Off to Kiwicon!

I am preparing to go to Kiwicon 6 in Wellington, New Zealand! I’ll be speaking on hacker communities. I’m super excited to meet people, hear all the talks, blog about everything, scoot around town, and see lots of people I know from geekfeminism.org, linux.conf.au, and DrupalSouth. I’m also speaking at the Geek Girl Dinner along with Laura Bell of in2securITy!

Kiwicon 666

It is the end of days; the sky has torn asunder, for it is Kiwicon six hundred sixty six.

Organised by and for the NZ hacker community, Kiwicon brings together hackers, their whitehat chums, and curious bystanders who are interested in the very very thin veneer of robustness spackled over our technological world.

First priority, fixing my scooter. So I want to talk about that before talking about the con and non-hardware hacking! Zach from the hackability list helped me again, bringing over all his tools. I have a tiny travel multimeter now, but am probably not going to have a tiny soldering iron before the trip. After 3 separate things broke on my scooter on day 1 of my trip to Mexico, I swore never to travel again with a scooter without the stuff to fix it! Though I was very smug that my Spanish was good enough to have a long conversation with an electrician that went far beyond “No sirve” as we opened up my dashboard. Fortunately guessing words like “voltímetro” worked well.

potentiometer and its lever

One problem was that a diode blew. It is in between the two 12-volt sealed lead-acid batteries and once Zach and I had tested everything else we opened up the heat shrink tubing and found this giant useless diode. I think (after discussion with Susan, Zach, and some very nice engineer from the fab lab in China that makes the scooters) it may in theory serve to stop you from draining your batteries by accident. In practice it underpowers the motor so we just snipped it out and didn’t replace it. The hacked smart charger we made for the scooter may have blown it out.

Another problem was that some wires came loose in the dashboard from the cruise control potentiometers despite that I had covered them in tons of hot glue. (The electrician in La Paz and I fixed that bit.) The third thing wrong was that the main throttle potentiometer shaft, which is very long, was out of whack or bent, so the scooter just wouldn’t start, because the motor controller checks to make sure the controls are centered before it will let you start. The driver who loaded my scooter into the back of his van in Los Cabos for the drive to La Paz did not take the seat off the scooter’s frame before bending down the dashboard on its pole. So the acceleration lever (forward and backward) and thus, the throttle pot shaft, was resting directly on the seat and got screwed up. I had a great time in La Paz anyway in a janky rental Everest and Jennings manual chair pushed by Oblomovka and spent the rest of my time in bed (properly as I should, but boringly), on the beach 50 steps from the hotel, or in the tiny front sidewalk table of the hotel cafe writing and sketching.

The Malecón (walkway or boardwalk along the sea) of La Paz was lovely, nicely paved for wheelchairs or scooters, very flat, and very long. It is level in some places with the beach and in others looks out over riprap or extends to piers. At the Science Expo we saw this otherworldly sculpture of a ballena tiburon, or WHALE SHARK. I think of WHALE SHARKS in all caps, always.

on another planet with 2 suns!

Also awesome in La Paz: All of La Paz and the people I met! The lovely, fascinating, kind, people of the Hotel Mediterrane, a small LGBT hotel in La Paz that felt like a bed & breakfast. And the beaches, especially Tecolote and Balandra!

Then Hurricane Sandy happened and I contributed a little bit to this massive group effort to help out and felt a lot of love for the extended “cripfam” of my friends.

We continue our Anarchafeminist Hackerhive meetings at Noisebridge and are looking closely in what’s happening at HackerMoms, LOL, and Sudo Room! Everyone should read Jenny Ryan’s article on co-operation amongst Bay Area hackerspaces:
Hacking the Commons: How to Start a Hackerspace
as it conveys the fabulousness of the Bay Area hackerspaces & the synergy that is building these days.

Oh, and I made up a version of The Internationale to sing at Noisebridge and other hackerspaces, The Hackernationale, for a hackerspace anthem, because the Free Software Song is a bit hard to sing and play. The Hackernationale is especially suitable for singing to sleeping hackers, and I plan on writing many more verses for it!

So, Kiwicon! I will talk about mildy subversive things which hopefully will not sound like “buzzwording buzzword for buzzwordists” since I could not call the talk “How to Conspire to Do Illegal Things”. It will be thought provoking, odd, scary, and wildly entertaining for 9:15 in the morning as I bounce around a stage in the Wellington Opera House ranting and waving my arms wildly like a tiny wheeled Wizard of Frobozz!

Bootstrapping InfoSec for Hacktivists
As hackers and activists, we have a lot of power and many vulnerabilities. And as we act not just as lone hackers but in working groups, our infosec practices can expose not only ourselves but our associates. Acting with power, responsibility, and as much safety as possible means we need good operational security for whole communities, whether they’re publishing citizen journalism and leaked information, challenging censorship and copyright law, or taking direct political action locally or internationally. This talk will walk us through some cultural frameworks and technical tools created by and for emerging hacker communities. Who are we? Who will dislike our actions? What channels might they use? And how can we treat them as bugs, and route around them?

Before giving that talk on Saturday morning I will be at the Arduino thing on Friday, then maybe the Surviving Kiwicon orientation if I’m not falling over from jet lag, then the clambake Geek Girl Dinner, then the speakers’ party. On Saturday I’m especially interested in Alex Kirk’s talk on Master Phishing, Leigh Honeywell’s talk “Firehoses and Asbestos Pants” on the security incident & response life cycle, the web app recon talk and the talk where 3 guys with ponytails talk about security. On Sunday, I really want to go to Open Source Security Response, The tale of a Firefox bug by Thoth and the Wi-fi attack cycle talk which I believe will actually take place with the souped-up motorcycle on stage and which MAY INSPIRE me to stuff more electronics and another large deep-cycle battery into my mobility scooter. Also this seems like the quintessential Kiwicon talk since their Secret Cabal clearly LOVES METAL. This is the best conference talk description ever!!!!!

War driving has been around for a very, very long time, however it has been missing a few key things. Mainly leather, Judas Priest and Motorcycles. ‘Ghost riders in your LAN’ is a talk based around overclocking the wardriving game by introducing gasoline, angle grinders, cheap wifi gear and a build price smaller than your slightly more exorbitant weekend bender. This talk is a collaboration between Security-Assessment.com and Stray Rats Custom Motorcycles. I will be covering the details of how to build a wifi-attack-cycle from ground up – from electronics and cheap-and-cheerful heads up displays to the bike modifications required to mount all the tech and look awesome while terrorizing your local neighborhood TP-LINKs. Ride the metal monster, breathing death and fire. Closing in with vengeance broadcasting high. This is the WifiKiller.

OMG! I want a ride on this beast!!!

Actually, Sunday has more talks than I can possibly sit up for, so if you see me lying down in the back of the theater please don’t be alarmed, I am just resting my back, or have taken too many muscle relaxants. Carry on!

After the con I am going to veg a lot and go to the indoor swimming pool for some physical therapy and hang around Wellington for a few days. Maybe with Joh and sundry, maybe with hyp4t1a if she doesn’t disappear off into some sort of skiing, rock climbing hinterland!

Say hello if you see me, I look like this and am on a little blue scooter or hobbling slowly around on a cane:
new shirt

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Hurricane relief: Do something!

Aleja and I met online through GimpGirl years ago. I got to know Nick as well; we chat often about space exploration, writing, and comics. We have mutual friends like Jen Cole and Ron Sidell. We met in person in New York finally! Both at the BlogHer conference and then over Thanksgiving while I was in town for the Committee to Protect Journalists fundraiser.

aleja & me

nick working on his webcomic

On Monday I was asking Aleja and Nick if they had anyone with them. Akemi had come over to stay with them through the hurricane but they did not expect at all to lose power and water. I was on vacation in Mexico. My electric mobility scooter had broken, so I had limited ability to go places and was spending a lot of time online following the news and writing to friends.

From my work during and after Hurricane Katrina I know how fast situations can deteriorate and how important logistics are. Simply having people on the spot is amazingly useful. Once they are there, they can see what needs doing. I offered to reach out on my social networks to see if anyone near them might be able to come over and help out. At that point I began to realize the complexity of what support they might need, as well as many of the pressures against asking for help.

Personally, I have a ton of support and resources, yet it only takes a little change in my circumstances to unbalance the whole house of cards. When my needs change, or become more visible, other people sometimes then begin to treat me like I’ve crossed a line into complete loss of control of what happens. I didn’t want that to happen to Nick, as it so often does, and for him with life threatening consequences. And for Aleja who I love dearly I could picture how outsiders would not be able to see the level of work she does and how necessary it is. We value our independence, including our ability to plan and ask for help. But for me personally that comes with a confusing mix of pride and shame, fear and anger, for the times things don’t go as I had planned and predicted. I struggle with this. People are very, very disrespectful and I don’t like to be dehumanized. But to get along and survive, sometimes we have to just eat disrespect. For Nick and Aleja, crossing that line could mean someone would try to force Nick to evacuate without real infrastructure in place to support them and his health care, and his breathing. (And in fact, that just happened. TWICE.) Being evac-ed could kill him, but even if it didn’t, would it result in some bureaucrat or social worker deciding he should be incarcerated — forced into an institution? Would it disrupt their lives to the point where Nick and Aleja wouldn’t be able to come home together? (They already can’t get married.) When I’m casually dehumanized I lose a little dignity and I get mad. When Nick is, his life is on the line. William Peace describes the dangers of the medical model of disability very well in his blog Bad Cripple, which I recommend highly.

In this photo Aleja and I express our feelings about oppression and ableism by flipping them off with a smile:

aleja and liz express their feelings

Anyway, I worried that I was pressuring Aleja to consent to my sending in some stranger (though a friend of a friend) into their home whether to help with personal care or just to bring them food and water or try and find a way to get power to Nick’s breathing equipment. As soon as they said it was okay, I put out a call. It propagated quickly. Suddenly thousands of people were twittering to me or messaging me on Facebook. I was frantically trying to apologize to Aleja over IM for embarrassing them since my twittered request for help went way out of control. Over the next few hours it became apparent that a support network would have to mobilize. And it did! Three out of the thousands were able to offer practical help rather than just saying “Call 911! Call FEMA” (yeah right!!!), and they joined what was quickly organizing to be a team effort from people who hadn’t known each other before. I was glued to my computer talking with people, gathering information from many sources and redistributing it to others, trying to spare Alejandra’s and others’ limited cell phone batteries. Len Burns became my point of contact with Aleja. They needed sterile water, rides for their nursing/PCA staff because the subway was not running, cash for all sorts of things, drinking water, batteries for flashlights, and many more things that had to be brought up and down 12 flights of stairs. Leslie Freeman was the first to get there, I think, other than Akemi. They are both beyond awesome! My friend Lauren who is a journalist and feminist activist also made it there.

Then I began following Crystal and Sandi Yu’s epic road trip in the middle of the night driving from Boston to New York City, stopping at every Walmart, AutoZone, and truck stop on the way to get supplies. When I realized Crystal is also a wheelchair user and that she and Sandi had barely met, I was cheering them on so hard and felt a deep happiness to find these kindred spirits doing something I could at least support from a distance. I donated quickly over PayPal and Crystal was able to use the money right away with a PayPal debit card. Meanwhile, Amalle was coordinating an ever growing Google Doc of information about how to help and exactly what to do. There was a schedule of people volunteering for shifts and to drive Nick’s nurses back and forth from home to work.

Crystal and others also began, at some point, getting money from Portlight — where I am also now donating! Carrie Ann Lucas connected the group to Portlight. I really like getting cash directly to people in a crisis and to “unofficial first responders”, as I will never forget the amazingness of handing wads of 20 dollar bills (given to me by strangers who read my blog) directly into the hands of evacuees in the Houston Astrodome so they could get to their families, buy diapers and gas, and get the heck out of that refugee camp. Aside from the help…. they were fueled by trust. No fuss, no forms, no proving things to people behind desks, just direct practical help.

I love Crystal’s quick and detailed writeup of the history of how she became involved and what she and Sandi did, from Crystal’s blog LittleFreeRadical: UnconVENTional Aid: Helping Nick Dupree, Social Networking Style. I would love to hear the stories of others like Leslie and Amalle and Akemi who are doing so much as well as what this has been like for Aleja and Nick. It is important not to lose our history.

On Wednesday I started doing research on legal issues for Len Burns, to see what options existed for protecting Nick against other people’s non-helpful 911 calls on him, and discussed battery tech and power inverters with other people active in the efforts. At some point Tuesday or Wednesday I Facebook-friended and began talking with Leslie and then Crystal and others working to help; I could see their comments on Aleja and Nick’s and Len’s posts. Now I’m happy to know them and can tell we have a lot in common — our willingness to jump into a situation and improvise, for one! And I understood Bethany Stephens‘ use of the word “cripfam” a bit more deeply because I felt that recognition of friends who will go all out, who know what “solidarity” means…

Meanwhile this happened: Invalid New Yorker’s Pals Keep Life Saving Gear Running. While I can see the effort this reporter made to be helpful, the disrespectful language and the way the story frames Nick and Aleja both made me furious and sick to my stomach. The reporter couldn’t even be bothered to get a quote from Nick but described his very act of speaking as “burbling” etc, in ways that are classically dehumanizing… as non-speech, as non-human, as alien other. I can see reporters will think this an interesting story — and it is, but not like this, not this easy win at Disability Reporting Bingo. Most of the people helping here are also people with disabilities, for example. There are stories to tell about technology, the Internet, hardware, proprietary medical tech, the connections to OccupyWallStreet and activism, and many other complexities. I wrote to the reporter and his editor, and commented (mildly, for me, and without swearing) on the story.

My main usefulness has been to bring attention to the situation and get others involved. People pay attention to my thoughts on this because of my history of public speaking, and blogging; my involvement with hackerspaces, DIY technology, and activism; and because I did some useful on-the-spot work for Hurricane Katrina relief. I also was able to donate money directly to Crystal and to Portlight. Please pitch in if you can, to share resources and skills, because the situation over the East Coast and NYC in general is still deteriorating as gasoline and supplies run out across the area.

Here’s how to help right now: Lending a Hand

Big organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross do useful work, but usually not at this stage of chaos on this individual level. A week and a half from now they’ll be in charge whether they’re effective or not, but right now it’s anarchy, so we have a chance to be the most useful with direct action. Just go…right now while it’s crucial… go to wherever the problem is, LISTEN TO PEOPLE… and pitch in. Don’t just donate some old clothes or cans of food as if you can dump your trash on other people and it will magically make them middle class and give them all the infrastructure of your massive privilege! Go to gather information, find out what is needed, improvise, and DO SOME WORK.

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