Little Princes is about this guy who decides to quit work and travel around the world. In order to look less like he’s on a boondoggle, he decides to stop in Nepal and volunteer at an orphanage. While there he falls in love with the kids and makes a personal commitment to several of them. He also discovers that many are not really orphans but rather children whose families are trying to save them from being recruited as soldiers.
When he finds out that 7 of the kids he promised to help have gone missing, he starts a nonprofit, raises money and goes back to find those 7 kids. He sees hundreds of needy children, but he hunts for those 7 kids. (He also opens an orphanage and does a ton of great things along the way.)
I struggled with that for a while – his ability to continue hunting for 7 kids while tons of others could have used his help. He passes hundreds of kids who need his help and focuses on finding those 7. At some point, I think I would have given up and gone to work fixing the political system that caused the problem. Trying to fix it for just 7 kids would have felt pointless. Then I realized that I fight every day for the 2 kids in my house. I help hundreds of kids indirectly through my work but I am a champion for the individual kids that live in my house. And they have not just me but their dad and a huge extended family of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
So everybody needs someone who is fighting for them as an individual. And all of us need to fight for the individuals we believe in as well as the causes.
So what does this mean? I think we need to focus more on relationships, not just causes. In the open source world, we do this a lot through events and blogging. We do it when we say we’re a “meritocracy” and each individual earns their role. We value the individual and form tight bonds that aren’t dissolved when someone changes roles or gets hired or fired. The individual is more important than the role. The project is made up of individuals.
I think there are also opportunities for a different kind of mentorship. A much more accountable, visible mentorship.
We met to help shape the Mozilla Summit (a 2,000 person conference happening later this year) in a way that would move Mozilla forward. We spent the first day talking about top issues and the second day planning out the topics and sessions.
Photo sent to me by Shez (But Shez is in the picture so not sure who the photographer is!)
Of all the trips I’ve taken this year, I think the Mozilla Summit Planning Assembly was the one I looked forward to most – a chance to help shape the future of Mozilla and have great conversations with people who are passionate about the same things I am! I also admit I was really worried that we were too big of a group to get anything done. Turns out I was not alone. We all showed up ready to set the content and agenda for the Mozilla Summit.
A day of tough discussions and building trust
We had some excellent conversations Friday night and Saturday. We did a number of different exercises designed to start conversations and pull out key themes. For example, we started out Saturday with an “unpanel”. Four people sit in the middle of the group. They have a conversation. There’s an empty chair as well and whenever someone in the audience wants to join the conversation, they slide into the empty seat and one of the four sitting there self selects to go back to the bigger circle leaving an empty chair as an invitation for the next person. While at first it didn’t seem very different than a big group conversation where you passed around the mic, it turned out to be a great way to keep the audience engaged in the conversation. Every one was listening hard. The topics we covered were varied but a lot of it centered around non paid staff vs paid staff relationships – culture and responsibilities. We also talked about things like whether there’d be technical roadmap decisions made at the Summit, how people like to communicate, etc. One of the key takeaways for many of us was that we were all worried about similar issues!
Over the course of the day, two themes arose:
Old timers and new hires are having a hard time trusting each other at Mozilla. I’m sure I didn’t get all the nuances but it felt to me like old timers think new hires might not have the “Mozilla DNA” and might not have an appreciation for our mission and open source methods. And new hires think old timers are stuck and so concerned with consensus they aren’t always getting things done. Over the weekend, I think we made great progress in killing that stereotype and building good relationships that bridge the gap. (Lukas Blakk wrote about this experience as well.) I have to admit that personally I’m not sure where I fell on this stereotype other than feeling rather annoyed at both groups and some how personally responsible for both stereotypes. As a hiring manager, I’ve hired many of those new people. As a long time open source community member, I feel like it’s my job to make sure the “open source” way is considered and well represented. I also think that part of the problem is how members of each group introduce themselves and represent themselves to the world – more on that later.
Mozillians like to get stuff done! By the end of the day, we were all extremely uncomfortable with all of the discussions, panels and world cafe exercises with no clear idea of how it was going to produce an agenda for the Summit. Luckily our leaders and the Unconference organizers heard all of our concerns and when we turned up the second day, we got to create a rough outline of an agenda and topics for the Summit!
Getting down to work
On the second day we did a “World Cafe” exercise. We had about 7 rooms and 3 time slots and everyone wrote in the topic they wanted to cover in one of the slots. We then did some consolidation and managed to squeeze everything into the ~20 slots.
The idea was to cover themes or topics we thought should be covered at the Mozilla Summit. Each session was to identify Session Title, Goals and Outcomes, People for Followup and What has to happen between now and the Summit. They were all captured in etherpads.
All the sessions I went to had great conversation. It was rather tricky to focus on how that topic would be covered at the Summit instead of just discussing the topic. We tried to focus on how the conversation would best happen at the Summit: what type of presentation it would be, how much should be a proposal vs a discussion, if it was one presentation or a theme, etc. Some times the topic you signed up for was not the topic your group ended up proposing. I attended discussions on communication, diversity (Dino and Lukas have a great diagram for a starting conversation!) and helping companies that aren’t used to “open” work with effectively with us.
Then Mark, Debbie, Mitchell, Kate and Mardi grouped all of the topics into themes – interestingly “People” had the most topics. Other themes included Strategy, Product, Process and Purpose.
So now we have themes for the Summit. And a lot of proposed topics.
I found it really valuable to spend this time as a group planning for a big event. When you are going to bring 2,000 people together (in groups of 600) I think it’s essential to spend some time uncovering what the real issues that we need to discuss are.
My take aways:
In addition to the bigger goal of planning the Summit, I took away a few more key things:
It’s important to work together, preferably in person. We built a lot of trust over the weekend – trust that would have taken much more time to build during our regular day-to-day lives and over the internet. I hope we can take that experience and bring it to the Mozilla Summit.
Mentors. After a conversation with Gandalf, I came away thinking part of the solution might be holding mentors more accountable and some how measuring their success over time. We also discussed short term mentorship projects too.
How you introduce your self matters. With a few exceptions, most of the volunteer Mozillians introduced themselves as being “a community member” or a “Rep”. Most of paid staff introduced themselves by their functional role or team, “Firefox for Android”. This is natural as while we all feel like part of the greater Mozilla community, paid staff has in general been hired to do a particular role. But I feel like it’s a big part of the disconnect.
Lots of communication formats are needed. Lawrence Mandel pointed out that not everyone does well speaking in front of large groups at conferences, so whatever format the Summit takes, it needs to enable lots of communication vehicles, meetings, parties, irc, etherpads, newsgroups, … a way for everyone to find enough of their comfort zone so that they can be comfortable enough to participate fully.
The Mozilla Summit Planning Assembly was one of the trips I was most looking forward to attending this year and it lived up to my expectations! I’m very excited for the Summit now! (And for all the planning that still has to happen before then!)
I asked on Twitter and Facebook and it started a lively debate. Add your thoughts below!
Here were the most recommended and discussed books:
Ender’s Game is a classic that has probably been read by almost all scifi fans. Jan Nieuwenhuizen, Filip Hanik, Jon Lotz and Debbie Moynihan all recommended it. As Debbie pointed out, it will be a movie this year too and will likely be read by a much wider audience. The government is recruiting children to be part of their army. They are trained together and play mock battles. The main character, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, is a child genius who struggles growing up in a school for soldiers – growing up with a bunch of other kids can be lonely.
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi was recommended by Laura Dragan and Emmanuele Bassi. This military sci fi book is really about humanity. The 75 year old protagonist signs up for the military in exchange for a new, young and enhanced body. Scalzi is often compared to Heinlein – I love both their books.
Neuromancer was recommended by Emiliano Figueroa and kbedell. I really like William Gibson but I find the way his players plug into and travel through cyberspace a bit confusing at times. (Although I totally want to try it!) I don’t think I’d recommend them to people who don’t read much scifi but maybe I’m underestimating their readability.
Debbie Moynihan and Rikki Endsley recommended Ready Player One. I haven’t read it but it sounds like it’s about a future where most people spend their time escaping in virtual reality playing games – including a game that’s supposed to contain the winning lottery ticket. It’s extremely well rated on Amazon.
Mary Beth recommended Wool Omnibus and full heartedly agree. I read the whole series in a row and was thinking the whole time it would be a great book for those not used to reading scifi to experience some of it. The Wool Omnibus. The first part of Wool is free for Kindle right now. (Be warned though, you will be hooked and have to buy the rest of them.)
Sean Kerner suggested Asimov’s Foundation. I’ve been thinking about rereading that series. As soon as I get through the rest of these great books that I haven’t read yet.
Neil Levine suggested The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. It’s similar to Old Man’s War but instead of old people getting young bodies to fight aliens, young people go fight aliens and Earth ages without them.
While the diet and the ideas behind The FastDiet are pretty intriguing, the book doesn’t add a lot of value.
I was expecting something like Good Calories, Bad Calories. Something with a bit of research and data behind it. Instead you get a brief overview of the diet with a few pointers to studies, a few quotes from doctors at longevity institutes and then lots of advice for how to eat 500-600 calories on the fasting days. Not worth the $9.67 I paid for it.
I also checked out their website which has a brief overview of the diet, but no pointers to any studies.
The diet in summary:
Eat normally 5 days a week.
“Fast” on two non consecutive days. “Fasting” means eating 500-600 calories preferably in 2 meals spaced widely apart.
Their theory is two fold:
Your body evolved under situations that required “fasting” and during those times it spent its energy on repairing itself. So fasting will cause your cells to regenerate, decreasing all sorts of bad things like high cholesterol, cancer and signs of aging.
You’ll eat less, so you’ll lose weight. They quoted a study that said people eat more the day following a “fasting” day, but it was less than 125% more, not double what they would have eaten normally.
In addition to the proposed health benefits of the diet, they advocate that it’s much easier to follow than most other diets like low calorie or low carb. I do agree with them on that. I think it’s easier not to eat for two days a week than it is to count calories every day but they did not have any studies to support that.
Most of the evidence in the book was the authors’ own experiences, quotes from a few doctors at longevity institutes, pointers to a few studies and a bunch of letters with anecdotal evidence.
The diet is an interesting idea, but the book doesn’t do much more than explain the diet and the authors’ theories.
The Starfish and the Spider compares two types of organizational structures. Spider organizations have a central command structure, like a CEO. If you detach one of the spider’s legs from the head, the leg can no longer function. It is not autonomous. Starfish organizations have very distributed command structures. Cut off a leg and it will continue to function and will even grow other legs and turn into its own starfish. Each type of organization has its benefits and drawbacks and each are useful at different times. One key to success is understanding what type of organization you are in, its strengths and weaknesses and when you might want to act more like the other type. Hybrids are also possible. For example, GE under Jack Welsh transitioned from a spider to a spider/starfish. Traditional companies tend to be more like spider organizations and open source software projects tend to be more like starfish.
Some of the points in The Starfish and the Spider made me wonder whether money can change an open source project into a more traditionally organized and closed project. And if it has that potential, what we can do preserve the best of open source while introducing money.
As I discussed in “Would you do it again for free?“, I’m very curious about how open source organizations work and in particular how factors like motivations, companies and pay change them. I’ve theorized that pay can change an open source developer’s motivations. It’s not usually bad for the project (especially if the payment is in the form of salaries) unless the money goes away. If the money goes away, if for example the developer gets laid off, then I think the developer will quit working on the project but will switch projects, not quit working on open source software projects all together. (Assuming they were working on open source software before they got paid to do it.)
But what happens when money gets introduced suddenly into an open source project? I think it depends on how the money is used and how much its distribution changes how the project is run. In most cases, access to money has greatly helped open source software projects in a number of ways.
Developers. There are a lot more developers working full time on projects like Linux and Firefox than there would be if no one was paid to work on them. And those developers contribute more than just work. They bring ideals and values to the project.
Team building & communication. More resources means being able to bring more people together – and not to just hold the conference but to actually pay for people’s travel expenses if needed. GNOME, Apache and Mozilla all help pay for contributors travel to key events when needed.
Infrastructure. Money can also provide for project infrastructure, hardware and hosting costs.
Skills. Money can also be used to bring in resources that open source software projects have traditionally had a hard time recruiting or finding in their volunteer staff such as marketing and business development.
Given all the benefits that additional resources can bring a project, I think having access to money is definitely a good thing for open source software projects. (And I’ve spent a lot of time personally helping projects effectively raise and use money through efforts like fundraising for GNOME and serving on the Board of Directors for the Software Freedom Conservancy.)
I do think there are a few things to keep in mind though.
Money often concentrates power. This is not so much an issue when the money is used for salaries, but more an issue of when resources for things are not accessible to all project members. Or the process for getting access is not communicated well. The Starfish and the Spider shares the example of how the Apache Indians were ultimately defeated. The Apaches were definitely a starfish organization. Tribes followed their leaders because they believed in them. If a leader was killed, people would continue to fight and a new leader would emerge. How were they defeated? By cows. The Americans gave the Apache leaders cows. Once they had cows, they controlled a valuable resource and became an authoritative leader and the power structure became hierarchical instead of flat. Once the organization was hierarchical, it was easier to control. So it’s important to make sure that control of resources reflects or supports the project structure.
It’s hard to spend money. Many open source software projects, especially those with relatively small amounts of money, struggle with how to spend the money effectively and fairly. If you have $500 and a project with 10 people, how should you use it? You could reward everyone with a dinner at a conference, but most of them would probably rather you spent the money on the project. You could pay to fly someone to the next hackfest that would not ordinarily be able to afford to attend. With a little bit of money (I heard under $10,000), it is often hard to spend the money. It’s more work to figure out how to spend it and use it, than it’s typically worth. Especially if the project doesn’t have an organizational entity associated with it.
Most financial transactions require an authorized person. In most countries, signing a deal with another organization requires someone to sign the deal. So to enter into any kind of business relationship whether as a client or a partner or a provider, an organization must have someone with authority to sign for the organization. And for tax and liability reasons, you need an organization to collect money and sign agreements. It’s possible to give that authority to someone in a way that’s consistent with the values of a starfish organization, but it requires some thought.
Money can do a lot of good for open source software projects but some thought needs to be given to using it in a way that will do long term good.
A food printer. That’s right, a printer that will create any food you want from a few basic ingredients. I don’t think it’s quite done yet. And I certainly don’t need it. Pasta on demand might just do me in. But I’d feel like I was living in a science fiction book, which would just be cool. Seriously, I can see how this would help out on long distance space travel or remote science stations.
A smart thermometer. I have to be one of the pickiest people about the temperature of my surroundings. In my car, I play with the thermostat all the time and I keep a space heater in my office so I can turn it up and down at will. If the Nest thermometer could read my mind, I’d get it in a heartbeat. Maybe it just needs a sensor that I could wear …
Smart clothes. Actually, what I really want is a suit of clothes that just keeps me the perfect temperature all the time. And protects me from skin cancer and frost bite and all that. Oh, and it should stay clean and be comfy – no space suit. And stylish. I’m happy to wear the same outfit every day if it can do all that.
A wearable implanted computer. I want the computer totally out of the way. (They keep suggesting brain implants, but that makes me a bit queazy.) And the display should be either in my brain or in my contacts. No glasses or big eye contraption. This one comes close but still requires glasses.
Better input methods. Speaking of wearable computers, typing is too slow. I’d like to be able to think my emails and communications. No more slow typing. No mistaken speech recognition.
Something better than email. Speaking of email, there’s got to be a better way to communicate.
A teleporter. I spend way too much time in airports, cars and planes. If I could teleport, working remotely and visting friends and colleagues would be much more enjoyable. My 6 year old thinks we should make a teleporter that could take the whole house. I told him parking might be a problem.
If I can’t have a teleporter, maybe a Tesla. I’m not too into cars, and I don’t know really why I want one, but I think the Tesla is awesome. I got a chance to check out the sedan a few months ago in California and I’ve been wanting one ever since. Not quite badly enough to pay the price though. But a high performing electric car with lots of space that still gets 300 miles to the charge … wow.
Or maybe a catamaran. Maybe I could find a nice warm location with awesome snorkeling, lots of sun and still decent wifi. Not this one though. The guy went down below (whether to use the head or to see is wife is still up for debate) and left it on autopilot. No more catamaran.
A declutterer. Someone who makes all the stuff you accumulate disappear. Like my mom used to do. I never realized that she got rid of old clothes until a few years after I left home and I realized my closet was overflowing. Someone or something that could distinguish between my kids’ treasurers and all the random junk they accumulate and keep the first and lose the latter. Without asking them. Because everything is a potential treasure if you ask them.
I had an awesome chicken salad in an avocado during one of my business trips. It was midnight when I got to my hotel and the only option for food was take out from a nearby deli. And I was very happily surprised by the chicken salad in an avocado dish. I’ve raved about that dish for a while now.
Today my awesome guy surprised me with this for lunch.
And yes, I know I need a lot of practice before I become a professional food photographer. Frank says I also need to write down what’s in the foods I enjoy. He seems to think it’s important to know if there were apples or jalapenos in the salad.
Not only was the thought awesome – it made me feel cared for – but the dish was delicious.
Many of us working on free and open source software have strong values and we want to make the world a better place. I’m comfortable predicting that the rate of vegetarians, recyclers, hybrid vehicle owners and just general environmentally conscious people is higher than average in free and open source software projects.
But how much can you restrict your partnerships to those that perfectly align with your values? Is a company evil if it doesn’t match your values in all areas? I personally buy products and have business relationships with companies that I may not be 100% aligned with. (Although some may be too far from alignment.) Sometimes it’s because I haven’t done any research – I buy gas where it’s most convenient not from the most environmentally conscious gas provider. Sometimes it’s because there’s not much of an alternative – if I want high speed network at home, Comcast is my option. Sometimes it’s because I think that while they are not perfect, they are providing a service that makes my world better.
If you partner with someone who doesn’t share all of your values, assuming the partnership goes well, you have a chance to influence them. My friends are much more likely to listen to my opinions than someone I’ve never had a coffee or a beer with.
Now, I realize that open source software projects are often less in the position of partnering and more in the position of accepting donations. But again, I think your chances are greater for being a positive influence if you are working with them than if you are not. You should examine the organization’s motives and make sure if you are part of a political play, that you are comfortable with that move. I still remember the wealthy individual trying to build a big chain store in the town I lived in who donated a house to a family in need. While it was a great donation, and I would thank him for it in person if I saw him, I also know it landed him on the front page of the paper in a positive light at a very controversial time. Should the family have turned down his donation? Probably not. Should those that were anti-big-chain-store have done something differently. Probably.
But the fear of being associated with a company that’s not perfect or of being used as part of political play should not hold us back from investigating options and starting partnerships.
I think open source software projects often hold themselves back. They don’t investigate partnerships that could be beneficial because the other organization is not perfect. Proprietary software is not evil – a lot of really great innovation has been led by proprietary software companies. And doing business with an organization that has proprietary software will not make an open source organization any less good. There will be no perfect organization just like there is no perfect person. You have to recognize the opportunity for good in people and organizations and work with them where it can make sense for both of you.
Make the world a better place through partnerships because if you insist on doing it all yourself, it’s going to be a long road. Personally, I want to visit the stars someday, so I hope those that share a vision of star travel work together even if they don’t always agree on how to do it. I want to live in a world where everyone has access to computing power and the internet and control over their experience and their data. I think in order to do that, we’re all going to have to work together. And we’re going to have to work with those that might agree on pieces of our plan but not the end vision, and that will be ok. The super helpful Comcast guy might not share my vision of the world, but he helped me make it possible for me to continue working on it.
The number of long form blog post have been declining for years. Most speculate that it’s because most of us spend more time microblogging on Twitter and Facebook. Certainly, when I started blogging in 2004, I blogged a lot of things that I would only tweet now. In November 2010, Jeff Bercovici wrote on Forbes:
53 percent of hobbyist bloggers say they update their blogs either somewhat less or a lot less than they have in the past. […]
Those who say they’re blogging less often were then asked to say why. While the most popular answer was “work/family commitments,” the next two most common choices were “I am devoting more time to microblogging (eg. Twitter)” and “I am devoting more time to social networks.”
I think it took a bit longer for that trend to happen in open source software and my technology blogs, but it has come. I found myself really missing good blog posts by independent individuals and decided to see if it was my imagination, or if I really was reading less blog posts than I used to and here’s what I found on my two favorite planets: (Numbers not 100% accurate.)
While I didn’t have a good way to measure microblogging numbers by the same authors as were in Planet, I do know that most of the people whose blog posts I miss are regularly posting on Facebook or Twitter.
The thing is, I miss reading all those blog posts. I’ve tried looking for more blogs to follow but not been really successful at finding new ones. I’ve tried reading more nonfiction books but books don’t provide the same type of thought food or blog ideas as blog posts do. Neither do tweets or Facebook posts.
At the same time, I have to admit my own blogging has gone down drastically from an average of 6 blog posts a month in early 2011 to an average of maybe 1 a month now.
It’s possible that microblogging is a better medium for the 5 blog posts a month that I now tweet instead of writing. And that the one post a month I write is the only one that should have been in long form to begin with. But I don’t think so. I think I am just sharing less well thought out ideas.
What do you think? Do you miss blogging? Have you noticed the decline of blog posts? Do you miss them?
During the past week I’ve had work, play, family, friends, interesting dialogue, …
I attended two Mozilla offsites last week. Offsites are are in person meetings that last between a day and a week. Different teams at Mozilla have been using them differently and I still think we’re working out the perfect format but meeting in person once in a while seems to be essential. (Many open source software projects have some sort of annual meeting as well as smaller get togethers.) In my experience in person meetings are really good for team building and at a decision points in the project. And because you don’t always know when you’ll be stuck on a decision, I think holding them regularly helps. Holding them too often can hurt productivity as most of the team has to travel, so there’s some balance to be found and it depends on where the project is.
At the Mozilla Engagement leads offsite we went over goals, budget and hiring for 2013. My group is publishing their goals and projects on the Mozilla wiki … for example, you can discuss the MDN 2013 goals and you can see the Firefox OS work that the evangelist team is working on. We also established that the overall Mozilla Engagement team is very globally diverse. While we have quite a few people in California, our team is spread around the world. (We now have 4 that I know of in Colorado!)
At the Mozilla Apps Leads offsite we had discussions about apps, Android, Firefox OS, Marketplace, developers, … more about that coming out later.
I then got a scare … an email that said my flight would likely be over 4 hours late and might be cancelled due to the rains in the San Francisco area. I got home alright but I wish I could have transported the rain home as well.
We went on our annual Christmas tree pilgrimage. We found a terrific tree – aided by the fact that we didn’t have to wade through deep snow. For the first time in 10 years, there was no snow on the ground in December in our mountains. Things are not looking good for our forests next year. Not only was it extremely dry, there was a lot of beetle kill (i.e. dead trees) and there were active fires just a few miles south. So the tree was easy to find. Hauling it out without a sled proved to be a bit more difficult … (I also thought they should have asked everyone to bring out a couple of beetle kill trees while we were there, but I’m sure making changes like that to US forest policy would take a bit.)
We attended a fundraiser for Colorado nonprofits held at our local brewery – our youngest was delighted to get a root beer in a bottle. We got to visit with friends that work and volunteer at CASA and ELTC. As you buy your Christmas gifts this year, don’t forget your nonprofits – whether they are your local nonprofits or your favorite open source software supporting nonprofit!
Kids on Computers is planning our next set of schools. We’re working on getting computers to a new school in Oaxaca as well as expanding to two new schools in India! We had a meeting last night and it looks like the India schools will get set up in the spring. The computers for the India schools will be funded in large part by a grant we got from Yahoo!
Several interesting discussions about Firefox OS and how and when to get developers phones to try it out. I’m very excited about Mozilla moving into mobile. There was a really interesting article by Giga about mobile developers that Havi pointed us to. Most app developers seem to be men in their 30s working for small companies. I could have guessed the men part and the 30s part wasn’t surprising. The small companies part was interesting. There’s a lot of good info in there.
I read a bunch about Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband and Fitday. I wish the Jawbone Up worked on Android so I could put it on my Christmas list.
Watched my 6 year old wrap all of his presents for Christmas by himself. The excitement is contagious!
Learned that it’s unlikely I’ll ever get a computer screen built into my contact lenses as your eye can’t focus on anything that close. I’ll just have to push for that brain implant. One of my favorite book scenes is in one of Peter Hamilton’s books where the protagonist goes into a computer store to pick out a computer that fits into her brain. I wanted to go shopping with her!