New gig: Wikimedia Foundation

As of last week, I’m officially an employee of the Wikimedia Foundation. Here’s the the official announcement of WMF hiring me. I’ve been working there as a contractor for the past couple of months, and it’s been a great experience so far. I’m working with a lot of really smart people that I stand to learn a great deal from. I’m pretty used to being the “open source guy” at the companies I’ve worked at in the past, so it’s going to be an interesting twist to work somewhere where publishing the source code (and most everything else, for that matter) is just a given.

Posted in Personal, Tech | 3 Comments

On Diaspora

There’s been a lot of hubbub about Facebook’s ongoing tone-deafness regarding privacy. As a result, there has also been a lot of hubbub about the Diaspora project, with both wildly optimistic projections of their success, as well as more skeptical assessments.

I’m skeptical about Diaspora specifically, because it reminds me a lot of an effort to take RealNetworks down a peg more than a decade ago. In 1999, the Free Expression Project was started to “help people distribute their content to other people without being beholden to any corporation”. A laudable goal, and one that earned them a fawning writeup on CNet News, which claimed that Real was under siege by these folks. The project never seemed to make it much further than a website with a few diagrams, and nothing that came even close to challenging the streaming media hegemony we enjoyed at the time. (I was at Real from 1996-2005)

However, that’s not really the whole story. What the fawning press coverage indicated was that there were a lot of people who wanted Real to be taken down a peg or two. I imagine that the CNet reporter was as skeptical as anyone about the ability of the Free Expression Project to deliver, but he wrote the story anyway because he knew that people would eat it up. He knew that story would generate traffic because people would see his headline, think “Thank GOD!”, and click through to read the story. He was probably right.

It ultimately wasn’t a ragtag band of open source developers that toppled Real’s dominant position, but rather a one-two punch from Microsoft then Macromedia/Adobe. Still, their job was made a lot easier by the prevailing mood. When we tried to rally the open source community a few years later, despite our success in landing deals with hardware vendors (which it appears they are still successful with), we didn’t get a lot of organic contribution. By then, MPlayer, GStreamer, Xine, VLC and other efforts were already underway, and contributors to those projects had little incentive to join forces with us at that point. The developers on those projects thought: “we can do this better, and why would we want to help Real anyway?”

Facebook has a pretty solid network lock-in going for them, so its not as though we’re about to witness a sudden collapse of their market position. However, they’ve got a serious problem with their brand, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Zuckerberg is in complete denial about it, preferring to think about the privacy controversy as a storm that will blow over soon enough. It’d be easy for the Facebook crew to believe that no one is going to be able to pull together all of the elements needed for head-to-head competition. I’m betting that’s not how it plays out. My guess is that someone like Twitter or Google figures out how to add just enough functionality that many more people feel comfortable giving up on Facebook. Moreover, if I were going into competition with Facebook, I think I’d try to turn their strength into a weakness. For example, for many younger people, a network not overrun with parents, grandparents and extended relatives might just be a selling point.

I’m not deleting my Facebook account anytime soon, but I know I don’t need everything Facebook currently offers.

Posted in Tech | 3 Comments

Pronouncing Eyjafjallajökull

I got curious if there was a pronunciation on Wikipedia of “Eyjafjallajökull”, which of course there was. In the really helpful IPA alphabet, which is: “ˈɛɪjaˌfjatlaˌjœːkʏtl̥”. I got about halfway through deciphering this when I gave up.

Fortunately, there’s a recording of a native speaker. Did you catch that? Me neither. Finally, looking on the talk page, there is a great discussion. One useful resource in that section is this clip from ABC News.

So, here’s what I was able to ascertain is the best way to describe it in text. You say: “AY-ya-fyot-lah-yoe-kdl” with a particular emphasis on the “AY-ya” part to distinguish it from all of the other silly fyot-lah-yoe-kdls (mountain glaciers) that they have a million of in Iceland.

According to the New York Times blog, if you’re a native English speaker, your best chance of saying this is to mumble “Hey ya forgot the yogurt”. They’ve also got perhaps better text versions of how to say it.

Posted in Misc | 8 Comments

Doing the conferency talky thing

That's me giving a lecture to my daughter about the importance of proper modularization in large scale development


I didn’t do much in the way of public speaking last year, but I’m starting to make up for it this year. Here’s a few things I’ve got coming up:

Posted in Personal, Tech | 2 Comments

Thoughts on dual licensing and contrib agreements

Two-headed Camel

Creative Commons License photo by kwc

There’s been a lot of chatter lately about dual licensing in open source and its much-maligned companion the contributor license agreement. Since my last two community management gigs involved dual licensing and CLAs, I have a few thoughts on the subject.

These tools certainly make it harder to build a community. As Brian Aker pointed out in Drizzle, Licensing, Having Honest Conversations with your Community:

How do you have an honest conversation with someone where you say “yes, I will need the work you did for free, to be assigned over to me, so that I can make money on it”?

It’s not hard to understand that argument. As anyone who has ever tried to build a community will tell you, contributors don’t grow on trees. It’s a lot of hard work getting a community excited and motivated to work on your project. Having a single-minded focus on the thought process of your contributor community is probably the only way to build a community of any size or consequence.
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Posted in Tech | 14 Comments

Easy form building for terminal windows: jsonwidget-python

I’ve been working on a project to make building forms really simple. My latest work is “jsonwidget-python” for terminal-based applications (like you would use via SSH or local terminal on Linux and Mac). It’s all very retro, but terminal windows are still very much in use for buzzword-compliant activities like configuring virtual machines for cloud computing, in addition to being the preferred user interface for a lot of people out there (*cough* nerds *cough*).

This new project builds on some earlier work that I’ve retroactively renamed “jsonwidget-javascript“. jsonwidget-javascript is AJAX-y generation of forms inside a browser based on a JSON schema. jsonwidget-python is intended for terminal users at first, but will extend to other contexts as well.

Here’s a simple screenshot to show what’s going on:

Simple Address Entry in jsonwidget-python

Simple Address Entry in jsonwidget-python


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Posted in Tech | Tagged | 23 Comments

Sorry about the NASCAR-looking comment area

As you may have noticed if you visited blog.robla.net directly, the comment area is handled via Intense Debate. I did that to get myself out of the account management business while still maintaining a modicum of control over my site. Other than then weird blue flaming logo and the name “intense debate” on a blog that I don’t anticipate intense debate on, it’s rather nice.

One new feature that I just enabled is the ability to comment using Facebook or Twitter login. It appears as though if you use it via Facebook, you’ll get the “allow to automatically post to your wall”, which is something that I don’t intend to exploit. If anyone with Facebook Developer-fu knows how to tweak it so it doesn’t ask for that permission, I’d be grateful if you clued me in.

The downside, of course, is that now there is 15 different logos down in the comment area now, not counting the additional 9 or so that pop up when you hover over the little orange RSS icon. Who knows, given the lack of color in the plain-jane theme I’ve recently switched to, maybe that’s a feature.

Posted in Tech | 4 Comments

Python’s simpleparse module


I’m working on a project that required a bit more from the JSON parser than the stock JSON parser with Python allowed for. After doing some hunting around, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that I’d probably need to write my own.

Thankfully, Python’s simpleparse module lived up to its billing (thanks in large part to JSON having such trivial syntax) Here’s the working BNF suitable for passing to simpleparse:
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Posted in Tech | 15 Comments

Matthew Yglesias » Who’s “Ideological” in the Health Care Debate?

Great insight from Matthew Yglesias:

The habit of insisting that only the right and the left have “ideologies” and that people in the center don’t is one of the absolute most frustrating elements of conventional political discussion in the United States. The fact of the matter is that “centrist” ideological taboos have been the big story of the Obama administration. That starts with the imposition of an arbitrary cap on the size of the stimulus bill, it continues to the utterly merciless and fanatical centrist opposition to the existence of any public option, to the Fed’s refusal to undertake further monetary easing, to the unwillingness to contemplate really stern measures against bailed-out banks and their executives, and on and on and on.

The idea of a “centrist” ideology is easiest to apply to the “left-right” political spectrum in the U.S., but it holds true in other areas as well (e.g. proprietary versus open). While the “correct” answer is often between two extremes, that’s not always the case. People who tend to favor shades of grey are not necessarily more reasonable, just more prone to picking shades of grey.

Posted in General | 1 Comment

Moving on

I’ve decided to leave my current job at Linden Lab. Those of you interested in the ins-and-outs of Second Life may want to look at my post to “sldev” (our open source development mailing list). It was a tough decision to leave, and even tougher to make without having my next move totally nailed down, but so far it feels like the right decision. Ask me in a couple months how I feel :-)

Without going into too much detail about what I’m working on, suffice it to say that it involves open source in a pretty big way. Even if this immediate opportunity doesn’t pan out, the scope of stuff I’ll be looking at is going to be pretty narrowly focused on facilitating the creation of open source software. I’ll write more here as things get clearer.

Posted in Personal, Tech | 2 Comments

Selectricity…yay, someone beat me to the punch

I just set up a mock election on Selectricity, just to see what it could do, and was pleasantly surprised that they created a very simple interface for creating Schulze/Condorcet elections that pretty much anyone can use. I tried getting to this point a few years ago with Electowidget, but sadly didn’t get to a usable enough place (nor a maintainable enough site).

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Brutal honesty in open source development

There’s a bit of a flamewar going on right now between the main PulseAudio developer, and another Linux desktop developer who grew frustrated by some very real problems caused directly and indirectly by it. PulseAudio is the latest of many savior technologies that promise to make audio on Linux not suck. I’m actually pretty optimistic that the fifth(?) time’s a charm here; there’s a lot of very sensible things about the design.

Anyway, Jeffrey Stedfast wrote a series of blog posts culminating in “PulseAudio: I told you so“. In these, he documents his frustration with being given the runaround when trying to point out PA problems that he ends up debugging to the point of finding and/or filing several bugs/patches in various bug trackers. PulseAudio creator Lennart Poettering had enough, and posted to his blog with a long rebuttal, claiming that Stedfast’s blog post “flamed my software and hence me”. It’s a pretty run of the mill developer flamewar, which only caught my eye because I’ve had a few frustrating problems with PA myself and was hoping to learn more.
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Software as hiring decision

This article in CIO Magazine touches on things that you should look for in choosing open source software:

  • Project stability: Can you trust the project to be there when you need it?
  • Project support: Can you get support when you need it?
  • Internal software management: Does your company know what open-source programs it’s using? How it’s developing and deploying them both in-house and to customers?”

I’m not so sure that these problems are truly bigger problems for open source as they are for software in general. When people in companies select a new piece of software (for use as a standalone product or as an integrated component of a larger system) they miss one important thing: it is much more like a hiring decision than they probably realize. Many of the considerations people make for new employees (reputation, cultural fit, how they are to work with) are equally applicable to new software components and systems.

(CIO article via Matthew Aslett @ The 451 Group)

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A hard problem worth solving

Here’s a description of the organic open source panel at OSCON (which I’m participating in): “The OSI’s Open Source Definition attempts to set the minimum bar for a software license to be considered “open source”. However, there’s much more to a software project than just the license. Are software projects dominated by a single company still open source? Does a project need to be ‘organic’ to be truly open source? What does “organic” even mean in this context?

My answer to the first two questions is “yes, of course projects dominated by one company are still open source, and no it doesn’t need to be ‘organic’”, where “organic” is (arguably) defined as a project which the first release included source, and is generally characterized as by a distributed development team with no single company truly in control, and “inorganic” is generally code that started off life as a proprietary effort. Yay, panel concluded, thanks everyone!

No? Ok, the line of questions above implies a question of quality, and there are very real qualitative differences between “organic” and “inorganic” open source…..
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She’s Two!

The last couple years have been a ‘merciful blur’ as my mom likes to put it. Hard to believe our little baby is now 2 years old. Running, jumping, climbing, feeding herself and talking in complete sentences.

My mother is here for a 2 week visit. The last time was December 2006!
We had Auntie Dawn and Uncle Mike over for birthday pizza and cupcakes.

The weather has finally been nice enough to play outside so we’ve had
Bubble Time!

And Muddy Mud Time!

She also likes to play pretend – like
“I’m a bunny!”

Or “I’m the conductor of a famous symphony!”

For at least as long as a 2 year old’s attention span will allow.

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Open source and a free tote bag

Matt Asay wrote a blog post “Cash, code, or free-riding in open source communities?“, which was a good post on a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about myself. He used the term “free-rider” which caused a well documented uproar.

I’m saddened by the sense of entitlement inherent in the uproar. What’s wrong with asking members of a software community to do more than just use the software? Personally, I feel that if I can endure the twice-a-year NPR pledge drive banter (which centers around making “free-riders” feel bad), I can deal with being asked to throw a little something back to the authors of the software I use. In the end, just like NPR, no one is obligated to donate, but no one should fault them for asking, because it’d suck if no one did donate.

Some of the negative responses to this article exhibit a behavior that is gets under my skin as someone who is in a similar boat as Matt. It seems fashionable these days to bash on the vendors associated with single-vendor open source projects. Do we really not want to see more vendors release their source code, or do we instead want the investment dollars to go toward the creation of more proprietary software? Don’t we think that skeptical proprietary software purveyors look at that kind of thing, and think “wow, glad that’s not me!”? I realize that most community members are aware of the nuance and hard problems, and its often the blowhards that are the most vocal, but often, the blowhards go unchallenged. Why should we let them feel cool about doing trashing those people making an honest effort? Like Savio Rodrigues, I want to see open source software production get a larger percentage of the overall investment in software than we’re seeing today.

Posted in Tech | 1 Comment

Time for more video

We’ve introduced the concept of ‘air guitar’ …

And she’s got a great memory for catchy phrases

Posted in Personal | 2 Comments

Is OpenSolaris an elitist?

Dave Neary has a great blog post about Sun trying to do the right thing. It was refreshing to read this, and quite insightful. I’ve been watching the naming debate with some interest, if for no other reason than this is a conversation I’m quite interested in pushing my view in, and it helps to have a shared vocabulary.

I can’t help but think that the Linux vs OpenSolaris debate is like if two candidates for the Green Party got into an Obama vs Clinton style fight over the Green Party nomination. The free software community is going to have a tough enough time winning in November, so to speak, without scaring off the newcomers.

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Speaking at the Seattle Social Media Club

A little bit of work talk. I’m going to be speaking tonight (January 31) at the Seattle Social Media Club about Second Life, along with my co-worker Greg Tomko-Pavia (aka Periapse Linden)
Jeff Barr at Amazon, who has been doing really innovative work promoting Amazon Web Services using Second Life, and Brian White, the author of Second Life – A Guide to Your Virtual World.

If you’d like to show up, please RSVP for the event. It’s happening in downtown Seattle at Text100

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Christmas and other stuff

Hazel has developed a shoe fetish. She usually goes for my closet full of pumps but this time it was Dad shoes.

Christmas clothes from Mommy – she’s wearing a purple outfit from Auntie Judy

She also got a couple books from Grandma Ethel

Our little music lover

One two three go! Hazel and Daddy play ‘Vrrrrooom’ and Hazel shows of counting skilz

Posted in Personal | 1 Comment