Cogito, Ergo Sumana

picture of Sumana's head

Sumana Harihareswara's journal


: As The Saying Goes, I'm Part Of The Precipitate: Tonight, I'm gonna attend my local Community Board meeting, which will include an MTA presentation on the Astoria Boulevard ADA & Station Renewal project. (I hope that, after the meeting, I can hang out with other locals and toast to the end of the Amazon HQ2 giveaway.) I wondered aloud to Leonard: how will people at the meeting use the Astoria Boulevard station closure as a demand for more parking spots? (The members of my local community board mostly own homes and cars, and are far more interested in the alleged lack of parking in Western Queens than I am.)

The easy answer is: the MTA is closing a station for renovations, so more people will have to drive, so they'll say we'll need more parking spots. But: who should be responsible for providing that parking, and how? Some satirical answers we came up with:

  • The MTA, by magically creating more parking on Astoria Boulevard
  • Auto manufacturers -- after all, didn't they cause the problem in the first place?
  • The MTA, by letting car owners hitch their cars to the end of subway trains
  • Wesley Crusher, who does not need parking himself and should use his Traveller powers to transport people and cars around
  • The city, which should allow buildings to zone far higher into their airspace and build parking garages into the troposphere
  • The city, which should adopt a form of "congestion pricing" where if you are congested you need to pay extra to enter Manhattan -- this would also have a side benefit of reducing infectious disease. If you already live in Manhattan? You can't leave your home -- the "achoo curfew".

I do not recommend anyone do any of these things. I do recommend you joke about parking-hungry community boards.

Also if you can figure out how to make a good joke combining the Lisp function cdr and the fact that we should lengthen the G train, do make it somewhere and let me know.

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: My Open Data Quest, Part ... 11?:

pen and ink sketches of decorative moldings in NYC Council chamberOn Tuesday night, I attended a committee meeting of the NYC council's Committee on Technology at City Hall (another view) and gave a bit of public comment (video -- my testimony is 02:05:03 till 2:09:11, then there's some back and forth between me & other folks 2:14:22-2:17:12).

Background:

Back in 2017 I was following the "algorithmic transparency" conversation in NYC and even ended up speaking before this same committee.

A friend and I thought that Tuesday's meeting would be about the Automated Decisionmaking Systems Task Force that resulted from those 2017 discussions, but turned out to be less about that and more about the Commission on Public Information and Communication and oversight of open data-y things in general.

Sumana Harihareswara speaking into a microphone at Technology Committee meeting on 12 Feb 2019So I decided to give public comment and say a few things, such as noting that it would be nice to have more info about how the ADS task force is going -- the website lets us submit comment right now electronically, but will there be any public hearings before it delivers its findings in December?

And I noted that I'd submitted a request through the open data portal in late 2017, and then it got closed with no reason, and I'd like to use the PAD dataset to find AED deserts in NYC and help prevent deaths from cardiac events.

pen and ink drawings of 'A Government of the people, by the people, for the people - Lincoln' plaque, Greek-style column, decorative wall moldings, table with nameplates and microphones, and US flag, with scribbled notes I have never escalated a bug report while sitting in front of a microphone before, but it does seem to work, and now I have a number of people's business cards, and we've spoken a bit via email and phone, and my request is progressing along again.

(The hearing was about three hours long; I did a lot of sketching while listening, and share those illustrations here. Cross-hatching is an especially good way to occupy myself while listening to people say things I already know.)

My email to them read, in part:

I would like to map AED deserts in New York City so I can help local merchants decide to buy AEDs and register with the PAD program. (I can go into more detail on that if you'd like.) The most recent public map showing AED units in the PAD program in New York City, as far as I know, is in DOHMH's 2010 Report to City Council on LL20 of 2005, page 7, section 3.3. In case you cannot find it, I host a copy on my site: https://www.harihareswara.net/foi/nyc_dohmh_pad_2010.pdf

Jason and I discussed whether this particular line was a "flex" and/or a "power move," a discussion which necessitated some definitional work. I think a "flex" in current parlance is a brag, a boast. OK, so yes, then, this is a flex. What is a "power move"? I think it's an assertive choice that draws attention from others, claims dominance or demands respect in some unexpected way, upsets an unspoken rule and runs the risk of insulting others in order to efficiently pursue one's own desires. And -- if I gather correctly -- it's not solely a dominance display, but a means to some other purpose as well. But I genuinely don't know whether it is potentially insulting to say to a New York City government staffer, "in case you, a city staffer, have a hard time finding an obscure agency report from 9 years ago, here's a copy from me, a private citizen". So, maybe?

Let's see how this goes! It would be lovely if we could get more PAD coverage across NYC. And I hope the ADS task force has some interim status reports soon!


: Puns About Domain Names Are Kinda Par For The Course Around Here: I blearily woke this morning - Leonard was already up. I wished him a happy Valentine's Day.

"I think we really match. And in some sense, because we met online,* we met in e-harmony. And when I think of you, I say: OK, cupid."

He was definitely laughing by this point.

"But even though there are plenty of fish in the sea, I'm glad that we're consumating, that we ... something, something, spark, tinder ..... OK, I can't figure out how to work in JDate."

"Isn't that where Ashley Madison works?"

"Oh, that's good... wait! No! Not that one!"

He also offered to get me a "coffee and bagel" which reminded us of someone I met who showed me how the Coffee Meets Bagel app works. I had mentioned that I'd heard of the "bagel of the day" mechanic from the New York Times "Vows" section, and she'd replied, somewhat resentfully, that "Vows" is filled with people marrying their "bagel of the day". "Oh, it's The Ladders of dating apps," Leonard compared. (I'd also asked her: ok, if you have a "bagel of the day", and they have you as a "bagel of the day", then who's the coffee??!! She and I settled on the unsatisfying conclusion, "everyone is their own coffee".) We talked about how the "bagel of the day" seems to create temporal scarcity, to push the user to be more impulsive and go ahead and say yes.

"No, you have 24 hours to make a date, not to meet them -- how would that work? Like, you use NFC or Bluetooth and tap your phone to theirs? It's a dating app, not a scavenger hunt....I'm glad we're together, that we don't have to do the dating world, go through that grinder .... Grindr's actually even less appropriate to us than Ashley Madison."

Anyhow! My sympathies and best wishes to everyone today. I literally loathed Valentine's Day so much, as a teen, that I wrote an anti-Valentine's Day editorial every year, for all four years of high school, in my school paper, including one science fiction story where future kids marvel that back in the 20th century people had this awful destructive ritual. Now I have an old, familiar "grah" about it, plus a friend who works at a greeting card company and has to attend to battle stations all day.

So, whoever you are, I hope you get some laughs today and some unexpected delight, and, if you like puns, puns. More than the ones above, I mean.


* I met my partner online the old-fashioned way, by reading his blog.

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: Some Movies Are For Not-Me: I haven't really been keeping up with reviewing movies here. Some recent joys: I loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was astounding in its artistry and the marriage of story and virtuosic presentation. The Muppet Christmas Carol, which I'd never seen before I think, made me cry buckets and is an excellent adaptation of the Dickens! Won't You Be My Neighbor?, The Peacemaker, and Infinite Football are a sort of only-in-my-mind trilogy of documentaries about men's quests to improve some corner of our world.

But also: I've seen a few films recently for which I am perhaps not the target audience! Examples follow. Most of these were with Leonard so his film reviews are longer and more interesting.

  • The Jim Carrey film Man in the Moon about Andy Kaufman. Some quick impressions:

    1. The treatment of women in this movie, or in Kaufman's actual career, does not age well.
    2. Kaufman says he's not a comedian, but the ground he explored fed into areas people who comfortably call themselves comedians explore today, so I'm fine with including him under the comedian umbrella. Relatedly: I am currently impatient with people who "don't like labels" regarding the super-well-trodden work they do. You may be super uncomfortable with the fact that you are a comedian, an engineering manager, what have you. Deal with that discomfort instead of fleeing the truth.
    3. The fact that Kaufman meditated a lot is a hint that meditation, on its own and ripped out of any ethical framework, does not actually make someone a better or more loving person. If you use meditation as a technology to better separate yourself from illusions, you may just use it to be a better trickster.
    4. I also have, within me, the self-indulgent urge to mess with the audience, to confuse them and cause stirrings of unease. But, as Harry Josephine Giles points out, "Learning how to care for your audience is actually far more aesthetically interesting and politically disruptive than working out how to shock them."
  • Lilo & Stitch. This movie has multiple jerks in it, as protagonists, and does not sufficiently provide onscreen proof for assumptions that it assumes you'll go along with (e.g., the best way to make sure the orphaned child gets sufficient care).
  • Attack the Block. I think I saw this at the wrong time -- it was fresher when it came out, and I'd already seen films it influenced before I saw Block itself -- and it means more if you're steeped in the urban British context.
  • A Serious Man. A well-made depiction of certain kinds of agony.
  • Victoria & Abdul and Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, both of which seem to think the problem with the British oppression of India is that local subjects were deprived of a wholesome, classy, righteous queen (rather than, say, that Indians were deprived of representative democracy).
  • Beauty and the Beast, yes, the 1990s Disney animated blockbuster - I'd never seen it before. Wow, there are no men in this movie whom I would trust to buy 3 apples for me at the market.

There's more, I'm sure, but I don't want to go into a depressingly long list. I am not that much of a fiction author, and when I see people acting irresponsibly in fiction, I nearly physically want to reach into the screen and get them, like, therapy and a nap -- I want things that would make their lives better even if it would make the story worse.


: Socratic Questioning, Devil's Advocacy, and Conversational Power Tools: "Devil's advocate" was a job. In order for someone to perform the role of Devil's advocate, someone else had to appoint them to that position. And the Devil's advocate performed a bounded task within an established relationship with his debate opponent, towards the shared goal of a particular decision (whether to canonize someone).

Socratic questioning is a technique that a teacher uses with a student when both of them have agreed to that relationship. It includes a commitment by the teacher to the student's intellectual growth, and a variety of techniques in reflective listening.

I hang out in a lot of communities and with a lot of friends who care a lot about seeking truth and avoiding delusion. That's an admirable thing to want.

But in acting out these values, sometimes we misuse cool-looking tools, like Socratic questioning or the Devil's advocate position, by using them when we don't yet have a trusting relationship or (in particular with the "Devil's advocate" approach) a defined question and decision framework. For instance, if you consistently say things you don't mean in arguments, the people you are arguing with will come to trust you less. My friendships, work relationships, and hobby communities usually sit in the "caring" or "collaborative" part of the caring-to-combative spectrum;* if someone starts a competitive or even combative conversational game without first taking care to establish a magic circle, that breaks trust.

In conversation, when I find that I don't agree with someone else, I assume that our shared goal is to reach a mutual understanding. Perhaps one of us will persuade the other, or maybe we'll just understand why we disagree. But I'm open to revising that assumption in response to certain signals. When the person I'm talking with starts demanding that I stop to create and defend formal definitions for any word or phrase that I use, distributing the work of creating a shared understanding unequally, or cross-examining me without putting up their own point of view for examination, there's a level of disingenuousness there that I object to (the flip side of which a 2017 XKCD illustrates):

[comic transcript]

And the phrase "I'm just playing devil's advocate" in an online discussion, when the poster has not already asked others whether that's desired, is one of a suite of linguistic markers that make seasoned readers shake their heads. Because, as Alexandra Erin points out, "The phrase has basically morphed into Internet Argument Guy for 'I can argue with you but you can't argue with me.'"

If you want to "play devil's advocate" with me, or Socratically question something I've said, ask first, and mean it. And, as you reflect on whether you actually want to do that, consider the many other conversational approaches you might use instead.


* In retrospect I wish I'd considered this spectrum when discussing the liberty-to-hospitality spectrum.


: My Recent-ish Government Transparency Efforts: I've put together a page of my past few years of Freedom of Information Law requests and the responses they've garnered. In particular, folks might be interested in the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's followup reports to 2005's Local Law 20, regarding the quantities and locations of automated external defibrillators at certain public places -- they wrote these reports and submitted them to the City Council, but I couldn't find them anywhere online till I asked DOHMH for them.

Now I have a Muckrock account, which I used to successfully get the list of ~600 DMV-licensed driving schools in New York State. Funniest names: "Accurate Drving School", the coexistence of "Evolution" and "Revolution" driving schools, "Good Luck Driving School", the coexistence of "Mistah Driver Auto School" and "Mister Driver Driving School", "Super Mario's Driving Connection", and "Totally Cool Driving".


: A Few NYC Winter Hikes: I'm better when I hike more often. It nourishes me to clamber around rough trails and navigate and be among trees.

golden light on trees in Forest Park on a winter afternoon You actually can use city transit to get to parks within NYC for a short or daylong hike.

The other day, as it warmed up in the afternoon, I took the subway to Woodhaven, then a bus to Forest Park, yes, that is its actual name. Trail guide, map. The orange-blazed route took me about an hour and a half, including a little bit of getting lost and backtracking. There are substantial chunks where I couldn't hear or see cars/streets nearby. I needed that.

Another reasonable winter hike is the Greenbelt Yellow Trail (I did it from the southwest trailhead), which:

Traverses the entire Greenbelt from its Northeast corner in the community of Todt Hill to its Southwest corner in New Springville; access Moses' Mountain at Rockland Avenue and Manor Road behind bus stop....

This moderate-to-difficult 8-mile long trail brings hikers through Reeds Basket Willow Swamp. It ascends Todt Hill, then parallels the Blue Trail. Moses’ Mountain is located off the Yellow Trail off Rockland Avenue near High Rock Park.

Depending on where you're starting in NYC, you can take a combination of subway, bus, and ferry to get to the southwest trailhead. For me it was a full day's hike. At the other end I stopped in a strip mall restaurant for dinner before taking another combination of transit home.

The NYC Parks site lets you search the parks and filter for the ones that have hiking trails. That's how I found Forest Park.

afternoon light making a halo of thin branches in a copse of trees in Forest Park


: Prior Art: On Friday, May 3rd, in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, as part of PyCon North America, I'm leading an arts festival called "The Art of Python". The call for proposals is open now, deadline 28 February. And I'd love your help not just proposing work, and helping publicize this, but helping me understand what's new and not new about this.

"The Art of Python" will focus on narrative, performance, and visual art. We intend to encourage and showcase novel art that helps us share our emotionally charged experiences of programming, particularly but not necessarily in Python. We hope that, by attending, our audience will discover new aspects of empathy and rapport, and find a different kind of delight and perspective than might otherwise be expected at a large conference. We are interested in how fictional narrative, visual and performance art, and different presentation formats can make different kinds of teaching and representation possible.

There's more about this at my co-organizer Erty Seidohl's blog post, including an invitation to also propose your "not-talks" to !!Con starting in a few days. "The Art of Python" is seeking your proposals now and the deadline for submissions is 28 February. And if you've never written a play and want guidance so you can write your first, we have a guide and sample scripts!

So why did I call this entry "Prior Art"? Because I'd like to know more about past artworks about the experience of making technology at technology conferences that have resonated with you, especially fictional narratives and live performances.*

A few of our inspirations are recent works of mine, like "Pipeline", my critique video about the tech industry, and the plays I made with Jason Owen ("Python Grab Bag: A Set of Short Plays" and "Code Review, Forwards and Back").

I must be following in footsteps I don't know. So: Who else did full-on plays at tech conferences? I wouldn't be surprised if someone did it a decade before me and I never knew. Go ahead and comment on this GitLab issue to share your comments.

Thanks to Erty and to Brendan Adkins for co-organizing "The Art of Python" with me! Thanks to PyCon's Hatchery program for new PyCon events, which makes this festival possible! Thanks to Jackie Kazil for the festival name! (My codename was "Spectacle!" which is probably misleading and less accessible.)

* A footnote here about music and webcomics and Halt and Catch Fire and whatnot grew enough that it'll be its own entry.


: Availability: I'm back from my travel (taking care of ill family) and back on a bit of social media, but catching up on my inbox and may still be terse in my responses for at least a few days.


: Availability: I'm going to be off social media a lot between now and about Jan 10th. Please email if you want to reach me - https://www.harihareswara.net/ & https://changeset.nyc/#contact have my address - but I will probably be slow & terse in response.


: I Welcome Your Point Of View On Whether I Am An Alto: I love listening to and singing a lot of labor and folk songs. Like, the highlight of my week a little while back was when a friend got out his guitar and learned to play "Union Maid" and three of us sang it and harmonized together in a living room. I have an untrained voice but I enjoy using it.

A little while later, I saw a friend mention on social media that she would be participating in The Mobile Hallelujah, organized by Make Music New York, and asking whether anyone wanted to join her.

In this participatory choral program open to all interested vocalists, producer Melissa Gerstein and conductor Douglas Anderson team up to bring George Fredric Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" -- from his Messiah oratorio, the oldest continuously performed piece of Classical music -- out of the concert hall and onto the streets of NYC.

I said sure! And then, on a bus on the way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art last night, I looked at the sheet music and listened to the guide track, and, uh, NEWS FLASH, HALLELUJAH FROM HANDEL'S MESSIAH IS WAY HARDER TO LEARN THAN YOUR AVERAGE PETE SEEGER TUNE, this surprises no one. It's a gorgeous piece because it's got a bunch of interconnected cause-and-effect stuff! It's not an eternal golden braid, but it's a very complicated four-minute Rube Goldberg machine! And it's not like I am actually good at sticking to a vocal part during a round or even a simple harmony (I'm an alto I think? I've never actually checked) if there are other people near me singing another part. I sort of gravitate to whatever I'm hearing loudest and end up chameleon-ing into that, like a panicky manager throwing their hands up and saying nobody ever got fired for buying IBM soprano.

But hey, New York City has a ton of great singers, so I figured they'd carry the thing and I would just, you know, add oomph for the bits I could figure out.

So I practiced a bit and got to the point where I could, most of the time, keep track of where I was in the sheet music. I think a bindi-wearing woman whisper-singing "Hallelujah" is in, at most, like the thirtieth percentile of weirdness achieved during that hour on New York City Transit. I arrived on the museum steps, tried and failed to find my friend, and saw people assembling -- like 8 sopranos, 20 altos, 1 bass, and an alto or two who said "I guess I'll try to sing tenor" -- and we sorted ourselves out and then the maestro gestured for us to start.

And I found out that a lot of us were muddling along! It was not like "dozens of people who know their parts very well, plus Sumana". It was .... you know how you can call food "authentic" or "rustic" to say "it was lumpy and the presentation was unpolished but I loved it because of who made it and how they made it and how I relate to them"? It was like that. We blurred a bunch of the cool counterpoints and whatnot instead of hitting them precisely, we didn't enunciate great -- whatever. We hit that last Hallelujah and I looked up from the sheet music and people on the sidewalk had gathered to listen, and they clapped! We'd done it! It was a fun thing to try, a fun challenge, and maybe I'll try to get better at singing in chorus, because that is fun!

My friend had been running late and turned up right at that last "Hallelujah". Ah well! We hung out afterwards anyway. Maybe I will see if she wants to sing some Woody Guthrie with me sometime.

I have been enjoying various bits of music recently aside from Handel's elaborate celebration of a divinity that I don't particularly believe in:


: Now It Can Be Told: The "I would ask for wall. We need wall." nonsense* reminds me:

About 11 years ago, I was at some industry networking event here in New York City, gladhanding, schmoozing, &c. At one point I spoke to a recruiter who suggested that I "send résumé." I was willing, if a bit confused by the phrasing. They gave me their card and said again: "Send résumé." I looked.

Send Resume
sendresume.com

I never did Send Résumé to them, I believe. I did come home to Leonard and we joked about how Neolithic recruiters would say "Send résumé!" and "Get in on ground floor! That being only floor." and "Work on cutting edge making cutting edges."

So that's how I hear it now.


* 2017: orb; 2018: wall. What one-syllable noun will take on new connotations in 2019? Place your bets now, diversifying your portfolio of bingo card wagers.

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: Collection: A few deliverables!

At RubyConf Los Angeles 2018 last month, I co-presented "Code Review, Forwards and Back" with Jason Owen, and now video is up.

"Intersectional sustainable crop science, and GIFs" is my newest MetaFilter post -- it's an inventory of informative & funny Twitter threads by Dr. Sarah Taber, loosely grouped by topic (soil and ecologies, specific plants and animals, common misunderstandings about food/ag/econ, "family farms", organizing/politics and sexism, being an ex-Mormon, food safety, regulations, testing, and management systems, management skills and the economics of agriculture in the US, and oppressions therein, skill, culture, capitalism, land prices, slavery, white supremacy, and ag history in the US).

Taber explains: "My goal with this account is to beef up the "sustainable ag" info available for consumers w some science & general business mgmt info. The general public is incredibly frustrated with ag's slow rate of change. Someone should talk about the very real reasons change isn't instant....Some of the reasons won't reflect nicely on our ag institutions. Oh well. I'm not gonna tell folks it's all good, because it's not. We need to back up this "no BS" reputation by actually cutting the BS. If you feel weird about someone airing your dirty laundry, wash it." Also: "put info out there, see what kind of feedback it got, & thereby find out where the general knowledge level is at with ag these days". (Thread Reader)

When I want to read someone's old threads, I find it so difficult to dig through old tweets through the Twitter interface, so I thought this might be a useful resource to make and share.

Relatedly, I recently thought to look at some of my oldest microblog posts, and enjoyed a few from 2009:

Argued w/Leonard re Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" yesterday: if you're "going at the speed of light," can you *have* a temp? (200°, F implied)...I fear quibbling with the metaphor of an atom bomb satellite rocket ship to Mars constitutes stopping the singer now, despite express wishes

"Life's not a math textbook. The answers aren't gonna be in the back of the book." "But at least, unlike me, you're doing the problem sets."

"Indie 101, do stuff that defeats your own purpose. Reflexively, routinely." -John Darnielle -- quoting from about 3:00 to 3:15 in the "Leaving Home" track in this 2007 concert recording.


: The US Midterm Elections, One Month Later: I made phone calls and I canvassed in person for some candidates and a ballot measure.

Leonard and I gave money to some candidates and I successfully encouraged a friend to do the same.

On election night, a month ago, we avoided the news; we went to a play ("Sakina's Restaurant" which is like a documentary as far as the emotional dynamics of many Indian immigrant families), then came home and watched a bit of Forged in Fire, and then we went to bed.

And the next day I was so relieved. Retaking control of the House of Representatives, and sweeping so many state and local races, is not only a logistical win, it's a morale boost for me. I feel more supported and protected by my fellow citizens. I catalogued a few wins that feel particularly meaningful in this MetaFilter comment (including an aspect of Tim Kaine's re-election to the US Senate from Virginia that I didn't see anyone else noticing).

None of the causes I did leg/phone work for won. A few candidates we financially supported did win. And we were a part of the success -- the Blue Wave, some called it, but there's also the underlying fact that most of the United States agrees with the policy stances of the Democratic Party and, when they have a chance to push past voter suppression, expresses that. (Which is one reason that the post-election activism we need to work on includes working on voting reform in every state, particularly Florida.)

Thank you, thank you, thank you to all the people who stepped up, who started and restarted organizations, in the last two years. Swing Left and Indivisible and Run For Something and 5 Calls and other organizing groups and tools, for sure, and local DSA chapters, and independent journalists/commentators/curators as well, like The Weekly Sift, thisfinecrew, Alexandra Erin, Chrysostom, siderea, rydra wong, and so many others. I believe a big story of this election is the not-affiliated-with-the-Democratic-National-Committee community leaders who got their friends, neighbors, workplaces, fandoms, online forums, and classmates informed and activated -- and in some cases got them to run.

And then, Trump ... Rosenstein .... to quote Pervocracy (cache):

Me, 8 AM: I'm so glad the midterms are over! I can finally have a little break from worrying about politics all the time!

Me, 9 PM: crouched on my kitchen floor, checking protest locations, writing "THE PRESIDENT IS NOT A KING" on a giant piece of posterboard

The protests included people chanting RULE OF LAW! RULE OF LAW! which ... I don't disagree! I agree! I am very into the rule of law! I am just disconcerted, because I would like to get to a point where chanting that does not seem vital.

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(1) : Non-Influencer Fashion Blogging: I've heard fleece-lined tights could be a game-changer regarding wearing skirts and dresses when it's cold. A friend recommended the Homma brand in particular, since they're footless and since (if you turn them inside out) they are machine-washable.

But the Homma brand/maker doesn't seem to exist in terms of an independent manufacturer or brand of an existing manufacturer that has its own website or catalog somewhere. It might be an Amazon-only brand. Sort of a mystery, and I've used up my Ask MetaFilter question for the week on a request to decipher a handwritten letter from 1792 and translate it from German. I'd welcome insights from Homma wearers regarding non-Amazon vendors!

So the other day I had a spare chunk of time in midtown Manhattan and went to a few shops asking about fleece-lined leggings and tights. Nothing in my size that wasn't made in China, so I'm still low-key seeking fleece-lined leggings/tights/whatever-new-jargon-emerges-in-the-next-week.

On my way home I stopped by the Grand Central holiday market and looked around. No tights, but the Carina Hildebrandt stall did have "joggers". They were very nice when I asked what that word meant (I mentioned that a problem with upward mobility is that you don't know all the right words). It turns out joggers are basically posh sweatpants.

I thought, maybe it is time for me to level up from the old black cotton sweatpants I've had for like 20 years! these are super nice! they have pockets! they're made from alpaca wool! I could take really good care of them and they would last for decades! they would be, like, investment sweatpants!

I asked how much they were, mentally preparing for, like, "$200" or something like that, thinking "well if I literally use them for the rest of my life, I could justify that." Those joggers are 535 United States dollars.

No I am not that rich! I demurred. The vendor mentioned that it was handmade, 100% alpaca wool -- I said, oh, I'm sure it's worth that much, I just can't afford it! Maybe in ten years.

I'm not about to follow the lead of Nicole Cliffe's friend who super loves Brooks Brothers (I found that thread very funny), but I've come to some kind of playful détente with the world of trying-to-look-good clothes? I guess part of that is because of Project Runway and my friendship with Elisa DeCarlo, which helped me see more of what high-end clothes are trying to do, and then knowing Lea Albaugh and seeing how she makes and reads clothes, and a whole bunch of low-stakes thrifting, conversation, and so on in between. And having more money makes it easier to try more expensive stuff, and the longer I live, the more I see how durability pays off. In retrospect this feels kind of like how I grew to enjoy wine.

photo of Sumana in long blue coat in front of a trainIt's interesting to look back on the time I spent over the past year seeking out a winter coat, especially in contrast to my approach last decade. Back in my mid-twenties when I was about to move to NYC, saying goodbye to Bay Area friends, my friend Claudia asked whether I already had a winter coat. I gestured to some kind of light cotton jacket I had on to protect against the mild late-December chill. Claudia, who had lived in Boston, went to her closet, took out a shiny puffy waist-length H&M coat, and handed it to me. And that was an excellent move and I used that for years. I wanted something longer, so at some point I hit an army surplus store and bought a long blue Canadian army surplus? coat that was a little too big for me. I gave it to a Recurse Center friend during our fall 2013 batch, depriving my spouse of the opportunity to call me Colonel Sumana.

Last winter I decided that I'd like a formal-looking (so, probably wool) warm winter coat, with a lot of leg coverage (mid-calf or so) and big pockets for my hands/gloves/phone. I bookmarked dozens of coats online and learned that the word I wanted to describe my desired length was "maxi" and that well-made maxi wool coats cost hundreds of dollars at least. I went to try things on at Nordstrom Rack, but a lot of off-the-rack stuff fit weird, in terms of shoulder and chest. I asked friends: Where in NYC do I go to find a well-made, non-slave-labor coat of this type for under, like, $200? If the answer is "what you want is not available at that price, you need to INVEST and it'll cost at least $400" then I will also accept this answer. I poked around sample sales and thrift stores opportunistically.

And then this past weekend, hanging out with a friend, I went to a vintage shop in my neighborhood and they had about 20 maxi-length coats. My friend told me what looked good, and we agreed that one of them suited me well -- I put it on and looked in the mirror and said this is it!. I got it for about $100 (it was $129 but I got a Small Business Saturday discount). It's a grey mostly-wool coat, 70% wool/15% mohair/15% nylon, and there's a union-made-in-the-USA label on it but no brand label. The owner said she thought it was from the 1980s or 1990s and might have been made by Jones Of New York. It makes me happy to put it on! Although I need to wear a scarf with it till I get a tailor to add a felt lining, because the collar scratches my neck.

A few nights ago, my spouse and I went on a little date and I dressed up a bit. I wore a red knit V-neck dress I got in a shop on Valencia in San Francisco a few years ago -- its material and shape are pretty flattering and forgiving of weight fluctuations -- and a string of pearls my mom gave me, and the new wool coat. We did a crossword puzzle and ate and talked about Steven Universe, Legend of Korra, and She-Ra.

Then we came home and watched a bit of the latest season of Great British Bake-Off. At one point, to cheer up a baker, Noel sketches a cat on their instruction sheet, then adds a speech bubble and writes the f-bomb inside the speech bubble. And the video is not blurred or otherwise redacted! I gasped, scandalized, and my hand flew to my neck in shock. Leonard asked: "Are you literally clutching your pearls?"

So I am not currently in possession of any trousers that only seem inexpensive when compared to $750 palazzo pants from the same vendor, but I am prudish about cuss words on TV and in my blog. I'm upwardly mobile financially, but in case you ever wondered what social class I'm in, I feel like that's a big clue.

Disdisclaimer: as you can probably tell, I received no payments, discounts, subsidies, or gifts from any of the companies mentioned in exchange for this post; indeed, in 2028 when I am able to afford to buy anything from Carina Hildebrandt, I may be required to recant portions of this post as a precondition of purchase. Also, Leonard hasn't seen the new She-Ra. For that part of dinner he mostly listened while I went on about it.


: The Fascination Of Municipal Taxation Software: On January 30, 2018, I attended my local city councilmember's "State of the District" speech. If one of your local officials offers such a speech, I recommend going; it's a structured way to find out what issues they think are important. And Councilmember Constantinides scheduled this one the same night as the US President's State of the Union address, which felt like a welcome alternative.

Among the plans and promises that got public notice, he mentioned a government IT project he wanted New York City to implement. In his address, Constantinides said he was introducing a:

bill that will direct the Department of Finance to create a website where anyone can view their property tax exemption status. Under this new website, property owners would be able to pay their taxes, directly submit questions to the DOF, and view their records. They'd be able to access specific information regarding their properties including applications for exemptions like the Senior Citizen Homeowners' Exemption, status of exemptions, date by which they'd need to apply to renew an exemption, or whether anything has expired in their record. If a property owner's application is rejected, they must tell you why. Property owners will also be able to set up alerts for any changes.

These are simple, common sense things that already exist on other government platforms, and the fact that the Council may have to pass legislation to create this system is very disappointing. But if we're going to ask you to pay substantial sums of your hard earned money to fund the government, the government needs to uphold its end of the bargain and give you all the tools it can to manage your payments.

The proposal caught my attention because I find it inherently interesting (and kind of amusing) when politicians give speeches about web apps. I took the photo because I couldn't remember the last time that a politician, literally giving a speech from a podium near a US flag, presented a functional spec for software he wanted, in bullet points. I'm a project manager and a programmer who has worked on multiple software projects for local governments. Some part of me, for a fraction of a second, saw that bullet list and thought, "OK, that's the scope. How many programmers do I have and what technologies will we be using?" before remembering that this was not my job.

Constantinides mentioned the bill again in a spring newsletter and I dug around a bit. Introduction 0627-2018: "Establishment of an online system to access property tax information and receive notification of changes to property tax exemptions." The Council referred it to the Committee on Finance, which hasn't held any hearings about it yet.

On the one hand, getting the local government to make a web application for property tax stuff makes obvious sense (and other localities, such as Santa Clara County, already do it). Public servants need to help the public, and so much of public service requires software. On the other hand, government IT projects have such a bad reputation. Ten years ago, Dan Davies wrote: "nearly anything new that the government does is going to require an IT element ... government projects tend to only come in one size, 'big', and to very often come in the variety 'failed'." I inhale sharply when I see someone propose a new government IT project, because I instantly foresee manifold hazards.

But we know a bit more than we did ten years ago about how to address those concerns. There's vendor lock-in, which is a big reason to prefer building or reusing open source applications. There's metadata wrangling and legacy application/infrastructure compatibility, and partnering effectively with agency staff -- 18F and the US Digital Service have grown serious capabilities in those areas. There's the challenge of serving everyone, no, seriously, everyone ("government doesn’t always appear to provide a satisfactory solution is because government has to take on the hardest problems") -- and we can incorporate "no, seriously, everyone" into our design processes....

And that last point -- about how government needs to serve everyone gets at perhaps the deepest reason this proposal caught my attention. I used to be incredibly interested in taxation, to the point where I considered following in Dr. Robin Einhorn's footsteps and going into the academy to seriously research tax history. And a big reason is that taxes affect everybody, often noticeably. A resident might be pretty oblivious to all the other ways government activities touch their life, but a ton of taxes impinge on their perception and cause notice -- income taxes, use fees, sales/value taxes, property taxes, payroll taxes, &c.

Taxes are surface areas, user interfaces, where the least-informed user unavoidably comes into contact with your system, and notices it, and (mostly) inherently resents the cost you're imposing on them, and thus finds any friction along the way particularly maddening. This reminds me of something Leonard wrote in 2003:

You can pay your San Francisco parking tickets online. This makes sense, as the general philosophy of the city of San Francisco is to make it easy for you to deal with the arbitrary aggravations they inflict upon you.

And, just like with software interfaces, tax structures have these nasty path-dependent ways of accidentally creating interest groups. Randall Munroe's xkcd #1172 ("Every change breaks someone's workflow") obscurely reminds me of Conversion and the Poll Tax in Early Islam by Daniel Dennett, Jr. -- if you use reduced taxes as an incentive for some behavior, such as conversion to Islam, and then people do that and your tax receipts go down, and then you try to make up for losses by raising taxes on the folks who now feel entitled to a tax break, the interest group you have just created will grumble or rebel.

And maybe this lens helps explain why I bang on about the governance side of maintainership, and how a bug tracker anyone can report issues to is a sign of hospitality and humility and stewardship, and and so on. Every once in a while a stranger calls me a politician. I'm not seeking elected office and I'm only as accountable to my neighbors as they are to me. But I am attuned enough to socially constructed things that I notice and try to work with them, and I try to notice where the resources come from and where they go and who ends up getting taxed, and how.


: A Raised Eyebrow and a San Francisco Election: My new MetaFilter post is about a strange edge case in the San Francisco school board election next week: what does it mean to you for a candidate to really withdraw from a race?

Josephine Zhao got heavy criticism for her past statements, and says she's withdrawn. But -- since she missed the deadline to legally withdraw -- her name's still on the ballot and her supporters are still campaigning for her. What if she wins anyway?


: Miscellany: Life is varied.

an English-language New York State voter registration form on a clipboard with a pen, near stacks of Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Bengali language voter registration forms, on a table near a US flag; By Sumanah [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0 )], from Wikimedia Commons I spend some of my spare time trying to do my bit for the election next week. I volunteered at a voter registration drive. I participated in some get-out-the-vote phone banking, and in a few days, I'll spend some of the weekend canvassing in person.

I started rereading Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt, about a middle-aged, Midwestern white guy dealing with ennui. Now that I am middle-aged and have a bunch of middle-aged friends, my reaction is less "ha ha" and more "this is so incisive that I can only read small chunks at a time." Instead I've been blowing my way through:

  1. Dan Davies's Lying for Money: How Legendary Frauds Reveal the Workings of Our World, which is as informative, funny, and wise as you'd expect from his Crooked Timber posts and personal blog (which I've been reading for more than a decade). I read the UK edition (the US edition comes out next year) because my spouse Leonard is the best and got it for me as a present. Further review forthcoming, I hope.
  2. A reread of the Mary Sue story I loved as a teen, The Prodigal Daughter by Jeffrey Archer. Thank you, SimplyE and New York Public Library, for making it easier for me to indulge in this big-money-big-politics thriller. This does not hold up well. For instance, in the most "As you know, Bob" expository howler I've seen in years, a campaign manager literally reminds a senator and a vice president that in order to win the Presidency they will have to get at least 270 electoral votes. But as a fantasy of a perceptive, hard-working woman blowing through barriers and achieving stuff, it can be fun popcorn.
  3. A reread of Erma Bombeck's If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits?, a 1978 collection of her humor writing. (Again, thanks NYPL & SimplyE!) She was a fantastic writer and had such a gift for the absurd detail, like "she went to a parent-teacher conference alone to be told her son .... was flunking lunch" or "people whose children are overachievers..... don't forget little Kenneth, who gets up during the night to change his own Pampers."

I keep meaning to write here about my work (for four different clients, right now) -- for now I'll merely say, there's a lot to do and I'm glad whenever I make progress.

I discovered Caveat, which seems intent on pandering to my particular demographic (New Yorkers who want funny, cerebral theatrical entertainments for a night out with friends), so if there's an upcoming event there you'd like to attend, consider letting me know and maybe we'll go together?

"I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats" recently released the live episode they recorded in May. What a loving, funny show.

The Good Place continues to thrill and surprise me, and I'm so curious what conclusion Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is intricately skate-dancing toward.

Saturday and yesterday, I helped mentor a bunch of volunteer contributors at a weekend Python packaging sprint sponsored by Bloomberg. I sure do know a lot about Python packaging and Git, compared to people who first ran into those things less than a year ago. Some resources I pointed people to:

Metal, squirrel-shaped bicycle rack on sidewalk in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, by Sumanah [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia CommonsOn Saturday afternoon I reached out to Jewish friends, and friends in Pittsburgh, to say: I'm thinking of you. I wish you safety.

Have you seen "Warning: Might Lead to Mixed Dancing", a fanvid by seekingferret that celebrates Jewish dancing? You can watch it on Critical Commons and on YouTube. In his commentary he discusses part of the argument he makes in this vid:

Judaism represents this incomprehensible world-wide community united by nothing except our mutual willingness to proclaim, sometimes reluctantly, that we are all Jewish. Jewish dancing occasions like weddings and Bar Mitzvahs are a time when we make that proclamation as a community, when we say that the divisions among us are less important than the bonds between us.


: In Memoriam:

Content note: murder.

Terrorism -- in particular, terrorism against people who work to bring freedom and democracy to others* -- is on my mind.

A few days ago was the 150th anniversary of James M. Hinds's death. He was a white Republican in Congress, representing a district in Arkansas, one of the people implementing Reconstruction. He advocated civil rights for formerly enslaved men. On October 22, 1868, he was assassinated, the first sitting member of Congress to be assassinated. Before he died, he identified his attackers. The man who probably killed him -- an officer in the opposing political party, and a Ku Klux Klan member -- was never prosecuted.

Rest in peace, James M. Hinds.

The enemies of democracy do not stop at targeting politicians and donors. Chris Msando was the IT manager in charge of Kenya's computerized voting system for elections in August 2017; the day he was to oversee the public testing of that system, he was found tortured and murdered.

Rest in peace, Chris Msando.

Did you already know this part of US history or this part of the history of the tech industry? I don't think I learned of Representative Hinds when we studied Reconstruction in high school. And I don't think I saw my tech news circles mourning Chris Msando last year. So I am putting a small memorial here, now.

* Technologists who work on liberating their neighbors often face repercussions from their own governments, too. In November 2015, the Syrian authorities secretly executed Syrian open source technologist Bassel Khartabil, after imprisoning him for years. Rest in peace, Bassel Khartabil. Turkey in mid-2017 arrested IT trainers who were teaching people about digital security and privacy. The threat model can get dire.


: The Concision-Nuance Tradeoff In One-To-Many Documents: It's tough to balance the need for concision with the need for spelled-out nuance in factual documents. Dating profiles, CVs, job descriptions, release announcements, grant proposals, values statements, codes of conduct, service notifications, news stories, product labels..... in one-to-many static communications, every member of the audience arrives with slightly different context and varying levels of reading comprehension and patience. And as the "Fresh Fish Sold Here" joke goes, you'll get inconsistent feedback from your critics about whether you've struck the right balance. I have faith that, in every such document category, there exist people with the skill to -- mostly -- design that user experience well. I'm curious to learn more about how to do that, in the document types I write (like emails, blog posts, and conference talks), and how to appreciate it in the documents I consume.

In this BBC News story, "We've developed this new format to try to explain the story to you better." You can select whether you want the short or the long version of an answer to a question like "Where is Xinjiang?" I like it -- not least because it means I can read the summary first, then remember that overview as I go deeper.

What can you communicate in a job description? Detail, transparency, expectations, team, mission -- but designing the reading experience so it doesn't feel overwhelming is its own feat. It's particularly disheartening to try to provide concrete examples of kinds of optional skills the employer values, to inspire a feeling of invitation, and then to find that some applicants read that as an intimidating list of must-haves or buzzwords. I'd like to get better at this and there is probably a class I could take or a framework I could adopt.

If you are a voter in New York City, here's the voting guide for the election on November 6th (you should have received a short paper version in the mail). Here's an overview of the three ballot proposals (I believe each proposal has a one-paragraph explanation that is "The official text of the question as it will appear on your ballot"). For each proposal, the title links to -- the example here is Proposal 2 -- the "plain language summary prepared by the CFB based on official abstracts provided by the CRC" (a few paragraphs) and several individuals' statements, 1-2 paragraphs each, supporting and opposing the proposal, "based on statements ... at CRC public hearings, in the press, and in submissions to the CFB." There are "abstracts" (2-5 pages each) for each proposal that go into more depth on cost, specific rules, edge cases, and so on -- this statement solicitation page links to all of them, here's the abstract for Proposal 2, and here's all of them together.

But what's the context and reasoning for these proposals? Well it comes out of the 2018 New York City Charter Revision Commission which delivered a report, 147 pages long, explaining why they're suggesting these three changes, and what other issues we should consider addressing in the future.

Is that the right balance? Is this a good set of stair-stepped documents giving citizens as much engagement as they want, at the pace they can handle? I don't know. It worked for me and the friend (we spent an hour researching voting choices together), although it was a little harder than I'd have liked to find those links.

I'm a better writer than many, but this is someplace I can improve, and so I'm noodling around thinking about it.


: NYC Comptroller Town Hall, And Reflections on Constraint: Last night I suited up and went to a local town hall held by the office of New York City's Comptroller, Scott Stringer. (I am in the fuzzy foreground of the second photo.) After very short introductions from the venue host (CUNY Law School), Stringer and his staff, we went straight to questions!

I appreciated a lot of things about the event. There was an ASL translator on the stage, and when residents wanted to ask questions in Spanish, a staffer translated between Spanish and English for them. Stringer kept the lines moving by answering folks' questions but also limiting them to one question each (or they could head to the back of the line to get another turn), and interrupted rambly rants by asking for a question he could answer. And if people spoke up with complaints, he promised: fill out a constituent intake form and give it to one of my staffers, and we will call you by noon tomorrow. And free bottled water, next to the paper copies of audit reports and outreach flyers, was a nice touch.

a filled-out constituent intake form with the question I had asked orallyI asked the first question: how can we save money in IT procurement? Perhaps by banding together in consortia with other municipalities to have better leverage with vendors, or making or using open source software? I fear I was not very clear and was misunderstood. Stringer replied by talking about the need to modernize the procurement process itself, which is evidently still paper-based and slow, and about how this depends on revising the City Charter. Wendy Garcia (the office's Chief Diversity Officer) followed up by suggesting that I myself might want to come to their office so they could help my business figure out where our services matched up with the city's contracting needs. [I spoke with her after the town hall to clarify: no, I'm not trying to get business for Changeset here, I'm just interested in the issue! (Maybe I misguided them by introducing myself as a consultant and wearing a suit. The suit was just to respect the occasion! Next time maybe I will wear a stylish dress and cardigan, which seems to be what middle-class women activists wear to these things??)]

I filled out a constituent intake form, and, sure enough, just before 10:30am today, I got a call from their office asking me to email a specific staffer with more details! Well done.

Other questions and answers included a wide variety of concerns: older guy who doesn't like streets getting named after politicians, frequent meeting questioner guy whose stuff was taken (and never returned) when he was arrested in 2015, the Major Capital Improvement rule landlords use to get around rent control, Department of Education buildings that perhaps ought to be reused instead of sold, divesting NYC's pension fund of fossil fuel, Stringer's political ambitions, an idea for stop sign speed sensors (like traffic light speed sensors), the closure of the jail on Rikers Island, helping immigrants pay the costs of applying for citizenship, sewer problems, the placements of homeless shelters, and helping residents use their on-time rent payments to count towards credit scores. My neighbors care about a lot of different things. I took a few notes and mostly sketched. There was this one power outlet mechanism embedded in the desk right in front of me and I drew it like five times and never got the angles to look right.

One interesting thing I learned: when the Comptroller's office audits a city department, it usually takes about 18 months, so they only go in and do an audit if they think it's likely they'll find something.

signs on the wall at CUNY Law School about 'Why I'm Here': 'Bend The Arc', 'Learn The Law, Use The Law, Change The Law'I went home and commented on the proposed National Park Service rule change "Special Regulations, Areas of the National Park System, National Capital Region, Special Events and Demonstrations". I commented on 4 things: making the swimming/wading rules more consistent, removing the "duplicative" criterion, the "atmosphere of contemplation" expansion, and the proposed permit application fees. And then I wrote a thing to prepare for a meeting today, while texting with a friend who's going through a rough time.

I don't know anyone who's not going through some kind of rough time. Or at least I can't think of any. If nothing else we have the awful "well, MY life is great, but the world is horrifying" awareness; it feels like we're betraying our neighbors when we enjoy our personal successes. I never know whether I'm doing enough; I have to define "enough" for myself, which feels audacious. Willow Brugh wrote about how she's implementing a concept I first heard about from Abi Sutherland in December 2016:

While I am pushing to find ways to gain (and deserve) greater influence in the world, those things which fall outside of my influence cannot be that which concerns me most. To do otherwise is a path to madness. I must trust that other capable people exist in the world, and that they are taking up their share just as I am taking up mine. As you are taking up yours.


: Recent Diversions: I went to a civic meeting the other day and sketched while listening, as I've been doing more and more lately. I had to try drawing a folding chair three times before I got the proportions and perspective mostly right. Also, it's surprising how soothing it is to draw super-repetitive shapes, like Venetian window blinds, and to indicate shadow or color with cross-hatching or fill dots.

On Sunday, Leonard and I saw a "Sam the American Eagle" compilation at the Museum of the Moving Image. Sam is amazing, as Leonard and I got to discuss in depth -- he's a minor character, but when you see 50 minutes of Sam in a row, you see interesting patterns. He's Nixon (eyebrows) and he's McCarthy ("I have here a list..."). He loves Wayne and Wanda partly because they're humanoid Muppets, not animals. He knows he's supposed to like classy old songs, education, decency, America, and Great Britain, but he has no capacity for analysis and no factual understanding of history or literature, and never enjoys a joke. He's lawful neutral; he doesn't care who gets hurt or helped, so long as everyone's deferring to authority and following rules. He's separated from his wife, and his kids don't talk to him. I watched The Colbert Report for years so I'm primed to appreciate this kind of character -- Colbert often described his character as a "well-intentioned, poorly informed high-status idiot".

(Watching a bunch of The Muppet Show also reminded me of how the Muppets influenced my basic approach to sketch comedy and acting. I am approximately a Muppet by default in most interpersonal interactions -- big facial expressions and whole-body reactions -- which was sometimes a bit of a trial for my director Aya.)

On Sunday I also got to play the game "Inhuman Conditions", which is crowdfunding on Kickstarter till this Thursday 11 October. I was first an investigator checking whether a suspect was a human or a robot. During this conversation I got to reply to a question with "I'll be the one asking the questions" which was thrilling. (Even though I lost that round - she was a robot after all, crap!) The next round, I was a suspect. How do you prove your humanity to an investigator? Try to be open about your imagination, your private life, your misapprehensions? Or is that exactly what a robot would do, to fool them??? A fun game.


: Credits and References for "Python Grab Bag: A Set of Short Plays": Today, at PyGotham 2018, Jason Owen and I presented "Python Grab Bag: A Set of Short Plays".* We predict a videorecording will be on PyVideo in the next few weeks. [Edited 26 November to add: Video is up.]

[Edited 7 February to add: The script is now available, licensed CC-BY.]

Credits

This session is the latest in my line of non-traditional tech talks. I conceived of the idea. Thanks to Jason Owen for working on it with me - thinking of play topics, editing, rehearsing! I wrote almost all of these plays and he made them better. And, as we mentioned in "The Unvarnished Truth", we spent upwards of USD$1650 out of our own pockets on this session -- paying our director and audiovisual assistant, buying props, and renting rehearsal space. Probably closer to $1850 when it all comes in.

Thanks to:

References

In from import import import,** we mention Allison Kaptur's blog post on import and PyCon 2014 talk "Import-ant Decisions", and George London's PyGotham 2017 talk, "import madness # how to implement mergesort from scratch using only import statements".

In "A Proposal for Explaining PEPs", we briefly mention PEPs 347, 385, and 481, which moved Python development from CVS to Subversion to Mercurial to Git, and PEP 8000, which is working on governance questions.

In "GNU Mailman: A Pythonic Playlist", I discuss the history of Mailman release names.

"Generators: Taste the Freshness" draws on this explanation of generators in Python.

"This Is How We Do It" draws on this history of The Zen of Python, and on Larry Wall's "Perl, the first postmodern computer language".

"If Shakespeare Wrote Incident Reports" starts with a quote from Act I, Scene 5 of Hamlet.

"Code Review: Fast Forward and Back" is a summary of "Code Review, Forwards and Back" which originally appeared at PyGotham 2017 (video).

"Be A Better Bureaucrat (The Intellectual argparse Play)" mentions James C. Scott's Seeing Like A State and David Graeber's The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy.

"The End (Of 2.7) Is Near (feat. Jason as Guido van Rossum)" starts by quoting Guido van Rossum's March 10, 2018 email to python-dev. It ends with a short clip from "Get Over It" by OK Go.

Slides & similar

"The Relief of Reuse (The Colorful argparse Play)" has a slide partway through, reading: "Jason switches to the robust, standardized, easy-to-use argparse library".

In general it's hard to see the slides on the videorecording, so here are the slide decks for "from import import import", "A Proposal for Explaining PEPs", "If Shakespeare Wrote Incident Reports", and "When The Old Was New".

In "Things We Don’t Say At The Daily Standup Meeting", the voiceover recording (kind of hard to hear on the recording) is us saying:

I don't understand what you just said.
I've done the same thing every day this week but I'm trying to find different words for it.
I can't concentrate on my work and I don't anticipate that changing till, best case, January 2021.
I feel like I got nothing done yesterday.
I am beyond stuck. I am drowning and I need help.

* Announcement, context, late-September reflections.

** For reference, in case the PyGotham 2018 site ever disappears, the play titles were:

  1. The Unvarnished Truth
  2. from import import import
  3. WHAT’S the DEAL with CLIENTS?
  4. A Play Entirely Full of Monty Python References
  5. A Proposal for Explaining PEPs
  6. GNU Mailman: A Pythonic Playlist
  7. Soup, Scrape, Sweep
  8. Generators: Taste the Freshness
  9. This Is How We Do It
  10. Cookie For Your Thoughts
  11. If Shakespeare Wrote Incident Reports
  12. Code Review: Fast Forward and Back
  13. When The Old Was New
  14. Things We Don’t Say At The Daily Standup Meeting
  15. The Relief of Reuse (The Colorful argparse Play)
  16. Be A Better Bureaucrat (The Intellectual argparse Play)
  17. Speaking Python
  18. The End (Of 2.7) Is Near (feat. Jason as Guido van Rossum)
[Edited to add on 26 November] and the play ordering was:
  1. GNU Mailman: A Pythonic Playlist (#6)
  2. Things We Don’t Say At The Daily Standup Meeting (#14)
  3. A Proposal for Explaining PEPs (#5)
  4. The End (Of 2.7) Is Near (feat. Jason as Guido van Rossum) (#18)
  5. WHAT’S the DEAL with CLIENTS? (#3)
  6. from import import import (#2)
  7. A Play Entirely Full of Monty Python References (#4)
  8. The Relief of Reuse (The Colorful argparse Play) (#15)
  9. Speaking Python (#17)
  10. Generators: Taste the Freshness (#8)
  11. When The Old Was New (#13)
  12. The Unvarnished Truth (#1)
  13. This Is How We Do It (#9)
  14. If Shakespeare Wrote Incident Reports (#11)
  15. Cookie For Your Thoughts (#10)
  16. Be A Better Bureaucrat (The Intellectual argparse Play) (#16)
  17. Soup, Scrape, Sweep (#7)
  18. Code Review: Fast Forward and Back (#12)
  19. thank-yous


: Miscellaneous Recommendations:

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: Tidelift Is Paying Maintainers And, Potentially, Fixing the Economics of an Industry: As the founder of Changeset Consulting, I keep my eye on consultancies and services in and near my niche, open source leadership, maintainership, and sustainability.* And I've known Luis Villa for years and got to work with him at Wikimedia. So yeah, I noticed when Tidelift announced its big new launch. And -- now, as a very-part-time consultant who helps Tidelift understand the Python world -- I am excited about their commitment to pay more than USD$1 million to maintainers (including "a guaranteed minimum $10,000 over the next 24 months to select projects").

Here's my take on the new Tidelift subscription model, the "lifter" role, and whom this works for.

For software businesses, this provides that missing vendor relationship, SLA, release cadence expectations, and general peace of mind for all of that unseen infrastructure you depend on. It's often easier for businesses -- of many sizes -- to pay a regular fee than to put open source project management work, dependency-updating, compliance checking, dependency security audits, or FLOSS volunteer relations on the engineering schedule.

For individual programmers and community-maintained open source projects, Tidelift is a potential source of substantial income. As a Pythonist, I hope to reach people who are currently core code contributors to open source projects in Python, especially on the Libraries.io digital infrastructure/unseen infrastructure/improve the bus factor lists. And I would like to reach projects like the ones Nathaniel Smith calls out in a recent post:

that (1) require a modest but non-trivial amount of sustained, focused attention, and (2) have an impact that is large, but broad and diffuse
and projects in the "wide open", "specialty library", and "upstream dependency" categories identified by the Open Tech Strategies report "Open Source Archetypes: A Framework For Purposeful Open Source".

For such people and projects, becoming a lifter is a promising model -- especially since the required tasks are fairly few, and are things maintainers should do anyway. I'm encouraged to see Jeff Forcier (maintainer of Fabric, Alabaster, and more) and Ned Batchelder's coverage.py getting onto the Tidelift platform.

And you can see estimated monthly income for your package right now. For some people, especially those whose healthcare doesn't depend on an employer, Tidelift payments plus some side consulting could be a sustainable, comfortable income.

Then there are folks like me whose contributions are only partially visible in commit logs (management, user support, testing, and so on), and groups that work together best as a team. Tidelift is also a potential source of income for us, but it's a little more complicated. Tidelift can send lifter payments to individuals, for-profits, and nonprofits, but: "If a package has multiple co-maintainers, you'll need to agree as a group on an approach." If you thought code of conduct conversations with your community were uncomfortable, wait till you bring up money! But, more seriously: I've been able to talk frankly with open source colleagues about thorny "who gets paid what?" questions, and if you're candid with your co-maintainers, the benefits may be pretty substantial. You can get advice on this conversation during the next live Tidelift web-based Q&A, Thursday, Oct. 11 at 2 p.m. Eastern Time (sign up at the bottom of the lifter info page).

Nonprofits, companies, and working groups that maintain projects can sign up now as lifters. Even if it's just a trickle of money right now, it might build over time and turn into enough to fund travel for an in-person sprint, contract work to improve continuous integration, an Outreachy internship, etc.

(One gap here: right now, Tidelift isn't great at supporting system-level packages and projects, like tools that get installed via apt or yum/DNF. I'm pretty sure that's something they're working on.)

What about noncommercial users or users who can't afford Tidelift subscriptions? The more lifters and subscribers sign up, the more those users benefit, too. Subscribers' funding means maintainers have time to make improvements that help everyone. And lifters agree to follow security, maintenance, and licensing best practices that also help everyone. Plus, Tidelift stewards libraries.io, a great resource for anyone who uses or develops open source (more on that). More money for Tidelift could mean libraries.io gets better too.

So I'm tooting a horn here and hoping more people sign up, because this is one of the more plausible ways open source sustainability could possibly work. Tidelift could be a real game-changer for the industry. Check it out.


* Examples: new competitors like Maintainer Mountaineer and OpenTeam, new funders like OSS Capital, and colleagues/referrals like Open Tech Strategies, VM Brasseur, Otter Tech, and Authentic Engine.


about Sumana Harihareswara

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