Raspberry Pi. and what it means for boutique electronics more generally.

Anyone out there actually get lucky enough to buy one before the distributors sites failed in the initial onslaught? I didn't.

I've had to make due with reading the laypress reaction articles.
The interview with Mr. Upton concerning the project history is very informative.

In particular his answer to why the project is incorporated as a non-profit is very interesting. Especially the bit about how component distribution channels directly impact the cost-control for niche products (10k units is niche for the purposes of this discussion).

He points to a subtle but important problem in device innovation at present. The distribution channels are geared to hinder boutique or small-batch crafted innovations from being cost competitive with mass produced goods. This isn't about volume discounts. We all understand that boutique and small batch goods have higher costs associted with their higher value. I prefer locally produced microbrew beer for a variety of reasons even though Budlight cost so much less. No, this is about the unnecessary operational markup imposed by the distribution channel model component manufacturers force small scale for-profit innonvators to use.

Even though the components being used are all commodity..it is the inefficiencies of the distribution channels which place the overhead of middelmen distributors between the product producers (the chip manufacturers) and the product consumer (in this case the raspberry pi project team) The fact that a small non-profit can arrange a direct relationship for a small volume order with component producers in a way that a small for-profit startup could not is a problem. Being non or for profit shouldn't matter. There's absolutely no reason for the arbitrary difference in access to small volume orders at a fair price. The prices raspberry pi are not a sweetheart deal..Mr. Upton confirms that explicitly...its just a policy decision to ignore small volume for-profit customers and make them deal with the markup of distributor middlemen. It's like telling my local microbrewers they could avoid using a hops wholesaler just because they were a non-profit.

In an age of 3d printing and on-demand self-services...electronic component makers need to do better. They need to find a way to service the boutique electronic industry in a much fairer fashion and learn to leverage them as part of an innovation cycle that lowers production costs for the the entire ecosystem of boutique goods. I want an affordable microbrew economy for electronics that can sustain local companies everywhere. I don't want a few large scale distributors of finished goods being the only viable for profit companies who can compete for consumer dollars.


My obligatory GNOME3 post.

You know what I could really really use.... GNOME shell keyboard shortcut stickers for my keyboard.

Little key shaped, mostly transparent so I can still read the key underneath, stickers that give me some hinting as to what keys did what in combination with alt clt and super.

I thought of this when I was using my wife's desktop the other day and she has put the Gmail keyboard shortcut stickers (provided by Google at one point) on her keyboard as a learning tool.

I'm never going to remember all the useful shortcuts exposed in Gnome shell just by reading documentation. Not going to happen. And we've got no hinting in the UI itself for a lot of these things at the moment. And that isn't a knock against GNOME3 specifically...its the nature of the beast. Applications with drop down menus will try to give you hints about accelerators..but there's a lot of stuff that predates G3 Shell where the keyboard interactions aren't learnable through use. If the GNOME designers find a way to solve that problem, then bonus points for them. In the meantime, training stickers on my keyboard are the best idea I can come up with for my own needs.

Now I can of course do up an inkscape svg template for these things and share it with people. But if anyone else is already looking at doing this sort of thing...let me know.

Ode to the Cloud

Inspired by Spot's SELF 2011 keynote, I got drunk and penned the following parody lyrics to the infamous "Log Song" from the old "Ren and Stimpy" cartoon. Those of you who know it, feel free to hum along.

What costs pennies in fares alone or in pairs?
A fav with the geeky crowd?
What's great for a stack and sits in Amazon's rack?
It's Cloud, Cloud, Cloud!

It's Cloud, Cloud....
It's awfully misunderstood....

It's Cloud, Cloud...
It's better than bad, it's good!

Everyone wants a Cloud! You're gonna love it, Cloud!
Come on and get your Cloud! Everyone needs a Cloud!

Cloud! by BLAM-O!

-jef"Cloud Cloud Cloud Cloud"spaleta

Looks like I'm going to SELF

Due to a set of very interesting circumstances I'm going to be flying from Alaska back to the East Coast for a couple of weeks. And apparently the plane ticket fairy has decided to make it possible for me to get back down to Charlotte on condition that I show up to SELF down in Spartenburg and not just spend every day commuting between the _new_ Charlotte curling club and the whitewater park. Note to myself: remember to bring the correct paperwork(including my long form NC birth certificate) to let me cross the border between North and South Carolina. I've been in Alaska so long I've forgetten what the rules are for interstate travel.

I hope there's some sort of door prize at SELF for the attendee who has traveled farthest.


A revelation of an idea for GNOME3's Shell

I've made heavy use of the revelation-applet on my gnome 2 desktop panel to search for passwords inside my revelation password file. I'd like to restore that sort of quick password search inside the preferred mechanics of GNOME3 shell.

So here's my thought. In the activities overlay would it be appropriate to extend the search box so that I can search an encrypted password store? I don't really care if its revelation concept of an encypted store or something else but it seems to me the mechanics of the search interface in the activities overlay is providing the same search mechanics I was already using...I just need to be able to point the search at a _local_ password store instead of wikipedia or google.



Intuitive, You keep using that word...

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means" - The Princess Bride

reference: http://www.thefreedictionary.com
Of, relating to, or arising from intuition.

The act or faculty of knowing or sensing without the use of rational processes; immediate cognition

Technologist, and the culture they are embedded, seem to be trying to redefine what intuitive has historically meant. I'll grant you that language is always evolving and the shift in this particular definition is just part of that evolution regardless of what some silly dictionary would have you believe. But I think it does us all some good if we stop and think about the traditional sense of these words and make sure we aren't falling into a trap of wishful thinking about what we really wished others would define them to be.

Something that is intuitive is not inherently rational or derived from a rational systematic thought processes. Intuition is not deductive reasoning.. is not the synthesis of observable stimuli or facts into a coherent mental model which can then be used to make predictions. Sherlock Holmes and his latterday counterpart Monk aren't fictional masters of intuition, they are characterizations of extremely skilled deductive reasoning which is the exact opposite of intuition. Attention to detail and reliance on methodology in order to make something complicated look easy, doesn't require a single ounce of intuition.

Intuition is not teachable. It is not a process of discernment which can be followed. Intuition is at best situational and at its very worst a very individual specific trait that defies quantization. Intuition and its intuitive fruits are the stuff of dreams and nightmares...of genius and madness.

So when people describe a technology or an interface as "intuitive" keep in mind these traditional definitions about what intuition has historically meant instead of just redefining it as "easy to use" and we all just might communicate a little more clearly. Perhaps in reality building things which rely on a person's "intuition" to understand how they work is ultimately the wrong approach for all technology. Perhaps if we build technology and systems which rely inherently on "deductive reasoning" or other teachable systematic way to take in new information and synthesize it into a mental model is a far better way to proceed.

Words can matter. So can methodology.


Let me take a moment and set some expectations.

If you have ever in the past mistakenly assumed that I work and speak for a company that competes with your employer because I have been vocal in expressing my personal opinions which just happen to be critical of your employer....

And then you decide to claim it is offensive for me to even question whether your public speech might be influenced by the interests of your current employer....

That earns you a place on my growing list of people who I'll go out of my way to be critical of as an individual who may or may not have unstated motivations coloring their statements. I just want to be clear of that. I will attack this sort of hypocrisy unapologetically.

I don't have a problem with people making the mistake of assuming that I have unspoken intentions and motivations. I would prefer those people to ask me to clarify instead of assume. But hey I know the score, everyone makes assumptions. I can forgive those human mistakes.

But what I cannot forgive is the hypocrisy of making those assumptions selectively simply because I disagree with you and not applying the same assumption filter to yourself. So for the rest of you out there who may read this, and who may find themselves stuck in a discussion with me over some sort of heated topic. Considering this your warning. You want me to play nice? You want me to go out of my way to avoid offending your very delicate sensibilities? You want me to be humane? Then do yourself a favor, don't blithely assume I'm speaking as the shill for a corporation I don't even work for.

This goes double-so for managers or executives at corporate entities who I might engage in public discussion over corporate policies that I disagree with. Think very carefully about what it says about your own corporate culture when you find yourself assuming I am speaking on behalf of a corporate entity I don't even work for.

Good Day


Public discourse is important.

When you or your employees make vague statements about being prejudiced against in the activities of a multi-vendor project, and those allegations are being made in public forums...but you and your employees refuse to provide evidence of those allegations in those public forums... I am not amused.

And when I publicly challenge you to provide such evidence and you give me information in private email but do not give me permission to rebroadcast that information... I am angered. This sort of back channel "persuasion" does not get to the heart of the problem. Because well, I am not the heart of the problem. I may be your PR problem..but that's not the real problem. Convincing me of the righteousness of your opinion doesn't help solve the underlying problem. If your hurt feelings are substantiated by the evidence, having that information stop with me..and preventing me using that evidence to start _fixing_ the actual problem is not in your best interests. When such back channel information sharing is occurs I view it as manipulative.

I don't have a problem if someone takes a discussion with me private because they feel they need the space that a private email discussion provides to focus without sidebar comments or commentary. But when the discussion is over I fully expect to be able to republish a private conversation in its entirety. It's only through publicly disclosed discourse that people can be held accountable for what they say, including myself.

Good day,


LibreOffice Redux

So a little while back I wrote a blog with a few questions about the future of LibreOffice and what part of its restructuring is going to matter the most.

Well, here is Micheal Meeks talking about the progress with Libreoffice.


The first think I take away from this presentation is that LibreOffice's restructuring is "proof positive" that copyright assignment policies _hurt_ projects.

It's also got a good discussion of the benefits of a community project to do things that a commercially backed development can't easily do.

I also like the bit about the local minimum in doing open community development. You get the benefits when you go all the way..but there is a middle point where you hold too much control and you get none of the benefits of open development even though you are trying to do it.

Very very fascinating talk.


Corporate ethics is grounded on accountability to the public.

This post is about Canonical and the Banshee situation that has unfolded over the last week or so. Specifically I am going to address the point that has been raised concerning whether or not Canonical has an ethical obligation that goes beyond what is allowed by the licensing associated with Banshee as a FOSS codebase.

As a corporation Canonical cannot expect their actions to just meet the minimal standard of legality. As a corporation Canonical must adhere to an ethical standard set by their consumers, their business partners and the community the rely on. Throughout history corporations have been successfully pressured by the public to change their behaviour when the public have found such behaviour to be undesirable and or damaging for the social good. There are multiple examples over the last 20 years of boycotts and protests where the public have coerced a behaviour change from corporate entities above and beyond what is strictly legally required. Canonical must keep this in mind when choosing to craft each and every business decisions it makes. Corporate accountability ultimately rests in the court of public opinion. Sometime that public opinion gets enshrined as a new legal requirement when corporate abuses are extreme. But many other times, accountability and corrective action comes simply from people speaking out (respectfully) when they see a corporation doing something damaging.

This is no different than the historic example of people protesting Nike for using foreign “sweatshops” to produce their products. That protest spanned a decade, with Nike continuously being defensive about their policy and saying it was perfectly legal. But eventually Nike smartened up and changed their corporate culture and addressed the “unethical” business activity.

“Nike was heavily criticized for selling goods produced in sweatshops throughout the 1990s. They originally responded by lashing out and denying all claims brought against them. However, Nike’s director of compliance, Tom McKean, spoke of Nike’s irresponsibility in 2001. McKean stated in an interview that, “Our initial attitude was, ‘Hey, we don’t own the factories. We don’t control what goes on there.’ Quite frankly, that was a sort of irresponsible way to approach this. We had people there every day looking at quality. Clearly, we had leverage and responsibility with certain parts of the business, so why not others?”[12] Recently Nike has developed an intense program to deal with these claims. Nike has employed a staff of 97 people to randomly inspect several hundred of their factories each year. Nike also gave the Fair Labor Association, an association founded to monitor labor conditions, the privilege to randomly inspect any factory they wish.”

While the Nike analogy is not perfect(no analogy is) its stresses the point I want to make. Perfectly legal business decisions can be irresponsible and can be damaging to both your corporate interests and to society at large. Whether a business decision is legal or not is the absolutely lowest bar by which a business decision can be evaluated, it is never enough to define a corporate culture and a corporate brand that people respect, it will never be enough.

Where Nike built its image with consumers on quality and eventually learned to internally that focus on quality inside its own business practises, Canonical needs to learn to internalize the respectful ethical engagement with community that it projects in the minds of its consumers. Canonical built its image..builds its products..based on a standard of ethical community engagement it set for itself. It is unreasonable for Canonical expect that it won’t have the Banshee interaction held to the same standard of community engagement that is used elsewhere inside their corporate culture.

If Canonical from day one had said we are a cut-throat business entity instead of constructing the image of itself as a community focused business…things would be different. A lot different. The Ubuntu project would not exist as it does today… Canonical would be just another vendor failing to make a buck. But because Canonical very meticulously constructed an image of itself as a constructive, highly respectful, highly engaged management of the Ubuntu project then its current actions must be held accountable to _that_ standard. Canonical cannot have it both ways. They cannot be an unscrupulous business entity and also be in partnership with the community as an ethical partner.

The banshee situation..both the initial offer and the new situation show a _deep_ corporate culture problem inside Canonical which is at odds with projected image. This culture clash is only going to get worse unless Ubuntu as a community finds a way to make Canonical accountable for bad decisions instead of just reacting defensively. At the moment I don’t have any suggestions on how to make that happen. It will involve some public discussion, which Canonical tends to shun with regard to any of its business decisions.

I say all this not because I want to rub Canonical's nose into its mistakes. Just like the people who protested Nike to change its business practises, I write this because I want things to be better than they are..better than what is strictly required by law. As an ecosystem of overlapping not-for-profit and for-profit entities we absolutely must work on setting a reasonable ethical standard that we can bake into the corporate cultures in vendors that come in the future.

No one is perfect. As individuals we will make mistakes. And a corporation if it is anything, is a sum of those of all the individual mistakes its employees make. This is not going to change. But a corporate culture on how to _learn_ from those mistakes as they are made can change. All corporations can learn how to be accountable for the mistakes that are found to be damaging to society.. if and only if they listen instead of just trying to rationalize a decision once it is made.