Diversity and Inclusion, Debian Redux

So, today at Cambridge MiniDebConf, I was scheduled to do a Birds of a Feather (BoF) about Diversity and Inclusion within Debian. I was expecting a handful of people in the breakout room. Instead it was a full blown workshop in the lecture theatre with me nominally facilitating. It went far, far better than I hoped (although a couple of other and myself people had to wrench us back on topic a few times).
There were lots of good ideas, and productive friendly debate (although we were pretty much all coming from the same ball park). There are three points I have taken away from it (others may have different views):
  1. We are damned good at Inclusion, but have a long way to go on the Diversity (which is a problem of the entire tech sector).
  2. Debian is a social project as well as a technical one – our immediately accessible documentation does not reflect this.
  3. We are currently too reactive and passive when it comes to social issues and getting people involved. It is essential that we become more proactive.

Combined with the recent Diversity drive from Debconf 2016, I really believe we can do this. Thank-you all you who attended, contributed, and approached me afterwards.

Edit: Video here – Debian Diversity and Inclusion Workshop

Edit Edit: video link fixed.

My problem with children

I have a problem with children. I want to make it immediately clear that the problem is MINE, not anybody else’s problem.

When a baby cries, or when a child cries in either pain or excitement, it causes me physical pain. Something is wired up wrong inside me. These noises, to me, feel like somebody is stabbing me in the center of my head with an abalating red-hot probe, and then I get sympathetic pains in my chest. If the noises are particularly loud, I then get pains in my arms and legs, almost identical to sciatica.

This causes me a lot of upset, but not just in the ways that you think. When I fly long distance, and there are screaming babies or children, I can block those out with headphones.

What really distresses me is the friends I can no longer visit or socialise with. I can no longer visit my sister, as she has two young children. Several of my closest friends from university, I only see at LARP events when they do not have their children with them.

I want to re-iterate, that this is a problem with ME, not those people who quite normally wish to have children. But I hope people do understand why I have to run away.

IEEE 754-2008 Subnormal

Minor rant. IEEE 754-2008 redefined a term. In hand wavey terms, very small floating point numbers which could not be completely represented in the format used to be called “Denormal”. With the 2008 update, these were redefined as “Subnormal”.

When I was at school as a child, Autism and Aspereger Syndrome were not well known. I was classed as “Educationally Subnormal” (also “Mentally Deficiant”) – which was the code in those days for “way below average intelligence”.

Every time I see “Subnormal” with respect to floating point numbers, I wince. Especially when they get flushed to zero.

We Care A Lot

In 1985, Faith no More released their album “We Care a Lot”, with a track of the same name. I discovered that track about 1987. It details a lot of things about which they care a lot about (look up the lyrics), and some of it is cynicism but the refrain is:

Oh it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

My mother was a doctor, my father a safety-critical engineer, and so I grew up with a very strong life ethic. It is not exactly surprising that when I came out of university, I ended up a safety-critical engineer myself. Mostly aerospace, but some rail and automotive.

I worked on many planes, one train system, and a couple of automotive systems. However, the Boeing 787 broke me. I worked on that plane for several years, and the amount I cared took my pleasure, my sanity, and nearly my life. I want to say how much, but I can’t.

I am no longer completely immersed in the safety-critical industry, but despite some of my best efforts, I am still heavily involved. The problem is, that now I have worked for nearly 20 years in those kind of systems, I have to.

We care a lot.

Once you have given your soul to the safety-critical industry, you can never go back. It is a mindset. That niggle that if something goes wrong, people die. Potentially hundreds or thousands (millions?) of people. Code I wrote, over 20 years ago, people still depend upon. I may have made a mistake in some testing, that means some freak accident causes a plane crash tomorrow. There are checks and balances, but I still have that weight on my shoulders.

You can take the engineer out of the safety-critical, but you cannot take the safety-critical out of the engineer.

This is nearly my mantra these days. I no longer work in a safety-critical job, but I am still (how could I not be) involved in our company’s safety effort. I still cast an eye over things that go past me, and go “Is this OK?” … “Is this safe??

Oh it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

I did that job. Many of us do. I still do it, to a lesser extent. We care a lot. A lot.

My relationship with exercise and depression

One of the things that depressed people are (nearly) always told to try and do to combat their depresson is “Do some exercise!”. This sounds wonderful advice. Leaving aside the obvious problems such as when you are depressed, getting out of bed is an achievement, I have have another issue:

Exercise depresses me

I don’t seem to get the same endorphin thing that many other people get out of exercise. I do not feel “better” when I have done exercise. I feel cruddy, I feel tired, and I feel depressed. It lowers my mood; it makes me worse.

Of course, there are the obvious health benefits of being fitter, and so I have to play it careful. I can only do exercise when I am in a stable mental state, otherwise it will send me off from a “low” to a “depression”. I have to harbour my physical state against my mental state. This makes it all the harder to try and manage my condition.

Many people have difficulty understanding this, and the reason I am writing it down, is so I do not have to keep repeating it.

  • If I am feeling down, please don’t suggest exercise to make me feel better.
  • If I look OK, and you suggest a physical activity, and I decline because I am feeling fragile, please understand that I am protecting my mental health.
  • I do understand that I am overweight, and unfit, but I am trying to control these as best as I can.