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Toys outside, a laptop, and lots of bread

Pandemic life is continuing. This month we went through a wave of places opening for outdoor dining, only to be shut down by the state due to rising COVID-19 rates, and then conditionally opened up a few days later with the county remaining on a state watch list. For our part, we did go out for ice cream one day, but otherwise have avoided public outdoor dining and are sticking to take-out and eating at home. Hair salons remain closed, so I gave poor Adam a terrible haircut a couple weeks ago, I hope some day he looks back on his pandemic photos and fondly remembers that his mother is a tech person, and not an artist. Still, maybe I should watch another YouTube video on cutting toddler hair.

The 4th of July was uneventful. It was the first in several years that we didn’t spend in Philadelphia, which is quite the change for us and I was a bit sad about it. This year I didn’t have a fancy outfit for Adam to celebrate the day, but he did wear some red, white, and blue socks. But no BBQs, gatherings, or formal fireworks shows. Instead MJ and I spent the evening after Adam went to sleep enjoying dinner while watching various neighbors setting off fireworks all over the place. Turns out this was a bit of a last hurrah for all the fireworks, like many places in the country people had been setting them off throughout June, much to the frustration of my need for sleep at a reasonable hour. It’s tapered off almost completely since then.

I recently had the back yard cleaned up and now have a monthly maintenance plan with a local service, so our back yard can be used again! It’s still unpleasantly mulch-filled, but the other day Adam and I went out to pick some plums.

Since he’s walking pretty steadily now, we’ve also learned just how much he loves going outside. So each evening we go out front together to collect the mail, but he really wanted to stay out there and play. So we decided it would be nice to get some toys for him to play with out back. We started with an inflatable kiddie pool, which we finally got a pump for and tried out last weekend. I got one that is big enough for me to climb in there with him, and which has a roof to keep the sun away. The whole thing is a lot of work, but he really had fun playing in the water outside. It’s been such a beautiful summer.

We also got him a play tent with some camping gear toys, and a small Little Tikes picnic table with umbrella so he can sit outside, maybe eat? Draw? Paint?

We’re still thinking about getting him a mini-playground with a slide to keep out back, but I think we’ll hold off while he enjoys these toys for now. Ultimately, it would be great if the pandemic subsided and it was actually safe to go back to one of the many community playgrounds in the area, but that’s probably months away.

Phew, that’s a lot of kiddo stuff. To say he’s taken over my life is a bit of an understatement. On social media you can usually see me talking about work or family now, as many of my other hobbies are taking a back seat while I pull together the energy to chase a toddler while pregnant. I am caught in a perpetual battle of wanting more time to myself and wanting to sleep more, even worse than I ever experienced in my pre-motherhood days.

Still, that doesn’t mean I have no time. I’ve started reading more, and carving out time here and there for some TV shows when I’m particularly tired. A few weeks ago I bought a refurbished Lenovo ThinkPad T460s through the employee purchase program at work. After a COVID-19 related warehouse delay, it arrived and I was able to have a nice evening of checking out the physical memory configuration (4G soldered on, 4G removable, upgradable to a 16G chip, which I have ordered!) and installing Xubuntu. This is replacing the HP EliteBook 850 that I bought back in 2014. The specs actually aren’t actually that much different, but the weight and size of the EliteBook was starting to get to me, and the battery life had been steadily dropping. And though I knew I would be (I had the T470 and T480 for work) I’m already quite happy with the T460s, especially since even with the memory upgrade, it was less than $500.

Like many of my fellow pandemic citizens, I’ve been doing some baking. I made brownies a few weeks ago, and most recently challah and banana bread. None of these things are particularly out of the ordinary for me, but I am probably doing more than I usually would because we’re eating at home for all our meals, snacks, and desserts now. Plus, Adam loves banana bread.

Pregnancy-wise, things are progressing as expected. Last week I had the last of the Big Tests to make sure everything looks good. It does! So I sit here at about 19 weeks along, with another 21 to go. The morning sickness is behind me, and I’m not quite as tired as I was during the first trimester, but my moods, heartburn, and the lump in my belly won’t let me forget I’m pregnant. Just like with the last pregnancy, I suddenly have a fondness for onion rings (I don’t usually like them) and I can’t eat frozen custard or strong cream cheese. The ice cream craving from my last pregnancy appears to have been replaced for one for popcorn, and popcorn isn’t usually a normal part of my diet.

The weather looks beautiful this weekend, so my plan is to catch up on some chores and go out now to set up the kiddie pool for this afternoon so we can have some nice family time. Should be a good weekend.

Four months of virtual events

It’s been over four months since I attended my last in-person conference, and last week marks the last conference I had on my schedule, but which was cancelled.

In these four months I’ve seriously attended probably a dozen online meetups, seriously participated in four virtual conferences, and gave four talks. As a whole, I am grateful that we can still connect and share knowledge with each other, but I’m really struggling with them, so here are some observations about virtual events.

It’s hard to stay focused on the event

Literally everything else in my life at home is conspiring to pull me away from participating in a virtual event. My family is just outside my home office door. Laundry is out there. I’ve really been meaning to re-organized my desk. Hey, a package has been delivered! And now it’s time for lunch, which doesn’t sync up with a break at the event because I’m in the wrong timezone.

I got to choose my own lunch and had a nice view!
But the session I wanted to attend was still during lunch…

And my “regular” work is still happening. During in-person events, I chime in “at work” when I can, but generally my colleagues know I won’t be responding quickly because I’m engaged in the event and out talking with the community. This is much harder with a virtual event, I’m right there! And engagement is considerably less, so I do actually have the bandwidth to hop on a meeting or reply to a work email when the current session isn’t essential to my participation.

All the conferences I’ve participating in have also been in a different time zone. That means I’m starting work at 7AM, but it doesn’t mean I’m stopping at 3PM to make up for that, colleagues assume I’m still around to my regular end of day. The other day I started at 7AM for an event, but I needed a sync up with a colleague in China, and so my last meeting for the day began at 6PM. Even if I am more flexible about my schedule on any given day (not working for a straight 12 hours), it’s still a long day.

I don’t attend things that aren’t essential to my participation

I’ll back up to this comment I made a paragraph ago. When I’m at an event, I book meetings with people and take advantage of the hallway track, but I’m an introvert and sometimes I find myself with some time, so I’ll duck into a talk that I wouldn’t normally go to, but I have a passing interest in. Sometimes it ends up feeling like a waste of time, but more often I learn something interesting, make a connection (technical or personal), or simply am happy showing up as a friendly, supportive face in a talk being presented by someone I know. This hasn’t been happening with virtual events. I have simply been avoiding non-essential talks, and even when something interesting does pop up, my attention often waivers, or I end up replacing it with an impromptu work call or other work-related tasks.

The worst part about this is that I don’t feel the impact of this immediately. I’m just using my time efficiently! But after the event I feel like I didn’t get enough out of the event, and that it was sometimes an echo chamber. Even if I learn a lot about and contribute to my specific focus for the event, I missed out on so many other cool things happening in the tech world!


This is a double-edged sword. Traveling is tiring and takes me away from my family, and it’s so nice waking up in my own bed every morning! I absolutely appreciated that a conference was made virtual in the midst of my worst pregnancy morning sickness.

But I love traveling. With most trips I take at least a couple hours to soak in the local sights, pick up some gifts for the kiddo, send a post card. I get such joy out of wandering around the world, visiting places (new and old!) and visiting with people I can’t see at home. It makes the long, exhausting days worth it. I now find myself with a serious case of wanderlust.

Things that helped me

1. Shorter talks.

I can’t stress this enough. It’s incredibly hard to sit through a 60 minute talk at home. I suggest maxing out at 45 minutes, but 15-30 is better. And take advantage of the lightning talk format!

2. An integrated chat mechanism during talks.

I say integrated because I went to a conference where they had a Slack organization for the event, which certainly had it’s strengths. It allowed attendees to congregate prior to the event, lots of channels were created for fun and interesting topics, and it wasn’t all centered around the talks, which I appreciated, since conferences are more than that! But as a participant, there was a much warmer feel to the sessions when I could see attendees chatting away and answering each other’s questions during the talk (often directed at the speaker, but quality answers from the audience are great, too!). When I was giving a talk, having a mechanism for attendees to send questions to me that came up in a section of my screen also reminded me that people were there and actually paying attention enough to ask questions.

Integrated chat!

3. Live attendee counts.

Virtual events are incredibly isolating, both as an attendee and a speaker. I can’t say how valuable it was knowing I wasn’t actually alone, and as a speaker that I wasn’t just speaking into the void.

4. Single track.

This is not going to be possible for a lot of events, but I the ones I’ve participated in that have been single-track gave me a much stronger closeness with the fellow attendees. We were all participating in the same sessions throughout the event, speakers could reference previous talks, and you gained some familiarity with the moderators and active participants in the chat.

Single track! Timezone mentioned! Integrated chat!

5. Visible themes.

You don’t need to have all of your speakers dressed up in costumes (though that does make things more interesting!), but even small things that make you feel like all the presenters are at the same event helps. That can be a custom slide deck theme that all presenters use, or a little toy or printed sign the speakers place on their desk during their talk. Just a little something that shows continuity instead of staring into an endless parade of home offices, living rooms, and kitchens.

As an attendee, I’ve also come up with a “visible theme” myself that has helped. I aggressively take photos at events to share on social media, and I wanted that continuity as I attended virtual events, but who wants endless pictures of my monitor? Well, there was no avoiding taking pictures of my monitor, but I kept myself entertained by having an ever-changing cast of stuffed animals joining me next to my monitor. Sometimes they’d be topical, with a penguin for an interview with Linus Torvalds and the SUSE chameleon for talks by SUSE employees, but just as often they were random. The key was that I got up between sessions to raid my stash of toys and brought a new one to each talk, also trying to mix up the camera angle as much as possible.

SUSE chameleon! Themed event slides!

At the one event, I also dressed for the occasion! Each day I wore a different t-shirt from a past iteration of the event and tweeted a photo just before the keynotes.

First day of the Open Source Summit, I wore my t-shirt from the event the year before!

6. Clear schedules.

This is one that came up for a couple the more corporate events. The headline sessions were promoted and highlighted extensively on the site, but there was no grid view of all talks, and it was a struggle to find some of the more niche topics.

This was frustrating as a participant and a speaker. A topic I spoke on was a bit niche (mainframes often are!), so it was nearly impossible to find on the schedule, and there were a few talks I knew were somewhere on the schedule, but I didn’t manage to find. Ultimately, I skipped all but a couple keynotes for one of these conferences, and only spoke at my own talks for the other. These two didn’t make the cut for my list of conferences I “seriously participated in” as mentioned at the beginning of the blog post, because the lack of a clear schedule just made it to hard for the event to be valuable to me.

And please, include the time zone on your schedule!

7. Encouraging social media presence.

Again, it’s hard to be drawn in and “feel” an event without fun pictures, but you can still lead the way in encouraging social media participation. As the event itself, keep tweeting! Retweet posts from attendees! Are you an open source project? Take some screenshots and tweet about speakers on your project!

It felt so nice to get a series of tweets from the Open Mainframe Project (image source)

Not all bad!

There are definitely upsides to virtual events. Many of them are free, or significantly cheaper than their in-person counterparts, allowing more people to overcome the financial barriers in place for attending. You have the opportunity to attract a more international audience because people aren’t required to travel.

MainframerZ Meetup! London-based, but I can regularly attend now that it’s virtual.

Giving the opportunity to share knowledge with so many more people at the actual event, instead of just videos posted afterwards, is not something to be overlooked. I hope that our experience from this year can continue the trend of some conferences being virtual and so we have the tools and expertise to improve these experiences for the future. Already I’m seeing changes in platform technology, and with every virtual event I attend I get a new experience and new ideas about how to bring us all together.

Weathering a Pandemic

Back in May, two months into shelter in place, I wrote about the frustration plaguing our communities. We were told to stay home until authorities figured out how to handle the pandemic, and then were given very little direction as to what to expect. People put their lives on hold, were put into impossible positions of not knowing how they’d feed their families in the coming months, and generally being demoralized (or worse) by the sudden shutdown.

Even as someone who is well-informed and doesn’t watch live TV (no hype from the 24-hour news networks for me!), I struggled with understanding what we were waiting for too. Our society and economy is not set up to absorb months of closures and mass unemployment. Even as it is, it’s going to take our country years to recover, and the situation is even more dire and personal for the most economically vulnerable among us. In the end, I’ve been cautious about the partisan narrative on either side, and have focused on what we’re hearing from respected scientists and doctors. This has included regular updates from Chair of UCSF Department of Medicine, Dr. Robert M. Wachter. His updates via Twitter and articles like the one that recently appeared in The Atlantic, Vigilance Had a Three-Month Shelf Life, provided perspective, sympathy and understanding, and science.

Through all of this, I learned what these four months have bought us: time for hospitals to prepare in terms of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other equipment, as well as space and additional preparedness training, time for the public to prepare with their own PPE, discovery of some current drugs on the market that help with treatment, and improvements with testing, contact tracing, and general monitoring. Plus, we learned from studies and other countries that successfully reduced the spread, that cloth masks and physical distancing work. This is all incredibly important. Our time at home was not totally wasted. We are not back at square one. We’re all learning and trying to cope, and it’s hard for everyone. One of the things I enjoy about Dr. Wachter’s posts is that he has tremendous empathy and understanding of human nature. My family is doing as well as can be expected, but even we have hard days and just wish this was over.

I am tiring of the conspiracy theories being thrown around by some of my fellow citizens though. I’m definitely a liberal, but I agree with my conservative relatives on several things, just not the conclusions they draw from it. I agree that we shouldn’t blindly follow government mandates like mask-wearing, and that it’s a slippery slope to becoming accustom to it, but I don’t believe the government is actually conditioning us for that. For one, I don’t think they’re together enough to orchestrate such a plan, and secondly, I believe what the evidence is showing us from other countries, I’m not blindly following anything. I agree that a cashless society is dangerous, but I believe businesses are going that route temporarily due to safety concerns for their employees and logistics (there is a coin shortage due to production ceasing). And as I began this post with, I’m deeply concerned about the economic impact this is having on people who don’t have the luxury of working from home, but I don’t think the answer is to open everything up and just let people get sick and die, I believe this is where the government should be stepping in to help expand unemployment and other benefits. It’s going to be expensive and it will take us years to dig ourselves out economically, but COVID-19 is not just going to disappear, and more of us will be alive at the end if we’re cautious and the government steps in to help those in need.

How we move forward is going to be up to us. I’m devastated that the pandemic hit at this point in our history, when science literacy is down and partisanship is up. As I mentioned in the post from May, things that should never have been made political were made so. A misunderstanding of the scientific process meant that people became distrustful of the very organizations tasked with our safety as their recommendations evolved with the evidence. I was grateful when our president finally got on board this week with mask-wearing, and I hope that it will help some of the more reluctant members of his party change their minds as well. Continuing to ignore it is only going to lead to more tragedy. We all need to be doing our part to take this seriously until treatment improves to an acceptable level and ultimately there is a safe vaccine.

Life, plants, and virtual events

It’s a little tricky to write about life during a pandemic because the days do kind of blend together and we don’t get out much. I was supposed to be in Ohio two weeks ago, and Austin last week, for conferences that were both made virtual. I miss traveling terribly, and I get most of my socialization from conferences and events, so while I’m happy that I get to isolate with my favorite people, I do miss other people.

I also miss typical chores being trivial matters. I wanted to drop by the grocery store real quick to pick up some things while I was out walking with Adam today, but I couldn’t. I don’t want him inside public places with other people, and I didn’t properly prepare for a grocery visit myself. Stopping by a coffee shop to grab something while taking the kiddo out? Nope. Going anywhere that requires going into indoor places while I’m watching Adam? No. We’re certainly lucky that we have this option, I am inconvenienced by all of this, but groceries can wait until MJ is available to watch Adam, and I probably didn’t need that iced tea drink anyway.

So, what have we done with this time at home? I’m continuing to grow a new human, I’ll be at 15 weeks tomorrow. The morning sickness didn’t disappear at 12 weeks like it did with Adam, but it lessened considerably and only a few days these past couple weeks have been tough. I’m still quite tired, so I’ve still been focused on work, Adam care, and chores that really need to be done to keep our house clean and orderly. We did finally manage to get a landscaper in to do the huge job of cleaning up the yard, and they’ll be coming back monthly now. I’m extremely happy that this is finally being handled, especially since we went through this all last year and the service flaked out on us after the big job was done. Caligula is a bit less than thrilled by his weed forest being gone.

I tried to cheer up Caligula by growing him some cat grass. I bought a whole kit to grow it and keep it out on my deck! Naturally, he’s totally ignoring it.

Adam’s still growing up faster than I can believe. He’s walking all over the place now, which my pregnant self is grateful for, and I get so much joy out of playing with him. He probably has more toys than he needs, but with us all at home all the time we’re doing our best to keep him entertained. We also just bought him a little inflatable pool for the back yard, which is a bit more complicated than it should be since we have no where to drain the 80 gallons of pool water once we’re done with it. We have a plan though.

I’ve started using reminders on my phone more often, and my plants are the primary beneficiary of this. The orchid I thought was long gone has sprouted new flowers! And the succulents that remain are actually surviving now. I’m sure being home so much helps too, no travel plans throwing schedules off.

Work is going remarkably well for me. There’s no question that the transition to digital events is hard, but it’s been interesting experiencing how different conferences are coping with it. I attended VM Workshop (the one that was supposed to be in Ohio) recently and having a chat embedded in the conference talks and a moderator passing the questions to the speaker was nice for engagement. This week I’ll be attending the Open Source Summit (replacement for the aforementioned Austin trip) and they even have virtual booths! And we’ve all been invited to join a Slack organization for the event, divided up into dozens of channels. I hope I can engage as much as I want to, but it remains incredibly difficult to stay focused on online events when the rest of my job beckons from just a screen away. I’m giving a talk and I have a set booth schedule, so we’ll see how it goes.

I took Friday off this past week to give myself a personal project day. I took a day off a few weeks ago and spent it doing piles of neglected chores that are difficult to do while watching Adam, but I was determined for this one to be different. I treated it like a normal work day, but instead of work I did paperwork, handled some Partimus treasurer tasks, got my personal email under control (no small task!), responded to merge requests on a personal open source project, and caught up with pressing Xubuntu work. I didn’t get through the whole list I prepared for myself and I long for time to work on some more interesting projects, but I feel so much better having gotten all of this off my plate, some of it had been waiting for six months.

The 4th of July comes up this weekend. It’s a holiday we’ve traditionally spent in Philadelphia, so it’s going to be a bit jarring not to be there this year. Still, I’ll appreciate another short work week and we’ll make the best of it with a lot of July 4th festivities also canceled due to the pandemic.

Walks, house projects and family, and BLM

As you might expect from the pregnancy news in my last blog post, I’ve been very tired lately, and morning sickness (which happens in the evening for me) has hit me hard. My energy has been reserved for work, kiddo, and as many chores as I can manage. My free time has been spent playing Animal Crossing on my Switch and watching TV. As I felt a bit lazy doing these two things, I’ve started increasing the amount I’m reading to replace some TV time, especially in the direction of my 18 month long queue of magazines that have piled up while we adjust to having a little one at home. Thankfully, I’m starting to see the light at the end of the first trimester, and if this pregnancy is anything like the last, I’ll feel much better soon.

Regardless of energy, I have been making time for walks when the weather allows (most days!). I load up a podcast, stick a mask in my pocket in case I encounter other humans, and wander around the neighborhood, and on weekends I get the pleasure of taking Adam along with me. Remaining active is incredibly important for my health and it helps my mood, so regardless of how I’m feeling, I force myself out of the house.

We have been making progress on house projects though. With the exception of Adam’s room (his door situation is complicated), we’ve finished the project of installing all the closet doors! In the end, we decided to go with metal knobs on the doors instead of the wooden ones they came with, and I think it was the right move, they look really good. It is also somewhat hilarious how excited I am about closet doors. If the house had just come with them, we wouldn’t have given them a second thought!

The increasingly early sunrise that comes with the change of season also caused us to scramble for blackout curtains for Adam’s bedroom. He’d been waking up just after 6AM every morning, and though he could usually be convinced to snooze until at least 7AM, it was all too early. So we installed a curtain rod and had some blackout curtains we bought online mended by a local tailor. Voila! His wake up time now averages closer to 8AM, and there are fewer super early wake up moments. I think his mood is better too, he really needs that extra hour of sleep, especially since he’s solidly in the one-nap-per-day camp now (instead of two).

With some of the shelter in place restrictions starting to lift, we were also able to hire someone to come clean up our yard, which I’ve simply been too exhausted to deal with. The front was done last week, and they’re coming back to finish getting the mountain of weeds removed from the back. I think the next phase may be re-mulching because the wind and time have really done a number on the mulch out back. We’ve also started collecting quotes for replacing our fence, a portion of which collapsed a few months ago during a particularly bad series of windy days. MJ has put up a temporary barrier so Caligula can still go out back without escaping, but now that we can finally have people come out to give quotes again we’re hoping to move forward on replacement once we can get that scheduled (probably still a couple months away).

We’ve had some bad luck with glass lately. On my way to Target a couple weeks ago a rock slammed into the windshield and caused two massive cracks. It’s unclear where the rock came from, traffic on the highway has been a lot less than usual and I wasn’t near anyone else, but that’s how these things go. The new windshield has been ordered and I hope to have it replaced next week. This week we also had the glass top of our stove crack. There was a large chip on the edge that was there when we bought the house, and the giant crack that now spans the entire glass (and two of the four burners) started with that chip, and was probably inevitable. It won’t be cheap to fix, and it’s yet another kitchen thing we’re replacing before the remodel that we still hope to do in a few years, but nothing can be done about it. For now we’re using the other two burners, and I’ll start calling around next week to get some quotes for glass replacement.

A few weeks ago Adam got his second hair cut, and the first one at home! He’s definitely going back to a barber as soon as it’s safe, because cutting hair is not, and will never be, my forte. The hair cut was effective though. MJ also got his second shelter in place haircut, which was considerably easier than Adam’s because he usually adheres to my “sit still” commands and his hair trimmer makes the process pretty straightforward. Still, he’s going back to the barber too! I suspect they both have at least two more at-home haircuts in the future though.

With us all working from home with shelter in place, we’re thrilled to all be home for Adam’s latest milestones. He started walking, though he still prefers to crawl. His au pair also noticed he was getting a little bored on his stroller walks around the neighborhood, especially since they no longer include visits to shops, so she suggested getting him his first baby trike. It’s designed to grow with him, so while he can’t peddle yet, it does give him a more interesting experience around the house. We also got him a little basketball hoop for the family room, which he’s been enjoying.

Shelter in place is continuing to wear on us though. I miss just popping out to the store without thinking about it, I miss restaurants. I really miss going back to our home east to see family and friends (and eat good pizza), which we normally would have already done twice already this year. Still, it’s also scary to see things start to open up. On Wednesday I got a news alert telling me that cases in my county have doubled, while neighboring counties have started dropping. On Friday I got a news alert telling me that our county is moving forward with re-opening. It’s hard to understand what we’re doing here. As I mentioned previously, very little has changed since shelter in place began in March. It feels like we gave up trying to handle this, and now people are just going to get sick, and many people will die. As for us, as mentioned we have been meeting with contractors outdoors (and we do need our stove fixed), and we’ll probably slowly start to open our social circle. But life will not change drastically for us in the coming months. No traveling, no dining in, no movie theaters, no big gatherings. Masks on, and limited contact with the public.

Finally, it’s worth talking about current events, which is quite rare for me here. The Black Lives Matter movement picked up steam this month in a series of massive protests around the world. As a cause, it’s one that has rarely touched me personally, but their goals have been consistent with my liberal political views since the movement began. Unfortunately, like many white liberals, my support has been silent while I spent time on other things in my life and politics. This was not helpful. The momentum this time around actually drove me to make donations to specifically support BLM causes and to start amplifying black voices more aggressively. Being pregnant during a pandemic means I didn’t join the local protest in my town (which started at the high school, was peaceful, and included a lot of young people and families), but I did what I could from home and online to be supportive and vocal about the unprecedented, multi-day 8PM curfew imposed at the county level to restrict our freedom to protest. It’s still not enough, and I do still feel like a useless, armchair commentator, but it is the best I feel I can do under the circumstances.

It does feel like a real turning point this time though. I’ve been changed by it, and polls are showing that general sympathy for the cause is growing, and the wheels of real police reform have started to move in many places. I’m excited and grateful to be at this turning point, especially after living through a heartbreaking spike in very open and vocal racism, egged on a president whose biggest accomplishment is dividing our nation along cruel political lines. We have so much to do, it’ll take years, decades, but I finally have hope again that we are on the road to real reform and healing as a nation.

I’m growing another human!

In early April I was feeling very tired. At first I just assumed it was a month of being cooped up at home was just getting to me, but it turns out I had a very good reason to be tired, I was pregnant!

We’re due in December!

And it’s another boy!

So far, all the tests and two ultrasounds have come back showing a healthy pregnancy, so I’m thrilled to be able to tell everyone now.

Getting here was an interesting road. We knew we wanted two children, and preferred spacing that would put them about two years apart. This means we were trying while the pandemic was ramping up. The specter of being pregnant during a pandemic weighed heavily on us, but my doctor agreed that it was a manageable situation, whereas my age was less of one. I turn 39 in September, and this pandemic won’t be over quickly. If we wanted a second child before I turned 40 and the risks go up again, now was as good a time as any.

The pandemic certainly has had an impact though. MJ can’t come with me to prenatal appointments, so I’ve had to video conference him in to see the ultrasounds. I had a sinus infection right before my first appointment, so I had to get a COVID-19 test a couple days before so I’d be clear to enter the office with some of the symptoms. We have to be extra careful about going out in public, since pregnancy makes me immunocompromised. There’s not a lot of data about COVID-19 and pregnancy, so it is a little scary, especially since the infection rates in my area are remaining high. We’re also uncertain if we’ll be able to get back to Philadelphia this year, between the travel risk remaining high and as the due date approaches at the end of the year it’ll be difficult and unwise for me to travel anyway.

That said, it’s been a somewhat convenient situation given our life this year. MJ and I aren’t going into our respective offices, so staying at home and having support here during my first trimester has been really nice. Our beloved au pair still here with us, so Adam has care while we’re working and most days we all get to have lunch together.

I also travel a lot for work normally, and I was scheduled for three back-to-back events in two states during the worst of my morning sickness. Two of the events were canceled, and one went virtual, so I was able to stay home and adjust my hours as needed. My boss has been wonderful with regard to this need for flexibility, and I’m definitely benefiting from the general flexibility that a lot of my co-workers also need to balance work and family life during a pandemic.

And we’re excited! The adjustment of life from one to two children will not be close to what the shift that zero to one was, but it will be a big, exciting change for our family. Siblings are super cute, my middle sister and I were 22 months apart, and when we were kids we played together all the time. I’m looking forward to experiencing the relationship that will develop between our boys as they grow up together.

Sunshine and Video Conferences

This is the post I had intended to write when the other one popped out. I was just going to write a quick aside about the cultural side and our frustration over the situation, and it turned into a whole thing! Let’s get back on track by talking about our day to day life during shelter in place, shall we?

It’s hard to believe it’s been over a month since I wrote my Shelter in Place entry. The passage of time seemed to speed up in April, after March felt so long. I think it’s because of how much changed in March. In the beginning of the month everything was normal, we were even still traveling! News came quickly as the closures piled up. April, and now into May, we’ve had a lot of sameness. The shelter in place orders haven’t changed here in the bay area in two months. Thankfully MJ and I are still able to work normal schedules from home during the week, as our au pair cares for little Adam. The weekends are home-bound, but we have little home improvement projects here and there. We eat at home, work at home, sleep at home. We go out just to pick up food and groceries, or to essential doctor visits.

Pretty much all events I was planning to attend this year have been canceled or moved virtual. This meant that instead of celebrating Passover with our congregation in San Francisco like we’ve done these past few years, we did our first one at our own home! We picked up a Seder kit from Wise Sons in San Francisco, complete with brisket and other side dishes, and got out MJ’s vintage seder plate. We did it a little early in the evening so Adam could enjoy the festivities with us.

For the second night, we joined a community Seder over Zoom with some of MJ’s friends and acquaintances. Done at the proper time, Adam joined us for the beginning and then we enjoyed this much longer Seder and meal late into the evening. I’m glad that virtual Seders were approved as a form of celebration this year, in spite of the situation, it was really meaningful to participate with people from across the country.

With in-person events being canceled at work, I’ve had to get more creative with my job. I’m participating in a lot of events that have gone virtual, but I realized that “taking a photo of the speaker” doesn’t really translate well into virtual events, so I’ve had to figure out alternative ways to share my experience. At a recent Open Mainframe Project event I brought my own audience, so each photo of my speaker featured a different crew of critters. It was silly, but it was fun and memorable. And especially for the speakers, my hope is that it helped with the interactive feel of the event, something I know very well having done a few presentations myself now while staring into the webcam and hoping people were listening on the other end.

On April 15th we got to the “MJ needs a haircut” part of shelter in place. With some electric clippers in hand, we headed out to the back yard and I did my worst. Or best. Either way, it actually turned out fine! Though I suspect we’ll have at least one more at home haircut to complete before this is all over.

We’ve continued playing games in the evenings, most recently adding Exploding Kittens and Blackjack to our pile of games. We’ve migrated from our dining room table to the actual card table that we have downstairs in the living room. Being home all the time means we seem to be using almost the entire house every day, which is nice.

Through all of this I also realized it’s easy to get very sedentary, especially these past few weeks as I’ve battled a sinus infection. So I’ve started taking walks every day that the weather allows, and with it being spring in northern California, that is most days! Other days I commit to time on the treadmill. It’s already making an improvement to my evening mood.

The sinus infection has been an unfortunate turn of events. It started in mid-April, and I just finished a round of antibiotics this past Thursday. Timing was not great. The sinus infection gave me a terrible cough and sore throat during the worst of it, which I’d have to declare when I went to see my doctor for an unrelated matter. I knew they wouldn’t let me in with these symptoms, so I was sent to a COVID-19 drive-up testing facility in Fremont to get tested. The test is not as bad as it looks, but when you have a raging sinus infection that is already making your sinuses hurt, it ends up being an incredibly unpleasant experience. The swab was taken at noon on Friday, and I had the results back by 9AM Saturday morning. So I was all clear for my appointment on Monday!

I haven’t been the only one not feeling well, Caligula has been losing weight and sleeping a lot. He’s been in and out of the vet, and we’ve done over a dozen tests to see what’s wrong and he’s now on some medication and we switched from dry to wet food after his eating nearly ceased. At sixteen years old, we know he’s only got so much time left, but we want to do everything we can to make sure his frailness and increased fondness for sleeping is not due to some kind of preventable disease. So far we haven’t found anything, so we’re just doing our best to make sure he’s happy and fed.

Finally, we’ve been trying to carve out some time to work on a few projects at home. The family room is in pretty decent shape, we moved the chair from Adam’s bedroom into there, so adults have a place to sit while Adam plays. Most of the room is devoted to his toys. The last big thing in that room is getting the flat screen TV in a safer position. It’s OK for his age now, but at some point soon we’ll have a tipping risk, so it either needs to be secured to the table it’s on, or mounted on the wall.

We’re also making major progress on getting the bedroom closet doors installed! We did my office first, completed the master bedroom last weekend, and hope to do the other bedroom this weekend. The nursery will have to wait, as those closet doors are behind the door to the room, and the door to the room would currently collide with them. My hope this weekend is that we can get the hardware installed on the doors too, so we can open the doors without having to reach to the top of them! They do look good so far, which I’m grateful for, it’s been an expensive, long project.

Our county is preparing to slowly start opening more businesses for curbside pickup. I’m happy about this change, as I know small businesses are suffering with the closure, and I hope they’ll be able to staff their shops and get enough business to keep going. We’ll definitely be cautiously patronizing all of the ones we can. I mean, I haven’t gotten new comic books in two months! It’s a small step, but does get us on the path. As I mentioned in that last post, I don’t feel safe in the path we’re on to reopening, but we’ve built a society where we can’t actually stay cooped up forever, and the tests we need to have in place simply haven’t materialized. Hoping for the best, and we’ll continue to be careful.

The Growing Frustration of Shelter in Place

As we hit the two month mark for Shelter in Place here in the Bay Area, I figured it was a good time to reflect. I’ll jump right in and say that there’s been tremendous failure at almost every level. As a generally positive person, this is quite a statement for me. If there’s anything positive I take from all this, it is how many people are good and want to do the right thing. We see protesters and unmasked crowds on the news, but most people I interact with when I’m out are being good and thoughtful citizens. It’s also fascinating to see how small businesses have been adapting, from their own, creative DIY protections for employees and customers, to pivots, with some restaurants not only doing take-out, but offering “grocery packages” and meal kits for cooking at home. One nearby restaurant even had toilet paper in their grocery package!

Leadership from the government? A disaster. The federal government failed us completely. Even as a small government fan, pandemic response is the kind of thing they actually should be doing. Instead, they left it up to the states, in spite of us all being in the same pool. State leadership has constantly contradicted the federal government, each other, and themselves. Local leadership in many places has been even worse.

And most sadly on a personal level, partisan politics has become woven into every step of this. Reasonable precautions to keep each other safe being turned into a political position. Wearing a mask in public and hand washing should never have become political. There is nothing new or factually controversial about these precautions against the spread of viruses. It’s science. And it’s our health, our lives.

But even I’m getting frustrated. I was happy to comply with the Shelter In Place orders while we figured out what to do. The number one priority had to be immediately slowing the spread so that our hospitals would not become overwhelmed. Here in northern California we succeeded, but now what? Criteria for re-opening has been slow to come and unclear. It’s often focused on what will happen with each phase rather than what actually needs to happen or change before we get to each phase. As the weeks go on, there’s pressure for even what we have for re-opening criteria to be relaxed or outright ignored so we can re-open more quickly.

But the evidence shows this virus has a long incubation period and a high rate of asymptomatic cases. Without widely available active infection testing and antibody testing, we have no idea who is sick, who has recovered, and who has yet to be exposed. Without this information, the only thing we’ve bought over these two months of financial hardship and sacrifice is time for hospitals to prepare. That’s an important step, but a lot of people are still going to get sick and die when we re-open. We’re going to be right back where we were two months ago, but with more room in the hospitals. Is that all we can really hope for at this stage? After all that? No wonder people are upset.

My family will still comply with restrictions and exercise caution even long after the worst has passed, but we’re also privileged enough that this whole thing has been a big inconvenience rather than a real hardship. We can effectively work from home, we have not suffered income loss, our childcare needs are met, and we haven’t been hit by the worst of the shortages. But most of my life was spent living paycheck to paycheck, so I have tremendous empathy for those who are facing financial ruin in the face of this crisis, and now have to contemplate putting themselves and their family at risk to go back to work too soon. It breaks my heart, and there’s little we can do. We follow health guidelines, shop and eat local, and have adjusted our charitable giving to match the current needs, but it doesn’t feel like enough.

Hindsight is 20/20, but while the specifics of this pandemic and virus are new, we’ve understood how viruses generally spread for a long time. That the federal government is scrambling to figure out a response, and every state seems to be on their own coming up with a plan, is ridiculous. Pandemics happen, it was inevitable, why were we so poorly prepared? The answer does get political, and that in itself is a problem. This should have been a time when we came together to fight this tiny enemy killing our species, and instead it’s been a fear-fueled, political mess. If we had just been presented with a clear plan to fight this from the beginning so we knew what to expect and the criteria for moving forward, we’d all be in a much better place. People are smarter than either side of the political spectrum would like to believe right now. Fear and uncertainty are what’s tearing us apart and providing a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theories and misplaced anger.

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS… on Big Iron!

Today we saw the release of Ubuntu 20.04 LTS!

Alongside the fanfare of a new server and desktop release for AMD64, and my own beloved Xubuntu, this new version walks in the path of 16.04 and 18.04 to be the third LTS to support the s390x mainframe architecture for IBM Z.

If you have been following my adventures over the past year, you’ll know that I’m just shy of my one year anniversary at IBM, where I’ve been working on the IBM Z team to spread the word among open source communities about the mainframe. The epic hardware on these machines was definitely one of the hooks for me, but the big one was the amount of open source tooling that was being developed for them. The ability to run Linux on them sealed the deal. I wrote last week about some new hardware, and mentioned then that Ubuntu 20.04 supports the new Secure Execution technology for virtual machines.

So, what else is new for Ubuntu 20.04? At the top of my list would be improved support for the new IBM z15 hardware, released back in September. A number of changes made it into the 19.10 release, but 20.04 builds further upon this, especially around support for the compression and encryption features of the z15. Additionally, Subiquity is now the default installer for Ubuntu Server for s390x, which you can read more about here: A first glimpse at subiquity, the new server installer, now also on s390x.

This is just a taste of what is in store for users of Ubuntu on the mainframe. The list of major changes, along with the Launchpad bug/feature report numbers that tracked development throughout this cycle can be found over on the Ubuntu on the Big Iron blog in a post by Frank Heimes: A new Ubuntu LTS is available: Focal Fossa aka 20.04.

Finally, that fossa stuffed toy is mighty cute, right? You can have one too! With a donation to the World Wildlife Fund to “Adopt a Fossa.” Just keep it away from your lemur toys.

Ubuntu and the new IBM LinuxONE III LT2

Back in September I wrote about Ubuntu on the new LinuxONE III. For the release of this new mainframe, there were balloons, and cake, and we had a great time celebrating. With Shelter in Place orders spreading throughout the US, we don’t have cake this time, but we do have a new hardware release!

The IBM LinuxONE III LT2 follows in the footsteps of the initial release, with support for the great PCIe cards that the LT1 has, but aimed at the mid-range market. Most notably, that means it only comes in a single frame version (versus the option of up to four frames for the LT1), the processor cores run at 4.5ghz, instead of 5.2ghz, and they are all air-cooled.

I wrote more about the hardware here: Inside the new IBM z15 T02 and LinuxONE III LT2.

What’s particularly notable here is that there’s an Ubuntu LTS release coming out next week. So, in addition to all the LinuxONE III features that Ubuntu 19.10 has for the LinuxONE, this new release will also have support for a new Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) for IBM Z, Secure Execution. If you’re interested in Secure Execution specifically, I wrote about that, too: Technical Overview of Secure Execution for Linux on IBM Z. For those who are curious adaptions in the kernel, qemu, and s390-tools were made for Ubuntu 20.04 to support Secure Execution on both LinuxONE III models, and Linux running on the IBM z15 and the new z15 T02.

I’m looking forward to the Ubuntu 20.04 LTS release next week and all the latest goodies that brings to the s390x mainframe platform. I’ll be doing an overview blog post next week, but keep an eye on the Ubuntu on Big Iron blog for an in-depth update of all the work that has gone into this LTS release.