Cogito, Ergo Sumana
Sumana oscillates between focus and opportunity

: 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.

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(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.

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Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by emailing the author at sumanah@panix.com.