Talking at ETech this Thursday: DIY for People with Disabilities

I’m going to be speaking at ETech in a couple of days about technology, culture, and disability/access invention. I’m all fizzy with enthusiasm and can’t wait to give the talk and see what people about afterwards!


ETech Conference 2009

If you’re curious, Here’s the talk description, and I’ll put slides up on Thursday or Friday.

Wheelchairs aren’t any more complicated than bicycles, but they cost a ridiculous amount of money. They shouldn’t. Neither should other simple accessibility and mobility equipment. In the U.S., people with disabilities who need adaptive devices depend on donations, charitable agencies, insurance, and a corrupt multi-billion dollar industry that profits from limiting access to information.

With a cultural shift to a hardware DIY movement and the spread of open source hardware designs, millions of people could have global access to equipment design, so that people with disabilities, their families, and their allies can build equipment themselves, and have the information they need to maintain and repair their own stuff.

Since we can’t all do it ourselves or weld our own chairs, we also should encourage a different mindset for the industry. You can’t stand up all day at your desk, but you don’t need a doctor to prescribe you a $6000 office chair. A consumer model rather than a medical and charity model for mobility aids would treat wheelchairs simply as things that we use to help us get around, like cars, bikes, or strollers.

Small assistive devices such as reacher/grabbers, page turners and book holders, grip extenders, can be made with bits of rubber tubing, PVC pipe, and tools as simple as box cutters and duct tape. Rather than obsess over impossible levels of healthiness and longevity, we need to change people’s expectations of how they will deal with changing physical limitations. Popularizing simple designs, and a DIY attitude for mobility and accessibility gear, will encourage a culture of invention that will be especially helpful to people as they age.

This will be my first O’Reilly conference. No, wait, it won’t, I went to a huge impersonal scary Perl conference in about 1998, as a somewhat lonely programmer and the founder of Orange County Perl Mongers. But that’s another story. What I want to say here is, I really liked the O’Reilly conference registration site. It let me make my own profile and control it, rather than emailing a bio and info 12 months ahead of time. It lets me see all the other speakers and attendees, which is hugely important for me so that I can picture where I’m going to, how comfortable or hostile an environment it will be, whether I know *anyone* else there, how my talk will fit in with other talks, and so on; it helps to emphasize that people are the map. There are even social network features so that I am coming into the conference “friended” with a bunch of people and able to message back and forth with them. It is all very slick and very useful to me.

A conference is a social event. It makes sense to build social media around it.

Related posts:

She’s Geeky – Show and Tell Your Dev Env session

We had a session to talk about what tools, languages, and platforms we use for software and web development.

She's Geeky

I started off by trying to list all the tools I use for work for development. Then other people stood up one by one to add their tools to the list on the whiteboard. Lots of people had questions. Our group ranged from people who have been developers for decades to people who had been programmers, but left the field and come back again, to people who weren’t sure if they were developers at all because they do web stuff.

I felt like something came together at the end when someone said that she was leaving a huge company with the budget to buy development tools and was now going to work for a startup, so she came to She’s Geeky to figure out what free and open source tools were out there for her to use. I forgot to mention SCALE and OSCON, but I should have.

There was a core of people using unix/linux and (oddly?) Mac but unix-centric. There were some Windows folks but was unclear

Version control: People were interested in svn clients and in github. No one currently used CVS and almost no one had heard of mercurial.

Here is the giant, unorganized list of tools mentioned.

unix / linux
macos
terminal
quicksilver
xcode
ichat vnc screen
bash
vim
svn
git (github is nifty)
cvs
php
perl
python
drupal
sourceforge
github
durpal
mamp
firebug
command line…
textwrangler
textmate
clearcase
perforce version control
ruby
rails for web framework / merb
apache with passenger – for deploying rails apps locally
mongrel server to run web apps and it’s really easy. (use with rails) ruby gem
webbrick rails thing – use to be built in rails server now it’s mongrel
what is a ruby gem install?
rspec
selenium – browser based scripting
watir – testing tool – ruby
“Everything I know is ruby, I’ve tried to forget my Java life”
eclips intellij
bbedit / textmate
textmate has plugins
php, ruby, html/ css/javascript
Firebug. I love firebug. i am dead in the water without it.
firebug lite you can use on non firefox browsers.
We need a whole session on firefox plugins
Yslow, pixelperfect, firebug, web developer toolbar
enthusiastic recs for pixelperfect.
ADBLOCK!!
Melanie explains history of Yslow.
(Firefox accessibility checker, can’t remember its name)
subversion client: beanstalk
Versions – mac svn client!
Tortoise – windows svn client beautiful interface that makes sense.
frameworks: jquery uses css format for javascript and it is awesome
Django (python)
Apptana. IDE. mixed feelings. baby aspirin flavor of eclipse. painful horribly slow but love the real time syntax checker
vmware fusion. really cool for multiple dev for mac. it can be a little slow. My mac is 2GHz processor 2GB memory but it’s almost not enough any more to run the VM
Amazon ec2
Apache comes with your Mac, just turn it on in the preferences.
phpmyadmin
jslint. douglas crawford’s book Javascript: the good parts (unison from room)
he wrote jslint, javascript interpreter.
Wireshark – monitor your network
adobe cs3 design packages, fun! flash dev. get student discount. adobe 4 is out!
instant rails for windows.
hivelogic.com help installing mysql on a mac.
IRC: use irc for the tool/language. Colloquy – good irc client for Mac (no one used it on Windows)
basecamp, campfire. Propane.
Scrummy – open source good for task tracking, agile
pivotal tracker – a useful communication tool. tracking stories. move through dev cycle. it’s free.
Drupal firefox plugin!!! must have this! helps with debugging!
Kindle – good for tech manuals
The Public Library. good for tech manuals too.
westciv stylemaster css editor westciv.com
coda panic software Transmit ftp client. integrated web dev env called Coda which is really fascinating.
Apple trainers doing technical mac os books. they use subetha edit.
omnigraffle mindmeister
different open apis that are super useful.
cpan, darwinports, apt-get, easyinstall, etc etc

People:
* Desi Mcadam – ruby, ruby on rails, web based applications, spotus, hashracket , consultant. florida. Devchix!
* Karen Mcadams – Freelancer. Likes to work for non profits.
* Jenny Greenwood – jobs dev drupal software engineer C, C++, assembly. out of developtment for 8 or 9 years. teaching self CMSes and drupal and css and php
* Margaret rosas – quiddities , santa cruz – doing drupal. knight foundation. drupal radio. Radio Engage. local public radio station she built Santa Cruz Geeks site. met heathervescent and started doing santa cruz geek dinners.
* becca (berkeleybecca) peachpit press. what software tools we have energy around. ones we just love. she is lurking here to find out what we love. she is proud of coding her personal web site and taught herself css.
* Laura – – front end middle end web dev for 10 years. not working now, volunteering to do web sites. does bazarre bizarre. javascript, java, html css.
* nabil project manager. security. peeve of security. personal information in web sites! finds out horrible details! company is hiring, little consultancy, sf, biz process mgmt development, hiring microsoft engineer, a software developer. elegrity. elegant + integrity.
* Amie Forest – Quiddities
* Terri Train IT manager. web dev typing in html javascript by hand, dreamweaver, i like it by hand better elegant code. lotus domino. not free. good quick app development tool for doing all sorts of workflow , web forms, apps on the web. switching to a new company, come to this come to new company with fresh ideas, won’t have money to buy expensive tools, looking for free ware now.
* melanie archer – front end web developer javascript css freelancer.

I was taking notes very fast and might have left out people or crucial details – please correct me in comments (or email!)

A lot of us also agreed it would be nice to put up a board to match up people who use various of these tools or platforms or languages, so that we can have an IM buddy, where it might be easier to ask questions rather than go on IRC. I do try to nerve myself to ask stuff on IRC … and thank you to anyone on php-women and drupal-support who helped me out 😎 I found that pretty quickly I was able to be helpful to random other people in drupal-support, which made me feel easier in my mind about asking my own questions.

Thank you everybody! I got a lot of good tips from this session and also a nice sense of not being alone in trying to get a handle on the amorphous beast that is a development environment.

We agreed that we could pick any of these tools or concepts and do an entire sesson on it that is more in depth and hands on. general agreement that we need a Firefox plugins for developers session, asap.

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She’s Geeky conference this weekend in Mountain View

This Friday and Saturday I’m going to the She’s Geeky conference at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Take a look at the proposed topics and at the list of women coming to the conference! It was a great conference last year – really a blast.

She's Geeky conference

Thursday night there is a big She’s Geeky dinner get-together at Ming’s in Palo Alto, and I’ll be at that too along with my sister Minnie from Thank You For Not Being Perky, who has been a web developer for about as long as it’s possible to have been a web developer, and who also blogs for Indie Crafts Gossip and makes the most amazing spats ever.

I have a bunch of possible things I could speak on. I’d like to hear and talk about WordPress, php, Drupal, developing on a Mac, Ubuntu, and of course am always happy to talk about all the other things I generally end up talking about: blogging and general Web 2.0 stuff, social media, women, mom bloggers, feminism, anti-racism, disability rights and access, and science fiction and fantasy.

Mostly I’m hoping to meet other women who like programming. No genius hackers required. I am a little more low-key than that. I would not mind showing off my newfound stupid awk tricks, or how I am pretty good at coaxing information out of the del.icio.us api these days.

Likely I will spend some time teaching people stuff they want to know, sort of at random, or fixing their blog templates, because it makes me happy and I feel very popular when I treat my ability to do tech support as feminist activism…

Last year’s She’s Geeky conference in Mountain View was fantastic! I met so many people from the Systers mailing list and in general felt super inspired to be at a women-only geek conference!

Here’s some other conferencey stuff coming up for me this spring and summer. It’s a lot of events!

SuperHappyDevHouse

Not a conference, just a hangout. But really great! SuperHappyDevHouse30 is coming up Jan. 31 in Menlo Park. I always have a good time at these! I almost never know anyone there, and there’s usually like 1% women, but people are very friendly and I’m convinced this could be a great place to have regular geek girl meetups. It’s usually at an actual house, so I’m curious to see what the feel is like when it’s at Sun.

Potlatch!
At the end of February, in Sunnyvale, I’ll be at Potlatch, a small, bookish science fiction con that has Books of Honor instead of Guests of Honor. I’ll be on a panel about a book by John M. Ford, Growing Up Weightless. The other book of honor is Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home. The con has only one programming track and is full of Bay Area, Portland, and Seattle sf geeks, intersecting fairly heavily with the WisCon (feminist science fiction) folks. L. Timmel Duchamp will be there, and Vonda N. McIntyre, and Ursula K. Le Guin, and a lot of other fantastic writers and readers.

ETech!
I’m speaking at ETech in early March on “DIY for PWD: Do it Yourself for People with Disabilities“.

With a cultural shift to a hardware DIY movement and the spread of open source hardware designs, millions of people could have global access to equipment design, so that people with disabilities, their families, and their allies can build equipment themselves, and have the information they need to maintain and repair their own stuff.

SXSWi!

I’m speaking at SXSWi in a “core conversation” about Open source and disability access!

Sex:Tech

And then at Sex:Tech about sex information and disability online, with Jen Cole from GimpGirl!

WoolfCamp!

Just recently Grace Davis emailed to say she’s thinking of holding another WoolfCamp, possibly at her house in Santa Cruz in April! I’ll keep you all posted.

woolf camp

WisCon!
The BEST. WisCon is the world’s largest feminist science fiction convention! End of May, in Madison, Wisconsin. The book I’m editing is about last year’s WisCon!

BlogHer – Geek Lab!

I’m helping to organize BlogHer’s Geek Lab, which will happen in July in Chicago alongside the regular conference. We’re going to have two presentation areas separated or curtained off, with projectors and seating for about 30 people; one for beginning topics and the other for intermediate/advanced. Slots for talks will be 30 minutes, with 15 minute breaks. The idea is that people can present on a topic and then commit to hang out for an hour afterwards to go in depth, at the area with tables in between the presentation corners. These “office hours” can go on while other people might just be using the space as a place to hang out with their laptops or get together to share information.

Related posts:

SCALE conference: Women in Open Source

I heard about this conference, the Southern California Linux Expo, only because they have a Women in Open Source track. It showed up on my Google Alerts and on several of my mailing lists. Here’s their call for proposals to give talks.

Since I’ve never been to the conference I wondered what kind of talks they’ve had in the past. How can I know what to propose, otherwise? Or if what I might talk about would be useful (or hard core enough) to their participants?

I went looking to see what the past Women in Open Source tracks were like. Here’s the schedule for SCALE 2008, with links to the talks and participants. I would have gone to the Education panel, the long spam-fighting talk, community manager talk, open source mentoring talk, Building Websites with Drupal, and the women in open source panel discussion. The 2008 BOF schedule was posted too. I might have liked the EC2 and the MySQL groups! In 2007, there was a Women in Open Source mini-conference or track.

It is not so much that the topics are different in the years before there was a Women in Open sorce focus, but the fact they have bothered to take steps to show women’s participation makes me feel much more certain the conference will be interesting and I won’t feel out of place.

It’s nice to see someone doing it right.

If you miss OSCON because you’ll be at BlogHer in July, this looks like a good conference to go to!

Related posts:

Potlatch sf convention’s Books of Honor

Potlatch, a small, book-focused science fiction convention, wanders up and down the West Coast of the U.S. Every year that I’ve been to it, it has a Book of Honor instead of a Guest of Honor. There is only one event track, so everyone goes to the same big panel discussions or talks.

This year there are two Books of Honor: Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin, and Growing Up Weightless by John M. Ford.

Here’s my Thoughts on Always Coming Home a few days after reading it. In the comments thread, many people threw some great analysis into the mix. Here is a good entry point, from oyceter, to the many cultural appropriation discussions that caught fire a couple of years ago in (feminist) science fiction communities, discussions and posts of endless depth and beauty.

In Always Coming Home, I appreciated the ways that Le Guin told stories about war. The smaller scale war was almost, well, consensual, between the two sides and the individuals who fought in its battle. Yet its buildup, and the conditions that brought it about, the small group or cult of warriors, had the tragic inevitable-yet-still-maybe-stoppable feel that I get from Icelandic sagas. The best bit were the discussions the Valley people had after the war. They were good and complicated.

Here are my rough notes on Growing Up Weightless:

Growing Up Weightless is good – dense – circular – I mean it seems best to read circularly in order to get the depth of it. really unusual & haunting. The scene with Avakian the old designer, as good or better as any similar weirding propheticism from Gene Wolfe – Oh maybe a little evocative of Hathor’s damaged speeches about the sails – The larping teenagers and their raw naive gestalt (reminding me of that story of the children raised in the floating sargasso sea-cities ) So aware of each other but not knowing how to talk to each other’s depths other than in game space and not even then. The idea – so floaty & soap bubble – of kids raised in the sort of way i imagined as the utopian future, kids bopping around, running as a team, learning stuff, doing projects, join a theater company, invent a microchip – incomprehensible cluster of age-mates, like twins-speech – And their utopian angst – always watched, always eluding – with even cleverer parents – What would they do? What would they learn? What is the plot in that sort of micro-utopia even if it’s just the utopia of a sensible education system and children with a decent set of human rights? The weird failed delicacy of the parents and of their own relationship – all very weightless itself – the composing scenes and the composer sleepign and waking as if full of music or light and noticing a hair from his busy partner’s head on the pillow. so I enjoyed the poetry. The light & shadow – and the dragons. The girls of the bunch, the kid’s mom too, significant and with their own agency clear – their own thoughts, dreams, burn with ambitions, on the cusp of decisions, thinking things they hardly dare hope, no one is overdetermined; beautifully. It’s a plot that achieves being poetic. I am extremely unbored. Will re-read while taking notes for the linear thinking bits of us all, because it does need notes and lines and character lists and some explaining.

Well, I really look forward to Potlatch! It’s like a crazy all day marathon grad school seminar, where a hundred people have actually done the reading, the extra homework, weird special projects, and have years of deep background into the subject.

You might not know that if you aren’t “in fandom”; but I am here to tell you that science fiction conventions, like LiveJournal discussions, are often dismissed by mainstreams and academics who would be *astonished* at the education available, the thoughtful conversations, the deep interest, and the process going on 24/7, in those places.

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Every day is Men’s Day

At BlogHer, when Jocelyn Harmon from Marketing for Nonprofits stood up during the keynote panel to ask Carol Jenkins how we can make stories, and news, and politics, more complicated around race, gender, and class, there were women cheering all over the room.

BlogHer DC BlogHer DC

Now, we didn’t get deep into that subject but I also didn’t hear what usually happens when you say that in a room full of white folks, which is someone stands up and goes “But shouldn’t we all just be colorblind? I don’t see race.” (If you are thinking “what’s wrong with that?” you can start at Angry Black Woman’s post, Things you need to understand #5: Color Blindness.) So I was really, really happy that at BlogHer, we could raise the issue without an immediate defensive racist backlash. Instead a somewhat diverse room full of women *listened* to two women of color talk with each other about the difficulties of everyday racism in media. About not wanting to have to choose a side, or choose an identity. That was a good moment!

Then at the cocktail party I was sitting across from this dude. And hey, it’s a cocktail party and we’re all drinking Cosmos and talking smack. I believe I was outlining a new world order in which we would all get to take turns having sex with Jon Stewart. (Would he satirize the sex during the sex? Or wait till after?) But we were also talking about the rise of mom blogging, the way we love it that people mix up their “topics” and blog about their lives and eclectic interests AND politics. That in the mainstream media story, you are a soccer mom or whatever, and that’s that. But in our world in the blogosphere, we know, more and more, that we have many roles in life. We’re moms or daughters or sisters or knitters or we love to shop for shoes or talk about marketing, but we ALSO have valid political opinions. We are black or white or Latina or Jewish or multiracial, AND we are women, AND we have all these interests and roles and jobs and experiences. In our world, we acknowledge the multifacted nature of ourselves and of all the people we might meet. For me, I don’t even sit across from another middle aged lady on the bus without assuming they have a complicated identity. Sometimes I like to imagine the blog-identity, the internal world and speaking voice, of all the people but especially the women, around me in daily life.

In this middle of this conversation, our intrepid BlogHim, one of the 5 guys at a conference of 300 women, got me all prickled up. He wanted to question the mere fact of having a BlogHer conference, a tech conference meant for women. He warned us he was about to be non-politically correct, in other words, he wanted to try to piss us off. “So, ladies, what about the men? And what about the white men? What I’m saying here is that I can’t be hiring someone and say to my managers, “I really want to hire this white man because he brings a unique and diverse perspective to our product group.” I can’t say that. And that’s just not fair.” There was a sort of pause around the table as we all assessed our level of ability to Deal with this asshattery in the moment, pushing our Cosmotinis out of mind and whipping up some serious coherence, without causing a Scene. I understood that the guy was just trying to get a rise. He was trolling us. And he was doing it with a layer of faux irony and friendliness, so getting mad in response was socially difficult. Yet it was such a stunning example of male privilege and white privilege that I can’t let it pass.

So, I told Mr. What-About-The-Menz a brief story. Here it is.

When I was a kid, about 10 or 11 probably, I remember asking my mom, “There’s Mothers’ Day, and Fathers’ Day, and even Grandparents’ Day. How come there’s no Kids’ Day? It’s not fair!” My mom shot me a really dirty go-to-hell-you-idiot look and went, “EVERY DAY IS KIDS’ DAY.”

Here is the bit of the story I didn’t mention:

I remember suddenly getting what my mom meant, and thinking about everything she did for me and my sister, and how her life basically revolved around listening to us, playing with us, taking care of us, feeding us, supporting us and planning for our future, getting us to school, taking us to the library and piano lessons; our comfort and well-being. A hot flush of shame came over me as I thought about how all the things that were done for me, I was not really appreciating, but took for granted. Like, that wasn’t enough? I want a tiara and a pony too on top of it? Ouch. My mom’s moment of sarcasm and snark was a good educational moment for me. I GOT IT.

I think that telling the first part of that story was an okay response. It quickly made my point which is that he is blind to his everyday white male privilege.

And as described very well in the article I linked to above on male privilege — the instant that men are not the center of attention and the norm, they feel like it’s an *attack*.

The other thing I did was not look at the guy. I continued with all my body language to focus on my sister bloggers at the table. And that helped us to shift the conversation off of the guy, and back onto what we wanted to talk about. Doing this was a conscious effort. I recommend it highly for those moments when your conversation with a group of women is hijacked by a braying jackass who assumes that women owe him every second of their respect and attention. Pay attention to the women. Pay attention to the women in the microcosm of conversation, and in the bigger picture of the blogosphere.

Then, a bunch of us told the guy that he was really lucky to be in a context where he got to experience not being the default normal. He gets to hear conversations and interactions he wouldn’t hear otherwise. What do techy, writerly, blogging women talk about when they’re framing the conversation themselves and not being told what’s important by an array of expert men? What’s it like to be at a tech conference where you’re one of 5 of your gender there, and it’s very noticeable? That’s a rare experience for guys in social media. A bunch of us said that. With a helpful smile.

In short, a table full of women told him, very politely and obliquely, to shut up and listen. If only for one day. I don’t think he got it.

As is so often true, I saw a bunch of women soft-pedal their responses to a guy. And then immediately afterwards (and in fact a day later over IM with others) they all went “OMG, what a jackass.” Again, I felt sorry for guys who are that way, because they don’t have any reality check. I’m calling out the behavior, and point it out, not to be mean to this one dude. In fact, I give him credit for coming to a women’s conference and giving it a shot. I don’t expect him to learn and process every bit of it at once. On the other hand, I can’t let those kinds of statement pass without a mention.

I had no wish to get into a giant discussion of the idea of affirmative action at that moment. But I could do it on this blog.

What would you have said to him “in the moment”? What would you say now, online, with time to think it over and express yourself clearly, to a guy who described his wish to hire white men for their diverse perspective?

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!

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Call for submissions: WisCon Chronicles, volume 3

Call for Ideas and Contributions
WisCon Chronicles Volume 3 – WisCon 32

Were you at WisCon 32 in 2008? Aqueduct Press would love to hear from you with ideas and materials for Volume 3 of The WisCon Chronicles.

ANY panel, event, or paper you’d like to write about is fine.

Here are a few that we’ve noticed people talking about:

* Maureen McHugh and L. Timmel Duchamp’s Guest of Honor readings and speeches
* Women and Hard SF
* Elves and Dwarves: The Racism Inherent in Fantasy
* Fanfic and Slash 201
* The Battlestar Galactica panel
* The Eclipse One Cover Debate
* Not Just Japan: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy
* Writing Working-Class Characters

We’d also like to see writeups of your hallway conversations: What fantastic discussions did you have in the interstices? In the hallway, in the lobby? At parties, at dinner, in your room, or online?

If you were at WisCon and would like to participate — to offer ideas or to submit an essay — please get in touch with us. Don’t be shy.

If you were blown away by a WisCon panel that we haven’t mentioned and would like to see its ideas expanded upon in The WisCon Chronicles, Volume 3, please let us know. Tell us the name of the panel, which participants (including audience members) most engaged you, and what was valuable to you about the discussion. What was thought-provoking, inspiring, enraging, hilarious, worthy of deeper discussion? If you’re interested in writing an essay on the topic or contributing to the book in some other way, let us know.

Please query before writing an article. If you want to submit an article or essay, please email a query or proposal by September 15, 2008. (The earlier the better.) The deadline for the submission of finished essays will be October 15, 2008. Text in the body of the email is preferred, or rich text format (.rtf) files as attachments. We’re looking for essays of 800-3000 words. If your submission is published, you will receive a small payment and a copy of the book.

Feel free to forward this call for submissions!

Thanks,
Liz Henry
email ideas and submissions to: liz@bookmaniac.net

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Butch as hell sys admin hacker women who will kick your ass

From a few completely different sources I have heard of nascent conferences to train women how to talk at tech conferences. From everything I have seen, women know perfectly well how to talk at technical and computing and web 2.0 conferences. But I still see posts like Stowe Boyd’s in puzzlement asking “Where are the women speakers?”

I would like to offer myself as a resource for tech conference organizers who can’t figure out how to find “the most qualified” women speakers on particular topics. Ask, and I will help to hook you up. If you find a speaker you are happy with based on my recommendations, then pay me per successful connection. I propose as well that if you usually lean on the few geeky women you know to diversify your conferences, pay them in the same way.

So, back to that issue of speaker training. Great idea, valuable service. I’d like to question the idea that women don’t know how to speak at conferences. Wait, I thought we were the communicators, the ones with the social skills, the teachers and professors, used to being heard by an audience. It’s not just about women who don’t know how to present themselves – it’s also about people who are so complacent in their own circles that they don’t know how to listen to the qualifications and capabilities of amazing women.

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