Orixo in the EU spotlight

I must confess I still haven’t read the EU report on FLOSS impact yet, as I was saving it for my next long-haul flight due in a couple of days. Big thanks to Roberto Galoppini for pointing out how the report is mentioning Orixo, the Open Source consortium we launched a few years ago together with some of the most active companies in Open Source XML:

As an example of a more recent development in business models, which could provide a future scenario for SMEs in general even beyond the FLOSS sector is the Orixo network of mainly small and micro-enterprises in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, UK and Switzerland specialising in massive mission-critical web server applications based around customising the FLOSS web server Apache and related Java/XML technology (such as Cocoon) for large users. Orixo works by each national SME member acquiring national customers and partners in other countries supporting each other’s clients.

It’s good to see we are still making the news but I don’t quite share the authors’ conclusion on consortia being a future scenario for SMEs. As I told Roberto, who shared a similar experience, the least important part in the Orixo experience has been doing business as a common entity. Orixo was able to attain quite a few notable goals: we met, we got to know each other, we exchanged experiences and business ideas, and we did a few cross-company projects. Two companies who met in Orixo went the extra mile, eventually merging and providing the initial step to our next phase, that is Sourcesense, which gathers as a company (not a consortium) three Orixo players.

The main differences between Orixo and Sourcesense are focus and governance. Sourcesense is an indipendent company, with a clear mission, a vision, and a structure. We have Open Source-savy investors who share a common view of the market: they set expectations, approve the plan, throw money in the hat and perform their quota of oversight, yet they are not involved in day to day operation, and they don’t participate to the decision process. This is key to an effective process: my experience shows there’s nothing harder than have individuals with a strong personality such as entrepreneurs sit around a table and agree on a detailed common roadmap. Democracy is definitely a poor governance model when it comes to business: a strong company, with proper hierarchies and delegation structures in place, is much more effective when it comes to getting to the market.

Don’t get me wrong: Orixo has definitely been a great experience, and I’m looking forward to do more over there in the field of advocacy and general marketing, but I would strongly advise against using consortia to do actual business. It just doesn’t work, no matter how I love my fellow Orixians. Consortia are great for networking, getting to know each other better, share experiences and market approaches, understand joint business opportunities and work on actual cross-company business: that’s great stuff, but don’t try to push the boundary, as when it comes to concrete business it’s just too hard to cope with the sheer amount of management that kicks in. It’s a full time job.

Side note: Roberto has some interesting ideas on a Open Source franchising model which might serve as an alternative for the SME market. I’m actually very skeptical and I’m not convinced it would work in the end, but there are some concepts I’d like to delve further into. But that’s not going to happen before I return from my upcoming vacation!

Balancing luck

I knew I had to pay somewhat the sheer luck I had two days ago: I was able to board my London-bound flight in time, land 5 minutes early, and hop on two different connecting trains with no delay whatsoever, getting to Norwich four minutes earlier than expected. I’m now sitting at the airport, with an estimated delay (still to be confirmed) of no less than an hour, hoping that the weather in Milano doesn’t get any worse with snow delaying the flight even further or – heaven forbid – canceling it altogether.

Delays start to add up. Two weeks ago I was in the Netherlands, with two hours more than expected on both legs. I’m starting to consider I should track those stupid inconveniences: it would be no surprise to me finding out it would add up to several days in a year’s time. Maybe I should start billing airlines for the time I spend waiting for them to get their act together and start making sensible timetables…

My take on the attribution food-fight

I guess it’s time to chime in one of the most heated Open Source debates, as I consider attribution a disaster waiting to happen: every potential scenario is probably going to split the Open Source community, raise a lot of concerns and bad feelings, and undermine credibility of the OSI. I really wouldn’t want to be in OSI’s shoes: these guys have their backs against the wall, as one one hand I don’t see any sound reason to reject attribution based on the Open Source Definition, and on the other I can clearly see how the Open Source community at large will react should attribution licenses be blessed and considered kosher.

Let me get away with just a few words on the practical matter: I consider attribution cumbersome, confusing, difficult to understand and comply to, and overall dangerous if you consider what it might bring to. A lot of people have been more vocal than me on the subject, so I won’t wast any more electrons on this. Then again, as much as I might consider attribution licenses a pile of fetid dingo kidneys, I see no strong formal reason to reject them from an OSD standpoint. And this is the real problem, as it clearly shows we have a problem with the definition itself.

The heated debate on attribution is clearly splitting the community in two, somewhat acting as the kid who shouted about the Emperor’s new clothes. Attribution fans mostly belong to that side of “business/professional” Open Source, typically VC-backed, who feels the need for protection, cares about the “quid pro quo” factor, and is scared to death of the Bogeyman running away with their souls and their source code. They are telling you they are just looking for credit where credit is due, they want to protect their assets from competitors and that attribution in the form of badgeware is really no different from attribution the way it’s stated in the BSD license, so they are entitled to it. They are not telling you how they are, in the end, old time commercial software makers in disguise, adopting Open Source since it is the only way to enter the product market nowadays, and how attribution fits just fine in their “let’s cripple our software so that users will upgrade to the commercial edition” strategy.

Opponents of attribution are mostly Open Source die-hards, who feel Open Source is a reward in itself, the “quid pro quo” is implicit in collaboration and virtuous cycles, and the risk of forks is something they can live and cope with given that good communities rarely split and forks might even be healthy sometimes. They are telling you they don’t like attribution as they are after collaboration, transparency and consistency to Open Source users. They are not telling you they want to use every bit of Open Source the way they are used to, possibly doing business with it with no strings attached, and they have a problem with commercial vendors who try to get in the Open Source spotlight, grab a free ride on the Open Source train, forget about participation, throw source over the wall and fly business class with their VC money while they strive on their shoestring budget.

I understand the description above is somewhat biased, but you know where I stand, don’t you? Let me however counterbalance that statement: even though I think those guys are working their way through loopholes of the Open Source Definition, I can’t really blame them for that. Actually we happen to work with at least one of them (with more to come), and I’m happy with the relationship so far. I do think they would be even more profitable and efficient if they’d take the red pill once and for all, but it’s their take and I respect their decision, no matter how I might consider their behaviour suboptimal and unfit to the Open Source the way I feel it should be.

Back to the split, though: I might sound like a broken record, but I just can’t miss such an occasion to remind my fellow readers how I anticipated these frictions a while ago. From the “Hah! Told you so” department, it’s good to see how Matt Asay himself is now both sharing my concerns about Open Source dilution and playing the “my Open Source is bigger than yours” game. As the Open Source landscape grows, and as the Open Source Definition gets more and more unable to describe in a coherent and specific way the different players, their motivations and their objectives, this kind of bad feelings is assured to grow, together with more and more confusion.

What then about users, confronted with different incarnations of Open Source that hardly have anything in common? What we are seeing now is far from beneficial, yet there is nothing we can do at this point other than help our users by working towards new taxonomies that can describe and accommodate the different visions, possibly keeping a common Open Source umbrella but also understanding how it might be doomed to be way too broad to be of any use in the mid-long term. Hey, Greenlandic has no less than 49 words for “snow”, so I guess there must be quite a lot of room to define Open Source better than it is now.

By the way, in case I wasn’t clear enough: attribution sucks.

The Sunday post: layers, layers, layers…

Lasagne are to many Italians the ultimate comfort food, bringing distant memories of grandmas layering together thin hand-made pasta, slowly cooked meat ragout, white sauce and cheese to come up with a work of art both horribly hot and incredibly good.

As many Italian dishes, there is nothing hard in making lasagne, apart from some dedication and a lot of patience: a proper meat sauce needs no less than 4-5 hours on the stove, and that’s only part of the story as home-made pasta and white sauce will take their toll as well. The good news is the reward you get for the effort: apart from being great food in itself, lasagne are extremely flexible for a dinner with friends, as you can get everything ready in advance and whack it in the oven while having a chat over some wine. Unlike almost every pasta, if you’re so lucky to have any leftovers, you can freeze and reheat them in the busy days and, finally, if you like optimization like I do, when you cook the meat sauce you can make hefty quantities of it and store it for some good “pasta bolognaise” (by the way, you might want to know that no Italian will ever name what we call “pasta al ragù” as “bolognaise”: personally, I would run away from any Italian restaurant using that horrible term, but then again I’d run away from every Italian restaurant abroad so you might not want to quote me on that).

On to the recipe: the key in making good lasagne is the meat sauce, which is really not difficult to make once get to grips with the time it will take for the sauce to slowly simmer. As it might get as long as six hours, don’t choose a busy day to cook this kind of stuff; on the other hand, know that the hard work will be done in 30-45 minutes, and all you need for the remaining five hours or so is a casual eye to avoid burning, while your house fills up with flavours and you’re reading a book or surfing the Net. Get everything ready first: if you want to cook a lot of sauce, good for two or three meals, grab 600g of minced beef (assuming you trust your butcher, that is, or mince it yourself as I do), 100g of pancetta or lard in very small cubes and no less than 1.5kg of ripe tomatoes.

Start with tomatoes first: since it’s winter, and we don’t get nice small and sweet tomatoes, some work is in order to get rid of some acidity. Get a pan with boiling water and a bowl with cold/iced water, cut a cross over the tomatoes, and poach them in the boiling water for no more than a minute. Throw them in the cold water and watch the skin fall apart. Peel the tomatoes, cut them in four and throw the seeds away. Sprinkle some salt on the clean tomato quarters and put them in a drainer for twenty minutes. You will be amazed to see how much water the tomatoes will lose: know that this passage is paramount for a proper tomato sauce, unless we’re talking about fresh small cherry tomatoes coming straight from the garden.

While the tomatoes are draining, put a pan on the fire and prepare some soffritto (you can read here how to cook it, use a large onion, a carrot, a stalk of celery and a touch of garlic), unless you happen to have some frozen stuff which will shave some time from your cooking day: once it’s ready, take it away, roughly clean the pan, pour no less than three spoonfuls of olive oil on high heat and throw the minced meat/pancetta in. Let everything toast and brown, add the soffritto back with a couple of glasses of white wine which will need to fully evaporate (unless you use the de-alcoholyizing trick we’ve been trough before) and finally let the drained tomatoes join the pan, together with a nice cup of beef stock. Let everything get to the boiling point, then lower the fire to the minimum possible heat and grab that book as it’s now time to wait. Don’t – ever – put a lid on. Stop by the pan every twenty minutes or so for a good stir and, after a couple of hours, add a good glass of milk as the perfect finishing touch to your meat sauce, which will be ready as soon as every single drop of water will be evaporated. Don’t rush, take your time, and the reward will be excellent.

A couple of hours before the meat sauce is ready, it’s time to think about pasta: make a dough with 400g of white flour, four eggs and a good pinch of salt, then use the rolling pin or a pasta machine to end up with thin, large, squares which if at all possible should be the size as the pan they’ll be ending up in a short while (this pasta shape is what we call lasagne, by the way). Let the pasta sit for a while, and bring some salted water to boil. While you wait for the water to heat, get on with the white sauce, using 60g of butter and a good spoonful of white flour to make some roux, then add roughly a liter of milk and keep on stirring until it thickens (don’t let it boil!), seasoning with some salt and pepper to taste. Grate a good quantity of parmesan cheese (no less than four-five handfuls) and get ready for the assembly phase.

Get a bowl with cold water and bring it near the stove. Add a drizzle of oil to the boiling water, and poach no more than two lasagne at the same time, or they will horribly stick together no matter the oil. Let them cook for a little more than a minute, then throw the lasagne in the cold water bowl to stop them from overcooking. Grab an oven pan and make a first lasagne layer on the bottom. Add a spoonful of meat sauce, a spoonful of white sauce and a good sprinkle of grated parmesan, then move on to the next layer repeating the poach/cool/arrange/season drill until you run out of pan space or lasagne. Finish your pan with the two sauces and a very generous handful of parmesan which will melt and form a great crust. Some 30 minutes before you want to eat, turn the oven on to 180°C and whack everything in. Finish with some grill and warn your friends before heating, as the lasagne will be as hot as a lava, but also as good as food can be.

The Sunday post: schweinshaxe

This weekend has been pretty busy doing other stuff, with little time left for cooking. Given we are going through an unusually short winter, with high temps, bears waking up from their winter sleep and creepy predictions about desertification of Southern Europe in a few years, I guess it was time for some winter food before flowers start blooming and the Sunday posts turns into some mangos and papayas recipe book. What’s best than a good German-reminiscent pork hock properly roasted from a winter food perspective? This is far from the proper Bavarian recipe, but it tastes great nevertheless, and it’s really easy to do, with just a few tricks to remember.

I start off finely mincing some flavours: rosemary and garlic are absolutely compulsory, but the extra kick I love to add to pork is ginger: it might not be that traditional, but it really add that je ne sais quoi that makes the difference. Add some salt and pepper, pierce a few holes into the meat (which, of course, has been taken from the fridge no less than an hour before starting off), and start rubbing it vigorously. Pre-heat the oven to 180C, and grab a pan large enough to comfortably sit the hock. Heat a spoonful of oil and drop the meat into the pan, letting it seal all over (I’ll say it again: all over means throughout the meat, which has no less than six sides. Sealing just two or four makes the flavour find other ways to escape). When the meat is slightly roasted, add a good glass of dry white wine, beware the flame and let the alcohol vaporize. Throw everything into a roasting pan and cover it, either with tin foil or (even better) with wax paper soaked in water: you need this to let the steam help the cooking process.

After 15 minutes, it’s time to deal with roasted potatoes. Get a pot with some salted water on the stove. Cut a few potatoes in small chunks and, when the water is boiling, throw them in. Let them boil for five minutes and drain the water: this will soften your potatoes and make the beast roasted spuds money can buy. The whole operation will take almost 30 minutes, if you’re faster slow everything down, as you need to add potatoes to the roasting pan exactly 45 minutes after the hock gets into the oven. Take the roasting pan out, and quickly add the potatoes, mixing them with the sauce lying in the bottom of the pan. If there isn’t enough sauce, feel free to add some hot stock. If you’ve been using wax paper, soak it again in water before covering the pan again. Throw everything back into the oven, and let it cook for another 30 minutes. Take the tin foil/wax paper cover off, and finish up cooking with another 15-20 minutes.

Take the pork hock out of the oven, and wrap it in tin foil for no less than ten minutes before serving: this way the meat juices will flow back where they belong, making the dish taste even better. Serve on hot plates, as it takes a while to carve the hefty piece of meat, and you don’t want to eat cold stuff. If you feel more German than me, apple sauce and sauerkraut are a perfect match.

My name is Gianugo, and I’m a book-a-holic

I share Andrew’s pain: this week-end has been devoted to tidying up our bookshelves, which is kind of a massive and daunting job if you happen to own more than 1.300 books as we do and if you’re not inclined to day-to-day precision (as we do). It was about time to tame the mess, before we go shopping for new racks to indulge to our reading habit, as the situation was really out of control:
Book mess

Myself and books

Things I learnt during the process:

  • no matter what criteria you choose, you will never be satisfied. This time we decided to forget about sorting by author, title or genre, and we tried to make our libraries look good, sorting out by editor (and then by author): in order to find a book we have now to remember what the editor is, but it’s a minor inconvenience as my wife has an exceptional photographic memory, which helps a lot finding needles in haystacks;
  • no matter the sorting criteria, you will always find your shelf too small, and you will be looking at two books in your hand that just don’t fit, considering if you should really reshuffle the damn thing all over or just burn them before someone notices;
  • tidying books up is hard. We have three bookshelves in three different rooms, and I’ve been constantly walking around, jumping on stairs to reach the high-rise shelves, throwing books around and sorting them on the floor, moving shelves and reshuffling all the time;
  • books catch a lot of dust. Take an overheated house, a tall bookshelf close to a few hot lamps, a ton of dust flying around, a few miles spent walking between rooms and jumping on stairs: the final result is an half-naked yours truly frantically trying to make some sense out of the tangled web of books.

The good news: it took us two days, but we have now something reasonably good looking.

From now on, it’s time to commit to keeping our shelves in good shape: I don’t want to do this again for at least a few years. And of course, from now on, we will be able to buy just books from publishers whose shelf still has some room to breathe. Or buy a new bookshelf. Or two.

This blog is OpenIDfied

Thanks to the great instructions from Sam, this blog should now be properly OpenID-enabled. Or at least they say so. I know at least one guy who will be happy to know I’m embracing this stuff, even though he hasn’t got any OpenID autodiscovery stuff on his blog (yet…).

I guess it’s now time to finally understand what I can do with all this: sounds promising indeed, but I guess we have to wait for applications to show up and make some concrete use of it.

The (late) Sunday post: New Year’s Eve

This is a belated post, I know: I needed some time to recover after the holidays, and I tried to stay away from the computer. This is also somewhat a special post: Sunday was New Year’s Eve here, and I managed to spend quite a lot of time in the kitchen, trying to come out with a special treat to say goodbye to 2006. Since it would take a book to write about everything I did, something I don’t have time to write and my readers definitely don’t want to read, you will have to cope with short summaries and a few pictures. I promise I will return to full recipes in a short while. Without further ado, then, here we go with a wrap-up of what a typical Italian New Year’s Eve dinner looks like.

We started off with some appetizers, namely Parma ham, lard and salmon on canapés. Smoked salmon has become a tradition over here, and this was nothing fancy to prepare, except for the home-made bread which was mixed with nuts and olives. Nice to see, easy to do and good to eat, while having a chat and waiting for the first course. The only trick to note is about getting the right temperature for the lightly toasted bread to allow lard to slightly melt: cold lard is nice but requires some marinating in oil and chili to perform at its best, while melted lard tastes too greasy and slimey even for me.

Pasta was the special deal for the night, and it required quite some work: we wanted to have three different kinds of filled pasta, and we figured out that it would have been better to make large quantities of each, in order to fill our freezer up and get a few dinners for free. It took us no less than 2kg of flours and 16 eggs to come up with the amount of dough we needed, then it was time to roll it into thin layers, prepare the filling and assemble the whole thing. Quite a hard work, but definitely worth the effort, as we finished up with a nice layout of:

  • tortellini, the most traditional filled pasta you can eat during the Holiday Season. This belly-button shaped pasta is usually filled with Parma ham and Parmesan cheese, but we like to add some plain ham and mortadella (a large, lightly smokey italian sausage) to the mix, to soften it up. Tortellini require some skill in properly revolving pasta around the filling, something which is as easy to show as hard to write, but the real problem comes with the filling: Parma ham doesn’t like the food processor at all (it becomes stringy), and the only alternative if you don’t have a meat grinder lying around is working your way with a knife and a lot of patience;
  • pansotti, straight from my homeland: triangle shaped pasta filled with vegetables and ricotta filling (I know, my fellow countrymen: I shouldn’t use ricotta, but then again there is no prescinseua in Milano…), seasoned with the traditional walnut sauce made with mortar-crushed walnuts, milk soaked bread, some garlic, olive oil and parmesan cheese;
  • ravioli, a traditionally-shaped pasta cut in squares, which is usually filled with meat or vegetables. We opted for an unusual yet great filling (probably this was the best pasta we had): minced roast pork (a fortunate leftover!), crushed nuts and a mashed potato to tie everything together. All this was seasoned with sage-flavored beurre-noisette and the obligatory sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

We had no less than two main courses after all this. Actually it was slightly more than a bite, as we were pretty much filled up with pasta, but I wanted to try galantina, something deemed very difficult to cook, and we couldn’t do without some cotechino with lentils, as we will see in a minute.

Chicken galantina is (surprise!) a traditional festive dish for the Holiday season, and it requires some work and a bit of luck. Our version starts with a carved chicken breast, laid out on some cellophane foil and slightly beaten/rolled to form a layer of meat. This is the external part of a roll, which is filled with finely minced veal, ham, mortadella, a couple of beaten eggs, some Parma ham thick strips (which become cubes when sliced) and a few pistacchios (the more the merrier, according to my wife). The tricky bit is understanding the right quantity of filling, as it will grow during cooking, and possibly make the whole roll explode. We took our bet, and started rolling the chicken breast using the cellophane foil to help us out, with a technique that reminds of sushi rolls. We wrapped the whole thing in cellophane and let it rest for a while, then took the cellophane off to firmly roll everything in a 100% cotton kitchen towel, which we tied at both ends using some kitchen string (warning: it has to be tight).

I used the ham and meat leftovers, together with onion, carrot, celery and parsley, to make a light stock, in which we poached our chicken roll. A bit more than an hour, at simmering heat, and the roll was ready to be squeezed between two plates with some considerable weight on top (this helps expelling the liquid and consolidate the filling), with no less than 3-4 hours ahead to rest and cool down. Meanwhile the stock is filtered twice, then brought back to boil for five minutes with a couple of egg whites slightly whisked: the egg whites perform some magic and grab all the dirty bits from the stock, without affecting the flavour, and it’s enough to remove the egg white chunks using a sieve to obtain some crystal clear liquid which is perfect, with some de-alcoholyzed white wine and a couple of agar-agar sheets, to provide the jelly to top off the sliced chicken roll. A few hours in the fridge, and the galantina is ready for your eating pleasure!

The second, and final, main course was cotechino with lentils: we really couldn’t take it anymore, but during New Year’s Eve you’re supposed to have lentils, as they bring good luck and money, so we indulged. Cotechino is a typical raw sausage of pork which requires a painful long cooking: the sausage needs to be soaked in cold water for no less than ten hours, then pierced with a wooden stick to let some fat out, and finally slowly cooked for no less than 4-5 hours. The alternative is buying a pre-cooked version which requires just some heating, but since it just tastes like crap, I went for the real thing and let the whole thing cook for the whole afternoon (and believe me, it tastes great but smells awful in the early cooking stages). Lentils were the easy stuff, even though using the dried version we needed to soak them as well for a few hours: a touch of soffritto, some finely diced pancetta, a couple of tomatoes, a cup of stock and an hour simmering on the stove was enough to provide the best lentil stew I ever did. Usually I can’t stand lentils, but I must confess I really enjoyed them this time, and the leftover on New Year’s Day was even better.

Time to celebrate, finally! The table shows the typical panettone, a dessert bread made with raisins and citron. I might be so brave to try and bake one at home next year, but since it requires a lot of dedication, a full three days’ work and a great oven, we usually buy it and, to add some kick, we cover it with some butter, cocoa and sugar glaze which tastes just wonderful. My wife is a purist, but I like my panettone with some good old custard made with eggs, cream, milk, vanilla, sugar and a lot of patience. Some good italian prosecco wine (no french Champagne over here), and the obligatory twelve grapes where the perfect finish for our New Year’s Eve feast!