# 20 Oct 2014, 06:56AM: Hacker School Miscellanea:
Found in an email I sent a few years ago: "I'm freaking 30 now, so I have decided to be Mature, stop feeling bad that I don't learn stuff well on my own, and take classes that play to my predilection towards collaborative structure." As it turns out, I think "don't learn stuff well on my own" was an oversimplification; approximately no one truly learns on their own, after all; I needed a more synchronous community rather than a purely asynchronous one.
Found in an old blog draft that I will never turn into a proper post:
context manager - "
with x as y" (especially for files)
modules that are often useful -
requests, os, sys, time, datetime, codecs, unittest
git add -p
What it looks like to merge a pull request
Written? Kitten!'s code uses localStorage
Laura Lindzey blogs about whether she'd do Hacker School again; her answer is that she would not, though she loved it, because "Programming is no longer the thing I struggle most with." I smiled at the very last item on her list of things she particularly wants to learn about right now, because I'm genuinely comfortable with my skills in that area and that's one reason I can take a break from it to be at Hacker School.
My batchmate Alyssa Carter has the best About page I have seen in eons.
I got stuck on the sixth of the Matasano crypto challenges last week. I'm going to take another look at it this week now that I've cried a bit, gotten a new perspective from Alex Clemmer, and spent the weekend in Rhode Island at a friend's wedding reception. Gosh those trees are pretty right now, perfectly autumnal. I'm also eyeing Natas which is more directly the type of serverside web security game that piques my interest. All this on top of the main thing I'm doing during Hacker School this go-round, webdev play.
: Hacker School
# 17 Oct 2014, 10:13PM: The Thing You Garden:
What are you making? And what are you metamaking? That is, what are you doing to, directly or indirectly, help other people create good things?
I keep thinking about Growstuff, my friend Alex "Skud" Bayley's startup and open data platform for food gardeners (interview). Skud has taught me a lot about open source communities and pitfalls and public collaboration over the past several years, not to mention the geek feminism work she's done.
This past summer I played Skud a bit and mentored Frances. She was already a better coder than me; I helped her grow as an engineer, as a Wikimedian, and as an open source contributor.
Now Skud is asking for AUD$20,000 to massively improve Growstuff's API, and if she gets that money, she can hire Frances to do the work.
I'm so proud that I've helped till some soil and plant some seeds, to make it possible for an open source, open data project to empower even more people. But we only have four days left in the campaign and we haven't even reached AUD$6,000 yet.
You might worry that Growstuff is just yet another vaporware project. Don't. Growstuff works. Federico Mena-Quintero, one of the founders of GNOME (one of the biggest open source projects in history), wrote this month:
Watch the video (below) or read the Growstuff blog to see why it's uniquely important to support. And please donate, for the garden we share.
Skud started coding Growstuff from
scratch. I had never seen a project start from
zero-lines-of-code, and be run in an agile fashion, for
absolutely everything, and I must say:
I am very impressed!
Every single feature runs through the same process:
definition of a story, pair programming, integration.
Newbies are encouraged to participate. They pair up
with a more experienced developer, and they get
They did that even for the very basic skeleton of the
web site: in the beginning there were stories for "the
web site should display a footer with links to About and
the FAQ", and "the web site should have a login form".
I used to think that in order to have a
collaboratively-developed project, one had to start with
at least a basic skeleton, or a working prototype
— Growstuff proved me wrong. By having a
friendly, mentoring environment with a well-defined
process, you can start from zero-lines-of-code and get
excellent results quickly. The site has been fully
operational for a couple of years now, and it is a
great place to be.
is about the friendliest project I have seen.
# (0) 13 Oct 2014, 08:56AM: Lee Iacocca and Malcolm X:
I read Malcolm X's autobiography at about twelve and Lee Iacocca's autobiography at around eight. (You know how it is with childhood; you read what's around you.) This past weekend I dipped back into the X, and realized something they have in common: both of them get fired from the number two jobs at their respective organizations.
In their stories, as they tell them:
X converts to Islam in prison and from that point onwards devotes his total loyalty to the Nation of Islam. Iacocca starts working for the Ford Motor Company right after getting his degree. Both rise through the ranks till they're reporting directly to the heads of their orgs, and they live and breathe their orgs' missions.
And then something goes rotten. The top guy in each org is insecure, flawed, can't deal with having such a charismatic, effective, headline-grabbing guy as his direct subordinate. So he gives our protagonist the runaround, then fires him. And our protagonist undergoes the most severe emotional and even physical confusion of his life, reeling from the betrayal.
What next? After Ford fires him, Iacocca goes on to head bankruptcy-bound Chrysler and help turn it around. X founds new organizations, takes the hajj, changes his views. (And assassins kill him a year later.)
Of course Iacocca's and X's self-serving biases skew these narratives. But I still got something interesting out of this repetition, I think, related to what I got out of John Morearty's mentorship -- a belief that, contrary to that old quote, there can be second acts in American lives. That you might rise and fall and rise again.
And that you should be hesitant to love anything that can't love you back -- and institutions can't love you back.
# (3) 11 Oct 2014, 10:58AM: Recent Reading Responses:
Data & Society (which I persist in thinking of as "that New York City think tank that danah boyd is in" in case you want a glimpse of the social graph inside my head) has just published a few papers. I picked up "Understanding Fair Labor Practices in a Networked Age" which summarized many things well. A point that struck me, in its discussion of Uber and of relational labor:
The importance of selling oneself is a key aspect of this kind of piecemeal or contract work, particular because of the large power differential between management and workers and because of the perceived disposability of workers. In order to be considered for future jobs, workers must maintain their high ratings and receive generally positive reviews or they may be booted from the system.
In this description I recognize dynamics that play out, though less
compactly, among knowledge workers in my corner of tech.
This pressure to perform relational labor, plus the sexist expectation
that women always be "friendly" and never "abrasive" (including online), further silences women's ability to publicly organize around grievances. Those expectations additionally put us in an authenticity bind, since these circumstances demand a public persona that never speaks critically -- inherently inauthentic. Since genuine warmth, and therefore influence, largely derive from authenticity, this impairs our growth as leaders. And here's another pathway that gets blocked off: since since criticizing other people/institutions raises the status of the speaker, these expectations also remove a means for us to gain status.
Speaking of softening abrasive messages, I kept nodding as I read Jocelyn Goldfein's guide to asking for a raise if you're a knowledge worker (especially an engineer) at a company big enough to have compensation bands and levels. I especially liked how she articulated the dilemma of seeking more money -- and perhaps more power -- in a place where ambition is a dirty word (personally I do not consider ambition a dirty word; thank you Dr. Anna Fels), and the same scripts she offers for softening your manager's emotional reaction to bargaining.
I also kept nodding as I read "Rules for Radicals and Developer Marketing" by Rachel Chalmers. Of course she says a number of things that sound like really good advice and that I should take, and she made me want to go read Alinsky and spend more time with Beautiful Trouble, but she also mentions an attitude I share (mutatis mutandis, namely, I've only been working in tech since ~1998):
I've been in the industry 20 years. Companies come and go, relationships endure. The people who are in the Valley, a lot of us are lifers and the configurations of the groups that we're allied to shift over time. This is a big part of why I'm really into not lying and being generous: because I want to continue working with awesome, smart people, and I don't want to burn them just because they happen to be working for a competitor right now. In 10 years' time, who knows?
Relationships, both within the Valley and with your customer, are impossible to fake, and is really the only social capital you have left when you die.
No segue here! Feel the disruption! (Your incumbent Big Media types are all about smooth experience but with the infernokrusher approach I EXPLODE those old tropes so you can Make Your Own Meaning!)
Mark Guzdial, who thinks constantly about computer science education, mentions, in discussing legitimate peripheral participation:
Newcomers have to be able to participate in a way that's meaningful while working at the edge of the community of practice. Asking the noobs in an open-source project to write the docs or to do user testing is not a form of legitimate peripheral participation because most open source projects don’t care about either of those. The activity is not valued.
This point hit me right between the eyes. I have absolutely been that optimist cheerfully encouraging a newbie to write documentation or write up a user testing report. After reading Guzdial's legitimate critique, I wonder: maybe there are pre-qualifying steps we can take to check whether particular open source projects do genuinely value user testing and/or docs, to see whether we should suggest them to newbies.
Speaking of open source: I frequently recommend Dreaming in Code by Scott Rosenberg. It tells the story of the Chandler open source project as a case study, and uses examples from Chandler's process to explain the software engineering process to readers.
When I read Dreaming in Code several years ago, as the story of Chandler progressed, I noticed how many women popped up as engineers, designers, and managers. Rosenberg addressed my surprise late in the book:
Something very unusual had happened to the Chandler team over time. Not by design but maybe not entirely coincidentally, it had become an open source project largely managed by women. [Mitch] Kapor [a man] was still the 'benevolent dictator for life'... But with Katie Parlante and Lisa Dusseault running the engineering groups, Sheila Mooney in charge of product management, and Mimi Yin as the lead designer, Chandler had what was, in the world of software development, an impressive depth of female leadership.....
...No one at OSAF [Open Source Applications Foundation] whom I asked had ever before worked on a software team with so many women in charge, and nearly everyone felt that this rare situation might have something to do with the overwhelming civility around the office -- the relative rarity of nasty turf wars and rude insult and aggressive ego display. There was conflict, yes, but it was carefully muted. Had Kapor set a different tone for the project that removed common barriers to women advancing? Or had the talented women risen to the top and then created a congenial environment?
Such chicken-egg questions are probably unanswerable....
-Scott Rosenberg, Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest For Transcendent Software, 2007, Crown. pp. 322-323.
I have a bunch of anecdotal evidence that projects whose discussions stay civil attract and retain women more, but I'd love real statistics on that. And in the seven years since Dreaming in Code I think we haven't amassed enough data points in open source specifically to see whether women-led projects generally feel more civil, which means of course that means here's where I exhort the women reading this to found and lead projects!
(Parenthetically: Women have been noticing sexism in free and open source software for as long as FOSS has existed, and fighting it in organized groups for 15 or more years. Valerie Aurora first published "HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux" in 2002. And we need everyone's help, and you, whatever your gender, have the power to genuinely help. A man cofounded GNOME's Outreach Program for Women, for instance. And I'm grateful to everyone of every gender who gave to the Ada Initiative this year! With your help, we can -- among other things -- amass data to answer Scott Rosenberg's rhetorical questions. ;-) )
: Reading Work
# 08 Oct 2014, 08:01AM: How I made a tidepool: Implementing the Friendly Space Policy for Wikimedia Foundation technical events:
Back when I worked at the Wikimedia Foundation, I used the Ada Initiative's anti-harassment policy as a template and turned it into the Friendly Space Policy covering tech events run by WMF. I offer you this case study because I think reading about the social and logistical work involved might be inspiring and edifying, and to ask you to please donate to the Ada Initiative today.
I was working for Wikimedia Foundation for ~8 months before I broached the topic of a conference anti-harassment policy with the higher-ups - my boss & my boss's boss, both of whom liked the idea and backed me 100%. (I did not actually ask HR, although in retrospect I could have.) My bosses both knew that Not So Great things happen at conferences and they saw why I wanted this. They said they'd have my back if I got any flak.
So I borrowed the Ada Initiative's policy and modified it a little for our needs, and placed my draft on a subpage of my user page on our wiki. Then I briefly announced it to the mailing list where my open source community, MediaWiki, talks. I specifically framed this as not a big deal and something that lots of conferences were doing, and said I wanted to get it in place in time for the hackathon later that month. Approximately everyone in our dev community said "sure" or "could this be even broader?" or "this is a great idea", as you can see in that thread and in the wiki page's history and the talk page.
I usually telecommuted to WMF, but I happened to be in San Francisco in preparation for the hackathon, and was able to speak to colleagues in person. My colleague Dana Isokawa pointed out that the phrasing "Anti-harassment policy" was offputting. I agreed with her that I'd prefer something more positive, and I asked some colleagues for suggestions on renaming it. My colleague Heather Walls suggested "Friendly Space Policy". In a pre-hackathon prep meeting, I mentioned the new policy and asked whether people liked the name "Friendly Space Policy," and everyone liked it.
So I made it an official Policy; I announced it to our developer community and I put it on wikimediafoundation.org.
This might have been the end of it. But a day later, I saw a question from one community member on the more general community-wide mailing list that includes other Wikimedia contributors (editors/uploaders/etc.). That person, who had seen but not commented on the discussion on the wiki or on the developers' list, wanted to slow down adoption and proposed some red tape: a requirement that this policy be passed by a resolution of the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees (so, basically, the ultimate authority on the topic).
But approximately everyone on the community-wide list also thought the policy was fine -- both volunteers and paid WMF staffers. For instance, one colleague said:
"If a policy makes good sense, we clearly need it, and feedback about the text is mostly positive, then we should adopt it. Rejecting a good idea because of process wonkery is stupid.
Sumana is not declaring that she gets to force arbitrary rules on everyone whenever she wants. She is solving a problem for us."
My boss's boss also defended the policy, as did a member of the Board of Trustees.
"Perhaps you misread the width of this policy. Staff can and generally do set policies affecting WMF-run processes and events."
I didn't even have to respond on-list since all these other guys (yes, nearly all or all guys) did my work for me.
I was so happy to receive deep and wide support, and to help strengthen the legitimacy of this particular kind of governance decision: consensus, including volunteers, led by a particular WMF staffer. And, even though I had only proposed it for a particularly limited set of events (Wikimedia-sponsored face-to-face technical events), the idea spread to other affiliated organizations (such as Wikimedia UK) and offline events (Wikimania, our flagship conference -- thank you, Sarah Stierch, for your work on that!). And the next year, a volunteer led a session at Wikimania to discuss a potential online Friendly Space Policy:
"Explore what elements are essential for you in such a policy and what we can do collectively to adopt such a policy for Wikipedia and other Wikimedia websites."
So perhaps someday, all Wikipedia editors and other Wikimedia contributors will enjoy a safer environment, online as well as offline! I feel warm and joyous that the discussion I launched had, and is having, ripple effects. I felt like I took a gamble, and I looked back to see why it worked. A few reasons:
- The Ada Initiative's template. I cannot imagine writing something that good from scratch. Having that template to customize for our needs made this gamble possible at all.
- I started the discussion in January 2012; I had joined Wikimedia Foundation (part-time) in March 2011. So I had already built up a bunch of community cred and social capital.
- In early 2012, open source citizens saw more and more reports of hostile behavior at conferences; people saw the need for a policy.
- I added "or preferred Creative Commons license" to the big list of attributes (gender, disability, etc.), which gave the document a touch of Wikimedia-specific wit right at the start of the policy.
- I balanced decisiveness and leadership with openness to others' ideas.
- Honestly, I narrowly focused the policy to an area where my opinion carried weight and I held some legitimate authority (both earned and given), phrased my announcement nonchalantly and confidently, and ran the consensus process pretty transparently. I believe it was hard to disagree without looking like a jerk. ;-)
(If you can privately talk with decisionmakers who have have top-down authority to implement a code of conduct, then you can use another unfortunate tool: point to past incidents that feel close, because they happened to your org or to ones like it.)
By implementing our Friendly Space Policy, I created what I think of as a tidepool:
"...places where certain people can sort of rest and vent and collaborate, and ask the questions they feel afraid of asking in public, so they can gain the strength and confidence to go further out, into the invite-only spaces or the very public spaces....spaces where everybody coming in agrees to follow the same rules so it's a place where you feel safer -- these are like tidepools, places where certain kinds of people and certain kinds of behavior can be nurtured and grown so that it’s ready to go out into the wider ocean."
With the help of the Ada Initiative's policy adoption resources, you can make a place like that too -- and if you feel that you don't have top-down authority, perhaps that no one in your community does, then take heart from my story. If you have a few allies, you don't have to change the ocean. You can make a tidepool, and that's a start.
# 07 Oct 2014, 02:00PM: Some Tips On Domain Names And Hosting:
Here are some things I recently learned or re-learned about setting up your own website.
There are a ton of domain name registrars out there and a lot of them are subsidiaries of Tucows. At least one acquaintance of mine uses NameCheap and finds it low-fuss with a reasonable web UI. I decided to try Hover since they have, in the past, sponsored the In Beta podcast. You will often expect to pay about USD$10 per year, though sometimes you get deals (".club" was $5 through Hover when I last checked).
As long as I was futzing with domains, I decided to transfer over an old domain name to Hover. In order to do that, I had to obtain the auth code, a.k.a. EPP (Extensible Provisioning Protocol) code from my old registrar (the "losing" registrar). Sometimes this should be visible in the web UI when you log into the losing registrar's site. Sometimes you'll have to phone in. And then you might get a shock, because registrars evidently think it's totally okay and normal to ask you for your account password in order to authenticate you, and to send the EPP code over plaintext email. Sadface. But at least some vendors, including Hover, offer two-factor auth! And the two-factor auth applications can live on my laptop or some other device, not necessarily my phone (which is good because I haven't yet checked whether there's a 2FA app for MeeGo but I doubt it).
Once you transfer a domain, it takes maybe 24 hours for the change to propagate; after that, the losing registrar has no residual effect on the domain or on DNS (Domain Name System) resolution.
I found Maciej Cegłowski's "The Five Stages of Hosting" helpful. Right now I'm interested in hosting a reasonably simple joke site, and in learning a bit about sysadmin and deployment, so I want to be able to SSH into a standard-ish Linux machine and set up Drupal or WordPress or similar, and I don't expect my site to need to scale. So I will go with a VPS (Virtual Private Server) provider, under the "dorm room" model in Cegłowski's framing. Stan, my Hacker School colleague who let me interview him to learn this stuff, is most familiar with Linode and Digital Ocean.
I am going to act as my own sysadmin for this site, so I'm going for "unmanaged" hosting. Most VPSes offer you "unmanaged" hosting by default, in which you can only ask the provider, e.g. Linode, for help if the problem is their fault (e.g., "hey, I don't seem to have an IP address anymore!"). "Managed" means you have access to a sysadmin but you pay, say, $100 per month (sometimes less). This person performs tasks such as incident response, fixes if the site goes down at 1am, and help switching you to a new database. The point is that it's cheaper than hiring a full-time sysadmin.
Unmanaged VPS services seem to run about USD$5-20 per month, if they're flat rates, as Digital Ocean provides. (Evidently Digital Ocean caused a bit of a price war when they entered the market, so prices are lower now.) If your VPS operates on a utility model, where you pay for the resources your site consumes, then you have to watch out for spikes that run up your bill. Some services will also offer a backup service, either for free or as a paid add-on.
Linode has a good reputation for very fast customer support; they have often responded to support tickets in under five minutes. Digital Ocean also seems pretty quick. And it's helpful to have a big community of other users who can help you figure stuff out. Linode and DigitalOcean have active IRC channels and web fora, and the Linode Library and Digital Ocean's text resources cover a lot. Amazon EC2 has a huge community of existing users.
Hosting providers also compete on security, or at least they should. Several providers offer two-factor auth. One good signal: having a bounty program, where the company welcomes and pays for vulnerability reports (example: GetClouder's beta program). After watching Matthew Garrett's "Freedom, Security, and the Cloud" talk at Open Source Bridge 2014, I understand that a published security policy also sends a strong positive signal. And I hear that Linode is on its way back up after a few black eyes in this area, and has shored up its security. (Also, some people are beginning to use Docker on production sites, partly for convenient environment management, and partly for additional security. But the Docker developers don't really promise you more security, I gather. And I don't quite get what Docker is, yet, and may look into it. It's not really a virtual machine; it's more like a super-intense and very guarded virtualenv; I'm told it's like a chroot jail but I won't understand that till next week or so.)
For various reasons, security being one of them, when you get an unmanaged VPS, you get a "bare bones" Linux box with, say,
vi on it, but not much else. You decide what software you want on that server. And on most VPSes, there's some set of (perhaps community-written) templates, scripts, or recipes for common types of setups you might want, e.g., a simple WordPress blog. These sound a bit like Chef or Puppet to me, but usually aren't. You can activate one of those scripts to run only on the initial boot of the box; you can also write your own, and use includes to nest/point to other scripts. (Since I'm trying to learn a bit of sysadmin, I'll look at those templates, but install the software more manually.) I am not quite clear yet on whether I choose those via the web UI or something more esoteric; maybe it varies per provider.
For some actions you'll need to use the web UI. For instance, once I own my domain name and I have a VPS account and a server set up, I'll need to tell my registrar that my domain's nameservers should point to the hosting provider's nameservers, e.g., ns1.linode.com. And then I'll need to log into the VPS's website and tell them what the IP address of my server is -- evidently there are "zones" and whatnot, but I haven't gotten that far. Stan confessed that he likes Linode's and Digital Ocean's web UIs a lot better than Amazon EC2's.
Speaking of Amazon: I today finally straightened out my understanding of the Amazon hosting services taxonomy!
- Amazon Web Services (AWS): an umbrella term for everything.
- S3 (Simple Storage Service): just for serving static files.
- EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud): the thing most people are talking about when they mention AWS. It's "elastic" in that you can use software to tell Amazon to bring some more resources online to serve your needs, and you don't need to physically haul plastic and silicon around, but you do need to explicitly manage that elasticity as needs change, as is the case for about all VPSes.
And now I understand more about "elasticity". Heroku et alia (the "Monasteries" as Cegłowski calls them) provide more insta-elasticity, as the provider senses your growing or waning needs and accords you commensurate resources. Many monasteries offer a free tier, but costs can grow rapidly (cost evidently played a part in the RapGenius/Heroku tiff).
(If you just want to run a reasonably simple WordPress/Drupal/similar web app on your site and don't need or want to SSH in, there exist hosts like Dreamhost; one Dreamhost plan offers you FTP plus a web UI. For another variation, you could do what my friend Skud does, and use Dreamhost VPS to get SSH and, say,
cron, but not root or
sudo. That's a decent compromise for Skud; they can use it for their personal stuff (mostly WordPress and MediaWiki), set cronjobs for backups, write scripts, and generally poke around in the file system, but they can't install stuff or configure major services, since one must set up new user accounts, mailing lists, or web hosts via a web UI config panel.)
So, next step: choosing a provider, spinning up a server, loading it up, and pointing my new domain name at it!
Thanks to Stan Schwertly, a fellow Hacker Schooler, for talking me through a bunch of the hosting stuff! All errors and oversimplifications are my own.
: Hacker School
# 04 Oct 2014, 11:23PM: Kronda Adair and Self-Determination:
Ada Initiative's interview with Kronda Adair reminded me:
I meet lots of people at conferences, and then have a hard time recollecting nearly all their names and faces, even if we've had long, interesting conversations. So, at a recent Open Source Bridge, I stuck my hand out and said "nice to meet you," and Kronda Adair said something like, "Oh we met last year! We had a long talk and you told me to quit my job."
"Oh it's okay, they fired me. But it's totally fine, you were right."
(Or something similar.) Adair went on to start her own business, speak and write about why you should "Stop Crying in the Bathroom and Start Your Own Business", and say,
"There's not a lot of narrative in the tech industry about being able to directly use your skills to benefit people without the overhead of trying to get biased hiring managers to give you a job, or dealing with sexism, racism, homophobia or transphobia on a daily basis. I wanted to model that and show people that it's possible because it's the way that I see myself being able to stay in the industry long term without sacrificing my emotional health."
In order to exercise the four freedoms that F/LOSS guarantees us, we also need economic freedom and nurturing environments. Adair and I have both benefited from the Ada Initiative's work in those areas, and so I'll remind you that you can help: donate now. Thanks.
# 30 Sep 2014, 08:32AM: If I Did It:
As we passed a closed-up storefront, Leonard informed me of the type of restaurant it's turning into, and I allowed as to how that was fine, but I'd rather one of the transforming storefronts in our neighborhood turned into a feminist makerspace.
Leonard pointed out that what I really want is an Ethiopian restaurant. I do. MenuPages knows of no Ethiopian or Eritrean restaurants in Astoria.
But I immediately hit a snag with my fantasy: an Ethiopian restaurant in my neighborhood would potentially propel further gentrification. "How could I make it so that the Ethiopian restaurant is good and all, but doesn't attract even more yuppies like us to live here? How can I make it less appealing to people like us, but in a way that doesn't bother me?"
"How about an Only Sumanas sign?" Leonard suggested.
"But I don't want something de jure, just offputting de facto," I said.
"It's just a sign! It's decorative! It's historical."
"And it's heritage? Leonard are you doing a Confederate flag argument?"
"I kind of went in that direction, yeah."
We discussed some more tactics that would not work, and then Leonard gently suggested that I just accept that sometimes other people like the same things we like.
"But this is just a hypothetical fantasy restaurant! Can't I try to imagine a way that it wouldn't attract even more ..."
"Sumana, you're redlining the imaginary restaurant."
(And it was at this point that I asked for permission to blog.)
# 28 Sep 2014, 09:52PM: Travel Tips:
A few things I do.
- Never put anything in a seat-back pocket unless you're willing to walk away from it. For me, this means magazines, snacks, and miscellaneous rubbish go in the seat-back pocket on airplanes, buses, and trains, but books, electronics, and durable water bottles don't.
- To fall asleep on a flight: red wine, pasta, melatonin, sleep deprivation for the previous day, eye mask, hoodie with the hood up, and a sleep playlist that I only ever listen to while going to sleep.
- Plug and chug: Carrying a two-foot CAT-5 (Ethernet) cable in my electronics zip-top bag comes in handy more often than it would if all Wi-Fi were reliable.
# 28 Sep 2014, 12:54AM: Pretentious And/Or Portentous:
Ramble ramble ramble, in rather an autumnal tradition.
Leonard and I bought a new wall clock Saturday. The thing about living in a super walkable but not absolutely gentrified neighborhood (that is to say, our corner of Astoria) is that we don't have a Williams-Sonoma or something like that within walking distance, so we satisficed pretty quick. For $2.18 (including tax) we got a thing that is nearly certainly made under terrible labour conditions, which now sits above me and sweeps past the seconds.
Later we watched the "In the Cards" episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Leonard's favourite) and a couple episodes of the 1990s animated Superman TV series. It's so much less interesting than the contemporaneous Batman, which I loved and can still enjoy! I've always preferred Batman to Superman, in that I find stories about extraordinary humans more interesting than stories about gods. More suspense, better balance of power, and more wit. I think Batman:Superman::Yudhisthira or Arjuna:Rama, in that no one in the Mahabharata is as perfect, as much of an idol as is Rama in the Ramayana. But a few years ago I came across some litcrit suggesting that the big interesting question the Ramayana addresses is: how do you reconcile conflicting obligations? And at its best, Superman does that too, e.g., Red Son which shows the urge to utopia leading to tyranny.
I want to describe my internal state, which is a generally optimistic one, but find the words don't come easily. I don't usually think in images but I consistently come back to this imaginary scene, of a grimy encrusted clump breaking up to allow for an unobstructed flow. I've taken to attending a meditation class regularly, and at one session I confessed that I find meditation scary -- what if I let myself change and I do? What if some bit of me that constituted an important part of my identity slips away, because I let it go, or because I looked at it too hard?
And one of the other fellas in the class, who practices meditation to deal with his anger, responded (and I'm paraphrasing): but isn't that the goal of meditation, traditionally? to let go of the illusion of self, to get rid of the ostensible divisions distinguishing us from the other? I took his point, on an intellectual level at least, and then he said, "The less you carry, the further you can walk."
In 2012 my colleague said, offhand, "You're an everything person, you just don't know it yet." Which is to say that it's okay to say yes and try something new, that I don't have to run a TSA-style inspection on every new experience or feeling or idea that wants to come inside me. Then, this year, Christie Koehler's advice (in podcast form as well!) about leaving old commitments so as to make room for new ones spoke to me; I left some mailing lists, I changed my job, I left the Geek Feminism bloggers, I limited how much time I'd put into the Outreach Program for Women career advising, and so on. And then a couple of months ago I heard, "The less you carry, the further you can walk," just a little bit before I really did experience that, again, walking (for instance) thirteen hours in a single day, away from the internet, "taking away the usual stimuli so I can hear the susurrations of the self beneath".
And I decided to leave my job, the best job I've ever had, working on the infrastructure of one of the world's most important intellectual resources. My last day there is the 30th and when I go to Wikipedia I can't believe that in just a few days I won't be able to say "we" the way I do right now.
The Hacker School sabbatical last year, the meditation, the practice at letting go of projects and expectations, the Coast-to-Coast walk, all of it contributed to this ongoing disintegration of the anxious mental and emotional hoarding I've been doing since I was a little kid. I am dropping a great deal, really, carrying less and less, and I don't have an Ordnance Survey map to highlight tomorrow's route on each night at dinner. I have skimmed some guidebooks but I think there are things they aren't telling me, elisions and oversights I want to rectify for myself.
How do you reconcile conflicting obligations? To yourself, to the great work, to your household, to those who admire your work and ask your advice? How do you use your power, and your time?
The old clock just had an hours hand and a minutes hand. This new clock we bought has a red seconds hand that sweeps smoothly past the seconds. I counted along with it, one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand, five-one-thousand, because that red needle seemed to be pivoting just a bit fast. But everything seems to be in order. I am in my mid-thirties now. I have perhaps 40+ years to go. At the moment that I write these words I feel closer than I have for many years to a rapprochement with the fact of mortality; I'll do my bit and then pass on, the choir will take over, and that's okay. Practically speaking, it'll have to be, as none of us get much of a choice.
# 27 Sep 2014, 07:19PM: Five Things Make A Post:
(The LiveJournal/Dreamwidth user community use this title & format a lot; am borrowing from them.)
- Freddie Mercury's video for "The Great Pretender" doesn't just use clips from previous Queen videos; it visually quotes them by recreating/reusing the sets and costumes and showing Mercury singing "The Great Pretender" lyrics in those contexts. I spent a few hours this morning looking up, for instance, thoughts on Mercury's desi origins and legacy. Like a lot of Indian-American folks, I grew up idly hearing Queen songs in the background of my life, not knowing his parents were Gujarati. I think back to my life as a disaffected teen, when I was listening to Weird Al Yankovic and the Capitol Steps, unaware of any Indian pop culture figures outside of India, and using HoTMaiL, founded by an Indian, Sabeer Bhatia -- what a different life it might have been if I'd noticed Mercury as a diaspora South Asian role model. (Although he was dead by then.)
- Dozens of people have written to the Wikimedia developers' mailing list to say they're sad I'm leaving Wikimedia Foundation. It is nice to know I will be missed.
Leonard and I have richly enjoyed a few episodes of Just One More Thing: A Podcast About Columbo. The "Etude in Black" episode features Mallory Ortberg because of her fantastic essay on Columbo. I've also started enjoying Kumail Nanjiani's The X-Files Files but haven't recently watched nearly as much of the source material and am thus waiting before really diving in. We really live in an amazing era, historically speaking; with a bit of money, I can easily access Columbo, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Queen, Prime Suspect, and so much other rewarding entertainment!
Leonard and I have also gotten a bit into doing crossword puzzles from the American Values Club. Witty and recommended.
An artist has made a Twitter bot that is making a new Anatomy of Melancholy by retweeting tweets that include the word "melancholy".
# 26 Sep 2014, 07:17PM: The Continuing Adventures (Transitioning From Intern To Volunteer):
By now dozens of women have stepped into open source via Outreach Program for Women, a paid internship program administered by the GNOME Foundation. I recently asked several of them whether they had been able to transition from intern to volunteer.*
Are you succeeding at continuing to volunteer in your
open source project? Or are you running into trouble? I'd love to know
how people are doing and whether y'all need help.
When you were an OPW intern, you had a mentor and you had committed to a specific project for three months. Volunteering is freer -- you can change your focus every week if you want -- but the training wheels are gone and you have to steer yourself.
(I bet Google Summer of Code alumni have similar experiences.)
I got several answers, and in them I saw some common problems to which I suggest solutions.
- Problem: seems as though there are no more specific tasks to do within your project. Solutions: ask your old mentor what they might like you to do next. If they don't respond within 3 days, repeat your question to the mailing list for your open source project. Or switch to another open source project, maybe one your friends are working on!
- Problem: finding the time. Solutions: set aside a weekly appointment, just as you might with a therapist or an exercise class. Pair up with someone else from the OPW alum list and set yourself a task to complete during a one-hour online sprint! Or if you know your time is being eaten up by your new job, set yourself a reminder for 3 months from now to check whether you have more free time in December.
- Problem: loneliness. Solutions: talk more in the #opw chat channel on GNOME's IRC (irc.gnome.org). Use http://www.pairprogramwith.me/ and http://lanyrd.com/ and https://lwn.net/Calendar/ to find get-togethers in your area, or launch one using http://hackdaymanifesto.com/ and http://meetup.com/.
Problem: motivation. Solutions: consider the effects you're having in the world. Or focus on the bits of work you enjoy for their own sake, whatever those are. Or teach others the things you know, and see the light spark in their eyes.
These are tips for the graduating interns themselves; it would be good for someone, maybe me, to also write a list of tips for the organizers and mentors to nurture continued participation.
* OPW also provides a list of paid opportunities for alumni.
# 25 Sep 2014, 11:09AM: On Status:
From Susan McCarthy, specifically from her great book Becoming a Tiger: How Baby Animals Learn to Live in the Wild.
Animals learn about individuals through play. If little coyotes cheat, the other pups won't play with them. On the other hand, the dingo Hercules was raised by humans, an only child, and didn't get to play with other puppies. Dingo puppies learn through play fighting with other puppies when to back down. Hercules had a full repertoire of aggressive behaviors but no submissive behaviors. When he was three months old, researchers released Hercules into the wild, where he could play with a litter of five wild dingoes of the same age. The wild pups were baffled by Hercules and his apparent belief that he was invincible. No matter how badly he was losing, he persisted in aggression. "After two days, Hercules displayed no submissive behaviour (essentially because he did not know how to), and became the leader of the group; the wild pups followed his movements and usually submitted passively whenever they made direct contact." - p.54
Becoming a Tiger is charming and warm and informative, and I recommend it.
Also, if you liked that particular quote, you may also be interested in On the Psychology of Military Incompetence by Norman Dixon (my thoughts), Elliot Aronson's The Social Animal, China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh, and How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston.
# 24 Sep 2014, 06:59PM: Miscellaneous Links, Nothing To See Here:
Things that have crossed my screen recently and I find worth sharing. Hum de dum.
Mel Chua on a single microcosm of the experience of being deaf. Sarah Sharp, very sensibly, suggesting we speed up code review by breaking it up into a few logical phases.
Oh what's this? An introduction, by Leonard and me, in Strange Horizons, to a reprint of Kim Stanley Robinson's head-rockin' short story "The Lucky Strike"? WHY YES IT IS. We're grateful to Strange Horizons for asking us to choose a story to reprint. We chose "The Lucky Strike" for a few reasons. It's gripping and memorable, sure. And Robinson finds a new take on the alt-history WWII story. But "The Lucky Strike" is also one of the best stories we've ever read about complicity, and that's because of how it gets you into the protagonist's head, and what it does to you once you're there. I hope you'll check it out (and, if you can, also find and read the author's associated essay, "A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions").
Well, certainly there won't be anything else my household had a particular hand in. Just more links, a potpourri, you know.
On depression: On understanding high-functioning depression. "Let's talk." How terrible it feels to feel useless. Another person's experience. You can get a mental health speaker at your event, such as Ed Finkler. (Edited 25 September to add: an explanation of the Beck Depression Inventory and what kinds of questions you say "yes" or "no" to if you are or are not depressed.)
Mallory Ortberg's "two monks inventing things" series makes me laugh very hard but also makes me saw "awww" at how the monks teach each other (wrong) things. This Grantland article about a swimmer celebrates human awesomeness in a pretty infernokrusher way, and in case you're into that level of exuberance, you might also run into it in music criticism by or linked to by Matthew Perpetua, and in this old John Darnielle blog post.
I'm thinking a lot about change-making, about how it's worked at Wikimedia in the past and what we need to do in the future, and about leadership and the people who are going in the direction opposite me (that is, I'm going from management to individual contribution, and others are moving the other way). I'm thinking about the responsibility mentors have to interns, about which learning styles the tech industry and open source specifically accommodate more than others, and how that fits in to the learning environments we make, and which of those biases are essential versus inessential weirdnesses.
(Will anyone notice that a few of those are links to my own work? Very few. I move on, furtively, an attention cat burglar.)
In the world of sexism: "So this is the face of harassment. The faces of the men you know, and the faces of the men you respect. How do we create space to talk about that?" What happens when the content at a conference is great but the conduct pushes you away. And the uneven distribution of fun.
And here is a punch-the-air-good Wonder Woman fanvid, and I'm not even a WW fan, or wasn't before I saw this.
# (1) 17 Sep 2014, 11:02AM: The Ada Initiative, Fanvids I Love, and How I Restarted Ken Liu's Career:
It might be good for the world, though temporarily stressful for one's marriage, to edit an anthology together, as Leonard and I discovered when we created and published our speculative fiction anthology Thoughtcrime Experiments together in 2009.* Despite the risks, maybe you should become an editor. "Reader" and "writer" and "editor" are tags, not categories. If you love a subject, and you have some money and some time, you can haul under-appreciated work into wider discourse, curate it, and help it sing.
You can do this with lots of subjects,** of course, but doesn't it especially suit science fiction and fantasy? We love thought experiments. We love imagining how things could be different, with different constraints. I love enlarging the scope of the possible, and both the content and the production of Thoughtcrime Experiments did that. Neither of us had professionally edited science fiction before, we released it under a Creative Commons license,*** and we wrote a "How to Do This and Why" appendix encouraging more people to follow in our footsteps.
Every story needs an editor to champion it. One thing we conclude from this experiment is that there aren't enough editors. We were able to temporarily become editors and scoop a lot of great stories out of the slush pile....
It's well known that there's an oversupply of stories relative to readers. That's why rates are so low. Our experiment shows that there's an oversupply of stories relative to editors. By picking up this anthology you've done what you can to change the balance of readers to stories. I wrote this appendix to show that you've also got the power to change the balance of editors to stories.
Another way to enlarge the scope of the possible is to seek out, publish, and publicize the work of diverse authors.***** But if you don't explicitly say you're looking for diverse content and diverse authors, and make the effort to seek them out, you will fall into the defaults. I ran into this; I did not try hard enough to solicit demographically diverse submissions, and as a result, got far more submissions from whites and men than from nonwhites and nonmen. However our final table of contents was gender-balanced, and at least two of the nine authors were people of color.
And if you do not explicitly mark characters as being in marginalized demographics, the reader will read them as the unmarked state. Here I think we did a bit better. And our selections caused at least one conversation about colonialism, and really what more can you ask?
(To the right: E. J. Fischer's photo of me with Mary Anne Mohanraj at WisCon in 2009.) It turns out that Thoughtcrime Experiments made a lot more things possible. For example, we published "Jump Space" by Mary Anne Mohanraj, a story that stars a South Asian diaspora woman. I remember sitting in my brown overstuffed chair in my apartment, reading Mohanraj's submission, completely immersed in the story. As I emerged at the end, I had two simultaneous thoughts and feelings:
Mohanraj, encouraged by the response to "Jump Space", wrote a book in that universe, and may write more. The summary starts: "On a South Asian-settled university planet" and already my heart is expanding.
- This is the first time in a whole life of reading scifi that the protagonist has looked like me. This feels like a first breath after a lifetime in vacuum.
- Why is this the first time?
And then there's Ken Liu.
It turns out Thoughtcrime Experiments restarted Ken Liu's career. Yes, Ken Liu, the prolific author and translator whose "The Paper Menagerie" was the first piece of fiction to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award, and who's been doing incredible work bridging the Anglophone and Chinese-speaking scifi worlds. You have us to thank for him. As he told Strange Horizons last year:
I wrote this one story that I really loved, but no one would buy it. Instead of writing more stories and subbing them, as those wiser than I was would have told me, I obsessively revised it and sent it back out, over and over, until I eventually gave up, concluding that I was never going to be published again.
And then, in 2009, Sumana Harihareswara and Leonard Richardson bought that story, "Single-Bit Error," for their anthology, Thoughtcrime Experiments (http://thoughtcrime.crummy.com/2009/). The premise of the anthology was, in the editors' words, "to find mind-breakingly good science fiction/fantasy stories that other editors had rejected, and release them into the commons for readers to enjoy."
I can't tell you how much that sale meant to me. The fact that someone liked that story after years of rejections made me realize that I just had to find the one editor, the one reader who got my story, and it was enough. Instead of trying to divine what some mythical ur-editor or "the market" wanted, I felt free, after that experience, to just try to tell stories that I wanted to see told and not worry so much about selling or not selling. I got back into writing -- and amazingly, my stories began to sell.
There is no ur-editor. It's us.
And there is no ur-geek, no ur-fan. No one gets to tell you you're not a fan, or to stop writing fanwork because it's not to their taste, or that you need to disregard that a work is insulting you when you judge its merits.*****
The Ada Initiative's work in creating and publicizing codes of conduct for conventions, in creating and running Ally Skills and Impostor Syndrome workshops, and in generally fighting -isms in open culture, helps more people participate in speculative fiction. TAI's work is even more openly licensed than Thoughtcrime Experiments was, so you can easily translate it, record it, and reuse it to make our world more like the world we want. For everyone. Please donate now, joining me, N.K. Jemisin, Mary Robinette Kowal, Annalee Flower Horne, Leonard Richardson, and many more. You can help us change the constraints -- help us edit the world.
I'm gonna close out with one of my favorite fanvids, an ode to fandom. This is a different kind of love song / dedicated to everyone.
* Some couples can basically collaborate on anything together. Leonard and I, it turns out, can get grumpy with each other when our tastes conflict. Just last night he pointed out that the multi-square-feet poster I presented at PyCon (mentorship lessons I learned from Hacker School) barely fits on the wall in our flat, anywhere, and will be the largest single item of decor we have. My "it would fit on the ceiling" well-actually gained me no ground. I pointed out that it would easily fit over the head of our bed, and mentioned that after all, some couples do put religious iconography there. I backpedaled off this in the face of his utter unconvincedness, and suggested that we *try* it above the TV. It now watches over us, slightly overwhelming. He might be right.
** Maybe you heard about The Aims Vid Album, encouraging and gathering fanvids to the tune of Vienna Teng's Aims? Which is FANTASTIC AND AMAZING and omg have you seen raven's "Landsailor" vid?? I have all the feels about that vid.
*** Although not as free a license as we sort of wished. In retrospect I wish we'd gone for an opendefinition.org license so we didn't have niggling questions about whether our sales counted as commerce, etc.
**** Strange Horizons is seeking out submissions from new reviewers, and a Media Reviews Editor. Why not you?
***** I particularly like Patrick Nielsen Hayden's formulation:
I think it's fine to ignore and not read something because the author has called for harm to you or to people you care about. Art and politics can't ever be completely separated. As a general rule of thumb, when we think our approach to something is politics-free, that generally means the politics are so normative as to be invisible.
# 17 Sep 2014, 09:14AM: On Troubleshooting:
Nothing is built on stone; All is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone.
-- Jorge Luis Borges
Goddammit why won't this work
OK, fine, screw the
venv, I'll do this in my main environment
I guess I have to just do this as a global variable
chmod 777? FINE
-- a plaintive chorus of programmers
We don't need a Sherlock Holmes; we need our infrastructure to not be a precarious wobbling Jenga tower.
# 15 Sep 2014, 09:44PM: Podcasts - Including Me:
I've been listening to podcasts recently. The ones that come to mind:
- I love programming/sysadmin case studies, I love women's perspectives, and I'm swinging back into listening to podcasts. Christie Koehler's and Kevin Purdy's discussions and interviews on In Beta entertain and edify me. I especially liked the spring episode in which Koehler described how her WordPress site got taken down by a big burst of traffic, and what specific steps she took to bring it back up, and what lessons she's learned for the future. I learned about how WordPress works and I now finally understand what "swap" is, which makes me really happy.
Thus I asked for recommendations for more podcasts in which women narrate these kinds of technical case studies from their own experiences. Go check that Ask MetaFilter thread for more suggestions by me and others.
- As a child, I enjoyed The X-Files, A Prairie Home Companion, and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, so you'd think I would like Welcome to Night Vale. I've tried a few episodes and it doesn't compel me. I'm sorry! I do like "A Story About You" as everyone does.
I have a note to myself here saying "Scully & Mulder" but I can no longer recall why.
- 99% Invisible has taken over my cohort the way Radiolab did five years ago. It is in fact very good. I particularly enjoyed the one-hour "The Sound of Sports" episode. 99pi also introduced me to:
- Hrishikesh Hirway's Song Exploder, which reminds me of the late, great Schickele Mix. "A podcast where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made." Like "The Sound of Sports," Song Exploder goes well with my current reading, Greg Milner's Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music.
- The Untitled Kondabolu Brothers Podcast. I listened to the most recent episode twice, it's so funny. Ashok and Hari Kondabolu and their occasional guests have genuinely funny and insightful conversations about growing up nonwhite in the US, culture, family, comedy, complicity, fame, and whatnot. I deeply recommend this to any other members of the South Asian diaspora who grew up in the US.
- The conversation I had with Moss and Julia before and after watching the season premiere of Doctor Who in August. 32 minutes, and the most substantive fanwork I have contributed to since the 638-word Babysitters Club fanfic I wrote last year. Incidentally, here's the Who-related rap I mention in the podcast; upon re-watch, Brett Domino does not resemble Edward Snowden quite as much as I'd thought.
# 15 Sep 2014, 08:57AM: The next Tor, role models, and criticism: the future I want:
I'm writing these words while I ride the New York City subway. I love
the subway because my fellow riders look like the world. I'm rarely the
only woman and I'm never the only nonwhite person in the car. We're
young and old, all genders, all nationalities, temporarily able and not
(although our stations fail at accessibility a lot), and speaking dozens
We'll know we've won when open source looks like this.
It doesn't yet. But we need it to. It is because I know how much
potential technology has to shape our world that I know it is essential
that the people who shape that technology represent that world,
represent the best that world has to offer. What will it look like when
open source reflects diversity of talent?
New tools we make -- the next git, the next WordPress, the next Tor --
will make inclusive assumptions from the start. They'll allow users to
change their names and identify outside the gender binary. They'll help
users block harassers from contacting them. Their FAQs will use
When a junior programmer looks around for a way to make her mark, she'll
see people who look like her doing lots of cool stuff in open source --
starting projects, leading them, arguing over architectural decisions,
joking about absurdly bad ideas, showing off their accomplishments at
conferences, teaching and learning, and generally having a good time.
She'll dip her toe into online discussions, and the hackers already in
the group will use her preferred pronoun, correctly, or ignore her
gender if it isn't relevant to the discussion. She will see so easily
how this community could include her that she will only notice in
retrospect the moment she fell in.
As a gag, people who have been doing open stuff for decades will send
their less senior friends links to the Timeline
of Incidents, anticipating their "they did WHAT?!" replies. A new
generation of activists will look back at the Ada Initiative and keenly
observe what we missed, what we got wrong, where we were too complicit
in the intersecting oppressions endemic to our society, too much of our
I want this future so much. I may not ever get to see it. But I can see
us getting closer. I'm on the board of directors of the Ada Initiative,
and I've been an advisor since 2011. In that time I've seen the Ada
Initiative's unique work changing the conversation, building the
infrastructure of inclusion, and moving us closer to -- well, to a world
that doesn't need us any more.
Please help: donate now.
# (9) 12 Sep 2014, 11:54AM: I'm Leaving My Job At The Wikimedia Foundation:
(Music for this entry: "You Can't Be Too Careful" by Moxy Früvous; "Level Up" by Vienna Teng; "Do It Anyway" by Ben Folds Five; "Teenagers, Kick Our Butts" by Dar Williams.)
I've regretfully decided to leave the Wikimedia Foundation, and my last day will be September 30th.
I've worked at WMF since February 2011, so I've seen the Foundation grow from 70 to 214 people. It's the best job I've ever had and I've grown a lot. And my team and my bosses are tremendously supportive. In April I summarized my work achievements from the past four years and I remain proud of them. Most recently, I'm proud of co-mentoring Frances Hocutt, who's about to turn her energies to Growstuff API development (with help from your donations).
But I want to redefine myself and grow in new directions, as a maker and activist. Wikimedia has 13 years of legacy code and thousands of vocal stakeholders, and WMF has one office, in San Francisco. I'm a junior-level developer (I'm a much better software engineer than I am a coder) but don't want to move to San Francisco, where we (understandably) prefer to have junior devs onsite. And I'd like to try out what it's like to get better at making software, to have more of a blank slate and perhaps less of a public spotlight, to work face-to-face with a team here in New York City, and to exclude destructive communication from my life (yes, there's some amount of burnout on toxic people and entitlement). One of the things I admire about Wikimedia's best institutions is our willingness to reflect and reinvent when things are not working. I need to emulate that.
I remain on the board of directors of the Ada Initiative, which aims to close the gender gap in Wikimedia and other open culture/source projects. (Please donate.) And I don't see any way I could stop being a Wikimedian and pursuing the mission. You'll see me as User:Sumanah out on the wikis.
After I wrap things up at Wikimedia Foundation, I'll be privileged to spend six weeks at Hacker School, concentrating on learning how to crank out websites and fiddling with web security, and then in late November I'll be meeting other South Asian geek feminist women at AdaCamp Bangalore. Aside from that I'm open to new opportunities, especially in empowering marginalized groups via open technology.
"Level Up" by Vienna Teng. ("If you are afraid, come out.") And heck, why not, a Kira Nerys fanvid I love, set to "Shake It Out" by Florence + The Machine. ("So tonight I'm gonna cut out and then restart.")
# 11 Sep 2014, 03:25PM: Excerpt From Another Conversation:
I moved around way too much as a kid and I often couldn't figure out What Was Going On, and was oblivious, and missed opportunities. Thus discoverability is a Big Deal to me. And you don't get discoverability from free-form groups with a bunch of implicit knowledge accidentally hoarded by whoever got there first, if they eschew "bureaucracy" and "titles" and "documentation".
# 11 Sep 2014, 09:13AM: Back Home:
A few days ago I came back from walking across northern England again. I went with my friends Julia and Moss, who kept a detailed blog.
I'm glad I took such a long and unusual summer vacation. I learned the same lessons as last time, again. I'm trying to track the various conditions of disorientation I'm experiencing now that I'm back: the changes I tried out and how I now react to normalcy. I have fascinatingly distinct tan lines (shirtsleeves, rings, wristwatch, bridge of eyeglasses) which will fade, but I don't want my perspective shift to fade as easily.
Hiking for about 15 days and using walking poles a lot builds upper body strength. "Hey, these bags are lighter than when I packed them originally, and this window is easier to open."
I left my laptop at home and used a mobile phone. "Laptops are huge and their screens are like giant fields of stuff. It takes whole seconds for my eyes to traverse them."
I generally walked 7-14 miles each day of hiking, and thus ate massive meals as fuel. Then I stopped. "This lunch special is huge; how can anyone eat all of this?"
UK currency bills come in different sizes and colours. "Wait, how much money do I have?"
In at least the north of England, hikers tend to avoid bringing up their own day jobs or asking about yours. "Oh right, I'm back in NYC where it's the second question someone asks upon meeting me."
I travelled with about a week's worth of clothing. "I own a tremendous number of clothes."
An incomplete list.
# 17 Aug 2014, 02:21PM: One Way Confidence Will Look:
The personal narrative in this NYT piece reminded me that we often socialize men to think that the absence of a NO implies a YES*, and that we often socialize women to think that the absence of a YES implies a NO.
We install different defaults. One entitled, the other deferential.
Generally, then, the errors that one makes will more consistently be, for some people, errors of overconfidence, or, for other people, errors of overreticence. (I'm talking more about professional life than about personal relationships, although I imagine there's some overlap.)
Which do you want to encourage? "Go for it" or "don't do anything bold"? "File bug reports" or "assume no one wants to hear your point of view"?
Therefore, when you see a woman erring in the right direction, don't slap her wrist. In your workplace, in your school, or when you read about an entrepreneur or an artist or an activist who's taking a risk, don't call women pushy or bitchy or naggy or arrogant or know-it-all or bossy or "difficult" for erring in the direction we want women to err!
If she has to yell to be heard when she's the only one who sees trouble ahead, the answer is to make sure she gets heard in the future without having to yell, rather than punishing her for yelling.
Don't punish her for assuming people need to hear her perspective, for defaulting to yes, for reading the absence of a no to be a yes.
I know this feels like it might end up unfair, subjective, messy. But it's already that way. I used to worship logic and I had no patience with nuance, tact, or drawing-out. In particular it took me quite a long time to work out that socially constructed things are real too. "So I think it's when you're committed to rules being fair and playing by them to the point you go hunting around for new rules, the SECRET RULES, rather than admit the world is an unfair and chaotic place." As one Bitcoin enthusiast writes:
The average problem with the average libertarian though (and by this I mean someone who comes to such ideals not via a critical intellectual process, but because they like the sound of it), is that they're hypersensitive towards recognising overt forms of power - like the bouncer standing at the nightclub door - but have muted ability (or desire) to recognise implicit forms of power, the subtle structures of exclusion that actually do most of the work in maintaining a status quo.
They assume that in the absence of the bouncer there's a level playing field. ....
Indeed, in the context of a non-level playing field, not making an overt effort to include is just a subtle (albeit non-deliberate) form of exclusion.
I am trying to encourage you to make a world where it's safe for women to stop protectively apologizing to deflect criticism, to stop apologizing unless we've actually done something wrong. I have my own internalized sexism so it's something I work on, too -- I notice my own reaction, my tone policing reflex, and (try to) stop myself from saying anything harmful aloud. And as Harriet suggests, I reflect on my prejudice, sit with my discomfort, and try to do better next time.
Please join me.
* I particularly direct your attention to the dissection that starts "Another pattern of the privileged: not keeping track of the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior." Further reading: in sexual consent, "Mythcommunication: It’s Not That They Don’t Understand, They Just Don’t Like The Answer", and in professional life, "this is a thing that happens."
# (2) 16 Aug 2014, 10:24PM: Choosing to Leave, Stay, or Listen:
I've recently been thinking about the power not to care -- the power to dismiss, to decide that someone else's opinion doesn't matter to you, and act accordingly, to act entitled. I've been thinking about where I've run into advice about choosing when not to care.
Around age twelve I read "Self-Reliance" by Emerson, and read it to mean that, since you can't please everyone, you may as well just try to please yourself.
Also around that age I obtained a super simplistic understanding of Buddhism: attachment and desire lead to suffering, and if you just stop wanting things, then you won't get hurt if you don't get them.
A few years later a philosophy professor had us read a bit of Nietzsche and mentioned in lecture, lightly, that Nietzsche didn't particularly care about being rational. His opponents would say "but that's irrational!" and he could say "So?"
At some point around here I read Atlas Shrugged, and basically got out of it with "the social contract is not a suicide pact" as a lesson. I probably also caught a little of, as Teresa Nielsen Hayden summarizes, "continual self-sacrifice will leave you with nothing of your own" and "if there are people out there who are like Ayn Rand's characters, they don't need Ayn Rand's books to tell them so."
Early in college, I audited an intro sociology class because its lecturer, Andrew L. Creighton, just blew my mind in every class. I hadn't made it off the waitlist but I just showed up to every lecture anyway (at UC Berkeley in the late nineties this was fine for huge lecture classes and we called it auditing). I remember Professor Creighton talking about groups and norms and power, and saying, as an aside, that this is why he was a wild card in academic departments -- he didn't particularly want what they were offering.
In 2008, I ran across a wiki page about status play, meant for improv performers, and realized what dismissiveness looks in the small, in individual conversational transactions.
In 2009, I read N.K. Jemisin's "Cold-Blooded Necessity". "I think the shift from extrinsic to intrinsic valuation -- from caring about what others think to caring about yourself -- is a fundamental part of the transition from amateur to professional..."
A few years later, in Tina Fey's Bossypants, I read about Amy Poehler not caring whether you like it.
A little while after that, after reading How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, I wrote "The Kind Of Feminist I Am" about the intersection of privilege and mobility with this particular power. "I love the means by which people can get away from their old selves and the people who thought they knew them.... Forking. For adults, the most fundamental freedom is the freedom to leave, to vote with your feet."
And then this year, in Gabourey Sidibe's speech at the Ms. Foundation Gala, I read about her deciding to be an "asshole":
I wanted that party! And what I want trumps what 28 people want me to do, especially when what they want me to do is leave. I had a great time. I did. And if I somehow ruined my classmates' good time, then that's on them.
Sidibe's comment of course could be misread as "people should take over parties where they aren't wanted," but in context that's an utter misreading. The really interesting transgressive thing Sidibe is saying is that, when you are systematically oppressed, pursuing your own pleasure will feel rude and selfish.
In retrospect, I see the variations in this theme. You get to choose whether to stay or leave, whatever They want. You get to decide not to want others' definition of success, and to listen to your own judgment.
(And related to this: the audacity to make plans, and the audacity to decide when not to listen to yourself (for instance, when ignoring internal emotional weather and just pushing forward anyway).)
# 16 Aug 2014, 07:35PM: On Insecurity:
I was catching up on Tales of MU, and I read a passage that particularly caught me. For context: A working group needs help making some objects look appealing, and three women are the ones with the necessary expertise.
"Of course it's the girls," Micah said.
"It's so typically defensive to make a remark that devalues a skill that you lack right at the moment when it proves valuable," Wisdom said.
Oh that's a bit familiar.
# (1) 13 Aug 2014, 03:48PM: Case Study of a Good Internship:
I'm currently a mentor for Frances Hocutt's internship in which she evaluates, documents, and improves client libraries for the MediaWiki web API. She'll be finishing up this month.
I wanted to share some things we've done right. This is the most successful I've ever been at putting my intern management philosophy into practice.
- A team of mentors. I gathered a co-mentor and two technical advisors: engineers who have different strengths and who all promised to respond to questions within two business days. Frances is reading and writing code in four different languages, and is able to get guidance in all of them. The other guys also have very different perspectives. Tollef has worked in several open source contexts but approaches MediaWiki's API with learner's mind. Brad has hacked on the API itself and maintains a popular Wikipedia bot that uses it. And Merlijn is a maintainer of an existing client library that lots of Wikimedians use. I bring deep knowledge of our technical community, our social norms, and project management. And I'm in charge of the daily "are you blocked?" communication so we avoid deadlocks.
- Frequent communication. Any time Frances needs substantial guidance, she can ping one of her mentors in IRC, or send us a group email. She also updates a progress report page and tells our community what she's up to via a public mailing list. We have settled into a routine where she checks in with me every weekday at a set time. We videochat three times a week via appear.in (its audio lags so we use our cell phones for audio), and use a public IRC channel the other two weekdays. We also frequently talk informally via IRC or email. She and I have each other's phone numbers in case anything is really urgent.
- Strong relationship. I met Frances before we ever thought about doing OPW together. I was able to structure the project partly to suit her strengths. We've worked together in person a few times since her project started, which gave us the chance to tell each other stories and give each other context. I've encouraged her to submit talks to relevant conferences, and given her feedback as she prepared them. Frances knows she can come to us with problems and we'll support her and figure out how to solve them. And our daily checkins aren't just about the work -- we also talk about books or silliness or food or travel or feminism or self-care tips. There's a healthy boundary there, of course, since I need to be her boss. But our rapport makes it easier for me to praise or criticize her in the way she can absorb best.
- Frances is great. I encouraged her as an applicant; from her past work and from our conversations, I inferred that she was resourceful, diligent, well-spoken, analytical, determined, helpful, and the kind of leader who values both consensus and execution. I know that many such people are currently languishing, underemployed, underappreciated. A structured apprenticeship program can work really well to help reflective learners shine.
I got to know Frances because we went to the same sci-fi convention and she gave me a tour of the makerspace she cofounded. Remember that just next to the open source community, in adjacent spaces like fandom, activism, and education, are thousands of amazing, skilled and underemployed people who are one apprenticeship away from being your next Most Valuable Player.
- Scope small & cuttable. Frances didn't plan to make one big monolithic thing; we planned for her to make a bunch of individual things, only one of which (the "gold standard" by which we judge API client libraries) needed to happen before the others. This came in very handy. We hadn't budgeted time for Frances to attend three conferences during the summer, and of course some programming bits took longer than we'd expected. When we needed to adjust the schedule, we decided it was okay for her to evaluate eight libraries in four languages, rather than eleven in five languages. The feature she's writing may spill a few days over past the formal end of her internship and we're staying aware of that.
- Metacognition. As Jefferson said, "If men were angels, we would have no need of government." But we're flawed, and so we have to keep up the discipline of metacognition, of figuring out what we are bad at and how to get better. I asked Frances to self-assess her learning styles and have used that information to give her resources and tasks that will suit her. Early in the internship I messed up and suggested a very broad, ill-defined miniproject as a way to learn more about the MediaWiki API; since then I've learned better what to suggest as an initial discovery approach. Halfway into the internship we realized we weren't meeting enough, so we started the daily videochat-or-IRC appointment. I have let Frances know that I can be a bad correspondent so it's fine to nag me, to remind me that she's blocked on something, to ask other mentors for help. And so on. We've learned along the way, about each other and about ourselves. My mom says, "teaching is learning twice," and she's right.
Setting up an internship on a strong foundation makes it a smoother, less stressful, and more joyous experience for everyone. I've heard lots of mentors' stories of bad internships, but I don't think we talk enough about what makes a good internship. Here's what we are doing that works. You?
(P.S. Oh and by the way you can totally hire Frances starting in September!)
Edited 2 October to add: Frances listed "[s]ome particularly useful approaches and skills" that made her internship work.