Category Archives: technology

Six Degrees from Disaster

Massacre at VA Tech – Malaysian Students Safe read a headline I spotted via Google News this morning. Naturally, it came from Malaysia’s Straits Times newspaper. It’s facile to say that the global is local and the local is global. But there’s more to this particular phenomenon. When we hear about horror anywhere in the Read More…

Massacre at VA Tech – Malaysian Students Safe read a headline I spotted via Google News this morning. Naturally, it came from Malaysia’s Straits Times newspaper.

It’s facile to say that the global is local and the local is global. But there’s more to this particular phenomenon. When we hear about horror anywhere in the world, the natural human instinct is to want to make sure our own loved ones are safe. But we also nurture a sneaky desire, hidden even from ourselves, to have some connection to the news, to somehow feel we are participants, not just audience, in a great world drama.

Of course, no one wants to be directly affected – to be killed or wounded, or have that happen to someone we know and love. But to be able to say that we were somehow part of the larger story – it’s only human to enjoy that.

This is the bread and butter of local newspapers, as I see constantly illustrated in the posters advertising Lecco’s local and regional papers. “So-and-so disaster elsewhere in the world: no Lecchese hurt”. But sometimes they are: “Lecchese drowns swimming in Rimini” appeared a year or so ago – this would hardly be local news (Rimini is on the Adriatic coast, nowhere near Lecco) except that a local man died.

As soon as something dramatic happens anywhere in the world, we would all like to be able to say whether or not we are connected with it or hurt by it. An ideal headline would read: [disaster] strikes [someplace else], hundreds dead – but no one you know.

Hence this modest (and ironic) proposal to some entrepreneur who’s got the technical skills: find a way to combine (mash up) Google News with all my social networks, so that I can immediately know whether the horrible (or good) events of the day hit me close to home. Call it “Six Degrees from Disaster,” because, as John Guare illustrated, we are all at most six “links” away from anyone in the world – in tragedy or in triumph.

Girl Geek Dinner Italia

Some years ago Silvia, who had been one of our tech support team (of two) at Incat, paid me the enormous compliment of saying that she considered me a role model. This from a woman with a laurea in physics who holds a managerial position in a team supporting HP servers, and certainly never needed Read More…

Some years ago Silvia, who had been one of our tech support team (of two) at Incat, paid me the enormous compliment of saying that she considered me a role model. This from a woman with a laurea in physics who holds a managerial position in a team supporting HP servers, and certainly never needed any advice from me on how to do her job!

I was extremely flattered, of course, but startled: I had never thought of myself as a role model for anybody. But it now seems that I am, and the job comes with responsibilities. Such as, um, eating free dinners and giving speeches.

Amanda Lorenzani (whom I’d enjoyed meeting at barCamp Roma), organized Italy’s first Girl Geeks Dinner, which took place in Milan last Friday. And she pulled it off magnificently: sponsorship from Excite, Dada.net, and San Lorenzo (who contributed the bubbly) ensured a very good dinner, complete with wine (though my request for a gin & tonic was turned down on the grounds that “then we’d have to give the strong stuff to everybody”).

At least 60 people were present, most of them, indeed, women. By the rules of Girl Geeks Dinners, women couldn’t be fewer than 50% of the guests: each woman attending can, if she wishes, invite one and only one man. (My date, by his own request, was Luca Conti.) After years of attending tech conferences at which women are always a minority and often silent, I was thrilled to meet and talk with so many smart, capable women. They had plenty to say for themselves, all of it interesting. Conversation flowed easily for most; I did what I could to involve those who seemed to be shy, though I was constantly distracted by new/old friends, and my feet hurt (I’m not used to wearing heels, but Ross had insisted I should).

We didn’t have a main speaker (as Girl Geeks Dinners often do although, surprisingly, they often seem to be men), but Amanda had asked four of us to each say a few words:

My two-minute speech was neither as off-the-cuff nor as nervous as it probably sounded. I had been trying all day to decide how to translate that immortal line from Thelma & Louise: “You get what you settle for.” I finally settled on (which is different from settling for): Nella vita, ottieni quello di cui ti accontenti. And added, as my own closing line: Vi auguro di non accontentarvi mai – “I hope you never settle.”

Then I could relax and eat dinner and talk with people rather than at them. It was great fun to see in person someone I’d been following on Twitter, Svaroschi, who is heading off to grand new adventures in the Big Apple.

Almost everyone in the room had a blog, several specifically food blogs, which I will now go and read although it’s dangerous for me to do so, especially now when I have no time to cook.

Apparently I terrified at least one person in the room. Sorry about that – totally not my intention. I was a little weirded out – though extremely flattered – by people coming up to tell me they admire me, and/or like my site. Okay, it wasn’t that many, but it’s a strange experience nonetheless. Am I really somewhat famous, or just a legend in my own mind?

I was therefore a little manic, and very tired – had woken up at 4 am from jet lag, still wasn’t well (and destined to get much worse the next day), and had to get home to Lecco, with Luca in tow (as our house guest) at a not-too-unreasonable hour because we had to get up for rItaliaCamp. I hope for the next dinner I will be more relaxed and awake. There were so many topics in the air that I would have liked to hear more about.

Just one example: Beatrice came to represent TechneDonne, a project to study gender (in)equality in the world of IT. Among other things, they are asking themselves: “Is software different when women write it?” Interesting question. These are the folks who have asked me to speak at FemCamp in Bologna on May 26th; by then I hope to have had some opportunity to explore the roles of women at Sun Microsystems – in one week, I saw more women there than in any other tech company I’ve ever worked for or visited!

Another nice ego-stroke for me was that Tara (of Passpack) told me she’s loving my unfinished fantasy novel, Ivaldi. And she hadn’t even got to the good part yet! <grin>

It was altogether a fun and stimulating evening, and I would/will be delighted to see all of these people again, and hope to have time to talk with the ones I missed this time around. In fact, I’d like to do it more often – maybe we can do regional lunches or aperitivi in between dinners?

Update

April 2, 2007 – My pleasure in reminiscing on the joys of the dinner was somewhat soured by this:

(photo by fullo via Pandemia)

This group represents a new (and very laudable) initiative by Alberto D’Ottavi, Stefano Vitta, Lorenzo Viscanti, Luca Mascaro, Chiaroscuro and Emanuele Quintarelli to encourage the development of Web 2.0 in Italy. But, boys, what’s missing from this picture? That’s right… girls!

Cisco Expo 2007 Italia

It’s all Lele’s fault again. Or maybe Luca’s. They mentioned in their blogs that they would be speaking at this year’s Cisco Expo in Milan and, since that’s relatively close to home, I figured I’d go along and cheer for them. I also wanted to learn more about Cisco’s new “Telepresence” and other online video products, to see what ideas I could pick Read More…

It’s all Lele’s fault again. Or maybe Luca’s. They mentioned in their blogs that they would be speaking at this year’s Cisco Expo in Milan and, since that’s relatively close to home, I figured I’d go along and cheer for them. I also wanted to learn more about Cisco’s new “Telepresence” and other online video products, to see what ideas I could pick up for TVBLOB.

The venue was a hotel way out in the southern part of Milan. In addition to my usual 1.5 hours from home in Lecco to Milan, I had to take the metro almost to the end of the line, then a bus, then walk another 15 minutes to the conference registration on the back side of the hotel. But I had company: getting off the bus, I fell in with a teacher from Como and a guy in the web services business who were going my way, so I learned some things.

The teacher had come, on her own initiative, to keep up to date in her field: she teaches “systems” at a technical school in Como, training future programmers and, presumably, system admins. She told us that there are no government refresher courses for IT teachers. Some of her colleagues teach their students programming in Pascal for three years, and maybe some Delphi – this aspect of the curriculum is totally up to them, and they have no particular incentive to delve into more modern computer languages. The teacher I talked with seems to be one of the motivated ones who works hard to keep learning and teaching new things, though she admitted (with some embarrassment) that she’s behind on new media phenomena like YouTube.

Perhaps I should offer to speak on these topics in Ross’ IT class at school – if her teacher wouldn’t take such an offer as a slur on her own professional skills.

Anyway, the conference… It started with a plenary session of half-hour talks by local Cisco luminaries. From my (sparse and illegible) notes:

  • many people [in Italy?] will in coming years still be watching “general” TV, but they might see personalized ads (someone in the audience near me snorted at this – clearly he’s not watching general TV anymore).
  • Second Life is a virtual place generating real business – Adidas’ personal trainer service there has sold 21,000 [units of some sort]. (I created a Second Life persona, Deirdre Guru (!), a few months ago, but haven’t had much time to explore this virtual world, especially since it doesn’t display properly on my laptop – I have to use my daughter’s desktop computer. So far I can say that flying is fun, except for that time I got stranded high above the sea and then the whole world crashed.)
  • Cisco believes that company CIOs should be the “directors of innovation,” helping their colleagues enter the new era of the “human network.” Hmm. If you want to promote the human aspects, the CIO (Chief Information Officer) may not be the best person for this role.

While wandering around the expo and battling the crowd for a not-very-good lunch, I kept seeing faces that looked familiar. I am hugely handicapped in business by my poor memory for faces. Or rather, I recognize faces and know that I have met them before, but have no recollection of what their names are or in what context I met them. (In my defense: I have probably already met far more people worldwide than most individuals have to deal with in a lifetime…maybe my people memory is just overloaded!)

So I kept seeing people I thought I knew, but was too embarrassed to talk to them in case I was wrong, and no one acted as if they knew me. I began to wonder if I actually had met them or just thought I had, because so many looked like each other. The crowd was 95% male, most dressed in blue or gray suits with shirts and ties, similar haircuts and (for those who wore them) similar glasses. Another style among the men was wide-wale corduroy trousers in rust, red, or beige, with Clarks-style suede shoes and a sweater. Then there were a few guys in jeans with suit jackets. The women were uniformly dressed in black (as was I – but at least I had a beige sweater under my black suit jacket, and I’m pretty sure I was the only person there in cowboy boots!).

I don’t get it. We’re in Milan, one of the fashion capitals of the world, and the end result is that everyone looks the same? I longed for a real fashion statement, a Hawaiian shirt perhaps. If I’d seen one, I would have hugged its wearer, whether I knew him or not. Someone missed out on a hug.

Another thing that caught my eye was spelling errors. If I were projecting PowerPoint onto an enormous screen to an auditorium full of people (many of them potential buyers of very costly products), I would bloody well run a spell check on my presentation! I caught multiple errors in both English and Italian in the slides shown by Cisco’s top executives. That’s just embarrassing, and bad for business. If that’s how they treat me as an audience, what kind of attention to detail can I expect when I’m a client?

In the afternoon I watched a presentation about Cisco’s extremely expensive new “telepresence” system. I wonder if they even have one installed in Italy [June – they’re installing it now] – at $300,000 for a six-seat/one location configuration, I can’t imagine they will have many customers worldwide. And it was curious that they did not even show us a video of the system in action (though I had already seen such a video months ago, thanks to Robert Scoble.)

There was a video loop running during the lunch break, showing a lot of the same footage as in the ad above. Some parts of it seemed to show the telepresence system (kids talking to each other in classrooms in, apparently, Tibet, and someplace caucasian), with a note at the bottom: “Images on screen are simulated.” Uh, right. Not exactly a demo of the system’s real capabilities. And I’m pretty damned sure that there is no classroom in Tibet which enjoys the Internet bandwidth needed to support this system.

I stayed through a presentation about Cisco’s digital signage system (and, yes, got some good ideas), but left when someone started to talk in excruciating detail about the installation of high-end security systems.

Between urban transit and train connections, it took me three hours to get home to Lecco, at the end of which I was done in – still suffering with that sinus infection as well. I decided to skip the next day of the conference to work from home and rest up. I was sorry to miss Luca and Lele, but, having seen the agenda, I knew that I wasn’t really their target anyway – I am already very familiar with the stuff that they would be explaining about blogs, new media, etc., for the benefit of this Italian corporate audience – indeed, I probably could have given these talks myself.

 

The Boys of barCamp

For me, it started with a comment on Pandemia. Luca Conti (one of Italy’s most influential bloggers) reported the quizzical complaint of Marina Bellini: why were there practically no females signed up for barCamp Rome?   Luca Mascaro, Federico, Diego Bianchi, Luca Conti I’d been reading more and more Italian blogs lately, especially since I Read More…

For me, it started with a comment on Pandemia. Luca Conti (one of Italy’s most influential bloggers) reported the quizzical complaint of Marina Bellini: why were there practically no females signed up for barCamp Rome?

whodiegoluca

 

Luca Mascaro, Federico, Diego Bianchi, Luca Conti

I’d been reading more and more Italian blogs lately, especially since I met some Italian bloggers at a conference in Torino back in December. Luca had endeared himself to me by telling me, as soon as we met, that he had liked my piece on Bormio. And I’d gotten to know Lele Dainesi since he began doing PR consulting for TVBLOB (although, dazzled by the charms of my boss Lisa, he rather ignored me until I established my geek street cred by showing him my own site/blog).

greenshirt

The week after we hung out together in Torino, Lele, Luca, and many other Italian bloggers were at LeWeb3 in Paris (to my intense jealousy – I wanted to meet social networking researcher/goddess danah boyd – but my big boss wouldn’t pay for me to go). Amidst the controversy over how that conference was run, Lele amused himself by posting a Flickr photostream of “the women of LeWeb3.”

lele

^ Lele

So, in answer to the question “Why are women so under-represented at tech conferences?”, I commented that it might be because we hadn’t been invited, and that, fond as I am of Lele, initiatives like his LeWeb photos make us uncomfortable: “We like to feel appreciated for our brains before our tette.”

Lele jokingly replied that he simply loves beautiful women and, if they have brains as well as breasts, so much the better.

siinapasteris

^ Tony Siino, Vittorio Pasteris

(I was irritated by a similar posting of photos of The Babes of CES – really, guys, you can stop asking yourselves why women don’t come to tech conferences. As I commented on Thomas Hawk’s blog, it’s probably because we’re tired of trying to have conversations with your bald spots.)

diegob

^ Diego Bianchi aka Zoro

Another commenter pointed out that I didn’t need an invitation to come to a barCamp: anyone is welcome to attend and to speak. Then I received email from Amanda, a British woman (married to an Italian) living in Rome and working in tech (Excite), wanting to know if I was coming to barCamp, as she would like to meet me. Turns out she works with Diego, whom I knew from vlogEurope, who would also be at barCamp, along with others I knew, or wanted to meet.

redhead

^ Mystery Man C, Luca Lorenzetti, Andrea Martines, Mystery Woman 0, Mystery Man F

So I bought a train ticket on Thursday (100 euros – ouch!) and arrived Friday evening at Rome’s Stazione Termini. From there I would take the metro to the end of the line, near the home of our friends Serena and Sandro. As I looked around me in the metro station, I reflected that, the further south you go in Italy, the more good-looking the men. Not that they’re ugly up where we live, but I’m often astonished at the sheer beauty of Roman men (I admit to prejudice: my husband was born in Rome, though that doesn’t make him a Roman). But no one’s allowed to take photos in the metro, so I couldn’t document the ones who particularly caught my attention that evening. (What you see on this page are men who attended barCamp.)

redshirt

Simone Onofri

Serena picked me up at the metro station and brought me home to have dinner (and lots of wine) with the family. Sandro went over my Italian slang pages, making additions and corrections; eventually I want to get him on video demonstrating and explaining Roman slang. (I do have some video from that evening, finally edited and posted.)

whoblueconsole

Tommaso Sorchiotti

Saturday morning Serena dropped me at the bus stop to begin an hour-long odyssey across Rome. The day was beautiful and the ride fun; I had to change bus lines once and ask directions several times (I was delighted at the friendliness and helpfulness of the Romans). I found my way to the Linux Club in via Libetta by around 9:45, for an event that was scheduled to start at 10.

stefanto

This being Rome, we actually got started around 11:30, with the first speakers starting to talk while some of us were still registering for our badges and t-shirts. I stood in line with Amanda and Antonio (above), a winsome Sicilian philosopher who works for a company that makes adver-games (cool!).

barCamps are informal, and this one utterly chaotic: I had a hard time figuring out what was going on where and when, so I didn’t make it to any of the talks I thought I’d like to hear. But the ones I did end up listening to were interesting, and designed to provoke conversation rather than dispense wisdom in only one direction. Me being me, I got more than a few words in edgewise.

whotyping

^ behind: Davide Salerno, in front: Cristian Conti

blondedoor^ Federica Fabbiani, Andrea Cuius, Mystery Woman 2, Mystery Man J

During one such intervento, I pointed out that the Italian blogging community ignores the many foreigners blogging in and about Italy, whose perspective is different and potentially useful. Some people pitched in enthusiastically that they had recently discovered some of these blogs, and in the hallway afterwards several told me that they’d specifically discovered mine (thanks to a recent link from Lele), and enjoyed it – always good to hear!

dooragain^ Mystery Man K, Marco Rosella, Luca Alagna, Mystery Men N (background), O

When I wasn’t listening to “formal” presentations, there were plenty of other interesting conversations going on. Elisabetta, whom I met at vlogEurope, had come down from Milan to conduct live online interviews during dolMedia‘s coverage of the barCamp. She interviewed me about my 25 years online (a topic I had considered speaking on, but there were too many speakers already) and about TVBLOB.

A haphazard lunch was served, of Rome’s excellent casereccio bread with slices of roast pork, mortadella (aka bologna), olive paté, and various other goodies provided by San-Lorenzo.com. It was a scramble to get everybody fed, but, after years of boarding school, I am a champion at scrounging food – I didn’t go hungry (though I remained desperate for coffee for a long time).

doorhand

^ Mystery Men K, O, Luca L. (again), Diego Magnani

doorway

^ Mystery Woman 3, Leo Sorge,and Palmasco (foreground)

I realized that Robin Good, whose blog I’ve been reading for years, was present – and the photo on his site does not nearly do him justice robingood(nor does mine, unfortunately). I had not been able to locate his talk on Come pagare l’affitto con il sito (“how to pay the rent with your site”), but he was happy to give me individual advice. He, too, had followed Lele’s link to my site recently, so had some truly useful things to say. (I’m now mulling over what I’ll actually carry out.)

Robin is Italian, but writes his site in at least three languages (English, Italian, and Spanish, that I know of – and he may be adding more), and does a nice job of explaining all sorts of high tech stuff even to non-techies – I recommend it if you’re interested in understanding what we nerds are up to.

I spent a lot of the day talking with Amanda, who’s trying to set up a Girl Geeks Dinner in Italy – we need to find a woman who works at a high level in IT in Italy to be our inspirational speaker. I also talked a lot with Diego, about everything possible, and lots of other people. By the end of the day I was exhausted from talking.

table2

Mystery Man T, Stefigno, Mystery Man V, Gaspar and Fabrizio

Around 8:30 pm, 40 of us moved a few blocks down to a restaurant for a group dinner. Pastarito is part of a chain in Italy, almost American in its approach and menu styling. It wouldn’t have been my first choice for a meal, but it was nearby and could seat 40 people, so probably the best we could do in the circumstances. The food was okay, though nowhere near the level of the dinner I organized for vlogEurope (said she modestly).

table1

^ Matteo Marchelli (red sleeves)

shaggy

^ waiter who looks like Shaggy from Scooby Doo, Fabrizio Ulisse

The dinner in any case was mostly about (more) conversation, though we were all running out of steam by the time we broke up at 11 pm. Diego dropped me and Luca at a metro stop, but the Roman metro closes for (ongoing) repairs every night at 9, and we couldn’t figure out where to catch the substitute bus. So we walked to a taxi stand, and finally found a taxi. Which cost a LOT less, for the distance, than it would have in Milan. I collapsed at Serena and Sandro’s around midnight.

whowhopino

^ Andrea Beggi, Mystery Man X, Pino (who shared an excellent dish of mussels at dinner)

fabio

Many thanks to Fabio Masetti (above) who organized it all, very well.

As for Les Boys: if all tech conferences were stocked with this many good-looking men, more women would probably go to them! (Sorry my photos aren’t so great – I really must get a better camera.)

I’ll leave it to the public to decide who is il piu’ figo (the hottest). If you’ve got better photos you’d like me to post or can provide links to (and names for – thanks to Luca for those already fixed), please do! Some photos I’ve already found are Luca’s.
emanuelestef

Emanuele Quintarelli and Stefano (Aghenor) Vitta

Dell Battery Recall

Sometimes, technology troubles can work in your favor. I’ve had a Dell Latitude laptop (bought for me by the company) for over two years now. Just in the last few days the battery has worn down enough to become annoying: I can only get about an hour of charge on it, not quite enough to cover Read More…

Sometimes, technology troubles can work in your favor.

I’ve had a Dell Latitude laptop (bought for me by the company) for over two years now. Just in the last few days the battery has worn down enough to become annoying: I can only get about an hour of charge on it, not quite enough to cover the train commute when I get most of my writing done. Today I went to the Dell website to see how much a new battery was going to set me back (knowing that the boss would bitch about it if it was too much, and might reasonably ask how much of this battery use was actually benefitting the company). Right on the front page was a notice about the infamous recall of Sony-manufactured laptop batteries, which has affected Dell and many other companies. I’d noticed plenty of headlines about this, but had not stopped to consider whether it might affect me.

A few pages of instructions later, I found out that it did – so I’m entitled to a free replacement, which Dell has promised to mail to me “within 20 business days.”

Absolutely cool. I’m getting a brand-new battery just when I need one, and don’t even have to pay for it. Of course, I am in the meantime ignoring Dell’s instructions to use the laptop only on AC power – and it would be just like the Great God Murphy to ensure that the old battery catches fire and torches the computer while I’m waiting for the replacement…