HP Magic Giveaway: Welcome y ¡Bienvenidos!

Very soon, I’m going to be giving away a bunch of fantastic computer equipment from HP, as part of the HP Magic Giveaway, co-sponsored by Microsoft Windows Live.

I’ll be running a contest here on this blog. You can enter it AND you can enter the 49 other contests listed on the HP Magic Giveaway page!


If you’re here for the first time from the HP pages, welcome. I’m a feminist, activist, poet, and literary translator; I’m a computer programmer and a geeky, gadget-loving mom; I love games and science fiction, blogging, photos, and creativity! If you like to talk about any of those subjects, you’ve come to the right place. Especially if you like to mix up those subjects. Take a look at the tag cloud in the sidebar, and see where you might intersect with me and this blog’s readers. It’s very nice to meet you!

¡Y, Bienvenidos a todos que hablan español!

Stay tuned for my contest guidelines. Meanwhile, drool on some photos of these gorgeous computers that you have a great chance to win!

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Annoyingly sexist framing of Google VP Marissa Mayer


Photo
Originally uploaded by thisgirlangie

As an inoculation to what I am about to expose you to, here is an awesome photo of some ubergeeks from the Google-sponsored Geek Girl Dinner organized by Angie Chang from Woman 2.0. From left: Sumaya Kazi (Sun Microsystems & The Cultural Connect), Katherine Barr (Mohr Davidow Ventures), Irene Au (Google), Rashmi Sinha (SlideShare), Angie Chang (Women 2.0)

By some quirk of fate, a copy of San Francisco Magazine arrived at my house today. If you’ve noticed this vapid glossy magazine for aspiring Not-LA and Not-NYC socialites, you will know why I was automatically tossing it in the trash. But there on the cover were the words “Google’s geek goddess”, and I had to look, knowing how annoyed I was about to become.

Oh, it was so much worse than I imagined!

According to SF Magazine writer Julian Guthrie, Google’s employee #20 and first female engineer Marissa Mayer is “not what you expect.”

What the hell do you expect? Who is “you”? Some drooling dinosaurish idiot who not only thinks the important thing about women is a mix of prettiness, girliness to the point of infantilization, sexiness, etc but who also thinks that “we” the readers of the article would expect a gazillionaire engineer-turned-corporate-executive to be some kind of Hollywood Geek Girl stereotype with unkempt hair who needs to take off her glasses and stop being obsessed with computers to become pretty.

Soooo how are we framing the opposite of what “we” expect? Mayer “looks Grace Kelly gorgeous, a tall, blue-eyed beauty with blond hair pulled back from her fresh face. She is much livelier than you might imagine, and her clothes are anything but humdrum.” This assumes “our” default expectations to be the opposite; female software engineers as humdrum, boring, un-lively, certainly not beautiful and maybe not blond.

You can see two assumptions set up here:
* Women who like computers are ugly.
* It fucking matters.

You know why it does matter? It matters because sexist and misogynist assumptions do still have a lot of power in our society. And we need to change that, by pointing out that misogyny and sexism are stupid, wrong, and undermine social trust and gender relations.

The article descends further into idiocy, still on page 1 of framing Mayer as a person and as a professional, by quoting some Valleywag posts calling her a social climber, implying that she got her job or position by dating Larry Page, and “using her looks”.

Guthrie quotes a Valleywag editor saying, “Marissa is surprisingly pretty in person. That in itself is a rarity in Silicon Valley, and you’d have to be naive to think that doesn’t color people’s views of her.” Great. This is a rhetorical strategy common to misogynist bullshitters: undermine a woman’s achievements by claiming her main “achievement” is being pretty, or worse, implying she used her sexuality to get a little dollop of fake power and status from someone Actually Powerful who deserved it. When powerful smart men are friends with other powerful smart men, those personal relationships aren’t framed as devaluing their talents and skills. But as soon as a woman has a personal relationship with a man, the power imbalance is assumed to be there along with a host of other assumptions about sexuality, the stereotype of a woman sleeping or flirting her way to her status. It’s tokenizing; it’s like suggesting women are only in tech because of Affirmative Action By Boyfriend. In other words, we are not “allowed” by history to have our own status. We only have status by proxy as given to us by men who have sexual access to us, real or implied sexual access.

I’ll list through a few more of the sexualized and sexist terms used to describe Mayer. Her “throaty laugh”, how she’s “the only blonde in a room packed with mostly dark-haired young guys”, she “acts goofy and girly”, has a “ballerina posture”. There’s a weird setup where Mayer is described as a geeky robot, “mechanical”, precise, unsexed, but then that unsexed-geek-girl stereotype is defused by her “personal passions” and “coming-out party of sorts for a new kind of Silicon Valley star.” That hypothetical ghost of a robotic passionless scruffy geek is contrasted with the girly, giggly, sexy, cupcake-baking, fashion-loving, non-threatening woman who sometimes shops for purses.

“Mayer is fiercely competitive. She wants to make the best cupcake, wear the prettiest dress, have the coolest penthouse.”

SIGH.

I think we can all enjoy cupcakes and fashion without being freaking defined by it. I’m not objecting to anyone’s hobbies of geektastic cupcakes, knitting, wearing pretty skirts made for super rich people, or whatever. I’m not objecting to femminess and the deliberate, or just automatic because that’s how we are, geeking up of things that are supposedly traditionally feminine.


me & Liza Sabater at SXSWi, photo by Rachel Kramer Bussel

BUT. The implication in articles like this is that women NEED a specially feminized presentation of self in order to prove that it’s okay for women to like computers. That’s completely stupid!

There is another problem in this article, and in the general pattern of media attention on powerful women in male-dominated fields. It’s isolation and tokenizing. An article will frame the tech world as if there is only one important woman. She is always presented as the Lone Woman in the midst of techie guys. Tokenizing! Context is important. And my own context, as a woman in this field, is that it’s full of heroic efforts of women in computing to make professional and personal connections with each other. Consider Mayer in contexts with other women:

* Webguild
* Grace Hopper Celebration 2006
* Blogher Business

Those images, for me, are much more powerful and meaningful than the one Guthrie paints of the Lone Blonde Chick at the party full of men. Journalists should not “disappear” women in tech by canonizing one saint who they love and hate, praise, objectify, and revile. There are a lot of us here!

To be overly generous, I would like to mention that after the first 3+ pages of utter crap, Guthrie did write a good, interesting, middle section to the article, which straightforwardly describes Mayer’s background in computer science, her interviews at Google, and her early work experience there, including the sort of oh so wacky “Nudist on the Late Shift” geek-culture stories about Wacky Startups that we can’t really avoid and that I do still enjoy hearing about and living in the midst of. So I’m not slamming Guthrie’s basic competence as a journalist and writer, and the article is not all fluff; it’s way less fluffy than you’d expect from SF magazine, that society rag for the more droolingly idiotic of the rich and famous.) Then we hit some more stuff about being a party hostess and cupcake making, Mayer’s childhood doll collection and background in “precision dance team” which must be a lot like what in Texas was called “drill team” and meant cheerleaders doing dance; and more bilge about underneath her Geekitude and corporate executiveness Mayer is “still that geeky super-normal enthusiastic girl”. What? I’m still trying to decode what “geeky super-normal enthusiastic girl” means. The effect to me is of deliberate girlifying of a brilliant, competent, powerful adult, in other words infantilizing them in order to make them less threateningly powerful-seeming.

I can’t even dignify the paragraph about Mayer’s dating life with a quote; it was just dumb. FFS.

But the end! The end was the worst! “Does Mayer ever see herself going completely low-tech and focusing (professionally or otherwise) on art, entertaining, baking, or fashion? ” You know, what would have to be wrong in an interviewer’s head for them to ask that question? What the hell? Why would anyone ask that question of one of the most powerful engineers at an extremely successful company, a person with a couple of degrees in computer science and many years of experience in the industry? “Oh… just wondering… have you ever thought of forgetting about this lil’ ol’ computer thing and sticking to cupcakes?”

I can”t wait to hear what my colleagues on Systers, BlogHer, and Linuxchix have to say here. I was also thinking that as a response we could add some good detail to Marissa Mayer’s Wikipedia page.

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Keyboard shortcuts in Thunderbird, and the failures of visual metaphors

This is so great, I’m feeling all bouncy! There is a Thunderbird extension, Nostalgy, for using keyboard shortcuts to do everything. I was just feeling super pissy that this didn’t exist, and wishing someone would write it, because I hate mousing or trackpadding: it slows me down. If I’m just using typing shortcuts, then I can get the feel of the commands in my fingers, like playing piano or Nethack, and I don’t have to think about what to do. So, now I’m super happy that it *does* exist (thanks to Oblomovka for the link). You can get the latest version here and in fact there are instructions on how to update directly from svn for the latest bug fixes.

Meanwhile, I’m really enjoying yubnub and its keystroke commands. I don’t have to do any slow mousing that requires hand-eye coordination, or extra shoulder/wrist movements that flare up old RSI problems. Instead I am training my fingers to go “apple-K wp” if I want to search Wikipedia. It becomes automatic, and I don’t have to think about it. I can do it with my eyes closed, lightning fast.

I look forward to getting back into that mode for email! I like Thunderbird, but I miss Pine because of the speed and efficiency of keyboard shortcuts.

This was something we talked about during She’s Geeky, at Beth Kanter and Elizabeth Perry‘s session on non-profits. Someone mentioned that very small technological interventions can make huge changes in a whole organization.

I found this to be true at the businesses, schools, and universities where I did tech support and training. Training classes were useful, but the best way to help a person work with their computer was to watch them work for even a few minutes, and then teach them at least one way to improve their basic workflow. A few simple tricks made people more confident and productive and happy. Those tricks would then spread throughout an organization. Sometimes, this is as simple as teaching a person that in menus, the underlined letter or the keys next to the command are keyboard shortcuts that they can learn. Or, a small trick like using tabs in a web browser can help people enormously. Many people, especially baby boomers, don’t feel comfortable with basic navigation on a computer desktop, no matter what system they’re on. The concepts that go along with productivity tricks can also help people’s understanding of what they’re doing on a computer, so they feel less like they’re flailing and instead, have constructed a mental map or geography of what’s happening.

It is amazing, but most people who use computers every day at work and at home still don’t have basic concepts down. It is like they have their eyes shut, and are trying to walk around their house by counting the number of steps to go in each direction, and they’re never sure which direction they’re pointing until they hit a wall. But most computer classes are procedural. You end up with a step by step list of what to do to produce a result, but with no understanding of what just happened.

Do you need to know those basic concepts? Or is it like driving a car — you can be a good driver, without knowing what a carburetor is? To some extent, it is more and more like driving a car. We don’t need to know anything about bits and bytes and how computers work at a low level. But we *do* need to know what wheels and brakes are. The mental model that we hold is in our physical memory. We turn the steering wheel, the wheels shift, we can picture the wheels shifting, and then the car physically turns. To be a good end user of computer applications, I think that people need to create a similar mental geography. Maps and diagrams and metaphors can really help with that.

So here is my list of things to teach people who use computers a lot, but who are flailing.

Keyboard shortcuts:

– open, close, minimize a window or tab
– open, close, minimize an application
– find, select, copy, paste
– my tabs, let me show you them
– switch between applications or windows
– search (a folder or hard drive)

Concepts:

– The difference between closing and minimizing.
– Noticing, or how to tell, if an application is already open
– You can keep many applications open at once
– Recent history, recently opened documents or apps

Geography:

– where is stuff on your hard drive
– what is a hard drive? what servers are you using? what does that mean?
– files and folders and network places; draw diagrams

Often, I’d start out trying to help someone with a complex issue, like teaching them how to do a mail merge, or fiddle around with a FoxPro or Filemaker database, and I’d end up going back to square one to teach them some of these concepts.

As I ponder this I think of a counterexample to the “mental map / diagram” idea I’m suggesting. Years ago, my otherwise pretty awesome boss at a K-12 school wanted me to create a particular thing that I loathed on instinct. Any of you who have been web developers will know what I mean! The year, 1996; the thing, a web site that was all a visual metaphor. The home page for the school web site would be a picture of a classroom-ish-office, or an office-ish-classroom, and all the things you might want to do on the website would link from pictures, like if you wanted to send email there would be a little mailbox, or to look at the cafeteria menu, click on the apple on the teacher’s desk. If you wanted to look up some document or form, click on the filing cabinet.

Number one, this would have been dog slow in the early web, on the LC-II Macs we had in most classrooms, and for people at home who only had dialup. Number two, the idea that the happy shiny pictures would not scare off the little kids who couldn’t read yet was just dumb, because one layer past the main page and you’d get to text. It is no good to click a 10-pixel-wide image of a phone book, if what you get is then… a phone book! Which if you’re 5, you probably can’t read and don’t want to use anyway. But number three, the whole idea of this visual metaphor sucked. We have invented words, and language, for a good goddamned reason and that is because it rocks! It’s efficient and powerful. If I want to look up what an apple is, in an encyclopedia, I don’t want to be floating in cyberspace and vaguely “clicking” through a 3-D taxonomy of shapes until I narrow it down to red round-ish blobs. We have words, and indexes, and alphabetical order, and search algorithms, and the convention of hierarchical menus of things-one-can-do-on-web-sites, to help us. We have the ability to group words tightly, to cluster them, in ways that makes sense for words but not for images. I don’t want to have to click on visual images one by one to figure out where to find the staff directory. I can scan a page of text very quickly to find that. Even much the most basic international symbols meant to bridge across cultures and languages are not obvious, and must be learned in context!

Possibly this is a bad story to tell because the end of the story is that when they did not listen to my objections, I mulishly ignored and resisted the Classroom Visual Home Page and instead just went off and made a plain, kick-ass, really slick and clean, page that did everything they really wanted and not what was coming out of their mouths, and that fit the specifications for dialup and legacy computers. And they used it for the next eight years. Which, while I am proud of it, maybe shows a bit too much about what it is like to have me work for you. You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need.

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Liveblogging for She’s Geeky

I’m at the She’s Geeky conference in Mountain View, and I’ll be liveblogging in very raw format. Later this week I’ll come back and clean up this post to make it more coherent and to take out the typos and add links.

I’m having a great time here. There is a very pleasant spectrum and range of people who are sort of hard core programming or hardware geeks plus the web 2.0, entrepeneur, blogging, marketing crowd. So it’s a great mix for me. People in general seem excited and inspired! The Computer History Museum is gorgeous, and I can’t wait to come back and go through it all. It is also a great place to have a conference.

*****

Open source lunch table conversation

Tori Orr, Susan Gerhart, Liz Henry, Ursula Kallio, Kim Wallace, Akkana, Margaret Rosas.

Open source stuff we talked about: Ubuntu 7.10, Drupal, LAMP in general, Joomla, Drupalcamp, Linuxchix, Ubuntu Women, the recent O’Reilly series, Python
Someone (someone who is a marketing person) was saying that we need to do more marketing for open source, joomla is marketed better, more consumer accessibile. Businesses aren’t realizing how valuable open source stuff is, they haven’t realized it yet. They don’t know how to listen to something without an authority figure or a hierarchy they can recognize. Also it is not made slick enough for them. But when it is, they’ll go for it.

Someone else mentioned wishing that there was an open source enterprise-level shopping cart.

Kim W. drew us diagrams to explain her release process for her company, which was pretty interesting for me because I was just going through the whole release process at mine.

Akkana talked about having a hackday and said to talk to Gloria W. about grrlcamp and other events.

I met Gaba, who was there with her 6 month old baby, and who talked about working for crabgrass, and about programming.
Also, Ursula and her partner Wiebke, I think both programmers but now I can’t remember what they do.

Someone else, I think Tori, talked with me about librarians and wikis, librarians and CMS, people still trying to figure out tech and cms. We agreed that people don’t realize the depth of the problem of managing knowledge, keeping and maintaining and using it. It is not a trivial problem! I had an idea: exposing the dead links in your years of blogs. How about an app to do that and then helps you find a live link for those dead link, in the internet archive AND other places. This would be a really great application. It should be built into ecto and other multiplatform blogging clients.

Another idea we talked about: make Moodblast do your location. Or something to let you talk to Doppler very quickly to update your location. General agreement from half the table that Dopplr is slick, and ears perked up around the other half of the table. (This was the case in nearly every conversation I was in, all day!)

Kaliya’s opening intro.

She mentioned some Stanford researchers – researching US. and reporters, like Mike – our “guy” from the San Jose Mercury News, plus Karen, the photographer

Julie from Wired News was also mentioned and got a huge cheer
c.?? from GigaOm (I did not hear her name.)

Kaliya mentions that the lunch trash is all compostable – but we need to find someone to take it somewhere that they compost stuff. Anyone ? Someone from google volunteers. Oh, California, where else would we find this funny and sweet and wondrous behavior?

Susan Mernit talking now, about Lillian (last name?) in animation in the 1930s, refused entry to animation school because women don’t do that sort of creative work.
What’s changed and what hasn’t? Things are shifting. We’re here at this moment in time. Yet they are not shifting enough. We are in an unbalanced environment, seen as an exception, exception b/c of being an engineer, doing back end work, or because of things like having to take care of everyone on the team. Everyone’s really comfortable if you do that, but if you don’t you’re the bitch. “You’re so amazing you’re not one of those tight sweaters” “what?” you now those really cute girls who work in pr and marketing… or “put your name on it or no one will believe you contributed.” or “Hey how did you come to be (engineer)” etc. or “Are you married? What does your husband think” These aren’t the reasons we’re here today, but this is an environment we all function in. We do it to each other and ourselves too; we have to fight to be as comfortable as we are.
Here we get to really talk, Linux, back end, systems, biotech, whatever you are passionate about. Also our stories of things we have to deal with.

Question from audience: Is anything being recorded? Can we watch this later? (Answer: Maybe – the videobloggers here are doing some recording.

Nonprofits session

Beth Kanter – circuit rider, learned html early, started blogging to keep a work log of things fixed
Elizabeth Perry – works at a school – accidental techie – came out of feminist literary theory background. School environment, adoption, you get computers but teachers aren’t sure how to make use of it. Inefficiency, confusion, concern. Elizabeth wrote a tech plan, interviewed to get best practices, then got a job doing that development, how to use tech to develop curriculum. New ways of using tech. Tech evangelist, one on one to help teachers use technology in their teaching. Technology integration specialist.
Beth: shoulder to shoulder learning
Eliz: ideal for people who love projects and learning new things. Teachers don’t know the tech but are great learners. What was cool for you in middle and high school? What can we do for girls? Eliz’s background is in community organizing.
Beth: the role of translator, an important skill.

Ursula K. Music industry, help musicians promote with tech.
EP: look at higher education and doing a gig teaching a course in how to do this.
Beth K: Webinars, for Rockefeller Foundation, supporting independent musicians, the business of music. Beth was out looking for people who work with musicinas and taught those things.

Ursula: often the valuable thigns are the Small details like don’t send a jpg that’s more than 120 pixels wide because it will give a bad impression.

Beth Cameron – sacramento. started out as admin asst and ended up doing al the techie stuff like setting up networks and fixing computers. getting peopel on listsev. Califo assoc. of health facilities. every time i go to any sort of training or anything I”m one of 2 women if even.
Beth K: it’s an important point, small interventions go a long way. the flip side is that there is a lot of resistance and adoption issues.
EP: I just learned this thing last year! Why do I have to learn another thing!
Beth C: Change is hard. And our org is mostly female except for the CEO of course (laughter) a little cynicism, glass ceilng… So I teach people how to send their first email, how to blog, back with AOL. Try gmail! and so on.
EP: they are passionate about something other than technoogy. because their mind is not on that they make careless or foolish mistakes and therefore they get really frustrated, and so it’s like therapy, lowering their stress level around technology. creating passionate users. those rewards, like video gamers levelling up rewards, kathy sierra. first you show them the blog entry, then the microphone, hey you could record something.
BK: You can’t overwhelm them, can’t use any jargon.
Akkana: takng time off from Silicon Valley rat race, looking for something more worthwhile. I know women who work in np as sys admins. I’m more of a programmer. Is there a space for things other than sys admin?

BJ Wishinski: quit high tech job to work for year for anita borg (wow) Graphics programmer, manager of education services around technogoloy. Software for designing integrated circuits. one of the more masculine ends of tech you can possibly be in. i’m so tired of that enviornment that I don’t want to go back. so I gave notice. I just went from grace hopper conference to here, to anita borg, now I have a year to figure out a paying job doing something to build support structures for women in tech industry and a new career

susan gearhart: interested in baby boomers who are going to be losing vision. I have a vision loss program. as i’ve been goin ghtrough this transition I am understandng what boomers will need from technology. women who could get together to develop assistive tech that in an open source mode . then, t here are other really great tech ideas but theya re really 2 or 3 generations behind. how can we bring that new stuff into the attention of the rehab organizations that work for states, counties, schools, to make much better tech available for everybody of all ages. Is there an org anywhere, or way to form one, develop better assistive tech. Existing rehab organizations.

BJ: Center for Independent Living?
Susan: Bookshare
Liz: no really awesome ones around.

blond woman: boomers, next phase, silver something. using tech, patents. “Hearrings” earrings that are hearing aids.

(We all get rather excited about Hearrings. Fancy hats with veils and flowers with all that stuff built in…)

Susan’s blog:

me: I worked in K-12 school, universities, in tech. worked in search at excite, back end, perl, went off to get degree in comparative literature and translation, blogging, blogher, now at socialtext, wiki software, i manage the open source release of this wiki software . pbwiki, socialtext, wikipatterns could be very useful for educators and nonprofits. I love what Beth said about the small interventions.

Beth: watch people work, see how you can intervene.

Wiebke Mueller, from germany. accessibility, e-learning. training people on computers, web developer, trainer.

Liz: This site, a woman I met at BlogHer, keeps this blog which explains step by step everything you have to do to make a blog accessible, on various blogging platforms.

http://allaccessblogging.com

BJ: also interested in access. We are all going to be disabled at some point if we live long enough. Older people using email and the web more.

Wiebke: Dragon, it has become much better in version 9.

Anne Holden: Science education, communication. http://www.natcenscied.org/default.asp
Describes many issues of nonprofits and education. Donors, grants, professors. If there’s a big court case we get a lot of press and then new members. Was working in research, thought the profs aren’t getting their research out there enough for the public.

Amy Jussel – new media, non profit, non partisan, creative director. It’s all about content. “Shaping youth” is her blog. Girls for a Change (conference?) Her background is CEO, productize this, make it open source, get it out there. Viral, counter-marketing, constructive. Readergirl. I get offers from companies who want to sponsor, but they just want my people. Kraft Foods, Walmart, all the biggies that are trying to change their colors but I’m a little cynical. I’m Trader Joes not Walmart. I’m looking for advice, how to integrate positive media but maintain an indy voice, how to be nonprofit, and open source, as a social entrepeneur.

EP: New Mexico media literacy group. Be afraid, be very afraid. Critical consumers.

BJ also mentions Girls for a Change. The girls really take it into their own hands, make a web site, put stuff on YouTube.

BK: about being an entrepeneur, are you workingn with a non profit?
AJ: I am a nonprofit.
BK: so you’re frustrated with the structue you set up?
AJ: Have easy turnkey kits for teachers to download. then i decided, why charge 50 bucks for this? why not make it free and open source?
BK: have a small board, that can work really well, you can then move faster
AJ: we could go after grants, i dunno, the blogs become time sinks. be a vital resource, but pay the bills. how not to have big folks declare they’re your partner and not take you over.
Abbey Patterson: company is Sooner. duke, harvard, partnership, unesco, columbia, healthcare. Music, hip hop.

I have lost the thread of what Abbey is talking about.

Katie – free technology services to small grassroots nonprofits. just getting a web site, the over the shoulder learning, etc. grassroots.org

American Cancer Society –
The Click Heard Round the World – Rickomatic – MacArthur, nonprofit and best practices paper.

Lightning talks. Danese

Slides are online:

* be clear what you are talking about
* don’t think of yourself as a public speaker, it’s regular conversation
* humble and funny
* nothing bad is going to happen
* don’t overprepare. be real
* your audience wants you to succeed. watching you fail is excruciating.

what’s your goal? not necessarily there to say what you’ve been told to say.

* (I have more extensive notes on the lightning talks sessions which I’ll post on Thursday. I took notes on nearly all the 3 minute talks, and I gave a talk myself on How to Deal with It When You Don’t Know What To Do (about bugs, and applications not working, and failed installs, and broken computers) and another on How to Make Your Wiki Not Suck.)
* The extra time for eating and breaks was a fantastic part of this conference
* I got some fun stickers from google and firefox, and an O’Reilly tshirt
* I talked more with Danese which was super fun
* I talked about my workplace and what I do and demo-ed my wiki for people
* I hung out with my kick-ass sister, who is a web dev and blogger
* I also talked with Z. about open document format, she showed me some linux translation efforts which I marked to blog about later, and we talked about nooxml.org
* I caught the first bit of Heather Gold’s stand up comedy which was great, but I had to leave
* Did I mention, the food was good?
* I talked with 2 people from Atlassian, which was fun (their company also sells enterprise-level wikis)
* I promised lots of people cards and “Wiki Way” tshirts and more talking and information the next day when I would be less tired
* and there were so many people there I wanted to talk with, old friends and new people to meet
* BUT THEN that night I got nastily ill and spent the whole day 2 of the conference in bed throwing up. DAMN
* So I didn’t get to give the fun long version of my talk “How to Make Your Wiki Not Suck So Bad”
* I was very very sad about being sick and missing the rest of the conference
* Mad props to Kaliya and team for a great conference and a great job organizing!
* Note to self and others, go add your writeups and information to the wiki! Yes, this means you! Link them from either the Monday page, or Proposed Topics, or the nearly totally empty Notes page which I hope we will populate and organize. The main thing is to put up your notes. Someone else will come along and fix things and organize it later, that is what wikis are all about. But this was a great conference that deserves to have a record of what happened there set out coherently.

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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!

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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! 😎

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People I met at BlogHer; and the swag

Here is a giant bigass post with links to all the people I met at Blogher. It was often a blur of meeting people who recognized me because I am recognizable with the purple hair and all. But then I would forget their names unless they had badges on or I already knew them from long conversations from previous years. And then people who I sort of know or felt like I should know better than I actually remember knowing. And already it’s been a week since the conference, so I’ve forgotten what were at the time very cool connections. YOU KNOW HOW IT GOES. (Talking to someone 5 minutes secretly thinking omg who are you who are you i totally know who you are but your hair is different now until it clicks, thank god because I often can’t fess up that I don’t know.) Sometimes, I was smart, and made a note on the business card of what we talked about and what I intended to do as a result. “email to her Sondra’s info” or “damn this guy is pushy” or whatever.

What I really want is for all these fabulous geeky women to come to BarCampBlock in Palo Alto, August 18-19. Come! I’m helping to organize it! Sign up on the wiki, on upcoming.org, on the Facebook group, and/or on EventBrite. Also, I’d like to see them all again at She’s Geeky in October, — Oct 22-23 in Mountain View!

First and perhaps illogically the people I already know. My amazing roommates at the W, SJ of I, Asshole who I have known online since my first days of blogging. And her friend Shauny whose name I only knew peripherally from years of seeing it in SJ’s sidebar as her web host and I think blog-mother — Shauna who is like a rock of sanity and interestingness and I could just wait for the next hilarious sarcastic thing to come out of her mouth. And I love SJ’s business card: “Generous Lover + Writer + Dope Bitch / Super Jive at your Service”. This year, we refrained from the secret topless photos of last year, but I could not help down-blousing her a couple of times. Someday the world will be properly at her feet. She will be like Molly Ivins, except boozier and dirtier.

Blogher

Annalee Newitz from Techsploitation and I hung out a lot. We did at SXSWi as well. There’s a funny balance at conferences between hanging out with new people and hanging with people you already know who are from your hometown. You want to be around the people you already know, and connect up with them because you don’t see them enough. But on the other hand if you do that too much you never meet anyone new! And then I’ll go through a process of thinking “Oh well if I want to see Mary then I can just call her the hell up, why don’t I?” and vowing to call her when I get back home. But with Annalee, because we know each other so well, it’s like being in a warm bath. So when I get overwhelmed by conference or need to process it all with someone super safe, you will find me texting the shit out of Annalee with “Where r u” until we meet up and can hang out and relax. I was super happy she came to BlogHer, and so proud to hear her being smart and articulate as hell at the keynote with Esther Dyson and Rashmi Sinha. Anyway, it’s a long way since the days when she would go “Blogging? Why! Full of drama! Just be a professional journalist and get paid!” And she kicks so much ass! And so I was happy to see her see that BlogHer is one of those places you can be all the parts of yourself at once, asskicking, geeky, and human. I really liked what she said about BlogHer; I feel the same way, and this sums it right up.

There were tomboys, mommies, punks, tarts, ladies, bitches, nerds, and girls. There were professional women in suits and perfect hair, and grubby rockabilly gals in tattoos and tight dresses.

Because so many of us were there, we stopped being women and just became humans. This is an incredibly rare experience in the tech industry.

I have three different cards from Mur Lafferty. I am totally going to stick my tentacles into Mur’s brain. We could not talk for more than 30 seconds without shrieking “NO! I must see that! Send me the link!” I vote her Person I Most Want to Be New BFF With. I will let her ride my bike, and chop the hair off all my Barbies, and post in my group blogs, and and and. I will also buy a “Mur’s Bitch” tshirt and wear it with pride. I wish I had spent more time just following Mur around, and especially with laptops open and the links flying, but the hanging out we did do was so nice it felt like we had known each other forever.


Possibly the nicest down time at the conference, me, Annalee, Barb Dybwad, Mur (whose novel thing you can find at Heaven seasons 1, 2 and 3, Gina, Jason from Lulu.tv, Marshall, and then later SJ, Shauna, and Susie. Beer in the sink! Computers at hand (but no good wireless)! Pizza on the floor! Conversation flying! Screaming laughter!

Onwards!

I hung a bit with Beth Kanter, whose blogging I admire and who is just Fun. She laid a whole bunch of stuff on me at my request about blogging and wikis and nonprofits and in fact she has some enormous wiki squirrelled away that explains it ALL. I will link to that and write it up separately when I have spare brain cells. Amusingly… one of her Moo cards was a photo I took of her lying on the floor upskirting me at the FIRST BlogHer. Yes we are very very rowdy when you take 95% of the men away. Women’s tech conferences are like a huge frat party but with more giggling and craft projects and light flirting. Just as you always suspected, guys!

I talked a bit (never enough!) with Dave Coustan and I’m linking to him even if it is a link to his benign corporate overlords. He is “extraface” on twitter if you want his personal life. And surely some of you do!

I hung out with my homie and fellow Woolfcamper Jen Scharpen, who works now for BlogHer Ads and for BlogHer itself!

And ended up with a card for Beth Blecherman who I know from meeting the Silicon Valley Moms Blog folks! Jill Asher was at the conference too I think, but I don’t remember seeing her. OMG maybe she changed her hair and I *did* talk with her and she’s one of the people I should totally know and yet only have met in person twice. I also don’t know Beth super well, but always enjoy talking with her!

Deb Roby – I do not have her card on me, but know where to find her! We sat across each other at dinner one night at the W hotel and had a grand old time with the gossip.

Georgia Popplewell from Global Voices and Caribbean Free Radio, someone I’d like to know better, and didn’t get that heart to heart talk with, but at some point I know we’ll do that! Oh, she’s fantastic!

You see the problem with BlogHer. It is full of amazing people to the point to where your head explodes. If you love to talk with smart, clueful geeks and writers, it’s like being a kid in a candy shop.

Laurie White of Laurie Writes. We talked at dinner at the W about education and community college teaching and social class. I was trying to recommend the book “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” by Ruby K. Payne to Laurie. This is my reminder to do that! Or maybe she’ll vanity-technorati and find this and will make a note of it. Also, you should all buy it and read it. It’s a very good explanation of social class and of its hidden rules, and ways to translate culturally between classes.

Karen from Trollbaby/Vodkarella was so much fun at sushi… We and Queen Tureaud aka Erin (whose blog name for her kid is, get this, Queen Peanut Punk as Fuck) and whose writing I also read with interest elsewhere, Anyway my point was we were eating sushi and drinking sake and joking massively about bi-curious mommyblogger dynamics. I know what you are thinking … when do these blogging chicks NOT talk about sex? I’m not sure but not when I’m around that’s for sure. Seriously though, Karen rocks, and I am still very appreciative of the great blog redesign she did for me!

Okay, that is the people I already knew reasonably well, or at least the ones whose cards are right in front of me.

More later of all the other people, but this post is already way too long.

Just one more thing.

SWAG! The best stuff I got at BlogHer was the bags, as usual. The glowing martini glass entertained me for a while. And the AOL memory stick was also nice and made me feel warm and fuzzy, but I left it in a geocache at breakfast yesterday. Tiny hand mirrors and a couple of magnets, also good, and they’ll stick around rather than being thrown away. So I am left with some stickers and flyers, and the main tote bag, and the awesome AOL body (?) laptop bag. I don’t know what AOL body means, and don’t care, but I think kindly of them in a general way now, instead of hating them for the litter of “free online access” CDs that infested the world some years back. The cocktail party food at the Childrens’ Museum party rocked. That stuff was delicious!

Someone’s missing out big time on the geeky-slogan tshirt selling opportunity, and the fact that everyone wants to mod up and decorate their laptops, and have a fancy unique laptop bag. I also agree with Lisa Williams that if they’re going to give us hand lotion, which I like perfectly well by the way, it should have LEDs in it. YES. Just throw some girly shit at us, like laptop bags that look like robotic parts with rivets, AND sparkles, or light up hand lotion with a control panel, or futuristic star trek salt and pepper shakers that also have GPS in them. Ipod cases, etc. We are GEEKS and like gadgets, and little thingies to decorate gadgets, and useful things to put things into, at BlogHer!

I wonder how many tiny cute laptops and iphones Apple would have sold if they had set up something at BlogHer? What do you think?

Tools, also. Tools and gadgets that are cute and portable. I am thinking of how Radio Shack had a table at Maker Faire, and was selling fabulous small toolkits for 10 bucks. I bought one for the trunk of my car. NOW when I am trapped in an earthquake on the highway I will not only have moldering powerbars and boxes of raisins and bandaids! I will also have a full set of wrenches!

Cars were a really good idea too at BlogHer 2006. I bought a car last year, and I hated the process with white hot blinding passion and I had to deal with slobbering sexist jerks at the car dealership.

I’ll write more later or tomorrow as this is part 1 of at least 3 posts on BlogHer. Part 2 will be the other people I met. Part 3 will be the panels I was on and that I went to! No wait. I need Part 4 for the Unconference in which I talked about wikis for like 6 hours. That’s it, peace, out.

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Geek dress code, Silicon Valley version

Skud blogged a very funny comparison of geek vs. non-geek dress codes. I think the geek code allows for a more fine-grained analysis!

THE GEEK DRESS CODE
With elements of clothing listed in order of ascending formality
================================================================

Shirts:

Tshirt your mom bought you at Kmart when you were in high school. Ill fitting; 80s colored; perhaps with abstract designs.
Tshirt for tech company, probably white, grubby, boring.
Tshirt for unboring tech company or science fictional thing.
Cool tech tshirt, black.
Cool tech tshirt, black, tucked in, with belt.
Snarky geek tshirt perhaps from threadless or Thinkgeek; tight fitting to show off boobs and/or muscles.
Snarky geek shirt with sports jacket; best multitool on belt.

Underwear:

Underwear worn yesterday, turned inside out.
Underwear your parents or s.o. got you for a utilitarian present.
Underwear that is actually cute and fits, that you bought for yourself.
Underwear with snarky geek saying on it. Impressive!

Pants:

Baggy pants, too short, bought in high school by mom; used to be either green, grey, black, or brown; now a greyish nothing-color; holes optional.
Jeans.
Jeans without prominent holes.
The “nice” jeans; no holes, no stains; they fit.
Black jeans!
Pants that are not jeans but are not quite suit pants either -OR- a misguided Utilikilt.

Skirts:

Long flowing hippie skirt, unfashionable, no underwear, or boxers
Skirt that is more current style of some sort.
Miniskirt and combat boots ( with snarky tshirt, multitool, and jacket, this is punk geek formal).
Ball gown of amazing ridiculousness, with sneakers.
Actual fancy dress that looks fantastic, with girly shoes (to be used sparingly).

Bras:

None.
Tank top.
Tank top with shelf thing built in.
Actual bra, scungy.
Fun colored lacey bra -OR- none, with Snarky geek shirt, tight.

Stockings:

Mismatched white tube socks.
White socks.
Black socks.
Fun socks.
Tights.
Ironic leg warmers.
Stripey knee socks.
Stripey thigh highs.
Fishnets, pristine.
Fishnets, artistically torn, with safety pins. Especially on guys. Guys, y’all are taking notes, right?

Accessories acceptable for dressing up:

Laptop backpack.
Laptop bag, fancy.
Laptop modded in any way; stickers; etching; plastic case.
A funky vest. (For hippie chicks or old unix sys admins).
Pocketwatch. (Sys admins ONLY).

We could keep going, I’m sure! I can’t even begin to touch upon shoes.

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Vancouver hackathon tomorrow

I’ve been having a blast with my co-workers from Socialtext in Vancouver for our hackathon week. I’ve worked, had fun, and gone to a zillion meetings, wheeled around a bit of downtown Vancouver. Last night was the Vancouver.pm Perlmongers meeting, which I’ll blog elsewhere.

On Friday – tomorrow – we’re having a community hackathon at the Bryght offices in downtown Vancouver. 1pm to 1am. Sign up, and come by if you like!

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SuperHappyDevHouse: Serial enthusiasm

I’m at SuperHappyDevHouse cussing up a storm as my wireless connection goes in and out. I’ve been messing with Kayuda, with Pipes a little, writing up notes, and talking with people who are all showing me nifty software. I just tagged about a dozen mindmapping and brainstorming apps in del.icio.us from my conversations with Ben Suter and David Montgomery. Tried a few of them… Ben showed me his Narrator software, which does something mysterious with architecture mapping and has a component that generates diagrams that then can be viewed as 3-D models. But with a mindmap-like interface, drawing and defining links between objects. When I got him into trying Kayuda he squeaked with glee.

Tantek and I talked briefly about wiki gardening. I also got into a conversation in the line for the bathroom (before I discovered the secret bathroom) about it. As more and more people get into wikis, as they have been doing with blogs, we’ll need more and better wiki gardening tools. I need them right now for multiple wiki platforms, and I don’t have them, and I don’t think anyone does. I wonder if there will be interesting visual representations of wikis as networks, and ways to fiddle with that, and better batch editing of wiki pages, and ways to run stats that will hook straight into wiki manipulation and administration tools. This could also have a crucial social and community component; ways of representing stories about the ways people are interacting, patterns and clusters of interaction exposed could give ways to deal with problems of group dynamics that arise on wikis big and small. A bunch of people talked with me tonight about throttling down the speed of web interaction, adding limits to the volume people can contribute, maybe especially toning down “noisy” people, adding “friction” — same stuff Kaliya Hamlin was talking about at SXSWi.

A ton of people are here from startup school. They’re all starry eyed right now so it must have been some super powerful koolaid over there.

Whump and I and Les Orchard were talking about people who are serial enthusiasts. (Us.) We love some nifty new software for a week and talk about it all over the place and blog it and poke it and then run off after something else. I wonder what our actual rate of new-software-adoption to “ooo shiny”. I accused whump of feeding me a constant stream of interesting new things and of knowing everything about new stuff AND actually using a high percentage of it and knowing it in more depth than people who burble about shiny new things usually know. He denies this and feels ashamed of his inability to adopt all nifty software orphans. Les says he is known for being the person to ask if anyone wants to know, “Hey, is there a Web 2.0 company that does X thing?” and he always knows, because for a while he was reading 1000 feeds. That’s what happens if you snap your achilles tendon while getting off the bus. I pointed out that “evangelist” might not stay in vogue forever as a job title, because the oo shiny people who get hired for that, well, if you’re that way, can you possibly sustain that feeling about a single product for years? So we all three were sitting here wishing there was a job for serial enthusiasts, who are maybe an intersection with early adopters. My theory is that there are people who have excellent “nifty filters” and are tormented because they recognize niftiness unusually well, so well that they notice the potential and niftiness of so many things that it’s not humanly possible for them to use all of those things. This might also be seen as (or might be) sluttiness, or a lack of discrimination and ability to recognize what’s truly nifty and useful as well as the lack of going deeply into those things. Perhaps both qualities combine to make the deepest serial enthusiasts. A level of quick insight and holistic grasp of possibility is good, as well as the ability to generate different idea-pathways quickly, like a chess player foreseeing future developments. Whether or not that sort of person is useful in the real world, I value that quality in people.

(Somewhere in here I looked at Rohit’s Angstro thingie, challenged a bit of the “what would be useful” concept of it, marvelled at Plasma Pong’s silliness and beauty, and talked to a dude who’s part of a Linux TV company which I’ve forgotten the name of but he was screaming with delight about Angela (?) something, his CEO, who rocks and is an enormous genius, and how they’re a tiny quiet company that is about to take over the world; and at Eric Tiedemann’s Monome tuning application which he nicely explained to me though he could barely contain being appalled that I didn’t know anything about the mathematics of tuning; and I started installing Planet Venus on my server, and then went on an extended bitter rant to Whump about how and why nowhere ever exports me a decent opml file, or imports it right, and all my effort is lost when I switch platforms or accounts, so I’ve become disheartened about feed readers. Whump had a neat setup that he promised to write up later in his blog, with Planet Venus running every once in a while and then pushing up to a server. Later in the night, I looked at the sort of messy tangle I made on Kayuda and I think that it’s not a good representation, and it might not even be useful, and I wonder how to restructure it so that it would be. Strict limitations on number of nodes to convey a central idea, with baroque flourishes and digressions allowed in a sort of overlay? )

I can’t believe how many people are crammed into this house. It’s nuts. But I have the feeling I don’t want to leave… it’s all cosy… I have a spot on a couch… the network is working again so I’m all happy. I have contradictory impulses to go talk with people and then on the other hand to lurk on the irc channels and “talk” the way normal people do, on the internet, without this weird “moving your mouth” or “looking at people in the face” component to it.

Some dude came up to me and said “This is your house, right?” “No… why do you ask?” “Because… uh… because you’re cool?” I think that was either meant to be several layers of irony more than it came off as, or else he was a bit drunk…

Okay, it *was* all cosy until I read some really gross and annoying posts on Valleywag about SHDH and women. At least there are nice people like whump and cyn and Ben and Tracy. That don’t make a person feel like there’s women who count as human, and other women who don’t, and as if there are only a few slots for the humans and a perpetual struggle to prove oneself worthy, and the perpetual need to represent for one’s entire gender… at all times… It’s a bad way to set up a frame for the universe. I get so pissed off reading stuff like that and want to respond in kind, or at least by regendering it or being “funny” right back by objectifying guys, which doesn’t work anyway because the power dynamics are different. Anyway, grrrrr.

My uncle just got home – he went to the Mermen show at 12 Galaxies and loved it and also loved the Extraordinaires. Maybe I should have cut out early from shdh when I stopped being productive, and gone to the show.

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