Immediate housing needed in San Francisco

K. and her three kids need a small apartment in San Francisco as soon as possible. A one bedroom apartment would work. They’re looking for a rental or sublet through September, when they have housing lined up.

K. was the victim of domestic violence and called shelters in SF for months and months, to be turned away and told they don’t have room, to have intake workers promise to call her back and then never call, to be told over and over – NO ROOM. Call someone else. Government and non profits, passing the buck.

A San Francisco blogger, Tangobaby, has been helping K. by telling her story, gathering donations and help from blog readers, and calling all over the city along with her to try to find resources and help. It sounds to me like they now have enough donations to pay rent on a place. In fact, at this point they could pay the entire summer’s rent up front. But they are having trouble lining up a place to live.

What would you do if you were in her situation?

Think about a time you have had to go apartment hunting. And the uncertainty on – how is the landlord judging you? Now do it with 3 kids, one a 2 month old baby, while you’re homeless. And while you’re not white. Racism plays into this difficulty, I have no doubt of it.

I would like to propose that anyone who reads this who is in SF, contact anyone you know who owns a rental property. Talk to realtors who might know of landlords. Pull whatever strings you can to help out and contact Tangobaby if you have a good lead on a place to stay. And, here’s a wild idea. Might someone who might have an easier time renting, or staying with friends, or travelling – might they move out of their own apartment and sublet to K. and her kids for the summer? Or might someone with a big apartment who needs a roommate, take a roommate with 3 kids including a baby? Think about it, and seriously, ask the people you know if they can help.

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SXSWi: Fighting online misogyny panel

Thank you!!! times a hundred to Nalo Hopkinson who just now took my rough live transcript and cleaned it up and emailed it back to me so I could post it. Thank you Nalo! You rock so hard.

***

That’s Not My Name: Beating Down Misogyny Online

Panelists: Cecily Walker (Cecily.info), Ann Friedman (Feministing), Amanda Marcotte (Pandagon.net), Samhita Mukhopadhyay (Feministing)

Cecily Walker: How do you think that new media and Internet technology, new tools, feminists can use these new media tools? Boosting feminist activism?

Samhita Mukhopadhyay: All of us have a tremendous amount of expertise using online tech. women’s community, grass root organizing community, new tools, support work happening on the ground. Strategic media campaigns, budding networks, social media to support our justice-minded goals. We use tools, though, that tend to represent the same stuff we’re fighting; tools produced in environments highly volatile for feminist voices. 50/50 good, problematic. Opportunity, brought up new issues.

Amanda Marcotte: Promise of blogging world many years ago, we could divorce ourselves from identity and just be pure voices, as the online and offline world merged into one. But you can’t communicate about your ideas without bringing your identity along. Pluses and minuses.

Ann Friedman: Divorcing identity is not a useful way to do activism. we don’t actually want to live out whatever early Internet ideal enables us to not have an identity, that hampers our activist goals.

Cecily: I wasn’t finding many black female queer voices online, it was important to me to blog under my own identity. given our circumstances today, how important is it to you to blog under you own identity.?

Amanda: I started blogging under my own id without really thinking of it, it didn’t seem to be a big deal. in retrospect it was good and it sets a good example if you can. a lot of women who are afraid to , the more of us who can do it, the less threatening it is for others.

Samhita: when i started we were excited if we got comments on a post. then 2 years into it we started getting threats. you then realize the threats mostly don’t translate to real live experiences. I also think for women online it’s an important statement to make. you’ll notice a lot of men have a blog under their own name. women tend to be in group blogs or under a different sort of brand name. So it’s important for your future to use your real name.

Friedman: women in the political blog world as pseudonymous and I’m thinking of Digby. But it’s not always a great idea to blog under your own name. It’s fraught. There’s a certain amount of privilege and risk you assume. Not all of us even thought about it. we didn’t consider the implications. Concrete advantages, consider Digby, they didn’t know she was a woman, so they didn’t pigeonhole her. ‘This is just a women’s issue’, etc. We can try to keep a voice but transcend some of those boxes.

Cecily: What are some of the key repercussions of online threats that moved into offline space? Paint us a picture of what that looks like.

Amanda: Not the John Edwards campaign. *laughter* I started off on a smaller blogspot blog. Was invited to join Pandagon by Jesse Taylor. there weren’t many high traffic liberal blogs that had any women at all. I honestly think my entrance on to the a list was a profound thing for many of the male commenter, mind you right wing male commenters who felt this was a boys’ club. It turned ugly really fast. Publishing my address, telling people to show up at my house and do violent sexual things to me. Calling my work and trying to get me fired. Nobody in the liberal blogosphere that i turned to had any experience whatsoever with this kind of thing and they didn’t believe it at first. he’d experienced viciousness and racism from commenters but he’d never seen anything cruel and violent as was directed at me. We had free comments, we had to turn that off and turn on registration for comments. I don’t know how serious the threats are but i have to assume they’re pretty serious if they’ve found out where i worked and called my boss.

Ann – Feministing has an appointed FBI agent where we send our threats. It’s that bad. Political blogging … I’d say that, we don’t control the space for (tapped?) as much as we do on Feministing. so it’s a more sexist space and a less feminist space. undoubtedly in terms of the private mail we get, via Feministing, that’s way worse. we can control the comments but not the private email.

Samhita: some of the worst misogyny I’ve experienced is on other blogs. this isn’t about how we feel threatened but about how it affects the community. we’ve been chastised a lot for not moderating every comment and not providing a safe enough space online for our readers. it’s not about protecting our own identity and feeling threatened but about how it makes our community feel. if you’re someone who’s experienced violent misogyny in your life there’s a moment of violence and violation that happens that makes you feel unsafe. we have to be clear about creating boundaries so our community can feel safe.

Ann: there’s a chilling effect when one woman, one person of color or queer person , is a target, then others are deterred from speaking in quite so open a manner. so the power structure online, that mirrors the real world…

Amanda: listening to auto admit case, on NPR, it’s a case law blog targeted very randomly two law students, two women. one man posted something about one of the women who had turned him down to go on a date. another woman got looped in. it got to the point of stds, slept with everyone, posted photos of them in their daily life with lurid rape fantasies, I’m sitting behind her in class, she’s at the gym right now, The defenders of the auto admit blog were going on about free speech. Can’t you understand that women also have the right to free speech and if you’re using yours to silence her then you’re not for free speech?

Cecily – at the library. heavily gendered space, 90% female environment. if we contribute to the web sites, we have to use our full names, our names on badges, one unsafe thing about a library you are in a female controlled space, you are in a culture that is heavily invested in keeping your individual name safe, but now that’s not true. i have to get people to feel more comfortable posting on the Internet, but it’s not going well, people don’t feel safe doing that, we get crank calls, complaints, we try to showcase all political viewpoints. spaces you might not define as feminist, we’re feeling some heavy pushback from the staff. how are we going to roll this process out?

Cecily: why is it important to look at gender and how it plays out online?

*laughter*

Samhita: we want to keep this panel to what it means to be feminist online. But because of these highly volatile experiences we’ve had it…. we’ve had different experiences online, male blogers don’t have that same thing. there’s never been a question, when i say something a little controversial, it’s not about the issues, it’s about whether i should have said something in the first place, you internalize that belief you constantly have to prove yourself.
A lot of our readers have experienced sexual violence and want to share those stories but don’t feel that they can. You have to make a lot of different negotiations to feel comfortable in it

Ann – women’s writing, the dynamics. One thing i do for myself is go through everything i write and strip out all the i thinks and i believes. because I’m writing it duh it’s what i think. writing more authoritatively. if you’re going to pick me apart for this i might as well say it right out. Or, you can add 50 million caveats and end up not saying anything and not offending anyone. the Internet constantly needs to be fed. the evolution of women’s writing online, if i look at things i wrote in 2004, that’s largely in response to being hardened by this sort of stuff.

Amanda: i tend to say things very authoritatively and that’s always been a very hard things for me and many men who have multi year grudges against me. I’ve got into the habit of qualifying and adding the i think in.

Ann: but that doesn’t stop it. that’s not going to stop you from getting slammed on some blog full of dudes who hate you already!

Amanda: when i taught writing i would circle them in girls’ writing and tell them to take it out. it was always girls.

Cecily: lessons you’ve learned?

Samhita: Uh, that I’m a masochist

Cecily: I think you might have to unbox that one for us? lol

Samhita: yeah I’ll “unpack” that. ha. The content of what I’m writing and who i am writing it, it’s twofold . at least once a month i want to throw in the towel

Cecily: what keeps you from doing it?

Samhita: masochism? ha ha. It’s telling me that the level of importance of what we’re doing, for every piece of hate mail i get i get something else from Idaho saying they’ve never read something about sexism and racism and it’s changed their life in some . It’s not just for my own voice but it’s part of a movement of online feminism that we’re a movement and moving forward. Online solutions and best practices and you have to not care any more. you have to divorce yourself from caring about what people say about you, you have to go “well, you have 1/4 the readership lol” not the most humble way to think about it, but hey it helps me feel better. plus if I’m pissing off people who i wouldn’t like in real life,

Ann: 6 of us who write on Feministing and we can all each other up and go “i know people say mean shit all the time but this one really got to me!” and we all know how it feels. sometimes you have to decide what is a good public fight to have, vs. “you just want to call me ugly and tell me to make you a sandwich” i know it sounds ridiculous but it is hard to tell the difference sometimes! we need help in figuring that out, when to engage and when not to. you can engage with people who just don’t get it. But Feministing is on our terms. we don’t like it, we can delete your comment. we can respond to just part of what you’re saying and ignore the rest. or we can have a full blown back and forth, having a community to help decide and talk about how to engage has been crucial

Amanda: the purpose is to shut you up and if they don’t get what they want, they stop trying to shut you up, the more I don’t go away, and don’t shut up, the less harassment i get. just go out there and write every day and eventually they will give up. it’s not working, it’s straight up behavioral science.

Cecily: these tools that help us to get our voices out there, also hurt us. social networking tools.

Samhita: Twitter is a very useful tool. Communities, we have different community that comments on our youtube videos, twitter is another micro group environment and you get to know people a different way. That’s very powerful. I’ve had friends on my twitter feed who in the blogging worlds we have knock down “your mama” fights but on twitter I’m like “Oh you do yoga? i do yoga toooo!” lol. It’s less serious, less formal, commenting on Feministing can feel very formal.

Cecily: using these tools to get people to organize around a specific activist event?

Ann: When someone is getting attacked elsewhere, get into comments and post in support. Supportive conversation in public. Positive, or smackdown.

Cecily: Basic survival tips: solutions. if you’ve felt threatened, what do you do?

Samhita: Do not feel bad about banning people.

Amanda: Don’t feel guilty about it, some people are not there to engage. they shouldn’t be there.

Ann: You determine the levels of your own engagement, that’s self preservation. Free speech, free speech, my rights! whatever! go start your own blog! you do have free speech. Shockingly, no one has registered the url, getyourowneffingblog.com.

Cecily: libraries are public spaces, oh wait we can’t suppress these voices. what kinds of tools, for someone in that situation where the people in charge don’t understand it’s a safety issue an a respect my own house issue.

Amanda: Some men are allies. make alliances with men who will back you up can be very powerful. atrios alone has been useful in getting people to shut up being nasty about me. he’ll write a post saying they’re morons and he’s a man so people respect him and they shut up. that helps a lot. who has power in your community that you don’t have? exploit it a little. exploit other people’s privilege.

Ann: comments on huff po are useless, they’re a free for all. when you’re writing for bigger spaces it’s not that meaningful or helpful, it’s not my community responding to me it’s just like, crazytown. just ignore it. At feministing, people who read us regularly and have been for a long time, Samhita has a word for people who are super engaged

Samhita: minions

Ann: No! not that one! *laughter* Our regular readers are quicker than we are and say no that’s bull or email us and say please moderate this crazy comment. that is unbelievably helpful.

Samhita: creating a community people are bought into, invested into keeping a certain way. that is one of the best practices which has kept us afloat. it is crucial

Cecily: being a librarian i can’t do anything without reading about it in some academic journal. Germany researchers, algorithm to measure level of sexism in a comment. they had men tell jokes to a computer set up to “think” like a woman. the level of harassment the computer notices, correlated with the level of harassment real women experience online. women who identify as feminists get more harassment. if a woman mentioned herself or posted a photo her level of attractiveness had nothing to do with it. automated sexism detector!

Amanda: what we need a machine to back us up now!

Amanda: registration is the most useful way to control your space. disemvoweller is useful, button for it. Also, give some of your attack dogs moderation power. delete a comment and replace it with videos of bunnies hopping around. it makes people happy to see bunnies. *everyone laughs*

Cecily: what’s crazy bait?

Samhita: writing about any part of popular culture people feel invested in, fraternities, video games, if you want to get a lot of traffic then piss off the gamers, just kidding Latoya! *laughter* Race and gender, intersection. people feel very personally offended. Gentrification.

Amanda: Biggies are rape and domestic violence. if you write about rape or domestic violence in any form that’s crazy bait. Abortion, gotten better than it used to be. But if anyone tells a personal experience, that gets nutbars who will make personal threats directly against the person who got the abortion if anything has a racial aspect watch out it’s going to get really ugly.

Ann: if you’re writing about The Presidential Race or The Economy in the abstract without a personal level, people aren’t pissed off. Gentrification, when you get at where people live, it gets to them . Lipstick. what you wear. what people have personal experience with. they feel authoritative about it.

Cecily: Takeaway?

Samhita: Don’t feel threatened. it’s not about you. there’s some crazy people out there, it’s about them. keep going. young women reading, young women’s voices. the potential is very great right now. don’t give up.

Amanda: You’re not alone, you have friends. When under attack you can feel very alone. Feels hard, you don’t want to “play the victim” but reach out and ask for support. Own what’s happening and ask for other people to care. they will often step up more than you would think initially.

Ann: Yeah. community. public, on blog, private space to process, that’s what it all comes down to for me. And, vast quantities of self esteem. A reservoir to draw on. Especially if you’re doing video blogging

Amanda: If you can learn to feed off the hate like … like trolls…

Ann: Youtube comments about how ugly, or how attractive. they have the same tone! stepping back and realizing they’re crazy!

Audience questions:

Kimberly: kimberlyblessing.com Feminist web dev : twitter is where i get problems. i speak to my community via twitter including feminist issues and that’s where i get attacked and it carries over to the real world because i work with the guys who followed m on twitter. i get angry and it affects me at work. i i start to internalize all of it. when there is something that important, what would be your other tips, i don’t have community, i work with almost all men. who do i go to? I don’t have any support or anyone more powerful to turn to. I just shut down and then go away for a while.

Ann: there must be other feminist web developers. Reach out to them.

Kimberly: Someone pulls you aside and says, hey that post you made this morning on twitter linking to that feminist thing online, you’re about to go into a big meeting with some vice president…

Amanda: what’s wrong with men who need to see women fail like this? pity them.

I’m Elisa from Blogher. (*applause, cheers*) There is disdain for business women and moms and women of color, dismissed, conservative women bloggers treated badly in other space, the misogyny itself is the problem, we need to see it everywhere, we can’t allow it, wherever we allow it to fester, it will continue to grow.

Q: Misogyny mommy bloggers, they have a more accepted space. women are more accepted in the blogosphere in “women’s blogs” networks, food, moms, travel. when we try to venture into economy, science, web dev, that’s where we are told to sit down and shut up. how can we continue to cross over?

Samhita: There is something different about “women” and “feminist” you are in a space you’re not supposed to be in , a political space. to be a woman in one of those fields, you have to fight with some best practices.

Amanda: any women who feel confident to feel about politics please do so more. write about the economy and politics. other women need to see that behavior modelled. know you’ll get a lot of blowback. eventually it helps.

Q: tendency to email privately? or privately and hateful? how do you draw the line?

Ann: sometimes our commenters have already talked back, engaged, other times it has a derailing effect.

Amanda: 90% of it is public, they are performing for other people

Monday night: Feministing party at Beerland on Red River & 7th- 8th!

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She’s Geeky – Tour of WordPress template code

There were 20 or so people at this talk, including non-programmers and programmers wondering if they should install WordPress, and bloggers and admins already familiar with WordPress. We did a round of introductions:

* Graphic designer interested in what degree of control she could have over a WordPress blog.
* Benay, running a blog connecting seniors with caregivers.
* Collie, looking for help with a WordPress upgrade on a complicated blog. Where is community to find help or pay someone to help? (Collie and others: you might try Heather L. Sanders. Anyone else have recommendations?)
* Person who installed WP to force herself to learn more code. Curious about plugins. Which are most useful?
* Terri – uses WP at her job for blogging, thinking about running her own for personal use.
* Nadine – Installed WP for other people many times. Does a lot of troubleshooting.
* Laura – Has installed and messed with WP many times. Wants to create a template from scratch.
* Stephanie – has an HTML site. Might want a blog.
* Olya – is a blogger. sometimes has language barrier while troubleshooting.
* Estella – artist, craisin.com.
* Crystal Marie – adding a blog to her existing web site. Looking at WP and Drupal.
* Beth C – Loves WP. Would like to do more customization.
* Michelle – Is a coder
* Vee – Blogs for her company. Knows HTML.
* Min – Uses MoveableType, is curious
* Karen M. – Thinks there might be entrepenurial opportunities with WP
* StephanieBamBam – Personal blog

I’ve been using WordPress for several years and administer a group blog. As part of my job, I do tech support for bloggers who run into template problems and quite a few of them use WordPress, so I look at a lot of different templates and help people troubleshoot. (The other part of my job, I munge data, write back end tools and infrastructure-y scripts in Perl, Python, and PHP in an aspiring codemonkey way.)

I started out by saying that WordPress was blogging software that you can either use on wordpress.com, or can download for free and install on your own server or web host. You will need an account somewhere and need to have it clear in your mind that you’ve got a username and password for that server account. In that account you’ll be making a folder where you install WP, and then you’ll have an administrative username and password for the WP admin and blogging interface. You may need to pay attention to this in order to change file permissions and make your theme files writeable if you want to edit them from the Theme Editor web interface. This tends to confuse people who aren’t used to web hosting. Also, some people use web hosts which have one-click installs or who install WP for you and then charge to upgrade or maintain it.

We looked at the files and folders in a WP installation. There was some discussion of how you move files around and edit them. (Either from the command line on your server, from the admin interface for theme files, or with FTP; you can download the WP files, and extra themes and modules, to your computer, then upload them to your web host.) It’s a good idea to just look through all the folders, so you know what’s there. You may want to read through the wp-config file. But most of what people deal with is in wp-content, in the themes and plugins folders.

We then looked at the WP administrative dashboard, a bit at Widgets, and then at the Appearance menu and the Theme Editor. I said that editing code in the Theme Editor window sucks. While it’s great for making quick changes, I recommend you edit the files in a text editor that will color code the code and indent it nicely, like vim or Textmate. You can pass code back and forth with other people by putting it into pastebin.com, which will also color code and indent it nicely. Also, it’s amazingly helpful to print out all the template code, and mark it up with pen, and see which bits you can understand; or at least understand more or less what it does.

I explained briefly that anything that looks like a command with parentheses after it, like get_header, is a function and you may need to look for it in functions.php to figure out what’s happening. We looked at index.php for a little bit. It is helpful to read through it. You should be able to mark what is header, what is the content (including “The Loop” which will cycle through your posts), and what’s the footer.

The WordPress codex is your friend. Here’s some great starting points:

* http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Themes
* http://codex.wordpress.org/Stepping_Into_Templates
* http://codex.wordpress.org/The_Loop

Take a look at your sidebar.php file, header.php, footer.php, and page.php for individual post pages.

At some point, I mentioned the site to look for and download WordPress Themes. You can specify whether you want fixed width or floating; one, two, or three columns; and other parameters such as the main color. It is often best to start with a fairly popular theme.

Keep track of customizations you make to the theme you pick, because at some point you will want to upgrade or change it. Make backups.

There was some discussion of plugins as well. All in One SEO Pack (which sounds a bit evil, but which is great since it makes your URLs a bit more human readable as well as search-engine-friendly) had good recommendations. Stats, Sitemaps, and various Flickr or photo plugins were mentioned by bloggers at the session. On the group blog I co-administer, we had written some code to pull in a list of all our plugins onto a static page called “What we use”, which has come in handy many times when we want to recommend useful plugins to other people. (Whoops; when I tried to show this off, I found that our recent upgrade to 2.7 had broken this code.)

The post template plugin was mentioned for its usefulness and for being able to pick a post or a page and “template-icize” it. This sounded intriguing!

Someone else mentioned that people should be aware that new plugins might break other ones and if you run into trouble, uninstall some plugins and see if that fixes the problem.

Someone else asked if there are good books for learning WordPress theme development or php. I don’t know about books, but php.net is fantastic, and the WP Codex is quite good. The Codex is also editable by its users, so if you use it a lot, make an account, log in, and fix any documentation that’s wrong when you figure out a solution. I also recommended blogging your template or code problems or posting on forums, and then posting the solutions to those problems when you figure them out. This is hard to do sometimes, but the more of us who do it, the better.

When I mention IRC at this conference my general impression is that people aren’t using it that actively and many people don’t know what it is. People who were techy or coding at all or playing on MUDs or smoething before the web, or before about 1995 or 96, know what IRC is. People who learned their stuff or got involved with online worlds after that, it’s much more hit & miss. In any case, I continue recommending people try IRC and hang out in channels on freenode that have to do with the tools or languages they’re using. Here’s some explanation & guidance on IRC and WordPress. Lurk for a while, pick up the culture of the channel, and you might be surprised you can actually answer other people’s questions: when I do this I tend to feel better about asking questions myself.

At some other point I mentioned MAMP again. It’s very handy and easy to install, if you want to run a local web server off your Mac in order to develop and test. While I was doing this hour long talk, at least two people downloaded and installed MAMP and WordPress and got it running on their laptops.

I enjoyed this session! We didn’t go all that deep, but we covered a lot of ground and people seemed energized by the ideas and possibilities. If you were there, thanks for coming, and let me know how your project turns out!

She's Geeky

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A winner for the HP Magic Giveaway!

Hello world! I’ve had a busy week at work with php and Drupal, and then had a very nice time at the EFF at an informal Drupal class where Tim Jones walked us all through the process of installing Drupal and writing “Hello World” modules. I did a lot of editing on a book for Aqueduct Press about this year’s feminist science fiction convention The WisCon Chronicles volume 3, which is coming together nicely. My son had 3 choir performances got to play for the first time in snow, a pit of artificial snow provided by our little town in California. I made up strange background stories about an alternate Lord of the Rings story where Galadriel accepts the One Ring when Frodo offers it to her. And I helped Oblomovka move house, obsessively measuring everything and drawing the room on graph paper and cutting out to-scale furniture also on graph paper, which I love doing! A busy life. Somewhere in between all those things, I read all of your comments and blog posts for the HP Magic Giveaway.

Onward to the contest! This is a long post; be warned!

Over 100 people entered the contest, which is really not very many for such a good prize. However, I was impressed with the high quality of the entries, with all of the interesting comments, whether they were analytical responses or personal stories that related to my experiences. Many people gave details of how they’d like to share the contest prizes with others in their family, with neighbors, with organizations they work with, or with schools. Every story had its merits.

I hope that everyone who didn’t win a free computer will think of ways they can get what they’d like for themselves, and for others. For example, they could hold a fundraiser on their own blog, to buy a computer like the ones in the contest and donate it to the cause of their choice.

I truly appreciate all the comments and entries! While I can’t mention everyone by name, but of the entries, I was especially impressed with :

* Mr. Brammer, who commented on wearable usb drives and on useful mobility gadgets. He teaches school in Indonesia and could really use some computers to spread throughout the villages where he works. “What’s great is that I am already in position to make a direct impact using those computers, without having to search for an outside charity: my students are the charity!” He doesn’t have a current blog that I could find but his wife does, and I liked seeing the lovely photo of them as a family. Yeah, so I stalk my commenters. What else is new!

* Loving Heart Mommy, who posted about disabilty and travel, and who would like to use some of the computers for home schooling and to start her own business

* Kostas, who is a human rights activist in Greece and whose mother works for a school. He commented on disability and travel, mentioning his commitment to fighting for equal rights for people of all sexualities, immigrant status, and abilities.

* S. Bear Bergman, whose work I am somewhat familiar with and who had (as always) fantastic ideas around trans and gender issues, commenting on diversity training and sparking conversation Twitter .

* Bridget commented on “being of a time” and the history of science and medicine.

* Ben, who commented on Growing a Language and whose blog entry over on bentangle did make me think. Though halfway in that laughing my ass off way as I pondered his approach to feminism, which is to ask his male friends to imagine going through life without a penis. “While this is obviously a simplistic and crude explanation, it seems to be effective for men because, frankly, a lot of how we spend our time is influenced by the fact that we have one.” Seriously? I had no idea! LOL! (Imagine, ladies, going throughout life without a vulva. A) Apparently that would make you a man? B) What? C) LOL again. ) But, anyway, Ben is a thoughtful and interesting blogger!

* Twincere aka Tanya, who had a lot to say about disability, people’s attitudes, and autism. Her family of 7 shares one rickety old desktop, she is in Nursing school, and she recommends The Endependence Center, which helps families with transitional services, ie independent living, as a worthy recipient of computer equipment. I very much agree with her! The indepedent living movement is great!

* Cindy Opong of Creative Assistants commented with a story about people’s assumptions and expectations based on race (and racism) when they see her (white) with her husband (black, from Ghana) or how people look at her funny when she’s in the local African grocery. She would like to give computers in support of a local (Colorado) school that promotes diversity in education.

* Heather of ibabble.net left a long, interesting comment relating my travel and disability stories to her college roommate’s experiences living with visual impairment. Like many people who entered, she personally knows many others in her group of family and friends whose lives, school, or small businesses would be improved by owning a new computer!

* Christine commented on my entry about the Bitch Manifesto, and she would like to “share the magic” with the Salvation Army of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who lost everything in the floods this June but which has continued to do great work in the community all year long. Florencia from Listen Up Mofos also had some things to say about bitches!

Steph from gamers with lives weighed in on my critique of the sexist descriptions of Google VP Marissa Mayer. She does outreach in K12 schools with girls and students with disabilities, with hands-on activities like Lego Mindstorm robots. That is a GREAT project! Go, Steph aka retrogamer! And, I liked your comments on being a female educator in computing and what it’s like for geeky girls. I’ve totally been there.

* Michele from Creative Writing 101 commented and posted about the poems by Emilia Bernal and my translations. Her story made me laugh and she would like to donate computers to the organization where she works, a center for disadvantaged teens. Well, imagine wanting to donate to your employer. That speaks well of the organization, doesn’t it, that it’s not just a job for its workers, it’s something they believe in deeply and want to give more resources than the labor they already give?

* Jonathan wrote at length about the gender gap in computer science, discussion which I’m always happy to see. I would recommend to him that he read “She’s Such a Geek” anthology for some stories from women in male-dominated science and tech fields for a slightly less dry, and more personal, approach to the issues!

* Sandy of momforeverandever, who wrote about her feelings when her husband, an army veteran who is disabled, meets with idiotic treatment from others! She would give a computer to her child who’s in college and others to families of disabled veterans.

* Overmind, who seems like he must be a teenager or in his early 20s, and who is reading Twilight in order to find out how to behave towards women in a relationship. I hope he pays attention to the bits about listening to your girlfriend’s thoughts and opinions, and ignores the creepy stalker bits of the book where Edward is insane, possessive, and spies on his girlfriend at all times. I really enjoyed the thought of a young guy reading this series to get insight into what women of his generation are thinking, and feeling, and in order to analyze gender roles. His guy friends should learn from him and not be so scared to read a “girly” book!

* Heather, or goddess of knitting (that’s her shop on etsy) had a lot to say about teaching poetry in science courses, and cross-curriculum education in public schools. Go, Heather! Mix it up! Her biology class in southern Georgia (the U.S. state) will start on Jan. 7th and she would love to have computers for her classroom. I love her enthusiasm and her stories of all the preparation she’s doing for her first time teaching. “I plan to have a project where each student has to read a science fiction book and do a report that must compare the science in the book with the real science. I also have warm-ups planned everyday and on Wednesdays this will be a science poem. Some of the authors are Federico Garcia Lorca, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, John Haines and George Bradley. I feel very so strongly that the lack of crossover in the subjects makes us more compartmentalized as a culture.”

* Meg from Life in the Village commented on being a bitch, positive and negative aspects! Her small town has a new middle school that could use some computers!

* Amanda’s long comment on disability, I’ve already mentioned but it still makes me burn with sympathy and anger for her brother.

* I hate to say it but Amber’s comment gave me the biggest laugh of all but not really in a good way. OMG! I mean, I respect her work with the Childhood Cancer Network, and Scarlet Letter seems like an interesting site, but she kissed ass on me so awfully. Who could possibly be flattered by this enough to go “Oh well then I’ll just give you a giant wad of computers!” : “Thank you Liz Henry, you have the name of a poet or a great author. It flows nicely such as Jane Austen or Anais Nin. Its a name that would look great on paper.” AHAHAHAHAHAHA, what?!!!! I will be dining out over the ridiculousness of this comment for years to come. Everyone who I’ve showed it to has burst into horrified laughter and made fun of me all day. Now, on the other hand making me laugh is worth something; maybe she meant it as irony; plus, she has a great email name herself, “shevilkenevil1”. LMAO over here.

* Beverly’s Yarn Crazy!, a blog whose name is so awesome I have to just give her props. Thank you Beverly’s Yarn Crazy!, you have the name of a poet or a great knitter. It flows nicely such as Yarn Harlot or Yarnivore. It’s a name that would look great crocheted onto a potholder or an afghan. 😎 Hi Beverly!

* deepikaur from Redefinability made some thoughtful comments on social networks and Twittering. Her blog looks interesting!

* Vundavalli from Cricket Crazy would really like some computers for his village and for Sphoorti, a grassroots organization that helps with the education of underprivileged children in Hyderabad.

* Roguepuppet told a great story about being a young Girl Scout in Maryland in the U.S., volunteering at nursing homes. Under Maryland law, nursing homes were temporary residences, so none of the people living there could vote! She and her fellow Girl Scouts campaigned to change the law, and succeeded. Wow!

Several people commented on Highly Trained Girl-Monkey Sys Admin Bait including Rikki from Linux Pro, Jamie, another Syster with a long story about sexism in her department and her data structures class.

* Sara Moreira from Portugal (and East Timor ) posts about a project she works with in East Timor that helps women who are going into Engineering. She works in IT and E-Learning, and has been a professor of Engineering at East Timor National University, uses computers and social media for women’s empowerment, and, along with another Syster from Portugal, is planning to start a mini-incubator for a web dev company run by Timorese women that will focus on arts and local culture. Wow! Ten thumbs up from me on that project! Wait, I don’t have ten thumbs but I do have a whole bunch of computers to give away. I am very happy to declare Sarita Moreira the winner of the contest and I’ll be contacting her for details and to arrange the shipping. Congratulations Sarita, and I admire your project very much. Also, from what I can understand of Portuguese, I love your writing – so beautiful! 😎

What do you think of my choice of a winner? If you’ve followed along this week with the entries and comments: who would you have chosen?

Thank you again to everyone for participating! I LOVE YOUR BLOGS!

There are still more HP Magic Giveaway contests! So, you still have a chance to win these computers. Go for it!

Related posts:

Liveblogging take two: BlogHer Boston

Our workshop was for Blogging Basics: personalize, polish, and promote your blog. Danielle Henderson, Alissa Kriteman, and Meghan Garnum joined me on the stage. Kristy got us in touch with Elliot, the hotel employee setting up the projector, who found all the stuff and the cables and hooked everything up. Also, NeoOffice worked like a charm! Around 100 people filled up the room. We took some goofy photos and were having fun chatting before the talk. Everyone in the room was so talkative and intense with their conversations that I had to say “SEX” into the microphone several times to get them to pay attention. After a brief intro and my pep talk about getting your hands dirty digging into your code, we each talked about our experience. Alissa, Danielle, and Megan were full of enthusiasm and confidence, knew their technical stuff, and were great speakers.

Alissa Kriteman is the host for Just for Women: Dating Relationships and Sex. She has a weekly audio podcast show about empowering women. Alissa has been blogging for about two years and is enthusiastic about her future in blogging on WordPress. Hey, Alissa is from SF! I could hang out with her and hack on blog stuff! Yay!

Danielle Henderson has been blogging for 6 years with a variety of hosting platforms. (Bio: Danielle Henderson is a 31-year old college sophomore and freelance writer. She’s been a blogger for close to 6 years at Knotty Yarn, and still has no idea how or if that is applicable to common conversation. Her first book was published in 2004, and she was recently featured in Cringe: Teenage Diaries, Journals, Notes, Letters, Poems and Abandoned Rock Operas.)

Megan Garnhum has been blogging for nine years and has over ten years experience in marketing companies, media, software and online social networking. She also does blog design and consulting. (Bio: It was love at first blog for Megan, who began blogging back in 1999 and hasn’t stopped for a breath since. A hobby at first, blogging has become a big part of Megan’s life. She has taught herself how to create, build and manage blogs on all of the major blog platforms and now designs and provides blog and web consulting for individuals and businesses, through Webundance, her consulting company. )

I’m Liz Henry and am a producer and software developer at BlogHer. In addition to being a poet and literary translator, I’ve been writing online since before 1990 and blogging seriously since 2003. When I started blogging I didn’t think anyone would ever read it. I was so wrong. I blog about my life and about many topics including feminist science fiction, technology, and social media.

We asked the audience who they were.

More than 2 years blogging? (About a third)
More than 1 blog? (Half the room)
Blogger or blogspot? (Most of the room)
Typepad? (5 or 6)
WordPress? (a third of the room)
Tumblr: 1
Twitter, Plurk: 10
LiveJournal: 2
Drupal: 2
MySpace: 2

We discussed those difference a little and dedicated to break groups by experience level.

People who ever have messed with their code beyond a minimum. 1/3 of the room.

I mentioned my experience doing tech support for the BlogHer ad network bloggers. Most of the requests for help with code, the bloggers put themselves down, call themselves idiots or dolts and explain how they don’t know anything. It’s okay, but it makes me a little sad and I want to help people learn the skills to be more confident, and approach computers and approach things they don’t know with a different attitude, not feel bad about themselves. Try not to do automatic disclaimers or self-deprecation. Everyone needs debugging help. I do too. I am often able to walk people through difficulties, but sometimes I just get passwords and fix problems. So if I can persuade you all to feel confident about playing with your blog code I’m making my own job easier. *audience laughter*

Also, the more intimate you are with your blog…

Alissa: Ooo baby, intimate!

… the more intimate you are with your blog, the more closely you can make it be how you want, for self-expression or to better reflect your business purposes.

Pep talk. Examples of some virginal blogs that have never know the hand of woman. The default blogger.com blog. The default wordpress blog.

What would this “generic” blog template say about you to your readers and the rest of the world?

Here’s a myspace blog, very blinged up. What people think is good design doesn’t matter. What is your goal? Clarity, or obfuscation? This is good blog design, conveying a strong identity:

And clearly, this blogger dove fearlessly into hacking her blog’s back end, to express herself.

Look at your code. Engage with it. Print it out, put it next to the pages it’s making. Mark it up and draw on it. Figure out which bits are doing what.
Confusing code is annoying. (Slide of WTF CAT)

It is a good thing my slides are working because otherwise all of us up here were going to act out the LOLCATS. (Alissa and the others make the WTF cat face. We’re a funny crew up here!)

Pastebin.com is very nice. Paste in your code, label what kind it is – html, php, etc. And it will give you a temporary url showing all that code nicely highlighted in color. You can send that url to someone over IM and get debugging advice. This is amazingly useful. Don’t be embarrassed to ask someone else to look at your code and spot obvious mistakes. It’s just like copyediting.

Indenting properly will make your code more readable, too.

It will start to make sense. You don’t need to know everything, to hear blah blah blah STYLE=”width 160″ blah blah blah. (blah blah Ginger) Learn bits at a time, just the bits you need to fix.

Danielle: You should look at the documentation. WordPress, Typepad, Blogger help files are good.

Megan: Yes. Search within the typepad web site. Very helpful. It’s how I learned everything.

Me: We’re all self-taught; that’s very interesting.

Back to my talk. View source on other people’s blogs and find examples of things you’d like to do, cut and paste their code, copy and tweak it, it’s how programmers learn stuff. Backup first, then experiment. Ride it like you stole it!

Onwards to the “Personalize, polish, and promote” part of the afternoon.

Who are you? Reflect it. Whether your identity is actually you with real name, or pseudonym. Contact info. About me sidebar box or page, or both. This is built in to most platforms. In Typepad you just check a box and fill out a form. Same in Blogger. In WordPress you can make a page for it. (Slide with examples of About Me info. Some are short, serious, funny, some long and detailed with every interest of the blogger listed.) Include links to, or content from, other places you “are” on the web.

Who are your readers? Reflect them too! Expose their identities to each other. Readers on a blog are aware of each other, sometimes become a community. Allow readers to link back to their own web presences, email addresses. They can have profiles on your blog. Avatars, icons, gravatars so they have a photo too in their comments.

Why do we care?
This is important not just for touchy feely reasons or SEO.
It is important in the history of literature and ideas. Women’s diaries, letters. Intertextuality. Intellectual crosscurrents and crossfertilization. Your future biographer might like to know who your blogfriends were in 2004 vs. 2008. Or that you regularly read and commented on Pharyngula or Feministe — or on BlogHer. Consider yourself as a writer and as part of history. Represent your connections. It is important in feminist or in women’s history. (Slide with books of letters by Virginia Woolf to Vita Sackville-West, and letters of Francis Ellen Watkins Harper to friends and newspapers, and book covers like “800 years of Women’s Letters”. ) We are in a mass movement where women are writing in a public forum, being part of public discourse. It is new in the history of the world.

What are you writing?

You might set out to write on a particular topic. then shift over time. The life of a blog. identity, subjects change. Tag your stuff. Categorize it. Make your post titles relevant (if you care about that, and want things to be found. If you don’t want it found by a casual searcher or reader, bury it. Top posting buries. Baroque digression buries. Multiple subjects in one post buries the content.

Self-discovery process to tag your content. I went through one of my blogs and tagged, maybe 300 posts. This took me a couple of evenings. It revealed what I was actually blogging vs. what I thought I was blogging. I thought I was writing about poetry and translation, and I was really blogging about politics, feminism, the internet, and social media. WordPress has a very nice plugin called Simple Tags that lets you machine-tag all your entries at once. You can batch tag in detail, then combine tags to get higher level categories.

Tag, tag, tag. Tag clouds! Delicious (murmur of agreement from audience.)

Megan: Make your links relevant. When you make a link, don’t put it around the words “click here” or “link”. You want to put it around “really great shoes”, or whatever- some text that is related to the meaning of the link and the content of the page you’re linking to.

Me: Your future biographers will thank you here, too. The text you choose to hyperlink is probably important so in any textual analysis it would be weighted as more important. Your future biographers don’t want to know that you’re blogging quite a lot about “click here”. They want to know you blog all the time about really great shoes. Anyway, any meta information about your content is great!

How to do this stuff?

1) Look through all your blog’s settings and options. There may be built-in “About Me” or Recent Comments options.

2) Javascript widgets!
* Copy or download scripts from other people.

Blogger: Widgets, Gadgets
* Search for interesting widgets or code snippets
* Copy and paste into the “Javascript/HTML” box.

WordPress: Plugins
* Download/upload to your server
* Unzip the files
* Activate them in the wp-admin panel

Typepad: Typelists (basic templates)
* Create a “Notes” Typelist. paste in code
* Select content – check off a box to include
* Order content – drag and drop sidebar widgets

Hack with your friends!!! Thinking about gender, it is my observation that men tend to grow up doing projects together. Guys in middle school flail around in linux or whatever, programming together, learning stuff, not embarrassed to know nothing, they have no shame. Girls, not so much. In my little feminist techological utopia we would all be hanging out programming together and learning stuff. You don’t need an expert to learn from. Peer mentoring, just having someone to look at stuff with, it is good for moral support. Another pair of eyes for debugging is great. Get together with a blog friend and work on your blogs together over coffee.

Questions and statements from the audience. Why is everyone switching to WordPress blogs? Are they better? Is that just a trend? How to compare platforms? Panelists explained that Typepad cost money, Blogger was free but slightly less flexible, WordPress more setup but much more flexibility, Moveable Type good but have to get into the code more. You can search “compare blogging platforms” and see what comes up for an explanation. As consultants (or just friends) we tend to advise beginning bloggers who don’t want to do a lot of setup, to use Blogger or Typepad, or hosted WordPress. Then migrate up only if you need more features than what you get for free. Or, try all the platforms (it is easy to set them up) and see which you like best. Look at a blog you like and see where it’s hosted.

Statement from audience (I think this was Christy Matte): What Liz said about putting your own email address on your blog, in the clear, she disagrees nand thinks we should mention contact forms. You can set this up on any platform. Plugins or a third party service. Or you can obfuscate your email address to try and confuse people who harvest your email and sell to spammers. I commented that obfuscation isn’t really going to stop screen scraping and email harvesting and it’s better to fight spam with filtering in your email reader. I think Danielle or Alissa recommended using gmail as its spam filtering is quite good. Captcha and recaptcha were also mentioned for comments and so on.

Question from audience: How do I find someone to just redesign my blog and make it nice? How much should I expect to pay? How do I know if they’re any good? Answers from panelists. Megan: Well, I do that for my business, Webundance, so you can ask me! Megan’s rates seem very reasonable for basic work. Me: If someone is trying to charge you a thousand, two thousand dollars, you’re being ripped off. Alissa: Students or kids might help you for very cheap. Me: Look at someone whose blog design you like, and ask them who did it. Ask the designer or web developer for client referrals and examples of their work and ask their clients if they’re happy.

Question from audience: What the heck is the difference between tags and categories? And how can I get my blog search widget to stop searching my sidebar? Because it detects the tag cloud and category list for every single post, so it thinks all 500 posts on my blog are about pumpkin recipes. Answer: Ugh. We are not quite sure. There must be a better search widget for your blog. We’d need to look in more detail what you’re using and how it’s configured. Try the Geek Lab?

Our last half hour was spent in breakout sessions. We split up the room by level of experience. Alissa went to the back of the room with newbies. People who considered themselves fairly experienced in getting into their code were at the front.

Other notes:

Hacked with leadingfromtheheart.org a long time on her wordpress recent posts plugin. We modified the plugin code that she’d already modified. We broke it, she re-installed it, then we ignored the plugin and went for fixing the styles of the stuff that the plugin spits out:

 li, h3, ul, and a

. The mysterious space before the recent posts turned out to be a top margin on

h3

that was 3em, not 3px. Whoops! I showed her how, if you view source on someone else’s blog, you can search on “css” and find the link to their style sheet, and then paste it into the address bar to see their whole style sheet in the browser. So, for example, I used my spying skills to find her stylesheet: http://leadingfromtheheart.org/wp-content/themes/unstandard/style.css . Anyway, she’s a good hacker and has an amazing, amazing blog about teaching high school. Give it a read.

Talked with Consuming Lilly who is super-de-awesome, about her blog, about the history of food and feminism and cookbooks throughout history, and we looked at her blog coding issue: she has customized her blogger.com template to the max and lost her way a bit. We looked at it for a bit and I ended up telling her to print it all out and mark up each section so she would know exactly what bit of code controlled which page element. Recommended Firebug and Web Developer Firefox plugins. (Not for the last time!) A bunch of us were gathered around looking at her blog template. Did I mention that it’s pretty!? It is!

Someone, I think Lilly, gave a good warning. Look at your code, if you get a template from someone’s web site, because template-makers slip Google adsense code in there that pays out to them. On the one hand, you got a free template from them. On the other, it is unethical not to be upfront about it if you’re doing that in your template. Be warned!

Talked with: chestercountymoms, bestisyetunwritten (debugging, ad network questions)

There were more people I helped out for a minute or two, or that I got talking with each other.

Long talk with Megan’s Minute about design and usability. Hey! I heard about people liking her handbag of the month thing. (Though I don’t use handbags.) She asked me for advice on what to put in the sidebar, and where? She hacks her Typepad sidebar a lot. I said to put in polls, most popular, content of the recent comment not just person + post title; put TV show reviews up high because they are a particular focus (Lost, Survivor, etc) and her readers love them; shorten headlines that are long and go across more than one line.

Megin from Chester County Moms wants to put an rss feed of all her blog contributors in her WordPress sidebar. We looked at the built-in widget (design tab, widgets, click “add” to add it to sidebar, then edit to add the feeds.) She wants a fancier feed with some randomization because she has 25 contributors! Annette Krasow suggests some aggregation tools.

Megin told me she got her header graphic from a photo, and then — I missed it in the confusion — there is some iphoto plugin that builds caricatures? Or was she saying she paid someone to do the caricatures from a photo?

Talked with Christy from about.com family computing. She’s really fun and intense and I wish we got to talk more!

Talked with Megan Taby from Freepress.net and savetheinternet, about feminism and net neutrality. I look forward to talking with her more!

I left the workshop very high off of it, feeling like everyone got something useful from it. Also, I was glad my slides worked and my lolcats got a laugh.

Talked with ecochick.ca about her javascript and css issues, very convoluted, not possible to solve, depended on a 3rd party. I gave some advice on how to frame the problem to their support folks, and recommended for some other layout issues that she get the web developer Firefox plugin.

Talked with Megan Garnum some more. We were laughing about being very social and outgoing but then needing to get with our computers and shut up. “Could I just crawl inside you, laptop?” she said. I agree. We were both crashing and burning and needed to shut up and blog. So, of course, we talked about that. I think we might have also twittered it. Not really…

Looked at Sexpertise, Isis Inc. Talked about Planned Parenthood use of mobile apps and texting. Sarah and I sent a question to ChaCha: “My condom broke. What should I do?” and they sent us a dangerously stupid answer: to put vitamin c tablets in our vaginas. What horrible misinformation. I will be writing to ChaCha about it.

Looked at nakedanarchist blog. A kindred spirit, I think!

Gossip with Sarah Dopp about Geek Lab and what people’s blogging questions or issues were. Lots of rss feed questions: how to aggregate and post feeds on blog sidebars, how to set up a feed reader, how to put rss feeds on your blog (answer: they are already there, probably) and how to tell what your feed address is. How to put plugins in sidebars at all, in various platforms. I also got that question a lot, but more often I got very specific questions about css or “what plugin would do X thing for me.”

– Keynote panel by Elisa Camahort. I got too tired to take notes.

Cocktail party! I sat with a fun table of bloggers and gave them lots of stickers from my secret sticker collection! Tracy from leadingfromtheheart, Liz Davis, Sherry Pardy who has twins with the same name as Tracy’s sister’s twins, almostfoodies, Melissa from thecollectionspace whose husband writes about music. She told us a great story about the Tape Guy who makes sculptures of people out of scotch tape and who her (mystery industry discreetly not identified) conference was going to hire to be sort of a quirky entertainment to perk people up, but unfortunately the Tape Guy broke his hand and couldn’t do it. We all exchanged cards. Someone (almost foodies) reacted in mock horror that she might be accidentally hanging out with *mommybloggers*. Really, you can hardly tell who we are when we’re drinking cosmopolitans and in stealth mode. THEN WE BUST OUT THE WALLET PHOTOS. Muahaha!

I’d like to say that all my co-pilots, or co-panelists, were amazing, smart, great speakers, very pro-active about grabbing that microphone. Everything they said was a great contribution. In fact, everyone from the audience who raised their hands and spoke up had great points. There was some lively discussion of whether to put your email address in the clear on your blog, or not, with strong audience and panelist support for using contact forms. (While I am in favor of just putting your email addy out there.) Other people made great points and shared relevant information!

Am now decompressing. Sarah and I are laying around blogging and trying to be as antisocial as possible. I consider declaring a pajama party with my room number on Twitter. Would that be a mistake? Am I too tired? Should I stop typing? Someone hose me down.

Related posts:

BlogHer Boston, liveblogged

Morning:
I hit the breakfast and the swag. Scored: fresh pineapple, pastry, coffee, starbucks jar ‘ o coffee to carry around (very handy for a wheelchair user!) Scored a laser pointer usb drive ballpoint pen, Springpad notebook and good conversation about social media and “personal project management”, tiny cute retractable cord mouse, I entered about 5 contests before I finished my coffee.

Elisa has given a good talk about the current state of blogging. I’ll link to her slides later!

Jory thanks the sponsors for keeping the conference affordable and for all their support.

*more to come – we are lining up in 2 lines facing each other to talk for a minute, then rotate*

greetings! blogher boston

Talked with Consuminglilly, lindisima, racismreview, leadingfromtheheart, wendiaarons (humor blog), the woman from stonyfield farms, and so many more! I remember blog names better than real names.

I talked with at least 10 people in our rotating li neup of meet & greet. Lots of cards! I’ll put in the links in a while.

At geek lab – css and plugin hacking with leadingfromtheheart.org (Tracy). She has majorly hacked her template.

going to drive in a red convertible (saturn??) with Halley… wooo!

(our workshop from 1pm – 2:30)

Talked with Balkan Explorer (who is carefully pseudonymous) about her plans for her blogs, and Danielle about feminism, BlogHer, blogging, girls and mentoring and education and the lack of support for young girls worldwide, about different cities, and more about blogging platforms. She loves Squarespace!

Related posts:

Sockpuppets and astroturfing in disruptive political blogs

In case any one misses it, I’d like to point out that blogs like hillaryis44 and pumapac are full of sockpuppets. I gave a two hour long talk at SXSWi on the ethics of false identity on the net. It looks like the time is ripe to talk about ways of detecting falsity in blogging.

If you see a blog with 600 comments on every post, even the most trivial, try taking a look at the commenters, the pattern of their chatter, and their identites on the net. Only a very few of the commenters on pumapac, for example, have histories going back further than June and July 2008. Some of those are constructs and fewer are real people. Most have no traceable internet identity; they have empty profiles dating back to July 08, set up on a couple of social networks. So, one method of detecting sockpuppetry or large scale astroturfing on a blog or networking of blogs is to record the commenters, then spider for their internet presence, its depth and longevity. The footprints of many different blogs and forums could then be compared.

The pattern of interaction in comments can also reveal sockpuppetry. For instance, times and rhythms. A typical post on pumapc is made at 11pm Eastern Standard Time. The comments on pumapac are made about one per minute, and keep going until about 3 in the morning. I would guess they are written by a single poster. They’re strange in their rhythms, like a fictional chatroom – almost musical in structure. Commenters A, B, C, D, and E talk for the first few minutes, then a couple more will chime in, then A, B, and C will sign off for the evening only to be immediately replaced by H, I, J, and K, who go back and forth with each other, occasionally hitting a note from further back in the structure; only to sign off themselves and be replaced by a new batch. It is not a realistic pattern. Who are these women logging in and hitting reload every 10 seconds at 3 am? There are plenty of blogs being used as late night chat rooms. They don’t have this sort of pattern. It is not faked well enough.

Naming patterns are fairly clear in pumapac as well as in hillaryis44. The majority of pumapac commenters have a pattern that could come straight out of a traditional buzzword generator, using the following elements: Demographic category, Political affiliation or anti-affiliation, variety of feline, gender identifier, geographic location, number. For example, osaka puma,TexasTigress, asian4hillary, tennaseepuma, snowtiger, landiPUMA. I imagine a corkboard with index cards, as a novelist might keep on the wall, with lightly sketched out personalities:

* Alice1943, a senior citizen who thinks Obama is a Muslim
* gd4Hill4EVA, a racist white woman who rants about terrorism
* Luckyseven, always provides a link to a video and a news article. Spells things wrong.
* Nijma, the (fake) Muslim who everyone picks on, for fake flame wars.
* hillstheone Another like Luckyseven, gives a youtube video + news article

Their personalities are thin. Most of them don’t even have a sock! It’s just the shadow of someone’s hand on the wall! With a few exceptions, the ones who have a net presence reach only as far as other astroturfing blogs all in a network that sprang up at the same time, around June 08. For instance, GoHillaryGo/Camille424/bitterpoliticz.

In contrast, pumapac commenters “jody in florida” and “pooh496” are likely to be real people — or, a puppeteer stealing their identities and posing as those real people. Do a little googling and reading to see the depth of these two, compared to the other names listed above, and you will see the difference.

The “commenters” use really transparent rhetorical strategies in concert. One will say “Obama’s a dirty Muslim! ” and two more will agree, with links. Then the “Muslim” of the commenters will speak up, saying something obfuscational and tangential about Palestine. The others attack her and accuse her of being on Obama’s side. Then, the blog’s author steps in to say, in the false voice of reason, “Gals, gals, calm down, we don’t really *know* that Obama’s a Muslim! And even if he were, would it really matter? By the way, how about that spunky gal Sarah Palin?”

I read plenty of blogs written by real conservative Christian women, and they don’t talk like this. It is disrespectful to them, and their politics, to represent them like this.

I’m not going to do a full expose on Darragh Murphy, the head of Pumapac, but if you look around you will find her bankruptcy and allegations of fraud (her construction company wrote out $60,000 worth of checks to her mom, for no discernable services, just before it filed for bankruptcy), claims to represent millions of Americans in a legitimate political organization which fundraised over 20K (but has not reported on the spending of that money), announcements of big conferences which turn out to be 30 people in a little motel, etc. I suspect that people like Murphy and whoever is behind hillaryis44 contract out to the same company to build their astroturf blog networks. They may also be funded by independent political organizations that merely seek to disrupt the elections or cause confusion. I don’t at all think they are supported by the Republican party.

If I had time to do a systematic analysis I would compile a db of all the commenters on this network of blogs and see what kind of stats I could come up with. IP numbers might not be too difficult to find, in cooperation across several blogs where the suspected sockpuppets come to make a few comments to establish themselves or to leave linkbait.

One might also start from the other end with the real people who are known to be behind some of these sites. For instance, Heidi Li and Mark Rubin as well as Darragh Murphy, Alex Rodriguez. Or look for identities, like Billiejo/Betty Jean/Freemenow and delve into their associations with other blogs and the people behind them.

How else might we detect blog puppetry? We could write tools to scrape the comments, gather comments by the same “people” and run them through some textual analysis tools. I can see that some of these comments are written by the same person, through a filter of a thinly invented fictional “personality” and writing style, but I would have a hard time proving that. Take a look for yourself and see if you can detect the same veneer of stylistic differences.

The lack of link backs and identity representation is another major clue for badly done sockpuppetry. Most blog comment software allows for link backs to the commenter’s identity either to a profile on the blog itself, or to an external source. These blogs don’t allow for that. In other blogs and forums that don’t build in identity tools, at least some commenters would build in their own sigs with links back to their own blogs, profiles, or email addresses. It is not conceivable to anyone who has seriously studied, or been immersed in, Internet culture for the last 10 years, that a group of over 50 commenters on a subject they feel passionately about, in a “place” where they read and write daily, would NOT link back to some other anchor or “home”.

Why do people hang out in blog comments on a big forum, bulletin board, or blog? Certainly part of the motivation is to make intelligent enough comments that others will come over to your place and hang out there. You are talking in a public forum to establish your own reputation and identity. This is true on the dippiest social networks, on the most primitive bulletin boards talking about bands or action figure collecting or whatever, on MySpace, on blogs, on conservative forums like Little Green Footballs or Free Republic or leftist ones like Daily Kos.

Dig a little deeper and you will find whole fake “attack blogs” whose purpose is only to link back attacking the first blog, to shore up their tenuous claim to reality.

My point is: think a bit when you come across a site like pumapac, really analyze and compare it, and you will see the flaws in its setup.

I do know there are women who were going to vote for Clinton and who now are going to vote for McCain – but these sockpuppets are NOT their voices and do not represent a large political movement.

If I came across a leftist blog displaying this same pattern, I would happily expose and debunk it too.

One thing that may be possible, and more plausible than the same small “astroturfing firm” building and running these sorts of sites: there could easily have been some training sessions or workshops on how to astroturf and run a bunch of sockpuppets. Conservative strategists and thinktanks funded training camps for college conservative journalists and funded college newspapers in the mid to late 80s, with dramatic results; a similar move has likely been happening for the blogosphere.

Too bad they aren’t as good as msscribe in their sockpuppetry and intrigues! They need to take lessons from a master.

I leave you with a link to the Anti-Astroturfing Wiki.

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Halfwitted journalist thinks only rich people should blog

This Washington Post writer suggests that blogs are not only unimportant, they are actively harmful to democracy and society. Therefore, the government should make them more expensive, so that regular people can’t afford to have them.

And if that wasn’t already lunatic enough, he proposes to do it by a massive energy tax.

This is so awesome I thought for a minute it was satire. Dusty Horwitt, pissant little environmentalist, lawyer, and journalist (and Bill Clinton impersonator, on the side) thinks blogging is the death of democracy.

Apparently democracy means a few rich people talk, while everyone listens. You… yes you… have the right to shut the hell up and be a good audience. Stop blogging! You’re polluting the infosphere! You’re killing newspapers, communities, democracy, and the environment, and if you’re in the U.S., you’re forcing jobs overseas! All by creating an “information avalanche”. God knows we should all beg to go back to the days when we apparently sat around getting a political “education” from notorious anti-Semite and Hitler fan Charles Coughlin… as Horwitt suggests.

Here’s Horwitt’s argument:

1) The proliferation of blogs make it impossible to find relevant information
2) The only important information is “politics and news”
3) The Internet hurts newspapers
4) And Democracy!
5) Fragmented media outlets fragment society!
6) Personal computers, and data centers, are bad for the environment
7) Therefore, create an energy tax so regular people can’t afford to have computers, and can’t blog! That way, they’ll shut up and listen to proper sources of information and become “educated”.

So, regular people shouldn’t have access to computers. This is a new one on me. Let’s increase the digital divide, to…. empower people! and to Make America Great!

Rather than call for government regulation of technology itself, perhaps the best way to limit the avalanche is to make the technologies that overproduce information more expensive and less widespread.

Horwitt doesn’t consider for a second that the rest of the world will still be posting, even if the U.S. makes it hard for people to have access to computers.

This is the best part,

It’s possible that over time, an energy tax, by making some computers, Web sites, blogs and perhaps cable TV channels too costly to maintain, could reduce the supply of information. If Americans are finally giving up SUVs because of high oil prices, might we not eventually do the same with some information technologies that only seem to fragment our society, not unite it? A reduced supply of information technology might at least gradually cause us to gravitate toward community-centered media such as local newspapers instead of the hyper-individualistic outlets we have now.

Horwitt seems to be an amateur comedian and songwriter. You’d think his attempts at comedy would help him write a better satire if that’s what this is supposed to be. Or is it all an elaborate hoax, an enormous troll? He’s also an “analyst” for the Environmental Working Group. Wonder how well his analysis is informing the EWG? I like this bit of their site – “How EWG Does It: Our research brings to light unsettling facts that you have a right to know.” Hmmm. You have a right to know… What the likes of Dusty Horwitt want you to know. Apparently you don’t have a right to speak.

The Washington Post just argues against Horwitt’s big point that newspapers deserve to survive at all — by having published this massive piece of bullshit. This is the legitimacy of mainstream, traditional media?

It’ll serve this dude right to be mocked on as many blogs as possible. He thinks viral information doesn’t work? Maybe a million pissed off bloggers will let him know otherwise. God, if only I could find his personal Myspace… I’m sure it’s comedy gold.

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Bloggers haul in tons of free stuff

I forgot to post about how I got a free camera! Whoever does the marketing for Flip is a genius, because forever more I will go around explaining to people how awesome my FREE CAMERA is. Plus, it has the satisfaction of a well-designed toy.

Whenever I mess around with it this is what happens:

People end up grabbing it from me. It’s so toylike that people aren’t scared of it. When was the last time you grabbed someone else’s video camera out of their hands and started filming? NOT… you’d be scared to touch most of them and you’d want the manual.

For years I have refused to deal with videocameras because they’re huge and expensive and have a million parts and I break them and lose the tapes, etc. But for months I’ve been playing with this Flip Video gadget and loving it. It only has a few buttons and doesn’t do anything fancy. It doesn’t have a million different “modes”. There is no annoying charger to lose so that the gadget becomes useless. It runs on a couple of AA batteries.

You turn it on, hit the record button, and have got 30 minutes of video. I tried it out without reading any instructions, and everything worked as I expected. When I hit the red button again, it stopped recording. Then when I started recording again, the camera was clearly making a new short video clip.

That’s it.

Only time in my life you’ll hear me say that I’m happy not to have a lot of options. No! I don’t want options! A little bit of zoom is just fine!

The lack of cables is also amazingly great. The USB connector flips out from inside the camera like a freaking switchblade. When I plugged it into my Mac, it installed its own software on my hard drive. The software is nothing too special or fast. Though it did the job, it was somewhat horrible. It downloaded all my short video clips into the flip software, and showed me — much like in iPhoto – an array of the clips, with a simple play and edit interface, and options to name and save each clip. I can upload them straight to YouTube. All of that is super handy.

But it was WAY handier to ignore the Flip software completely.

Just plug it in and treat it like a flash drive, drag the files off it, edit them (or not) and upload clips to Google Video, YouTube, or (for super short clips) to Flickr.

After I finish messing around with this video camera, I’m going to give it to Moomin. This is really a perfect videocamera for little kids — and for me.

You can zoom in an out a little bit. The video quality is not all perfect. But I sure don’t care. It’s funny but the video “quality” or resolution is the last thing I care about. I just want something cheap and convenient and easy.

Though… I recommend you get a cheap tripod for it to avoid embarrassing shakycam. The camera has a little screw-holder thingie on the bottom for a tripod. I’m thinking of keeping a small GorillaPod in my backpack for times when I’m planning to film more than 20 seconds.

Because when you give this camera to little kids (or me) you might get this, or this:

My other free stuff lately was all BlogHer conference swag:

gwendomama with headset swag

Free Bluetooth headset from Zivio! It’s called a Zivio Boom and came with a jillion different little earpieces. I like the changing colors on it and how the antenna-microphone retracts – it telescopes back into the body of the headset. It’s tiny for now, but I’m sure in 5 years we’ll laugh.

This was the other Best swag from BlogHer:

best blogher swag

Clockwise from upper left: KY lube, manicure set in sunglasses case, nail polish, 1GB flash drive bracelets from PBS Kids, Topix power outlet splitter (nice!!!), 1GB flash drive (from KY), snapfish gift card, stickers, Merci chocolate (LOTS), blogher heroes book excerpt, Word Girl comic book again from PBS, Zivio bluetooth headset (!!!!!), more KY, pens, Tmobile gift card (7 days, 20 bucks, super great, putting it right in my backpack… along with the lube).

Oddly I got a vial of “Zen oil” or some aromatherapy thing from Zivio as well. It smells nice and has the effect of Tiger Balm. I used it all this week on my forearms in the spot up near your elbow that hurts when you type too much. Why aromatherapy-tiger-balm with the headset? NO IDEA!

My 10 year old friend who cruised the sponsor rooms got a free Didj, which is sort of the next generation Leapster gadget for older kids.

didj

“Stick with me, kid,” I whispered. “Cute kid plus wheelchair, poster child city, they can’t resist, we’re going to own the world.” She laughed in outrage… but took the free stuff.

The whole conference I was sending people off to the secretly good tables to get the best free stuff. “Flash drive bracelets at the PBS table” I’d mutter. All the mom bloggers would be off like a shot. I was left holding my coffee talking to thin air. Oh man. We love the free geeky stuff.

Now, the down side of this whole bloggers-get-free-stuff shtick is the utter crap. Mostly that is books. I don’t know why! I love books! I love really good books. Why are there so many bad ones? Bad ones in my mailbox? It’s a mystery… Come on now. Keep nasty booksss, send awesome gadgets. I will put stickers and EL wire all over these free gadgets ONLY IF THEY DON’T SUCK and pose for photos licking all the free cameras and computers you care to fling in my direction.

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