status: goofy pile
Wed May 16 19:52:03 EDT 2007
GOOFY PICTURE SITE VISIT PROCRASTINATION HITCHHIKING WITHOUT A CELLPHONE MVHUB JOEL ON MEASUREMENT DOWNTIME NILAM KAPASI TIM DEERING PILE OF RESUMES BOARD MEETING HOW MUCH MONEY WE CHARGE BOUGHT THE PAUL GRAHAM BOOK GOOFY PICTURE TECHIE AWARD We won an award, it was partly because we know Felicia and she shares her connections and partly because thanks to Dave & Eric mvhub doesn't suck. It was $1000 and a trophy that looks like a larval alien life form from the Kirk/Spock Star Trek. There is a picture of goofy old us and the baby alien at: http://www.blog.grassroots.org/?p=697 SITE VISIT If: "Keep up the good work" and: "Nobody around here is trying to do what you are:" ...are good signs, The Mass Service site visit went well. About 20 of our supporters turned out at the Eggroll cafe for the volunteer lunch part of things. It was a little embarrassing how effusive some of the support was. Mass Service seems to be a supporter of us now. For a couple questions in the site survey, I was gently prompted to keep trying until I got the right answer. PROCRASTINATION I procrastinated all night on the paperwork for the Mass Service site visit. I really was terrified it would go badly. Usually I can manage to avoid work on several important things at the same time. However when I'm really terrified of failure, all the other stuff I usually procrastinate on suddenly gets easy to do. I find myself realizing that yes, a little rest would be a good thing, that I really shouldn't leave the dishes for the lovely and patient roommate and that it isn't that hard to do a status report. Despite my terror, I got it done. There are only so many times in one's life that one can leave problems behind and start hitchhiking without a firm plan to return. HITCHHIKING WITHOUT A CELLPHONE Isolation was the core of my months on the road in 1983 and 1986. I thought I was isolated before I left but I was wrong. Isolation is thousands of miles distance from home, with prairie, corn field or desert from horizon to horizon, the nearest payphone 10 to 100 miles away, no voicemail on the other end, and a ride with very sinewy man who is enthusiastically sharing much more about his childhood sexual experiences than seems polite on a first meeting. Isolation is also about the winter morning desert sun, 2 gallons of water in your pack and a busy and friendly highway. It would not be possible to have the same experience today with a cellphone. Technology changes things, mostly for the better, but sometimes not. I stopped keeping a journal when I gave up my typewriter. When editing was whiteout and retyping, I'd blast out raw unedited pages every day. When I could insert or remove entire paragraphs at will, I became paralyzed with my power and produced a few perfect isolated sentences every week. MVHUB John's been making mostly happy "ah" and "hmmm" and "ok" sounds as he studies the existing code. We've been having short conversations about the code, where he shares his learning and I share my folklore. He's checking routine spelling and CSS corrections into CVS. diffs go to the regular cadre-cvs  list, until I until we (I) can create the mvhub-dev list, set cvs to email commit diffs to it and subscribe all the people who volunteered to help.  http://lists.thecsl.org/pipermail/cadre-cvs/ I'm really excited about the community thingie possibility with all the people willing to be on the development list. A side effect of our failed Google Summer of Code application.   http://thecsl.org/go/vol/gsoc/2007/ We have a contract with MVwib, they're going to pay us a month in advance. More important they're going to cut the checks all at once, stick them in the safe and mail them as they get invoices for completed work. Given this flexibility and the cash flow loans all we have to do is the work. JOEL ON MEASUREMENT At the CSL water cooler, we were kicking around the mvhub contract. and the topic of measuring programmer productivity came up. I'm very keen on measurement of some things . but from painful personal experience and the writings of the prophet Joel, I don't think everything can be measured with numbers.  http://downtime.thecsl.org The prophet Joel speaks twice on this subject, once slamming buzzword consultant speak  and once more  with focus. For example if you are 411 operator evaluated on average call duration, a sure fire job preservation strategy is to hang up a couple seconds into the call.  http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2006/11/10b.html  http://www.joelonsoftware.com/news/20020715.html Of course, there are some people  who are really into the whole function point thing  and there are few people who don't like the prophet Joel  (in case you missed "uncle fatty" last time)  http://www.functionpoints.com/faq.asp  http://blog.sc.tri-bit.com/archives/171 DOWNTIME Kamala is close to finished with a deployable version of the downtime database. The bottleneck is of course code review by me. This is my priority after the site visit and any remaining mvhub contract niggling. NILAM KAPASI The validate script runs every night on every server and compares config files in CVS to config files on each server's file system. It serves as a gentle reminder to commit things to CVS with appropriate log messages. The whole thing works relatively well. (How many other sites track all config file changes?) However, this was one of Chris's first Perl projects. It didn't help that it was based on my earlier kludgery. Nilam's added a "Verbose" flag. This means, I can save a bunch of typing when correcting errors shown by the validate script. More features/bugfixes will require a bit of refactoring. See the prophet Ovid on "linear programming"  http://perlmonks.org/?node_id=153951 TIM DEERING Tim's learning Perl and LDAP and creating a script that will automatically map all the right drives for a BSM (broadcast and Student Media) users based He's got all the pieces done (parse smb.conf for groups, get group membership from LDAP, write share/group membership data out, access from windoze), now he just has to stitch them together. Compared to our average new volunteer he's done well. Given single parenthood and a full time job, he's done very, very well. Over the course of months, a few hours every thursday and before sometimes sleep really add up. PILE OF RESUMES Nilam, Kamala and I spent a few hours reducing a pile of 50 resumes to 5 to pursue for interviews. One of our better paying customers is hiring a part time tech and were willing to pay us for our technical talent evaluation. I was a bit surprised at lack of UNIX experience, Only 3 people mentioned a specific flavor of Linux on their resumes. Maybe 10 people mentioned it all. --Not counting the "LinuxPCOS" guy. I was also surprised at how much a clear, brief and relevant cover letter mattered. The best was something like: "I just retired. I have 27 years of sys admin and support experience with HP. I want challenging part time work to keep engaged with tech." I'm thinking linux certification courses are a business opportunity. BOARD MEETING There were no dramatic motions, no gavel pounding, no huge surprises. Officers were elected: President: Karen Zagoda VP: Fred Martin Clerk: Laura MacNeil Treasurer Kristina Ickes Josh Harding stepped down as President, because he's not local. We decided we need more board members. (Especially ones not recruited by me). The minutes (coming soon) will reflect the actions we promised ourselves to take to correct this problem. We reviewed non profit purpose #4. (see MONEY below) without controversy, dispute or strong agreement. This agenda item wasn't structured toward producing an action item, just a vague feeling it was a good idea. We decided it was a good idea to review all our purposes each year. There was general agreement to pursue Parker Foundation money to provide desktop support to Lowell Non-profits. There was the usual happiness with the quality of these status reports and the usual unhappiness with their quantity. There was not a formal motion, but there was the strong suggestion we start using real blog software and that people other than me report on our activities. HOW MUCH MONEY WE CHARGE Right now our policy is: 1) Some stuff, (email, web hosting, etc) we do at no charge, 2) We have no cost tutoring and advice on Friday afternoons 3) Given volunteer availability other stuff might be free. 4) Otherwise $25 to $50 hour. We (Me, Fred, Stephane) have talked a good bit about charging a rate large enough cover our overhead and build infrastructure. All this is important, but there are other considerations. We've not talked about our non-profit purpose #4: By our example, we will encourage a culture that measures success based on accomplishment not wealth. This is part of the formal document that makes us a legal corporate entity. If memory serves, Josh Harding, Josh Bonnett, Marie Shvartsapel, David Siegal, Laura MacNeil and I filled in the blanks on the state's incorporation template in the summer of 2002. As I recall this clause was a compromise. Josh, Josh and I favored stronger language. Laura and David preferred not to address the issue and Marie abstained. My motivation for this clause is very emotional. Given stuff like the global rich list. and occasional experiences watching a fellow laborer beg and sob for his job back so he can feed his family without welfare, I don't have much desire to join the ranks of the wealthy.  http://www.globalrichlist.com/ As Laura points out, I'm a bit of a poser here. I'm born and bred bourgeois. From my second 10th grade year to graduation, my family paid for prep school. For me, much more than for other people, my 10 years in the laboring class were a matter of choice. Despite the unkind things the poor say about the rich, they'd cheerfully trade places. Somewhat more pragmatically, Yourdan, DeMarco, Brooks, Peters and many other software/IT/management productivity analysts point to the evidence that wages are not strongly correlated with competence or effectiveness. The further consensus is that projects with surplus resources fail more often than projects with less than optimum resources. I've been on a few teams where the resentment stemming from income disparities between teammates had a crippling effect on people's productivity. Most pragmatically, our customers, especially our target customers don't have the money to pay us and may never have themore or etter money to pay us.There is a Soros Foundation whitepaper that makes the point that makes this point well.   http://soros.org/initiatives/information/articles_publications/articles/rethinking_20010215 For profit organizations spend money on IT, improve operating efficiencies and make more profit, plow some of the money back into IT and start the cycle again. Non-profit organizations usually don't make more money by providing better service. Apart from the structural difficulties and my angst, the culture of the groups we seek to serve makes it tough to pay anything remotely like market rate for IT. For example, the homeless shelter that is open to everyone requires guests to not bring weapons or hypodermic needles inside with them. This requires a pat-down search of every guest. People are paid $12/hour to perform these searches. As a bonus, the searchers are given a pair of Kevlar gloves of their own as protection from accidental needle sticks. Our very reasonable $50/hr could buy more than 5 hours of direct contact with shelter guests. I'm not arguing we don't have overhead or need to pay for training or R&D. However, I am pretty clear that we can't collect market rates or even what we need to grow from our customers. The solution is probably to do better with grants and continue to try to create an atmosphere where people are happy enough in their work to live with a bit below market rate. BOUGHT THE PAUL GRAHAM BOOK Hackers and Painters is a book of 15 essays titled after one of the essays http://www.paulgraham.com/hp.html I bought a copy if anyone wants to borrow hardcopy for off-line reading.