I understood where he's coming from, though my assessment differs. I started reflecting on those exceptions. Do they "prove the rule" in the colloquial sense that "every rule has exceptions," or do they "prove the rule" in the older sense, in that they give us an opportunity to test the rule? A few years ago I learned about this technique called "appreciative inquiry" which says: look at the unusual examples of things that are working well, and try to figure out how they've gotten where they are, so we can try to replicate it. So I think it's worth thinking a bit more about those exceptional FLOSS projects that aren't developer tools and that are pretty high-quality, in user experience design and robust functionality. And it's worth discussing problems and approaches in product management and user experience design in open source, and pointing to people already working on it.
FLOSS with good design and robust functionality: My list would include Firefox, Chromium, NetHack, Android, Audacity, Inkscape, VLC, the Archive Of Our Own, Written? Kitten!, Signal, Zulip, Thunderbird, and many of the built-in applications on the Linux desktop. I don't have much experience with Blender or Krita, but I believe they belong here too. (Another category worth thinking about: FLOSS software that has no commercial competitor, or whose commercial competitors are much worse, because for-profit companies would be far warier of liability or other legal issues surrounding the project. Examples: youtube-dl, Firefox Send, VLC again, and probably some security/privacy stuff I don't know much about.)
Mass Market: NetHack, VLC, Firefox, Audacity, Inkscape, Thunderbird, youtube-dl
Controlled Ecosystem: Zulip, Archive Of Our Own
Business-to-business open source: Android, Chromium
Rocket Ship To Mars: Signal
Bathwater? Wide Open? Trusted Vendor? not sure: Written? Kitten!
The only "Wide Open" example that easily comes to mind for me is robotfindskitten, a game which -- like Written? Kitten! -- does one reasonably simple thing and does it well. Leonard reflected on reasons for its success at Roguelike Celebration 2017 (video). But I'd be open to correction, especially by people who are familiar with NetHack, VLC, Audacity, Inkscape, or youtube-dl development processes.
Design: Part of de Vos's point is about cost and quality in general. But I believe part of what he's getting at is design. Which FLOSS outside of developer tooling has good design?
In my own history as an open source contributor and leader, I've worked some on developer tools like PyPI and a linter for OpenNews, but quite a lot more on tools for other audiences, like MediaWiki, HTTPS Everywhere, Mailman, Zulip, bits of GNOME, AltLaw, and the WisCon app. The first open source project I ever contributed to, twelve years ago, was Miro, a video player and podcatcher. And these projects had all sorts of governance/funding structures: completely volunteer-run with and without any formal home, nonprofit with and without grants, academic, for-profit within consultancies and product companies.
So I know some of the dynamics that affect user experience in FLOSS for general audiences (often negatively), and discussed some of them in my code4lib keynote "User Experience is a Social Justice Issue" a few years ago. I'm certainly not alone; Simply Secure, Open Source Design, Cris Beasley, The Land, Clar, and Risker are just a few of the thinkers and practitioners who have shared useful thoughts on these problems.
In 2014, I wrote a few things about this issue, mostly in public, like the code4lib keynote and this April Fool's joke:
It turns out you can go into yourWikimedia and pushback: But I also wrote a private email that year that I'll reproduce below. I wrote it about design change friction in Wikimedia communities, so it shorthands some references to, for instance, a proposed opt-in Wikimedia feature to help users hide some controversial images. But I hope it still provides some use even if you don't know that history.
init.cfgfile and change the usability flag from 0 to 1, and that improves user experience tremendously. I wonder why distributions ship it turned off by default?
I wanted to quickly summarize some thoughts and expand on the conversation you and I had several days ago, on reasons Wikimedia community members have a tough time with even opt-in or opt-out design changes like the image filter or VisualEditor or Media Viewer.
- ideology of a free market of ideas -- the cure for bad speech is more speech, if you can't take the heat then you should not be here, aversion to American prudishness etc., etc. (more relevant for image filter)
- relatedly "if you can't deal with the way things are then you are too stupid to be here" (more applicable to design simplifications like Media Viewer and VisualEditor)
- people are bad at seeing that the situation that has incrementally changed around them is now a bad one (frog in pot of boiling water); see checkbox proliferation and baroque wikitext/template metastasis
- most non-designers are bad at design thinking (at assessing a design, imagining it as a changeable prototype, thinking beyond their initial personal and aesthetic reaction, sussing out workflows and needs and assessing whether a proposed design would suit them, thinking from other people's points of view, thinking from the POV of a newcomer, etc.)
- relatedly, we do not share a design vocabulary of concepts, nor principles that we aim to uphold or judge our work against (in contrast see our vocabulary of concepts and principles for Wikipedia content, e.g. NPOV, deletionism/inclusionism)
- so people can only speak from their own personal aesthetics and initial reactions, which are often negative because in general people are averse to surprise novelty in environments they consider home, and the discourse can't rise beyond "I don't like it, therefore it sucks"
- past history of difficult conversations, sometimes badly managed (e.g. image filter) and too-early rollout of buggy feature as a default (e.g. VisualEditor), causes once-burned-twice-shy wariness about new WMF features
- Wikimedians' core ethos: "It's a wiki" (if you see a problem, e.g. an error in a Wikipedia article, try to fix it); everyone is responsible for maintaining and improving the project, preventing harm
- ergo people who feel responsible for the quality of the project are like William F. Buckley's "National Review" in terms of their conservatism, standing athwart history yelling "stop"
I haven't answered some questions: what are the common patterns in our success stories (governance, funding, community size, maintainership history, etc.)? How do we address or prevent problems like the ones I mentioned seeing within Wikimedia? But it's great to see progress on those questions from organizations like Wikimedia and Simply Secure and Open Tech Strategies (disclosure: I often do work with the latter), and I do see hope for plausible ways forward.
If you're in or near an area with an active measles outbreak, or if you happen to be seeing your doctor for some other reason, I encourage you to get your immunity checked, especially if you're too young to have had measles and too old to have gotten a second dose of the vaccine when that recommendation was added in 1989. For all the talk of unvaccinated kids, it's non-immune adults who can do the most harm, because they're the most mobile. The guy who started the Michigan outbreak assumed he was immune, and thought he had bronchitis; then he infected 40 people. So please get checked out, and get your MMR if you need it, and do your part for herd immunity to counteract those who won't or can't.
My pediatrician was on the ball and I got an MMR in 1991. I'm almost certainly immune. But we live on the edge of one of the neighborhoods that's had reported cases*, and we frequently shop in that neighborhood, and Kit plays on the local playground with kids from that neighborhood... so we're all getting blood tests just in case.
* I've been thinking about how easy it is for this to turn into "I don't want my child to play with those dirty children from that segregated community" and the like. I have been reading some Orthodox Jewish news sites—all of which are pro-vax, bless them—and one published an op-ed that bluntly said, "Letting your kids get measles instead of getting them vaccinated plays right into 'dirty Jew' stereotypes and harms the whole community." So I am being conscious with my wording, and glad that that discussion is happening within Orthodox communities, and keeping my very non-Orthodox self the hell out of it.
Kit's pediatrician says the dose Kit got at 12 months will protect them until they turn four and get the second dose, and there's no need to give it early (which he does do for children traveling to epidemic areas). But he's keeping an eye out for reports of measles on our end of the neighborhood, and giving babies their first doses as early as it's safe to do.
I hate this. I hate every part of this. I hate how easily anti-vaxers prey on vulnerable people. I hate that this is still, still, based on fear of autism (and don't get me started on autism and Jewishness, because whoo boy there's a lot to talk about there). I just want everyone to be safe and healthy, especially the little babies who get no say in any of this.
At work, I got confirmation that I will be going to Michigan in two weeks, so I got to book all that travel. But yay trip.
I had lunch with ironphoenix, too.
After work, I had dinner with Jex, and got to see Giovanni. He is getting bigger -- but that is what babies do.
Then, after dinner, out to Stittsville for board games, where we played Antike.
I'm home now, and I need to organize and pack for a trip to the 'Gunks, leaving tomorrow morning around 8am. Hopefully the weather will be not-awful.
Still Becoming, by Michelle Obama, which keeps getting interrupted by other books; this week it is
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, for classics book group tomorrow.
• What did you recently finish reading?
Mercury, by Hope Larsen. Interesting story, which I am still thinking about, but I did not like the drawing. Different characters looked too similar and the same character looked too different from one panel to the next. And I don't mean Tara and Josie, who are supposed to look similar; I mean, for example, Josie's mother and the man Josie falls in love with.
• What do you think you’ll read next?
I've got The True Queen, by Zen Cho!
But Bad science : quacks, hacks, and big pharma flacks, by Ben Goldacre
and Multiple sclerosis : a guide for the newly diagnosed , by T. Jock Murray, Carol S. Saunders, Nancy J. Holland are due back at the library.
• What are you watching?
Jasper Jones, directed by Rachel Perkins. I was disappointed by how ineffectual all the female characters were.
( So delicious! )
Kit was asleep when we got in, and X was glad to see us but also wiped out from a tiring weekend of solo parenting. We scavenged food and went off to our separate rooms, deeply contented from an excellent vacation.
Coda 1: I did indeed try using the shoe boxes for a bit of shelf organization. I think I prefer cloth drawers, though. Marie Kondo can get her kicks from efficiently using whatever she has handy. I get mine from everything having a unified look.
Coda 2: On Monday, I picked Kit up from school (they were SO HAPPY to see me). When we got home, they didn't want to go inside, so we hung out on our front patio for a bit. While watching them run around, I stuck my hand in my coat pocket and found the half-empty pack of almonds. Kit demanded a tithe, so I gave them a few and ate the rest. I loved having that little vestige of vacation still with me as the daily routine resumed.
Nightstand. Top drawer is open showing medications and a wrist brace. The top of the stand has a blue lamp, a bottle of lotion, a glass of water, a folded handkerchief, and some meds. My iPod sits on the edge; I use this for an alarm clock when needed, and for listening to "rain sounds" on youtube to help me fall asleep.
Day stand. Contains: My phone, a box of tissues, Icy Hot cream, Lidocaine cream, a glass of lemonade, and 3 little microfiber rags that I use to clean my glasses. Also a pencil. Stuff accumluates on this table and I have to clear it off regularly.
Katherine discusses writing for NCIS: New Orleans.
I saw how it can work when utility companies work on a prepayment basis (as in, you have to top up your account before usage, much as you would top up a pay-as-you-go mobile phone plan). I found out about how one frequently irons one's clothes, or has them ironed, after washing, not just for aesthetic reasons, but to kill parasites. I learned that Zambia has a four-corners water border with three other countries. And I learned that the indigenous name for Victoria Falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya or Mosi-O-Tunya, which translates as "the smoke that thunders", inspiring the name of a beer. (If you visit during the bit of the dry season when the waterfall roars less impressively, enterprising locals will happily photograph you in front of the green-painted wall they've set up, digitally place your smiling family in front of a suitably watery background, and charge you for prints. They also have props available in case you want to, say, wear a headdress, hold a carved stick, etc., in the photo, and I feel mixed about this, as you might imagine.) I meant to write up more of what I observed (I tweeted about a concert I attended but that's about it), then didn't get around to it, sadly.
At the time, India was my default comparator; I noticed how bits of things -- the climate, the physical infrastructure, the history museum, intangibles -- were like, or not like, things I'd experienced in India. I hope someday I get to visit more, different places in Africa so I can get a better understanding of it as its own context.
Just now I reread an old Daniel Davies post about Zambia (he was born there; I think his father did some kind of job there for a while), which he wrote in 2008 but which -- as I see the toll extractive capitalism is taking on my industry and my country -- strikes close to home.
...relevant to natural resource curse. What the continent of Africa is full of, is chancers and get-rich-quick merchants. The natural resources industry is of course famous for such characters, and the trait that they share with vulture financiers is that they vastly prefer to substitute risk tolerance, sharp elbows and an eye for the main chance for graft and creativity. People like this are useful and even necessary in small doses, but (as any history of your favourite frontier and colonisation narrative will tell you), in large numbers they're pestilential; a walking, talking infestation of the same kind of behaviour that's the staple of the resource curse literature.
There's a post forthcoming ... on psychological obstacles to development but I think this is the big one; not the lack of a work ethic, but the perversion of the work ethic in a large proportion of the domestic and expatriate business class, who think that success isn't something you build; it's something you find...
Claire Eliza Bartlett, We Rule the Night. Discussed elsewhere.
Lois McMaster Bujold, Paladin of Souls. Reread. It was interesting to revisit this middle-aged coming-of-age tale after it's had more than a decade to influence the rest of the field. I still love the worldbuilding and the characters, but it was important to keep in mind how much of an influence it's been--that it looks a little less groundbreaking in retrospect than it actually is because other people have used that soil. Such a fun book, such a good book--and I'm so glad we've been thinking and writing about it since.
Pamela Dean, The Dubious Hills. Reread. One of my favorite books ever, and basically I will use any excuse to reread it. The way the worldbuilding and the characterization intertwine always makes me think...and then I always get pulled into the story. Go read this book. Go read this book again.
Emilie Demant Hatt, By the Fire: Sami Folktales and Legends. Discussed elsewhere.
Nicola Griffith, Hild. Reread. This is so immersive for me and so lovely and all the details and...it's just so easy to slide into this cultural mindset. I hope that Griffith meant it that she's writing more of St. Hilda's story because I want that so much.
Barbara Hambly, Cold Bayou. The latest Benjamin January mystery. This is a perfectly serviceable entry in the series but not one of the standouts, and it's a terrible place to start because it relies so much on you already knowing and caring about the characters. There's not even a murder until halfway through the book, so if you don't already want to spend time with these characters, go a bit further back in the series and try there. If you do--it further elaborates on some key relationships, particularly with January's mother.
Larry Hammer, trans., Ice Melts in the Wind: The Seasonal Poems of the Kokinshu. Discussed elsewhere.
Beth Hilgartner, A Murder for Her Majesty. Reread. After so many years. My friend Ginger happened to mention this in passing, and I almost certainly lit up visibly, because I loved it as a child and did not remember the title. (My booklog only goes back to age 23 or 24 reliably. This is a source of sorrow sometimes.) There is a girl who disguises herself as a boy to run from murderers and does not do the sword fighting! No! She sings in a cathedral choir! There is Elizabethan roughhousing! There are Latin mottos iced onto cookies! There is music theory! I loved this book so much, and now I know which one it is, hurrah. Also...it is pretty anachronistic, now that I have somewhat more extensive knowledge of the Elizabethan era than I did when I was 8. So one must be braced. Still. Eeeee.
Ann Leckie, The Raven Tower. Extensive thoughts about what it's like to be a god in a rock! Cholera or dysentery or similar disease! Despite being based on a very famous story whose parallels become very obvious as you read, this is not like anything else. I'm thrilled to see Ann doing something completely different and can't wait to see what she does next, but in the meantime I sure enjoyed this.
Ursula K. Le Guin, Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems. This is very much a late-life collection, with thoughts about aging and death coming to the fore. I found it touching and valuable.
James E. Montgomery, Loss Sings. A slim chapbook about grief and translation. I would have liked for him to connect a few dots about different kinds of translation--to have some thoughts about translating for people who have or have not had a personal experience, or between those two groups--but what he had was interesting and did not outstay its welcome.
Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems Volume One. I wish there was a Collected Works out, but right now I'm approximating as best I can with this. I just keep having the urge to immerse myself. I know I'm going to return to several of these poems at important life moments, and also at random, just because.
Suzanne Palmer, Finder. Discussed elsewhere.
Kate Quinn, The Alice Network. This is a female-centered spy novel that spans two world wars and an important bit thereafter. The things it's doing and saying about spying illuminate other works in the genre by contrast. I found it interesting, exciting, worthwhile. Will definitely look for more of Quinn's work.
Lynne M. Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, and Michi Trota, eds., Uncanny Issue 27. Kindle. I had an essay in this, and I don't review work I'm in.
Jo Walton, Lifelode. Reread. This is still one of my favorite domestic fantasies, and I love the worldbuilding that is interwoven with everything and yet not...centered in a traditionally questy fantasy novel way. I love that the shape of this book is a character shape and yet the worldbuilding is not neglected.
Fran Wilde, Riverland. Oh good heavens this book. I picked it up one Sunday afternoon and basically did not put it down until it's gone. It has so many things I love, glass and rivers and family relationships, and it is breathtaking in its handling of incredibly difficult things happening to its young protagonists. The way that the heroine both internalizes and fights the bad things that are happening in her life is so human and so real and cuts like broken glass. Highly recommended, but with care to pick your day so that you can handle the intensity of this book.
We have a slightly more concrete plan for the coming weeks, with the understanding that plans can change from day to day based on test results, scheduling issues, the whims of the insurance companies, and more.
Amy’s currently going through her third round of R-EPOCH chemotherapy (her fifth or sixth total round of chemo, depending on how you count them.) The goal is to do one more round the first full week in May, then do another CT scan. If she looks cancer-free at that time, we’ll move on to the bone marrow transplant step.
I got choked up the first time the phrase “cancer-free” came up. There’s so much hope and fear wrapped up in those two words, and in the results of that scan a month or so from now. We know she’s responded well to treatment so far, but there’s so much unknown…
We got to spend some good family time together for my birthday weekend, which was nice. I ate way too much, which was also nice 🙂
I’d like to believe the end is in sight, and we’re starting to move toward the next steps of her recovery and rebuilding our new normal. The whole family is pretty damn tired of cancer and chemo and all the rest. This crap gets old pretty quick.
We learned something exciting this week, though. Amy’s been using an infusion pump that delivers her chemo cocktail over the course of 3-4 days. But the tubing has sprung a leak at least three different times, all in the same spot. It looks like the chemotherapy meds are actually eating through the air filter in the line. These are the chemicals they’re pumping into my wife’s body…
Well, if they eat through filters, hopefully they’ll gobble up cancer cells even better.