Starting at Emma

Today, I start at Emma.

I have some clues about what I’ll be up to – working on some big PostgreSQL databases, tearing into the infrastructure and discovering what makes their small company tick. Emma’s work with small businesses, and a focus on humane communication and consensus building completely drew me in.

And I’m looking forward to riding my bike everyday over on the office on Burnside!

Change in the air

On Tuesday, I’m headed off to PgCon, for three days of intense PostgreSQL conferencing. This conference is PostgreSQL’s major developer (and end user!) conference of the year, held in Ottawa. I’m looking forward to seeing old and new colleagues, spending a day in the developer’s meeting, and hopefully sharing some new projects.

I’m also leading the charge on the lightning talks! If you’d like to give one, find me at the conference, and we’ll see what we can do.

Finally, if you want up-to-date info about what’s happening at the conference, have a look at my twitter list for Postgres. (Right now, looks like we’re trying to track down Oleg and Teodor in the #ashcloud!)

Also, today is my last day at End Point. I’ve really enjoyed my time working for a fantastic PostgreSQL support company. I highly recommend their services – and two members of the team will be presenting at PgCon – Greg Sabino Mullane and Josh Tolley.

I’ll be taking a new position next month, and really looking forward to a few new challenges. I’m definitely staying in Portland, and continuing to work with Postgres.

If you’re headed to PgCon, find me in Ottawa and I’ll tell you all about it!

Speakers workshop at LibrePlanet next week!

I’m headed off to Boston (and then NYC!) next week for three days of free software love at LibrePlanet, March 19-21.

While there, I’ll be giving a speaker’s workshop – how to give talks at technical conferences. There’s not really a magical formula, just lots of tips and things to practice that will help you not only give great talks, but find excellent places to give those talks, be prepared for speaking to any size crowd, and have a good time while you do it.

I started giving talks at conferences about five years ago, and have been running my own conferences for three years. I still get the butterflies when I get up in front of people, but I’ve got a whole kit of strategies I now use to deal with it.

The workshop is scheduled for 3:30-5:30pm, and I’m sure we’ll all head out for dinner and conversation right after.

I’ve also got one free pass to the conference left, so leave a comment if you’ll be in the area and can use the pass.

Also, I’ll have some incredibly profane free software advocacy stickers on-hand to share. We’re free software activists, but we can still have fun, right? :)

Why you should go to LCA 2011


I returned from LCA 2010 on Sunday with an ecstatic grin, and tons of projects to work on for the rest of the year. I was lucky enough to have End Point send me to New Zealand! I knew a few of the organizers, and had high expectations. LCA totally surpassed them all.

Next year, LCA will be held in Brisbane, Australia. You should really go.

I’ll break it down for you:

* Content

The talks were really good. People went out of their way to talk about the technical issues they are facing without sugar coating it, dumbing it down, or resorting to lists of features.

Ted Ts’o‘s talk on EXT4 development was amazing in this regard. I came thinking that he’d give a laundry list of features, how it differed from EXT3, when he thought they’d be “production ready”. What I got instead was an incredibly detailed accounting of the failures in testing and systems analysis that filesystems developers had encountered over many, many years. The new development effort had its own fair share of bug creation, but they also found long standing bugs in EXT3. He went so far as to break down effort in terms of new feature creation, bug fixing and two other tasks (i wish I had a copy of the slides already!). Anyway, interesting talk, great advice for those who work with concurrency-sensitive applications (most of us these days) and very interesting case studies in failure.

Paul Gunn, an engineer at Weta Digital, gave a detailed talk on his experiences scaling their data centers. Much of the lessons there were fairly well understood by data center engineers (hot/cold aisles, raise the temperature to save some dollars!, don’t cram stuff under the floor where air is supposed to flow!, use high ceilings to sink heat). It’s always great to see companies sharing their practical experiences with developers.

Another fun project I learned about was Sheepdog – an EBS replacement developed by a team from NTT. The whole project looked fantastic – providing snapshot, cloning and thin provisioning, and a reasonable looking GUI. This could be a fundamental building block of free clouds.

I also was inspired by Cucumber-nagios, a relatively new project from Lindsay Holmwood. He and others have been talking about “behavior driven infrastructure“, a great bit of syntactic sugar on systems automation work that started with cfengine in the early ’90s. I look forward to playing around with these tools. And I really like that he leveraged nagios’ existing interfaces rather than inventing something new. This type of collaboration between projects is a breath of fresh air for sysadmins, who (if they’re anything like me) struggle to make awesome new tools talk to the awesome old ones.

I spent some time in an Arduino intro class, soldering and hacking on a temperature probe for a few hours. I ended up with a working temperature monitor and an appreciation for how easy to use the tools are.

* Hallway Track

There was a fantastic common area filled with people hacking on their talks, having conversation or maybe just hanging out to see what would happen next. IRC was full of hilarious chatter, and people connecting to see new babies (my god, so many people have had babies!).

There were also some couches, and a nice courtyard that often filled up with people. The common spaces in a conference seem to determine how well people can connect once they’re not just sitting in front of a speaker.

Another convenient and wonderful aspect of the location was the food. Excellent restaurants at reasonable prices were within a 5 minute walk of the conference venue. This made impromptu coffee breaks and relaxed but productive lunches very easy and enjoyable. I really, really liked this.

* Inspiration

Three keynotes by Biella Coleman, Benjamin Mako Hill and Glyn Moody were inspirational and subversive. All three were rallying cries for a hacker mentality – the drive to tweak, tinker, create and share. All three spoke to the pleasures and joys of software development.

Biella Coleman brought up the origins of the Free Software Foundation, and even played a video of a very young Richard Stallman talking about his frustration with not being able to modify source code. She also discussed the responsibility leaders in free and open source have to be transparent in their management of their projects (and how we remind ourselves of that in amusing ways).

Benjamin Mako Hill gave a rallying talk about antifeatures, and how their existence is a competitive advantage for free and open source software. Pia Waugh gave a detailed description of the talk, and the categories of antifeatures – protection money, market segmentation, securing monopolies and protecting copyrights. A memorable quote was “I have yet to meet a free software DVD player that respects the unskippable DVD track.” Mako reminds me that humor is the best medicine for something that’s seriously broken.

Glyn Moody went a slightly different route – talking about how sharing and openness are leaking out into the rest of the world. The Human Genome Project and Project Gutenburg were two of several examples he used, and to briefly cast a glance at what was at stake if public ownership had not been achieved – in particular with the Human Genome Project. He managed to convey a sense of urgency and importance that is often missing.

What free software actually gets used for and why are critically important stories. We all need to get better at telling compelling stories.

* Friendship

Free software is built on friendships. Trust, willingness to make mistakes in front of each other, and a desire to build on top of others work to make something better are the traits I see among those who collaborate with each other. Building free software can be a painful process – long nights, tedious bugs, no recognition for the work that went into it all. Conferences like LCA are a tremendous affirmation of the work that we all do.

From the scripted get-togethers, to the spontaneous hackfests and anti-scripted gatherings (the un-professional networking session!), all events are attempts to connect to the other people who know what it’s like to live inside of free software. And we relax around each other, make jokes and enjoy for a few days the knowledge that we’re doing something really cool.

I met so many people for whose time and attention I am incredibly grateful for. And, for those Kiwis who took me out for great food, shopping and long walks along the pier in the sunshine — thank you so much for taking the time. I miss you all.

select short_story from life limit 7;

Robert tagged me, and I’ve been procrastinating on a ‘stuff I did in 2008′ post, and this seems more fun anyway. Here goes:

  1. I’ve never seen the Grateful Dead in concert, despite graduating from the University of Oregon. Yes, I attended before Jerry died.
  2. I started college as a Chemistry major, intending to switch my major to musical performance.
  3. I competed in a Junior Miss pageant in high school. I wore spandex and danced a synchronized routine to ‘Tusk’, by Fleetwood Mac. I played a violin solo. I lost.
  4. The last time I played the violin publicly was about five years ago for my friend Amy’s orchestra, essentially a chamber orchestra that was a several-month experiment in improvisation with many musicians from the Portland area. The project was a collection of songs she wrote about eight artists and performers that inspired her. The performance was also a release party for the book DIY in PDX.
  5. I once unwillingly spent the night in a Venice convent.
  6. I made another ‘I am not a douchebag‘ bag for the family Christmas party gift. I’ve made three, one of which I was actually paid (“commissioned” hah!) to make.
  7. In 2008, I managed to increase my houseplant count from 0 to 4. All are still living as of this blog post. My chicken count went from 3 to 1.


  1. Gabrielle Roth, because she rules
  2. Mark Wong – since he started the P5 series last week!
  3. Emilie Steele, because we didn’t get a chance to talk nearly enough last year at PgCon
  4. Magnus Hagander, because he should blog more and he hasn’t responded to Robert’s tag yet
  5. Andy Lester, because his book rocks, and lots of people are going to need it this year
  6. Nikolay Samokhvalov, because I hear such great things about and want to visit him in Moscow someday for a Bruce-Momjian-Style tour
  7. Josh Berkus, just for fun and because he is blogging more these days! :)

the rules:

  1. Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.
  2. Share seven facts about yourself in the post – some random, some weird.
  3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter.

meme: Current state of me

Audrey started a meme that I liked – so here’s my answers:

  • Did I earn a living? Yes, I did. I’ve never been happier with my work, who I work with and who I work for. I surprised myself a little with a job change that has me working at home, and co-working at various places in Portland. I find myself jumping out of bed every morning, excited to start my work day, and attending amazing geek events 2-3 times a week. (shameful Portland tech scene junkie confession!)
  • Was I able to incubate new ideas? Well, I was certainly *exposed* to tons of creative, exciting ideas, and felt energized to participate and organize in ways that I did not in 2007. As far as generating my own ideas, I think I was in the same boat as Audrey — spending a ton of time *doing*, but not as much time reflecting on experiences. The one exception to that was my vacation last August in Mexico. I took nearly three weeks to unwind from work, and I spent that time learning a little Spanish, and taking photographs that I was very proud of. Looking out to next year, I can’t wait to see what happens, and feel like I won’t be able to avoid an explosion of creativity.
  • Did I grow in ways that I wanted? YES. OMG. I had an incredible year, personally and professionally. I organized two PostgreSQL conferences – one in Maryland! – and helped get new user group leaders started with groups in at least five new locations. I’ve seen several long-time community members step up, join boards and become more active in the core community building work I championed. I met Tom Lane. I stood by as close friends, inspired by a growing community, started their own projects. I was inspired over and over again by the humor, grace and intelligence of the people who make PostgreSQL happen. I contributed code, presented nearly a dozen talks and traveled.

So, 2009 will be a lot about co-chairing Open Source Bridge, with a big helping of PostgreSQL community work, primarily speaking about the filesystem performance testing we’re doing here in Portland, and hopefully a bit more about user groups. I’m looking forward to a great work year, with a company that continues to be successful in a difficult time, and with coworkers that make me laugh every day.

I’m looking to Portland to inspire me: with cool ideas, exciting companies and a vibrant tech scene.

Your turn!

My Other Things

Audrey listed out her projects the other day, and I decided to follow suit:

  • PDXPUG – Portland PostgreSQL Users Group. I just spent the weekend with @markwkm and @gorthx at LinuxFest NW, a fantastic Linux conference. We met tons of people, made some new friends, and got a list of 15 people who want to be part of a new PostgreSQL User Group in Seattle! Also, there was a Tesla Coil. PDXPUG will host PGDay on July 20th, just before OSCON. It will be a day of talks, followed by a great party!
  • User Group Liaison, PostgreSQL Global Development Group – I’m running Our community is adding about 2 new user groups a month throughout the world. I’ve given 6 talks in the last month, and will be giving two talks about people and user groups at OSCON.
  • PgUS – The United States PostgreSQL Association. I am Director, Treasurer and chief Guerrilla Marketing Campaigner (self-assigned title).
  • Legion of Tech - Board member, and part of the Finance committee.
  • BarCamp Portland – Fundraising coordinator, and trying to set up a long-term repository for conference notes, audio and video. We’ve got hosting of a super fast server from the Open Source Lab. Now I just need to finish configuring the website!
  • Gardening. I really like gardening. I had great compost this spring from compostable food, chicken manure, lawn debris and dirt/grass we’d dug up from our front yard. We removed the last of the grass from the front yard, and I’m hoping to get some tomatoes up there soon.
  • Chickens. I keep two chickens in my backyard and they are each laying 1 egg/day.
  • ptop. I help hack on ptop, a postgresql monitoring tool written in C.
  • PerlMongers. I regularly attend the Portland Perl Mongers and recently gave a talk on PL/lolcode – a lolcode implementation for the stored procedure engine inside of PostgreSQL.
  • Code-n-splode. I helped found code-n-splode, a coding group dedicated to getting more women involved in programming.

What about you?