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LibrePlanet and W3C Social Working Group 2015

By Christopher Allan Webber on Sun 29 March 2015

Great trip, spent 2 weeks doing the following:

  • Attending W3C Social Working Group. Good things have happened; felt much more clear by the second day than by the first day. Lessons learned in that raising issues (normally I'm reasonably quiet, a certain amount of imposter syndrome while participating in the group) was helpful, some people said they were thinking about the same things. Anyway, much work to do ahead.
  • Hanging out at Deb Nicholson's place with friends
  • Gave a talk at Libreplanet which I'm happy with
  • Had an awesome night of vegan salted caramel root beer floats (the best thing ever it turns out) and Hanabi with Aeva Palecek, Amy Guy, and Jessica Tallon; all friends of federation, but it was nice getting to decompress without worrying about that stuff for a bit. Way better than a trip to the bar!
  • So many great people at Libreplanet. I'm kind of sad that I didn't get to spend a lot of time with everyone, but the up side is that I got to spend a lot of time with some particularly great people, and the main problem was there was just too many good people at once. A good problem.
  • Mako and Karen both gave good keynotes, and I liked a lot of talks
  • Lots of Veggie Galaxy, eaten
  • Then took a trip to hang out with @Bassam Kurdali, Fateh, Libby Reinish, Tristen, at their respective places. It was nice to do this with @Tsyesika / Jessica Tallon joining me.
  • Much of the week spent from the "Nerdodrome", Hampshire College's animation studio, where Bassam works. I spent most of the week working on a deployment system I'm specc'ing out. If it turns out to be something I use, I'll update with more info.
  • Got to spend some time exploring Western Mass, which was great.

The trip was really worth it. I spent a lot of time with people I care about, and it felt very productive.

I'm not planning another conference for the remainder of 2015 though. Amongst other things, my back and wrists are killing me right now, and doing this morning's stretches was a painful wake-up. And I have a lot of difficult personal things in the year ahead. Oh, and let's not forget about how much work there is to do on MediaGoblin that I haven't gotten to.

But! This trip really helped set some directions for me for the year ahead, and I'm really grateful for that.

Looking forward to LibrePlanet 2016!

Life Update: January 2015

By Christopher Allan Webber on Tue 13 January 2015

Hey, so where did 2014 go, amirite guys? Amirite??

2014 in bulleted list form:

  • Most stressful year of my life (and that includes the years I both worked full time and went to school full time), but not bad: high peaks and low valleys even out to a good year, but turbulent. Not just high and low events contributing to stress, also much stress has been ambient from ongoing and difficult events, but much of it not really befitting describing on this blog.

  • MediaGoblin campaign went well, but I am tired of doing crowdfunding campaigns. Probably the last I will ever run... or at least the last for a long while. Nearly 5 months from start to wrapup of 60 hour high-stress weeks. But again, it went well! And hey, that video came out pretty great.

  • Hiring Jessica was the smartest move we could have made, and I'm glad we made it.

  • MediaGoblin federation work is going well; next release should make that clearer I hope.

  • Both Jessica and I are on the W3C Social Working Group trying to standardize federation, and I'm excited about that.

  • Hiring Jessica is great, but what to do about my own income? Happy to say I've started contracting for Open Tech Strategies who are great. Working under Karl Fogel is wonderful, and so is contracting for an org that mandates all code written there be free software. Plus, contracting 10 hours a week means I have plenty of other (including MediaGoblin) time left over.

  • Also it's great to have a boss again who is reviewing my performance and seems happy with my work, especially when that boss is almost certainly more technically capable than I am; I forgot how much external affirmation from that is helpful in probably some base human way. I had some great bosses in the not too distant past, and while I think I'm a pretty decent boss to others, Morgan has pointed out that I am a really mean boss to myself.

  • Despite ambient stress for both of us, Morgan and I's relationship goes well, maybe this year better than ever.

  • Got nerdier, started playing tabletop role playing games with friends a lot. Board games too.

  • Living in Madison is good.

  • We are currently caring for a dog since another family member can't keep her where she is staying. Aside from temporary dog-sitting, I've never lived somewhere with a dog that I am caring for... it's interesting.

  • The first half of the year was crazy due to the MediaGoblin campaign (again, I think it went great, and I had lots of help from great friends, just stressful), the second half crazy due to... well, a pile of things that are too personal for a blog (yeah I know I already said that). But everything came to a head right at the end of the year. This year burnt me the hell out.

  • This made me pretty useless in December, and makes me feel terrible because I pushed vocally for a MediaGoblin release and failed to hold up my end of things to make it happen. I need to get back on track. This will happen, but in the meanwhile, I feel shitty.

  • Burnout recovery has been productive; an odd thing to say maybe, but I seem to be getting a lot done, but not always on the things I think I should be.

  • I feel more confident in myself as a programmer than before... I've always felt a large amount of impostor syndrome because I don't really have a computer science degree... I'm a community trained hacker (not to knock that, but it's hard to not feel insecure because of it).

    But this year I did some cool things, including getting patches in to a fun language, and I worked on an actor model system that I think has a hell of a lot of promise if I could just get the damned time for it. (If only I had time to solve error propagation and the inter-hive-communication demos...) I did every exercise in The Little Schemer (a real joy to work through) and I feel like hey, I finally understand how to write code recursively in a way that feels natural. And it turns out there is a MELPA-installable texinfo version of SICP and I've been slowly working my way through it when I'm too tired to do anything else but want to pretend to be productive (which has been a lot of the last month). Still so much to learn though, but I appreciate the bottomless well aspect of programming.

  • Aside from the MediaGoblin campaign video, not a lot of artwork done this year. Hrm.

  • A couple of friends this year have made the "I've been doing nothing but python webdev for years and I need to mix it up" and to those friends: I hear you. Maybe hence the above?

  • Aside from MediaGoblin I've been doing a lot more chipping away at tiny bits of some free software projects, but maybe nothing significant enough to blog about yet, but there's a deployment system in there and a game thing and some other stuff. Nothing MediaGoblin sized, though. (Whew!)

  • Enjoying learning functional reactive programming (and expanding my understanding of Scheme) with Sly. Unfortunately still under-documented, but it's getting better, and davexunit is answering lots of questions for me. I might write a tutorial, or tutorials, soon.

  • Another ascii art logo for a FOSS project I made got vectorized and made way better than my original version, but that deserves its own post.

  • I continue to be able to work on free software full time, which is great.

I feel like the start of 2015 has already been moving upward, and has been much less stressful than the end of 2014. I hope that curve can keep moving up. And I hope I can keep up what I feel, despite me nearly going insane from various facets of it, is a fairly productive life.

Fifth wedding anniversary, the RPG

By Christopher Allan Webber on Fri 30 May 2014

We had an awesome wedding anniversary today... 5 years! Morgan didn't know I had planned something ahead of time. I'm not good at surprises, but this time I managed to pull off a surprise, and I think with massive style.

So, some context. First of all, a number of my friends and I, and I guess me especially, have kind of become tabletop role playing game nerds over the last year. We've been playing a wide variety of games, especially in Fate (the basis of which is under a free culture license!), from space adventures to crime dramas to German-esque fairytale stories to some rather silly holiday adventures, to large scale inter-kingdom dramas. Though we have played some games in the style of $STANDARD_FANTASY games (what most people think of when they think of tabletop RPGs), most of the stuff we've been playing has been more narrative even then, and less about straight up monster-killing dungeon crawling.

We have played some games in the category of $STANDARD_FANTASY though, and one in particular has a character that my spouse Morgan plays in, a sort of "professor of magic history" (yeah, people who know Morgan may notice some overlaps) who uses jewelry to actually power up her abilities, but isn't particularly innately magically inclined. Morgan is not really one for fancy jewelry, but she does like the engagement ring that I got her, which is a bit fancy. When she plays as this character, she actually dresses up for it, and wears some matching earrings as well.

So anyway, today we played a game in that universe, and I GM'ed (my brother and his girlfriend also participated, they were awesome). Morgan was arriving in a somewhat swashbuckling'y type city, so I compelled her that she probably would have to remove her ring (the source of half her magic) until she figured out a way to get some sort of protection from thievery in the city. I figured this would piss off Morgan... I didn't realize how much. "I'm not playing a game with you if you take away my jewelry." She eventually accepted the compel after encouragement from other players, but she was pretty fuming'ly mad about it. "You're making me take off my engagement ring on our anniversary?" (Morgan had thought I had accidentally planned this game on our anniversary without realizing it. She didn't realize that for once in our lives, I was being smooth about things.)

It was a good game generally. There was an artifact delivered, etc etc. By the end of the game, an NPC said "Oh, thanks, I think I have a jewel that matches yours... I can't really use it because it's for fire magic users only. Now where did I put that?"

In real life I shuffled through some drawers looking and pulled out a small beat up looking urn. "Careful, this thing is hot. Only fire magic users seem to be able to open it with no problem."

Of course her character did, and of course she was able to bypass the "smoke" (white tissue paper) no problem. And what was inside? A pendant that perfectly matches her ring. ("Conflict-free" in real life, supposedly, to the extent those things are true. Also, aside from her engagement ring, this is the only piece of jewelry I have ever bought Morgan. We're not really that much of jewelry-presents type people, but I think an exception here was successful.) Oh yeah, and in-game the pendant gave her a fate-point-activated fire shield that can give her an offensive-defense against people trying to pickpocket her or doing melee attacks.

It was a stunt for sure, but it worked. It extra worked because usually I am such a doofus, and I did piss off Morgan by compelling her earlier, and it looked like there were a bunch of bits that turned out to be just me making stupid mistakes that then turned around and made the end reveal awesome.

Somehow I pulled off that stunt, all the players seemed to have a good time generally, I didn't give it away beforehand (usually I'm not so successfully sneaky), and yes, my intentional-though-appearing-accidental pissing-off maneuvers really did make the final result more fun for everyone. Success!

Anyway, so that's that. Morgan told me I'm the best, and nerdiest, husband ever, so I'll gladly take all of that.

Happy fifth anniversary, Morgan. Here's to many more.

Life update: Late November 2013

By Christopher Allan Webber on Tue 26 November 2013

I thought I'd give a brief "life update" post. In some ways, this is a more me-centric version of a "state of the goblin" post. Life is pretty intertwined with that these days.

I gave my block o' conferencing reflections already, so we'll consider that out of the way. We're also about to put out a new release of MediaGoblin. Stay tuned to the MediaGoblin blog... it'll be an exciting one I think.

What can I say about this last year though? We're nearly at the end of it. For this last year, I ate, breathed and lived MediaGoblin. This has been simultaneously the greatest thing ever, and also super exhausting. I really have not had much as in terms of breaks, role-wise I have worn more hats than I thought I could fit on my head (among other things, this includes writing core architecture, code review, promoting and speaking about the project, plenty of behind the scenes communication, plenty of management and project administration, budgeting things, the project's "art identity", some system administration (though thankfully simonft is helping), grant writing, all the many roles that went into running the crowdfunding campaign and producing the associated video). I'm glad I was an Interdisciplinary Humanities major; it couldn't have been a more interdisciplinary year. I'm also glad I use Org-Mode; it will sound silly, but MediaGoblin could not exist without that program.

And as tiring as it may have been, I am hoping I can continue with it. The MediaGoblin community is... dare I say while admitting tons of bias... one of the best communities I have seen in free software. (Maybe even the best? Again, I am admitting bias! ;))

But Joar Wandborg summarized the situation well:

The challenge at the moment, at least from what I see, is time. MediaGoblin would greatly benefit from more resources, having either one or more funded MediaGoblin developers would greatly benefit the project, as it is now, we have a lot of separate volunteers contributing code, thus putting a lot of work on the lead developer to review code. If we could increase the throughput on reviewing by assigning more people to review it would make the lead developer able to concentrate on increasingly keeping the project coherent and flexible while moving forward.

Well said. :)

On that note, I am simultaneously working on trying to get more resources on board and growing MediaGoblin upward and outward. This is achievable, I believe, and if we can get enough resources in front of ourselves, I think MediaGoblin can easily be sustainable. But to get there, we need to split my role into multiple people. That's hard to do because splitting my role into multiple people requires more resources, but it's hard to do the work to get more resources in while I am the only full time person, even with the amazing, amazing community we have (which is, again, super amazing!). This is solvable, but as a friend of mine accurately described it over dinner, it's a "bootstrapping problem". In the meanwhile, I am also playing a role of trying to bootstrap things just so, but that means actively wearing another hat, one that the MediaGoblin community does not usually see. It's hard not to feel bad while I'm doing that kind of work, because I feel like I am neglecting other things I want to move forward. But it needs to be done. And I think we can and will get there.

On that note, we will be running another crowdfunding campaign. I won't go into details here, but I have elsewhere, and if you're interested, you can read a relevant IRC log. There will be more to say soon, and of course you will hear about it here.

Another way to summarize things: next year I want to wrap up the features we need to get MediaGoblin 1.0 out the door (and that includes federation work) and then work on pushing forward MediaGoblin adoption. Plans are moving ahead on those fronts, and I am feeling optimistic. (One way to advance those plans is, if you or an organization you are working with are interested in running an instance, do it! And even better, if you are interested in funding either us developing relevant features or helping you run an instance, by all means contact me!

By the way, have I mentioned XUDD? I don't get that much time to talk about it, but the very rare times I get to work on code that isn't MediaGoblin (sadly, it's pretty rare) I have been spending on XUDD. In short, I think the way we're writing a lot of asynchronous network applications is wrong, and I think we can massively improve the situation. XUDD is an attempt to show how I think that could happen through an implementation of the actor model in Python. The architecture is shaping up nicely, and I feel good about the ideas and directions of the project. It's too bad it's so hard to allocate time for it. As you may have guessed, this may tie back into MediaGoblin some day, but if it does it will be some time in the future.

Anyway, that's enough of me yammering on for now. I think we've got an exciting year head. Now, back to working on this release!

Block o' conferencing reflections

By Christopher Allan Webber on Tue 29 October 2013

So this last month and a half I've done much more conferencing than I normally do; first was GNU 30th where we ran a MediaGoblin hackathon, the Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit 2013 where I ran a federation session and helped Karen Sandler run the Outreach Program for Women session, and the Blender Conference where I gave a talk (which was recorded and uploaded to YouTube, which I suppose I should mirror to MediaGoblin when I get time, or something).

There were a lot of good things that came out of these conferences for me (though I am always worrying while at conferences whether or not I am making the best use of time as it is near impossible to do "normal" tasks there). Spreading news about MediaGoblin was good, and I think I was successful there. More importantly though, I queried a lot of people for advice. I pestered a lot of people to try to get a sense of what's ahead, and I'm grateful to everyone, but especially to Deb Nicholson (as always, as MediaGoblin co-conspirator), Aeva Palecek (who puts up with hearing me think through nearly everything), Karen Sandler, Mike Linksvayer, Bradley Kuhn, John Sullivan, Leslie Hawthorne, Asheesh Laroia, and Ton Roosendaal, who all sat down with me at some point and gave me useful perspectives on how to take various strategies forward for MediaGoblin and related things. Given I'm now nearing the end of MediaGoblin's year of paid work from the MediaGoblin campaign, this was really important for me to figure out how to move ahead with the next year. I feel like I have a good sense of direction now and a set of loose plans that will (hopefully!) work out, and that's really important. Thank you, all, and thanks also to the many people I didn't even list because it would be too long.

I already called them out, but it was really great on this trip especially to talk to and observe Karen Sandler and Ton Roosendaal on the way they organize and plan their respective organizations. Karen gave me a lot of personal advice that I will not repeat here but which gave me some confidence and sense of capability (thanks Karen). I also really admire both what Karen has done with the GNOME Foundation (especially in how it's been branching out to other things with Outreach Program for Women), and I also admire how much of a large universe of things Ton Roosendaal has helped cultivate with the Blender Foundation and Blender Institute. By the way (maybe it helps to know a bit about the Blender community?) I highly recommend watching Ton Roosendaal's "foundation feedback" talk. Maybe one of the most impressive things about Ton's approach to the Blender Foundation (which really is very minimal and just handles being a steward for the code side of things and etc) and the Blender Institute (which is much more ambitious, has a large studio, employs many developers, funds open movie and game projects, and does large and bold things). One thing he talks about is that as soon as the community takes over an activity, such as doing training, the Blender Institute hands it off to the community and stops doing it so it can focus on other things that are not being worked on as strongly. A bold move; many organizations seem to have a super difficult time letting go of something once it's in their domain. But it works well; the Blender Institute focuses on growing the community into new areas, but when those areas are well established to be sustainable externally, just let them be! It's a surprising and refreshing approach in a world where even nonprofits seem to want to establish empires. Additionally, other interesting things happened in that talk and Ton's keynote; UI conversations have been strong and while construtive, somewhat divisive in the community. Ton wrote an article (also discussed in the talk) called (Re)defining Blender and I think it does a good job of reframing the issue in a way that's constructive for everyone.

Related to that, there was quite a bit of racial diversity, but sadly not much gender diversity, at the Blender conference. Sadly I think Blender falls in the intersection of free software communities and 3d graphics, both of which really struggle with gender diversity. Nonetheless, the women who were there all were doing amazing, powerful, and well-respected things, from coding of important Blender tooling, to the authorship of amazing short films, to the use of Blender for fine art, to 3d printing, to anthropological reconstruction, to I am sure some more things from people I did not talk to. But one form of diversity that Aeva and I discussed that we were both impressed by was the large diversity of types of things people are doing; from heart surgery training to animation to games to programming to fine art, people were really all over the place in the things they were accomplishing. That felt really great to see.

Speaking of Blender, it was pretty incredible to hang out in the same room of some of my "childhood heroes"... and by that I mean, I really didn't have many of those since I didn't watch a lot of non-animated television and that seems to be where people pick up their majority of celebrity crushes, and so the age range at which some of my largest "heroes" developed was in late high school and early college, when I became obsessed with free software and especially the Blender community. I had befriended Bassam Kurdali some time ago, but it was also really great to hang out in the room as people such as Andy Goralczyk and Pablo Vaquez and both to talk to them and for them to seem to take me seriously. I told them that if it weren't for being inspired by their creaturey artwork maybe I wouldn't have been so encouraged to continue on with my own creaturey stuff... maybe MediaGoblin wouldn't have a goblin and would be named something else! They seemed appreciative when I showed them Liberated Pixel Cup, the style guide, and the thing I was trying to prove (partly in response to the Open Movie Projects that they had both participated in) that distributed free culture projects are indeed possible if you do enough of the work up front (relevant maybe now due to the nature of the newly announced Project Gooseberry which will be a lot more distributed than previous open movie projects). They both seemed excited and interested (we even talked about how a 3d version of the base could be done, even in the same style), and I felt really happy about that.

There are of course many more things that happened and plenty of other things I can go on about too; maybe one of the more memorable things about this stretch of time was the GNU 30th Hackathon. We had a good turnout:

GNU 30th hackathon turnout

And we were even lucky enough to have all Outreach Program for Women students attend!

OPW students!

I was really happy with this hackathon, and especially the opportunity to have everyone together. As we said goodbye to each person, I felt a little more sad, to the point where when saying goodbye to Jessica Tallon and I split off at the ticketing area at the airport, I was nearly in a funk.

And this leads into something else. At all of these conferences I was asked: will you be coming back? Will we see you next year? Will you come to this other conference our project is running? And there's a temptation to do so... the curse of the traveler raises its head, and I feel that I want to see these people again and that I will miss them when I'm gone (and I will).

But how much conferencing should I do, really? I think the time invested in these conferences was worth it, but I will be glad to be done conferencing for some time. Previously in the year I had been invited to a bunch of conferences and for half a year I avoided all of them because I wanted to get real work done. Let's face it: there's certain kinds of useful work that's done in making connections and establishing/revitalizing community that can be done by conference-going, but it's also quite difficult to do Real Work (TM). (A certain exception: many projects have a role where someone really should be attending more conferences and etc for the pupose of making connections; it should be worked into the expectations of the position that this kills one's capacity to do all sorts of other kinds of work though.)

One thing Ton said in his talk (I'm paraphrasing) was "Every other day I get invited to another conference, and I turn down every one of them. Every conference you go to takes away a week of work, and there's too much work to be done." Too true! While I think I did the right thing by this set of conference attendance, it's time to hole back up in my apartment and get stuff done.

Time to get back to work... and there's plenty to do!