Recent and upcoming doings in Euca-land

Busy times with Eucalyptus.

A couple of meetings tomorrow in Eucalyptus-land, aka irc.freenode.net #eucalyptus:

Meeting the first. 10am Pacific US time. The topic: EucaTV. The long-term goal: to figure out how to populate the Eucalyptus Education channel with awesome HOWTOs that explain how to run a Eucalyptus cloud. Good times.

Meeting the second. 11am Pacific US time. The topic: CLOUD MACHINE. The long-term goal: to build the awesomest possible version of Eucalyptus that runs right off of USB stick. We’ve already got Fast Start, but we’re going to take it to ANOTHER LEVEL.  (Precise level yet to be determined.)  Click, click, buzz, buzz, completely functional private cloud in minutes. Good times.

Also of note: the new Eucalyptus community mailing list, where everything Eucalyptus will be ultimately be reported upon, debated, endlessly discussed, worked and reworked and reworked some more. All right there in public. Come see some sausage being made!

See you at either one meeting or the other meeting, or maybe even at both meetings.  And also on the mailing list.  Good, good times.

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Recent and upcoming doings in Euca-land

The Wikipedia Code Challenge is live.

And I’m beat.  🙂

In addition to working with the nice folks at Eucalyptus, I’ve also been working with the nice folks at the Wikimedia Foundation to launch the October 2011 Coding Challenge.  We’ve been working through the various aspects: logistics, the challenge areas themselves, and of course legal.

We launched about 10 minutes ago, and we have 10 signups for the challenge, and we’ve received 2 emails from people with questions.  That means we can expect a run rate of… yeah, I’m not gonna do that math.

That’s the power of putting a banner ad on a site that gets 10 million hits a day.

So check it out.  And if you want to write some code to help Wikipedia out (and some of the challenges are pretty fun and pretty cool), feel free to sign right up.

The contest is open until November 7th at 23:59 UTC.  Then the judging begins.  I suspect it’s going to be a very long few weeks — but it’s been an awesome ride so far.

The Wikipedia Code Challenge is live.

The heady scent of Eucalyptus

I’ve long admired the folks at Eucalyptus. I remember in the early days of the Fedora Cloud SIG, the earliest people from the community who showed up to participate were Graziano Obertelli and Garrett Holmstrom. They were among the first non-Redhatters to do heavy lifting as we tried to get that SIG off the ground.

Now here we are, twenty months (-ish) later. The world moves fast, and hot new technologies race forward. Cloud is now at the epicenter of the open source world, and a lot of new entrants are moving quickly. It’s awesome that the open source model continues to crush. The old saw that “open source is for duplication and not innovation” is exposed even more clearly in the cloud world as the lie it’s always been.

One of the things I’ve learned about open source, though, is that sharing the source code isn’t nearly enough. You’ve got to be out there talking about what you do, and inviting people to join you. You’ve got to be working in the open. You’ve got to share: both the good stuff and the not-so-good stuff. You’ve got to be a little bit vulnerable. It’s not easy.

Eucalyptus has been consistently excellent at turning out great open source software for driving private clouds. They’ve been less great at doing the other open source stuff — not because they’ve been unwilling, but because they’ve been sprinting so hard, for so long, serving their customers and growing their business.

It’s a problem with which I am intimately familiar. 🙂

There’s great things happening in Euca-land, but most Eucalyptoids are too busy building the future to talk about what they’re doing. So I’m going to help them.

It’s going to be fun to be back in the open source community again. See you on the lazyweb.

The heady scent of Eucalyptus

The Community of One

I had the good fortune of being present for Jono Bacon’s excellent community session at OSCON a few weeks ago. (The 40 minute version, not the 15 minute keynote version with which he was wholly dissatisfied.) As the open source model matures, community management as a discipline is maturing with it, and Jono did an excellent job of bringing together some of his own best practices in a concise and useful presentation. He promised to have his deck uploaded soon, so as soon as he does, I’ll link to it.  (Jono: hint hint.)

One of the most interesting slides in that deck, and for me one of the most personally resonant, was a page that arrayed all of the potential responsibilities of the community manager — a grid of words that took up the entire page. Words like growth and transparency and process and conduct and governance and buzz, and lots more besides. An intimidating array of words, really.

As we chatted afterwards, the would-be founder of a small niche project talked about the pains of getting people to engage in his project, and how he could possibly keep track of all of those community tasks while he was busy slinging code, and in that huge array of potential responsibilities, where should he start? How should he grow beyond a Community of One?

It was a great question, and it set me to thinking for days afterwards.

At first I thought, “it’s most important to articulate your needs.” And it’s true: articulating your needs is very important. People can’t help you if they don’t know what you need, and mostly, people don’t have time to guess. So it’s very important to have, at the very least, a visible list of “things I’ll be doing next.” A good, updated TODO somewhere prominent in the repo, perhaps.

But what if no one is looking at that TODO?

So then I thought, “it’s most important to be vocal.” And it’s true: being vocal is very important. People won’t follow you if they can’t find you, and the only way people can find you is if you talk about what you’re doing. Which doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people. So it’s very important to blog about what you do — to celebrate your victories and ruminate on your challenges.

But what if no one is interested in your victories and your challenges?

Which brought me, finally, to this:

It’s most important to be solving a problem that really matters to other people.

The oft-quoted chestnut about open source development is that it’s all about developers “scratching their own itch,” and of course this is absolutely true — but community only happens when other people have that same itch.

Maybe that’s not the most encouraging advice — “gee, you should have better ideas!” — but I think it really is at the heart of successful communities. Successful communities are passionately engaged in the pursuit of the same goal. If that goal isn’t an audacious goal, with some power to stir the blood, it’s just harder to engage people in its pursuit.

Which means that you should seek out other people who might share your problem, or even a problem like it, and you should talk to them about your ideas.  Such a simple thing — and so hard to do.

It’s hard, of course, because we cherish our own ideas.  It’s hard to listen to people shoot holes in those ideas. And they will — will they ever. Even with legitimately good ideas, you will always find people who will say “no”, often quite stridently. That’s okay. Remember that your goal is to find the people who say “yes”, or “maybe”, and if you can find even one or two people who passionately agree with your idea, that’s enough to justify continuing towards your grand solution.

And if you don’t find those one or two people? Well, it is possible that you’re way ahead of your time, and that you should continue to track your idea relentlessly — but I myself, in similar circumstances, have often found it useful to ruminate on the words of the great Richard Feynman:

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

The Community of One

Insert your favorite “Wrath of Khan” joke blog title here

For any agent of change, there’s no measurement of success so sure as the steady accumulation of vocal critics — and Sal Khan is finding all kinds of critics as he continues to press forward.

What’s most notable is that he’s finding many of his most vocal critics among professional educators who are eager to point out that he’s Doing It Wrong, and that their own methods are clearly superior.

They’re absolutely right, too — but they are right about points that no reasonable person disputes.

Of course a motivated, talented teacher with a strong pedagogical background, years of experience, and an excellent relationship with his or her students is going to provide a superior learning experience to a website on the internet.

But here’s the thing, Highly Effective Teacher: not every kid has access to the Wonder That Is You.  Right?  So what can we offer to those kids?

Something is always better than Nothing, and there are still way too many kids in this world (and adults, for that matter) who are closer to that Nothing side of the continuum.  Khan Academy, and the projects that came before it like One Laptop Per Child and Sugar Labs, and the many projects that will surely come after, are all trying to solve that Nothing problem.  Why are so many teachers threatened by that?

Working with ISKME and OER Commons over the past year has been eye-opening for me, in a lot of ways.  Full of a-ha moments.  One of the critical a-ha moments: doing reverse DNS lookups for server logs for OER Commons, and seeing how many of those hits come from India and Pakistan, where the Nothing problem is acute.  And many of those users who search for open educational resources, and find them at our site, describe themselves in their online profiles as Learners.

Learners exist outside of the classroom.  All over the world.  And those learners are finding the internet, and searching it desperately for knowledge that can improve their lives.  Sal Khan is trying to serve their needs, and near as I can tell, he’s doing a better job in his particular problem space than anyone before him ever has.  Of course he’s not doing it exactly right.  He’s making mistakes, just like every innovator does.  That’s how it works.

So you mind your students, Highly Effective Teachers of the world, and let Sal mind his.

Insert your favorite “Wrath of Khan” joke blog title here