# 03 Feb 2010, 04:18PM: Change of Plans:
Image nicked from Leo Antunes. (I thought about creating some sort of Belgian-waffle-with-a-NO-sign-on-it but this services.)
I'm not going to FOSDEM this year; change of plans. Perhaps next year.
# (2) 05 Feb 2010, 11:48PM: Another Change:
I'm no longer working with Collabora Ltd.
In the first several months after I joined Collabora in April 2009, I served as lead project manager, got the new website up, and started putting some new project management processes into place, especially in research and development. Then I shifted to personnel management, and created and began implementing a performance assessment system. All the while I gardened the wiki, aggregated and edited weekly internal reports to keep the company on the same page, blogged about our work, and generally gave people the information and the nagging they needed to make informed decisions. (In retrospect, I played facilitator, historian, and journalist a lot, plus mentor to 50+ Collaborans.)
Collabora's a different place than it was ten months ago; I helped move them from a startup to an enterprise footing. Management structures change as needs and capabilities become apparent, so the directors and new hires (including the awesome Martin Barrett) will carry this work forward, and I offer them my best wishes. I'm happy to talk more in detail about what I did at Collabora, especially if you're interested in what I can do for your organization.
In the near future, I'm taking some time to relax and take care of existing obligations before I incur new ones. Then, starting in late February or early March, I'll be volunteering fulltime on some open source/free culture projects for several months. I haven't yet decided which ones, or in what capacity, so feel free to recruit me.
# (1) 07 Feb 2010, 10:09PM: Travel Plans:
I'm setting up travel plans for the rest of the year. I'm about 95% certain I'm going to WisCon in Madison, Wisconsin in late May, although I need to find someone to room with (anyone have some spare floor at the Concourse?) and buy tickets. I submitted a talk to OSCON (Portland, Oregon, July 19-23) and I'll find out next month whether that got accepted. (OSCON is right after HOPE in NYC, which I really should check out.) I'm also thinking about going to WorldCon in Melbourne, Australia in early September, because I have a number of friends and acquaintances there, and when else will I have time plus multiple reasons to visit Melbourne? Since DebConf in early August is in New York City, I'll probably be there at least for the social bits.
And there are a metric zillion other events I'm at least somewhat interested in, from LibrePlanet to the Netbook Summit to QuahogCon to Open Source Bridge and the Community Leadership Summit. So this coming week I have to suss out what's quality, think up some strategy, and prep a bunch of talk proposals. If you want to suggest anything, please email or comment!
Right now I'm in Washington, DC, visiting my sister and enjoying the snow. Yesterday & today I accidentally visited ShmooCon because various DC-area geek women inveigled me into dinner, then some sort of "party," then oh Metro is closing early because of the snow, oh look, this person's hotel room has an empty second bed! And then breakfast and more hanging out and it's afternoon already? In more short-term travel plans, I'm hitting various promising sites to help me figure out whether I can get back to New York City tomorrow.
# (2) 11 Feb 2010, 09:16AM: Sometimes Things Get Turned Around And No One's Spared:
I made it back to New York City just fine, and in time to catch our own snowfall. Leonard & I have again been using the infinite uploads of the mysterious bobtwcatlanta for entertainment.
"This theme song for Mr. Belvedere is really heavy on the slapstick."
"Yeah, it doesn't convey the sophisticated wordplay that characterized the comedy in Mr. Belvedere."
Pause. "Did it?"
We recently switched to commercials rather than opening credits/theme music sequences. This means that twenty-year-old jingles have like dormant infections reawakened in my brain. "Bonneville!" may now replace "YEAHHH!" for me as a non sequitur suffix.
Speaking of reactions to entertainment: Danny O'Brien, if you're reading this, Brian Malow is to nerdcore comedy what They Might Be Giants is to MC Frontalot. A few minutes into Brian Malow's Wonderfest act he mentions that tic I have that I think you have too -- instead of laughing at a joke, nodding once you've parsed and compiled it and judged it sound. We're in a great tradition, you and I. Around 9:20 in this compilation is an ad for...life insurance? a real estate company? no, Benjamin Moore paints. "When something means so much, see your Benjamin Moore dealer." Instantly Leonard and I took this literally.
"Bob! I just asked her to marry me! It just meant so much!"
"Bob! My dog just got hit by a car! It means so much!"
"Bob! Ulysses! Just look at this text! It means so much!"
"Bob! Encyclopedias! All those sentences and articles! They mean so much!"
"Revised commercial: 'When something means so much and could conceivably be paint-related, see your Benjamin Moore dealer."
Tough room. TO PAINT! (Bonneville!)
# (2) 14 Feb 2010, 04:26PM: Lazyweb:
I'm thinking about buying a new laptop computer to aid in my volunteering and consulting. I'd run some flavor of Linux on it, probably Debian, Ubuntu, or Fedora. I welcome suggestions for laptops with the following characteristics:
- Come without Windows pre-installed (I'm sick of paying the Windows tax)
- Most or all components ethically sourced
- Manufactured/assembled someplace with real labor standards
- General laptop desiderata (sturdiness, battery life, thinner is better)
I don't really care about its weight or looks. Thoughts?
Update: Ended up choosing ZaReason (reasons here).
# (1) 14 Feb 2010, 04:51PM: Happy Silly Day:
I went to high school for four years. Each of those years, I wrote for the high school newspaper. And each year, for the Valentine's Day issue, I wrote a separate, all-new anti-Valentine's Day opinion piece.
Leonard and I started dating in 2001. Somehow I'd gone through eight Februaries with Leonard without telling him about these editorials. Specifically, until yesterday, I hadn't told him that one of them was a glimpse into a utopian future in which Valentine's Day was merely a historical curiosity. Children in school were learning about this custom and found it astonishing. I'm certain I'd already read "The Fun They Had" but I can't remember whether my piece was a deliberate homage.
Yesterday we also came up with the name "Guns N. Butter" (for a girl, no?) and we realized that my ninth-grade biology teacher, Courtney Porter, could easily have doubled as Batman stenography villain "Court Reporter."
Leonard's sample dialogue:
Batman: "I'm taking you down!"
Court Reporter [fingers madly clattering over keyboard]: "I'm taking everything down!"
# 14 Feb 2010, 07:17PM: 23 Links:
If you live in the Bay Area, think about listening to Scott Rosenberg on Tuesday March 2nd -- he'll be talking about MediaBugs.
Remember the Yes, Minister episode called "Open Government"? The Obama Administration either doesn't, or doesn't care. Also, Indians EVERYWHERE!
James Vasile and Will Kahn-Greene talk about whether and how to turn non-contributors into contributors, and to increase the number and quality of their contributions. Teaching Open Source, "How to Destroy Your Community, and Dispatches from the revolution seem like good places for James & Will to start. And let's not forget to think about all the barriers there are to lower, the most troubling one being that people don't realize their own capacities and options.
The Koha library app is cool. When I see its featurelist mentioning OPAC, it reminds me of working on the OvidSP demo video (Chapter: Ovid Universal Search). "Even your OPAC!" I learned what "OPAC" means about eight times and each time immediately forgot.
My ex-boss seems to have decided that Fog Creek will hire people who don't have programming experience. Seems reasonable, although the company culture sure will change (if it hasn't already). (Ha, they still have at least one picture of me on their site!) Speaking of company culture, I'm interested in how Damien Katz's vision will turn out. I'm especially curious about how the anti-manager bias and the allergy to performance/productivity criteria will end up working.
Sarah Haskins's "Target Women" segments for Current's "Infomania" are no more. She's moving on to screenplays and whatnot. At least we have the archives, and she hints that another woman may take over TW.
More Sumana links in delicious.
# (1) 14 Feb 2010, 07:20PM: A Song Lyrics Post More At Home In LiveJournal Syndication Than On My Own Site:
Other than the Mr. Belvedere theme song, the main song that's been stuck in my head recently is "Oh Lately It's So Quiet" by OK Go, because This American Life: 2010 used it to fine effect. More:
It's gonna hurt me
It's gonna kill when you desert me
This happened to me twice before
It won't happen to me anymore
- "Why Bother?", Weezer (awesome 8-bit tribute/cover version from Weezer - The 8-bit Album). I know these lyrics sound resigned, but in the song, especially the I Fight Dragons cover, the sound feels energetic and kick-ass. I'm taking control. The next time I try this, it'll be on my terms.
Consider [the] possibility
That you've been had, but not by me
- "Just Apathy," Tally Hall. "Welcome to Tally Hall" is a more astounding song, lyrically, melodically, harmonically, but the singer sings this one line plaintively and playfully. It sticks with me.
You say they taught you how to read and write
Yeah, they taught you how to count
I say they taught you how to buy
and sell your own body by the pound
I think you like to be the simple boy
I think you love to play the clown
I think you are blind to the fact
that the hand you hold is the hand that holds you down
- "Everything to Everyone," Everclear. I've had this album for ten years? This song is arguably an argument about product differentiation in established multiline corporations. (But it's not.)
# (2) 21 Feb 2010, 11:50PM: Life Update That Might Very Well Do Better As A Bulleted List:
Sorry, I haven't blogged in the past week (except microblogging & linking). Since last Sunday, I:
visited the Merchant's House Museum with Beth, went to a fun storyreading and met new Dan, had a lovely talky dinner with Rupa, gossiped and saw a Jane Austen exhibit with Julia, breakfasted with her and Moss and Mirabai, submitted a conference proposal, met Elizabeth Yalkut, visited Yahoo! Labs New York to hear lightning talks by Yahoo! researchers, bought Diana Abu-Jaber's Origin, tried stout-based hot chocolate, went to McGinty's to celebrate a peer's escape from an abusive situation (and ended up talking Python & PostgreSQL with her sister & Beth), ate a jar of pickles (and drank the brine) while reading in Union Square Park, talked with Joe and Elisa and Brendan on the phone, introduced Leonard to new Dan, walked around Astoria with Pat and helped him find no-kill mousetraps and explored the Socrates Sculpture Park and brought him home to Leonard (where we all squeed), there's probably more but it's not in my calendar.
I remember reading Gordon Korman's Zoobreak and Maureen F. McHugh's Mothers and Other Monsters, and a bunch of TVTropes (won't even link! admire my civic responsibility) and some Lassiter Psych fanfic. Also watched several episodes of Psych. Is there a more intertextual dramedy on the air?
Thanks for the McHugh, Julia! And for warning me about the DESPAIR NOOOO in "The Cost To Be Wise" and the BLATANT FANSERVICE in Psych: "Death Is In The Air." Although no warning is quite enough.
# (1) 24 Feb 2010, 12:51PM: Milestone:
Yesterday I soldered for the first time.
# (2) 28 Feb 2010, 04:13PM: Making The Hard Look Easy, Feminism, and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms:
Mary Anne Mohanraj recently wrote about sprezzatura, the nonchalance and easy grace that make all one's accomplishments seem effortless. She mentions that she's trying to cut down on that behavior, because she thinks its deception causes harmful expectations and self-loathing in others.
Mohanraj's post instantly reminded me of an ex. He told me of a compliment he'd once received: "You seem to be gliding through life." What does it say about me that I'd think of that as an insult, not a compliment? My take was: If you aren't visibly struggling, you're not working hard enough, your life is easy, and you're probably spoiled, lazy, and uncurious. How much of that is my workaholism? How much is insecurity, or resentment of privilege, or ignorance of my own privilege? Stupid female-socialized insecurity and self-sabotage for the sake of fitting in is, as I stipulated, stupid, and harmful both to the speaker and the hearer. But there's a difference between struggling to appear effortless and batting away compliments with a stick. I'm gonna quote myself from a column I wrote a few years ago:
There are people who say there's no such thing as arrogance, who would see nothing wrong with saying they're awesome, to whom humility, embarrassment, hubris, etc., are useless concepts that get in the way of efficient markets....
There is this thing called kindness, and it includes not eating a Snickers bar in front of a hungry person, and it includes not bragging about your skills in front of people who are trying valiantly to accomplish what you attained, especially if you got there without much effort....
Am I an expert at anything now? The larger my realm of experience gets, the more insignificant my tiny efforts seem.
What do I deliberately practice? What skills have I mastered? And what did my parents give me, in nature and nurture, that let me leap ahead?
I have no perspective on my own expertise, and no expertise on gaining perspective.
When something great happens in my life, I tend to think it's because of luck and discount my own effort. I aw-shucks my own accomplishments. And then I envy successful people instead of admiring them.
Envy comes from impotent desire. Role models get admired, the admirer assuming that he can get there too.
That's the difference, too, between destructive and constructive acknowledgments of one's accomplishments. Compassion, and hope.
Related essays that sprang to mind included some notes on protection and mentorship by Bitch Ph.D. She says that her strengths include calming students' and junior academics' anxieties by telling them the profession's unspoken rules, such as "No one reads everything they cite." I might turn her paragraph below into my new anthem:
I don't believe in unwritten rules, or at least I don't believe in not telling people what they are; I don't believe in meritocratic bull****; I don't believe that making people paranoid is the way to get them to do good work; I don't believe that competition need be cruel. I'm an extrovert, I'm honest, and I don't like to lie.
(Some thinking on meritocracy, in case you take reflexive umbrage at Bitch Ph.D.'s dismissal.)
When you're perceived as successful, you can more credibly criticize the system you've mastered and the game you've won. For example, because she takes the effort to look femme and stylish, she can awaken students to how much work goes into performing femininity: they "think more critically about why they spend so much time on their appearance, and what the costs and benefits of it are." This goes back to Mohanraj's hope that she can use others' compliments as an opening to encourage them, rather than discourage.
These days, I just keep trying to expose the work under the beauty.... I cheated and used a pre-made sauce for the base -- let me show it to you. Exposing the hard labor (or the clever workarounds) that are necessary to trying to do it all, for the sake of family, of profession, of self, of community. I believe that labor offers a different kind of grace.
Speaking of labor:
On the difference between labor and work, via Dara. "What is your work now?" may go into my toolbox of party questions, as "what are you reading?" and "what are you obsessed with?" aren't surefire conversation-starters.
Mohanraj is Guest of Honor at this year's WisCon (feminist science fiction/fantasy convention, late May, Madison, Wisconsin). So I can barely segue into talking about some speculative fiction that's caught my eye.
"Sundowning" by Joanne Merriam is a little bit like "The Second Conquest of Earth" by L. J. Daly (both good, same magazine, five months previous): interesting female point-of-view character trying to outwit or outwork a terrifying antagonist.
Got an interesting fictional take on the Ramayana? An anthology is seeking submissions.
I got to go to the launch party for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Book One of The Inheritance Trilogy) a few nights ago. And then I inhaled the entire book over the next 24 hours. To quote another reviewer, it's "full of danger, sensuality, and wonder." And it works as a self-contained book, by the way.
Reasons I wanted to read this book:
- the author's thinky posts about fantasy at The Magic District
- the author's post, "Warriors who don’t make war":
Yeine is a warrior who never makes war.
Or at least, she doesn't do it in any conventional sense. That's the point. Yeine comes from a warrior culture. In her land, serious disputes are resolved in a straightforward and efficient manner: with a knife-fight. She’s pretty good at it...
...a character who, out of habit, draws her knife in tense moments... then puts the knife away. She learns of a military threat and must deal with it diplomatically, economically, logistically, even magically -- but not militarily....
- similarly, her thoughts on Yeine as postfeminist
- the sample chapters one, two, and three
- she and Leonard used to be in the same writing group
- Her story for Haiti, "The Effluent Engine" - lesbian steampunk gun-toting spy drama in New Orleans
- all the stuff she wrote and said during WisCon last year, and around RaceFail
So it was overdetermined that I'd read the book. I'm glad to have loved it as well.
# 28 Feb 2010, 08:38PM: Bleg:
I have a little free time, so I'm thinking of spending a day at New York City's Paley Center for Media (a.k.a. the Museum of Television and Radio) to watch old television or listen to old radio. I'm specifically charged with watching the 1985 "Scenario" episode of Benson because it's arguably the first TV show ever to mention the Internet. Leonard wants me to transcribe the relevant bits of dialogue.
It costs a schlub like me (read: someone not affiliated with an educational or research institution) USD25 for a day of access, so I'm open to suggestions for other things to check out while I'm there. For example, they have an episode of Gung Ho, an eighties sitcom about lean manufacturing that starred Scott Bakula and that doesn't seem to be available on DVD. Search their collection and tell me if the Center has some other recording that piques your geeky or obscure interest, and what mystery needs solving. I'll take notes and try to answer you here on my blog.
The Paley Center also archives old TV and radio commercials. I can't think of any old ads I've been aching to watch, but maybe you can.
# (2) 28 Feb 2010, 09:14PM: Sewing, Debian Packaging, DIY Electronics, And My Love Of Old Systems:
A few weeks ago I organized a sewing lesson at Ivy's place. A few friends got together and learned some basics of machine sewing and hand sewing. (My family had bought me a sewing machine a few years prior, for which I was very thankful, but which I put away in frustration when I couldn't figure out how to get the bobbin thread to properly get caught by the needle.)
Ivy was a great teacher. Over and over, I was astonished to see the system of the thing resolve before my eyes; millions of people have worked through fiber arts issues before I ever arrived, and have developed tools and practices that make sense. Every button and lever and outcropping on the face of a sewing machine has a function. Starch spray, hot iron, water, pins, spool, bobbin, rotary trimmer, foot pedal to leave both hands free to guide the fabric, and different stitch types for different purposes (like backstitching or stabilizing initial knot) just make me feel so glad to be arriving in a well-explored problem space, in a millenia-old community of practice.
We were all women. We talked about:
- clothes and crafting
- apartments and moves
- dating and partners
- our friend and how to cheer him up
- our job histories and the in-retrospect architectures of our careers
- university architecture and confusing hall/building design
So, in case you're trying to pass the Bechdel test, there you have some suggested topics. I successfully hemmed some raw shirtsleeve edges!
Then the next night I went to a Debian packaging workshop that Richard and Daniel put on. Thanks for the kind and informative instruction! Again, I marveled at how many tools the community had already built to check for traps, format output nicely, and generally smooth the processes of patching and packaging.
tree gives you directory listings, formatted as a tree! You can report bugs to the Debian bug tracker from the command line with
reportbug! Like Mel says: "It's not that these things are hard, it's that you don't know how they're easy."
I was the only woman. Better than none.
A few nights ago I learned to solder, thanks to Ranjit, NYC Resistor, and BugLabs. (That's me in the background!) I brought some materials and creativity and got free light-emitting diodes, wire, tools, and instruction. Half the participants were women. Everyone's lanterns were pretty.
Wires twist easier with pliers, and hold together with solder. Electrical tape hides ugly wires and prevents short-circuiting (and "circuit" as a noun and a verb makes intuitive sense when you've wired one up). Voltage math on the level of 2-volt LEDs and nine-volt batteries is easy: four 2-volt bulbs in series light up nice, soaking up the voltage appropriately, but five bulbs get pretty dim, and three or fewer bulbs get dangerously hot and might pop.
Pliers, soldering irons, and electrical tape are manufactured to complement the human hand. These are tools we made. They, too, are instantiations of a jillion person-hours of thought and work and discovery. Every complicated system is like a city. It emerges from the work that goes on inside it. We shape it and it shapes us.
That's my awe of makers and making. Reading books, I get to hear from the dead. In crafting, I feel the touch of the vanished hand.
Cogito, Ergo Sumana by Sumana Harihareswara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by emailing the author at email@example.com.