anti-inclusivity words used in community conversations

•June 19, 2016 • 1 Comment

“…the words of community are living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” (Old Testament)

There are several words which a community wrangler must continually be vigilant in monitoring.  I myself define these words as ’emotive adjectives’ (often parading as adverbs).  In the grammatical sense, these words are usually applied to direct objects, usually technical components or methodology for how to build certain technologies. However they are not agnostic engineering terms intended to improve the mechanics of the system: they are words intended to remove and/or intimidate people out of the conversation.  Often times, these words are semi-swear words, but the tagging of emotion onto the word or sentence is the meta alarm bell you should hear ring in your head.

All in all, these words are intended to be anti-inclusive.  To push people out of the conversation so ones argument can win.

Below I’m attempting to collect such words to help act as a cue for being hyper aware of the situation unfolding in your community.

Boring, bored, etc – by far the most important #alarmBell word as it represents self-imposed anti-inclusive behaviour of the very person saying it.  Wether they mean it or not, they are trying to convince themselves that they do not care and want to exclude themselves and others from the conversation.

Crap, shit, etc – swear words are emotive because they look to illicit a raised response for everyone in the conversation.

Stupid, idiotic, etc – speaks directly to the frustration one can feel when a technological solution is not fitting together as the puzzle once envisioned.

Hate, dislike, grumpy, etc – highly significant if this word is used without easy to understand explanation for why one feels those way.  See ‘I’m OK, you’re not ok’ matrices behavior.

Tired, sick of, etc. – another word which requires serious consideration as it can speak to the emotional psychological health of the person saying it.

Not wanted, reject, remove, kill off, not desirable etc – perhaps the most simple example of anti-inclusivity manifest.

The reason why these natural language words are important to monitor is because of their ability to be anti-inclusive.  As a community manager, anti-inclusive behaviour is the disease you are trying to fight.  Inclusivity is the behavior you are trying to reward.

Please note, the listing of above words is not intended to remove these words from our vocabulary in some kind of Draconian ‘political correctness’.  Rather I would suggest these words when used should be carefully considered as to their root cause.  They are an opportunity to help change your community through the bottom up process of one to one relationship building (as time consuming as it is).

For me, I’m still trying to figure out the best way to understand the “response” for anti inclusive behavior, but kindness and bit of light-hearted comedy can go a long way to support the person who ends up feeling excluded because of the above words. Approaching the person using anti-inclusive word is not something I tend to do.  Reward good behavior, ignore bad behavior is my usual default when not sure of the response.

What other anti-inclusive words do you see appearing on community mailing lists, slacks, irc, twitter, listservs, fb, etc?  Please let me know via @DFFlanders especially if you have example of how you solved the problem.

“Many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose quills” (Shakespeare)

PyCon2016 (Portland, USA) Highlights

•June 3, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Please find below a little audio podcast summary of PyCon2016 (10min), also transcribed below.

Hello, this is David Flanders. This is my little audio report on PyCon 2016 in Portland, Oregon: which went from Saturday, May 28th to today, which is Wednesday, June 1st. Overall, the conference had about 3,000 people this year. It continues to maintain the idealism of an academic conference, and more importantly, an academic conference very focused on being able to onboard people who are just learning the programming language in a professional capacity (the new postgraduate degree for CS students?). All of the track I went to were very accessible, allowing people to understand how to use Python in different professional scenarios.

Overall, perhaps one of the most interesting things to see was the number of women speakers in this year’s program, up well near 50%, which is a great initiative as more women are empowered to lead the commtunity. Of course, the conference still is predominantly men and definitely white men in their twenty-somethings, plenty of inclusions still to achieve.

Perhaps one of the best talks that I saw was by Kate Heddleston and Joyce Jang, who are consultants and are talking about usability of DevOpps, which, of course, applies to the community I work with, the OpenStack community. As productivity (usability) consultants, Kate and Joyce, go into big companies and actually look at how rapidly expanding companies are onboarding new developers … Of course, in the startup space as companies experience rapid growth, the problem is that each developer a startup adds doesn’t necessarily result in more productivity. Kate and Joyce are often hired in to look at how developers are onboarded into companies as they’re quickly growing from 30 to 300 people, and what DevOpps procedures they can help optimise.

Both made solid points around why usability is about functionality, some really practical lessons to think about. Things like APIs and the tools which developer use to do tests; alongside, the common methods and techniques which a team commonly uses is really important.  Increasingly the industry is moving away from a single brilliant developer and balancing genius across a team dynamic.

Another interesting theme was the rise and rise of bots!  Of course, everyone in the community is using Slack now. Every session I walked into had a different slack going on half of the screens. Slack has really taken over the space, and of course, everybody’s writing these bots to participate in the community channels. Perhaps the coolest bot I saw was in a talk by Alex Gaynor, entitled “The Cobbler’s Children Have No Shoes or Building Better Tools for Ourselves”. He was talking about a very cool bot they’re using at Facebook, which analyses branches of code with previous branches to suggest likely evaluators.  This bot pings people in their slack channels and lets them know that their is some code they might enjoy reviewing.

Another, perhaps more subtle theme of the conference, was around the psychology of developer communities. Interestingly enough, Guido van Rossum, the inventor of the Python language, gave a really interesting keynote about what makes him happy and how that looks from his PoV with someone who is on the autism spectrum. The enjoyment for him was in knowledge of this thriving community and that it wasn’t necessarily about isolation, even though he seemed to be very isolated over the years sometimes because of his intellect.  Community enabled him to help other people which brought him happiness.

There were also several other developers who touched on the importance of psychology and being able to better participate in developer community via “positive play”. Almost all open communities will have a ‘code of conduct’. These documents might not be the best wording for what the community should be aiming to uphold? Maybe there needs to be more positive patterns. Some people talked about anti-patterns in community. On the whole -in these all male developer communities- there does tend to be an emotional trend towards a bit of anger sometimes, or perhaps some other negative emotions, especially when it comes to new people coming into the community. More than anything else there was a real drive for talking about how communities be better behaved and help bring people in who want to participate, learn and share.

Again, another thing which Guido actually touched on was that there are still no core reviewers for Python. Further efforts are being made to enable the best developers to take on mentor roles so more inclusion opportunities will result in a better diversity profile.

On a technical note, one of the cool little things that I did like other than the bots, even though the bots were related, was talking about new API’s and the way API’s can be used with apps. Google has put out something called “Progressive Apps”, which is all about being able to do a lot more caching on devices like mobile phones or smaller chipsets, so that you can actually build HTML apps for the web browser on your phone instead of having to build for iPhone and iOS and all the other iOS’s. That’s coming about because of HTTP/2 and the new API’s becoming available. Maybe we’re finally starting to see some trends which are pushing towards native apps for the phone that can work in the browser, instead of having to write for the operating system itself on each one of the phones.

There continues to be a lot of conversation around both Microservices as well as containerization of applications though perhaps not as dominant here inside of this application developer centric community. I was very aware, in talking with many dev, that there was less concern about containers or the way that people want to build apps for the cloud. One of the simple reasons is is because for them, application developers, if it isn’t broke don’t fix it. The idea of containers and Microservices is not yet a high priority. There’s a lot of other things that they’re concerned with in the stack layers above (usability, testing, customer engagement, etc.)

AppDev are not looking down in the stack towards the SysAdmin and DevOps layers. Application developers are looking up the stack. They’re looking at usability or the next thing that’s coming in browser app features. It was an eye opening experience realising that they are not necessarily concerned about containers and Microservices the way that we think they should from a DevOpps PoV.

Plenty of conversation around deep learning and, of course, machine learning. On the small scale as well, and how this can actually help the DevOps and application developers to be able to just have a little bit more logic in the way that we are doing things.  Humans are bad and remembering so why not let the machines help you?

API’s seem to still be difficult for application developers in some senses. There were a couple of nice talks on the way you can build API’s for your application from the ground up, but again API’s are perhaps a second thought for a lot of application developers when they’re trying to build an application. Nonetheless, there are some great new frameworks in the form of Flask and OpenAPI, which OpenStack is starting to use. Those are good signs that people are starting to care about the abstraction of their applications so that they can connect better and work across Microservices or even across cloud apps.

Finally, was the closing keynote by K. Lars Lohn who is a biker and a hippie that works for Mozilla Science. He gave a very sprawling conversation around what I would call “a book report for Godel, Escher, Bach, aka GEB” which is all about coming to peace with complexity. I must admit it is really interesting to come back to a PyCon conference, which I’ve missed the past three years.  The old is new and new is old, as per usual 😉

For the PyCon foundation there’s a recognition that to grow the community there needs to be more support. Now saying that, of course, PyCon wasn’t looking to expand. They actually said that 3,000 developers at the conference was about right for them. What they were really pushing for was a story more about the community spreading around the world and having different events in different locations run by the community so that it could spread locally. Especially in terms of cost, local is more effective for a broader community.

In summary I continue to ponder the relationship between community and how it can unpick (or move around) complexity so others can join the conversation and help bring in their PoV to untangle the complexity? Our tendency, especially as developers, is to talk about the complex as we love the feeling of our synapses sparking up to discuss new more complex ideas.  Yet, maybe it’s not always the best thing to do when it comes to trying to grow the number of users and the people we actually want to benefit from all of this technology.

Any who, that’s me, David Flanders, signing off. Hope this was helpful. Please do ping me on Twitter @DFFlanders. Please make sure to check PyCon via their YouTube channel where most of the above is available.

‘Tech’tonic Layer Shifting (podcast): how the community conversation is moving from DATACENTRE cloud interop to APP cloud interoperability

•August 15, 2015 • Leave a Comment

After a hard days NZ skiing, we (several active cloud developers) sat down by the lodge fire to gossip about the latest computing hype: CONTAINERS.  The question being: “are containers *the* new tool set for creating cloud apps”?

The below sound bite picks up the conversation just after we discussed the brief history of developer tools for creating apps, such as virtual machines / operating systems (Vagrant, CoreOS/CentOS) and configuration/orchestration languages (Puppet, Ansibel, Chef, Juju, Heat).  Do “containers” represent the 3rd generation of “app tools” which will enable application developers to ‘write once and be read by many clouds‘ aka seamless app #portability?

Naturally, this podcast revealed more questions than answer, of which the following will help guide my next set of developer chats (stay tuned to @DFFlanders):

  • Who gets the most value out of having *portable* apps which can be built on any cloud?  Is it the user, the app-developer, the cloud provider, etc.?  Who losses out by not being able to lock in apps to their cloud platform?
  • How will the end user see the value of “cloud apps” as opposed to “mobile apps” or “desktop apps”?  How will the end user understand “the cloud” => as “cloud apps” or “software as a service”?
  • What does the future “cloud application developer” look like: is it a SysAdmin turned WebDev or will developers be expected to have #SysAdmin #DevOpps #WebDev and #UX skills as part of their “Full Stack” skill-set?
  • What is a “cloud app” and what will the killer cloud app look like?  Or is this just a play on language, and NOT something to spend too much time thinking about?
which community will win this next "app layer" in the cloud computing stack?!

which community will win this next “app layer” in the cloud computing stack?!

If nothing else the proliferation of developer tool sets for building apps on the cloud is going to be interesting to watch as the community battles it out.  Or, is it a battle at all?  Perhaps this is just the natural “conversational” movement by the community up the stack as it has been will all the computing layers below?  Are we shifting our language to be nearer the end user?

"Finally, I understand what you mean by the cloud!"

“Finally, I understand what you mean by the cloud!”

My two pence: “programming languages” *are* languages (prog lang are just a bit more structured than the ‘romance languages’ the average user is used to, e.g. English, Spanish, etc[1]).  While indeed, most of this “cloud app” gossip is hype, it is developers starting to use their ‘romance languages’ to prototype the next set of ‘programming language libraries’ which will bring cloud to the end user -via understandable metaphors[2]- as the dominant form of computing.  Accordingly, watching this conversation evolve *is* watching the next paradigm in computing take shape.

Let’s not stop the conversation there, ping me on the Twitters and tell me how you think the world will come to understand ‘cloud’ 😉 @DFFlanders

[1]= Naturally, I would include Indo-Chinese languages as well, but I’ve used “romance languages” for the audience I am currently writing this post for; I’d welcome a cultural discussion on the use of the term “cloud app” for other non western world cultures as well.

[2]= “Cloud apps” might not be the ‘analogy’ by which the average human comes to understand the cloud, however we can’t expect the end user to understand what we mean by terms like “software as a service” or “big data applications” or “high performance computing” <– not even the average University researcher knows what this is!!!

The Next Big Spectator Sport: Surfing?! (or) Time we had new startup sports!?

•April 4, 2015 • 1 Comment

Article by David F. Flanders

“The future is already here – its just not evenly distributed”

Over the past couple of decades we’ve watched as the music sector has experimented with new business models.  This change primarily due to new competitor technologies which have lead to new business models (iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud, etc.).  Following in the footsteps of this sector-wide change have been the likes of the stock market sector (eTrading) and banking sector (mobile banking), followed by the television sector (Netflix); and so forth and so on. As sectors are challenged by new ways of packaging information there is the opportunity to innovate new business models.

Drone footage of the long ride the Bell's Beach cliffs give surfers.

New technology brings the opportunity for new business models, will they sink or swim?

One of the more interesting sectors to have *not* changed (or been disruptively innovated), has been the sports sector.  This is because sport are primarily (by their nature) conservative in terms of changing their rules.  Most large sports organisation have a monopoly: they have no real competitive desire to change their rules rapidly.  The mentality of large sports organisation like the NFL, AFL, NBA, PGA is one of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  There are ‘signs of the change’ through the likes of GoPro, RedBull and other “extreme sport” providers.  I believe in the next five years we’ll see these new experimental ‘sports business models’ pay dividends.  These innovative sports will lock in on new psychologies and demographics which will come to compete with the older more conservative sports in terms of widespread popularity.

Accordingly, my start-up-scouting brain has been searching through YouTube channels for niche spectator sports emerging because of crunching technologies together.  Of specific interest, have been sports which would benefit from technologies not previously available:

  • Sports which are highly visual in nature requiring ‘Ultra High Definition’ (UHD) of 4K+ pixels.  These are usually sports which are either very fast in nature making it hard to watch them on traditional “low definition screens” (i.e. roller hockey pucks, squash balls, speedskating, etc); or, sports which would benefit from crisper “true white” and “true black” UHD colors (snow sports, water sports, etc.).
  • Sports which would benefit from being delivered in smaller packages (3-15 min) segments over mobile phone screens; able to be consumed in the small breaks throughout a day (so as to fit with our scattered social media lives). NB I’m not necessarily advocating for this kind of “shiny bird syndrome”.
  • Sports which inspire ‘awe’ because of new viewpoint-angles (panorama, 360 helicopter) which have not been possible to video record (rockclimbing, surfing, etc) because of new hardware like cheap cameras which are water/shock proof and drones with GPS (“follow the leader” tethering) technology.

There are two sports which have drawn me in of recent (from a incubator investor viewpoint): squash[1] and surfing.

I’d like to talk about the possibility of surfing as one of these niche sports which are on the rise; hopefully you are willing to tweet me (@DFFlanders) and the World Surf League (@WSL) to provide feedback on if you think surfing could be a sport which grows in popularity? Could surfing as a sport compete with other more conservative mainstream sports?!  The data below would suggest so?!

Alexa traffic comparison for sport league websites.

As a disclaimer: I currently live in Melbourne where the World Famous Bell’s Beach (oldest running surf competition) is currently taking place at #BellsBeach.

The remainder of this post provides some speculation on how surfing could become a more popular spectator sport to generate more business revenue (potentially we’ll see some start-up companies doing some disruptive innovation to increase “fanaticals” even more.).

The first disruptive business model I want to talk about is the ability to have a truly participatory fan-base; not just spectating but actually affecting the outcome of the event (real fanatics go to games, dress-up and scream because they think they are somehow participating).

Currently surf judges are picked from the ‘good & great’ of the ‘whose who’ in surfing.  Which I’m not against as a qualitative metric, however it would be very easy to provide a “popular vote” alongside the ‘official judges’ scorecard.  Furthermore you could significantly help improve the fan’s *participatory* vote through further computer generated commentary of wave riding.  For example commentators could provide new graphics thanks to drone footage:

PoV: Drone flying directly overhead of surfer providing an actual shot of "how radical (mathematically) was the turn"? Rad dude!

Drone PoV: directly overhead showing the surfer cutting up wave thereby providing an actual shot of “how radical (mathematically) was the turn” from top to botton? Rad dude!

Drones provide the commentators with precious new footage and photography angles by which to provide spectators with an informed decision.  Whereby an overlay atop the YouTube video could provide a quick 5xStar survey poll for viewers to immediately provide feedback.  These votes might not actually count (due to gamification by the fanbase), but they could feed into new prizes which accumulated throughout the season: “most popular surfer” – “best carve of the year” – “best air of the year” – etc.

Drones can provide that "bird's eye" view of the entire pitch/field which a competitor has to transverse to win.

Drones can provide that “bird’s eye” view of the entire pitch/field which a competitor has to transverse to win.

Also, there are other “tactics” which could be used to engage the fanbase in being more participatory (ergo buying into the lifestyle of surfing and all the merchandise that goes along with that lifestyle):

  • Twitter/Instagram handles of all surfers as part of the onscreen media [increased sponsorship for each surfer in terms of branding via their own channels – healthy marketplace competition].
  • All-female commentator panels able to talk about psychology, lifestyle, health-living, etc. [target the growing female demographic in surfing].
  • Less “all-american” male commentators, embracing the world culture which surfing embraces and having culturally-inclusive commentators [increase in sponsorship from governments to attract tourism, new fan bases as developing countries come online like Brazil, India and China].
  • More “off-pitch/field” commentators showing the lifestyle and friendly-competition which surfers abide (or don’t abide) by as part of a community that travels together worldwide. [more sponsorship opportunities from local communities, as well as greater diversity in purchasing clothing for varying seasons/temperatures throughout the year].
  • Greater indepth analytics and weather reports for the sports geeks in a hipster world who want more sports data [more technologies being sold for use in the water for hobbyists and spectators].  NB there are often as many pro surf photographers in the water as pro surfers these days.

So what do you think, could surfing be the next sector to be disruptively innovated by new technologies?  Let me know your thoughts on Twitter (and ping @WSL while you are at it) 🙂

Authored by David F. Flanders, a “hobbyist surf geek photographer” and innovation entrepreneur currently based in Melbourne (other previous residencies include USA, UK & Portugal).

[1]= I’ve also been taking squash lessons and experimenting with a GoPro UHD 4K camera to do ball tracking (a squash ball moves on average 150KMH).  More on squash anon.

Sydney Road Shisha Lounges

•October 15, 2013 • 2 Comments

Smoke quaffs in curls above my head, water bubbles in vibrations at my foot.  Brass furnishings and Arabic-Egyptian designs fill the lounge as men humbly greet one another with “as-salam alaykum” (السلام عليكم).  Wait, listen again: an Australian women’s accent greets the customer as he walks in the door, “hello Habibi” and reaches out with her hand with an Islamic greeting. Dozen of speakers quietly pump out a mix of bass both modern western and traditional Arabic…


Welcome to one of the many beautiful Shisha lounges on Sydney road, Brunswick (Melbourne).  The artwork on the walls alone challenge our very conception of modernity: a giant pair of painted eyes peer out beyond a burkha, a Muslim cleric’s face is composed of women’s bodies; all mixed amongst traditional Egyptian artwork and the iconic glass lightwork.

Some will find this mixing of cultures abhorrent: Muslim-Arabic culture meets western world Australian?  Retaining the best and most beautiful aspects of their culture while adopting the bits of Australian culture that works (so seamlessly) with their own.

This pattern is repeated with so many cultures here, Greek meets Australian (Oakley), Italian meets Australian (Carlton), Chinese/Korean/Japanese meets Australian (Footscray) and here in Brunswick Arabic meets Australian. (this pattern repeated through so many Australian enclaves).  How has this cultural melting pot happened so easily here in Australia?  Simply: the previous generation who came to this country have had children and those children have grown up in Australia.  Most of them retaining their culture at home (often in their mother tongue), while living as Australians.

For me, this period in Australia’s young history is perhaps one of the most magical of any civilization.  This hybrid cultural generation is a cultural fusion which is fleeting and more precious than any culture I know.  Best of all it is resulting in the best parts a culture has to offer: baklava from Greek grandmothers, Chinese soups served street-style fresh and explosive, Korean barbecues smoking in your face with savor, Japanese Ramen that warms to the soul, Italian pasta that is a texture of fresh only found in tradition, and Shisha as intoxicating as the souks of Egypt.

To say the least, I love Melbourne: it has the best mix of culture in the world thanks to all the other cultures meeting in this perfect Australian historical moment.

We care so much about ‘place’ when it comes to traveling and yet it is the combination of ‘time meets place’ that is the most amazing experiences of our lives; these moments in Melbourne are (alas) some of the most wonderful cultural experiences of my life.

I hope you can one day come and visit so I can introduce you to this wonderfully world of whirled cultures.

Chapter 1: Alexarctica

•September 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I board a flight to the continent once called “Antartica’, which I’ve been told was once mainly inhabited mainly by penguins. My ticket says flight time will be three hours, which for the year 2099 is a rather slow flight to get anywhere in the world; “increased flight safety” due to an unfortunate mid air collision on Air Highway 66 has caused more care than normal to be imposed on the all powerful flight industry.

I take a minute to situate myself in my seat which has my custom leg, back & arse cheeks molded into the seat for my flying pleasure. Of course this is just an insert I’ve requested from the airline to make the standard seat more comfortable. If I were a frequent flyer, the airline would 3D print the seat of my choice, but you have to travel around the world at least once a week to be considered for even basic ‘frequent flyer’ status these days. The average executive ‘frequent flyer’ usually have their own cabin including up to thirty custom printed 3D or 2D printed objects of their choice.

To say the least, 3D printing has been the most significant innovation of the 23rd century; well perhaps as significant as clean hydrogen energy. Sadly, very few people care about the history of the motor engine anymore, you would think an invention that saved our planet from disaster would be more appreciated – I can only hope that people a century ago would have cared more for our beloved planet?!

Recently, my personal reading passion has been the history of the motor engine. In fact, I must quickly decide which of the two paperbacks I am going to read if I am going to take advantage of this extremely long three hour flight in front of me. The two biographies I had quickly purchased from the travel bookshelf, include:

“Henry Ford: from assembly lines to distributed additive manufacturing – a one hundred year 3D printing revolution.”

And the second biography, titled:

“Sir Tim Berners Lee: the inventor of the hydrogen engine.”

I decide to read the book on Sir Tim, I sit down, do a little wiggle to adjust my buttocks and recline my seat to the recommended 60 degree reading angle and wait for take-off. I hardly hear the sonic boom as I am transported away into the story.

…Despite the air traffic congestion above all fifteen of the mega airports on the continent of Antartica, I’m feeling rather smug that I was able to finish an entire book in one sitting (a rarity these days). Sir Tim’s biography was riveting to say the least. The initial discoveries that occurred in the first decade of the twenty second century at the CERN scientific laboratory just outside of Geneva were more significant to world history than I knew. The red letter date (1991) when Sir Tim discovered the simple system that would allow a hydrogen atom to work in a syncrotron engine – now commonly known as the “hydro-sync” motor. I even laughed out-loud when I read about how large the original syncrotron engine was back in those days; to think, you can now fit one in your pocket – let alone the two dozen hydro-sync engines that powered this plane.

What I particularly liked about Berner’s-Lee biography was the additional social-historical narrative that was weaved around Sir Tim’s life. How the simple hydro-sync motor almost single-handidly ended wars overnight (of which the author made a rather compelling argument that most wars were started for taking resources from other countries, such as oil). However the part I enjoyed the most was the way in which the biographer described the hydro-sync motor as the ‘right hand’ of modern society, and that the technology of “3D printing” as the left hand. In combination, (these two technologies) brought about the economic revolution that we live in today. A world defined by travel and experiencing as much of the real world as possible.

I took a moment to contemplate how our world would be different if 3D printing or Hydrogen motor technology had not been invented. The biographer claimed (and I’m looking forward to checking out this theory when I land in Alexartica), that both technologies (3D printing & Hydro-sync motors) enabled the airline industry to basically take over all other industries, including what the author called “the banking industry”. Of course, you hear of stories about New York and the stock exchange, but all that remains are pictures in books since Manhattan is now under water. The biographer ended his book with a rather amusing story about how Sir Tim gave up another invention of his called ‘the internet’. A technology that would end the need for paper, naturally I smiled given the place I was about to visit and my own personal research topic.

Alexarctica is the largest airport in the world (and the largest airport out of the 15 mega airports on Antarctica). Alexarctica is also the main entrance to the largest single building in the world, the Library of Alexandria – dwarfing even the Great Wall of China as a piece of string. Of course, everyone knows this is the second building in our history to carry the name ‘The Library of Alexandria’, the first being the building in Egypt circa 300 b.c. Though, from what we are told both of these libraries have a similar remit to their patrons, the inscription on every entrance to Alexarctica:
“Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel the more truth we can comprehend. To understand the things that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond.” (Hypatia of Alexandria)

I smile with approval in recognition for the first female mathematician of my own profession.  This inscription is above the great door as I walk into the Library of Alexandria at Alexarctica (though of course this building is not just a library, but museum, gallery, archive, travel agent, and crossoads for anyone and everyone in society, regardless of creed, race, religion or affiliation). Naturally, the great ‘i’ is the next thing I see as I approach the ‘information desk’. The librarian that greets me not only has a perfect voice but is impossibly multi-cultural in her beauty having been hand picked for her international genes, green Irish eyes, lush Philippians lips, thick Japanese hair, smooth Brazilian skin, strong Australia legs… I’m interrupted before I can finish my observations.

“How can I help you today, Sir” she says in a perfect English accent.
I quickly pull out a letter that has all the right signatures and hand it over to her, almost too dumb-founded to speak.
“Ah, Mr. Dewey welcome to Alexarctica.  I trust you’ve visited us before?”
I attempt to soften my American accent “yes, yes of course”.
“And I can see by this letter that you are here to see our Archival team?” she asks.
“Yes please” – I hear my voice echo in the massive space covered floor to ceiling with marble.
“Of course Mr. Dewey, I’ll telephone the archive exhibition team immediately and have them take you to your appointment. However, if you would like to take a minute to see our newest gallery exhibition it will take a little while for the archive team to send someone from their offices in sector five.”
I nod my head and walk towards the direction she is pointing me.

To try and summarize the Library of Alexander on Antarctica is futile. Besides, there are more books, radio, movies and television shows which feature the Library of Alexandria than can be cataloged. The start of every great best-seller this century begins in some part of this building (usually a long lost and forgotten exhibition); I’ve yet to read a mystery novel that doesn’t have entire plots lines based on the mysteries within this ‘library or libraries’. My favorite mystery novel being The DaVinci Code, part two.

I’m about to walk into the exhibition which I’ve been instructed to see when I notice an introductory movie about ‘the Library of Alexandria’ about to play. This short film is one that every child the world over has seen, and it has fond memories for me, I decide to indulge by reminiscing, so I sit down to watch it again.

“Welcome to the Library of Alexandria” the narrators voice begins while the video shows the main entrance I just walked through. The narrator slows down her words: “You are about to start the greatest adventure of your life, not only is this adventure provide the most exciting moments in your life, it is also an adventure that that will last you your entire life” the camera zooms out showing the size of the port at the entrance of Alexarctica (including the adjacent airport), then zooming to show the entire building which takes up about two thirds of the landmass that is Antartica, and finally the camera zooms up into space to show the satellite images of the building nicknamed ‘the thumbprint of god’.

“Today you begin a journey that has more paths than you can imagine, today you will begin to make the most important decisions of your life”. It is here in this library that we are able to bring together all the great cultural objects of the world under one gigantic roof” a montage of statues, paintings, books, buildings and every other kind of cultural object goes by in the blink of an eye “It is here where you will decide where in the world you should go next so you can make the most of your leisure travel pursuits!” The video fades into a multitude of songs and sounds to represent even more cultures and different parts of the world.

The narrators voice ceases the musical montage “But how did the Library of Alexandria begin? – I hear you ask” as videos of Antarctica are shown before the building began. ‘We’ll let’s begin with *how* this building got started” A video does another quick montage of photos showing that we are going back in time. “The Library of Alexandria was built in five years, which makes it the fastest building of this size ever built. Of course, this was only possible because of the 3D printer robots that we all know and love, our little robot pets which can print any object we so desire on demand.” A video of a golden-retriever-3D-printer-robo-pet is shown, with a little face on one end for children to respond to along with a little tail that can extrude various materials out of its tail to build up the layers of an object (like the layers of a cake). The child in the video touches the mouth of the robo-pet three and the ‘dog’ quickly extrudes a vegetable food substance out of its tail which quickly is built up layer by layer to look like a rattle, the child grabs the veggie rattle and bites into it.

“The builders of ‘The Library at Alexander at Antarctica’ was built by early versions of our beloved robo-pets; working like bees or ants these robots were able to swarm around and melt down the abundant ice in Antarctica and then extrude the water again as ice blocks so as to build up the great walls and structure of the ‘Library’.  The robots continue to build and rebuild walls to this day using the same method (following the fractal pattern of the building).  The perfect shape of the building as seen from space is called a ‘mandelbrot fractal’ and is only possible because it was 100% machine built. The entire building was made without a single person setting foot on Antarctica, the entire effort coordinated via ham radio and satellite connections. Of course you and I know the building by its nickname ‘the fingerprint of god’. During the narrators descriptions the video shows thousands of robots as they swarm around building up walls of ice by extruding ice blocks.  Some truly impressive historical footage.

The video continus with the narrator segueing “Once the great building was complete, and of course suitably insulated, the doors were opened for business. Every country in the world started sending boat loads full of their most precious cultural objects, though of course none of these objects were the real object, rather they were all copies. Sculptures such as the statue of David from Italy, paintings such as ‘War’ by Picasso, scaled-down buildings such as the Kremlin from Russia, historical artefacts such as the freedom bell from America, even geographical replicas such as the great barrier reef exhibition from Australia.  And all of them a 3D printed copy, some perfectly accurate, other scaled down and done in different materials and colors to entice the tourist.  But all copies.

“Why might you ask, were all these objects copied, 3D printed and brought to a single place?” – The answer may seem obvious to us today, however at the time it was a very novel idea – and alike all good ideas a simple one.”  The narrators voice is enhanced with reverb for the next sentence, “No one person can see all of the world, it is too diverse, too rich and too beautiful – naturally, the most important thing for any individual to do in every country is to decide how they are going to craft their own personal journey through the great cultures of the world.”

At this stage the camera show a view of where I am sitting and starts to zoom through the various exhibitions and halls, far faster than any thing could move.  “Here at Alexarctica a person can go through several dozen exhibitions in a day to help them decide where they should go to next. It is this planning of one’s travel life that makes us who we are and enriches the short lives we get to live on this planet.”  The video slows down, moving to a final set of doors, which opens revealing a vast circular space miles in circumference and thousands of feet high; with books from floor to ceiling, reaching up to the heavens where the largest sky light ever seen allows light to cascade down across the books around the room and onto the desks on the ground.  The voice-over proudly states: “And of course, the final destination of every tourist is the great reading room.
I’m tapped on the shoulder distracting me from the engrossing video, and I look up to see a bearded man in a corduroy coat with leather arm patches.
“Interesting story isn’t it” he smiles at me.
I return the smile and respond, “yes, and incredibly timeless given how old it is” .
“Well we’ve updated bits and pieces of it, every time the tape wears out we tend to splice in a little bit more” he replies.
I stand up and hold out my hand, “I’m Mr. Dewey”, he shakes my hand ‘thank you for coming Mr. Dewey, I’m Professor Flanders.
================================”Once upon a time, when people were restricted by how far they could travel or even what countries they were allowed into, they didn’t bother to plan out their travel journeys.” a shocked cartoon face appears. “think about how carefully you plan your work or even your day, yet most people before the Library of Alexarctica would not take the time to plan their own lives. Afterall, you’ll only get 50 days off of work per year to travel where YOU wnat (only ten years of your life!). Think of how little a child learns in the first ten years of their life – so plan your travels well! A montage of a family picking where they want to go and getting on a plane begins when I am tapped on the shoulder.

“Mr Dewey” an older man smiles at me “its fun to revisit childhood memories isn’t it.”

I smile, as I recognise the mans picture from the letter he has sent me: “Hello Mr. Brindley” I say.

Mr. Brindley cordially replies: “Welcome to the library at Alexarctica, we are very glad you are able to come”

“Of course” I smile, very eager for the information over the next half hour “I’m very interested to hear why you would need the help of theoretical graphing mathematician for a confidential practical problem at the great library!”

Mr. Brindley, starts to usher me away “naturally, but first we must take you to our department” – I’m given a seque scooter and lean forward to follow Mr. Bridnley as he zips down a straight hallway with no end in site.

My favorite talks at OKCon (Geneva)

•September 18, 2013 • 2 Comments

Most of the sessions at OKCon were nice, but there was was one session that made the entire trip worthwhile for me. In short, the following is my recommendation for the people you should go and google right now.

First up was @floppy whose tag line is going to be my next t-shirt: “we need to bring the world of Open Source to Open Data” – followed up by the reminder that the Open Data world hasn’t even got a sourceforge, let alone a github ecosystem and all the tools that Open Source developers have at their beckon call to work with code.  I love this analogy, as data is its own kind of code and deserves as much attention to tooling as code. Best of all @Floppy is actively working on enabling data spreadsheets to be forked via GitHub/GitLab in the same way that code is, which means all the tools that GitHub provides could be applied to tabular data as its own kind of code base. In short, watch this space as the future of data is going to be via developers playing with it in active real world communities like this.

Next up was @maxogden who is one of those developers who is creating what looks like the future of tabular data through his new file format .dat (short for data). The simple code library that @maxogden is creating does the transformations that data developers spend hours doing, e.g. geting excel spreadsheets into databases and vice versa. In short, Data Developers waste a lot of time on ‘code glue’ moving spreadsheets and small tabular databases (access/sqllite) into more powerful developer tools like MySQL or even better JSON databases like CouchDB. The DAT tool is alive and kicking and saving developers hours of their time; it scratches an itch and should be used by everyone today making .dat files the de facto mime type for data!

Finally, is my personal favorite which is Karthik @_inundata who is leading the data revolution for scientists via the #RStat tool (via his project @rOpenSci). For those of you who have not utilised R (and are in Academia) you should get involved today (or you are living in a cave!), as “R is for Research!” (see below).  @_inundata’s project (funded by Sloan) over the next year is dedicated to both: a.) building an international community, and b.) building CRAN repositories which enable research experimentation and publication process, such as:

  • pulling in data from phylogentic trees or
  • augmenting personal data with larger datasets like the Worldbank data or
  • more easily formatting publications with markdown so that LaTeX no longer need be mastered to publish a thesis (see: knitr+markdown+Rstat <– this is brilliant), or
  • adding metadata to our research data and publication that easily cites your toolchain without having to go through a librarian, or

I’d like to pontificate a little more on Karthik’s work as it is something we plan to actively role out via Melbourne’s Postgraduate Programming Club – and ideally participate more in the community that @rOpenSci project is achieving!

Why R aka #RStat aka #RStudio?

R is for ‘Researcher’ IMHO, because it is a fully fledged programming language for researchers. Here are some of the things I’ve discovered about it over the past six months as I’ve gotten involved with the quickly growing community!

First off I should state that I believe every researcher from Humanities to Social Science to Physics to Mathematics will need to learn how to code on some level.

Writing code will be as important (if not more important) as knowing how to write a research paper. Here are some of the things that researchers of the future will say about why they are using R:

  • We need a programming language that can be reproduced, R is for Research.
  • We need a programming language that are as easy to repeat as sharing and opening up a file, R is for Research.
  • We need a programming language that we are able to cite, R is for Research.
  • We need a programming language that allows us to write tools for subject specific activities, R is for Research
  • We need a programming language that is lab book like, R is for Research.
  • We need a programming language that integrates with the publishing process, R is for Research.
  • We need a programming language that allows us to easily change our mind and amend via review, R is for Research
  • We need a programming language that shows research data and research code next to each other, R is for Research.
  • We need a programming language whose syntax and notation is akin to academic scientific notation, R is for Research.
  • We need a programming language that participates with the professional software engineering community and their keystone programming languages (e.g. python, php, perl, javascript, etc), R is for Research.
  • We need a way to track any and all research scripts assuring that they are archived for future consideration by researcher both in that discipline and outside that discipline, R is for Research.

But, do you think R is for Research?  Why or why not? <– Please either leave a comment or tweet me on @dfflanders