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Texas Linux Fest 2024

The last Texas Linux Fest I attended was all the way back in 2014, which means it had been a full 10 years since I’d been. I was supposed to speak at the event in 2020, but no one spoke in 2020, so I was really happy to finally, finally be back.

But first, I made a stop at the IBM office in Austin where I met up with my colleagues Daniel and Chris. I met Daniel at a taco truck where I had a much-needed post-flight lunch, and then he gave me a tour of the office. I even managed to find a random, roaming IBM Selectric II typewriter!

Then I got to enjoy happy hour out with several other folks from the office before returning back to my hotel for the night.

The first day of the conference I mostly spent meeting people and in the expo hall chatting with folks from Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux. They both have builds for s390x, so it was really nice to finally meet the folks I’ve worked with online, and talk with them in person about their current utilization and changes in needs. And that evening I was able to grab dinner and ice cream with my contact at Rocky Linux.

The second day was the one that was filled with talks. The event kicked off with a keynote from Anita Zhang about her career, and how unexpected choices at various stages led to the success she’s found today. From there I went directly to a talk by Matt Mullins of the Connections Museum Seattle titled “The oldest Linux peripheral” where he talked about a panel switch from 1923 that’s now hooked up to a Linux box to manage operations. It was a really cool talk, and looks to be a fascinating museum with a lot of old telecommunications equipment. The hours they’re open don’t line up with my upcoming visit to Seattle, but maybe next time, I know it’s something MJ would love to see.

From there I went to a talk from Paul Novarese on “The Legacy of Log4Shell and the Future of DevSecOps” where he gave a bit of a tour of the open source security landscape, and shared statistics around the exponentially growing number of open source projects and versions available, along with the corresponding rise in CVE assignments and NIST Vulnerability Database analysis work. Some of his observations centered around the fact that these procedures were developed at a time when the open source ecosystem was a lot smaller, and the dependency chain was somewhat less abstracted (or at least, less complicated). He talked about SBOMs (Software Bill of Materials) that can help organizations get a handle on the supply chain, but analysis and fixes also have to keep up so you have data to search for in that SBOM as you look for vulnerable software.

I took lunch a little early so I could prepare for my talk, and ended up at Terry Black’s BBQ across the street from the venue.

My talk on “Why (and how) would you run Linux on the Mainframe?” went well! It was well-attended and I think about half the attendees had a passing familiarity with mainframes, but a lot of the audience was new to the topic, which is about what I’d expect at a Linux event these days. People had great questions and it was really fun to geek out about it for the rest of the event, even at the after party for the conference the questions and discussions continued over drinks.

From there I went to Kyle J. Davis’ talk “Container Optimized Linux: The best idea you’re probably not using.” He had worked with Bottlerocket, but Flatcar and Talos are also in the host container OS space, and while I vaguely knew they existed, this was the first time I sat down and dedicated a few minutes to hear someone talk about them. The slim model they have for these distributions makes a lot of sense, since you really do only need a tiny, secure, environment to actually run the containers on, and everything can be externally orchestrated. While not directly applicable to me right now (IBM has done a lot of work on our own secure container environments), it is something I’ll keep in mind if the opportunity arises.

The final talk I attended before lightning talks and closing was around the Fedora work with Asahi Linux to bring it to the ARM-based Apple macs. I don’t have a great interest in this hardware specifically, but I always enjoy hearing about other architecture porting work that’s happening, and it was interesting to see the challenges that they’re presented with, along with progress and solutions.

For dinner before the after party I ended up eating with folks I knew from the OpenStack, and broadly, the Fedora community, before we all walked over to the Gibson Street Bar. I was feeling a little tired at this point, but I ended up staying clear through until 10PM. I then took a short detour over to a mailbox to send off a post card for the boys before retiring to my hotel.

Today is Sunday and I’m off on my next adventure: Seattle for the Open Source Summit!

Spring break 2024 in Philly

For spring break (and an extra week) we decided to head out to Philadelphia to visit with the family, and have me do a couple side trips for Poughkeepsie and CPOSC. Unfortunately, for the first week a stomach bug swept through our house. First, Adam was sick for 24 hours. Two days later I came down with it. Two days after that it got Aaron. It meant that we kept believing we were in the clear and then being surprised by another one of us falling ill, and delayed any visits with family. Boo.

Thankfully we were clear by week two, and finally got to see people! Irina and little Sammy came over several evenings, and in spite of some squabbles between our pair of three year olds, it was really nice to just have chill family time at home.

I also decided I wanted to organize the toys a bit better, so one evening Adam helped me assemble a small, metal shelving unit.

Along with a new basket we picked up at Ross for their stuffed animals, the play area of the living room is looking a bit less chaotic now.

We got to hit all our favorite restaurants in the area and visit with our friends Danita and David before they left on their move to Portugal. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate, and we had a bunch of rainy days, and it ended up being quite chilly out. Still, they are my little California boys and they long for the outdoors, so when it wasn’t raining we put on jackets and rode bikes.

The solar eclipse was on Monday, and so was our flight home. It was only partial for Philadelphia, so I didn’t feel that bad about being in the airport when it happened, and it was still a cool experience. It got a little dark outside, and I think it made our flight delayed a little, but that gave Aaron and Adam a little time to check out the cockpit of our plane.

I was only home for a couple of chaotic days before my next trip. I wish I could have planned it better, since Aaron started preschool the same morning I left, so I was scrambling to get everything ready for him. It worked out OK though, and we all made it to our respective places on Thursday. Unfortunately we were also hit with some unfortunate news right before I left, so MJ will need to book some travel very soon, which we’re hoping won’t overlap with my own travels this week.

Celebrating 60 years of mainframe in Poughkeepsie

On April 7, 1964 the IBM System 360 was launched, with much fanfare from (and risk to) IBM. I’ve recently been reading the biography on Tom Watson Jr. (The Greatest Capitalist Who Ever Lived) and it was fascinating to read about what led up to this launch, specifically that even 10 years prior to it, the company wasn’t certain that computers were the direction they’d go in. Mechanical tabulators were doing well! But it didn’t take long for computers to take off once organizations were introduced to the speed increases they offered. The System 360 was quite the gamble though. Massive investment in research, and it made the computers that came before it immediately undesirable due to their lack of flexibilty and inability to move into the future. Indeed, the 360 offered the opposite: a legacy that has now stretched into 60 years. Almost everything has changed about computing since 1964, but hints of the architecture built then are still present if you know where to look for them. In some cases, a program written for a 360 could even be tweaked to run on an IBM z16 that rolled off the assembly line today.

In order to celebrate hitting the milestone of 60 years since the release, IBM hosted internal events around the world. I happened to be in Philadelphia during the celebration day on Thursday, April 4th, and decided to make the trek up to the place where much of the research and development, and ultimately the launch, happened back then: Poughkeepsie, NY. I’d been to the office once before, back in 2019, but I was definitely overdue for another visit to the IBM mainframe homeland. This was a perfect opportunity.

I took an Amtrak up from Trenton, through New York City where I was treated to visiting the beautiful new Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station.

From there I enjoyed the second leg of my journey that took me straight to Poughkeepsie, where I was met by the social media famous Pasquale “PJ” Catalano, who brought me to the office and introduced me to folks who worked on the test floor. Then I got to visit the test floor itself! He posts about it frequently on social media, what feels like a rare and remarkable glimpse inside an IBM facility, so I had a passing familiarity with various locations, but an in-person visit is something else entirely. 200+ mainframes humming away in various states of testing, it was like nowhere I’ve ever been!

It’s also a lovely datacenter. It’s obviously an active, used, test floor, but it’s well-organized and tidy, clearly the team has a level of discipline that many production data centers would envy. I think part of this comes from the culture at IBM in general, but I’m sure some of it is also hard-won from experience, if you fail to label something or are careless about routing, it will come back to haunt you, and waste a lot of time in the future.

I got to hold a memory chip and a heatsink for an IBM Telum for the first time!

Plus an actual dual-chip module holding a couple Telum chips (I had previously held just a Telum in a case back at TechXchange in September).

I got to check out a rack-mount z16 for the first time.

And to my delight I finally got to see the beautiful IBM LinuxONE doors!

Visiting the mainframes of today felt to be a truly fitting way to honor the 60 year legacy of the IBM System 360, but after getting to see some other mainframe goodies while PJ got some work done, we made our way to the cafeteria for the real party. The IBM Corporate Archives had put together a whole hallway of displays!

They even graciously honored PJ’s request to open up the IBM System 360 they had on display and let us get some pictures “inside” it. Bliss!

Let me tell you, I had a wonderful time geeking out with these folks. I’ve always loved history, and with my work in this space I’ve developed a true appreciation for how legendary IBM is, and this is the heart of it. I also fear I talked the ear off of one woman from the archives who had a typewriter skirt on, as I shared all about my collection. Next time I’m in Poughkeepsie I’m definitely going to ask to see their own typewriter and mechanical calculator collection.

From there we grabbed some lunch and then went to the celebration itself. I ran into several folks I didn’t know worked out of Poughkeepsie, so those were all delightful surprises. Career-wise I’ve definitely gained value in meeting up with colleagues in-person from time to time, as it really does help solidify those bonds that keep us working well together at a distance. I also finally got to meet our fearless leader in IBM Z and LinuxONE, Ross Mauri!

And then there was cake! After which I took some time to meet with a couple other colleagues, and concluded my day meeting with a long time friend who came down to visit from the IBM Quantum division. We had coffee and then he graciously dropped me back off at the train station for my 5:30 train back to Trenton.

In all, a long day but one that was incredibly satisfying. And I already have a list of people to talk to and things to see during my next visit, maybe some time over the summer?

CPOSC 2024

Regional open source conferences are so important. I’m reminded of this yet again as I come home from another Central Pennsylvania Open Source Conference (CPOSC), which for the second year in a row aligned with our spring visit to Philadelphia. They may not have the numbers power to impress the marketing team or whoever is looking at statistics for event sponsorship, but as a speaker or an individual attendee, they are some of the most important events I participate in.

First, they tend to mostly attract locals, so you meet folks you won’t see at other conferences and allow you to get an idea for what’s popular and how they’re using technology in their region. Secondly, they tend to be inexpensive, most are under $100. This is in vast contrast to some of the larger events put on by major tech players, where a ticket can easily run into the thousands. Plus, even if you can’t afford that, all the events I’ve gone to also have generously granted free passes to folks from various demographics, ensuring that the attendees are a diverse crowd. They also often happen on weekends (CPOSC is on a Saturday), which means folks who can’t get off from work to attend events can participate.

I also feel like these conferences get me closer to what most folks are doing with open source software at their organizations now. They aren’t all showing off the newest things, but they are showing off things that are incredibly popular and broadly used, and that gives a more genuine snapshot of where the industry is, rather than where it may be going. But I think the most important thing for me though is discovering pockets of innovation that I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered. From the individuals developing new ideas to the small companies that sponsor these events having innovative business models, these events are always remarkable for learning fascinating new things that may be overlooked elsewhere.

AI has been a big topic at a lot of events, and it was interesting to see how it unfolded at CPOSC. One talk centered around the idea of creating a digital self using the AI technology of today, including voice synthesis services and LLM prompts that are fed a lot of personal data. It was an interesting talk, but definitely keeps us in uncanny valley. The next talk that included an AI focus was a panel made up of a family unit, a pair of married professors whose work is both in computing, and a son who works in the tech industry but doesn’t code. The son demonstrated using ChatGPT to create code from a library for a device he was testing, and with English he was able to explain what he wanted the code to do, and have it spit out the code to do it. The resulting discussion was around how we teach software development. How much of the fundamentals of coding do we teach now? Should we also be teaching LLM prompt engineering? It was an interesting discussion that compared this transition to the one to higher level languages beyond Assembly (a parallel I’ve made myself as well) and doubling down on the fact that we will need some folks whose job is software engineering, even if some of the coding can now be done by AI.

I think for me the more interesting question for me was how many doors this opens for folks who don’t know how to code, but for whom having code written for them would transform their ability to succeed. I’ve known so many people over the years who needed to learn how to code, but don’t enjoy it and wish they could have stayed on their original path in arts, sciences, or where ever. How many ideas in the sciences have we lost because the experts in their respective fields are too busy doing basic coding work to make their breakthroughs? Or worse, just gave up? Or wasted their time doing things manually, forsaking computers entirely? There is a need for fast, high quality code, but I think for most people the ability to further streamline their interactions with computers on their own terms with code developed by LLMs is an exciting prospect. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling a bit apprehensive about use of AI in technology, but I’ve definitely turned a corner to be my more hopeful self again.

My own talk at the event happened just before lunch, where I was talking about building your open source project for various architectures. It was similar to the talk I gave a few weeks before at SCALE, but with a few localized tweaks and improvements from the last time I gave it, slides are here: Will_your_open_source_project_run_on_a_mainframe_Or_on_a_smartwatch_-_CPOSC_2024.pdf.

I’ve had some good feedback, and more to respond to post-event via email. Overall, I’m thrilled to see how much interest there is in software testing these days, and that people are thinking beyond the defaults in order to bring in more advanced testing techniques and tooling.

Naturally, I also brought along my props. This time it was an IBM Power Systems tux penguin, the VisionFive 2 SBC, and the 3d-printed IBM z16 I keep at our townhouse in Philadelphia, except for special outings like this one.

The final talk I went to before the closing lightning talks was on “How to get your ideas implemented at your organization” and it gave me a lot to think about. Career development-wise I’ve been advised to get more methodical about stakeholder buy-in, especially as I pursue ideas that are not universally popular. The speaker outlined the strategies he’s come up with for being successful here, partially based on the time he spent as a Chief Innovation Officer. A huge part of this is just sitting down with people to listen to how your idea impacts them, incorporate feedback, and develop a sense of shared ownership for the idea. It gave me a lot to think about and helped solidify my own natural tendency to just reach out to people and ask. I think for me what would help the most is some training on how to be more tactful and polished when I approach people, since I can be very technical and direct by nature.

Of course, I also know people at CPOSC. I was able to meet up with several folks I know, including my long-time events-all-over pal Jason Plum of GitLab. CPOSC or the Philly Linux Users Group are where I get to catch up with most people I see there, so I always look forward to this opportunity to catch up.

I went to the after party for a bit to grab pizza and a beer while continuing chats with folks, including a few people I randomly ended up with as we walked over to the venue. I think we all have a natural tendency not to end up alone at events, so we latch on to a few people, which I absolutely do, but I also have grown comfortable with walking around alone and coming up with things to talk about with strangers. It’s a little anxiety-inducing, but it pays off in spades over time. Many long-time relationships have been forged after chance meetups in hallways.

My friend Will walked me halfway to the train station at the conclusion of my stay in Lancaster, which was a lovely time to catch up. The train ride home was uneventful, though it was a long day and I was tired, so I curled up with some podcasts for most of the journey home. We’ll see where this event lands next year and whether I’m close enough to attend, but it certainly was a delight to stop by two years in a row!

An electromechanical calculator

Back in August, Adam and I came across a mechanical calculator while picking up my freshly repaired IBM Selectric II from Berkeley Typewriter. I knew mechanical calculators existed, but I didn’t really know anything about them. Still, I filed it away in my “maybe some day” list, if I happened to come across one.

Fast forward to March 2024 and we’re sitting at the San Francisco airport waiting on a dreadfully delayed flight, and a fellow I know through the Philadelphia area Linux community reached out and mentioned he was helping with an estate sale, and came across some typewriters and asked if I’d be interested in any of them. I had less interest in the typewriters, but among the photos he shared was a mechanical calculator! I’m in. Bonus: I’m about to board a flight to Philadelphia! What timing!

It was a bit of a trek to get up to the estate, but I was greeted with what turned out to be an electromechanical calculator, meaning it has a small DC motor inside to move the mechanical components that were driven by a hand crank in other models. The trouble with this is that we’re looking at a motor that’s easily over 70 years old, and the power cable is cracked and unusable, so will need to be replaced for it to work as an electric device again. Thankfully, the mechanical components looked clean and intact, so I purchased it from the estate.

Once I got it home, the first step was to do a once-over cleaning-wise, starting with the case, which had been living in a barn and was too dirty for me to even be comfortable bringing it into the house. On a beautiful Sunday morning, the boys enthusiastically helped me with it.

From there, I could take a closer look at the machine, in all its glory!

It really is in nice shape, I’d argue even better than the one we saw at the typewriter shop. I still need to clean it up a bit more, but a once-over was good enough for now.

Sunday night I went into research mode to see what I could discover about it, especially when it came to getting it working. After doing enough web searching to know what to look for, I found a tip that told me to peek inside a slot on the bottom to find the model number and serial number. It took a flashlight and some wrangling, but I found it: Monroe Model LA5-200, serial number 437578.

The first things I learned were that the “A” stands for automatic, which means it has the motor in there. I also learned from John Wolff’s Web Museum: The Monroe Calculating Machine Company that the LA5-200 is “a later ten-column machine with … a few minor changes, but is otherwise identical to” the LA5-160, which is good for me, since the 160 is a lot more common.

Resource-wise, I’ve found:

Monroe Service Training Course Book 2: Models LA, LA-5, LA-6, LA-7, function, adjustment, nomenclature which has some excellent diagrams and things, which will be incredibly useful when I start working on it. These three images are from that guide, and were already helpful in my initial pass.

Additionally, there are a handful of LA5-160 YouTube videos showing some tear-downs and repairs, including this series from DJD Labs that I’m certain I will find useful!

Given how heavy it is, this will be staying at our townhouse in Philadelphia. So, it’ll be a project for when I’m here, which is good, because I already have plenty to keep me busy in California for the foreseeable future.

That’s a lot about the calculator, but I will admit that I didn’t leave the estate sale with just that one, I did bring home a typewriter too. It’s a 1967 Olympia SM9 (s/n: 3242067) and it was in great condition, aside from a very dirty case, that the boys helped me clean so I could bring it inside.

It’s a lovely typewriter, and it also came with a small pamphlet and cleaning kit!

I’ll also be keeping it here in Philadelphia. I’ll clean it up and get a new ribbon for it during our next visit. Amusingly, I now have two Olympias, and they’re both here. I’m thinking about ultimately giving it to Adam to use when he’s a little older, if his interest in mechanical typewriters holds.

The rest of our visit is pretty packed, including a couple work-related day trips, so I probably won’t get to work on these any more, but I did take some time the other day to finally set up a full Typewriter Hunter TypewriterDatabase account, which I’ve now populated with photos of my collection: 9 Typewriter Galleries » Hunter: Elizabeth Joseph

Hamantaschen and flight delays

Following my trip down to Pasadena for the Southern California Linux Expo, I had three days of work and then a couple days off which I spent with the kids while we prepared for a visit to Philadelphia.

Having worked through the weekend, taking a couple days off the following week was the most logical thing to do over all, but it really worked out this time. First, it was a huge help in preparing to fly to Philadelphia on Saturday morning. I can squeeze in all our prep on a couple of late nights, but having the daytime to do it was especially beneficial, no late nights for me!

I also finally found someone to help me with chores and organization projects around the house three times a week. We have a house cleaner come by every two weeks, which is a huge help, but working full time, caring for the kids in the evening, and doing all the daily chores meant I had very little other time in my week for either personal time or other projects we want to tackle. I know that a lot of folks live like this, and have much more physically demanding jobs, but it’s not the life I want for myself. Since we have the means to hire someone to help for a few hours a week, I was finally able to convince myself that it’s the right thing to do for our family right now.

My new helper came by on Tuesday to meet and make sure we were a good fit (both sides, personality and task-wise) and then I had her come by for a couple hours on Thursday and Friday. It was especially nice to have someone help me prep everything for the trip, that took a full two hours of chores off my list (or, more realistically, took and hour off and allowed me to finally have the stroller cleaned, which I always say I’ll do but never get around to).

The other thing of note last week was that Purim was coming up, and I wanted to make Hamantaschen with the boys. This is my third year doing it, and this year we had the added pressure of promising Adam’s teacher that we’d bring some by on Friday before we left to share with his class as a culture sharing activity. On Thursday morning after dropping Adam off at school, Aaron and I got to work on the dough, which needed to chill in the refrigerator for three hours.

After lunch, we got to work on the cookies! This year we went with two flavors, MJ picked up some cherry pie filling to try out, and I also thawed some of our home made plum jam. They both came out beautifully, this was definitely my best year yet. On Friday we brought several to Adam’s class, and then we were able to pack the rest of the ones we didn’t eat for our trip to Philadelphia (and actual Purim, which was on Sunday).

Speaking of plums, we also spent some time last week doing a bit of yard work. The plum tree really needed some pruning, and so did the apple tree. So I watched a YouTube video about pruning fruit trees and went to work chopping. I wanted to make sure I did enough so the trees aren’t weighed down (last year a branch on the plum tree snapped), but I also want to make sure I don’t inflict so much trauma on the tree that it fails to produce fruit for a couple years, the boys love those fruit trees! I won’t know for a couple months whether I succeeded, but they do look a lot better now. Plus, the boys were actually a big help, they helped haul the branches into the compost, and were hilarious little helpers as I also spent a bit of time pulling up weeds in the back yard.

Saturday we flew to Philadelphia, on a flight that was delayed by over 5 hours. Unfortunately the delay didn’t hit until just before boarding, so we were stuck at the airport for all that time trying to keep a three year old and a five year old entertained without relying too much on screens, which we’d have to do in the air. We began our adventure playing by the gate a bit, hoping for a quick departure, but as soon as it was clear that wasn’t possible, we made our way to a restaurant for a snack and change of scenery.

After some time there, it was off to another restaurant where the boys could get ice cream. The remaining time was spent at an airport lounge, which also wasn’t terribly exciting for them, but breaking up the 5 hour wait with multiple locations did help stave off a lot of the boredom. Honestly, the boys really handled themselves well, all things considered. The arrival into Newark was another challenge, it was 2AM by the time we got in, limited ground staff meant they sent the stroller to baggage claim rather than having it at the gate, so we had to encourage two sleepy kiddos all the way to baggage claim. Then the air train wasn’t running, so we had to rework our whole plan to pick up the rental car. And suffice to say, we didn’t plan on getting to the townhouse nearly 5AM. As a result, Sunday was a little rough.

We’re now in Philadelphia for a couple weeks. We have some plans to meet up with some folks, and I will be heading up to the Poughkeepsie office for an IBM System 360 celebration next week. I’m rounding out the trip by speaking at the Central Pennsylvania Open Source Conference (CPOSC) on Saturday, April 6th. It’s nice to be here again.


The last conference I went to before the COVID-19 pandemic began was the Southern California Linux Expo, which I wrote about here: SCALE 18x. Being on the cusp of the pandemic, it was a surreal experience. But it’s still one of my favorite conferences, so I thoroughly enjoyed our time there, and the ability to bring the whole family along, which at that time just included little Adam.

Coming back to SCALE this year was like a rite of passage in this new existence in a world with COVID-19 floating around. It was an absolute pleasure to see everyone who I only see at this conference, and generally to get back into the swing of things. Plus, the first day of SCALE landed on Pi Day, so I got to wear my new pi dress! Logistically, bringing the whole family along this time didn’t work out, but we’re definitely keeping it in mind for next year.

My first stop at SCALE was an Ubucon, which just like me, had returned to SCALE for the first time since the pandemic. I quickly caught up with several old friends from the community, and then was delighted to meet Cody Smith and Simon Quigley, who I’d only known through the Ubuntu community online. It was also nice meeting some of the folks who came to the event from Canonical and the various projects they’re working on around automation and tooling, a few of whom I had the pleasure of having dinner with when the first day of the event concluded on Thursday.

Ubucon itself kicked off with a talk from Jason Nucciarone, who was standing in for a colleague who couldn’t make it, where he discussed changes that have been made in recent years to revitalize the Ubuntu community. A big one was communication methods. When I was largely involved with Ubuntu, most of the communications took place over IRC, and like many communities, the Ubuntu community had been slowly drifting away from that. Some folks went to just using the Discourse forums, others had Telegram groups, some went off to pockets of Discord. I’ve remained on a rather silent IRC partially because I don’t have a lot of time to work on Ubuntu these days, so I hadn’t looked into where to go next. Turns out, they’ve started using Matrix and it has started picking up steam. Another thing they’ve done is started up in-person events again. There’s a new Ubuntu Summit that has now had two iterations in 2022 they met in Prague and in 2023 the event was held in Riga, Latvia. The Local Community (LoCo) communities have also received a bit of an injection of activity, which is nice to see. It’s definitely a different Ubuntu community from the one I stepped back from a few years ago, but that’s the nature of communities and I was swiftly reminded at the event that Ubuntu is turning 20 years old this year. There’d be something wrong if it was the same community I created a vBulletin account on all the way back in 2005.

I also enjoyed the talk from Simon on “Open Source is Not Just Code” where he spoke about his own journey. This is quite a bit different from the list-of-things talks I’ve seen (and given!) on this topic, and I think by sharing his story and journey we got a much more memorable talk. He spoke honestly about the challenges of starting contributing as a young age, and how his curiosity and willingness to give a variety of things a try paved the way for him to become a release manager for Lubuntu and hold several other roles while he was still a teenager. I can definitely speak to his enthusiasm as well, he was a big help when I was still running the Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter, and I’m so happy to see him still contributing and making such a big impact.

Perhaps my favorite talk on the second day of Ubucon came from my friend George Mulak. I’ve known George through the Ubuntu California team for years, but his talk was my first glimpse into some of the paid work he’s done over the years. His talk was on “Setting up an Ubuntu lab for seniors and the disadvantaged” where he shared details of the mobile computer lab that he ran for communities around the Los Angeles area to learn skills and help with technical literacy. It was a fascinating project, but also connected me with Ken VanDine who works at Canonical but also participates in a non-profit that does custom images (which can be used on USB sticks) for computers they install Ubuntu on and then provide to the community, to the tune of thousands per year. It’ll be an interesting thing to explore for Partimus, since our reduced scale these days means resurrecting our netboot imaging machine doesn’t make a lot of sense anymore.

The expo hall also opened Friday afternoon, and that’s where I had the pleasure of formally meeting Jon “maddog” Hall for the first time. He’s a hero of mine, but I never gathered up the courage to say hello. No more of that! We had a lovely chat about mainframes, and on Saturday morning I went to his talk, “How Is Linux Like a Player Piano?” I adored his talk. As a fellow vintage-mechanical-things enthusiast, his love for player pianos really resonated with me, and the tale he weaved around the role of open standards and patents in the shaping of what technologies succeed was a compelling one. I also appreciate that he concluded his talk with a nod to Hedy Lamarr, whose technical collaborators during her development of frequency hopping included George Antheil, who had used player pianos in some of his own work, which was another round about way for today’s technologies to be linked to those of the past. Unfortunately, now I kinda want to have a player piano, hah!

On the topic of meeting people I had the pleasure of meeting Tommy Chang, who is famous in the mainframe world for being a hobbyist who owns a couple of vintage mainframes. It’s always a pleasure to catch up with community members who share my passion for the platform, especially at an event like a Linux conference because we have this immediate kinship, and can geek out about various historic computing finds of late. We probably won’t found a computing museum together, but it’s fun to dream about.

My own talk was on Saturday afternoon, which was on building your open source project for various architecture and titled “Will your open source project run on a mainframe? And beyond!” I brought along my VisionFive 2 and my LEGO IBM z16, which I spread out on a mat I got from the arm developer program and allowed attendees to check out along with some stickers.

On Saturday I also went to a talk from Tyler Menezes on “Nurturing the Next Generation of Open Source Contributors” where he talked about CodeDay Labs where they provide successful mentorships between students and open source maintainers and projects. It’s a fascinating project that I’ll keep in mind once I can clear more time for volunteering again, but in the shorter term it was interesting learning what college students are struggling with today when it comes to contributing, and how project maintainers can help. He covered making sure you have a CONTRIBUTING.md and ARCHITECTURE.md files so students can find their way, which should also have a quick start for building a dev environment, including on Windows. He also shared how important it was to have properly functioning tests to help them avoid making simple mistakes that slow down the contribution process and ultimately lead to reduction in enthusiasm and drive. The final piece of advice was around criteria for good-first-issue bugs for newcomers, stating that they should be rather self-contained (one file to fix?), require minimal tracing through the code base, be clearly defined so you don’t need to ask questions, and make sure they’re still applicable, since it can be incredibly frustrating to fix a bug, only to discover later it had been fixed and not documented several months ago.

Part of my time this trip to Pasadena was also spent enjoying Pasadena itself. One evening I took a long walk around the downtown and to a park southwest of the venue where I got to enjoy a spectacular sunset before doing my only take-out meal of the weekend. On Saturday evening before meeting my friend Nathan Handler for dinner, I went on a quest to find a post card to send to the boys, and along the way found some rainbow abacus earrings (perfect for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at a Linux conference!) and got to snag a couple green doughnuts from Randy’s Donuts.

Sunday began with a keynote from Casey Handmer on “Hacky solutions to real world problems: Applied Computing Past, Present, and Future” which I really enjoyed. I think like many of us we’ve slipped into a bit of a doom loop regarding the struggling middle class in the United States and promises of AI that have questioning deliverables so far. His talk was a breath of fresh air, positivity, and real world problems and solutions that are being worked on today. He began by talking about the recent deciphering of crushed, burned, scrolls from Herculaneum by students with the help of AI-assisted technologies (article). He also shared about his own company, Terraform Industries, that’s working to do “gigascale atmospheric hydrocarbon synthesis” with the intent of producing cheap energy while also cutting CO2. He also brought some statistics about how in just my own lifetime, global poverty has gone down significantly, and a big piece of the puzzle to going further is making sure all humans have access to energy. I found myself reflecting on how myopic my views have been by focusing on what feels so hopeless at home, and I was really inspired by not only his perspective, but the fact that his company is actually doing something real to change things.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Duane O’Brian at SCALE this year, and then attended his talk in the last slot of the day where he spoke on some analysis he’s been doing on where funding is coming from and going in the open source world. He scoured historical event and foundation websites going back 10 years to see where much of the funding had come from and assembled it in a series of spreadsheets and publicly available data. It was fascinating to see the information come together, though it wasn’t particularly surprising overall. He shared a handful of other efforts around both community-driven and more academic focused approaches to digging deeper into the data, but this was a nice beginning of a glimpse into where major events and organizations in the United States are getting their funding from.

With Pi Day on the first day of SCALE, we capped off the event with another holiday: St. Patrick’s Day! I was sad to miss a festival this year that MJ and our au pair attended with the boys, but I tried to make up with it by joining my friend Mickey Lyle for lunch and having a green beer.

The event concluded with a closing keynote from Bill Cheswick, which I only caught part of due to it going a bit long and me having a flight to catch. What I caught of it was a fun trip down memory lane, but by catching the flight I did I was able to be home in time to tuck Adam and Aaron in to bed Sunday night, which is precisely where I wanted to be.

Many thanks to all the volunteers who make SCALE happen, it was great to see so many of you!

Another refrigerator, the Exploratorium, and a movie

Valentine’s Day this year was pretty focused on the kids. MJ was traveling for work and the kids have really been getting into the idea of holidays lately, so it’s been fun to decorate with them and talk about what each holiday means and how we celebrate it. In the case of Valentine’s Day, that somehow meant hearts and chocolate, so we put heart decorations around the family room in the weeks prior, and then on the day of, in our matching t-shirts that Adam and I made a couple weeks before, I gave each of the boys a cardboard heart filled with chocolates. That evening I was surprised by a delivery of flowers and chocolates from MJ, which was a nice conclusion of the day.

In February we also gave up on our broken refrigerator. We bought it in 2019 to replace the old one that came with the house, so it was incredibly disappointing to have it stop functioning properly just four years after we bought it. A series of failed repair attempts by the warranty company over several months had really started adding up, until we were ultimately convinced that the repair was more trouble than it was worth, and likely more expensive than a whole new refrigerator. So, after about four months of basically living out of our chest freezer and a couple large mini-fridges (one which we already had, and a second that we bought), we bought a new full-size refrigerator. It turned out that Costco had the best deal on the best-fitting refrigerator for our budget and space, so we got got a Costco membership with the deal too and within a week we had a new refrigerator, hooray!

It’s been such a relief to have a functioning, full-size refrigerator. It’s absolutely something I took for granted, and there were a lot of things I wasn’t doing food and drink-wise due to how limited and unreliable our space was. It’s nice to have options again. And a few weeks in, the refrigerator seems to be doing fine. I’ve now cleaned out the small mini-fridges and unplugged them, so the next step will be taking them down to the garage.

I’m less convinced about the Costco membership. Even at this phase of our family-life, we simply don’t go through bulk amounts of food, so many of the options there just don’t make sense for us. I think we also just don’t eat a lot of the food they have at Costco on a regular enough basis. Still, we got a nice new set of pans at an excellent price, along with some new runner rugs for our downstairs that have needed to be replaced since we moved in six years ago. The store is also a bit overwhelming. We are bound by school/work schedules, so we end up there on the busiest day of the week, and the kids lose interest in shopping for bulk food rather quickly (or want to buy every non-food item we walk past). So it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience and I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Speaking of questionable worth, I replaced my Pixel Watch recently. There was nothing wrong with mine, but the opportunity arose for me to get the Pixel Watch 2 for free and it was too hard to pass up. Now that I’ve been using it for a couple weeks, I will concede that the battery life is better, which is nice, but I probably could have been perfectly happy with my old one for quite a bit longer.

Aside from visits to Costco, we’ve been keeping busy with little local jaunts and events. A local organization runs a series of “Comic Cons” throughout the region, and one came to Castro Valley recently. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was a nice day and even if it was a bust it was only $7 to get in and I thought Adam might enjoy it. They had a costume contest, but it seems like that was the only “event” and it was just a bunch of vendor tables selling art, toys, and various anime, science fiction, and game-focused merchandise. I’m not complaining, it was something that Adam enjoyed as he went through tables of toys, picked out some art from a local artist, and even saw a girl from his class at school. I’ll probably skip it next time, but it is nice to drop by these local type events from time to time.

The weekend before last we decided to head to San Francisco to visit the Exploratorium, a science museum on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. MJ and I had both been there a few times, but after the success of The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, we figured it was time to bring the boys to our own local hands-on science museum. We got our membership and grabbed some lunch at the cafe before doing a bit of exploring around the museum. The boys had fun, but it was getting to be mid-afternoon and we had planned on going to a free tulip event in Union Square. Thankfully, our au pair went to the tulip event first and warned us that it was very crowded with a long wait, so we decided to skip it.

Instead, we decided to fulfill a wish the boys had for a long time: taking a ferry! There are several commuter ferries that cross the bay, so we selected one that runs about every hour on weekends and would take us to Jack London station in Oakland. From there we could catch a short bus over to a BART station and go home. The ferry ride was a delight that we’ll definitely repeat, but the BART station was a bit of trouble as trains were expressing through while an “incident” was being handled by the police in another part of the station. We did manage to finally get a train and make it home.

Last week MJ and I took the rare chunk of time and went up to The Metreon in San Francisco and saw Dune 2 in 70mm IMAX together. We hadn’t seen a movie released in theaters together since before the pandemic, and even then I’d struggle to pinpoint the last time, maybe before we had kids? It was really nice to settle into a big theater and see a fun movie together, and Dune 2 was a perfect one for the IMAX. The worms and the explosions were very boom-y and made the most of the sound system there.

From there, I hopped on a flight to Pasadena for the Southern California Linux Expo, my first work trip of the year! And the beginning of several more to come in April.

Resurrecting an Oliver 9 Typewriter: Part 1

Back in November I got to type on my first Oliver 9 at a type-in, and I mused about it:

It was lovely and fascinating, and given how much I’ve thought about it since meeting that one, I’m quite certain that one will eventually enter my collection.

In January, one popped up on Facebook Marketplace. I reached out to the seller and learned that it was sadly non-functional, and he had been using it as a decoration in his living room. I didn’t want to drop a couple hundred bucks on one that didn’t work, so I kind of let it go. But I had also shared the listing with MJ to share my excitement in finding one, and he reached out as well and got a few more details, and arranged a time for me to take a look at it in case it was salvagable. That is love.

In preparation for our meeting, I watched a few YouTube videos, including What to look for when buying an Oliver typewriter on The Vintage Type YouTube channel, which would soon become my go-to resource. And then felt relatively confident that I could do a once-over to determine if it was worth it.

I succeeded! We met the owner in the lobby of his apartment building, and while MJ wrangled the kids, I did a quick inspection of key parts, and even popped out the carriage, much to the surprise of the owner, “I didn’t know it did that!” Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to put the carriage back just yet, oops. Fortunately, I determined that it was salvageable but needed some work, so we were able to agree on $200 for it, and then MJ bought it for me.

At home, I learned how to get the carriage on, and the boys and I did a quick once over of it on the dining room table. It was incredibly dusty, and rust had taken over most of the surface. The original green paint is gone from most of it, and there’s only a hint of the stenciled Oliver writing, which is a bit of a shame since it’s really distinctive. As I was looking for the serial number to properly date it, I realized it also doesn’t have the patent plaques on the back. I wonder where those ended up.

I was quickly able to discover that even though it wasn’t installed, there was a crusty, old ribbon in there, which I found when I removed the spool covers.

A quick trip back over to The Vintage Type, we watched Installing a New Ribbon on an Oliver typewriter and I was able to glean enough of an understanding of installing the ribbon that I could get this old one installed again. As an aside, I learned later that this video from the same channel is better for me, since I have an Oliver 9 and he shows specifically installing one of those there. Notably, I missed the detail of making sure the ribbon was tucked inside the bottom of the clips to hold it in place, which you can notably see when I finally got to type something, but it worked!

I then ordered some little steel brushes and some Evapo-Rust, so I could really get to work on it. I set up a table in my home office and one evening I got to work removing all the worst of the easily accessible rust.

I used Evapo-Rust on the pencil holder arm and the bell, but I’ve held off for now on using it on anything else. It’s a mild remover, but it’s still pretty intense and I didn’t want to mess with any of the remaining green paint. It was at this stage that I found the serial number, which had been encased in rust.

It’s 863924 which means it’s from 1919. The oldest typewriter in my collection!

From there, I brought the typewriter back out to the dining room table so the boys could help me take some soap and water to it to remove all the rust dust and generally get it cleaned up. I will note that the bottom of it seemed to be in pretty good shape with only some minor spots needing attention.

Next up was ordering a ribbon! It was back to our friend at The Vintage Type, since he sells ribbons on eBay. Since I had both my original spools, I could get away with just ordering a single spooled ribbon, and a few days later I had the ribbon in-hand. And then it took me a couple weeks to finally carve out some evening time to install it, because life gets in the way.

With that, I had a much happier typewriter! But there was one last thing: alignment of letters it was chopping off the bottom of each letter.

Back to a video from The Vintage Type: Adjusting Upper Case Letters and Figures On An Oliver Typewriter. It’s still not perfect, but it’s good enough for now.

My greatest concern in the long run is that so much of the carriage and other fully exposed parts are functional, but quite rusty. I think addressing this will require a greater extent of dismantling that will cause it to be non-functional while I fix it. It’ll be a tedious project so I make sure I get everything put back together in the right way and kids don’t run off with random screws. I am feeling mixed about whether I want to do this right now. My time is extremely limited and it is working, I kind of want to pause and enjoy it. Plus, it’s over 100 years old, it can probably wait a couple years for a more complete restoration!

For now, it just lives in my home office, happily sitting on a little table where people can see it when I’m on video calls.

“Just ride around in buses and trains and cable cars”

Aaron and I recently went to San Francisco to see an aunt who was in town visiting, and he was really disappointed about not being able to go on a cable car. Adam was at school at the time, but hew knew that we went and that planted a seed that made him beg to go to San Francisco over the weekend.

“What do you want to do in San Francisco?”
“Just ride around in buses and trains and cable cars.”

That’s my boy. He also wanted to go back to the Cable Car Museum and to the new Transbay Terminal park where they have a fountain that activates along a path whenever a bus passes beneath it. With all these things in mind we mapped out a plan.

First up, we decided not to take the stroller. It was the first time taking both boys into San Francisco without it, so we were a little nervous, but we managed to keep walking to a minimum and relied on public transit. We took BART into the city and got off at Embarcadero Station where we picked up the California Street cable car. Aaron and I rode on the outside of the car while MJ and Adam rode inside for the first half of our ride. Once some people got off, MJ and Adam joined us on the outside and then we hopped off at the stop just down the street from the Cable Car Museum.

From there, we walked over to the new Rose Pak MUNI Metro station in Chinatown, during which we got to wave to several cable cars coming by!

We took the Metro from Chinatown back downtown where we then walked over to Jeffery’s Toys, which was sadly going out of business. We picked up a couple trinkets and then got lunch at a nearby California Pizza Kitchen that we sometimes went to when MJ and I lived nearby.

Right after lunch we stopped at the Ghirardelli ice cream shop at the corner of Market and New Montgomery for a couple sundaes.

After lunch we hopped on a PCC street car for a couple stops down Market and then made our way to the Transbay Terminal where we spent some time playing and watching the bus fountain until it was time to take our last exciting type of transit: a bus! It would take longer, but the boys really wanted to take a bus, and MJ found an AC Transit Transbay bus that we could take across the bay, through Alameda, and concluding at an Oakland BART station, which we’d then take back home. The plan was a hit for all of us. It was a nice and comfortable bus which was enjoyable to take, and Aaron fell asleep on me during the journey, so clearly he was comfortable!

That Sunday was quite rainy, and our only journey was to a thrift store to pick up a small filing cabinet to try and contain some of Adam’s school papers which had been increasingly taking over our house. During Aaron’s nap, Adam and I made a trio of custom shirts for Valentine’s Day!

Later in the afternoon, we made some banana bread and then some popcorn to enjoy with our stuck-indoors, movie-driven afternoon.

Speaking of movie-driven, I went to see a movie! I realized recently that something that would help a lot with life balance and mental health would be taking some time for myself. It may seem obvious, but our life is just so busy and we’ve been very reserved about hiring babysitters, only really doing it when absolutely necessary. Part of this is just a holdover from the pandemic, we haven’t adjusted our habits or repopulated our babysitter pool. But taking some time for me to go out, meet with friends, or just go to the record store on my own is so important. So last week I walked over to The Chabot theater, our local, historical, single screen theater and saw Argylle. It was so much fun! I also made some time to stop by my local record shop, and then over to the library where I picked up a couple books.

Last weekend celebrations began for the Lunar New Year. Adam had some celebrations at school to observe it and he was pretty excited, so I searched for some local events and found a lion dance event and crafts right nearby at our local library! So the boys and I first made our regular stop at the local farmers market, and then continued on our journey to the library where we met up with our au pair and her friend, and made it just in time for the dance to begin.

When that concluded, we made our way over to the children’s section of the library where they had celebratory crafts. Predictably, Aaron loved the crafts and Adam wanted to explore the rest of the library and check out a couple books. Around 11:30 MJ picked us up so we could go to lunch.

Before the sun rose on Sunday MJ was off to the airport for a business trip. That morning the boys and I went to the local Japanese Gardens. The boys love the gardens, they’re beautiful, have rocks to climb, and they can see fish and turtles in the water features. From there, we were off to lunch at our favorite local restaurant. Unfortunately, Aaron turned out to be terribly annoyed that we did the gardens instead of a playground, so we rectified that later in the afternoon by going to another park, this time with a playground.

Once all park needs were satisfied for the day, it was time to go home for the Super Bowl! We don’t really watch football and I can barely follow along, but Super Bowl Sunday is basically a holiday in the United States, and it turns out I really enjoy celebrating things with the boys. So we turned on the game, had snacks, chicken tenders, and little bagel bites. And we made and decorated sugar cookies. I guess making cookies isn’t a traditional Super Bowl thing, but the boys weren’t really going to watch the game and we needed something fun and different that we could do with the TV on aside from the regular playroom activities.

Then the game went into overtime right when I was supposed to start getting the boys ready for bed – oops! As a result, I was actively putting Aaron to bed as 5 minutes were left on the clock, and returned just in time to see Kansas City triumph over San Francisco. Adam was adorably disappointed because he knew San Francisco is “his” team, but he got over it within about 30 seconds and the subsequent bedtime routine went smoothly.

The week ahead promised to be very sugar-filled with a little birthday celebration for a friend and Valentine’s Day! We also have a week off from school coming up.