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The adventures of 2018

On the face of it, 2018 was a great year for “big ticket” milestones and life changes.

We moved to our new home in Castro Valley!

We learned we were expecting our first child!

I gave three keynotes! Along with speaking at or participating in over a dozen conferences, four of which I was on the selection committee for.

We’ve had several visits with both sides of family!

I had wonderful travel adventures with friends!

…including my first ride in a helicopter AND my first ride in a sea plane!

More quietly, I struggled quite a bit. Complications arising during the pregnancy have been difficult to cope with, I saw two long-term friendships falter, leaving the city has been a hard adjustment, and in October I was caught up in a layoff. The stress of all of this and the upcoming changes in our life caused me to see out a therapist in October to help work through some of it.

Still, even with each of these struggles, there is much to be grateful for. In spite of complications, the pregnancy has progressed, and with an early induction to avoid some of the risk we are expecting a healthy birth. I have gotten out of my comfort zone relationship-wise to start strengthening some friendships with people I’ve known for years. The proximity to a walkable downtown even here in the suburbs and a quick, easy ride on BART into San Francisco has eased some of my homesickness for my beloved city by the bay. My job search is going well, with plenty of exciting opportunities available to me when I’m ready to return to work in the spring. We have built a wonderful life for ourselves here and we continue to live comfortably.

With MJ starting a new job and the pregnancy, there were no grand getaways together overseas this year, but MJ and I spent a long weekend in NYC over the spring to finally see the famous, now unused, City Hall Station. We also spent a long weekend in Las Vegas for my 37th birthday. Our house is slowly coming together, including the guest and baby rooms both here and in Philadelphia.

Travel-wise, I did less international travel than I have in the past. Part of this was due to the team I was on having coverage in Europe, which meant I could focus more on North America, and then with the pregnancy I also decided to stop travel outside of the US and Canada a few months in. That means for the first time in several years, I didn’t break 100k miles, coming in this year with 88,716 miles, and only two overseas trips (Australia and Denmark).

Even without lots of long flights I did make reading more of a priority this year. In 2017 I admitted to watching a lot of TV, and in 2018 I was eager to change that, and did. I read 32 books in 2018 and continued my commitment to reading paper magazines to keep my long-format article brain working properly and tear myself away from my phone more. Health-wise I didn’t lose weight like I wanted to, but the difficult pregnancy made that a more challenging endeavor and I’m happy in the fact that I’ve at least been able to keep the pregnancy-related weight gain within a range that my doctor is happy with.

Now, onto the more list-y part of this post. The places I’ve been!

And the talks I’ve given!

As I look on to 2019, we have quite the adventure ahead of us. The arrival of our first child will change our lives significantly for the foreseeable future. Whatever I end up with job-wise I’m committed to doing something that challenges me to both dig deeper on a technical level and spur further career growth. Between these two things, I have plenty to adjust to, so there are no grand New Year’s resolutions or changes I want to commit to. Though I do hope I am gentle and forgiving to myself and MJ as we seek out this new balance together.

This December

It’s been an interesting December, which began with Hanukkah! As Jewish holidays go, it’s not actually a major one, and the proximity to Christmas does seem to be the only reason a lot of attention is paid to it. Still, who doesn’t love lighting some candles?

This is also the first year in some time that we’ve spent the entire Hanukkah celebration on one coast. In 2016 and 2017 we started it in California, and resumed it at the townhouse in Philadelphia. Prior to that, we had at least one weekend during Hanukkah with our tiny travel menorah as a work trip of mine caused overlap. I certainly missed the holiday visit back east this year, but we’ll resume the tradition next year, with a little one in tow!

Even at eight months pregnant I’ve continued to interview for new roles, but with the knowledge that it’s extra important that I find a job that I’d be excited to return to after taking time off for maternity. My career has been a focal point in my life for years, and though I know my priorities will shift in the coming months, I’m committed to coming back strong to work on something that excites and challenges me in new ways.

Job searches are never easy, but I have found things to enjoy about the search this time around. I’ve had the support of a tremendous network of people in the industry, and my experience at this stage of my career means I have a lot of options, spanning both operations and developer advocacy. This has allowed me to explore working with a variety of types of companies and talking to really interesting people. Even when the fit isn’t quite right, most of the interviews I’ve had left me having learned something and grateful for the opportunity I had to explore a possible future with them. Plus, some interviews gave me an excuse to head up to San Francisco for the day. I’ve settled some in Castro Valley, but certainly left some of my heart in San Francisco.

Visits to SF mean street cars!

And cable cars!

Visits to San Francisco also occurred during a few meals with friends over the past several weeks. I got to catch up with my friend Mark over lobster rolls downtown after a doctors appointment one afternoon. An old friend I met long ago Philadelphia was available for dinner one night where we grabbed pizza and ice cream in my old neighborhood.

Catching up with friends was also part of my plan to do a bunch of things this month that are much easier before having children. My other obligations (job search, prep for kiddo, house things) did eat into this, and there were physical limitations (long outdoor adventures need not apply), but I did find some things I could do, mostly around food! MJ and I have been enjoying some lovely date nights, including an amazing dinner at Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino a couple weeks ago.

I also took off for a night to spend time alone in Half Moon Bay. I booked a nice ocean view room at a hotel, and a pregnancy massage at their attached spa. My room had a sitting area where I could snuggle up and read, a gas fireplace, and a Sam’s Chowder House, which makes a great lobster roll, was just down the street. I indulged in a couple non-alcoholic, wine-inspired sodas from VIGNETTE (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), which rounded out my lunch, and a dessert I took to go and ate that evening. This adventure away gave me a few things I suspect will quickly become more rare: alone time, rest and relaxation, and spontaneity. I only wish I was able to spend time stopping at scenic outlooks and browsing the shops and things along route 92 on my way home, unfortunately the late pregnancy must-use-restroom-often need put a limitation on how many stops I could make! Still, I had a lovely time, and at just under an hour away, it was an easy and fun drive out there.

I didn’t get as much technical-focused learning as I hoped I’d do now that I’ve wound down my travel schedule. Instead, I’ve put my focus into planning for the future, both the immediate needs for our upcoming child, and more long-term plans sketched out for when we inevitably struggle to find a balance in the coming months and upon my eventual return to work. While I am disappointed with not getting my teeth into the latest tech book I picked up in August, I think I made the right choice, even professionally. I believe time will show this break from the bay area tech hustle will have served me well.

Of course time has been spent preparing for immediate needs as well. Over the past month I’ve scoured parenting forums, reviews, lists, and the brains of fellow parents I know to find the most best (weighted with cost, value, quality) products for the new kiddo. Our house is now full of incoming baby signs, with a Pack ‘n Play and swing sitting in my living room in their respective boxes, a lovely combination stroller/bassinet/car seat, and a nursery, that while sparse, I think everything we’ll need in it, at least right away!

Crib, nursing chair and changing table here in California

There have also been a lot of doctor appointments. I scheduled my twice-a-week non-stress tests for the mornings so I could get on with my day. After the complications that have popped up through this pregnancy, and led to these regular check-ins, I’m very happy to say that things are progressing well and we’re on track for an early January birth. The usual aches, pains, and struggle staying asleep for this stage of pregnancy are ever-present, but I have been taking a short nap in the afternoon most days to make up for some of the lost overnight sleep. Physically, I’ve been spacing out all the manual labor chores I have throughout the days and weeks, and this strategy has worked well so far. We still don’t have a lot of furniture in our house in general, but things are coming together and I think we’ll be in pretty good shape for when friends and relatives start coming into town after the birth, including my aunt who has graciously offered to spend a couple months here with us to help!

My view in the NST room for 20-30 minutes, twice a week

I’d be lying if I said I was ready for what January brings. I’m certain that no amount of preparation can truly get you ready for how much your life will change once you have kids, especially for someone my age who has become so accustom to, and largely happy with, a child-free lifestyle. Still, we’re excited and looking forward to this new chapter.

Non-alcoholic beer adventures

I mentioned in a post back in October that I’d been trying non-alcoholic during my pregnancy. Now, a quick disclaimer: NA beers give their alcohol percentage as “less than 0.5%.” Since I embarked on this experiment because I am pregnant and I have mostly stayed on the side of alcohol abstinence since learning I was pregnant. As such, I’ve limited myself even when it comes to the NA beers. I max out at to two per sitting, and haven’t indulged on sequential nights. So don’t worry!

One of the key things I’ve come to recognize during these seven months without drinking is what my relationship with alcohol actually looks like. For the most part, it’s not about the alcohol itself. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few times over the past several months when I wanted to just go out for drinks with people to relieve stress and put distance between myself and my problems, but those times have been rare, especially given the tumultuous year I’ve had.

What actually I miss are the taste, ritual, and social aspects of drinking. I love the taste of a solid micro-brewed beer. I have fun geeking out with my beer friends over our check-ins on Untappd, and tracking what I’ve had over the years. I miss the variety of what I can drink as an adult when alcohol is an option. I’ve come to more strongly sympathize with non-drinkers who are so often presented with a list of water, iced tea, or soda. After years of very light consumption, my soda intake has gone up during this pregnancy and I’ve had a lot of iced tea. When MJ and I sat down in Las Vegas at a Michelin starred restaurant, I wished I could indulge in the wine pairing that was specifically selected to complement the meal. At the various conferences I attended this year, I missed the ability to grab some beers with my fellow conference-goers as I had so many times before (it’s really not the same when I tag along and order a root beer). As I stare longingly at my cabinet of whiskey, it’s the ritual of pouring a glass after a rough day and curling up next to the fireplace with a book, something I have satisfyingly done with some nice herbal tea, but it’s a different experience.

After enjoying some non-alcoholic beers one night, I was perfectly fine with having a clear head, not have to down a bunch of water to get re-hydrated before bed, and certainly don’t miss the mild headache in the morning after having a few. Plus, I get to check-in on Untappd! Though I’m sure my friends there are terribly amused by my NA adventures, it has helped me stay connected.

So now we get down to it, is non-alcoholic beer worth it?

The first problem, at least for me, is that NA beers are overwhelmingly lagers, and I’m an ale girl. Coming from the starting point of not being a fan of lagers in the first place, I was left in a very disappointed space when I started looking for NA beers. However, the main problem is that availability of NA options at all is extremely limited. You won’t any NA options at most places, and what you do find is usually the mass-produced stuff that is not very good. Still, I did end up having the “usual suspects” when it comes to beer at a couple places.

You’ll see St. Pauli NA and O’Doul’s on a lot of menus as their default offerings in the US. The St. Pauli I had at our local Indian place here in Castro Valley I should have passed on, it wasn’t much above water. The O’Doul’s Amber was actually not so bad and a good complement to my meal when we found ourselves at a bar and restaurant near our place in Philadelphia over Thanksgiving.

Speaking of Philadelphia, they do a bit better in the NA beer department than other areas I visited. They actually had Clausthaler Dry Hopped lager at another bar and restaurant we went to with friends. It was also available at Wegmans, so I was able to pick up a six-pack for Thanksgiving (even if I couldn’t convince my brother-in-law and Untappd buddy to try one, hah!). Again, a lager, but the dry-hopping gets me a bit closer to where I want to be and satisfies some of my longing for hops.

I got to enjoy the Bitburger Drive when I was out with a friend at Anchor & Hope in San Francisco back in October. One of the draws for this place is their beer menu, so I was somewhat reluctant to visit while I’m off beer, but they hooked me up with their off-menu NA option. It’s a Pilsner, so not really my thing, but it was a nice addition to my meal and I appreciated it.

And conferences? One of the chairs for LISA18 recognized that half of the organizing committee for the conference was made up of people who weren’t planning on drinking during the event, so he went shopping for some NA beers to bring to a little after-party. I skipped the Old Milwaukee NA he picked up, but I did grab one of the Beck’s NA. Lager again! But it was nice to feel like part of the crowd with a green beer bottle in hand.

That was pretty much it for my in-restaurant and social adventures! This meant that I largely couldn’t satisfy the social or dinner-out accompanying problems with a teetotaler lifestyle.

Back in California, I hit a local Total Wine & More store to grab some of the NA beers that had decent ratings, for what they were.

Kaliber is made by Guinness, and I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Of the European brews, it’s probably tied with Clausthaler as a favorite. Alas, I can’t say the same about Erdinger. I’d still choose it over a St. Pauli or O’Doul’s, but I have my reservations about finishing the six-pack.

But where would I really rather spend my calories? None of the options above. The US microbreweries specializing in NA beers are where it’s at.

I wrote about the Chandelier Red IPA back in October, so I’ll just repeat what I said there:

The second comes from just south of me, Surreal Brewing, which makes a red IPA! Now, since I love hops and am often indulging in the most ridiculous hoppy beer I can find, it was a bit mild for me, but it was still good and an effective way for me to get my hops fix, even if it’s just a little one.

They only came in packs of four cans! I may actually pick more of this one up during the breast-feeding stage in months to come.

My favorites were from WellBeing Brewing near St. Louis. Their Heavenly Body Golden Wheat was the most beer-like one I tried and my favorite. The Hellraiser Dark Amber is a close second, and I’m really looking forward to their Coffee Cream Stout!

Alas, at the end of the day, none of these beverages are really beer. They are either really mild or have unusual aftertastes, or both. Still, with a long period of breastfeeding ahead of me I should probably get used to avoiding alcohol except for really special occasions when I’m willing to make the required accommodations. As such, I’m especially grateful for the microbreweries who have started to get into this space and offer options that I’ll happily drink until I’m able to return to the land of alcohol drinkers.

Thanksgiving in Philadelphia

Over Thanksgiving MJ and I made our last trip together before the little one arrives. We spent the week at our townhouse in Philadelphia to celebrate Thanksgiving with our family and do some visiting with friends in the area. Based on this trip, I can see why air travel isn’t recommended over 32 weeks. It was just a cross-country trip, one I do frequently, but I was incredibly uncomfortable and tired during the journey in both directions, even after springing for First class seats.

Still, we arrived safely and were able to hop on a train down to the townhouse from Newark. Thankfully we missed the snow a few days before, and though it was still a cold week, the final storm at the end of the week arrived when the temperatures rose into the 40s, avoiding more snow.

Thanksgiving itself was spent with our usual lively gathering with MJ’s side of the family at his sister’s house.

During this visit we were able to visit my friends Mike and Jess in New Jersey who welcomed their second son just over six months earlier. Jess has been incredibly helpful as I navigate pregnancy and preparing for our first little one, and it’s always nice to visit with them, even if I did pepper them with a pile of ridiculous First Time Parent questions. We also enjoyed a dinner with our friends Tim and Colleen, and I was able to make it out for a lovely evening with my friend David. A few non-Thanksgiving meals with family were also tossed into the mix too. Even with all that, I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to, but schedules get tricky around holidays.

The two other things that characterized our visit were getting the little one’s room into shape for his first visit next year, and dealing with a leak in the roof. The leak in the roof was an unexpected complication. We had scheduled an attic inspection anyway after damage that began last winter, but upon arrival we noticed some water damage on the ceiling of the guest room. The problem was quickly found and we got a couple estimates, but all that took time and was a bit stressful with the holiday. Still, we’re on track to get it completely fixed this month, with local family lending a hand logistically.

I was able to do some online shopping and order placing before the trip for the little one. We were able to get a very basic changing table at Ikea the first weekend we were in town, and stopped by Pottery Barn Kids (PBK) to collect the crib I had selected, along with bedding and other necessary items for the nursery. We hadn’t put any thought into having a “theme” for the nursery, it’s not really our style and I’ve been busy focusing on what was absolutely required. Our visit to PBK changed that, they have an amazing new line-up of Star Wars nursery items! I think our theme is now, accidentally, Star Wars and space.

We also took advantage Black Friday sales to order a bunch of stuff we needed on the west coast, some of which we picked up in Philadelphia and brought back in luggage, and some things which have been slowly arriving at our doorstep here in California over the past couple weeks.

I assembled the furniture slowly throughout the week, and I admit that seeing a crib put together in the previously nearly empty room really brought things into focus. Suddenly, it was all so real! As if feeling a small person growing inside me for these past few months wasn’t real enough.

Other random life stuff that happened that week included the release of the 12th season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on Thanksgiving (which I was a supporter of), so I spent Thanksgiving morning and evening watching a couple episodes. They really hit their stride with this new season. I also unsuccessfully attempted to resurrect my old Xeon server-class desktop. I used it full time for a couple years after I bought it, but replaced it with something a lot more reasonable when I moved to California in 2010. It spent a few years in an outdoor-facing storage facility just outside of Philadelphia before being moved to a climate-controlled unit, but I think it was all too much for it. A handful of hardware failures lit up my screen upon boot, and after a few kernel oopses the Linux install attempt freezes up and fails. Upon reflection, the whole noisy, power draining machine could be replaced with a Raspberry Pi 3 if I need a small system there, and I do already have the original Raspberry Pi running on my desk there.

MJ also was able to get a little glass shelf put in our powder room on the main floor, which is one step closer to the townhouse feeling Done. The place still needs to be painted and some patching work done where we had some work done, but in general it’s a comfortable place to crash even now. I’m looking forward to our first visit there with the little one, which will probably happen in the spring.

Holiday cards 2018!

Every year I send out a big batch of winter-themed holiday cards to friends and acquaintances online.

Girard Avenue Line trolley decked out for the holidays in 2016

Reading this? That means you!

Even if you’re outside the United States!

Even if we’ve never met!

Send me an email at lyz@princessleia.com with your postal mailing address and put “Holiday Card” in the subject so I can filter it appropriately. Please do this even if I’ve sent you a card in the past, I won’t be reusing the list from previous years.

Disclaimer: My husband is Jewish and we celebrate Hanukkah, but the cards are non-religious, with some variation of “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” on them.

SeaGL 2018

I had the pleasure of participating in SeaGL this year. This conference was a special one in my calendar because it’s the last conference on my schedule before our son arrives, my key participation was in the form of giving one of the keynotes, and they were very transparent about their efforts to make a diverse schedule and shared the acceptance results. According to their statistics, 44% of the talks the accepted were from people who self-identified as a member of an under-represented group in tech.

Diversity is important to me, and not just on a feel good level of finally giving voice to people whose views and perspectives have traditionally been marginalized or ignored. I enjoy the energy and welcoming feeling that I find diverse conferences. The diversity of speakers also shows through in the talks themselves, as people with different backgrounds and life experiences will often give very different styles of talks without (and this is important!) compromising on quality or level of technical depth. It makes the experience of spending a day drifting between technical talks much more enjoyable.

So I’ll start by saying thank you to the organizers of SeaGL for the work they put into crafting such an excellent line-up of diverse speakers. Your efforts were noticed and I had a wonderful, educational time as a result.

The keynote I put together for this conference was months in the making. As I reflected on the work I’ve done in open source communities over the past 17 years, I’ve lived through a massive shift in the types of projects, contributors, and companies involved. I also found myself wondering where an individual contributor from the year 2001 would fit into this modern landscape. When I pitched this idea to the conference organizers as a topic for my talk, I only really had my own observations and random chats with other people whose background is similar to mine at conferences over the past couple of years, most of whom were feeling they had lost motivation to contribute outside of their work in tech. In preparation for this talk, I strategically expanded my pool of people to talk to, and also sent out an anonymous survey asking for feedback from anyone who had thoughts to share about their motivations.

Thanks to Brian MacDonald for taking this photo during my keynote (source)

With all this data collected, I had an interesting picture of the state of open source today. The gist of my keynote was that open source has changed since the creation of the term 20 years ago. Some of these ways are uncomfortable for people who have been around that whole time, especially with regard to the influx of money that has caused the environment to change in significant ways. However, there is a lot of good that comes of this too. A lot of us are now paid to work on open source and the opportunity to be paid has opened the doors to folks who may not have traditionally been able to participate. The adoption and support by mainstream firms has made it a more compelling option for non-profits and other local organizations that are rewarding to work with. The investment by for-profit companies in the development tooling landscape is making it easier for contributors to work across projects. I covered these things and more in a hopeful view into the present and future role individuals play in open source today. Slides from my talk can be found here: SeaGL2018-OpenSourceToday-IndividualsNeedNotApply.pdf.

My keynote was followed by one from Molly de Blanc who took us on a very personal glimpse into how technology can be a positive influence mental health, especially when it comes to connecting us instantly to our support networks. On the software freedom side, she explored choices we make with regard to our privacy and security, and trade-offs we may be encountered with as we use different platforms and tools.

With this being my last conference for a while, I went to a couple talks that first day, but ended up spending most of the rest of the day in the “hallway track” as I enjoyed lunch with some folks who worked in and around Debian, and generally catching up with people I’ve known from past jobs and communities.

Day two kicked off with a keynote from Stephen Walli on The Democratization of Software. He looked back at history to demonstrate that freely shared software was more the norm than the exception, and discussed how frictionless it is for anyone to get involved with developing software these days if given the time. Getting access to the code and improving upon it is now essentially a solved problem. Our real challenge today is operating the software securely and reliably at scale, and that’s more difficult. He posited that several of the major vulnerabilities in open source software were not in fact failures in open source, but our methods for testing and deploying the software into production. The problems caused by something like left-pad being removed from NPM shouldn’t have happened on production systems because it should have been tested and the dependency chain thoroughly vetted.

Next we heard from Tameika Reed, Linux systems engineer and founder of Women In Linux. I had the pleasure of hearing from Tameika just a few weeks earlier as she gave one of the keynotes at LISA in Nashville, and it was a pleasure to not just see her again, but sit through one of her keynotes filled with wisdom and humor. In this talk the focus was on making the mental shift from System Administration to System Architect or Team Lead. She stressed the importance of how your view into the work your doing has to change from focusing on a small component of the technical work to stepping back to get the 30,000 foot view. From there you dril down into that to get a view of how the work of your team impacts the organization. She also stressed the human side of a more senior or management role, and that having empathy was key.

After the keynotes I found myself really enjoying a talk by Lucy Wyman about being tactful about what you automate in your infrastructure. Putting pressure on people who want to “automate everything” she outlined some times when you might not want to, like when the complexity of the task means that you have more exceptions to your automation strategy than rules, and would spend a lot more time reconfiguring your automation than you’d actually find value from. What I really loved about this talk though was her invitation of audience participation. In addition to sharing thoughts at key points in her presentation, her findings were validated by real stories from the audience about times that automation went terribly wrong. Plus, they were often really funny, if painful, stories that I think made for a dynamic presentation that took on a life of its own.

I also attended a talk from Duane O’Brien on the risks of heavy handed use of GitHub profiles and activity when evaluating candidates for roles in your organization. There may be a place for it as one piece of criteria that you check, but it excludes a lot of open source projects, disadvantages people who couldn’t work in the open in past roles or don’t have time to do open source work during their personal time. Aricka Flowers does a great job of writing a whole article on the talk over on the GitLab blog: We all love open source, but hiring based on contributions could be harmful.

After Duane, I was thrilled to hear a talk from Carla Schroeder. I met Carla online via LinuxChix well over a decade ago. I pitched in with editing one of her books long before I was known professionally and that gave me an incredible confidence boost at a time I really needed it. As someone who open doors for me so early in my career, I’m eternally grateful and was happy to finally meet her in person. In her talk on documentation, she went through the characteristics of good documentation, several suggestions for documentation layout and linking strategies, and the importance of crafting your pages for good SEO.

The final slot in the schedule went to a very popular talk: The Tragedy of systemd by Benno Rice. Even before the conference I knew this is one of the talks I wanted to see. As a FreeBSD developer, Benno brought an interesting perspective to the discussion of systemd, along with Unix history and the path that Apple’s OSX took with launchd. I am still unconvinced that systemd is the solution to our increasingly complicated world of init systems, but his talk did bring up some interesting points about how we’ve approached them in the past and the value that systemd creator Lennart Poettering brought to the Linux world by introducing systemd. He recommended Poettering’s Rethinking PID 1 which digs into the guts of the philosophy behind systemd and went on to address many of the criticisms. I certainly appreciated the talk a lot and while this delivery wasn’t recorded, his version of the talk given at BSDCan was (Benno Rice: The Tragedy of systemd — BSDCan 2018) and I’ve sent it to a few people already. Thanks to Benno for approaching such a controversial topic with evidence and positivity, I learned a lot.

Sadly, that concluded the conference for me! There was an after party, but I had decided to head home that night so I could sleep in my own bed and avoid the additional hotel night expense.

More photos from SeaGL can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157675535928818

Thanks again to all the organizers and other volunteers for making my last conference for a while such a great experience!

MST3K and the Space Needle

October and November are always busy times for me, and this year was no exception. With four conferences and a half dozen states, the time I spent home was pretty chill and I mostly stayed close to home.

The one exception to my hermit life these past several weeks was the MST3K Live 30th Anniversary Tour, which my friend Steve grabbed tickets for when they went on sale months ago. The timing of the show proved a bit complicated for me, and I canceled on him no less than two times as my travel and conference plans shifted in the months approaching it. Thankfully it worked out, and we met up for dinner at my beloved Anchor and Hope in San Francisco. Now, one of my favorite things about Anchor and Hope is their beer menu, which is off-limits to me these days, so I was really pleased to learn they had Bitburger Drive on their menu, a non-alcoholic brew from Germany which was a fine accompaniment to the meal. From there, we hopped on the MUNI Metro to go over to The Warfield, the same theater where MJ and I saw their live show last year.

They had two shows in each city during this tour, riffing on two separate movies, and we went for The Brain since timing for that worked best. I obviously can’t speak for the other show, but I was very happy with this selection. The show was a lot of fun.

Unfortunately part of sorting out my schedule called for a 6AM flight to Seattle the next morning so I could spend the day as planned with my friend Walt wandering around Seattle. I’ve been to Seattle several times, and even have taken some time to do some tourist stuff, but I’d never been up in the Space Needle. We decided to remedy that on this visit.

Our timing was better than I could have planned. First of all, they unveiled the $100 million renovation of the Space Needle this year, which included a new glass floor!

And glass benches in the outdoor observatory area!

It’s pretty amazing. They were still doing work when we were there, so the indoor area on the observation deck level was still closed to the public. The restaurant is gone (at least for now?), but my experience with food at revolving restaurants has not exactly been top notch anyway so I wasn’t really disappointed.

The second great thing about our timing? The weather! Seattle is famous for being gloomy, and my subsequent days in town were on par, but that Thursday we were granted with the best weather I’ve ever seen in Seattle.

In fact, it was so good that I finally was able to see the elusive Mount Rainier! It’s surprising that such a huge summit can hide so easily, but I’d only ever seen its likeness grace tourist and Seattle-made goodies and businesses. It was nice to finally see it for real.

Aside from the conference itself, which I’ll write about later, my visit mostly consisted of trying a new coffee shop each morning to get my limited allowance of caffeine for the day. It was a nice quick trip though, and my last professional trip before we welcome our little one in January. Right now I’m waiting for a flight to Philadelphia, where we’re going for Thanksgiving, and which will be my last personal trip. We’re planning on getting the room for the little one set up with a crib and changing table, and I’ve started shopping for some kiddo things that were easier to get sent to Philadelphia. We’ve also scheduled some visits with family and friends, including our now regular visit to MJ’s sister’s house for Thanksgiving itself.

More photos from the visit to Seattle here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157697606317690

LISA18 in Nashville

A couple weeks ago I was in Nashville, Tennessee for the first time, I carved out a little tourist time but my real reason for being there was LISA18!

This is one of the handful of conferences I attended this year and didn’t speak at, but I was one the talks co-chair, so I was happy to be able to attend and see the results of the conference I had a hand in putting together, which is where I’ll begin. LISA is a USENIX conference, and I’ve been a member of USENIX for several years. As a systems administrator, I was a member of SAGE (The System Administrators Guild), was on a LISA panel in 2012, and spoke at LISA in 2015. I was asked about my interest in being a talks co-chair this year over the winter, and we started calls about the event in March. The next couple months were spent scouring my contacts lists and recalling my favorite systems talks from the past couple years to invite people to submit proposals. At the end of May, the CFP closed and it was time to review proposals! There were over 325 of them, and I read every single one. We also had a small army of program committee members who each had an assigned list to review and vote on, along with the training co-chairs, and of course the overall program chairs, Rikki Endsley and Brendan Gregg. In early July, the program, talk and tutorial chairs met in Boston to finalize our selections and put together a schedule. With the schedule in place, my work as talks co-chair over the final months before the conference was mostly just helping select from alternates when we had speakers who couldn’t make it.

I’ve participated in a number of conferences at this point, and this was one of my best experiences. Everyone I worked with was friendly and worked hard to put together a solid line-up. The USENIX staff were super helpful every time we had questions and then handled the conference logistics so all the volunteers could focus on our specific roles. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to participate and hope I can participate in more USENIX work in the future.

As for the event itself, I had a great time! It began on Monday, October 29th with an introduction from the program chairs before launching into the first two keynotes. First up was Jon Masters who gave a talk on Meltdown and Spectre. While I haven’t been paid to do systems administration these past two years, I’ve continued to run several servers for the Ubuntu community, and I run a few of my own. As such, the vulnerabilities have impacted me enough that I’ve had beyond just an academic curiosity in both. Still, I appreciated the time he spent getting into the details of how the vulnerabilities worked and why that matters, as well as his call for folks working in software and hardware to be more explicit in their communications. As developers and systems engineers we can’t afford to continue treating hardware as a magical black box, and we need to more carefully consider the security cost of software-driven speed improvements.

The second keynote was from Tameika Reed on The Beginning, Present, and Future of Sysadmins. If the “Systems Administration” job title was ever cool, it’s certainly not now, in spite of the job still very much existing. In this funny and thoughtful talk, Tameika took us through the key skills that made a good systems administrator, and how they’re all still relevant in the world of automation, SREs, and DevOps methodologies. The specific implementations may have changed, but we still need backups, monitoring, security and more. The key takeaway: “Your skillsets still apply today but you have to evolve.”

Talk-wise the first day I went to a mix of culture talks and container talks. Culture was an import category for LISA this year, and I took time to hear from Emily Gladstone Cole on strategies to be your security team’s best friend, Kurt Andersen on steps to reduce operational toil on a team, and Rich Bowen on transferring ownership and leadership of a project. On the containers side, I enjoyed meeting and hearing from Michael Jennings of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in a talk where he explored the use of containers in HPC (High Performance Computing) and the current projects tackling the needs of HPC, including Charliecloud. I also had the pleasure of being session chair for David Morrison’s talk, where he talked about the use of Apache Mesos at Yelp.

The second day of keynotes brought the topic of social consciousness to the forefront. In the first, Dr. Sarah Lewis Cortes took us on a tour of the Darknet and explored recent cases of security vulnerabilities that have cost hundreds of millions in lawsuits to the retailers in question. In these security breaches, initial access that opened the door to attackers was accessed via a third party, so even if you’re not a retailer handling credit cards, we need to be conscious of how the security of our systems is impacting those we interact with. Directly following her talk, we heard from Jeffrey Snover who spoke more directly to social responsibility. It’s easy to get hyper-focused on solving a problem in your small corner of your code base, but stepping back from time to time to understand the broader implications of what you’re writing from an ethics and security perspective is important. With software “eating the world” we’re no longer just writing and running software, we’re writing and running key infrastructure that the world today operates on.

That afternoon I was a session chair again, and of particular note I was able to introduce Daniel J. Walsh of SELinux fame, who has now been working on containers and container security. One of the biggest takeaways from his talk was the tendency to run containers as root on your host system, and stressed that just ceasing this practice could probably be the best possible thing you could do to improve container security. His opensource.com article from the spring gives more details: Just say no to root (in containers).

Tuesday also brought us the LISA social! I’m not exactly a social butterfly, so I was happy to get settled in with a couple folks I knew, and their extended group, for food and interesting conversation. Plus, they had DIY(ish) LISA18 t-shirts featuring a raccoon, the state animal of Tennessee!

The final day of LISA landed on Halloween, and several conference-goers dressed up, which was a lot of fun. Unfortunately I wasn’t one of them, the contents of my suitcase covered both my trip to All Things Open and LISA (did laundry in between) and I had to limit my suitcase size to account for pregnancy-related weight restrictions in what I could haul around. I was delighted to see Vice Admiral Holdo and Rainbow Dash suitably represented among the attendees, as well closing keynote speaker Tom McLaughlin dressed as David S. Pumpkins.

Talk-wise, it was lovely to hear from Sabice Arkenvirr, who used her experience fixing up complicated infrastructure messes to stress the value of using off-the-shelf open source solutions rather than coming up with home-brewed alternatives that no one else in the industry would know how to use, and often end up being immature compared to the common solutions. She also wrote an opensource.com article on the topic, We already have nice things, and other reasons not to write in-house ops tools!

I also enjoyed the talk from Steve Mushero on Taking Over & Managing Large Messy Systems. At these conferences we very appropriately spend a lot of time focused on stories of doing things right, and highlighting the forward-thinking work of major engineering organizations that set the pace for the industry. Unfortunately, the result of this is sometimes losing sight of what folks in operations are seeing in the rest of the industry, which can often be poorly implemented logging and backups, security problems, and poor maintenance. Steve’s talk put a spotlight on the problems that most of the industry still deals with, and talked about strategies to quickly triage the worst of them.

The conference concluded with a pair of keynotes. The first was on serverless from Tom McLaughlin. Tom is great and I enjoyed hanging out with him before the conference, but I’ll say right up front that we’re not on the same page when it comes to serverless. He makes a lot of great points about moving past the need to do system-level infrastructure work (leave that to the experts, who you can pay) so you can focus on just building your application on the platform they provide. Alas, as a strong proponent of open source, I can’t get over the lock-in and proprietary nature of serverless solutions. Sorry, Tom! I will concede that it’s something that companies may consider, but with the knowledge of how dependent they are on a third party with regard to reliability, price, features, and more. Nora Jones of Netflix concluded the conference with a technical and cultural dive into Chaos Engineering at Netflix.

The conclusion of the conference was a bit sad because of how much I enjoyed being a part of it! But I had a lovely evening out to vegan dinner with Brendan and Rikki before a little after-event enjoying of a non-alcoholic beer with others from USENIX and the LISA organizing crew.

More photos from LISA18 can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157673027760167

Visiting Nashville

My trip to the east coast continued on Sunday when I flew down to Nashville for LISA18. I was able to check into the hotel around 3PM and had the whole beautiful afternoon to myself. Both the cab driver coming in and the front desk at the hotel mentioned the Broadway District just a couple blocks from the hotel, so that was my first stop.

I think the first thing that struck me about it was how much smaller it was than I expected. I think I’ve grown accustomed to towering skyscrapers, so seeing a popular district topping out at 3 stories was a surprise. The area is pretty historic, which probably explains it, and the nature of that neighborhood hasn’t stopped larger buildings downtown from popping up. All the construction that was impossible to miss throughout the rest of the city, and at the airport. A quick Google search on the state of things in Nashville shows that its economy is booming.

The second thing I noticed was the music! The street is lined with honky-tonks spilling live country music out into the streets. On that beautiful Sunday afternoon they were packed with patrons inside and people on the sidewalks enjoying the music. It was a fun atmosphere, even if it was one of those moments where I was really missing the culture bit of drinking, I really would have liked to pop into one of the bars and settle in with a beer or whiskey cocktail.

Instead, I went for ice cream from a large candy shop on Broadway that had a stream of happy-looking ice cream eaters pouring out of it. The shop was adorable, and even had a model train running above our heads. The “little bit of everything” Monster Mash ice cream didn’t disappoint. A series of tweets about my adventures lead to a walk to meet up with a fellow conference attendee (and one of our keynote speakers!) who I’d only known online up until then. We had a lovely time of chatting about serverless, cats, and the tech industry.

The next three days were consumed by the conference, which I’ll write about later. I scheduled my flight out of Nashville post-conference for the late afternoon so I could have a few hours to do some final tourist stuff. It was raining for most of the morning, which firmed up my decision to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which helpfully had an indoor walkway from my hotel.

There was a time in my life when I’d say “I love all music except country and rap,” but I’ve come around to embrace both. In the case of country music the change happened when I was living in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, the home of the annual Philadelphia Folk Festival. It took just one year of attending for me to develop a fondness for folk music. That fondness started a historical journey through the roots of American folk, which quickly digs up the greats of country music. It’s a beautiful mix of European and African influences that has resulted in a very American genre that I have a lot of respect for. Once you have a firm base in traditional country music going back to when recording began in the 1920s, it’s not a leap to appreciate the modern forms. I realize this is a ridiculously intellectual perspective on appreciating an art, especially one that that has so much heart, but welcome to my brain.

Visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame turned out to be a real treat. There were some rotating exhibits featuring specific artists, but I loved that they didn’t put too much focus on any big name artist in their core collection, regardless of their impact (even if the gift shop may lead you to believe it’s the Johnny Cash museum). It was also nice that they had a handful of seated theater areas where I could get off my feet for a while and watch a short film, as it turns out spending a couple hours in a museum isn’t the easiest thing now that I’m entering the 7th month of pregnancy.

After the museum I made my way over to a little restaurant specializing in southern dishes and enjoyed a patty melt made with pimento cheese. I had more pimento cheese on this trip than I care to admit, but it’s so very good and I don’t have the opportunity all that often. It was then time to head off to the airport to begin my journey home.

As usual, I wish I had more time to explore the city, though I think it’s one of those places I would have liked to have a travel buddy in. I suspect a visit to a honky-tonk is a lot more fun when not doing it solo.

More photos from my tourist adventures in Nashville here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157703123552815

On Thursday I’m off to Seattle for my last conference trip of the year. I’m flying in a day earlier than originally planned to meet up with a friend to get in some tourist time. Currently the plans include brunch and finally going up in the Space Needle, which I’ve somehow not managed to do in the several times I’ve been up there. Should be a nice time.

All Things Open 2018

I say this every time I go, but All Things Open is one of my favorite conferences. The organizers are some of the kindest people I’ve ever worked with, their speaker line-up and attendees are some of the most diverse I’ve seen at an open source conference, and the quality of talks is always top notch. This year was no exception.

The evening before the conference I met up with a friend for a lovely dinner nearby. In addition to personal catch up, I got to swap ops stories with her and and we shared our thoughts on the healthiest ways we’ve seen teams we’ve worked in supported, a topic that’s been in on my mind a lot lately. I called it an early night, as I’d had a busy day of travel and had to be up the next morning for an appointment at the conference center at 9AM. The appointment conflicted with the Monday keynotes, but it couldn’t be avoided. I’ll be happy when I can share the details of what transpired, it’s exciting!

Both of my talks where on Monday, the first of which was the first slot post-keynotes, at 10:30. It was a talk on Continuous Delivery with Containers, which is a largely generic topic, but I had to rewrite some for this conference now that I no longer have an employer affiliation. The key concepts and flow stayed the same, but I had re-write the slides and instead of doing a live demo, I switched to a screenshot-driven walkthrough demonstrating the entire pipeline CI/CD on GitLab with Auto DevOps instead of using a mix of Jenkins and GitLab. My containers for this demo also changed, as I switched to using the Google Kubernetes Engine. The talk was in the DevOps ballroom, which was one of the largest rooms of the conference and had an audience to match, so I was somewhat glad I went with the walkthrough instead of the added stress of a live demo. The talk went well and led to great conversations with folks throughout the rest of the conference. Slides from the talk are up in PDF form here.

Thanks again to Jim Salter for taking this great photo during my talk, I’m actually smiling! (source)

The middle of my day, as with much of the rest of the conference, was spent meeting up with folks at the conference. My free-agent status does mean that I’m looking for my next potential opportunity, and All Things Open was the perfect conference for me to be attending with that in mind. At 3:15 in the afternoon I gave my second, and final, talk of the conference on Challenges to the Open Source Model Today. I’d say the technical talk of the morning is the one that pays the bills and I enjoyed it, but the one in the afternoon is really where my passion is. Without my passion for open source at the core, everything else I work on is less meaningful and I might as well just be doing a product pitch. The talk takes a quick stroll through the past 20 years of open source, discussing how the influx of money and the proclaimed success of open source software has changed the ecosystem. I conclude by sharing ways that we can remain engaged, including by joining small projects, doing open source work for a local organization, and mentoring new contributors. After my talk I was reminded about the trend of civic open source work, so I’ll definitely add a bit about that the next time I give a version of this talk. Your government is a local organization for sure, but that specific form of service can be particularly compelling for some people. A PDF version of those slides can be found here.

Thanks to Nathan Handler for taking the time to take this photo, and one of my other talk too! (source)

Monday night I split my time between an opensource.com gathering of friends, where they made me a wonderful passion fruit and ginger ale mocktail, and the speakers’ dinner back at the Sheraton where I was staying. I had wonderful company at both events, but by the time 9:30PM rolled around I was more than ready to retire for the evening. It had been quite the day!

Tuesday I actually was able to attend some talks! And with both my talks behind me, I could also relax a lot more. I had a few more meetings with folks, but largely just enjoyed the conference. I enjoyed they keynotes from Nina Zakharenko, who took us on a whirlwind tour of interesting Python projects, and Henry Zhu, who cast a bright light on the role of maintainers in the open source world, and the tremendous amount of work, responsibility and pressure that role entails. If I’m honest, I could have skipped their blockchain speaker, even though I know the conference organizers were excited about his participation. I simply don’t buy into the technology or the anarchist rhetoric that goes along with it, and this talk was pretty much the stereotypical pitch.

After the keynotes I headed down to a talk by Remy DeCausemaker where he talked about the internship programs at Twitter and how they use open source in the program. What I particularly liked about the approach is they offer several different types of short projects for students to work on, and let them decide which projects to tackle throughout the internship. He also talked about how open source offers a more real-world like approach, where collaboration and “copying” (building upon the code/modules of others) is not cheating, in fact, re-inventing the wheel is a waste of time.

The last talk I attended was from Stephanie Morillo who shared her procedure around evaluating and improving documentation by walking through several key steps:

  1. Conduct a content audit
  2. Host docs on an external site (not just a GitHub README)
  3. Check in with users
  4. Create and make use of templates
  5. Write good contributor/content guidelines
  6. Seek advice and tips from other open source projects

But you don’t need to take my word for it, she wrote a whole article on the topic which gives a wonderful introduction to the space, and expands upon each of the points in her talk: How Content Strategy Can Help OSS Maintainers Improve Their Docs

My evening wound down by dropping by the very crowded conference after party and playing a round of pinball with my friend Stephen before we departed to grab a nearby BBQ dinner.

And with that, the conference was over! It’s always sad to leave because of how many people I know who attend regularly and it’s a really great crowd. Big thanks to the organizers who put so much work into putting on such a fantastic show every year.