Being an Ally

It’s even more important than usual for privileged allies to be good allies right now.  I’m “safe” compared to many others since it’s my beliefs that are under attack, not me as a person. Being a good ally isn’t easy; I know I get things wrong. But here is what I am trying to do in order to be a good ally online.

  1. Amplify the voices that aren’t being heard.  I’m trying to make sure that if a marginalized person says something I think is worth being heard that I share it.
  2. Be a little less worried about being a white knight and come to the defense of marginalized people that are attacked. I’m making sure I don’t talk over people. And I’m trying to be respectful.
  3. Thanking, congratulating and supporting. It’s not easy to be on the front lines and so when people are, I’m trying to make sure they know the work they do is appreciated.

In person, I’m trying to be an emotional support person for friends that need it. I’m wearing my feminist shirts to show other men that there it’s ok to be feminist.

Also, every time I get really pissed off, I donate to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and other organizations to make sure they can do the work the country needs them to do.

I’m sure I can do more, and I’ll figure out how.  But for now, that’s me.  What are you doing to be an ally?

Commit Messages are about Intent

Commit messages are user experience for developers.  Both for other developers active right now and for developers (including ourselves) days/years/months from now. Think about the last time you were looking at a piece of code and asked yourself “Why is this here”.  This is for you, this is your experience. I shared my four rules of thumb for commit messages, this is a little more in-depth.

Caleb Thompson proposes three questions that all commit messages should answer:

  • Why is this change necessary?

  • How does it address the issue?

  • What side effects does this change have?

In general, the first and second is the easiest to answer. In many cases, a link to your bug tracker will suffice (at least in part) for the first question. Your bug tracker should already contain the *why* for every change requested. The second question  is important when the solution is complex.

Does this mean that all commit messages need to be bland? Absolutely not. WORLD WAR Z-INDEX: Restoration of sanity to revisions/slider/menu z-index values. is an excellent example of a commit message that is both fun and informative. The changeset is small ( 3 lines changed, 4 deleted), and is fairly easy for us to answer the question “What is changed?”. The why is answered with both a link to the ticket of

Erlang/OTP identifies three important purposes that commit messages serve:

Good commit messages serve at least three important purposes:

  • To speed up the reviewing process.
  • To help us write a good release note.
  • To help the future maintainers of Erlang/OTP (it could be you!), say five years into the future, to find out why a particular change was made to the code or why a specific feature was added.

The third reason to me is likely the most important.  Boone Gorges identifies blaming and annotation to be important tools in understanding the history of code and history of decisions in his talk Building a Better WordPress through Software Archaeology. Our software has a history and commit messages are the first draft of that history.

 

Further reading:

Commit Often, Perfect Later, Publish Once: Git Best Practices

Best Practices vary from environment to environment, and there is no One True Answer, but still, this represents a consensus from #git and in some cases helps you frame the discussion for the generation of your very own best practices.

On commit messages

Any software project is a collaborative project. It has at least two developers, the original developer and the original developer a few weeks or months later when the train of thought has long left the station. This later self needs to reestablish the context of a particular piece of code each time a new bug occurs or a new feature needs to be implemented.

5 Useful Tips For A Better Commit Message 

Having a story in your git log will make a huge difference in how you and others perceive your project. By taking great care in commit messages, as you do in your code, you will help to increase overall quality.

The Art of the Commit

Think of the commit log as a newsfeed for your project, in which the log message is the headline for each commit. Have you ever skimmed the headlines in a newspaper (or, for a more current example, BuzzFeed) and come away thinking you’d gotten a summary of what was happening in the world? A good headline doesn’t have to tell the whole story, but it should tell you enough to know what the story is about before you read it.

Dark enough to see the stars

Every year, on the day we celebrate Dr. King, I listen to his final speech.  And each year, it’s a different line that stands out to me. This year, it was near the beginning when Dr. King is answering the question about “which age would you like to live in?” and after going from ancient Egypt, to Greece, all the way up until the time that he is living and says that is when he would like to live since:

The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.

— Martin Luther King, Jr. “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”
3 April 1968, Memphis, Tennessee

The nation was sick then and it is still sick.  Some of the symptoms are treated, but we haven’t cured the illnesses that hurt our country. We haven’t ended poverty, which Dr. King laid out a great vision for solving. Nor have we ended systemic racism, sexism, heteronormativity, transphobia, and all the other ills that make this a dark time. But only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.

The stars to me that I’ve seen are an LGBT+Allies party at WordCamp US that saw a packed bar and exceeded everyone’s expectation. The stars for me are seeing thousands of woman preparing to march in support of woman’s rights. The stars that I’ve seen are Biloxi, Mississippi deciding to officially celebrate Dr. King’s birthday as his birthday.

It’s only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.

There is sure to be plenty of darkness in the coming years.  The darkness never went away, but it’s through this darkness that we can see the stars and it’s these stars that make now a great time to be alive.

Listen to “I’ve been to the Mountaintop”. It may help you find the stars in the dark.

Three things I read this week

Here are a couple of things I read this week that I would recommend. Finding time to read interesting things isn’t always easy, but thankfully I found the time to read these three articles this week.

I Dropped Acid and Saw Into the Future: My Surreal First Time At CES

CES is strange enough not on drugs. It’s part circus, part science museum for adults. But its purpose isn’t to entertain or educate; just to sell. It’s an ad. A massive pop-up ad that fills half a dozen convention centers, an ad that can swallow an entire village.

Erin Gloria Ryan provides an interesting and Hunter Thompson like essay about the surrealism that is CES and her experience of seeing it while on acid.

To Trolls, With Love

I did a couple of things that agitated the internet’s underbelly over the past month. My op-ed “Donald Dudley is Gaslighting America,” subsequent appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News, and Twitter’s banning of Martin Shkreli for his own round of high-profile trolling in response to the segment have each been their own niche target. Those are all relatively political, or at least related to the political, but that doesn’t necessarily matter. A friend of mine received her own set of vitriol in response to a popular video of her singing the alto part of “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Harassment doesn’t have too many requirements beyond “being a woman online.”

Lauren Duca explores the harassment that she experiences as a vocal and opinionated woman journalist.

Emery’s Failures: 2012 Final Grades

I am evaluating judgment shown by the GM in selecting these players instead of the players themselves, and each pick will be judged in three categories: the value of the position picked where it was made for the team in question, how well the GM did at finding what should have been a good player at that position, and how the player actually performed.

Too often we jump to examine the effectiveness of decisions. This article examines a football draft after the players have had four years to show themselves.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Earlier this year I got a chance to see Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at the American Shakespear Center in Staunton, Virginia. It was an incredibly fun and entertaining show.

As a populist president who rose to power on a racist platform, and committed one of the worst transgressions the United States has ever seen, I absolutely saw some warning about where we are headed right now.

Populism is one of those ideas that seems right in theory, but when put into practice it often leads to a tyranny of the majority. I can’t help but wonder if John Stuart Mill was inspired by Andrew Jackson when he wrote his warnings against tyranny. One way we can yeild these warnings is as Mill’s put it:

“A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.”

We must remember that inaction can be just as bad as action.  We can’t sit ideally by as we see a tyranny of the majority. We must speak up.

The US survived the presidency of Andrew Jackson. As with most things in the past, we can only hope to learn from it. These clips are from when Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was presented on Broadway. If a local theater near you puts on a performance, I highly recommend it.

 

Alcázar of Seville Photos

In addition to my time walking around Seville, I spent the lat morning/early afternoon in the Alcázar. It was one of the most stunning places I have ever been. I wandered around for about four hours finding new stunning views and amazingly designed creations around each corner. It was so majestic and inspiring I even wrote poetry for the first time in years. If you go to Seville, make sure to plan at least half a day here.

Syria Deeply, Covering the Crisis

Syria Deeply is an independent digital media project led by journalists and technologists that explores a new model of storytelling around a global crisis. Our goal is to build a better user experience of the story by adding context to content, using the latest digital tools of the day. Over time the hope is to add greater clarity, deeper understanding and more sustained engagement to the global conversation.

Source: About Us | Syria Deeply, Covering the Crisis

Syria Deeply is a very cool exploration of the Syrian Conflict.  From a digital storytelling standpoint and a international relations student standpoint, I like  the daily executive summaries of the conflict, the map which helps visualize the conflict, and the timeline for looking back on important moments in the conflict. I also like that that header includes a count of how many days have passed thus far in the conflict.  I think for long ongoing stories, the team at Syria Deeply is onto something interesting. Screenshot of Syria Daily homepage on 14 April 2015

User Testing WordPress at WordCamp San Francisco

 

WordPress 4.1 release lead John Blackbourn conducting a user test
WordPress 4.1 release lead John Blackbourn conducting a user test

Three days before WordCamp San Francisco, during the weekly WordPress Dev Chat, I came up with and proposed the idea that we should use the conference as an opportunity to do user testing. It was a last minute idea, but it’s one that I found valuable and that I would encourage others to do as well. In fact, I think it’s something more WordCamps should try.

The Preparation

Before the event, I setup a test site with the current version of WordPress Trunk along with the feature plugins that we wanted to test. For WCSF, this was Focus, WP Session Manager, and Improved Author Dropdown. I set these up on a public url so that users could do the test on there own machines. I think it is incredibly valuable to test people in as close to there natural environment as possible. While sitting at a conference isn’t where most people blog, if they normally use linux and you only have windows, using there windows laptop with there browser settings will help you understand there problems.

Recruiting Participants

We didn’t do a great job of recruiting participants in large part since we put this together at the last minute. I tweeted about the user tests, put up a sign and John Blackburn asked the volunteers at the happiness bar to send people over. Due to us doing this primarily during sessions, we ended up with people who self selected out of the sessions.

The Tasks

Another key preparation point is deciding what you will be testing. I like to have a simple script of what I say to each participant. I started by asking participants there names, and if I didn’t know them, a tiny bit about them. I also got there email address so that I could create an account for them. This helped to frame the test and also put there experience in context. Once they were logged in to WordPress, I asked each participant to create a new post. As the big feature I was looking for the reaction to Focus. I wanted to see how they reacted to the change when you enter into the editor. I wrote down the first reaction that users had. I then had them change the author. This part of the test was two fold. I wanted to see how they transitioned out of focus, while also seeing if found the Author drop down more usable. Most users used the select2 based drop down in the same way that they use the normal drop down.

After that, we asked users “If you wanted to get an idea of all the places you were logged into WordPress, where would you look?”.   This was to test the new session manager UI.

The Outcome

Now that 4.1 has been released, we can look at the results and see how they guided us.  One thing that we learned was that we needed to focus on discoverability of the new distraction-free writing.  This helped lead to us adding a feature pointer.   Users not immediately seeing a benefit in the list of user sessions helped us recognize that we might want to scale the feature back.  In the end, we decided a simple log out of all other sessions button would be the best option.