Cogito, Ergo Sumana

picture of Sumana's head

Sumana Harihareswara's journal

(0) : 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.


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.


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!

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(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".)

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: 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 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.

: Memorial Service Details:

A nondenominational memorial service for Nóirín Plunkett will be tonight, August 3, at 6:30pm, in Cambridge, Massachusetts (word had been publicized on Twitter and All who knew Nóirín are invited. I will be there.

: On Nóirín Trouble Plunkett's Death: I was devastated today to learn of the death of my friend Nóirín Plunkett.

This is a terrible thing and I am still shocked and saddened to learn of their death. (Per their profile, please follow their pronoun preferences and use "they".)

Some things to know about them:

Their bold honesty about being sexually assaulted at an open source software event moved us to action; it helped spark the creation of the Ada Initiative.

As Geek Feminism's wiki documents, they were facing tremendous legal bills because of a legal conflict with an ex.

They had just started a new role at Simply Secure, one that combined their open tech expertise with their writing and coordinating skills and their judgment and perspective.

When I was volunteering on the search for the Ada Initiative's new Executive Director, I worked closely with Nóirín and could always count on their wisdom, compassion, and diligence. I am so grateful, now, that I had a chance to collaborate with them -- I had hoped to work with them again, someday, in some organization or other.

One of the last times I saw them, they were crying with happiness over the passage of the Irish same-sex marriage referendum.

I don't want to end this entry because there is no ending that can do justice to them.

(1) : Slides & Code from HTTP Can Do That?!:

a bespoke header in an HTTP response My slides are up, as is demonstration code, from "HTTP Can Do That?!", my talk at Open Source Bridge last month. I am pleased to report that something like a hundred people crowded into the room to view that talk and that I've received lots of positive feedback about it. Thanks for help in preparing that talk, or inspiring it, to Leonard Richardson, Greg Hendershott, Zack Weinberg, the Recurse Center, Clay Hallock, Paul Tagliamonte, Julia Evans, Allison Kaptur, Amy Hanlon, and Katie Silverio.

Video is not yet up. Once the video recording is available, I'll probably get it transcribed and posted on the OSBridge session notes wiki page.

I've also taken this opportunity to update my talks and presentations page -- for instance, I've belatedly posted some rough facilitator's notes that I made when leading an Ada Initiative-created impostor syndrome training at AdaCamp Bangalore last year.

: HIV Prevention News, and Grief: I miss my mother-in-law.

Most of you never got to know Frances Whitney. Here's her obituary, which, like all obituaries, is incomplete. She was so sharp and no-guff, so constitutionally opposed to quitting. Work is love made visible, as the saying goes, and she put so much love into her extended family and her community. Her testimony "On Being a Single Parent" starts: "Sister Lewis asked me to talk about being a successful single parent tonight and I've been quite flummoxed by her request, firstly because I don't feel particularly successful." But she survived the death of her husband and successfully fought illness and money struggles long enough to raise three children and see them all graduate from college, and she enjoyed teaching, gardening, reading, cooking, traveling, writing, filmgoing, and her church (Latter-Day Saints) till the very end.

Frances WhitneyFrances died of AIDS.

Dr. Amin said he presented my case at a conference for infectious disease specialists in San Francisco in December and the doctors there couldn't believe I'm still alive. But I still am. Viral load through the roof, and only one T-Cell, but I got out of bed this morning! (January 8, 2004)

I met her in the spring of 2001, just before she started blogging. This week I went back and started rereading her blog. I can appreciate it differently now -- for instance, right now, I'm going through a dead friend's correspondence to archive it, just as Frances did in 2003. And then there's stuff I'd forgotten, like how she vexed the home health service by consistently leaving her house.

The home health service thinks I should live my life lying around in bed at home, ready for their beck and call. I keep TRYING to educate them otherwise.....

It turns out the nurse was looking for me all morning, and they ended up calling Kim Cornett (my emergency contact), and Kim called Jill and Sara [because they have a key] so the Langleys could come over and see if I was dead in my bed with the cats eating me. I have told and told and told the agency that I work until noon. They don't believe it. (June 28, 2004)

Frances was mordant, liberal, angry about inequality. I reflect on her loves and woes that I also see in her son; she loved history and good fiction, well-made things, geology and paleontology, seeing the impact of her work, quiet contentment; she detested incompetence, waste, missed opportunities, boredom. She tried not to indulge in self-pity or Pollyannaism about the slings and arrows that had come her way. She was sensible, and she wanted us to be sensible too.

I should have driven to Utah today to attend Melea's funeral tomorrow. I'm still really sad about this. But my body has been doing that thing where my temperature shoots up and down, and I'm usually running a fever. Also the stomach has been acting up more than usual. Therefore, I thought if I made that drive it would be to MY funeral....

I should be in Utah. But like many things I would have liked to do in life, the HIV virus wins again. Don't anyone catch HIV. You WON'T win. The virus is always triumphant. (June 3, 2005)

Here is the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage about how you can prevent getting HIV. One recent advance: PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, a daily pill you take that "has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are at high risk by up to 92%" when taken consistently. I only heard about PrEP this month, and I thought I was pretty up-to-date on sexual health news. So maybe you didn't know about it either; take a look.

Frances died in 2006. I miss her. She was great.

(3) : "Inside Out" and Maturity: I saw Inside Out last night on a date with my spouse.* I recommend that you see this film, and that you see it with someone you care about.

I stay through the credits when I watch movies, which means I saw Pixar crediting its consultant psychologists including Paul Ekman. (Ek is Hindi for "one" so whenever I see his name it feels like a trailer voiceover: One man...)

Leonard and I walked out of Inside Out wanting to know more about how accurate its metaphors for emotion and cognition are. I'd still like to know more, and look forward to more making-of commentary. A Fresh Air interview with the movie's director discusses how, for instance, memory realllllly doesn't work like that. But it's refreshing to think about the purpose of disgust, of anger, of fear, or of sadness, and I'm pleased that a mainstream Hollywood movie is telling people -- especially girls -- that each of these emotions has a legitimate role in our personalities and our lives.

Spoilers start here.

Sadness is the most interesting character in the film and I am still wrestling with understanding her, and I don't know whether that's a mark for or against this movie. Maybe the occlusion between me and her is in my own emotional blockage. Maybe Pixar couldn't quite get at the heroism of sadness. Maybe her very nature is one of empathy and relationship-building, one that does not make sense only as an aspect of interiority, so it's hard to demonstrate her powers and purpose in the confined set inside Riley's head. Maybe since Riley feels such pressure to be joyful and to perform joy, we rarely get to see Sadness's natural flow and ebb, and I need to see baselines as well as extremes to understand a system.

Leonard and I both think it's super-intriguing that Riley's mom evidently keeps Sadness in the driver's seat. What does that mean? How did that happen? Is this nature, nurture, other? The adults we see into seem to have emotions of all the same gender, which the director called "phony"; might Fear and Anger in Riley's head shift as her gender identity strengthens, or is this a hint that she's genderfluid? I am particularly interested in these nuances because I wonder whether they're in any way based on the science consultants' research.

Spoilers end.

When I was younger I wondered: what is maturity? What is the special skill or knowledge that you get from being older? In recent years I've begun to understand. Mindfulness meditation has helped me take a step back from the momentary caprices of mind. People I've loved have died, and I've achieved things I'm proud of and that will last; this too shall pass. Mel Chua's guidance gave me one lens, Dreyfus's model of skill acquisition; with more experience comes an entirely new way of seeing situations. And I've seen enough of lots of kinds of things -- people, elections, businesses, relationships, homes, jobs, cities... -- that I can pattern-match and predict outcomes better, and I can help people who haven't paid attention as long as I have.'s common to feel this way, and it's also common to feel more comfortable as time passes and you experiment with different strategies. To use Kathy Sierra's construction, these problems are typical and temporary. Quickly recognizing when you're in one of these failure modes and changing your habits will help you make the most of the opportunity you have before you. (Allison Kaptur, detailing four common failure modes of Recurse Center participants)

Inside Out is an entertaining movie, but it's also a primer in some emotional failure modes and how to recognize and stop them. I wish I could have seen it ten years ago. Maybe I should make a note to myself to watch it again ten years from now.

* For many years I've used "spouse" or "partner" much more often than "husband" because I didn't want to use the gendered terms until same-sex married people could use them too. Since June 26th that's less relevant in the US, but we don't yet have legal same-sex marriage worldwide. I also like de-emphasizing heteronormativity; it's more important for new acquaintances to know that I'm married than to know that I'm married to a man. So now it's a habit. I wonder whether I will ever try to change this habit.

: Ripples In The Information Stream: Media consumption! I read various books recently: a bunch of Courtney Milan, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (my first Austen!), Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal, and the whole run of Gotham Central (Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, et alia). I've been bookmarking links via Pinboard and sometimes making a short comment or highlighting a particular excerpt, but I haven't blogged much recently about interesting stuff I've seen; here's a delayed update.

seekingferret recommended and analyzed my vid "Pipeline" and I'm honored! I met seekingferret by happenstance at a scifi/fantasy reading in Brooklyn, having already appreciated his vids and his vid analysis online, and asked him to beta my vid; within about a day, I had such detailed, thoughtful feedback that I nearly cried with gratitude. You should also see his Iron Man vid, which also premiered at WisCon. "Cassavetes", in just a minute and a half, wittily assays fannish conversations about Tony Stark and reminds you to listen to more Le Tigre. And thanks to sasha_feather for WisCon vid party notes!

Beatrice Martini's "An intersectional take on technology, rights and justice" includes some nicely summarized lessons for us as individuals and as organizations, including "evaluate when it’s the case to go beyond short-term single-issue funding".

I also thoroughly appreciate Martini's "Menstruation Matters: A Guide to Menstrual Hygiene Day". I've been browsing the Net since the mid-90s, and Martini's link roundup wows me, because there is so much more information available about menstruation than there used to be!

Tinsel is a necklace that "will have the complete functionality of headphones built into it, without compromising a woman's style." It looks marvelous and I may well buy one, depending on the price and depending on the labor conditions under which it's manufactured. I bet several folks I know will also find this appealing.

An "On Diversity" roundtable by several makers of speculative fiction, poetry, and art gets at some interesting thoughts, particularly about the flattening effects of the "diverse" label. I made inarticulate surprised noises upon seeing Zen Cho refer to Randomized Dystopia!

If you're interested in reading more translated stories, check out Read Paper Republic and look at Ben Rosenbaum's translation offer.

I have a note here about a "flattening effect" discussed in Leigh Alexander's recent piece but I'm not certain why. I do recommend reading it.

Mel Chua, once more, shares a fascinating perspective on her experience of grace and of community-building: "There are three stories that join into the way I understand the flames of Pentecost: Babel, the summer lake, and Cana...." Gordon Atkinson's Foy Davis stories also speak to the burnout of community managers (specifically the clergy) in a way I've found insightful.

I'm curious whether any of my readers have used DevonThink, and if I ever embark on another big vidding project, I am thinking of using something like it to track my notes and clips.

Seriously, Slashdot?

Eleanor Saitta writes: "Silicon Valley companies must recognize that the law won’t do this work for them, and that if they want to avoid undermining freedom globally, it’s time to ditch the dated and dangerous ad model and start building decentralization and content and metadata privacy into everything they create." Relatedly, Cory Doctorow makes an interesting argument about the free and open internet as the meta-fight crucial to all others.

A list of unsayable things has some interesting thoughts about death, abuse, menstruation, and various other topics; I like Nalo Hopkinson's very short thought experiment best.

The "rando" article, Not One Of Us, from the New York Times Magazine, provoked thought about trust boundaries, about defaulting to open or defaulting to closed.

Filed under:

: Love Wins: I took the train west to Open Source Bridge and AlterConf, crossing in and out of states that supported or prohibited same-sex marriage. And then, a week ago, the Supreme Court's ruling changed that landscape. I crossed a freer country, on my way back home.

Nine years ago I wrote a now-obsolete newspaper column asking how long the waiting period would have to be. I am so glad that period is over. Consider reading the full opinion, and the dissents.

: Apology: Earlier today, during my stand-up comedy act at AlterConf Portland, I failed at living up to the AlterConf code of conduct and to my act's title, "Stand-Up Comedy that Doesn't Hurt". I made a joke that hurt members of the audience. The joke was in a section about attempts to be perceived as a cis ally:

I try to be intersectional in the media I consume, and sometimes that leads to carbon credit-style bargaining, like, "How many memoirs by trans women of color do I have to read before I go see 'Avengers: Age of Ultron'"? [laughter] And then sometimes there's cheating on that diet, like, "Does 'Mrs. Doubtfire' count?"

In this joke, it is not clear enough that the cis ally narrator is completely wrong to categorize "Mrs. Doubtfire" as having anything to do with the goal of reading and supporting trans narratives. I won't make it again and I'm sorry that I made a joke that hurt.

For this act I practiced in front of audiences that included trans people, and I asked them for feedback, but I was not thorough enough about checking beyond that for offensive material. In the future I'll be more thorough.

Filed under:

: HTTP Can Do That?! and Comedy: I'm speaking at Open Source Bridge - June 23-26, 2015 - Portland, OR On Wednesday of next week (June 24th) I'm presenting "HTTP Can Do That?!" at Open Source Bridge in Portland, Oregon.

I have explored weird corners of HTTP -- malformed requests that try to trick a site admin into clicking spam links in 404 logs, an API that responds to POST but not GET, and more. In this talk I'll walk you through those (using Python, netcat, and other tools you might have lying around the house).

I practiced this talk Tuesday night at the Recurse Center and it went well; people learned a lot about headers, verbs, status codes, and odd HTTP loopholes, and gave me constructive criticism so next week's version will be clearer.

I have also suggested a Birds of a Feather evening session called "Nothing Is Totally Incomprehensible If We Try Together" but don't yet know whether or when it will happen.

Then, at AlterConf Portland on Saturday, June 27th, I'll be performing some stand-up comedy for hippie nerds. I thought about trying to cram 100 punchlines into my 45-minute HTTP talk, but I don't think I'll be able to achieve that -- people need to understand something before they can understand a joke about it -- so it'll be nice to get 4 or 5 laughs per minute during the stand-up on Saturday.

: On Wednesday Eve Was Not In Nyack: Yesterday evening Leonard and I watched a couple of Mathnet stories, including "The Case Of the Unkidnapping" (hence the post title), and including one I don't remember seeing before, "The Problem of the Dirty Money." The latter includes a Mr. Roark who runs a construction company called Roark, Atlas & Shrugged. Sadly no other Rand jokes are in the offing.

Watching as an adult, I appreciate George's particularly wacky attitude, the way Frankly and Monday thoroughly prepare a young viewer to enjoy Mulder and Scully, and the meta-message -- sometimes explicitly voiced -- that if you're going to solve a problem, you have to try a lot of approaches, and some of them won't work, and that's okay, and you keep trying.

: New Vid: Pipeline: I've made a new fanvid: "Pipeline". It's a little over 3 minutes long and cuts together about 50 different sources (documentaries, movies, TV, comics, coding bootcamp ads, and more) over Taylor Swift's song "Blank Space". My launch blog post on Dreamwidth goes into more detail and includes links to download it. You can stream it at Critical Commons (choose View High Quality for best experience) and I embed the video below:

It's CC BY-SA; please feel free to redistribute, link, remix, and so on, as long as you attribute me as the vidder and distribute your changes under the same license. Comments are welcome, though moderated.

: Missing Women in FLOSS Philosophy, and Borrowing Models from Fandom: I've arrived in Madison for WisCon! And just in time for WisCon:

I have a blog post up (in two parts) focusing on the frameworks that we free software/open source folks often take for granted, what might have been erased from our FLOSS intellectual heritage due to sexism, what FLOSS might look like under a different approach, and what practices and perspectives we might borrow from the fan fiction/fanvidding realm of speculative fiction and media fandom.

Part 1 is up at Crooked Timber as the guest post "Where are the women in the history of open source?" Part 2 is up at Geek Feminism as "What if free and open source software were more like fandom?"

Please feel free to comment at CT or GF.

(1) : WisCon Schedule: I'll be at WisCon starting tomorrow and leaving on Tuesday. I am scheduled to participate in these sessions:

  1. Imaginary Book Club, Fri, 4:00-5:15 pm in Conference 2. Five panelists discuss books that don't exist, improvising critiques and responses. I proposed this panel a few years ago (you can see video of its debut) and it has continued, which is cool!
  2. Lighthearted Shorthand Sans Fail, Sat, 8:30-9:45 am in Capitol A. What are your go-to phrasings to avoid sexism, ableism, etc. while getting your point across in casual conversation? I hope to walk out of this with some new vocabulary to replace bad habits.
  3. Vid Party, Saturday night 9:00 pm-Sun, 3:00 am in room 629. I am premiering a fanvid. Once it's premiered, I'll hit Post on blog posts to announce it publicly as well.
  4. Call Out Culture II: Follow-up to the Discussion Held at WisCon 38, Sun, 10:00-11:15 am in Senate A. Meta-discussion around discourse in social justice movements. I predict this session will be pretty intense.
  5. Vid Party Discussion, Sun, 1:00-2:15 pm in Assembly. We will discuss some of the vids shown at the vid party, and fan vids in general. This will be the first time I've engaged in public realtime conversation about fanvids. Before this panel I hope to publish some notes about what I learned from watching several vids that drew from multiple sources (including stills), made a political point, or were otherwise particularly ambitious. I'll probably reference those lessons during the panel.

I also proposed "What Does Feminist Tech Education Look Like?", "Impostor Syndrome Training Exercise", and "Entry Level Discussion Group", but am not a panelist or presenter for those sessions; I bet they'll be interesting, though, and you could do worse than to check them out. You can read Entry Level ahead of time for free online.

I look like the photo to the left. I am often bad with names, and will remember 5 minutes into our conversation that we had an awesome deep conversation three years prior. I apologize in advance.

If you are good at clothes, consider joining me at the Clothing Swap portion of the Gathering on Friday afternoon to help me find pieces that suit me. I'm introducing two old pals to WisCon and spending a lot of time with them (we live in different cities), and they're both white, so I might not be able to come to the People of Color dinner on Friday night. And sadly, The Floomp dance party on Saturday happens during the Vid Party so I probably can't attend that. I did buy a ticket for the Dessert Salon and will attend the Guest of Honor and Tiptree Award speeches on Sunday, and maybe you will be at my table!

One of my pals who's coming to WisCon is Beth Lerman, an artist who will be displaying and selling her work in the art show. Check it out!

Also I am open to doing a small room performance of my half-hour geeky stand-up comedy routine if several people ask for it. I don't know when or where it would be; Monday night would be easiest. Speak up in comments or some other medium if you'd be interested.

: Recompiler, Passionate Voices, Book Club, A Soviet Spy, and More: A few announcements:

We have three days left to fund The Recompiler, a new technology magazine that will combine tutorials and technical articles with personal narratives and art. My household has now funded this campaign and I hope to attend the launch party in Portland next month. I particularly loved seeing (via the video on Indiegogo) that 2600 is one of the inspirations for The Recompiler. 2600 has many virtues, but it pays people in a free t-shirt or a year's worth of issues of the magazine. I am looking forward to seeing The Recompiler pay people to write "you can totally do this, here's how" high-quality technical articles.

My old boss Erik is running a new video interview series called "Passionate Voices" and kicked it off by interviewing me (72 minutes); if you are interested in my work on inclusive communities, my thoughts on codes of conduct, and my reflections on the Recurse Center, you might want to watch this.

In about ten days, I'll be leading a Geek Feminism book club on Courtney Milan's Trade Me -- read the first chapter free online, get hooked, and snarfle down the rest by May 28th so you can participate in the comment thread.

Also on Geek Feminism, I posted a quick note about the word "girl" in the name of superhero Supergirl.

Finally: I met some pretty interesting people via the Columbia master's program I did. And for several years, I've known Jack Barsky as a mentor, a tech executive, and a friend. He's now the subject of a profile by 60 Minutes because, no joke, he used to be a Soviet spy. This guy who gave me important advice, who always got to the heart of the matter and had super emotionally honest conversations with me, has a past that sounds beyond melodramatic. I was not aware until this month of all the twists and turns within his story, and I am honestly still processing it. Give it a look.

about Sumana Harihareswara


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