Speaking of being tall

Of course, if you blog about it it will happen again: “I thought they only made them that tall in Texas!” said the woman in the elevator with us this afternoon.

At least she gets points for originality. Texas? Why Texas?

Your friendly guide to talking to me about being tall

Scene setting: I’m 193cm/6’4″ tall. The average height of an Australian woman is about 163cm, so conveniently you can think of me as being a whole ruler taller, or that the average Australian woman’s head is about my shoulder height. This is a weird enough height that I’ve had all kinds of weird conversations about it. Let me get you past the weird.

Rule 1: consider not talking to a tall person about their height. It’s hard to do well. Think of it like this:
Person 1: “your body has a very very unusual feature! very unusual! very unusual!”
Person 2: “whereas your body does not! very normal! very normal!”

It’s a pretty one way conversation, basically. It’s unlikely (statistically) that they can reciprocate in kind by asking you/informing you about your visible weirdnesses, and if they can, it’s likely you don’t want to hear about your weirdnesses. The conversation in reality goes something like this:

Person 1: you are very very tall!
Person 2: um, indeed.
Person 1: [waits patiently for tall person to work harder to pull their turn out of the magical conversation hat]

Or alternatively, the general rule is start conversations where the person you are talking to has some chance of reciprocation.

Rule 2: especially consider not talking to a tall child or teenager about their height! This is because people generally make free with subjecting children and teenagers to every thought that crosses their mind, usually prescriptively at that. I am probably down to a conversation every few months about my height now. When I was a teenager, I had a conversation with a stranger about my height about once a week. That person who by virtue of youth (*cough* and gender) is extra socially obliged to stand there and look polite while they hear your every thought about human height variations? You’re not the only person taking advantage.

Rule 3: I’ve heard the jokes. Useful rule in general for anyone who has what you consider an unusual body, name, accent, hair colour, job, dress, religious belief, ethnic identity, mobility aid, manner of speaking, hobby, and/or other thing.

I have to say, I’m yet to hear what I’d call a good tall joke, but then, I would be biased, wouldn’t I?

Rule 4: I don’t need to know about how unattractive you find it. I won’t belabour this: if you’re the kind of person who tells tall people they are ugly or freaky (in my case, this was almost exclusively done by men to my teenage self, men in late middle age still occasionally do it now), you’re the kind of person who isn’t reading.

Incidentally, the favoured insult for a tall slender woman you’ve just seen on the street and instantly been repelled by is “lanky bitch” or “fucking lanky bitch“. In case it ever comes up in a trivia quiz or something. Who the hell uses the word ‘lanky’?

Rule 5: I don’t want to hear about how jealous you are. This is more complicated and interesting. When I was in my late teens, most of those people stopping me to talk to me about it were middle-aged women* wanting to tell me I was beautiful and special and should stand up straight and be proud and they wished they were me.

It took me ages to work out what was going on, which is that each of these women thought she was the only one and was lighting a torch in the misery of my teen years. Since it happened several times a month, I had no notion that they thought that, and they must have been rather unsettled by my awkward and slightly hostile reaction to their attempt to reach through the fog of human cruelty with a kind thought. Sorry, kind women.

* Um, possibly adult women? I wasn’t good at picking adult’s ages at the time.

Rule 6: unless you are my doctor, I don’t want to discuss my genetic history with you. I’m not sure why everyone wants to know whether my parents are tall (oh what the hell: yes, they are, and if the human race consisted entirely of my father’s relatives, I would be at the tall end of normal, rather than at the “having conversations with strangers and writing blog entries” level). It seems kind of weird to be led through a laundry list of my relatives and asked if they are tall. Are people trying to find out if their own children will/won’t/might be tall?

A special note to doctors on this one: you don’t get out of gaol free! It might help to explain why you’re asking. “There are some diseases and syndromes which have extreme height as a symptom, but if your whole family is tall that’s less likely” is an example of a helpful thing to say. (At my height-for-sex, I suspect you can just about get away with saying “so, Marfan syndrome**, you either have it or have been investigated for it, yeah?”) But since quite a few doctors have done this out of either a desire for chitchat equivalent to the general public or a desire to satisfy some medical curiosity irrelevant to their treatment of me, I don’t like it much from doctors without explanation either. I am all good with doctor chitchat, but not about something where I can’t tell if you think I have a disease or you have a few minutes to shoot the breeze with me.

** Not the only medically interesting cause of tallness, I know.

Rule 7: I will be the judge of whether I can wear heels, thank you. I don’t wear high ones because OUCH and also because there’s absolutely no social advantage to me from being taller, quite the reverse. But I sometimes wear low ones because I like the shoes they are attached to, and every so often a sales assistant refuses to sell them to me. What the hell?

Rule 8: It’s not good news for me that there’s someone taller than you. Actual remark addressed to me on several occasions: “wow, oh my god, you’re taller than me! I feel so good knowing that there’s a woman taller than me out there!” Only about half the time do they go on to realise what that implies from my point of view.

I do see the temptation to start conversations with other tall people about how they are taller than me, but when I do I remember this.

Rule 9: You don’t need to worry about what your kids say. Well, unless it’s “fucking lanky bitch” I guess. But kids specialise in drive-bys: “that lady is very tall!” I don’t mind stating-the-obvious drive-bys, it’s cute.

The champion kid remark to date was while I was pregnant: “Mummy, that lady is very tall and she has a baby in her tummy!” Indeed!

Rule 10: I am all good with reaching stuff on high shelves for you. Maybe this bugs some tall people, certainly people apologise a lot for asking me to do this, but it seems fair enough, really. Why do shelves intended for the general public go so high anyway?

Rule 11: I like to show off. I can touch the ceiling (on tiptoes) in normal height modern rooms. (I use this to change lightbulbs.) I can stand flat-feet on the bottom of a 1.8m depth pool (the usual depth of recreational pools) and it comes up to about my mouth. I almost never get the chance to mention these things to people! Humour me. (OK, you don’t have to, now that you’ve read this.)

Rule 12: If you’ve known me for ages and have secretly always wanted to talk to me about being tall, I usually don’t mind much of this from people I know. I guess the ugly thing would be an exception, but really, it’s strangers bowling up to me and asking about the height of my great-great-grandfather’s sister that comprises 99% of the problem.

Parenting economics

From Matt Yglesias:

Family life is subject to a vicious economic conundrum known as Baumol’s cost disease. Economy-wide wages are linked to economy-wide productivity. That means that over time sectors of the economy that don’t feature productivity gains will see rapidly rising costs…

Child-rearing is basically stick stuck in a kind of dark ages of artisanal production, but as market wages have risen the opportunity cost of this extremely labor intensive line of work has steadily increased. The implication is that societies that want to continue existing in the future are increasingly going to have to find ways to subsidize parental investment in the next generation.

Computational linguists

xkcd suddenly exploded in my circles in 2006, thanks to the comic Randall Munroe calls Computational Linguists and most people refer to as “Fuck Computational Linguistics” getting around at the annual conference of the Association for Computational Linguistics.

There’s been requests for the xkcd store to sell it before, but it’s never been done.

I just ordered a batch through Sticker Mule, both of the full comic and of a smaller badge version I did. (They will do proofs of them, I’ll be interested to see if the “Fuck” bugs them.) In order to do so I did a vector version of the comic (via Inkscape’s “trace bitmap”), and because the original comic, and these variants, are under Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial, I can share them with you here. If you want them, order copies from the sticker vendor of your choice!

Full comic:
Indicative PNG | Compressed Inkscape SVG | PDF (fonts as paths)

Smaller badge-like variant:

Fuck Computational Linguistics
Compressed Inkscape SVG | PDF (fonts as paths)

The vector versions aren’t very clean, but neither is the original comic, so I’m hoping these look like the spirit of the original, rather than a nasty hack.

Reminder: these are licensed for free noncommercial use (the precise condition is noncommercial use with attribution to the original author, modifications OK). So don’t sell them!

Quakers Hill nursing home fire

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

Anyone concerned about family members at the Quakers Hill Nursing Home can call 1800 227 228 for information.

I was horrified to wake up this morning to the middle of a radio news bulletin about a fire at Quakers Hill Nursing Home in Sydney. From latest bulletins it seems a fire alarm sounded at about 5am and despite fast firefighting response (6 minutes according to the radio) the fire had become massive. As of the 8:30am bulletins police are advising that 9 people have died and that 20 more people are being treated for burns injuries. The reports are still not very coherent but the firefighters do seem to be reporting that some residents were killed or hurt partly because they were not able to self-evacuate.

I’m so sorry for everyone involved, especially residents who were killed or injured, and their family members and loved ones. How utterly horrible.

Update 6:30pm: news reports this afternoon are of 3 deaths and a number of people critically ill. I am not sure whether earlier reports were higher or whether I simply misheard. Sadly, reports are also that the fire is being treated as suspicious.

linux.conf.au: program choices

I’m all but all booked in for linux.conf.au in Ballarat! (Need some accommodation in Melbourne for AdaCamp and to book the train to Ballarat.) So, time to share my early picks of the program:

Saturday (in Melbourne):






It’s skewed a little by my interests for the Ada Initiative now, that’s where all the mentoring stuff comes from. And I doubt I will get to all of this although presumably Valerie and I won’t be whisking people off to private meetings about the Ada Initiative as much. (At LCA 2011, when we were yet to launch it, we did almost nothing else.) It looks like Tuesday is a day to catch my breath before Wednesday. My family have decided to travel home Friday, so sadly Friday won’t be.

freelish.us: mental outage

It’s not absolutely clear to me that anyone at Geek Feminism has missed the linkspams, of which there hasn’t been one since 18th September. No one’s said anything, anyway.

What happened? freelish.us happened. Or it didn’t.

freelish.us, a bookmarking site using the open source status.net code, launched in April (April 1 actually, was that a good idea?) By that stage I was looking for an alternative to Delicious for bookmarking due to the new terms of service. I’ve been using flagship status.net site Identi.ca for microblogging for a long time (it cross-posts to Twitter) and while I’m inconsistent, I do like contributing to the commons to some degree, so a Creative Commons attribution bookmarking stream also appealed to me.

But the entire experience produced what I’d call “micro-burnout”. As in, I didn’t stop feeling pleasure or joy in stuff in general as would happen with burnout, but sharing links became a giant pain in the neck. Micro-burnout. Sharing links sucked.

First, there was the month or more on freelish.us where I just couldn’t seem to add bookmarks or import my Delicious backup file for love or money. I’d click “OK” and nothing would appear in my stream. It turned out that that was because I’d never validated my email address, but there was no error message to that effect, in fact no error message at all. I happened to see an understated warning elsewhere on the site that it was unvalidated, validated it, and suddenly the site actually worked.

Then there was the bookmarklet. The theory is visit a site, go to the bookmarklet, it’s bookmarked! On freelish.us it worked like this:

  1. go to the bookmarklet. This is pretty annoying in the first place, because I have a small laptop screen and bookmarklets require me to leave the bookmark toolbar visible. (I much prefer the Instaright approach, which places a small button in the URL bar, which is otherwise dead space anyway.)
  2. almost inevitably, find that I had been logged out of freelish.us, which must have had the most aggressively timed out cookies since linux.conf.au’s Zookeepr software (memo to Zookeepr: keep me logged in please)
  3. log in on the bookmarklet’s pop up
  4. be greeted with a small page saying I’ve logged in successful, but no sign of the entry form to bookmark what I needed reappearing
  5. back back back reload back back retry bookmarklet finally bookmark thing

And then, finally, on September 16, it and other status.net sites were taken down for upgrade. And now, nearly two months later, freelish.us home page still reads: “StatusNet cloud sites, including Identi.ca, are under maintenance. See status blog post for details and updates.”

Some facts about that:

  1. it’s not actually true any more: Identi.ca came back up after 24 hours or so
  2. it appears from comments there that any number of status.net sites are still down, and there’s been very little public comment on any of them that I can find. Several people asked specifically about freelish.us.

Also, freelish.us missed a probably once-off opportunity to captialise on the flight of horrified users of the new Delicious. But that’s not my concern.

All up, for two months the thought of bookmarking sites at all has made me distinctly “meh”, so, no linkspam for GF. This is what the software meh takes from the world.

I eventually decided that it was important to talk about what an annoying experience freelish.us has been, important enough to actually ask them for comment (via their press email contact). Here’s the information that as far as I can tell status.net has not communicated otherwise:

Q. What is the status of freelish.us? Is it going to return at some point or is it gone?

Evan Prodromou of status.net replied on the 30th October:

Freelish.us didn’t upgrade very well during the 1.0 process.

We’re moving to a new data centre this week, and I’m going to try to revive it then.

I fully intend to see it operational in early November.

There was a second question to which he didn’t directly reply, which was Q. In either event, is it possible for users of freelish.us to recover their bookmarks either for their own use or for import into another site? I take it from the lack of separate response that the re-appearance of the site will be the way in which users can recover their bookmarks and there is not an earlier alternative.

For the sake of the linkspams, I’m giving Pinboard a go. I’ll let you know how I do.

IPv6: encore

In which Mary does a lot of work on a comments policy in order to talk to herself about IPv6. True story.

Anyway, where we last left our heroine, she had found one unpromising (because unanswered) complaint describing her IPv6 problem. She tried updating the router firmware but it said it was the newest available firmware.

Some time later, our heroine found another account of the problem over on Server Fault where it was less likely to be lonely, and our heroine became convinced that she ought to install DD-WRT on her wireless router. Hey, maybe it would have worked, too. But our heroine’s husband likes his Internet to work, and gave her a sidelong look, whereupon our heroine at least deferring bricking her router until the weekend.

However! Our heroine is slightly bored of one of her day jobs, so today she idly searched for updated firmware and updated her D-Link DIR-615 router (C2 hardware edition) from firmware version 3.01 to 3.03WW (WW? I don’t get it either) and now she has a wireless router that does not send rogue IPv6 router advertisements to the network.

The end.

IPv6: finale in the key of D-Link

Background knowledge: this post requires some knowledge of networking, at least to the point of knowing what IPv4 and IPv6 are, and what is meant by subnet notation like “/60” and “/64”.

I believed for a very brief time that I’d beaten IPv6 into shape but soon my husband started complaining that sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, and basically questioning whether it was worth any more late nights. (I would poke things, we would jointly debug them, IPv6 involved us skipping dinner two nights in a row in the end.)

Basically what would happen was that anything we tried to connect to over IPv6, most noticeably Google itself (because they trust Internode’s IPv6 routing enough to have turned on IPv6 access for their customers) would either work or just hang. I vaguely suspected some kind of routing error.

Here’s something to try if you have mysterious intermittent IPv6 dropouts or hangs: watch the output of radvdump closely. What you are looking for is any router advertisements coming from a second source: rogue RAs was the search term I was using somewhat in vain.

Unfortunately, if you find such a thing, there are essentially two options (much as you do if someone has put a rogue DHCP server on a network). One is to remove the rogue device from the network, the other is to firewall its announcements away from your clients. Unfortunate in my case, that is, because it emerged that the source of the announcements was our D-Link wireless router (which, per the previous entry, we run as a switch). Removing a wireless switch from our network would have the unacceptable side-effect of re-introducing strings of blue cable to our home, and it’s pretty hard to firewall your switch itself. So in our case, the answer for the present time is to give up on home IPv6.

Overall, although the reason we gave up on IPv6 was not a Linux problem, I have to say that I was really surprised how immature Linux’s tools are at this point. The fundamentals exist: kernel support, DHCPv6 and stateless configuration servers and clients. As an IPv6 client, Linux is doing OK. If you connect a Linux machine to a network that happens to be using IPv6, it’ll likely Just Work. But at the tools and packaging level there’s still loads of gaps along the lines of:

  • iptables and ip6tables are entirely separate programs, so you get to have your firewall configuration fun twice! (However, UFW handles this fairly nicely, if you’re in the market for a thin-ish wrapper around iptables.)
  • configuring ppp for IPv6 is like ppp for IPv4 circa 1999 or 2000 or so. Things like the “oh yeah, for a reason no one knows, you won’t get a default route, so here’s a little script that will bring one up for you” (see Shane Short’s blog entry)
  • radvd is a fairly crucial tool, but there aren’t a lot of example config files for different situations that I could find, and the man page assumes that you know a lot about router advertisements already
  • if you want to use Ubuntu’s supported DHCP server (isc-dhcp-server) for DHCPv6, you need to write it a second init script and config file yourself

So after all that you might be tempted to use a dedicated router for IPv6 and I’d sympathise except that the D-Link device does it even worse than Linux. Not promising. I can’t see that moving many ADSL users over to IPv6 is going to happen any time soon.

IPv6: prelude in the key of radvd

Background knowledge: this post requires some knowledge of networking, at least to the point of knowing what IPv4 and IPv6 are, and what is meant by subnet notation like “/60” and “/64”.

I’ve just changed ISPs, because I wasn’t much of a fan of my old ISP’s demand that either we enter into a new 12 month contract before 27 November or they’d consider us re-contracted at that date. My new ISP is Internode, Australia’s favourite geek ISP, in part because they offer native IPv6 and it’s even supported by customer service. It took me an entire 24 hours to succumb to the temptation of wrecking my perfectly good home network by attempting to make it IPv4/IPv6 dual stack, partly motivated by Geoff Huston’s “the sky is falling” keynote at linux.conf.au 2011. I like doing my bit to hold up the sky.

I use a Linux machine as our router rather than a consumer router device, that is, my ADSL modem is set to bridge mode and we use our wireless router just as a switch; neither of them do routing. (Or shouldn’t, but we’ll get to that.) In terms of resources for doing this with Internode, or any other ISP who will advertise your IPv6 routes via DHCPv6, here’s some useful material:

The main problem I had is that for as yet unexplained reasons, while this radvd.conf stanza worked fine when my Linux server ran Ubuntu 11.04 with radvd 1.7, it doesn’t work on Ubuntu 11.10 with radvd 1.8:

prefix ::/64 {
AdvOnLink on;
AdvAutonomous on;
AdvRouterAddr on;

radvd 1.8 was advertising this in such a way as to get my Linux client to give this error (in /var/log/syslog):

IPv6 addrconf: prefix with wrong length 60

That is, it seems to have been advertising the entire /60 that Internode routes to each customer rather than a single /64. We ended up having to do something like this:

prefix 2001:db8:aaaa:bbbb::/64 {
AdvOnLink on;
AdvAutonomous on;
AdvRouterAddr on;

That is, because Internode’s IPv6 allocations are static, we just manually picked a /64 out of the /60 allocated to us, and advertised that. I’m not clear if this a bug or a change in the way radvd works or a mistake of mine, we never got a chance to find out because of a showstopper which you’ll see in the next, and at this stage, final post in my adventures in IPv6.