NIght at the Opera with teenagers

On dress rehearsal nights the San Francisco Opera lets school groups in free. Milo’s high school choir class came up to see La Cenerentola, armed beforehand with scripts and analysis and background about opera. I was super excited to get to go along because I can’t make it very often to Redwood City to his school events, which is sad….. I miss out on a lot. But I can’t drive — and it takes 5-6 hours of cab/bus/train to get there and back even though it would be 40 minutes one way by car. So, I can’t show up as a parent at his school very often. Bah.

It was a fabulous night out. A bit hard to try to keep up with everyone and manage wheelchair, crowds, elevator, stairs — winging it all the way, and it worked out well. Milo and Danny and I sat together with the kids and the choir teacher. I could tell Milo and I were both enjoying the music and you can see our excitement from the picture…. We were feeling inspired!

Milo and Liz at the opera

It’s been a while since I was at the opera house. We saw Nixon in China (which I loved a LOT). And some years ago a friend of mine took me to various operas because she had a box and season tickets. I can hardly remember which ones but do remember the fun of dressing up, the box itself being awesome, and thinking about all the books I’ve ever read where people go to the opera and have a box and a complicated social scene. Very fancy. I also have a lot of thoughts about how rare and splendid this kind of music must have been a couple of hundred years ago, and how amazing it is that there were beautifully designed music halls before there was electronic amplification. Imagining what the experience would have been like back then makes me feel like I’m traveling in time or am seeing eveything on more than one level at once.

Opera house curtains

The entire night was extra fun because of the energy of the whole audience, all the kids very excited to be there and commenting to each other on the theater, the show, their unusual formality (many kids were dressed up) and their commentary on the songs. I liked hearing from the cheers and appplause which characters and songs appealed to them. Basically anything that was comic. They were more fun to be in an audience with than the usual rather uptight overly quiet and suppressed/suppressive classical music audience!

Opera with class

My own favorite bits of the opera were the arias where there are 4 or 5 characters singing at once and the notes and lyrics interweave in a complicated way. This is one of my favorite things in any kind of music. I go into a trance trying to pick out separate parts and then add them all together, hearing them separately and together at the same time. I get very excited and want to bounce around in my seat. I may have done this and punched Danny and Milo in the arm a bit or squeaked with excitement.

A nice break to end my month and a half of arthritis flare-up, not going out except for doctor appointments or physical therapy. Could not tell if I was going out foolishly or if it was going to be ok. It was more or less ok!! With lots of painkiller though. It was physically gruelling but didn’t set me back any in my ankle rehab.

Just blogging a bit frivolously to break my trend of not writing anything because I feel like I have to say something super meaningful or well thought out. Screw that, right?

Yelp removes accessibility review

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

The review was removed by Yelp as not being substantive.

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

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

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

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

Here’s my old review, admittedly sarcastic –

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

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

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

Specialties

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

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

Here is my newly submitted review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I did on my Portlandia vacation

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

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

Pambla lizzardLiz birdnerd

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

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

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

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

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

Xoxo dragonfruit

Xoxo tinysucculents

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

Pambla lizzard

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

Xoxo yaleunion

Xoxo redd

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

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

Portland greywall

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

Portland caferamp

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

Portland bikeshop

Portland scooter

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

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

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

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

Editing Wikipedia 101 session from AdaCamp

After the Welcome and introduction and first session of AdaCamp in Portland I joined Netha Hussain and Rosie Stevenson to facilitate a session on editing Wikipedia. Everyon in the room introduced themselves and talked about their connection to open knowledge, information, and wikis. There were several people who had never edited Wikipedia.

We started by briefly describing what a wiki is. It is a collection of documents that are editable by multiple people; usually each page has a revision history and some transparency around who made specific edits. So, you can see who wrote which bits in a document with multiple authors. Often, a wiki page has words that are linked to other pages in the wiki. We accepted that we were mostly talking about Wikipedia here and acknowledged that “what wikis are” and their philosophy has a rich, interesting history.

Netha talked a bit about her work adding useful information from medical textbooks and journals which she started doing as a medical student.

Rosie jumped right in to an example of the kind of work she does; taking a biography of a notable woman who has a Wikipedia article in a language other than English, and creating an English language Wikipedia article about that woman. She had an example prepared. “I like that there’s a photo of her and she’s dead,” Rosie said enthusiastically. I chimed in with, “I *love* dead people!” We tried to explain why we love dead people. It is because editing the biographies of living persons is often a lot more contentious than writing about people who are not around to mind that you’re writing an encyclopedia article about them.

We paused to discuss what “notable” meant. There was not time to get into it, but Notability as defined by Wikipedia policies is an often contentious point, and often applied with gender and other biases. It is therefore important to try to establish the notablity of your subject, whether that’s a person or some other topic, by including good references that show they are important or significant.

Rosie’s example was Ángela Figuera Aymerich. She created an English language page for Figuera Aymerich. We all helped go over a brief tour of the page editing view. Rosie knows a little Spanish and uses Google Translate to read the source page. She made a very basic page with one sentence. We pointed out edit summary box where you can describe what you’ve just done.

Then we added a reference. Rosie did a search to find a book that talked about Figuera Aymerich and found one in Google Books. She used an online tool to format a nice looking Google Books citation for Wikipedia, then copied and pasted it into the edit page.

A new editor asked if it was ok or if it is considered rude to edit someone else’s sentences. Someone else explained it is not rude, but can take some tact. Often, men don’t pause to ask themselves that question, they just jump in and change things around. This is a good example of gender differences in the ways we begin engaging and the assumptions we make about interaction and collaboration.

This led us to do a quick tour of the article’s Talk page. Every article in Wikipedia has a “meta” page called hte Talk page, where people can discuss what might or should go into the article.

We then touched on adding images. Rosie advised always using images from Wikimedia Commons, because they will be licensed correctly for use in Wikipedia(s). If you have a properly licensed photo or image you want to use that isn’t there, you can go through the image upload wizard which will walk you through adding it to Wikimedia Commons. Then, use that version in your Wikipedia article. We did this all a bit too fast to follow.

There was some discussion of Categories, what they mean, how to search Wikipedia for articles similar to the one you are about to add, to see what categories it includes.

Categories that identify gender or other identity based information, such as “Women writers” or “Women writers from Bilbao” and so on, can be contentious topics. I talked a bit about how this is often exactly the sort of information I’m looking for that I consider valuable and important. But other editors or admins sometimes label this information as “sexist” or irrelevant, undoing important work.

Some of the new editors in the room wondered why anyone would be “a deletionist” so we discussed that a little bit.

It can be a good starting point to edit existing articles, either from a category like Articles needing cleanup or from some area of your own expertise, a book you’re reading, or something you’re learning about for which you have good sources that you can cite.

It was a good session! Several of us had lunch together and talked more about Rosie’s passion for translating articles from one language into another! She spoke very movingly about the politics of translation, especially as it is relevant to women’s history. If we don’t put this information online, it can more or less disappear from public awareness.

Supporting The Ada Initiative, and making more room

People ask me all the time what they can do to help change our culture. How to get more women in F/LOSS, in tech, get more women coding and working with us? I have a suggestion! Please donate to The Ada Initiative! I realy believe that it’s helping, and wil continue to help!

Personally I donate monthly to The Ada Initiative as well as participating on its advisory board. Over the past couple of years I’ve benefitted directly from The Ada Initiative as I see conference after conference put anti-harassment policies into place, which TAI has worked hard to facilitate.

Earlier this summer I had an amazing experience at AdaCamp in San Francisco. The Melbourne and DC AdaCamps bore fruit too, as they connected so many women in open tech and culture with the communities I’m already part of, and made us visible to each other.

The synergy from the feminist hackerspace discussions at AdaCamp SF led to the first meeting for a new feminist hacker and maker space in San Francisco. After a whole weekend of talking at AdaCamp, it was like we couldn’t stop! I ended up with a dozen or so fierce activist women in my living room describing their vision for how we could make actual physical room for our projects and ourselves, a space we would invent, define, and maintain. It was really a dream come true.

As an long-time feminist activist, I have felt tremendous relief from the amount of peer support I’ve gained from working with The Ada Initiative. The people who are part of TAI have a tremendously sophisticated view of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and what we need to make it happen. I deeply appreciate the professional commitment of everyone at TAI and everyone I met at AdaCamp! That’s part of why I’m posting to ask you to donate. It’s important to make support for women in free and open source tech and culture truly part of our infrastructure. We can do that by funding that work! Here’s some ways to donate!

Donate now tai

Put a gear on it: The Art of Steampunk

This morning I’m reading the gorgeous review copy of The Art of Steampunk (the revised second edition). Its full title is The Art of Steampunk: Extraordinary Devices and Ingenious Contraptions from the Leading Artists of the Steampunk Movement. It’s a coffee table paperback, with beautiful photos of steampunk art and short articles, focused on the 2009-2010 Steampunk exhibit at the Oxford Museum of the History of Science.

The photos are awesome, glossy and often full-page, and I liked having a collection of them. The art is admirable! I especially enjoyed Mikhail Smolyanov’s motorcycles and Jessica Joslin’s mechanical animals.

Jessica joslin animal

My favorite art piece by far is Joey Marsocci’s Amelia Earhart Navigational System which has a brain in a bubbling, steaming jar on top of what looks like a wooden radio cabinet and which you can type on to get audio clips of Amelia Earhart’s voice (as a paranormal connection). It looks completely amazing, and I’m a sucker for anything that’s a complex framing of history. Here’s a short video about the piece:

Richard Nagy’s steampunk laptop designs are also just great!

As I read The Art of Steampunk this morning I spent some very enjoyable time looking up the artists and their work. I think this book could be a fun starting point for anyone interested in adding some biographies to Wikipedia, and their notability is easily sourced.

I am very fond of analyzing anthologies, who is in them and why, how genres or cultures are defined, looking at who’s in the index or table of contents, and so on, all in a political context. It is a lifetime habit! As maybe is obvious from my enormous anthology project on Spanish-American women poets I particularly like to look at the inclusion and non-inclusion of women.

Of the 17 artists featured in the museum exhibition, or at least in the book’s description of the exhibition, only 2 are women. The book’s introduction says,

Although it’s technocentric in styling, Steampunk design is definitely not just a “boy’s club” of enthusiasts. Its fans and creators are equally divided among women and men, young and old alike, from around the world.

Claims to diversity stand out to me in anthologies when they are not actually reflected in the work represented. It would be better, I think, to acknowledge the diversity represented — in this case artists from several different countries — and also acknowledge where it is lacking or flawed.

A section at the front shows work and biographical profiles for eight more artists whose work was perhaps not known to the book’s editor until after the exhibition, and the work featured dates from after 2009. 6 of these 8 artists are women. I note it as an improvement in apparent diversity in the book, even if it was not reflected in the museum exhibition.

I was somewhat annoyed, in this context, that the book’s editor referred to Mary Shelley in another attempt to be “diverse”, but spelled her name wrong.

While reading this book I thought of postcolonialist steampunk and Jaymee Goh’s blog Silver Goggles, always worth reading. I like her critiques of racism and colonialism in steampunk communities and the framing of “what steampunk is”. Beyond Victoriana: A Multicultural Perspective on Steampunk by Ay-leen also explores, well, actual diversity in the culture and its representation.

Beyond Victoriana is the oldest-running blog about multicultural steampunk and retro-futurism–that is, steampunk outside of a Western-dominant, Eurocentric framework. Founded in 2009, Beyond Victoriana focuses on non-Western cultures, underrepresented minorities in Western histories (Asian / Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, First Nation, Hispanic, black / African & other marginalized identities), and the cultural intersection between the West and the non-West.

The Art of Steampunk didn’t overtly focus on pith helmets and celebrations of colonialism but it does not go deep into the possibilities despite its sweeping claims of diversity. So while I love the book, I wish that there were more of it!

Thank you, allies

Yesterday at work I joined some guys to go from the 7th floor to the first floor to find the community room. None of us had been there yet, as it is a new space for Mozilla. We looked around the corner to see some stairs. There were a couple of guys working at reception in the building lobby who came over to talk with us. Here is where the experience got unusual!

One of the guys with me, co-workers I’m not sure I even know, said to the building staff, “Hi, looks like we can’t get in this way. Can you give us directions for how to get into the first floor space?”

I nearly died of shock. The usual thing here is that a group of people I am with blithely go down or up the stairs leaving me alone to work it out, and maybe I show up 15 minutes later. Or at best the temporarily-abled folks look confused and someone tries to figure out if someone should stay with me or if that would be an insult to my independent living skills.

How nice it was to just be part of “we”. Some of us could have got in that way, down the stairs! Usually “we” go down the stairs while one of us worried about how “she” will be able to do it. Yesterday it wasn’t “we” and “her”. It was just us! No one made a big deal of it! No one fussed or acted like I was embarrassing or in the way! My grinch-like heart grew three sizes, y’all. Or, maybe… one small layer of armor could come off, and be set aside, for that day.

We all went out of the building into the rain, around the corner, through two badged entrances and a set of fire doors and a ramp, to go to the All Hands meeting.

If only that weren’t so rare of an experience.

Last week I arrived at Open Source Bridge to find the floor marked out with blue painters’ tape “travel lanes”. It was a shock. Someone had thought about it. Someone had been at AdaCamp, or at WisCon, or had done some research, and put a useful accessibility tool in place. I didn’t have to ask for it, it was just there. A surge of feeling welcome came over me, as it did at AdaCamp. I was involved in planning AdaCamp in any case so I knew the access would have some effort put into it. Open Source Bridge thought about it without asking me to organize it. What a beautiful surprise.

The travel lanes and other things like good signs about what was where, meant that I could move around the space, and it was easier for me to participate, talk with other people. It benefited many other people, not just me. It made the space more usable for everyone. Though, I have to hold in my beliefs that improved access for ONE person is enough. To keep asking and going out, I have to belief that I am enough; I deserve it. Other people’s work welcomes and includes us. This last 2 weeks, that belief solidified and expanded inside me. I don’t just deserve to ask and fight. I deserve to be welcome. We all do…

Usually, and I’m talking about 20 years here, my experience is that I ask for a specific thing that would make my participation easier whether it is independent or respectfully interdependent. Like at my hotel in Portland where I asked for the key to the lift to get into the building, to be kept in the lift and turned on. I ask for something reasonable. Then get a reply that it is impossible, inconvenient, forbidden, risky, against the law, against their policy, and so on. I might break the lift. Someone else might steal the key. Someone else will USE the lift who should not; people with luggage, kids playing, people who are just lazy and can “obviously” walk. I might hurt myself by operating the lift. Why do I think I am so special to get this exception? Why is this uppity cripple in my face? It’s just a key! Someone will always be there to operate the lift for you (they weren’t. at all. and never are.) Keep in mind this is a lift like any other one a disabled person might encounter and they are designed to be operable by people with disabilities. Anyway, I did persuade the hotel people to give me a loaner key for a $25 deposit. More on this later. But the fight I had to have to do it, and the level of assertion, armoring, fighting, repetition, knowing I was annoying people who were just trying to do their jobs, was very wearing. (It is important to me to be persistent, to ask, and to ask respectfully, until and unless it is necessary or strategic to escalate.)

In contrast to that thorny knot of fierceness and anger, here is how good allies like my co-workers at Mozilla, all the attendees and organizers at AdaCamp, and everyone at Open Source Bridge helped me feel as a participant in a shared space:

kid on scooter in ballroom
Kid on a scooter in a ballroom

This good story happens more often for me lately, and I think back on when I first started using a wheelchair around 1993 or 1994. The attitudes were so much worse. It was rare to find anyone who understood even square one of what things were like, and disability rights, and non-medical models of impairment and disability, access and mobility. I had a magazine called Independent Living that was not very good but was still helpful and like a beacon in a storm. Then I had the great good luck to get into contact with the Disabled Students Union of DeAnza College where there were seasoned cripfam warriors. Now…. these days… it blows my mind. People major in Disability Studies. People who aren’t disabled. They think about it! They have maybe taken a class or read a book. There are multiple awesome textbooks of disability history! Grounding in history is amazing. It bears fruit. Imagine that, education helps!

It’s really heartening.

I may be muttering “fuckin’ walkies” under my breath less often while I put on my patient face and smile. What a relief.

In celebration of allies, here is another photo of a kid on my scooter. A goat kid!

scooter-baby-goat
baby goat on a scooter

A few words on Aaron's death, and sadness

I am very sad about Aaron Swartz’s death. We spent last weekend just devastated and in shock, then went to his funeral in Chicago. The shared sadness united us all. I feel for his family and his partner Taren. Aaron’s father spoke at his funeral, and his defense lawyer, one of his brothers, and many friends and colleagues. Larry Lessig’s words about feeling protective especially brought me to tears. I wish I could remember everything he said as it resonated with many things I felt but didn’t have coherently expressed even to myself.

I did not know Aaron well on the level of having the intense intellectual conversations that many people had with him, though I enjoyed reading his blog and supported his projects. I mostly knew him as my partner Danny’s daughter Ada’s kind and loving friend, as he was close to her mom for years and they lived with him or stayed with him often. She talked about him often and their games and how he would take her swimming. He was the grownup who would play with her the most instead of doing grownup things like making you do your homework. I would see Aaron at family events like Ada’s nursery school graduation, holidays and birthdays, or, ubiquitously on Skype while Ada talked with her mom and Aaron would pop up clowning around to make her laugh with all their running jokes. They made movies together and had a great relationship. Of course, I love anyone who loves Ada so dearly, appreciates and cares for her. As Aaron did.

And I felt towards him how I feel as a 43 year old intellectual feels toward brilliant creative people in their 20s or younger. Fond and and a little protective from a distance, admiring of their daring, their bright energetic path, and looking forward so much to what they will do and will become. Respectful of their maturity while waiting to see how it deepens. I don’t mean to make too much of generational differences, but as I hit middle age I am aware of those differences in a complex way.

I did not plan to do anything at his grave but then was gripped with the feeling that if I participated in putting earth on the grave I would be acknowledging everything and that it would be right. His death wasn’t right. Despite being there I can’t grasp that it really happened and he is not going to be around.

So many vivid moments from the funeral and afterwards. I will never forget Seth at lunch as we ate grilled cheese sandwiches, kindly turning to me in his deliberate and quiet way saying, as if remembering each word from a foreign language or trying to eliminate all the letter E from a sentence, “I always try to remember, when I cry a lot, it’s important to drink water.” I obediently drank my glass of water. A funny little detail. I would wish for no one to cry so much as we did. But when we do, it’s good that we take care of ourselves and others. Thank you Seth.

We are all reeling from Aaron’s loss. There will be a memorial for him at the Internet Archive next week and I believe also a hackathon in his memory at some point. While I feel the sadness many people do, supporting Danny’s daughter is one of my top priorities right now just keeping things going in a normal way and food on the table, appreciating her funny dances and fantastic stories, writing in runes, just listening to her, bringing over her friends to play. It is beautiful, and heartening, to have children livening things up like an overflowing fountain, and we all watch them and press each others’ hands in desperate appreciation of their beauty. Life goes on, and we are happy. In the middle of the happiness we are crying a lot and will be for quite some time.

Aaron’s loss is a loss to the entire world. I feel the surge of determination and fierceness surge through my friends who are geeks and activists. This helps me deal with the sadness on an abstract level, but not on the personal level. Of course Danny and I have read pretty much everything everyone wrote about Aaron and his work and his death over the last week. I don’t feel like I have to say something clever or do a giant link round up of it. I think we are all trying to transmute grief into hope, belief, and action. Where that will lead, I don’t know.

3D-printed broccoli

On Caltrain this weekend I shared my wifi with a guy traveling with a huge metal suitcase. As I turned to talk with him he saw my Noisebridge tshirt and said he was from Hacklab.to in Toronto and was going to be at Noisebridge this Wednesday (today!) As we chatted about hackerspaces he started pulling things out of a little black laptop bag. Twisty mathy-looking things but nicer quality than any 3D printed object I’d seen come out of a Makerbot. Some of them he’d sanded and puttied, some were sanded and then he’d made molds of them and casted the objects in what looked like lucite, and all the mathy things had equations penciled on them. “And this is the world’s first open source 3-D printed vacuum cleaner!” Chris said as he reached into the magic bag…. It was basically a tube with a socket for a tiny cheap motor and a place to put a filter. My son was staring with his mouth open at the array of stuff in my lap. “And this is broccoli!”

Yes… 3D printed broccoli. Chris had CAT scanned a piece of broccoli and then printed it. Awesome! I realized from that, I have a CD somewhere with a CAT scan of my brain, and with the right file conversions I could potentially print my brain!

IMG_20120415_195904.jpg

Chris had a telescope lens he had printed and a paper which I skimmed there on the train about the process & pitfalls of making good quality lenses with a printer.

Come to his talk tonight at Replicator Wednesday, at Noisebridge, 6pm.

Chris will talk a bit about 3D printing and types of printers in general, the software ecosystem around 3D printing, his experience making *lenses* with printers, and his project implicitCAD written in Haskell… (there is some documentation of implicitCAD here at github.

Anyway, it was a truly great random encounter. I love when this sort of thing happens! It turns out Chris is also a finalist for the Thiel Foundation 20 under 20 fellowship — I hope he gets selected!

Bad invention: The Catula!

The Catula, or Cat Spatula, is a ridiculous invention meant to help kind-hearted cat owners to move their cats from one place to another. It would gently pick up and move a cat from a shady place on the floor to a new, sunny patch. If your cats are asleep in a cute position on a chair or the couch, and you want to sit down, just use your Catula!

cats in chair

I came up with this in 2003, picturing it as a thin sheet of plastic with handles attached. Then recently I saw this video for a motorized conveyor belt picker-upper-thingie that can move a smear of ketchup and mustard without disarranging its smeariness. The video is oddly hypnotic, as the disembodied human hands swirl the ketchup with a spoon into increasingly more messed up ways, then pick it up and put it back.

This would obviously be perfect for sleeping cats – if only it were completely silent. Not a hair out of place!

It’s really the perfect bad invention. It would never work, and having a special gadget just to avoid waking up your cat, well…