few I want to see but will have to wait for the videos to be released. Then some thoughts and reflections. General impressions of Riga in a separate post.

Random pretty image of the Bastejkalna Park in Riga, Latvia

Check out the schedule here. EDIT: The talks are now online on the UbuntuOnAir youtube channel. Some highlights:

From origins to open source: The journey of DreamWorks Animation’s production path tracer, MoonRay – Randy Packer.

It was an excellent talk, very well presented. My one takeaway was their decision to opensource this tool:

We make movies. The value of DreamWorks is in the artistry. The OpenMoonRay tool should be free. More people can learn to use it that way, enabling better partnership opportunities.

LaTeX: It’s not you, it’s me – a hilarious talk where Martin Haug used humour and a dating metaphor just right to introduce Typst. I’m sold on it.

Framework – an Open, Repairable Laptop presented by Daniel Schaefer

and related FairPhone – Open Source for Sustainable and Long lasting Phones presented by Luca Weiss 

Marketing for Open Source: How, Where, & Why is a talk I need to watch later, because I am struggling to articulate why open source (and Debian, in particular) is better than doing whatever.

and related, Market Your Cause, Project, or Self like a Pro – also still need to watch

also still to watch: 9 tips for better writing

Careers at Canonical is another talk I need to watch later (At this point we were out shopping for underwear because our bags still have not arrived).

What the AI revolution means for Open Source, Open Tech and Open Societies I didn’t care enough to watch the talk in person, one to watch later.

and related, Skynet or Star Trek, what’s the future of AI?

Art and ownership – the confusing problem of owning a visual idea – another one to watch later.

Making Open More Open: A design workshop for non-designers in FLOSS – I actually attended this one, ha. – this workshop made me wonder if sociology is the right academic department for me. Along with many fruitful chats with Kiim and the OMI group, games researchers may also work. So one todo for this week is a rewrite of what I want to research and then looking for an academic home for that (separate post coming).

Resources digitally available at

The workshop was hosted by

The project we worked on was
“PeaceFounder is a cutting-edge e-voting system solution that seamlessly combines centralised responsibility with decentralised accountability while leveraging advanced transactional anonymisation for superior security, transparency, and privacy. It brings unparalleled ease of deployment and adaptability, all while safeguarding the foundational principles of democracy.”

The way the guy spoke I think he understands why other e-voting systems don’t work so well, and aren’t being accountable-while-private/anonymous enough to do what we need. I am looking forward to understanding this better for digital-enabled/strengthened democracy, and digital community governance.

Community stuff, the main thing I needed to explore at the Summit.

Ubuntu Hideout: Successful Community Building Insights. I didn’t watch this talk and didn’t realise the significance until later. “Ubuntu Hideout ( is an unofficial and independent community on Discord, which was founded in 2017 and hosts around 16,000 members nowadays, who are enthusiastic about Ubuntu, Linux, open source and chatting about technology in general.” – they are completely independent of Ubuntu, and trademark whatnots aside, this is a great example of do-ocracy.

related was the Community Council AMA (attended) and the talk Building an Open Source Community Beyond the Code (another to watch later)

I didn’t find the Community Council AMA that productive, but Diogo, he of awesomeness, took me aside afterwards and explained that the community council, that community care, is not supposed to be visionary and leading, they’re supposed to care. He suggested I create my own groups, either within or outside of Ubuntu that can interface with the core Ubuntu processes. I don’t have to come in like a wreckingball, and I also don’t have to give up my own identity. As I said, he’s awesome.

No, this is not a safe space.

I do stick with one sore point, that these communities promise “safe spaces” which makes everyone who does not identify as “marginalised” give an inward sigh, clam up and leave the room/event/community. We cannot promise safe spaces.

To quote someone called Ross in Anand Giridharadas’s book called “The Persuaders: Winning Hearts and Minds in a Divided Age” (notes from the book at this post)

“The movement is not therapy,” she told me. “It is not going to be your healing space. The job of social justice activism is to end oppression, not to make you feel safe, comfortable, and loved. You need to get that somewhere else, preferably in a therapy session.”

p57 “We told people, particularly rape survivors, that we could create safe spaces, when in fact all we can do is create spaces to be brave together.”

To call people into a brave space was to summon everyone to try something together. To promise people a safe space was to make everyone a promise about everyone else that was impossible to keep.

Do-ocracy; allowing people to play and make mistakes

The talk Do-ocratic communities: when merit is not the only metric by Merlijn Sebrechts (part of the Ubuntu Community Council) and anne fonteyn, argued that despite what the Ubuntu documentation says, the Ubuntu community is a do-ocracy, not a meritocracy.

Do-ocracy vs meritocracy

Do-ocracy is defined as, if you do a task, you decide how it is done. You do stuff, you ask for forgiveness, not permission. The one caveat is these actions need to be revertible. There still needs to be consensus mechanisms for irreversible changes, like demolishing a building.

A meritocracy is about the people best suited to the job doing it. Sounds great in theory, but the main problem with that is that if you’re good, you get rewarded with more work.

The issues with meritocracy as understood as “competence”, or “being good” is

  • burnout
  • high barrier to entry
  • and a resulting vicious cycle of less competent people present to do the work, who are then more likely to burn out.

The more terrible problems are when “meritocracy” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone equally. A shorthand for competence is superiority – if you’ve been around for long enough surely you know a lot. The problems with this seniority-based meritocracy includes

  • resistance to change
  • reduced ability to invest time, money or effort
  • assumed authority (even when what you know is no longer relevant)

To me this describes Debian very well. It describes the people leaving, and all the flamewars. In addition, as we discussed this in the talk, women in open source contributes only 10%, and while we contribute much less in volume we need our contributions to be perfect – our perfectionism thing. If your acceptance into a space depends on competence and seniority, you damn well have to do it right. It’s terrifying.

In a do-ocracy, you can just mess around, try your best, make mistakes. If you mess up, you, or someone else can try again.
But while you are doing it, you are the person who gets to say how it gets done.

I have been enjoying my volunteering at OMI, where perhaps I exaggerate my newness, my normie-ness, and so I stepped up slowly, in a boisterous bumbling way. We all know we have dayjobs and hustle and so at OMI we just do our best. We know it’s not good enough and we lament it, but when things are good we just enjoy it. It’s relaxed. I don’t feel that way in Debian, I didn’t feel that way in the open source communities i was exposed to in South Africa and beyond, and to be honest I only really started feeling welcome and relaxed about Ubuntu in Portugal – this is not universal to Ubuntu, and to be fair, it is probably also a function of the age of a community. Most things are fun in the beginning. Anyway. I want to know what makes this feeling exist and how to shape it. So this talk, the summit and the many resources i found was immensely useful to me.

One aspect highlighted in the talk is the appropriate amount of structure. In theory “no structure” sounds great, but that really only works for some people.

Pic of Merlijn and anne’s presentation.

One day I was overwhelmed and stayed in bed, and watched the documentary Cyberbunker on Netflix. Towards the end, the one police guy said, this is the problem with these guys. They talk about freedom, when they just mean their own. It struck me that the software world is full of these guys, and more so in open source. And even the good guys, there are undercurrents that are not even hidden that deeply. I feel there is a resistance to changing, to allowing women in – the great historic spoilers of the fun – because that would necessarily mean accountability. How do we absorb all of this?

Merlijn shared the hackerspace manifesto which I think would really help with my research too: (“We were on the brink of collapse because of internal conflict. Instead of giving up, we decided to hack the hackerspace itself; find a system where internal conflict actually gets solved.”) I think I can contribute stuff that is not from a central euro-centric view.

In his 5 minute talk on the website, two things made me cheer before even reading the 29 page booklet:

  1. Actually motivate people to do the right thing. Create a culture where everybody works in the best interest of the hackerspace, not because they’re forced to, but because they actually want to. If you see people who are not doing that, you can talk to them, you can coach them, and if they refuse to actually do that, just kick them out. This kind of people; whatever they contribute to your hacker space, they will take away more than they contribute.
  2. Meetings give power to the people with opinions and we do not want that. We want to give power to the people who actually do stuff. So the best meeting is no meeting. Do as little meetings as possible.

This is less relevant to my research, but certainly relevant to the more specific, in-person communities I am part of.

A few other things in closing:

Github is open source, Debian is better

I’m still wrapping my head around packaging. Like, why. At the same time I don’t understand Git. People are like, oh it’s open, here’s my Github! And then I go there and I don’t know what to do. Apparently you have to compile and build the code to make it do the thing you want.

Debian packaging makes that code (with a bit of inbetween steps) a “click and install” thing. The inbetween things are about making sure it is secure, that it won’t break something or actively harm your system, and it also makes sure that all the dependencies you would need to run this thing is also packaged – it is self-contained and can work “click and go”. And then, uh, Ubuntu is related to that in some way but packaging in Debian is better (for, uh, legacy?) and still works in Ubuntu.

(There are still bigger questions about if open source and liberty and privacy is still such a good thing. Not as a binary, obviously, but, there’s a thing here to explore.)

Javascript isn’t always bad

There’s this thing with hardcore developers where they just reject javascript. This is a problem for me because I looooove javascript. In my opinion these devs are old school grumpy old men who want the web to be black and white text only like it was intended to be. I want colour and 3D and images and beauty!

Of course, these grumpy people have a point, in that it is very easy for javascript to sneak in bad script to hack your system, and javascript is not accessible for a variety of reasons.

So good people who like javascript (like Bruno Simon) includes an html only version of his site: So you are still welcome even if you’re boring.

But apparently, javascript is fine if you can include a way to show where the javascript comes from, that it is not from random bad places. I would like to build an intro to my game site that says, hey, this is all the places my javascript comes from, if you trust it, check it out, and if you don’t, here’s the html version.

Identity crisis?

On a personal note, apart from all the community questions I had, I also spoke to people who did quite extreme career changes, so we spoke about finding out what is your identity or personal brand and it was comforting to know other people also ask these big questions. I am thinking of doing a course of some sort to explore this, and also a management course, both to help manage digital volunteer spaces, and to perhaps do this as a paying job – so instead of trying to find work that is in my very very niche interest and then I get pissed off if I can’t do it in the exact way I want, rather do something that allows me to learn and is bearable, but really is just to get some money.

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