Pointillism

I’ve been battling a lot of demons recently. You know them, they are the same 3 that we in open source and community work so often face. FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. Certain events had led me to this point. Being generally overwhelmed by the pressures that increased success and scope of work bring, I keep focusing on the things left undone, unfinished, broken and still on the white-board; when something hit me the other day.

Daemons of progress

Fear – We won’t finish this, we’ll never finish this. What if it’s wrong? What if it doesn’t do what I think it will? What if I’ve sacrificed thousands of hours of my children’s childhood for something unattainable.

Uncertainty – We’re down a developer, will we get this back on track, how will we replace this need and keep moving forward. What’s awaiting me via email today to derail all progress?

Doubt – This will never catch on. What am I doing with my life. What’s the point. No one gets it. Who cares.

Standing too close

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Pointillism is an art form in which hundreds of thousands tiny dots form a painting. These dots when viewed to closely, just look like noise; a chaotic mess of tiny brush strokes, each with minor variations in color perhaps, but at the same time too similar to really tell what it is.

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As we back up from the painting slightly we still see chaos, a pattern but yet still chaos of blotches thrown upon the canvas.

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Public Domain, Wikipedia

It is only when we truly step away from the canvas that we see it’s true form; the clear picture of what it is we are trying to paint, one dot at a time.

This is elms learning network, from my perspective as the developer. I can see what we’re going for but sometimes I’m so focused on the dots that I miss the big picture of what this really means for well, education. When something is your life’s work, it can be hard to look back on something while building it. Much in the same way we get lost in the whirlwind of building a family, a career, a life so much so that day to day at times can seem routinized, almost mundane; but when we look back on memories, moments in time, we see how special what we have truly is.

At the end of the year, like any year, I’m usually shot; emotionally and physically. I need a reboot, and I got one in a way I didn’t expect. I watched myself. While trying to put together a talk for some conferences, I wanted to see the way I talked about the platform the last time I submitted a talk there (2014). Drupalcon 2014 ELMSLN talk

What I saw I almost couldn’t believe.

As I rambled for 20 minutes, trying to be funny (emphasis on trying), I start demo’ing this crazy thing I’m talking about. It includes no less then 5 different interfaces, all at different states. A build breaks during the demonstration. It’s UI patterns are non-existent, just an idea, a lot of urls, broken builds, no UX, no users. Just an idea being put forth by a crazy person that couldn’t understand why no one got it. Duh, I don’t know how to use it at this point.

What I needed

I got. I needed to see that what we’re doing now is the dots. We’re changing the hue of our dots, we’re sharpening the image a pixel point at a time, but the picture is becoming a lot clearer if we’d only step away from it. As I compiled these highlights below, I am humbled and grateful for the contributions of our budding community. One thing becomes clear as we step away from our dots: We’re killing it!

  • We gained another full time developer on the platform (which, we’ll be refilling in 2017) bringing us up to 3 internally + several IDs across units influencing / bug testing + 2 part time student developers. (in 2014 this was 1 + 2 ids)
  • Buttercups in the UK is hiring a PHP / Drupal developer to help support and build out ELMSLN further for them. (in 2014, this wasn’t a thing)
  • We had 13 different people make core commits to ELMS:LN this year, 5 from primary core devs, 2 from faculty, 2 from IDs, 4 from Drupal developers during sprints (in 2014, there were 4 total)
  • There have been 18 point releases this year, up from 2 the previous year, seeing us go from 0.0.2 to 0.6.3 with 0.6.4 (more bug fixes) & 0.7.0 (stable studio) expected early in 2017.
  • We closed (an insane) 1,215 issues in 2016 and at present have 114 issues open!!
  • We adopted MaterializeCSS as our design framework and unified all themes in our network under this brand (previously we had no design standard) and applied it successfully to all systems in the network
  • We adopted xAPI to start doing learner analytic tracking across all content and starting to visualize it for faculty and staff, as well as doing survey and self-check tracking.
  • We had a faculty member get ELMS setup on his own and talking to Learning Locker to start doing response tracking in H5P!
  • We’re now able to ingest markdown / flat file content and turn it into outlines of material (this is rather insane)!
  • There were 3 ELMSLN Sprints at different Drupalcamps this year (PA, Ohio, and NJ)
  • ELMSLN was presented at 6 different events, did a major drupal podcast interview and was presented in 2 webinars. It’s also already got 3 accepted talks for next year at major education events (2 at Educause ELI, another to be announced soon), an invite to be announced soon to speak at a major FOSS supporting university, and 2 webinars planned.
  • We built multiple accessibility tools, including a voice based navigation system (crazy)
  • We stabilized and moved into production our Media and Interact solutions, moved into beta Studio and are far along into building quiz / testing capabilities for the assessment system.
  • We built 2 core APIs, one for scaling back-end jobs / internal processes and one for Angular / JS based app development
  • We had 2 commits to Drupal core accepted from testing and feedback in use in ELMSLN!
  • We’ve got one deployment on EC2 that’s got 40k users!

As I step back now, I see the picture we’re building together, and it’s pretty amazing. All we have to do is keep going, keep making things easier to use with more capabilities, keep pushing the envelop and keep pushing forward because the only thing we have to fear is FUD itself.

Happy new year! Let’s make 2017 brighter, bolder, and more usable then last year (and the one after, and the one after…)!!!

Just Breathe

Alarm clock screaming bare feet hit the floor
It’s off to the races everybody out the door
I’m feeling like I’m falling behind, it’s a crazy life

9 years now in the game. 3 years into this 6 year cycle. Right before you win you always face the greatest doubt that you need to stop moving forward. Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt, these are the poisens of community and human progress. We see it in politics as much as open source. It’s why I (try at least) don’t spit poison on people’s communities and mindsets. Flustered people are useless people. Focus. Drive forward. See the road we are forging the world we can all build together.

Ninety miles an hour going fast as I can
Trying to push a little harder trying to get the upper hand
So much to do in so little time, it’s a crazy life
It’s ready, set, go it’s another wild day
When the stress is on the rise in my heart I feel you say just

Breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need
Is to just breathe

I do often need to just breathe. I laughed at myself at 26, knowing that with lofty goals and expectations come the likelihood that those would be broken and unfulfilled. Only a blistering pace, resiliency, and unbreaking spirit can win us what we seek to produce in the world. Emotion is good, it comes in waves for me, and at times, I need to collapse in order to reframe my mindset and steady the hand on the invisible wheel.

Third cup of joe just to get me through the day
Want to make the most of time but I feel it slip away
I wonder if there’s something more to this crazy life
I’m busy, busy, busy, and it’s no surprise to see
That I only have time for me, me, me
There’s gotta be something more to this crazy life
I’m hanging on tight to another wild day
When it starts to fall apart in my heart I hear you say just

Oh boy, this part of the song breaks me every time. Every time I hear “busy busy busy” and “me me me” I think of the times my kids have encouraged daddy to play at the dinner table while I work towards some next impossible thing. Some impossible thing when they are right there, tugging on my arm. “Poppa, you play with me”. Yes hunny… just as soon as daddy answers this email, this issue, this cool idea, this request. Really, all the screen does is demand more attention then those around me.

A quote from Man in the High Castle Season 2 (Episode 2) cut right through me tonight: “Are you here right now or are you often nowhere?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well.. are you not here right now or is it that you are always lost in thought everywhere. Such a sad idea. If your mind is somewhere else, are you really here at all. And is this reality if you aren’t really here?”

Breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need

And I have. Do you stop and take a breathe? Really, just stop everything, close your eyes, and focus only on your own breathing. With all the chaos and spinning of life around you, we all need a moment to drown out the noise with silence.

Is to take it in, fill your lungs
The peace of God that overcomes
Just breathe (just breathe)
let your weary spirit rest
Lay down what’s good and find what’s best
Just breathe (just breathe)

Just breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need
Is to just breathe
Just breathe

I believe. More now, then ever; because I see how close we are. I know what pieces are in motion and what more are possibly in play. These discussions, invites, acceptances, affordances, open minds, and good vibes wouldn’t come if it wasn’t the case.

The cycle is just beginning. Time to reset in this season. Enjoy time with friends and family (actually enjoy it). Then, in the moments of silence and still. Open the keys, and obliterate complacency one line at a time.