Two especially nice days

What a gorgeous day! I could feel the vitamins shining into me! While it may be boring to read I would like to record how much I enjoyed the last two days back in SF and getting over my jet lag. I was in bed all weekend wondering if I had ruined myself forever and would never get to do anything nice again. Though it was so cosy to be home, to have Danny to talk everything over with, and to have Milo here and a cat to cuddle. Then . . . of course . . . by Tuesday and after a lot of sleep, everything was fine again. I feel lucky (and a little silly for panicking).

Yesterday Val came over and we worked from my house with several pots of tea and conversations in between our meetings and moments of fierce concentration. Yatima walked in around 4:30 to join us. It was like a fabulous dream come true to have my house full of feminist friends who can just drop in. At some point Val and I headed off to dinner at Balompie with Danny. Then to the Noisebridge meeting and elections. I shelved some books. Thus ends my dutiful stint on the Noisebridge board, where the main job is to practice not wielding authority.

Today, hazelbroom picked me up at 8:30 after dropping off her son at school. She hoisted my scooter for me and left us outside Haus on 24th street. I adore 24th street with its trees shading the sidewalks, the million Precita Eyes murals, the bakeries, excellent mercaditos, new bookstores, and lively community life. It makes me happy just to be there. Worked really well from Haus, which had peaceful music and rows of somberly dressed laptop people with big headphones and knit caps, facing each other across the room, with the light from the street streaming in. Outside a group of guys in orange vests were digging up the street and I wished that someone would courteously bring them coffee and pastries on a tv tray. Usually the window tables in Haus are taken first but today no one seemed to want to be on whichever side of the aquarium windows it may be with the guys up to their knees in red clay dirt glassed off from the cleanness of the insides. I enjoyed my chocolate croissant and cappucinino and felt all fired up as I triaged some Firefox bugs, wrote email, and planned a screen reader bug day.

Discolandia

Then I beetled over to Garfield pool. The entry guy recognized me which was nice but guilt-inducing since I have not done any pool/swimming physical therapy since October. There is a new push button door opener, which is very exciting and awesome for me in the scooter! And the women’s bathroom, which previously was like one’s nightmare of a state hospital circa 1955 where they hose you off or whatever, with no door to the “accessible” stall and many other horrors, and I had planned to bring a shower curtain to at least have privacy to pee — now it is all fixed up with a higher toilet seat, handrails, large stall you can get a powerchair into, and bench. They took out 2 sinks and just totally fixed the problems. So great! While I don’t know what else they did in the renovations, everything looked a little less skanky, and all the things I was emailing the SF parks and rec dept about last year are fixed.

I strapped on some arm floaties and rode the hydraulic lift into the pool. It was reasonably warm!!! My upper back and neck are kind of “stuck” right now, one of those things where I can’t look all the way up and to the right, a bit hunchy-over . . . so I was moving very cautiously. I also didn’t want to over do my activity on my first day back in the pool. So it was gentle thrashing about in the 5 foot deep area like slow water treading while leaning back and a bit of walking back and forth and doing leg lifts.

Got to chatting with a guy who asked me if I had back problems and told me about his. He has to have some vertebrae fused and is worried about it.

As we gently flailed I felt I was making a really nice friend and now look forward to hanging out with him in the pool some more. He is a garbage collector in my neighborhood (but not on my street) and lives over near the pool. We talked about places we have traveled (him: south africa, greece, italy, mexico, me: london, vienna, beijing, greece, mexico) and places we want to travel. He told me about his ranch in the country and his grown children and the young visiting Sicilians who came to stay temporarily and then became renters in his house, and what his village was like where he came from in Mexico (near Guadelajara, with lots of river and underground water for wells and springs, near ocean, very relaxing, good restaurants, nothing happening ever) And how his co-worker retired there by him buying his aunt’s place by the river which has a spring-fed swimming pool and now all the children and people love him because he helps everyone with his truck. We agreed about some of the things that are nice in life. We agreed on our love of pick up trucks (I had one for 13 years.)

I love a fellow extrovert . . . With the distraction of talking I stayed in the pool the full 50 minutes. It really helped to get a ride there, too.

Then went to hazelbroom’s house nearby where she gave me an amazing massage. The stuck bit of my back is still stuck. (I am icing it.) And she fed me the most amazing lunch. I love my friends. Trout (?) on rice with broccoli and then jars of kim chi and japanese seaweed seasoning and soy sauce and pickled things. delish. I got to hold her son’s new hamster. She invited me to ride out to the VA hospital with her where I could work while she went in to have a physical for her new job there.

Hammy2

I worked from her car on the way there (with 4G on my phone giving me internet) but paused to gawk at golden gate park and try to take pictures as we drove through. The pond was especially pretty. A guy was just bending over to sail his model sailboat. It was like some idyllic scene out of Stuart Little.

I felt so happy to be in the moving car in the warm sun, seeing trees and water and flowers and birds.

Va sunny liz

Got a hot chocolate from the VA canteen which had ramps to the outside picnic benches that overlook Land’s End with a great view of the golden gate (the opening of strait, not the bridge) and Marin headlands. There is a wheelchair accessible table right next to the Battle of the Bulge Memorial Trail. There was good wifi with 4G reception and it is a quiet, good place to work. I felt a little funny going through the VA on my scooter getting the “special smiles”. No – I was not blown up in combat. I did have a pretty great race with a guy in the parking lot who had a super huge scooter engine. He kicked my ass. It wasn’t as big of a scooter as the one I had in London though.

Showed the marine traffic site to hazelbroom when she was finished with her physical and came out to join me. She also loves cargo ships and we saw one come in in real life and on the screen.

Then she drove me past Sutro Baths. I wanted to believe that the lump we saw way down there was Sutro Sam the river otter who is eating all the goldfish in the pond. But now that I see the photo magnified on my screen sadly it is just a rock. I felt like it was the otter sleeping in the sun and was happy. Who needs reality. Anyway we knew he is there.

Sutrobaths sunset

As if this weren’t enough she then drove us down Irving and got us bubble tea. I had ginger milk tea with ENORMOUS tapioca bubbles. The ginger was so strong it made tears come to my eyes and cleared out my sinuses. I will sweat ginger for days. Cannot remember all the things we talked about on the way home but it was lovely.

If anyone in SF feels like giving me a ride to pretty much anywhere on a nice day, I am very portable, and as long as I have wifi, power, or decent phone data reception I can work from wherever. I spend so many days working from bed (because of pain or mobility issues) that a quiet outing on a good day cheers me up amazingly. I miss the times when I used to be able to drive all around town, going to random places off the map and settling myself in a good cafe or in a parking lot overlooking the beach.

Now am going to put in a little more work (collecting email addys of people who report screen reader issues in bugzilla, to invite them to a bug day). Danny will come home soon from the EFF office and tell me all about his day and my sister is going to drop by.

The only way this could be nicer is if the kids were here. Ada’s birthday party is this weekend so that’s going to be great, and then Milo’s party is in a couple of weeks. I plan on making him a cake that will be a block from Minecraft – three 9 by 9 pans should get me a block shape, chocolate cake, and then green frosting on top and chocolate frosting on the sides. I think that gummy worms in the layers will be a good touch. If I can find the frosting spray paint in varied colors maybe I can pixelate the cake surface.

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A few words on Aaron’s death, and sadness

I am very sad about Aaron Swartz’s death. We spent last weekend just devastated and in shock, then went to his funeral in Chicago. The shared sadness united us all. I feel for his family and his partner Taren. Aaron’s father spoke at his funeral, and his defense lawyer, one of his brothers, and many friends and colleagues. Larry Lessig’s words about feeling protective especially brought me to tears. I wish I could remember everything he said as it resonated with many things I felt but didn’t have coherently expressed even to myself.

I did not know Aaron well on the level of having the intense intellectual conversations that many people had with him, though I enjoyed reading his blog and supported his projects. I mostly knew him as my partner Danny’s daughter Ada’s kind and loving friend, as he was close to her mom for years and they lived with him or stayed with him often. She talked about him often and their games and how he would take her swimming. He was the grownup who would play with her the most instead of doing grownup things like making you do your homework. I would see Aaron at family events like Ada’s nursery school graduation, holidays and birthdays, or, ubiquitously on Skype while Ada talked with her mom and Aaron would pop up clowning around to make her laugh with all their running jokes. They made movies together and had a great relationship. Of course, I love anyone who loves Ada so dearly, appreciates and cares for her. As Aaron did.

And I felt towards him how I feel as a 43 year old intellectual feels toward brilliant creative people in their 20s or younger. Fond and and a little protective from a distance, admiring of their daring, their bright energetic path, and looking forward so much to what they will do and will become. Respectful of their maturity while waiting to see how it deepens. I don’t mean to make too much of generational differences, but as I hit middle age I am aware of those differences in a complex way.

I did not plan to do anything at his grave but then was gripped with the feeling that if I participated in putting earth on the grave I would be acknowledging everything and that it would be right. His death wasn’t right. Despite being there I can’t grasp that it really happened and he is not going to be around.

So many vivid moments from the funeral and afterwards. I will never forget Seth at lunch as we ate grilled cheese sandwiches, kindly turning to me in his deliberate and quiet way saying, as if remembering each word from a foreign language or trying to eliminate all the letter E from a sentence, “I always try to remember, when I cry a lot, it’s important to drink water.” I obediently drank my glass of water. A funny little detail. I would wish for no one to cry so much as we did. But when we do, it’s good that we take care of ourselves and others. Thank you Seth.

We are all reeling from Aaron’s loss. There will be a memorial for him at the Internet Archive next week and I believe also a hackathon in his memory at some point. While I feel the sadness many people do, supporting Danny’s daughter is one of my top priorities right now just keeping things going in a normal way and food on the table, appreciating her funny dances and fantastic stories, writing in runes, just listening to her, bringing over her friends to play. It is beautiful, and heartening, to have children livening things up like an overflowing fountain, and we all watch them and press each others’ hands in desperate appreciation of their beauty. Life goes on, and we are happy. In the middle of the happiness we are crying a lot and will be for quite some time.

Aaron’s loss is a loss to the entire world. I feel the surge of determination and fierceness surge through my friends who are geeks and activists. This helps me deal with the sadness on an abstract level, but not on the personal level. Of course Danny and I have read pretty much everything everyone wrote about Aaron and his work and his death over the last week. I don’t feel like I have to say something clever or do a giant link round up of it. I think we are all trying to transmute grief into hope, belief, and action. Where that will lead, I don’t know.

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Socialtext, and ongoing Wiki Wednesdays

I haven’t been posting here very often as my medical and disability issues got kind of intense. I went on short-term disability for a couple of months, and am going to stop working full time for a little while. While I’m leaving my job at Socialtext, I’m going to continue contracting for them on an occasional basis.

Working at Socialtext was an intense experience, less like drinking from the firehose and more like being blasted by a giant non stop river of information and communication. It was very interesting “ambient work.” I hung out with my co-workers on many wikis, on chat, irc, over email, and sometimes in person.

Tony Bowden, Casey West, and Dan Bricklin worked with me on an open source release of Socialcalc and on planning its possibilities, as well as working on open source licensing and legal issues. I was on call any time for Ingy döt Net to test his wiki hacks and help him debug, and Perl goddess Kirsten Jones was always around to help me with my questions. I got to hang out in Socialtext’s co-working space and have some great conversations with Adina Levin and Pete Kaminski, and especially appreciated Adina’s willingness to listen and to take time to act as a mentor. Chris Dent wrote so much great & thoughtful wiki theory and thoughts on software development; I just wish I had gotten to pair with him on a project, but maybe sometime in the future. It was great working with Jon Prettyman, Chris McMahon, Shawn Scantland, and Ken Pier on new releases, and any time I got to work with or hang out with Lyssa Kaehler, Zac Bir, Melissa Ness, or Brandon Noard it was a pleasure. Probably the nicest part of working at Socialtext, I mean besides the decadent hot tub parties, was getting to team up with Luke Closs, whose super clear explanations and agile coaching totally rocked my world. Seriously, I can’t say enough good things about the engineering, support, and QA crew at Socialtext.

Then, I think of how Socialtext basically paid me to spend time helping with things like BarCampBlock and Wiki Wednesday. The Wiki Wednesdays were especially lovely. It was kind of funny, because all the literary readings I have run in the past turn out the same way; an eclectic crowd of people who don’t know each other and wouldn’t otherwise have met, kicking around ideas in a laid back atmosphere — rather than big events that are lecture-style. I also really like to find interesting people who are not the usual suspects; who are total rock stars but in a small niche that is not visible to people who are rock stars in other niches. Anyway, it was through Wiki Wednesday (and sometimes through random co-working arrangements) that I met fun and inspiring people like Eugene Eric Kim, Jack Herrick, Eszter Hargittai, Bryan Pendleton, Betsy Megas, and Philip Neustrom.

Wiki Wednesday is continuing, run once again by Socialtext’s social media visionary Ross Mayfield. I hope that a good crowd of people from different wiki communities, platforms, and companies will flock to the event. Other local wiki events coming up: the Freebase User Group run by Kirrily Robert at Metaweb, which just happened, but another one is coming up in April. And then, a fantastic-sounding wiki event I haven’t been to yet, Recent Changes Camp, which will happen May 9-11 in Palo Alto, and which I hope will be as good as the past ones in Portland and Montreal.

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SXSWi impressions

All important communication happens on Twitter.

Hanging out at Little City checking my email on the street with a tall iced chai. The guys at the table next to me had a blog which explained how to secede and establish your own government; they just got a takedown or cease and desist letter from the NSA! I told them to send it to Chilling Effects.

Old friends. Kristine K. swooped in to the cafe and carried me off. We lived together at 21st St. Co-op in the mid-80s; me in the loud suite, 1A, and her in 1B. I used to slip love poetry under her door, comparing her to fire and minnows and volcanic lava. With brutal casualness, she would explain to me how my ankles were too thick and she only was attracted to women who were dumb. Then she’d go “come and talk to me while I’m taking my bath!” and like an ass, I’d go and die a thousand deaths. Meanwhile, her and Roy and Katya… I won’t go there. Anyway, we drove around Austin, talked about her writing, about everyone we know, about our marriages, our kids, the past; went to visit Ken at the Open Door preschool, and then me to the Cedar Door & her to go work at the convention center doing something music-related. Next week she interviews Peaches – rather thrilling. Her big hulking old steel american car does not have a working reverse drive, so she carefully positioned the car for me to hop out and push the car back. As always I gain +10 to my tonguetied butch roll and that seemed also to give me magic muscles, because I succeeded in pushing the car into the parking spot.

Her tips for Austin: Ran, a bar or nightclub with dancing, over on 2nd and Lavaca, where there are all types of people but things are pleasantly queered up; Alamo Drafthouse, movie theater with dinner, also at 2nd and near there, maybe Colorado. El Arroyo – where I remember going in the 80s. We lamented the death of Chances, the best lesbian bar in Austin. Now it’s Club Deville and is still pretty good.

At the Cedar Door. The standard Austin bar thing with a patio, a sort of tent thing, christmas lights. No trellis though – usually there is a trellis. Where the fuck is my bar patio trellis! Long wild conversation with Prentiss Riddle about open source, labor, ownership of work, capitalism, alternate economies and their effects good & bad. He talked about Ed Vielmetti’s concept of the superpatron – open source libraries – community developers. I didn’t get to talk as much as I would have liked to David Nuñez… maybe later… I met a bunch more UT people including an interesting guy who is “bibliotrash” on last.fm. I do not remember his real name but with that handle, I’ll be able to find him.

More old friends. Dennis Trombatore came to pick me up. We had the depressing conversation quick in the car so as not to upset his wife about one’s expected lifespan and aging and the meaning of life and how one chooses to life one’s life. “It’s not me that will have to deal with it so it doesn’t upset me. A few months of pain and morphine… then poof.” “Yes, while it lasts enjoy going out and sitting in the air and feeling the sun. Then bang.” Of course this was upsetting as in theory I would be one of the people left grieving. But we cross our fingers for radiation and hormones! Dennis is proof that being a philosopher for real improves life, because you’ve thought plenty in advance about death. I finally got to meet his wife Sheila and see their house. Books & pottery everywhere! It was like old times as we were instantly catapulted into the most intense out-there conversations. His pottery teacher Joe Bova. 500 animals in clay. I admired his bowls and other people’s. We talked about the odd gestalt of fun people we had at work in 1987 or 1988. Lisa, Abbey, Stephanie, Sabina, me, and others… Jim McCullough and how he’s a fantastic writer… Hegel. The meaning of life. The experience of time. “Every animal’s objective is to corrode the boundaries of time.” Sentences like that used to fly out of him at an insane pace and all pretense of library work would stop and I remember (my 18 year old self) thinking, “Wait! Stop! I have to hold onto this thought and this minute!” Because often it was so far over my head that I couldn’t follow as fast as I would have liked, but could only react in parallel. I am advised to read Heraclitus, and Alex Mourolatos’ book and translation of the pre-Socratics. I admired his edition of Singer’s History of Technology in many volumes and resolved to buy it as a present! I told him to read “Flow” and also “Understanding Poverty” as we got deeper into talking about class (in relation to everyone we know in common.) I am also advised to read Robert Coles who wrote about the psychology of children. We talked about work and the way that he is in the library and how it is being “on” all day long

Vespasio is the best Italian restaurant in the entire southwest, according to Dennis.

Then off to about 8 million bars as I followed Chris Messina and Tara Hunt around, because they’re fun and cool but mostly because I needed to get into their hotel room and go to sleep. I can’t even remember whatall bars they were at. Moonshine, Buffalo Billiards, something else very loud. At bar #8 million I realized I could just take their key and go, so that’s what I did, but on the way (very tired and spaced out) I met more fun people, talked with Min Jung, Glenda, Leslie, the french maid guy (and I did not get into that but maybe I will later) and Scott from Laughing Squid and all those people. Everyone that I don’t know is familiar-seeming. Sipped drinks out of test tubes. Fell over with exhaustion. Then a hot bath. My roommates showed up. Tara and I talked non stop about our work, about co-working, all that sort of thing.

In the morning they were very beautiful. You know how people look all innocent when they’re relaxed and asleep? Like that. Also the bed was very white and they were very pink and gold and blond looking, Tara in her lacy camisole and Chris looking more macho than you’d think. I almost took a photo of them curled up with arms around each other, asleep, but figured I could bloggaciously violate their privacy just as well with words as with pictures. They were the sweetest thing ever!

Breakfast at Las Manitas, as planned. Ran into Scott B. and Shannon Clark and more people I vaguely know or might have met once. Heavenly, heavenly coffee perfect and mellow and strong, with chilaquiles verdes and platanos. The food is like a fabulous dream. As we left I talked for like 1 second with someone named Cory who wanted to talk to me, but she vanished as I paused to talk with Sarah Dopp.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

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Why I like LibraryThing

I was trying to explain tonight to Annalee why I like LibraryThing. “What’s it FOR? Is it a book recommender? Or is it data about a book?” No… no… it’s for building a picture of knowledge and of people. When I first walked into Annalee’s house, for example, my head went sideways and I muttered off into all the rooms reading the book titles. I could see evidence of interests past and present, clusters of information, and could extrapolate meta-interests or things like “here are sets of books that indicate grad school classes very similar to ones I took or browsed.” So now I know without having to ask that she has a mental foundation or familiarity with Spivak and Bhabha, Derrida, Sontag, Delouze and Guattari (“Spavin, Babble, Dada, Snotrag, Deloser and Guitar”) and that sort of cultural studies/literary/historical theory way of thinking as well as science books, tech books, monster movies, pulp, tons of good science fiction, and the same sort of 19th and 20th century sex and gender information books that I also collect.

When I was looking at Timmi Duchamp‘s books I wrote that it was like being together with her in a beautiful cathedral. The way she organized them was beautiful, but it was the combinations of ideas and the depths of certain areas of knowledge that were amazing and I felt happy and honored to understand some of that, and what it meant to my knowledge of her as a person and of her work as a writer and critic. Seeing someone’s books, if they are a very booky person, with their brain deeply intertwined with what they have read, very intertextual, then seeing their books gives you some knowledge. It’s not like any two people, reading the same set of books, have the same reactions to them. But because we’re in this post-Golden-Bookshelf age where we have no literary or cultural canon, it is reassuring and interesting to see someone’s (nongolden, or golden only to them) bookshelves. If it was important to have (and to destroy) the golden bookshelf, then it’s important for us that we’re developing ways to make each others’ bookshelf compositions transparent.

Since I have read quite a lot, and in areas I can’t expect someone else at random to have read, I get very happy when I met with people whose bookshelves intersect. Right now the person with the closest books to my books on LibraryThing happens to be one of my best friends. That was a funny feeling, like confirmation of our unusual common areas of deep knowledge. I look at the people I don’t know (and I know many of them from their blogs, mostly from LiveJournal) and figure that, the way my life is going, and with tons of social software stickly spreading around through everyone I know denser & denser, I’ll probably meet them within a year. And when I search on a few of the rare books — anthologies of Latin American poetry from 1910 — and then later am searching on some incredibly hip or trashy science fiction book published last year — Then I swoon a little bit and fall in love with that person who is in the tiny club of the two of us who like those two very different books. (We don’t just own them: we gloat over them and bothered to enter them and tag them up.)

Who has this book? Only 2 other people! I feel a new pleasure; that of snobbery and pride. I look at their tagging of that book and I learn something – and maybe go back and put my tags more in line with theirs, which might make more sense. Or I like mine better and keep them as they are. Together the three of us built something, a small consensus. Then I can look at their personal library tag clouds:

Another pleasure is in the tag clouds. I can follow a few tags of marxist feminism and find strangers, then browse their tag clouds. (Here’s my tag cloud, but that’s only about 2% of my books.) What other tags does a marxist feminist reader tend to gather? Wandering around in that information is fun and I feel like I’m learning a meta-something from it. What, I’m not sure.

I look for the people who have eclectic collections, and who have certain areas of depth of knowledge – who are geeky and expert about a few things, but then whose interests scatter interestingly. It’s not like I am dying to write them messages, I’m busy enough… but I feel less intellectually lonely because I know they exist. And again, odds are in the techno-bohemian world I’ll meet them at some point and then feel instant friendliness.

I start to feel I want to introduce certain readers and LT-ers to each other; and I see gaps that inspire me as a critic, that make me see “Wait. All these people should also have A Certain Glorious Book; they’d love it, based on what they own and tag heavily.” And then I resolve to write a review, give a book as a present, or just give a recommendation out of the blue.

It is not just social and about stalking… it is a method of creating cultural meaning.

But that is not all of it… I’ll have to return to this thought. Meta-information structures laid in place… underpinnings of possible conversations…. people seem more real to me than they ever did… strangers hold more possbilities… It is a general feeling of hope, connection, interest, pleasure, curiosity. I think that when you drink the Web 2.0 Koolaid it’s not about believing in hype – it’s a fundamental shift in how we think about each other as people with depth, with books and feelings about them, with wishes and goals and places we want to go to or that we’ve loved (as on 43places and 43things) and with social ties laid out with at least an attempt at clarity. When novels became popular, it provided an opportunity for people to think about each other as characters in novels, as protagonists even, whose thought processes could be revealed, imagined, chronicled. I think Web 2.0 and blogging and rich social information environments, which will surely develop intertwinings more complicated than we’ve imagined, are in the beginning of a shift in the way it is possible for people to think about each other. There are of course utopian and dystopian results from that shift. But lucky for me I was born in interesting times and will not be bored, ever.

LibraryThing has inspired me several times so far to get rid of books that I think are embarrassing, too embarrassing or dull to add to my public bookshelf. Do I want this on my shelf? I didn’t want it in my brain. Then… throw it out!

Just as certain people are peculiarly charming and witty on Twitter, but dull on their blogs… or vice versa… I think some people’s libraries will function like registers of complicated conversation. Registers of speech or media for speaking can result in very different output from the very same person. So as a mode of self expression, art, and culture, LibraryThing and social media let us see each other saying things we might not have said, or been able to see being said, before. They provide an extra conversational layer.

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