Tagged: feminism

Women Hacking Glass – First SF community meetup

I’ve created an event for the first meeting of Women Hacking Glass in SF at the Mozilla public space.

Since I posted in G+ a few weeks ago things got busy and I didn’t have time to lean on Google like I’d planned to ask for hardware but then a pair of Glass practically fell in my lap when a coworker decided he didn’t want to be an Explorer any more so I wrangled a ‘donation’ to get his Glass in order to use them for community hacking with other women in the Bay Area.  I’m curious to see how the first meetup goes – what will we be able to create?  What kinds of feedback will we provide to the GDK developers who are working on the first version of a release?  What kinds of barriers will we hit with Mirror API?  I look forward to learning about everyone’s hopes and dreams for this exciting hardware and finding ways to hack our way to making them a reality.

Copy from the event invite:

Are you interested in learning how to make apps for Google Glass?  Don’t have the access to the hardware?

Come out to Mozilla SF and meet with other Glass Hacking gals to experiment with Android Studio, creating simple apps, getting access to Mirror API, and trying out your hacks on an actual pair of Glass that will be made available during WHG meetups for testing on.  Since there are very few people out there with the hardware, and few of those early adopter/explorers are women let’s work together to increase the numbers of women getting in on the ground floor for development (as well as being able to provide feedback to Google GDK developers) on this revolutionary new hardware.

There is a small (non-refundable) fee to prevent no-shows from taking up space – all money generated from this event will be donated to Mozilla Foundation via http://www.mozilla.org/donate

Prepare ahead of time:

* Have a google account

* Read https://developers.google.com/glass/quickstart/index and do as much of the pre-installation of tools/IDE that you can

* Think about your first app and what you want to learn to build

* Dream big, show up

For people who are interested in applying pressure to Google and showing them there are women interested in developing for Glass (the current Glass Developers group is easily 95% male) – go to http://www.google.com/glass/start/how-to-get-one/ and submit your request anyway, even though they say the waitlist is full.  My coworker can’t be the only person returning his pair and I trust Google will open more spots when they see a lot of interest.

Mozilla’s got projects for GNOME OPW Summer 2013

We’ve got 2 projects right now for GNOME Outreach Project for Women to apply to: https://wiki.mozilla.org/GNOME_Outreach_Summer2013 thanks to Liz Henry and Selena Deckelmann

If anyone else at Mozilla has a project that can be done in 3 months time (or at least give the contributor a sense of accomplishment and get them very engaged as a Mozilla contributor) feel free to add a project (and a mentor) to the wiki. Applications are being accepted via GNOME until May 1st.

One of my favourite things about this program is that it allows someone to ‘intern’ with Mozilla without the requirement of being a student. If you can help tweet/share the project, that would be much appreciated too. This project has been growing exponentially every session and is making a significant impact to FOSS community and culture.

https://live.gnome.org/OutreachProgramForWomen

My Progressive Benefits Dream for Mozilla

Recently I was approached by a co-worker to add my name to a petition about restoring the parental leave for Mozilla’s US employees.  At some point between 2009 and 2012 our leave plan changed without there being (to my knowledge) any formal announcement, transparency around the decision, or discussion of the impending change with employees.

As I was crafting my response to the request I thought this would be a good blog post since it states quite clearly what I hope Mozilla could strive for as a company with regards to how it provides benefits to employees.

Thanks for including me in this thread.  I’ve given it some thought and I’m seeing two very distinct issues here:

1) That Mozilla cut a policy without explanation, it looks to be by accident, and I agree completely that the old policy should be restored until a new one is put in effect with intention (and hopefully transparency)

2) That Mozilla needs a competitive and progressive leave policy going forward – this is something I am happy to help champion with adjustment to the current parent-focused language

I have recently been working on improving our benefits from another angle – trying to get our benefits to explicitly cover transgender surgeries – and I see the issue of being able to take paid leave as being very helpful to that ask.  Right off the bat, I wouldn’t want to support having gender-distinct parental leave durations, as this creates a problem for families who do not follow heterosexual patterns (eg: a man or men adopting a child gets less leave than a man/woman or woman/woman or even a single woman).  However, I would encourage us to think bigger and propose that paid leave should be a benefit available not only to parents.

If we really want to support diversity, I recommend we ask for (and get a lot of people on board with) a leave benefit that can be used to care for an elder, undergo surgery, adopt/birth/foster a child, write a book, pursue education, renovate a home, or anything that requires undivided focus away from work and enriches your life.  Imagine if your benefits at Mozilla allowed you 8 weeks (happy to shoot for more) of paid leave and the reason was up to your discretion.  What a measure of excellence we could have above current plans offered by other companies by recognizing a wide range of life-altering events that demand our attention.

Pushing our company to be more appealing to, and welcoming of, women and other marginalized groups is incredibly important to me and I want to see us grow our benefits and company culture in ways that encompasses more diversity. We should appeal not only to women for whom maternity leave is a priority, but also to women whose lives follow other paths, and show that Mozilla cares about the overall health and growth of all their employees with flexible plans that benefit the widest possible groupings of people.

For the short term I’m happy to put my name on this request to reinstate the plan that was never publicly revoked and call out the poor process there (lack of transparency and no announcement of potential change, no input from employees) but I also appeal to you and to others who participate in this request to consider joining forces with me (and some others who put in the request for transgender surgery) to draft a request for 2014 to create a Personal Leave policy and provide a benefit that enhances the well-being of all employees at Mozilla.

That’s the long and short of it.  I want us to be willing to discuss and consider our benefits in ways that do not single out certain choices or circumstances over others.  It may be how 3rd party brokers and the benefit providing companies create markets for their wares (reminds me of pink/blue toy marketing) but if we want to really have an ‘enviable’ culture and we truly value diversity in our recruiting efforts we should think outside of the boxes that have been created for us by the profit-driven insurance sector.

Daughter wins with Geek Dad who hacks video game gender pronouns

[x-posted from Geek Feminism]

Michael Chabon, in “Manhood for Amateurs”, writes an essay telling the story of being at the supermarket with his child, feeling quite run-down and barely hanging on, with his toddler in tow on a Sunday morning so as to give his wife a chance to sleep in. As he’s in line to pay, a woman in line with him says something along the lines of “You’re a good dad, I can tell just by looking”. At that moment he has this epiphany that to be a ‘good dad’ in our society one must merely not be in the process of killing a child in public whereas a women can rarely achieve the status of ‘good mother’ in the public’s ever-shaming eye. If they ever do briefly get told that, it is all too quick to fade with the barrage of societal and internalized messaging women get telling them they are never good enough.

Michael Chabon’s take was this:

“The handy thing about being a father is that the historic standard is so pitifully low.”

As someone who did not have a dad, I have nothing in my upbringing about what it’s like to be a young female with a grown male caring for you, teaching you, or taking an interest in your life’s outcome. Chabon does sum up for me the conclusions I came to, quite young, about these creatures called ‘fathers’. Growing up with my lesbian, feminist mother my understanding of the odds was that netting a ‘good dad’ seemed so low and I was convinced I was lucky for not having to participate in that particular life lottery.

To folks who did have ‘good dads’, this story might seem familiar to you, but to many it may come as quite a pleasant surprise. Someone I am proud to consider a friend had their blog post picked up by ArsTechnica today and, yes, the title of this article is very unfortunate but the amplification of what Mike Hoye did for his daughter is such a ‘good dad’ moment that I hope there will be ripples of this for months as well as more hacking of games to do even just that simple binary flip that helps a young girl see something more like herself as the hero of the stories the games people play are centered around. Imagine for a moment if we could take this kind of hacking to children’s television and movies. Those are immutable objects for now, but video games? Well, Mike has proven that a bit of hacking can go a long way.

Because I am fortunate enough to know Mike through my time at Seneca College where he was a regular mentor to our zealous open source program, I asked him if I could interview him for a Geek Feminism post and he said yes so we hopped into an etherpad and had a talk.

LB: Hi Mike!

First let’s be clear, you didn’t give a fictional character who exists only as pixels in a video game a ‘sex change’ but you certainly upset the dominant males-as-heroes pattern in video games by simply flipping the gendered forms of address in the text of the game where the Hero does in fact have quite a gender-neutral appearance. Does it feel radical to you to do this kind of hack?

MH: It certainly felt… transgressive. I’m an inveterate gamer and Legend Of Zelda fan, and the Zelda series revolves around some pretty well-used tropes. You know you’re going to be the hero, that there’s going to be the Master Sword, a bow, the boomerang, the hookshot… Changing something, especially something as basic as the nature of the characters, feels like it should be a pretty big deal.

But at the same time, it seems like I’m just solving a problem that’s stubbornly refused to solve itself. That option should always have been there.

LB: You gloss over a bit in your post, will you put up more details (maybe another blog post) of step-by-step instructions to help people who have less technical depth than you try to do this at home with their kids? Alternately, is there a way to package up what you did and distribute it without getting yourself put in jail (or heavily fined)?

MH: The way I packaged it up – by making it clear that you’ll have to find the original material on your own, but here is the tool you’ll need to apply the following changes – is the best I could come up with. As for the step-by-step instructions… I found the game’s disk image, opened it up in a hex editor – I used http://ridiculousfish.com/hexfiend/ for that, because it works really well with extremely large files – but once you’ve done that, you just need to make a copy of the disk image, and work on that one; just page around the file until you find the dialog, and then start editing it. The important thing, at least as far as the approach I took, was that you need to be extremely careful to use phrases that are exactly, letter-for-letter the same length as the phrases you’re replacing and make sure you can see the difference between a space (one kind of whitespace) and a linebreak, that look the same in the text but have different numerical values.

It helped me to use a very basic text editor with a fixed-with font, so that I could copy the phrases I was replacing out and work on them for a while without committing anything back until I was reasonably happy with them.

LB: I wonder if you handed this hack back to the game developers/publishers, would they be receptive to putting out the alternate version, considering how simple the hack really is?

MH: It’s unlikely that my approach is well-suited for that – I’m not building in an option that a player would be able to toggle. You either change the whole game or nothing.

LB: That’s a good point. Advocating for more options in the game defaults seems like a great tactic here over asking for entirely different releases of games.

Any plans for other games that you play with your daughter where you might want to make this similar adaptation?

MH: I don’t know – it depends on what she’d like to play next. We haven’t started The Ocarina Of Time yet, so that’s a candidate. But so much of this depends on whatever holds Maya’s interests that it’s impossible for me to say.

LB: It will be interesting when she grows up and talks to others about playing the game, perhaps slipping in a female pronoun. The looks of confusion from other players will hopefully make her laugh and perhaps feel bad for them that their dads didn’t take these matters into their own hands. My mom did a similar thing for me with pronouns in Dr. Seuss stories on characters that were too gender-stereotyped with no bad side effects so far, to my knowledge.

MH: God, I can only hope.

LB: Obviously you’re an accomplished hacker, what is your approach to hacking with your child(ren) in terms of meeting kids where their skills are at?

MH: I don’t have fully-formed thoughts about this yet. I’d like to start by asking Maya what she’d like to create – not necessarily out of code, but starting with carpentry or paint, and then helping her work stuff through. The only overarching principle I want her to understand is that she can, if she puts her mind to it, make and change things.

LB: Have you had to deal with any sentiments from your daughter that suggest she might get messages telling her that computers are ‘for boys’ or that doing anything hacky or tech-related isn’t ‘for girls’?

MH: Yeah, that shit is pervasive. It’s not so much computers – there aren’t a lot of those in school yet – but “boys do this”, “girls do that”, that starts awfully early.

I quiz her on it, when it comes up – Why do you think that? And the answer is always, always that one of the other kids, usually boys, in her class told her. It’s… disheartening, but you push back when you can.

LB: That’s interesting that your anecdotal evidence is that the boys seem to be doing more of the gender policing. In my experience it was more the girls who seemed invested in protecting ladydom.

MH: My sample may not be representative (interviewer acknowledges that hers wasn’t either) (also, it’s certainly possible that I’m not getting a reliable story from Maya, who has in the last two weeks claimed to be a girl, a boy, a crab, a moose and, earlier, a pentagon. So she may not be the most reliable narrator.

LB: Starting kindergarten can be a time when the gender binary really hits home for kids and the positive messages a kid gets at home start to become overwritten by the massive mainstream’s – are you having to up the ante in un-learning?

MH: She is in preschool, not quite kindergarden yet – and I don’t really have a clear sense of how things get addressed there – I suspect well, but I don’t know. Having said that, I think the old lead-by-example tropes are important. Mom and Dad treat each other with respect, even when we disagree, and insist that Maya does so as well. When she uses some other kid’s misbehavior as a justification for her own, we don’t accept that as an excuse, and occasionally admit our own mistakes as well.

photo of a child with a backpack ready to head out the door to school

Mostly, though, we just try to avoid television and Disney movies, and try to avoid books where the women are either helpless NPCs or props or both. It’s not always a perfect approach, because frankly there’s not a lot of those books out there, but it’s an uphill battle. But so is all parenting, so hey.

LB: Should we talk about the “P” word? Are there inklings of wanting to be a princess? Even if it was Princess Leia (who is now owned by Disney) would this fly with you and your particular approach?

MH: I don’t really know. We’re not there yet. She’s expressed as much interest in being a princess as she has in being a moose at this point, so I’m not super-concerned about it.

We’ll go through that phase at some point, I’m sure, but I just don’t want it to be the only phase she goes through.

LB: Love the moose stuff – where is that coming from?

MH: She has a shirt where the moose has antlers, so she holds up her hands to her head like antlers and says “MOOSE” and charges. It’s pretty great, unless you’re afraid of moose.

LB: Have you broken the news to her that moose are really big and stinky? Also a menace on country roads in Canada? :)

MH: For polite situations, she’ll hold up only one hand, and be a half-moose.

LB: You’re doing a great job here :)

Are you aware of projects such as: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/16029337/goldieblox-the-engineering-toy-for-girls ?

MH: Yeah, I gave them some money on general principles.

LB: Can you speak to what works/doesn’t for you in terms of making technology feel accessible to your daughter and what seems to entice her or dissuade her from the things we technologists might be taking for granted?

MH: It’s too early to say. Right now, she’s surrounded by the tech Mom and Dad use in our day to day lives, watching us work with it. She understands very quickly how to use it herself. So far, to be quite blunt, “Accessible” means “stuff I can manipulate without needing to know how to read”, which basically means touchscreens with icons or hardware with big buttons, where interactions don’t generally have hard consequences.

LB: That brings up a good question – what does Mom do with regards to hacking or owning/customizing things in a way that teaches curiosity and exploration of creativity? Are you a one-man show, or is a love of technology, gaming, hacking something the whole family participates in to varying levels?

MH: Mom has almost no interest in technology per se. It’s not her thing, but her hobbies – more artistic, craftier in general – are complimentary, and also something Maya’s taken to.

LB: So your daughter gets balance then, between those many areas. I think it’s great that you take such responsibility for transferring your knowledge and sharing your passions with your kids.

MH: I’m not sure how they learn any other way.

LB: Final question:
What would you list as starting point for useful tools/skills a geek or geek-leaning parent might want to have at their disposal tohelp them alter the tech realities around us in this way and other ways that upset the defaults?

MH: I don’t think there’s one answer to that question, certainly not one that’s less than book length or applies to everyone. The thing that you ultimately need to do is to believe that not only can you look behind the curtain, but that if you’re a little bit smart and a little bit careful, you’ll be able to step up and operate the machinery there yourself. That’s what I’m hoping Maya takes from this – there may be an infinite number of things in the world you don’t understand, but there’s nothing that you can’t understand, and a little patience, a little courage and enough small steps. will get you there.

LB: Thanks for sharing your approach here, Mike, I think you’re an inspiration for open source geek parenting and I hope we’ll see more of these sorts of hacks in the years to come until they are no longer even “hacks” but in fact, defaults or built-in options.

MH:There’s a lot of work left to do, but we’ll get there.

Tomahawk does many things right

Not too long ago I first heard of Tomahawk at one of our Mozilla Monday meetings – they’ve been working with our WebFWD initiative which supports open web projects that are moving the web forward.  Tomahawk definitely fits the bill for what the future of the web should be: music just plays.  Social, distributed, easy access to tunes through all the open APIs available – I can’t even begin to say how happy I am to be finally able to use this software.

I say ‘finally be able to use it’ because when I first heard of Tomahawk and ran to their site to download it, I stopped in my tracks.

Their original logo was a stereotype cartoon of a North American Indian male, wearing headphones.  I’ll let you do your own research if you want to learn why such a depiction isn’t culturally sensitive because that’s not actually the point of this post.  The point is that the people behind Tomahawk did constructive criticism a solid.  When, as a potential user, I saw this logo and took action by emailing them asking them to consider changing this inappropriate and stereotyping imagery as their masthead and application icon they said other people had contacted them as well, so they were aware and they were WORKING ON A NEW LOGO.

They didn’t get defensive, they didn’t say “we don’t see a problem here”, they didn’t try to justify their choices and protect their precious artwork.  They were already working on a solution, continuing forward momentum, adapting as they went, and being civil about it to boot. Who knows how many people contacted them? I might have been the thousandth and yet there was no hint of snark or beleaguered engineer who just wants to write software and not deal with all this soft, people-facing stuff in the response I got from Jason Herskowitz.  Thank you for that, Jason and Tomahawk.  I really hope this level of maturity catches on in the startup culture.

To give you an idea of how quickly they rotated on this; I emailed on May 14th and the new logo went into place today.  That’s slightly more than a month to revamp their site and update their installer and god knows what else (maybe business cards? stationary? do people still use that?).  This change isn’t trivial, but neither is the impression that original logo makes about a company.  I will proudly go forth now and rally support for this product that I have no doubt is stellar. I’ve been using it for the last 10 minutes since getting the email that the new logo was in place and let me tell you: setup was a breeze. I can also share this experience as a positive one with regards to taking the time to contact a company and point out a culturally insensitive aspect and seeing effective, mature, and expeditious resolution on that issue.  This is still rare enough to deserve an entire blog post.  I look forward to a future where this sort of thing is a more common dialogue and is always met with positive change and continued forward momentum instead of stop-energy and defensiveness.

Here’s the plug now:  Get Tomahawk!  It’s open source!  It will work with many, if not all, of your current web music accounts!  Support the open web and companies that move it forward!

More reasons to support the Ada Initiative

This week there’s been a tremendous amount of tech community churn with companies being called out for blatant sexism/women-as-sex-objects in their company promotional material.  Sqoot organized a hackathon in Boston and made a very big mistake in their call for participation which kicks off with the assumption that hackers would all be men, then continues with a misguided attempt at an apology that only suggests they are sorry I don’t have the same sense of ‘fun’ that they do (they have updated the apology to this, which I still find lacking).  This morning I woke up to the delightful twit-splosion about Geeklist.  I notice that I had never heard of either of these companies prior to their exposure from feminists calling them out which leads me to think about the long term impact for these kinds of internet altercations.  Much like how having what goes into a MacDonald’s burger exposed or seeing video of how WalMart treats its employees has shaped my physical world consumer habits, I suspect that hearing about/experiencing sexism (or a multitude of other poor behaviours) from a particular company will help steer my internet participation whether I’m already familiar with them or not.

What these events should remind us of is that there are people working on this stuff. Individuals, to be sure, along with bloggers and the tweet-verse but also actual companies like, for example The Ada Initiative.  They are experts at working alongside organizations, tech conference organizers, and open-source communities to help set up training, hiring processes, and organizational policies that would have helped both Sqoot and Geeklist avoid this kind of publicity in the first place by addressing their assumptions at a lower level.

If your company hasn’t got a Code of Conduct (and Mozilla is currently hard at work on creating ours this week after our own conflict a couple of weeks ago), if things are just being brushed aside right now or your employees are told to ‘lighten up’, then trust me: you’ve got a ticking time bomb in your organization’s future.  Not having something in place is not the way to deal with the tricky details that come with the admirable goal of a diverse workplace/community.  Sure, getting those things in place, making sure policies have teeth, and organizing some sensitivity training may not end all possibilities of people getting hurt or ending up in confrontations but I believe that setting the tone and getting a few ducks in a row is a wise undertaking for most companies with more than 2 employees and it most certainly won’t HURT. Once you have something in place, consider future occurrences of conflict opportunities to iterate.

Get in touch with The Ada Initiative today and figure out what your company doesn’t have in place yet that will give it the future you really want.  I’m pretty sure avoiding having your brand dragged through the mud in the eyes of approximately half your potential market isn’t in your business plan.

OccupediA – Women Contributing to Wikipedia (the first of many such events)

Last Thursday night about 8 women arrived at Noisebridge to learn how to contribute to Wikipedia.  Several things led to this gathering:

  • An article in the New York Times back in October drew attention to the lack of women contributors to the Wikipedia knowledge base and that got me thinking.
  • Having organized other spontaneous “women get together and learn stuff” events I figured I could take the same approach to Wikipedia contributing, get some women together to create accounts, generate content, learn how to stop vandalism and see what would stick.
  • Recent participation in activism around the Occupy Wall Street movement also inspired me to try and reach out to communities I am in who are not as technical, to encourage people to come first with knowledge and interest in topics Wikipedia could benefit from and let the tech come second.
  • A month ago Elsa and I were talking casually about all the the above mentioned things and we decided to just go for it and pick a date, throw it up on the Noisebridge (local SF hackerspace) calendar, and see what we could make happen.

We took over a small makeshift classroom space at the back of Noisebridge. It had one lamp as the primary source of light because the fluorescent holders above were missing their tubes.  A man was near the back working on a dress for fashion school, several other hackers were up front working on their various projects.  Noisebridge was a wonderful place to have this event. It feels like anything is possible in a space like that.

I was happy with the turn out – we had a mix of artists, educators, and tech workers. Also as a bonus one of the attendees, my coworker Boriss, was a seasoned Wikipedia contributor who was able to really detail the ins and outs of the different levels of participation.  I can’t stress enough how amazing it was to have her and her knowledge there because there are lots of misconceptions about Wikipedia (I definitely had some) and her first-hand knowledge was inspiring to me.

So the beginning of the meetup went well enough, and as you might expect.  We introduced ourselves, talked about why we had come to the event and what we were hoping to get out of it. We started in on learning how to set up an account if one didn’t already exist and we looked at discussion/history/edit and other basic navigations of Wikipedia space.  There were a lot of questions about what belongs in Wikipedia, neutral tone, citations.  The conversations were lively and I found them quite enjoyable.

Here’s what I didn’t expect: Getting folks interested and excited about Wikipedia becomes REALLY HARD in practice.  Unlike learning Python where the participants can hammer out some code on their own computers in minutes and feel accomplished, there is a lot more complexity to Wikipedia.  There is a lot of confusion about their UI, their purpose, who can do what and when. Very quickly it seemed that the women who had come to the event feared adding anything new to the knowledge base and they were also incredibly intimidated by the UI of the site. It wasn’t even clear enough how one would create a new article when none existed.

From this event I learned a lot about organizing and about the intentions of future events like this and I did a little braindumping while we were meeting so I could remember to list them later in this very post.

Things that would help newcomers:

  • Having a “new to wikipedia” moniker next to their nickname for the first N activities on the site (we have this on our Mozilla bugzilla) so that hopefully older and wiser participants would be extra nice to them
  • Find a way to make some of the simpler tasks that help Wikipedia (typos, reverting vandalism, categorizing articles) into a game that a new arrival could play that would start easy and then move more toward the real-life workflow of working on Wikipedia – as a way to warm them to the UI
  • Encourage newcomer to write a straight-up article and have a place for these things to be dumped for inpection/linkage/categorization and otherwise Wikipedia-fying the knowledge dump.  My partner is an English professor and can certainly write good content for Wikipedia but everything about the site is intimidating. There should be a page where she could copy/paste or upload a document of her article and then let people who know wiki syntax and the other requirements an article needs come along and finish it up
  • Make it way easier to find the “adopt a user” program that I hear exists but no one would know to find that from the Wikipedia home page

I will continue to organize these events, perhaps once a month. More reports as they happen.