12 great gifts for traveling geeks. Please help with the list!

People often complain that it’s impossible to buy me a cool, geeky gift because I buy them for myself. (Actually, I only buy a few after much, much thought and deliberation.) I’m sure your family and friends have the same problem, so let’s prove them wrong with this post.

This isn’t my Christmas wishlist. (I have some of these and not others.) It’s just a list of cool gifts to drool over. I think a real list of geeky gifts was needed as I’ve seen several geeky gift lists lately that are terrible. Really useless gadgets. You’ve probably gotten one or two of those.

Here are some I’ve thought of. Please add any others you think of!

  1. A new phone. Like the Nokia N900 or Motorola Droid. Now you may say that they just got a new phone, but every geek wants the latest phone. And it doesn’t hurt to have two or three different ones to try out. (You should make sure the phone works with the cellular network they have. You can always buy an unlocked phone that will work with all networks. While it’s more expensive, it’s much more useful and therefore cooler. 🙂
  2. Digital book reader. If your geek travels a lot – or even if they don’t, they’ll enjoy a digital reader. If they already have one, you can upgrade them to the newest. (I like the ones like the Kindle
    and Nook that can download books wirelessly.) If they already have one, you can buy them things like a new cover or an attachable light. (The thing that most surprises people is that the Kindle is not backlit.)
  3. A smaller laptop. Note that not everyone wants to work on a smaller computer all the time, but they still appreciate having one for situations like conferences and travel. So buy them the latest netbook. Note that size isn’t everything. Battery life and weight are also important. (If your geek is a free software fan, make sure you buy one that works well with Linux. Some come with Linux preinstalled. Most will run Linux or Moblin.)
  4. A bigger monitor. While your laptop can never be too small, your monitor can never be too big. Not many people have a 30 inch monitor! (Note that as one of the commentors pointed out, resolution is also important – this one has a very high resolution of 2560×1600 which might be more than you need.) 
  5. A really cool suitcase. I think the Zuca Pro sounds really cool. (And I don’t have one. 🙂 [Update: I got one for Christmas! It is awesome – here’s my review.]
  6. Cool travel gadgets that are useful but not just extra stuff to carry. Like Eagle Creek Pack-Its. On the rare occasion that Frank and I travel at the same time, we fight over them. The one to fold suits works awesome.
  7. New types of computers on the market. Like Litl’s webbook.
  8. Kind of cool, not very common gadgets. Like this memory card for your camera that automatically uploads pictures when you come within range of a wireless network. I don’t think it’s the perfect gadget but it’s a cool idea. (You can buy them on Amazon too.)
  9. Eagle Creek inflatable neck pillow. This may not count as a geeky gift but if you know someone that travels internationally in coach, you should buy them one.
  10. External hard drives. You can never have too much space for backing stuff up. Or backing it up and taking it with you.
  11. All-in-one power adapter. This is probably the least expensive, most useful gift on the list.
  12. Moving alarm clock. Judging by the popularity of my 2005 post, Clocky, the moving alarm clock, is a very popular gift.
  13. Power strip. Hotel rooms and conferences venues are always short on power outlets. This compact Outlets To Go Power Strip even includes slots for USB chargers. The downside is it has three prong plugs. They often don’t fit well, so if you don’t need them I wouldn’t go with that option.
  14. Robot vacuum cleaner. I know several people that have the Roomba and are very happy with it. I know many others that would like one. (I’ve always wondered how it’d do with toys on the floor …)

And I probably should divide the list into <$50 and more than $50 as geeky toys tend to get expensive … and maybe into travel stuff and nontravel stuff …

What else? What gadgets, toys, electronics do you want?

Stormy’s Update: November 21st-29th

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.

Attended (and gave several planned and several impromptu talks at) the GNOME Asia Summit November 20-22nd. It was great to see GNOME Asia successfully transition to a an annual conference. The GNOME Asia committee did a great job last year and they managed to transition that success to another country and a new team this year. While there were some things that could have gone better (more lead time, more sponsorships), the conference was great and added a few unique nice touches like using local business students to interpret and handing out volunteer certificates to all 115 volunteers! GNOME Asia faces an additional hurdle that conferences in the US and Europe don't face. Not only do they have to educate attendees on GNOME but also on free software! 

Met with Erwann Chénedé and Leontine Binchy from Sun – it's always good to have a chance to meet companies and people involved in GNOME in person!

Spent 30 hours travelling home from Vietnam.

Worked with next year's local organizers, board and press on the GUADEC press release. (Zonker wrote the press release.) You'll see it Monday morning.

Set up plan and agenda for my trip to London for the OSS Watch advisory board meeting. (Also meeting with LiMo and Canonical.)

Got 401K plan set up for GNOME Foundation. Now we just have to set it up with our payroll company to roll deductions over to the 401K plan.

Got invited to speak at Open Mobility conference, Fort Collins Linux user group and the FOSS 2010 Research workshop. Accepted the Fort Collins user group. Waiting for GNOME Mobile group to figure out plan for Open Mobility. Thinking about the FOSS 2010 workshop.

Attended GNOME Board meeting.

Worked on CRM data structures and work flows, i.e. I wrote up what we need in the CRM system so that I can get help setting it up. (Jeff Schroeder installed CiviCRM on GNOME systems!)

Thursday and Friday were US holidays – Thanksgiving! I'm thankful for all the great people I get to work with in the GNOME community.

Yeah, questions!

I love presentations where the audience has lots of questions and comments. Not only does it mean the audience is engaged but the audience's questions (and their answers!) make the presentation richer.

So I'm quite excited that the GNOME Asia Vietnamese conference attendees ask lots of questions. (It's quite different from other Asian countries I've been to.) I've been asked:

  • What is a desktop?
  • What's the difference between GNOME and KDE?
  • How old are you?
  • What development tools would I use to work on free software?
  • Is this your first time in Vietnam?
  • As a woman, do you think IT is boring?
  • Where can I download GNOME?
  • How long are you staying here?
  • What do you think of the free software community in Vietnam?
  • Are there tools to help blind users use GNOME? (The guy who asked, who is blind, won the laptop running GNOME during the Lucky Draw. How cool is that?)
  • What did you study at the university?
  • Don't you want to sit at the front of the room?
  • Do you work at a university campus?
  • … and many, many more.

I've been asked questions during my presentation, during others' presentations, in the hall, … some of them make me want to ask the asker a bunch of questions in return …

Awesome community of volunteers … all types of volunteers

The GNOME Asia Summit has an awesome group of Vietnamese volunteers this year – over 50 of them! What distinguishes them from most free software events is that they are mostly women and mostly business students! They are also extremely enthusiastic, full of laughter and always eager to help or ask questions to learn more.

These students have been working hard to get the event ready, they show up at 7:30 every morning, they spend all day interpreting for the speakers and the foreign attendees and they are planning a party for speakers and volunteers this evening. They've been doing a great job of interpreting – especially given that they aren't familiar with free software and technical terms and given that most of us speakers are not used to working with interpreters and speak way too quickly and long. And they still have time to ask lots of questions, make the speakers feel welcome and to laugh a lot.

The GNOME community is a richer one, and GNOME Asia is a great event, because of them.

(As soon as Emily Chen or Andy Fitzsimmon's load their pictures of the volunteer meeting to Flickr, I'll add a picture of them.)

Deploying open source software is like hitting your head on a rock

On my first day of GNOME Asia, I was most impressed by the Vietnamese culture and people – I think it is one that meshes well with the open source community culture. One of those cultural traits is honesty and openness.

During the opening talks, the deputy director of the ICT Ho Chi Minh City government was very honest about the difficulties of switching to free and open source software. He talked about how he's spent the last five years trying to encourage more free software usage and has had a budget of $20 million. My favorite quote was "Trying to deploy open source software is like hitting your head on a rock. We hope the rock breaks soon." I sat next to him at lunch to learn more and hope to follow up further via email. During lunch I learned about the incubator program they have for startups and how those companies think it's safer to use .NET applications. However, after they are out of the incubator stage they have a hard time supporting their company off of support revenue.

Hopefully we can help them break the rock by showing them successful business models around free software and helping develop their pool of expertise by encouraging more students to learn and participate in free and open source software.

Stormy’s update: October 19th-November 20th

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.

Not as much detail as normal as I'm covering a much longer time frame … I'll be returning to weekly updates now.

Marketing hackfest. Helped plan and attended the first ever GNOME Marketing hackfest. It went well and we will be doing more. Thanks to Paul Cutler for putting it together. Thanks to the travel committee for getting everyone there. Thanks to Novell and Google for sponsoring it. Thanks very much to all the people that showed up to work hard on GNOME marketing!

GNOME Journal. Added a bunch of ideas for GNOME Journal articles. (Now we just need people to write them! Feel free to add ideas or write articles.) Recruited authors for the Women in GNOME Journal edition. Interviewed a woman GNOME advisory board member for it. Helped edit a couple of articles.

Published the GNOME Q3 report. Thanks to all the teams who submitted updates!

Attended the first OSS Watch advisory board meeting via phone. Will attend the first in person one in a couple of weeks.

Agustín Benito put me in touch with La Laguna College and we exchanged a couple of emails. They are interested in helping recruit more women to free software.

Forwarded several journalist requests to the appropriate people – most went to the release team with questions about GNOME 3.0.

Played around with several different views and methods of looking at my goals. Trying to find a better way to align goals to individual task items and to visualize how we are doing on larger goals. Plan to work on this further.

Got sponsors for hackfests (like the marketing one) and the Boston Summit. Wrote up a sponsorship agreement at the request of one of the sponsors. I plan to tweak it a bit make a sponsorship agreement that we can use for all GNOME events.

Attended free software women's group meeting.

Let the Teaching Open Source mailing list group that GNOME has people willing to speak about GNOME in their classes. Set Willie Walker up with RPI.

Talked to most of the advisory board members about raising advisory board fees for next year both at an advisory board meeting and one on one. Touched base with them in general.

Talked to Clay Johnson from the Sunlight Foundation. Got some interesting insights into fundraising and volunteers. I hope to interview him later about fundraising and post on my blog. He's planning the Great American Hackathon to develop free and open source applications for open government.

Sent information to Claudia to help her wrap up finances for the Desktop Summit. We are just waiting on one sponsor to pay us so we can close the books.

Spent 30 hours travelling to Vietnam. But it's been worth it! I'm currently attending the 2nd annual GNOME Asia Summit! They have an awesome team of volunteers. They recruited business and international trade students to help interpret for all of the foreign speakers. They are all very enthusiastic and having a great time! I've had a chance so far to speak to a city government official, local companies using and developing open source and lots of enthusiastic students!

GNOME Marketing Hackfest

Eight of us from the GNOME Marketing team got together in Chicago for a hackfest earlier this week. We had a lot of great discussions, came up with some good material for people manning a GNOME booth at conferences, a slogan and talking points for GNOME 3.0, presentation material for GNOME, ideas for mentoring GNOME marketing volunteers, conversations about recognizing GNOME contributors, fundraising, involving module maintainers in marketing, a plan for making GNOME videos and much more.

A marketing hackfest is a bit different than traditional hackfests as there isn't a single product that we are working on but rather a large project "GNOME marketing". We narrowed it down to marketing to end users (as opposed to developers or distirbutions) and GNOME 3.0.

We had a great cross representation of people. Paul Cutler (marketing team lead, documentation team member), Shaun McCance (documentation team lead), Jason Clinton (GNOME Games module maintainer), Denise Walters (marketing team), Brian Cameron (marketing team, director), Bryen Yunashko (OpenSUSE, GNOME a11y team), Vinicius Depizzol (art team) and myself. Kevin Harriss joined us one night for dinner.

To give you an idea of how it worked, the morning of the first day we worked on our event presence. We talked about what people willing to host the GNOME booth at a conference need. We have event boxes. In addition to what is currently in the event box we decided we needed to add a banner (which Vinicius worked on), tshirts for the booth staff (like Rosanna put in last time), stickers and a brochure about GNOME. Then we focused most of our effort on the text for the brochure (which will also be printed in Braille for the CSUN GNOME booth) and other material for the booth hosts like GNOME 3.0 talking points and an FAQ. We worked out an outline on the whiteboards and then we edited the documents in Gobby so we could all edit (and see each others edits) in real time. Occasionally side conversations would break out or we'd go to the white board to work out a major point.

As we had way more to do than we had time, we continued our agenda over into dinner. We had good dinner conversations about things like how to mentor new members on the marketing team and recognize all GNOME contributors.

We have lots of follow up to do now – everyone left with action items. When I expressed frustration that we still had so much to do, several people suggested we should have scheduled three days! We got a lot of great work done. Look for lots more help and materials for GNOME people representing GNOME to the greater community as well as new ways to reach out like through videos.

Thanks to Novell and Google for sponsoring the GNOME Marketing hackfest!


How companies leave the community out of the conversation

This morning I tried to attend a webinar, The Open Source Community vs. Patent Trolls – Preserving Developer Freedom. I knew the webinar was hosting on software that wouldn't work on Linux, GoToMeeting. (Actually, who knows if it will work on Linux. The web page checks your operating system and if you are on Linux, it won't even try.) I thought I'd just dialin. No such luck, you have to dialin to the webinar (on a Windows or Mac) in order to get the code for the phone.

That means they were not targeting this webinar towards the free software community nor the developers whose freedom they are talking about. They aren't even allowing them to participate.

What are they trying to accomplish with the webinar?

I have to assume they are targeting companies whose business they want. The title of trolls and protecting developers is catchy and spreads a bit of fear which hopefully they'll address (and dispel) in the webinar. The speakers actually probably have a genuine interest in reaching out to as many people as possible.

The primary purpose of the webinar must be to educate non free software users about an existing issue.

I had (erroneously) hoped that it would be a session to start a conversation about how we could all work to preserve developer freedom and fight patent trolls. But without the community, that conversation wouldn't be complete. And the community, the developers whose freedom they are interested in preserving, are overwhelming using free operating systems like Linux, not Windows or Mac, so they were not only not invited, they were not allowed to participate. (I gave them my name and email address when I signed up, so they have my contact info, but they still required that I dial in via the web page to get the phone number.)

As a Linux user and community member, I guess I was not the target market for this webinar. And that disappoints me as I think creating connections between companies concerned about patent trolls and community members working on projects that may be affected by patent trolls would be a good start to creating a community of companies and individuals interested in solving the problem of patent trolls.

This isn't an isolated incident

While I'm using a webinar hosted on GoToMeeting as an example here, this is not the only time this has happened to me.

If companies want to work with communities, they have to try to work with the community. Most free and open source software developers don't have Windows or Mac systems. Some developers don't have one for philosophical reasons. Many don't have them because they don't need them (they are using a free software desktop!) and they don't want to spend the time and money associated with maintaining one. It is much, much easier for a company to use a more Linux friendly webinar tool (or just hand out the phone code) than it is for a free software developer to go out and buy a copy of Windows or a Mac to attend a meeting.

If you work at a large company that uses WebEx or GoToMeeting and you are holding a meeting with free software developers, why not consider using a different tool just for that meeting? You can use a simple phone conference, share slides ahead of time, you can take simultaneous notes with Gobby (a free tool that works on Windows, Linux and Mac!) … But don't send the slides out ahead of time and still hold the meeting on WebEx or GoToMeeting – that makes some of the people feel like they are left out.

The focus (with developer conversations at least) should be on the conversation not on the slides or the lead generation.

Book Review: Microtrends, the small forces behind tomorrow’s big changes

It was difficult to read Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes. Mark Penn and E. Kinney Zalesne tell us about 75 trends they see in the United States. Each one is 3-6 pages long and not related to the others and that discontinuity made it hard to read. My main thought while reading it was "this would make a great blog" and it turns out there is a blog and a Wall Street Journal column.

I did find out some interesting things (that should probably be read with a certain amount of scepticism):

  • Terrorists are often middle class, well educated people.
  • Churches led by women are losing members on average compared to churches led by men.
  • Working for a nonprofit is cool. (I knew that. 🙂
  • There are some groups I've never heard of that are supposedly growing in numbers, like people that don't eat or don't use technology or hate the sun.
  • Geeks are social. Savvy tech users are very social. (But I knew this already – if in doubt just attend a conference like GUADEC or OSCON.)
  • Europe will have a much higher percentage of only kids in the future. This could be good as the oldest children in the family tend to do well. All astronauts are either oldest child or oldest boy in the family.

was an interesting read but it was more a series of articles than a book. I was hoping to learn much more about how they identify microtrends but instead the book was just about the trends they'd identified.