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I'm a Woman and I Want to Be an Eagle Scout

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I am a 17-year-old woman from New York who has been lobbying to join the Boy Scouts of America for seven years. I have been told that my efforts are partly responsible for the most historic changes in the organization's 108-year history—to allow girls to join the Boy Scouts, as well as to change its name to gender-neutral Scouts BSA

I did all that because I want to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout and I support other young women to do the same. But because Scouts has imposed a February 2019 start date for its official acceptance of female Scouts, I will age out of the program before I am eligible. I am calling on the organization to accept female members immediately, so that I and other activists won’t be frozen out of benefiting from the changes we helped to bring about. 

Last month, I spent two weeks at Camp Keowa, a Boy Scout camp on a river about 100 miles north of New York City. It was the first time I’d been camping with my troop since I was elected Senior Patrol Leader (unofficially, of course). We hiked, fished, tackled the one-mile swim, and shot arrows, rifles, and shotguns. Afterwards, I was invited to stay on as a volunteer staff member. 

Before I left for camp, I did what thousands of Scouts have done before me—I submitted my project proposal for the Eagle rank. That service project is the culmination of a Scout’s career, bringing together everything we’ve learned in aid of our local community. It's the last hurdle to clear before earning the organization’s highest rank. For my project, I’m proposing an event that will connect veterans with dogs who need adoption, along with volunteers who can help train service and therapy animals. The only problem is that the BSA will not consider that proposal because I am a girl. 

I believe that I am the first girl trying to earn the Eagle rank, just as I was one of the first girls elected to the position of Senior Patrol Leader. I have advanced through the ranks of Scouting with only unofficial acceptance and done that with no guarantee that my years of work would ever culminate in the Eagle Scout award. 

I have shown through my persistence, honorable work, and service to others that I, and my Eagle project, deserve to be recognized and acknowledged. Not only will my project work to benefit our most honored citizens—a key mission of the BSA—but given the BSA’s decision to admit young women, my hard work should no longer be rejected, nor my rank postponed simply based on my gender. 

If the BSA wants to welcome female Scouts, it needs to start now—not next February. Our work to advocate for female admission has created unprecedented change in the organization, but also new challenges. I and the other activists who brought about that change are uniquely positioned to help tackle those challenges. As a change-maker for the BSA, I am confident that I will be supported as a loyal and brave advocate for positive change. 

That’s why I’m calling on the BSA to immediately begin allowing young women to join. All I want is to be able to continue to help make Scouting the best leadership program for all our youth.  

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22 days ago
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Production Excellence: September 2018

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How’d we do in our strive for operational excellence last month? Read on to find out!

Month in numbers

  • 1 documented incident since August 9. [1]
  • 113 Wikimedia-prod-error tasks closed since August 9. [2]
  • 99 Wikimedia-prod-error tasks created since August 9. [3]

Current problems


  • [MediaWiki-Logging] Exception from Special:Log (public GET). – T201411
  • [Graph] Warning "data error" from ApiGraph in gzdecode. – T184128
  • [RemexHtml] Exception "backtrack_limit exhausted" from search index jobs. – T201184


  • [MediaWiki-Redirects] Exception from NS_MEDIA redirect (public GET). – T203942

This is an oldie: (Well..., it's an oldie where I come from... 🎸)

  • [FlaggedRevs] Exception from Special:ProblemChanges (since 2011). – T176232


  • An Exception (or fatal error) causes user actions to be aborted. For example, a page would display "Exception: Unable to render page", instead the article content.
  • A Warning (or non-fatal error) can produce page views that are technically unaware of a problem, but may show corrupt or incomplete information. For example, an article would display the word "null" instead of the actual content. Or, a user may be told "You have null new messages."

The combined volume of infrequent non-fatal errors is high. This limits our ability to automatically detect whether a deployment caused problems. The “public GET” risks in particular can (and have) caused alerts to fire that notify Operations of wikis potentially being down. Such exceptions must not be publicly exposed.

With that behind us... Let’s celebrate this month’s highlights!

*️⃣ Quiz defect – "0" is not nothing!

Tyler Cipriani (Release Engineering) reported an error in Quiz. Wikiversity uses Quiz for interactive learning. Editors define quizzes in the source text (wikitext). The Quiz program processes this text, creates checkboxes with labels, and sends it to a user. When the sending part failed, "Error: Undefined index" appeared in the logs. @Umherirrender investigated.

A line in the source text can: define a question, or an answer, or nothing at all. The code that creates checkboxes needs to decide between "something" and "nothing". The code utilised the PHP "if" statement for this, which compares a value to True and False. The answers to a quiz can be any text, which means PHP first transforms the text to one of True or False. In doing so, values like "0" became False. This meant the code thought "0" was not an answer. The code responsible for sending checkboxes did not have this problem. When the code tried to access the checkbox to send, it did not exist. Hence, "Error: Undefined index".

Umherirrender fixed the problem by using a strict comparison. A strict comparison doesn't transform a value first, it only compares.


*️⃣ PageTriage enters JobQueue for better performance

Kosta Harlan (from Audiences's Growth team) investigated a warning for PageTriage. This extension provides the New Pages Feed tool on the English Wikipedia. Each page in the feed has metadata, usually calculated when an editor creates a page. Sometimes, this is not available. Then, it must be calculated on-demand, when a user triages pages. So far, so good. The information was then saved to the database for re-use by other triagers. This last part caused the serious performance warning: "Unexpected database writes".

Database changes must not happen on page views. The database has many replicas for reading, but only one "master" for all writing. We avoid using the master during page views to make our systems independent. This is a key design principle for MediaWiki performance. [5] It lets a secondary data centre build pages without connecting to the primary (which can be far away).

Kosta addressed the warning by improving the code that saves the calculated information. Instead of saving it immediately, an instruction is now sent via a job queue, after the page view is ready. This job queue then calculates and saves the information to the master database. The master synchronises it to replicas, and then page views can use it.

https://phabricator.wikimedia.org/T199699 / https://gerrit.wikimedia.org/r/455870

*️⃣ Tomorrow, may be sooner than you think

After developers submit code to Gerrit, they eagerly await the result from Jenkins, an automated test runner. It sometimes incorrectly reported a problem with the MergeHistory feature. The code assumed that the tests would finish by "tomorrow".

It might be safe to assume our tests will not take one day to finish. Unfortunately, the programming utility "strtotime", does not interpret "tomorrow" as "this time tomorrow". Instead, it means "the start of tomorrow". In other words, the next strike of midnight! The tests use UTC as the neutral timezone.

Every day in the 15 minutes before 5 PM in San Francisco (which is midnight UTC), code submitted to Code Review, could have mysteriously failing tests.

– Continue at https://gerrit.wikimedia.org/r/452873

*️⃣ Continuous Whac-A-Mole

In August, developers started to notice rare and mysterious failures from Jenkins. No obvious cause or solution was known at that time.

Later that month, Dan Duvall (Release Engineering team) started exploring ways to run our tests faster. Before, we had many small virtual servers, where each server runs only one test at a time. The idea: Have a smaller group of much larger virtual servers where each server could run many tests at the same time. We hope that during busier times this will better share the resources between tests. And, during less busy times, allow a single test to use more resources.

As implementation of this idea began, the mysterious test failures became commonplace. "No space left on device", was a common error. The test servers had their hard disk full. This was surprising. The new (larger) servers seemed to have enough space to accommodate the number of tests it ran at the same time. Together with Antoine Musso and Tyler Cipriani, they identified and resolved two problems:

  1. Some automated tests did not clean up after themselves.
  2. The test-templates were stored on the "root disk" (the hard drive for the operating system), instead of the hard drive with space reserved for tests. This root disk is quite small, and is the same size on small servers and large servers.

https://phabricator.wikimedia.org/T202160 / https://phabricator.wikimedia.org/T202457

🎉 Thanks!

Thank you to everyone who has helped report, investigate, or resolve production errors past month. Including:

Dan Duvall
Gilles Dubuc
Daniel Kinzler
Greg Grossmeier
Gergő Tisza (Tgr)
Sam Reed (Reedy)
Giuseppe Lavagetto
Brad Jorsch (Anomie)
Tim Starling (tstarling)
Kosta Harlan (kostajh)
Jaime Crespo (jcrespo)
Antoine Musso (hashar)
Roan Kattouw (Catrope)
Adam WMDE (Addshore)
Stephane Bisson (SBisson)
Niklas Laxström (Nikerabbit)
Thiemo Kreuz (thiemowmde)
Subramanya Sastry (ssastry)
This, that and the other (TTO)
Manuel Aróstegui (Marostegui)
Bartosz Dziewoński (matmarex)
James D. Forrester (Jdforrester-WMF)


Until next time,

– Timo Tijhof

Further reading:


[1] Incidents. – https://wikitech.wikimedia.org/wiki/Special:AllPages?from=Incident+documentation%2F20180809&to=Incident+documentation%2F20180922&namespace=0
[2] Tasks closed. – https://phabricator.wikimedia.org/maniphest/query/wOuWkMNsZheu/#R
[3] Tasks opened. – https://phabricator.wikimedia.org/maniphest/query/6HpdI76rfuDg/#R
[4] Quiz on Wikiversity. – https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/How_things_work_college_course/Conceptual_physics_wikiquizzes/Velocity_and_acceleration
[5] Operate multiple datacenters. – https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Requests_for_comment/Master-slave_datacenter_strategy_for_MediaWiki

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25 days ago
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Racecar Beds


racecar bed

I’ve been thinking lately about how goals change over time. I’ve had a lot of big goals over the years, like moving out of my tiny farming community, earning a PhD, and working at a prestigious company. Some I’ve achieved, some I haven’t. Some I’m glad I pursued, some not.

My goals have changed as I’ve aged. The things I wanted in high school, or college, or at age thirty, or yesterday, aren’t necessarily the things I want today. I get myself into a lot of trouble by fixating on achieving goals that I used to want, but not checking in with myself to be sure that those goals are still consistent with who I actually am.

Lo and behold, while listening to a podcast yesterday along came a pithy summation:

You don’t see many fifty-year-olds with racecar beds.

Yes, exactly! I’ve had a lot of goals (working at Google leaps to mind) that turned out to be racecar beds: something that a younger me wanted desperately, but that current me feels is just a terrible fit.

It’s hard for me to disentangle racecar beds from my actual, present goals. My identity is bound up with my aspirations, so acknowledging that I’ve been sleeping in a racecar bed is profoundly disorienting. It’s difficult to admit to myself that I’ve been pursuing goals that are bad for me, and patching up my identity is genuinely hard work.

The payoff is tremendous, though. I sleep a lot better when I’m not squeezed into a racecar bed.

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43 days ago
Boulder, CO
60 days ago
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That sinking feeling


We are now 25 months on from the Brexit referendum. Theresa May filed notice of departure from the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on 29 March, 2017: on 29 March, 2019 (in 8 months' time—approximately 240 days) the UK, assuming nothing changes, will be out of the EU.

In the intervening time, the UK has undergone a disastrously divisive general election—disastrous because, in the middle of an unprecedented (and wholly avoidable and artificial) national crisis, it returned to power a government so weakened that it depends on an extreme right-wing sectarian religious party to maintain its majority. The DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) stands for Union with the United Kingdom, and hostility towards Ireland (in the form fo the Irish Republic); they will veto any Brexit settlement that imposes a customs border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. However, this implies that a customs border must exist between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and the two economies are so entangled that this is impractical. (The border between north and south cuts across roads, railways ... and also through farms, living rooms, and business premises.) Creating a hard border in Ireland is anathema to the government of Ireland, which will therefore veto any Brexit agreement with the UK that posits one. (It would also violate the Good Friday Agreement, but hey, nobody in Westminster today cares about that.)

The Electoral Commission has uncovered evidence of electoral spending irregularities in the Leave.UK and Vote Leave campaigns serious enough to justify criminal investigation and possible prosecution; involvement by Cambridge Analytica is pretty much proven, and meddling by Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer has also been alleged in testimny before the US Senate judiciary committee. There's also an alleged Russian Connection with Aronn Banks (the main financial backer of Brexit) having been offered too-good-to-be-true investment opportunities in a Russian gold mine (according to The Observer newspaper).

But not to worry, the will of the people has spoken! (Although it's actually the will of these peope—a mixed bunch of right-wing Atlanticists, hedge fund managers, warmed-over neo-Nazis, and disaster capitalists. Never mind, I'm certain they have only our best interests at heart.)

For added fun and optimism, back in the summer of 2016 it looked reasonably likely that over the next few years we would see business continue as usual, on a global scale. This was before the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the USA. Trump doesn't understand macroeconomics—he's convinced that trade is a zero-sum game, that for every winner there must be a loser, and that trade tariffs and punitive sanctions are good. He's launched attacks on the World Trade Organization (as well as NATO) and seems intent on rolling back the past 75 years of post-WW2, post-New Deal global free trade. The prospects for a favourable post-Brexit trade deal with the United States went out the window on January 20th, 2017; Trump perceives isolation as weakness, and weakness in a negotiating partner as an opportunity to screw them. (So much for the Conservative Atlanticists and the Special Relationship.)

The EU is the UK's largest trading partner, with roughly 44% of all our foreign trade going through our EU siblings. This includes food—the cramped, densely populated UK hasn't been self-sufficient in food since the 19th century, and we import more than 50% of what we eat.

A customs union with the EU has been ruled out unless the UK agrees to cooperate with certain EU "red line" requirements—essentially the basis for continuing free trade: for reasons too preposterous and stupid to go into this is unacceptable to the Conservative party even when national food security is in jeopardy. In event of a no-deal Brexit, Operation Stack will become permanent, causing gridlock on motorway routes approaching Channel ports. Perishable goods and foodstuffs will be caught up in unpredictable protracted delays, resulting in dairy produce (including infant formula) becoming 'very scarce'. Large manufacturing concerns with cross-border supply chains such as BMW, Airbus, and Toyota are threatening to shut down production in the UK in event of a hard Brexit; Amazon's UK manager warns of civil unrest in event of a no-deal Brexit, and in event of a no-deal that doesn't include services (as well as goods) it's hard to see how the Amazon supply chain can continue to function in the UK.

(Note: Online sales account for 18% of all UK retail and Amazon is the proverbial 500lb gorilla in this sector. UK customers who purchase from Amazon.co.uk are, however, doing business with Amazon SarL in Luxemburg, who then subcontract fulfillment/delivery to a different Amazon company in the UK—Amazon SarL takes advantage of one of the lowest corporate tax regimes in the EU. This is obviously not a sustainable model in event of a hard brexit, and with shipping delays likely as well as contractual headaches, I think there's a very good chance of Brexit shutting down Amazon.co.uk and, thereby, close to 20% of the British retail distribution system.)

Current warnings are that a no-deal Brexit would see trade at the port of Dover collapse on day one, cutting the UK off from the continent; supermarkets in Scotland will run out of food within a couple of days, and hospitals will run out of medicines within a couple of weeks. After two weeks we'd be running out of fuel as well.

Note that this warning comes from the civil service, not anti-Brexit campaigners, and is a medium-bad scenario—the existence of an "Armageddon scenario" has been mooted but its contents not disclosed.

In the past month, the Health Secretary has admitted that the government is making plans to stockpile vital blood products and medicines in case of a no-deal Brexit, and the Brexit secretary is allegedly making plans to ensure there are "adequate food supplies" to cover a no-deal exit.

But before you say "well, then it's going to be all right, we'll just go back to 1939-54 era food ration books and make do and mend", we need to factor in not only Donald Trump's latest bloviations, but Global Climate Change! Europe is facing one of the most intense regional droughts in living memory this summer, with an ongoing crisis-level heat wave. Parts of the UK have had the least rainfall in July since 1969, with a severe heat wave in progress; Greece is on fire: Sweden is having a wildfire problem inside the Arctic circle this summer).

A Hard Brexit, on its own, would be a very dubious but probably long-term survivable scenario, with the UK economy taking a hit not much worse than the 10% downsizing Margaret Thatcher inflicted on it in 1979-80. But a hard Brexit, coinciding with the worst harvest failures in decades, ongoing climate destabilization, a fisheries collapse, and a global trade war being started by the Tangerine Shitgibbon in the White House is ... well, I'm not optimistic.

Right now, the British cabinet seems to be locked in a suicide pact with itself. Theresa May is too weak to beat back the cabal of unscrupulous opportunists within her own party who want the worst to happen—the disaster capitalists, crooked market short-sellers, and swivel-eyed imperialist revenants of the European Research Group. Any replacement Conservative PM would face exactly the same impedance mismatch between reality and his or her back bench MPs. On the other side of the house, Jeremy Corbyn's dislike for the EU as a capitalist entity has combined with his fear of alienating the minority of "legitimate concerns" racist voters in Labour's base so that he's unwilling or unable to adopt an anti-Brexit stance. Brexit cuts across traditional party lines; it's a political Outside Context Problem that has effectively paralysed the British government in a time of crisis.

So I'm not optimistic that a no-deal Brexit will be avoided.

What happens next?

On a micro scale: I'm stockpiling enough essential medicines to keep me alive for six months, and will in due course try and stockpile enough food for a couple of weeks. I'm also going to try and move as much of my savings into other currencies as possible, preferably in financial institutions accessible from but outside the UK. (I expect a Sterling crisis to follow promptly in event of NDB. We saw Sterling drop 10% the day after the referendum—and certain people made a fuck-ton of money by shorting the stock market; I expect it to go into free fall if our trade with the EU is suddenly guillotined.)

On a macro scale:

Airports and the main container freight ports for goods entering the UK will shut down on day 1. There will be panic buying. I expect widespread rioting throughout the UK and sectarian violence in Northern Ireland (contra public received wisdom, NI is never quiet and this summer has been bad.)

A currency crisis means that goods (notably food) entering the UK will spike in price, even without punitive trade tariffs.

There will be mass lay-offs at manufacturing plants that have cross border supply chains, which means most of them.

You might think that as an author I'd be immune, but you'd be wrong: although paper editions of my UK books are printed in the UK, you can bet that some elements of the wood pulp and the ink that goes on it and the glue that binds them are imported. About 90% of my UK ebook sales are made as (contractually speaking) services via Amazon.co.uk (see above), the fuel that powers the trucks that ship the product to the bookstores is imported, my publishers (Orbit and Tor) are subsidiaries of EU parent companies (Hachette and Holtzbrink), and anyway, people are going to be spending money on vital necessities during the aftermath, not luxuries.

(Luckily for me, many of my sales come from other EU territories—in translation—and from the USA. Unfortunately, getting paid in foreign currency may become ... problematic, for a while, as Brexit jeopardizes both currency exchange and the UK retail banking sector's ability to exchange funds overseas.)

After week 1 I expect the UK to revert its state during the worst of the 1970s. I just about remember the Three Day Week, rolling power blackouts, and more clearly, the mass redundancies of 1979, when unemployment tripled in roughly 6 months. Yes, it's going to get that bad. But then the situation will continue to deteriorate. With roughly 20% of the retail sector shut down (Amazon) and probably another 50% of the retail sector suffering severe supply chain difficulties (shop buyers having difficulty sourcing imported products that are held up in the queues) food availability will rapidly become patchy. Local crops, with no prospect of reaching EU markets, will be left to rot in the fields as the agricultural sector collapses (see concluding remarks, section 5.6).

Note that during her time as Home Secretary, Theresa May presided over 30% cuts in police numbers. During the recent state visit by Donald Trump, virtually every police force in the UK had to cancel all leave just to maintain cover for those officers temporarily assigned to POTUS' security detail (the policing operation was on a scale comparable to the 2011 summer riots ... when there were many, many more officers available). Also, police and emergency service workers will be trying to source food, medicines, and the necessities of life for themselves and their own families: there may be significant absenteeism from critical posts just as everything comes to a head.

I expect the government will collapse within 1-4 weeks. There will be a state of emergency, managed under the Civil Contingencies Act (2004) (which replaced earlier civil defense emergency legislation). Emergency airlifts of medicines, food, and fuel may take place—but it's hard to see the current US administration lending a hand.

Most likely the crisis will end with the UK crashing back into the EU, or at least into Customs Union and statutory convergence—but on EU maximalist terms with none of the opt-outs negotiated by previous British governments from Thatcher onwards. The negotiating position will most likely resemble that of Greece in 2011-2015, i.e. a vastly weaker supplicant in a state of crisis and near-collapse, and the British economy will take a generation to recover—if it ever manages to.

(This is, by the way, not the worst scenario I can envisage. The worst case is that the catastrophic collapse of the world's sixth largest trading economy, combined with a POTUS whose understanding of economics is approximately as deep as that of Louis XVI, will lead to a global financial crisis on the scale of 2007-08—but without leadership as credible as, say, George W. Bush and/or Gordon Brown to pull our collective nuts out of the fire. In which case we're looking at a global banking collapse, widespread famine due to those crop shortages, and a wave of revolutions the like of which the planet hasn't seen since 1917-18. But hopefully that won't happen, right? Because only a maniac would want to burn everything down in order to provide elbow room for a new white supremacist ethnostate world order. Oops, that would be Steve Bannon.)

Anyway: the most likely historical legacy of a no-deal Brexit will be the final refutation of the common British misconception that the UK is still a global superpower, possibly accompanied by Scottish secession and re-entry to the EU, Irish reunification in some sort of federal system, re-acquisition of Gibraltar by Spain, and the disintegration of the Conservative (and possibly Labour) parties at the next general election.

I just hope I'm still alive at the end of it.


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87 days ago
Boulder, CO
88 days ago
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I suppose it's not original to observe

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Dan Lyke:

I suppose it's not original to observe that the economy of the future will revolve primarily around artists using their Patreon proceeds to pay the medical bills of friends through GoFundMe.

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122 days ago
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Monkey Island

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I heard this (true) story several years ago, and it’s stuck with me:

A zoo keeps its monkeys on an island in the middle of a small lake. You can take a tour on a catamaran that motors around the island. A zookeeper answers questions over the boat’s loudspeaker.

A tour member asks, “I notice that there’s no fence around the lake. Why don’t the monkeys escape?”

“Good question,” says the zookeeper. “Members of this species of monkey are naturally strong swimmers, and any of these monkeys could easily paddle across the lake and leave the zoo. But none of the monkeys in this colony have ever seen another monkey swim, so they don’t realize that they can.”

I’m sure I’m a monkey, but I can’t figure out how. Which is the problem with being on Monkey Island.

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125 days ago
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