Cogito, Ergo Sumana
Sumana oscillates between focus and opportunity

(1) : The Ada Initiative, Fanvids I Love, and How I Restarted Ken Liu's Career:

It might be good for the world, though temporarily stressful for one's marriage, to edit an anthology together, as Leonard and I discovered when we created and published our speculative fiction anthology Thoughtcrime Experiments together in 2009.* Despite the risks, maybe you should become an editor. "Reader" and "writer" and "editor" are tags, not categories. If you love a subject, and you have some money and some time, you can haul under-appreciated work into wider discourse, curate it, and help it sing.

Thoughtcrime Experiments cover You can do this with lots of subjects,** of course, but doesn't it especially suit science fiction and fantasy? We love thought experiments. We love imagining how things could be different, with different constraints. I love enlarging the scope of the possible, and both the content and the production of Thoughtcrime Experiments did that. Neither of us had professionally edited science fiction before, we released it under a Creative Commons license,*** and we wrote a "How to Do This and Why" appendix encouraging more people to follow in our footsteps.

Every story needs an editor to champion it. One thing we conclude from this experiment is that there aren't enough editors. We were able to temporarily become editors and scoop a lot of great stories out of the slush pile....

It's well known that there's an oversupply of stories relative to readers. That's why rates are so low. Our experiment shows that there's an oversupply of stories relative to editors. By picking up this anthology you've done what you can to change the balance of readers to stories. I wrote this appendix to show that you've also got the power to change the balance of editors to stories.

Another way to enlarge the scope of the possible is to seek out, publish, and publicize the work of diverse authors.***** But if you don't explicitly say you're looking for diverse content and diverse authors, and make the effort to seek them out, you will fall into the defaults. I ran into this; I did not try hard enough to solicit demographically diverse submissions, and as a result, got far more submissions from whites and men than from nonwhites and nonmen. However our final table of contents was gender-balanced, and at least two of the nine authors were people of color.

And if you do not explicitly mark characters as being in marginalized demographics, the reader will read them as the unmarked state. Here I think we did a bit better. And our selections caused at least one conversation about colonialism, and really what more can you ask?

Mary Anne Mohanraj and Sumana Harihareswara at WisCon in 2009(To the right: E. J. Fischer's photo of me with Mary Anne Mohanraj at WisCon in 2009.) It turns out that Thoughtcrime Experiments made a lot more things possible. For example, we published "Jump Space" by Mary Anne Mohanraj, a story that stars a South Asian diaspora woman. I remember sitting in my brown overstuffed chair in my apartment, reading Mohanraj's submission, completely immersed in the story. As I emerged at the end, I had two simultaneous thoughts and feelings:

  1. This is the first time in a whole life of reading scifi that the protagonist has looked like me. This feels like a first breath after a lifetime in vacuum.
  2. Why is this the first time?
Mohanraj, encouraged by the response to "Jump Space", wrote a book in that universe, and may write more. The summary starts: "On a South Asian-settled university planet" and already my heart is expanding.

And then there's Ken Liu.

It turns out Thoughtcrime Experiments restarted Ken Liu's career. Yes, Ken Liu, the prolific author and translator whose "The Paper Menagerie" was the first piece of fiction to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award, and who's been doing incredible work bridging the Anglophone and Chinese-speaking scifi worlds. You have us to thank for him. As he told Strange Horizons last year:

I wrote this one story that I really loved, but no one would buy it. Instead of writing more stories and subbing them, as those wiser than I was would have told me, I obsessively revised it and sent it back out, over and over, until I eventually gave up, concluding that I was never going to be published again.

And then, in 2009, Sumana Harihareswara and Leonard Richardson bought that story, "Single-Bit Error," for their anthology, Thoughtcrime Experiments (http://thoughtcrime.crummy.com/2009/). The premise of the anthology was, in the editors' words, "to find mind-breakingly good science fiction/fantasy stories that other editors had rejected, and release them into the commons for readers to enjoy."

I can't tell you how much that sale meant to me. The fact that someone liked that story after years of rejections made me realize that I just had to find the one editor, the one reader who got my story, and it was enough. Instead of trying to divine what some mythical ur-editor or "the market" wanted, I felt free, after that experience, to just try to tell stories that I wanted to see told and not worry so much about selling or not selling. I got back into writing -- and amazingly, my stories began to sell.

There is no ur-editor. It's us.

And there is no ur-geek, no ur-fan. No one gets to tell you you're not a fan, or to stop writing fanwork because it's not to their taste, or that you need to disregard that a work is insulting you when you judge its merits.*****

The Ada Initiative's work in creating and publicizing codes of conduct for conventions, in creating and running Ally Skills and Impostor Syndrome workshops, and in generally fighting -isms in open culture, helps more people participate in speculative fiction. TAI's work is even more openly licensed than Thoughtcrime Experiments was, so you can easily translate it, record it, and reuse it to make our world more like the world we want. For everyone. Please donate now, joining me, N.K. Jemisin, Mary Robinette Kowal, Annalee Flower Horne, Leonard Richardson, and many more. You can help us change the constraints -- help us edit the world.

I'm gonna close out with one of my favorite fanvids, an ode to fandom. This is a different kind of love song / dedicated to everyone.

Donate now


* Some couples can basically collaborate on anything together. Leonard and I, it turns out, can get grumpy with each other when our tastes conflict. Just last night he pointed out that the multi-square-feet poster I presented at PyCon (mentorship lessons I learned from Hacker School) barely fits on the wall in our flat, anywhere, and will be the largest single item of decor we have. My "it would fit on the ceiling" well-actually gained me no ground. I pointed out that it would easily fit over the head of our bed, and mentioned that after all, some couples do put religious iconography there. I backpedaled off this in the face of his utter unconvincedness, and suggested that we *try* it above the TV. It now watches over us, slightly overwhelming. He might be right.

** Maybe you heard about The Aims Vid Album, encouraging and gathering fanvids to the tune of Vienna Teng's Aims? Which is FANTASTIC AND AMAZING and omg have you seen raven's "Landsailor" vid?? I have all the feels about that vid.

*** Although not as free a license as we sort of wished. In retrospect I wish we'd gone for an opendefinition.org license so we didn't have niggling questions about whether our sales counted as commerce, etc.

**** Strange Horizons is seeking out submissions from new reviewers, and a Media Reviews Editor. Why not you?

***** I particularly like Patrick Nielsen Hayden's formulation:

I think it's fine to ignore and not read something because the author has called for harm to you or to people you care about. Art and politics can't ever be completely separated. As a general rule of thumb, when we think our approach to something is politics-free, that generally means the politics are so normative as to be invisible.


(0) : On Troubleshooting:

Nothing is built on stone; All is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone.

-- Jorge Luis Borges


Goddammit why won't this work

OK, fine, screw the venv, I'll do this in my main environment
OR
I guess I have to just do this as a global variable
OR
really, chmod 777? FINE

-- a plaintive chorus of programmers

We don't need a Sherlock Holmes; we need our infrastructure to not be a precarious wobbling Jenga tower.

Filed under:


: Podcasts - Including Me: I've been listening to podcasts recently. The ones that come to mind:


(0) : The next Tor, role models, and criticism: the future I want:

Donate now I'm writing these words while I ride the New York City subway. I love the subway because my fellow riders look like the world. I'm rarely the only woman and I'm never the only nonwhite person in the car. We're young and old, all genders, all nationalities, temporarily able and not (although our stations fail at accessibility a lot), and speaking dozens of languages.

We'll know we've won when open source looks like this.

It doesn't yet. But we need it to. It is because I know how much potential technology has to shape our world that I know it is essential that the people who shape that technology represent that world, represent the best that world has to offer. What will it look like when open source reflects diversity of talent?

New tools we make -- the next git, the next WordPress, the next Tor -- will make inclusive assumptions from the start. They'll allow users to change their names and identify outside the gender binary. They'll help users block harassers from contacting them. Their FAQs will use nongendered examples.

When a junior programmer looks around for a way to make her mark, she'll see people who look like her doing lots of cool stuff in open source -- starting projects, leading them, arguing over architectural decisions, joking about absurdly bad ideas, showing off their accomplishments at conferences, teaching and learning, and generally having a good time. She'll dip her toe into online discussions, and the hackers already in the group will use her preferred pronoun, correctly, or ignore her gender if it isn't relevant to the discussion. She will see so easily how this community could include her that she will only notice in retrospect the moment she fell in.

As a gag, people who have been doing open stuff for decades will send their less senior friends links to the Timeline of Incidents, anticipating their "they did WHAT?!" replies. A new generation of activists will look back at the Ada Initiative and keenly observe what we missed, what we got wrong, where we were too complicit in the intersecting oppressions endemic to our society, too much of our time.

I want this future so much. I may not ever get to see it. But I can see us getting closer. I'm on the board of directors of the Ada Initiative, and I've been an advisor since 2011. In that time I've seen the Ada Initiative's unique work changing the conversation, building the infrastructure of inclusion, and moving us closer to -- well, to a world that doesn't need us any more.

Please help: donate now.

Filed under:


(9) : I'm Leaving My Job At The Wikimedia Foundation: (Music for this entry: "You Can't Be Too Careful" by Moxy Früvous; "Level Up" by Vienna Teng; "Do It Anyway" by Ben Folds Five; "Teenagers, Kick Our Butts" by Dar Williams.)

I've regretfully decided to leave the Wikimedia Foundation, and my last day will be September 30th.

I've worked at WMF since February 2011, so I've seen the Foundation grow from 70 to 214 people. It's the best job I've ever had and I've grown a lot. And my team and my bosses are tremendously supportive. In April I summarized my work achievements from the past four years and I remain proud of them. Most recently, I'm proud of co-mentoring Frances Hocutt, who's about to turn her energies to Growstuff API development (with help from your donations).

But I want to redefine myself and grow in new directions, as a maker and activist. Wikimedia has 13 years of legacy code and thousands of vocal stakeholders, and WMF has one office, in San Francisco. I'm a junior-level developer (I'm a much better software engineer than I am a coder) but don't want to move to San Francisco, where we (understandably) prefer to have junior devs onsite. And I'd like to try out what it's like to get better at making software, to have more of a blank slate and perhaps less of a public spotlight, to work face-to-face with a team here in New York City, and to exclude destructive communication from my life (yes, there's some amount of burnout on toxic people and entitlement). One of the things I admire about Wikimedia's best institutions is our willingness to reflect and reinvent when things are not working. I need to emulate that.

I remain on the board of directors of the Ada Initiative, which aims to close the gender gap in Wikimedia and other open culture/source projects. (Please donate.) And I don't see any way I could stop being a Wikimedian and pursuing the mission. You'll see me as User:Sumanah out on the wikis.

After I wrap things up at Wikimedia Foundation, I'll be privileged to spend six weeks at Hacker School, concentrating on learning how to crank out websites and fiddling with web security, and then in late November I'll be meeting other South Asian geek feminist women at AdaCamp Bangalore. Aside from that I'm open to new opportunities, especially in empowering marginalized groups via open technology.

"Level Up" by Vienna Teng. ("If you are afraid, come out.") And heck, why not, a Kira Nerys fanvid I love, set to "Shake It Out" by Florence + The Machine. ("So tonight I'm gonna cut out and then restart.")

Filed under:


(0) : Excerpt From Another Conversation: I moved around way too much as a kid and I often couldn't figure out What Was Going On, and was oblivious, and missed opportunities. Thus discoverability is a Big Deal to me. And you don't get discoverability from free-form groups with a bunch of implicit knowledge accidentally hoarded by whoever got there first, if they eschew "bureaucracy" and "titles" and "documentation".


: Back Home: A few days ago I came back from walking across northern England again. I went with my friends Julia and Moss, who kept a detailed blog.

I'm glad I took such a long and unusual summer vacation. I learned the same lessons as last time, again. I'm trying to track the various conditions of disorientation I'm experiencing now that I'm back: the changes I tried out and how I now react to normalcy. I have fascinatingly distinct tan lines (shirtsleeves, rings, wristwatch, bridge of eyeglasses) which will fade, but I don't want my perspective shift to fade as easily.

Hiking for about 15 days and using walking poles a lot builds upper body strength. "Hey, these bags are lighter than when I packed them originally, and this window is easier to open."

I left my laptop at home and used a mobile phone. "Laptops are huge and their screens are like giant fields of stuff. It takes whole seconds for my eyes to traverse them."

I generally walked 7-14 miles each day of hiking, and thus ate massive meals as fuel. Then I stopped. "This lunch special is huge; how can anyone eat all of this?"

UK currency bills come in different sizes and colours. "Wait, how much money do I have?"

In at least the north of England, hikers tend to avoid bringing up their own day jobs or asking about yours. "Oh right, I'm back in NYC where it's the second question someone asks upon meeting me."

I travelled with about a week's worth of clothing. "I own a tremendous number of clothes."

An incomplete list.


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