This is my main weblog.
October 1st, 2015
Thanks to the support from KDE e.V., the WikiToLearn (W2L) community gathered for its first sprint in the beautiful setting of Bormio, in the middle of the Alps. The main goal of the meeting was to prepare the WikiToLearn website for the new year. Courses are starting for many students so we want to provide an open structure for people who would like to share and spread the knowledge. The sprint took place from Saturday 28 Sept to Monday 30 Sept. It was only three days, but productivity was set on high so we were able to complete all our self-assigned tasks.
Our setting was a private home that was like a castle: a shower with color therapy, mattresses for everyone and wonderful views of Bormio’s mountains. We brought food so we didn’t have to go out and stop working. Machines that turned pizza into code. Serious workers. The group was diverse, and except for Riccardo, who has been working on the project from the beginning, we have only been working on the project just since April.
Some sprinters worked on software development, some with infrastructure, others with content. Some people were brand new to the project, bringing nothing but their interest, commitment and willpower. On the first day we started with brain-storming and planning the work with a strange new method proposed by Riccardo. As usual for him, in the beginning the method seemed messy and turned out to be successful. We developed some stories with the form ” as a <user>, I want to <goal>, to <reason>”. We then split up into small groups and transformed the stories into real tasks that went into a big “to-do” column. One by one, we moved them to “in progress” and finally to the “done” column. Our objective was get every task of every story into the last column by the end of the sprint.
Working, working and working, the days passed by, while a silent enemy was slithering in the house and making the work harder: The Cough. In the beginning there was just one Infector and everyone else survived, protected with strong immune defenses. One night we realized that our project was being blessed with a sign from the gods—The Red Supermoon. We went out between 2 and 6 AM to see the lunar eclipse (and to do more brainstorming), floating in some natural pools with thermal water. It was a wonderful experience, but the day after everyone was ill.
Under the moon, we got a magical transfusion, expanding our will, our force, our wisdom. The next day we realized that most of the stories were in the “done” column. Had it been us? Or some supernatural power? They were completed tasks; nothing else matters.
Before we could start developing the infrastructure, a vision of the project was required. This is fundamental, because it’s like the constitution of the WikiToLearn Project. Having a clear purpose gives a focus and the motivation to persevere.
While walking around the town, we discussed, and between a dish of pasta and a pizza, we finally came to a well-defined vision:
“WikiToLearn wants to provide free, collaborative and accessible text books to the whole world. We provide a platform where learners and teachers can work together to complete, refine and reassemble notes and lecture materials in order to create textbooks that are tailored precisely to needs. Knowledge only grows if it is shared.
WikiToLearn concentrates on providing educational content in the most efficient way. Content reliability is assured by a integrated peer-review system and a quick wiki method for correcting mistakes.
It was also important to develop the structure of the work we have to do. Everyone had a role and was clear about what to do and who to address when something was beyond their own capacities/competence. We created 6 stories, based on what we thought were the most important features for W2L. They were written on the blackboard.
Every story was then divided into tasks. Each task was assigned an effort score (a unit of effort was 25 minutes of intense, focused work with a 5 minute break). Then we divided into teams, and each took a task.
A key feature for people who want to contribute to W2L is to have a way to use their LaTeX lecture notes as-is without rewriting the entire notebook. We managed to build a script that parses LaTeX files into an XML file that can be imported by WikiToLearn. It was a hard task that required more work than expected, including hacking through many different programming languages. In the end, the success was worth the effort. In the process, the development team learned to act as one, and is now able to kick every inch of WikiToLearn until it works like a charm.
With the infrastructure, our sysadmin relentlessly tried to dockerize every step of the development procedure to enchance our DevOps. There was one minor incident where Luca (our sysadmin) went a little too far and dockerized Sofia within the webserver container. Fortunately, the bug was discovered quickly and Sofia got rescued.
The user journey
The user journey was an important, yet subtle change that we implemented. We fully redesigned and adapted the path that most users will follow on the W2L site. This work was guided by Niccolò, who is a professional designer and communicator. It’s not important to describe all the little changes. The user experience is now quite polished and direct. Try it to see for yourself.
Full content review and restructure
Sofia and Simone took up the monumental task of reviewing and restructuring all of the content. So Sofia gathered statistics on edits, outnumbering every other contributor by far. Riccardo tried to cheat by committing a lot of find&replace substitutions, but was promptly discovered and disqualified from the competition. The result was a complete revamp of the available content. While at it, they also wrote a book to guide new contributors to WikiToLearn. We anticipate that the guide will be useful because it has already attracted a few contributors.
July 25th, 2015
Earlier today I gave a talk at Akademy 2015 about WikiFM. Videos of the talk should shortly become available. Based on the feedback that I have received during and after the talk, I have written a short resume of the points which raised more interest. They are aimed at the general KDE developer community, who doesn’t seem completely aware of the project and its scope.
You can find my slides here (without some SVG images).
What is WikiFM?
WikiFM is a KDE project which aims to bring free and open knowledge to the world, in the form of textbooks and course notes. It aims to train students, researchers and continuous learner, with manuals and content ranging from basic calculus to “Designing with QML”. We want to revolutionize the way higher education is created and delivered.
What does it offer more than $randomproject?
The union of these three key elements: students, collaboration in the open and technology. This has proven to be invaluable to create massive and high quality content.
All other projects usually feature just two of these elements, or concentrate on other material (e.g. video).
Additionally, we have virtual machines instantiatable on the fly on which you can start to develop immediately: check out http://en.wikifm.org/Special:DockerAccess (for logged-in users). By opening that link we istantiate a machine in the blink of an eye, with all the software you need already pre-installed. We support compositing and OpenGL. Your home directory is persistent among reboots and you always get a friendly hacking environment. Try it out yourself to properly appreciate it.
Is it already used somewhere? Do you have some success stories?
The project started in Italy for personal usage. In spite of this, in just a few months we got national visibility and thousands of extemely high quality pages written. Students from other universities started to use the website and in spite of a content not planned for dissemination we get around 200 unique users/day.
In addition to this, the High Energy Physics Software Foundation (a scientifical group created among key people in istitutions such as CERN, Fermilab, Princeton University, Stanford Linear Accelerator, …) has decided to use WikiFM for their official training.
Moreover, we have been invited at CERN, Fermilab, and in the universities of Santiago (Chile) for delivering seminars about the project.
How can this help my KDE $existing_application if I am not a student?
This fits in the idea of the Evolving KDE project that started in this year’s Akademy.
Hosting developer documentation, together with a pre-built developer environment which can let library users and students test your techology and step up in the hacking within a few seconds is an invaluable feature. It is possible to demonstrate features or provide complicated tutorial showcases while giving the option of trying out the code immediately, without having to perform complicated procedures or waiting for big downloads to finish.
For existing developers it also provides a clean development environment, where testing of new application can happen without hassles.
Want to know more?
This is meant to be a brief list just to give you a taste of what we are doing.
I am at Akademy 2015 until the 29th. A strong encouragement: please come and speak to me in person!
I will be happy to answer any questions and eventually re-show you a shortened version of my talk.
Or, if you prefer, we are having a BoF on Monday at 11:30, in room 2.0a.
April 7th, 2015
It’s been almost 10 years. Well, I am cheating a little bit, since my real other blog, which I used until 2011 or so, has just moved somewhere I can’t reach anymore, and the DNS just points to the nothingness… (actually, if anyone is aware of where/who could have old kollide.net files, I’d be really grateful)
Much has happened in the past 3/4 years. I turned 24. I co-founded a company (Ispirata) and left it one year after foundation, giving up all my links and participation in it, in order to finish my studies. A few months ago I got a Bachelor of Science in Physics, and two weeks ago I started my Master Degree, in the top Italian university for scientific research. I have been doing research at CERN and launched WikiFM, an open science/training project, now actively used by some of the top Italian universities (although we’re getting international as I write!), which got sponsored by Wikimedia Italy, and recently became the first project incubated by KDE. I also moved to Sweden for a few months to refine my studies and got my own place in Milano.
WikiFM is the project that is currently giving me the greatest satisfactions, with some recent big happening which will greatly contribute to its success (teaser!). Much of the content is unfortunately -for now- in Italian only, but as I stated above we are deep in the process of internationalizing it (with the help of the great KDE Sysadmin team), in an implementation which will become very similar to Wikimedia’s multidomain approach. For the English-speaking user (and for the broader community) I am writing a proper announcement. However, I don’t want to spoil my next post, so I will keep the publication of the announcement for as soon as we manage to open en.wikifm.org; the deadline for this is the 17th of April.
If, in the meantime, there is anybody who is knowledgeable about CSS and/or Mediawiki (development and/or sysadminning) and/or Python+LaTeX, and has a couple of hours (I promise, no more than that) to spend to help a Free Software project, that would speed things up immensely. Just comment here, drop me a line, or, even better, join the WikiFM mailing list (created today!).
That was all for now, KDE! I missed you a lot. <3 =)