1000 miles into the hike

My cousin Travis is now officially 1000 miles into his 2650 mile hike from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific North Crest Trail. He sounds pretty excited:

Let me tell you, the Sierras were absolutely some of the most amazing
hiking that I’ve ever done.  For those of you who don’t really know
what I’m talking about, the High Sierras are the mountain range in
California that contains Mt. Whitney (the highest mountain in the lower
48 states), and the John Muir Wilderness.  This is the area where Ansel
Adams took all of his pretty pictures.  Is everyone with me now?  It’s
just amazing, everywhere you turn there are mountains, lakes, streams,
flowers, it just has everything.  There were days when I was looking
around thinking, "wow, I can’t believe I’m here", "Wow, I can’t believe
how beautiful this is", "Wow, I can’t believe I get to hike through
this for 2 more weeks",

He had some nervous moments as well, trying to find the trail in a bunch of snow.

Then, I hit my first snowfield that actually covered the trail and so
began a little game that I liked to call… "Ummmmm…. soooooo….
where’s the trail?"  Because, as you can imagine, it becomes a bit
difficult to follow a hiking trail when it’s covered in snow,
especially when you’re above treeline and it’s just snow and boulders
everywhere you turn.  So the object of the game is simple – if you win,
you find the trail, and get to happily hike along for a few minutes
until you hit the next patch of snow.  If you lose?  Well, there are a
few options, you either have a nervous breakdown and collapse into a
puddle of worthlessness right there, or if you’re on some sort of steep
slope, you’ll likely fall and end your thru-hike in a dramatic blaze of
glory.  When I hit the snow, I frantically bounced around looking for
the trail, I’d find it, hike along, lose it again, and so on.  At this
point I had the brilliant idea to just read my map, find the pass, and
hike over it without actually following the trail.  This plan probably
would’ve worked if I could actually read a map, but I soon discovered
that my map reading skills are about on par with my dancing abilities,
in other words, they’re both hilariously bad.

Needless to say, he made it through and found a computer on the internet.

I’m pretty proud of him. He stayed with us the week before he started and he spent each day hiking around town with his backpack on. He said our neighbors thought he was crazy … but our dog loves him! Walks all day long, every day!

Another way to find a cheaper ticket

I’m pretty good at finding cheaper or better airfare online but when friends or family ask me to help, I just groan because it takes a LOT of time.

I thought I’d share this tidbit. I was recently looking for airfare for a pretty expensive short notice trip to Europe. Orbitz told me the cheapest fare was $1806. FareCompare told me the cheapest ticket was $1650. When I clicked on the "purchase this airfare" on FareCompare, it opened a window to Orbitz! So I bought a ticket on Orbitz for cheaper than Orbitz had listed. One of two things is at work:

  • Either FareCompare has a deal with Orbitz where they get something off the ticket and they pass some of that on to me.
  • Or Orbitz’s search engine isn’t working well enough to find me the cheapest fare.

So knowing where to look can save you money – the cheapest fare one travel site shows isn’t always the cheapest fare.

Your “home” on the web

Google just announced Lively, a virtual world for all social networking sites. It immediately struck me as really cool and pretty scary. Here’s my 10 minute analysis.

The idea is that you have a virtual room or home on the web with a virtual person. You can than decorate your room, hang out it in or go visit your friends. When people come to visit you, they can move your stuff around. Rumor has it that your friends will be your friends from all your existing networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

I think it will take off if:

  • It’s accessible via browser with no special hardware.
  • People can tweak and customize it both as a user and a developer, i.e. you can customize your room or you can write apps that interact with the room.

What’s scary?

  • Google’s stuff catches on quick. And if this catches on, they will be defining what our online world looks like. What our homes and cities look like. It’d be a good thing if Google made it all customizable. It’d be better if it was open source. But whether it’s open source or not, Google will own it.
  • It’s one thing to have ads in my email. They are easy to ignore. It’ll be another if my friend’s avatars are all wearing branded shirts or if my "home" has a banner ad in it. I’m not sure why, but it’ll feel different.

What’s cool?

  • It’ll bring virtual reality worlds to many more people. We’ll be that much closer to Neal Stephenson’s realities.
  • It might push virtual reality technology forward faster.


Not just one boss … but seven!

A lot of people have been joking about me being the "top dog" or "big boss" so I thought I’d point out that I work for the Board of Directors – 7 volunteer, part time directors who are doing a great job of running the GNOME Foundation. My job is to make them and the GNOME Foundation even more successful.

(And I could get 7 new bosses every year …)

Traveling alone – no big deal

After the question of "who’s taking care of the baby?" the most common questions I get about travel are all about traveling alone. I usually just shrug and say it’s no big deal – it’s not. But last week my grandma (who’s 91) was asking me lots of questions about my trip to Istanbul. Are you flying by yourself? How do you get to your hotel? Will you know anybody there? Will you be eating alone all the time? She wasn’t worried about me, she was just very curious. Her whole life she’s wanted to go see her "cousins in Holland" and she’s never gone. (I’ve always regretted I didn’t just book tickets and take her. It would be hard to take her now for health reasons.)

So this trip I paid attention to how I do things and I realized I’m always thinking about logistics and safety. For example, here are some of the things I do:

  • Money.
    • Before I clear customs I get cash from an ATM machine. This trip was one of those interesting times – the machine only displayed Turkish. The last screen stumped me for a minute. I was pretty sure one option was something like "do another transaction" and the other was "I’m done." But they were both one word, same color, same number of letters, … I picked the bottom one and my card came back out. (And once again I forgot to check the exchange rate ahead of time so I just guessed at how many Turkish lira I needed. My usual approach is to withdraw the maximum option – only in Norway that turned out to be more than my bank would let me take out in any 24 hour period. Norway turned out to be expensive.)
    • I also always make sure that I have a backup id and a credit card – one in my wallet and another set in my rollaboard. If I lose my briefcase or misplace my wallet I want something to fall back on. I’ve heard too many horror stories of people far from home that suddenly have nothing. I think it’s far more likely I would lose my wallet than I’d get robbed, but either would be a major pain.
  • Transportation.
    • Leaving customs I looked for a guy with a sign with my name on it. The hotel had included my ride. This always makes me (unjustifiably) nervous. What if they take you somewhere else? What if they knocked out the real guy and this is some bad guy holding the sign. Too many movies! The guy holding the sign turned out to be a very polite young man who was a very cautious driver and he didn’t speak any English. So I wasn’t able to do my normal cab ride conversation – my Turkish wasn’t quite up for it. (Usually I do public transportation or a cab.)
    • When I get to the hotel I ask about public transportation to the conference venue. If it’s less than a couple of miles, I usually walk. (Dan Frye from IBM actually gave me that tip – he said he always picks a hotel he can walk from. It’s his exercise in days full of meetings.)
  • Lodging. I found the hotel on Tripadvisor – I searched for cheap, top ranking hotels and then I used Google maps to see how far they were from the conference venue. (Actually, first I checked the conference hotels and then I started looking for other ones.) The hotel must have internet access and positive reviews. I used to look for a gym too – a hotel with a gym is very hard to find in Europe. I also like hotels with restaurants or room service or near lots of restaurants in case I end up eating alone late at night.
  • Eating. The one thing I don’t like about traveling alone is eating out alone all the time so I’ll try to arrange dinner with different folks if I’m in a city or at a conference where I know a lot of people. Eating out alone bothers me less now than it used to but I always remember the Denny’s guy who said "You’re eating alone? How sad!" If I’m eating alone, I usually end up eating with a book or my laptop open. Or I find a good people watching place – I love sitting at an outdoor restaurant watching people.

So as you can see, other than eating, traveling alone is a lot like traveling with friends and family. Just a little more quiet time to read or work on the airplane and in the hotel!

GNOME: passionate people working on making technology beautiful

I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m a big fan of open source software. I think the GNOME desktop is great and changing the way people interact with technology for the better. But here’s the secret: I really joined the GNOME Foundation because I love the GNOME community.

GNOME is full of passionate people who care not just about technology but about the people that use it and the world they live in. Yesterday I had many conversations about GNOME, current projects, grand ideas for new ones, and technologies. I also had a discussions about saffron, Thailand, how a country becomes a member of the European Union, human rights, banking systems, … all with people that were extremely knowledgeable, had good ideas and wanted to learn more. (I certainly learned lots!)

Here’s a specific example of something I like about the GNOME community. It’s important to them that things be "beautiful." I put beautiful in quotes because I think the GNOME community means much more than pretty when they say "beautiful." I think they mean:

  • Pretty. The desktop, your user interface, should look nice. It should be beautiful.
  • Easy to use. Functional. When things flow smoothly and everything is in just the right spot, right where you expect to find it, it’s beautiful.
  • Done right. When things are coded right and they are reliable functional, easy to figure out, they are beautiful.

GNOME folks, agree, disagree?

I’m the new Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation!

I’m very excited – I am now officially joining the GNOME Foundation as Executive Director! 

Some background. The GNOME project is:

  • a free and open source
    desktop – an easy to use, intuitive interface for your Linux or Unix computer and
  • the GNOME development platform, a developer framework for building applications.

The GNOME Foundation is the nonprofit organization that helps organize and run the GNOME project. The GNOME Foundation members are all contributors to GNOME – hundreds of volunteer developers. They elect a board of directors (from their membership) every 18 months and have a large number of corporate sponsors who participate through an advisory board. My job will be to work with the board of directors, the sponsors and the community to help them further their goals of a creating a free and open source desktop and development platform that is used world-wide by drawing in more developers, sponsors and users.

As some of you probably know, my first experience with open source software was with the GNOME community. Way back in 2000, I was managing the HPUX desktop and we decided that having a free and open source desktop would be advantageous for HPUX users. I ended up working with Ximian (then Helix Code) and attended my first GUADEC in 2001 in Copenhagen. While I was checking into my hotel in Copenhagen, I met some guys in the hotel lobby (Havoc Pennington and some of the Eazel guys) and ended up spending the afternoon exploring Copenhagen with them. The next day at the conference was the day of the famous "You’re a girl!" quote. (She was very excited there was another woman at the conference.) I found the GNOME community extremely welcoming and passionate about their project. They got me hooked on open source and I’ve been spreading the word ever since.

So I’m very excited now to be joining the GNOME Foundation to help accelerate the adoption of GNOME – a free and open source desktop – by strengthening the Foundation and
attracting new industry members and community contributors. For more information you can read the press release or leave me a comment.

P.S. And if you are here at GUADEC, be sure to say hi to me and tell me what you are working on.

I love my Kindle

I did it. I broke down and bought a Kindle. I like it because:

  • It’s light – it really does weigh about the same as a paperback.
  • I can carry several books in a very small space. I always read at least one fiction and one non-fiction book at the same time and this way I can carry them both around.
  • I can really easily take notes by highlighting sections of text or typing in a note. I really like that. (I’d like it if I could use the Kindle a bit more like a journal – that’d be great.)
  • The screen works really well. It looks good.
  • I can really quickly look up any book on Amazon, see the ratings, read the reviews, download a sample. So no more writing down a title to look up later.
  • The wireless works really well. It works in my parents’ town in South Dakota where my cell phone won’t work!
  • It comes with a browser – I can check my gmail account (rather awkwardly.)
  • I can get any book I want (that’s available for the Kindle) instantly.
  • The battery lasts a long time.
  • I’ve been reading the newspaper again. The New York Times shows up every morning. (But I’m also on vacation which means I have more time to read the paper.)
  • The screen saver. They show covers of old books, pictures of authors, tips, … and for some reason I like them.

Things I’d improve on:

  • The keyboard is too small to work as a real keyboard, too big to use your thumbs.
  • The browser is really awkward.
  • I’d like to highlight a title in a book and search Amazon for the book. (One of the books I’m reading now constantly refers to other books.)
  • It takes a second to turn the page. (The Kindle 2 is much better.)
  • It takes a couple of seconds to unfreeze the screen. (Again, the Kindle 2 is better.)
  • The buttons for previous page and next page are too easy to hit accidentally. (Luckily you can freeze the screen.) The Kindle 2 solved this by changing the buttons. If you’ve used a Kindle 1, it takes a bit to get used to but it works better.
  • A journal function. Right now I just take a note in whatever book I happen to be reading but it shows up as a note in that book.
  • I want an easy way to view “My Clippings” (my highlights and notes) on my computer. Right now I have to sync my Kindle and manually copy the file over.
  • International wireless. I’m going to miss the daily paper when I travel internationally. (Which is now available! But it looks like they might charge an extra fee to download it when traveling internationally.)

Overall, I’m very happy with my Kindle. And Amazon is making a lot of money as I bought a lot of books for it!

You can also see my list of accessories you might want and my review of covers for the Kindle 2.

20 things you can negotiate in a job offer

John Mark had a great post 10 Survival Tips for the Modern Wageslave. I thought I’d follow up with another piece of career advice that I never got: every aspect of a job offer is negotiable. I actually got advice from my university career office to NOT negotiate a job offer. Luckily I got other advice too and since then I’ve learned it’s all negotiable. This isn’t a post about how to get the biggest salary. It isn’t even a post about how to negotiate. My point here is to say that it’s all negotiable. If you’ve always wanted a title of "technical evangelist", you can ask for it. If you’ve always wanted a love sack with your name embroidered on it, well, they might think you’re weird, but you can still ask for it.

I remember well my first official full-time company job offer. It was Friday afternoon and I had just gotten back to my dorm room and opened a beer when the phone rang and I got a job offer. A real job offer. I said "Cool!" and he said, "when do you want to start?" I then had to explain,  cool that I had a job offer, but I wasn’t accepting – I need some time to think. He gave me a week (which I didn’t negotiate) and then I hung up the phone and went into stress mode. I had an on-site interview at Microsoft for the week after that and now I had to decide on the HP job before I knew anything about the Microsoft position. I called the university recruiting office and they said I had an excellent offer from HP, not to jeopardize it in any way, and to accept it or not as is. Finally a good family friend spoke up. She got that look that I’ve come to recognize as meaning I’m not sure about this, it’s your decision, but I’ve thought long and hard and I have an opinion. She told me that she was sure HP would be reasonable and it couldn’t hurt to ask. So I picked up the phone and called and asked the HP manager for an extension. He asked why and in typical Stormy fashion I told him the whole story straight up. He responded with, well, I guess we’d better fly you up here. So I got two cool trips and the opportunity to check out the companies in person. (And HP went out of their way to show me what a cool place it was to live and work. By the way, if I had known the HP manager then like I do now, I wouldn’t have hesitated to ask for an extension but that’s a thought for another post.)

So what can you "negotiate" in a job offer?

  • Salary. But everyone knows that. (But as someone who’s hired a few people – very few people actually negotiate their starting salary.)
  • Start date. If you’ve always wanted to take a month long sailing trip or spend two weeks in Yellowstone, between jobs might be the ideal time. (Although, if you’re like me and you like to just jump in, waiting a lot of time to start might just be stressful.)
  • Hours. Fridays off? Part time during the summer?
  • Title. Now’s your chance to be an evangelist or a guru or an expert. If you’re taking a job at a large company, you might have a standard title, but you can probably still negotiate what goes on your business card. Danese Cooper was the "open source diva" at Sun. Maybe her payroll stub didn’t say that but her business cards did.
  • Amenities. That love sack, the blackberry, the mini computer, the fountain pen, the box seats, ….
  • Bonuses. Instead of a bigger salary, you can ask for performance bonuses.
  • Jobs for other people. Maybe you have two friends you’ve worked with in the past and you know you rock as a team. Maybe you’ll need to relocate and your spouse will need a job. If they are in a different industry your employer might not be able to give them a job, but they could help find them a job.
  • Flexible hours. I know a guy that worked from 3pm to midnight every day. He home schooled his kids in the morning.
  • Traditional benefits like 401K matching, health care, … again at a large company, these may not be very flexible but chances are not all employees get exactly the same offer.
  • More vacation. Always wanted to go on all those cool field trips but never had time?
  • Severance pay. Better to ask now than when you get laid off!
  • Intellectual property rights. I know several people who negotiated an offer where they would own the copyright to everything they wrote even when writing code for their employer.
  • Location. Maybe you don’t have to relocate to take the new job. You could work from home or in an office in another state.
  • Telecommuting. Maybe you’ve always wanted to work from home a couple of days a week. (You also need to make sure your company culture will make this effective. You might work well from home but if all decisions get made in person, this might not work well.)
  • Relocation expenses. If you do move, they might help with the move costs, buying a new house, finding a new job for your spouse. Be careful of offers that come tied to a specific amount of time you have to spend in the job. If you end up miserable, you don’t want to have to work for two years just because you’d have to pay $50,000 back in expenses.
  • Re-relocation expenses. I know a guy that negotiated not just for relocation expenses but when he didn’t like the new location, he had negotiated that they would move him back to Colorado. So they did.
  • Travel. Maybe you want to travel, maybe you don’t. The job offer time is a perfect time to make that clear. Employers do when they need you to travel a lot.
  • Conferences. Going to conferences when you are not a speaker is often considered a privilege. If you enjoy conferences, or consider the networking essential, ask for it.
  • Training. Want an MBA? Or a technical certification degree? Or a class in negotiation?
  • Job description. Maybe it sounds like the perfect job except for the part about interviewing people. Now’s the time to take that out – before you do a terrible job at it and all your performance reviews focus on how bad you are at interviewing and not on how great you are at coding.

What else have you negotiated or wish you had negotiated?