# (5) 01 Jul 2009, 01:35PM: Cool Facts:
The Amazon Kindle and Garmin GPS navigators use GStreamer, a piece of software that my company, Collabora, maintains. (As colleague Youness El Alaoui describes, "GStreamer is a multimedia framework for constructing graphs of media-handling components. This means that businesses can easily create customized pipelines allowing media playback, transcoding, media streaming, video editing, etc.")
If you're connected to the Net from a new physical location or network, and suddenly you can't send email (but receiving works fine), try switching your SMTP (outgoing) port from 25 to something else, such as 587. Port 25 often gets blocked as part of spam prevention.
Collabora's Cambridge headquarters might be where Clive Sinclair, inventor of the ZX Spectrum, worked. Thus, our offices might appear in a new dramatic recreation of the battle between the ZX Spectrum and the BBC Micro, to be televised in the UK.
WisCon 34 wants ideas for panels. I am thinking of proposing "HOWTO Describe Nonwhite Characters Sans Fail" (a.k.a., "Her Skin Was The Color Of A Delicious Coca-Cola"), and/or something asking about the goals and effectiveness of Goodreads/LibraryThing/BookMooch/PaperbackSwap/Tor.com/Suvudu/Infinite Summer/50books_poc.
Update: I would be remiss not to link to Jed's roundup of links on describing brown skin tones and otherwise "indicat[ing] culture and ethnicity in fictional characters". And I may as well get these in while I can: "her skin was like a half-caf no-whip soy venti frappucino"; "her skin was the 85% cacao shade of the new Ultra Dark Dove Bar, $9.99 for a box of 12, in your grocer's freezer"; "her UPS brown fingers muted to an eight-grain Kashi GoodFriends hue at the wrist, but her elbow reminded me of a FedEx logo spattered with Aegean mud."
# 02 Jul 2009, 02:14PM: Small Mysteries:
In Moon: what's the song playing on Sam's alarm clock? Is it by The Strokes (video directed awesomely by Warren Fu)?
In old email: when and why did Leonard and I start using the endearment "factory bear"?
In recent note to myself: what did "bread overhead & The Secret Garden" mean?
# (5) 02 Jul 2009, 02:48PM: While Listening To Kraftwerk:
The votes all request the New York As Religion hypothesis. So here goes some analogizing. Actual ethnographers, please correct the hell out of me.
The phenomena I wish to explain:
- New Yorkers feel at home when they can give directions.
- New Yorkers feel righteously angry when someone acts inefficiently.
- New Yorkers, upon visiting a less systematically coherent urban ecology, express condescension or angry bewilderment.
- New Yorkers feel numinous experiences of being at one with their city (yes, I know that happy residents of all places feel this as well).
What are the two things that specifically and disproportionately make New Yorkers angry?
- People moving slowly in public spaces and impeding others' efficient use of spaces and services (e.g., blocking escalators, getting to the front of a line and not knowing what one wants)
- Systems that have not been properly thought through (e.g., "It's just stupid that they don't have a sign up," "Don't waste my time doing x when you could just tell me y because you already know z")
New York is a city you can trust, the way you can trust certain rock-solid pieces of software. Millions of people have been using it to its limits every day; anything you want to do, someone else has tried. There is a blazed trail, a user interface, a well-known list of features and longstanding bugs and workarounds. Via intelligent design (grid of streets, subway system) and evolution (ruthless market forces for 400 years), this city creates an expectation in its users that things will make sense.
And New Yorkers grow to believe that systems should make sense, big systems like the subway and smaller systems like theatres or meetups or gardens. They live in a city where there is usually a reason why you are being inconvenienced, or why that restaurant has the following it does, or why that bit of infrastructure works the way it does. The explanation might refer to history, or to an arbitrage opportunity, or to the peculiar and customary crystallizations of our struggles with entropy. But, once you're thinking on the macro scale, things tend to make sense. It's unlikely we're on the efficient frontier, but we feel close to it.
Instead of feeling as though we're going it alone, in individual cars with routes we choose (ignoring the massive social structures embedded in car-based transit), we use openly social constructions. We depend on the subway and the line at the bodega. We do a hundred trust falls every day, delivering ourselves unto each other. No one New Yorker earned this trust, but we all gain from it. We have the smugness that comes with believing: the world makes sense and has a place for me.
So when someone or some organization does something that does not make sense, it's not just inconvenient, it's heresy. Inefficiencies go against the natural order of the world. It breaks the trust.
Visiting other cities, more "laid-back" places where people and organizations tolerate more inefficiency, we either pity the poor dears or get irritable and bewildered. We get angry, or we laugh, or we try to convert others, or we must consciously adapt to a new lifestyle. There is something in our preferences that we privilege above mere tendency, that ties into values and identity.
When others come to us, when tourists stand still on Manhattan street corners with maps, some pity the heathens, and some grumble that they're blocking the sidewalk. But some of us give directions. We get to show off our knowlege of the beautiful, elegant cosmos. We hope to convey the splendor of the grid, and its hospitality -- there is a path already laid out for you, and we made it for you before you ever thought to come here at all. We Witness.
# (2) 09 Jul 2009, 06:07AM: Happy Birthday, Leonard:
As I said on his blog when he commemorated the end of his twenties:
Happy birthday, sweetie. I trust you'll be even more awesome in the next decade than you were during the decade when I first got to know and love you.
I can't believe my luck in getting and keeping your attention, much less your love. If I stay lucky, if I keep getting better than I deserve, I'll be next to you in 2019, leaning my head on your shoulder when you post the follow-up.
The urge to be indescribably mushy is interfering with my ability to string together coherent sentences, so here's a yearning look, a brush of my hand across yours, and a clink of our two rings together, joining us across the miles and years.
# (3) 10 Jul 2009, 04:42AM: "Shade" Is A Creepy Piece Of Interactive Fiction:
I went to the beach. Lots of people do it all the time, I suppose, but I don't, usually. Seemed pleasant at the time*, but now there's sand everywhere, on the floor, on the back of my neck, in my bed. I can't get away from it, even though I've had a few showers since. It's a reminder of where I've been; I take this inescapable grittiness everywhere with me, little embodied chunks of experience, exfoliating the skin I thought I'd protected with sunscreen, rubbing me the wrong way.
I know eventually it'll go away, but right now you could call me George Sand and I wouldn't object.
* I now realize that many spa treatments, such as exfoliation, seaweed wraps, hot stone massages, and hydrotherapy, aim to replicate the beach experience. Even the calming music resembles ocean waves.
# 10 Jul 2009, 11:39PM: My Standby Joke:
A few times in the past year, I've taken the risk of leaning over to an English-speaking stranger in the airport, one who's wearing a suit or the like, and saying, "Ah, the glamor of business travel." It hasn't yet failed to get a laugh.
# (3) 13 Jul 2009, 03:15AM: Fun Short Scifi:
"Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs," by Leonard Richardson, Strange Horizons, 13 July 2009.
"I want to buy a gun," said the Thymomenoraptor. He moved his foreclaw along the glass case of pistols, counting them off: one, two, three, four. "That one." He tapped the case; the glass squeaked.
"Why would a dinosaur need a gun?" asked the shop owner.
The owner's gaze dropped to the three-inch claw that had chipped his display case.
"These are killing claws," said the dinosaur, whose name was Tark. "For sheep, or cows. I merely want to disable an attacker with a precision shot to the leg or other uh, limbal region."
"Uh-huh," the owner said. "Or maybe you figure humans shoot each other all the time, but if someone turns up ripped in half the cops are gonna start lookin' for dinosaurs."
Tark carefully pounded the counter. "There used to be a time," he said, "when gun dealers would actually sell people guns! A time . . . called America. I miss that time."
"I don't sell to foreign nationals."
"Racist!" The gun dealer flinched but said nothing. "All right, look, just give me this periodical, okay?"
"I got ripped off," said Tark a little later. "That periodical contained neither guns nor ammo."
Leonard wrote it and Jed edited it, and it would thus have a special place in my heart even if it weren't hilarious.
# (1) 14 Jul 2009, 07:13AM: The Home Office:
I am finishing some berry tea from a ninja-logoed mug. I am in an office a few floors above the ground, across the road from King's College. I see English summer light and the college spires through the open window. We laugh out loud when someone says something funny on IRC, and then laugh again at someone's one-upping reply. It's Tuesday, so we're going to eat pizza at the two-for-one Tuesdays pizza place. The noon chimes just rang. I have a huge TODO list. Two of those items are making proper TODO lists from meeting notes.
I am happy.
# (1) 14 Jul 2009, 10:15AM: Obvious Tech Talk Q&A Prep:
A certain species of tech talk goes like: "Here's a product/methodology/tool I hack on, here's what it's good for and how/why you should add it to your toolkit." It's an honorable and useful presentation topic. As you prepare your talk, think about the questions your audience will have in the back of its head. If you can address them in the talk itself, great. If not, prepare answers for use in the questions-and-answers session.
- How do I get started using it?
- Why should I use this instead of the competition?
- Security implications?
- Performance implications? ("Yes, but does it scale?")
- Who's using this in real life?
- Where's the project going next? What do you need help with?
- What language is it written in?
- Why did you name it that?
The most important question is the one you hope no one asks because the answer is embarrassing. What would your smartest enemy ask?
(List developed while helping Youness practice his libnice talk last week.)
# (3) 17 Jul 2009, 11:34AM: More Notes From The Office:
Sure, it's usually true that a job interview is going well if the conversation goes swimmingly, with no 90-second interruptions for explanations. But not if I'm interviewing a Brit. What's a second-class degree? What's a "supervisory" in this context? And so on.
From today's IRC conversation, after I pointed people to IKEA tumbler hacking:
* sumanah kills the entire company's productivity; secretly working for [competitor]
# (2) 20 Jul 2009, 07:45AM: Found Poetry:
Inadvertently lyrical lines overheard at the virtual water cooler:
and if that package doesn't build, I'll need to give it another poke
and when we get the screen, we test and choose
I'm back in New York City.
# 20 Jul 2009, 11:41PM: Boston Weekend:
Leonard and I will visit Boston this weekend. If you're reading this from a Boston-area computer, I probably want to hang out with you!
# (3) 23 Jul 2009, 10:36AM: A New Low:
Leonard made some ice cream using the ice cream maker. He put the mix in the freezer. Later, I heard an odd hissing sound coming from the kitchen. Had something gone wrong with the ice cream? Does ice cream emit a hissing sound when it's failing to set? "Do you hear that sound? I don't know what all your crazy kitchen gadgets do," I said to him. Then we looked and it was a kettle of water I'd put on to boil, for tea, and forgotten.
# (3) 26 Jul 2009, 11:11PM: Did She Ever Return? Yes, She Ever Returned:
Back from Boston. Thanks to Claudia, Andrew, Julia, Moss, Adam, Suresh, Andres, Anna, Warren, Kirk, Mark, Jerjou, and Leonard for a lovely time.
# 26 Jul 2009, 11:14PM: E-mail Provider:
The UC Berkeley Open Computing Facility servers will be down for something like a week, 28 July - 4 August 2009, so my regular email address and my blog will be down then too, oh joy. Try to remember to email me at my backup address, email@example.com.
# 27 Jul 2009, 09:42PM: Those Annoying Isms Keep Isming:
I was at a software conference a few weeks ago where Richard M. Stallman said something unfortunate. I wasn't there for it so I heard about it afterwards and shook my head and sighed.
At the conference I got to meet lots of cool developers, such as Matthew Garrett. Matthew hacks, tells fun stories, and enjoys inflicting Hackers and other like movies on his friends. Matthew also does ally work. Right now he's painstakingly explaining to the less clueful members of the free software community why Stallman's remarks were inappropriate, and why it's right and proper to criticize him publicly.
I also met a male developer who asked me what the deal was with my buzzcut hair -- was I a lesbian? If not, why the short hair? I asked him back why he had short hair, and why he didn't wear heels and lipstick, etc. Probably could have made a better comeback there.
So don't worry, I got my quota of feeling othered, despite missing that keynote. And I'm guessing no matter where I go or when I join a tech community I won't be lacking for my recommended daily allowance of genderfail.
Some of y'all don't know why Richard M. Stallman is simultaneously important and unimportant to software people like me. He did some really important stuff a few decades ago, he has a tremendous legacy, and he's ended up as one of the high-profile faces our community presents to the outside world. But these days he's talking more than doing, and he acts really touchy, and just over and over ends up saying things that make everyone wince.
At this point, if you are a science fiction fan, you might light up and say, Oh, I get it, he's like the Harlan Ellison of open source!
And WHAT DO YOU KNOW! While I was visiting my gentle geeky friends in Boston, Ellison posted some really jerky paragraphs about an acquaintance of mine. He later apologized in his own not-very-apologetic way. The whole incident made me look back at the one personal interaction I've had with Ellison (summary) in a less-than-flattering light.
I knew, years ago, that I'd have to deal with crap from the communities that I loved, because of my heritage and my chromosomes. But I didn't know, viscerally, how tiring it would be. The more I accept my membership in these communities as a part of my identity, the more headspace these incidents take up. If I work hard enough, contribute enough, maybe someday no one will dare say I'm not good enough. Maybe someday I'll reach tremendous stature in my chosen community, and turn into the token nonwhite/female who gets used as proof that We Aren't Bigots, Really. A depressing thought.
I'd like a future where my race and sex are never the most remarkable things about me, in my work or in my hobbies. It's International Blog Against Racism Week. Because I'm not the only one who thinks that way, thank goodness.
 I've tried emacs a bunch of times, including periods of sustained use, and I know I need to actually put the time and energy in to grok it, learn all the keyboard shortcuts, at some point. Neal Stephenson on emacs increases my desire to do this; RMS/Yegge do not.
Cogito, Ergo Sumana by Sumana Harihareswara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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