Amazon, let me give you more money!

Dear Amazon,

I would like to buy more books from you. In order to be able to give you more money for more books I need:

  1. A Kindle reader for my G1 Android phone. If I could read my Kindle books on my phone, I would buy many more books from you.
  2. Kill Kindle DRM or at least make it possible for other ebook readers to display Kindle books. (This is really to solve problem #1, reading books on my G1. But this is the best solution to that problem. It would also enable me to read books on my Linux desktop, netbook, etc.)

I have no desire to break the law, I simply want to read more of the books you sell in electronic format. I'm willing to pay you for that privilege as long as you make it easy for me to read those electronic books on the device of my choice. This could be done without any extra work on your part if you would enable others to work with you.

Please help me to spend more money at Amazon.


Stormy Peters

P.S. This will be followed up with "Dear Publisher" letters to ask them not to give Amazon exclusive deals to their electronic books as it means that a large number of people that would like to read their books will not be able too. Something that Amazon could prevent.

P.S. II. I like the Kindle. I own one. I recommend it to my friends. But I would still read more Kindle books if I could read them on other devices.

P.S. III. Many of my friends are free software supporters and anti-DRM believers. They are usually also the people most willing to invest in new technology. They would be more likely to buy a Kindle if you fixed this issue.

P.S. IV. While we are at it, I would also like to be able to easily download and play Audible books on my Linux system and my G1. Again, you could enable people to do this for you if you would make the format available to others who produce hardware and music players.

Today's world is one of cooperation. Others could help you succeed in your business if you help them succeed in their business and their lives. Like your Amazon Affiliates program. Now please apply that to Kindle and Audible.

Thanks, I look forward to working with you and buying more of your products as soon as they work on all my devices.

Book Review: Managing the Nonprofit Organization

If you follow any of the links to Amazon in this post, any purchases you make will send a referral fee to the GNOME Foundation.

Peter Drucker‘s Managing the Nonprofit Organization
was full of good ideas. I started ripping off pieces of my bookmark to mark interesting pages and ended up with no bookmark!

Managing the Nonprofit Organization discusses mission, marketing, fund raising, performance, people, relationships and developing the leader.


According to Drucker, mission matters most in a nonprofit – much more than the leader’s charisma or talents. Non-profits exist to bring about change in individuals and society and focusing on the desired outcome is essential for defining plans, executing a strategy and putting the right people in the right roles.

A few specifics he had in this section were:

  • New ideas should be tried out separately – you shouldn’t try to convert the whole organization at once. “Babies don’t belong in the living room, they belong in the nursery.” I’m not sure I agree with the quote but I agreed with the idea that it’s often easiest to incubate an idea in part of an organization before you move it mainstream.
  • Focus on people’s strengths, not what they don’t have when hiring. He said in most interview processes people talk a lot about what each candidate is missing instead of the strengths they bring to the table. A criteria he really liked was asking the question: “Would I want one of my sons to work under that person? Would I want my son to look like this?”
  • Unlike for profit businesses, non-profits have lots of bottom lines, not just profit. Not just one constituent, one group they are trying to please.
  • Don’t forget to offer training for volunteers! Give them the tools they need and treat them not as volunteers but as nonpaid staff. (This idea comes up again and again in the book.)
  • Mistakes are part of education, as long as that person wants to try.
  • Measure leadership not by publicity but by how organization adjusts to change, how well does the organization deal with conflict, meet the needs of customers, etc?

He also talked a lot about the importance of understanding your mission and articulating it well. I paid attention in this section because a couple of the GNOME advisory board members have told me they couldn’t articulate GNOME’s mission. (It’s to provide a free desktop accessible to everyone regardless of ability, language spoken or financial status.)

His example of a mission that is often misunderstood is a hospital’s mission. Most people (even those working at the hospital) think that hospitals exist to keep people well. If that was the case, they’d focus on outreach to healthy people. A hospital’s mission is to help the sick. Knowing that changes how you work.

Marketing and Fundraising (He calls it “From Mission to Performance”.)

Marketing is not selling or advertising, as most people think.
Marketing is studying the market, segmenting it, targeting the right
groups, positioning yourself and creating a service to meet that
group’s needs.

What’s of value to your customer? Don’t start with
the product but with the satisfied customer. Companies typically learn
about their customers but they should focus on people that should be
their customers but aren’t.

On fundraising:

“Fundraising is going around with a begging bowl, asking for money because the need is so great. Fund development is creating a constituency which supports the organization because it deserves it.” I don’t think the term fund development has caught on but the point is a good one – you want people supporting the organization because they believe in the mission and how the organization is carrying it out, not because they feel sorry for all the people in the world that are starving.

This made me think we should change some of the GNOME goals from “hiring a system administrator” to being able to receive reports from users about problems in less than two minutes. Or something that shows how a system administrator will help with our mission.

He also pointed out you should make sure you tell your donors about the results you accomplish. “Educate donors so they can recognize and accept results” -” they don’t automatically understand what the organization is trying to do.”

Donors are customers – focus on what they need. Why are they supporting your mission?


Nonprofits have lots of people they need to perform for (unlike businesses.) Nonprofits need to satisfy employees, volunteers, donors, board, beneficiaries, …

He talked a lot about decisions:

  • Disagreement (but not fighting or bickering) is essential for good decision making. Fighting and bickering is a sign of a need of change – you’re probably set up to meet yesterday’s needs, not today’s. (Given the amount of back and forth I see on some mailing lists, I thought this was important. Perhaps those groups are showing that its time for a bigger change of mission or organization.)
  • If there’s consensus on a decision you probably haven’t decided much or people don’t really understand the issue. There should be discussion and disagreement.
  • No decision is made until someone is assigned to work on it. Some one accountable with a plan. And especially in nonprofits you need to think about what training and tools that person needs.
  • Make sure you really know what a decision is about – often the decision
    is a sign of a bigger problem and a bigger underlying decision that
    needs to be made.

I thought he had a couple of points that free software projects would agree with:

  • “Don’t tolerate discourtesy.” “One learns to be courteous – it is needed to enable different people who don’t necessarily like each other to work together.”
  • “Build an organization around information and communication instead of around hierarchy” People have to be responsible for educating their colleagues and bosses, for making sure they are understood.

And a few more points on managing performance:

  • Delegators rarely follow up with the people they delegated too but they should because they are still responsible for that work.
  • Never start out with the negative points in a review – you’ll never forget that part. Be sure to focus on the strengths – the things they can do well instead of the things they can’t do.
  • A big difference between businesses and nonprofits in his mind is that
    businesses are used to making mistakes but nonprofits think they have
    to be perfect. When mistakes are made, the focus should not be on whose
    fault but rather on who is going to fix this?

And one big one:

You have to be able to define what the results are – the results on the world, not the organization. I think this is one area nonprofits have a particularly hard  time with. Even when we define a result, we don’t know how to measure it. GNOME wants everyone to have access to desktop technologies. How do we measure that? How do we know if things are getting better? Is it when we have a complete free desktop? Or when more people in developing countries can access it? Or when it’s in more languages so that more people can use it? And if it’s all of the above, how do we measure it?


Drucker’s advice is to hire people with a proven track record not people with high aptitude for success. And to focus on strengths and the mission when placing someone.

He thought developing new leaders often takes more than just one mentor. He had example where a really successful leadership development program actually provided four “mentors” for each potential leader:

  1. a mentor to guide
  2. a teacher to help develop new skills
  3. a judge to evaluate progress
  4. an encourager to encourage them to try again when they made mistakes

I think some of my favorite managers were Peter Drucker fans, or at least they’d learned the same skills or had the same insights. He said something that I learned from my very first manager at HP.

“An executive’s first responsibility is to enable people who want to do the job, who are paid for doing the job, who supposedly have the skills to do the job, to be able to do it. Give them the tools they need, the information they need, and get rid of the things that trip them up, hamper them, slow them down. But the only way to find out what those things are is to ask. Don’t guess – to and ask.”

(My manager came up to me one day and asked me what I needed to do my job better. I came out ahead a new computer and a couple of meetings less. He was my hero! With more insight and experience now, I might ask for different things but the thought – that managers exist to help their employees get their work done – has stayed with me throughout my career.)

Some other tips from this section:

  • Build relationships with the people you serve. He had an example of a hospital that everyone loved even though it wasn’t the best hospital because the hospital always called a few weeks after a visit to follow up.
  • Treat volunteers as unpaid staff. Hold them to high standards. Give them responsibility, training, tools and hold them to it.
  • Make sure you don’t lose the top of your class, your best volunteers. Keep them inspired and everyone else will stay.
  • When working with a group of people (like the board), meet with them before hand, at least the key ones. You can’t change their minds in a meeting and even if you don’t change their mind, you will have set them up to understand what you are trying to do.
  • When building a team, start with what you are trying to do and then
    match skills with work. The purpose of a team is to “make the strengths
    of each person effective”.

He had a really good idea for meetings between leads and non-leads
that I’m going to try. Leads should say:

“This is what you are doing
that helps me. This is what you are doing that hampers me. And what do
I do that helps you? What do I do that hampers you.”

Developing yourself as a leader

This section started out with some excellent advice I wish I could get many of my friends to hear:

“The right decision is to quit if you are in the wrong place, if it is basically corrupt, or if your performance is not being recognized. Promotion itself is not the important thing. What is important is to be eligible, to be equally considered. If you are not in such a situation, you will all too soon begin to accept a second-rate opinion of yourself.”

I actually left a job because a promotion came up and my manager said that nobody that worked for him was ready for it. I could have understood if I wasn’t ready or a few of us weren’t, but we’d all worked for him for a long time. The thought that he hadn’t been working with us to make sure we were ready made me realize I wanted to work with someone who would provide more opportunities for learning and growth.

Some more advice in this section:

  • Change is necessarily to stimulate yourself. Burnout often just means you are bored. His solution to burnout is to work harder! But work harder at something a big different. Like volunteer at a different organization or arrange for a couple of visits to similar (but different) organizations. So when you are feeling burnout or stress, you should work harder! 
  • To learn from your work and life, write down what you expect to happen every time you launch a new activity. Then compare it to what did happen later.
  • Always answer the question “What do you want to be remembered for?” He points out that your answer should change as you get older and wiser!

I also learned some where along the way that the best job you could do is to work yourself out of a job – then the job was really done. (Note that some people get really nervous when you say this to them, especially when they are working for you! I always assure people that there’s plenty, plenty, plenty of work to be done out there.) The manager that taught me this must have also read Peter Drucker’s books:

“If I were to leave tomorrow, I don’t think it would make much difference. They would carry on.” That’s the proudest boast any executive can make, to have built the team that will perpetuate my work, my vision, my institution. That, in my experience, really distinguishes the true achiever.

So if you are interested in learning about management, Peter Drucker has some good insights.

Small companies or mega companies?

I finished listening to the The Wal-Mart Effect this weekend. The author's main point is that Walmart has gotten too large – or at least larger than we ever planned for when we planned how companies should be regulated. He argues that Walmart with $375 billion worth of sales is beyond market capitalization and beyond the checks and balances that the market is supposed to have.

And this morning I read a Wired article in which an MIT professor named Tom Malone says that large companies will grow so large that they will fall apart and become small companies that can communicate more effectively among each other than a large company can within itself. The article goes on to say that we are seeing this right now. Walmart is closing stores, huge financial companies are falling apart and large corporations are being more regulated, encouraging a lot of smaller companies.

I don't know if I buy it since the Walmarts near me seem to be doing really well and I don't see a lot of new small businesses. But I personally would like to see a world with lots of small independent companies than a couple of megalithic companies.

Book Review: The Marketing Playbook

I really enjoyed the first part of The Marketing Playbook
by John Zagula & Richard Tong
but it took me forever to get through the last two parts.

In the first part of the book, the authors (old Microsoft Windows and Office marketing guys) explain the five basic marketing strategies they see.

  1. The Drag Race. This is the scenario you think of when you think of competition. Microsoft Word versus Word Perfect. Visa versus Mastercard. There are two players and you both solve the same problem in pretty much the same way. Drag races are very expensive money wise and time wise. A lot of people think that GNOME/Linux are in a drag race against Windows. I’d argue that we aren’t going to win that way.
  2. The Platform Play. This is the play for the company that won the drag race. They keep potential competitors away by making them into partners. Think and all the brands they sell within their store. Amazon makes it easy for those potential competitors to be their partners.
  3. The Stealth Play. This play is about identifying and targeting a couple of niche markets and becoming really good at them. Then you can either take over the whole market one niche at a time or you can grow until you can win a drag race. I think this is where GNOME/Linux should go. There are niches that we are well suited for like users with accessibility needs, netbooks, mobile, … You don’t have to do lots of PR and adverting in this mode. You want to stay some what quiet and just talk to people in the niches you’ve identified. It’s not about sitting back though – you have to be one step ahead of the big guy (the one that’s won the drag race) in each of the niches you are targeting. The goal of this play is to eventually move to one of the other plays.
  4. The Best-of-Both Play. This play is about defining a whole new offering. Think of the car industry when Japan had cheap cars and Germany had luxury cars. Toyota decided to market a “Japanese luxury car”, an oximoron at the time. This is the personal computer – somewhere between a calculator and a mainframe. This play is about the product (a whole new offering) and marketing (you have to tell everyone about it.)
  5. The High-Low Play. This play is for someone who dominates the high end or the low end, or both, and is trying to compete with someone coming out with a best-of-both worlds product. You tell your customers that compromise, a product that meets the low-end and the high-end, can’t possibly work and you market your low end and high end products agressively. It’s a temporary play – the book recommends that you actually develop your own best-of-both products while you keep the competition from winning by critisizing their best-of-both product. This play is all marketing. (And in this play, the marketing they were suggesting definitely felt like lying!)

In the rest of the book the authors explain how to map the terrain (yourself, competitors, what’s missing, etc) and how to run your marketing campaign. I found those sections to be much less applicable to things I do in real life. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t work at a large company like Microsoft or just that they couldn’t put enough detail into a couple hundred pages, but it definitely didn’t give me much useful information. One interesting point though was who is the most important player in a given strategy.

  1. In the Drag Race, the main player is the salesperson. In an all out competition it’s about convincing people you are the best, whether it’s more features, faster, better, whatever-better than the other guy.
  2. In the Platform Play it’s all about business development because you are trying to build an ecosystem of partnerships.
  3. According to them, in the Stealth Play it’s all about the CEO. However, reading why, it’s really all about leadership. It’s about dedication, patience, long-term plays, staying flexible and motivated. That takes lots of leadership. (And I’ve found that leaders are all over an organization, not just in the CEO’s office.)
  4. In the Best-of-Both Play, it’s the product team. It’s really your product that will win this strategy.
  5. In the High-Low Play it’s all about marketing. You’re trying to convince people that two very opposite products are both the best without confusing them. So you need to define both in a way that doesn’t compete with the other and market each one to the right audience.

If you decide to read The Marketing Playbook: Five Battle-Tested Plays for Capturing and Keeping the Lead in Any Market, my advice is to quit reading when you get bored and you won’t miss too much.

P.S. If you are interested in trying out marketing, please join the GNOME marketing team!

Book Review: Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It

Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It
is a great book.

I've always thought that traditional work would eventually transition to contract work where people get paid to produce certain results. The problem with that is not all work fits contract work. Cali and Jody have envisioned (and implemented!) a workplace with traditional employment instead of contract work where people are measured by results, not time. I think that's pretty amazing. They call it ROWE, Results-Only Work Environment and they've implemented it at Best Buy.

The problem with most work environments today is that they reward the amount of time we work, not the amount of work we get done. The authors suggest a couple of strategies:

  • Stop making negative comments about time, "Sludge". So don't joke about how late someone got in, don't apologize for getting stuck in traffic, don't note what time email was sent. "Stop using the words early and late and antiquated terms like by the end of business today. Stop talking about how many hours you work or how hard you're working."
  • Make sure you are results-orientated. Every employee should know what their goals are and be measured on their results, not hours worked or time in the office.

By doing this, you treat employees like adults, they'll be happier and they'll do more real work as opposed to more made up work to look like they are working. (Like arriving at 7:30am and reading the paper online for the first hour.)

While the authors had a lot of good advice and how to, I wish they'd spent less time talking about how great peoples' personal lives are in a ROWE environment (I buy it but I think their examples just made ROWE seem like a boondoggle.) and more time on how much more work gets done. Because in order to get companies to buy in to ROWE, they need to understand that much more work will get done. Or at least the same amount of work will get done and employees will save hours and hours of "being in the office" or attending unnecessary meetings.

I also think that open source embodies the results-only model. In open source people only see what is done. They don't care how many hours you spent sitting in front of your computer. They don't care how many meetings you attended or how many conferences you went to. You are measured by what you get done. (I also think they are pretty good at recognizing non-code type work, but that's for another blog post.)

FYI, I liked the book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: No Schedules, No Meetings, No Joke–the Simple Change That Can Make Your Job Terrific much better than I liked the authors' blog.

You get what you measure. What my treadmill taught me about metrics.

Everyone knows that you get what you measure. But what my treadmill taught me is, you get what you measure whether you have goals or not!

I decided to start running again and I set three guidelines or goals for myself:

  1. Run everyday.
  2. Run 3 miles a day.
  3. Run on the treadmill.

I decided it had to be on the treadmill because when I run outside I have a tendency to start walking if I start thinking about anything interesting. (Hey, my brain needs that oxygen!)

But running on the treadmill turned out to be really good for another reason: I track those numbers, I measure those numbers, I compete with those numbers. Because my treadmill tracks time elapsed, speed, heart rate and average speed, I do my best to make those numbers better. Not because I have a goal set for them but just because they are there. If I'm going to look at those numbers, I'm going to make those good numbers.

So because those numbers are staring at me, I've created my goals for speed, heart rate and average speed. And every time I run, I work really hard to make those numbers better than the last time.

So if you want to make sure things get done, make sure you are measuring the numbers that you want to improve. If you want lots of Friends of GNOME, don't just say you want to raise $20,000 in 2009. Publish how many people have signed up, how much you have raised and update those numbers frequently in a prominent place. (And think about whether you want lots of people or lots of money or both because whichever one you measure, you'll get.)

P.S. And I should point out that since my goal was 3 miles/day, I only run 3 miles. Never 4. Another thing to think about when setting goals.

Photo by buzz.bishop.

If you have a problem, talk to the person!

A long, long time ago, in a land far away, when we used to dial a phone number to get to the internet, HP gave me a 1-800 number for internet access when I was traveling. Since I traveled a lot, I set my default number to the 1-800 number and merrily went along my way, dialing in on the road and at home.

Until I ran into a problem. I don’t remember what the problem was, but I had to call the help desk. The guy that took my call went “Oh, good! I’m so glad you called. You are our number one user, you spend thousands of dollars a month on dial up costs and it’s been my number one priority to lower your costs.”


“Um, you could have called me?”

Comcast’s announcement that they are going to add a usage limit to residential customers – a usage limit of 250 GB that won’t affect 99% of their customers – reminded me of that conversation. Um, why don’t they just call their residential customers that use over 250 GB and see what they can work out? And not worry or anger the 99% of people that aren’t a problem.

If I hadn’t called the help desk, I could imagine the company starting a policy that nobody could use the 1-800 number for more than 10 hours a month which would have inconvenienced hundreds of people and still cost them extra money if I used it 10 hours a month at home when I wasn’t traveling. (The solution we came up with was a local number to call when I was at home.)

Companies are not people – to think so is dangerous

One of the things that concerns me most with our society and legal system is not copyright law, it’s not patent law, it’s not our overcrowded jails, … it’s how we treat companies as people. Not only do our laws treat companies like people, but as people tend to do, we anthropomorphize companies. Companies are not people and we cannot expect them to behave like people.

It worries me when people attribute good or bad intentions to companies. Such as when Matt Asay points out the pitfalls in Google’s Chrome license and then says (I added the bold):

My concern is that this language is so broad that Google could, if it
were so inclined, invade user privacy on a grand scale. The terms of
service allow it. Only Google’s best intentions prevent it.

I also believe that Google’s current management has no intentions to do evil things with the data that Chrome gathers. But Google will own the copyright to all that data, and Google is a publicly traded company. Which means that Google can be bought. And no, that’s not bought like a person’s loyalty can be bought. That would be anthropomorphizing. Google could be literally bought – everything they own, including that personal data, could be sold, for money, to the highest bidder. And all that personal data would be owned by somebody else – or some thing else. And they might feel like they had a right to use it since they paid for it. They (if they is a company) might even have a legal obligation to their shareholders to use that data to make money.

So speaking of companies as people, with intentions, with goals, as good or evil, is a very dangerous way to think.

Companies are not evil. They are also not human beings. They can do great good or great evil … but not for the same reasons that you might do great good or great evil.

501(c): (3) versus (6)

501(c) organizations are US non profit organizations. 501(c) is actually the name of the IRS tax code that defines non profits.

There are actually 28 kinds of 501(c)‘s. I’ll focus here on just two:

They are both nonprofits, exempt from federal income tax.

Here are some of the main differences: (Note that I am not an attorney nor an accountant, so you should consult other experts if you are actually creating one of these organizations!)

501(c) (3) 501(c) (6)
Benefit to the public. Trade organization or group of professionals with related business interests. Benefit to the organizations members.
Donations are tax deductible. Membership dues are a business expense, but donations are not tax deductible.
Very limited political lobbying allowed. Any amount of political lobbying that is related to member interests.
Eligible for grants. Not eligible for grants.
Must limit activities to specified cause. Members must have common business interest.

The GNOME Foundation is a 501(3)(c) that supports “the goal of the GNOME project: to create a computing platform for use by the general public that is completely free software.” The GNOME Foundation is supported in its mission by many individuals and companies.

3 ways Amazon makes it really easy for me to give them money …

Amazon has perfected one part of the sales cycle: they have made it very easy for me to give them money. Anyone selling anything should think about their models.

First, they had Amazon Prime shipping. I pay $79/year. (I think it was more like $69/year when I signed up.) In exchange, when I order a book from Amazon, I don’t pay shipping and they deliver it in two days. (And often by the next morning.) So if I want a book, I just go online, find it, hit "Buy now" and it shows up tomorrow morning. It’s easier than getting in my car and driving 10 miles to the bookstore. (And cheaper now that gas is so expensive. Cheaper once I’ve already spent that $79/year that is.) So I give my money to Amazon instead of the local (chain) bookstore, because it’s easier. I also buy more books because it’s easy. (And before you tell me to use the library … most of the time my local library doesn’t have the books I want to read and when they do, there’s always a waitlist for them. That said, I love libraries. I still go hang out in them.)

Then they introduced Subscribe & Save. I never even think about diapers now. When we need them, they show up on the door step. Not only do I not pay shipping but I get a 15% discount. So I give my money to Amazon instead of to the local grocery store because it’s easier.

Then came the Kindle. Now I don’t even have to wait for the next morning. I just hit a button and I can read the first chapter and if I like it, I hit another button and they charge my credit card and I get the book. So once again, I give Amazon my money because it’s easier than waiting for my turn on Paperbackswap or going to the local bookstore.

And they’ve encouraged me to tell all of you about it, because if you click through and buy any of these (very addictive) products, they’ll give me a payback. You have been warned!

(And if they listened to me, I have ideas for how they could make it even easier for me to give them money. For starters, their wishlist functionality is so bad, I use several other tools to manage my wishlists. Also, my Kindle needs to be open source so that I can get all the features I want. But even without all those they are doing a pretty good job of making it really easy for me to give them my money.)