Older blog entries for Skud (starting at number 210)

And a third thing:

3) I’ve been sitting on this for a little while, but it’s been announced now, so: I’ll be keynoting Open Source Bridge in Portland, Oregon (USA) in June. I know a bunch of my people will be there and I can’t wait to see you all. If you have never been to Open Source Bridge before, it’s one my my favourite conferences, bridging (get it!) software and social responsibility in a way that you don’t see many other places. I’m pretty sure I’ll be talking about Growstuff and how growing food is like writing software. It is, really!

Syndicated 2013-04-03 03:26:16 from Infotropism

So hey, two things:

1) Growstuff is live. Go check it out. It’s what we’re calling a “soft launch” and we’re still building features at a cracking rate, but it’s there and it works and we want people to try it out. (What’s Growstuff? Haven’t you been paying attention? It’s a social website for vegie gardeners. It’s an open source project. It’s an app platform AND a dessert topping.)

2) The Disreputable Order of Hopperites, a Melbourne gathering of geeky/technical women, is having its second meeting next Monday. It’s a really chill, fun group, with interesting talks. If you are in Melbourne, identify as a woman/girl/female, and are into technical things, you should come! Register at the link above. We still need another speaker, too, if you have a tech topic you’d like to talk about for ~15 mins.

Syndicated 2013-04-03 02:48:06 from Infotropism

Testing post formats

Move along, nothing to see here.

Syndicated 2013-03-23 22:58:34 from Infotropism

Why Growstuff is Open Source

This was originally posted on the new Growstuff blog, which I set up the other day. I also set up a fortnightly newsletter, to which you should subscribe if you want to keep up with what’s happening with Growstuff as we count down to our public launch, in (eep!) about 2-and-a-bit months.

My background is in open source software, and I’ve been using and producing it for almost twenty years. Sometimes it’s easy to live in the open source bubble, and fail to notice that there are areas where open source software is not common or standard. Over the past few months, working on Growstuff, I’ve attended a number of events for social enterprises and sustainability, and checked out dozens of websites aimed at food gardeners or people trying to live more sustainable lives. Venturing outside my former bubble, I’ve found that open source software is the exception rather than the rule in these areas, so I thought it would be a good idea to talk about why Growstuff is open source, and why we think it’s important.

It’d be traditional at this point to talk about what open source software is, and to give a quick definition. But open source is at least three things, and each needs its own explanation.

First of all, open source is a political movement that aims to change the power balance between software creators and software users. When you use traditional software, you have to take it as-is. If you don’t like it, you have few options. Software makers can change the software any way they like, charge you what they want for it, or withdraw their support for it at any time. You’re locked in an unequal relationship with them, where they hold all the power. Open source software gives power back to the users, letting them — us — understand how it works, use the software how we want, modify it if we need to, and access it regardless of who we are, where we’re from, or how rich we happen to be.

It does this through special software licenses. You’ve probably clicked “Accept” on a lot of software licenses in your time, and open source licenses are just like this, except that they offer you (as a software user) a bunch of rights, where other licenses typically take them away. An open source license says that you have the right to use the software for any purpose whatsoever. It says that you’re allowed to read the source code — the underlying program that makes the software run — and to change it if you need to, to suit your needs. It says that you can share the software freely, passing it on to friends or colleagues without having to pay license fees or worry that the software creator will come after you. In some cases (as in the license Growstuff uses) it says that if you modify the software and share it with others, you must use the same open source license, to make sure that people down the line have the same rights you do, and to share the love as widely as possible.

Finally, by changing the balance of power between software creators and users, and enshrining that greater equality in a formal document, we open ourselves up to a more collaborative way of working. Software creators and users are able to come together to build the software they need, and users can even contribute directly to the software itself, by modifying the source code and offering their changes back to the original creator. Over the years, open source software developers have learned all kinds of effective ways to work together as distributed, often international teams, and to engage their user communities in developing something that they really want to use and in which they feel a sense of ownership.

So what’s this got to do with social enterprise, sustainability, and Growstuff? In my mind, open source, sustainability, and social enterprise are closely intertwined, to the point where I feel that choosing open source is a vital part of the whole picture.

When we talk about social enterprises — businesses that hope to achieve a social good through their business activities — we seldom look at their software practices. But the choice of software to use, or decision to develop software under a closed or open model, has a social impact, just as do the choice of environmentally friendly materials for physical manufacturing, or the decision to employ people from disadvantaged backgrounds. We expect social enterprises to follow ethical business practices; why not expect them to follow software practices that support equal access, transparency, and accountability?

When it comes to sustainability, it’s about more than changing your light bulbs or using a fancy water bottle. Sustainability’s about developing communities and ways of living and working that can survive and thrive in the long term. Open source is a sustainable way of building software. If a company that writes closed software goes under, the software dies with it, but an open source software project can live long beyond the people or institutions that started it. Since there’s a broad community of people familiar with the software, who know how to read and modify its source code, new developers can step up. An open source project is one that builds community and resilience against all kinds of change: exactly what sustainability is about!

These are the reasons why we think it’s important that Growstuff be open source. We want to work openly and ethically, in collaboration with our members, building a community that feels a sense of ownership and deep involvement in the software that runs our website. We want other projects, especially those working in similar areas, to be able to look at what we’re doing and learn from us, through reading or re-using our source code. We want to know that if something happens to Growstuff itself, a new Growstuff — or a hundred new Growstuffs — could sprout up, and that people could continue to benefit from what we’ve built far into the future.

Syndicated 2013-02-21 05:55:55 from Infotropism

Hurrah, I’m $37 richer!

Just a quick post to note that Growstuff (my open source project for food gardeners) was selected as one of the winners of Pinboard’s satirical startup incubator program. I get $37 in funding, woohoo!

While the $37 won’t pay for much of anything — that’s the point, after all — I’m looking forward to Maciej’s advice and help with getting our name out there, and to getting to know the other winners. I’m pleased to see another food startup on the list (home baked goods via the Internet!), would love to be able to use the pre-hardened machine images for AWS, and can’t help but be excited that a sailing-related startup is amongst the winners. While I don’t play board games much, nor have a kid in school, both those projects sound useful and likely to succeed, too. Congrats to my co-selectees!

Syndicated 2013-01-15 23:10:07 from Infotropism

Inflection point

I just asked the Internet to crowdsource a professional bio for me, figuring that literally anything would be better than having to write one myself. The results aren’t bad, though the process was far messier than that would suggest. (Etherpad link will disappear in 30 days, may get messed up before that. I’ve saved a copy offline for posterity.)

My favourite quote from the process, from Sumana:

She reinvents herself so frequently that any given moment is an inflection point, unextrapolatable.

I don’t know where I can possibly use that, but I love it, so I’m posting it here.

Syndicated 2013-01-14 04:37:32 from Infotropism


A couple of weeks ago on Twitter, prompted mostly by Maciej’s Pinboard Investment Co-Prosperity Cloud, I asked whether there was any sort of discussion/community/nexus of information around tech startups that don’t follow the VC-funded Silicon Valley model, but look for alternative/more sustainable ways to do things. I got a few answers with links to things of interest, but nothing that really made me say “Yes! There is a thing here!”

Still, I thought it was worth collecting links somewhere. So this post is just to say that I’ve put together a reading list of sorts, and I’m going to keep tagging stuff there as I find it. So far it includes things about tech co-ops, criticism of Silicon Valley’s “disruptive” business models, thoughtful posts about business models, and some examples of alt startups that I really like.

If you were going to start reading anywhere, I’d recommend Anil Dash’s To Less Efficient Startups. I think what he’s saying is really important.

If you have any other good links, please let me know.

Syndicated 2013-01-14 03:56:53 from Infotropism

No resolutions this year

Just wanted to note the new year and say, yes, it is indeed 2013. I didn’t feel moved to make any resolutions this time round. I figure I’ll be busy enough with Growstuff and if I can do a good job of that, that’s achievement enough.

A number of my friends have made or renewed resolutions to read more books by people of colour. I was at the public library yesterday and found myself looking at the shelves with that in mind. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, so I just started on the nearest shelves, which happened to cover the history of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Very few authors’ names struck me as being other than Anglo. Sigh. I did find two books about Egypt though, and a couple of books on Australian Aboriginal history in the next row. I’m glad that other people’s resolutions made me more mindful of this.

What are your resolutions this year? Or have you punted like me?

Syndicated 2013-01-03 04:14:03 from Infotropism

Global Shifts conference

Tomorrow I’m off to Global Shifts, a three day social enterprise conference being hosted at RMIT. I’m very glad someone happened to mention it to me last week, just in time for me to register.

I’ve started describing Growstuff, in appropriate circles, as a social enterprise. Lots of people don’t know what the term means, so I’ll just quickly define it: a social enterprise is a business which hopes to achieve a social good, but does so through its business practices rather than the fundraising/donations model that most charities use.

I consider Growstuff to be a social enterprise on several levels. The first is that by helping people grow their own food, we are addressing food insecurity and promoting environmental sustainability. The second is that by aggregating data about people’s food growing activities and releasing it under a Creative Commons license, along with our open source code, we’re freely providing technology to help other people build tools and services for food growers, or to help researchers understand how people are growing food. The third way that Growstuff works as a social enterprise is through our community and development processes: as a non-traditional software project, we offer training/mentoring and a supportive environment for people from non-traditional technology backgrounds or who are marginalised in the technology industry to learn, improve their skills, and take leadership roles.

I’ve been to an uncountable number of tech conferences over the past decade or so, but Global Shifts will be my first social enterprise one. I keep remembering something someone said in an intro session the one time I attended SXSW: “Don’t attend sessions about things you already know. You’ll only sit there being annoyed they’re not covering your favourite topics, and thinking you could do better. Instead, go to sessions about things you know nothing about.” Some of the best conferences I’ve been to have been the ones where I’m stepping outside my usual field — I’m thinking especially about the museum/library/archive events and digital humanities “THATCamps” I attended in 2010-2011 — and I’m hoping that Global Shifts is going to have the same effect: lots of new subjects to fill my brain, and very few where I doze off because I’ve heard it all before.

Here are some of the sessions I’m hoping to attend:


  • Developing your social enterprise idea to a workable model — 2 hour workshop, hoping it will be very useful, but slightly worried that we’ve already advanced beyond it. On the other hand, I suspect the other main contender in this timeslot, “B Corporations (what, why, how?)” will be covering material I definitely know from having pored over their website over the last week or two.
  • Structuring a social enterprise – what are the options? — 2 hour workshop, and I’m very interested in this, because this is one of the next steps for Growstuff.


  • Measuring Impact — not the obvious choice (that would be “Paddock to plate, food is leading the revolution”) but another Growstuff person will most likely be attending that one, so we’ll each take notes and swap info afterwards.
  • Making Change: If it’s so good, why aren’t more people doing it? — another one that’s on against a green/environmental session, but I’m planning the same note-swapping deal in this session too. I actually think this session might be useful for insight into why people might not want to use our stuff.
  • SOCIAL DRAGON’S DEN: Real projects pitch to real investors — I want to watch other social enterprises pitching their ideas, and see how they’re doing it — and how we can do it. Not that we’re pitching to investors, but it’s good to be able to explain our project in a compelling way to all sorts of people.


  • State of Australia — I’ll just quote the description and you’ll see why this is so interesting to me: “What structural supports are in place to get social enterprises up and running successfully? Who and what is available to back-up your start-up? Where do you go when you need support, guidance, direction or simple good advice?” Yes please.
  • Structuring success — this is a session about co-ops, B-Corporations, and other alternative governance models. I actually think this might be more interesting than the B-Corp workshop on Wednesday, since it presents a wider range of options.
  • Leadership and people: how to create a movement — not super psyched by this (suspect it might be a bit Social Media 101) but it looks way more interesting than the alternative (“Can big business save the world?”) so I’ll probably go to it anyway.

So, that’s my plan for Global Shifts. I’ll probably be tweeting from there (hashtag #globalshifts). If anyone reading this is attending and wants to meet up, drop me a line.

Syndicated 2012-12-11 11:14:36 from Infotropism

My Name Is Me is back

A few people have contacted me lately asking where “My Name Is Me” (previously at http://my.nameis.me/) had got to. Well, the domain registration expired, the WordPress site that I didn’t login to very often got malwared to hell and back, and when I asked around, nobody wanted to take it over.

However, I recently set up WordPress Multisite (and wow, that was easier than I thought it would be — recommended!) and I’m in the process of moving all my various blogs to it. Among them, since I had an archive sitting around, is MNIM.

And so, in “celebration” (a ha ha) of Google+ releasing a “community” feature that excludes LGBTQ people; abuse survivors; refugees; whistleblowers; people in the military, medical, legal, political, education, or social work fields; people from countries which commonly use monomyms or mixed character sets for names; people who want to chat with their gaming, open source, fandom, or SCAdian buddies; nuns and monks; performers known by their stage names; authors known by their pen names; activists and political dissidents… oh look, just go see the site. In recognition of all these people and their exclusion from G+ and similar social networks, MNIM is now back at mynameisme.org.

Note that it’s in “archival” mode — I’m not actively soliciting new people to list on the site, and the forms for submitting stories have been removed. It took a team of hard workers slogging away at all the editorial work for MNIM, and we’re no longer up for that. Hopefully the work we did last year will still be useful as it stands.

Syndicated 2012-12-07 23:17:38 from Infotropism

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