OHS 2013, and how to get the best submissions

I’ve been helping a bit in the background of Open Hardware Summit this year, aka OHS 2013. Like many Open Source projects, OHS tends to lean on people who self-select for expertise, and people who don’t have the best balance of work-life (aka, people’s who’s hobby is their life is their job, etc. OHS also takes self-nominees, I.E. you just submit your own talk.

This system tends to skew the talks submissions in a few ways. It skews towards people who are self-confident in their abilities, which to be honest often does not map to the most skilled person. It also tends to skew talks to people that have pre-made talks, or who have given talks before. Even submitting a talk to a conference is a bit of a skill set and gained knowledge, and can really be a time sink for someone doing it the first few times.

Which leaves me with a good question I don’t have an answer for. How does a community event do outreach and find speakers, but still skew towards most genuine knowledge, instead of most self-reported knowledge? How to get the shy knowledgeable people to apply, not just the gregarious or self-assured people?

Tough question, and I really have no answer for it.

Philly PUG talk last week

Last Tuesday I was lucky enough to be invited by Philly PUG to give a co-talk with Spencer Russell. Spencer and I each have some experience in making an easy to use command line console (Spencer) and posting a project to Python Package Index (PyPI).

It was a great talk to a packed house. More than 70 people showed up, with Bu Logics, where Spencer and I work, footing the bill for some snacks during the break.

We also shared our projects on GitHub, if you missed the talk check out Spencer’s talk Repo, or my talk repo for a quick review of what you missed!

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Gender and Tech: Here’s a suggestion Get Data or GTFO.

Warning: I mostly don’t swear on this website, but this post is full of it. If you don’t like crude language, sorry.

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Goodbye Gmail!

Last week with some help at The Hacktory project night (Thursdays) I setup my own email server for the first time in about 12 years. It was pretty awesome to get my data back in my hands, where it won’t be inspected, poked, and sniffed.

I’ve getting wary Google for q while. It started google was spying on web data using street view vehicles. Since then Google has gotten worse. They are unifying tracking data. Google has become as bad as Microsoft at the ‘copy and drown a competitor’ game, with knock off’s galore like Bit.ly (Goo.gl), Yelp (Google Places), Groupon (Google Offers) and Evernote (Google Keep).

From what I have seen they are moving towards competing with Facebook on the ‘stalking out users and selling them as cattle.’ behavior. Google has also started treating anyone with a successful web company as a target for ‘imitate and destroy’ tactics. Not the kind of behavior that fits the ‘organize information’ vision, and pretty evil.

Back when Google’s mission was ‘Organize the worlds information’ and ‘do no evil’ I had some trust that they would defend the open web, and treat their users with respect. As they kill unpopular (but useful) services, it’s clear they are focused on profits, not organizing the worlds info.

I’m revoking my trust, shutting down my Google mail and mailing lists, and getting my data flow back in my own hands. Far@FarMcKon.net is the best place to reach me these days. But don’t worry about using my old email. My Gmail account won’t disappear overnight.

I think this ties into a bigger discussion about how the web is no longer peer to peer (and becoming less p2p daily) but that is a topic for another post.

New gig at Bulogics

Most of my friends know I left MakerBot back in December/January. They were going in a direction that didn’t fit my style/interests and the commute back and forth to NYC was becoming a real headache, especially with a little human in my life. Someday when dust has settled I’ll talk about it. But for now there is too much chance my opinion would misunderstood or ‘creatively’ misinterpreted by folks that have been with MakerBot. No hard feeling on my end, but the situation just wasn’t working out.

After leaving I took some time off, then spent some time taking took a look around the Philadelphia scene for any interesting opportunities. After talking to several shops I finally found a great fit for my interests and skill.

As of last week I’ve joined on with BuLogics as Chief Innovator. I’ll be once again herding nerds and working to keep the engineering and design team in close coordination with the business folks. Two things I enjoy, and am pretty damn good at.

Part of what set BuLogics offer apart was a chance to have a big influence in their next stage of growth. They are looking to expand and focus their skills a bit more cleanly. It’s hard to pass up such a great opportunity there to help take an organization to the next stage of growth.

Another great side effect of the new position is that I have a lot more flexibility to blog. So you all can look forward to more posts about teams, teamwork, and creating a culture of making both here and over at BuLogics blog.

P.S. also, check out the terrible bio photo :( It’s the only one I had available when they posted that I’ll have to change that soon.

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Stag hunt with Reluctant Free Loader on the side

I’ve been thinking a lot about the problems Phildelphia’s schools are having, and how various actors in the situation are playing out their role.

Background (Skippable)

The long story made short is Philly is closing a lot of schools. From my simplistic research so far I’m concluding that some school closings do make sense, but that the rash of closings is a last second swerve to avoid budget failure that has been threatening the district for years. Furthermore, the district has been giving out school charters for private schools in some dubious and questionable situations. Some dubious behavior of charters (not *all charters*) and willy nilly granting more charters has undermined the enrollment levels, making it seem smart to close more schools. Again, that is my simplistic research, I’m sure other folks have a better point of view.

As a new dad, I’ve been looking at school districts and pondering when it gets to the point that I abandon the system, and pay higher rates to put a child into a privates school. To me that decision reeks of game-theory, so I’m putting down my thoughts on it to clarify a bit.

To the Game Theory:

From a theory point of view, this could be modeled as a variant of the Stag Hunt game. Lets imagine a game of ‘Stag Hunt’ with thousands of players. Now lets add to those players a distribution of resources that roughly matches the Philadelphia general income, and/or tax base. Finally, we need to add a reasonably high threshold to not joining the game (ie, the cost of private education for a child). Which is odd, since it sets cooperation at a lower and default threshold, and individual action at a higher threshold. I think that becomes a decent model of parents drawing their students out of the district to private schools, lowering the income available.

Then the question becomes, what is the defection rate/system that drives more people to defect? Is there a good way to map/cap general defection from the game? At what point have we undermined the commons so far that every participant is worse off?

General Musing

What amazes me the parents fallacy only their own children’s education is in their interest. As an american you interact and depend on hundreds to thousands of other people for all of your infrastructure. The kindergardener in a crappy school today is going to be a Nurse caring for us in 30-40 years. The kids you are yanking head-start funds from are going to be mechanics, plumbers, and taxi-drivers in 20-30 years. Do you really want to be running around a city or country with these people on the loose? Do you really want to undermined your future quality of life, by setting up an environment of poorly educated people around you to care for you in old age? As much as my own child’s education matters to me, having educated caretakers in old age, and educated co-voters at all ages is hella-important.

It also makes me think I need to find, or invent, a bunch of new terms for real-world game theory.

Reluctant Freeloader: These are people who can’t contribute to the game a fair amount. Think ‘unemployed single dad.’ They are working and contributing what they can, but they don’t have the means to cover their cost.

Woefully Advantaged: This is someone with enough resources they think they can defect from the game without consequences, but really are suffering for it.

N-th turn: Borrowed from computer science. This is a reference to some point in the future (the n-th turn) when the game fails or people lose based on their earlier strategy.

School District Problem: This is a variant of the Stag Hunt problem, as described above.

Fixing xclip

Xclip could be a great commandline tool for pulling things into your clipboard. I say ‘could be’ because remember the options needed to use it is as bad as using tar. I was digging around for a solution, and found a great bash script at madebynathan that solves the problem.

The madebynathan site suggests adding the script to your ~/.bashrc file. I like to keep my bashrc a bit cleaner, so instead I saved the script as ~/.cp.bashrc so that I can easily remember what chunk of code causes ‘cp’ to work.


  • Pipe anything to the clipboard
$ tail -n 100 /var/log/apache2/error.log | cb
# => Copied to clipboard: [Sun Oct 02 08:02:08 2011] [notice] Apache/2.2.17 (Ubuntu) configured -- resumin...
  • Copy the contents of a file to the clipboard
$ cbf ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub
# => Copied to clipboard: ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAABIwAAAQEAnwaNIuOhZzUeR6/xEEudXt3zEh91dawhkkKx8p/+4Bw9...
  • Type straight into the clipboard
$ cb This is some unquoted text.
# => Copied to clipboard: This is some unquoted text.

No options, no man pages.

Installing it

If you think this looks handy, add the line

source ~/.cp.bashrc

to your ~/.basrc file. Then save the below code section to ~/.cp.bashrc, and rock the easy xclip magic

# A shortcut function that simplifies usage of xclip.
# - Accepts input from either stdin (pipe), or params.
# ------------------------------------------------
cb() {
  local _scs_col="\e[0;32m"; local _wrn_col='\e[1;31m'; local _trn_col='\e[0;33m'
  # Check that xclip is installed.
  if ! type xclip > /dev/null 2>&1; then
    echo -e "$_wrn_col""You must have the 'xclip' program installed.\e[0m"
  # Check user is not root (root doesn't have access to user xorg server)
  elif [[ "$USER" == "root" ]]; then
    echo -e "$_wrn_col""Must be regular user (not root) to copy a file to the clipboard.\e[0m"
    # If no tty, data should be available on stdin
    if ! [[ "$( tty )" == /dev/* ]]; then
      input="$(< /dev/stdin)"
    # Else, fetch input from params
    if [ -z "$input" ]; then  # If no input, print usage message.
      echo "Copies a string to the clipboard."
      echo "Usage: cb <string>"
      echo "       echo <string> | cb"
      # Copy input to clipboard
      echo -n "$input" | xclip -selection c
      # Truncate text for status
      if [ ${#input} -gt 80 ]; then input="$(echo $input | cut -c1-80)$_trn_col...\e[0m"; fi
      # Print status.
      echo -e "$_scs_col""Copied to clipboard:\e[0m $input"
# Aliases / functions leveraging the cb() function
# ------------------------------------------------
# Copy contents of a file
function cbf() { cat "$1" | cb; }  
# Copy SSH public key
alias cbssh="cbf ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub"  
# Copy current working directory
alias cbwd="pwd | cb"  
# Copy most recent command in bash history
alias cbhs="cat $HISTFILE | tail -n 1 | cb"  

Top Secret Rosies at Comcast Center

TL;DR: version: If you are free after work on March 20th, get a ticket to watch Top Secret Rosies for free at the Comcast Center.

A while back my esteemed partner (with a bit of help from me) helped arrange some events to draw attention to Top Secret Rosies, a documentaty about the first female programmers of ENAIC These first programmers are nearly forgotten by history.

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Mutable, Changable you

Most people, especally those over about 50, know The Peter Principle: “Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence.” Recently a post Why People Shouldn’t Love You For Who You Are caught my eye. It was a reminder why hate discussions that assume human behavior is static, and don’t learn and change.

People change constantly. If anything, it’s our adaptablity that makes us such an amazing species. As a developer (and a bit of an engineer) the idea of feedback loops and self-balancing systems makes me happy, since they seem intrinsicly beautiful, and self-managing. Not only are humans dynamic, but the universe itself isn’t static. As old as trees, or rocks, or our planet seems, it’s only because we are so small and live so short a life.

One of my most painful experience with this was during my first job out of college. I breezed through college with a A- average, really not applying myself to much schoolwork outside of one or two classes I dug. I knew how to do enough to get an A-/B+ with little work, and I worked that system. I graduated thinking I was pretty damn good, especially if I could do that well with little work. So it was a rude shock when during my first review the head of the software group told me I was not so good, and pointed out 3-4 major problems with the code I had written that month. It was a major blow to my ego, largly because it was true.

After that I got to thinking about feedback, and using it intellegently. I’ve developed the habit to usually assume that everyone ( even the jackasses) are Agent-Correct. Given their knowledge and experience, I am going to trust they are giving an honest ‘trying to fix things’ opinion. Even if that opinion is given in a brash way. I also try to realize when I, or they, ‘Agent-Wrong’ vs. ‘Global-Wrong’. Given their view/information/experience am I wrong to them? Maybe I’m even wrong overall?

It’s amazing what a downer being wrong can be. I am still amazed when someone who cares about me corrects me, and I get defensive. Why do I have such a negative reaction even when I know they are trying to help me? Why do I get defensive and regretful even when intellectually realize they have a good point? It’s weird, and it’s sometime hard to keep those feelings in check. Sometimes wanting to be right can stand in the way of taking feedback, being correct, and becoming actually right.

Excellent Hacks: Pathfinding

Finding the right feature to cut during an 11th hour rush to shipping in a trick, and a meta-problem that can be result in amazingly rewarding (and time saving) hacks. Code of Honor has a great post on a pathfinding hack to get StarCraft out on time.

TL;DR: They removed collision between harvester units to avoid pathfinding failures. A great hack that causes no gameplay problem, and makes the whole system simpler to manage.

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