Committers who don’t commit

At the Apache Software Foundation, there are two levels of recognizing participants in a project – Committers, and PMC members. The PMC nominates and elects new Committers and PMC members.

But what do Committers do?

The name itself is a bit of a misnomer, because it comes from a specific technical detail from the past. That is, an individual can be given commit rights, which means that they could commit code to the SVN repository (or CVS before that).

But there’s two problems with this name, and this definition.

The most obvious one is that, today, in the age of Git (and really even before then) nobody commits their own code. Rather, they review and commit someone else’s code.

Granted this varies greatly from project to project, as well as from one patch to another. For example, I routinely commit my own changes to documentation or website content, But for code changes, most projects mandate (note, this is a *social* mandate, not a technical one) that a patch (pull request) receive some kind of review from other contributors, who will then agree on an action.

The second problem with the name and the definition is, in my opinion, the more damaging one, although it may be less obvious to casual participants. And that’s that it implicitly values *code* above all other contributions, and, as a result, makes it hard, or in some cases impossible, for non-code contributors to gain the respect and recognition that they have earned. It’s already hard enough for them to earn that respect, because these so-called “non-technical” skills are harder to measure, and are already undervalued by the people who think (wrongly) that writing code is the only important part of a software project.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been told, by PMC members of a given project, that they cannot nominate someone as committer who has written docs, who has produced events, who has donated legal talent, or various other non-code contributions, because that would open up the risk that they would then start modifying the code in the Git repository, and this would result in bugs and data loss and who knows what all disaster.

This is such nonsense. And the people giving these reasons owe it to themselves, and to their project, to actually think honestly about why they are gatekeepking project leadership from people making important non-code contributions.

But not only is it an invalid reason, it’s actively damaging to the project, for a number of reasons.

  1. Projects that refuse to respect non-code contributors are making themselves more susceptible to corporate control. This is because when the project won’t respect these contributions, companies have to step up to provide those services – marketing, events, legal work, design – and this gives them outsided control of the messaging of the project, which, in turn, makes it clear that they are, in reality, the power behind the project.
  2. If you don’t recognize and respect non-code contributors, they eventually feel that disrespect, and go away. This means that the coders, who are good at code but bad at other things, have to do those tasks anyway. This results in the tasks being done poorly, and stealing time from what they’re good at. Everybody loses.
  3. Software that is designed, implemented, and tested by engineers is never as good as software that has non-expert users as part of this planning process. I could, surely, elaborate, but I think you all know what I’m talking about.

And yet, I still have this argument with software projects, all the time. And they still make the same excuses. Makes me tired.

Then there are the projects that try take this issue seriously, but want to create a separate tier of membership for those non-code contributors. They believe that this is a way to give the recognition and respect that is earned, without … y’know … actually giving these people any *real* power in the project. This is, quite literally, creating second-class citizenship, and, in most cases, robs these people of the opportunity to advance to the next level of project management.

Short of renaming “committer” to something else (or maybe that’s an option too?), to convey what it actually means today, what can we to do to persuade projects to actually respect, and reward, non-code contributions?

Rush, week 13: A Farewell to Kings

The next installment in our #RushForCraig listen through all the albums is A Farewell to Kings. This album is from 1977, and is their fifth album.

This particular album was difficult for me to get to, because after my ear surgery, all music was an auditory assault, and it took me several weeks before I could even listen to any. But I finally got around to it.

It’s only got six tracks, with two of them being over 10 minutes. Unlike some of their later works, I really cannot say that there’s any unifying theme, or style. There’s some great tracks on it, but as an *album* it doesn’t really hold together for me.

And yet …

Although I’ve been listening to this record for more than 40 years, there’s a couple of tracks on here that I really wasn’t very familiar with. One in particular stands out – Madrigal. Madrigal is just so beautiful. It’s one of Rush’s very few love songs, but as it is with Rush’s love songs, it’s not a traditional one in any sense.

It’s a beautiful poem, and has a number of phrases that are echoed in later songs, some of them repeatedly over the years – slaying dragons, and “a distant pair of eyes”, in particular.

I read somewhere that Geddy wrote the lyrics Madrigal, but apparently that was wrong. This led me down the rabbit hole of figuring out what songs he did write. I am sure there’s a definitive list somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet.

Another significant track on this album is Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage. This is a 20+ minute saga about something or other, that lots of hard-core Rush fans insist is the best thing Rush ever did. And I just … don’t get it. But what’s significant about it for me is that it’s the main reason I ever listened to Rush in the first place. This is because after we left Tallahassee and moved back to Nairobi in 1983, my friend Kristina sent me a mix tape which included this track, and a glowing letter about how amazing it was, and I had to listen to it. And that’s what started it all.

Of course, Xanadu is just amazing, but everyone already knows that.

Take more pictures

One of my favorite Apache pictures is this one:

I’m pretty sure it was taken by Chris Davis. It’s me and Ken Coar riding up in the elevato at ApacheCon Stuttgart in 2005.

I wish I had more pictures like this. I generally end up taking a lot of pictures, but for whatever reason, I’m never in any of them. Like this great picture from Bratislava:

I was there too, but I didn’t include myself.

I’m going to try really hard, going forward, to take more selfies with friends at events. If you see me at an event, please remind me of this, and take a picture with me. I want to remember all of the folks that I was with, when I look back at these photos.

Oh, here’s a bonus:

This is another of my favorite ApacheCon pictures. (Large version here.) It always makes me wonder what the heck we were talking about, that I was so passionate about in this moment. I can’t remember. But these moments, having heated debates with friends, usually around food and drinks, are what make these events so valuable, and are the moments I want to remember.

Surgery update, day 11

11 days ago, I had ear surgery. Things are progressing, although much slower than I’d like. It’s hard to be patient.

For the first few days, I sat around in a drugged stupor. Then there were several days of slowly regaining strength, but tiring quickly.

Yesterday, I worked outside some, but tired very quickly and had to get my son to come help.

The biggest struggle, though, is the hearing. I’m very slowly starting to get hearing back in my right ear. If I had to estimate, I would say I’m now at 25% of pre-surgery hearing levels. Which is an improvement from 0%, but still very discouraging. I can now hear speech without my hearing aid (ie, on the right side), if I’m within a few feet of the speaker and watching their lips.

Meanwhile, the hearing aid refers sound from the left side to the right side. That is, because the BAHA vibrates the mastoid bone, and it’s all connected, I hear those left-side sounds in my right ear. And they are quite jarring, with the added sensitivity on the right. This is calming down, but it’s still difficult to listen to anything even a little loud. And most music is a bit of an auditory assault.

On the other hand, last week, typing was hurting both ears, and today it seems pretty normal, so there’s progress.

One other very weird thing is that everything tastes awful. Fun fact – the main taste nerve runs right through the middle ear. This seems like *terrible* cable management. During surgery, that nerve got jiggled, or bruised, or something, and now my tongue feels like it got a mild shot of Novacaine, and everything tastes metallic. So while I have plenty of appetite, everything tastes off, and it’s a struggle to eat, even my favorites.

Anyways, apparently 3 weeks is the magical date, and I’m half way there. Here’s hoping that the improvements will continue, and accellerate.


Last week’s surgery

A week ago, I had a mastoidectomy on my right ear.

Long-time readers might know that 40 years ago (wow, is it really that long?!) I had a mastoidectomy on my left ear. So now I have a matched set.

In each case, the surgery was to remove a cholesteatoma. You can read the wikipedia article, but the short version is that it’s just like an ordinary inoffensive skin tag, but one that happens inside the middle ear. While a skin tag on your arm is harmless, though, in the middle ear it causes two main problems. One is that it crowds out the functions of hearing by encroaching on very limited space. The other is that skin is constantly shedding cells, and in the middle ear they have nowhere to go, so they sit there and become erosive, possibly destroying the ossicles (hearing bones) and surrounding tissue.

In 1984, when I had the first one, it had gone long enough that it destroyed the middle ear entirely, leading to much further drama and shenanigans. This time, around, hopefully, it’s been caught early enough that my hearing can be salvaged.

So, on Thursday morning (June 13), I went in to the UK hospital, where they performed the surgery. I remember being wheeled into the operating room. I have a very fuzzy recollection of Maria asking where I had put my hearing aid (that was, apparently, about 4 hours later) and I remember getting into bed (another 3 or 4 hours later), and the rest of Thursday, and almost all of Friday, I have no memory of at all. Saturday and Sunday are a bit of a fog too.

The surgery ended up removing about half of my right ear drum. Also, the stapes (one of the ossicles) has been replaced by a 3d printed titanium replica, which is apparently a new enough thing that the surgeon was pretty geeked about it!

He built a “scaffolding” of cartilage (I’m not entirely sure what that means) so that the ear drum can grow back in the right place and shape.

Now, a week later, I’m starting to feel a little stronger. At the moment, I have almost zero hearing in my right ear, and am relying entirely on my BAHA in my left ear. I *think* that the hearing will improve as the swelling goes down. At least, I am trying to persuade myself that I believe this.

It’s very very hard to be patient, and this is all profoundly discouraging and, to be honest, more than a little terrifying. Losing a primary sense is a very frightening thing, especially when it’s been pretty tenuous for most of my life.

It’s also hard to find words to describe adequately that while I cannot hear anything in my right ear, nevertheless sounds cause pain in my right ear. There are many things about being hearing impaired that are difficult to describe to those with perfect (or, at least, better) hearing. I have spent 40 years trying to come up with adequate analogies, and still haven’t really found them.

What I described to Maria yesterday is that when I’m listening to speech, it’s like I’m reading, but the book is being moved around randomly. And occasionally there will be a flash of bright light (ie, a loud noise) that temporarily “blinds” me and it takes a moment to regain the sense of the words. This means that I’m always concentrating hard when trying to follow a conversation, especially when several people are speaking at once.

Weird that I’m in a profession where attending events in loud crowded rooms is such a big part of my life.

My ears are very sensitive to loud noises, but at the same time I cannot discern meaning from speech much of the time, and have to concentrate and derive meaning from other clues, such as context and lips movement. It’s … complicated.

Anyways, if I seem standoffish over the coming months, I’m just trying to navigate my new hearing situation. I really hope it improves dramatically as the inflammation goes down and the ear drum recovers. But I expect that for the next several months I’m going to avoid noisy situations as much as possible. The next conference I’m committed to is in September, so hopefully by then I’ll have some clearer idea of what my new normal is.


UPDATE: Day 11

Rush, week 12: Test For Echo

In 1996, 3 years after Counterparts, Test For Echo was released. I was working at DataBeam, which had just been acquired by Lotus, which had just been acquired by IBM. All was well with the world.

I remember that I didn’t like the album at first, but it grew on me pretty quickly. But I can’t really say that anything on this album rises to my “all time favorite Rush” list. The tunes are catchy, the lyrics are clever, but nothing is *amazing*.

I don’t suppose there’s anything I need to say about Virtuality that hasn’t already been said by thousands of Rush fans. Even in 1996 it was super cringey, and it’s just gotten worse since.

Driven is perhaps the best track on the album, and is just a lot of fun. Half the world is perhaps my favorite lyrics on the album.

I was fascinated to learn that Alex considers Resist one of his favorite Rush tracks ever. I do like the lyrics, which appear to take an Oscar Wilde quote and extend the metaphor.

Anyways, it’s a good listen, and I found myself thinking a number of times that the worst Rush album is better than the best of a lot of other bands. But this one just doesn’t really do it for me. It doesn’t hold together as an album, in the way that many other Rush albums do. I don’t feel that, as an album, it’s really *about* anthing, in the sense that, for example, Roll The Bones or Counterparts are.


Boojum’s knife

Late last year I mentioned on social media that I was looking for knife projects if anyone wanted me to make something for them.

My friend Boojum, from back in my Perl days, mentioned that she had an unfinished project from her mother, started before her untimely passing, that maybe I could try my hand at finishing.

She sent me the components of a knife that had been started many years ago and never finished.

Now, this project has a number of challenges. The first, and most significant, is that of course this is an object of sentimental value. And it’s something that I could very easily screw up. This is offset by the fact that Boojum is awesome and wanted an object that she could use rather than something that was just collecting dust somewhere. And this is how I view these projects as well. I don’t want to ever make something that just sits on a shelf being admired. I want to make things that get used and scuffed up and broken in daily life.

The other challenge is that the blade itself is aluminum rather than steel and so it was very soft and that increased the chances that I would ruin it while I was working with it. The blade was already cut to shape and had a weird little tang that I didn’t understand why it was done that way.

(The tang of a knife is the part that is concealed within the handle.)

She sent me two blades and one handle. The blades were pretty much finished and the one handle was roughed in but needed some work. So what I needed to do was put one of the blades in the existing handle and then craft a handle for the other one.

I put it off for quite some time because it’s a lot of responsibility working with something with this much sentimental value.

In early January I started working on the first knife. I cut a slot in the handle and drilled two holes in the blade and attached it to the handle with 1/16th” brass pins.

Overall, I was mostly pleased with this final product. The upper pin is obviously too close to the end of the handle, and that worried me, but it seems to have worked out ok. And I used the original handle, made by her mom, almost without changes. It was very rough, and I sanded it, but other than that, didn’t change the original.

I finished the handle with teak oil, and buffed the blade to 3000 grit.

The second one took a lot longer, because I’ve been traveling a lot this year, but yesterday I started working on it.

I sketched a handle to try to complement the shape of the blade, and sacrificed about a centimeter of the blade to get a solid hold inside the handle.

Looks good on paper!

The handle is canary wood. I cut a channel down the center, drilled two holes in the blade, as you can see from the diagram, and put the same 1/16″ brass pins in that I used for the first one. That was definitely the hardest part – trying to align the pins with the teensy holes.

And I used epoxy to fill the cut and set it all up.

Then the usual hours of sanding through the grits, from 40, through 80, 120, 400, 1000, 1500, and finally 3000 to get a glossy finish, and then used several coats of teak oil to finish it up.

You can see more of the full process in my Flickr album, along with the notes I kept as I went along.

Overall, it was a hugely fun project, and I’m very honored that I was trusted to do it.

So, anyone else want me to make something?

Rush week 11: Fly By Night


Last week I listened to Fly By Night all week long.

I started the week thinking, this is definitely not a favorite, and I’m not even sure I like it. This is the first album that Neil Peart was on, so it’s definitely a step up from their first album, but they are still figuring out who they are. You can see some of Neil’s writing and drumming peeking out, but they’re not there yet.

And it’s worth remembering, too, that they were just kids at this point. Geddy was only 21.

And I think what I mainly don’t like about this album is that it’s not an album, it’s a pile of unrelated songs with nothing tying them together. According to Wikipedia, this was intentional:

The band wanted each song on Fly by Night to show a different side to their writing and playing, which resulted in an album of varied styles.

Which is ok, I guess, but not what I look for in a Rush album.

But, then, of cours, as I listened, it started to grow on me, as they do.

I had never before actually read the lyrics of “Beneath Between and Behind”. It’s commentary on the United States, and how it was drifting from its ideals. Interesting stuff.

This is juxtaposed with By-Tor and the Snow Dog, an absurd narration of a fight between two dogs, that is *clearly* the result of a little too much chemical inspiration. But, oh my word, the drums on this track. I try to imagine someone discovering this album in 1975 and hearing those Peart drums for the first time. Just … wow.

Rivendell is the kind of sci fi fan fiction that gave Rush their early reputation as a weirdos, and it definitely grew on me after a few times through. But it strikes me as a minor miracle that they got another album after this bit of weirdness.

All together, it’s still not a favorite, but you can definitely see hints of what they will become, and there’s some great moments in there.


The Margin Is Too Narrow