So simple, even your mother will be opposed

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

My four month old has explained a lot of things to me. To date it’s been things like “it’s been four months and you still can’t tell the difference between tired and hungry? HERE LET ME SHOW YOU.”

But I confess that I was surprised last night by his cogent explanation of reasons to oppose the Federal government’s proposed Internet filtering scheme, thanks to Electronic Frontiers Australia’s It’s Time to Tell Mum campaign, which enabled him to simply explain things like even mums want an internet connection that’s faster, cheaper and more secure, if mums begin to rely on the filter to keep their children safe, rather than monitoring their children’s internet use themselves, children will actually be less safe than before the filter was in place.

And I have to thank him, and Electronic Frontiers Australia, because that was a lot clearer than the confused mother-logic authored by some mummy bloggers I know around these parts.

Seriously, is there some kind of bingo card for “getting mothers involved” yet? Here some squares to get you started, thanks to “It’s Time to Tell Mum”: mothers are late technology adopters, mothers are uninterested in technology and toys for their own sake, mothers are solely responsible for the moral welfare of children, (which is lucky because) mothers are pretty much only interested in the moral welfare of children, (which is also lucky because) fathers and co-parents might as well not exist. Any more?

See also discussion in the previous Open Thread.

Tinkering

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Mark Pilgrim’s post Tinkerer’s Sunset laments the increasing tendency of Apple devices to be locked for development unless you have a Mac, XCode, an iPhone simulator, and $99 for an auto-expiring developer certificate. He goes on to write about his introduction to programming as a child:

But you don’t become a hacker by programming; you become a hacker by tinkering. It’s the tinkering that provides that sense of wonder. You have to jump out of the system, tear down the safety gates, peel away the layers of abstraction that the computer provides for the vast majority of people who don’t want to know how it all works. It’s about using the Copy ][+ sector editor to learn how the disk operating system boots, then modifying it so the computer makes a sound every time it reads a sector from the disk. Or displaying a graphical splash screen on startup before it lists the disk catalog and takes you to that BASIC prompt. Or copying a myriad of wondrous commands from the Beagle Bros. Peeks & Pokes Chart and trying to figure out what the fuck I had just done. Just for the hell of it. Because it was fun. Because it scared my parents. Because I absolutely had to know how it all worked.

I was something of a tinkerer as a tween and teen too, although at a more superficial level. I liked to change the colours of the desktop, I set up a different boot sequence because our 486 didn’t have the memory to run both Windows 3.1 and Doom II, and so on. But Pilgrim’s throwaway line about “scared my parents” struck me, because this did scare my parents.

My parents weren’t scared of a loss of control over me in the way that, I think, Pilgrim is implying. They were specifically scared: scared I’d make our family’s shared computer, which they’d barely been able to afford, unusable for everyone (and I did on a few occasions). And they certainly didn’t know, and neither did I, that tinkering with it was any kind of investment in getting jobs in the future. That’s what university is for, and the computer was an investment in me having the computer literacy I’d need to pass university. (The web was in the public eye by then, this was the 1990s, but at the time “computer literacy” meant word processing skills.)

That kind of tinkering isn’t accessible unless you can do it to a device you own, whether because it has no other user, you don’t especially care about those other users, or because you’ve been specifically told that you’re more important than those other users. I didn’t have any gadgets that met those criteria. It requires money, leisure time, and people who recognise the value of you having such a relationship with your toys. I don’t have brothers, so I can’t say whether or not a brother would have been implicitly granted the ability to break our shared gadgets for his own education in the way I wasn’t: some women do report this.

One of the early things I did when I started earning money above my basic living needs (in 2000 some university students could get computing jobs that met this criteria) was buy my very own computer, and it was worth it many times over for all the Linux installs, Windows installs, SMTP config and similar I did to it.

What about you? Did you have a tinkerable toy (in the broad sense of ‘toy’) as a child that you were granted licence to tinker with? How about as an adult? How about now? Or alternatively, have you been put in second place while your useful tool was given to someone else to take apart and put together at their own leisure? And how has this influenced your geek journey?

Update: If you want to discuss the general issue that Pilgrim raised in a way that isn’t either (a) your personal tinkering experiences or (b) a feminist discussion of tinkering, can you put it on your own blogs or in Pilgrim’s comments please? It will derail this thread otherwise.

From comments: the revolution will not be tweeted?

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

jon asked in comments:

I wonder, what would a feminist- and womanist-oriented social network look like?

(We might have readers unfamiliar with the term “womanist”, if so, see Renee Martin’s I’m not a feminist (and there is no but) and Ope Bukola’s meta-discussion following from that.)

I find this question a lot easier to answer in the negative (“what wouldn’t a feminist- and womanist-oriented social network look like?”), and my answers would include things like:

  • packaging women users as a demographic product for sale to advertisers
  • packaging women users as a demographic product for sale to people seeking relationships with women
  • packaging women’s lives and identities as a product for the entertainment of other users

Ditto for replacing women with other marginalised or oppressed users. But I find it harder to answer it in the positive. What do you think?

Long term storage of digital memories

For once, and with trepidation, I actually do ask for advice!

My parents have several digital cameras and a digital video camera. It would be nice to have access to family photos and movies past their next hard drive crash and/or computer replacement. But all consumer digital media seems unreliable enough for long or even medium term storage of family photos and similar.

I could organise some kind of backup routine for them, but the developing and nagging and testing and recoveries involved would annoy all three of us; contrary to the common parent-of-geek mythology my parents are no slavish devotees of my computing advice and like to keep a great deal of control themselves. And I get bored with that stuff. I want more set-and-forget: ok, stick your photos here and they’ll be there ten years from now.

One possible solution would be something like here, upload them to [some remote hard drive of mine]. Advantages: I have, unlike quite a few commercial entities, managed to hang onto a great deal of my digital files for ten years. Disadvantages: the software for this largely seems to suck in that it will be difficult to give them the motivation in terms of "and it will be shared with family really easily!": lots of creating galleries and so forth required to make things findable. I use F-Spot and Gallery and both of them leave sad dingy marks on my soul sometimes. I value the resulting organisation enough to do it, they probably do not, at least initially.

So should I just tell them to pay for a Flickr account? Or maybe Picasa? Or some similar website I probably haven’t heard of? I realise that stuff in the big wet cloud is vulnerable to both commercial failure of the provider and catastrophic failure on the part of their sysadmins, but at least it’s not vulnerable to my boredom or that of my parents (although Flickr at least is vulnerable to forgetting to pay Flickr). What has good desktop tools with the fewest clicks between plug camera in and digital files are safely squirreled away and as a bonus available for viewing by selected people?

I realise none of this is fail-safe, and if they aren’t interested in preserving the data it ultimately won’t happen, I just want to lower the barriers as much as possible and give it the best chance.

If you have thoughts and don’t know how to get in contact, email per this.

Viewing attachments when using mutt remotely

Yes, that’s right, I’m still in the dark ages and do not yet use Gmail for my email. Even though it has IMAP and everything. I still use Mutt.

I almost always use Mutt locally, using offlineimap to sync IMAP folders to local maildirs. This means I don’t usually have the problem of being unable to view non-text attachments. However, for the next little while I’ll be using Mutt on a remote connection.

Don Marti has one solution to this, which assumes that you are accessing the server with Mutt on it via SSH (probably true) and are easily able to create a tunnel to your local machine, which is trivial if you are using a commandline ssh client, but while you can do it with PuTTY I figured it was just annoying enough that I might not bother. (And I doubt you can do it at all with those web-based SSH clients.)

My alternative assumes instead that you have a webserver on the remote machine that has mutt on it. It then just copies the attachment to a web-accessible directory, and tells you the URL where you’ll be able to find the attachment. It’s thus a very trivial script (and I doubt very much it’s the only one out there), but perhaps using mine might save you fifteen minutes over coming up with your own, so here it is:

copy-to-dir.sh (in a bzr git repo)

Sample output is along these lines when you try to view an attachment in Mutt:

View attachment SOMEPDF.pdf at http://example.com/~user/SOMEPDF.pdf Press any key to continue, and delete viewable attachment

In order to use it, you need to:

  1. copy the script to the remote machine where you use mutt;
  2. make it executable;
  3. edit it to set the OUTPUTDIR and VIEWINGDIR variables to something that works for your setup;
  4. set up a custom mailcap file much like the one Don Marti gives, that is, put something like this in your ~/.mutt-mailcap:
     text/*; PATH-TO-SCRIPT/copy-to-dir.sh %s application/*; PATH-TO-SCRIPT/copy-to-dir.sh %s image/*; PATH-TO-SCRIPT/copy-to-dir.sh %s audio/*; PATH-TO-SCRIPT/copy-to-dir.sh %s 
  5. set mailcap_path = ~/.mutt-mailcap in your ~/.muttrc file.

Something like this probably could work for Pine and other text-based email clients used remotely too, but I’m not sure howi because I don’t use them. And if someone wants to document this in a way that assumes less pre-existing knowledge, go ahead.

Also, making your attachments web-accessible means that they are, well, web-accessible. I’ve set up a HTTP Auth-protected directory using https for this, you should think about your own setup too.

Creative Commons License
Viewing attachments when using mutt remotely by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Beginning a feminist journey

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question. (See the status of this project, also.)

I am a girl geek in a relationship with a guy geek, and this guy geek was raised by his mom and his aunt to hate men and hate himself for being a man. In puberty he rejected that and swung a bit in the opposite direction, and now he’s in a place where he believes in the equality of the sexes but he has internalized stereotypes and vitriolic messages about both sexes. He recognizes that and he wants me to help him learn about feminism. Well, that’s great! But I haven’t got the foggiest where to start. We tried reading the Feminism 101 sites together, but it’s too unstructured. Do you know of anyplace else I could find an approach to teaching feminism to men, specifically, or have any advice for helping him confront the internalized hated?

I’ll be interested in the Hive’s thoughts too, but to be honest I’m not sure you can provide structure in this quest, ultimately. It’s a big messy pile of issues, and one person’s structured look at it will be another person’s incoherent mystery.

I wanted to post this after the linkspam put up the lists to the latest round of self-education posts, because he needs to accept responsibility for his own education. If he’s not willing to do a lot of listening and doubting and struggling to understand and looking back at his six-months-ago self and being embarrassed at his lack of clue, you can’t make him and we can’t make him.

Let me talk about myself for a bit. I’m very privileged, and I’ve spent a few years now reading about intersectionality issues and oppressions other than patriarchal ones. I don’t get an ally cookie and reading the social justice blogosphere is far and away not the only thing an ally can or should do. But here’s what’s worked for me:

  • reading a lot of things, mostly in my case blogs, with stories in them about oppression playing out in people’s lives;
  • thinking privileged things like “surely that’s an exaggeration” “but I’m not like that” “but my friends aren’t like that” “but I’ve never heard of anything like that” “I think your point would be better made if you…” and so on;
  • (at least sometimes) noticing myself thinking those things and keeping them inside my own head; and
  • (sometimes) noticing oppression that isn’t happening to me personally and thinking “that’s fucked up” and (sometimes) analysing, criticising, or trying to end it.

Not a direct answer to your question, but perhaps your partner does need to ask himself what it is he needs structured for him and why.

For others, were there any resources that provided you with some structure to your early feminist or anti-oppression thinking, even if they later turned out to be incomplete or problematic in and of themselves? If you’re a male feminist/feminist ally, how did you start out learning and what are you learning at the moment?

Note: discussions of what one can do to learn about or further social justice can themselves end up ableist and classist among other things. There are many types of activism and the types that can be done or are preferred by conventionally educated abled folk with leisure time aren’t the only kind. Be careful with your ‘must’s.

‘net hiatus again

I think I say this too often to be believable, but I am again declaring an incomplete ‘net hiatus so that I have time for both my baby and some part-time work on my PhD. What this means specifically:

  • no IRC;
  • almost no time in blog comments;
  • considerably less blogging for Geek Feminism, although I’m not going to stop entirely (I write fairly seldom for Hoyden in any case, so cutting that down isn’t on the cards); and
  • very little time on identi.ca/Twitter/Facebook.

A week or so back I started dropping people from my identi.ca/Twitter lists and will probably drop very many more. If you tweet more than a few times a day and/or if you regularly live-tweet events, you will almost certainly go, I just can’t follow you in a way that’s sensible for me. Others may go as well. (Please, no ‘splains about Twitter lists. I know they exist and how to use them.) If you notice me unfollowing you… it’s not you, it’s me. On Facebook I’ll not drop friends, since it’s harder to re-add them, so there I will use lists.

I’ll still be reading blogs and such, but I’ve reset my feed reader down to twice daily checks. I can be reached via email in the usual way.

Quick hit: “Mary Sue” policing

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Another one bubbling up from our linkspamming hive mind: criticism of “Mary Sue” policing.

Mary Sue is a fandom term for a character who is judged to be authorial self-insert and wish fulfilment, prototypically a prominent original character in fan fiction but sometimes identified in non-fanfic. She is often derided as close to guaranteed to detract from a work. It’s a well-known enough term to be on Wikipedia as well as on TVTropes. Mary Sue policing is very old and can be very knee-jerk: you appear to have an original female character with some desirable traits! Mary Sue! Next fic please! There are snark communities dedicated to seeking out fanfic with Mary Sues and checking off their alleged Mary-Sue-ish traits.

Criticism of it is also widespread, as being essentially a tendency to mock women for having wishes to fulfil, or thinking that their own stories are worth telling.

Here’s a couple of recent critiques, first from boosette:

PPC [Protectors of the Plot Continuum] goes around bullying tweens, teens, young women and yes: older women, too — for daring to write fanfiction not up to their (dubious) standards. For writing original female characters, minor canon characters and major canon characters in a manner that is empowering to them.

For writing Tenth Walkers, for writing fourth members of the Harry Potter trio, for making Christine Chapel an Olympic-level figure skater before she entered nursing. For empowering themselves through their writing.

From niqaeli:

I actually flat-out cannot identify with plain people who have led simple lives and done nothing extraordinary. It’s not that I want to experience an exciting life through my fiction — though, yes, I do — but that my own life has not been plain or simple. If I were to write an autobiography, I’d be accused of being a Mary Sue, which what the hell. I am an actual person. Most of the people I know have led strange and interesting lives.

But even with that: so what? What the hell harm does it do for someone to write their ridiculous self-avatar? What good does policing fantasies — and particularly, these fantasies — do? All it does is create shame over the desire to, what, to be special? To be considered truly remarkable, to be loved?

What do you think? Is there an equivalent in your geekdom, where the stories of women are either marginalised or determined to be objectively poorer quality? Is it possible to avoid this sort of creep, where a term of critique becomes a way to reflexively dismiss the work of people just starting out, or not obeying the rules?

Is requiring Open Source experience sexist?

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Code Anthem’s Don’t Judge a Developer by Open Source (via Meg in the Open Thread) argues that companies that rely on Open Source coding contributions as a hiring criterion are both demanding a lot of their hiree’s free time and are sexist:

Open source is a culture. There are plenty of smart and passionate developers out there who are not part of that culture. And certainly there are plenty of dumb and curmudgeonly developers out there participating in open source…. There are there smarter ways to spend your time. The stereotypical open source developer works for a bumbling corporate during the day, doing dull work (but necessary to make money) and then comes home to work on his passion, OpenOKHRWUJ Framework…

Requiring open source contributions is sexist… Open source is dominated by men even more so than the programming community as a whole… it’s irresponsible to require your new hire developers to come from a male-oriented pool. Alas”¦ “Underrepresentation breeds underrepresentation”.

I have a comment in moderation there in which I say that I think the stereotype is incorrect: that Open Source developers in my experience are either university students or other young people with a lot of free time, or they’re paid Open Source developers. (I know hobbyist Open Source coders with unrelated dev or other full-time jobs too, yes, but not nearly so many and their contributions are for obvious reasons usually not as significant. If nothing else, this group has a really high incidence of typing injuries.)

But that’s a side-note: I think the core point of the post stands. Open Source is very male-dominated, is known for being unpleasantly sexist, and is also a subculture whose norms (even where neutral as regards sexism) don’t fit everyone. Requiring these norms feeds right into the problem talked about in Being Inclusive vs Not Being Exclusive:

People who come from underprivileged minorities are usually very experienced in the art of being excluded. Sometimes it’s overt – “we don’t like your kind” – but many times it’s subtle. They’re told that they’re “not quite right”, or they “don’t have the right look”, or “don’t have the right experience”, or just aren’t told anything. At the same time, they are surrounded by all sorts of imagery and communique about how they don’t quite belong, about how they have to change themselves to fit in, about how they are undesirable. They do not see a lot of examples they can relate to; even the ones that come close tend to stick out for being “Exotic”, being a token. They already have a lot of barriers against them and are already of the mind that they’ll more likely be rejected than accepted.

If you insist on a lot of experience in a particular male-dominated sub-culture as a prerequisite for a job, that reads as “we prefer [a subset of] men, basically, or at least people willing to work hard to minimise all the ways in which they aren’t [part of the subset of] men” even if you didn’t intend it to and even if you didn’t want it to.

Code Anthem isn’t, as far as I can tell, thinking about Open Source paid jobs in that post, but they of course have this problem magnified. It seems vastly reasonable on the face of it: hiring existing Open Source contributors, ideally people from your very own community, means you hire people who are well-versed in the particular mode of development you do, in particular, the use of text-based mediums for communicating among a distributed team. Since Open Source (or more to the point Free Software) projects are at least sometimes associated with particular non-commercial goals and philosophies agreement with those seems desirable. But since most long-term Open Source developers need to be paid for it, it strongly feeds into this cycle of long-term Open Source developers continuing to be male and of a particular kind of culture, and continuing to overtly or subtly signal that that’s who is welcome in Open Source development.

Possible other posts of interest:

  • Terri’s Want more women in open source? Try paying them.
  • Dorothea Salo’s Sexism and group formation:

    A woman can be an honorary guy, sure, with all the perquisites and privileges pertaining to that status””as long as she never lets anything disturb the guy façade.

    It’s good to be an honorary guy, don’t get me wrong. Guys are fun to be around. Guys know stuff. Guys help out other guys. Guys trust other guys. And in my experience, they don’t treat honorary guys any differently from how they treat regular guys. It’s really great to be an honorary guy.

    The only problem is that part of the way that guys distinguish themselves from not-guys is by contrasting themselves with women.

On reluctant car ownership

Two facts about me. One: I’ve never owned a car. Two: I have an eleven week old baby son.

Fact number two might be about to change fact number one, but I wish there was some intermediate option.

I quite like driving on the open road, especially manuals (stick shifts), but I’m not very experienced in good cars and therefore haven’t developed expensive tastes. I also abhor heavy traffic, and would prefer public transport commuting as long as it is working, air-conditioned, and not packed to the gills. (I am aware that this rules out many commutes.) I like walking to the shops and have tended to live places which are close to public transport and grocery shopping. It’s worked pretty well so far and frankly I’d probably prefer to go on like that indefinitely.

But some things that were easy before are a righteous pain in the neck now. We can’t just get a taxi, for example, we have to go to serious effort to get one with a car seat, and even then I’m told they often turn up with the wrong one, or it’s badly fitted. (Some people advise to purchase one and take it with us but… they’re enormous. What the hell do you do with it at the other end?) Trips to visit my parents on public transport used to involve changing modes of transport twice. Now they involve changing modes of transport twice with twice as many bags with a recently woken and cranky baby, who may well remain disrupted for the rest of the day, while simultaneously cringing every time he makes a noise (he cries very loudly), and possibly being outright verbally abused by people for ‘allowing’ him to do so. Not to mention the chance of not getting a seat at all and having to stand with him for an hour, and the total lack of nappy change facilities.

Same thing, although not as lengthy, applies to visiting many of our friends and going on some of our favourite outings.

Rental cars aren’t going to cut it often, since one-way trips in them are so ludicrously expensive and so is keeping them for the middle bit of long trips.

Since I don’t care enough about cars to have a particular desire to own one individual car, I really wish there was a truly cross-transport flexible system in which I could both use public transport and borrow various sizes of car in the car sharing style and in the one pricing system. In an ideal world the fitting systems for baby restraints would also be improved so that they were spring-loaded and snap fastened too.

When the government gets serious about ending or changing car dependence (which I don’t expect to see awfully soon) they should look into this for me.