Skip navigation


warning: Creating default object from empty value in /var/www/vhosts/ on line 33.

You know that feeling you get when walking near a watery patch (the beach, a river, that flooded bit of land) snacking on something and you can feel a presence hanging somewhere above and, looking up, see a big old seagull tracking you, ready to dive-bomb your chips. So you walk a little faster, uncomfortable. Well that is the feeling photographer Rafael Halin’s images induce; that sense of knowing something is there or is about to happen but he has seen it first and has captured it moments before.

His photos are moody, slightly ominous, dark yet strangely beautiful. We are pulled into the atmosphere, we want to know what is going to happen. He is master of the ‘not quite revealed’ with images seeming to appear out of the mist, shifting between playing the watcher or catching him at work, showing the stranger moments of human behaviour. Are we unsettled by the woman illuminated by the suction-packed meat behind her in the supermarket, or the man wandering along the roof-top of a decrepit building, or just intrigued, curious to know what will happen next?

  • 7

    Raphael Halin: Perros

  • 4

    Raphael Halin: Finland

  • 5

    Raphael Halin: Errance

  • 3
Your rating: None
Original author: 
burn magazine

Emerging Photographer Fund – 2013 Recipient


This SlideShowPro photo gallery requires the Flash Player plugin and a web browser with JavaScript enabled.

Hover over the image for navigation and full screen controls

EPF 2013 Runner-up

Oksana Yushko

Balaklava: The Lost History

play this essay


This project is a part of my exploration of people’s mind who were born in the USSR.

Changing people’s mind is the most difficult thing. The Soviet Union hasn’t existed for 20 years but the shadow of it lies everywhere. Things have changed but people’s minds and attitudes have not.

I made my way to Balaklava, a small town by the sea in the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine. During the Soviet era, it was a city that didn’t exist to the outside world. The town closed to the public for more than 30 years due to the submarine base that was situated there.

Almost the entire population of Balaklava worked at the base and even their family members could not visit the town without a good reason or proper identification. It was a closed society, an ambitious, privileged caste, a major league, a private club with limited membership. Officers were well paid, enjoyed special apartments and were given other privileges. It used to be like this.

After the collapse of the USSR in 1992, the Soviet army was automatically transferred to Russia’s control. It was only in 1997 that the ships and equipment of the Black Sea Fleet were officially divided between the two countries Russia and Ukraine. The process of fleet division remains painful since many aspects of the two navies co-existence are under-regulated, causing recurring conflicts.

The system collapse turned the once privileged Soviet officers into unwanted people.
Crossing the streets of Balaklava, I saw traces of this not only in the town but also on people’s faces. They still live in the past. Their attitude to the present situation is complicated, but most of them don’t want to look forward to the future.


Oksana Yushko is a freelance photographer based in Moscow. She started working as a professional journalist in 2006 and currently focuses on personal projects in Russia, Chechnya, Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries. Yushko was a selected participant of the 2011 Noor-Nikon Masterclass in Documentary Photography in Bucharest, Romania, and a finalist of the 2010 Conscientious Portfolio Competition. She was also finalist of the 2013 Chiang Mai Documentary Arts Festival, the Grand Prize Winner of Lens Culture International Exposure Awards 2011, a finalist of the Aftermath Project 2010 and a 2011 finalist of the Manuel-Riveira Oritz Foundation. Yushko’s work has been exhibited in galleries in Russia, Finland, UK, USA, and France and her work has been published by media across the world.


Related links

Oksana Yushko




Your rating: None
Original author: 
Aaron Schuman

On the windowsill above my desk sits a postcard-sized portrait of my mother, made in a Detroit department store in 1941, when she was just one-year-old.  Whenever it catches my eye, I’m always struck by how strange it is that, despite the generic studio setup, the soft even lighting, the baby-faced cheeks and the wide-eyed gaze, I can distinctly recognize her in the picture.  Seventy-two years later, not only do I see a little girl with a white ribbon in her hair; I can also discern the woman she became (and is) decades later, and even perceive faint traces of myself in her features and expression.  It’s as if the photograph conveys not just the present that it portrays, nor simply represents a memento from the past today, but in some mysterious way has always – ever since its making – contained very subtle intimations of the future, of her future, as well.

That said, I am fully aware that everything that I now glean from this image is entirely retrospective.  And fundamentally I know that this is not the purpose of such standardized childhood portraiture, nor does it in any way reflect the intentions of the photographers who make such images.  Instead, their motives are to reassure parents and relatives that the children sitting before their camera are safe, sweet, healthy, happy, and in a sense, forever young; to preserve and protect their subjects’ youth, and in many ways subdue any traces of their approaching adulthood.  To prove the point, each year when my own children return from school with similar portraits of themselves – in front of the same pleated backgrounds, under the same even light – I am endlessly frustrated by the fact that no matter how hard I try, I always fail to see how these pictures might predict how my children will look, or who they will become, in twenty, fifty or even seventy-two years time.  Nevertheless, with my mother’s picture in mind, I cannot help but suspect that somewhere, even in the tiniest details, they must carry within them this potential.

Nelli Palomäki

Nelli Palomäki

At 27 with my dad, 2009

Strikingly, the Finnish portrait photographer Nelli Palomäki – who often focuses on similar subjects:  poised children and young adults – has an uncanny gift for tapping into just such potential.  Whilst acutely engaging with her subjects in the immediate present, her images also bear the feeling of perpetually looking forward, and are hauntingly pregnant with intonations of the possible future-selves of her subjects.  As the artist and curator Timothy Persons notes in his introduction to Palomäki’s recent monograph, Breathing the Same Air, “Whether these photographs are of children or young adolescents they all share a knowledge beyond their years.”  Palomäki has said herself, “I like to play this game, imagining where they will live and what they will look like in twenty years time,” and her photographs adamantly insist that the viewer share this curiosity, and join in the game alongside her.

Of course, it’s vital to recognize that despite their convincing nature, the ghostly echoes of maturity that reverberate around Palomäki’s young subjects are in fact both imposed and imagined; that as much as these pictures might resemble their sitters today and perhaps in future, they are also self-portraits – reflections of momentary yet intense relationships that the photographer herself has constructed and nurtured.  “Each and every portrait I have taken is a photograph of me too,” Palomäki acknowledges, “What I decide to see, or more likely, how I confront the things that I see, inevitably determines the final image.”  Palomäki generally hidden but subtly potent presence within each photograph, and her determination to portray something that profoundly speaks not only to the past, but also more specifically to a shared present and a potential future is the underlying key to their power, and re-positions photography’s relationship to memory and notions of possibility – the past and the future – in a remarkably affecting way. At 27 with my Dad (2009) – by no accident the opening image of Breathing the Same Air, and one of the few in which the artist herself appears – makes both the intensity of the present and the time-spanning scope found within her portraiture poignantly clear.  As she herself explains it:

“I never had the courage to take a portrait of my father. Maybe something would happen to him after the picture been taken.  Or maybe I would succeed in revealing something that I didn’t want to be seen…We don’t hug in our family.  We’re not so close in that way…So it felt somehow so forced, suddenly to stand there, like that, him holding me.  But after developing the film I realized something.  My dad was actually bigger than me – a lot taller, and maybe slightly wiser too.  Suddenly my role as a daughter was clear.  My father’s hand on my shoulder was protective.  I looked like a fifteen-year-old child.  I believe my father realized the same thing…We didn’t fight after the portrait.  This is a portrait of my father. This is exactly how I want to remember him.”

Nelli Palomäki is a photographer living and working in Helsinki, Finland.

Aaron Schuman is a photographer, writer, curator, and the editor of SeeSaw Magazine.

Your rating: None

An anonymous reader writes "Hackers can influence real-time traffic-flow-analysis systems to make people drive into traffic jams or to keep roads clear in areas where a lot of people use Google or Waze navigation systems, a German researcher demonstrated at BlackHat Europe. 'If, for example, an attacker drives a route and collects the data packets sent to Google, the hacker can replay them later with a modified cookie, platform key and time stamps, Jeske explained in his research paper (PDF). The attack can be intensified by sending several delayed transmissions with different cookies and platform keys, simulating multiple cars, Jeske added. An attacker does not have to drive a route to manipulate data, because Google also accepts data from phones without information from surrounding access points, thus enabling an attacker to influence traffic data worldwide, he added.' 'You don't need special equipment for this and you can manipulate traffic data worldwide,' Jeske said."

Share on Google+

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Your rating: None

There are now over one billion automobiles on the road worldwide. An explosion in the auto markets in China and India ensures that number will increase, with China supplanting the United States as the world's largest car market. It's fair to say humanity has a love affair with the car, but it's a love-hate relationship. Cars are at once convenience, art, and menace. People write songs about their vehicles, put them in museums, race them, and wrap their identities up in them. About 15% of carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels comes from cars. Traffic fatality estimates vary from half a million per year to more than double that. Gathered here are images of the automobile in many forms, and our relationship to and dependence on our cars. This is the second in an occasional Big Picture series on transportation, following Pedal power earlier this year. -- Lane Turner (40 photos total)
Antti Rahko stands next to his self-made "Finnjet" during preparations for the Essen Motor Show in Essen, Germany on November 22, 2012. The car rolls on eight wheels, offers ten seats, weighs 3.4 tons and is worth about one million US dollars. (Marius Becker/AFP/Getty Images)

Add to Facebook
Add to Twitter
Add to digg
Add to StumbleUpon
Add to Reddit
Add to
Email this Article

Your rating: None

This fall, Amsterdam—known for its innovative photo community— will welcome a new photography festival to its Dutch district. Called Unseen, the festival hopes to be a festival that, well, viewers have never seen before, with a focus on new and emerging talent as well as an aim to showcase never-before-seen work from established favorites including Richard Avedon, Steven Klein, Helmut Newton and Edward Steichen, among others.

Taking place from Sept. 19-23 at Amsterdam’s Westergasfabriek, the fair comprises more than 50 galleries hailing from around the world. With photography from places as diverse as Japan and New York, Dubai and Finland, the scope of the work will range from documentary to conceptual to experimental. Highlights include Miles Aldridge’s Immaculee #3 (Red Madonna), 2012, which reaffirms the long standing relationship between photography and iconographic painting, but pushes the boundary of what we expect as a viewer by asking the virgin figure to maintain eye contact and acknowledge the image maker. Also of interest is Zanzibar, 2010, by Chloe Sells. The American photographer explores the idea of land and nostalgia through her experimental darkroom C-prints. Colorful and graphic with bold colors and strong shapes, yet abstract and ambiguous, her images inspire thoughts of place and placelessness.

While there are many photography fairs around the world, Unseen works to offer a few additions to the typical fair. There will be a collection of affordable photographs, all priced under 1,000 euro (approximately $1280), to both help young photographers reach a new audience, as well as allow the young collector, or photography appreciator to invest in affordable work. And for the book connoisseur, Offprint Amsterdam will be at the fair, curating a new collection of self published and limited edition books.

You can learn more about the galleries featured and the day-to-day events here. Unseen is a project initiated by Foam, Platform A and Vandejong.

Your rating: None

Last week, Linux creator Linus Torvalds was in Finland giving a talk when a woman in the crowd asked why chip maker Nvidia refused to support Linux on a brand new machine she had bought.

Torvalds had some choice words -- and gestures -- about it.  Torvalds declared Nvidia as “the single worst company we’ve ever dealt with” and says that it's "really sad" because Nvidia wants to sell a lot of chips into the Android market. (Android is based on Linux).

And then he turned to the camera and flipped Nvidia off.

Skip ahead to 49:25 to see the action.

Please follow SAI: Enterprise on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

Your rating: None


The Millenium Technology Prize, awarded every two years, is a Finnish award designed “to improve the quality of life and to promote sustainable development-oriented research, development and innovation.” Sir Tim Berners-Lee won the prize in 2004. The finalists this year are Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, who has been contributing to the area of stem cell research, and Linux creator Linus Torvalds. The 2012 Grand Prize winner will be announced on June 13 in Helsinki, Finland.

From the press release:
In recognition of his creation of a new open source operating system kernel for computers leading to the widely used Linux operating system. The free availability of Linux on the Web swiftly caused a chain-reaction leading to further development and fine-tuning worth the equivalent of 73,000 man-years. Today millions use computers, smartphones and digital video recorders like Tivo run on Linux. Linus Torvalds’ achievements have had a great impact on shared software development, networking and the openness of the web, making it accessible for millions, if not billions.

I had the opportunity to ask Linus a few questions by email. Hopefully I didn’t simply create a nerd version of The Chris Farley Show.

Scott Merrill: You use a MacBook Air because you want a silent, quality computer. Why is it that Apple has the corner on this market? Have you considered using your fame or some portion of your fortune to try to remedy this?

Linus Torvalds: You *really* don’t want me to start designing hardware. Hey, I’m a good software engineer, but I’m not exactly known for my fashion sense. White socks and sandals don’t translate to “good design sense”

That said, I’m have to admit being a bit baffled by how nobody else seems to have done what Apple did with the Macbook Air – even several years after the first release, the other notebook vendors continue to push those ugly and *clunky* things. Yes, there are vendors that have tried to emulate it, but usually pretty badly. I don’t think I’m unusual in preferring my laptop to be thin and light.

Btw, even when it comes to Apple, it’s really just the Air that I think is special. The other apple laptops may be good-looking, but they are still the same old clunky hardware, just in a pretty dress.

I’m personally just hoping that I’m ahead of the curve in my strict requirement for “small and silent”. It’s not just laptops, btw – Intel sometimes gives me pre-release hardware, and the people inside Intel I work with have learnt that being whisper-quiet is one of my primary requirements for desktops too. I am sometimes surprised at what leaf-blowers some people seem to put up with under their desks.

I want my office to be quiet. The loudest thing in the room – by far – should be the occasional purring of the cat. And when I travel, I want to travel light. A notebook that weighs more than a kilo is simply not a good thing (yeah, I’m using the smaller 11″ macbook air, and I think weight could still be improved on, but at least it’s very close to the magical 1kg limit).

SM: I wasn’t so much asking why you haven’t designed your own hardware — I fully understand people playing to their own strengths. It’s taken considerable time for hardware manufacturers to recognize Linux as a viable platform, and today more and more OEMs are actively including or working toward Linux compatibility. Surely there’s an opportunity there for the global Linux community to influence laptop design for the betterment of everyone? I know it’s not your passion, and I respect that. Do you have any suggestions or guidance on ways we can collectively influence these kinds of things?

LT: I think one of the things that made Apple able to do this was how focused they’ve been able to stay. They really have rather few SKU’s compared to most big computer manufacturers, and I think that is what has allowed them to focus on those particular SKU’s and make them be better than the average machine out there.

Sure, they have *some* variation (different amounts of memory etc), but compare the Apple offerings to the wild and crazy world of HP or Lenovo or Toshiba. Other hardware manufacturers tend to not put all their eggs in a single (or a few) baskets, and even then they tend to hedge their bets and go for fairly safe and boring on most offerings (and then they sometimes make the mistake of going way crazy for the “designer” models to overcompensate for their boring bread-and-butter).

That kind of focus is quite impressive. It’s also often potentially unstable – I think most people still remember Apple’s rocky path. I used to think that Apple would go bankrupt not *that* long ago, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. And it can be hard to maintain in the long run, which is probably why most other companies don’t act that way – the companies who consistently try to revolutionize the world also consistently eventually fail.

So that kind of focus takes guts. I’m not an apple fan, because I think they’ve done some really bad things too, but I have to give them credit for not just having good designers, but the guts to go with it. Jobs clearly had a lot to do with that.

Anyway, I don’t think it’s worth worrying too much about laptops. The thing is, the Macbook Air was (and still to some degree is) ahead of its time. But I actually think that hardware is catching up to the point where doing good laptops really isn’t going to be rocket science any more. Rotational media really is going away, and with it goes one of the last formfactor issues: people really do not need (or want) that big spindle for a harddisk, or the silly spindle for an optical drive.

Sure, optical drives will remain in some form factors for a while, and others formfactors will remain bigger just because the manufacturer will want to continue to offer the capability of a rotational disk too – they’re still cheaper and have bigger capacities. But at the same time, *small* flash-based storage is really getting quite good, and while you still pay more for them, it’s not revolutionary any more. The mSATA/miniPCIe form factor is making it more and more realistic standard form-factor.

Together with CPU’s often being “fast enough” I would expect that the macbook air kind of formfactor becomes way more of a norm than it used to be. Apple was ahead of the curve, and I absolutely have higher expectations of the hardware I use than the average user probably does, but at the same time I’m convinced that the notebook market will finally get where I think it should be. Sure, some people will still want to use the big clunkers, but making a good thin-and-light machine is simply not going to be the technical expensive challenge it used to be.

In other words, we’ll take the whole Macbook Air formfactor for granted in a few years. It’s been done, it used to be pretty revolutionary, it’s going to be pretty standard.

It *did* take a lot longer than I thought it would take, admittedly. I’ve loved the thin-and-lights for much longer than the Macbook Air has existed. It’s not like Apple made up the concept – they just executed well on it.

What I in many ways think is more interesting are people who do new things. I love the whole Raspberry PI concept, for example. That’s revolutionary in a whole different direction – maybe not the prettiest form-factor, but taking advantage of how technology gets cheaper to really push the price down to the point where it’s really cheap. Sure, it’s a bit limited, but it’s pretty incredible what you can do for $35. Think about that with a few more years under its belt.

The reason I think that is interesting is because I think we’re getting to the point where it is *so* cheap to put a traditional computer together, that you can really start using that as a platform for doing whole new things. Sure, it’s good for teaching people, but the *real* magic is if one of those people who get one of those things comes up with something really new and fun to do with it.

Fairly cheap home computing was what changed my life. I wouldn’t worry about how to incrementally improve laptop design: I think it’s interesting to see what might *totally* change when you have dirt cheap almost throw-away computing that you can use to put a real computer inside some random toy or embedded device. What does that do to the embedded development world when things like that are really widely available?

SM: You don’t pull any punches when communicating with kernel developers and patch submitters. Has this tactic helped or hindered your success as a father?

LT: I really don’t know. I think the kids have grown up really well, and I don’t think it hurt them that we had rules in the family that were fairly strictly enforced (usually with a five-minute timeout in the bathroom). We had a very strict “no whining” rule, for example, and I’ve seen kids that should definitely have been brought up with a couple of rules like that.

That said, maybe they’re just naturally good kids. I don’t remember the last time I sent them to the bathroom (but it’s still a joke in our family: “If you don’t behave, you’ll spend the rest of the day in the bathroom”)

And while I do work from home, I am *not* a “father” when I work. The kids always knew that if they came in and disturbed me while I was at the computer, they’d get shouted at. I know some people who say that they could never work from home because they’d be constantly distracted by their kids – that is just not the case in our family. So despite me working from home, we’re a very “traditional” family – Tove stayed at home and was really the homemaker and took care of the kids.

And don’t get me wrong: when I interact with kernel developers, there can be a lot of swearing involved. And while that may *occasionally* happen with the kids too, the kids get hugs and good-night kisses too. Kernel developers? Not so much.

Would some kernel people prefer getting tucked in at night instead of being cursed at? I’m sure that would be appreciated. I don’t think I have it in me, though.

SM: How does your family feel about what you do for a living? What questions did/do they ask?

LT: They’ve never seen anything else, so I doubt they even think about it. It’s just what dad does. None of my three daughters have so far shown any actual interest in computers (outside of being pure users – they game, they chat, they do the facebook thing), and while they end up using Linux for all of that they don’t seem to think it’s all that strange.

SM: Do you try to get involved with technology problem solving in your every day life, for example at your kids’ school? If so, how has that been received?

LT: Oh, the absolute *last* thing I want to do is be seen as a support person. No way.

Sure, I do maintain the computers in the house, and it obviously means that the kids laptops (that they use in school too) run Linux, but it turns out that the local school district has had some Linux use in their computer labs anyway, so that never even made them look all that different.

But I’m simply not really organized enough to be a good MIS person. And frankly, I lack the interest. I find the low-level details of how computers work really interesting, but if I had to care about user problems and people forgetting their passwords or messing up their backups, I don’t know what I’d do. I’d probably turn to drugs and alcohol to dull the pain.

Even in the kernel project, I’m really happy that I’m not a traditional manager. I don’t have to manage logistics and people, I can worry purely about the technical side. So while I don’t do all that much programming any more (I spend most of my day merging code others wrote), I also don’t think of myself as a “manager”, I tend to call myself a “technical lead person” instead.

SM: What do you want to tell people that no one has ever bothered to ask you?

LT: The thing is, I don’t have a “message” to people. I never really did. I did (and do) Linux because it’s fun and interesting, and I really also enjoy the social aspect of developing things in the open, but I really don’t have anything I want to tell people.

SM: I apologize for not making this question more clear. I’m not asking if you have a message or anthem or anything like that. As a celebrity, you’ve conducted lots of interviews. Many of them have been formulaic, and there’s only so many times you can receive the same questions before rolling your eyes in exasperation.

Is there any question you wish you’d've been asked in an interview? Whether it’s because you’ve got the perfect / clever / whatever answer prepared, or just because you’d welcome the novelty of it? If so, what would have been your answer?

LT: Hmm. Some of the interviews I’ve enjoyed the most have been from somewhat antagonistic people who came from a non-computer background. I remember this russian journalist (back when I lived in Helsinki), who was writing a piece for some russian financial newspaper. He really was pretty aggressive, and being Russian from after the fall of the soviet union he had an almost unhealthy admiration for Microsoft and making lots of money, and capitalism. I’m sure it was heightened by the whole admiration for wall street etc that must run in the blood of most financial journalists to begin with.

That made for an interesting interview – because I like arguing. Explaining to a person like that why open source works, and in fact works better than the model he so clearly idolized was interesting. I don’t think I necessarily convinced him, but it still made for a memorable interview.

But any particular question? No. That’s not what I tend to find interesting – I enjoy the process, and the argument, and the flow of ideas of an interview, I don’t think there’s a “perfect question”, much less a “perfect answer that I wish somebody had asked me the question for”. So you’re not asking for something that I think I have.

But to expand on that, and to perhaps give you something of an answer anyway: this is very much true for me in software development too. I like the *process*. I like writing software. I like trying to make things work better. In many ways, the end result is unimportant – it’s really just the excuse for the whole experience. It’s why I started Linux to begin with – sure, I kind of needed an OS, but I needed a *project* to work on more than I needed the OS.

In fact, to get a bit “meta” on this issue, what’s even more interesting than improving a piece of software, is to improve the *way* we write and improve software. Changing the process of making software has sometimes been some of the most painful parts of software development (because we so easily get used to certain models), but that has also often been the most rewarding parts. It is, after all, why “git” came to be, for example. And I think open source in general is obviously just another “process model” change that I think is very successful.

So my model is kind of a reverse “end result justifies the means”. Hell no, that’s the stupidest saying in the history of man, and I’m not even saying that because it has been used to make excuses for bad behavior. No, it’s the worst possible kind of saying because it totally misses the point of everything.

It’s simply not the end that matters at all. It’s the means – the journey. The end result is almost meaningless. If you do things the right way, the end result *will* be fine too, but the real enjoyment is in the doing, not in the result.

And I’m still really happy to be “doing” 20 years later, with not an end in sight.

SM: Looking back over the history of Linux, do you have any “Oh man, I can’t believe I did/said that” reactions? (Note: this is not in respect to code strictly, but engineering or policy decisions)

LT: Engineering decisions usually aren’t a problem. Sure, I’ve made the wrong decision many times, but usually there was some good reason for it at the time – and the important part about engineering decisions is that you can fix them later when you realize they were wrong. So the “oh, that was spectacularly wrong” happens all the time, but the more spectacular it is, the quicker we notice, and that means that we fix it quickly too.

The one really memorable “Oh sh*t” moment was literally very early on in Linux development, when I realized that I had auto-dialed my main harddisk when I *meant* to auto-dial the university dial-in lines over the modem. And in the process wiped out my then Minix setup by writing AT-commands to the disk that understandably didn’t respond the way the autodialling script expected (“AT commands” is just the traditional Hayes modem control instruction set).

That’s the point where I ended up switching over to Linux entirely, so it was actually a big deal for Linux development. But that was back in 1991.

SM: If you could give an award to someone, who would be the recipient, and for what accomplishment?

LT: Hey, while I am a computer guy, my heroes are still “real scientists”. So if I can pick anybody, I think I’d pick Richard Dawkins for just being such an outspoken critic of muddled thinking and anti-scientific thought.

SM: The Millennium Technology Prize ceremony is on June 13, which happens to be my birthday. Any chance I can be your +1 to the party?

LT: Scott, I never knew you felt that way. I think my wife would not approve.

SM: Nor would mine, but you miss all the shots you don’t take!

SM: What are the major Linux distributions doing right, in general, and where are they falling short? Your recent Google+ rant about OpenSUSE’s security stance sheds some light on this, but I’d like to know more. Are formalized distributions a necessary evil? How much (if any) influence do you have with the distributions?

LT: So I absolutely *love* the distributions, because they are doing all the things that I’m not interested in, and even very early on they started being a big support for the kernel, and driving all the things that most technical people (including very much me) didn’t tend to be interested in: ease of use, internationalization, nice packaging, just making things a good “experience”.

So I think distributions have been very instrumental in making Linux successful, and that whole thing started happening very early on (some of the first distributions started happening early 92 – on floppy disks).

So they aren’t even a “necessary evil” – they are a “necessary good”. They’ve been very instrumental in making Linux be what it is, both on a technical side, but *especially* on a ease of use and approachability side.

That said, exactly because they are so important, it does frustrate me when I hit things that I perceive to be steps backwards. The SuSE rant was about asking a non-technical user about a password that the non-technical user had absolutely no reason to even know, in a situation where it made no sense. That kind of senseless user hostility is something that we’ve generally come away from (and some kernel people tend to dismiss Ubuntu, but I really think that Ubuntu has generally had the right approach, and been very user-centric).

The same thing is what frustrated me about many of the changes in Gnome 3. The whole “let’s make it clutter-free” was taken to the point where it was actually hard to get things done, and it wasn’t even obvious *how* to do things when you could do them. That kind of minimalist approach is not forward progress, it’s just UI people telling people “we know better”, even if it makes things harder to do. That kind of “things that used to be easy are suddenly hard or impossible” just drives me up the wall, and frustrates me.

As to my own influence: it really goes the other way. The distributions have huge influences on the kernel, and not only in the form of employing a lot of the engineers. I actively look to the distributions to see which parts of the kernel get used, and often when people suggest new features, one of the things that really clinches it for me is if a manager for some distribution speaks up and says “we’re already using that, because we needed it for xyz”.

Sure, I end up influencing them through what I merge, and how it’s done, but at the same time I really do see the distributions as one of the first users of the kernel, and the whole way we do releases (based on time, not features) is partly because that way distributions can plan ahead sanely. They know the release schedule to within a week or two, and we try very hard to be reliable and not do crazy things.

We have a very strict “no regressions” rule, for example, and a large part of that rule is so that people – very much including the people involved in distributions – don’t need to fear upgrades. If it used to work a certain way, we try very hard to make sure it continues to work that way. Sure, bugs happen, and some change may not be noticed in time, but on the whole I think a big part of kernel development is to try to make it as painless as possible for people to upgrade smoothly.

Because if you make upgrades painful, it just means that people will stay back.

SM: You’ve been doing this for 20 years. What do you think of the newest crop of kernel contributors? Do you see any rising stars? Do you see any positive or worrisome trends with respect to the kind and caliber of contribution from younger developers?

LT: I’m very happy that we still have a very wide developer base, and we continue to see more than a thousand different people for each release (which is roughly every three months or so). A lot of those contributions come from people who make just tiny one-liner changes, and some of them are never heard from again once they got their one small fix done, but on the other hand, the small one-liner changes is how many others gets started.

That said, one of the things that *has* changed a lot in the 20 years is that we certainly have a lot more “process” in place. Most of those one-liners didn’t get to me directly – many of them came through multiple layers of submaintainers etc. By the time I see most “rising stars” they’ve already been doing smaller changes for a long time.

The one worrisome trend is pretty much inevitable: the kernel *is* getting big, and a lot of the core code is quite complex and sometimes hard to really wrap your head around. Core areas like the VM subsystem or the core VFS layer simply are not easy to get into for a new developer. That makes it a bit harder to get started if that’s what you are interested in – the bar has simply been raised from where it was ten or fifteen years ago.

At the same time, I do think it’s still fairly easy to get involved, you may just have to start in a less central place. Most kernel people start off worrying about one particular driver or platform, and “grow” from there. We do seem to have quite a lot of developers, and I’ve talked to open source project maintainers that are very envious of just how many people we have involved in the kernel.

SM: You’ve said that it’s the technical challenge that keeps you involved and motivated. Surely there are plenty of technical challenges in the world. Why stick with the kernel?

LT: I think it’s partly because I’m the kind of person who doesn’t flit from one project to another. I keep on doing Linux, because once I get started, I’m kind of obstinate that way.

But part of it is simply the reason I started doing a kernel in the first place – if what you are interested in is low-level interactions with hardware, a kernel is where it is all at. Sure, there are tons of technical challenges out there, but very few of them are as interesting as an operating system kernel if you are into that kind of low-level interaction between software and hardware.

SM: As the number of systems and architectures supported by the Linux kernel continues to grow, you can’t possibly have development hardware for each of them. How do you verify the quality and functionality of all the change requests you get?

LT: Oh, that’s easy: I don’t.

The whole model is built on a network of trust among developers that have come to know each other over the years. There’s no way I can test all the platforms we support – the same way there is no way I can check every single commit that gets merged through me. And I wouldn’t even really even *want* to check each hardware or each change – the point of open source and distributed development is that you do things together. We have a few tens of “highlevel” maintainers for various subsystems (eg networking, USB drivers, graphics, particular hardware architectures etc etc), and even those maintainers can’t test everything in their area, because they won’t have that particular hardware etc. I trust them, and they in turn trust the people they work with.

I think any big project is about finding people you can trust, and really then depending on that trust. I don’t *want* to micro-manage people, and I couldn’t afford to even if I did want to.

And the thing is, smart people (and people who have what I call “good taste”, which is often even more important) may be rare, but you do recognize them. I think one of my biggest successes is actually outside Linux: recognizing how good a developer Junio Hamano was on git, and trusting him enough to just ask if he would be willing to maintain the project. Being able to let go and trusting somebody else is *important*, because without that kind of trust you can’t get big projects done.

What will Linus do with the prize money, if he wins? “I guess I won’t have to worry about the kids education any more,” he says.

Thanks, Linus, for taking the time to chat with me. And good luck! We hope you win the Millenium Technology Prize!

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Your rating: None