Yet more about work

(I'm posting this reply to some email here because it fits in well with what I've been trying to write about, and because there are a not entirely unified set of people here and on the ldsoss mailing list.)

Just so you know where I'm coming from, here's a little bit of background.

I got involved in the Free Software world back in '89. I've done some volunteer work for the FSF (passing out literature at conferences and UG meetings and installing linux boxen at their MIT office space). I use, contribute to, develop, and write about Free Software both professionally and as a hobby. I've started perl mongers groups, ruby brigades, sys admin groups, and helped with LUGs in a variety of places. Heck, I even understand the difference between Free and Open Source Software (and come down firmly on the side of Free Software[0]). Even this email was written in an emacs buffer.

I'm also a church employee. I've been working here for several months now, and have gotten a pretty good idea of how things work (and sometimes even why). I've talked to several layers of management, and a number of peers about my writing and activism here and have a measure of support.

Okay, with that all out of the way, let's get down to the brass tacks.

What kinds of data will we be releasing?

What do we really want to get out of the ldsoss (or the wider FLOSS) communities?

Do we really know what we're doing?

I'm going to try to handle these in reverse order -- think of it as a modern day chiasm ;)

The church, it's IT workers, the Family & Church History Department, and even the comparativley smaller Family History group are fairly large organizations, people inside them are all over the board on their awareness of FLOSS and the principles that underlay it. We're using a lot of Free Software, and are mostly trying to give back into those communities (or are at least looking for
ways to do so). I think there is occasionally some confusion, either along the lines of "It's free as in a free [lunch], so we'll just grab it and go."[1] or "Well, we can just toss this stuff over the fence and the Free Software folks will spin it into gold for us.". I think there's a building awareness that these are both problems, and there are steps being taken[2] to
ensure that they will be corrected. Do we know what we're doing? Mostly -- and with education, it's getting better.

The Church has a lot of genealogical data that we want to make available in ways that will be useful to church members and the wider world. Our biggest goal is always to help bring saving ordinances to the many, many who have died without them. To that end, there have been (and will be) significant investments in Family History related IT. There's a lot more that can be done
though, and we don't have the ideas, the people, or the time to do it all. We're looking to partner with others to fill those gaps. In some cases, we want to contribute to existing Free Software[3], in other cases we want to enable people to write Free Software to fill the niches (either by providing data, or APIs). In still others, we would love to work with the community to
enhance tools we're already building (or thinking of building). What do we want? We want to work with the community to provide the tools that will enable more (unique) ordinance work to be done, releasing spirits from their prison.

Which brings us to data and APIs. There's a *lot* of stuff sitting in the vault. My understanding is that we want to get it all out there for the public to use[4]. How we get it out there is more nebulous. Right now, there's a big opportunity to influence that set of decisions. I think 'the powers that be' would be very open to hearing requests for specific kinds of data (and APIs to interact with it), especially when those requests are:
a) well thought out
b) have some community support behind them
c) have a solid backing reason.

Does all of this still seem a bit nebulous? I'm afraid that it probably does but bear in mind that this is a long road, one which we've not gone very far down. This is a great time to get involved. Again:
Think about what you'd like to see.
Think about how you'd make use of it.
Talk about it, here or on other mailing lists.

Your involvement will help shape the future.

Infrastructure Engineer
Family and Church History Department

[0] Yes, I've read the GPL and the LGPL, along with a bunch of other licenses.

[1] I'm thinking here of situations like using nagios or mon and not getting involved in the community, not hey, let's grab this code and throw it into a program/library that we're going to distribute.

[2] I'm not at liberty to talk about these yet, but I'm encouraged -- for now, you'll have to take my word for it.

[3] E.g., my call for volunteers to help us bridge JIRA and nagios. Thanks for those who have responded, I haven't forgotten to get back to you.

[4] I'm talking only about family history related stuff here. I have no idea what the plans are for access to Church history information is -- but I know things are happening there, too.


Open Source mini-project: call for volunteers

Hey, are you interested in doing some Open Source work that would really help the LDS Church's family history website, which provides free (as in free lunch, not free beer) genealogical data and tools?

We're in the middle of some significant upgrades (see previous posts or here), and it often seems like we have more stuff to do than people to do it. Case in point, we use the JIRA issue tracking system and the Free Software Nagios system/network monitoring software. We'd really like to build some connectivity between the two (to enable 1-click ticket creation for example), but we don't have anyone we can assign to making this happen. Would you be interested? It could be done as a brand new project or as an extension to Nagios, As long it it stays Free Software we'll be happy. (We'd like it to be Free in the GNU sense, not because we want to save money.)

Just so everyone knows, Nagios has a home page at www.nagios.org.

Also, JIRA has an API (SOAP, REST, and XML-RPC) available, which is probably the way to do this.


More about work.

As promised, here's a bit more about what we're doing at work. I'm tremendously excited to be a part of this, and I think that it will turn out to be a very important step forward for the church as it rolls out into general production.

The project as a whole encompasses a lot of pieces: Family Search Indexing; a redesign of the www.familysearch.org home page; making more documents from 'the vault' accessible; and (the part I'm involved with) developing a new software system for organizing, performing, and recording family history and temple work.

I'm part of the infrastructure team that manages the computing and networking resources involved in running this new system. There are several people on the team (although we have a few job openings that we're still trying to fill). Right now, I'm most involved in developing processes and tools for provisioning and maintaining large sets of computers. In subsequent posts I'll try to put together some specifics about this.

There are a lot of developers hard at work on the actual system. It's been cool to see things coming together. One of the pieces that really has me jazzed is the effort that's gone into making collaboration easy. I look forward to this accelerating the work of identifying and researching our ancestors. (Again, I'll try to put together some more information about this in later posts.)

Well, that was interesting.

In a comment to a recent post an anonymous poster wrote a number of unflattering things about me. A lot of them centered around my being prideful. That's not a comment I haven't heard before -- and it's something that I've tried to work on and will continue to work on. That's also not what bugged me.

The anonymous commentor also said: "The church dispanded(sic) your former ward due to corruption.". Now that irks me. All units of the church are made up of people, and none of us are perfect. But to say something like this about a group of people (most of whom don't even know that they're being painted with that brush) is petty and mean.

Most of the people in my former ward are decent people, with solid testimonies, trying to do the right thing. Our bishop was a humble caring man, who loved his ward family and served them well. The Elders Quorum presidency was made up of three stalwart brethren who were focused on ministering to the families of the quorum. I could go on, but I'm afraid I'd leave someone out so I'll stop with this pair of examples. I know of no 'corruption' or any similar problems in the ward.

In fact, the entire stake went through a renaming and a series of boundary changes a couple of weeks ago. This is not an uncommon event, and is brought about by demographic changes. I think the changes will make for stronger wards and a stronger stake. I think these kinds of changes are a wonderful sign that the church is indeed a 'living' church (see D&C 1:30).


Blog Spam

Well, I've been more or less under the radar, but I think that's starting to change. I've been getting 1 or two spam messages a day for several days now. So far it's manageable though.



I just found a link to Tasting Menu a great foodie site. They've created to e-cookbooks that are currently available at no cost. The books are a visual delight, and are full of wonderful looking recipes. I'll be adapting the 'Dungeness Crab wrapped in Red Delicious Apples' soon ... maybe for a date night treat this week.

Anyway, I just had to share. Enjoy.

Hearing about your job in conference

One of the neatest tidbits from conference (for me) was hearing President Hinckley talking about the new genealogy software. That's the project that I work on, and this was the first time I've been in a position to hear the prophet talking about my day to day work during conference. It sure left me feeling excited to get in to work on Monday.

On a related note, we're still looking for some good technical people. I'll try to blog a bit about what's going on here, and lay out some more information about the kinds of people we're looking for.