- Handheld Scanners Attack — shipping and logistics operations compromised by handheld scanners running malware-infested Windows XP.
- Adventures in Cognitive Biases (MIT) — web adventure to build your cognitive defences against biases.
- Quoc Le’s Lectures on Deep Learning — Machine Learning Summer School videos (4k!) of the deep learning lectures by Google Brain team member Quoc Le.
- FLOSS Community Metrics Talks — upcoming event at Puppet Labs in Portland. I hope they publish slides and video!
Your data is telling you what you need to know about turnover and age
To really grasp a free/open source software project, you need to know how the community that develops and supports it is evolving. Attracting lots of new members will be a reason for celebrating success in a young project — but you should also check whether they stick around for a long time. In mature projects, however, you can afford not attracting many new members, as long as you are retaining old ones. The ratio of experienced, long-term members to recent ones also tells you about the quality of the code and need to support members.
Internet of Things, local energy sources, and online collaboration underlie the Zero Marginal Cost Society.
Use teaching stacks to drive growth.
Elliott Hauser is CEO of Trinket, a startup focused on creating open sourced teaching materials. He is also a Python instructor at UNC Chapel Hill.
Well-developed tools for teaching are crucial to the spread of open source software and programming languages. Stacks like those used by the Young Coders Tutorial and Mozilla Software Carpentry are having national and international impact by enabling more people to teach more often.
The spread of tech depends on teaching
Software won’t replace teachers. But teachers need great software for teaching. The success and growth of technical communities are largely dependent on the availability of teaching stacks appropriate to teaching their technologies. Resources like try git or interactivepython.org not only help students on their own but also equip instructors to teach these topics without also having to discover the best tools for doing so. In that way, they play the same function as open source Web stacks: getting us up and running quickly with time-tested and community-backed tools. Thank goodness I don’t need to write a database just to write a website; I can use open source software instead. As an instructor teaching others to code websites, what’s the equivalent tool set? That’s what I mean by Teaching Stack: a collection of open tools that help individual instructors teach technology at scale.
Elements of a great teaching stack
Here are some of the major components of a teaching stack for a hands-on technology course:
Not just for code anymore
Do you really want a technical book for your project? Does your community need to provide more helpful docs to support even more users? Does your community have a lot of knowledge they need to get out of heads and into bits and bytes? Do you have a good mix of technical experts and technical writers and users who would enjoy each other’s company for a week of hard work?
If the answer is yes, then consider a book sprint. If you’re in the open source world, you may have heard of a code sprint. A book sprint is a similar event, with an intense collaborative authoring session time boxed by a few days or a week. People get together typically in person to author and complete a book in a week.
Generally speaking it’s best if you have an idea of the scope and audience for the book prior to holding the sprint. These discussions can take place on line, such as on a mailing list or in a wiki page or Etherpad. You can also meet with future collaborators regularly, but understand, the first day of your sprint your book will certainly take shape. As book sprinter Adam Hyde says, “While you may not know the exact book you want when you go into the sprint, by the end you will have the book you need.”
For the OpenStack Operations Guide, we held a five-day book sprint in February 2013. OpenStack releases every April and October, and this timing was nearly halfway between two release dates. With Adam as our facilitator, seven authors agreed to work together and we nervously awaited our fate. We asked, “Could we complete a book in a week?”
Reinvigorate a Perl project today
I contribute heavily in the Perl community, and I’m consistently impressed by the pains we take with code and assets that we personally have no interest in. There’s a group of Perl people who shepherd (camelherd?) code and projects that have lost their maintainers. I’m one of those people.
There’s a very simple system CPAN uses and which has been working since around 1994. Basically, CPAN is a big directory structure that other mirrors rsync (see Jarkko Hietaniemi’s The Zen of Comprehensive Archive Networks). People contribute code through the Perl Authors Upload Server (PAUSE), which does some light verification for identity and permission for the namespaces in that code. No one really “owns” a namespace in Perl, but developers have permissions to control it, including extending that permission to other developers. This is a small bit of a social control. (As an aside, Perl 6’s design handles this differently by allowing people to specify an “authority” for modules)
A conference report on the IP transition.
Although readers of this blog know quite well the role that the Internet can play in our lives, we may forget that its most promising contributions — telemedicine, the smart electrical grid, distance education, etc. — depend on a rock-solid and speedy telecommunications network, and therefore that relatively few people can actually take advantage of the shining future the Internet offers.
Worries over sputtering advances in bandwidth in the US, as well as an actual drop in reliability, spurred the FCC to create the Technology Transitions Policy Task Force, and to drive discussion of what they like to call the “IP transition”.
Last week, I attended a conference on the IP transition in Boston, one of a series being held around the country. While we tussled with the problems of reliability and competition, one urgent question loomed over the conference: who will actually make advances happen?
A Frank Talk about Women in Programming with the Founder of CodeChix
Rupa Dachere (@rdachere), Founder and President of CodeChix, and I had a chance to talk programming and open source community culture at OSCON 2013. She brings up some great points about the specific problems that arise for women, talks about why she brought CodeChix to life, and what we can all do to make the programming community more diverse.
Key highlights include:
- Women face unique challenges: Time, Resources, and Support [Discussed at 0:18]
- And, there is support, for instance, CodeChix has refresher courses and tech talks [Discussed at 0:50]
- The CodeChix origin story [Discussed at 2:36]
- Cultivating positivity [Discussed at 4:02]
- Eighteen month outlook – some companies are talking but others need to join the conversation [Discussed at 4:57]
You can view the full interview here:
The past, present, and future of Dell's project
Barton George (@barton808) is the Director of Development Programs at Dell, and the lead on Project Sputnik—Dell’s Ubuntu-based developer laptop (and its accompanying software). He sat down with me at OSCON to talk about what’s happened in the past year since OSCON 2012, and why he thinks Sputnik has a real chance at attracting developers.
Key highlights include:
- The developers that make up Sputnik’s ideal audience [Discussed at 1:00]
- The top three reasons you should try Sputnik [Discussed at 2:46]
- What Barton hopes to be talking about in 2014 [Discussed at 4:36]
- The key to building a community is documentation [Discussed at 5:20]
You can view the full interview here:
Quality and security drive adoption, but community is rising fast
I recently talked to two managers of Black Duck, the first company formed to help organizations deal with the licensing issues involved in adopting open source software. With Tim Yeaton, President and CEO, and Peter Vescuso, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Business Development, I discussed the seventh Future of Open Source survey, from which I’ll post a few interesting insights later. But you can look at the slides for yourself, so this article will focus instead on some of the topics we talked about in our interview. While I cite some ideas from Yeaton and Vescuso, many of the observations below are purely my own.
The spur to collaboration
One theme in the slides is the formation of consortia that develop software for entire industries. One recent example everybody knows about is OpenStack, but many industries have their own impressive collaboration projects, such as GENIVI in the auto industry.
What brings competitors together to collaborate? In the case of GENIVI, it’s the impossibility of any single company meeting consumer demand through its own efforts. Car companies typically take five years to put a design out to market, but customers are used to product releases more like those of cell phones, where you can find something enticingly new every six months. In addition, the range of useful technologies—Bluetooth, etc.—is so big that a company has to become expert at everything at once. Meanwhile, according to Vescuso, the average high-end car contains more than 100 million lines of code. So the pace and complexity of progress is driving the auto industry to work together.
All too often, the main force uniting competitors is the fear of another vendor and the realization that they can never beat a dominant vendor on its own turf. Open source becomes a way of changing the rules out from under the dominant player. OpenStack, for instance, took on VMware in the virtualization space and Amazon.com in the IaaS space. Android attracted phone manufacturers and telephone companies as a reaction to the iPhone.
A valuable lesson can be learned from the history of the Open Software Foundation, which was formed in reaction to an agreement between Sun and AT&T. In the late 1980s, Sun had become the dominant vendor of Unix, which was still being maintained by AT&T. Their combination panicked vendors such as Digital Equipment Corporation and Apollo Computer (you can already get a sense of how much good OSF did them), who promised to create a single, unified standard that would give customers increased functionality and more competition.
The name Open Software Foundation was deceptive, because it was never open. Instead, it was a shared repository into which various companies dumped bad code so they could cynically claim to be interoperable while continuing to compete against each other in the usual way. It soon ceased to exist in its planned form, but did survive in a fashion by merging with X/Open to become the Open Group, an organization of some significance because it maintains the X Window System. Various flavors of BSD failed to dislodge the proprietary Unix vendors, probably because each BSD team did its work in a fairly traditional, closed fashion. It remained up to Linux, a truly open project, to unify the Unix community and ultimately replace the closed Sun/AT&T partnership.
Collaboration can be driven by many things, therefore, but it usually takes place in one of two fashions. In the first, somebody throws out into the field some open source code that everybody likes, as Rackspace and NASA did to launch OpenStack, or IBM did to launch Eclipse. Less common is the GENIVI model, in which companies realize they need to collaborate to compete and then start a project.
A bigger pie for all
The first thing on most companies’ minds when they adopt open source is to improve interoperability and defend themselves against lock-in by vendors. The Future of Open Source survey indicates that the top reasons for choosing open source is its quality (slide 13) and security (slide 15). This is excellent news because it shows that the misconceptions of open source are shattering, and the arguments by proprietary vendors that they can ensure better quality and security will increasingly be seen as hollow.