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Open source passion?


Yes folks, it's true. Passion is the latest open source technology. Apparently at the Apple WWDC conference, Nat Torkington talked about using tutorial signups for OSCON (O'Reilly's Open Source convention in August) as an indicator of what's hot in open source. He listed the top ten tutorial sign-ups:

1. Learning Ajax
2. Perl Best Practices
3. Ruby on Rails: Enjoying the Ride of Programming
4. Perl Best Object Oriented Practices
5. Scalable Internet Architectures
6. Creating Passionate Users
7. XUL: The Future of User-interfaces on the Web
8. Introduction to Ruby
9. Subversion
10. PHP Security

So it's official. Right up there with Ajax, Perl, and Ruby... you have passion. While I'm thrilled to see the interest in the passionate users tutorial, it's awfully funny to think of passion as an open source technology. The values of open source software have a lot to contribute to the non-open-source world, but I think the phrase "open source" has been badly misppropriated in a bunch of contexts. Just what exactly does "open source marketing" mean? ; )

[Update: turns out that there's a pretty good answer to that question at the modern marketing blog, which references the ChangeThis manifesto on open source marketing. Thanks Jason!]

But what I am delighted (and shocked) by is the new interest geeks have in these non-traditional topics. Things that have more to do with quality of life than quality of code.

One of the big hits of ETech was the whole 43folders / Getting Things Done stuff. I had no less than five people show me their version of hipster PDA, unsolicited.

And as I mentioned when I got back from ETech, the most heavily-attended tutorial was the one on Creating Passionate Users. And they definitely weren't comin' to see me.

I don't want to read too much into this, but what the hell--I will anyway. I think it means that after years of being enamored solely with the technology itself, and the various methodologies and approaches to crafting it, the geek world is starting to look at the larger sphere around the use of the technology. In other words, not just the content but the context in which technology is created and used. That means caring about the quality of our lives, as developers, as well as the quality of our user's lives and the role we play in that.

And I don't want to get too excited about what that means, but what the hell--I will anyway. I think something important is happening, and it can only be good. Maybe we've finally stopped saying our secret stock option prayers at night ("Please oh please God bring back the bubble and this time I won't piss it away I promise...") and decided to focus on what we have, and what we can do to make things better. The whole idea of Getting Things Done is about being able to spend more time in flow, the very thing we believe leads to passionate users. You want to spend more time in flow at work, and you want to help your users spend more time in flow. More flow = happier life, at least according to the leading flow authority, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

To any of you who are coming to OSCON and will be at the passionate users tutorial, please come say hello! I think it's wonderful that so many software developers care enough to pass up, say, a PHP security tutorial in favor of creating passionate users. And that we're all secure enough in our... geekhood to even be talking about such a soft topic at such a hard-core tech conference.

Of course there's the less optimistic part of me that wonders if the popularity of the passionate users tutorial is because they think it means... something else. Like, how to start, say, an open source porn site... ; )

Posted by Kathy on June 21, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Live with passion

I promised this blog would never devolve into a touchy-feely self help thing, and I intend to break that only very, very rarely. This is one of those times, so you've been warned.

Sunday was my birthday, which capped four fabulous days at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Walking back to my hotel Sunday evening, I collapsed in the street and began having seizures. The ambulance came, and I spent the night in the ER. As I slipped in and out of consciousness, I thought I was going to die.

I probably wasn't in any serious danger once I was in the care of the paramedics, but that's not what it felt like. The point is that I truly believed that I might not come out of it.

The next morning, when it was clear I was going to be fine, everything looked a little more beautiful. Trees were greener. The sky was bluer. People were nicer and better-looking. And all I could think about was how damn lucky I was.

The ER doctor thought it was probably just a weird combination of high altitude and lack of sleep that triggered my usually very controlled epilepsy.

So here I am, appreciating everything in that way that you do whenever you've had a close call (or at least thought it was a close call). We've all had them... a car accident that happened only moments after you safely made it through the intersection. A bad bit of rope in your climbing gear that you discovered only after you made it down the side of the rock. Those times in college you drove home way too drunk.

And we know that if we can hang on to this feeling, our lives will be richer. Or as Tyler Durden says in the movie Fight Club after threatening to kill the shop clerk unless the clerk pursues his original dream of becoming a vet, "tomorrow his breakfast will taste better than it ever has..."

But somehow, it's so easy to forget. So easy to slip into that daily world of things that seem important, but that if faced with the last day of our life would seem ridiculously trivial.

You probably saw this already, but the Standford commencement address given by Steve Jobs last week expresses this much better than I can. You really need to read the whole thing if you haven't, but here's a small piece:

"...for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."

I hadn't realized that he was originally given 3-6 months to live when first diagnosed with cancer a year ago.

If each day we could all remember a close call, or imagine what could happen, it would certainly change our perspective. My mother died of breast cancer at the very young age of 40, when I was a teenager, and I remember wondering if she would have lived her life differently if she'd known it would end so early.

I will always remember this last Telluride for the fabulous music and scenery and weather and new friends. And I also hope that I never forget to live each day the way I vowed I would as I was lying in the street thinking, "If I make it out of this..."

Here's to living each day with passion : )

OK, back to our regularly scheduled content.

Posted by Kathy on June 21, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Teaching passionate bluegrass fans


I'm typing this from the Telluride Bluegrass Festival... sitting on a lawn chair with 10,000 other fans (average age is under 30...I'm one of the older people here), in the most spectacular box canyon that makes the acoustics like nothing I've ever heard. (And these guys, and gals, seriously know how to mix. It's worth coming here just to hear what I thought was impossible--an outdoor mix that sounds like you're within the finest concert hall on the planet. Then again, it might just be the contact high...)

So what's up with all these passionate fans? Bluegrass musicians do something most other genres don't--they teach their fans. A lot of these artists understand that listening to a show like this makes you want to rush home and grab your guitar, dust it off, and start practicing. So they support that. They give free workshops in town to both attendees and the locals who didn't get a ticket. You'll find a three-time Grammy winner sitting on the front porch of a bakery, picking with some of the street players.

In the merchandise tent next to the CDs and t-shirts, there's a huge rack of books and videos/DVDs by many of the artists teaching their particular style. These people don't act like rock stars, even though most have won not just Grammys but Oscars and any other award. Dobro master Jerry Douglas has played on over 1,000 albums. But you're likely to find him on a park bench, giving tips to a 12-year old.

The most important message I get here is that it's about a culture of collaboration and working and helping others. The folks on the stage are constantly interacting with one another, showing up during each other's sets to help out--something I rarely see in the rock world. But the key for me is that there's also plenty of learning for those of us who don't play a bluegrass instrument, but want to appreciate the music more. Many of the artists will talk about the history of the songs, and the instruments, and it's really cool when they teach you to recognize and deal with seriously tricky timing like 7/4.

I don't just sit here and soak up the sun... I learn. I didn't even like bluegrass when my friends first dragged me here in 2001, but by the time I left, I knew so much more. And what I learned made me appreciate it. And the more I appreciated it, the more I came to love it. I'm not a bluegrass musician, but as one who now truly appreciates it, I kick ass. I can usually name the currently soloing player without seeing--or being told--who's on stage. I recognize subtle differences between banjo picking styles. I can spell "dobro".

The more we reverse-engineer passion, the more we see how learning plays the central role. Where there is real passion (not just temporary fad devotion), there is always a desire to learn and grow and improve whether it's snowboard, chess, photography, opera, cooking, or appreciating the difference between a four and five string banjo. The more I learn, the better the experience. the better the experience, the more likely I am to want to learn and know more, and the more likely I am to tip over into being passionate.

What other domains have a culture of teaching their fans? It can work for anything.

Gotta go -- the Bela Fleck/Jean-Luc Ponty/Stanley Clarke set is about to start. This is not your father's bluegrass.

Oh yeah, it's also my birthday, and I can't imagine a better place to be. : )
I'll be back on Tuesday...

Posted by Kathy on June 19, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack