Kaizendo vs. The Volcano

In the beginning of May 2010, the Kaizendo project had its first developer meetup. Several things made it a memorable and useful trip. This is a report on what those things were, and what lead to them.

(Photo: Sveinn Sandvik Svendsen, CC BY-SA-3.0-Norway.)

About the project

Kaizendo is in many ways a social experiment. We’re creating an open source project whose goal to let anyone create open source-type projects around their schoolbooks. Along the way, we’re learning about project management, open source marketing, software service design, software licensing, business models and protocol design. We’re also looking for ways of commercializing the project in such a way that it includes and respects the community while giving Kaizendo a sound economic foundation for becoming a long-term tool for improving texts.

One of the major issues from the outset has been to set up a viable software development project. Since we’re in fact bootstrapping the project (creating something useful from nothing) we’ve had to find supporters with the help of only a good idea, some well thought-out stories and a few indications that this project is both realistic and has a chance of success. With some luck, we managed in the few first months of 2010 to grow from one person to 4-5 people who have actively contributed in some substantial way. Our situation was improving, so we decided to meet up for a weekend of socializing and hacking!

At this point its useful to know a little about the team. Tomas Doran and Salve J. Nilsen, are experienced Perl hackers, and Sveinn Sandvik Svendsen has ambitions of becoming one. With three Perl hackers in the project, and Nordic Perl Workshop scheduled in Reykjavik on the weekend og May 1st and 2nd, this was an obvious and excellent place for having our first dev meetup.

We also knew other notable Perl hackers were planning on coming (including Jonathan Worthington, Thomas Klausner , Dagfinn Ilmari Mannsåker and Marcus Ramberg) so we could even involve them in the discussions. Along the way, we also met Tryggvi Björgvinsson, Steinn E. Sigurðarson (NPW organizers from FSFÍ) and Smári McCarthy (another FSFÍ organizer) all who made the trip much more enjoyable and useful.

Getting ready

The preparations for NPW had actually been going on for several months (and convincing the organizers to arrange NPW, years) and Salve had already been a little involved in some of it. At least for him, this was going to be an awesome conference made even better by having a Kaizendo meetup at the same time. We had a few video meetings on Skype, we dived into the details the Kaizendo REST API and we mused on what we wanted to hack on in Reykjavik. Tomas and Salve submitted several talks for NPW too, and got two of them accepted. We were all looking forward to the trip.

Then, Eyjafjallajökull erupted.

We continued as if nothing else important was going on; Flight and hotel were booked, other project tasks were handled, talks were prepared. But sadly, not everyone was as unaffected by Eyja as us. Flights all over Europe were cancelled and many of the NPW attendees were getting nervous about becoming stranded. Just a few days before the conference, Tryggvi told the attendees that they were considering on postponing the conference. Shortly after, the decision was made. We and a few of the Perl folks decided to take the chance to come anyway. For us, it meant more hacking and socializing and even an opportunity to take a closer look at the volcano.

As it happens, two days before the conference, the skies were clear again, and we were off.

(Illustration: MET Office Volcano Alert)

Thursday - Sveinn arrives early

Sveinn managed to book a flight a day early, so he got a much better look at Reykjavik than the rest of us. First he recovered from his hectic morning in Oslo. Afterwards, he met Tryggvi and the other FSFÍ organizers (Steinn and Smári) at one or more pubs, and got a good impression of Icelandic drinking discipline. Most of the evening was spent on small talk on a range of topics from free software funding to Icelandic beer history and how (not) to pronounce Icelandic. Steinn suggested that we make use of the EU’s seventh framework project for financing, provided we could get in touch with researchers at a university. The evening ended at the Excellent Pub Across The Street. It was indeed so excellent that we forgot its name, Nýlenduvöruverzlun Hemma & Valda (Verzlunin) – or Hemmi og Valdi.

Friday - Blue Lagoon

The rest of us arrived Friday afternoon. Salve had already been in Iceland before, and convinced Tomas, Jonathan and Sveinn that the only natural and sensible thing to do after landing in Keflavik, is to take the bus directly to the Blue Lagoon for a few hours of relaxation in the hot springs. The lagoon was a very nice place to talk, do the introductions and all those other necessities that have to be done when a group of people meet face-to-face for the first time.

(Photo: Sveinn Sandvik Svendsen, CC BY-SA-3.0-Norway.)

Silicates and saunas were good, but eventually we also needed nutrition so we took the bus to town, checked in and went to Vegamót (Icelandic for crossroads) for grubs. Then we proceeded to enjoy the lovely local beer at Hemmi og Valdi. Good times, good talks, but with the day closing we needed to decide on the activity schedule. We quickly found out Saturday was the only sunny day this weekend, so everyone opted to use it for sightseeing. Thomas Klausner finally arrived in time for a few more beers. Eventually, people started talking about fulfilling their needs for sleep, and thus the evening ended not all that late.

Saturday - [ˈɛɪjaˌfjatl̥aˌjœkʏtl̥] (Eyjafjallajökull)
With the weather on our side, we headed out to see some of Iceland’s characteristic features. A road destroyed by glacial flooding from Eyja, plumes of ash, hot springs and the magnificent waterfall Seljalandsfoss. Pictures say much more about this than words, but we do have to send our warm thanks to Tryggvi and Steinn for organizing this on such a short notice. They excused themselves by claiming Þetta reddastIt’ll be OK, but we can’t accept this. They took time from their busy schedules to give us a good time, and deserve our thanks for this.

Above: Visiting some hotsprings that were created during a 2008 earthquake (the newest hotsprings in Iceland!) Boiling water smelling like rotten eggs. From left: Jonathan, Salve, Tryggvi, (Photo: Sveinn Sandvik Svendsen, CC BY-SA-3.0-Norway.)

Above: Seljalandsfoss. A very cool place where you can walk behind the waterfall. In the lower left: Dagfinn, Tryggvi and Tomas. (Photos: Sveinn Sandvik Svendsen, CC BY-SA-3.0-Norway.)

Above: Seljalandsfoss close-up for scale. (Photos: Sveinn Sandvik Svendsen, CC BY-SA-3.0-Norway.)

In the evening, we went out for some simple food and then decided to start hacking at the Kaffi Rót - Root Café, a community driven café with comfortable sofas, plenty of coffee, cake and wireless network. Unfortunately, the comfortable sofas were taken, so we sat down around two tables and started looking for wireless networks and sofa groups to invade. Tomas was the first to start hacking, and started talking about the class naming on #kaizendo (the project IRC channel on irc.freenode.org). In the middle of the naming discussion between Salve and Tomas, Sveinn looked over and thought Tomas’ comment «What should we call this one then» referred to the odd figures who had just entered the cafe. Sveinn’s response, «Otaku Emo» would probably not have been a good name for a generic book class. The guys continued hacking throughout the evening, writing classes and trying to convert CC-BY-SA books to tidier HTML until they were thrown out at eleven o’clock and decided to go for a beer. At this point in the evening, Salve’s computer took a (figurative) nosedive through user levels and ended up doing file system checks until sunday morning. Well filled up, we all dropped by Bæjarins Beztu PylsurThe best hot dog in town for some Icelandic tasty hot dog goodness, went for another beer or three at Hemmi og Valdi, followed closely by sleep in the hotel.

Sunday - Hacking

(Tryggvi, Jonathan, Sveinn and Dagfinn at the Síminn office. Photo: Marcus Ramberg)

When it comes to hacking, nothing tells more than the commit graph of a project. When Saturday evening was spent with trying to get a basic skeleton up and running, Sunday was used for further establishing some terms (naming is rather important) and getting a basic web page to show in the application. Tomas spent some time putting some meat on the skeleton - or at least giving it a few more limbs and joints. Sveinn got his hands real dirty with Perl coding trying to grab the text out of a few overly formatted HTML files and output them to some cleaner form. Somewhere in the middle he got mixed up with pandoc and his code got real ugly, so he didn’t dare to add it to his branch. All in all, Tomas and Sveinn came a long way along, and by the end of the day we had good basis of running code.

By six o’clock, we were out of the Síminn venue and moving towards Prikið for dinner (Prikið is known for their Hangover Killer breakfast, that includes a Jack Daniels milkshake and a painkiller tablet,) more beer and hacking. We had a quite enjoyable evening, with all kinds of discussions about politics, the new Icelandic Modern Media Initiative which Smári could tell a lot about, the educational systems in Norway and Iceland, Kaizendo.org and lots more. We finished off at Hemmi og Valdi before coming back to the hotel to spend the night either sleeping or awake until the bus left at half past four in the morning.

Monday - Departure

There’s not much to say, really. We got up at the inhuman hour of 4 o’clock in the morning, anticipating the bus to the airport. After getting to there, we had our breakfast, and after bidding each other farewell, we were back in our home countries within a few hours.

Final impressions

We learned a lot on this trip. We learned about free software business models, sources for financing, government bureaucracy, Perl coding, and most importantly we got to know each other better. We had a lot of great beer with great discussions about a wide range of topics we were interested in, and we enjoyed ourselves very very much. Thanks should go out to the FSFÍ folks for being wonderful hosts, to Siminn for allowing us to use their offices and to NUUG Foundation for helping three of the Kaziendo guys organize their first developer’s meetup. In conclusion, we’d like also our next meeting to be under an erupting volcano.