Categories: sumana | Audiovisual Media
Film, TV, and similar media experiences.
# 29 Oct 2018, 12:32PM: Miscellany:
Life is varied.
I spend some of my spare time trying to do my bit for the election next week. I volunteered at a voter registration drive. I participated in some get-out-the-vote phone banking, and in a few days, I'll spend some of the weekend canvassing in person.
I started rereading Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt, about a middle-aged, Midwestern white guy dealing with ennui. Now that I am middle-aged and have a bunch of middle-aged friends, my reaction is less "ha ha" and more "this is so incisive that I can only read small chunks at a time." Instead I've been blowing my way through:
- Dan Davies's Lying for Money: How Legendary Frauds Reveal the Workings of Our World, which is as informative, funny, and wise as you'd expect from his Crooked Timber posts and personal blog (which I've been reading for more than a decade). I read the UK edition (the US edition comes out next year) because my spouse Leonard is the best and got it for me as a present. Further review forthcoming, I hope.
- A reread of the Mary Sue story I loved as a teen, The Prodigal Daughter by Jeffrey Archer. Thank you, SimplyE and New York Public Library, for making it easier for me to indulge in this big-money-big-politics thriller. This does not hold up well. For instance, in the most "As you know, Bob" expository howler I've seen in years, a campaign manager literally reminds a senator and a vice president that in order to win the Presidency they will have to get at least 270 electoral votes. But as a fantasy of a perceptive, hard-working woman blowing through barriers and achieving stuff, it can be fun popcorn.
- A reread of Erma Bombeck's If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits?, a 1978 collection of her humor writing. (Again, thanks NYPL & SimplyE!) She was a fantastic writer and had such a gift for the absurd detail, like "she went to a parent-teacher conference alone to be told her son .... was flunking lunch" or "people whose children are overachievers..... don't forget little Kenneth, who gets up during the night to change his own Pampers."
I keep meaning to write here about my work (for four different clients, right now) -- for now I'll merely say, there's a lot to do and I'm glad whenever I make progress.
I discovered Caveat, which seems intent on pandering to my particular demographic (New Yorkers who want funny, cerebral theatrical entertainments for a night out with friends), so if there's an upcoming event there you'd like to attend, consider letting me know and maybe we'll go together?
"I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats" recently released the live episode they recorded in May. What a loving, funny show.
The Good Place continues to thrill and surprise me, and I'm so curious what conclusion Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is intricately skate-dancing toward.
Saturday and yesterday, I helped mentor a bunch of volunteer contributors at a weekend Python packaging sprint sponsored by Bloomberg. I sure do know a lot about Python packaging and Git, compared to people who first ran into those things less than a year ago. Some resources I pointed people to:
On Saturday afternoon I reached out to Jewish friends, and friends in Pittsburgh, to say: I'm thinking of you. I wish you safety.
Have you seen "Warning: Might Lead to Mixed Dancing", a fanvid by seekingferret that celebrates Jewish dancing? You can watch it on Critical Commons and on YouTube. In his commentary he discusses part of the argument he makes in this vid:
Judaism represents this incomprehensible world-wide community united by nothing except our mutual willingness to proclaim, sometimes reluctantly, that we are all Jewish. Jewish dancing occasions like weddings and Bar Mitzvahs are a time when we make that proclamation as a community, when we say that the divisions among us are less important than the bonds between us.
# 11 Sep 2018, 08:55AM: Now Imagine Switching The Lead Actors For Those Two Shows:
I was in the midst of talking with my pal Jed about Star Trek: The Next Generation. He'd kindly checked whether I was ok hearing criticisms of this show-of-my-heart and I said dismissiveness no, criticism yes. We talked a little about Picard. I said how interesting it is that he's an introvert leader, how we don't often see that kind of person represented on TV. (And I informed him that I want him to text me immediately once he watches "Allegiance".) But he's still collaborative and listens well to his subordinates...
And Jed said: I know you've said that Picard taught you a lot about management. But what if you got into management because of watching Picard?
Me: you did not warn me you were going to be that incisive when we started this phone call.
I mean, maybe! In some ways Star Trek: The Next Generation* is to my management style as Mad About You is to my marriage style -- the formative-influence TV show that I, sometimes even consciously, modeled myself after. But maybe it goes deeper -- maybe those are also shows that made me think it would be awesome to be a leader, and to be married.
* And Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.
# (1) 04 Sep 2018, 11:38AM: Code Review Play at RubyConf, and Think Tank Fiction:
Jason Owen and I will co-present "Code Review, Forwards and Back" at RubyConf in Los Angeles, November 13-15 2018. We'll update and slightly lengthen the version we performed at PyGotham last year. If you'll be at RubyConf, consider watching our one-act play:
Your team's code review practices cause ripple effects far into the future. In this play, see several ways a single code review can go, then fast-forward and rewind to see the effects -- on codebase and culture -- of different code review approaches.
The setting: an office conference room. The characters: a developer, who's written a chunk of new Ruby code, and a team lead, who's about to review it. The code is not great.
See a fast-paced montage of ways things can go. Recognize patterns from your past and present. Learn scripts for phrasing criticism constructively. And laugh.
I've been doing a lot of theater-inflected conference presentations recently. I came up with the ideas for "Code Review, Forwards and Back" and "Lessons, Myths, and Lenses: What I Wish I'd Known in 1998" and "Python Grab Bag: A Set of Short Plays" (more details on all of these on my Talks page).
In some sense this is unsurprising, as I'm a programmer and public speaker who has dabbled in the more creative performing arts my whole life. As a child I had small parts in school* and community** theater, and my sister and I wrote and performed in some number of long skits for Indian-American association get-togethers (there was a lot of No Big Deal family-based practice here, as with writing and public speaking in general). I have also been willing to sing in public really quite out of proportion to my actual singing ability for a very long time. And I got all right at stand-up comedy and at comedy auctioneering.*** So I have started to bring those skills into my conference presentations, and am interested in how spectacle, fictional narrative, and different presentation formats can make different kinds of teaching and representation possible.
Someone else thinking about the value of storytelling in conference talks is Maria Farrell, who posted at Crooked Timber about that and about "think-tank fiction" (fictional stories/scenarios, sometimes composites of real situations and sometimes future projections, reflecting on and demonstrating the effects of particular policies and trends).
I find several of Farrell's reflections resonate with me, about the "quality of atmosphere" that obtains when you start telling a story at an event where it's unusual to do so, and:
...people at all-day tech events are really, really glad to just relax and have stories told to them. News flash. And actual stories, with, hopefully, meanings heading off on different trajectories, not TED anecdotes driving to One Big Lesson...
I hope Farrell can come to !!Con or a similar event sometime, to see how it nurtures some similar experiences.
There must be a bunch of talks like this and now my cataloguing fingers are itching. As Bruce Sterling wrote in "User-Centric":
To: the Team Coordinator
From: the social anthropologist
Subject: Re: *****Private message*****
Fred, people have been telling each other stories since we
were hominids around campfires in Africa. It’s a very
basic human cognition thing, really.
My colleague Erik Möller did a talk like the ones Farrell mentions at Wikimania 2013, "Ghosts of Wikis Yet to Come: Three Stories of Wikimedia's Future". And I think Tom Scott's scifi shorts and story-style talks, and the "Slaughterbots" video from Ban Lethal Autonomous Weapons, are worth checking out as exemplars.
I also love related "our technology will make this future possible/likely!" narratives like AT&T's 1993 "Connections" video. (The AT&T Archives page pointed me to this collection of similar concept videos I totally want to see, made by Ameritech, Motorola, Sun, NEC, etc. Natalie Jeremijenko and Chris Woebken collaborated on a 2009 montage I haven't watched yet, and there's a 2014 followup -- looking forward to diving in.)
* Not always onstage -- the first bit of project management I ever did was stage management. I fuzzily remember running a puppet show in elementary school, and officiously checking off attendance using a clipboard (oh how important I felt!) for some middle school thing.
** Perhaps most memorably: Rudy, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer's nerdy little sister, in "The Night Before The Night Before Christmas" at a local YW/MCA. I actually had lines in this role! To demonstrate Rudy's bookishness, the script had her say aloud, apropos of nothing, "O is for oxygen," "N is for nitrogen," "C is for carbon", and so on. In retrospect this dialogue has more verismilitude than I would like to admit.
*** And of course this feels completely normal to me, because, you know, you only have your own one life, and your own life has a way of becoming the yardstick rather than the judged.
But a great swathe of programmers and other technologists don't think of writing or putting on or starring in a small play as No Big Deal. Many haven't ever memorized lines. And sometimes I forget that, if you've taken a storytelling workshop and served as a dramaturg for someone's one-woman show, and you're a programmer who gets to speak at conferences like PyCon and FOSDEM, you're unusual. Your intersection of skillsets is rare.
And one of the intuitions that's helped me develop my career is that I can provide unique value where the intersection of my skillsets is rare.
# 27 Jun 2018, 05:50PM: Songs And Books That Have Helped Me Get Through News Despair:
When I feel despondent about my country and my world, a few things that help or have helped:
- Rebecca Solnit's nonfiction book Hope in the Dark (which I still have not finished) which makes the point that YOU JUST DON'T KNOW. You don't. You plant seeds and you may never get to see them sprout.
- Cory Doctorow's novel Walkaway, Annalee Newitz's novel Autonomous, and Margaret Killjoy's novella The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, which have people like my friends and me as creative and loving and disappointed and brave and effective protagonists
- Elvis Costello's song "Tramp the Dirt Down" (even if you feel no hope, transmute your rage into stubbornness)
- Josh Millard's song "Everything is Fucked (Keep on Going)" and Pete Seeger's song "Tomorrow is a Highway", on persistence and promise and the future
# (2) 29 Dec 2017, 12:44PM: Blockchain and Bitcoin, Dar Williams, And So On:
Sipping my soda water at the saloon across the street before the Untitled Kondabolu Brothers Project show Wednesday night, I struck up a conversation with a guy who works in an art gallery, and with his friend who works in publishing.
We talked about the Kondabolus, about current events in India, about their artistic endeavors, about the business of business books and the current interest in Bitcoin and the blockchain. And the guy said he kept hearing about those things and did not understand what they were. I gave him a simplified explanation (grateful to Scott Rosenberg's explanation which I'd enjoyed previously), and decided to record it here.
I explained that the blockchain and Bitcoin are different, and that he can expect that the blockchain is gonna stay around even if Bitcoin isn't what it's used for, like magnetic tape stayed around even though Betamax didn't take off and VHS did.
I asked him to think of a ledger, where we write down financial accounts -- money going in, money going out. Now think of one that's got two columns, one for you and one for me. With that ledger, you can track the money you exchange with me, because on the left is you and on the right is me. So it's not just about $300 in or $20 out, now, individual pluses and minuses. Now, every row matches up and you know where everything came from or went. Yup, he could conceive of that, a shared accounting record like that.
Now, I said, imagine a lot of people could do that together, so the ledger had records for the money moving around among all of us. And imagine that we could trust that record because it wasn't written in pencil, it was written in ink, so we could trust its provenance -- new stuff will only be added at the end, and the old stuff won't be changed.
That's the blockchain, I said. And that's why it would actually be useful as a shared notebook where lots of different people have to look at a record together and add notes for the future, for stuff like electronic medical records and real estate records. When did the patient get that diagnosis? Oh, it was between this surgery and that surgery.
So that's the blockchain, I explained. That's a basic technology. When people talk about a distributed, append-only ledger, that's blockchain -- "distributed" because lots of people can do it together even if they don't know each other, and "append-only" because you can only add to the end, not change stuff that's in the earlier records.
And Bitcoin is an implementation of that technology to do money, to agree about who has what money.
I asked him: Think of a Monopoly game. The box comes with, I don't know, a thousand bucks of Monopoly money. OK, so everyone in the game can trade it around. But what if you want to get a lot more people in the game and people want to do stuff and we need more money in the system, more of these tokens that people can exchange? How do you get more money into the system, add new tokens at a reasonable rate, and have everyone trust it -- trust its provenance?
Remember SETI@home? I asked. He did. I reminded him of how it had worked -- back before there was a "cloud" you could buy time on (the cloud is just other people's computers, after all, as the saying goes), the researchers said, please install this software on your computer. And then when your computer's not busy, at night, we'll give your computer a chunk of work, some data that a space telescope collected, and then your computer can use its spare time to crunch those numbers and check, hey, are there any weird patterns in that data? Do we think there are there aliens here?
And so if you've heard of Bitcoin "mining", it's kinda like that. What the people behind Bitcoin decided on is: the way you make more tokens is by having your computer solve the kind of really hard math problems that we basically need computers to do. It's just in the nature of this kind of math problem that it takes a computer a long time, crunching data, to solve the problem, but once it comes up with a solution, it's easy to check whether that solution is right. And so if your computer crunches out the next solution, then that makes a new token, and by default, you own it, because you, your computer did the work of solving that problem. He got that.
But that means people who want to make Bitcoin are like, okay, I'll get a huge row of computers to do it! And that uses a bunch of electricity which is awful for climate change! Yeah, he'd heard about that.
And so that's another reason, in late 2017, why personal computer security is more important than ever. There's the Trump Administration and its invasion of people's privacy, and surveillance, and so on. But also, when someone tries to trick you with spam or a virus these days, it's not just because they want to get your bank account password or your other private personal information. That hacker is now trying to install malware on your computer so they can use it like an evil SETI@home, evil crowdsourcing, so they can make your computer crunch those numbers to make new tokens (Bitcoins) for them. Your computer crunches the numbers but when you "mine" the Bitcoins they go to the hacker's account.
Also: So once you have this distributed trusted ledger, you don't really need people's names. So that means it's really useful for people who want to do sketchy things, and so from the beginning, the kinds of people who are interested in Bitcoin and other "cryptocurrencies" ("cryptography" meaning the study of how you make things secret + "currency") and want to use it include many of the kinds of people who give libertarians a bad name. He had heard of "the Dark Web" and made the connection here.
Around this point I started explaining what is and is not fiat currency, but it was time to line up to get a good seat at the show, so I left him and his friend to catch up and I crossed the street. As I stood in line, a (drunk?) woman who'd overheard me at the bar came up to me and tried to start a chat -- she said she works from home and feels isolated from what is going on in the world more generally. I sympathized with her; I work from home, a lot, too, and isolation can be hard. Her friend apologized for her, gently drew her away and started walking her to the subway stop; I lost sight of them.
I got a front-row seat at the show and had a lovely time. I'm currently reading Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott, and it strikes me that Ashok Kondabolu's relentlessly contrarian and cheerful self-revelatory style is a bit like Lamott's, especially vivid when they discuss addiction or antisocial reflexes. During audience Q&A, I mentioned that I am the single person who's contributed the most to the English Wikipedia page about Hari Kondabolu and asked whether there were any major inaccuracies, on any of the Wikipedias, about either Hari or Ashok. Looks like there aren't! Hari Kondabolu looked through that article live on stage and said with wide eyes, this is everything I've ever done. I was incredibly proud.
Last night I went to a Dar Williams show. I snagged a front-row seat but the seat next to me remained empty, and I eventually realized it wasn't visible to the people standing at the back. So I went to look for people who might want it; next time I do this, I need to start my sentence with "there's a spare seat up front" and not start by asking if someone's there alone. I was not hitting on you, two women I came up to!
A guy overheard me and was glad to come up front; he's a teacher with a bad back. We talked about where we'd lived, and about what coworking spaces do that coffeeshops don't, and what Meetup does that Facebook doesn't. He asked what I do (I explained a project manager's job as coordinative communication), and what kind of software I specialize in -- I briefly described the several different worlds of software development, like embedded stuff and games and websites and developer tools and so on, and said I mostly specialize in stuff for websites and in developer tools.
I don't know when I have cried more than at that show last night. I started listening to Dar Williams because Seth Schoen introduced me to her music, nearly twenty years ago, probably just a few months after he introduced me to free and open source software. So many of us sang along to "The Babysitter's Here" and "As Cool As I Am" (she paused her own guitar and voice to gesture to us and we all sang "I am the others" together; I feel like I never realized how anthemic that song is before) and "The Christians And The Pagans" and "When I Was A Boy" and "Iowa" (which always makes me think of this great West Wing fanfic) and "Road Buddy", and I hear a lot more in "After All" than I did before. She read aloud from her book. She does this show in Brooklyn the last week of every year, and I'm going to try to go now that I know that. 2018, 2019, 2020 -- something to look forward to in every year. I could use that.
When you're in love, sometimes you feel like every love song applies to you. When I'm trying to change, to improve myself, I find fresh news in trite old platitudes, even in inspirational quotes people share on social media, as shocking and embarrassing as some part of me thinks that is, and in songs I've known for years. I'm in a bit of my life where I'm listening to Vienna Teng and Dar Williams and the Mountain Goats to give me different lenses for my melancholy, some thoughtful and loving answers to the "what's the point? all is vanity" that pops up. This year I saw the Mountain Goats and Dar Williams and Regina Spektor live and yeah, I'm one of those people crying and singing along at the show, I'm one of the people these shows are for. Sign me up. I'll go in the cold, I'll go alone, I'll pay ridiculous service surcharges for tickets. I'm very hesitant to say I need things, but gosh it turns out that without this particular vitamin I will start developing emotional scurvy.
It turns out that when I started listening to Dar Williams she was not that much younger than I am now.
# 11 Nov 2017, 08:14AM: Video of Our PyGotham Play:
You can now watch the 22-minute video of the play I discussed last month. "Code Review, Forwards and Back", co-written by and co-starring Jason Owen and me, directed by Jonathan Galvez.
- Kenneth Durril for running sound
- David Beazley for running lights (on a few hours' notice and with no rehearsal)
- A. Jesse Jiryu Davis for a cameo as a junior engineer, and for introducing the play
- Jonathan Galvez for directing (if you're in NYC and looking to hire a director for a thing like this, ask me for his email address)
- Michael Rehse for a ton of useful advice
- Laura Hampton for serving as a dramaturg during late rehearsals
- The PyGotham organizers for accepting the talk and advising us on logistics and tone
- Our audience, especially attendees who told us they'd liked it
We were happy to hear people say things like I'm new to the industry, and this helped me learn things to watch out for or I used to be that reviewer and I'm trying not to be anymore or My name is Randall and I never hear my name in fiction and it was nice to hear you say my name or I don't code at all but this is a marvelous management parable. Indeed, code review is just a particularly visible moment where you can see the effects of an organization's culture and processes. Too execution-focused (the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing)? Too alignment-focused (we're taking so much time deliberating and gaining consensus that we can't make forward progress on the mission)? Too lax, or too superficial, in enforcing rules? Our play can't dive into every scenario but it's a start. And -- the most frequent comment we got from happy attendees -- it was a change of pace (no slides!).
We're revising the play and submitting this a few other places; once it's run its course, we'll be posting the text of the script online.
# (2) 25 Jan 2016, 12:08PM: 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.
# (3) 03 Jan 2016, 12:25PM PST: 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.
# 28 Dec 2015, 02:19PM PST: 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.
# 28 Dec 2015, 02:06PM PST: 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.
# 29 Oct 2015, 09:13AM: 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!
# 28 Oct 2015, 11:15AM: 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.
# 23 Sep 2015, 12:16PM: An Anger Playlist:
Since a Twitter acquaintance asked for some angry songs, I present my "Angry" playlist:
- "Get Around" by Leonard Richardson
- "Sucker Punch" by Jonathan Coulton
- 8-bit-style cover of Weezer's "Why Bother?" by I Fight Dragons
- "Erase Me" by Ben Folds Five
- "Have You Forgotten the Bomb" by Barcelona
- "Everything to Everyone" by Everclear
- "One Hit Wonder" by Everclear
- "Now That It's Over" by Everclear
- "What You Call Love" by Guster
- "Either Way" by Guster
- "Going to Maine" by The Mountain Goats
- "First Few Desperate Hours" by The Mountain Goats
- "Southwood Plantation Road" by The Mountain Goats
- "No Children" by The Mountain Goats
- "This Year" by The Mountain Goats
- "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana
- "Spiderwebs" by No Doubt
- "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime" as covered by Joe Glazer
- "The Same Merry-Go-Round" as covered by Oscar Brand
- "Still Alive" by Jonathan Coulton feat. Sara Quin
You may also be interested in my "Perseverance!" playlist.
# 10 Aug 2015, 10:57AM: 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.
# (3) 10 Jul 2015, 01:41PM: "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.
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.
...it'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.
# 07 Jun 2015, 06:49AM: 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.
# 23 May 2015, 10:41PM CST: 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.
# 25 Feb 2009, 09:20PM: Atlas Danced:
Highlights of my recent round trip between NYC and Washington, D.C.:
- Sitting next to a fresh-from-college geekish Indian-American woman, chatting pleasantly for hours, reassuring her that she isn't alone in finding most Indian-American males unattractive, and finding and returning to her the well-loved copy of Atlas Shrugged she nearly left on the bus.
- Seeing the J. Fenimore Cooper Service Area. Great name.
- Driving past the Vigilant Hotel on 8th Ave. at 28th St. Even better name.
- Listening to 24 Hours at the Golden Apple, a This American Life episode that feels like a Unitarian Universalist Sunday service in the best possible way, and Big Wide World, a personal and uncomfortably historical TAL. What's the standard public radio listener lifecycle, and do I fit it? When I was a teen I'd listen to Morning Edition, Prairie Home Companion, Weekend Edition, Fresh Air, Says You!, and whatever Celtic, jazz, opera, folk, bluegrass, electronic, and et cetera music KUOP played before they switched to all-talk the moment I went off to college. Now I hear ten seconds of ME/WE or Marketplace when my alarm goes off, plus a TAL or two when I travel. Shouldn't I be increasing my public radio listenership as I become an old fogey?
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