Cogito, Ergo Sumana

picture of Sumana's head

Sumana Harihareswara's journal


(0) : Technothriller Book Review Partially In The Form Of A Python Exercise:

cover of 'Hackster'

I am glad I read Hackster: The Revolution Begins..., a technothriller by Sankalp Kohli and Paritosh Yadav taking place in modern-day India. It's plotty and passionate and tense, and it's about Indians to whom India is the center of the universe. But it's also got major problems. Here are some quotes:

It was now time to attain answers. And he had found his answers in SNAGROM -- a device conceptualized by his father, but built and made operational by him with a few modifications to avenge the death of his patriotic father who had sacrificed his whole life for the progress of beloved country, India, only to be publicly humiliated and pronounced a terrorist with links to Pakistan's ISI by the ruling party of India, The Democratic Alliance Party. [p. 23]


Mr. Bedi, Vikram's father, was a scientist. He had the unique ability to solve problems by using concepts of one domain, into an altogether different one - something which most academicians couldn't do. His papers and theories on early meta-systems had brought a fresh perspective and direction into the scientific community. In his papers, he reduced the bigger problems into simple ones. He put it very simply, a meta-system is a system based on other systems. [p. 35]


Arjun could feel this guy getting to him.... he was not a person who took even the smaller defeats sportingly. For him defeat was accompanied by a splurge of vengeance. [p. 68]


"It seems like he had conceptualized a system that replicated the modern day concept of Big Data trackers and used it to come out with trends which were closer to reality." Vikram whispered to himself. [p. 78]


But, was it all because of one man? How could a single man cause so much havoc? It must have been 'the system'. [p. 111]


For ten years, he had used his peculiar ability to suppress all sorts of mutiny within the alliance with an ease that always surprised everyone around him. Nobody had ever seen him running across the country to meet the influential people in times of crisis. He would simply make a private phone call and follow up the next day. The matter would be resolved. [p. 152]

So I didn't love the prose or the characterization. And one plot thread in Hackster disproportionately bothered me.

In the scene below, two guys are investigating a break-in by Vikram, a super-elite hacker. Vikram broke into the Srinagar police department's "criminal database" to remove his friend Ashfaq's name from "the list of arms dealer with a pending investigation" (sic). Initially, police investigators had overlooked the incursion: "They termed it a routine hack failure." [p. 17-18] But this new anti-cybercrime unit digs deeper. For context, both authors of Hackster have MBAs, one "in the field of telecom technology," and in the Acknowledgement they thank someone for cybersecurity advice.

"He deleted one entry and then used a jumbler on all the others."

"So?"

"After deleting the entry, he covered his track by jumbling up the names of all the people in the list. I tried running a point to point match between the shuffled copy of this list with an older correct copy, but none of the names matched. In short the whole list is corrupted, and we will not be able to make anything out of it easily. It is a long list. It has too many names. This guy is a genius." [p. 51-52]

But then Aarti, a top-shelf cybersecurity expert, succeeds at extracting the name "Ashfaq Ahmed Karim":

"He didn't know that entire data of servers of police department gets automatically stored in tape drives at the end of each month. These tape drives are detached from the servers and are stored in a secret location. I took out an older version of Illegal Arms Dealer List from the backup tape drives and then wrote a program to match each word of the older list with the newer one and rearranged the new list accordingly."

Sumit and Rao watched her with awe as she continued further, "Even the most advanced computer of ours took two days to complete this activity and give us this one name. This one lead should help us to take a step closer to our target." [p. 82]

My suspension of disbelief at this point broke so hard that it sent shards into nearby brick walls, where they remain, softly vibrating. I'm willing to set aside, for the sake of fiction, how badly guarded this data is, and why does Aarti have to go to the tape drive if there's an older version of the list more readily available, and why are they acting like this is a giant string rather than a set of rows in a table in a relational database and thus amenable to additional forensic techniques. Even so: this kind of puzzle is practically a junior programmer's intro-to-Python exercise. You could do this in bash; you could do it in Excel. And unless the Srinagar police department is tracking pending investigation against literally millions of arms dealers, a bog-standard developer's laptop could run that script in, mmm, 20 minutes.

findmissingname.py is 31 lines including commentsHmmmmmmmm, how long would it actually take? I decided to try to replicate this, without even trying very hard and while listening to a Taylor Swift album on repeat. I took the 417 names from the Nielsen Haydens' old blogroll, put them into a file separated by newlines (bloggers-archive.txt), and then removed one name, and saved the new file as bloggers.txt. Ah but now I want to obfuscate it! So I pulled all the names apart into their component words and shuffled them randomly and then wrote that back to a file (code: obfuscate.py). The new, jumbled list looks suitably forbidding:

Cox
MacLeod
Tami
Laura
Political
Scratchings
David
American
Boing
Farah

My findmissingname.py script does not bother to "rearrange the new list accordingly" because what Aarti really wants is the missing name. findmissingname.py spits out the two words in the missing name, and it takes 0.04 seconds to do so on a ThinkPad. And I'm bone certain I could optimize performance further.

This points to an asymmetry I had not previously noticed regarding what will and will not break my suspension of disbelief. When I'm reading scifi or technothrillers, I am reasonably fine with magic zoom-enhance, encryption, robotics, and other implausible advances. I can deal with it if you have way cooler toys than exist in my world, if you tell me something hard for me is easy for you. But if you try to tell me that something easy for intermediate-skilled me is hard for hella competent world-class experts with best-of-breed gadgets, I laugh, because you're ridiculous.

I am married to a programmer whose code has literally been used to catch an illegal arms dealer. I highly doubt this repository is going to have a similar impact. But hey, I learned something new about my genre reading conventions and I practiced my Python 3.

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(0) : How Knowledge Workers Can Learn More About Open Source Tools They Use: Yesterday I spent an hour teaching a woman whose nonprofit wants improvements to their current Drupal setup, especially around content approval workflow and localization. She wanted to understand more about how Drupal works so that she can understand the potential problems and solutions better, and be a better partner to her technical colleagues.

I talked with her a little about those specific questions, but most of what I taught her would be appropriate to any knowledge worker who wants to learn more about an open source web application. I pointed her to some resources and figured they were worth mentioning here as well.

Since she may end up with a test server so she can play with Drupal modules and configuration, I also talked with her a bit about what it means to ssh into a server, the fact that she will probably have to install new software (a console or terminal application) on her Windows computer in order to do that, and the basics of how public key infrastructure and SSH keypairs work, and why they're more secure than just using a username and password. I did this without notes or links, so I don't have any to offer here; perhaps you have a favorite explanation you'll share in the comments?

Overall in these kinds of conversations I refrain from saying "do this" or "do that", but I did share these two bits of wisdom:

  1. When you generate a keypair, the .pub file is the one to give other people, and the other one you keep to yourself.
  2. Make an effort to remember that passphrase. Otherwise you will be unable to use your key, and you have to have a slightly embarrassing conversation where you say "here's the new .pub because I forgot my passphrase for the old one," and it delays whatever you were going to do. But I showed her my ~/.ssh directory with all those old keys I can no longer access, and told her that if she does end up needing to make a new keypair, she is in good company, and basically everyone with an SSH key has gone through this at least once.

We talked about getting her a community of practice so she could have more people to learn from. She now knows of the local Drupal group and of some get-togethers of technologists in her professional community. And she has some starting points so she can ask more productive questions of the technologists within her org.

And this stuff is frustrating, and if you feel that way, that's okay; lots of other people feel that way too, and maybe it just means you need to try a new approach.


(0) : Marconi Plays The Mamba, Listen To The Radio: screen capture of 'Another Sunday'When Leonard and I lived in the Bay Area and drove south to Bakersfield to see his mom every few months, he got a satellite radio subscription. I'd navigate the music channels and look at the device to see the name of the artist and ask him to guess. When he couldn't tell, he often guessed "REM" (for loud stuff) or "Belle & Sebastian" (for quiet stuff).

Right now I'm working on an ambitious fanvidding project and am thus watching a bunch of other ambitious fanvids (e.g., chaila's "Watershed", danegen's "Around the Bend", counteragent's "Coin Operated Boy") to take notes on technique (e.g., exactly how many 100%-dark frames serve as a good stutter in frightening montages, versus how many blank frames help reset the eye and prepare it for a new sequence). Just now I was watching "Another Sunday" by Jescaflowne, set to "We Built This City" by Jefferson Starship. I checked the timecode scrubber. "Hey Leonard," I said facetiously. "Did you know that rock songs used to be four and a half minutes long?"

He looked at my screen as we made up Freakonomics-worthy nonsensical explanations of why this used to be the case. "What show is that?"

"Stargate Atlantis."

At this, Leonard developed a hypothesis that Stargate Atlantis and Supernatural are like REM and Belle & Sebastian, viz., if he can't tell what fandom a vid is, and there are spaceships and lots of guns, it's SGA, and if there are no spaceships and nearly no guns, it's Supernatural.

As a data point, I've watched zero SGA and one ep of SPN ("Fan Fiction"), but have spent happy hours enjoying fic and vids about both, particularly the critical readings -- if you're waiting for Ann Leckie's next Ancillaryverse installment, you could do worse than reading "Second Verse (Same as the First)" by Friendshipper/Sholio. I wonder whether the same thing will happen to me with Teen Wolf.

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(1) : La Con De Python: I spent a good chunk of this month at PyCon in Montréal, watching talks, seeing people I rarely get to see, and working on Mailman. My stay in Montréal felt homey thanks to Jo Walton and Emmet O'Brien, who put me up in their place for the duration. Much thanks, Emmet and Jo!

It was wonderful getting to sprint with the rest of the Mailman team, some of whom I'd never met before. I'm grateful to the Python Software Foundation and the PyCon sponsors for arranging the venue and food; one can attend the sprints at no registration cost, and I thoroughly appreciate that. I wrote a few patches, told other attendees about the upcoming release and got them to come test the install, and did a great deal of testing and bug-reporting myself, and generally a bunch of release management. I had the privilege of discovering a funny bug, although I wish the bug didn't exist since it prevented us from meeting our goal and shipping 3.0 by Thursday. (A 3.0rc1 release is imminent!)

On the last day of the sprints, I started a keysigning. I think every keysigning I've ever participated in has included philosophical and engineering questions about the usefulness of keysigning parties, why we bootstrap an anarchistic web of trust using government-issued documentation to authenticate people, the difference between "I control this key" and "I am the person whose passport this is," and the anti-mnemonic powers of gpg command-line flags. I feel as though there ought to be, and perhaps is, a haggadah for this ritual that incorporates these questions. I can't exactly remember this exemplary exchange from Thursday, but it went something like:

Me: I wonder what I would learn if I tried setting up my own keyserver.

Debian guy: You would learn that the system is utterly ripe for abuse and that we're just lucky no one has seriously tried it yet. It's an append-only distributed database, after all.

Me: (Pause.) I think I had already learned that particular social lesson and I was thinking more of the technical lessons.

Debian guy: Ah! Yes, there are some interesting backend protocols involved....

This was the longest stretch I've ever spent someplace Francophone, and I felt my high school French coming back to me day by day; towards the end I was able to put together "J'ai perdu un chapeau bleu" or "Je voudrais acheter cette chose" with tolerable facility. (I did indeed lose a blue hat that I bought in Washington, DC in 2001 just before I left for my trip to Russia; we had a good run together and I hope it ends up with someone else who likes it.) I have never played Flappy Bird, but I understand that a single error ends the round; similarly, bad French in Montréal is a sudden death game for me, in which a single mistake or even a tilted head while parsing a response can cause the interlocutor to switch to English. Like many people with one dominant language fluency and a lot of language smatterings, I find the wrong language's vocabulary springs to mind at inopportune moments. A caterer was serving me food; I couldn't remember the polite French for "that's enough" and my mouth wanted to say "ಸಾಕು" instead. Similarly, "mais" and "et" no longer come as naturally to me as do "но" and "и". But I have it easy -- evidently this is even less convenient when one of the languages is ASL!

The next PyCon North America will be May 28 - June 5 2016 in Portland, Oregon; this overlaps with the Memorial Day weekend in the US (May 28-30) which means it will probably conflict with WisCon's 40th anniversary, and I already have plans to hit WisCon 40. I hope to finagle schedules so as to attend WisCon in Madison and then fly to Portland to participate in post-PyCon sprints. But that might be too much spring travel, because what if Leonard and I want to do something special in April to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary? What I am saying is that adulthood sure does have a lot of logistics involving calendars.


: New Takes On My Published Writing: My Crooked Timber guest post on codes of conduct, freedom, governance, contracts, and copyleft software licenses has attracted over 200 comments. Many of them are thoughtful and interesting, and worth at least a skim if you found anything useful in the original post. For instance, can we compare mindshare to other forms of property? And what do we do to legitimately obtain the enthusiastic consent of the governed? Some of them have old or new perspectives on Adria Richards or Linus Torvalds. And about five percent of the comments are gross, hurtful, or laugh-out-loud wrong on multiple axes, e.g., "The FOSS world is not asking for codes of conduct, she is seeking to thrust them upon it." I shall be mining those for use in my stand-up comedy routine at AlterConf in Portland, Oregon in June.

Also, the code4lib Journal asked for me to turn my code4lib keynote from 2014 into an essay, "User Experience is a Social Justice Issue", for their special issue on diversity in library technology. The new article includes some contextual introduction and a retrospective with links to related work by others in the past year. You can comment there.


: Crooked Timber Guest Post on FLOSS Licenses and Codes of Conduct: The social sciences group blog Crooked Timber has published my guest post, "Codes of conduct and the trade-offs of copyleft".

A lot of open stuff -- such as the Wikimedia/Wikipedia and Linux projects -- are discussing or adopting codes of conduct, or expanding their existing policies. I'll reveal my biases at the start and say I think this is a good thing; for more, read my speech "Hospitality, Jerks, and What I Learned". But in this piece, I want to talk about the similarities and differences between codes of conduct and a set of agreements that some of these communities are more used to: "copyleft" or other restrictive software licenses. And I'd like to draw out some ways that the kinds of acts and artifacts that these policies cover reveal different attitudes towards contracts and governance.

Also I make silly references to Antitrust and Ducktales while oversimplifying free software licenses and political theory. So check it out.

Much thanks to Skud for an initial conversation about face-to-face versus online codes of conduct; my article, in the end, barely addresses that, but it was a seed for this piece. Thanks to Henry Farrell of CT for editing and publishing my guest post. And thanks to Naomi Ceder, Paul Tagliamonte, Leonard Richardson, and several other people who talked about this topic with me or beta read bits or drafts of the piece -- of course, all errors are mine.

Feel free to comment over at Crooked Timber!


: PyCon 2015: Today I am heading off to PyCon North America 2015 and am looking forward to sprinting on Mailman! You can now read my LWN piece on what'll be new in the 3.0 release as it's out from behind the paywall.

Many fellow Recurse Center-affiliated folks are giving talks at this year's PyCon, in case that's something you seek!

If you're going to be in Montréal as well, perhaps we'll pair program on something together! That could be fun.


: Book Reviews With Idiosyncratically Selected Book Covers: More book reviews from the past year or so! I believe this catches me up!

'Government Brahmana' coverGovernment Brahmana by Aravind Malagatti. I am a Brahmin, which is to say, I have high-caste privilege. I have a lot of work to do understanding where this situates me as an Indian-American, and how to be a better ally to South Asians and desis who do not share this privilege. As part of this work I read Malagatti's memoir of growing up Dalit in Karnataka, the Indian province my family comes from. And guess what, my caste has done incredibly shitty things to perpetuate its privilege! You know that experience when you learn a specific horrifying detail, and you consider the strong likelihood that one of your blood ancestors is on the wrong side of history here, and that you personally have benefited from their complicity or abuse? Anyway, you don't have to be a high-caste Hindu to find Government Brahmana edifying (but it helps!). Malagatti does describe an angsty passionate romance where (in my eyes) he didn't act admirably, but for me that fell into "use every man after his desert, and who shall 'scape whipping?" territory.

Courtney Milan: the Turner Series, the Brother Sinister series, many novellas, and so on, but not quite her entire published oeuvre. After I read Trade Me, I went on to consume maybe a dozen more of Milan's romances. They're funny and loving and moving and smart. I like how she sets up and calls back to other books within series, I love that The Heiress Effect included an Indian guy, I love seeing queer characters and characters with disabilities, and -- with the exception of the rushed tempo in her novella Talk Sweetly To Me -- I find her romances believable. I'm reading her work on a Kobo, and I find her ebooks nicely typeset and easier to read than some ebooks from self-publishers or small presses. And it excites me that her upcoming books will explore more geographies and depict even more diverse characters.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. I sallied into historical romance territory via Milan's back catalogue, and decided to try some other authors in the genre as well. I'd previously enjoyed Kowal's short pieces and her fannish writing and leadership within speculative fiction, so I picked up Shades of Milk and Honey, the first in her Glamourist series. Blurbs say it's like Austen with magic and recommend it to Austen fans, but I haven't yet read any Jane Austen, and I bought it one afternoon and stayed up till 1:30am that night to finish it. Yay, the protagonist and her eventual beau are good people who don't do creepy or irresponsible things! And, as Jo Walton did in Ha'Penny, Kowal does something interesting with the complicated bonds between sisters with very different interior lives. I've already ordered several more Glamourist books and look forward to seeing adventures, magical innovation, and characters of different ethnicities.

The King's Name by Jo Walton (probably accompanied by a reread of The King's Peace, which sits before it in the trilogy). I do not know the details of the Arthuriana that Walton is messing with in this series but I nonetheless enjoy as I always do Walton's depiction of competent people trying to do the right thing in unprecedented circumstances.

'The Just City' coverThe Just City by Jo Walton. It's no surprise that I liked yet another Jo Walton book! It's an immersive and fascinating story, and since I have participated in a massive androgogical experiment recently (the Recurse Center) I particularly love reading thought experiments around pedagogy! As I write this I am wearing an Action Philosophers shirt featuring wrestler Plato shouting "Plato smash!" I richly enjoyed the Action Philosophers edutainment comics, super thinky and super fun. If you enjoyed Action Philosophers you will probably also like the combination of adventures and arguments in The Just City. Or: I once retweeted the message "RT if you're still angry about the Library of Alexandria." If you have related feelings you may find this book particularly interesting.

My Real Children by Jo Walton (reread). Or should I say the Tiptree Award-winning My Real Children? It's about work, parenting, love made visible; I continue to appreciate it.

Strength In What Remains by Tracy Kidder. Competent people trying to do the right thing in unprecedented circumstances. But nonfiction! And I still have yet to read a Kidder I don't like.

The Entry Level: Approaches to getting used to the idea of talking about class zine by several contributors and edited by Chris W. (reread). I reread this as part of my effort to spark discussion of classism at Open Source Bridge 2014; thanks especially to Lukas Blakk for making more copies of the zine to share, and to Chris W. for making the PDF available and coming to the conference for one of the discussions. Entry Level continues to serve its purpose ably, and I found it helpful as a jumping-off point for the OSBridge session. Distributing well-made physical artifacts often helps engage discussion participants on more levels than a voice-only meeting. And Entry Level provides frameworks and vocabulary to help us talk about our own experiences, and about the changes we might need to instigate.

Indigo by Beverly Jenkins (did not and will not finish). I wanted to love this romance between two black characters in 1859 America. The heroine is a conductor on the Underground Railroad! But the exposition started bothering me -- hella infodumps about, e.g., the effects of the Fugitive Slave Act. I loved learning this stuff, but the segues from "Hester experiencing her life" to "Hester's POV is suddenly indistinguishable from that of an encyclopedia" did not work, on a character and a prose level. And then the guy's behavior started bothering me and didn't stop. SPOILERS AHEAD. He's creepy -- he trespasses, he lies, he breaks promises, and he doesn't respect "no." She tells him to stop giving her gifts, and he keeps giving her luxury goods. After the dubcon sex scene I started skimming, faster and faster, until I was finally reading it entirely for the infodumps about the nineteenth-century black experience. We find out he comes from the black aristocracy of New Orleans. And then he tricks her into marrying him, and she gets dubcon pampered by servants who won't even let her say no to the salts they're adding to her bath water, and I realized: Oh! This is a billionaire romance! (1850s, so, thousandaire, but still.) My discomfort with Galen's behavior is (probably) not unconscious racist bias; it's an aversion to the tropes of billionaire romance novels. I stopped reading Indigo, and in its stead I welcome recommendations of your favorite fictional or nonfictional texts on free black communities in the antebellum North.

'Rat Queens' coverRat Queens Volume 1: Sass & Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe, Laura Tavishati, Roc Upchurch, and Ed Brisson. This comic grew on me over the course of the trade paperback. Snappy banter, heists, easy-to-follow fight scenes, hella women whom the story treats as first-class citizens, various kinds of diversity. If you like Firefly or Alexandra Erin's Tales of MU, check this out.

[Tentatively titled in-progress novel] by Leonard Richardson, interim drafts. Oh oh oh oh when you all get to read this and see how he subverts redacted and parodies redacted and the Indian stuff and oh no what happens to redacted and redacted and redacted! This novel is going to be to redacted what Constellation Games was to redacted.

Torn Shapes of Desire by Mary Anne Mohanraj (partway). This is an erotica collection. It is good and I like it, and it rewards a piecemeal reading style. (Fun fact: when I first read Cryptonomicon I did not read it linearly. I picked it up at arbitrary pages and read completely out of order, and then eventually opened to page one and began a traditional-style readthrough. I think I used to do this a lot with short story collections, but I have no recollection of why I did this with a novel, or what caused me to stop sampling and go linear.)

Saga, Volume 4, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Come to think of it, I like Saga for many of the same reasons I liked Rat Queens. Also Saga includes metafiction that I find less portentous and more "wheee!" than the metafiction in The Unwritten, which I read for a while.

The Middleman, Volume 5: The Pan-Universal Parental Reconciliation, by Javier Grillo-Marxauch, Armando Zanker, and Les McClaine. Did someone mention metafiction?! Fun and spirited. I now want to actually read volumes 1-4 and then reread this one, to appreciate it better.

'RESTful Web APIs' coverRESTful Web APIs by Leonard Richardson and Mike Amundsen. I read this as Wikimedia engineers discussed whether and how to revamp the MediaWiki API, and referred to it during my fall 2014 stint at the Recurse Center. I thoroughly appreciate its thorough coverage of HTTP and hypermedia, the authors' attention to the user experience of APIs for the developers of clients, and the opinionated appendix of HTTP status codes. I started to use the suggested API design procedure while working on the static analyzer, then realized my functionality was so simple and limited that I didn't need the multistep HOWTO. But I intend to use that design procedure when I work on APIs in the future, and I recommend it to your attention as well.

Secure Beneath The Watchful Eyes by GroteskBurlesque. Fanfiction, based on The Thick Of It, features competent people trying to do the right thing in unprecedented circumstances. With lots and lots of canon-appropriate swearing. I am not particularly interested in shipping Malcolm Tucker with anyone, but this author made me believe Malcolm/Jamie enough to enjoy the rest of the tale. It was tremendous to see Malcolm and the rest of the crew in a situation where their utter gruff cynical bastardry was actually called for. Malcolm Tucker considers very little sacred, and this story shows what and why, and shows us something redeeming about Ollie, and shows us Nicola coming into her own. It's touching.

Moonshine by Alaya Dawn Johnson. I love reading fiction about energetic women fighting evil, be that evil structural kyriarchy or bitey monsters. And I love reading about competent people trying to do the right thing in unprecedented circumstances. I am a little befogged with confusion in terms of self-assessing my reaction to this book. You see, years ago, I read an passage of fiction, an excerpt of a novel by a black woman about a vampire-beset woman in an alternate 1920s New York City. And I loved it! And then I forgot who wrote it, and asked Astoria Bookshop for help, and got Moonshine, but I am still unconvinced that this is the book I was seeking. Perhaps forty-five years from now I will come across the book I sought. Will I read it? Via what medium, and in what language? Will I remember that I wanted to read it? Will this blog still exist so I can link back to this post? Anyway, I don't want to blame Moonshine for being itself rather than whatever other fantasy I fantasized. It's good.

Update a few hours after writing this paragraph, and probably 6 months after reading Moonshine: I have just looked at Johnson's site and found an excerpt from Wicked City, the sequel to Moonshine. I think this is the excerpt I liked. It is not 2060 A.D. I am still blogging and I will read Wicked City in English and on paper or a Kobo. Oh past Sumana, you worried your imagination couldn't stretch far enough to encompass the truth, but lo! The twist! Your imagination couldn't stretch NEAR enough!

'This Place Has No Atmosphere' coverThis Place Has No Atmosphere by Paula Danziger (reread). This is a short 1986 scifi novel aimed at, um, young adults? middle grades? you know, whippersnappers. I read it in my youth and still love it. The different levels of sex ed videodiscs! Not being able to play hooky because every adult in your tiny moon colony would know you ought to be in school! Putting on a production of Our Town as a means of engaging with your new moon life! This remains the best story I've ever read about reconciling yourself to leaving behind your Earth friends and getting used to your new life as an adolescent extraterrestrial. (Zen Cho's "The Four Generations of Chang E" comes really close though!) In retrospect, This Place Has No Atmosphere particularly spoke to me because my family moved around dozens of times during my childhood. In case you have ever wondered why I am less well-adjusted than that other Indian-American woman you know, this is like 80% of the reason why.

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It's a classic, it's as good as everyone says it is, it has fun illustrations.

Black Science, Volume 1, by Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera. It's a scifi comic and I bought a trade paperback collecting the first few issues. I don't think I finished it. Superviolent, not enough interesting women characters, art didn't speak to me.

cover of 'Hackster' Hackster: The Revolution Begins by Sankalp Kohli and Paritosh Yadav. Oh goodness what do I even say about Hackster. So, when I was visiting India in November, I bought a few books by desi authors. Three looked great: Complications by Atul Gawande, The Hope Factory by Lavanya Sankaran, and Government Brahmana by Aravind Malagatti. And indeed they were good. And then I saw the cover of Hackster, which features a black helicopter, the Mumbai skyline, and an exceedingly wide-stanced person in a black hoodie. And the back of the hoodie has code-y looking green text, like /usr/src/. And above the title: "FROM THE BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF 'Because Every Raindrop is a Hope' and 'When I Found You : I Found Myself'".

You know what, I am going to save my comments on Hackster for another time when I haven't just spouted 2400 words on other books. OK, so I am not entirely caught up. Think of my Hackster review as the sourdough starter for my next roundup.

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(1) : My Gender (Spoiler: I'm Cis): My acquaintance Danielle Sucher asked:

Friends! What's your gender? & cis folks especially, how did you figure it out?

I'm a cisgender woman, or at least I think so. I can't properly prove it to myself. A few years ago, when a few friends came out to me as trans men (I had previously perceived these friends as very butch women), I introspected a bit, to check. I also checked in with myself a few weeks ago when a trans friend told me she'd thought I was genderqueer. And both times I've concluded that this sis is cis, but oh god, what is gender anyway.

I have always found it hard to make a positive case for my own self-assessment without getting cissexist or gender essentialist. I gather that many trans men and nonbinary people don't feel any particular need to change the secondary sexual characteristics of their bodies, for instance. And I don't feel any particular discomfort when someone calls me "she" -- but a lot of nonbinary people are also fine with that. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as the saying goes.

As I think a lot of readers would agree without me having to go into too many details, gender is a pretty incoherent set of categories and rules and expectations. As I navigate those, I notice a lot of traditional rules around gender expression (especially in bodies and behavior) that don't feel right to me, e.g., women should have long hair and let men interrupt us all the time, men should by default run things and should not cry. But I have always thought of those annoying constraints as general societal problems (no one should feel restricted by them). I want access to any male privilege men currently keep to themselves, and I want the ability to perform any bits of femininity or masculinity I choose, but I want those things for everyone, and phrases like "I am a man" or "I have/am/perform both genders" have never rung true to me. The traditional femininity racket chafed me once I started noticing it, but that did not trigger within me a realization that my gender did not match my assigned-at-birth body; instead, I found a gender expression that's pretty comfortable for me ("lazy butch," let's say).

In my teens, I read John Varley's 1976 science fiction story "The Phantom of Kansas," in which people can switch into different bodies very easily (compare to a routine and painless elective surgery), including trying out female and male bodies. I still remember sitting on a little staircase at someone's house, escaping from the Indian-American hubbub, reading that and other stories in The World Treasury of Science Fiction and feeling my mind blown. At this point I had never had any kind of interpersonal sex, but I suspected it would be spectacularly cool to sometimes have it using one set of genitals and sometimes using another! But that sort of erotic thought experiment is as far as my bodyswap interests ever went. And I think that if I were trans or genderfluid or genderqueer or otherwise not cis, it's super unlikely I would have finished that story without a deeper thrum of yearning. And similarly, online or in brief customer service interactions, when strangers read me as male, it feels to me like inaccurate misgendering with a mildly pleasing genderfuck quality; in the alternate universes where I'm not cis, I figure those experiences feel quite different.

For political reasons, I like using gender-neutral terms when possible. For instance, I say "y'all" instead of "you guys" as a second person plural, and as a matter of allyship with same-sex couples, I often refer to Leonard as my partner or my spouse. So if you're using "they" or a similar nongendered pronoun for everyone, then sure, call me "they" instead of "she". But "wife" and "she" don't bother me.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Yet when I try to imagine myself as anything other than cis, all my thought experiments turn science fictional. We would have to throw out all this monolithic gender-binary legacy code, this untested ball of spaghetti, or refactor it into a microservices architecture. We'd have to be a very different civilization -- one with new vocabulary entirely -- before I'd find a gender self-description that feels more accurate than "I'm a cisgender woman."


: More Things I've Made Recently: In addition to Randomized Dystopia, I've made some additional things recently that I don't think I linked to here.

Last year, with Alex Bayley, I co-wrote an article for opensource.com about Growstuff and how open food can change how we approach technology.

In late March, my friend Elisa inspired me to write Captain America fanfic in the form of a sort of sonnet -- I called it "Spangled". It's 142 words, in case you're looking for a short read.

Today, I made my first fanvid, a 30-second Sisko study called "In the pale dublight". Thanks to Critical Commons for hosting transformative works! Thanks to the open source software community and especially the makers of VLC, Handbrake, and kdenlive for the software. Thanks to synecdochic, Skud, and the wiscon_vidparty vidding workshop for guidance, and thanks to Syun Nakano for the CC-BY music.

And it's behind a paywall right now, but I wrote my first LWN piece, on the upcoming release of Mailman 3.0. I think it's a pretty reasonable roundup of what's new in one of the most popular FLOSS mailing list managers and what that implies for the open source community as a whole. Thanks to Jake Edge, my editor, and to the Mailman dev team for making this piece better!


: Parties and Gifts: To what extent do you think of your open stuff contributions as gifts? Does this match up with your sense of your communities on the caring-to-combative spectrum?

several papercraft pieces I made, and gave awayTo you, what are the manners surrounding giving and receiving gifts?

In transactions without money changing hands, how do we demonstrate what we value?

Does it motivate you to think of your fanfic, your bug reports, your wiki edits, your patches, your teaching as gifts for a specific person? Or for a community?

Do the community leaders in your open stuff communities treat those artifacts as gifts? What about other participants?

What would a "Secret Santa"-style gift exchange along the lines of Yuletide Treasure or Festivids look like in the world of English Wikisource? Or Django? Or wherever you contribute bits?


(2) : More Books I've Read Recently: More book reviews from the past year or so! I am still catching up and am not done catching up.

Up Against It by MJ Locke. You can read the first 5 chapters free online. I read this fast-paced space mystery during the 2014 summer vacation I shared with Julia and Moss, and enjoyed it as a mystery/procedural, as solid hard scifi, and as a character study of the protagonist. The first time we see Jane Navio, head of the Resource Commission, she makes a tough call. She is the kind of creative, tough leader who can abandon a few likely-to-die people in order to save resources the space colony's going to need in three weeks' time. Later we see that she's a cunning, passionate, thoughtful, and empathetic leader as well -- once you've read it, talk with me about a monologue she delivers in the last few pages of the book, about work and the public eye, because when I read it (as I was thinking about the job I then had at Wikimedia Foundation) it struck me as though I were a gong. And you get space surveillance, posthuman subsocieties, and some teen drama as well, but basically I am all about super leader Jane. Incidentally, MJ Locke is an open pseudonym for Laura J. Mixon, whose work Leonard has really liked. I should pick up more Mixon.

Life Class and Toby's Room by Pat Barker. I thank yatima for bringing my attention to Barker's Regeneration trilogy, which is super great. And thanks to Sam Read Book Shop in Grasmere, where Julia, Moss, and I stopped during our walk. I saw and picked up Perfecting Sound Forever, then got to talking with the store clerk, found out Pat Barker had new World War I fiction out, and bought it. I read both of these books in spare moments while continuing the Coast-To-Coast walk, which meant I had a sort of double vision of England, seeing it in front of my face in 2014, and seeing it in my head a hundred years previous. During my Coast-to-Coast walk in 2012 with Mel, I'd basked in the hospitality of rural northern England. And I enjoyed it again when I came back last year, but I also saw it through wartime eyes -- participant and observer at once. The cosy bits of life -- board games, pub trivia nghts, jokes over breakfast -- felt like civilization, like something to protect, like "what we're fighting for." Life Class -- in comparison to Regeneration -- feels like Young Adult, perhaps because we see the journey these youngish adults take because of the war. Toby's Room has a lot to recommend it but there is a sex-related content warning that I'll put in the comments as it's a spoiler.

The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho (reread). So fun and funny and heartwarming and incisive. "I used to be a good girl and that was uncomplicated, but I thought complicated would be more interesting than safe." If you liked Jade Yeo, check out this interview with Cho about fluff for postcolonial booknerds, the fantasy of communicating easily with your ancestors and heritage, and her writing in general. I particularly love the bomb she drops nonchalantly: "I've always loved stories that examine the dynamics within small communities with their own rules and conventions -- Jane Austen's two inches of ivory, Enid Blyton's school stories, L. M. Montgomery's Canadian villages, Star Trek's starships." YES. Just add that last one on there. Ooof.

your blue-eyed boys by Feather (lalaietha). Via a recommendation from yatima. I read this both before and after I watched a bunch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it makes more sense afterwards (me during the first read: "who's this Sam guy?"). It's the longest piece of MCU fic I've read, but you might also like my Archive of our Own recommendations and Pinboard bookmarks.

American Taxation, American Slavery by Robin Einhorn (2006, University of Chicago Press) (partial reread). This history remains brainbending and full of astonishing anecdotes. Dr. Einhorn's particularly great in describing the importance of institutional competence in government agencies and in refuting "taxation=slavery" rhetoric. Check out this example of her amazingness.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X (reread) and Iacocca: An Autobigraphy (reread). I wrote about these at the time but I did not really talk about why I read Iacocca. I was about eight, and visiting India with family, and I read voraciously. I remember reading many issues of Reader's Digest (the Indian edition, which was different from the US edition). And a relative of mine had a copy of Iacocca and I read it with tremendous interest. I had never read such a detailed narrative about grown-up work before! He used the f-word and I was SCANDALIZED. Cars, these things that I utterly took for granted, did not just emerge ab nihilo; someone had to think them up and design them and compromise and whatnot. And I think I also liked reading Iacocca -- as I liked watching and reading Andy Rooney -- because they used plain language and owned up to their frailties.

So I monologued, a lot, the way kids do, but about Lee Iacocca and Chrysler and the K-car and the Mustang and various other topics, and these Indian aunts and uncles of mine smiled and nodded and perhaps presumed I would be an automotive engineer when I grew up. And then my parents held a sort of family reunion party (the hook being "Sumana's and Nandini's birthday (Observed)"), and my uncle Ashwin gave me one of the most memorable gifts I've ever received: Iacocca's new book of essays, Talking Straight. I don't think I even knew it existed before I had it in my hands! I was SO EXCITED. I probably forgot the minimal socialization my parents had painstakingly attempted to instill in me and went off to a corner to start in on it right away. I am still laughing about this.

Incidentally, the hunger for reading material also affected me eight years later, on another trip to India, as I was preparing to return to the States. Airplanes had no seatback entertainment; you brought twenty-two hours' worth of self-entertainment resources to get you all the way to San Francisco or you explored new depths in boredom. The day before my flight, Mom took me to an English-language bookstore. I'd heard The Lord of the Rings was good, and long. The store didn't have it. But they did have this other super long book. And that's how I read Atlas Shrugged.

(Even so, somewhere above the Pacific I started skimming that Galt radio speech. It is so repetitive you could programmatically transform it into a musical score suitable for Koyaanisqatsi!)

An inflight shopping magazine that helped me discover my roller derby name ("Asian Competence").

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: Director's Commentary on "Randomized Dystopia": Now that I'm not all arrrrgh I just want to launch this thing I'll talk a little more about why I made Randomized Dystopia: to help us think about how dystopian fiction (and real repression) works, and to remind everybody of rights that don't get enough airtime, like variety in breakfast

wait, no, I mean:

Freedom of association

In January, I read Courtney Milan's Trade Me, in which protagonist Tina Chen mentions how hard it is for many Americans to wrap their heads around the oppression of Falun Gong practitioners. A stripped-down excerpt, from page 9 of my edition:

I hate trying to explain Falun Gong to Westerners. Sometimes, I wish my parents had been caught up in something comprehensible, like tax reform or Tiananmen Square....

No, it's not a freedom of speech issue. No, it's not a religion, not like you understand it. It's never going to make sense to you ... It's like free exercise of ... exercise...

Milan goes into more detail on this point in an interview about Trade Me. Again, a snipped-up excerpt:

...the communist regime is very, very jealous of concentrations of power in anyone but the Communist Party. And so near the end of the '90s, there were probably millions of people who were practicing Falun Gong, and they would get together in the park and they would practice and, you know, all of this stuff, and they, the Communist Party started getting a little worried about it, because they didn’t like the idea that there were these people.... he had followers, and they don't like, they didn't like the idea of somebody having followers, so they banned the practice. And to their amazement, people protested it, and they didn't know the protest was coming. So, like, 10,000 people showed up to protest in Beijing, and they were like, the fuck did these people come from?

And that, it scared the shit out of them, basically. You know, like, all these people care, and this is just sort of like what happened with, like, almost no organizing over a weekend? This is scary. So they cracked down on it, and they cracked down on it really, really hard.

One way to understand the Falun Gong crackdown is as a denial of freedom of association (articulated as "the right of the people peaceably to assemble" in the First Amendment to the US Constitution, to oversimplify). A totalitarian state only allows relationships that the state can surveil or break. We need not only privacy in the metadata of our group membership, but respect for our underlying freedom of association, the freedom to belong to a despised group.

But when I hear people talking about rights, including when we explore dystopias where someone's denying us those rights, I don't usually hear us explicitly mention freedom of association. We talk often about privacy, freedom of speech, reproductive and sexual freedom, fair and free elections, and judicial due process.

And so I'd also like to raise awareness (especially in the US) of more comprehensive lists of rights. In "Randomized Dystopia" I draw from The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Convention on the Rights of the Child, and The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Too often in the US I hear people talk as though the first ten amendments to the US Constitution comprise all the rights we ought to honor, and humanity has done some more thinking on those topics in the intervening centuries.

Upon using Randomized Dystopia, several commenters noticed how the US falls short regarding many of the rights in the UDHR, CEDAW, and CRC. Yup.

How dystopias work

And then, in mid-March, I was talking with Sabrina Banes about current dystopian fiction, especially novels in English for the Young Adult market. She sketched out their basic themes and trajectory (and Sabrina I'd love for you to write more about your thoughts on what aspects cluster around Evil Villain Governments versus around Plucky Young Protagonists). And I realized how essential it is, as a plot mechanic, that cookie-cutter YA dystopias deny freedom of association.

Chapter 1. My parents, friends, and government tell me I can't ever go talk to Those People Over There. They're bad and wrong and subject to arbitrary arrest or execution. But sometimes I don't particularly want to be a WheelCog. But what else is there?

......

Chapter 5. So I talked to Those People Over There and hoo boy, I was spectacularly underinformed about the nature of my world, political system, and socially constructed values! [If freedom of association is limited, the author can more plausibly dribble out exposition to the reader -- it's easier to play keep-away with the MacGuffin -- and it gets easier for authorities to enforce limits on speech.]

.....

Chapter 10. Oh wow, I am one of Those People Over There. In fact maybe quite a lot of us don't fit as WheelCogs, down underneath! [If you hang out with someone, it's a lot harder to treat them as a category, an object. And once you can talk freely with an ostracized group, you might see how you are like them; your perception of your own identity might change. I believe the standard YA dystopia character development arc depends on struggles around freedom of association.]

...

Chapter 12. However this is causing certain problems with, well, every other part of my life. Time to overthrow things!

What other rights have interesting properties as plot mechanics within dystopian fiction? I hope writers find "Randomized Dystopia" interesting as a writing prompt, and I'd be interested to hear others' thoughts on the interaction of rights and dystopian narrative.

Technical details

See the README in the code repository (go ahead and reuse the code and the idea -- the code is GPL). If you've never written a web application before, this kind of toy -- massage some text into structured-data form and use random.choice or random.sample to display a few selections to the reader -- is a fun starter project.

Takeaways

  1. Yeah the US is not doing so hot (and many other countries are not, either); there's a lot to be done
  2. Please write science fiction about Article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 14, Section 2, Clause E of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (or, failing that, please write about insurance fraud and/or Quakers in space, so I can read it)
  3. I launched a project making fun of the tropes of dystopian science fiction just before Taco Bell did, which means I'm an influencer and available for consulting at exorbitant rates
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: Randomized Dystopia: Are you tired of the same old dystopias? Why not write about tyrannies that deny different rights?

Try Randomized Dystopia!

I see a lot of repetitive dystopian fiction about denying people (often teenagers) the right to free speech or freedom of movement. But did you know that The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Convention on the Rights of the Child, and The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women discuss several more ways that governments sometimes stomp on our liberties?

The next time you're writing a futuristic dystopia, hit the Assorted Abrogations page to see three underappreciated freedoms a government could quash -- until your rebellious heroes stop them! Or hit the Custom Terribleness page to make yours a specifically sexist or ageist dystopia!

Made on a lark by Sumana Harihareswara using Flask, partially based on bev-a-tron's tutorial and inspired by a conversation with Sabrina Banes and elements of Courtney Milan's book Trade Me. Thanks to Leonard Richardson for aid with deployment. Harihareswara does not endorse the sexist language of the UDHR, which was ratified in 1948, the gender binary implied by the CEDAW, or the otherwise less-than-inclusive language of these documents.

Seriously, it would rock if someone used this as a jumping-off point for a scifi short story where, say, rural women were denied equal access to artificial intelligence training.

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(1) : I Love You, Sweetie: I have the best spouse.

I spent basically the entire afternoon and evening waylaid by an inexplicable short-term illness (I would blame food poisoning except I can't work out the causality). Leonard's super solicitousness extended not just to preparing and giving me exactly the right amounts of whatever foods and fluids and analgesics I thought might help, but also to reading aloud to me from my current book (Courtney Milan's The Suffragette Scandal) when I wanted my comfort reading but couldn't bear to take it in visually. He also noted that Edward's early self-presentation to Free is rather like how Q talks to Picard, which is SO TRUE.

This is in addition to his help and reassurance last night on a programming project of mine. Deployment is terrible. I had successfully SSH'd into that machine before! I know I had! He has heard me grumble "all is vanity" in a stompy way many times, and he always gently supports me so I can change my mind. Not all is vanity. And it will be fun to launch this thing, this week I hope. I think you'll like it.

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: I Invite First-Timers To WisCon: I have been to WisCon three times (2009, 2010, 2011) and I am going again this year, yay! If you enjoy my writing, you might like WisCon, and -- especially if you've never tried it before -- you should consider joining me in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, May 22-25 (Memorial Day weekend).

Smart, funny conversations. Mary Anne Mohanraj and me at a past WisCon, photo by E. J. FischerSome of my best WisCon memories are of really funny panels (I enjoyed serving on the "Must Pleasures Be Guilty?" and "Imaginary Book Club" panels, and watching "Not Another Race Panel"). Some are of friendly semistructured interaction like the clothing swap at the Gathering on Friday afternoon. And some some are of formal and informal discussions where incisive people tossed around ideas that gave me new thoughts for the rest of the year. I expect to get all of that this year, and if you decide to come, I'll happily tell you which panels/panelists/parties/workshops/etc. look promising to me!

Relevant sessions. You can create a free account to look at programming signups and indicate your interest in attending -- the deadline is March 29. The programming committee does take those numbers (how many people demonstrate interest in attending something) into account when rejecting or scheduling specific sessions. And there's an Overflow/Spontaneous Programming (a.k.a. unconference) room throughout the convention -- for topics people want to discuss that aren't on the schedule -- where we can hold impromptu sessions about vidding, open source, self-directed learning....

Accessibility lane at WisCon, photo by sasha_feather, CC BY-NC-SAGreat accessibility. I especially love the Quiet Space to regroup, the free-flowing traffic lanes marked in the hall with blue tape, and the rule that speakers use microphones so the audience can hear better. They all help me enjoy the con more, and they help other attendees, which means I can enjoy their company. And overall, I find WisCon participants care about being intersectionally feminist and inclusive (example: discussion and renaming in the Floomp dance party). Sometimes folks make mistakes, as we all do, but we apologize, and fix it, and (although I know other people have had different experiences*) I trust in WisCon in the long term and am happy to recommend it to others, including people who have never been to a scifi con before. It was my first!

First-timers welcome. The site gives you detailed directions to the venue. There's usually a first-timers' dinner (small group expeditions to local restaurants, I think), and orientation sessions, early in the con, to help first-time attendees and first-time panelists (tips) and first-time moderators (tips). If you feel better showing up someplace for the first time if you're being useful, check the checkbox to volunteer, e.g., for a couple of hours in the con suite stocking free food for everybody. And I would be happy to help you meet folks (my credentials from a shy previous WisCon first-timer).

Another world is possible. I cannot overstate how much it has influenced me to participate in WisCon, which asks everyone to influence programming, provides accessibility and childcare and a comprehensive program guide, and nurtures and amplifies feminist voices. And WisCon communicates thoroughly with its community via blog, Twitter, Facebook, an email newsletter and printed, mailed progress reports, and more. This includes talking about really difficult stuff like owning up to past mistakes in handling harassment reports and disinviting a Guest of Honor (if you've never been to a scifi convention, think "keynote speaker").

A gateway to more. I've made friends, started watching or reading new stuff, and joined Dreamwidth to keep in the feminist fannish conversation year-round.

I skipped WisCon for years basically because I had other travel commitments for work, and this year I'm so glad to be coming back. Feminists of all genders who enjoy science fiction, think about coming to Madison in May.


* Kameron Hurley posted "Burn it All Down: Wiscon’s Failure of Feminism" before the WisCon con committee permabanned a particular harasser. As this year's cochair said in criticizing the previous decision for a temporary ban, "WisCon bills itself as a feminist sci-fi con. And compared to some others that I have attended, it is definitely better at paying lip service to being feminist than any of them."


: No Longer With The Ada Initiative: As you may have seen if you follow the Ada Initiative's blog, I've left the TAI's advisory board (which I joined in 2011). I've also left its board of directors, which I joined a little under a year ago. (A reason that I was a useful addition to the board of directors was that Sue Gardner, who left the board due to time constraints, was taking with her a tremendous amount of Wikimedia expertise. Now that she has returned to the board, my Wikimedian expertise is not as critical.) This also means that I'm no longer working on the search for the new executive director, and am a well-wisher from afar for the committee -- and indeed the org.

Some past posts I've made about TAI:

Incidentally, this means I now have zero formal affiliations with any organization, and I am trying to get used to the idea that if I say something super controversial about, say, open source culture, Google Summer of Code, or Yuletide Treasure, the only fallout will be on me. I haven't really had this particular unattachedness since early 2011, and it's rather a change.


: Words About Words About Words: I'm most of the way through Beloved by Toni Morrison -- my thanks to Debbie Notkin for causing me to take a deep breath and open it again.

Reading it now, I'm grateful for all the skills and context I've learned over my life as a reader, because Beloved rewards close reading, and because I could imagine being a more confused reader if I were less versed in the history of slavery in the US.

Spoilers ahead!

I am only partway through Beloved, but I can already venture a guess that a strong theme here is: the often racist inadequacy and deceptiveness of the written word. Sethe would have had "Dearly Beloved" written on the gravestone, not just "Beloved", but didn't think to ask for both words until too late. Paul D can't read, but he knows that "there was no way in hell a black face could appear in a newspaper if the story was about something anybody wanted to hear." Baby Suggs didn't need to read aloud from a Bible to preach The Word, and "Jenny Whitlow" was written on her sales ticket but that doesn't make it her name. Beloved, speaking/thinking of past experiences, expresses sentence fragments and allusions, including "how can I say things that are pictures". And the schoolteacher measured Sethe and the Sweet Home men, and wrote down their particulars, and instructed his pupils to run data analysis on the two columns of Sethe's "human" and "animal" characteristics ("And don't forget to line them up.").

This book is a fantasy, that is, it has something magical/supernatural in it, and I want to find out how that resolves and read all the other work it's in conversation with, inside and outside of whatever genres.

End of spoilers.

Morrison's also discussing intimacy and bodies and homes and permission, and detoxing from belonging to someone else, and healthy and poisonous desires, and a bunch of other topics of course. The story has enough atrocities that I can't comfortably read it while eating, so, giant trigger warning for terrible things that happened to black people in the US in the nineteenth century. But if you haven't read it, I hope you will read it, so we can talk about it.

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: The Triumph Of Outreachy:

Right now, y'all can apply to the Free and Open Source Software Outreachy internships, formerly OPW -- the deadline is March 24th. Copy the flyer below to spread the word! And March 24th is also the deadline for your organization to sponsor internships -- if your employer has deep pockets, use this template to ask them for some cash.

Outreachy publicity flyer


As of last month, Outreach Program for Women is now Outreachy, and Outreachy will move from the GNOME Foundation to being a member project of Software Freedom Conservancy on May 1. This step makes sense, as Outreachy serves the entire FLOSS community and SFC is specifically set up to provide financial, legal, and administrative support to member projects, whereas GNOME Foundation's core goal is to advance GNOME. I'm grateful to the GNOME Foundation for launching and supporting OPW as it grew!

Celebrating in detail

Outreachy has now taken several pretty wow steps over the course of its 9-year history (see the original announcement and a 2009 retrospective). This is not complete, but:

  • from one-time to repeating, and then to consistently running twice a year
  • from only mentoring GNOME projects to mentoring GNOME + Twisted, and then to mentoring for dozens of FLOSS projects (and Sarah Sharp, the original Linux org admin, handing off that responsibility and coming to co-administer Outreachy as a whole)
  • from 6 participants in the first round to 44 in the round that's ending in a few days
  • from Hanna Wallach and Chris Ball volunteering to run it, to Marina Zhurakhinskaya running it as a volunteer, to Outreachy being part of Zhurakhinskaya's job, so candidates, interns, mentors, and admins get more consistent support and leadership
  • from GNOME oversight/administration to the Software Freedom Conservancy
  • adding a travel fund, explicitly documenting it and encouraging participants to use it
  • adding a career development advisor (me at first, then delegated to someone with more career advising experience)
  • from language of "women/females only" that was potentially trans-exclusive to more inclusive language ("anyone who was assigned female at birth and anyone who identifies as a woman, genderqueer, genderfluid, or genderfree regardless of gender presentation or assigned sex at birth")
  • from "Women's Summer Outreach Program" through various name permutations :)
  • from fighting only sexism to fighting other oppressions as well, by partnering with Ascend
  • from zillions-of-emails application processes to a unified web app
  • weathering a trumped-up controversy about a temporary GNOME finances problem
  • adding the full variety of software engineering tasks as potential projects, e.g., design, release management, translation, etc., not just coding
  • adding a mentored first contribution as an application step (other open source internship programs are copying this)

Empowering everyone involved

old OPW logoWhen I saw, in mid-2012, that OPW had included a non-GNOME project, and that OPW had succeeded in getting the percentage of women at GNOME's yearly conference from ~4% (2009) to ~17% (2012), I decided I wanted Wikimedia Foundation to participate. I sought Zhurakhinskaya out at that year's Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit, my boss in tow. Zhurakhinskaya was already looking for me. We instantly agreed that WMF should participate. My boss, Rob Lanphier, trusted my judgement and gave me the budget to fund multiple interns. Zhurakhinskaya helped us decide to expand our contribution.

In the end, we got six interns for that round, thanks to WMF's contribution and to money Zhurakhinskaya and Karen Sandler got from Google's Open Source Programs Office. Wikimedia has kept on mentoring via OPW/Outreachy, several have stuck around as volunteers, and WMF has hired at least four alumnae as contractors or employees. Outreachy works to help recruit and retain technical contributors, who have more diverse perspectives, more than the event-based or publicity-only initiatives we'd tried before.

OPW helps oppressed people do things they didn't think they could do -- and thank you Outreachy for helping WMF do something we didn't know we could do. :)

Congratulations! And here's video of "The Outreach Program for Women: what works & what's next", a talk that Liz Henry and I gave last year at Open Source Bridge.

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(3) : Some Books I've Read In The Last Year: I have read many, many books since I last rounded them up. I may start using LibraryThing or similar to track and recommend things since I demonstrably don't blog about the books often enough to keep up. Future Sumana and others, have some fragmentary, tardy reviews, with more to come.

Zen Cho, Spirits Abroad (short story anthology). Deeply engaging, funny, loving, and heartstring-tugging (I'm reasonably sure that midway through the first story, I burst into tears and called my mom). I appreciate how Cho talks about things I don't understand, uses words I don't know, and helps me keep going even when I'm missing bits that (for instance) Malaysians would grok. She does not do this by explaining or glossing every phrase, in case you (like me) dislike that approach.

Greg Milner, Perfecting Sound Forever: The History of Recorded Music. I picked this up because of Scott Rosenberg's recommendation and give it two thumbs way up. I never took a college-level physics class and I suspect know less than the median US-born person my age about pop music of the 20th century. Milner's exposition gave me the background I needed to understand the ways recording and playback technology affected music, and vice versa, without being condescending. I learned even more about Edison's vengefulness, and I now understand a lot more about the influence of World War II on the music tech industry, about racism in the folk music preservation scene, about how we choose codecs for compression, about the loudness wars and dynamic range, about why we revere or despise particular practices or musicians, about the sexist culture of audiophilia, and about how to (or how not to) get people to switch workflows.

Joanna Russ, The Adventures of Alyx. I don't see as much fiction as I'd like about super-competent women managers. I especially do not see enough fiction about competent women managing incompetent men and causing them to realize, empirically, that she is right and they are wrong. This is the best thing about The Adventures of Alyx.

Molly Gloss, The Dazzle of Day. The very first thing I want to get across is that this is not comfort reading; it includes realistic depictions of sexual assault and its aftermath. I am very glad I read this heartbreaking, nuanced tale of Quakers in space -- Jo Walton gets at the way Gloss depicts people and situations I rarely see in scifi, and as Sue Gardner has mentioned, understanding Quakers helps me understand Wikimedian consensus better -- but it is not gentle.

Rita Mae Brown, Rubyfruit Jungle (reread). I more thoroughly noticed the "make my own stories/films about Us" theme this time. Maybe that's because Leonard and I have been watching so many films, via the Museum of the Moving Image, from decades past. As bad and simplistic and inaccurate as media representation of QUILTBAG people is now, it's better than it was.

Ha Jin, A Good Fall (short story collection). I had previously read his novel Waiting, and in both his short stories and his novels, Ha Jin does a painfully good job of delicately splaying open the interiority of ordinary people navigating modernity. He sets much of A Good Fall in Flushing, in my own county, and many of his characters are Asian or Asian-American, so I got that added touch of familiarity. If I recall correctly, Ha Jin can make me feel empathy for a character who is making bad decisions, which not every author can do!

Lavanya Sankaran, The Hope Factory. I'd previously read Sankaran's short story collection The Red Carpet, which I do recommend. I loved The Hope Factory -- what a Bangalore story, getting the texture of class, gender, and location so right. (I wonder whether the flashback chapter about one protagonist's day laborer past would work as a standalone story; it sure has a Crowning Moment of Awesome that I will remember for a long time.) I honestly do not know whether I should recommend this book to non-Indians or even desis who are not Karnatakan or Kannadiga, whether it will sparkle quite as bright to people who have never been to that particular dosa restaurant, who don't think "wait I think I have relatives in that square mile of Mysore." But if you're looking for an English-language novel set in modern-day Bangalore, spanning rich and poor, family and business and politics, check this out.

Toni Morrison, Beloved -- haven't finished this yet. I picked this up at a moment when I wasn't ready for how deeply sexy it gets, so I paused; I'll be picking it up again sometime.

Kate Griffin, A Madness of Angels. I cannot remember whether I finished this book. I heard about it because people said the protagonist uses an Oyster card as a component in a magical ward. (People on Dreamwidth find this charming and I am no exception!) But A Madness of Angels is about 1% that kind of awesome Terms-Of-Service-based magic, and about 99% moody swirling coats and "I thought I was dead, how did I get resurrected?" and men in fog and GET BACK TO THE END USER LICENSE AGREEMENTS ALREADY! I am much more interested in urban fantasy if someone is committing magical fraud or magically suing someone than if someone is committing magical murder.

Jean M. Converse and Howard Schuman, Conversations at Random: Survey Research as Interviewers See It (reread). I love this super-obscure book, which I picked up used many years ago. It includes many anecdotes about surprises that door-to-door survey-takers have run into. I like these stories for the same reason I end up rereading the case studies and blockquotes from Carol Gilligan's In A Different Voice or Irving Yalom's Love's Executioner.

Ken MacLeod, The Human Front and The Restoration Game. I read these for an upcoming online book club-type event, and am currently reading MacLeod's Newton's Wake for that same project. I enjoyed the two that I've finished: brisk reads, relatable protagonists, Big Reveals, reasonable exposition so you don't have to come into the book already knowing all the Trotsky-related feuds in twentieth-century communism. Either of these would be a reasonable first MacLeod. (I attempted to read his Fall Revolution series by starting with The Star Fraction and bounced off, at least for now, on the "ugh why do I care about these people, giant dream sequence, I do not know enough about communism to grok this" barriers. I have since been advised to try again with a different Fall Revolution book later!)

Atul Gawande, Complications. I liked this and read aloud bits of it to people, especially the bits about teaching and risk, but it does suffer a bit from comparison to Better, which has a throughline. Still good enough to make me daydream about finding myself on some kind of Indian-American Powerhouses panel with Gawande!

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (reread). I last read this about 15 years ago, for a class, and I'm grateful that I've grown as a reader since then. This time through, I could appreciate Neale Hurston's lush descriptive prose more thoroughly, because now I see what other authors are trying to do when they expend verbiage on hot humid Southern garden scenes. There's an exemplary early passage that connects our protagonist's blossoming sexuality with her new awareness of the sensual world around her and mixes observation of her interior life with trees, flowers, etc. Also, I'd love to talk about class, gender, and sexuality in Their Eyes Were Watching God with other people who have read it recently.

Louise Fitzhugh, Harriet the Spy. I believe I've never read this book before. Just as other adults have said, this book holds up -- when you read as an adult, you see and understand the drawing-room conflicts that Harriet sees but doesn't understand. And yeah, if you are obsessed with discovering everyone else's secrets, other people might hate that and might decide you are not awesome. Hear that, NSA? Perhaps if more people had read Harriet the Spy as kids, we wouldn't have the massive intelligence overreach problems we have now. Neither you nor I have any way of disproving that!

Janet Mock, Redefining Realness. Like many US people, I picked up Redefining Realness because I heard about it, heard it was good, and realized I had not yet read a memoir by a trans person of color. And now I continue this chain of recommendations. Redefining Realness, interestingly, succeeds both as a public service announcement about transphobia and intersectionality and as a memoir about one woman's coming-of-age. I appreciated how Mock interwove her story with statistics and other context.

Ann Leckie, Ancillary Sword. I enjoyed this. The previous book, Ancillary Justice, I enjoyed quite a lot as I was reading it. Ancillary Sword I did not enjoy as much as I was reading it, and then enjoyed a great deal more afterwards, thanks to a great conversation with Jed. Intriguing ideas include: Breq as unreliable narrator, especially regarding other people's emotions, genders, and sexualities. The shift in settings, from spaceship to space station to planet to station to ship, which helps us compare societies that are functional, dysfunctional, and broken. Leckie compare othering, oppression, and possibilities for resistance across urban and plantation settings. The Ancillaryverse as scifi that argues with other scifi; Radchaai as Borg (ancillaries), or as Federation (per the "root beer" and Eddington/Maquis critiques from Deep Space Nine). Justice of Toren as literally the ship who sang (see the comments in Leckie's post here, around the novels' feminist lineage). Danny O'Brien's take on Radchaai beauty standards. What bits of the Radch feel Hindu to me.

Peter Falk, Just One More Thing (reread). I originally read Falk's autobiography before I had gotten into Columbo, and enjoyed taking another look. Fun, funny, wise, a nice collection of heartwarming and offbeat stories, exactly what I wanted as a Columbo fan.

Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon. I'd been putting this off until I could handle the anguish of it, and I'm glad I did. Julie Phillips's comprehensively heartbreaking biography made me weep and yearn hopelessly for an alternate universe or two. I remember standing in the Shakespeare & Co. south of the UC Berkeley campus, reading "The Screwfly Solution" in an anthology -- maybe I've never gotten over that disturbance. And, like a memento mori, in the spinner rack in my living room, within arm's reach of the sofa, I've placed a copy of Warm Worlds and Otherwise by James Tiptree, Jr., an edition that includes that Silverberg intro where he calls her prose "ineluctably masculine." "So when the human male describes his world he maps its distances from his unspoken natural center of reference, himself," Tiptree wrote. My own experience of being othered, misread, being thought too emotional or too unfeminine or too weak by some man's standards, are far fewer than hers were. But it does bother me that I frequently get misgendered in open source communities. It would be really lovely if I never again needed to say, "I'm a woman; please don't assume everyone you meet in IRC is a man." If I felt like pretending, I would not have to call myself James or Arjun; an abstract avatar, the amount of ASCII swagger I already exhibit, and others' assumptions would do the job for me -- our assumptions, I should say, as I also wonder how many women I am currently misgendering as men.

Billy Fawcett (?), Captain Billy's Whiz-Bang. Leonard or I picked this up basically because it shows up in The Music Man. My favorite joke: "How do you like the Volstead Act?" "Oh, I never did care for vaudeville." Has a tremendous number of sexist or otherwise wince-inducing jokes, some of which depend on stereotypes I don't even know and are thus inexplicable.

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(1) : Deleted Scenes: A few deleted sentences from a piece I'm drafting:

One way to understand suspense is that it's the state of having multiple conflicting valid causal models, or not having enough information to even form a single satisfying prediction.

Each protagonist gets impressive moments of awesome competence and agency. But, like levelling up in a game, it's still constrained by the sandbox (which is of course more realistic than the Matrix solution).

The big science fictional twist is that you are far less significant than you had imagined.

But they require less genre expertise than, say, "Four Kinds of Cargo" or the trope review at the start of Anathem.


(1) : Revisiting "Dave Barry In Cyberspace" (1996): I have been rereading Dave Barry's Dave Barry In Cyberspace (published in 1996), which has held up about as well as Neal Stephenson's In The Beginning Was The Command Line (1999).

On the software you'll need for your personal computer:

First off, you need an operating system, which is the "Godfather" program that operates behind the scenes, telling all the other programs what to do, making sure they cooperate, and if necessary leaving the heads of horses in their beds. The most popular operating system in world history as of 10:30 A.M. today is Windows 95, but there are many other options, including Windows 3.1, Windows 3.11, Windows 3.111, Windows for Workgroups, Windows for Groups That Mainly Just Screw Around, Windows for Repeat Offenders, Lo-Fat Windows, and The Artist Formerly Known as Windows. There is also the old "MS-DOS" operating system, which is actually written on parchment and is rarely used on computers manufactured after the French and Indian War. And there is "OS/2," which was developed at enormous expense by IBM and marketed as a Windows alternative, and which has won a loyal following of thousands of people, an estimated three of whom do not work for IBM. And of course there is the Apple operating system, or "Apple operating system," for your hippie beatnik weirdo loner narcotics-ingesting communistic types of Apple-owning individuals who are frankly too wussy to handle the challenge of hand-to-hand combat with computer systems specifically designed to thwart them.

On the internet:

... I had managed to send this hideously embarrassing message to everybody in the world except the person who was supposed to read it.

Yes, thanks to the awesome communications capabilities of the Internet, I was able to make an intergalactic fool of myself, and there's no reason why you can't do the same.

Prefiguring Clay Shirky's cognitive surplus arguments:

So go ahead! Get on the Web! In my opinion, it's WAY more fun than television, and what harm can it do?

OK, it can kill brain cells by the billions. But you don't need brain cells. You have a computer.

The origin of Bill Gates's wealth: "versions."

How much should your new computer cost? "About $350 less than you will actually pay."

Also, I am gonna avoid G7e rage and not quote the entire section, but check out the Comdex chapter for Barry's thoughts on the limited range of stories and game mechanics available in games written by and for men in 1996, and his speculation on what more diversity would look like.

The fiction short story that appears in two parts at the end of the book causes disproportionate feels in me, because it's about falling in love with a stranger via America OnLine chat, and I read it around the same time I fell in love with a guy I met on Usenet, via a Dave Barry fan group. Oh dear I just looked him up and he has a freaking beard. I don't know why that detail gets to me, but I was not prepared for that. At this moment I am under a blanket on my couch in New York City with midmorning light bouncing off brick and fire escapes outside, but I am also in hand-me-down tee shirt and shorts in front of a 486, easily remembering how to turn the audible modem volume all the way down so Mom and Dad don't hear me dialing in, the mousepad the only clear area on my dad's desk that's cluttered with printouts and Post-Its and boxes of 5-and-a-quarter floppies, navigating to HoTMaiL, California night outside the blinds. And now I'm remembering all those other local maxima and minima of my teenage life, and how intense things felt. He sent me a photo and I printed it out in black and white and took it into my AP US History test. That printout is probably still in a box somewhere. He dumped me, and we never met, and I wonder whether either of us still has a copy of that email.

And now the only Dave Barry book I own is Dave Barry in Cyberspace. It's still funny and it still has a barb in it. I am genuinely curious whether people ten years younger than me would enjoy it, since clearly part of what I'm getting out of it is nostalgia. And now I'm thinking about setting a reminder to myself to read current tech humor by Rose Ames and James Mickens in 2035.

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: New Loves And New Joys: Two papercraft pieces I madeOver the last several years I've started getting into hobbies, skills, or activities that I had assumed I would not like or wouldn't get, or that I had dismissed due to initial impressions, such as romance novels, functional programming, watching sports on television, sewing, hiking, pop music, makeup, clothing, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and console-type video games. I've also deepened my general cinephilia and started regularly attending a guided mindfulness meditation group. Many of these communities or artifacts are pretty bad at some things I care about, but they are also pretty good at other things that my pre-existing milieu* doesn't excel at, and thus provide me with a richer variety of kinds of experiences. I want to look at what those things are; this is an incomplete start.

Certainly I can more easily achieve rapport with a wider variety of people if I can make conversation about, for instance, good NYC-area hikes you can get to without a car. And on my English Coast-to-Coast walks, I consistently found other hikers were sociable and supportive and friendly, taking time out of their rambles to help me and my companions wayfind, learn to use our tools, and swap stories.

In pop music, romance, makeup, clothing, sewing, hiking, film and Marvel fandom, I find a willingness to emphasize the sensual and the aesthetic experience. And we can talk about being overwhelmed emotionally by experience, which is also something appealing about sports fandom, that if we talk about our stomachs lurching with fear or happiness, or we ALLCAPS about how yes, breakups are super emotional so songs about them might be too, other people allcaps with us. We unapologetically get at the numinous. No one needs to write essays reminding us that people who read romance novels have emotions and that it's undesirable and impossible to eradicate those emotions.

In functional programming, film, clothing, and music, I've found new abstractions, new perspectives on things that already exist, that make me clutch my head as my brain changes configuration. I do already get that sometimes from my pre-existing milieu, but diversity of perspectives means I get it more if I am in more and more different kinds of communities.

Several papercraft pieces I madeAnd most of the communities I'm getting into have more gender diversity and far greater ethnic diversity than most of the communities I was previously paying attention to. (Please do pay attention to my disclaimers there instead of going #notallfans or similar.) I see and interact with people of more widely varying demographics, and I see the work of diverse people praised and discussed. And this is clearly something I need to improve in my life, because, for example, here I am in a world where Beyoncé Knowles is a global superstar, a critically important black artist and one of the most prominent feminists in the world, and I have barely been hearing or hearing about her work. I heard about a French gender-switch satirical film (Majorité Opprimée) just after it came out, but it's taken me six years to hear about Beyoncé's "If I Were A Boy" (via Arthur Chu's piece on white mediocrity and black excellence). I hear about all that Dove beauty stuff all the time, but only today did I watch Beyoncé's "Pretty Hurts" video. Clearly I need to up my game.

I've added a couple of photos in this post, pictures of some bits of papercraft I made. In December, I raised some money for Wikimedia by wrapping gifts at Astoria Bookshop; gift-wrapping was free, but if customers wanted to give a tip, the volunteer doing gift-wrapping could choose a charity where that tip went. During the slow periods, I cut up the leftover scraps of wrapping paper to make little decorative snowflakes and whatnot, and then I tied them to the ribbons when I finished wrapping up a book. They were pretty, and they didn't scale, and I tried out lots of different variations, and I gave them away, and I liked it. Maybe one more thing I see more in my new communities than in my old ones is the idea that it's okay to enjoy an experience without really understanding it. I'm gonna try that.


* One tip that fundraising consultants give you is that you should think of your communities, past and present, so you can further list people you know through those communities whom you could ask to give money to your cause. I started a list for that exercise, and now see that since about 2002 my communities have included: my blood family, Leonard's family, Wikimedia, Open Source Bridge/Stumptown Syndicate, the MS in Tech Management cohort from Columbia University, the University of California at Berkeley, GNOME, Maemo/MeeGo, AltLaw, the Participatory Culture Foundation, Hacker School, New York City tech in general, Geek Feminism, the Ada Initiative/AdaCamp, WisCon, Foolscap, Making Light, MetaFilter, ImpactHub NYC, the Acetarium, OpenHatch, Growstuff, Collabora, Fog Creek Software, Behavior, Salon.com, Cody's Books, Yuletide Treasure, the Coast-to-Coast walk, Strange Horizons, Slightly Known People fandom, Breaking Bad fandom, Mike Daisey fandom, Star Trek fandom, The Colbert Report fandom, Midtown Comics, the Outer Alliance, Python, Software Carpentry, Mozilla, MetaFilter, LWN, Crooked Timber, Systers, OpenITP/TechnoActivism Third Monday, my Twitter followees/followers, my Identi.ca circle, REI, Dreamwidth, code4lib and #libtechwomen/#libtechgender, Hackers on Planet Earth, the Professional IT Community Conference/LOPSA, Women in Free Software India, the New York Tech Meetup, Subdrift NYC, a few now-defunct private email lists, Google Summer of Code, Outreachy, Foo Campers, Empowermentors, the Unitarian Universalist church, Debian-NYC, Metrics-grimoire, Mailman, NYC storyreading, the Museum of the Moving Image, my local meditation class, and probably more stuff. That wasn't in any real order, in case you couldn't tell, and I claim zero consistency in my participation level. Patterns include: lots of geekiness and lots of online interaction.


: Internet Things I Am Appreciating: Here are a bunch of interesting links.

My pal Brendan wrote an appreciation of my old MC Masala newspaper column and I am totally still basking in it. Yes Brendan you totally were and are the Kentuckian I know best! Also this satirical pastiche about moving from San Francisco to New York City still makes me laugh.

A hypothesis on why so many scifi fans/authors are libertarians. This reminds me that I should read Paulina Borsook's 2000 book Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech.

Related: Kate Losse on Silicon Valley and cults -- incisive, on the other side of the "identity management method" (Joel Spolsky, 2006).

The sign of successful recruiting becomes finding people who feel so matched to the startup's culture that they will happily allow their identities to be subsumed it, to the point of happily wearing the startup's uniform of branded t-shirts and other swag. 'The startup uniform encapsulates a simple but essential principle: Everyone at your company should be different in the same way--a tribe of like-minded people fiercely devoted to the company's mission.' In Thiel's vision, then, the best kind of 'different' is difference that scales--individuality is just a property of people who haven’t found the right startup to work at yet (or alternately, who have not been found by the right startup).

Christina Xu on Blowhard Syndrome which I have absolutely seen.

The constant bagging on Chetan Bhagat in this post makes me laugh pretty hard.

From Rivka in 2003: "I have a Thing about shoes." I particularly find helpful the comment that starts: "I think that everybody has the thing that reminds them of all the issues that they thought they'd completely gotten over in their life, and the thing is often some small, seemingly trivial detail." I'm currently reading a bunch of Courtney Milan novels and she basically always hits this note, by the way.

I appreciate this "TMI" self-description by blogger Aiffe, particularly the paragraph in which they discuss their non-binary gender identity. I particularly recommend it to other cis people like me to see an example of how someone feels different about being included in "women" as opposed to being referred to as "a woman."

Sabrina wrote me a list of book recommendations; if you believe you often like books I like, you should check out her post!

A short parable on art and imperfection.

I found that the bit about personal integrity and promises in this post about procrastination spoke to me.

Leonard and I have been watching a lot of Batman: The Animated Series, and I liked this piece on "Beware the Gray Ghost". Also check out this fun, thought-provoking post on queerness in Batman, especially in the 1960s live-action series.

I found the last two paragraphs of this Belle Waring piece particularly thought-provoking. I genuinely do want nuance in social justice discussions and I care about building bridges with people who don't yet agree with me on every particular and who don't yet know bits of etiquette and jargon that I know. I also don't want for strangers to perceive that good faith as a boundless well of sweetness, time and energy to which they are entitled. Not every conversation is a Dialogue And Deliberation process. It's a tough balance and no one has it down, in my opinion. I'm curious about Aspiration's work on social scripts and whether it'll provide some improved approaches to thinking about this. I'm also rereading Aria Stewart's "Creating just online social spaces" (the "that #couldhavegonebetter" re-routing tactic looks like a good script that I may copy).

Related: "white supremacy culture" by Tema Okun. "This is a list of characteristics of white supremacy culture that show up in our organizations." I'm finding a lot to think about in this.

Mel Chua writes a sarcastic poem: "How to succeed in engineering as a disabled person".

Martin Fowler writes, "In recent years we've made increasing our [gender] diversity a high priority at ThoughtWorks." He's heard arguments against some diversity initiatives, e.g., if everyone followed suit, the industry would run out of qualified women to hire. He responds: "We'll know this is something to be worried about when women are paid significantly more than men for the same work."

I have been chewing on a bunch of other posts: abi's thoughts on intellectual provincialism and the profile of assertions in conversations where people learn things, Ned Batchelder's "Engineers are people", sky croeser's "Our collaborative feminist organisations should be critical of capitalism or they will probably be bullshit", Aphyr's "this guide is for you" (via Dan Abramov), and Ben Rosenbaum on numinous magic and playfulness and on compassion, love, and demanding hard things.

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: But He Doesn't Know (That The Map Is Not) The Territory!: OK, so, Leonard and I were talking about The Music Man -- I grandly pronounced "it's about delusion, as every musical should be" -- and I asked for his take on one salesman's outraged wail, at the end of the opening number, "But he doesn't know the territory!" (Leonard, at a young age, memorized that particular choral spoken-word piece, "Rock Island," and can still recite great chunks of it.)

Leonard said: the other salesman has learned how to sell his goods via a system, and cannot stand that Hill does not follow that system. In order to serve a legitimate market that already exists, you have to know facts; the reality-based community assumes you have to be able to, say, assess how many buttonhooks the region will need. Hill, on the other hand, is creating a need.

While the soundtrack to The Music Man provides a listener with tremendous lyrical density (thus it's on heavy rotation for me when my favorite podcasts haven't updated), the songs do not actually cover the whole of the plot. Leonard reminded me that Hill swindles the townsfolk not by taking fraudulent orders for instruments and uniforms without delivering, but by promising that his amazing system can teach your kids to play music (spoiler: it can't).

Which caused me to realize that we are due for a Music Man parody in which "Professor" Hill brings a code school to town. "And instead of the romance with Marian, there's some other obstacle that keeps Hill in town, like, they genuinely start to care about local social justice issues," I mused.

"I can always tell when a plot becomes a Sumana Special Edition," Leonard said aloud.

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