Burning Man InfoGraph

The countdown for Burning Man is well underway, so this infograph was a timely discovery.

Amidst all the other data, the comparison with other large events struck a chord with me. The complexity of logistics at Burning Man makes 50,000 people seem like a lot of people… until you see it alongside Glastonbury Festival (137,000), Woodstock Festival (500,000), the Hajj (1.6million) and Kumbh Mela (40million). Wikipedia (being Wikipedia!) has a page listing the largest gatherings in human history – a fascinating read!

Thanks to xmason for putting this infograph together, and to abillings for drawing this to my attention.

Burning Man Film Festival, San Francisco

The Burning Man Film Festival was in the Red Vic theatre on Haight Street this weekend; I almost missed it, but stopped by tonight to watch a few hours of assorted short films. This was a good way for me to remember the sights and sounds of it all – and of course, there was the inevitable mix of funny, sad, strange and very personal stories.

One story that struck me particularly was “Burn on the Bayou” about Burning Man 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast. This brought memories flooding back of people leaving Burning Man as news of the destruction spread; some driving all the way from Burning Man in Nevada, some flying to the nearest still-working airport, then figuring out something; some people trained disaster professionals going to do what they’d been training for, some people just going because they had to do something to help. Most ended up living there for months – one person from my camp moved there for a few years – and this became the start of Burners Without Boarders.

Five years later, the reconstruction continues. There are still BurnersWithoutBoarders helping along the Gulf and now facing the new problems caused by the BP oil spill. There are also BurnersWithoutBoarders in Haiti and other locations. If you are able to donate time or equipment or money, check out their website; these are hardworking folks in very trying circumstances making a difference each and every day.

Towel Day 2010 @ Mozilla

Towel Day is held in memory of the death of Douglas Adams (1952 – 2001). This year, Tiffney arranged a lunchtime reading of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy for Towel Day.

In between the work meetings, and office interrupts at the office, it was really great to take time to pause, sit, re-read portions of these oh-so-familiar books, and this time read them out loud to others. The recipe for Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters and also the “S.E.P. at Lord’s Cricket Grounds” are personal favourites, but its all great. Also, for the rest of the entire day, it was fun to see someone walk by with a towel casually slung over their shoulder, and know they were also fans. Mozilla being Mozilla, there were several people who saw my towel and bathrobe who instantly said “oh no, I forgot it was Douglas Adams Towel day”, and only one person who stopped me and asked quizzically – “ummm….are you wearing a bathrobe”!?!

Big thanks to Tiffney for making this happen!

Rethinking one-on-one meetings

Its easy to skip a blog post about how to run meetings – yawn – and skip on to the
more exciting posts about some new shiny tech topic. Don’t make the same
mistake I did. This is a quick read and will change your working
life.

Deb did a blogpost a while ago about how to run a more efficient 1×1
meeting. To be honest, I saw the post and skipped over it “Dont have
time to read that, and anyway, I’ve done lots of 1x1s – each unique to
needs of each individual, and they go just fine, thanks anyway”.

Then Coop, in his own polite understated way, told me we were going to
try this format. It worked great for Coop’s 1×1 with Armen, and he
thought it might improve Coop’s 1×1 with me. Our first meeting took
longer then usual, but that was each of us getting used to the
changeover. The second meeting, and all meetings since then, have been
much shorter than usual, and far more productive for both people!

Maybe its just something unique to coop and myself?

But it felt worth trying with a few other people, which I did over the
next couple of weeks. At that point, I was totally convinced. We now use
this for all my 1x1s in RelEng.

Why does it work so so well?

  • Set the agenda a day in advance
    • too many 1x1s are impromptu, unprepared and therefore inefficient.
    • making sure the agenda is *not* set by the manager is important; this
      means people can make sure what they need is covered, and the meeting is
      productive to them.
  • Sorted by time
    • the past: Talking about what you just accomplished helps set context,
      and helps even the most modest person discuss recent successes.

    • the present: Whats on your mind right now, typically blockers.
    • the near future: plans for the upcoming week help ensure both people
      agree priorities are right

    • the “far” future: Keeping the current work in context of a person’s
      career path, and in context of a group’s quarterly goals is tricky. Its
      easy for this to get pushed to the side in the day-to-day rush of work,
      but this format helps keep everyone aware of.
  • Require video
    • its easy to get distracted in our constant-interrupt environment, and
      the video helps keep people focused on the person they are talking with.
      This in turn helps the meeting run much quicker.

    • some “remoties” resisted using video at first – “too intrusive” was a
      common reaction. However, it only takes a couple of meetings this way
      before everyone sees how 1x1s with video run more smoothly than
      phone-call-only. Facial cues and body language visual cues are super
      important – just ask anyone who’s got into a misunderstanding on irc or
      email!

    • this 1×1 can be the most direct human contact “remoties” with the
      rest of Mozilla all week. Video is a great reminder that the voice on
      the line is a real human, and some of the saved time at the end can turn
      into seemingly-unimportant-but-actually-vital non-work chitchat. The
      kitchencams are popular for a similar reason.

    The brilliance of Deb’s approach is that it is super low-tech and super
    easy to use. As engineers, we’re always tempted to look for technical
    solution to any problem, but the few attempts I’ve seen so far have all
    added complexity and got in the way. By contrast, Deb stepped back and
    revisited the essence of the original problem from a completely different
    perspective and I love what she came up with.

    Try her suggestion. If it doesnt work for you, go back to what you did
    before, no harm done. But maybe, just maybe, you will love it, and find
    yourself giving a silent “Thank you, Deb.” after every 1×1, just like I do.

    [UPDATE: Ben Horowitz just blogged about this also. joduinn 04-sep-2012]

Surreal tax questions

Today was a holiday here in California, which meant technically no work today – or more realistically, only a few hours work in the morning. So far 2010 has been a very hectic year so it was great to spend my first quiet day of 2010… sitting indoors, doing my taxes while looking out at the beautiful sunny day?!

All was going well until, under “Other Income Adjustments”, I was asked if I earned any income from:

  • Reward from a crime hotline
  • False Imprisonment Compensation
  • Ottoman Turkish Empire Settlement Payment

For the record, my answer was “No”, to all of those questions. But I found it surreal enough that I decided to stop, go outside and catch the last of the sunshine. I’ll try again tomorrow, but it has me still wondering what other unexpected questions might be lurking in the IRS tax codes of the USA.

A taste of Burning Man 2007

Burning Man 2007 happened in the Nevada desert again this year. While a bunch of my friends, and some work colleagues did go, I ended up not going this year. Instead I stayed at home, working, and living vicariously through video snippets and the occasional news headline. It was interesting to note how easy it is to find street parking, and also commute to work, while Burning Man is going on… and how for days after it ends, the city is packed with absolutely *filthy* cars!

In the news, Arsonist burns The Man early; organisers rebuild on-the-scene

For mechanical inventiveness, there’s a trebuchet for launching burning pianos, Dance Dance Immolation, Spider-walking Transporter, Synchronized flame throwers, and the DMV showing off some art cars.

For large scale, there’s the Oil Derrick being installed, being enjoyed up close, being burnt up close and being burnt from 1 mile away.

…and of course, for spiritual, there is The Last Temple.

[sigh]