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:

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.

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:

Reading in Seattle this Friday, Apr 25


Liz Reading at Queer Open Mic
Originally uploaded by Liz.

I am road tripping up to Seattle this week! If you are there please come see me at this event ! I would love to see you all and would love the support. April 25, 8pm, Annex Theatre, 1100 East Pike Street.

You will hear me say the word “Lezzie” in a Texas accent. Also, I promise to wear leather pants. There will be bubbling, and silliness, and insane talk of poems and roadside geology and the roots of the Klamath Mountains. I will pop a wheelie for you and you may pat me on the head and tell me I am brave (JUST KIDDING about the patting).

I will not have my child with me, but you can bring yours, as long as you keep them out of the bar area and don’t mind them hearing some intense stories of playground bullies and maybe some cussing, plus you realize my story is about being queer, queer, queer. All the stories are AMAZING and are written about elementary school and early middle school experiences & with that audience in mind!

Get info & buy tickets here: Can I Sit W/You reading

Tickets are priced at $5 and $12, which means you can choose how much to donate. Money all goes to my hometown Special Ed PTA.

Related posts:

Hacktastic Wiki Wednesdays coming up

I’ve been organizing Wiki Wednesdays for 7 months now! It’s really fun.

We’re meeting in Palo Alto this month, in fact, tomorrow night, and as we have several Socialtext developers here from out of town, they’ll be our featured speakers. The always entertaining Ingy döt Net will be talking about his new love of Javascript and his “Stax” hacks for Socialtext. Melissa Ness, our product manager, designer, and cat herder, will be speaking about wiki UI design. Fantastic Perl and wiki fiends Casey West and Kevin Jones will also speak up about their work and wiki projects in development.

Meanwhile, the pre-party continues to happen at my house tonight with dinner and drinks and hot tubbing. Ingy and our other co-worker Lyssa had to lift me in and out of the hot tub last night and then they hung out in bed with me while I blogged and they hacked. We egged Ingy and fed him whiskey on as he started putting all his Javascript hacks into their own Socialtext workspace on our server, and then transcluding them across different wikis. Um! Does that count as work time?

So you see that this month’s Wiki Wednesday will be especially awesome. We have that team synergy thing going.

Or did I scare you?

Do show up, tomorrow night, at Socialtext’s co-working office in Palo Alto, 695 High Street, 6:30pm. If you want to give a lightning talk or demo, let me know.

In other wiki event news:

Wikipedia meetup for November
There will be a Wikimedia meetup in San Francisco, Saturday, Nov. 10. I hear there will be Special Out of Town Guests. Details are still evolving here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Meetup/San_Francisco_4

December Wiki Wednesday
Next month, December 5th, our Wiki Wednesday speakers will be Philip Neustrom and Arlen Abraham, WikiSpot and DavisWiki developers.

RCC 2008
Recent Changes Camp 2008 organizing has not kicked off yet, but I believe it will be in San Francisco or in the Bay Area, March 2008.

Wikimedia moving to SF
I am super happy that Wikimedia Foundation is moving to San Francisco. That will really boost our already fantastic wiki community here in the Bay Area.

***

And a final thought about events and gender.

In conversation with Sarah Dopp about BlogWorldExpo, I thought over my own track record as an organizer. Out of 11 speakers for Wiki Wednesday, I would like to point out that the gender ratio is nearly even, at 7 men and 5 women. It’s not like that took special effort, honestly.

I also consider that I have done a decent job of being even-handed and community-minded, promoting Wiki Ohana across many different wiki companies and communities, inviting speakers and participants from Blue Oxen, WikiHow, Twiki, PBwiki, Confluence, Wiktionary, WikiSpot, and Wikipedia, as well as researchers and academics from Stanford, Northwestern, and Xerox PARC. In fact, this is the first month I have had speakers or even demos from Socialtext. I have to say, I’m happy to work for a company that sponsors me to do this as part of my job, without requiring me to do any sort of special marketing or promotion.

Related posts:

Wiki Wednesday tonight, KQED’s Quest science education wiki/mashup

I’m hosting Wiki Wednesday tonight in San Francisco at Citizen Space, at 6:30pm. Please come tonight! You can sign up on upcoming, or on the wiki page itself. My friend Craig Rosa will be speaking along with two colleagues from KQED’s Quest science education program, Lauren Sommer and AJ Alfieri-Crispin. The TV show, radio program, and web pages are all tied together; you can go on one of their explorations in the San Francisco Bay Area, and use GPS and Flickr to contribute to the site. I’m very curious to hear how wikis have made their job easier!

There will be pizza and beer, and probably a lively discussion after the talk. Our events are often pretty small, around 10-20 people. This one might be bigger.

This will be the 6th Wiki Wednesday I’ve run, and I’m really having fun with it! Thanks very much to Betsy Megas, Eugene Eric Kim, Brian Pendleton, Eszter Hargittai, Yoz Grahame, and Rashmi Sinha for coming to give such excellent talks and leading our discussions so far this year.

Meanwhile, I’m gearing up for a trip to Beijing, and for the She’s Geeky unconference on Oct. 22-23 in Mountain View at the Computer History Museum. I’ll blog more about both those things later this week!

Technorati Tags: ,

Related posts:

Better Firefox, and a free makeover

I’m still halfway with a toe in poet-y land where everything is made of words and reality is very thin. It’s like swimming around in beautiful chaos! I love getting into that state of mind.

At the same time I’m messing about with techie things and it’s been a sort of cleanup week for me, as if it’s even more important for me to establish Order in the midst of my poety chaos.

I got fed up with my 8000+ emails in my Thunderbird inbox. I switched from using Pine about a year ago. And don’t get me started on how hard it was to get me even to the Pine level. I was very conservative and grumpy about it! Dammit, mm was good enough for me in 1989 and it was good enough for me in 1999! Anyway, my Thunderbird filters stopped working, and my inbox got goddamned huge. At times it has hit 20K. Finally, I gave up. I moved everything to a totally lame “2007 Inbox” folder. Voila! I’m at 0! As new flows in, I’ll construct new filters. And if I feel especially virtuous, I’ll go bulldozing through those 8000 old-inbox messages and put them away in logical places.

Search in Thunderbird still gives me hives. It starts searching the earliest emails first, and since I imported everything since 2003, holy hell it takes a long time to find the thing I filed away somewhere last month! Chug chug chug twiddle twiddle… sigh…

Still, it’s been pretty decent so far. I’m happy with it, though still wondering if I would be better off sending everything first to Gmail and then forwarding it on. Then I’d have it all two places without having to deal with IMAP.

My sister passed me a link today to some mozilla forum discussion about a bug with Firefox, Flash, and Ajax. Yeah I had KIND OF NOTICED. Ready to throw my computer out the window over here if it hangs one more time while I’m surfing around, hanging and chugging up my CPU without rhyme or reason. The links were all to PC/Ajax bug discussions, but here I am running FF with “Activity Monitor” up, because running top in a term window just makes the cpu usage problem worse, but with Activity Monitor I can sometimes kill Firefox before my whole machine crashes and I have to hard restart.

A few poking-around searches and I got to this repository of Firefox builds including ones for Intel Macs. So far I haven’t crashed today… huzzah. What will happen? Will it delight my heart? Will it bear all the weight I pile upon its back?

I’ve been using Desktop Manager (inspired by Skud). With this I can set up many different desktops and rotate between them, which is perfect! It’s rad! It’s not totally reliable but that doesn’t matter. I miss my old techie jobs where I would have 3 machines; a Mac, a PC, and an old Sun server. It felt like having a fabulous command center to swivel about and have all different junk set up on each computer. Plus on the Sun I’d have XWindow and 4 different desktops where I did all the real work. Anyway, now I have one small laptop, plus Desktop Manager. It’s nifty. At first I was mildly annoyed that I couldn’t get “move this window to Desktop 3” to work. Then I figured out I could just minimize it, go to 3 with a keystroke, and re open those windows with Quicksilver, which is relatively painless — I can train my hands to do it, like playing the piano. Mousing and trackpads suck because you can’t get that finger memory really working.

Mmmmm, Quicksilver. It haunts me. I am only scratching the surface of its beautifulness. It makes me so happy. It’s elegant! It feels like a powerful beast waiting to be tamed and taught tricks! So far I only really use it to switch and open apps. But, if I wanted to make some more nifty productivity stuff, Quicksilver is probably where I’d start. Danny babbled a bit to me about writing Applescripts to do various things. Applescript has never appealed to me. Maybe.

Meanwhile, at work yesterday Pete showed me YubNub so I’m in command line/ keystroke heaven. Now I can command-K up to the toolbar and I’ve got a bazillion useful shortcuts predefined.

You’d think that’s enough new stuff. But I have all these nagging projects. I spent some time at 7am this morning dicking around with me and Laura‘s Mediawiki install which has had annoying blanking and nonsense-insertion vandal attacks lately. As I looked around on the net I came across an article by WikiAngela that made great sense. I agree, it is better to leave a wiki open to anonymous edits! Then I came across Bad Behavior, a blacklist/whitelist application that I could certainly use on some blogs as well. Finally I ended up reading an incredibly useful article, Blocking Spam in Mediawiki. I did a bunch of it while Laura and I knitted our brows over permissions and group problems on the server. (Note: ConfirmEdit.php has a bug which breaks when it gets urls with a trailing backslash.) Oh man! Thank you for that excellent, brief, practical guide. Even if I cracked up hysterically laughing at your Orgasmosocialism page… OMG. Somehow “destroying the patriarchal institution of marriage and monogamy” was left off this dude’s list of the utopia which eliminates all social and political barriers to “the development of intimate relationships between consenting parties”.

Then I spent most of the rest of the day actually working. No really! It’s not just that my coworkers might read this! Except for when I went out for pie and bacon and the Bad Ass Mama’s Coffee Hour! I can prove it because finally this is up on SourceForge. I need to wrassle the ginormous release notes and bug fixes into a more news-like blog post and announcement for email lists. But it is nice to have it more or less out there for consumption. Yesterday I was melting down at the thought that I was stuck. But actually it was very very almost done, and things were fine. Why always with the last minute tearing out of my hair. I wish I hadn’t spazzed about it! At least not in front of people.

I leave you with this final, snarky, juicy thought as a reward for reading all the way to the end of this post. On a wonderful mailing list that I love dearly that shall not be named there was a long serious thread about this article on a nerd auction. The Washington State University LUG is auctioning themselves off at a Nerd Auction, to sorority girls, offering to fix their computers in exchange for a makeover. I cannot wait for the video. My god. I mean I am going to buy a plane ticket and quickly join the WSULUG. A lightning-smart hot chick in a pink sweater will buy me, and I will fix her computer. I will totally impress her with Quicksilver and Yubnub. Then, the (mutual) makeover, with a lot of giggling. Hey! Why not just sleep over in the sorority house? Geek slumber party! They’ll all end up with funny colored hair and will start wearing Leatherman tools on their belts, while I’ll come out of it all dishevelled, with lipstick all over my shoulders and a kick ass pedicure. Screw you nerds I am stealin all ur wimminz…

And then afterwards when all the ditzy sorority girls naturally reject the pale weedy glasses-taped-together nerd boys, I will be around the next day to comfort them…so I’d get the action from repressed, desperate nerds too. What a great setup!

“You can buy a nerd and he’ll fix your computer, help you with stats homework, or if you’re really adventurous, take you to dinner!”

My actual answer to that is unprintable and many-leveled and includes a snarling declaration of the actual meaning of Adventure.

No, seriously. The whole idea is kind of funny and yet pisses me off big time. I love the comment from this WSU mom of a geek daughter:

Do a search on world of warcraft and you will be loaded with girls who have no idea that WSU has great computer science department with a sense of bizarre humor.
Hell, if you had had a booth showing your online programs (assuming) for the stuff she does (which I don’t do…like Maya, etc.,etc., she might take an interest in her mother’s old school. Or maybe you are all Alliance and not Horde. Or are you all waiting for Halo 3. She lives on Newegg and is building her latest and greatest computer as we speak and would never ever join a sorority.

What a taunt! Hahaha!

Seriously again, the auction PR stunt plays up the very stereotypes they are trying to fight. Another comment points out,

Seriously, people, you wonder why you need this much press to get a woman to come within 10 feet of your sorry selves? This brings back every sexist or otherwise slimy incident I experienced studying engineering. . .

I have to agree, although I love ridiculous fun and can see that this LUG thought it was playing with stereotypes, not playing them up. I wish them success in that goal. And, presuming human decency from the bulk of them, I understand the lure of the spectacle and of publicity and of a joke. However, the impression I get is also that as a woman I am expected by their department’s culture to laugh and go along with degrading stereotypes of my gender.

But, I hope that the end result is that the CS department asks women why they don’t enter or stick with CS as a major, and listens to the answers, and acts on that. Or, they could go read the many studies which address exactly that question. How about this one by Ellen Spertus, Why Are There So Few Female Computer Scientists? . How about reading She’s Such a Geek, a book of fabulous essays by geeky women, in which nearly every essay explains the barriers and annoyances we face. Or this paper by Tracy Camp, The Incredible Shrinking Pipeline. There are a zillion more.

Maybe if they paint the Computer Science Dept. building pink? That might help?

I wonder what they do to encourage racial minorities to enroll… “Nerds” fix your computer, and you teach them to… what? What race and stereotype spring to your mind? Think that event would happen? No? Then why is this one okay?

Despite everything I have ever experienced and said about geek culture and gender, here is the key. I still expect geeks to be better than this. My techno utopia has got some basic feminism in it and so do a lot of other people’s.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

Related posts:

Wiki Wednesday’s talk on Wiktionary and multilingual collaboration

crossposted from my blog at http://socialtext.com

September’s Bay Area Wiki Wednesday featured Betsy Megas, a mechanical engineer and Wiktionary administrator, known in the wikiverse as Dvortygirl. She’s a Wiki Wednesday regular and spoke at Wikimania 2006. In her talk, she gave us a ton of information on the history of Wiktionary, a tour of its interesting features, and thoughts on possible future directions for this worldwide, massively multilingual collaboration.

Betsy started by explaining the difference between Wikipedia and Wiktionary. Wikipedia’s goal is to capture all the knowledge in the world. Except for dictionary definitions! Wiktionary’s modest goal is to include all words in all languages. While an encyclopedia article is about a subject, a dictionary definition is about a word.

But what is a dictionary? Betsy went to a library to browse dictionary collections. Some dictionaries focus on types of words: cliches, law, saints, nonsexist language. Others center around types of content: rhymes, usage, etymology, visual information. Others are dictionaries of translation. Wiktionary, because it’s not paper, is searchable, unlimited by size; it can evolve; and it has strong ties to people who edit it, and to communities of its editors.

Wiktionary content includes audio pronunciations, definitions, etymologies, metadata such as a word’s frequency in English according to all the text on Project Gutenberg; pictures (such as this great photo illustrating the concept of “train wreck“); and videos attached to a word, for example, videos of how to express a word in American Sign Language. It also includes translations.

We went off on a few speculations to future directions for Wiktionary, Wikipedia, and perhaps the entire web. What if links knew why they were linked? For example, why is “Lima” linked to “Peru”? Betsy thinks that we are missing out on a lot of metadata that could be quite useful. And for Wiktionary specifically, what if we had categories that were structured around the functionality of a word, for example, its part of speech?

Betsy then went on to sketch out basic entry layout – which is different in different languages, but which for English is referred to as WT:ELE. She explains the problem of Wiktionary as “We have structured data, and no structure”. This is a problem and a feature of many wikis!

Wiktionary has many tools to help with the tension between structure and structurelessness. It heavily relies on entry templates, which fill a regular wikitext entry box with something like this:


==English==

===Noun===
{{en-noun}}

# {{substub}}

===References===
*Add verifiable references here to show where you found the word in use.

Other useful tools depend mostly on automated detection of problems, relying on human beings to do the cleanup by hand. For example, Connel MacKenzie wrote a bot to list potentially messed-up second level article headers, but a person checks each link by hand to do the gardening.

Structurelessness or being structure-light can be a problem for sensible reuse of Wiktionary content. Other dictionary projects such as Onelook and Ninjawords have used content from Wiktionary, but ran into difficulties with their imports. Is Wiktionary content reusable? Yes, but barely.

Somewhere in the mix, we also discussed WT:CFI (Criteria for Inclusion) and WT:RFV (Requests for Verification).

But then, the truly fascinating stuff about translation and multilingual collaboration. Words, or definitions, exist in many places. For example, we might have an English word defined in the English Wiktionary and the Spanish Wiccionario, and then a Spanish equivalent of that word also defined in both places. So, a single word (or definition, or lexeme) can potentially exist in a matrix of all the 2000+ languages which currently have Wiktionaries (or the 6000-7000+ known living languages) squared.

For a taste of how the Wiktionary community has dealt with that level of complexity, take a look at the English entry for the word “board“. About halfway down the page, there’s a section titled “Translations”, with javascript show/hide toggles off to the right hand side of the page. There are many meanings for the English word, including “piece of wood” and “committee”. If I show the translations for board meaning a piece of wood, many other languages are listed, with the word in that language as a link. The Dutch word for “piece of wood” is listed as “plank”, and if I click that word I get to the English Wiktionary’s entry for plank (which, so far, does not list itself as Dutch, but as English and Swedish.) I also noted that the noun form and the verb form of “board” have different sections to show the translations.

Ariel, another Wikipedia and Wiktionary editor and admin, showed us a bit of the guts of the translation template. The page looks like this:


[[{{{2}}}#|{{{2}}}]]

But the code behind it, which you can see if you click to edit the page, looks like this, all on one line (I have added artificial line breaks to protect the width of your browser window)}:


[[{{{2}}}#{{{{#if:{{{xs|}}}|t2|t-sect}}|{{{1|}}}|{{{xs|}}}}}|{{
#if:{{{sc|}}}|{{{{{sc}}}|{{{alt|{{{2}}}}}}}}|{{{alt|{{{2}}}}}}}}]]
 {{#ifeq:{{{1|}}}|{{#language:{{#switch:{{{1|}}}|
nan=zh-min-nan|yue=zh-yue|cmn=zh|{{{1|}}}}}}}||
[[:{{#switch:{{{1}}}|nan=zh-min-nan|yue=zh-yue|
cmn=zh|{{{1}}}}}:{{{2}}}|({{{1}}})]]
}}{{#if:{{{tr|}}}|&
nbsp;({{{tr}}})}}{{#switch:{{{3|}}}|f|m|mf|n|c|nm= {{{{{3}}}}}|
}}{{#switch:{{{4|}}}|s|p= {{{{{4}}}}}|}}

Fortunately, this template has a lovely Talk page which explains everything.

We all sat around marvelling at the extent of language, and the ambition of the multilingual Wiktionary projects. The scope of OmegaWiki was impressive. As Betsy and Ariel demonstrated its editing interface for structured multilingual data, I got a bit scared, though! Maybe a good future step for OmegaWiki contributions could be to build a friendlier editing UI on top of what sounds like a very nice and solid database structure.

We also took a brief tour of Wordreference.com and its forums, which Wordreference editors go through to update the content of its translation dictionaries.

I’m a literary translator, and publish mostly my English translations of Spanish poetry; so I’m a dictionary geek. In order to translate one poem, I might end up in the underbelly of Stanford library, poring over regional dictionaries from 1930s Argentina, as well as browsing online for clues to past and current usage of just a few words in that poem. Wiktionary is a translator’s dream — or will be, over time and as more people contribute. I noted as I surfed during Betsy’s talk that the Spanish Wiktionary has a core of only 15 or so die-hard contributors. So, with only a little bit of sustained effort, one person could make a substantial difference in a particular language.

The guy who is scanning the OED and who works for the Internet Archive talked about that as an interesting scanning problem. We told him that Kragen has also worked on a similar project. The IA guy, whose name I didn’t catch, described his goals of comparing his OCR version to the not-copy-protected first CD version of the second edition.

At some point, someone brought up ideas about structuring and web forms. I have forgotten the exact question, but Betsy’s answer was hilariously understated: “I think that the structure of languages is substantially more complex.”

Chris Dent brought up some interesting ideas as we closed out the evening. What is a wiki? When we talk about Wikipedia or Wiktionary or most other wiki software implementations, really we’re just talking about “the web”. And what he thinks wiki originally meant and still means is a particular kind of tight close collaboration. As I understand it, he was saying that possibly we overstate wiki-ness as “editability” when really the whole web is “editable”. I thought about this some more. We say we are “editing a page” but really we are creating a copy of the old one, swapping it to the same url, and making our changes. The old page still exists. So for the general web, we can’t click on a page to “edit” it, but we can make our own page and reference back to the “old” page, which is essentially the same thing as what most wiki software does; but at a different pace and with different tools and ease of entry/editing. So his point is that wiki-ness is about evolving collaborative narratives. I’m not really sure where to go with that idea, but it was cool to think about and I was inspired by the idea that the entire web, really, has a big button on it that says “Edit This Page”.

As is often the case, we had low attendance, but a great speaker and unusually good group discussion. I’m happy with only 10 people being there, if they’re the right people. And yet I feel that many people are missing out on this great event. Betsy’s going to give me her slides and an audio recording for this month, but next month I will try to get a videocamera and record the entire event. If any actual videobloggers would like to come and do the recording, I’d love it.

Also, tune in next week, or September 16, for the San Francisco Wikipedia/Mediawiki meetup!

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Related posts:

Organizing BarCampBlock

Here’s a few notes on my experience with planning BarCampBlock.

A few weeks beforehand we expected around 100-300 people. We had emails from around 5 different office locations in Palo Alto letting us know we could use the space. We could not block off the street because the permit process from the city was expensive, time consuming (requiring months of work and meetings). Also, some of us felt that blocking off the street was unnecessary or would not help us have more room for speakers and sessions. Two weeks before the event we started kicking into high gear. Chris was designing the gear for the event and ordering it, Tara was working to do the maps and signage and registration info packets, I was going physically to all our locations to talk with the BarCamp hosts about what the event would be like and what we would require. Ross, Chris, and Tara did the fundraising. Chris was extremely good at knowing everyone and knowing who to ask for what. Tara Anderson did a considerable amount of the shopping and equipment rental. Ross spread publicity far and wide and used his personal mojo to get people excited about the event. For promotion, I put the event on Facebook, Upcoming, and of course we all contributed to the wiki. But it was Ross, Chris, and Tara who had the social capital to pull a lot of people to the event, and then once a few Internet Famous people like Mike Arrington and Robert Scoble signed up on the wiki and blogged about it, we knew a ton of people would come. (Though I did promotion and outreach, my own social pull runs to more like 50 people, not in the hundreds; this was interesting to think about.) I also had a private wiki page with phone numbers and contact information for everyone involved with the planning; a large amount of people since we had increasing amounts of locations and volunteers. Gathering that information was a lot of work. Mostly, I thought ahead to what would be required to make a comfortable, useable, useful space for participants. And I thought about who would need to know what information to make that happen.

About this sort of logistics. As a military history buff I would say that it is a bit like being a general. You can look at a map, but nothing substitutes for going to a location, looking around, and envisioning crowds. What will they need? How will the landscape change with extra people in it? People need a constant supply of food and drink, and they generate a constant stream of rubbish. They need seats, surfaces, light, and shade. They need small private spaces and large gathering spaces. They need bathrooms and a lot of toilet paper. They need information; thus they need maps, signs, fliers, arrows and other geographical orientation tools. Though BarCamp and other unconferences and temporary implementations of anarchy are about the distribution of authority, people need to know who to go to for information or help. In a role playing game for example (another collaborative activity that is oddly relevant here) I am great at worldbuilding, at creating a feeling of solidity. For any discussion (as with a classroom) we need whiteboards or paper up on the walls, and projectors are nice; blank paper scattered about was also useful. Just as Sam Gamgee mutters constantly in Lord of the Rings about the usefulness of rope, I mutter about tape. Duct tape! Blue painters’ tape! Clear packing tape on giant rolls with metal teeth! It is great to have all kind of tape and just salt every space with it; I also carried several kinds of tape around with me in my backpack. With giant post-its, tape, and several kinds of marker, I was able to change the lay of the land when that was needed, with a minimum of fuss.

I loved how smoothly registration went, and the unloading of all the materials at the last minute. I also loved the wireless team, the guys from Meraki and Etheric and Griffon Walker who does IT and network for Socialtext, and Cliff who totally rocked but whose last name I did not know. So many people pitched in to help, and they worked incredibly hard. I really do love that feeling, which I often had at the big housing co-op I lived at for years. Burning Man has spread that idea very well among my generation. For me it comes from being a commune-loving freak at heart. I enjoy reading socialist poetry about the beauty of wheelbarrows, and I like to do hard satisfying work while other people are also working.

What did we do well?

– We provided good space and structure.
– We distributed power, authority, and responsibility.
– We didn’t micromanage or overstructure. There was a large amount of freedom and unstructured space and time.
– We encouraged people to have good habits of thinking for themselves and finding things out and stepping up to be active participants.
– We reached out to many people to invite them to the event.
– We brought many people into doing the work; volunteers!
– We listened to people, what they needed and wanted, and their priorities.
– We raised a large amount of money at the last minute; thanks, sponsors!
– We connected many creative, intelligent people who might not otherwise have gone to a tech conference and spoken to each other.

Volunteers on Saturday were incredible. I particularly want to thank Sarah Dopp and Hilary who works out of Citizen Space. Sarah is someone I knew I could rely on to do anything; given a sketchy description of a situation and a possible solution and pointers to tools, she takes charge, thinks through details, and gets everything done. Hilary headed up quite a lot of moving trash around; early in the day I pointed out we could put boxes of trash bags next to each trash can, and asked her to rope people into doing trash patrol every couple of hours, and to pass off that job to someone else once she got sick of it; it happened throughout the day like magic. Adina Levin and many more people asked what needed to be done and then just pitched in and did a ton of work. I appreciated their intelligence and hard work.

I was happy about a moment where there was a problem; we had mistakenly put the Searchspark conference rooms – three of them – onto the schedule in the afternoon, when their space needed to close at 2pm. But luckily, the Echosign and Riviera spaces were almost completely empty for the afternoon. So I sent people to put up signs at Searchspark, and told everyone around me to look at the names on that block of time for the schedule and find the people involved and tell them if possible; and then I moved the sticky notes from one block of space to the other and crossed out the original time slots. I made sure that sessions in rooms with projectors went into new rooms that had projectors. As far as I know, this caused only minor confusion and hassle, and the sessions went smoothly.

The inclusion of children. We might have more kids today; it was just 2 or 3 on Saturday. I like for children at a conference to be around and visible, not stashed away somewhere remote. It worked well to have a room full of unstructured creative toys & comic books. With more kids, we would need to pull in more volunteers and have a schedule. I think this is quite doable. Infants and toddlers are much more difficult and would need more space for there to be noise.

The vibe. The vibe was good. It was mellow and friendly and not snooty or cliquey. It wasn’t frantic. Instead I felt people were relaxed and curious, thinking and talking. That made me really happy!

Flexibility and adaptability were our main virtues as organizers. I think to situations I have been in, and events I’ve headed up. I can say that Chris and Tara are people I like to have at my back. They have lots of practical common sense as well as vision, and they work very hard when push comes to shove, which I respect a lot.

What could we have improved on?

– Less party focus. I was not in agreement about the usefulness and value of the Blue Chalk space for sessions and DemoCamp, and was dubious of the need for the party. During planning phase, I was a bit of a party pooper. I fought to make sure the main BarCamp rooms remained focused on talks and discussions sessions, not on social space and beer. On the other hand, serving beer outside in the courtyard would bring us into various difficulties I did not want to deal with. I would prefer for BarCamps to be BYOB. Big parties in a nightclub are so 1999 dot com boom. And, most geeks of the BarCamp type would prefer to sit around talking, with laptops at the ready, rather than being at a loud party with music. (See what I mean about my being a wet blanket for parties!) Ross likes a party, and Tara Anderson likes to organize a party, so we clashed somewhat on this.

– More advance planning. If we had done more logistic work and ordering of the schwag a few weeks before, it would have been cheaper. On the other hand, if we’d done it all a few weeks before, we would only have ordered 200 of everything rather than 500-100 of everything. So, our leaving things to the last minute may in this case have helped.

– Earlier setup. Since it is a somewhat nomadic conference and has to spring suddenly out of nowhere and disappear again, it has to happen fast. But, I would have liked to have more physical prep, and equipment and supplies, on the ground in our HQ, a few days earlier. Even one extra day of prep would have been good — I can’t physically pull an all-nighter, so have to plan work in advance; I think many people were up till 3am on Friday night doing the prep work. Yet even with out that advance time for setup, everything still got set up on time! And the event went smoothly on Saturday.

– Nailing down the details on the “camp” part of the evening. We didn’t organize this, and we didn’t know who, if anyone, was planning to sleep over in the Socialtext offices. A day or two before the event, I realized this, and tried to get a person to commit to stay and keep the office open at least late if not all night. But that person did not materialize; in retrospect I should have put out this call on the wiki as soon as I knew it might be a problem. Since I went home early, and did not hand off my office key, I don’t know what happened in the evening!

– Trash logistics. I worry that we did not do recycling very well, and that we could have done trash and recycling more responsibly, planning to haul it and dispose of it rather than filling up the dumpster space for our community, and possibly inconveniencing our neighbors.

– More advance notice to neighbors. I did flyers and email through the property management company and condo association for the residential neighbors on our block. But I thought of this and did it last minute (when it became clear we had a 1000 person event not a 100 person event.)

For all the people I promised to have a Real Talk with later, please take me up on it. Email me or call me next week, and let’s have lunch or coffee or you could come by the co-working Palo Alto office and we’ll conspire.

Thank you to everyone who came to BarCampBlock. YOU ROCK!!!!

A next-to-last note. I had no problem handling this event from a wheelchair (and often, with some responsibility for one or more children). At this conference, less people bothered to ask me about my wheelchair or about disability issues. (Hard core geeks: “What? your mere physical shell has a minor modification? Why would I even notice, let alone comment on it?”) Mostly, people had good wheelchair manners, and did not bump into me excessively or do the more obnoxious things like ask me if I’m dying or degenerating, or start pushing my chair around or leaning on it; thanks, geeks.

Also, a final note. Clean up your trash! 😎

Related posts: