Changing the world one byte at a time

Tag Archives: wfs

I’ve really enjoyed witnessing to the growth of the Women in Free Software planet in the year and a half that I’ve been maintaining it.  Working in partnership with OPW, I’ve seen a renewed interest in the planet during that time, and a lot of fresh and interesting content.

Since January of 2013, the planet has grown from about 25 blogs to 150.  As the size of the planet grows, so does the amount of maintenance needed.  There are quite a few tasks related to feed maintenance; I’m keeping up on the basic tasks, but not much beyond that.  There are a lot of neglected projects that I’d love to see happen to help the planet thrive:

  • identifying and removing blogs that have not had any posts about open source software in the last 6 months
  • doing outreach to bloggers in the planet who do not have photos on the feed and adding their photos (it helps so much to see the faces of the writers)
  • seeking out more blogs by women in FOSS, contacting them about joining the feed, and adding them

Additionally, there is the twice-a-year project of adding the feeds of all the new interns each time another OPW internship period starts.  Last summer, there were 50 participants in OPW to be added!

I’d love to have a small team of 3-4 helpers who are willing to share these tasks that go into maintaining the planet feed. Is this you? If you’ve appreciated reading the planet, consider giving some of your time to help maintain and improve it!  Email me if interested.

My coding work lately has focused on a major upgrade to Planeteria by giving it a web framework (currently it has none).  The framework I chose was Flask, because of its simplicity, its flexibility, and its scalability.  It has a strong community and documentation, which makes our project more friendly to new contributors, and has several add-ons for features that we hope to implement/improve upon for the site down the road, which will make future improvements to the site much easier.  I’ve also done some reorganizing of the files so that there’s clearer separation of the business logic and presentation logic.  Again, this should make the site more friendly to new contributors who might want to edit the backend Python code without unintentionally altering the page content.  The page layout is in Bootstrap, which is another tool that is commonly used and well documented.  It’s often used by developers for prototyping, with some handy defaults for buttons, blocks of text, etc.   Although you may notice that many projects and websites that have a very similar look because of this, it provides a foundation that is very easy to alter through CSS that a skilled designer could do a lot more with.

This week I created a schema for the data in SQLite3 and did a crash-course in SQLAlchemy to work with that data.  Currently, Planeteria stores its data in sqlite with the help of a tiny tool that simply stashes it as if it’s a dictionary;  there is no schema.  This has been a huge frustration of mine, as it’s difficult to see exactly what data is stored in what format.  Not ideal when trying to debug Unicode issues and character escaping.

I now have planet data (name/description/slug) and a planet’s feed data (feed name/url/image/planet id) saving to a database, with the ability for a planet admin to update any of that data correctly.  With just a few sql commands, I can now check the database and see if my code did what it should with the data.  Huzzah!  This led to a few revisions of the schema, each time simply deleting the database and creating a new one with the updated schema, then more testing.  Last night, I did some rigorous testing, trying my hardest to “break” it (identify flaws).  The biggest test was using unicode characters and quotes; two things that cause problems right now if they’re entered in the admin page.  It saved and loaded the data exactly as it should!  It’s lovely when things just work as they’re supposed to.

The database does not yet save feed content data.  It’s still to be determined exactly how that will be saved.  I’ve talked before about adding tagging to the site to help people more easily identify content within a planet that is relevant to them.  Since the only users on the site are the planet admins, the planet admin would be responsible for assigning tags to each feed; but how would the admin correctly guess what tags would most interest the planet readers?  I think it just puts an undue burden on the planet admin for maintaining all the tags for their planet feed.  Additionally, admins can edit a blog’s feed data but they have no control over individual blog entries; the topics discussed by a blogger in the planet might vary greatly, making an individual tag that brings up that blogger’s entries only applicable to some, not all of those entries.

I’m not sure that adding individual user logins for readers to save personally selected tags is the right solution.  It seems overly complicated and potentially underused.  I’d want to wait to see if there is really demand for this; as it is, many readers are simply reading the feed in their own feed readers anyway.  A much simpler solution that would enable readers to find content most relevant to their interests is a Search window.

I bring all of this up because how the feed content data is used/accessed will guide the decision of how it’s saved.   A relational database would be an appropriate way to store feed tags, but if we want users to be able to search the content, storing it in a server designed for searching such as Solr or Elasticsearch might be more appropriate.

While I mull that over, there are plenty of other things to do with the Admin page functionality I’ve built so far: next on my plate is form validation, security, and error reporting.  Then, adding user logins, most likely with Mozilla Persona.

WFS Planet update:  Today, I updated a few feeds in the Women in Free Software admin page and was reminded again of a bug that makes feed images disappear or assigns them to a different person’s feed.  I’ve put those images back where they should go for now, but it may happen again.  It pains me to leave the live site in its broken state, but I’ve decided to focus my efforts on the Flask implementation instead and create a stronger foundation so that bugs like this can more easily be avoided in the future.  I’ve made sure that the javascript on the new admin page assigns unique ID’s to each feed’s data so that this can’t happen on the new Admin page once the Flask site is launched.  I can’t wait to see it in action!

2014 is well underway, and I’ve been more actively working on several projects after a busy 2013 that included selling my house, moving to another continent, getting married, and decompressing from all of the above!

While it was an exciting year for me personally, I’ve been frustrated with my lack of progress as far as learning code and other skills that will hopefully move me closer to a career in tech.  My learning has been a bit sporadic, so in the fall I completed a MOOC to refresh my existing knowledge and build upon it. Now I’m coming back to some existing projects as well as starting some new ones:

Planeteria Coding

Now I’m coming back to my work on Planeteria, the project that I started working on during my OPW internship a year ago, and am able to understand a lot of things that were a struggle for me when I started.  That doesn’t mean I understand *everything*, but I’m at least feeling less overwhelmed.

I still struggle with scope.  I’m a big-picture kind of person, and with Planeteria, there is so much to do. I have a long wishlist of things I’d like to improve, and as I start working on one, I find myself tempted to add other things to it, but I just keep reminding myself that open source is incremental. Baby steps.

Women in Free Software Planet Management

Planet management has been coasting for a while, with few changes other than adding the new OPW interns at the start of each internship round. The planet has exploded in size in the last year as the OPW program has grown in participation, which is incredibly exciting to read so many new and talented voices in the feed, but does require a lot of work to manage the feed.  I’ve flagged some improvements that can be made to the site to help streamline the process of adding feeds, as well as making a few changes to the process for WFS administration with the help of a couple new volunteers, Siobhan Bamer and Aarti Dwivedi, for whom I’m ever so grateful (thank you!!).  This year I hope to more actively manage this growing planet, and to start recruiting more bloggers doing great things in the FOSS community. I’ll be seeking requests for bloggers to add to the planet soon – so put your thinking caps on :)


I attended my first FOSDEM last weekend, which was a great introduction to the FOSS community here in Europe. I was especially curious to see the ratio of women:men and observe any gender dynamics to be aware of. This is partly due to my ongoing curiosity/personal research of what to be aware of as I enter this world as a woman. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were quite a few women there; I’m guessing around 20% but that is a very rough ballpark based only on my personal observation. However the ratio varied greatly from room to room. In the sessions I went to, I found that the Python track had only two women besides myself in an overcrowded room (perhaps because Pyladies isn’t as present in Europe as it is in the US – more on that below). The Mozilla dev room and Legal Issues tracks had a much higher ratio of women. I was especially thrilled to see such high attendance in the Women in Technology talk given by another OPW alum, Priyanka Nag, who only had 1/2 hour to address such a broad topic. I appreciated learning a bit more about WoMoz and hearing some of the questions and comments from the audience, but I’d love to see more talks at FOSDEM that explicitly address outreach both to women and more broadly. The only other talk I saw on this topic was Deb Nicholson’s talk “Non-Coders Wanted” which made the case for the value of non-technical contributors and had some great tips for how to recruit them to any FOSS project.

I appreciated the non-commercial nature and the accessibility of the event, being all-volunteer run with no registration fee at all. One shortcoming of a free conference is the lack of nametags, which can help facilitate conversations and connections with others at the conference. As someone still pretty new to this community, I could’ve really used them to identify people who would be especially helpful to talk to unless someone was introduced to me. That being said, I found most people to be quite approachable, and ended up striking up conversations with complete strangers and had some interesting and unexpected conversations as a result.

PyLadies Barcelona

After benefiting greatly from the support of a fantastic community of PyLadies in Portland and then meeting many others at PyCon last year, I moved to Barcelona with the intention of helping facilitate a similar group in Barcelona.  Concurrently, interest has been growing here in Spain.  Last November, a group of ladies met informally during the first PyCon España to discuss starting a PyLadies on Spanish soil.  We’ve held two meetups in Barcelona so far, and though it’s still just a fledgeling, it’s a fantastic group of people, and I’m excited to see where this will go.  I’m especially inspired to see that women’s participation at PyCon has skyrocketed in recent years, in part due to the efforts of PyLadies in the US.  PyLadies chapters are now starting to crop up here in Europe.  Let’s see what happens!

Subtitle: I fixed it!

The bug that had prevented me from adding any more feeds to WFS is now fixed!  It was surprisingly easy; it had to do with an unescaped apostrophe throwing a wrench in the Javascript in the admin page.  The tricky thing that made it hard to diagnose is that it only threw an error  when you tried to save a new feed AFTER you had added and successfully saved the feed with the apostrophe in the Name field.  Normally, if I run across a bug in the Admin page (of which there are many), I would get an error when I try to submit a newly added feed that it doesn’t like.

I finally found the source when I noticed in Chrome Developer Tools that the Javascript was throwing an error right at the line that had a name with an apostrophe; I then looked at the other two planets that I know are affected and sure enough, it showed the same error at the feeds that had an apostrophe in the name field.  Because single quotes were used around the string value, the apostrophe was treated as the end of the string, when clearly it wasn’t supposed to end there.

Now that the bug is taken care of, I’ve added the remaining intern feeds for this OPW round, so you can now read all the OPW intern blogs on the Women in Free Software planet.  I added a few Google Summer of Code students as well; if there are any other female GSoC student who would like to be added, just let me know!

With these additions, the number of feeds on Women in Free Software planet is now approaching 100, which feels pretty big to me.  There are some folks who don’t always want to read all the blogs in the feed; for example, you might want to only read blogs of people who are working with the same coding language, or working with the same organization.  If this is you, I have a request and a suggestion:

(a) in case you’re not aware, Planeteria enables anyone to make their own planet.  You can make a planet with a much narrower scope if you like and read just those blogs that you want.  Just go to the homepage, fill out the two-field form, and start adding your feeds!  It’s that simple.  This is probably the best approach in the short term; however….

(b) there is a new feature coming down the pipeline that will enable you to sort the feed by tags.  Tell me what catgeory/ies you would like to be able to read within the feed, so that when the time comes to implement it, it will have tags that are useful to the planet’s readers.  Leave a note in the comments!