Cogito, Ergo Sumana

picture of Sumana's head

Sumana Harihareswara's journal


: "That was not supposed to happen.": In December 2016 Lightspeed published "The Venus Effect" by Violet Allen. I wish I did not think of it so often; it is an amazing story but I think of it every time I learn that an African-American has died of police brutality. It horrifies me to see what is playing out, again, in my country. The institution of policing is badly broken; as Alexandra Erin points out,

We give the police extraordinary powers of life and death and then rather than saddle them with any additional responsibility, we just give them even more power. They must be allowed to operate with impunity "because they put their life on the line"... but then we grant them even more impunity because "you can't expect them to put their life on the line." They are the noble servant and protector of the community and upholder of the law when they plead for more powers, but when held accountable, they plead that they cannot be expected to serve, must not be expected to protect, and need not have any knowledge of or respect for the law to do their job.

So what is their job?

They say, and the courts affirm, they need not serve. They need not protect. They need not uphold the law.

If we have the words of the courts and the police themselves that police cannot be compelled to serve, to protect, or to uphold the law, then what is their job? For what reason do they exist?

You can read those last questions as "therefore, abolish" (which seems to rhyme with the author's intent) but they also work as a really important and genuine question for anyone who wants laws enforced fairly and accountably, and wants our tax dollars spent sensibly. And they are a reason to follow up on this to-do list, compiled by T. Greg Doucette, for police accountability (such as: require officers to carry malpractice insurance). Because, otherwise, as Frank Wilhoit put it, "There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect."

I have also appreciated the roundup Jason Kottke put together, "Listening to Black Voices Amid Murder, Violence, Protest, and Pandemic".

But if you just can't take any more news, but you want to reflect on this current tragedy using art, do read "The Venus Effect". And if you want to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction, you can support the Carl Brandon Society. (On a much lighter note, but again with a touch of pastiche, the fanfic "Matchmaker of Mars" by Edonohana has the summary "John W. Campbell accidentally matchmakes T'Pring and Uhura.")

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: Trailer and Registration for Otherwise Auction:

You have till 8pm ET tonight -- so, about 6.3 hours from me publishing this -- to register for this year's WisCon if you want to attend the auction I'm hosting on Saturday night (watching via YouTube livestream). You can register for USD$0 if affordability matters to you.

The auction is a comedy show where you don't need to spend any money, but you can donate to support some worthy causes.

This Otherwise blog post about the auction includes a one-minute video trailer/preview, and a list of auction items.

I'll also speak on Sunday within a panel on the recent renaming of the Otherwise Award (blog post).


: WisCon and Otherwise Auction, May 22-25: I'm hosting the Otherwise Auction (formerly the Tiptree Auction) at WisCon the night of Saturday, May 23rd. It'll be a virtual auction within WisCon, and mostly, Earth currency will not be involved. You can register for this year's WisCon now to make sure you'll be able to watch via YouTube and participate/bid via the private Discord chat server. I'm not 100% sure yet what time the auction will be, but it will probably be 7:30-8:30 pm Central Time.

This morning I was talking to my mother about some prerecorded material I am working on for the show. I told her how nice it is to get to work with my friends on a small fun project, and to edit together these videos with their faces all next to each other. Mom understood and said: it's like tying flowers in a garland. And my face broke into a goofy grin. It so is.


: Underused Headline:

In all the reporting about Internet infrastructure, bandwidth usage during the pandemic, spectrum controversies, etc., I have not yet seen this particular punny headline.

In the 1934 film It Happened One Night, one character tries to extort $5,000 from another by threatening to snitch on him: "Five Gs, or I crab the works!"

Therefore: if you see an article entitled "5G Or I Crab The Works," please let me know.

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: "Yes, Minister", Chesterton's Fence, And Wasteful Caution: Just now I was in a pretty grumpy mood and it threatened to spiral further. I decided to give myself a break, got a snack and the rest of my morning tea, set a timer, hit Play on the BBC Introducing Mixtape podcast, sat facing the window and away from my laptop, and picked up The Complete Yes Minister by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay. And within probably ten minutes I was grinning with joy.

Jim Hacker: Humphrey, do you think it is a good idea to issue a statement?
Humphrey Appleby: Well, Minister, in practical terms we have the usual six options. One: do nothing. Two: issue a statement deploring the speech. Three: lodge an official protest. Four: cut off aid. Five: break off diplomatic relations. And six: declare war.
Hacker: Which should be it?
Appleby: Well, if we do nothing, that means we implicitly agree with the speech. If we issue a statement, we'll just look foolish. If we lodge a protest, it'll be ignored. We can't cut off aid, because we don't give them any. If we break off diplomatic relations, then we can't negotiate the oil rig contracts. And if we declare war, it might just look as though we were over-reacting.

When I was a child I saw Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister on public television. What a joy. And what a clinic in getting involved with complicated systems, full of moving parts and others' motivations.

I was thinking just now about how the viewer's allegiance is caught; Jim Hacker has some good instincts about fighting for the people, but he's not as clever as he thinks he is, and he's vain and a bit lazy. And Humphrey Appleby knows how to prevent some kinds of disasters, but cannot conceive of fundamental change or the need for it. Over and over in my life in software engineering, or watching politics, or working with any collaborative group, I've seen this dynamic, though it plays out in different ways. I'm glad I got both perspectives early on, Hacker and Appleby both, to inoculate me against being purely either. I hope.

A while back I went and read about Enoch Powell, because it's always enriching to understand the previous generation's version of today's arguments and standard-bearers, even if they're horrifying. He articulated something about the same tension you find in Yes, Minister: "The right finds it easy to explain what is and to justify what is, but not to account for change. The left finds it easy to justify change, but not to account for what is, and what is accepted."

As Fred Clark says, though, in criticizing the adage of Chesterton's Fence ("If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away...when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it"), what Powell describes as "what is, and what is accepted" can be a bit of a mirage. Nearly no shared piece of infrastructure simply sits in stasis, requiring no upkeep:

Fences have to be maintained, mended, and constantly rebuilt. Fences just don't work as a metaphor for traditions, laws, and institutions handed down immutable, inviolate, and inviolable from ancient times. There's no such thing as a multi-generational fence. You don't build a fence so much as you adopt a perpetual budget for perpetual fence-building. Would-be "reformers" don't need to propose "destroying" an existing fence, they only ever need to propose that the fence-builders stop rebuilding it.

And, in practice, as Clark notes,

no matter how thoroughly we are able to come back and tell our conservative friends that we do fully understand and appreciate the original reasons for the construction of the fence, they remain unwilling to "allow" us to remove it. (The word "allow" there is worth pondering. The presumption there about who is, by definition, always a supplicant, and who holds the authority to permit or to prohibit is telling. "Allow" is, in this instance, very much a fence-builder's word.)
I also recommend Clark's followup which includes such great articulations as "fear is not the same as taking care".

Amandine Lee, discussing failure scenario generation, safety, and verification, notes:

we often push to a small percentage of real traffic, do bug-bashes and conduct pre-mortems where we imagine different types of failures and what would have caused them. We're trying to smoke out the unknown unknowns that cause issues. It's a type of thinking I am actively learning how to lean into. As an optimist, someone who tends to seek out nuance, and a person who has a strong bias towards action, I tend to chafe against risk-aversion without a clear threat model. The term "Cover Your Ass" gets thrown around to describe extreme end of this - wasteful carefulness.

...People's intuitions and risk-friendliness also vary based on personality, and how they’ve seen things fail in the past. A lot of growing as an engineer is fine-tuning that initial response to design decisions.

Sometimes have that knee-jerk caution -- I feel a reflex that leads to, as Lee calls it, "wasteful carefulness". And sometimes I am the less patient person on my team, asking others why we can't try out the idea at least in some limited way.

And now I am thinking about the symbiosis of Jim Hacker and Humphrey Appleby, how they need each other, anchor and sail. And I'm less grumpy, which was the point of the exercise anyway.


: What We Subsume: Still here.

I've gotten a lot better at sewing pleats on face masks, and have found that -- if I cut the material ahead of time -- I can usually finish a mask, or nearly finish it, while watching a one-hour lecture, or while on the kind of conference call where I say very little.

I sometimes remember to do the things that will help set me up for a better day.

Sometimes I notice someone saying, about telecommuting and distributed/remote/virtual conferences and paperwork moving online because of the pandemic: So we could have been doing this all along?! And I notice the "all along" because it's subsuming or blurring a more specific claim about how long we've been wastefully delaying. If you joined your institution in January and they said no to remote work, and now they're allowing it, then yeah, they could have said yes all along, because "all along" means "since January" and there have been very few advances/innovations in bandwidth and installed connections, hardware, software platforms (such as operating systems and servers), relevant software applications, relevant professional skills, etc. since January. But at least in the US, I think that even five years ago, and certainly ten or twenty years ago, there were lots of kinds of infrastructure that would not have been up to the task of moving work online. Of course, we should have been properly investing in those things, at all levels, so really I'm just quibbling and "well-actually"ing with some wording in a way that might not look great. I will be turning off comments on this one.

Irritability. Fluffy fanfic. Peanut butter on celery or apples. A hollow ache inside my torso. The whirr of the sewing machine. Other people's faces via videocalls -- oh how great a solace that is, for I love my spouse but I need some variety in the faces I see. Light through the window, always through the window. Endless emails from every organization that has ever heard of me, earnestly telling me what they are doing, or importuning me to do something, because the sky is falling and we all need to hold it up. Using a video game to pretend I am outside, to pretend I can visit a friend or stand on a rocky shore. Trying to be there for my friends, my family -- Leonard suggested we compile a list of funny YouTube clips to send to our sick friend and so we did and maybe it will be a tiny comfort to her. Watching the National Theatre plays and Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and concerts and music livestreams and being overcome with gratitude for the artists.

Yesterday was the 29th, which means it was one of the days of the month that I would let myself drink alcohol (days with a 9 in them, so, the 9th, 19th, and 29th) and I just realized today that -- as the wording in my head popped out -- I forgot to drink yesterday. I briefly thought about making up for that day, but I think the fact that my reflexive phrasing made it sound like an obligation rather than an option reinforces the stricter part of myself, which says, no, wait till the next window comes round again.

I've made some good work and volunteer progress in the last few weeks! I've had some great laughs with my spouse and my friends, and I'm glad I'm getting better at sewing, and not all is gloom. Especially when I have a chance to help someone else. But at this very moment, this afternoon on this Thursday, oh readers and oh future self, Sumana is hearing and feeling the gears grind as she bears up under the load.

Sometimes we talk about that impossibly distant past, The Before Times. Back in the Before Times, I thought I would .... we signed up for .... we had just started.... it seemed like ..... Fewer of us use the corresponding phrase for the future: The After Times. Perhaps judiciously and perhaps superstitiously and perhaps exhaustedly, we decline to make predictions and plans. But right now is The During Times. Right? That feels right. Duration, during, endure, endurance. We are enduring. I hope you are too.


: Remote Sprint Tips: Every year, many developers of Python (the language itself, not just stuff written in Python) get together for a sprint. This year it will probably be virtual. How should that work? I offered to share my experiences and tips, the folks in the core development group asked me to do so, and I listed some tips. My approach is less "top-down schedule" and more "here's how to adapt to and support the emergent ways people will act".


: Persisting: Today is our wedding anniversary. Instead of going out for a nice dinner, we'll .... do something at home. Maybe we'll remember a bunch of nice memories from the last fourteen years. Maybe we'll go through the Anniversary Gifts bot output and see if there's something we can make at home.

I've now sewn three fabric facemasks. For fabric I used old tech company tee shirts. For ties: elastic from free airline eyemasks, shoelace-like handles from fancy shopping bags, and the hemmed bits of the tee shirts. All of them are serviceable. I'll be trying to improve and, if I can get better, give some away.

We used this approach to gather and grow yeast using raisins, sugar, and water in a jar on a windowsill. Today Leonard's using it to make bread. We have some powdered dried yeast but are trying to save it. And we've been growing green onions in some jars of water on another windowsill. Their stalks keep pushing out new green growth. The most successful watercolor painting I've done so far is a portrayal of one of those bunches.

The pip 20.1b1 beta release is out. And Python 2.7.18 is out marking the very last, final, release of Python 2.7 and the end of the 2.x era. My household contributed to both of these things. Here's Leonard's pull request that adds an informational banner to the 2.7 docs. When I can concentrate on work or exercise or media it's better. The news is awful. I try to only listen to or look at it a few minutes per day.

There is light through the windows, along with the rain and lightning, and I see the tree branches in the wind, falling and rising, falling and rising. Every night at 7pm I know it's 7 because people start clapping and ringing bells from our windows and balconies, a gesture of support for the health care workers and all the other essential workers who are trying to keep us all going. I do it too. The other night I got out a little temple bell and started using that. Someone has a tambourine. A few nights ago someone started chanting "USA! USA!" and I recoiled; as I joked to a few friends, better to chant "South! Korea!" or "Germany!" since they're actually doing it right. And someone else has, a few times, played a recording of "The Star-Spangled Banner". As I mentioned to friends: well, the thing that works about that song now is that it's a question. Does that banner still wave? We don't know!

I also have joked: And is this the land of the brave and the home of the free, or the land of the scared and the home of the at home? But it's all those things, of course. And the rhetoric of that joke, as though you cannot be both at home and free, plays into the hands of foolish, even malicious shouters who prefer to swan around shedding and catching viruses, and to mob streets while braying about government restrictions, and refuse to love their neighbors.

I'm glad of the rain. It feels natural to be inside when it's raining.


: And Still Here: Still here, still okay. Hoping you are too.

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: Still Here: Still here. Still okay.

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: "Again, novelty novelty novelty breaks up the day.": I bring your attention again to this Twitter thread by Connie Rourke:

I'm starting a thread of every coping mechanism I've used in the last 20 years as an immunocompromised person who lives like a(n almost-completely) shut-in.

and this Dreamwidth post by alias-sqbr:

A bunch of you are dealing with being stuck in your houses, which is something I have a lot of experience with, if not in quite the same way. So I thought I might as well give what advice I have to give.

It's amazing how much novelty is helping me. I played a fun in-browser computer game -- for those 90 minutes I was immersed in another world. I found a teensy super-old packet of decaf coffee and now a scent I don't usually smell at home wafts from a warm mug nearby. A face mask (edited later to explain: the goopy kind that you spread on your skin and peel off later), a pair of socks on feet that usually go bare, different scented lotions....

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: We're Still Fine: We haven't been outside since ... Saturday?

The CDC says all households "can "practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces"; the New York Times (see "Clean your home") has an animated GIF saying "Clean high-touch surfaces in your home every day." So I'm improving how frequently I use an alcohol wipe (especially on my phone) or some bleachy spray cleaner on the refrigerator handle, doorknobs, light switches, and so on. Last night my hands smelled like bleach when I went to bed. I wonder if I will learn to associate that smell with dread.

It's such a pretty, sunny day outside. I have the window open and the sunlight warms my elbow.

I've gotten better this week at concentrating on work. I sometimes use a timer to limit myself to 10 minutes of what I saw someone call "doomsurfing."

A friend's best friend has COVID-19, went to the hospital this week, and, as of yesterday, is on a ventilator. I talked with my friend this morning, listened, gave her a bit of welcome distraction, like how funny the governor's interview with his brother was.

Yesterday I teared up at how generous so many artists have been this month -- giving away new albums, films, books, for free, online, to help everyone cope. Ken Burns's Baseball, for instance.

Most of my writing is in email, chat, or GitHub. I added an item or two to a crowdsourced list of free and open source video or audio conferencing platforms. Cool Tools ran my review of a great sports bra (with a stock photo of a model who is not me, by the way). I finished and published a blog entry about my team's pip work and helped a colleague move a lot further toward a new pipenv release. I collaborated with Leonard on starting a shopping list for the day, weeks from now, when our desire for eggs and onions is strong enough to make us reset our isolation clock.

PyCon North America is cancelled; it would have been in Pittsburgh, PA, USA, in April. Title of Conf would have been on May 7th in Detroit, and WisCon was going to be in Madison in late May. All of them (at least the in-person bits) are cancelled. I am figuring out whether and how to present the Otherwise Auction online anyway, just as I would have at WisCon, and how my team working on pip can still form relationships and swap tips and experiences in small group calls to partially replace what we wanted out of PyCon.

This morning my mom called, worried. New York City is now the place in the US where COVID-19 has infected the most people. I reassured her: we're staying inside, we're taking all the precautions.

The fundamental and inherent subtext of every diary entry and every blog post is today closer to the surface. I'm still here, I still exist, I'm still here.

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: Some Useful Tools, Art, And Tips: Making note here of various threads and posts that have come to my attention recently:


: Responsibility And Blame: Humans have a really hard time dealing with problems that are partly under our control and partly not (and where we can't tell how much of it is inside or outside our locus of control).

A comment that helped me remember this, by philip-random on MetaFilter:

I'm currently taking care of an older parent with help from another family member. A week or so back when everything started getting VERY SERIOUS, we had a brief but essential discussion. Whatever happens, we concluded, we're not going to lay blame on anyone who may have erred and spread the virus -- family or friend or random stranger. There's just no winning that way. The wartime analogy is the best. It's London WW2, the Blitz. The bomb either lands on your block or it doesn't.

If you want to blame anybody, go after the bastards behind the Treat of Versailles twenty years previous whose failed politicking guaranteed this would happen.

I'm practicing prevention to avoid catching or transmitting COVID-19. So is my spouse and so are all my friends and colleagues. It might not be enough to keep us safe from this disease. So I want to prescriptively take responsibility, but descriptively avoid blaming myself or my loved ones in case we get sick anyway. This is difficult.

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: Another Burble: From a recent conference call:

"... if [our project] even matters anymore."

"Oh I'd argue that our project is MORE RELEVANT THAN EVER!! I'm about to write a Medium post saying so!"

[peals of laughter]

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: Extremely Limited-Value Insight: The 20-second songs-to-wash-your-hands-by releases are to 2020 what ringtones were to, say, 2006.

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: Liminal Thoughts At An Inflection Point For The Pandemic: In January a writer I read started telling her readers to prepare for the pandemic. I am glad of the ways in which I followed her advice and I regret the ways in which I did not. Siderea noted that, during a pandemic, when big news starts happening, things start happening very fast, and we have arrived at that stage here in New York City. This week the schools close and the restaurants go to delivery/takeout-only.

So the "ring theory" of grief says: when dealing with grief, listen to and comfort the people closer to the center of the problem, those most deeply affected, and then complain or grieve outwards, so people less affected can comfort you. But it's pretty hard to work out who's least affected by COVID-19. Even if you are youngish, healthy, have very few risky health conditions, and don't particularly care about anyone who isn't in that category, you are probably affected by some of the ripple effects that come faster and faster each day: travel restrictions, event cancellations, the closing of schools and gathering places, work-from-home shifts, some supplies becoming far less available. There is no one I can vent to who is significantly less concerned than I am -- unless they have not yet worked out that they need to be concerned.

Leonard and I have some unavoidable errands we need to do this week that involve leaving the home and/or interacting with other people. I am looking forward to later this week when we can really hunker down and isolate. This experience has many items that are pretty similar to mine.

Not since the passage of the GDPR have I been reminded of how many websites/institutions have some kind of (sometimes tenuous) "relationship" with me. Every day I get many emails telling me about what they're doing.

Every day New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference and the government provides a transcript and I find it informative and soothing to read it. My city is trying to do the right things to take care of me -- I need to write to them about doing better regarding reducing criminal justice interactions, but overall, I think the city is doing the right things -- and I'm reassured.

Several days ago I realized: if individuals and institutions actually step up and do social distancing, cancel large gatherings, etc., and reduce the scale of the catastrophe, then there will be people in the future who say "this was an overreaction". (Just as they did with Y2K.) I later found out this is called "the paradox of prevention."

Some things I am grateful for right now:

  • It's possible to do a lot of stuff online that used to require visiting someplace.
  • We stocked up somewhat in February and aren't in as bad a situation as we could be.
  • We are well-off enough that some unexpected expenses are easy for us to bear.
  • I have friends who have caught up with me over the phone in the last few days -- and a couple of neighborhood friends who, last night, came over to our place. We stood outside on the sidewalk and spoke to each other across a six-foot distance. It was really nice.
  • Leonard and I can both work from home -- and in fact have 10+ years experience, each, in doing so.
  • We have both made moderate improvements in our health in the last few years so we are better placed than we might be to deal with illness, heavy lifting, and stress.
  • Right now, I am ok and my family is ok.

Finally: on MetaFilter, lesbiassparrow wrote:

I just don't understand how in Canada every Canadian around me doesn't think it will really hit them and they don't personally need to worry

There is this moment in the Mahabharata called the yaksha-prashna* -- a riddle contest with a disguised god. Yudhisthira has to answer a bunch of questions to rescue his brothers from death. Stuff like:

What is heavier than a mountain?
Debt.
What is faster than the wind?
Thought.
What is bigger/heavier than the earth?
Mother [in that she is greater in her effects on our lives, in how much we love her, etc.].

And the final riddle is:

What is the most amazing thing in the universe?

Answer:

Every day, we all see people around us fall ill, wither away, and die. And yet each of us, to ourselves, thinks: "I will live forever." That is the most amazing thing in the universe.

(He answers all the riddles successfully and saves his brothers -- and it turns out that the crane is actually his father, Yama, the god of duty and death, whom he is meeting for the first time.)

I read this in an Amar Chitra Katha comic book when I was a child and it has always stuck with me.... and it reverberates so powerfully now.

* In case I misremember any of this --- uh, oral tradition! Right, folklore, always changing....

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: Videocall, Group Chat, and Information Tools: As large groups rapidly adapt to online learning/working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom/Google Meet and Slack are turning into unexamined defaults. I recommend these useful alternative online collaboration tools for groups:

  • Indie groupchat (special cheap/free hosted plans available for open source projects, nonprofits, groups of friends, & other noncommercial entities): Zulip. [Disclaimer: I have worked (paid) for Kandra Labs on Zulip.]
  • Indie-ish videocalling (works in the browser, no need to install new software, guests don't need a login): Whereby.
  • Not-the-big-companies-as-far-as-I-know phone/web conference calling: Uberconference (not related to the ridehailing company Uber).

Also: right now, I am appreciating the women who wrote and maintain:

  1. "Flatten the Curve", a go-to resource on why and how we need to slow down the epidemic, by Dr. Julie McMurry (Twitter, GitHub), an academic researcher/technologist (who works on genetics analysis software and wrote about identifiers in life science data)
  2. A list of events/competitions/conferences being cancelled/postponed, maintained by Sarah Evans, a public relations consultant
  3. A list of academic conferences being cancelled/postponed, maintained by Anne Marie Gruber, an academic librarian


: Help Tell People About Outreachy: I'd like for you to consider doing something for me.

Think about the people in your circles. Your cousins, your neighbors, your friends' kids. Do you know anyone who is trying to figure out how to get ahead in their career, or how to get a foot in the door in the tech industry?

Outreachy logo Then check whether any of those folks are eligible for Outreachy, a paid, mentored telecommuting internship program to help people get started in the open source industry. And "Anyone who faces under-representation, systemic bias, or discrimination in the technology industry of their country is invited to apply."

You can send them a link to the Outreachy applicant guide. Applications for the May to August 2020 round are due February 25.

And even if you don't know anyone who should consider applying, you can put a poster up at a local coffee shop, laundromat, or community college.

I love Outreachy. It's a curated, mentored, paid first step to help grow people's careers and capabilities, and it steadily introduces more diversity -- on many dimensions -- into our teams. Help more people discover it?


: Recompiler is Hiring: The beloved indie feminist print and online magazine The Recompiler is back! New issues are up, and the mag is hiring for help with editing, design (print and ebook), and research. All positions are remote paid contracts, and flexible regarding timing.


: My First Exascale Computing Project Annual Meeting: Some interesting things about attending the Exascale Computing Project Annual Meeting for the first time, and stuff I have learned here so far!

[Edited 1:10pm CT to add: By the way, here is a contextual note for people who don't usually read my blog. I'm Sumana Harihareswara, a project manager and open source consultant who hadn't heard of ECP before November, and who primarily works in Python and outside of government stuff. I haven't done any kind of systematic survey of all ECP participants/attendees so these are my impressions based on people I've talked with and talks I've attended.]

  • Here is the overview of the Exascale Computing Project, which started a few years ago. Giant high-performance computing hardware, software, applications, training, and so on, working a lot at the United States's National Laboratories (like Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge, Argonne, Los Alamos, and so on). Thus there is a lot that is public (for instance, see this report on improving scientific productivity, or this capability assessment), but then there are talks I'm not allowed to attend because I haven't signed the relevant nondisclosure agreement.
  • They contribute a bunch to LLVM and to Spack, a package manager. There are like 6-7 full-time funded people working on Spack [Edited 1:11 CT for correction: no, this is more like 6-7 people who work full-time and who spend at least a chunk of their time on Spack], and dozens of people attended the Spack state of the project/feedback roundtable session. Researchers and developers within ECP are working on a bunch of open source projects (example), some extremely specific to high-performance computing math things, but some more generally useful tools, and many folks in the project would like to get broader publicity and adoption for the latter. There are some opportunities here for cross-pollination, funding, user testing, and de-duplication between work being done by DoE and work being done in the larger open source industry.
  • Exascale Computing Project logoThe ECP is sponsored by the US Department of Energy. And, you know, that means fossil fuels too. There's an Industry Council and ExxonMobil is on it. The National Labs do a bunch of work for DoE and other US government departments -- and for the private clients who can afford it [Edited 1:23pm to correct this; those orgs aren't paying the labs to do work, they're getting to use the facilities just like anyone else could (example)], which is often the fossil fuels companies who want to run simulations having to do with oil and gas. When I've talked to folks here about how that feels weird, I get a variety of responses. Some people point out that there is a National Renewable Energy Laboratory among the ECP Participating Labs, or that the combustion work in the labs helps energy companies figure out how to use gas more efficiently so we burn less fuel, and so on. One person basically said: They're an important industry and it's part of our job to help them; it's the Department of Energy and that means all energy. Another person basically said: As soon as feasible, I want us to not do that work anymore.

    [Edited 1:12pm CT to note: of course these are my personal observations and not a "here is an official position" thing.] I don't think anyone here denies that climate change is happening. I think they're supposed to make an attempt to not use that phrase in official published materials and they're not supposed to talk about it when they go to DC, though. In one talk a speaker mentioned that one of the categories he was listing was "Earth and Space Science -- what we used to call climate." I said, "Sorry, I'm new. What do we call it now?" and got the answer: "Earth Systems."

  • Weapons! Yeah the DoE includes the Office of Science (SC) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). And the National Labs do some work for the military, the Department of Homeland Security, National Security Agency, and so on. Also there's some back-and-forth where sometimes people, for instance, start at the Department of Defense and then start working within DoE. Approximately everyone at this meeting is fine with the fact that some of their work (or maybe a lot of their work) has to do with weapons. [Edited 1:16pm and 4:50pm CT to say: so I've been told that this is mega inaccurate and that a buuuuuuunch of people's work here has NOTHING to do with weapons, is just pure open science, that there are several labs where nearly no one directly works on weapons stuff, or that there are several labs where no one does. Also I've been pointed to the DoE budget where only a fraction of the yearly spend goes to NNSA labs, and those labs also do a bunch of open science research. I need to look into this more to understand the nuances. Also, it was pointed out to me that, if I'm saying "this work is not directly weapons work but it is foundational to weapons work," then, one could also justly say that my work in Python also supports weapons research. Yup, it sure does! I am definitely complicit in things I am uncomfortable with! It's complicated.] Again, some people, when I bring this up, point out how much of the work has nothing to do with weapons, or talk about the work of stockpile stewardship as being primarily about safekeeping of and knowledge transfer about nuclear warheads where there is no likely near-term path to the US completely getting rid of them, or talk about defense in a world where nukes are out there and not about to go away. And at least one person said, basically, I have no problem with the weapons stuff and it's cool.
  • The vast majority of people here have doctorates, usually in one of the mathematical, computational, or physical sciences. I haven't seen a single name badge that has "Dr." on it; I think it would take up room and seem egotistical. Also, I am very rarely the only woman in the room, and some of the leadership are women, but I'm often the only person in the room who doesn't know C (or Fortran; the software ECP is writing for or adapting to the new machines is basically 2/3 C and C++, 1/3 Fortran). So my particular configuration of insecurities this week is different than it often is at tech conferences.
  • I am, here, extremely unusual in that I do not work for Department of Energy, one of the National Labs, a university, or a big company that is in the Industry Council. People squint at my badge, which says "Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset Consulting," and ask "where are you from?" And I say "New York City" and they say, "Oh, Brookhaven?" and then I explain that I'm a Better Scientific Software Fellowship Honorable Mention and that I'm working on materials to help people maintain open source software better. On the second day of the conference, I took a pen and added "BSSw" to the badge to help jump-start this process.
  • People here will refer to "a code" to mean an application or a particular simulation, where I might say "a tool". A person might refer to "running industrial codes" or "legacy codes that have been used for decades".
  • One of the kinds of sessions I'm not allowed in is the detailed PathForward stuff; DoE is contracting with chipmakers to do research and development and get big cutting-edge supercomputers for the ECP.
    Following a rigorous review process, six responses were selected for award and contract negotiations began. All six selected responses successfully led to contracts that were awarded and announced in June 2017. The six awardees were Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Cray Inc. (Cray), Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), International Business Machines (IBM), Intel Corp. (Intel), and NVIDIA Corp. (NVIDIA).

    HPE has bought Cray so that reduces the competition among these vendors -- and the redundancy in case one of them delivers late, goes bankrupt, or what have you.

  • Some people who are not US citizens work at the National Labs, including the more weapons-centric ones. [Edited 1:13 CT to note: I said "many" originally, but this is not to say that non-US-citizens are a majority! There are thousands of people working at the National Labs; "many" does not mean "most," just, like, there are some. I don't have exact numbers here and am changing "many" to "some".] They are open to hiring people from other countries. Also, National Labs employees are kiiiiiiiinda US government employees and kinda not in a way that I don't understand well enough to explain. But there are national security projects within the US government that would appreciate if more US citizens got into science and engineering research -- hence, for example, the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) which

    helps ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the United States and reinforces its diversity. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions.

    Fellows share in the prestige and opportunities that become available when they are selected. Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees (paid to the institution), opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.

    And they don't require a GRE score, by the way. Also you can sign up to help review applications!

  • The researchers at the National Labs, like a lot of scholars within academia, care about getting papers published, and sometimes that gets in the way of good maintainership for their open source projects. For instance, if you are worried that sharing your feature roadmap for your open source tool will let someone else get the jump on you and get a paper submitted sooner, you might hold that information kinda secret, which makes it more likely users will duplicate that work in their own forks.
  • The different National Labs have different cultures and "the further they are from a city, the weirder they get".

Thanks to BSSw for bringing me here! [Edited 4:57pm CT to add: I went on so long about these pseudo-anthopological observations that I need to start a new entry about cool tools I found out about here! Hope that will be next.]


(1) : MOSS Video, BSSw Honorable Mention, and The Maintainership Book I Am Writing:

Video

Mozilla interviewed me about the Python Package Index (PyPI), a USD$170,000 Mozilla Open Source Support award I helped the Python Software Foundation get in 2017, and how we used that money to revamp PyPI and drive it forward in 2017 and 2018.

From that interview, they condensed a video (2 minutes, 14 seconds) featuring, for instance, slo-mo footage of me making air quotes. Their tweet calls me "a driving force behind" PyPI, and given how many people were working on it way before I was, that's quite a compliment!

I will put a transcript in the comments of this blog post.

(Please note that they massively condensed this video from 30+ minutes of interview. In the video, I say, "the site got popular before the code got good". In the interview, I did not just say that without acknowledging the tremendous effort of past volunteers who worked on the previous iteration of PyPI and kept the site going through massive infrastructure challenges, but that's been edited (for brevity, I assume).)

This video is the first in a series meant to encourage people to apply for MOSS funding. I mentioned MOSS in my grants roundup last month. If you want to figure out whether to apply for MOSS funding for your open source software project, and you need help, ping me for a free 20-minute chat or phone call and I can give you some quick advice. (Offer limited in case literally a hundred people contact me, which is unlikely.)

BSSw

The Better Scientific Software (BSSw) Fellowship Program "gives recognition and funding to leaders and advocates of high-quality scientific software." I'm one of three Honorable Mentions for 2020.

The main goal of the BSSw Fellowship program is to foster and promote practices, processes, and tools to improve developer productivity and software sustainability of scientific code. We also anticipate accumulating a growing community of BSSw Fellowship alums who can serve as leaders, mentors, and consultants to increase the visibility of those involved in scientific software production and sustainability in the pursuit of scientific discovery.

Exascale Computing Project logoThat's why I'll be at the Exascale Computing Project Annual Meeting next week in Houston, so if you're there, I hope to meet you. In particular I'd like to meet the leaders of open source projects who want help streamlining contribution processes, growing more maintainers, managing communications with stakeholders, participating in internship projects like Google Summer of Code and Outreachy, expediting releases, and getting more out of hackathons. My consulting firm provides these services, and at ECPAM I can give you some free advice.

Book

And here's the project I'm working on -- why I received this honor.

In 2020, I am writing the first draft of a book teaching the skills open source software maintainers need, aimed at those working scientists and other contributors who have never managed public-facing projects before.

More than developer time, maintainership -- coordination, leadership, and management -- is a bottleneck in software sustainability. The lack of skilled managers is a huge blocker to the sustainability of Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) infrastructure.

Many FLOSS project maintainers lack management experience and skill. This textbook/self-help guide for new and current maintainers of existing projects ("brownfield projects") will focus on teaching specific project management skills in the context of FLOSS. This will provide scalable guidance, enabling existing FLOSS contributors to become more effective maintainers.

Existing "how to run a FLOSS project" documentation (such as Karl Fogel's Producing Open Source Software) addresses fresh-start "greenfield" projects rather than more common "brownfield", and doesn't teach specific project management skills (e.g., getting to know a team, creating roadmaps, running asynchronous meetings, managing budgets, and writing email memos). Existing educational pathways for scientists and developers (The Carpentries, internships and code schools) don't cover FLOSS-specific management skills.

So I'm writing a sequel to Karl's book -- with his blessing -- and I'm excited to see how I can more scalably share the lessons I've learned in more than a decade of leading open source projects.

I don't yet have a full outline, a publisher, or a length in mind. I'll be posting more here as I grow my plans. Thanks to BSSw and all my colleagues and friends who have encouraged me.


: Everyone Has Bugs To Report, Everyone Has Bug Reports To Accept: I was partway through college. I was taking a class about US films of 1939 and their social/historical context. The professor said something in a lecture about Upton Sinclair. I went to his office hours and checked: had he meant Sinclair Lewis? He had! And in the next lecture, he said: I made an error last time, I said Upton Sinclair when I meant Sinclair Lewis in [context], Sumana corrected me, thanks Sumana!

And then several weeks later, we were discussing some movie and I raised my hand and said something about a male character seeming "effete" but I pronounced it like "eff et", like the "ette" part was like how you pronounce the end of "suffragette". I think I'd never heard it aloud before, just read it. Classic autodidact pronunciation mistake.

And Professor Michael Rogin said: what?

And I said: Effete. Like, effeminate.

And he said: Oh, you mean effete! [And he pronounced it like "ef-feet".] But you corrected me about Sinclair Lewis before, so it's fine. And then we carried on the actual conversation and I didn't feel bad. It was like: well, we've both made mistakes and corrected each other, and we're fine, and let's talk about the substantive point now.

I'm using italics instead of quotation marks here because I'm sure my memory is paraphrasing. My point is: Professor Rogin, you made me feel okay about taking that particular bug report, may you rest in peace, and I still remember the nonchalant humility and self-confidence you demonstrated and encouraged in me.

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: 10+ Years Later: Back in 2009, my spouse and I edited and published an anthology of original speculative fiction and art called Thoughtcrime Experiments (here's why, and how you can do it yourself).

I wrote some followup posts: a few months later, a little after that, one year later, four years later, five years later. It cheers me whenever I meet one of our authors or artists in person. And I get to brag about the Ken Liu story we published and how (as he keeps saying) TE publishing that story was a huge turning point in his writing career.

There's a newish New York Times piece today about Liu's work as a translator, bridging the worlds of English- and Chinese-language scifi. His experience, fame, and connections as an author of speculative fiction help him advocate for Chinese-language science fiction in Anglophone markets.

We planted seeds more than a decade back, and they're still sprouting.

In the last few years I made, encouraged, and promoted performance art about making technology. This year I'm handing those responsibilities over to others, passing the baton to title of conf and other events, so I can concentrate on my clients, my family, and writing about open source maintainership.

So I've just set a calendar reminder for myself, for 2030, to ask myself: how is the legacy of "The Art of Python" doing?

I don't have a ten-year plan. But I have at least one ten-year question.

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: An Annotated Bibliography of the Inside of My Head: A friend suggested:

You know those books that you can’t stop thinking about, won’t shut up about, and wish everyone around you would read? The ones that, if taken in aggregate, would tell people more about you than your resume?

So, per request, this is a "list of books that you recommend over and over... the handful of books that you ENDLESSLY recommend, or refer to, or what have you," but since I have a cold, this is late and somewhat unlinked and VERY non-comprehensive. And I reviewed many of these books at more length in my Reading tag.

  • Making Software: What Really Works, and Why We Believe It, edited by Andy Oram and Greg Wilson. If you are a technologist, skim at least the table of contents and you'll see something that will help you work better and/or win an argument.
  • Getting to Yes by Fisher and Ury: gave me a framework for doing negotiation, including in those moments I might not have realized were negotiations.
  • Perfecting Sound Forever by Greg Milner. Here's Scott Rosenberg's review. I listen to music all the time; this gave me a new dimension on which to appreciate it.
  • In A Different Voice by Carol Gilligan. How do you reason about your moral choices? What are the ways we might reason differently?
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula Kroeber Le Guin. What personalities, dilemmas, approaches would you see and struggle with if you really tried nonhierarchical cooperative modes of making civilization together?
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, again by Le Guin. Such a great road buddy story.
  • Steerswoman series, by Rosemary Kirstein - my review & recommendation post.
  • China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh. Labor, vulnerability, travelogue, queer love, goats on Mars, entrepreneurship, people finding ways to make our lives work in the aftermath of epochal change.
  • The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction by Linda Gordon. A fascinating, awful tale interweaved with explanations of ways religion, race, class, gender, and geography played into what happened.
  • Dear Genius, the letters of Ursula Nordstrom. Short review here.
  • How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. My memoir/review.
  • Slow River by Nicola Griffith. Like China Mountain Zhang, about rebuilding one's life, engineering, learning to have healthy relationships, and making a place for oneself in a massively screwed-up world.
  • Producing Open Source Software by Karl Fogel. The basics that every open source software maintainer should know.
  • Notes On Nursing: What It Is, and What It Is Not by Florence Nightingale. Nightingale focuses on executive energy, attention, and putting the proper processes into place such that patients (employees) have the resources and quiet they need to get better (do their work). Once you get to a certain administrative level, instead of solving problems ad hoc you have to think strategically. "How can I provide for this right thing to be always done?"
  • Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves by Adam Hochschild. A really inspiring tale of the British abolition of the slave trade and slavery. Reminds us that social justice battles are winnable. And reminds us of the historical connection between civil rights and women's rights. Hochschild specifically wrote to remind us that activists really can achieve what seems impossible. We've done it before and we will do it again. There will be setbacks and challenges and half-steps and repetitions over and over.
  • Ben Franklin's Autobiography. So subtle and perceptive about how to change oneself and how to persuade others, and about the folly you'll run into along the way.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Empirically a book that fits the brief. Tells me more about how a certain subset of people think every time I read it.
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