Saturday, June 14, 2008

USENIX, LOPSA continue fight; Community looses

First, the various announcements about the lawsuit:
So, at this point you might be thinking "Huh?" so here's my attempt at providing some small bit of context to these current events:
Several years ago the small group within USENIX called SAGE (a system administration focused community) tried to break off from USENIX, ostensibly with the support of USENIX, to further its' own goals. Somehow, something went very wrong with the process. The break never happened and many people were left angry and hurt. From that aborted process LOPSA was born as a separate entity to replace what would have been the spun-off SAGE group while SAGE continued to exsist within USENIX as a special intrest group.
I'll not link to the documents and email threads of the past that describe the details, because I think there's no clear series of well-documented events that chronicle everything. If you need to know Google is your buddy, as is the sage-members list archive, if it's still available publicly.

This suit is one of the closing matters of that aborted process, namely, who should be paying the bill to Association Headquarters (aka: "AH" -- the management company that provides the business infrastructure for the organizations) for the time they spent with the pre-LOPSA organization during the failed separation process. AH started this suit in order to get payment on an outstanding account, AH looked at USENIX who's now pointing the finger at LOPSA. Who really is responsible for that payment can only truthfully be determined by looking at the aborted process and picking it apart. In court. With expensive lawyers. I also doubt that the legal proceedings would identify one specific organization as fully responsible either.

I can't imagine that the outstanding bill AH is holding is a substantial amount or that it is more than what the combined legal fees that AH, USENIX and LOPSA will have to incur just to deal with the legal proceedings of this suit. Why not just split the AH bill between USENIX and LOPSA and everyone pays their own legal fees? I suspect the out-of-pocket expense would still be less than the several years of litigation for this matter to be settled.

I beg all parties to not bring this issue further into the community, to sit down with cool heads and find a solution to this issue quickly.

This suit, its' exposure in the public, and the dialogue it has created does not help the members of the organizations, does not help the community at large, and does not help the practice, art, or science of System Administration. If anything, it paints us all as petulant children who can do nothing more constructive with their time then squabble and taunt each other. I've said before that the biggest hindrance to getting System Administration recognized and respected as a real honest-to-god profession is ourselves. The entire USENIX/SAGE/LOPSA drama, and this suit in particular, again underscores that sentiment. We're sabotaging ourselves. We need to get over it. We need to move forward.

And we need to do it now before the world writes us and our profession off as nothing more than a real life version of a Saturday Night Live sketch.


Brandon said...

Mmm, I think you're not paying attention. USENIX just dragged LOPSA into it with no warning; the only way LOPSA can "end it" is by voluntarily ceasing operations. USENIX can end it — but Ellie isn't about to let go of her head trip.

nhruby said...

LOPSA has to cease operations to fix this? Says who? Or is that a logical conclusion to the "we have no money and lawyers are expensive, ergo we will be forced to close so we can pay the laywers" line of thinking?

I happen to agree with that line of thinking, but let's try to be clear about it. I haven't seen a document or anyone saying "Dear LOPSA, if you cease-to-be, we'll make this go away." If you happen to see one, please post it.

At the end of the day, this is a billing and contract dispute between USENIX and AH that LOPSA got pulled into. Probably because of the past, and the split, and the fact that it was the same bunch of people -- all of whom have strong feelings, such as yours.

My point is that if this becomes a protracted legal event LOPSA will probably be crushed but SAGE probably won't get any better either. No one will win (except perhaps the lawyers). More animosity will be created between the few leaders we do have, and the profession will slide further into obscurity. Perhaps so far it will stop mattering.

Certainly I'm starting to feel that way.

No one wants that. Therefore I suggest that before anyone activates any plans for mutual assured destruction AH, USENIX, and LOPSA should try arbitration. From the outside having watched most of the process, it is all kind of related. Perhaps the best way to move forward would be for everyone to take a little responsibility, solve the problem at hand and put the past behind us.

Yes, I realize that not fair to anyone. Life isn't a pony farm.

I think trying to figure out who's responsible and why, and what contracts were signed when is a rathole. And if we descend into it we'll never return.

Brandon said...

You're being clueless, I'm afraid.

The point is that LOPSA did nothing whatsoever to be brought into this, and LOPSA cannot extricate itself; USENIX forced LOPSA in and USENIX must declare it is no longer a party to this lawsuit, or LOPSA must cease to exist as a legal entity so that USENIX no longer has an entity to make party to their suit. It's USENIX's playground and USENIX's ball, LOPSA has no recourse whatsoever.

Brandon said...

Also, quite honestly, most of us think that LOPSA ceasing to exist one way or another is exactly what USENIX wants.

treyka said...

Man, this all just makes me sick and sad. Nathan, I agree with you on the question of arbitration. Both LOPSA and USENIX/SAGE just hit me up for membership renewal fees. Although I have been a member of USENIX/SAGE for about eight years and of LOPSA since practically its inception I cannot in good conscience give arms, as it were, to both sides. It feels as though in supporting either one I'm contributing to the dimming of our overall cause. Fie!

nhruby said...

I'm not being clueless, Brandon, and I think you're too angry to think rationally about this issue. It's easy to get angry (for so very many reasons) but we need to think openly about how to make it better for everyone involved in the end, not just the immediate.

I am perhaps being overly-idealistic, but someone should be. I understand the the organization known as LOPSA did not ask, want or do anything to be pulled into this suit. I personally think that it's a horrible, horrible situation and that USENIX should be ashamed for doing this.

That said, LOPSA, USENIX/SAGE and AH are now officially and legally in it together. More than that, all have a somewhat intertwined history that is really difficult to ignore.

My point is: What's a healthier (not right-as-in-righteous, mind you) process for the community? Litigate the crap out of each other to the detriment of all, or sit down, admit everyone screwed up just a little, everyone pays a few bucks to AH as a result and agree to let bygones-be-bygones?

In the latter, everyone walks away with a much smaller chip on their shoulder and it'll fade in time. In the former, someone gets a hollow win while everyone else in the community looses dearly and takes it to their grave.

This whole sorry saga needs to end quickly and quietly and I think LOPSA is in the best position to try to take the leadership role in making that happen. Clearly USENIX or AH won't, because they're the ones who let it get this far in the first place.

Just because we got brought into this fight, doesn't mean we can't make the world a better place.

And yes, I do believe in the Easter Bunny. Why do you ask?