There will be a new European version of the Linux Security Summit for 2018, in addition to the established North American event.
The dates and locations are as follows:
- North America: August 27-28, Vancouver, Canada
- Europe: October 25-26, Edinburgh, UK
Stay tuned for CFP announcements!
I have harbored a lifelong dislike of feedback. I didn’t like it in sixth grade when a kid on the bus told me my brand new sneakers were “too bright.” And I didn’t like it when a senior executive heard my pitch for a digital project and said, “I hate this idea.” Turns out my sneakers were pretty bright, and my pitch wasn’t the best idea. Still, those experiences and many others like them didn’t help me learn to stop worrying and love the feedback process.
We can’t avoid feedback. Processing ideas and synthesizing feedback is a big part of what we do for a living. I have had plenty of opportunities to consider why both giving and receiving feedback is often so emotionally charged, so challenging to get right.
And here’s what I’ve found to be true.
When a project is preoccupying us at work, we often don’t think about it as something external and abstract. We think about it more like a story, with ourselves in the middle as the protagonist—the hero. That might seem melodramatic, especially if your work isn’t the kind of thing they’d make an inspirational movie about. But there’s research to back this up: humans use stories to make sense of the world and our place within it.
Our work is no different. We create a story in our heads about how far we’ve come on a project and about where we’re going. This makes discussing feedback dangerous. It’s the place where someone else swoops in and hijacks your story.
Speaking personally, I notice that when I’m giving feedback (and feeling frustrated), the story in my head goes like this: These people don’t get it. How can I force them into thinking the same way I do so that we can fix everything that’s wrong with this project, and in the end, I don’t feel like a failure?
Likewise, when I’m receiving feedback (and feeling defensive), the story goes like this: These people don’t get it. How can I defend our work so that we keep everything that I like about this project, and in the end, I don’t feel like a failure?
Both of these postures are ultimately counterproductive because they are focused inward. They’re really about avoiding shame. Both the person giving and receiving feedback are on opposing sides of the equation, protecting their turf.
But like a good story, good feedback can take us out of ourselves, allowing us to see the work more clearly. It can remove the artificial barrier between feedback giver and receiver, refocusing both on shared goals.
Change your habits around feedback, and you can change the story of your project.
Here are three ways to think about feedback that might help you do just that.Good feedback helps us understand how we got here
Here’s a story for you. I was presenting some new wireframes for an app to the creative leads on the project. There were a number of stakeholders and advisors on the project, and I had integrated several rounds of their feedback into the harmonious and brilliant vision that I was presenting in this meeting. That’s the way I hoped the story would go, anyway.
But at the end of the meeting, I got some of the best, worst feedback I have ever received: “We’ve gotten into our heads a little bit with this concept. Maybe it should be simpler. Maybe something more like this …” And they handed me a loose sketch on paper to illustrate a new, simpler approach. I had come for sign-off but left with a do-over.
I felt ashamed. How could I have missed that? Even though that feedback was hard to hear, I walked away able to make important changes, which led to a better outcome in the end. Here are the reasons why:
First, the feedback started as a conversation. Conversations (rather than written notes) make it easier to verify assumptions. When you talk face-to-face you can ask open-ended questions and clarify intent, so you don’t jump to conclusions. Talking helps you find where the trouble is much faster.
The feedback connected the dots between problems in our process so far (trying to reconcile too many competing ideas) and how it led to the current result (an overly complicated product). The person who gave the feedback helped me see how we got to where we were, without assigning blame or shaming me in the process.
The feedback was direct. They didn’t try to mask the fact that the concept wasn’t working. Veiled or vague criticism does more harm than good; the same negativity comes through but without a clear sense of what to do next.Good feedback invites each person to contribute their best work No thought, no idea, can possibly be conveyed as an idea from one person to another. … Only by wrestling with the conditions of the problem … first hand … does he think. John Dewey, Democracy and Education
Here’s another story. I was the producer on an app-based game, and the team was working on a part of the user interface that the player would use again and again. I was convinced that the current design didn’t “feel” right. I kept pushing for a change, against the input of others, and I gave the team some specific feedback about what I wanted to see done. The designers played along and tried it out. But it became clear that my feedback wasn’t helping, and the design director (gently) stepped in and steered us out of my design tangent and back on course.
John Dewey had it right in that quote above; you can’t think for someone else. And that’s exactly what I was doing: giving specific solutions without inviting the team to engage with the problem. And the results were worse for it.
It’s very tempting to use feedback to cajole and control people into doing things your way. But that usually leads to mediocre results. You have a team for a reason: you can’t possibly do everything on your own. Instead, when giving feedback try to remember that you’re building a team of individual contributors that will work together to make a better end product.
Here are a few feedback habits that help avoid the trap of using feedback to control, and instead, bring out the best in people.Don’t give feedback until the timing is right
Feedback isn’t useful if it’s given before the work is really ready to be looked at. It’s also not useful to give feedback if you have not taken the time to look at the work and think about it in advance. If you rush either of these, the feedback will devolve into a debate about what could have been, rather than what’s actually there now. That invites confusion, defensiveness, and inefficiency.Be just specific enough
Good feedback should have enough specifics to clearly identify the problem. But, usually, it’s better to not give a specific solution. The feedback in this example goes too far:The background behind the menu items is a light blue on a darker blue. This makes it hard to see some options. Change the background fill to white and add a thin, red border around each square. When an option is selected, perhaps the inside border should glow red but not fill in all the way.
Instead, feedback that clearly identifies the problem is probably enough:The background behind the menu items makes it a little hard for me to see some options. Any way we might make it easier to read?
Give the person whose job it is to solve the problem the room to do just that. They might solve it in a better way that you hadn’t anticipated.Admit when you’re wrong
When you acknowledge a mistake openly and without fear, it gives permission for others on the team to do the same. This refocuses energies away from ego-protection and toward problem solving. I chose to admit I got it wrong on that app project I mentioned above; the designers had it right and I told them I was glad they stuck to their guns. Saying that out loud was actually easier than I thought, and our working relationship was better for it.Good feedback tells a story about the future In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it. Alex Haley
We’ve said that good feedback connects past assumptions and decisions to current results, without assigning blame. Good feedback also identifies issues in a timely and specific way, giving people room to find novel solutions and contribute their best work.
Lastly, I’ve found that most useful feedback helps us look beyond the present state of our work and builds a shared vision of where we’re headed.
One of maybe the most overlooked tools for building that shared vision is actually pretty simple: positive feedback. The best positive feedback acknowledges great work that’s already complete, doing so in a way that is future-focused. Its purpose is to point out what we want to do more of as we move forward.
In practice, I’ve found that I can become stingy with positive feedback, especially when it’s early in a project and there’s so much work ahead of us. Maybe this is because I’m afraid that mentioning the good things will distract us from what’s still in need of improvement.
But ironically, the opposite is true: it becomes easier to fix what’s broken once you have something (however small) that you know is working well and that you can begin to build that larger vision around.
So be equally direct about what’s working as you are with what isn’t, and you’ll find it becomes easier to rally a team around a shared vision for the future. The first signs of that future can be found right here in the present.
Like Mr. Haley said: find the good and praise it.
Thank people for their contributions. Let me give that a try right now:
It seemed wise to get some feedback from others when writing about feedback. So thanks to everyone in the PBS KIDS family of producers who generously shared their thoughts and experience with me in preparation of this article. I look forward to hearing your feedback.
I wanted to setup a mail service on a staging server that would send all outgoing emails to a local mailbox. This avoids sending emails out to real users when running the staging server using production data.
First, install the postfix mail server:apt install postfix
and choose the "Local only" mail server configuration type.
Then change the following in /etc/postfix/main.cf:default_transport = error
to:default_transport = local:root
and restart postfix:systemctl restart postfix.service
Once that's done, you can find all of the emails in /var/mail/root.
So you can install mutt:apt install mutt
and then view the mailbox like this:mutt -f /var/mail/root
The following is a short tutorial on using BLAST with Slurm using fasta nucleic acid (fna) FASTA formatted sequence files for Rattus Norvegicus. It assumes that BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool) is already installed.
First, create a database directory, download the datafile, extract, and load the environment variables for BLAST.
mkdir -r ~/applicationtests/BLAST/dbs
module load BLAST/2.2.26-Linux_x86_64
Having extracted the file, there will be a fna formatted sequence file, rat.1.rna.fna. An example header line for a sequence:
>NM_175581.3 Rattus norvegicus cathepsin R (Ctsr), mRNA
PLEASE NOTE NEW LOCATION
Speakers to be announced.
Mail Exchange Hotel, 688 Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Food and drinks will be available on premises.
Linux Users of Victoria is a subcommittee of Linux Australia.December 5, 2017 - 18:30
Topic to be announced.
There will also be the usual casual hands-on workshop, Linux installation, configuration and assistance and advice. Bring your laptop if you need help with a particular issue. This will now occur BEFORE the talks from 12:30 to 14:00. The talks will commence at 14:00 (2pm) so there is time for people to have lunch nearby.
The meeting will be held at Infoxchange, 33 Elizabeth St. Richmond 3121 (enter via the garage on Jonas St.) Late arrivals, please call (0421) 775 358 for access to the venue.
LUV would like to acknowledge Infoxchange for the venue.
Linux Users of Victoria is a subcommittee of Linux Australia.November 18, 2017 - 12:30
Over the years of my involvement with library projects, like Coder Dojo, programming workshops and such, I’ve struggled to nail down the intersection between libraries and open source. At this years linux.conf.au in Sydney (my seventeenth!) I’m helping to put together a miniconf to answer this question: Open GLAM. If you do work in the intersection of galleries, libraries, archives, musuems and open source, we’d love to hear from you.
Filed under: lca, oss, Uncategorized
Incorporating accessibility from the beginning is almost always easier, more effective, and less expensive than making accessibility improvements as a separate project. In fact, building accessibility into your project and processes has a wealth of business benefits. If you’re looking to make the case for accessibility—to yourself, to coworkers, or to bosses and clients—you might start here:
- Findability and ease of use: In the broadest terms, accessibility can make it easier for anyone to find, access, and use a website successfully. By ensuring better usability for all, accessibility boosts a site’s effectiveness and increases its potential audience.
- Competitive edge: The wider your audience, the greater your reach and commercial appeal. When a site is more accessible than other sites in the same market, it can lead to preferential treatment from people who struggled to use competitors’ sites. If a site is translated, or has more simply written content that improves automated translation, increased accessibility can lead to a larger audience by reaching people who speak other languages.
- Lower costs: Accessible websites can cut costs in other areas of a business. On a more accessible site, more customers can complete more tasks and transactions online, rather than needing to talk to a representative one-to-one.
- Legal protection: In a few countries, an accessible site is required by law for organizations in certain sectors—and organizations with inaccessible sites can be sued for discrimination against people with disabilities.
Once you’ve made the case for incorporating accessibility into your work, the next step is to integrate an accessibility mindset into your processes. Include accessibility by default by giving accessibility proper consideration at every step in a product’s lifecycle.Building Your Team
Web accessibility is the responsibility of everyone who has a hand in the design of a site. Design includes all of the decisions we make when we create a product—not just the pretty bits, but the decisions about how it works and who it’s for. This means everybody involved in the project is a designer of some sort.
Each specialist is responsible for a basic understanding of their work’s impact on accessibility, and on their colleagues’ work. For example, independent consultant Anne Gibson says that information architects should keep an eye on the markup:
“We may or may not be responsible for writing the HTML, but if the developers we’re working with don’t produce semantic structure, then they’re not actually representing the structures that we’re building in our designs.”Leadership and support
While we should all be attentive to how accessibility impacts our specialism, it’s important to have leadership to help determine priorities and key areas where the product’s overall accessibility needs improvement. Project manager Henny Swan (user experience and design lead at the Paciello Group, and previously of the BBC) recommends that accessibility be owned by product managers. The product managers must consider how web accessibility affects what the organization does, understand the organization’s legal duties, and consider the potential business benefits.
Sometimes people find themselves stuck within a company or team that doesn’t value accessibility. But armed with knowledge and expertise about accessibility, we can still do good work as individuals, and have a positive effect on the accessibility of a site. For example, a designer can ensure all the background and foreground text colors on their site are in good contrast, making text easier to distinguish and read.
Unfortunately, without the support and understanding of our colleagues, the accessibility of a site can easily be let down in other areas. While the colors could be accessible, if another designer has decided that the body text should be set at 12 pixels, the content will still be hard to read.
When accessibility is instituted as a company-wide practice, rather than merely observed by a few people within a team, it will inevitably be more successful. When everybody understands the importance of accessibility and their role in the project, we can make great websites.Professional development
When you’re just starting to learn about accessibility, people in your organization will need to learn new skills and undertake training to do accessibility well.
Outside experts can often provide thorough training, with course material tailor-made to your organization. Teams can also develop their accessibility skills by learning the basics through web- and book-based research, and by attending relevant conferences and other events.
Both formal training and independent practice will cost time away from other work, but in return you’ll get rapid improvements in a team’s accessibility skills. New skills might mean initially slower site development and testing while people are still getting their heads around unfamiliar tools, techniques, and ways of thinking. Don’t be disheartened! It doesn’t take long for the regular practice of new skills to become second nature.
You might also need to hire in outside expertise to assist you in particular areas of accessibility—it’s worth considering the capabilities of your team during budgeting and decide whether additional training and help are needed. Especially when just starting out, many organizations hire consultants or new employees with accessibility expertise to help with research and testing.
When you’re trying to find the right expert for your organization’s needs, avoid just bashing “accessibility expert” into a search engine and hoping for good luck. Accessibility blogs and informational websites (see the Resources section) are probably the best place to start, as you can often find individuals and organizations who are great at teaching and communicating accessibility. The people who run accessibility websites often provide consultancy services, or will have recommendations for the best people they know.Scoping the Project
At the beginning of a project, you’ll need to make many decisions that will have an impact on accessibility efforts and approaches, including:
- What is the purpose of your product?
- Who are the target audiences for your product? What are their needs, restrictions, and technology preferences?
- What are the goals and tasks that your product enables the user to complete?
- What is the experience your product should provide for each combination of user group and user goal?
- How can accessibility be integrated during production?
- Which target platforms, browsers, operating systems and assistive technologies should you test the product on?
If you have answers to these questions—possibly recorded more formally in an accessibility policy (which we’ll look at later in this chapter)—you’ll have something to refer to when making design decisions throughout the creation and maintenance of the product.
Keep in mind that rigid initial specifications and proposals can cause problems when a project involves research and iterative design. Being flexible during the creation of a product will allow you to make decisions based on new information, respond to any issues that arise during testing, and ensure that the launched product genuinely meets people’s needs.
If you’re hiring someone outside your organization to produce your site, you need to convey the importance of accessibility to the project. Whether you’re a project manager writing requirements, a creative agency writing a brief, or a freelance consultant scoping your intent, making accessibility a requirement will ensure there’s no ambiguity. Documenting your success criteria and sharing it with other people can help everyone understand your aims, both inside and outside your organization.Budgeting
Accessibility isn’t a line item in an estimate or a budget—it’s an underlying practice that affects every aspect of a project.
Building an accessible site doesn’t necessarily cost more money or time than an inaccessible site, but some of the costs are different: it costs money to train your team or build alternative materials like transcripts or translations. It’s wise to consider all potential costs from the beginning and factor them into the product budget so they’re not a surprise or considered an “extra cost” when they could benefit a wide audience. You wouldn’t add a line item to make a site performant, so don’t do it for accessibility either.
If you’ve got a very small budget, rather than picking and choosing particular elements that leave some users out in favor of others, consider the least expensive options that enable the widest possible audience to access your site. For example, making a carousel that can be manipulated using only the keyboard will only benefit people using keyboard navigation. On the other hand, designing a simpler interface without a carousel will benefit everyone using the site.
Ultimately, the cost of accessibility depends on the size of the project, team, and whether you’re retrofitting an existing product or creating a new product. The more projects you work on, the better you’ll be able to estimate the impact and costs of accessibility.Want to read more?