All posts by rbowen

Why do I have this business card?

I’m not much for “life hack” kinds of articles, but …

I come back from every conference I go to with a stack of business cards, and the question “why do I have these cards?”

I have tried so many ways to remember why I have particular cards, and ensure actual followup. Write a note on the card. (Invariably it gets smudged, or the available space isn’t enough to actually communicate what I’m supposed to do with the card.) Scan it into Evernote (Kinda sorta works, but somehow I never follow up n them.) Email myself a photo of the card with some notes. (This is pretty good, but involves actually doing it immediately after the conversation, so that I don’t forget, which seldom works at conferences.)

This week I tried something different.

This is a staple-less stapler. You can get one on Amazon HERE.

And I always carry a notebook.

So at FOSDEM I did this:

In case you can’t tell from the photo, I stapled the card to a page in my notebook, and wrote the notes right there. Since my book is always with me, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to forget, this time. And I have room for all of the notes that I need, right there with the contact information I need to follow up.

You can see how the back of the page looks, here.

If you’re curious how the stapler works, you can watch here:

You could, of course, use an actual stapler. It’s just messier and you end up with staples that can tear the page.


Unhelpful feedback

The CentOS project just tweeted an announcement :

The feedback was mostly positive, but two negative responses caught my eye.

The first:

Curved edges on this do not scale down well at small sizes. It's a very busy design for something which will likely be used a lot on screen/small sizes. A step in the right direction but needs more refinement IMO. Solved the colour repo headache, but potentially creating another.

Feedback is specific and seems to indicate actual expertise.

The next:

Feedback is useless, and incorporates a personal attack (designer should be fired) which is just rude.

I’m left wondering if this person thought that this was in any way helpful or that this is in any way an appropriate way to engage with a stranger. Would they talk with a human in person like this? Do they have any friends?

And even without the rudeness, the response is completely worthless and unactionable. So, one deeply unpleasant person didn’t like it, while 100 others did. Why should I care?

I also wonder if there is a way to respond to this person without returning their vitriol.

The email not sent

I frequently say (and write, and tweet) “there is honor in the email not sent.”

The corollary, of course, which is both obvious and perhaps people don’t think about, is that I often write those emails.

Several times a week I write an email, to work through my frustration, anger, whatever, and then delete it, because I recognize that sending it will do more damage.

Today I accidentally pressed send on one of those emails. I’m ashamed, and also not sorry. Because I meant every word of it. But I’m not sure that it will do more good than harm.

Writing these emails is very cathartic. It helps me understand why I’m angry. And more often than not it help me understand that there’s more than one side to the issue, and maybe I’m not all in the right after all. Thus, there’s honor in not sending it.

And, often, it’s just feeding the troll – giving the angry, irritating, poisonous person on the receiving end justification for their vitriol. In which case, it’s just making things worse.

But, sometimes, it’s important to stand up for yourself, too. Even when it doesn’t actually solve anything.

Ten Albums

There’s a thing on Facebook right now where you’re supposed to post ten albums that influenced your musical tastes. This got me thinking, not so much about what I like and listen to now, but the music that surrounded me growing up, and, I presume, influenced my tastes in some way. So here they are. (Not sure if there’s actually ten.)

  1. Barbershop

Barbershop. Not sure it was this one in particular, but Barbershop Quartet was a staple in our home when we were kids. Tapes, records, and a few 8-Tracks, and an entire box set of the SPEBSQSA (Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America) champions.

2) Them Mushrooms

There were a lot of bands that played the standard Kenyan tourist tunes – Hakuna Matata (no, not the Lion King one), Lala Salama, and so on – but in my mind it’s always Them Mushrooms.

3) Dr. Hook

I don’t know that I could even name one of their songs at this point, but there was a Dr. Hook album, and dad played it a lot. Might have been this one. I don’t know.

4) Mlimani Park Orchestra

Many Americans, on hearing Mlimani Park Orchestra, say “that sounds like mariachi!” And I suppose there may be similar roots, if you go back far enough. This was mostly on the radio, and I don’t think I ever actually had it on tape or LP until after I moved to the USA and missed it so much.

5) Graceland

Someone (probably my sister?) brought Graceland back to Kenya with them. This was the first I had heard of this Paul Simon fellow, but he was playing music with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, so it seemed like he might be worth listening to. And I don’t think I had heard of Graceland, or Memphis, before, either. But “Homeless” and “Under African Skies” and the one about the angels in the architecture, opened new worlds of music to me.

6) Rush

Of course, I have to mention Rush. In 1985 (about?) Kristina Silva sent me a mix tape of this new band she had just discovered, and I’ve been listening to them ever since. I couldn’t find that original tape, but I know it’s around here somewhere.

7) Mix tapes

Growing up in the 80s, you cannot really ignore the influence of mix tapes, passed around between friends. This particular one was also from Kristina, and there’s pretty much nothing on this one that I even remember, much less still listen to. But a steady supply of mix tapes that she sent me (this one was apparently during college, but most were while I was in Kenya, and didn’t have a local radio station that played top 40 stuff) definitely shaped my tastes.

And of course kids these days swap Spotify playlists, which is even more amazing, because it leads to discovery of other tracks that neither you nor your friends had heard of. But, of course, mix tapes hold a strong nostalgic corner of the 80’s kids’ hearts.

8) The Joshua Tree

Yes, I’m one of the people who discovered U2 when The Joshua Tree came out, and I was hooked. But then I discovered their older stuff, and was even more hooked. This one gets two images:

I don’t remember where this particular mix tape came from. I probably recorded it off of LPs at Bobby’s house.

9) Watermark

Enya’s album Watermark was where I learned that, for some reason, the radio people always choose a middle-of-the-pack song from an album to give air time. Meanwhile, the rest of this album was really amazing, in a weird sort of way that was completely unlike everything else I listened to at the time.

10) The Other Side of the Mirror

Back in the 90s there were tape/record clubs where you got a dozen tapes for one penny (!!!!) and then there was the small print about buying a million other tapes at full price over the course of the year. This was one of my dozen.

Growing up outside of the top 40 radio scene, I hadn’t heard of Fleetwood Mac, and I didn’t know who Stevie Nicks was.

This was another album that strongly influenced my taste. Here was Stevie, who was beautiful, had this amazing smoky voice, and sang songs that actually meant something, and were poetic. Amazing.

This quickly led me to Fleetwood Mac, of course.

11 and beyond …)

And the rest … well, picking just 10 is always hard. I didn’t even mention Men at Work, and the “Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings Outlaw Reunion” tape that was one of my first two album purchases *ever* (the other was the Ghostbusters movie sound track!) and Roger Whittaker and … well, so many others.

Draw what you want

I checked this book out from the library about sketching. It started with saying don’t let anybody tell you you’re doing it wrong. If they spent 40 pages telling me that I’m doing everything wrong.

There were a few good tips hiding in among that. But mostly it was just frustrating.

Hunting the Ibis

Hunting the Ibis
October 27th, 2019
Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris

Even Google is in on it.
The recommended route from
Terminal 3 to Terminal 2
involves a train ride
a bus, an Uber
and a 37 minute walk.

I am, as Dave Barry might assure us,
not making this up.

Samuel Johnson not withstanding,
I am tired of Paris.

Not the Champs Elysees
or l’Arc —
I never made it that far.

CDG strives to offset
any good memories of Paris itself.
Life, it says, is not all roses.
Here, have some thorns.

During the war,
they painted over the road signs
to keep the enemy from
finding their way.

I come in peace.
The war is long over.
I seek only a place to sleep.

Hell is not, as JP tells us
other people.
No, it is wandering
Charles de Gaulle at 11:30,
looking for the Ibis,
as though it were not a cheap hotel,
but rather the bird of legend
flying mournfully over the rolling waves
looking for somewhere,
to land for the night.

Windstream is on my blacklist

Today I spent 90 minutes on the phone with Windstream Support for a 2-minute problem.

My dad bought a new DSL modem to replace the one that Windstream provided, so that he could own it and not have to pay a monthly rental fee. Smart move.

Ordinarily, the way these things work is that you unplug the old one and plug in the new one and everything just works. When this did not happen, I called Windstream Support, and there The Saga Begins.

The DSL light kept blinking for several minutes, indicating that it was not getting a connection to the internet service provider.

The first person that I talked to, told me that I needed to contact the hardware manufacturer who would connect in to the modem and change the configuration settings.

This is plainly not true. It is impossible for the hardware manufacturer to connect in if the modem is not connecting to the internet in the first place.

I called back and got a different person, who insisted that the problem was that I had a temporary email address attached to the account. That, also, was not true. And finally after over an hour of pointless back and forth, he finally escalated me to a level 2 network engineer.

The level 2 engineer looked up the model number of the modem that I was using and said that it was an ADSL modem and I needed a VDSL modem, and recommended an option. This took about 2 minutes.

I don’t know the difference between ADSL and VDSL, and, of course, as a customer, I shouldn’t have to.

My beef here is not with incompetent first line support. Of course they’re not competent. I don’t blame them for that. I understand that they are following a script to solve common problems. But intentionally training them to give misleading – and even completely false – answers is not okay.

My objection, rather, is with policies specifically designed to discourage people from owning their own hardware. If they make it as complicated as possible, they can continue to charge a monthly rental fee for equipment, rather than allowing people to control their own network infrastructure.

Someone without a technical background would simply give up at the first hurdle, and not bother trying to buy their own hardware. By making my parents feel stupid and incompetent, they could probably have tricked them into spending more money for something they didn’t actually need. This behavior is predatory and unethical.

Buying a new DSL modem should not be any more complicated than buying a new phone. You plug it in and it just works. Windstream is intentionally creating a situation where people pay more money for things they don’t need. Someone shouldn’t need a technical background or network engineer training in order to connect to the internet.

Reflections on the ASF board, and advice to new directors

Isabel recently asked some questions about serving on the Apache Software Foundation board of directors. Here’s my responses:

Which areas were a lot of fun for you?
This is a difficult question. I really can’t say that I serve on the board because it’s fun. Rewarding, yes. But not fun. It’s hard work (if you do it right). It’s time consuming. It’s frustrating. It makes some people angry with you. It brings out the very best in some people, and the very worst in others.
I’m very, very proud of being on the ASF board. Sitting in the company of these great women and men reminds me, often, that I came to this by chance, luck, fortuitous timing, and a lot of hard work, rather than by talent or accomplishments.
But I honestly can’t say that it’s fun.
Which parts were particularly educational for you?
The ASF has 200 projects, which are in every area of technology. We say that Apache is “tomorrow’s software, today.” And we have been inventing the future since the early httpd days.
Today, every area of technology that you care about has some of its origins in the ASF. (Sure, that’s probably an exaggeration, but not by much.)
Every piece of technology you use, every day, has some Apache in it. (This might also be an exaggeration, but I doubt it.)
All that to say, there are very few places at the ASF where you actually get to encounter all 200 of these projects. Those places are probably Infra, and the Board. These are the places where you are forced to learn what all of these projects are from a tech perspective, and how they operate from a social/community perspective. Every month I am reminded of a project that I had all but forgotten about – because there’s just so many of them.
Are there any parts of being a board member that you could imagine helping with even after stepping down?
 Honestly, almost all of them. But being on the board forces you to remain engaged, while, when you’re not on the board, there’s no penalty for letting them slip.
Any member can review PMC board reports and make comments on them. Any member can step up to provide mentoring and advice to projects that are struggling. Or even pitch in to solve technical problems, and thereby earn committer rights on that project.
Any member can provide thoughtful commentary on any board thread. Or dig through past archives for commentary already provided by previous generations of members and directors.
We have several former Board members who do this. Jim Jagielski, Greg Stein, and Roy Fielding come to mind as examples of this. And when they speak up, their input is always greatly valued because their past experience, combined with the perspective of stepping away for a moment, lend it more gravitas.
Which areas were particularly time costly for you?
Reviewing PMC reports can take as much, or as little time, as you’re willing to give it.
Certain former board members have mocked the PMC report review process, calling it empty rubber stamping. Other board members review the private@ and dev@ lists of each reporting project, every time, and make remarks like “This thread should have been on a public mailing list” and “Your report should have included a mention of this thread.”
Really, you can go to either extreme, but most of us fall somewhere in the middle, while varying from month to month based on time availability. Over all, each report seems to get adequate coverage most months, based on the average of board members.
I try, with each report, to check their previous report, see if there are unanswered concerns, and have a skim of at least the subject lines on the private mailing list for the past quarter.
Which areas were energy costly for you – didn’t necessarily take a lot of time but were definitely not fun to deal with?
Over the years, we have had a number of projects that don’t really get the ASF. It is the job of the board to nudge them gently back into the Apache Way when they stray too far. That’s usually not a big deal.
However, we have had other projects, or, at least, individuals within projects, who actively resist the Apache world view, working against it whenever possible.
This takes many forms.
We have had PMC members attempt to purge other members and committers who aren’t “pulling their weight”, or who are “stealing credit” by remaining on the committer list after becoming less active in the project.
We have had corporations attempt to cast the work of an Apache project as being owned, invented, or driven by that company.
We have PMCs that go either entirely rogue, or entirely AWOL, and simply refuse to respond to our queries or demands.
In these cases, it can take not only a great deal of time, but also a great deal of emotional energy, to try to guide these projects back into the right path. Particularly when that guidance is actively resisted, and, at times, mocked and ridiculed.
Now, granted, not all projects should be at Apache. Not all projects can or should fit into the way that we do things here. But if a project has decided that this is where they should be, and has endured the process of the Incubator, they cannot claim that they didn’t know what they were signing up for, and should be willing to work within those constraints.
I wish I had known this before joining the board
I wish I had known that I’d have to do budget stuff. Ye gods, I hate doing budget stuff.
In your opinion – what are the strengths of the ASF board?
The boards that I have served on (well, most of them anyway) have had a diversity of opinions, which we were able to express courteously.
(This has not universally been the case in every board term in the history of the Foundation, as illustrated by many amusing anecdotes which I cannot share here.)
There are people that served on the board with me, with whom I regularly disagree. That’s not to say that they are *wrong*, just that I often disagree with them.
The ability to discuss these opposing views, and sometimes persuade one another, is hugely valuable, and is something largely missing from public discourse these days. This is why I value it so much when I find it.
Even more important, the ability to disagree courteously, and still be able to stand one another, is a huge strength.
In your opinion – what are areas for potential improvement for the ASF board?
We are inexorably approaching the point where the number of projects makes quarterly reporting difficult to keep up with.
If you look at the board agenda, board reports are assigned agenda names alphabetically, like, Attachment A, Attachment B, and so on. During my first term on the board, for the first time we moved past Z and had reports AA, AB, and so on.
In the March 2019 board meeting, the last report was BX.
This is still manageable, if projects get their reports in on time, and directors start reviewing them early enough. But it’s getting tough. I have to pretty much plan an entire day to read board reports.
I don’t know what the solution to this is. There have been several proposed, but I don’t know that any of them are really ideal. We’re open to suggestions. The two most commonly proposed (more directors, more frequent board meetings) are not popular, for a number of reasons.
In your opinion – what changes should be made to the way the ASF board operates, interacts with communities, interacts with the wider ASF ecosystem, interacts with the public?
I don’t really have an answer to this. I think we’re doing find on this front, but, as always, we’re open to suggestions.
Any advice for new board members – where to look first, what legal implications to keep in mind, what PR implications to keep in mind etc.? What are the tasks and time commitment?
1) Attend board meetings, and read the board list, for several months before considering a run for the board. You may have an idea of what’s involved in being on the board, but actually watching it in action is eye opening.
2) When you’re on the board (or, indeed, when you’re a VP of the Foundation) every word you say is *heard as* the voice of the Foundation. It’s not, necessarily, but it’s heard that way. You don’t get to have your own personal views, and then claim that you’re not speaking on behalf of the Foundation. This is because, when you speak, reporters (and Twitter, and Facebook, and random conference attendees, and people just looking for dirt) will see right past you and attribute your views to the Foundation at large. “ASF Director and VP of Whotsits mumble mumble said today …”  Every time I see my name show up in a Google Alert, my very first thought is “What stupid thing did I say this time?”
3) If you think “as a Board member, I could do X”, consider just going ahead and doing X, as an ASF member. There’s almost nothing that you can do as a Board member, which you cannot also do as a member of the Foundation.
Tell us about a moment from your time on the ASF board that is most precious to you.

Shower in Singapore

Over the years I have marveled at the poor design decisions in hotels around the world, from the “half wall” shower enclosures to those ones where the entire bathroom area is the shower. Here’s the latest entry in the contest – my bathroom in my hotel in Singapore. This one warrants a video.

No name randos

I’ve been stewing on this all morning.

There’s two issues here.

The obvious one is, of course, that Máirín is a design powerhouse who does the work of 4 mortals, and this blowhard doesn’t know who she is. The disrespect here is stunning.

(For whatever it’s worth, I can’t find any mention of you on any of the Fedora mailing list archives. Are you sure *you* aren’t the no-name rando?)

But there’s – to me – the larger issue. Even if Máirín was a “no name”… even if she wasn’t brilliant and talented, this would STILL be incredibly inappropriate.

This kind of dismissal of new contributors is what leads to dead projects. Every project – every language, every nation, every company – is one generation from extinction. Failure to nurture the next generation is suicide by arrogance.

So the question here is, what do you even mean by “community” when you make statements like this? Do you mean that you want a comfy place for you and your 3 friends, or do you actually want to build something amazing that goes on after you are no longer involved? ‘Cause it sure sounds like you don’t have any clue about what it takes to foster a sustainable culture.

I’d also ask you, Thomas Alps, whoever you are, to cast your mind back to when you, too, were a “no-name rando”. If you had received this kind of hate at that moment, would you still be here?

Today’s no-name randos, as you so charmingly call them, are tomorrow’s core community. Or, more likely, not, if they receive this kind of welcome.