The dangers of URL shortening tools …

I recently posted a dent/tweet to Nokia N900 Delay Highlights Maemo's Importance. Usually when I create a link, I test it before I send it out, but it was Friday afternoon and I was in a hurry, and it was just a link to an article, so I didn't test it.

… and I missed the last letter when I copied the link …

I posted without the last letter. Without the last letter the link redirects you to a site that most of us would prefer not to open at work, instead of a nice Business Week article about Nokia, Maemo and the N900.

So be careful when using url shortening tools!

And have a good weekend! It's time for me to go see if I can transform myself into Ms. Incredible for my son's Halloween Party. At least she wears all her clothes.

How do you make all your days productive?

I used to think that some days just weren't productive. And I wished I could figure it out at the beginning of the day so that I could spend the day reading or hanging out with friends. Then I realized that each day is different. (Or I'm different each day.) And the key is figuring out what I'll be productive at today.

(I also realized that reading and hanging out with friends is a productive use of time too!)

The problem is I haven't figured out how to tell at the beginning of the day what kind of day it is. So I start out trying to work on what I believe is most important or urgent, and if I don't get anywhere I start switching task types. Maybe it's writing, maybe it's catching up on email, maybe it's crunching those numbers, maybe it's making all those phone calls, maybe it's something mindless like filing expense reports. Usually I find it pretty quickly – or at least by lunch time – but I wish I could some how take my temperature and know what kind of day it is …

How do you figure out what you'll be most productive at on any given day?

7 Reasons Why Digital Books are the Way to Go & 4 Ways They Still Need to Improve

Digital books are getting a lot of hype right now with the announcement of Barnes and Noble’s Nook. I really hope digital books take off. And for that to happen we are going to have to have lots of digital books, multiple readers and different business models. Here are just some of the top reasons I think digital books are the way to go.

  1. Convenience. You can read the book when you want it. Recently I decided I wanted to read Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child. Since I was leaving the next day on a business trip, I first checked to see if it was available on my Kindle. If it had been, I would have bought it immediately. It wasn’t, but Amazon would ship a paper copy to me for $10.98 + $3.99 for next day shipping. I checked all the libraries of my home town and the three closest cities. None of the libraries had it. I called Borders, no go in any stores within 30 miles of me. I called Barnes and Noble. They had a copy in a store 13.5 miles away for $14.99. I didn’t get it. Yet I would have bought it immediately in digital format.
  2. Anywhere, any time. You can carry lots of books with you at once. I always read at least two books at once, a fiction and at least one non-fiction one. When I leave the house, I don’t have to decide which one to carry now. On long trips, especially vacations, I no longer pack half a suitcase of books. (That’s good since airlines now charge for checked baggage!)
  3. Privacy. Nobody can see what you are reading. Usually I’m happy to share what I’m reading but my business books get strange looks at the kids’ events. The vampire books get strange looks from lots of people. The science fiction ones get “oh, you read that?” I don’t care what anyone thinks about what I read but sometimes it’s easier to just not deal with it. That said, having a Kindle, I’ve passed my book over to tons of people so they could check out the Kindle. I’ve often wondered what they’ve thought about my reading choice, but without the cover, people don’t seem to notice what you are reading. Even when they’re reading a page of it.
  4. You read more. At least that’s what Amazon and the New York Times say. They say you read more because you can carry your book with you all the time and get what you want quickly.

    Amazon for example, says that people with Kindles now buy 3.1 times as
    many books as they did before owning the device. […] So a reader who had previously bought eight books
    from Amazon would now purchase, on average, 24.8 books

    I think they are confusing buying with reading. Kindle readers are definitely buying more books but I’m not sure they are reading more. I’ve always carried my book with me. I think I read the same amount now but I definitely buy more books from Amazon as that’s the only way to get recent books onto my Kindle.

  5. Notes. I love being able to highlight sections of books or magazines for personal reference or to blog about later. It beats typing in quotes. I really wish I’d had an electronic reader with textbooks in college. It would have saved my back and made taking notes easier.
  6. Physically easier. I know a lot of people that complain they miss the feel of a paper book. I don’t. I don’t miss holding open a paper back with one hand, or holding a hardback book in two hands. (There was a book I really, really wanted to read and I was so excited that on maternity leave I was going to be able to read it. I went and checked out this 600 page hardback book from the library and discovered that holding a baby and reading a hardback book is really difficult. Three years later I still haven’t read that book …) That said, I still mostly read paper books and I’m not going to give them up until I can check digital books out of my local library.
  7. Access. With digital books we can give books, entire libraries, to people around the world. While there are still barriers like cost and language, it is a huge step forward. Schools that could only afford a few text books per student would easily be able to not only have more copies (assuming they are also getting technology) but up to date copies. Hopefully universities, text book publishers and electronic reader manufacturers keep developing countries in mind as they come up with new business models.

We still have to fix a few things with digital books. Here’s just a start:

  1. Cross platform. I want to be able to read my book on any device I own. I should be able to read my Kindle books on my Android phone. Or my computer. It shouldn’t depend on the seller to support my device.
  2. No vendor lock in. I can put lots of different format books onto my Kindle, but the books I buy from Amazon will only work on my Kindle. (Or an iPhone if I had one.) From a consumer point of view, it would be much better for vendors to agree on a format, or a couple of formats, but make them open so all readers could display them.
  3. Sharing. People are used to sharing their books. Either we’ll have to teach them that these books are so much cheaper that everyone buys their own (not yet!) or we have to let them share. Right now Amazon lets you share with your household members and Barnes and Noble will let you share with friends for a total of 14 days per book. Or perhaps we could move to a model more like Netflix and the O’Reilly Safari bookshelf where you are getting access to movies and books but not ownership. A subscription model as opposed to a purchase model.
  4. Libraries. Libraries provide information, including books, to citizens. There needs to be a legal and acceptable way for them to give books in digital format to their readers. I could see a model where they pay more for their edition and ensure that only one person can access it at a time. 
  5. Skimming. It’s really hard to flip through a digital book the way you would a paper book. You can search for something by word but you can’t search by flipping through and recognizing the page.

What do you think (or not think) that digital books are the way to go?

It happened to me. What was your worst travel mistake?

I'm sure you have heard those travel stories … Like the executive who missed an important client meeting in Japan because he didn't realize his passport had to be good for six months after his trip. Or the sales person who booked tickets to the wrong city and had to rent a car and drive all night. Or the guy that forgot to book a hotel and the only free room for miles around was the $600 penthouse suite. (These are all true stories. I know the people they happened to.) Depending on your personality either you think "I'd never do that!" or "I hope that never happens to me!"

Well, it happened to me. I always figured if I was going to goof on my travel plans, I'd book a ticket for the wrong city. But no. I just booked a ticket to Brazil and didn't apply for a visa. The airline kindly informed me of my mistake the day of the flight.

What was your worst travel mistake?

Stormy’s update: September 28th-October 16th

This is my update for work done for the GNOME Foundation, reprinted from the GNOME Foundation blog. For a higher level overview for what I do as the Executive Director, see What do I do as Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation? or my earlier updates.

I went to two conferences during the past couple of weeks:

  • Grace Hopper Women in Computing Conference in Tucson, Arizona. I went to the Grace Hopper Women in Computing conference on a Grace Hopper scholarship, i.e. they paid for travel. In addition to attending the conference, I participated on the open source software panel. There were a lot of students there that were very interested in learning more about how to get involved with free and open source software. The only place they could find out about free and open source software was at the panel I was on and at the Systers Codeathon. Given our push to recruit more women, it seems like a great opportunity. Next year I'd like to see better representation from free software projects like the GNOME Foundation and Apache as well as some representation by companies that hire free and open source software developers, like Canonical, Red Hat, Novell, Nokia, … I'll be working on that.
  • Utah Open Source conference in Salt Lake City. (They paid for my travel as well.) I gave the keynote on Friday, Would you do it again for free? and I hung out at the GNOME Booth that Christer Edwards put together. He had a lot of really good feedback for the Event Box (we need a banner! we need to tell people what's important to point out at the booth!) and I passed some of it on to the marketing list. Christer got some great GNOME pictures with the booth webcam and told people about GNOME 3.0 and Friends of GNOME.

I had several one on one meetings with advisory board members. All of our sponsors have paid except for two – and rumor has it one of their checks is in our PO box or on Rosanna's desk! The other one is actively working on getting us paid. (Although it seems like these payments are late, we are doing much better than previous years!) I also asked our partners to help out with lots of events. Novell, Collabora and Google all helped out with the Boston Summit. Igalia is hosting and sponsoring a WebKitGTK+ hackfest and Collabora is sponsoring it as well. Canonical and the TIS Innovation Park are sponsoring the Zeitgeist Hackfest. Say thanks to their employees if you see them!

We had our monthly GNOME Advisory Board meeting on October 13th. The main topic was our finances and how we'd like to raise advisory board fees. Germán did a great job of putting together 2009 results and a 2010 budget. The meeting was one of the more active discussions we've had all year and we got several compliments on how prepared we are. It's also looking like most of our sponsors are amenable to raising the fees, which would be really good for our 2010 plans. (We had only one hackfest in the first half of 2009 because budgets were cut; we're hoping to avoid that in the future.) 

We had GNOME Board meetings on October 1st and October 15th. You can find the minutes on the wiki.

I had a one on one meeting with Brian Cameron to discuss progress and goals. He had lots of good suggestions. In particular we discussed things like how to get the GNOME partner companies more involved with marketing, how to work better with the FSF and how to get more women involved in GNOME. (Marina has been hard at work on our new GNOME Women's Outreach!)

I talked to the President of system76, Carl Richell. They make servers, desktops and laptops with Ubuntu installed. He works with a lot of the upstream
projects and was very interested in how he could work more with us. He'd like to give us some of their new hardware to play with and test. (Some of the new laptops/netbooks he was talking about made me want to start coding so I could get one to play with!)

I pulled together the Friends of GNOME September data. We have raised $23,415 this year! September saw a 40% increase over August, probably because of the release of GNOME 2.28. We have a goal of 10 new Friends of GNOME subscribers a month so sign up and tell your friends! The more subscribers we have, the sooner we'll hire a system administrator and the more hackfests we can do. I sent out thank you's to people who donated through Friend of GNOME.

Traded some ideas with Paul Cutler who is planning a Marketing Hackfest in Chicago for November 10-11th.  Novell and Google are sponsoring it. Say thanks to them!

GNOME Asia planning is coming along well and we are looking for sponsors. They will be announcing location (Vietnam) and dates (November 20-22) and putting out a call for papers any minute now!

Got a query from a professor about how students could contribute to FOSS projects – passed them on to the GSOC GNOME mentors list. I also got an invite to the annual HFOSS conference. Let me know if you are interested in attending and representing GNOME.

Gave feedback to the board on a bid for GUADEC 2010. Hopefully we will be announcing when we'll be (deciding and) announcing the 2010 location soon.

Continued to push for press release to announce our new advisory board member …

Booked travel for Latinoware where I'll be giving a keynote next week, attending the GNOME Day and the GNOME Women talk! Tried to go to Encuentro Linux during the same trip but the conferences are at the same time and quite a ways away travel wise if not miles wise. Started working on my presentation for the keynote.

Took some time off this past week to deal with non work stuff.

Worked on getting the GNOME Q3 2009 quarterly report out. We're almost ready! – just waiting on a few teams to submit their write-ups.

This week:

  • Latinoware in Brazil!
  • (And hopefully sending out the Q3 report if everyone's writeups come in.)

Book Review: How to improve your marriage without talking about it

I'm not sure I believe everything Patricia Love and Steven Stosny have to say in How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, but while reading the introduction, I decided they might have a point:

If you were to say to the man in your life, "Honey, we need to talk about our relationship," what do you think would happen?

If he would answer this question with something like "I thought you'd never ask!" or "I've been dying to share my feelings about our life together, and I especially want to hear how you feel about us and what you want for us," then neither of you needs to read his book. Most women would expect their men would get distracted, defensive, irritated, or fidgety, or roll their eyes or shut down completely; and most men would feel like they were being punished for a crime they didn't commit."

Since every time I say "we need to talk", Frank says "what did I do wrong now?" and nothing I say can convince him that he didn't do anything wrong, we just need to talk, … well, I was interested in hearing what the authors suggested.

Their reasoning is that men feel the need to protect and by saying something isn't going right, they feel shame. So the minute you say "we need to talk", they get flooded with hormones that make them anxious and shameful. Women, according to the authors, feel the need to connect and when something isn't going right they usually feel fear, primarily fear of abandonment. They go on to explain how this drives couples further apart.

They offer a number of concrete suggestions for how to work better together without getting into the same ritual every time. (Women are supposed to try connecting and emphasizing without talking or criticizing, and men are supposed to try helping and talking.)

I found many of their points useful to think about in terms of my kids. I seem to spend a lot of my time telling my kids "no" and while reading this book, I found myself thinking a lot about how that must make them feel.

So while I don't agree with everything the authors say (there was a lot of gender stereotyping), they did have a lot of really good ideas and things to think about. I'd recommend reading, How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It.

How to plan a hackfest

hackfest n. A meeting where developers gather together in person to work on a free software project.

Hackfests are one of the ways that things get done on free software projects like GNOME. They get lots of good work done, they energize teams and raise visibility of the project and its mission.

The free software community is great at getting things done in a virtual environment. Large projects can fix bugs, add new features and put out regular releases without ever meeting over the phone or in person. However, there are some things that can be done much more quickly in person, such as design discussions or future plans. For example, according to Seif Lotfy, at a recent meeting at the openSUSE conference, the Zeitgeist team accomplished in 4 hours what would have taken them several weeks to decide on mailing lists and IRC channels. A conversation around a whiteboard or even a piece of paper can clear up a lot of misunderstandings and get a lot of work done quickly.

In addition, at hackfests having everyone together for a week means that everyone is working on the project full time for the week (not just a few hours after work) and the project is energized. On average, a lot more work gets done in the weeks after the hackfest.

Hackfests are planned

If you are interested in a hackfest or think your project would benefit from one, it’s up to you to plan it. As people who have planned hackfests have pointed out me, organizing a hackfest isn’t easy. It takes time. Daniel Siegel, who has organized several hackfests, recommends you think about the following points:

  • Local. You should have local people! It’s very hard to plan a hackfest if you don’t have someone there to check out the hotel, venue and places to eat.
  • Experience. It always helps to get some help from others who have organized hackfests in the past, especially if it’s your first time.
  • Teams. You don’t have to do it all yourself. A hackfest can be coordinated by a team of people.

Steps to planning a hackfest

Here are the general steps to planning a hackfest. Some of the steps can be done at the same time, some can be done in different order.

  1. Identify a project or theme. GNOME has had productive hackfests on things from GTK+ to documentation to usability. Pick a project you care about that could use a boost of time and energy.
  2. Identify what you’d like to get done on that project during a hackfest. What’s the benefit? What are you looking to accomplish? This is key to making sure you get the right people and that you can find sponsorship.
  3. Who should be at the hackfest? Think not only the maintainers for the project but also related people. Does it make sense for someone from the usability team to attend your GNOME Shell hackfest? Someone from the accessibility team?
  4. Coordinate times. Find out if the people you are interested in invited can come and find out what dates would work for them. Some people might be able to get work time to come, but others might need to take vacation in order to attend. A good hackfest has anywhere from 4-20 people. Smaller hackfests tend to be more effective unless you can easily break your group up into productive subgroups.
  5. Identify a location. Next find a location to have your hackfest. Hackfests are usually held at universities or companies. But not always. The GTK+ hackfest was held in an apartment building that was rented out for the hackfest. People lived, ate and wrote code in the same building for the week. Often companies are willing to host a hackfest in a conference room. (Google is providing a room and food for the marketing hackfest.) Conference organizers have also provided space for hackfests during the conference. Don’t forget to think about travel – are most of your participants in Europe? Then you might want to hold it in Europe. Having your hackfest near a major airport minimizes travel time and costs and maximizes hackfest time.
  6. Pick a date. Your date will depend both on participants’ availability as well as when your location is available. The project can also play a role – we are doing a marketing hackfest in November to
    prepare for GNOME 3.0 marketing. The further in advance you pick a date, the easier it will be to coordinate travel and sponsorships.
  7. Get specific. Make sure your plans are specific. Once you’ve picked a project, goals, times, location and figured out your costs, be sure to make those plans public and make sure you are detailed about what and how you are trying to accomplish.
  8. Notify the GNOME Foundation. You will need to let the Board of Directors and the travel committee know your plans. You’ll need to let the travel committee know how much money you have for travel. They will then take travel sponsorship applications and make sure the money is used as effectively as possible. You can follow the new hackfest guidelines. Germán Póo-Caamaño from the GNOME travel committee says:
    • It helps if you can give the travel committee advance notice – it may take up to a month to process applications and let attendees know how much funding they can get.
    • Buying tickets early usually means saving money.
    • Encourage your attendees to be frugal, to search for cheap airfares and accommodation as it enables more people to receive travel assistance.
  9. Publicize. Let everyone know about your hackfest! This will help you get sponsorships and might also recruit additional participants that you may have not considered inviting. Good ways to publicize are blogs, posting on relevant mailing lists and direct mail to people you think could help out with publicity. You can also ask the GNOME press team for help. Although you are responsible for the budget, the board of directors, the press team and the marketing team can help publicize and look for sponsors.
  10. Travel. There are several parts to travel:
    • Housing. Having everyone stay in one spot not only saves money but also makes for a better hackfest as people tend to continue talking, designing and working into the evening. Good options are hostels and budget hotels. Some very successful hackfests have managed to rent furnished apartments that served not only as housing but as the place to hack during the day.
    • Food. Typically people are on their own dime for eating at GNOME events, but during a hackfest you may want to budget for pizza for a late night hacking session or coffee and donuts to get things going. Or sodas and chips to keep people happy while productively coding. Note that the GNOME Foundation only sponsors travel and accommodation costs. However, some times a company is willing to sponsor  food.
    • Providing travel assistance. Hackfests are most successful if you can help pay for the participant’s travel costs. Once you have a budget, let the travel committee know how much money you have and who you’d really like to have at the hackfest. The participants can then
      apply to the travel committee for travel assistance. If you are having them book their own hotel, that can be part of their application.
    • Getting people to the event. You should let everyone book their own travel to the event. They should pay it themselves. If they got a travel sponsorship from the GNOME Foundation, then reimbursement will happen afterwards. (Although the sponsorship amount should be agreed to before hand.)
    • Note that often companies will pay for employees to travel to hackfests or sometimes give them paid time off to attend the hackfest. Individuals should ask their company directly. You can provide a letter of invitation if necessary. (Ask the travel committee for help.)
  11. Sponsorship. Typically hackfests are sponsored by one or more companies with an interest in that project. Companies can sponsor by providing space, food, employee time, employee travel or money. Money is usually used for travel. In fiscal year 2010 the GNOME Foundation also has money budgeted for hackfests. Hopefully funds will be matched by corporate donations so we can fit in as many sponsorships as possible. Stormy and the Board of Directors can help you approach
    companies for sponsorships.

You can see a list of GNOME hackfests, past and future.

What airlines should really do about carry-ons

Now that most airlines charge for checked bags, I think they should charge for carryons or do away with them all together.

Charge for carryons

I'd divvy up the overhead into small compartments that would hold one rollaboard. Then I'd sell each compartment. You could buy an overhead compartment at the same time you buy your ticket, or when you check-in or at the gate. But not on the airplane. The idea is to make it faster to board – letting people buy space on the plane would make it slower.

I'd also give the IT staff the budget to put a little LED screen on each overhead compartment that would show the seat number of the person that "owned" it.

If there were unpurchased overhead bins, they'd stay closed and empty. The idea is to board quickly and smoothly.

Do away with overhead compartments

I think the best solution would be to remove the overhead compartments. I personally wouldn't like this one as I never check a bag and always take a rollaboard on the airplane. However, I think this would really speed up boarding. People wouldn't rush to board and then stand in the middle of the aisle looking for a place for their bag. They wouldn't walk all the way to the back of the airplane to put their suitcase up and then walk back to their seat while everyone is trying to walk the other way to get to their seat.

You'd have the space underneath the seat in front of you and that's it. In exchange, your flight would board quickly and smoothly. And theoretically the airlines would pay for less gate time so your ticket would get cheaper, but I wouldn't hold your breath for that.

To keep your frequent fliers happy, you'd have to improve your baggage handling process at the same time. You should never have to stand around for half an hour waiting for your bag to come out.

Doing away with carryons, like charging for food and baggage, would really only be a bandaid. The whole airline industry needs to change if it's going to succeed. But charging for checked baggage and not carryons is creating a mess and making air travel even less pleasant.

Photo credits: / CC BY 2.0

7 things that sure make me feel safer – NOT

I think we've crossed the line on safety. The inconvenience to safety ratio has gotten way out of control.  Pretty soon we'll all be wearing body armour to leave the house just in case an acorn is going to fall on us.

1.  Car seats for kids until they are six! You can't tell me those booster seats do much. And reverse facing until they are a year old? What baby wants to stare at the back seat for ever? But I have a friend that bought the additional safety story and now her two year old is still in a reverse facing car seat. Poor girl! Did you have to sit in a car seat when you were little? How many accidents have you been in in your life time? I think the car seat manufactures are responsible for the lobbying that brings us our current set of our car seat laws.

2.  Bike helmets.  I always wear my hockey helmet – I've hit my head hard playing hockey. Same with skiing. But biking around the neighborhood? I can't tell you the last time I fell on my bike much less fell hard enough to hit my head. And I (and most of my friends) have made it to adulthood without wearing helmets when biking.

3.  No pillows or blankets! Did you know that babies (in the US at least) aren't supposed to sleep with pillows, blankets or stuffed animals? Don't you sleep with a blanket? Can you imagine sleeping on top of your bottom sheet with nothing else for a year? I wish I'd never heard about SIDS. I think my baby would have been much happier.

4.  Tuna. Eggs. Milk. To eat or not eat? Eggs are good for you. No, they're bad. No they're good. Or "Pregnant women shouldn't eat any fish." "No, they should have at least three servings a week or their baby will be stupid." Just eat. In moderation.

5. Seatbelts on airplanes. I've used my seatbelt in a car. By "used" I mean it's tightened up and held me in place. But on the airplane? I think they just want to keep us in our seats.

6. Electronics on airplanes. Actually, it really worries me that they think my cell phone might interfere with the aircraft. Because half the time I leave mine on. Are we going to crash some day because of that?

7.  Airport security.  Do you really feel any safer now that nobody can take more than 3 oz of any one liquid on the airplane? Or that their shoes all got xrayed? (FYI, they can take much more than 3oz, they just have to take the time to put it in separate containers.) Personally, I'd rather have the hours this year that I've lost standing in line waiting for my laptop to get scanned. Not to mention getting the airport early. I used to get there just in time to get on my flight. Now I'm there in time to wish chair massages at the airport weren't so expensive. Oh, and to spend money eating expensive sandwiches.

And I could go on and on … what's your favorite safety pet peeve?

What types of questions were you not allowed to ask?

Earlier today I read an interesting article and tweeted:

4yos ask questions, 6yo have learned that teachers value right answers more than provocative questions
Then I shared that I was once banned from asking questions in a physics class because the teacher didn’t know the answers and thought I was trying to disrupt the class. (My question asking status was reinstated after the teacher talked to my awesome math teacher and got confirmation from her college professor that the questions really were hard questions without answers.)

I’ve been amazed at the number of really smart people who have shared similar stories!


Do you have a similar story to share? How do we help today’s kids not run into this?

For my part, I think I kept asking the “hard” questions because my parents and my other teachers were so supportive.