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: Joel On Coal: Hey, my ex-boss Joel Spolsky -- who said last year that he'd quit blogging -- has started a new blog about coal mining!

The other crucial thing about having a schedule is that it forces you to decide what seams you are going to choose, and then it forces you to pick the least safe corridors and cut them rather than slipping into pillar-robbing (a.k.a. slope creep).

Update: April Fool's! Postmortem.

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(3) : GNOME 3 Marketing: A Snapshot: The story of this week, for me and GNOME marketing, is primarily the story of a press release. I collected quotes, revised it in response to feedback on marketing-list, added press contacts to our CiviCRM installation and emailed the press release to them (at least twenty contacts, with more to come). It should show up tomorrow on gnome.org once the "we're delaying six months" April Fool's press release runs its course. We're now getting responses from interested journalists and I'll be answering their questions and helping them set up interviews with some key developers.

Also, I heard a success story from another open source marketer about ereleases, so I plan on editing the press release down to 500 words and paying $200 (the nonprofit rate) for their press release publicity service this afternoon.

By the way, in a previous status report I mentioned looking into Collabtive. It's terrible and I won't make us use it. For tasks involving responding to press contacts, we are using CiviCRM. I will be checking with Allan after the hackfest to see whether the remaining tasks would benefit from being placed in Bugzilla; I had aimed to do that before I fell ill.

This week we also had the second User Day. I did not publicize it as far ahead of time as I wish I had, but we did get some participation and answer some users' questions. Thanks to all the hosts!

After a discussion with Sri and Diego, I added "Approaches That Work" to the GNOME 3.0 talking points. If you need to talk with a skeptic about GNOME 3, we're hoping you can get some ideas, tips, and answers to common skepticisms there.

I also did some nagging, editing, writing, and organizing around GNOME Journal's GNOME 3 issue, which we hope to put out this weekend.

So my main TODOs today, this weekend, and early next week are to follow up on press contacts, the ereleases blast, and GNOME Journal. Thanks to everyone in Bangalore who's at the hackfest and working on the release!

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(1) : Weekend, Weekend: I am in a lovely sweet spot with regards to so-bad-it's-good internet ephemera. I don't come upon them myself and people don't forward them to me, but then I come across interesting people saying or making interesting things about them. Case in point: I have never seen the particular music video that led to Sergo Cilli's White Hot Top 5: Ark Music Factory Artists, Daniel Davies's comment on the "journeyman rapper", and a Stephen Colbert cover version. But those three results are fun.

: Joel on Coal Postmortem: I got the idea for Joel on Coal during a work lunch at Fog Creek in 2007. I assume the idea popped into my head because it rhymed. Care for a lengthy recounting of my process?

manipulated photo placing Joel Spolsky in front of a coal mine

It lay fairly dormant in my head till this January. I started thinking seriously about it because he'd said he was basically retiring from blogging and my friend Julia was doing a lot of research on coal mining for a writing project. The environment sounded ripe. She agreed to write some of the text, and we were on!

Leonard bought the joeloncoal.com domain for me and set up the server on the Linode virtual box where we keep our sites. I gave Julia links to several classic Joel essays, and she chose to write excellent parodies of the Joel Test and then of Two Stories.

Things I decided not to do:

  1. Use a real content management system. I thought of setting up a CMS, maybe something with Django, maybe WordPress, maybe Jekyll or a Bloxsom variant or something. But then I realized, why do I need a CMS? A couple of flat HTML pages would be fine. Not like I'll need to update this. So I just did flat HTML pages + images. (I'm glad the site didn't depend on a database -- that would have made it harder to scale up when thousands of people started hammering it.)
  2. Mention Joel's partner, Jared. I originally planned on including something silly about how Joel and Jared were adapting to life in Appalachia, but worried it would come off as too personal and possibly insulting.
  3. Made with CityDeadThe obvious "ShittyDesk" joke for the "Made with CityDesk" graphic in the page footer. Again, wrong tone. Instead: "CityDead" to poke fun at the Fog Creek product whose last release was in 2005.

So, in mid-March, I used the Wayback Machine to grab an old Joel on Software page. Some of the newer designs of JoS depended on CSS, which I have been meaning to learn but don't know. So, spring 2004 was my base template.

manipulated photo placing Joel Spolsky in front of a coal mineOn Tuesday, March 29th, I started working on the site, removing Wayback Machine HTML and some of Joel's text, and adding Julia's copy. I was mostly editing in gEdit and using git to keep a log of my changes. Then, Thursday night, I found some suitable photos via Google Image Search and Flickr's CC-licensed image search, used GIMP to manipulate the images (learning along the way about fuzzy select, transparency, and layers), finished adding Julia's copy, and added the "yes, this is a parody" page. Then I wrote the "Fire & Motion" piece that -- within the fiction of the blog -- is Joel's first entry, explaining the backstory. (First draft: ten to fifteen minutes longhand on the subway.) And I removed some cruft (I should really learn how to use regular expressions properly), added a Reddit button, simplified the left-hand navigation bar, changed nearly all the links to point to "index.html" or "parody.html", and so on. I edited the pages and images in a test directory on my laptop, and every once in a while used scp to copy them to the live server. (git came in handy when I tried to add a Digg button and it didn't work. Revert!) All that took a few hours. At this point I started telling a few geeky friends, letting them preview the site, and asking for their help spreading the word the next day.

Once I thought it was ready (around 11:40 the night of March 31st) I started microblogging, emailing, blogging, and generally publicizing the site. I submitted a tip to TechCrunch, which ended up giving me thousands of hits, and I sent a link to Liz, Fog Creek's office manager, which may be how Joel eventually found the site & tweeted about it. A zillion retweets followed and Joel on Coal made it to the front page of Hacker News. I'd encouraged friends to Reddit the site, but in retrospect, HN front-page status + positive acknowledgment from the prank's victim + probably a hundred tweets = success. I ended up getting about twenty thousand hits to the front page. (Leonard increased max_clients in Apache and I reduced the quality of one of the images to handle the traffic better.) People definitely spent more person-hours enjoying the site than Julia, Leonard and I spent making it, so that's totally success.

photo from Fog Creek office manipulated to show coal mine through windowIt dismayed me that several people thought Joel had created the parody. It's hard, with a prank like this, to claim credit successfully; the unity of the joke depends on keeping a straight face on the front page, so I liberally linked throughout the front page to the "yes, this is a parody" page, which credited Julia and me. But most people didn't read that much, or click. Also, as Leonard reminded me, on April Fool's Day most people parody themselves, not others. And Brendan reminded me that it's a compliment to our satire that people thought it got Joel's voice so right. Rather like one's fanfic being mistaken for the original author's work.

I particularly loved the two times when I instant-messaged friends and the following exchange happened:

I'm glad my April Fool's prank is such a success.
What was it?
That was you?! I loved that!

So I figure I've paid my April Fool's dues for the next few years. I hope you enjoyed Joel on Coal; I enjoyed making it. Big thanks to Julia and Leonard for your work!

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: Business Trip: I'm about to spend a week in San Francisco for the Wikimedia Foundation. Friends in the area: want to meet up? I hope to spend most of my evenings performing at local comedy open mics, so recommendations for April 3rd-7th are welcome. (Thanks to Dave Neary for helping set up an open source marketing/PR training that I aim to attend.)

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: Capital Venture: This morning in the hotel lobby I talked to a fellow guest who slightly resembled Vinod Khosla. We joked that he could make some money on the side as a Vinod Khosla impersonator, opening new car dealerships, snipping ribbons with a giant pair of scissors. (I guess that would work for, like, Honda of Palo Alto or Tesla of Santa Clara.)

Then some tourists from Brisbane joined in the conversation. "Have I seen you on television?" one asked me. I think I've been on TV about three times in my life: once at the age of five when my family was caught in an airport delay, once around eleven as a cohost of the local FOX Kids affiliate, and once about six years ago, in Japan, in a women's wrestling match. "I'm pretty sure you haven't," I ventured. Evidently I resemble a comedienne of South Asian descent who's been on Australian TV. Not Mindy Kaling, I think.

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: GNOME 3 Edition of GNOME Journal Published: I just pushed the button(s) to put out a new edition of GNOME Journal! This one focuses on the launch of the 3.0 version of your favorite desktop environment (assuming your favorite is GNOME). You can read these now at http://gnomejournal.org:

We publish all our articles under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license. Please feel free to translate, podcast, repost, etc.

Thanks to the authors, our interviewees, the GNOME sysadmin team, and my fellow editors! And thanks to the hundreds if not thousands of contributors who have put their energy into GNOME 3.

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: GNOME Contractor Status Update: Launch Week & Next Steps: (Also posted to marketing-list.)

My last email, on April 1st, mentioned that "my main TODOs today, this weekend, and early next week are to follow up on press contacts, the eReleases blast, and GNOME Journal." So I did that; that day, I got the eReleases press release out, and it went to more than a thousand publications. And then here's a list of what I did last week on GNOME:

Undone: I didn't put tasks in Bugzilla because they were moving too fast and I was in San Francisco, many timezones away from Allan in Bangalore, and couldn't coordinate effectively. Lesson for next time: do it early if we're going to do it at all. Similarly for setting up interviews with key GNOME developers; I dropped the ball there.

Now that we've launched, I talked with Allan about how to best use the rest of our contracts (we're booked to work on GNOME till the end of April). We think our priorities for the rest of April are:

(a) reach out to not-so-news-driven (more in-depth-reporting) journalists about aspects of the release that didn't get covered on launch day -- once we get some bites, prep developers who have volunteered, and get them interviewed

(b) write up lessons learned & ideas for next time

(c) infrastructure building & maintenance: update the wiki, consolidate audiovisual and textual resources, and otherwise help prep for future marketing, including press releases, talking points, etc. for the launches of GNOME 3 within distributions that will come out in the next weeks & months

So I'm going to make some progress on each of those this week. Specifically, I aim to reach out to two reporters, braindump a few lessons learned privately, and confer with Allan Day and Vincent Untz about resource consolidation. And I'm planning on pushing GNOME Journal's next issue forward, in collaboration with Paul Cutler, but that's not part of my contract since it's not GNOME 3-specific. :-)

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(2) : Geeky Standup Comedy, April 21st in Astoria (And Elsewhen): Sumana doing standup at the Wikimedia Foundation last week Have you ever thought, "I wish Sumana Harihareswara would do some standup comedy about project management, Linux, relationships, Agile, public transit, science fiction, and These Kids Today"?

Here you go. I'm giving a few performances this week and next. Solidly confirmed: I will perform for half an hour on Thursday, April 21st, at 7pm at Seaburn Bookstore, 33-18 Broadway, in Astoria, Queens.

(I know I'm not on the Seaburn events calendar yet. They're a little bookstore and press, a short walk from the N/Q and R/M trains, with a cafe upstairs and a surprisingly big events space downstairs.)

Please come!

Also: I'm seeking a Brooklyn bar for 15-minute workshoppy performances tomorrow night (13 April) and Friday (15 April); I may just hijack Pacific Standard. And if someone in Manhattan or Astoria wants to host me on Friday the 22nd, then that would be awesome.

Update as of 19 April: more performance dates for 20-23 April.

Sumana performing stand-up comedy in Berkeley a decade ago
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: Geeky Standup Comedy as Value-Add: So, about that standup I'm doing this month. Have you perhaps further pondered, "It would be awesome if Sumana performed at a tech conference where I could also network with the IT community of New York and New Jersey, and attend training programs for way cheaper than I could get elsewhere"?

Your wait is nearly over. I will be the evening keynote speaker at PICC, the Professional IT Community Conference, on Friday, April 29th, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. PICC is a nonprofit production of LOPSA, the League of Professional System Administrators. Other (serious) speakers will include Tom Limoncelli, Sheeri K. Cabral, and the sysadmins from StackExchange. Python, Nagios, security, time management, Hudson, IPv6, all sorts of useful stuff.

PICC '11

The student rate is under a hundred bucks. Today is the last day to register at the early rate -- check it out!

(So yeah, all those other performances this month will be to prep for the PICC keynote. Please attend and help me improve it!)

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(2) : Brooklyn Gamble: I can't reach Pacific Standard via phone or email, but I think it will probably be fine if I gather pals there on Friday night and shout jokes at them.

So: this Friday, 8pm, the Pacific Standard bar, 82 Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, I will attempt to do a very rough 15-minute preview act. Come, critique, socialize! (My full act, which I'll perform at Seaburn Books on the 21st and at PICC on the 29th, is 30 minutes.)

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(1) : Apropos: Leonard and I have been watching a few episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show every day. Battlestar Galactica, The Babysitters Club, and The Dick Van Dyke Show all suit me partly because they focus on labor. Robert Petrie takes substantial pride in doing his job well. I am now imagining Admiral Adama from BSG as Rob's boss Mel Cooley. Sure.

Yesterday, we watched "Big Max Calvada," in which a mob boss gets Rob and his comedy-writing colleagues to write an act for the mobster's untalented nephew. My PICC performance approaches in less than two weeks. Perhaps it didn't help my nerves to watch the nephew's act bombing.

Back to work, laboring over jokes about Facebook.

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: My Standup Comedy This Week: Every night this week, I am making jokes in front of people here in New York. On Monday, I entertained a few friends eating dinner during a Passover seder. I was pretty bad and am glad they had something else to busy themselves with. Tonight, I practiced in front of a few friends in their apartment. And I've now made plans for the rest of the week:

Wednesday 20 April: Planning to workshop five minutes of material at the Anything Goes open rehearsal, which starts at 7:15pm. Shetler Studio, 244 West 54th Street in Manhattan, 12th Floor.

Thursday 21 April: Full performance (half an hour), 7pm at Seaburn Bookstore, 33-18 Broadway, in Astoria, Queens. My picture is in their window!

Friday 22 April: Hoping to perform for ten minutes during a hacker dinner that starts at 7pm. Red Egg, 202 Centre St at Howard St in Manhattan.

Saturday 23 April: Full performance, basement of Greenpoint Reformed Church (thanks, Camille!) in Brooklyn, 8pm. 136 Milton Street between Manhattan and Kent. Camille directs: Take the G train to Greenpoint, and get out on the Greenpoint Ave. side, or take the 7 or L train and then grab the B62 bus to Greenpoint Ave. Pass the 7-Eleven and turn the corner at Milton. It's the small white church on the left hand side of the street. Careful to come to the basement, not the meeting hall; we are not the AA meeting!

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: I'm Making A Note Here: Moderate Success: 24 people came to the performance last night, and, by all appearances, enjoyed it. Thanks, all! This included one Astoria resident who misread the "Geeky Standup Comedy" poster and came thinking I'd be speaking in Greek. (Astoria has a lot of Greek immigrants.) She enjoyed it anyway; phew!

After the show, some of us were talking about jobs, technology, and so on. It's not enough to be right... it's more profitable to read Dale Carnegie than to read Kernighan and Ritchie, I said.

Despairing silence.

I didn't mean that to depress them! I mean, How to Win Friends and Influence People is a shorter read than K&R! It's faster and easier; the ROI is way better! Inadvertent buzzkill there.

The bookstore folks are very friendly and accommodating, and asked me whether I'd be interested in hosting a monthly show. I will think about it.

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(18) : Do You Have 90 Minutes To Help GNOME?: I'm seeking volunteers for a fairly low-effort GNOME Journal task. I need about ten. You don't need any special knowledge about GNOME, just access to email and about 60-90 minutes of free time over the next two weeks. Let me know if you're interested!

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: GSoC, GSoC, Who's There?: As the organizational administrator for MediaWiki (thanks to my job for the Wikimedia Foundation), I am pleased to announce our Google Summer of Code students for 2011.

Also delight-inducing: the number of rejected applicants who hope to contribute to MediaWiki as volunteers. I'm trying to get them involved in their local Wikimedia chapters as well.

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(1) : PICC: PICC Tomorrow night I keynote at PICC. Then the next night I get to see Quinn Norton's keynote! Wonder.

I decided to take out a joke because it's too similar to the most recent XKCD. I wonder how many speakers have this problem.

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