Freelancing Gods 2014

God
08 Apr 2009

Link: Socially Relevant Computing

"Socially Relevant Computing (SRC) presents Computer Science as a cutting-edge technological discipline that empowers them to solve problems of personal interest (socially relevant with a “little s”), as well as problems that are important to society at large (socially relevant with a “capital s”)."

19 Oct 2008

Misdirected Zeal

Okay, time for some more thoughts on poverty. Well, tangentially related to poverty really – it’s more focused on how religion can come into play within NGOs.

In case you weren’t aware, some of the biggest NGO charities are built upon religious ideals. World Vision and The Salvation Army are textbook examples. In Australia at least, other well known groups include The Brotherhood of St Lawrence and St Vincent de Paul. And I don’t have a problem with this, by and large. I think most atheists can find common ground with Christians (the faith which all the above organisations represent) and other religious people, and the actions of these groups are generally things I’m happy to support.

What makes me a little angry, however, is when faith gets in the way of helping people – ie. a missionary approach. I know there are NGO organisations here in Cambodia that teach English from the Bible, while others only employ locals if they convert to Christianity. The focus is less about helping others, and more about converting them to your religion.

I’ve no idea if this problem exists in religious-but-not-Christian NGOs – but I was raised as a Catholic, and have some understanding of the underlying ideals of the religion, and I’m pretty damn certain that these less than savoury practices are not what Jesus would do.

Anyway, that’s just an observation (well, more of a rant, really) from my time in Cambodia. And no NGO is perfect, really. I promise future posts will be a bit more constructive though (and hey, there’ll be some more code-focused ones too).

15 Oct 2008

On Poverty

As some of you aware (particularly those following me on Twitter), I’m currently in Cambodia. I’ve been here a month, and I’ll be around for a month more – and maybe I’ll be back again before the end of the year. Given my location, and previous blog posts, you’d think with an event like Blog Action Day 2008, and the theme of poverty, writing a blog post on it all would be easy.

Not quite.

Well, finding things to say isn’t hard. It’s just that there’s so much, across a variety of tangents all related to poverty. So really, it deserves a few blog posts.

But I better at least post something useful now, right? The Blog Action Day site says to talk about what people can do to help eradicate poverty. And that’s kinda easy to write about – you need either spare money or spare time.

Money

The easiest option is to donate your spare cash to a charity. There’s big ones, there’s small ones, I leave the choice in your hands.

You could also use something like the Footprints API, and code something into your app so with every transaction, a little bit of money gets siphoned off to a worthy cause. Or invest in some small businesses in developing nations via Kiva – lend small amounts of money, help people get themselves into better financial positions.

Time

If you’re lolling around the house aimlessly, go put your skills to use. For those of you in America, you could start with Taproot, who I’m sure can hook you up with a local organisation in need of some help.

Looking abroad, there’s plenty of government-sponsored organisations that have six and twelve month placements in third-world countries like Cambodia, Thailand and East Timor. A few off the top of my head (that I’ve spoken about before) are the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development, USA’s Peace Corps, the British Voluntary Service Overseas, and Engineers Without Borders. These positions cover a variety of areas – AIDS awareness, land-mine removal, orphanages, building local businesses, sometimes even technical work – and you’ll be working on the ground with the locals to improve things.

So?

The suggestions above – that’s the easy part. It’s easy to tell you what to do. Whether you’ll do it or not is another matter. Whether I will do it is another matter too. The goal is solutions that are tangible and sustainable. Lasting change. Change that builds upon itself. That’s the tricky stuff. I don’t know those answers, and the rest of the thoughts in my head will have to wait for later blog posts.

02 Oct 2008

Link: WorldChanging: Commentary: Reconciling Poverty, Sustainability, and the Financial Crisis

"The human economy is wholly contained within the global biosphere-and if the biosphere's productivity is undermined, the human economy will suffer." This gets said so often, but rarely do politicians get it.

11 Sep 2008

Link: The Antonio Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest

07 Sep 2008

RejectConf: Coders Kicking Arse

One of the highlights from RailsConf EU last week was RejectConf – even if it was a bit smaller than last year (going by what I’ve heard, anyway).

I reprised my So You’re A Kick-Arse Coder talk for it – since it was a rejected talk from the main event – and Geoffrey Grosenbach managed to get an audio recording, so I’ve put that together with the slides and onto Viddler. Keep in mind the following caveats:

  • I’m pretty happy with this talk – but I realise I’m not that great a speaker. Imagine what I’d be like on a bad day ;)
  • Geoff didn’t catch the very start of the talk, which went something along the lines of “Hi, my name’s Pat, and I’m Australian [Cheers from Audience] I want to start of with some flattery, because I want to get on your good side.”
  • Geoff’s also the heckler about two-thirds of the way though.

Links to the sites I mention:

XKCD Comics featured:

Photos used thanks to either permission or permissive licences:

03 Sep 2008

Link: mySociety » Welcome to mySociety.org

Creators of TheyWorkForYou

26 Jul 2008

Link: Social Media for Social Change » Taproot does it Pro Bono

12 Jul 2008

Link: WorldChanging: The Outquisition

"What kinds of heroes would actually do some good for the communities that get hit hard?"

08 Jun 2008

The End of Charity

As I’m travelling, I’m reading more – so that means it’s time for another impromptu book-review/idea-sharing post.

The book in question this time around is Nic Frances’ ominously titled The End of Charity. The points of the book aren’t that scary though – I find them to be pretty spot-on with what’s needed.

A quick overview:

  • Society’s siloed approach isn’t working: Leaving businesses to focus on making money, and charities to making the world better isn’t really getting anywhere.
  • Value needs to represent more than financial worth: Goods and services need to be given more accurate values which incorporate social and environmental worth.
  • Businesses need to incorporate social and environmental mindsets into their operations: Remove the silos. Don’t leave the ‘doing good’ to a separate organisation (examples: Google Inc and Google.org, Microsoft and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, McDonalds and Ronald McDonald House Charities).
  • The market will make it all work: Okay, that’s a little simplistic, but the market does a decent job at helping the best value goods and services come to the fore.

Now the book itself is far more detailed – Frances draws a lot from his own experiences, both in charities and in socially-minded businesses, so there’s no end of real world examples. It’s also extremely easy to digest, so I highly recommend reading it, even if you don’t have much of a business-focused mind.

Granted, some of these ideas can take some getting used to, especially on the left side of politics where broad strokes paint businesses (particularly corporations) as Bad, and charities and other non-profits as Good. A lot of what’s discussed in this book isn’t particularly new to me – I was introduced to the concepts while working at MBO (now Ergo Consulting) (which, perhaps not so surprisingly, had an awesome culture non unlike what Frances outlines for his own Cool nrg). I remember bristling at the idea put forward by our then CEO Paul Steele (who is currently COO at World Vision Australia) that business is the best way to enact social improvement.

A few years have passed since then, though, and I’ve come around to agreeing that the combined approach is far more likely to succeed than the old, siloed way.

Now, this hasn’t led to any dramatic chances in my freelancing lifestyle – but it’s got my brain ticking away, so you’ll just have to wait and see what comes of it. That said, what do you you think about all this? Do you agree? Disagree? Do you have some suggestions on how to make the organisation you work for take a more holistic approach?

10 May 2008

Link: WorldChanging: Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

"But media is actually a triathlon, it 's three different events. People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share."

27 Apr 2008

Link: Let me entertain you - Los Angeles Times

"It would still all boil down to entertainment, and its suave henchman, pleasure."

14 Apr 2008

Pangea Day

Prompted by an email from TED, I watched three videos on YouTube this evening – of residents of one country singing the anthems of another country. It’s an awesome idea, and the different approaches really add to it.

These short clips are inspired from an event that’s happening on the 10th of May, Pangea Day. I’d read mentions of it before (probably in TED emails, again), but I only had a browse of the site tonight, and I’m loving the idea:

"Pangea Day is a global event bringing the world together through film.

Why? In a world where people are often divided by borders, difference, and conflict, it’s easy to lose sight of what we all have in common. Pangea Day seeks to overcome that – to help people see themselves in others – through the power of film."

It sounds simple, but I think things like this are really effective. I’m only disappointed that I won’t be home in Melbourne that day – as there’s screenings at Federation Square and Cinema Nova. Nothing so public for Sydney that I’ve found so far…

(Your regular ruby-focused programming will return later in the week.)

Update: Just found a fourth video – Australia for Lebanon!

29 Mar 2008

Link: Stay Another Day

"Our goal is to promote "destination friendly" tourism, by connecting travellers with organisations that are in some way helping to conserve local culture and heritage, support community projects benefitting local people or initiatives to lessen negative

14 Feb 2008

Link: Australia 2020 - Nominations

"Every Australian has the opportunity to nominate to attend the Australia 2020 Summit as a member of one the 10 critical areas of discussion."

27 Nov 2007

So you're a kick-arse coder

This is the written version of a talk I did at RailsCamp – it is pretty close to what I actually said on the day, minus the heckling, discussions and answers to rhetorical questions.

So, you’re a kick-arse coder…

XKCD Regular Expressions Comic

Over this weekend, you’ve created awesome Rails apps – or perhaps you’re such a code ninja that you’re using merb, Camping, Sinatra or Hack. Well done. You rock. Honestly.

Perhaps you’ve been doing this for years – maybe you’ve fought off Java or .NET in a previous life. You’ve made sense of XML, and twisted Internet Explorer into looking somewhat decent without too many CSS hacks.

And that’s cool. Really.

But it’s only code, right?

Alright wise guy. What’s next?

XKCD My (Geek) Generation Comic

So where to from here, then? What’s next? What’s better than code?

To put it simply, although it may sound trite: Make a difference! Give something back!

Seriously.

And I could finish now – my message was blunt enough. You all got the point, right?

Ah, but examples would be nice. I don’t want to just lecture you with broad dreams and ideals – let me see if I can give you something to work with.

Let’s start with the basics. Release code! Let others learn from your mistakes. Let them save time using your plugins and gems. And this is also a subtle way of teaching about code.

There are less subtle ways to teach, though.

What, teaching? Like, in a classroom?

You can’t just type away on your blog and expect everyone to read it and become enlightened. You need to seek others, instead of waiting for them to seek out you.

Do people who use b, i and font tags make you sad? Well, go teach kids how to write semantic HTML. Get them while they’re young.

Contact your old Uni or TAFE and offer to do a guest lecture or two on unobtrusive javascript. Or some basic pointers on freelancing. Tell them how important it is to find a good accountant. Encourage them to be part of user groups and communities like our Oceania group. Give them some idea of what a reasonable hourly rate is – you know, the kind of things you needed to know back when you began freelancing.

Do the same at your old high school – drop in on the IT classes, and give the kids a lesson from someone who actually knows their shit. Run through the basics of firewalls. Regale them with your networking war stories (without the geek speak, though).

Be rewarded with glory, recognition, and warm fuzzy feelings.

“Well, that’s nice and all, Pat,” I hear you say. “But surely it’s still just tech. Even semantic HTML is important, sure, but it’s not really important now, is it?”

“That’s a good point,” is my reply.

So let’s think a little bigger

Mark Pesce at WDS07 with slide saying 'People are the network'

The world can always use some help. But it’s so big, and you’re so small, yeah?

Bullshit. Don’t give me any of those cop-out excuses. To paraphrase Mark Pesce: “We have been blessed with the biggest and best networking gear of all the hominids, and we all share the same capability.”

Did you know that all of Delicious Library’s Amazon referral income goes straight to charity?

Simple, yet effective. I think they’d be cool with you imitating that.

Perhaps you could donate that old hardware you’re not using to a school. Or, you could push 1% of your income to the NGO of your choice. It ain’t much, and it ain’t hard.

If you’re looking for a something a little different: Dean Kamen, who created the Segway, is providing electricity for villages in Bangladesh with boxes running off cow dung, and pure water for communities in Honduras. I’m sure he’d love some support.

It can be nice to get a feel for how you’re helping, though – random donations of money can seem like lip service. One suggestion of an alternative: Oxfam is an NGO that you can ‘buy’ specific items (cows, wells, mosquito nets and so on) for communities in third world countries.

So, take your slick Web 2.0 app, and build these donations into it. Perhaps as a small part of the account fees. And give your users the ability to donate more through your app if they wish. They’ll feel warm and fuzzy, and you will feel warm and fuzzy. And it’s all thanks to Rails! Or, well, something like that.

But wait! There’s more!

If you’ve got a bit of time up your sleeve (or are willing to make the time), you could donate a few months to organisations like Engineers Without Borders, or Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development if you’re under 31. Sure, it may mean you have to put up with Windows, or poke around with PHP – but it’ll be while helping out people in countries like East Timor, or Nepal, or rural Australia.

Let’s blow this taco stand!

Now, what I’ve just gone through – it isn’t the answer. There is no silver bullet, no one approach that will always work. But they’re just a starting point, a few suggestions – and if we put our heads together, I’m sure we can come up with some better ones.

Gandhi said something like “be the change you want to see in the world” – and yes, it sounds clichéd, but it’s fucking true.

Don’t sit on your arse waiting for things to be better, or people to be smarter, or code to be DRYer.

Get out there!

XKCD Interesting Times Comic

(Photo above was taken by Rowen Atkinson at Web Directions South 2007. Comics from XKCD. Inspiration from Mark Pesce, John Allsopp, Mike Lee and Dean Kamen. Massive thanks to all who provided feedback.)

12 Nov 2007

Link: Patrick Moberg | Blog entry "TED: Our cell phones, ourselves"

10 Apr 2007

Link: Pearls Before Breakfast - washingtonpost.com

24 Nov 2006

Link: When religion loses its credibility - Yahoo! News

06 Sep 2006

Link: free culture

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About Freelancing Gods

Freelancing Gods is written by , who works on the web as a web developer in Melbourne, Australia, specialising in Ruby on Rails.

In case you're wondering what the likely content here will be about (besides code), keep in mind that Pat is passionate about the internet, music, politics, comedy, bringing people together, and making a difference. And pancakes.

His ego isn't as bad as you may think. Honest.

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