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OT: A Volunteer's Lament

by Sandy (Curate)
on Oct 12, 2009 at 02:27 UTC ( #800592=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Once upon a time, there was a young humble programmer (ok, not so young) who wanted to use perl to improve the world.

As life would have it, there was not a lot of opportunity to solve world hunger, or create ever lasting peace via a computer language, so she had to settle for something a little less dramatic. With one young son in elementary school, the school seemed to be overflowing with young minds which could be brought to the pleasures of Perl.

Quest one

A plan began to bubble forth, and congealed into an idea... teaching the older children how to program, using Perl. After school. After classes. For free! I repeat, for free! She approached the court with a plan, to be told that much consideration must be given before allowing an unknown subject within the castle walls. Access to the magic of the computers could be potentially dangerous, although how so, the court did not seem to know, only that they had been told by the great IT wizard that said that this was so.

After many months (I am not kidding here, it took from the beginning of Sept to mid-November), the court decreed that, in spite of no blessings by the IT wizards, that they would take the risk.

At this point, the humble programmer's trusted man-servant and she taught (or at least attempted to teach) the wonders of Perl to the young vassals, and helped those interested minds find the beginning paths to the wonders of computer programming.

Through this journey of 14 weeks, the Queen never once took notice of this humble programmer, nor of her quest.

However, the humble programmer's reward was the joy on the children's faces when they could make the computer make farting noises on command! Ah, the joy of youth.

Quest two

A year passed, and this humble programmer once again felt the urges to save the world. And once again, many lofty pursuits seemed beyond the skills of a simple programmer. However, having approached the courtiers of the court (home and school association) and offered her services, a new quest came to light. It appears that the lofty web site had gathered dust and required a good cleaning.

How, the programmer said to herself, could a good cleaning truly be a noble quest. Once cleaned, dust would simply gather again and again. Perhaps it was time to bring forth the heros of web development, Earl Template, Duchess CSS, and Duke Content Management of System.

But there are hazards on this quest. The Great School Board Server was protected by the mighty IT wizards, who allow no Open Source Software to dirty their pristine MS environment. None shall enter (or have access to) the Great School Board Server.

So the quest begins, and with the help of the magic of Perl, the magic of wiki, templates, and css, a peasant's Content Management System is devised that will allow the court to manage the web-content via very simple wiki, and beautiful pages of html shall be produced. The only thing missing is the magic incantation to put these html pages on the Great School Board Server.

The Queen and her trusty servant, who dabbles in web-magic, were petitioned for a hearing. The trusty servant, able to produce web pages with minimal flair, was not interested on expanding her knowledge of web-magic, nor was she interested in modifying the results of her incantations. All shall remain as is.

As with all great tales, the fates intervened. The Queen's trusted web-dabbler moved on to fairer shores, leaving this castle with no one to spin-webs. During the summer months of inactivity, our humble programmer worked feverishly using her magic incantations, and the mighty web heroes, to transform the dusty dried web into a dew-sparkled work of beauty (ok, a little exaggeration, but this is just a story...). The new dew-sparkled web site had been infused with the magic of java-script drop-down menus, starting only with a single drop of YAML text, a drop of templates, therein multiplying to all of the web pages, so each would share a common core. In her quest for simplicity of maintenance, our humble programmer had decreed that nothing shall be written twice. Pictoral tales (appropriately sized for the great internet) of great sport or celebration can be conjured with a simple flick of the wrist. The goal, again, was to provide magic where the incantations could be performed by those not in the least bit skilled in the art of spinning webs.

During this time of feverish activity, she joined forces with another knight, highly skilled in the art of Volunteer. The two schemed unabashedly to defeat the curses that cause outdated websites. When the court came back from holidays, requests for hearings were once again put forth. The Queen took no delight in outsiders' help, and would have no discourse with either of the two subjects.

True to her skill as a great volunteer, our Knight petitioned those even more powerful than the Queen, beseeching them to ensure a reputation worthy of new enrollment by painting the web in beautiful colours. "It has already been done", she cried, "the only thing missing is the transfer to the Great School Board Server". And lo and behold, the greater powers decreed that this shall be done.

Although a great achievement had been attained, the quest has not yet ended, for there still lurks the curses of dusty and dried-up websites. The Great School Board, where great decisions are made, hired a young eager apprentice web-spinner, not only to aid the Queen in this story, but all the Kings and Queens under the umbrella of the Great School Board. However, this poor apprentice was shackled with the curse of 'no open-source', and could not have access to our humble programmer's magic.

What, pray tell, shall be done? The Queen has at her side, a fair young maiden, wishing to be indoctrinated in the arts of web spinning, or so the Queen claims. Overtures were made to this young maiden, with promises of spells and potions to recreate and enhance the freshly dusted web site. Deafened by what we know not, the young maiden made no reply. Again and again our humble programmer and Knight Volunteer made overtures, and again and again they fell on deaf ears. Pleas were made to the Queen. "Help", they cried, "we do not wish to see the freshly spun web dry up into dust, it must be constantly freshened. Please do not let it lie fallow."

The Queen responded by ignoring the two servants, and appealed for web-magic from the young apprentice at the Great School Board. The apprentice in turn could not offer what was required, as she was busy with spells for other kingdoms. The not-so-young humble programmer almost gave up the quest, but was heartened by Knight Volunteer's stories of noble quests, completed in spite of many obstacles, where the rewards were many. The Great Knight Volunteer also recounted tales of appreciation by many of those in the court.

Faced with many appeals and cries of outrage by our valiant Knight Volunteer, the Queen condescended to request website dustings from our humble programmer. However, the ever mystical username/password required to upload to the Great School Board Server was still unknown to all within the castle walls. The young maiden, whom it was said wished to be a web spinning apprentice, was still mystified by all that said "html".

Although freshly dusted html sits on our humble programmer's laptop, the website itself begins to gather dust. Our humble programmer begins to feel that the quest was not so noble after all, because no matter how pretty, an out-of-date web-site is simply no better than the out-of-date information contained therein. The humble programmer and the Knight Volunteer were again beseeching all and sundry for someone, anyone to ask for and obtain the mystical username/password so that the castle web-aspiring apprentice could at least upload to the Great School Board Server. All requests were ignored.

"What to do! What to do!" cried our humble programmer and Knight Volunteer in unison. Our Knight Volunteer grabbed her lance, her armour and her unshakable determination, and went forth to confront the Queen. Unknown to our fair Knight, the Queen employed the evil of unknown forces, who sent a Dragon to swallow our fair Knight whole. The Dragon was successful at knocking the fair Knight off of her feet, and declared that the Knight Volunteer must never again involve herself in anything to do with the now dusty website.

The humble programmer, unaware of the of Dragon or his intentions, arranged an audience with the Queen. "Much goes on in my mighty kingdom that you are not aware of", says the Queen to the programmer. "All spinning of webs must come from me or one of my own. It is not allowed for outsiders to be privy to our magics."

"But", cried the humble programmer, "I have repeatedly beseeched you and your aspiring web apprentice for an audience so that I may impart my thoughts and experiences, as well as to deliver the magics and potions that can create web sites with a few simple incantations. I have been repeatedly ignored. My only humble request is that this meeting not take me away from those tasks that, indirectly, put food on my table."

The audience has been tentatively committed for two weeks from this telling.

Our humble programmer is no longer eager to save the world from anything. Our humble programmer wonders if the Queen should have access to her magics before they are dispersed into the winds via CPAN. However, hubris (one of the three virtues of a progammer) makes our programmer very proud of her work, and the resulting website. There would be great disappointment if the website did not take root and flourish. "What to do?"

If there is a moral to this incomplete quest, it is simply

"Do not volunteer your efforts, no matter how noble, no matter how supported by those around you, unless the Queen Bee wants your help."

What to do?

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: OT: A Volunteer's Lament
by moritz (Cardinal) on Oct 12, 2009 at 13:01 UTC
    What to do?
    • Lay down the quest, and seek adventures and other parts of the realm. There are yet dragon to be slain, laddies and lasses to be rescued, and deep dungeons to be discovered. (*)
    • Or ... consider the case that a castle might have an additional, unofficial homepage, as long as it doesn't violate any copyrights of the castle. If it turns out to be more attractive and useful in the long run, maybe the Queen and the Round Table will someday change Their Royal Minds (**)

    ((*) There's a particularly deep dungeon that's being explored right now, and people need to sing heroic tales about it. It's called Perl 6, and we need bards who tell the world of our accomplishments)

    ((**) That's how the site that is today started out: it had nice contents, and somebody contributed a nice design. Having both in hand (but on a sub-optimal domain) we convinced the holder of the domain name that our concept was much nicer than his previous, and he made that domain name available to us. Thanks's Dan!).

Re: OT: A Volunteer's Lament
by clp (Friar) on Oct 12, 2009 at 19:08 UTC
    "Do not volunteer your efforts, no matter how noble, no matter how supported by those around you, unless the Queen Bee wants your help."

    Sometimes having management support is not enough. A staff member who does not appreciate a volunteer's efforts on their turf can cause a project to fail.

    I like the previous suggestion to build your own public site, on which you allow contributions from your students and others. It can showcase your skills, and you will learn more about the value of good design, templates, regular maintenance, and working with volunteers. You will also learn about legal aspects, policies, and moderation of content on a public site.

    You might even allow some volunteers to have admin rights to *your* site. That's your choice, you are the queen (subject to ISP policies, copyright, etc).

    At some point, you will probably have to remove someone's contribution, or prevent it from being deployed, on your site. You will have very good reasons, that might not be understood by the contributor, even after you explain them. Being queen can be tough.

    Build your site with a good moderation system and encourage a committed group of volunteers to participate for the long term (eg, perlmonks is an example).

    This model might not allow one queen to have total control, and it could lead to a much more vital and living site that achieves bigger goals than just publishing data on the web for a school district (eg, building a lasting community of interested participants that welcomes new users and makes it easy for them to contribute).

    In that regard, perhaps this page could be helpful: The early history of Perlmonks

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic, and for spending long hours thinking, building, doing. That time was not wasted.

Re: OT: A Volunteer's Lament
by Tux (Abbot) on Oct 12, 2009 at 12:30 UTC
    What to do?

    Whatever you decide, please keep posting messages like this. It was a joy to read!

    If nothing comes out of this, at least hope that this was a learning experience. I have had many like these in the past. They make you stronger eventually. Both in programming (skills) and as a person.

    Enjoy, Have FUN! H.Merijn
Re: OT: A Volunteer's Lament
by ack (Deacon) on Oct 12, 2009 at 19:53 UTC

    What a great posting! I really enjoyed it...I feel like I have lived in your realm on numerous occasions and it is sad and disappointing when the Knightly Volunteers loose heart and loose their passion for "making a difference."

    There has long been a sort of cartoon that has a dragon standing by a tree picking its teeth contentedly with the lance of a vanquished Knight. The captions simply says "Sometimes the dragon wins."

    I have thought of and used that phrase often in my career. I have felt that pain of loosing the nobel fight; but as another noted, in the long run it made me stronger and more confident in myself.

    Trust that your nobel deeds and struggles and those of your Knight Volunteer have not been in vain. In addition to all that the other responders have offered I would offer that your passion and committment to the young minds whom you helped begin their quest will pay society dividends far into the future. The Dragon's win will come at a high price. Your deeds will live on in the hearts and minds of those whom you've helped begin their own nobel journies.

    As the others have said much more eloquently than I could, thank you for your post...and for your wonderful deeds, for your passion and inspires so many (as it does me) and that, too, will never be lost.

    Thank you for all that you've done and for sharing with us in such a wonderful tale of 'ole.

    ack Albuquerque, NM
Re: OT: A Volunteer's Lament
by Anonymous Monk on Oct 12, 2009 at 08:47 UTC
    What to do?

    Off with her head :D

Re: OT: A Volunteer's Lament
by eric256 (Parson) on Oct 12, 2009 at 20:13 UTC

    I loved the post! ;)

    I also wanted to mention that you are definitely not alone. I would guess that most of us have had similar situations before and we were equally frustrated.

    The lesson is to make sure that the journey itself is as fulfilling as the destination. Which in hindsight is probably a pretty good lesson for all of life. That way when you find out that you can't actually reach the destination along the path you've traveled you can at least look back and know you've enjoyed getting there.

    Eric Hodges
Re: OT: A Volunteer's Lament
by tbone1 (Monsignor) on Oct 16, 2009 at 12:45 UTC
    You know, sad as it is, I've gotten to the point where I just don't help people anymore. Either your effort is ignored or unappreciated; somehow, if they notice it, it's never enough. In more cases than I like to admit, I've heard whines of "I need more!" Seriously? You are an adult (in terms of age at least) and aren't trying to help yourself, and it's *my* fault because I didn't do more for you? Sad, really.

    Now, the only charity my wife and I help is that we foster dogs from local shelters. The dogs are victims, by and large, and BOY do they appreciate a warm bed, leftovers, and pets. (Not to mention a yard to run in.)

    "If you take in a dog and feed it, it will not turn and bite you. This is the main difference between a man and a dog." - Mark Twain.

    tbone1, YAPS (Yet Another Perl Schlub)
    And remember, if he succeeds, so what.
    - Chick McGee

Re: OT: A Volunteer's Lament
by Zen (Deacon) on Oct 12, 2009 at 14:35 UTC
    Do you insist on happy endings?

    The great lie of early childhood literature...
Re: OT: A Volunteer's Lament
by stonecolddevin (Vicar) on Oct 16, 2009 at 18:44 UTC

    I confess. I didn't read this entire thing through top to bottom, but I've been where you are.

    Open Source is about being Open Minded and an autonomous learner/doer. You contribute your piece, and if it's rejected, you move on to bigger and better things. If you're employed, obviously that comes first. But you can always round robin (like I often do) open source projects. Even better, you can make the things you write for work (given it doesn't violate any NDAs or contract obligations) open source.

    Open source will always be there, and if the maintainers are smart, they'll always be happy for a few extra hands to help out.


Re: OT: A Volunteer's Lament
by Anonymous Monk on Oct 16, 2009 at 15:58 UTC
    Overthrow the Queen, or force her hand. She's not willing to listen to reason and there's evidence those above her are.

    Go to local media outlets with your story with plenty of spin (like your post! But no dragons) Garner public sympathy and point the finger squarely on the Queen. Emphasize the current crappy state of affairs and the embarrassment of the existing website. Emphasize the learning opportunities for the kids. Try to also get articles in school bulletins and publications also (make it less political though). In that vain you may want to also host it publicly as previously suggested by a few others.

    Pester the higher ups that the Queen is inhibiting the ability of kids to keep up with the "technological progress of the 21st century." Go to school board meetings persistently to apply pressure. Use every tool at your disposal.

    Distribute a petition around school and get a bunch of signatures. Write letters and meet with your congressperson. Garner allies on the board and at your school. Post your story on Reddit!

    Basically, make it more of a headache to the Queen to deny your best intentions than to "take the risk" of relinquishing control of the website. You've come a long way with the programming and technology, now it's time to turn your attention to the political state of affairs.

      ++ Excellent response Anonymous Monk such a shame you're not logged in to get the credit!
Re: OT: A Volunteer's Lament
by hesco (Deacon) on Nov 01, 2009 at 16:10 UTC
    Several thoughts here:

    • systems administrators, working with limited resources (staff hours, server resources) are able to perform their duties only through effective management of expectations;
    • you have no idea how many mission-critical applications and IT resources may co-reside on that server, the interruption of which might mean the sysadmin's job, or at least unpleasant after-hours work recovering from any compromise;
    • folks trained in an MS environment are often mistrusting of anything open source;
    • even a linux admin might be understandably wary of installing code they have not had an opportunity to review for vulnerabilities, or may not have the staff to maintain over time;
    • hosting services are cheap these days, as are accounts permitting you to host publically accessible online resources from an otherwise retired machine in a closet on your home network downstream of a residential cable modem;
    • so are A records, or even cname's (for those dyndns'd home servers) in a zone file;
    • it might be far easier to obtain a link from the dusty site maintained by the school board's staff to your site, hosted on your server;
    • engaging the young folks in building and maintaining this site is far more important than having it hosted on the school board's server;
    • success breeds trust.
    Don't give up on volunteering your energy, efforts to save the world or engaging young people in knowing their own power. Never forget what Margaret Mead had to say about "small group(s) of thoughtful, committed people". Community is built by such.

    -- Hugh

    * "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

    if( $lal && $lol ) { $life++; }
    if( $insurance->rationing() ) { $people->die(); }

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