Foster Care

Today I contributed to Scott Walters’ Kickstarter project.  You may have read Scott’s own blog posts on the topic.  Executive precis: for $10,000, Scott will complete work on the latest version of WebGUI, a world-class CMS written in Perl.

I’ll freely admit that I didn’t contribute that much, mainly on account of me not being rich.  As I’m fond of pointing out here, I’m just a regular Joe working-class programmer.  But, at the same time, Perl has been very good to me throughout the years, and I’m not averse to giving a little back when I can.  And, as it happens, right now I can.

Now, I know that many of you readers out there have a healthy skepticism when you think you’re being sold something.  Trust me: I do as well.  Now, I personally think it would be a fairly uncharitable characterization to view scrottie’s proposed project, as an attempt to get us viewers to pay his bills for him while he contributes to an open-source project, which is something that many of us already do for free ... but I’m sure some out there have already characterized it thus.  As is their right.  I personally think there’s more going on here, and, while I won’t be able to change the minds of the most cynical among you, I’m going to try anyway.  I’m a glutton for punishment like that.

So, first let’s do the full disclosure thing: I’m not a friend of scrottie’s.  In fact, I only met him for the first time at this year’s YAPC.  But I did meet him then and we had a lovely conversation over dinner on Day #1 (Scott was my requisite I-don’t-know-you-so-tell-me-what-do-you-do-with-Perl assignment).  He appears to be roughly the same age as I,1 and, like me, he was plain-spoken and direct.  I admit that I perused the Kickstarter mainly because I recognized the name and went “hey, that’s that guy I met at dinner.”

So that got me past the “here’s another dude begging for money” thing.  Then I took a look at some of the details.  His goal is $10 grand.  Now, that might sound like a lot of money at first.  But, as scrottie explains:

The Goal on this project gives me about six months of modest living to work with.  I can get a lot done in six months.

Now, I can’t live off that amount for six months.  That amount doesn’t even pay my mortgage for six months, much less put food on the table for the family.  I’m betting there’s a lot of you out there who are in a similar situation.  Perhaps Scott doesn’t have kids, like I do, and I do recall that he lives a more reasonably priced part of the country than I do.  Still, living off just over $1,500 a month is an impressive feat in my eyes.2

Next, there’s the general concept: resurrect a Perl CMS to destroy the ever-annoying WordPress.  Now that’s a worthy goal.  If you’ve ever had to deal with WordPress, or have had friends who have, you know that WordPress is one of those products that is awesome ... as long as you want to do everything the way it wants you to do it.  When you start wanting to be different, it becomes a huge pain in the ass.  Plus, even if you love WordPress, you gotta admit one thing: it’s written in PHP.  I feel about PHP the same way I felt about web forums after having used newsgroups for several years: someone wrote a much crappier version of something we’d already had for years, and now people love it?  WTF???

Of course, like web forums, the popularity has nothing to do with the quality of the product.  It’s the delivery mechanism.  PHP is easy to deploy.  WordPress, for all its warts, is easy to deploy.  Things written in Perl ... not so much.  This is part of the challenge that we as a community are faced with.  If you were at YAPC (or if you took my advice from last post and watched it online), you heard Sawyer X say the same thing in his brilliant talk “The Joy in What We Do.” Sawyer X had some suggestions for tackling that problem in a general fashion.  What scrottie is doing with his Kickstarter is a more specific version of the same thing.3

And this gets to the heart of why I decided, in the end, to support scrottie’s project.  Because I believe he has it right when he says

The best way to create demand for Perl is to have desirable, plug-in extensible applications out there written in Perl.

It’s something we need to encourage.  No, more than encourage: foster.  And, when you foster something, you assume some financial responsibility for it.  If you were to foster a child, or a dog, or an au pair, that would be a pretty significant investment, of both time and money.  This ... this is easy.  I get to drop some cash on Scott, and he does all the work.

Assuming he hits his goal.  If he doesn’t, I’ve lost nothing.  If he does, I’m out a small amount of cash.  I’ll refrain from going out to eat a few times and that’ll be that.

Of course, looking back on that last sentence, it occurs to me I sound like Sally Struthers or somesuch.  This is bound to tweak the healthy skepticism of many of you out there.  Which, as I say, is good.  Being a skeptic in today’s world is a basic survivial skill.  But also remember that being a skeptic doesn’t mean rejecting everything.  It means not accepting anything without giving it a rigorous investigation first.  I’ve given Scott’s project idea what I feel is a rigorous investigation, and I hope you do too.  In the end, I decided it was worth a few dollars, and I hope that you will too.  But, if you don’t, that’s all right.  I’ve no desire to make you feel guilty about anything (as if I even could).

All I’m saying is that I feel like doing things to foster projects which make Perl accessible again, to a modern audience, is something that falls on all of us.  I wish I personally could do more to do it.  But I never seem to find the time to accomplish all the things I want to.  Scott is saying he has the time.  He has the background, the ability, and the knowledge to do it.  He just needs a little cash.  That works for me.

If you read my “Perl and Me” series, and especially the final installment, you’ll recall that I do accept the inevitable truth that Perl cannot last forever.  Acceptance, however, is not the same as surrender.  My acceptance of the fact that one day I’ll have to let go of Perl doesn’t mean that I have to pass up any opportunity to stave off that outcome today.  I’ll take that opportunity, and encourage others to do the same.  If we’re lucky, we’ll end up with something that gets people excited about Perl again, even if it’s only one market segment.  That’s worth a few bucks to me.

1 Probably a bit younger.  Or else he just wears his years far better than I do.

2 Although, given the all-or-nothing nature of Kickstarter, I personally think he should have set a lower goal—say, $5,000 for three months—and then set stretch goals for adding more months.  But that’s just me.

3 What would be really awesome would be if Scott can somehow integrate Sawyer X’s suggestion on Perl project installation into his update of WebGUI.

1 Comment

Perhaps TPF could facilitate kickstarter style campaigns for perl related stuff?

Like a derivative of grants, basically crowd funded grants?

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About Buddy Burden

user-pic 7 years in California, 18 years in Perl, 27 years in computers, 47 years in bare feet.