Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A modest proposal...

Well, not really so modest. ;-)

Actually, I want to record what I think is a darn good idea I came up with at FooCamp in late August in a session with Andrew McLaughlin, deputy chief technology officer for the Obama administration. Andrew was asking a small group of interested attendees for ideas on how to quickly disseminate time sensitive information about flu preparedness to ALL Americans - not just those people who are online. My suggestion: work with our nations retailers: food, drug and warehouse, to use their checkout couponing systems to spread the word.

Most merchants use computerized registers, and many retailers - especially large ones - print out coupons on your receipt based on what you've just purchased. For example, if you buy diapers you get a coupon for baby wipes. If you buy beer and hot dogs you get a coupon for BBQ charcoal and chips. Not every retailer gives you coupons; some print out their return policy, or info on an upcoming sales instead of a coupon, but the point is that their registers can print messages on each receipt.

This method won't reach everyone. People who live in areas not served by retail chains, most notably the low income inner city, and the far rural west and midwest will likely be missed. Some fill-in with broasdcast media, coupled maybe even direct mail will be needed to reach *everyone*, but using this medium should get relevant information into the hands of the vast majority of Americans within a week.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

FooCamp and Twitter

Okay. I've become a tweeter. See #catallman. FooCamp is amazing!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Transparency Camp West 2009 is over. Not quite as many people as we had hoped, but exactly the number we predicted, and a mostly productive group.

It's an interesting puzzle of how to manage sign-ups. In this case and other, we and whomever we are hosting want our event to be open to the universe of interested people, so we make the event free, but since our numbers need to be limited in order to have a productive meeting, we limit registration. People sign up, either because they might come or to show support for the organization we're hosting, or for the topic, but they don't attend, taking seats away from people who actually would attend.

One idea, suggested by one of the terrific crew at the Sunlight Foundation, is to charge a $20 "reservation donation", and refund it at the door. Anyone who doesn't show has just made a donation to the org - or we mail them a $20. Thoughts? Evil or practical?

I'd also love to find a way to prevent the inevitable attendance by relentless self promoters who come only to hunt for people to hire them, sometimes for completely off topic work. And the mercifully infrequent people with "issues". Ever been to an open mike meeting of any San Francisco or Berkeley political body? Yup - like that.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Greetings from Berlin

I'm in Berlin to give a talk at LinuxTag 2009. I've been looking forward to returning to Berlin after my talk at LinuxTag last year, so I've given myself a Saturday to be a tourist here. What follows in the next couple of posts is a series of my observations. (And yes, I think the talk went ok. I'm never terribly confident - and I hate the way my voice gets squeaky when I nervous (Note to self; remember to breath) - but 6+ people came up to me after to ask questions or to simply thank me for the talk and to tell me they enjoyed it, so I'm cautiously optimistic that I didn't completely suck.)

At least half the crows I see are are a kind we don't have in the US, the Hooded Crow. It's always pleasantly disconcerting to see something you know like the back of your hand that is, in fact, something that's new to you. It's one of my favorite things about traveling.

And there are bunnies in the parks :)

It's my last night in Berlin and I've just come from "Bandy Brooks": a small Berlin chain of ice cream stores. They told me as I bought a cone that the "backstory" for the chain is that it was American, like Hagen Daz pretends to be Dutch but is really made in New Jersey - but it wasn't until I was sitting outside, enjoying the mild evening and the foot traffic streaming by that I read the signage more closely and discovered that they aren't pretending to be American, they are pretending to be from "Confederate America", aka our southern states that seceded from the United States over slavery (and other things) resulting in the American Civil War. I think I just bought ice cream made for wanna-be slave owners. In Germany. Call me PC but I am creeped out. I know I should think, "Gone with the Wind", or "Colorful history of ardent support for states rights", but this was after one of my cab drivers went on and on in mercifully obscure English about how "Jews have all money, very rich!" feh I'm going to pack and go to bed.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My first article is live!

I was asked by Rikki Kite, Associate Publisher of Linux Pro Magazine to contribute to the June 2009 "Women in Open Source" issue of Open Source Business Resource. As weird as it feels to self-promote - heck - I'm jazzed! :)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Ok, so I was a *little* cranky when I wrote my last post. SIGCSE and the FOSS in Education workshop that preceded it were both informative and interesting events.

Greg Stein wrote a most interesting post on OS and the motivations of contributers - check it out.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My ignorance is embarassing...

I've recently become aware how ignorant I am of the recent and current state of computer science education, and of the limitations of secondary education all together. I went to UC Santa Cruz in the 1970s, when interdisciplinary education was fairly new in American education. While intellectually I know my college experience of small, dynamic classes lead by closely involved senior faculty who I knew by first name and felt free to argue with was a bit unusual, I honestly assumed that with the passage of time that this had become the norm. As for CS, my experience was second hand, through my brother, 3 years ahead of me at UC Berkeley. Again, I'd come to assume that he and his experience was not that unusual, at least not anymore. I'm always surprised when I meet tech people for whom their choice of CS for a major was *not* a matter of passion, an avocation if you will, but I always figured such people were unusual.

Boy, am I wrong!

I'm at SIGCSE getting my nose rubbed in the fact that I'm woefully mistaken. Apparently CS is vocational education for people who want a reliable paycheck, companies buy out curricula in order to produce fresh generations of cubical cannon fodder, Open Source and interdisciplinary studies are still unusual and suspect, and all my friends and family are freakishly committed, talented, and passionate about what they do. Wow. How insanely sad! Even that last part makes me sad - I love my F&F, but how scary is the world if they are that unusual! My default is to assume that people have a rich inner life, love to learn, and are passionate about their work. Apparently I'm wretchedly naive.

Monday, February 23, 2009


I finally got to attend FOSDEM this year. What a fascinating event it is - the most user-generated event I've ever seen in person. "More than an Un-Conference?", you might ask? Most definitely! Here's why:

-FOSS projects apply to have a room for one or two days during the two day event.
-The chosen projects are responsible for programing that space with content, be it "regular" talks, group meetings, or hacking space.
-Each group makes up their own schedule within the opening and closing time of the event.

There are invited talks too - very good ones I might add - but having the various projects settling their own agendas makes for a stimulating non-stop rush hour of interesting stuff to participate in. You definitely need a timepiece of some kind!

And if you happen to see a friend but don't have time to stop and talk - make the time! You likely won't run into them again! I made that mistake when I happened across an old friend, Teus Hagen of CACert.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cheap and Easy

Pet peeve time - don't settle for something just because it's cheap! Our lives are full of stuff, full to overflowing, and how much of it is stuff we bought, not because it was what we *really* wanted or *actually* needed but just because it was cheap. Cheap and there.

"If I just go ahead and buy it I can stop looking - I'm tired of looking."

"It will do for now."

"Oh, we'll replace it later when we find something we really like."

"It's nice for the price."

A bargain is not a bargain if it adds another piece of junk to your life. Speaking as an American, my life is full of mounds of cheap crap; knock-offs, copies, extras to have on hand just in case I need it some day: stuff I bought because it was cheap. Enough already. I'm not saying, "Never buy anything.", or "Only buy expensive things.", or "Give up collecting stuff." (God forbid ;-) I'm saying "Quit settling."

If you need something, save up and buy one good item instead of the big box jumbo 12 pack of cheap plastic copies of the original design. Buy one piece of art from a person, instead of the pre-framed "set of 4 original prints digitally reproduced on genuine canvas" from a catalog. Buy one worn but real piece of furniture at a thrift shop instead of dragging home a truckload of matching, assemble it yourself, veneer on particle board, "lifestyle accessories". Or find something on the street - my favorite chair is from the dumpster of my old apartment in Oakland. It's worn, a bit paint stained - and is an extremely comfortable classic of mid 20th century design. Classic as in "exhibited in museums" classic. I like the paint and the cracks in the leather - we're all going to develop some cracks and blotches some day. I don't need the equivalent of some porn star's bust in my life - do you?