Monday, December 29, 2014

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

I just want to mention The Innovators by Walter Isaacson. I loved that "How a group of hackers, geniuses, and geeks created the digital revolution" began with Babbage and Lady Lovelace.

We're familiar with many of the people and projects Isaacson discusses, but there were many people of whom I knew nothing. Vannevar Bush, for instance, and his prophetic essay, As We May Think in July 1945.

What I appreciated most was the focus on collaboration. Time after time "lone geniuses" labored alone, and saw their work die with them. The work that lasts is done by teams of people who both inspire and perhaps annoy one another, but manage to bring their skills and  best selves to the group effort.

A good read.

PS: A day later, I'd like to add that we need better STEAM education from preschool through college, for boys and girls. Science Technology Engineering Arts Mathematics for all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Solstice greetings, happy Christmas, looking ahead to the new year

Time to sum up 2014 and look ahead to 2015.

I'll start with the bad in my personal life: I heard this week that my dear younger cousin has cancer in his lungs, brain, bones and lymph. This is very hard to accept. He is only 57. My dad continues on his slow downward slide, but I think Brian will go first. I don't see how it is possible to beat cancer that is basically everywhere. My long-time Alsachat friend Maria has gotten word that she too has cancer, and they hold out some hope. She has cancer in one ovary and is on chemotherapy.

The good: my husband has worked his last day at Boeing after over 30 years there, and is retiring officially at the end of the year. His plans for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail are falling into place; he has most if not all his equipment, and has tested it, and the clothing he'll wear, and food he'll eat. He is hiking over 20 miles many days, and I think if the weather holds out for him he'll make his goal of walking from Mexico to Canada from April to September. to follow his progress.

Bob's schedule will complicate mine this year. I'm unsure whether travel to Europe will be possible, although my son Thomas has offered to live here when I leave, feed my cat, make sure the bills are paid, Bob's blog updates are published, and food boxes sent. I hope this all works out.

Also this past year we made some progress in remodeling our house; our new bathrooms are awesome! Bob gave me a 23&me kit for Christmas in 2013, and I got results this year. It's been quite fun to find distant "genetic" cousins, and also do some research and database cleanup. Gramps is great!

In mid-summer, Bob and one of his hiking buddies wanted to do a hike from half-way up Lake Chelan to Stehekin at the north end of the lake via the Lake Trail. I took the ferry north with them, and waved goodbye when they hopped off the boat at the trailhead. At Stehekin, I bussed up to the Ranch, where I had the most lovely peaceful stay. Bob and Patty eventually got to Stehekin and joined me at the Ranch for a day, before we left on the fast boat down-lake to Chelan, and then the drive home. Patty and I plan to meet Bob at the Ranch this year, near the end of his hike. Should be fun!

Now for the KDE and Kubuntu side of my life, which was really rich this past year. As KDElibs were split into the KDE Frameworks, I was asked to edit another book for KDE, about the Frameworks. Since I'm no coder, we assembled a team to work at the Randa Meetings. See some of my blogs about this or for more. In short: we have a good start to our book and hope to publish early in 2015. Also in KDE this year, Plasma 5 has debuted, and the Visual Design Group (VDG) has attained world domination. That team is the bubbles in the champagne of the KDE community for sure.

At the end of April I staffed a booth at Linuxfest Northwest for Ubuntu and Debian. Unfortunately, I was mostly alone except for *lots* of visitors who wanted DVDs or USB drives of the latest ISOs. Sooooo busy! This year, I think we'll have a KDE booth. I don't think I'll have time for burning ISOs unless we share with Ubuntu and there are others to staff the booth too.

This year I've already committed to traveling to Spokane for a new Linux fest there in May. Should be fun!

Early in August 2014 I flew to Geneva and met up with a friend I only knew online before now. I also got the chance to meet up with Christian, and another friend I only knew from Kubuntu IRC. Then the best train ride in the world to Randa, where we got together with all the Frameworks team to get our book well underway. Because of some connectivity problems, we ended up with the best process ever: our book chapters live in each of the Frameworks git repositories. We have a process to assemble all the chapters simply, so people can get PDFs or ePubs. Stop by #kde-books on freenode if you'd like to help out.

Early September, it was time to meet Scarlett, another person who was a friend only online until then, and fly to Vienna together. There we met Stefan, who walked around his beloved Vienna showing us his favorite places. What a great lead-up to Akademy in Brno! A very nice part of this trip was that it was sponsored by the Ubuntu Donors since we were headed to the annual Kubuntu meet there at Akademy. Such support feels great. I'll write a separate blogpost about Akademy, the plans and work we did there, and how much progress has been made.

This fall, some cool things happened. Locally, we got a KDE Meetup going. That helped a lot when the LISA/USENIX conference happened in Seattle, because quite a few of us could plan to be there to staff the KDE booth. One of our guys sat in front and used Krita to draw stuff most of both days. That drew a lot of interest from many of the attendees. Finally, I was a lot more active in our KDE mentoring programs this year, first Google Summer of Code, then Season of KDE this fall, and now Google Code-in through the next few weeks. I do love working with my fellow admins, the mentors, and especially the students. It is really cool to see how we can all work together.

Altogether, 2014 was an amazing year, absolutely full of wonderful experiences and learning. While some terrible times lay ahead in 2015, many exciting opportunities await as well. Hopefully the mourning is balanced by the work, the friendships, the research, writing, cleaning, simplifying .... too many more verbs to list.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Institutions in KDE?

The Randa Meetings are becoming an institution in KDE. Really? And is that a good thing, or not. When I complimented Mario Fux on the excellent on-going work he is doing on the Randa Meetings, he was surprised and maybe offended that I called it an institution.

I've been thinking about this since reading The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama. The basis of my comment is that in some ways, our KDE community is like a state.
Modern political order ...consists of ...[first] a modern state, with competent and honest officials, not prone to nepotism, corruption, and clientelism. Second is the rule of law, or binding constraints upon the rulers as well as the ruled. Third is accountability, usually via elections but also via a sense of responsibility towards the people, a sense of ruling for the common good.
 - from, a review of the book.

What supports and keeps a state alive are institutions. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia, social institutions are ... sets of rules and norms that organise human activities within a society. These rules and norms aren't just written law, such as our Code of Conduct and Manifesto, but also the unwritten "way we do things here." We have our habit of collaboration, our e.V., Akademy, our infrastructure, our coding style, APIs, documentation, and so forth.

And what is cool is to see that we continue to adapt to a changing world. I see the Frameworks effort as leap forward in our ability to adapt. The Plasma 5 work has flexibility written into it from the beginning, especially important as new form factors come onto the market. And we seem to be doing this within our community as well as in our code.

Fukuyama spoke not only about the development of the major institutions: the state, the rule of law, and accountability, but also of political decay, which happens when institutions grow rigid, and don't change with the times. I see the opposite with KDE.

Randa Meetings are a beautiful example of how one great idea has grown into something people look forward to, plan for, and support in many ways. We've had sprints for a long time, but now the year's calendar feels empty if there is no Randa meeting planned. The teams there not only do a sprint as usual, but also feed on the energy of the other teams around them, and collaborate on the fly. The Randa Meetings, like Akademy, have become indispensable; a norm. And that's a good thing.