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Open source discussion in Tietokone magazine

Posted: 2007-11-17 13:45:45, Categories: Work, Free software, 178 words (permalink)

I was recently invited in a panel discussion about open source, organized by Tietokone, the largest IT magazine in Finland geared towards business users. An article about the discussion appeared in the latest issue (Tietokone 13/2007) and the full recording is available online (in Finnish).

The discussion focused around commonly heard claims, such as "Open source is socialism", "One cannot make money with open source", "There is no innovation in open source" and "Open source software is difficult to use". The starting point wasn't that the claims would all be true, rather the idea was to debunk some common false assumptions and present a more balanced view on the topic.

One of the invited participants didn't make it, so eventually it was only me and Janne Pikkarainen, one of the admins of the MBnet web site, with Tietokone magazine editor Kari Haakana throwing the claims questions from the other side of the table. It still made a good discussion, so if you're interested in Free / open source software (and can understand Finnish), I can recommend listening to the interview.

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Quest for a balance between work and free time

Posted: 2007-10-31 18:38:03, Categories: General, Work, 627 words (permalink)

A corner of the CSC building with the company logo in morning light. I have a job again. My employer is CSC, the same where I worked before my year on the road. The contents of my work is also similar to what it used to be. However, there is one important difference: my contract is for 80 hours per month. In other words, roughly half the hours, half the pay compared to full-time employment.

Work is divided unevenly in the society. Some people are frustrated about being unemployed and unable to find a job, while some others are spending virtually all their time working, stressed, living on the verge of burnout. The number of working hours per week tends to increase the higher one climbs up on the hierarchy ladder, or in some cases reaches a peak on the middle management level. It has long been preached that new technology, development and prosperity would make life easier and reduce the amount of work, but it doesn't seem to generally happen that way.

If work is really a passion and one truly wants to focus on it, working long hours is fine. But how often is that really the case? I've had the privilege to have jobs I've found interesting and even enjoyable, but I couldn't really call them passions or at least not something I'd want to invest all my time on. I have many parallel interests and find it difficult to stay fully focused on any single topic for a long time. I need a balance between different activities in order to continue liking each of them.

The proper balance varies between individuals, and less work than before but still some work sounded just right for me now. Committing to 80 hours per month I will be able to alternate flexibly between days in the office and days out, in average working about 2.5 days per week. Sometimes I'll probably work for a full week and then have a full week off. I will have more time for my Chinese language studies and volunteering in clubs and societies. I have a few projects in mind in that area, but I'm not setting any exact goals. If it happens that I just end up spending more time cycling, traveling, watching movies, surfing the net, going to parties and enjoying life, let it be so.

My main reason for going back to CSC were the people. Being surrounded by intelligent colleagues I can learn things not only related to work but about the world at large. The project I'm working on, large scale data storage in a grid environment using the dCache software, is interesting but I would have been able to find other good ones too. I considered for example working as a freelance journalist like I did during my student years, learning interesting topics and then writing articles about them. In the end, CSC won because I had got on well there before and they were willing to hire me even after listening to my slightly unusual requests.

I do realize that this is not the way to go towards a shining career and promotions to higher positions. However, that doesn't feel like the most important thing now. I'm currently not willing to commit into anything for a very long time, and wanted to be open about that: I signed up only until the end of April 2008. I need to be good in what I do and at the same time be happy about the job — the contract will be extended only if both parties want it.

It'll be interesting to observe for the next six months how I'll feel about this new arrangement and what kind of comments I'll hear from others around me. At least based on the first three weeks I think I've made the right choice again.

Thoughts after one year on the road

Posted: 2007-08-30 23:00:40, Categories: Travel, General, Work, Free software, Ecology, Cycling, 1074 words (permalink)

Posing for the camera at the Panchgani hill station, India. Having settled down in Helsinki at least for a while, I've had time to think what my long tour in Europe and Asia has given me and what I want to do next. Here are a few thoughts about travel and life in general after spending a year on the road.

Enjoy the unexpected, trust the unknown. Little by little, I learned to plan less and to enjoy uncertainty. I had traveled without a detailed schedule and hotel reservations before, but this time I went one step beyond that. I took roads not marked on the map, arriving in unknown villages just before sunset and got invited in to local homes. Even when I had made plans, I often changed them based on new encounters or feelings about a place. I certainly wasn't the craziest traveler out there and tried to avoid unnecessary risks, but also wanted to get rid of being a control freak. The balance shifted a bit towards adventure, and I enjoyed it.

Traveling alone is not lonely. It was never difficult to find people to talk with, and without a group of friends around I was spending more time with the locals. Of course, the majority of those encounters were rather superficial. To have deeper discussions, one usually needs to spend more time with the person and share experiences. That's the best part of having a travel partner: you can compare thoughts about an event or situation, or just start a topic which is completely detached from traveling. Having traveled both alone and with friends, I still cannot say which is better. I do know that a big group is not the way to go for me.

Travel gives new perspective for ecological living. Environmental protection might not be part of their everyday thoughts, but most people in developing countries live a fairly ecological life. Many environmentally unfriendly habits are also expensive so they simply cannot afford them. Traveling through poor areas shows that hot water is a luxury, air conditioning is rarely really necessary, and that it's easy to live by following the daily cycle of the sun, minimizing the need for artificial light (at least when the days and nights are approximately the same lenght). It can be a culture shock to come back home in a rich country where climate change is in the headlines but a lot of energy is being wasted everywhere. On the other hand, proliferation of plastic packaging and other non-biodegradable goods in the developing world produces another kind of shock. In the absense of proper waste management, residential areas are turning into big landfills and waterways getting polluted. People are used to throwing waste simply to the backyard — it didn't matter earlier but with the new materials it does.

Free software remains one of my passions. I didn't keep myself very well up to date with world news during my trip. To avoid spending all the time in Internet cafes, I dropped many mailing lists and web sites which I used to follow regularly. However, I continued to read the weekly editions of LWN.net during the whole year. That was the best way to keep an eye on what was happening in the free software world. I love the freedom, the community involvement without excluding commercial activities and the good match with mobile lifestyle. I can carry a virtually unlimited amount of interesting applications, information and art in digital form without possessing many material goods, and free licenses guarantee I can share what I have with my friends too.

A full-time job is not the only possible choice. A long break from work gives a good opportunity to think what kind of role should work have in one's life. Before my trip I had a well-paid full-time job, something which is respected and even envied in the society. Now I'm not so sure I want to continue the same way. I'm not alienated from work, but managing my own time as a freelancer sounds tempting. A normal full-time position is not out of the question, but if something is going to take the most of my time five days a week, eleven months a year, I'd better really like it. The standard five weeks of vacation per year may be enough to rest before getting back to work, but it's not long enough to focus on any other big project.

Changing the environment from time to time is good for me. Since I got my first job abroad in summer 1999 (in Geneva), I've never stayed very long in one place. The longest was almost three years in Finland before my bicycle tour — and it was starting to feel too long. I have a tendency to get involved with various volunteer activities and to pick up other hobbies, which are interesting but gradually fill up all my free time. Moving to another country provides a natural cut-off point to leave some of them behind and be ready for new challenges. It's already a way of life for me and it's difficult to say when, if ever, I'll settle down somewhere permanently.

A month, a year or undefined time for travel — all very different. It was obvious already when I left that traveling for a year was going to be different from the short trips I'd done before. I had time to stop for days or even weeks when I wanted, and I created the route plan on the way. What I didn't think about was that traveling for a year is still very different from traveling for an undefined period of time. I met many who were on the road for at least several months but rather few who were roaming around with no end in sight. Those who did, had often given up the notion of considering any single place in the world as their home, which made a big difference. I didn't have my return date set in stone, but it was still clearly a plan for one year. I had rented my flat out for one year, taken travel insurance for one year and, more importantly, it was a one year plan in my mind. I did consider continuing, but decided it was good time to stop for a while. Being constantly on the move is liberating but also tiresome, I need breaks from traveling too. However, it's not a given that those breaks would necessarily be in Finland.

University life

Posted: 2007-03-19 10:02:47, Categories: Travel, Work, India, 509 words (permalink)

Main building of the University of Pune. I came to Pune to visit my friend Helena, but as I was at the university campus it felt like a good idea to get in touch with people of my field. A couple of meetings were quickly arranged and it didn't take long before I was invited to give a guest lecture about grid computing, which I had been working on during my three years at CSC. I accepted and set aside a couple of days to catch up with the latest news and prepare a talk.

The lecture was organized at the Computer Science Department, with students from a couple of other departments joining as well. There were about 60 people present, and their many good questions assured that at least part of the audience was interested in the topic. The announcement and my slides are available online. The following day I went still a bit more into technical details with people at the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, which resembles CSC in Finland, and heard what they are doing in India.

The discussions gave me also some perspective into the working culture in Indian universities and research institutes. It is easy for a foreigner to get involved as students generally speak good English, are welcoming and eager to meet new people. I didn't notice the Japanese kind of social pressure to not leave work before the supervisor, but at least Helena's friends in the National Centre for Cell Science did very long hours and spent also weekends in the lab. It might have been partly related to their field though, as they needed to check the results and take further actions at specific times after starting an experiment. For example the CS deparment, where you might expect nerds to code all night, got empty earlier in the evening. Organized free time activities and student parties seemed to be rare compared to Europe. A group of friends might decide to go out and you could always find a game of cricket on the fields, but bulletin boards carried job and course ads instead of party posters.

We spent one nice weekend outside the city in the mountains. Sanjeev, the lead scientist in the lab Helena is working in, is an outdoor person so when the lab went for an outing it included some hiking too. We had accommodation indoors, but many people had never slept in a tent and were curious to try. Sanjeev brought two tents and I also set up mine for the first time in India. For me it was more exotic to get a ride on top of a jeep so I tried that in exchange. :-)

Staying in the NCCS guesthouse on the campus was the closest to having a home since June 2006 when I left Finland. There was even a fridge in the room so I didn't have to think in the grocery store which items would get spoiled quickly in the heat. However, today I'm again loading my gear on the bike and returning to nomad life on the road.

Almost ready to go

Posted: 2006-06-15 00:40:28, Categories: Travel, Work, 231 words (permalink)

CSC:n läksiäislahjaMy last day at work was Friday 9th of June and then I needed to get my flat empty by the morning of Monday 12th. And it actually took until the morning, didn't have much sleep last weekend. But now all that is done, tomorrow I'll take care of the last things I still need to do before departure and board a ship to Tallinn early Friday morning.

My great colleagues at CSC had put together a cool farewell gift which you can see in the picture. I'll try to report later what I ended up buying with those notes. :) They also gave me a solar panel charger but after considering the extra weight including the 12V chargers for my phone and camera I decided to trade it for a small water filter.

My employer was not the only organization where I needed to plan for leaving. In 2005 I was the chairman of Finnish Linux User Group and board member & webmaster of Japania ry, a Finnish-Japanese friendship organization. When all the work is done by volunteers it can be non-trivial to find someone to take over. In retrospect, getting rid of the non-paid activies was at least as difficult as finishing work. However, I feel that all of them are doing okay and I can start my trip without too many worries. Reserving enough time was the key for that.

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Copyright Arto Teräs <ajt@iki.fi>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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