Friday, December 18, 2015

Following In Other's Footsteps

My pinned tweet on my Twitter timeline gets favourited every so often, which is always a good reminder that I, as a white male in the United States, am VASTLY over-represented and over-sampled in the culture at large. The "default" audience for nearly everything including videogames, TV shows, movies, even food and petrol are all aimed squarely at me: the white guy with spare cash. So, as my tweet reminds me:

But as a white male feminist, my single greatest job is to LISTEN. I must must MUST remember that. I MUST LISTEN.

 One of the ways I work to make sure that that's happening is my twitter feed. Not too long ago I was challenged to retweet ten things from women in one day, and I found it easier than some others, but WAY too hard for my own preferences. So I ruthlessly cleared out my twitter following list -- if you were a white dude, and I didn't personally know you, then off you went. I started following people of colour, especially black men who were doing significant reporting on the ground from protests and movements against police brutality. I tried to make sure that the voices in my Twitter feed looked as different from me as I thought was possible.

It's still pretty tech-heavy, because a large number of people I follow are people I know or have at least met, but still, it felt pretty good when Jen Foehner Wells (@Jenthulhu) retweeted @KerithBurke's query, "Who's a woman you follow on twitter who rocks your world with good links and thoughts and sense? I want to follow more rad ladies.", I was able to basically inundate her with So. Many. Handles.

I also realized I missed some. So, for the record, here's a pretty good list from my "Following" stream. This doesn't include any of the men I follow, nor does it include the amazing Jiz Lee (because they identify as non-binary) among others. But here's a bunch of women that you should follow, because their voices should be heard. And it is the job of we white men to listen.

Go and follow these women:
@KerithBurke, @kejames, @SnowHydro, @highlyanne, @cbahlai, @CEamer, @terngirl, @sigje, @jorietappa, @hechanova, @Alysonkjy, @ArielSpear, @kayayarai, @ellaguro, @TaraReed_, @favomancer, @lunaraven13, @marijane, @dtrapezoid, @lehudgins, @konahart, @spine_cone, @wiredferret, @lynncyrin, @GeorgiaReh, @britl, @poeks, @kategodart, @bethpdx, @PDXyogini, @kronda, @christi3k, @meli_lewis, @mizsma, @EvaLohse, @sarahoconnor_, @fangirlJeanne, @BreeNewsome, @HAIL_9000, @beerops, @ltvargus, @AnasuyaIam, @asymbina, @Teelabird, @jwrothchild, @pizzaops, @MaryRobinette, @ann_leckie, @Jenthulhu, @GrandmaHenri, @bergopolis, @GeekyLyndsay, @DynamicWebPaige, @leighalexander, @KnittyNerd, @brookshelley, @twoscooters, @Annaleen, @charliejane, @FeyNudibranch, @NobleRorick, @GWillowWilson, @srhbutts, @Quinnae_Moon, @ashleycomeau, @RachelShadoan, @TheQuinnspiracy, @Spacekatgal, @randileeharper, @MollyOstertag, @kleenestar, @strumpet101, @Faebelina, @bellhooks, @ProfBanks, @leftoblique, @mariafi, @wundergeek, @intensyty, @pkafei, @KameronHurley, @corinnepw, @DiscGrace, @Lilulicious, @Library_Mary, @wholemilk, @UrsulaV, @zeethriller, @angelacraft, @ComicsLawyer, @zerena_hoofs, @nkjemisin, @TheBabeRunner, @soetzufit, @applecidermage, @dymphna_saith, @thesaragates, @racerxmachina, @briecs, @tweetsofrogue, @C_Fracture, @filamena, @AmyTFalcone, @mipsytipsy, @bripruett, @ChelseaCain, @shadipetosky, @sweetpavement, @backthatelfup, @SarahDarkmagic, @nicolaz, @ErikaMoen, @angelamwebber, @Molly23, @TheSarahShay, @matociquala, @IsBriana, @zenithsun, @amber_benson, @AubreyCello, @pronouncedLAHra, @snarke, @StephanieEco, @mariancall, @jeanbees, @novaren, @berkanna3, @cmpriest, @pooblemoo, @carriepadian, @leanoir, @JessWardman, @emoontx, @Chemily77, @shfitch, @whipartist, @coyotedancer, @oleta, @aleta, @Jessica_Paul, @riayn, @gemmy1, @esmeraldus, @pdxreda, @wrdinglanguage, @weltschmerz

Monday, November 23, 2015

Jessica Jones: The Review

Not spoilery, but may be triggery. Gonna talk about AKA Jessica Jones on Netflix.

Here is the thing about Jessica Jones. 

There's no artistry or metaphor, no allegory or subtext in it. I mean, there is, but it all points to the text: that toxic masculinity hurts everyone, that consent matters very much to women and almost never to men, that in our culture men are impervious and always believed while women are victimized no matter how "strong" they are, that abusers more often get believed than the abused, that you can't trust the cops, and that people, all kinds of people everywhere, are fucked up and hurt each other and support each other and hopefully we can all live with ourselves and our choices at the end of the day.

It's incredibly noir. Not in the sense of the common understanding of "noir" to be black-and-white, but rather in the classical sense of the movies (and especially the books): that every person lives their lives in the shadows and grey spaces that fill our every waking moment, and that truly "good" choices often don't exist, or are at least extremely rare, and almost always come with a tremendous cost. 

It plays with the tropes of noir, too, often straight up with no twist or softening: the drunken PI with a dark past and a terrible regret, the young dame in need of assistance, the shadowy dark player, the untrustworthy law enforcement, the long-suffering assistant, the shady lawyer with a silver tongue and a copper-washed soul... heck, even the sultry love interest with a tragic story. Now that I think about it, there's even a macguffin! 


It's not perfect. But damned if it isn't extremely well-written and well-cast. It was fantastically difficult to watch, and I loved it, and I'll probably watch it again when I get a chance, and have recovered a bit from my first watching. 

You should probably watch it too. But beware: Jessica Jones is strong, and she doesn't like to pull her punches. 

She's available now on Netflix.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Better Living Through Chemistry

The only way I can manage to even function as a semi-reasonable human being in situations like Blizzcon is because of alprazolam. It's the generic form of Xanax, and often even just a quarter of a pill will allow me to not have a panic attack or a total freakout when surrounded by people who can't seem to figure out where they're going and feel it's appropriate to stop at random times and places without regard to anyone else including the bloody bastards following them. Or, y'know, things like that.

Having a couple of pills in my purse means that sometimes, I don't even have to take it; just knowing it's there allows me to manage the anxiety well enough (though, I will say, not at Blizzcon; at Blizzcon I'm taking half a tab in the morning and half a tab in the afternoon and even then I have to manage my exposure pretty consciously). That said, I love to see my friends, so I'm willing to take the pills and make the effort.

On the one hand, it's a little weird that in order to have fun with my friends somewhere, I have to drug myself. But on the other hand, not having to manage the stress and fear in other, probably less-healthy ways is a real positive mark.

Plus, as an added benefit of the medicine, I'm sleeping like a fucking rock.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Pre-Blizzcon Report

After a slight delay in our flight, we arrived in Anaheim and secured our badges and bags for Blizzcon. We also went to the pre-party, saw some friends, and had some drinks.

Travelling, crowds, and uncertainty all combined to make it a very stressful day and thus, I am exhausted in this tiny, slightly run-down bed in a hotel with terrible wifi and grody rooms. But hey, I'm at Blizzcon!

We'll see if I do more of this tomorrow...

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The Digital Life

I have friends, good friends, that (before my current job) I spent time with every week, and enjoyed their company and shared their lives, and only saw once a year for a couple of days in person. I have friends that I consider close, personal, intimate friends that I interact with on a regular basis that I haven't seen in years. I have, in short, a modern distributed social circle that closely resembles the current experience of many people of my generation (and younger).

When I read an article or hear a pundit moaning about the "impersonal" or "virtual" lives that some people live these days, wondering why they don't just put down their phones and talk to someone, I have to admit I question how these people live. If I'm using my phone, I probably am talking to someone -- though it's possible the conversation may be asynchronous -- about my day, or their day, or the recent political election in Canada, or the news out of Saudi Arabia, or the weather in Chennai, because my friends live in Canada, and the Middle East, and India, so these are things that directly affect them.

I see my friends posting selfies and I am so incredibly happy about it, because it's not an issue of vanity or some other misassigned put-down from an old grumpy white dude, but because it's a sign that my friends are alive and, if not well, at least willing to share their current experience. I'm glad people post selfies. It's a declaration that they are refusing to be erased, and I'm doing my best to make sure that these people are witnessed in their existence.

I use social media and texting and email and blogging as a way to maintain and expand my social experience in the world, and as a result I am not entirely surrounded by people who look and talk and think like me, which is a very, very good thing. And so I'm excited to go and see my friends and eat sushi and make obscure inside-baseball jokes about "threat" and "damage per second" and drink good booze and play good games with them, because I live my life in many ways, some of which involve me behind a keyboard.

Anyway, that's what I'm doing with my weekend.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Time Off

Tomorrow afternoon I start my vacation from work. We're heading to BlizzCon 2015 and then Disneyland, and I'm really looking forward to seeing in person a bunch of people I haven't seen in ages. And I'm very much looking forward to not thinking about work.

Work is one of those things that I have trouble putting away, because often the most difficult part of work for me is not the actual work, but the acknowledgement that others (usually my bosses) make decisions with given factors that result in outcomes that are not always my preferred outcome. It's Not My Raid has become a significant mantra; not because things are necessarily "wrong", but often because there are pressures or forces of which I am either not aware or feel should be prioritized differently. But I'm not the boss; I'm a team member, not a team lead. And that means that getting worked up about stuff is likely at best counterproductive and at worst is harming both my own reputation and the reputation of my team. So I'm trying to take my partner's advice and recognize when it's time to let go.

So starting on Wednesday evening I'm stepping entirely away from work, and I'm determined to just pretend it doesn't even exist while I'm off doing my fun stuff with friends in Southern California. I even built a little time into the schedule after we get home to be Not Working. Getting recharged and revitalized for the Holiday Season is going to be a Thing What Needs Doing, because while *AAS tools aren't often seasonal, you bet your bippy that many companies who use *AAS tools in fact are.

So here's hoping the world doesn't blow up tomorrow afternoon, because tomorrow evening I'm taking some Time Off.

Monday, November 02, 2015

To Boldly Go

Since CBS just announced that there's another Star Trek series in the works, I'll take a moment or two to put my particular thoughts about Star Trek as a franchise and as a headcanon in one place so that I can just refer to this rather than trying to remember what I need to type out whenever the Star Trek discussion comes up again in some thread somewhere.

Here's what I think the perfect Star Trek show is about: cooperation in the face of cruelty, diversity as a given rather than some sort of quota or question, diplomacy as a powerful solution, and violence as both a last resort and an acknowledgement of failure. I want to see, basically, The West Wing in space, where fantastically intelligent people from radically different backgrounds are fighting with all of their brains to prevent terrible things from happening by talking very, very fast and using extremely big words, all of which are currently available in a dictionary.

I have a personal belief, based on my experience mostly with the Star Trek Online game, that the various bits and pieces of information about Starfleet are effectively all hogwash and propaganda -- that Starfleet isn't the cremé-de-la-cremé as Krugman et. al. profess, but rather it's a makework jobs program for the misfits and the weirdos. Basically, in STO, since the given player's skill level is unpredictable, the lived experience at that point is that anyone who wants to be in Starfleet gets to be in Starfleet, regardless of their actual skill level or aptitudes. We even see a little of that confirmed in canonical sources like DS9, where some of Chief O'Brien's staff are not exactly the "best and the brightest" (or, for that matter, some of the non-coms even on the Enterprise in TNG aren't exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer).

Note that I actually like this model of Starfleet / UFP. Basically, the idea being that if you just want it hard enough, the bureaucracy will find a place for you, and will do their best to utilize whatever skills and interests you are interested and invested in bringing to bear. A true meritocracy, where what matters most is a willingness to try and a commitment to being part of something greater than oneself.

That's the story I want to see told, the series I want to see filmed: that people (of whatever shape, size, or system), working with will and commitment, can build something amazing and lasting and sometimes galaxy-changing. Together.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Testing The Time Travel Technique

Since I'm never, ever actually going to do NaNoWriMo (mostly because I can never figure out how to either make things happen or how to end things), I thought I might try NaNoBlogMo, and do one post a day for the month.

If I can do a little time-travel cheating, that is; I guess we'll see if this actually shows up as publishing on the 1st?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Explaining my Title

I believe I got the quote from Cory Doctorow, and he credited a designer who's name I've never been able to find or credit, so feel to let me know if you know the source. But the quote as I remember it is this:

"The default state of technology, any technology from stone axes to modern computers, the default state of technology is 'broken'."

It's true, too; technology as a definition is something that is created and thus must be maintained. The axe is possibly the earliest and easiest example: axes that aren't sharp are spectacularly bad axes. For really, really long time we survived on technology and tools that were only moderately more complicated than our own fingers and teeth, and thus technology was relatively easy to maintain and manage, but still: a dull knife is a failure mode. A snapped bowstring is a failure mode. And it requires time, attention, and effort to keep the technology of life out of failure mode and in a usable condition. And this is a condition that becomes more and more true as systems become more complex and civilization becomes, well... civilization.

The thing about the modern world is that it's become so complex that the average person, while entirely capable of maintaining their own technology, just doesn't have time to do it on their own. In point of fact, there's a better-than-average chance that they're out doing maintenance on someone else's technology so that person can do maintenance on someone else's technology... it's maintenance all the way down, in our society. The miracle isn't that computers make our lives easier; the miracle is that they manage to not fail on a reasonably regular basis.

An anecdote: the FAA requires that every plane that flies meet a strict policy on maintenance -- the industry standard as I understand it is the "five nines", which means that 99.999% of the parts and functionality of the aircraft must be working for the aircraft to be certified as air-worthy. If you accept the idea that the average 737 has a million moving parts (and I personally think that's low), then that means that every Southwest flight you take there's as many as 10 things on the plane that are broken. The good news is that they often aren't major things -- a seatbelt doesn't lock, a cabin compartment doesn't latch, etc. -- but again, the miracle isn't that planes fly, but rather that planes don't fall out of the sky on a regular basis.

The difference between older, more "reliable" technology and the new experience of the Internet Of Things and our Software-based interface with the world is that most older technology has had the edges shaved down and sanded off. By default, these systems have been redesigned and redesigned until the understanding is that the technology persists in a system where the failure mode is understandable and easy to manage (though sometimes the timing of that failure mode is less-than-ideal -- witness anyone who's had a car run out of gas between mileposts on the freeway).

Much of Operational Thinking involves planning for Failure Modes -- how does it fail, why does it fail, what happens to the user / customer / involved systems when it fails -- and working with management and development teams to determine risk matrices for a given situation and the likelihood of business impact. Often the most important question an Ops team member can ask any developer is "how does it fail," because many developers (rightly enough) are extremely focused on delivery modes and success, and it's the job of the Ops person to make sure that failure is a mode the business as a whole and every partner in the business thinks about in order to reduce time spent in that mode.

Another Anecdote: Disaster Recovery methodology is a very-low-reward value. Often thinking about DR is boring and weird, because it often involves situations that just plain don't happen...until they do. The DR plan for the Datacenter flooding is not something anyone wants to work out, until it's June of 2011 and your company is looking at an emergency relocation of your production environment because your current datacenter is just outside Council Bluffs and there's a record water-release upstream on the Missouri that's about to sweep through and put the first two floors of the building underwater. Then it becomes really valuable to have that white binder with the carefully-laid-out plans for system migration. And it can be both expensive and panic-inducing when it turns out the white binder is empty / out of date, especially since your clients in New York and California aren't really on board with you taking a week off to fix the problem...

Software (and nearly all modern tools are to some extent married to some sort of software) sometimes breaks. Sometimes it breaks in extremely predictable ways, and sometimes it breaks in ways that are not only impossible to predict but sometimes nearly-impossible to replicate (want to have fun? Google "Leap Second Bug" and head down that particular Wikipedia rabbit hole). As an Operational-minded person, I am often looking for new and interesting failure possibilities in the various tools I use. But most people don't think about different types of failure modes; they have a mindset that all tools are either "working" or "broken". And it's important to think about that. And to recognize that the default state of modern civilization and life is much more often "broken".

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Question of Sheets (Or: all Metaphors are Faulty)

Think of your business as a bedroom -- let's say you're a homeowner and you're looking to rent out your spare bedroom on AirBnB or something like that (we'll leave the troublesome methodology of companies like AirBnB or Uber for some other day when I have the ability to produce TWO multi-thousand-word rants about business decisions). Your bedroom is a business, and your production environment is the bed -- mattress (front-end), box-spring (back-end), bedframe (infrastructure). Your Operations team is the woman who changes the sheets (product release), and this is where things get tricky.

If you're running a shady, quasi-illegal operation out of your spare bedroom, the woman who changes the sheets is probably you, and you're probably not a professional housekeeper. You just want clean sheets that keep the mattress from getting horked up by the weirdo from Brooklyn with the Macbook Pro who leaves beard trimmings in the sink. In this case, you do what any reasonable homeowner does: you go out and buy a set of sheets off the shelf, throw on the fitted sheet, and ignore it until the next person comes along and you have to change the sheets again. You're trying to make some spare scratch on the side, not make a business of it, so this model is fine; you can probably get by with two or three sheet sets and you just pull them off and toss them in the laundry as needed, and most of the time you keep your treadmill with the hangers on it in the corner and there's no problem.

But then you've got some spare cash, so you take out a mortgage on a condo in a building in downtown Portland and rather than moving into it you stage it and decide to rent it out to people visiting PDX for conferences or vacations or whatever, because there's money to be made with spare bedrooms. Now you have a choice: do you become an expert at cleaning? Or do you hire a cleaning service to keep your condo clean between visits? Note that the cleaning service is going to cut into your profits, probably pretty significantly. But you're also going to spend a lot of time and effort on sheets. And if sheets aren't something you want to spend a lot of time on, especially fiddling with fitted sheets on a given mattress, then there's a pretty steep opportunity cost there as well. So either you get to become an expert on sheets and making the bed, or you're going to spend a moderate chunk of the money you're making to have someone else come in and change your sheets for you. Your choice.

But then you realize, you really like managing visitors, and there's lots and lots of people wanting to sleep in Portland, so that's it: you're going to build a hotel in Portland. You're going to have lots and lots of mattresses for lots and lots of visitors. And that means lots and lots of sheets. So now it's time to make some decisions about hiring the people who know something about sheets (and vacuums, and washing machines, and... well, you get the idea).

Like in the hospitality industry, in IT the people who change the sheets and vacuum the floors and fold the corners and spray for bedbugs are fantastically undervalued for the work they do, mostly because when they do it correctly no one notices and when they do it badly companies go under.

This metaphor is getting a little out of control, but you get my point: trust people to know what they're doing, let them do it, and for the gods own sake, pay them reasonably well, or they will desert you in droves the moment that someone else offers them a dollar more an hour to change the sheets.

As an addendum, it was pointed out to me that when you're managing a hotel at scale, no one uses fitted sheets. Instead, the proprietor goes to a special wholesaler and buys a metric ton of flat sheets of a uniform colour and size, which the staff then folds and fits to the particular mattress as necessary based on size and usage. I'll leave the parsing of that as a metaphor for Operations Teams as an exercise for the reader...

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Ticketing: A Narrative

In any organization, IT or not, that is larger than zero people, there needs to be a way for the organization to identify, track, and resolve work. The tricky part is how you define "work", because that actually means a bunch of things: Work means "hours spent by workers on tasks", but it also means "the product of the hours spent by workers on tasks" and "future hours to be spent" and "future products as a result of spent". 

For the purposes of this rant/manifesto, we're going to define "you" not as a generalized vagary, but a very specific person. You, in this case, are "Tanya".

Because this is fiction, I'm going to really go out on a limb and be wildly divergent from reality, so you, Tanya, are a young woman in tech (you can already tell this is fiction). You've spent your college years suffering through the horrible sexism and racism to finally graduate with your Computer Science degree, and you and five friends have just come up with the Next Facebook Idea, and coincidentally one of your friends is white and male so he's talked YCombinator into a startup grant of 10 million dollars to see if you can do anything with it. And now you've been told you're in charge of managing a bunch of stuff, for which your CS degree never prepared you

But! You're smart. You're capable. And you think a lot about systems and workflow (which really means you should be in Ops, but nevermind that now, this is a POSITIVE fiction). You know you need a way to track the "work" and you have a pretty good idea of what "work" means from one moment to the next. So how do you track that work, and how do you make sure you're tracking the right things, and how do you know what measurements you want to use to define "right"? 

"Tanya," you say to yourself, "what we really need is some sort of tool that will aggregate and distribute this information." And so what you need is a ticketing system. A way to identify a discreet chunk of "work", determine it's value and effort, and prioritize it, track it's progress from inception to completion, and then report on the estimated versus real value after you're done with it. You will also be using this system to assign or reassign work from person to person (and eventually, from team to team). So you sit down with your friends/cofounders and bring up that you need a ticketing system to manage workflow.

"But Tanya," says Chad, your white friend who knows the guys at YCombinator, "ticketing systems suck. Why can't we just handle this like we did with class projects? There's only five of us, we know what needs to be done, let's just do it." Chad conveniently forgets that the reason he did so well with class projects is that you and your roommate Lacy were always willing to do 4/5 of the work for every project, while Chad always wanted to do the presentation but never did any of the work. But that's just Chad; he often forgets the value of being white and male, but at least he doesn't get huffy about it when you call him on it. It's why Chad is still a friend and still part of the team: he's got the connections. 

Why do ticketing systems suck? They suck for two reasons. The first reason they suck is because they make engineers (who are mostly self-directed people, socially) think about what other people want. The second reason is that often a ticketing system is engaged for one specific reason and then dragooned into service for every other team that needs a ticketing system, even when the needs explicitly do not fit the tool. For often very good reasons (money, time, effort -- all things relating to "work"), an organization that has sunk cost into one particular ticketing system will use that one ticketing system for EVERYTHING, when in fact that's a bad idea. Because often the things you want to track and follow are vastly different metrics depending on what kind of work it is.

"Chad, we need to know who's doing what. There's only the five of us. What happens if you get hit by a bus?" You pause for a moment, while everyone but Chad imagines Chad getting hit by a bus, and secretly you all smile a little. "We'll start with something small, lightweight. We just want to be able to know who's doing what and where we are in the process." With a little more wrangling, you're able to get everyone on board. You find a good (free!) engineering-centric system, because at this point you don't have anything but some code and some ideas. You need a way to track "who is writing what", "what is still left to write", "what is working", "what is not working", and "how long is this taking". 

===

It is 18 months later. You have business cards. Chad wants the company to have a "light, open" culture, so your business card just says "Tanya, Engineering Master" and the company logo, and your various contact methods including your twitter handle. Your little idea and 12 million dollars later (Chad has been doing a lot of fundraising and not much coding) now is a Product, and people are actually using it and Chad has hired several people to figure out how to get people to pay for it and now instead of you and your four (three, really; thanks Chad) friends doing the programming there's now a dozen devs and you're not so much doing any coding as you are trying to make sure everyone else is doing their work. 

It's still been a rush to see your creation grow and evolve and suddenly be introduced into the world... and promptly break. Badly. In a lot of very, very interesting ways. And you need a way to track customer's reports. That sounds familiar... Yes, in fact, you need a ticketing system. But wait, you HAVE a ticketing system! It's free, and everyone is already using it, so you can just use that, right?

Well... maybe. Here's the thing: a customer (which in this case is the same as a user, though sometimes you wish you had gone the Twitter/Facebook route and designed something where the users and the customers are different) has a very different expectation around "work". The customer wants to know that the behaviour they're experiencing is sub-optimal. They want to know when it will get fixed, and they want to know how long it will take, and they want to know who to harangue to get the behaviour fixed if it's not happening fast enough. So does it really make sense to use the same ticketing system to track "user reports" when you're already using a tool that tracks "engineering workflow"? That's probably not a great idea...

So now either you have two ticketing systems (and you have to find a way to make them talk to each other, because some (but not all) of the customer reports will be things that engineering has to fix), OR you have one ticketing system and you have to track two different metrics in one tool and figure out how to convert one kind of ticket to another kind of ticket (and back) internally.

And now the sales team wants a way to track leads and followups and contracts. 

And now the desktop support team wants a way to track who needs or wants what and whose laptop got lost and how much it cost to replace it (Chad, you do not need a top-of-the-line MacBook Air if you're just going to leave it on the plane again).

And now there's a real problem, because the tool you're using purports to be a one-size-fits-all tool, but seriously, does anyone actually believe that? 

And also, how did you, the woman with the CS degree, become the person who makes these decisions? You're a co-founder! You have equity!

Ticketing systems are important. But there a lot of them and they all do some things well and other things badly, and none of them do everything for everyone well. And often they are only an afterthought, which get crowbarred into positions where they are totally unsuited, and then people go out of their way to not use them (because no one wants to use a bad tool). So you have to make decisions, and often those decisions have knock-on effects that are totally unpredictable. And there's not a "right" answer. There's just a series of choices that feel like "more bad" and "less bad".

===

It's now two years later.

You took your equity and your title and went off to do something else. You still see Lacy every so often at conferences. Chad is now working at YCombinator, but you don't talk to him; you don't need money that bad, and the last interaction with him left a bad taste in your mouth. He's not quite a missing stair yet, but you're determined to avoid him if you can (and warn everyone you work with about him). 

You spent some time coding with a big company but it feels too much like assembly line work. Plus, they had a horrible ticketing process, which no one used anyway, which led to lots of confusion. You've been having ideas about integration: about how to create a tool that allows different ticketing systems to talk to one another automatically, to remove as much of the human element as possible, but it's a tricky concept: ticketing systems are complicated and messy and getting the right tool for the right job often means trying several tools before settling on the right one...

=== 

Footnote: this essay owes a huge debt to the really excellent Paul Ford issue of Bloomberg News, "What is Code": http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-paul-ford-what-is-code/ . I encourage you strongly to read it. Make some time; it's a big chunk of text.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Inclusivity is a Bad Thing.

(This post inspired by Michelle Lyons-McFarland; check her out at http://scmusing.blogspot.com/ among other places)

There are a lot of white dudes in IT talking about "inclusivity" in their culture and how it's important, as if "inclusivity" is an end-stage boss they can beat, or a card they can move from the "actionable" to the "done" part of their burn board. It's often used in concert with "diversity" (which is another tricky concept that I might go into later), and is touted as a good thing in and of itself.

I can claim a lot of things as a cis white guy in IT, but here's one thing that you should probably trust me on: Inclusivity Is A Bad Thing. It's bad for the individual, it's bad for communities, it's bad for teams and organizations, and it's bad for society as a whole.

It's bad because at best it means nothing, and at worst it means a deliberate and willful choice to avoid making decisions. I'm not even a big fan of the phrase "be inclusive" because it, too, is a move towards avoiding action and choice, rather than possibly making a stand and risking some sort of outcry or backlash or (in extreme cases) horrible harassment. Inclusive is the wrong word. It's the word that nerds and PR flacks use to say something without saying something.

No, if you want a stronger organization, a stronger team, a stronger community, you must include people. If you want a better range of colour and gender and backgrounds in whatever it is you're trying to build or improve, then you, both individually and collectively, must act to build or improve. And that means changing the words used. "We want to be inclusive" is a passive statement, and implies that the problem is not you or your organization, but all of those silly people who can't figure out how awesome you are. "We want to include more women and minorities" is better. "We want to include more women" is much better. "We are working to make our organization more friendly towards GLBT folk" is much, much better.

Organizations require work. Good organizations require lots of work. Some of that work is deciding who will or won't be a good fit for your organization, and determining the rules about how to admit and how to exclude individuals. Because the truth of the matter is that not all people fit in all organizations; that's the nature of both people and organizations. And for that matter, not all of the people who the organization thinks will fit will actually fit. It's possible to create a team that wants to have more women on it but decides not to hire a woman. It's possible to create a company that wants more black programmers but doesn't hire every black programmer.

The set [all the people everywhere] is not a good fit for anything other than a definition of population. Necessarily, organizations will not want to, but need to, exclude some people. Clear and easily understood exclusion principles are hard to implement, but ultimately will improve whatever group you're trying to create. Exclusion and exclusivity aren't a priori bad things, as long as they're clearly understood and communicated.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Cognitive Gap Of Why

So a non-trivial number of people whom I respect and enjoy have made the very same mistake about a bunch of inter-related application usage patterns specifically about social media tools and the infrastructures therein.

That's a complicated starting sentence, so let me give a specific example (which is just the latest in a long line of argumentation all of a theme): the excellent CGP Grey made an argument about Youtube and why it can't be better at serving up videos and be more like Netflix when presenting content. It's an excellent point, to be fair: Youtube is fantastically bad at serving up content that I want in the way that I want it when I'm trying to watch stuff, and I'm not even a publisher; CGP Grey's problems are at least twice the difficulty level from mine.

The problem is, of course, that the problem reverts to a very old axiom that I've used since I heard it the first time: nearly every question that starts with "why" can be answered with "money".

Netflix and Youtube have two fundamentally different business models. For Netflix, their customers and their users are the same people: the audience for Netflix is the people that gave them money, and so they are motivated to deliver a good user experience because not doing so will cost them money. Their Ops focus is stability, reliability, deliverability, and service. Their UX focus is about getting photons into eyeballs as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Their goal as a company is to satisfy the viewer.

For Youtube, though, the users and the customers are two entirely different groups. Youtube doesn't make any money from the person who comes to look at the videos they host; in point of fact, they arguably cost money for Youtube. In fact, content-uploaders aren't the customers, either, which is hilarious because Youtube wouldn't exist without the people who upload stuff. No, the customers for Youtube are the advertisers and aggregators that want the data about the users. That's what Youtube is selling, even over and above the ads on top of the content itself; they're selling data about what users are watching.

The same is true of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus. The people who use those sites are not the people that the sites care about, at the end of the day. It's why Facebook won't set their algorithms to display status updates in explicit chronological order. It's why Twitter is changing the methodology of the timeline. It's why Google Plus doesn't disable plus-one sharing, even though nearly everyone who uses G+ hates it. The people that use the sites are not the audience. They're not the customers. The customers are the people who pay Facebook, Twitter, and Google for data about the users.

If a service isn't charging you for using it, then you are the service model.

The answer to nearly every "why" is almost always "money".

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Experience of Diversity (and the blindness of privilege)

Last year I made a vow to myself that I would only read books written by authors who were not straight white men. By and large, with two explicit exceptions, I was successful in my goal. And I learned a bunch of things.

The first (and most important) thing I learned is that my reading habits were already moderately diverse; I made a list of ten of my favourite authors and nine of them were women, so I didn't really have to give up on anyone that I was particularly invested in.

The second thing I learned was that my "historical read" list is actually pretty white/straight/male, though; I often go back and read a book again for comfort's sake, to go over familiar territory and comfortable writing and try and find something new or at least interesting. That means I haven't been doing a bunch of rereading and that led to...

The third thing I learned, which is there are a LOT of non-cishetwhitemale writers in SF, both historically and especially currently. Just looking at the last two years of Hugo winners was a good starting point, but I've also been involved in a queer SF/F book club and that has been really eye-opening in terms of the depth of the bench where authors are concerned these days.

The fourth thing I learned, though, is that I am still blinded by privilege. I have a book by an author that I absolutely adore; it's Not Your Standard Fantasy Setting and I was very engaged and involved in the characters and their plights. The second book also features a female protagonist and I went on and on about how cool she is and how much agency she has, especially as a middle-aged woman (which is not by any means a standard protagonist in fantasy). What I managed to completely miss was that the internalized misogyny of the novel and the characters within it, with a bunch of implicit and explicit sexualized violence hanging over the heads of all the women in the book. Truthfully, I thought I was aware of that sort of thing, and I try to be careful about recommending work with troublesome aspects, but I was just completely blind to it. Which, yes, is a Privilege that comes from being a man and not having to deal with that sort of thing basically all the time.

The good news is, my friend called this out to me, and I've been able to reexamine my experiences and get better at seeing things I didn't see before. And there are lots and lots of authors and books that don't include that sort of background radiation in their stories.

So I'm going to follow my vow of 2014 with a vow of 2015: to read more diverse work, including more work by non-white authors, and try and read at least some work in translation (The Three-Body Problem, I'm looking at you!). And I'm going to try and be a better curator for my book club. Because those peeps be awesome, yo.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Day 40: Agnus Dei

A thing that I like in music: switching instruments. I love listening to Andres Segovia playing Bach's Cello Suites on a Flamenco guitar. I really enjoy Two Cellos playing pop music, or Apocalyptica doing Metallica songs on a string quartet. I think a version of Danse Macabre for violin, viola, and cello is one of the best versions of that tune I've ever heard.

I am also a big fan of human voice music. From the traditional choir a cappella and Jewish cantor, to barbershop quartet, to Tuvan Throat Singing, to Pentatonix,]; music that humans make with themselves alone (solo or in groups) makes the hair on my arms stand up. I love it unabashedly and unapologetically.

So in steps Samuel Barber. In 1936 he writes what is possibly the most haunting piece of American Classical Music of the 20th Century, and in 1938 Arturo Toscanini records it with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. It's a big hit, and cements Barber's early career as composer par excellence. And then, in 1967, Barber recomposes it, this time as a choral piece using the text of the prayer "Lamb of God" in Latin (because everything is prettier in Latin).

So that's Agnus Dei, which is heartrendingly beautiful. It's one of my favourite pieces of music.

Obligatory Youtube Link: http://youtu.be/UR-wEbZqT1c

Friday, February 06, 2015

Talking Through The Problem

So we were in raid chatting it up like one does when one is waiting for stuff to get going, and a friend of mine was talking about how on their podcast they were asking listeners to call in or email with which fandom they'd like to live in and why. Many people mentioned their favourite universes: Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, even World of Warcraft. And I tossed out Gilmore Girls.

Yeah, that was the reaction of many of my friends, too. "Gilmore Girls? The TV show about the mother and the daughter?" Yes, that show. Exactly that show. That's the universe that I'd like to live in. Seriously. It's awesome there.

It's pretty clearly a post-scarcity universe, since no one ever pays for anything or does any sort of work that they don't want to do. I mean, Lorelei manages a hotel and works pretty hard, but given the size of the house she lives in it's pretty clear that the money thing isn't really an issue (I mean, the crazy cat lady and the jazz musician live in a house next store and there's no clear indication of what they do or make).

But that's not the real reason I want to stay there (though post-scarcity societies are inherently more ideal). The reason I want to stay there is that nothing terrible happens. I mean, there's plenty of conflict and everything, but in Star Wars or Star Trek or places like that, there's all of this huge dangerous conflict where people get blown up and killed and shoot people and deal with tons of trauma. I mean, yeah, it's exciting or whatever, but there's a constant fear of death (even though in many of the universes there's ways to get better from being dead). Many of the problems presented in the various universes involve shooting stuff or sometimes blowing things up.

In Gilmore Girls, though, the problems are still big and still important, but nearly every problem is solved by talking it out. Sometimes it takes more than one try (or even more than one episode), but the solution to problems is communication and consensus. And everyone talks fast and is clever and funny and there's no bad people, just people with different points of view.

I like Gilmore Girls. And if I had a chance, I'd like to live there. I mean, who wouldn't?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Reading is Fundamental

My partner upgraded to the new Kindle Voyage, which is great and awesome and very slick. We're a reading household, so to my mind this is money well spent, in fact. I in turn received the hand-me-down Kindle Paperwhite and I've been experimenting with it over the last week or so. My go-to reading solution for the longest time has been my Nexus 7 tablet, which I bought on a whim and then it took over my life for a while, which was an unusual experience because I didn't expect to want or need it so much having lived without a tablet at all, and then getting an iPad for a while. The change from the full-size iPad to the N7 form factor sealed the deal for me, and I've never even considered a full-size tablet again. Plus, the latest generation N7 has a great screen, a beefy processor/RAM combo, and integration into the Google ecosystem which now basically acts as my adjutant brain.

The downside of an N7 (or really any tablet) is that the screen light turns out to be exactly the right wavelength to keep me up at night. This is bad, because I already have a tendency to insomnia and odd sleep patterns. So I've been trying out the Kindle Paperwhite, which deals with light differently.

I really like the low backlit functionality, and it doesn't seem to keep me from getting sleepy (so far). I also like that now that I have an actual Kindle, I have access both to the lending library from Amazon and also to the library of books that my partner has already purchased (and they get access to mine). The text highlight functionality also works very well on the Paperwhite (in a way that didn't really impress me through the Kindle App for Android), and the social media and goodreads integration is very nifty. And the e-ink resolution, which was my biggest complaint with previous Nooks and Kindles, is really good on the Paperwhite.

My biggest complaint so far is that often turning the page takes a really long time, especially if it's moving between chapter breaks. To the point that sometimes I'll get impatient, tap the page again, and then end up skipping a page which is fantastically annoying and yanks me right out of the narrative flow. The Voyage seems much snappier in comparison, but not enough for me to need an upgrade (at least, right away). I haven't done any reading on the bus, train, or outdoors, so I don't know how it handles the glare, but that won't really be an issue until later in the year.

In truth, the Paperwhite may in fact be the first e-ink single-purpose reader I actually like and will use. I'm certainly using the crap out of it right now. We'll see if that remains true in the days to come.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Daily Jukebox: Brothers in Arms

Feeling pretty poorly for health reasons, but every so often I trip over one of those classic tunes that doesn't fit into my "Angry Women With Guitars" patch and it gets stuck in my head. Like ELO, Dire Straits is one of those bands that I arguably shouldn't like, because they're everything I don't like about music: bunch of guys with a noodly guitar and an inflate idea of their own position in music. Except that Mark Knopfler is so damned talented that it is undeniable how good the music is.

Brothers in Arms is a slow ballad. It's a quiet, careful song, which is pretty different from most of the stuff that came out of Dire Straits, and it gets stuck. It has it's own gravity, and soon you're humming the deceptively simple melody and imagining the broken, almost-whisper of the lyrics in your head, and wondering if there is someone who can attempt a cover of this song and really do something special with it, like Lorde did with Tears for Fears.

And then there's this long, wandering, random guitar solo that slowly fades away and the song doesn't so much end as peter out and you're left wondering, sitting there, if the song made you sad, or if you were sad and so you listened to the song. Which is a thing.


Anyway, that's what's what.

Obligatory Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wu4oy1IRTh8

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

It Comes In Waves

It's often hard for me to recognize that I'm dealing with a depressive cycle from the inside, because as a general rule my depressive symptoms don't manifest as "being sad" (although there is a significant emotional content). More often, I'll look back over the last couple of weeks and realize that all of the energy just basically drained out of my life. I'm still joking around and punning on Twitter and being clever on G+ or even in person, but I'll suddenly notice that I haven't posted to my blog in two weeks, and I haven't washed any clothes, and I haven't done the dishes, and... you get the idea.

The sudden realization that in fact, I haven't even read a book or listened to a podcast or even checked a news site. The sudden cognizance that I've been letting old movies play on Netflix in the background and I've done nothing but sit in front of my computer and poke at things, not even really engaging in the various and sundry games I might be half-assedly playing.

This latest cycle appears to have queued off the end of my UI benefits. If it weren't for my partner being gainfully employed, I'd be well and truly screwed, but as it is I've taken the tests and signed up and am ready to register for classes on the 27th of February. Which is a weird feeling in and of itself, but it's also curiously both a ways away and very soon now, and I feel a little in suspension, like things are a on hold before the big transition we've been talking about for a while.

I had a series of really promising interviews with several different and engaging places that all said "no thank you" all at once, and then I got the letter telling me that UI was done, and it all sort of piled up at once, so apparently my brain decided to check out for a while.

The good news is, while I have depressive cycles, my particular depression isn't clinical or even dangerous. I'm not interested in harming myself or others, and once I recognize the problem I can usually focus on strategies to cope. And the days are getting longer (slowly, so so slowly), which is good for me. I'm ready to get back on my bike and start riding again. I'm really rather excited to be starting classes, though there's some prep I need to do before I can get really geared up and engaged for that.

There's a plan. There's a will. And there's at least an inkling that things are OK and will remain so for a while. So now it's just a matter of making sure that waiting doesn't make me listless or lazy, and I don't give into the impulse to climb under the covers forever.

But I do need to get more sleep, so...

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Day Fifteen: No Cities to Love

So, remember when I talked about Angry Women With Guitars? I'm amazed I've gotten this far without talking about Sleater-Kinney. I got into them with their album The Woods in 2005, which was their seventh album, and I scoured the music stores both on and offline to find their back catalog. They were basically a band invented to play explicitly for me.

And then I found out that they had broken up. Just about the time I got into them. Which is exactly my kind of luck.

And then, last year, they announced they were getting back together. And then they started streaming music. And I hear that moment in an album when there's a song that just sings to you (no pun intended).

That's what I felt when I heard No Cities to Love, which is the title track of the new album.

The album drops January 20th, but you can stream it on NPR.

Obligatory (non)-Youtube Link: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=376085344&m=376086219

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Too Cool For School

Aside from a couple of aborted attempts back when I was a teenager, and therefore incapable of making good decisions or long-term thinking, I haven't had any formal college-level education. I found myself incapable of following instruction sets, which was odd because I rapidly got involved in the IT industry which is effectively all about following instruction sets. And so I skipped the college degree in order to accrue a significant amount of experience in the IT industry in general and in Operations in specific, spending most of my time hammering away at various architectures and ticketing systems and in the meantime teaching myself how to do things like ssh and grep and write SQL queries. 

I had a string of good colleagues and mentors that turned me into a valuable and capable Operations person, but it's also managed to leave big holes in my experience and my brainmap, so while I know where to go to get the information, I often don't have it in my brain on recall at an instant. Those holes are often why and how I get tripped up in technical interviews, because if someone handed me a keyboard and a problem, I could fix the problem, but asking me to have the answer in my head gets me tied up and confused and that always looks great over the phone or in an interview setting.

My partner and I talked about it at the beginning of the year, when I realized I was about to run short of UI, and so I've taken steps to get me on the road to starting school in March. Not a Masters or a Post-Bac, but an actual, honest-to-glob first-level Bachelor's degree in CompSci or CIS (depending on how I do on the placement testing). A chance for me to fill in those holes in my brainmap and get a solid foundation of long-way-round answers to go with my head full of shortcuts and quick tricks. It didn't feel really real before, but now that I'm signed up and scheduled for stuff and I'm getting my ducks in a row, it feels more and more like a good decision, and maybe the best decision, even though it means a bunch more debt and a big swath of tight times in the near future. 

It doesn't mean I wouldn't take a job if someone offered; I would, because two incomes make life easier than one. But I also am committed to school, so if I end up with a job it'll be in addition to my school work, rather than the other way 'round. It's time for me to get some paper on my CV to go with all the experience. And maybe this time I won't get distracted by shiny objects and actually make it to class and do my homework. I've learned a lot since I was 16, including the value of putting in the work to get good at something, and the understanding that following directions even if the directions are stupid is a valuable skill to have (and can often teach both myself and the direction-giver something important). 

I'm at a point where I'm waiting to hear back on several things, and while I'd love to say "yep, I got this gig" in the next couple of weeks or months, I honestly feel like right now it would be OK if that didn't happen. We have made a plan, and we will see it through.


Hey, a Daily Jukebox entry right there at the end!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Going Camping

Today I spent most of my day in a windowless room cut off from the internet and the greater world, with no access to electricity, writing in my notebook, while a couple hundred other people did mostly the same thing. It was called Puppet Camp, and sadly it was not a day-camp where they taught me to make puppets (though, given that this is Portland, I'm sure that's actually something I could do). Today was when a handful of people talked at me about Puppet Enterprise application, which is a configuration and automation management tool from Puppet Labs.

I like Puppet; it's pretty nifty and if I were starting up my own company *shudder* I would probably mandate using Puppet from the get-go to reduce technical debt. One of the speakers today said "There is no future where IT is smaller or less important" and I agree, but I often feel like there are companies out there that don't understand how important dedicated Operations tools and Operations personnel are. The drive seems to be, in a lot of places, to reduce the Cost Center that is the IT & Infrastructure team to as close to zero as possible. In previous iterations of this issue, it's been outsourcing and *-as-a-Service contracts and "monetizing" and "chargeback". In the current iteration, the thought seems to be that if you turn your Ops team in to developers they can produce saleable IP in their "spare" time, when they're not Opsing and can Dev some.

I spent the lunch hour chatting with several people of both flavors: devs who are learning to Ops as well as Ops who are learning to Dev, and the agreement across all camps seems to be that DevOps, like Agile, means somewhat different things depending on who's saying the word, and how much agreement there is among parties in the conversation. Which I suppose is part of the point of both DevOps and Agile: getting parties to agree to terms and goals.

I'll probably go back over my notes and have more thoughts in the coming days, but mostly I wanted to note that being off the internet for the better part of a day induced withdrawal-like symptoms in me so strong that I ended up staring at my computer for the rest of the evening, not even doing anything. Just randomly browsing through my bookmarks, uncomprehendingly.

This post has no conclusion. Maybe tomorrow I'll be more articulate.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Day Eleven: Everybody Wants to Rule the World

I'm a huge fan of covers. Lots of my favourite artists will take a great song (or even a bad song) and do something really interesting and different and clever with it, like Jonathan Coulton's cover of "Bills, Bills, Bills", or Johnny Cash's cover of "Hurt", or Carolina Chocolate Drops cover of, well, nearly everything they've ever covered.

I'm also a huge fan of Tears for Fears, so the idea that someone was doing covers of music I already like was pretty exciting.

And then I actually heard Lorde's version of the song. And I was fucking blown away. It's such a good version of a great song, with a totally different vibe just by changing key and pace. It's a brilliant cover and I can't help but like it basically every time I hear it.

Check it out.

Obligatory Youtube Link: http://youtu.be/smSSSs46rng

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Day Ten: Nobody Loves You Like Me

I've been in a funk for the last couple of days, which is why I missed yesterday (among other things).

Since I'm in a funk, here's a good song from an artist who specializes in that "wait, what?" kind of music I like so much; music that sounds like it should mean one thing but actually means something much darker and much stranger when you pay attention to the lyrics. That artist is Jonathan Coulton, and he's basically made a career off of writing those sorts of songs. For a while, it was just him and his guitar, but then he started to get moderately popular and started stretching his artistic legs, and ended up with a great album produced by They Might Be Giants, which was great in all sorts of ways.

You should check him out if you want some weird and messed up music with really catchy tunes stuck in your head.

Obligatory Youtube Link: http://youtu.be/9LR_5yk7bgc

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Day Eight: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

The first unabashedly Country album I ever bought as an adult was Lucinda Williams. She's everything I love about modern women's country music: soulful, intelligent, moving without resorting to cliche, she is an amazing songwriter and singer and I'm often sad that my cultural dislike of country music kept me from listening to her earlier in my life.

I'll probably cover "Can't Let Go", another song of hers that does a great job of taking a pretty standard lovelorn theme and does something fun with it, but for now, Car Wheels is a great and fantastically evocative song, and you should do yourself a favour and buy a copy of it.

Obligatory Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxpPL_aY190

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Day Seven: What Can I Say

I had an interview today, so I'm a little wrung out. So here's some of my go-to music: a woman's voice and an acoustic guitar.

Brandi Carlile drew me carefully back into that folksy, country music that was present a lot of the time when I was was a kid growing up, that I was dismissing out of hand because of the guys with pickup trucks and cowboy hats that I really was afraid I'd become. But the woman's voice in country music is much more complex, complicated, and nuanced than many of the male voices in country music, probably because of the complex, complicated and nuanced place that "traditional Midwestern culture" allows for women in general. Including all of those edge cases and outliers that are present but often unacknowledged. I spent a lot of time denying that Neko Case and Melissa Ethridge and other artists I liked were connected to country, because I didn't like the label Country Music, when in fact I liked and often admired many of the artists. Because when the "Country Music" label comes up, there's a lot of fantastically toxic masculinity bound up in that pigeon hole (a little like the "Rap Music" or "Hip Hop" label, but we'll go there later), which often drowns out the much more interesting, much less easy-to-categorize work.

For a very long time in the US music scene, at least, if you were a woman with a good voice and a strong songwriting talent and could play the guitar, the only kind of music you could make was Country & Western music, because even with all the toxic messages in C&W there was at least a space for women; Rock & Roll and Alternative were flat-out boy's clubs where women just weren't allowed to play, period. The Punk reaction to Rock & Roll was a significant vector for those women who wanted to play but had been pushed out (Poly Styrene immediately leaps to mind as the obvious example). I have a bunch of thoughts about this, and I'll write more at some time when I'm not exhausted.

So but anyway Brandi Carlile was the first artist where I really didn't have an out. She was unabashedly Country and proud of it. So here's one of my favourite songs by her.

Obligatory Youtube Link: http://youtu.be/cKzrW-Na958

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Day Six: Mister Blue Sky

So there's this band that I've basically got to watch go from playing five-song sets in the back of gaming stores to doing tours and headlining their own shows. It's been pretty awesome, and they're a great band that I encourage everyone to check out.

They're the Doubleclicks, a sister duo from Portland, Oregon and they're brilliant. I have a t-shirt where my "fan" number is printed on the back, and the number is 001. I'm literally their number-one fan. I've been so excited and happy to see these two artists go from singing on weekends to quitting their jobs and becoming full-time creators and musicians.

Their musical style is a little quirky. The best way I can think of it is that they're a female-version of Paul and Storm, but with fewer jokes about seamen (yes I spelled that correctly). They're also my heroes; watching women who are into subcultural things stand up for not just themselves but for all women has been inspiring and a little shaming to me. As a middle-aged white male, I recognize a number of bad actions I take every day that make it more difficult for people who are not like me to both succeed in the world and simply enjoy their hobbies and their lives, and that's pretty disheartening to me sometimes, that the culture has ground into me a sort of background level of ignorance and horridness that I often don't even notice when I'm doing it to someone else.

But this isn't about me! This is about amazing music by amazing people. I really like the work that the Doubleclicks do, but I've also been enjoying their cover song choices. And then they covered one of my favourite songs ever, and I was like: three things I love! Cellos, ELO, and greenscreen effects! This is a perfect cover for me!

And now I have the song in my head and it will never, ever leave. But that's OK, because ELO is actually an OK earworm, if you have to have an earworm. And I really like this version.


Obligatory Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=os80hrFBh7M

(Note: if you like the Doubleclicks, you should support them! They have a Patreon and a bunch of music for sale and are touring this year!)

(Second Note: If the Doubleclicks aren't your thing (you monster), then you should find a band you DO like, and support them by buying their music and signing up for their patreon or kickstarter or whatever and going to see them on tour! Art isn't free! Support your favourite artists!)

Monday, January 05, 2015

Day Five: The Worst Day Since Yesterday

Some days, you listen to music that doesn't really reflect your experience, but it's a good song so you end up singing it anyway.

This is one of those days.

Obligatory Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDSud7vAH_0

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Day Four: Swee Swee

Every so often, I have this thing where I'll be poking around on Pandora or Youtube or something and I'll stumble across a group or an artist that is so incredibly the middle of my wheelhouse that I am shocked that I have never heard them before. Like, for a little bit of time I'm actually angry at the world, because I didn't know about this music before.

And then I stop, because now I have a whole new thing to go diving down the rabbit hole for, and that's an incredible gift some days.

I had that experience today, with a group called Mountain Man. It's a three-person voice-and-guitar folk group. They're mostly into quiet hymn and folk tunes, and they remind me strongly of the Wailin' Jennys. They're awesome.

You should check them out. If you're into that sort of thing.

Obligatory Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5ivBnosEJo

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Day Three: Comfort

I am sick.

I hate being sick. I especially being the kind of sick where all the energy drains out of you, but you can't just sleep it off, because you're achy and uncomfortable and blech-y. So you sit and want play games on the computer but you can't because that requires more brainpower and energy than you actually have, so you end up just staring at the computer and maybe watching something you've already seen before because there's no spare energy to process new things.

And that's the mood you're in when your partner comes in and hands you a box of tissues and a mug of hot tea and kisses your forehead and makes you feel a little better, even though you know you're definitely going to die.

Yeah, that's the mood I am in right now.

So here's one half of the Weepies (who will definitely be appearing later in the year, I'm sure) talking about that feeling.

Obligatory Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TolHm9GLL4k

Friday, January 02, 2015

Day Two: The Closer

An ex-partner of mine once joked that a majority of music in my library was effectively described as "Angry Women With Guitars". I'd like to think that my taste has grown since then, but as a general if you were to pull up the playlist of, say, Lilith Fair, I'm probably going to know the majority of the lyrics.

One of the groups that acted as sort of feeder band for my obsession with the kind of music you hear a lot in (just as a purely hypothetical, totally not based on my experiences) Chicago Lesbian Bars is a band called Tegan and Sara. I kinda fell in love with them once I decided that I actually wasn't terribly fond of all that 80s and 90s hypermasculine hairmetal music I listened to in High School so I would fit in with a bunch of people that I didn't actually want to fit in with, when I was secretly playing my tapes of Siouxsie and the Banshees so much that I had to buy replacements.

Tegan and Sara had a pretty good string of albums that catered to a particular audience, but in 2012 they dropped a much more "mainstream" album, much poppier with an interesting change to tempo and beats, but their musician's chops are still there: their voices are still great and still work well together, and the lyrics are snappy and smart as ever.

They're also unabashedly aiming at a younger, much more hungry audience and I think it works very well. It's understandable why there was crossover between T&S and Katy Perry during Perry's last tour; 2012's Heartthrob is pretty much the kind of music that someone who wanted to sing Perry's music to her girlfriend instead of her boyfriend would probably like to hear.

I like it. It's much more strenuously produced and consciously aimed than their earlier work, but I'm not going to criticise an artist for trying new things, especially when it means more people learn of their work. There's still plenty of angry, though. And if I want less of the synthpop vibe and more acoustic guitar, there's always the back catalog.

Obligatory Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9e9NSMY8QiQ

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Day One: Rox in the Box

One of the things I realized as I was doing a yearly review of my personal life this morning (sometimes I do that; it's a Jesuit Thing) is that I don't listen to enough music.

I used to listen to music basically all the time; I had songs in my life since the time I was old enough to have an object that made noise into headphones (at the time, a battery-powered portable tape deck). I would order my thoughts and my days by the music flowing into my brain, and if my life didn't have a narrative, at least it had a good soundtrack. But as I've gotten older, I've gotten less into radio and music and more into podcasts, and most of those podcasts are people talking into my brain and me trying to learn something new or interesting. Which is fine as far as it goes, but it does mean that effectively music has disappeared from my life.

I got a little of it back over the last couple of years as a succession of Rock Band games came out, which was a brilliant series and hey if anyone knows where I can get replacement instruments, let me know in the comments? My friends and I would get together semi-regularly to do "tours" and it was a bunch of fun, but life happens and plastic kit breaks and we haven't done that so much lately. And I'm finding myself missing music something fierce.

So, Daily Jukebox. I'm going to make an effort in 2015 to listen to at least one song a day, and post about it. Most of the entries are not going to be nearly this long, but we'll see if I can keep this going. Who knows?

Rox in the Box is the fourth track off the Decemberists' Album The King is Dead, which may be the best overall album they've done so far. It's a folky flavoured Coal Protest style song (which puts it basically in the category labeled "Songs Jerome Will Love Forever", and is ostensibly about the 1917 Butte Mining disaster, but mostly it's about a fantastic fiddle theme and a lyric that perfectly exercises the voice of Colin Meloy, the lead singer.

Obligatory Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnxWcirrb-8&list=PL7mowONKIgBjFu4VfC3NIle8e9PlW66On&index=4