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Behind the party with Suz at OSCON

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Adam and Jerod catch up with Suz about her presentation at OSCON, some cool stuff she’s doing at her house, and more.



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So what do you mean by “your variables are all trash?” What does that mean?

[laughs] I was just talking to you both about how I’m really bad at coming up with names for projects, which means I’m also really bad at coming up with names for variables… So all my variables are trash.

Give us some examples, what are the variable names? Like a, b, c? Foo, bar, baz?

A couple days ago I was writing a library for the keynote that I was giving, so I was making some shortcut code… And when you break up a word into letters, and then each letter has like a Morse code notation of it, what do you call each dot or dash in the letter?

I don’t know… What did you call it?

Right, so I first called them units, and I’m like “That makes no sense whatsoever.” Then I changed it at the last minute to subletters. So you’ve got a word, a letter and a subletter… But I couldn’t come up with anything better than that, and I was like “This is all just trash.

You know when you’ve totally jumped the shark is when you just call a variable ‘data’. Have you ever done that?

Like, “This is the data.”

And sometimes it’s like a reserved word in the language, which is even worse…

Yeah, and you have like data and some underscore or something, because you actually can’t come up with anything else.

Yes, absolutely.

I’ve been there. I think we’ve all probably had trash variable names through our years.

It’s my talent.

It’s your talent.

So you’re preparing for this keynote - by the way, by far the most talked about things that we’ve heard… Live coding, at OSCON, probably 2,000 people in the crowd, with hardware involved, JavaScript involved, ten minutes… You gave yourself an actual countdown timer; nobody asked you to do that…


So I guess the question is are you a masochist, or what’s going on here?

I think so, yeah. Yeah, definitely. I think that I’ve given a lot of hardware talks, and I always think they’re fun, but when you’ve given a few, it’s kind of like when you repeat the same talk and you’re sick of hearing your own jokes, and you’re just like “I’m not funny”, and you’re surprised when people laugh when you give that same talk. That’s sort of how I felt about hardware, and also because it was a keynote for OSCON, I hyped that up and I almost psyched myself out, and I thought “I have to do something next-level. I have to be super-extra and challenge myself in a way that I haven’t done before”, which is very silly, right?

Your job as a keynote is to inspire people, but also to be super professional and to kind of prove that you have the stage for a reason. So that was a pretty risky thing for me to do, I guess.

The timer was enough for me… It’s fine to give yourself a timer, but it was also a tick, too. So you drew the crowd into your own suspense… I was on the edge of my seat.

That was definitely a tactic, and I practiced with the ticking, so that I learned to ignore it. It wasn’t stressing me out, but I wanted to create that tension in the audience. I wanted them to feel like they were part of what I was doing on the stage, so instead of just sitting in a seat and watching someone’s screen, I wanted them to feel much more immersed in it. I wanted them to feel like they understood the stress that I was under.

Where did the idea come from for that?

For the ticking?

I don’t know. I just thought, “Well, if someone is watching you type, what’s in it for them?” I guess… So I thought “There’s gotta be something that will be funny to people.” I wanted to be funny, so that if I was stuck on coding or something, people wouldn’t be bored… So I guess the ticking just came about as just a filler.

[04:06] The ticking is actually a playbook from Hollywood. In scary movies or suspenseful things, they’ll subliminally put in ticking of some sort – it’ll be the music, or it’ll be in just some sort of sound in the scene, to make it feel like the time clock is ticking.

Totally. I don’t watch scary or tension-featured movies for that reason; it works very well on me and I stress out.

It made me think of Peter Pan… I don’t know, maybe it’s just me… Because Captain Hook has the alligator that has the clock - he swallowed the clock when he also swallowed his arm…


…and the alligator is always following him, and he hears the ticking, and it’s symbolic for death, right? Like death is coming from him.

Wow, that got dark really quickly…

Oh, and they’ve just set up a Jenga board next to us… So that got dark, and then it got very loud very quickly. That’s fun…

Either way, the ticking is gonna bring in…

Yeah, it’s suspenseful.

So what’s interesting there is that you had to deal with some pain, some discomfort, right?


You’re giving a demo, you’re on stage…

Yeah, and it was a relatively unplanned demo, because I thought I would take it next-level and give myself 16 possible outcomes, and then I created a randomized generator to generate an outcome for me to code. That particular scenario that I got on stage wasn’t a scenario that I’d rehearsed end-to-end. I think I’d rehearsed maybe 4 of the possible 16 scenarios.

Give us some examples of these scenarios… It was like an Arduino board, and you have inputs/outputs… What were some scenarios?

Yeah, so the one that actually came up on stage was a light sensor as an input, and then that had to trigger the output, which was a server, which was like a motor that can turn. So I attached like a waving hand that had “Hello OSCON” written on it, and that was attached to the server. So the idea was if we can calibrate it to a certain light level, that would trigger the hand to wave on the stage. So that was the scenario… But we had everything from a little speaker, to a temperature sensor… There was also a flex sensor, so it’s like a long strip and you can bend it, and then it gives you different readings… So I had a load of really fun scenarios done, but I just hadn’t had a chance to rehearse that specific one.

You said that the light may be too bright in here, or something like that, at one point… I thought you were stalling, or making excuses… What was that about?

Yeah, I’m really glad that you said that, because you know when you run your code and you get a value, and you’re thinking “That value seems a little too perfect”? So the value that came out was 1,023, which is on the largest side of a value you can get from an analog sensor… Generally, an analog sensor like the light sensor I was using will give you a value from 0 to 1,023.

Now, the lights were really bright on the stage, but generally, the nature of that sensor means that usually the lower end of the numbers signify brightness… So I knew something was wrong…

Because it should have been low if it was really bright…

It should have been low, and it should never really be at the absolute maximum value. That’s very suspicious. So I knew something was wrong, and I was like “Oh, it looks like it’s really bright”, so I put my hand in front of it to try to alter the light, and of course, the value didn’t change.

So you knew it was busted.

I love that you picked up on those little nuances. That’s very sneaky.

I was like, “She’s stalling, or it really is – something’s happening…”

There was something wrong, yeah.

There was so much tension… We should say (the audience doesn’t know…) it was a ten-minute timer, and you finished with three or four minutes left. So there was tension, but flying colors in reality, in terms of success… It would have been a lot more suspenseful as we counted down towards 30 seconds – maybe sweat would have been beating off you at that point.

I think so, yeah… I think that because I fixed it so quickly, that was a big relief… But when I knew it had gone wrong so early on, I was like “Alright, this is either gonna be great, or it’s gonna completely flop”, and luckily, I fixed it up pretty quickly.

[08:07] Why do you think this particular type of keynote was asked of you? Because you didn’t pitch this; this was asked of you…

I was reached out to, and OSCON said “We’d like you to livecode something. We know you do a lot of hardware on Twitch, so can you do something to do with that?” Initially, I thought “Great, I’ve got half an hour to just livecode some hardware” and then they were like “No, you have 15 minutes, but we have one minute reserve for walking on, one minute for walking off… So you’ve got 13 minutes.” I thought, “What can I livecode in 13 minutes?”

They obviously didn’t have any ideas, because they weren’t really sure what I could pull off… So I pitched it as “What if either the audience voted for what I used, or if I had something that just randomly generated something for me? What if I did that?” I thought that they would say “No, that’s too risky”, but I think they just rusted me… So that’s kind of how it came about.

So was it – I guess a fun way to start a conference is livecoding, right? …but why do you think that in particular? Sure, you’re good at it, but why livecoding?

I think that looking over the history of OSCON, there hasn’t been a whole lot of that, and I think that it’s not just OSCON, but a lot of other technical conferences, keynotes tend to be a little bit high-level…

Yeah, true…

…and that’s really good, because you wanna inspire people, and the way to kind of reach as many people as possible is to keep it kind of high-level, so it’s not too specific. I think what they wanted was they wanted to surprise people this year, and I think that that’s a good thing. It just sort of mixes things up.

I didn’t expect it to have such a good reaction, and I think that’s really fun. I’ve noticed that there were a few other livecoding sessions that were down yesterday and today as well, so I’m hoping that that becomes more of a thing next year as well.

So a couple times you mentioned that you were like taking it up a level, or next-level, or… 2019 OSCON, hypothetically, what could possibly be next-level from here? Are you gonna do it like with fire rings around you, or something? What could possibly be better?


That’s not a bad one, blindfolded. Don’t encourage me, because I feel like this year – I feel like I got so lucky on stage that I don’t wanna push it.


You should push it.

…so maybe I’ll quit while I’m winning. I should push it?

Alright, so blindfolded?

You had four minutes to spare… That’s plenty of time to be blindfolded.

I thought I was gonna be over.


So yeah, let’s do the blindfold next year.

Alright, we’ll talk to the OSCON team…

Or you could do something where you can’t tell what the audience is thinking. You could tell because of the sound maybe…

How could you tell what they’re thinking?

Well, not so much thinking, but how they’re feeling…

Their reactions?

Like, if you’ve messed up – maybe if you had like headphones on where you couldn’t hear… You know how they do that on like a Tonight Show, or something like that? They’ll have somebody –

Oh, like the Cone of Silence…

Yeah, they’ll put some headphones on and you can’t tell, so you’re sort of like your own track, essentially… You can’t really hear.

Oh, I love that, yeah. So everyone is screaming at me, like correcting my typos, and I have no idea…

And you maybe even see them waving…

…so they’re all yelling at me and I’m like, “Yeah, hey…!”

I mean, you take away one core sense, essentially.

Or you could have like a trapdoor, and if she messes up, she falls in and there’s sharks with laser beams on their heads…

Hey, you’ve been wanting that for a while…

Just consider it. Just think about it.

Actually, I really like this one. Maybe without the sharks and the lasers…

[laughs] Just the water…

Okay, so you know those pools with the target shooters?

Yeah, like a dunk tank…

Yeah, that kind of thing. So if my code doesn’t compile the first time, I get dunked.

Exactly. And you still have to keep going though…

Okay, this is what we’re gonna do.

So you climb back up if you’re going.

Oh, my gosh… That would be good!

I love this! I’m being quite serious…

I know you are. That’s why I love this, too.

That would be really cool if you got dunked and you had to come back and keep going.

You have all the ideas. This is the second brilliant idea that you–

[12:09] Well, let’s tell the people about my first brilliant idea, because I think that this idea that you have come up with is very interesting. Your next art project, your next hack - the next thing you’re planning on doing is kind of an IoT home that talks to you, but only in certain– just tell us, because I can’t even describe it.

Yeah, I’ll tell you. So now that I’m not freaking out about my OSCON keynote anymore, I have a little bit more time to spend on some of my other personal projects.

I’ve just moved into a new place, it’s a really cool apartment… And I wanna start putting different devices around the place and rolling my own IoT devices. I’m someone who really likes peace and quiet, and I usually try and set up my house so that it’s a nice, quiet environment… So I thought it would be funny if I hooked up all of my IoT devices to have different personalities and different voices, and that they would all be talking… They’d be talking over each other, and they’d be talking intermittently, but you don’t know that this is happening, unless you put on a pair of headphones while you’re in the house, and then all of a sudden the house becomes super-chatty, and it becomes this whole different world to what you were in before.

One of the examples you gave is like the plants asking to be watered… What are some other ideas you’ve come up with?

Yeah, so there was also like a doorbell that could also just be sort of like a Marvin – is it Marvin, from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? He’s like “Oh, I guess your friend’s here… I didn’t know you had friends”, or something like that.

[laughs] It’s like, not only is the house gonna talk to her, but it’s gonna be creepy and weird and annoying, too. You mentioned the passive-aggressive plant…

Nothing like (I guess) technology having attitude, right?

That’s the best.

I really like that.

That particular Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy character was really good.

Yeah, I absolutely adored that robot. But I didn’t know what to call this project, and I don’t even know how we started talking about this yesterday, but I was talking about it and then you both awkwardly laughed… But then you sort of got the idea and you said “Oh, it’s as if the walls could talk”, and I was like “Yes! That’s it!” So that’s what I wanna call it - if the walls could talk.

Boom goes the dynamite.

Boom! Dynamite.

So there it is. So what can the people expect in terms of – when are you gonna be working on it? I assume you’ll be Twitching some of this… What’s that look like?

Yeah, I might work on it on Twitch. I’m setting myself a goal of having it done in the next couple of months. It’s something that I just want to be one of those on/off again projects that I can keep coming back to… So if I add one plant…

That’s the thing, you can come up with a new idea at any time, and then just add it to the system.

I have an idea too along with this…

Okay, I wanna hear it.

So the headphones, which means you have to be in the house… I’m sure you don’t want all the weirdoes on the internet coming to your home, right/

Oh, I see where you’re going with this already.

So what if you could always be live-broadcasting the audio, so that anybody can listen in live?

I really like this, too. And what if I put that on my Twitch channel, or created a Twitch channel for it? I love where this is going.

24/7 livestream…

Because then people can always peek in on what your house is saying, like “Suz hasn’t watered me in three days”, or “Nobody’s visited for four…”

Adam, I love this…

Do you have any integrations on your Twitch channel?

I saw one guy who was streaming where he had a red light back behind him, and there was a slash command or some sort of Twitch command on the chat, and they could turn the light off and on.

Yeah, totally.

I thought that was cool. Do you have anything like that?

So a couple of those projects that other Twitchers did were inspired by a Tiara that I made. It’s a battery-powered Tiara, and it has like flowers and stuff, but it has these 3D-printed fake crystals, and they each have a light in them… So I would wear the Tiara, and you could use a command – I think it was like !Tiara and then a color, and then it would change that color. So if I’m just kind of deep in the weeds, reading documentation and I’m not paying attention to the chat, people can still kind of mess with me.


[16:10] And the other one I have is - for a while, when I lived in New York, I was in this super-stuffy study, and so in summer I would just start… Like, there was an inverse correlation between my programming ability and how hot the room got, and people would just see me stumbling, and there’s like sweat–

As the temperature goes up?

And then I just started making more typos, and I was like “I’m sorry, it’s just getting really warm in here…” Because I would do it with the door closed, so I didn’t disturb anybody…

So I just hooked up a simple thermometer to the cloud, and that now shows in the corner of my Twitch stream every single Sunday.

So people can see “What kind of skill level is she gonna be at today?”, based on the temperature of my room… So that’s really fun, too.

Very cool. So this fits right in, really…

Yes. So you’re saying that my house should also be talking, on Twitch…

Yeah, I would like to actually tune in live whenever I want to. I mean, I’d like to come over for a visit, but at the same time, I don’t wanna have to be there to have to listen. [laughter] I kind of wanna peek in…

“I would like to come over, but I don’t wanna be there…”

So you can tune in at midnight and –

Well, I live kind of far away… Houston and Seattle is kind of far, so…

…and there’s this one lone plant at midnight going, “You forgot me about me, didn’t you…?” [laughter]

And maybe it’s the only one; everyone else is happy, snoozing…

And you’re texting me, going “Would you just water the dang plant? It’s crying right now…”

She can get busted for plant abuse, because somebody was tracking her watering habits online and reports her to Plant Protective Services.

Oh, my gosh…

This might backfire, we should think about this…

You don’t have any animals, do you?

No. I have a load of animal figurines, and I have a hyper-realistic raccoon plush that I showed you both yesterday…

Wait, what…?

[laughs] Where did you get that, and why do you have it?

I got it off the internet…

You acquired this by your own volition.

Yes, yes.

Okay. Because…

You pushed the button “Order”? You were like “Buy Now”?

Yeah, I bought it off – I have to figure out where I bought it from; it was from the internet. It’s a brand called Hansa, and they actually make animatronic versions of their plushes as well. So you can get an animatronic baby elephant, and you can ride it, and it will raise its trunk, and stuff…

You can ride it?

For children.

Or small people.

Yeah. And they have a dinosaur and they have a dragon. The dragon is like $2,500, but it is a life-size plus, hyper realistic dragon.

So you’re saving up for it then?

Yes. [laughter]

That’s on my list.

The raccoon was slightly more affordable. I’m not gonna tell you how much I’ve spent on it, because it’s embarrassing, but I love it… Because I travel so much that it’s difficult for me to have pets, and so plants and hyper realistic plush animals tend to – I just sound like… I’m gonna stop.

They age better.

I don’t need a justification for a trashpanda in my house. [laughter]

Do what you’ve gotta do…

That’s right. So you mentioned a raccoon integration, but then I asked “Is this like a programmable raccoon?” and you said no.

That’s right.

So what’s your plan there? How are you gonna work this into the Whisper House?

I think just when my friends come over it’s just always gonna be in a different spot. That was my original plan.

Okay. So it’ll be all manual though…

Yeah, it’s all manual.

No Johnny-Five involved here.

It would be cool if we could put it on a little sort of wheeled platform, and it just kind of like darts across doorways or something when my friends are here… But I feel like that’s just taking it slightly too far.

You could mount it to a Roomba.

That’s clever. I do love that.

Three ideas I’ve had today…

That’s three. Adam doesn’t look impressed.

How would that work?

The Roomba goes around vacuuming…

Yeah, I know, but…

…and you think it’s a freakin’ raccoon attacking you.

And if it’s dark enough…

It’s really cute though. It’s really cute, I love it.

Okay, so you think a cute raccoon is attacking you.

[20:12] Maybe the raccoon has emotions, and the Roomba activates based on emotion.

I’m silently dying right now; that’s me actually –

You had to one-up me, didn’t you…?

It could have emotions…

Alright, I think we’ve been there and done that on this one.

It’s still an interesting concept though, to have your house…

It’s super-interesting!

…be alive and you can’t hear it. I think that’s cool.

I think it’s cool, too… And it satisfies me, because I just love things to be silent, but I also want fun, so I can choose when to indulge in my passive-aggressive house, you know? But it’s always there. They’re still talking, I just can’t hear them.

It’s kind of like when a tree falls in the wilderness, you know?

Right. I like the remote idea actually, because when I’m traveling, I could listen in on my own house.

You could be like, “What’s going on here?”

And if one of my plants is just being really, really antagonistic, I can call one of my friends and be like “Can you go and water my snake plant, or my zz plant?” or “My fiddly fig is being really whiny today…”

Get those plants some water…

That’s a life hack right there… That’s a life hack.

What else is going on in your life?

What else is going on?

You just moved…

I just moved…

New city…

New city…

New friends?

I’m really lucky because I think because of open source especially, actually, I have friends all over. What I really enjoy is not necessarily having to move somewhere, but when you end up in a city and you get to meet an open source contributor to one of your repos… That’s one of my favorite things.

I remember the first time I met somebody who had contributed an improvement to one of my repositories, and I met him in Berlin… And it was like greeting an old friend, because we’d had so many conversations online, and I had so much respect for what he was using my library for, and he had so much respect for me writing the library, that it was, again, like greeting an old friend. We then hung out and we talked about what he’d been up to, and it was great.

So for me, moving to a new city means an opportunity to get to know some poeple I’ve met in a fleeting sense a little better… Because I used to come to Seattle a lot before I moved here.

Adam and I collaborate on Changelog stuff for probably two years before we met.

Oh, really?

Something like that.

It was kind of weird, actually.

We met on the internet, we met because of the Changelog…

We were like, “Um, it’s been a while…”

And I met the two of you yesterday for the first time, and I’ve done like five episodes of JS Party with y’all…

Or more…

That’s really cool. And then I’ve met Tim today.

That’s right. And I met Tim for the first time this week.


On Monday.



IRL on Monday.

For the first time.

That’s super cool.

The internet brings us all together.

It’s actually a party in person… It’s a JS Party in person!

It sure is!

Well, Jenga is over there… It seems like the party is picking up; maybe we should…

Close it down.

…call it a day.

Suz, always a pleasure.

Thanks for letting me be a weirdo on air, as usual…


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