Everything happens for a reason

This week I’m attending OSCON 2008, where the OSI is celebrating its 10th anniversary as an organization, but that’s only one reason I’m here.

Another reason I’m here is because I like to read, share, and make connections well outside the expected circle. When I attended OSCON in 1999 (Monterey), I explained how Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel could be used as a model to predict the ultimate success of open source software, based on the large virtual east-west axis of the Internet and its open standards. The “virality” of the GPL, and its powerful effect on destroying the immune systems of proprietary software companies seems obvious today, but it was insightful enough then that Tim O’Reilly has been inviting me back ever since.

Earlier this month I enjoyed the Dreamworks hit Kung Fu Panda, where it is revealed (multiple times) that “there are no accidents” and that “everything happens for a reason”. Those are not new observations, but fundamental elements of both Eastern and Western philosophies and religions. So perhaps it is no accident that when I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and saw an immediate connection between sustainable agriculture and open source development, I joined the board of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and started hanging out with farmers. And perhaps it is no accident that Lyle Estill sent me pre-publication copy of his book Small Is Possible, which I blogged about last month, not least because he mentions Michael Pollan, Jared Diamond, CEFS, and open source. So when Lyle told me he was doing a reading at Quail Ridge Books (the book store most local to Red Hat’s Raleigh headquarters), of course I offered to introduce him that evening.

After the reading, which was wonderful, and after all the questions, which were a mixed bag, I hung around the store while Lyle signed books. The Music Lesson by Victor Wooten caught my eye, and I decided to buy it for my upcoming trip to Portland. Sure enough, the book propounds the idea that “everything happens for a reason” (with the ironic minor teaching that “you should stop giving people reasons to break into your car”). And wouldn’t you know that this music lesson, which also passes for a life lesson, is also a lesson about open source software!


Like one hand clapping, a one-sided relationship never works. It is clear to me now. For a relationship to work efficiently there must be equality in every way. Both parties must give to each other, take from each other, rspect each other, love each other, and listen to each other. Only recently did I begin a relationship with Music.

[My teacher] loved to laugh. I remember telling him about an invention I once saw called The Lick Blocker. It was a flat piece of board that attached to your wrist while you played guitar. It was supposed to block the audience from being able to view your hand, thus keeping them from being able to steal your licks. He laughed for a full ten minutes when I told him about that one. “I’m glad I ain’t normal,” he would often say.

“Sharing is one of the most important tools needed for personal growth,” he once told me, also stating that many peopel never come to understand that point. He said that many of us try to hoard our knowledge in order to stay ahead of everyone else. I understood that completely because I used to use the same method.l Somehow, I think he knew that.

The Music Lesson uses music as a metaphor for life, but in my experience, as both an aspiring bass guitar player and as an open source software developer, so much of what he learns about music (and unlearns about conventional thinking) applies directly to open source software (and what must be unlearned by those who first learned the proprietary way). It was the perfect preparation for me as I begin my 10th OSCON conference…