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the danger of becoming a cargo cult



Something clicked in my head today when I was talking with Jonathan
Blandford on the phone today.  He described to me the idea of the Cargo
Cult, something I had never heard of:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult

In fact, there's even an entry for use in computer science:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult_software_engineering

Until now I had no name for the behaviors that I saw in Fedora and other
open source projects.  We do this a lot.  The conversation usually goes:

<abe> Ubuntu has a live cd!  We should have a live cd and then we will
be teh win!
<bob> Yes, of course!  Let us build one from these sticks and coconuts!

(This is a bad example, of course, because I do actually believe that
having a working livecd has a lot of great side effects: keeping our
base small and compact and letting people try out our technologies
easily.)

What jumped out at me from the article is this paragraph:

"In a form of sympathetic magic, many built life-size mockups of
airplanes out of straw, and created new military style landing strips,
hoping to attract more airplanes. Ultimately, though these practices did
not bring about the return of the god-like airplanes that brought such
marvelous cargo during the war, they did have the effect of eradicating
the religious practices that had existed prior to the war."

I think that we need to be careful when we decide to move to new models
for things.  Understanding the underlying reason why we do anything is
just as important as actually doing them.  When we've talked about
support for proprietary codecs or letting people use Fedora in new
contexts (the trademark thing) we need to understand they why just as
much as the how.

So far we've been good, I think.  We haven't lost our soul, or by mixing
metaphors, our religious practices.  But there's still a lot of
opportunity in the future to make a mistake like this.  So we need to
keep vigilant and keep our sense of purpose.

That is all.  Carry on.

--Chris


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