If you’re seeing this on use Perl then the cross-poster is working. You can get it from my svn. You’ll also need to install WWW::UsePerl::Journal, which I monkey patch like crazy in the plugin. I have submitted patches to barbie, though, so hopefully that’ll go away in the future.

The plugin isn’t too smart, so if you save the same entry it’ll re-crosspost each time. Patches welcome, of course.

Not so long ago I joined the Moose core team, and I recently shepherded a rather big Class::MOP (0.65) and Moose (0.56) release.

Soon after there was an interesting thread on the Perl AppEngine list asking Why Moose. This is a perfectly good question.

I realized that when you look at the Moose docs, it doesn’t really explain how it is conceptually different from any other Perl 5 OO helper module, nor does it really do much to show you exactly how Moose saves you work.

In the latest release, 0.57, I’ve written some new documentation that aims to answer some of these questions.

First up we have Moose::Intro.

This document aims to explain what Moose is, why it’s better than the existing body of Perl 5 OO, and introduces each Moose concept with definitions and comparisons to existing practice. The intended audience is folks familiar with Perl 5 OO who haven’t been exposed to more advanced OO concepts like meta-object protocols (ala Common Lisp Object System).

Second is Moose::Unsweetened.

This takes a couple small class examples, and shows them first in Moose, and then in plain old hand-written Perl 5. The idea here is to try to show exactly what Moose is doing for you behind the scenes.

Hopefully these documents will be useful for newcomers to Moose. I’d love to here any feedback you might have on these (or anything about Moose). Feel free to comment here, email us at moose@perl.org, or stop by irc.perl.org#moose.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a bit about how at Compassionate Action for Animals we often substitute volunteer labor for money. I think this is fundamental for any activist organization, and learning how to exploit this dynamic is a key to success.

I’m thinking specifically of the conference we just put on. We got a lot of food donations. We served breakfast and lunch for two days to around 180 people. Amazingly, we were able to do this for a mere $9.17 per person per day! Contrast that to catering, which is at least twice that much. Also factor in that because we didn’t have catering, we provided our own (biodegradable) plates, cups, and flatware, which I included in the $9.17 figure.

We were able to cut our costs in half, but it didn’t come for free. We had several volunteers who spent time contacting restaurants and markets to get donations. Of course, because we didn’t have a catering service we had to purchase our own serving supplies, do all the food prep, and do all the cleanup. We had quite a few volunteers involved in that on both days. All of this effort was mostly volunteer-led as well. Caryn Brooks was in charge both of securing donations and day-of food handling, and she did a great job.

Overall, we saved around $3,600 ($10 per person per day). If all this work took around 60 hours of volunteer labor, then each hour of labor was worth $60!

This is just one example of how this tradeoff works. CAA is not a very rich organization (our annual income is well under $50,000), but we manage to do a lot by focusing on trading labor for money. We’ve always made a point when discussing long-term strategies to emphasize the importance of recruiting and empowering volunteers.

It is important to make sure that volunteers do more than just “grunt work”. If we required staff to supervise all of our volunteers, our expenses would be much higher. By letting volunteers take the lead as organizers, we can get more done with much less money.

No, unfortunately not the programming kind. Those I can deal with.

No, these are in my house, but mostly my home office, keeps getting full of these weird bugs. I think they’re Chinch Bugs, though my friend John swears he’s seen them before and they’re something else.

Either way, it’s very annoying. They don’t bite or sting, but I just don’t like bugs. What’s even more disturbing is the vast hordes of them I can see out the windows.

Here’s to the first freeze of winter! (probably just a few short months away :( )

This was originally posted on the Voices of CAA Blog, which got fatally dismembered in a CMS upgrade.

There’s been a lot of news about vegetarianism and global warming. The New York Times recently reported :

The biggest animal rights groups do not always overlap in their missions, but now they have coalesced around a message that eating meat is worse for the environment than driving. They and smaller groups have started advertising campaigns that try to equate vegetarianism with curbing greenhouse gases.

It’s very tempting to try to ride on the tail of the latest trend and news topic, and I’m not denying that there may be credibility to the claim that eating meat is bad for the environment.

However, I’m very skeptical that animal advocacy organizations should be pushing this argument. If next year it’s proclaimed that eating fish is the best solution to global warming, what are animal activists going to say? That global warming is not important? I don’t know that this will happen, but if diet fads are an indication, vegetarianism could be the savior one moment and a villain the next.

I believe that we should push our strongest argument: our treatment of farm animals is unjust and unnecessary. I also think sincerity goes a long way. If your name is ‘Compassionate Action for Animals’, people are more likely to trust what you have to say about animals and morality, not environmental science and policy.

This was originally posted on the Voices of CAA Blog, which got fatally dismembered in a CMS upgrade.

In my last post, AR2007 Thoughts – The Good, I discussed the things I liked about the conference. Now I’ll reveal my cranky side. “Reveal” probably isn’t the right word though, since it’s not exactly hidden.

The Bad

The bad part of the conference was basically the “official” stuff. The conference could be better organized in a number of ways. Logistically, it needs some serious help, and the presentation sessions were mostly unsatisfying.

I’m going to continually contrast this to the many programming conferences I’ve attended, which have excellent coordination and logistics. The majority of the programming conferences I’ve attended are organized entirely by volunteers, so my standards are not unreasonably high. I’ll also point out that at AR2007 I mostly attended the more practically focused (in theory) “how-to” type sessions.

To be blunt, most of the speakers weren’t very good. I don’t think it’s worthwhile to blast individuals, but there were some recurring problems. The most common problem was with content. Many speakers lacked a focus, and basically rambled on about personal experiences, without connecting that experience back to any sort of practical knowledge that listeners could use. They spoke about the “what” without the “how”. This is obviously a problem for a “how-to”! I think this problem was probably exacerbated by the weird way speakers are selected and scheduled, which I’ll talk about later.

And how about some visual aids, folks? Most speakers had no slides (aka PowerPoint) and no handouts. I hate handouts, since they’re a waste of paper, but they’re better than nothing. To those who did have slides, please do not read the slides to the audience! This is almost worse than no slides at all. (If you saw me in your talk and for some reason you want to hear my specific take on your presentation, you can email me. I’m full of opinions ;).

I will pick on one person by name, however, and that’s Alex Hershaft. Alex is the founder of FARM, which hosts the conference, and I think he’s in charge of scheduling. Alex scheduled himself to participate in a whopping thirteen sessions out of about eighty-something in total (a little more than an eighth). Holy egomania, Batman! I’m excluding the opening and closing remarks from my count, since that’s where you’d typically expect to find the conference organizer(s) speaking.

Alex has worked in animal rights for over thirty years, which is really cool, and I’m sure he’s learned many things. But don’t we have other people who know about these topics? Shouldn’t we be trying to cultivate speaking and presentation skills? Given that scheduling was so tight that most people were given 10 minute speaking slots, couldn’t he have given those slots to others?

I think I’m a pretty good speaker, and I know about lots of things, but when CAA does a conference I promise not to schedule myself in an eighth of the sessions!

Let’s get to the scheduling and speaker selection problems. First of all, there’s no call for speakers on the conference website. I don’t think FARM’s intention is to exclude newcomers, but it sure gives the impression that there’s an “in group” and “the rest of us”.

I submitted two talk proposals with titles and outlines. Both of these talks were on technical topics (wikis, email, online donations, etc). I picked these topics because that’s where my expertise lies, being a programmer by profession and geek by choice.

The first thing I heard back was that I had been accepted to speak, but there was no indication of which talks had been accepted. Then, about a month before the conference, I got an email telling me I was assigned to two sessions, “Publishing on the Internet” and “Running a Local Group”. Why was I assigned to “Running a Local Group”? I have no idea. Gil Schwartz, CAA’s Volunteer Coordinator, submitted a talk on this same topic and was rejected, even though this is his area of expertise. I found the whole experience disrespectful and discouraging, as if speakers were merely interchangeable cogs in the conference machine.

By contrast, for a technical conference, I submit a talk with a title and description, and it’s accepted as-is, or not accepted at all. On occasion, the organizers may ask me to tweak the content to avoid overlap with other speakers, or to choose a clearer title, but this is not done without discussing it with me. I also get more than a month’s notice, giving me ample time to prepare and do my best.

At the AR conference, the session titles are extremely generic, like “Publishing on the Internet”. Speakers are not identified individually by talk, they don’t get to “advertise” their talks with their chosen titles, and they may not even be assigned to their choice of topic! To make it worse, they’re assigned with a group of other people they don’t know and left to coordinate specific topics, times, and speaking order by themselves.

This discourages a sense of ownership, and I think it contributed to the poor quality of many presentations. When people are given both power and responsibility together, they will rise to the occassion and give it their best effort. When you take this away, it’s easy to be discouraged.

This sort of scheduling also doesn’t serve attendees very well. They don’t know what individual speakers will talk about, they can’t easily hop between sessions, and they can’t “follow” their favorite speakers with any granularity. By contrast, check out the schedule from YAPC::NA 2007, the last tech conference I attended.

At YAPC, the schedule details every single talk for every single speaker. It’s easy to leave a session early if you’re bored. Take a look at Tuesday starting at 10:30 AM. If you attend the session in the Houston Room and don’t like it, you know that there will be a number of other sessions beginning at 10:55.

The ridiculously small amount of time allocated to most speakers at AR2007 is also problematic. Ten to twelve minutes isn’t enough to do more than scratch the surface of most topics. At tech conferences, a short session is twenty minutes, and longer ones may be fifty minutes or two hours.

The conference quality would be better with fewer speakers who spoke longer. Sure, there’d still be bad presentations, but the good ones would go longer, and with a post-conference survey, the organizers could make sure to get the good speakers back next year.

Another irritation was the how hard it was to self-organize informal sessions. People planning to attend the conference had no mechanism to connect with each other before or during the conference, other than word-of-mouth. At tech conferences, we always have a wiki and a mailing list for the conference. People use them to plan get-togethers for early arrivals, birds of a feather sessions (BOFs) during the conference, dinner outings, game playing (Go, anyone?), and so on.

We also make sure to leave plenty of space for self-organized sessions at tech conferences. The presentation part of the day ends around 4:30 or 5:00. There may be a social event in the evening (bowling, dinner, etc), but we always leave a few hours of down time before that, and we make it easy to schedule BOFs, social events, and outings.

I would’ve loved to have met up with VegGuide.Org users and shown them the alpha version of VegGuide 3.0, talked about what they like and dislike about the guide, and just meet people. I think there was some sort of mechanism for doing this through the conference organizers, but that’s yet another barrier to entry. I shouldn’t have to ask anyone, particularly the people who are going to be the busiest at the conference! To make this even harder, there were sessions scheduled every evening from 7:15 to 9:30, which meant that the only free times for self-organizing were over lunch, or after 9:30, when we were all exhausted and just wanted to chill.

Given that the best part of every conference is always hanging out with people, it’s really important to make this as easy as possible. No matter how good the sessions are, the hallway track is more fun, and a good conference puts a lot of effort into facilitating spontaneous organization.

Anyway, that’s enough complaining. There was a good side to the conference as well, and I would still go back, mostly to meet people. I also just enjoyed being around a lot of people enthused about animal rights activism. Ultimately the conference was energizing for me, reminding me how important this movement is, and how far we have to go.

This was originally posted on the Voices of CAA Blog, which got fatally dismembered in a CMS upgrade.

I got back from AR2007 late last night, and I’m brimming with thoughts on the conference, animal rights, and activism. I’ll be writing more on this over the next couple days, but I’ll start with my thoughts on the conference.

The Good

The best thing about the conference was meeting people (the “hallway track”). It was really cool to connect a face with all the names. I had some good conversations with Eric Prescott of An Animal Friendly Life. It was also great to meet Erica Meier from Compassion Over Killing and Nathan Runkle of Mercy for Animals. I also met the inimitable Cass Danger, who has become a top VegGuide.Org contributor in an amazingly short time, and is also doing lots of activist work of her own.

I also enjoyed meeting future star of the silver screen Rick Corbett and his sister Rain. I really hope Rick becomes very famous. He’s a good speaker, and will be a strong voice for animals. He’s also a nice guy, and in the future I can say “I knew him when …”. Rita Anderson, a self-described “61 year-old grandmother”, really embodied the voice of reason. I enjoyed Saurabh Dalal’s talk and its emphasize on taking a systematic approach to planning and evaluating our work. Howard Lyman blew me away with his speaking skills. He’s really a master, and I hope I learned a little from watching him.

I went leafleting twice while I was there with Jon Camp, Jenna Calabrese, and Stuart Solomon, as well as folks from CAA. It was really cool to hang out with some of the top leafleters from Vegan Outreach. It was also fun to do some outreach, since I’ve gravitated into fundraising and admin work over the years here at CAA.

There was a man I talked to very briefly whose name I don’t remember, but I was excited to meet him because he is a police officer from British Columbia. It’s easy to think of law enforcement as our enemies, but we’re trying to build a movement, and that means we want everyone involved. Our cause is one of compassion, and treating anyone as an implacable enemy to be fought is a losing tactic.

I spent a lot of the conference following Unny Nambudiripad around. Unny is another CAA founder and board member, and is also the friendliest person on earth. He’s great at introducing himself to new people, and by following him I got to meet many more people than I could’ve done by myself. I also had a lot of good conversations about activism with him at the conference.

I wish I had gone to more of the “rap sessions”, but unfortunately I didn’t realize that these were group discussions as opposed to presentations. The two I attended were both worthwhile, and more interesting than many of the presentation sessions I attended.

The first rap session I attended was a discussion of what tactics are acceptable for our cause. In our movement, that inevitably means a debate on whether or not so-called “direct action” (lab break-ins, freeing animals, arson, property destruction) are acceptable.

Let me be clear that CAA’s core value of Nonviolence rules out this sort of activity. This sort of direct action is extremely counter-productive, but that’s a topic for its own blog post.

I don’t believe that debating will change the minds of people committed to doing these sorts of actions, but I realized that this debate is valuable for those who are still undecided, or those who simply support these actions by default. If I can convince a few people to embrace core values like ours, I consider that a success.

Another highlight of the conference was the Vegan Toastmasters sessions. I enjoy the whole performance aspect of public speaking, and I loved the “table topics”, where the table topics master asks a question and you give a 1-2 minute response. I loved the challenge of that format, and winning the table topics contest was a nice bonus.

I was happy with how my own presentation on wikis went, though the 12 minutes that I had really wasn’t sufficient for this topic. I wanted to do a quick demo, to make the abstract concepts I covered concrete. But again, I’ll cover this problem in my next post on what I didn’t like about the conference, AR2007 Thoughts – The Bad.

This was originally posted on the Voices of CAA Blog, which got fatally dismembered in a CMS upgrade.

I’m at AR2007 here in sunny, smoggy LA, and last night was the opening plenary. I had a lot of thoughts during this session, which at a little over two hours, was way too long for me to focus. I guess I’m a child of video games when it comes to my attention span.

Thought number one was that there seem to be a lot of people emotionally moved by just about everything related to animals. Nearly every mention of some type of cruelty was accompanied by mutters, hisses, and expressions of sadness or outrage.

Now, it’s not that I think cruelty to animals is a good thing, but honestly, almost none of this stuff moves me. I can’t help thinking “yeah, so what?” Yes, hunting deer is cruel, but what do you want me to do about it? That may sound funny coming from an activist, but cruelty in the world is nearly limitless, both for animals and humans.

The question, then, is how can you have an impact? Well, I can tell you how not to have an impact, and that’s to respond to every injustice.  Spread yourself too thin, over-commit, and drain yourself emotionally. This is the path to burnout, and worse, it’s not even going to help much.

So back to my title, “Focus!” That’s what I wanted to tell everyone who responded to every outrage with fresh indignation. Focus your passion, and spend it wisely, because it’s not an infinite resource. Pick a single focused cause, continually evaluate your strategies and tactics, and keep at it until you’ve achieved something.

That’s what we’ve done at CAA. We focus on factory farming, and we do it through education and outreach. But I don’t want to just toot our own horn, so I’ll also mention Circus Reform Yes!. They’re a local group working on the task of banning wild animal circuses in Minneapolis. Now that’s focused. They picked one issue (circuses), picked one location (Minneapolis), and one tactic (legislation), and they’ve worked at it for years, persistently and patiently.

Back when I had my first job out of grad school, I remember going to some sort of training where they talked about Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Now, it’s a cheesy title, and I don’t know if I got anything out of it for work, but one thing stuck with me as an activist.

This was the concept of “circle of concern” and “circle of influence”. The basic idea is that the set of things we’re concerned with is always much larger than the set of things over which we have influence. If we try to have an impact in our entire circle of concern, we will over-extend ourselves and fail. If instead, we take stock and figure out what thing we can influence, we can be successful.

So focus!

This was originally posted on the Voices of CAA Blog, which got fatally dismembered in a CMS upgrade.

One of the reasons I wanted to start a CAA blog was because I was inspired by all the great essays that Jack Norris and Matt Ball of Vegan Outreach have written. Their most recent piece is entitled A New World, Piece by Piece, and is well worth reading.

By and large, I agree with this essay, and it fits in well with CAA’s mission. There’s more to doing activism than just “doing something”, you have to do something that makes an impact, and that often means finding a compromise between the perfect and the achievable.

But I think their essay leaves out one crucial point, though they allude to it when they mention “our limited time”. Yes, we should work to get people to go veg. Yes, we should work to reduce suffering right now. Yes, we should oppose animal ag, and yes, we should support that same industry when it proposes ways to reduce animal suffering.

I could go on and list another dozen things that are important for the AR movement to do as well, and that would probably be an incomplete list. But making a long list of stuff that must be done right away is paralyzing. Instead, we need to think very carefully about how we will deploy our limited resources. As a movement, we are constrained in terms of money, time, and person-power.

I think that efforts to improve welfare in the short term are worth pursuing when they don’t require a lot of resources, but ultimately we need to put most of our resources into our long-term goals.

Make no mistake, this is a real trade-off. There will be more suffering in the short term with this approach then if we worked all-out on improving industry practices. But I truly believe this is right way to go if we ever want to eliminate the abuse of animals for human ends.

Where does the right balance lie? That’s impossible to say. When we’ve discussed this amongst ourselves at CAA one of the sticking points has always been the complete absence of hard data. How many animals are saved when someone switches entirely to free-range meat? How much is suffering reduced? Does switching to free-range meat mean people are more or less resistant to further change? How many people go veg after first switching to free-range animal products? How many people would have gone veg if they hadn’t been told that it’s “okay” to eat free-range products?

That’s a long list of questions without answers, and I’m not even sure how to start answering them. Sometimes I think we need to form some sort of AR-focused polling organization. Anyone know of any research on these topics? Please let me know in the comments.

This was originally posted on the Voices of CAA Blog, which got fatally dismembered in a CMS upgrade.

A while ago, I read parts of The Lifelong Activist by Hillary Rettig. Rettig comes from a business background, and that strongly influences her take on how to be an effective activist.

One idea she brought up was that a lot of what we do as activists is basically marketing. We are trying to “sell” an idea to people, and get them to make a change based on that idea. Marketing is often thought of as a dirty word, and progressives may be especially turned off by this analogy, but for me it resonates quite strongly.

At CAA, we try to engage individual consumers and get them to make changes in their lifestyle, primarily in their purchasing. This really is marketing, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Of course, when we do marketing, we abide by our core values, especially the value of Integrity. That means that we tell the truth, and we use facts, not misinformation. But that doesn’t rule out appeals to emotion either, and no doubt emotion (specifically, compassion and empathy) play a large role when people decide to go veg.

Getting back to Rettig, in her discussion of activism as marketing, she specifically addresses vegetarianism. She says that because we’re engaged in an effort to persuade, the best argument for vegetarianism is personal health. In short, go veg and you’ll be healthier. On the surface, this seems like a good tactic. People are self-interested, and appealing to that self-interest could be the most effective lever on which to exert pressure.

I think this argument is 100% wrong. Why does CAA focus on animal suffering, rather than health? There are several reasons. First and foremost, CAA is an animal advocacy organization, so we talk about animal suffering. We are not a human health advocacy group, and any claims to that effect would be disingenuous. Remember that Integrity value?

Second, while people are self-interested, the number of obese people in this country tells me that people are not terribly motivated by personal health, even if they claim that they are. People want to be healthy, but they don’t want to work really hard at it. Lest you accuse me of casting stones, I’m including myself in that generalization.

Finally, the health argument fails when one looks at the facts. Yes, a vegetarian diet is healthier than what many Americans eat, but that’s because lots of Americans eat really, really unhealthy food. It is possible to design a very healthy diet that’s not vegetarian. So we can’t say that vegetarian is the most healthy, just that is it a healthy diet. It’s hard to construct a good sales pitch from that.

But if vegetarianism doesn’t win on the health argument, it does win when it comes to animal suffering. If you care about animals, you should stop eating them. That’s a nice, simple argument, well backed up by facts about the animal ag industry, and our experience shows that it is an effective one.