Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for April, 2005

Scoble on Steve Balmer’s letter re Washington State human rights bill

Posted by shannonclark on April 23, 2005

I left a lengthy reply to Robert Scoble’s comments on Steve Balmer’s letter at Rober’s blog

I do not work for MSFT (nor am I currently a direct shareholder, though funds I own probably are) – and I do have the luxury of owning my own firms – that said, I think that large, multinational corporations, especially market leaders of the size and importance of Microsoft are exactly those firms which should not (and I hope will not) be neutral about social issues as well as business issues.
Discrimination and as importantly the growing influence of religious groups are issues which major corporations should take a stand on. There will be some corporations (unfortunately in my opinion) who take a stand in favor of religious influence – if they do this at least in public then I can choose not to invest in, work for/with, or otherwise support them. Likewise, there will be, I hope, some corporations, and I would like to see Microsoft as one, who are active in resisting religious influence and actively supporting anti-discrimination efforts, such as the bill in question.

Why does this matter?

Well, in a global marketplace any large firm, such as Microsoft, employs many people – and will seek to hire and employ many more, who are not Christians, who are not supporters of the religious right. From employees in India to many here in the US a move such as this current position of suddenly being “neutral” can and possibly will be seen as bowing into preassure from Christian religious right groups – and while some of those employees may or may not personally support the bill in question, they will (as I do) wonder what Microsoft will do next? What other bills and issues will Microsoft decide to remain “neutral” on? Will any of them be bills in which the discrimination in question is not against gays but against immigrants? Against non-Christians?

Consider as well Microsoft’s marketing messages – if they are a company which intends to provide the tools and systems which will let anyone be anything they dream of (seemingly the message from many of their current TV ads) then perhaps it would be wise to not be seen as being neutral when there is a chance to help pass a bill that would assist many whose dreams and aspirations are denied to them in countless small (and in many major) ways.

I’m straight (and male) – but I have many friends of both genders who have non-mainstream sexualities, gay, bi, etc – and as they (and I) age, form families, have children etc – I want them to have all the same rights available to me, even more so for those who, unlike me at the moment, enter into formal relationships (i.e. marriage) – I certainly don’t want them to be denied visitations rights, health benefits, etc.

We (my girlfriend and I) recently considered the possibility of working in England, as part of that process we looked into how I might obtain a work visa should her company transfer her to their London office. In researching it we found that the criteria was simply for us to be able to prove that we were in a longterm relationship – there wasn’t anything in the criteria that required anything about gender – just that we had cohabitated for a fixed period of time and could prove that and attest to it (I think the period of time is two years), the transfer didn’t go through but we both found the overall impression and the nature of the policy very openminded.

As a result, my opinion of the UK, already good, has risen by more than a bit – for an often conservative country, a very sensible policy which also does not discriminate on the basis of sexuality or gender – is very refreshing.

So just a few thoughts – my view, as someone who might consider working for Microsoft at some point in time, and certainly as a technologist will have to engage with Microsoft on many levels in the future, I would prefer to work with (or for) a company which was not neutral, especially if it is the case as Steve’s letter seems to state that he and Bill Gates are personally in favor of the bill – while yes, Microsoft is certainly not a “family” company where the whims/views of a single family or a single founder should hold sway – neither is Microsoft the same as older, less personally established firms – Bill Gates clearly “is” Microsoft in a very fundemental way – and I think it behoves him and Microsoft to avoid situations where they act at cross purposes.

Shannon Founder, MeshForum (http://www.meshforum.org)

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The back and forth – problems with Microsoft’s “fix” for Outlook

Posted by shannonclark on April 22, 2005

Okay so as many of you know I am organizing a fantastic conference in a few days, MeshForum 2005 (don’t forget to register – if you read this, you can use the Academic price of $499.50 if you haven’t already gotten an even better offer from me or another group…)

As part of that process I am sending out a batch of 800 some emails this evening reminding people to register and especially to reserve their hotel rooms at the Essex Inn by Monday April 25th to receive the MeshForum group rate of $129/night (again if you read this and happen to be coming to Chicago May 1-4th, you can also get this great rate…).

So, to avoid sending out an email with a blank to line (i.e. by sending to everyone as a bcc:ed message) I am using Microsoft Office 2003’s mail merge feature, something I have done many times in the past to somewhat good success.

However, this time around I have encountered a very serious “fix” that is giving me “fits”.

Unknown to me, a recent security patch (recent I conclude since it did not behave this way a few months back when I last did a mail merge) has changed how Microsoft Office handles mail merges (specifically how it handles any VBA action to send mail)

It now pops up a notice PER EMAIL that “A program is trying to send email on your behalf…”

You have to select yes.

As a further “feature” the “yes” button is GREYED OUT for 5 seconds each time this message is popped up…

In other words to send out 800+ mail merged emails, I have to click on the yes button 800+ times, and wait OVER 66 minutes while doing nothing but selecting yes every five seconds.

No “yes to all”, no “yes to all for the next 10 minutes” or “yes to all for the next 100 messages”, no way apparently to change this behavior, no notification about what will happen – just a really annoying new “feature” to attempt to prevent outbound emails/viruses.

Enough to make me seriously consider switching to another application – and I am a serious, heavy duty, power user of Outlook 2003 (over 2 gigs of email, 500+ messages a day, lots of rules and plugins etc) – but if I can’t use real, useful, features such as mail merge how I want to – and in a way that actually, in fact, saves me time and effort – then what value is the tool?

Very annoying.

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This is going to be BIG! – Pimp My Web!! (Beta)

Posted by shannonclark on April 20, 2005

This is going to be BIG! – Pimp My Web!! (Beta)

I added some suggestions and comments for this project of creating screencasts to illustrate how to use the web.

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Ten really belated things

Posted by shannonclark on April 19, 2005

My friend Jed just posted a list of “Ten Belated Things” to his journel Lorem Ipsum.

The meme is to list 10 things you have done, that at least no one else reading (and possibly no one else period) have done. So here goes my attempt (this is considerably harder than it may look).

Ten things I have done that most people reading this probably have not done

1. Disassembled a particle accellerator. So, it was a smallish one, but the summer after my senior year of high school I was a summer physics intern at Argonne National Lab. One of my first tasks was to take a part a desktop particle accellerator which had been taking up a lab room. Took about a week to take it fully apart.

2. Started a conference on Networks. (MeshForum, registrations still available)

3. Started a science fiction convention which is STILL happening every year 15 years later. (OPCON, a one day science fiction convention I helped start and named which happens every year at my old high school).

4. Related to that, started and ran a science fiction convention BEFORE I ever attended a fan convention. I had attended GENCON (gaming) and at least one for-profit media convention, but hadn’t ever attended a science fiction convention prior to starting one of my own.

5. At my first Worldcon, which I attended as a gopher (since one of the con chairs had attended the convention we had started and she suggested that my friend Dwight and I work as gophers at Worldcon), I spent an hour in the green room entertaining Frederick Pohl and serving him tea. Then at the Hugo awards instead of sitting in the far back of the room, my friend Jennifer insisted that we sit with her dead center of the first row.

6. Also at that Worldcon, witnessed a panel like few others ever in worldcon history – Philip Jose Farmer, Robert Shea, Robert Anton Wilson, Some random guy from Tor, and Timothy Leary. Together in one room for a panel on “high wierdness” – my friend Dwight somewhere had a tape of the panel, one of those long lost items I hope to someday get a copy of…

7. At age 30 I have never once in my life been drunk. Not for religious reasons, just out of personal choice made many, many years ago.

8. Worked for seven weeks on an archeaological dig in Isreal. Best diet ever – bad, kosher food & hard physical labor in the desert (even if on a cliff overlooking the Med.) – lost lots of weight, learned a great deal. Would do it again were it not for the 98 % of the other volunteers who were seemingly evangelical divinity school students (I exagerate only a little).

9. Had something I found during that dig, in a slightly smaller form, make the COVER of Archeaology Magazine. A piece of Corinthian ware I excavated (which as we removed it from the ground split into three pieces) had the largest of those pieces featured on the cover of Archeology Magazine.

10. Broke a timing belt on my Acura Integra 108 miles from nowhere in the middle of Washington State on the Thursday before Labor Day weekend. And then, when AAA asked where to tow it instead of paying a little bit and being towed to Seatle, I chose to go backwards and be towed to Spokane -where I proceeded to have to spend a week, without a car, in the middle of nowwhere….

I could have mentioned “grown up without a TV” but I think that while rare, others reading this probably have done that. Or “gone roofing at the U. of C.” (but I’m sure some people reading this, who were possibly there, have done this as well).

Probably “been on the U. of C. Scavenger Hunt Judging committee twice” would qualify…

A fun exercise…

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A VC: Drowning in Email

Posted by shannonclark on April 19, 2005

I left a very long comment on A VC: Drowning in Email.

The comment:

A few suggestions (I get about 500 emails a day, though a large portion of that is spam and much of the rest is mailing lists not personal emails)

1. If you do not already, use automatic rules to at a minimum pull out mailing lists and other subscriptions into separate folders (I use one folder for each mailing list and some catchall folders like “vendors” to stick general requested but not personal commercial emails, another for event notices/communications etc)

This should help keep your actual “inbox” to just personal emails and non-yet-auto-sorted mass emails.

(and at least much of the time as you get a new form of mass email, assuming it is useful, you should take a few seconds and set up the rule right then)

2. One of the most efficient email people I know uses his own software (Activewords – http://www.activewords.com) to give him a set of standard text he can auto-insert with a few simple keystrokes. He uses this for commonly needed replies (such as in his cas a request for a trial license or his fulfilling an offer for a free full license etc).

By using Activewords, or a bit less efficiently by setting up some templates and/or a library to cut and paste from of your commonly needed replies you can make at least faster the process of replying to many emails.

I use something similar as I manage the email communications re MeshForum (http://www.meshforum.org), the process of organizing a conference means I am sending the same info to many people, by using rapid text substitution I ensure consistency and save lots of time typing.

3. Another trick a sales person I know and highly respects uses is he blocks of time OFFLINE (very critical) during which he both composes emails to people and works his way through his inbox replying to people. By being offline while he is doing this, he avoids new incomming distractions, and finds he can efficiently and quickly catch up. I do something similar at least once a week (and regret it when I don’t) during which I go through my inbox, file mail I have read and dealt with, and reply to mail which requires a response.

4. Having a series of checks & balances as well as fairly consistent ways of moving mail out of your inbox as you deal with it is very, very helpful. I try to file messages immediately after reading them (assuming I have dealt with them, or I flag them if I have to wait before replying). I have project folders as well as catchall folders for this purpose.

I also make use of Outlook XP’s feature of saved searches to help me monitor for and catch important mail that gets autofiled outside of my inbox, or which gets backed up inside of my inbox (in my case one such search looks for any email with “meshforum” in it that is not sorted into my MeshForum folder already)

5. Some of the people I know who get even more email than me also use multiple email addresses to help manage their email, it all probably shows up into the same tool, but they have “public” and “private” addresses, the private addresses are never published on the web and only given out to family and friends – this can be a simple yet highly efficient way to auto-flag and deal with email from those who are closest to you.

Hope this helps!

Shannon

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Robert Paterson’s Weblog: Schools on PEI & the Noodle House – The Frog is Boiling!

Posted by shannonclark on April 14, 2005

Robert Paterson’s Weblog: Schools on PEI & the Noodle House – The Frog is Boiling!

A discussion about schools and students today, with a social network angle of a suggestion that classes and gorups over 150 are not possible.

I left a very long comment, quoted below, where I disagree with the value of groups because of the problem of those students (such as my younger self) who are rejected by the group.

I’m not a parent (yet) but some comments from my own experiences (in the 80’s and early 90’s) in American public schools, as well as my observations since.

1. Groups and cliques have significent dangers and negatives. Not all kids will be “accepted” – being on the out with the whole class (or seemingly so) is not a recipe for a happy childhood, or a good educational environment (I’m speaking from personal experience here from the 3rd until well into high school, I was definitely on the outside looking in)

2. Building on this, people in groups act differently than they do in one-on-one situations. And it takes a great deal for someone, especially a child to stand up to a group of their peers and disagree, go against the tide, or support the underdog.

This means that while yes, a very large, impersonal school has problems, the schools you describe have serious problems as well. Any difference from the group can become a problem (whether the group is a group of punk rockers or the glee club) – in my own case as a child it was an accent, having skipped a grade, being smart, and not having a TV which rippled into not knowing pop culture).

In the high school I attended (http://www.oprfhs.org) grades were very large (650-700+ students), and though divided into “homerooms” for attendance purposes, the unifying ties were activities and to some degree classes taken – i.e. the 100-150 some students who took advanced classes were distinctly different from the students who took the “regular” classes etc.

That said, even within the various groups there were many students, myself included, who were mostly excluded. (if you can imagine it, I was the butt of jokes from the science fiction club, which was not exactly the bastion of the social elite of the school). Nevertheless I did manage to survive and move on – but I have a rather strong concern about cliques and groups.

So while I see the advantages you depict, I am cautious and concerned – there will be more students like myself who will not fit in, who will be on the outs with the group (at times for very good reasons, at times for very trivial ones). A good school should have the support systems and formal structures in place to help such students, both the teased and the teasers – the “in” crowd and those who are not.

I strongly believe that generally speaking people, and especially students, rise the level of expectations which are set. And further, that people while they behave badly when in groups, can and will change, especially if given the cover and the opportunity to break up the group in a positive manner.

Some small examples of ways this might (and does) work:

– celebrations that honor achievements in many fields and areas, so official awards and acknowledgement/accolades are given not just to say the winning quarterback but also the debate team, chess players, academic leaders, volunteers, musicians, actors, etc.

– provide a wide range of activities, as much as possible scheduled and arranged so that choosing to participate in most is not a choice of one thing to the exclusion of all others – i.e. try to find a way to allow even the football players a chance to also participate in the local science fiction club, chess team, etc. That is, don’t force students to make a choice of one thing to the exclusion of all others.

Building on this, encourage students to take part in activities outside of their usual groups. Here I would disagree with your suggestions – I would actively and significently promote the school formally finding ways for students to have a chance to work together across groups and cliques. More people have a common interest than most would guess – but all too often we (students and adults alike) judge people in a very one-dimensional manner.

i.e. the cheerleader is “just” a cheerleader, so unlikely to hang out with the “smart kids” (however one of my best friends in high school was a cheerleader who also happened to be in many of my AP classes, shared my interest in film, was very serious about her ballet studies, read Psychology Today for pleasure and in short had many dimensions). Likewise a “science geek” may also be a poet etc.

On a related note, at least when I was in high school, it was still possible for a student to have teachers who were also friends. In my case a philosophy teacher whose intro to philosophy course I took as a sophomore and who then proceeded to teach a number of us an independent philosophy course for the next two years, meeting afterschool, in the evenings, and over the summer to discuss great books and talk.

Not a typical teacher perhaps, but the best teachers, I would argue, rarely are.

Great topic!

Shannon

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Fractals of Change: Managing CEOs for Programmers (Continued)

Posted by shannonclark on April 13, 2005

Fractals of Change: Managing CEOs for Programmers (Continued)

I left a long comment.

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Release 1.0 / Event Calendar

Posted by shannonclark on April 12, 2005

Release 1.0 / Event Calendar

Esther Dyson will be attending and speaking at MeshForum 2005, the conference on Networks I am organizing in Chicago May 1-4th.

If you are interested in attending, registration is still open. Register today for only $749.50 (just $499.50 for academics and government employees).

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A VC on Google Map’s new features

Posted by shannonclark on April 7, 2005

I left a long comment toA VC: Cool! post on Google maps’ new features, specifically noting how I am using the new satellite images during my condo search.

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Speak Up: April 2005

Posted by shannonclark on April 4, 2005

Speak Up: April 2005

A great discussion by the CEO of Edelman of the future of the PR industry, in it he issues a call for emerging leaders and intellectual capital. I’m not a PR professional, but I am the organizer of a conference on Networks, MeshForum 2005. As such, I am very pleased when the CEO of a firm which is a leader in its field issues a call for growing and investing in intellectual capital.

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