Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Geek culture changes

I have gone from working in places where I have about 4 computers on my desk plus root everywhere to working for Silicon Valley startups where people bring their own laptop to the job and no one has ever seen a terminal window before. Most of the bloggers I know (and support at work) deal with their blogs and web hosts entirely from ftp desktop clients. And at someone else's fairly technically oriented workplace that shall remain nameless, just the other day, I over heard two people talking:

Q: So why do you people use those window things? And why are they always those black screens? Is it like, to look like The Matrix or something?
A: Um, well, I think it's just a culture thing. It's old school. Or something.

As I was reading through scads of comments on and the forums on I thought about how some people post stuff like "and here's how I like to indent my code", with examples. Actually I like reading that stuff and when it's super simple, all the better. Yet I never post my own notes and habits and cheap unix tricks, because I'm embarrassed they aren't super whizz bang hackery but are just my thoughts on vim vs. vi, or notes on how to change my csh prompt to be different colors. Why don't I post on that stuff? I might start. How many times over the years have I gone to look something up and ended up on A ZILLION TIMES! (Thanks Akkana!) I'm not posting for programmers - actually I might be posting for the bloggers who are only just trying out their new shell account and want to know what it can do.

So about geek culture changes. Aside from people who don't scream when they see a command line, what about the deeper culture? I was reading Rebecca MacKinnon's post Silicon Valley's benevolent dictatorships and thinking back on all the pocket-watch-toting, vest-wearing, oddball sys admins I've known. MacKinnon (heavily quoting Danny O'Brien) describes how U.S. geeks put a lot of trust in technology and the internet:
we have come to depend way too heavily on a small number of Internet and telecoms companies to conduct the most private and intimate details of our professional and personal lives. As long as those companies have values aligned with our own and are run by people we think have integrity, we don't see a huge problem. But what if the values cease to be aligned or political circumstances change?

While I agree with MacKinnon that a company's leaders are important, I suspect that a lot of power right now is in the hands of sys admins, quite often the actual benevolent association or intersection of hippies and hacker-anarchists who inhabit university basements and run the backbone of the net. They're also powerful in determining what happens. I think about what is happening and how it's partly about a cultural shift in what people think the Internet is - rather than it being something you get your hands dirty in, that you play around with, where you bother to go read the RFCs even if you're not writing them... something that people like you are *making*... you shift it and its policies - you are its state and government - to something you consume or use that is run by far-distant giant corporations (whether they are trustable or not is not the point.) I wonder about younger generations of sys admins. Are they DIY in spirit - and have they been activists? That matters too - along with privacy policies which in theory are set by legal departments and corporate heads - because the people who will implement that stuff often care and have influence.

Digg this

Bloggers haul in tons of free stuff

I forgot to post about how I got a free camera! Whoever does the marketing for Flip is a genius, because forever more I will go around explaining to people how awesome my FREE CAMERA is. Plus, it has the satisfaction of a well-designed toy.

Whenever I mess around with it this is what happens:

People end up grabbing it from me. It's so toylike that people aren't scared of it. When was the last time you grabbed someone else's video camera out of their hands and started filming? NOT... you'd be scared to touch most of them and you'd want the manual.

For years I have refused to deal with videocameras because they're huge and expensive and have a million parts and I break them and lose the tapes, etc. But for months I've been playing with this Flip Video gadget and loving it. It only has a few buttons and doesn't do anything fancy. It doesn't have a million different "modes". There is no annoying charger to lose so that the gadget becomes useless. It runs on a couple of AA batteries.

You turn it on, hit the record button, and have got 30 minutes of video. I tried it out without reading any instructions, and everything worked as I expected. When I hit the red button again, it stopped recording. Then when I started recording again, the camera was clearly making a new short video clip.

That's it.

Only time in my life you'll hear me say that I'm happy not to have a lot of options. No! I don't want options! A little bit of zoom is just fine!

The lack of cables is also amazingly great. The USB connector flips out from inside the camera like a freaking switchblade. When I plugged it into my Mac, it installed its own software on my hard drive. The software is nothing too special or fast. Though it did the job, it was somewhat horrible. It downloaded all my short video clips into the flip software, and showed me -- much like in iPhoto - an array of the clips, with a simple play and edit interface, and options to name and save each clip. I can upload them straight to YouTube. All of that is super handy.

But it was WAY handier to ignore the Flip software completely.

Just plug it in and treat it like a flash drive, drag the files off it, edit them (or not) and upload clips to Google Video, YouTube, or (for super short clips) to Flickr.

After I finish messing around with this video camera, I'm going to give it to Moomin. This is really a perfect videocamera for little kids -- and for me.

You can zoom in an out a little bit. The video quality is not all perfect. But I sure don't care. It's funny but the video "quality" or resolution is the last thing I care about. I just want something cheap and convenient and easy.

Though... I recommend you get a cheap tripod for it to avoid embarrassing shakycam. The camera has a little screw-holder thingie on the bottom for a tripod. I'm thinking of keeping a small GorillaPod in my backpack for times when I'm planning to film more than 20 seconds.

Because when you give this camera to little kids (or me) you might get this, or this:

My other free stuff lately was all BlogHer conference swag:

gwendomama with headset swag

Free Bluetooth headset from Zivio! It's called a Zivio Boom and came with a jillion different little earpieces. I like the changing colors on it and how the antenna-microphone retracts - it telescopes back into the body of the headset. It's tiny for now, but I'm sure in 5 years we'll laugh.

This was the other Best swag from BlogHer:

best blogher swag

Clockwise from upper left: KY lube, manicure set in sunglasses case, nail polish, 1GB flash drive bracelets from PBS Kids, Topix power outlet splitter (nice!!!), 1GB flash drive (from KY), snapfish gift card, stickers, Merci chocolate (LOTS), blogher heroes book excerpt, Word Girl comic book again from PBS, Zivio bluetooth headset (!!!!!), more KY, pens, Tmobile gift card (7 days, 20 bucks, super great, putting it right in my backpack... along with the lube).

Oddly I got a vial of "Zen oil" or some aromatherapy thing from Zivio as well. It smells nice and has the effect of Tiger Balm. I used it all this week on my forearms in the spot up near your elbow that hurts when you type too much. Why aromatherapy-tiger-balm with the headset? NO IDEA!

My 10 year old friend who cruised the sponsor rooms got a free Didj, which is sort of the next generation Leapster gadget for older kids.


"Stick with me, kid," I whispered. "Cute kid plus wheelchair, poster child city, they can't resist, we're going to own the world." She laughed in outrage... but took the free stuff.

The whole conference I was sending people off to the secretly good tables to get the best free stuff. "Flash drive bracelets at the PBS table" I'd mutter. All the mom bloggers would be off like a shot. I was left holding my coffee talking to thin air. Oh man. We love the free geeky stuff.

Now, the down side of this whole bloggers-get-free-stuff shtick is the utter crap. Mostly that is books. I don't know why! I love books! I love really good books. Why are there so many bad ones? Bad ones in my mailbox? It's a mystery... Come on now. Keep nasty booksss, send awesome gadgets. I will put stickers and EL wire all over these free gadgets ONLY IF THEY DON'T SUCK and pose for photos licking all the free cameras and computers you care to fling in my direction.

Digg this

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Who are we women bloggers?

We know where we are. But who are we? What are we as a group? Are we a thing? Are we a group?

This might sound weird from a feminist anarchist geek. But I had an epiphany at work during a marketing meeting.

Gina, our head of sales, was trying to describe to the rest of us what it's like to explain blogging to Fortune 500 company ad executives. They're used to putting people in demographics, and defining types of people who they recognize as categories. There are understandable archetypes like "soccer mom". There are "communities". The companies know that things can be viral and that online advertising is the way to go and that blogs are cool. But how to explain what we are? Who we are? Why we're powerful? Why we're not a fad?

Digression: At the first couple of BlogHer conferences I was not convinced that the conference sponsorships were a good idea. They didn't sway me. I felt marketed-to in a way that wasn't quite comfortable, or that felt slightly off. I wondered why it wasn't like other tech conferences, other blogging conferences. Why because we were women, didn't more big tech advertisers or companies come to us and sponsor us? Where were Apple and Microsoft trying to sell us laptops or giving us cool schwag - after all, we were hard core bloggers and geeks enough to go to a blogging conference.

And yet, the conference was fabulous, and I felt that even the companies who didn't get it, I had some respect for them just for showing up and putting up some cash. Maybe we were an experiment. They were trying to get in on this rumored wave of online stuff even if they didn't know how. This year, things were different. There were insane levels of corporate sponsorship, but the way it was done mostly didn't feel odd or wrong or presumptive that all women were a certain way. It felt like they were *getting it*. I didn't feel alienated. I was charmed. While it was strange to be having a KY sponsored party in Macy's lingerie department while drinking chocolate vodka and eating cookies, there was no way not to be charmed by the strangeness and by the free 1GB flash drives. Rather than showering us with glossy, expensive brochures we would just throw away, they put their product ads on flash drives that we'd find useful. That gave me a warmer feeling than the cayenne in the hot chocolate vodka. (Despite the perturbing heteronormativity of the lube's his and her packaging, which gossip I will repeat that hippietastically we had asked them to offset with equal amounts of her and her packaging but the ball got dropped somewhere.) It was smart marketing to women who love their computers - whose computers are important parts of their lives. Same with the clever presence of PBS Kids. They gave out stuff that you'd actually want to give to your kid - again with the flash drives, this time as bracelets. Mood rings. Stickers. Comic books. And even if you didn't have a kid, you were a kid once, and might like to see Grover and Grover's puppeteer in person in the studio that PBS set up inside our conference. iRobot had demos and a raffle for Roombas, and also sponsored a latte cart. How civilized is that -- don't just market to me: make me *like you*. Free lattes at a place that I was fairly desperate for nicer-than-hotel-coffee was smart.

That's very different from the old wave of internet advertising and marketing, the clumsy approaches that feel like this: We guess who you are, without listening. Then we tell you why you're interested in this thing. Then we beg you to blog about it. Then we measure our success by click-throughs.

Think of radio advertisements. A sponsor takes a ball game, something that people want to have. And says, "Hey. We're cool like this. We love baseball. We make Blahdeblah Product. We're helping it be so that you get to hear this baseball game on the radio." Internet ads need to be more like that. Radio advertisers didn't have little implants in our brains that gave them precise metrics of whether we *that second* turned our eyeballs to look at a Blahdeblah Product. Instead, they banked on our experential happiness, our participation and investment in the ball game. We'd have a good feeling about the game and our enjoyment, and associate them with it, like a friend. Instead, bad net marketing grabs your head, forces it into a vise clamp and makes you look away from the game and at them while you fill out their survey. It's intrusive and untrusting, essentially unfriendly.

What I realized during our meeting: we aren't a consumer demographic. We aren't the metrics. We aren't defined by what we consume in the mental model of 20th century markets. We're cultural producers. Through our blogs, we have open, mass access to the means of production. We're unmediated and unfiltered, if we want to be. We're also banding together to control how we're mediating and filtering. A big medical company might try to hire writers to tell their "true stories" of being moms with cancer. But they would never hit the grass roots authenticity of I can read that site and completely trust that it's not the zombie brainchild of Big Pharma. I read BlogHer and trust that, while it's got ads on it and (now) big corporate sponsors, it's not a department store mannequin's version of "what women want". It's what women actually got together and said they wanted to do. It's not a marketing category.

We are something new, a category not quite defined but still coalescing, something like Bluestockings or the French revolutionary feminists who ran their own newspapers in the 1830s. But unlike those tightly knit salons of intellectuals, we are a mass movement, a populist movement, with plenty of muscle and -- collectively -- economic power. We are not quite like what some people are trying to define us as:

* "the Association of University Women, who also shop"
* "the white 30-something soccer moms who write cutesily about only diapers"
* "men with boobs and social skills, who influence their network of friends"
* "sort of like journalists, but with no self esteem and you don't have to pay them"
* "computer geeks lite, who want a pink iPhone" (okay, maybe that one)

Or whateverall they seemed to think we were.

What we are: a mass social movement of women who are moving into the public sphere. We are not depending on authority to tell us what or who we are. If we don't fit into a demographic or a marketing category, that doesn't mean we don't get a public voice. We are redefining "what women are" in our society and the shifting marketing and ad markets are evidence that our redefinition is being heard. Publishers can say "Your story is too harsh. It'll alienate readers. Change it. Your main character can't be a black woman. Write about something else. That story about your special needs child is too depressing. " Sure, they can say it - and they do. We tell those stories anyway and find they are deeply wanted and needed by other women.

We're more like the women of the 1800s who started to be able to make a living from their writing. (Though men generated an enormous backlash against them and trivialized their work as being from a pack of scribbling women... babblers and amateurs who appeal to the crude taste of the masses and are not Literary Enough (for... what exactly?).) Have we hit critical mass, finally, with blogging? Can we end run capitalist patriarchy? Are we successfully changing it as it co-opts us?

Older feminists are standing back in a mildly skeptical way. Oh yes, we've heard this before, now is really the moment when we can all tell our stories, across class and race and gender and all barriers, and our histories won't be lost. Right. We've never heard *that* one before. I really believe it's true this time. We have to fight to keep it true, and to keep control and power in the hands of regular people, accessible to everyone. Keep that access to the means of production, cultural production, out there, and keep spreading it.

And by that I mean things as simple as: fight your local library not to block MySpace from their public access computers.

I also felt this deeply at the Global Voices Summit in Budapest. The technology is to the point where mobile phone are ubiquitous in developing countries. A protest happens a country's mainstream media can't cover it because of censorship or a threatening political environment, and yet videos go up on YouTube. Fighting for universal access to a decentralized Internet is crucial to our future, and all areas of this fight need to tie together and be allies.

So who are we and what are we? Women who are speaking, who are consumers who talk, sort of like journalists, sort of like authors; we are conscious, individually and, more and more, collectively, of our power to speak and be seen in the world of public discourse. We have jobs and we're in public, we're out of the domestic sphere, but our thoughts, the way we're framed in public conversations, in the media, isn't yet all the way out of the domestic sphere. My point is that we are no longer containable by old style media. We aren't an elite of "influencers" to be courted and co-opted. We're journalists who write about who we are, not what we're told to write, like a million mommy-blogging Hunter S. Thompsons writing The Curse of Lono instead of their assigned sports article.

Digg this

Monday, July 21, 2008

Butch as hell sys admin hacker women who will kick your ass

From a few completely different sources I have heard of nascent conferences to train women how to talk at tech conferences. From everything I have seen, women know perfectly well how to talk at technical and computing and web 2.0 conferences. But I still see posts like Stowe Boyd's in puzzlement asking "Where are the women speakers?"

I would like to offer myself as a resource for tech conference organizers who can't figure out how to find "the most qualified" women speakers on particular topics. Ask, and I will help to hook you up. If you find a speaker you are happy with based on my recommendations, then pay me per successful connection. I propose as well that if you usually lean on the few geeky women you know to diversify your conferences, pay them in the same way.

So, back to that issue of speaker training. Great idea, valuable service. I'd like to question the idea that women don't know how to speak at conferences. Wait, I thought we were the communicators, the ones with the social skills, the teachers and professors, used to being heard by an audience. It's not just about women who don't know how to present themselves - it's also about people who are so complacent in their own circles that they don't know how to listen to the qualifications and capabilities of amazing women.

Digg this

Thursday, July 10, 2008

BlogHer in Second Life

The BlogHer Conference is coming up next week! We'll have tons of people in BlogHer in Second Life where there will be an entire conference track. Take a look at Erin's outline of the BlogHer Second Life Conference schedule.

Would you like to transcribe one or more of the voice sessions in 2nd Life for the IRC relay? If so, please contact Erin Kotecki Vest aka Queen of Spain,

I am especially happy that the schedule includes Jen and Aleja from GimpGirl, an online community for women with disabilities. I go to their 2nd life meetings (though I attend only in IRC and not in Second Life itself) and there's been some great presentations and conversations.

Here's the schedule!

BlogHer in Second Life '08

DAY ONE, Friday July 18th

9:00-9:15 AM (live from San Francisco, CA)
Welcome to BlogHer '08 from the Westin St. Francis Ballroom in San Francisco

9:15-10:15 AM
"Speed Dating" for BlogHers in Second Life

10:30-11:45 AM
Second Life Break-Out Session #1: The Intersection of Blogging and Second Life
Led by Cybergrrl Oh (aka Aliza Sherman), and featuring:
Ana Herzog (aka Nancy Hill)
Gidge (aka Bridgette McNeal)

12:45-2:00 PM
Second Life Break-Out Session #2: Second Life and Security
Featuring Padlurowncanoe Dibou, formerly in charge of Hillary Clinton's in-world HQ

Second Life Activity in Exhibitor Area

SecondLife Open Mic and Party
More details on how to be part of the Second Life Open Mic

DAY TWO, Saturday, July 19th

9:30-10:30 AM (live from San Francisco, CA)
BlogHer '08 Morning Keynote: Hybrid Media

10:45-12:00 PM
Second Life Break-Out Session #3: SecondLife as Educational/Training Tool
Padlurowncanoe Dibou
In Kenzo (aka Evonne Heyning, Creative Director and Interactive Producer for Amoration)
Fleep Tuque (aka Chris Collins from the University of Cincinnati)
Dannette Veale (from Cisco)

1:45-3:00 PM
Second Life Break-Out Session #4: Using Second Life for Good
Led by Susan Tenby and featuring:
Connie Reece
Jennifer Cole and Aleja Ospina, the women behind

Second Life Activity in Exhibitor Area

5:15-6:15 PM (live from San Francisco, CA)
BlogHer '08 Closing Keynote: Living the Truman Show

Digg this