October 14-20, 2015

Will I get around to talking about micropayments by the end of this blog post? Stay tuned and find out. First, however, the week in review:

Wednesday the 14th was the day we learned about the new softball stadium that Duke is going to build in the big open field behind WXDU. It’s not actually a big open field — it’s a stand of mature oaks, many of them over three feet in diameter.

I’m told that they’re all willow oaks, same as the 20s/30s-era oaks that line the streets of Durham, all of which (we’re told) are going to die en masse sometime in the next half-dozen years. However, knowing that these beautiful & massive trees are elderly doesn’t make me feel any better about them being bulldozed sometime early next year.

I ranted about the bigger picture issue over on Facebook: too many of Durham’s urban trees are either like the willow oaks, about to be taken down all at once, or they’re on land that’s ripe for development in the current frenzy. One of my favorite aspects of living in Durham is being able to look around & see a stand of mature trees in at least one direction pretty much all the time. Not little street trees, not individual yard trees, but eight or ten or twenty trees together, all at least 30 feet high.

A decade from now, I’m not sure I’ll be able to say that.

Friday night I improvised a thick, noodle-heavy chicken soup for a friend who is ill, and then we went to see Abdullah Ibrahim and his group Ekaya. It was great, and kind of hilarious — Ibrahim would start riffing on the piano & the rest of his band would stand there trying to figure out what song he was leading into. Plus every couple of songs he’d call the musicians to the front of the stage, one by one, to take a bow. This triggered the standing ovation impulse in most of the crowd — I guess they couldn’t tell if it was the end of the or not & wanted to be sure they got in the de rigeur Durham standing O — which meant we wound up standing up 3-4 times before it was all over.

Saturday I spent half the day refactoring code & cleaning up git repositories because I had originally just checked everything in — including database passwords & stuff — under the assumption that I was never going to be showing any of it to anyone else. Turns out one of our new DJs is a software developer & he has naively volunteered to help.

Setting aside the retroactive repository hygiene I had to undertake, I’m also just generally mortified how terrible some of our code is. But after many years of telling my interns that I’m a terrible programmer, and having them still respect my opinions about things, I’m no longer quite so terrified to show my terrible code to other people. Plus it’s not all mine!

My reward was a trip to the theatre to see Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, which is part cold-war thriller, part Mr. Hanks Goes to East Berlin. There are a lot of speeches about the American justice system, but it never lets its didacticism completely bury it. For two solid hours it’s entirely engaging, at times gripping (plus the cinematography is gorgeous).

The last 10-15 minutes devolve into schmaltz, as has tended to be the case with Spielberg movies for lo these many years. We were picturing the meetings where Steven told Joel & Ethan Coen (who wrote the final drafts of the screenplay) that he was scrapping their ending & putting in something a little more mom + apple pie.

It’s still worth seeing. But if, at any time after the 2-hour mark, you start to sense things going all treacly, you can safely flee the cinema.

Monday & Tuesday we attended All Things Open, the annual open-source conference in Raleigh. As per usual, some of it was great, and some of it wasn’t. There were the professional conference presenters who had super-polished presentations that didn’t say all that much. There were the local amateurs who could’ve used some coaching. There were the people whose abstracts made it sound deceptively like their talks were going to be something other than walkthroughs of their (or their company’s) latest new tool/toy/library/widget. And the people who popped open a text editor & tried to live-code for 40 minutes.

And there were the people who were passionate about their topics, had put together great & funny & well-edited talks, and who taught me something. In that last category I’d put Christian Heilmann, Pam Selle, Lee Faus, Carina Zona, and Joshua McKenty. Next year, if I go, I think I may put less focus on topics, and more focus on figuring out in advance which people are known for being great speakers.

I’m realizing now that after two days of watching tech talks all day, I’m in no condition to write a long (or even short) essay about micropayments. Next time!


October 14-20, 2015

October 23, 2014

Day two of the All Things Open conference. One of the opening keynotes (here in the modern era, every non-breakout talk is a keynote, I guess) was by the Chief People Officer at Red Hat. She spent the whole time speaking in kind of vague terms about the need for diversity in tech, citing the current heavily skewed numbers, and talking pipeline.

Which is certainly important – we could still do a million times better at eliminating all the cultural biases that work against girls who like math, science & computers. 

However, among people who actually regularly think and talk and write about this topic, the consensus is that it’s utterly pointless to work on pipeline issues until we’ve done something substantial about the actual culture within the industry first. 

And that’s one subject that the CPO of Red Hat was pretty much silent about.

After the morning’s breakouts, the CPO was back to moderate a panel discussion about women in tech (the panel consisting of about half of the women who were speaking at the conference). I’m going to see if I can embed all of my tweets from the panel here:

(note that in that last tweet above, I was suggesting that conference attendees should find women tweeting in the conference hashtag & follow them – more generally, if you’re on twitter & are interested in women in tech, there are hundreds – try this list.)

It was awesome to see the panelists sort of take matters into their own hands, and [repeatedly] bring up culture & institutional sexism, even in some cases by ignoring the questions the moderator was asking.

I saw some great talks, some merely good talks, learned a few things. Oh, and thanks to the conference organizers not ordering enough box lunches to go around, I got to walk up the street to Capital Club 16 and have a beer & a schnitzel sandwich for lunch.

Came home, ate some fish collars (!) from Saltbox. Ricky described them as like eating chicken thighs, and that was actually oddly apt.

Watched the last episode of Lonesome Dove. Tommy Lee Jones finally got to do some actual acting – and he was great. On the gore front, got to watch one character try, and fail, to shove an arrow the rest of the way through Robert Duvall’s knee. Also got to see Ricky Schroeder with a terrible mustache.

October 23, 2014

October 22, 2014

Got up early to drive to Raleigh for day 1 of 2 of the All Things Open conference, an enterprise-oriented open-source conference. The group that runs it is based in Atlanta (where they run a similar conference in the spring), but between Red Hat, RTP and the startup scene here, there’s probably far more reason to have one here than in ATL.

I never go to conferences, so I have no real points of comparison, but: the speakers are knowledgeable and approachable, and present at varying levels of polish, from Very to Not At All. The organization is sufficient, if not especially mind-blowing (although this year’s is way better than last year’s). There are some women speakers, but not enough to make me happy.

(Two of the six talks I saw today were by women, and both rooms were packed to overflowing, so hopefully that’ll lead to even better balance next year.)

Everything I saw was pretty wonky, far too much so for a general-purpose blog, so I’ll spare you the details. Although I will say that I continue to be amazed at watching people walk in 2 minutes before their designated start time & then struggle mightily with laptop/projector issues.

Also this can serve as a reminder that Mac people still need to travel with their own fucking VGA adapters.

Anyway. Low-key nerdy fun; a nice paid vacation that includes the chance to get at least the names & urls of projects that I could probably make use of.

Made the final decision & arrangements to simulcast the Know Your Polls party on WXDU – it’s a get out the vote rally & concert at the Pinhook on Sunday afternoon from 2 to 7 pm. Lots of good bands: SOON, Daniel Bachman, Some Army, Shirlette Ammons, Hammer No More the Fingers, Midnight Plus One, and PIPE. Show up at the Pinhook if at all possible, but if you just can’t get away, tune it in at 88.7 or wxdu.org

October 22, 2014