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July 2nd, 2013

The Locked FOSS Door

Today I found this really cool FOSS site. I mean really cool. The people who run the site want to do things for the FOSS community. They’re looking for community involvement. They’re a bona fide nonprofit; they’re not looking to use their site to make their car payments or put their children through college. Their site isn’t cluttered with ads like, say, FOSS Force.

However, I’ve lost my enthusiasm already for this site and I don’t think I’ll get it back. It’s not really the site’s fault, it’s all me. I know that as well as I know it’s also me who’s going to be the loser here. This cool site isn’t going to suffer one iota because I’m no longer excited about it. It’s my loss entirely.

Indeed, I still like the site and think it holds great promise. It’s just that I know I won’t ever really be able to fully appreciate it anymore because I’ll never really feel as if I’m part of the community it represents. This is a problem that only exists in my mind, but it’s a problem nonetheless. What happened is they accidentally locked me out, which made me feel like an outsider. Even though it was an accident, a problem with a WordPress plugin most likely, I’ll forever associate the memory of that with this site.

This is going to seem like I’m pouting, but I’m not. I’m not writing this to cast blame on anyone but me and my childish emotions. I’m writing this as sort of a cautionary tale, because if I feel put-off by the accidental but all too common experience I had today, whether I’m justified or not, others will be too. One thing I’ve learned in my 62 years, I may be unique, but I’m not that unique.

I discovered the site while perusing some of the Linux and FOSS news aggregators, seeking out items to include in the FOSS Force Twitter and Facebook news feeds. One of the aggregators linked to the site. The link was to a great article by a developer for a small Linux distro on coders who prefer to work on small FOSS projects instead of signing-up to write code for massive projects like Debian or Fedora.

I posted the link to our feed, then started looking around the site. Again, I liked what I saw. There didn’t seem to be an agenda, other than to push FOSS and a desire to make the site a community effort. I did a whois search to see how long they’d been online–the domain was purchased back in May, so not long.

I really grew excited.

I think that a community centered site, a website that all of us in the FOSS community can call our own, is precisely what the doctor ordered, if you’ll excuse the cliche. Briefly, I thought of writting a rave review of the site here on FOSS Force, something explaining and pushing the ideas they seem to represent.

I quickly dropped that thought. The last time, the only time, I tried to plug a site here, the site I tried to help turned out not to be the positive Linux site I’d first thought, but a site spewing FUD. After that blunder, I doubt anybody will ever pay attention to any website recommendation from me, so I’ve decided to stay out of the website reviewing business for the time being.

I still wanted to help, to be part of the community I perceive they’re developing. I have no money to donate; I’m always less than a week away from being homeless. I’m not going to write an article for them. The only time in my life I ever agreed to write an article without being paid was when I thought I could help-out the same site that had been the subject of my ill advised review. Thankfully, that article was never written.

For the time being, I figured the the least I could do was to use the site’s contact form to send my well wishes and to offer moral support. I spent about fifteen minutes working on the wording in the form’s text box. As I wrote, I actually found myself growing excited, anticipating being connected to a community that I would value being a part of.

Yup. I do tend to get the cart before the horse, if you’ll excuse another cliche. I’ve done it all my life.

The contact form had a simple captcha to be completed before submitting. This one was real easy. No hard to decipher letters. No trying to figure if a letter was upper or lower case or if it even mattered. Just plain, simple and easy to read numbers; easier to read than the numbers at the bottom of my computer’s screen where the time is displayed. I entered the numbers and hit “submit,” really happy to be connecting to the people who ran this site.

An error message was returned. I had entered the captcha incorrectly. That couldn’t be; the numbers were as plain as the very large nose on my face–another cliche. I hit the return-to-redo link, was presented a new string of numbers, again easier to read than a front page headline on the N.Y. Post, dutifully entered them and resubmitted my message.

Again, I had entered the captcha incorrectly. So I repeated the above again and then again and finally, I gave up, almost in tears.

Almost in tears?

Yup, I was. I know that by my semi-advanced age I’m not supposed to be as emotional as I once was, that my hormonal levels are supposed to have dropped to the point where I can be as cold as International Falls at midnight on the winter solstice. Problem is, my body and mind have never necessarily done what they’re supposed to do. I can cry easier now than I ever could when I was young. That’s okay. As Bruce Hornsby would say, that’s just the way it is.

I wanted to cry out of frustration. I felt as if I’d hit a brick wall; that I was being denied access to a community I wanted to be a part of–even though I don’t really know if there’s really any community there at all or if it’s all just wishful thinking on my part.

That I was being silly, I understood. No one had slammed a door in my face. It was just a computer glitch. But I also knew that didn’t matter. Even after the fine people at this site fix the glitch, I will no longer be able to muster any enthusiasm about the site. I could never visit this site again without remembering the rainy morning when I sat at my computer fighting back tears over a stupid website.

Again, this is totally childish and I am very much the fool for even sitting here writing this. But it is a cautionary tale, of sorts, about technology on autopilot and the pain it can mindlessly bring. It’s just a little thing, but it seems to me to be a big little thing at this moment. Call it collateral damage.

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

8 comments to The Locked FOSS Door

  • Votre

    “Again, this is totally childish and I am very much the fool for even sitting here writing this.”


  • Eddie G.

    I feel for you Christine, and I hope you can find it in your heart to “forgive” the technical difficulties! Surely you will re-visit the site just ONE more time?…maybe not right away…..give it some time…..just as in a relationship the two parties need time to cool-off and allow their emotions to return to normal! I’m certain you will be treated to some “love” the next go round!…LOL!

  • @Eddie G. I like you, guy. You got the spirit of it. They didn’t do anything that we have done here at FOSS Force more often than I want to admit. On more than several occasions we’ve received emails from frustrated visitors who couldn’t get beyond the captcha to post a comment. Maybe now I’ll have a little more compassion when that happens. Then again, it’ll probably all depend on what mood I’m in, just as it does now.

    But it’s midnight, I’m stressed because I’m behind deadline, and you just made me stop and smile. As I say, you’re a good guy Eddie 🙂

  • Scott

    I can understand your frustration. There are many times when I have spent significant time composing comments for a site only to be locked out by an insane captcha or by ridiculously low character count limits for comments.

  • Andrew

    Hey, I’m just happy that my comments get posted instead of deleted and that I haven’t been banned for disagreeing with the editor.

    There are some less than reputable sites out there posing as Linux advocates.

    Anyone up for some guacamole? I’m hungry. 😉

  • Somewhat Reticent

    You assumed it was all your ‘fault’ too quickly; it may have been deliberate built-in obnoxiousness.
    I’ve encountered dysfunctional CAPTCHA form fields that consistently roll multi-sided dice to see how many times they’ll “fail” their victim. Reminds me of Solitaire …

  • Ricardo

    Well, your CAPTCHA is not great either… 😉

    But I got it now, I simply reload it right before I click on “Post Comment” and have never had a problem again.

    Now, to be on topic (and maybe help you with this misterious site): there’s a blog I tried to comment one time and this happend to me too, it was also a numeric captcha (I think it was on blogpost.com or maybe blogger.com).

    No matter how many times I tried to post, reload the captcha, pray or anything, it always came back to me saying I got it wrong. I even zoomed up/down the page to see if the image was cut up or something, extremly frustrating.

    Until I somehow managed to select that captcha’s text… apparently it wasn’t simply an image, and it wasn’t only 5 digits but 6!

    The last digit was “hiding” from me, making it impossible to complete the captcha succesfully.

    From that moment, I could happily post to this site comments form.


  • Eddie G.

    @Christine!….I’m about to show my age!..LOL! (in the voice of “Goofy”) Aww shucks Ma’rm….t’weren’t nuthin’!..LOL! Have a good one! And keep up the great writing!