USENIX 2014 and 2015

September 5, 2015 – 4:21 pm

I submitted a proposal last night (a few hours under the wire) for the USENIX Release Engineering Summit 2015, coming up November 13 in DC as part of the LISA conference.  This prompted me to finally write up my experience from last summer at USENIX Federated Conferences Week (“Cloud, Storage, Sysadmin, and More”).  This was held in June 2014 in Philadelphia.  I went to three events at two days of it:

  1. USENIX Configuration Management Summit ‘ 14:  This summit had about 30 people attending.  From what I could tell, all other presenters and attendees were private industry (I’m a federal contractor), male, and not from my part of the country.  Apart from feeling a little weird about that, I encountered no issues.  Lunch was a lot of fun, chatting at my table with other practicioners.  Several of the talks were on containers, and in fact for 2015 they’ve dropped the Configuration Management summit and changed over to a Container Management summit.  We deploy to JBoss and Tomcat containers, but that’s not the same.  I think you have to be pretty deeply into a technical topic already to soak up much from a presentation on it that can be applied directly to work, but I found the other talks interesting enough to ask a question or two.    I was also interested just to see what their focus was, and what other folks wanted to ask about.  My talk went pretty well.  I’d stayed up a bit the night fine-tuning the material (again!), and I was a bit nervous, despite having given professional presentations at Penguicon — my peers there were mostly at Detroit-area car/GPS manufacturers, and this conference had more and higher-up folks in my profession.  Software Configuration Management at National Cancer Institute was well-received, though, and I got a number of questions afterward, which encourages me to think it kept folks’ interest.  That was the last talk of the day, so I went on to …
  2. Poster Session and Reception:  USENIX has an academic angle, though our summits weren’t so much in that direction, and I was interested to wander around and look and talk with presenters on topics ranging along the lines of performance, security, analytics, etc.  The presenters mostly represented impressive places.  Having been a poster presenter myself at a conference when I was with Applied Biosystems, though, I wasn’t intimidated because most presenters don’t expect the folks coming up to know as much about their topic as they do, and don’t mind simple introductory questions, though I prefer to read the posters first.  There were also some folks attending for the good reception food and wine, and I chatted with some of them as well.  It was a nice ending to the day.
  3. USENIX Release Engineering Summit ’14:  This summit had about 30 – 35 attending, with a few women, but still no other federally-oriented folks I recall.  I wonder if 18F or USDS will show up this year?  Anyway, the topics were more varied this day, though one was mostly a repeat of something of the speaker’s up on Youtube already.  One tweet of mine from back then: “I love Daniel Cordes’ RelEng presentation that shows relevant artwork of Plato’s Cave Allegory, Socrates’ death scene, and Moses. ‪#‎fcw14‬”    Lunch was also fun this day, and at the end of the day I co-paneled on The Future of Release Engineering with Dinah McNutt (Google), Chuck Rossi (Facebook), and John O’Duinn (Hortonworks).  I misremembered who had said what on a previous presentation that day, a bit unfortunate, but it mostly went well, my co-panelists and I each talked some, and the audience had some good questions.


  • to Chris St. Pierre, the chair of UCMS ’14 and its reviewers who accepted my proposal and welcomed my participation
  • to Dinah McNutt, the chair of URES ’14 who invited me onto their panel
  • to Google and VMWare, who sponsored funds I applied for and was awarded, which encouraged me to stay at the conference hotel to see more of the conference and folks attending, instead of driving from a further cheaper location

Ubuntu, Kubuntu, And Communities

June 2, 2015 – 4:02 pm

A couple of weekends ago, I picked up a new computer from Micro Center, pre-loaded with Linux. I had partially rebuilt my very old desktop two and a half years ago, but with a dead fan and probably other issues, I was tired of maintaining it, and thought I’d treat myself to new hardware and encourage MC to keep providing Linux distros.  The Linux flavor was an older Ubuntu (12.x). I still wasn’t a big fan of Ubuntu, but it was easy to upgrade to 14.04 (latest stable release). Then I had to work on the stuff that didn’t work out of the box:

  1. “Add printer” wasn’t so easy: The UI wasn’t up to the task. I had to look online to remind myself about CUPS, ran sudo hp-setup (couldn’t connect), hp-doctor, sudo hp-setup again (got further), hp-sendfax, sudo apt-get install hplip-gui, and sudo hp-setup one more time. But I can print now! (mainly needed for distributing HOA minutes).
  2. Playing commercial DVDs:  After searching online, I checked that I already had libdvdread4, which I did, but there were a couple of other pieces I needed.  I’m not 100% sure I needed ubuntu-restricted-extras, but it did unpack codecs, so probably.  Anyway, videos play now!

$ apt-cache policy libdvdread4
$ apt-show-versions libdvdread4
$ sudo apt-get install apt-show-versions
$ apt-show-versions libdvdread4 (didn’t need updates)
$ more /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/
$ ls -l /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/
$ apt-show-versions ubuntu-restricted-extras
$ sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras
$ sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/
$ apt-show-versions libdvdread4
libdvdread4:amd64/trusty 4.2.1-2ubuntu1 uptodate

After all that … I still may switch to Lubuntu or Debian Mint.  I’m not happy about the way Ubuntu has handled a conflict spurring from questions from one of the Kubuntu contributors:

It seems pretty obvious to me that if you want someone to “step down as a leader” (especially a related community’s elected council member), you have to provide more specific reasons than vague statements about poor conduct or links to mail archives.  I am all for Codes of Conduct, but some folks, usually those in authority, get respect and deference mixed up.  Lack of deference is not an attack, and it is not necessarily even disrespect.

Computer-Geeky Tabletop Games/Decks

March 29, 2015 – 6:12 pm

Picture of most games named below

For a long time the only game I had with IT as its focus was Hacker, the Steve Jackson game. I still have it (pictured top right), and still play my customized demo-kit version of Hacker when I can round up people for it, but computer security isn’t really my profession (I’m a configuration manager).  This year I got a game that’s even more up my professional alley (pictured top left):  Release! The Game. This is sort of a trick-taking game (with birds, doors, and fruit suits instead of clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades), but the scoring varies per hand. A lot of big names in Agile/DevOps/UX are on the face cards, women as well as men.  Release-engineering terminology (releases, iterations, etc.) is rife, and various software tool/service companies kicked in for a large number of expansions (modified cards and rules). So there is a lot of potential for variety in playing it. Some of the win conditions are almost or perhaps even mathematically impossible to achieve, even when the players actually work together to try to help at least someone win. Maybe we should make a note of the achievable rulesets, as we play along and stick to them. :-) It IS a fun game to play for a few rounds, especially for those who know much about industry conversations and directions over the last few years.  And maybe we’re just missing something with the toughies.

Computery art decks:  I collect card decks where the artwork for each card is different (e.g., the illustration for 7 of diamonds is different from 7 of spades or 6 of diamonds). I got a couple of specialty decks related to women in STEM this year (you can do give-one-get-one deals, to help educational projects) and have enjoyed looking through the cards, though I haven’t played with them yet:

  1. Notable Women of Computing (pictured bottom left)
  2. TechWomen Emerging Leader (pictured bottom right)

Also, I should probably get my own copy of RoboRally one of these days, to round out my collection.  Players use a “cache” to “program” robots to maneuver past obstacles (and sometimes other robots and their lasers) through various configurations of a factory floor.  Visually fun, varied terrain, thinky without agonizing too many moves ahead, and you get little robots to move around.

Ninjas, Brogrammers, and Sparkly Code Princesses

December 1, 2013 – 1:31 pm

Recent discussions about filter bias problems when using GitHub to evaluate job candidates, and the onboard-training I just took at my new company, reminded me of the above-titled panel I put on with Noah Sussman and Jer Lance, at Penguicon in April. We talked about tech culture and hiring from both sides of the interview table; presentation of self (professional image/branding); suggestions on finding/forming successful, healthy work cultures; and balancing fun outreach against unintended effects. I’d never done a panel like that, mainly sticking with knowledge gardening and configuration management for presentations, but some tweets by Noah and Jer had inspired me to reach out to them to suggest the panel — Jer had made a comment about unappealing “brogrammer” ads, and Noah had played with a Sparkly Code Princess meme which made gentle fun of job ads/titles about rock stars, ninjas, etc. I’d also had some background thoughts on some events in technology, and I’d replied to a tweet about a job ad, asking “Is looking for a JavaScript “ninja” limiting your applicant pool?”

A couple of links to bookmarks we provided in our panel handouts:

The panel itself went pretty well. We each talked about some of our own experiences at companies (how culture and expectations of common knowledge, e.g., sports analogies or war/”crush” language, can engage or alienate different employees), job ads we’d found off-putting (exclusive language or red flags of bad management), and what we liked to see in job ads (what differentiates the company: lots claim “great culture”, so that’s not enough). The Q&A session was interesting, too. There were about 30 people in the audience, and I think the panel title and the tone of our conversation helped keep the Q&A from getting intense, for the most part. One person in the audience did put words in my mouth (gendered, combative language I hadn’t used), but my co-panelists had my back. *They* answered, and I steered towards other topics, prompting more questions, and we were able to move on. Several of the audience wanted more advice about how to attract good candidates. Noah, Jer, and I talked more about how it’s nice to see that a company has a sense of fun, but it’s soooo easy to say/imply things you don’t mean, when using humor, so again, try to show why your company would be attractive beyond the glitter (free sodas not enough). This didn’t really satisfy those people in the audience — of course, some companies don’t really HAVE a clear message/vision about why they’re exceptional as an employer.

Speaking of which, I was pleased by the in-person orientation and online training my new employer provided this week. They really emphasize the *strength* a company obtains from having, and respecting, many different perspectives — more ideas, better feedback, and better teamwork. It was clear to me that someone who put those materials together was familiar with the issues we addressed in our panel and further issues covered by the links. It seems promising.

Happy Thankstweeting!

November 28, 2013 – 1:48 pm

I’m happy to live in a world where I can dash off a tweet mashing up software development geekery and William Carlos Williams, and be re-tweeted and favorited around the world. As a friend of mine likes to say, “We are living in the future!” It was a lot of fun seeing that strangers from Berlin, Hong Kong, London/Sheffield/Drifter (UK), Tel Aviv, and several cities in my own country, had enjoyed my tongue-in-check post, along with some of my regular Twitter connections. I hadn’t known if anyone else would really get it (that intersection of SW humour — prompted by this tweet and what I could see of the Quora answer without logging in — and poetry). The original is a short poem to begin with (which perhaps helps with its recognition), so I only had to cut a little to get my riff to fit into 140 characters. Still, I figured out how to match the original poem a little better, and only a little longer. So:
This is just to say

I have deleted
the unit tests
which you were maybe
for more discussions

Forgive me
they were distracting
so faily
and so old

Am I being spamblocked?

July 28, 2013 – 10:10 am

The last 4/5 comments I’ve tried making to different WordPress blogs, several of which I’d commented to successfully before, have simply not made it through when I’ve listed this account (URL) as my identification. No error message. It’s like I didn’t ever try to comment. However, I’ve made successful comments using other IDs in the same time period. I’d like to point folks back here when I comment, on the theory that I’ll start blogging more regularly from this account, but not if that sends my comments into the void.

Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Tentative Schedule for Penguicon 2013

April 21, 2013 – 12:40 pm

Exact flavors subject to change! Many will be in small batches, and disappear fast.
Ingredients will be available each LN2 session to make non-dairy and/or no-sugar-added frozen treats, along with various toppings and mix-ins such as bacon maple syrup.

LN2 Good Intentions

Friday night, 11pm-1am

  • Chocolate Ice Cream (yeah, just plain chocolate)
  • Zesty Lemon Ice Cream
  • Thai Tea Ice Cream
  • Tim’s Tulaberry Wine Sorbet
  • Jeff Potter’s Goldschlager Cocoa Ice Cream
  • Chance’s Ghost Pepper Ginger Ale Sorbet
  • Marcia’s Habanero Amaretto Ice Cream
  • Coconut Lime Habanero Ice Cream

LN2 How-To

Saturday 10 am – noon

  • Vanilla Ice Cream
  • Chocolate Mint Ice Cream
  • Something Sorbet
  • Soda Slushies
  • Michael Lucas’ Root Beer Float Ice Cream
  • Dippin’ Dots
  • Coconut something (non-dairy)
  • Soy something (non-dairy)
  • Agave something (sugar-free)
  • Stevia something (sugar-free)

LN2 Bring Your Own Ingredients

Saturday 5-7pm

  • Jim Hines’ Troll Toes
  • Maik Schmidt’s Gyros and Lemon Ice Cream
  • Walk-Up Flavors (TBD)

LN2 Sunday Brunch

Sunday, 10 am – noon

  • Coffee Ice Cream
  • Earl Grey Ice Cream
  • Pancake Ice Cream
  • Vanilla Ice Cream with Granola
  • Jeff Potter’s Jam Ice Cream
  • Marla’s Mimosa Sorbet

Bicycle technology: Helmet laws

March 22, 2013 – 11:43 am

Maryland is considering mandatory bike helmet laws.  Although I think mandatory motorcycle helmet laws are probably a good thing, motorcyclists are usually not cruising around safe neighborhoods at low speeds.  I don’t think everyone who hops onto a bike in Maryland ought to have to wear a helmet, no matter where they’re going (e.g., some folks drive their bikes to bike trails and bike there, not around any cars).  See article with links to studies about helmet laws.  I just sent this to my state legislators:

I love to bike, and I am all for all bicyclists to wear helmets voluntarily.  However, it would be a poor idea to make them mandatory.   Helmets only protect against some types of injury, and that protection must be weighed against other risks and factors.  It’s better when people exercise more, instead of saying “but first I need to get a helmet”.   More importantly to me (since I already bike, with a helmet), helmets are an entry barrier to other folks hopping on their bikes (or Bikeshare bikes, a great program which is extending into Maryland, even Rockville, I hear).  The more bicyclists on the road there are, the more visible we will all be to cars (not unexpected rarities), reducing the chances of accidents.  For our health and safety, please oppose HB 339’s imposition of a statewide mandatory helmet law.

It’s also good for Maryland’s transit system and environment to encourage more people to ride bikes, instead of discouraging them.  So, please oppose HB 339.

Service Transitions

March 19, 2013 – 8:35 am

Connotea, the social bookmarking service I was using, has shut its doors. I was able to migrate the bookmarks over to a new account at Pinboard, but they haven’t figured out how to import all the metadata, so most of the tags and descriptions I had for my 4000+ bookmarks are now only available in the .xml backup from Connotea. Pinboard itself is pretty satisfactory, though. I don’t think it’s quite as good at discoverability as Connotea was, where I could easily see who else had tagged the same articles I had, and how they’d tagged it, but it’s fast and useable with some nice features (e.g., if I highlight a section on a page and then “pin” it, Pinboard automatically puts the highlight in the description field).

Google Reader going away this June is annoying, but I’ve transitioned all my subscriptions over to an account I already had on Dreamwidth, a journal site which also lets you add/create feeds for RSS and set up different reading filters. I like Dreamwidth’s inclusivity and outreach to help people learn to program, too.

In good news, LibraryThing finally helped me reset my password, so I’m using them again.

Linux for Desktops

January 26, 2013 – 11:17 pm

I understand why several popular Linux distros are leaning mobile/tablet-wards, but I’m old-school enough to want a distribution that’s good for my home setup (CPU + separate keyboard, mouse, and monitor). Fedora 17 with Gnome 3.x is mostly OK for me (I don’t have some gesture habits that make Gnome 3 really bad for some). The two most annoying parts for me are

  1. I can’t minimize windows [edit: because there’s nothing to anchor them to when minimized, any more]
  2. I have to log out first to restart/reboot instead of just one click and walk away.

That’s not too bad for me, though.  From reviews and recent news, it looks like I’m not going to want to upgrade to 18 any time soon. I’m not sure if the issues with the new Fedora 18 release I’ve heard about have much to do with mobile/tablet orientation (I wouldn’t think so given the Red Hat (enterprise servers) sponsorship). Now that I have my printer working with my recent Fedora 17 install, too (had to yum install a more recent version of some of the printer software, instead of just using the Add/Remove Software application), I’m hoping it will be a while before I need to pick a new distro again.

Now Running Fedora at Home

January 6, 2013 – 7:37 pm

I switched to a new Linux flavor this weekend, since I had to re-install anyway. I went with Fedora 17, and am getting used to the differences. I’ve been running Ubuntu at home since I bought a Dell desktop that came pre-loaded with it about 4 years ago, but hadn’t gotten around to upgrading from 10.04 since I hadn’t cared for what I’d read about the Unity UI (sounded too netbook/mobile-oriented, if not as bad as Windows 8).   I also wasn’t crazy about the direction its Canonical leadership was taking (e.g., various comments by Shuttleworth), so I was thinking that sooner or later I’d probably switch to Fedora or Mint anyway.

My computer’s been making grinding noises as it spins up, getting more crashy, so although its hard drive failure Friday morning was inconvenient, it wasn’t a total shock. It wouldn’t boot up (kept asking for me to insert media and/or select boot device), even after restarting it and then powering it off and letting it sit a bit, but the rest of the computer was fine (which I tested by booting to a Fedora 16 Live DVD I had hanging around, and then successfully doing web searches etc.).  At work (we’re mostly a Red Hat shop), various folks discussed their experience with Fedora 17 and Mint, and also suggested Debian and CentOS, but from previous experience with raw Debian, and knowledge of CentOS as a kind of de-branded RHEL, I suspected I’d have to do a lot of additional installs to get things where I wanted them. I decided against Mint because it’s Debian-based (like Ubuntu), and follows Ubuntu pretty closely.  I’ve had a soft spot for Fedora since my One Laptop Per Child days anyway.  A co-worker kindly burned a couple of install disks for me (Fedora 17, and CentOS 6.3 just in case) from a local mirror he knew about.

Friday night, I had to disassemble the physical computer and remove the storage device to be sure just what I had (Western Digital SATA internal hard drive for desktops, 160GB). I bought a suitable replacement (Seagate SATA, 500GB, 7200rpm, $50 — I’m not a big movie/music consumer so didn’t see a need for the terabyte hard drives). Once I put the machine back together, I installed Fedora, going with the default GNOME interface.  I had a fairly recent copy of the most important (personal) contents on a thumbstick backup from December, so I copied those over. Installing KeePassX, my password management system, wasn’t too bad once the automatic software updates were done and I saw the Add/Remove Software GUI tool had found KeePassX after all.  It worked fine with the old Ubuntu KeePassX DB I’d copied over from the thumbstick; just a couple of passwords had changed since my last backup, and I’ve dealt with those.

Fedora with GNOME has a few quirks, but I think it’ll be usable enough for me not to bother re-installing with KDE (an alternate, more traditional desktop UI for Fedora).  I’m using Empathy, the Fedora default chat client, instead of Pidgin that I had on Ubuntu, but it seems fine for my AIM chats (I may play with Empathy’s integrations with FB and Google chatting later).  I’m just a little annoyed that there’s no way to just minimize a window, since it’s more clicks to switch to Activities and then select what I’m trying to get to than it was to just toggle by minimizing etc.  I had to install Flash manually (well, without the help of Add/Remove Software), but I found a very helpful page for getting Flash for YouTube and FB vid inserts to work on Fedora. I had to do a bit more to get the default (Totem) Movie Player to play some movies I had already had.  The instructions at the unofficial Fedora FAQ to add a few more yum repositories and then run a yum install command got me closer — then the Movie Player itself had enough to prompt me through installing the last bits.  I may come across other stuff I need to install separately, but I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to do what I need to do on this system.

Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream at Penguicon 2012

May 3, 2012 – 7:19 am

The bomb scare over the LN2 tanks was all over by the time we got to the con.  This year at Penguicon, we ran 5 two-hour LN2 ice cream sessions (four scheduled, one bonus).  This worked much better than the shorter sessions we’d run in previous years, because it meant we had time to make a number of small batches in between the setup and cleanup (lots of mixing buckets to wash, for instance).  We didn’t get as many raves as last year, but no one complained about our sessions during this year’s feedback session, and we did get some positive comments:

  • “LN2 ice cream is ending soon! Lots of it left so come NOM it! Cola Creme, Ginger Ale Sorbet, and Cayenne Chocolate! #pcon” — @ghostangel (movie theater flavors) (well, we kind of threw in the cayenne chocolate for fun, not so much of a Saturday matinee flavor, really)
  • “Got to try ‘bagel and cream cheese‘ liquid nitrogen ice cream this morning. It tasted like the real thing. #pcon #fb” — Daniel J. Hogan; and then when I explained, “it was MADE from the real thing! :-)” he replied “Mystery solved! Tasted great, thank you :-)”  How we made it:  tear up and soak toasted bagels in milk for 15 minutes, strain out the bagels (the flavor stays behind), mix in little pats of cream cheese, pour in cream, freeze and stir and freeze and stir as normal
  • “I felt like I was eating a campfire. But props for L2N for being creative.” — Dan Johns (re bacon ice cream)   How we made it:  soak bacon bits in milk for 15 minutes, strain (the flavor stays behind), mix in liquid smoke, pour in cream, freeze and stir and freeze and stir as normal
  • “Hey, thanks so much for an epic, epic job this year. :D”  — Scott Kennedy

Next year we want to be a little more organized about training others (we always give commentary explaining what we’re doing, but don’t always pull people in to help with stirring, pouring LN2, etc.).  We want to make it more apparent that we welcome people coming up with ingredients for us to create new flavors.  We want to have signs up that we’ll make non-dairy (we have soy and coconut milk) or sugar-free (honey, Stevia, or nothing added) at any time (it was in the schedule booklet, but not everyone reads that).  We’ll also want to come up with some new themes.  We’d welcome any suggestions!

Here are this year’s Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream themes and flavors:

  1. LN2 Biggest Hits:  Vanilla, Chocolate Marshmallow, Thai Iced Tea (see picture), Honey Heath Crunch, Soy Cinnamon Ginger, more Vanilla
  2. LN2 After Hours (ID Required), with meads from B. Nektar: Woodchuck Cider Apple Pie (cider, cream, cinnamon; add LN2; graham cracker crumbs mixed in at the last minute), B Nektar Vanilla Cinnamon Mead, B Nektar Wildflower Pyment, Coconut Bourbon Rum, Brown Ale sorbet, Vieux Carre Absinthe.
  3. LN2 Saturday Matinee: Chocolate w’ candy/cookie crumble toppings, Popcorn (we made a little mistake and over-salted that one, but it still worked in small doses), Dr. Pepper Slushie, Ginger Ale Sorbet, Shasta Cola Creme, Cayenne Chocolate (non-dairy)
  4. LN2 After Hours, The Sequel (bonus round, borrowing some space from co-scheduled Open Soda panel): Grape, Bubblegum, , B Nektar Cherry Chipotle Mead, Woodchuck Ginger Sorbet (Non-Dairy), Chocolate Stout? (I was asleep for this session)
  5. LN2 Sunday Brunch: Mimosa (OJ and ginger ale slushie), Toasted Bagel + Cream Cheese, Coffee, Bacon (vegetarian), non-dairy Earl Grey.

My favorites this year?  The mead ice creams were wonderful.  I also liked Toasted Bagel and Cream Cheese, perhaps because it’s new (Cayenne Chocolate and Absinthe were close behind).

How Penguicon Runs Events Right

May 2, 2012 – 8:39 am

Penguicon is the annual volunteer-run convention combining open source software, science fiction, food geekery, and more in one swell DIY-in-Detroit package!  I’ll write up details of my Penguicon 2012 experience soon, but first I wanted to say what a great job Penguicon did at running their event this weekend:

  1. Registration:  Around 1200 attendees registered without long lines.  We were pre-registered, and they had our badges ready, and pointed us to Ops for our panelist packets.
  2. Ops:  Easy to find, pleasant, responsive.  Had cell phones and knew staff phone #s etc. (may have had walky-talkies too).
  3. Printed materials:  Registrants got a good one-page schedule with map, a detailed schedule, and a program souvenir book.  Panelists also got packets with personalized schedules showing the events they were running (when and where), with a Panelist ribbon to put on our badges, and a bigger map.
  4. Ribbons:  Ribbons are big at Penguicon.  Order pre-printed promotional ribbons for your events (multiple design options), pick them up at Ops.  Easy.
  5. Programming:  many different tracks that each had its own head, always interesting things going on to appeal to many tastes.  Track heads communicated with panelists before, and in most/all cases provided cell #s in case of problems.
  6. Facilities:  Plenty big enough for the event, with adequate parking and food nearby (hotel, mall across parking lot).  Very pleasant hotel staff, despite this being their first con with cosplayers, etc.
  7. Consuite:  always had fresh food (much better quality than, say, East Coast SF consuites), and people to talk to.  Volunteers rocked.
  8. Onsite prep/support:  Almost all the events I ran had all the materials requested (whether cayenne pepper or a projector).  Not having the ballroom floor ready for the dance class may have been something I didn’t request clearly enough (they did have set interlocking wooden panels up for the later Geek Prom), but the chairs were cleared and the sound system/cables were ready and worked great.  When a case of cream went missing, Food Track staff made an early morning grocery run to make sure we could run our next ice cream session.
  9. Electronic Communications:  There was a published Twitter hashtag, #pcon, so attendees could notify each other of cool stuff realtime.  Ops had, and read, their own Twitter handle.
  10. Feedback session:  all con staff was present, hotel liaison was present, feedback was invited topic-by-topic, moderation by Jer was well done (staying on *feedback* and tabling any digressions into future planning).  Feedbackers gave compliments (it’s contagious!) as well as explaining things that didn’t go well.

Now, to look back at the last event I reviewed for comparison, there were a few things that could have been improved at Penguicon this weekend:

  • I/O:  getting in and out of the hotel parking lot was a little confusing.  Maybe there could have been signs to help.  I’m only saying this because I looked at the other event page.
  • Recognizability of staff:  give them different colored badges or something so they can be found (can’t really spot the ribbons/text on badges at X+ feet away).  But at worst, could always go to or tweet Ops for help.
  • There was some confusion over where the forms were for those of us serving any alcohol (to sign about how we had to check IDs etc.).  We were told they’d be at Ops ahead of time, Ops told us the Consuite but the guys behind the Consuite bar didn’t know where they were, but the Consuite head got them for us and back from us in time (before our LN2 After Hours session).

Really, pretty minor issues overall.  This is a great convention.  It’s my favorite.  I recommend it highly.

Event-Running Tips and Case Study: How “Run For Your Lives” Tripped Up

October 23, 2011 – 11:36 pm

I used to work at a company that provided logistics and supply chain management solutions.  I’ve also been to large outdoor events, and been an active participant in professional conferences and geekfests of various flavors.  Prompted by a disaster I ran into yesterday, I’m sharing some tips I’ve learned along the way for running events.  I thought most of these were pretty obvious, but I guess not.

  • PRE-REGISTRATION:  If you have it, make the most of it.  Some 5Ks (such as charitable fund-raisers I’ve been in) mail participants their t-shirts/bibs ahead of time.  This saves a LOT of time and should be considered, even if that means raising the price of the event.  Also, don’t make folks sign waivers online and THEN make them sign them on-site.
  • I/O:  If this is going to be a large event, have separate parking/entrances/intake systems for volunteers/staff, active participants (e.g., panelists/GOHs), and regular attendees (spectators).  Have the exits be separate from the entrances.   If you make people fill out information on-site upon entering, have enough pens to prevent bottlenecks.
  • OPS: Have special staff who are prepared to deal with emergencies, and put them in recognizable outfits so everyone (other staff, volunteers, and the general public) can find them.
  • ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS:  Multiple modes are good, especially for announcing changes.  Don’t just rely on emails or FB/Twitter announcements, since folks may miss one or the other due to email spamtraps or not being aware of particular social media channels.  Have a way for participants to communicate with (help) each other to alleviate some of the load on staff.  E.g., publish a Twitter hashtag (and URL for those who aren’t Twitterers) ahead of time — anyone with a smartphone can search on, read, and refresh that in their cars (with someone else driving).  Twitter accounts are only needed to *post* to the hashtag.
  • ON-SITE COMMUNICATIONS:  Have a system set up beforehand appropriate to the scale of the event for staff/volunteers communicating with each other (walkie-talkies, radios, or cellphones), and for communicating with crowds.  Have more than one person who knows how to turn off the music and make public safety announcements.
  • PUBLIC SAFETY:  Contact police and medical emergency responders ahead of time.  Have a way for injured people at least to be taken back to public transport/parking, not told to walk back, e.g., a golf cart.
  • SANITATION:  Have adequate bathroom facilities (even temporary ones) at likely bottlenecks, and make sure supplies are re-stocked.

Case Study:  Run For Your Lives

Run For Your Lives, Camp Ramblewood (Darlington, Maryland), October 22, 2011

This was the inaugural “Zombie 5K” (obstacle course 5K with runners racing through a campground away from zombie actors, the weekend before Halloween).  RFYL announced a few days ahead of time that there were 1000 racers + 10000 spectators signed up (* see comment).  Many people had a great time there.  However, parking problems were not sufficiently prevented, racers were delayed from getting into their planned “waves”, and with darkness approaching and the injuries mounting up (a broken leg, one or two broken clavicles, twisted ankles, etc.), the EMTs had the staff shut down the last wave.  Around 300 of the pre-registered runners had long waits only to find they would be unable to run, with an uncertain refund process (still not announced one day later).   Other event issues contributed to their frustration and disappointment.  In at least one case, lack of planning may have contributed to one runner’s further injury.  This was a first time event for the event runners.  I don’t know if they reached out to anyone more experienced for help planning the event once it became clear how big it was going to be.  They are vowing to listen to all feedback and improve for the next 6 runs they’re planning for next year.  For future participants’ sakes, I hope they do improve.

This is from my personal experience.  A couple of friends and I were signed up for the 3:30 wave of runners, and we got within 6 miles of the event by 2:10 pm.  As we waited to park, I checked RFYL’s Facebook page to see at least two status messages from them with assurances that we’d all still get to run despite the parking delays (they didn’t update their Twitter account).  We were finally parked around 4:45.  We didn’t get to run.  I know I had an incomplete picture, and some parts of the event ran smoothly and well, but these are the issues I saw, and all could have been alleviated with better planning.

  1. PARKING:  They knew from registrations how many were coming but had ONE farm field with ONE entrance for parking.  The hay they scattered at the entrance was inadequate to prevent cars getting stuck in the mud, with everyone coming in at the exact same place.  We sat in traffic for 2.5 hours waiting to park because they had posted twice on FB that we’d still all get to race (and they never posted a new update that we wouldn’t all get to race after all, just an apology way after the fact — unless they had said it somewhere down in the hundreds of comments).   Other people had much longer waits, for the same result (not allowed to run).   That’s AFTER getting to Darlington Road, not counting the drive to get to within 5-6 miles of the camp (some drove for 8 hours from out of state, for no joy).   Also, it should have been simple enough to send someone walking up the road to tell the long line of cars waiting to get in, what was going on — not everyone had smartphones to get the (incorrect) information in the Facebook posts, after all!
  2. WAITING:  Then we waited in line for the bus, and waited in line for the pathetic bag check (see below), and waited in line to get waiver forms to fill out again (but no pens), and waited in line to get our race packets (where a few people had pens), and waited in line to check our gear (knapsack of clean clothes), and waited in line to start the race.   Some lines were adequately staffed for the size of the event.  Many were not.  Oh yeah, one of the lines  had a poster which mentioned the Twitter hashtag Z5K we should have been told of days ago by RFYL’s own Twitter account, @runfromundead.
  3. CONFUSION:  Volunteers/staff wandered by various lines at various times and told 10 of us at a time inconsistent information which we could hardly hear over the booming music (I guess it never occurred to them to make announcements over their own sound system).  The one guy who had a hand-held loudspeaker didn’t know how to use it, rotating his body as he spoke so we could only get one word in 5 as he fanned over our part of the line.  It was hard to tell who were fellow participants trying to help out (passing on rumours), who were volunteers (passing on out of date information?), and who were actual staff (who didn’t seem to agree with each other), beyond the one person in a “STAFF” shirt I saw later.  The shuttles kept bringing folks in from the parking field for a while even after the last wave was cancelled.  Better training, communication systems, and identification systems (even t-shirts) would help with all this.
  4. LACK OF CONTINGENCY PLANNING:  When we finally got the semi-official word that there would be no more runner waves and we should head “over there” for refunds, we went to another long line, this one right in front of the horribly loud speakers for the whole field (my friends and I couldn’t hear each other to strategize what to do next, except by screaming).  I went up to the front of the 300+ people waiting for refunds to see what was happening, and saw *two people* slowly (in between long long complaints/vents from folks in line) taking names and zip codes on loose sheets of paper on a rickety card table.  After waiting for some blowhard to finish yelling at the guy on the side with a “STAFF” t-shirt about wanting a parking refund (from the farmer? it was at least 5 solid minutes of wind), I asked the staffer (who looked overwhelmed), “Do all 300 of us really have to wait in line just to give our names?  We all registered online.  Can’t we follow up in email to get our refunds?”  He stared at me for a minute, then grabbed one of the two people at the card table, and they went off in a huddle.  Several folks in line thanked me for suggesting this bit of brilliance (you’re welcome!).  As more staff (?) joined the huddle, I left and updated my friends.  EVENTUALLY someone came by and told us (10 at a time, again, with the music STILL blaring) that we didn’t have to wait in line any more, and could leave.
  5. SAFETY:  In addition to the injuries runners suffered, I heard several zombie actors in line waiting to leave discussing being hit, body-checked, screamed at, cursed, and threatened by runners.  Not having been able to run, I don’t know what measures were on hand to prevent fights or provide first aid on the run.  I do know that while we were waiting to enter the event, we saw one poor girl hobbling along in a brand-new ankle cast to get into line for the bus to get back to her car.  Apparently they patched her up and waved her offsite, possibly aggravating her injury in the process.  A golf cart to ferry injured people at least back to the head of the bus line, if not back to their cars, would have been nice AND good business.   Back to the parking lot:  Also, when we tried to leave, someone had abandoned their SUV in such a way as to block the exit, so we had to drive across the field to the entrance to leave.  No one seemed to be doing anything about the abandoned car, much less warning people or using a flag system to show the way to the revised exit (entrance), making everyone’s departure more confused and dangerous.
  6. SECURITY:  Why have a bag check at all, if you’re not going to do it right?  We had a soft-sided suitcase with clothes to change into after the race.  At the two card tables at the entrance, the two people per table  sort of looked at bag contents — not opening all compartments, and certainly not examining individual items, e.g., my friend’s boots in the bag.  Lots of questionable items could have been snuck in by anyone, as far as I could tell.   Also, had our refund line broken into a riot (things were getting really ugly in some parts of the line, with folks having driven from two or three states away practically losing it and getting each other worked up), there did not seem to be any contingency in place for this.

Positive aspects:  As I said, many folks had a lot of fun.  The staff and volunteers remained pretty polite under a lot of pressure.   As we were walking back to our field parking lot 2 miles away (the bus line was long and I was antsy), a zombie volunteer we’d been chatting with was kind enough to offer to chase us when we weren’t too far off, so she went RAARRRRR!!!!! and we ran and screamed for a few hundred feet as she chased us back to the field entrance, and that was fun.  Too bad we couldn’t experience the whole run, but it did get the adrenalin going and give me an extra push, and I bet I might have enjoyed the event.

Penguicon 2011

May 3, 2011 – 6:13 am

I enjoyed what I got to do at Penguicon this year (this weekend just past), including


  • Giving a technical presentation: There were about 12 attendees for my Continuous Integration talk Sunday morning (see description in comments). There were a few sysadmin types; most were developers, most from small shops. This topic is tied in with a lot of my configuration management interests, and I was glad to get a chance to talk about it. Thanks to the audience for listening and asking questions!
  • Attending technical talks. I want to do more of this next year, somehow (hard to fit it all in). Went to the DevOps talk (I was surprised to be the ONLY woman out of about 45 attendees) and part of Automating Amazon EC2 with Puppet & Friends (sad the latter was delayed for 15 minutes, as that’s the one I knew less about, but couldn’t stay much longer, after it finally started). Thanks to Penguicon staff/volunteers for setting up so technical presentations went smoothly (mine and those I attended).


  • Making Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream:  I made some batches all by myself, for the first time!  I think I have developed a good sense of proportions for ingredients.  People loved some of the flavors I came up with (see the Penguicon 2011 flavors in comments). Thanks to the helpful people (tweeting flavor suggestions, holding the buckets, stirring, mashing up sage, even making a few batches).  Thanks to Con Suite volunteers for helping us w’ supplies management and all.  Thanks to everyone who enjoyed the ice cream! Next year we’re going to request 2-hour blocks be put in the schedule officially for LN2, so we have sufficient time for batch-mixing and cleanup. We have other ideas to make it even better next year, too (may announce later after we’ve done more planning).
  • Co-teaching Learn to Swing Dance! There were about 40 people, some who were completely new to swing dance (most had done at least some sort of dance). We got almost an hour and a half to impart what we knew about leading and following swing dance, and teach some basic moves, to a variety of musical styles. We were so happy to see people picking it up and having fun. Biggest compliment after: one couple asked if we taught locally! Another person asked which local dances we went to! They wanted MORE! What a thrill! Someone also made a point of giving us a shout-out during the con feedback session on Sunday afternoon. Thanks for letting us know you enjoyed it. Big thanks to Ops and Aaron Thul, who saved our bacon and fixed laptop-to-sound-system (cable) for us on short notice (first time teaching swing dance, didn’t realize we needed to specify that).

Over 1200 people attended Penguicon 2011.  Next year, bigger hotel!  I understand Penguicon 2012 will be in Dearborn, MI.

The 2011 Code For America Fellows

January 16, 2011 – 5:01 pm

I first heard about this program some months back: fellowships for 20 people to leverage the web for city governments across the US. Selection criteria included talent, experience, and passion.

They announced the 2011 Code for America Fellows in November. I was delighted to see a friend of a friend among them.  I think this is a great idea and am looking forward to see what they come up with for their cities, over the year.

Since it’s still January of 2011, I hope it’s not too late to point this out!  :-)

Electronic Voting in Maryland still an issue

November 5, 2010 – 12:33 pm

An ACLU contact emailed me about a possible problem in Maryland of some electronic votes for Republicans being selected as votes for Democrats by the machines, against the voters’ wishes. This reminded me to write up my experience of voting this year. I’ve written before about problems I observed as an election judge in Maryland (see my security category). I did not serve as a judge this election, but I did encounter three problems when I participated in the early voting offered by my county:

  1. No obvious paper ballot alternative to electronic voting. When I was checking in, I was not asked about my voting preference. The courteous volunteer escorted me directly to an electronic voting station, with no mention of alternatives. There may have been something about an option on the posters on the wall, but I was in a hurry, as I’m sure many other voters are.
  2. As soon as I stuck my ballot card in the machine, it said I had voted already. Fortunately the volunteer who had escorted me to my station had only moved a few steps away in the direction of other voters, so when I called her back, she believed me when I protested I hadn’t had time to vote yet.
  3. Even when my voting issue was taken seriously by the judges, no one mentioned a paper ballot as an alternative (it was resolved with the help of another (more senior?) judge, by the issue of another ballot; I hope my vote actually was counted).

So, I continue to see issues with electronic voting in Maryland which do not inspire me with confidence in our electronic voting system — and the problems I encountered may not have been the worst.  I have no issue with the people who volunteer to be judges and thank them all for their service!  I just wish we had a better system for them to administer.

Belated Penguicon 2010 Report

October 24, 2010 – 10:10 am

Since I finally uploaded the photos from Catherine Devlin’s RenPy talk at Penguicon 2010, I thought I’d write up the whole-con highlights as I remember them (prompted by my tweets at the time):

  • Technical talks
    • Linux Localhost Troubleshooting (by LinuxJournal’s Kyle Rankin), well laid out and informative
    • Catherine Devlin, pyOraGeek, gives talks at cons about the Python programming language. This year at Penguicon she gave a RenPy talk, about programming in RenPy, but hey, this was Penguicon, so she dressed up in Ren[aissance] garb to add to the fun. Ren’Py ( is “an interpreter for creating and playing visual novels, written in Python”. I loved PengWin, the little Penguicon game she constructed and demo’d for us.
  • Our plan for a great vegetarian lunch on Saturday at the Inn Season Cafe (only 10 mi away in Royal Oak, and wonderful) was foiled by a dramatic phone pole fall outside just as we were about to order. Wires arc’d, popped, flames arose and power went out! But we went back Sunday and had a great meal.
  • Swing Dance instruction — my friends and I attended wearing spiffy formal dress for this, but forgot to get anyone to take a picture. We looked great, though! We’d had swing dance instruction before, but figured we’d show up to represent East Coast swing dancing.
  • Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream making: The joy of liquid nitrogen is it’s simple to make small batches, which encourages experimentation. Also, being on duty meant I got lots of exercise: I walked up and down hotel stairs when elevators stressed out. Panels 1st floor, LN2 on 12th. I had fun tweeting each flavor (with the #pcon tag so attendees could find it), and got new followers thereby. Flavors in roughly reverse chronological order (with some commentary pulled from Twitter) included
    • vanilla LN2 ice cream, coconut lime mtn dew slushies, vegan coconut lime LN2 ice cream, Chocolate Habanero (not TOO hot – really!), Cinnamon.
    • While we were at brunch, Molli made LN2 flavors of choc choc, caffeinated chai, and blueberry yogurt.
    • LN2 ice cream flavrs while I was sleeping: Chocolate Oreo, Whipped Cream Funnel Cake (!!! Now I want some!), Apple Slushie.
    • LN2 vanilla parfait, then while I was on pool break, they had Choc Orange, Irish Soy (non-alcoholic), 70% Cacao. Good night!
    • RT @katrus: Coconut lime habenero liquid nitrogen ice cream. OH MY GODDDDDD
    • Coconut cherry LN2 vegan (no dairy), apple cinnamon sorbet, Coconut Cherry, coconut lime habanero
    • We found “Waldo” to give away LN2 @ 6 so we could swing dance. Thanks, Steve! Flavors: Vanilla Mtn Dew slush, choc w choc chip (that was Steve in a Where’s Waldo outfit)
    • Joe Brockmeier’s price for LN2: dance, penguin, dance! (or sing Queen anthem)
    • Raspberry chocolate, vanilla w’ Nestle crunch, choc Oreo. Ready NOW: 4-choc choc (4 choc sourcea)… Very vanilla, chai spiced tea (dairy ice cream), mandarin orange soy, more chocolate, cider sherbet, creme de menthe ice cream, coffee, Thai Iced Tea, Vanilla Raspberry, simple chocolate, vanilla ice cream with Oreo crumbles
    • RT @indridcold Sometimes it’s the little things: the schedule books at this year’s #pcon are very nice, very usable.

Penguicon 2010

April 26, 2010 – 10:34 am

I’m really looking forward to Penguicon, an open source and science fiction convention coming up in Michigan this weekend.  In previous years I’ve been a presenter and panelist, but this year I’m just going to make batches of liquid nitrogen ice cream as my contribution, and enjoy roaming the halls; see friends (and costumes!); and attend events such as

  • Seeding the Clouds
  • How to Con Without the Creep
  • SSL Demystified
  • Linux Troubleshooting
  • Ren’Py in Elizabethan Dress
  • Introduction to Swing Dancing
  • board games (various)

Net Neutrality Ruled Beyond FCC’s Reach

April 7, 2010 – 8:07 am

Prodded by a couple of different friends and relatives, here’s my take on the federal court ruling this week re FCC/Comcast:  Legally this ruling may have been correct (EFF thought so), and I’m for the rule of law. However, if this decision stands, I hope some other (legal!) way to mandate/enforce net neutrality will work. Net neutrality wouldn’t stop providers from charging their *users* for however much content they upload/download, or from monitoring / downgrading heavy *users*, IF providers really do need to choke off bandwidth hogs (they haven’t provided convincing data about this — or about how their proposed solutions would fix the alleged issue). They don’t need to have the option to selectively block/downgrade particular services /traffic to discourage big data packets. I suspect they’re (providers) going on an artificial scarcity model, anyway.

Most of the essays/papers I’ve saved regarding Net Neutrality are from around 2006 (I was convinced for the need for it by then).   Many are still relevant, but for a more up-to-date view, Thomas Gideon’s The Command Line is my go-to tech policy / news blog these days.  His recent articles on net neutrality mostly just point to good reading on the topic by other folks, but occasionally he throws in some commentary of his own, and sometimes he writes longer pieces (as in the bandwidth hog myth link above).