Cogito, Ergo Sumana

picture of Sumana's head

Sumana Harihareswara's journal


: Recent Discussion on Unfairness in FLOSS Economics: I'm keenly watching the conversation on structural imbalances in funding and use of free and open source software. Nadia Eghbal's recent essay has garnered attention, and here I collect some additional posts and threads by others about this disparity in the economics of FLOSS:

I include above some pieces that, on the surface, are adjacent to this conversation rather than in it: on open data, on emotional burnout, on GitHub's tooling, on license compliance, on setting expectations about unmaintained projects. But I see these frustrations as -- like the injustice driving volunteer maintainers to step away -- coming from a fundamental perception of unfairness. Free and open source software makers will notice if there is no measure of reciprocity in an environment that pays lip service to gift culture.

My next step probably ought to be reading the work of Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom: "groundbreaking research demonstrating that ordinary people are capable of creating rules and institutions that allow for the sustainable and equitable management of shared resources." I do hope so.

Filed under:


(2) : On "Twin Peaks": Leonard and I are watching Twin Peaks. This is my first David Lynch experience, and as of Season 2 Episode 15, here are some thoughts, some of which are spoilers.

In the conversation we had upon hearing that Windom Earle has a mind like a diamond, Leonard said, "I've always believed that you should pay two months' salary for Windom Earle's mind."

Television episodes from 1990-1991 featuring a trans character can be surprising in unsatisfying and "I think that's good?" ways.

I so deeply enjoyed the Double Indemnity reference in "Are you an ambitious man, Mr. Neff?" that we paused the video so I could couch-dance for a while. And then a big chunk of Season 2 was a Sunset Boulevard homage, which maybe some people loved, but in retrospect I wish there'd been more insurance fraud and snappy banter. Which you may have already known about me. Other symbolic glimpses of how the show would provide unexpected awesomeness: several men crying in the first episode after Laura Palmer's death (and not being mocked by the camera or other characters for doing so), and Cooper flipping the board over to show the map of Tibet and starting his out-of-nowhere monologue on the Dalai Lama.

Major Briggs talking with Margaret the Log Lady: another highlight of the show. In general I adore how many people with integrity we see, like Cooper, Briggs, Andy, Dr. Hayward, and Margaret. And the growing friendship between Sheriff Truman and Agent Cooper makes my heart burst with warmth. In the same vein: yay for the (kind of) personal growth of Pete Martell and Bobby Briggs, and the growth of Albert Rosenfield, Audrey Horne, Lucy, and Andy. People who have watched Northern Exposure: is it full of weirdos with integrity working together to achieve unlikely things? Because that's a thing I love about Twin Peaks and I suspect Northern Exposure may be like this too. (Once we run out of old Twin Peaks and are waiting for the new series to start, I may self-medicate my Agent Cooper deprivation with some Due South, a Middleman rewatch, and/or the Captain Carrot-heavy Discworld books.)

Bobby Briggs's most loathsome rebellion against his father may be his unsafe gun handling in a scene between him and Shelly. Aaagh! Do not point the barrel at someone unless you are prepared to shoot them!

If you have been watching Twin Peaks and now the Duolingo owl mascot freaks you out a bit, consider watching the "Dual Spires" homage episode of Psych which offers you Leo the Cinnamon Owl, a much friendlier model.

Many Star Trek: The Next Generation fans will recognize that the actor playing the Giant also played Mr. Homn. More obscure: the actor playing orphan Nicky also played orphan and Data admirer Timothy in "Hero Worship".

From the time I was a child I have felt ominous harbingers when seeing operating ceiling fans in family homes, and I feel vindicated that David Lynch and Mark Frost evidently agree with me.


: Risk Mitigation: FOSDEM logo Next week I'm headed to Belgium for my first Free and Open Source Developers' European Meeting. I'll give two talks. I'm excited, because it'll be a chance to listen, learn, influence, introduce myself to potential clients, and see old pals.

But I asked one old pal whether he'd be there and got the reply:

Don't plan to be at FOSDEM; one of these years, maybe after their CoC isn't a joke.

For some time, FOSDEM participants and people who'd like to attend have asked FOSDEM organizers to improve their Code of Conduct. In October, one of the people organizing the Legal and Policy Issues DevRoom suggested,

FOSDEM is a fantastic conference and the only thing I can think of that would make it better is publishing a Code of Conduct...

Discussion ensued, and in November, the organizers announced their new Code of Conduct. I appreciate that different organizations need to customize their anti-harassment/friendly space/conduct policies, as the Wikimedia technical community did under my leadership, and I recognize that FOSDEM -- entirely volunteer-run, requiring no attendee registration, and charging no admission fee -- has its own particular challenges. But I see why my friend looks askance at FOSDEM's CoC. If you compare it to the example policy offered on the Geek Feminism wiki, you see how lots of little differences add up. For instance, FOSDEM's policy doesn't give a way to anonymously report a problem, and it doesn't suggest how you can find or identify team or staff members.

I figure I can go, this time, see how it goes, keep my guard up a bit, and then, as a member with more standing in and a more nuanced understanding of the FOSDEM community, ask for specific improvements, and explain why. My support network, my judgment, and my courage are in good enough shape that I can handle the most likely nonsense without taking too much damage.

But there's this one wrinkle.

The night before FOSDEM proper, the organizers run a beer night that -- according to my friends who have attended -- is a highlight of the convention. Since many FOSDEM attendees spend the session days in subject-specific devrooms, and since I want to meet people from many and varied projects, this beer night is probably the most high-value networking event all weekend. But. As the Geek Feminism wiki astutely notes,

Intoxication (usually drunkeness) both genuinely lowers inhibitions and provides people with an excuse for acting badly even if they genuinely knew better.

The data makes me cautious. FOSDEM improved its policy, but not enough to completely reassure me, and we still have yet to see how they implement it. Many individual devrooms and affiliated events, such as the FLOSS metrics meeting where I'm speaking, have added their own CoCs, but that doesn't cover the beer night.

So how will I mitigate risk? Maybe I won't go to the beer party at all. Maybe I'll go, but stay in loud crowded places, even if that makes it harder for me to have the kinds of in-depth conversations that lead to sales. Maybe I'll mention my husband a lot and dress androgynously. Maybe I'll mostly talk with women, with other nonwhite people, and with friends I already know, trading off serendipity against safety. And, despite the organizers' suggestion that I "don't miss this great opportunity to taste some of the finest beer in Belgium," and even though I enjoy trying new beers, I'll probably stick to water.

(And then next year I'll be part of the whisper network, helping other folks decide whether to go.)

I'm writing this to help people who don't have to make these risk calculations see a snapshot of that process, and, frankly, to justify my attendance to those who can't or won't attend FOSDEM till it's more clearly dedicated to a harassment-free experience for participants. And comments on this blog post are closed because, as Jessica Rose said:

Any extended conversation around a code of conduct will eventually demonstrate why a code of conduct is necessary.

P.S. I tried to think of an appropriate "free-as-in-beer" joke and could not. Regrets!


: Several Upcoming Talks: I'm preparing several talks to deliver at open source technology conferences this winter and spring. me smiling at camera

I'll be at FOSDEM in Brussels later this month giving two talks:

  1. On Friday, January 29th, at the FLOSS Community Metrics Meeting, I'm presenting "What should we stop doing?" The FLOSS community often clamors for stats that would let us automate emotional labor, so we could focus on more valuable work. Is that appropriate? What if we switched our assumptions around and used our metrics to figure out what we're spending time on more generally, and tried to find low-value programming work we could stop doing? What tools would support this, and what scenarios could play out?
  2. On Sunday, January 31st, I'm speaking in the Legal and Policy Issues "devroom" on comparing codes of conduct to copyleft licenses, expanding on the discussion I started in this Crooked Timber piece last year. What can we learn about our own attitudes towards governance when we look at how and whether we make these different freedom tradeoffs?

In mid-March, I will present "Hidden Features in HTTP" at Great Wide Open in Atlanta, Georgia. This will be pretty similar to "HTTP Can Do That?!", which I presented to a standing-room-only crowd at Open Source Bridge last year. If you're a web developer whose knowledge of HTTP verbs ends around GET and POST, expect news, laughs, and lab reports from wacky experiments.

me with a micRight after Great Wide Open, I'll speak on "Inessential Weirdnesses in Free Software" at LibrePlanet in Boston. And then in mid-May, I'll be presenting "Inessential Weirdnesses in Open Source" at OSCON in Austin, Texas. More than a year after I wrote "Inessential Weirdnesses in Open Source" as a tossed-off blog post, I'm pretty dissatisfied with it. I should have more clearly stated my assumptions and audience, and my intent to play around with some vocabulary and what-ifs; I'm unhappy that many people misread it as a "we should eradicate all these things" manifesto. In these talks I aim to clarify and deepen this material. Open source contributors and leaders who are already comfortable with our norms and jargon will learn how to see their own phrasings and tools as outsiders do, including barriers that often slow down new users and contributors, and to make more hospitable experiences during their outreach efforts.

Then in late May I'll make a public appearance or two at WisCon -- the exact nature of which is a surprise!

I'm proud that this year I'll be speaking for the first time at FOSDEM, Great Wide Open, LibrePlanet, and OSCON. I hope my talks and the hallway track help me get the word out about Changeset Consulting to potential clients.

And if you can't make it to any of those conferences, but you'd like to hear more about Changeset and my other activities, check out Andromeda Yelton's one-hour interview with me in her Open Paren video podcast. At 39:29 I emit a huge belly laugh that makes me happy to re-watch and you might like it too.

me holding a mic in front of an audience


(3) : Star Wars: The Force Awakens: I saw the original trilogy many years ago and just don't remember a lot of stuff. I was maybe sixteen; I missed my window for really loving it, in keeping with that old saying, "The golden age of science fiction is twelve." And then I saw Phantom Menace -- standing in line for it and all -- with my then boyfriend, when it came out, and then we had our first real argument, because I didn't like it and he did. Past Sumana, bewildered and frustrated in that dorm hallway, you are not wrong, basically the entire critical consensus agrees with you, and someday you will learn to trust your own aesthetic judgment.

In any case: even though I'd never seen Episodes 2 or 3, and I barely remembered the others, The Force Awakens was totally accessible and fun for me. I walked in as someone who thought Boba Fett was one of Jabba the Hutt's names, and I was fine.

I've heard that -- to trufans -- there's sort of a red herring happening in The Force Awakens about someone being set up to be the next Jedi. I did not see it, and I think one reason is that I don't know anything about what the harbingers of Jedi are, but also I think it's because I am such a nonfan that when I am watching a Star Wars movie I do not automatically think "ah there will have to be a new generation of Jedi, so who will it be?" It has not soaked in for me that Star Wars is fantasy and that the way we solve problems is by finding and training people sensitive to the Force. I have Star Trek in my DNA instead (like Leonard) so I assume that the way we solve geopolitical problems is by, like, being transgressively inclusive and making good arguments.

P.S. Does "TFA" mean Star Wars: The Force Awakens or two-factor authentication? In my upcoming fanfic on security in lightsaber summoning, both! Although I may need to figure out whether the Force is something you have, something you are, or something you know.

P.P.S. I will not be writing that fanfic, but you go ahead and feel free. Happy new year!

Edited to add at 11:45pm PT: OK, I wrote the fanfic. "Security Question" is about why a young Jedi apprentice can't shortcut the anti-theft system on the lightsabers by Force-summoning the two-factor auth token itself.


: Yuletide Treasure Reveal: "Pops Real Nice": Fanfic authors started a Secret Santa-style gift exchange, "Yuletide", in 2003, concentrating on fandoms that don't have that much fic written about them. This year, for the first time, I participated. Now that the authors' names have been revealed, I can announce: I wrote fic about two songs by the Mountain Goats!

Pops Real Nice (2194 words) by brainwane
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton - The Mountain Goats (song), Beat the Champ - The Mountain Goats (Album)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Animal Mask, Original Male Character(s), Original Female Character(s), Cyrus (The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton), Jeff (The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton)
Additional Tags: Wrestling, Zines, Psychologists & Psychiatrists, Divorce, Texas, Utah - Freeform, Transcribed, Inspired by Music, Friendship, The Mountain Goats, John Darnielle - Freeform, All Hail West Texas
Summary: After the events of "Animal Mask." Before, during, and after the events of "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton".

Enjoy "Pops Real Nice" and the making-of endnotes (including thank-yous to my beta readers) at Archive Of Our Own (brought to you by the Organization for Transformative Works).

I received a sweet Babysitters' Club fic, "(Not) Like Uber but for Babysitting", by cbomb, which took my prompt and ran with it. It made me cheer (as in, cheer out loud) when I found out that BSC is deliberately setting itself against the "sharing economy" trends of Uber, Airbnb, et alia by making its babysitters' treatment a first-class priority. Awesome, and in keeping with the values we've always seen in BSC!

Thanks to everyone who makes Yuletide happen.


: More Zen Cho, and History in Hamilton: People who read this blog will probably like the stuff I've been posting on the Geek Feminism group blog. I wrote a bit more about Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown in October, covering "Cruciat-ish, or, Magic and Microaggressions", "The Diasporan Ugly Duckling", and "All The Fun Bits". And then, in November, I wrote a list of reasons why Hamilton appeals to geeky feminists -- including its user experience affordances.

I took some of those concepts and developed them further into my first-ever piece for Tor.com, "The Uses Of History in Hamilton: An American Musical". It compares Hamilton to Drunk History, Hark! A Vagrant, 1776, the HBO John Adams miniseries, Ginsberg's "America", Hughes's "Let America Be America Again", Sassafrass's "Somebody Will", and science fiction in general, and considers its narrative approach and metatextuality. I also link to a few great pieces of Hamilton fanfic.

Filed under:


: What Software Freedom Conservancy Does, Why It's Important, And Why You Should Give: I appreciate the work of the Software Freedom Conservancy, a nonprofit that helps free and open source software projects. Right now they need 2,500 people to become Supporters to keep their work going. So I made a video about why I support them, using language and examples that you can understand if you're new to this topic. It's embedded below, along with the text script I spoke from.

This month, I'm volunteering to help raise money for the Software Freedom Conservancy. My local bookshop does something cool for the holidays: volunteers wrap gifts for free, and any tips from the customers go to a charity that the volunteer gets to choose. So I've been explaining to the customers (most of whom aren't technologists) that I am donating their tips to the Software Freedom Conservancy.

My one-sentence explanation: The Software Freedom Conservancy is a nonprofit that helps programmers give away their software for free.

If they are curious, I explain further:

One way they do this is by being a nonprofit umbrella. Developers who want to make software and give it away often need a way to take donations and spend them on stuff like travel (to see each other and work face-to-face). Setting up their own nonprofits would take a ton of time and paperwork and filing fees. So the Conservancy takes care of all that, handling the accounting and stuff like that.

Another thing they do is license compliance work. You see, if you just write something, then automatically, the license that applies is standard copyright. But programmers who want to give away their software do it by saying it's under a different license, one that says, it's fine for you to copy this and look at the code and change it and even give it or sell it to other people, as long as you let other people do the same thing, too. But there are some companies that don't follow these rules. They maybe reuse these things that other people gave away, and package them into a phone or a tablet or something, and then they close it up. They don't let other people see that code -- they don't give other people the same chance that they benefited from. So the Conservancy follows up on that, sends them legal letters that say, "hey, that's illegal, that's not fair, don't do that."

And another thing they do is, there's this internship program, a paid internship program called Outreachy, to help get women and other underrepresented groups into this part of the tech industry. You see, most internships in the software industry are paid -- it's not like a lot of other industries. We gotta pay these interns to help them get into this part of the industry. So the Conservancy is the nonprofit umbrella for this program, and handles the finances so that companies can donate money and the interns can get paid.

That's my explanation. I'm glad I can help tell people about this great nonprofit and the unique work they do. And it really is unique. So if you or people you care about have benefited from the Conservancy's work, or if you just think it's a good idea, please give them $120, or whatever you can, during this fundraiser, and spread the word. Thank you.

Technologists might also like Matthew Garrett's "GPL enforcement is a social good" and Mike Linksvayer's thoughts on his favorite Conservancy accomplishment of 2015.

Please give -- right now, there's a match available that will make your gift count twice!

Edited 6 February to add: The donation match runs till 1 March 2016. Please give.


: On Meditation And Other Training Exercises: Last night, as I do most Wednesday nights, I went to my local mindfulness meditation group. It was a very distracted meditation for me, and as we ended, a voice in me judged, failure.

And I internally replied to that voice, saying, hold on, define your terms. If this is failure, what would success be?

And I thought of an analogy. When we jump rope to exercise, we jump, over and over again. We know that at the end of each jump we will fall back down to earth, because that's how gravity is. The aim is not to jump, each time, in the hopes that this time we'll take off into space, as though this time we will escape gravity. Jumping rope is a training activity. The aim is to strengthen the muscles of the legs by using the unbending force of gravity. We practice pushing off against it, and over time our legs get better and better at letting us move around.

Minds have thoughts. That's what they do. The distractions you will always have with you. Meditation and prayer help me get better at working with them, using them, instead of having them in charge of me.

Filed under:


(3) : Announcing Changeset Consulting: I'm delighted to announce the launch of my new business. I am the founder of Changeset Consulting, LLC.

Changeset provides short-term project management services to free and open source software projects. Need to expedite the releases of new versions of software, write developer onboarding and user documentation, triage and respond to bugs, clean out the code review queue, or prioritize tasks for upcoming work? Changeset Consulting lightens the load on your maintainers.

Details about the services I offer, my past work, and useful resources I've made are at http://changeset.nyc. I'm seeking new clients and would love referrals.

For now the shop is just me, but I'm aiming to have enough income and work by summer 2016 to hire an intern or apprentice, and to eventually hire full-time staff. We'll see how it goes.

I highly recommend Galaxy Rise Consulting, the firm I hired to design my website. Much thanks to Shauna Gordon-McKeon, and to all the friends and family who encouraged me on my way here!

Filed under:


(3) : Words I Didn't Know in "Camp Concentration": I recently re-skimmed Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch to list the words he uses that I did not know. In this list I do not include words he uses and then immediately defines (e.g., orthoepy), or obscure words I already knew (e.g., supererogatory), or words I believed to be proper nouns. I mark with an asterisk words that are nearly defined in the text and words I was nearly sure I already knew. Where the word appeared at the beginning of a sentence and I'm not sure whether it's a proper noun, or derived from one, I've preserved the initial capital letter. Here they are, in the order they appear in the book:

Pellucidar, empyrean, hermetic*, triturated, factoricity, tappets, lutulence, caliginous, resile, chrism, Hierodule, hypogeum, breccia, spirochete*, treponeme, orchitis, tabes dorsalis, Adamite, chilead, megrims, scherzoes, quaggy, unhouseled, fire-drakes, squitters, jactitations, hassock, enfouldered, stabile, quittors, oblate, athanor*, electuary, telluric, minorating, perfervid, concinnate, factoricity, ortilans, sacerdotal, philoprogenitiveness, ruck, hypogeal, daedal, fane, cornua, epalpibrate, picador, pic, banderilleros, hierograms, catechesis, symbolatrous, cope (noun), drier (noun), benisons, tellurian, bellycrabs, viscid, Carmot, crozier, hyperdulia, opuscula, crapulence, stelae, chiliasts, glouting, epithesis, illapses, wyverns, virescense, latria, umbelliferous, plash, fascinariorum, Ramiform, conatus, Anastomosis, haecceity, farctate, flagitious, squiffy, satispaison, rugate, cerebration*, emulous, gravid, compassionating, spining, sybilline, moiety*, perforce*, bolking, innocuity*

I have not looked up any of those words yet, as I am posting this partly to suggest Camp Concentration as a word source to the officiants of my neighborhood vocabulary bee. Also, I used my phone to note down the words I found, so a side benefit is that my autocorrect just got a lot more highbrow.

Filed under:


: Ways to Toss Your Stuff in NYC: I've been on a house-cleanout kick recently. Thus I am grateful for the New York City Compost Project, this list of food banks & food pantries in New York City, SAFE (Solvents, Automotive, Flammables, and Electronics) Disposal Events in the city, and Greenmarket textile recycling collection.

Filed under:


: A Few More Fanvid Forebearers: Next week I'm speaking to a college class about my video art piece "Pipeline" which critiques the tech industry's hypocritical diversity narrative (making-of). When I posted the vid in May I also posted a list of some vids I'd learned from.

But just now I also remembered a couple of other pieces of video remix art I'd loved:

In 2008 Leonard and I discovered a super-erudite "lyrics misheard" video focusing on religious history, anti-oppression organizing, and Star Trek. If you have not watched "Wishmaster Misheard Odysseus' Idealist Alchemical Revolution" and you like silly juxtapositions plus extremely 2008-era "and now a few reminders of the US same-sex marriage debate" please take the five minutes.

And from just before the US general election of 2006, "Freedom", a witty and angry and comprehensively anti-George W. Bush montage. Warning: Upsetting photos throughout, including dead or injured people from Abu Ghraib, Hurricane Katrina, and the 9/11 attacks. Perhaps my favorite part is the extremely didactic 3:19-3:40 visuals atop the "that's what you get!" repetitions, reminding us to vote for specific Democrats and finishing with a triumphant shot of Ned Lamont.

In "Pipeline" I enjoyed the self-indulgence of inserting references I loved even though they'd only resonate with a teeny percentage of my viewers. And I got straight-up didactic and wordy with screencaps and onscreen text, and I got funny-angry in a way that's hit a chord with some folks. It's hard to trace precisely but I think KleistGeistZeit and mgarthoff helped me see how to do this -- thanks!


: A Month, Ish: I have been fairly low-volume on this blog lately. Some stuff I've been up to:

I wrote a Geek Feminism piece about feminist tech demos I saw at a showcase in New York City. I also asked the Geek Feminism book club what we want to read next, and then posted some thoughts on Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown. I'll be posting more about Sorcerer to GF this week.

I wrote fanfic about Star Trek: The Next Generation and current events.

I helped spread the word about a bunch of openings for UX experts, developers, and sysadmins at the New York Public Library.

For the first time, I've signed up to participate in the Yuletide Treasure fanfiction exchange (my "Dear Author" letter). I'll get my assignment by November 1st and I'm pretty curious -- this experience will inform my answers to my question: What would a "Secret Santa"-style gift exchange along the lines of Yuletide Treasure look like in other parts of open source or open culture?

Leonard and I finished watching The Legend of Korra and I read Ancillary Mercy (my review), and I got most of the way through Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. I listened to the entirety of Gimlet Media's show StartUp and cried at the end of the second season. And I got super into the musical Hamilton, getting to see it for $10 via the lottery for front-row seats, buying the cast album, and listening to it many, many times. I've started posting thoughts about it in the Hamiltunes community on Dreamwidth. For those of us who miss The West Wing and good Star Trek it fills quite a void.

Leonard and I hosted various visitors. I cooked a few dishes I'd never cooked before. I cycled places (my longest ride on this bike so far: from Astoria to Park Slope and back, about twenty miles) and learned how to clean and lube the chain. I worked on business planning and started talking to leads. I got used to a Jolla phone running SailfishOS (it's a little underfeatured but improving steadily).

In perhaps the most boring news at all, I'm trying out the world of the standing desk, using a stack of books to raise the laptop to typing height; I'll have to take out Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic by David J. Schwartz from this pile in order to finish it.

Filed under:


: Preserving Your Old Art Or Activist Videotapes: These notes on a panel about digital preservation of fanvids spurred me to note down some links in a comment, and I figured it was worth publicizing further here.

I myself put vids on Critical Commons and have started also putting them on the Internet Archive. The Internet Archive is also willing to digitize and post VHS tapes (witness the John Morearty archive), but you may want to take a preservationist approach and pay someone like Bay Area Video Collective to digitize the tape more carefully and in higher fidelity, if it's particularly historic or visually artistic. In my experience that kind of preservation service might cost about USD$135 for a 60-minute VHS tape. BAVC and similar nonprofits often have grants to help with this, e.g., the Preservation Access Program.

You can find vendors for $20/tape but those vendors basically do parallel digitization, with lots of consoles going at once, so there's more risk that a problem will happen with any one tape.

The California Preservation Project's CAVPP (California Audiovisual Preservation Project), which also has a grant to make archival-quality digitizations of historic media, has put together a useful guide to identifying and taking care of various kinds of cassettes, DVDs, etc. Page 9 (Environmental Conditions) has more details on the best temperature and relative humidity for storing these things. Here's a version one can print out. And here are some more resources, including webinars, for people getting into video preservation. I went to a CAVPP workshop this summer, which is how I know their particular resources.

If you or your organization have activist or artistic videorecordings on analog media, now is a really good time to start planning to get those into a digital medium. Magnetic and other media deteriorate, and the clock is ticking.


(2) : Penumbra, Apotheosis, Friable: I had a pretty full weekend here in Queens.

Saturday morning I went to an information session in Flushing about a business plan competition in Queens. About 170 new or small businesses enter each year for a chance at one of three $10,000 grants (the three categories: Food, Innovation, and Community). I also learned more about the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program, a 10-week, $500 night course. I am thinking seriously about doing this; my MS in Technology Management focused much more on big corporate tech than on solo entrepreneurship, and it's been several years since that coursework anyway.

MergeSort logoThen I went to Maker Faire to help staff the table for MergeSort, the new New York City feminist hackerspace. A year or two ago I entertained the idea of cofounding a feminist community workshop in Astoria and decided I did not want to try without several dedicated cofounders. Then, a few months ago, I happened to meet Anne DeCusatis on the subway (she noticed my laptop stickers) and found out that she and Katherine Daniels are founding MergeSort! Right now it's a monthly meetup in Brooklyn.

I brought my zines "Cat, Dog, and Badger Each Own A Bookstore. They Are Friends." and "Quill & Scroll" and taught passers-by how to turn the letter-sized sheet of paper into an eight-page booklet with one slit and a bit of folding, just as Liz Henry taught me at that Double Union workshop where I started "Cat, Dog, and Badger." (Brendan, there are now like 150 more people who have received copies of your gorgeous illustrations of a hedgehog running an all-night bookstore.) I saw a few people I knew, and met Jenn Schiffer!

the three words I defined in oral rounds Saturday night I attended a vocabulary bee sponsored by my local bookshop. During the first round, in which we had twenty minutes to define fifteen words, I discovered I did not know the meanings of "flocculent", "phthisis", and "dipsomaniac" -- and I was slightly off regarding "trenchant" (which means "forceful" rather than "perceptive"). The MC encouraged us to write in jokes in addition to or instead of accurate answers, as the judges also appreciated and awarded points for style and hilarity. So I defined dipsomania as an obsession with the singing the "dip da dip da dip" scat from "Blue Moon", and I japed that "flocculent" is a service that lets Catholic priests monitor their congregations on Twitter during the 40 days of Lent. I made it into the oral rounds, during which I successfully defined "penumbra", "apotheosis", and "friable," each time adding a little something -- about constitutional law, about the first becoming the last, about how we, too, will crumble into ashes and dust.

my winnings - a book, a t-shirt, and gift certificates to Astoria Coffee and Astoria BookshopI won first place.

Yesterday: back to Maker Faire for more tabling. A Philadelphia visitor in an International Workers of the World shirt recognized me because of my Dreamwidth pin, but declined to sing a labor song with me. (I have been working on "Banks of Marble," personally.) It feels possible at this point that the majority of the sentences Anne has heard me say are: "Hi there, we're starting a feminist makerspace here in New York City." (A little misleading, since I am not one of the founders, but hey, clarity over precision for a carnival barker's patter.) I can stay on message and repeat talking points for many hours, and was glad to deploy these skills in the service of a good cause, while also giving away silly zines about animals who own bookstores.

I grew much better at teaching people how to cut and fold the zine; sometimes, when I said to an adult or a child towards the end of the process, "Do you see how it wants to become a book?" I saw the joy of discovery and mastery in their face. "It's yours to keep," I said, and maybe they'll unfold and refold it, to understand. I think some of those people, kids and adults both, have started thinking about what zine they might make. Maybe some kid got some paper and pen on the drive home to Long Island or Connecticut or Jersey, and sat in the back seat drawing, making and numbering eight cells on a sheet of notebook paper or the back of an old math worksheet. Maybe a couple of women, on the long subway ride back to Brooklyn, used the back of a flyer to start drafting -- maybe I'll see them at a MergeSort meetup one of these days.

We ran out of zines, and of business cards, and of eighth-of-a-sheet slips Anne had printed Saturday night, and of hastily-handwritten DIY cards cut from notebook paper and the back of a mis-cut "Quill & Scroll".

I got home to a Leonard-cooked dinner, some Internet time, and a few episodes of The Legend of Korra, then the lunar eclipse, then sleep.


: An Anger Playlist: Since a Twitter acquaintance asked for some angry songs, I present my "Angry" playlist:

  1. "Get Around" by Leonard Richardson
  2. "Sucker Punch" by Jonathan Coulton
  3. 8-bit-style cover of Weezer's "Why Bother?" by I Fight Dragons
  4. "Erase Me" by Ben Folds Five
  5. "Have You Forgotten the Bomb" by Barcelona
  6. "Everything to Everyone" by Everclear
  7. "One Hit Wonder" by Everclear
  8. "Now That It's Over" by Everclear
  9. "What You Call Love" by Guster
  10. "Either Way" by Guster
  11. "Going to Maine" by The Mountain Goats
  12. "First Few Desperate Hours" by The Mountain Goats
  13. "Southwood Plantation Road" by The Mountain Goats
  14. "No Children" by The Mountain Goats
  15. "This Year" by The Mountain Goats
  16. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana
  17. "Spiderwebs" by No Doubt
  18. "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime" as covered by Joe Glazer
  19. "The Same Merry-Go-Round" as covered by Oscar Brand
  20. "Still Alive" by Jonathan Coulton feat. Sara Quin

You may also be interested in my "Perseverance!" playlist.


: On Paint, Spock, And Anonymity: For years I have wondered why the Spanish instructions on reporting unsafe building sites used "No tiene que dar su nombre" instead of the Spanish adverb for "anonymously". While researching this question so I could ask it properly on Ask MetaFilter, I started looking through New York City legislative history around the recent permutations of the required signage. And that's how I came across this transcript of the minutes of the New York City Council's Committee on Housing and Buildings from April 30, 2013.

Only a bit of this meeting concerned the proposed changes to Building Codes Section 3301.9, but I enjoyed this moment:

Then why the color scheme. Why are we moving from blue to hunter green or green to hunter blue or whatever the-I mean why are we worried about a color scheme?

COMMISSIONER LIMANDRI: Well, currently today I do think that what we’re looking for is consistency. There have been conversations that blue is an interesting choice and so is green. What we are looking for is a color that is you know what maybe psychologists think are soothing colors. And so we chose green.

COUNCIL MEMBER COMRIE: Okay.

CHAIRPERSON DILAN: That’s better than hearing that somebody owns a lot of stock in hunter green paint.

Then the committee heard testimony on a proposed law affecting the sales of cooperative apartments, to reduce illegal discrimination against applicants by co-op boards. In discussing how to affect the behavior of boards considering discriminating against buyers:

COUNCIL MEMBER FIDLER: You mentioned a TV show before. I'll mention another one. Do you watch Star Trek ever?

MR. GURION: The original one.

COUNCIL MEMBER FIDLER: Of course.

MR. GURION: Not like--

COUNCIL MEMBER FIDLER: Actually I am going to ask you a question about the original. I think we all agree that Mr. Spock is the smartest character of the show. In one episode he says to Captain Kirk. Every revolution is one man or woman with a vision. I think you heard testimony earlier when you were in the room when Ms. Ford stood up the right thing happened. And for you to say that 188 will have no effect. If you don't necessarily you know you may know the other four members of your coop board but you may not trust all four of them, if you are the only one in the room thinking the discriminatory thought you can't communicate it if Ms. Ford is in the room. And so if there is one person and it's the same thing as 26. If everyone in the room is going to sit there and figure out a really good reason that can't be challenged to say this is not discrimination? It's the same thing. It's the one honest person in the room theory. All right.

MR. GURION: It's not and in New York City unlike on Star Trek there is no Vulcan mind meld.

CHAIRPERSON DILAN: All right, guys.

I am pained to learn that the council member misremembered the speaker of his quotation; Kirk says it to mirror Spock (video). Regardless, I find it charming that Star Trek comes up at City Council committee meetings. And I love that Gurion's response totally makes sense as shorthand in this context; we don't have Vulcan mind melds, and so we cannot see into people's minds to know with certainty whether their actions had discriminatory intent; nor does anyone have telepathic shortcuts to get fellow board members to stop discriminating.

City Council minutes are so engrossing. I could read them for days.


: Software In Person: In February, while coworking at the Open Internet Tools Project, I got to talking with Gus Andrews about face-to-face tech events. Specifically, when distributed people who make software together have a chance to get together in person, how can we best use that time? Gus took a bunch of notes on my thoughts, and gave me a copy.

Starting with those, I've written a piece that Model View Culture has published today: "Software In Person".

Distributed software-making organizations (companies, open source projects, etc.) generally make time to get people together, face-to-face. I know; I've organized or run hackathons, sprints, summits, and all-hands meetings for open source projects and businesses (and if I never have to worry about someone else's hotel or visa again, it'll be too soon).

Engineers often assume we don't need to explicitly structure that time together, or default to holding an unconference. This refusal to reflect on users' needs (in this case, the participants in the event) is lazy management. Or event organizers fall back to creating conferences like the ones we usually see in tech, where elite men give hour-long lectures, and most participants don't have any opportunities to collaborate or assess their skills. Still a bad user experience, and a waste of your precious in-person time.

Why do you think you're spending hundreds of thousands of dollars holding hackathons, sprint weeks, and conferences? And how could you be using that time and money better?

Subsections include "Our defaults", "Investing for the long term", "Beyond 'hack a lot'", "Grow your people", and "Setting yourself up for success". Thanks to Gus and to Model View Culture for helping me make this happen!

Filed under:


(3) : The Eight Mile Road Between Republic City and Massachusetts Bay Colony: Leonard and I have started watching The Legend of Korra, which is fun. In one episode, a character says to the guy who's just arrived, "Oh, hi, 'Shady' Shin." And then proceeds to let Shady hire him for a pretty sketchy job.

Leonard said that, as a rule, he would not become business partners with someone who's commonly known as "Shady." I asked whether Eminem counted; Leonard replied that for Slim Shady, "Shady" is a surname, but in any case, Leonard would insist that some non-Shady collaborator be involved. And besides, he said, what might Eminem even want to hire Leonard to do?

I said: a Twitter tool. Specifically: sometimes people tweet bits of Eminem lyrics (without attributing the song or artist), or incorporate snatches of Eminem lyrics into the sentences of their tweets, and so we'd want to monitor the tweetstream to find those, and analyze whether those people are "influencers" (and whether it's likely they and their followers buy music or pirate it). And then, based on that data, Eminem could forecast trends in sales of his music, and hook that forecast up to his investments, to automatically change his strategy towards riskier or more conservative options, as appropriate.

Leonard had been nodding this whole time. I finished: And the name of the tool could be: Increase Mathers.

(Incidentally, in other Korra-rap relations, a big reason I got interested in The Legend of Korra was this fanvid set to "Mama Said Knock You Out" by LL Cool J.)

(Also, Eminem's clothing line of course ought to be "Cotton Mathers".)

Filed under:


: What I've Been Up To: ribbon and papercraft Over the last few weeks:

I bought a bike and started riding it. I spent a bunch of time with my blood family. I saw movies and read books, including a bunch of rereading. I worked on an article for an online magazine. I talked with other scifi/fantasy fans about the Hugo Awards and sf/f that takes Hinduism seriously. I got further behind on email. I added metadata to a few videos in the John Morearty archive. I caught up with friends on the phone and by letter. I tried to stay out of the heat. I did errands.

I recovered from a difficult summer. I'm glad it's getting to be autumn.


: GeoGuessr and Its New Monuments Map: I think I am a casual gamer, in that during my adult life I have not felt the urge to play any computerized/video games as a sustained hobby. I've played them: Leonard and I have spent many an enjoyable evening with Super Mario Galaxy or Puzzle Fighter, I've enjoyed the odd hour of Tetris while listening to a podcast, I used Dance Dance Revolution and/or Wii Fit as an exercise routine for a few months, and I used Python Challenge to improve my Python skills during my first Recurse Center batch. But I haven't installed or played games on my laptop or phone.

So this morning, as my thumb aches, I give props to GeoGuessr.

GeoGuessr gives you a panorama from somewhere in the world -- sometimes you can move around, if the photo is from Google Street View -- and asks you to guess where you are on the world map. It's cool to play with someone who's been to different countries than you and speaks different languages than you do, so you can complement each other's skills. Even a cartographer from National Geographic sometimes can't guess well based on empty dirt roads; I am now curious to learn a bit more botany so I can go beyond "this biome is ... desert?"

Maybe you played it when it started in 2013. The developers have now added some cool new "maps". For instance, you can play among only New York City locations (Leonard and I made that more fun by adding the "turning and zooming is OK, moving is not" constraint). (GeoGuessr says you'll get to try the five different boroughs, but so far we've only gotten Manhattan locations.)

Perhaps the coolest map is the Famous Places map (example game), which we've now played several times. Talk about cheap travel. Sitting on our couch, we can visit so many beautiful monuments! I immediately recognized the Hermitage, and Leonard got the UK Houses of Parliament right away, and gosh, it was pretty to look at historic bits of Turkey and Greece and Italy. I love that GeoGuessr shows us countries we hadn't particularly thought of visiting, and shows us how cool it might be to go there. It's like Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? crossed with a friend's travelogue slideshow.

During normal play, sometimes GeoGuessr drops me into a residential suburb somewhere in the US, and then I feel like I am driving slowly through streets full of suspicious white people who are about to call the cops on the brown interloper in their midst. I am not casing your houses, driveway-havers! I am looking for any textual evidence at all for what state you live in! Could some of you start hanging state flags under the US flags on your flagpoles? That would help.


: How To Improve Bus Factor In Your Open Source Project: Someone in one of my communities was wondering whether we ought to build a new automated tool to give little tasks to newcomers and thus help them turn into future maintainers. I have edited my replies to him into the How To Build Bus Factor For Your Open Source Project explanation below.


In my experience (I was an open source community manager for several years and am deeply embedded in the community of people who do open source outreach), getting people into the funnel for your project as first-time contributors is a reasonably well-solved problem, i.e., we know what works. Showing up at OpenHatch events, making sure the bugs in the bug tracker are well-specified, setting up a "good for first-timers" task tag and/or webpage and keeping it updated, personally inviting people who have reported bugs to help you solve them, etc. If you can invest several months of one-on-one or two-on-one mentorship time, participate in Google Summer of Code and/or Outreachy internship programs. If you want to start with something that's quantitative and gamified, consider using Google Code-In as a scaffold to help you develop the rest of these practices.

You need to quickly thank and give useful feedback to people who are already contributing, even if that feedback will include criticism. A fast first review is key, and here's a study that backs that up. Slide 8: "Most significant barrier to engaging in onramping others is unclear communications and unfriendly community. Access to the right tools has some effect." Slide 26:

"Contributors who received code reviews within 48 hours on their first bug have an exceptionally high rate of returning and contributing.
Contributors who wait longer than 7 days for code review on their first bug have virtually zero percent likelihood of returning.
Showing a contributor the next bug they can work on dramatically improves the odds of contributing."
(And "Github, transparency, and the OTW Archive project" discusses how bad-to-nonexistent code review and bad release management led to a volunteer dropping out of a different open source project.)

In my opinion, building bus factor for your project (growing new maintainers for the future) is also a solved problem, in that we know what works. You show up. You go to the unfashionable parts of our world where the cognitive surplus is -- community colleges, second- and third-tier four-year colleges, second- and third-tier tech hubs, boring enterprise companies. You review code and bug reports quickly, you think of every contributor (of any sort) as a potential co-maintainer, and you make friendly overtures to them and offer to mentor them. You follow OpenHatch's recommendations. You participate in Google Summer of Code and/or Outreachy internship programs.

Mentorship is a make-or-break step here. This is a key reason projects participate in internship programs like GSoC and Outreachy. For example, Angela Byron was a community college student who had never gotten involved in open source before, and then heard about GSoC. She thought "well it's an internship for students, it'll be okay if I make mistakes". That's how she got into Drupal. She's now a key Drupal maintainer.

paper curlicues and other papercraft surrounding a copy of Norbert Wiener's Cybernetics Dreamwidth, an open source project, started with two maintainers. They specifically decided to make the hard decision to slow down on feature development, early on, and instead pay off technical debt and teach newcomers. Now they are a thriving, multimaintainer project. "dreamwidth as vindication of a few cherished theories" is perhaps one of my favorite pieces on how Dreamwidth did what it did. Also see "Teaching People to Fish" and this conference report.

Maintainers must review code, and that means that if you want someone to turn into a maintainer in your project, you must help them learn the skill of code review and you must help them get confident about vetoing and merging code. In my experience, yes, a good automated test suite does help people get more confident about merging changes in. But maintainers also need to teach candidates what their standards ought to be, and encourage them (many contributors' first thought when someone says "would you want to comaintain this project with me?" is "what? me? no! I'm not good enough!"). Here's a rough example training.

If you want more detailed ways to think about useful approaches and statistics, I recommend Mel Chua's intro to education psychology for hackers and several relevant chapters in Making Software: What Really Works and Why We Believe It, from O'Reilly, edited by Greg Wilson & Andy Oram. You'll be able to use OpenHub (formerly Ohloh) for basic stats/metrics on your open source project, including numbers of recent contributors. And if you want more statistics for your own project or for FLOSS in aggregate, the open source metrics working group would also be a good place to chat about this, to get a better sense of what's out there (in terms of dashboards and stats) and what's needed. (Since then: also see this post by Dawn Foster.)

We know how to do this. Open source projects that do it, that are patient with the human factor, do better, in the long run.


: My Eulogy for Nóirín Plunkett: A few hours ago, I spoke at Nóirín's memorial service. This is what I said (I am sure I varied the words a bit when I read it).


My name is Sumana Harihareswara, and I will always remember Nóirín's compassion, insight, and bravery.

They were brave to publicly name and fight back against wrongs done against them -- by members of the open source community -- wrongs done against them and others; I think it is not exaggerating to say that their bravery galvanized a movement. Our open technology community owes them a debt that can never be repaid.

We also benefited tremendously from their insight. Nóirín had just started a new role at Simply Secure, one that combined their expertise in open stuff with their writing and coordinating skills, and their judgment and perspective. And before that, when they worked as a project manager for the Ada Initiative, I had the privilege of working closely with Nóirín; I am grateful for that, but of course now I know what I'm missing, what we're all missing, because I had the chance to see, every day, their diligence and insight and discretion and judgment and empathy, and compassion. Some of us lead like engineers, by making systems that scale; some of us lead like nurturers, cultivating relationships and trust with emotional labor. Nóirín was brilliant at both of those, and I wish I could have decades more to learn from them, and toss around more ideas and frameworks.

The last time I saw Nóirín was at WisCon, a feminist science fiction convention in May. One morning I came down the hotel stairs and saw them seated against a wall, crying, sobbing, because Ireland had just passed a referendum legalizing same-sex marriage. They were so happy that their friends and loved ones and everyone back home were now freer to marry and have their families recognized that they'd gotten a glass of champagne from the hotel restaurant, at maybe eight in the morning, to celebrate. They felt deeply the joy and suffering of others.

Nóirín, I miss you, and I will try to live up to the example you set. Thank you.


: The John Morearty Video Archive: A few years ago, as my old mentor John Morearty was dying, he named me one of his two literary executors. We (and John's widow) had some other commitments to finish before we could start making real headway on this work, but this summer we all got together and got started. I spent a few weeks in Stockton and we sorted papers and made plans. Jeanne and I aim to make his essays, poems, syllabi, and research available on a comprehensive website (including both photographic scans of documents and the text of those documents), and to editorially select some of his writings to turn into one or more books.

It looks like the VHS tapes of his cable access TV show are in good enough condition that we don't have to go through a preservation process, and can instead have the Internet Archive digitize and post them directly. Here's the John Morearty video archive at archive.org. It includes a description that John wrote:

My TV documentaries shine the light on people who are doing precious work in this valley: cleansing the waters, farming renewably and profitably, restoring the cities, rescuing addicts with tough love, teaching the young who are in danger of going astray. My microphone hears public officials, millionaire developers, physician acupuncturists, university professors, chicken farmers, judges, ex-cons, volunteer moms, teachers and their students, old soldiers, young kids. Wisdom is where you find it; as Gandhi says, every person's life experience teaches them something that others need to hear.

"Talking It Through" points to problems and analyzes them, and portrays creative solutions which are happening right now. But the camera also savors the beautiful people and places around us, imperiled though they be. Human beings do not live by good action plans alone. We are moved to action by delight in beauty, and the hope of more of it. I try to evoke delight and hope, so viewers will be moved to act.

So far it contains one video, the test tape that Internet Archive digitized first: a recording of a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration in Lodi, California on January 15, 2002. John's in there, around 10:00 to 11:30.

If all goes well, that video collection will grow to a few hundred recordings: independent community media, amplifying voices that often get silenced. I'm grateful that I can help preserve the legacy of an activist who mentored me and who modeled values I still try to live by.

Along the way I am becoming an amateur archivist. I don't know how long this project will take, and I will try to blog interesting bits along the way.


about Sumana Harihareswara

Archives


RSS feed
LiveJournal feed
Spam As Folk Art
Identi.ca microblog
Twitter feed

weblog powered by NewsBruiser
Bloggers' Rights at EFFSupport Bloggers' Rights

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.