Pluggable architecture, not just for code


photo from Chris Zakorchemny

One OSCON session that made me think was “Does Open Source need to be organic?” The panel contained Brian Aker (MySQL), Rob Lanphier (Linden Lab), Stephen O’Grady (Redmonk), Theodore Ts’o (Linux Foundation). The session was less about business vs. community, and more about how to increase community involvement in your projects.

Brian Aker mentioned Launchpad, and the way that it handles code forks. Forks are integrated into the system using a new revision control system – Bazaar. The forks are front and center – allowing all developers on the project to add forks and update them, incorporating them in with the primary code distribution point. This model reinforces the idea that forks are natural and can be positive evolutions in open source projects.

My big take-away: If you want to increase community contribution to open source projects, provide public and easy-to use interfaces. Publish your API early and create pluggable interfaces! Let developers add functionality and publish their add-ons easily, both in your project’s development space and on their own.

The same principal can be applied to the people side of open source projects. In your organization, make roles, tasks and responsibilities transparent. Let everyone – inside AND outside the project – know what they could be doing to get things done. The mistake that many projects make is assuming that people know what they could be doing.

Think of the people-side of projects the same way as you think about the code. Documented APIs are the same as public mailing lists, blog entries and wikis that reveal what your organization is actually doing, and how new people can get involved. Roles and titles that are meaningful let people know who they should bring their ideas to. And that lowers barriers to participation.

Leadership is not just telling people what to do – it’s inspiring, facilitating and then getting out of the way of people who are willing and capable of doing things on their own. Community grown from inspiration, and then fed by encouragement, fun and recognition of accomplishment, are the ones that last. And these communities are the ones that I want to be part of.

Stormy Peters: Money, developers and creativity


Sunday’s keynote at SCaLE was given by Stormy Peters. She talked about open source, business contributions and the social and financial economies driving development.

Three of her research questions were:

  • What is the initial motivation that encourages people to contribute?
  • How do companies pay for open source contributions? (and what’s the effect?)
  • How do companies change projects when they join?


Her conclusion was that the developer community needs to teach businesses how to do things right for the community. We can’t wait for businesses to figure it out on their own. The call to action was a good one, but it seemed to leave some audience members scratching their heads. One audience member asked, “How do we do that?”

A few interesting figures she mentioned:

  • 1/3 of all developers believe that software should be free
  • Average number of open source projects a developer works on: 5
  • 40% of open source developers are paid to contribute
  • 10-20% are paid but their bosses don’t know it – that probably was a joke 😉

One quote that stuck with me was: “Typically people have been divided between left and right brain [professions].” I don’t agree. I think you only have to look briefly at the history of science to see that creativity (“right brain”) and reason (“left brain”) have often gone together.

The developer community just like many others – regular people who want to be useful, and inspired by their work. Creativity may not be asked for in a person’s work. But people invent, dream and create regardless of whether their profession requires it.

Calagator, Ignite Portland, new PUGS site, geek2geek, SCALE — whew!

I’ve been filling my time with some community and open source work.

First, I’m working with Audrey and some other fabulous community members on Calagator, open-source calendar aggregation with teeth! Our next codesprint is coming up on February 2. Everyone is welcome!

Ignite Portland is coming up on February 5, aka Super Tuesday. We’re up to 400 RSVPs. I’m hoping for a rowdy, fun crowd.

The new PUGS site is coming along. I just got some patches to plug a wiki in there, and I got a pre-release of the PostgreSQL theme used by the Italian PostgreSQL site. Looking forward to digging in this evening.

Michael Schwern’s geek2geek has been a taking off. I wrote a guest post about the Pickup Artist. We’re riffing on the idea of social engineering, and the Pickup Artist focuses on manipulation and physical cues.

Finally, I’m leaving for SCALE on February 8th. Lots too do before then!


wide shot of city hall

I went to Vernonia today with my husband to volunteer. We went directly to city hall, got a red work ticket, and drove out to a house that needed the garage cleared out. They were incredibly efficient, handing out tickets as fast as people were able to sign in.

one of many down fences

The folks on our red ticket needed their garage cleaned out. We found out that the person living there had been staying since the flood at a shelter with her three children. They were trying to clear out the garage to have Christmas there, instead of in the shelter.


We talked while we worked, learning that a neighbor needed help with his fence, that some stuff in the garage going to the dump was old, emotional baggage that at least one person was happy to see gone, and that these folks had all been around for the 1996 flood.

We had a free lunch from good folks who BBQ’d all day downtown. And we visited the schools.

vernonia high

All three schools – elementary, middle and high – were stripped to where the flood waters had reached. The rooms were all empty and full of drying equipment. Many rooms still had student work hanging from the walls.


The high school lost most or maybe all of their computer labs. At least one lab was in a portable classroom that was completely flooded.

former computer lab

It was chilly outside, but not raining most of the day. We walked for probably half an hour, all around the schools. Then we went back to the garage to finish up the cleaning.

There was only about an hour’s worth of work left. We helped move boxes into the attic, and open up the area around a tiny wood stove in the back of the garage. A local church is coming out on Monday to get the large appliances out, and then they’ll do a final wash before bringing a Christmas tree, and a few pieces of furniture in.

Another friendly neighbor is loaning the family a trailer to live in while their home is stripped and hopefully raised a few more feet off the ground. They didn’t know how long any of that would take, but were applying for FEMA assistance.

Link to

scappoose school district to take on vernonia students

Last night, the Scappoose School District sent out a press release announcing that Scappoose High School be accepting the students from Vernonia. From the press release:

Just moments after students completed their final exams on Thursday, December 6th, Sue Hays, the Scappoose High School principal, asked the entire student body and staff if they were up for one more challenge. The response was a resounding “Yes!” Unofficially dubbed “The Vernonia Project” around the SHS halls, this grassroots effort between the Vernonia Schools and SHS was the idea of students and staff concerned with how to help their friends and neighbors. In less than 24 hours, the effort has been approved and is underway to host the 6th through 12th graders from Vernonia left without books, supplies and classrooms as a result of the recent flood damage.

Vernonia students will start coming to the Scappoose High School on December 11th. Staff expected the relocation would last 4-5 weeks, but an exact end-date has not been specified.

Scappoose High, in conjunction with Scappoose Fire Station Share & Care Program, is also holding a fundraiser for the Scappoose & Vernonia Food Bank, collecting cash and non-perishable food donations to help restock the Bank’s pantry. All proceeds from the next three home basketball games will be donated to the Food Bank.

Hands On Greater Portland posts disaster response volunteer opportunities

Hands On Greater Portland has posted disaster response volunteer opportunities on their site. The partner programs are Victim Volunteer Services (Vernonia and Columbia County) as well as the American Red Cross.

The Red Cross is looking for folks to show up tomorrow morning (12/7/2007) at 8am. See the Hands On site for details. Vernonia Victim Volunteer Services is also looking for folks to just show up at their space across the street from Vernonia City Hall.

Hands On will likely be coordinating a few projects in the weeks to come. If you have some time this weekend, however, just head out to either of the locations mentioned on the Hands On website.

gulf coast trip: biloxi, hands on gulf coast, de-molding

Welcome to the Lake

My first volunteer project was de-molding a house in Biloxi. Over three days, nearly all of the Hands On Portland team and I worked with Emily, a team leader from Hands On Gulf Coast. The house was built about 20 years ago, and it sat unoccupied after Katrina. Despite being 13 feet off the ground, water still reached three feet high inside.

Lawrence, the owner, was living in a second-hand FEMA trailer. He spent as much time as he could away from that trailer. Our goal was to finish mold remediation by the end of the week. After that, Lawrence was going to manage the drywall and final rebuilding of his home himself.

A week or two before, Emily and her crew had stripped the house down to the studs. They cleaned out the debris and furniture, drywall, a ton of mold and cockroaches. Everything was so bare by the time we got there, I had a hard time imagining what it must have been like when they started. There are still 30 houses on the HOGC mold remediation program waiting list, and I heard there are still 4500 houses in the Biloxi area that have yet to be rehabilitated. Emily’s team ran out of money a month or so ago. She’s not sure where funding will come from next year for her particular program. Hands On Gulf Coast takes donations online.

Soon we were scrubbing the walls with wire brushes to get rid of the last bits of visible mold, and release whatever dormant spores might still be hanging out in the surface of the wood.


We wore sweet Tyvek suits with filtering masks all day, and most of the next day. The weather was gorgeous. Probably 70-75F, sunny, with a cool breeze. Inside the house and our suits, it was incredibly hot. The tin roof and some pretty windows in the front helped create a nice greenhouse effect. During our lunchbreak, we hung our suits out to dry.
Suits drying

For lunch, we went to Irma D’s.

Irma D’s 2

I had a shrimp po boy, and a plate-full of fried pickles. We all ate together at a huge table and lots of us had the sweet tea, which just about made my head spin off from all the caffeine.

Then, we went back to scrubbing. In the afternoon, we were treated to the radio and lots of political commercials. One silly thing I noticed in Biloxi was a hot race for the Coroner’s office, and some really huge signs for one of the candidates.

Gary Hargrove

Eventually, we found who he was running against – but only saw one tiny sign, on the side of a large freeway on our way out of town the next day.

The next step in the de-mold process was to vacuum up the dust and debris we had scrubbed off the wood. That left time for us to hang out, talk with Lawrence’s friends and play horse shoes. I talked a lot of smack, but lost.

The third step in de-molding was to wipe down all the wooden surfaces with an anti-viral disinfectant, that happens to also kill several types of mold. I got to work more on my Daniel LaRusso moves, and try to sing karaoke-style through the air-filtering masks. By lunch the next day, we’d finished!

Applying the Raydon

Finally, we were ready for the Kilz. This is a general-purpose primer, supposed to both seal in the mold-killer and protect the surface from future mold-infestation. We got most of the way through the painting before we had to leave – about half the rafters were left to be sealed. Emily said that we’d probably saved them a week’s worth of labor.

Lawrence was so happy to see his house coming back together. He and his friends kept walking in and taking photos, smiling and giving us all hugs. After two years of watching the house he built mold away, his home was being transformed back into a real place to live.

I’ve read a few things for and against remediation projects like this one. In this case, Hands On Gulf Coast did exactly the right thing. The house was in great shape – the owner just needed some help to get started in rebuilding.

The Houston Chronicle has a 6-part series from 2006 on the Gulf Coast region. In the first article about Biloxi, they said that 90% of the 20,000+ structures were flooded to some extent. The city’s damage assessment map says that 5,000 were completely destroyed. People at HOGC said that the city estimated that half of the 50,000 or so residents from before the storm were gone and not returning.

On our way to New Orleans, we drove down the coast. It was incredible and very sad.

Church without steeple

NPR has a special section for coverage of post-Hurricane Katrina issues.

back from the gulf coast


My trip to the Gulf Coast with volunteers from Hands On Portland ended on Sunday. I wrote continuously while I was there, cataloging every experience so that my leaky memory wouldn’t fail me when I wanted to reflect.

Lawrence’s House

I had a wonderful time and made some lifelong friends. Karol wrote eloquently nearly every day. While there, I worked on mold removal in a house the owner had built himself, spent a day talking and telling dirty jokes with people living with HIV at the Lazarus Project, and spent a day cleaning out cages in a no-kill animal shelter. I also toured the Upper and Lower Ninth Wards, St. Bernand Parish and drove out to a Katrina-specific landfill located in the middle of a national preserve for wetlands.

I’m working on sorting out pictures and some of the words, but I’m not quite ready to write about what things were like in Biloxi and New Orleans. Maybe I just need a few days.


There’s so much to do there, still, two years later.