Cogito, Ergo Sumana
Sumana oscillates between focus and opportunity

: GeoGuessr and Its New Monuments Map: I think I am a casual gamer, in that during my adult life I have not felt the urge to play any computerized/video games as a sustained hobby. I've played them: Leonard and I have spent many an enjoyable evening with Super Mario Galaxy or Puzzle Fighter, I've enjoyed the odd hour of Tetris while listening to a podcast, I used Dance Dance Revolution and/or Wii Fit as an exercise routine for a few months, and I used Python Challenge to improve my Python skills during my first Recurse Center batch. But I haven't installed or played games on my laptop or phone.

So this morning, as my thumb aches, I give props to GeoGuessr.

GeoGuessr gives you a panorama from somewhere in the world -- sometimes you can move around, if the photo is from Google Street View -- and asks you to guess where you are on the world map. It's cool to play with someone who's been to different countries than you and speaks different languages than you do, so you can complement each other's skills. Even a cartographer from National Geographic sometimes can't guess well based on empty dirt roads; I am now curious to learn a bit more botany so I can go beyond "this biome is ... desert?"

Maybe you played it when it started in 2013. The developers have now added some cool new "maps". For instance, you can play among only New York City locations (Leonard and I made that more fun by adding the "turning and zooming is OK, moving is not" constraint). (GeoGuessr says you'll get to try the five different boroughs, but so far we've only gotten Manhattan locations.)

Perhaps the coolest map is the Famous Places map (example game), which we've now played several times. Talk about cheap travel. Sitting on our couch, we can visit so many beautiful monuments! I immediately recognized the Hermitage, and Leonard got the UK Houses of Parliament right away, and gosh, it was pretty to look at historic bits of Turkey and Greece and Italy. I love that GeoGuessr shows us countries we hadn't particularly thought of visiting, and shows us how cool it might be to go there. It's like Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? crossed with a friend's travelogue slideshow.

During normal play, sometimes GeoGuessr drops me into a residential suburb somewhere in the US, and then I feel like I am driving slowly through streets full of suspicious white people who are about to call the cops on the brown interloper in their midst. I am not casing your houses, driveway-havers! I am looking for any textual evidence at all for what state you live in! Could some of you start hanging state flags under the US flags on your flagpoles? That would help.

: How To Improve Bus Factor In Your Open Source Project: Someone in one of my communities was wondering whether we ought to build a new automated tool to give little tasks to newcomers and thus help them turn into future maintainers. I have edited my replies to him into the How To Build Bus Factor For Your Open Source Project explanation below.

In my experience (I was an open source community manager for several years and am deeply embedded in the community of people who do open source outreach), getting people into the funnel for your project as first-time contributors is a reasonably well-solved problem, i.e., we know what works. Showing up at OpenHatch events, making sure the bugs in the bug tracker are well-specified, setting up a "good for first-timers" task tag and/or webpage and keeping it updated, personally inviting people who have reported bugs to help you solve them, etc. If you can invest several months of one-on-one or two-on-one mentorship time, participate in Google Summer of Code and/or Outreachy internship programs. If you want to start with something that's quantitative and gamified, consider using Google Code-In as a scaffold to help you develop the rest of these practices.

You need to quickly thank and give useful feedback to people who are already contributing, even if that feedback will include criticism. A fast first review is key, and here's a study that backs that up. Slide 8: "Most significant barrier to engaging in onramping others is unclear communications and unfriendly community. Access to the right tools has some effect." Slide 26:

"Contributors who received code reviews within 48 hours on their first bug have an exceptionally high rate of returning and contributing.
Contributors who wait longer than 7 days for code review on their first bug have virtually zero percent likelihood of returning.
Showing a contributor the next bug they can work on dramatically improves the odds of contributing."
(And "Github, transparency, and the OTW Archive project" discusses how bad-to-nonexistent code review and bad release management led to a volunteer dropping out of a different open source project.)

In my opinion, building bus factor for your project (growing new maintainers for the future) is also a solved problem, in that we know what works. You show up. You go to the unfashionable parts of our world where the cognitive surplus is -- community colleges, second- and third-tier four-year colleges, second- and third-tier tech hubs, boring enterprise companies. You review code and bug reports quickly, you think of every contributor (of any sort) as a potential co-maintainer, and you make friendly overtures to them and offer to mentor them. You follow OpenHatch's recommendations. You participate in Google Summer of Code and/or Outreachy internship programs.

Mentorship is a make-or-break step here. This is a key reason projects participate in internship programs like GSoC and Outreachy. For example, Angela Byron was a community college student who had never gotten involved in open source before, and then heard about GSoC. She thought "well it's an internship for students, it'll be okay if I make mistakes". That's how she got into Drupal. She's now a key Drupal maintainer.

paper curlicues and other papercraft surrounding a copy of Norbert Wiener's Cybernetics Dreamwidth, an open source project, started with two maintainers. They specifically decided to make the hard decision to slow down on feature development, early on, and instead pay off technical debt and teach newcomers. Now they are a thriving, multimaintainer project. "dreamwidth as vindication of a few cherished theories" is perhaps one of my favorite pieces on how Dreamwidth did what it did. Also see "Teaching People to Fish" and this conference report.

Maintainers must review code, and that means that if you want someone to turn into a maintainer in your project, you must help them learn the skill of code review and you must help them get confident about vetoing and merging code. In my experience, yes, a good automated test suite does help people get more confident about merging changes in. But maintainers also need to teach candidates what their standards ought to be, and encourage them (many contributors' first thought when someone says "would you want to comaintain this project with me?" is "what? me? no! I'm not good enough!"). Here's a rough example training.

If you want more detailed ways to think about useful approaches and statistics, I recommend Mel Chua's intro to education psychology for hackers and several relevant chapters in Making Software: What Really Works and Why We Believe It, from O'Reilly, edited by Greg Wilson & Andy Oram. You'll be able to use OpenHub (formerly Ohloh) for basic stats/metrics on your open source project, including numbers of recent contributors. And if you want more statistics for your own project or for FLOSS in aggregate, the open source metrics working group would also be a good place to chat about this, to get a better sense of what's out there (in terms of dashboards and stats) and what's needed. (Since then: also see this post by Dawn Foster.)

We know how to do this. Open source projects that do it, that are patient with the human factor, do better, in the long run.

: My Eulogy for Nóirín Plunkett: A few hours ago, I spoke at Nóirín's memorial service. This is what I said (I am sure I varied the words a bit when I read it).

My name is Sumana Harihareswara, and I will always remember Nóirín's compassion, insight, and bravery.

They were brave to publicly name and fight back against wrongs done against them -- by members of the open source community -- wrongs done against them and others; I think it is not exaggerating to say that their bravery galvanized a movement. Our open technology community owes them a debt that can never be repaid.

We also benefited tremendously from their insight. Nóirín had just started a new role at Simply Secure, one that combined their expertise in open stuff with their writing and coordinating skills, and their judgment and perspective. And before that, when they worked as a project manager for the Ada Initiative, I had the privilege of working closely with Nóirín; I am grateful for that, but of course now I know what I'm missing, what we're all missing, because I had the chance to see, every day, their diligence and insight and discretion and judgment and empathy, and compassion. Some of us lead like engineers, by making systems that scale; some of us lead like nurturers, cultivating relationships and trust with emotional labor. Nóirín was brilliant at both of those, and I wish I could have decades more to learn from them, and toss around more ideas and frameworks.

The last time I saw Nóirín was at WisCon, a feminist science fiction convention in May. One morning I came down the hotel stairs and saw them seated against a wall, crying, sobbing, because Ireland had just passed a referendum legalizing same-sex marriage. They were so happy that their friends and loved ones and everyone back home were now freer to marry and have their families recognized that they'd gotten a glass of champagne from the hotel restaurant, at maybe eight in the morning, to celebrate. They felt deeply the joy and suffering of others.

Nóirín, I miss you, and I will try to live up to the example you set. Thank you.

: The John Morearty Video Archive: A few years ago, as my old mentor John Morearty was dying, he named me one of his two literary executors. We (and John's widow) had some other commitments to finish before we could start making real headway on this work, but this summer we all got together and got started. I spent a few weeks in Stockton and we sorted papers and made plans. Jeanne and I aim to make his essays, poems, syllabi, and research available on a comprehensive website (including both photographic scans of documents and the text of those documents), and to editorially select some of his writings to turn into one or more books.

It looks like the VHS tapes of his cable access TV show are in good enough condition that we don't have to go through a preservation process, and can instead have the Internet Archive digitize and post them directly. Here's the John Morearty video archive at It includes a description that John wrote:

My TV documentaries shine the light on people who are doing precious work in this valley: cleansing the waters, farming renewably and profitably, restoring the cities, rescuing addicts with tough love, teaching the young who are in danger of going astray. My microphone hears public officials, millionaire developers, physician acupuncturists, university professors, chicken farmers, judges, ex-cons, volunteer moms, teachers and their students, old soldiers, young kids. Wisdom is where you find it; as Gandhi says, every person's life experience teaches them something that others need to hear.

"Talking It Through" points to problems and analyzes them, and portrays creative solutions which are happening right now. But the camera also savors the beautiful people and places around us, imperiled though they be. Human beings do not live by good action plans alone. We are moved to action by delight in beauty, and the hope of more of it. I try to evoke delight and hope, so viewers will be moved to act.

So far it contains one video, the test tape that Internet Archive digitized first: a recording of a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration in Lodi, California on January 15, 2002. John's in there, around 10:00 to 11:30.

If all goes well, that video collection will grow to a few hundred recordings: independent community media, amplifying voices that often get silenced. I'm grateful that I can help preserve the legacy of an activist who mentored me and who modeled values I still try to live by.

Along the way I am becoming an amateur archivist. I don't know how long this project will take, and I will try to blog interesting bits along the way.

: Memorial Service Details:

A nondenominational memorial service for Nóirín Plunkett will be tonight, August 3, at 6:30pm, in Cambridge, Massachusetts (word had been publicized on Twitter and All who knew Nóirín are invited. I will be there.

: On Nóirín Trouble Plunkett's Death: I was devastated today to learn of the death of my friend Nóirín Plunkett.

This is a terrible thing and I am still shocked and saddened to learn of their death. (Per their profile, please follow their pronoun preferences and use "they".)

Some things to know about them:

Their bold honesty about being sexually assaulted at an open source software event moved us to action; it helped spark the creation of the Ada Initiative.

As Geek Feminism's wiki documents, they were facing tremendous legal bills because of a legal conflict with an ex.

They had just started a new role at Simply Secure, one that combined their open tech expertise with their writing and coordinating skills and their judgment and perspective.

When I was volunteering on the search for the Ada Initiative's new Executive Director, I worked closely with Nóirín and could always count on their wisdom, compassion, and diligence. I am so grateful, now, that I had a chance to collaborate with them -- I had hoped to work with them again, someday, in some organization or other.

One of the last times I saw them, they were crying with happiness over the passage of the Irish same-sex marriage referendum.

I don't want to end this entry because there is no ending that can do justice to them.

: Slides & Code from HTTP Can Do That?!:

a bespoke header in an HTTP response My slides are up, as is demonstration code, from "HTTP Can Do That?!", my talk at Open Source Bridge last month. I am pleased to report that something like a hundred people crowded into the room to view that talk and that I've received lots of positive feedback about it. Thanks for help in preparing that talk, or inspiring it, to Leonard Richardson, Greg Hendershott, Zack Weinberg, the Recurse Center, Clay Hallock, Paul Tagliamonte, Julia Evans, Allison Kaptur, Amy Hanlon, and Katie Silverio.

Video is not yet up. Once the video recording is available, I'll probably get it transcribed and posted on the OSBridge session notes wiki page.

I've also taken this opportunity to update my talks and presentations page -- for instance, I've belatedly posted some rough facilitator's notes that I made when leading an Ada Initiative-created impostor syndrome training at AdaCamp Bangalore last year.

2015 August

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