Doing business from a payphone

  Originally uploaded by Storming

This is a picture of me negotiating a contract with a Global 2000 company and several attorneys over a pay phone.

Friday I had it all figured out. I had a five minute meeting in our home town at 8:00, then I’d drop the baby off at day care (20 minute drive), and then do my conference call in the car on my way to the 7 year old’s school (another 20 minute drive) where I was helping out with the jogathon. The problem? I left my cell phone at home!

If you are ever looking for pay phones, try looking for liquor stores and convenience stores. And hope you are calling a 1-800 number because they cost 25 cents a minute!

Why $9.95 really works

From Scientific American, Why Things Cost $19.95:

if we see a $20 toaster, we might wonder whether it is worth $19 or $18
or $21; we are thinking in round numbers. But if the starting point is
$19.95, the mental measuring stick would look different. We might still
think it is wrongly priced, but in our minds we are thinking about
nickels and dimes instead of dollars, so a fair comeback might be
$19.75 or $19.50.

How to get rid of the hiccups … in New Orleans

While at the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans, I got the hiccups. We happened to be passing a witchcraft/voodoo type shop and someone jokingly said, “You should see if they have something for hiccups!” So we went on in and met the rudest woman I’ve talked to in quite a long time. She said:

No, I don’t have anything for hiccups. Lemon and bitters – everyone knows that!

So we went to the bar next door, asked for lemon and bitters. The bartender took a slice of lemon, added a few drops of bitters and some sugar and handed it to me. Five seconds later, the hiccups were gone!

Bitters are 45% alcohol so use with caution – it only took a splash on the lemon.

Bilingual people have to search for words more often

Anybody who knows me has probably heard me say "now, what’s that word I’m looking for?" I seem to say that many times a day – there’s a perfect word but I it takes me a few seconds to remember just what word it is. Turns out I do that more often than most because I’m bilingual. Or so says this study: Why you make the same mistake twice. They also say that every time I do that, I’m more likely to do that again as my brain learns to forget. Or something like that.

Meeting someone in jail: what a ridiculous process

The jail visitation process is obviously not made with the visitor’s convenience in mind. And definitely not with the detainee’s convenience in mind.

I have to meet with someone who’s in jail. (Don’t ask. It’s not anyone I’m close to but I’ve got to talk to this person.) Actually, I’m not even sure if it’s jail or detention center or holding or what. So here’s how it works in Larimer County:

  • You cannot call someone in jail. You can send them a snail mail letter or you can schedule a visit with them.
  • Regardless of when the person is arrested, you can only call to schedule a visit on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 11am-1pm. This is not when you can visit, this is when you can call.
  • Visits happen on Wednesdays and Thursdays (scheduled on Tuesday) and on Saturdays and Tuesdays (scheduled on Thursdays). The hours are not clear to me but I was given a choice of 8:30-10:30 on Wednesday morning or some time Thursday evening.
  • Each person is allowed one visitor a day.
  • It’s first come, first serve. I got advice to start calling at two minutes to 11:00 and to keep hitting redial until I got through. I hit redial for 12 minutes and then was on hold for another 15 minutes or so.
  • The detainee has no say. You don’t have to prove any relationship or business either. So if you want to screw someone in jail, I suppose you could just go see them everyday so they could never see their friends or family.
  • You can’t carry in anything like paper or pen or pencil. I need a name and phone number so I guess I’ll have to memorize it somehow!

So this person was arrested last week. Wednesday is the first time anyone can visit them and it’s going to be a stranger. Obviously they must have some cause for the arrest but there’s been no trial and no conviction. And yet, they have no freedom. (Note, they haven’t posted bail which I believe is an option.)

Moral of the story: don’t get arrested. It looks like you lose most of your rights in the process.

UPDATE: You have to go through a metal detector but they turned it off for my group because one of the women had a pace maker. They then took us upstairs in an elevator with no buttons. (The women walkie-talkied to someone who controlled it remotely.) They then dropped us off (and left us) in a room with four windows with stools in front and telephones. The windows faced the main detention center with all the prisoners walking around on the other side. You talk through the telephone to the prisoner on the other side – just like the movies. We were left there for 30 minutes. I finished my business in 30 seconds and I had a few minutes of "oh, no!" when I realized there was no way to call the elevator back or leave the room. After a few minutes of searching I found the intercom button and managed to get them to send the elevator back up for me.

Nobody would have noticed if I’d carried in a pen and paper.

Book review: All God’s Children. A great book on street kids.

In college, I volunteered at the Covenant House. Every Thursday from 7-10pm we would drive around the worst parts of Houston handing out sandwiches and juice packs to the homeless and letting them know that any homeless kids were welcome back at the Covenant House.

What impressed me the most was how different the homeless adults were from the teenagers. The adults were what you would expect homeless to be like. Some depressed, some hungry, some listless, some drunk, some too embarrassed to tell their kids they were living on the streets, usually grateful for a sandwich or a clean pair of socks. The kids on the other hand were on an adventure. None of them ever came back to the Covenant House with us. They always had someone to stay with, or a car to ride in to Las Vegas, … places to go, things to see. And they never seemed hungry. Full of hope. And then I would listen to them talk and be just horrified. I will always remember the conversation between two fifteen year old girls, with babies in their laps, talking about the job they had the night before at a strip club. The way they had been treated was inhumane. (I tried  – unsuccessfully – to get all my friends to avoid strip clubs in Houston forever.) Yet these girls just took it in stride. At the time, I thought it was because they were kids and kids had more hope and maybe more strength and flexibility. After reading Rene Denfeld’s book All God’s Children: Inside the Dark and Violent World of Street Families, I now think it’s because they live in an alternate reality, a completely different culture, than the rest of us. Rene Denfeld describes the completely alien culture of street kids in a way that not only made sense but completely matched what I saw. It was fascinating and terrifying.

As a side note, Rene blames many of the agencies that help street kids for promoting the street kid culture. By providing them food and resources they enable the street life – large groups of kids with nothing to do except hang out and create their own rules. Very harsh and violent rules.

Do you know what you would love most to do?

Finding your dream job is more than just identifying what you love most and finding a job where you do that. I love doing puzzles, would I want to do them eight hours a day, everyday? No way.

Last night at a party I met a woman who loves what she does. (She collects money for charities.) She’d heard a quote that said that 80% of Americans hated their jobs so she was on a mission to have us all identify what we loved to do and figure out a job doing that.

I think you need to:

  • Figure out what types of things you love doing.
  • Find a job that has meaning to you: a mission, purpose, … (I suspect this woman didn’t used to love asking people for money – but she loves helping out the people that need the money.)
  • Make sure you are good at the things you love. This will probably just happen as you get good at anything you work at but you won’t be happy if you find a job that you love and adds meaning but you are terrible at.

Would you do it again for free? My LinuxConf Australia keynote

A number of people have asked about my "Would you do it again for free?" presentation. It's a talk about why open source developers started working on open source software and how money and companies have changed that. 

One of the things about the open source community that continues to
baffle those non-open source people is, "why do you do it?" Open
source developers work on open source software for a number of reasons
from scratching an itch to gaining a reputation to building a resume to
contributing to a good cause.  The interesting problem comes when money
enters into the equation. Research shows that when someone works on something for free (for
internal rewards) if you start paying them you replace those internal
rewards. Then if you stop paying them, they will stop working on it.
Does that hold true for open source software?  Are commercial companies
killing open source by paying people to work on it?

You can find the talk in ogg format. (Note the file is about 100MB!) You can also get the audio and the slides. If you know how to convert from ogg to something I can embed in a blog post, please let me know!

I gave this talk again at SCALE and there I added more of "here's why developers work on open source software and here's what they can do to help companies work with them effectively."

Family tree social networking

This family tree application looks really intriguing – you get to enter in your family tree and as your relatives sign up, they can add to it. Not only can you see all the relationships, you can contact them.

While I don’t usually worry too much about privacy on the web, this one actually seems a bit scary. All my relatives and their birth places on the web. And anyone can add the info. I could add it for my whole family without them even knowing. Note that you can keep the information private – it’s not necessarily published for the whole world.