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(3) : Bountiful Abundance: I started off 2011 by making friends laugh, learning more Unix and git and Python, reading that great David Foster Wallace essay for the first time, taking a nice long train trip next to a congenial stranger who showed me photos and videos of old trains and subway cars and buses and a tugboat race, drinking good beer, writing email to friends, and conversing about all manner of topics with good company. Win.


(4) : After-Action Report: Asheville, North Carolina, is a radiant place to visit. The gorgeous downtown is the most walkable I've ever seen, even a vegetarian can't help but eat very well, and the beer is tremendous. (My tasting notes on the Gouden Carolus: "SO AWESOME".) Havoc Pennington's recent blog post details Asheville's niceness and disadvantages just fine so I won't blubber on. Oh yeah, except that it is fricking weird to so often be the only nonwhite person in the restaurant, and unpleasant to see monuments put up by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

I stayed with my friend David Forbes, whom I met at Foo Camp. When Southern hospitality meets an Indian-trained guest, you get amusingly recursive apologies. David's big flaws are that he does not like olives or The Dispossessed. Also he is orally and literarily verbose with an appetite for conflict, but those qualities he has turned to his advantage as the lead investigative reporter for the local alt-weekly. A relentless realist, a kind host, a thoughtful writer, and a good friend.

David, here is an incomplete list of the songs you could hear me singing, usually in the shower:

Incomplete list of songs I quoted at you at dinners: "Heatseeker Boy," Moxy Früvous; "Everything You Know Is Wrong," Weird Al Yankovic; "Genesis 3:23," The Mountain Goats. That last one is off "The Life Of The World To Come," the Bible-related album I mentioned, but in general Darnielle lurves Bible allusions. That and ultra-vivid psychological and physical descriptions, and melancholy. I also was about to quote at you from Neutral Milk Hotel's "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea."

Writers I remember mentioning to you: Thomas Lynch (The Undertaking), Hugo Schwyzer, figleaf, Robin Einhorn. And David Foster Wallace's commencement address with the line "This is water. This is water."

In technology, I mentioned Dreamwidth (the LiveJournal alternative), DonorsChoose, and Firesheep and HTTPS Everywhere.

And thanks again for hosting me. Come up to New York sometime.


(2) : What's Obsolete & What's Still True?:

In India the number of institutions and organizations installing computers is growing at a rapid rate. This is a welcome sign. More and more of our workers in factories and offices will now turn the monotonous and routine jobs over to the computer, and thus will be cured of the nervous tension which they suffer unconsciously day in and day out. These workers, thus rendered healthy, will be an asset to the country and will devote themselves to more challenging tasks which need the ingenuity of a human brain.

From Essentials of Computer Programming in FORTRAN IV, Nripendra Nath Biswas (Indian Institute of Science), Radiant Books, Bangalore, India, 1975. Page vii; second paragraph of the preface.

My mother knew FORTRAN; she used it, she tells me, in a night job doing data entry at a nuclear power plant. Her FORTRAN teacher said she was awesome and encouraged her to go into programming fulltime; she declined because she didn't want full-time daytime work, or already had a day job. I wonder how my life would be different if I'd grown up with punchcards.

...Where do we write these statements and how does the computer read them? It is quite obvious that writing these statements on a piece of paper and holding it in front of the computer will not solve the problem. (At least not right now. The computers of future generations will surely acquire this capability.)... -p. 33

Considerable research is under progress to improve the capability of a programming language, so that it can itself correct certain types of errors. Even then it is obvious that a programmer will need a more rigorous knowledge of the language to write a computer program than the knowledge of French that an English speaking tourist needs when shopping in Paris... p. 52

Je voudrais un silver bullet!

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(3) : Do Your Choice! I Have No Job!: Leonard & I are watching Battlestar Galactica from the beginning -- we'd started watching at season 3 while it was airing. Leonard says that the worst sin on BSG is not doing your job. Maybe the reason Saul Tigh is such a drunk is that he's playing a drinking game around the words "job" and "choice." This is not a show about the nature of humanity, or reconciling with enemies. This is a show about diligence under constraint, like Project Runway.

(The "no choice" thing is another sign that this isn't Star Trek, because if it were, William Adama would automatically be the villain.)

This came to a head last night:

What's Adama's least favorite thing at Safeway?
Anything that's President's Choice.

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: Least Useful Con Report Ever: Am barely back from Boston. In old newspaper speak, "slugs" were phrases referring to stories, unique identifiers a few words long, just for that day. I have slugs rattling around, stories to be told or written: Grendel's on Sunday with the Mystery Hunt winners, Acetarium, realizing that one is the cool older fan, hearing "O'Reilly books!!" said sarcastically, the opposite of beer goggles, etc.


(1) : Clothed For Submissions: At my first WisCon, Ellen Kushner's aid led to a new shirt in my wardrobe. It's dark and velour and has a mild V-neck. Leonard calls it my T'Pol shirt, after the Vulcan from Star Trek Enterprise.

I wore it to Arisia, where Julia and her friends surprised me. I thought the shirt was black, but their color impressions ranged from gunmetal to brown to purple. Julia today in IM said:

your velour top is velour, color uncertain
should we call that color Ellen Kushner Grey?

My immediate response:

Many works of speculative fiction shift raiments to the background of the story. Few put these crucial elements of worldbuilding where they should be: center stage. What clothes will wear us as we change our politics, our culture, our technology, and our way of life? What will be the fabric of our brave new lives?
John Joseph Adams presents a new anthology:
MATERIAL VELOUR, COLOR UNKNOWN
What's inside that magic wardrobe?

[This is a what-if, an imaginary story. Not a real anthology, not even a fake anthology. No, I'm not about to do a sequel to Thoughtcrime Experiments. However it would be hilarious if someone thought this idea were a goer.]

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(4) : Listen All Of Y'all It's a Self-Sabotage: We learn from surprises, failures, jokes, and disorientations. I recently had a surprise that taught me about my own competence. In response, I wrote a new Geek Feminism post: "On competence, confidence, pernicious socialization, recursion, and tricking yourself".

Then there was the guy who was interviewing me to work at his startup. As we walked, he offhandedly mentioned his current project at his day job: a PHP web app needed to be able to turn user markup into HTML. "And you've already checked whether MediaWiki has something you can grab, right?" I asked. He stopped in his tracks. No, he had not thought of that.

I need to stop assuming that everyone else knows more about the tech than I do.

I also made a RECURSION DINOSAUR graphic, Sarah.


(1) : May Already Exist: Variation: Google Platitude. It analyzes your recent SMSes, your emails, and the galvanic response of your skin to choose a cliché relevant to your mental state, and displays that to you and your circle of friends.

"Sandy's current mental location: Once burned, twice shy"

If you turn off Google Platitude out of privacy concerns, it doesn't actually turn off, it just spitefully sets your status to "If you've done nothing wrong then you have nothing to hide".

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: Atul Gawande, "Better": I keep recommending in-person that people read Atul Gawande's Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance, so I ought to write about it too. I describe it, tongue-in-cheek, as a secular self-help book. Gawande, Michael Lewis, Malcolm Gladwell, This American Life, my ex-boss -- who else gets lyrical about process improvement?

"Process improvement" is such a dry term for it. As Gawande puts it, success and improvement require diligence, ethics, and ingenuity. Mom points out that these match up against three old-school Hindu virtues:

Diligence = karma
Doing Right = dharma
Ingenuity = atma

That last might seem strange except for Gawande's definition. From the introduction:

...ingenuity -- thinking anew. Ingenuity is often misunderstood. It is not a matter of superior intelligence but of character. It demands more than anything a willingness to recognize failure, to not paper over the cracks, and to change. It arises from deliberate, even obsessive, reflections on failure and a constant searching for new solutions.

This book enraptured me, in my late twenties, thinking about capability and courage, the way I didn't even realize science fiction, procedurals, and competence porn enraptured me as a teen. This is the opposite of ER. As I've mentioned in terms of systems thinking and interpersonal responsibility, I used to think that medicine was about heroics, not hygiene -- godlike individuals with huge responsibilities, not teams, not scientists who are good at changing their minds.

And as I get older, I understand diligence and perseverance better, and have a greater capability for them. I appreciate food or software or prose more when I've tried my hand at making it; I appreciate consistency, stamina, grit more when I've seen them from the inside.

Atul means "a lot" or "very," my mother says. I read aloud several portions of Better to my mother. I read aloud his commencement address on becoming a positive deviant. The book version is better than the speech he spoke.

The published word is a declaration of membership in that community, and also of concern to contribute something meaningful to it.

And I read aloud to her the incidents Gawande observes so vividly, the moments one person tries to persuade another. A doctor and a patient, a vaccinator and a resister. Mom says the prose is so beautiful it reminds her of Kannada. I liked every case study in Better, but the ones that stick with me described a Karnatakan polio vaccination drive and two cystic fibrosis clinics. They marry "How can I provide for this right thing to be always done?" with Trollope-level interpersonal power struggles.

In a job interview the other day, after the interviewer praised me for a moment of candor, I said, "I'm not an engineer, but I have an engineer's honesty, I hope." What's that Lincoln line that Obama quoted? I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. (Clever playing with "bound," there.) The joke I make about my Indian parents is that it would have been okay for me to turn into a doctor, because a doctor is an engineer of the body. Conversely, then, if engineers are like doctors, then who am I to them? A hospital administrator, a lab director, a nurse, a paramedic, a journal editor, a public health officer, a research assistant, a med school counselor, and Michael Crichton?

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(1) : The Long And The Short Of It: If you enjoyed Babysitters Club and have more than an hour, Baby-sitters Club The Next Generation #6: Byron and the God of California will reward your readership. It reads like Ann M. Martin, plus profanity and sex.

If you have less time, check out The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen's Window by Rachel Swirsky:

It was then that I knew what she would say next. I wish I could say that my heart felt as immobile as a mountain, that I had always known to suspect the love of a Queen. But my heart drummed, and my mouth went dry, and I felt as if I were falling.

Science, magic, betrayal, gender, a wooden robot, academe, empathy, and change, constant change. This is what speculative fiction can be!

And if you have only a minute, a recent 101-word Anacrusis might be to your taste, on procrastination, linguistic scientist-adventurers, cognitive hazard, or specfic litcrit.

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(3) : When Am I Ever Going To Have To Use This?: Yesterday, while negotiating with potential clients, I used:

All that school comes in handy sometimes!

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(1) : Is Our Sumanas Learning?: Yesterday + today:

Project Hamster screenshot Project Hamster is a nice timetracking app, better for my purposes than is gTimelog.

The magic code to add to an HTML page to make RSS autodiscovery work: <link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="RSS Feed" href="/rss.xml">

What domain name to use, and thus how to construct an email address for email-to-SMS on my phone.

Where the downloadable gzipped archives link is on mailman archive pages (example). On the right, right under my nose; no need to cast about and start constructing a wget command.

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: The Offspring (Of Our Friends): This weekend I visited two friend-couples who have new babies, then came home to read Mary Anne Mohanraj's related post:

In the end, I decided that I wanted to be with him more than I wanted children. I was shaken, but relieved, because finally the decision was made. And then it turned out that it was not done at all.

From this weekend:

"Yeah, it seems like everyone we know is having babies."
"It's a fad; it'll never catch on."


(1) : Recruiting: As you might have seen from my microblogging, I seem to know a lot of firms that are hiring. In short: I know people who are looking for project managers, UX designers, backend developers, undergrads who code, playtesters, kernel & mobile hackers, so if you know me at all, feel free to contact me to ask for an introduction.

Wikimedia, the foundation that supports Wikipedia ("No, Mom, not Wikileaks, that's different"), is looking for lots of engineers (deadline in 2 days) and fundraisers/researchers/analysts/more. The Volunteer Development Coordinator role also has a 11 February application deadline: attention, open source community managers!

Get paid to hack Linux mobile and save vendors & developers from constantly reinventing the wheel at Linaro. They especially need kernel and Android hackers and technical project and product managers.

OpenPlans, the New York City nonprofit that uses technology to make cities better, has decadent offices and benefits. Oh, and they're looking for a web designer, two engineers, and a fundraising manager.

Socialbomb, the Brooklyn startup that creates stylish experiences connecting Blu-Ray and mobile devices to Facebook & Twitter, is looking to fill several roles, including development.

I'll be administering some Google Summer of Code work this year, so I'd like to recruit bright university students to consider applying. It's never too early to start thinking about summer internships! And don't worry too hard about qualifications: "Do you have some programming experience at the university level? Then, yes, you are good enough! No, you don't need to be a Computer Science or IT major."

And I know at least one more project that's looking for a part-time playtester and a part-time project manager, so let me know if you're interested.

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: After-Action Report: Erin, thank you for your company tonight at Too Much Light, and for introducing me to Curly's Vegetarian Lunch. All fun!

An incomplete list of stuff I mentioned:

See you again sometime!


: Sweet!: Years ago, on Jeopardy!, a contestant incorrectly rang into a food science clue with the response, "What is aspartame?" Nope. Then, for the next clue -- something about NutraSweet -- no one rang in. Beep-beep-beep, the timer said. And then host Alex Trebek pronounced, all stentorian, "Now's the time for aspartame."

I take fake sugar with my coffee and tea these days, and every time I reach for it -- even if it's sucralose or saccharin -- I think of Alex Trebek.

(Obligatory musical link to Leonard's excellent song "Sweet & Lowbrow".)

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(1) : Consulting: Soooo much easier to work with people who laugh at my jokes.

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(1) : QuahogCon 2010, & 2011?: chandelier near Providence waterfront

According to its main website, the QuahogCon security/DIY convention has not yet opened registration for this year, which makes me slightly nervous. There does exist an Eventbee ticket-sales page but I don't trust it yet, since the main site doesn't link to it. So here's hoping reg starts soon.

I'm planning on going. I enjoyed last year thoroughly.

I arrived in Providence via train of hilarity and proceeded on foot through the picturesque and confusing downtown to the hotel. They checked me in early without any fuss, and were generally helpful. Bedbug check: clear! Some shopping (pint glass: bought) and a great sandwich later, I sat by the water reading when Leonard's friend Jake Berendes called. He and his gal pal Sukiko took me to White Electric, where we discussed James Bond, whether I am as "con crazy" as Leonard alleges, and the Providence art and music scene. Evidently show flyers in Providence are hella cryptic, to keep fratboys and the cops away. Security through obscurity can really cut down on attackers, however you perceive attacks.

chandelier near Providence waterfront

Then the con began and my note-taking time completely disappeared.

Convention registration at the hotel: I got the flashiest badge ever, a programmable circuit board with flashing LEDs. (Of course the badges at an infosecurity conference don't have names on them.)

The introductory session: let me just say that I hope this year's geeky standup comedy is geekier, funnier, and less sexist. (I've volunteered to perform, and am waiting to hear back from the con organizers.) But at the con as a whole, if I recall correctly, I was almost never the only woman in the room, and I don't remember being scorned or harrassed due to my gender (other than general misogyny by some of the stand-up comedians). Woohoo!

chandelier near Providence waterfront

Dan Kaminsky's keynote was gripping and prefigured his Interpolique work. Other edifying talks (slides available!): Dan Crowley on Windows file pseudonyms, Joe McCray on SQL injection, Larry Pesce on SIM card forensics, and Matthew Borgatti's "Art to Part" keynote. I'd been looking forward to Joan Pepin's Gender Hacking talk, but it turned into Trans 101 because attendees in the room seemed to need it.

I enjoyed the dealer's row, the lockpicking instruction table and the kits for sale, and the constant conversations in the lobby and the bar. My team won its first round of Hacker Jeopardy, and losing to Dan Kaminsky's team in the final round was still fun. Also, it's fun to hang out with Dan. I met some fun people, ate yummy food at several area restaurants, and hung out with Jake and Sukiko (you know it's a good barbecue when you go kayaking for the first time and lose your eyeglasses in a reservoir).

chandelier near Providence waterfront

When I go this year, I hope to bring Leonard along, to visit the Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University, and to see the Roger Williams memorial.


: Thumbs Up, Sarah Glidden: Just finished Sarah Glidden's touching, heady, funny memoir How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less. She went on a Birthright Israel trip, determined that they wouldn't brainwash her, and had her views confirmed and challenged. Recommended.

For a taste of Glidden's style, check out her graphical travelogue, available to read at her site. She's Kickstarted funding for a new book documenting being embedded among traveling reporters, which is already conceptually neat. Looking forward to reading it.

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(1) : More Jokes About Culture And Food: Brunch ideas:

The "tempted by the fruit of another" song as fanfic about that William Carlos Williams icebox-plums poem

Trix rabbit as Prometheus, punished for giving humanity the gift of sweet breakfast cereal

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: Apple Jacks: Today I learned that TV advertisements for Apple Jacks cereal used to emphasize the apple taste, then (coinciding with my watchership) proudly renounced any claim to tasting appley, and now have a talking apple mascot who goes on about how apple-infused the whole production is.

My childhood overlapped with a historically aberrant period. Mass media was a business model that worked. Cheap and abundant fossil fuels made long-distance travel easy. And Apple Jacks was honest about the faintness of its apple connection. Peak Copyright, Peak Oil, Apple Valley.

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(2) : Not About Socialism, Sadly: "As diversity is a highlighted feature, many things are held in common amongst the students."

--Robin Y.'s unfortunate lead to the "this year's fashions" story in a Tokay High School yearbook. "Stylin': Teens pay price of fashion" was the nearly-as-useless headline (the body of the piece did not address price in any way). Keywords: Hilfiger, stripes, Tamagotchi.

Of course I have the other usual reactions to looking at my old high school yearbook, chagrin and who's-that and squinting at inscriptions and querying LinkedIn, but also, oh wow some of this writing sucks.


(1) : The Return of MC Masala: From April 2005 to August 2007, I wrote a weekly column, "MC Masala," for several Bay Area newspapers in the Alameda/ANG Newspaper Group. Circulation: maybe 200,000?

Between now & then, I've made various uninspired attempts to get copies of the articles -- I had my drafts, of course, but I didn't have images of many of them as they'd been published on the page. for a while I entertained a vague idea of assembling such things for a clippings file. You know, so I could brandish it at big media gatekeepers and get another heighty soapbox.

But it's just too much bother to track down microfilm and whatnot from the other side of the continent. I eventually decided that I'd be satisfied with the texts of the published articles, which include corrections and improvements from my editors. If I want to court Big Media someday I have other ways to do it.

So I got advice from Ask MetaFilter, and then yesterday I sat in front of a New York Public Library computer with a USB drive for a little bit and went download-happy.

MC Masala Reposts. Not in chronological order, not guaranteed to be comprehensive, haven't decided on a posting rhythm yet, written by a woman substantially less mature than I am now. First up: that one about raisins, from 6 May 2007.

(P.S. Thanks especially to Brendan, Leonard, and James for pushing me on this!)

(P.P.S. I'm reposting the column under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike. Share it, remix it, translate it, podcast it, go on ahead.)

(P.P.P.S. Yes, I'm thinking about a print-on-demand paperback someday.)


(2) : Notes Notes: Karaoke lesson: I do not actually know the lyrics or melodies of pop songs. At least, not the ones I pick. As it turns out, "I'll Be There" by Mariah Carey has many words and notes with which I was previously unfamiliar, which shows the difference between hearing a song a million times and listening to that song even once. But "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash, "Sunday Morning" by No Doubt, "Part Of Your World" from The Little Mermaid, the songs others my age have chosen, those I can sing. Funny how developing a karaoke repertoire is partially a matter of discovering what songs you already know, a preexisting natural resource.

If I were a committed filker, I would attend karaoke nights and sing my own compositions to the tunes of pop tunes. Karaoke-friendly instrumental tracks are audio exploitables, after all. I am also envisioning a karaoke/Dance Dance Revolution hybrid game.


(1) : Careering: Since I last mentioned my career, I have turned into a consultant. I have a few gigs; let me tell you about two of my clients.

QuestionCopyright.org is a nonprofit that aims "to educate the public about the history of copyright, and to promote methods of distribution that do not depend on restricting people from making copies." I'm QCO's Fundraising Coordinator, meaning that I write and coordinate grant proposals. I also write a tiny bit for the QCO website. Case in point: "Three glimpses: Transformative work, public domain music, and ethics".

The GNOME Foundation, the nonprofit that supports the GNOME desktop, has hired me as one of two contractors to manage marketing for the launch of GNOME 3.0. Allan Day and I will be (to oversimplify) ensuring that Linux users know what's new in this release and why it's awesome.

More on those and my other work when I can!

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: Miscellaneous: Winter in New York City; learning to love the gurgle of the radiator.

Project management is sometimes a matter of asking an obvious question, then standing there with an expectant look while your team member gets around to promising they'll do what they know they ought to do.

At karaoke, some songs had music videos -- not the original music videos, of course, but karaoke music videos, much cheaper in cost and effect, one step above B-roll. Motorcycle riders, abandoned warehouses, beaches, you know. The video for Radiohead's "Creep" featured a hunchbacked dude yearning for a woman who rejected him. I told my fellow singers, "I'm waiting for the bit where he invents Facebook."

The BBC Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy Podcast has been the News Quiz for several weeks; I'm looking forward to the next installment, a The Now Show. The News Quiz has introduced me to socialist/nihilist comedian Jeremy Hardy, perhaps to make up for all the reactionary snark. Let me quote from the 8 January show:

Sandi Toksvig: Miles, whose Gallic grump is of global proportions?

Miles Jupp: .... It turns out that the French -- they are the most depressed people in the world. Which is a surprise. Well, I suppose what it teaches you -- that if you live in a country where people are either rioting, shrugging, or refusing to work, it will eventually grind you down.

Sandi: We only came fifth. Fifth!

Miles: In the grumpy?

Sandi: In the grumpiness! They must have only polled people who don't watch EastEnders. Fifth!

Jeremy Hardy: It was developing countries where people are more cheery, wasn't it?

Sandi: The Nigerians are, apparently, very cheerful.

Jeremy: Well, because when people are materially disadvantaged, maybe they're more optimistic, because they know that their destiny's not entirely in their own hands. And so they just have to hope for the best. Whereas in the developed world, where materially we've got plenty of stuff, and lots of opportunities, we know that the only thing stopping us from being happy is ourselves, which of course is a kind of downward spiral into disillusionment and hopelessness, isn't it, really? Because you can't -- you're never gonna get rid of yourself, so if you're basically unhappy, you're always gonna be unhappy, and in the remaining time that you've got left, you're either gonna be in despair about the fact that you've wasted your life, or maybe a bit cheerful about the fact that it's nearly over.

Miles: How depressed must the French be!

Sandi: And a very happy New Year to us all.

You're not going to hear that on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me.

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(5) : Wikimedia: Now that my new bosses have told the world: yes, I'm also now consulting for the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that supports Wikipedia and other free knowledge initiatives. To grossly simplify, I'm coordinating software development (mostly MediaWiki improvement) that isn't by WMF staffers, primarily concentrating on the upcoming Berlin hackathon and this year's Google Summer of Code participation.

Thank you, nostalgia: in December, I was looking up my old high school classmate Christine Moellenberndt, and discovered she was a new hire, then looked at the current job openings, and applied.

I told my mom about it and it went something like:

"Mom, I'm working for the nonprofit that does Wikipedia! ... No, not them, they're different. Wikipedia is a big free encyclopedia that's online for anyone to use. Wikileaks is a ... well, they're a bunch of people who like to get and publicize secrets -- anyway, that's not us."

And no, this holiday season my photogenic face will not be on banner ads entreating you to give. As far as I know.

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(1) : Yahoo! Labs Research Presentations, February 2011: Part I: This year, Columbia WICS let me come to another Yahoo! Labs research presentation/lunch (last year's notes). Thanks for the invite, Elizabeth Kierstead. My writeup begins here!

Ken Schmidt of Academic Relations started off by talking about all those other industry research labs and their SAD DECLINE. Bell/Lucent/Alcatel, AT&T Labs -- he'd seen them wither into irrelevance. (Despite that awesome Bell Labs Innovation song.) But Yahoo! Labs, started in 2005, is evidently hella relevant and vibrant. [Update: see comment below for clarification.]

Schmidt discussed the various groups within the labs, including Advertising Sciences or "AdLabs," which seems new. As he put it, there's a disconnect between the number of dollars spent on ads and how much time people spend clicking on them. (*cough* social media *cough*)

Columbia WICS women at Yahoo!, February 2011 The recruiting bit: you can pick which lab location to work in. They have a research lab in Haifa! And Schmidt assured us that Yahoo is woman-friendly, led by CEO Carol Bartz and featuring 500+ women in Yahoo's women's group. Mostly the same spiel as last year, including Schmidt's reminder of the Key Scientific Challenges program that gives grad students money, secret datasets, and collaboration.

I have the phrase "'billions & billions' of pageviews, etc." in my notes here and assume it's because Schmidt was pointing out how much data Yahoo! folks get to work with, and what a huge impact they make.

Then: student intros! There were about ten of us there, mostly grad students. Their interests ranged through social networks, data mining, spoken and natural language processing, privacy & security, compilers for heterogeneous architectures, and economics.

First presentation: Elad Yom-Tov's and Fernando Diaz's "Out of sight, not out of mind: On the effect of social and physical detachment on information need". Let's take three example events: the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion, the New York City tornado, and the Alaska elections. People might be interested in searching for information about them because they live nearby, or because they have friends who do. So you measure physical and social attachment/detachment: physical distance and number of local friends.

What data did they use? The query log: userID, time, date, text of query, results, what they clicked (with term-matching, inclusion + exclusion). The location data: the ZIP code the user provided during initial registration. I'm skeptical of that but the researchers say it's fairly reliable, although "more than we [would] expect live in Beverly Hills." And the social network: the number of instant messaging contacts you have who live in the relevant location.

There's a strong correlation with physical detachment, an exponential fit. As for the social network: the more local friends you have, the more likely you are to ask Yahoo! about the event. Beyond 5 friends, the data is noisy, and we don't have a lot of data there, but overall it's a very nice fit, strongest with the San Bruno data. And if you're local, you have more local friends, but that isn't strong enough to explain what we see.

Thomas Hawk, Burned Car in Driveway, San Bruno Gas Line Explosion, 2010 In terms of time: attention span is limited. People's attention wanes after about three days.

The researchers compared people's queries along the social and physical distance axes, looking for unusual phrases -- phrases that trended up around the dates of the incidents. If searchers are physically close to the incident, whether their friends live there or not, they use the same words. Like, for the NYC tornado: queens, picture, storm, city, nyc. If they're physically far away but have friends in New York, they use terms like brooklyn. [Also mentioned: new(s) and york, but that might be a stemming fail.] But a term that people both physically and socially detached from New York City searched for: statue of liberty. Is that grand lady all right after the tornado? America wants to know! (Yes.)

(The presenter then spoke about clustering queries by words, since different words signify different informational needs, but this bit had pretty bad graphs and I didn't understand.)

So Yahoo! wants to learn to identify relevant querier. "Pacific Gas & Electric" is a legitimate query that people search for on any given day, but it would be possible to programmatically tell that it has a lift due to current news. So Yahoo! wants to act relevantly. In the PG&E example: most days, the search result is and should be the PG&E homepage, but on that day, a top result or sidebar should be a news item about the explosion. A more abstract way of saying this: "learn a retrieval mode for each detachment level." Using social knowledge gets ranking results that are better than just geotargeting -- the difference is statistically significant -- and better even than combining a person's geographic and social detachment levels. "There's a problem with 'both,' probably because of the way we trained our models."

Previous studies suggested that the further a news source is from where something is happening, less likely the news source is to report the event. And Yom-Tov & Diaz's work bore this out. News as a function of distance drops exponentially, as do tweets. Interestingly, when you look at the temporal spike orders (which came first?) on Twitter mentions/searches, the Yahoo! query log, and mainstream news coverage, you see different spike orders for the different events. Sorry, I don't have more details, but I bet the researchers do.

One interesting side effect: we can look at people's queries and infer their location (although you can of course usually also do that with IP addresses). You can even track a hurricane by tracking where the queriers are over time.

These take a while to write up, so I'll save David Pennock's microecon research overview, Sebastien Lahaie's "Advertiser Preference Modeling in Sponsored Search," and Sharad Goel's confidence calibration project for later posts.

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: Scan-sational: I'm back at Common Spaces as a flexspace member. Couches, desks, pretty good internet, a conference room and an old-school phonebooth, and a Mirabai some of the time. Most excitingly, I just discovered that the networked printer/copier/fax can also scan to JPEG. And it sensibly has a USB port built in so I can stick a flash drive in and save the scan to it! High-res, low-res, color or grayscale, direct-to-PDF --

I may be a little too excited.


: Oh No, I Feel A Startup Coming On (*Achoo!*): One of my gigs is grant research and proposal writing for QuestionCopyright.org. I had never researched grants or written grant proposals before this job. At least one friend of mine said that the idea of doing grantwriting scared them off. And yeah, I could see where the anxiety comes from. You have to persuade someone of your value and the value of your project, prove (as my sister puts it) both the financial and the social return on investment you'll provide, submit constrained essays and complicated forms to faceless institutions, angle for personal connections, and receive a lot of rejections (possibly without ever hearing advice on how to improve, or feedback on the quality of your application).

So it's like a job application, a college application, and a project proposal to your boss's boss, plus online dating. Immediately I envision some kind of Match.com/Idealist/Duotrope's Digest/RightSignature/SlideShare mashup.


(2) : "Square Pegs": Until the end of March, US residents can watch 1980s high school sitcom Square Pegs on Hulu. There was only one season, so you could, on either a steady, strenuous, or grueling pace, finish the batch off before Hulu takes it down.

Why would you wish to do this?

Leonard suggests you start with "Hardly Working" or "A Cafeteria Line." Tell me if you've seen any, so we can wonder together where in the heck Weemawee is supposed to be. New Jersey? Southern California?

(A qualified endorsement: there's a lot of fatphobia in Square Pegs. As much sexism/racism/homophobia/etc. as you'd expect from a CBS sitcom from 1982, but way more sizeism than I was expecting.)

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(2) : Writing, Delegating, Researching: Marketing GNOME 3: Allan and I discussed some near-term priorities today in #marketing, so I'll document them here (and on the marketing list).

panorama shot of the Zaragoza hackfest room by Jason D. Clinton Allan this week is concentrating on release notes. He feels he has a good handle on what to write for the user side, but would like more input on what's changed for developers, so he wants advice/contacts on how to get that. I've suggested he do a session in #gtk+ or some other popular IRC channel and crowdsource some rough bullet points. He's also working on the Porting Guide -- as of today, he's working with Shaun McCance and the docs team. (This is part of our marketing to distributions.) We're hoping to coordinate with the docs team on this during their May hackfest.

He's already blogged/emailed what he's done so I won't rehash.

Sumana: Between my last note and now, I chased distribution marketing, clarified the role of the release roadmap, started a press release, got a CiviCRM account and started accumulating press contacts, chased video from launch parties and restarted the conversation about GNOME 3 videos, communicated & thought with Brian and Allan about promoting FLOSS and not promoting unfree software, reached out to potential volunteers (including on foundation-list), and recruited and edited articles for GNOME Journal's Issue 23 (GNOME 3.0 issue). And then today Allan and I hashed out some priorities in #marketing.

Sumana next to the crossed-off TODO items from the Zaragoza marketing hackfest, photo by Paul Cutler This week, to balance Allan's focus on two big things, I intend on doing a lot of smaller things.

  1. Get into CiviCRM and input our press contacts, start seeking the ones we want but don't have (Ars Technica, Wired, TechCrunch, O'Reilly online) in collaboration with Zonker
  2. Continue drafting 2 press releases, 1 for a Linux-specific crowd (like LWN) and one for a more general tech crowd (like Wired)
  3. Try out the GNOME install of Collabtive and see if Allan and I should switch our task management to that, or to Bugzilla (trying to track tasks in live.gnome wiki tables is not my idea of pleasant)
  4. With a little input from Allan, start setting up another GNOME User Day for late March
  5. Ask Licio to chase marketing localization
  6. Continue recruiting and editing GNOME Journal's GNOME 3 edition
  7. Reach out to docs team and other potential volunteers
  8. If I have time, chase videos/screencasts
  9. If I have time, some wiki cleanup
This is a lot and so it might change if more pressing matters come up, but I think it's a good place to start. Thanks again, GNOME community, for the opportunity to work on this!

(photos from last year's marketing hackfest in Zaragoza, Spain)

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: Well, Actually: A few weeks ago, I was catching up with a friend, and he remarked that one reason he likes open source software is that it doesn't have marketing. At this point I said, I realize now that I haven't told you that one of my jobs is marketing for an open source project. He self-consciously backpedaled a bit, and we both laughed, and he clarified that he hates marketing based on lies. And I'm not doing that, so we're cool.

Then last night I saw Rango with some acquaintances (thanks for the recommendation, Jed!). Afterwards, as we discussed the references, and adaptations, and movies and narrative and crossovers and references, one of them made a slightly inaccurate remark about copyright and I stayed myself from issuing a primer. And I realized she didn't know that one of my jobs is grantwriting for QuestionCopyright.org.

I have become Marshall McLuhan coming out from behind the cardboard. As Leonard put it: "You know nothing of what my work is!"


: New Edition Of/Nueva Edición de GNOME Journal: In this special edition of GNOME Journal, GNOME HISPANO's Juanjo Marin arranged for us to get five great stories in both English and Spanish. You can read these now at http://gnomejournal.org:

The GNOME Journal features original content and commentary for and by the GNOME community. All articles are published under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license. Please feel free to translate, podcast, repost, etc.

Thanks to Juanjo, the authors, Diana Katherine Horqque, Will Kahn-Greene, Sriram Ramkrishna, and Paul Cutler for their work on this issue!

Issue 23 will come out around April 3 and focus on the release of GNOME 3.

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(5) : Phone Call For You, The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads: So the next time I have a colleague who was born in 1990, I will wish to nickname them "Flood". This of course means that I should be nicknaming every colleague with an album title from the year they were born! 1979? "The Wall" or "London Calling." 1982? "Sonic Youth" or "Big Science" or ... see this blog entry's title.

Thoughts?


(2) : A Slightly Disjointed (Due To A Five-Day Cold) Musing On Open Source, Fear, Motivation, And Witnessing: I was introducing C. to a set of QuestionCopyright friends and acquaintances, and they were joking about indoctrinating her, and she was curious to hear what free culture is all about. So she wondered why I reflexively suggested that the others wait a bit, tell her next time.

They did give C. the introductory spiel, and conversation was pleasant and edifying, and nothing terribly awkward ensued. She has developed a substantial interest of her own, now, in the theory and practice of free culture. But why did I have that reflex? I felt around for it and grasped something. It makes it harder, I said, once you know these things and care about them. Becoming a free culture/free software person is like becoming a vegan.

No, G. replied -- at least people know what vegans are.

We happy few.

Here I was, a fulltime free culture/free software consultant, feeling an unaccustomed reluctance to give someone else the sunglasses, to witness.

There are self-constraining ideologies like veganity or chastity that modern society at least theoretically understands, even if some cohorts scoff. Then there are the practices that always require an introduction. When I explain how I met Leonard, I often start with the thirty-second "what is open source" explanation, because it's all of a piece. But my "what is open source" intro focuses on pragmatism -- many eyes making bugs shallow -- rather than free software values.

DVD cover for film The Gnome-MobileI think I'm a moderate sort of open source gal, an ovo-lacto vegetarian. There's an iBook running Mac OS tucked off in a drawer, and all these Linux boxen in our house surely have nonfree binaries driving bits of hardware. No Facebook but I surely use many cloud services that violate the Franklin Street Statement. I hang out with copyright abolitionists, Debian users, and other free culture/free software folks who make me feel namby-pamby. And then I go to dinner with someone who makes me feel like a Jain. Or I find myself saying, as I said a week ago, that developing on a closed platform is like trying to fall in love with someone who won't talk to you.

Our love is part of what energizes us, moves us to act. In FLOSS, volunteers do things for two basic reasons: either because we enjoy doing them for their own sake, or because the task needs doing and we want to do our bit. We see some goal the task will help us reach, or fear an outcome the task will help us prevent. [By the way, it's useful to have experienced that, because it's useful to assume those two as the means of persuasion whether my colleague's paid or not. As a leader, I should either set up tasks people will genuinely enjoy (and get the scutwork out of the way), or help my colleagues see a straight line from the task to a glorious future. Show them how what we're doing leads to something they want. This is my pet theory of How To Lead Knowledge Workers and your mileage may vary.] And -- as a zillion social scientists will tell you -- even if we momentarily burn out on caring about a goal for its own sake, we don't want to let the team down. We don't want to let our buddies down.

As we were talking about GNOME marketing, Andreas once asked me what I found special, what personally spoke to me about GNOME. I rambled: object code is compiled from source code, but the source code is compiled, too -- compiled from people, from time, from love. Every time I look at my desktop, every feature and every bug comes from someone, someone with a name and a face, and sometimes I can even remember. Hey, I remember when she added that feature to Empathy. Oh, right, I know he's working on that bug. It's like all of Planet GNOME is helping me out, every day. It's like my whole community's right there, on my desktop, every time I open the laptop lid.

I don't want to keep my friends blissfully ignorant of this. Is there a more loving human impulse than the joy of sharing? I'm sorry, C. I'm sorry I was afraid of making your life harder. I remembered the local minimum and forgot the greater maxima awaiting you. Why keep us a "happy few" when we can be an ecstatic many? And yes, it's harder, to learn our principles and try to walk this path alone -- but the whole point of our principles is that our multitude, our diversity, our union, our communion is far richer and more sustaining than individual hoarding ever could be.

GNOME heart, thanks to Jeff Waugh
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: Some Short Online Scifi Recommendations: "Saving Face" by Shelly Li and Ken Liu is light and sweet.

"Smaller Fleas that Bite 'Em" by rho is a short, funny sequel to Neal Stephenson's Zodiac: The Eco-Thriller.

"Sisters of Bilhah" by kel is a wrenching, immersive sequel to Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. As the summary says: Sisters of Bilhah is the largest registered charitable organisation in the UK working with asylum seekers and refugees who were citizens of the former United States of America.

"Source Decay" by Charlie Jane Anders is by turns funny, strange, and poignant.

And "(Rising Lion -- The Lion Bows)" by Zen Cho speaks to me as perfectly as if the author were next to me on this couch. My heartstrings turned into leashes and I willingly follow the author wherever she goes. (I fear my RSS feeds or blogging software will break if I try to copy the title with its Unicode characters intact; apologies.)

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: Another Recommendation: "Trouble" by David M. deLeon -- raw and piercing.

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: GNOME User Day This Thursday, 31 March:

CC BY-SA image of Bangalore by Sajith TS

As Allan put it: There are lots of enthusiastic GNOME users who have questions about the upcoming release, and there are plenty of people who are interested to hear about what GNOME 3 will be like. That's why I'm really pleased to be able to announce the first GNOME 3 User Day. This will be a great opportunity for people to get involved with the new release, to meet members of the GNOME project, and to find out what's in store in GNOME 3.

Well, that was for the first User Day. The next one is this Thursday, March 31st, in the #gnome channel of the GIMPNet IRC network. (Instructions for using Internet Relay Chat.) We'll be running three sessions over the course of the day (all times UTC):

GNOME logo Session 1 (07:00-08:00): Participate in the GNOME 3.0 hackfest
Hosts: Allan Day, Fred Peters, and Andre Klapper


Session 2 (15:00-16:00): The GNOME 3.0 platform
Hosts: Diego Escalante Urrelo and Luis Medinas


Session 3 (20:00-21:00): GNOME Shell Q & A
Hosts: Florian Mullner and Marina Zhurakhinskaya

I hope you'll join us! We'll be concentrating on those topics but feel free to drop in and ask about anything GNOME.

I used a photo from Sajith T S, CC BY-SA, of a park and fountains in Bangalore, because I hope we get a big crowd, because this User Day coincides with the Bangalore hackfest, and because information from friendly experts can be as welcome as water on a hot South Indian day.

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: Ada Initiative Survey: Take the Ada Initiative Census

I just took the five-minute survey on women in open tech & culture (a really inclusive definition). The Ada Initiative is surveying people of any gender in "a wide range of activities and communities based around free/open licenses, and other forms of open, decentralised, and grassroots participation in technology and related fields." If you're reading this and you're not related to me, you should probably go take it. It really does take less than five minutes, and this data is crucial so we can gauge how well we're doing now and how far we'll go in the next few years.

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: MediaWiki Accepting Google Summer of Code Applications: Just posted on the Wikimedia tech blog: MediaWiki got accepted as a Google Summer of Code project, so we're looking for project ideas, mentors, and students. More details at the techblog post.

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: Joel On Coal: Hey, my ex-boss Joel Spolsky -- who said last year that he'd quit blogging -- has started a new blog about coal mining!

The other crucial thing about having a schedule is that it forces you to decide what seams you are going to choose, and then it forces you to pick the least safe corridors and cut them rather than slipping into pillar-robbing (a.k.a. slope creep).

Update: April Fool's! Postmortem.

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(3) : GNOME 3 Marketing: A Snapshot: The story of this week, for me and GNOME marketing, is primarily the story of a press release. I collected quotes, revised it in response to feedback on marketing-list, added press contacts to our CiviCRM installation and emailed the press release to them (at least twenty contacts, with more to come). It should show up tomorrow on gnome.org once the "we're delaying six months" April Fool's press release runs its course. We're now getting responses from interested journalists and I'll be answering their questions and helping them set up interviews with some key developers.

Also, I heard a success story from another open source marketer about ereleases, so I plan on editing the press release down to 500 words and paying $200 (the nonprofit rate) for their press release publicity service this afternoon.

By the way, in a previous status report I mentioned looking into Collabtive. It's terrible and I won't make us use it. For tasks involving responding to press contacts, we are using CiviCRM. I will be checking with Allan after the hackfest to see whether the remaining tasks would benefit from being placed in Bugzilla; I had aimed to do that before I fell ill.

This week we also had the second User Day. I did not publicize it as far ahead of time as I wish I had, but we did get some participation and answer some users' questions. Thanks to all the hosts!

After a discussion with Sri and Diego, I added "Approaches That Work" to the GNOME 3.0 talking points. If you need to talk with a skeptic about GNOME 3, we're hoping you can get some ideas, tips, and answers to common skepticisms there.

I also did some nagging, editing, writing, and organizing around GNOME Journal's GNOME 3 issue, which we hope to put out this weekend.

So my main TODOs today, this weekend, and early next week are to follow up on press contacts, the ereleases blast, and GNOME Journal. Thanks to everyone in Bangalore who's at the hackfest and working on the release!

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(1) : Weekend, Weekend: I am in a lovely sweet spot with regards to so-bad-it's-good internet ephemera. I don't come upon them myself and people don't forward them to me, but then I come across interesting people saying or making interesting things about them. Case in point: I have never seen the particular music video that led to Sergo Cilli's White Hot Top 5: Ark Music Factory Artists, Daniel Davies's comment on the "journeyman rapper", and a Stephen Colbert cover version. But those three results are fun.


: Joel on Coal Postmortem: I got the idea for Joel on Coal during a work lunch at Fog Creek in 2007. I assume the idea popped into my head because it rhymed. Care for a lengthy recounting of my process?

manipulated photo placing Joel Spolsky in front of a coal mine

It lay fairly dormant in my head till this January. I started thinking seriously about it because he'd said he was basically retiring from blogging and my friend Julia was doing a lot of research on coal mining for a writing project. The environment sounded ripe. She agreed to write some of the text, and we were on!

Leonard bought the joeloncoal.com domain for me and set up the server on the Linode virtual box where we keep our sites. I gave Julia links to several classic Joel essays, and she chose to write excellent parodies of the Joel Test and then of Two Stories.

Things I decided not to do:

  1. Use a real content management system. I thought of setting up a CMS, maybe something with Django, maybe WordPress, maybe Jekyll or a Bloxsom variant or something. But then I realized, why do I need a CMS? A couple of flat HTML pages would be fine. Not like I'll need to update this. So I just did flat HTML pages + images. (I'm glad the site didn't depend on a database -- that would have made it harder to scale up when thousands of people started hammering it.)
  2. Mention Joel's partner, Jared. I originally planned on including something silly about how Joel and Jared were adapting to life in Appalachia, but worried it would come off as too personal and possibly insulting.
  3. Made with CityDeadThe obvious "ShittyDesk" joke for the "Made with CityDesk" graphic in the page footer. Again, wrong tone. Instead: "CityDead" to poke fun at the Fog Creek product whose last release was in 2005.

So, in mid-March, I used the Wayback Machine to grab an old Joel on Software page. Some of the newer designs of JoS depended on CSS, which I have been meaning to learn but don't know. So, spring 2004 was my base template.

manipulated photo placing Joel Spolsky in front of a coal mineOn Tuesday, March 29th, I started working on the site, removing Wayback Machine HTML and some of Joel's text, and adding Julia's copy. I was mostly editing in gEdit and using git to keep a log of my changes. Then, Thursday night, I found some suitable photos via Google Image Search and Flickr's CC-licensed image search, used GIMP to manipulate the images (learning along the way about fuzzy select, transparency, and layers), finished adding Julia's copy, and added the "yes, this is a parody" page. Then I wrote the "Fire & Motion" piece that -- within the fiction of the blog -- is Joel's first entry, explaining the backstory. (First draft: ten to fifteen minutes longhand on the subway.) And I removed some cruft (I should really learn how to use regular expressions properly), added a Reddit button, simplified the left-hand navigation bar, changed nearly all the links to point to "index.html" or "parody.html", and so on. I edited the pages and images in a test directory on my laptop, and every once in a while used scp to copy them to the live server. (git came in handy when I tried to add a Digg button and it didn't work. Revert!) All that took a few hours. At this point I started telling a few geeky friends, letting them preview the site, and asking for their help spreading the word the next day.

Once I thought it was ready (around 11:40 the night of March 31st) I started microblogging, emailing, blogging, and generally publicizing the site. I submitted a tip to TechCrunch, which ended up giving me thousands of hits, and I sent a link to Liz, Fog Creek's office manager, which may be how Joel eventually found the site & tweeted about it. A zillion retweets followed and Joel on Coal made it to the front page of Hacker News. I'd encouraged friends to Reddit the site, but in retrospect, HN front-page status + positive acknowledgment from the prank's victim + probably a hundred tweets = success. I ended up getting about twenty thousand hits to the front page. (Leonard increased max_clients in Apache and I reduced the quality of one of the images to handle the traffic better.) People definitely spent more person-hours enjoying the site than Julia, Leonard and I spent making it, so that's totally success.

photo from Fog Creek office manipulated to show coal mine through windowIt dismayed me that several people thought Joel had created the parody. It's hard, with a prank like this, to claim credit successfully; the unity of the joke depends on keeping a straight face on the front page, so I liberally linked throughout the front page to the "yes, this is a parody" page, which credited Julia and me. But most people didn't read that much, or click. Also, as Leonard reminded me, on April Fool's Day most people parody themselves, not others. And Brendan reminded me that it's a compliment to our satire that people thought it got Joel's voice so right. Rather like one's fanfic being mistaken for the original author's work.

I particularly loved the two times when I instant-messaged friends and the following exchange happened:

I'm glad my April Fool's prank is such a success.
What was it?
http://joeloncoal.com
That was you?! I loved that!

So I figure I've paid my April Fool's dues for the next few years. I hope you enjoyed Joel on Coal; I enjoyed making it. Big thanks to Julia and Leonard for your work!

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: Business Trip: I'm about to spend a week in San Francisco for the Wikimedia Foundation. Friends in the area: want to meet up? I hope to spend most of my evenings performing at local comedy open mics, so recommendations for April 3rd-7th are welcome. (Thanks to Dave Neary for helping set up an open source marketing/PR training that I aim to attend.)

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: Capital Venture: This morning in the hotel lobby I talked to a fellow guest who slightly resembled Vinod Khosla. We joked that he could make some money on the side as a Vinod Khosla impersonator, opening new car dealerships, snipping ribbons with a giant pair of scissors. (I guess that would work for, like, Honda of Palo Alto or Tesla of Santa Clara.)

Then some tourists from Brisbane joined in the conversation. "Have I seen you on television?" one asked me. I think I've been on TV about three times in my life: once at the age of five when my family was caught in an airport delay, once around eleven as a cohost of the local FOX Kids affiliate, and once about six years ago, in Japan, in a women's wrestling match. "I'm pretty sure you haven't," I ventured. Evidently I resemble a comedienne of South Asian descent who's been on Australian TV. Not Mindy Kaling, I think.

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: GNOME 3 Edition of GNOME Journal Published: I just pushed the button(s) to put out a new edition of GNOME Journal! This one focuses on the launch of the 3.0 version of your favorite desktop environment (assuming your favorite is GNOME). You can read these now at http://gnomejournal.org:

We publish all our articles under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license. Please feel free to translate, podcast, repost, etc.

Thanks to the authors, our interviewees, the GNOME sysadmin team, and my fellow editors! And thanks to the hundreds if not thousands of contributors who have put their energy into GNOME 3.

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: GNOME Contractor Status Update: Launch Week & Next Steps: (Also posted to marketing-list.)

My last email, on April 1st, mentioned that "my main TODOs today, this weekend, and early next week are to follow up on press contacts, the eReleases blast, and GNOME Journal." So I did that; that day, I got the eReleases press release out, and it went to more than a thousand publications. And then here's a list of what I did last week on GNOME:

Undone: I didn't put tasks in Bugzilla because they were moving too fast and I was in San Francisco, many timezones away from Allan in Bangalore, and couldn't coordinate effectively. Lesson for next time: do it early if we're going to do it at all. Similarly for setting up interviews with key GNOME developers; I dropped the ball there.

Now that we've launched, I talked with Allan about how to best use the rest of our contracts (we're booked to work on GNOME till the end of April). We think our priorities for the rest of April are:

(a) reach out to not-so-news-driven (more in-depth-reporting) journalists about aspects of the release that didn't get covered on launch day -- once we get some bites, prep developers who have volunteered, and get them interviewed

(b) write up lessons learned & ideas for next time

(c) infrastructure building & maintenance: update the wiki, consolidate audiovisual and textual resources, and otherwise help prep for future marketing, including press releases, talking points, etc. for the launches of GNOME 3 within distributions that will come out in the next weeks & months

So I'm going to make some progress on each of those this week. Specifically, I aim to reach out to two reporters, braindump a few lessons learned privately, and confer with Allan Day and Vincent Untz about resource consolidation. And I'm planning on pushing GNOME Journal's next issue forward, in collaboration with Paul Cutler, but that's not part of my contract since it's not GNOME 3-specific. :-)

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(2) : Geeky Standup Comedy, April 21st in Astoria (And Elsewhen): Sumana doing standup at the Wikimedia Foundation last week Have you ever thought, "I wish Sumana Harihareswara would do some standup comedy about project management, Linux, relationships, Agile, public transit, science fiction, and These Kids Today"?

Here you go. I'm giving a few performances this week and next. Solidly confirmed: I will perform for half an hour on Thursday, April 21st, at 7pm at Seaburn Bookstore, 33-18 Broadway, in Astoria, Queens.

(I know I'm not on the Seaburn events calendar yet. They're a little bookstore and press, a short walk from the N/Q and R/M trains, with a cafe upstairs and a surprisingly big events space downstairs.)

Please come!

Also: I'm seeking a Brooklyn bar for 15-minute workshoppy performances tomorrow night (13 April) and Friday (15 April); I may just hijack Pacific Standard. And if someone in Manhattan or Astoria wants to host me on Friday the 22nd, then that would be awesome.

Update as of 19 April: more performance dates for 20-23 April.

Sumana performing stand-up comedy in Berkeley a decade ago
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: Geeky Standup Comedy as Value-Add: So, about that standup I'm doing this month. Have you perhaps further pondered, "It would be awesome if Sumana performed at a tech conference where I could also network with the IT community of New York and New Jersey, and attend training programs for way cheaper than I could get elsewhere"?

Your wait is nearly over. I will be the evening keynote speaker at PICC, the Professional IT Community Conference, on Friday, April 29th, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. PICC is a nonprofit production of LOPSA, the League of Professional System Administrators. Other (serious) speakers will include Tom Limoncelli, Sheeri K. Cabral, and the sysadmins from StackExchange. Python, Nagios, security, time management, Hudson, IPv6, all sorts of useful stuff.

PICC '11

The student rate is under a hundred bucks. Today is the last day to register at the early rate -- check it out!

(So yeah, all those other performances this month will be to prep for the PICC keynote. Please attend and help me improve it!)

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(2) : Brooklyn Gamble: I can't reach Pacific Standard via phone or email, but I think it will probably be fine if I gather pals there on Friday night and shout jokes at them.

So: this Friday, 8pm, the Pacific Standard bar, 82 Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, I will attempt to do a very rough 15-minute preview act. Come, critique, socialize! (My full act, which I'll perform at Seaburn Books on the 21st and at PICC on the 29th, is 30 minutes.)

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(1) : Apropos: Leonard and I have been watching a few episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show every day. Battlestar Galactica, The Babysitters Club, and The Dick Van Dyke Show all suit me partly because they focus on labor. Robert Petrie takes substantial pride in doing his job well. I am now imagining Admiral Adama from BSG as Rob's boss Mel Cooley. Sure.

Yesterday, we watched "Big Max Calvada," in which a mob boss gets Rob and his comedy-writing colleagues to write an act for the mobster's untalented nephew. My PICC performance approaches in less than two weeks. Perhaps it didn't help my nerves to watch the nephew's act bombing.

Back to work, laboring over jokes about Facebook.

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: My Standup Comedy This Week: Every night this week, I am making jokes in front of people here in New York. On Monday, I entertained a few friends eating dinner during a Passover seder. I was pretty bad and am glad they had something else to busy themselves with. Tonight, I practiced in front of a few friends in their apartment. And I've now made plans for the rest of the week:

Wednesday 20 April: Planning to workshop five minutes of material at the Anything Goes open rehearsal, which starts at 7:15pm. Shetler Studio, 244 West 54th Street in Manhattan, 12th Floor.

Thursday 21 April: Full performance (half an hour), 7pm at Seaburn Bookstore, 33-18 Broadway, in Astoria, Queens. My picture is in their window!

Friday 22 April: Hoping to perform for ten minutes during a hacker dinner that starts at 7pm. Red Egg, 202 Centre St at Howard St in Manhattan.

Saturday 23 April: Full performance, basement of Greenpoint Reformed Church (thanks, Camille!) in Brooklyn, 8pm. 136 Milton Street between Manhattan and Kent. Camille directs: Take the G train to Greenpoint, and get out on the Greenpoint Ave. side, or take the 7 or L train and then grab the B62 bus to Greenpoint Ave. Pass the 7-Eleven and turn the corner at Milton. It's the small white church on the left hand side of the street. Careful to come to the basement, not the meeting hall; we are not the AA meeting!

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: I'm Making A Note Here: Moderate Success: 24 people came to the performance last night, and, by all appearances, enjoyed it. Thanks, all! This included one Astoria resident who misread the "Geeky Standup Comedy" poster and came thinking I'd be speaking in Greek. (Astoria has a lot of Greek immigrants.) She enjoyed it anyway; phew!

After the show, some of us were talking about jobs, technology, and so on. It's not enough to be right... it's more profitable to read Dale Carnegie than to read Kernighan and Ritchie, I said.

Despairing silence.

I didn't mean that to depress them! I mean, How to Win Friends and Influence People is a shorter read than K&R! It's faster and easier; the ROI is way better! Inadvertent buzzkill there.

The bookstore folks are very friendly and accommodating, and asked me whether I'd be interested in hosting a monthly show. I will think about it.

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(18) : Do You Have 90 Minutes To Help GNOME?: I'm seeking volunteers for a fairly low-effort GNOME Journal task. I need about ten. You don't need any special knowledge about GNOME, just access to email and about 60-90 minutes of free time over the next two weeks. Let me know if you're interested!

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: GSoC, GSoC, Who's There?: As the organizational administrator for MediaWiki (thanks to my job for the Wikimedia Foundation), I am pleased to announce our Google Summer of Code students for 2011.

Also delight-inducing: the number of rejected applicants who hope to contribute to MediaWiki as volunteers. I'm trying to get them involved in their local Wikimedia chapters as well.

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(1) : PICC: PICC Tomorrow night I keynote at PICC. Then the next night I get to see Quinn Norton's keynote! Wonder.

I decided to take out a joke because it's too similar to the most recent XKCD. I wonder how many speakers have this problem.

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(1) : PICC 2011: My performance at the Professional IT Community Conference went all right. Consistent light laughter, some long belly laughs and several bits of applause. Sheeri Cabral and Tom Limoncelli really hit it out of the park on Slideshow Karaoke (best practices). Thanks to The League of Professional System Administrators for inviting me, and especially to Matt Simmons and William Bilancio for organizing my attendance and appearance.

A few things I recommended at PICC:

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: While Listening To Weird Al Yankovic: I subscribe to maybe twenty email lists relating to open source software or free culture. One of these: the NYC InfoLaw list, which tells New York folks about upcoming talks and events.

Last week's email advertised a "Webinar: Viacom v. YouTube: Whether Third-Party Contributory Copyright Infringement Really Exists for Internet Service Providers." I read that, then laughed aloud that the title made perfect sense to me. Too boring to be made up.

By the way, I thoroughly appreciate the work NYCInfoLaw (especially Ashley Fry) puts into maintaining the calendar; thanks!


(5) : New Job, New Email Address: WMF logo As of this month, I'm a full-time contractor for the Wikimedia Foundation, serving as Volunteer Development Coordinator. My boss at WMF, Rob Lanphier, has just posted a welcome note that makes me sound all fancy.

In case you were wondering about my other clients from earlier this year: my paid work on GNOME Marketing, for the launch of GNOME 3.0, has ended, and I've also ended my work as fundraising coordinator for QuestionCopyright.org (passing it on to someone who has more time and relevant experience).

It might be disorienting to only have one job! I shall probably get used to it.

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: Anniversaries: This week marks the ten-year anniversary of my first kiss with Leonard.*

In May 2001, we took a drive together to help his mom move. I played Moxy Früvous for him. He played the Beatles' One compilation for me and we joked about the lyrics.

A little over five years ago, we got married. (Want some wood?**) The more I take part in ritual human experiences that lots of people have had, the more clichés I understand. Can it be five years?! The time's gone so fast.

I am so lucky.


* As I was reminded when Reddit told me Douglas Adams died ten years ago today.
** I still make jokes referring to the 2004 US presidential debate. The other day I said "You forgot Poland" at a Wikimedia NYC meetup and someone got it. So happy.


(2) : The HR And Management Secrets Of Mr. Rogers: Showering music for the past few days, melancholy and uplifting:

Saturday: Jonathan Coulton, various
Sunday: The Mountain Goats, The Life of the World to Come
Monday: Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Tuesday: Holly Yarbrough, Mister Rogers Swings!

This last album is pretty work-appropriate, with songs like "You've Got To Do It" (on the crucial necessity of execution) and "I Like To Be Told" (on communication, planning, and trust). And honestly, how many performance reviews and offer letters would not be improved with "I've always wanted to have an employee just like you; I've always wanted to work in an team with you"?


(2) : Seeing My Father's Body: Update 30 May 2011: Out of respect for my family's wishes, I have removed the essay from my weblog. Instead see my eulogy for Dad, and my memoir "Method of Loci."


: Three Wikimedia Facts: If you have a WordPress blog, the PhotoCommons plugin is an easy way to grab photos from Wikimedia Commons as graphics for your posts.

We have a lot of job openings, including nonprofit-y, communication and legal stuff.

Basically, our number one priority right now is new editor retention -- people don't realize they can edit Wikipedia, or they try and then something turns them off. We're implementing a bunch of technical and social initiatives to turn this around.

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(2) : Transactions of the House: I saw a five on the bureau in the bedroom.

"Leonard, you literally left a crumpled bill on the bureau... I'm trying to figure out what I'm being paid for."
"You're not! It's my money! You can have it if you want."
"I'm offended!"

Also, our décor now includes a copy of the US Constitution, which led me to realize you can passably filk the Preamble to "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy." At least the start of it.

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(1) : If There's A Theme Here I Don't See It: The other night, a guy in a bar moved over next to me and another free culture pal and announced that our conversation was awesome, the best he'd heard that night. He proceeded to use his cellphone to film me talking about open source software and the origin of the Web and Tim Berners-Lee. I am fairly sure that he was not Derek Waters getting a new episode of Drunk History, because he gave me his business card to offer me a free wine class and his business card did not say "Derek Waters" on it. Still, as tech conference sideshows go, Drunk Tech History could be the next Slideshow Karaoke.

Unrelatedly: last night I dreamed that, in the last Harry Potter movie, Harry had to come into our world, the world of his readers, and use our readership-magic to fight Voldemort. (A dream response to my waking-life enjoyment of The Unwritten, a new comic series.) Employees of publishers and bookstores were singing and rapping about how much money they were going to make from a tie-in cookbook. Then I had to buy a cell phone from a vending machine, and it didn't work.

A few quotes that are helping me out right now: Andrea Phillips, "If it were easy, it wouldn't need doing," and Dan Kaminsky, "I love being wrong. It means the world is more interesting than I thought it was."


(5) : Checksumana: How do you remember that you have already locked the door?

Whether I'm leaving the house or going to sleep, I usually have the urge to double-check that the door is locked. Then I check it once and am satisfied. In a vanishingly small percentage of cases, I haven't locked it. If you're in the same situation: what do you do to firmly recollect when you have locked it and reassure yourself that you don't need to check it again?

In cases where I've had three locks on the door (say, knob, deadbolt, and chain), I've gotten some mileage out of audibly chanting "Batman, Spiderman, Superman" as I lock the locks, working my way from bottom to top. Then I can recall saying it, because I remember things I've said better than I remember instances of habitual actions with my hands.

Just today I came up with this idea: if multiple people are leaving the house together, they can lock the door simultaneously, like missile silo workers turning keys to launch weapons. That, too, might be more memorable.

What do you do?

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: Histories: When I was getting my bachelor's degree at the University of California at Berkeley, I took a few courses studying technology in the context of history and political science. The other day I discovered that I still owned a thick "reader" for one of those courses, photocopies of a bunch of articles and book chapters, and settled down to skim through the thing. Sitting on the living room floor with the couch at my back, reading a ream of academic prose and taking notes, I vividly remembered my undergrad days -- except now I have Wikipedia to look up terms like "reverse salient".

I wonder why I found so many of the texts stale. Did I learn it that well the first time around? Were those articles insipid to begin with? Or have the ten intervening years of thinking, conversation, and experience given me so much background knowledge, and intellectual facility with the major issues, that those course materials feel shallow to me now?

(I wouldn't envy a teacher trying to create an equivalent course today, and I'm demonstrably not the target audience. But the Atlantic Tech Canon would be a cool place to start, and there's a bunch of interesting conversation to be had in more specialized courses.)

A few bits that still had the power to knock around my brain:

Hans Jonas: "And here is where I get stuck, and where we all get stuck." From "Technology and Responsibility: Reflections on the New Task of Ethics". To irresponsibly simplify his point: since we can now do different kinds of things, do we need a new system of ethics?

It's always worthwhile remembering the history of technology. Oh the multivariate effects of barbed wire in the North American West! You already know how US telephone companies initially hated "trivial" social use of the telephone, right? Partly because it tied up scarce lines, and partly because the people selling the phones just couldn't grok the importance of ambient intimacy and community connection, a prejudice that probably included some sexism. (If I read Scott Rosenberg's history of blogging, Say Everything, that might prove an instructive comparison.) For a fun medley of related lessons, check out the "Simpsons Already Did It -- Where Do You Think the Name 'Trojan' Came From Anyway?" talk from last year's The Next HOPE.

Cybernetics has the concept of "requisite variety": a well-designed system must have a variety of responses commensurate to the variety of events, stimuli, and situations it will encounter. Do you?

The freshest, funniest voice in the whole collection was Langdon Winner, Autonomous Technology, 1977.

But in almost every book or article on the subject the discussion stalls on the same sterile conclusion: "We have demonstrated the relationship between Technology X and social changes A, B, and C. Obviously, Technology X has implications for astounding good or evil. It is now up to mankind to decide which the case will be."

Poor mankind. Although freshly equipped with the best findings of social science, it is still left holding the bag.

Slightly more quotable Winner: "Technologies are structures whose conditions of operation demand the restructuring of their environments." Yep. The last few times I was looking for a job, I half-fancifully decided, if my workplace is not killing an entire industry, the job's not worth doing.

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(1) : A Loose Constellation of Thoughts on WikiLeaks: This is a good time to remind my readers that this, my personal website, does not necessarily represent the views of my employer or anyone else.

Around 2000, I took a political science class with Steve Weber, International Politics perhaps. He said that the major question of international relations was: why isn't there a substantial international alliance of non-US countries countering the US in a battle for global dominance? That's how balance of power works, after all.

Now we see the answer: not countries but networks, like Al Qaeda and WikiLeaks. They use individual countries, the way one uses a coffeeshop that has a particularly lenient free wifi policy. Bruce Sterling once predicted that a really effective global civil society would look "kind of like Al Qaeda, only not murderous," and indeed now you have WikiLeaks. I'm half a year late talking about this (the weird timestamp is because I started this piece in India half a year ago), but after reading all those history of technology pieces, I figure why not.

If you haven't read Geert Lovink & Patrice Riemens's "Twelve theses on WikiLeaks" (formerly ten theses) and Aaron Bady's "Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; 'To destroy this invisible government'" yet, they're pretty foundational texts. Most recently I read Finn Brunton's "Keyspace", which may as well have been written for me.

Thinking of all the things WikiLeaks is reminds me of teaching "Politics in Modern Scifi" and filling up a blackboard with the names of all the writers the Wachowski brothers ripped off.

WikiLeaks is a crowdsourced panopticon; it's open source, distributed antistatism; it's a descendant of Indymedia, samizdat, Drudge Report, Salon, bootlegs, the Rodney King video, and human flesh search engines; it's as audacious as a terrorist attack, showing what a soft target certain infrastructure is; it's invading the government's privacy just as the government's invaded ours; it's a backswing of the secrecy pendulum.

Brunton muses, "WikiLeaks, and what it portends, is all about working with and managing our points of failure and overload, as human minds and as social creatures." Which makes it rather like Agile software development, and polyamory -- organizational forms deliberately constructed as workarounds for human failings. As the framers of the US (federal) government constructed checks and balances, because we're not angels, so these new systems aim to help us play jiujitsu with our workflows and our secrets. Which, if organizational forms are kinds of technology, are technical fixes to social problems.

Science fiction again: did you ever read Asimov's "The Dead Past"? The one where it turns out the government was right to suppress that one secret?

"Nobody knew anything," said Araman bitterly, "but you all just took it for granted that the government was stupidly bureaucratic, vicious, tyrannical, given to suppressing research for the hell of it. It never occurred to any of you that we were trying to protect mankind as best we could."

"Don't sit there talking," wailed Potterley. "Get the names of the people who were told-"

"Too late," said Nimmo, shrugging. "They've had better than a day. There's been time for the word to spread. My outfits will have called any number of physicists to check my data before going on with it and they'll call one another to pass on the news. Once scientists put [spoiler] and [spoiler] together, home [spoiler] becomes obvious. Before the week is out, five hundred people will know how to build a small [spoiler] and how will you catch them all?" His plum cheeks sagged. "I suppose there's no way of putting the mushroom cloud back into that nice, shiny uranium sphere."

Araman stood up. "We'll try, Potterley, but I agree with Nimmo. It's too late. What kind of a world we'll have from now on, I don't know, I can't tell, but the world we know has been destroyed completely. Until now, every custom, every habit, every tiniest way of life has always taken a certain amount of privacy for granted, but that's all gone now."

He saluted each of the three with elaborate formality.

"You have created a new world among the three of you. I congratulate you. Happy goldfish bowl to you, to me, to everyone, and may each of you fry in hell forever. Arrest rescinded."

That's the fear. The flip side, the hope, you see in Warren Ellis's Global Frequency, the wish-fulfillment fantasy about a vigilante team of experts:

"These are the things I formed the Global Frequency to deal with. The litter of the way we live. The unexploded bombs. There has to be someone to rescue people from the world they live in...."

"Life goes fast. And we seem to spend most of it dancing around all these landmines left in the dirt. All this stuff left over from the last century that some bunch of bastards thought we didn't have the right to know about. Bert? You remember the crap we took from NASA just for wanting to go to space? Like they owned the gate to the world? Screw them all. We'll do what we like. We'll save our own lives and grow our own wings."

Miranda Zero, the leader of the Global Frequency team, is a lot more personally appealing than Julian Assange (look for more wince-inducing media coverage on July 12th).

Relatedly: "On Getting People Mad And Winning Anyway" and "We Are The That Ones We Have Been Waiting For". It is possible to use technology (hardware, software, and workflow processes) to recursively build leadership. I'm learning how.

I feel as though I'm alternating between platitudes and uncracked thought-nuts. It's a nice day out, I see through the window, and I should shower and dress and join it. My thoughts turn to Orwell, the ending of his "Some Thoughts on the Common Toad", which turns even enjoying nice weather into antiauthoritarian resistance:

At any rate, spring is here, even in London N. 1, and they can't stop you enjoying it. This is a satisfying reflection. How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who would stop me enjoying this if they could. But luckily they can't. So long as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, spring is still spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.
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(1) : Portland and San Francisco Travel This Month: I'm speaking at Open Source Bridge - June 21–24, 2011 - Portland, ORI'm going to be in San Francisco next week for in-person collaboration with my Wikimedia colleagues. Then, June 19-25, I'm at the Open Source Bridge conference, presenting Learn Tech Management In 45 Minutes.

It took me two years to get a master's in tech management. I save you $40K and give you the short version.

Managing innovation, intellectual property and employment law, corporate finance, building a business plan — my master’s degree in technology management gave me some grounding in a bunch of suit stuff. I’ll teach you a little of each of these, plus insights from my management experience and fish-out-of-water anecdotes. Aspiring executives welcome; ties optional.

It would be lovely to have time to hang out with acquaintances and friends in either location; contact me!

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(3) : Nerdiest Joke Of The Day?: The GitHub Terms of Service restrict GitHub to humans who are at least thirteen years old. Which means Kes will just stick with Launchpad.

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: Learn Tech Management In Probably Fewer Than 45 Minutes: I've put up slides and pretty rough notes from the talk I gave yesterday at Open Source Bridge, Learn Tech Management in 45 Minutes. I quote Langdon Winner and then Marx & Engels, summarize the efficient markets hypothesis as "we're not stupid," and give a list of spin tactics you can use to get or keep budget for a project. Audio & nicer notes to come soon.

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(1) : On The Usefulness Of Writing:

About this time there was a cry among the people for more paper money, only fifteen thousand pounds being extant in the province, and that soon to be sunk. The wealthy inhabitants oppos'd any addition, being against all paper currency, from an apprehension that it would depreciate, as it had done in New England, to the prejudice of all creditors. We had discuss'd this point in our Junto [debating and science society], where I was on the side of an addition, being persuaded that the first small sum struck in 1723 had done much good by increasing the trade, employment, and number of inhabitants in the province, since I now saw all the old houses inhabited, and many new ones building; whereas I remembered well, that when I first walk'd about the streets of Philadelphia, eating my roll, I saw most of the houses in Walnut-street, between Second and Front streets, with bills on their doors, "To be let"; and many likewise in Chestnut-street and other streets, which made me then think the inhabitants of the city were deserting it one after another.

Our debates possess'd me so fully of the subject, that I wrote and printed an anonymous pamphlet on it, entitled "The Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency." It was well receiv'd by the common people in general; but the rich men dislik'd it, for it increas'd and strengthen'd the clamor for more money, and they happening to have no writers among them that were able to answer it, their opposition slacken'd, and the point was carried by a majority in the House. My friends there, who conceiv'd I had been of some service, thought fit to reward me by employing me in printing the money; a very profitable jobb and a great help to me. This was another advantage gain'd by my being able to write.

This is from Ben Franklin's autobiography. It rocks pretty hard that, when you own a printing press and your government is fairly loose, you can write a persuasive pamphlet, and distribute it, and thus get a contract to print money.

I first read Ben Franklin's autobiography in eleventh grade, in that spot in the American Literature curriculum where lots of people read Catcher in the Rye or Death of a Salesman or something. So glad Mr. Hatch assigned us Franklin. Success, persuasion, enlightened self-interest and altruism and civic action, data-driven decisions, the perks of being a weirdo -- so much is there.

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(2) : Open Source Bridge 2011:

Open Source Bridge - June 21–24, 2011 - Portland, OR

I had a wonderful time at this year's Open Source Bridge conference. Last year at OSBridge, I presented "The Second Step: HOWTO encourage open source work at for-profits" and had a great time. So this year I spoke on technology management, with the fairly ambitious title "Learn Tech Management in 45 Minutes". Addie Beseda reported such a high turnout that people were standing in the hall outside the door listening to the talk, which blows my mind. Audio and polished notes coming soon; slides & nearly complete notes available now.

@brainwane (from Wikimedia) and @WardCunningham (inventor of wiki) talking at #osbridge 2011. #osb11 photo courtesy Josh Triplett Because we released MediaWiki 1.17.0 (after 11 months of development and review!) while I was in Portland, I also led an unconference session on "What's new in MediaWiki 1.17 and How You Can Help". People volunteered to help us with PostgreSQL support, testing, design ideas, bug triage, the parser, and more. And I got to talk about the new release with Ward Cunningham, who invented the wiki. That has got to be a Sumana career highlight.

I also performed some geeky stand-up comedy, and people liked that. So that's nice.

Sessions I attended:

  1. DNSSEC @ Mozilla -- way over my head, which is fine.
  2. A Dozen Databases in 45 Minutes -- I found this very useful in helping me understand, among other things, why one would privilege availability over consistency. Thanks to speaker Eric Redmond for some memorable metaphors.
  3. Drupal Distributions, an Open Source Product Model made me think about the danger of fragmenting sub-communities within a larger FLOSS community.
  4. The open source communities panel -- I did not pay enough attention to this, as I was finishing up work on my talk. I do remember some people disagreeing about qualitative versus quantitative release management decisions and about how to recruit and mentor new participants; sadly I don't have any useful recollections.
  5. Selena giving a totally different talkSelena Deckelmann led "How to Ask for Money", which I think many people will find useful. Some of their lessons: "Find a fundraising mentor," "Hire a graphic designer", "Your network is bigger than you think," "Ask again anyway," and "Do what you say you'll do. And if you don't, communicate why - now."
  6. Dawn Foster's fantastic "Online Community Metrics: Tips and Techniques for Measuring Participation" was -- to all the community managers in the room -- worth the price of admission on its own. Hit the slides (per her blog post) for great pointers to MeeGo's statistics, MLStats for mailing list analysis, irssistats for IRC analysis, and more. And I have some additional notes at the talk's OSB wiki page.
  7. The Birds of a Feather session for Google Summer of Code proved educational; students, alumni, mentors, projects' administrators, and Google's GSoC administrators discussed challenges and opportunities. I learned that GSoC organizational administrators can email Carol Smith at Google to request possible travel stipends for their GSoC students to attend conferences, and possibly to look at previous mentors' evaluations to decide whether to keep them another year. Also, FLOSS projects report great success with the tactic of requiring applicants to do small tasks to prove they're serious and to set up those students to succeed, and mentors and org admins did not seem to think that this would unfairly weight admissions towards students who were already going to go into open source anyway.
  8. 418 I am a teapot note from the Mozilla party"Snooze, the Totally RESTful Language": hilarious, because Markus Roberts led it. My dents from the session:
    • # In Markus Roberts's #osb11 talk "Snooze, the Totally RESTful Language". Leonard, you never told me REST was a meaningless acronym. BETRAYAL
    • # Demo fail. "Anyone here have a laptop?" "What, you want me to go to localhost *for* you?" #osb11
    • # "I think there's a market for this, especially if we convince people that there is one." ... "Are you incepting?" #osb11
    • # Markus is now just riffing on soaking up consumer surplus, Bitcoin, NoSQL, pig Latin, & the joy of boundaries. #osb11
  9. Elizabeth Naramore spoke on technical debt (slides). One item that really struck me is her experience that sometimes chipping away at little tech debts won't get you the momentum & buy-in you need. You need a big thought-provoking goal.
  10. "Inviting Contributors to Open Source Webdev through Virtualization" by Les Orchard told me that not just Dreamwidth, not just Wikimedia, but also Bugzilla and addons.mozilla.org are trying this concept. Four makes a trend! I hope they all compare notes. I also learned of a tool to sanitize real data dumps, to get useful test databases that community developers can use.

In between, I saw new friends and old, talked up MediaWiki, told people about the zillion open positions for which Wikimedia Foundation is hiring, played Dance Dance Revolution, ate great food, and enjoyed the inimitable atmosphere of a great conference.

A few ego-stroking notes: Open Source Bridge's Melissa Chavez also interviewed me for an eight-minute video. And, with Asheesh Laroia and Igal Koshevoy, I was named one of three Open Source Citizens by the conference organizers. Thank you for the honor; I will wear my scarf with pride!

(Thanks to the Wikimedia Foundation for the plane flight, to the conference for letting me in free as a speaker, and to my friends Brendan and Kara for hosting me. Thanks to Reid Beels and John Parker for their photos, which are CC BY-NC-SA. Thanks also to Josh Triplett for his photo.)

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: "Skilletron 2.0": Leonard is funding a different Kickstarter project every day this month, to celebrate his birthday.

I'll try to pick projects you'll find interesting because I really like the Kickstarter model and my goal is to get you into the idea of funding things that way as well. If nothing really grabs me on a given day, I'll make an investment more or less at random. Because it's July, mamajama, and weird things happen on this site in July.

Never seen "mamajama" in print before.

I was browing projects he's funded and wandered over to other requests.

"We've come to the Kickstarter community to ask for your help in funding our first run of cast iron cookware."

Pledge $1000 or more and you get a bunch of skillets, two bottle openers, possibly a trivet, your name on their furnace, plus "a special 'thank you' iron ingot."

"(please add $50 for international shipments)"

Three hours to go. Do you like ingots?


(1) : "Learn Tech Management" Essay/Notes: Final notes, including an audio recording and an edited & annotated transcript, for my standing-room-only talk "Learn Tech Management in 45 Minutes" from this year's Open Source Bridge.

Sumana (publicizing a different talk) at OSBridge 2011, photo by Reid Beels CC BY-NC-SA

And I wanna also tell you that I am gonna talk a little bit about kind of managing up and managing down, but really more of what I'm talking about is managing up, because I think a lot of us have had at least some experience of managing other people and helping them understand what to do, but managing up is where it gets all mysterious, and people wear suits, and they talk about terms we don't understand.

And I think of this as kind of harm reduction. This talk that I'm giving right now. It's a little bit of the gentle art of self defense. Because, you know, you might be an engineer who has to deal with management and fight for your project, or you might want to take leadership of your open source project, and you might want to write proposals for what people should do or why they should give you a grant. Or you might accidentally turn into a manager at your firm. It might be foisted upon you.

And so I hope that some of the stuff in this talk will take you from, like, 0th percentile up somewhere else, and give you a bunch of keywords that you can look up on Wikipedia, the world's free, open source encyclopedia.

Subheaders include "Why do projects fail?", "Evil list", "Suit-friendly presentations", "Lenses", and "Q&A about measuring intangibles".

Much thanks to Christie Koehler for getting me that audio, and to Mirabai Knight of StenoKnight CART Services for transcribing my talk. Thanks to Reid Beels for the CC BY-NC-SA photo.

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(1) : Kyriarchy & Mr. Rogers: In late June, Kjerstin Johnson interviewed me for Bitch Media (makers of Bitch Magazine) about Wikimedia, feminism in open source, and related topics. You can listen to the half-hour interview via download from the Internet Archive, or read the transcript (4800 words, 67KB .doc file).

So open source means that anybody can modify the code; closed source means that no one else other than the people who basically sold it to you can modify it, and therefore you are disempowered, and you are under someone else's control. And as Mr. Rogers once said, "I am against the idea of anybody being programmed by anybody else."

The actual quote is: "Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others." I'm pretty sure I first ran into it in Seth Schoen's email signature.

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: Intra- and Interpersonal Expectations In Open Source And the Tech Industry: That theme emerges in the three articles I've written for Geek Feminism this year.

  1. January: "On competence, confidence, pernicious socialization, recursion, and tricking yourself" (previously mentioned in Cogito, Ergo Sumana). I have to remind myself to take my own advice and take more risks -- if I succeed all the time, I'm not thinking big enough. Echoed in Sheryl Sandberg's Barnard commencement speech.
  2. July: "'Put up or shut up'." I wrote this to explain the double-edged sword of the do-ocratic norm, to describe how we sometimes use it to shut down uncomfortable conversations, and to remind us that the very people who need certain new policies, procedures and abstractions are least able and worst placed to implement them. There's a difference between "that's definitely an issue; could you file a bug?" and "stop talking about this unless you're prepared to implement it all by yourself."
  3. Also July: "Google, gossip, and gamification: comparing and contrasting technical learning styles" tells my tale of failure and return, then asks: how do you learn technical material and skills? I'm especially interested in hearing from women who now spend a lot of time in a technical domain, but whose first attempt at learning it went awry.

By the way, if there's something you wish I would write about, do let me know.

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(1) : An (NCSA) Mosaic Of Colorful Little Bits: I looked at my past, like, eight blog entries and saw that they were pretty thinky pieces. When did my blog turn into Crooked Timber? So, a little miscellany.

Saturday I went to the beach! And now I am parti-colored. I got to see Gus, whose "How We Know What We Know: A personal explication" is riveting, and I wish every interesting thinker would write a similar intellectual memoir. I learned how to play the card game Guillotine, and led a couple of games of Once Upon A Time. When I'm the first player, I like to set up a named pair of characters, in a particular city or setting, with a clear problem. This seems to help when I'm playing with novices, as it gives them something to build on.

Yesterday I had a three-minute dispute with Leonard over whether his three-Sundays-in-a-row habit of ordering the chicken and waffles at the local brunch place meant that was now "his thing."

Leonard bought us a September 1945 issue of The American, a monthly general interest magazine, and we're reading it with Wikipedia or Wolfram Alpha at the ready. Reference material helps contextualize, say, propaganda about how well people can eat despite wartime rationing. "Wait, how does the population density of France in 1945 compare to that of the US?" (Way higher. Thank you, Wolfram Alpha!)

Another bit of reading: Ben Franklin discovering one General Loudoun's astonishing indecision. Loudoun's procrastination slows down the entire economy of the Colonies and keeps mail boats from carrying urgent information back to England. Franklin later writes in his autobiography:

On the whole I then wondered much how such a man came to be entrusted with so important a business as the conduct of a great army, but having since seen more of the great world, and its means of obtaining and motives for giving places, my wonder is diminished.

Punchline: "The Governor General Loudon was a mail steamer and excursion vessel..." Not sure about the namesake, especially because of the orthographical variance, but still mouth-twitchingly funny.

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: CLS/OSCON: I'm in Portland, Oregon, for Community Leadership Summit and OSCON. If you are here, too, you will be able to recognize me because I will be the one who's very tired.


(6) : From Rush To Hush: I have been travelling so much in the past month that my nap today included a travel anxiety dream where I accidentally got on a plane back home in the middle of a conference and then had to consult Richard Feynman for help getting back.

Back from Oregon and Israel (CLS, OSCON, and Wikimania). Getting used to the look of Leonard's face again. I'm almost over the hours of search and interrogation El Al put me through before they'd let me onto airplanes.

From this week's Wikipedia Signpost, one editor writes: "Currently I am drafting the article on modes of carry for firearms, although I may not get around to finishing it for a while. That's OK -- Wikipedia is forever. We've got time." An outlook for the Long Now, and one I am trying to remember.


(1) : The Touch of a Vanished Hand: Before going to Wikimania, I printed out a bunch of stuff: my registration confirmation email, an FAQ about the conference, a list of other colleagues who were attending, my flight itinerary, and so on. I used a binder clip to keep it together. The last time I looked at it was probably Monday, a few days before I flew back to New York.

Just now, I unearthed it from my bag as I finished the last of my unpacking. I tried to flip through it, but something was wrong. Then I realized: when searching through my belongings at the Tel Aviv airport, Israeli personnel must have taken the clip off the papers, then put it back on the right. Probably because they're used to Hebrew texts, which one reads from right to left.

There must be some academic somewhere who can help me understand, cerebrally, why the narrative of surveillance feels so much like a ghost story. They both make me feel like prey.


: Friends Who Make Things: Leonard's been just amazingly interesting lately. He's analyzing board game catalogs, movie reviews, and cooler ways to mash up and generate text.

Our pal Beth Lerman has a painting blog. Want to see Princess Leia in a tarot card? You got it.

I have a lot of friends who make things. In fact, I think a habit of making things is one of the most appealing qualities my friends share. Sometimes, when I'm tired, it's intimidating. Sometimes it's exhilarating and inspiring. Thank you, friends.


(2) : Don't Worry About Me: Leonard and I are not in a hurricane evacuation zone. Our apartment is not on a basement or first floor so we're not at risk of flooding. We're preparing sensibly in case Hurricane Irene knocks out our power; our internet may go away but we'll be fine.

I was going to be visiting San Francisco for work this coming week, but the hurricane cancelled my originally booked flight and forced a change of plans; I'll now be there September 4th-9th.

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: We're Fine: My household had no hurricane-related problems. Electricity, natural gas, water, mobile phone, and internet service continued without interruption. We're very lucky that Hurricane Irene did not substantially affect us. (And that we're well-off enough to have a two-bedroom apartment, to reduce cabin fever.)

The job is pretty time- and energy-consuming. I'm helping organize some Wikimedia/MediaWiki developers' days in New Orleans, 14-16 October, and helping with or leading a variety of other initiatives. Hope you're doing well. Back to email. Listening to Barcelona.


(6) : Everybody's Doing It: Some Hackathon Tips: Hackathon 2011 Berlin - 2ter Tag - TS (44)I'm helping arrange some developers' events at work. They're meant for open source software developers, testers, documenters, and other contributors to get together, talk, and collaborate. We often call them hackathons. I'm directly planning, with a colleague, the October 14-16 hackathon in New Orleans. But I'm also advising volunteers and people at partner organizations who want to put on technical events -- for example, a British contributor is planning a hackathon in Brighton, 19-20 November. The Wikimedia Foundation itself can only put on a few events a year, but there's plenty of room and demand for smaller regional meetups, so I'm enthusiastically encouraging volunteers who want to throw a hacking party.

People keep acting as though I'll have useful advice for them in hackathon planning, so here goes! I do not want to reinvent the wheel here, so I'm liberally linking to others' existing guides and HOWTOs.

Goals

Wikimedia Hackathon Berlin 2011 group photoMy colleague Siebrand Mazeland wrote some goals for an upcoming hackathon and I like them as an example. Note that this is for an event where we're expecting that most participants will be new to MediaWiki and to open source development in general:

First I'll talk about the social/content side of hackathons, and then some outreach/process stuff, and then the technical/logistics side.

People & Activities

Here's what I wrote while helping plan an upcoming hackathon, one of the first in its region:

Hackathon P1030931

Since I predict that at least half of the participants will be new to MediaWiki-related development, we'll want to seed the crowd with some more experienced developers (if possible, from the region). And we'll want to provide some direction and some pre-planned activities, especially for the first day (if we're assuming a two-day hackathon).

One of these activities should be the "how to start modding MediaWiki" lecture/workshop that we first led at Wikimania. A colleague and I will be cleaning up those notes in September to create a curriculum that a local developer could use to teach.

Other preplanned activities would include just enough structure to help inform and guide the energy of new, uncertain participants. For example, organizers should ask several local developers, ahead of time, to prepare sets of tasks that small groups could work on, such as "fix these ten bugs in Kiwix" or "add language support for (this language) to (tool)." It would be best if these developers could also give extremely short talks about their areas of interest (3-5 minutes each, no slides necessary). In the afternoon of the first day, and at the beginning of the second day, there would be a twenty-minute period of these "lightning talks" and then participants could decide what group to join.

Hackathon 2011 Berlin - 2ter Tag - TS (65) I am generally in favor of allowing some room for spontaneity, by asking participants on the first day what they're interested in working on, encouraging them to give ad hoc lightning talks during the short talks sessions, and by encouraging participants to lead sprints on topics of their interest. Technologists feel more inspired and creative if there's lots of support (people who are willing to teach and mentor) but also freedom to discover and concentrate on new interests.

It's tempting for organizers to say "let's concentrate on this! and this! and this!" at a hackathon. But you can't concentrate on localisation, and mobile, and accessibility, and HTTPS, and mass uploaders, and usability, and the article feedback tool, and and and. :-) If you really want some topic focus at the hackathon, choose maybe 2 concentrations a day, and target your outreach and publicity, saying that you especially welcome participation in those areas.

Some Things You'll Need for a successful developer outreach event:

Technical stuff & logistics

Hackathon 2011 Berlin - 2ter Tag - TS (75) I find that the Stumptown Syndicate's Event Planning Handbook section on logistics ably summarizes the logistical side of what's needed at a technical event.

Basically, once you have a venue, the next priority is provision for robust wireless (and, if possible, wired) internet, and provision for heavy electrical power usage.

You'll want to have some kind of documentation of your hackathon, to make it easier for people to collaborate (face-to-face and remotely), and to have a record for future reference. As we decided for the Berlin WMDE hackathon this year (thanks to Daniel Kinzler for distilling this hierarchy):

  1. textual documentation: essential
  2. live textual documentation (IRC, Etherpad): important
  3. photo documentation: important
  4. audio recording: important
  5. video recording: would be good
  6. audio streaming: would be good
  7. video streaming: nice to have

It's great to have two dedicated notetakers/facilitators typing into Etherpad for collborative notetaking, finding and answering questions on IRC and blogging, and walking around talking to people and asking them what they're working on and helping them collaborate more effectively.

Hackathon P1030929 And below I'll reproduce a note that Jon Davis, formerly of Wikimedia internal IT, wrote about audio recording and streaming (when planning for the Berlin WMDE developers' days):

The biggest problem is getting reasonably quality audio to a computer. The single biggest complaint I've had... was that it was hard to hear people. [You'll] need some reasonably quality microphones to capture with. If it is presentations, I recommend some sort of shotgun style mic. If it is a group talk, something omnidirectional. The trouble is twofold.

#1 - I couldn't find any USB compatible shotgun mics off hand. You can, in effect make one with the right parts [1], [2], but it's definitely not cheap.

#2 - The USB omni-directional that I found [3] isn't cheap, and I've no idea what the quality is.

So [you'd] need at least one mic setup (and probably computer) per area [you] are trying to record. It's not... "great", but it sure beats running a ton of cable, doing mixing and all sorts of much more pro level work. I have no idea what the budget is for that sort of thing, so it might not be a big deal...

There is probably far better advice out there regarding recording/streaming video and audio. I welcome links and experiences.

You'll also want to consider bathrooms, garbage needs, whiteboards and markers, and maybe childcare, and so on -- the sorts of things conference organizers need to consider, in general. A few guides with tips on what to consider:

And of course there is a lot of "how to run a conference" reference material available for your perusal, including ConRunner, which focuses on science fiction convention organizers but which has more generally applicable advice. And hey, they're running MediaWiki!

Questions, links, comments welcome in the comments.

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(5) : Cooking: Leonard and I are making dinner: pasta with mushrooms and kale. I was frying the mushrooms in the cast-iron skillet.

Sumana: Do you ever make up stories about the mushrooms as you move them around?
Leonard: No. Do you?
Sumana: .... no.
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: You Can't Miss The Point When There's No Point To Be Missed: I went to San Francisco last week to work with my colleagues at the Wikimedia Foundation. Some highlights from the past week: looking at the Red Umbrellas art gallery displayed in Union Square while tango music played, and talking with artists about their processes and histories; watching my competitor Tim Lee do nerdy standup; performing standup for my colleagues at the Friday afternoon drinks; talking with my boss about what we're looking for in a testing lead. And I got to see Gus, Susan, Riana, Jed, Joe, and Elizabeth.

But I also fell ill, and my laptop's hard drive died irrecoverably. (At least I was at headquarters, so office IT could set me up with this new ThinkPad.) And when one works remotely, from one's comfortable couch and with plenty of time to concentrate on text and screen, it can be disorienting and distracting to be in cubicles under fluorescent light, facing an overwhelming abundance of face time. It's like a conference, in some ways; Fear Of Missing Out, the urge to have just one more drink with a colleague, to hear just one more entertaining and educational story, to forget self-care. And in substituting face-to-face time for face-to-screen time, I feel the panic of the rising inbox tide.

It was such a tiring week that both yesterday & today I found myself taking four-hour naps. Dear Lord, hacking the self is tricky; I so dearly wish for checkboxes and preferences and system settings I could tweak. And of course that brings me back to Neal Stephenson, "In the Beginning Was the Command Line," and the decade since I read it, the decade that's brought me here today, to sitting next to my hacker husband, deciding whether to go to an EFF event tonight, thinking about geographic locations and books and learning and children and banks and calendars and the dripping faucet and mail, deciding how to pursue my career and my life, knowing that I am the one who will make these decisions and live in their consequences, feeling liberty less and existential nausea more.

I will feel better tomorrow. Or, if not then, the day after.


: A Little Better: Went to the event, saw someone I knew, got ridiculously bespoke teetotaller drinks with cucumber and ginger and red pepper flakes and egg white, listened to Mountain Goats and Dar Williams and Everclear on the train. Now: Muppets.


: Sustain: Gratitude isn't just validating because it rewards narcissism or vanity. Genuine gratitude sustains because it is empirical proof that we were of use, that we made a dent in the universe.


(4) : You: Seven years ago, I received a copy of Yevgeny Zamyatin's We in the mail. I don't know who sent it to me. Two days ago, the same thing happened to my friend Will. Is this a coincidence? We don't know what to make of it. More about the mystery. If this has ever happened to you, we want to know.

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: Usually Five Things Make a Post, But Four Will Have To Suffice: Randall Munroe got married and I wish him all the best.

The bell sound I use to alert me when someone mentions or messages me in IRC is bell-octave2.wav, which came in a bundle of freely licensed musical sounds I downloaded years ago and can't find anymore. Danni said that it sounds like the classic "the captain has turned on the 'fasten seatbelts' sign" airplane sound. So if you might enjoy that, have at.

If you liked "Jump Space" from Thoughtcrime Experiments, consider supporting author Mary Anne Mohanraj's Demimonde fundraiser. Both money and link-spreading publicity would help.

Leonard and I are watching Breaking Bad via DVD, and are on season two. I don't know much about cancer, parenting, producing and distributing meth, drug policing, or Albuquerque, but I can say that the depiction of marriage feels a lot more realistic than the depiction of high school chemistry classes. A fairly addictive show, but fortunately less addictive than methamphetamines. And it's sciency fiction, as Leonard pointed out, which we love.


: 24 Fames Per Second: Some recent videos of me:

My talk at Wikimania, "How to get what you want from MediaWiki's developers" (first 22 minutes of video); talk, notes.

An interview with me at OSCON about "the role of leaders within free software and free culture communities...the work of the [Wikimedia F]oundation, the relationship between developers and content providers, and a number of other topics." Part One, Part Two; each is about eight minutes.

What do you want the web to be? I show up briefly at 1:12 in this cute little Mozilla music video from Open Source Bridge, and briefly at 1:58 in the "we had a great time!" Wikimania wrapup video.


: UN Convention On the Rights of the Mild: For professional development reasons, I'm starting a four-week course that'll teach me JavaScript/jQuery/CSS/JSON stuff in the context of the Etsy API. This meant that today I read the Etsy terms of use, and had to email the Etsy legal department about multiple errors in it (which, to their credit, they fixed the same day). Some fun facts from that document, and from their other documents incorporated by reference:

Speaking of business/arbitrage/game theory musings, today I picked up and started REAMDE, the Neal Stephenson thousand-pager that came out today. I'm on page 283. Themes/references that carry over from Cryptonomicon include: Hakka, Manila, Shekondar, discovering facts that make a job hard but your isolated boss thinks it should be easy, being compelled to do a task under duress, gold, military and hacker habits, silly/revealing business meetings. Carried over from Anathem (and less from Snow Crash/Diamond Age): ikonographies/narratives and the importance of story.

I think the last book I picked up on the day of release was Book 7 of Harry Potter. I was working on a farm in northwest New Jersey and we had to cross the state line into Pennsylvania to get to the closest bookstore that was selling it at midnight. If there were midnight Stephenson release parties where people dress up, I'd expect to have heard about them already, but then again I don't read Boing Boing much anymore.

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(2) : Pretty Spoiler-Free, In My Opinion: I'm now 812 pages into REAMDE. It reads as though Cory Doctorow, in preparing to write For The Win, had drawn upon his eleventh grade lit teacher Thomas Pynchon, who had taught him what "puissant" meant and given him Alan Furst novels to read, but also upon the paperbacks that he'd found in the bookcases lining the wall of his social studies classroom, which included Tom Clancy and Where the Red Fern Grows.

Back to it.

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(3) : Sigh: Just finished REAMDE, walked into the study, thudded it onto Leonard's desk, and said with wonder, "I cannot recommend that you read this."

I cannot recall the last Stephenson I read that had fewer ideas, and I include his short fiction in this. And you know those lovely little similes and metaphors and fanciful explanations of technical topics and arias, soliloquies on the nature of things, the Stephenson signatures? Nearly absent. Imagine a Michael Crichton novel that stretches to over a thousand pages. I'm disappointed and a little disgusted. REAMDE is essentially a serviceable technothriller, and that's all. An unworthy followup to Anathem.

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(3) : Community Of Practice: I have found Danny O'Brien's new blog: the Noisebridge mailing list. noisebridge-discuss entrances me because it's techno-anarchism in action, a lot like the Wikimedia movement, except it's way smaller, a higher proportion of the members are my friends, and it's comfortably distant so I can watch and eat popcorn. Example!


: Gentleman Scientist: My spouse is trying to figure out what makes Kickstarter fundraising projects most likely to hit their goals. Economists, have at!


(3) : What Women Discuss: If you are writing a piece of fiction, and you want to pass the Bechdel test but you don't know what women talk when we talk with other women, you might need some ideas. Here are a few topics I've discussed with other women over the past week. Not an exhaustive list.


: Notice of Intent: I have not blogged about Ada Lovelace Day because I have been busy today taking care of my mom. Soon, belatedly.


: Mundane: At some point this week I hope to post more about the MediaWiki hackathon I just led. Right now I am exhausted and .... too tired and distracted to even effectively finish that sentence, evidently.

People got a lot done, collaborators who had never met before got to see each other face-to-face, and we did not break any of the physical plant lent to us by our hosts (e.g., chairs or projector cables). Weak huzzah (weakened by hunger). Off to the airport again.


(1) : Still Keepin' On: I went to New Orleans and ate several beignets. And I wrote a bunch of email instead of blog posts.

I find that when people ask me how I am doing, I just end up talking about work, which I shall avoid here. Leonard's basically heads-down in work preparing for the upcoming serialization of Constellation Games, his first novel. In my offtime I read science fiction and reread young adult fiction, and watch Psych and Breaking Bad with Leonard, and The Big Bang Theory and Leverage by myself. We recently watched a charming, foulmouthed, low-key story of hubris and downfall, which what the heck, I'll embed.


(2) : Free, Good, And Durable: I want to buy a smartphone. Help me decide.

I care about:

I'd rather have a physical keyboard, either in addition to or instead of a touchscreen, but I can stand not having one. And I have basically no hope that I could get a device made under fair labor practices and with any attentiveness to the environmental impacts of its manufacture, but am willing to be surprised.

I really do not care how many apps are available for a phone -- I'll be fine if it browses the web, makes and received phone calls, and it would be lovely if it takes mediocre photos and plays music. And it can be big and heavy and ugly and I don't mind as long as the hardware is robust.

I am planning on buying a device, that is, buying an unlocked one separately from getting a data/voice plan from a carrier (see again: my interest in freedom). I acknowledge that I am being picky here so I'm fine with spending commensurately.

Recommendations?


: Five-Sentence Review: Intro music to tonight's Mike Daisey piece (about Apple, Chinese sweatshop labor, and control) included Jonathan Coulton's "Skullcrusher Mountain." Outro music included Barcelona's "I Have The Password To Your Shell Account." Very good pandering (to me).

The show's running till December 4th. You should try to go.


: "I Am *Just* Like You": Via Jed: A guy peacefully protests in front of some banks in Daly City, California, and the police protect his right to do so. Shocking!

"I'm no activist. I have never done anything like this before. I have marched in 2003, sure, with many others in a big peaceful crowd. I have never had the cops called on me ever before.

I am just like you, or if you like, you are just as able to do this as I am."

That's so often my favorite part of a story: someone doing something they never thought they could do.


: Normal: A nice weekend.

Yesterday I weeded, loosened soil, and planted some bulbs in Washington Square Park with other volunteers. The purple flowers will show up in April, brightening the grounds and signalling that folks should stay off those areas. That way, late-blooming summer flowers and grasses will have untrampled soil to grow in. A Parks Department worker said that they'll keep planting bulbs until the ground freezes in a few weeks.

It surprised me, hearing someone talk about April and June as though they'll certainly come and we know what'll happen on Earth's schedule. Nothing feels like that to me.

Leonard and I went bouldering in Central Park. That is to say that when I saw a big rock, I found a way to walk up it and rarely used my hands. I think I would like to take up rock climbing for real. We saw crew setting up for the New York City Marathon.

Today I went to Grand Army Plaza to serve as an extra in The Shondes' new music video. The director had asked that the extras wear clothing that wasn't black. I dressed in the white pants from my wedding, a bright stripey multicolored sweater I've had for half my life, and a Depths of the Never Never pendant on a thin chain, a necklace I'd bought in Melbourne. Evidently I will be quite noticeable in the finished video.

Also this weekend I watched some Breaking Bad and other shows with Leonard -- what's the moving-picture equivalent of "page-turner"? That's what it is. And I read a little more of City of Exile (almost done!) and wrote some correspondence to friends, and caught up with Jed a little, and listened to a This American Life on the subway. It was #318, "With Great Power", and of course I connected it to my job, because I connect most things these days to my job. Heck, I gave out three business cards at the music video shoot today. In the MediaWiki community, I have rather a large responsibility (to facilitate volunteer activity), and I'm not sure how much power I have, or of what kind. I'm still learning. Come to think of it, I'm still learning my responsibilities, too. And one of them is to myself, to keep a sustainable pace, to do exercise and cleaning and planting and the other infrastructure setup/maintenance that sets me up for success, to take breaks so I stay eager to come back to the work.

A nice weekend. I strayed into work for a few hours (aiee, just noticed that I need to get someone to review this patch), but tried to take a rest. Maybe tomorrow my gardening will go well, and I'll believe that there will be an April.


: Work And Being Realistic: Mumbai Wikimedia Hackathon 2011 This month I'll briefly be in Mumbai for a Wikimedia developers' meetup. Developers and translators will be working on mobile and offline access, localization, and general knowledge sharing about Wikimedia technologies. If you're interested in coming by, let me know.

Selected recent Wikimedia (work) stuff: Guillaume Paumier did important foundational work in collecting and integrating information for a MediaWiki architectural overview and history. I've already pointed newbies to it at least five times to explain something. And the first MediaWiki 1.18 beta release is out so people can download and test that. We're hiring for like a dozen technical positions. There's so much going on that if I go on I'll end up repeating our monthly reports.

Perhaps more interestingly, my current crusade is patch review. When new technical volunteers show up, perhaps trying to scratch their own itch or get started with an annoying little easy bug, they contribute patches in our Bugzilla. We're not reviewing and responding to them consistently and quickly enough; there are more than 260 patches awaiting a response, some dating back years and thus suffering bitrot. So, the workflow isn't working. I'm working on figuring out what's broken and how to fix it.

All my Wikimedia work and travel has kept me from my previous big open source commitment, GNOME. I've been saying to friends and GNOME teammates for some time now that I can't keep up, and am now unsubscribing from the GNOME Marketing and GNOME Journal team email lists in recognition of that fact. It hurts, but it's better not to pretend to commitments one can't keep. Fortunately, Emily (Rose? not sure of her last name) & Sriram Ramkrishna have done a great service in moving GNOME Journal to a modern publishing system at https://thegnomejournal.wordpress.com/. It looks like they'll take over running and editing it, which is lovely. Paul Cutler and I simply have not had the time to give this information channel the attention it deserves, so he and I asked for others to step in and take over, and I am glad to see Sri's, Emily's, Allan Day's, and others' energy pushing forward to keep the GNOME and FLOSS communities informed about GNOME happenings.

We are in this together. It's like the geek feminist saying goes:

Let's say that fighting sexism is like a chorus of people singing a continuous tone. If enough people sing, the tone will be continuous even though each of the singers will be stopping singing to take a breath every now and then. The way to change things is for more people to sing rather than for the same small group of people to try to sing louder and never breathe.

The demands of scaling up imply, somewhat recursively, that in my role coordinating and recruiting volunteers, I need to also recruit people who will coordinate and recruit volunteers. I'm working on it.

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: Boarding Passeth Understanding: Now that I'm most of the way through 2011, how did my travel wishlist go?

I did go to Arisia. Ended up in Berlin for a MediaWiki conference, but not for the GNOME Desktop Summit, and I didn't go to the fall GNOME summit either. WisCon yes, Open Source Bridge yes, but QuahogCon no since the conference organizers cancelled it. And I didn't get invited to Foo Camp.

Unanticipated travel: just across the state line to PICC, somewhat more time in Washington, DC than I'd anticipated, and then so much work travel. I went back and forth to San Francisco a lot. I went to OSCON and Community Leadership Summit, which I hadn't anticipated this time last year. And I went to Haifa for Wikimania and New Orleans for a hackathon, and I'm going to Mumbai in a bit for another, none of which were on my radar last year at all. Also I went to Staten Island for the first time.

I have learned that it's hard to do the same thing for pleasure that I do for work, like travel and going to conferences (even science fiction conventions). I have learned more about napping and caffeine titration than I knew before. I have learned a little teensy bit of Hebrew and of German. I have met a lot of people, some of whom are now close friends. I have learned a little about how to pack for a trip, but not as much as my boss's boss's boss.

Today Leonard and I went shopping for a new bedframe (the old one doesn't fit our new mattresses; long story). It's good to make an investment in the place where I theoretically live.

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: Speechless: Police shut down the airspace and part of the subway and crushed donated books and tossed out reporters here, where I live, in New York City.

And in Berkeley, at the University of California at Berkeley, where I went to college, where there is a Free Speech Movement Cafe in one of the libraries, where they send out entreaties to ask me for alumni money, they beat peaceful protestors.

I feel heartsick. How could you.


: Muppet Fanfic: "Tomorrow Is Waiting" by Holli Mintzer.

If you want the truth, it happened because Anji was feeling lazy. Her AI class wasn't all that interesting, nor was it a field she wanted a career in, so there wasn't any reason she could see for trying especially hard. So she came up with a project that didn't look like too much work, and she picked what looked like the easiest way of doing it. Things just got a little out of hand, after that....

Sweet and moving and happy-making.

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: On My Mind: I remember, during an election debate, Al Gore quoting the line, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" from Matthew. There's a similar Gibran line, "Work is love made visible."

It's important where you put your time. It's important to take care of your responsibilities, including yourself.


(6) : Imagination: I enjoyed the new Muppet movie thoroughly. I have, basically, only two substantial criticisms. One is the fact that nearly all the female characters are defined by their relationships with men. The second is more interesting.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Well, I'm not sure it's a spoiler for a Muppet movie to tell you that they have to put on a show to raise the money to save a theater. Rich guy has them over a barrel, wants to bulldoze their old theater to drill for oil. They need to raise ten million dollars to buy it back from him.

One theatrical regret of my life is that I had tickets to see Mike Daisey's How Theater Failed America and then forgot to go, and missed it. (Ever since then: cell phone alarms.) Daisey argues that US theatrical companies care too much about buildings and administration, and that they should instead focus on paying and sustaining actors. I had hoped, towards the end of the film, when it looks like our Muppets have lost their building and their trademarked name, that this was the kind of point they would make. Kermit even edges close to this idea, telling his team that it's not their name or their building that matters, it's each other.

It's the wine that matters and not the bottle.

And then the movie steps away from that, and tens of thousands of fans are cheering Muppets who thought they'd been forgotten, and the rich guy has a change of heart and turns generous (kind of like the problem with the end of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where the only reason Smith wins is that the corrupt Senator gives in and confesses all). So they get their building and name back.

But -- and I know I'm asking a lot of a Hollywood franchise, but this one has glimmers of intelligence -- wouldn't it have been a lot more interesting if they'd gone another way? If they got back on the bus and started bringing live theater to cities and towns all across the map? If they stopped treating Muppet diasporas as a failure and started acknowledging them as a natural part of the team's lifecycle, and enabled each other to learn, grow, change, and make great art while apart? If they took Walter as an example and started consciously teaching and recruiting young newbies? What else could they do with that ten million dollars?

Argh, I know, I know, I am pushing fruitlessly against the sitcom-esque constraints of a franchise film. The equilibrium must be restored and nothing architectural can ever change. Don't get me wrong -- I loved this film, it left me with a huge face-aching smile on my face, and it's sweet and funny and clever. But I came to it not seeking reassurance that old bonds and relations will endure and prevail. I came to it with the Mountain Goats' "The Young Thousands" in my head.

....The things that you've got coming will consume you
There's someone waiting out there in an alley with a chain

....The things that you've got coming will do things that you're afraid to
There is someone waiting out there with a mouthful of surprises

....There must be diamonds somewhere in a place that stinks this bad
There are brighter things than diamonds coming down the line

Every skeleton, every institution has a natural shelf life. It takes maturity to say, "There have been enough Star Trek stories. Let it end." And if I shun all the scary change that comes down the line, I'll miss the unimaginably glorious surprises as well.

And this is also why we make transformative work -- the fanfic, the vids, the filks and software. So, if someone wants to point me to awesome Muppet diaspora fic, I'll totally read it.


(1) : A Sample Of My Stand-Up:

Geeky Stand-up Comedy from Heiko V. on Vimeo.

Sumana's Stand Up Comedy on the second day of the Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit 2011.

Unfortunately the recording died half way through the video...

Thanks to Heiko for recording this. It's 14:28. There's an odd synchronization problem with the audio and the video. Also this is unpracticed. I often go to unconferences, realize I may as well do some nerdy stand-up, and then do it with like fifteen minutes' rememorizing/practice. The answer is to develop new material that excites me more.
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(1) : Intuition and Property: From and following conversation with Finn back in the winter, and "Slapdash Thoughts On Real Estate" two years ago:

I told Finn that Locke had posited three ways to legitimately acquire land-style property. "Incidentally, the least-Dugg Cracked.com list ever," he japed.

This makes intuitive sense to a 21st century USian. For one thing, we hate waste and love utility. And this helps understand why one intuitive reaction to the Sita Sings the Blues copyright story is "but those songs were so old and no one was using them"!

But when you look at the four kinds of intellectual property, consider how we feel proprietary about the important people and things in our life. What are your intuitions, and how do they align with the particular kinds of ownership that you can get with various kinds of IP? When you think about folk copyright, what other norms does that remind you of?

We make all these analogies, we free culture folk, as do our adversaries. This is rather lazy and Sapir-Whorf of me, I never even seriously read any George Lakoff, but there seriously are metaphors we live by, and to win the hearts and minds of our citizenry we must activate the right metaphors as we market our ideas. And I'm enough of an outlier that I don't know my neighbors' intuitions; my contrarian heart keeps me guessing. I should read the research, of course, Biella Coleman and Rose White and James Grimmelmann, all the thinkers to whom I am a mere bikeshedder.

Perhaps we are more into a protocol for ensuring everyone's doing the same thing than we are into that thing itself.


(2) : Milk Stout, Vanilla Porter: Leonard and I both spend most of our time at the apartment these days, me working for the Wikimedia Foundation, him working on Constellation Games, his science fiction novel, launching Tuesday. (The novel's done, but he's been working on the bonus stories, Twitter feeds, and so on.) So we have to take care to give each other some regular alone time in the apartment. Yesterday he left for several hours, and today I did.

I read the end of a Kim Stanley Robinson collection, first in a park and then over beer and fries at a tavern. I liked the funny stories, like "Escape from Kathmandu" and "Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars" and "Zürich," and upon a second reading still found the end of "A History of the Twentieth Century, With Illustrations" kind of inexplicable. I read "The Lucky Strike" and "A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions" for the second time and loved them all over again. Sensible people sweating out hard choices, that's KSR. Sometimes they find courage, sometimes they don't. Math, history, geology, biology, mining, astrophysics, poetry, music (the best fiction about classical music I've ever read), cleaning, archaeology -- all the disciplines get this gentle, straightforward, clear attention. He's funnier than Vernor Vinge, but Vinge talks about software more, and I'm a sucker for that. And I think Vinge writes about more kinds of characters.

Home, and the electric light on, because it gets dark at freaking four-thirty now. After I hit Post, some together time with Leonard, because we need that too.

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: Practices, And Practice: A few months ago, I was talking with one of MediaWiki's summer interns in our IRC chatroom. He confessed that he had procrastinated on the work for his project and was rushing to finish it before the deadline. We had a chat that he thought other people might also find useful, in thinking about work habits and discipline.

I asked this Google Summer of Code student, do you know what caused the delays, so that you can account for them in future projects? and he replied, to be honest, procrastination & laziness. I know it's very shameful. I try many times to come out of this vicious circle but keep falling in it again and again.

Draisine or Laufmaschine, around 1820. Archetype of the Bicycle. Pic 01I asked him whether he knew what works to combat his own procrastination and laziness. The most important thing is acknowledging one's problems and then fighting them. For example, for me, I have a suite of tactics that I use to combat my laziness & procrastination. What has worked, and what hasn't worked? Well, for me, for example, merely promising something to myself and making deadlines for myself doesn't help. But setting up a meeting with a peer to sprint -- even if we're working on completely different things! -- or promising a peer or a mentor that I will give them something to review by $time or $date helps.

He said, "motivation works but only for some time."

I replied: "what do you mean by 'motivation'? Merely telling yourself to increase your willpower? I think for most people that is unsustainable."

Another woman agreed with me: "motivation only works if it's a core part of you (and even then for me it's more the worry that other people will find me to not have that quality)." I sympathized with her.

I continued with more tips. For example, I also try to set very small TODO lists each day, because I find that the most important thing is getting started, and avoiding feeling intimidated and overwhelmed. Then once I have the momentum of a little work under my belt, the energy and interest of the work itself keeps me going and then I accomplish a lot.

Hackathon 2011 Berlin - 2ter Tag - TS (55)"So, I know this advice is coming a little too late for you to use it for GSoC, but an accountability buddy program is great," I told him. If he hadn't had daily deliverables due to his mentor during GSoC, then the next time he could try that -- or a private accountability group blog with you & two friends, posting each day what you did, what you aim to do, how long it'll take, and auditing yourself. Instead of budgeting for 8 hours of work each day, I budget tasks that will take at most 6 hours, because I know other random stuff will come in and need doing urgently, and some tasks may take longer than I've estimated. This also helps on the "less intimidating TODO list" front.

We also discussed education; many colleges teach mostly theory, and a student who wants practice has to find it on her own. I said that there is always that balance of theory & implementation/practice. I told him that I wish I had been more brave and bold about experimentation when I was in college. It's just software; if it breaks then you can fix it. I was too timid. I pointed him to a Geek Feminism post of mine for some insight on my education regrets and hopes.

And, on the improvement that comes from working in a different environment, I gave an example: "Friday, I was having trouble doing work while sitting on the couch, so I sat on the floor with my back to the couch, and that helped! just a tiny change of position signalled to my unconscious that it was not relaxation time. For me, it can be as little as a different chair in the same room."

He was pretty grateful.

Him: now i know the power of honest revelations, i was looking for this from so long!
Me: so the trick is not being disciplined about work -- that is ineffective, exhausting, and dispiriting -- but being disciplined about the habit that tricks us into working. No learning is wasted. Take this for next time.
Him: sumanah: i would shower a million thanks if i could, you have striked the very core problem of mine n gave me very practical solution
Me: the best thanks you can give me is to continue to contribute to Wikimedia and to tell your friends these tips as well
Him: sumanah: yes, I will keep contributing to the best of my abilities
Me: Yay!
...
Him: now, I really feel that I am not the loner who does all that stuff!
Me: you are not alone.
Him: you should also blog a few lines like the tip you told me, it would help millions
Me: I will strongly consider that. Thanks.

I've edited the original log for easier legibility.

A line that others have found useful is "so the trick is not being disciplined about work -- that is ineffective, exhausting, and dispiriting -- but being disciplined about the habit that tricks us into working."

But the best part of that conversation, for me, was being able to tell someone, "you are not alone." That always makes a red-letter day.


: Professional Education: Yesterday I bought and read Jeremy Blachman's Anonymous Lawyer because I remembered liking the blog. Strange. I don't usually like wince humor, but the book went pretty fast and balanced out the narrator's ambition and arrogance with quiet subtext. I have recently been letting work swallow up my life, so it was nice to sit on the couch next to Leonard and read a book for a while, even if it was a book about someone who lets work swallow up his life.

Now reading Making Software: What Really Works, and Why We Believe It. I swing between utterly loving this book and needing to take a nap.

Many claims are made about how certain tools, technologies, and practices improve software development. But which are true, and which are merely wishful thinking? In Making Software, leading researchers and practitioners present chapter-length summaries of key empirical findings in software engineering...

One of the editors is Greg Wilson, the Software Carpentry dude who wants to teach scientists basic software engineering skills -- talk about doing the Lord's work! I heard about Software Carpentry via Mary Gardiner's "Changing the World with Python" talk (transcript).

Speaking of Python, I'll be in Boston the weekend of December 17th to attend a project-driven introduction to Python for women and their friends. There are still 7 slots left, in case you want to join me. I fear that I'm in that bleh spot, not an utter novice but still too unskilled to make Python do what I want, so here's hoping the weekend gets me over that hump.

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: Asymptomatic, Asymptotic: Last night I gave Leonard some alone time to work on a Constellation Games bonus story. I went to Ward III, a Manhattan bar that does bespoke cocktails. They have a menu of predesigned cocktails as well, but if you tell them, "I would love something bubbly with basil and lemon," they think about it and figure something out. I especially appreciate that they are perfectly fine with making interesting nonalcoholic drinks. I don't know a better place to get a bespoke mocktail.

Sunita Williams aboard the International Space Station, working with a biological and chemical substances detector, 2007, public domainWhile there, I read a bit of Making Software. One of its editors also cowrote "Empirical Software Engineering: As researchers investigate how software gets made, a new empire for empirical research opens up" in the latest American Scientist, in case you want a taste of his approach. We can now do metasurveys and overviews of existing research into software development, and the science says:

Pair programmers tend to produce code that is easier to understand, and they do so with higher morale. Their productivity may fall initially as the programmers adjust to the new work style, but productivity recovers and often surpasses its initial level as programmer teams acquire experience....

Doctor Ella Eulows (right) and laboratory assistant Sadie Carlin (left) testing antipneumoccus serum for potency, 1920, public domainLarge meta-analyses and further studies by Hannay and others conclude that a programmer’s personality is not a strong predictor of performance. The people who swear by their beliefs about personality and programmer success have now been given reason to assess their position critically, along with methodological support for doing so....

....the distinctions between the two worlds are often illusory. There are cathedrals in the open-source sphere and bazaars in the closed-source. Similar social and technical trends can be documented in both.... Schryen and Rich sorted the packages they studied within categories such as open- and closed-source, application type (operating system, web server, web browser and so on), and structured or loose organization. They found that security vulnerabilities were equally severe for both open- and closed-source systems, and they further found that patching behavior did not align with an open–versus-closed source divide. In fact, they were able to show that application type is a much better determinant of vulnerability and response to security issues, and that patching behavior is directed by organizational policy without any correlation to the organizational structure that produced the software.

fishery biologist, 1972, public domainI read about software engineering research while sitting at the bar, over lemon-lime-and-bitters and devilled eggs served with slices of jalapeño. I always love getting to watch people who are good at their jobs, and the craftsmen at Ward III have a particularly explicitly collaborative style with their customers. One of them, Michael J. Neff, blogs at Serious Eats about cocktails and tending bar. He writes thoughtfully about the use of sugar, free-pouring versus using jiggers to measure, why Californians like us find hurricanes so unsettling ("I tend to think natural disasters should be short, violent, and most of all, unannounced."), and the downside of cocktail nostalgia.

Much of the current cocktail trend is based on nostalgia, and it is difficult to say it, but many cocktails that we now call "forgotten classics" are forgotten for a reason. They have the shine of history, and we're told we are supposed to love them, but they're too sweet, they lack balance, and they kind of suck....

...none of us invented the cocktail. Whatever we create now is a collaboration between those who make spirits, those who make cocktails, and those who imbibe them. If we leave behind the drinker, we leave behind the only people who can tell us what works. None of us make cocktails in a vacuum.

No matter what field you're in, it can be hard to hear criticism. It can be hard to switch habits in response to new data, from your customer or from research. But that's what learning is. Disequilibrium -- surprises, failures, jokes, and disorientations -- will always happen. Taking that opportunity to move away from a local maximum towards a global maximum is up to me.

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(1) : I Watched NBC On Thursday Nights In The Nineties: Guy in a bar told me that George Clooney & Noah Wyle are competing to play Steve Jobs in an upcoming biopic.

  1. So anyone from ER has a shot? Anthony Edwards, Sherry Stringfield... hold on, John Stamos was in ER? They got Thandie Newton & John Leguizamo? Well, a lot happens in 15 seasons.
  2. Shouldn't Noah be concentrating on his upcoming fanfilm, John Carter (Not) Of Mars?


(1) : Where All Happiness Is Contained: The song in my head right now is Pete Seeger's version of "Business" (hear a sample at Smithsonian Folkways). It's from an English translation of a French poem by Guillevic -- I should look up the original.

Image in my head: when I pour hot water over a used herbal tea bag to make a second cup, the air in the bag instantly heats and inflates, buoying the bag atop the rising water.


(4) : Analogies: From some recent explanations of software stuff to nontechnical folks:

Suites like Windows/IIS or LAMP go together the way everything at IKEA matches anything else you buy at IKEA.

Source control is like a wiki.

Virtualization is like Inception.

The IPv4 address shortage, and the switch to IPv6, is like when they had to make new US area codes when we were running out of phone numbers.

Using an interpreted language is like a conversation over instant messenger; compiled languages act more like correspondence over email.

Architecting up-front (waterfall) is good for when you are pretty sure what you want, as when you are hungry and want lunch. You have been hungry many times before and know food in lunch form will work to fix this. You do not need to reimagine the nature of food, hunger, and digestion.

We want people to make stuff that works with our API the way that Apple likes people making iPod accessories.

A database is like a library.

Working on software with other people is like living in a house together. Making your changes in trunk is like moving the shoes from the foyer to the hall closet a little at a time, and (during the changeover) leaving a few pairs out where your housemates will trip over them. In contrast, saving your changes in a branch to merge later, when your change is complete, is like moving all the shoes at once. (Better explanation.)

I beseech you: if you are going to nitpick these, please be funny.


: Constellation Games:

Constellation Games by Leonard Richardson

First contact isn't all fun and games.

Ariel Blum is pushing thirty and doesn't have much to show for it. His computer programming skills are producing nothing but pony-themed video games for little girls. His love life is a slow-motion train wreck, and whenever he tries to make something of his life, he finds himself back on the couch, replaying the games of his youth.

Then the aliens show up.

Out of the sky comes the Constellation: a swarm of anarchist anthropologists, exploring our seas, cataloguing our plants, editing our wikis and eating our Twinkies. No one knows how to respond--except for nerds like Ariel who've been reading, role-playing and wargaming first-contact scenarios their entire lives. Ariel sees the aliens' computers, and he knows that wherever there are computers, there are video games.

Ariel just wants to start a business translating alien games so they can be played on human computers. But a simple cultural exchange turns up ancient secrets, government conspiracies, and unconventional anthropology techniques that threaten humanity as we know it. If Ariel wants his species to have a future, he's going to have to take the step that nothing on Earth could make him take.

He'll have to grow up.

Constellation Games is a novel by my spouse, Leonard Richardson. You can read the first two chapters for free. It's now available for purchase as a serial -- for USD$5, total, you'll get a chapter in your email every week. If you pay a little more, you'll get a print paperback, bonus stories, a phrasebook, and so on. And for free, anyone can read the author's commentary, Twitter feed, &c.

This is a great book. I love it. Oh, and for all of December, Leonard's publisher is running a give-one-get-one special. So I encourage you to read those sample chapters and I hope you'll decide to subscribe.

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: Low-rent Thomas Friedman: I am on my couch in New York City. My Dutch colleague, who also works from home, is waiting with me on the conference call. We're waiting for the San Francisco folks to show up for the call. I can hear that he's watching a video of us doing karaoke together in November, in Mumbai. He was singing Aqua's "Barbie Girl".


: Diligence And Joy: I get a different kind of understanding, now, out of Paul Ford's "Cleaning My Room," ten years later. When I reread it, I flash back to my old messy apartment in Berkeley, where I sat as I absorbed it the first time. I'm years older than Ford was when he wrote it. I haven't quite been through the journey he experienced, but I've tasted some of the other side. It pairs with "Until the Water Boils."

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: Discovering An Origin: Yesterday I helped a bit with a Dreamwidth code tour. Every time Dreamwidth deploys a new update to the site, someone writes up explanations of what all the new bits are. Not just a summary of the big changes, but a sentence or a paragraph about every bugfix and improvement. Basically, imagine if release notes had explanations like this summary by ghoti:

Bug 4102: Checkboxes to retain relationships when renaming have disappeared
Category: Misc Backend
Patch by: [staff profile] denise and [staff profile] fu
Description: So when you rename your account, you're supposed to get checkboxes that keep your access list, filters, and stuff like that during the rename. Unfortunately those checkboxen had disappeared. This shouldn't happen anymore. If you got caught in this bug, please tell [staff profile] denise or [staff profile] fu.
for every bug. Then the code tour gets posted in the Dreamwidth Development community, and linked to from general Dreamwidth news posts. This effectively tells customers where their money's gone, showcases the work of volunteers, and provides examples for people who had been thinking of getting involved in bugfixing (a form of babydev-bait). I fear that the Wikimedia development pace is too high and its community size is too large to make this particular method effective for us, but I'm going to keep thinking about ways we could modify this tactic to achieve those goals for us.

I wrote the summaries of bugs 3186 & 3087, which took maybe ten or fifteen minutes from start to finish. It was fun to flex that muscle, remembering how to distill and translate and explain:

Most support requests are visible to everyone, so everyone can help answer them. For privacy, only Dreamwidth staff and trusted volunteers can see support requests in certain categories, like Account Payments issues or Terms of Service violations. But that wasn't clear to regular users on the support ticket submission page. Now it is, because there are asterisks marking those categories.
I remembered writing functional specifications as a project manager, and reading technical specs and translating them into "what this means for your weekend." I thought about my eventual goal of managing a product, a role that requires someone to think from logistical, marketing, design, financial, and technical perspectives.

Then this morning I picked up A Case of Need by Michael Crichton. He wrote it as a young doctor, under the pseudonym "Jeffery Hudson."

I cut a slice of the white lump and quick-froze it. There was only one way to be certain if the mass was benign or malignant, and that was to check it under the microscope. Quick-freezing the tissue allowed a thin section to be rapidly prepared. Normally, to make a microscope slide, you had to dunk your stuff into six or seven baths; it took at least six hours, sometimes days. The surgeons couldn't wait.
The key context you need to understand the emotional valence of the detail, always keeping the reader aware of what's normal and what's a surprise, what's the best practice and what shortcuts people end up taking. Crichton would have written that summary of the private category marking exactly as I did.

So -- just as I learned my long-distance mentorship skills from Beverly Cleary in Dear Mr. Henshaw, I learned my expository skill from Michael Crichton. Embarrassing, given what Crichton got up to in his later years, but I'll take my skill where I can get it.

(If I were smarter I could make a nice comparison among George Orwell, Alan Furst, Michael Crichton, and Ellen Ullman.)

(By the way, someone quoted from that A Case of Need passage in a comment in an FCC filing.)

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(8) : Confidence Interval: I enjoyed having the apartment to myself for a week while Leonard visited his blood family (why is it easier to clean when I have the house to myself? Why?!), but of course I also enjoy his return. After all, I need someone else to admire these clean countertops! And yesterday he and I talked about what's implausible or frustrating about Jurassic Park (the film), which I had watched afresh on Sunday.

For contrast: the year before Jurassic Park came out, all across the US television screens flickered and blared with "Rascals", a cute and fun episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that does UTTERLY AND WHOLLY IMPLAUSIBLE things with biology. We watched it again yesterday and Leonard pointed out that its science is about as bad as (and arguably contradicts!) that in "Similitude" (ENT). Argh argh argh.

Compare Jurassic Park, which barely ripples the suspension of disbelief.

    recursion dinosaur
  1. Leonard notes that the scientists shouldn't have used frog DNA to fill in the gaps, but rather some kind of avian DNA. Yes, but I'm willing to be technobabbled out of that.
  2. More troublingly (Leonard read an article about this once) -- could you really get enough intact DNA out of the stomachs of millions-years-old mosquitoes? Probably not; you'd need to find a lot of mosquitoes, and I imagine some anaerobic digestive processes would continue even after amber encasement, denaturing the proteins and so on. Still, I am (possibly too leniently) rather unbothered by this -- my impression is that we keep discovering new places DNA's been stashed, and if it's not mosquito bellies, it's, I dunno, the La Brea tar pits or peat bogs or something.
  3. The engineering management failure is plausible, but only if the managers don't know how to manage large engineering projects and mitigate risk properly. Well, Hammond is a fantastic user interface designer who tried to do the software and hardware sides on the cheap. "Spared no expense" only applies to the user-facing bits. And he doesn't listen to criticism. Annoyingly plausible.
  4. The glimpses of software that we get are basically fine, in my opinion.

Yes, I am not exactly pioneering the field of scifi or media criticism by going over the plausibility of this very-well-known artifact from 1993. But if I'd asked myself last week, "What will have more implausibilities? A TNG episode from 1992 or a big-budget Hollywood action thriller from 1993?" I would not have predicted this case. A reminder not to be complacent.

I also appreciate Leonard's presence because I can occasionally ask him to diagnose a Python error (e.g., "TypeError: 'type' object is not subscriptable"). After years of trying to self-teach with books and tutorials and scratch-my-own-itch projects and lectures and lecture videos, I find that the Boston Python Workshop, CodingBat, and Python Challenge were the dance partners I needed. Yesterday I used a dictionary data type to help solve a problem! And it worked! But I'll write more about this on Geek Feminism. Anyway, hence the "recursion" half of the "recursion dinosaur" graphic.


(1) : This Year I Built A Wall Of Text:

Part of the pleasure of starting again is feeling the years and years of riding behind me -- the teenage bolting around like a lunatic and learning how to land on my feet, the years in my twenties when David drummed cadence into me -- coming up and helping, like a whale surfacing under a struggling swimmer. As if those years weren't wasted after all; as if all is not lost.
--yatima

In 2011 my past paid off splendidly. For more than a decade, sometimes without knowing it, I'd been investing in my domain knowledge, skills, credentials, and personal network. So when I started looking for project management and open source consulting work (starting in December 2010), I fairly quickly had as much work as I could handle. The job I have now is the most absorbing and rewarding I've ever had, excepting perhaps my two weeks of farm labor in the summer of 2007.

I worked thoroughly and consistently and busily in 2011. I saw my family, but I didn't see friends enough, and we didn't host enough parties. Then again I travelled a lot; there were months when I was away more than two weeks at a time. Barely exercised. Still married to Leonard, still childless. This year I started supporting him so he can concentrate on his fiction. We discovered Breaking Bad and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

I wrote about 6,814 emails, just under 500 public blog entries (here, Geek Feminism, Wikimedia Foundation blog), and probably 150 dents/tweets. Some of the best things I wrote in 2011:

Happy New Year.


: Drinkin' One-Forties: Oh, one more thing -- Leonard & I distilled my ten best microblog entries from 2011:

#captions error on TV yesterday: "We hold these trouts to be self evident"

You know that moment when you see a bright flash from the window through closed eyes, and know it's probably not a nuke, but still?

Procrustes was just Goldilocks with power.

Being a workaholic who works from home is like ... hmm, all these analogies are offensive.

"We have found that people of talent, ambition and accountability tend to stick together" - truth from http://amymlitt.com/who-we-are/

PLEASE CLIP YOUR NAMEBADGE FACING OUT. A personal appeal from Sumana Harihareswara of the Wikimedia Foundation. #wikimania

"Breaking Bad" in our house has been termed "the Arrested Development of despair," "evil Good Eats," & "Meth Mr. Wizard"

on getting lunch: "The thing about fixing your hunger is, it doesn't scale." "Depends how you fix it!" "I'll plant some corn." #osb11

Joke of the day: Who's Treebeard's favorite philosopher? Hume!

"Enjoy responsibly" is actually very difficult advice to take.

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