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We Are Iron Man

Announcing the Enlightened Perl Iron Man Competition

Sat Apr 18 15:00:00 2009

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We Are Iron Man

WARNING: This is a rant as well as an announcement. If you don't want to read the part where I complain, curse and insult people, click this link to go to the Enlightened Perl announcement.

Edit: Updates, as promised, are here

Over the past couple of years it's come to my notice more and more - perl is next to invisible in the blogosphere, except for the occasional "OH NOEZ PERL IS EVIL" or "NETCRAFT CONFIRMS PERL IS DYING" post[0] or whatever. And, well, to be honest, I don't really blame the slashdots and reddits and diggs of this world because our collective blog output is basically only a whisper shy of fuck all. So, being a person of an enquiring mind, I started talking to people - at perl mongers meetings, at conferences, on IRC, even occasionally on mailing lists[1].

Now, if you re-read that past paragraph, you should spot something. Like, say, the complete fucking absence of me talking about blogging to try and find this shit out. The complete absence of me even thinking about blogging as a communications channel. Or, really, anything web based. So, let me make an admission here.

I fucking HATE web forums

Maybe it was the appalling signal to noise ratio on them back in 2000 when people still actually used usenet. Maybe it was the fact that I'm a console bunny and like irssi and mutt as my primary communications tools. Maybe it was the time I made the mistake of trying to read part of the PHPBB2 source code[2]. Maybe it was a combination of those factors, or something entirely different.

Maybe I'm just an antisocial bastard. Fuck knows. Anyway ...

But here's my point: Perl people hang out on mailing lists. We bottom post, carefully interleaved, with 76 character lines. We have signatures that meet the McQ standard for acceptable size. We hang out on IRC servers and bitch, moan, interact and collaborate with the aid of an 80x25 xterm with irssi, BitchX or IrcII in it[3]. Sometimes we sit at home with a beer and do one or more of the above. Forums? Meh. Those are the things the PHPtards like because they can't figure out how to work a mailing list, right? Blogs? That's not even a fucking word! I mean, in my day, we posted to usenet using Larry Wall's rn that didn't even have decent fucking threading, and we schlepped the posts about from one bnews spool to another over 1200 baud dialup links, and we liked it![4].

On top of this, the perl community has always[5] had a major bias against strongly worded advocacy, or heaven forbid, marketing. It's amazing the reaction you get from most perl people when you say the 'm' word. I mean, at the Nordic Perl Workshop last week I spoke to the organiser about making sure the videos taken by assorted wonderful and selfless volunteers got up in time to be fresh enough for people to care, and got up as many places as possible so they'd be seen as widely as possible.

"It'll be good marketing for the state of the art in modern perl", I said. He twitched, and took a small step backwards away from me, for I was tainted by having spoken the word and he didn't accidentally want to catch whatever I had. "Oh no, I'm not trying to do marketing at all", he said, "I'm just trying to raise awareness of this stuff".


That. Is. What. Marketing. Is. Well, it's part of it, anyway. I mean, there's all the coherent message stuff and the brand positioning stuff and all the things that people who're actually good at marketing think about to good effect. But the quality and coherency and virality and whatever of the message really makes fuck all difference if you're NOT ACTUALLY GETTING THAT MESSAGE OUT TO ANYBODY ANYWAY.

And yet, when I try to point this out to people, when I try to explain that marketing is a good thing and they should participate, they react like what I actually said was "buggery is a good thing and you should participate - so lube up and bend over and I'll give you a demonstration". And I sort of find that quite severely fucking ironic, because as a community if we don't get off our collective asses and start showing the world what our language and our libraries and our culture is capable of, then we're sure as hell buggered then.

The rest of the world still thinks that we write a thing called PERL, whose purpose is as a super-awk or to write CGI scripts, they think that this language is designed to be write only line noise that's only slightly more legible than brainfuck[6], and we're sort of sat here going "meh, well, they're wrong" and NOT ACTUALLY DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT

Which is what Iron Man is really about, at the heart of it: This is our language. It lives and dies by our actions. We, the current generation of the perl community, are responsible for getting the word out beyond our narrow horizons, beyond the echo chamber of our mailing lists and our conferences and perlmonks and, and making people realise that this is a live language, this is a language you can do for large scale development - for fuck's sake it runs the BBC iPlayer website, an Alexa top 50 site - and perhaps more importantly, we need to make sure we recruit the next generation of perl programmers because if we don't then there isn't going to be one to inherit this amazing culture and toolkit and the giant fucking collection of reusable components we call the CPAN[7] and for christ's sake people this is IMPORTANT so WHY AREN'T WE FUCKING DOING SOMETHING

... and breathe ...

So, having thrown a chair or three so far in this post, it's time to actually propose something constructive - and thanks to the help of the other people in the Enlightened Perl Organisation, and all the other poor bastards I've talked ideas over with during the gestation of this concept, I not only have something constructive to propose, I have a plan. A plan so cunning you could brush your teeth with it.

Let's blog.

Blogging is good. Blogging is easy. Blogging is visible. Blogging is indexable. Blogging is submittable. I dig(g) blogging[8].

But of course those are empty words - without some extra motivation it's damn hard to keep to a regular posting schedule. I mean, I've failed at blogging. Twice. Post, post, post, post, fuck I'm busy this week miss a post oh shit I forgot about it this week miss the next post aaaaand you're fucked. And then you're not even trying anymore. And really, not trying is also failing, it's just a quieter sort of fail. So, here's what we're going to do about it.

Enlightened Perl: Blogging Iron Man

Blog once per week.

Every week.

Every single week.

Ten lines is fine. It's going to take all we failures some effort to get into this, so there's no going to be restriction on post length. There's going to be no barrier for how badly written it is. None of us are good enough, and that isn't a problem. What matters is we try. What matters is that we make some fucking noise. Show off cool new toys you've found, or cool new toys you're writing, or even trying to write. Show off neat tricks you came up with. Talk about your failures, too, because then maybe the next guy who makes the same stupid mistake will find it on google and think "I'm so glad that guy didn't mind sharing his idiocy because he's saved me wasting half a day because I'm an idiot too." Tell the world that perl5 is alive. If you're a perl6 true believer[9] tell the world how it's soon going to be christmas. Talk about the stuff that you love, the stuff that you hate, the stuff that excites you, the stuff that drives you insane. But MAKE SOME FUCKING NOISE because if enough of us do, the law of averages says there's going to be some of it that's well worth reading.

So, to the nitty gritty:

There will be badges. Mark's series of posts on Paper Man, Stone Man and Iron Man might give you a clue as to what they're going to look like. Right now, the infrastructure isn't there yet - we're shipping early to get the word out, so if you want to be involved, mail ironman <at> with your blog URL, RSS feed URL and the nickname you want to be known by - once I have some actual system to put this stuff into I'll grandfather you in.

The actual numbers are going to be: 4 (four) posts every 32 (thirty two) days, on a rolling basis, with no more than 10 (ten) days between posts. This is an intentionally loose definition of "once a week" so that people don't get spannered by travel schedules or work crises or having a wife and kids or whatever.

Everybody starts off as Paper Man. Manage four posts, week on week, and you get to be Stone Man. Get further and you get to be Bronze Man. Six months of straight posting qualifies you as Iron Man. And don't worry if you fail - there's no losing this competition, you just go back to Paper Man (and there'll be a consolation prize while you work your way back up).

There will be a post of the month competition. I've been talking people who are not me, who can actually write well, to the point where some of them actually get paid for it, and they're going to look over the posts and pick one out to be honoured each month. The winner will get a limited edition T-shirt and maybe some other schwag if we can find companies mad enough to join in and donate some.

Better still, the post of the month committee members are all going to be available to critique your posts, if you want them to. These people all know how hard it is to write well and they're all willing to try and help you write better if you're interested.

There will be a planet. Of course, once again I suck so it isn't running yet, but that'll be there within the next week. I'll be updating both this post and the website to reflect this stuff as it appears, and tacking the information on to future posts of mine as well.



There's an extra incentive.

Of course I'm going to be taking part.

Of course, I'm not eligible to win anything because I'm an organiser - but given the quality of my writing that's not really any loss :)

But if I fail, and you guys succeed - if people get to the six month mark and achieve Iron Man status and any time after that I miss a single post, then there's going to be a forfeit.

Those posters who have achieved Iron Man status will get to, between them, select a talk title, and a colour. And I will submit a talk of that title to YAPC::EU and YAPC::NA the next time there's a CFP, and I will give that talk with my hair dyed the colour that's been chosen. If I can't find hair dye of that colour that's semi-permanent, I get the option to spend the entire conference wearing clothes of that colour instead.

So, if you don't care about any of the rest of it and just think I'm an uppity annoying profane obnoxious bastard, maybe getting the chance to help me make a fool out of myself will motivate you instead!

In summary


Mail with your blog details (I'll replace this text when I have something webby written so you don't have to risk talking to me to sign up)

Start posting now. This post counts as backdated to saturday for me, because that's when I was supposed to put it up but I got distracted by the NPW hackathon[10] - so I've got until tuesday to get another post up or I've already failed once and you can all point and laugh.

And two last thoughts:

One: alone, we are tiny voices crying in the wilderness. Together we can be Iron Man.



mst, signing off. Thanks for reading.

[0] Which always amuses me, because I used to run the Web Server Survey for them - my last job before founding Shadowcat. And most of the interesting bits of it were written in perl.

[1] Not that I only talk occasionally on mailing lists. But usually I'm talking about perl rather than whining because we don't get on the reddit front page often enough.

[2] After which I attempted to find a rusty spoon to gouge my eyes out with, failed, sobbed quietly in a corner for a few minutes, and then fucked off early to the pub and drank until the pain was sufficiently dulled that I started to be hopeful that one day I would forget what that code looked like.

[3] Or even xchat, which, frankly, looks even more prehistoric than an xterm does to me.

[4] And, obviously, the phone cables ran uphill. Both ways.

[5] Or for as long as I remember. Of course, I'm just a kid and there's plenty people around who can out-Yorkshire me on this topic, but I'm going to gloss over that for hyperbolic purposes - look! A shiny distraction!

[6] Which mostly seems to come down to a combination of newbie code where they get over-excited by the syntax and make a soggy mess, much like when a puppy gets that excited, and the fact that more and more people have grown up in a non-UNIX world and therefore don't know regular expressions worth shit.

[7] Which, incidentally, has seen close to double the number of uploads of extra chunks of open source software year on year for the past several years and gains something over ten new uploading contributors a week - not bad for a "dying" language, but I digress.

[8] Though these days you might be better submitting to somewhere with a bit better signal to noise ratio than digg itself.

[9] I am, of course, a dyed in the wool perl6 sceptic, but that's (a) not the point and (b) a topic for another day.

[10] Where, inevitably, I broke every single library I touched and spent the entire time diagnosing and reporting the bugs and even fixing the odd one rather than actually working on any of the things I intended to work on, like, say, this post.