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Star Wars baseball for my 34th birthday

I turned 34 this year. 33 was a good year, full of accomplishments and exciting travel. MJ made sure 34 began well too.

On my actual birthday we were both slammed with work, but we were able to meet for dinner down on the peninsula at The Melting Pot in San Mateo. It’s actually at the Caltrain station, so it’s easy for me to get to and, cool, a train station. Plus, fondue is awesome.

The big present for my birthday was the weekend following my birthday. MJ bought us a package of tickets to Star Wars day at the Giant’s AT&T Park! You arrive 3 hours before the game to eat, drink and mingle with other fans at the edge of the field. I got pictures taken with folks who went all out with getting dressed up, and with R2-D2.

The gathering then had a raffle and we were walked along the edge of the field to get to our seats.

And amazing seats they were! The weather also played it’s typically agreeable role and gave us a sunny and slightly breezy afternoon. Perfect for a game.

The game itself was Star Wars themed throughout. With Darth Vader and Storm Troopers accompanying the entrance of the umpires (empire, umpire, haha!), videos throughout the game, and Chewbacca bobble heads, of which we each got two since a special MVP version was also given to us during the welcoming gathering we went to.

And to make things even better, the Giant’s won over the Rockies 2-3.

More photos from the day here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157659162203748

CloudNow Awards, Perl 6 and the PPIE’s role in SF public transit

September felt a bit quiet for me event-wise. I had to cancel a speaking engagement I was looking forward to when I realized it landed on Yom Kippur (oops) and the only other event I had on my schedule related to work was the award ceremony for CloudNOW‘s top women in Cloud award.

There I was able to visit with my HP friends who were hosting a booth and giving away HP cloud goodies. They were also promoting a scholarship program for women in college who want to work on an open source project, and I was able to chime in as a former mentor for the program.

After networking, the event had several talks, including one by friend and now colleague at HP, Allison Randal. She gave a great talk about value and history of software and where we’re going with cloud and open source.

Allison Randal on the evolution of the value of software

One of the hosts also took time to do a short interview with Isis Anchalee, the engineer who started the #ILookLikeAnEngineer hashtag that went viral promoting people who don’t traditionally “look like” engineers, and highlighting the fact that assumptions are often wrong (here’s mine). I was really impressed with the talent and accomplishments of all the women I met throughout the event. People say I juggle a lot, they should have a chat with some of the women who won these awards!

I kicked off October this week by going to a Perl 6 talk by Larry Wall. I was recovering from a migraine and a workout with my trainer earlier in the day, but I forced myself to go out to this event anyway. I’m glad I did. I strategically wore my FOSDEM shirt, figuring that even though I’d be too shy there may be someone who found it interesting enough to strike up a conversation. Success! I had a great chat with an open sourcey systems fellow who was greatly interested in the surge of money being poured into the open source ecosystem. I could talk about that for hours.

The presentation itself was full of wit and humor, and I learned a lot about Perl 6 that I never bothered to look into. As the alpha and beta releases have been trickling out this year, it was nice to learn that they hope to have their 6.Christmas release ready, well, by Christmas.

Taking a bit of a turn away from technology on computers, tonight I spent the evening at the California Historical Society, which is just a block or so away from where we live. They were hosting a lecture on City Rising for the 21st Century: San Francisco Public Transit 1915, now, tomorrow. The “City Rising” bit comes from the celebration of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) that happened 100 years ago, in 1915, here in San Francisco. As a technology and history lover I’ve always been fascinated by these World’s Fairs, so getting to learn about the one here has been fun. Several months back we bought Laura Ackley’s San Francisco’s Jewel City: The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 and I finished reading it a few weeks ago. I just recently picked up the giant Jewel City: Art from San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition which has several contributors and pages of full color reproductions of art that was showcased at the fair. And I was excited to learn that the de Young museum is opening an exhibit of the same name as that giant book on October 17th that will have several of the actual pieces that were at the expo 100 years ago.

The lecture and panel tonight drew from both my fascination with the PPIE AND general interest in local transit. I went to the Fair, Please! exhibit at the Market Street Railway museum and picked up a copy of the Bay Area Electric Railroad Association Journal from Spring 2007 that had an article by Grant Ute on transit at the fair. So it was a delight to see Grant tonight and have him do the introductory talk for the event. I should have brought the Journal and my copy of San Francisco’s Municipal Railway as he was signing things, alas!

The talk and panel were thoroughly enjoyable. Once the panel moved on from progress and changes made and made possible by transit changes surrounding the PPIE, topics ranged from the removal of (or refusal to build) elevated highways in San Francisco and how it’s created a beautiful transit and walk-friendly city, policies around the promotion of public transit and how funding has changed over the years.

I love things on rails, it was a good evening.

This concludes local events for a while. I’m doing a quick jaunt to Las Vegas to spend a day with MJ on Friday-Saturday. Then on Tuesday I’m flying off to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing where I’ll be talking about the open source continuous integration system we use in OpenStack (talk details on this page). Directly from Houston I’m flying to Tokyo where I’ll meet MJ for a week of touristing in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto before the OpenStack Summit in Tokyo. I’m finally back home on October 31st, for a week, and then I’m off to speak at LISA’15. Phew!

September in San Francisco

Having spent much of September here at home in San Francisco, I’ve split my time between work, writing my book and getting out to enjoy this beautiful city we live in. Going out has certainly taken time away from writing, but I’d probably go bonkers and would likely be unproductive anyway if I stayed home, so here we are!

A couple weeks ago I had my friend Steve over and he brought along his BB-8. I had snagged my own following out trip to Philadelphia so we had a fun evening of chatting, playing with our BB-8s and enjoying a nice east coast seafood dinner at one of my favorite restaurants.

Simcoe was suitably amused by dual BB-8s

One of the first enjoy-our-city outings last month MJ and I did together was to do something we’d never done in San Francisco before: Go to the theater. MJ had heard good things about Between Riverside and Crazy, so he got us tickets and we went one Sunday afternoon. It was being performed at the beautiful A.C.T. Geary Theater near Union Square, an easy walk from home. With seats in the uppermost balcony we had a nice view of the stage and everything went beautifully. I think this was the first time I’d been to a non-musical play and I found myself quickly lost in the story and characters. I’d recommend the play, it has finished the run in San Francisco, but this was the west coast debut so I’m sure it’ll pop up somewhere else. I think we’ll be doing this again.

September also means the Jewish High Holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We attend services at the synagogue where we are members and on Yom Kippur we spent the whole day there. Having only celebrated these holidays for a few years, I’m still learning a lot and trying to bring it into my own life as a tradition. I’m getting there and it was nice to spend the time with MJ away from work and hectic events.

The next weekend my friends Jon and Crissi were in town. I had fun with the fact that their visit synced up with Muni Heritage Week and on Saturday morning I met up with them briefly to check out the historic cars and buses that they had out for the event.

Crissi and me exploring a pier near Ferry Building

Unfortunately due to time constraints I couldn’t ride on any of the special buses or street cars on the free routes they were running, seeing them had to be enough! And I was fortunate that they didn’t do the weekend in October when I’m typically traveling.

More photos from Muni Heritage Weekend here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157659546034872

As Jon and Crissi went to meet friends for lunch, I headed home to meet MJ so we could go to a Giants vs. A’s baseball game over on Oakland. It had been a couple years since I’d been to an A’s game and so it was fun to visit the Coliseum again. We were joined by a friend (and sushi chef) who we’d been meaning to see socially and found a game to be the perfect opportunity. I was certainly conflicted as I dressed for the game, having an unconventional love for both teams. But I ended up dressing to cheer for the Giants, and with a score of 14 to 10, the Giants did prevail.

More photos from the game here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157659505888796

The weekend concluded on Sunday as we met Jon and Crissi for brunch. I met them at their hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf in the morning in order to introduce them to the cable car. In the long line we got to see cars turned around a couple of times, and had lots of time to chat before finally getting on the car. The cable car ends its trip at Powell and Market, which was then a quick walk back home to meet MJ and hop in the car.

We took them across the city to see the ocean and have brunch at the edge of Golden Gate park. After brunch we made our way over to the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden and then to see the Bison living in the park. Back in the car we drove up to and over the Golden Gate Bridge to take pictures down at Fort Mason. Then it was back over the bridge to Crissy Field where we got to take even more pictures (and so Crissi could visit Crissy Field, of course). Our journey then took us back toward their hotel, where our car conveniently broke down about three blocks from where we were planning on parking. Fortunately we were able to ease into a street parking spot, which gave us the ability to come back later to handle getting the poor thing towed. So then we were off to Pier 39 to get a nice dose of tourism and visit with the sea lions and wrap up our day!

I love doing the tourist things when friends and family are in town. We live in such a beautiful city and getting to enjoy it in tourist mode while also showing it off is a whole lot of fun. Naturally it was also fun to catch up with Jon and Crissi, as we missed them the last time we were in Philadelphia. They had just successfully completed another year of running the annual FOSSCON conference so I got to hear all about that, and it made me really want to go again next year.

More photos from our adventures across the city here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157659578719275

Ending my 6 year tenure on the Ubuntu Community Council

On September 16th, Michael Hall sent out a call for nominations for the Ubuntu Community Council. I will not be seeking re-election this time around.

My journey with Ubuntu has been a long one. I can actually pinpoint the day it began, because it was also the day I created my ubuntuforums.org account: March 12th, 2005. That day I installed Ubuntu on one of my old laptops to play with this crazy new Debian derivative and was delighted to learn that the PCMCIA card I had for WiFi actually worked out of the box. No kidding. In 2006 I submitted my first package to Debian and following earlier involvement with Debian Women, I sent my first message to the Ubuntu-Women mailing list offering to help with consolidating team resources. In 2007 a LoCo in my area (Pennsylvania) started up, and my message was the third one in the archives!

As the years went by, Ubuntu empowered me to help people and build my career.

In 2007 I worked with the Pennsylvania LoCo to provide 10 Ubuntu computers to girls in Philadelphia without access to computers (details). In 2010 I joined the board of Partimus, a non-profit which uses Ubuntu (and the flavors) to provide schools and other education-focused programs in the San Francisco Bay Area with donated computers (work continues, details on the Partimus blog). In 2012 I took a short sabbatical from work and joined other volunteers from Computer Reach to deploy computers in Ghana (details). Today I maintain a series of articles for the Xubuntu team called Xubuntu at… where we profile organizations using Ubuntu, many of which do so in a way that serves their local community. Most people also know me as the curator for the Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter, a project I started contributing to in 2010.

Throughout this time, I have worked as a Linux Systems Administrator, a role that’s allowed me to build up my expertise around Linux and continue to spend volunteer time on the projects I love. I’ve also have been fortunate to have employers who not only allow me to continue my work on open source, but actively encourage and celebrate it. In 2014 I had the honor of working with Matthew Helmke and others on the 8th edition of The Official Ubuntu Book. Today I’m working on my second open source book for the same publisher.

I share all of this to demonstrate that I have made a serious investment in Ubuntu. Ubuntu has long been deeply intertwined in both my personal and professional goals.

Unfortunately this year has been a difficult one for me. As I find success growing in my day job (working as a systems administrator on the OpenStack project infrastructure for HP), I’ve been witness to numerous struggles within the Ubuntu community and those struggles have really hit home for me. Many discussions on community mailing lists have felt increasingly strained and I don’t feel like my responses have been effective or helpful. They’ve also come home to me in the form of a pile of emails harshly accusing me of not doing enough for the community and in breaches of trust during important conversations that have caused me serious personal pain.

I’ve also struggled to come to terms with Canonical’s position on Intellectual Property (Jono Bacon’s post here echos my feelings and struggle). I am not a lawyer and considering both sides I still don’t know where I stand. People on both sides have accused me of not caring or understanding the issue because I sympathize with everyone involved and have taken their concerns and motivations to heart.

It’s also very difficult to be a volunteer, community advocate in a project that’s controlled by a company. Not only that, but we continually have to teach some of employees how to properly engage with an open source community. I have met many exceptional Canonical employees, I work with them regularly and I had a blast at UbuCon Latin America this year with several others. In nearly every interaction with Canonical and every discussion with Mark about community issues, we’ve eventually had positive results and found a successful path forward. But I’m exhausted by it. It sometimes feels like a game of Whac-A-Mole where we are continually being confronted with the same problems, but with different people, and it’s our job to explain to the Marketing/Development/Design/Web/whatever team at Canonical that they’ve made a mistake with regard to the community and help them move forward effectively.

We had some really great conversations when a few members of the Community Council and the Community Team at Canonical at the Community Leadership Summit back in July (I wrote about it here). But I was already feeling tired then and I had trouble feeling hopeful. I realized during a recent call with an incredibly helpful and engaged Canonical employee that I’d actually given up. He was making assurances to us about improvements that could be made and really listening to our concerns, I could tell that he honestly cared. I should have been happy, hopeful and encouraged, but inside I was full of sarcasm, bitterness and snark. This is very out of character for me. I don’t want to be that person. I can no longer effectively be an advocate for the community while feeling this way.

It’s time for me to step down and step back. I will continue to be involved with Xubuntu, the Ubuntu News Team and Ubuntu California, but I need to spend time away from leadership and community building roles before I actually burn out.

I strongly encourage people who care about Ubuntu and the community to apply for a position on the Ubuntu Community Council. We need people who care. I need people who care. While it’s sometimes not the easiest council to be on, it’s been rewarding in so many ways. Mark seriously listens to feedback from the Community Council, and I’m incredibly thankful for his leadership and guidance over the years. Deep down I do continue to have hope and encouragement and I still love Ubuntu. Some day I hope to come back.

I also love you all. Please come talk to me at any time (IRC: pleia2, email: lyz@ubuntu.com). If you’re interested in a role on the Ubuntu Community Council, I’m happy to chat about duties, expectations and goals. But know that I don’t need gripe buddies, sympathy is fine, but anger and negativity are what brought me here and I can’t handle more. I also don’t have the energy to fix anything else right now. Bring discussions about how to fix things to the ubuntu-community-team mailing list and see my Community Leadership post from July mentioned earlier to learn more about about some of the issues the community and the Community Council are working on.

Simcoe’s September 2015 Checkup

A few weeks ago I wrote about Simcoe’s lab work from July and some other medical issues that cropped up. I’m happy to report that the scabbing around her eyes has cleared up and we were able to get the ultrasound done last Thursday.

The bad news is that her kidneys are very small and deformed. Her vet seemed surprised that they were working at all. Fortunately she doesn’t seem to have anything else going on, no sign of infections from the tests they ran (UTIs are common at this stage). Her calcium levels have also remained low thanks to a weekly pill we’ve been giving her.

Her CRE levels do continue to creep up into a worrying range, which the vet warned could also lead to more vomiting:


But her BUN levels have dropped slightly since last time:


Her also weight continues to be lower than where it was trending for the past couple years:


All of this means it’s time to escalate her care beyond the subcutaneous fluids and calcium lowering pills. We have a few options, but the first step is making an appointment with the hospital veterinarian who has provided wise counsel in the past.

Simcoe melts

Otherwise, Simcoe has been joining us in melting during our typical late onset of summer here in San Francisco. Heat aside, her energy levels, appetite and general behavior has been normal. It’s pretty clear she’s not at all happy about our travel schedules though, I think we’ll all be relieved when I conclude my travel for the year in November.

The Migration of OpenStack Translations to Zanata

The OpenStack infrastructure team that I’m part of provides tooling for OpenStack developers, translators, documentation writers and more. One of the commitments the OpenStack Infrastructure team has to the project, as outlined in our scope, is:

All of the software that we run is open source, and its configuration is public.

Like the rest of the project, we’ve committed ourselves to being Open. As a result, the infrastructure has become a mature open source project itself that we hope to see replicated by other projects.

With this in mind, the decision by Transifex to cease development on their open source platform meant that we needed to find a different solution that would meet the needs of our community and still be open source.

We were aware of the popular Pootle software, so we started there with evaluations. At the OpenStack Summit in Atlanta the i18n team first met up with Carlos Munoz and were given a demo of Zanata. As our need for a new solution increased in urgency, we worked with Pootle developers (thank you Dwayne Bailey!) and Zanata developers to find what was right for our community. Setting up development servers for testing for both and hosting demos through 2014. At the summit in Paris I had a great meeting with Andreas Jaeger of the OpenStack i18n team (and so much more!) and Carlos about Zanata.

Me, Carlos and Andreas in Paris

That summit was where we firmed up our plans to move forward with Zanata and wrote up spec so we could get to work.

Ying Chun Guo (Daisy) and I began by working closely with the Zanata team to identify requirements and file bugs that the team then made a priority. I worked closely with Stephanie Miller on our Puppet module for Zanata using Wildfly (an open source JBoss Application Server) and then later Steve Kowalik who worked on migrating our scripts from Transifex to Zanata. It was no small task, as we explored the behavior of the Zanata client that our scripts needed to use and worked to replicate what we had been doing previously.

As we worked on the scripts and rest of the infrastructure to support the team, this summer was spent by the translators with the formal trial of our final version of Zanata in preparation for the Liberty translations work. Final issues were worked out through this trial and the ever-responsive team from Zanata was able to work with us to fix a few more issues. I was thoroughly thankful for my infrastructure colleague Clark Boylan’s work keeping infrastructure things chugging along as I had some end of summer travel come up.


On September 10th Daisy announced that we had gone into production for Liberty translations in her email Liberty translation, go! In the past week the rest of us have worked to support all the moving parts that make our translations system work in the infrastructure side of production, with Wednesday being the day we switched to Zanata proposing all changes to Gerrit. Huge thanks to Alex Eng, Sean Flanigan and everyone else on the Zanata team who helped Steve, Andreas and me during the key parts of this switch.

I’m just now finishing up work on the documentation to call our project complete and Andreas has done a great job updating the documentation on the wiki.

Huge thanks to everyone who participated in this project, I’m really proud of the work we got done and so far the i18n team seems satisfied with the change. At the summit in Tokyo I will be leading the Translation tool support: What do we need to improve? session on Tuesday at 4:40pm where we’ll talk about the move to Zanata and other improvements that can be made to translations tooling. If you can’t attend the summit, please provide feedback on the openstack-i18n mailing list so it can be collected and considered for the session.

The OpenStack Ops mid-cycle, PLUG and Ubuntu & Debian gatherings

In the tail end of August I made my way down to Palo Alto for a day to attend the OpenStack Operators Mid-cycle event. I missed the first day because I wasn’t feeling well post-travel, but the second day gave me plenty of time to attend a few discussions and sync up with colleagues. My reason for going was largely to support the OpenStack Infrastructure work on running our own instance of OpenStack, the infra-cloud.

The event had about 200 people, and sessions were structured so they would have a moderator but were actually discussions to share knowledge between operators. It was also valuable to see several OpenStack project leads there trying to gain insight into how people are using their projects and to make themselves available for feedback. The day began with a large session covering the popularity and usage of configuration management databases (CMDBs) in order to track resources, notes here: PAO-ops-cmdb. Then there was a session covering OpenStack deployment tips, which included a nice chunk about preferred networking models (the room was about split when it came to OVS vs. LinuxBridge), notes from this session: PAO-ops-deployment-tips.

After lunch I attended a tools and monitoring session, and learned that they have a working group and an IRC meeting every other week. The session was meant to build upon a previous session from the summit, but the amount of overlap between that session and this seemed to be quite low and it ended up being a general session about sharing common tools. Notes from the session here: PAO-ops-tools-mon.

In all, an enjoyable event and I was impressed with how well-organized it all felt as an event with such a loose agenda going in. Participants seemed really engaged, not just expecting presentations, and it was great to see them all collaborating so openly.

My next event took me across the country, but only incidentally. Our recent trip back east happened to coincide with a PLUG meeting in downtown Philadelphia. The meetings are a great way for me to visit a bunch of my Philadelphia friends at once and I always have a good time. The presentation itself was by Debian Maintainer Guo Yixuan on “Debian: The community and the package management system” where he outlined the fundamentals regarding Debian community structure and organization and then did several demos of working with .deb packages, including unpacking, patching and rebuilding. After the meeting we adjourned to a local pizzeria where I got my ceremonial buffalo chicken cheese steak (fun fact: you can actually find a solid Philly cheese steak in San Francisco, but not one with chicken!).

Guo Yixuan prepares for his presentation, as Eric Lucas and CJ Fearnley host Q&A with attendees

Back home in San Francisco I hosted a couple events back to back last week. First up was the Ubuntu California Ubuntu Hour at a Starbucks downtown. One of the attendees was able to fill us in on his plans to ask his employer for space for a Wily Werewolf (15.10) release party in October. Unfortunately I’ll be out of town for this release, so I can’t really participate, but I’ll do what I can to support them from afar. After the Ubuntu Hour we all walked down the street to Henry’s Hunan in SOMA for a Bay Area Debian Dinner. There, talk continued about our work, upgrades and various bits of tech about Debian and not. We wrapped up the meeting with a GPG keysigning, which we hadn’t done in quite some time. I was also reminded post-meeting to upload my latest UID to a key server.

Next week rounds up my local-ish event schedule for the month by attending the CloudNOW Top Women in Cloud Awards in Menlo Park where my colleague Allison Randal is giving a keynote. Looking forward to it!

End of Summer Trip Back East

MJ and I spent the first week of September in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. During our trip we visited with an ailing close relative and spent additional time with other family. I’m really thankful for the support of friends, family and colleagues, even if I’ve been cagey about details. It made the best of what was a difficult trip and what continues to be a tough month.

It was also hot. A heat wave hit the northeast for the entire time we were there, each day the temperatures soaring into the 90s. Fortunately we spent our days ducking from the air-conditioned car to various air-conditioned buildings. Disappointingly there was also no rain, which is one of the things I miss the most, particularly now as California is suffering from such a severe drought.

We made time for a couple enjoyable evenings with friends. Our friend Danita met us downtown at The Continental in Philadelphia before we spent some time chatting and walking around Penn’s Landing. Later in the week we had dinner with our friend Tim at another of our favorites, CinCin in Chestnut Hill. On the New Jersey side we were able to have lunch with our friends Mike and Jess and their young one, David, at a typical local pizzeria near where we were staying. These are pretty common stops on our trips back east, but when you can only make it into town a couple times a year, you want to visit your favorites! Plus, any random pizzeria in New Jersey is often better and cheaper than what you find here in California. Sorry California, you just don’t do pizza right.

Much like our trip in the spring we also had a lot of work to do with storage to sort, consolidate and determine what we’ll be bringing out west. It’s a tedious and exhausting process, but we made good progress, all things considered. And there were moments where it was fun, like when we found MJ’s NES and all his games, then got to play our real world version of Tetris as we documented and packed it up into a plastic tote. We also got to assemble one of those two-wheeled hand trucks that we had delivered to the hotel (you should have seen their faces!). No one died in the process of building the hand truck. We also made a trip to the local scrap metal yard to get rid of an ancient, ridiculously heavy trash compactor that’s been taking up space in storage for years. We got a whopping $5.75 for it. Truthfully, I’m just glad we didn’t need to pay someone to haul it away. We also managed to get rid of some 1990s era x86 machines (sans harddrives) by bringing them to Best Buy for recycling, a service that I learned they offer nationwide for various computers and electronics.

Our trip also landed during the week of Force Friday, the official kickoff of the Star Wars Episode 7 merchandise blitz. Coming home late one evening anyway, we made it out to Toys”R”Us at midnight on Friday the 4th to check out the latest goodies. I picked up three Chewbacca toys, including the Chewbacca Furby, Furbacca. Upon returning to our hotel MJ managed to place an order for a BB-8 by Sphero for me, which I’m having a lot of fun with (and so have the cats!).

The midnight line at Toys”R”Us on Force Friday

And I also worked. One of my big projects at work this past year had deadlines coming up quickly and so I did what I could to squeeze in time to send emails and sync up with my team mates as needed to make sure everything was prepared for the launch into production that happened upon my return. I’m happy to report that it all worked out.

We flew home on Sunday, just before Labor Day. Unfortunately, we seemed to have brought the heat along with us, with San Francisco plunging into a heat wave upon our return!

Some more photos from the trip: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157658503033995

“The Year Without Pants” and OpenStack work

As I’ve talked about before, the team I work on at HP is a collection of folks scattered all over the world, working from home and hacking on OpenStack together. We’re joined by hundreds of other people from dozens of companies doing the same, or similar.

This year our team at HP kicked off an internal book club, each month or two we’d read the same book that focused on some kind of knowledge that we felt would be helpful or valuable to the team. So far on our schedule:

  • Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by BrenĂ© Brown
  • The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun
  • Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, and Ron McMillan

This month’s book was The Year Without Pants. I had previously read Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker which is my favorite book on public speaking, I recommend it to everyone. This, and given that our team is in some ways very similar to how the teams Automattic (makers of WordPress) work, I was very interested in reading this other book of his.

Stepping back for a high level view of how we do work, it’s probably easiest to begin with how we differ from Automattic as a team, rather than how we’re similar. There are certainly several notable things:

  • They have a contract to hire model, partially to weed out folks who can’t handle the work model. We and most companies who work on OpenStack instead either hire experienced open source people directly for an upstream OpenStack job or ease people into the position, making accommodations and changes if work from home and geographic distribution of the team isn’t working out for them (it happens).
  • All of the discussions about my OpenStack work are fully public, I don’t really have “inside the company”-only discussions directly related to my day to day project work.
  • I work with individuals from large, major companies all over the world for our project work on a day to day basis, not just one company and a broader community.

These differences mattered when reading the book, especially when it comes to the public-facing nature of our work. We don’t just entertain feedback and collaboration about our day to day discussions and work from people in our group or company, but from anyone who cares enough to take the time to find us on our public mailing list, IRC channel or meeting. As a member of the Infrastructure team I don’t believe we’ve suffered from this openness. Some people certainly have opinions about what our team “should” be working on, but we have pretty good filters for these things and I like to think that as a team we’re open to accepting efforts from anyone who comes to us with a good idea and people-power to help implement it.

The things we had in common were what interested me most so I could compare our experiences. In spite of working on open source software for many years, this is the first time I’ve been paid full time to do it and worked with such large companies. It’s been fascinating to see how the OpenStack community has evolved and how HP has met the challenges. Hiring the right people is certainly one of those challenges. Just like in the book, we’ve found that we need to find people who are technically talented and who also have good online communication skills and can let their personality show through in text. OpenStack is very IRC-focused, particularly the team I’m on. Additionally, it’s very important that we steer clear of people whose behavior may be toxic to the team and community, regardless of their technical skills. This is good advice in any company, but it becomes increasingly important on a self-motivated, remote team where it’s more difficult to casually notice or check in with people about how they’re doing. Someone feeling downtrodden or discouraged because of the behavior of a co-worker can be much harder to notice from afar and often difficult and awkward to talk about.

I think what struck me most about both the experience in the book and what I’ve seen in OpenStack is the need for in-person interactions. I love working from home, and in my head it’s something I believe I can just do forever because our team works well online. But if I’m completely honest about my experience over the past 3 years, I feel inspired, energized and empowered by our in-person time together as a team, even if it’s only 2-3 times a year. It also helps our team feel like a team, particularly as we’re growing in staff and scope, and our projects are becoming more segregated day to day (I’m working on Zanata, Jim is working on Zuulv3, Colleen is working on infra-cloud, etc). Reflecting upon my experience with the Ubuntu community these past couple years, I’ve seen first hand the damage done to a community and project when the in-person meetings cease (I went into this topic some following the Community Leadership Summit in July).

Now, the every-six-months developer and user summits (based on what Ubuntu used to do) have been a part of OpenStack all along. It’s been clear from the beginning that project leaders understood the value of getting people together in person twice a year to kick off the next release cycle. But as the OpenStack community has evolved, most teams have gotten in the habit of also having team-specific sprints each cycle, where team members come together face to face to work on specific projects between the summits. These sprints grew organically and without top-down direction from anyone. They satisfied a social need to retain team cohesion and the desire for high bandwidth collaboration. In the book this seemed very similar to the annual company meetings being supplemented by team sprints.

I think I’m going to call this “The year of realizing that in person interaction is vital to the health of a project and team.” Even if my introvert self doesn’t like it and still believes deep down I should just live far away in a cabin in the woods with my cats and computers.

It’s pretty obvious given my happiness with working from home and the teams I’m working on that I fully bought in to the premise of this book from the beginning, so it didn’t need to convince me of anything. And there was a lot more to this book, particularly for people who are seeking to manage a geographically distributed, remote team. I highly recommend it to anyone doing remote work, managing remote teams or looking for a different perspective than “tech workers need to be in the office to be productive.” Thanks, Scott!

Simcoe’s July 2015 Checkup and Beyond

Simcoe, our Siamese, was diagnosed with Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) in December of 2011. Since then, we’ve kept her going with quarterly vet visits and subcutaneous fluid injections every other day to keep her properly hydrated. Her previous checkup was in mid March, so working around our travel schedules, we brought her in on July 2nd for her latest checkup.

Unfortunately the levels of Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and Creatinine (CRE) levels continue to increase past healthy levels.

This visit showed a drop in weight as well.

On the bright side, after being high for some time, the weekly Alendronate tablets that were prescribed in May have been effective in getting her Calcium levels down. Our hope is that this trend will continue and prolong the life her her kidneys.

However, the ever-increasing BUN and CRE levels, combined with the weight loss, are a concern. She’s due for another urine analysis and ultrasound to get a closer view into what’s going on internally.

We had this all scheduled for the end of July when something came up. She sometimes gets sniffly, so it’s not uncommon to see crusted “eye goo” build up around her eyes. One day at the end of July I noticed it had gotten quite bad and grabbed her to wash it off. It’s when I got close to her eyes that I noticed it wasn’t “eye goo” that had crusted, she had sores around her eyes that had scabbed over! With no appointments at her regular vet on the horizon, we whisked her off to the emergency vet to see what was going on.

After several hours of waiting, the vet was able to look at the scabbing under the microscope and do a quick culture to confirm a bacterial infection. They also had a dermatologist have a quick look and decided to give her an antibiotics shot to try and clear it up. The next week we swapped out her ultrasound appointment for a visit with her vet to do a follow up. The sores had begun to heal by then and we were just given a topical gel to help it continue to heal. By early August she was looking much better and I left for my trip to Peru, with MJ following a few days later.

A few scabs around her eyes

When we came home in mid August Simcoe still looked alright, but within a few days we noticed the sores coming back. We were able to make an appointment for Saturday, August 22nd with her regular vet to see if we could get to the bottom of it. The result was another topical gel and a twice-a-day dose of the antibiotic Clavamox. The topical gel seemed effective, but the Clavamox seemed to make her vomit. On Monday, with the guidance of her vet, we stopped administering the Clavamox. On Wednesday I noticed that she hadn’t really been eating, sigh! Another call to the vet and I went over to pick up an appetite stimulant. She finally ate, but there was more vomiting. Thankfully our every-other-day fluid injections ensured that she didn’t become dehydrated through all of this. We brought her in for the final follow up just a couple days ago, on Friday. Her sores around her eyes are once again looking better and she seemed to be eating normally when I left for our latest trip on Friday evening.

Not happy (at the vet!) but sores are clearing up, again

I do feel bad leaving on another trip as she’s going through this, but she’s with a trusted pet sitter and I’m really hoping this is finally clearing up. I have a full month at home after this trip so if not we will have time at home to treat her. The strangest thing about all of this is that we have no idea how this happened. She’s an indoor cat, we live in a high rise condo building, and Caligula shows no symptoms, in spite of their proximity and their snuggle and groom-each-other habits. How did she get exposed to something? Why is Caligula fine?

“I am cute, don’t leave!”

Whatever the reason for all of this, here’s to Simcoe feeling better! Once she is, we’ll finally pick up getting the ultrasound and anything else done.