Notes from Germany

I spent much of last week traveling to Germany — Berlin and Hamburg. Time for an update.

I started off with a day-trip to Berlin, which could have been exciting given my complete lack of German, but I spent it instead with Axel Hecht, localization coordinator for Mozilla, which meant that the chances of my getting lost were pretty slim. What I learned:

  • Berlin is a city under massive change. It’s history is mostly erased, with lots of new buildings blurring the once stark divisions between east and west. You have to know that the line of bricks on the ground marks the old wall. Unfortunately, it was drizzly and cold for most of the day, which didn’t let the architecture shine. Still, I got a feel for the city, and I’ll definitely go back and spend more time there.
  • Axel and I talked a lot about localization, a topic that I have deliberately not dived into yet because it seems in relatively good shape. Figuring out how to coordinate the work of 50 teams of volunteers across the world is something that I know we’ll have to taken on soon, but not this week. It’s nice to be able to learn from Axel and get his perspective on what works/doesn’t work.
  • I found a lot of echoes of my childhood, and brought some of them back: marzipan, Struwwelpeter. I also brought back weird chocolates (pomegranate and chili chocolate anyone?). Who knew germans were so culinarily experimental?
  • Hamburg is a very pleasant city, especially if the weather cooperates. Unfortunately I had camera troubles so didn’t take as many shots as I should have. But I liked the blend of canals, modern architecture and older buildings, and a general feeling of highly functional buildings. Recommended.
  • Strangely enough, while we certainly had our share of good beer, we had only one schnitzel and no sausages. Don’t know why, that’s something to be corrected in the future.
  • Work meetings went well. It was I think very helpful to have Dan, Bryan, Mark and I in the same room as many of the Calendar contributors, including Daniel Boelzle, Simon Paquet, Philipp Kewisch, Christian Jansen, and more. See Bryan’s photo to match names and faces. I also have some untagged pictures for less formal shots. I’ll write more about the calendar project in another post.
  • I’ve discovered a special area of Schipol airport with really nice relaxing chairs, a good place to spend 4h layovers

For the record, a few great places to eat:
In Berlin:

In Hamburg:

Back

Back from almost 10 days without access to the net, email, etc., and after some exploration of the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. Swam in warm caribbean waters yesterday morning, and stared at a snowstorm this morning. I can’t remember the last time I was so disconnected from the net.

Recommendations:

* Cochinita pibil from a street vendor in Meridà
* Pollo asado al carbon in Tulùm
* Chiles rellenos in Puerto Morelos
* Fresh tortillas anywhere
* for something not food related: the horse-drawn cart ride (no idea who that is) to the three cenotes in Cuzama.

Cross-border telephony

I’m tired of paying silly cellphone roaming charges when I travel south of the border.

I’m curious about the possibility of getting a US SIM card for my iPhone, and switching my “main” contact number to my GrandCentral number, which will then call various numbers (two cell numbers, landline, possibly softphone).

I used a European pre-paid SIM card last time I was there, and that worked fine, but I’m asking about the GrandCentral bit in particular, as well as any good plans/prepaid cards for the US that work for my episodic usage needs.

Any advice?

Soaring


This picture was sent to the Mozilla webmaster from a friend of Mozilla in Bariloche, Argentina. Julian says (w/ minor english tweaks):

“I’m from Bariloche, Patagonia, Argentina, and yesterday I took this picture while I was climbing a mountain in the heart of the andes. It reminded me of your logo and I want you to have it. I hope you like it!
The bird is a ‘Condor Andino'”

How cool is that?

MailCo: More horsepower!

I’m very excited to share the following news: Dan Mosedale (dmose to his IRC friends) has agreed to help me launch MailCo. For those of you who don’t know Dan, you should know that he’s been involved in Mozilla since the early days, and has contributed significantly both to Thunderbird and to the Calendar project. I can’t think of a better person to help lead me this project. Not only does he have the coding and architectural chops to help lead the code from a strictly technical point of view, but Dan also has a great rapport with the community, understands what it takes to mentor new contributors and guide them through the various stages of involvement, and shares my ambition for what Thunderbird can become.
The current plan is that he’ll be working with me and the rest of the MailCo staff (being recruited as I write) for the next four months at least, bringing his expertise and knowledge to bear on everything from roadmap and product planning, hiring, community leadership, and whatever else I can throw his way.

As he’s currently working on important Firefox 3 features, we’ll find a transition plan which works well both for Thunderbird and Firefox. I’m expecting a gradual transition, as I know that I want Firefox 3 to succeed as much as the Firefox team wants Thunderbird to succeed.

Now Dan, about the demorkification project

Privacy: the new global warming?

Privacy is an interesting meme. Like the weather, it’s something that everyone likes to talk about but few actually do anything about it. Maybe, like the weather, that’s slowly changing.

A few things have hit my radar recently:

  • In today’s NYT, an article about Ask.com promoting a privacy “switch” in the war for search engine queries.
  • When Facebook announced its advertising program, the headline of the most influential French newspaper Le Monde went something like “Facebook sells customer data” (I’d link to it, but the archives are behind a pay wall, and I can’t find the specific story I’m remembering).
  • Lauren Weinstein talks about how http is losing value over https as ISPs start to modify the content of responses, violating the spec I’m sure.

I’ve been thinking more than usual about privacy since taking on the Mozilla job, in part because even though Mozilla is clearly very “pro-web”, it’s also “pro-privacy”. While webmail provides amazing flexibility to users, it’s not without issues. The privacy issues, in particular, are likely to be ignored by most users until it’s too late. Note that I don’t expect users to care, and I think it’s unreasonable to do so. I do expect organizations, companies, governments, and the odd activists to care. The question, then, becomes whether we can change global behaviors faster than we were able to in the environmental arena.

There are interesting analogies. The largest users of email (large ISPs) are also those with the most to gain from things like contextual advertising, and would have the largest costs if things like encrypted emails became standard.

Some government agencies are leaders in the space of consumer data protection (I hear about scandinavian countries in particular, but I suspect it’s broader than that), while others are fighting against cryptography because terrorists might use it. Like green technologies, coming up with a communications infrastructure which is vibrant, extensible, and secure, is a huge technical challenge.

I can imagine online privacy equivalents of carpooling lanes, smokestacks, big lobbies, and Kyoto. Maybe Thunderbird should be the hybrid car?