Tagged: remo

Isn’t “hack” a bad word?

This past weekend I led another soft circuits 101 workshop as a Mozilla Rep at a women’s music festival near SF called Fabulosa. I had one hour to teach people really basic electricity, circuits, and how to ‘hack’ their clothes/sculptures/lives with a 3V battery and some LEDs.

The reason I love to do this workshop is because I find it gives participants a physical representation of the hacker spirit Mozilla aims to embody for the web.  Learning soft circuits is just the tip of the iceberg and I always stress that the web has much more info for them to continue exploring, learning, being curious about how to create and modify technology in their lives.  In one hour, I just show them how to make light.

This workshop was smaller than the ~80 girls who came through at Dare 2B Digital.  The festival setting meant there were more conflicts of interest so I had 6 participants instead of the 20-25 I had planned for. The 6 participants were all very enthusiastic though, and we started off with a go-around to hear why people were interested in learning soft circuitry.  One person was hoping to learn how to light up her clay sculptures, another wanted to make art for Burning Man, and a few had costume ideas in mind.

I spent the first 10-15 minutes explaining electricity, how a circuit works, and what kind of circuit they would be creating with their 3V batteries and LEDs – their circuits would be made using conductive thread sewn into felt (or some other material if they brought it).  With only 40 minutes left, we got to work – everyone started in on their first circuit.

While we were casually chatting during the building time, one woman said “I thought ‘hack’ was a bad word” (I had written a large “HACK” on the whiteboard to inspire).  I’m so glad she brought this up and we had a chance to discuss the very reason for workshops like these, and for Mozilla. I explained to her that while it might once have been a vilified term, it has now been largely reclaimed as people work to make sure that they have full ownership of the things they buy, or make.  Encouraging people to open their minds up to the potential of hacking their lives – whether on the web or in the physical world – always feels great.  I was happy that even in this small gathering, we got to discuss this very key issue for technology going into the future, and that there are now 6 new hackers in the world.

App Marketplace Ratings

Woot!  Our recently release re-vamp of Firefox for Android is climbing the Top Free chart over on the Google Play Store (as it should, it’s frickin’ awesome).  We’ve gone from #96 to #81 in the past 3 days and I have no doubt we will continue to climb as we gain users and get a chance to impress them with the Native UI which is responsive, beautiful, and support Flash.  Our rating in the store is also slowly climbing, but that’s going to be a much harder slog because our current rating still reflects the total collected in the entire life of this product being on the store.  We can’t remove ratings from our previous Firefox for Android and so even though we’ve had 5,000 5-star reviews in the first 10 days of the re-written version being online, our average rating is a 3.7. The only way to get a fresh start would have been to put up a ‘new’ product and call it something else and I’m sure you can understand that Firefox can’t go by any other name.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the Google Play store and how it could be better because I interact with its administrative backend regularly, uploading new builds of the mobile products release after release.  I was just sitting through a presentation by Dees at ReMo Camp 2012 in Berlin and he was sharing with us the strategies behind the Mozilla Marketplace. This will be our open-source contribution to mobile/desktop app distribution and seeing the mockups started me thinking about how we could improve the rating system and not just repeat what Google and Apple do with user feedback.

I’d like to see the following:

  1. User leaves rating, gives stars + writes text feedback
  2. App developer can select reviews to flag as ‘bug report/feedback’ which requires them to write text that will be presented to the user.  The developer can write a message either letting the reporter know that a bug is on file now for the issue or provide help with the issues/questions raised by the user.
  3. User gets a notification when the review is flagged and that there is a response ready for them. They can check out the bug report that got filed as a result of their feedback and perhaps they will cc themselves to know when it gets fixed or they might get a chance to try out the suggested solutions from the dev to deal with issues or questions they raised in their original review.
  4. User, now that they have gotten feedback, gets prompted to revise their review.
  5. Repeat 1-4 as needed

This would be beneficial for many reasons:

  • Users get to be a part of helping improve the product
  • Users get support from the developer without needing a different forum or login
  • Users get visibility into software development process, awareness of upcoming features & improvements, and they become participants in open source community
  • App developers have a channel to communicate with users about upcoming dev plans, feature requests, and bug tracking
  • App developers get a collected feedback average that is more accurate and representative
  • App developers have a channel to communicate with users about upcoming dev plans, feature requests, and bug tracking

I’m used to Mozilla’s collaborative environment, the values of open source, and I’m accustomed to getting feedback in our open bug tracker, Bugzilla.  There are so many companies whose products I use who do not have public bug trackers and this causes me a lot of frustration when I find bugs with their software.  I want to tell their devs about the bugs I find.  Software has bugs!  Have a bug tracker! Let people see and understand that software is a continuous improvement process so we get less reviews like this:

firefox feedback in google play store, lamenting the lack of tablet support

I’d love to let Brian know that we are sooooo close to having our tablet support ready, that we have a few outstanding bugs but it’s on-track to ship with Firefox 15 in a mere 7 weeks. We’re a tiny team compared to the Gopplesoft mobile dev teams, give us a chance to prioritize and push each goal to the finish line. With only 20% of our Firefox mobile users on tablets, we had to focus on the 80% small device folks first and then – remember, only 8 weeks later – we got our tablet ducks in a row and ready for our fabulous tablet users.

Alex should get to see a bug filed on the pinch zoom (if there’s not already one) and as one of the admins of the Firefox product, I should get a chance to interact with the folks who leave 1 or 2 star reviews since they are often based on one or two issues that are real but fixable.  I want our rating to be reflective of the work we do as we do it, incrementally improving over time. Of course, our marketplace code is open source so I suppose I should do what Paul Rouget suggested earlier today and make up some prototypes :)

Dare 2B Digital 2012 – Wrap up post

Fox with firefox logo

Better late than never, I will recount Mozilla’s participation in the 2012 Dare 2B Digital conference back in February down in San Jose.  This year we were hosted at the eBay campus and instead of being out in a hallway demoing and playing with open video and universal subtitles (2011) this year Mozilla was all about making, in a large space shared with Microsoft, encouraging the girls to work with a variety of hardware, circuitry, robotics, and creating 3D printer designs for a MakerBot.

Before I go into the details of the kits and the day of the event, there are some very important people to thank:

Tremendous amounts of props must be first given to Emily Lovell whose soft circuits teaching guide I discovered at the 2011 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.  Her exercises, diagrams, and lists of resources were at the core the kit I designed to teach the girls about parallel circuits through assembling a felt fox and attaching LEDs to the eyes that are powered by conductive thread and a watch battery.  Thank you to Mozilla for sponsoring the Dare 2B Digital conference again this year, it is such an important space for us to be in as it gives us a chance to promote open source to a young audience that is still undecided about college majors and it’s our chance to encourage them to at least consider a technical career path. I hope that having an early, positive, creative experience with Mozilla and open source technologies provides the girls with an awareness of alternative ways of engaging with technology. Mozilla Reps provided the budget for these kits to be made – not only for the workshop attendees, but also enough kits to put one in every take-home bag for all conference participants.  It is certainly my hope that many girls who couldn’t make it to the workshop due to lack of space will still attempt to make their foxes at home with a parent or sibling.  Finally, I cannot thank enough the various Mozilla employees and other friends who helped me assemble 350 kits for the actual event – my vision for this event could NOT have been done without their generous donations of time and their assistance on the day of the event helping the girls complete their kits. Thank you especially to day-of volunteers: Kate, Vicky, Alex, Christina, the Super Awesome Sylvia and her parents James and Christina,  and the add-hoc assembling factory workers: Mariko, Heather, William, and the entire UX team at Mozilla.  My girlfriend Jenny also helped me assemble some of the first kits at home while I cut all the felt sheets into smaller sizes for the foxes. My most sincere gratitude to you all, it went off without a hitch…except for the handful of batteries that exploded…but that was my fault :)

Now for some detail about what was involved in this project in case you want to replicate or improve on it.

A lot of felt foxes

The idea was pretty simple. The kit would be a takeout food box that contained everything needed to make a parallel circuit on a felt fox.  I ended up designing the felt fox myself after attempting to make something work with Lisa Higuchi who does amazing work but as I found myself running out of time I just created a simple pattern that could be held together with felt glue and then sewn/wired up in about an hour – which was the length of the workshop.  The soft circuit guide had the information needed for ordering supplies so in the end the kit’s component list looked like this:

  • 100 9×12 sheets of copper brown felt (400 fox faces)
  • 100 9×12 sheets of white felt (400 fox eye areas)
  • 30 9×12 sheets of black felt (450 nose/eye/inner ears)
  • 10 spools of conductive thread from Adafruit
  • 400 3v batteries
  • 400 battery holders
  • 800 yellow LEDs
  • 400 red takeout boxes
  • 5 bottles of felt glue
  • 400 small ziploc bags
  • 400 needles
  • 1200 pins (intended for holding the felt pieces together for sewing, they ended up being superfluous because of the glue)
  • 400 manual/pattern sheets

 

Shot of the pattern and instructionsThe felt firefox kit contents

I literally threw together a manual and a pattern at the 11th hour, as the UX team was coming to help me assemble the kits one night after work.  The manual leaves out a lot of the detail as to HOW to make the felt fox. Fortunately it includes a picture of a completed fox, so hopefully a resourceful teen at home can determine how to make her fox kit work. I have definitely learned from this experience to make creating the instructional materials a much higher priority next time.  The pattern was done in haste with a sharpie, me tracing around the parts of my prototype fox, I’m actually pretty OK with how that part turned out. When we assembled the kits we put all the small components into a ziploc bag and put said bag, one square each of white/brown/black felt, and a folded up instruction sheet into each takeout box.  The takeout box was a really robust container for kits and yet kept things light. I had no trouble carrying the 350 kits, in various bags and boxes, to my car to take down to SJ on the day of the conference.

The kits are in the bag stuffing lineEarly in the morning on Saturday February 12th, 2012 I drove the 350 kits down to the eBay campus and kept ~70 kits in our Maker room, leaving the rest with the D2BD volunteers who were stuffing bags with swag for the girls: Make magazines, usb bracelet, stickers, notebooks, a water bottle, and (among other things) a Mozilla felt fox circuits kit.  Then back in our room I had two of the Mozilla volunteers for the day make their own foxes so they’d be ready to help the girls when the first round arrived a few hours in.  Kate and Christina did a wonderful job of creating their first parallel circuits and spent the rest of the day being professional felt fox makers :)

Helpers make their foxes

As with last year, I found that out of the three workshops we did that day the first was a bit rough, the second quite smooth and the third was a cakewalk.  We can learn so much in one day about how to improve the process and the set up.  The first thing learned was that we had a bottleneck situation on scissors and glue.  5 bottles seemed like a lot to me but when split between two tables with at least 10 girls at each that was no longer the case.  I had brought in all my scissors from home, which turned out to be a lot (6) for a home, but not enough for the workshop.  We did scare up a few more pairs and optimized for workshop two by keeping the pre-cut paper pattern pieces for the next group of girls to minimize scissor time needed.  Another surprise: some girls did not know how to sew.   This was something I hadn’t thought of ahead of time since I learned to sew at a pretty young age.  This fact leads me thinking that because of time constraints, 1.25 hrs per workshop, using ‘squishy’ circuits might have been a stronger learning experience here.  The sewing is probably more appropriate for a half-day workshop or even full day if possible.

Customization of the fox pattern

Customizations happened.  I loved that girls immediately took to hacking the fox pattern as designed by me; adding bows, crowns, and eyelashes to their foxes.  It made me glad I hadn’t found time to pre-cut the fox parts.  The back of the fox head is easy to draw a circuit path on and see/experience polarity – using sharpies on felt was a great way of going over the concept of a circuit, right on the material about to be used.  I am really happy with the overall teaching experience here.  Several girls showed incredible tenacity in the face of adversity.  One young woman in particular, having a very hard time with the sewing, went out and got her lunch and then brought it back to the table to continue her work – she re-did the sewing and managed to get it working.  The whole time she was silent and focused and I really wish I had pointed out to her that her attitude was the most impressive, hire-able skill I can think of.  I’m sure she’s going to do well in whatever field of study she pursues.  One young woman cracked me up when she became frustrated with threading her needle, exclaiming “This is why women revolted!”.

In conclusion – the event was a tremendous success – both the conference as a whole and the Mozilla workshop flourished this year. The conference does a great job of pulling feedback from participants, as they must hand in a form to get their swag bag at the end of the day.  We see in the feedback that we did a wonderful job of getting the young women excited about and considering career paths in technology. In the summary from the feedback forms “87% thought the robotics workshop (Mozilla/Microsoft) was great or good”. Also 100% of respondents would recommend this conference to a friend or another parent.

I really look forward to dreaming up something next year to top this.  I have no fixed idea yet because part of the fun of doing this conference/workshop is waiting and seeing what exciting new open technology would be a good fit at the time. I’m definitely going to keep the issues from this year in mind when formulating a plan for next year, and pay attention to minimizing participant wait times in order to increase overall satisfaction with the project.  When I initially came up with this idea, I was worried that it didn’t have a strong tie to Mozilla’s mission, but as I continued to develop and finally executing it I felt more and more like the way we work on projects like this is such a product of how we work on keeping things open on the web.  It was thanks to the web that I found the guide which helped me with planning, it was thanks to the spirit of the open web that people I work with (and some with whom I don’t) came out and volunteered to help make this happen. Getting your hands on a building block of technology, modifying it to make it your own, sharing the results – that too is the open web, and it’s what the day provided for all the young women in our workshops. I look forward to seeing what the future holds with these potential hackers in it.

Group shot with completed foxes

Lukas helping with fox making