Server Sky presentation, with Personal Telco folks, tomorrow in PDX at 6:30pm

The following email just dropped into my inbox, and I had to share. Keith is a fixture in the Portland tech community – running Linux clinics (scroll down the page for info), volunteering at FreeGeek, attending user group meetings and occasionally presenting.

He’s got this crazy idea – provide computing services from orbit. It involves ultralight discs of silicon, solar sails and launching “stuff” into orbit from a really long rail line.. and, well, some other completely awesome ideas. Keith set up a wiki, and there are great volunteer opportunities sprinkled throughout it, like “Study and simulate the trajectory and recovery of a tumbling server-sat in detail.” Seriously.

If you’ve got some time tomorrow, you should go check it out, have a beer at Roots and mingle with the Personal Telco folks, who are amazing for creating a completely free, volunteer-driven wireless network throughout Portland.

Tomorrow’s meeting at Roots Organic Brewing will feature a talk by
Keith Lofstrom about ServerSky.

See you then!

Chris Chen

—– Added by keithl ———————————————–

Roots Organic Brewing: 1520 SE 7th 503-235-7668

For Pluggers that don’t know, The Personal Telco Project is a brave
band of wireless warriors, unwiring Portland one free hotspot at a
time. A great way to give back to the community, learn about wifi
and Linux and neat gizmos like the ALIX SBC, and hang out with the
Cool Kids. The monthly meeting is a great chance to “network” πŸ™‚

Server Sky is a proposal for array computing and internet service
from orbit. We are building a team of technically savvy dreamers,
then will recruit local manufacturers (Solar World, Intel, Triquint,
etc.) to build it. If you can do radios, math, physics, coding, or
even drawing or gardening or salt-water coral aquariums (!) we can
use your help.

Someday, we will feed the PTP ground mesh from the multivendor
orbiting mesh, and no longer depend on ground monopoly backhaul.

I’ve given versions of this presentation before. This is somewhat
improved, and I will be presenting it next week at the A.I. Meetup
in the Bay area, Lawrence Berkeley Labs, the Hackers Conference,
and a few other venues.


User Group Idea: The After-party


User group meetings are fundamentally places for people to meet each other. My user groups have rituals – we start off by asking a silly question of everyone as an ice breaker, we introduce our speakers with something personal, and we end every meeting with a trip to a local pub. This is the after-party, an essential part of the user group experience.

I’ve been to some conferences that don’t properly plan for the after party. I’m sure some of you have too. And it’s a bummer! You just spent 6-8 hours with a bunch of people, learning stuff — and now you want to go somewhere and really *talk* about it.

The same thing happens during user group meetings. People came there because they were interested in the topic – and the people that knew something about that topic, or maybe just interested in finding like-minded people.. and after the presentation and discussion is done, they want to connect directly with the other people that are there.

The best way to facilitate this is to have food, something to drink (and it doesn’t need to be alcoholic, but that *does* tend to help people loosen up), and an unstructured, social environment that helps people talk to each other. Pubs are set up for this (tables, some amount of comfortable ambient noise, booze and usually food), as are coffee houses. Even someone’s living room will do!

Just remember – a user group meeting is about getting people together to meet each other, not just to hear a great speaker, or even to learn a particular skill. My goal is always to enable conversation and connections between individuals, because that’s the community-glue that will keep a group together and thriving long after the original inspiration fades.

User Group Idea: Present what you do for work

Ta da!

Ta da!

One consistently interesting topic for our PDXPUG meetings has essentially been show and tell. Presenters answer the question: what is it that I do for work?

We’ve had oceanography, GIS, relational algebra and even MySQL presentations that stem from this idea.

For the most part, those of us who do database work are so specialized that we might gloss over the details of our job to avoid boring our friends and colleagues to death. The fact is though, much of the work that we do *can* be made interesting for 30 or 45 minutes. And what better forum than a group of dedicated database geeks?

Some angles I’ve seen work are:

  • Giving background on the how and why of data collection (for example: Discussing probes that collect location, temperature and salinity in the ocean: how they communicate back to the mainland, data quality issues, failure modes);
  • Explaining a schema design and sample queries that work with it;
  • Going through a refactoring exercise with an existing database;
  • Describing a particularly difficult to deal with problem or incident (database migrations!) and how you did (or didn’t) solve the issues that occurred along the way;
  • Turning your meeting topic into a drinking game.

Our favorite meeting topic for drinking games is relational algebra.

The important thing about these types of presentations is that the person presenting picks the most interesting parts of their job to talk about. Enthusiasm for work shines through, and draws in the audience — a great thing when you haven’t given many presentations.

What are some topics you’ve seen, or would like to see covered related to a person’s day job?

Photo courtesy of exfordy, via Creative Commons license

User Group Idea: Patch Review Party

On Tuesday, I invited a group of people from PDXPUG over to my house for chili, beer and patch review. PostgreSQL has what we’re calling a ‘commitfest‘ every two months where we buckle down and try to review and commit (or reject) the patches submitted over the last few weeks. Webb and Gabrielle had the original idea to get everyone together for a review party, and they did a fantastic job recruiting people to join in.

Gabrielle gave the details and lessons learned on our PUG site already, so I won’t repeat that.

One thing that occurred to me as we were doing this work was how affirming and *fun* it is to work on patch review with people in person. Several people commented on how they enjoyed doing this work in the company of others, and how the tedious issues around compiling, applying patches and going through all the questions were made so much more enjoyable with a group of good-natured hackers sitting around answering questions.

The atmosphere wasn’t pressured – I gave a little background about commitfest, how it’s been run in the past and what the development group is trying to change about it (mainly, bring in more people, and make patch review faster for people who submit patches, and smoother for the committers). Then we just got down to work in pairs or groups of three.

Working in pairs is a really good idea for this type of event. I certainly learned a few things from John, and over email and in-person again, we were able to wrap our review up a couple days later after the regular user group meeting. Having another person to bounce questions off of was invaluable for the patch that we reviewed, and it was just fun brainstorming variable names, piecing together a test case and then finding a solution to a problem we found.

Another thing that happened was that I had lots of time to chat with people I hadn’t talked with before about projects they’re working on (a really exciting materialized view implementation, and a massive cleanup of our *.bki infrastructure — two very ambitious projects!). Both people are now signed up to give talks at our local user group about their work.

I’ve talked a little bit about the social benefits of commitfest on various mailing lists, and I think the opportunity for user groups to get together and review patches as a team is a great one. I’ll be gathering up some of my other observations about PostgreSQL community and posting those over the next few weeks.

I’ve got a talk about user groups to prepare for (JPUG’s 10th anniversary in November!), so now is the perfect time for me to be gathering my experiences and thoughts from the last three years.

Twitter and PostgreSQL!

Twitter: What are you doing?
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

On pgsql-general, Doug Hunley mentioned he’d created a twitter account for pgsql-announce! Way cool.

I’d written during last PgCon about Postgres and Twitter, and I figured it was time for a new list of Postgres-related people who I follow! Especially since a few people commented that Twitter was a waste of time last year πŸ˜‰

If you’re on twitter (or, and I missed you — please comment below!

Here we go (in no particular order):

  • Selena Deckelmann (me!)
  • Gabrielle Roth, member of PDXPUG, main force behind Code-N-Splode
  • Mark Wong, performance expert, leading the Portland PostgreSQL Performance Pad and associated projects to bring regular performance testing back to PostgreSQL
  • Francisco Figueiredo Jr., developer maintainer of Npgsql, speaker, member of PostgreSQL.Br
  • Magnus Hagander President of Pg.EU – the European Union non-profit organization dedicated to PostgreSQL and supporting user groups in the region
  • Josh Berkus, pgsql-advocacy leader, Member of the PostgreSQL core team
  • Jean-Paul Argudo, leader/member of PostgreSQL.Fr and Treasurer of Pg.EU
  • Hubert Lubaczewski , author of a great technical blog about PostgreSQL
  • Nikolay Samokhvalov, leader of the Moscow PostgreSQL Users Group, and consultant in Russia
  • Kristin Tufte, Postgres user, member of PDXPUG and assistant professor at Portland State University
  • Satoshi Nagayasu, member of the Japanese PostgreSQL Users Group, and spearheading meetups in Tokoyo
  • Brenda Wallace, moble gadget fetishist, Drupalista and Wellington, NZ PostgreSQL User Group wrangler
  • Isis Borges, Postgres enthusiast, works in the fashion industry in Puerto Alegre, Brazil
  • Dan Langille, DBA and organizer behind PgCon
  • Michael Brewer, DBA and board member of the United States PostgreSQL Association
  • Joshua Drake, business owner, board member of the United States PostgreSQL Association
  • FΓ‘bio Telles Rodriguez, active member of the PostgreSQL.Br (Brazil) and PgDay Brazil organizer. If you speak Portuguese, you can check out Planet Postgres Br here –
  • Fernando Ike, member of PostgreSQL.Br
  • Ed Borasky, PhD, analytics nerd, PDXPUG member
  • Robert Treat, author of PHP and PostgreSQL book, speaker, on the board of the United States PostgreSQL Association
  • David Wheeler, contributed citext most recently to PostgreSQL, consultant, maintainer of Bricolage, formerly of I Want Sandy
  • Greg Sabino Mullane, author of Bucardo and, maintainer of DBD::Pg, recently contributed patches to psql, on the board of the United States PostgreSQL Association, my boss πŸ™‚
  • Christophe, volunteer at OSCON for PostgreSQL booth, DBA
  • Aaron Thul, DBA, developer, speaker on PostgreSQL on Drugs πŸ™‚
  • David Fetter, DBA, maintainer of the PostgreSQL Weekly News
  • Elein Mustain, DBA, speaker, maintainer of
  • Chris May, DBA, member of PDXPUG
  • Jason Kirtland, developer, maintainer of SQLAlchemy, Pythonista
  • Josh Tolley, developer, DBA, statistics nerd, author of PL/LOLCODE and pgsnmpd
  • Erik Jones, Portland resident, Pythonista, made a cool python-based partitioning tool (pgpartitioner)
  • Nicholas Kreidberg, Nevada resident, PostgreSQL user
  • Gavin Roy, DBA, Business dude,, speaker, on the board of of United States PostgreSQL Association
  • Chris Browne, Slony maintainer
  • Douglas Hunley, creator of pgsql_announce on twitter πŸ™‚
  • Larry Rosenman, PostgreSQL supporter, help with DNS for, contributor (some of the syslog* stuff in version 7.0)


Waffle-induced development

My waffles will probably not look as good as this.

People often ask me for advice on how to motivate and get people excited about coming to meetings, participating in user groups and contributing to projects. I’m going to try to blog more about the things I do that work.

Friends in Portland know that I often use food (and sometimes alcohol) bribes to get them to come over to my house to hang out, and then do work that is best done with a group (recall a major weeding project in my front yard).

We needed a few good folks to help out with the next phase of our Open Conference Ware application, and so I decided to reuse this “get house chores done” trick to hopefully motivate a few hungry developers to work with us on the next phase of the project.

When I sent out the message, I got both an enthusiastic “Hell yes, I’ll come for waffles”, and an “Oh man, I already had plans — which, if they fall through, I will totally be there for the waffles.”

I’m sure that the good people who stepped up to help us would have done so anyway. But, if I can provide a warm breakfast while we hack away on wireframes, why not? And, after I tweeted what we were up to, I got another volunteer!

Image courtesy of rizkapb, Creative Commons 2.0 generic license.

Leading without being in charge: updated slides for FOSDEM 2009

I’ve got a post about Heikki’s visibility map talk in the queue, but first I’ll post the updated slides for the user groups talk — Leading without being in charge.



User Groups redux

lousy cup!
actually, i love this cup. thanks, eric! πŸ™‚

It’s a bit late for an “announcement”, but Gabrielle and I are re-presenting the User Groups talk to the Portland Linux Users Group tonight. We’re all about audience participation, and so we’re going to focus on helping PLUG pick a few topics and presenters for upcoming meetings. And whatever else they want to talk about πŸ™‚

Meeting starts at 7pm and here’s where:

Fariborz Maseeh College of Engineering & Computer Science Building
Room FAB 86-01 (This is in the basement.)
The building is on SW 4th across from SW College Street.
See location H-10 on map at

Beer afterward at Jax!

Jax Bar And Restaurant
826 SW 2nd Avenue

Leaving US PostgreSQL Assoc. – what’s next for me?

A smiling pug
image credit to bugbunnybambam

A few weeks ago, I decided to resign from the United States PostgreSQL Association board. Shortly after, I left for a long vacation where I thought about what I wanted to do next – both professionally and in a volunteer capacity.

Looking back, I started volunteering for PostgreSQL two years ago. I’ve led PDXPUG, staffed many conference booths, given nearly a dozen talks and run conferences. Of the work I’ve done, I’ve been most surprised by the creation of the PUGS website and all the user groups that followed.

This may sound silly – but I was so incredibly proud to see user groups in Oklahoma, Toronto, Los Angeles and the D.C.-area (BWPUG) hold meetings, share their experiences and publish fantastic presentation slideshows. All while I was out of the country!

That’s a true sign of success to me: groups of people leading themselves and sharing their knowledge with each other. It’s open community, with minimal bureaucracy, and (I hope) maximum fun.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to make this next year’s volunteer work focused on a simple idea:

Enable people to connect and learn directly from each other.

So what you can expect from me over the next year is more of the same, but now with that end goal in mind: more PostgreSQL user groups (for as long as the folks would like me to stay), more ways to connect people directly to each other, more authentic community building through un-conferences, and more contributions – through code, testing and presenting of that work.

To give you an idea — here’s what I’m up to over the next couple of months:

  • Linux Plumber’s Conference, September 17-19 – with Gabrielle Roth, we’ll be presenting information about databases (PostgreSQL specifically) and filesystem performance using data gathered from the recently installed PostgreSQL performance lab.
  • PostgreSQL Conference West, October 10-12 – I’m not organizing this year, but I’m organizing a session on hacking PostgreSQL, led by some PostgreSQL hackers!
  • WhereCampPDX, October 17-19 – I’m helping organize this un-conference for geography-specific tech – practicioners, professionals, enthusiasts, artists! We’ve got some great ideas and hope to publish details in the next week about the awesome folks involved, the venue and the parties!

Hope to see you at these events!

I haven’t talked about my work much in this blog, and probably will continue not to do that much here – but I also wanted to share that I’ve taken a position with End Point Corporation, a fantastic company that works on open source software, and provides support for PostgreSQL. I’ll be focusing on PostgreSQL, and doing a little Perl development here and there.

Running a Successful User Group

running a successful user group

After the People For Geeks talk, I presented “Running a Successful User Group” with Gabrielle Roth on Wednesday. You can find our slides and our presentation handout over on Bacon and Tech. The handout is pretty cool, take a minute and print it out!