# (1) 10 Mar 2014, 09:32AM: On Having a Decade-Old Blog:
I've been posting to "Cogito, Ergo Sumana" since late 2000. Sometimes I think about the really old, embarrassing entries from college, and I wince. Today I happened across a post celebrating a blogger's ten-year anniversary that provided a welcome perspective:
I'm not the same person I was. In many, many ways I am ashamed of that person, and I wish I could just go back and erase many of those early entries, because I was terrible and wrong, and I no longer believe those things. But I let them stand, because I don't think we should edit our histories to include only the parts where we spoke and behaved well. I am a little proud of that person, because she did survive, and became me, and so she couldn't have been all bad. I am kinder than I was, although I am harder, too, and often so tired.
# (0) 06 Mar 2014, 12:25AM: Open Source Jobs (We're Hiring):
The Wikimedia Foundation, which employs me, is hiring, a lot. We need your help to:
- write code to try new ways to encourage people to edit Wikipedia (Growth engineer)
- keep our users' data safe (operations security engineer)
- make sure our designers and multimedia engineers build the right things (multimedia product manager)
- help other Wikimedians figure out how to design their outreach and mentoring initiatives better and evaluate them for effectiveness, so we learn what works (program evaluation community coordinator)
- automate more of the systems that help developers test new code to find bugs early (Test Infrastructure Engineer)
- like 14 other jobs, seriously, we're hiring a lot
And of course everything you make at the Wikimedia Foundation is freely licensed, so you can suggest your buddies use it to solve their problems, write public blog posts about it, talk about it at parties and conferences, and link to it on your résumé. Isn't open source rockin'?
(Many WMF workers, including me, telecommute. You might also like our Pluralism, internationalism, and diversity policy.)
Some other places that make open source software or free culture and are hiring:
Linaro, MongoDB, Participatory
Culture Foundation, CollectionSpace, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Mozilla, Kaltura, Boundless, Acquia, OpenStack-using companies, Varnish Software, Red Hat, InkTank, wikiHow, the libraries and similar institutions seeking Wikimedians/Wikipedians in Residence, Canonical, Collabora, the Linux Foundation, Eucalyptus, New York Public Library Labs, Pro Publica, Nebula, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Open Knowledge Foundation.
That's just a fraction of who's hiring. You can check the
FSF jobs board, OPW's list and the liberationtech-jobs mailing list for more.
If you're looking specifically for internships, the OpenHatch list, Google Summer of Code, and Outreach Program for Women should help you.
This is a followup to a similar post I made in late 2012.
# (5) 05 Mar 2014, 10:28AM: Tender:
I love my spouse. I love the joyous, wondrous expression on programmers' faces when I tell them he wrote Beautiful Soup. I love his published scifi, and his seven-word pulp scifi story ("a scrap of paper on which you'd written in pencil 'MAN HAVE SPACEGUN. explode!! NOW IS SAVE'"). I love the silly dances he does, the astounding puns he makes, and all the rest of his playfulness. I love how supportive he's been of my career -- moving to New York on a month's notice for my job change in 2006 being just one example. And more, of course.
The stats on my blog say I've mentioned Leonard's name 870 times -- 871, once I hit Publish -- and more frequently than "because" or "going" or "every", which feels right. But no number could be sufficient.
It's not our anniversary or his birthday or anything like that. I just wanted to make explicit note that my closeness with my spouse is one of the great facts of my life, a rhythm and melody underlying everything else.
# (0) 01 Mar 2014, 10:19AM: My Parents, My Cousins:
Sometimes I forget that I am a person of color and that the United States has Issues with that. Then I remember, say, the Sacramento Bee saying, "The decision of the United States Supreme Court, that Hindus are not eligible to American citizenship, is most welcome to California." (1923, United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind.) Or I remember September 11, 2001, when my mom and dad frantically searched all of Stockton for a US flag to hang outside our house as protection; since all the stores were sold out, Dad printed something out on our printer and taped it to our doorway.
And I live here.
"Now I prefer cloudy days when the drones don't fly. When the sky brightens and becomes blue, the drones return and so does the fear. Children don't play so often now, and have stopped going to school. Education isn't possible as long as the drones circle overhead."
"[P]retend that you don't see the aircraft".
But I can't.
# (1) 26 Feb 2014, 11:03PM: Cat, Dog, and Badger Each Own A Bookstore. They Are Friends.:
In San Francisco last month, I found out about the bookstore trio of Dog Eared Books, Alley Cat Books, and Badger Books. Immediately I wished for a children's book about the weekly chats of a cat, a dog, and a badger who run companionate bookshops.
So I got illustrations from artists at a Double Union zine workshop, and some materiel and free photocopies from Foolscap to make a zine. This directory holds the 2.7 megabyte scan of the whole page that you could print out and cut and fold into an 8-page booklet, and lower-resolution close-ups of the individual sections, which I display below.
Cat, Dog, and Badger each own a bookstore.
They are friends.
Cat organises large book orders. They club together to get volume discounts.
"If we get a hundred copies of Hyperbole and a Half, the wholesale cost goes down."
Dog sorts out book clubs, special orders, and referrals.
"Sarah Vowell is actually speaking at Badger's on the 19th..."
Badger warns them of bad books. Badger wants to like the books. But...
"REAMDE comes out next week!"
"I wanted Anathem II, not Michael Crichton."
Every Saturday, they have tea together, and reconcile finances.
by Sumana Harihareswara with Sailor Hg, Rose!, Sarah Peters, & Lizzard Amazon
27 Jan 2014, Double Union, San Francisco
2 Feb 2014, Foolscap, Seattle
Foolscap auctioned the original of my zine, gathering about twenty dollars for charity.
I am playing with a followup about a bookstore-owning hedgehog, in honor of my local.
# (1) 26 Feb 2014, 07:40PM: License Switch:
My ha-ha-only-kidding joke: Everyone thinks they're chaotic good when they're actually lawful neutral.
What rules do I unthinkingly follow? I don't want to reassess my rules every single time I use them; that's paralyzing. And I want the momentum that comes from consistency, and some rules I follow because I am committed to the values beneath them. As "Red Family, Blue Family: Making sense of the values issue" (via Making Light) puts it, "We believe that a life without commitments is superficial and empty." But we choose those commitments; it's not just a default. It means something that I obey laws, because I could choose not to. And every once in a while I should check what conveniences have turned into habits have turned into laws.
Anyway, this is a longwinded way of saying that I finally added a bit more chaos to my life: I switched licenses for this blog. It used to be noncommercial/no derivatives. Now:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Please copy and paste my advice into IRC chats with volunteers. Please translate things. Please make silly and inspiring things I couldn't have imagined. And please credit the raw material back to me.
# (1) 26 Feb 2014, 07:10PM: Some Help for New Open Source People:
Wikimedia is participating in this year's Google Summer of Code internships and Outreach Program for Women. This week we are seeing a bunch of new folks try to learn how to navigate the world of open source, and I have some advice for you. Some of this ought to go into the Google Summer of Code student manual and the Open Advice collection.
"Doubt": Lots of GSoC candidates are from South Asia. Indians often say "Can you help resolve my doubts?" where US speakers would say "Can you help answer my questions?" "Doubt" and "question" are synonyms here; the Indians aren't implying suspicion.
How we talk: We talk in different places when we want to have different kinds of conversations. Each open source community has "a mailing list, a wiki, and an IRC channel.... a platform for discussion, storage for documentation and real-time communication." (I borrowed this explanation from the hackerspaces wiki.) An IRC channel is a constant waterfall of conversation and you aren't expected to be there all the time or catch everything. A mailing list is more like a slow-moving river, and a wiki changes slower, like a marsh.
Some people prefer for their IRC conversations to be more like mailing lists -- a long, publicly archived conversation where people can see what happened before and take part. Some people prefer for IRC chat to be more like Snapchat -- ephemeral, temporary, so it's easier to be vulnerable. No one agrees on what all of IRC should be. So the community within each channel has a certain culture and each channel can be different. Some channels allow or encourage public logging (example) so anyone can see what happened in the channel. Others don't. This difference is normal.
The rhythm of help: When you are learning how to contribute in open source, you're going to find that people give you links to pages that answer your questions. Here's how that usually goes:
This helps us make a balance between person-to-person discussion and documentation that everyone can read, so we save time answering common questions but also get everyone the personal help they need.
- you ask a question
- someone directs you to a document
- you go read that document, try to use it to answer your question
- you find you are confused about a new thing
- you ask another question
- now that you have shown that you have the ability to read, think, and learn new things, someone has a longer talk with you to answer your new specific question
- you and the other person collaborate to improve the document that you read in step 3 :-)
What's this project like?: Figuring out whether something's a good project for you is a skill and new folks don't have that skill yet. My friend Mel wrote a guide to how she checks out an open source project -- how she takes five minutes to look on their website for certain things, to see what kind of project it is. It's fine for you to look for projects where you already have friends, or where they have already set up easy tasks for beginners. We hope that in a year you'll be one of the people coming up with new ideas, organizing those easy tasks, and helping the beginners.
# 20 Feb 2014, 11:21PM: Robin, Global Forest Watch, and An Implicit Note About Careers:
I took several history classes at UC Berkeley. In one of them I met Robin Kraft. He graduated with a BA in history the same year I got my BA in political science. He and I kept in touch a bit after graduation, and in 2009 he mentioned that he'd gotten into Python and gone back to school "to learn GIS wizardry." His project:
we're doing automated mapping of deforestation across the world. Fun!
I gave him tips on source control and open sourceishness, suggested conferences, and so on. He learned Hadoop, R, Clojure, and more.
Today his project launched (see coverage from The Guardian). Robin's Lead Data Architect, Data Lab at the World Resources Institute. And he's one reason we now have a global forest monitoring and alert system.
I'm glad I could help the tiny bit I did. And I'm terrifically glad for multidisciplinary thinkers like Robin.
# 16 Feb 2014, 08:44PM: A Berkeley Memory:
Something like 13 years ago, I agreed to go on a day hike with my then-boyfriend and his group of friends. They all played a lot of games together -- tabletop campaigns, video games I think, the occasional LARP, I don't remember them all. That's approximately all they talked about, and I wasn't interested, so I didn't hang out with them much, which is one reason Dan and I started drifting apart. It was the same way in the van on the way to the hike. I could sing along to a bit of the Weird Al CD, but all the rest of the chat was game game game.
One of his friends, though -- not one of his neighbors in his apartment complex, so not one I saw all the time, but a fellow gamer -- saw that the conversation wasn't engaging me. So he said, hey, can we talk about something everyone's interested in? or something like that. I think he said it more than once, to keep the conversation from leaving me out.
He didn't know me well, and I think he was busy driving the van. I still remember that act of hospitality; it's the thing I remember clearest about that day. I barely remember anyone else from that social circle, who all went with Dan after the breakup anyway. But I remember him. I remember his name, his wallet name, and I remember that he hated it, and I remember his nickname. Thank you, T. I wonder if you remember that day at all.
# (2) 09 Feb 2014, 11:19AM: Open Source Careers:
Yesterday I spoke at an OpenHatch Open Source Comes to Campus event on the other side of the country. The organizers set up a video conference and asked me, and two other people who work in open source, to talk about our careers. (If you are running an event like this, or teach a class or something, I'd probably be happy to do this for you as well.) Some things we mentioned:
- The three of us get paid pretty darn well. Have I mentioned that I just took a three-month sabbatical? And that I support my spouse, who writes scifi?
- Companies that make proprietary software often frustratingly limit what their employees can do. I can blog, speak at conferences, swap useful information, and so on without asking lawyers for every little thing. If you haven't dealt with the chilling effects of onerous nondisclosure agreements before, you may underestimate how annoying they are.
- Many processes we reflexively follow in open source are just good ideas regardless. If you're making software with other people, you'll want to systematically keep track of your shared TODO list (with a bug tracker), track who made what changes to the code and have easy rollback (source control), and talk in one central place with other people to make and document decisions (mailing list or similar). Some closed-source firms don't follow these best practices, and that boggles me and often lands them in The Daily WTF. But open source orgs generally get this right.
- Do not underestimate the value of meeting people face-to-face. The LWN calendar, Lanyrd, and Meetup can help you find these events. And there's often funding available if you need help getting to conferences, either formally (e.g., WisCon, PyCon, and Wikimania), or informally; try asking.
- If you are doing anything even remotely related to Python, try to get to PyCon, because the people are friendly and the sprints are invaluable. [This of course said by someone other than me, as this year will be my first PyCon!]
By the way, I should also link to this one-hour video on the realities of open source careers. Cynical in some ways, and I particularly disagree with the speaker on the matter of references; you should not assume that the hiring manager isn't going to directly call the references you provide, and ask them interesting questions. And the emphasis on unpaid work can go awry, and I started rolling my eyes at the oversimplifications halfway through (e.g., the idea that an employment contract means literally nothing). But the talk also has some truths that students don't hear often enough.
# (3) 08 Feb 2014, 08:16PM: Hasty Reviews of Recent Books:
I have been reading a lot of books lately and not blogging about them. This reign of non-terror must end! I am trying to note what I've read over the past, like, five or six months, so I will be super inconsistent in detail, and I bet I'm missing stuff.
Justine Larbalestier's Liar. Interesting! I believe Naamen at Borderlands noted, when I bought this, that it had a relatively non-annoying unreliable narrator. That seems very likely, but I still itch at unreliable narrators. At least this text foregrounds a woman's experience!
Ellen Ullman's By Blood. The narrator is not unreliable, but he does have bad ... whatever the emotional equivalent of metacognition is. As always with Ullman, you get closely observed characters going through uncomfortable changes in life and identity, and mildly Dick/Kafka-y paranoia (more Dick-esque because it's in California). There is also a super dramatic monologue about Europe and the Jewish experience that I read aloud to Leonard.
Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang. AMAZING. Read it read it read it. I should have listened to Brendan years ago. The ending makes me tear up when I think about it, but in a good, inspiring way. McHugh takes a kind-of dystopia and shows you regular people living their lives, taking courses, changing jobs, dating, moving, feeling cold, talking to friends. Including some on Mars. It's inspiring the way Quinn Norton talks about Hitchhiker's Guide being inspiring, in her essay in She's Such a Geek; the book starts with the end of the world but after that people are still living and doing stuff. (And there's fanfic.) Did you know Patrick Nielsen Hayden of Tor found this in the slush pile (of unsolicited novel manuscripts)? I'm sorry, I am incoherent about this book, read it. It is what science fiction can be.
Octavia Butler's Bloodchild & Other Stories. The title story sticks in my mind, as does "Speech Sounds". Worth reading, but pretty short. Reminds me that I want to go read the novels of hers I haven't read yet.
Jacob Shapiro's The Terrorist's Dilemma (previously). I was telling people anecdotes from this for months. The poor copyediting bothered me, but I loved the schadenfreude, the thought-provoking insights, and the bibliography. I do think there are some management tips in there as well.
Lauren Beukes's Zoo City. If you liked Moxyland but wanted a touch more fantasy, you'll like this. I like detective stories and I like seeing social milieus I don't ordinarily see, and I think Beukes does well on both.
Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice. As I said, it blew my head off, in a great way. Ancillary Justice's viewpoint character used to be a starship and hasn't quite gotten used to being a woman. (Have any of us?) I think this book integrated fist-punching-related adventure with flashbacks and thinky conversations and interstellar intrigue and music really well. You can read the first chapter now. Ancillary Justice stands alone as a book, but I am looking forward to the next book almost as much as I am looking forward to Vikram Seth's A Suitable Girl.
Thomas Disch's Camp Concentration. Kind of like By Blood in that our narrator, though super erudite, has a snobbish outlook that makes my skin crawl a bit. At least Camp Concentration's poet/conscientious objector/diarist has a witty side. A hasty web search reveals that no one has yet compiled a list of the super-obscure words Disch uses on every page, e.g., hypogeal, daedal, epalpibrate. You could probably put something together with word frequency stats and an ebook, if you felt like it! Also Camp Concentration has a multipage syphilitic rant that I skimmed; hallucinations tend to lose me. (At least it wasn't as boring as that giant radio speech in the middle of Atlas Shrugged!) Still, I'm glad I've now read one Disch. It's memorable, and more accessible than I feared.
Jo Walton's My Real Children, as an Advance Reader's Copy (it comes out in May). I gobbled this up like nobody's business; it's compulsively readable, and inspiring. Walton pays attention to the concrete domestic details of real people's lives (as in Lifelode), she demonstrates the different ways we show our love through work (love made visible), and she foregrounds women's experiences -- especially around some aspects I don't see described enough. Read the first chapter online. Pick it up when it comes out.
Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains. I reread most of this as comfort reading. Great footnotes and anecdotes, as always.
John Scalzi's Redshirts. I resisted for ages; it just felt like Scalzi was pandering to me, an intelligent Star Trek fan inclined to meta. Then the Hugo. Then one or two people I knew saying they liked it. Finally yesterday came the news of the TV series. So I bought it today and read it. Verdict: it is exactly as popcorn, as once-in-a-while tearjerky, as fast-paced, as clearly written, as everyone-sounds-alike, and as controlled as you thought it was going to be. It's like Agent to the Stars, down to the well-timed Mexican-food-induced toilet break. If you want an interesting take on Redshirts's subject matter, with more interiority and a less well-trodden adventure story, check out Expendable by James Alan Gardner (whose main character, by the way, is a woman of color).
E.B. White's Trumpet of the Swan. I reread this for comfort while ill, I think. It stands up. I love all of White's little touches, like the guy who gets so agitated at a little kid's irresponsible BB-gun firing that he goes home and writes a letter to the editor supporting gun control. Also, have you noticed how Trumpet and Charlotte's Web both implicitly praise kids who can keep still and watch animals quietly, and show you brief sketches of less admirable boys yucking it up?
Yael Kohen's We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy. I think I haven't quite finished this yet. Whenever you're doing oral history of an entire industry you'll run into sad gaps where specific people won't speak on the record. We Killed suffers from that a little. But gosh how interesting it is! Reading this reminds me of the diversity of women in US comedy the way that Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, or Hacker School, remind me of the diversity of women in programming. I like learning about our different approaches -- to the content and to our careers in general. Back in November of 2002 a now-friend saw me perform for the first time and thought I reminded him of a young Margaret Cho. Knowing what I know now, I think I'm more like Paula Poundstone or Ellen Degeneres. (If I could split myself into several Sumanas, one would travel around in a techmobile teaching random North Americans digital literacy, one would research best practices in missiology/Communism/Amway/terrorism/etc. so we could use them in FLOSS, one would go to a different tech conference every few days doing corporate comedy, one would do an entry level coding job, and and and and.)
Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half. Exactly what you're used to from the site but more of it. The last few pieces, on identity, gave me pause; Brosh turns from catch-my-breath funny to Dostoyevsky-level observant and I hope she keeps it up.
Brian K. Vaughan's Saga graphic novels. Love it, just like Mary Anne.
Baratunde Thurston's How To Be Black. I read aloud great swaths of this to Leonard because Thurston's so incisive and funny. I like how Thurston uses the experiences of his acquaintances to get different perspectives on the issues he covers; if you liked the "wait, how many sons did Dasharatha have?" arguments in Sita Sings the Blues, you'll enjoy Thurston's Council. And Thurston tore several "ohhh wow" bitter laugh/groans from me, the most I can recall since reading America: The Book. Very worthwhile.
Several chapters from The Architecture of Open Source Applications (yay case studies! They helped me wrap my head around other big codebases) and from The Practice of Programming (reassuring in that we-all-have-problems way, but I'll return and reread once I know Java or C and can read the examples).
Lizz Winstead's Lizz Free or Die. I admire Lizz Winstead for making a career out of political comedy and for achieving so much. But I found Lizz Free or Die sort of disappointing; I wanted more Daily Show details, and of course you're gonna compare this book to Bossypants and it just isn't as witty and memorable.
I'm partway through Thomas Pynchon's Bleeding Edge, and gosh it's disorienting to have Pynchon's random obscure references be things I know, e.g., the "CSS IS AWESOME" mug, rather than seventies hippie stuff. I love the prose like I always do, and the zany adventures, and a complicated and sympathetic view of the (female) protagonist's sexual life. I will probably have to just start this book over at some point to load all the backstory and minor characters into my head, and then report in full here after I'm done.
Just started: Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. I think this is pandering to me as much as Redshirts but I don't really mind. I'm loving it the same way I loved Gawande's Better.
Tracy Kidder's Strength in What Remains. (Read an excerpt.) What kind of person lives through atrocities, has to flee his country, and then comes back to try to do good? Who helps him? It's all that, and it's by Tracy Kidder, so you know it's good. The way he works on the school-building, in the end, and the stance he takes towards community help, is making me think about how I try to make change.
Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions. This short, sharp book helped me see what 1960s Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) felt like to a gifted black girl, and vividly details how people interact with each other -- and how sometimes they hurt when they're just trying to help. I'm glad Bluestockings stocks it.
And speaking of bookstores: I have bought a lot more books now that I have an independent bookstore within walking distance of my flat. Astoria Bookshop sells a fine selection and does special orders cheerfully. Yay!
# (1) 05 Feb 2014, 01:38PM: Doldrums:
I've been sick for something like the last six weeks, so Leonard booked an appointment for me and I finally saw a doctor. It's such a nasty trick that illness leeches away the energy one needs to fight illness properly; I'm so lucky to have a partner who's willing to manage those details and take care of me. He made an extra trip, tromping through the slush in his boots, to get my meds at the pharmacy.
In recent years I'd gotten better at not confusing momentary physical fatigue or mood weather with persistent problems that need fixing, but it gets harder to distinguish when the ought-to-be-ephemeral things last for so long. Various boxes with lots of fine print now surround me and soup is in the offing. I hope they help.
Once, Leonard and I had to have a difficult conversation. As I gulped breath and tried to get up the gumption to go into the living room and talk with him about this thing, I did a bit of math. There are maybe 350 million people in the US, which means tens of millions of couples - maybe even a hundred million couples, just in my country. Some tiny fraction of those couples had the same problem, so, maybe twenty thousand? And it might take years for the couples to talk about it, and there are three hundred and sixty-five days in a year, but even so, I thought, there must be at least a few other couples having this same hard talk tonight, maybe five. I imagined them as points of light, with bright lines crisscrossing the continent to connect us.
Just the hypothetical existence of this community calmed me. We are not alone, we can't be. We talked and came out the other side together. This illness will pass. Spring is coming.
# 02 Feb 2014, 08:44AM PST: Foolscap Followup:
I'm currently at Foolscap, a hospitable and thoroughly delightful scifi/fantasy convention in the Seattle area. Leonard is a Guest of Honor and I get to be his consort. This year Foolscap takes place in Redmond, which means I am exactly "as lonesome as a Linux user in Redmond," but it turns out that doesn't have to be too lonesome!
Some links and whatnot I've meant to give people:
Recommendations for science fiction that argues with other science fiction, e.g., Maureen McHugh's The Cost To Be Wise as a critique of Star Trek's Prime Directive and noninterference policies like it, and Nancy Kress's Beggars in Spain as an answer to Atlas Shrugged. (This is one reason I also want to check out A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias.)
- Jason: Powerpoint Karaoke Best Practices in case you'd like to run that again!
- Everyone who participated in the session about designing inclusive communities, and the spillover chat about respectful outreach to people who aren't like you, here are the organizations I mentioned:
I think most of you already know about the Geek Feminism anti-harassment policy resources.
Open Source Bridge, which encourages volunteers to help make the conference happen (showing appreciation by giving them free access to the conference), encourages them with a reassuring form, and mentors them with structured orientations.
- Hacker School, which has a manual including four social rules.
- WisCon, which has a member assistance fund, very participatory programming creation and signup, and amazing universal access.
- PyCon has found that specific, personal outreach helps increase diversity.
- AdaCamp, which also had pretty great accessibility, including a textual description of the space.
- The Carl Brandon Society, the Outer Alliance, and Broad Universe are examples of organizations working on diversity in speculative fiction & fandom whom you might invite to host a reading or party at your con.
- "You, Yes You, Can Do Standup Comedy", the exercise I led. You can read more about that HOWTO in "Manufacturing Consent To Laugh" and "HOWTO Write Hackish Standup, Part II".
- In general, my Reading category of blog posts, in case you want to see what I've been reading. Includes occasional links to my Archive of Our Own bookmarks of great fanfic.
- Dave: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, the amazing book that most recently blew my head off. It's about power and institutions, about the lived difference between true mutual aid and imperialism. And it's a space adventure with fights. So great.
- Frances: I know you'd heard of OpenHatch but you might not have seen the OpenHatch Events list which in my opinion you should be on. Here's Software Carpentry, the organization bringing programming and software engineering lessons to researchers.
- Frances: I think right now my favorite authors are Zen Cho, Jo Walton, and Maureen McHugh. My ideal story might be about insurance fraud in space, possibly involving Quakers, cowritten by these three.
- Stuff I say on Geek Feminism, on Twitter, on the Wikimedia Foundation blog.
- From the Potlatch party last night: A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor's radio show that Leonard and I both listened to while growing up.
(This is probably incomplete. It's been a fun con and it's not over yet!)
# 26 Jan 2014, 08:42PM PST: Plunge:
It is easier for me to write a confrontational email in which I will disappoint someone than for me to open up a coding problem that I fear I will fail at. With the former, I know the territory; I know the rhythms of anxiety and release, I know viscerally that this practice will never stop and that I'll just get asymptotically better. With the latter I still obscurely fear some definitive NO telling me I'm no good at this, and I don't quite have enough experience of quietly positive outcomes to salve the scars away.
I draw upon my memories of Hacker School and I remember that growth is change, and I start up the video game music and a task in Project Hamster, and I switch to Emacs.
# 19 Jan 2014, 04:51PM: Interesting-Looking Talks at PyCon 2014:
This year I'm going to visit PyCon! In fact, I'm presenting a poster: "What Hacker School Taught Me About Community Mentoring". You should register soon if you're coming, especially to take advantage of heavily subsidized childcare or to register for one of the tutorials.
Someone on one of my mailing lists asked what sessions people are particularly looking forward to. I tend to follow Skud's conference tips, which mean skipping sessions when I need to do self-care. But with such great-sounding talks, I may not be able to pull myself away!
- Allison Kaptur's "Import-ant decisions". Kaptur is a facilitator at Hacker School and I enjoy her thinking
process, areas of interest, and speaking style. I know I'll learn more about package management in general, and about Python specifically, from this talk.
- Jessica McKellar's "Building & breaking a Python Sandbox". McKellar did a residency in my Hacker School batch during which I got to see a preview of this talk, so I may not go again, but I found it thought-provoking; it helped me understand how Python works in a new way.
- Erik Rose's "Designing Poetic APIs". I met Erik Rose at a Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit and thought he was a really smart and fun guy. I've never designed an API before (thus I also want to go to the novice-focused "So You Want to Build an API?" by Megan Speir), and I like that his discussion will include anthroplogy, psychology, and history.
- Nathan Yergler's "In Depth PDB". I am one of the programmers the speaker sadly mentions; I rarely use it, if at all, even though it would be great to help me see when and why things are breaking!
- A localisation talk, maybe this one, because I think the Python application I'm working with right now just has hardcoded strings (aiee, bad).
- One of the SQLAlchemy talks, maybe this one, because I don't grok how to use SQLAlchemy yet. However I have registered for the SQLAlchemy in-depth tutorial so one may duplicate the other.
- Julia Evans's "Diving into Open Data with IPython Notebook & Pandas".
I enjoy Julia Evans's investigation process and her speaking and writing style. (See my post "Why Julia Evans's Blog Is So Great".) I have never used IPython Notebook nor matplotlib, numpy, pandas, or any of the other awesome science/data-related Python tools, and keep meaning to; this talk should help me with that.
- Greg Wilson's "Software Carpetry: Lessons Learned".
I am a tremendous fan of Wilson's work - Software Carpentry, the books he's edited, etc. The SC crowd has collected a lot of data (e.g. surveys of learners at their bootcamps) and I will probably want to soak in their lessons learned and shout about them to every other teach-y group I'm in.
- Naomi Ceder's "Farewell and Welcome Home: Python in Two Genders". I want to learn more about the experiences of trans women in my open source communities.
- Kate Heddleston, Nicole Zuckerman, presenting "Technical on-boarding, training, and mentoring". I do this task in my open source communities so I want to learn more best practices.
I'm thoroughly looking forward to my first PyCon. (I stopped by one for like an hour in 2003 and helped at the registration desk; I guess it took me eleven years to get to the other side of the desk!)
# (1) 18 Jan 2014, 02:59PM: Cleaning My Virtual Room:
In late December 2013, my personal email inbox got to over six thousand emails. Many of them had been there for years. I was using nearly no filtering, and so there was important stuff in there that I just forgot about. It caused me a lot of anxiety. I knew the kinds of tips Val suggests, like setting up filters and avoiding abusing "unread" markers, but I had just not kept up this hygiene, and it was getting to me. I have been a bad correspondent for years, and my overwhelming inbox is part of why.
Therefore, the last days of 2013, I rapidly went through big swaths of them -- Twitter notifications, a few less relevant mailing lists, and so on. By the minute 2014 started, I was down to two thousand. I started using Beeminder to track my goal: down to 10 messages in my inbox by the end of January 18th.
Today's the 18th. I'm at 160 messages. And this is the hard stuff, now. Here I find the heartfelt notes I saved for reading later, then didn't read for months, then felt embarrassed about. Here lie the year-old "here's my address since you promised to send me something!" notes. Here I see stories I promised to give feedback on, guest posts for Geek Feminism I started arranging, invitations to my cousins' weddings in India, followups from friendly people I met at PICC 2011 or Open Source Bridge 2012.
I am in a comfortable apartment, in reasonably good health, in no physical danger. And yet my body reacts to looking at these letters. It's absurdly hard work.
Doing this requires confronting my past negligence and remembering that I may have hurt people by that negligence. And thinking about tasks I've put off.
I'm reminded of Paul Ford's "Cleaning My Room", in which Ford talks about his years of slovenliness and then a sudden urge "to face down the beast of disorder".
Now I've reached 143, that old pager code for "I love you," and am reminded of that old saw, "Work is love made visible."
# 14 Jan 2014, 01:20PM: Hidden Jewels of the RFC or PEP Process:
I've been looking into other open source projects' processes for making big architectural changes, to help improve MediaWiki's process. Some have Requests for Comment processes, separate from normal bug/enhancement tickets. Some don't. Some have voting, some have a Benevolent Dictator For Life making the decision. And so on and so on. (This is where I get to use my bachelor's in political science!)
I have come across a few fun documents in this quest:
# 11 Jan 2014, 09:21AM: Also A Bunch Of Indian Kids Were Avoiding A Puja By Watching "Sleepless In Seattle":
A dream from last night included these bits:
I was a teen actress on a sitcom. We were filming a story in which a burglar broke into our kitchen, the kids came downstairs to check, and the burglar successfully hid on top of the refrigerator. However, one of the actresses portraying a teen in the sitcom was so tall that audiences would reasonably wonder, why doesn't she see him on top of that fridge?, and so the show fired her, thus arguably causing a much bigger plot hole (where did Mallory go?).
I was at a big party, seated next to other actors. An adult man sat next to me and started chatting with me, and I came to recognize that he was flirting with me. I enjoyed the attention, while reminding myself that I couldn't trust any feeling of connection. At some point I facetiously hypothesized that people's appearances reflect industrial design in their decades of origin -- people born in the 1960s look like cool sixties phones or reel-to-reel tape recorders, people born in the 1980s look like orange plastic lunchboxes. As I was saying this, the man's partner came by, and resentfully asked me what the product of a union of those people would look like?! I tried to gracefully back away from her insinuation by saying that it probably wouldn't work out. She dragged him away from our table and I shouted after her: "I'm fifteen, I'm not trying to steal your man! I don't even have a car!"
In the past few years I've gotten used to dreams with a lot more clear-cut wish fulfillment (e.g., the recent dream in which xkcd creator Randall Munroe tutored me in how to use Kerbal Space Program) or anxiety (e.g., the missing-a-flight or fertility dreams). My dream last night felt more Pynchon than Buzzfeed, and for that I'm grateful.
# 06 Jan 2014, 07:37PM: Tourists:
What do you know about pipe organs?
Several years ago, all I knew about organs I'd learned from a few pages in Cryptonomicon comparing them to vacuum-tube computers. And I liked their sound. I was a regular attendee at the Community Church of New York at the time, and CCNY featured organ music in its Sunday service.
One day I heard that they were fundraising for organ upkeep. To help people see what needed doing and why, someone led a small group of us on a guided tour of the organ. I got to see how its parts related to each other, how all the inputs turned into the sound we enjoyed.
Any sysadmin or manager trying to persuade others to invest in long-term infrastructure should consider a similar tactic. Give your stakeholders a tour of your system's anatomy, so they can appreciate it.
# 04 Jan 2014, 09:50PM: Linkdump of Scifi, Songs, Sprezzatura, and Misc Does Not Start With S:
Medical user experience in the US is pretty terrible; at least one New York City medical practice is looking to improve that. I've had really good experiences with Kaiser Permanente's infrastructure (pharmacy, test lab, specialists and general practitioners all under one roof, integrated scheduling and useful email/website), but they don't have any services in New York State.
I'm using Beeminder again to track a personal goal of mine (getting my personal email inbox under control). Danny O'Brien told me about them and I like their approach: easy to enter data, free until and unless I go off track.
I have a weak spot for corporate anthems. I think the HSBC song is gonna end up in my "energizing music" playlist. It's just so peppy!
"Actually, Jamie Newton, one 'hi' will suffice."
I'm interested in seeing how the Wikimedia community (including you, if you ever read Wikipedia) will help make the new discussion system better.
In speculative fiction:
- There is a new grant available for working class, blue-collar, poor, and homeless speculative fiction writers (including speculative fiction writers who have faced these financial barriers in the past). Deadline February 28. (via Mary Anne Mohanraj)
- C.C. Finlay is guest-editing an issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction and is accepting submissions electronically. Deadline January 14.
- A new anthology seeks "narratives that explore the immigrant experience in a science fiction setting". Deadline January 31. (Also via Mary Anne.)
- If you get a WorldCon membership by January 31, you can nominate for the Hugo Awards, and you can get a supporting membership (which lets you vote) for USD 40 (or 25 British pounds). I plan on doing this. (Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie was SO GOOD.)
- I went on a vid binge today and discovered a vid that completely recontextualizes the Q/Picard relationship for me, a sweet vid that uses Vienna Teng's "Lullabye For a Stormy Night" to underscore the nurturing of children in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and (omg omg) an amazing shot-for-shot remake of bironic's Starships vid that draws only from black-and-white film and TV. See the side-by-side comparison. Just jawdropping. I just adore the attention to detail in shot-for-shot remakes and similarly loving and thorough parodies, and this hits that spot for me.
- Perhaps you've noticed the short scifi Nature publishes? Check out a super-realistic time travel exam, a nice "mad scientist/mad engineer" joke, a cold study-habits-of-the-future glimpse, a painful thought experiment about time, a short meditation on colonialism, and a good creepy mind control story.
- Mary Anne Mohanraj thinks about the plots of The Stars Change & "Jump Space" and potentially a new upcoming work in the same universe -- cool!
- Oh my goodness, the short story "Immersion" by Aliette de Bodard sure has interesting things to say about assimilation, language, self, imperialism, and solidarity.
What have you accomplished since March 2007?
I may have to read all of the New York Fed's blog posts on historical echoes in modern economics news and financial practices.
Mary Anne has another moving, thoughtful post on professionalism and showing the messy work behind the impressive result (against sprezzatura). Relatedly, Peter Fraenkel goes into some detail thinking about how arrogance presents and what to avoid.
I'm interested in thinking more about what jokes & bugs have in common, per Val Aurora's insight. I have indeed laughed aloud at a particular bug's presentation (which feels like a pratfall) or at finding the cause of a bug (which feels like observational humor). I also laugh aloud sometimes when I think of a possible arbitrage. The art of imagining hypothetical worlds leads to many other arts, and a few of them include testing, stand-up comedy, game design, and politics.
Finally, a sweet gluten-free Christian reminder that "Disciples don't fit in."
# 26 Dec 2013, 10:33PM: Yuletide 2013 Recommendations:
I have been sick with a cold for about a week. Fortunately, this year's Yuletide fan fiction harvest brought me tremendous bounty! I now feel the urge to re-watch or re-read Protector of the Small, Breaking Bad, Arrested Development, Brick, Stranger Than Fiction, Legally Blonde, and World War Z.
My bookmarks include:
Do you have any favorites from this year?
- "Brightness all", an adorable puppy-centric Protector of the Small fic that includes a fake-angry letter from Nealan and the soft spot of curmudgeon Wyldon. Also check out the tags on that one.
- "Inexplicably and without method" for curmudgeonly Karen from Stranger Than Fiction reluctantly learning to use a personal computer.
- "wrapped in red" in case you wanted a lot more glamorous Leverage-esque sophistication from Nancy Drew! Reminds me a bit of the parts of Haywire I liked. Reminds me that I should watch Mr. and Mrs. Smith sometime since Mel recommended it!
- "What We May Be" for a short, sweet peek at a Galaxy Quest curmudgeon. (Oh look, Sumana has a trope.)
- Two Breaking Bad stories, both about Marie: "Blood Ties" portrays her changing sisterhood with Skyler, and "Casts & Slings" shows her with "another survivor," as the summary puts it.
- Finally, "One Of Their Better Parties" gets the farcical voice of Arrested Development dialogue just right, including everyone's varieties of self-delusion and a deployment of "I've made a huge mistake."
# 23 Dec 2013, 08:48PM: Darmok and Jalad at StackExchange:
I have a cold, so I've been watching and reading comfort media. Yesterday Leonard and I rewatched that old Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Cause and Effect". When the senior officers need to figure out what to do with the oracular number "three" that's popping up everywhere:
Riker: Maybe we should run a level-three diagnostic on all key systems.
LaForge: Good idea. And I'll have the computer run a pattern-matching algorithm based on the number three.
Luckily, right after that meeting, they have to deal with a giant space-time anomaly that renders those plans moot, so LaForge doesn't end up with an LCARS screen listing the billions of line numbers in the Enterprise's filesystem that correspond to mentions of the number three.
I know some subset of my cohort started drinking Earl Grey tea because Captain Picard did. I wonder how many technologists, solving problems and running meetings, reach for patterns we learned from Rick Berman et alia.
# 22 Dec 2013, 12:46PM: Long Takes, Spit-Takes:
A week ago, I saw the excellent Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles at the museum.
Akerman's singular avant-garde epic -- which surveys with unprecedented detail the mundane daily routine... Akerman creates a portrait of an enigmatic woman's inner life by focusing on her chores (cooking, cleaning, letter-writing)...
It is 201 minutes long. It's amazing, immersive. The main character does super-mundane things efficiently, and the first act feels like a graceful dance. Then we see her competence decrease on a frazzled day -- the first time she dropped something, I think I literally gasped. There's at least one single take in there that's seven minutes long; I think some are longer!
Then on Friday Leonard and I saw Children of Men at the museum, my third time and his first. Children of Men also has several very long takes, but they tend to include killings, mostly by gunfire. A lot of people die in this movie. I walked out shaken.
As I emerged into the lobby, I muttered, "That was pretty intense." And then a stranger said, "A little more exciting than Jeanne Dielman, huh?"
I laughed very hard.
# (2) 22 Dec 2013, 10:42AM: Why Julia Evans's Blog Is So Great:
Some writing is persuasive; it aims to cause you to believe or do something. Some is expository; it aims to cause you to understand something. A lot of tech writing is persuasive or expository.
Some writing is narrative. It aims to cause you to feel or experience something. In personal narrative, the writer shares a personal experience and invites you to walk with her on that journey, experiencing it as she did, emerging with a new perspective. I really like narrative-style tech writing.
What I call the "Amazing Grace" story (previously) is, in a sense, all three of these. "Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound) / That sav'd a wretch like me! / I once was lost, but now am found, / Was blind, but now I see." Or, in more modern terms, "An English Sailor Found Salvation Through This One Weird Trick."
- Exposition: My experience started in sordid terror and ended in divine ecstasy
- Narration: Bask and wonder with me in the intricacy of my journey and the unexpected yet inevitable emergent properties of my condition
- Persuasion: Thus, if you are enthralled to sin, if you are a fallen resident of our fallen world, you should follow my example
I started thinking about this because my Hacker School colleague Julia Evans has a super-engaging blog. During our batch, she dove into operating system internals, and blogged about what she learned and how she learned it. She's consistently inspired me and made me laugh. Two of her fans (fellow HSers) even made a loving Markov-chain tribute, Ulia Ea.
One reason we love it is that most entries narrate her daily learning and illustrate a journey through confusion into wonder. See "Day 37: After 5 days, my OS doesn't crash when I press a key", which is possibly the most "Amazing Grace"-esque of her posts. Excerpt:
5. Press keys. Nothing happens. Hours pass. Realize interrupts are turned off and I need to turn them on....
It's not just the large-scale rhetorical structure; her diction and even her punctuation delight me. I particularly marvelled at her sentences in "Day 43: SOMETHING IS ERASING MY PROGRAM WHILE IT’S RUNNING (oh wait oops)". Excerpt:
12. THE OS IS STILL CRASHING WHEN I PRESS A KEY. This continues for 2 days....
As far as I can tell this is all totally normal and just how OS programming is. Or something. Hopefully by the end of the week I will get past "I can only receive one IRQ" and into "My interrupt handler is the bomb and I can totally write a keyboard driver now"....
I'm seriously amazed that operating systems exist and are available for free.
SURPRISE MY CODE IS NOT WORKING BECAUSE SOMETHING IS ERASING IT.
Can we talk about this?
- I have code
- I can compile my code
- Half of my binary gets overwritten with 0s at runtime. Why. What did I do to deserve this?
- No wonder the order I put the binary in matters.
It is a wonder that this code even runs, man. Man.
The disarmingly informal ALLCAPS adds to the intimacy more explicitly created with the question "Can we talk about this?" which invites the reader into one-on-one conversation. Moreover, I specifically call your attention to the statement "Why." and the repetition "man. Man." They demonstrate how Julia acknowledges mystery, with a tinge of disbelief.
As Patrick Nielsen Hayden observed,
A great deal of science fiction is about what the field's insiders often call "sense of wonder," a quality not entirely unrelated to the good old Romantic Sublime. Many of the genre's classics are in essence carefully-tuned machines designed to attract readers whose primary conscious loyalty is to rationalism, and lead them by a series of plausible contrivances to a sudden crescendo of mystical awe. This is an important part of SF from Olaf Stapledon to William Gibson and beyond.
And Julia Evans.
: Hacker School
"I have now discovered that
element.innerText works in Chrome and in Epiphany but not in Firefox."
"This is why you use jQuery."
Some more things I learned:
- Oh right, ordering matters. My
- I was wary of the whole event-handling paradigm but now I'm getting used to it and might like it. Instead of the default idea being "here I am, a script, doin' everything by myself, maybe shoehorn in some interactivity with the user sometimes", the default idea feels like "I'm a set of useful reactions to possible things the user will do".
- I know the windowshade-style
show jQuery functionality is a pretty clear "look! jQuery demo!" signal. And now I know why: because it is cool and easy and just works! Yay
- To get the value of a text
$( "#InputIDName" ).val();
To stick a string into a
I am pretty sure the ".html" method escapes things to keep you from opening up an XSS vuln but I'm not sure and need to check. Argh escaping!
At Hacker School I followed my own advice and found or made up silly and boring and helpful projects to use while learning. My current rhythm seems to be: start by working through the first few chapters of a textbook to learn basic concepts and syntax, then think up a silly project to make and start making it, then run into problems one at a time, causing me to learn idioms and libraries and gotchas from a mix of my colleagues and the Internet. Maybe someday I will come back to chapter three of the book and engage in some more spiral learning! It's nice to have a diversified portfolio.
: Hacker School