Key Questions for our First Gathering

It’s morning here in Patna. I slept for about five hours last night, and I’m finally starting to feel adjusted. I’m also starving, always a good sign, and I’m craving something new and delicious. Now I’m shifting around my room, trying desperately to find a consistent WiFi connection so that I can publish my entries of the past few days.    (MWU)

In a few hours, our first workshop starts. My main goal for these next two weeks are to meet as many of the leaders as possible, to learn what makes this community tick, and to think about ways to further catalyze it. In particular, I’m wondering what words like “community,” “collaboration,” and “leadership” mean to these folks, and I’m looking forward to their stories.    (MWV)

The Google Gradient

Aaron Swartz wrote an interesting piece about the so-called Google bubble. He then proposed a way around the bubble, which he called the Google “gradient.” Having just wrapped up an event that Google sponsored, I can give some first-hand thoughts on Aaron’s piece. In short, the gradient already exists, and boy, is it a doozy.    (LG0)

Both Allen Gunn and I have worked with many, many generous companies on events like the FLOSS Usability Sprint, and we both agreed that Google was unquestionably the easiest, most accomodating company we’ve ever worked with. Here’s a snapshot of my experience:    (LG1)

  • Earlier this year at DCamp, I meet Rick Boardman, a user experience engineer at Google. We talk about the FLOSS Usability Sprints, and he says, “That’s pretty cool. If you ever want space for a sprint, we can do it at Google.”    (LG2)
  • Gunner and I decide it’s time to do another sprint. I email Rick. Rick says, “No problem. I’ll dig up food for you guys too.” I look down at my list of negotiation points when dealing with potential sponsors, reread Rick’s email, shrug my shoulders, and throw the list away.    (LG3)
  • I check out the space, and it’s outstanding. Wide open room that’s reconfigurable, lots of whiteboards, plenty of breakout space, open WiFi.    (LG4)
  • Rick introduces me to Leslie Hawthorn, who’s involved with Google’s Open Source programs and managed Summer of Code. Leslie is the epitome of a Yellow Thread. Here’s an example of a common exchange. Me: “Leslie, I know it’s last minute, but can you do [insert any number of requests here] for us?” Leslie: “Sure!”    (LG5)
  • I get to Google early on Friday. Leslie gives me a walkthrough. To my surprise, she has Google schwag bags for all of us. She also has special badges for us, so that participants don’t have to sign the usual visitor NDAs.    (LG6)
  • There are about six security guards surrounding our space throughout the whole event. This should have been unnerving, except they were all very friendly, they kept opening doors for the participants, and they made it safe for us to leave our computers lying around the entire weekend.    (LG7)
  • Leslie supplies us with snacks, beverages, and most importantly, coffee throughout the event. We eat lunch both days at Slices, one of the excellent cafeterias on campus. The food is local, organic, and delicious. (Gunner and I do our best to cancel out all this healthy food by bringing pizza and donuts and by taking the group out for adult beverages and more unhealthy food afterwards.)    (LG8)
  • Four Google employees participate, including Rick and Leslie. All of them kick butt. I didn’t know Leslie’s background beforehand, but as it turns out, she completely rocks out with the Drupal team, thus increasing my respect for her by another order of magnitude. More common exchanges with Leslie during the event. Me: “Leslie, can you help us with [insert many more requests here]?” Leslie: “Sure!”    (LG9)
  • Total number of pain-in-the-rear problems that the Google bureaucracy creates for us that are inevitable when working with large companies on open events like these: 0.    (LGA)

Perhaps this was an isolated experience. Perhaps the next time we work with Google, this so-called “bubble” will be in full effect, and we’ll curse and swear about how terrible the bureaucracy is there. All I can say is that I’ll be able to tell you all for sure soon, because I fully plan on there being a next time. Many thanks to Leslie and Rick for being such outstanding hosts!    (LGB)

My Danish Adventures, Day 1

I arrived in Copenhagen today, a few hours late thanks to a caterers’ strike, which forced the plane coming to pick us up to stop first in Oslo for food. International travel never seems to be smooth, and that’s not even accounting for the terrorist scare.    (L2A)

The craziness started this morning (or rather, yesterday morning). My shuttle was supposed to pick me up at 5am, but at 4:20am, the dispatcher called me and reminded me to be ready in 15 minutes. I had just gotten out of the shower after a whole hour of sleep, and I responded drowsily, “You mean 5am.”    (L2B)

“No, 4:45am.”    (L2C)

After complaining for a few moments about the miscommunication (definitely their fault), I said no problem. After all, I was up, although it was a good thing I had decided to set my alarm for 4am and not 4:30am. I was out the door by 4:35am, just in time to see the shuttle pull up even earlier than expected.    (L2D)

My flight to Dulles was uneventful, and my delayed connecting flight to Copenhagen was a blessing in disguise, as it gave me more time to adjust my internal time clock. I fell asleep as soon as I got on the plane and got another three hours in before waking up at 6:30am Denmark time. My flight arrived at 10am.    (L2E)

Scandinavian Airlines is an excellent airline. The lady at the counter was friendly, professional, and apologetic for the delay, and she gave us all food vouchers, even though the delay wasn’t too bad. The plane was relatively spacious, and the seats had individual screens with a selection of movies and views of cameras attached to the bottom and front of the plane. There were also bottles of water in each seat, a welcome amenity given the recent ban of carry-on liquids. It may seem like an obvious thing to do, but United didn’t do it, and I’m willing to bet that most of the other major U.S. airlines don’t either. Its terminal at the Copenhagen airport even had these beautiful hardwood floors. (I’ll remember to take a picture when I return.)    (L2F)

I bought a calling card from prior to leaving, but I couldn’t figure out how to dial the local access number, and the woman at the airport couldn’t figure it out either. Phone numbers are the next great frontier for standardization. We’ve got international standards for email and the Web, but I can’t figure out how to make a damn phone call in a cosmopolitan European city.    (L2G)

I’m staying at the Ibsens Hotel in Norrebro, historically the working class district of Copenhagen, but on the verge of gentrification today. The hotel itself is nice with helpful service at the front desk and free WiFi (in theory). However, I’ve only managed to find decent connectivity in one tiny nook near the hotel lobby. I get zero access in my room, which is a pain in the rear.    (L2H)

My room wasn’t ready when I arrived, so I slipped away to nearby cafe, Cafe og Ol-Halle for lunch. The cafe is a former workers’ bar dating back to 1892, with a cozy interior. “Cozy” seems to be a good word to describe a lot of the local eateries and cafes. I had three kinds of smorrebrod and a Carlsberg pilsner. I was a bit disappointed by the smorrebrod. They tasted fine, and I had to try them, since they’re a Danish staple, but I saw other patrons eating dishes that looked much tastier.    (L2I)

On the way back to the hotel, I passed Israels Plads, a local park. There was a large asphalt playground with kids playing basketball and soccer, and several stalls selling flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Near the park was a church, Bethesda, that advertised free Danish classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I saw that and thought to myself, “Excellent, I’ll stop by and learn a bit of Danish.” Sadly, it was not to be. When I returned to the hotel, jet lag and the lunchtime beer caught up to me, and I fell asleep while researching dinner options. That’s right, I was figuring out my dinner plans right after eating lunch. What can I say? I like food.    (L2J)

I forced myself to wake up after a few hours, took a shower, bought some toothpaste (currently banned from planes) and brushed my teeth, then set off for Galathea Kroen dinner. “Galathea” is the name of several Danish boats that have pursued long scientific expeditions over the past 150 years. My pocket guidebook claimed that the cafe served Indonesian food, but they only had Malaysian food and Danish meatballs. I had the meatballs, which were quite good, and another ubiquitous Carlsberg pilsner.    (L2K)

Copenhagen is eminently walkable, and it has this wonderful medieval quality. The city has this very old quality, but it’s vibrant and alive at the same time. It’s unlike any other city I’ve been to. Bikes and pedestrians own the road, with plenty of carless roads. Curiously, less than half the parked bikes I saw were locked. Walking to dinner, I passed Copenhagen University, the Nationalmuseet, the Christiansborg Slot, and other old buildings and squares. Although there are over a million people living here, it has a small-town feel, which I like.    (L2L)

Copenhagen is super liberal, moreso than San Francisco. According to my guidebook, Denmark legalized same-sex marriages in 1989. According to this week’s The Copenhagen Post, Denmark has been the world leader in foreign aid for three years running. Convenience stores have a revenue cap. If they exceed it, they have to cut back their hours. This prevents large chains from obliterating independent markets. I appreciate the spirit, but the means offends my conservative-leaning economic sensibilities.    (L2M)

Yet for all its progressive politics, Copenhagen feels very proper. People in San Francisco are wacky. We dress all sorts of ways (or not at all), homebrew bikes and Segways are ubiquitous, and there’s always a protest happening somewhere. People here just quietly go about their business. I wouldn’t have guessed the area’s political leanings had I not read about them beforehand.    (L2N)

Tomorrow, I’m going to pay my respects to Soren Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen at Assitens Kirkegaard, and then I’m going to cover as much of the city by foot as possible. In the evening, I’ve got the Danish bloggers meetup. I may skip Tivoli entirely on this trip — it feels too touristy — but if I go, I’ll go on Saturday night, when they have a “toy soldier parade.” It’s also supposed to be beautiful there in the evenings.    (L2O)