Trip to Whistler for Mozilla's work week

Our work week hasn’t started yet, but since I got to Whistler early I have had lots of adventures.

First the obligatory nostril-flaring over what it is like to travel with a wheelchair. As we started the trip to Vancouver I had an interesting experience with United Airlines as I tried to persuade them that it was OK for me to fold up my mobility scooter and put it into the overhead bin on the plane. Several gate agents and other people got involved telling me many reasons why this could not, should not, and never has or would happen:

* It would not fit
* It is illegal
* The United Airlines handbook says no
* The battery has to go into the cargo hold
* Electric wheelchairs must go in the cargo hold
* The scooter might fall out and people might be injured
* People need room for their luggage in the overhead bins
* Panic!!

The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 says,

Assistive devices do not count against any limit on the number of pieces of carry-on baggage. Wheelchairs and other assistive devices have priority for in-cabin storage space over other passengers’ items brought on board at the same airport, if the disabled passenger chooses to preboard.

In short I boarded the airplane, and my partner Danny folded up the scooter and put it in the overhead bin. Then, the pilot came out and told me that he could not allow my battery on board. One of the gate agents had told him that I have a wet cell battery (like a car battery). It is not… it is a lithium ion battery. In fact, airlines do not allow lithium batteries in the cargo hold! The pilot, nicely, did not demand proof it is a lithium battery. He believed me, and everyone backed down.

The reason I am stubborn about this is that I specially have a very portable, foldable electric wheelchair so that I can fold it up and take it with me. Two times in the past few years, I have had my mobility scooters break in the cargo hold of a plane. That made my traveling very difficult! The airlines never reimbursed me for the damage. Another reason is that the baggage handlers may lose the scooter, or bring it to the baggage pickup area rather than to the gate of the plane.

Onward to Whistler! We took a shuttle and I was pleasantly (and in a way, sadly) surprised that the shuttle liason, and the driver, both just treated me like any other human being. What a relief! It is not so hard! This experience is so rare for me that I am going to email the shuttle company to compliment them and their employees.

The driver, Ivan, took us through Vancouver, across a bridge that is a beautiful turquoise color with stone lions at its entrance, and through Stanley Park. I particularly noticed the tiny beautiful harbor or lagoon full of boats as we got off the bridge. Then, we went up Highway 99, or the Sea to Sky Highway, to Squamish and then Whistler.

Sea to sky highway

When I travel to new places I get very excited about the geology and history and all the geography! I love to read about it beforehand or during a trip.

The Sea to Sky Highway was improved in preparation for the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in 2010. Before it was rebuilt it was much twistier with more steeply graded hills and had many bottlenecks where the road was only 2 lanes. I believe it must also have been vulnerable to landslides or flooding or falling rocks in places. As part of this deal the road signs are bilingual in English and Squamish. I read a bit on the way about the ongoing work to revitalize the Squamish language.

The highway goes past Howe Sound, on your left driving up to Squamish. It is a fjord, created by retreated glaciers around 11,000 years ago. Take my geological knowledge with a grain of salt (or a cube of ice) but here is a basic narrative of the history. AT some point it was a shallow sea here but a quite muddy one, not one with much of a coral reef system, and the mountains were an archipelago of island volcanoes. So there are ocean floor sediments around, somewhat metamorphosed; a lot of shale.

There is a little cove near the beginning of the highway with some boats and tumble-down buildings, called Porteau Cove. Interesting history there. Then you will notice a giant building up the side of a hill, the Britannia Mining Museum. That was once the Britannia Mines, producing billions of dollars’ worth of copper, gold, and other metals. The entire hill behind the building is honeycombed with tunnels! While a lot of polluted groundwater has come out of this mine damaging the coast and the bay waters, it was recently plugged with concrete: the Millenium Plug, and that improved water quality a lot, so that shellfish, fish, and marine mammals are returning to the area. The creek also has trout and salmon returning. That’s encouraging!

Then you will see huge granite cliffs and Shannon Falls. The giant monolith made me think of El Capitan in Yosemite. And also of Enchanted Rock, a huge pink granite dome in central Texas. Granite weathers and erodes in very distinctive ways. Once you know them you can recognize a granite landform from far away! I haven’t had a chance to look close up at any rocks on this trip…. Anyway, there is a lot of granite and also basalt or some other igneous extrusive rock. Our shuttle driver told me that there is columnar basalt near by at a place called French Fry Hill.

The mountain is called Stawamus Chief Mountain. Squamish history tells us it was a longhouse turned to stone by the Transformer Brothers. I want to read more about that! Sounds like a good story! Rock climbers love this mountain.

There are some other good stories, I think one about two sisters turned to stone lions. Maybe that is why there are stone lions on the Vancouver bridge.

The rest of the drive brought us up into the snowy mountains! Whistler is only 2000 feet above sea level but the mountains around it are gorgeous!

The “village” where tourists stay is sort of a giant, upscale, outdoor shopping mall with fake streets in a dystopian labyrinth. It is very nice and pretty but it can also feel, well, weird and artificial! I have spent some time wandering around with maps, backtracking a lot when I come to dead ends and stairways. I am also playing Ingress (in the Resistance) so I have another geographical overlay on the map.

Whistler bridge lost lake

On Sunday I got some groceries and went down paved and then gravel trails to Lost Lake. It was about an hour long trip to get there. The lake was beautiful, cold, and full of people sunbathing, having picnics, and swimming. Lots of bikes and hikers. I ran out of battery (nearly), then realized that the lake is next to a parking lot. I got a taxi back to the Whistler Village hotel! Better for me anyway since the hour long scooter trip over gravel just about killed me (I took painkiller halfway there and then was just laid flat with pain anyway.) Too ambitious of an expedition, sadly. I had many thoughts about the things I enjoyed when I was younger (going down every trail, and the hardest trails, and swimming a lot) Now I can think of those memories, and I can look at beautiful things and also read all the information about an area which is enjoyable in a different way. This is just how life is and you will all come to it when you are old. I have this sneak preview…. at 46…. When I am actually old, I will have a lot of practice and will be really good at it. Have you thought about what kind of old person you would like to be, and how you will become that person?

Today I stayed closer to home just going out to Rebagliati Park. This was fabulous since it wasn’t far away, seriously 5 minutes away! It was very peaceful. I sat in a giant Adirondack chair in a flower garden overlooking the river and a covered bridge. Watching the clouds, butterflies, bees, birds, and a bear! And of course hacking the portals (Ingress again). How idyllic! I wish I had remembered to bring my binoculars. I have not found a shop in the Whistler Mall-Village that stocks binoculars. If I find some, I will buy them.

I also went through about 30 bugs tracked for Firefox 39, approved some for uplift, wontfixed others, emailed a lot of people for work, and started the RC build going. Releng was heroic in fixing some issues with the build infrastructure! But, we planned for coverage for all of us. Good planning! I was working Sunday and Monday while everyone else travelled to get here…. Because of our release schedule for Firefox it made good sense for me to get here early. It also helps that I am somewhat rested from the trip!

I went to the conference center, found the room that is the home base for the release management and other platform teams, and got help from a conference center setup guy to lay down blue tape on the floor of the room from the doorway to the back of the room. The tape marks off a corridor to be kept clear, not full of backpacks or people standing and talking in groups, so that everyone can freely get in and out of the room. I hope this works to make the space easy for me to get around in, in my wheelchair, and it will surely benefit other people as well.

Travel lane

At this work week I hope to learn more about what other teams are doing, any cool projects etc, especially in release engineering and in testing and automated tools and to catch up with the Bugzilla team too. And will be talking a bunch about the release process, how we plan and develop new Firefox features, and so on! Looking forward now to the reception and seeing everyone who I see so much online!

Accessibility at the beach in Tulum and Akumal

I just got back from a fabulous vacation in Quintana Roo. We stayed in Tulum, in a small, funky, beachfront hotel zone, and then in Akumal. There is a lot to say about the trip but first of all, here are my notes on access, since that’s what I was looking for when I was planning the trip. This will be a Very Long Post!

My hopes were for warm water, beach access to calm water for easy snorkeling, small hotel right on the beach, and some scope for scooting around that wasn’t just in a single hotel. Both hotels I contacted in Tulum and Akumal were happy to explain the accessibility. Neither hotel was completely wheelchair accessible; what I wanted was just reasonable possibility that I could walk a few steps and be on the beach, and also that I should be able to leave the hotel on my own with a wheelchair or scooter. Akumal was my main goal, because I read online on some forums that a wheelchair user lives and works there and that the town has some curb cuts and ramps to accommodate them. That sounded promising!

For the flight to Cancun and back to San Francisco, United flight attendants let me put my TravelScoot (disassembled, not in a bag) in overhead bins. My partner and son took care of that. Without help, I would most likely have had to check the scooter at the gate. It was so nice to know that my scooter was going to be OK, not break or freeze in the cargo hold or be lost and was under my control. What a huge relief!!

(I do not know how anyone uses the TravelScoot duffel bag. I tried it… once… in my garage. It was like trying to stuff a floppy-jointed tyrannosaurus skeleton into a sausage casing. Not gonna happen, ever!)

Cancun airport was nicely accessible. It was extremely easy to get cabs. I had booked a shuttle ride beforehand with DiscoveryMundo. They were just outside the terminal building exit with a sign for me in a crowd of other drivers. It was a giant van we could have fit 10 people into, and probably twice as expensive as it had to be. I will just get a regular taxi when I go back. I appreciated having things arranged, though, and our driver Julian was extremely nice.

Our small Tulum hotel, Piedra Escondida, had about 10 feet of deep sand in the walkway up to the main entrance and lobby. Danny had to carry it and I walked with my cane. Once I was in the lobby, access to the indoor restaurant was flat but there was a step to get outside or to the registration area. We had to get across another 100 feet or so of sand to get to our little beach cottage, which had a tile paved porch and another small step to get into the room. I was able to bring my scooter inside and charge it with no problem. Our cottage (#6) was nicely positioned for me to get across short, maybe 10 foot stretch of deep sand to a grassy area I could more or less scoot over to the street out a back gate. It was rough but I could do it on my own (just barely).

porch with hammock and beach

This hotel would be reasonable for someone who, like me, can walk a little bit. And only for the most daring of manual chair or TravelScoot users or someone who does not mind getting help across the pockets of deep sand. The porch was nice enough, with a hammock, two adirondack chairs and a view of the beach and ocean and coconut trees, that I would not have minded staying on the porch quite a lot, which is what I did! The lobby was nice to hang out in, shady and relaxing. There was wireless, at least from the restaurant and lobby, and we could also get wireless pretty well from the porch but not the room. The bathroom was not wheelchair accessible and there was a shower with no bath. A nice shower though! The running water is all salt water. You get bottled water from the hotel or the mini mart to drink and brush your teeth with.

The restaurant for the hotel was good, a bit expensive, but very nice food, lovely people, right on the beach and outside, with wind screens up.

There was a constant warm breeze, more intense at night, which seems normal for this part of the coast for April. I am always cold where I live in San Francisco, despite wooly socks and long underwear. It was nice to hang out all day long in nothing but a bathing suit and sun dress or skirt.

liz in sundress at beach

My forays into the street were fun but of fairly limited scope. There was a short stretch of hotels, restaurants, small shops with textiles and beach towels and souvenirs, and a very nice minimart. I bought a rainbow flowered iipil (the kind of pretty white embroidered thing that in Texas, if dress length, was colloquially called “a Mexican dress”) and some flip flops in the kiosk next to the minimart. There were ATMs and a couple of kiosks where you could book tours or get advice, maps, and so on. They were both helpful. There was a very short and not very well ramped stretch of sidewalk in front of two restaurants but other than that I was scooting in the street along with a lot of bicycles and some cars and trucks. It was easy to get a taxi any time of day or night. South of our tiny strip of businesses and beach and tall trees, there was a rocky sea wall or pile of riprap along the little road, no trees, hot and dusty. I did not go past this sunny stretch of road to the main beach of Tulum’s hotel zone where I think there are a LOT more small boutiquey hotels including some gay nude ones and a lot of people who do yoga and more restaurants. None of the hotels in the “north” bit of the hotel zone, where I was, had good access to the street for a wheelchair user, but again, they all seemed vaguely doable for someone who can either walk a tiny bit or who can power through some gravel in a manual chair.

I walked onto the beach I think three times. It was a little bit steep for this to be easy for me. In short it was difficult. The water was rough. I am a skilled swimmer still (if not strong any more) and very good in ocean waves from a lifetime of enjoying bodysurfing and boogie boarding. But the deal breaker for me was uneven footing and shifting sand underfoot and also, rocks. I had short dips into the water but could not swim around as I would have liked. It was still relaxing and awesome to be there. There were iguanas! I also spent a lot of time watching the magnificent frigatebirds and brown pelicans glide overhead. Danny practices his ukelele a lot, and we all read constantly on our Kindles.

Tulum Pueblo itself looked interesting. It was maybe a half hour (or a bit more) walk away from our hotel, with a very nice sidewalk and bus stops along the way. I did not get to explore the town. Many people in the Hotel Zone (or, as I thought of it, the Gringo Zoo) rented bikes to get to the town and its reportedly great restaurants. It was just too hot for me to want to go that far and a bit too much bother to get a taxi to town with the scooter. And so easy to eat at our hotel and the Mateo’s Gringolandia Grill or whatever it was, across the street (which was very nice, relaxing, had good food and live music; possible to get into without a step if you went through the gravel parking lot; with one step if you went from the tiny stretch of sidewalk).

We had two day trips out in taxis. One day we went to the Tulum archeological site, aka the ruins of Tulum. I read up on Tulum’s history, online and in several books, and was excited to go there because it was one of the places I had read about and seen in engravings a long time ago from my dad’s books by John L. Stephens with the engravings by Catherwood. (Alternate universe Liz, I think, would have hopped on the translating Mayan glyphs train at University of Texas in the 80s, when they were starting to make major progress. I had that dream!)

engraving of tulum ruins from 1844

I read Friar Diego de Landa’s “Yucatan: Before and After the Conquest” in the Dover edition with an interestingly socialist introduction from the 1930s. I have read the Michael Coe Maya book several times in the past but did not re-read. (I will do that now, though.) Other books — Tulum: Everything You Need To Know Before You Go To the Ruins, which I would say delivers well on its promise. It has some of the history of the area ancient & recent, including explanations of the recent development of the area. I really liked this book a lot, enough to want a paper copy of it. Another excellent book: Maya for Travelers and Students: A Guide to Language and Culture in Yucatan. I went through it and wrote out all the Mayan words and phrases, eventually making a set of flash cards as I hung out in the hammock gazing at the ocean. I may continue learning Mayan. More on the history of Tulum, and on language, later in another post. This is supposed to be about access!

So, the Tulum ruins. After a 10 minute ride we got dropped off by a taxi driver at a quiet entrance on the coastal road side of the ruins. From there we went down maybe a quarter mile or less of flat, not too gravelly, path. The entry ticket booth is accessible and so were the truly palatial bathrooms at the entrance. Past the ticket line you can get a coke in the gift shop provided that you can walk up a step, or can fly. There was a cool diorama just past the entry, then some hard limestone paths, a little gravel but not a problem, to the world’s scariest steepest ramps ever. I appreciated that there were ramps, as otherwise it would have been a lot of stairs. The TravelScoot took the steep, corrugated slope like a champion. As it only has one motor in the hub of the left wheel (one wheel drive) it helped, going up, to lean heavily to the left. If you cannot do this, or are in a manual chair without someone to push and you are not a Paralympic athlete, you will be toast. Toast!

Once up the scary-ass ramps there were some signs and then a flight of many steep stairs to the Cenote Tower. I did not try that. Instead I went through the Northwest Gate in Tulum’s walls. Much of the paths in the central area were pretty flat and lightly graveled with a hard limestone surface underneath. I think my butt is still bruised from this foray into Bumpy Road land. I went up to the beach view of the main “castle” building and the Temple of the Descending God but it was steep and gravely and lumpy and sandy. At some point I stubbornly plowed into deep sand, and Danny had to carry my scooter out while I hobbled (a scene we were to repeat several times over our week long trip as I am often imprudent). The beach was closed off since turtles nest there. There was no way I could go up the hill to the Castillo. Oh well! Plenty of other ruins to sweatily look at and Ingress portals to hack. Danny scouted the exit at the Southwest door, or gate, which had stairs. Beyond it were some more sand and stairs and a bridge and more stairs to the real exit. We opted to go back the way we came. I zoomed down the scary corrugated steep ramps past wide eyed other tourists poking each other and gasping out things about the lady with the “moto”.

So: Tulum ruins. Doable, barely, for a wheelchair user if you have a powerful motor, big tires, or are very strong, or have someone to push you who is quite strong and heatstroke-proof. There is not a lot of shade in the central ruins. There is a lot of cool stuff to see in the bits where the path isn’t hilly or sandy. It helps to have a guidebook or just look stuff up on your phone if you have a good data plan (which is what I did, as well as playing Ingress like a total fool). Without the background you might just be like, OK there are some big ruined buildings here, pretty cool. With some of the history I think it is much better. Tulum was a sort of trade port and was founded in a sort of Warring States period around 1200 AD. The walls were because of that situation persisting over hundreds of years, with nobility living within the walls and most people living all over the surrounding area.

From the exit there was a little (free) motorized open bus shaped like a train, not accessible. As usual, we climbed onto it and Danny and Milo carried my scooter up. No one objected. The train decanted us into a giant parking lot area with booths of crafts, textiles, onyx chess sets, coconuts, a Starbucks, and little restaurant-cafes. It also had a very tall, maybe 70 foot, metal pole with guys on it doing something ritual and very acrobatic and amazing to the sound of drums and flutes. They turned out to be Los Voladores de Papantla. I donated some money to the guy who explained it to me. My Spanish is rusty but was really not too bad, the whole trip, and I could communicate complicated things well — just a bit ungrammatically. Anyway, respect to the Voladores and their ritual. If you read through some info on them you will see some of their history and controversies like whether women are allowed to become Voladores (yes in some areas, no in others). I bought a black sundress with cut lace inserts to wear on the beach, a mayan calendar tshirt for Milo, bow and arrows set with stone tips for my stepdaughter and nephew, a small, gorgeously woven bag and a beach sarong thing with turtles on it, and god knows, I cannot remember what else, but I bought a hundred dollars worth of it. This artesanal courtyard / flea market/ parking lot was hot and there were some vendors with hustle all around; I cruised around saying hello but remaining non committal until I had looked at everything. As usual there were some sidewalks but also lots of areas with light gravel, bumpiness, or a step (like to get into the starbucks). I found it very pleasant sitting in a little cafe where the trains stop (no step!) drinking from a coconut and eating fish tacos with Milo and Danny. We hung out there feeling like insiders as we watched several cycles of the trains pull up at which all the cafe guys would pop out with coconuts to entice the thirsty tourists from the ruins. I picked that cafe because it was playing Celia Cruz oldies. The food was great and not expensive. I asked to eat the inside of the coconut expecting they would just break it open and I would scoop out the inside. Instead they brought me the insides already cut up in a giant martini glass with a lime and hot sauce. So delicious!!

We went the next day to Xel-Ha. Despite reading about it online I could not picture what it would be like. It is a giant eco-theme park which reminded me in size and scope and some of the trappings, of the San Diego Wildlife Park. It is huge! But not as constantly scripted feeling as, say, Sea World. I got a discounted entry for being disabled. Entry is expensive, about 90 bucks per person. But that is including food and drink and the snorkeling equipment rental. This whole park was nicely accessible in many ways and very well organized. Entrances to things were level. There were accessible lockers and bathrooms everywhere. The lady at the ticket booth gave me a really really nice access map of the park, with paths of level access, slightly difficult access (i.e. bumpy path) and really not gonna be accessible paths, marked in green, yellow, and red. So nice! It was like a dream map!

It took Milo and I a bit of time to figure out how things worked. We left Danny (not a swimmer) in one of the many palapa-shaded restaurants where he hung out (he later got a massage at the aromatherapy spa). There are various locker rooms in the park which are color coded. We picked the purple station. You check in with your wristband, pick up swim fins, a mask, and snorkel, and get a locker key with a color coded lanyard. We left most everything in the locker but I had a beach bag for towels and stuff. They also give you towels and I think a bag, if you ask. But I had them already. Lifejackets are at the water’s edge. The park stretches around a huge, shallow, calm lagoon, and all the way around, there are many places where you can get into the water, usually by a couple of steps with handrail. I did not check to see if and where the level water entrances were.

We got in the water in several places over the day. I preferred the areas nearer to the ocean, where the water was salty and clear. We saw a zillion fish including a barracuda (omg). I did not have to swim any distance at all to see fish and most of the time didn’t wear the fins (which kind of hurt my ankles) With a lifejacket I could float around and just watch fish go by. In the freshwater end of the lagoon the water was more murky, there were more fish, but also more floating weeds and you couldn’t always see the bottom, which I find irrationally scary. (Much of the time as we got in or out there were people having panic attacks on the steps, to be honest.) No one bothers you about anything, you are free to roam around, snorkel, get out, swim, whatever.

There are special photo spots set up throughout the park where you can push a button and your photos get taken automatically and I think uploaded to a usb drive which you take with you. I didn’t look at the details of how it worked. It seemed well thought out.

There were dolphin, manatee, and sting ray encounter areas which you had to pay extra for. If I went back, I would do the dolphin swim. There were a lot of buffet restaurants, stands where you could just grab a cup and quickly fill it up with soda, shops everywhere, bars, and shady seating areas, a “hammock jungle”, a giant playground (not accessible – it was over sand) with short slides into the lagoon and one of those wood and rope kiddie-habitrail systems up in the trees. There is a long path and also a shuttle bus to the head of the river mouth where you can float down into the lagoon in giant tubes.

Fun but very exhausting. The park is HUGE. We only saw maybe a quarter of its paths and things.

The next two days I laid on the porch in Tulum eating cookies from the Mini-Super Pipienza, writing out Mayan flash cards, looking at birds and the ocean and trees from my binoculars, and taking pain meds.

Onward to Akumal. Akumal was like 1000 times more awesome than Tulum for me. Our beach cottage was extremely nice, bigger than our actual house in San Francisco, had a kitchen, 2 bedrooms, a huge patio, a paved walkway that got me 3 steps from the beach and to another hard limestone walkway (the Akumal Trail). The cove is full of boats, people, the beach is also the public town beach, so is very lively. There were more birds. We had a little semi-private corner of the beach with lounge chairs, and interesting rocks to look at. The point had cannons from a Spanish shipwreck from the 1600s. It was very nice to wake up at 6am, make my own coffee and some toast, and scooter myself the 50 feet to the tiny beach. From the paved bath to the cottage, there was a single step…. there was a step inside the cottage as well. To get onto the beach there were 3 steps with handrails. The beach is nearly flat, and not wide, so from the steps (and the dry sand area – the tide doesn’t vary much) it was only maybe 20 feet to get into the water.

beach with pale blue water

From the path I could go on my scooter to the Centro Ecológico, many small shops and restaurants, dive shops for equipment rental, a whole other hotel (I didn’t go that far but it was clearly possible) and then out the little road, or on a public access path, to the Akumal beach archway (the “arco”). Outside the archway was my favorite haunt, the Super Chomak Minimart where the other wheelchair using lady in town supposedly worked, though I never did see her and I felt a little too shy to ask after her. You can buy staple groceries there like fruit, potatoes, bread, pastries, cookies, juice, butter, milk, and any sort of thing you would want for the beach including clothes. Sorry to go on about the corner store but I do love a corner store. The women who work there feed the stray cats (which are numerous and a bit mangy) and they are very nice.

Accessibility was not perfect, ramps steep or bumpy, paths a bit rocky. But navigable in a manual chair. I could have done the whole thing in my Quickie Ti (if I had a bit more stamina).

The path to the point, less than a city block away from our casita, had parts with deep sand. Danny carried my scooter across them and I hobbled. Then we went on a very bumpy rocky path around the point where there are tide pools. Tantalizing. I don’t have the stamina and should not have tried to go down this difficult, exhausting path just to see what was there! I am somewhat covered in bruises from the whole trip, I have to say.

The Lol-Ha restaurant was super nice. Part of it is a Thai restaurant and part is local cuisine. The access to the outdoor bit was very nearly flat but there was a tiny …. maybe inch and a half high …. bump into the restaurant. The indoor part had a steep ramp, too steep for me to get up on my own, I think. The food there was great. I also had very good fish at La Cueva del Pescador and nice but somewhat blander fare at the Turtle Bay Cafe, both wheel-able through some mildly gravelly paths. There were mariachis in the evening roaming about, including a group with an arpa who played joropos, which made me super happy.

The important thing was, I could get around the entire area without stalling out on gravel or sand!

With the scooter, also if I were more into sitting up and scooting around, I could have gotten across the highway into Akumal Pueblo itself, which is tiny but I think would be nice to have a look at. People recommended restaurants there but mentioned it is not particularly scenic.

Milo and I rented snorkeling equipment for 2 days. The water was calm, sand perfectly shallow and gently sloped, water clear. I really liked that we could just go in the water to snorkel any time with no fuss at all. We saw so many turtles! Fish! Sea urchins! Mostly green turtles, and one Hawksbill turtle.

This bit of Akumal beach has many tour groups coming through as well as being the public town beach (free to residents). So, people start arriving on buses around 10am and go into the water with guides in groups of 8 people. There is some limit on how many snorkeling groups they let into the water at once and I think a daily limit on the number total per day. It was a lot of people but it seemed well handled and there is an orientation video in the Centro Ecológico that explains the rules about not touching any coral and staying well back from the turtles.

I played with some local kids one day (mostly by giving them all the floaty rafts from the hotel) and had slightly wistful thoughts about how much I would like to really play, but it being better on all levels to stay back and just enjoy their lively energy and happiness. It was frustrating also not to get to snorkel as much as I would have liked, which would be ALL DAY. When I was a kid I would stay in the ocean for hours until my lips turned blue and my grandma would make me get out. I have nice memories of lying down in the warm sand and I still like to do that, just getting covered in sand and getting my face right up to it. I do not like to stop doing things when they’re fun and exciting, obviously. At Akumal I never felt cold at all (amazing) but even taking a ton of pain medication (for me, a ton, not really a lot on the big scale of things) I exhausted and hurt myself swimming around and trying to walk more than I should. With a longer stay I could swim short amounts several times a day and rest more with less excited (self imposed) pressure to scout around and “see everything”. So my plan is to try to go back there for a few weeks at a time, maybe this summer, work from there, and swim a lot. There was decently fast internet which seemed quite reliable. It would be ideal rehab for my ankles and general strength, if I managed the pacing correctly.

I noticed in driving through Playa del Carmen (a lively, large town south of Cancun) that a lot of the sidewalks had curb cuts. It would be fun to go there and cruise around.

One last problem I had was that snorkeling has the temptation, if not the requirement, to look ahead of you and my neck and upper back do not like to do that. I am too stiff to do it well. I got along ok by swimming a modified sidestroke, mostly floating in the life vest, or by going on my back, then flipping over to look straight down. My upper back and neck are still in bad pain from trying to do this.

No one gave me any hassle for the scooter or for having purple hair. Better than at home in San Francisco. Obviously people were eyeing me askance everywhere I went, but politeness or shyness prevailed. When I got to chatting at length with people I would explain: arthritis, pain, can walk a little. No one found that weird, prayed over me, acted like I was somehow too young to be disabled or wasn’t disabled enough or performing it correctly, or told me about the fish oil homeopathy their grandma’s friend does, or stuff like that, as I encounter almost daily…. People also were universally quick to explain the details of access or tell me good places to go that were relatively level. The dynamics of that very pleasant courtesy and thoughfulness may be also due to my being a rich tourist in a not very rich area that depends on tourism. I could not help but notice it though. Thank you nice people in Akumal and Tulum.

In general the whole trip was physically challenging for me (how not — I can barely do the laundry or get out of my house to get groceries in my own town!) and yet it all seems very possible now. I would feel confident going back on my own. My goal was to find a place where I can have a real vacation, not traveling by going to tech conferences or things for work, ie traveling while not only doing my regular job but also conference talks and attendance! I think that kind of travel is at least something I shouldn’t try to do for the next year or so. Or maybe ever or very rarely. Maybe that time has passed. I like traveling and I love conferences and the intensity of meeting tons of people quickly and also I love public speaking. But it has not gone well for me the last few years as my mobility is worse and pain levels through the roof. So, Real Vacation. What a concept!

Feel free to ask me questions about access in comments and I can try to answer! I hope this helps someone out when they are wondering what might be marginally accessible on the Quintana Roo coast.

Taxis who refuse wheelchairs

I enjoy coming to Portland and taking the awesomely accessible train from PDX airport to downtown, but I got in a little late for my conference dinner, so, figuring it would save time, I headed to the taxi dispatch line to get a cab. I was traveling by myself, with my manual Quickie Ti wheelchair and a backpack.

The taxis were about halfway up to the first taxi position, and the dispatcher motioned for me to get into the first one in line, a Union Cab. The driver shook his head at her, then at me as I asked him to open the trunk of the taxi. “I just need you to open the trunk, the wheelchair folds up and I will put it in.” He refused to take me as a passenger. The dispatcher was angry with him, but he ignored her and pulled up a few more feet, taking another passenger who arrived at the stand after me.

The second driver in line was in a Green Cab. He had a big white bushy beard and was wearing sunglasses and a large black floppy hat. He looked right into my eyes, shook his head, and waved his hand dismissively as I asked him to open the trunk of the taxi. The dispatcher also was unable to persuade him to open his doors or trunk. That guy pulled up and let someone else and their luggage into his cab.

The third driver was outraged at what he had just seen. He got out of the taxi, and helped me put my backpack into his trunk. I took apart my chair, which has quick release wheels like some bicycles, and folded down the seat back for us both to put the pieces into the trunk of the taxi. This driver asked the dispatcher from the airport taxi stand to report the first two drivers. I said that I would write down their information and report them. I got the cab companies and numbers, but not the license plates. As we pulled out of the airport, we actually caught up with the two cabs that had refused to take me as a passenger, so I was able to double check their cab numbers.

The nice driver was from Broadway Cab. He pointed out the phone number for the City of Portland complaint line, and was very supportive and helpful. He said that to his knowledge, the first two drivers have done this in the past because they think that wheelchairs will take too much time to deal with. Talking with him was so heartening, a good reminder that there are plain old decent human beings around who will treat me like a fellow person although we are strangers.

From my conversations with other cab drivers and bus drivers, there are other assumptions that they tend to make about wheelchair users or people who have a visible disability. Drivers may be angry at me before I even get into a cab or bus, because they are afraid I will take up their time, be unable to get in or out of the cab, may somehow injure myself and sue them, or whatever. If I try to hail a cab on the street, it usually doesn’t work. I have to ask someone else, even a total stranger, to hail the cab while I hide out of sight. This is part of why services like Uber and Lyft work well for me, while I’m lucky enough to be able to afford to use them. I can leave my house with my manual wheelchair, travel, and be confident that I won’t get stranded by bigotry.

As it was, I only had wait a few minutes for a nicer cab driver, and things turned out fine. However, I do get angry about cab drivers who won’t stop for me. The prejudice that I get isn’t going to get any easier for me as I get older, so I try to take the time now, while I have the energy (and the privilege) to report discriminatory behavior.

I just reported them through the City of Portland’s online complaint form and to the cab companies. The city emailed me back immediately to apologize and to let me know they were addressing the complaints. Both Green and Union took my phone complaint and said they would investigate and likely reprimand the drivers.

Since I benefit daily from the activism of people who hard core chained themselves to buses in the dead of winter in the 70s and 80s, I figure I can spare an hour to try to make sure that current ADA law is enforced. I also think of places like New York City where activists are fighting hard to get the city to make all taxis accessible to more wheelchair users.

Updates from the polar regions

It’s been a while! I went off to the 40th anniversary celebration of the Center of the Study of Women in Society at which a bunch of feminist science fiction writers and critics were nucleating around some of our fabulous luminaries. I hung out and talked with Timmi Duchamp, Andrea Hairston, Margaret McBride, Alexis Lothian, Joan Haran, Hiromi Goto, Larissa Lai, and said hello to Ursula LeGuin and Sally Miller Gearhart. So that was amazing. Day 1 of the conference was feminist activists and academics in general, not just science fiction writers. The University of Oregon has a lot of feminist sf writers’ letters and papers, and Margaret taught a Tiptree Award class for many years, so it’s collected a lot of mojo with the west coast WisCon-going folks. That will probably continue to build!

I live-twittered both days of the conference and then meant to write it all up, but I got ill just after getting home. Here are the (over 200) tweets, with lots of interesting links and people to follow, and occasional humor: http://storify.com/lizhenry/worlds-beyond-world

My mom visited, and bought me a huge amount of wooly underthings from REI. I was frustrated at my lack of physical stamina to go out and do fun things with her, which in retrospect was because I was already getting ill.

For the first two weeks of being sick I took my antibiotics and worked from home, going out very minimally, and after a day in the ER I am on different antibiotics and sicker. It is unclear if this is something antibiotics will help, or if it is related to my autoimmune issues (aka, arthritis with complications). I am in a lot of pain and have to stay lying down in bed, a situation I really don’t like but in which, fortunately, I have the entire Internet and a lot of books to entertain me and nice family and friends to help care for me. So, I’m both fine and not fine. Sitting up is painful. I am dizzy and can’t eat more than broth and a little rice so I’m not feeling strong. I fall asleep a lot. More tedious doctor appointments are to come. I try not to worry, though I am so far behind at work that it’s stressful to contemplate. Parenting and taking care of myself is also hard. I am crying a lot out of sheer exhaustion and also fear of whatever is going on which is uncertain. Oh well. Been there before! I remain cheerful on the whole.

On the up side, lying in bed is relatively good for my ankles. Maybe it will help them heal up better. I can’t prop the laptop on my stomach, so am mostly sideways as I type or read stuff on the computer.

During this, we launched a quick 10-day fundraiser for Double Union’s buildout, hitting our $5K goal in under an hour, and topping out at just over $15K. OMG, I love my feminist hackerspace. Look at our gorgeous little website: http://www.doubleunion.org/ We have 25 members already and aren’t even open yet. This week a lot of people who aren’t me will be ripping out the carpet and moving all our furniture in and out. Then we will be ready to build shelves and buy tools. Then we can open. YAY!!!

In the interstices of that I have listened to a lot of music (currently on a Serenata Guyanesa kick), played some Plants vs. Zombies 2, watched Milo play Myst, poked around on Wikipedia, and read quite a few books. Here is a partial list. Sometimes I can think and sometimes I am just spacing out. If I can focus and read then it’s mercifully distracting from pain.

* When Fox Is a Thousand by Larissa Lai
* In Darkest Light by Hiromi Goto
* Trophic Cascade (short prose poems by Hiromi Goto)
* The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
* We Are All Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
* Missing Links and Secret Histories: A Selection of Wikipedia Entries from Across the Known Multiverse ed. by L. Timmel Duchamp
* Gaia’s Toys by Rebecca Ore
* Great post by Skud, Why is it so difficult and expensive to make your own clothes (or have them made)?
* An entertaining close reading/critique of The Hunger Games
* Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (Ada’s book for school)
* Black Boy by Richard Wright (Milo’s book for school)
* the first and second Alanna books by Tamora Pierce (millionth time)
* Diaspora by Greg Egan (reread) (Thanks Taren!)
* Polar Journeys Ed. by Jon E Lewis, which Val brought me in a large stack of awesome books

The Polar Journeys book is 42 short excerpts from various explorations and voyages in the Arctic and Antarctica. I’ve read some of the sources on previous reading binges and am very fond of this sort of book in general (primary sources, misery and suffering, scurvy or starvation a plus) For example I have read and re-read various versions of Hakluyt’s voyages and all those Vilhjalmur Stefanson books and then when my ex went to the South Pole with his experiment I read every single Antarctica book I could find including the one about the International Geophysical Year by the guy who invented the idea of wind chill. Some of the great stories in the Polar Journeys book were ones I’ve never heard of. The story of the Arctic voyage of the dirigible Italia, the sad balloon expedition of Salomon Andrée, and the last days of George W. De Long were pretty great, especially from a warm bed under a down comfortor and a heating pad.

The best story so far has been George E. Tyson’s diary excerpts from the Polaris Expedition. His style is… like a regular person with some common sense, trying to figure out what the hell to do, instead of like a pompous observing scientist or wannabe heroic expedition leader. He and 18 others, including 2 women and their 5 children were adrift on an ice floe for six months. Since yesterday I’ve been obsessed with the details of this expedition and its background and all the people in it getting to the point of non-minor edits to Wikipedia, starting with Tookoolito and her husband Ebierbing. The expedition head, Captain Hall, died, very likely from being poisoned by another crew member. (Someone made a whole other expedition years later to dig up his body and test it for arsenic.) This guy Tyson, who had been a whaling captain, suspected that the remaining leader, Captain Budington, deliberately stranded him and the rest. It backfired on Budington who got stranded anyway with the 14 remaining crew members. ANYWAY. Tyson describes the total screwup that is their life on the ice over the Arctic winter. He blames the German crew for most of the mistakes. They would have died SO fast if the Inuit folks with them had not built them igloos and shot about 50 seals. And probably sewed them clothes too.

I could go on forever but my main two points are:

Tookoolito, Taqulittuq, or “Hannah” was a total badass. Her family had a long history of contact with whalers and voyagers. Her husband Ipiirviq (aka Ebierbing or Joe) and daughter were also pretty great. I will keep working on their articles. And make ones for the others who don’t have articles like Merkut (Suersaq aka Hans’s wife, who seems to have had 4 small children with her through all this!)
– Histories of Hall and Budington and the whole lot of them are often not very well researched. News articles, biographical dictionaries, and yes Wikipedia entries quote each other’s inaccuracies till I want to scream. Hall and Budington had voyaged together a bunch before. They appear to have been somewhat in conflict as to who was the best friend, benefactor, and exploiter of Tookoolito and Ebeierbing (and family). Even after they were dead I think something fishy is going on with many of the claims of who their patron was. It will likely not be possible to find a truth about this, but tracing the claims would be really fun. I have found sources to claim, as a minor example, that either Budington, Hall, or Ebierbing himself bought the Ebierbing family home in Connecticut. One interesting project here, which I invite any of you to take up and work on, is I think finding and digitizing Tookoolito’s letters from Nyack, NY to Mrs. Buddington in Groton. For one thing, the quotes from her letters don’t match with the register or grammar of how she is represented as speaking in English by Hall and other contemporaries. Anyway, most people interested in this seem stuck on the more flashy controversy of whether Charles Francis Hall was murdered or not, and if so, who did it. I am more interested in the story of the Inuit people and their families and the arcs of their lives and whatever they may have to say. I love tracing that “Puney” or Punna = Panik = Sylvia Grinnell Ebierbing = Iseeatpo or Isigaittuq. As always the fluidity of identity in names across language fascinates me. It is one of the little keys of subalternity (as I explored in my Wittig project and my anthology of Spanish American women poets). (Obviously… this interest or ability ties in to my interest in hoaxes and sockpuppets!)

Details of nearly everything about the people and the situation are also just lifted uncritically and unsourced. For instance the name of the guy who brought Tookoolito and Ebierbing as young teenagers (with some other kid) to England is listed in some sources as Thomas Bolby and in others as John Bowlby. That one shouldn’t be all that hard to straighten out from primary sources! Other screwups…. I can’t even count them. People are slobs, and truth is more elusive than you might think. The best writeups on this so far appear to be from Kenn Harper, whose clarity I appreciate. Thank god someone has some sense out there.

Once I finish these three books I’ll have a lot more Wikipedia editing to do. (Thank you Internet Archive!)
* Narrative of the North Polar Expedition, U.S. Ship Polaris, Captain Charles Francis Hall commanding (1876)
* Arctic experiences [microform] : containing Capt. George E. Tyson’s wonderful drift on the ice-floe : a history of the Polaris expedition, the cruise of the Tigress and rescue of the Polaris survivors : to which is added a general arctic chronology (1874) (READ THIS… it is AWESOME)
* Memoirs of Hans Hendrik

That all crucial three dollar check

So, disabled people in theory get to ride public transport at a discount rate in San Francisco and in fact in the entire Bay Area. To get my disabled rate card for the bus I had to bring my accessible parking placard to an office in Downtown SF and pay some nominal fee for a card. This proves I’m disabled I guess. Most transit cards, you can just buy at a Walgreens or in the train station.

That errand took nearly a whole day for me to take the bus, wait around in this office, get sent to the DMV for some reason I couldn’t fathom, spend hours at the DMV, get back on my 4th bus of the day to the Regional Transit Center office on Van Ness. Pay my 5 bucks or whatever it was and be done. I got a plastic card with my photo & an RFID chip. But this is already bullshit. How much proving I’m disabled do I have to do here for this petty benefit? Can’t DMV make it known upon request that yes, in their eyes, I’m still disabled?

Once I had the card – maybe a month later — I could get online to refill the card and even set it up to refill automatically once a month. That part was nice.

In July, I got a badly xeroxed form with a handwritten note saying I needed to check a box to say I was still disabled, and write in the number of my parking placard. I also had to enclose a check for $3.00. Ridiculous!

So I sent this form in a couple of weeks ago. Today my bus pass suddenly didn’t work.

I called the Clipper card people who told me to call RTC which is run out of some company called Cordoba. They said they were getting tons of phone calls, because many people hadn’t gotten their renewals yet.

The phone call with RTC was just frustrating. They acted like they were angry with me and were very condescending. “Well, did you SEND IT? Did you send it to (po box and address.) How do I know? I sent it to the address it said. “Well did you enclose a check for $3.00? If you put cash in, that doesn’t work.” Yeah I’ll bet it doesn’t. They haven’t gotten my renewal letter, and didn’t have any suggestion about what to do other than wait.

The whole process is so silly and inefficient. They need to recognize that lots of people aren’t going to become magically un-disabled, and save themselves a lot of petty paperwork. I wonder what actually happens to that piece of paper I got mailed? No one needs that damn piece of paper! And I don’t think they need any yearly check for 3 dollars either, isn’t that what we pay taxes for?! Really you are gonna hassle every single cripple in the Bay Area every July for a check for $3.00?

I bet that has bad results especially for all the people I see downtown who might not have their shit together to the degree I do. I doubt the intended service manages to serve this population well.

/end rant.

Bugs and sheriffs in London

Travelling Bugmaster update! I am in London with a bunch of the automation tools team for a work week. Ed, jeads, Chris, Ryan, dave, and mauro have been neck deep in making decisions about the structure of a new version of TBPL. By eavesdropping in their conference room I have learned a bit about how Ed and RyanVM and others watch the tree (sheriffing). Also, dkl and gerv and I met up to talk about bugzilla.mozilla.org and I got to bounce some ideas off them about possible ways to tweak the incoming bug triage workflow.

The London office is right between Trafalgar Square, Chinatown, and Covent Garden. It’s very accessible. If you come to Mozilla London offices and are a wheelchair user, you should know that the Tube stations near the office are not accessible. Give up and take the Heathrow Express to Paddington and then a taxi.

Lanterns sky

The BMO and IT teams (glob, dkl, and fox2mike, mostly) are planning to upgrade bugzilla.mozilla.org on March 8th. You can give it a test drive here: bugzilla-dev.allizom.org. This brings Mozilla’s implementation in line with the upstream version of Bugzilla 4.2. In theory, the new server hardware and architecture will also make BMO much faster.

I’m mostly excited about the user and product dashboards in this release. They look extremely cool — great for people who are doing bugmaster and triaging work. Someone who wants to drop in to triage Firefox bugs, or to get a mental image of what’s happening with bugs of interest to them, will be able to do so easily, without having set up a sort of pachinko palace labyrinth of bugmail and filters.

Bugzilla user dashboard 500

So if you would like a sneak preview of the user and product dashboards, take a look on bugzilla-dev.allizom.org and poke around! You can talk to us on #bmo or #bugmasters on irc.mozilla.org if you have feedback. And do please help us by filing bugs!

Besides the upgrade and move, and the archictecture of bzAPI current and possible future — gerv, dkl and I discussed the re-framing of early bug triage as “Bugmaster” or bug management work. We kicked around some ideas and it was very helpful to me to get their advice.

I am adding links to current wiki docs into the show_components.cgi descriptions and dkl has promised to expose those descriptions in show_bug.cgi views of individual bugs. My thought is that within the bug itself, the reporter and triagers, or an aspiring new developer, will have multiple ways to dive deeper into the bug.

We talked about adding common reply templates, which I am collecting in the Bugmaster Guide but which would work well, I think, built into Bugzilla. It turns out that dkl already has an extension started, canned comments, to do exactly this. Very intriguing!

Another thing I’d like to see is something that invites extra information when a bug is filed. This can be context sensitive, so that, if you file a bug in Firefox for Android in a particular component, there can be a link to relevant support forums, wiki pages, the irc channel, and the module owner information. This landing screen could also invite the bug reporter to add bits of information they have not included. If they haven’t attached a screenshot or included a url there could be an attempt to elicit them, or a few “next steps to help make this bug more reproducible” suggestions.

I am still thinking about the READY status flag and other ways to mark “early triaging is happening, or should be happening” vs. “in the hands of dev team”. That is a fuzzy boundary and different conditions would lead to it for different products/components. In this discussion we looked at Gerv’s and Jesse Ruderman‘s proposals for BMO workflow:
* Workflow Proposal 1 which simplifies the status chain.
* Workflow Proposal 2 which more radically changes the flow and statuses to a “next action” framing.

I can see benefits and drawbacks to both models.

It would be helpful from a triaging point of view to be able to declare, in an obvious-to-all way, that a bug is as triaged as we can get it for the moment and it either is ready for a developer to look at or is in some sort of Bug Limbo waiting for later re-assessment. We can do that with some assortment of existing tags and keywords but it may lack clarity and ease of use.

We brought up the idea that if I am doing some triage on a bug but don’t feel it is “ready” yet — for example perhaps I have identified its component, but not reproduced it, or vice versa — I can list myself as the QA contact. What would that indicate, though? Would it keep away other triagers? That is not what I’d want, of course. We could end up with some sort of “needstriage” checkbox, or make a tagging taxonomy that is well documented and evangelize it.

On Sunday I spent some time wandering around in a rented mobility scooter. It is possible now in London to hire a scooter for 70 pounds a week. Very much worth it not to have to push myself over thousands of cobblestones. I have only run over one person’s foot so far in the swarms of tourists, theater-goers, schoolchildren going to museums, and Londoners purposefully striding around in overcoats staring at their mobile phones. Though the scooter delivered is bigger than most cars in this country. It is like an enormous Mecha Gundam Wing suit on wheels so my adventures in the London streets are reminiscent of the Pacific Rim movie trailer.

Lion unicorn palace

In London, when confronted with a giant wheeled exoskeleton, people generally give a tiny gasp and start (theatrically), mutter apologies, and make a show of getting out of the way while looking bewildered. They are relatively good at not acting shocked that I exist. That’s kind of pleasant really. Some buildings and restaurants are somewhat accessible. I get along here as long as I don’t think too hard about how I can’t use the Tube at all and I can afford the glorious taxis.

In Vienna, I used my manual chair. Almost nowhere is accessible even when it is declared to be. People there would loudly gasp, almost a little shriek, and leap forward to grab me, which reminded me of how people act in Beijing when they see an independent person using a wheelchair. They scream, and they leap, like kzinti. More details on hilarious wheelie adventures in the Hofburg, coming soon. Travel is lovely but I’ll be glad to be back in San Francisco at the end of the week.

To Vindobona! and beyond

I am leaving tomorrow for Vienna where I will be speaking at the OSCE Internet 2013 conference. They had asked me to write a chapter for their 2013 book on Internet freedom — on the Amina hoax, identity on the Internet, and journalism. For the conference, I’ll be on the Social News panel along with Christian Möller, Anna Kachkaeva, Leonard Novy, and Filip Wallberg. I’m looking forward to meeting people at the conference! I’ve never been to Vienna. In preparation I read some histories on the net and a very boring book called Vienna: A Cultural History, and also I raced through Man Without Qualities and Young Torless to give me some atmosphere.

The only interesting facts I got from the Cultural History were that Marcus Aurelius probably died in Vindobona and that Austria’s first writer was Ava of Melk. I have found better book recommendations now! The conference will take up most of my time but it would be nice to wander around the Inner Stadt and find the Museum of the Romans on Marc-Aurelstrasse. It was completely engrossing to study maps of the city and try to orient myself before getting there. I am trying to practice useful phrases like “Wo ist die Fahrstühl?” and “Eine Melange, bitte, danke schon”. My other ambitions for Vienna are to go to Metalab (the hackerspace) and the Frauen Cafe (the feminist cafe and I think bookstore). Metalab is not very accessible sounding but they have written me lovely email basically promising to haul me up there.

I will keep the glories of the Austrian Year firmly in mind as my hands freeze in my manual wheelchair rims and I cough my lunghs out with asthma from the cigarette smoke that will surely be everywhere. At least this way (languishing in Vienna) I’ll be in solidarity with Marcus Aurelius.

vindobona_map.jpg

Next Friday I will be heading to London and working there for a week with other people on the Automated Tools team and dkl who does a lot of work on Bugzilla. Probably will meet up with my friend Bryony, Danny’s niece Ro, cdent who I used to work with at Socialtext, and other friends. I would like to have tea at the National Portrait Gallery, go to Forbidden Planet and some interesting sounding political bookstores along with Foyles which seems to have eaten the feminist Silver Moon bookstore. Then will go to the Cafe in the Crypt at St. Martin’s in the Field which I think sounds hilarious and amazing. It sounds wheelchair accessible and plus it is described thusly:

Once inside the Crypt there is a warm welcome awaiting you with beautiful 18th century architecture brick-vaulted ceilings, historic tombstones beneath your feet and delicious home-cooked food to feast your eyes and stomach on.

That sentence is so wrong; so perfectly wrong. The warmth, the brick, the tombstones, and the mention of several body parts in conjunction with the word “feast” make it sound like a sort of Zombie Pizzeria. All this and Bach fugues too for 26 quid. It really can’t fail.

I am vowing to slink off at lunchtimes to take virtuous naps while my coworkers from Mozilla go to fascinating pubs, but am not sure that will ever really happen. In London it will be super tempting to go lots of places because I’m renting a mobility scooter and it won’t be hurting my hands and shoulders to push my chair around town.

This is going to be fun though I’m worried about being in pain especially on the plane trip, but then also in pain and alone much of the time, which can be a little hard to take. So I really need to slow that mustang down and be patient, rather than trying to do all the things I would like to do. Luckily I really enjoy reading and learning about places so that it is like I get to do that much more, just by reading later about where I’ve been.

This weekend we went to Tom’s house for a Ping Pong Deathmatch and I sat watching the kids and other lively people playing. The garage with the ping pong table was cold so I was huddled in my huge woollen scarf/shawl. At one point I began imagining how things would go if we were in a Three Stooges skit. I could see the old fashioned font with a title like “Ping Pong Gone Wrong” or “Kings of the Ping”. Larry, Curly, and Moe would be in the garage to do some menial job and in the garage there would be a new invention of an automatic ping-pong ball launcher. Milo and I started describing all the things that could happen as the garage came apart catastrophically, with a really good bit where Larry goes head first into the washing machine which spins his legs around and around like a drill. Someone would be folded into the ping pong table and the whole skit might end with the garage door opening and the table (with all 3 on it, plus the automatic launcher) racing uncontrollably down a hill. Again I felt lucky that I can enjoy things without leaping around. I am like Des Esseintes except (usually) not filled with loathing. Also, how lucky that my son loves to go on these imaginary voyages too!

Then we played an excellent and clever resource management/politics board game called Chicken Caesar, which we didn’t fully get into the swing of because we needed to get home, but I might like to buy it and play it for real!

Other than that the kids played Minecraft *all weekend*. They are completely obsessed.

Off to Kiwicon!

I am preparing to go to Kiwicon 6 in Wellington, New Zealand! I’ll be speaking on hacker communities. I’m super excited to meet people, hear all the talks, blog about everything, scoot around town, and see lots of people I know from geekfeminism.org, linux.conf.au, and DrupalSouth. I’m also speaking at the Geek Girl Dinner along with Laura Bell of in2securITy!

Kiwicon 666

It is the end of days; the sky has torn asunder, for it is Kiwicon six hundred sixty six.

Organised by and for the NZ hacker community, Kiwicon brings together hackers, their whitehat chums, and curious bystanders who are interested in the very very thin veneer of robustness spackled over our technological world.

First priority, fixing my scooter. So I want to talk about that before talking about the con and non-hardware hacking! Zach from the hackability list helped me again, bringing over all his tools. I have a tiny travel multimeter now, but am probably not going to have a tiny soldering iron before the trip. After 3 separate things broke on my scooter on day 1 of my trip to Mexico, I swore never to travel again with a scooter without the stuff to fix it! Though I was very smug that my Spanish was good enough to have a long conversation with an electrician that went far beyond “No sirve” as we opened up my dashboard. Fortunately guessing words like “voltímetro” worked well.

potentiometer and its lever

One problem was that a diode blew. It is in between the two 12-volt sealed lead-acid batteries and once Zach and I had tested everything else we opened up the heat shrink tubing and found this giant useless diode. I think (after discussion with Susan, Zach, and some very nice engineer from the fab lab in China that makes the scooters) it may in theory serve to stop you from draining your batteries by accident. In practice it underpowers the motor so we just snipped it out and didn’t replace it. The hacked smart charger we made for the scooter may have blown it out.

Another problem was that some wires came loose in the dashboard from the cruise control potentiometers despite that I had covered them in tons of hot glue. (The electrician in La Paz and I fixed that bit.) The third thing wrong was that the main throttle potentiometer shaft, which is very long, was out of whack or bent, so the scooter just wouldn’t start, because the motor controller checks to make sure the controls are centered before it will let you start. The driver who loaded my scooter into the back of his van in Los Cabos for the drive to La Paz did not take the seat off the scooter’s frame before bending down the dashboard on its pole. So the acceleration lever (forward and backward) and thus, the throttle pot shaft, was resting directly on the seat and got screwed up. I had a great time in La Paz anyway in a janky rental Everest and Jennings manual chair pushed by Oblomovka and spent the rest of my time in bed (properly as I should, but boringly), on the beach 50 steps from the hotel, or in the tiny front sidewalk table of the hotel cafe writing and sketching.

The Malecón (walkway or boardwalk along the sea) of La Paz was lovely, nicely paved for wheelchairs or scooters, very flat, and very long. It is level in some places with the beach and in others looks out over riprap or extends to piers. At the Science Expo we saw this otherworldly sculpture of a ballena tiburon, or WHALE SHARK. I think of WHALE SHARKS in all caps, always.

on another planet with 2 suns!

Also awesome in La Paz: All of La Paz and the people I met! The lovely, fascinating, kind, people of the Hotel Mediterrane, a small LGBT hotel in La Paz that felt like a bed & breakfast. And the beaches, especially Tecolote and Balandra!

Then Hurricane Sandy happened and I contributed a little bit to this massive group effort to help out and felt a lot of love for the extended “cripfam” of my friends.

We continue our Anarchafeminist Hackerhive meetings at Noisebridge and are looking closely in what’s happening at HackerMoms, LOL, and Sudo Room! Everyone should read Jenny Ryan’s article on co-operation amongst Bay Area hackerspaces:
Hacking the Commons: How to Start a Hackerspace
as it conveys the fabulousness of the Bay Area hackerspaces & the synergy that is building these days.

Oh, and I made up a version of The Internationale to sing at Noisebridge and other hackerspaces, The Hackernationale, for a hackerspace anthem, because the Free Software Song is a bit hard to sing and play. The Hackernationale is especially suitable for singing to sleeping hackers, and I plan on writing many more verses for it!

So, Kiwicon! I will talk about mildy subversive things which hopefully will not sound like “buzzwording buzzword for buzzwordists” since I could not call the talk “How to Conspire to Do Illegal Things”. It will be thought provoking, odd, scary, and wildly entertaining for 9:15 in the morning as I bounce around a stage in the Wellington Opera House ranting and waving my arms wildly like a tiny wheeled Wizard of Frobozz!

Bootstrapping InfoSec for Hacktivists
As hackers and activists, we have a lot of power and many vulnerabilities. And as we act not just as lone hackers but in working groups, our infosec practices can expose not only ourselves but our associates. Acting with power, responsibility, and as much safety as possible means we need good operational security for whole communities, whether they’re publishing citizen journalism and leaked information, challenging censorship and copyright law, or taking direct political action locally or internationally. This talk will walk us through some cultural frameworks and technical tools created by and for emerging hacker communities. Who are we? Who will dislike our actions? What channels might they use? And how can we treat them as bugs, and route around them?

Before giving that talk on Saturday morning I will be at the Arduino thing on Friday, then maybe the Surviving Kiwicon orientation if I’m not falling over from jet lag, then the clambake Geek Girl Dinner, then the speakers’ party. On Saturday I’m especially interested in Alex Kirk’s talk on Master Phishing, Leigh Honeywell’s talk “Firehoses and Asbestos Pants” on the security incident & response life cycle, the web app recon talk and the talk where 3 guys with ponytails talk about security. On Sunday, I really want to go to Open Source Security Response, The tale of a Firefox bug by Thoth and the Wi-fi attack cycle talk which I believe will actually take place with the souped-up motorcycle on stage and which MAY INSPIRE me to stuff more electronics and another large deep-cycle battery into my mobility scooter. Also this seems like the quintessential Kiwicon talk since their Secret Cabal clearly LOVES METAL. This is the best conference talk description ever!!!!!

War driving has been around for a very, very long time, however it has been missing a few key things. Mainly leather, Judas Priest and Motorcycles. ‘Ghost riders in your LAN’ is a talk based around overclocking the wardriving game by introducing gasoline, angle grinders, cheap wifi gear and a build price smaller than your slightly more exorbitant weekend bender. This talk is a collaboration between Security-Assessment.com and Stray Rats Custom Motorcycles. I will be covering the details of how to build a wifi-attack-cycle from ground up – from electronics and cheap-and-cheerful heads up displays to the bike modifications required to mount all the tech and look awesome while terrorizing your local neighborhood TP-LINKs. Ride the metal monster, breathing death and fire. Closing in with vengeance broadcasting high. This is the WifiKiller.

OMG! I want a ride on this beast!!!

Actually, Sunday has more talks than I can possibly sit up for, so if you see me lying down in the back of the theater please don’t be alarmed, I am just resting my back, or have taken too many muscle relaxants. Carry on!

After the con I am going to veg a lot and go to the indoor swimming pool for some physical therapy and hang around Wellington for a few days. Maybe with Joh and sundry, maybe with hyp4t1a if she doesn’t disappear off into some sort of skiing, rock climbing hinterland!

Say hello if you see me, I look like this and am on a little blue scooter or hobbling slowly around on a cane:
new shirt

Gadget love

I found the best cable ever. It has ends for an iPad, miniUSB, and microUSB. Instead of having 3 heads on different necks like a hydra, the three ends plug into each other on jointed hinges. When you bend it, it looks like a cute little scorpion or like horrible alien mouthparts!

I love this cable!!!

The bits where it plugs into itself are very sturdy. The cable itself is thick and very short.

The best cable ever!

Here it is in action plugged into my phone! It is a “Magic 3-in-one” cable made by Innergie and handles data as well as recharging. As long as I manage not to lose this beast, I’m going to do away with carrying 2 or 3 different cables in my backpack (and never having the right one). If it ever falls apart at the hinges, I’ll still have the useful converter plugs.

<3 <3 cable love

On bus lifts and complaint forms

Now that I am using a mobility scooter and can’t drive, I ride a MUNI bus about 4 times a day in San Francisco. Most of the time I get on the bus and everything’s fine. A non-trivial amount of hte time, there is some hitch to accessible MUNI travel and either I cope with that gracefully or I get quite angry.

Most of the time in the last few months I get too discombobulated to document the incident. But I’m resolving to do so consistently from now on not for my own desire to vent but as a political act that might benefit many people and might help us act together to improve things.

When I talk about, or twitter or blog about access difficulties on the bus, people tell me “well you should report it”. I found that reporting it is quite complicated. Also, while dealing with mobility issues and a lot of pain and all the demands of my daily life, even on medical leave from work, it’s been daunting to consider this.

I would like to describe some of the aspects of MUNI transit with a wheelchair and to take a good look at the process of making an official complaint. The complaint process is fairly clunky and off-putting. I’m thinking about how to improve that process and make it productive and useful. Meanwhile, I’ll make a policy for myself of not only going through the formal complaint process, but also twittering the bus number and situation. For my own data tracking, I will take a photo of each bus I ride, with the bus number, uploading it to Flickr. I’ll then take notes on access in a paper notebook. For each Flickr photo I will type up my access notes, and tag the photo with #accessMUNI, the bus number, approximate time of day, details of the experience, and #fail or #win. That will give me some data to work with personally.

I wonder how many lifts break on MUNI in a day, in a month? How many complaints about bus access are there? Is that or should it be public information? Could I build a work-around, an end run, basically an alternate complaint system that has intake from paper forms (mailed to me personally), text messages, and a phone app? Or a simpler web form for complaints?

Here is how a smooth bus-boarding goes:

* The driver sees me and immediately tells the apparently able bodied people on the bus and the people waiting for the bus to use the back doors. The driver extends the lift.
* I get on the lift and it brings me up onto the bus
* The driver or other passengers flip up some seats to make room for me and the chair
* I settle in and we’re good to go (meanwhile, everyone else has gotten on or off.)

Keep in mind the wheelchair seating areas, two on most buses, are midway back in the bus, so to get on or off, I have to go past three to 5 inward-facing seats which might be full of people, some of them with shopping carts, strollers, walkers, and suitcases.

bus-diagram.jpg

In a bad situation, here is what can happen:

* The driver does not know how to operate the lift.
* The driver tries to extend the lift, but it doesn’t work.
* The driver claims the lift is broken.
* The driver says the bus is too crowded and won’t let me on.
* The driver lets all the other people get on the bus through the front door, filling up the seats, then extends the ramp, but now the bus is so full it is very hard to get to the wheelchair seating. People have to get up or move or stand on the seats to let me pass. The people on the bus sometimes get angry and impatient at the fuss and delay.
* The driver does not stop for me at all.
* There are already two wheelchairs on the bus, so the driver won’t let me on.
* Driver has not pulled up to the curb in a place where I can get on or off, and then has to reposition the bus to extend the lift.
* The lift breaks in such a way that the bus can’t move because the doors won’t close.
* I get on the bus but the lift won’t work again to let me off.
* The lockdown clamps either don’t work at all, or lock in a wheelchair’s wheels and won’t release. (I don’t use the locks anymore so I won’t go into this.)
* There is no button for me to push to indicate I want to get off the bus and need the lift, so I have to shout to the driver or get other passengers to let the driver know. (This doesn’t always work: I can miss the stop, or it can mean the driver yells at me.)
* Many other bugs in the system that I haven’t thought to list.

As a more minor complaint I have noticed that all drivers get me to come onto the lift, then lock the front flap upwards so I can’t get off again. Then the driver will sometimes get up to clear passengers from the wheelchair seating area and flip up the seats to make room. In that situation I am sometimes sitting in the rain waiting. I always wonder why the driver doesn’t move the lift to bring me onto the bus, and out of the cold and rain, first? Don’t they think? But, whatever, at least I’m on the bus eventually.

Another detail that would improve courtesy is that when the drivers (correctly) ask people waiting to get on or off to use the back door, and they begin to extend the lift, they almost always overlook obviously elderly and disabled people using canes or simply very frail. It would be much more in keeping with the spirit of things if the driver would encourage these folks to get on the bus through the front door, then deal with the lift and wheelchairs. I often tell the driver, “I’m sitting down — that lady isn’t! Does she need the bus to kneel, first?” But it usually doesn’t work and the driver continues yelling in some elderly person’s face for them to “use the back door”.

I wonder about the training the drivers go through. Most of them can competently operate a lift and are resigned to helping get wheelchair users on and off the bus. A very few are kind and treat disabled people with human decency as a matter of course. I see them deal with difficult people and situations gracefully. It might improve things in general if the drivers had some basic consciousness raising about people with disabilities. Drivers may assume a wheelchair user is paralyzed (they often assume this for me, yet I can walk ) They shout, or condescend, or pat me, or bring in a lot of assumptions to our interaction, and then I see them repeat that pattern with other disabled people who get on the bus. You can’t make people be nice and I don’t need my ass kissed because I’m disabled, but maybe some of that bad attitude feeds into the access problems that I see happen, especially with drivers who regard us as an inconvenience and want to use any excuse to pass us up and who seem to want to make us feel it.

When a lift is broken and a bus passes me up, I always wonder what happens. Does that driver just continue on for the rest of the shift, passing up an unknown number of people who needed a lift? Do they report the broken lift right away? What happens?

Here is a #49 bus, number 8195, that passed me up yesterday at Van Ness and 26th, claiming a broken lift:

49 bus with broken lift

So, moving onward to the complaint process and the forms online. Basically this is the bug reporting system. San Francisco uses the 311 system. Here is the 311 page that leads to the complaint form. People with compliments or complaints can use the web forms, or can call 311 or a full phone number to give feedback. There is a link to an accessible form, but it isn’t really an accessible form, it’s instructions to call the 311 number if you can’t use the web form.

Here is screen one of the complaint form. It asks for an email address and a repeated email address confirmation. You have the option to skip this step.

MUNI complaint screen 1

Then I get a screen that either adds my address to the 311 database, or tells me it’s already in there. It tells me to call 911 in a real emergency and gives me a disclaimer about privacy. There are Back and Next buttons.

MUNI complaint screen 2

Screen 3 is a beauty. It’s 26 fields, 8 of them required.

SF MUNI complaint screen 3
Here are their fields. Required fields are marked with an asterisk. Just for fun, I bold faced the options that I need to complain about most often.

1. First Name
2. Last Name
3. Primary phone
4. Alternate phone
5. *Email address (never remembered from one session to the next; no login possible)
6. Address
7. City
8. State
9. Zip code
*10. Request category — a dropdown menu with these options:
a. Conduct – Discourteous/Insensitive/Inappropriate Conduct
b. Conduct – Inattentiveness/Negligence
c. Conduct – Unsafe Operation
d. Services – Criminal Activity
e. Services – Service Delivery / Facilities
f. Services – Service Planning
g. Services – Miscellaneous

11. *Request type. This dropdown changes depending on which Request Category was selected in field 10.
a1: 301 Discourtesy to Customer
a2: 302 Altercation: Employee/Customer
a3: 303 Fare/Transfer/POP Dispute
a4: 304 Mishandling Funds/Transfers
a5: Refused Vehicle as Terminal Shelter
a6: General Unprofessional Conduct/Appearance

b1: 201 Pass Up/Did Not Wait for Transferee
b2: 202 Ignored Stop Request
b3: 203 No EN Route Announcements
b4: 204 Inadequate/No Delay Announcements
b5: 205 Offroute/Did Not Complete Route
b6: 206 Not Adhering to Schedule
b7: 207 Refused to Kneel Bus/Lower Steps
b8: 208 Did Not Ask Priority Seats to be Vacated
b9: 209 Did Not Pull to Curb
b10: 210 Refused to Accomodate Service Animal
b11: 211 Unauthorized Stop/Delay
b12: 212 Did not Enforce Rules/Contact Authorities
b13: 213 General Distraction from Duty

c1: 101 Running Red Light/Stop Sign
c2: 102 Speeding
c3: 103 Allegedly Under Influence of Drugs/Alcohol
c4: 104 Using Mobile Phone or Radio
c5: 105 Eating/Drinking/Smoking
c6: 106 Collision
c7: 107 Fall Boarding/On Board Alighting – Injury
c8: 108 General Careless Operation

d1: 501 Altercation: Miscellaneous
d2: 502 Larceny/Theft
d3: 503 Fare Evasion/Transfer Abuse
d4: 504 Disorderly Conduct/Disturbance

e1: 601 Delay/No-Show
e2: 602 Bunching
e3: 603 Switchback
e4: 604 Vehicle Appearance
e5: 605 Vehicle Maintenance/Noise
e6: 606 Lift/Bike Rack/Securements Defective
e7: 607 Track/ATCS Maintenance
e8: 608 Station/Stop Appearance/Maintenance
e9: 609 Elevator/Escalator Maintenance
e10: 610 Fare Collection Equipment
e11: 611 Signs, Maps, and Auto-Announcements

f1: 701 Insufficient Frequency
f2: 702 Lines/Routes: Current and Proposed
f3: 703 Stop Changes
f4: 704 Shelter Requests

g1: 801 NextMuni/Technology
g2: 802 Advertising/Marketing
g3: 803 Personal Property Damage
g4: 804 Fare Media Issues
g5: Muni Rules and Regulations

12: Expected Response Time (7 days)
13: checkbox for Disclaimer
14: * Vehicle number
15: Employee ID
16: Employee physical description
17: * Line/Route (Dropdown of all the routes)
18, 19, 20: Date, Time, am/pm
21: Location
22: * Cross Street
23: * Details
24: Do you want a response letter?
25: Was this an ADA violation?
26: If it was an ADA violation, do you want a hearing?
(If “Yes” is selected, and the operator is identified, a telephone or in-person hearing will be scheduled to address the issue)

Sometimes the form returns an error message!

muni complaint form error page

When it works, I get a confirmation screen with an option to go back or to confirm the info.

After confirmation I get an issue tracking number, and if I’ve given my email, an email with all the information I submitted plus the tracking number. So, if a person goes through all these screens successfully, the tracking system seems pretty decent.

My main criticism of the form is that it requires the user to decide on a taxonomy for their complaint. The complaint must fit into one of the dropdown menu options, but the possible options are shown only after the user decides what category it should be in. The complaintant should see all the options and should have a clear “miscellaneous/not included in these options” possibility from the start. THey shouldn’t have to put the complaint into a category at all. The computer can assign a category for it based on the user’s choice from a single dropdown. Uncategorizable complaints, or complaints from people not patient enough to read through the dropdown options, should be accepted too, because they are potentially useful data points. I don’t care if someone just wants to say “Fuck You MUNI” — that is not super constructive, and yet it still gives useful information in that someone was dissatisfied.

The MUNI complaint form appears to be designed with an official bus inspector in mind as the “complaintant”.

I have never seen a bus driver put the restraint system on for a wheelchair user, by the way, though some drivers have tried to get me to lock myself in with the wheel clamps. I’ve actually only seen one guy in a cheap E&J chair with no working brakes use the wheel clamps and never seen *anyone* use the belt system. It is unrealistic and not very workable. I’m sure someone out there uses it and likes it, though.

The “compliment” form is much simpler than the complaint form.

I can picture many other ways to collect this data. Maybe by building a system to take simplified complaints by text message from a feature phone (like Krys Freeman’s Bettastop prototype), or from a phone call. Paper complaints should also be possible, maybe by postcard. Complaints should be collected to figure out where problems may be clustering.

There could be a variety of useful smartphone apps as well. Though how many other disabled people on the bus do I ever seen with an iPhone? Take a wild guess. None! (That number will grow as GenX ages.) Accessibility problems should be reported via smartphone by able bodied people routinely, rather than that issue being left to the people with the least energy and resources.

It is hard to know what details you will need in making a complaint. Bus number, time of day, route number, location of the issue are the main details. I could make preprinted notepad forms and distribute them to other people on the bus, asking them to collect data.

I could see what my experimental data collection on Flickr leads to and if I can get anyone else to do the same and use the same hashtags.

And I could certainly go to one of the MUNI accessibility committee meetings to see what they talk about. Mainly at this point I’d like to know what happens with the data collected and how I can obtain it. Do particular lines have more wheelchair users, or more lift breakdowns? Particular times of day? What could be done about that?

Ideally, lift breakage or other issues would be reported in as close to realtime as possible, and hooked into a great open source system like QuickMuni? What about an app that knows what bus I’m on already, and for which I can just hit a few buttons to give simple feedback?

The thing that pisses me off most of all is trying to ride the bus during a busy time. Drivers then sometimes let 20 other people get on the bus first through the front doors. Good drivers tell everyone to board from the back door, and lower the lift immediately. Bad drivers delay everyone if they let the able bodied people go in the front, then don’t get them to move back, and then the driver refuses to let me on the bus. Leaving me in the dust is just the logical, reasonable thing to do in those driver’s minds. I had one driver on the 24 line yell at me for not *thanking him* for explaining why he wouldn’t let me on the bus. You can imagine my incandescent rage as I am deemed inconvenient and it is as if I have no right to take up space, while every other person, their shopping bags, strollers, and so on are given as much convenience as they could wish. It is for those moments that I’m going to take a photo of every bus I attempt to board, even before there is a problem.