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Parker 2007
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We're People People Too
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status: goofy pile

Wed May 16 19:52:03 EDT 2007

 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
 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:
 	"Keep up the good work"
 	"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.
 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.
 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.
 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 [1] 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.
 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. [2]
 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.
 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 [3].  but from painful
 personal experience and the writings of the prophet Joel, I don't think
 everything can be measured with numbers.
 The prophet Joel speaks twice on this subject, once slamming
 buzzword consultant speak [4] and once more [5] 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.
 Of course, there are some people [6] who are really into the whole
 function point thing [7]  and there are few people who don't like the
 prophet Joel [8] (in case you missed "uncle fatty" last time)
 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.
 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"[8]
 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.
 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
 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.
 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.
 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.[9] 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.
 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
 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. [10]
 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.
 Hackers and Painters is a book of 15 essays titled after one of the essays
 I bought a copy if anyone wants to borrow hardcopy for off-line reading.