Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hacking City Hall

My experiences with activism, and also my peripheral awareness of politically savvy friends, taught me some things that aren't automatic knowledge. In this case, I would like a 4-way stop sign at an intersection near my house. I would also like curb cuts -- sloping ramps from the sidewalks to the street -- at the busy intersections along my street, between the grocery store and the many apartment buildings and the two schools. And incidentally... to my house.

If you saw me in the street with my 7 year old at 8:15 am this morning you would understand a little bit better. It is hard for me to find a place to cross the street. The curbs and driveways are steep. Some driveways I can go up and down, and some I can't, especially if I'm tired and hurting. Meanwhile, my kid wants to walk next to me, but I won't let him, so I'm trying to herd him by shouting, and keep us both caught up, and teach him traffic awareness and how to cross the street, but while I'm in the street and we are separated by parked cars. Giant Hummers and SUVs driven by people talking on cell phones fail to stop when they see me, even when they're at stop signs, and they blow past me at 40 miles an hour while I'm out in the middle of the road going past parked cars with people getting in and out, parallel parking with vans full of kids. It's a nightmare because the drivers are careless and distracted and ill-tempered and inconsiderate. Because we don't have school buses in this district, everyone has to walk or has to drop off their kids on the way to work. The police circle the block, giving tickets to the worst offenders.

So, what to do? I need to be able to cross the street in my wheelchair! At an intersection! With my kid!

I looked up some addresses on the city web site and wrote a couple of emails months ago. When I realized that didn't have any result, I figured I'd go in person to City Hall and ask questions. Procrastination ensued. I continued wheeling my wheelchair in the street whenever I needed to get groceries.

After three days of walking my son to and from school during periods of very heavy traffic, I lost patience with the situation. A few years ago, I watched my friend Elaine work the machinery of the city, and her position as president of the Moms' Club, to get a stop sign at a busy intersection that was between her house and the local playground. It benefited everyone in the neighborhood. I saw her do very similar things to get shade structures and bathrooms in some of the local playgrounds! But if it were not for seeing her go through that political process, it wouldn't have occurred to me to do what I'm doing now.

city hall

So! I went to City Hall. I asked at an information desk who I should talk to about sidewalks, ramps, and stop signs.

Step one. I explained briefly what I was looking for at the information desk. The information desk person told me to go to Planning.

Step two: The guy at the Planning desk told me to go to the Public Works building. I asked him more pressing questions, and he responded that maybe I could talk to someone in Engineering, but that would not help and the people responsible were in Public Works (across town.) Since those were the people I wrote to in the first place who didn't respond and I didn't trust his information and I didn't want to pack up my wheelchair and drive across town and unpack myself into the wheelchair again, I told him I was going to go upstairs to the big sign I could see that said "City Manager" and "City Attorney" since I suspected there was some more direct path to action. He seemed mildly perturbed. I smiled with sharky politeness.

Step 3: On the way to the elevator, I told the information desk person #1 (nicely) that the person she had sent me to didn't know what I should do next.

Step 4: Upstairs, an information desk or reception person for the City Manager seemed to know what I was talking about and what to do. She looked up some information online, and wrote down a name and phone number and email of Rich, the Traffic Engineer, and his assistant Peter, who were just downstairs next to the Planning desk I had gone to in Step 2.

Step 5: Someone came to talk with me at the Maps and something-or-other desk after I waited a few minutes. I gave my two-sentence summary of what I would like. She asked if I had an appointment to speak with Saber. I said I did not, but I would like to wait and speak with anyone who could explain the next steps in the process to me. She said things that indicated everyone was very busy and went away. I waited.

Step 6: An engineer, Brendan, came out to talk with me. We went over to a low desk that was pleasantly wheelchair accessible, with a large, lightweight computer monitor that swivelled around. I explained to Brendan, and showed him my map of the 3 blocks between the grocery store, my house, and the school. On it I circled the places I wished for curb cuts, and the intersection that I think needs a 4-way stop instead of a 2-way stop. I asked Brendan what I should do next to request these things from the city, through official channels.

(Here is where I would not have known there *was* a way to do this sort of thing, if not for the local Redwood City Moms' Club and its email list, and my friend Elaine.)

(I would like to point out the many steps before this actually productive step; Expect delays, and uncertainty, and people who don't know what to do next or who to refer you to; Don't get mad at them, but keep patiently asking different people until you hit the good one who will say, "I don't know, but let's go find out.")

Step 6, continued: Brendan listened intently to my explanation. He said that I should do separate requests for the stop sign -- for which there was a known procedure -- and for the curb cuts, which no one understands, which take longer, and which will cost a lot more.

Then, Brendan he explained what I should do and what would happen next. I should write a letter to the Senior Engineer, Saber. I gave a feral grin and whipped out my computer. There was wireless. I wrote the letter and showed it to Brendan across the desk. He said it looked okay. I cc-ed the letter to one of the school principals and to my housemates, the only people on my block whose email addresses I know offhand.

Then I took notes on paper for what he said next. Here is what will happen and what I should do:

- Write a letter proposing the stop sign (done!)
- Write a letter proposing the curb cuts.
- The city will respond within a couple of weeks (someone is on vacation)
- Engineering will order a traffic analysis, just from the fact of my request letter for the stop sign. They will put those tube things across the street and do traffic counts, and I think they'll do a pedestrian count as well.
- Meanwhile, I must get signatures from the people living at the four corners of the intersection. Brendan called up an application that uses Google Maps, and we talked about how some of the buildings at the corners were single family and some were apartments and some were duplexes. The more signatures from those addresses I can get, the better.
- Also meanwhile, I must get signatures from people within a 1-block radius of the intersections.
- Brendan was aware that the neighborhood has many Spanish-speaking and Guatemalan/Salvadorean/Southern Mexico-native-language-speaking immigrants, so he advised me to make my petition bilingual and also warned me that people might be wary of signing things for various reasons.
- Meanwhile, a letter will go out from the City to everyone on the blocks near the intersection to explain the traffic analysis studies.
- Then, the engineer makes a recommendation to the City Council in a staff report.
- A public hearing will then be scheduled for the City Council to discuss the stop sign.
- It is important for people who want the stop sign (or curb cuts) to come to the meeting, because if only people who are opposed come, it might sway the council.

Brendan explained other issues in excellent detail. He called up fles on his computer, and swivelled the monitor around to show me the screen. The main thing we looked at was the list of criteria that the city considers in its recommendation: how many cars must flow through the intersection in an 8 hour period, but the ways around that as well; pedestrian count in smaller time units is considered along with average speed of cars going through the intersection. That was interesting! And useful! Brendan said he would find out if he could email me that document, and gave me his card.

We discussed strategy for the curb cuts a little bit. He mentioned again that they were quite expensive and he had never seen anyone request them, and so there might be a bit of confusion as well as reluctance from the city. But that there was probably money for it somewhere. "Well, I think there has to be, because of the ADA," I said in a friendly way. I hoped that would indicate my total willingness to work through their process, but would show that I am aware there are legal rights involved here, and laws that specify things like sidewalk accessibility. While I don't think we have to go there, it seems good to at least mention the law.

I have some good ideas. IN addition to pounding the pavement for signatures, I could go speak to a middle school class at both schools, and perhaps enlist help from a social studies or civics class. I could explain the process I went through, and get some older kids to knock on doors and get signatures. Then I will not have to do some much physical labor, and a bunch of kids will learn something about local political processes and how to effect small changes.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Organizing BarCampBlock

Here's a few notes on my experience with planning BarCampBlock.

A few weeks beforehand we expected around 100-300 people. We had emails from around 5 different office locations in Palo Alto letting us know we could use the space. We could not block off the street because the permit process from the city was expensive, time consuming (requiring months of work and meetings). Also, some of us felt that blocking off the street was unnecessary or would not help us have more room for speakers and sessions. Two weeks before the event we started kicking into high gear. Chris was designing the gear for the event and ordering it, Tara was working to do the maps and signage and registration info packets, I was going physically to all our locations to talk with the BarCamp hosts about what the event would be like and what we would require. Ross, Chris, and Tara did the fundraising. Chris was extremely good at knowing everyone and knowing who to ask for what. Tara Anderson did a considerable amount of the shopping and equipment rental. Ross spread publicity far and wide and used his personal mojo to get people excited about the event. For promotion, I put the event on Facebook, Upcoming, and of course we all contributed to the wiki. But it was Ross, Chris, and Tara who had the social capital to pull a lot of people to the event, and then once a few Internet Famous people like Mike Arrington and Robert Scoble signed up on the wiki and blogged about it, we knew a ton of people would come. (Though I did promotion and outreach, my own social pull runs to more like 50 people, not in the hundreds; this was interesting to think about.) I also had a private wiki page with phone numbers and contact information for everyone involved with the planning; a large amount of people since we had increasing amounts of locations and volunteers. Gathering that information was a lot of work. Mostly, I thought ahead to what would be required to make a comfortable, useable, useful space for participants. And I thought about who would need to know what information to make that happen.

About this sort of logistics. As a military history buff I would say that it is a bit like being a general. You can look at a map, but nothing substitutes for going to a location, looking around, and envisioning crowds. What will they need? How will the landscape change with extra people in it? People need a constant supply of food and drink, and they generate a constant stream of rubbish. They need seats, surfaces, light, and shade. They need small private spaces and large gathering spaces. They need bathrooms and a lot of toilet paper. They need information; thus they need maps, signs, fliers, arrows and other geographical orientation tools. Though BarCamp and other unconferences and temporary implementations of anarchy are about the distribution of authority, people need to know who to go to for information or help. In a role playing game for example (another collaborative activity that is oddly relevant here) I am great at worldbuilding, at creating a feeling of solidity. For any discussion (as with a classroom) we need whiteboards or paper up on the walls, and projectors are nice; blank paper scattered about was also useful. Just as Sam Gamgee mutters constantly in Lord of the Rings about the usefulness of rope, I mutter about tape. Duct tape! Blue painters' tape! Clear packing tape on giant rolls with metal teeth! It is great to have all kind of tape and just salt every space with it; I also carried several kinds of tape around with me in my backpack. With giant post-its, tape, and several kinds of marker, I was able to change the lay of the land when that was needed, with a minimum of fuss.

I loved how smoothly registration went, and the unloading of all the materials at the last minute. I also loved the wireless team, the guys from Meraki and Etheric and Griffon Walker who does IT and network for Socialtext, and Cliff who totally rocked but whose last name I did not know. So many people pitched in to help, and they worked incredibly hard. I really do love that feeling, which I often had at the big housing co-op I lived at for years. Burning Man has spread that idea very well among my generation. For me it comes from being a commune-loving freak at heart. I enjoy reading socialist poetry about the beauty of wheelbarrows, and I like to do hard satisfying work while other people are also working.

What did we do well?

- We provided good space and structure.
- We distributed power, authority, and responsibility.
- We didn't micromanage or overstructure. There was a large amount of freedom and unstructured space and time.
- We encouraged people to have good habits of thinking for themselves and finding things out and stepping up to be active participants.
- We reached out to many people to invite them to the event.
- We brought many people into doing the work; volunteers!
- We listened to people, what they needed and wanted, and their priorities.
- We raised a large amount of money at the last minute; thanks, sponsors!
- We connected many creative, intelligent people who might not otherwise have gone to a tech conference and spoken to each other.

Volunteers on Saturday were incredible. I particularly want to thank Sarah Dopp and Hilary who works out of Citizen Space. Sarah is someone I knew I could rely on to do anything; given a sketchy description of a situation and a possible solution and pointers to tools, she takes charge, thinks through details, and gets everything done. Hilary headed up quite a lot of moving trash around; early in the day I pointed out we could put boxes of trash bags next to each trash can, and asked her to rope people into doing trash patrol every couple of hours, and to pass off that job to someone else once she got sick of it; it happened throughout the day like magic. Adina Levin and many more people asked what needed to be done and then just pitched in and did a ton of work. I appreciated their intelligence and hard work.

I was happy about a moment where there was a problem; we had mistakenly put the Searchspark conference rooms - three of them - onto the schedule in the afternoon, when their space needed to close at 2pm. But luckily, the Echosign and Riviera spaces were almost completely empty for the afternoon. So I sent people to put up signs at Searchspark, and told everyone around me to look at the names on that block of time for the schedule and find the people involved and tell them if possible; and then I moved the sticky notes from one block of space to the other and crossed out the original time slots. I made sure that sessions in rooms with projectors went into new rooms that had projectors. As far as I know, this caused only minor confusion and hassle, and the sessions went smoothly.

The inclusion of children. We might have more kids today; it was just 2 or 3 on Saturday. I like for children at a conference to be around and visible, not stashed away somewhere remote. It worked well to have a room full of unstructured creative toys & comic books. With more kids, we would need to pull in more volunteers and have a schedule. I think this is quite doable. Infants and toddlers are much more difficult and would need more space for there to be noise.

The vibe. The vibe was good. It was mellow and friendly and not snooty or cliquey. It wasn't frantic. Instead I felt people were relaxed and curious, thinking and talking. That made me really happy!

Flexibility and adaptability were our main virtues as organizers. I think to situations I have been in, and events I've headed up. I can say that Chris and Tara are people I like to have at my back. They have lots of practical common sense as well as vision, and they work very hard when push comes to shove, which I respect a lot.

What could we have improved on?

- Less party focus. I was not in agreement about the usefulness and value of the Blue Chalk space for sessions and DemoCamp, and was dubious of the need for the party. During planning phase, I was a bit of a party pooper. I fought to make sure the main BarCamp rooms remained focused on talks and discussions sessions, not on social space and beer. On the other hand, serving beer outside in the courtyard would bring us into various difficulties I did not want to deal with. I would prefer for BarCamps to be BYOB. Big parties in a nightclub are so 1999 dot com boom. And, most geeks of the BarCamp type would prefer to sit around talking, with laptops at the ready, rather than being at a loud party with music. (See what I mean about my being a wet blanket for parties!) Ross likes a party, and Tara Anderson likes to organize a party, so we clashed somewhat on this.

- More advance planning. If we had done more logistic work and ordering of the schwag a few weeks before, it would have been cheaper. On the other hand, if we'd done it all a few weeks before, we would only have ordered 200 of everything rather than 500-100 of everything. So, our leaving things to the last minute may in this case have helped.

- Earlier setup. Since it is a somewhat nomadic conference and has to spring suddenly out of nowhere and disappear again, it has to happen fast. But, I would have liked to have more physical prep, and equipment and supplies, on the ground in our HQ, a few days earlier. Even one extra day of prep would have been good -- I can't physically pull an all-nighter, so have to plan work in advance; I think many people were up till 3am on Friday night doing the prep work. Yet even with out that advance time for setup, everything still got set up on time! And the event went smoothly on Saturday.

- Nailing down the details on the "camp" part of the evening. We didn't organize this, and we didn't know who, if anyone, was planning to sleep over in the Socialtext offices. A day or two before the event, I realized this, and tried to get a person to commit to stay and keep the office open at least late if not all night. But that person did not materialize; in retrospect I should have put out this call on the wiki as soon as I knew it might be a problem. Since I went home early, and did not hand off my office key, I don't know what happened in the evening!

- Trash logistics. I worry that we did not do recycling very well, and that we could have done trash and recycling more responsibly, planning to haul it and dispose of it rather than filling up the dumpster space for our community, and possibly inconveniencing our neighbors.

- More advance notice to neighbors. I did flyers and email through the property management company and condo association for the residential neighbors on our block. But I thought of this and did it last minute (when it became clear we had a 1000 person event not a 100 person event.)

For all the people I promised to have a Real Talk with later, please take me up on it. Email me or call me next week, and let's have lunch or coffee or you could come by the co-working Palo Alto office and we'll conspire.

Thank you to everyone who came to BarCampBlock. YOU ROCK!!!!

A next-to-last note. I had no problem handling this event from a wheelchair (and often, with some responsibility for one or more children). At this conference, less people bothered to ask me about my wheelchair or about disability issues. (Hard core geeks: "What? your mere physical shell has a minor modification? Why would I even notice, let alone comment on it?") Mostly, people had good wheelchair manners, and did not bump into me excessively or do the more obnoxious things like ask me if I'm dying or degenerating, or start pushing my chair around or leaning on it; thanks, geeks.

Also, a final note. Clean up your trash! 8-)

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What happens at BlogHer... goes on teh Internets

Uh oh, I had a beer in front of a videoblogger!

In which I tipsily endorse Batman Pez for President, since he will be my puppet.

I wasn't the only one, but where are the videos of other people making asses of themselves? Then you can see it properly in context.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

K'vetsh in August

I do love this literary reading and tonight is a big crowd for Heathen and Zara Thustra, so I might as well blog it. Also, my leg hurts a lot tonight but I don't want to go home yet, so blogging is a way of concentrating on something other than my annoying body. A fine trick - I recommend it.

The hill here on Mariposa is forbiddingly steep and difficult for a wheelchair and I could not do it alone. So my car is parked up that hill! Eeep!

Meliza kicks off! Mexico City visiting the map and multiplying x times y. 66 poem or prose poem series. Sarah Dopp is reading! Awesome recitation of long poem! "I lost it slowly..." Jon Longhi now reading short piece... "When Chaos was in college he steered away from all earthly possessions... ... and whenever Chaos jerked off, he used it as a come rag." Heh! I lost track of what the thing was, but it was pinned with a thumbtack to a poster of Jesus. Then, pants on fire while on the toilet, stoned! Oh, Jon. Our MCs go on and on about "My Dumps" by Peaches which I can testify is great, but first you must watch "My Humps" video AND the My Humps cover/parody by Alanis Morisette which Peaches parodies. Emchy reads from fabulous new chapbook which I have a copy of (just got it have not read it.) Tara Jepsen and Michelle Tea go on about the TV show "The Wire". I love Tara's comedy.... and the couple of short films I've seen. She and Michelle's energy is good... Featured reader now, Zara Thustra. Who is dressed and tattooed very charmingly... Sabina reads her autobiographical piece on gay "halfghans. alvin orloff. novel excerpt. I could just keep listening to Alvin's story of Martine and her fans in the dive bar in the Tenderloin... Oh no, Emchy's heart pen is missing! We ahve a pen thief. There is a band local called Lesbians. (Really?) ONe more open mic... Carrie or Keri... with a long thing in the voice of a "Minnesota woman" whose husband leaves her. It was sort of dull but that was the point I guess. Heathen Machinery reads! Ways to kill the baby! Awesome. Pulling the belly button thing off with a pop like a can of Schlitz. Poisonous dog poop safety pin injection! Rad. I am very happy as everyone in the room is squicked. The crib bars and the dildos! OMG THE AWESOME! Her aunt and chihuaha and collecting sand dollars. Also strangely disturbing. Another story of her and her cousin and their playing "house" and stuffing dwarf oranges up their nostrils. Then, the wedding and imagined "You!" declaration. Heathen is excellent! No wonder there is a crowd. And lo, it was not all hypeass smoke & mirrors.

Nico reads with a disclaimer about using this reading as motivation (failed) to write some new poems. The piece Nico is reading is more prosy sounding to me. Indians and Pilgrims at Thanksgiving dinner and having a hamburger in some deli... Our MCs do a thing about "Massholes" and Massachusettes and trashy moms fistfighting and mini golf courses on Route 1...

Charlie Anders reads a very hilarious personal ad email. Justin read about penguins, vultures, and love... Fran reads a good poetryish-in-places story about dyke bars.

We ducked out before the end - It was running very late!

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

In which I feel pissy about DRM and iTunes

It's the same old song as everyone else has already sung, but man do I ever hate the Apple DRM junk in my trunk. I mean stabbity stab stab! I bought this damned album on vinyl once for 12.99 20 years ago, and then I bought it on CD, and the cd got stolen but luckily I had taped it on audiotape, and then I couldn't find it anywhere bcause it was out of print nad was deliriously happy I could find it and hear it again by clicking 99 cents thing on iTunes. And that was several years and several Macs ago and now the damned song doesn't work! For fuck's sake, how many more times do I have to buy this song before I get to archive it without a waste of the world's resources?

I was contemplating how very broken things are in music distribution. Books too. I want to own the electronic copy for whatever I buy, and then be able to get or make a physical copy of it. To record and manipulate music so I can hear it in my car. To print it or get print on demand in some graceful way. Whatever! But having just a book doesn't satisfy me either because I want to cut and paste and quote bits of the book, fair use style, or search the book, or index it or annotate it. Think of it this way. I am willing to do a fair amount of valuable cultural work -- FOR FREE -- which benefits us all. Art is a contribution to the world and all art builds on other art. We need to be able to expose the connections and references. It is not information I love best, though I do love it. It is meaning. Meaning created by context and for there to be context, people have to be able to access it.

This rant inspired by my resolve to get on line and buy all the CDs possible by Dressy Bessy. I got something by them on a mix CD, and then went and downloaded more, and now love them and feel a blinding loyalty. I would like to directly give that band the $12.99 and NOT buy a CD with packaging that I will likely ruin or lose anyway. Just make it so that somewhere, it is recorded on heaven's unchangeable heart (i.e. the motherfucking IN-ternets) that I bought this music and have the rights to mess with it under whatever nice license they like. Then, if I lose the CD or my hard drive crashes I will still have the rights to interact with the bit of cultural product that I gave currency to.

iTunes of course does NOT do this... but has planned obsolescence, which I consider one of the evils our species has unleashed on the world.

Where is the lovely open source non profit Registry of Cultural Production and Rights... or the international agency... even as a part of a government... a beautifully organized repository?

That would be my own killer app.

Where I could register my intent to translate something, and pay the original author of it... Pay them directly. And then translate and publish. Think how beautiful this killer app of copyright would be for translation as well as books and music.

Or genetic material, or whatever.

(Somehow I am thinking as I say this, on the back burner of my mind, about OLPC (which is lovely in many ways but I have a big BUT) and Dil's gold bangles from whichever Patrick O'Brian book that was. The same fallacy of physical objects and possessions and property, the same middle class assumption that the important things is STUFF.)

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People I met at BlogHer; and the swag

Here is a giant bigass post with links to all the people I met at Blogher. It was often a blur of meeting people who recognized me because I am recognizable with the purple hair and all. But then I would forget their names unless they had badges on or I already knew them from long conversations from previous years. And then people who I sort of know or felt like I should know better than I actually remember knowing. And already it's been a week since the conference, so I've forgotten what were at the time very cool connections. YOU KNOW HOW IT GOES. (Talking to someone 5 minutes secretly thinking omg who are you who are you i totally know who you are but your hair is different now until it clicks, thank god because I often can't fess up that I don't know.) Sometimes, I was smart, and made a note on the business card of what we talked about and what I intended to do as a result. "email to her Sondra's info" or "damn this guy is pushy" or whatever.

What I really want is for all these fabulous geeky women to come to BarCampBlock in Palo Alto, August 18-19. Come! I'm helping to organize it! Sign up on the wiki, on, on the Facebook group, and/or on EventBrite. Also, I'd like to see them all again at She's Geeky in October, -- Oct 22-23 in Mountain View!

First and perhaps illogically the people I already know. My amazing roommates at the W, SJ of I, Asshole who I have known online since my first days of blogging. And her friend Shauny whose name I only knew peripherally from years of seeing it in SJ's sidebar as her web host and I think blog-mother -- Shauna who is like a rock of sanity and interestingness and I could just wait for the next hilarious sarcastic thing to come out of her mouth. And I love SJ's business card: "Generous Lover + Writer + Dope Bitch / Super Jive at your Service". This year, we refrained from the secret topless photos of last year, but I could not help down-blousing her a couple of times. Someday the world will be properly at her feet. She will be like Molly Ivins, except boozier and dirtier.


Annalee Newitz from Techsploitation and I hung out a lot. We did at SXSWi as well. There's a funny balance at conferences between hanging out with new people and hanging with people you already know who are from your hometown. You want to be around the people you already know, and connect up with them because you don't see them enough. But on the other hand if you do that too much you never meet anyone new! And then I'll go through a process of thinking "Oh well if I want to see Mary then I can just call her the hell up, why don't I?" and vowing to call her when I get back home. But with Annalee, because we know each other so well, it's like being in a warm bath. So when I get overwhelmed by conference or need to process it all with someone super safe, you will find me texting the shit out of Annalee with "Where r u" until we meet up and can hang out and relax. I was super happy she came to BlogHer, and so proud to hear her being smart and articulate as hell at the keynote with Esther Dyson and Rashmi Sinha. Anyway, it's a long way since the days when she would go "Blogging? Why! Full of drama! Just be a professional journalist and get paid!" And she kicks so much ass! And so I was happy to see her see that BlogHer is one of those places you can be all the parts of yourself at once, asskicking, geeky, and human. I really liked what she said about BlogHer; I feel the same way, and this sums it right up.

There were tomboys, mommies, punks, tarts, ladies, bitches, nerds, and girls. There were professional women in suits and perfect hair, and grubby rockabilly gals in tattoos and tight dresses.

Because so many of us were there, we stopped being women and just became humans. This is an incredibly rare experience in the tech industry.

I have three different cards from Mur Lafferty. I am totally going to stick my tentacles into Mur's brain. We could not talk for more than 30 seconds without shrieking "NO! I must see that! Send me the link!" I vote her Person I Most Want to Be New BFF With. I will let her ride my bike, and chop the hair off all my Barbies, and post in my group blogs, and and and. I will also buy a "Mur's Bitch" tshirt and wear it with pride. I wish I had spent more time just following Mur around, and especially with laptops open and the links flying, but the hanging out we did do was so nice it felt like we had known each other forever.

Possibly the nicest down time at the conference, me, Annalee, Barb Dybwad, Mur (whose novel thing you can find at Heaven seasons 1, 2 and 3, Gina, Jason from, Marshall, and then later SJ, Shauna, and Susie. Beer in the sink! Computers at hand (but no good wireless)! Pizza on the floor! Conversation flying! Screaming laughter!


I hung a bit with Beth Kanter, whose blogging I admire and who is just Fun. She laid a whole bunch of stuff on me at my request about blogging and wikis and nonprofits and in fact she has some enormous wiki squirrelled away that explains it ALL. I will link to that and write it up separately when I have spare brain cells. Amusingly... one of her Moo cards was a photo I took of her lying on the floor upskirting me at the FIRST BlogHer. Yes we are very very rowdy when you take 95% of the men away. Women's tech conferences are like a huge frat party but with more giggling and craft projects and light flirting. Just as you always suspected, guys!

I talked a bit (never enough!) with Dave Coustan and I'm linking to him even if it is a link to his benign corporate overlords. He is "extraface" on twitter if you want his personal life. And surely some of you do!

I hung out with my homie and fellow Woolfcamper Jen Scharpen, who works now for BlogHer Ads and for BlogHer itself!

And ended up with a card for Beth Blecherman who I know from meeting the Silicon Valley Moms Blog folks! Jill Asher was at the conference too I think, but I don't remember seeing her. OMG maybe she changed her hair and I *did* talk with her and she's one of the people I should totally know and yet only have met in person twice. I also don't know Beth super well, but always enjoy talking with her!

Deb Roby - I do not have her card on me, but know where to find her! We sat across each other at dinner one night at the W hotel and had a grand old time with the gossip.

Georgia Popplewell from Global Voices and Caribbean Free Radio, someone I'd like to know better, and didn't get that heart to heart talk with, but at some point I know we'll do that! Oh, she's fantastic!

You see the problem with BlogHer. It is full of amazing people to the point to where your head explodes. If you love to talk with smart, clueful geeks and writers, it's like being a kid in a candy shop.

Laurie White of Laurie Writes. We talked at dinner at the W about education and community college teaching and social class. I was trying to recommend the book "A Framework for Understanding Poverty" by Ruby K. Payne to Laurie. This is my reminder to do that! Or maybe she'll vanity-technorati and find this and will make a note of it. Also, you should all buy it and read it. It's a very good explanation of social class and of its hidden rules, and ways to translate culturally between classes.

Karen from Trollbaby/Vodkarella was so much fun at sushi... We and Queen Tureaud aka Erin (whose blog name for her kid is, get this, Queen Peanut Punk as Fuck) and whose writing I also read with interest elsewhere, Anyway my point was we were eating sushi and drinking sake and joking massively about bi-curious mommyblogger dynamics. I know what you are thinking ... when do these blogging chicks NOT talk about sex? I'm not sure but not when I'm around that's for sure. Seriously though, Karen rocks, and I am still very appreciative of the great blog redesign she did for me!

Okay, that is the people I already knew reasonably well, or at least the ones whose cards are right in front of me.

More later of all the other people, but this post is already way too long.

Just one more thing.

SWAG! The best stuff I got at BlogHer was the bags, as usual. The glowing martini glass entertained me for a while. And the AOL memory stick was also nice and made me feel warm and fuzzy, but I left it in a geocache at breakfast yesterday. Tiny hand mirrors and a couple of magnets, also good, and they'll stick around rather than being thrown away. So I am left with some stickers and flyers, and the main tote bag, and the awesome AOL body (?) laptop bag. I don't know what AOL body means, and don't care, but I think kindly of them in a general way now, instead of hating them for the litter of "free online access" CDs that infested the world some years back. The cocktail party food at the Childrens' Museum party rocked. That stuff was delicious!

Someone's missing out big time on the geeky-slogan tshirt selling opportunity, and the fact that everyone wants to mod up and decorate their laptops, and have a fancy unique laptop bag. I also agree with Lisa Williams that if they're going to give us hand lotion, which I like perfectly well by the way, it should have LEDs in it. YES. Just throw some girly shit at us, like laptop bags that look like robotic parts with rivets, AND sparkles, or light up hand lotion with a control panel, or futuristic star trek salt and pepper shakers that also have GPS in them. Ipod cases, etc. We are GEEKS and like gadgets, and little thingies to decorate gadgets, and useful things to put things into, at BlogHer!

I wonder how many tiny cute laptops and iphones Apple would have sold if they had set up something at BlogHer? What do you think?

Tools, also. Tools and gadgets that are cute and portable. I am thinking of how Radio Shack had a table at Maker Faire, and was selling fabulous small toolkits for 10 bucks. I bought one for the trunk of my car. NOW when I am trapped in an earthquake on the highway I will not only have moldering powerbars and boxes of raisins and bandaids! I will also have a full set of wrenches!

Cars were a really good idea too at BlogHer 2006. I bought a car last year, and I hated the process with white hot blinding passion and I had to deal with slobbering sexist jerks at the car dealership.

I'll write more later or tomorrow as this is part 1 of at least 3 posts on BlogHer. Part 2 will be the other people I met. Part 3 will be the panels I was on and that I went to! No wait. I need Part 4 for the Unconference in which I talked about wikis for like 6 hours. That's it, peace, out.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

In which I am cranky and grateful about access in Chicago!

(I wrote part of this before BlogHer but forgot to post it!)

Anyone other people with disabilities going to BlogHer, by the way? I have not tried to mobilize to find out, but I'm wondering.

I am going to be able to get around town pretty well with regular taxis. My wheelchair folds up and fits in a car trunk and I think my hotel is close (though I have not actually checked! ) My main concern is that sometimes I just need to lie down somewhere. And I am fine with getting out of the chair and getting on the floor for a nap, which tends to freak people out. "OMG are you okay! Do you need help getting up! Did you fall?"


So, at BlogHer, the access was more or less okay.

The conference center at Navy Pier was very spread out, which means it's exhausting and sometimes time consuming to get around. For example, there was no bathroom on the same floor as most of the panel rooms. The first time I needed the bathroom, it was hard to find one and I went way off in the wrong direction, and then had to take an elevator to it. Plus, you'd have an event on one side of the conference center, and then another event on the other side, separated by a giant crowded hall and two elevators.

I loathe Moscone Center for this reason as well. It is just Too Big and spread out. WisCon, in contrast, is in a hotel that perfectly fits 800-1000 people. The elevator problem is still there, but the exhaustion of moving around a huge space is eliminated!

Buildings in downtown Chicago had worse access, on the whole, than ones in downtown San Francisco. There were more tiny custom-installed lifts, and less ramps.

Lifts suck because they are almost always locked or not working or both. They're loud, conspicuous, fussy, isolating, and clunky, and often they're installed in the backass end of nowhere of the building while your friends are all going somewhere else, either because it doesn't occur to anyone to keep you company or because they're not allowed in the tiny awful lift.

The main problem, though, is that they're kept locked and turned off. I flounced around Chicago telling building managers and security guards that it was illegal to keep the lifts turned off and locked. I don't know if that's true! But I can't imagine that it's not. It sucks, whether it's illegal or not. I'll go look it up and edit this entry later.

I ran into the "just two blocks" issue a few times. Someone would tell me somewhere else was just a couple of blocks away. It is always a mistake to believe this! It ***never*** is. Instead I found myself braving traffic and curbs and wheeling uphill 12 blocks over cobblestones, chain link fences, bricks, shark teeth, hot lava, and paths made of swords and darkness. Next time I will have prepared much better, with maps, and more phone numbers of taxis.

The big hotels were halfway okay. I became totally furious in the W Hotel when there was a ramp down from the lobby to the bar, but the ramp ENDED IN STAIRS. What the hell, people! I bitched. And rather than listen to anyone I told the hotel people to go away while I hobbled down the steps. I can totally do steps but it's somewhat painful and after all day sitting up in the chair, I was not in the mood. It is awkward, and people stare, and I'd rather they stare at me and think "Oh Cool" while seeing me in a confident moment rather than seeing me limp and lean. Not that limping is bad mind you. Just that I was NOT WEARING MY PITY SHIELD that evening.

So then at a super fun fancy-ass dinner with a gazillion bloggers I had to swear my way into a dark pantry closet with some manager with a key while all the other employees and various random people stared and thought "Oh look the crippled chick is going to go and pee..." And was vastly annoyed and told them to leave the damned lift ON... with a light on... and with signs that say lift this way and bathrooms upstairs with a nice blue and white disability access logo.

Screw them!

I won't even go into the Tale of the Sushi Restaurant and the Security Guards and the Building Lift and Chris Carfi helping me up the stairs! GAH. But I was grateful to the nice busboy who shook his fist at the non-working lift and who repeated my "fuck you!" that I yelled up the stairwell at the totally not-there security guard with the mythical lift key.

At City Centre hotel in contrast, I spoke to a polite manager once... and she was sympathetic. And the next time I came back to the hotel, I found this:


THE KEY in the lift!

That was so exciting, and it has never happened to me that a polite complaint has resulted in a policy change of this kind!

It was heartening beyond the happy convenience of being able to pee, get food and drinks, and talk with people upstairs when I wanted to... at my convenience... without fuss or frustration or delay.

Thanks, nice hotel manager!

BlogHer - nice hotel manager

About a week before the conference I think Elisa asked me if I knew any other bloggers with disabilities who would be there and what the issues might be. She was worried that I would not be able to ride the shuttle buses! I appreciated that concern. But the issues are sort of more complex than that!

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