When in Rome, Don’t Use GitHub

Please excuse the garbled proverb, I don’t mean to say that people in Rome shouldn’t use GitHub. Instead, I’m talking about using the right tool for the job and the community. Sometimes the “right” tool is completely wrong, because the audience is wrong for the tool.

Collaboration works well when you use the right tools. For developers, that’s often git and GitHub. Wanna work on some code? Throw it up on GitHub. Check out the code, make your changes, and commit. Most developers working in open source today are likely to know git well enough to work with you. (Note that I’m using “GitHub” as shorthand for any git repository/service, really.)

At the edges of developer communities, though, there’s a temptation to use developer tools for non-development work. For example, creating marketing materials and documentation.

For some documentation projects, git is probably the right tool. Especially if you’re doing books and trying to document along with a release cycle. But for creating marketing materials or “living” documents that change a lot? Probably not such a great idea.

Use the tools that are lightweight and easy for anyone to work with, preferably something browser-based and that allows revision control. (e.g., a wiki.) While there are flaws with those tools, they’re “good enough” and – most importantly – they pass the “native” test for people who are contributing to non-code projects. Do they have a browser? Check. Can they figure out how to use the wiki in 5 minutes? Check. Do they need to create an account with a third party service or download a tool they wouldn’t otherwise need? Nope. All good.

Resist the urge to impose your favorite tools on an unsuitable audience. It’s always tempting to go with what you know best or optimize for your own use case, but resist the urge when it’s going to be detrimental to getting maximum participation and building community.

One Week With Android

1465136-android_robot_logoSince my iPhone 4S was getting very long in the tooth, and the latest crop of iPhones really didn’t excite me, I decided (once again) to try jumping ship to Android.

For the record, I’ve tried switching from the iPhone to other platforms several times now. When my first iPhone’s screen was shattered, I tried Blackberry. That lasted less than a month. I received a Nexus One at an OSCON several years ago and tried switching to that – while it was OK, it just wasn’t quite “there” in terms of application parity and ease of use.

Recently I tried switching to a Nexus 4 after having received a Nexus 7 tablet and finding that the most recent Android was pretty damn nifty and the apps (at least those that I use) had more or less caught up. That would have been successful, except that the Nexus 4 camera was horrible.

So – the most recent attempt, I decided to jump ship to Android and switch carriers away from AT&T. First, let me say that I find shopping for an Android phone to be a bit on the painful side. There seem to be approximately 45,000 different models of Android phones, and for every really nifty feature each phone has, it usually has at least one major flaw that means it’s not quite right. Say what you will about Apple, but they don’t overwhelm people with choices.

I wound up getting the Samsung Galaxy S4 on T-Mobile. I feel like T-Mobile has a bit of bait-and-switch going on with their pricing, since what they advertise for the phone’s price is really the down payment, not the actual price of the phone. (T-Mobile’s lower monthly cost is because they’re not subsidizing the phone, they’re selling it to you on installments.) If I had known more about their pricing, I would have bought the Google edition of the phone outright and then gotten T-Mobile service.

The Phone and Android Experience

Android has improved a lot over the years. It has some nice touches that iOS doesn’t have, or at least didn’t until the iOS 7 release. (Haven’t tried that yet.) But it still has some inconsistencies that set my teeth on edge, though how much of those are stock Android, and how much are the carrier changes, is unclear. It still takes far too long to find some settings. IIRC, changing one of the top status bar items meant digging into “display”, for example. And uninstalling apps should be as simple as clicking an app and deleting it.

I have been able to find most of the apps I used on the iPhone and get those sorted without too much trouble. Some apps are basically identical, some are a bit different in bewildering ways. RunKeeper, for example, is laid out differently and it was much less intuitive finding out how to enter a workout manually.

It’d be nice if I could find a general purpose music player that syncs well with a Linux desktop music player. Right now I’m using Amazon MP3, and it’s OK – but I find (oddly) that a few of the albums I’ve downloaded from Amazon MP3 have incorrect album art and/or are tagged weirdly. (It has “Rio” tagged as disc 0 and disc 1, and so has split the album in two. Same with “Sand in the Vaseline” by the Talking Heads.)

Battery life is pretty good, and I like the fact I can replace the battery. I plan on buying a larger battery with an expansion case shortly.

The headphones that come with it are decent – nothing to write home about, but not crappy either.

I like the fact I was able to change the launcher, and have grabbed Nova Launcher and customized things a bit. Oddly, they had configured the S4 to have only 4 icons per row, where as (I think) stock Android has 5. Also, the Samsung launcher had a wee bug that was driving me nuts where it wrapped the title of one application by one letter, leaving an orphan dangling under the icon. Yes, that really bugged me.

Bonus points for having a widget so I can turn on the camera light as a flashlight. Minus several points for the widget being fugly, just light grey text on a darker grey square. Bleah.

Several beers to the first person who can tell me how to change the theme for the messaging application. It’s just so hideous.

Loving the swipe typing on the phone, except when I need to “type” a word that’s not in the phone’s dictionary. Then it feels like a major step backwards having to plonk down each letter.

Also loving the fact that the keyboard has number keys at the top instead of having to switch back and forth just to type in any passwords that have numbers and letters.

The blocking mode is useful. Can someone tell me how the **** to turn off the annoying notification that it’s on, though? I know it’s on, I set it. Now kindly stop taking up real estate on my notification bar/notification area. Especially when it’s not actually active. (I have it set from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.)

Long story short: I don’t regret switching, and I actually think I will be sticking with Android this time – at least until Apple or another vendor comes out with something compelling enough to switch again. (But never Windows Phone. Sorry Microsoft, but no. Not ever.)

LinuxCon, CloudOpen, and Gluster Community Day

Next week is a big one for Linux and Open Cloud practitioners and enthusiasts: It’s the annual North American LinuxCon (and CloudOpen), put on by the Linux Foundation – and, following LinuxCon, the Gluster community is putting on a Gluster Community Day on September 19th.

Naturally, LinuxCon is on my “don’t miss” list of events, and I’m really looking forward to attending the Gluster Community Day and learning a lot more about Gluster. I have a little background on Gluster from looking into it when I was spending more time on Apache CloudStack, but need to get some quality hands-on time with it.

If you’re attending LinuxCon, don’t miss my talk on Wednesday: Everything I Know About the Cloud, I Learned from Game of Thrones. Hoping to have a lot of fun with the topic, but also actually pass on something useful about Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) clouds for folks who are somewhat new to the topic. Need I add, there will be Game of Thrones spoilers if you haven’t read the books/watched the show. (And if you haven’t, well… you have almost a week to do so.) Also, if you’re already familiar with Game of Thrones on HBO… don’t worry, the talk will be G-rated.

See you in New Orleans!

Google: Have You Heard of It?

I firmly believe that it’s important to adopt the “there are no stupid questions” attitude when working with open source communities and those who are new to them. However, the temptation to say “sorry, do you not get Teh Googles on your computer?” is so very great sometimes…

Then I remind myself, we’re all busy people, we all jump straight to “I want to engage with people RIGHT NOW” (or something similar) and I’m not immune to those things myself. Still, tempting.

Four vs. Six Months

The decision to have time-based releases was made early on with the Apache CloudStack project. It’s fairly standard these days to go with time-based releases rather than feature-based releases, and makes a lot of sense for projects that are primarily aimed at use in corporate IT.

While coming to the decision of time-based vs. feature-based was easy, coming up with the actual length of a release cycle is trickier. Everyone wants the release yesterday, so there’s a strong desire to have a shorter cycle. But a shorter cycle puts pressure on folks to actually get the release out, and a shorter cycle (especially for newer projects) seems more difficult.

We decided initially to go with four-month cycles, but that decision is being revisited right now, with a lot of the community leaning in favor of six-month cycles.

I’d be curious to hear from other projects exactly how they came to decide the length of time-based release cycles. In Linux distribution circles, six-month cycles have been popular – though it looks like Ubuntu is fiddling with that a little bit, and AFAIK, Fedora has generally come closer to seven-month cycles when all is done and said.

For the record, I don’t think we’ve got enough data to decide that four month cycles aren’t workable. I’d really like to see the community take 4.2.0 as the cycle to really refine processes, get more automated testing in place, and try to get documentation folks working together a little better before saying that six-month cycles are a better fit.