Friday, April 20, 2007

drupal, engagement, mailing lists, email

I lived, worked and studied in Costa Rica from 1984 to 1989. Ostensibly, I was there to study Mathematics at the University, and indeed I graduated with an MSc. in Mathematics supervised by Ricardo Estrada (check that page, he even advertises me as one of his past students). And yes, I do have a nine page thesis that I wrote and defended in Spanish somewhere in my files, on a proof and extension of one of Ramanujan's theories.

But mathematics is a pretty lonely endeavour, and what drew me back to Central America (after the first visit, which was more of an accident), was the life and politics. The time I lived there was extremely interesting (for me as an outsider, though also painful and tragic for it's inhabitants) because of the various wars that were largely fuelled by US regional hegemonic interests (of the usual corporate suspects and individuals) and neglect (of the politicians and public) - the Contra war in Nicaragua, the full-scale guerrilla wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, and the low-intensity type conflicts everywhere else. My engagement was through the Friends Peace Centre, which was started and sponsored by Quakers, with whom I still nominally identify. In fact, if you visit that site, you can see there's an associated 'Ridgway House', which I helped renovate. I've got a picture somewhere of me and the Costa Rican I worked with (who actually knew what he was doing), I'll have to add it to this post.

But the original point of this post is that organizations have existed to help educate, publicize and mobilize around important issues for a long time, and (though it's easy to forget) well before computers, the Internet and the world wide web were even imagined. And I believe that technology is at its best when it enables us to do better the good things we're already doing. Activities that are created as result of technology (e.g., web development, system administration) are not inherently valuable, however fun they sometimes are, except to the degree that they provide tools for activities that provide value that exists outside their own constructed reality.

So, when thinking about Drupal, mailing lists and engaging constituencies as I am now doing with my project, pbi canada, PS Kensington, the telecentre directory, ah, hmm, I guess with pretty much all my web development projects, ... it's essential to start by remembering the real purpose of all this, and ask the question - "why?" and "what are we trying to achieve". I remember that starting about 10 years ago there was a whole body of discussion adopted from the commericial world about "eyeballs" and "stickyness" (laughable in retrospect) which focussed on technology and resulted in giving the internet a bad name as a resource for social change.

Fortunately, things have settled down a lot, and web technologies no longer have to be such a waste of time (they still can be, of course). And that comes down to my plug - I've just started a Drupal project called OG2MLM, which, despite it's obscure name, has some good potential. I should start by crediting the good folks at (Steve and Martin were the main developers), who have brought the project this far, and Mike Gifford who I originally met through activism at PERC and so who comes to this work with a solid perspective beyond the technology.

The goal of the project is to glue together a standard mailing list engine called SYMPA, and Drupal's Organic Groups. The reason this matters is because it enables people to do what they've now been doing for a while (mailing list discussions) and to use that to enhance the existing content (both private and/or public) to enhance the content on the web.

Okay, back to work...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Peace Brigades International

For about 8 years, I worked with Peace Brigades International. You can still find some of my writings from those days by doing a google search (actually, there are 4 pages of links there and I think they're all me). I was recently approached by PBI in Canada to help with their website which had been hacked some time ago, so I've just done that and you can see the nice results here. Does this seem like a shameless plug? Kind of, but it's also an example of how tools have evolved so much that if you know what you're doing, you can get a nice website up with surprisingly little work. This one uses Drupal of course, and when you visit it you'll see just how much time the office is putting into keeping the content up to date, which is what really matters anyway.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Drupal Camp Toronto, version 2.

Looks like there will be another Drupal camp again this year in Toronto - visit the drupalcamptoronto site for details.
While I'm at it, here's a short update on a few of my projects:
  1. I finished the intranet portion of SHARE's website, which included a neat custom module that mashes up the signup module with CiviCRM and organic groups.
  2. I'm almost finished with The Tyee, an excellent alternative on-line news source in Vancouver. My work with them began with a module, still to be released, that integrates bricolage and drupal. That work went live in January and shortly after we migrated the site to a new server at Gossamer Threads who I can't recommend too highly. My latest task has been to finish off a module that allows for comment rating, it should be live by mid-April.
  3. I developed a custom Drupal module Peek which allows a drupal site user to provide sneek peeks to content on a drupal site that is otherwise protected.
  4. I mashed up gmaps and Civicrm as part of my work on the telecentre directory project. It's a little custom module (aha, also soon to be published ...) that generates google maps based on Civicrm groups.
  5. I registered the domain and am using it for some small demonstration projects. I'm imagining it as a home for a group of developers in Canada that work with Civicrm, but it's a slow process....
  6. I'm looking forward to another round of development on the working overseas website that I built a few years ago.
I could go on, but I just did ...