Chaos

No matter how I try to write this, it will come out wrong. I have basically no chances of improving anything at all, especially since I’m no Shakespeare. I’m good at singing the praise of contributors, but I’m terrible at handling delicate situations. I’ll still try clarifying my thoughts into this post, which I’m quite certain will be perceived as an attack, propaganda or be subjected to attack. That’s fine. All those things are normal and to be expected after what I’ve done. By linking to Danny’s post I officially endorsed it as an individual. Since I’m a volunteer contributor to pitivi, the result was akin to a napalm strike to clear a beach for surfing.

I underestimated the consequences and hurt Jason so badly he was trembling with anger. It is only when I chatted with him once more on IRC tonight that I came to realize how deep the wound was. Even though I have my doubts they can pull it off, deep inside I’m rooting for them to succeed.

I am not here to ask forgiveness as it sounds impossible, but I am however very sorry for any pain caused by my actions. Not sure how to phrase this properly, basically I don’t think forgiveness is something you can request.

Somehow this reminds me of Ran, although I should be careful in personifying anyone as Saburo or Hidetora in this (I’m probably both, anyway). After that chat, now that I’ve been banished from the kingdom and I’m nothing more than a beggar, perhaps I can tell you the story that made me break the bundle of arrows.

The end goal was not to attack the person or the core idea behind a distributed video editor focused on making videographers more efficient at what they do, but a last attempt at preventing another tragedy.

Let me tell you (the public) the story of one of those failed video editors projects. In November 2008 I received an email from the guy who was launching his video editor project, Saya. Just as I did with Jason, I wrote lengthy emails and had endless conversations trying to make him see the hardship he was to face. Since pitivi was dormant at the time, I was cautious in my predictions that he would crash and burn, and accepted to be part of his project as an advisor. In the process I have accumulated tons of inside knowledge, and what you can see on the surface is only the tip of the iceberg. The ambitious goals, the mislead technical decisions and autocratic management attitude of the leader paled in comparison to his delusions of grandeur.

Then, just as I had predicted, this guy went into nervous breakdown (his own words) as well as complete financial disarray after alienating every contributor around him. He now came back as an empty shell of a man wandering the remainders of the castle that was burned to the ground. When he came back in that state, I asked if he would swallow his pride (much like Danny wrote here) and join an existing project—any project—which he refused. On his blog, you can see some saddeningly meaningless posts about writing playback GUI controls or an “image reading plugin”.

After so many years and seeing such a spectacular failure still occuring, I thought that next time, I would try as hard as possible to prevent it from reoccuring, by insisting much more on the forewarning part and avoiding to ever have to say “I told you so” again. I prefer to be banished first for having done my public duty rather than after the unfolding of yet another tragedy.

Wait, I know this, you know this, and Jason obviously knows this because I’ve been warning him incessantly for a year, until a point where he said “We’ll have to agree to disagree”. That doesn’t answer the question that burns on your mind, “Why did you break the bundle of arrows?” Why suddenly rock the boat on which we’re all standing?

I’m generally immune to marketing in the media in the “real world”, but not as much in open source. I had this belief that it was a completely separate world, a belief that was shattered by events of the past few months.

Seeing the first few videos posted for the 2nd kickstarter, I was annoyed. Then, seeing the latest artist video posted, my jaw dropped on the floor. What I felt at this moment is beyond words and can only be understood by someone who has been observing the tireless, daily struggle of all the open source video editors for over six years. Particularly with a claim like this going unedited: “This thing exists! It’s called Novacut”.

I immediately posted a comment on YouTube, in which I did not mince my words. You can now have a better idea why I found it logical to link to Danny’s post afterwards. I linked to it with the shortest post summary I could think of, because:

  • I could not condone his post: I was agreeing with what he presented.
  • I could not add arguments in the same direction, since
    • I could not think of a better way to say what he said, although his point about “this is a trend to be stopped” was certainly misunderstood as a personal attack.
    • You can guess from the tone of my YouTube comment, I was not in a good disposition at that time.
  • I am not the best writer there is (it took me over 9 hours just to write the post you’re reading right now).

And all hell broke lose.

Did breaking the bundle of arrows do any good? Does trying to prove the point in public achieve anything but suffering?

I need to say that I ideologically still stand behind my endorsement of that blog post and the comments I have posted. Sometimes, even when you know that saying such things out loud can’t possibly be seen in a good light, you still have to say it, for the sake of exposing to the public at large the situation as you have analyzed it to be. Open source is also a matter of dealing in public as much as possible. Leave your dissent buried in your IRC channel and private discussions, and you do not achieve anything for you, for the person you disagree with, for the world.

As improbable as it may seem, to me this is not about money. 25 000$ is peanuts. I’m not saying this because I’m a rich businessman or rockstar developer—I’m a student who spends most if not all his free time contributing to open source. I don’t make a dime on it and I’ve never been into this for the money. If it was about money I would have bought myself a copy of Sony Vegas years ago and called it a day, because I’ve spent so many years working on getting pitivi back on track that I am at a net loss in terms of unpaid work. I even wrote the user manual in secret while I was working in a summer job, and this year I had to take time away from supervising 23 employees while I spent all the rest of my free awake time mentoring SoC students for pitivi (and I still think the amount of mentoring I could provide was insufficient). My weekly paycheck was smaller because I spent less time working “in the real world”. Hang on, where was I heading towards when I started this paragraph?

Ah right: Jason, I don’t mind you getting 25 grand. That’s not the point.

I spoke the truth when I said that I knew you guys would reach the goal a few days ago, it was not even a question in my mind. Deep down, I knew that for sure as soon as you passed your previous milestone of 11K$.

I am still a bit dumbfounded that, in the comments on that blog post, there were accusations of actively “threatening the financial security of [Jason's] family”. I hope I can make that clear. It has never been something as outlandish as trying to bankrupt your family.

I’ve juggled with the ideas for years and I still haven’t found a definitive answer to what could be achieved if we threw money at pitivi. It’s not like I’m seeing a financial loss here, it has been going on for years without any budget. I rather wished you’d have got 250 000$ instead of 25 000$. I am unable to imagine, as others pointed out, what you can do in the long run with a mere 25K without quickly implementing a more permanent business model that regularly brings in significant amounts of money. I sincerely hope you get your financial situation sorted out.

Yes, of course I had that moment of “What is this? How unfair is this to all the other video editor projects out there? Imagine fulltime paid developers on kdenlive, I’d finally be able to ditch pitivi!”. That comes back to my section above: I felt compelled to share that link because not doing so would have been “refraining from giving any credibility to naysayers” and passively nodding in front of misleading statements such as “it exists”.

Jason basically went about it in a completely opposite direction to all open source software development models, with insane risks involved. After seeing what happened of Diaspora, one can’t help but to be worried. I think that was the main point behind Danny’s article, where he said enough about these macro-socio-economic issues, in much better words that I could try to convey myself. Frankly, the more I write on this subject, the more I’ll drift on a tangent and look like I’m bent on dismissing your project. Let’s shift my point of view for a minute.

What would I think of Novacut, if I was not a cautious cynical old fart?

I’d have drank the cool-aid. Back in 2005-2007, I would have killed for the realization of such a promise as Novacut’s. I would have thrown hundreds of bucks into the kickstarter. 25K, in the grand scheme of things, is breadcrumbs. I would have been their most vehement fan. I would even have called the CBC and written articles for the local newspapers or tech magazines.

Yesterday, seeing as they were merely a few hundred dollars away from the goal, I even pledged a couple of bucks myself (before I had the chat and realized how much I hurt Jason).

What will happen in the future?

If Novacut succeeds, PiTiVi dies. Hang on a minute. This statement is not to be interpreted as a threat or warning. This is me publicly saying that if Novacut manages to rapidly reach feature parity with pitivi, then pitivi becomes technologically irrelevant and *I* will join the Novacut project (if they ever let me in). These are my thoughts and do not necessarily reflect those of others, though I know that many probably feel the same as I do on this one.

And without me, I can pretty much assure you that pitivi will slow back to a crawl and fade out from my cladogram and my life. And thus will Novacut be the new heir. The king is dead, long live the King. Such transmutations are a curious fact of the cycle of life in open source.

In short, there are two possible outcomes that I can see in the long term:

  • Novacut succeeds and produces the FOSS editor that people have been awaiting for so long (simple in the beginning, but usable with more coming over time). In that case, join Novacut since it is the way forward.
  • Novacut manages to produce some code that others will use and useful lessons are provided for others (eg design decisions, workflows, etc.)

Either way there will at least be some benefit.

Everybody in life secretly wants to start a revolution and write history. In the grand scheme of things, I am a speck of dust, I’m happy to just go back to the stage of my life where I was only a cineast who wanted a “friggin editor that works”. Tell you what, you build it as awesome as you promised in the next decade, and if you don’t want me I’ll “go find a new hobby” as you suggested. Software is a big part of my life right now, but in the end I’ll be a pack of bones in a grave and until then, maybe I should go fly a kite — literally.

My feelings towards Jason could be summarized by this quote from Randy Pausch:

“When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.”

And this is why I feel this way…

…history…

9 thoughts on “Chaos

  1. You are entitled to express your (extremely articulate and experienced) viewpoint, and did so calmly and without prejudice. I am sorry if others are hurt by their own perceptions of your intentions, but those perceptions seem misplaced.

    It is correct to discuss how projects raise funding, and how those efforts will adversely impact on the community. It is correct to state your opinion when you believe that the (real) net harm outweighs the (potential) future benefits.

    You may be wrong, but your opinion is valuable. The ensuing “chaos” is one of those occasional failures to foster positive discussion within the community. I offer my best wishes for the restoration of calm and cordial relations.

  2. The sentiment that this is a trend that needs to be stopped is overblown. I am not much of an optimist when it comes to Novacut either, but I don’t think that raising money and giving it a stab is wrong. I agree that aiming for a version 6.0 is foolish. People should have a reasonable 1.0 in their plans, but you really weren’t stopping a “dangerous trend” here. Motivation is a tricky business, and competition between free software projects struggling with resources will happen, and is *good*. It is easier to assemble people with similar Weltanschauung and start from scratch than to convince existing maintainers of your vision.

    That said, I have enjoyed your writing. I would not be able to produce this article in 9 months, so the 9 hours is peanuts.

  3. Being a person who has some contributions to dmedia, I am interested in these development. I can’t just grab a popcorn and enjoy the show.

    I would try as hard as possible to prevent it from reoccuring, by insisting much more on the forewarning part and avoiding to ever have to say “I told you so” again. I prefer to be banished first for having done my public duty rather than after the unfolding of yet another tragedy.

    I never had any doubts that your intentions were genuine. You have seen so many such cases, so your effort is applauded.

    I am unable to imagine, as others pointed out, what you can do in the long run with a mere 25K without quickly implementing a more permanent business model that regularly brings in significant amounts of money

    I have told Jason repeatedly that for the project to be healthy he needs to be financially sound. People might say “Open Source projects should not depend on one person”. The (probably, not sure)fact is he has more knowledge of Video Editors than rest of the Novacut people have. Tara is a professional artist. Jason is the man who actually has the bigger picture than the rest of us.
    As I said to him “A doctor should make sure that he does not fall ill otherwise the people dependent on him suffer”

    How unfair is this to all the other video editor projects out there?

    One thing I could not understand is people claiming that Novacut raising money is somewhat unethical. What stops other projects from raising money? It’s only the people who believe in their vision would donate. No one is forced.
    If Novacut raising $25K is hurting Free Software, then I just found a major flaw in the Free Software model of development. To keep a project ongoing you need money and manpower(or both). So having a campaign for getting more developers hurting other free software projects?

    This is me publicly saying that if Novacut manages to rapidly reach feature parity with pitivi, then pitivi becomes technologically irrelevant and *I* will join the Novacut project (if they ever let me in)

    Why won’t they let you in. Come on! I can rest assure you that all Novacut people I interacted with are really good people.

    Everybody in life secretly wants to start a revolution and write history

    You just nailed it. Sometimes there is a thin line between start a new project and contribute to existing. So is this case on the borderline?

  4. I agree with you that Novacut is only but a piece of this puzzle.

    I’d like to bring attention to the phrase “This thing exists! It’s called Novacut”- to me it precisely shows the paradox of having source code, but no project, community or vision vs. not having great source code/binaries while having a great project, community and vision. Many time I’ve been confronted with the first option where as a technical person I praise what I see. Now I am getting better at being patient and endorsing a vision and the people behind it, rather than the code itself.

    I believe without really aiming for that, that’s what they meant with that phrase, and that’s part of why I endorsed this.

    You also highlight clearly why all your work, effort and learning (and other’s) is not in vain. Even if you left Pitivi and joined Novacut, all that (including any “failures”) is very valuable and CAN be shared/reused as this is FLOSS. I am hoping more for different front-ends to be able to use Novacut as their back-end – much as Word mimicked WordPerfect keystrokes at some point…

    Most importantly, Jeff, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. When you attack the novacut project with your words, it serves as negative energy to his project. I think it’s self-serving of you.

    When Jason says that you’re threatening the financial security of his family, it’s my opinion that’s totally his problem, not yours. Don’t pick this as a reason to back away from your comments. He’s got a family to support and he uses kickstarter to provide for his family? C’mon.

    I’m sure that Pitivi has also affected the financial security of a few proprietary video editor developers. And if it hasn’t yet, it probably will in the future. I guess the difference is that you didn’t attack proprietary video editor developers with your words in public. Instead you attacked them with your free software, that is to say you _compete_.

    Back away from your comments because sabotaging a nascent free software project is a mean-spirited thing to do. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s the truth. You think you know better than Jason, when it comes to making a video editor on top of gstreamer, and you could be right, and you could be wrong. Jason’s got his own community going. Let him compete.

    Let’s see some positive energy in pitivi. Compete with novacut. Maybe the mindshare will come back to pitivi.

  6. It is merely the irrational tendency of humans to be defensive, which causes all the trouble. Too much emotion involved, and not enough logic, when dealing with how our pet projects are perceived in the world.

  7. Dobey: Never underestimate the power of emotion when properly forged with logic. The problem is not too much emotion, it’s not enough control over it.

    Logic and emotion work well together and are stronger in their alloy.

  8. Jeff,

    I appreciate that you took the time to write this. I know I responded emotionally and rashly, for which I apologize. I was tired and short-fused.

    Even if Novacut succeeds, it doesn’t mean PiTiVi dies. There is room for more than one. Although PiTiVi may have serving professional users on its roadmap, I believe most of PiTiVi’s current users just want something simple that works (which is good). I personally think PiTiVi should focus on the users it’s already reaching (which are far more numerous than pro users anyway), and do that as well as possible.

    Novacut is specifically *ignoring* casual users. I’m not convinced Novacut will be particularly easy for casual users… because we have to make it easy to, say, edit a movie that has over a 1000 source clips. Managing complexity is the theme that comes up over and over again talking to pro editors. But that means we must have software complexity that isn’t needed when you just want to put some music with a video you shot, trim a bit, and upload it to youtube.

    There are also features that just don’t jive between a casual and pro video editor. For example, the video effects that were added in PiTiVi 0.14 seem very welcomed by PiTiVi users, and I think including them was certainly the right thing for PiTiVi to do. But contrast that with some advice from this Hollywood special effects artist (who worked on the newest Harry Potter, among other things):

    (09:19:32 AM) ichi_: stay away from stupid effects and “creative” transitions
    (09:19:39 AM) ichi_: nobody, professionally, ever uses those
    (09:19:39 AM) akshatj: yay!
    (09:19:53 AM) akshatj: that is what the plan is
    (09:19:58 AM) ichi_: all you need are cuts and film dissolves
    (09:20:04 AM) ichi_: and I don’t mean opacity changes
    (09:20:58 AM) akshatj: you mean we need opacity changes or not?
    (09:21:33 AM) ichi_: when doing a cross fade, a lot of people make the mistake of doing that with lowering the opacity of one clip over another
    (09:21:44 AM) ichi_: then physically, a film dissolve doesn’t work like that
    (09:21:51 AM) ichi_: because that’s now how light works
    (09:22:06 AM) ichi_: not*

    I know PiTiVi wants to reach both ends of the spectrum, but it doesn’t exactly seem possible. I don’t know of any video editor, free or proprietary, that has managed to do this. Novacut can help PiTiVi by strengthening GStreamer and GnonLin (and perhaps GES). And it’s certainly good for Novacut for there to be a strong GStreamer based editor focused on causal users. That gives our common GStreamer foundation far more users than Novacut ever could alone.

    Anyway, my 2 cents. Sorry again for being snappy, but it again been a very tiring month.

    -Jason

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