Teaching People to Fish

When people tell me that Cartesian systems are optimized, I want to laugh. Of course they are, but we’ve optimized for the bits we know about. We’ve focused on optimization of output, not on optimization of adaptability. And the Quest for the Upper Right Quadrant (aka Capitalism, aka the Singularity, aka any overly simplistic idea of infinite growth and eventual overall simplicity) is always about output. In systems in which the power distribution is also hierarchical (aka, the ones we’ve got), people are not empowered to deviate from set tasks to cover those unknown parts. This is why the idea of innovation and entrepreneurship is so fraught. To some, it’s about empowering for adaptability and connection, for gap filling. For others, it’s about hurry up faster to that upper right.

Which brings us to this article I referenced a bit ago as abhorrent.

The following comments are worth looking at, as well.

Please Do Not Teach This Woman to Fish

After all, which economy is more productive — one in which every single person is an entrepreneur, or one in which a minority of entrepreneurs employ the majority of people?

To understand why, consider a common-sense question: How big can a business be in a rural village? There aren’t many customers there, and incomes aren’t very high either. A business would have to serve several villages to start creating jobs in any significant numbers. Now, consider rural women with families. They may be reliable repayers of loans, but they’re much less mobile than single men. Single men can move to cities, or at least cover a lot of ground in the countryside, in an effort to win new customers.

Of course, these jobs won’t always go to the rural women helped by microfinance programs. Microfinance programs may be one of the best ways to help them, short of having their children take jobs in cities. Nor are these jobs necessarily the ones that fulfill the social goals in the mission statements of Western nonprofit organizations. But they are the kinds of jobs that brought hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty and could someday do the same for Indians, Haitians, and Congolese. In these countries, the quickest way to escape poverty is likely to be via bus to the nearest city for a manufacturing job. Hundreds of millions of economic migrants know this, but so-called antipoverty experts are just beginning to understand it.

Two things in this that bring out my “are you fucking kidding me” reaction.

  1. I find it distracting and ridiculous when untenable living situations are equated to financial poverty, and focus only on the funds, not on the conditions which the funds MIGHT alleviate. It’s possible to work and still be miserable. Wage labor rant. Being slowly crushed by capitalism (or communism!) rant. Capitalism is but one way to attempt to interact, not the only way. Sure, it’s good at propagating ideas quickly, at fast iteration, etc, but too often it leads to:
  2. The idea that we have a hierarchy as a necessity in any business. That there are employers, and there are those who do the shit jobs to keep things running. We are all humans, we are all equal, and it is just as possible to find joy and honor (or misery and bitterness) in driving a taxi or gutting fish as it is to find the same in leading a multinational business or making the internet work. To find it otherwise is to discredit the experience of millions (billions?) of people. To want to reinforce the idea that those jobs are actual shit is to actively demean everyone doing them.

No business, organization, relationship is dependent upon power structures being in place, where some work is more important than other work. A business, organization, and relationship where all parties are encouraged and expected to examine, innovate, and contribute is one which is adaptable and successful. It is one which is scalable in a complex and networked world. So yes, teach that woman to fish. She’ll catch more than you, with all your business and economics training, ever will.

Weaponized Social

I want to give special thanks to Meredith (@maradydd), Sam (@metasj), and the Berkman crew (@berkmancenter) for help in parsing all these complicated ideas. I’m forever grateful for our conversations.

The existing harms of social scripts we ran while in smaller, geographically-constrained groups are being amplified due to network effect. Tiny unchecked errors, scaled, become large harms as people find ways to exploit them, in life just as in software.

I propose we hold a 2-day event to understand “weaponized social” historically, tangentially, neurochemically, and technically — and to arrive at ongoing ways of addressing them. These challenges are not new, they are simply arising in space we consider new. Given the erosion of trust online, I see meeting in person as vital to rebuilding trust. You can suggest when and where the event takes place via http://goo.gl/forms/2iBJbHXD5E


There was a time when the hacker and academic circles I run in had the default assumption of “it’s better to have your idea broken by your friends than by someone else.” The implicit assumption being that we’d build even better ideas, together. I *hate* that loving dissent is disappearing from my corners of the internet, when I used to dream it would spread. I hate that there’s a vanishing chance I can reasonably assume a trolling comment online is social commentary from an yet-to-be-known compatriot dealing with the same bizarre issues of a system that I am; but rather must now deal with such as a potential precursor to having to leave my home based on legitimate death and rape threats. I hate that some of my intelligent male-shaped or nuero-atypical friends are scared to join conversations online for fear of being severely and permanently ostracized for slight missteps. I hate that some of my intelligent female-shaped friends feel unwelcome online – yes, because of “trolls” who often happen to be self-male-identified, but ALSO  because of an incredibly strange practice of women belittling each other. I hate that I only know how to speak to these issues in a gender-focused way, despite knowing damn well race and class come strongly into play, and having the sinking suspicion that cohorts don’t feel safe calling me out. I hate that nearly all my lovely friends of all genders feel unwanted and unsafe because they and others happen to be organisms interested in sex, and respond to culturally indoctrinated shame (in response as well as in self-assessment) by pinning problems on the tangible other, building self-fulfilling prophesies of distrust and violence. And I hate that we’re driving each other off pro-social paths, making taking an anti-social one more likely. I’m sick of these social scripts we’re auto-running, and I’m set on returning to lovingly breaking my friends’ ideas, and us examining and strengthening those ideas together. Please join me in this act for this event, the surrounding ideas, and the rest of life.

Since online conversation is currently so focused on gender divides, let’s look at that for a moment. This proposed re-scripting is complicated by women being socialized to understand men, to reach out to them, to be accommodating. In a desire to NOT run dis-equalizing social scripts, we as female-types are instead falling into scripts of victimization and back stabbing/”you’re doing feminism wrong.” I’d consider the former set worth embracing as human, the latter to be consciously left to the wayside. Those socialized to be masculine have social scripts they’re bucking and/or selecting, too. Scripts about being protective, and reliable, and strong. Scripts about being stoic, and angry, and omnipotent. But such re-scripting is entirely doable, and we should hear from people about why these cycles happen, and how other disciplines have escaped cycles and built new scripts. Attendees will be trusting me that other attendees are here in good faith, a meatspace web of trust, and that means attendees will be vetted. We will talk about difficult things, and we will set an example of doing so with an interest in begin tough on ideas but kind to people. There will come a time that we can expect every human to stand open but unwavering; but personal, cutural, and institutional histories matter. Violence across these has left a wake of torn-down individuals, and in this space everyone will be expected to be kind.

The re-writing of scripts has proven powerful and useful in other spaces. There are communities in conflict zones which refuse to adopt the identities of victim nor aggressor, instead providing pockets of increased stablity in tumultuous geographies. They do this not out of pacifism, but because that particular conflict doesn’t work for them. We see things like Popehat emerge to offer a way out of victimhood and isolation in being targeted by unparsable legal threats. We see groups like Strike Debt question entire financial structures, providing paths to visible solidarity in otherwise isolating systems. Others have shown it is possible to forge new paths, many in more dangerous and complex situations than what we face. Let’s learn from them.

If you’d like to contribute suggestions to who should be invited to speak, examples to look at, or even helping with the event itself, please be in touch!

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To Carry Our Stories With Us

Intense dreams last night in Nairobi.

Dreams of safe havens with story-checks before you could enter, only the most widely acknowledged versions of stories and their tellers allowed in. We began inscribing the truths we had lived in our skin, to meet in dark back rooms to reconstruct our history in these new places.

Open Source Cadavers

Written by @Willow Brugh, with feedback and general awesomeness from John Willbanks, Sam Klein, and Michael Stone. Additional props to Adrienne and Sands for edits, and to Fin and Matt for kicking my butt into delivery.

In loving memory of my crypto-loving, open-access enthusiast, and occasionally suicidal friends. We will build more open worlds with our corpses. I just wish you would have held off for more unavoidable causes.

Early this year, yet another friend of mine up and died. There was of course a mess of things that had to be figured out. It wasn’t just the traditional things of cleaning out her house (I wasn’t around for that part) or figuring out the funeral (Viking in variety). It was new and interesting technical and moral turmoil of getting into her hard drive, questions of “should we even?”- her prolific music and authoring contributions rivaled by her extreme privacy. It was seeking the edges of her far-flung pockets of internet community to notify them personally, racing the deluge of social media notifications, not wanting them to find out about her the same way I found out about my grandmother – before the familial phone tree had reached me, a peripheral friend calling me based on a facebook post from my sister. A morbid seismic wave.

While I don’t have any control over how others plan for (or don’t) their demise, I have a say over my own. I can show my care for people dear to me my own compulsive, facilitating way by being sure they find each other as they find out, and in making sure information and knowledge I have to offer continues to be released under open access, even if I’m not there to do it. From doing humanitarian and disaster response (and just a general “awareness of the abyss,” as my mother used to tell my vast and angry younger self), I have had to face the looming possibility of my own death head-on. The networked reality that brought those strange new questions and moral quandaries for my friends’ deaths can instead be used to carry forward care and knowledge. This is a sort of guide for the bits of postmortem planning the internet and most lawyers have missed. It’s not complete – I’ve run into some interesting blocks and quirks, around which I’m eager to collaborate with others.

This post is less about things like wills (what happens to material possessions, who doles it out, and the like) and living wills (if you want to be kept on life support etc) – although I’ve added the templates I used to the wiki associated with this post as it includes digital artifacts and more awareness of gendered pronouns than other bits of the internet. This write-up focuses on specific aspects for Open Access and encryption enthusiasts. Brace yourselves for a morbid entry. Know I’m peachy keen, and being an adult about things, not in danger of harming myself or others. If you are in danger of harming yourself, please say as such directly, and get help, rather than indirectly through things like estate planning. It should be possible to speak about death without fear – that’s what I’m doing here. I hope you can hear it (and act) from a similar place.

I’ve divided components up into documents, accounts, notifications, and people. Documents are centralized with accounts, which are propagated via notifications to people, as triggered by a notification from a person. This means I only have to worry about keeping something up to date in one place — a change to a will or to a website password simply happens in the place of storage, without needing to notify everyone involved. As people become close to me, or exhibit destructive behavior, they can be added or removed from the notification pool. The notification mechanism is the one thing that has to remain consistent in this set up.

Digital artifacts

Executing wills can be a complicated thing, and there are additional snafus and hoops to jump through in granting digital rights postmortem, especially as most courts lack basic understanding of our home The Internet. I’ve thus set up both mechanisms to get access to passwords outside a court of law as well as making that access legitimate through bequeathing to individuals in my will.

I devise, bequeath, and give my technology to my [[relationship]], [[name]]. If [[name]] is unable or unwilling to accept, I bequeath the technology to my [[relationship]], [[second name]].
I devise, bequeath, and give my online profiles and digital assets, as primarily found in 1Password, to my [[relationship]], [[name]]. If [[name]] is unable or unwilling to accept, I bequeath my online profiles and digital assets, as found in 1Password to my [[relationship]], [[second name]].

Passwords and online accounts

I’ve taken moderate pains to ensure my online accounts are relatively secure, and so the issue of access when I’m not typing in the password is an interesting one. I like this writeup from Cory about the tension of secured privacy and passing things on after death. I’ve riffed on it accordingly, splitting the password for decrypting my 1Password in two, and giving each half to two people. These four folk don’t know who the others are, and they honestly have no reason to talk to each other, except in case of my death.

The encrypted aggregated passwords file is stored in a place accessible remotely. It auto-updates when I change things on my end, so I don’t have to think about keeping it up to date. 1Password can store encrypted notes, in which I included instructions (also found in templates) and reminders of each of the tasks I’ve requested of people.

But how will people know the time to act in that capacity has come, and how will they find each other? A mailing list, of course!

A mailing list

I’ve set up a mailing list for people who simply need to know (like my childhood friend who lives on a small farm on the Oregon coast and has no connection to my parts of the internet) as well as those who have agreed to take on certain responsibilities at the time of my death or incapacitation. These responsibilities include things like letting the hacker and maker space folk know, or telling the academics with whom I have ongoing projects, or getting into my stuff and taking care of the *ahem* sensitive material before we go into open access mode (there are things my mother has a right not to know). There’s a set of people tasked with tending to the online accounts. The ideal is a closed notice of death to people I’m close to, before it hits the rest of the internet. This eases the burden on any one person, while also providing a support network.

I sent each of these people a request for involvement, and then (if they agree to be on the list) instructions on how to use mailing lists in general and this one specifically. Then I set up an auto-responder to a mail posted to the list with instructions on what first steps are, and reminders of how to access information. In a continuing trend, templates for each of these things can be found in the template section of the wiki.

Failure Modes

Control Systems are Delicate

This is essentially setting up a control system for information dispensation and action upon my demise. Control systems are delicate – single points of failure (like that mailing list not working) or weakest links (unclear directions for action) have to be considered and accounted for. As the point of this exercise is to 1) ease burdens on my loved ones and 2) ensure open access intentions carry through past death, the two main issue I worry about in my set up is people getting falsely spooked and subsequently either a) leaking passwords / freaking out the internet or b) becoming jaded and inactive. As an example, a family member who had not been fully informed as to how the system set-up works posted to my mortality-based-mailing list early on with a “hey how does this work?” which could have cascaded a call to action followed by damage control and head-petting. Thankfully only three people were on it at this early stage. To mitigate this and things like it, a part of the auto-response template to a post to the email list is a “can you trust the message that triggered this?” prompt.

Threat Model

In infosec, considering what could go wrong in life as well as to the structures built to respond to those incidents would be called a “threat model.” What are anticipated complications, where do those come from, and what can be done to mitigate? My system is set up, as my dear friend Michael pointed out, as “more Murphy, less Mallory.” Meaning it’s anticipating death and issues with the deployment (accidental or otherwise) of the postmortem setup as occurring by accident, not malice. I’m not worrying about someone intentionally cracking my password vault (or setting up a spoof one for me to load passwords into). Some people do need to worry about these things, and it should be a part of their consideration when setting up a system which takes care of their digital assets postmortem. Of course there’s space on the wiki to document those cases and resulting structures as well.

an otter floating peacefully in water

This is serious. Here’s a picture of a cute animal from WikiCommons user Tm

Using this model, I’ve compared unintended consequences (mid to low probability false alarm and associated cognitive load in damage control; a vanishingly small likelihood of a scenario in which people I love and trust are secretly horrible people who seek out the other password holders who also end up being horrible and sneaky, and together they unlock all my passwords, and the falsehoods they post on social media are actually believed by people (thanks, anxiety-brain, for that worst-case-scenario!)) with non-action (the amazing set of people I am honored to have in my life have emotional and chaotic things to deal with which I could have avoided for them; work I find worthwhile but unpolished is not released into the world for others to make use of) and decided the how to act (or not). I’ve then built in mitigation and fall-backs into the structure of this control system. Here’s one example:

Yearly Test

I have a reminder set up to email The List once a year, as a test. Do all the mechanisms still work? Do people know where to find files, and can they gain access? If you’re prone to changing the password on your vault, this is a good time to be sure your halves-holders have the newest version. It’s also a good time to get assurance that people want to be on the list, and are willing to perform their tasks – do they respond to a yearly message? If not, you might not want to include them on the eventually dire actuality.

A body

If this so far has been within tolerable morbidity and dedication to loved ones, Open Access, and encryption, let’s push that just a bit further. I want to donate my body to science. Always have. (Imagine a wake involving everyone toasting “to science!”). But as with everything I do, I want whatever I have a hand in (ha!) to be Open Access.

Why is this so important? While I don’t think I’ll be a special snowflake for medical research (although visiting the far-flung reaches of the globe might embed some interesting things into my biology worth digging out and putting under high-powered microscopes), it’s possible that, if enough people sign up for this, someone involved will be a Henrietta Lacks. As it’s almost statistically impossible that any one of us would be that profitable to an organization, it’s likely to be a risk worth taking on the receiving organization’s end. But it’s a downstream obligation that, especially if it becomes common practice, opens up the benefits of medical research to a much wider part of the population (and external to the capitalistic models to which we’re subservient).

This downstream obligation could get tricky because I won’t have authority to uphold the obligations. I’ll be dead. So I made sure to give someone else that authority in my living will and will via power of attorney. Ideally, the organization receiving the cadaver will voluntarily comply — especially likely if the org is federally funded, because they’ll be under the federal open access mandate. Combining these two things manifests as WILLING my body, as the body becomes an object after death, and attaching obligations accordingly.

Using this template, I’ve started contacting places to see how amicable they are to Open Access of medical research, and to edx-style recording of medical practice in regards to the cadaver I’d be bequeathing them. The full list of cadaver-using medical organizations in the US can be found here, with the overview of willingness to work with the open access obligation here. If you hear back from one, please update the wiki or send an email. Similarly, please contribute additional country listings. Because it is vital that the accepting organization get the cadaver within a very short timeline, geographic proximity is a priority.

Here’s what I’ve gotten back so far:

“We don’t release any reports.”
“We never record anything having to do with bodies.” x 3

So the search continues… and I’m hoping for help in finding places that are willing to accept cadavers under these conditions. I’m also assuming that if enough interest is shown, pressure to accept the obligations in exchange for an influx of research material will encourage more programs to be flexible.


Please remember, my dear geek friends – understanding the theory of this is NOT the same as ACTUALLY doing it. OSC sets up mechanisms for granting digital rights, for passing on passwords, for slow-release information, and for open access to information possible from your death. Seeing the importance and care of fulfilling these steps means doing it. I’ve removed every possible barrier I can to showing care for loved ones, and commitments to causes even postmortem. All it takes is a little premortem planning.

You can help me, and this initiative, be more complete by contributing in the following ways:

Comment with Feedback

So far as I can tell, we’re in uncharted territory. I’m sure to have missed things in places, the language isn’t completely clear, and there must be interesting legal loopholes for Open Access donation obligations as well as for profiteers to be considered. Let’s make it better, together. Comment here or (preferably) edit the wiki.

Research Possible Organizations

Will organizations take cadavers with these obligations? Add to the list of possible organizations or update that same list with their level of willing compliance. We’ve made templates (surprising no one) – to be used and improved!


Be a part of open source cadavers by pledging to donate your body or by donating money to OSC. Donations will be used first cover hosting and registration costs for 10 years, then split halvsies between those maintaining it and continuing hosting and registration, all to be tracked on the wiki.


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Turning Anxieties into Productivity

I’ve had a few people over the past few weeks make a special point of pointing out how (overly) productive I am. And because part of the way I do things is doing them in public, I figured I’d put together an overview of how I work for The Internets. Much of it is not healthy – I battle with temporal compulsiveness in a way I can only imagine is similar to the exerted control over diets those dealing with eating disorders display. So this is a less a “how to be productive if you find yourself uninspired” and more a “how to funnel your anxieties towards good use.”

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This is actively not a way to interact with people you’re Not Working With. This is a constant battle with me, as it’s easiest for me to interact with people around projects. But that’s not fair to people I care about AND work with. It might not even be a way to interact with people you are working with. I’ve tried to have that tension/disfunction show through in this post – the same things that make me really good at productivity are what also make me have unreasonable expectations of carbon-based life forms.

Some of the following advice also has to do with deceiving yourself or other people, primarily about timelines, in exchange for projects being delivered on time. Every person is different – it’s important to ascertain if someone can self-regulate on time and deliverables, or if they need to be managed and reminded. It’s ideal if you can have a frank conversation with someone about this – but I’ve had this go both splendidly (“I’ve got this” or “Yes, please pad my time”) or horribly (“you lied to me? How dare you” (while still delivering late)). YMMV. Informed consent is important.


Under Promise, Over Deliver

I consistently under promise and over deliver based on what can be achieved over the course of certain times based on ability, availability of time, other projects, etc. This also comes with long experience of knowing that while the work itself will take a short period of time, it is wedged in with other things, interrupted by emergencies and higher priorities, waiting on other people experiencing their own emergencies and reprioritization, etc. Computers crash, dads get sick, other people believe in taking different holidays and days off than I do, etc. If it’s a day worth of work, I request 2 weeks. I still strive to finish it quickly – and then take the extra time to do quality assurance, to add components, train up people, thoroughly document, and still get it in before the stated date.

Temporal Padding

Padding extends to the more granular as well, and helps maintain flow, productivity, and sanity. Each meeting should be padded by 15 minutes on either side beyond travel (more in the tools section for automation). This covers travel snafus, delivering on immediately actionable things from the previous meeting, and prepping for the upcoming event. It also prevents me from shooting myself in the face on days of back-to-back meetings – I can read a bit of a book, talk to a friend, grab a coffee, etc. When a few days of every week can be back-to-back meetings, those little pockets are what keep the whole thing running smoothly.
When I have any level of control over it, I end meetings 3 minutes early – people LOVE this, and it insists that time is respected. In a semi-related fashion, I tend to not pad the beginning of meetings for latecomers by any more than 5 minutes. The trick to this is good documentation in a known place – people arriving late can simply read through the notes and jump in (or at least I don’t feel responsible for catching them up). I also extend this to myself – that temporal compulsiveness means I freak the fuck out if I’m late to anything. By setting up meeting architecture that doesn’t require any one person to start it, and having a clear agenda in a known place, others can start without me if I happen to be late for one of my own meetings. This – along with working with incredible people who can pick up without a hitch – is helping me to relax a bit more.

An Hour to Anyone Who Asks

I work in a distributed way, highly reliant upon a breathtakingly diverse set of people to ask strange questions of at odd hours, request first readings of, and to say “this thing looks like…” The ability to do this is based upon something I adore doing, which could be seen as community service. I will give one hour to (nearly) anyone who asks for it. The link to request time is even in my Twitter profile (and we’ll talk about this in the Tools Section). This can be around an event they’re throwing, a thing they’ve been thinking about, or a question they specifically have. By being accessible, I have a high exposure rate to new ideas and beautiful brains, which I compulsively categorize and store in order to link with things that will make all components stronger.

Document and Reflect

I try to remember to document, and to do it in public. I tend to write blog posts about things I’ve learned, add components into project wikis or githubs, or schedule a podcast. This makes it easier to find things, and sometimes when returning to an idea a year or more later, people have built upon and improved it, which is just dreamy. Distributed communities and open culture for the win. Working this way also means I don’t use tools like Evernote, but rather things like The Brain – just like the NSA, the metadata is what is important to me, not the details. The few things that aren’t immediately actionable I store across .txt docs and keep running in VIM… and access to those documents are a part of my will.
Every project, meeting, day is a learning experience. I like to reflect on things.. what did I learn from this? What would i change? How could it be optimized? This helps alleviate the boring parts of administrivia and delivery, as well as ensuring I’m not going nuts nor going on autopilot. Instead of rotating on things that didn’t go well during the day, I have a chance to consider what could have changed to make things smoother. If it’s possible to automate some part of administrivia, I do it — and if not, I’m aware of how important it is.


Topic of the Day

I’m involved with a lot of various things. I assume everyone is. This involves a lot of gear-shifting, at a nonzero cost. Someone asking about the Tanzanian water mapping project while I’m livescribing a presentation at Berkman Center can be hugely disruptive. While all of these things absolutely relate to each other, and are part of the same world, the minutia and details merit focus. To limit these sorts of interruptions, I tend to have a Topic of the Day, and this is enforced by my scheduling tool. Geeks Without Bounds on Mondays, Berkman on Tuesdays, Wild Card Wednesdays, Civic on Thursdays, Friday for overflow and pro bono work. I try desperately to take Saturdays and Sundays off, as explored more in the Managing Stress section.

Money Hours and Pro Bono Hours

Just in case you’re not already well aware, I’m incredibly wary of Capitalism. I would prefer to live in a mixture of mutual aid, guaranteed basic income, small market structures for innovations, and transparency paired with accountability. This means I’ve also had a difficult time insisting on being paid in our current economic systems – leading to long-term financial instability, an ensuing lack of self-preservation, and resulting high stress. Which doesn’t help anyone I’m working with. So here’s what I do now: one day a week is for pro bono work, for projects I adore. These days book out pretty far. When someone asks me to come onto a project, after the initial hour’s check-in, I tell them how long it’ll be until I can take it on for free, or when it could be done as paid work, and at what rate. I’ve been amazed at both what this has done for bringing income, as well as keeping me sane with deliverables on ZOMGAMAZINGPROJECT.

Working Offline

I find working offline, especially with email, to be an absolute must. I cannot think long-term while connected to the internet. Preparing nodes for connection, then booting up the tubes for integration and cross-linking means the whole network is more complete, less fractured. The tiny minutes lost to Twitter and The Old Reader are eclipsed by the time it takes to shift gears back into working mode. If I’m going to futz around online, I’m going to do it in an intentional way, likely with a limit during working days, or without an concern for direction or time on days off.

Managing Stress

Temporal Padding for Self Care

Padding also applies to work/life balance. I aim for 3 days off nearly every week. Often as not, one is sacrificed for emergencies and pressing deadlines and one to overflow and pro bono / passion projects, leaving one actual day off. I usually spend that day entirely offline, with nothing booked, and try to “wing it.” I am exceptionally bad at this, and often feel adrift and incompetent on these days (“what do people do?!”) but I find I’m far more relaxed if I do this regularly. In the continuing trend of compartmentalization, this also means the days I’m sleep deprived or angsty I can tell myself “process on Sunday.”

Work/Not Work Dividers

Sometimes, I really miss serving tables. I miss that, at the end of the day, things were Done. Nothing to take home. Now life is not only a matter of long-term projects that Actually Impact People, but also managing cohorts’ timezones and the associated meeting times and submission deadlines. A meeting at the end of the working day in Dar es Salaam is my 7a. This means having dividers between work and Not Work is vital. From Jenbot, I picked up the “walk around the block before you start work, and when you’re done with work” when telecommuting from where I’m sleeping – hotel or home. It’s a lovely physical and mental divider between temporal functions.
When there’s space, I have a “no laptop where you’re sleeping” rule. This leaves anxieties at the door, forming a safe space for reading, snoozing, and cuddling. I could show you the difference in sleep patterns between when this rule is in action and when it’s not – I sleep more soundly, and feel better rested, when my sleeping space is also Not Working space. Because this isn’t always possible due to hostels, crazy travel schedules, and shared live/work spaces with other people, I’ve taken the habit of wearing my Pebble on my left wrist during work time (notifications of next meeting, incoming phone call, etc), on my right during focused self-care (sleep tracking, running/workout indicators), and not at all during unstructured time.
Regardless of how I’m delineating time, I try to always take the first three hours of every day away from email (not possible on those 7a days, but on most it’s manageable). This, again, has reduced my stress levels significantly. I can look at email subject lines from bed or in those three hours, but not open anything to read the contents. This is predicated on having triggers set up on email that if [URGENT] is in the subject line, I get a phone call via IFTTT.com. Anyone abusing this is sent a “fucking seriously?” email response. It’s amazing how much is urgent but unimportant, and setting these boundaries highlights this even more.

Every (Work) Email Should Be the Last

It’s super easy to get caught in an endless back-and-forth of logistics over email. Piles of these sorts of messages add to stress, the length of a project, and non-useful documentation (i.e., shit to go through to find a bit of information needed). I’ve recently taken to the practice of considering, at length, what it would take for any email I send to be the last in the thread. What questions need to be asked? What can I preemptively answer? How can I say these things concisely?
Note: this is not the way to respond to friendly correspondence. Another reason why compartmentalizing time is important – I’ve felt unnecessarily annoyed with “idle chitchat” in email threads with friends while in this cognitive space. By tagging emails correctly, using multiple inboxes, and answering the associated email in appropriate time blocks, I’m excited to hear about friends’ lives and happenings rather than thinking “what do I need to say to be sure I don’t get an email back?” I know this sounds harsh, but remember what the opening to this said – this is a guide for channeling anxieties in a healthy and useful way, not for people who need help bootstrapping into productivity.


Scheduling: meetme.so

I used to spend about 4 hours every week (more if I were to include gear-shifting time) on “how about DATE at TIME?” I also had to self-manage Daily Topics, padding for meetings, etc. Automating that has been amazing. Tungle was sunsetted a couple years ago, to my never ending heartbreak, and doodle doesn’t do it for me for personal scheduling, but meetme.so has done a fairly good job of stepping into the space I needed. I have three calendars – one for Geeks Without Bounds, one for academia, and one for personal and pro-bono work. In the tool, I set what days and hours are available for each of those calendars, how much to pad between bookings, how much advance I need to book something, etc. It’s pretty amazing, and well worth the nominal cost.


Because I operate on inbox0 (hahahaha *weeps quietly into inbox137 and inbox113 (speaking of compulsivity, I snooze to prime minutes and keep my inbox unread and total counts at primes…)), Boomerang is great. When I send one of those “I hope this is my last email,” but which requires follow-up, I can have it return to my inbox at a later date. It makes it seem like I am SO ON TOP of everything. “Hey, it’s been a week and I haven’t yet heard back. Do you have all the information you need?”
The same tool separates scheduling from sending, with a “send later” function. This is great for 1) being manic at 3 in the morning and wanting to send an email but not seem crazy – just schedule it for 9a the next day instead! 2) Having a bunch of staggered questions or milestone reminders that you’re thinking about right now – you type and schedule now, but send on schedule 3) Responding to business cards from conferences – I hate the deluge of mail I get post-conference, so I tend to schedule a “hey we talked about this, and we should schedule a time to continue collaborating” to send a week after the conference… by scheduling it at the event, I haven’t yet lost that tiny piece of paper people insist upon indicating their details via.

Task Management / Tracking

After trying Omnifocus, Basecamp, Open Atrium, and any number of other project management platforms, I really like RedBooth (formerly TeamBox). It embeds information, does time tracking and Gantt charts, is useful as a single-player experience, and also hyper useful for teams. For anything odds-and-ends / not-project associated, I use any.do as an app on my phone.


Because I like to be so focused on what it is I’m doing, and because my phone has a long password on it, the Pebble is pretty great. So long as I set my calendar alarms based on travel time and padding, I get a tiny buzz to wrap up what I’m doing, and another to head out. I can keep the rest of the tech away during a meeting, lunch, whatever — without being freaked out I might be making myself late for something else. It’s been surprisingly useful.

Looking for Travel Tools and Practices?

I wrote an entry and gave a talk on that specificity a bit ago.

Sum Up

Being clear about time boundaries sure can be useful. It can also bring a lot of stress, or be an indulgence in compulsions. It’s important to have tricks to optimize self-care as well as work. And focused, solid units mean a more robust, congruent network of nodes.

Another Whirlwind Tour

The Bank booked my tickets for me (yay no financial overhead!.. but–) with an 11-hour layover at LHR. So I popped on the Heathrow Express to Paddington. I’m sitting in a Starbucks, of all places. They’re playing Morrisey. It’s pretty awful, but it’s also a holiday and everything else around here was closed. I was meant to have been back in Boston for the past week, after a long stint of travel, but things got extended by a continent, so here I am.


I gave a keynote at Cascadia.JS, and the event and its people were absolutely wonderful. Even played some pinball with Case (oh, PS, we’re throwing a CyborgCamp at MIT in October and you should come). I was soooo stressed when I gave this talk. Not from the talk itself – this community is lovely! I even wrote about it on the Civic blog – but because of the things surrounding this entry. When I watched the video later, it’s actually pretty alright. They gave me a full 30 minutes, and I wish I had padded it with more information. C’est la vie. Huge huge hugs to Ben and Tracy and the rest of the crew. You made a rough time easier through your care.

The drawings I did for other people’s talks are all here.


This was my first Wikimania, and it was stunning. So so much fun. Many things to think about, frustrations in new light, conversations over cider, and even more stick figures. And! Some lovely person taught me how to upload my drawings to the commons, and so now I’ll be hosting from there instead of from Flickr. Got to spend too-short time with Laurie (who I’ll see more of in Boston! Yay!), AND found out about Yaneer’s work on networked individuals and complex systems which rings closer to true in my intuition than most anything else I’ve run across recently.

Getting to know a neighborhood in London that I actually like, with art in the alleys and a bike repair and tailoring shop with a pub and wifi while you wait that is totally hipster gentrification and I so don’t care. And a strange moment in a Bombay-style restaurant of a half-recognized face, that ends up being the brother of the heart-based Seattle ex-Partner. We hug fiercely (as is the way of his family, and mine), until his manager gets angry. We laugh and promise to catch up.

Thence to Future Perfect, through the too-early fog of morning, and a panic attack, and dear Sam handling the accompanying compulsive need to stick to The Plan, even if it did not make the most sense, with the sort of calm curiosity and fondness which is exactly what is needed in those moments, and jogging through far away airports to finally arrive at our not-even-yet-boarding gate.

Future Perfect

A short flight (slept through) and a longer ferry ride (also slept through) through the archipeligos of Sweden, and Sam and I are on the island of Grinda for Future Perfect. We’re here at the behest of one Dougald Hine, long-time mirror-world not-quite-yet-cohort, to be Temporary Faculty at the festival, and to “difficultate.” It’s a strange thing, to be encouraged to ask the hard questions, and Ella and I are a bit adrift in the new legitimacy of our usual subversive action. “Ella, I think we’ve just been made legible.” “Shit. Quick, act polite!” But there’s an awfully strong thread of Libertarianism and Profiteering From The Future, so it’s not a difficult thing to ask stir-up questions. I sit on a panel called When Women Run the World, and mock the title, and question the assumption of binary sex, and point out matrixes of power. I draw as people talk, and post the print-outs to a large board for all to see, a strange combination of digital and analogue. Another panel I’m pulled onto I advocate for inclusion and codesign on the basis of values – not everyone bites. So then, pulling from Yaneer’s work, I point out that hierarchies fail at the capacity of any individual, whereas examined networks can scale in complexity. They nod. I grit teeth.

We also meet Bembo and Troja Scenkonst and Billy Bottle and Anna and the Prince of the Festival Lucas, and see old friends Ben and Christopher and Smari. We walk through the cow and sheep pasture as a shortcut from breakfast to festival, avoiding dirty boots and communicating via body language to over protective rams. I jump into the half-salt water of the archipelagos after a long sauna stint, and we drink sweet Swedish cider, and we sing Flanders and Swann across our joined repertoires. Ed gives me access to his audio book library, and I’m high on dopamine and scifi for hours to come. Our tiny temporary faculty crew sleeps in adjacent cabins, keeping the floors swept and porches clean.

And another early flight, stomach dropping as the pre-booked taxi service couldn’t find us and didn’t speak English (and Sam doesn’t hold Swedish in his repository of languages), no Ubers showing up on the app as they had the previous night, and finally finding a taxi app that would generate our location and sent a lovely driver for us. Getting to the airport, again, in time, with an uncertainty of how to part ways from this other human-shaped being who moves at high velocities, having been caught up in each other’s orbits for a short period of time, still texting threads and punctuation past gates.


And then I went back to Dar. And I realize in writing this how worn down my travel-muscle is, exhausted to the core. Less able to appreciate the beauty of a second wrecked ship on a calm sandy beach, unable to see the trying and hurt at the core of some of the people we hear speak. I am frustrated that the workshop I have been flown here to participate in has people reading verbatim from slides, that at the core of this workshop are not the people who are the most marginalized. I am brief, and I am blunt, and I do not show the same care that I expect to be shown to everyone. I become even more blunt with those who are unkind to others, a sort of brute force function into civility, and I and others know it will not work.

But some of the workshop has us figuring out hairy problems like reducing the 16-digit identifier for water points to locally useful and uniquely identifiable phrases for the database lookup table. I listen while the People Who Decide These Things think their servers won’t have the troubles other servers have. And some sections have people talking about appropriate technology and inclusion. It is productive, though differently than I’m used to.

I exchange a quiet conversation in the front of a taxi that waited for us at a restaurant, a practice which I hate, on the long journey home. The driver having not said more than a word or two at a time at first, now sharing anger about high taxes and now visible payout. The roads are paid for by other countries, the buildings, the power grid… where are his tax dollars going? We talk about schools, and his sister, and about how he has no way to speak.

We work with the Dar Taarifa team, who are unfolding and learning to push back, hours into github and strange google searches and odd places to encourage and odder places to encourage disagreement. We pause for translations, and I try to bow out so they’ll operate at full speed in Swahili, rather than moving slower so that I might understand.

Oh, also:

One of my drawings ended up all over the place:

Morgan’s research is pretty boss, and Barton did a great job writing.

It looks like I’m going to be in Kenya in parts of October and November playing games around climate change.
This post is apparently in the memory of LJ.

Paths to Better Futures

We’ve started telling people how they are expected to act. That’s a phenomenal start. We’ve started making it clear that there are paths to justice, in the case that those expectations are not met. Also great. But I don’t feel like it’s enough. Often, issues are forced into a boolean framing, with only a boolean response. Either something is dismissible, or scorched earth. And so many things go unaddressed, and the few things that aren’t are either viewed as “how did we wait so long?!” or “that seems like overkill.” The former continues to vilify the perpetrator, and the later vilifies the person(s) on the receiving end.

If we simply kick out anyone who messes up, we end up with empty communities, and that’s not a new future.

If we don’t hold people accountable for being abusive, we end up with rooms filled only with those who love their pre-existing power, and that’s not a new future.

League of Legends is the best example I know of how to deal with this properly, or at least better than usual. If you are an asshole to someone, you go to Tribunal. They do this because there are rarely “problem players,” but most incidents are “players having a bad day.” And if you got rid of all those players, you wouldn’t have anyone left. If you put a bad mark on “problem players” or some other permanent thing, people simply recreate accounts, and are pissed off while they play in the beginner brackets, and then you have a toxic environment for the newcomers, only the toxic stick around, and then the whole place sucks.

Let’s bring this to issues of gender and sexual advances specific to our geek communities. It cannot be fun for most of the people who are causing these problems. Just think – you try to make a pass, it either isn’t well received or seems to be but then later it turns out wasn’t, and no one is telling you what is actually expected. Except sometimes that you’ve done something wrong. Of course yes to consent! Yes to enthusiastic consent! But women especially are also socialized to give what is seemed to be desired. For safety. For society. Etc. And so consent is the first essential step along a path, but is not the end-all-be-all.

What I’m proposing is this: if someone violates a safe space agreement, or continually makes people in the community feel squicked, or whatever else… we need to have a path laid for them to get better. And if they’re not willing to take that path, we know they’re doing it because they’re an asshole, and not because they’re socially awkward. Awkwardness can be because of a commitment to consent, and is no excuse for many of these issues. Just ask someone I’ve dated. I am not smooth.

So what are those paths? Restorative justice seems to be a useful alternative for urban communities with generations disappearing into the legal system, but which has been co-opted by the privileged to avoid accountability. I’ve asked around about programs for people who are abusive to “get better,” with little luck. Are there paths already out there? Do we need to create them? Please do comment here, let’s have a discussion.

Expressions and Understanding

We have such an investment in the written word in our world right now. And it’s beautiful. Uses different parts of the brain at the same time, allows for storage of thought to be passed down and through and re-examined and loved through time. I love the written word.

But I am also dyslexic. I love books, but I hate reading – I feel like an idiot. I have to read each sentence twice (at least), at the same pace that I’d read aloud. I still don’t always understand what I’m reading – not the concept, mind you, simply the written words which are used to express it. I know the deep knowledge represented on each page, and yet I dredge through it like a 7 year old, frustrated by the time it takes to get through the simplest components. Still. At 30.

Listen – I ingest information best audibly, loving stories read aloud, going through most of my online reading through text-to-speech (thanks, Quinn), and learning best from the lecture, not the readings. Because of this, my writing cadence matches my speaking cadence nearly exactly – mainly because there were years where I would record myself speaking, and then transcribe it. It wasn’t writing. I don’t know how to write. I know how to speak. But that dyslexia isn’t just in reading, it’s in general language processing, and that includes the spoken word. Which means I miss chunks sometimes – able to hear beyond the normal audio range, but the content simply doesn’t land at times.

When I started drawing, 4 years ago, it helped me link together what I was hearing, with what I knew, in a way I could see how it all connected. No more missing gaps. There was something new that was coming out in this way of understanding and expressing the ideas that were already being expressed verbally or textually. It seemed that I like to ingest information audibly, but process and re-state visually. And try this out – I can make a proportional sculpture, because it feels right, while my stick figures are disproportional in order to indicate movement, and because I can’t get two dimensions to be technically correct. Each method lossy in its own way.

At Wikimania, I’ve been surrounded by incredible, intelligent people… all of whom place a huge value in cataloging, expressing, and defending through the written word. They use copyright to protect copy. It’s been like visiting an alien world I know I can never emigrate to, where my methods of expression are valued but not import-able. Something you’d see in a museum, but never purchase a gift for your loved one as you exit through the shop.

Understand this: When Tricia gave her talk at Berkman, she had visual cues, she delivered verbally, on a subject she had written about, and I expressed that visually. Each of these is a different expression of the same idea. It is not the same expression re-done verbatim (ha!) in another format. I don’t want to listen to a re-reading of the transcript of the audio. I want to listen to the writing on the subject she did. These are different aspects of the same knowledge set.

Another example: when the always fantastic RadioLab did a particularly stunning episode on color, there was a bit on the visual capabilities of the Mantis Shrimp. While a diagram of the eye’s capability can be drawn and compared (see diagram), and what happens with that extra perception vectors can be described in text, it was the choral rendition of complexity of vision that made what was actually going on readily understandable to we who have 3 vectors in our eyes.

Coding and software, and more recently the opening up of fabrication technologies, are about more people being able to express themselves in a way that is best for them, and that also means people who ingest information in those formats have a better chance to understand more of the world. The more vectors we have of expressing, the more vectors we have of understanding. And isn’t that what being human is about?

If that’s not enough, consider this: one of the things about code is that it has opened the doors for some to income and prestige that otherwise would have been closed. It broke down entrances to what “legitimate expression” is. When we stick to only the knowledge expressions and storage we understand, those who are best able to use those (i.e., those who have already been in long practice) will continue to benefit. And now, so many other things are possible to digitize, to pass on and posterityze. Why remain so hyper-focused on the written word?

“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”
Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History

I care less about “accessibility” as “bringing ‘disabled’ people into a world as ‘able’ people experience it,” and more into “everyone having the best opportunity to express themselves, and to be understood.”