About contributing to opensource projects...
Some evil journalist (+alex diavatis
I'm looking at you :-)) was claiming that contributing to GNOME is hard since you need a lot of knowledge and time for it, which is kinda true, but that's not the point imho.
I started contributing to GNOME doing translation since I wanted to have some linux workstations at work and I was ashemed to give my users an half translated UI (italian in GNOME was 60% done at the time). I started doing icons since I can draw and there were a lot of not-so-good icons scattered around at the time (and I was drolling at +Jakub Steiner
artworks); I did some packaging for Gentoo since I got a g3 macbook and Gentoo was the only linux working on the shiny thing, but lacked a lot of stuff on the powerpc front; I jumped on the tango project bandwagon since it was trying to bring some consistence to linux UIs in general which was something bugging me for ages; I started doing design for gnome3 since when I saw the very first buildable version of shell I thought that it was an "unholy mess" [well, not really, but something along those lines in italian :-)] and so on.
I didn't have all the needed knowledge at first for any of those tasks, so I read howtos, books, TheInternetTM. So everything basically started by scratching my own itches and I found the process FUN (well most of the times ;-)) while being quite a learning experience.
To summarize, yeah, probably whining on the various social networks is quicker and easier, but trying to "fix" things yourself is better, since you can actually enjoy the ride :-)