Skud is currently certified at Master level.

Name: Skud
Member since: 2000-02-22 14:36:24
Last Login: 2011-08-05 22:03:27

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Homepage: http://infotrope.net

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Yow, how long is it since I've used this thing? That bio was seriously out of date. See my website for latest.

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I feel like Arnold Rimmer with his study timetable.

I’m terrible at New Year’s resolutions, year-in-review posts, “theme word for the year”, or anything along those lines. My best resolution of all time, back in 2002 or 2003, was “eat better quality cheese”, and I’ll never hope to match it again. Still, things are a mess for me at present and something needs to change, and today, before the “work year” starts, seems like a good day to take stock.

I’m not going to make resolutions, because everyone knows they don’t stick (except the cheese one). What I’m trying to do is prompt myself to be a bit more thoughtful about my time and energy. So, today I spent a bit of time working through some questions like:

  • How do I spend my time? How do I want to be spending it?
  • How can I tell whether I’m spending my time the way I want to be?
  • How can I be more thoughtful about each day?
  • How can I avoid spinning my wheels?

I started with a spreadsheet entitled Why I have no time, which I’ve shared publicly. In it I broke down my work and non-work time in an “ideal” situation, noting how many hours a week I’d like to spend on various things. Of course the distinction between “work” and “non-work” is a bit blurred for someone who’s self-employed, does lots of voluntary stuff, and has personal interests that cross over with professional ones, but it’s a rough breakdown.

screencap of my time spreadsheet

Is this anything like reality? Time to find out.

Then I updated Toggl, which I’ve been using for time tracking throughout 2014, so that my “Projects” matched the spreadsheet, in terms of general categorisation and colour coding. My Toggl Projects are:

  • Paid contract work (split by client for convenience)
  • Growstuff – development
  • Growstuff – other
  • Professional development/research
  • Work email/catchups
  • Work – writing/other projects
  • Work – planning
  • Work travel
  • Business admin/paperwork
  • Meals
  • Life admin and domestic miscellanea
  • Health
  • Social events/activities
  • Personal projects
  • Personal blogging/writing
  • Relaxation – crafts/tv/reading
  • Internet/social media/chat

I know I’m reasonably good at using Toggl to track my time, so this will let me see whether my “ideal” matches reality or not. If not, then I’m going to have to reflect on whether the way I’m spending my time is in keeping with my goals and values, or not. It’ll be interesting to see how that works out.

Finally, in an attempt to be more thoughtful about each day and avoid spinning my wheels, I’ve come up with a couple of worksheets to help myself. They are:

  • The breakfast worksheet (one page, ~5 minutes) which I hope to fill in over breakfast each morning, to give a bit of shape to my day.
  • The weekly worksheet (1 page, maybe 10-15 mins) which I hope to do on Sunday/Monday, to give shape to the week ahead.

On the back of the weekly worksheet is a checklist of achievements that I can check off throughout the week. My checklist’s pretty idiosyncratic, and I’ve given myself lots of easy ones to get the kick of checking them off easily — you’ll see that the first checkbox is for having filled in the front of the worksheet. The left column is for work stuff, and the right column for personal (but see the caveats above). Some of them are non-specific, like “work meeting” or “self care” or “left the house” and there are multiple checkboxes, so I can have a tick whenever I do something relevant and leave a note about the details if I want to.

screencap of part of my achievement checklist

I’m glad I have some easy wins on the checklist.

I’ve revised the worksheets already, just an hour or so after I created them, and I expect I’ll keep adapting them as I use them. I’ll be interested to see which questions/prompts are most useful to me, and which ones I can usefully drop.

Please feel free to copy/re-use any of these ideas if you find them useful!

Syndicated 2015-01-04 00:41:44 from Infotropism

Why I don’t like hackathons, by Alex Bayley aged 39 1/2

I seem to have had this discussion a few times lately, so I’m going to save myself the trouble of repeating it and just write down all the problems I have with hackathons. (Yes, I know lots of people have previously posted about what they don’t like about hackathons; I’ve linked some of them at the bottom of this post, if you want some other opinions too.)

They’re too much commitment

Me: I’m kind of interested in your thing. How can I get involved?
Them: We have a hackathon coming up. You should come!

Here’s how that sounds to me:

Me: I’d like to get a little more physically active.
Them: You should come run a marathon on the weekend!

The suffix “-athon” should tip you off here. Hackathons are intense and exhausting, and they’re meant to be. They’re usually a whole weekend of focused work, often with insufficient sleep, and too much encouragement to use masses of caffeine to stay awake and coding for 48 hours.

Sorry, but I’m not going to do that for my projects, let alone yours.

They exclude people with lives and responsibilities

This follows naturally from the marathon nature. A hackathon usually takes up a whole weekend, often starting Friday night and going through until Sunday evening. Sometimes you’re expected or encouraged to stay on-site overnight, or sometimes the norm is to go home to sleep, but either way it chews up multiple consecutive days.

I have other things going on in my life: errands to run, friends to see, a veggie garden to keep watered, and other community events and commitments to schedule around. Attending a weekend-long event means massively rearranging my life. And I don’t have kids or other people to care for; if I did, it would be pretty much impossible.

That exclusion is not evenly distributed

I see fathers of kids at hackathons pretty often, perhaps because their wives are looking after the kids. I see mothers far less often. Domestic and carer responsibilities are unevenly distributed, which means women are more likely to be too busy to attend hackathons than men are.

Until I did some research for this post, I’d never yet seen a hackathon with childcare or which provides information or assistance for parents; not even the women-only hackathon held recently in a city near me. (After some research, I now have heard of one.)

Sure, most younger women don’t yet have childcare responsibilities, but that just points out another unequal exclusion: the older you are, the more responsibilities you are likely to have, and the less energy you have for all-night Red Bull fuelled hacking sessions. Unsurprisingly, hackathon participants are generally on the young side.

It’s well documented that diverse teams have more creative ideas. So why exclude entire categories of people by holding an event that is hard for them to participate in?

They’re unhealthy

I’ve been to a few of these events, and I’ve never yet felt like I didn’t come out of it less healthy than I went in. Speaking for myself, I like daylight, moving around, eating lots of veggies, and drinking lots of water. I work at a standing desk part of the day (looking out the window at trees and birds), take lots of breaks to clear my mind and move my body, and usually make lunch with homebaked bread and something from my garden. I also like getting a good night’s sleep.

I’m not saying that everyone can or should do what I do. It’s entirely up to you to do what makes your body feel good, or to balance feeling good with other priorities. But I know that for me, when I attend a hackathon, if I spend two long days in poor lighting and poor ventilation, sitting hunched over my laptop at a meeting table in an uncomfortable chair, eating pretty average catering food or pizza (almost always especially mediocre because I go for the vegetarian option), I feel like crap.

Now, sometimes I’m prepared to feel like crap for a weekend for a good cause. But it has to be a pretty convincing cause.

Competition, meh.

One thing that doesn’t convince me: competition. For so many hackathons, the end-game is “create the best X and win a prize”. I really, really don’t care. In fact it puts me off, and makes me less likely to attend.

To start with, I know how to do a cost-benefit analysis. The last hackathon in my area, I think the average prize awarded per attendee (i.e. dividing the prizes won by the number of people present) was around $100. Though, of course, most attendees actually got zero. I might be broke, but not broke enough to consider that a good use of two whole days of my time.

Surprise: extrinsic motivation isn’t all that motivating!

Quite apart from that, though, I’m not motivated by competition. Tell me you’re going to judge whose hack is the “best” and I get crippled by stereotype threat, instantly flashing back to being the last picked for the team in gym class. And I’m a developer with 20 years’ experience under my belt, who’s worked with dozens of APIs in several languages, and is comfortable with everything from wireframing to git. Imagine if I was new and less sure of my abilities?

You can tell me all you like about how collaborative the atmosphere of your event is, but if you are awarding prizes for the “best X”, you just sound hypocritical. If you want me to believe the event is collaborative, don’t make it a competition.

Why can’t I work on an existing project?

Every hackathon I’ve been to has required that you come up with a new idea to hack on. At some hackathons, I’ve seen people complain that teams are cheating if they come with anything prepared or have done any work ahead of time.

I spend most of my time working on projects that I think are important and worthwhile. My head is full of them, I know my way around my toolkit and the codebase, and I have endless ideas for improvements and new features I want to work on.

Now you want me to show up at your event, put aside all the investment and focus I’ve built up for my project, and work on some new toy for the weekend.

They’re just toys

The result is that people build quick hacks that are cute and flashy, but have little depth. Meh.

And then they’re gone.

People say that hackathon projects are just prototypes, and that great things can later emerge from them. However, hackathon projects seldom survive beyond the weekend of the hack. Sure, I see hackathon organisers trying to take steps to ensure that projects have longevity but does this actually work?

I reviewed a handful of hacks, including many of the prize-winners, from the last hackathon I was at — the one with the longevity page linked above — and found not a single one with a code commit since the hackathon five months ago.

Here’s why: hackathons intentionally select for people who work intensely for a weekend, then give prizes for the flashiest results that can be produced in that short time. There are no incentives for sustainable projects, long-term collaboration, or maintainable code. Therefore, none of those things happen.

So what are hackathons good for?

They can be a pretty good PR exercise.

They can raise awareness of new technologies, APIs, or datasets among developers and give them a space to experiment with them.

They can be stimulate your creativity, if your creativity happens to be stimulated by short deadlines and so on.

They can be a feel-good networking experience for the (overwhelmingly self-confident, young, and male) participants.

Here’s what I want instead

Ongoing projects, that are maintained and used over several years.

A welcoming environment for people of all skill and confidence levels, with opportunity for mentorship, learning, and working at your own pace.

A schedule that makes it possible to participate without having to make heroic efforts to juggle your other responsibilities.

My main project, Growstuff, holds a monthly get-together called “Hackstuff” to work on Growstuff or any other project people care to bring along. It seems to be working well for us so far, and we have several participants who have become regular contributors to the project. I’d like to set up a similar civic hacking meetup in my town, if I can find a suitable venue.

I’d love to hear whether anyone else has experience running recurring, collaborative, low-commitment civic hacking events. If you’re doing something like that, please get in touch and tell me about it!

And some links

Who’s (not) welcome at hackathons?

Finding childcare for a UX sprint showed up when I searched for childcare and hackathons, and I was delighted to find that almost every woman named in the article is a friend of mine :)

Hackathons and minimal viable prototypes talks about what you can actually build at a hackathon (it’s not a product).

On hackathons and solutionism (do hackathons actually solve problems?)

National Day of Hacking your own Assumptions and Entitlement (a spot on satire).

Why Hackathons Suck from Thoughtworks, who I note sponsor an awful lot of hackathons. Huh?

Syndicated 2014-11-28 04:45:25 from Infotropism

Making your events more accessible is not that hard

I often hear that making an event more accessible, or even providing information about accessibility, is “too hard” for event organisers. I contest that.

I make basic efforts toward accessibility for almost every event I run, mostly in the form of documentation, and it’s not that time-consuming or difficult. I estimate I spend about 20 minutes on it for a small event at a new venue, and less than five minutes if we’re running a second or subsequent event at the same place. It’s hardly anything in the overall scheme of things.

Handy accessibility documentation checklist

  • Make a section on the event page titled “Accessibility”, and under that heading, note the physical access to the venue, including:
    • What floor is it on?
    • Is there an elevator to higher floors, or do you have to use stairs? Does the elevator require a key?
    • Do you need to go up or down steps anywhere between the entrance and the space where the action is taking place (eg. one step at the front door)?
    • Is there a separate accessible entrance? Where is it?
    • Is there rough ground to cover (eg. steep pathways, gravel)
    • Are there buttons to automatically open doors into the venue?
    • Is there a wheelchair-accessible toilet?
  • Also under “Accessibility”, make some notes about the style of the event and the content that will be delivered, with attention to how accessible it would be to deaf or vision-impaired attendees, eg.
    • Will there be a speaker? Will the speaker’s words be transcribed/available in written form, such as handouts or slides?
    • Will materials be made available online, or minutes or proceedings posted, after the event?
    • Will any video or audio materials be transcribed or interpreted?
  • Also under “Accessibility”, mention any dietary needs, common allergies, or other health considerations:
    • If food is provided, what dietary requirements will be met automatically (eg. vegetarian, gluten free, and nut free)? If an attendee has other dietary requirements, who should they contact and by what date?
    • Especially if the event is a private home, are there any pets that people might have allergies to?
    • Are there any other materials that may cause allergic reactions or other health problems? Any environmental factors that may have health implications? Eg. fumes, noise, extreme heat, flashing strobe lights.
  • Provide an email/phone contact for any accessibility related enquiries not already covered by the above.
  • Under “Transportation”, note ways of getting to the venue, including:
    • Car parking – distance from venue, costs
    • Bicycle parking – indoor/outdoor, secure?
    • Public transportation – nearest routes/stops, time of first/last service
    • Ride sharing – especially for areas with poor public transport coverage, are there arrangements for people to share rides? Where should someone ask to find a ride, or offer a ride? (eg. Facebook group)
  • Under “Children”, note the following:
    • Is the event suitable for children? (Eg. mention if it will be unsafe)
    • Is there childcare provided?
    • Are there facilities for baby changing, feeding, etc?

Here’s a sample for an event I went to recently:

Accessibility

Physical accessibility: The workshop will be held on a rural property. Part of the workshop will be held up a steep and narrow flight of stairs. The rest of the workshop will be held around the property, with rough ground and unfinished paths between different areas. Access to the toilet is via a rough path and a few stairs. We will also be visiting three other sites, which may also have rough terrain or stairs. This event is not suitable for people with wheelchairs/scooters and may not be suitable for others with mobility impairments.

Workshop content: The morning speaker will provide written/illustrated notes covering most of the workshop material. No other transcription/interpretation is planned.

Allergies: Due to the nature of the workshop and the ourdoor venue, people with seasonal or animal allergies may wish to medicate accordingly.

If you have other accessibility needs or inquiries, feel free to email (email address).

Transport

There is ample car and bike parking onsite.

There is no public transport to the venue.

Ride shares can be arranged via our Facebook group (link); please post there if you are able to offer a ride, or are looking for one.

Children

For safety reasons, this event is not suitable for young children; older children/teens may attend under the supervision of an adult. No childcare will be provided.

Babies may be changed in the bathroom at the main venue. Heating/refrigeration for baby food are available in the kitchen. No baby changing/feeding facilities will be available at the other sites we visit.

I timed it; that took me 25 minutes to research and write, and I was eating dinner and watching TV at the same time.

For future events at the same venue, simply copy-paste and make changes as necessary. It should take less than 5 minutes.

You may think that this hardly counts as “making your event accessible”, since so much of it is simply stating the lack of accessiblity, but even that much information is such a huge step above what most events provide that people will thank you for it.

Besides, awareness is most of the battle. Once you get in the habit of thinking about these things for every event, you’ll start to notice if you’re excluding people from attending. You might not have intended to exclude them, and done it without thinking; that’s pretty common, and most of us start out there. Now you’ll be more conscious of it, and you can begin to think about what further steps you could take.

At the very least, you’ll have saved a potential attendee from having to email a stranger (or worse, post on a public forum), disclosing a bunch of personal information just to find out whether they can attend or not.

Here are some examples of other events that provide accessiblity information:

  • AdaCamp Bangalore — this is an event I’m organising remotely, at a venue I’ve never seen, in another country. I still managed to provide this information without too much difficulty, by sending a list of questions to someone local and having them walk through the space.
  • Wiscon is a science fiction convention held in the same hotel year after year. They have managed to build up an amazing set of accessibility resources on their website over the years.

And a few quick “don’ts”:

  • Don’t make people email you with any/all accessibility requests; it puts the onus on them, rather than you, and can invade their privacy. Take the effort to answer the most likely questions ahead of time.
  • Don’t hide the venue’s location from attendees unless absolutely needed for privacy reasons. At the very least, give the general location to within a kilometre or two, and let attendees know as promptly as possible after they register. Knowing where an event is to be held is an important piece of information to help people make decisions.
  • Don’t use offensive language around disabilities. Avoid “handicapped”, “crippled”, “sufferer/suffering”, “victim”, “wheelchair-bound”. Usually-safe terms include: “people with disabilities”, “mobility/visual/hearing impairment”, “wheelchair/scooter user”, “mobility aid”.
  • Don’t get defensive when people ask you to make your event more accessible. Listen, take their suggestions onboard, and honestly weigh the costs (in time, effort, or money) against the benefits (wider reach, greater diversity, and simply doing the right thing). Consider whether you make a partial effort to solve some of the accessibility problems, for a lower cost. If the tradeoff simply can’t work given the resources you have, apologise in a straightforward way, and say you’ll keep it in mind for the future (ideally at a specified date).
  • Don’t put the onus on people who require accommodations to educate you, to advocate for accessibility, or to do all the work toward it. They have enough on their plate as it is, and they don’t want to have to put in so much more effort than other attendees, just to be able to take part in an event. Make it easy for them to attend, and then once you’ve got them engaged and excited, perhaps they will choose to volunteer as an organiser.

This is still a learning process for me, as it is for most people. I know I’ve done a crap job of this in the past, but I hope I’ll do a better job in future. If you have any suggestions about how I can improve the way I approach event accessibilty, please feel free to contact me.

Syndicated 2014-11-17 09:46:21 from Infotropism

Read this interview with me about leading AdaCamp Berlin and Bangalore

As I mentioned earlier today, I’m off to Europe shortly for AdaCamp Berlin, then in November I’m going to India for AdaCamp Bangalore. I’ll be leading both events, which means I get to welcome everyone and set the stage for the unconference, make sure the sessions and workshops run smoothly, and that the culture of AdaCamp meets its usual high standards.

The Ada Initiative just posted this announcement and interview where I talk a bit about my experience with AdaCamp, running various community events, and what I’ll bring to these ones.

Syndicated 2014-10-02 11:52:33 from Infotropism

Travels: London and Berlin (Oct 7th-20th, ish)

I haven’t mentioned this on here yet so I thought I’d better do so before I actually, you know, board the plane.

I’m heading over to Europe next week and the week after. The main reason I’m going is AdaCamp in Berlin, which I will be helping run, but before and after that I’ll also be spending some time in the UK and running this Growstuff event, to get stuck into some serious code with some of our UK-based developers, in London on Oct 18-19.

If you are in the UK and are interested in food innovation, open data, technology for social good, sustainability, inclusive open source projects, or related fields, I would love to meet you! If you can’t make it to the Growstuff code sprint but would like to catch up for a coffee or something, drop me a line.

Syndicated 2014-10-02 04:29:13 from Infotropism

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