Cogito, Ergo Sumana

picture of Sumana's head

Sumana Harihareswara's journal


(0) : Some Books I've Read In The Last Year: I have read many, many books since I last rounded them up. I may start using LibraryThing or similar to track and recommend things since I demonstrably don't blog about the books often enough to keep up. Future Sumana and others, have some fragmentary, tardy reviews, with more to come.

Zen Cho, Spirits Abroad (short story anthology). Deeply engaging, funny, loving, and heartstring-tugging (I'm reasonably sure that midway through the first story, I burst into tears and called my mom). I appreciate how Cho talks about things I don't understand, uses words I don't know, and helps me keep going even when I'm missing bits that (for instance) Malaysians would grok. She does not do this by explaining or glossing every phrase, in case you (like me) dislike that approach.

Greg Milner, Perfecting Sound Forever: The History of Recorded Music. I picked this up because of Scott Rosenberg's recommendation and give it two thumbs way up. I never took a college-level physics class and I suspect know less than the median US-born person my age about pop music of the 20th century. Milner's exposition gave me the background I needed to understand the ways recording and playback technology affected music, and vice versa, without being condescending. I learned even more about Edison's vengefulness, and I now understand a lot more about the influence of World War II on the music tech industry, about racism in the folk music preservation scene, about how we choose codecs for compression, about the loudness wars and dynamic range, about why we revere or despise particular practices or musicians, about the sexist culture of audiophilia, and about how to (or how not to) get people to switch workflows.

Joanna Russ, The Adventures of Alyx. I don't see as much fiction as I'd like about super-competent women managers. I especially do not see enough fiction about competent women managing incompetent men and causing them to realize, empirically, that she is right and they are wrong. This is the best thing about The Adventures of Alyx.

Molly Gloss, The Dazzle of Day. The very first thing I want to get across is that this is not comfort reading; it includes realistic depictions of sexual assault and its aftermath. I am very glad I read this heartbreaking, nuanced tale of Quakers in space -- Jo Walton gets at the way Gloss depicts people and situations I rarely see in scifi, and as Sue Gardner has mentioned, understanding Quakers helps me understand Wikimedian consensus better -- but it is not gentle.

Rita Mae Brown, Rubyfruit Jungle (reread). I more thoroughly noticed the "make my own stories/films about Us" theme this time. Maybe that's because Leonard and I have been watching so many films, via the Museum of the Moving Image, from decades past. As bad and simplistic and inaccurate as media representation of QUILTBAG people is now, it's better than it was.

Ha Jin, A Good Fall (short story collection). I had previously read his novel Waiting, and in both his short stories and his novels, Ha Jin does a painfully good job of delicately splaying open the interiority of ordinary people navigating modernity. He sets much of A Good Fall in Flushing, in my own county, and many of his characters are Asian or Asian-American, so I got that added touch of familiarity. If I recall correctly, Ha Jin can make me feel empathy for a character who is making bad decisions, which not every author can do!

Lavanya Sankaran, The Hope Factory. I'd previously read Sankaran's short story collection The Red Carpet, which I do recommend. I loved The Hope Factory -- what a Bangalore story, getting the texture of class, gender, and location so right. (I wonder whether the flashback chapter about one protagonist's day laborer past would work as a standalone story; it sure has a Crowning Moment of Awesome that I will remember for a long time.) I honestly do not know whether I should recommend this book to non-Indians or even desis who are not Karnatakan or Kannadiga, whether it will sparkle quite as bright to people who have never been to that particular dosa restaurant, who don't think "wait I think I have relatives in that square mile of Mysore." But if you're looking for an English-language novel set in modern-day Bangalore, spanning rich and poor, family and business and politics, check this out.

Toni Morrison, Beloved -- haven't finished this yet. I picked this up at a moment when I wasn't ready for how deeply sexy it gets, so I paused; I'll be picking it up again sometime.

Kate Griffin, A Madness of Angels. I cannot remember whether I finished this book. I heard about it because people said the protagonist uses an Oyster card as a component in a magical ward. (People on Dreamwidth find this charming and I am no exception!) But A Madness of Angels is about 1% that kind of awesome Terms-Of-Service-based magic, and about 99% moody swirling coats and "I thought I was dead, how did I get resurrected?" and men in fog and GET BACK TO THE END USER LICENSE AGREEMENTS ALREADY! I am much more interested in urban fantasy if someone is committing magical fraud or magically suing someone than if someone is committing magical murder.

Jean M. Converse and Howard Schuman, Conversations at Random: Survey Research as Interviewers See It (reread). I love this super-obscure book, which I picked up used many years ago. It includes many anecdotes about surprises that door-to-door survey-takers have run into. I like these stories for the same reason I end up rereading the case studies and blockquotes from Carol Gilligan's In A Different Voice or Irving Yalom's Love's Executioner.

Ken MacLeod, The Human Front and The Restoration Game. I read these for an upcoming online book club-type event, and am currently reading MacLeod's Newton's Wake for that same project. I enjoyed the two that I've finished: brisk reads, relatable protagonists, Big Reveals, reasonable exposition so you don't have to come into the book already knowing all the Trotsky-related feuds in twentieth-century communism. Either of these would be a reasonable first MacLeod. (I attempted to read his Fall Revolution series by starting with The Star Fraction and bounced off, at least for now, on the "ugh why do I care about these people, giant dream sequence, I do not know enough about communism to grok this" barriers. I have since been advised to try again with a different Fall Revolution book later!)

Atul Gawande, Complications. I liked this and read aloud bits of it to people, especially the bits about teaching and risk, but it does suffer a bit from comparison to Better, which has a throughline. Still good enough to make me daydream about finding myself on some kind of Indian-American Powerhouses panel with Gawande!

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (reread). I last read this about 15 years ago, for a class, and I'm grateful that I've grown as a reader since then. This time through, I could appreciate Neale Hurston's lush descriptive prose more thoroughly, because now I see what other authors are trying to do when they expend verbiage on hot humid Southern garden scenes. There's an exemplary early passage that connects our protagonist's blossoming sexuality with her new awareness of the sensual world around her and mixes observation of her interior life with trees, flowers, etc. Also, I'd love to talk about class, gender, and sexuality in Their Eyes Were Watching God with other people who have read it recently.

Louise Fitzhugh, Harriet the Spy. I believe I've never read this book before. Just as other adults have said, this book holds up -- when you read as an adult, you see and understand the drawing-room conflicts that Harriet sees but doesn't understand. And yeah, if you are obsessed with discovering everyone else's secrets, other people might hate that and might decide you are not awesome. Hear that, NSA? Perhaps if more people had read Harriet the Spy as kids, we wouldn't have the massive intelligence overreach problems we have now. Neither you nor I have any way of disproving that!

Janet Mock, Redefining Realness. Like many US people, I picked up Redefining Realness because I heard about it, heard it was good, and realized I had not yet read a memoir by a trans person of color. And now I continue this chain of recommendations. Redefining Realness, interestingly, succeeds both as a public service announcement about transphobia and intersectionality and as a memoir about one woman's coming-of-age. I appreciated how Mock interwove her story with statistics and other context.

Ann Leckie, Ancillary Sword. I enjoyed this. The previous book, Ancillary Justice, I enjoyed quite a lot as I was reading it. Ancillary Sword I did not enjoy as much as I was reading it, and then enjoyed a great deal more afterwards, thanks to a great conversation with Jed. Intriguing ideas include: Breq as unreliable narrator, especially regarding other people's emotions, genders, and sexualities. The shift in settings, from spaceship to space station to planet to station to ship, which helps us compare societies that are functional, dysfunctional, and broken. Leckie compare othering, oppression, and possibilities for resistance across urban and plantation settings. The Ancillaryverse as scifi that argues with other scifi; Radchaai as Borg (ancillaries), or as Federation (per the "root beer" and Eddington/Maquis critiques from Deep Space Nine). Justice of Toren as literally the ship who sang (see the comments in Leckie's post here, around the novels' feminist lineage). Danny O'Brien's take on Radchaai beauty standards. What bits of the Radch feel Hindu to me.

Peter Falk, Just One More Thing (reread). I originally read Falk's autobiography before I had gotten into Columbo, and enjoyed taking another look. Fun, funny, wise, a nice collection of heartwarming and offbeat stories, exactly what I wanted as a Columbo fan.

Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon. I'd been putting this off until I could handle the anguish of it, and I'm glad I did. Julie Phillips's comprehensively heartbreaking biography made me weep and yearn hopelessly for an alternate universe or two. I remember standing in the Shakespeare & Co. south of the UC Berkeley campus, reading "The Screwfly Solution" in an anthology -- maybe I've never gotten over that disturbance. And, like a memento mori, in the spinner rack in my living room, within arm's reach of the sofa, I've placed a copy of Warm Worlds and Otherwise by James Tiptree, Jr., an edition that includes that Silverberg intro where he calls her prose "ineluctably masculine." "So when the human male describes his world he maps its distances from his unspoken natural center of reference, himself," Tiptree wrote. My own experience of being othered, misread, being thought too emotional or too unfeminine or too weak by some man's standards, are far fewer than hers were. But it does bother me that I frequently get misgendered in open source communities. It would be really lovely if I never again needed to say, "I'm a woman; please don't assume everyone you meet in IRC is a man." If I felt like pretending, I would not have to call myself James or Arjun; an abstract avatar, the amount of ASCII swagger I already exhibit, and others' assumptions would do the job for me -- our assumptions, I should say, as I also wonder how many women I am currently misgendering as men.

Billy Fawcett (?), Captain Billy's Whiz-Bang. Leonard or I picked this up basically because it shows up in The Music Man. My favorite joke: "How do you like the Volstead Act?" "Oh, I never did care for vaudeville." Has a tremendous number of sexist or otherwise wince-inducing jokes, some of which depend on stereotypes I don't even know and are thus inexplicable.

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(1) : Deleted Scenes: A few deleted sentences from a piece I'm drafting:

One way to understand suspense is that it's the state of having multiple conflicting valid causal models, or not having enough information to even form a single satisfying prediction.

Each protagonist gets impressive moments of awesome competence and agency. But, like levelling up in a game, it's still constrained by the sandbox (which is of course more realistic than the Matrix solution).

The big science fictional twist is that you are far less significant than you had imagined.

But they require less genre expertise than, say, "Four Kinds of Cargo" or the trope review at the start of Anathem.


(1) : Revisiting "Dave Barry In Cyberspace" (1996): I have been rereading Dave Barry's Dave Barry In Cyberspace (published in 1996), which has held up about as well as Neal Stephenson's In The Beginning Was The Command Line (1999).

On the software you'll need for your personal computer:

First off, you need an operating system, which is the "Godfather" program that operates behind the scenes, telling all the other programs what to do, making sure they cooperate, and if necessary leaving the heads of horses in their beds. The most popular operating system in world history as of 10:30 A.M. today is Windows 95, but there are many other options, including Windows 3.1, Windows 3.11, Windows 3.111, Windows for Workgroups, Windows for Groups That Mainly Just Screw Around, Windows for Repeat Offenders, Lo-Fat Windows, and The Artist Formerly Known as Windows. There is also the old "MS-DOS" operating system, which is actually written on parchment and is rarely used on computers manufactured after the French and Indian War. And there is "OS/2," which was developed at enormous expense by IBM and marketed as a Windows alternative, and which has won a loyal following of thousands of people, an estimated three of whom do not work for IBM. And of course there is the Apple operating system, or "Apple operating system," for your hippie beatnik weirdo loner narcotics-ingesting communistic types of Apple-owning individuals who are frankly too wussy to handle the challenge of hand-to-hand combat with computer systems specifically designed to thwart them.

On the internet:

... I had managed to send this hideously embarrassing message to everybody in the world except the person who was supposed to read it.

Yes, thanks to the awesome communications capabilities of the Internet, I was able to make an intergalactic fool of myself, and there's no reason why you can't do the same.

Prefiguring Clay Shirky's cognitive surplus arguments:

So go ahead! Get on the Web! In my opinion, it's WAY more fun than television, and what harm can it do?

OK, it can kill brain cells by the billions. But you don't need brain cells. You have a computer.

The origin of Bill Gates's wealth: "versions."

How much should your new computer cost? "About $350 less than you will actually pay."

Also, I am gonna avoid G7e rage and not quote the entire section, but check out the Comdex chapter for Barry's thoughts on the limited range of stories and game mechanics available in games written by and for men in 1996, and his speculation on what more diversity would look like.

The fiction short story that appears in two parts at the end of the book causes disproportionate feels in me, because it's about falling in love with a stranger via America OnLine chat, and I read it around the same time I fell in love with a guy I met on Usenet, via a Dave Barry fan group. Oh dear I just looked him up and he has a freaking beard. I don't know why that detail gets to me, but I was not prepared for that. At this moment I am under a blanket on my couch in New York City with midmorning light bouncing off brick and fire escapes outside, but I am also in hand-me-down tee shirt and shorts in front of a 486, easily remembering how to turn the audible modem volume all the way down so Mom and Dad don't hear me dialing in, the mousepad the only clear area on my dad's desk that's cluttered with printouts and Post-Its and boxes of 5-and-a-quarter floppies, navigating to HoTMaiL, California night outside the blinds. And now I'm remembering all those other local maxima and minima of my teenage life, and how intense things felt. He sent me a photo and I printed it out in black and white and took it into my AP US History test. That printout is probably still in a box somewhere. He dumped me, and we never met, and I wonder whether either of us still has a copy of that email.

And now the only Dave Barry book I own is Dave Barry in Cyberspace. It's still funny and it still has a barb in it. I am genuinely curious whether people ten years younger than me would enjoy it, since clearly part of what I'm getting out of it is nostalgia. And now I'm thinking about setting a reminder to myself to read current tech humor by Rose Ames and James Mickens in 2035.

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(0) : New Loves And New Joys: Two papercraft pieces I madeOver the last several years I've started getting into hobbies, skills, or activities that I had assumed I would not like or wouldn't get, or that I had dismissed due to initial impressions, such as romance novels, functional programming, watching sports on television, sewing, hiking, pop music, makeup, clothing, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and console-type video games. I've also deepened my general cinephilia and started regularly attending a guided mindfulness meditation group. Many of these communities or artifacts are pretty bad at some things I care about, but they are also pretty good at other things that my pre-existing milieu* doesn't excel at, and thus provide me with a richer variety of kinds of experiences. I want to look at what those things are; this is an incomplete start.

Certainly I can more easily achieve rapport with a wider variety of people if I can make conversation about, for instance, good NYC-area hikes you can get to without a car. And on my English Coast-to-Coast walks, I consistently found other hikers were sociable and supportive and friendly, taking time out of their rambles to help me and my companions wayfind, learn to use our tools, and swap stories.

In pop music, romance, makeup, clothing, sewing, hiking, film and Marvel fandom, I find a willingness to emphasize the sensual and the aesthetic experience. And we can talk about being overwhelmed emotionally by experience, which is also something appealing about sports fandom, that if we talk about our stomachs lurching with fear or happiness, or we ALLCAPS about how yes, breakups are super emotional so songs about them might be too, other people allcaps with us. We unapologetically get at the numinous. No one needs to write essays reminding us that people who read romance novels have emotions and that it's undesirable and impossible to eradicate those emotions.

In functional programming, film, clothing, and music, I've found new abstractions, new perspectives on things that already exist, that make me clutch my head as my brain changes configuration. I do already get that sometimes from my pre-existing milieu, but diversity of perspectives means I get it more if I am in more and more different kinds of communities.

Several papercraft pieces I madeAnd most of the communities I'm getting into have more gender diversity and far greater ethnic diversity than most of the communities I was previously paying attention to. (Please do pay attention to my disclaimers there instead of going #notallfans or similar.) I see and interact with people of more widely varying demographics, and I see the work of diverse people praised and discussed. And this is clearly something I need to improve in my life, because, for example, here I am in a world where Beyoncé Knowles is a global superstar, a critically important black artist and one of the most prominent feminists in the world, and I have barely been hearing or hearing about her work. I heard about a French gender-switch satirical film (Majorité Opprimée) just after it came out, but it's taken me six years to hear about Beyoncé's "If I Were A Boy" (via Arthur Chu's piece on white mediocrity and black excellence). I hear about all that Dove beauty stuff all the time, but only today did I watch Beyoncé's "Pretty Hurts" video. Clearly I need to up my game.

I've added a couple of photos in this post, pictures of some bits of papercraft I made. In December, I raised some money for Wikimedia by wrapping gifts at Astoria Bookshop; gift-wrapping was free, but if customers wanted to give a tip, the volunteer doing gift-wrapping could choose a charity where that tip went. During the slow periods, I cut up the leftover scraps of wrapping paper to make little decorative snowflakes and whatnot, and then I tied them to the ribbons when I finished wrapping up a book. They were pretty, and they didn't scale, and I tried out lots of different variations, and I gave them away, and I liked it. Maybe one more thing I see more in my new communities than in my old ones is the idea that it's okay to enjoy an experience without really understanding it. I'm gonna try that.


* One tip that fundraising consultants give you is that you should think of your communities, past and present, so you can further list people you know through those communities whom you could ask to give money to your cause. I started a list for that exercise, and now see that since about 2002 my communities have included: my blood family, Leonard's family, Wikimedia, Open Source Bridge/Stumptown Syndicate, the MS in Tech Management cohort from Columbia University, the University of California at Berkeley, GNOME, Maemo/MeeGo, AltLaw, the Participatory Culture Foundation, Hacker School, New York City tech in general, Geek Feminism, the Ada Initiative/AdaCamp, WisCon, Foolscap, Making Light, MetaFilter, ImpactHub NYC, the Acetarium, OpenHatch, Growstuff, Collabora, Fog Creek Software, Behavior, Salon.com, Cody's Books, Yuletide Treasure, the Coast-to-Coast walk, Strange Horizons, Slightly Known People fandom, Breaking Bad fandom, Mike Daisey fandom, Star Trek fandom, The Colbert Report fandom, Midtown Comics, the Outer Alliance, Python, Software Carpentry, Mozilla, MetaFilter, LWN, Crooked Timber, Systers, OpenITP/TechnoActivism Third Monday, my Twitter followees/followers, my Identi.ca circle, REI, Dreamwidth, code4lib and #libtechwomen/#libtechgender, Hackers on Planet Earth, the Professional IT Community Conference/LOPSA, Women in Free Software India, the New York Tech Meetup, Subdrift NYC, a few now-defunct private email lists, Google Summer of Code, Outreachy, Foo Campers, Empowermentors, the Unitarian Universalist church, Debian-NYC, Metrics-grimoire, Mailman, NYC storyreading, the Museum of the Moving Image, my local meditation class, and probably more stuff. That wasn't in any real order, in case you couldn't tell, and I claim zero consistency in my participation level. Patterns include: lots of geekiness and lots of online interaction.


: Internet Things I Am Appreciating: Here are a bunch of interesting links.

My pal Brendan wrote an appreciation of my old MC Masala newspaper column and I am totally still basking in it. Yes Brendan you totally were and are the Kentuckian I know best! Also this satirical pastiche about moving from San Francisco to New York City still makes me laugh.

A hypothesis on why so many scifi fans/authors are libertarians. This reminds me that I should read Paulina Borsook's 2000 book Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech.

Related: Kate Losse on Silicon Valley and cults -- incisive, on the other side of the "identity management method" (Joel Spolsky, 2006).

The sign of successful recruiting becomes finding people who feel so matched to the startup's culture that they will happily allow their identities to be subsumed it, to the point of happily wearing the startup's uniform of branded t-shirts and other swag. 'The startup uniform encapsulates a simple but essential principle: Everyone at your company should be different in the same way--a tribe of like-minded people fiercely devoted to the company's mission.' In Thiel's vision, then, the best kind of 'different' is difference that scales--individuality is just a property of people who haven’t found the right startup to work at yet (or alternately, who have not been found by the right startup).

Christina Xu on Blowhard Syndrome which I have absolutely seen.

The constant bagging on Chetan Bhagat in this post makes me laugh pretty hard.

From Rivka in 2003: "I have a Thing about shoes." I particularly find helpful the comment that starts: "I think that everybody has the thing that reminds them of all the issues that they thought they'd completely gotten over in their life, and the thing is often some small, seemingly trivial detail." I'm currently reading a bunch of Courtney Milan novels and she basically always hits this note, by the way.

I appreciate this "TMI" self-description by blogger Aiffe, particularly the paragraph in which they discuss their non-binary gender identity. I particularly recommend it to other cis people like me to see an example of how someone feels different about being included in "women" as opposed to being referred to as "a woman."

Sabrina wrote me a list of book recommendations; if you believe you often like books I like, you should check out her post!

A short parable on art and imperfection.

I found that the bit about personal integrity and promises in this post about procrastination spoke to me.

Leonard and I have been watching a lot of Batman: The Animated Series, and I liked this piece on "Beware the Gray Ghost". Also check out this fun, thought-provoking post on queerness in Batman, especially in the 1960s live-action series.

I found the last two paragraphs of this Belle Waring piece particularly thought-provoking. I genuinely do want nuance in social justice discussions and I care about building bridges with people who don't yet agree with me on every particular and who don't yet know bits of etiquette and jargon that I know. I also don't want for strangers to perceive that good faith as a boundless well of sweetness, time and energy to which they are entitled. Not every conversation is a Dialogue And Deliberation process. It's a tough balance and no one has it down, in my opinion. I'm curious about Aspiration's work on social scripts and whether it'll provide some improved approaches to thinking about this. I'm also rereading Aria Stewart's "Creating just online social spaces" (the "that #couldhavegonebetter" re-routing tactic looks like a good script that I may copy).

Related: "white supremacy culture" by Tema Okun. "This is a list of characteristics of white supremacy culture that show up in our organizations." I'm finding a lot to think about in this.

Mel Chua writes a sarcastic poem: "How to succeed in engineering as a disabled person".

Martin Fowler writes, "In recent years we've made increasing our [gender] diversity a high priority at ThoughtWorks." He's heard arguments against some diversity initiatives, e.g., if everyone followed suit, the industry would run out of qualified women to hire. He responds: "We'll know this is something to be worried about when women are paid significantly more than men for the same work."

I have been chewing on a bunch of other posts: abi's thoughts on intellectual provincialism and the profile of assertions in conversations where people learn things, Ned Batchelder's "Engineers are people", sky croeser's "Our collaborative feminist organisations should be critical of capitalism or they will probably be bullshit", Aphyr's "this guide is for you" (via Dan Abramov), and Ben Rosenbaum on numinous magic and playfulness and on compassion, love, and demanding hard things.

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: But He Doesn't Know (That The Map Is Not) The Territory!: OK, so, Leonard and I were talking about The Music Man -- I grandly pronounced "it's about delusion, as every musical should be" -- and I asked for his take on one salesman's outraged wail, at the end of the opening number, "But he doesn't know the territory!" (Leonard, at a young age, memorized that particular choral spoken-word piece, "Rock Island," and can still recite great chunks of it.)

Leonard said: the other salesman has learned how to sell his goods via a system, and cannot stand that Hill does not follow that system. In order to serve a legitimate market that already exists, you have to know facts; the reality-based community assumes you have to be able to, say, assess how many buttonhooks the region will need. Hill, on the other hand, is creating a need.

While the soundtrack to The Music Man provides a listener with tremendous lyrical density (thus it's on heavy rotation for me when my favorite podcasts haven't updated), the songs do not actually cover the whole of the plot. Leonard reminded me that Hill swindles the townsfolk not by taking fraudulent orders for instruments and uniforms without delivering, but by promising that his amazing system can teach your kids to play music (spoiler: it can't).

Which caused me to realize that we are due for a Music Man parody in which "Professor" Hill brings a code school to town. "And instead of the romance with Marian, there's some other obstacle that keeps Hill in town, like, they genuinely start to care about local social justice issues," I mused.

"I can always tell when a plot becomes a Sumana Special Edition," Leonard said aloud.

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: Zines, Twister, & Distinctions: Zines: If you liked my zine about the animals who own bookstores and help each other out, I predict you will also like "Quill & Scroll", a zine that Brendan Adkins and I made together late last year. It focuses on a hedgehog who runs an all-night bookstore, and is a tribute to the Astoria Bookshop. I loved making it with Brendan; I encourage you to download and print it.

You may also be interested in Julia Evans's upcoming zine on strace.

Twister: This year's Festivids include two vids focusing on the 1996 movie Twister. I saw Twister on a date, as can now be told -- it was a date that I was keeping secret from my parents, with the guy who provided my first ever kiss. (I am tempted to go back and watch, now, movies that I originally saw on those handful of teenage dates, which would include Twister and Six Days, Seven Nights.) (And now I am trying to remember who in the world would have gone with me to Wag the Dog, Bulworth, and/or Primary Colors, or whether I saw them myself. Titanic I saw with Angel and my mom. I know I saw Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet by myself. I'm remembering seeing Air Force One in the theater with my parents and sister, and I'm trying to remember whether that's the last movie we all saw together in the theater, or whether my sister joined us for Life Is Beautiful in 1997.)

Anyway! Twister. I mainly remember two things about Twister. One is noticing that the opening title used the same typeface as Friends did. And the second is that for a few seconds, somewhere in the middle of the movie, a woman runs into the storm-chasers' workroom and yells something, and I sat astonished because she looked like me. I caught a glimpse of an Indian-American woman with short hair and a weird face and big eyeglasses, someone I had never seen before on the big or the small screen. I've looked at the cast and I can't find her. I wonder what I saw.

Polite, nice, kind, and good: wired discusses the distinctions, and metaphortunate discusses the role of practice. Recently Crystal Beasley said, "At the beginning of 2014 I resolved not to be nice. Helpful, loving, kind -- yes, but not nice for nice's sake." I realize now that "nice" goes into the bucket with "smart", "real", "normal", and a few other words I'm avoiding when talking with other people, because of all the assumptions they subsume. (My pal Sarah is doing similarly with "authentic.")


: Obedience, Akrasia, Hypocrisy, Resistance: So, let's say you have some dominant ethical norm, or law. For instance: copyright law, as it currently exists in the US and Europe.

Some people demonstrate obedience. They mean to follow this rule, and they do. This takes some diligence. Sometimes they find loopholes or hacks (such as the GNU Public License), but they obey.

Some people demonstrate akrasia. They mean to follow the rule, as they understand it, but they don't exercise enough diligence to obey well. I think a lot of folk copyright practice has an element of akrasia to it (people think it would be good to go through The Proper Channels but that feels too hard).

Some people demonstrate hypocrisy. They still think that, in general, people ought to follow that rule, but they've decided that they won't. Sony, a vocal anti-piracy company, allegedly infringed on copyright in software they shipped; this would be hypocrisy.

Some people demonstrate resistance. They articulate and obey an alternative ethical system, contradicting the dominant community norm. The Pirate Party and copyright abolitionists come to mind. Sometimes resisters don't find it safe to challenge these norms publicly or under their own names; perhaps you privately think copyright is bullshit and we should abolish the current system, and you refuse to feel guilty about infringing, but you don't dare say so publicly, and you hope you'll never be put into a situation where you're asked to participate in punishing someone else for infringing.

I know I haven't covered everything; as the saying goes, all models are wrong and some are useful. But if I notice someone breaking a rule, it's sometimes useful to me to understand whether they are experiencing akrasia, hypocrisy, or resistance. And I ought to remember that, from the outside, obedience and hypocrisy look the same.


(1) : Many Dreams Are More Elliptical: The other night I had a dream that ended with -- among other things -- a StairMaster upon whose steps sat gray blocks cast from the shape of Ayn Rand's legs, because Ayn Rand, while living, had taken the advice of her analyst and had forms of her legs taken. So you could slip your legs into the blocks and then work out.

I told a few friends about this and we realized that "Ayn Rand as fitness instructor" feels terrifyingly plausible. In my Atlas Shrugged AU, Dagny Taggart gets frustrated working at a 24-Hour Fitness and leaves for a Crossfit.


(1) : On Fear vs. Anxiety, Self-Determination, the Command Line, and Interlocutors and DX: At Hacker School we work on becoming better programmers, help each other become better programmers, and talk about that process. Here are some of the things I've said in that context.

On a Julia Evans post, "Fear Makes You A Worse Programmer":

Back to fear - this piece by Skud includes a bit of a horror story -- bad or missing code review led to a bad deploy which led a volunteer to drop out entirely, partly due to fear of messing up again. And here's a story where paranoia by management led to the firm going out of business.

....So the distinction de Becker makes [in The Gift of Fear] is that fear is your subconscious telling you about a genuine threat, because your intuition has put together the facts faster than your conscious self has -- whereas anxiety comes from the messages on the 10 o'clock news, racism, etc. Fear is a friend and anxiety is an interloper. If I were to use that framing, I would say that one characteristic of a mature programmer would be: she has a healthy sense of fear, and the reflex to mitigate scary risks ("we need to put this into version control NOW"), but she has control over anxiety ("people say C is hard to learn, maybe I'm not smart enough").

On choosing your own learning path:

I think you might like this reflective post by Ben Rosenbaum on "the moment in which I actually started to determine my education." (And a few current thoughts, by Indian students speaking to other Indians, that by implication say a lot about breaking expectations.) I try to be conscious of how others explicitly and implicitly guided me into certain achievement paths and avoid doing that with others, avoid making assumptions (so, for instance, I have retrained myself to avoid asking, "where did you go to college?").

On Philip Guo's post about "command line bullshittery" as a barrier to research:

I agree with Philip Guo so thoroughly, especially about the demoralizing effect of the gulf of execution, and that a leader should reduce the incidental complexity that slows down the people she's serving.

....As a card-carrying fan of Neal Stephenson's "How to Win Friends and Influence People^H^H^H^H^H^H^H In The Beginning Was The Command Line", and of [readings] on the usage and philosophy of Unix concentrating on the command line, I do not consider the command line bullshit. But Philip's right to consider the specifics of *getting research software installed and set up* as incidental complexity in the context of his students' substantive work. And that process takes place on the command line. It's like me calling the process of getting across town in Manhattan "L train bullshit"; it is good that the L train exists but arrrrgh.

On better ways to ask and answer code-related questions online (and the concept of a "yak trace," understanding the series of steps a person has taken to make something or debug a problem):

basically I think a yak trace emerges most easily in conversation with a generous interlocutor, whereas many fora online where people ask for help would prefer that help-requesters' initial speech act be delivered with the concision and throughput of a paramedic running alongside a gurney

....In my experience *building even the faintest of relationships* with the asker/user makes it a million times easier to ask the question. In IRC, for example, I've had tremendous success by *starting off saying* (roughly) "Hi [person's nickname]! I'm Sumana, [thing I do] and I live in NYC. Good to meet you, although sorry for the circumstances :/" [wait for reciprocation; most people will reciprocate by giving their name at least] "That problem sounds frustrating. Do you mind if I ask a couple diagnostic questions?" Now we are people together and not just Supplicant and Expert, and I can ask about the environment, and I can say something like "the approach you're using is sort of unusual so I want to check whether you're accidentally making it harder for yourself and there's an easier way to get the functionality you want :) " (although I can't remember the last time I had to literally explicitly say that; usually by this point they are open to talking about their process, their macro goal, etc.).

IMO the affordances of a lot of online tech-help-seeking spaces discourage this kind of necessary trust-building conversation.

In longer-term dev scenarios, understanding the user's underlying goals is a task that product managers and user experience designers have a lot of tools to do. Qualitative interviews. Ethnography. Market research. Looking at traffic stats and discovering/making funnels. IMO Val's insight about what the application developers really wanted was a user experience insight (some folks call it DX, Developer Experience, for stuff like this).

The API usability chapter in Greg Wilson's and Andy Oram's Making Software influenced my thinking thoroughly on this stuff.

Words, other than proper nouns and HTML, in this post that my in-browser spellchecker dislikes: bullshittery, arrrrgh, gurney, IRC, etc., IMO, affordances, tech-help-seeking, dev, stats, DX, API.


: It's On My Mind: So a few years ago, a friend of mine was at a party, and one of the people at that party was a laconic fella, a new boyfriend who hadn't met this group before. Eventually someone got around to asking him what he did for a living. He said something a bit general, about government service, yes, at the federal level, until someone said, "you're a G-man? With the FBI?"

"That's right," he said, briefly, with a small nod.

Someone speculated as to whether he was in New York City because he was concerned with things like the security of the Indian Point nuclear power facility.

"It's on my mind," he replied.

And someone else told a story of a cop or a federal agent, losing their gun while on the job.

"That's frowned upon," he noted.

Ever since then, Leonard and I have found this triad of answers endlessly entertaining. These are polite yet distant ways of giving answers in the affirmative, the negative, and the noncommital.

That said, here are some links that are on my mind (whether I think they're right or frowned upon will be your guess to make!):

Transparency about money: a fiction author, a public speaker, and a publisher are sharing real dollar amounts so you know what you might be getting into. You might also enjoy a similar HOWTO that Leonard and I wrote, about making a one-off anthology.

Disagreeing well: This distinction between task-focused and relationship-focused people (which may be very similar to Rands's organics and mechanics model or my engineer and mother leadership models) will stick with me.

Transformative work and the origins of abuse: In an interview about Jo Walton's new book The Just City, check out Walton's response to the interviewer's question, "Why have Apollo learn about 'equal significance and volition'?"

Catwoman: chaila and beccatoria are telling me to read Genevieve Valentine's run writing Catwoman and I may well listen to them.

"Everything is a bit orange for some reason": I can't decide whether Holly Gramazio's hilarious analysis of games in fiction (e.g., the futuristic sports in dystopia movies) has more insights or jokes, but there are plenty of both.

Impostor syndrome tips: Concrete steps you can take to stop automatically assuming you can't do stuff.

What are you willing to consider?: Danny linked to this piece which I think stands alone (seeing as I haven't read the Chait piece it's responding to (and every time I see Chait's name I think of "TBWA Chiat/Day" and the old Apple ads)). This controversy touches on trust, courage, groupthink, the purposes of different environments and different kinds of environments, how quantity can have a quality all its own, the attention economy, and a zillion other things. Put this in the "on my mind" bucket.

Techish things: Hound is a new competitor to DXR. You should enable automatic updates on your servers. A Python developer is offering code review in exchange for donations to Doctors Without Borders. Learning to sit with discomfort: part of yoga, part of life. Changing history (advanced Git). The Mailman project wants to switch translation platforms. A gentle primer on reverse engineering.

The dream factory, the sausage factory: A television writing room feels a bit like the opening of Anathem (Socratic questioning about scifi/fantasy tropes).

Popular: I'm using Dreamwidth as my RSS reader. Check out the popular feeds, ranked by how many DW users subscribe. The top 10 feeds include the Organization for Transformative Works, Cake Wrecks, & PhD Comics. Also, as a data point, at current writing, the feed for this very blog has more subscribers than Paul Krugman's feed has.

Finally, because I have my immature moments like anyone else: A Project Gutenberg find by Leonard: "Diary of Richard Cocks, Cape-Merchant in the English Factory in Japan, 1615-1622" pub. 1882. (It's legitimately historically interesting .... but that's not what caught my attention at first.)

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: Four Reasons To Apply (Soon) To Run The Ada Initiative: I'm the chair of the Ada Initiative Executive Director search committee, which means it's my name on the announcement we posted about six weeks ago: "The Ada Initiative is growing! Announcing our search for a new Executive Director".

Ada Lovelace We've received applications and expect to receive more, and it's not too late to apply, although we have already started processing our first "batch" of applicants. I thought it would be nice to dash off a quick note about some reasons to apply that you might not have thought of.

The board of directors is pretty great. I'm on it! Very thoughtful people with tons of experience and different perspectives are on it. We would help you make decisions.

The advisors: also great! Again, the quality and quantity of insight available to advise the ED is impressive. I've been on the Advisory Board for years and we have amazing conversations.

You're coming into something that's already working. Check out what TAI did in 2014, and look at the over-the-top success of the 2014 fundraising drive (over 1100 donors gave over $206,000, passing the original goal of $150,000). This ain't no glass cliff or turnaround job; you would be coming in already set up to succeed.

Sustainability includes making sure the ED doesn't burn out. Scroll down to the details in the job post. The hours: 40 hours per week, and we really mean that. Look at the leave (time off) provisions. Your board and your employees and contractors all know that you need rest and relaxation in order to be at the top of your game, and we've built that into the organization at a structural level.

If you're going to apply, please apply soon so the search committee can see how awesome you are even sooner! Thanks!


(2) : "Trade Me" and Courtney Milan: Today I snarfled up Trade Me, a new contemporary romance novel by Courtney Milan. It stars a Chinese-American woman studying computer science at UC Berkeley. It's about class and classism, deconstructing the Prince Charming/billionaire trope in romantic fiction, Bay Area tech, ally fails, how to deal with cops, authenticity and adaptation, safety and freedom, trust, parents, and work. And one of the main secondary characters is trans, and all the physicality in the relationship is super consensual, and there is a kind-of reference to Cake Wrecks, and (maybe only I see it) to Randall Munroe's "What If?" blog. I link it thematically to Jo Walton's The Just City, Ellen Ullman's The Bug, and the good parts of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. It's pretty great. (ROT13'd trigger warnings that are spoilers: qvfbeqrerq rngvat naq gur arne-qrngu bs n cnerag.)

I'd heard a bit about Milan before via metaphortunate and rachelmanija and enjoyed the Ask A Man blog, but hadn't gotten around to reading a novel by her yet. Then I heard that Trade Me would star someone who sounds far more like me than a lot of protagonists do, and decided it was time to try out this whole ebook-reading thing. Glad I did!

I know more and more romance authors are writing books with protagonists like me these days, not just Milan, and I should check them out. (Milan, like me, likes Zen Cho, and she further recommends another lawyer romance author, Julie James. According to Milan, James "writes ladies who unapologetically have careers and who care about those careers and don't have to sacrifice them in a fit of self-immolating pain at the end of the book." Hurray!) But I'm going to dwell a moment on how fascinating I find Milan in particular.

First off is the software thing. She wrote and wants people to reuse a chunk of GPL'd software to autogenerate links to a particular book at multiple bookstores. Also she used to use Gentoo. Of course she gives her readers permission to strip DRM from their copies of her books. Basically I would not be surprised if there is super flirty pair programming or a double entendre in a bash script in a future Milan book.

Her FAQ goes into more detail on what she does and why. She's neurodiverse, she encourages fanfic, and she has interesting ideas about the romance genre, diversity, and pay.

She brings an analytical approach to all aspects of her work (informed by her past as a chemist, programmer, and lawyer), and is willing to frankly and transparently talk about circumlocutions and the ways powerful systems, organizations and people -- deliberately or inadvertently -- suppress free speech. As a woman of color ("half-Chinese" in her words) she's also especially aware of the importance of writing fictional representations of women of color in STEM, and of fixing broken standards that lead to unequal representation.

If you are into legal minutiae you might enjoy her post on impotence and annulment; even if you aren't, you might like to see her hypothesize a bit about Regency vase cartels. I totally want to attend the workshop she did providing "a very broad overview of how people thought about property throughout history. When she writes historical romance, she writes people who could have existed as outliers; "I import modern morals into my historical romances. In my mind, that's a feature, not a bug."

Since a great "Must Pleasures Be Guilty?" WisCon panel I did in 2010, I've been particularly interested in new perspectives on the stigmatizing of intentionally pleasurable entertainment, and Milan's "The stigma of happy (a rant)" provides! Milan respects pleasure as a good and, in her work, aims to illustrate the work it takes to get to happy. She can snark about the "shame" of reading something pleasurable (and her fake book covers are spot-on), but she can also go deeper and show that another world is possible, one where we can have healthy, respectful conversations about women's sexual desires.

Milan and I are both geeky feminist Asian-American women who went to Cal and are interested in law, writing, and programming. Trade Me cost USD$3.99 (ebook); I can't put a price on what it feels like to read fiction meant for me, by someone who's only a few alternate universes away from me.

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: Programmers Who Then Do Something Really Different: I recently learned that Courtney Milan, a romance author who's worked as a lawyer and programmer (much like sci-fi author Ken Liu), has also written some ecommerce-related PHP code and released it under the GPL, which makes my day.

I try to keep a mental list of people who have done substantial programming or computer science work and then taken their expertise to a very different field of endeavor, such as music, activism, electoral politics, or fiction writing. We're used to hearing about programmers moving into tech management (including founding startups or managing open source communities) or teaching engineering, but I like to remember that programmers also run for Congress and write TV shows.

The list goes on and on (and I am oversimplifying labels here and leaving a zillion people out -- this is just some people I have heard of):

  • Randall Munroe, cartoonist
  • Vienna Teng, musician
  • Jonathan Coulton, musician
  • Ken Liu, fiction author
  • Charles Stross, fiction author
  • Darcy Burner, Congressional candidate & activist
  • Seth Schoen, activist
  • Vernor Vinge, fiction author
  • Ellen Ullman, fiction author
  • Ryan North, cartoonist
  • Neal Stephenson, fiction author
  • John O'Neill, fiction editor
  • Naomi Novik, fiction author
  • Kristofer Straub, cartoonist
  • Leonard Richardson, fiction author
  • probably Jerry McNerney, Congressional Representative
  • Jane Espenson, screenwriter
  • Courtney Milan, fiction author
  • Ken MacLeod, fiction author
  • Zoe Keating, musician
  • Kathy Sierra, horse trainer & interdisciplinary educator
  • Mel Chua, education researcher
  • James Vasile, lawyer
  • Valerie Aurora, activist
  • Mary Gardiner, activist
  • Danny O'Brien, activist
  • Aaron Swartz, activist
  • Diana Gabaldon, fiction author
  • Luis Villa, lawyer
  • Jamie Zawinski, nightclub owner
  • Fureigh, musician
  • Danni (friend of mine), bike mechanic
....

This is trivia, and I am temperamentally suited to accumulating trivia. But I also like remembering that everyone I meet may have skills I don't immediately see. This bartender, that full-time parent, the candidate for city council whose junk mail I just got -- this might be the second or third or fourth career for any of them, and if we got to talking, maybe we'd all get super animated as we told stories about hilarious bugs.


: Catching Yourself: Friday night, on a date with my husband, when it came up in a conversation about class and geography and family, I tried to remember his ex's name and couldn't.

Earlier today, talking with a friend about the layers of MediaWiki's infrastructure, I momentarily forgot the term "Gadgets."

Nothing else quite like that moment, realizing that when you weren't looking, your mental neighborhood changed, and you changed with it.


: Unlocking The Funhouse (Mirror): In technology (as in many communities), capitalism makes it hard for us to understand what we're good at. A few source texts, and then a sketch of some contours.

  1. The "No true Scotsman" fallacy.
  2. Shweta Narayan on category structure, cognition, and side effects.

    We tend to have this idea that categories, like "bird" or "food" (or like "human" or "white", which is what this is all really about) are like solid boxes. Entities are either in them or out of them, with a clear and unchanging boundary, and everything inside is an unsorted & equal jumble, and everything outside ditto.

    This notion gets strongly underscored by our cultures, so it can be hard to ... er... unpack. But the fact is, cognitive categories aren't actually like boxes. They have internal structure, and fuzzy boundaries (which people can draw in different places, and move depending on context), and these things matter hugely in how we think about and deal with oppression....

    we need to be aware of category-centrality as well as membership....


  3. Huckleberry Finn, specifically:

    "All right, then, I'll GO to hell"--and tore it up.

    The nuance I still ponder is: Huck doesn't say his way is right. He decides he's wrong but he's going to do it anyway. He decides to be a hypocrite. He does not see himself as articulating a new consistent ethical framework under which he is morally right; he is accepting the status and the consequences of his actions in the religious framework everyone's taught him, but he decides not to let that get in the way of what he feels compelled to do. It's a different kind of resistance.

    I heard an echo of this moment in "The Rundown Job" (Leverage, S05E09), when a government official tries to get Eliot, who used to do wetwork, to leave the Robin Hood-type vigilante outfit he's with now:

    Colonel Vance: The world can always use more good guys.
    Eliot: Yeah, well, too bad we're the bad guys.

  4. "Why Job Titles Matter To Me", a piece I wrote last year.
  5. Deb Chachra on discomfort with the identity "maker" and the primacy of "making".

    I educate. I analyse. I characterize. I critique. Almost everything I do these days is about communicating with others. To characterize what I do as 'making' is either to mistake the methods -- the editorials, the workshops, the courses, even the materials science zine I made -- for the purpose. Or, worse, to describe what I do as 'making' other people, diminishing their own agency and role in sensemaking, as if their learning is something I impose on them.

  6. "MDN MozFest outcomes: self-teaching", a summary by Jeremie Patonnier that said one of the tools that self-directed learners most want is "Tools to measure/evaluate one's level of knowledge."

You may not be able to tell from this blog that I, like many people in tech, do experience self-assessment vertigo. Software engineering includes a zillion skills (it's clearly not just computer science) and no one knows all of them. We're so bad at assessing who's good at what that we end up pronouncing that the only way to tell whether someone is "good" is to work with them, or we use "culture fit", personal recommendations, and other easier-to-grasp handles as lossy proxies. The bizarre informational distortion of the job market makes it even harder to get a clear picture of one's own skills, "objectively" and relative to others. Even if, like me, you are not currently looking for a job as a programmer!

Outside of academia and Hacker School, the primary way I hear people talk about technical skill assessment is in relation to the job market or job titles. (And even in academia it's early days yet in teaching software engineering.) In open source we sometimes make one-time assessments as to whether individual people are ready to become maintainers, but other than that, the discourse I hear is about matching candidates with paid employment, and so we assess ourselves and each other in terms of potential job titles.

Just as there is no inherent genre to books (the "genre" of a book is a way to market it to the readers who would like it) there is no inherent category "backend engineer" or "business analyst" etc. That's just a convenient name that we have socially constructed to kind of correspond to a set of skills. (And so the goalposts move so easily it's as though they're on casters freshly sprayed with WD-40 by someone shouting "But no true hacker...")

Within individual organizations, there's some consistency in what a particular job title means. But the job descriptions the public sees are often wishlists that don't distinguish between "desired" and "required" qualifications for a particular title. And a "hey you're interesting for position x" email from a recruiter gives us a data point, even if it's super wrong, and maybe even so wrong that it is demoralizing to candidates! ("Shit, the only recruiters who reach out to me are so dumb and desperate that they don't count" or "Crap, I still look like a foo instead of a bar".) We get a lot of noise mixed in with the data.

My particular set of skills does not correspond to any particular well-known bucket, and I should not let that make me feel bad.

Buuut of course socially constructed things are real too! And it is useful to know whether I am correctly performing the role of "fullstack developer" or "devops expert" or "community manager", to know whether I can attract the particular kind of attention I want! And it's useful to know when I should say, "yes, according to the tech industry's dominant hierarchy, the work I enjoy and think is most important marks me as low-status, unintelligent, and ignorable. So what."

Even if I can get away from looking at myself as a good little worker bee, impostor syndrome and Dunning-Kruger both affect self-assessment. While I believe I am fighting both, it may be unavoidable that the only way to get better at self-assessing a skill is to get better at the skill in question, reflecting all along the way. Thus: a code review group. (Check out how I briefly describe my programming skill level in that post, by referring to what I can and can't do.) Thus: my Mailman work. Thus: blogging. Sketching out where I am so I can see where I've been. These points of data make a beautiful line.


(2) : My Mailman Adventure Continues: I have now submitted two merge proposals to Postorius, the administrative web UI that Mailman users will use to manage their list subscriptions and moderate messages. I've also submitted two pull requests to HyperKitty, the "archiver" web UI that Mailman users will use to browse list archives. (Launchpad calls my submissions "merge proposals", GitHub calls them "pull requests", old-school hackers call them "patches", and I call them "yay".)

I'm a lot more comfortable with Launchpad and Bazaar now. "Team branches" section of the Launchpad help, "Bazaar for Web Devs", and the test Launchpad site helped me get into the swing of things. I also got to use git cherry-pick and git rebase -i in the course of my work, which put a bit of swagger in my figurative stride.

At Wikimedia I deeply absorbed the lesson of internationalization and localization (i18n/l10n) -- you never hardcode strings in a user interface! Instead you call a messages store so you can present the translation of that string in the user's preferred language. So it came easily to me to make those kinds of improvements to Postorius and HyperKitty: going through the HTML templates, and marking phrases like "Previous email" with special syntax denoting them as messages to be translated.

I started off trying to use a regex to change or at least find all the user-visible strings, but that got super tiresome (edge cases, syntax, etc.), and I also ended up making a few grammar-type improvments along the way. So I got a lot of quality time in with emacs these past few days. I hadn't anticipated that systematically reviewing all the templates would give me such a thorough overview of HyperKitty and Postorius, but that was a nice side benefit as well. As I went, I noted the line numbers of some particularly confusing bits, so I can ask questions in IRC later.

I've done some wiki gardening and am thinking about what to do next. I'd like to be fixing some of HyperKitty's outstanding bugs, since HyperKitty's on the critical path for the 3.0 release, but I'm not sure which of them are still reproducible; many of the bugs were reported years ago. So it would make sense for me to triage those bugs, but to do that I'd need a working HyperKitty installation. There's an incompatibility between the latest HyperKitty code and the latest Mailman core code, so I'd have a bit of trouble setting up a test install. (That's also why the demo site is running an RPM based on the last git tagged version, which is not the most recent commit. I am glad that this helped me learn about tagging in Git!)

Since I haven't yet heard a similar "the master branch of Postorius doesn't install/run/integrate with Mailman master" pronouncement, and Postorius is also a web app whose readiness is a dependency for the Mailman 3 release, I'll try concentrating on that. My current plan is to set up an installation, pick another open bug no one else is working on, and try to fix it.


: Ruthanna Emrys, A Writer I Like: Are you reading the fantasy or science fiction of Ruthanna Emrys? I recommend it.

I found out via Ada Palmer's glowing review about "The Litany of Earth". This is your way into Emrys's work if you want stories about secrets, furtive faith, government mistakes, and the silenced Other from a well-known narrative. "The Litany of Earth" hits about two thirds of my "some things I like in fiction" list, especially "recognizing and even celebrating the work of underappreciated people."

Sometime later in 2014 I wandered across "Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land", which is a good place to start with Emrys if you like stories about religious communities, hospitality, fighting illness and drought, girls, women, and making friendships across boundaries. People familiar with fables or Judaism will get something extra out of the allusions. Among other things I like in fiction: "point-of-view character outwitting or outworking a terrifying antagonist."

Then yesterday I read "Exposure Therapy" (Part I, Part II). If you like fast-moving prose, Harry Potter/Global Frequency-style "you have been selected for a special secret mission" plots, good-faith cooperation, scientists, and phobia, check it out. It has "closely observed characters going through uncomfortable changes in life and identity," which I like, but the reason I particularly recommend it is that it hits with a whanging great mallet another of my favorite tropes: the (eventually triumphant) struggle to empathize with the Other.

All three of these stories are, in some way, about one of the most important themes in speculative fiction: empathy with the Other, especially if we get to see the struggle it takes to get it. (The power of that trope, by the way, is a big reason why the Star Trek: The Next Generation fable "Darmok" and Deep Space 9's "Duet" make us cry, and why Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus is genuinely readable.) The personal is political here; temperamentally and ideologically I want to treat others as I wish to be treated, respectfully, assuming good faith until counter-evidence arises, reciprocating with mutual aid, and inviting to join in common causes.

If her fiction is any guide, Ruthanna Emrys gets that. (Also, at a recent WisCon, she enjoyed the "Imaginary Book Club" panel that my friend and I originally conceived, so clearly she has good taste.) I look forward to reading more of her work!

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: Political Fanvids: Last week I saw a video about short online videos that critique film, or, as the narrator calls them, "video essays". (Content warning: includes Isla Vista killings video.) I was annoyed that the narrator said there weren't many such videos that take a political perspective challenging the original sources, so I sent him a bunch of links via Twitter. (Tweets: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.)

For specific examples of videos that criticize film(s) politically, I mentioned "Hey Ho", "...on the dance floor.", "How Much Is That Geisha In the Window", "The Price", "Handlebars", "Hourglass", "Women's Work", "Vogue", "It Depends on What You Pay", and "Thrift Shop" (notes). I also pointed Lee at some additional sources of recommendations: some "metavid" listings on Fanlore, the Museum of the Moving Image's 2013 "Cut Up" exhibit, the "vids with a message" playlist at a WisCon vid party, and vids-related communities on Dreamwidth. And I mentioned legal advocacy regarding fanwork, the history of vidding since 1975, and more resources for video scholars.

You can probably guess how I feel about a man being surprised that there's a bunch of relevant work, mostly by women, that he's overlooked.


: More Fanvids: I delved into the Festivids small fandom vid exchange archives (yay tags) and found some cool stuff to share.

Funny: a vid about The Thick of It emphasizing physical comedy and incompetence.

New perspective: "The Ballad of Wesley Crusher" (the vidder's notes point out that young Wesley's fascination with exploration and discovery "gets translated into an adoration for Starfleet, which is exactly the wrong place for him").

Tearjerkers: women's friendship in Community and Parks & Recreation (and check out the discussion of characterization of women in the comments); a vid about an Indian women's sports movie I have never seen and now want to; the triumph of Leslie Knope; the loyalty of Gromit to Wallace; courage in Apollo 13.


: A Few Technical Talks I've Really Liked:

Someone at Hacker School asked people to list programming/technical talks they'd liked, and to include links, context, description, and what makes it great. I said:

  • A Dozen Databases in 45 Minutes -- audio (click "Download audio of this session"), liveblog. You are a developer confused about what data storage tool to use. If your understanding of data storage tops out at "Mongo is webscale" or "mysql + memcached = win"; then this talk is for you." So the speaker gives a whirlwind tour of several database management systems, including the first explanation of why you'd give up consistency for performance that has ever made sense to me!

  • Cache me if you can: memcached, caching patterns and best practices -- slides, video. You are a developer who has heard that you should cache things and has worked on systems that have deployed to production. The speaker explains how memcached works, what it DOES NOT AND CANNOT do (I love that -- the use case is so much clearer to me now), and walks you through using it.

  • Python Epiphanies -- exercise, video. You are a Python developer who's written a few thousand lines of code, cumulatively, and you aren't clear on what decorators, iterables, partials, generators, and/or namespaces really are, or when/how to use them. This tutorial walks you through those. I had lightbulb moments here around how most things I'm used to doing in Python are syntactic sugar over double-underscore-methods, and I am more comfortable understanding and using the features I mentioned. (Also check out "Loop Like a Native" for more similar enlightenment.)

  • Freedom, Security, and the Cloud -- slides. You have to deploy code in the cloud and sometimes you pay cloud platform/hosting providers, and you want to understand the current security/privacy/sovereignty threats and solutions. The speaker gives you a clear (if chilling) understanding of the current systems and their vulnerabilities, and what we can do to mitigate risk, while also being super funny. Audio will be available someday soon.

  • Fundraising: Under the Hood -- video. You are a Wikipedia editor or reader who has seen those fundraising banners; you want to understand the system that displays those banners, interacts with payment gateways so donors can donate in a zillion currencies and countries, prevents fraud, double-checks the accounting with payment processors, and notifies everyone of everything. I like that the speaker demonstrates why and how a big system works by helping you see all the problems that the components solve.

  • Wikimedia Foundation January 2014 site performance update -- video starts ~37 minutes in?, slides. Context: you are a Wikimedia Foundation worker or Wikimedia volunteer who wants to understand why we should prioritize the speed of site response. I like the way the speaker contextualizes the importance of the work and helps less technical people understand terminology.

  • Designing Poetic APIs -- video, slides. You are a developer who sometimes has to create APIs or libraries, and you'd like a framework for the decisions you have to make. The speaker gives you useful principles with good and bad concrete examples for each.

An incomplete list for sure! I would love for other people to publish similar lists on their blogs. And I try to do similar things in my speeches, in case that is helpful.

Also, I wish these speeches had transcripts. So I have posted on the Transcripts for Everyone! community to request that!


: Signs And Language: I spent the summer of 2001 in Russia, where I saw this movie theater advertising Pearl Harbor with Ben Affleck (the banner, transliterated) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (the marquee, translated). If you don't yet know Cyrillic, maybe you can use this to learn the letters "f", "p", "l", and "r"! Also during this period I saw a transliteration of "Erin Brockovich" (which looks very wrong and should be "Erin Brockovna") and a translation of "X-Men" (as "People X").

A few years later, in southern India, I saw that enterprising advertisers were giving away (read: affixing to homeowners' gates) "No Parking" signs ... that is, small metal sheets printed with 90% ad, 10% "No Parking". The ad I photographed particularly confused the issue by proclaiming: "Healthy & Tasty cooking oil: No cholesterol / No trans-fat / No parking".


: Hacking on Mailman using Launchpad and Bazaar: I am starting to hack on Mailman, per my plan for early 2015 -- and along the way, I'm also learning how to use Launchpad and Bazaar.

Mailman

To quote maintainer Barry Warsaw's architectural overview, "GNU Mailman has been around since the early 1990s, when John Viega wrote the first version to connect fans with the nascent Dave Matthews Band, the members of which he was friends with in college." DAVE MATTHEWS BAND! I think this is amazing.

The developers just released 3.0 beta 5, Warsaw saying the 3.0 release is "really quite close now". As steering committee member Terri Oda explained and as Warsaw detailed when announcing the first beta of Mailman 3 in April 2014 (and in the architectural overview), the new suite has some cool new abstractions and a bunch of great new functionality.

Here are some pages I've found helpful while diving in. (Many are outdated; when the wiki conversion finishes up, I hope to do some gardening and updating.)

I've also enjoyed reading Warsaw's blog, and learning more about the weird ways of ISPs and email providers. As one exchange on the Mailman support list went:

This morning all of my subscribers with aol addresses were automatically unsubscribed from my list.
Why today? I thought all the DMARC issues had been resolved in the latest mailman version, and it's been 8 months now since the changes at AOL.

--Any suggestions?

AOL has been having serious delivery problems. It's not just you.

My suggestion would be to sigh wearily and add the subscribers back in.

Launchpad

Mailman developers host their code, do code review, and track bugs on Launchpad, which Canonical runs.

I'm more familiar with Gerrit, Bugzilla, Trac, FogBugz, and GitHub, but I know Launchpad some. A few years ago, I wrote an overview of how Launchpad developers review each other's code, including the "merge proposal" concept (very roughly like a pull request; example). And I have used the bug tracker in the past -- it's similar to other bug trackers. So I have already been a tourist in Launchpad, which makes it easier to jump in as an expat. I'm still working on understanding the interaction of series, milestones, and releases with branches.

(I am very lucky in that I have a spouse who used to develop Launchpad itself (specifically the API) whom I can ask plaintively for help.)

You can create a test project on staging -- I will be doing this to learn Launchpad and Bazaar better. By the way, the RSA fingerprint (for when you upload or download code via the command line) changes, possibly every week when they wipe test data, and there's no place to verify that fingerprint.

Launchpad works best hand-in-hand with....

Bazaar

Canonical created Bazaar, a distributed version control system, several years back. I hadn't used it before starting to work on Mailman.

Again, I'm lucky -- Leonard worked in Bazaar for years (I am rather better than he is at git, so here's where the tables turn).

Some Bazaar resources (I have not looked at all these yet):

I am overcoming the differences between Bazaar ("bzr") and Git, but slowly. For instance: in Git, when you clone a repository, you're also getting all the branches. In contrast, with Bazaar, you download each branch separately, and they go into separate directories. For instance, if you want the foo and bar branches of testproj, you'd make local directories to house them, like:

$ mkdir testproj
$ mkdir testproj/foo
$ mkdir testproj/bar

Also, to oversimplify, when you do a merge in Bazaar, Bazaar just cares about merging the diffs -- you won't necessarily get all the commits (and commit messages) from the other branch grafted onto your branch. Or at least this is what I've run into -- I'm working on it!


: Snapshots of Yesterday: A small gallery of photos from yesterday.

calculating how much donors had matched

And once I knew that Dreamwidth was about to donate $7,000 to complete my $15,000 matching challenge:

holding the envelope

beginning to mail the envelope

dropping the envelope into the mailbox

just mailed the check!

And then I called Christie and Kirsten and Reid, with hope and joy.

I am so grateful to Dreamwidth, to the 90+ donors who gave in this campaign, to the Stumptown Syndicate, to the advantages I've had that have allowed me the extra income that I could funnel into this cause, and to all of us who are working on these shared goals. Thank you.


: Five Things Make a Post:

Feminist joke

This morning, Leonard worked on making some cinnamon rolls. "It's really hard to find yeast," he said after venturing to our neighborhood shops. My instant reply: "Maybe you could use early money instead."

"Just drop some coins in some warm water?"

"Yeah, but they have to be from about 1800."

Lesser-Known Uniformed Services

Karnataka descendant Dr. Vivek Murthy got sworn in on his family's Bhagavad Gita to become the current United States Surgeon General. Go Kannadigas!

So, when I was younger, the most interesting thing about the Surgeon General was that the title pluralizes to "Surgeons General." Right now I think the most interesting thing is that the US Surgeon General oversees the "6,700 members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps" (which includes, like, dentists, veterinarians, and some engineers). There are five (official) branches of the US Armed Forces, but the federal government also has two additional uniformed services, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (history) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps.

And one place that these public health professionals learn is the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Where for about half USU's medical students, the first time they encounter military life is on campus (including wearing uniforms to class every day). On the other hand you have adults who have never lived in civilian housing before (as I interpret based on this "student housing" advice).

What a fascinating day-to-day atmosphere that must make. And speaking of atmosphere, yes, there is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps.

During the years before the First World War, all [Coast and Geodetic Survey] work was conducted by civilians even though shipboard personnel wore uniforms that were virtually indistinguishable from Naval uniforms. With the entry of the United States into the war in 1917, the commissioned service of the C&GS was formed in order to eliminate the anomalous condition that arose during the Civil War, which placed civilian assistants accompanying armed forces in jeopardy of being considered spies if captured by the enemy.
Fun fact: the NOAA is -- like the Census Bureau and the US Patent and Trademark Office part of the US Department of Commerce. Another fun fact: the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps rules for personal appearance and personal gear includes the word "Scrunchies".

Big Endeavor Changes

Someone I know as an open source community manager is leaving her job to go get a Ph.D. She'll be researching collaboration, innovation, and organizational learning in the Linux kernel community -- neat!

Someone I knew as a sociologist concentrating on organizational theory now works as an attorney for the US Department of Justice fighting organized crime and gangs. Wow!

Feminist poem

Feminists
Don't be shy
Take a look
And apply
The Ada Initiative is growing! Announcing our search for a new Executive Director

Blast From The Past

On New Year's Day a dozen years ago I shared a solution to an exercise from Gödel, Escher, Bach.


about Sumana Harihareswara

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