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[Book Reviews] Excellent anthologies, an epic Grand Canyon run, and two awful books

Raven - Tue, 2014-08-19 21:15
Hello, Internet! I read a couple of terrible books as well as several that I liked. In an attempt to whittle down my backlog of book reviews some, have a post. Books I disliked:
I got a recommendation for "The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club" from a lady I was corresponding with; she swore that Laurie Notaro was the funniest woman alive and that everything she wrote was gold. I was expecting comedy stories about a group of women out adventuring. Instead, what I got was more like "it's soooooo hard having a Jersey Shore style life". I... had assumed that the title was self-deprecating. I didn't expect the author to genuinely be someone I thought was stupid. I should have read Powells rather than just jumping to Paperback Swap: She writes about a world of hourly-wage jobs that require absolutely no skills... and hangovers that leave her surprised that she woke up in the first place. The misadventures of Laurie and her fellow Idiot Girls (“too cool to be in the Smart Group”) unfold in a world that everyone will recognize but no one has ever described so hilariously. She delivers the goods: life as we all know it. Uh. That is not life as I know it. I didn't find it hilarious. I was torn between "wow, that is completely obnoxious and self centered", "you realize you could have trivially avoided this problem, right?", and just a complete lack of connection with the protagonist. Our priorities are so different that I disliked basically everything she decided to do, and that made it hard to find this funny. One episode of falling asleep on someone else's lawn in your own vomit out of five. :/

I know, I'm a heathen, but I hated Paul Park's "A Princess of Roumania" too. It's a portal fantasy full of characters that I don't care about, in a world where the only person I liked gets turned into a silent dog pretty much immediately. Bah. It's the first of a trilogy, and it doesn't stand alone very well, but I didn't care about the characters or the world enough to read the other two. If you liked the "mucking about in tents" part of Harry Potter 7, you will like this book... there are nontrivial similarities. Our Heroine (and her small entourage) are very lazily pursued by the bad guys, the weather is awful, there's always a vague feeling of threat, nothing feels resolved. Even when things happen, it doesn't feel like there's progress of the plot, it's more just like "and then in the winter of 1638 Such And So fell sick and died unexpectedly, also barley harvests were down but winter wheat taxes were lucrative". The younger characters whine and bicker a lot, which does not add to their likability. The adult characters all took a triple dose of Inscrutable Motives And Secret History, so they're all swanning about giving the fourth wall meaningful glances but never actually saying anything. Bah. One pointless winter march out of five.

Better books:
I was a Kickstarter backer for "Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History", and I had pretty high hopes for it. I like anthologies, I like the chance to get to discover new authors, and I was particularly looking forward to an anthology that wasn't just going to be a million Play Ren Fest With Magic stories about being a noble in medieval Europe. (Even or perhaps particularly as a Celt, the avalanche of magic medieval Ireland stories get really really old.) Favorite stories included Tananarive Due's contribution -- I'm not a horror fan but she writes so well that I grit my teeth and read through the creepy anyway. Ken Liu’s “Knotting Grass, Holding Wing” was also excellent; Green Siskin is a wonderfully well developed heroine. L.S. Johnson's “Marigolds” and Nnedi Okorafor's “It’s War” were also among my favorites. The anthology as a whole is certainly serving a market looking for its stories; about two days after I'd finished, a new book friend of mine said that she liked postcolonialist literature and speculative fiction but rarely found the two in the same works. I cackled and sent her a recommendation. For sensitive readers, a lot of the stories deal with difficult subject matter... there are plenty of cases where the plot is driven by the characters asserting themselves against an unfair world, and the harshness of their surrounding circumstances is pretty apparent. But I was regularly delighted by the narrative focus remaining on these characters as people who decided and acted... the stories were not about how hard they had it, but rather about what they did with their lives. A++ for that! Many of the stories do not end happily, which is pretty consistent with how many of the referenced periods of history used as settings went, but even when they were hard to read I still enjoyed having read them. Four and a half complex plots out of five.

"Athena's Daughters: Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy" was another Kickstarter project (and it's worth going to that page for all the associated art, but by the time I found out about it I was too late to fund it. Instead, I ended up ordering the ebook through Amazon. Pun sort of intended, it's a stellar anthology -- I found out about it through Sherwood Smith's blog, and with her story and a couple of my other favorite authors (Cleolinda Jones! Nisi Shawl!) it would be hard not to be. It was icing on the cake that astronaut and all-around badass Colonel Pam Melroy (one of only two women to command the Space Shuttle) wrote for them as well. I know I'm a sucker, but the Amelia Earhart story was my favorite. Like "Long Hidden", the included art was lovely and added to my enjoyment as a reader, even if I do always try to figure everything in the story out in advance from the art. I understand they're doing a second volume with submissions opening this summer, and I'll definitely read that one once it's out too. Four wise owls out of five.

My book friend to whom I recommended "Long Hidden" lent me Stephen King's foray into mystery/hard boiled crime fiction "The Colorado Kid". More than anything, I read it as an ethnography of Maine island life. It wasn't badly told, but if you are the kind of reader who likes all their loose ends wrapped up and everything neatly packaged, you will not like this book. It's much more "old-timers talking about a cold case" than it is a detective hurtling across the landscape trying to solve a murder before getting offed themself. Short, interesting, but not a neat fit in any genre. Three and a half ferry boat drivers out of five.

From my first trip to Third Place Books, I had to pick just one book to take home with me. (I was on a bicycle. It's a long way.) That book was "The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Though the Heart of the Grand Canyon". It's excellent outdoor writing -- lots of history, some geology, and enough background to understand the tension and opposing worldviews of the engineers who built and maintain the dams on the Colorado as well as the environmental activists who oppose their existence and management. Readers who like high context and understanding how things came to be will like this book. While it takes quite some time to get around to the Emerald Mile's record-breaking run down the river, by the time you get there you can appreciate what it was that just happened. I am still substantially astonished that nobody died... like the Powell party, heading dwarfed but undaunted into a partially known river of that scale is straddling the line between crazy and legendary. I sure wouldn't want to do it, but I enjoyed reading about people crazier than myself doing it. Four new faces of Crystal out of five.

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Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

Wuthering Bytes 2014 Talk – SPI and I2C

Melanie Rhianna Lewis - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:22


Here are the slides to the SPI and I2C talk I gave at Wuthering Bytes 2014 at Hebden Bridge, here in the UK.

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

WutheringBytes 2014 Talk – Linux Bootloaders and Kernel Config

Melanie Rhianna Lewis - Sat, 2014-08-16 10:19


Here are the slides to the Loaders talk I gave at Wuthering Bytes 2014 at Hebden Bridge, here in the UK.

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

WutheringBytes 2014 Talk – Linux Bootloaders and Kernel Config

Melanie Rhianna Lewis - Sat, 2014-08-16 10:15


Here are the slides to the Loaders talk I gave at Wuthering Bytes 2014 at Hebden Bridge, here in the UK.

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

WutheringBytes 2014 Talk – Linux Bootloaders and Kernel Config

Melanie Rhianna Lewis - Sat, 2014-08-16 10:13


Here are the slides to the Loaders talk I gave at Wuthering Bytes 2014 at Hebden Bridge, here in the UK.

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

SanDisk Clip Sport

Elizabeth Krumbach - Sat, 2014-08-16 00:32

I got my first MP3 player in 2006, a SanDisk Sansa e140. As that one aged, I picked up the SanDisk Sansa Fuze in 2009. Recently my poor Sansa Fuze has been having trouble updating the library (takes a long time) and would randomly freeze up. After getting worse over my past few trips, I finally resigned to getting a new player.

As I began looking for players, I was quickly struck by how limited the MP3 player market is these days. I suspect this is due to so many people using their phones for music these days, but that’s not a great option for me for a variety of reasons:

  • Limits to battery life on my phone make a 12 hour flight (or a 3 hour flight, then an 8 hour flight, then navigating a foreign city…) a bit tricky.
  • While I do use my phone for runs (yay for running apps) I don’t like using my phone in the gym, because it’s bulky and I’m afraid of breaking it.
  • Finally, my desire for an FM tuner hasn’t changed, and I’m quite fond of the range of formats my Fuze supported (flac, ogg, etc).

So I found the SanDisk Clip Sport MP3 Player. Since I’ve been happy with my SanDisk players throughout the years and the specs pages seemed to meet my needs, I didn’t hesitate too much about picking it up for $49.99 on Amazon. Obviously I got the one with pink trim.

I gave the player a spin on my recent trip to Philadelphia. Flight time: 5 hours each way. I’m happy to report that the battery life was quite good, I forgot to charge it while in Philadelphia but the charge level was still quite high when I turned it on for my flight home.

Overall, I’m very happy with it, but no review would be complete without the details!


  • Feels a bit plasticy – the Fuze had a metal casing
  • I can’t figure out how it sorts music in file view, doesn’t seem alphabetical…


  • Meets my requirements: FM Tuner, multiple formats – my oggs play fine out of the box, the Fuze required a firmware upgrade
  • Standard Micro USB connector for charging – the Fuze had a custom connector
  • File directory listing option, not just by tags
  • Mounts via USB mass storage in Linux
  • Micro SD/SDHC expansion slot if I need to go beyond 8G

We’ll see how it holds up through the abuse I put it through while traveling.

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

How to Encrypt Email in Linux

Carla Schroder (O'Reilly articles) - Fri, 2014-08-15 19:15
If you've been thinking of encrypting your email, it is a rather bewildering maze to sort through thanks to the multitude of email services and mail clients. There are two levels of encryption to consider: SSL/TLS encryption protects your login and password to your mailserver. GnuPG is the standard strong Linux encryption tool, and it encrypts and authenticates your messages. It is best if you manage your own GPG encryption and not leave it up to third parties, which we will discuss in a moment.
Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

Time-lapse photography: stitching movies together on Linux

Akkana Peck - Fri, 2014-08-15 18:05

[Time-lapse clouds movie on youtube] A few weeks ago I wrote about building a simple Arduino-driven camera intervalometer to take repeat photos with my DSLR. I'd been entertained by watching the clouds build and gather and dissipate again while I stepped through all the false positives in my crittercam, and I wanted to try capturing them intentionally so I could make cloud movies.

Of course, you don't have to build an Arduino device. A search for timer remote control or intervalometer will find lots of good options around $20-30. I bought one so I'll have a nice LCD interface rather than having to program an Arduino every time I want to make movies. Setting the image size

Okay, so you've set up your camera on a tripod with the intervalometer hooked to it. (Depending on how long your movie is, you may also want an external power supply for your camera.)

Now think about what size images you want. If you're targeting YouTube, you probably want to use one of YouTube's preferred settings, bitrates and resolutions, perhaps 1280x720 or 1920x1080. But you may have some other reason to shoot at higher resolution: perhaps you want to use some of the still images as well as making video.

For my first test, I shot at the full resolution of the camera. So I had a directory full of big ten-megapixel photos with filenames ranging from img_6624.jpg to img_6715.jpg. I copied these into a new directory, so I didn't overwrite the originals. You can use ImageMagick's mogrify to scale them all: mogrify -scale 1280x720 *.jpg

I had an additional issue, though: rain was threatening and I didn't want to leave my camera at risk of getting wet while I went dinner shopping, so I moved the camera back under the patio roof. But with my fisheye lens, that meant I had a lot of extra house showing and I wanted to crop that off. I used GIMP on one image to determine the x, y, width and height for the crop rectangle I wanted. You can even crop to a different aspect ratio from your target, and then fill the extra space with black: mogrify img_6624.jpg -crop 2720x1450+135+315 -scale 1280 -gravity center -background black -extent 1280x720 *.jpg

If you decide to rescale your images to an unusual size, make sure both dimensions are even, otherwise avconv will complain that they're not divisible by two. Finally: Making your movie

I found lots of pages explaining how to stitch together time-lapse movies using mencoder, and a few using ffmpeg. Unfortunately, in Debian, both are deprecated. Mplayer has been removed entirely. The ffmpeg-vs-avconv issue is apparently a big political war, and I have no position on the matter, except that Debian has come down strongly on the side of avconv and I get tired of getting nagged at every time I run a program. So I needed to figure out how to use avconv.

I found some pages on avconv, but most of them didn't actually work. Here's what worked for me: avconv -f image2 -r 15 -start_number 6624 -i 'img_%04d.jpg' -vcodec libx264 time-lapse.mp4

Adjust the start_number and filename appropriately for the files you have.

Avconv produces an mp4 file suitable for uploading to youtube. So here is my little test movie: Time Lapse Clouds.

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

[Book Reviews] "Why Everyone (Else) Is A Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind"

Raven - Fri, 2014-08-15 15:59
It probably says something about me that I had already read about every study cited in Robert Kurzban's pop science work "Why Everyone (Else) Is A Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind" and all of the philosophers, but 75% of his movie references were lost upon me. I fail at pop. (Pretty funny, since that's what most of the Amazon reviewers loved about the book.) I was predisposed to like his book, though, because his thesis of the complexity/multiplicity of mind pretty much tallies with my own experience of consciousness. Briefly, he posits that we are not each one solitary controlled actor, but rather each a collection of competing and cooperating neural responses and cognitive processes (he refers to these as modules of the brain) which don't necessarily share information with each other. So we aren't always (or even often) consciously aware that we have done something (heart beating, breathing, etc.), or how we have done it (detectable decision making is not the first neural activity associated with that decision) or, most crucially, why we have done it. He tackles confabulation and split-brain patients, touching on the work of my favorite neurologist V.S. Ramachandran, and then extends this thinking to other neural processes that aren't strictly hemisphere-limited.

The central useful idea of the book discusses cases where we simultaneously hold two conflicting ideas, and explains this as different modules of the brain being adapted for different purposes. That certainly happens and has clear ties to Ramachandran's split-brain work, and when asked how we resolve these seemingly conflicting pieces of information, we usually just make shit up (technical term: confabulation). He explains our brains as adapted for living as social animals, and so one module (he calls it the press secretary) has as its function the favorable presentation of ourselves to others. If this were true, it would sometimes be to our advantage for that module to be strategically ignorant of other things we do or think, much as politicians tend to deny knowledge of whatever inconveniently unpopular thing is advancing their agenda. So in Kurzban's framing, the self-interested modules that are pursuing our own advantage simply don't inform the press secretary module of this, and this explains why you get family values politicians having affairs, Eliot Spitzer, etc. (He didn't reference the GLBT versions thereof, I suspect because some readers will think that's a harder evolutionary sell than het sex.) The thing I would have loved to see discussed that didn't get covered is how these various brain modules arrive at a decision when there is conflict between them. I suspect that the answer is "Nobody knows!", but he spends so much time debunking the little-decider-brain-within-a-big-brain approach that I felt like he owed the reader an alternate hypothesis for how this decision making actually happens, or at least an admission that we haven't the faintest idea.

Kurzban is a straight-up materialist and nothing else is considered, just referenced as history... he comes within a hair of titling a section "Why Your Religion Is Wrong And There Is Nothing But The Brain". But if that doesn't bother you or if you agree with him, you'll probably like this book. I think he's too exclusionary there -- even if you're a materialist too, he doesn't reference or look at the known effects of digestive bacteria on mood or neural activity, for example, and only kinda touches on the substantial body of literature on hormones and their expressions. When you're writing a 220 page book I can kind of understand not wanting to open those cans of E. coli, though. I appreciated his clear delineation of the differences in playing a game against other humans (where you may win via persuasion even if you are wrong) versus playing a game against nature (honey badger don't care about your press secretary) and the cases where that does and doesn't work out for people. But I do think it would do most of us good to be able to think of ourselves more as ecosystems rather than as singly motivated beings... we pretty clearly are. I have found it cognitively useful when thrashing through a complicated problem to not kick myself for "Why do I hold both A and in-this-case not-A?" -- realizing that it's a case of dual inputs which happen to conflict rather than "you suck at logical consistency" helps me figure out what I'm actually going to do. I didn't learn a lot from reading this book -- the one new-information takeaway that I got from it was that Stephen Jay Gould attributed ideas his fellow evolutionists never held to them just so that he could "debunk" them. Pretty annoying to have someone try to prove to you adversarially your own position! Heh. "Gould's strategic errors, painting himself a defender of a completely sensible view in opposition to views held by no one, was thoroughly effective. He died famous, wealthy, and wrong." Dang. (Stephen Jay Gould was one of my childhood heroes; I was reading and loving his books about the time that all this was going on in academia.)

Four monogamy-policing nesting birds out of five.

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Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

The Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter needs you!

Elizabeth Krumbach - Thu, 2014-08-14 04:41

On Monday we released Issue 378 of the Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter. The newsletter has thousands of readers across various formats from wiki to email to forums and discourse.

As we creep toward the 400th issue, we’ve been running a bit low on contributors. Thanks to Tiago Carrondo and David Morfin for pitching in these past few weeks while they could, but the bulk of the work has fallen to José Antonio Rey and myself and we can’t keep this up forever.

So we need more volunteers like you to help us out!

We specifically need folks to let us know about news throughout the week (email them to and to help write summaries over the weekend. All links and summaries are stored in a Google Doc, so you don’t need to learn any special documentation formatting or revision control software to participate. Plus, everyone who participates is welcome to add their name to the credits!

Summary writers. Summary writers receive an email every Friday evening (or early Saturday) with a link to the collaborative news links document for the past week which lists all the articles that need 2-3 sentence summaries. These people are vitally important to the newsletter. The time commitment is limited and it is easy to get started with from the first weekend you volunteer. No need to be shy about your writing skills, we have style guidelines to help you on your way and all summaries are reviewed before publishing so it’s easy to improve as you go on.

Interested? Email and we’ll get you added to the list of folks who are emailed each week and you can help as you have time.

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

Fosscon 2014

Elizabeth Krumbach - Tue, 2014-08-12 16:43

Flying off to a conference on the other side of the country 2 weeks after having my gallbladder removed may not have been one of the wisest decisions of my life, but I am very glad I went. Thankfully MJ had planned on coming along to this event anyway, so I had companionship… and someone to carry the luggage :)

This was Fosscon‘s 5th year, 4th in Philadelphia and the 3rd one I’ve been able to attend. I was delighted this year to have my employer, HP, sponsor the conference at a level that gave us a booth and track room. Throughout the day I was attending talks, giving my own and chatting with people at the HP booth about the work we’re doing in OpenStack and opportunities for people who are looking to work with open source technologies.

The day started off with a keynote by Corey Quinn titled “We are not special snowflakes” which stressed the importance of friendliness and good collaboration skills in technical candidates.

I, for one, am delighted to see us as an industry moving away from BOFHs and kudos for antisocial behavior. I may not be a social butterfly, but I value the work of my peers and strive to be someone people enjoy working with.

After the keynote I did a talk about having a career in FOSS. I was able to tell stories about my own work and experiences and those of some of my colleagues. I talked about my current role at HP and spent a fair amount of time giving participation examples related to my work on Xubuntu. I must really enjoy this topic, because I didn’t manage to leave time for questions! Fortunately I think I made up for it in some great chats with other attendees throughout the day.

My slides from the talk are available here: FOSSCON-2014-FOSS_career.pdf

Some other resources related to my talk:

During the conference I always was able to visit with my friends at the Ubuntu booth. They had brought along a couple copies of The Official Ubuntu Book, 8th Edition for me to sign (hooray!) and then sell to conference attendees. I brought along my Ubuntu tablet which they were able to have at the booth, and which MJ grabbed from me during a session when someone asked to see a demo.

After lunch I went to see Charlie Reisinger’s “Lessons From Open Source Schoolhouse” where he talked about the Ubuntu deployments in his school district. I’ve been in contact with Charlie for quite some time now since the work we do with Partimus also puts us in schools, but he’s been able to achieve some pretty exceptional success in his district. It was a great pleasure to finally meet him in person and his talk was very inspiring.

I’ve been worried for quite some time that children growing up today will only have access to tablets and smart phones that I classify as “read only devices.” I think back to when I first started playing with computers and the passion for them grew out of the ability to tinker and discover, if my only exposure had been a tablet I don’t think I’d be where I am today. Charlie’s talk went in a similar direction, particularly as he revealed that he controversially allows students to have administrative (sudo) access on the Ubuntu laptops! The students feel trusted, empowered and in the time the program has been going on, he’s been able to put together a team of student apprentices who are great at working with the software and can help train other students, and teachers too.

It was also interesting to learn that after the district got so much press the students began engaging people in online communities.

Fosscon talks aren’t recorded, but check out Charlie’s TEDx Lancaster talk to get a taste of the key points about student freedom and the apprentice program he covered: Enabling students in a digital age: Charlie Reisinger at TEDxLancaster

GitHub for Penn Manor School District here:

The last talk I went to of the day was by Robinson Tryon on “LibreOffice Tools and Tricks For Making Your Work Easier” where I was delighted to see how far they’ve come with the Android/iOS Impress remote and work being done in the space of editing PDFs, including the development of Hybrid PDFs which can be opened by LibreOffice for editing or a PDF viewer and contain full versions of both documents. I also didn’t realized that LibreOffice retained any of the command line tools, so it was pretty cool to learn about soffice --headless --convert to do CLI-based conversions of files.

Huge thanks to the volunteers who make Fosscon happen. The Franklin Institute was a great venue and aside from the one room downstairs, I think the layout worked out well for us. Booths were in common spaces that attendees congregated in, and I was even able to meet some tech folks who were just at the museum and happened upon us, which was a lot of fun.

More photos from the event here:

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

My Experience at YC Hacks (Y Combinator’s First Hackathon)

Erica Douglass - Mon, 2014-08-11 20:36

YC Hacks I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. At 33 years old, I knew I’d probably be older than the vast majority of the 400+ people attending Y Combinator’s first YC Hacks hackathon. But other than that, I didn’t have many expectations.

YC Hacks was my first real hackathon. Many years ago, I went to the first SuperHappyDevHouse (and then 19 out of the first 20 of them), but I never had built and launched a web app in a weekend. Even though I’ve held down full-time jobs as a developer, I still have trouble telling people “I’m a developer.” I’m not a whiz-kid 19-year-old who grew up programming games in his bedroom, nor do I have a Computer Science degree from a prestigious university (I’m a dropout.) I program because that’s how I get to see my ideas come to life–and because it’s fun and addictive for me. And that’s why I signed up for YC Hacks.

With my startup having been acquired a few months ago, YC Hacks seemed like the perfect opportunity to meet new people and get exposed to the latest Silicon Valley trends.

Team? Team? Will You Join My Team?

My first exposure to the other attendees came through the YC Hacks Facebook group, where people seemed to be in desperate need of other people for their teams. At this point, I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to build, and despite a torrent of private messages and emails from people asking me to be on their team, I didn’t commit to anything prior to the hackathon.

“Are you a designer or a developer?” was a popular refrain on the Facebook group, as well as “What’s your stack?” My response was basically along the lines of “I build shit that makes money” and “Whatever works to get the job done, but probably Javascript.” (Ironically, I would end up building a product at YC Hacks that doesn’t have a monetization strategy. More on that in a bit.)

I ended up in a great private message conversation with Dave Fontenot, one of the organizers, a few days prior to YC Hacks. I expressed my concern about not having a team, and Dave said, “Don’t worry about it. Just show up and have fun.”

The Overwhelming First Moments

When I arrived at the Y Combinator headquarters in Mountain View on Saturday morning, I was overwhelmed by the avalanche of people there. And everyone seemed to have a team already! Being an introvert who prefers to hide vs. socialize with people I don’t know, my first instinct was to RUN! I texted a friend of mine with a concern that maybe I should just leave. But something told me to stick it out, even though it was scary.

I met a bunch of people. A guy pitched me on building a product, but I wasn’t interested in that product idea. I pitched a game development team on joining their team, but they weren’t interested. (Pro tip: At least make eye contact with people who want to join your team!) Feeling rejected, I decided to just stick it out until noon, when people could pitch their ideas from the stage.

I listened to pitch after pitch, but nothing stood out to me until Evy Kassirer stood up and pitched a recommendation engine for people to help find the right online courses. This was interesting to me; I’ve always loved the recommendation space, and there are a lot of course providers out there, but not a lot of sites reviewing all the courses that are out there.

Picking a Team and Finding an Idea

I decided to join Evy’s team, which consisted of three students from the University of Waterloo in Canada. A memorable moment for me was when I was telling one of the team members, Calvin Chan, about how I came to Silicon Valley in 1999 and skipped a day of college to go to the IPO party of the startup I was working for at the time, Cobalt Networks. Calvin’s eyes got wide and he said, “I was 6 then.” Fortunately, even at 33, I still look like I’m 24 years old, so I didn’t feel too bad. ;)

It was early Saturday afternoon, and suddenly I got a text message saying a mentor was available for office hours. I had signed up for office hours during my skittish time earlier. I headed back to the office hours table, and met with Brian Krausz, and later Michael Glukhovsky, both of whom turned out to be influential in helping me decide what to build for the weekend.

The Idea I Built

After I wrote my blog post about my company failing a few months ago, I received over 100 personal emails from other startup founders whose startups were in similar positions. Until that day, I really had no idea how pervasive a problem this was in the startup world. Founders who were days from running out of money–founders whose co-founder wasn’t working out–founders who had graduated from an accelerator but couldn’t raise funding. This was a real issue!

After talking with Brian and Michael, I began to sketch out an idea–a “founder support network.” The name just showed up for me in our conversation. A place where founders could find other founders in a similar situation to them. A network that was vetted, so that everyone who responded to a question would be someone trusted.

I decided to split off from Evy’s team and see what I could build in 24 hours. I challenged myself to have a working web app in that time–something where people could actually sign up. I registered the domain and went to work.

Customer Development

First, I requested more office hours. I needed to do customer development–and where better to do that with the mentors, who were also startup founders? I ended up grabbing some time with Justin Kan, former founder of Justin.TV and now a YC partner. When I explained the idea I’d sketched out, he said, “There’s another team here doing that!”

“Oh!” I said, surprised. I hadn’t known!

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s a good idea. It needs to happen. Good luck!”

I found the other team, who was indeed building something similar, called PeerHaven. They already had 5 people, which was the maximum team size. Again, I felt the pull to build it myself and see how far I could get in a weekend.

Tackling the Technical Challenges

I needed to figure out what technologies I should use to build my MVP (minimum viable product.) I was already familiar with Zurb Foundation from my startup, so that was my first choice. Javascript and JQuery were an easy choice for quick development on the backend. Firebase, a sponsor, offered a “backend-as-a-service” that I could use to authenticate users and a database to store key/value data, so that was the best choice for rapid development.

But where to host it? When I was running my startup, we hosted everything on Amazon. That’s great for scale, but it’s a monster to set up quickly. Surely there had to be a hosting provider out there that would let me deploy a Foundation website with a few clicks.

Googling around, I found They have an app you can download for Mac or Windows that makes Zurb Foundation, Sass, and Ruby “just work.” I have had a lot of bad experiences with apps like this, so I was wary. But it offered a free trial, so I decided to take it for a test drive. turned out to be a godsend. It did, indeed, just work. And with their hosting option, I was able to point to their server and one-click publish my website. WOW. Another brilliant product in the hosting industry–this is one that deserves accolades!

After getting over my “Holy crap, it just works!” moment with, I went to work. I purchased a stock photo and set up my basic design–which turned out really well! (Note: It still doesn’t work perfectly on mobile–that’s on my to-do list.)

“Oh God, Now I Actually Have to Write Code!”

Now, it was time to create the magic that made my signup form work with Firebase. Fortunately, the Firebase team had several developers on-site to answer questions. This turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the hackathon. It was so empowering to be able to go to the Firebase team, say “I’m pretty sure this is a dumb question, but…” and have a friendly developer help me figure out what was going wrong.

I made liberal use of the Firebase developers, and by Sunday afternoon, I had a working app where people could sign up and become part of the Founder Support Network! I pushed the final, working version with 16 minutes to spare. Whew!

The moment that made my day on Sunday was when I was going through my Javascript and JQuery code with one of the Firebase developers, and he said, “You know, for someone who says they don’t know Javascript…you know Javascript.” That was a real moment for me–because it was the moment I realized I am a developer.

The Final Moments…and my Epiphany

When the hackathon was over, I ran around and high-fived the Firebase team, Calvin, and the other folks who had helped me out throughout the weekend. Then I sat there and just let the moment wash over me. I had come up with a concept, done customer development, registered a domain, created a design, and coded a working web app…in 24 hours. Oh, and I’d gotten a good 7 hours of sleep in there, too, since my health comes first!

Calvin noticed me taking in the moment, and said, “It feels like a high, doesn’t it?” It was all I could do to just nod.

YC Hacks was life-changing for me, in an incredible way. Better than any prize, this weekend showed me that I could do this. I could build and execute a concept. I could write code and create a beautiful design and it would work. I could make an entire web app come together without having to hire a developer or a designer. And I could ask for help when I needed it, too (thanks again, Firebase team!)

I’m Erica, and this weekend, I embraced being a developer–in addition to being a startup founder and an entrepreneur coach.

Thank you to the entire Y Combinator team, Brian Krausz, Michael Glukhovsky, Justin Kan, Sam Altman, Jessica Livingston, Dave Fontenot, the mentors, the Firebase team, Calvin, Evy, and all of the incredible people I met at YC Hacks. I won’t forget what this meant to me…and I’m looking forward to next year’s hackathon!

P.S. Are you a startup founder looking to connect with other startup founder peers and have real conversations with them? Join the Founder Support Network. I plan to continue working on this, and there are many more exciting things to come.

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The post My Experience at YC Hacks (Y Combinator’s First Hackathon) appeared first on Starting Your Own Business with Erica Douglass.

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

Randa Meetings sprint: KDE Frameworks Cookbook progress

Valorie Zimmerman 2 - Mon, 2014-08-11 14:06
We groaned and suffered with the up-and-down network, and had to abandon our plan to write and edit the book on Booki at Flossmanuals. So we began to create text files on Kate or Kwrite, but how to share our work?

The best answer seemed to be a git repository, and our success began there. Once created, we consulted again and again with the Frameworks developers in the room across the hall, and brainstormed and wrote, and even created new tools (Mirko). Our repo is here: kde:scratch/garg/book. If you want to see the live code examples, you will need this tool: .

I'm so happy with what we have so far! The texts are just great, and the code examples will be updated as they are updated in their repositories. So if people planning a booth at a Qt Contributor Conference, for instance, wanted to print up some copies of the book, it will be completely up-to-date. Our goal is committing every part of the book so that it can be auto-fetched for reading as an epub, pdf, text file or printed as a book.

It is a tremendous help to be in the same place. Thank you KDE community for sending me here, all the way from Seattle. Thank you for bringing all the other developers here as well. We are eating well, meeting, coding, writing, walking, drinking coffee and even some Free Beer, and sometimes sleeping too. Mario brings around a huge box of chocolate every night. We're all going to arrive home somewhat tired from working so hard, and somewhat fat from eating so well!

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers

Sphinx Moths

Akkana Peck - Sun, 2014-08-10 03:23

[White-lined sphinx moth on pale trumpets] We're having a huge bloom of a lovely flower called pale trumpets (Ipomopsis longiflora), and it turns out that sphinx moths just love them.

The white-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata) is a moth the size of a hummingbird, and it behaves like a hummingbird, too. It flies during the day, hovering from flower to flower to suck nectar, being far too heavy to land on flowers like butterflies do.

[Sphinx moth eye] I've seen them before, on hikes, but only gotten blurry shots with my pocket camera. But with the pale trumpets blooming, the sphinx moths come right at sunset and feed until near dark. That gives a good excuse to play with the DSLR, telephoto lens and flash ... and I still haven't gotten a really sharp photo, but I'm making progress.

Check out that huge eye! I guess you need good vision in order to make your living poking a long wiggly proboscis into long skinny flowers while laboriously hovering in midair.

Photos here: White-lined sphinx moths on pale trumpets.

Categories: LinuxChix bloggers
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