2016 in threes

End of year reflections: 2016, at its low points, has been the worst year of my life, and many people including me fear that it is the year that marks the beginning or escalation or point of no return for a time of increased oppression, war, and death.

This is thus hard to write, but 2016 was also a year in my life, such as it is, and remembering is part of living as best I can, so here we are.

There are several pieces of writing that have been important to how I feel about the world right now, here’s one:


(Transcript of poem at the bottom of the entry. If this poem speaks to you as it did to me, consider tipping its author.)

Three moments of 2016.

May: Another visit to Dolores Park, a place in San Francisco that’s been important to me in 2016. I was restless and in a bad mood so I walked up and down the hill, around and around the park, and then up to Market Street as the sun set and along and eventually caught BART back after dark had fallen and I’d walked several kilometres.

September: A family member who is ill and was visiting for medical treatment came to lunch at my house with other members of my family. My daughter A, who was 2¾, had taken a long long time to come out of her shell with strangers, and was only just starting to agree to interact with them at all. But she ended up playing with water guns with the teenagers, aiming water at our window where adults were protecting themselves, while dancing and cackling.

November: I found out Donald Trump was likely to win the US Presidential election on my final day of isolation due to radioactive iodone treatment for thyroid cancer. I was out of strict isolation in hospital but still not allowed to be physically close to anyone, particularly my children, so I was driving a carshare car by myself to visit my parents. It was a rainy drive, I stopped in the light mist at Sutton Park to go to toilets there — it’s a lovely park and rest area largely used as a chance for a loo break — and looked at the news on my phone and then drove down into the bright sunshine and ludicrous green on the other side of the mountains and started thinking through the implications.

Three meals of 2016

All in the US, where I spent six weeks this year.

1. May, Zuni Café, San Francisco: the second time a friend and I have eaten there, this time upstairs with a reservation rather than squeezed in near the kitchen, both times with the fried chicken. I have never gone anywhere for the fried chicken. I have never imagined I would. All the better.

2. September, SHED Cafe, Healdsburg: a lemon pancake which was in fact a lemon pudding. Not even in disguise, it came in its own ceramic dish it had been cooked in. It wasn’t self-saucing or it would have been lemon delicious pudding in disguise. It was left off the order originally, I got two kaffir lime waters in apology. Unnecessary.

3. October, Andrew’s Cheese Shop, Santa Monica: a work dinner, comprised of gourmet grilled cheeses with matched beers. Again, I would never ever think to do something like this for myself.

Three photos of 2016

The first day of a silly between-jobs project of exploring the City of Sydney swimming pools:

Making a little tour of the City of Sydney pools this week.

A selfie I’m pretty happy with:

Mary

I was still taping the thyroidectomy scar at the time; it’s more purple than it looks there.

Someone climbs a rope, hands-only, as the sun sets over Santa Monica beach:

Rope climb

Three pleasures of 2016

1. I did do the intermediate run on skis I wanted. The very first one was the result of a misunderstanding; my skiing buddy thought I’d done intermediate runs in Australia and therefore after warming up could do one at Heavenly. Instead it was a first. The day went downhill (ha) after part of the resort was shut due to wind, and we missed lunch, but the cold grey morning was lovely.

2. Being taken to the ward after my thyroidectomy and having Andrew smile at me and squeeze my hand during the brief moments I was able to be awake for that afternoon.

3. The feeling of my hair swishing on my neck now that it has grown long enough.

Three news stories from 2016

Putin, I think? I’ve talked enough about the US. So: Putin, Aleppo, Brexit.

This is not fine.

You have to be a better and stronger person than I am to find something else to say.

Three sensations from 2016

1. “Koala” snuggles with my daughter, who is not as demonstrative as her older brother, except when she curls firmly into me to avoid anything or anyone she doesn’t like. Or when she’s ready for bed. Fierce sleepy marsupials are about right.

2. The taste of Haigh’s chocolates on several occasions: I bought them for myself for both cancer treatments, and when I left my job mid-year (between treatments). I remember the sweetness of the cremes, so sweet it hurts, but what I recommend is the truffles.

3. The taste of lemon sherbet boiled sweets. I went through a bag of them on medical advice during the radioactive iodine treatment; the I131 also gathers in the salivary glands and gives them mild radiation burns. Getting it excreted is the main fix, hence sour things.

Three sadnesses of 2016

1. A number of serious illnesses that aren’t mine, so aren’t mine to talk about.

2. Speaking of illnesses, but that are, or were, mine, the morning before a surgery is always a terrible time for me.

3. I actively chose to switch jobs again this year, but it was really hard and sad.

Three plans for 2017

1. I’ve started cycling in the last few months of this year. It’s a nice ride just shy of 4km with enough hills to get some exercise and a long bridge ride. In 2017 our ongoing ridiculous childcare situation will be improved, and I’m hoping riding three or four days a week will be my normal thing.

2. A peaceful week-long holiday with Andrew and the kids at Lake Macquarie. I find skiing hard work, so this will be only the second relaxing holiday we’ve all had together in the three years since my daughter was born.

3. As little travel as I can get away with. I’d love to clock up six months without a boarding pass.

Three hopes for 2017

This year, a very close cousin of “three fears”.

1. I hope my strong and wise friends are here and fighting and see something good growing from their hard work and their fear.

2. I hope it’s still possible to work for US headquartered employers in my industry without rapidly worsening complicity in human rights abuses.

3. I hope for at least one night out together with my husband that isn’t “last night before I go away for work” or “last night before I’m admitted to hospital again”.

Poem transcript

Transcript of the poem by Saladin Ahmed:

How do you talk to your kids?

Spit out the scorpions
Spit out the cyanide
Fill your mouth with thorny
flowers

Sit and hold their hands
Sit staring at their
superhero posters
Explain that villains win
sometimes

Tell them no one can tear
apart their family

Even if it’s a lie

Tell them that no one can take
away their home

Even if it’s a lie

Tell them you will keep them
safe
Even if you can’t

Teach your daughter to throw
a punch if she has to
Teach your son to cry if he
has to

Give them knives
Give them the sturdiest wax
you can find

Teach them to make candles

—Saladin Ahmed, buzzfeednews/reader

End of year prompts

I came up with my end of year prompts in 2014, feel free to use them yourself.

Previous years: 2014, 2015.

Learning more about a remote working position

I’m in the process of wrapping up a long period of working remotely at least part-time from home, beginning in 2006 when I enrolled in a PhD program and continuing through my time at the Ada Initiative and at Stripe to this year.

My take on working remotely in future is really “it depends on the details” (and likely different details for different organizations). To that end, I contributed some suggested questions you could ask to Hypothesis’s Working remotely guide, which they’ve incorporated in a slightly edited form. Here’s my original questions; I’ve also added a few more at my end after some feedback from Andrew (himself a veteran of around seven years of remote work).

Introduction

Before you start working remotely at a new organization, you should explore how they structure remote working and if there are any expectations mismatches between you and the organization. A particular remote job may or may not be a match for a particular remote worker.

Important: I don’t think there is any one right answer to any of these questions. It’s a question of fit between your working style, the position itself, and the relationship of the position to the rest of the organization. But the answers are worth knowing so that you can evaluate your fit and make plans for effective remote working.

Sources of information

This entry has a lot of questions, too many for a “do you have any questions?” section of an interview. But you can use other sources of information to get most answers, especially about organization-wide questions:

  • the job description, and descriptions of similar roles
  • the organization’s website, particularly the About and Careers pages
  • the section of the employee handbook dealing with remote work
  • the LinkedIn pages or websites of your future manager and colleagues
  • longer, separate, conversations with your recruiter or hiring manager
  • your offer conversation or letter, or your contract

Some questions you also may only need to ask if you hear of concrete plans to make a change to the organization (eg, you learn that a new office is about to open near you).

Questions

How are you remote and who are you remote from? This post is using ‘remote’ to mean something like “most days, you are not in face to face contact with any colleagues.” But you should be aware of the details: will you be working without in person contact with teammates or with the wider organization almost all of the time? Do you have any colleagues in your team or your wider organization in your city or region, or who regularly visit? Will you work on any joint projects with them? Will you be able or be expected to sometimes work with them in person even if there’s not a permanent office space?

Separately, is in-person contact with vendors or customers part of the job?

Is your immediate team remote? Is your manager remote? Being a remote member of a team that is all working remotely from each other is different from a team which is mostly located in an office with each other. Likewise, being managed by someone who is in an office has some potential advantages (for example, access to information circulating through verbal grapevines, being able to access answers from colleagues for you quickly), as does being managed by someone who is themselves remote (a direct appreciation for experiences specific to remote workers, a personal interest in advocating for them).

How many remote workers are there at the rest of the organization? What percentage of teams you will work closely with are working remotely, and what percentage of employees overall are working remotely? Working as one of very few remote workers for an organization where most employees are in an office together is different from a mostly or entirely remote-working organization.

What’s the future of remote work at the organization? If the organization is mostly or entirely remote, are there any plans to change that? If the organization is mostly office-based, are there any plans to change that? If an office is likely to be founded in your city or region soon, will you be able or be expected to work from it?

You may be considering a job on the understanding that the remote work will be of very short duration (eg, an office is opening in your city in two months time). Is there any chance the time will be longer, and are you OK with that?

What is your manager’s approach to remote workers? How frequently will they speak with you and through what media? Will they expect you to travel to them? Will they sometimes travel to you? Have they managed remote workers before?

How long have there been remote workers for? Is the organization new to having remote workers or has it had remote workers for a long time and bedded down a remote working style?

What is the remote working culture like? Is most collaboration over email, text chat, phone, video conf, or some other means? Are there watercooler-equivalents like social IRC channels or video chats? How active are they? Are remote workers mainly working from home or from co-working spaces? Are there occasional team gatherings for remote workers to meet colleagues in person and are they optional or compulsory?

How flexible are the hours? Not all remote work has flexible hours; you may have mandated work hours, or core hours, or shifts, as in any other role.

Are the remote workers spread across multiple timezones? If so, are your team and closest collagues in your timezone or another one? Are you expected to adapt your working hours to overlap better with your colleagues? How are meetings and other commitments scheduled across timezones? Do they rotate through timezones or are they always held in a certain timezone? Are you ever expected to attend meetings well outside your working hours, and if so, how often is this expected and do your colleagues in other timezones face the same expectations?

What are the benefits for remote workers? Will the organization reimburse any of your remote working expenses, such as membership of a co-working space, home office furniture, or your home Internet connection costs? If you’re working in a different country from most of your colleagues, will you get equivalent benefits to your colleagues (eg, health insurance coverage)?

What are the travel expectations for remote workers? Are you expected to travel to headquarters or other offices or customers, and if so, how often and for how long? What are the travel policies and allowances for remote workers? How do these travel expectations compare to those of non-remote colleagues?

Sometimes you will be remote from an organization with an office or even headquarters in the same city as you. Will you be able or expected to visit the office? How often? Will there be resources for you (eg, hot desks, meal provisioning)?

What are the career progression possibilities for remote workers? As a remote worker in a partly non-remote organization, could you move into more senior positions over time, such as team leader, middle manager, or executive? Could you move into other teams in the organization, and if so, which ones? Are there some roles that are closed to remote workers? Match these answers to your own career goals.

What’s the training process like? Must you or can you spend a period of time in an office or visiting a colleague for training? Must you or can you do your training remotely using documentation, videos and similar? Will a trainer or colleague have some time assigned to remotely train you?

Is there support for first-time remote workers? If you haven’t worked remotely before, will the organization support you in learning how to work remotely, and if so, how?

See also

A very partial list of resources, focussing on individual remote workers and their experiences and strategies:

Creative Commons License
Learning more about a remote working position by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

What should I do in Sydney?

Leigh advises if you tell a story three times, blog it. My version is “if you give advice three times…” I tend to assume that Sydney advice is fairly easy to find for visitors, but sometimes it’s better from someone you know! I’ve given advice to three separate first-time travellers to Sydney in two months, and am accordingly freeing it for you, my reading audience.

The Harbour Bridge and Opera House viewed from the north east
Sydney at night by Nigel Howe

What sort of advice is this anyway?

I’ve lived in Sydney for 17 years this year, my entire adult life. My Sydney biases: I like walking and exploring ourdoors. I like things that can be done during the day and ideally that you can take children to. I like dining out including fine dining. I’ve spent the vast bulk of my time in Sydney living without a car and tend to recommend things accessible via public transport.

There are some things I can’t help you with: I’ve never spent much time in pubs and clubs and in any case I’ve had children for more than six years so my already limited partying knowledge is pretty well atrophied now. I’m also not a serious outdoor sports person: I know you can kayak and ocean swim in Sydney but I can’t tell you where or how better than the Internet can.

Where to stay

Unless you have some reason to stay in some particular part of Sydney, stay near Circular Quay or Wynyard train stations for access to the most public transport. If you’re visiting almost entirely for the beaches, stay in Bondi or Manly.

What to do

Walk from Circular Quay past (or into) the Opera House and through the Botanical Gardens. The Opera House has performances in many genres if opera isn’t your thing.

Catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly. The ferry trip alone is worth it; it is one of the longer ones and you will see much of the eastern harbour. Manly is a beach suburb; you can swim at a harbour or ocean or sheltered ocean beach, do the Manly to Fairlight penguin walk or go to the aquarium.

Catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island. Cockatoo Island used to be a island-sized shipyard and is now an island-sized museum of ex-shipyarding. You can ramble through giant sheds and along catwalks and so on. There’s on-island camping and glamping, the only harbour island that allows overnight stays. If an island picnic is more your thing, there are also private ferries from Circular Quay to Shark Island, which is more like a large park.

Shed interior, Cockatoo Island
Cockatoo Island by Chris Marchant, edited by Mary Gardiner

Visit the Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour. Their permanent exhibits include decommissioned naval vessels and a submarine. Have a look at the current exhibits at the Powerhouse Museum for science and technology possibilities.

Head to the beach. As above, Manly is a good choice, and in the eastern suburbs Bondi is famous and has fairly good transport. It’s also a starting point for the beautiful Bondi to Bronte coastal walk. Coogee is the beach with perhaps the next best transport options. Clovelly is a long inlet and thus very calm. Most beaches, including Bondi, Coogee, and Manly have an ocean bath – a pool filled with seawater – if you’re not up for swimming in the ocean.

Swimmer in Coogee ocean bath
Swimmer in Coogee ocean bath by Tim Gillin, edited by Mary Gardiner

The art gallery I like best is the Museum of Contemporary Art right at Circular Quay. The huge mural at the entrance is re-commissioned and painted over once a year or so, so look at the current one whenever you go. The cafe at the top has an excellent view.

I’m not done with ferries yet, you can also catch Circular Quay ferries to Luna Park, a harbourside amusement park, and to Taronga Zoo, Sydney’s best known zoo. The Gunner’s Barracks in the vicinity of the zoo is a great ramble but harder to reach from the south side of the harbour.

Luna Park ferris wheel framed against the Harbour Bridge
Luna Park,by Simon Clancy, edits by Mary Gardiner

Great walks include the Bondi to Bronte walk mentioned above, the Glebe foreshore walk and the Harbour Bridge to Manly walk (or the Spit Bridge to Manly half depending on your walking distance and available time).

The water park Wet n Wild may be more of an acquired taste, but I keep wanting to take visitors there. You don’t need to be an especially strong swimmer but a love of rollercoasters might help.

Seasonal things to look out for include the yearly Sydney Festival and Vivid festivals in summer and winter respectively. Vivid includes large light installations around the harbour and other parts of the city. There’s Sculpture By the Sea exhibits on the Bondi to Bronte walk in spring. The film festival is in June and the comedy festival in April and May.

The Museum of Contemporary Art covered in a red snake pattern
Museum of Contemporary Art lit for Vivid by MD111, edits by Mary Gardiner, CC BY-SA. Light show inspired by Jess Johnson, artist unknown.

Where to eat

Fine dining is often in flux, check recent restaurant reviews. The Boathouse at Glebe is the closest to a regular we have; it specialises in seafood. Cafe Sydney is my preferred place with a view.

For cafes and gastro pub-style eating, head to Surry Hills; bills is the best known cafe. Haymarket is the centre of Chinese food, and the other side of George Street has some great Thai places including Chat Thai.

If despite my protestations of ignorance someone insisted I choose the bar, for visitors I’d go with the Opera Bar on the lower level of the approach to the Opera House, or try out Blu Bar at the top of the Shangri-La if everyone was willing to primp for it. If your motivation is cocktails alone, the Different Drummer in Glebe is good.

Out of town

The Blue Mountains to the west are reachable as a day trip on public transport; head to Katoomba and to the Echo Point lookout.

Jervis Bay to the south is a good weekend away; you’ll likely want to drive. If you want to do some kayaking without having to deal with the boat traffic in Sydney Harbour this and several other places on the coast are good alternatives.

Image credits

Sydney by Nigel Howe.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney by Chris Marchant, cropped and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner.

Coogee beach, Sydney pool by Tim Gillin, rotated, cropped and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner.

Luna Park Sydney by Simon Clancy, cropped and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner.

Vivid Sydney 2014 by MD111, rotated cropped and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner, availabe as Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike. The Museum of Contemporary Art light show in 2014 was inspired by artist Jess Johnson, but artist unknown and copyright presumably all rights reserved.

2015 in threes

Three moments of 2015.

February 2015: V’s first day of school, calling to get him to pause at the gate for his first day of school picture.

April 2015: sitting in a dark hotel room in San Francisco recovering from AdaCamp in Montreal and travel in general, while Andrew used my power of attorney back in Australia to buy a house. (Yes, after much discussion. Still. It was a weird way to have it done.)

July 2015: lying in bed in a sunny Airbnb room in San Francisco, my first day in town, hot and tired and sweaty from jetlag and mosquitos biting me all night my first night in town. Around 7am Val told me online that she had news that Nóirín had died.

Three meals of 2015

Tapas at MoVida, while the couple perched next to us at the bar had a very awkward first date conversation about themselves and we hoovered up chorizo because one day, there may be no more chorizo. More than the meal I remember the freeing feeling of wandering around after dark, something I do so little of now.

The really quite good sushi I bought several times from Walgreens at 135 Powell St San Francisco. It got me through the dark and tired period of buying the house in the gloom of Hotel Union Square in April; and it got me through my two night stay in San Francisco in October for a job interview. Fatty, slippery, and tasty. Goes down well when you want to hide out in San Francisco with a blanket over your head.

Fish tacos at Verde in Kapaa. The fish of the day is always `ahi or makimaki — and why not have both? Verde is a physically non-descript restaurant, but the tacos are memorable. It became very clear to me that I need to seek out a lot more Mexican food before having an opinion on it.

Three photos of 2015

A vastly inadequate photo of the best sunset I’ve ever seen, over the equator flying from Sydney to Vancouver:

Sunset

Goodbye to San Francisco, after we shut down the Ada Initiative:

Goodbye

A slightly fun mirror-selfie in Bondi:

Self portrait in Bondi

If you’re after quality rather than feels, have a look at my Bondi to Bronte and Kauaʻi photos

Three pleasures of 2015

“Child piles”: encouraging both my children to flop on top of me. They also like to hug each other. V has got bony but he’s also got a lot more considerate in the last year, so we’re having some great hugs.

Returning to the slopes at Thredbo and not falling down. And the feeling of getting my skis back under me occasionally when I started to lose it. And hot doughnuts after skiing wrapped up each day.

My two visits to Dolores Park in summer and autumn, enjoying sun and grass and sometimes slightly too many people, and nice views of distant fog, and even, one time, a rainbow. I want to go to Northern California with my family someday. Someday!

Three news stories from 2015

Video: Hamilton’s “Wait for It” – Gypsy of the Year 2015

Can you imagine?

The flotillas of the Rohingya. While they were at sea, a friend of mine said that this was what it was like, to know a genocide was going on but not doing anything.

The Prime Ministership change in Australia. I am not a huge fan of the “they’re all the same anyway” analysis; I well recall that argument being made at the last Federal election, referring to a Rudd-led ALP government and an Abbott-led Coalition government. I don’t think Turnbull is here to govern for people I wish he would govern for; I don’t think the change was nothing either.

The entire Syria and ISIS and Middle East and global terror catastrophe, but particularly the Paris and San Bernardino attacks; and France’s frightening response with regards to civil liberties. I don’t feel, from this distance, like the US has responded as intensely after San Bernardino, but after Paris they had less far to fall. And in contrast to many other countries, especially mine: Germany.

Three sensations from 2015

The sea spraying in my face for a half hour standing at the railing on a motor boat between Niʻihau and the Nāpali coast of Kauaʻi, to a degree where my eyes were stinging. Blood was dripping down my ankle from a previous fall on the boat. Nevertheless, it was exhilarating; my happiest moment alone for the year.

Motion sickness as I haul giant floating rafts up five flight of stairs for V at Wet ‘n’ Wild; wishing there were queues there that day so that I could get it to subside between rides.

Some of the first times my daughter has really hurt me: leaning too hard on me, jumping on me, squeezing my fingers tightly. She does this so little still that I get excited about how she’s growing up.

Three sadnesses of 2015

Writing memorials for Nóirín and Telsa.

“Mixed feelings” is the right characterisation of how I felt about shutting down the Ada Initiative but sadness is in the mix. Specifically, I wrote the business case for shutting it down. It was very convincing. Sadly.

Cutting people who’ve died, and people I’m not in touch with, from my Christmas card list. Relatedly, recalling a three-person conversation to which both the other parties have since died.

Three plans for 2016

Work in the technology industry again, in the technical hierarchy. I’ve never stopped coding, and I’ve learned a lot about project management since I last worked in this way (in 2005). Even interviewing for positions has taught me what a different person and employee I am now. Watch this space!

An intermediate run on skis. I’m skiing twice in 2016, this really should be do-able I hope. My long term ambition probably ends at “can ski the bulk of blue runs on Australian mountains”. That’s lots of variety.

Getting to grips with Melbourne, which I will be visiting a lot. My familiarity with Melbourne right now is so low that I got a takeaway coffee there this year and had no idea where people go to sit down anywhere inside the CBD. A place I like to go and sit would be a good start.

Three hopes for 2016

So prosaic, but I would love to get daycare for my daughter in the suburb we’ve moved to, and resume our walking childcare run. It got me outside and moving every day. That’s really really turned out to be something I miss. I guess a broader version of this is integrating into the neighbourhood and suburb more, since we plan to be here a long time. Having V in the local school will help a lot.

Growing my circle of adult friends in Sydney. It is, as always, somewhat more healthy in San Francisco than it is here.

And… the continuing emergence of a persuasive economic reform plan from the left. Basic income and wealth tax experiments!

Feel free to answer my end of year prompts yourself!

Remembering Telsa Gwynne

Telsa Gwynne, whom I knew through my time in the LinuxChix community between 2000 and around 2007, died this week:

Telsa is the direct inspiration for the entire 15 years of content on this website, especially the personal diary. Before joining LinuxChix, I first knew Telsa through her online diary (its archival title, “This was a diary, once”, is painful to read now), which I heard about through someone who read Alan Cox’s diary, and I was struck by how striking daily life could be in written form. Telsa’s diary was full of personality and snark, and singlehandedly inspired me to begin writing about my life online too.

I thought of her as a net celebrity, although not in the usual way of “married to Alan Cox”, but as “writer of one of my favourite websites”. I was therefore a little bit shy about directly interacting with her when I initially joined the LinuxChix lists in 2000, but I first met her in person in 2001 at linux.conf.au when she and Malcolm Tredinnick were hanging around debriefing and complaining about CVS, on which he was teaching a tutorial that year which Telsa later wrote up. She was grumpy and kind and normal, even if she did know CVS.

Andrew saw her again at LCA in 2003, but I didn’t go and I think I only met her one more time, in Wales in 2004 when we visited their house and due to poor planning with trains, ended up staying the night. Telsa and Alan were kind hosts and we enjoyed Telsa’s huge knowledge of local history as we walked all around Swansea.

Telsa’s final diary entry in 2006 says she “plain[ly] and simpl[y] los[t] interest in running to stand still just to understand how to use anything mechanical.” However hard she worked for it, I remember her as profoundly technically knowledgeable and an excellent teacher. A great deal of my initial learning about both CSS and character encodings came from her, and she was well known as a high level user of DocBook. A friend shared one of her posts to a private LinuxChix technical list today, walking through the differences between library packages and -devel packages in Linux distributions, and their implications for compiling software.

I hadn’t been in contact with Telsa since she or I variously withdrew from our common online communities, so since 2007 or before. I kept an eye on the very occasional updates to her website, and was pleased to think that she had found a more satisfying life outside her Free Software community volunteering. I still find this a happy thought.

Telsa was also a critical inspiration to me as an activist: in the early 2000s (and still) it was hugely controversial to either believe that open source communities could still work if they were more civil (the entire LinuxChix project was partly an experiment with that), and even more so to insist that they should be. Telsa is the earliest person I can think of who stood up in an open source development community and asked it to change its norms in the direction of civility. I don’t know how heavily her online harassment experiences played a part in her departing Free Software and some online communities — I hope it wasn’t a large part — but I’m sorry it happened and I’m angry.

Telsa was a brilliant and kind and strong person, and I am sorrier than I can say that we will never be in contact again. To Alan, Debbie and others who loved her: my profound sympathies for the loss of an amazing person.

Other memorials:

Telsa online:

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Remembering Telsa Gwynne by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Ada Initiative’s sunset

This morning, the Ada Initiative, which I co-founded in 2011 and have been employed by between 2011 and now, announced our shutdown.

Sunset over San Francisco, original by  Nan Palmero
Sunset over San Francisco, original by
Nan Palmero

I’m proud of all the work we talked about in the announcement, but a few things of mine over the years in particular that I enjoyed doing a lot and that I hope will have a continuing impact:

AdaCamp. AdaCamp Melbourne was my idea, and was, for me, something of a followup to the LinuxChix/Haecksen miniconfs I founded in 2007, but, as we had done with the Ada Initiative, decoupled from the Linux community specifically, and explicitly feminist and incorporating what I’d learned from organizing earlier women’s events and meetups. It grew into much more over time, incorporating ideas from other events like quiet rooms and inclusive catering, and solving problems that plagued the events that all of the Ada Initiative staff and AdaCamp staff had been to over the years.

The guide to responding to harassment reports as an event organizer. This was based on a email I wrote to a conference organizer who was wondering what one actually does when a harassment report comes in, which, as I tend to do with my best emails, I later edited to put on the web. The wiki text has been somewhat edited and expanded of course, but is substantially similar to my initial version. It formed the basis of the enforcement manual that PyCon developed.

The AdaCamp Toolkit. I wrote more than half of this in the month between closing the AdaCamp program and launching the Toolkit, and edited the remainder from material developed internally. Not since the Geek Feminism wiki have I had so much (rather intense) fun emptying the contents of my head onto a website.

The Impostor Syndrome Training and our Impostor Syndrome Proofing article. AdaCampers had been discussing Impostor Syndrome since the event in Melbourne. I developed the version given at AdaCamps from Portland onwards, and which I will teach in Sydney shortly, built up around an exercise developed by Leigh Honeywell for AdaCamp SF, and we’re releasing it publicly after the Sydney workshop.

I also did a great deal of the behind the scenes project management and technical work (web work, systems administration, payments processing setup) throughout the life of the organization, and internally my documents are the core of our institutional knowledge. (I am hoping to edit a few of the fundraising documents for publication this month.) Valerie’s life will never be the same again now that everything goes in a spreadsheet. I am hoping I can offer my project management skills to another organization soon.

There’s a lot of smaller things that I would never have without the Ada Initiative, like quite good double-entry bookkeeping skills, passable knowledge of Javascript, and too much knowledge of US non-profit tax law.

Thank you to Valerie Aurora, my friend and co-founder, who made a very unlikely and very lucky gamble on me four and a half years ago. Without Valerie the Ada Initiative could never have existed in the first place and would never have had the vision or the conviction to do 95% of what it did. I’m in San Francisco right now, my last trip for the Ada Initiative, so that we could do this last thing together and go out leaving as much for the community to use as possible.

Thank you to the many many people who worked and volunteered for us over the last four and a half years, who came to our events, who donated, and who advocated for, amplified, and improved our work.

As for what’s up next, I’ll be at the Ada Initiative for another couple of months. During that time, if this sentence of our shutdown notice was of interest, let’s talk:

Mary will be looking for a new position based in Sydney, Australia, working in a leadership role with the right organization.

Sunrise in Sydney, original by Tom French
Sunrise in Sydney, original by Tom French

Image credits:

Nan Palmero, You Heading to Oakland or Space?, CC BY, cropped and colour adjusted by the author of this post.
Tom French, Harbour Sunrise, CC BY, cropped and colour adjusted by the author of this post.

Return to sender stickers: the littlest life hack

I’ve lived in Sydney for sixteen years and I am living in the tenth residence I’ve had in Sydney. So I have a lot of experience of moving houses, and a lot of experience of drowning under a deluge of mail directed to the previous residents of my current home, sometimes several “generations” of them.

You’re not supposed to open or throw out other people’s mail, you’re supposed to mark it “return to sender, no longer at this address” and put it back in a post box. And doing this does — eventually — help as slowly the banks, governments, ex-lovers and debt collectors sending mail to the previous residents get the picture.

But it’s also a total pain in the neck. At the best of times, writing “return to sender, no longer at this address” exceeds my weekly pen output quota, and that’s before you get to trying to write on shrink-wrapped mail and other such things.

Which is why you can go ahead and order sheets of my “return to sender, no longer at this address” Vistaprint design and stick it to incoming mail deluges rather than need to involve a pen at all. I’ve been doing it for about five years and my wrists thank me.

Conflicts of interest: none, as far as I am aware only Vistaprint gets any monetary benefit if you order that sticker from them.

Mary in San Francisco: come meet me at Double Union on the evening of April 18!

I’m in San Francisco from tomorrow (Wednesday) until Sunday! Most of the trip is a work trip, but I have figured out that I can make use of my Double Union membership when I’m in town and have fun, chill events in the space.

Double Union event: Button-making & crafts with Mary Gardiner

Mary Gardiner, our Australian member and a co-founder of the Ada Initiative, will be visiting San Francisco and wants to use our button-maker! Come make buttons and do assorted crafts (vinyl-cutter, 3D printer, sewing, etc.) and hang out with Mary and Valerie!

When: Sat Apr 18, 2015 6:00pm – 8:00pm

Where: Double Union on Valencia Street between 14th Street and 15th Street. See the visitor information.

This is open to Double Union members. It’s also open to non-Double Union members who are my friends!

For my friends

If you are not a Double Union member, and we’re friends, please email me at my personal address to let me know you’re coming. People of all genders welcome.

Please read the Double Union visitor information and the anti-harassment policy if you are coming along.

The Sydney Project: Wild Ground

Last year was my sonÂ’s last year before he began full time schooling in 2015. I have spent the last year reviewing child-focussed activities in Sydney as “The Sydney Project”. Because V has begun school, the Sydney Project is concluding here with an activity he went to with Andrew in January. You can view previous entries throughout 2014 and early 2015.
Wild Ground

In mid-January, Andrew took V to a Wild Ground experience morning. Wild Ground is a new Blue Mountains business that conducts “creative nature-play” activities, and V had a morning adventure courtesy of us supporting their crowdfunding campaign to launch the business (see disclosure at the end). The event was at Minnehaha Falls Reserve; they began in the park with some singing and music before walking down the trail to a creek. Wild Ground’s Rick Webb laid out some “treasure” (coloured sticks) on the trail to encourage the kids to look around; they collected both the coloured treasure and anything else of interest.

Wild Ground art

The group walked further down the trail to a small watering-hole and then back up the creek itself; Andrew was taken with the lesson here about micro-geography (I guess you’d say), I’m not sure if that was deliberate. After returning to the top the kids snacked on fruit and had a chance to try slacklining and did some crafts with natural paints. Andrew says that V initially mistook the slackline for a finish line and thus had to enact a spontaneous running race, but that he was also the child who was most into the slacklining proper, which otherwise got a bit of a mixed reception from the children.

V fell asleep in the car on the way home, Andrew summarises as “Outdoor activity that wears kids out. Tick!” He didn’t think that V was enchanted with or overwhelmed by the experience, but that it was a fun day outside for them both.

Cost: an equivalent experience doesn’t seem to be available now that the crowdfunding is over. Wild Ground’s Creative Bush Adventures for older children are $60, and term-long Bush School programs start at $115.

Recommended: a bit hard to say, since I don’t think this precise program is an ongoing part of their activities. But it suggests their programs would generally be a happy and interesting day for children.

More information: Wild Ground website.

Disclosure: Andrew and I have known Danielle Carey, one of the Wild Ground founders, since university. I supported the Wild Ground crowdfunding at the Little Adventurer level, and V’s Wild Ground experience was part of the Little Adventurer reward. No review was requested in return for the experience.

Commentary on ‘How did you find your co-founder(s)?’

Valerie Aurora wrote How did you find your co-founder(s)?, about the very early days of the Ada Initiative containing the “moonshot email” we also referred to in our article Funding activism for women in open source last April.

It contains the following unpromising description of me (at that time):

The very first person to reply was Mary, a PhD student and primary carer for an 11-month-old baby who lived across the Pacific Ocean from me and whom I’d met in person only twice before. Our only previous joint venture had failed miserably (the great Attempted LinuxChix Coup of 2007). Less than two months later, we were sitting on her parents’ porch in Orange, writing up budgets and discussing how to keep her PhD supervisor from having a fit when he found out she’d started a business. 4 years later, we are running a growing, healthy non-profit that’s changing the world. (Mary also has a PhD and a second child.)

So how did that all work out? Other than healthy and growing and changing the world?

Why did I do it? That email was sent in December 2010. Negative/less promising reasons first: by then I had fairly firmly decided that I wouldn’t pursue an academic career. I didn’t publish enough, and particularly not prestigously enough, during my PhD to make an academic career likely without a big turnaround, and I had a child and husband whom I didn’t want to drag around the world for postdocs. My husband also had a salaried job (at the time, he worked at Canonical, in 2011 he moved to Google) and is generally uninterested in risky career choices; and in addition, at the time I earned very little income: my PhD scholarship had run out years before, and I had a few very low-hours academic support jobs only. Unless I went into debt, we had lots of room for me to make risky career choices: I didn’t even have a career to risk, and further, we were already living on one income.

Positively: at that point, I believed I had two career options that I had some background for. The one that wasn’t academia was open source software. In addition to volunteering for LinuxChix for years (although I was only coordinator for a few months in 2007), I had done a lot of volunteer work for the Sydney Linux Users Group and linux.conf.au, and I am a programmer, so the open source/open source associated end of software development seemed like the other. While “advocacy for women in open source” (we quickly widened to “open technology and culture”) wasn’t exactly that, it wasn’t completely out of left field either. The unproven aspect was whether there was liveable money in it, and my family had a cushion to find that out.

The unknown co-founder. I think Val is underselling that a touch. It’s true that we’d only met a couple of times, and not recently. (We’d met in California in 2004 and Sydney in 2007.) In addition, we’d not been in contact between 2007 and 2009. But we had done a lot of online collaboration prior to 2007, and after the formation of the Geek Feminism project in 2009. The big risk was, probably, that we wouldn’t like each other personally for extended periods, but we actually had a fair amount of practice doing work together.

How did my PhD supervisor react? First, it’s probably worth noting that I was enrolled part-time at that point (a change I sought after my baby’s birth on the grounds of caring responsibilities, the university wouldn’t have allowed it for employment purposes), so I had considerable time in the week that notionally didn’t belong to the university. The main conflict between the company and the PhD was in early 2011, before the Ada Initiative paid me, when I only had a few days of childcare each week and used them for both purposes. Once I was being paid, I bought additional childcare days and had a better firewall between them.

My former supervisor knows where I work and what I do now — we still have lunch every month or two — but to this day I don’t know how aware he is of the timeline of when it started. But lots of stuff was going on there: we were both part-time, and both had caring responsibilities for young children. It wasn’t the stereotypical situation of the single-mindedly driven late middle-aged professor and the conflicted young woman student with work-life balance issues. (People don’t really look to me as a model of work-life balance.)

The baby thing. Yeah, well. I think starting a business, having a PhD in progress and a little kid is somewhere between one and two too many things. I think my husband would say “between two and three”; there is a reason my children have a four year age gap between them, one of them had to wait on the PhD. (I was pregnant again at my graduation.) But probably my most questionable decision was…

The finishing the PhD thing. I recently spoke to someone who had lost contact with me in 2009 and we spoke for half an hour about my business before I mentioned in passing that I’ve finished the PhD. They couldn’t hide their shock.

I don’t know that I can bring myself to say I should have made a different decision about whether to continue it, but I might advise other people to do so. To be fair, in early 2012 when I did the bulk of the work finishing it, the Ada Initiative was still a fledgling with a longer life by no means assured, and me taking unpaid study leave was helpful in a really narrow sense for its finances. Broadly though, as I said, between one and two too many things.

Conclusion. I think identifying a workable co-founder relationship is non-trivial, but then, I don’t even know how one chooses a career. Co-found your next company with me today!