Make hackerspaces better – support Ada initiative

Hello! I love hackerspaces! And I’m asking hackerspaces around the world to donate to the Ada Initiative in support of making hackerspaces welcoming and safe places for women. My goal is to raise $4096 and if we do, I’ll match the first $1028 donated. **UPDATE** extending the deadline to next Friday, Oct. 3.

Adacamp liz and heidi in tiara

My home base is Double Union, a feminist hackerspace in San Francisco and it’s going strong. It has lively events every week and over 150 members.

A group of us at AdaCamp SF last year decided we could start a maker and hacker space for women. AdaCamp SF is an unconference run by the Ada Initiative for feminist women in open tech and culture. There were so many of us all together at once. So powerful feeling! With months of hard work, it happened — we opened Double Union.

We get to hack there without sexist bullshit or constantly fending off creepy dudes!

The thing is, I believe that any hackerspace can potentially be that way. You, too, could have a hackerspace where many women feel comfortable, welcome, valued, in their creative, coding, and entrepreneurial and activist endeavors, in a space full of allies and comrades of all genders. This can’t happen overnight. It will take work and education and above all, listening to women, not just the few women who have stuck around, but also the ones who left because they were uncomfortable.

I want to persuade hacker and maker spaces around the world that they are missing out on infinite potential. has some good advice on adding anti-harassment policies to the design patterns for running a space. This is exactly the sort of work that Ada Initiative is good at; their Example anti-harassment policy has been used as a template by many events and organizations.

I’d like to challenge all hackerspace members to do two things in support of my campaign:

* Donate to Ada Initiative! I will match up to $1028 donated when we reach the $4096 goal!

* Add your anti-harassment policy to your organization’s page at, and link to it from the list on the Geek Feminism wiki. (And if your space doesn’t have a code of conduct or policy, start the ball rolling to implement one!)

I love Double Union. We have set aside a permanent physical space, equipment, organization, and time that is focused on making and creating things together. We have the keys in our hands and the tools to do whatever we like in a safe, supportive environment free from harassment. We agreed to a basic code of conduct and some assumptions we share about behavior in the space, which helps establish trust for us to share knowledge, time, and tools. We try to follow Community anti-harassment standards. We have members who are also part of, or supporters of, Noisebridge, sudo room, LOLspace, Mothership Hackermoms, Ace Monster Toys, and other San Francsico Bay Area spaces.

Double union shopbot

We’re having writers’ groups, book groups, readings, zine workshops, open source software coding, cryptography meetups, circuit hacking, making stuff with our CNC routers, 3D printer, vinyl cutter, drawing and art supplies, and sewing machines — in short, doing whatever we like and learning a lot from each others’ expertise. We celebrate other women’s work and cultural diversity. Our hackerspace is against putting others down for what they do or don’t know. Once we don’t have to fight to prove we are ‘hacker enough’, great things happen.

Double Union’s founding group had the vision to make this space happen because of the pioneering work of the Ada Initiative. Ada Initiative’s demands for policy changes for events and companies, its fierce uncompromising voice, and especially its empowering and inspiring events, are having a good and useful effect to shift our culture.

More AdaCamps, like the ones this year in Berlin, Bangalore, and Portland, will help improve women’s participation in hackerspaces. With your donation, we could potentially host MORE of these fabulous unconferences for women in open tech and culture.

Please join me in donating to Ada Initiative so they can keep on being a positive force for change in the world!

Liz and Cristin smiling at DU

Yelp removes accessibility review

Today I got a notification from Yelp that they removed one of my reviews. In my review I reported that ironically, a therapist who advertised as serving a diverse group of people with a focus on coping with health challenges and “aging gracefully”, did not have a wheelchair accessible office.

The review was removed by Yelp as not being substantive.

I have to assume that this was done at the business owner’s request. That seems pretty sad to me. It would be better practice for her to ask former clients for reviews.

Yelp is often very useful for me. I don’t review businesses often and when I do, it is normally to say positive things and thank people for doing a fantastic job. I also try to mention businesses that consider access or are particularly thoughtful or accessible for wheelchair users. But I feel stubborn here.

Yelp should not remove reviews for reporting lack of wheelchair accessibility. Lack of accessibility in any business is incredibly useful information for many of us. My review potentially would save other people who have difficulty with stairs from wasting their and Dr. Schochet’s time.

When I wrote the review, I was feeling bitter and sad that I had gotten my hopes up at finding a fabulous sounding therapist who would understand what I needed to talk about so I wouldn’t have to explain all of disability politics and the feelings of loss and worry I was coping with.

Here’s my old review, admittedly sarcastic –

“Her ads say that she deals especially with “Adjusting to health changes” and aging gracefully, but her office is up a flight of stairs and the bathroom is up another flight of stairs. So if you are disabled, you will likely need to look elsewhere.”

Seriously, is that all that bad? That was it. That was all I said.

Here is Dr. Schochet’s description of her practice from Yelp:


* Diverse San Francisco practice includes:
Visual and performing artists, creatives
Newcomers, immigrants, expats
LGBTQI, alternative lifestyles

* Guidance with navigating life transitions:
Adjusting to health changes
Improving the quality of your relationships
Adapting to work challenges
Management coaching
Grieving losses
Approaching retirement
Aging gracefully

Here is my newly submitted review:

In 2014 I called this doctor to try to get counseling as I coped with ill health, physical impairment and increasing loss of physical mobility and the challenges of having a full time job while being a wheelchair user in chronic pain. I understand that not everyone’s office can be accessible, especially if someone has a home office. However, as this therapist advertises her practice as focusing on topics like “aging gracefully” and “adjusting to heath changes” I thought this might be a great fit for what I was looking for. After some phone conversation Dr. Schochet, who seemed very nice, let me know that unfortunately her office had many stairs to get to it and the bathroom is another flight of stairs away.

I think it is useful to note, for other wheelchair users or people with mobility limitations, this practice is not wheelchair accessible. I believe that not being able to physically access a business due to its lack of wheelchair accessibility counts as a substantive consumer experience.

My 3 star rating is based on the fact that Dr. Schochet seemed perfectly nice and professional on the phone when i spoke with her about her practice and what I was looking for.

Let’s see if it stands. I think it is perfectly fair. This review explains more clearly that I had some personal engagement and experience with the business owner, and how this information is a useful addition to Yelp.

This blog post is for the meta issues. I don’t approve of the action of the psychologist who may have requested my review’s removal, if that’s what happened here. She may be a very nice person and a good psychologist. My impression of her was fine. But, if she petitioned Yelp to have my accessibility report removed, that does not speak well for her as a therapist for a “diverse” population. This is the opposite of what a person who believes in diversity, and being a good ally, should do.

I also think deleting an honest and fair review is just silly. As should be clear from this post, it will only have the opposite effect from what you may intend, because I can just post my experience somewhere else and describe it even more thoroughly, including the sad and embarrassing part where someone tried to silence a fairly reasonable and minor critique, unlikely to affect anyone’s decision who isn’t also a wheelchair user . . . . Truly a bit ridiculous.

I would like to call out Yelp for bad judgment in this small and more or less unimportant decision. My concern is that it may stem from a very bad policy.

Is it Yelp’s policy to not allow criticism of accessibility?

The review was removed “because it lacks a substantive consumer experience”.

I hope my new review makes it clear that I did have a substantive consumer experience. I had the experience of not being able to use the business at all.

If I can’t GET INTO a business to use it, then do my reviews not count? I believe they do count, and that they are useful information for others to make their decisions.

My own house has stairs and is not accessible. If I have a bad day and can’t manage the stairs or am in too much pain to handle the stairs and still function after I get down them, then I don’t leave the house.

Any time that I know in advance that a business or venue is not accessible, I feel deeply appreciative. I can choose not to go and make other plans, or I can decide how to navigate or negotiate its barriers, or I can make sure I have someone with me to help. Any sort of information about barriers to access is helpful!

That’s ultimately why I mention accessibility. It is because I am thinking about the experience of other people with disabilities and am acting in solidarity with them. It is a political act. It’s not to punish anyone for being in an inaccessible location. It’s to improve the world for everyone one step at a time. Bitter humor is often helpful but it is not necessary and you will note I tried to leave that tone out of my second attempt at a review.

Meanwhile, here is an amusing list of Wheelchair Inaccessible businesses in San Francisco, also from Yelp.

I would never have thought about this again ever, if Yelp had not removed my trivial two sentence comment about lack of wheelchair access, but now I’m a bit ticked off, enough to write a blog post for half an hour. Cheers and peace out.

Bad Inventions: The laptop girdle and the standing desk bra!

I have two new Bad Inventions for my collection of ideas that I will never implement and everyone is free to steal!

First, let me introduce the Laptop Girdle (or laptop belt)!

I often am working on my computer while lying on my back with knees and feet up on pillows to relieve strain in my low back and keep my painful ankles elevated. I’m sure many other people use their laptops in bed or on a couch lying down. One problem with this is the laptop needs to be specially propped up so it doesn’t slide upwards on your torso. Another problem is that your stomach or your belt can accidentally mess with the laptop track pad so that you suddenly click with your belly. I don’t even have that much belly and it happens all the time since my MacBook Air has very little space between the bottom edge of the laptop and the trackpad. Same with my belt. So, the Laptop Girdle will be a belt with a special groove meant to hold a laptop in place, immune from belly or belt-buckle clicks!

Also good for playing games on your ipad in bed!

The laptop belt is also useful for people who are sitting up with laptop ON THEIR ACTUAL LAP.

I think that boob clicks are also possible in this scenario so the laptop girdle must protect against boob clicks for those of us who are generously endowed.

Which thought leads us to . . . the Standing Desk Bra! Standing desks are amazingly popular with hipster programmers who aren’t me! There is one in my hotel room right now! Now, I am also not a person who needs a marvelously sturdy variety of bra which has the structural engineering of a suspension bridge. But for those of us who do wear amazingly constructed bras imagine if its support framework also had something that popped or folded out or attached on the underneath of the front of the bra, that would be a convenient shelf for your laptop, reading a book, or use as a handy drafting table! YES. The world needs Standing Desk Bras!

Please send me your drawings of these inventions as soon as possible so that we can make it happen. OR just make something like this and you are welcome to your ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

What I did on my Portlandia vacation

Hello from SUNNY PORTLAND! It’s gorgeous here. I’m enjoying scootering all over town, seeing friends, eating delicious food and loafing around with Danny.

I spent Friday with Selena and her awesome cute baby and her cat Funny. We talked about a million things and had coffee and doted on the baby. I do love babies!!! We talked about work and general stuff about our lives, feminism, children, and so on. I gave her a whole bunch of zines from Double Union. I also finished reading an academic paper on feminism and programming and culture clashes by my friend Luis Felipe which delved into many of the implications of the C plus equality parody/impersonations and similar instances of aggression by way of parody code. I look forward to its publication . . . I also worked on getting some of selena’s code up and running and we talked about ways to extend it for other uses and the indie tech/web decentralized-everything shift or course correction in how people are thinking about making tools these days.

Pambla lizzardLiz birdnerd

Both the baby and I have saucy tshirts on. Mine says “Macho Pero No Mucho” and the baby’s says “Bird Nerd” as she is clearly destined to be a future birder like her parents.

Then went to the Mozilla office to say hello to Lukas’s Ascend Project students. There was not much time to do a lot other than say hello and drop off my stickers. They were making stuff with Webmaker and pushing/pulling/merging to their git repos. It looked like a lot of fun and like the class had good cameraderie. I talked with Dino as well about the upcoming Ada Initiative ally workshops.

Then got a cool email from the State Department. How often does anyone say that sentence? Weird eh? They have a delegation from Egyptian hackerspace organizers and teachers who want to come visit Double Union and talk about making hacker and maker spaces for women. This made me super happy!!

Danny and I then went to the Wieden Kennedy office which was hosting a party for the XOXO Festival. I have been in there before but only remember it dimly; it was very pretty. We hung out in the “Nest” which is hard to describe. The center of the building has high ceilings and walkways across it. On one of the walkways there is a hangout space with …. giant twigs all around it so it’s like being in a nest. The couches are fuzzy grey and and look like rocky outcrops with boulder pillows. It is 100% awesome. Robin and Dan Hon’s tiny kid sat on my scooter saying “vroom” for like, an hour and dinging the tiny bell on the handlebars. Apparently he had just spent a weekend recently getting to ride on tractors so his life is fabulous. He taught me the sign for “bike” and “motorcycle”. I not only like babies I really like tiny children (At least when they are not screaming or covered in body fluids.)

The rooftop party was also very relaxing, it was sunny, people were super friendly, I saw Tim and Pamela and Evan P. and Kanane and tons of other people I know while we ate, ok, the hipstery-iest ridiculous food: deviled quail eggs, chocolate covered (peeled) tiny apples on sticks, homemade marshmallows with candied lychee, can’t remember what else. Cocktail that tasted like a sweet-tart with dragonfruit in it which looked disturbingly like a tentacle. I enjoyed all of this greatly. The rooftop was decorated with tiny succulents (or epiphytes) in glass terrariums which reminded me of the brilliant design-critique tumblr Fuck Your Noguchi Coffee Table .

Xoxo dragonfruit

Xoxo tinysucculents

It was amusing that part of the “festival” for XOXO was going to different tech company offices. I would have gone to the Slack one but the timing didn’t quite work out. It reminded me a little bit of the vibe of BarCamp Block but less unconferencey and much more luxurious. At BarCamp Block we persuaded 9 different tech companies in downtown Palo Alto to let us use their office space over a weekend for our decentralized unconference. We made a mesh network specially for it. It was lovely… Anyway, XOXO felt very decadent. I have ambivalent feelings about it even while enjoying it greatly.

Pambla lizzard

We then checked into our airbnb place and had dinner and took a cab to the Yale Union building where there was a night of video gaming and demos which sounded right up my alley but unfortunately the building was not accessible. Danny went up the stairs to scout for me, ie, to see if I should give it a try to go (painfully) up the giant flight of stairs while he carried my scooter, or, if he could find out if there was an elevator. Meanwhile I scouted around the outside of the building. There was a ground floor entrance with a phone number to call for access which implied maybe there *was* and elevator so I called it but it went to voicemail. After hanging out for a while at the foot of the stairs talking with friends I found that there was some bustle and consternation perhaps about no one knowing how to make the elevator work or unlock it or find a person who might have the key to it. From Danny’s description of the elevator it sounded like one of those murky freight contraptions that I should emerge from with a fog machine generating a cloud to make me look like a special super villain. We decided to move on to another venue of the conference, the main one called the Redd Building.

Xoxo yaleunion

Xoxo redd

The Redd Building is gorgeously industrial. I liked the patio with its cubist-ish mural, awkward tables and mural-echoing sunshades. This whole bit of town reminds me of Austin from 25 years ago. Lots of brick buildings and patios and beer. Less trellises with xmas lights. (Are trellises with xmas lights on outside patios still a thing in Austin bars?) I gossiped more with Robin who told me about an ARG she worked on where you learned about art or art history by pulling off a (staged) heist from an art gallery and then forging some paintings. It sounded amazing! EVERYTHING SHOULD BE LIKE THAT. The actual talks did not appeal to me as I do not care about tv shows so i hung out in the pleasant outside patio with food trucks talking with people for a while then we went home & I realized I had been running on tramadol and coffee fumes for most of the day and collapsed into bed whimpering in pain and taking ALL THE POSSIBLE MEDS. My left ankle feels worryingly fucked up. I hope I don’t end up in a boot again. The pain is also intense down my right sciatica line-of-horror and messed up peroneal nerve but that will wear off over the next few days from the injection earlier this week, I trust. The other day someone I have known for a while went, “wait, are you actually in *pain*?!” Uh hahahaha yes. I thought that everyone knew that I am in constant pain and it is just an endurance game of how long I can power through it and stay good tempered and have intellectual focus. I also feel like I whine all the time about pain and exhaustion. Apparently this is less apparent than it feels. We should all have fuzzy red halos around us like in video games so it can be apparent who has the fewest hit points or constitution is low or whatever.

Morning renewed me somewhat, so with my trusty holster of fucking Tramadol by my side, I went out to hack some portals and find a nice cafe while D. stayed asleep which is his ideal vacation (and our usual pattern when traveling). I admired a lot of bulidings. I think bricks are beautiful. They often seem so human. However they were manufactured you know they were laid down by hand by a person and often by people who thought about creative ways to design a wall or a window archway or put a pattern with different colors or sizes of brick. San Francisco does not have a lot of creative brickwork. . . . I also just love the warm vivid colors of brick. Check out this stone and brick wall with a planter with horsetail fern. It did not have to be beautiful and yet it is! Someone loved it when they made it and it is clearly still tended well now. I like aesthetics that manifest appreciation and love in a space.

Portland greywall

The cafe I was aiming for is called Commisary; its yelp reviews mentioned light and fluffy scones and good coffee. I have nto been drinking coffee because of my recurring gastritis but I figured this weekend I can go off the rails a little. Therefore, if I’m going to break my no-coffee rule, it has to be DELICIOUS coffee. The cafe has cute outside tables and a pleasant atmosphere. When I rolled up there was a step which made my heart sink a little. I can manage to over it but it usually just feels depressing or sad, it is awkward and a bit painful for me, and it perturbs other people who express their freaked-outness, worry, or discomfort with disabled people by acting very annoying towards me in a whole range of possible ways. I also have a sad alienated feeling like no one gives a fuck when I encounter a barrier like this even if I personally can negotiate the barrier because someone with different impairments than me will not be able to and no one cared to think about that. Steps are like a huge fuck you. Then… yay…. behind the planter there was a tiny ramp. This is actually a very lovely and clever ramp design. I’d like to see more entrances like this! The one thing that could improve it is a handrail on the “step” side for people who need steadying while going up a step and for whom ramps are harder than steps. My minor angst was assuaged. I felt very happy while enjoying my scone and coffee. It started to really feel like a vacation. No responsibilities and no one expecting me.

Portland caferamp

I had also scoped out another cafe that is INSIDE A BIKE SHOP. Oh yeah. I figured it was worth a look because often I can find perfect scooter or wheelchair accessories in a bike shop. I have also been looking for someone with decent machine tools to cut the bar that holds up my scooter seat back to shorten its distance from my back and lower it. Well, thank you Portland bike scene because Western Bikeworks is the most fabulous place. I didn’t try the cafe but I got some nice new wheelchair gloves, very dapper, and a cup holder, and a thing to strap around the scooter back to hold my battery charger while traveling. The sales people were all super nice. NO one acted like I was a weird intruder with astonishing never before thought of desires for bike stuff to bolt onto my wheelchair. One of the mechanics in their shop sat with me to have a look at the seat back. We talked it over and he cut some lengths of the metal bar off and drilled a new hole to hold the spring clip and set it all up beautifully for me. Thank you Doug, you’re a rock star! My chair is so much more comfortable now!

Portland bikeshop

Portland scooter

I’ve been talking with April from EFF and my friend Zach about holding another hackability night for wheelchair, scooter, and mobility/access gadget hacking and modifying, but this time at Bike Kitchen while also inviting bicyclists and bike mechanics. This should happen soon!!!

Though I am not heavily participating in xoxo I have a critical observation of it, beyond my usual eyerolling about lack of accessibility. I was expecting , and willing to put up with, uncertain or bad accessibility. The thing I didn’t expect is this: It’s been like going back in time for me to a tech conference from 15 years ago where it is a total sausagefest in a deep way. It is not just that there are way more men than women. It is that the men I’m meeting and talking with though they seem mostly quite nice and interesting, are talking to me and the other women around me as if we don’t do anything interesting, creative, technical, or amazing ourselves. I am spoiled by years of San Francisco and feminist activism and choosing to be in spaces where I am respected. But, I haven’t been treated like that or seen other women treated like that for many years in this kind of context. It is a pervasive assumption that I must be here to be a fan, or in a support role, or because I am just a passive consumer of whatever amazing things ‘independent tech” men are doing. You can’t fix this by inviting a couple of women on stage, at least, you can’t fix it right away. It reminds me of pre-2005 SXSWi and I found that just astonishing. What the heck. So, I feel like a time traveler or an anthropologist on Mars. I would far rather hang out on the fringes with non-douchey people. It is not even that people are horrible it is that their deep rooted assumptions are showing. It’s so embarrassing. They are only focused on themeselves or other men who they consider capable of being Important. How ludicrous! How sad! How much they miss out on! The harm to our civic creativity! The loss to society! The damage to the emotional and creative wellbeing of the women around them! As usual, that Marge Piercy poem comes to mind, where she realizes the sexism of male poets and philosophers and decides to go hang out in the kitchen instead where things are more interesting. I am sorry to make anyone sad by these observations but I gotta say it because like 500 women in various portland scenes will be reading it thinking YES EXACTLY ALSO WTF and I care more about what they feel and think than about hypotheical dudes being defensive or explaining how they cannot be sexist because they have a daughter and mean well, etc. etc. bingo, etc. etc. etc.

Quote of the day: “I have something to say about this whole “Maker” bullshit. I made a human. OUT OF MY VAGINA.” Now there is a creative endeavor. LOLZ!

This long chatty blog entry brought to you by my need to rest in bed for a good long while before going out again. To downtown Portland now to fool around and maybe go to Powells Books and have no real destination for a while. D. is having more of a day in bed as he does not feel very well (as is often true, of the two of us he is in many ways more impaired than I am ) And I think we will meet up in the evening at the Redd building and figure out what’s happening there, music, games, maybe wrangling someone to unlock that dammed freight elevator . . . . Peace out.

How to test new features in Firefox 34 Aurora

If you’re a fan of free and open source software and would like to contribute to Firefox, join me for some Firefox feature testing!

There are some nifty features under development right now for Firefox 34 including translation in the browser, making voice or video calls (a feature called “Hello” or “Loop”), debugging information for web developers in the Dev Tools Inspector, and recent improvements to HTML5 gaming.

I’ve written step by step instructions on these
ways to test Firefox 34. If you would like to see what it’s like to improve a popular open source project, trying out these tasks is a good introduction.


First, Install the Aurora version of Firefox. It is best to set it up to use multiple profiles. That ensures you don’t use your everyday version of Firefox for testing, so you won’t risk losing your usual profile information. It also makes it easy to restart Firefox with a new, clean profile with all the default settings, very useful for testing. Sometimes I realize I’m running 5 different versions of Firefox at once!

To test “Hello”, try making some voice or video calls from Firefox Aurora. You will need a friend to test with. Or, use two computers that you control. This is a good task to try while joining our chat channels, #qa or #testday on; ask if anyone there wants to test Hello with you. The goal here is mostly to find and report new bugs.

If you test the translation infobar in Aurora you may find some new bugs. This is a fun feature to test. I like trying it on Wikipedia in many different languages, and also looking at newspapers!

If you’re a web developer, you may use Developer Tools in Firefox. I’m asking Aurora users to go through some unconfirmed bug reports, to help improve the Developer Tools Inspector.

If you like games you can test HTML5 web-based games in Firefox Aurora. This helps us improve Firefox and also helps the independent game developers. We have a list of demo games so you can play them, report glitches, and feel like a virtuous open source citizen all at once. Along the way you have opportunities to learn some interesting stuff about how graphics on the web can work (or not work).

Monster madness

These testing tasks are all set up in One and Done, Mozilla QA’s site to start people along the path to joining our open source community. This site was developed with a lot of community contribution including the design and concept by long-time community member Parul and a lot of code by two interns this summer, Pankaj and Maja.

Testing gives a great view into the development process for people who may not (yet) be programmers. I especially love how transparent Mozilla’s process can be. Anyone can report a bug, visible to the entire world in There are many people watching that incoming stream of bug reports, confirming them and routing them to developer teams, sometimes tagging them as good first bugs for new contributors. Developers who may or may not be Mozilla employees show up in the bugs, like magic . . . if you think of bugmail notifications as magic . . .

It is amazing to see this very public and somewhat anarchic collaboration process at work. Of course, it can also be extremely satisfying to see a bug you discovered and reported, your pet bug, finally get fixed.