A Sanguine Neurastheniac

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The Parable of the Prodigal Meetup Organizer and the Clued-In Community Manager

November 7, 2016 · Leave a Comment

This is a parable about a local organizer failing to recover from an instance of bad judgment, and an excellent Community Manager coming to his rescue at the request of a Meetup attendee. Let it be a lesson in how to start with a fail and end with a win.

Not long ago in a dimension directly adjacent to ours, there was a popular tool for molding fresh computers into the right for your needs. The Good Tool had enthusiastic users across many lands, and it was common to gather and trade tips for wielding it. These were jolly events, with food, ale, and video projectors. One day, into a gathering strode a rustic stranger from the West. She wore a large yellow rucksack and appreciated the tales of the locals.

Suddenly, a speaker uttered a trope so common it felt like reading from the Book of Ages. He claimed that the Good Tool was so easy that even a Secretary, or One Who Is Not Paid To Wield Tools But Rather Be the First Line Of Defense For Every Problem, Need, and Concern of the Tool Wielders And Also Answer The Phones For About Half The Pay, could understand it.

The stranger’s left eyebrow shot up.

“It’s true!” the speaker continued. “Even SHE could understand it!”

What. The. Actual. Hell. The rustic stranger gathered her yellow rucksack and left as quickly–and almost as politely–as she had come. The stranger issued forth exactly 1 (one) rage tweet and found solace in an enchanted cafe where a DJ played vintage Brazilian soul on vinyl, intuiting the needs of her very heart. She then returned to her glen to sleep on it.

The next morning, the stranger contacted the gathering’s organizers, one local lord and one Community Manager at the Good Tool’s headquarters. She sent a calm, polite message thanking them for their work but reminding them that disparaging comments are harmful to communities. She made two clear, easy, outcome-oriented requests:

  1. When the video is posted, please insert hover text when the comment appears reading something like “That was a silly thing to say. We apologize and we won’t do it again!”
  2. Make a plan to prevent future harms to the community. Talk to speakers, or better, adopt of code of conduct to automate the draining process of re-explaining community standards, an emotional labor she had performed so many times that it trickled like lead in her veins.

Well. The lord of the local gathering wrote back with plucky promptness, but betrayed his inexperience with newcomers, rustic or otherwise. The worst of the news came quickly. It was in his own presentation, the lord himself, that the blow had been dealt.

  • “I am sorry you were offended,” he said, although the stranger was not offended. She was bone tired of watching good communities self-destruct because they don’t have the discipline to adhere to their own values. The lord did not notice the film of quicksand oozing toward his feet.
  • “I would have left the room,” he said. Had he not noticed when she did just that, immediately and unambiguously? Had he not felt the cold wind she left in her wake? The quicksand was over his toes.
  • “No one else was offended,” he said, though he had not the power to read hearts of users. She bitterly recalled that all the revelers were lords with only one other lady in attendance, a Scribe who recorded the video. The quicksand lapped the top of his feet.
  • “Next time”, he said, “I will insult The Builders Of The Rooms Where The Tool Users Work,” merely pledging to shift the offense to a different noble profession. “Hope that won’t stir up similar reactions from male attendees. :)” Ah, a gambling type. Ankle-deep.
  • “Others have said the same!” he entreated. Perhaps. But if others hardcoded a password and stored it in a public repo, would you clone that travesty as your own? Past the pant hem.
  • “If you’ve been to talks before you may have noticed profanity. Surely that is also a problematic behavior, and yet we take solace in our shared vice. There is unity in problematic behaviors,” he deduced. “If we condone one vice, we condone all.” What could she do but facepalm? False equivalence? Are you kidding me with this? And indeed, not all users feel their profanity is equally condoned. Oh dear, up the shins.
  • “I do this for free!”, said he, forgetting the experience, connections, career visibility, and social capital he gained from attaching his name to that of the Good Tool, or even the food and booze budget that he was afforded.
  • Indeed, he enthused, “We have ale! and with that, he concluded that nothing should be taken so very seriously.
  • “Your points are not really an issue,” he concluded, “but I thank you for your vigilance. If I ever feel that my behavior has been in error, I shall be quick to correct it. This, I promise.”

What. The. Performance-Based. Hell. She had before her this scroll of facts:

  • The local lord’s work and recognition rest’s upon the Good Tool’s reputation.
  • Community standards exist to shield inexperienced lords from the risks of interpreting what is acceptable and what is not. It lifts the impossible burden of “pleasing everyone” in favor of “behaving how we agreed to behave”.
  • The local lord violated his own meetup’s code of conduct in the most public way available: during a recorded talk.
  • Despite her exhaustion, the stranger made a friendly, clear, actionable request that he nurture his community instead of insulting it, while recovering from the gaffe.

And yet, the local lord refused to review and enforce his own gathering’s Code of Conduct. His justification?

  • The stranger was merely uptight
  • Her experience didn’t matter
  • He was “sorry” she was offended but not sorry that he’d undermined his community’s credibility and resilience
  • He deemed his personal preferences for conduct at an event more relevant than the standards set by the Good Tool whose name he used to advance his own career
  • The only new members who are welcome in his *technical* community are the ones who agree with his *personal* values.

The rustic stranger weighed her options. She could ignore it… But of course she could not. She could bring down the full force of the Feminist Cabal, but that is a powerful Magick. Why swat a fly with a nuke? Nay. She would appeal to the Community Manager who oversees the gatherings throughout the lands, and hope like hell that he was a freakin’ grown-up. She wrote carefully but quickly. She expressed patience, but a desire for a quick resolution. She made clear the necessity for a response that was healthy for the community, and also that she would support such a response in any way possible. She made no attacks and only one further request. “Could you please have a word with the local organizer about community standards?”

Happily, when the hour of Waking and Starting Work arrived in the community manager’s local time zone, he was receptive, friendly, understanding, and willing to protect the hamlet’s users whims of local lords. Huzzah! They exchanged a few friendly emails while in the background she vented about Yet Another Fucking Instance Of This Shit with the Feminist Cabal Backchannel. The stranger hoped this would not end in the local lord’s dismissal because surely she would catch undeserved blame. Computer drama was the last damn thing she needed in this dynamic but lonely hamlet and she hoped fervently for a spontaneous breakthrough of common sense.

Never fear! The community manager, peering through the string curtain of a double-facepalm, clearly knew what he was doing and soon came a welcome missive: The local lord had agreed to modify the video, and had already posted the Code of Conduct on the group’s page! He pledged to hold true to the CoC, whether or not he fully understood its value. At least the stranger knew she could return to the gathering knowing that there was at least one other person willing to defend the right for to professional development free from threats to their human dignity.

The Stranger thanked the community manager and sang his praises to the Cabal, while reporting back at work that the Good Tool valued the integrity of its community, and therefore was more likely to survive among all the other Good Tools, and that made it all the more worthwhile to invest their limited learning and authoring time.

Finally, a happy ending.

Categories: Uncategorized

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?

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Deepest Condolences

January 14, 2013 · Leave a Comment

Aaron Swartz at Boston Wikipedia Meetup, 2009. Photo by Sage Ross.

I’m taking a moment to offer my sympathies to the friends and family of Aaron Swartz, who died on Friday.  I didn’t know him, but he was a friend to at least one of my friends and his passing is a blow to many, many people.  He was a dynamic, passionate, and creative defender of information freedom, and he will be missed.  Here are remembrances from people around the Internet:

Cory Doctorow

Peter Eckersly of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Quinn Norton


New York Times


Categories: Uncategorized

What Pregnancy Has Taught Me About Other Body Types

August 8, 2012 · 1 Comment

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:  Pregnancy brings on remarkable physical changes.  I’ve experienced a good number of them.  I had the classic early pregnancy nausea, some select cravings, and my torso widened before my belly, indicating a higher blood volume, lung capacity, and overall expanded infrastructure that’s required to support another person.

But plenty of people have griped about swollen feet and an intensified sense of smell.  What I have found really interesting and novel is that my physical changes have helped me identify with people who have very different body types from mine.

By nature I’m a sturdy but healthy weight for my modest-to-diminutive height, I’m more sensitive to cold and more welcoming of heat than most people around me, I have a high-efficiency metabolism so I can do a lot with a little bit of food, and while I wouldn’t consider myself an athlete, I have decent coordination, strength, and endurance.  All in all, my body does just about everything I ask of it and we have a very copacetic relationship.

In other words, I’m spoiled all to hell.  Being pregnant has put me into the meatspace–and a little of the headspace–of people with different physical realities.  Here are some examples.


Wow, suddenly I understand what people are complaining about when it gets to be 95 F outside.  In general, I bask in broiling summer heat and I’m not truly comfortable until it hits about 85.  Pre-pregnancy, I was almost always the coldest person in the room and figured that I suffered enough through other people’s air conditioning whimsies that I really didn’t need to waste any sympathy on their complaints that it was “too hot”.  Cry me a river while I shiver all winter AND all A/C-infested summer in 2 sweaters while drinking hot tea.

So, ok, now that I’m metabolizing for two, I get it.  I can finally admit that it really sucks to not be able to sleep because your bed is soaked with sweat and there’s nothing you can do about it.  This is the first summer since childhood that I’ve used air conditioning in my bedroom, and that was by central air decree, not by choice.  I haven’t used it a lot, but a few of those nights when it barely got below 100, I capitulated.  Nay, I blissfully surrendered.

On the other hand, it’s been pretty lovely to gallivant around town, riding public transit, popping into stores, office, and cafes, without giving a thought to donning cold weather gear.  Normally, I ALWAYS carry something warm to wear in the summer lest I have to sit still in an artificially cooled room, and find myself constantly pulling sweaters and jackets on and off for the transition from outdoors to indoors.  So, elevated core temp.  I get it now.  I’ll sort of miss it when it’s gone.

Emotion-mangling hunger

Speaking of metabolizing for two, the first trimester helped me understand my friends who have much faster metabolisms than I do, and/or have significant brain crashes if their sugar crashes.  Before the placenta matures and takes on a lot of the most important maintenance tasks, the rest of the body struggles to keep up with the increased demand.  It’s thought that the placenta “taking over” is what helps calm early nausea and fatigue.

For me, a pre-placenta effect was that I would get very hungry very suddenly, and not having food quickly made me totally sad and irritable.  Usually I can go quite a while before lack of food impacts my ability to think clearly, but early on this change would happen incredibly fast.  Within 10 minutes I’d go from realizing that I should eat, to being very hungry, to reaching a state of resigned, existential despair about the state of the world, a world in which there was no food worth eating so I might as well take a nap.  Fortunately I usually recognized what was going on and got some calories in me, and that fixed the problem as quickly as it had come on.

I was astounded at how easily I was manipulated by my blood sugar.  Bonking is something I’ve experienced before with distance cycling when I’ve ridden too far without getting some nutrients in me and suddenly felt completely lazy and unmotivated, but not really hungry.  This was similar in that the mental/emotional effect seemed disconnected from the physical need.  Now I better understand people who get really grumpy or sad if they go too long without eating.

Cardio-vascular stress

Remember that expanded blood volume and lung capacity?  The way the overtaxed cardio-vascular system actually feels is breathless.  Walking up 2 flights of stairs is much harder.  Early on when I was still biking, I found myself nonplussed as more and more cyclists flitted by me.  Anyone who has biked with me knows that I like to go VERY FAST and will chuckle smugly at the thought of my eating the dust of fair-weather riders on janky big-box store mountain bikes.  But pregnancy made me a mellow rider and an even mellower walker and stair-climber.  Now I hug the right side of the steps out of the subway to let people whisk by me.  I understand getting winded more easily, and it’s helped me understand what it’s like to have breathing and blood flow that’s taxed.

High mass torso

Pregnancy has made me bigger overall, but obviously the biggest change is in my abdomen.  A pregnant belly is quite firm to the touch, with an inner atmospheric pressure of anywhere from 5-50 mmHg or higher during strong contractions.  This makes it especially awkward to maneuver around, like having a watermelon strapped to your front, but it shares some characteristics with non-pregnant large bellies.

Namely, it takes up space.  It’s hard to bend over it.  Its weight puts stress on the neck and back.  It doesn’t fit on top of ladylike closed or crossed legs.  I find that my sitting posture more and more often resembles that of people with bigger overall body types.  I lean forward in chairs with legs rather wide and it helps me manage the weight and volume of my middle.  I better understand the strained back muscles that I’ve noticed in my bigger friends when I’ve offered a shoulder rub.  Those muscles simply work harder.

Chronic pain

Let me start by saying that this pregnancy has treated me extremely well overall.  I feel that I have a fraction of the complaints that I hear from a lot of other people who have been through this.  But it’s hard work.  The added weight and strain are such that I get unreasonably sore after modest muscular exertion, like moving a few boxes out of the basement.  My feet ache much more readily than I’m used to.  And there are days or weeks when I have a near constant pain in my middle back or the bottom of my right ribs, where the baby’s butt and/or feet are.  Let me tell you, it’ll harsh your mellow!  It’s really hard to be cheerful or even personable with constant pain.  Even if I can pull off being nice, it makes it harder to focus so I’m a little out of it and slow with witty retorts or I just sit and grin distractedly.  It’s easier now to understand the mental wear and tear of constant pain, even before any potentially mind-fuzzying medications come into the picture.

Temporary disability

Recently I overheard someone telling a story about the irritated and dirty looks she got as someone who walked with a brace or crutch.  That is, until she shaved her head.  Then suddenly people assumed she was a cancer victim and her social status instantly elevated.  Being pregnant on public transit has been quite an education in how people view others’ hardships.  The bigger I get, the more likely it is that someone will offer me a seat, but I’ve been surprised by who does and doesn’t extend this kindness.  It’s been interesting to see it offered to me but not to people who need it more, like people with small children or people with more serious physical difficulties.  And frankly, while it is very nice to be able to sit down while I’m carrying around an extra 33 pounds, I really needed it in the first trimester when I was nauseous and exhausted all the time, but didn’t look like there was anything wrong with me.

There’s no doubt that people make constant judgements and calibrations about how much others are worthy of kindness or deference.  I find myself doing the same.  If a man gets on the bus who has a limp, does he need to sit down more than I do?  Would he find it insulting to be offered a seat by a woman who is obviously about to give birth any day?  What causes one teenage boy to cooly insist that I take a seat while others stubbornly spread their legs so wide that they effectively take up two seats?  When so many women smile sympathetically and hold the door for me or give up a seat, what causes other women to blatantly cut in front of me in line?  It’s a fascinating study in who gets over and why.

I have to say, I’m really looking forward to getting my abdominal cavity back, and more abstractly, to going back to the freedom to not wear a particular identity if I don’t want to (a convenient tool in the invisible knapsack of white privilege).  At the moment, anyone who sees me first sees “pregnant”, and then if I’m lucky, might be able to see a few of the many other things that I am if they look closely past the social glare of my belly.  I’ve been The Other plenty of times, but this experience has given me a glancing appreciation of what it must be like to be “the one in the wheelchair” or “the one who walks really slowly” or just someone who is big.

Categories: Uncategorized

How to Survive Your Capstone in 10 Easy (HA!) Steps

April 27, 2012 · Leave a Comment

Here’s a quick thesis/capstone survival guide I put together for a talk at Penn last fall. It’s close to graduation time so hopefully it will come in handy to someone!


1. Capstones scare everybody.  Face it together.

You might think you are the worst procrastinator in the world, that no one has ever been as scared of a stupid paper, and that everybody else is doing way better.


Everybody suffers when they’re working on the magnum opus of their education thus far, the document that could propel them to greatness or banish them to mediocrity FOREVER.  It helps to have a cadre of friends or colleagues for venting, study dates, and plain old empathy.  You often get tips and insights when you talk through whatever you’re stuck on, that you wouldn’t get plugging away on your own.  So even if it seems like some of your classmates have hit their stride before you, don’t be shy about working together.

2. Heed your inner procrastinator.

You know that moment when you’re staring at a blinking cursor, trying to attack a concept or a chapter and all you can think about is how much you want to clean the toilet?  Maybe there’s a reason you’re stuck.  It could be that while you beat yourself up for not buckling down and writing the thing, that what’s really going on is that your intuition says something isn’t quite right.  Maybe you don’t feel like you have a convincing argument, or one of your sources doesn’t feel authoritative, or you’re not sure you’re asking the right question.  When you find yourself procrastinating, take some time to peel back the layers of why you’re stuck.  There might be a breakthrough at the center.

3. Work on what you want; the flow will come.  Or, don’t fall down the rabbit hole.

You just want to get through this one idea, then you can work on the fun stuff.  But every time you start the sentence, you feel like you need a better statistic.  Then you find another fact that leads you down another path.  Next thing you know, you’ve spent 6 hours chasing shadows and your sentence still isn’t working.

Forget it.  Work on what’s on your mind.  You do better work when an idea is fresh.  If you wait a day or a week or a month, you might lose that momentum.  Research writing is an iterative process and skipping around to topics you enjoy could give you better perspective on the less fun parts.  You might find that they are less relevant than you originally thought, or maybe when you go back you’ll find it more interesting.  Either way, it will be easier to tackle in the context of your other work.

4. Can you cut your concept in half?

This is super helpful for maximalists like me.  It’s tempting to expand your project to make it really relevant or erudite, but the key to finishing is setting attainable goals.  You might get two-thirds through your project and realize that you just won’t be able to do an entire component.

That’s when it’s helpful to have thought about your project in sections.  Take your concepts and chop them in half until you’re down to atomic chunks which lose their meaning if chopped again.  Those are your building blocks.  If you think of them as modular pieces, you have the option of dropping one or more without maiming your project if you can’t realistically finish them all.

5. Pick readers you trust, then trust them.

 Since I wrote my capstone I’ve referred to it several times to compose a talk, to check a fact, or just to marvel at having finished the damn thing.  Often, I run across a sentence that makes me hyperventilate.  That argument isn’t convincing!  That statement is controversial!  That fact is insufficiently cited!  And I panic and think that anyone who reads my paper will know I’m a fraud

Then I remember who I chose to read my capstone.  Both my formal and informal readers are people I trust and respect.  They come from diverse professional, personal, and even political backgrounds.  They all had insightful comments that I incorporated, and they liked my paper.  This has talked me down from several ledges.  If my work was respected by people I respect, I must have done something right.


6. Be kind to your audience.

This is a lesson I learned from my readers and from the absolutely wonderful book The Craft of Research.  It’s a classic for scholars of many levels and fields, and what I love about it is that it breaks down the mystical process of making a convincing argument and feeling sure that it’s convincing.  If you don’t have it, get it.

But it also discusses how to be in dialogue with your readers, how to anticipate their questions, how to neither assume they know everything you do nor that they are ignorant, and how to introduce them to your point of view.  Even if your audience are experts in your field, they aren’t experts in your perspective.  I wrote a section that I feared was simplistic and pandering, but my readers liked it because it introduced them to the totality of my topic in the form of a readable narrative.  After that, the audience felt prepared for the heady statistics and policy arguments that followed.  It’s safe to assume that your readers are people like you, and that they will appreciate rigorous arguments in readable language over spurious scholarship that assumes your readers already know everything you’re talking about.  They don’t.  It’s your job to engage them and convince them.


7. Let the robots manage your references.

If you’re not already using a citation manager like Refworks, EndNote or Zotero, run don’t walk and get signed up!  I used Refworks which was fine for my needs, and I wish I had used it for all my courses.  Sometimes I found that a reference I’d used for one paper would come in handy for another and it would have been easier to search for it in a citation tool than to look it up in the paper itself.  And there are few joys more palpable than switching from tweaking your commas and semi-colons by hand, to clicking a checkbox and having your references output in any citation style you like!  This is nerd paradise! 

Every tool has its pros and cons, (here are some comparisons from Penn, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, and a very rich one from Wikipedia) but it’s better to start using something than to fret over which one to choose.  Your best bet for getting help picking one is to talk to a reference librarian.

8. For the poster, bribe a designer friend with cookies.

Everyone, including me, treats the poster as an afterthought.  When I started mine I suddenly realized, crap, I don’t know anything about data visualization, color theory, layout, even font size for large format printing!  The poster help in the MES program’s Capstone guide (available on Blackboard, talk to the department if you can’t find it) is a good start, but there are some baaaaad posters out there.  If you can get some face time with a designer, you’ll come out with inspiration for organizing and illustrating your biggest ideas.  I’m ok with how mine came out (even if it’s pretty text-heavy) but I wish I’d thought about it sooner and gotten help.  I do feel strongly about 2 things, though:  70%-80% gray is almost always better than black for large format stuff unless you’re only using a very few, very bold colors, and serif fonts are ugly.  Yeah, I said it.

9. Consider your licensing options.

At Penn, the default publishing option is to have your paper entered into Scholarly Commons.  There’s a lot to be said for automatically being published in at least one place, especially if that place is the library of a major research institution.  The author agreement isn’t at all onerous.  It gives Penn the right to copy your paper to keep it available online, and publish parts of it in its own publications, giving you attribution.  In fact, the works are published with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license, which means anyone who wants to use it can do so if they give you credit, don’t make money, and don’t remix it.  You retain the right to re-publish or do whatever you want with your work.  That’s actually pretty good.  I did not submit to Scholarly Commons and slapped a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Sharealike license on the copy that I keep on my website.  But I may actually go back and submit to Scholarly Commons.  I’ve read horror stories of academic authors trying to publish their dissertations using a Creative Commons license and getting crazy pushback from their departments, and it’s nice that Penn is ahead of the curve on that. 

But it’s worth noting that if you  are sure you want to publish elsewhere, many publications frown upon being second to the party.  The dilemma is weighing a guaranteed publication versus possibly harming your chances of publishing in a journal or elsewhere.

10. Pace yourself.  It works!

I’m the kind of person who sees a big project as a monolith.  I have a hard time believing that working on a bit at a time will get the job done.  But I’ll repeat that this kind of project is iterative.  Working on a section at a time or a set number of hours at a time really will get the job done.  You might still have to cram at the end, but any work you do, even if it doesn’t feel finished, gets you closer to the goal.  Making mistakes and doing very rough writing is part of the process.  Putting your head down and doing nothing but work in every free hour for a semester may not result in more or better work than committing to a certain number of hours or pages per week.  And if you pace yourself you can give yourself permission to get a beer, go for a bike ride, celebrate your friend’s birthday, and still know that you’re making progress. 


Listen, I’m not going to pretend that writing a capstone is easy.  But it’s a dragon you can slay if you can keep it from overwhelming you.  Remember that it’s a finite amount of work and it will get done.  If you need help defining the scope, you can get feedback from your advisor, classmates, and alums.  And the sooner you finish, the sooner you can experience the sublime freedom of having it off your mind.  (Of course, I took fooooreeeeeverrrr to finish mine, so do as I say, not as I do.)  Good luck!


Categories: Uncategorized

Be Your Own Puppet: Miwa Matreyek’s stunning video shadow puppetry

April 27, 2012 · Leave a Comment

In mid-March I went to Baltimore’s Quest Fest to see a performance by Miwa Matreyek, an animator who I hadn’t heard of even a couple of months ago. I stumbled across her work on some internet afternoon stroll and was captivated by the clips that I saw.  Lucky for me, other people from the Pricess Grace Foundation to TED had heard of her.

Her work is heavily inspired by shadow puppetry, and in fact when I first looked at her work my mind immediately went to this exquisite video for the Little Dragon song “Twice” by Johannes Nyholm.

But in her work, she is the puppet. She performed two pieces at Quest Fest, “Dreaming of Lucid Living”, and “Myth and Infrastructure”. In each, she projects an original animation on a screen, but uses a second projector in back of the screen to throw the shadow of her figure into the animation.

The result is whimsical and stunning. She has perfected the timing of each piece such that as she moves her body, it is perfectly in sync with animations happening on the screen. In Myth and Infrastructure, for example, there is an extended section where the main shadow character is moving her arms while the animation from the front projects fanciful images into the hands of the shadow. Being just a little bit off would break the magic.

The interaction was so precise that for quite a while I assumed that she was using some gesture sensing and image creation setup. In a recent project that The Hacktory and Hive76 did with the PA Academy of the Fine Arts, the team used a Kinect to sense people’s motions and sent the output to a program written with Processing running on a laptop.  The program manipulated the movement and created a silhouette out of it. We projected the output onto a screen that we made from photographic background paper.

But Matreyek doesn’t do that. There’s just enough subtle imperfection in the performance to both reference traditional puppetry, and to ensure the viewer that what she’s doing is made of mastery, not software. During the Q&A I asked if she’d ever used motion sensing tech in her animations. She said that the group she collaborates with, Cloud Eye Control, has used it but her preference is to have total control over the animation.

For me, the choice of virtuosity over technology in her work is really attractive. Knowing how much preparation goes into making a precise performance look like whimsy just makes me like it more.  Check out a performance if she comes to a town near you.

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Hacking the Gender Gap at the Women In Tech Summit

April 20, 2012 · Leave a Comment

TechGirlzTomorrow, The Hacktory is excited to present a workshop at the Women In Tech Summit called Hacking the Gender Gap: A Hands-On Workshop for Boosting Gender Diversity in Tech. Georgia, Sarah, and Steph will facilitate activities to pull from people’s positive and negative experiences in tech as well as some of the research on the gender gap in STEM. We’ll work through strategies for combating sexist behavior and building a more diverse tech community. We hope to use this workshop as a first step in gathering data and stories that women, girls, and their allies can use in their organizations.

Check back here for a resource list and some of the outcomes from the session. And if you haven’t signed up for the summit they may still be taking some last minute registrations!

Happy Tech Week, everyone!

Categories: Gender and tech · Uncategorized
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Inclusion Is More Critical Than Uptime: Warming up the Occupy Philly Tech Tent

October 12, 2011 · 2 Comments

I support the Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Together movement.  The wealth gap is a whole ‘nother macro thing, but this post is focused on my (admittedly limited) efforts to help the Occupy Philly tech crew boost their inclusiveness.  Last night I did a little canvassing then talked to the tech crew on-site at City Hall.  Before I left, I formed and discussed the recommendations below with the people I caught up with, and they liked the ideas.  The folks I talked to at the tent were very busy but took time out of fighting fires and the General Assembly to talk about the issues.  They were interested and receptive and I thank them for taking the time to reflect on their work process with me.  The first suggestion came directly from the media working group, so I can’t take credit.  Here’s an email I sent to the tech organizing list this morning.

Subject: [Occupy-Tech List] Tech inclusiveness–good first steps!

Hi all, a quick then not-quick summary of some tech inclusiveness work I did last
night. Just a first pass, but could be helpful right away. Also, a medic gave
tech a thumbs up and no complaints, so congrats!! You all are rock stars, thanks
for all the work you’re doing!

tldr: The tech tent team is overworked and underappreciated, and the occupation
is alienated from tech infrastructure. I talked to people last night and came up
with 6 initial recommendations to reduce workload by increasing inclusiveness.
They are:

1) Ask the Art working group for help making a FAQ poster to put on the front of
the tent. This could cut down on spurious requests.
2) Recruit a tech tent greeter to field questions and triage tech support
requests. Preferably a woman or person of color. Minimal tech background
needed. This person could also update the irc channel and tech mailing list as
to current tech needs that people can bring from outside.
3) Ask for a bigger tent (heh, pun unintended but appropriate). The tent is
cramped and there’s no room for:

Categories: Gender tech and · Uncategorized
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The Truthiness About Red Wine

September 26, 2011 · Leave a Comment

Naomi Most, a contributor at Noisebridge, has post about the gap between the perceived and proven health benefits of red wine.  She puts it in context by pointing out that the quickest way to get press for anything resembling science is to publish results that seem to vindicate a human vice.  The resulting press-bob-bomb is seldom commensurate with the significance of the finding.  My pet peeve is nature/nurture research that “explains” gender gaps, but that’s a different story, told beautifully by Terri Oda.

Anyway, here is my favorite line from Naomi’s post:

Red wine is being used to “sell” scientific research about a phytochemical (resveratrol) which just happens to appear in a minute concentration in the beverage, much the way images of scantily clad young women are used to sell beer, especially in places where such women appear in minute concentrations.

Love, love, love.

Also, Noisebridge is having a nerd prom.  Props to Rubin and crew for organizing.



Categories: Uncategorized

Area Treehugger Speaks at German Hacker Conference

August 23, 2011 · 2 Comments

e-waste talk

Obrigada to Bicyclemark for snapping this shot of my snarkiest slide.

Updated with concise list of links, 10/12/2011.

I recently got home from 9 days in and around Berlin for the Chaos Communication Camp, organized by the Chaos Computer Club.  The Camp happens every 4 years and on a lark I submitted 2 talk proposals.  To my happy bewilderment, both were accepted.  I gave “There’s Gold In Them Circuit Boards:  Why E-Waste Recycling is Smart and How to Make it Smarter” based on my thesis work on e-waste, and “Data Mining Your City:  Early Lessons in Open City Data from Philadelphia, USA”.  On the train from Berlin to the airfield where the camp took place, I met Florian Stoller who helped me give the city data talk.  Besides being on the board of his local Pirate Party in Fribourg, Switzerland, he also helps run Be-Cause , a company that makes e-gov forms.  He filled in the European perspective, which really improved the talk.  Thanks, Florian!

Here are some links.

The camp and Berlin in general were pretty great and deserve their own review.  But until I get my photos posted and thoughts sorted, some crude self-promotion will have to do.

Categories: Travel · Uncategorized
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