Back in college, my mom called me and asked if I could check on my sister. My mom lived 10,000 miles away and hadn’t heard from my sister in a while and just wanted to know if she was ok. These were the days of paper letters and long distance phone call charges. I made a lot of long distance phone calls (expensive for me in those days but cheaper for me within the US than for my mom overseas) and tracked my sister down to Denton, TX where she’d taken a summer job. The letter must have gotten lost in the mail.
This morning someone asked about a former colleague who they haven’t been able to reach. Intrigued I checked his blog. No update since February. Same with Twitter. No updates since February. Same with LinkedIn. Now the question is, is he ok? Or did he choose to go off the grid? I found some Github activity in May, so probably he went quiet on purpose. Then I checked his Strava profile. He ran 48.9 miles in June so I think he’s ok.
And now I feel creepy for stalking him!
Could you go offline? Really offline? Or stay online and hide your tracks?
Anything You Want is a book by Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby. Derek shares how he created a muli-million dollar company (supposedly he sold it for $22 million) as well as his philosophy around why you should start a business and how he ran a company. It sounds like he’s a pretty unique individual and some of his ideas are pretty thought provoking.
Derek insists you should focus your business on what adds value to the customer. When he started CD Baby, he was really just looking for a way to sell his music without a distributor. He ended up creating a website and setting up a merchant Visa account. (This was in 1997, pre Paypal and pre lots of web tools.) A friend asked him if he could sell his CD too. Before he knew it, he had a warehouse of CDs from independent musicians and an online business. His goal wasn’t to make money selling their CDs (although he did) — his goal was to enable musicians to reach an audience.
When thinking about your “business plan”, he recommended pushing yourself. Ask what you’d do if you only had $1,000. If you wanted ten times as many customers. If all your first assumptions were wrong. If you had to do it without a website. If you wanted to franchise it. He recommends examining your life that way too. Plan your life for the next couple of years. Then think, “Now you’re living in New York City, obsessed with success. Go!” Or “Now you’re a free spirit, backpacking around Thailand, Go!” And keep imagining …
He also has some really unique views on running a company. It’s hard to tell if his tactics worked really well or if he’s just not telling us about the daily trials; he very successfully ran a very large distribution business and he doesn’t talk much about the logistics. His uniqueness comes through in things like hiring friends of current employees without an interview process and putting the friend in charge of making sure they are trained and successful. He also worked hard to empower people. When he made a decision, he made sure to explain why so that someone else could make the decision next time. It’s also worth pointing out that he didn’t seem very interested in running a business and was very hands off. His idea of success was a business that ran itself (which seems like a great business goal!) and eventually he realized he wasn’t very interested in running it at all. He put the company in a charitable remainder trust and sold it. Now he lives off the trust and the remainder will go to music education when he dies.
The book Anything You Want is a really short read if you want to give it a try. It took me about an hour on the airplane to read and I enjoyed it.
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!
With an unprecedented number of friends visiting New Orleans in the next couple of months, I put together my top list of things to do.
- Spend evenings on Frenchmen Street rather than Bourbon Street.
- Walk down Royal and check out the antiques.
- Have the double chocolate bread pudding at Red Fish. (We usually split an appetizer and the bread pudding.)
- Have goat cheese crepes at Muriel’s at the bar.
- Take the cocktail tour. There’s lots of fun historical stories involved.
- Talk to the locals, especially on buses.
- Have stuffed chicken wings at Nola’s.
- Take the street car out to the Garden District and walk around.
And a bonus one:
Enjoy! And then tell me what you’d add …
- 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!
- Schools Aren’t Teaching Kids To Code; Here’s Who Is Filling The Gap. This article is about how US high school students are not learning how to code and how a nonprofit Code.org is helping to fill that gap.
- Startup Lab workshop: How Google sets goals: OKRs. This hour and a half video is an insightful look at how Google manages their quarterly and annual goals and how startup companies might use that same process.
- Firefox Developer Tools Highlighter. Are you a developer and want to weigh in on how developer tools work? Now’s the time to talk about the highlighter. (Mozilla introduced the Firefox OS App Manager this week too.)
- Regular Bedtimes Tied to Better Behavior. This makes me feel better about my super strict bedtimes! I do it because I think you sleep better if you go to bed at the same time everyday and I think sleep greatly affects how well you think and therefore how well you learn.
- Google’s five questions every business should address on mobile strategy. Google publishes a mobile playbook – this is Econsultancy’s summary of what’s important in it. One interesting tidbit is that “68% of mobile searches actually occur at home where there are other larger screen devices available.”
Other interesting links:
Not an article but a top site:
- The Old Reader – it’s just like the old Google Reader complete with sharing, navigation, look and feel. Thanks to Justin Crawford for telling me about it!
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:
Amazon Prime Kindle 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.
I read an awesome book last month, Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Connor Grennan that made me realize that in addition to saving the world and solving big problems that affect millions of people, we also need to make sure everyone has a champion.
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.
The Mozilla Summit is coming! On June 15th, 50 Mozillians got together for a planning session and I discovered just how much Mozillians focus on getting great things done!
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, , and 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.
- Iain Bank’s books were highly recommend and they were by far the most discussed books. Debate was around which of the books was the best to start with: The Player of Games, Use of Weapons or Consider Phlebas. Sean Kerner, Emmanuele Bassi, Ross Burton, Luis Villa and Hubert Figuière all participated in the discussion. I think my book group should thank Havoc Pennington though. He said “as long as
storming knows it’s likely to be the most revolting thing anyone’s ever read” made me rethink Iain Bank as a book club recommendation. I did add his books to my own wishlist though.
- 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 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.
- and 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.
- 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.)
- Ross Burton and Luis Villa both liked Ken MacLeod’s Fall Revolution series but warned it is not easy reading.
And here are all the other great recommendations, many classics with a few lesser know but (at least for the ones I’ve read) great books:
- Dune was recommended by Frederic Crozat.
- recommended The Prisoner of Cell 25. (And I discovered I’d bought this book two months ago and haven’t read it yet. I bumped it up!)
- recommended James Patterson’s The Angel Experiment as an easy read for those not used to sci fi. (And I didn’t realize it had turned into a series. Adding more to my wishlist.)
- recommended The Songs of Distant Earth.
- recommended short stories like Time Considered, Aye, and Gomorrah, and We in Some Power’s Employ.
- recommended The Handmaid’s Tale. I thought this one would be a great one for my book club. I even thought about pretending I hadn’t read it.
- recommended Manifold: Time by Stephen Baxter.
- recommended the classic The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I think humorous science fiction can often be bizarre to non scifi readers.
- recommended A Scanner Darkly.
- Flowers for Algernon was suggested by Neil Levine. I agree it’s an awesome book. My book club has had a streak of lost their memory, lost who they are type books though. Plus I’ve read it.
- Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson was suggested by Perry Ismangil.
- I Am Legend was suggested by Neil Levine.
- 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.
- Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson was suggested by furicle. I remember really enjoying reading this series but I can’t say I remember many specifics at all.
- furicle also suggested Armor by John Steakley.
- andreasn1 sugggested The Other Side Of The Sky (And he’s talking about the one by Arthur C. Clarke not the The Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir by the woman from Kabul. I think.)
- as well as I, Robot. The book where Asimov’s 3 laws of robotics were developed. There was also a movie made with Will Smith.
- Emmanuele Bassi suggested Accelerando
- and Robopocalypse.
- Ross Burton suggested The Night Sessions.
- Luis Villa suggested Wiliam Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. I really enjoyed this one. It made me think of branding in a completely different light.
- Luis Villa also suggested John Varley’s Steel Beach.
- Federico Mena Quinte suggested a different John Varley book, The Persistence of Vision. (It looks like you may have to hit the library or the used bookstore to find this one.)
- as well as Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. (What an awesome name for a book!)
- suggested Eifelheim by Michael Flynn
- as well as Connie Willis’s books on time travel To Say Nothing of the Dog (funny, according to Deb) and Doomsday Book (darker).
What would you add to the list?
Which ones would be best for people not used to reading science fiction?