Busy work

Reuben Thomas rrt at sc3d.org
Fri Feb 4 12:44:55 UTC 2011

Just now, I got a notification about a bug I filed two and a half years ago:


It's a trivial man page formatting bug.

In the last two and a half years, it has twice received the attentions
of Ubuntu developers. Once, two months after I filed it; once, just
now. Each time the developer changed some tags.

Now, I don't want to downplay the importance of correct tagging of
bugs, but, as I said, this is a trivial documentation bug. How about
just fixing it?

I see this happen again and again. It's sad, because it is not a good
use of Ubuntu dev time, and the bug often takes ages to get fixed.

I do try, these days, to file such bugs in Debian, where turnaround
time tends to be shorter, but, most importantly, busywork is vastly

So, my plea is: when developers have taken the time to look at a bug,
it would be great if they would also consider whether it would not be
quicker to fix it than simply re-tag it, and then let months or years
elapse before they or another developer comes along and spends the
time needed to understand the bug report.

When code is involved, I understand completely that it will indeed
typically take more time, and often, greater expertise, to fix a bug.
(Again, Debian wins by having maintainers personally responsible for
packages whose code they often get to know reasonably well, and hence
are able to spend much less time fixing bugs. Again, I try to use that
greater efficiency wherever I can.) But documentation bugs are
low-risk fixes, and one is much less likely to get them wrong, so they
can usually be fixed quickly.

Is there somewhere this could be pointed out to developers?

In this case, anyone with an inkling about man page formatting can see
the solution; it's 30s of editing. Arguably, my bad for not providing
a patch; but again, I thought that would be a waste of time, because
it would take longer for me to produce a patch, be sure that it was
clean, and applied to the latest version of the package, and then for
the developer to apply it, than for the developer simply to edit the
man page themselves and produce a package patch.

Another excellent alternative would be for the Ubuntu developer simply
to have forwarded the bug upstream, since it's just the sort of bug
report that upstream developers like (easy, user-visible) and like to
fix (easy edit, sense of achievement).

In penance for writing this email, I will now do just that.


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