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!

Exciting personal news!

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As some of you know already, I’ve got good news – I’m pregnant! I’ve put off blogging about it, as I hate sharing personal information online (yes, I really hate talking about my heart condition but I feel like it’s worth it to underscore the importance of software freedom). It’s time that I informed the whole GNOME community though, so that you all know what’s going on. I’m due in September, which means that I’ll be pretty pregnant at GUADEC.

If you do the math and count back, you’ll notice that I was extremely busy during my first trimester with loads of travel and major projects. Luckily, I felt great so it was easy to work whole-heartily on stuff I feel so passionately about. For some reason, the past month hasn’t been as easy so there have been times that I’ve struggled to stay on track for GNOME. While I’ve been forced to cut down on my travel during this time and turn down talks that I would have loved to give, I’m definitely planning on going to GUADEC. I’m also going to try to make it to OSCON, but I’ll have to see how my health is. I don’t think I remember seeing any pregnant speakers at other free software conferences, so I wish I could go to more.

I thank you for your understanding and support, and will do my best to put in that extra effort through the rest of my pregnancy.

On a geekier note – I’m excited to bring another free software and GNOME user into the world!

medical devices in the press

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I’m really excited about some of the press that my medical devices advocacy has been getting recently. Yesterday, there was an article on the BBC website, which starts:

Karen Sandler has a big heart. And that’s not just because she is head of the Gnome Foundation – a non-profit community group dedicated to making and giving away free software for PCs.

I’m also going to be interviewed on a Spanish language tv show tomorrow, which should be fun! (The interview is in English, thankfully.) So tune in, if you want…

I’ll keep you posted here if more of these interviews turn unto published material.

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.

Some things I’ve been up to

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It’s been an exciting and busy couple of weeks. Here are a selection of things I’ve done, so that you can see what I’ve been up to!

  • worked with Chun-Hung Huang (sakanamax) and the GNOME.Asia committee to choose a bid for GNOME.Asia, get emails and announcements ready, etc. This year GNOME.Asia will be in Hong Kong!
  • worked with Walter Bender and the nice folks at MIT about reserving rooms for the Boston Summit. It won’t be official for a little while, but it’s looking good.
  • participated in our GUADEC organizing meeting. We definitely need some more good ideas for keynoters so let me know if you have any ideas!
  • worked on some interviews, followed up with journalists. I’ve been so happy that my LCA talk continued to get press, but I’ve been sad that it’s meant that I’ve had to turn down some speaking opportunities – I’ve just been doing way too much travel and need to stay put at least for a little bit to get some work done (I feel like I’m always playing catch up). The next public speaking I have lined up is a free culture panel at SXSW, which I’ll be taking some vacation to attend (it feels funny to be taking vacation to speak at yet another conference, but it’s work for QuestionCopyright not GNOME, and besides I can attend a lot of the music performances! The next GNOME related speaking I’ve got lined up is LibrePlanet2012!
  • worked with Rosanna on GNOME’s Form 990 (and asked a lot of questions of our accountant!)
  • started fundraising for the next OPW round with potential new sponsors
  • worked on the biannual report
  • contacted schools for the blind and deaf to see if we could develop any partnerships with our accessibility campaign. Worked with Juanjo Marin on another story for the FoG campaign (coming soon!)
  • worked with Aaron Williamson of SFLC about fixing a bug in GNOME’s bylaws.
  • did some research and looked into trademark implications of uses of logos in Boxes for Zeeshan
  • contacted Hylke Bons, who confirmed explicit permission to use the adorable robot logo he designed for GNOME 3
  • nagged various people about various things
  • thanked various people for various work. I’m always astounded by how awesome our volunteers are! We have to estimate the number of volunteers GNOME has for our afore mentioned Form 990 report, and it’s amazing how quickly the number adds up – thank you to volunteers who organize events around the world, who spend their time staffing the booths at those conferences, who compose our awesome sysadmin team, and our dedicated marketing team, who volunteer to be on our board, who run the outreach program for women and who mentor new contributors in all all out outreach programs, who write documentation, who contribute articles for our reports and press, and of course, who contribute on a volunteer basis to our code base!
  • recorded and published an oggcast on Ambjörn Elder’s talk from FOSDEM entitled Methods of FOSS Activism. I apologize for the crummy quality of my audio – I didn’t realize my gain was so high
  • helped coordinate getting GNOME Do their freenode channel, with SEJeff and Sri’s help!
  • communicated with a few advisory board members, and a potential advisory board member
  • followed up on overdue invoices to the GNOME Foundation

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!

My recent activities

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I’ve been a bit remiss at posting, due to my travel schedule (and more recently thanksgiving with relatives from out of town and the like). Last week I went to Latvia to keynote at the LATA conference in Riga. Perhaps not surprisingly to readers here, I spoke (in English) about software freedom and how the software that we should consider essential has expanded considerably. GNOME of course features into that prominently. You can see the video of the talk here. Thanks so much to Rūdolfs Mazurs, who in addition to filming the talk, sat next to me during most of the conference and translated from Latvian! He was such a good translator that I was even able to ask questions and feel fully engaged in the sessions. It was an exciting conference, and I was glad to hear folks who are active with free software in Latvia say in their talks that “GNOME Shell is the future”.

Not too long before LATA, I was able to attend UDS in Orlando. It was a very interesting conference, and I was sponsored by Canonical to attend. I had quite a number of productive meetings with GNOME and Canonical folks there and particularly enjoyed getting to know some of the Ubuntu community members who are not Canonical affiliated. I had a few thoughts that came out of attending UDS that I hope to give their own posts.

While at UDS, I interviewed Adam Dingle from Yorba for the Free as in Freedom oggcast. We talked about free software nonprofits, software freedom generally and the great work that Yorba is doing (you probably know them from their Shotwell photo manager software).

I also interviewed Stefano Zacchiroli, the DPL of Debian. That episode was just released today. We talked about Debian, GNOME and copyleft, and there’s a discussion about the interview with me and Bradley as well.

I’ve also been mentoring a few tasks for Google’s Code-in. I was happy to help GNOME get accepted to the program and now we’re starting to see the benefits. Thanks to Andre Klapper for all of his ongoing hard work!

While on the road I helped Marina to organize and get ready to announce the new round of participants in the Outreach Program for Women. We were able to include 12 participants this time, in a wide range of areas! I’m particularly excited, as I’m also a mentor for one of the participants. The actual work for the program begins in a couple of weeks, when you’ll start to see a lot of activity on the Planet from these ladies. It was a privilege to work with the sponsors of the program to solidify the announcement: A thousand thank yous to Google, Mozilla, Collabora, Red Hat and the GNOME Foundation itself.

I’m very happy to be home and not travelling for the next few weeks – there’s so much to be done! In particular, I’m looking forward to announcing a new Friends of GNOME program…

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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.

OSCON report, part 2!

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I had two sessions at OSCON. One was an introductory legal talk that I co-presented with Aaron Williamson (that we proposed back when I was working at SFLC), and the second was on the keynote track on Friday. For the keynote, I was given a lot of leeway in choosing my topic. I won the award for my legal work, especially for the work on medical devices, so I felt that there was an expectation that I talk about that topic. But I also wanted to talk about GNOME, since that’s where I’m now focusing my attention.

After much thought and agonizing, I realized that the point of my medical devices talk — that we depend on software and will only be safe over time if it’s free and open — in fact logically leads back to the desktop. As the software that we rely on becomes more widespread and more fully integrated in our lives, as *everyone* expects to be able to use their computers smoothly, easily and for *everything*, it’s essential that we choose free and open platforms. I think it fit nicely into a 15 minute talk to just introduce the concepts. Plus, it gave me the chance to tell everybody what it was like to become a cyborg!

O’Reilly has posted the video of the talk on YouTube. If you don’t like YouTube, we included the audio from the speech in the latest episode of Free as in Freedom, an oggcast/audcast/podcast I co-host with Bradley Kuhn. We also discussed the talk and OSCON generally.

I got great feedback on the keynote session. The medical devices issue is such an emotional one, and so basic that it allows everyone to understand the importance of free and open source software. I’m happy I was able to give a talk that motivates people towards freedom and shamelessly promotes GNOME 3. I’ve already been invited to give it at other conferences that aren’t about free and open source sofware! I’m going to work on a full length presentation that doesn’t spend as much time on my own experience with medical devices but explores the various ways in which we are coming to rely on ordinary and integrated software.

The conference organizers didn’t record the session with Aaron, but we did and we will make it available on a future ‘cast episode. It’s a laid back presentation of some basic legal concepts. We had a fun discussion, and though we didn’t get as far as we would have liked to into the material, the audience was very engaged and had a lot of questions. I’m always excited to have these kinds of basic conversations in public so that more people can benefit from them.

Work kept me from getting to all of the talks that I wanted to get to, but that’s always the issue with conferences.
At any rate I’m very much looking forward to the Desktop Summit next week! I leave for Berlin the day after tomorrow…

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