Noisebridge! Best thing ever!

On April 2nd and 3rd I am going to spend several hours teaching at least 70 high school physics students how to solder and some alluring information about contributing to open source software!

They are doing a project to design and build a solar home. If you know anything about electronics or solar energy cells please join us a do some teaching!

rowan learning to solder

I spent $250 of my own money to buy a crapload of little LED kits so they can have a conveniently teachable soldering project – that is how much I love Noisebridge, and geeky things, and teaching, and non hierarchical anarchist/mutualist community spaces!

I am thinking of the Hackability group that meets at Noisebridge to fix and mod their wheelchairs and mobility scooters! We take over a classroom, gank all the workshop tools, and get on the floor where none of us think it is weird that we scoot and crawl and roll across the floor to pick up a screwdriver just out of reach, laughing at all this solidarity! We bravely dismantle our cyborg leg-wheels and bolt them on again covered with LED lights, jazzed up with arduinos to measure battery voltage, then roll on out into the town!

potentiometer and its lever

And the fierce, fun feminist hacker hive that is a chaotic unstructured network of strength and curiosity and information sharing, that stretches from Noisebridge to sudo room and LOLSpace, and beyond!


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I am thinking of all the people I’ve given tours to who come in from out of town and are all starry-eyed and inspired, who meet people and go to Python and Ruby and web dev and Linux classes and eat the strange productions from the Vegan Hackers, the laptops that people at Noisebridge fix and give away, the cameraderie I always find there and the fabulous energy of young people just moving to San Francisco to do a startup or find some kind of freedom or empowerment and hope to find at least part of it at this weird ever changing junkyard coffeehouse-feeling co-op workshop. We made this place that isn’t anything like any other place and it can also be YOURS. Meddle in it!f

surface mount soldering

SUBSCRIBE to support Noisebridge’s rent, its freely provided wifi, its bins of electronics parts that anyone can rummage through and pillage, its beautiful giant robot, its classrooms and electricity, its ADA-compliant bathroom custom built specially by Noisebridge folk, its elevator, its devotion to support accessibility for all, all its copies of keys that I and others have distributed as Keys to the City, the library of excellent technical books, well used and loved and read!

Hacker moms visiting Noisebridge

Our rent went up this year, and our people’s job security and income went down. It’s exactly at that point, when the economy is hard on us all, that we need collectives and co-ops and hackerspaces. We have to band together in the best ways we can come up with.

me and maria zaghi at noisebridge

People visit Noisebridge and like it so much that they move to the Bay Area. They come to Noisebridge for education, to find peers and mentors, to teach, and sometimes to find as close as they can get to home and family when they are hackers down on their luck.

Noisebridge - looking west

They come to speak in public for the first time at 5 minutes of fame. They sound a little odd and then they turn out to be geniuses. They drudge to clean the floors and toilets and scrub the kitchen and buy toilet paper, doing the unglamorous physical domestic labor of maintaining this place that’s used heavily 24 hours a day 7 days a week.


We do good work together as best we can. We give a lot to our community! We give access, tools, skills, time, belief, trust, fantastic spectacles, beauty and humor and art. With a sense of wonder and playfulness people walk in and look around – I see it on their faces – like they have just had a million new ideas churn around in their heads – So many possibilities and they know they can be part of it.

Noisebridge table

circuit hacking monday

And we need widespread, ongoing support.

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If you can spare any, we need your exclamation points as I have used most of them in this post!!

Noisebridge tea cart

Shorter posts with more worklogs and book reviews

While I love to go on at length and be thorough sometimes it’s been stopping me from recording interesting stuff lately. I’ll be at a conference and take great notes, which years ago I would have posted unedited. Now I tend to procrastinate posting about something “until I can do justice to it” which often results in “never”. Have I posted about Kiwicon? NO! Argh. Fuck that, I need to just post.

So I’m resolving to write more frequently about smaller topics. They may not turn into comprehensive book reviews but at least there will be something here.

mozilla roof

At work I am organizing a Bugzilla bug day and preparing to go to Toronto next week for a community building work week.

Not-at-work, lots of people are rumbling about wanting another feminist hackers meeting and a hackability wheelchair/access device hack day. I have Noisebridge stuff going on and AdaCamp is coming up in June. I forgot to actually sign up for WisCon panels but in theory am going to WisCon. There is a lot of “event to-do list” stuff here!

Notable books I read in the last few days: The Brontës Went to Woolworth’s by Rachel Ferguson, which was fantastic; The Diary of Elizabeth Pepys by Dale Spender, which I adored but which was very depressing as you can imagine if you have read Pepys; and Japanese Inn (my boring-book for bedtime) by Oliver Statler, which functioned perfectly as a boring-book and which was good but very colonialish and patronizing in the way you might expect from a book from 1960 and which if you are not trying to fall asleep at night would just make you wonder why you are bothering and realize it would be better to read some actual work of Japanese history or a primary source by one of the people referred to. Though I did enjoy reading Isabella Bird’s travels.

I am feeling more energy lately and less pain, which I attribute to my 2 months of Enbrel injections and perhaps also Tramadol, which is great as an occasional painkiller.

Here is a photo of the fabulous glistening Minecraft block cake I made for Milo’s 13th birthday party (which was at the musee mecanique again)

Minecraft cake

There really need to be square cupcake pans (well, cubical) Maybe there already are! Then it would be easy to make little Minecraft block cakes and frost them all different colors and build a hilarious structure which could be easily (if stickily) disassembled.

Feminist hacker lounge at PyCon

PyCon gave non-profit booth space to The Ada Initiative and Mozilla for our Feminist Hacker Lounge and it turned out just awesome. Though it was only a 10×10 booth space lined with beanbags we met and hung out with lots of fantastic people. Lukas, Val, Mary and I roamed the exhibit halls, went to talks, and handed out stickers. We were right next to the PyLadies booth, across from CodeChix, and diagonally across from Women Who Code. So that made for good synergy. We also sent emissaries across the exhibit hall to trade stickers with the Lady Coders.

ada init booth

In the afternoon on Friday we had some larger discussions but mostly people just wanted to talk with each other in small groups. One of the things people said most often was how welcoming various Python communities had been to them and how comfortable they felt. That was great to hear.

We talked about hackerspaces and projects like Planeteria and whatever we have going in github and our jobs. We talked about stuff we want to do at AdaCamp in June. And Lukas and I got into some weird installer problems in trying to deploy bz-tools with stackato on We told some horror stories and a lot of jokes. I painted my nails “VT100” green with “Tux” black stripes. At one point I watched two math nerds realize they shared a “pure math” background and saw them both get ecstatic expressions on their faces, scream, and hug… And obviously we all spent a lot of time just staring at our laptops while lying there on the floor.

ada initiative

One thing I talked about to people…. brainstorming ideas for a project that I thought of when I read harthur’s post after some code of hers got harshly criticized. (She has a followup post: Open Source Rocks which is also very good.) As I was thinking about students looking for open source projects to contribute too, I wondered if we could offer github projects owned by women to women — in a similar way to how Code Triage works. You could add your repo to the tool and then other women might browse through by language or in some other way, find it, and pick it to contribute to (perhaps getting a periodic email invitation with a bug to fix.)

This would be easier and slicker than many “mentoring”, even peer mentoring, match-up tools I have seen over the years.

(The obvious problem, of course, is that adding your repo to this tool may just get you threats, rude propostions, and nasty hate mail. But so does everything else that identifies us as female — and that just can’t stop us.)

I also spent some time talking with a very nice guy about his teenage daughter’s ventures into hackerdom. She has been doing electronics and robotics projects since she was in preschool. He recommended this amazing looking camp for gifted math students to girls and young women looking for their peers. They are Epsilon Camp for age 8 – 11, Math Path for middle school students, and Math Camp for high school.

It was great to be at PyCon and meet so many amazing people! I really appreciated that the PyCon organizers gave us some free passes which we gave out to some Feminist HackerHive women who would not otherwise have been able to go. Yay PyCon! And much thanks to Mozilla for providing the beanbags and portable whiteboard.

feminist hacker lounge

Screen reader and accessibility bug day

Tomorrow Mozilla is hosting a screen reader and general accessibility bug day.

Len Burns and I have invited screen reader users of Firefox and other Mozilla products to join us in sorting through existing accessibility bugs. Some folks from the Mozilla Accessibility team will be on hand to talk with us.

I’m pretty sure we will also collect some new bugs along the way!

I hope that people will make new connections, and that we can attract a wider accessibility bugmaster team to do ongoing work with Mozilla’s existing developers and a11y experts.

The screen reader landscape for web access is fairly complicated. For example, here are the Firefox Gecko docs for Windows accessibility vendors which explain the relationship between the DOM tree and Microsoft’s accessibility API. Common screen reader software includes NVDA, Window-Eyes, JAWS, and Orca.

Orca2 sm

If you would like a quick overview of common web access issues, look through Aaron Leventhal’s presentation. I like it because he includes some political dimensions and context for accessibility.

So far, the “bugmaster” bug days have been combined with QA’s efforts. I’m hoping to also hold focused bug days like this one, in cooperation with various teams across Mozilla. As we gather more templates for bug managing and triage, I hope we’ll coalesce bugmaster teams with expertise in particular areas. And we can repeat topic-focused bug days periodically.

If you are interested in web accessibility or if you use a screen reader, please drop by on Tuesday and say hello in the #accessibility channel on

You can also add the name you go by, your irc handle, your contact infomation, or anything else you use to identify yourself, on the wiki page for the bug day under Participants: .

The goals of the screen reader bug day are to improve everyone’s experience of Firefox and other Mozilla tools. We would like for everyone to be able to access the web smoothly. Through collecting more information on accessibility bugs, we hope to connect committed technical users with accessibility developers, and make our community better and more powerful. Our bugmaster work should help to make developers’ work easier. That way they can spend more time fixing stuff.

If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to email me at

In setting up this event I tried to make sure that the tools we are using are as accessible as possible. Etherpad, which Mozilla teams often use for bug triage events, is not useable for screen readers. The pages seem readable though editing may be more of a challenge. IRC feels like our best bet for good communication. I also went through about 100 screen-reader-related bugs and emailed the bug reporters and commenters to send them invitations to participate.

Len is particularly interested in developing a plan for Thunderbird and screen reader vendors. If you share this interest I recommend joining the mailing list tb-planning.

Here is what Len has to say on Thunderbird accessibility:

It is complicated, because the issues are really between the two major screen reader vendors and Mozilla. Meaning, that the solution would need to be a cooperative one. Because the screen reader vendors perceive, right or wrong, that little more than security bugs are being updated in Thunderbird, they do not seem terribly motivated. I am not quite sure where to take it.

Unless I could convince the vendors that solving these issues are worthy of their time, I am a bit stuck.

I would definitely be willing to raise the specifics with both vendors if I could give them some reason to encourage a belief that there is a mutual interest in improving things. When I have raised several with GW Micro I hear things like: This has been filed for over a year with no response, and the like.

Those of us using screen readers are currently in quite a pickle regarding email. The choices are quite limited. A lot of us have been using Thunderbird for some time, but when things reach a point where you are spending too much time trying to send a simple email, something must give.

I can also tell you that what finally tipped me were problems between the composition screen, and other open apps on-screen. If I were going to compose an email in TBird right now, I would have to be sure that Skype was minimized, MirandaIM was minimized, etc. If I did not, I would be likely to encounter a range of strange behaviors in the edit window such as being unable to read back the text I am writing, inaability to use my backspace, format distortion, and more.

What has been slowing me down on these issues was a lack of knowing avenues of pursuit. The challenge will be convincing vendors that investing time is a benefit. My position is that I am not sure, but, we have a good chance of catalyzing and contributing to change and possible strengthened relationships.

Len has been a professional system administrator, coder and web accessibility consultant since the Internet was a kinder and gentler place. He makes his living these days free lancing as a web accessibility consultant for colleges and universities and coding the back-end glue of web sites for small to mid-sized businesses.

Len FB profile

Thanks to Len for his insights on web dev, email, and access in the last couple of weeks as well as his outreach efforts to talk with vendors, software users, and developers!

Bugzilla hijinks, Tuesday March 5

Tomorrow evening (Pacific time) the and IT folks will be moving BMO to a new infrastructure and upgrading to Bugzilla 4.2.

No bugzilla cartoon

I’ll be up on the 7th floor of the SF office with Shyam and probably others. I know a few comunity contributors will be showing up on IRC around 8pm PST to help test during deployment so if you’d like to participate, let me know!

Earlier on Tuesday, before the outage, there will be a QA-run Firefox unconfirmed bugs day. This is a good event for people new to bugzilla and bug triage! Create a account for yourself and come introduce yourself on on the #qa or #bugmasters channels.

I plan on going through all the Mac bugs that I’m able to, to try to replicate them and add any useful information to the bugs. Right now there are 85 unconfirmed Firefox bugs that were first reported in the last week. That number might be different tomorrow obviously!

I find it very useful in Bugzilla when I get a link to a search like this one, to click “Edit Search” at the very bottom right of the page. From that, I can see what options created that result. And I can narrow the search down further or build something useful for myself, and then save it in my saved searches. Now I have a nice search for just the recent bugs reported for Firefox on MacOSX. I mention this mainly because it took me a while to notice the “Edit Search” link — until then, I was trying to deconstruct and add to the parameters in the URL by hand.

At 8:30pm the Bay Lights are going to come on: a dynamic light show decorating the whole north part of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. I’m hoping to get some awesome photos of the lit-up bridge from the Mozilla office roof. It looks basically like thousands of blinky christmas lights all over the bridge along with some sort of giant arduino mastermind program. It is nice that the bridge will be known for something other than “3rd most destroyed bridge in disaster movies throughout the ages”.

CodeTriage looks very cool!

André Klapper showed me a nifty tool called CodeTriage yesterday. I really like its simplicity, its friendliness, and what it conveys about open source bug management.

Once you sign into CodeTriage with your github account you can browse code repositories by programming language. I picked flask and codetriage repos to follow.

Codetriage homescreen

Codetriage then sends me a daily email with link to a random issue from each repo, asking me to triage the bug.

Codetriage email sample

This makes it beautifully clear that, with only a little time and thought, without any particular programming skill, anyone can contribute useful work to an open source project. Each email comes with a little pep talk about the goals of triage:

* Help share the weight of maintaining a project
* Minimize un-needed issues
* Prevent stale issues
* Encourage productive communication
* Teach good citizenship
* To become a better coder

Short, sweet, and to the point. The how-to-triage part of the email is not specific to any programming language or project, yet, or to the bug itself, but is an overview of the concepts of improving the quality of any bug.

It gave me a nice feeling that I had been helpful, when I tried it this morning.

André and I were talking excitedly all afternoon about shaping the idea of bugmastering (or triage) for our communities. Bug management is a great way for contributors to become familiar with a project and ease into development or become experts in QA. It’s a good evolution of a definite role in open source ecosystems.

So CodeTriage gets across exactly what I want to convey to aspiring Mozilla bugmasters. I feel super inspired to build something to hook into with a similarly lovely interface. Thanks to Richard Schneeman for creating CodeTriage!