Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Scrum-master hack

"Scaled agile" ("SAFe") scrum-master hack:

Our sprints are numbered within cycles (5.1, 5.2...). I just made a sprint named because I need a holding pen for not-yet-scheduled plans in this cycle (versus the "planned eventually" backlog), and I don't care if this is the "SAFe way" because I just need it to work for our team. I'll delete the fake sprint when it's empty, but if something isn't on the dashboard it might as well not exist and this is the only Jira hammer I have. I'm not sorry. It's expedient.

"Scaled agile" (aka "SAFe"; cutesy abbreviations are all the rage) isn't really agile, but it's the process we've been directed to use. I told them when they asked me to be a scrum master that I will be expedient and will prioritize serving the needs of my scrum team over the holy writ from the vendors selling this stuff, and if they have a problem with my approach they should get someone else. They didn't, so...

I'm delighted that several newer scrum masters have come to me for mentoring. Apparently I have a rep for getting stuff done. :-)

The limits of linters

Rubocop is a "linter" for Ruby that checks for style problems and the like. I've heard people complain that it's finicky.

Tonight this happened:

Rubocop: 1 error (autocorrectable).

Me: do it.

Rubocop: 1 error.

Me: WTF?

Yeah, Rubocop corrected one problem and, in doing so, introduced another. Fun times! (Its change added a few characters to a line, which was apparently just enough to push it over a line-length check.) And that wasn't autocorrectable.

It's always something...

PA primary election

An open letter to our governor (against a 1000-character limit on the state web site):

Dear Governor Shapiro,

As you are surely aware as a fellow Jew, the spring primary is April 23, the first day of Passover, a day on which observant Jews cannot participate in the election. The PA government has been talking for months about moving the date, but nothing has happened. Is there anything you can do to help? Disenfranchising Jewish voters is hurtful, especially in the presence of antisemitic candidates. It's also bad publicity for our state. Several other states have already corrected this problem, but we have not.

You might say "vote by mail instead", but the last time I attempted to do so, Allegheny County sent me a spoiled ballot and there was no provision for correcting it. I had to go to the poll on election day anyway and then vote provisionally. That made me feel very marginalized. My vote did not count because of a printing error and county offices that did not answer repeated phone calls. If it happens on Passover, I lose my vote.

Please fix this. Thank you.


I am aware that the legislature, not the governor, controls this, but navigating the PA legislature is a challenge and the governor should be able to push, if he hears from enough people that something matters. I thought this problem had been solved a month or two ago, but it turns out that the two houses of the legislature disagree over how to fix it. :-(

Thoughts from a former community manager at Stack Overflow

I came back from Shabbat to a link to this interesting blog post by Jon Ericson. Jon and I haven't discussed this.

The original post contains links that I haven't reproduced in this excerpt:

After contemplating the situation for many years, I've come to the conclusion that Monica ran into a wall of injustice veiled in the language of progressivism. Applying Bari Weiss' framing, Monica was powerful within the community so her behavior was suspect by default. The factors I thought were to her favor by the new ideology didn't seem to matter:

  1. She has vision problems which puts her at a disadvantage in the age of screens.
  2. She's a woman in technology which means she's in the minority.
  3. She's Jewish which puts her in a minority that's been discriminated against so often there is a common word for it in English.

The analysis I should have understood was:

  1. It's possible the people deciding her fate didn't know about her vision. In any case, vision is a problem that can be corrected with technology and money.
  2. In the calculus of intersectionality transgender people are more marginalized than straight women.
  3. What I thought were strong arguments that removing a Jewish moderator on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah was a bad look, turned out to not matter. I can't prove it, but I suspect it's the result of subtle antisemitism that comes from observing that Jews tend to be successful in certain fields. Jew might be a minority, but they aren't under-represented so paradoxically that must mean they are among the powerful.

I'm not an expert on these things and so I operated under the naive assumption that progressive ideology was working toward the goal of treating people as if we were all created equal. But the standard tools of the new morality are ineffective. Instead, the logical conclusion of the new ideology appears to require mistreating people who don't conform to its evolving standards.

Bari Weiss: you are the last line of defense

I just came across a speech that Bari Weiss recently gave for the Federalist Society, specifically for their lawyers' convention. She starts by talking about how surprising a choice she was for that; she's not exactly their type.

I found this worth my time to read. Choosing concise excerpts (to stay within the bounds of fair use) is hard, but here are some bits to give the flavor. I read the transcript; there's also a video if you prefer to listen.

By the time Americans woke up on October 7, 2023, it was clear that what had unfolded while we slept was not like previous wars or battles Israel has fought in its 75-year history. This was a genocidal pogrom. It was a scene out of the many places Jews had fled—a scene from the history of the Nazi Holocaust and of the European pogroms before that and of the Farhud, the 1941 massacre of Jews in Baghdad, a city that, it’s hard to believe now, was 40 percent Jewish at the beginning of the twentieth century—all of which remind us of Israel’s necessity. [...]

These Cossacks had smartphones. [...] Others filmed the slaughter with GoPros. [...] In all of this, the terrorists are euphoric. No one who has watched the unedited footage fails to note the glee of the butchers. [...]

The difference between 9/11 and 10/7—two massacres of innocent people, symbols to their killers of Western civilization—was the reaction to the horror. The difference between 9/11 and 10/7 was that the catastrophe of 10/7 was followed, on October 8, by a different kind of catastrophe. A moral and spiritual catastrophe that was on full display throughout the West before the bodies of those men and women and children had even been identified. [...]

What could possibly explain this? The easy answer is that the human beings who were slaughtered on October 7 were Jews. [...] But that is not the whole answer. Because the proliferation of antisemitism, as always, is a symptom. When antisemitism moves from the shameful fringe into the public square, it is not about Jews. It is never about Jews. It is about everyone else. It is about the surrounding society or the culture or the country. It is an early warning system—a sign that the society itself is breaking down. That it is dying. [...]

[This new ideology] seeks to upend the very ideas of right and wrong. It replaces basic ideas of good and evil with a new rubric: the powerless (good) and the powerful (bad). It replaced lots of things. Color blindness with race obsession. Ideas with identity. Debate with denunciation. Persuasion with public shaming. The rule of law with the fury of the mob. [...] This is the ideology of vandalism in the true sense of the word—the Vandals sacked Rome. It is the ideology of nihilism. It knows nothing of how to build. It knows only how to tear down and to destroy.

So what do we do? First: look. We must recover our ability to look and to discern accordingly. We must look past the sloganeering and the propaganda and take a hard look at what’s in front of our eyes. [...] I do not need “context” to know that tying children to their parents and burning them alive is pure evil, just as I do not need a history lesson on the Arab-Israeli conflict to know that the Arab Israelis who saved scores of Jewish Israelis that day are righteous.

Look at your enemies and your allies. [...] For many people, friends and enemies are likely not who they thought they were before October 7. [...] The other thing to look for is the good. Look hard for the good and don’t lose sight of it. [...]

But nothing is guaranteed. The right ideas don’t win on their own. They need a voice. They need prosecutors. [...] We have let far too much go unchallenged.

Five years later

Earlier today I stood at the Tree of Life building quietly saying kaddish for my friends. A few others were there: someone reading Tehillim (psalms), someone sitting and writing in a paper notebook, a couple others standing quietly, a police officer overseeing it all. And one drive-by antisemitic troll, just to remind us that we're still targets of hate.

Stack Overflow: still digging itself into a hole

Granted that I'm biased, but if you're still using Stack Overflow or Stack Exchange, either the free sites or the paid service, it's probably time to reconsider. Squandering community trust was already a core business practice, and now it seems like they're having trouble keeping the lights on despite massive cash infusions.

2023 has not been a good year for them. In May they laid off 10% of the company including 30% (!) of engineering, and diverted 10% of those who remained to chasing the AI hype train. Then they barred moderators from acting against ChatGPT-generated nonsense while lying about that policy to the larger community, causing an unprecedented nine-week moderation strike. Early in the strike, it came out that the CEO had personally ordered that the regular data dumps be secretly shut down. (They apparently did not secure the silence of the people they fired.) Those dumps were, from the beginning, a company commitment to the users as an insurance policy against the company turning evil -- you could always take the data and go elsewhere. Except now you couldn't. So that was kind of a big deal, and restoring the data dumps got added to the strike demands.

The strike eventually limped to a settlement, with the ChatGPT policy mostly rescinded, the dumps restored, and a company promise to communicate better. Many remained skeptical; company claims of caring about the community have not stood up to scrutiny in the past, and the current CEO seems especially disdainful. I guess people decide when they've hit the trust thermocline at different times; for some of us it came in 2019, some earlier, and some over the intervening years, and some haven't hit it yet. (This is why it's so hard for communities to migrate. Communities don't move; they fragment.)

But while they've been mistreating their communities, it looks like they've also been having trouble with their paying customers. Cory Doctorow's essay on enshittification) comes to mind.

On Monday they laid off another 28% of the company. The layoffs included another two community managers who had advocated for the community, reminding me of when they purged people who had pushed back against toxic company actions in 2019. Questioning the executive team is dangerous to one's career. People are asking some rather pointed questions about the latest action, not that we should expect any meaningful answers. I think the VP who opened that discussion did it to try to channel the venting, not because anybody in company leadership cares.

In the past, the tension at Stack Overflow was between investing in the business to make money and investing in the community whose content enabled a lot of the business. There were trade-offs -- can we make more money from ads without pissing off users, can we neglect maintenance the communities depend on to invest in the SaaS product, can we lower our quality standards to draw more beginner "engagement", etc. "Trade-off" implies that you're giving up something to get something else, but what they're currently doing seems to be bad all around -- they're failing to make money from their paid products and also failing their communities. Prosus, who bought Stack Overflow in 2021 for a jaw-dropping $1.8 billion, must be feeling like chumps right about now. The cost-cutting feels like leadup to a sale, presumably at a large loss, to stop Prosus's bleeding. I wonder how that will go. I'm so glad I don't have to care.


It's so dangerous to say anything online these days, and it feels wrong to say nothing and continue posting the ordinary stuff of my life. I expect this will be my only post on the subject.

Targeting civilians is barbaric. Full stop. There can be no justification for such acts.

Gaza also has a border with Egypt. Maybe the neighbor that wasn't brutally attacked could help Gazan civilians get out?

Gaza elected Hamas. I would normally assume a rigged election or ballots at gunpoint, but to my surprise, I haven't heard anyone make that argument in all this time.

I weep for all innocent bystanders who are harmed or killed in war. One side targets them; the other takes extraordinary steps to protect them even to its own detriment. I wish everyone understood that all human beings are made in the divine image and life is precious.

Peace requires two parties who want it. I pray that day comes soon. Until then, I pray that Israel has the strength to defend itself from barbaric assaults, effectively and with as little collateral damage as possible.

Ken y'hi r'tzono.

Shabbat Shuva (d'var torah)

The Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of returning, and it's customary for the d'var torah or sermon to focus on the themes of the season. This is the d'var torah I gave in our minyan yesterday.


Early in the pandemic, when grocery-store shelves were sometimes empty, I started growing a few things to see if I could produce at least a little of my own food. I've always had kind of a brown thumb, but I'd managed to not kill a basil plant that had come in a farm-share box the previous year, so I was game to try.

I didn't grow a lot – more herbs than vegetables – but the cherry tomatoes I planted were extremely bountiful. Encouraged by that success, I planted more. Last year I found myself fighting unknown critters -- I got a few of the tomatoes but I found more that were half-eaten on the ground. Netting didn't help. Tabasco sauce didn't help. So this year I tried a different variety and a different location.

I got to keep three tomatoes. On the day I was going to harvest six more -- they'd been almost ready the previous day -- I found that something had eaten all the tomatoes and most of the leaves besides. The plant looked dead. I left the dejected remains in the pot for the end-of-season cleanup and stopped watering it.

A couple weeks ago I was pruning some other plants and cut away all the dead stems on that plant while I was at it. Then an amazing thing happened: it put out new shoots, then new leaves, and this week, three small tomatoes. That plant stood up to attack followed by neglect and came back strong despite it all.


During the high holy days we focus a lot on our own actions and the things we have done wrong. We focus on making amends for our mistakes, on doing teshuva and turning in a better direction for the coming year. We try to make things right with the people we've hurt. These are all critical things to focus on, and I don't have much to add that hasn't been said hundreds of times before.

Instead, today I want to talk about being on the other side -- about being the one who has been hurt. We know what to do when those who hurt us do teshuva, but what about when they don't? Teshuva is hard, and we know it won't always come.

Read more…

Disappointed in Netflix

Me: Opens help chat with Netflix (there is no email option).
Chatbot: Title?
Me: Accessibility options for choosing shows

Chatbot: Sends links to irrelevant articles I already had to click past to get to the contact link.
Me: Clicks "chat with an agent".

(Opening handshake.)

Agent: Can you elaborate the issue that you are facing?

Me: When browsing shows, either on my TV or on your web site, you only show graphics for the shows. I don't see very well and the art is often hard to see, particularly if the show uses small or fancy fonts. Is there a way to see a text list? You used to have that for the web site (but not the TV) but that's been gone for a while. I do not want to have to hover over or navigate into each thing when browsing -- too many to do that. I'm looking for a way to scan a list of titles I can actually see.

Agent: The list is not available anymore

Me: Is there some accessibility setting I can change? It's really frustrating to not be able to navigate your offerings.

Agent: I understand, but there is no setting

Me: Thank you. I understand. How can I escalate my concern? I know that you cannot fix it but somebody at Netflix should be concerned about ADA/accessibility. How do I reach that person?

Agent: There is no one that can resolve it. I can pass on the suggestion and the feedback to our team. And they will look into it.

I suspect I know how that will go. I have the impression that all the streaming services are anti-accessible like this, though I've only done cursory browsing. They probably all think it's ok because everybody else does it. Netflix has had this problem for a while; I don't often use the service because of that, and every time I go to watch something I am reminded of how hostile it is. (In case you're wondering, my Netflix subscription comes bundled with something else; otherwise I probably would have dropped it by now because of this.)