Saturday, August 9, 2014

The BikeShed...

This morning I spent a bit of time skimming the latest copy of “Communications of the ACM" (Association for Computing Machinery) and came across the term ‘bike shedding’ in an article by Poul-Henning Kamp, one of the primary developers of the FreeBSD operating system.

The article - “Quality Software Costs Money - Heartbleed Was Free” - was about how to raise money to support FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) projects, many of which provide critical features for the internet and, increasingly, devices of all kinds such as your TV, your printer, your car... He relates his early experience in 2004 of crowd-sourcing funding for a FOSS project, long before KickStarter or Indiegogo were around.

Anyway, in the middle of the article he says: “Worst case, I would cause the mother of all bike sheds ( to get thrown out of the FreeBSD community…” so I just had to visit the site. Turns out this is a very well known email, now available on the web, describing challenges on the FreeBSD mailing list. In summary, it says:

"...the simpler and more insignificant something is, the more heated the debate over it, illustrated by: 'you can go in to the board of directors and get approval for building a multi-million or even billion dollar atomic power plant, but if you want to build a bike shed you will be tangled up in endless discussions.'"

The concept is interesting because it has value for other venues such as leading groups or managing projects. I’ve certainly seen it in action but never had a term to describe it.

However, it gets even more interesting (to me anyway) because in the bikeshed article, Poul-Henning makes the statement: “A lot of [my email] gets routed to /dev/null by filters: People like Brett Glass will never make it onto my screen…” (/dev/null means never having to say "I read it").

Who was Brett Glass, you may wonder? Well, thank you for asking; you can read about that here: The responses speak volumes about internet culture.

Finally, lest you think the story is over, check out or In fact, visit and you’ll be rewarded with differing visions of what your bikeshed might look like.