All posts by rbowen

Sexism in Sci Fi

I’m reading “the queen of air and darkness” by Poul Anderson, and I’m struck, certainly not for the first time, by how often science fiction authors choose not to question sexism in human society.

The job of the science fiction author, after all, is to question everything. From relativity, to the presence of non-human species, to the notion capitalism or government or whatever. But more often than not, science fiction hold on to the notion that men run Society, and women are the followers.

I just read the phrase “she’s one of the three women ever admitted to the Club” – a phrase that I expect in Dickens or Isak Dinesen or Somerset maugham, but not in futuristic science fiction.

I recognize, of course, that it’s a function of its time. Poul Anderson was writing in a time when these things seemed unquestionable. But he questioned light speed travel, and assumed that we would eventually have colonies on other planets.

It’s just fascinating to me what the human mind is capable of questioning and what it assumes as immutable fact.

This is also one of the reasons that I enjoy Tad Williams and NK Jemesin and other contemporary Sci Fi writers who do throw out all of these preconceived notions.

I wonder, though, what a reader Thirty or forty years from now will say about the writers of today, and the things that they seemed unable to challenge.

What happened to Rackspace?

After 20 years as a Rackspace customer (Slicehost before they were acquired by Rackspace) I had my first negative customer experience today, and it seems like something has changed.

I attempted to delete a Cloud Server, and got a dialog that I need to call support (like, on the phone, like a cave person) to delete a cloud server. I mean, isn’t the whole point of cloud that it’s on demand?

So, I call, and after 10 minutes on hold, I get a support person who demands that I justify deleting the server instance. And then tries to talk me out of it like this is 1993 and I’m canceling AOL.

I FINALLY convince him that I want to delete it, and he says it’s policy that I leave it running for another week to ensure that there’s no data going to/from it. I said, I’ve already done that, because I’m a responsible sysadmin. But that wasn’t good enough.

So I shutdown -h now the thing, and and he still insists that it needs to run for another week (which I would, of course, pay for) just idling, to prove that it’s idle.

Finally, he opens a ticket, and then tells me I have to comment on the ticket “Yes I agree” before he can then action that ticket, and finally deleted the server.

BUT THEN, I discover that I have a “Cloud Files” instance with backup files going back to 2013 which I’m paying for, and the only way to delete them is ONE AT A TIME via a web interface. I am not making this up. You can, in fact, “select all” in the interface, but since it only displays 100 files at a time, and there are tens of thousands of files, this is going to take me the rest of my life.

So … for whatever it’s worth, I’m a happy Hetzner customer now. But, of course, in order to delete my Rackspace account, I’m going to have to call them again …


I’m feeling an awful lot of rage today for the people who consciously chose this reality that we are in right now. People who continue to choose it day after day.

People like Rand Paul who pretends to be a doctor while undermining medical wisdom.

People like Mitch McConnell with his “it never occurred to me” lies.

People like Donald Trump who put his own “only I can fix it” brand of ego ahead of helping the people that flocked to his hate-filled rallys.

People like the Kentucky State Legislature who, even today, are creating laws to put us in greater harm and sacrifice our children to their politics.

People like Tucker Carlson, who preach their lies to a captive audience of millions in order to improve ratings.

And for what? Profit. Ego. Personal power. And most troubling, specifically to make people they disagree with suffer.

Today, I can’t take my kid to something she wants to go to.

But much more importantly, hundreds of people will die today, most of them because they believed a lie that was consciously, intentionally told, by people who were in a position to, instead, prevent it. For the most part, the victims’ only crime was being gullible. The real culpability lies with powerful people who have the means to avoid the consequences of their actions.

It’s disgusting and evil. And knowing that the people that have done this will see absolutely no repercussions for their actions isn’t doing anything for my mood.

No, inclusive language is not NewSpeak

The Inclusive Naming initiative is an effort to remove language from software which creates an unwelcoming community. Words like ‘slave’, for example, are used extensively in software, when other words are both more meaningful and less problematic.

When I discuss this effort, by far the most common response that I get from detractors is that it’s Orwellian – that it is NewSpeak – that it is erasing words and forbidding subversive thought.

In Orwell’s book 1984, NewSpeak is a state-approved modification to language that uses vague, euphemistic words, when the clearer, more accurate word is deemed bad.

This is quite literally the opposite of what we are trying to do with the INI and related conscious language efforts. Instead, we are trying to replace metaphors like ‘slave’ with words that accurately describe what is happening in the software, while at the same time removing the association with the horrifying history of actual slavery in the real world.

The ideal that we are somehow forbidding the use of the word ‘slave’, in this example, is equally untrue. The word slave has a meaning, and a historical context, and should be used to reflect that meaning and context. Using ‘slave’ to refer to a database replica, for example, not only has these overtones from *actual slavery*, it also doesn’t accurately describe what is happening in database replication, which is confusing.

Technical documentation should avoid idiomatic phrases, colloquialisms, and metaphor, whenever possible, and should always strive to choose the word or phrase that describes the function or feature in the most unambiguous way possible. Words and phrases such as slave, blacklist, insane, and so on, not only violate that rule, but do it in a way that is likely to make segments of the population feel unwelcome or “othered“, which is the antithesis of community building.

The Big Book of Small Python Projects: 81 Easy Practice Programs (Review 1)

A few days ago I ordered “The Big Book of Small Python Projects” because of several reviews I’ve seen. I want to become more proficient in Python, and I know that it is pretty much impossible for me to learn any programming language unless I have an actual project to work on.

I’ve written a handful of small scripts with Python – stuff that automates aspects of my day job – but I haven’t had an opportunity to advance much beyond the basics. I need something that uses more complex data structures, since, to me, that’s the interesting part of a language, and what made Perl so useful and fun.

I’m only 3 or 4 chapters in, so I don’t have much to say yet, but here’s a few observations.

  1. The biggest detriment to using this book is, unfortunately, my eyes. I stopped buying paper books a few years ago, even though I love books, because the fonts are just too small. This is particularly problematic when I’m sitting at my computer, because that’s when I wear my computer glasses, which are optimized for a screen 18 to 24 inches away from my eyes – which, in turn, makes it that much harder to read tiny font on paper.

One of the selling points of this book is that you type in the code, rather than copy-pasting it, and that this implants it in your brain much more firmly. As someone who grew up typing in programs from Atari Magazine, I can definitely attest to the efficacy of this approach.

But I cannot read the code. In particular, I cannot distinguish ” from ‘ and ; from : and . from , which all make typing in code fraught with errors.

And so I downloaded the code from the website, and I expect that this will greatly reduce the efficacy of having the book in the first place. I should have bought it on Kindle instead. And I probably knew that going in.

2. The projects are fun, interesting, and … kinda useless. I cannot imagine myself adapting any of them to other purposes. And it’s the adapting that helps me learn. But I’m still *very* early in the book, so I am almost certain that this will improve.

But I still, always, need a project that directly benefits me, in order to really learn to be a “native speaker” in a new language.

3. I am still a native Perl speaker. I think of things in Perl idioms. I miss some of the Perl syntax – especially regular expressions, and the multi-dimensional data structures. It’s going to take me a long, long time to be as adept at Python as at Perl, if that ever happens.

So, that’s it. I will say more later, once I’m further into the book.

Ploughed Fields By Van Gogh

Ploughed Fields by Van Gogh

I stopped in Amsterdam
on the way to Edinburgh
expressly to see you.

Took the flight
with the absurdly long layover
so I could
take the train to Centraal
and walk the streets,
cross the canals,
smell the flowers,

to where you waited
among the sunflowers
and almond blossoms,

around the corner from
Paul’s room.

You drive a black horse,
a white horse,
across the Poughed Fields
while Vincent
paints you.

Did you talk to him?
Did you wonder what that
strange Parisian was doing?

But …
apparently I was supposed to buy a ticket

So I’ll have to ask you
all these questions
another time.




or …

Contemplation on the difficulty of writing poetry on demand


Words flow like …
What doesn’t flow?

Cliche: Molasses

More imaginative …

Traffic on circle 4 at
about 5:38
on a Thursday
when you just want
to get home

Like …

Honey left on the shelf
for a few years
until rediscovered as part
of a whiskey sour recipe found on Reddit
then set in hot water
to slowly
return to the right
golden hue – no more
sugar crystals

Flow like …

that last drop
of Grey Poupon
clinging to the corner
just out of reach of the spoon
when I just need
a little more for my sandwich

The words flow

Stream of Conscious

Stream of Conscious

July 4
S-Tree Campground
Sand Gap, Kentucky

Under the emerald canopy
time stretches
like salt water taffy


Funny word, that, attenuate
At Ten You Ate
Seems longer ago

I make a note
to look up attenuate
and make sure I’m
using it correctly

Alas, Freenode.

Today I got kicked off of Freenode for trying to help someone.

Every part of that sentence has backstory. It’s… complicated.

I started using freenode probably in 1998 or 1999. It was the place to go when you wanted to discuss free software. That’s 23 years ago. Freenode has become synonymous with free software support.

I expect most of you are aware that a few weeks ago someone took over the freenode network for no readily discernible reason. And things have gone downhill since then.

Meanwhile, I’ve kept trying to do my job. Part of which is supporting the Centos user community and ensuring they get the answers that they need when they need them.

Most of us moved over to Libera chat pretty quickly after the Takeover occurred. But like I said, freenode is synonymous with open software. And so the general user population, who haven’t read all of the assorted news, still go to freenode when they want answers. Aye, there’s the rub. Because when they get there, they are met with a toxic, juvenile group of people who have no interest in helping them, and are really just there to stoke their own egos.

Imagine, if you will, that you have been hanging out in the same Cafe for 20 years. You know everybody there. They’re all kind, with their own weird idiosyncrasies. But you know that it’s a comfortable, safe place.

Then, one day, the entire management has changed. There’s a few familiar faces in the customers. But for the most part they’re all new. And they’re screaming at each other. Swearing, making Nazi jokes, or just generally being vulgar.

That’s how the freenode thing has been for me. I have been on freenode almost every day for more than 20 years. Now all of a sudden the people running the show are juvenile strangers who seemed to delight in cruelty.

So, while my banishment today was not unexpected, it was a sad, pathetic end to a long era. Somehow, we have allowed this community resource to be taking over by a narcissistic millionaire who just considers it his plaything, or a way to get petty revenge. Tragic and pathetic.

Today, someone asked a question, they waited a reasonable time for an answer, and I told them maybe they should look over on for their answer. That was deemed worthy of booting me off of the network where I have spent thousands of hours helping hundreds of people solve their software problems. For 20 years.



Prompt from @WkendWordsmith

delicious, menus, employee

You order the clams
because they are local.
Also because they are delicious,
you say.

She and I enjoy the crab,
from far, far away,
also delicious.

The menu says “market price”
and we don’t ask the employees
how much, because we know
we will order it anyway.

The tradition fulfilled for
another year.