A question about using docker to make contributing to OSS projects easier

I started writing this in a IRC channel earlier today, but I figured it might be useful share the question and the answer here, to capture it for others. Yes it is a bit lazyweb, but I can’t be the only one doing this, and I’ll share the answer here:

I’m working on a django project, and I’m interested in making a dockerfile so people who want to contribute, but don’t use pip or pipenv regularly, but have used docker before can contribute.

I use circle CI for CI, and I use their docker files for running tests on the project. Is it common/recommended to use the same for easy dev environments?

 

A mail I sent to other climate curious tech folks at an event in Factory Berlin

Earlier this week, I went to an event run at Factory Berlin, about the use of data journalism in policy changes for social impact.
I got talking about Climate Action tech with some people there, and as we don’t have a formal regular newsletter we’d manage with something like Mailchimp, I wrote this email, then sent it along to the people who gave me their email address.
In case it’s useful to anyone else, I’ve added it here too.

Hi folks,

Thanks for signing up for this one off email, and listening to me ramble somewhat incoherently earlier at the Change The Story, Change The World: Data-Driven Social Impact event at Factory Berlin.

I said I’d share a few links afterwards for those interested in the intersection between tech and climate, and a few places to look to satisfy your curiosity.

I’ll be deleting the form and data in it at the end of this month, but you’re very welcome to get in touch, by replying to this email or DMing me on twitter – I’m @mrchrisadams.
ClimateAction.Tech
http://climateaction.tech/This is the group I joined earlier this year. They’ve been going for about two years, and are comprised mainly of employees in tech companies, trying to bring about action inside companies to adopt more climate friendly policies.  These two posts give some useful background:

https://medium.com/@climateActTech/a-guide-for-employees-how-to-make-your-tech-company-sustainable-b0c93522620c
https://medium.com/@climateActTech/how-we-formed-a-climate-action-group-for-the-tech-industry-ed4dab97104a

Among other things, they run an accelerator where employees in companies can find other like minded people in other places, and receive mentorship from specialists or people in leadership roles in other companies (i.e  previous mentors have included the director of sustainability at Facebook and Salesforce, for example.)

You can see an example  of some work that Mapbox (a mapping company who are used in loads of other products) , and Wikimedia Foundation (the folks behind Wikipedia)

https://blog.mapbox.com/how-we-went-carbon-neutral-f1488fb58b40
https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Sustainability_Initiative

So far, most of their efforts have been working directly with tech companies in the US, but they’re starting to do more public engagement stuff now, to find more people interested in doing something about climate change. We’re looking for people to get involved in both public comms, and maaaybe even replicating the accelerator elsewhere. Please get in touch if this sounds interesting to you.

A whole remote conference about sustainability and climate change

You don’t need to travel, and there’s at least two years-worth of content.

http://sustainableux.com/

Bits and Bäume

A conference in Berlin, specifically about tech and climate change:
http://bits-und-baeume.org/Design for Sustainability
Probably the most complete book out there right now for relating tech to sustainability, from Tim Frick:
http://shop.oreilly.com/product/0636920043904.do

Some talks I’ve done about climate and tech, and what steps we have available to us

Two recorded talks:
https://blog.chrisadams.me.uk/2018/03/08/explaining-a-planet-friendly-web-in-10-minutes/

Some work I’ve been doing to work out how much of the web runs on renewable power (it links to the jupyter note book I use to show my workings)
https://blog.chrisadams.me.uk/2018/05/15/how-much-of-the-web-runs-on-renewables-today/

A little more about the the deep, underlying reasons as someone in tech you might care about climate change
https://blog.chrisadams.me.uk/2018/08/16/computing-climate-change-and-all-your-relationships/

If you want more…
Niklas Jordan, a climate-focused UX designer recently started a newsletter for more stuff along these lines:
https://www.getrevue.co/profile/niklasjordan

Wow, if you got this far, have a gold star!
Thanks,
Chris

Powering small to medium size tech companies on renewable power

I’ve been thinking about the steps you can take to green the tech sector, and the more I think about it, the more I think the biggest step for most web/SaaS companies, is likely to be how they power their infrastructure, if it isn’t related to employee transport.

This is confirmed somewhat by the CSR reports by various companies mentioned in this fantastic new resource, climateActTech:

A quick way to estimate what your company’s carbon footprint might be is to find a peer who has a similar business model. At most “cloud based” technology companies the majority of the carbon footprint comes from data center energy use. At other companies it might be from fabrication and manufacturing processes, company travel or directly from other company business interests. Here are a few examples.

“Cloud Heavy” Companies

Manufacturing Companies

Consulting Companies

Knowing where the bulk of your carbon pollution comes from will help you achieve the greatest gains by directing your efforts appropriately.

The thing is, if you’re a large company like Google and Apple it’s possible to do some power purchase agreement (PPA) to effectively power your infrastructure with renewabbles, but as companies get smaller, the options (short of using Google’s own infra, for example) become more restricted too.

So, this piece in Green Biz caught my interest, as it’s the first time I’ve read about smaller companies clubbing together to do a ‘virtual PPA’ :

With FERC’s blessing, Apple and others can participate in so-called “physical” PPAs, where the contract holder actually takes ownership of the energy generated by a project and its sustainability certificates. For those without FERC clearance, a “virtual” PPA offers a chance to buy clean energy from a project at a long-term fixed price without technically being the owner of the power in play.

“Most deals, aggregated or not, are going to be virtual,” Kelly said.

How those agreements are divvied up in an aggregated deal could vary.

One model is to have each company sign its own power purchase agreement — the predominant model to date in the deals that Kelly has seen. An alternative could be an “anchor tenant model,” Kelly said, where one company signs a PPA and others agree to individual contract terms.

In the latter scenario, however, the anchor tenant would become as a middle man that must be comfortable with other participants’ credit ratings.

“It’s kind of putting its own balance sheet out there,” Kelly said.

When you have organisations like Lumenaza offering ‘virtual power stations’ by aggregrating supply from loads of micro scale power generators, and I’m now wondering how small these PPAs can realistically get.

Also, given how Feed In Tariffs in Europe are dwindling over the next two years, it feels like there will be a lot of micro scale generators looking around for new purchasers of power, to keep their plants financially sustainable.

If there are companies who are looking for green power, and providers who will increasingly be looking for new purchasers of power, surely this service must exist already, right?

Right?

 

 

The pleasing mapping between Sam Ladners three states and Myddletons’ three types of research

I’m trying to use this blog more, and really on twitter less as an outboard brain. So over the next week or so, I’ll experiment with blogging stuff I’d typically tweet, then link to it.

I came across a nice mapping between two people I find interested and the mental models they present for thinking about user research. The first is Will Myddleton, and the second is Sam Ladner, who I found out about through a Jools, who I met through the Researchops Workshops in May.

Myddleton’s three kinds of user research

I really recommend reading the whole post, but these early paras give a good summary background:

Over the last two years I’ve stumbled into a useful model for talking about this relationship with researchers and their teams. The model helps them understand what to expect from each other, recognise and support each others’ strengths, and work together to make better products.

The model? There are three types of user research product teams should care about:

  1. Testing things the team have built
  2. Working out what the team should build next
  3. Understanding potential users and their lives

Not revolutionary. Not innovative. Just helpful in doing the trickier parts of my job.

Sam Ladner’s take

Sam has a nice model that says similar things:

Too often, researchers take their cue from the scientific method. While this method undoubtedly changed the world and our knowledge of it, it is antithetical to the creative needs of a well-rounded researcher. It is especially problematic for design research, which requires creative solutions to existing problems.

Design researchers should embrace less structure and more openness at the early stages of product design, and rigor and structure in the mature stages of product sales. As sales drop off and the product loses its natural match to the culture, design researchers should once again embrace openness in their research approaches.

Bonus association – Emma Boulton’s research funnel

This isn’t a million miles away from the research funnel that Emma Boulton put forward a while back. I couldn’t find a snappy quote but her post gives a good example of using the activites from the difference phases together.

How much would you need to pay per year to have an ad-free twitter?

I use twitter, and I have done since something like 2006. I’m a white guy, with a follower count in the mid two thousands, so as a result, the biggest problem I get from the site is keeping up with all the tabs I end up opening from it, rather than abuse like other folks I know.

Every now and again, I see a tweet like this (link to tweet):

I have a revolutionary idea. Hear me out: How about if we *pay* a small subscription fee for Twitter and they stop fucking everything up trying to make money every way except charging for their service.

There was another example, by Ben Hammersley saying largely the same thing last year, but since he started deleting his tweets automatically, I can’t point to it now.

Anyway the gist is the same – why don’t we just club together to buy it out? If we did that it wouldn’t be the same cesspit is now, compared to the fun service is was when we started?

I like the idea for this, but I think it would cost more than most people are prepared to pay – something in the region of 200 – 250 USD is my best guess, to make more money than Twitter’s own reporting said it makes from advertising.

Given that app.net and others weren’t able to charge anywhere near that and fizzled out, I’m not sure how this would end up better for Twitter.

My workings

My workings and assumptions are in this spreadsheet, which I shared last time I saw this idea, and I’d really be interested in hearing which assumptions ought to be updated to make this possible, as I’ve shared mine below:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Baa08XSFCL1O8dvlMit8fnEjaGjxfZNrtVR9GDWh1lE/edit#gid=0

Make a copy, share a link back.

If that’s not your jam, the comments are open below, and my DMs are open on twitter – I’m @mrchrisadams.

 

 

Computing, Climate change and all your relationships

Generally speaking, it’s a small, but growing group of folk who seem to interested in the intersection between climate change and tech.

Earlier in May, I came across Nabil Hussein‘s talk, Computing, Climate Change and All Your Relationships, and boy is it a breath of fresh air – climate change for me is a very much an issue about fairness, and treating humans with basic decency, regardless of where in the world they are.

This is and remains on of the reasons I’m attracted to the web – as Tim Berners Lee said, it’s supposed to be a tool for everyone, not just a small group, and that human potential it allows us to unlock is a source of continuous wonder for me.

Tim Berners Lee, in the London Olympics, with his cameo for the world wide web

I’ve seen a fair few talks, but this is the first time I’ve seen someone in tech talk about climate change in terms of the sheer numbers of people who don’t go to tech conferences who are affected, and how it disproportionately affects people least able to cope with the wrenching changes it’s bringing about.

There was one slide in particular that was particularly effective here:

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 18.47.33.png
Comparing the Global North (14% popn, 73% income) and Global South (86% popn, 27% income)

Challenging Bret Viktor’s “options” approach

This is also the first talk I’ve seen that critically engages with Bret Victor’s essay, What Can an Technologist do about Climate Change?

We’re seeing how policy makers in the White House have been undoing progress they’ve made, and you see the same patterns in the UK, with fracking over building a local renewables.

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 19.00.41.png

That said, I can’t say I’m totally behind this approach. and I think, having a binary here is oversimplifying things. There’s absolutely cases where in the global North you’re seeing terrible decisions, but there are also cases where you are seeing progress being made, and that helps set the tone for future, more progressive, climate friendly policy.

For example, I see the investment by Germany in renewables over the last 20 years pretty important for decentralising how power is generated over here: both to bring down costs sufficiently to ‘create options for people’, and also counter the concentration of power among the incumbent providers of energy, and encouraing many more small scale producers of energy from renewables.

I guess the counterpoint here is that China, which (on this map at least, is included in the global south) has also played a huge part in shifting the economics of solar, but that’s hardly been a bottom-up approach. It’s been a very deliberate policy decision, the same way China’s National Sword policy was a top down decision to stop importing so much waste from the global north.

Anyway, it’s totally worth 40 minutes of your time if you have a passing interest in climate change, and you work in tech. There’s also a super handy transcript online too. Enjoy!

Losing earth and capitalism and the NY times

I’ve just finished reading this gargantuan piece from the NY Times, Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change, which tells the story in the late 80’s of how we almost ended up with meaningful, binding agreements globally to reduce CO2 emissions, when doing so would have drastically reduced the cost of dealing with climate change in the 21st century.

As you’d imagine from as big ticket piece from the likes of the Grey lady, it’s a gripping story. I learned loads of new things about how the narratives used for the global response to ozone depletion was so swift compared with relative foot dragging on climate change, and how long it had been on the radar of the US government.

It’s also somewhat heartbreaking to know how close we came, and towards the end, I found it pretty difficult to come away without wanting to blame one of the political operators in the Bush administration,  James Sununu, for effectively scuttling the negotations when there seemed to be something approaching consensus on reducing CO2 emissions.

In fact, he’s the closest thing the story really has to an antagonist, which is pretty impressive given you have Exxon in the room for half the substantive meetings mentioned.

There’s a good response from Naomi Klein, which I think provides some useful context about the voices involved:

Throughout Rich’s accounting, we hear nothing from those political leaders in the Global South who were demanding binding action in this key period and after, somehow able to care about future generations despite being human. The voices of women, meanwhile, are almost as rare in Rich’s text as sightings of the endangered ivory-billed woodpecker — and when we ladies do appear, it is mainly as long-suffering wives of tragically heroic men.

It’s not that surprising that the New York Times might be a bit US-centric, but one other thing that hadn’t been so obvious to me was the political climate itself , and the rise of neoliberalism – these were the pretty much the heydays of Thatcher and Reagan:

the late ’80s was the absolute zenith of the neoliberal crusade, a moment of peak ideological ascendency for the economic and social project that deliberately set out to vilify collective action in the name of liberating “free markets” in every aspect of life. Yet Rich makes no mention of this parallel upheaval in economic and political thought.

It’s 30,000 words long, so basically a novella, but if you’re interested in anyway by the climate, it’s worth a read.