Geek Week at W3C

A little-known fact about W3C is that once a year there is Geek Week — a time for staff, technical or not, to spend a few days on a project of their choosing, either individually or with others. Some use this time for self-development, such as a reading week. Some use it for creating or tweaking tools that may prove useful (or not!).

All too often meetings or urgent tasks make Geek Week rather shorter than a week, but even so there are always interesting results. This year was no exception with projects including:

  • A picture quiz for new members of staff, helping them learn the faces of people on the team in time for TPAC next week.
  • A prototype email thread flattener to make W3C mailing lists a bit more user-friendly.
  • Work on a new viable version of Commonscribe, to improve scribing and browsing meeting records.
  • A way of converting ReSpec-based W3C TR documents to EPUB.

Personally, I chose to enhance our IRC bot. Yes, IRC is still used at W3C. A lot. There are more modern technologies around but it works well and being an open protocol allows us to mess around with it as much as we want. One example of this is a bot that is a customized version of infobot by Kevin Lenzo. We’ve named ours botie and its main role is to pass on messages to others, like a personal messenger on horseback, galloping along TCP lanes through the meadows of the internet.

When someone is offline, we type botie, inform alice that Tuesday's meeting is cancelled, and when Alice re-joins the IRC channel she’ll get an alert with that message. Unfortunately botie doesn’t understand much human language and we’ve been getting frustrated giving requests and being met with “huh?”. My Geek Week project, with help from Denis and Antonio, was very simply to add more words that botie understands. The regular expression for this is now:

/^(tell|inform|notify|advise|alert|advise|enlighten|send\sword\sto|ping|remind|ask|beseech|beg|say) *([^ ,]*),? (that|to|about)? *(.*)/

meaning we can now be more eloquent by using commands such as botie, beseech Bob to kindly grace us with his presence at Tuesday's gathering, and botie will obey. Unlikely to make a huge impact, admittedly, but it was fun!

Geek Week tends to happen around July or August each year to minimize the impact on day-to-day work. There are inevitably time constraints and ideas flow more freely than the available hours in a day but it’s a valuable W3C tradition and long may it continue.

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