Resolutions of a Nerd

Hey, it’s that time of year where people are making resolutions for 2015. I have resolutions year-
round, especially since, long term, I want to figure out how to give a voice, using the internet, to everyone on the planet. I’m a nerd, and I figure things should be fair.nerd-4

My resolution for 2015 is to:

      • Learn to throw my weight around, on behalf of the good guys

That includes:

      • Treating others how they want to be treated
      • Helping nonprofits who really have their boots on the ground raise awareness about their issues
      • Finding ways to encourage trustworthy news outlets
      • Continuing as Nerd-in-Residence (and that means helping out with veterans and milfam efforts)
      • Reminding people why it’s important to give back

You’ll see more over the next few months. What are your resolutions?

Knowing When to Keep Your Mouth Shut

IBM

Back in ’77, I had recently taken a job at IBM Boca Raton, in the “advanced technology” department. It was beginning to dawn on me that I needed to be somewhat less nerdy in behavior, if not core, attitudes.

A few folks visited what was then Bell Labs, which had been responsible for a lot of seriously good tech for decades. The Bell people proposed a port of the UNIX operating system to our new minicomputer, the Series/1.

(“Minicomputer” is a dated term, but this was the seventies, and I learned coding using punch cards anyway. “Punch card” is also dated, youngsters.)

UNIX was developed by the Bell people based on their work at the MIT MULTICS project, and the name is a pun. I’d studied UNIX a coupla years before, at Case Tech, since it was perceived as a really good example of software development and impressive new tech. It was written in the C programming language, developed by the same guys. That was new in itself, since normally operating system code was done in machine language. (Yes, I’m oversimplifying a bit.)

When our team returned from Bell Labs, they were pretty tepid about the idea, but I was asked for an opinion. I felt that we could do better, but that UNIX would be great for the Series/1. Maybe I mentioned that it was far superior than the official S/1 operating system, developed using what some call the “waterfall” approach.

[One of the most eloquent descriptions of “waterfall” software development by Scott Adams]

 

My approach was politically and socially clueless. I failed to realize that local management had made a major investment in the official operating system, not only financial but also their careers might’ve depended on the success of the software. My suggestion was a non-starter, and I kinda understood that I needed to grow in non-technical areas.

Sure, I coulda fought hard for some kind of joint effort with Bell Labs to migrate UNIX to the S/1. It probably woulda meant frequent commutes to New Jersey, a mixed blessing, since I’m … from Jersey. (Inside joke for fans of Sparks Nevada, Marshall on Mars, part of the Thrilling Adventure Hour.)

My take is that UNIX on S/1 would be a great success, given its existing reputation and legitimization by Bell Labs and the phone networks of the time.

That woulda had vast repercussions on the whole computer industry, since much of the subsequent industry was based on UNIX systems, particularly the earliest Internet (ARPAnet and Sun Microsystems). Sun and related servers powered much of the early Net, including about a year of craigslist.

UNIX influenced a lot of development, for example, the filesystem structure of and later Windows. A UNIX variant, Mach, powers Apple Mac and even iOS.

Much more importantly, Linus Torvalds decided that the world needed an open source, free version of UNIX, and went ahead and did it.

The result is Linux, which powers much of the current Internet, it’s everywhere but not obviously so.

For that matter, Linux is the basis for Android, which runs most of the world’s smartphones.

If the Bell Labs folks, with minor help from me, made S/1 UNIX a big deal, this would have disrupted this history in unpredictable ways. It’s probably good that I was timid, and decided to learn un-nerdly social behaviors over the course of decades. (I can simulate normal social behavior, but observe my clock running out at about 90 minutes. Seriously.)

Instead, both a phone company in Jersey and one in Ann Arbor ported UNIX to the S/1, but years later, and it’s rare to find someone who remembers the S/1, or even UNIX.

My path took me less technical for the most part, spending 11 years at IBM as a Systems Engineer, kind of a tech consultant for customers. That’s a technical position, but not like a UNIX porting engineer. I never completely lost contact with what I was about, for example, I remember learning C in what amounted to a storage closet at IBM Detroit in ’85 or so. (If you live in Detroit, that’s the building on Nine Mile, where it hits Southfield and Northwestern.)

In ’95 I learned newer programming languages, Java and Perl, to participate in the incipient dot-com industry, helping develop Home Banking for Bank for America, while starting something called craigslist.

Nowadays I do lightweight customer service, and a great deal of public service and philanthropy. I know enough tech to have a meaningful conversation with people, more than I need.

I guess I’m much better off taking the path I did. The world didn’t need anyone to disrupt the industry, particularly the path of Linux. People do benefit from a mostly-free service (like craigslist), which helps put food on the table, in the short run, and in the long run, ain’t bad to “do well by doing good.”

Middle Photo: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2014-10-12/

Lower Photo: http://www.ricomputermuseum.org/Home/equipment/ibm-series1

4 More Websites I’m Impressed With

cjrEarlier this year, I shared 5 sites I’ve got bookmarked that I thought might surprise some folks. But maybe not, I’m a nerd, and some sites I’ve got bookmarked might be predictable. To be honest, I’m a sucker for those that do factchecking well and those that humor me.

On that note, here are 4 websites that impress me:

  1. Thrilling Adventure Hour – one of my very favorite podcasts, endlessly smart and entertaining.
  2. feedly – how I get my news feeds (really, it’s all the sites that matter to you, in one place – so it’s kinda the keeper of my news).
  3. Columbia Journalism Review – news regarding the evolution of news (disclaimer: I’m on their Board of Overseers).
  4.  Zatz Not Funny! – I love TV, and TV tech, and great site for the latter.

Honestly, I could keep going, and the list could keep growing, but I’ll save more for later… Hey, what are some sites that you’ve got bookmarked?

5 Reasons Why Giving Back’s Important

altruism3

As a nerd, I really believe in giving back (always have). It’s important to collaborate, help one another, and create the change we want, and that takes time.

Earlier this year, the craigconnects team and I created an infographic, Cracking the Crowdfunding Code, to show you just how effective and accessible crowdfunding is. Crowdfunding raised more than five billion dollars worldwide in 2013, and peer-to-peer nonprofit fundraising for charities is seeing explosive growth. Just a couple months ago, #GivingTuesday raised over $45 million in just one day – talk about giving back.

Here’s why it’s critical that we give back to our communities:

  1. The vast majority of people anywhere don’t usually have much of a voice or any influence. Usually, regular people, the grassroots, only manage to acquire power when they use technology to work together. The technology enables people to magnify their team power, acting as a force multiplier (code really is power). They can get people to the streets, and raise money. Giving back means giving people a voice. Long term, I want to figure out how to give a voice, using the internet, to everyone on the planet. This also means we need to speak up when something’s not right.
  2. When we work together to give back, we create stronger networks. Silos are inevitable, unfortunately. Do what you can to identify silos, and decide where you want your ambitions to go (my opinion? this is the best way to hack your career). Might be happier to find the people who want to do the job well. We can’t make change from the top down. The president’s the most powerful justiceperson in the world, but not that powerful. What’s powerful is when people in the trenches work together to get things done, and that’s what makes a difference
  3. We seem to throw money into food and housing, yet a lot of folks are still in need, so something isn’t working right. This includes military families and veterans. We need to do it better. (See: 5 reasons we need social change…)
  4. I’m kind of tired of passion. But the deal is, you really want commitment from people when they’re giving back. You want the excitement, but then they need to follow through. Following through is the hard part, and that’s what’s important. Instead of passion or excitement, alone, we need to incorporate commitment and results. People can get excited about something, realize it’s hard, then that passion might now count for anything. In short? Follow through with your passion, truly carry out your mission and show your community the results.

Any influence I get, well, I just don’t need or really want; I’ve got what I need, like a really good shower and my own parking place. Instead, I use the influence I do get on behalf of the stuff I believe in. You’ll see me either pushing the good work of people who get stuff done, or indulging my sense of humor. (Note to self: I’m not as funny as I think I am.)

To be sure, I don’t feel this is altruistic or noble, it’s just that a nerd’s gotta do what a nerd’s gotta do.

Final note to self: JUST LISTEN. That is, don’t ALWAYS attempt to solve the problem, SOMETIMES YOU JUST NEED TO LISTEN. (Courtesy of  “You Just Don’t Understand” by Deborah Tannen.)

The Birds Take on San Francisco

Folks, many of you might know that I’ve got quite the community of birds right outside my office window. They’ve all got their own personalities and agendas (though, they all like to eat), but they really spruce up my home office.

I kinda like to give ’em personalities based on their expressions and their demeanor. It’s gotten easier the longer we’ve been neighbors. Feel free to chime in with your own captions, too.

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Good morning! part one (…and that hawk is still watching me work):1535078_10152335119256324_1432178500441480251_n

Good morning! part two (or, planning to raid the Squirrel-resistant Suet Palace):

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A Golden-crowned Sparrow is very pleased to be a Golden-crowned Sparrow: 10356225_10152327728586324_7633783986027070734_n

A Varied Thrush greets the birthday (startups, marriage, and other things I did after 35…):

10390424_10152348647481324_2238326288297470243_n

A Cedar Waxwing who’s very pleased with his tail feathers:10407051_10152361088236324_7518105239722221198_n

A neighbor Hawk (red-tailed?) waits for lunch:10636122_10152330298491324_2086207825602362297_n

Downy Woodpecker, or, Hey, Honey!

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(mutant) House Finch is not impressed (Normally bright red, this one’s kinda orange):10846441_10152366363701324_7506754251403658869_n

Do you have any visitors to your yard? I’d like to hear about ’em, and see some photos. Speaking of visitors, while it’s not a Bay Area bird, I do have a new neighbor who really chews up the scenery. Seriously, it gets digested…

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(New neighbor even works in the rain… goats clear underbrush, working for the city. Bonus: we got goatherds!)

When You Practice What You Preach…

I’m hearing, anecdotally, that cultural transformation at VA and elsewhere might have been nudged into motion by relentlessly handing out my business card and practicing what I preach.

The big thing I’ve learned here is that for me, tech skills and money aren’t what gets the job done. What works is bearing witness to the good works of others. This can work partly through helping ’em get their social networks going, by sharing their stuff.

bizcard
My business card says “customer service rep & founder” and people see that I’m committed to that, every day.

Customer service is a big part of what inspires me; that, and my rabbi, Leonard Cohen. Ya know, customer service can really be corrosive, and it gets worse than the usual trolling and abuse. However, singer and poet Leonard Cohen really helps me get through the day, with a small but substantial assist from Dr Stephen T Colbert, DFA (Doctor of Fine Arts).

Seriously, my team, people smarter than me, and I, we’re listening, and what you say affects the trajectory of our work. If you feel we miss something, please tell us via craigconnects.org/connect, or if you really want, I’m personally at craig@craigslist.org.

(Recently I’ve made a point of reminding people that I haven’t been a spokesman for craigslist, or had any role in management since 2000. On the other side of things, I’ll be in customer service for a lifetime…)

Why We Need More Women In Tech

Women and girls still face a lot of obstacles in shaping technologies. The digital gender divide might be getting worse. Women and girls everywhere are missing, underrepresented, and dropping out from technology fields. As a result,  today’s tech – and increasingly today’s world – does not reflect the diversity of women’s experiences or ingenuity.

This isn’t fair, it’s not treating people like you want to be treated.

Beyond that, I’ve observed that technology is improved when women and girls have equal access. That’s pretty much common sense, since tech talent has no gender bias, and I’ve got over forty years working with women engineers and programmers that proves it. (We need a lot more, and in the U.S. we’re talking about a renewed emphasis on STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — education.)

Too often, women in STEM get little acknowledgement for the work they’re doing. As a nerd, it’s my philosophy that everyone gets a fair chance to be heard. It’s one of the reasons I started craigconnects.org. Earlier this year, I shared some big news: for the first time, in 2014,  women outnumbered men in a UC Berkeley Computer Science course. We need to continue supporting trends like this. It’s really important, folks.

women in tech

All this is why I’ve added my voice as an advocate to Global Fund for Women’s petition with UN Women calling for an end to the global gender technology gap. I wrote more about it over on HuffPo…

Specifically, I’m adding my name to call on the United Nations, governments around the world, and key decision makers to remove all barriers to the development and use of technology, increase investment in girls’ science and technology education around the world, and ensure women’s and girls’ full participation as developers and innovators.

Join me and add your signature to the Global Fund for Women and UN Women’s petition. Let’s make our call loud — we want to reach 20,000 signatures by March 5 in time to deliver the petition for International Women’s Day on March 8th.

Tell your colleagues, friends, and social networks that their signature can make a difference in shaping the type of future we live in.

Big News: $2M+ Raised for Nonprofits in CrowdRise Holiday Challenge

Folks, I just got an update from Ed Norton, one of the co-founders of CrowdRise, about the #GivingTower Holiday Challenge I’m sponsoring with MacAndrews & Forbes, Fred & Joanne Wilson, and Isaac S. Gindi. This year I’m giving $50k to support nonprofits.

A total of $250k is being given away in prize money, but an impressive $2 million+ has already been raised by the nonprofits participating. Last year, at this point in the Challenge, the total raised was: $609,835. That’s $1,561,954 more raised right now than was raised at this same time last year. This is the real deal.Capture

Each time a donation’s made, a brick is added to the #GivingTower. What does this mean?

  • There are 16,757 bricks in the Tower.
  • It’s over 2,514 ft tall.
  • It’s taller than 2 Bank of America Towers stacked on top of each other.
  • In 208 more feet, the Giving Tower will be taller than the Burj Khalifa, Dubai.

It’s inspiring to see the organizations putting in lots of effort and  taking the lead. They’re orgs that aren’t household names, but instead charities like the Cure JM Foundation – which works on an extremely rare disease affecting children, and small but mighty animal reserves.

The Bonus Challenge winners so far are…

Bonus Challenge #1: Cure JM Foundation

Bonus Challenge #2: Wildlife SOS

And there was a Surprise Bonus Challenge: Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation

Bonus Challenge # 3 is happening now. Every org that gets 10 donations will be entered to win $10k. You’ve got til December 16th to get the donations. And there’s still time to sign your org up to participate in the Challenge.

Sign up here (by Friday December 19th) to join the Holiday Challenge…! More to come.

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