Making a Difference (even in small ways)

Random Seattle pic of Chihuly glass. Because it’s pretty.

A large part of last fall and bits of this spring were spent going to universities and talking to instructors and their students about open source: how it works. what career opportunities look like, how to get involved in open source, etc.  I have loved doing this, as I really do think open source is, in many ways, magic.

I especially love it when I get a chance to talk to young women and am able to pass along whatever (small amount) of wisdom I accumulated being a female in a mostly male-dominated field (the web and IT).

Back in January, I (along with one of my Red Hat co-workers, Cas Roberts)  had the opportunity to go to Seattle for the University of Washington’s Society of Women in Engineering Career Fair and award dinner.  As part of that trip, I arranged to have an (early) breakfast with anyone who was interested in hearing more about Red Hat.

I honestly didn’t figure more than one or two women would show up, as it was at 8:30 on a school morning and would probably either conflict with class or, more importantly, sleep.  I was pleasantly surprised when 13 women turned up and spoke with us for more than an hour.

All good, all satisfying, all worthwhile.

Then, a few weeks ago, I received an email from one of the women who attended the breakfast, asking *my opinion* on her course choices for next year.

Now that made me feel like I have really had the opportunity to make a difference.

We got the beat! (or I got it, anyway)

…Adrian and I like unusual musical time signatures.  I was *delighted* (which, thankfully, happens pretty easily) when Jacintha and I were at Dave Matthews and I heard a song that I was *sure* was in a weird time signature.

Well, it turns out the song is called “Seven” and is in 7/8 — and here’s an article about it in Drum Magazine.


TIL (much computer cleverness)

IMG_0023I figured out two things which had previously stymied me today, which delighted me to no end.  The first was how to make things format themselves nicely in a wiki that I’d never used before (and whose conventions were very non-intuitive to me). (As an aside, I really don’t understand the appeal of wikis over WYSIWYG editors — how is it easier to do this [[I am a page name typed correctly, even down to the case]] than it is to just copy the page URL and click the “link” button and paste it in?)

Anyway, I figured all that out, and consolidated several bits of messy documentation — yah me!

*And* I got all my Google calendar stuff to work correctly again (this was a Big Deal).  We recently switched to Google calendar at work, and it totally borked by sync to my phone, which had worked perfectly. Fixing it involved setting up 2-factor authorizaion and application-specific passwords and then explaining to the phones PIM tools which versions of what calendars and email I wanted to have.  It was complex, but I seem to have fixed it all now.

Several of my primary workflows (such as dragging an email onto the calendar to create a meeting are broken, but that’s not something *I* can fix, so I’m just going to have to deal with it.  I’ll take the small wins where they come.

Apparently I have to remember I hate the outdoors once a year…and tales of fails

I want to like the outdoors.  It’s pretty, especially at a distance.  And many people whose opinions I respect like the outdoors (this is a theme with me: I assume that if smart people I know like something and I don’t, it must be because I’m missing something about it).

So every year or so I attempt something “outdoorsy” to see if my impressions have changed. Yesterday I went out[1] honeysuckle-blossom picking.  In my head the honeysuckle blossoms looked like they do in botany books: crisp, clean and tidy.  The reality, of course, was that they were covered in pollen, had little bits of detritus stuck in them, and were host to a plethora of little tiny beetle things (ugh).

But I was going to gather blossoms, by golly, so I did, while standing, as it turns out, in a patch of poison ivy.  In this one respect the Gods of Allergy have smiled upon me, for though I am allergic to all the creaures that walk or fly, and all of the pollens, and all of the dust mites, I am not allergic to the poison ivy (or the stuff that mosquitos squirt in you to make you more drinkable).

For this I am thankful.  I did manage to get 4 cups of…well, mostly honeysuckle blooms, but there were a fair number of beetles and misc bits in there too.  I also got covered in pollen which (thanks to the allergies) made me nearly as itchy as the poison ivy would have (but the pollen does wash off, so there is an advantage).

Then today I had one of my massive fails.  The sort of really disturbing fail where you think to yourself “be careful, there’s a chance this terrible thing could happen,” and yourself says “No, no, don’t be ridiculous. That won’t happen.  No worries.  Be happy!”

And then the terrible fail happens and you have not only failed, but also quite ill with yourself for having had the premonition of failure and not listened to it.  This does happen to other people, right?

My fail came in the form of reducing the honeysuckle nectar.  I’d poured boiling water over the blossoms last night, left them to steep, then strained the lot of it this morning (bye-bye boiled beetles, the vast majority of which I’d picked out anyway).  I made a simple syrup, but before adding it to the honeysuckle liquid, I needed to reduce it down some.

So I set it to boiling, and it was taking *forever* to go anywhere.  I sat in front of the stove for 20 minutes with no apparent reduction in volume (you see where this is going right), before deciding to come sit on the couch and tag another couple of journal entries as part of the Great Blog Migration.

Approximately 5 picoseconds later the smell of BURNING.  All is ruined. All is lost. I am sad. Sigh.

[1] Don’t be fooled by the way I used “out” like I was making some grand expedition into the backcountry.  I went to the top of the driveway.  It is, however, a steep driveway.

The computer and I are fighting. Again.

IMG_0034I was tired of not having anywhere to write the things I was thinking, and the old was in a sad, decrepit state. So I started to research website building tools.  The majority of the ones that I found were very slick (so much slicker than last I looked) drag-and-drop site builders, but, of course, they were all closed source and proprietary, and therefore evil.

But one of the tools I found listed was Pages in Github, and since I am an open source evangelist (more about that later) and am trying to convince teachers to start using Github in their college comp sci classes, it seemed that Github Pages might be a good choice.  Plus, when you go to the documentation ( it *seems* super easy. In fact, their instructions for getting Jekyl set up are only Three Simple Steps (their words) long.

Sadly, the instructions flat out didn’t work.  Worse, they made me feel like a right idiot.  When instructions have only three steps and are comprised of sentences like “After that, simply run the command, bundle installand you’re good to go,” it does feel like I (a reasonably smart bear) should be able to figure it out.

As it turns out (much hand-wringing and a few tears later), I discovered that the instructions were actually wrong (anger).  As a result, I have abandoned Github Pages and instead am going to try WordPress (hosted this time. The last time we self-hosted and that was a bit of a maintenance nightmare).

The next hurdle is to figure out how to get all my old content over from (and to remember to turn off publishing to Facebook before I do!).

Putting the “social” in Social Media

I’ve been saying for a while now that Social Media is *not* about retweeting your last press release (and, in fact, that using social media for that sort of “push” marketing turns consumers off), but instead about building connections between organizations and audiences and creating networks (of content and connections) that enthrall and enmesh the audience, thereby creating engagement.

I just read an article, Content and the New Marketing Equation, that puts it perfectly: it’s a “move away from promotional content to the delivery of useful, entertaining, or meaningful engagement and experiences through new media.”

Yes.  Why would your audience *want*  to be involved with what you’re sharing?

It all reminds me of a really interesting date I had when I was in college.  There was this guy I liked in one of my classes, so I asked him out (I’ve never been accused of being an introvert!  :-)   He made it clear he wasn’t interested in me as girlfriend material (which I thought was awfully kind of him — I hate being led on) but asked if I wanted to have dinner anyway.   Ermmmm…sure?¹

I approached dinner with some trepidation… I had no simple model for not-date-with-guy-you’ve-just-asked-out, so I was expecting awkwardness and silences aplenty.

There were none, though, as at dinner he pulled out a list of questions — really interesting, intriguing questions².  Things like whether I found infinity or zero a more daunting concept and whether I’d be a tiger or a bluebird if I had to choose one of the two.  Despite the lack of any potential forward momentum, it was a hugely successful date (by my standards), and one that I’d have repeated again (again, even knowing he didn’t like me “that way”).

That’s what good social media is:  it draws you in and engages you even if the provider (for example, a dishwashing liquid or an umbrella) wasn’t “a romantic prospect” (unlike your real life friends who you *want* to be involved with).  Creating that kind of content, though, also requires thought, resources and preparation, as well as a major shift in the way organizations think about their engagement with their audiences.

Or the way I thought a not-date would be.

¹ Of course I paid — I’d asked him out!

² No, I didn’t write down the list — I wish I had  :-)