How to delete your terminal the night before PyCon

Brick wall painted bright yellow with many purple heads on it.
Hello Cleveland! Artist:

TL:DR – PyCon was great, you can delete your terminal, you can get it back, Cleveland is great and has a lot of good coffee.

PyCon was and will be in Cleveland for the 2018 and 2019 conferences. I was really looking forward to the Cleveland trip this year and the city did not disappoint. Good coffee, good friends, good food.

The workshop

I was excited to take Melaine’s class- Code Your Heart Out. I feel like I’ve learned Python in a scattershot way, and I liked the idea of a more through approach. It was great! But before I say more about that I want to mention what happened the night before…

Did you know that you can delete your terminal!? You can! Seeing the terminal disappear and not being able to call it back is a pretty unsettling sensation.

It feels like having all the bones disappear from your body- maybe everything is still running, but things are


Basically, I installed a newer version of Python and that messed with my system’s ability to call a few things, like the terminal (gnome-terminal specifically).

So that was unsettling, but I stayed calm and headed to search engines. Using Google and DuckDuckGo on my phone and laptop, I searched for answers.

I found that this is a known bug- More here!, and I fixed it by opening XTerm and using this: UbuntuHandbook resource.
So, not too bad overall, I didn’t brick anything and I learned more about XTerm!

Okay, back to the tutorial- Well not quite- first was a coffee stop at historic West Side Market  – The market reminded me a lot of Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market in all the best ways- delicious pastries, amazing meats, people connected to food in many ways, from farming, to events, to your weekly groceries. I walked around, admired all the food, and got a latte to go from City Roast Coffee and Tea. 

Fresh coffee and a working laptop- okay now we’re at the tutorial, all systems go.

I liked how Melanie structured the time we had- it was more than code. She built in information about how we learn, how we relax, and how we can handle frustration. I really appreciated the information and the pacing.

I also really liked how the files were set up- Melanie preloaded a zip file with many Python files- BUT these files had just the prompts really, and maybe a little bit of code here and there. So, instead of looking at a blank page, you immediately had a folder full of files to work on. This was awesome! Instead of futzing with what to name things and how to start, we could just… start!

It was especially good after the conference too. I kept working through the exercises and syncing w/ my GitHub repo when I had something new to add.

The talks

You can find all PyCon 2018 talks here: YouTube+PyCon
It’s difficult to pick a few, but here are some I especially enjoyed:

Lilly Ryan – Don’t Look Back in Anger: Wildman Whitehouse and the Great Failure of 1858 – PyCon 2018
A number of talks touched on failure. I also just really love telegraph cables.

Hillel Wayne – Beyond Unit Tests: Taking Your Testing to the Next Level – PyCon 2018
A talk I saw later- thank you PyCon for recording talks! Testing is a healthy part of good work, and I learned a lot from this talk.

Nicholas Tollervey – Mu – How to Make a Kids’ Code Editor – PyCon 2018
The variety of code editors intrigues me, and I really liked a lot of the “why”s at play here.

Stacy Morse – Code Reviews Using Art Critique Principles – PyCon 2018
Art = code, code = art. We all have a capacity to be hurtful and damaging in our critiques, OR to be curious, constructive, and empowering.

Sophie Rapoport – Code like an accountant: Designing data systems for accuracy, resilience and auditability – PyCon 2018
Another talk drawing links from different fields. Highly recommended!

Open spaces

PyCon openspaces! This year I led one. It started because I was talking to a few people about Chromebooks and Linux, and they encouraged me to hold an openspace on the subject.

Photo showing the morning schedule for openspaces, with the Linux openspace I lead as a detail
Yes I liked that the room capacity was 42

So I did! I led it as a guided discussion, first asking everyone to introduce themselves, and say what laptop/Chromebook setup they had. I also passed around a notebook with some questions- that data is below.

I was curious about how people were using Linux and Chromebooks. Linux can be so lightweight and powerful, and same for Chromebooks, especially with the new support for Linux apps. Plus, in Crouton you can have the Linux environment as a tab.

Some common threads- a lot of security folks, folks who like hardware, like Raspberry pi, and who travel to other countries.

It was fun to hear people talk about what worked for them, and in some cases see the Chromebooks or other tools. One in particular that looks really fantastic is a fully powered mini laptop (netbook makes it sound too cheap; this was a solid gadget) called the GPD Pocket.
I got to see a Pixel Chromebook in person, that was pretty cool and it’s definitely a quality machine.
Most people who were using Linux and Chromebooks didn’t dual boot and didn’t have a higher-end model like the Pixel. Instead, they were using a Chromebook/Asus/Acer netbook and SSHing into their home machine.

The “why”s were pretty similar for everyone- security was a big draw, some interestingly powerful sandboxing APIs, and the flexibility/ease-of-mind to travel with a tool that if stolen, wouldn’t be as bad as having a $3000+ laptop stolen.

I started the discussion thinking that Linux and Chromebooks overlapped a lot- and they do- but throughout the talk it became less of a one-to-one overlap and more of a Venn diagram. Some people used Linux and were just curious about Chromebooks. Some people used Chromebooks and had heard about the Linux capabilities, but hadn’t done too much (yet). And some people were integrating the two.

Group questions

Answers from approx. 20 people
Do use use Linux on Chromebook?  7
Have you dual boot a Chromebook? Interestingly none
Do you do your job on a Chromebook? 1
Do you work completely on a Chromebook? 2 trying to
What distro do you use?

  • Elementary:  1
  • Kubuntu: 1
  • Gallium OS: 2
  • Vanilla Ubuntu: 2
  • CLI only (part Ubuntu): 1

Any recommended resources?

  • iPython in Terminal
  • Chromium bugtracker + code review system


I wish I had more time at the sprints! I was able to stay for the first morning, and headed straight to the Adafruit table. Adafruit generously gave attendees a Gemma, and I look forward to doing more with it.


I learned about the NASA Glenn Research Center thanks to the PyCon Cleveland guide. The NASA research center offers tours once a month- with the May tour taking place during PyCon! It’s a bit trickey to get in- tickets are first-come, first-serve, and there are only 4 tours of 25 people each on that one day a month.
Tickets become available a month before the tour date- so for the May tour, I requested a ticket at 12:01AM on April 12th. A request doesn’t guarantee you a spot. I got a ticket though!!

May’s tour was specifically focused on the wind tunnel machine– a single machine that is larger than a city block. It uses so much power it’s only run at night. This machine tests space models and on the tour we were able to stand inside of it- if that machine had been running a test we would have died.

It was fantastic! Only sad thing- no pictures. If I could have taken a picture of just one thing, (believe me I asked) if would have been the GIANT simplified one line power diagram that filled an entire wall. This diagram predates alllll the computers in the room. It’s a line schematic of the wind tunnel machine with lights that corresponded to the actions and health of the giant machine at many different points. It was SO COOL. A city-block’s worth of machine information distilled into a full wall panel of lines and lights.

If I could have taken two pictures, the second picture would have not been a computer/diagram/machine,  but instead a handmade object- Along the tour I noticed a wooden tool chest- a big one- and one of the fellows was telling me how it was handmade by one of the engineers who also made, you know, the rockets that sent people into space. And that was beautiful and I wanted to take pictures of it and look at it more. Space travel has deep connections to craft. It’s so obvious in these spaces- craft and creativity and ingenuity.

Other observations:

-The models are stationary; wind moves past. The wind tunnel is not just testing for speed effects- it’s air pressure and temperature too
-“Always alert nobody hurt” safety slogan repeated throughout
-The compressor blades looked like Brancusi sculptures

Admission ticket to the NASA Glenn Research Center, with one of the NASA Glenn buildings in the background


Big fan. From stumbling upon one of the largest chess collections in the world, to NASA, to an abundance of good local tea & coffee spots, I left with more to see and am looking forward to going back.

Good coffee

Duck-Rabbit Coffee 

Cleveland Tea Revival

City Roast Coffee and Tea

Phoenix Coffee 

Rising Star Coffee Roasters 

Vintage Tea and Coffee 


For the past couple of conferences I’ve meditated in a garden- generally I’ll put a tweet out saying where and when, and then lead a guided meditation using Headspace in a green space. I didn’t do that this time and I wish I had.


Thanks to a tip from another attendee I found this coding article that mentions Python and as I was sharing coffee recommendations with a friend, he found this article about Duck-Rabbit Coffee.  Wiggenstein shows up in both, and I want to end this post with that observation- an observation without a conclusion, but with a lot of appreciation for the time spent in this particular city. Thank you PyCon team, Cleveland fantastic people, and cheers to everyone working on their craft.

The Transit of Venus: From archive to wall in 25 steps

In 2012, I observed the Transit of Venus at the American Philosophical Society (APS) in Philadelphia. The APS was around for an earlier Transit, specifically the one in 1769, when they set up three temporary viewing sites and formed a committee, headed by astronomer, clockmaker, and craftsman, David Rittenhouse, to record this significant event. Those scientific observations, including an incredibly beautiful scientific drawing, were published in APS’s first volume: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia, for Promoting Useful Knowledge. Happily, you can find that volume in its entirety here:

If the above embed won’t load, try this direct link here.

You can NOT, however, see the image I remembered and wanted- if you scroll down to just below page 27 in the Google scan, you can see a tiny fragment of the corner, some lines, and just make out “Reduced to this Scale by” … that’s it. The paper was folded- it fits into the volume folded up, and then the reader is supposed to unfold it to see the full image. Scanners aren’t good at unfolding.

Fragment of the Transit of Venus document from 1769 showing that the drawing is folded up and not completely scanned
Well that’s… part of it. Source:
Fragment of the Transit of Venus document from 1769
1/36 of the whole thing or so. Source:

So, I like Philadelphia, I had good memories of observing the Transit in 2012, and I wanted a copy of the drawing on my wall. I knew the document existed, but how to get a good copy of it? The best version I could find was on the New York Time’s website, here.

Scan of the Transit of Venus, 1769, badly creased

But it’s a small image that doesn’t scale well, and the folds are very obvious.

The good news is I could go to the source. The APS continues to thrive and is “open to all researchers who demonstrate a need to use the unique resources under its care.” (APS)

So, here we go! Here’s how I was able to obtain a massive, couch-sized print of the Transit of Venus, as observed by David Rittenhouse and other members of the American Philosophical Society in 1769, in 25 steps:

  1. Decide you want this
  2. Contact the American Philosophical Society using the information available here:
  3. Wait
  4. Contact APS again, politely
  5. Live your life
  6. Hear from the APS hooray! and find out from intrepid Reference Archivist, Earle E. Spamer, that they don’t exactly have a high-density digital image- the New York Times image came from a digitized 4X5 transparency, and the plate they have is both too big and too delicate to scan. The good news is they can re-scan the 4X5, would that work?
  7. Email back, yes, definitely! Register online to use the American Philosophical Society Library (i.e. pay for the requested document copy) and send APS confirmation that it’s done, thank them and say something like “Please let me know if you need any additional information and/or what my next steps should be.”
  8. Wait. Live your life.
  9. Success! You now have the digital file through Aeon, and thanks to your (stubbornness) patience, they are waiving the cost.
  10. Exult in the beauty of scientific inquiry and observation. Feel grateful for the people who are curious, who share, and who like to preserve things.
  11. Speaking of which, make a backup. Make two.
  12. Meet up with your incredibly talented conservation photographer friend who is available for interesting work.
  13. Hours of editing (thank you Mae Belle) result in an edited TIFF and two JPEGs with the layers flattened.
  14. Make backups of the edited files.
  15. Go to Staples to use their large format printer: oops your gigantic file crashes their computer.
  16. Back to your computer, reload the USB stick with only the JPEG, not the TIFF
  17. Back to Staples, print file on Paper/HP Universal Bond Paper 20lb 36×48 / Standard / Large Format Print (Precut Size) / Color / Simplex
  18. Home, center couch against far wall of apartment
  19. Find center of the couch, line up with the center of the print
  20. Find height you want
  21. Find two binder clips and two thumbtacks
  22. Put thumbtacks in
  23. Attach binder clips
  24. Hang
  25. Ah 🙂

Earle E. Spamer was an enormous help throughout this process- being a reference archivist is not an easy job, and this request in particular had some unexpected twists and turns-

I’m especially grateful for his willingness to scan the document at an incredibly high resolution- large scans like this take time and might not even work, so it’s much appreciated.

Laura Webb holding the final print of the enlarged Transit of Venus scan from 1769

Authors have written about recipes connecting generations- making something your grandmother has made, for example. I feel the same way about observing scientific phenomena- the transit of Venus, the Perseids, Leonids, Geminids; it means something to observe a phenomenon that has caught the attention of people hundreds of years ago and will go on for thousands more. By taking time and observing it, you’re immediately connected with a world-wide community of curious adventurers- past and present.

And there can be surprises along the way! Reading through the digitized Transactions, I noticed that their (men-only, sadly) members are listed alphabetically- is there a Webb among them? Yes 🙂 And he’s from Lancaster- the same city my grandparents are from….

Page from the Transactions first Volume, showing a James Webb as member

Persistence, curiosity, and stars- some of my favorite things-

2017 in numbers

Speaker tags for Laura Webb at DjangoCon, Strangeloop, and ELAConf
2017, speaking

2017 in numbers:


PyCon: Volunteered
DjangoCon: Spoke
!!con: Contributed a lego set
Barcamp: Volunteered
ELAconf: Spoke
Strangeloop: Spoke


Philadelphia Museum of Art: Organizer
LadyHacks: Organizer


Books read (estimate)
Not as many as I would like- 2018 will include a lot more reading


Linux laptop. I love it. Clean and fast!


Concert, Gorillaz


Hair length, inches


Days meditated in a row


Job that I quit


Job that I started


Ice-skating lessons. More to come 🙂

Image showing how many days meditated in a row. The only one left is the 365 badge
Current Headspace run streak- meditation and coffee contributed a lot to the list above
Laura Webb standing in front of the Pike Place Starbucks store with an espresso
What would my 2017 be without coffee! My first trip to Seattle included the Pike Place Starbucks and a delicious espresso.

I find myself at a bit of a loss for words- 2017 was an unexpected year in a lot of ways. Throughout it all though, people around me were kind, interesting, encouraging, inspiring, challenging, and funny 🙂 thank you and here’s to 2018!