Board Candidate fvandrog

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(2009) Frank van Drogen, or fvandrog

Personal statement

fvandrog: Frank van Drogen

Currently living in Zurich, I am a 33 year old Dutch citizen, previously having spent some time in the US (San Diego) and France (3 + 63). My profesional background is genetics and cellular biochemistry, in which I have obtained a PhD. I am currently employed as a scientific manager (Oberassistent) at the ETH in Zurich, which is an accademic institution. I am responsible for the daily running of a large research lab, teach both undergrads and graduate students, and if time permits, try to get some research done myself.

A lot of my time, when not working or taking care of my children (respectively, 4 years and 10 months old), I spend on DP. Appart form that I enjoy gardening and cooking assisted by my 4 year old son. Also, it seems I am the owner of an emerging collection of cooking books.

My decision to become a nominee for the DP Board of Trustees is based on a number of issues, including the fact that I think that regarding the very international community we have become, it is important to have one or more non-North Americans in the Board. In extend to this, I think my experience of working in very mixed international environments for a number of years would be an asset for the DP and the Board. In my late teens and very early twenties, I got some experience functioning as a board member in a local sports club; later on I worked over four years for a large non-profit organization in the US.

Views

(All of these excerpts are cited from the Discussion of DP Foundation Board Restructuring forum thread. They are posted in roughly chronological order. Any questions asked by other community members are in italics. The excerpts were chosen to show the candidate's viewpoints and philosophy, while clarifications and asides were avoided.)

April-4-2009

As I understand it, one of the Board's duties will be to direct DP towards better means of achieving its mission. What do each of you think that DP is doing poorly right now, and how do you think those areas can be improved?

Whereas, like Simon, I also would like to emphasize that with between 2000 and 2500 books produced per year I think we actually do a great job, there are certainly some things that need to be improved.

A clear issue is the discrepancy between input and output, with growing queues at different levels as a consequence. We will need to evaluate the many different ideas that have already been proposed, and come up with new ideas, to shift part of our resources to the areas where they are most needed. I hope that the Board and Community will be able to come up with ideas for tools that can assist in this and will be able to implement those tools.

For the proofing rounds the wordcheck tools has been able to improve quality enough so that many books can skip the biggest bottleneck there. A similar tool could be envisioned for the formatting rounds, possibly combining information that is obtained by OCR, and currently mostly discarded/ignored regarding formatting. The CiP might be either an additional or alternative way to use our proofing resources more efficiently.

Regarding our postprocessing stages, they are currently not distributed, and seem to be one of the greater bottlenecks we currently have. Here again, I would hope that improved and additional tools will help to encourage volunteers to move to this stage, and we will eventually need to come up with ideas and methods to make the postprocessing more distributed.

Frank

DP seems to have essentially stopped growing in many dimensions; but most significantly in the number of projects completed and released to PG. Is this an agreeable situation, or is it important that it change? If change, how, and how much?

Whereas we might not have been growing in the quantity of books being posted, I am pretty sure we have increased in the quality of books that has been posted. Historically, we have moved from ASCII only in the very old days to Latin-1 text, and currently UTF-8 where necessary/appropriate. Then, or course we have added HTML. First 4.01 compliant, now mostly XHTML 1.0. Furthermore, image processing has greatly increased with relatively high quality images being part of many eBooks we produce.

Regardless, to keep pace with the amount of projects completed in the different rounds, we will need to increase the amount of books we produce. Using our current procedures we will need more people, better/more convenient tools and, if possible, more consistent output out of the different rounds.

Another option is a more distributed approach to PPing. Although I have some abstract ideas, this will need careful thought and consideration. Especially considering that current tools are not suited. We will need to come up with a workable procedure and the appropriate tool set to make distributed PPing possible and a valid alternative to our current procedure.

In what measurable ways do you think DP needs to be different 18 months from now? 3 years from now?

I hope it will still be a fun place to be for all of us (smiley face)

My personal ideal would be that we would move closer to a 'round-less' system, at least regarding the proofing stage. This will need heavy investment of our relatively scarce coding resources into CiP and related issues, which will need careful consideration.

There's good indication that Post Proofing and beyond are our most constricted bottlenecks; have been for some time; and have if anything decreased in capacity. Do you agree? What should we be doing about it?

Do you think DP is using it's resources (i.e., us) well today? How do you think this should be measured? Can it (should it) be improved?

This is of course partially a subjective area. In one ideal situation each page would have to be looked at once and be incorporated into a final version without any further work. For evident reasons this won't work. Hence the process is divided in different stages, and some more work is being done in certain stages then others, with people often moving to the stages they consider the most pleasant to work in. In one sense, that is the most efficient use of our work force imaginable.

But, it has leads to a dis balance, and our current queue problem. A round less system for our proofing rounds would probably lead to a better use of our resources in that area. I have a hard time envisioning a round less system for our formatting stage -- but maybe there's ideas around that would approach this.

For PP, I think we use our resources as well as possible with current tools and methods. Better tools and methods, which will be far from trivial to get, has of course the potential to improve things there.

Frank

April-5-2009

Under the current system we have been rather careful with spending. You will now be in the possition to direct how money is spent. If you were given $1000 to make DP better how would you spend it?

Not an issue I have given a lot of though to .... I consider DP a low-budget organization. We do not have a lot of financial resources. We could probably get some grants in, but I am very hesitant about that because it is hard to predict how volunteers will react when people are getting paid to do certain DP related tasks. An idea I have been briefly playing with, but which isn't concrete, it to do OCR and certain pre-processing tasks on the server site. There's advantages/disadvantages and lots of pitfalls, which are beyond the scope of this post, but it would require the purchase of a server-site license for FR -- I honestly don't know how far 1000$ would go there.

Another idea I personally like, but what in my opinion is definitely not something the board should tackle with community money, would be to set up a 'rare book pool'. The money in this pool could be used to buy hard to get, expensive, books that would be non-destructively scanned. Once the project would be completed the books would be resold and the money used for a subsequent books. Currently, with an 18-month or so turnaround time, this would not be extremely helpful, if our process would be a little speeded up, I think it could be interesting and a way to work on projects that are currently not possible. (this was suggested a while ago, I think by vaguery, but I couldn't find the post back).

Frank

April-6-2009

Lots of good ideas, but what do the nominees think should be done to stop more coming in at the front, than is getting posted at the end.

That's of course the most important issue that will need to be addressed. There's unfortunately no single, easy and painless solution that will solve all problems at once.

For the P rounds, I would favor moving to a roundless system, which would use a CiP algorithm to determine if a page confirms our standards. This will, however,not be possible from one day to the next, and might have unexpected effects, as we have seen with the change from R to P+F.

For formatting/PPing, it seems to me that we have too much resources in F1, to little afterwards. I think it would be a good idea to consider channeling part of the F1 resources in such a way that the work and pressure for F2/PP reduces. There are different possibilities here, which have their positive and negative sides, but are probably beyond the scope of this discussion.

Yet SOME books leap over others, and get through the rounds in months, and occasionally weeks. This unfairness has been responsible for the loss of some of our most able, dedicated members.

That is an issue I do see as less of a problem. We are all volunteers. people in rounds are, and should in my opinion, always be able on what books they work. Whereas we might be able to reduce the complexity of our queue system somewhat, there will always be books that are more favorite than others. Those books will move faster through the process.

I do think, however, that if we are able to tackle the problems with our bottlenecks that the annoyance caused by some books passing others will be much reduced.

Do you see the possibility of PG-US facing legal liability in your country because (as a result of its having trustees in your country) PG-US is perceived as a multinational entity?

Regarding my situation, DP is legally a separate entity from PG-US, so it seems largely impossible to be there will be any issues with that regard. With regards to DP-INT, it would seem highly unlikely to me -- there are some cases currently around Europe which have the charge 'assisting with copyright infringement' attached to it. This, rather far sought accusation, doesn't even hold true with DP, which is fully legal in the US.

Frank

Right now, we are a "quality over quantity" organization.

Thinking about this sentence, I realized that's exactly where our problem lies. We are a quality vs. quantity organization in PP, F2, and P3. P2 is somewhere in between, F1, P1 and CP are more leaning towards quantity vs. quality, unfortunately.

If we look where our queues build up, it is exactly there where we more from a 'quantity first' into a 'quality first' stage.

This might give us some ideas of 'where' to start tackling the problems we have (or perceive).

Frank

April-13-2009

It sounds like the Board, after appointing the GM, will spend most of their time researching and advising the GM. The question I have for the nominees is: after researching and deciding on a new direction (like moving to a roundless system, changing to UTF-8, the implementation of distributed post-processing tools, etc) how will the Board engage the community to make that happen both with social buy-in and implementation-wise.

I ask for two reasons: 1) it has been my experience that getting community buy-in for changes (even minor ones) is often much more difficult than the technical implementation and 2) some of the discussed directions will require some massive, directed coding resources that seems in short supply.

Regarding point 1. Getting any community to agree on issues is often indeed a difficult task; getting a community that largely communicates via a forum to agree on anything seems virtually impossible (and, in my experience, the DP forums are extremely friendly compared to lots of other fora!!). We have to advantage that virtually all our Board members are active members of the community, and present on the forums. Certainly they will listen to arguments regarding changes and take balanced decisions.

Unfortunately, sometimes a subset of people will get upset with changes, my experience has learned me that most of those people can be kept on board if the reasons why the changes are implemented are argumented clearly.

As response to point 2., we all realize that our coding resources are very limited. Hence, before any decisions are taken the Board will need to be in direct contact with the coders regarding the feasibility of implementing the proposed changes and rough time lines. Another task of the Board will probably be to look into attracting/recruiting more coding enthusiasts.

Frank

April-15-2009

2. The "hard decisions" issue is linked to this. Fortunately, DP isn't a nation state, so there is no way of forcing through "hard decisions" as politicians are so fond of doing. Which means that unless something is done to take the silent majority along, people might well vote with their mice.

Certainly. Unfortunately, there are people doing that right now as well. Some of our more valued members have left the community because bottle-neck issues are not being addressed actively enough. This is an issue in any volunteer organization (non-volunteer organization as well) -- changes upset a number people, letting major organizational problems linger around up sets a number of persons as well.

Of course, this doesn't take away that, whatever the solution and model we'll work to is, the reasons will have to be explained with the reasons why it has been chosen clearly underlined.

Some of the suggestions I've seen so far tend towards homogenising the way people work. Maybe they prefer their own methods and don't want to be harmonised?

I do not quite understand what you mean with this in the light of some of the ideas that have been floating around....

I see this as quite a hairy time in DP's development and one full of hazards. The drift into a more authoritarian stream seems to me among the greatest of these.

Thanks for the confidence (smiley face)

I have to say that, from my point of view, I am not really afraid we will turn into an authorial led organization. First of all, every year new people will have the opportunity to be elected into the board. Secondly, terms are relatively limited in time (especially regarding this election!).

I do think a clearer outline of the organizational structure of DP will facilitate us moving forward in a better and more balanced manner.

Frank