From: Adam Rifkin -4K (adam@XeNT.ics.uci.edu)
Date: Tue May 02 2000 - 00:50:01 PDT
I wonder if any company ever succeeds if employees are allowed to "tell
it like it is":
> Zawinski's penchant for telling it like it is, or at least like he
> thinks it is (a characteristic he shares with many hackers), was a
> public relations disaster.
Found that quote in a 3-month-old article at Salon:
(Note the use of the phrase "dreaded FoRK" below. :)
Anyway, I'm wondering if Zawinski succeeded in getting his club.
Anyone got any info?
> Free software! Free night life!
> Jamie Zawinski fought to open Netscape's source code. Now he wants to
> liberate San Francisco's fading club scene.
> By Andrew Leonard
> Feb. 10, 2000
> Jamie Zawinski has a face the camera can only love. Framed beneath
> lush, long dark hair, his intelligent, expressive eyes and ready, ironic
> smile draw attention like a magnet. For reporters, his habit of
> dispensing painfully articulate, often outrageous soundbites is equally
> attractive -- one reason why the former Netscape programmer steals most
> of the scenes in "Code Rush," an upcoming PBS documentary that focuses
> on the hectic lives of a team of Netscape coders during the spring of 1998.
> On the first Wednesday in February, an advance viewing of "Code Rush"
> debuted at a Mountain View, Calif., studio, about a 45-minute drive
> south of San Francisco. The hour-long documentary is worth watching. The
> specific time period captured on film covers a crucial moment in the
> history of the "free-software movement" -- that frantic couple of months
> during which Netscape programmers scrambled to clean up the hitherto
> proprietary source code to the Navigator Web browser so that it could be
> released as publicly accessible open-source software.
> But Zawinski couldn't make the screening -- he had another commitment,
> an appearance that same night before the Board of Appeals of the San
> Francisco Planning Commission. Zawinski may have quit Netscape in a
> disgusted huff a little less than a year ago, angry at the constant
> delays plaguing the development of a new version of Navigator, but that
> doesn't mean the 30-year-old stock-option millionaire has stopped
> agitating. For the better part of the last year, in the face of
> concerted resistance from the San Francisco Police Department and to the
> delight of a picturesque collection of San Francisco's late night
> entertainment habitues, Zawinski has been struggling to achieve a new
> dream -- the purchase of the DNA Lounge, a nightclub.
> In a scene that simply reeked of wacky San Francisco-ness, Zawinski
> packed the Board of Appeals hearing with at least 150 fans sporting
> "Save SF Late Night Culture" stickers -- most of whom were pale-skinned
> and punk/gothic fashionable enough to qualify for parts as undead extras
> on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
> The Zawinski contingent far outnumbered the handful of residents who
> came to speak in support of the SFPD's attempt to use the DNA's change
> of ownership to revoke the DNA's extensive after-hours operating
> For the past several years, the South of Market region of San Francisco
> has been witness to steadily increasing tension between clubs, some
> residents and the police. As far as club owners and patrons are
> concerned, the police, acting on behalf of flush and easily annoyed new
> residents, are engaged in an organized crackdown on the clubs. The
> dispute over the DNA's after-hours permits is just the latest skirmish.
> "San Francisco's clubs are under pressure," says Zawinski, over a sushi
> lunch in downtown San Francisco's spanking new and ultra-high-tech Sony
> Metreon building. "And I thought, well, maybe I could try and do
> something about that. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I was doing
> it because it was something that mattered to me, and not something that
> could make money, because it's not."
> Zawinski's motivation, he says, is akin to one of the key forces that
> pushes the free-software movement forward. He's "scratching his itch,"
> he says, quoting Eric Raymond, one of the chief evangelists for free
> software. Programmers appreciate free software -- software in which the
> underlying source code is freely accessible and modifiable -- in part
> because oftentimes they simply want to solve a particular problem they
> face in their daily coding life, or satisfy an urge to add some new,
> special feature to their software. Enjoying access to the source code
> allows them to satisfy those needs -- to scratch those itches.
> For Zawinski, the current irritation that needs assuaging is what he
> sees as a marked decline in the number of late-night venues for dancing
> and live concerts in San Francisco. So Zawinski has set his sights on
> fixing what he sees as a bug in the city's operating system. This time
> around, however, he isn't taking advantage of publicly available source
> code, but instead is capitalizing on the millions of dollars that became
> the birthright of all early employees of Netscape.
> Zawinski's post-Netscape adventures offer an intriguing glimpse as to
> what the future millionaires of the free software world -- the
> programmers currently getting fat off of the inflated stock prices of
> companies like Red Hat and VA Linux -- could decide to do with their
> riches. If his example is any guide, they may well translate their
> hacker obsessions into more worldly pursuits. But that's not the only
> reason to pay attention to Zawinski's late-night crusade.
> Part of the backstory to the struggle over the DNA is the increasing
> gentrification of the South of Market region. The Northern California
> economy is awash with money -- much of it made from the same dot-com
> industry that bestowed its largesse on Zawinski. Though not the only
> factor putting pressure on the nightclubs, the arrival of well-heeled
> new residents snapping up half-million-dollar condominiums is one reason
> why the police are cracking down.
> To some observers, the showdown is just one more example of how the
> dot-com economy is reshaping San Francisco, or, to put it more
> stridently, how the Internet is ruining San Francisco. But the story
> isn't quite that simple. Jamie Zawinski, as a key Netscape programmer,
> is as responsible as any single person for delivering the code that made
> the Internet economy possible. But is he ruining San Francisco? Hardly --
> he's attempting to make his own changes, to fight against the tide.
> And it's not all that quixotic a mission. Zawinski's appearance at the
> board of appeals was a huge success -- the commissioners unanimously
> agreed to deny the police their attempt to change the DNA's permits.
> The dot-com economy may take away ... but it also giveth.
> Among the journalists and hackers who pay attention to the world of free
> software, Jamie Zawinski is notorious for a whole laundry list of
> reasons. At Netscape, where for a time he lived inside a camouflage tent
> spread over his cubicle, and shaved one side of his head while letting
> hair on the other grow long, Zawinski became an obvious focal point for
> the hordes of Netscape observers frantic to get a close look at the new
> world of the Net. Zawinski's legend only grew when, on April 1, exactly
> one year to the day after helping to organize a huge party to celebrate
> the public release of the Navigator source code, he quit Netscape,
> denouncing the entire project, known as "Mozilla," as hopelessly flawed.
> Ever since, the trade press has labeled Mozilla a free-software failure.
> Mention Zawinski's name around Mozilla folks these days and you are
> likely to get a deep sigh. Zawinski's penchant for telling it like it
> is, or at least like he thinks it is (a characteristic he shares with
> many hackers), was a public relations disaster. When I told one
> consultant who works with Netscape that I'd been having a hard time
> getting Zawinski to make any further comments about Mozilla, the
> consultant shrugged his shoulders.
> "Hasn't he said enough already?" wondered the consultant.
> Some of the South of Market residents who supported the SFPD's attempt
> to cut back on the DNA's operating hours are also wont to grumble. At
> the board of appeals hearing, Jim Meko, president of the South of Market
> Resident's Association (SOMARA), called Zawinski "arrogant" and attacked
> him for having hired "paid political consultants" to manipulate the
> local press. At the hearing, other SOMARA members could be seen visibly
> grimacing in annoyance when Zawinski pointedly made reference to his
> former Netscape employment while addressing the board -- apparently, it
> wasn't the first time Zawinski had touted his Netscape lineage.
> But in the insular world of free software programmers Zawinski's
> reputation dates back to long before he ever wrote a single line of code
> for Netscape. In the early '90s, Zawinski worked at Lucid, a Bay Area
> start-up that sold high-end programming tools. Zawinski's main
> contribution to Lucid was the creation of Lucid Emacs, a new version of
> one of the most popular free software tools then in existence -- the
> Emacs text editor, originally written by a programmer named Richard Stallman.
> Stallman is the founding father of the organized wing of the free
> software movement. Long before Linux began spreading throughout the
> computing universe, programmers all over the world used Emacs as their
> all-purpose workhorse. But there was a problem, according to Lucid. In
> the early '90s, says Zawinski, the pace of Emacs development had slowed
> to a near standstill. Lucid management desired a version of Emacs that
> included a set of features that didn't yet exist. Since the program was
> free software, that presented no great difficulty -- eventually,
> Zawinski added most of the necessary features himself.
> "Emacs [version number] 19 wasn't done yet," says Zawinski, "so I solved
> the problem by writing my own version of Emacs 19. One thing led to
> another, and that didn't work out, so we released our own 'FoRK' of
> Emacs 19 -- 'Lucid emacs' which has now been renamed Xemacs. And it's
> still alive today, because it has features and a design that a lot of
> people find more compelling than the other Emacs."
> One thing led to another ... Buried in that throw-away phrase is an
> instructive bit of early free software history. Stallman and the Lucid
> developers did not see eye-to-eye on a series of questions, including
> who to blame for the delay in Emacs 19, what feature set to include in
> new versions of Emacs, and, perhaps most importantly, the proposed
> inclusion of Lucid Emacs in the otherwise proprietary tool kit of
> programs that Lucid was attempting to sell. The result was the last
> thing that anybody in the free software community wants to happen to a
> given project -- a dreaded "FoRK": the creation of two separate
> development trees for a single software program.
> "Back then we were Satan [to Stallman]," recalls Zawinski. "We were the
> enemy as far as I can tell. Hopefully he has recalibrated at this point."
> Moral of the Emacs story? Programmers can be very stubborn -- Stallman,
> to be sure, is legendary for his intransigence. But Zawinski is equally
> difficult to deter -- indeed, it requires a special degree of chutzpah
> to write an entirely new version of one of the most famous programs in
> the free software arsenal.
> But hardheadedness can be a virtue, even if it does lead to the
> occasional debilitating fork. The success of the free-software movement
> owes a lot to arrogant programmers who are dead certain that they are
> absolutely, unshakably right. Zawinski's willingness to grapple with
> Stallman was a sign that he would not give up easily when thwarted. And
> going head to head with Stallman, no doubt, is an experience not all
> that different from attempting to fight city hall.
> The difference, of course, between Zawinski, version 2000, and Zawinski,
> version 1993, is his access to cash. Hacking code doesn't cost much
> money, but buying a night club in the over-heated real estate market of
> San Francisco doesn't come cheap. Just how much he is paying, Zawinski
> declines to say, other than a shamefaced "probably too much." But money
> is not the problem.
> "I don't remember who it was that I was talking to," recalls Zawinski,
> "but I was just whining about it [the decline of the late night scene]
> as usual, and they were like, 'well why don't you buy a club.'"
> As we sit together in the Metreon -- a building that is itself a
> testament to the vast economic and technological changes storming
> through San Francisco, a building surrounded on almost every side by
> companies that have built their business models on providing some kind
> of service via the Internet -- it seems all too fitting to hear Zawinski
> recall that moment when he realized that he didn't have to just accept
> the changes in his neighborhood, but could actually do something about
> them. Even though his actions could be seen as easy target for
> contradiction, Zawinski is attempting to roll back changes that are in
> part caused by the same economic upheaval that has given him the
> wherewithal to fight those changes.
> But Zawinski isn't too interested in following down that narrative path.
> "Change happens," he notes. And unlike some other club owners, Zawinski
> doesn't want to get drawn into a debate about whether the pressure on
> the clubs is a result of dot-com yuppies invading the neighborhood. He'd
> also rather not fixate on how great things used to be.
> "Nothing stands still," says Zawinski. "The real question is can you
> change it? You can always affect things -- so can you change it in a way
> that will make you as happy with it in the future as you were in the
> past? Maybe it won't be the same, but it might be something else you
> also like."
> Perhaps it's the malleability of code that makes some programmers,
> especially free software programmers, so optimistic that they can fix
> things, that problems are solvable, that a solution is always waiting to
> be found. Software can be fixed. Programmers live in a world where
> reality can be shaped according to their will -- all they have to do is
> write another line of code.
> Zawinski's triumphant appearance before the board of appeals might
> suggest that he is finding San Francisco politics as amenable to his
> manipulation as digital ones and zeroes. It does help, of course, to
> have the cash to buy know-how -- Zawinski concedes that he has hired
> "many people to advise me on many subjects." It also helps to be on a
> politically popular side of an issue. The board of appeals commissioners
> clearly did not want to be accused of killing fun in San Francisco, and
> several of them grandstanded before the assembled crowd as if they
> themselves were running for office.
> Whether or not the future will be as friendly is, of course, anyone's
> guess. Zawinski hasn't completed his purchase yet, although it is in
> escrow and he's confident that "unless something unexpected" happens, he
> should have no serious roadblocks ahead. There's also no telling if his
> plans to make the DNA Lounge a "total nerd-space" -- complete with
> interactive video and live Webcasts for bands -- will be a success. If
> the police, stung by their defeat at the board of appeals, decide to
> make Zawinski's life miserable they have the power to do so, no matter
> how many stock options Zawinski has exercised.
> But it's the effort that inspires, not necessarily the outcome. Many
> free-software programmers believe they can change the world for the
> better. So far, most have done it by writing software. But there really
> are no limits to where their passion can be put to work.
Thanks John Tigue for pointing me to the "404 Research Lab": http://www.plinko.net/404/
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