Back from the MDN Doc Sprint

or, why you say “Cheers!” if someone sneezes

Better late than never, as the saying goes, this is my report of the June 2011 MDN Doc Sprint in Cincinnati, OH, and the preceding Open Help Conference. For those not familiar with the term, Mozilla organizes Doc Sprints since October 2010 to encourage work on the Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) and to enhance the community around it. The core of the MDN is a community-driven wiki, that aims to be the best reference regarding web technology.

Most Doc Sprints are “virtual”, that is coordinated via IRC with the attendees spread over the planet. In irregular intervals however, there is a face-to-face component. I was kindly invited to this last get-together.

A Short Intermission

Let’s start chronologically, which means, it will last a bit before the term “Cincinnati” will be used. You can skip this without missing the essential parts. I went by plane from Nuremberg to Paris, where I met Florian Scholz. We waited there on the connection flight with Delta. In these two hours I entertained him with stories of my last Delta flight to Peru, where lots of things went wrong. Oh, wouldn’t I have let that be!

Half an hour before boarding the aircraft status was set to “delayed” for about one hour. We didn’t worry, but a bad feeling rose, when the staff continued to increase this time in portions of 15 minutes. Finally we started with two hours delay because of a damaged tyre. All seemed to go well.

…until about one hour of flight beyond Ireland, when the captain announced a medical problem with the proven words: “Is there a medically trained person on board?” About two hours later we landed in Shannon, Ireland. The plane was supposed to leave after ¾ hour when the emergency had been dealt with.

Well, after that ¾ hour the captain made another announcement that there was found a piece apparently of one of our tyres. This time, however, it was the other side of the plane, that went flat. This is, by all means, not a very encouraging thing to happen. What was more was, that Boeing 767 like our’s usually don’t land at Shannon airport, so after two more hours of digging in the depot, they confirmed, there is no spare part west of Limmerick. The flight got officially cancelled.

Delta organized a hotel, which was, I have to say, very nice and comfortable. On the other hand, the historical old town of Shannon alone unfortunately isn’t worth the travel. We were supposed to leave the next day at 8:30 AM with a repaired plane, the alarm clock went off at 4:30.

At 8:30 at our gate, it was shut firmly. This state continued until 11:30, when finally the caterers showed up to deliver the meal they should have brought four hours earlier. At the end of the day, we arrived in Cincinnati (here! There’s the word!) with 23 hours delay. Almost all presentations on the Open Help Conference schedule were over by now.

(And we missed German Day Weekend, where they went to a German restaurant on Friday evening. Crap!)

The Open Help Conference

We heard the three last and very interesting talks and gained instant fame as the people with the longest arrival, even topping Trevor from Australia. The attendees were almost evenly distributed in Mozilla people like myself, Gnome hackers, that attended the following Gnome Hack Fest parallel to our Doc Sprint, and others not affiliated with those.

The Sunday was completely dedicated to open discussion, which brought up interesting topics. There is an unofficial protocol, which however doesn’t cover the whole dialog. The evening after most of the Mozilla and Gnome people went to the so-called “gas-light district” for dinner and to end the day brightly.

Some talks’ slides are on-line at Slideshare.

Working on the MDN Wiki

Monday morning we started in a conference room at the Meriott Kingsgate Hotel with expanding My personal target was the SVG Tutorial, where I started with work on the SVG Fonts part. We coordinated our work via IRC and by talking, which became an interesting melange.

On Tuesday my plan was to continue with the tutorial and write about SVG filters, however when I read on IRC of Jérémie starting to work on the SVG DOM binding reference, I remembered his work on the SVG element reference and decided to try and complete this first.

I spent the better part of Tuesday and Wednesday with the reference, which meant, that I basically didn’t work on the tutorial more than creating a stub. But at least the SVG elements are complete now, although lacking compatibility charts and examples.

Janet has put together a blog post about what was achieved during the sprint.

Leisure in Cincinnati

A very interesting experience was a boat tour organized by Janet Swisher on Tuesday evening on the Ohio River on a pseudo-paddle steamer.

On Saturday evening, Christian suggested to visit the Creation Museum some 50 miles to the south. I was interested instantly, and we agreed on this being a lot of fun, but unfortunately it was some 50 miles to the south, which made in unreachable during conference or sprint.

However, on Thursday Janet, Christian, Florian and me found us having a couple of spare hours before the respective flights, so we decided to take the trip.

Boy, is this spookey! A whole museum dedicated to convince people, that the world was created in 4004 BC, and that dinosaurs in the Paradise were obviously vegetarians is hard to imagine for the averagely educated European.

Here are the pictures I took from Cincinnati, the sprint, boat and museum. Enjoy!

All in all it was a very pleasant experience, and I learned a lot during these days. There were only friendly and amazing people that were a pleasure to meet and talk to. Finally let me thank Janet Swisher again for inviting me and Mozilla to pay for the expenses. If you’re still with me, I heartly suggest you to join us on IRC or simply start editing MDN. It’s fun.

So, why would you say “Cheers!”, if someone sneezes? This became somewhat of a running joke during the sprint. At one time I asked via IRC, if some Americans really say “Gesundheit” in this case. When Janet and Sheppy confirmed that with Sheppy remarking, that he likes “Bless you!” better, I explained the German origin. This was the moment, where Christian explained, that Danish use “Prosit!”, which is used in Germany usually when raising glasses.

When Christian finally sneezed, and I wished him “Cheers!” (the first time aloud, since the discussion before was made entirely over IRC), the meme was born.