Kids on Computers is planning a trip to the Huajuapan de Leon, Mexico area in June. If you can, please join us! If you can’t, please consider donating to help the labs we’ll be working on.
Most of us will be going down for a week or so. There are travel stipends available for those willing to spend a month helping in the area.
What could I possibly do to help? I ask myself this every time I go. Especially since I usually drag my kids along. Here are the things you can help with.
Technical skills. If you can plug in computers, troubleshoot basic hardware problems, install Linux on lots of different kinds of old hardware, figure out why a mouse isn’t working, any of those things, you’ll be very much appreciated! We have to have at least one Linux guru on every trip. The rest of us follow directions. Upgrading 20 old computers in a school with no internet can be a long, manual process; it goes faster with more hands.
Language skills. This trip is to Mexico. A large majority of the volunteers will not speak fluent Spanish. None of the kids and teachers in these schools will speak much English. If you can help translate, that’s a huge benefit. Not just when setting up the labs but when figuring out where to get supplies or going out for dinner. And if you don’t know the Spanish words for technical gadgets, it’s sometimes a really funny experience, especially when you’re not sure what you are trying to describe might look like. I’d never used ethernet crimpers until a trip to Mexico.
Teaching skills. When we teach a class, we like to have lots of helpers. Helpers to show people how a mouse works, how to double click and how to change windows. Often neither the kids nor the teachers have used a mouse or a keyboard before, much less opened an app or saved a file.
Logistical, herding cat skills. When you have 4 or 5 schools you are trying to work with, all spread out in different towns and 8 or 10 volunteers with different skills and you need a Spanish speaker with each group and someone who can figure out why the network is down in this school and someone who can update Linux on 4 laptops in another school … you need some logistical people. People who can help track who is where and what needs to be done.
Documentation and note taking. We have all sorts of things we should and try to document. What computers are in which school? What’s installed on them? What finally worked to get Linux installed on that computer that had no USB drive? What should we bring next time? What worked in that class? What didn’t? What apps did the kids use the most? Every evening we try to spend some time working on this, but having someone dedicated to documenting what we’ve done, what works and what still needs to be done, who could do it while we are at the schools, would be great.
Errand runner, make things out of paper clips person. We are always missing something, short something, need something. We soldered ethernet cables at one school! After stringing them across a road!
Besides just logistical efforts, there’s the benefit to you and what your support brings to the area.
Support local efforts. I recently read this effort that said international volunteers are often just in the way. I agree, that sometimes local resources exist and if they are there, you should use them. In our case, I think there are very few people with technical skills in the little towns we go to. We do try to pull in local university students and technical people whenever possible. And we have to go back frequently, because going once, setting things up and then leaving isn’t helpful. They get new teachers, forget passwords, computers break.
With the travel grants, we hope to get local university students from nearby towns involved. But the other major benefit of bringing in outside people is that you get local people excited about it.When we set up 18 de Marzo, because we were there, we were able to bring in local media, the local school district, the mayor … because we visited the school, the school got more interest from local supporters.
Unfortunately, they still don’t have internet access nor an accessible high school. But they do have a super involved parent organization and a full time computer teacher funded by student families!
Spread the word. If you go on vacation to Huajuapan de Leon, you’re going to have the experience of a life time. And you are going to share your pictures and stories with all your family and friends. A few of them may join us next time. Or donate. Or just be more aware of the world.
Spread your horizons. I take my kids so that they can see that kids have fun without Xboxes. They have a blast playing soccer and making new friends. And, yes, they did find the only arcade machine within miles. In the back corner of a little tiny store tucked away on a side street.
What to expect?
It’s slow. Most of us are used to scheduling every minute of our time and being as efficient as possible. It doesn’t work that way on a volunteer trip to rural Mexico. Just getting there takes a while. We fly down to Oaxaca, spend the night. Walk across town the next day, get a van ride, drive through the mountains, walk to our hotel. Work doesn’t start until 2-3 days after you leave home!
It’s not perfect. This is a volunteer run trip. And each trip presents different challenges. And not everyone has phones. Almost no one has internet. Getting from school to school means coordinating rides, arriving to find out they weren’t ready for you or the teachers were on strike, figuring out what equipment you need, what some of you can do while a couple of people drive all the way back to town to buy as much ethernet cable as they can, waiting around while your most seasoned Linux guru figures out why the installs aren’t working, … if you enjoy the people, what you are trying to do and use the time to get to know each other and the schools better, it’s great. If you came just to do technical work, it’d be frustrating.
Friendly people. The other volunteers and especially the teachers, families and students are awesome. Everyone is appreciative, helpful and outgoing. Just super. The parents usually feed us. Lots of people give us rides. Some people open up their houses. My kids make friends everywhere. Terrific people.
Not completely modernized. We stay in Huajuapan which is a decent sized small city. It’s got lots of restaurants and a few hotels. Grocery stores and mobile phone shops. And the water is often not hot. And the sidewalks can prove challenging. You might end up riding in the back of a pickup truck. Or walking a long ways in very hot, humid weather. On the good side, there’s no McDonalds and all the little shops are very interesting and very reasonable.
Beautiful. The area around Huajuapan de Leon is gorgeous mountainous country side.
Pretty inexpensive. Airfare is a bit pricey but after that it’s not expensive. Hotel rooms run $10-40/night. Dinners might run $3-15/person depending on what you decide to eat. So you can stay there pretty inexpensively. The van ride to Huajuapan is so cheap, I can’t figure out how the price of the ride from Oaxaca can cover gas. I spent a good hour of the trip doing math in my head and I have no idea how they are making a profit. Cabs around town are just $1-2, but cabs out to the other towns where are labs are can be quite pricey. (The cab drivers are friendly though. Avni and I took a cab out to Saucitlan de Morelos once and the cab driver was not just worried about leaving us there when we couldn’t find our friends, he was worried about the whole town because they had no phones and no cell service!)
So should you come? If any of that sounds fun, absolutely. We need you and you’ll be doing good in the world while having fun. If you can’t, no worries. If possible, contribute to some cause to make the world a better place. You can donate to Kids on Computers!
How do we bring the next billion people online? Ben Davis suggests three points: (1) alternative funding models like a $35 Android tablet funded by advertising, content and networks, (2) apps that can switch between web and SMS depending on if they are online or not, (3) devices that make it easier for developing world’s computer programmers like Raspberry Pi.
Evernote CEO on how company was saved at eleventh hour. Evernote CEO Phil Libin’s key moment was deciding to build a product they loved. And then there would be others that also loved it. That’s a message I’m sure will resonate with many open source software fans. Note that I think you can make a product you love that you realize you are not the main user. (For example, I may love kids books or certain type of toys and realize they are for an audience that is not 100% like me.) Another point to me in the article was that this wasn’t the founders’ first company. It took them a couple of companies before they founded one with a product they loved!
Why Android First is a Myth. Startups typically pick iOS or Android as their first mobile platform. Steve Cheney theorizes that most startups go iOS because it’s cheaper and the opportunities for making money are greater.
The Good Men of India. A lot of violence in India against women by men has hit the news lately. Don’t forget all the good men in India who value women and families and have helped make their countrywomen successful.
Everyday Jet Lag. We all have a time of day we’d naturally wake up. Trying to mess with that can affect your health – including causing you to gain weight.
Last month my book group read The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, aka J.K. Rowling. Although I wouldn’t call her my favorite author, I loved the Harry Potter series – I started reading the first one on an airplane ride home and actually sat at the airport to finish the book before I drove home. I was really curious what she’d be like writing in a different genre. I was particularly impressed that the book did well before anyone knew she wrote it.
I confirmed for myself that the genre matters to me. The Cuckoo’s Calling was a good mystery. It was full of details that kept you guessing until the very end but in the end I didn’t find the story fascinating. I actually found the descriptions of London, the city, the locales and the different types of societies much more entertaining than the plot. I’d say J.K. Rowling has both been looking at real estate and getting glimpses into other lives like the rich and famous and models.
I missed the book group discussion but heard that half the group loved the book and half hated it … that makes for some good discussion!
So what do you think, would you like your favorite author in any genre?
If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can check out a book a month on your Kindle without paying anything extra. The problem is it’s really hard to search for which Kindle books are part of the program.
Here’s a link to an Amazon search result that will show you all the Prime eligible books:
You can also get to this page by going to Amazon, searching in books and checking the “Prime Eligible” box but half the time the box doesn’t show up for me and I can’t click it, so I just bookmarked the link.
Now I just wish you could check out more than one a month …
Disclaimer: my affiliate code is in the link above so I will get a referral fee if you buy a book using that link.
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.