Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Observations about (a review of)^2 Autism Employment

I am very thankful for articles by Jim Hoerricks. The latest is: A deep dive on the Buckland Review of Autism Employment: report and recommendations.

While I don’t live under the British Crown, I do live under the Canadian Crown which is a fork in the code (laws, worldviews, etc) that is a quite similar constitutional monarchy based on similar worldviews that grew from the unique history of Britain.

I started to make some personal observations from nearly 4 decades in the job market, having been one of the lucky 3 in 10 Autistic adults that had until recently been employed.

I noticed a problem.

Several of my observations can’t be attributed to the “executive dysfunction” that is regularly discussed as part of the neurodivergent experience, but “executive dysfunction” relating to the corporate culture at a specific workplace. This made me think of the article Executive Functioning as Ideology by Robert Chapman.

While I may no longer work there, the information silos, strict adherence to a chain of command, job title and description issues, Peter principle, and other failure patterns more specific to technology projects within the organization remain. While I may have been a “whistle-blower” or “canary in the coal mine”, my exit didn’t solve any problems other than removing the warning sounds.


Labour Market Barriers:

I have never had a regular job interview, so never faced that particular barrier fellow Autistic people face. I have thus far been approached by people who knew why they wanted to hire me from previously hearing about me and my specific skills and ways of working.

I know I would do poorly in a job interview as I’m aware my open manner of thinking and communicating doesn’t come off well as a first impression for some people. For some people, it always makes them uncomfortable and they never get used to it no matter how long they have known me. If I’m asked a question, I will offer as open, honest, and correct an answer I possibly can. I am aware that “honesty is the best policy” is a social lie, and that mismatch is a barrier to trying to survive in a neuronormative culture.

There was one important exception: I was an employee brought over as part of a merger, and the new employer didn’t really know why I was there. I wasn’t brought into the organization because they were aware of my skills and ways of working, but kept over a merger because of a job description of “Lead Systems Engineer”.

That job description didn’t describe what I did, but what a previous manager felt they would need to hire if I was no longer working at the organization. I generally don’t fit into any silo, and one of the reasons I have been hired over my career was specifically to collaborate across silos (including across organizations within the Free/Libre and Open Source Software movement).


I had recently been asked to vacate the "Lead Systems Engineer" job description to allow someone else to no longer be in my shadow. This was in a corporate culture with a strict chain of command that treated job descriptions as exclusive jurisdiction, but what I was being asked to do (or rather, no longer do) somehow wasn’t seen as problematic by management.

Managers (mine and others) were complaining I wasn’t doing “my” job, and even more loudly claiming I was stepping in other peoples exclusive lanes. While Jim’s article discussed the need to “replacing woolly job specifications with focused, jargon-free descriptions“, I was in a situation of obvious stress where I had no job specifications at all. All I received were indecipherable complaints.


While I regularly noted the cost of being interrupted (a 1 minute question actually costs a 30 minute context switch), I didn’t seem to have problems with the cubicle farms or inappropriate lighting. This situation improved after 2020 when remote work became possible, and I was able to work more efficiently in an office environment I created in my home (appropriate lighting, quiet, scheduled synchronous meetings rather than random interruptions).


Skill Mismatch and Underemployment:

This was partly discussed above in relation to “job descriptions”. I had skills and experience that were not being harnessed as most of my experience was being claimed to be the exclusive jurisdiction of other employees. While I am very much an “open source” type of person who wants to share knowledge, knowledge transfer was regularly blocked as allegedly being “rude” to suggest another employee didn’t already know something.

There were situations where I was the only employee remaining from the pre-merger organization that had specific corporate memory, but wasn’t allowed to share. I was the author of software, but wasn’t allowed to describe how it worked or how to use it. I was told not to write documentation to describe processes in other departments, and then reprimanded that this documentation didn’t exist.


I was allowed to be on an 80% contract as I had a wide variety of reasons to not want to be full time. Whenever I was allowed to work on solving a problem I easily gave more than full time hours, but also had considerable stress generated from organizational blocks to being able to work on solving technical problems.


From the report:

e.5 Autistic people have far more negative experiences of interviews, group tasks and psychometric tests. Autistic jobseekers must navigate vague, generic job descriptions, ambiguous interview questions and challenging sensory environments, often with an emphasis on social skills rather than job skills. Many feel they must mask their autistic traits to succeed.

In the case of this employer, job skills (in my case, technical skills) were not valued, and differences in social skills were a constant source of complaint and periodic formal reprimand.


Policy and Practice Gap:

I discuss this earlier in the context of workplace harassment policies.

Harassment policies should be applied in an intersectional way, but the more I read the more I notice they are not. The discomfort of some individuals who represent a “majority” being faced with “different” ways of being is prioritized over the reality or even existence of other employees.

In the case of this workplace, my Autistic Dialect was being misinterpreted as being “rude” and “condescending”, which demonstrated a lack of some pretty basic autism awareness. Individuals who felt uncomfortable with my dialect then complained to management that I was “harassing” them.

In one case it was someone whose manager was blocking knowledge sharing. The coworker would regularly notice a mismatch between how they expected our technology to work and how the technology actually worked. They would ask what went wrong, but any attempt to explain how the software worked was claimed to be “condescending”.

We would be discussing data and data management software that I had been managing or co-managing for 9 years, but they and their manager felt I should be deferring to them on how to manage data which they hadn’t seen yet as they hadn’t learned the management tools yet (tools which I authored the bulk of the software for). I was regularly told they didn't believe I had the relevant skills and experience (because of incorrect job titles and job descriptions), even though I had been doing that specific type of work already for 9 years.

Workplace policies and practices that weren’t neuronormative would have tried to facilitate communication between employees, rather than constantly claiming that any use of neurodivergent speech patterns at work was worthy of reprimand or claims of violating workplace harassment policies. Workplace harassment policies were in effect being used to harass neurodivergent employees.


For most of my career it was not a problem for me to ask “why” and get clarification on what was being asked of me (and what priority, etc). This was not allowed in that most recent workplace.  My asking "why" was regularly misinterpreted as a challenge (to authority, hierarchy, etc).


Awareness and Inclusion Efforts:

I find many Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policies are performative, and never adequately seek to understand “inclusion into what”. I’m not thinking narrowly about neurotypes, but all forms of diversity.

I’ve observed “inclusion” interpreted narrowly as anyone being able to join an organization. Once hired, employees are expected to behave like every other employee, and never make so-called “normal” employees feel uncomfortable with any differences. Employees are expected to leave who they are as complex intersectional people at home.


I knew this workplace was aware of legal obligations in relation to “disabled” employees (Autism is still treated only as a disability under Ontario law), but there was no indication management attempted to learn what Autism was. There was only the all too common “there are other neurodivergent employees, and they aren’t having a problem at this moment” dismissal of the reality of equity seeking people.

While I wasn’t fired, I also didn’t have a job to return to after being forced on sick leave for being Autistic at work.


Long before I accepted I’m Autistic, I knew one of my skills was in analysing and trying to improve systems. While I was regularly hired as a systems administrator where it was understood I would try to understand/improve/manage computer systems, I do the same for any type of system whether it be government structures/policy or corporate structures/policies. I read articles on common failure patterns for technology and other businesses, and try to help in my workplaces to avoid them.

While my skills related to systems could have been harnessed, at the most recent workplace it was harassed. Any attempt to discuss business culture and patterns were misinterpreted as a critique about individual people. It essentially meant there was a mismatch between my skills and what was expected of me, as I was intended to silently follow a chain of command and arbitrary information silos, and to never to discuss or seek systemic improvements.



P.S.: If the subject doesn't make sense to you, read it as "Observations about a review of a review of Autism Employment". It is nerdy humour -- sorry :-) 



Thursday, November 30, 2023

Is there a religious war in Western Asia? It certainly isn’t a simple war between two “countries”.

I want to encourage people to gain the context of these events rather than believing what happened this year is new or surprising.

The following is based on a post I made to LinkedIn. I’m reposting for anyone who doesn’t have a LinkedIN account. I am also posting thoughts about the context of the violence in Western Asia on Substack.

This is what I do: I analyze policy like I analyze software, and look for interactions between policies as well as operating systems and other aspects of the environment. I don’t blindly accept what I’m told by marketing material, but analyze the actual policy/code. I look for logical fallacies in claims being made, and try to figure out the truth under those fallacies.


A previous LinkedIN connection wanted to talk about “Hamas” and the most recent skirmish, rejecting that there could be any context required to understand what was happening. They were responding to a post that suggested, “If you have ever wondered what you would do during The Holocaust, Slavery, or the Civil Rights Movement: You’re doing it NOW.”

The previous LinkedIN connection posted: “What do you believe the appropriate response to the Hamas war crimes, as you admitted they are, should have been?”

This is a pretty typical loaded question logical fallacy.

This is the nature of most discussions on this topic: loads of logical fallacies. There is a desire for this to be black-and-white (it isn't even close), that it is clear what "started it", for there to be "two sides" to pick from, and so-on.


It is possible to recognize and mourn the deaths of people on both sides of today's borders between land declared the jurisdiction of a UN created UN member (Government of Israel) and those in the Gaza Strip where self-determination has been blocked by external forces for over a century.

Any attempt to "two sides" discussion of this centuries-on Holy War is false, as this is not a "war" between two countries, and has been ongoing since long before “Hamas” formed. While I strongly condemn the violence from all belligerents, I rightfully hold UN member states – especially those which claim to be democratic and protective of human rights – to a higher standard than angry mobs or terrorist groups.

I am aware that the “Change and Reform list“ that “Hamas” campaigned within was “elected” in 2006 under a Plurality Block Voting system. I have been critical of claims that brand-centered “elections” are representative of populations for a very long time. However, to claim that Gaza is currently under a democratic government, or that residents of that region (not “citizens”) should be held accountable in the same way for actions carried out under the “Hamas” brand as citizens of a “democratic” UN member state branded "Israel", is a total misrepresentation of reality.

I’m not a fan of the electoral system or other weak democratic institutions of Israel any more than I'm a fan of Canada’s weak democratic institutions. However, I do not believe this is about Benjamin Netanyahu or any other individual. If Israeli citizens feel their government doesn’t represent them and is inducing violence and making them less safe, they have mechanisms to fix that which residents in regions that don’t have an alleged “democratic” government claiming jurisdiction do not. If citizens of other nations recognize the Israeli government is in violation of International Law, they can push their governments to hold the Government of Israel to account (including holding governments like the US, which regularly blocks accountability, to account for regularly disrespecting International Law).


The previous LinkedIN connection suggested this is about “Radical Islam”. The Government of Israel was created via “Radical Zionism” and “Radical Christianity”. The then-Christian Empire dominated United Nations (formed 1945) created the Government of Israel in 1947 via partitioning British occupied Palestine.

We should discuss the Balfour Declaration of 1917

We should discuss the Likud Party Platform (such as from 1973) and its genocidal call for "between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty". We should talk about Irgun/Etzel, the political predecessor to Likud, which operated between 1931 and 1949. It was generally recognized as a terrorist group before rebranding.


We should discuss how the United States (or sometimes Britain) will veto any resolutions to try to hold the Government of Israel accountable at the more modern United Nations.

We should discuss oil under the Gaza Strip.

We should discuss how Evangelical Christians believe Jews having exclusive control over that land will lead towards the Rapture / Second Coming of Christ. From that randomly chosen article: "What happens to the Jews and Palestinians is, to put it very mildly, collateral damage."

It is obvious that the United States and other parts of the Christian Anglosphere are as much a part of the violence in the region as “Jews” and “Arabs” (including Arab Jews, given those aren't distinct categories). This is not what we under Christian Anglosphere governments are indoctrinated to believe are the only belligerents.


Friday, October 6, 2023

Still spinning? My time at the Canadian Research Knowledge Network

(See Part 1, Part 2)

After 5 years I felt I needed to leave CRKN.


I want to provide clarity for the following: While I am critical of some policies, procedures, and work practices that I felt delayed or blocked productive work being done, I am not being critical of individual people. I have noticed over the years that critique of policy is regularly misinterpreted as a critique of a person.

I never knew why in the past, but I have since learned this is a common miscommunication between Autistic and Allistic (non-Autistic) people. The same with the question “why?” being used by Autistic people in their constant desire to learn, while that is apparently a challenge/argument/etc for Allistics.

While the treatment I received from management because I was “Autistic At Work” was the final straw, I felt I was constantly having to fight with the management team to be allowed to do productive work. While there was agreement in theory, in practise there was always pushback against moving away from the DIY (Do It Yourself), NIH (Not Invented Here) attitudes.

I generally did not feel my gifts or contributions were being recognized or harnessed.


Differences in what I was told compared to what actually happened

Early in 2018 two different priorities were set for the small technology team: Archivematica adoption and reducing technological debt.

Managing custom software needs to be thought of as technological debt, so reducing technological debt includes moving away from custom software. Over the past 5 years there was minimal movement on the Archivematica project, and there is now more custom software and more CRKN owned hardware in member data centers than there was in 2018.

I’ll focus on only two specific areas to illustrate the problem.

Archivematica

From a UBC Campus tour, Archivematica Camp
While Scholars Portal launched OLRC in 2015, CRKN is still using a custom OAIS packaging system and its own SWIFT object storage cluster running on servers that CRKN owns and manages. Even with an Archivematica Migration project being approved in 2018 and confirmed in 2019, there were always other projects granted higher priority such that resources weren’t available to the Archivematica Migration project. Projects that only started in 2022 were able to derail the Archivematica Migration project and prerequisites such as what we called “Preservation-Access Split”.

3 CRKN staff people were sent to Archivematica Camp 2019, but were never able to make use of what was learned.


2 racks of CRKN servers at UTL
Many ScholarsPortal servers a close by. 
I kept being told that moving packaging and storage services to Scholars Portal’s OLRC was “too expensive”, but I never understood how that could be possible. They would have economies of scale, and better redundancy for staffing, training, and more. Canadiana/CRKN wasn’t a single OLRC user, but an organization offering a competing service that had many depositors that would be separate OLRC entities (separate Archivematica pipelines, separate Swift storage containers for AIPs, etc). CRKN did scanning and packaging on behalf of partners, meaning OLRC didn’t need to offer training/etc for these depositors directly.

Canadiana working with OLRC would have doubled OLRC’s object storage, so this was not a simple client relationship but a partnership. While managing technical services was new for CRKN, organizing broad cross-organizational collaborations and partnerships was exactly what CRKN was known to be good at.


Custom Cataloging Rules

One of the largest areas of push-back against adopting FLOSS community software was the use of custom cataloging rules by Canadiana and later CRKN’s cataloging team.

Understanding this requires understanding some of the history.

1978: CIHM
Many drawers of Microfiche...

Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions (CIHM) launched in 1978, and created the CIHM/ICMH Microfiche series.

MARC records were created for this series, using the MARC 490 field  to indicate which specific Microfiche in that series was being described.

  • 490$a would say something like “CIHM/ICMH Microfiche series = CIHM/ICMH collection de microfiches”
  • 490$v would say something like “99411” or “no. 99411”

The identifiers were all in the CaOOCIHM namespace (MARC 003 = “CaOOCIHM”) , with MARC 001 indicating “99411” as well.

1999: ECO platform

When the ECO (Early Canadiana Online) platform launched in 1999, the existing Microfiche descriptive records and the existing CIHM data model were used.

That platform was decommissioned in 2012, and decommissioning that older service was one of the earlier projects I was involved in.

2012: CAP (Canadiana Access Platform)

In 2012, new software was launched which had a different data model and used a different schema for identifiers. Canadiana moved beyond offering online access to scanned images from the CIHM Microfiche collection to offering access to other collections as well.

  • Identifiers were expanded to have a prefix indicating a depositor. That meant “99411” needed to become “oocihm.99411”. CIHM Numbers were deprecated, and should all have been quickly replaced with complete identifiers.
  • Not everything, and not even all the images from the Microfiche collection, would be considered part of the same collection as was the case for CIHM. This meant that CIHM’s way of using the 490 field was deprecated, with the intention being to use that field in the more common way in the future (to describe collections and volumes/issues of those collections).
  • We could have used MARC 001 for the full CAP identifier (not CIHM numbers), but we wanted to move from using a transparent identifier in that field to using a machine generated opaque identifier. The purpose of these records was to describe an online resource, so MARC 856 was the obvious choice to put the transparent identifier (within a full URL such as https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.99411 )

While not ideal, CAP made use of a custom schema inspired by Dublin Core for issues of series called IssueInfo (Issueinfo.xsd ). This is how the CAP system knew the difference between a “Title” (Series record or “Monograph” which could be described using Dublin Core or MARC) and an issue of a series (which must be cataloged using an IssueInfo record). 

CAP did not make use of the 490 field, although because there was pushback from the Cataloguing team in using MARC 856 we still needed to support looking for CIHM-era identifiers being stuffed in 490$v when records were being loaded into the databases.

2022: Preservation-Access Split

After years of delay due to pushback and other projects being given priority, this was launched in April 2022.

There were now two independent descriptive metadata databases: one for Preservation and one for Access. The same packaging tools used to manage OAIS packages were used to download as well as update Preservation descriptive metadata records.

In the past, Preservation records needed to match what was needed by Access. This was no longer the case, allowing records to slowly migrate to use the same encoding standards used by Archivematica. Splitting these databases and the identifiers they use was a prerequisite for adopting Archivematica, with Preservation records now needing to be in Dublin Core with an eye towards migrating all custom Canadiana AIPs to Archivematica AIPs.

On the Access side, CAP and the metadatabus were enhanced to support some features of the IIIF data model. Relationships between documents (including whether a document would be displayed to patrons as a monograph, series, or issue of a series) would be encoded within databases using the IIIF data model.

This meant Access descriptive records could now all be in MARC, deprecating both IssueInfo and Dublin Core records. While working with Julienne Pascoe I became very excited by Linked Open Data (LOD), and was following the Bibliographic Framework Initiative (BIBFRAME) closely. While some of Canadiana/CRKN’s developers favored moving all Access records to a custom Dublin Core derived schema, I always favored the LOD aspects of BIBFRAME.

One of the many migration paths was to enhance records using MARC as an intermediary step. The Library of Congress itself set up a project to use FOLIO as part of their transition, with some CRKN staff also becoming interested in FOLIO.

Status of the move away from custom software and custom cataloging?

Moving away from custom software requires cataloging staff to move away from custom cataloging rules, and adopt the Metadata Application Profile (MAP) and data model used by relevant community software. CRKN staff would no longer be creating or imposing their own custom encoding, but working with larger commuities and stakeholders.

Migration away from custom software involves transforming/refining all existing records (using automated processes) away from legacy custom MAPs/models.


  • Adopting Archivematica involves dropping the CIHM and CAP encoding rules and adopting the Archivematica encoding rules and data model for Preservation.
  • Adopting FOLIO (for records management and publication via OAI-PMH and likely later SPARQL for BIBFRAME) requires dropping the CIHM and CAP encoding rules and adopting the FOLIO encoding rules and data model. The data model is focused on concepts from MARC and BIBFRAME, so this involves migrating all Dublin Core and IssueInfo records to MARC (and encoding document relationships using the FOLIO data model, so series, issues and monographs are understood correctly). CAP’s data model is a small subset of the data model that FOLIO uses, so enhancement of relationship data becomes possible.
  • Adopting Blacklight-marc requires either custom software that would have to be maintained indefinitely, or adopting MARC for all searchable records (easily sourced from FOLIO using OAI-PMH for indexing).


As of my last day in May 2023:


  • The cataloguing team were still treating the CIHM encoding rules and data model (deprecated in 2012) as current.
  • "Updates" to descriptive metadata records were being sourced from a different database (Some from spreadsheets, some from Inmagic DB/TextWorks databases using CIHM era schemas, and only containing a subset of records) rather than from the Preservation or Access metadata databases. 
    • This meant any changes made directly to the Preservation or Access metaedata databases were being overwritten. 
    • A very old problem: "Document A" is edited to become "Document B" which is then edited to become "Document C". Then someone comes along and edits "Document A" to create "Document D", meaning all the changes made for B and C are lost.



Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Still spinning? The merger of Canadiana.org with the Canadian Research Knowledge Network

(See Part 1, Part 3)
My cubicle on my last day at Canadiana.

If you read earlier articles, you can tell I was excited about the merger possibility when I first heard about it. I looked at CRKN and it had the communications infrastructure that I felt was needed to get out of Canadiana’s DIY/NIH mindset. There were committees to help make key decisions, and there were partnerships with other organizations.

My first meeting with the new CEO, and several other meetings after, indicated exactly what I wanted to hear. What I understood was CRKN’s desire to move the technical team currently providing lower-level services (what I took to mean owning and managing hardware, maintaining custom software, etc) to being involved in cross-sector collaborations (members, other consortia, etc), participating in standards setting organizations, and other activities that were much higher up the technology stack.

The new CEO spoke about overseas trips to participate at standards organizations that I might be interested in. I was very interested, and eager to transition away from DIY/NIH to free up the time to make that possible.

While I was advocating for OpenStack SWIFT and Archivematica at Canadiana, my longer-term hope was that Canadiana (and later CRKN) wouldn’t be trying to duplicate the services of Canadiana and/or CRKN members and partners. I noticed Scholars Portal, the technological service provider for OCUL (one of the 4 Canadian regional library consortia), launched the Ontario Library Research Cloud in 2015 (See OCUL history). 

It seemed obvious to me that, while Canadiana/CRKN needed to create a transition plan, the goal of the plan would be to move these services to Scholars Portal and not continue to manage that duplicate service (Archivematica packaging, large OpenStack Swift clusters, staff training, etc).

I envisioned CRKN coordinating other technological services, possibly with COPPUL offering backup Object storage, and using COPPUL, OCUL, CAUL/CBUA and BCI cloud services for hosting all other services rather than Canadiana/CRKN owning and managing physical hardware in member data centers (Currently Dalhousie University, University of Toronto, University of Alberta, University of Victoria).

During the merger talks there was documentation for the CRKN/Canadiana merger which I followed closely. Some of that documentation became part of a Journal article: “Spinning In”: the merger of Canadiana.org with the Canadian Research Knowledge Network

Excerpt:

Care will need to be taken to ensure that any work supports existing initiatives and players such as CARL, CUCCIO, Confederation of Open Access Repositories, Scholars Portal, and Research Data Canada. It is important to note that Canadiana does not compete with Scholars Portal, but provides complementary capacity focused on documentary heritage content. Given similar preservation models and the ongoing interest in coordinated Canadian digital research infrastructure, there may be emerging opportunities for future collaboration, such as linking data and supporting common TDR nodes for mutual redundant backup and access load balancing.

This specific sentence concerned me: “It is important to note that Canadiana does not compete with Scholars Portal”.

At an administrative level this may appear true, but given OLRC was launched in 2015 and Canadiana was providing a duplicate (if inferior) technological service, that statement wasn’t strictly true.

I wrote the following to Jonathan Bengtson and forwarded to other members of the Canadiana and CRKN boards in summer 2017. I also sent a copy to Clare Appavoo, CRKN’s Executive Director, prior to us meeting for the first time in November 2017.

(Google Docs link)


Technological infrastructure: CRKN, Canadiana, OCUL, Scholars Portal

Introduction

As CRKN and Canadiana plan for a merged organization, it is useful to look more closely at the components of Canadiana. While Canadiana is a charity and CRKN is a nonprofit, they exist within a larger context of services offered to overlapping institutions by other nonprofits and consortia. We need to do a competitive landscape analysis to avoid conflict.

I (Russell McOrmond) am the Lead Systems Engineer for Canadiana.org. I am concerned that the relationship between Canadiana’s team of technological infrastructure providers and the technological infrastructure providers for OCUL (Also known as Scholars Portal) is unclear, and that unexpected consequences will result if we don’t create clarity. The merged organization already has plans to help roll out Scholars Portal services across the country.

Teams within Canadiana

From the outside Canadiana might be seen as a single entity, but internally it has a series of departments which have a focus. Understanding these departments is helpful to place them in the larger context.

  • Officer: We currently have a single officer, the acting CEO (Previously CIO)
  • Production: Currently a team of 5 people work on digitizing and describing (including cataloguing) the resulting images, and managing other processes such as OCR and ingest of that content into Canadiana’s TDR.
  • Administration: Currently a team of 2 who handle office management, payroll, and other financial work
  • Communications & Partnerships: Currently a team of 1
  • DevOps (software DEVelopment, metadata architecture, information technology OPerationS): Currently a team of 3 people that provides the technological infrastructure for Canadiana’s services.

As the Lead Systems Engineer, one of the 3 people in DevOps, I will remain focused on our team.

What does Canadiana’s DevOps team do

Canadiana’s DevOps team researches, creates and/or manages the technological infrastructure used to provide Canadiana’s services.

While we have historically been focused entirely on online publishing the outputs of the production team, a few years ago we started a multi-year project to modernise our platform such that manual intervention by the DevOps team would not be required for most operations. We would be adopting modern platform techniques (Microservices, Docker), open standards (Such as http://iiif.io/ ), and more collaborative development with stakeholders ( https://github.com/c7a ).

The longer term plan was to free up time within the DevOps team to allow us to expand into offering other services for our members. This is services beyond online publishing of scanned/described images.

What is Scholars Portal

Scholars Portal is the technological infrastructure provider for The Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) http://ocul.on.ca/node/135 . Scholars Portal is to OCUL as the Canadiana DevOps team is to Canadiana.

While providing TDR services is a big part of what Canadiana does, and thus what Canadiana’s DevOps team has been focused on, it is a small part of what the Scholars Portal does for OCUL members. Many of the areas of expansion that Canadiana’s DevOps team have contemplated or proposed are already being rolled out by Scholars Portal, including Cloud storage and computing services (OLRC), Geospacial services (Scholars GeoPortal), research data deposit (Dataverse), born digital books and journals.

Clarifying relationship with Scholars Portal

Reading the “Appendix C - Reading Material Merger Background Documents” providing summaries of Canadiana.org and CRKN, you might think Scholars Portal is a Journal TDR. This would be similar to thinking that Canadiana is a microfiche scanner.

Documentation about the merger suggests the new organization doesn’t intend to compete with Scholars Portal. As Scholars Portal is larger than described so far, this will require close attention to the capabilities of both technological infrastructure providers to ensure we aren’t seen by our overlapping membership as offering competing infrastructure. This will be critical as the new organization plans to work with OCUL to offer Scholars Portal services across the country, so will be marketing services of both teams of technological infrastructure providers.

A public directory of Scholars Portal staff http://ocul.on.ca/spstaff lists 28 people, and they appear to be expanding. While not transparent to our members as we have no public staff directory, Canadiana’s DevOps team at one time had 8 people (3 in operations, 2 in software development, 1 metadata architect, one manager, and one coop student). We currently only have 3 people (1 software, 1 metadata architect, 1 operations).

If the multi-year project to modernize Canadiana’s infrastructure is successful, the technology will be much easier to manage. This could free up resources to allow Canadiana to expand into new service offerings, or it could be used as a justification to reduce the size of the team or outsource the management of the technological infrastructure (Including to Scholars Portal itself).

In the “merger considerations and opportunities backgrounder” section of the “Appendix C” document, there is discussion of expansion of Canadiana’s TDR platform. We need to ensure when discussing Scholars Portal that we don’t define their TDR narrowly by discounting their expansion of services, while presuming that any new services that Canadiana offers will be considered part of our TDR.

There are features of the technological infrastructure Canadiana is using to offer our TDR services that may not exist within the infrastructure that Scholars Portal is offering. How these enhancements are offered to our overlapping membership will need to be given adequate consideration. This could involve Canadiana expanding our technology platform to handle new data types, or could be Canadiana working with Scholars Portal’s to enhance their technology platform to have features that make it more trustworthy.

In an ideal scenario the technological infrastructure teams at Canadiana and OCUL would be working closely together to roll out new services to our joint pan-Canadian membership.

Summary

The opportunities described in the “Appendix C” document are all opportunities which a merged CRKN/Canadiana would be well placed to pursue. What is uncertain from the documentation, and thus a concern to the staff providing Canadiana’s technological infrastructure, is what role we will be playing in the future given the potential overlap with Scholars Portal staff and services.


Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Still spinning? My time at Canadiana.org prior to the CRKN merger

(See: Part 2, Part 3)
This series of articles is inspired by the journal article: “Spinning In”: the merger of Canadiana.org with the Canadian Research Knowledge Network

Leslie Weir giving me 5 year recognition
I started working at Canadiana in 2011, and was one of the Canadiana staff that transitioned to CRKN in 2018. Prior to Canadiana I spent most of my career involved in the Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS), which I’ve been involved in since 1992.

Canadiana had quite a bit of custom software, and that always made me uncomfortable. There wasn’t existing FLOSS software to fill the requirements when the custom ECO platform was launched in 1999 (decommissioned in 2012) or when the CAP platform was launched in 2012 (still being used). That changed over time.

AlouetteCanada, one of the organizations that merged to form Canadiana in 2008, had created an Open Source “Digital Collection Builder”. Artefactual was involved in that project, and they continued to build Open Source software for the community: the most visible and widely used being Access to Memory (AtoM) and Archivematica.


As well as custom Access software, Canadiana was managing a custom OAIS packaging system. (Disclosure: I was the primary developer/maintainer of that software and related infrastructure from 2014 until I left CRKN earlier this year. I had hoped all that custom software would have been decommissioned before I left).

While authoring custom OAIS packaging software might have felt necessary in 2012, Artefactual started working on Archivematica around the same time (See release notes). Archivematica almost immediately surpassed the functionality of the Canadiana OAIS packaging system. With a focus on digital preservation, being Open Source, and with archivists (rather than only librarians) involved, Artefactual received well deserved grants for, and community involvement with, their software.


I had a strong and constant urge to get rid of all the custom software I had authored and/or was maintaining as soon as possible. I started to advocate in 2015 within Canadiana to migrate to using Archivematica. Independently (mosty? I don't remember exactly.) Canadiana's Metadata Architect did an environmental scan in 2017 and also concluded we should migrate to Archivematica.


Canadiana had a custom REST API for accessing objects (images, etc) from storage. While the API was inspired by Amazon S3, I was aware OpenStack Swift had a module which provided an S3 compatibility layer. It seemed obvious to me that we should move away from any custom API to actually using a common API, enabling interoperability with other software without always having to customize.


Unfortunately, Canadiana generally had a “Do It Yourself” (DIY) and “Not Invented Here” (NIH) attitude, and thought of itself as a vendor. There was often push-back from colleagues against moving away from using custom software, custom data models, custom cataloging rules, etc. It took some time to convince colleagues to move from a private subversion repository to being more open on GitHub.


After years of internal advocacy, there was finally agreement on a few components:

  • Move from custom Image server to a IIIF Image server. We picked Cantaloupe, and that functionality was launched in 2017.
  • Move from custom object API to OpenStack Swift. In 2019 at CRKN there was a project to set up a temporary cluster using the SwiftStack management console and consulting services.
  • Move from custom OAIS packaging system to Archivematica


There was still no agreement among staff on Access software, but at least if we could complete the above there would be a better understanding organization-wide of why Canadiana should move away from other custom software (and related custom data models, custom metadata application profiles, and custom cataloging rules).

I believed the best option for Access software to match the need was to use IIIF APIs for image/manifest/collection view/navigation and page search (possibly start a new FLOSS project given the scale of the image repository), and BlackLight-marc for document search. Blacklight closely matched the style of services that CAP offered, allowing the transition to not be as jarring to patrons as some of the other options.


By July 2016 the conversation about a merger with CRKN had been made public. At the time I saw this as an opportunity for positive policy change, including away from DIY/NIH towards coordinating enhancement of community software projects and coordinating cloud services among Library consortiums.


Around late 2016 or early 2017 I became aware of Scholars Portal's OLRC (Ontario Library and Research Cloud) that was launched in 2015.  This meant that the Archivematica and SWIFT object storage already existed in the larger community, and partnering with them rather than Canadiana (or later CRKN) doing any DIY/NIH was possible.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

End of an Era: My resignation from CRKN

I have written about my resignation on social media, but since I’ve been asked what happened by people not on the socials I am posting here.

I am also writing to encourage all employers to become more aware of and accepting of Autism and other neurotypes. Most workplaces have some neurodivergent employees even if the employer hasn’t been made explicitly aware. Autism Awareness and Autism Acceptance is critical in order to help resolve the fact that there is a huge under-employment problem for Autistic people.




(Long form is on the podcast My Friend Autism: Fired For Being Autistic - How to STOP it )

The resignation

On May 17’th I was asked to go on “Sick Leave” in a meeting with my manager and CRKN’s CEO. On September 6 I sent in my formal resignation as my last day of “sick leave” was September 7’th.

In the view of management, my going on sick leave and resigning were choices I made. In my mind I was not given a choice, as continuing in what I considered an unhealthy work environment was never a valid “choice”.


That May meeting was the worst example of what I had been experiencing at CRKN for some time: a meeting was set up to discuss something I had communicated that was misunderstood, and CRKN management had a desire to reprimand me rather than discuss what was said and why it was said.

There were two general themes I had been dealing with:

  • My disclosure of my Autism was not being taken seriously, and I was regularly reprimanded for things which are well known miscommunication patterns between Autistic and Allistic (non-autistic) people.
  • The skills and experience I had gained at Canadiana and CRKN were being dismissed because “job titles” were being declared as exclusive jurisdiction. There were conversations that needed to happen to deal with confusion generated by different understandings of library technology, but any attempt to have a conversation with management was misinterpreted as if it was an insult toward some individual.

Autism Acceptance



(Video: Why everything you know about autism is wrong | Jac den Houting | TEDxMacquarieUniversity)


In 2018 I turned 50 and my employer flipped from Canadiana.org on March 31’st to CRKN on April 1st. When I went to work on Tuesday I was sitting at the identical desk and was in theory going to be continuing my work.

(See also: History of Canadiana)

A few days later I learned that my mother only had a few more months to live. I spent quite a bit of time out of Ottawa helping my mother until she died in August.

I had become closer to my mother over the summer than I had been for years, and that process and her death made me start to see a psychotherapist. After seeing me for several months, in the spring of 2019 we had a conversation: had I considered I was Autistic, and did I want to get a formal diagnosis?

Friends had been suggesting I consider this since the early 2000’s when it became known that many in the High Tech sector were Autistic. I didn’t consider it because I had internalized the pathologizing of Autism and didn’t think I had any “disorder”. It was, after all, called Autism Spectrum Disorder by the medical community who I thought of as the experts. I had internalized some of the common misconceptions about Autism as well as misconceptions about what a spectrum was (think about radio waves, microwaves and visible light all being on the Electromagnetic spectrum – never think of a single line from 0 to extreme)



I started to take the possibility more seriously as 2019 progressed. As I read more about Autism I saw some similarities, but still had many doubts. For instance, I doubted that I had an “Autistic Mask”. Ya, right – me pretending to be someone else or hiding my true self? I’m a terrible actor, and am told I'm very unfiltered.

In the summer of 2022 I contracted Lyme Disease. I received the correct antibiotics in September, and the rash went away. Unfortunately, some other symptoms appeared: fatigue and quite random joint pains.

As the fall proceeded, I started to notice a difference in my communication style and understanding of the communications styles of others. I had become much more direct, and found it harder to understand why people were ignoring facts in discussions. I then turned back to thinking about Autism and – well – it started to seem clear to me that the fatigue was making it impossible to mask. It was the absence of the mask that made me aware that it previously existed.


I tried to ask CRKN management for what I would need while I was dealing with Lyme Disease:

  • Flexible hours, as I may need to nap during the day : Granted
    • I was also already at 80% contract, and had been for many years.
  • Flexible work location to handle naps, pain, etc : Granted
    • I was already working mostly from home, with very infrequent meetings.
  • Understanding about a lack of energy to Autistic Mask : Denied
    • This was misrepresented by CRKN management.



It doesn't matter how thisk the mask, we will never be neurotypical. We will only ever be burned out Neurodivergents.


Complicated social interactions relating to chain of command, hierarchy, job descriptions and jurisdictions only grew in spring 2023. What I considered illogical/impossible demands were being made, and I was being told I was being insubordinate if I asked why.

It generates considerable stress for me to be told I must perform silent obedience to a hierarchy, and this is what specific members of the management team were regularly demanding.

I was given conflicting instructions that it was mandatory that I collaborate with specific coworkers, while simultaneously told I was not allowed to communicate with them. I was being told to vacate someone else's “lane”, while simultaneously asked to enter that lane to write documentation that should have been written by the person holding that position. I made an attempt to hold out an olive branch to improve communications, but that was also misinterpreted and led to the horrible May meeting.

In that May meeting and in the notes from the meeting I was being told that I was "acutely unwell" by a management team that to me had clearly not read the basics of what Autism is.

This unhealthy management style of reprimand first, never bother asking questions, and demand silent obedience to hierarchy pushed me over the edge. I fell into full-on Autistic Burnout after being sent home, and am still in the process of recovering.


(Video: Dr. Service explains autistic burnout, how to stop it, how to recover, and how to prevent it.)


I experienced things in May which I had only read about, and really wish had stayed as theories and not lived experiences. It did, however, remove any remaining doubt I had that I am Autistic.

Over the summer I tried to explain my perspective of what had happened, but CRKN management suggested they wanted to continue the old conversation when I returned. None of the offensive accusations from May were rescinded.


Learning about Autism is something that the management team could have done on their own. I do not feel it is appropriate to require me to be involved in their learning the basics about Autism and other neurotypes. I have the benefit of having anti-racism and anti-colonialism as “special interests” in recent years, and have learned how those within dominant demographics always expect those with “othered” demographics to do the majority of the work towards acceptance of diversity.


I am currently at Part 2 (surveys and other forms filled out, and now waiting for the interview) of an Autism Assessment. I wish I had taken the suggestion to do an assessment seriously back in 2019, but hindsight is always 20/20.


My own learning about Autism has helped me understand the previously indecipherable communications problems I was having at CRKN. The following quote from an article titled “Your Autistic Loved one is not hurting your feelings out of malice” summarizes most interactions with at least one member of CRKN’s management team. What this person did and said made no sense to me, but I came to recognize that person didn’t understand (and didn’t spend time to learn about) my Autistic Dialect.


I think this might be why when an autistic person says or does something that offends a neurotypical (non-autistic) person that many NT people will verbally strike out right away instead of attempting to understand the intention of the autistic person because they think the intention is a foregone conclusion.


My Skills and Experience

I am very thankful for the diversity of experiences I have had in my career. I have done technology work ranging from hardware repair, building networks, security audits, back-end software development (primarily), and even to consulting on business models and software licensing. I’ve been paid to write research for government departments on copyright and patent policy.

When I started at Canadiana.org in 2011, it was for a 6 month contract starting in January to fill in for the Systems Administrator who was on paternity leave. That summer there was a posting at Canadiana for a software developer, so the systems administrator I had filled in for and I decided to take half each of the sysadmin and software developer jobs as Canadiana wanted me to stay as well.

For those first few years I primarily did systems administration and only a bit of back-end software development.

In 2014 there were some changes: I was promoted to the title of “Lead Systems Engineer”, William Wueppelmann became the CIO, and Julienne Pascoe was hired as “Lead Metadata Architect”.

While I still had systems related responsibilities, there were other systems administrators for me to delegate to as lead. William spent time doing knowledge transfer of his Library Systems knowledge to Julienne and I, and then Julienne and I worked closely together. While I don’t have formal training or a MLIS, working together with Julienne and William meant that I learned about Library Systems, Metadata Application Profiles (MAPs), and library related data models and encoding standards.

I learned how to develop scripts, tools and workflows for parsing, extending, normalizing and transforming metadata records, and other related operations. Working with Julienne I was the primary developer for Canadiana’s Ingest Automation (the custom OAIS packaging system – learning more about OAIS, METS, BagIt, etc) as well as the Metadata Bus (learning about MARC, Dublin Core, AltoXML and custom schemas such as CMR, IssueInfo and TxtMap). I was actively learning from the broader community about Linked Open Data, Bibframe, IIIF and many other relevant emerging technologies in the library and archival technology spaces.

I am very grateful for William and Jullienne for all the knowledge transfer they offered me, allowing me to participate actively in library technology.

Julienne decided not to be part of the merger with CRKN, so left her position in fall 2017. CRKN posted a position to replace Julienne in 2018.


Only in spring 2023 did I read what turns out to be a similar looking (but not identical) position posted in 2019. It hadn't occurred to me that the two positions were worded similarly. The 2019 posting was filled, but the person hired was assigned duties by their manager that more closely related to the Cataloguing Coordinator/Manager that Canadiana had in the past. This generated considerable conflict between the skills/experience I had acquired and priorities I was assigned, and the "jurisdiction" and often conflicting priorities this person was assigned.

I believe we were set up to fail by the management team. I suspect that person felt as uncomfortable with the failed communication as I did.

I want to say this here as much as I tried to repeat at work: These are two different jobs with two different skill sets which combined is far more than any single person could reasonably be expected to do. I am not and was not critical of the individual who was given one job title and assigned different work by their manager. I was trying to draw attention to a specific resourcing problem, and only met with critique of my alleged “tone of voice” (back to the lack of understanding by management about what Autism is).

The manager (not mine) who had hired this person was focused on protecting exclusive jurisdiction they felt should be within their department, and not interested in discussing or solving resourcing problems. That manager focused on new projects, regularly generating resource allocation conflicts for those of us working on pre-existing (and previously approved by committees, etc) infrastructure projects that should have been given a priority.

As one example, the Archivematica Adoption project we had started planning at Canadiana in 2017 was first agreed to by CRKN in the summer of 2018 soon after the merger, and confirmed again formally in 2019. There was possibly a six month project, but resource allocation issues primarily (but not exclusively) caused by that manager meant this project had barely started by the time I left in May 2023.


This manager was demanding I vacate the jurisdiction they felt belonged to the person they hired. With me gone there would be nobody doing the Metadata Application Profile, data model or (meta)data transformation work I had previously been doing with Julienne and had been filling in for since Julienne left. This manager had for years been blocking knowledge transfer relating to the usage of Canadiana tools and its record databases (which I had been primarily author for, and which the cataloging team wasn’t using correctly). This manager kept suggesting that even mentioning any knowledge transfer was required was somehow condescending.

Given CRKN was still using custom software, it wasn’t possible for any new staff person to learn these details from anyone other than the staff that created and managed the software stack. It isn’t remotely condescending to be aware that no individual could already have known this custom information.


This confusion about library technology and its relation to cataloging meant it was nearly impossible for me to get any of my own work done. Along with a disregard for anything communicated using an Autistic Dialect, I was constantly targeted with odd accusations that I was being rude or condescending to individuals when I was simply trying to get productive work done in a management environment that was dismissing my experience.



(Video: The Autistic dialect | Madeline Narkinsky | TEDxVCU)

 
While the title listed for me on the website was still "Lead Systems Engineer", I was also being asked to step away from Systems Administration.  It was unclear what work CRKN wanted me to be engaged in as my primary areas of exptertise were being allocated as the exclusive jurisdiction of other people in an environment that demanded obedience to the org chart, chain of command, and subjectively declared job titles.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Anthropocentric Environmentalism, Anthropogenic Climate Change, and All Our Relations.

I've been (or was) part of what was called the environmental movement from an early age, having a respect for plants and animals that I was told was kinda weird by family and friends growing up. I worry about the mental state of people's pets, and never felt comfortable with the idea of "owning" an animal (no judgment on anyone else -- this is only a personal discomfort).

I eat animals, but prefer to do it in what in my mind is respectful. The closer plants and animals look like themselves the better -- fish have just always "tasted" better to me if the head and tail are still all there.

When I moved from Sudbury to go to Carleton University, I met up with "fellow" environmentalists that connected me with the Peace and Environment Resource Center and from there to the Green Party, etc, etc.


Fast forward to the early 2000's and I started to not see myself in the Green parties, and started to not see myself in PERC. I saw interconnections between the Open (source, access, government, science, etc) movements and Climate Change and other "peace" and "environmental" policies which they did not.They would regularly tell me it was the wrong priority and to stop talking about anything outside narrow silos of thought.

I had to move my activism elsewhere.

Green Party leadership would say things such as "the Economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment" and the GPO even said it would abolish the provincial Environment ministry as all of the government is subservient to the environment and those policies should be core to every operation of government and every department.

They would say these things, but not believe it or echo it in policies: they were apparently brand slogans, nothing more.


Increasingly in the 2000's I became depressed. I didn't think "humanity" was ever going to change, as "humans" were simply too disconnected from the real physical living reality to understand how to protect their own species, let alone any other.

Logically I felt the big problems wouldn't happen in my or Rina's lifetimes: we don't have children, so I simply have to stop caring about these things at all. I'll be long dead before things get really bad. It was a very hard and depressing way for me to try to think, but that is what I was actively trying to do : to distance some of my emotions from my Godkids/etc, and what their lives might be like.


Then in 2020 I finally/properly bumped into anti-racism, from there anti-colonialism, and to learning about domestic (meaning Indigenous) nations.

My stress levels dropped considerably. I felt hope for the first time in an extremely long time.


The "problem" wasn't humanity or human nature, but specific problematic worldviews. Worldviews can be changed by reversing ongoing colonial/genocidal policies (Save the Indian, Save the Man ; Save the Indian in the Child ; protect Indigenous languages/cultures in the Constitution/Charter rather than English or French ; etc) .


The "Conservationist" movement I had believed in was based on the notion that all humans were Anthropocentric and Androcentric, which is simply false (and is in fact part of White Supremacy).


I see connecting to local Indigenous Communities (such as can be found via the Native Friendship Center movement -- Odawa NFC for me) to be critical for any actual Climate Action. These are groups connected to peoples who have had worldviews/laws/etc that help deal with Climate Change -- and these laws were put in place on this continent long before European contact. Domestic (meaning Indigenous) law itself is a form of Climate action policy, long before Climate Change became a visible problem to anyone.

Westerners aren't going to be leaders and should never stand in front of Indigenous peoples. We must show up and be willing to be students, followers and helpers. We still need to unlearn the very worldviews and mindsets which are the cause of existential problems such as Climate Change, and this will happen through interacting with and helping the community.

I don't actually believe in "Anthropogenic Climate Change" as it is not "human activity" in the generic sense which is the problem, but activities originating from a very narrow set of worldviews which have been extremely colonial/genocidal in spreading across large parts of the planet.




There is an extremely common belief that there is no way to solve this problem, or that "democracy" is too slow to deal with it. That policies to deal with Climate Change could somehow hurt "the economy" (however subjectively that term is used). Etc, etc... Over the decades I have heard so many excuses for inaction.

  • One of the "slowest" forms of democracy is participatory democracy, where all citizens with near-universal suffrage have a say in decision making.
  • This is in contrast with representative democracy where a small subset of people make all the decisions.
  • This is in contrast with a Constitutional Monarchy where all the power is actually vested in the crown through a crown created/authorized/etc Constitution. Canada's constitution has only received minor amendments since the first of 11 British North America Acts was passed in 1867 by the British Parliament -- against the wishes or even awareness of the VAST majority of the relevant stakeholders on this continent.
  • This is in contrast with a Monarchy/Dictatorship/etc where one person (with the help of their chosen aids/etc) make all the decisions. The Westminster Parliamentary System was first designed as a debating club to advise the Crown. (And the Senate? )

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is the oldest participatory democracy on the planet, with non-western scholars generally agreeing that it was likely founded in 1142 (For comparison, John II Komnenos /  Comnenus was the Eastern Roman/Byzantine emperor at the time).

The English called them Five Nations and then Six Nations when the Tuscarora joined this advanced democratic League of Nations in 1722. (which predates the European League of Nations, later called the United Nations, or the European Union, by quite a bit). Their Constitution is generally called the Great Law of Peace in English.

For Comparison, Britain only had comparable suffrage for its weaker democratic Constitutional Monarchy in 1928.

When did the Haudenosaunee confederacy start advocating for policy changes in reaction to climate change? From what I've heard from a few people who are citizens of one of the six nations, their elders started in the 1970's.

Canada, on the other hand, is one of the weaker forms of "Democracy" as a colony with a Constitutional Monarchy, and still actively lobbies internationally for PRO-Climate Change Policies (policies which are universally understood to make the issue worse).


Democracy isn't the problem. In fact, if Canada more closely resembled a democracy, it would not be engaged in so many horrible activities (on this continent and beyond). These are not activities "Canadians" have approved of, but activities they aren't even accurately informed about.

For me, the #LandBack movement and the restoration of Indigenous self-determination (as should be protected under the UN charter as well as UNDRIP) isn't only a matter of "the morally right thing to do". It is a key policy to help protect life on this planet. Global Indigenous peoples saving themselves can serve as examples to teach those that still hold harmful/shallow anthropocentric and androcentric worldviews how to survive, as westerners have totally disconnected themselves from life itself.


Some other potentially interesting links: