Archive for November, 2009

The Invisible Traceback


The perfect is the enemy of the good. Instead of entertaining grandiose thoughts of posting a transcription of my talk with the slides nicely set inline, I should just start by putting out the slides themselves…

The Invisible Traceback: blockers that make potential contributors drop out (and how to fix them) – This is the talk I gave at the Ontario Linux Fest. The slides make a lot more sense with the accompanying narration, but questions are welcome, and I can always come back in and fill in the remainder of the transcript at Some Point Later.

Abstract: Unix Philosophy #12, Rule of Repair: “When you must fail, fail noisily and as soon as possible.” This applies to both code and culture; when someone gets stuck and hollers for help, they are helping their community find and fix a participation process bug. However, the new contributor on-ramp pipeline is particularly tricky to debug; potential participants often struggle in silence, giving you no indication of their presence, let alone why they were unable to begin working with your project community. We’ll go over some common blockers that quietly prevent students (and other new contributors) from beginning to participate in open source, and how to fix them no matter who you are.


The perfectionism-fighting thread


What do you do after a full day of teaching POSSE? If you’re me, you take a nap. And then you wake up. And then… well… it’s now 4:53am in Singapore. To give you an idea of the size of my hotel room, the camera was perched on the far opposite corner (in other words, it’s taking a picture of as much of the room as it possibly can). And yes, I’m working – one nice thing about being in Asia is that my second shift (because I’m up all night anyway) now matches with the US day and the folks I usually do things with are now awake and doing stuff on IRC, and I can join them.

Sprinting from Singapore

My perfectionism is pretty bad; I’m wrestling with it big-time tonight. It’s one of the biggest things that blocks me; it turns my head into an overloaded multitasking soup that is… busy, but not productive. Certainly not effective. And sometimes less than optimal communications-wise.

“One of the tough things about impending crunch times is that the tendency (for me, at least) is to put your head down and do work! and think “I am too busy to take time to explain to people in an understandable coherent manner what is going on,” which makes it next to impossible for people to jump in and help you when you most need it.” –a smarter version of myself

I’m blocking on getting out a bunch of things so I’m just going to start dumping their current states here. (This post is likely to be edited as the night wears on.)

  • Ha! Posted my OnLinux slides, finally. See blog post right before this one.
  • Had a good sprint on POSSE planning, and then STOPPED WORKING ON IT. I’m proud of myself for stopping.
  • Textbook sprint. Discovered early on that I was useless for generating new stuff by myself in isolation, so I started popping into other people’s chapters and adding questions and trying to fill in content as I could. This seemed both helpful and productive.
  • Attended Kara Schiltz’s Fedora Classroom session on PR – we decided to do this instead of our usual Fedora Marketing meeting, and it’s going great (still in full swing as I type this).

DUMP THINGS! MOVE ON! DUMP THINGS! MOVE ON!


Planets. They are awesome.


I’m writing this post in part for the lecturers at POSSE APAC, because I want them to see what a great resource blogs can be. This is what I’ve seen on Planet Fedora this morning. (Again – POSSE APAC folks – none of this was planned. All of this is normal. This what we do in open source every day.)

  1. Karsten Wade wrote a call for participation for open marketing pointing people towards the Fedora Marketing team – as the Fedora Marketing lead, I’ve been struggling for a while with the question of how to explain what we do to people with Marketing backgrounds in a way that will make them want to come and help out, and here Karsten’s gone and done a better job than I ever could. Yay, Karsten!
  2. Stephen Smoogen made a Batman and Superman analogy that made me think about the difference between the sysadmin and developer mindsets. Having grown up more on the developer side of things (in engineering school, you tend to learn how to make New Stuff rather than maintain Existing Services), it’s sometimes hard for me to imagine that anybody dealing with Technical Things would ever need to have a different mindset than RADICAL EXPERIMENTATION EVERYWHERE!!! – but lurking in #fedora-admin started giving me the idea that actually, no, there’s a different way of thinking about things, and it’s quite valuable to be able to do both. Now I’m trying to learn both.
  3. Matthew Garrett wrote what is possibly the first post on ACPI I have ever understood – I’ve been interested (just out of curiosity) in learning about power management for several years, ever since I was an electrical engineering student, but nothing really made sense. I kept reading anyway. And today, for whatever reason, reading his blog post made something go click. I still don’t understand power management, but I’ve understood something about power management, and for me, that’s a huge start in being able to explore an unfamiliar topic. (POSSE folks: see – this is being productively lost, right here.)
  4. Chitlesh Goorah sent out a call for packaging help at the same time as Zhang Xinyi and Ye Long began working on the Spins webpage for FEL. They’ve just checked out the code and are starting to edit it as I type this – even the call of “lunch is served!” isn’t persuading them to leave the keyboard. :) (For that matter, same with me.) For me, this is a neat “many hands make light work” moment – two university teachers, new to the Fedora community, are finding a way to help with the project of a person they have never met. That’s pretty awesome.

…and that’s just a few. And I can read this kind of stuff every day. And learn from people smarter than me every day. That’s pretty awesome.


Nightwalk


“KaZAM!” (about halfway down the page) has always been one of my favorite Calvin & Hobbes strips – the differnce is that now I get to climb out the window and go exploring. Midnight is a great time to start roaming a strange city, after all. No map, no schedule, no agenda other than “consume some food along the way, I’m hungry.” Good times.

Singapore is full of neon lights and bridges with underglow; the riverwalk is filled with clubs sheltered by giant polychromatic steel-umbrella mushrooms, which actually looks far less bizarre than it sounds. I’m not the clubbing type, but some of the ones I passed were quite clever; one was called “The Clinic” and had wheelchairs for seats and a “pharmacy” for dispensing drinks. Another had its windows so full of bottles that it looked like stained glass whiskey.

All of them had ridiculously loud music and exceedingly expensive alcohol, so I continued down the waterfront (past lots and lots of couples) until I discovered the Merlion, the giant Ferris wheel, and the Esplanade (the latter looks like a giant rippling blob covered with origami triangles and tiny lights; I think it is a concert hall). More entertaining than these three tourist attractions was the construction going on across the mouth of the river; I stood awhile and watched showers of welding sparks fall from in-progress skyscrapers. It was muggy and a city glittered in the background. Brain was quiet, for a change. This I like.

I finally found relatively cheap eats around City Hall at a Hong Kong noodle stall that’s open until 4am – and I reckon I was tired, because I went straight for the comfort food. For me, that’s lugaw (congee/rice porridge) with century egg and a big glass of iced Milo (chocolate malt). One of the best parts of a visit home for me usually involves a giant wok full of caramelized onions and ground pork browning, ready to be dumped into a massive pot of lugaw with preserved eggs, maksang (pork floss – I don’t know how to romanize this word), and the smoky smell of sesame oil. Add white pepper. Feast. They had snow ice and grass jelly and misua, so if I go back I’ll probably get that next time. And earlier today I had dragonfruit for the first time in ages – for those of you unacquainted with the good stuff, it looks like a freakish spiky neon pink eggplant with a white interior speckled with wee black seeds, and it’s delicious. Hot dog stuffed with cheese and wrapped with lettuce, mayo, and hot sauce rolled up in roti prata. Bowl of noodles redolent with oyster sauce. Man, you just don’t get food like this back in the US.

Squelched across a cricket arena (tropical country, remember: rainstorms all the time means muddy fields) and back through town rather than back along the river. Signs for English language academies, squat little taxis driving on the other side of the road, thick grass and bushes and a stadium and wordlessness. I started singing softly in the empty streets; I only do that when I’m happy and feeling particularly shameless, and I was tonight. The mugginess clings to your shirt and skin and hair and I was soggy and scruffy as hell when I got back to the hotel, but man, did I feel good. Quiet inside, which doesn’t come often and doesn’t last very long when it does.

Then I repeatedly tried and failed to sleep and ended up working instead. Now the sun is coming up. Ah, wanderlust. I’m going to take a shower and walk in the early morning and see if I can find myself some breakfast that is better (and potentially cheaper) than the Ridiculously Overpriced Downstairs Hotel Buffet Thing.


Get to know a Fedora Ambassador or User


MooDoo’s meme has spread. Joining the roster of infected agents, which includes tatica, nicubunu, bpepple, loupgaroublond, gantu, tdfischer, gbraad, kital, mizmo, VileGent, Sankarshan, Phrk0nLsh, and MooDoo

Name: Mel Chua
IRC nick: mchua
IRC channels: #fedora-mktg pretty much always, #fedora-<everything_else> a large part of the time.
Location: Theoretically, I’m Boston-based. Realistically, I’m in Travel Mode of Ridiculousness (and lovin’ it) and have no idea where I’ll be waking up next week. Right now, I’m in Singapore.

Photo by Rikki Kite after Fedora Ambassadors at the 2009 Ontario Linux Fest reminded me of my promise to put a (temporary) tattoo on my forehead… my family was greatly confused when I arrived back at the house that evening.


POSSE APAC Day 0: What’s up, and how can we deploy multilingual awesome?


POSSE APAC starts tomorrow morning – or rather, this morning, in about 6 hours at Nanyang Polytechnic. Harish Pillay and I are going to be leading a contingent of lecturers from across Asia into becoming Fedora Project contributors so they can go back and incorporate teaching open source into their home institutions.

It’ll be an intense week full of a lot of improvising on everybody’s part, and we’ll do our best to keep everyone up to date as we proceed. Right now we’re taking the schedule one day at a time, with the expectation that it’ll change quite a bit from what is written down right now – the cultural immersion and the ability to navigate this world (as Dave Humphrey says, “the ability to be productively lost”) is far more important than specific skills, though we’ll cover those (wiki editing, version control, IRC, bugtracking, etc) in spades as well.

Join us! Listen in on #teachingopensource-posse on freenode, as well as #teachingopensource-posse-zh for a backchannel in Simplified Chinese (other language backchannels will be added as they’re needed). HELP WANTED: If someone can get lingobot up and running between these two channels, I will love you forever.

Help us! We’re going to need a lot of it (hence part of my motivation for making these constant updates). We’re not exactly sure what help we’ll need yet – but if I had to guess right now, it’d be package reviewers, testers who can give feedback on how good a bug report is, folks from Websites and Translations who can help us set up for translating F12 webpages and release materials. That’s one idea we’re considering for our Big Project – it would teach version control, patch-making, our translations workflow, and a host of other things, plus be a big help for the F12 release, and give them marketing-fu in their native language to bring back home just in time for a F12 release party at their university… still just an idea, though, and very strawman – feedback welcomed.

Help us help you! It’s almost release time, which means there’s a ton of stuff to do. Well, Fedora folks, we’ve got something on the order of thirty people full-time for nearly a week. Conservatively estimating 20 people x 4 days x 8 hours per day, that’s 650 work-hours. Even half of that is a lot of work-hours. We’ve got a lot of stuff to work on already, but if there’s something for which a host of newcomers would be helpful, put us to work. Drop into #teachingopensource-posse and ping me (mchua) or Harish (harish) and we’ll work something out – ah, good ol’ learning-through-apprenticeship.

Random notes from tonight: The thing that’s most interesting to me right now is the issue of language. Everyone from our first POSSE was a fluent English speaker. Since most Mozilla and Fedora conversations, docs, and tools are also in English, this worked out great – there were reams and reams of information for people to swim in. But what if you speak Mandarin? Or Korean? All the lecturers attending this POSSE can communicate in English, but I got the strong impression at tonight’s mixer that talking in $nativelanguage is just… much easier.

Which is awesome – and the reason for the #teachingopensource-posse-zh backchannel – that way we can capture conversations in that language too, and folks who are more comfortable in that language can trade notes with each other and clarify our rapid-fire technical English, and… in general, it’s one way we can start thinking about internationalizing (i18nizing?) POSSE and other programs like it. What else can we do to take advantage of this language diversity? Should we give folks a tour of Transifex? (Neither Harish nor I know anything about Transifex, so we’d need help here.) Should we give feedback about the i18nability of any aspects of Fedora’s design? (Text input for non-Western character sets? How well our slogans translate? Anything?)

O metabrain, what are your thoughts?

We’ll be hitting up IRC channels, and you can also watch ours (above) and let me know (via email, or a comment on this blog, or IRC, or something) if you’re willing to be on standby or to be pinged about particular topics this week, or with any ideas, or what-have-you. You can also join our mailing list.


Arrived in Singapore


All right, I know you’re not supposed to get Turkish food in Singapore – but I’ve never had Turkish food before and I was curious. And it was tasty (kinda like Greek food, but… different). And I was hungry. Sunday afternoon, and it’s the first real meal I’d had since Thursday night – or if you don’t think happy hour specials have actual nutritional value, Thursday lunch at GOSCON. 3 airplane meals and a Tokyo airport bowl of noodles don’t quite cut it for my appetite.

I will say once again that Asian airlines have way better food than American ones (when steamed vegetables and rice steam more inside plastic containers, they stay good; when beef and noodles steam inside plastic containers, they just get gross), plus real silverware, and drinks. My first time trying plum wine; it’s… fascinating, but I’m not sure I’ll do that again. The alcohol did finally help me sleep on the plane (as intended), so that was nice; trying to get myself to sit still for the better part of 36 hours goes just about as well as you’d expect, and my layovers consisted of me running through the airport terminals (in Texas, with my laptop open to the SLOBs meeting channel and cursing flights that start boarding before your connecting flight has landed – I did make it, though – and in Tokyo, just running).

So I’m in Singapore. I left the house in Maryland at 3am and watched the sun rise in DC on Friday morning, watched it set in Tokyo, found my way to the hotel at Robertson Quay (“quay” rhymes with “key,” not “way,” as I’d supposed) and staggered into my room at 3am. 48 hours, or really 36 because of time differences. Then I tried to let my exhaustion combat my ohboy I’m in SINGAPORE! adrenaline, and two hours later, exhaustion won.

Now I’m sitting down and trying to be responsible-like and prep for next week, and there’s still an undercurrent of ohboy! ohboy! that’s probably going to be in the background of all my thoughts for the entire week. (Come to think of it, that’s usually the background music for my brain in general. It’s just a little louder when I travel.) It’s muggy and steamy outside and the second downpour in 2 hours has just finished, and I love this climate; it feels like the Philippines, but with air that’s more hospitable to respiration.

Right then! Time to prep.


Off to Singapore


Between now and Sunday, I’m flying from Washington DC to Dallas to Tokyo to Singapore. The shuttlebus picks me up at 3am, and then I hop those 4 destinations with 3 flights and 2 layovers of 1 and 3 hours each respectively. If any of my planes get delayed, I am screwed. Also, I have an IRC board meeting during the first layover.

In deference to this impending schedule of doom, I decided to go easy tonight and wimped out and took the train/bus back to the house instead of biking from downtown. It’s probably just as well I didn’t; my jacket was thin and when I biked the last few blocks down to the house, the wind cut straight through it. That’s why I usually layer it up with another jacket. But in this case, the other jacket I had on me was a blazer, and blazers… do not layer well.

It turns out that I don’t clean up all that badly – on the rare times I’m dressed in formal or semiformal clothing, every time I look in the mirror I can’t help but think “wait, who is that person?” Collared shirt and nice slacks, shiny shoes, a jacket. Every time I stepped outside the building I swapped the shiny shoes for sneakers and the formal jacket for the bike-grease-stained one and tried not to spill/smudge/stick/smear anything on my new pants. I’ll get to practice being comfortable in that sort of clothing this coming week.

GOSCON was the kind of conference where there are goblets and an elegant vase with water and a bowl of fancy candies plus notebooks and branded pens, on the center of each table where you sit to listen to the talks. During the lunch keynote, servers brought out food in courses. “Is there more?” I kept asking, going through my salad plate, my entree, my dessert, Greg’s dessert, and two pieces of bread before the servers cleared the table. Everyone was in a suit, except for some women who wore sweaters over collared shirts, or jackets that weren’t suit jackets but were still Very Nice. (I took notes. I might be able to tolerate the sweater-over-collared-shirt thing.)

I need to pay very close attention to getting proper rest and not going overboard and not being overly hardcore (because I know I will be) whenever possible over the next 1.5 weeks. I’m going to stop by reining back and packing and going to bed now, before I finish out the thoughts rattling into this post. They’ll soak themselves out for the few hours that I’ll get to sleep tonight. I’ve got a game plan for the flights and layovers between here and Singapore that’ll let me get everything done, rest, and shift timezones en route; I’ve got backup and a shameless ability to improvise, I’ve got… oh yeah, clothes. I probably should pack those. And my bass. And then I’ll have everything I need.

Instructions: be safe and kick ass.

Can do.


And the sun will be coming up soon.


Looking at timestamps, tonight is one night I’m quite grateful for my extremely fine-grained sensitivity to – and control of – how much sleep my mind and body need. It’s lovely to have that ability honed.

Bedtime for a bit, then biking into town for GOSCON (once I figure out how to bike with nice pants without ruining them).


Cousins: the tag team


Jason and I are planning epic cooking festivities for Thanksgiving. He’s attempting to make turducken at Stanford. If successful, there will be a repeat when we’re both home. We’ll do things other than turducken, of course. I’d like to try my hand at baking again, and perhaps even attempt pie… we’ll see what ingredients are good in town when we get in. I wonder how far we’ll have to drive to find a farmers’ market.

My cooking skills – pretty good this time last year when I was sitting in East Boston with a wok and a fridge full of vegetables to get through each week – have atrophied as I’ve started to travel more and use them less. It got to the point where I made soggy bok choy and stick-to-the-pan dumplings at Karlie’s due to misjudging timing for the former and putting things in the wrong order for the latter (oil in pan, frozen dumplings brown in oil, then add water and steam – not the reverse). That’ll be a nice chance to hit the recipe books and brush up again.

Have I mentioned that I love my brother? There are some things in our lives that will probably only ever make sense to each other; we ride the boundaries between similar sets of worlds in similar ways. We’re wildly different people: he’s social, I’m shy, he’s cautious, I’m impulsive, he’s shamelessly chill about accepting help, I’m fiercely independent, and if we were both flames, he’d be warm and cozy in a fireplace with marshmallows roasting whereas I’d be a raging fire trying to devour all candles in the world from all possible ends at once. But we’re different people in the same kinds of hopping-between spaces.

And one of the nice – difficult and sometimes lonely, but nice – thing about being the oldest in my generation is that I can to some degree act as a scout for my cousins. (There are a lot of us; my mom has 7 sisters, my dad 1 sister and 2 brothers, and all but two of all those are married with multiple kids.) When I do things – and then tell those stories – sometimes their world opens up a little. And as they grow up up (a couple are in college now) they start branching out into paths I haven’t trod either, and my world opens up a little, too. So it’s less lonely over time. And we swap parent-coping tips and such, as kids are wont to do. I wonder what our kids are going to think of us, however many years from now, when one of my nieces or nephews stumbles across this post in the far-off hypothetical future. (News flash, kids: your crazy aunt Mel was also crazy back in 2009, and she appreciates you helping an old blockhead like her keep up these days.)

And we take turns distracting people. As my cousin Mark prepares to move out of my parents’ basement to his first apartment, the quality of my life increases because everyone is paying attention to him. My grandmother went through her mental checklist: the boy has a job, a car, and an apartment… what’s next? Well, thanks to Mark, last weekend may have been the first time since starting high school that I’ve had a visit home where the conversation was about somebody else getting married. (“What about Mallory*?” somebody asked. “I’ve given up on her,” my dad replied – jokingly, but I still had to resist the urge to cheer.)

*no, I don’t usually answer to that name except under compulsion of filial piety, as in this case.

The Philippines will be interesting; I have an escape valve because I’m going to have to clear out for a good chunk of time to work each of the two weekdays I’m around. So I can skip all sorts of social engagements on account of that. (Particularly the ones that involve dressing up.) But there’s still the wedding to contend with during the weekend. The Ceremony of Ridiculous Length, of course; when you combine Catholic and Filipino and Chinese “you people are together for the rest of your life” traditions, you get a really, really long to-do list and a lot of prayers for comfortable pews. Then the various formal events attached; Willison’s getting-hitched festivities will apparently be epic (the wedding has at least 6 godparents).

It’s harder for me to mode-switch into being able to do that stuff as time goes on and I grow into being part of a different world. Sometimes I just get… tired. Why do I always have to be the one that runs back and forth between all these worlds? Why do I always have to be the one who translates? Why is the burden always on me to explain? And then I remember: I should be thankful that I’m blessed with the ability to slip between worlds and speak their languages and build those bridges. And unto whomsoever much is given, of her shall be much required. And I can go a long, long way before I get tired – and a long way past that even when I am.

Family. You love ‘em, you know? What can you do? It’s where you come from.