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b0rken, unethical practices,

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2010 March 23 [Tuesday]


Last week, I had to urgently fly back to North America on a personal emergency and given the urgency of the situation, at around 08:10 hrs IST on Mar17, I logged onto flightnetwork.com to book two tickets, one departing from Chennai in the wee early hours of Mar18 and planned to do the BLR-MAA route by car. 

IME, the e-tickets are usually emailed within an hour but when both credit cards were debited multiple times, with no sign of the e-ticket until noon, I tweeted and dented and also filled out a customer service form with dimming hope on the Flightnetwork website.

The easier option was to call the airline before leaving Bangalore, so I called up JetAirways to confirm that I _was_ booked and confirmed to fly out within 12 hours. I didnt want to reach Chennai and learn that I didnt have a confirmed ticket.  But, as I suspected, Jet said that flightnetwork.com had not sent them the booking details --This despite my credit card being debited in Dollars by flightnetwork.com, within one hour after booking via their search engine/travel portal for both tickets actually.

The Jet Airways staff understood the emergency and were kind enough to issue me a PNR despite the flightnetwork.com not sending them the booking details on time. I explained that I could not call the portal office as it was outside of their office hours and left BLR for MAA hoping that it was just a software glitch and the email would arrive en-route.

Nothing of that sort happened.

We reached Chennai at 7:30pm, my flight a mere four hours away from departure and the portal had still not sent me the e-ticket. Jetair kept insisting that even though they had issued me a PNR, the portal had to send them the details.  In desperation, I called the Flightnetwork.com help desk from Chennai only to be connected to Ms.AM after 3-4 multiple attempts. I gave her the reservation code and when asked why my bookings were not confirmed after 12 hours had passed, she yells back "do you want to argue or let me book it now?".  Err...what was she and flightnetwork.com doing for 12+ hours then?

Ms.AM was rude, belligerent and argumentative, despite the emergency situation being explained to her, after much prodding gave me the wrong e-ticket booking number, blamed the delay on "quality checks", etc ... and disconnected the line when I asked to speak to the manager.

Pft$@^$... puhleze, a quality check when my flight was leaving in around 4 hours and I didnt have a ticket? Kidding me? Strangely, the flightnetwork.com software system was prompt enough to issue instructions to debited both credit cards as soon as the tickets were booked (more than 12 hours earlier) but failed to issue tickets--especially since their TOS clearly states 'no refunds' for missed flights. What a scam!

To cut a long story short, I managed to travel that day because the Jet Airways staff were polite, understood what customer service was about in an emergency, were prompt enough to issue my tickets (against just a PNR) after taking the portal name and booking reservation numbers.

Flightnetwork.com's CTO had seen my tweets, emailed me and apologised, I had replied, and that was that. I thought it sums up my stressful 12-hour experience with flightnetwork.com and I travelled on. Wrong....there was more ...read on.

However, later that day, an employee from the sales team sends me this email:

Thank you for sending us your email. In regards to your concern that you had not received your electronic tickets, kindly note our office hours are between 9:00am EST to 10:00pm EST, so we were unable to send you your electronic ticket until we were open. When emails are sent to sales there is also a message generated to advise we will answer within 24 to 48 business hours as they do take time to distribute.

Please note we have sent your ticket this morning however I have just resent it to you in case you did not receive it. The ticket was issued last night, which means if you were to cancel there would be a cancellation fee of $200.00 CAD and then you would receive a refund to your credit card.

If you would still like to cancel please call us at 1-800-671-5032 as our agents would be happy to assist you. We are open until 9:30pm EST tonight.

24 to 48 business hours? WTF? seriously, what if I am in an emergency and my flight leaves within 12 hours of booking? What is the traveller supposed to do? ... wait for your operational 24 to 48 business hours to travel? 

Its the "I dont care a damn about you" attitude reflecting in his email and scant regard for the paying traveller that prompted me to blog about my lousy experience doing business with flightnetwork.com.

I'd rather stick to cheaptickets.com or my local travel agent --the latter, besides getting me the same route for 100 dollars less, would never use weasel words like 'quality checks', non-office hours and TOS. He just delivers sans the marketing jargon and crappy excuses. Period.

2008 October 6 [Monday]

Privately controlled FOSS.IN is not a community conference

My previous post, elicted a fairly long clarification from Tejas (thanks) and since a tiny comment box is insufficient for a reply, here goes...

TEJAS: I whole heartedly agree. FOSS.IN is one of many many many indian FOSS events. Many of these FOSS events have a completely different focus than FOSS.IN

ME: Right, different events should have different focus. As I wrote earlier "Maybe the intention is generate more blue-blooded kernel code from India. Good for them". Any private event organiser has carte blanch freedom to decide the focus for his event, even at the risk of alienating the same community which contributes to the distro he uses. I suppose the distro you use would indeed be very usable minus the artwork, translation and other assorted grunt work since they are NOT considered equivalent to "real code".

Freedom works both ways and the Libre community users, contributors, and other by-standers who do the grunt work will either decide to attend if they feel wanted, else boycott the event. It would be their choice, hence freedom (as in speech).

TEJAS: Team FOSS.IN, like the head of other major FOSS projects is a meritocracy. I joined the team after I volunteered in 2005, and was asked to lead the volunteers team in subsequent years. If someone wanted to be on Team FOSS.IN, they should have proven themselves in some way. And in fact, that is how every member of the team was picked up.

ME: Great to know that you have a wonderfully organised event, with due credit to all the organizers. BUT This is the kind of financial transparency one expects in any community event, especially if it is touted as the event of the Indian FLOSS community, because its not really a community event. Feel free to talk to folks across the world who are involved in organising and managing a LIBRE software community event, where openness and transparency is the norm. Be it Debconf, linux.conf.au, or any other Libre SW event, every part of organising the event is always discussed publicly (which usually includes the bidding, finance and sponsorship rates, etc...) within the community and public archived. From what I have heard of foss.in, this is not a practice that is followed -- no transparent financial or organisational election process exists. But being an organiser you would be in a better position to throw light on whether this was (or is) being done with foss.in. So please do provide links (and archive url's on the foss.in mailing list?) to those discussions and I shall update my blog entry to reflect your corrections.

[UPDATE : Being a community project the Gnome foundation openly discusses its budget on the mailing list whilst candidate elections to the board is yet another example of a transparent process. Fwiw, past foundation members include Indians too. Some upstream best practices are worth emulating locally too.]

TEJAS: It isn't elitist arrogance. We are focusing on FOSS development efforts. There are enough and more events all over india focusing on translation and bug fixing and so on and so forth.

ME: Please do define the terminology "FOSS development efforts" AND what they would entail? In your definition, where do people who manage servers, do bug testing, do packaging, backend work or maintain the online communication channels, help out with localization and translations and produce all those funky icons and beautiful artwork ; figure in the scheme of things?

For a lot of people the above is not a part of earning daily bread -- read, they are NOT paid but they do it nevertheless because _they want to_, not because foo-bar MNC is paying them as part of the day job to hack on the kernel or translate 500 strings per day. If people who really work for free (no salary or financial gain) are not welcome, it is propagating the elitist and arrogant stance that only a kernel hacker is a real contributor and the remaining efforts are worthless. While you/foss.in are free (as in speech, not beer) to focus on anything you like, dismissing and insulting contributors by twisting terminology is not very friendly. Feel free to choose to ignore the difference, whence, we are not even discussing things on the same page.

TEJAS: Every event, has a focus. That's what makes it a memorable event. The focus of FOSS.IN has been becoming narrower and narrower, as other events have been coming up.

ME: I've replied to this earlier so wont repeat it.

TEJAS: In 2007, FOSS.IN strictly had no talks that were not related to some FOSS project, and about getting involved (ie, there were no more "How to get FOSS in govt" and "How to get FOSS in education" talks). By this time, there were a stack of other community events, a few of which Team FOSS.IN offered to sponsor (as a silent sponsor)

ME: I know, I attended them.

TEJAS: In 2008, we have reached the stage where there are loads of community events out there, and FOSS.IN can focus on what it wants.

ME: TBH, I would have thought that is a decision for the community to make. Its obviously not  in your case.  Anyway the moot objection is about foss.in's arrogance with 'show me the code' attitude, giving credence to kernel commits (in which case it should be called a kernel-summit), etc.. The objection arises when you start judging others contributions by your yardstick and whether it fits your objective or idea of what a true contribution is. That is arrogant and unfriendly and helps alienate and push the community people away. You are a better judge of your event goals but its NOT acceptable to judge others by your yardstick.

Also, 'Freedom' is no excuse to diss on contributors who dont measure upto YOUR standards. That is negative community karma but if that is the route the event organiser wishes to take, so be it. There is not a single upstream project which discriminates against non-coders so blatantly and all this under the guise of increasing contributions. Either way the Indian floss community will vote with their freedom : to attend or not. Fair enough.

TEJAS: Does the indian public really need one more event on the same thing? It's quite simple.

ME: See above

TEJAS: I think you, like so many other people, are missing the definition of (http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/...) "Low Hanging Fruit"

ME: ah, NOT at all !! Other than questioning the English skills of everyone who protested, questioning their sanity levels and falling short of irreverently dismissing them as 'dumb' or calling them 'stupid', Mr. Atul Chitnis was being his usual arrogant, egoistical and dismissive self. Old stuff, nothing unexpected and I say that from first-hand experience, as the recipient of archived abuse on the Indichix list, in the not too recent past.

TEJAS: I don't see how this is remotely true. Every single detail of this change has been explained in the various lists. Just because we made a decision you didn't like doesn't make us a closed and non-transparent conference.

ME: Feel free to make any decision you like but dont confuse that with openness and transparency in community functionings. For the rest of your charge, Ditto from above ..... BUT This is the kind of transparency one expects in an event, especially if it is touted as the biggest free software event in India, albeit a wonderfully organised event IMO, with due credit to all the volunteers hard work. Well, feel free to talk to anyone across the world who is involved in organising and managing a LIBRE software event, where openness and transparency is the norm. Be it Debconf, linux.conf.au, or any other Libre SW event, where every part of organising the event is always discussed publicly (which usually includes the bidding, finance and sponsorship rates,etc...) within the community and public archived. From what I have heard of foss.in, this is not a practice followed BUT being an organiser you would be in a better position to throw light on whether this was (or is) being done with foss.in. So please do provide links (or archive url's on the foss.in mailing list?) to those discussions and I shall update my blog entry to reflect your corrections.

TEJAS: I'm sorry that you feel this way. I'd encourage you to form another event, with another focus, if you feel that is appropriate.

ME: Thanks for the encouragement, but as you said there are many events and its much more productive to redirect the 600 bucks there instead. I'm sure I'll hear a 'thankyou' at the very least.

TEJAS: Let me just warn you, from personal experience, that leading a volunteer team (which is exactly what FOSS.IN is) is a LOT of hard work. Often working sleepless nights on the CfP when you have an exam next day, and start studying for it at four in the morning. Do you know why we do it? Because at the end of the day, we know that we ARE boosting the contributions from India. Last time we boosted the number of contributors. This time, we are boosting the volume.

ME: Would love to see the latter happen but like others have said people who are contributing will continue to do so, despite being unwelcome at foss.in. Anyway, whatever gave you the impression that another volunteer does not put in hardwork ..... just because its not kernel code?

2008 October 5 [Sunday]

A Vegetarian Volunteer vents about FOSS.IN

Contributions in Libre software projects !?

I had attended foss.in 2007 for the first time because LinuxChix-India had a BoF and most importantly to meet friends who were speakers and gave talks. I also attended talks on some topics which were of interest to me personally. This year, ever since the organisers have taken a "holier than thou", "show me the code (and only 'real code' counts)" route, there has been a lot of heated debate over this partisan attitude.

Christian, your analysis is spot on, but here are some facts that are not otherwise evident :

#1. This is not the *only* major Libre event in India.

- The organisers team at foss.in, for the most part, hardly changes and is never publicly elected, let alone publicly discussed. Its privately controlled so, its definitely unfair to compare it with other international community-run conferences like Fosdem, Debconf, http://linux.conf.au/ and suchlike nor compare it with other Indian events mentioned below.

- Each year, Indians are treated to fossconf.in@Chennai, Freed.in@Delhi, mukt.in@Hyderabad (at which i spoke) and Gnunify@Pune, among the various local events held contiguously all over India. Its unfair to bill these events as any less since they are free, open and transparent. Besides, the biggest issue some of these events face is chasing sponsors before each event. Why? I've heard some organisers say the big IT companies out there dont want to support small libre community events in India. The marketing department will ask for past attendee numbers. A blinkered attitude IMHO.

Ideally every major IT firm _should_ be encouraging the smaller events to grow and creating variety by sponsoring freedom. This will reduce the pressure the volunteers undergo in worrying about 'funds', 'management', and suchlike. Another possibility is to hold a debconf or fossconf event in India but that is tough for a lot of reasons.

So why not sponsor {add project name here} speakers/participants for smaller events like gnunify, mukt.in and freed, which will increase interaction and participation in the local Indian community!!

#2. Contributions, Freedom and you.

- Secondly Christian, maybe the organisers goal is NOT to encourage more "Karolin, Ana, Miriam or Clytie to be part of Indian FLOSS game" but well, they are free to promote elitist arrogance, even if women's groups have been fighting against it all these years and just about succeeded in making libre software projects more inclusive and friendly.

- Most major projects encourage contributions such as localization, packaging and bug squashing which are important tasks in the evolution of a libre software project.  Apparently _that_ is not good enough and foss.in wants to focus on people who code and only 'real' code while condemning bug testers, translators and such like which according to their definition are low hanging fruits (read un-important tasks?). Maybe the intention is generate more blue-blooded kernel code from India. Good for them.

Aditya Godbole summed it up quite well here among other folks who dared to raise their dissentive voices (but I feel lazy to scout for links on a Sunday afternoon).  He is partly right, one ought to think if you really need a conference to prove oneself !?

The beauty of the Libre community is such that *you* get to decide how much you want to contribute. Just as they are free to dismiss "low-hanging" fruits, we are just as free to attend another conference which is truly free, open and transparent. So if one wants to contribute please go *directly* to the respective project and start whatever work you want to do according to your time constraints and interest.

That said, I would respect those who respect me, my time and my contributions. If someone thinks my contributions dont measure upto their blue-blooded standards, its their choice, just as I can choose how I spend my 600 bucks this year. Being a vegetarian, i dont eat omlette's, but fruits are very good for health so join us and help us pick some low-hanging fruits,  There's more... but I guess you know your way around Libre software projects by now which is freedom defined by you :)

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