Reporting on OSCON 2016

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Last week was OSCON 2016, and the first year that the conference was held in Austin, Texas. OSCON has always been an important conference for Conservancy and for me personally. In 2011, it was the first conference I ever keynoted (I was also on a keynote panel in 2008, which was the closest I’d gotten before then), and where I really started talking about my heart condition and medical devices. OSCON was also the conference where we had the first Conservancy booth and debuted Conservancy t-shirts and stickers.

Austin seems to really suit OSCON. The feel of the conference was comparable to Portland, but there seemed to be a lot of new local participation resulting in a much more diverse conference. I met a lot of great people for whom it was their first time at the conference and made a lot of good connections. Conferences, and OSCON in particular, are always short on time and often I was in a dead run from one thing to the next.

I participated in two sessions on Thursday. One was a talk I gave on employment agreements. I outlined basic issues to look for in signing an employment agreement but my main point was that employment agreements can often be negotiated. Companies have standard contracts that they use for all employees, but in many areas they may be prepared to edit the agreement as part of an onboarding negotiation. After you receive your offer, but before you sign the employment agreement, you are likely to have more power in the relationship than you will again. The company has expended resources in recruiting and interviewing you, and has come to the decision that you’re the best person for the job. Just as you negotiate your salary and other important terms of employment, some of the contractual provisions are also likely to be flexible. I’ve seen a lot of agreements over the years, and every time I’ve talked to someone about this issue they’ve been able to get *some* change.

Because of this, and because it’s so hard to know what to ask for if you’re not a lawyer like me, Conservancy is working on a project of standard employment agreement provisions that could be worth asking for. If many prospective employees ask for this, some companies may start to give this as a perk to attract top talent.

The second session was a panel about free and open software foundations. Moderated by Deb Bryant, the panel discussed issues around foundation formation, fiscal sponsorship and revenue models. I was really excited that multiple people in the session recommended Conservancy as a nonprofit home, and also encouraged audience members to become Supporters of Conservancy! There are a lot of great organizations in free and open source software and it was so interesting to see how many roles the panelists serve in them.

Conservancy had a booth, so I spent most of the rest of the time there. It was great to be in one of the nonprofit areas with so many other awesome nonprofits in our field. It was also the first time we had multiple stickers, including the very first Outreachy stickers.

I was also able to catch a panel on patents that Bradley was a part of, eloquently reminding everyone how deeply problematic software patents are.

Lastly, it was great to meet with other Outreachy organizers! We don’t have a chance to meet in person very often and we always have so much to discuss.


After the conference ended on Thursday, we had a chance to relax and talk about the conference with Conservancy Supporters at our pool party. I’m always struck by how impressive our Supporters are. While walking around the party, I caught conversations about the future of free software, copyleft, enforcement, patents, conferences and even one where we recruited someone great to apply for the GNOME Executive Director job! I was so excited by the enthusiasm of our Supporters. Aside from the financial aspect, which is critical for us, with such a small staff it would otherwise be impossible to do all of our work and tell people about it without their help. While it’s taken me all week to recover from the conference and try to catch up on the backlog of work that piled up, I feel reinvigorated and recharged!

Thinking Fondly of GUADEC

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It’s been a really long time since I’ve blogged and Oliver Propst is here in New York and since I’ve been telling him about GUADEC I realized that instead I should write it all down!

Getting to GUADEC was very exciting for me as I finished my talk at OSCON and then ran straight to the airport in order to make my flight. Unfortunately this meant that I missed the first day of GUADEC in addition to the all day board meeting the day before. All of the travel was worth it when the bus pulled into the station in Strasbourg to find Rosanna and Sri waiting for me! We walked over to the bar gathering and it was fantastic to see everyone and catch up and I was immersed in GUADEC all over again.

It was really fun to be at GUADEC and definitely a different experience than as Executive Director. There were so many great talks that it was often hard to choose between the two tracks. I loved volunteering to help with sessions and felt pretty privileged to introduce two of the keynotes: Nate Willis and Matthew Garrett. Nate spoke about automotive software with the cool narrative of hacking his own car. I loved that he tied it all back to GNOME with practical recommendations for the community. Matthew gave an incredibly inspirational talk about GNOME and its future. I highly recommend watching the video when it comes out if you didn’t get a chance to see it in person. I think we’ll have a lot to talk about over the next year and a lot of work ahead of us too.

I spoke about what I learned as Executive Director of GNOME. It was nice to reflect over the years I spent in the role and also to provide some recommendations going forward. The GNOME community is exceptional and if we can prioritize attracting newcomers and communicating better about why we do what we do we’ll be unstoppable. I proposed that we have technical evangelists for GNOME so that we have the ability to appoint our most articulate and charismatic community members as representatives. I think the GNOME community needs to go to companies and talk to them about GNOME and help them with their GNOME usage (or potential GNOME usage). Happily two extraordinary people volunteered after my talk so we’ll see!

All of the board meetings were a bit grueling but I think good discussions were had. And the marketing hackfest was fun and productive as usual.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention all of the hard work of Alexandre and Natalie who made GUADEC run so smoothly, even in a venue that they had to scramble to arrange when the original venue fell though at the last minute. Happily, Alexandre was the winner of the coveted Pants Award this year, so we had multiple opportunities for our community to express our gratitude.

I also had a blast shining the bright light of truth on the Swedish Conspiracy. And I’m looking forward to GUADEC in Goethenburg too!

Thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel!

Some things I’ve recently been up to

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Apologies, I’ve gotten out of the habit of posting what I’ve been working on!

In the past couple of weeks I’ve:

  • written a proposal for a grant for the Outreach Program for Women
  • with Marina, developed a formal sponosrship structure for OPW and started contacting organizations and sponsors about the next round of internships
  • worked with the GNOME.Asia team – the conference is shaping up very impressively!
  • started working with Sri and Flavia on the press release for GNOME 3.8, and requested some quotes from some prominent people.
  • worked a bit with Flavia – I’m just a co-mentor for this round’s OPW and I’m again struck by how much more I wish I were doing as a mentor. Thank you thank you thank you to all of the great GNOME mentors (and mentors from other projects). And a thank you to Flavia for keeping me focused and also for reaching out to other folks as well.
  • worked on the annual report, following up with contributors, writing content and proofreading and editing – we’re almost there!
  • partially wrote my talk for LibrePlanet, which is coming up this weekend. I’ve got to get that finished and polished in the next day or two!
  • discussed speaking at a couple of conferences and also at a for-profit company, I’ll keep you posted about upcoming conferences and mention below the ones coming up soon.
  • worked on a few annoying legal related matters, including a couple of things that have been sitting on my desk for a long time
  • wrote a new template invitation letter for conferences to help with the visa application process for GNOMEes who need visas to travel to our hackfests and GUADEC
  • reviewed our form 990, along with Shaun and Rosanna
  • prepared for the a11y grant proposals to come in, and sent out a reminder about the deadline, which was at the end of last week.
  • had my usual meetings – one on one with Andreas, the GNOME.Asia meeting, a board meeting, etc.

Upcoming speaking engagements

  • I’m speaking at LibrePlanet this weekend. It’s a great conference with an awesome freedom-loving audience! I’ve been speaking here for the past few years so it’s really exciting to be asked to give one of the keynotes.I’ll be talking about idealism in free software communities, mostly inspired by the awesomeness of the GNOME community and its struggles following the introduction of GNOME 3
  • Next month I’ll be at the Linux Foundation’s Collaboration Summit, where I’ll be speaking in three different sessions. I’ll be speaking on the legal track (though with a talk that’s not really that much of a legal talk), giving a talk about the Outreach Program for Women and moderating a panel about GPLv3 issues in the auto industry. Should be busy but fun!

More stuff I’ve done recently…

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I lost a little time to being sick but in the past two weeks, I:

  • did some final revisions on the GNOME’s 990
  • looked into the ongoing UK open standards discussion, and discussed preparing a comments with SFLC. Thanks to Glyn Moody for letting me
    know about it
    and to SFLC for working with me. I’ll keep you posted as to our comment (the deadline’s been recently extended a month).
  • worked on some trademark issues for GNOME
  • finished fundraising for our Outreach Program for Women, and started to put together a press release with Marina – that should be coming very soon. I also helped wrap up the tough decisions about which applicants to accept and took care of some paperwork related to the program.
  • discussed keynote invitees for GUADEC and got to invite a couple of speakers! I hope they come! I also started working on looking for sponsors for GUADEC.
  • attended a couple of GNOME.Asia planning meetings and worked on a few action items too. That group is working so hard to put the conference together, despite being thrown quite a few curve balls along the way.
  • followed some of the important discussions going on in the GNOME community and participated in a number of backchannel discussions. I’m glad that the substantive discussion is being talked about openly and I’m glad we’re committed to improving as a community. One thing I would recommend doing (and I think I might make this its own blog post) is taking the time to positively react to good emails and discussion points that go around. When we see something negative we’re quick to react but in general we rarely thank those who take the time to be good communicators. Just a thought! So if you liked an email that you read, or thought the tone was good or supportive or something like that, quickly write the person a private email to tell them so!
  • guest lectured a class on free culture and free software with Justin Colaninno at Columbia Law School. I’ve been doing it ever semester for the past few years, and it’s very fun to see how much the knowledge about the topics has changed and gotten broader acceptance.

Free Culture at SXSW

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I had the privilege this past Wednesday to speak on a panel at the music conference of South by Southwest: Set Your Content Free (It’s Harder Than You Think). Moderated by the enthusiastic and eloquent Michael Petricone of the Consumer Electronics Association, the panel was composed of me, Hank Shocklee (of Bomb Squad/Public Enemy fame), Julie Samuels of EFF, and Paul Geller of Grooveshark.

sxsw panelists

As you can see, I wore my QuestionCopyright t-shirt, which became a talking point in the panel. It was very refreshing that all of the panelists believed that sharing content is the right way forward, and though each of us had a different perspective, that fundamental agreement made it possible to have a much more interesting and in depth discussion about these issues than I’ve had elsewhere. As Michael put it, we had a great practical discussion of strategies for using free content to promote and maximize alternative revenue streams – the positives, negatives, pitfalls, and the hard work it takes to be successful, even when you give it away for free.

Some of the topics we covered were:

  • direct-to-consumer business models enabled by the digital marketplace
  • the power large copyright owners continue to wield and how it affects the marketplace
  • opportunities and obstacles faced by independent artists
  • new definitions of success in the marketplace

The theme was really exploring various ways that the shift away from centralized distribution and control affects musicians and artists generally. I spoke a bit about Sita Sings the Blues and nonprofit distribution of art and music. Julie piped in about things from a legal perspective in the wake of SOPA/PIPA, Paul talked about his experiences at Grooveshark and the legal battles they’ve been engaged in and Hank discussed his view of the industry as a producer and composer. Favorite moments of mine included Paul saying that there should be many Groovesharks, Hank kicking things off by saying that the key to being successful can only be by building an audience through the free distribution of your music and Julie underscoring my point about copyright as censorship and discussing the erosion of fair use. Also, Hank advises R&B artists to make A Capella tracks stat for DJs to use.

Many thanks to Julie for inviting me to participate and to QCO for sponsoring some of my travel. I really loved the discussion, which was in contrast to the continuing legal education tracks I sat through later in the conference. Those were predicated on the very traditional business of representing copyright maximalists. I found it interesting that most of the panels on the main sxsw tracks were realistic discussions about the current state of the music industry which is becoming more centered on the assumption of sharing whereas the panels of lawyers were mostly staunch supporters of the past models (it was news to me that the demise of SOPA was a tragedy). A few of the lawyers on some of the panels did have very interesting things to say. For example, one lawyer cited that 99.9% of the musicians who perform at sxsw cannot make a living from their music. I hope that over time, these legal focused sessions will become more balanced – both in perspective on copyright and also in their representation of women on the panels. In a field where there are many successful women (and the audience was well represented in this regard), the speakers in the CLE track only included 5 women out of 45 speakers.

Nonetheless, I was very glad to take care of some of the requirements I need to keep my bar membership in good standing, and some of the discussion was very interesting.

It was a fun and fascinating week. I was proud to represent QuestionCopyright.Org and look forward to having many interesting discussions about free culture in the future.

Back from LCA!

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After a long series of flights this weekend, I’m finally home from my trip to

My time in Australia kicked off with AdaCamp in Melbourne over the weekend, which was fantastic and which I’ll give its own post in the coming days. I find conferences to be very intense and can never seem to find the time to blog while I’m there. I’m impressed with those who manage to pull it off.

LCA was a fantastic conference. I greatly enjoyed meeting people and catching up with old friends. It was great to be able to talk about GNOME with everyone. Many people didn’t know about and others hadn’t actually seen GNOME3 and were impressed when I showed them my laptop. (And happily quite a number went away excited to try it.)

I gave two talks at the conference. The first was at the Business of Open Source Miniconf on Monday which was organized by Martin Michlmayr, where I talked about the nuts and bolts of nonprofit law. Since the talk was outside the United States, I kept the discussion mostly on a conceptual level, focusing on issues like governance and common pitfalls for nonprofit management. Usually I worry that these kinds of talks are very boring but perhaps this approach was better, as this time the audience seemed really engaged. I was the last talk of the day, and the Q&A session lasted well past the scheduled end time. Unfortunately, the talk wasn’t recorded but I’d be happy to send the slides on to anyone who is interested.

The keynote I gave on Thursday was my medical devices talk but longer and with more of a focus on GNOME – the thrust of the talk being that software has become critical to our lives and to our society and that since free and open source software is safer over time, we must make it usable so that we can build a bridge to ordinary users. I loved being able to talk about GNOME’s accessibility campaign in this context too. I hope that folks who listened to the talk will give to the campaign so we can make real headway on accessibility.

I was totally overwhelmed with the responses to my keynote. The twitter stream was amazing, but I especially loved the fact that folks were saying that they now want to hack on GNOME after my talk. GNOME developers should be proud about what they’re doing. They’re really making the world a better place. I’m so glad to be able to represent and support the community.

This point was underscored by Jacob Applebaum in his keynote (which was amazing but I think hasn’t been posted yet). He of course talked about security, our governments and ways that we can protect ourself against surveillance. He made great points and I learned quite a lot from his talk. In his conclusion, Jake made several calls for action, including hacking on GNOME (I was particularly proud that he quoted me as saying “the Guh in GNOME is for freedom”). He suggested we build Tor as a default into our desktop to promote more secure web use, and I think that’s a really fabulous idea. One of the problems that we have with improving security generally is getting ordinary people to understand why it’s important and how to implement it. GNOME could be the perfect place for this, as our community understands these issues and is skilled at making beautiful software that is accessible and easy to use.

It may be silly, but thanks to Jake and also Paul Fenwick who got all the crickets out of my room the night before my talk so I could prep and sleep!

I also met with a few reporters and will link to other articles if they wind up getting published.

Kudos to the LCA2012 team, especially Josh Stewart and Kathy Reid. The conference was well organized, interesting and fun. Thanks for bringing me to Australia!

Montreal Summit report

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The Montreal Summit turned out to be a very fun and productive gathering last weekend. With the 3.2 release behind us, much of the discussions were at a pretty high level, and there was a lot of discussion about the state of GNOME and its path going forward. This was reflected in both the technical and non-technical sessions that were held.

The team present went through all of the features for GNOME 3.3/3.4 and discussed kicking off the 3.3 cycle generally. The discussion dovetailed nicely with the discussions currently underway on the mailing lists. There were presentations on Baserock by Lars Wirzenius, jhbuild by Colin Walters, as well as a number of sessions that facilitated discussion on matters related to GNOME strategy, one on the application menu, with canonical contributing a good chunk of code toward an improved application menu, and one led by Marina Zhurakhinskaya on Google’s Summer of Code program and how to improve and maximize GNOME’s participation in it. There was a lot of great brainstorming and coming to agreement on all sorts of issues. There was so much going on that even though the event wasn’t huge there were some people there that I never even got the chance to talk to and I’m sure there was a lot accomplished that I didn’t even know about (for example, Olivier Crête tells me that he made a fix to again allow the use of the free Theora codec for VoIP calls in Empathy). Other blogs by GNOME hackers give more detailed views on their participation at the Summit:

  • Matthias Clasen blogged about his work during and after the Summit to modernize the deprecation system in GLib and GTK+ by using annotations.
  • Frederic Peters wrote an overview.
  • Jean-François Fortin Tam wrote about his experience at the Summit, including talking to Olivier Crète, Guillaume Desmottes, Robert Ancell and others including me!
  • Tiffany Antopolski recapped the GNOME strategy session.
  • Behdad Esfahbod pointed out that there were quite a few new participants that got their start with the GNOME Women’s Outreach Program.

Many thanks to the sponsors who made this event possible:

See you at the Montreal Summit!

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I can’t wait to see everyone at the Montreal Summit this weekend. I should get there late Sunday morning. I’m really glad that I can make the Summit and excited that I even get to go to the social event Sunday night! I’m also really looking forward to the drive to and from Burlington, VT – it should be a nice time of year for it.

Thanks to the event’s sponsors: Collabora, Codethink and Google and to the companies that are sending their employees to the event!

Some of the things I’ve worked on recently

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Here’s a quick list of some of the things that come to mind that I’ve worked on in the last two weeks:

  • GNOME 3.2 release press
  • helped with organization of the Montreal Summit. I also have been trying to book my travel to go but it’s been extremely difficult – I can get a flight late enough to Burlington, VT (only 2 hours away!) that will allow me to accommodate yom kippur but it turns out that the rental car companies all close right when I’d land, and there are no hotels or b&bs available that are accessible by cab. If I fly Sunday morning directly to Montreal or to Burlington, I’ll get in so late it probably doesn’t make sense to go. Any ideas I’m missing? now made possible, thanks to a suggestion by Marina!
  • talked to a few reporters about medical devices and also GNOME.
  • talked to our bank about fraudulent checks that have been sent out, appearing like they are from GNOME. Rosanna took good steps already to ensure that the checks can’t be cashed, but I talked to the bank about whether they can investigate the matter. They’re completely not set up to do run an investigation like that, which is fascinating. I think it reflects the fact that there is so much fraud that they can only cooperate with the authorities when they are investigating, not take any independent initiatives. Fraud of this kind is just so common.
  • worked on scheduling a meeting time for the marketing team – if you’d like to help out with marketing, join the list!
  • followed up on outstanding invoices to GNOME
  • helped with the Q2 report

And it’s not something I worked on, but last week was rosh hashanah – happy new year everyone! I hope this year is a good one for GNOME.

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It was just announced that I’m giving a keynote at in Ballarat, Australia in January. I really can’t wait – I’ve heard such good things about this conference in the past. Registration is already open and the draft schedule looks amazing.