A Sanguine Neurastheniac

Entries from February 2013

Trans Technology Symposium at Rutgers next Tuesday, 3/5

February 27, 2013 · Leave a Comment


My friend Christina Dunbar-Hester and her colleague Bryce Renninger are guest curators of a pretty eclectic and awesome exhibit of gender-subversive art and artifacts which runs through June 3, 2013 at Rutgers University Institute for Women and Art in the Douglass Library.  In their words, “Trans Technology focuses on technological art and artifacts that engage in trans, queer and feminist projects that help to trans (to use the word as a verb: spanning; interrogating; crossing; fusing) conceptions of the heterosexual matrix in technology.” A bunch of the featured creators will be at a symposium this Tuesday, March 5, 2013.

I was asked to contribute a jokey tee shirt with a series of (fallopian) tubes (Senator Stevens, don’t tie our tubes!) that I made back in 2006.  Click here for the back story.  My friend and frequent collaborator, Georgia Guthrie, is showing a piece that she knit from network cable and a computer keyboard.  She and I will also be participating throughout the day on a hacking demonstration in the morning and a panel in the afternoon.


It’s not a big truck!

It’s exciting and humbling to be featured alongside Micha Cárdenas, who recently has been working on a wearable electronics art-activist project that would allow people to alert each other of danger or harm with the push of a button by connecting the wearables wirelessly.  It’s also amazing to be on a bill with the Barbie Liberation Organization, famous for swapping the voice boxes in talking Barbie and G. I. Joe dolls.  Artists featured in the exhibit include: Shana Agid, Stephanie Alarcón, Zach Blas, Micha Cárdenas, Heather Cassils, Zackary Drucker, Georgia Guthrie, Jacolby Satterwhite, and Sandy Stone; including two artist/activist groups- Genderchangers and the Barbie Liberation Organization (BLO)

With those teasers, I’ll leave you to explore the other artists and participants on your own.  Here’s the schedule for the day, and if you can’t make it on Tuesday, consider checking out the exhibit during its run until June 3.


SYMPOSIUM / March 5, 2013

This event is free and open to the public

Mabel Smith Douglass Room

Hacking Workshop/Demonstration  11 AM – 12:15 PM
Artists: Georgia Guthrie, Stephanie Alarcon, and Micha Cardenas


Lunch 12:15 -1:15 PM
(Click here to RSVP)

Teleconference Lecture Hall, 4th Floor

Interventions in Tech Industry and STEM  2 – 3:30 PM
Panelists: Stephanie Alarcon (artist), Zach Blas (artist), Georgia Guthrie (artist), and Jessa Lingel (Rutgers PhD Candidate, LIS)
Moderator: Katie McCollough (Rutgers PhD Candidate, Media Studies)


Utopian Technics  4 – 5:30 PM
Panelists: Micha Cardenas (artist), Heather Cassils (artist), Jacolby Satterwhite (artist), and Leah Devus (Associate Professor, Rutgers History Department)
Moderator: Aren Aizura (Rutgers Institute for Research on Women, Post-Doctoral Researcher)

On View: Trans Technology
Circuits of Culture, Self, Belonging

January 22 – June 3, 2013
Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series, Douglass Library
Gallery Hours: 9 AM – 4:30 PM; Weekends by appointment
Press Release


Categories: Gender and tech
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Overclocking, wire tripping, and further adventures with Tor

February 27, 2013 · Leave a Comment

Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

Yesterday I was at the OTI offices again for a workday. For a chunk of the day I worked with Dan Staples on reviewing some things I’d learned about network settings in Commotion, and testing a Tor-enabled Commotion build. (More on that in a separate post.)

A couple of funny things happened on the way to the Internet. First, running Tor on a Ubiquiti PicoStation wireless node caused the little machine to overheat and reboot within 30 seconds of the process starting! Ha! We niced the process and managed to get it to stay up long enough to properly start up. I’ll do some more troubleshooting to figure out why it’s running so hard and see if there’s a way to (literally) cool it down. But I thought that was a pretty awesome problem.

At the same time, I successfully connected to the Internet through a Buffalo Air Station router that was elegantly modified by Access Labs to be a Tor transparent proxy. A couple of funny things happened as a result. First, since I had Thunderbird open and set to check my email every 5 minutes or so, my Gmail accounts freaked out. I got notices of suspicious activity for 3 different accounts because all my network traffic was running over Tor, meaning that my mail requests were hitting the Gmail servers from several different Tor exit nodes around the world. This caused Gmail to assume that malicious users were trying to access my account from a bunch of different places. It was a minor hassle to convince Gmail to stop panicking, but it was kind of neat to trip that wire.

Most adorable of all, however, came from your favorite activist tech collective and mine, Riseup Labs. One of the IPs in the suspicious activity notices was listed this way:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 9:04:31 PM UTC
IP Address: (load-me-in-a-browser-if-this-tor-node-is-causing-you-grief.riseup.net.)
Location: Cham, Switzerland

So that’s a little message from the Riseup operators of that Tor exit node. If you do indeed load it in a browser, you’ll see that it’s a very wry RTFM.

Categories: Geekery
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I Want a CSA for music.

February 15, 2013 · 1 Comment

I was just listening to the Eavesdrop Radio podcast from two of my favorite djs, Junior and Lil Dave and it occurred to me that for as long as I’ve loved and respected their work, I have yet to actually pay money for a release on Junior’s label Recordbreakin.  That’s horrifying…great friend I am!

But then it occurred to me that it would actually be easier for me to just pay Junior a chunk of money every year or month and have him send me download codes for whatever they’ve released in some time interval.  Think of it like a CSA for music.

In a CSA, or community supported agriculture, you “subscribe” to a farm.  You sign up and pay a lump sum to a farm in the winter which entitles you to a share of veggies every week through the growing season.  It ensures that the farmer has enough cash on hand to operate, and the customer doesn’t have to choose what to buy.

What about a subscription to a music label?  I would totally pay a certain amount per year for the Recordbreakin’ catalog or a portion of it.  CSAs have half- and full-size shares.  A label could offer subscriptions that entitle a customer to every release, every other, every fifth, etc, or entitle the customer to a certain number of releases per year or month.  I can think of several labels and artists that I would be very happy to support this way.

Has anyone done this?

Categories: Uncategorized
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Solidarity with a gap year student

February 11, 2013 · Leave a Comment

I have a close friend who graduated from high school last spring.  After a lot of thought and negotiation with her parents and the university where she’d been accepted and funded, she decided to take a gap year, that tradition of time off after high school that is common in Europe but often maligned in the US.  I was one of the people who got her thinking about it.

It’s fair to point out that we’ve known each other for a long time and I’ve been there to selectively pass ideas across the table to her:  an introduction to Linux, tours of subversive little urban spaces, genres of music.  So I was in a good position to suggest a gap year to her, and to substantiate the benefits to her parents.

She’s in the middle of it now, and her version of taking it easy is working 2 jobs plus a paid internship.  She is being offered a second paid internship and called me to hash out the pros and cons of taking it.  I could tell right away that she was really hesitant about it.  Some gentle prodding revealed that she’s getting guilted left and right for both living in the city instead of her parents’ “safe” exurban refuge, and for “only” working her butt off for 3 days a week.  (Plus the one internship.)  She was afraid that if she took this second internship it would corrode her free time to do the things that the gap year was intended for.  She needs time to take walks, do art, experiment with professional and leisure time activities so that when she starts her college career she’s more centered and focused.

Let’s pull this apart.  I’ll be frank that I think it’s bullshit to lay a guilt trip on a young person for taking a gap year when they work plenty of hours to cover costs but not a standard 40-hour week.  To me it belies ageism and a hazing attitude–ageism as in “These kids have it too easy.  What do you need time off for?  It’s just grade school and high school”, and hazing as in “Well, I went right from high school to college and I just had to buck up and do it.”

I’ll bet there are a lot of people would have loved to take a gap year but couldn’t because of parental pressures, admissions policies, financial realities or something else.  If that’s the case, shouldn’t we support young people who do have the opportunity? Let’s be honest, the first 12 years of education, if you make it that far, can be a battering experience.  I remember leaving high school dazed, baffled, lacking a good handle on what work and a career really entailed, and utterly, down-to-the-bone, exhausted.  I went through undergrad anyway and came out similarly confused and exhausted.  Burnout is as real at 17 as it is at 35.

Gap years are often cast as a carefree time to explore and get “it” — whatever “it” is — out of your system.  But what if we thought of them as a first sabbatical, a time to get “it” into your system?  I think that’s much more honest, honorable, and accurate.  For students who don’t have a crystal clear vision for their career when they finish high school, a year out in the world can be grounding in a way that is really hard to achieve in an educational setting.  And why not provide that, rather than putting students through the ringer for another four or more years, then dumping them out in the world with mounds of debt, to discover by themselves if the career they trained for actually translates to the job they want to do all day for the next 10-50 years of their lives?  Tangentially, I think we do students a great disservice by focusing so heavily on the philosophical significance of a given career to the detriment of helping them discover what the day-to-day reality is like.

But don’t take my word for it.  Big names in .edu are starting to agree. Like Harvard College, which “encourages admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way – provided they do not enroll in a degree-granting program at another college. Each year, between 50 and 70 students defer their matriculation to the College.”  This snip from the essay “Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation” might have a familiar ring:

“Professionals in their thirties and forties – physicians, lawyers, academics, business people and others – sometimes give the impression that they are dazed survivors of some bewildering life-long boot-camp. Some say they ended up in their profession because of someone else’s expectations, or that they simply drifted into it without pausing to think whether they really loved their work.”

My auspicious ending happened well into my computer career when I used my employer’s educational benefit to go back for a master’s degree in environmental studies.  I was way more focused and responsible for all the reasons you’d expect.  I was there completely by choice, I had a goal in mind (though admittedly still not as clear as I’d like), and I valued the opportunity.  But I wish I had had that experience much earlier, and I still struggle to clarify my goals and develop strategies to realize them.

Let me make it clear that my friend didn’t just passively take the opportunity.  She carved it out with research, paperwork, phone calls, and effective negotiation.  She single-handedly got her college acceptance and scholarships deferred for a year, and in a hurry at that.  It took a lot of conviction and honest work to arrange her gap year, and she knows in her gut what she needs from this time.

So my advice to her was to go into the interview prepared to state gently but firmly her needs and best-case wants.  I told her that if she didn’t feel comfortable taking on the hours that they were asking for because they would eat into her personal time, she should just say she has a prior commitment for X hours/week.

It’s for her to determine how she needs to use that time, not the customers at her service jobs or the managers at an internship.  It’s probable that lots of those people would have appreciated and benefited from a gap year.  But until it is viewed for what it is, a first sabbatical for gaining focus, setting goals, and preventing or healing from burnout, I stand in solidarity with young people who guard their prior commitment to explore and mend.

Maybe when I grow up I’ll have the conviction and organization to take a proper sabbatical myself!

Categories: Education
Tagged: ,

Adacamp was my dream un-conference, and so can you!

February 8, 2013 · Leave a Comment

TLDR: Click here to indicate your interest in AdaCamp 2013 in San Francisco this June.  You’re interested because the last one was awesome.

Wall of compliments at AdaCamp DC (c) Máirín Duffy CC-BY-SA

Wall of compliments at AdaCamp DC (c) Máirín Duffy CC-BY-SA

Ladies and lady-positive people, you know that tech gathering that you dream about, the one where you’re surrounded by people who are smart and strong but modest and appreciative of all the factors that helped them get where they are?  The one where privacy and maintaining a safe space is conspicuously valued even more highly than the conference’s own publicity?  Where the women’s room sees some traffic and the men’s room is declared an all-gender space? Where the food is sensitive to a range of dietary needs and tastes AMAZING?  And the one where you wish you could be friends with everyone there?

I was there, and let me tell you, it was awesome. In July, 2012 I went to AdaCamp, an unconference organized by the Ada Initiative, who support women in open technology and culture.

Let’s define some terms.  An unconference is a gathering where the participants both set the agenda and provide the content.  Think of it like the salad bar of the conference world.  Typically, the schedule emerges from a process where people post topics they want to learn about and/or can teach about on a wall.  Attendees vote by putting tick marks on the proposals that interest them the most and the most popular ones get organized into a day’s worth of talks and workshops.  Open technology and culture are projects where the work is shared openly with the goal of allowing everyone to be more creative, more accurate, or simply make progress faster.  Open source software is the typical example, but it includes things like open hardware and transformative works (fan fiction) as well.  The Ada Initiative’s namesake is Ada Lovelace, widely considered the world’s first computer programmer.

AdaCampDC was the second gathering sponsored by the Ada Initiative and had something like 150 participants, mostly women.  It felt like a profoundly safe space with a diverse range of industries, ages, nationalities, and professional experience.  There were nitty-gritty sessions on things like career development and asking for more money, intros to tech topics like OpenStreetMap and programming, and even a super fun soft circuit workshop where we made an old pillowcase into an LED-bedazzled AdaCamp memento.

There were classy touches like photo-consent indicators and the best conference food ever.  When you got to the conference space you were offered a green, yellow, or red sticker for your nametag.  Green meant “ok to photograph me”, red meant “please don’t photograph me”, and yellow meant “ask first.”  Ahhh!  It’s so refreshing not to have to explain that it’s rude to take my picture without asking.  And seriously, the food.  Middle Eastern and…wait for it… Ethiopian.  Unheard of.  So good.

It was a profoundly healing and uplifting space.  Early sessions on imposter syndrome were so popular that they ran pretty much the whole second day, speaking to a deep need for participants to work out unjustified feelings of inadequacy.

Little spots of magic popped up throughout the two days.  Several companies had sponsored dinner for a bunch of people so we could split into interest groups and have deeper conversations in a more intimate setting.  People self-organized into dinners via a shared spreadsheet that worked amazingly well.  One favorite feature was a spontaneous wall of compliments that was dreamed up during an imposter syndrome session.  The idea was people would write compliments and post them on the wall.  Anytime you were feeling low you could go to this wall and take one for yourself.  I stuck compliments on several of my friends.  It was a fun, silly way to express real appreciation.

So, yes, it was a respectful and healing love-fest where we got to talk about both our successes and the times we’ve felt beaten up.  But it was also a pretty heady connection-maker.  I met people doing archival data storage, heavy lifting in coding and databases, and really worthwhile non-profit work.  In fact the opportunity to work with OTI came to me across the AdaCamp alumni list.

In summary, you should go to the next one this year in San Francisco, June 8-9.  The organizers are polling for interest to estimate how big a space to secure.  If you think you might like to go, click here to help them plan the next awesome gathering.

Categories: Gender and tech
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