Noticing women mentioning women

I started reading Tamim Ansary’s Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes with Wikipedia in the other hand to get different perspectives on all the people Ansary mentions and the stories he tells about the history of Islam and various political figures. At some point this evening I got up to the Moghul Empire and while looking up Babur, felt very excited that his diary is famous. I love diaries and memoirs. While you can get a lot from an overview of history, it’s even better to go straight to some original texts. Well, to translations of them. There were a few versions listed online and on Amazon. I was hoping for a recent version for Kindle that would have decent footnotes and that might have left in any racy bits about crushing out on youths in the marketplace. But the only kindle version was from the turn of the last century. Translator Annette S. Beveridge. I bought it and interrupted my reading of Ansary to dive into the textual mind of Babur.

But first there is a 400 page history of Babur by Beveridge. She opens with a description of how Babur learned everything important from his mother Qut-luq-nigar who was well educated and accomplished. And from his grandmother Aisan-daulat and his older sister Khan-zada. About Khan-zada, Annette says tantalizingly, “Her life-story tempts, but is too long to tell; her girlish promise is seen fulfilled in Gul-badan’s pages.” As you can imagine, I immediately interrupt my reading of Beveridge’s introductory explanations of the important women in Babur’s life to look up all of them, Gul-badan, and Beveridge herself, promising myself that if Beveridge doesn’t have a Wikipedia page yet, she will soon.

She did have one and I scurried around adding some corrections to it (it left out that she translated the Baburnama… and she is mentioned in her husband’s article but incorrectly as a translator of Hindu rather than of Persian and Turki) and link-ifying her name elsewhere to point to her article. It turns out she also translated Gulbadan, Babur’s daughter and Akbar the great’s aunt, who wrote the biography of her brother Humayun (the Humayunama) including some of her own and her other relative’s histories.

gulbadan

From Annette’s gloriously boring 400 page preface to her translation of the Baburnama she is revealed as being extremely scholarly, at least it sounds like it! She compares different versions of the Baburnama and is very excited about the Haidarabad Codex.

I may interrupt this book and this blog post now to go read her translation of Gulbadan since in my mind this is basically a 16th century Princess Diary (even if she is writing about her brother).

If you know my interests in history and literature you’ll laugh, because this is so very right up my alley, it’s like catnip for me. (i.e. my projects like Building a Digital Feminary, or my anthology of translations of work by women poets) It will be very interesting to read Gulbadan’s thoughts and Annette’s layers of added meaning as she was a champion of women’s education and, well, at least their right to education (if not to suffrage) as she campaigned to found a women’s college, Hindu Mahila Vidyalaya (School for Hindu Women), later Banga Mahila Vidyalaya. I have no doubt there were hideous colonialist aspects to this, but I also liked reading about her struggles against sexist dudes who wanted to limit women’s education. What I mean though is that whatever mythos she was looking to construct of the elite womanhood of empire, that will likely be revealed in her framing of the Moghul royal women as educated, literary, and “civilizing” influences on the men of the ruling class.

Ansary’s history of the world centered on the Islamic world will be enhanced several layers more deeply by my following these threads of the shadows of the women who by the time it is hundreds of years later and halfway around the world in dusty books, are often left to unnamed roles or relegated to the footnotes. How nice it is to see their names, imagine their lives, and read their translated words. Even when we don’t know their names we know they were there and can work to add them into the dimensions of our mental landscape of history. For me, it is something like an absolute faith or belief — “you were there” and to read some writing like this is deeply validating. (for my own mythos, you might notice, which may be something like, “women can, and do, find each other’s work and make some kind of connection, and pay attention to each other, despite thousands of years of oppression which leads women to do otherwise, across time, cultures, and languages” so that even if I am embedded in the problems of imperialism and translation some form of resistance is there in the process or the result).

Meanwhle, yesterday was Ada’s birthday party, which we all worked a lot to make happen and make it interesting. It was a sort of role playing puzzle game or scavenger hunt in Glen Canyon park. The two teams of teenagers and children ran around the park for hours, guided by Ada and Milo, finding clues, translating the runes and unscrambling the words to give me and Danny (the guardian stone dragons of the hidden amulet) a passphrase. Then, a (confused and confusing, but great) battle between the two teams and the rebels, which was a combat card game a bit like Magic the Gathering, invented and designed by Ada and Milo and drawn by Ada. Puzzles by me, booklet and team badges designed by my sister Laura.

dragonthorne_card_game

Today the children have been gaming and reading the monster manual all day, and they cooked chocolate chip pancakes for themselves and brought breakfast in bed to Danny, on a tray nicely set up with a bud vase with flowers from the garden. I think Milo may have been the cook and Ada the tray-fixer and flower-picker.

This, on the one morning I sneaked out to the cafe to translate. I am about 2/3 of the way through my raw rough draft of Carmen Berenguer‘s new book Mi Lai which should be published later this year or early next year by Cardboard House Press. It is an exciting book and I’ll have more to say about it soon.

Noisebridge! Best thing ever!

On April 2nd and 3rd I am going to spend several hours teaching at least 70 high school physics students how to solder and some alluring information about contributing to open source software!

They are doing a project to design and build a solar home. If you know anything about electronics or solar energy cells please join us a do some teaching!

rowan learning to solder

I spent $250 of my own money to buy a crapload of little LED kits so they can have a conveniently teachable soldering project – that is how much I love Noisebridge, and geeky things, and teaching, and non hierarchical anarchist/mutualist community spaces!

I am thinking of the Hackability group that meets at Noisebridge to fix and mod their wheelchairs and mobility scooters! We take over a classroom, gank all the workshop tools, and get on the floor where none of us think it is weird that we scoot and crawl and roll across the floor to pick up a screwdriver just out of reach, laughing at all this solidarity! We bravely dismantle our cyborg leg-wheels and bolt them on again covered with LED lights, jazzed up with arduinos to measure battery voltage, then roll on out into the town!

potentiometer and its lever

And the fierce, fun feminist hacker hive that is a chaotic unstructured network of strength and curiosity and information sharing, that stretches from Noisebridge to sudo room and LOLSpace, and beyond!

Claudia

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I am thinking of all the people I’ve given tours to who come in from out of town and are all starry-eyed and inspired, who meet people and go to Python and Ruby and web dev and Linux classes and eat the strange productions from the Vegan Hackers, the laptops that people at Noisebridge fix and give away, the cameraderie I always find there and the fabulous energy of young people just moving to San Francisco to do a startup or find some kind of freedom or empowerment and hope to find at least part of it at this weird ever changing junkyard coffeehouse-feeling co-op workshop. We made this place that isn’t anything like any other place and it can also be YOURS. Meddle in it!f

surface mount soldering

SUBSCRIBE to support Noisebridge’s rent, its freely provided wifi, its bins of electronics parts that anyone can rummage through and pillage, its beautiful giant robot, its classrooms and electricity, its ADA-compliant bathroom custom built specially by Noisebridge folk, its elevator, its devotion to support accessibility for all, all its copies of keys that I and others have distributed as Keys to the City, the library of excellent technical books, well used and loved and read!

Hacker moms visiting Noisebridge

Our rent went up this year, and our people’s job security and income went down. It’s exactly at that point, when the economy is hard on us all, that we need collectives and co-ops and hackerspaces. We have to band together in the best ways we can come up with.

me and maria zaghi at noisebridge

People visit Noisebridge and like it so much that they move to the Bay Area. They come to Noisebridge for education, to find peers and mentors, to teach, and sometimes to find as close as they can get to home and family when they are hackers down on their luck.

Noisebridge - looking west

They come to speak in public for the first time at 5 minutes of fame. They sound a little odd and then they turn out to be geniuses. They drudge to clean the floors and toilets and scrub the kitchen and buy toilet paper, doing the unglamorous physical domestic labor of maintaining this place that’s used heavily 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

noisebridge

We do good work together as best we can. We give a lot to our community! We give access, tools, skills, time, belief, trust, fantastic spectacles, beauty and humor and art. With a sense of wonder and playfulness people walk in and look around – I see it on their faces – like they have just had a million new ideas churn around in their heads – So many possibilities and they know they can be part of it.

Noisebridge table

circuit hacking monday

And we need widespread, ongoing support.

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If you can spare any, we need your exclamation points as I have used most of them in this post!!

Noisebridge tea cart

Electronics sketches

As I continue helping to teach at Circuit Hacking Monday I have been drawing more for the Noisebridge Coloring Book and making some sketches of basic electronics components. I worked on my drawing of the wheelchair robot (in its old incarnation — it is newly rebuilt and completely different now!)

Here are my little sketches from this afternoon. I will be re-doing them as they came out way too wonky done freehand with pen. Things come out better if I pencil them and ink afterwards.

resistor

potentiometer

There’s a little business-card-sized resistor code cheat sheet taped into the inside of my electronics parts box. Lately I was thinking I may draw my own cheat sheet in color and make it into beautiful nerdy rainbow laptop stickers. My swag empire is going to RULE, y’all.

Cruise control hack on my scooter!

My mobility scooter has a lever which when pressed moves the scooter forward or backward. There aren’t any brakes; I stop by taking my hand off the lever. So in order to keep moving I have to keep pressing this lever. Over time, that hurts my hand and arm. It’s also just tedious! So I wanted to copy what my friend Zach had done and build a switch that would keep the scooter moving. He said it was pretty easy. I took the front casing off my scooter dashboard to see what it looked like in there. Kind of scary, a tangle of wires. If I messed it up, I’d be stuck. I put it back together unwilling to experiment till I talked with someone who knew what they were doing.

scooter wiring

When Zach and I looked at it we took that cover off again and set it aside. The wires were in clusters of three with easily detachable connectors, labelled CN1, CN2, CN3, and so on. CN3’s cluster of wires went to the keyhole, which I could see is very simple. In fact I would bet I could stick an audio jack or some other piece of round metal into the hole and start the scooter. CN2 went to the potentiometer that sits between the levers for forward and back. In other words that lever moves a precision screw that goes into the potentiometer to change the resistance going from the battery to the motor. CN1 went to the forward and reverse lever, and that’s where we wanted to put my switch. We labelled some of the connectors with a Sharpie.

power supply wires

The existing potentiometer was 5k Ohms (it said this on the bottom of the part.) There were three wires going to it; white, yellow, and blue. Yellow went to the forward lever. Blue went to the reverse lever. White was the wire they had in common. Between the white and yellow wire we measured 800 ohms. Between White and blue we measured 4K8 ohms. We would need to duplicate that with the new switch.

IMG_1705

Rummaging around in the hack shelves and bins and tiny drawers in Noisebridge we found two potentiometers with tiny screws that Zach pointed out were very finely adjustable. Precision trimmable potentiometers or trim pots. We ended up using one for the 4K8 and one for the 800 side of our switch.

Here are the tiny drawers and bins we looked through! Imposing, aren’t they?

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And the Pile O’ Junk that overflows from the hack shelves:

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We found several switches, none ideal, and none that looked easily mountable on my scooter’s dashboard. Jake, who is great at electronics stuff and builds robots, immediately found us the right thing, a single throw double pole switch. The switch looks like a little bug with 6 legs — the connectors we soldered wires to — and the flippable part of the switch sticking up from its back. Here it is all wired up, before the hot glue went on.

new switch with potentiometers

We replaced one of the duplicate blue wires with white. (Which I found by rummaging in the hack shelves and bins.)

We realized at some point that the resistance didn’t match up perfectly because we had measured it all while the trimpots and switch was unmounted from the wires but we needed to measure and adjust the trimpot screws while it was connected.

Before we hot glued and mounted everything we put a 2×4 under the center of the scooter to prop it up for testing – so that the wheels could spin without the scooter going anywhere. It worked great when we flipped the switch! Very exciting!

We then dabbed hot glue over the switch and some of the other connections with a glue gun. The glue is kind of rubbery and would peel away easily. It should stop the solder from jolting loose, though.

When we went to mount the switch, we realized it stuck out further back than we had room for in the plastic casing. But it would fit really well in the area for the keyhole mechanism, which was shorter. We ended up drilling a new hole for the key hardware on the lower right of the dashboard, and enlarging the former key area to fit the switch. This took a little bit of adjusting and re-drilling with the dremel while we held the front of the plastic case in place. It was very useful to have four hands. My extremely bright LED flashlight came in handy at this stage.

scooter hacking

Along the way we also replaced and added some washers to hold everything in securely. It was great to have access to all the tiny bits of hardware that Noisebridge has free for the hacking and to all the tools in the shop and electronics lab.

equipment

Thanks so much to Zach for the awesome tutorial on potentiometers and resistance in circuits, and for the hacking help! You can see part of his super slick dashboard here, with cruise control switch, usb port, and other useful charging ports as well as a cute Totoro keychain.

totoro keychain

By installing “cruise control” I basically bypassed a crucial safety mechanism of my scooter. I am trying, each time I flip that switch, to repeat to myself over and over, TO STOP, FLIP THE SWITCH. Three times now in the past few days I have forgotten it is on, pressed the lever automatically with my right hand while cruising; then taken my hand off the forward lever only to be unpleasantly surprised that I don’t stop. (Until I crash into things.) On day 1 I was super careful. On day 2 I was lifting up my backpack while stopped, and the backpack strap caught on the switch. I went barrelling forward to crash into Noisebridge’s media cart and a lot of chairs. Everyone laughed. NOT GOOD. Luckily, only one thumb and my dignity were wounded. Day 3, I had my hand on the forward lever and was stopping on the sidewalk. Except I didn’t stop! I was about to hit both a curb and a knot of pedestrians and all I could do was crash myself into a pole. That worked and I yanked out the key and flipped the switch in a giant panic. So, after that I did a lot more deliberate practice with a “the switch is on” mantra. Any time I am near people, or an intersection, I go back to manual control.

I also plan to build a little shield for the switch from Sugru to prevent accidentally flipping it. It needs labelling as well; when I took my scooter on the airplane yesterday I spent some time explaining DO NOT USE THE SWITCH to the airline cargo laoders at the gate until they were so scared of my “TURBO MODE” that they gave me back the key and carried the scooter onto the plane.

scooter hacking

Next I want to move the keyhole to a spot on top of the dashboard instead of under it, and stick some LEDs and an arduino in there with its usb port sticking out for programming, and some sort of complicated dial so I can make different things happen with blinky lights on the front of the scooter….

Noisebridge circuit hacking

I’ve been helping out lately at Noisebridge during Circuit Hacking Monday. One week, some people showed up expecting the event and no one was there to run it, so I ran it for someone I knew from She’s Geeky, her friend and teenagers, and a couple of extra adults who were here from Norway and Denmark for Google I/O. I had just been pawing through the soldering supplies, organizing them a bit as I searched for what I needed for my project (messing around with a LilyPad Arduino), and had found a little bag of cheap LED light up badges shaped like teddy bears. So we used those tiny kits to make blinking badges. It was chaotic, but fun.

IMG_1678

I talked with Mitch Altman to find out where his kits for sale were and if it was okay for me to sell them while he’s out of town, and then send him the money. I might, though, just order some kits as cheaply as I can find them, and keep them independently to avoid hassle. As I end up giving tours to lots of new people, many of them from out of town or overseas, I could do them a favor by giving them something geeky to do in the space rather than sit and check their email!

The next week things were back to normal as Miloh and Rolf were at Noisebridge to run the class. Before they showed up, a teenage volunteer helped me set up soldering stations. More and more people kept coming in so the situation got quite chaotic again as we were giving them tours of the space and trying to find room. I realized that next time I would approach things differently — clearing the whole area of people who were working, and setting up 20 or more stations ahead of time, so that we weren’t doing setup and giving tours at the same time.

During the event Miloh and Rolf really took over the teaching aspect. I was somewhat trapped with my scooter in a corner because of the number of people, the table arrangement, the many chairs and the backpacks all over the floor. So I also would like to look at making the central area of Noisebridge less cluttered with tables, chairs, and stuff for the future so that I can participate. In my corner, I again hung with some kids and the teenage volunteer, and a guy who couldn’t hear well. The kid didn’t have a computer to look at the instructions for his kit, and needed a lot of one on one help as he was maybe a bit non neurotypical. The guy who hung out with us could not hear well in a situation with background noise. I’m in the same boat — I’m in my 40s and just can’t hear in a loud, chaotic situation. The kid fixed his Mintyboost and then made a tv-b-gone. The other guy made a blinky badge then was hooked and got one of those big name LED badges, I think. He appreciated the How to Solder comic book print out that I happened to have on me because he missed all of Miloh and Rolf’s explanations. I thought it was interesting that, marked out as somewhat different and disabled, I ended up doing more one on one work with people who had particular access needs.

Our volunteer also was super helpful in that capacity and seemed unusually alert to access issues, like that chairs or cables were in the way of my scooter or that it might be hard for me to get up to get supplies on high shelves. After the event when his dad came to pick him up I saw that his dad had one arm and walked with a cane. So growing up with a parent who has some mobility issues he might be more tuned in than others usually are.

I thought both those things were interesting! And figured it is a pretty good role for me at CHM. If you have particular access needs or are going to bring a bunch of 10 year olds to Circuit Hacking Monday (Mondays at 7:30pm) then feel free to email me with questions and see if I can be there & be helpful: lizhenry@gmail.com.

Basic supplies are running low. We have lots of soldering irons, including a bunch that I think Jake, Lilia, and MC Hawking won in a contest, but they’ve seen very heavy use over the last couple of years. So there are a lot of kind of crappy soldering irons and a few decent ones. We might be able to clean them or swap the tips cheaply. We have lots of snippers and wirestrippers. We need solder, weighted holders with alligator clips and lenses, more of those weighted bases with copper wool for cleaning soldering iron tips, and more de-soldering braid. Plus it would be so nice to have a supply of many kinds of coin cell batteries. After I talked with Miloh about that he shared a giant complicated spreadsheet with me. I haven’t read through it yet! But it would be great to get particular donations for restocking our electronics supplies.

We have shelves and shelves of hardware junk, in bins, and a wall of tiny little parts in tiny drawers meticulously labelled!

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Yesterday I spent some nice time in the afternoon doing a Dice Kit with my son. We couldn’t find any decent epoxy or glue, so went to the fabric store on the corner, but ended up getting a big tube of contact cement from the dollar store. I gave a lot of tours and hung out with my friend who came by to fix her headphone wires. We’re both going to help TA at Black Girls Code in San Francisco. She ended up also using the wood shop for another project – modifying wooden artists’ brush handles to make those long tapered sticks so useful for holding up long hair and especially dreadlocks. Claudia aka Geekgirl showed up too and told me about how she is going to Rwanda in September and has a job there teaching IT and computer programming to middle school girls. Nifty! Meanwhile, my son played with MC Hawking and read comic books in the library after he was done with the Dice Kit. Along the way he learned to figure out the values of resistors from the color code chart (and learned it is not hard to just memorize the numbers.) We looked at my LilyPad and he got to the point of comfort with the code to make a scale go up and down again and modify the time of the notes. I gave the world’s worst and briefest explanation of what a function is and what it means to pass it variables, but he caught on with no effort. I’m very spoiled as a teacher when I set out teach him anything! He gets the idea too quickly!

Anyway, I sat up far too long that afternoon, and sadly had to leave before Replicator Wednesday kicked off. It has been nice going out into the world a bit more, this last month, more than just for the grocery store and physical therapy.

One last note: this is what happens if you leave your bike blocking the elevator at Noisebridge!!! It gets put into the E-WASTE bin!

ewaste

Support open data and defend Aaron Swartz

I fully support Aaron Swartz as he fights unjustified charges from the U.S. government, and hope that my readers will support him too. Aaron is a researcher who works with huge datasets and has worked on many open data projects. Aaron is being charged for having accessed JSTOR, a repository of academic journal articles, and downloading them.

JSTOR itself didn’t want to press charges and says it hasn’t suffered loss or damage. But the U.S. Government indicted Aaron because they feel like they “caught a hacker”.

Aaron Swartz
Aaron Swartz

I’m incredulous that they would pursue this case against a well known researcher and activist who allegedly was doing something quite benign — scraping data.

I worry that this case will have a chilling effect on open data projects. The government has gone to great lengths here to stop a respected activist’s work, siccing the Secret Service on him and wasting an incredible amount of resources to trump up this case. The FBI has already investigated Aaron at least once for downloading PACER data . It looks bad to me, like the government was basically waiting for any excuse to build some sort of charge against Aaron for his briliant open data activism.

Here’s Aaron’s background in open data and analyzing large data sets:

In conjunction with Shireen Barday, he downloaded and analyzed 441,170 law review articles to determine the source of their funding; the results were published in the Stanford Law Review. From 2010-11, he researched these topics as a Fellow at the Harvard Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption.

He has also assisted many other researchers in collecting and analyzing large data sets with theinfo.org. His landmark analysis of Wikipedia, Who Writes Wikipedia?, has been widely cited. He helped develop standards and tutorials for Linked Open Data while serving on the W3C’s RDF Core Working Group and helped popularize them as Metadata Advisor to the nonprofit Creative Commons and coauthor of the RSS 1.0 specification.
In 2008, he created the nonprofit site watchdog.net, making it easier for people to find and access government data. He also served on the board of Change Congress, a good government nonprofit.
In 2007, he led the development of the nonprofit Open Library, an ambitious project to collect information about every book ever published.

I would also like to say that I think that libraries and academics should stop buying into the JSTOR model. JSTOR aggregates academic journal articles which it doesn’t even own, and sells limited access to those articles to large institutions for thousands of dollars. Libraries and universities should act to enable access to information, not to limit it.

ETA: Here is JSTOR’s official statement on the case.

Hacking class for kids

My son’s school had a day this week called “Festival of Numbers”, a day where they invited the geeky parents and anyone else to come teach fun hands-on classes about science, math, engineering, or computer concepts. There were GPS treasure hunts along with classes on origami and code-breaking, probabilities in poker, bubble blowing, calculus, and gravity. The kids from grades 3-8 could sign up for whatever classes they liked throughout the day. It was an amazing event!

I proposed teaching “Computer Hacking 101” which would be a hands-on tour of Unix (in this case Mac OS X) with a little bit of Python thrown in at the end. The school officials reacted with mild dismay to the word “hacking” and I think the issue was kicked up to the district level. I hadn’t realized that popular opinion, even in Silicon Valley, equates hacking with criminals. So, they changed the class’s title to Command Line Secrets along with a kind of silly description about “robo cops and techno spies”. This made me laugh in that it was a weird endorsement of state violence (spies, cops) while rejecting individual power to learn skills and wield knowledge. Well, of course I went ahead and taught the same things I had been planning to teach.

tara's kid

The class was about 30 middle school students. A core of them seemed to be there because they heard from my 6th grade Python student that I was a decent teacher. We opened the class with the IT guy from the district logging them all in from a central computer under the same temporary login that let them access Terminal. As he did this, I read out the points of the Hacker Ethic and explained why I think it’s important for us to be able to tinker with the guts of the computer and of the Internet and the servers where we keep our information.

1. Access to computers—and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works—should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-on Imperative!
2. All information should be free.
3. Mistrust authority—promote decentralization.
4. Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race or position.
5. You can create art and beauty on a computer.
6. Computers can change your life for the better.

Of course it’s the Festival of Numbers not the Festival of Subversion, but cultural background is important!

I explained that knowing how to mess around with Unix or Linux was useful because tons of Internet servers use it. We went through a few basic commands like ls, pwd, and cd to understand the idea of moving around in directories and knowing “where you are”. Most of the kids didn’t catch on to this too well, but they managed. It’s really best to teach this kind of class with an extra helper for every 5-10 students, to get them all on the same page.

Then I asked who would like to see the super secret master password file for the computer. There were some actual screams of delight and disbelief. EVERYONE WOULD! What a surprise. We cd-ed into /etc and typed “more passwd”. I didn’t dwell on this too much, but told them to google it to understand all the bits of /etc/passwd, and said that the passwords won’t actually show, even if you have root, but you might be able to see the encrypted passwords in another file. A tall girl raised her hand. “So… um… how do you understand that encryption? How do you know how to encrypt things?”

We didn’t go into that. Instead I moved on to some more commands like touch and mkdir to make a file and a directory. Then they were getting a bit restless. Many people had moved ahead on the handout and there were more shrieks from around the room as people had typed ps -x or top and were stuck with lines of green text scrolling by in a Matrix-like way! There was another bit on the handout that explained to try control-C, control-D, q, quit, escape, and so on to get unstuck, but it was information I repeated many times over the next two hours!

At that point I was peppered with questions and some kids demonstrated to others that in Mac OS X you can type “say I like farts” and the Mac computer synthesized voice will say it out loud. Hilarity ensued. I let that go for a few minutes (laughing) and then the “say” chorus mostly stopped. Another kid in the back of the room raised his hand. “Ms. Henry how could I see someone’s IP address?” Other kids wanted to know what an IP address was so I gave an extremely condensed explanation that it was a number that shows at what point you’re connecting to the net. We moved on to the “Nifty Network Tools” bit of my handout, and tried: whoami, who, hostname, whois, ping, dig, ifconfig, and traceroute. It was impossible to keep the whole class together and still move as fast as I wanted to. But I did show whoever was paying attention how to do an nslookup on baidu.com, then traceroute to it, which is fun because you can see that it goes to China and that the time lag keeps increasing.

A couple of kids asked how they could get to Terminal to experiment with all these things when the computer lab at school locks them out of it. I recommended they ask teachers with computers in the classroom if they can experiment there, since those computers aren’t under central control. When they asked further if there was some way they could hypothetically get around the lockout in the computer lab I asked the IT guy if they had Terminal and a browser on a USB drive and ran it from there, if that would work. He wasn’t sure!

At some point in response to all their “how to get around school policy” questions I recommended they propose what they wanted to the school and see how they could get it, maybe through a computer club, or a promise of good behavior and to report any serious security holes immediately to a teacher or to the IT staff. And also, that they agree with their friends to try and hack each others’ accounts, then do harmless pranks — not anything malicious or mean. For “password cracking” questions I steered the conversation towards the importance of picking good passwords, but I did mention dictionary attacks, keylogging, and man in the middle attacks as well as simple social engineering or shoulder surfing.

julia with laptop

It was a fascinating experience, I loved the kinds of questions they asked, and really wonder what they’ll do with the information! It seems to me too that I should teach an identical class for their teachers and parents, to demystify the subject and let them know the landscape.

What would you teach to middle school kids in a Hacking 101 class?

HTML Markup for Amazon Kindle and ebooks

I have two awesome interns for Tollbooth Press right now, with the agreement that we’ll blog about what we work on or learn. Both are friends of the family; former volunteers at the local history museum bookstore; and fierce readers, thinkers, and writers, just starting high school. I gave them both a long list of ideas for projects, research, and work that might be interesting. Ellie was most interested in electronic book publishing, while Julia, who is pretty handy with spreadsheets and data analysis, thought Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools sounded good. I’m hoping to get a little bit of (paid) help from them too, in visits to Stanford’s Green Library, xeroxing and writing up bibliographical information for some of my translation research.

Today Ellie and I looked at how to set up books for sale on Amazon for the Kindle or other electronic formats. I thought that running through a very simple example would open up some possibilities and new ideas. Then we can work on marking up one of Tollbooth Press’s printed books. Also, I expect that Ellie may take the idea and run with it, since she’s a promising fiction writer, has friends who write, and might enjoy editing.

We played the accordion a little bit first off. I had to laugh. At first try, Ellie was already better than I am at playing the accordion, reading my sheet music and picking out the Lord of the Rings theme by ear. Then we each made sample html files, me on a Mac in TextEdit and Ellie on her PC in Notepad, to demonstrate basic HTML markup and how to change a file and reload it in a browser.

We started out with just a few lines in this file, then expanded it to have multiple pagebreaks and paragraphs, saving it as plain text with the .html file extension and reloading it in a browser.

Then we both made accounts on Amazon Desktop Publishing. It has a very clear path to follow in order to create a new book. We basically filled out a form with the book title, language, and some other information, then uploaded our files. After the files are uploaded, but before they’re saved, a new button shows up on DTP to preview your book on a simulated Kindle in the browser. Trying this button gives a very good idea of how your book will end up. We tweaked our html files and uploaded them a couple of times. We then used a longer text of Ellie’s, saving it as HTML from Microsoft Word, and re-opening the resulting file in Notepad to see what the markup looked like. It was cleaner than I expected, separating out the styles into pretty decent CSS and not putting terribly too much cruft into the body markup. But I think it was important to start from plain text and mark up a simple file from scratch.

As we finished the setup process we ran into a problem – Amazon requires an address and taxpayer ID, because they also require you to set a price and take royalties as you upload your book. With permission from Ellie’s dad we did this setup. Within a couple of days, her sample writing should be available and I’ll certainly buy, download, and test it.

I showed off Thoughtcrime, Sumana Harihareswara and Leonard Richardson’s recent anthology, and its appendix “How To Do This and Why”, which explains how to make an anthology.

I had to pull her out of Facebook chat a few times, but that’s okay since I was on the #geekfeminism IRC channel in another window myself. Plus, I was very amused to see her and her friends using Google Translate to chat with each other in various languages. This cleverly evades the casual Facebook observer’s understanding while not being uncrackable or really difficult to engage it. It raises the bar of attention and results in some cool side effects, like learning a bit of Swahili with your friends.

Ellie then showed me the first bit of A Very Potter Musical, which looks brilliant and funny, and I showed her the somewhat more lowbrow Usher vs. Goat YouTube doubler mashup.

She wrote up a short post to describe what we worked on, which I think is a good exercise. It will show that my interns learned interesting skills and do good work, and the internship isn’t just resume-padding. It seems only fair that I write something up too.

It was a fun afternoon. I look forward to going further into HTML, CSS, book layout, editing, and the nitty gritty details of small press publishing. I like the idea of transmitting some of my zine/small press art book skills and background, but also the idea of giving smart ambitious people the keys to immediate wide distribution, publishing they can do for free, without scraping up money for xeroxing, printing, or binding — and without being doomed to carry boxes of unsold zines and books around with them for their entire lives. As I’m doomed, until I someday digitize all those back issues of Composite and Ratatosk and the Punk Paper Dolls.

back of the zines-by-me shelf

I had some more wise advice to give about the importance of managing your accounts across various services, your account names, remembering your passwords, and so on. That particular pompous lecture will have to wait till next time. That’ll surely come back to haunt me since both my interns are organizational geniuses compared to my slovenly sprawl.

Links for reference: Dave Raggatt’s Introduction to HTML; Amazon DTP guide to HTML markup; Introduction to CSS; Accordion Apocalypse.

New degree program in Entrepreneurial Journalism

CUNY has announced a new program for a masters’ degree in Entrepreneurial Journalism.

CUNY to offer nation’s first Master’s degree in entrepreneurial journalism:

Faculty members are developing courses for the new M.A. degree. The courses, which will be pilot-tested next spring, are expected to teach business and management skills, the new dynamics of news and media economics, and technology and project management, with apprenticeships at New York startups. Upon approval by the New York State Education Department, the first entrepreneurial degrees are expected to be awarded in the spring of 2012, to students currently enrolled in the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

The School also plans to open the courses to mid-career professional journalists who would earn a new Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism upon completion of the program.

In my bag today

I’m already imagining the syllabi for the courses I’d like to teach for this program or one like it. There’s nothing I love more than teaching and making people do homework. Read this! Do that! Produce material, which I will then judge with harsh, forthright, useful kindness and the implacable grading system of Google Analytics! Sounds like heaven.

Quite a lot of the people who could competently teach such courses already work in the industry, and speak at conferences where an aspiring digital journalist can pick up knowledge — knowledge you can also get by having a job, or getting a blog and taking it seriously. I wonder what it will cost people to get a higher education in Official Digital Journalist Stuff? Also, the snarky part of me thinks it’s hilarious that academic journalists, and the print journalism industry which is notoriously falling on its ass right now and complaining about it endlessly, are going to professor up and teach people how to do something that no one yet knows how to do. So while I do love the idea of this program on many levels, it still makes me giggle. I have a masters degree… IN BLOGGING.

Oh no, here come the Bloggers

Despite that, it’s inevitable and maybe not all bad that new fields will professionalize partly by academic fields being created. I have mixed feelings about academia and its claiming of legitimacy while perpetuating elitism and control. I do love research, discipline, editing, and learning in an academic environment. University education, from professorial oversight and associating with other students, taught me intellectual discipline that I wouldn’t have gotten as an autodidact. But the manufacturing of value, the arrogation of authority, and academia itself as an industry, made me feel a little sick. It’s worth doing but it’s certainly worth questioning.

I’ll be very interested to see what comes from the Entrepreneurial Journalism program! I hope for new experiments in local news production and distribution; and in ways that investigative journalists can make a living — maybe some of those will be successful.

This weekend I was looking at an interesting journalism project: CrowdVoice. CrowdVoice makes it easy for people to set up a news subject, whether it’s a specific incident like the Oakland protests of Oscar Grant’s murder or a more general subject like women’s rights in Iraq. There is a site tour that explains how to use and read the site, as well as how to submit content, whether it’s a link to an existing article or material a citizen journalist wants to upload, like a video, an interview, or a written report. My own preference in reading news is for a more linear interface that presents a lot of news at once, so I can read and scroll without having to click, but that could be possible by some clever combination of CrowdVoice with other tools that would use its feeds.