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: A Few Thoughts On Recent Scifi/Fantasy: Star Trek Beyond is actually a Star Trek movie rather than an arbitrary summer blockbuster wearing Starfleet paint. (I thought the MacGuffin was going to be the resonator from "Gambit" but the movie ended up being more like "The Wounded". Actual Trek episodes! Yay!)

Naomi Novik's Uprooted features a grand library of magic-related books. In this scene a young woman is seeking writings by the magician who most inspires her, a woman named Jaga, or by magicians like her, and speaks with the disapproving Father Ballo:

"Are there any other spellbooks like Jaga's here, that I might look in?" I asked, even though I knew Ballo didn't have any use for her.

"My child, this library is the heart of the scholarship of magic in Polnya," he said. "Books are not flung onto these shelves by the whim of some collector, or through the chicanery of a bookseller; they are not here because they are valuable, or painted in gold to please some noble's eye. Every volume added has been carefully reviewed by at least two wizards in the service of the crown; their virtues have been confirmed and at least three correct workings attested, and even then they must be of real power to merit a place here. I myself have spent nearly my entire life of service pruning out the lesser works, the curiosities and the amusements of earlier days; you will certainly not find anything like that here."

..... [some of the excluded works] seemed perfectly reasonable formal spellbooks to me, but evidently hadn't met Father Ballo's more rigorous standards.

Father Ballo is the fantasy equivalent of a Wikipedia deletionist. Indeed, given Novik's love of fandom and the internet, I would venture to guess that she's aware of the echo and doing it deliberately.

And a few recent short stories to recommend:

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: MidAmericon and Zambia: MidAmericon II, the 74th Worldcon (a long-standing yearly celebration of scifi and fantasy and the fandom thereof) has just released its programming schedule. I'm participating in several program items. All of the following take place August 17-21, 2016, at the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City, MO.

  1. Panelist, "The Interstices of Historical and Fanfiction", Wednesday Aug 17, 7pm-8pm, KCCC 2204
  2. Panelist, "The Imaginary Book Club", Thursday Aug 18, 11am-noon, KCCC 2502A
  3. Panelist, "Bad Boy Woobie", Thursday Aug 18, 1pm-2pm, KCCC 2204
  4. "Comedy Tonight!" (I'll perform about 30 minutes of stand-up comedy during this three-person showcase), Thursday Aug 18, 7pm-8:30pm, KCCC 3501B
  5. Panelist, "The New Space Opera Golden Age on the Screen", Friday Aug 19, 10am-11am, KCCC 2503B
  6. Auctioneer for Tiptree Award Auction, Friday Aug 19, noon-1pm, KCCC Flexible Activities Space
  7. Panelist, "The Art and Science of Fiction Translation", Friday Aug 19, 2pm-3pm, KCCC 3501F
  8. Panelist, "Comics Confrontational! Social Issues in Recent Comics", Saturday Aug 20, 10am-11am, KCCC 2206
  9. Panelist, "Representation in Comic Books: From Absences to Affirmatives", Saturday Aug 20, 1pm-2pm, KCCC 3501B

At this Worldcon I will finally get to meet, for the first time, Ken Liu, whom Leonard and I published in Thoughtcrime Experiments seven years ago. I predict I will meet him because he and I will both serve on that scifi translation panel, and I'll see friends Elise Matthesen and Teresa Nielsen Hayden because we're also on sessions together. Will I get to see other friends? Only future Sumana knows.

Then, in late August and early September, I'm visiting family abroad. Specifically: my sister Nandini, an extremely impressive person, works for the United Nations Capital Development Fund as a Digital Finance Country Technical Specialist. In case you haven't heard of UNCDF:

UNCDF is the UN's capital investment agency for the world's 48 least developed countries. It creates new opportunities for poor people and small businesses by increasing access to microfinance and investment capital. UNCDF focuses on Africa and the poorest countries of Asia, with a special commitment to countries emerging from conflict or crisis.

Getting this job meant that she and my brother-in-law moved to Zambia. I will make my first ever trip to Africa in order to see them! And I'll get to see Victoria Falls. If you know someone in Lusaka you think I should meet, especially anyone interested in open source software, please let me know!


: Advice on Starting And Running A New Open Source Project: Recently, a couple of programmers asked me for advice on starting and running a new open source project. So, here are some thoughts, assuming you're already a programmer, you haven't led a team before, and you know your new software project is going to be open source.

I figure there are a few different kinds of best practices in starting and running open source projects.

General management: Some of my recommendations are the same kinds of best practices that are useful anytime you're starting/running/managing any kind of project, inside or outside the software world.

For instance: know why you're starting this thing. Write down even just a one-paragraph or 100-word bulleted list description of what you are aiming at. This will reduce the chance that you'll look up one day and see that your targeted little tool has turned into a mess that's trying to be an entire operating system.

And: if you're making something that you want other people to use, then check what those other people are already using/doing, so you can make sure you suit their needs. This guards against any potential perception that you are starting a new project thoughtlessly, or just for the heck of it, or to learn a new framework. In the software world, this includes taking note of your target users' dependencies (e.g., the versions of Python/NumPy that they already have installed).

Resources I have found useful here include William Ball's book on theatrical direction A Sense of Direction, Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, Fisher & Ury's Getting To Yes, Cialdini's Influence: The Science of Persuasion, and Ries & Trout's Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.

Tech management: Some best practices are the same kinds of habits that help in managing any kind of software project, including closed-source projects as well.

For instance: more automated tests in/for your codebase are better, because they reduce regressions so you can move faster and merge others' code faster (and let others review and merge code faster), but don't sweat getting to 100%, because there's definitely a decreasing marginal utility to this stuff. Travis CI is pretty easy to set up for the common case.

I assume you're using Git. Especially if you're going to be the maintainer on a code level, learn to use Git beyond just push and pull. Clone a repo of a project you don't care about and try the more advanced commands as you make little changes to the code, so if you ruin everything you haven't actually set your own work back. Learn to branch and merge and work with remotes and cherry-pick and bisect. Read this super useful explanation of the Git model which articulates what's actually doing what -- it helps.

Good resources here include Brooks's The Mythical Man-Month, DeMarco & Lister's Peopleware, Heidi Waterhouse's "The Seven Righteous Fights", Camille Fournier's blog, and my own talk "Learn Tech Management in 45 Minutes" and my article "Software in Person". I myself earned a master's in technology management and if you are super serious about becoming a technology executive then that's a path I can give more specific thoughts on, but I'm not about to recommend that amount of coursework to someone who isn't looking to make a career out of this.

Open source management: And some best practices are the specific social, product management, architectural, and infrastructural best practices of open source projects. A few examples:

If you're the maintainer, it's key to reply to new project-related emails, queries, bug reports, and patches fast; a Mozilla analysis backs up our experience that a kind, fast, negative response is better than a long silent delay. Reply to people fast, even if it's just "I saw this, thank you, I'm busy, will get to this in a few weeks," because otherwise the uncertainty is deathly and people's enthusiasm and momentum drip away.

Make announcements somewhere public and easily findable that say something about the current state of your project, e.g., about whether it's ready to use or when to expect it to be. This could even just be someplace prominent in your README when you're just getting started. This is also a good place to mention if you're going to be at any upcoming conferences, so people can connect to you that way.

Especially when it comes to code, docs, and bug/feature/task lists, work in the open from as early as possible, preferably from the start. Treat private work as a special case (sometimes a useful one when it comes to communication with users and with new contributors, as a tidepool incubates growth that can then flow into the ocean).

I am sad, as a FLOSS zealot, to say that you should probably be on the closed-source platform that is GitHub. But yeah, the intake funnel for code and bug contributors is easier on GitHub than on any other platform; unless you are pretty sure you already know who all the people are who will use and improve this software, and they're all happy on GitLab or similar, GitHub is going to get you more and faster contributors.

You are adjacent to or embedded in other programming communities, like the programming language & frameworks you're using. Use the OSI-approved license that the projects you're adjacent to/depending on use, to make reuse easier.

It's never too early to think about governance. As Christie Koehler of Authentic Engine warns, to think about codes of conduct, you also gotta think about governance. (The Contributor Covenant is a popular starting point.) If you can be under the umbrella of a software-related nonprofit, like NumFOCUS, that'll help you make and implement these choices.

Top reading recommendation: Karl Fogel's Producing OSS is basically the bible for this category, and the online version is up-to-date with new advice from this year. If you read Producing OSS cover-to-cover you will be entirely set to start and run your project.

Additionally: Fogel also co-wrote criteria for assessing whether a project "is created and managed in a sustainably open source way". And I recommend my own blog post "How To Improve Bus Factor In Your Open Source Project", the Linux Foundation CII criteria (hat-tip to Benjamin Gilbert), "build your own rockstars" by one of the founders of the Dreamwidth project, and "dreamwidth as vindication of a few cherished theories" by that same founder (especially the section starting "our development environment and how we managed to create a process and culture that's so welcoming").

Obligatory plug: I started Changeset Consulting, which provides targeted project management and release management services for open source projects and the orgs that depend on them. In many ways I am maintainer-as-a-service. If you want to talk more about this work, please reach out!

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: Grief: It's been a tough week. Wednesday of last week, I learned that Kevin Gorman had died. He was only 24 years old. I met Kevin through my work at the Wikimedia Foundation. He was a feminist activist who put a tremendous amount of energy into making Wikipedia a better resource for everyone. He added and improved articles, and he taught others, and he took on the emotional work of moderating and responding to voices that were arguing against feminists, and of fighting harassment (in all his communities). As he said on his user profile:

I dislike systemic biases; both those caused by our gender, racial, and geographic biases, and those caused by no abstract available bias and its kindred. One of my stronger interests on Wikipedia is making available online in a freely available format content that cannot be currently be found on the Wikimedia projects because of our systemic biases. I think that this is some of the most important work that can be done on Wikipedia at this time.

I had known that he'd been fighting various illnesses for some time, but I was still shocked to hear of Kevin's death; he was far too young. My condolences to his family and his friends and his many collaborators in free knowledge and justice. Kevin and I didn't have that many conversations but in every one I heard his deep passion for the work of improving our culture on all levels; he never ceased to be shocked at things that aren't right, and to channel that shock into activism and organizing. I will miss his dedication and I will remember his ideals.

He was only 24. As I handle more and more death I come to learn which deaths cause more painful griefs. I seem to believe, somewhere deep inside, that people younger than me really shouldn't die, that it breaks an axiom.

And then the next day I learned that Chip Deubner had died. Further shock and grief. I met Chip because we worked together at the Wikimedia Foundation; he was a desktop support technician, and the creator and maintainer of the audiovisual recording and conference systems, and then rose to manage others. And I can attest to his work ethic -- he cared about the reliability of the tools that his colleagues used to do their work, and he was that reliable himself, ready at a moment's notice to take on new challenges. He demonstrated a distinctive combination of efficiency and patience: help from Chip was fast, accurate, effective, and judgment-free. If anything, he was too reticent to speak up about his own frustrations. I was glad to see him grow professionally, to take on new responsibility and manage others, and I'm glad he was able to touch so many lives in his time on earth -- I only had a few memorable conversations with him, since he lived in the Bay Area and I mostly telecommuted from New York, but I know he enjoyed office karaoke and that many WMF folks counted him as a friend, and grieve him as one. He was a maintainer and a keeper and a maker of things, in a world that needs more such people. He will be in my thoughts and my prayers. (I wrote much of this in a guestbook that might decay off the web, so I'm publishing the words here too.)

Chip died of a brain tumor. He knew he was dying, months before, so he left his job and went back to his family home in Missouri to die. He died on July 9th. And I didn't know, and didn't have a chance to say goodbye, and I suspect this is because I am not on Facebook. Thus, for the first time, I am seriously considering joining Facebook.

Sometimes, in the stupor of grief, I find comfort in doing certain kinds of work -- repetitive, well-specified, medium-cognition work without much call for self-expression. So the article about Hari Kondabolu on English Wikipedia is a lot better now. I took it from 22 citations to 78, found an openly licensed photo to use, and even created the stub of a Telugu Wikipedia page. My thanks to the makers and maintainers of Citoid and the VisualEditor -- with these tools, it is a positive delight to improve articles, a far better experience than in 2011.

Hari Kondabolu turns his anger into comedy. I turn my grief into Wikipedia edits. We all paint with our pain. If we do it right and we're lucky, the stuff we make helps, even if it's just two inches' worth of help, even if it just helps ourselves.

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: Habit, Identity, Self-Care, and Shame: Lately I've been working to acknowledge and honor the difference it makes to me to invest in various activities and habits when they do make a difference to me. Exercising every day, and setting out my workout stuff the night before so I can just grab it in the morning. Witnessing live music. Talking with friends via voice or in person, more often than would happen by chance. Using Beeminder to increase the quantity and frequency of good habits, and LeechBlock to reduce the amount of time I spend on Twitter or MetaFilter. Praying every day. Keeping my work area and my chunk of the bedroom relatively uncluttered, so I feel more peaceful and focused. And beside the noticeable positive effects are some strange echoes and murmurs that are also worth attention.

When the bedstand and bureau and desk are clear of clutter, sometimes I feel unmoored, as though I am surely just moved into or about to move away from this apartment. A life with great expanses of unused horizontal surface area is unfamiliar enough to me that it feels liminal, not mine. Yet, anyway; perhaps I can get used to it.

And sometimes, I feel shame about what I want or need, shame about what sustains me. This is different from anti-"guilty pleasure" bias. I engage in self-care in response to specific stress or disappointment. When a blow hits me, I curl up with the latest Courtney Milan romance novel and some combination of tea, cognac, corn nuts, and chocolate. And feminism has helped me overcome fatphobic and anti-feminine prejudice that castigated these forms of comfort. For instance, I now much more rarely use the word "trashy" for a certain genre of fiction; just as Disneyland takes a hell of a lot of engineering, fiction that conveys engaging characters and a diverting plot through accessible prose takes quite a lot of craft. And besides, what I'm feeling isn't guilt anyway; guilt is about what you've done. Shame is about what you are.

I can see that it helps me to use Beeminder and LeechBlock, to exercise, to pray, to make people laugh, to see live music. So why the sense of shame? I think it's because if I like or need those things, then I am not entirely autonomous, I am not entirely self-disciplined, I am not a brain in a jar. My body needs things, my sociability needs to be fed, my focus and persistence need assistance. The analysis presented by the social model of disability holds true here; I get the message that the way I am is wrong, but when I stop accepting that assumption and start systematically asking "why?", I figure out that it's because there's an assumption in my head that I should be as efficient and autarkic as a space probe.

So perhaps, along with "trashy", I should watch out for places in my internal narrative where "need" and "weak" and "strong" show up. Because yes, I need, and maybe needing feels weak, but if I recognize that need and then take care of it, aren't I strong as well?

I'm also disentangling my intuitions about care and power. I am the one setting up these habits, these guardrails, and I'm doing it as self-love, not as self-punishment or as a power play against another faction of myself. My mindfulness meditation practice has been reminding me to be less clingy about what I think my identity is, and Emily Nagoski's excellent Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life suggests it's helpful to think of one's self as a swarm or constellation. This approach helps me get less hierarchical about all the varying bits of me. So instead of rebelling, I can say "argh" and then say to myself "yeah I know" and then breathe and do the process anyway.

And I can see how I need to show myself self-love via accommodation. I am like both the builder of the building and the person with accessibility needs who needs to use that building. Wouldn't I want some other builder to build hospitably, and wouldn't I want other building users to joyfully make full use of the accommodation available?

And that loving approach, plus seeing my past successes, makes it easier for me to work the way that works for me. Timers, minigoals, setting up mise-en-place ahead of time. The timers and minigoals don't have to be optimal, just right enough to get me in the right neighborhood, then iterate from there. I can have patience and trust the process.

Perhaps the biggest change, the biggest unmooring, is to my identity. I was always behind on correspondence, always surrounded by clutter, fairly sedentary, and I had not realized how these formed part of the furniture of my mind until I started dismantling them. I am curious what the new configuration will be, and whether it will have a chance to consolidate before another set of changes begins.

Thanks to my friend J. and my friend and meditation teacher Emily Herzlin for conversations that led to this post.

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