March 2009 Archives

Celebrating women in Perl on Ada Lovelace Day

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There have been a number of posts today for Ada Lovelace Day, honoring women in computing.

  • Tim O'Reilly posts about the women at O'Reilly who make things happen. If it weren't for Edie Freeman, we wouldn't think of the camel and Perl.
  • Nat Torkington highlights three women, including Perl's own Allison Randal, in Ada Lovelace Day ABC. Brenda Wallace gets a shout-out as well. Brenda's not known for public Perl contributions, but she's well-known as a driver of the Perl community in New Zealand.
  • Casey West honors Audrey Tang, who should need no introduction. Casey's blog post gives the briefest of summaries of some of Audrey's amazing achievements.
  • Hundreds more at http://findingada.com/

I'd like to call out a few more Perl people while we're at it:

  • Skud (Kirrily Robert) who helped me start Perlbuzz, is at the top of the list. If you've ever used WWW::Mechanize instead of dealing with the inner workings of LWP, thank Skud.
  • Jacinta Richardson is half of Perl Training Australia. Together with Paul Fenwick, they are a huge force in the Perl community in that corner of the world. My understanding is that their marvelous Perl Tips newsletter comes from her.
  • Elaine Ashton was instrumental in getting the CPAN going, and keeping it going today.
  • Ricardo Signes rattled off names to me: Jess Robinson, Karen Cravens, Liz Cortell, Beth Skwarecki and "Elizabeth Mattijsen who is TOTALLY badass." Perhaps he'll comment to fill in the details.

I'd like to also steal a bit from Tim O'Reilly's article as well. He said:

My first hat tip has to go to my wife, Christina O'Reilly. She's a playwright and choreographer, not a techie. But if you've been influenced by me, you've also been influenced by her.... [S]he's been part of everything I've ever done, in the same way that Elizabeth Barrett Browning said of her husband, Robert Browning: "What I do and what I dream include thee, / As the wine must taste of its own grapes"

In the same way, let's remember our spouses, partners, and other special women in our lives, starting with Larry Wall's wife Gloria, who you've probably seen at Perl conferences keeping things together for the clan.

Whenever you see the work of someone like Josh McAdams, Ricardo Signes, or Casey West, you've got a Heather McAdams, Gloria Signes and Chastity West, and the rest of their families, supporting them. That's community support to remember.

Please add your praise of the women of Perl I've forgotten or don't know in the comments below.

How to write an announcement for your software project

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In my job as editor of Perlbuzz, I get email all the time asking me to run announcements about all sorts of Perl-related things. They're usually announcements of a new release of some module, or something about an upcoming conference. And usually I don't run them, because they violate the first rule of announcing something:

An announcement that says "PerlWhacker v1.5.3 has been released" is not interesting to anyone but a small handful of people. The most important part of being interesting is that your announcement has to have an angle.

Without an angle, there is no reason for the reader to read past the headline

The angle is the part of the story that says "This is why this is interesting to you, the reader." There has to be a reason that a story is interesting, not simply a recitation of facts. There has to be a hook, a reason for the potential reader to see a headline, or maybe the first paragraph, and say "Huh, I'd like to read that."

Here are some examples.

  • Bad: "Devel::NYTProf version 2.04 got released, here's the change log." No angle, very boring, unlikely the reader will pay any attention to the story, if she even clicks it in her feed reader.
  • OK: "Devel::NYTProf v2.04 got released, and it now uses 90% less disk space by using the Zlib compression library." Sort of interesting, because the reader can say "Huh, that sounds like a cool hack. Still, what's the effect on the reader?
  • Good: "Devel::NYTProf v2.04 got released, and it uses 90% less disk space, because Nicholas Clark was trying to run NYTProf on the entire Perl test suite and ran out of disk space, and he worked with Tim Bunce on a patch." That's an angle because it tells a story that the reader can relate to.
  • Great: "Devel::NYTProf v2.04, and it uses less space, because Nicholas Clark was running the Perl test suite against it, and here's a link to the findings from that research." Bingo!

Assume that the reader knows nothing about what you're announcing.

Finally, you must assume that the reader doesn't know what you're talking about. Most of the announcements I see are announcing to a small group of people who are aware of what is being announced, simply notifying that group that something has happened, excluding the readers not yet in the know.

I'm going to pick on the announcements for Summer of Code, both because they're excellent examples of how to exclude readers, and because I want the GSoC to succeed wildly. That's why I took the time to revamp the announcement when I ran it last night.

The original announcement that Eric Wilhelm ran is this:

The Perl Foundation has been officially accepted into the Google Summer of Code 2009 program as a mentor organization!

Hopefully some of you have identified some potential students already. Now we need your help getting them to submit their proposals.

http://leto.net/dukeleto.pl/2009/03/tpf-accepted-to-google-summer-of-code-2009.html

The student application period begins Monday, March 23rd and runs through April 3rd. (Students note: you can edit your proposal throughout that 11-day period -- getting it started early and talking to potential mentors greatly increases your chances vs throwing it over the wall at the deadline.) See this page for details:

http://code.google.com/soc/

Interested students and potential mentors, please read the GSoC info on the Perl wiki:

http://www.perlfoundation.org/perl5/index.cgi?gsoc http://www.perlfoundation.org/perl5/index.cgi?gsoc_2009_projects

If you're interested in mentoring or have a good project suggestion, now is the time to get your info up on the wiki so students will know about your code and where to find you.

Eric has done a ton of work for GSoC this year and last, and it's safe to say that the Perl involvement GSoC wouldn't be as great, in fact might not even exist, without Eric's work, so this is no knock on Eric. But this announcement has some huge failings, and it leaves questions in the mind of the reader who doesn't know what GSoC is.

  • What is Google Summer of Code?
  • Why is it interesting that TPF is a mentor organization?
  • Why do I care about it?
  • What's in it for me, the reader?
  • What is a student?
  • Why would a student want to join GSoC?
  • What is a mentor?
  • Why would someone want to be a mentor?

In short, Eric wrote the announcement for the people who already know what GSoC is, and excluded the other 90% who don't. Jonathan Leto's announcement has the same failings.

It makes sense why Eric and Jonathan wrote they way they did. They've been busting their asses for weeks (months?) working to set things up. They've been working inside the echo chamber of other people that are involved in the project. The parts of the project in the forefront of their minds are the details like how to sign up and how to write a proposal. However, to someone unfamiliar, it's noise until he knows the overview.

Get people to read your words

Whether it's an announcement of your software, or a resume, or a posting in your blog, you have to give the reader a reason to read what you've written. When writing, we tend to focus on the details of the text, expecting that the reader will consume our every word. Problem is, people aren't like that. We skim. We read titles. If it's not interesting we move on.

In my book on job hunting, I hammer home the idea that without a compelling summary at the top of your resume, the reader is not going to spend much time digging the good stuff out of your bullet points at the bottom. It's the same rule with announcements about your software project.

Next time you're going to announce something, show the announcement to someone who is not involved with the project, maybe a co-worker or your spouse. Ask him or her to explain what you're announcing. Try to understand how your article sounds to someone unfamiliar with it. Your project's success may rely on it.

Get paid for working on Perl projects in Google Summer of Code 2009

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Each year, Google Summer of Code puts hundreds of students to work on open source projects, and pays them for it. The Perl Foundation is proud to announce that it has been accepted as a sponsoring organization this year.

Students propose projects that they'd like to have funded, and are assigned a mentor who will help guide the student and project to completion. For students, this is a great way to contribute to open source, get experience working on real projects that you can put on a resume, and get paid for it. You'll be helping open source while helping yourself. For mentors, you'll also be helping open source, and helping a new programmer get his or her start.

Jonathan Leto's blog has links to find out more.

Perlbuzz news roundup 2009-03-21

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I don't see having an autoposting widget for Perlbuzz any time soon, so if you want these more current, keep an eye on the Perlbuzz Twitter account directly.

Parrot 1.0.0 has been released

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It's a big day for Perl 6, for Parrot 1.0 has been released. Parrot is the virtual machine on which Rakudo Perl is being built. Parrot 1.0 means a more stable platform on which the Rakudo builders can continue their implementation of Perl 6.

We're getting closer and closer to the top of the hill!

Updating the Perlbuzz look

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Thanks to Perlbuzz reader James Robson for updating the Perlbuzz logo. It's a little more polished, and it's smaller so not quite so imposing on the front page. Now if only I understood all the CSS magic in the templates that I need to override. I love Firebug but I still don't get what I need to adjust to tighten up the yellow bar.

Fixing old bugs in Template::Timer and Perl::Critic::Bangs

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At the nudging of some users, I've gone back and fixed up some bugs in long-untouched modules, and at the same time moved their repositories over to github, which I am enjoying more every day.

Template::Timer fixes a bug that's been around since 2005 during installs. Perl::Critic::Bangs was doing invalid testing that meant breakage with the new 1.098 release of Perl::Critic.

Perlbuzz news roundup for 2009-03-03

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