Sunday, October 26, 2008

I am not The Wheelchair: Air travel and disability

written on the plane, the other day

When I enter an airport I'm in hostile territory. Dread and courage fill me. In addition to the dehumanization everyone around me is about to experience, the stripping off of possessions and shoes like Inanna entering the underworld, the x-raying and knowledge that any random act, out of our control, could result in police intervention, in taking away our illusion of freedom -- in addition to that I am covered in the cloak of wheels, I have lost my human soul, I know that in the eyes of power and ignorance, I am luggage, an inconvenience, an animal, an exoskeleton.

Airline and airport staff talk to each other loudly over me. I am "The Wheelchair". What I say, what I ask for, what I want, doesn't signify. My words don't mean a thing. My money can't buy human dignity. I have lost my Agency. Speaking creates a cognitive dissonance, a problem, an incident. Inside myself, I have become bravado and willpower, entitlement and stubbornness.

Let's glide over the shunting into special lines and glass walled holding pens and pat downs... Let's ignore the issue that the law (the Air Carrier Access Act, in the U.S.) says the airline *has* to let me break down my chair and put it in the cabin, which they almost never will allow, instead *taking away what is crucial to me* and throwing it in the hold of the plane, perhaps to be left behind or damaged, the non-acknowledgment that them taking my wheelchair away puts me in a state of absolute panic. Let's leave those problems behind.

Let us skip to the Gate.

Here is an example of how the illusion of human decency, manners, could be preserved.

Me (having waited my turn): Hello. I'd like a gate tag for my wheelchair please.

Gate Agent: Here you go. Would you like to pre-board?

Me: Yes, thanks.

Gate Agent: Please let me know if we can do anything else to assist you.

Or this:

Me: Hello. How're you doing? I couldn't get a seat near the front of the plane. Could you try to get me an aisle seat near the front? Otherwise I have a hard time getting on and off the plane and getting to the bathroom.

Gate Agent: Oh, the plane's pretty full. We can probably move you up though since our airline keeps a few seats near the front of the plane open till the last minute for people who need them. Or, I could just switch someone out. Or I will ask the flight attendant to find someone to switch with you once you are on the plane.

Me: Thanks. If you can't move my seat now, I'm sure someone will switch if I ask once I'm on the plane.

*I happily go whooshing down the really fun ramp.*

Flight Attendant: Hello. (Unfazed and correctly assessing situation.)

Me: Hi. My chair gets gate checked and I have a tag on it. When it actually gets put on the airplane, could you let me know, so that I have that assurance? I need to know that it hasn't been left behind.

Flight attendant: Sure. Do you need any other help?

Me: Oh, I can get it, but if you don't mind, would you mind putting this bag over 6A?

Flight attendant: Sure, watch your step.

Me: Yup. Thanks.

Flight attendant: *Doesn't watch me get on the airplane in a hovering way as if I'm a freak show stuntwoman, or going to face plant*

Once in a while, one tiny leg of travel will go smoothly with most of these elements. People will behave with normal politeness.

Here is how it usually goes instead, an example with everything gone awry.

Me: (waiting in line)

Gate Agent: (in hurried conversation with other agents who have flocked about in dismay) Can you help out The Wheelchair?

Me: *shoots fuck off rays in every direction*

Gate Agents: (more and more agitated)

Me: *pretends to ignore it*

Gate Agent: Miss, MISS? You need to come over here. Did you fill out paperwork? Why don't I have you down? Are you travelling alone? I'll need to call someone. You need one of those, a special, a ...?

Me: I don't need an aisle chair. I don't need any extra help, thanks. Could I have a gate tag for my wheelchair?

Gate Agent: You need to do the paperwork. It's our policy. If there's a wheelchair, we have to do the paperwork. Why didn't they do this at the front when you checked in? We'll need to take that wheelchair and check it now.

Me: No, sorry. I'd just like a gate tag.

Gate Agent: We'll take care of that.

(They want me to get into an airport-owned chair, and take my own chair away. To make sure it doesn't get lost? To treat it like baggage?)

Me: No.

Gate Agent: (Argues) (Calls people) (Consults all other gate agents, flight attendants, the pilot, and/or security officers)

Me: Bye.

Gate Agent: Here's your gate tag. *comes around the kiosk thing* I'll just put this on here. *Bends over, touches me or grabs my shoulder or the back of my chair, and tries to strap the elastic band of the tag onto my WHEEL.*

Me: I'll take that, thanks.

Gate Agent: Persists in trying to strap tag to my tire. Argues.

Me, firmly: Thank you, but no. I'll put that on. THANKS.

Gate Agent: But I have to just, let me...

Me: NO.

Gate Agent: *sends me major hate rays* (In their mind, I have not properly accepted and appreciated their noble, generous help.) You'll need to check this wheelchair at the door. They'll bring it to you at the other end.

Me: Yes, I know. THANKS. (Special fuck-off-and-die smile.)


Gate Agent, with several other flunkies: Miss. MISS!!!

Me: Yes?

Gate Agent: We need you to preboard now. *grabs wheelchair*


Gate Flunkie, talking real loud and slow: I need to help you get on the airplane Miss. *grabby McGrab*


Gate Flunkie: I need to help you get down the ramp.

Me: Thanks. No you don't. Stop. Thanks very much but no.

Gate Agent: Excuse me Miss but we're trying to help you. It's our policy that...

Me: I don't need any help thanks very much.

Flunkie: I have your aisle chair and...

Me: I don't need one. Thanks. No. I'm getting on the airplane. Byeeeeeee.

Flunkie and Gate Agent: Miss! Misss!!!!!

Me: *wheels fast down ramp*

Flunkie, running after, grabbing: I have to walk behind you!

Me: No you don't. Get off me.

This almost always happens. Not every time, and not all of it at once -- EXCEPT FOR MOTHERFUCKING TODAY ON STUPID US AIR, but it happens enough that I go a bit crazy anticipating it. I usually get on the plane mad as a hornet, humiliated, outraged, and overdetermined not to cry.

Keep in mind that I barely need any help or special consideration, yet I still get treated with amazing inconsideration and disrespect. People who need help transferring or other help get even more disrespect. Likely I'll be there someday; will my anger have burned me into a little cinder, by then? How will I cope? (Huge props to you all who have worse struggles than mine.)

Today I arm-checked a particularly obnoxious gate agent who would not stop trying to grab for my chair back and my shoulder. I just threw my arm out and blocked her hand hard enough to hurt. It left a bruise on me and likely on her. I feel lucky no one came to arrest me for assault. She was really mad. But, I told her not to touch me, and she kept grabbing. She went beyond grabbing the back of my chair and was on my shoulder. I felt mad enough to get in a fist fight right there. I was so mad I got on the plane without giving anyone my ticket.

No, wait. Back up. If we're in Europe or China, or probably anywhere else other than the U.S., pretty much the instant I set a wheel into the airport or train station this will happen:

Me: *wheeling along about to go to the bathroom or shopping or something*

Random station employee, very agitated, grabs me: Miss! Miss, let me help you.

Me: What?

Random station employee: You need to come this way. *tries to start pushing my wheelchair.*


Random station employee: Excuse me sir, is she going to need help getting on the train/plane?

Me: Hello. I'm right here. You can talk directly to me.

My companion: *drools, twitches, and plays dumb*

Random station employee: Sir, will she need a ramp or a lift? Could you please come this way?

Me: HELLO!!!

In Budapest they tried to put me into an ambulance to travel about 200 feet from airport door to airplane stairway. (I got on the bus everyone else did, instead.) In Hong Kong I did a little dance with a woman whose job it was to push me - I wouldn't let her grab my handles, and I was faster than she was, and swivelled to face her whenever she tried to go around back.) It has me on edge. I expect absolute bullshit and disrespect, "it's our policy", and when it comes, it sinks down inside me like a stone, I swallow it, I swell up with possibly disproportionate rage and pride. I do more than I would otherwise, while I can, to show away, to prove these fuckers wrong, to spit in their faces.

But back to the U.S.A. and its airport situation.

I know, it is just some bad "sensitivity training" and clueless people, who have mostly to deal with older folks who have an attendant or relative travelling with them. I would like to readjust their training.

If you work for an airline or somewhere, and you see a person with a disability, you might assess whether they look like they need help. Or offer once, and back the hell off if we say no. For example, I have obviously a business traveller who just wheeled myself through an entire goddamned airport. I value my independence. I know how to ask for help if I need it. GO HELP SOME LADY TRAVELING WITH 3 CHILDREN for god's sake. She is the one who obviously needs help. Push her stroller for her, if you must push something.

Their training seems to be in one mode. That is: An object (formerly, perhaps, a person) comes in a wheelchair, pushed by a helper. That helper will need even more help transferring the person-in-wheelchair to an airplane seat and out again.

If the wheelchair belongs to the airport, then the agent has to call the other end or enter something in the computer system, so that the destination gate has an airport wheelchair and staff to push it so that the casual wheeler or older person without their own gear can get through the airport. (However, this never ever works and it is always a big surprise on the other end, causing more consternation and kerfluffle.)

Or: radical shock, the person might have their own wheelchair. The agents never expect the wheeler to be traveling alone. They're very anxious if you don't have an attendant or companion. I think they're worried, perhaps from past experience and with reason, they will have to assist a difficult transition from chair to aisle chair to seat. The agents AND the flunkies who push the chairs should be educated in the variety of people's level of ability.

I also know it's not the end of the world that once every few months someone tries to cross my boundaries and won't listen. Cry me a river... A lot of people with disabilities have to put up with that shit all the time, every day, and tolerate all sorts of things, because they have to, to survive.

I would like to continue from here to talk about race and disability for a moment. Being patted on the head and grabbed in airports is not in the same league as the racist assumptions, threats, and violence that, for example, black men or men assumed to be "arab" face in the same situation. We don't have to compare those things, but I want to point that out, in part because I don't think most white people think about it, but in part because I feel sometimes like it is black men in many situations who notice the bullshit way I get treated as a disabled person and who throw me knowing and sympathetic looks, that they GET IT... and with the added dimension of laughing at me a little for my inability to hide my anger and for my assumption that things could be different, for my sense of privilege and entitlement that means I display outrage and am not afraid of being treated as a threat and dragged off to some concrete holding cell (though, in fact, I am a little afraid of it.) I often appreciate those knowing looks and sympathetic remarks. Even when they are a little bit amused or scoffing... It is a little bit like gaydar, an eye contact held an instant longer than usual, with a little spark of sympathetic communication. What do you think of my perception? And that it is particularly gendered? I am unsure what to make of it.

Women with little children are also noticers of ridiculously dehumanizing police-ish petty bureaucrat behavior; they expect it, they don't get particularly dehumanized but are treated with a bit of extra hatred and the expectation of inconvenience and something of a burden of guilt. We bond with the sympathy of those who are Inconvenient, bulky, overflowing the boundaries. That bond is more the bond of concrete offers of help. Amazingly, it is women overflowing with children, overburdened, who speak to me with humanity. I always try to help them too. I entertain their children, I get them to stop crying, I offer them trinkets to look at and hold, I draw pictures in my notebook or teach them finger games, I give them rides in my lap if we make friends or merely point out my sparkly LED wheels.

On the last leg of this flight I sat near the front of the plane, not presuming to first class, or the first row of the coach section, but picking an aisle seat in the second coach row. I planned to ask the person sitting there if they would switch with me - my seat, which I couldn't get anyone at the gate to help me switch, was in something like row 25, also an aisle. A significant distance for me at that moment as I only had a cane, not my crutches, and it was a long flight where I'd need the bathroom more than once. The man whose seat it was refused to change. The man across the aisle was outraged, and got up to change places with me. I cried with gratitude. When we got off the plane, I shook his hand. The whole flight I had to sit next to the selfish asshole who did not appreciate the fact that to him walking 20 extra steps was trivial. I wish him a special place in hell. Truth be told, for all the hours of the flight, I wished him to be disabled and face that wall of inhuman indifference. Someday, he will be old, and the wall of ignorance he built for himself will wall him off from the rest of humanity, because assholes like that don't have friends or family left by the time they feel the effects of age. I don't like festering in that level of bitterness, but sometimes, that's where I end up, ill-wishing others so that they'll learn their lesson, though they won't, and it's pointless. Conquering that internal resentment or hatred is part of the difficulty of being disabled, I think.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Every day is Men's Day

At BlogHer, when Jocelyn Harmon from Marketing for Nonprofits stood up during the keynote panel to ask Carol Jenkins how we can make stories, and news, and politics, more complicated around race, gender, and class, there were women cheering all over the room.

BlogHer DC BlogHer DC

Now, we didn't get deep into that subject but I also didn't hear what usually happens when you say that in a room full of white folks, which is someone stands up and goes "But shouldn't we all just be colorblind? I don't see race." (If you are thinking "what's wrong with that?" you can start at Angry Black Woman's post, Things you need to understand #5: Color Blindness.) So I was really, really happy that at BlogHer, we could raise the issue without an immediate defensive racist backlash. Instead a somewhat diverse room full of women *listened* to two women of color talk with each other about the difficulties of everyday racism in media. About not wanting to have to choose a side, or choose an identity. That was a good moment!

Then at the cocktail party I was sitting across from this dude. And hey, it's a cocktail party and we're all drinking Cosmos and talking smack. I believe I was outlining a new world order in which we would all get to take turns having sex with Jon Stewart. (Would he satirize the sex during the sex? Or wait till after?) But we were also talking about the rise of mom blogging, the way we love it that people mix up their "topics" and blog about their lives and eclectic interests AND politics. That in the mainstream media story, you are a soccer mom or whatever, and that's that. But in our world in the blogosphere, we know, more and more, that we have many roles in life. We're moms or daughters or sisters or knitters or we love to shop for shoes or talk about marketing, but we ALSO have valid political opinions. We are black or white or Latina or Jewish or multiracial, AND we are women, AND we have all these interests and roles and jobs and experiences. In our world, we acknowledge the multifacted nature of ourselves and of all the people we might meet. For me, I don't even sit across from another middle aged lady on the bus without assuming they have a complicated identity. Sometimes I like to imagine the blog-identity, the internal world and speaking voice, of all the people but especially the women, around me in daily life.

In this middle of this conversation, our intrepid BlogHim, one of the 5 guys at a conference of 300 women, got me all prickled up. He wanted to question the mere fact of having a BlogHer conference, a tech conference meant for women. He warned us he was about to be non-politically correct, in other words, he wanted to try to piss us off. "So, ladies, what about the men? And what about the white men? What I'm saying here is that I can't be hiring someone and say to my managers, "I really want to hire this white man because he brings a unique and diverse perspective to our product group." I can't say that. And that's just not fair." There was a sort of pause around the table as we all assessed our level of ability to Deal with this asshattery in the moment, pushing our Cosmotinis out of mind and whipping up some serious coherence, without causing a Scene. I understood that the guy was just trying to get a rise. He was trolling us. And he was doing it with a layer of faux irony and friendliness, so getting mad in response was socially difficult. Yet it was such a stunning example of male privilege and white privilege that I can't let it pass.

So, I told Mr. What-About-The-Menz a brief story. Here it is.

When I was a kid, about 10 or 11 probably, I remember asking my mom, "There's Mothers' Day, and Fathers' Day, and even Grandparents' Day. How come there's no Kids' Day? It's not fair!" My mom shot me a really dirty go-to-hell-you-idiot look and went, "EVERY DAY IS KIDS' DAY."

Here is the bit of the story I didn't mention:

I remember suddenly getting what my mom meant, and thinking about everything she did for me and my sister, and how her life basically revolved around listening to us, playing with us, taking care of us, feeding us, supporting us and planning for our future, getting us to school, taking us to the library and piano lessons; our comfort and well-being. A hot flush of shame came over me as I thought about how all the things that were done for me, I was not really appreciating, but took for granted. Like, that wasn't enough? I want a tiara and a pony too on top of it? Ouch. My mom's moment of sarcasm and snark was a good educational moment for me. I GOT IT.

I think that telling the first part of that story was an okay response. It quickly made my point which is that he is blind to his everyday white male privilege.

And as described very well in the article I linked to above on male privilege -- the instant that men are not the center of attention and the norm, they feel like it's an *attack*.

The other thing I did was not look at the guy. I continued with all my body language to focus on my sister bloggers at the table. And that helped us to shift the conversation off of the guy, and back onto what we wanted to talk about. Doing this was a conscious effort. I recommend it highly for those moments when your conversation with a group of women is hijacked by a braying jackass who assumes that women owe him every second of their respect and attention. Pay attention to the women. Pay attention to the women in the microcosm of conversation, and in the bigger picture of the blogosphere.

Then, a bunch of us told the guy that he was really lucky to be in a context where he got to experience not being the default normal. He gets to hear conversations and interactions he wouldn't hear otherwise. What do techy, writerly, blogging women talk about when they're framing the conversation themselves and not being told what's important by an array of expert men? What's it like to be at a tech conference where you're one of 5 of your gender there, and it's very noticeable? That's a rare experience for guys in social media. A bunch of us said that. With a helpful smile.

In short, a table full of women told him, very politely and obliquely, to shut up and listen. If only for one day. I don't think he got it.

As is so often true, I saw a bunch of women soft-pedal their responses to a guy. And then immediately afterwards (and in fact a day later over IM with others) they all went "OMG, what a jackass." Again, I felt sorry for guys who are that way, because they don't have any reality check. I'm calling out the behavior, and point it out, not to be mean to this one dude. In fact, I give him credit for coming to a women's conference and giving it a shot. I don't expect him to learn and process every bit of it at once. On the other hand, I can't let those kinds of statement pass without a mention.

I had no wish to get into a giant discussion of the idea of affirmative action at that moment. But I could do it on this blog.

What would you have said to him "in the moment"? What would you say now, online, with time to think it over and express yourself clearly, to a guy who described his wish to hire white men for their diverse perspective?

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Liveblogging take two: BlogHer Boston

Our workshop was for Blogging Basics: personalize, polish, and promote your blog. Danielle Henderson, Alissa Kriteman, and Meghan Garnum joined me on the stage. Kristy got us in touch with Elliot, the hotel employee setting up the projector, who found all the stuff and the cables and hooked everything up. Also, NeoOffice worked like a charm! Around 100 people filled up the room. We took some goofy photos and were having fun chatting before the talk. Everyone in the room was so talkative and intense with their conversations that I had to say "SEX" into the microphone several times to get them to pay attention. After a brief intro and my pep talk about getting your hands dirty digging into your code, we each talked about our experience. Alissa, Danielle, and Megan were full of enthusiasm and confidence, knew their technical stuff, and were great speakers.

Alissa Kriteman is the host for Just for Women: Dating Relationships and Sex. She has a weekly audio podcast show about empowering women. Alissa has been blogging for about two years and is enthusiastic about her future in blogging on WordPress. Hey, Alissa is from SF! I could hang out with her and hack on blog stuff! Yay!

Danielle Henderson has been blogging for 6 years with a variety of hosting platforms. (Bio: Danielle Henderson is a 31-year old college sophomore and freelance writer. She's been a blogger for close to 6 years at Knotty Yarn, and still has no idea how or if that is applicable to common conversation. Her first book was published in 2004, and she was recently featured in Cringe: Teenage Diaries, Journals, Notes, Letters, Poems and Abandoned Rock Operas.)

Megan Garnhum has been blogging for nine years and has over ten years experience in marketing companies, media, software and online social networking. She also does blog design and consulting. (Bio: It was love at first blog for Megan, who began blogging back in 1999 and hasn't stopped for a breath since. A hobby at first, blogging has become a big part of Megan's life. She has taught herself how to create, build and manage blogs on all of the major blog platforms and now designs and provides blog and web consulting for individuals and businesses, through Webundance, her consulting company. )

I'm Liz Henry and am a producer and software developer at BlogHer. In addition to being a poet and literary translator, I've been writing online since before 1990 and blogging seriously since 2003. When I started blogging I didn't think anyone would ever read it. I was so wrong. I blog about my life and about many topics including feminist science fiction, technology, and social media.

We asked the audience who they were.

More than 2 years blogging? (About a third)
More than 1 blog? (Half the room)
Blogger or blogspot? (Most of the room)
Typepad? (5 or 6)
WordPress? (a third of the room)
Tumblr: 1
Twitter, Plurk: 10
LiveJournal: 2
Drupal: 2
MySpace: 2

We discussed those difference a little and dedicated to break groups by experience level.

People who ever have messed with their code beyond a minimum. 1/3 of the room.

I mentioned my experience doing tech support for the BlogHer ad network bloggers. Most of the requests for help with code, the bloggers put themselves down, call themselves idiots or dolts and explain how they don't know anything. It's okay, but it makes me a little sad and I want to help people learn the skills to be more confident, and approach computers and approach things they don't know with a different attitude, not feel bad about themselves. Try not to do automatic disclaimers or self-deprecation. Everyone needs debugging help. I do too. I am often able to walk people through difficulties, but sometimes I just get passwords and fix problems. So if I can persuade you all to feel confident about playing with your blog code I'm making my own job easier. *audience laughter*

Also, the more intimate you are with your blog...

Alissa: Ooo baby, intimate!

... the more intimate you are with your blog, the more closely you can make it be how you want, for self-expression or to better reflect your business purposes.

Pep talk. Examples of some virginal blogs that have never know the hand of woman. The default blog. The default wordpress blog.

What would this "generic" blog template say about you to your readers and the rest of the world?

Here's a myspace blog, very blinged up. What people think is good design doesn't matter. What is your goal? Clarity, or obfuscation? This is good blog design, conveying a strong identity:

And clearly, this blogger dove fearlessly into hacking her blog's back end, to express herself.

Look at your code. Engage with it. Print it out, put it next to the pages it's making. Mark it up and draw on it. Figure out which bits are doing what.
Confusing code is annoying. (Slide of WTF CAT)

It is a good thing my slides are working because otherwise all of us up here were going to act out the LOLCATS. (Alissa and the others make the WTF cat face. We're a funny crew up here!) is very nice. Paste in your code, label what kind it is - html, php, etc. And it will give you a temporary url showing all that code nicely highlighted in color. You can send that url to someone over IM and get debugging advice. This is amazingly useful. Don't be embarrassed to ask someone else to look at your code and spot obvious mistakes. It's just like copyediting.

Indenting properly will make your code more readable, too.

It will start to make sense. You don't need to know everything, to hear blah blah blah STYLE="width 160" blah blah blah. (blah blah Ginger) Learn bits at a time, just the bits you need to fix.

Danielle: You should look at the documentation. WordPress, Typepad, Blogger help files are good.

Megan: Yes. Search within the typepad web site. Very helpful. It's how I learned everything.

Me: We're all self-taught; that's very interesting.

Back to my talk. View source on other people's blogs and find examples of things you'd like to do, cut and paste their code, copy and tweak it, it's how programmers learn stuff. Backup first, then experiment. Ride it like you stole it!

Onwards to the "Personalize, polish, and promote" part of the afternoon.

Who are you? Reflect it. Whether your identity is actually you with real name, or pseudonym. Contact info. About me sidebar box or page, or both. This is built in to most platforms. In Typepad you just check a box and fill out a form. Same in Blogger. In WordPress you can make a page for it. (Slide with examples of About Me info. Some are short, serious, funny, some long and detailed with every interest of the blogger listed.) Include links to, or content from, other places you "are" on the web.

Who are your readers? Reflect them too! Expose their identities to each other. Readers on a blog are aware of each other, sometimes become a community. Allow readers to link back to their own web presences, email addresses. They can have profiles on your blog. Avatars, icons, gravatars so they have a photo too in their comments.

Why do we care?
This is important not just for touchy feely reasons or SEO.
It is important in the history of literature and ideas. Women's diaries, letters. Intertextuality. Intellectual crosscurrents and crossfertilization. Your future biographer might like to know who your blogfriends were in 2004 vs. 2008. Or that you regularly read and commented on Pharyngula or Feministe -- or on BlogHer. Consider yourself as a writer and as part of history. Represent your connections. It is important in feminist or in women's history. (Slide with books of letters by Virginia Woolf to Vita Sackville-West, and letters of Francis Ellen Watkins Harper to friends and newspapers, and book covers like "800 years of Women's Letters". ) We are in a mass movement where women are writing in a public forum, being part of public discourse. It is new in the history of the world.

What are you writing?

You might set out to write on a particular topic. then shift over time. The life of a blog. identity, subjects change. Tag your stuff. Categorize it. Make your post titles relevant (if you care about that, and want things to be found. If you don't want it found by a casual searcher or reader, bury it. Top posting buries. Baroque digression buries. Multiple subjects in one post buries the content.

Self-discovery process to tag your content. I went through one of my blogs and tagged, maybe 300 posts. This took me a couple of evenings. It revealed what I was actually blogging vs. what I thought I was blogging. I thought I was writing about poetry and translation, and I was really blogging about politics, feminism, the internet, and social media. WordPress has a very nice plugin called Simple Tags that lets you machine-tag all your entries at once. You can batch tag in detail, then combine tags to get higher level categories.

Tag, tag, tag. Tag clouds! Delicious (murmur of agreement from audience.)

Megan: Make your links relevant. When you make a link, don't put it around the words "click here" or "link". You want to put it around "really great shoes", or whatever- some text that is related to the meaning of the link and the content of the page you're linking to.

Me: Your future biographers will thank you here, too. The text you choose to hyperlink is probably important so in any textual analysis it would be weighted as more important. Your future biographers don't want to know that you're blogging quite a lot about "click here". They want to know you blog all the time about really great shoes. Anyway, any meta information about your content is great!

How to do this stuff?

1) Look through all your blog's settings and options. There may be built-in “About Me” or Recent Comments options.

2) Javascript widgets!
* Copy or download scripts from other people.

Blogger: Widgets, Gadgets
* Search for interesting widgets or code snippets
* Copy and paste into the “Javascript/HTML” box.

WordPress: Plugins
* Download/upload to your server
* Unzip the files
* Activate them in the wp-admin panel

Typepad: Typelists (basic templates)
* Create a “Notes” Typelist. paste in code
* Select content – check off a box to include
* Order content – drag and drop sidebar widgets

Hack with your friends!!! Thinking about gender, it is my observation that men tend to grow up doing projects together. Guys in middle school flail around in linux or whatever, programming together, learning stuff, not embarrassed to know nothing, they have no shame. Girls, not so much. In my little feminist techological utopia we would all be hanging out programming together and learning stuff. You don't need an expert to learn from. Peer mentoring, just having someone to look at stuff with, it is good for moral support. Another pair of eyes for debugging is great. Get together with a blog friend and work on your blogs together over coffee.

Questions and statements from the audience. Why is everyone switching to WordPress blogs? Are they better? Is that just a trend? How to compare platforms? Panelists explained that Typepad cost money, Blogger was free but slightly less flexible, Wordpress more setup but much more flexibility, Moveable Type good but have to get into the code more. You can search "compare blogging platforms" and see what comes up for an explanation. As consultants (or just friends) we tend to advise beginning bloggers who don't want to do a lot of setup, to use Blogger or Typepad, or hosted WordPress. Then migrate up only if you need more features than what you get for free. Or, try all the platforms (it is easy to set them up) and see which you like best. Look at a blog you like and see where it's hosted.

Statement from audience (I think this was Christy Matte): What Liz said about putting your own email address on your blog, in the clear, she disagrees nand thinks we should mention contact forms. You can set this up on any platform. Plugins or a third party service. Or you can obfuscate your email address to try and confuse people who harvest your email and sell to spammers. I commented that obfuscation isn't really going to stop screen scraping and email harvesting and it's better to fight spam with filtering in your email reader. I think Danielle or Alissa recommended using gmail as its spam filtering is quite good. Captcha and recaptcha were also mentioned for comments and so on.

Question from audience: How do I find someone to just redesign my blog and make it nice? How much should I expect to pay? How do I know if they're any good? Answers from panelists. Megan: Well, I do that for my business, Webundance, so you can ask me! Megan's rates seem very reasonable for basic work. Me: If someone is trying to charge you a thousand, two thousand dollars, you're being ripped off. Alissa: Students or kids might help you for very cheap. Me: Look at someone whose blog design you like, and ask them who did it. Ask the designer or web developer for client referrals and examples of their work and ask their clients if they're happy.

Question from audience: What the heck is the difference between tags and categories? And how can I get my blog search widget to stop searching my sidebar? Because it detects the tag cloud and category list for every single post, so it thinks all 500 posts on my blog are about pumpkin recipes. Answer: Ugh. We are not quite sure. There must be a better search widget for your blog. We'd need to look in more detail what you're using and how it's configured. Try the Geek Lab?

Our last half hour was spent in breakout sessions. We split up the room by level of experience. Alissa went to the back of the room with newbies. People who considered themselves fairly experienced in getting into their code were at the front.

Other notes:

Hacked with a long time on her wordpress recent posts plugin. We modified the plugin code that she'd already modified. We broke it, she re-installed it, then we ignored the plugin and went for fixing the styles of the stuff that the plugin spits out:

 li, h3, ul, and a
. The mysterious space before the recent posts turned out to be a top margin on
that was 3em, not 3px. Whoops! I showed her how, if you view source on someone else's blog, you can search on "css" and find the link to their style sheet, and then paste it into the address bar to see their whole style sheet in the browser. So, for example, I used my spying skills to find her stylesheet: . Anyway, she's a good hacker and has an amazing, amazing blog about teaching high school. Give it a read.

Talked with Consuming Lilly who is super-de-awesome, about her blog, about the history of food and feminism and cookbooks throughout history, and we looked at her blog coding issue: she has customized her template to the max and lost her way a bit. We looked at it for a bit and I ended up telling her to print it all out and mark up each section so she would know exactly what bit of code controlled which page element. Recommended Firebug and Web Developer Firefox plugins. (Not for the last time!) A bunch of us were gathered around looking at her blog template. Did I mention that it's pretty!? It is!

Someone, I think Lilly, gave a good warning. Look at your code, if you get a template from someone's web site, because template-makers slip Google adsense code in there that pays out to them. On the one hand, you got a free template from them. On the other, it is unethical not to be upfront about it if you're doing that in your template. Be warned!

Talked with: chestercountymoms, bestisyetunwritten (debugging, ad network questions)

There were more people I helped out for a minute or two, or that I got talking with each other.

Long talk with Megan's Minute about design and usability. Hey! I heard about people liking her handbag of the month thing. (Though I don't use handbags.) She asked me for advice on what to put in the sidebar, and where? She hacks her Typepad sidebar a lot. I said to put in polls, most popular, content of the recent comment not just person + post title; put TV show reviews up high because they are a particular focus (Lost, Survivor, etc) and her readers love them; shorten headlines that are long and go across more than one line.

Megin from Chester County Moms wants to put an rss feed of all her blog contributors in her WordPress sidebar. We looked at the built-in widget (design tab, widgets, click "add" to add it to sidebar, then edit to add the feeds.) She wants a fancier feed with some randomization because she has 25 contributors! Annette Krasow suggests some aggregation tools.

Megin told me she got her header graphic from a photo, and then -- I missed it in the confusion -- there is some iphoto plugin that builds caricatures? Or was she saying she paid someone to do the caricatures from a photo?

Talked with Christy from family computing. She's really fun and intense and I wish we got to talk more!

Talked with Megan Taby from and savetheinternet, about feminism and net neutrality. I look forward to talking with her more!

I left the workshop very high off of it, feeling like everyone got something useful from it. Also, I was glad my slides worked and my lolcats got a laugh.

Talked with about her javascript and css issues, very convoluted, not possible to solve, depended on a 3rd party. I gave some advice on how to frame the problem to their support folks, and recommended for some other layout issues that she get the web developer Firefox plugin.

Talked with Megan Garnum some more. We were laughing about being very social and outgoing but then needing to get with our computers and shut up. "Could I just crawl inside you, laptop?" she said. I agree. We were both crashing and burning and needed to shut up and blog. So, of course, we talked about that. I think we might have also twittered it. Not really...

Looked at Sexpertise, Isis Inc. Talked about Planned Parenthood use of mobile apps and texting. Sarah and I sent a question to ChaCha: "My condom broke. What should I do?" and they sent us a dangerously stupid answer: to put vitamin c tablets in our vaginas. What horrible misinformation. I will be writing to ChaCha about it.

Looked at nakedanarchist blog. A kindred spirit, I think!

Gossip with Sarah Dopp about Geek Lab and what people's blogging questions or issues were. Lots of rss feed questions: how to aggregate and post feeds on blog sidebars, how to set up a feed reader, how to put rss feeds on your blog (answer: they are already there, probably) and how to tell what your feed address is. How to put plugins in sidebars at all, in various platforms. I also got that question a lot, but more often I got very specific questions about css or "what plugin would do X thing for me."

- Keynote panel by Elisa Camahort. I got too tired to take notes.

Cocktail party! I sat with a fun table of bloggers and gave them lots of stickers from my secret sticker collection! Tracy from leadingfromtheheart, Liz Davis, Sherry Pardy who has twins with the same name as Tracy's sister's twins, almostfoodies, Melissa from thecollectionspace whose husband writes about music. She told us a great story about the Tape Guy who makes sculptures of people out of scotch tape and who her (mystery industry discreetly not identified) conference was going to hire to be sort of a quirky entertainment to perk people up, but unfortunately the Tape Guy broke his hand and couldn't do it. We all exchanged cards. Someone (almost foodies) reacted in mock horror that she might be accidentally hanging out with *mommybloggers*. Really, you can hardly tell who we are when we're drinking cosmopolitans and in stealth mode. THEN WE BUST OUT THE WALLET PHOTOS. Muahaha!

I'd like to say that all my co-pilots, or co-panelists, were amazing, smart, great speakers, very pro-active about grabbing that microphone. Everything they said was a great contribution. In fact, everyone from the audience who raised their hands and spoke up had great points. There was some lively discussion of whether to put your email address in the clear on your blog, or not, with strong audience and panelist support for using contact forms. (While I am in favor of just putting your email addy out there.) Other people made great points and shared relevant information!

Am now decompressing. Sarah and I are laying around blogging and trying to be as antisocial as possible. I consider declaring a pajama party with my room number on Twitter. Would that be a mistake? Am I too tired? Should I stop typing? Someone hose me down.

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After a day of debugging

After a whole day of helping other people fix their blogs, somehow mine is broken! My liveblogging post maybe has an error, or my connection might be timing out. I'll try to post it again in a little while. It's been a long, fantastic day at BlogHer in Boston.

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BlogHer Boston, liveblogged

I hit the breakfast and the swag. Scored: fresh pineapple, pastry, coffee, starbucks jar ' o coffee to carry around (very handy for a wheelchair user!) Scored a laser pointer usb drive ballpoint pen, Springpad notebook and good conversation about social media and "personal project management", tiny cute retractable cord mouse, I entered about 5 contests before I finished my coffee.

Elisa has given a good talk about the current state of blogging. I'll link to her slides later!

Jory thanks the sponsors for keeping the conference affordable and for all their support.

*more to come - we are lining up in 2 lines facing each other to talk for a minute, then rotate*

greetings! blogher boston

Talked with Consuminglilly, lindisima, racismreview, leadingfromtheheart, wendiaarons (humor blog), the woman from stonyfield farms, and so many more! I remember blog names better than real names.

I talked with at least 10 people in our rotating li neup of meet & greet. Lots of cards! I'll put in the links in a while.

At geek lab - css and plugin hacking with (Tracy). She has majorly hacked her template.

going to drive in a red convertible (saturn??) with Halley... wooo!

(our workshop from 1pm - 2:30)

Talked with Balkan Explorer (who is carefully pseudonymous) about her plans for her blogs, and Danielle about feminism, BlogHer, blogging, girls and mentoring and education and the lack of support for young girls worldwide, about different cities, and more about blogging platforms. She loves Squarespace!

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Greasemonkey and jquery tricks

This took a while to figure out and then I forgot it all again. I have some Greasemonkey scripts that fiddle around with menus and automatically log me in to a difficult-to-navigate HellishSite. They use jquery and I thought I'd record what to do and pass on the tip.

When I used jquery the old way in my scripts, it broke HellishSite's layout probably because they use jquery in some way themselves. Something about the insane way they use frames might also be the culprit. I didn't look too deep into that. Here's what works. Use a @require line as described in the Metadata block docs for Greasemonkey:

// ==UserScript==
// @name Hello jQuery
// @namespace
// @description jQuery test script
// @include *
// @require
// ==/UserScript==

$(document).ready(function() {
$("a").click(function() {
alert("Hello world!");

The other trick, the bit that was driving me completely crazy, was that in order to get your @require statement to work you have to uninstall the script and install it again. Otherwise, the browser won't read the new info in the metadata block. To do this, you go into the "Manage scripts" control panel for Greasemonkey, edit the script and make sure you copy it somewhere accessible, highlight the script and check "uninstall". Unfortunately there is no "reinstall" button. In your browser address window (on a Mac) point to your copy of the folder you saved it in like this: file:///folder/ and in the browser screen, click on the saved javascript file. It will magically ask you if you want to install it. Yay! Install it and this time it will work. Your other option here is to go edit your Config.xml file where your browser is actually looking to get the metadata when it goes to execute the script.

In the script itself I am doing just a few things.

Testing what page I'm looking at, just by seeing if a particular field name is on that page:
(do some stuff)

Filling out fields:


(the non-jquery way to do this is something like,
document.getElementsByName('password')[0].value = "blowme";
Ugh, shudder...)

Selecting from dropdown menus:


Pre-selecting a bajillion clicky things from horrible little fields full of options:


Making horrible little fields bigger, that show 4 options at a time out of possible 25:

All this will become unnecessary once I dive into the HellishSite API but right now I don't have time to go that route.

A note that I wrote this stuff back in March, adn then it broke, I fixed it, it broke again, I had forgotten it all and had to re-learn it, then my hard drive crashed and I lost my fixes and have spent a while fixing it again. This is pretty typical for me. I learn enough to make what I need, but I don't go out and become a Greasemonkey or javascript expert. Just enough to get the job done and move on.

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Hard drive down!

The ominous clicking noise from my hard drive should have given me a clue. Backup was on my to-do list, but never a priority. That's why I'm talking to you from August 8th, when I last copied my entire hard drive with Carbon Copy Cloner over to my glossy & beautiful Western Digital Passport 120GB USB drive. I've got amnesia in my exoskeleton. It's horrible!

The sudden crash, inability for my laptop or a bootup CD or booting from another laptop in target mode probably means my data is intact on the drive, but the drive's controllers are messed up. I got a quote over the phone from Drive Savers up in Novato; something like "600 to $3900", with the low estimate being if they could only get a little bit of garbled data off and if they didn't have to disassemble the drive. IntelliRecovery is in Hunters Point and cheaper - $400 to $1600. Can I justify spending $1000 for the last 2 months of my scripts, work data, email, book editing project, and music? It's a close call, because that's probably how much my time is worth to reconstruct everything and re-do all the work I've lost.

The evening of the crash, I took my MacBook to the Apple Store. They said it would be around $300 and 5-7 business days to send my laptop out and put a new drive in it.

The PowerBook Guy office just around the corner from the San Francisco Apple Store replaced my hard drive and gave it back to me in 2 hours. So I'm up and running again.

I think my future backup plans will be to do a full backup to my pocket hard drive every week as part of my work routine. And every night I will back up the work and book-editing files.

It was interesting to see what bits of the computer are crucial for me to feel comfortable. Firefox profile is way more key than I realized. Thunderbird profile is also very useful. Adium contacts. The keychain. My various .rc files. Ecto. My greasemonkey scripts and other python and Perl stuff for work. But with just the Firefox profile and a term window I can be up and running at a basic level from my own shell accounts (on pair and dreamhost). So now I'm trying to come up with some super basic set of "junk that I need" which I could carry around on my tiny flash drive.

Go and back up your data right now, by the way!

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