Mozilla’s bug reporting, QA, and release processes

AdaCamp Portland was an amazing conference for feminist women in open source tech and culture. Not all, but many of the conference attendees are developers, system administrators, or do other technical work in open source software. I gave an informal talk meant to be an overview of some things I currently do at Mozilla. Lots of people came to the session! We all introduced ourselves going around the room.

To start off with, I showed a sample bug to talk about the process of reporting a bug, using Bugzilla, and practicing the skill of reading and understanding a bug report.

We looked first at Bug 926292.

Bugzilla couple

Let’s look at the life of this bug!

This bug was reported in October 2013 for Firefox 24 by someone new to bugzilla.mozilla.org. New users have basic permissions to file and comment on bugs. For around their first 25 bugs filed or commented on, they are marked “New to Bugzilla” to anyone with more permissions on the system. This helps more experienced users to know when they’re in conversation with people who are relatively new to the system. And, bugs reported by new users are automatically entered into Bugzilla with a status of “UNCONFIRMED”.

Our bug reporter was answered the same day by a community bug triager who used the “needinfo” checkbox to ask the bug reporter more questions. A bit later, in Comment 2, I was able to confirm the bug; I marked it NEW. Community members often jump in to do this from Bug Triage bug days, from our One and Done community taskboard, or because they watch the “Firefox::Untriaged” component. (Yes . . . you too can sign up to get email from Bugzilla every time a new bug is filed!)

Francesca Ciceri is currently working on bug triage and verification with our team as part of the GNOME-OPW internship program, doing similiar work to Tiziana Selitto who was an OPW intern last year! Both their blogs have good insights into what it’s like to approach QA in a huge and somewhat chaotic system like Mozilla’s.

In our example bug, I took a guess as to which product and component to add to the bug. This is like putting the bug into the right place where developers who work in a particular area will be likely to see it, and pay attention to it. I moved it from “Firefox” to “Core” and thought it may be something to do with the CSS Object Model. Picking the right product and component is tricky. Sometimes I look for similar bugs, to see what component they’re in. Sometimes I use Bugzilla’s Browse pages to skim or search through the descriptions of components for Firefox, Core, and Toolkit. Even after doing this for a year and a half, I get it wrong. Here, a developer moved the bug to what he thought was a better component for it, Core::Layout. (Developers also sometimes guess wrong, and keep passing a bug around to each others’ components like a hot potato.)

At this point a few developers explored the bug, and went back and forth with each other and the bug reporter about whether it had been fixed or not, exactly what the bug was, whether it is a Mac issue or a Firefox issue, and how to fix it. It was resolved as a duplicate of another bug in October, but the bug reporter came back to reopen it in February 2014. The bug reporter was polite but persistent in explaining their view, giving more details of the browser behavior, trying to find the bug in the very latest developer build (Nightly), giving a test case and comparing the behavior in different browsers. A developer submitted a patch, asked for code review. Related bugs were mentioned and linked. At least two new bugs were filed.

One important thing to note is that people working on QA and development tend to move very fluidly between using various Firefox versions. One of the best things you can do to get involved with helping out is to set up all four “channels” of Firefox with the capability to run them all at once with different profiles, and to start with new, clean profiles. In fact, we need better and more up to date documentation of how to do that on different operating systems, with screenshots! Here are some links that may help you set that up:
* http://www.callum-macdonald.com/about/faq/multiple-firefox-instances/
* https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Mozilla/Multiple_Firefox_Profiles
* https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/profile-manager-create-and-remove-firefox-profiles

OK, back to bug 926292!

Since I had worked on the bug and added myself to the cc field, I got bugmail about all these changes, and more or less followed a long. I often think that the collaboration that happens in bug fixing is very beautiful, and even fairly efficient!

In comment 29 you can see that code got committed to a mercurial repository, to “inbound”. From there, it goes through automated tests and is merged by one of the “sheriffs” into another hg repository, mozilla-central, where it will go into the next build of Nightly, which at that point in April, was Firefox 31.

Comment 30 suggests uplifting the patch to versions that will soon be released, to Aurora and Beta. Release managers started to get involved, commenting and asking the developers to formally nominate the bug for uplift.

At this point in my talk I explained a little bit about the “trains”.

Trains

The versions of Firefox under development advance on a 6 week cycle, from Nightly to Aurora to Beta to the main release of Firefox. In this rapid release schedule, Firefox 31 was Nightly, so Aurora was 30, 29 was Beta, and the release version most folks use was 28. The uplift request was refused so the patch “rode the train”. That means, if you were using Firefox 31 any time after the patch was merged into mozilla-central, you will see its effect. (It would also be fixed for Firefox 32 and 33 which are currently in use as Aurora and Nightly, since 31 is currently Beta.)

Our bug was marked “FIXED” when the patch was merged into mozilla-central. You can see near the end of its comments that I tagged the bug “verifyme” to put it into the queue of bugs that need verifying for Firefox 31. Many people see that list and work on verifying bugs including community members in our Bug Verification test days. I hope the story of this particular bug is over. I don’t have the number immediately to hand but I believe that over 1000 bugs are fixed for each version of Firefox over its release cycle. We can’t verify them all, but it’s amazing what we do get done as a team!

Other tools we looked at in my talk and the ensuing discussion:

Datazilla, which tests and measures Firefox performace: https://datazilla.mozilla.org/

Mozmill, a UI automation framework for Mozilla apps including Firefox and Thunderbird: https://github.com/mozilla/mozmill

Socorro, or crash-stats, where QA and other teams keep track of crashes in Firefox and other Mozilla products: https://crash-stats.mozilla.com

The ftp directories where Firefox builds and build candidates are stored: ftp://ftp.mozilla.org/pub/mozilla.org/firefox/candidates/

The mercurial repositories or “the tree”: http://hg.mozilla.org/

DXR, a nifty tool to search Mozilla’s code: http://dxr.mozilla.org/mozilla-central/source/

TBPL which shows the test results for every commit that’s merged into different branches https://tbpl.mozilla.org/

And a quick view into Mozilla’s Jenkins continuous integration dashboard which you can only see from our VPN, just to give an idea of the work we do when Firefox is in Beta. As a particular version of Firefox advances through rapid release, QA pays more attention to particular areas and uses different tools. We have to know a little bit about everything, be able to reproduce a user’s bug on many different possible platforms, figure out which developers may be able to fix a bug (or whose commit may have caused a regression or crash).

It was a lot to cover in an hour long talk! I wanted to pilot this informally as a test for doing a more formal talk with slides.

It represented fairly well that QA covers quite a lot of territory; it’s complicated and interesting work.

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Taxis who refuse wheelchairs

I enjoy coming to Portland and taking the awesomely accessible train from PDX airport to downtown, but I got in a little late for my conference dinner, so, figuring it would save time, I headed to the taxi dispatch line to get a cab. I was traveling by myself, with my manual Quickie Ti wheelchair and a backpack.

The taxis were about halfway up to the first taxi position, and the dispatcher motioned for me to get into the first one in line, a Union Cab. The driver shook his head at her, then at me as I asked him to open the trunk of the taxi. “I just need you to open the trunk, the wheelchair folds up and I will put it in.” He refused to take me as a passenger. The dispatcher was angry with him, but he ignored her and pulled up a few more feet, taking another passenger who arrived at the stand after me.

The second driver in line was in a Green Cab. He had a big white bushy beard and was wearing sunglasses and a large black floppy hat. He looked right into my eyes, shook his head, and waved his hand dismissively as I asked him to open the trunk of the taxi. The dispatcher also was unable to persuade him to open his doors or trunk. That guy pulled up and let someone else and their luggage into his cab.

The third driver was outraged at what he had just seen. He got out of the taxi, and helped me put my backpack into his trunk. I took apart my chair, which has quick release wheels like some bicycles, and folded down the seat back for us both to put the pieces into the trunk of the taxi. This driver asked the dispatcher from the airport taxi stand to report the first two drivers. I said that I would write down their information and report them. I got the cab companies and numbers, but not the license plates. As we pulled out of the airport, we actually caught up with the two cabs that had refused to take me as a passenger, so I was able to double check their cab numbers.

The nice driver was from Broadway Cab. He pointed out the phone number for the City of Portland complaint line, and was very supportive and helpful. He said that to his knowledge, the first two drivers have done this in the past because they think that wheelchairs will take too much time to deal with. Talking with him was so heartening, a good reminder that there are plain old decent human beings around who will treat me like a fellow person although we are strangers.

From my conversations with other cab drivers and bus drivers, there are other assumptions that they tend to make about wheelchair users or people who have a visible disability. Drivers may be angry at me before I even get into a cab or bus, because they are afraid I will take up their time, be unable to get in or out of the cab, may somehow injure myself and sue them, or whatever. If I try to hail a cab on the street, it usually doesn’t work. I have to ask someone else, even a total stranger, to hail the cab while I hide out of sight. This is part of why services like Uber and Lyft work well for me, while I’m lucky enough to be able to afford to use them. I can leave my house with my manual wheelchair, travel, and be confident that I won’t get stranded by bigotry.

As it was, I only had wait a few minutes for a nicer cab driver, and things turned out fine. However, I do get angry about cab drivers who won’t stop for me. The prejudice that I get isn’t going to get any easier for me as I get older, so I try to take the time now, while I have the energy (and the privilege) to report discriminatory behavior.

I just reported them through the City of Portland’s online complaint form and to the cab companies. The city emailed me back immediately to apologize and to let me know they were addressing the complaints. Both Green and Union took my phone complaint and said they would investigate and likely reprimand the drivers.

Since I benefit daily from the activism of people who hard core chained themselves to buses in the dead of winter in the 70s and 80s, I figure I can spare an hour to try to make sure that current ADA law is enforced. I also think of places like New York City where activists are fighting hard to get the city to make all taxis accessible to more wheelchair users.

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Editing Wikipedia 101 session from AdaCamp

After the Welcome and introduction and first session of AdaCamp in Portland I joined Netha Hussain and Rosie Stevenson to facilitate a session on editing Wikipedia. Everyon in the room introduced themselves and talked about their connection to open knowledge, information, and wikis. There were several people who had never edited Wikipedia.

We started by briefly describing what a wiki is. It is a collection of documents that are editable by multiple people; usually each page has a revision history and some transparency around who made specific edits. So, you can see who wrote which bits in a document with multiple authors. Often, a wiki page has words that are linked to other pages in the wiki. We accepted that we were mostly talking about Wikipedia here and acknowledged that “what wikis are” and their philosophy has a rich, interesting history.

Netha talked a bit about her work adding useful information from medical textbooks and journals which she started doing as a medical student.

Rosie jumped right in to an example of the kind of work she does; taking a biography of a notable woman who has a Wikipedia article in a language other than English, and creating an English language Wikipedia article about that woman. She had an example prepared. “I like that there’s a photo of her and she’s dead,” Rosie said enthusiastically. I chimed in with, “I *love* dead people!” We tried to explain why we love dead people. It is because editing the biographies of living persons is often a lot more contentious than writing about people who are not around to mind that you’re writing an encyclopedia article about them.

We paused to discuss what “notable” meant. There was not time to get into it, but Notability as defined by Wikipedia policies is an often contentious point, and often applied with gender and other biases. It is therefore important to try to establish the notablity of your subject, whether that’s a person or some other topic, by including good references that show they are important or significant.

Rosie’s example was Ángela Figuera Aymerich. She created an English language page for Figuera Aymerich. We all helped go over a brief tour of the page editing view. Rosie knows a little Spanish and uses Google Translate to read the source page. She made a very basic page with one sentence. We pointed out edit summary box where you can describe what you’ve just done.

Then we added a reference. Rosie did a search to find a book that talked about Figuera Aymerich and found one in Google Books. She used an online tool to format a nice looking Google Books citation for Wikipedia, then copied and pasted it into the edit page.

A new editor asked if it was ok or if it is considered rude to edit someone else’s sentences. Someone else explained it is not rude, but can take some tact. Often, men don’t pause to ask themselves that question, they just jump in and change things around. This is a good example of gender differences in the ways we begin engaging and the assumptions we make about interaction and collaboration.

This led us to do a quick tour of the article’s Talk page. Every article in Wikipedia has a “meta” page called hte Talk page, where people can discuss what might or should go into the article.

We then touched on adding images. Rosie advised always using images from Wikimedia Commons, because they will be licensed correctly for use in Wikipedia(s). If you have a properly licensed photo or image you want to use that isn’t there, you can go through the image upload wizard which will walk you through adding it to Wikimedia Commons. Then, use that version in your Wikipedia article. We did this all a bit too fast to follow.

There was some discussion of Categories, what they mean, how to search Wikipedia for articles similar to the one you are about to add, to see what categories it includes.

Categories that identify gender or other identity based information, such as “Women writers” or “Women writers from Bilbao” and so on, can be contentious topics. I talked a bit about how this is often exactly the sort of information I’m looking for that I consider valuable and important. But other editors or admins sometimes label this information as “sexist” or irrelevant, undoing important work.

Some of the new editors in the room wondered why anyone would be “a deletionist” so we discussed that a little bit.

It can be a good starting point to edit existing articles, either from a category like Articles needing cleanup or from some area of your own expertise, a book you’re reading, or something you’re learning about for which you have good sources that you can cite.

It was a good session! Several of us had lunch together and talked more about Rosie’s passion for translating articles from one language into another! She spoke very movingly about the politics of translation, especially as it is relevant to women’s history. If we don’t put this information online, it can more or less disappear from public awareness.

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Tiny scooter test run

Last week I got a new tiny mobility scooter. It is 35 lbs and easily disassembles and folds. Here I am out on my birthday at Pier 39 after a ferry ride with friends!

Liz travelscoot pier39

It is a TravelScoot Junior Deluxe, ie, the version for short people or children, and with a lithium ion battery. About a third of the cost of the scooter is in this battery. The “Junior” size is pretty good for me. I’m 5 foot 3 which is at the top of the recommended height. I went with the smaller size figuring it would be easier to handle while I was folding it, and also because the Junior size has 2 inches less width than the regular model. So, in theory I can fit through doors 24″ wide, same as with my manual wheelchair.

Assembly of the scooter was easy. It took under 10 minutes. The assembly instructions were slightly different from the manual shipped with the TravelScoot Junior. There was a little supplement that showed how to position the battery upright in the back for the “Junior” version.

The battery fastens on with velcro and is easy to plug in and unplug if you have good dexterity. I am mostly doing this while sitting on the ground — or I can do it leaning over from the scooter seat. My only quibble with battery setup is that I can’t charge the battery without taking it out of its tray, because the charging port is blocked by the side of the tray.

I put a Crampbuster on the throttle so that I can control the scooter’s speed without constant gripping, which would be hard on my arthritic hands.

Comments on driving the TravelScoot Junior:

It coasts down hills. The brakes work fine. Easy to drive. Reverse works well, and is nice and fast. Acceleration is slow whether you are reversing or going forwards, but not too slow. This takes getting used to. My phone’s speedometer hovered around 4-5mph as I zoomed around. It is a little bit tricky to match paces with a walking person. To go slower than the max speed, I have to squeeze the throttle exactly right. If I let up the pressure the scooter slows down.

There is no parking brake so if I pause to mess with my phone, I need to park carefully. This is quite annoying on the bus, but I can still handle it. It means that in order to ride the bus with any ease I will need to rig up some kind of parking brake!

There is a slight tendency to “drift” or stutter sideways a little bit when going fast on a bumpy street or sidewalk. The undercarriage clearance is fantastic. I could probably hop a low curb in this. (Slowly)

I would like to customize or get a new back support as it is a little too high up and far back to support my low back, which needs it! It may be possible to just swap out the entire seat. It is a standard pole with clamp assembly, like for a bike seat.

So far I’ve put this in the back of cabs a few times. I like that I don’t have to ask a random taxi driver to help me lift a 95 lb machine into his trunk. Instead it is something I can easily lift myself.

It would be good if I made a special padded battery carrying case, like a battery messenger bag, for when I need to put this into a car. TravelScoot owner manual suggests a padded lunch bag, but the battery I have is too long/wide for a lunch cooler bag. Here is a good craft project for my hackerspace. If I make a battery carrying case I’ll post its design on my blog!

I have also successfully grocery shopped with two backpacks and a large bag. One backpack hung off the seat back, another from the handlebars (which is awkward and I don’t really recommend it) and the large heavy bag in the red canvas shopping tray below the seat. That thing is just fabric, and attached with velcro, but I can tell you it carried about 30 lbs of cat litter and cat food with no trouble at all.

This scooter makes people stare, and ask questions, much more than my usual mobility scooters or manual wheelchair. I need to carry small flyers with an FAQ.

For the FAQ:

* “Does Medicare pay for that” (People on the street want these for their older relatives.) My answer: Probably not. And I don’t really know. I have never yet been on Medicare.

* How much did that cost? (An awkward question. I answer by saying “You can get a mobility scooter from about $700-2500″ That way avoiding standing around at a bus stop admitting I just dropped 2K on this beast. I did not mind so much saying that I bought my old Zipr for $700. Class guilt . . . )

* Is that electric? What the hell do you think, I make it go with the power of my mind????? Oh, people.

* How far/fast/long does it go? Several miles, all day at least, 4.5 miles an hour, charge the battery by plugging it in overnight.

* Can you put that in a car? Yes you can and it easily folds up.

* How heavy is it? 35 pounds.

* Where do you get them? (Let Me Fucking Google That For You) Oh ok. *sigh* Travelscoot.com. Someday I hope these things are just in every big drugstore, Target, Walmart, etc. Or just in bike shops and you can test drive them there!!

* Yes, it has reverse. No, it does not beep. No, I really don’t want it to beep. Do you beep when you take a step backwards? Well then.

* What if it breaks? Yes. What if. That’s the million dollar question. You better learn some things about electronics or cultivate a relationship with your local electric bike/scooter repair shop. The thing has a warranty, which I will probably be exploring at some point . . .

* Not asked but should be on the FAQ: You need to have good balance, ability to squeeze the hand brakes, and be able to transfer independently to use this. 3 wheels is not usually a good option for an elderly person as you can easily tip over.

There is room for competition for scooters like this that have a few more features but are still stripped-down, lightweight, and easy to understand for maintenance and repair!

There is a fantastic blog with Travelscoot reviews by Elizabeth Fisher that has reviews and photos by many people using their TravelScoots.

I put up some unboxing and assembly photos. Feel free to take a look at all my photos on Flickr with the travelscoot tag .

In short: this is a GREAT scooter if you have 2K lying around and you are a very nimble person who for one reason or another can’t walk very well. To drive it, you need good balance and good hand control (brake squeezing especially). It could be possible to modify a travelscoot with a custom seat to meet your particular seating needs!

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Random encounters while wheeled

The other day at Hyde Park Pier I was out with the kids to look at the historic ships. It was pretty awesome. We looked at the steam engines and the huge wood shop for shipwright work, tried the block and tackle, read all the signs and sat around staring at boats coming in and out of the harbor while eating ice cream.

I had a funny random encounter. We were loafing around eating our ice cream cones. Me in my manual chair and the kids standing around right next to me. Close enough to be jostling me by bumping into my wheels. I was looking down in my lap at my phone. Some lady swooped into my field of vision, like bent over me with her face looming up between where i was holding my phone and my face. (You have to picture how sudden, awkward, and intrusive that was!) She put something on my shirt, saying “Here you go” in a syrupy voice. OK, what the fuck! I looked down and it was an admission sticker to get on the historic ships. “Uh thanks but…. Ummm….” I tried to talk with her but she walked away too quickly for any reaction to happen. With one hand full of my ice cream cone and the other on my phone, I wasn’t going to be able to chase her! She had whitish grey hair and I think sunglasses.

Ticket lady, if you read this, I’d like to ask you: Seriously, what the fuck was in your mind at that moment?!

I’m trying to imagine what was happening in her mind. I get where you might want to give away your admission pass to a park, or your bus transfer. But would you go up to a total stranger and stick it on their shirt front without any interaction?

No!

Not unless they’re a wheelchair user in which case I guess all bets are off. Kind of like petting a stray dog isn’t it!? Or like, oh hey, it’s the Hyde Park Pier crippled stranger petting zoo!!!

So also, there wasn’t like some indication that I was wistfully gazing through the railings at the park exhibit that was too expensive for me to afford with the kids (who god knows she also probably pitied incorrectly). It was just a plain old pity move full of really weird and offensive assumptions. Like a combination of class assumptions based on my being disabled, and, an assumption it is just OK to come up and lay her hands on some stranger in a wheelchair, and run off. I think in her mind it was an act of beautiful charity. It probably made her day. But it filled me with rage and I couldn’t do anything about it.

I couldn’t bring myself to mention it to the kids as I didn’t want to spoil the mood of our nice day.

If she had just said “Oh hello would you all like a free pass”, that would have been fine but I would likely not have taken it.

I was pleased to find one of the ships had a ramp and was mostly accessible. No one was checking tickets, since it was the end of the day.

liz and milo on a wooden ship

On our way out of the park I told the rangers how nice it was to find an unexpected ramp and get to go onto a ship. They told me to come back another day to the ticket booth and I could get a lifetime discount park pass good for the state and national parks (I think) which you can get if you’re disabled or blind. That was helpful (and nice).

That kind of park pass I will happily take, though I’m also happy to support the park system by just paying admission. Since usually I can’t get around parks and exhibits very well, and making them accessible probably will never happen, the discount or a free pass seems fair !

Another random encounter that came out better than expected. I was greeted by someone who works in a local store I often go to. She apologized for asking and then asked why I have a wheelchair. I swallowed my stock of snippy answers and explained my medical history in front of my child while we hung out outside some bar on Mission and I was covered in grocery bags. *eyeroll* She was asking because her hands and feet go numb and she is worried and wonders what things will be like if she ever needs a wheelchair and how she can tell; her doctor told her probably it is because she uses bleach when she scrubs and cleans. I opined that was bogus and the good thing about doctors is you can go to another one and get a second opinion. It is sometimes easier to forgive the questions inspired by fear and personal motivations when it is truly personal.

But I’m so tired of being a rolling public diplomacy and information booth. I then had to explain to my son that, as he may be aware, I don’t normally explain my medical issues to strangers on the street but in this case I made an exception and felt that she could use a friendly word.

The other people asking me lots of questions lately are cab drivers. Because my smaller size scooters have been broken and the big one I use to get around the neighborhood is too big for the bus, I’ve been taking cabs. Drivers are universally astonished that I have a job, that I’m out by myself, etc. (Even though obviously they drive by people in wheelchairs all the time who are “out by themselves” – invisible ones????). Sometimes they want to know about the folding scooter because they have an older relative.

Welp, it’s complicated. I think the buildup from being patient with most people comes out in wanting to punch Sticker Lady right in the snout though it would have been a waste of good ice cream . . .

Perhaps this rant about minor annoyances will educate a random stranger on the internet and thus save some other person on wheels some hassle!

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Back in the saddle!

The last few months have been rough but I’m feeling much better and am back at work. Today, I appreciated that even though it was cold and raining, I was able to do all this:

* have coffee in the morning
* eat some toast
* work and feel like my brain was back online
* go out on my scooter to a cafe with friends to co-work
* delicious lunch at cafe
* went up and down the stairs twice to do laundry

All without painkiller and did I mention how nice it is to eat real food again after 3 months of gastritis (crackers and broth)? Food is so amazing. I’ve been thinking over my gratitude towards my friends and family for being around and taking care of me while I was so sick. My employer was super understanding about things too, which I appreciated.

Internally I battled the feelings that it was my fault I was so sick and simultaneously that I probably was not really so sick; if I just exerted more willpower I could magically overcome it. Neither of those things were true of course. It’s easy to know that intellectually without being able to believe it wholeheartedly. It is a flaw and a strength that I like to keep the illusion of control. Now that I feel better, I can look back and believe: OMG, I was incredibly ill and weak and unable to eat or barely move around! Every night I think for a minute how I got to the point where I couldn’t straighten out the blankets by myself. Ugh. Fuck that!

Meanwhile my friend Ron has been in and out of the hospital. We ended up in the same hospital on the same floor as next door neighbors at one point which was pretty hilarious. As so often over the years we’ve known each other he was someone i could rely on to chat with and know he totally understands, way better than I know it really, the experience of just carrying on with your life and interests and feelings in the middle of illness, pain, or physical limitation.

I often think over how many times I have been sick or extra limited in mobility and been afraid I will never bounce back. I have always bounced back! I am a badass! Even if I won’t get younger or any less disabled I will remain inherently BOUNCY. Keeping that in mind for next time. (Obviously, having money, support, privilege, and decent medical care also helps; I’m very lucky.)

Here is a photo of me holding up a giant table saw while wearing a tshirt with a stencil of a person in a wheelchair with flames coming out the back,

table saw

My extra nice news is that I have been driving my car a little bit, 10 or 20 blocks at a time. I’m not able to do that every day and it makes my leg and ankles hurt but wow it’s fun. I was right on the edge of selling the car. I had this moment driving the car back home from Double Union one night where i was singing along with Fairytale in the Supermarket and some other Raincoats song and crying at how nice it was to drive 20 blocks in my car independently. Ridiculous but true and I’ll never forget the feeling. Now I’m back to sometimes driving and using my manual wheelchair, which isn’t really better than scooter + bus, just different. I feel more nimble and sporty in the manual chair. It’s more fun for me if I’m indoors or have only a block or two to travel. It also makes taking a cab by myself easier to do, since I can disassemble and lift my manual chair (a Quickie Ti II) without any fuss. Going downhill once in a while is really fun (speed!!) and I love to balance and do wheelies, and the lights on the front wheels.

During the illness I was on a lot of painkillers and just needed to pass the time. I played Hoplite a little bit, nethack, and read all of Agatha Christie’s published detective novels and short story collections, taking notes on each book and vaguely thinking about what her stories reflected of history and social change. It seemed like a good “i’m going to be ill for at least 2 months” non-taxing goal. I felt a little sad to come to the end of her work. But not quite sad enough to find the paper versions of her romance novels that she published under the name Mary Westmacott. Maybe someday through the library.

My sacroiliac issues are acting up so it is tormenting me to be in pain all down my leg. Think “cranky old lady with sciatica”. The nerve pain makes my right leg cold-sensitive to the point where just room temperature air feels like a million ice needles. And sometimes my leg collapses without warning. Fuck that! Thank god the pain clinic moved up my back injection a month, so I get it next week (steroids + anesthetic in the s-i joint, takes me down for a few days but then is amazingly effective). I always forget how it is. I am nearly desperate enough to go back on lyrica or cymbalta or something. Nearly. Crazed with pain sometimes over here. Yet still functional to walk around. The last injection was in I think early October so I’m overdue for it. Maybe someday they can just fuse that thing or put in a metal plate or something. It seems like a very stupid and useless joint to have arthritis in.

Double Union is completely awesome. The kids and Oblomovka are great. I’m enjoying work and messing around with Python for work, looking forward to PyCon in April.

My hope now is to be able to keep up this pace of leaving the house a few times a week, make it into the office regularly, and start swimming again at the YMCA downtown. OK hopefully that’s off my chest now and I can write about other stuff like books, games, hackerspaces, feminism, and work!

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Bad inventions: The purring electric blanket

This terrible invention fits well into my usual purview, cat-related ridiculousness — like dead mouse cat treats, sugar cereal themed cat litter, and of course the ever-popular Catula.

Instead of horrible genetically engineered “bed dogs” that are like animal exploitationy meat-based waterbeds (Thanks but no thanks, Larry Niven), we should invent purring blankets. Take a regular electric blanket. Cover it in fur. Add strips of gently vibrating or thrumming devices, and sensors. When the blanket senses your proximity, it heats up. If you stroke it, it purrs.

Here is the perfect opportunity to use fremitus.com, if you happen to own that pointless domain name. (WHICH… right now… no one does. No one loves fasciated tiger herons, or what?)

This will make me ONE MILLION DOLLARS someday along with all the other millions of dollars my other bad inventions will magically bring.

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Robot angst

Hanging out today talking about Google’s acquisition of Boston Dynamics me and Adina and Danny were thinking of what they might be used for that isn’t scary-creepy military combat or warzone bots. Here’s a few!

Disaster relief and emergency rescue. Locating people in rubble or bringing supplies into devastated areas. This is probably one of the purposes of these bots but I haven’t tried to find out.

Mapping stuff offroad. (Useful for geological surveys as well as for disaster recovery and outright spying).

“Fix My Street” style monitoring of urban environments, like reporting potholes or broken streetlights. Problem with this: Scary robots running around wearing out the roads and sidewalks.

Soil or water sampling along a shoreline to monitor pollution. I’m not sure if this makes much sense as it might be more reliable and cheaper to have sensors collecting data at fixed locations.

Junkyard bots that roam around in garbage dumps finding things that are recyclable or otherwise useful (or toxic). I thought of this watching how they can climb around on rubble.

Warehouse fulfillment and packing things for shipment. This seems quite possible!

Robot unicorns to replace taxis, Uber, and Lyft. There would obviously be a phone app to summon your robot unicorn to give you a ride anywhere around town. Google employees could summon a giant caterpillar or chinese dragon style segmented robot you could ride on, or one you could go inside like Catbus, that would whomp down the robot lane of Highway 101, in place of those white google buses.

Delivery robots. Residential buildings would have locked slots built in and businesses could have little locked cubbies for delivery bots to pick up people’s stuff. It would become trivial for a robot to just deliver you coffee from the cafe down the street. Of course this all leads to a world where robots need to find free wifi and electrical outlets for charging, which would further lead to us realizing there are little robot hangouts all over the city, the way people congregate around the deep sea vent nutrient rich environments of power outlets and hotspots in airports.

Feral robots which can feed off power on people’s solar roof thingies or from powerlines and survive in the wilds like rats and pigeons. The jumping sand flea bots would emerge at night to tap into lamp posts for power and then scuttle and leap back up to roofs like rats on the prowl.

Robots that go to holiday parties when you are too sick to go and project a Princess Leia sort of hologram of you saying hello and sending your regrets. Then they would scarily whip out a plate of cookies. Introverts might just have their presence robot host the party and you might end up with a whole den full of robot partygoers. Uh oh!

The angst from the title of this post is from (re)watching the videos of Boston Dynamics robots and narrating the robot’s probable sad-Dalek voices. BAD MASTER NOT KICK BIG DOG – BAD KICK MASTER NOT LAUGH ROBOT STUCK GOOD ROBOT…. I am too lazy to make the twitter account to do this, so please take it and run.

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More time spent in bed, with books

I am still suffering from Mystery Abdominal Pain and severe nausea. I spent a couple of days in the hospital which helped me get hydrated and have a bit more pain control. This week I’m having more diagnostic tests, resting and sleeping a lot, and trying to make myself eat more than just broth. It is painful, frustrating, scary, and boring. Part of the scare is that I’m not able to eat much (total loss of appetite), the cause is still unknown, and because I’ve been on immunosuppressants for a year it is important to be vigilant for infections and yet the body’s response to infection can be really weird. The hospital I was in was nice as hospitals go, and I think the team of doctors is fantastic, really working as a team and with a smart, science minded, investigative approach. They are also all very good communicators so I feel quite lucky. I am well equipped to handle uncertainty and being stuck in bed, and have vast resources and social support. So, I am okay.

The worst bit of being in the hospital (besides it feeling like every hour was a month long) was having IV Reglan, which I had a bad reaction to. Within 5 minutes I was catapulted into a state of trying to control a feeling of panic and frenzy, like the worst acid trip you can imagine. After about an hour and a half of that, they gave me Ativan which countered it successfully, and more morphine.

I’m very grateful to my friends for sitting through some painful and boring times with me, for their driving me around, sitting with me in the hospital, and spending the night with me at my house to make sure I’m ok.

My friend Ron who had surgery last week ended up in the room next door to me. His wife Helen showed up at my bedside in the night, held my hand and brought me tea and did other little things like that.

Meanwhile, I miss work. Is that weird? I really miss it. I am missing 2 team workweeks that I was looking forward to and getting to be with my team members in person.

Double Union buildout starts for real this week, and I will miss that. But I am doing what I can as secretary and board member. We have over 25 dues paying members now and more folks in the application process. It’s very, very exciting! I can’t wait to just be there and hang out with everyone.

I have ordered xmas presents for everyone online and also found that I can get whole foods groceries through Instacart. I am going to try to eat baked fish today. Anyway. I will try not to go on about food.

Here are some of the books I’ve been reading:

Strange Evil by Jane Gaskell. This book is AMAZING. She was 14 when she wrote it! It’s like Huysmans’ Against Nature in its manipulation of atmosphere and yet it does it in a wider range — forays into something like baroque positivity rather than always dwelling in things sly and perverse. She does it without being twee. During the quite extended journey scene I thought of Tolkien’s descriptions of sailing to the West; Gaskell at age 14 does that sort of thing, but at greater length, and better — never boring! Gaskell is a passionate visionary, and breaks many conventions of fantasy writing — also she has my undying love for having outright class warfare in her her fantasy utopia.

Sensation by Nick Mamatas. This was hilarious, fast moving, and engaging. Conspiracy novel where a superintelligent spider hive mind has been fighting neurotoxic wasps for thousands of years. Some humans begin to figure this out. The gazillion current cultural references made me laugh a lot, sometimes in embarrassed recognition I fit some of the stereotypes. The scene where the ludicrous middle class activists are lying around playing the game that’s the opposite of “Civilization” probably made me laugh the hardest. I was forced to go look up the city of Hamilton! on Wikipedia; as I hoped, it was all true….. I also enjoy when the style veers into hardboiled “A man walked in the door with a gun in his hand” territory and then gets more and more surreal. After I read Nick’s books I always kind of want to make him cookies and give him a hug to get him out of being such a nihilist. Anyway, this book will make a good holiday present, for people who like science fiction, amusing and clever writing, and who have a penchant for saying wry things about Occupy.

Hild: A Novel by Nicola Griffith. This was seriously great. I though many times of Kristin Lavransdatter, of Mary Renault’s books, and a bit of Mary Stewart’s Merlin books (which are good though not up to this quality level). If you like accurate well researched historical fiction that is centered on women’s lives, and you are fond of the fiber arts, you will probably love this book fanatically and it well deserves that love. I’m going to buy a paper copy of this for my feminist hackerspace! p.s. Hild is an amazing badass. p.p.s. After you finish the book there is So Much History to poke into, so that it’s a joy to surf around and go deeper.

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Updates from the polar regions

It’s been a while! I went off to the 40th anniversary celebration of the Center of the Study of Women in Society at which a bunch of feminist science fiction writers and critics were nucleating around some of our fabulous luminaries. I hung out and talked with Timmi Duchamp, Andrea Hairston, Margaret McBride, Alexis Lothian, Joan Haran, Hiromi Goto, Larissa Lai, and said hello to Ursula LeGuin and Sally Miller Gearhart. So that was amazing. Day 1 of the conference was feminist activists and academics in general, not just science fiction writers. The University of Oregon has a lot of feminist sf writers’ letters and papers, and Margaret taught a Tiptree Award class for many years, so it’s collected a lot of mojo with the west coast WisCon-going folks. That will probably continue to build!

I live-twittered both days of the conference and then meant to write it all up, but I got ill just after getting home. Here are the (over 200) tweets, with lots of interesting links and people to follow, and occasional humor: http://storify.com/lizhenry/worlds-beyond-world

My mom visited, and bought me a huge amount of wooly underthings from REI. I was frustrated at my lack of physical stamina to go out and do fun things with her, which in retrospect was because I was already getting ill.

For the first two weeks of being sick I took my antibiotics and worked from home, going out very minimally, and after a day in the ER I am on different antibiotics and sicker. It is unclear if this is something antibiotics will help, or if it is related to my autoimmune issues (aka, arthritis with complications). I am in a lot of pain and have to stay lying down in bed, a situation I really don’t like but in which, fortunately, I have the entire Internet and a lot of books to entertain me and nice family and friends to help care for me. So, I’m both fine and not fine. Sitting up is painful. I am dizzy and can’t eat more than broth and a little rice so I’m not feeling strong. I fall asleep a lot. More tedious doctor appointments are to come. I try not to worry, though I am so far behind at work that it’s stressful to contemplate. Parenting and taking care of myself is also hard. I am crying a lot out of sheer exhaustion and also fear of whatever is going on which is uncertain. Oh well. Been there before! I remain cheerful on the whole.

On the up side, lying in bed is relatively good for my ankles. Maybe it will help them heal up better. I can’t prop the laptop on my stomach, so am mostly sideways as I type or read stuff on the computer.

During this, we launched a quick 10-day fundraiser for Double Union’s buildout, hitting our $5K goal in under an hour, and topping out at just over $15K. OMG, I love my feminist hackerspace. Look at our gorgeous little website: http://www.doubleunion.org/ We have 25 members already and aren’t even open yet. This week a lot of people who aren’t me will be ripping out the carpet and moving all our furniture in and out. Then we will be ready to build shelves and buy tools. Then we can open. YAY!!!

In the interstices of that I have listened to a lot of music (currently on a Serenata Guyanesa kick), played some Plants vs. Zombies 2, watched Milo play Myst, poked around on Wikipedia, and read quite a few books. Here is a partial list. Sometimes I can think and sometimes I am just spacing out. If I can focus and read then it’s mercifully distracting from pain.

* When Fox Is a Thousand by Larissa Lai
* In Darkest Light by Hiromi Goto
* Trophic Cascade (short prose poems by Hiromi Goto)
* The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
* We Are All Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
* Missing Links and Secret Histories: A Selection of Wikipedia Entries from Across the Known Multiverse ed. by L. Timmel Duchamp
* Gaia’s Toys by Rebecca Ore
* Great post by Skud, Why is it so difficult and expensive to make your own clothes (or have them made)?
* An entertaining close reading/critique of The Hunger Games
* Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (Ada’s book for school)
* Black Boy by Richard Wright (Milo’s book for school)
* the first and second Alanna books by Tamora Pierce (millionth time)
* Diaspora by Greg Egan (reread) (Thanks Taren!)
* Polar Journeys Ed. by Jon E Lewis, which Val brought me in a large stack of awesome books

The Polar Journeys book is 42 short excerpts from various explorations and voyages in the Arctic and Antarctica. I’ve read some of the sources on previous reading binges and am very fond of this sort of book in general (primary sources, misery and suffering, scurvy or starvation a plus) For example I have read and re-read various versions of Hakluyt’s voyages and all those Vilhjalmur Stefanson books and then when my ex went to the South Pole with his experiment I read every single Antarctica book I could find including the one about the International Geophysical Year by the guy who invented the idea of wind chill. Some of the great stories in the Polar Journeys book were ones I’ve never heard of. The story of the Arctic voyage of the dirigible Italia, the sad balloon expedition of Salomon Andrée, and the last days of George W. De Long were pretty great, especially from a warm bed under a down comfortor and a heating pad.

The best story so far has been George E. Tyson’s diary excerpts from the Polaris Expedition. His style is… like a regular person with some common sense, trying to figure out what the hell to do, instead of like a pompous observing scientist or wannabe heroic expedition leader. He and 18 others, including 2 women and their 5 children were adrift on an ice floe for six months. Since yesterday I’ve been obsessed with the details of this expedition and its background and all the people in it getting to the point of non-minor edits to Wikipedia, starting with Tookoolito and her husband Ebierbing. The expedition head, Captain Hall, died, very likely from being poisoned by another crew member. (Someone made a whole other expedition years later to dig up his body and test it for arsenic.) This guy Tyson, who had been a whaling captain, suspected that the remaining leader, Captain Budington, deliberately stranded him and the rest. It backfired on Budington who got stranded anyway with the 14 remaining crew members. ANYWAY. Tyson describes the total screwup that is their life on the ice over the Arctic winter. He blames the German crew for most of the mistakes. They would have died SO fast if the Inuit folks with them had not built them igloos and shot about 50 seals. And probably sewed them clothes too.

I could go on forever but my main two points are:

Tookoolito, Taqulittuq, or “Hannah” was a total badass. Her family had a long history of contact with whalers and voyagers. Her husband Ipiirviq (aka Ebierbing or Joe) and daughter were also pretty great. I will keep working on their articles. And make ones for the others who don’t have articles like Merkut (Suersaq aka Hans’s wife, who seems to have had 4 small children with her through all this!)
– Histories of Hall and Budington and the whole lot of them are often not very well researched. News articles, biographical dictionaries, and yes Wikipedia entries quote each other’s inaccuracies till I want to scream. Hall and Budington had voyaged together a bunch before. They appear to have been somewhat in conflict as to who was the best friend, benefactor, and exploiter of Tookoolito and Ebeierbing (and family). Even after they were dead I think something fishy is going on with many of the claims of who their patron was. It will likely not be possible to find a truth about this, but tracing the claims would be really fun. I have found sources to claim, as a minor example, that either Budington, Hall, or Ebierbing himself bought the Ebierbing family home in Connecticut. One interesting project here, which I invite any of you to take up and work on, is I think finding and digitizing Tookoolito’s letters from Nyack, NY to Mrs. Buddington in Groton. For one thing, the quotes from her letters don’t match with the register or grammar of how she is represented as speaking in English by Hall and other contemporaries. Anyway, most people interested in this seem stuck on the more flashy controversy of whether Charles Francis Hall was murdered or not, and if so, who did it. I am more interested in the story of the Inuit people and their families and the arcs of their lives and whatever they may have to say. I love tracing that “Puney” or Punna = Panik = Sylvia Grinnell Ebierbing = Iseeatpo or Isigaittuq. As always the fluidity of identity in names across language fascinates me. It is one of the little keys of subalternity (as I explored in my Wittig project and my anthology of Spanish American women poets). (Obviously… this interest or ability ties in to my interest in hoaxes and sockpuppets!)

Details of nearly everything about the people and the situation are also just lifted uncritically and unsourced. For instance the name of the guy who brought Tookoolito and Ebierbing as young teenagers (with some other kid) to England is listed in some sources as Thomas Bolby and in others as John Bowlby. That one shouldn’t be all that hard to straighten out from primary sources! Other screwups…. I can’t even count them. People are slobs, and truth is more elusive than you might think. The best writeups on this so far appear to be from Kenn Harper, whose clarity I appreciate. Thank god someone has some sense out there.

Once I finish these three books I’ll have a lot more Wikipedia editing to do. (Thank you Internet Archive!)
* Narrative of the North Polar Expedition, U.S. Ship Polaris, Captain Charles Francis Hall commanding (1876)
* Arctic experiences [microform] : containing Capt. George E. Tyson’s wonderful drift on the ice-floe : a history of the Polaris expedition, the cruise of the Tigress and rescue of the Polaris survivors : to which is added a general arctic chronology (1874) (READ THIS… it is AWESOME)
* Memoirs of Hans Hendrik

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