Conference Month

May will be a busy month of conferences for me. First, I travel to PenguinCon in Detroit this Friday to give a presentation about Coko and the Cabbage Tree Method. Then it’s on to Portland, Oregon to attend (and facilitate) the Open Source Alliance for Open Science 1 day conference Coko has organised. The next 2 days I’ll attend the CSVConf in the same venue.

Then I fly to Austin, Texas for the Community Leadership Summit. Then to Vancouver for the Shuttleworth Gathering. Immediately after that, I’m off to Albania to present on Coko and the Cabbage Tree Method at Open Source Conference Albania. Finally to Athens for a 3 day Coko PubSweet meeting. All in 2 weeks! Crazy time.

More Pics from Joshua Tree


It was a great hike on Joshua Tree. We hiked about 6-8 miles a day for 3 days through the park. The park is in ‘super bloom’ mode because of intense rains recently. Hence there was a ton of wildflowers. We also saw a lot of wildlife including a desert tortoise, a desert boa (!) and lot of chuckwallas. It was a pretty cool time, despite the near 90 degree (99 on the last day) heat (about 35 Celsius).




















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Thoughts about Facilitation

Recently Kristen (from Coko) and I were discussing facilitation styles and she made an interesting observation about some techniques I use. Essentially Kristen noted that I use devices to ‘give away’ power (my summation, I can’t remember her exact words).

I can see what she means – essentially, when facilitating you have a lot of power over the group. There are many things you can do with this power, you can wield it as if you are the expert on all things (which is what being an asshole is all about), you can use it in an exceedingly benevolent and generous manner (which is how I think master facilitator Gunner from Aspiration operates), or you can do what I do, which is to use humility and self-deprecating actions to share some of the power with the group… there are probably many more modes of course.

I think there is something to this, although I’ll need to think through it more.

Brief chat with Tony in the car

Tony Wasserman is an interesting chap. He is on the advisory board for Coko and has been around the open source block a few times (including being Director of the OSI at one time). He invited me to talk to his students yesterday (which was fun!) and was kind enough to offer me a lift back to San Francisco. In the car, we talked about my brief foray trying to make the argument to ‘the open source community’ that we need to invest in user-centric solutions models. Although Tony and I think of what this means differently (for Tony I think he considers strategies using personas and user interviews, and adding UX at the end of the project to largely take care of this, whereas I’m advocating that users design their own software), he had some interesting ideas on how to make this argument.

So, I want to scratch them down here so I don’t forget them.

First, he believes the argument can be made that open source has progressively solved a historical ‘stack’ of problems. These include (in order):

  1. infrastructure (operating systems, databases etc)
  2. developer tools (including libs etc)

and that there is a third tier that we are confronted with now:

  • the application layer

That is an interesting idea. It’s useful because it shows a forward momentum, which is a positive story, and also because we can show there are different types of problems to be solved. So the question is less ‘why does open source suck at the application layer’ and more about ‘how does open source solve these problems’ ie. it feels, when presented like this, more of a natural continuum.

Tony also brought up an interesting point when I was asking him for ideas on how to motivate ‘the open source community’ to consider new ways of working. His point was that user-testing in traditional software development processes is expensive and complex. Bringing the user into the process in a more ‘open source way’ solves the problem of ‘user testing’ in a more interesting way (it also, interestingly, places more value on the user when thought of like this). While this isn’t the whole story, it is a point worth pondering.

It was an interesting chat.

Pondering the Timing of Technology

When giving a presentation to students at the Silicon Valley Carnegie Mellon University campus last night, I was pondering the timing of innovation. As the famous techie saying goes, ‘being too early is the same as being wrong’…. It seems that there are two simple sides to the timeline:

  1. tech that is too old for the time causes frustration (eg existing legacy tech)
  2. tech that is designed to be too far forward looking won’t be used

So, the sweet spot is targeting tech that is ‘just far ahead enough’ of where we are now to both solve the problem and be adopted. Which is brings to my mind many interesting things about innovation. Innovation, for example, is not about being a visionary and building that future, rather it is a matter of keeping your head in the future but your products just a little ahead of the here and now (so users will understand and use them), and evolving them over time.

This may mean that on some days you might feel you are building ‘old ideas’.

Brief Lecture at Carnegie Mellon University

I just did a lecture at Stanford to an Introduction to Open Source class lead by Tony Wasserman. The students were awesome and I was grateful for the invitation!

Correction: It was the Carnegie Mellon University campus in Silicon Valley 🙂 For those interested in the course contact Tony