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Spark Summit East 2017

“Do you want to go to Boston in February?”

So began my journey to Boston to attend the recent Spark Summit East 2017, joining my colleagues Kim, Jörg and Kapil to participate in the conference and meet attendees at our Mesosphere booth. I’ve only been to a handful of single-technology events over the years, so it was an interesting experience for me.


Selfie with Jörg!

The conference began with a keynote by Matei Zaharia which covered some of the major successes in the Apache Spark world in 2016, from the release of version 2.0, with structured streaming to the growth in community-driven meetups. As the keynotes continued, two trends came into clear focus:

  1. Increased use of Apache Spark with streaming data
  2. Strong desire to do data processing for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning

It was really fascinating to hear about all the AI and machine learning work being done from companies like Salesforce developing customized products to genetic data analysis by way of the Hail project that will ultimately improve and save lives. Work is even being done by Intel to improve hardware and open source tooling around deep learning (see their BigDL project on GitHub).

In perhaps my favorite keynote of the conference, we heard from Mike Gualtieri of Forrester where he presented the new “age of the customer” with a look toward very personalized, AI-driven learning about customer behavior, intent and more. He went on the use the term “pragmatic AI” to describe what we’re aiming for with an intelligence that’s good enough to succeed at what it’s put to. However, his main push for this talk was how much opportunity there is in this space. Companies and individuals skilled with processing massive amounts of data processing, AI and deep and machine learning can make a real impact in a variety of industries. Video and slides from this keynote are available here.


Mike Gualtieri on types of AI we’re looking at today

I was also impressed by how strong the open source assumption was at this conference. All of these universities, corporations, hardware manufacturers and more are working together to build platforms to do all of this work data processing work and they’re open sourcing them.

While at the event, Jörg gave a talk on Powering Predictive Mapping at Scale with Spark, Kafka, and Elastic Search (slides and videos at that link). In this he used DC/OS to give a demo based on NYC cab data.

At the booth the interest in open source was also strong. I’m working on DC/OS in my new role, and the fact that folks could hit the ground running with our open source version, and get help on mailing lists and Slack was in sync with their expectations. We were able to show off demos on our laptops and in spite of only having just over a month at the company under my belt, I was able to answer most of the questions that came my way and learned a lot from my colleagues.


The the Mesosphere booth included DC/OS hand warmers!

We had a bit of non-conference fun at the conference as well, Kapil took us out Wednesday night to the L.A. Burdick chocolate shop to get some hot chocolate… on ice. So good. Thursday the city was hit with a major snow storm, dumping 10 inches on us throughout the day as we spent our time inside the conference venue. Flights were cancelled after noon that day, but thankfully I had no trouble getting out on my Friday flight after lunch with my friend Deb who lives nearby.

More photos from the event here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157680153926395

Highlights from LCA 2017 in Hobart

Earlier this month I attended my first event while working as a DC/OS Developer Advocate over at Mesosphere. My talk on Listening to the needs of your global open source community was accepted before I joined the company, but this kind of listening is precisely what I need to be doing in this new role, so it fit nicely.

Work also gave me some goodies to bring along! So I was able to hand some out as I chatted with people about my new role, and left piles of stickers and squishy darts on the swag table throughout the week.

The topic of the conference this year was the future of open source. It led to an interesting series of keynotes, ranging from the hopeful and world-changing words from Pia Waugh about how technologists could really make a difference in her talk, Choose Your Own Adventure, Please!, to the Keeping Linux Great talk by Robert M. “r0ml” Lefkowitz that ended up imploring the audience to examine their values around the traditional open source model.

Pia’s keynote was a lot of fun, walking us through human history to demonstrate that our values, tools and assumptions are entirely of our own making, and able to be changed (indeed, they have!). She asked us to continually challenge our assumptions about the world around us and what we could change. She encouraged thinking beyond our own spaces, like how 3D printers could solve scarcity problems in developing nations or what faster travel would do to transform the world. As a room of open source enthusiasts who make small changes to change the world all the day, being the creators and innovators of the world, there’s always more we can do and strive for, curing the illness rather than scratching the itch for systematic change. I really loved the positive message of this talk, I think a lot of attendees walked out feeling empowered and hopeful. Plus, she had a brilliant human change.log, that demonstrated how we as humans have made some significant changes in our assumptions through the millennia.


Pia Waugh’s human change.log

The keynote by Dan Callahan on Wednesday morning on Designing for Failure explored the failure of Mozilla’s Persona project, and key things he learned from it. He walked through some key lessons:

  1. Free licenses are not enough, your code can’t be tied to proprietary infrastructure
  2. Bits rot more quickly online, an out of date desktop application is usually at much lower risk, and endangers fewer people, than a service running on the web
  3. Complexity limits agency, people need to be able to have the resources, system and time to try out and run your software

He went on to give tips about what to do to prolong project life, including making sure you have metrics and are measuring the right things for your project, explicitly defining your scope so the team doesn’t get spread too thin or try to solve the wrong problems, and ruthlessly opposing complexity, since that makes it harder to maintain and for others to get involved.

Finally, he had some excellent points for how to assist the survival of your users when a project does finally fail:

  1. If you know your project is dead (funding pulled, etc), say so, don’t draw things out
  2. Make sure your users can recover without your involvement (have a way to extract data, give them an escape path infrastructure-wise)
  3. Use standard data formats to minimize the migration harm when organizations have to move on

It was really great hearing lessons from this, I know how painful it is to see a project you’ve put a lot of work into die, the ability to not only move on in a healthy way but bring those lessons to a whole community during a keynote like this was commendable.

Thursday’s keynote by Nadia Eghbal was an interesting one that I haven’t seen a lot of public discussion around, Consider the Maintainer. In it she talked about the work that goes into being a maintainer of a project, which she defined as someone who is doing the work of keeping a project going: looking at the contributions coming in, actively responding to bug reports and handling any other interactions. This is a discussion that came up from time to time on some projects I’ve recently worked on where we were striving to prevent scope creep. How can we manage the needs of our maintainers who are sticking around, with the desire for new contributors to add features that benefit them? It’s a very important question that I was thrilled to see her talk about. To help address this, she proposed a twist on the The Four Essential Freedoms of Software as defined by the FSF, The Four Freedoms of Open Source Producers. They were:

  • The freedom to decide who participates in your community
  • The freedom to say no to contributions or requests
  • The freedom to define the priorities and policies of the project
  • The freedom to step down or move on from a project, temporarily or permanently

The speaker dinner was beautiful and delicious, taking us up to Frogmore Creek Winery. There was a radio telescope in the background and the sunset over the vineyard was breathtaking. Plus, great company.

Other talks I went to trended toward fun and community-focused. On Monday there was a WOOTConf, the entire playlist from the event is here. I caught a nice handful of talks, starting with Human-driven development where aurynn shaw spoke about some of the toxic behaviors in our technical spaces, primarily about how everyone is expected to know everything and that asking questions is not always acceptable. She implored us to work to make asking questions easier and more accepted, and working toward asking your team questions about what they need.

I learned about a couple websites in a talk by Kate Andrews on Seeing the big picture – using open source images, TinEye Reverse Image Search to help finding the source of an image to give credit, and sites like Unsplash where you can find freely licensed photos, in addition to various creative commons searches. Brenda Wallace’s Let’s put wifi in everything was a lot of fun, as she walked through various pieces of inexpensive hardware and open source tooling to build sensors to automate all kinds of little things around the house. I also enjoyed the talk by Kris Howard, Knit One, Compute One where very strong comparisons were made between computer programming and knitting patterns, and a talk by Grace Nolan on Condensed History of Lock Picking.

For my part, I gave a talk on Listening to the Needs of Your Global Open Source Community. This is similar to the talk I gave at FOSSCON back in August, where I walked through experiences I had in Ubuntu and OpenStack projects, along with in person LUGs and meetups. I had some great questions at the end, and I was excited to learn VM Brasseur was tweeting throughout and created a storify about it! The slides from the talk are available as a PDF here.


Thanks to VM Brasseur for the photo during my talk, source

The day concluded with Rikki Endsley’s Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Rock Star Developers, which I really loved. She talked about the tendency to put “rock star” in job descriptions for developers, but when going through the traits of rock stars these weren’t actually what you want on your team. The call was for more Willie Nelson developers, and we were treated to a quick biography of Willie Nelson. In it she explained how he helped others, was always learning new skills, made himself available to his fans, and would innovate and lead. I also enjoyed that he actively worked to collaborate with a diverse mix of people and groups.

As the conference continued, I learned about the the great work that Whare Hauora from Brenda Wallace and Amber Craig, and heard from Josh Simmons about building communities outside of major metropolitan areas where he advocated for multidisciplinary meetups. Allison Randal spoke about the ways that open source accelerates innovation and Karen Sandler dove into what happens to our software when we die in a presentation punctuated by pictures of baby Tasmanian Devils to cheer us up. I also heard Chris Lamb gave us the status of the Reproducible Builds projects and then from Hamish Coleman on the work he’s done replacing ThinkPad keyboards and backwards engineering the tooling.

The final day wound down with a talk by VM (Vicky) Brasseur on working inside a company to support open source projects, where she talked about types of communities, the importance of having a solid open source plans and quickly covered some of the most common pitfalls within companies.

This conference remains one of my favorite open source conferences in the world, and I’m very glad I was able to attend again. It’s great meeting up with all my Australian and New Zealand open source colleagues, along with some of the usual suspects who attend many of the same conferences I do. Huge thanks for the organizers for making it such a great conference.

All the videos from the conference were uploaded very quickly to YouTube and are available here: https://www.youtube.com/user/linuxconfau2017/videos

More photos from the conference at https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/sets/72157679331149816/

Rogue One and Carrie Fisher

Back in December I wasn’t home in San Francisco very much. Most of my month was spent back east at our townhouse in Philadelphia and I spent a few days in Salt Lake City for a conference, but the one week I was in town was the week that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story came out! I was traveling to Europe when tickets went on sale, but fortunately for me our local theater transformed to swap most of it’s screens over to show the film opening night. I was able to snag tickets once I realized they were on sale.

And that’s how I continued my tradition of seeing all the new films (1-3, 7) opening night! MJ and I popped over to the Metreon, just a short walk from home, to see it. For this showing I didn’t do IMAX or 3D or anything fancy, just a modern AMC theater and a late night showing.

The movie was great. They did a really nice job of looping the story in with the past films and preserving the feel of Star Wars for me, which was absent in the prequels that George Lucas made. Clunky technology, the good guys achieving victories in the face of incredible odds and yet, quite a bit of heartbreak. Naturally, I saw it a second time later in the month while staying in Philadelphia for the holidays. It was great the second time too!

My hope is that the quality of the films will remain high while in the hands of Disney, and I’m really looking forward to The Last Jedi coming out at the end of this year.

Alas, the year wasn’t all good for a Star Wars fan like me. Back in August we lost Kenny Baker, the man behind my beloved R2-D2. Then on December 23rd we learned that Carrie Fisher had a heart attack on a flight from London. On December 27th she passed away.

Now, I am typically not one to write about the death of a celebrity in her blog. It’s pretty rare that I’m upset about the death of a celebrity at all. But this was Carrie Fisher. She was not on my radar for passing (only 60!) and she is the actress who played one of my all-time favorite characters, in case it wasn’t obvious from the domain name this blog is on.

The character of Princess Leia impacted my life in many ways, and at age 17 caused me to choose PrincessLeia2 (PrincessLeia was taken), and later pleia2, as my online handle. She was a princess of a mysterious world that was destroyed. She was a strong character who didn’t let people get in her way as she covertly assisted, then openly joined the rebel alliance because of what she believed in. She was also a character who also showed considerable kindness and compassion. In the Star Wars universe, and in the 1980s when I was a kid, she was often a shining beacon of what I aspired to. Her reprise of the character, returning as General Leia Organa, in Episode VII brought me to tears. I have a figure of her on my desk.


Halloween 2005, Leia costume!

A character she played aside, she also was a champion of de-stigmatizing mental illness. I have suffered from depression for over 20 years and have worked to treat my condition with over a dozen doctors, from primary care to neurologists and psychiatrists. Still, I haven’t found an effective medication-driven treatment that won’t conflict with my other neurological atypical conditions (migraines and seizures). Her outspokenness on the topic of both mental illness and the difficulty in treating it even when you have access to resources was transformational for me. I had a guilt lifted from me about not being “better” in spite of my access to treatment, and was generally more inclined to tackle the topic of mental illness in public.

Her passing was hard for me.

I was contacted by BBC Radio 5 Live on the day she passed away and interviewed by Chris Warburton for their show that would air the following morning. They reached out to me as a known fan, asking me about what her role as Leia Organa meant to me growing up, her critical view of the celebrity world and then on to her work in the space of mental illness. It meant a lot that they reached out to me, but I was also pained by what it brought up, it turns out that the day of her passing was the one day in my life I didn’t feeling like talking about her work and legacy.

It’s easier today as I reflect upon her impact. I’m appreciative of the character she brought to life for me. Appreciative of the woman she became and shared in so many memorable, funny and self-deprecating books, which line my shelves. Thank you, Carrie Fisher, for being such an inspiration and an advocate.

CLSx at LCA 2017

Last week I was in Hobart, Tasmania for LCA 2017. I’ll write broader blog post about the whole event soon, but I wanted to take some time to write this focused post about the CLSx (Community Leadership Summit X) event organized by VM Brasseur. I’d been to the original CLS event at OSCON a couple times, first in 2013 and again in 2015. This was the first time I was attending a satellite event, but with VM Brasseur at the helm and a glance at the community leadership talent in the room I knew we’d have a productive event.


VM Brasseur introduces CLSx

The event began with an introduction to the format and the schedule. As an unconference, CLS events topics are brainstormed by and the schedule organized by the attendees. It started with people in the room sharing topics they’d be interested in, and then we worked through the list to combine topics and reduce it down to just 9 topics:

  • Non-violent communication for diffusing charged situations
  • Practical strategies for fundraising
  • Rewarding community members
  • Reworking old communities
  • Increasing diversity: multi-factor
  • Recruiting a core
  • Community metrics
  • Community cohesion: retention
  • How to Participate When You Work for a Corporate Vendor

Or, if you’d rather, the whiteboard of topics!

The afternoon was split into four sessions, three of which were used to discuss the topics, with three topics being covered simultaneously by separate groups in each session slot. The final session of the day was reserved for the wrap-up of the event where participants shared summaries of each topic that was discussed.

The first session I participated in was the one I proposed, on Rewarding Community Members. The first question I asked the group was whether we should reward community members at all, just to make sure we were all starting with the same ideas. This quickly transitioned into what counts as a reward, were we talking physical gifts like stickers and t-shirts? Or recognition in the community? Some communities “reward” community members by giving them free or discounted entrance to conferences related to the project, or discounts on services with partners.

Simple recognition of work was a big topic for this session. We spent some time talking about how we welcome community members. Does your community have a mechanism for welcoming, even if it’s automated? Or is there a more personal touch to reaching out? We also covered whether projects have a path to go from new contributor to trusted committer, or the “internal circle” of a project, noting that if that path doesn’t exist, it could be discouraging to new contributors. Gamification was touched upon as a possible way to recognize contributors in a more automated fashion, but it was clear that you want to reward certain positive behaviors and not focus so strictly on statistics that can be cheated without bringing any actual value to the project or community.

What I found most valuable in this session was learning some of the really successful tips for rewards. It was interesting how far the personal touch goes when sending physical rewards to contributors, like including a personalized note along with stickers. It was also clear that metrics are not the full story, in every community the leaders, evangelists and advocates need to be very involved so they can identify contributors in a more qualitative way in order to recognize or reward them, maybe someone is particularly helpful and friendly, or are making contributions in ways that are not easily tracked by solid metrics. The one warning here was making sure you avoid personal bias, make sure you aren’t being more critical of contributions from minorities in your community or are ignoring folks who don’t boast about their contributions, this happens a lot.

Full notes from Rewarding Contributors, thanks go to Deirdré Straughan for taking notes during the session.

The next session brought me to a gathering to discuss Community Building, Cohesion and Retention. I’ve worked in very large open source communities for over a decade now, and as I embark on my new role at Mesosphere where the DC/OS community is largely driven by paid contributors from a single company today, I’m very much interested in making sure we work to attract more outside contributors.

One of the big topics of this session was the fragmentation of resources across platforms (mailing lists, Facebook, IRC, Slack, etc) and how we have very little control over this. Pulling from my own experience, we saw this in the Xubuntu user community where people would create unofficial channels on various resources, and so as an outreach team we had to seek these users out and begin engaging with them “where they lived” on these platforms. One of the things I learned from my work here, was that we could reduce our own burden by making some of these “unofficial” resources into official resources, thus having an official presence but leaving the folks who were passionate about the platform and community there in control, though we did ask for admin credentials for one person on the Xubuntu team to help with the bus factor.

Some other tips to building cohesion were making sure introductions were done during meetings and in person gatherings so that newcomers felt welcome, or offering a specific newcomer track so that no one felt like they were the only new person in the room, which can be very isolating. Similarly, making sure there were communication channels available before in-person events could be helpful to getting people comfortable with a community before meeting. One of the interesting proposals was also making sure there was a more official, announce-focused channel for communication so that people who were loosely interested could subscribe to that and not be burdened with an overly chatty communication channel if they’re only interested in important news from the community.

Full notes from Community building, cohesion and retention, with thanks to Josh Simmons for taking notes during this session.


Thanks to VM Brasseur for this photo of our building, cohesion and retention session (source)

The last session of the day I attended was around Community Metrics and held particular interest for me as the team I’m on at Mesosphere starts drilling down into community statistics for our young community. One of the early comments in this session is that our teams need to be aware that metrics can help drive value for your team within a company and in the project. You should make sure you’re collecting metrics and that you’re measuring the right things. It’s easy for those of us who are more technically inclined to “geek out” over numbers and statistics, which can lead to gathering too much data and drawing conclusions that may not necessarily be accurate.

There was value found in surveys of community members by some attendees, which was interesting for me to learn. I haven’t had great luck with surveys but it was suggested that making sure people know why they should spend their time replying and sharing information and how it will be used to improve things makes them more inclined to participate. It was also suggested to have staggered surveys targeted at specific contributors. Perhaps have one survey to newcomers, and another targeted at people who have succeeded in becoming a core contributor about the process challenges they’ve faced. Surveys also help gather some of the more qualitative data that is essential for proper tracking the health of a community. It’s not just numbers.

Specifically drilling down into value to the community, the following beyond surveys were found to be helpful:

  • Less focus on individuals and specific metrics in a silo, instead looking at trends and aggregations
  • Visitor count to the web pages on your site and specific blog posts
  • Metrics about community diversity in terms of number of organizations contributing, geographic distribution and human metrics (gender, race, age, etc) since all these types of diversity have proven to be indicators of project and team success.
  • Recruitment numbers linked to contributions, whether it’s how many people your company hires from the community or that companies in general do if the project has many companies involved (recruitment is expensive, you can bring real value here)

The consensus in the group was that it was difficult to correlate metrics like retweets, GitHub stars and other social media metrics to sales, so even though there may be value with regard to branding and excitement about your community, they may not help much to justify the existence of your team within a company. We didn’t talk much about metrics gathering tools, but I was OK with this, since it was nice to get a more general view into what we should be collecting rather than how.

Full notes from Community Metrics, which we can thank Andy Wingo for.

The event concluded with the note-taker from each group giving a five minute summary of what we talked about in each group. This was the only recorded portion of the event, you can watch it on YouTube here: Community Leadership Summit Summary.

Discussion notes from all the sessions can be found here: https://linux.conf.au/wiki/conference/miniconfs/clsx_at_lca/#wiki-toc-group-discussion-notes.

I really got a lot out of this event, and I hope others gained from my experience and perspectives as well. Huge thanks to the organizers and everyone who participated.

Holidays in Philadelphia

In December MJ and I spent a couple weeks on the east coast in the new townhouse. It was the first long stay we’ve had there together, and though the holidays limited how much we could get done, particularly when it came to contractors, we did have a whole bunch to do.

First, I continued my quest to go through boxes of things that almost exclusively belonged to MJ’s grandparents. Unpacking, cataloging and deciding what pieces stay in Pennsylvania and what we’re sending to California. In the course of this I also had a deadline creeping up on me as I needed to find the menorah before Hanukkah began on the evening of December 24th. The timing of Hanukkah landing right along Christmas and New Years worked out well for us, MJ had some time off and it made the timing of the visit even more of a no-brainer. Plus, we were able to celebrate the entire eight night holiday there in Philadelphia rather than breaking it up between there and San Francisco.

The most amusing thing about finding the menorah was that it’s nearly identical to the one we have at home. MJ had mentioned that it was similar when I picked it out, but I had no idea that it was almost identical. Nothing wrong with the familiar, it’s a beautiful menorah.

House-wise MJ got the garage door opener installed and shelves put up in the powder room. With the help of his friend Tim, he also got the coffee table put together and the television mounted over the fireplace on New Years Eve. The TV was up in time to watch some of the NYE midnight broadcasts! We got the mail handling, trash schedule and cleaning sorted out with relatives who will be helping us with that, so the house will be well looked after in our absence.

I put together the vacuum and used it for the first time as I did the first thorough tidying of the house since we’d moved everything in from storage. I got my desk put together in the den, even though it’s still surrounded by boxes and will be until we ship stuff out to California. I was able to finally unpack some things we had actually ordered the last time I was in town but never got to put around the house, like a bunch of trash cans for various rooms and some kitchen goodies from ThinkGeek (Death Star waffle maker! R2-D2 measuring cups!). We also ordered a pair of counter-height chairs for the kitchen and they arrived in time for me to put them together just before we left, so the kitchen is also coming together even though we still need to go shopping for pots and pans.

Family-wise, we did a lot of visiting. On Christmas Eve we went to the nearby Samarkand restaurant, featuring authentic Uzbeki food. It was wonderful. We also did various lunches and dinners. A couple days were also spent going down to the city to visit a relative who is recovering in the hospital.

I didn’t see everyone I wanted to see but we did also get to visit with various friends. I saw my beloved Rogue One: A Star Wars Story a second time and met up with Danita to see Moana, which was great. I’ve now listened to the Moana soundtrack more than a few times. We met up with Crissi and her boyfriend Henry at Grand Lux Cafe in King of Prussia, where we also had a few errands to run and I was able to pick up some mittens at L.L. Bean. New Years Eve was spent with our friends Tim and Colleen, where we ordered pizza and hung aforementioned television. They also brought along some sweet bubbly for us to enjoy at midnight.

We also had lots of our favorite foods! We celebrated together at MJ’s favorite French cuisine inspired Chinese restaurant in Chestnut Hill, CinCin. We visited some of our standard favorites, including The Continental and Mad Mex. Exploring around our new neighborhood, we indulged in some east coast Chinese, made it to a Jewish deli where I got a delicious hoagie, found a sushi place that has an excellent roll list. We also went to Chickie’s and Pete’s crab house a couple of times, which, while being a Philadelphia establishment, I’d never actually been to. We also had a dinner at The Melting Pot, where I was able to try some local beers along with our fondue, and I’m delighted to see how much the microbrewery scene has grown since I moved away. We also hit a few diners during our stay, and enjoyed some eggnog from Wawa, which is some of the best eggnog ever made.

Unfortunately it wasn’t all fun. I’ve been battling a nasty bout of bronchitis for the past couple months. This continued ailment led to a visit to urgent care to get it looked at, and an x-ray to confirm I didn’t have a pneumonia. A pile of medication later, my bronchitis lingered and later in the week I spontaneously developed hives on my neck, which confounded the doctor. In the midst of health woes, I also managed to cut my foot on some broken glass while I was unpacking. It bled a lot, and I was a bit hobbled for a couple days while it healed. Thankfully MJ cleaned it out thoroughly (ouch!) once the bleeding had subsided and it has healed up nicely.

As the trip wound down I found myself missing the cats and eager to get home where I’d begin my new job. Still, it was with a heavy heart that we left our beautiful new vacation home, family and friends on the east coast.

The Girard Avenue Line

While I was in Philadelphia over the holidays a friend clued me into the fact that one of the historic streetcars (trolleys) on the Girard Avenue Line was decorated for the holidays. This line, SEPTA Route 15, is the last historic trolley line in Philadelphia and I had never ridden it before. This was the perfect opportunity!

I decided that I’d make the whole day about trains, so that morning I hopped on the SEPTA West Trenton Line regional rail, which has a stop near our place north of Philadelphia. After cheesesteak lunch near Jefferson Station, it was on to the Market-Frankfort Line subway/surface train to get up to Girard Station.

My goal for the afternoon was to see and take pictures of the holiday car, number 2336. So, with the friend I dragged along on this crazy adventure, we started waiting. The first couple trolleys weren’t decorated, so we hopped on another to get out of the chilly weather for a bit. Got off that trolley and waited for a few more, in both directions. This was repeated a couple times until we finally got a glimpse of the decorated trolley heading back to Girard Station. Now on our radar, we hopped on the next one and followed that trolley!


The non-decorated, but still lovely, 2335

We caught up with the decorated trolley after the turnaround at the end of the line and got on just after Girard Station. From there we took it all the way to the end of the line in west Philadelphia at 63rd St. There we had to disembark, and I took a few pictures of the outside.

We were able to get on again after the driver took a break, which allowed us take it all the way back.

The car was decorated inside and out, with lights, garland and signs.

At the end the driver asked if we’d just been on it to take a ride. Yep! I came just to see this specific trolley! Since it was getting dark anyway, he was kind enough to turn the outside lights on for me so I could get some pictures.

As my first time riding this line, I was able to make some observations about how they differ from the PCCs that run in San Francisco. In the historic fleet of San Francisco streetcars, the 1055 has the same livery as the trolleys that run in Philadelphia today. Most of the PCC’s in San Francisco’s fleet actually came from SEPTA in Philadelphia and this one is no exception, originally numbered 2122 while in service there. However, taking a peek inside it’s easy to see that it’s a bit different than the ones that run in Philadelphia today:


Inside the 1055 in San Francisco

The inside of this looks shiny compared to the inside of the one still running in Philadelphia. It’s all metal versus the plastic inside in Philadelphia, and the walls of the car are much thinner in San Francisco. I suspect this is all due to climate control requirements. In San Francisco we don’t really have seasons and the temperature stays pretty comfortable, so while there is a little climate control, it’s nothing compared to what the cars in Philadelphia need in the summer and winter. You can also see a difference from the outside, the entire top of the Philadelphia cars has a raised portion which seems to be climate control, but on the San Francisco cars it’s only a small bit at the center:


Outside the 1055 in San Francisco

Finally, the seats and wheelchair accessibility is different. The seats are all plastic in San Francisco, whereas they have fabric in Philadelphia. The raised platforms themselves and a portable metal platform serve as wheelchair access in San Francisco, whereas Philadelphia has an actual operative lift since there are many street level stops.

To wrap up the trolley adventure, we hopped on a final one to get us to Broad Street where we took the Broad Street Line subway down to dinner at Sazon on Spring Garden Street, where we had a meal that concluded with some of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Perfect to warm us up after spending all afternoon chasing trolleys in Philadelphia December weather.

Dinner finished, I took one last train, the regional rail to head back to the suburbs.

More photos from the trolleys on the Girard Avenue Line here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157676838141261

The adventures of 2016

2016 was filled with professional successes and exciting adventures, but also various personal struggles. I exhausted myself finishing two books, navigated some complicated parts of my marriage, experienced my whole team getting laid off from a job we loved, handled an uptick in migraines and a continuing bout of bronchitis, and am still coming to terms with the recent loss.

It’s been difficult to maintain perspective, but it actually was an incredible year. I succeeded in having two books come out, my travels took me to some new, amazing places, we bought a vacation house, all my blood work shows that I’m healthier than I was at this time last year.


Lots more running in 2016 led to a healthier me!

Some of the tough stuff has even been good. I have succeeded in strengthening bonds with my husband and several people in my life who I care about. I’ve worked hard to worry less and enjoy time with friends and family, which may explain why this year ended up being the one of the group selfie. I paused to capture happy moments with my loved ones a lot more often.

So without further ado, the more quantitative year roundup!

The 9th edition of the The Official Ubuntu Book came out in July. This is the second edition I’ve been part of preparing. The book has updates to bring us up to the 16.04 release and features a whole new chapter covering “Ubuntu, Convergence, and Devices of the Future” which I was really thrilled about adding. My work with Matthew Helmke and José Antonio Rey was also very enjoyable. I wrote about the release here.

I also finished the first book I was the lead author on, Common OpenStack Deployments. Writing a book takes a considerable amount of time and effort, I spent many long nights and weekends testing and tweaking configurations largely written by my contributing author, Matt Fischer, writing copy for the book and integrating feedback from our excellent fleet of reviewers and other contributors. In the end, we released a book that takes the reader from knowing nothing about OpenStack to doing sample deployments using the same Puppet-driven tooling that enterprises use in their environments. The book came out in September, I wrote about it on my own blog here and maintain a blog about the book at DeploymentsBook.com.


Book adventures at the Ocata OpenStack Summit in Barcelona! Thanks to Nithya Ruff for taking a picture of me with my book at the Women of OpenStack area of the expo hall (source) and Brent Haley for getting the picture of Lisa-Marie and I (source).

This year also brought a new investment to our lives, we bought a vacation home in Pennsylvania! It’s a new construction townhouse, so we spent a fair amount of time on the east coast the second half of this year searching for a place, picking out the details and closing. We then spent the winter holidays here, spending a full two weeks away from home to really settle in. I wrote more about our new place here.

I keep saying I won’t travel as much, but 2016 turned out to have more travel than ever, taking over 100,000 miles of flights again.


Feeding a kangaroo, just outside of Melbourne, Australia

At the Jain Temple in Mumbai, India

We had lots of beers in Germany! Photo in the center by Chris Hoge (source)

Barcelona is now one of my favorite places, and it’s Sagrada Familia Basilica was breathtaking

Most of these conferences and events had a speaking component for me, but I also did a fair number of local talks and at some conferences I spoke more than once. The following is a rundown of all these talks I did in 2016, along with slides.


Photo by Masayuki Igawa (source) from Linux Conf AU in Geelong

Photo by Johanna Koester (source) from my keynote at the Ocata OpenStack Summit

MJ and I have also continued to enjoy our beloved home city of San Francisco, both with just the two of us and with various friends and family. We saw a couple Giants baseball games, along with one of the Sharks playoff games! Sampled a variety of local drinks and foods, visited lots of local animals and took in some amazing local sights. We went to the San Francisco Symphony for the first time, enjoyed a wonderful time together over over Labor Day weekend and I’ve skipped out at times to visit museum exhibits and the zoo.


Dinner at Luce in San Francisco, celebrating MJ’s new job

This year I also geeked out over trains – in four states and five countries! In May MJ and I traveled to Maine to spend some time with family, and a couple days of that trip were spent visiting the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport and the Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum in Portland, I wrote about it here. I also enjoyed MUNI Heritage Weekend with my friend Mark at the end of September, where we got to see some of the special street cars and ride several vintage buses, read about that here. I also went up to New York City to finally visit the famous New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn and accompanying holiday exhibit at the Central Station with my friend David, details here. In Philadelphia I enjoyed the entire Girard Street line (15) which is populated by historic PCC streetcars (trolleys), including one decorated for the holidays, I have a pile of pictures here. I also got a glimpse of a car on the historic streetcar/trolley line in Melbourne and my buddy Devdas convinced me to take a train in Mumbai, and I visited the amazing Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus there too. MJ also helped me plan some train adventures in the Netherlands and Germany as I traveled from airports for events.


From the Seashore Trolley Museum barn

As I enter into 2017 I’m thrilled to report that I’ll be starting a new job. Travel continues as I have trips to Australia and Los Angeles already on my schedule. I’ll also be spending time getting settled back into my life on the west coast, as I have spent 75% of my time these past couple months elsewhere.

OpenStack Days Mountain West 2016

A couple weeks ago I attended my last conference of the year, OpenStack Days Mountain West. After much flight shuffling following a seriously delayed flight, I arrived late on the evening prior to the conference with plenty of time to get settled in and feel refreshed for the conference in the morning.

The event kicked off with a keynote from OpenStack Foundation COO Mark Collier who spoke on the growth and success of OpenStack. His talk strongly echoed topics he touched upon at the recent OpenStack Summit back in October as he cited several major companies who are successfully using OpenStack in massive, production deployments including Walmart, AT&T and China Mobile. In keeping with the “future” theme of the conference he also talked about organizations who are already pushing the future potential of OpenStack by betting on the technology for projects that will easily exceed the capacity of what OpenStack can handle today.

Also that morning, Lisa-Marie Namphy moderated a panel on the future of OpenStack with John Dickinson, K Rain Leander, Bruce Mathews and Robert Starmer. She dove right in with the tough questions by having panelists speculate as to why the three major cloud providers don’t run OpenStack. There was also discussion about who the actual users of OpenStack were (consensus was: infrastructure operators), which got into the question of whether app developers were OpenStack users today (perhaps not, app developers don’t want a full Linux environment, they want a place for their app to live). They also discussed the expansion of other languages beyond Python in the project.

That afternoon I saw a talk by Mike Wilson of Mirantis on “OpenStack in the post Moore’s Law World” where he reflected on the current status of Moore’s Law and how it relates to cloud technologies, and the projects that are part of OpenStack. He talked about how the major cloud players outside of OpenStack are helping drive innovation for their own platforms by working directly with chip manufacturers to create hardware specifically tuned to their needs. There’s a question of whether anyone in the OpenStack community is doing similar, and it seems that perhaps they should so that OpenStack can have a competitive edge.

My talk was next, speaking on “The OpenStack Project Continuous Integration System” where I gave a tour of our CI system and explained how we’ve been tracking project growth and steps we’ve taken with regard to scaling it to handle it going into the future. Slides from the talk are available here (PDF). At the end of my talk I gave away several copies of Common OpenStack Deployments which I also took the chance to sign. I’m delighted that one of the copies will be going to the San Diego OpenStack Meetup and another to one right there in Salt Lake City.

Later I attended Christopher Aedo’s “Transforming Organizations with OpenStack” where he walked the audience through hands on training his team did about the OpenStack project’s development process and tooling for IBM teams around the world. The lessons learned from working with these teams and getting them to love open processes once they could explain them in person was inspiring. Tassoula Kokkoris wrote a great summary of the talk here: Collaborative Culture Spotlight: OpenStack Days Mountain West. I rounded off the day by going to David Medberry’s “Private Cloud Cattle and Pet Wrangling” talk where he drew experience from the private cloud at Charter Communications to discuss the move from treating servers like pets to treating them like cattle and how that works in a large organization with departments that have varying needs.

The next day began with a talk by OpenStack veteran, and now VP of Solutions at SUSE, Joseph George. He gave a talk on the state of OpenStack, with a strong message about staying on the path we set forth, which he compared to his own personal transformation to lose a significant amount of weight. In this talk, he outlined three main points that we must keep in mind in order to succeed:

  1. Clarity on the Goal and the Motivation
  2. Staying Focused During the “Middle” of the Journey
  3. Constantly Learning and Adapting

He wrote a more extensive blog post about it here which fleshes out how each of these related to himself and how they map to OpenStack: OpenStack, Now and Moving Ahead: Lessons from My Own Personal Transformation.

The next talk was a fun one from Lisa-Marie Namphy and Monty Taylor with the theme of being a naughty or nice list for the OpenStack community. They walked through various decisions, aspects of the project, and more to paint a picture of where the successes and pain points of the project are. They did a great job, managing to pull it off with humor, wit, and charm, all while also being actually informative. The morning concluded with a panel titled “OpenStack: Preferred Platform For PaaS Solutions” which had some interesting views. The panelists brought their expertise to the table to discuss what developers seeking to write to a platform wanted, and where OpenStack was weak and strong. It certainly seems to me that OpenStack is strongest as IaaS rather than PaaS, and it makes sense for OpenStack to continue focusing on being what they’ve called an “integration engine” to tie components together rather than focus on writing a PaaS solution directly. There was some talk about this on the panel, where some stressed that they did want to see OpenStack hooking into existing PaaS software offerings.


Great photo of Lisa and Monty by Gary Kevorkian, source

Lunch followed the morning talks, and I haven’t mentioned it, but the food at this event was quite good. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it was some of the best conference-supplied meals I’ve had. Nice job, folks!

Huge thanks to the OpenStack Days Mountain West crew for putting on the event. Lots of great talks and I enjoyed connecting with folks I knew, as well as meeting members of the community who haven’t managed to make it to one of the global events I’ve attended. It’s inspiring to meet with such passionate members of local groups like I found there.

More photos from the event here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157676117696131

The Temples and Dinosaurs of SLC

A few weeks ago I was in Salt Lake City for my last conference of the year. I was only there for a couple days, but I had some flexibility in my schedule. I was able to see most of the conference and still make time to sneak out to see some sights before my flight home at the conclusion of the conference.

The conference was located right near Temple Square. In spite of a couple flurries here and there, and the accompanying cold, I made time to visit out during lunch the first day of the conference. This square is where the most famous temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints resides, the Salt Lake Temple. Since I’d never been to Salt Lake City before, this landmark was the most obvious one to visit, and they had decorated it for Christmas.

While I don’t share their faith, it was worthy of my time. The temple is beautiful, everyone I met was welcoming and friendly, and there is important historical significance to the story of that church.

The really enjoyable time was that evening though. After some time at The Beer Hive I went for a walk with a couple colleagues through the square again, but this time all lit up with the Christmas lights! The lights were everywhere and spectacular.

And I’m sure regardless of the season, the temple itself at night is a sight to behold.

More photos from Temple Square here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157677633463925

The conference continued the next day and I departed in the afternoon to visit the Natural History Museum of Utah. Utah is a big deal when it comes to fossil hunting in the US, so I was eager to visit their dinosaur fossil exhibit. In addition to a variety of crafted scenes, it also features the “world’s largest display of horned dinosaur skulls” (source).

Unfortunately upon arrival I learned that the museum was without power. They were waving people in, but explained that there was only emergency lighting and some of the sections of the museum were completely closed. I sadly missed out on their very cool looking exhibit on poisons, and it was tricky seeing some of the areas that were open with so little light.

But the dinosaurs.

Have you ever seen dinosaur fossils under just emergency lighting? They were considerably more impactful and scary this way. Big fan.

I really enjoyed some of the shadows cast by their horned dinosaur skulls.

More photos from the museum here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/sets/72157673744906273/

There should totally be an event where the fossils are showcased in this way in a planned manner. Alas, since this was unplanned, the staff decided in the late afternoon to close the museum early. This sent me on my way much earlier than I’d hoped. Still, I was glad I got to spend some time with the dinosaurs and hadn’t wasted much time elsewhere in the museum. If I’m ever in Salt Lake City again I would like to go back though, it was tricky to read the signs in such low light and I would like to have the experience as it was intended. Besides, I’ll rarely pass up the opportunity to see a good dinosaur exhibit. I haven’t been to the Salt Lake City Zoo yet, if it had been warmer I may have considered it – next time!

With that, my trip to Salt Lake City pretty much concluded. I made my way to the airport to head home that evening. This trip rounded almost a full month of being away from home, so I was particularly eager to get home and spend some time with MJ and the kitties.

Trains in NYC

I’ve wanted to visit the New York Transit Museum ever since I discovered it existed. Housed in the retired Court station in Brooklyn, even the museum venue had “transit geek heaven” written all over it. I figured I’d visit it some day when work brought me to the city, but then I learned about the 15th Annual Holiday Train Show at their Annex and Store at Grand Central going on now. I’d love to see that! I ended up going up to the NYC from Philadelphia with my friend David last Sunday morning and made a day of it. Even better, we parked in New Jersey so had a full on transit experience from there into Manhattan and Brooklyn and back as the day progressed.

Our first stop was Grand Central Station via the 5 subway line. Somehow I’d never been there before. Enjoy the obligatory station selfie.

From there it was straight down to the Annex and Store run by the transit museum. The holiday exhibit had glittering signs hanging from the ceiling of everything from buses to transit cards to subway cars and snowflakes. The big draw though was the massive o-gauge model train setup, as the site explains:

This year’s Holiday Train Show display will feature a 34-foot-long “O gauge” model train layout with Lionel’s model Metro-North, New York Central, and vintage subway trains running on eight separate loops of track, against a backdrop featuring graphics celebrating the Museum’s 40th anniversary by artist Julia Rothman.

It was quite busy there, but folks were very clearly enjoying it. I’m really glad I went, even if the whole thing made me pine for my future home office train set all the more. Some day! It’s also worthy to note that this shop is the one to visit transit-wise. The museum in Brooklyn also had a gift shop but it was smaller and had fewer things, I highly recommend picking things up here, I ended up going back after the transit museum to get something I wanted.

We then hopped on the 4 subway line into Brooklyn to visit the actual transit museum. As advertised, it’s in a retired subway station, so the entrance looks like any other subway entrance and you take stairs underground. You enter and buy your ticket and then are free to explore both levels of the museum. The first had several exhibits that rotate, including one about Coney Island and another providing a history of crises in New York City (including 9/11, hurricane Sandy) and how the transit system and operators responded to them. They also had displays of a variety of turnstiles throughout the years, and exhibits talking about street car (trolley) lines and the introduction of the bus systems.

The exhibits were great, but it was downstairs that things got really fun. They have functioning rails where the subway trains used to run through where they’ve lined up over a dozen cars from throughout transit history in NYC for visitors to explore, inside and out.

The evolution of seat designs and configurations was interesting to witness and feel, as you could sit on the seats to get the full experience. Each car also had an information sign next to it, so you could learn about the era and the place of that car in it. Transitions between wood to metal, paired (and ..tripled?) cars were showcased, along with a bunch that were stand alone interchangables. I also enjoyed seeing a caboose, though I didn’t quite recognize at first (“is this for someone to live in?”).

A late lunch was due following the transit museum. We ended up at Sottocasa Pizzeria right there in Brooklyn. It got great reviews and I enjoyed it a lot, but was definitely on the fancy pizza side. They also had selection of Italian beers, of which I chose the delicious Nora by Birra Baladin. Don’t worry, next time I’m in New York I’ll go to a great, not fancy, pizza place.

It was then back to Manhattan to spend a bit more time at Grand Central and for an evening walk through the city. We started by going up 5th Avenue to see Rockefeller Square at night during the holidays. I hadn’t been to Manhattan since 2013 when I went with my friend Danita and I’d never seen the square all decked out for the holidays. I didn’t quite think it through though, it’s probably the busiest time of the year there so the whole neighborhood for blocks was insanely crowded. After seeing the skating rink and tree, we escaped northwest and made our way through the crowds up to Central Park. It was cold, but all the walking was fun even with the crowds. For dinner we ended up at Jackson Hole for some delicious burgers. I went with the Guacamole Burger.

The trip back to north Jersey took us through the brand new World Trade Center Transportation Hub to take the PATH. It’s a very unusual space. It’s all bright white with tons of marble shaped in a modern look, and has a shopping mall with a surreal amount of open space. The trip back on the PATH that night was as smooth as expected. In all, a very enjoyable day of public transit stuff!

More photos from Grand Central Station and the Transit Museum here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157677457519215

Epilogue: I received incredibly bad news the day after this visit to NYC. It cast a shadow over it for me. I went back and forth about whether I should write about this visit at all and how I should present it if I did. I decided to present it as it was that day. It was a great day of visiting the city and geeking out over trains, enjoyed with a close friend, and detached from whatever happened later. I only wish I could convince my mind to do the same.