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FUDCon Blacksburg, days 2-3.

Saturday was the BarCamp session at FUDCon Blacksburg. This year there were workshops scheduled at the same time as BarCamp, which was different than usual. I wasn’t at any of the workshops so I’d be interested to know from those who held them whether they felt this was useful. I do know that most of the BarCamp sessions I attended had good attendance.  The sessions I attended:

  • Spot’s talk on making Fedora packaging easier — featured not just what could be a replacement for the current pkgdb, but also a cool new app called Tagger that makes improving package search part of an achievement/trophy oriented game, for maximum  fun
  • Katello — a next generation system environment management platform that helps manage content and deployment
  • Pam Chestek’s session on the new draft of Fedora trademark guidelines — with extra tweaks to make guidance clearer for publishers, hosting providers, cloud, and spins/remixes
  • Chris Tyler’s talk on Raspberry Pi — which was packed! A great update on this affordable ARM hardware for hacking, and what’s needed from the Fedora community to take it to the next level
  • OpenShift — Mike McGrath showed off the latest capabilities of OpenShift, a PaaS (platform as a service) offering by Red Hat that makes it dead-simple to for developers to get an entire OS and framework operational in the cloud in just a couple of minutes

Overall, this year’s BarCamp was one of the best in terms of depth of technical content. It also had an excellent spread in terms of technical complexity — meaning there was plenty for new hackers to sink their teeth into, as well as stuff that appealed to more experienced folks. We had the usual assortment of great speakers from all around the community and they all delivered impressive presentations. You should be seeing a lot of these on blogs through the Fedora Planet with downloadable content. (If you delivered a presentation, make sure you make it available widely!)

Saturday evening was the world-famous FUDPub. I was only around for a little while — since I was still trying to shake off the illness that had been dogging me since the middle of the week, I didn’t want to make things worse on my immune system by celebrating too much. Plus, it started to snow while we were enjoying the food, drink, bowling, and billiards, so I wanted to move my car back to the hotel before the roads got too dangerous. (Virginia is not known for its rapid and rational response to adverse weather conditions.) Later in the evening we gathered for poker at the “mezzanine” level of the hotel’s conference center. A few people played well into the wee hours but I headed to bed about 1:00am.

Unfortunately, the medication I took caused me to oversleep a bit, but I still managed to get over to day 3 of FUDCon by 9:00am. Once there, I got together with Peter Borsa, Pascal Calarco, and Maria ‘tatica’ Leandro to talk Insight, our Drupal installation, which the team is trying to branch out into new and useful functions. Jared Smith and Robyn Bergeron also stopped by to give some input on our calendar project. We took notes throughout the session on Gobby, and will post them on the wiki shortly along with some additional context and plans. I feel like the Insight project is starting to take on a little more life, with a designer involved and some solid ideas about functionality that will help the project.

For instance, we discussed the events calendar being able to automatically notify event owners or FAmSCo about milestones or other necessary activity, to promote better communication and awareness. A content management system makes it possible to build some fairly robust workflows around information — making the system not just another place to deposit information, but a facilitator in the process. The team has yet to figure out exactly how this should look but thankfully Maria is on the case and will help figure this out over the next few weeks. My day job is making it harder for me to lead this team, but the other members are committed to working on some exciting new features, and I’ll continue to find ways to contribute, and wherever possible remove roadblocks and continue to scale out access, privileges, and empowerment to the rest of the team.

By this time, it was close to noon. I started saying goodbyes to various people, and made sure I had picked up as many riders as I could to drop off at the airport on the way out. I ended up taking Máirín Duffy to the airport, as well as Jared’s son with me (since they live within a half hour of me). It was good to finally get home at about dinnertime. My daughter was hosting a sleepover with a friend so it was pretty boisterous at our house, but nice to see my family again.

All in all, it was a great FUDCon. I could have done without the illness the first few days, but I managed to pull through, doing a good portion of what I intended at the event. To everyone who was there, I hope you had a fantastic time and were able to really use the event as a jumpstart for collaborations of your own. Now, make sure you spread the word on what you’re doing, and carry some of that energy and ingenuity into our discussion lists and other venues! I hope everyone has or had safe travels home and we’ll see each other soon online.

Comin’ round the mountain.

On Thursday, I’ll be driving to FUDCon in Blacksburg, VA. FUDCon in North America is an event I look forward to attending annually even though I’m not neck-deep in Fedora as often these days. I used to love going to the international FUDCons as well, and I’m thrilled to see those events being planned in advance on a regular basis.

I get to drive to this particular event, because it happened to end up only about 4.5 hours drive from where I live. That suits me fine, because I got a new car (warning: Flash) I can’t wait to take on its first long trip. Weather should be fair for this time of year, I hear. I also got some new vanity plates that will touch the hearts of Linux geeks, but probably elicit only head scratching from others. However, this post is about more than my car, as much as I like that topic!

I wanted to say a couple things about what I’m planning to do at FUDCon. First, I plan to spend some time with the Fedora Insight crew on Friday night and on Sunday morning. I want to see the feature sets the amazing Peter Borsa has been working on, and hopefully we can make some progress on streamlining deployment so other people can help. We’ll also be working on Sunday with a designer (cross fingers!) to design an interface for a project/events calendar. Unfortunately, I’m leaving Sunday afternoon to get home that night, but I will try to provide a ride out of town to the airport for anyone whose schedule matches up.

By the way, you may want to check out the travel planning page if you need to arrange rides.

The other thing I’m planning is an open workshop on Saturday on Drupal internals. I still haven’t decided whether this is best done as a workshop vs. BarCamp. I’m interested to know how many people really would show up — which means it might be good for me to pitch this at BarCamp. If there’s very little interest, I can spend the day learning instead of blowing hot air. But if it turns out people are interested, I have some books and materials I’m bringing with me that I can recommend too. As usual, I will be taking on the role of “person with meager skills who managed to scramble onto the first plateau with help, and wants to pass it on.” (It worked for PyGTK, maybe it will work here too!) Thankfully Peter will be on hand, and I trust he won’t let me get away with horrible errors.

There’s an enormous list of proposed hackfests and workshops on the wiki page. That’s fantastic, and it means we’re going to have a very content-rich conference as usual. I also see the General Schedule on the wiki is quite bare. I believe the organizers are encouraging talk owners to try to schedule in advance — at least when it comes to the hackfests and workshops. My understanding is that these form an outgrowth of the BarCamp — essentially widening the schedule for Saturday. That means there will be a lot to choose from, so I hope everyone brings not just their thinking caps but also their voices and appropriate input devices to participate. UPDATE: Robyn has a great FUDCon blog post on scheduling. Go read it. Now.

I’m looking forward to seeing a bunch of my Fedora friends there, and of course celebrate at the ever-entertaining FUDPub event. Remember, though, that Sunday starts early, so don’t go overboard! The statute of limitations has expired on my one FUDCon event that was a little too entertaining, so I’m allowed to revert to schoolmarm mode now. But seriously, there’s so much to do and see at FUDCon that I’m sure people will put the priority on content and collaboration as always.

Hope I see you there!

What do you want to see on Insight?

One of the side projects I have going these days is working with a small team on a Drupal instance for Fedora called Fedora Insight. Our initial rollout is pretty conservative in its goals, as I discussed in a previous post. We wanted to create a simple platform (at the outset) where both the awesome contributors at the Fedora Weekly News, and the Marketing team, could both publish their original work, and also promote selected material from the Fedora Planet. We have lots of great places where content is available, but Insight brings some of them together in a way that’s easier for non-contributors to navigate. So Phase 1 was all about completing just those simple goals.

At the same time, we realized throughout the process that this could merely be the first step in providing some more content options for the project. And now we’re inviting you to pitch in your ideas for Phase 2 of our plans. If you have a concept for a way we could better expose or manage content through Insight, add it to the wiki page here. We are accepting ideas until May 24, 2011.

Hey wait, isn’t that date important for another reason? Oh yeah — Fedora 15 is released that day! So I guess that’s a good way to remember the deadline then. ;-)

Now, we can’t guarantee we’ll be able to make every idea a reality in Phase 2. But we’ll definitely consider each one, and then prioritize based on available people-power and the impact each goal could have if comlpeted. If you want to help do the Drupal development work required to make your idea happen, we’d love to have you on our team!

I’ve read that Hiemanshu Sharma is working on a FOSS events system that would take shape in Fedora and could be used in other FOSS projects. One of the things I asked Hiemanshu and his mentor Juan to consider was whether it might make sense to build this on top of Drupal so that it would (a) leverage a well-known framework, (b) benefit lots of people beyond the Fedora Project, and (c) maybe even be something system owners (our Insight team being just one example) could integrate with other content over time. I’m really looking forward to hearing more from them on our list about their plans and whether they’re able to leapfrog existing bits such as those in the COD project.

Our team works in an open, transparent process, like all Fedora teams. You can find information about our team, meeting schedule, communication resources, and other data on the Insight wiki page. We look forward to hearing from you.

Who’s up late polishing the blade.

My blogging mojo has been lackluster of late, but that’s because work has been so terribly busy lately. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on putting together a departmental team presentation for the upcoming Red Hat Summit. Wrangling a multi-presenter session isn’t easy and I have a lot of respect for people who are able to do it well.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of quality time with Inkscape to get the slides into something resembling a coherent theme. In the process I’ve learned a few tricks such as as the optional switches for scaling elements, which let you decide whether or not to also scale properties (such as their gradients or the rounding of corners on rectangles). If I sat around for a few hours with Inkscape just playing around, I don’t think I would have discovered nearly as much. Having a concrete goal — in this case, completing a specific diagram for a specific purpose — really has helped me focus on what I needed to get the job done.

But it hasn’t all been bullet-wrangling and drawing. Plenty of other work all has to keep going on in the meantime. For instance, next week I’m headed to Westford for some meetings in the office, first time back since right before Thanksgiving of last year (jeez, how time flies). Then back home for a week, then the next week I’ll be traveling to Costa Rica to speak at a conference, followed by a short couple of days home and then the Red Hat Summit in Boston.

I’ll also definitely be attending the upcoming Southeast Linux Fest 2011, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I love that particular conference and have been at both previous years. I expect this one will be just as incredible. If you are in the southeast region of the USA, you really should make it  a point to attend. It’s very inexpensive, and a great way to learn and soak up all the goodness of the free software community from luminaries living almost in your back yard. Come join the fun June 10-12!

I’ve been working with the Fedora Insight team as well. We’re working out some cosmetic changes that will make the site a little easier to navigate as we add further features. We’re also planning some next phase deliverables and as always invite comment, but especially assistance. One of my recent proposals to the team was a change process that will help us manage site development in a collaborative but careful way. I also put up some additional Drupal module packages for review here:

I also did my part by finishing up the review for Drupal 7, which is in updates-testing now for Fedora 15 and EPEL. Andrea Veri is securing a development host that we can break as needed while we get new features working on Insight. And Robyn Bergeron is working on a SOP that will show Marketing team participants how to promote selected Planet posts for the feed on Insight.

It’s a very exciting (and exhausting) time right now with so much going on, and it’s been a lot of working weekends to try and stay caught up, but the results make me happy. I’ll try to get more and shorter updates coming to this blog over the next month. And I am going to get back to work on PulseCaster as well, as soon as time allows.

Upstream release monitoring for Drupal modules.

Today I added a couple examples to the Fedora wiki’s upstream release monitoring page that will allow maintainers to track new releases of Drupal modules. You can simply follow the template to add yours.

The upstream release monitoring system is provided through the courtesy of long-time Fedora contributor Till Maas, whose cnucnu software informs participating maintainers by filing a bug when the upstream releases a new copy of their software. Although most if not all maintainers monitor feeds and mailing lists, the bug is a reminder of what’s left to do, and doesn’t require the maintainer to stop what they’re doing when they get an email or RSS notification. Instead, they can trust their bug list.

As we are finishing up our last steps on the Insight project, we wanted to make sure that, since we packaged quite a number of Drupal modules to do our development and staging, we continued to keep on top of maintenance duties. Having the upstream releases monitored with automatic bugs was a natural next step. Of course, it also helps when you have a willing team of people who sign on for co-maintenance, or at least watch Bugzilla for those packages to pitch in when needed.

Thanks to Peter Borsa, Sven Lankes, Eric Christensen, and the seemingly omnipotent Jon Ciesla for their help maintaining these useful packages. It wouldn’t be possible without you guys.

GTD at FUDCon.

The upcoming FUDCon in Tempe will be a rather interesting experience for me, because in a sense I’ll be returning to a role as an individual contributor in Fedora. One of the things I’m looking forward to doing in that role is sitting down with any contributors who are involved in, or interested in, working on our Drupal instance called Insight.

We have a very small group of people — albeit truly wonderful ones — who have been working on the system for a while now:

  • Pascal Calarco, as an editor-in-chief of Fedora Weekly News, has been involved for some time because we share a desire to get the Fedora Weekly News published more formally outside the wiki. He’s helped test with content, and started us down the road to using custom Views settings to group FWN issues.
  • Peter Borsa came in late last year and has helped with packaging, research, and development efforts. He and I have been making a lot of headway on getting the “Top 10″ modules for Drupal into Fedora, and we expect to be finished with that effort very shortly.
  • Jon Ciesla, who owns the core Drupal packages in Fedora, has been of inestimable value in getting us toward a side goal of being able to put parallel installable Drupal instances (i.e. Drupal 6 and Drupal 7) on the next Fedora release and beyond. It’s been a challenge to navigate all the packaging issues but he’s risen to it with gusto; and fortunately Drupal’s excellent (and strict) licensing standards have made things quite a bit easier than they could have been.
  • The seemingly omnipresent Robyn Bergeron has helped with testing and with asking questions that made us all think a little harder about what we were doing, and how to make sure other people understood it better.
  • Sven Lankes and Volker Fröhlich have helped with packaging issues as well, both on the construction side and the review side, finding issues as we go. Thanks guys!

Although that sounds like a lot of people, every one of them has other things they’re working on, both inside and outside Fedora. As a result, our progress has been slower than any of us would prefer. That’s why I’m looking forward to sitting down with a few people and taking some uninterrupted time to push this project forward.

Not all the people on this list are going to be in Tempe, but that’s why we have IRC and other communication methods. A lot of what we need to do is easily done over the network. Nevertheless, having a few people in a room who are committed to sit still and pay attention to one project at a time will be very valuable.

I’m arriving on Friday afternoon for FUDCon, and leaving on a red-eye flight on Monday night, just after midnight. Since my new job at Red Hat doesn’t revolve as much around attending Fedora community activities, I really want to make the most of my time there. Happily there will be great weather and robust attendance from a lot of fantastic contributors, so that’s not going to be a difficult goal to achieve.

Insight into Insight.

As you may remember, Gentle Readers, not too long ago I changed roles in Red Hat to work more on management and administration within the platform engineering department, where I work for Tim Burke. Even if you haven’t run into Tim at one of our Fedora Users and Developers Conference (FUDCon) events in North America, you can see him in a recent customer testimonial video he did for the Fedora 14 release, as well as some of the media around the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.

Tim and I joke about being in a battle royale to see who can be the biggest camera hog in Red Hat media. I have to admit he’s probably pulled ahead this fall season! With my new role, I’m a lot less likely to be on camera saying wonderful things about Fedora, even though I have a lot to say. If you have ideas for how I can remedy this inequity, comments are open.

One of the Fedora related things I’m still involved with is Fedora Insight, a Drupal instance I and a few others are trying to learn and launch. We want the capability to pass on interesting tidbits from the Planet, Fedora Weekly News, and even original media in a simple way.

And we love Drupal, especially because it’s packaged in Fedora and EPEL, and because of its very practical and compatible approaches to licensing (GPL!). However, we could use some help with our work.

Theme

Unfortunately our theme ninja suffered some data loss, and to add insult to injury, the work wasn’t pushed to our upstream repo. But, since we’re quick to find the silver lining in any cloud, we realized things weren’t all bad! In the meantime, the fabulous new Fedora Project web site has been launched. We’d really like our Insight appearance to match the updated look of fedoraproject.org, so we see this as an opportunity, not a setback.

We could use the help of one or more web design ninjas to help us visualize the new theme. Then our coders can turn it into working CSS, just as they’ve done with other web sites. Actually, if you have the ability to do mockups and CSS, you’d be twice as ninja-ish, and we’d bake you twice as many cookies! Basically, the things we are working on now are:

  1. Mockups for a site that complements fedoraproject.org
  2. A set of CSS files, maybe a subtheme based on Zen or NineSixty, that make that dazzling mockup a reality

Plus, you get to work with really friendly people from around the world. And we may actually send you cookies, no kidding.

Administration

We are learning as we go when it comes to subjects like Drupal Views and CCK. I actually bought a bunch of Drupal books and (slowly, in my shrunken spare time) I’ve been making my way through them to understand the system better. I actually created my own module to allow our Drupal instance to authenticate to the Fedora Account System — and it works well, believe it or not! Drupal has a powerful system of hooks that allow you to customize almost every step of input and output, and I took full advantage of their ample documentation to learn how to use those hooks.

For a lot of what we need to do, we could use more experienced experts to advise us. So if you’re an intermediate or expert Drupalista we could use your participation! In some cases, we might be asking you to teach the uninitiated about how some of the powerful functions of Views or CCK might help us achieve our goals. In others, we might ask for module suggestions or implementation hints. But no matter what, you’d be lending a hand to fellow FOSS champions.

Rather than being quite as directly task-oriented, this work would be more a matter of just camping on our mailing list and maybe responding to an email or two if you find a problem you can help solve. We also hang out on IRC Freenode at #fedora-mktg if you are hip to IRC.

Other stuff

Of course, we’re also looking for good ideas for making use of the platform. To me, that’s not so much about just bringing in random modules that we might think are cool. Instead, it’s looking for ways that Drupal could be made to serve the Fedora community. Then together we can figure out the best, most scalable, most open, and most effective way to make that happen.

The opensource.com staff worked with Acquia on their Drupal instance and I think that site turned out wonderfully. You can see Drupal in use all over the place, including everyone from the White House to Warner Bros. artists (talk about a wide range!). It’s not as steep a learning curve as some content management systems, and has a fantastic community backing it. So we’re looking forward to doing more with it, and we’d love to have others join us on the team.

How we work

We work in an open, transparent way — that means we prefer talking to each other on the list, not private email. Talking to each other publicly is a lot like having a party in a common area. Anyone can come by and become part of the conversation and join the team. By having public conversations we can keep each other informed about what we’re doing and the issues we run into. That also makes it easy for us to help each other, which is what free and open source software is all about.

My friend Mel often says, “If it didn’t happen on the list, it didn’t happen.” Collaborative communication is a powerful tool for teamwork. Even if you’re a little shy, don’t worry — we don’t bite and we are happy to see newcomers! Just ask Peter Borsa, who just joined us. He’s already becoming a valuable team member of our team and I know he would love to have help too.

What to do

Join the logistics mailing list and introduce yourself. It’s that simple! We have regular meetings but you can usually find some of us in our IRC channel, #fedora-mktg. See you there!

This week in fast forward.

I flew up to Red Hat’s office in Westford for the week to accomplish quite a large number of things, mainly a metric ton of meetings with my manager and a few other people around the department in relation to my new role at Red Hat. Therefore my schedule’s going to keep me quite out of touch throughout the week. Of course my email will work and I’ll be online quite a bit, but my appearances will be somewhat of the “jump on, jump off” variety.

I feel a little ashamed this is my first blog post in over a week — especially given the subject matter in my last post. Last week went by so fast my head was spinning by the end of it. (Fortunately that stopped before I went to skating lessons on Saturday morning.) I’ll try to write something substantive tomorrow, especially regarding some cool stuff we’ve been doing with Fedora Insight. I bought a bunch of Drupal books and have been trying to study up on this very cool framework, although this week will really put a crimp in my progress.

I did get to hunker down over a little work on the plane, and thanks to git I was able to contribute some work to the Websites team, and help them make the new website even more translatable by our translator teams around the world. Nice to be able to accomplish something that helps other people while I’m stuck in a flying metal tube!

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