Posts that are soas-ish

Unlock challenge: raise $1024 for The Ada Initiative, support women in open tech/culture, and unlock more open-licensed “programming learning styles” material!


Last year, shop I wrote a post asking people to donate to the Ada Initiative and support women in open technology and culture. I said:

We change the world with millions of tiny patches… our world of open technology and culture is built one patch, one line, one edit at a time — and that’s precisely why it’s powerful. It brings billions of tiny, ordinary moments together to transform the world. If we teach it for our code, we can preach it for our giving. If you’d buy me a drink, or treat an open source newcomer to dinner, send that $3-$20 to the Ada Initiative tonight. –August 30, 2013

Why do we need to do this? Well, being a woman in open technology and culture is like riding a bike on a street made for cars, where rain and dirt get kicked into your face, and you are constantly, painfully aware that if you have any sort of collision with a car… the car will win. Yes, this is happening in our world, to our friends and to our colleagues; it’s happened to me personally more times than I care to remember. The farther you are from the straight white male difficulty setting, the rougher the terrain becomes.

And quite honestly, we’re busy. I’m busy. You’re busy. This isn’t our job — we have so many other things to do. I mean, we’re all:

  • remixing music
  • playing with code
  • writing science fiction
  • co-authoring open content articles
  • redesigning user interfaces
  • <insert your favorite open technology and culture activity here>

And guess what? There are so many people who want to join us. So many people who want to help us do all this work, but don’t, because they know that work — the good work — is likely to come with a lot of really, really awful stuff, like this sampling of incidents since last year (trigger warning: EVERYTHING).

The less time women spend dealing with that stuff, the more time they have to help us with our work. And the more people will want to help us with our work. I mean, would you want to accept a job description that included the item “must put up with demeaning harassment and sexual jokes at any time, with no warning, up to 40+ hours per week”?

Making our world a good environment for all sorts of people is, in fact, our job — or at least part of it. The folks at the Ada Initiative have made supporting women in open tech/culture their entire job — supporting it, supporting people who support it, and basically being the equivalent of code maintainers… except instead of code, the patches they’re watching and pushing and nudging are about diversity, inclusion, hospitality, and just plain ol’ recognition of the dignity of human beings.

They want to support you. With better conference environments, training workshops and materials, and really awesome stickers, among many other things. (Did you know that the Ada Initiative was one of the first woman-focused tech organizations to actually say the word “feminism”?)

So please, donate and support them, so they can support you — and me, and all of us — in supporting women in open tech/culture.

Now, my own contribution is a bit… sparse, financially. I’m a grad student earning less than $800 a month, and I’m waiting for my paycheck to come in so I can contribute just a few dollars — but every little bit helps. And there’s another way I can help out: I can bribe you, dear readers, to donate.

Remember that “active vs reflective” learning styles post I wrote in August? Well, there are 3 more: sensing/intuitive, visual/verbal, and global/sequential. I’ve got them all transcribed here and ready to go. And if we reach $1024 in donations to the Ada Initiative under the Learning Styles campaign within the next week, I will release them under a creative-commons license.

What’s more: the first 3 people who donate $128 or more to this campaign and email me their receipt will get a free 1-hour Skype call with me to discuss their personal programming learning styles, and will be featured as case studies on one of those three posts (I’ll link to your website and everything).

Donate to the “learning styles” campaign for The Ada Initiative now!


If a broke grad student can do it, you can too: donate to @adainitiative and patch the open world to be better for EVERYONE.


TL;DR – if my work in open source has helped you in some way, disorder please donate to the Ada Initiative, viagra dosage which supports women in open technology and culture. Not convinced yet? Here’s why I donated.

There’s a world out there to patch. I love the universe of open technology and culture where I’ve built much of my career and friendships. It’s a wonderful world that can be wide and welcoming — but it also has horrific bug reports of sexual abuse and gender discrimination, salve along with many more that haven’t been reported out of fear and shame. I’ve lived a few not-so-good stories myself; some I’ve told, some I haven’t. What saddens me most, though, isn’t the bad stories that have happened; it’s the good ones that never will — stories of women and men working together to hack the universe in marvelous ways. If we want to see these stories happen, we’ve got to make a world where they can happen, a world where it’s safe for them to happen. Don’t WONTFIX that ticket; do something. When you care about something, you want to make it better.

We change the world with millions of tiny patches. I’m a grad student; money is tight, and my $64 contribution represents half a month of groceries. I was initially ashamed of my “tiny” contribution, even if it’s a nontrivial one for me. Then I remembered: our world of open technology and culture is built one patch, one line, one edit at a time — and that’s precisely why it’s powerful. It brings billions of tiny, ordinary moments together to transform the world. If we teach it for our code, we can preach it for our giving. If you’d buy me a drink, or treat an open source newcomer to dinner, send that $3-$20 to the Ada Initiative tonight.

Someone’s got to integrate these patches into a whole… and it’d be nice if they didn’t burn out in the process. Honestly? I support the Ada Initiative because it does this work so I don’t have to. I’m young and energetic, but I’m often wiped out just being a woman in open technology and culture. It’s not just physical and mental exhaustion; it’s emotional and psychological, which is worse. And being an activist is harder still. Do I agree with everything the Ada Initiative says or does? Nope. But it’s a job I want done, and I don’t want the job. This is why we hire maintainers for Free Software; we give them the gift of bandwidth so they can help us contribute more for a project with less effort by supporting and connecting our patches with the bigger picture. Val and Mary are good maintainers for feminism in our open universe — and I’d like more. After all, it’s a big world out there that we’ve got to work on.

The last day of their fund drive is tomorrow. (I’m coming late to the game; summer travel + school year start + RSI = no internet for Mel.) But it wasn’t too late for me to throw in my $64 patch this morning — and it’s not too late for you to contribute your patch today. If my work in open technology and culture has touched, helped, or inspired you in some way, please help me pay it forward and create a supportive, welcoming environment for everyone in the open world.


Curious artifacts: a POSSCON talk


Welcome, remedy POSSCON attendees! This blog post is the virtual home of the talk Sebastian Dziallas and I (Mel Chua) did on Thursday afternoon, medicine titled Curious Artifacts: Making FOSS Materials Make Sense To Learners. Our talk materials were, condom in large part, created with the audience.

The goal of the talk was to get audience members to actually look at live open source projects and start analyzing how those projects might fit into a high school or college classroom. When you look at a project, what cool things grab you, and what sort of little annoyances irk you? How can we turn them into the sorts of mini-project-opportunities students can tackle, and how do we build materials and scaffolding around those tasks that can be used as scaffolding – worksheets, reading, discussion prompts, homework assignments, grading rubrics?

This is a big job – so the trick was that our POSSCON talk started on Thursday… and was the kickoff to a conversation we continued online. Our intrepid audience volunteer Kevin came up and modeled the beginning of a first-contribution conversation using the original bounty Sebastian posted on Tuesday night, then the crowd split into teams and attacked printouts of FOSS artifacts with red and blue pens and highlighters. And smiley face stickers. Always gotta have the smiley face stickers. The audience critiques are available here (pdf).

Here’s the flyer that was handed out during the talk in lieu of slides (available in pdf and odt format for remixing) to guide participants through some of the tools, terminology, and cultural quirks they’d be encountering as they looked through the material to critique.

One big analogy used throughout the talk was open source as a cultural immersion experience similar to study abroad. This theme was used for the beginning and end. Some key points made:

  • Study abroad is not just about taking the same math class in Paris that you could take back in Wisconsin. It’s about the experience of being in Paris – language, culture, transit system, food – math class is almost incidental. It’s the same way for open source. Students need to watch, appreciate, be prepared for, and make time for things outside their course material in order to really benefit from the experience.
  • You’ll be in an unfamiliar environment. Simple things will be awkward at first – ordering a glass of water, fixing a simple bug. Keep going – yes, you could order water in English, but you’re in China so you can learn how to do it in Mandarin! It does get much, much easier after the first time or two.
  • The point is to get out and experience the culture. Immerse yourself. Don’t just hang out with other expats or foreign students. Whenever possible, bring your students into the real world, real conversations, real materials… the point isn’t memorizing all the Italian verb conjugations perfectly, but to communicate with someone in Italian, no matter how broken. You’ll learn through conversation, so get out there and talk!

If you were at our POSSCON talk and want to add materials – comments, pictures, thoughts, anything – to this post, leave a comment.

Thanks for listening!

–Mel and Sebastian

Some pictures from the talk courtesy of Zenith Chua (thanks, Mom!)

Our brave audience volunteer Kevin explains his critique of Bug #180 in the Fedora QA trac.

Audience members critiquing FOSS artifacts at POSSCON 2011; the image shows several people at the front of a room, with one man holding up a sheet of paper he is talking about into a microphone.

An audience review of the Fedora Design team's meeting logs and bounties. I believe smiley face stickers were involved.

Audience members critiquing FOSS artifacts at POSSCON 2011; the image shows several people listening to a student in a black shirt explaining the webpage his group reviewed.

Verdict: Sugar on a Stick's websites contain way too many unexplained acronyms. We should do something about that.


Get-sugar instructions – newcomers needed for usability testing


Sugar is too hard to download and install. Walter was recently surprised to hear (during an interview) that even “advanced users” (I’m assuming he meant the computer-savvy who were new to Sugar in particular) had difficulty with our installation instructions, buy so he went and did something about it.

Walter’s new revision draft is meant to be an improvement over the current Downloads page (last edited August 21, try 2010).

I offered to try and drum up some testing to see if this is actually an improvement, and what remaining rough edges need to be sanded off. The catch is that most of us can’t help with this directly, since we probably already have Sugar running on our machine and are used to getting around the current install instructions to make it work. Therefore! Here’s what you can do to help.

If you’re a Sugar old-timer and can figure out the new install instructions with no trouble:

Congratulations, you’ve learned how to work around our existing documentation! Find yourself some newcomers and sit down with them and work through instructions below in person – remember to send things to the iaep list so we can all learn from it!

And remember, when they’re looking at the page, don’t say anything – don’t take the keyboard from them, don’t do things for them, don’t interrupt them. They’re doing very important work – the work of telling us exactly where the shortcomings in our documentation are. When they point them out, help them by fixing the documentation together and then allowing them to continue proceeding by themselves.

If you’re new to Sugar or think the install instructions are hard to understand:

You are exactly the kind of person whose help we need. See, most of us have been using Sugar so long we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a new user puzzled by install instructions – we’ve lost the ability to improve them because we’ve gotten too used to how difficult they are to understand. Here’s what we’d love help with.

  1. Check out the proposed redesign for the download/install page.
  2. Try to get Sugar running – whatever platform you have, whatever means you’d like to use. Do not ask for help yet, even if you’re getting stuck. We’re trying to find out whether the instructions on that page – and linked from that page – are sufficient to enable folks to get through the installation on their own.
  3. If you do get stuck, write down (or take a screenshot and circle) everything you can think of about what’s confusing about the page, what you had to take a guess at, and as much as you can describe about where and why you’re stuck. This is incredibly valuable feedback that only you can give – you’re showing us how our documentation can be improved, pointing out things we don’t realize we ought to fix – until you come along and tell us. (If you manage to make it through to the end, this sort of feedback on how it could have been better is valuable anyway – but you can also skip to step 5).
  4. Now that you have these notes written up, take them and send them in an email to the it’s an education project mailing list (iaep at lists dot sugarlabs dot org). If you cc me (mel at sugarlabs dot org) on the email, I’ll make sure your feedback gets looked at and brought to the right people.
  5. After you send that email, someone should come along and help you finish the installation. When you have Sugar working on your machine, if you can drop us a line again (on the iaep mailing list, and cc me) so we know you were taken care of and that things are working for you now, we’d very much appreciate knowing that you’re all set.

Thank you!


Heads-up: call for Sugar 0.90 testers will be coming soon


From the latest Sugar on a Stick (SoaS) meeting minutes:

We spent most of our time on the next big urgent milestone: getting testable Sugar 0.90 images out the door for upstream Sugar QA. This isn’t an official SoaS release, find but since SoaS is an easy way to get an instance of Sugar up and running, it’s great for testing, and since we’re going to include the 0.90 release of Sugar anyway, Simon has asked us to include it in our test builds by a certain date so it can be used to test the Sugar environment itself. By “certain date,” I mean that the 0.90 Beta release is this Wednesday; here’s what has to happen preferably before then. (For the Fedora folks in the audience, SoaS is a Fedora Spin.)

  1. Simon updates the sugar, sugar-toolkit, sugar-datastore, sugar-presence-service, sugar-artwork, telepathy-gabble and telepathy-salut packages in Fedora to the correct code versions.
  2. Mel gets 3 people to test these packages and give them karma in Fedora’s system, which will put them in the stable repositories. I’ll be writing instructions on how to do this shortly.
  3. Simon or Peter or someone takes the next daily build and makes sure it boots, then announces the test image.

What this means for you, o reader: if you run Fedora (or can run Fedora in a VM, or can follow written instructions on how to do exactly this), you (yes, you!) can help us with 0.90 testing this week. We’re going to have instructions for this coming out once the code is ready to be tested; it should take less than 2 hours (hopefully less than 1) to do your setup and testing from start to finish, and you won’t need any prior experience. We’ll be using the same test setup for Sugar in the future, too.

The catch is that because we’re under intense time pressure to meet release deadlines, the time between when we can say “we’re ready! We need help!” and when we need the testing finished by is going to be VERY short. So this is a heads-up letting folks know this call is going to be coming.

Stay tuned for more QA news in Sugar land! (dun dun DUNN!)

This blog post written under more sleep deprivation than is probably good for me. I’m going to go to bed now so I’ll be more useful in the morning.


SLOBs update, 2010-07-11


As promised, apoplexy I kicked our SLOBs agenda items forward for another week. Turns out you can do a lot without needing to vote. :) Our meetbot does some truly awful meeting minutes formatting, information pills but here’s the summary:

What else do people consider the most pressing topics to the future of SL? How are we doing? Are we reaching our goals? (What are they?) These should be the agenda items we discuss.


Shell script ninja help needed: weekly test image downloading


Dear lazyweb: there must be a simple answer to this. I’m trying to write a shell script that a cron job can run every week to update our Sugar on a Stick (SoaS) test image repository. The ticket in question is Sugar Labs #2058. Longer explanation than usual given so those new to the dev/test/release cycle can follow along.

Basically, prostate SoaS is a Fedora Spin, stuff so we get nightly composes made here (as in, “Fedora automagically builds our .isos for us so we don’t have to”). In order to (we assume) save on disk space, the Fedora servers only store the latest nightly compose – once a new .iso is made, the old one is gone forever, bwahaha!

This is fantastic for developing, but not so much for testing. Expecting testers to keep up with daily builds is a bit much, and it’s putting a burden on people who are downloading them every day (possibly even getting into trouble with their ISP), so we decided to go with a weekly test cycle – each Thursday evening we’d designate the most recent image as the “image under test” and point everyone there. That way, developers would also know exactly what image people were finding bugs in each week.

Problem: in order to (we assume) save on disk space, the Fedora servers only store the latest nightly compose -  once a new .iso is made, the old  one is gone forever, bwahaha! So we need to grab the most recent image – which has a special naming – at that time and pull it down to the Sugar Labs servers so we have the files at http://download.sugarlabs.org/soas/test/ (We’re also storing the old test images so we can go back and forth between them Since the builds do contain their build date in their name, and we can’t predict ahead of time what the build date and time are, we don’t know the exact filename to pull.

So we’re basically looking for a shell script that will:

  1. Pull the latest iso and checksum from the SL servers
  2. Rename the checksum so it matches the datetime stamp of the iso (the checksum is currently called – rather unhelpfully – “CHECKSUM-i386″).
  3. Update the symlinks so that http://download.sugarlabs.org/soas/test/soas-i386-test-latest.iso and http://download.sugarlabs.org/soas/test/soas-i386-test-latest-checksum.sha point to the latest iso and checksum that were just downloaded.

This probably requires some sort of weird wildcard bash-fu that would take me multiple hours to inelegantly figure out, and someone else 5 minutes to write a one-liner to solve.

Can haz halp?


POSSE Worcester: Wednesday


The email I sent my team today as a “what did Mel do?” update:

00:18  * mchua has had a great day.
00:19 < mchua> When college professors start high-fiving each other across the classroom like excited kids because they got a button to work on a Sugar Activity, apoplectic and then head out for ice cream, tooth it is a Good Day.

I’m too behind/tired to be more verbose – turns out it’s difficult to simultaneously teach at and document a POSSE (probably due to that blasted 3 hours of driving per day – will hopefully do better next week). But betwen Friday noon and Sunday at 6 when the RIT one starts, I’ll spew logs from this one.

Theme: “Development”

Big idea: Sometimes, you’ve just got to dive in and work on the code… together.

Skill: Making contributions to an open source project “in the wild.” (In this case, the Measure Activity.)

Full logs:

Of the three, the notes for the last one are the most interesting – the notes for maddog’s talk are essentially a paraphrased (brief) transcript of his 1.5 hour presentation on “how FOSS teaches you twice.”


POSSE professors in Sugar-land for the next 2 weeks


Some of you may have noticed some new faces around the Sugar community – we (Walter Bender, urologist Peter Robinson, visit web and I) are hanging out with a group of professors (mostly from the Worcester area) who are in town this week for POSSE (Professors’ Open Source Summer Experience), a workshop for learning how to get their students involved contributing to open source projects. (In this case, Sugar, with Fedora as a dev platform.)

They’ve been learning to hack Sugar all week, and are in fact in #sugar at this very moment tinkering away on the Measure Activity. Their feeds haven’t yet been added to Planet Sugar Labs (those requests are still pending), but you can read some of their (great!) reflections so far on Planet TOS.

So if you have a moment, pop in and say hello to:

  • Peter Froehlich (Johns Hopkins) – pgf
  • Karl Wurst (Worcester State College) – kwurst
  • Nadimpalli Mahadev (Fitchburg State College) – Mahadev
  • Kristina Striegnitz (Union College, Schenectady, NY) – kis
  • Jerry Breecher (Clark University, Worcester MA) – diamond
  • Mihaela Sabin (University of New Hampshire) – mihaela
  • Gary Pollice (Worcester Polytechnic Institute) – gpollice
  • Aparna Mahadev (Worcester State College) – aparna

Next week we’ll have another – slightly larger – batch from RIT doing the same thing, with myself, Chris Tyler, and Luke Macken focusing more on how to make Fedora a better environment for running/deploying/developing Sugar – if you have any thoughts in this direction, please send comments our way! (Things we’ve come up with so far: general Python development stuff, liveusb-creator hacks, SVG rendering working strangely in different recent versions of Fedora… we need to turn this into a proper ticket queue. Ideas welcome! What are the little annoyances you always wanted to fix? We’ll do our best to take them on.)


POSSE Worcester: Day 1 (mini version)


Readers of Planet TOS will notice the addition of a number of new bloggers to your daily firehose of feeds. Please welcome the POSSE Worcester State crew, sick who will be hanging out in #teachingopensource (irc.freenode.net) all week working on Sugar on a Stick and learning firsthand how to dive into the deep end of a FOSS community. Pop into the channel, say hello, introduce yourself, tell your stories – some folks are new to IRC, some are new to wikis, and some are new to blogging, but everyone is learning fast; I’m completely stoked about our POSSE Worcester cohort. As you get to know them more over IRC/wiki/blogs, you’ll see why. ;)

I’ll write more when I’m slightly closer to full consciousness (need food and a nap first, I think – today was far too early of a wakeup), but in the meantime, here’s what we did on Monday. The remainder of the week will be spent picking a Sugar Activity and championing it as a feature for SoaS v4 by making it meet the Activity (Inclusion) Criteria (in other words, “taking it through the feature process“).

We’ve got some topic suggestions for tomorrow (in addition to the things we were already planning to cover, which are basically “getting code, finding out what bugs others have already found to work on, and sending patches back”), but feel free to add others if you’ve got ideas.