2017 in Review

This will be my third year in a row doing these, so you can also read about 2015 and 2016 if so desired. They are inspired by Tilde, who has taught me that it can be a Good Thing to remember what one has accomplished over the year. The headers in this post are based on my 2017 goals.

Explore, decide upon, and execute the next work bits.

This was the hardest on me. While my time at Aspiration helped me to slow down, it also removed me from the circles in which I had run, which I feel made finding work far more difficult than it might have otherwise been. Over the course of 2017, I applied to ~200 jobs, and got to the second-interview stage (or further) at 12.

Contracts did come in, some through the consultancy Vulpine Blue my brother and I started. We had 4 clients and a workshop series, including participation in a field scan for technology for social justice (complete next year) and a network strategy workshop around microfinance and direct cash assistance. External to Vulpine, I facilitated a lovely group of folk in creating a game about disaster response, and am working with Megan Yip on a resource repository about digital estate planning. Some of these things have been covered on this blog over the past year.

I applied to a data science bootcamp, and so took time to learn more about Python, statistics, Javascript, and d3. While I didn’t get in based on my lack of memory/knowledge of statistics and calculus, I did learn a lot, especially about coding. The most significant progress in all this has been made under the excellent guidance of Tilde. <3

The work on digital response has also continued, with assisting Greece Communitere in setting up their Monitoring and Evaluation for Accountability and Learning plan, participating in Neighborhood Empowerment Network and Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster Sacramento, apparently having 35 Marines tasked to me for setting up the disaster response section of Fleet Week, and helping with community technical responses during the hurricane season. The influx of attention has improved our response knowledge base and sparked a new Slack group. A donation came in from a friend for these efforts, which means we can be even a bit more prepared in the future to do more work. For a short period of time, I had a Patreon going, and it was a reassurance that I’m not shouting into the void. Some of these efforts also appears on this blog.

For longer term thinking, I also supported the swissnex Crisis Code event, found a co-author and new editor for the mixed-mode system paper book (which progresses a goal for 2016), and set up the Do No Digital Harm Initiative with Seamus and Joe.

In short, I did manage to explore the next work bits. The route I’ve been selected for, and accepted, is to become the project manager at Truss. Truss embodies my desire to do epic shit quietly, in a healthy working environment. I’m stimulated and supported, and it’s glorious. Also, we’re hiring.

I don’t know how *you* celebrate being a new job, but I sure have a way..

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Make a longer-term financial plan (and start on it).

All that means I have a long-term financial plan and am plugging away at those longer-term objectives. 2017 was a year of sporadic income and job hunting, and has drained all personal savings and put me back in debt to family (I am the luckiest, I know). Being paid like an adult living in SF while still persuading myself that I don’t make that kind of money means I can start saving for bigger Future things.

Remain emotionally vulnerable and available even when it suuuuucks.

After taking some time to heal after the multi-level collapse of 2016, I developed a Dating Plan, which perhaps isn’t terribly surprising to some of you. I executed at full-bore and thereby met lots of lovely new folk.

But the dating Plan didn’t go exactly as expected because the casual thing I had going with one Reed Kennedy escalated. Quickly. We worked backwards from when we should decide if we want to do other Life Things with each other, and set a move-in date in August. Be still my logic-based heart. We now share a home (but not a room), and his mom knows my parents.

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This isn’t the only relationship in my life, of course. I’ve also worked to maintain my relationships with Jenbot, Lily, and Estee; and to deepen my friendships with friends old and new. A big part of being able to do all this was getting my average miles per hour into the single digits for the first time in years. 7! Seven mere miles per hour. That’s 61k miles traveled over the year.

There are other aspects to being emotionally vulnerable and available. To me, showing up was also participating in the airport protests, women’s march, and acting as security at a Berkeley march. Another aspect of vulnerability is this: over the course of 2017 I experienced two bouts of depression, the second of which was bad enough to mean I’m on medication. A++ modern medicine, would ask for help again.

Find 3+ adventures of any size to go on, and go on them.

I went a little overboard on this one, but I’m really proud of myself for that. In the past, most of my travel has been for work, with rare exceptions. In 2017, I went snowboarding in Colorado, went to Santa Fe to see Meow Wolf, rode to Pinnacles to go rock climbing, hiked Gunsight Pass with my dad in Glacier, and had romantic getaways with two partners (one to Point Reyes, the other to Virginia)!

Where I was yesterday.

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I also managed to Do Things in the Bay Area, including taking a shining to the SF Neo Futurists, playing D&D for a long weekend in Oakland, experiencing an interactive play set during the Prohibition, and seeing Hamilton and the Magnetic Fields.

Adventures aren’t just for experiencing, they’re also for building. Over 2017, I gave a talk at Odd Salon, did some minor support on Radiance, sat on a panel about Apocalyptic Civics at the Personal Democracy Forum, gave a talk on Weaponized Social at SHA (the Dutch hacker camp), contributed to a Cultivate the Karass event, and sat on a panel about disaster response technology at Hackers. Oh, and I ended up in a coordinating leadership role for the 1100-person, 4-day festival Priceless, which I shall continue doing next year as well.

Yours truly, on the last day of #priceless, with “enough” radios.

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Get back into reading a nerdy amount.

I did ok at this, but not as well as I might’ve liked. Instapaper doesn’t offer data, but apparently I’ve finished 18 books this year on Audible, and maybe 3 physical books (yay dyslexia!). Favorites include Thanks For The Feedback, Marriage (a History), the Broken Earth series, The Gone Away World, and The Fire Next Time. I also binged hard on The Adventure Zone podcast.

Physical Things

Here were the physical goals for 2017:

  • Run 400 miles over the course of 2017 (about twice what I did this year).
  • Beat my time/position for a Spartan race.
  • Climb at least 6 times a month.
  • Bike 50 miles or more a month.

Maybe there are so many because they’re the easiest thing to track?

I ran 307 miles (100 more than 2016, but 100 less than my goal), primarily because bicycling became more of a priority than running. I bicycled 1,163 miles over 2017, which is pretty great for the first year of having my own bicycle as an adult. The hardest (but not longest) ride I did was 31.8 miles and 2,554 ft of climbing. I walked 100 miles less than last year, but 500 miles more than I bicycled in 2017.

Hours and hours spent with @sofauxboho for this Goldie-Locks-fit of a bike.

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The Spartan race I ran was during the same month and same location as 2016’s, but the track was slightly different. I ran a better time (1:40 to last year’s was 2:05) but poorer position (583/4800 to last year’s 255/2617). I don’t know that I’ll do another race. It’s been interesting but I don’t see it building to anything.

The only month I missed my 6x climbing goal was November, and November was a tire fire. I got Reed into climbing, who got Josh and Gordon into it, and I made new lead-practice climbing friends Sophia and Alejandro. I made it up a Mission Cliffs .11C (not Yosemite grading, so not as fancy as you think it is, but still damn hard).

I persisted with yoga and strength training, took up boxing (this also knocks out (lulz) a goal for 2016) (shout out to Four Elements Fitness, and to Scout and Debbie for the encouragement), and started on a ketogentic diet which has had huge benefits to my mood stability. And I’ve halved my alcohol consumption from last year, which was already a drastic decrease. My average workouts per month is up to 15 from 5 last year. This is especially strange, looking back to 2015 when working out regularly was notable. Lest this seem easy or accessible, it’s the equivalent of spending just over 7 straight days in the gym (not including walking or biking), almost 4 days of which was just on walls.

Not-Goal-Related Joy in 2017

Got my motorcycle painted so it is now the right colors.

Personal things : still improving.

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Bought myself very nice slippers. I mean, really nice. I’m wearing them right now.

Now drink only decaf coffee and teas unless under extreme circumstance.

I also learned 3 songs on the ukulele. This was a huge deal to me, as I’ve always been convinced I couldn’t play an instrument. Now, having played those three songs, I don’t know how much more time I’ll spend on it, but it was fun to figure out. Thanks to Katie and Drew for badgering me into believing in myself.


The term I carried with me into 2017 was personal ambition, as I wanted to start considering my own needs while caring about the world. While I don’t think my personal ambition came anywhere close to the ambitions I have for the world, this goal did shape how I thought about things.

The term I will carry with me in 2018 is space for foundations, as I continue to re-learn how to take up space, in light of the things I’ve learned about humility and ambition over the past couple years. So my goals are:

  • Do solidly (excel, even!) at my job
  • Get certified for lead climbing
  • Continue reducing my intoxicant consumption
  • Meet one of my four savings-related goals. I still feel awkward about money so I won’t go into more detail here.
  • Get the book proposal in front of 4 publishers
  • Go bicycle camping
  • Bicycle further than I walk (without any drastic reduction in walking)
  • Complete the coding project with Tilde for the year-end report next year
  • Responsibly wrap up some of the projects listed here
  • Keep on top of my responsibilities during Priceless and other high-tumult times
  • Feel like I’m speaking 1/Nth of the time

Looking for Help

Want to help me survive while I help with crisis response? Now there’s a way! I launched my Patreon recently. I’m excited to do community response as backed by the community.
Screen shot of my Patreon page

I still feel a bit strange, asking the community to support my work in this as I’m also looking for more regular work gigs. If you see any program, project, or product management positions that I might be a good fit for, please do let me know. My work portfolio website, designed by the amazing Jen Thomas, has been live for a bit.
Screen capture of my work website. Includes types of work such as facilitation and teaching, as well as logos of organizations for which I have worked, including the Digital Humanitarian Network, Aspiration, NetHope, and Aspiration.You can also contract me for facilitation gigs specific to employee retention through Vulpine Blue.

Secondary effects of mood stability

Content warning: diet, food

I’ve spent most of my life mitigating what many people call being “hangry.” That is to say, whenever my blood sugar got too low, I would become incapacitated. I couldn’t solve challenges, I got mean in ways I simply am not the rest of the time, and I couldn’t track more than one thing (at most) at a time. I dealt with this by carrying snacks with me everywhere to prevent the onset, and I would get really quiet if I felt the symptoms setting in so I wouldn’t harm people around me. The more active I was being, the more often I would need to eat. To be someone who gets hangry (AKA “hypoglycemic”) is expensive, time consuming, injurious, and distracting. But it has been reality for all my life that I can remember.

There’s this human I’ve been dating for awhile named Reed. We like having conversations about difficult topics and going for long bicycle rides together, among other things. And I started to notice that he could know that he needed to eat, but still be a totally pleasant person and/or get the rest of a ride in before eating food. We talked about if that had always been the case for him – it hadn’t – and what had changed – his diet (keto).

“Seems worth a shot,” I thought to myself.

I’ve never been on a diet before. I’ve always been pretty physically active (although even more so in recent years) but haven’t paid attention to my food intake. I know I am rare in this, and give many thanks to my parents for a healthy home (no scale, no beauty magazines, healthy food only around, structure around sweets) in this regard. So I was worried about making it stick. I’m now 2 months in, and my mood has indeed stabilized.

This has been great. But there are also some second-order effects of this shift worth talking about. Continue reading

2016 Retrospective

I did one of these posts last year, inspired by Tilde, who I continue to be inspired by. In an effort to be more consistent in my life, I’m going to do it again this year.

Unachieved 2016 Goals:

I did a lot this year, but I did not do everything I set out to do. Before we jump into the “lookit how great it was!” here are the things at which I fell short:

Get this paper out the door

I have an editor I’m working on with this. But it’s still not out. Fingers crossed on 2017.

Do 2 speaking gigs max — unlimited participatory events

I ended up doing 3, but 2 of those were 7 minutes long. This is still a drastic change from past years.

Read and comment on at least one blog entry/article a week

Reach conversational comfort in Deutsche, Kiswahili, or ASL. Future years for the others.

Yeah, neither of these happened. I still understand how important they are, but they just didn’t stay at the top of the stack.

What I did manage to do was…

Slowed down. For me.

Only travel for (well-paid) work and family/close friends

This year was a year of transitions and movement, but also of stillness and consistency. I did go completely around the world once. I also went to India and Japan, meaning I’m now only missing Antartica from Continent Yhatzee.

That said, I travelled less than I have in years past (~30k less). There was an entire month where I didn’t go anywhere further than a 3 hour drive (!!). This has not happened since 2012.

This gave me a chance to… Continue reading

Remembering Normal

Most of my corners of the internet are currently filled with rage. One of the ongoing cries is “this is not normal.” It’s true, it’s not. So let’s take a moment to remember what normal has been for the past bit. This is to both balance out the past blog post, and in light of great blog posts like this one about mental health and long fights. Much of my “normal” has to do with where I live and what I look like. I still find it important to talk about them because these levels of freedom are something I actively fight to make available for others on a daily basis in my own flawed and insufficient ways.

  • Normal has been a high likelihood that overhead helicopters etc are for traffic reporting.
  • Normal has been walking in my neighborhood safely.
  • Normal has been making aggressively questioning remarks about government, governance, and other systems of power in public and having lively debate and no concern for my long-term well-being.
  • Normal has been visiting nearly every continent in 5 years and only getting heavy scrutiny thrice, including when soft-packing through TSA.
  • Normal has been asking friends to move to encrypted channels and no one being targeted for those moves.
  • Normal has been holding hands with a girlfriend and a boyfriend on a street corner and only getting occasional side-eye.
  • Normal has been openly attending talks from activists in other countries.
  • Normal has been experiencing shock when I see enforcement agents with semi-automatic weapons in other countries (because they don’t where I live).
  • Normal has been publishing under my own name.
  • Normal has been making an appointment for, and then getting, an IUD from my doctor, and it being covered by insurance.
  • Normal has been, and will always be, a slow fight towards more justice and more equality.

And so much more. Remember what is normal.

Same as it ever was

Hi, friends.

I’ve gotten into a few conversations recently with friends for whom this election has deeply shaken their world view. They wonder how — how — this could have happened. And how I can be so damn calm?! Instead of talking through this over and over again, I’m documenting it here.

I am not surprised by Trump winning the election.

A bee once flew into my motorcycle helmet while I was at speed on the highway and I was able to calmly and safely pull over and get it out without either of us losing our lives. My being calm and unsurprised is not an indicator of how terrified I am for my friends, for humanity, and for the planet in this slide towards fascism all over.

I know Trump supporters

People I have cared about for much of my life – and continue to care for – find promise in Trump. I think this is due to their feelings of disempowerment, but they have their own reasons as well. They are just as racist and sexist as anyone in a racist and sexist culture is. Which is to say, at least a little bit. They also, like most/all of my radical and liberal friends, feel disconnected from our governance systems. Sorry to go all Steven Universe on y’all, but I see these folk as potential allies in a very long fight, not as The Enemy. We’re all people, and anything I fight to achieve for my friends (legal recognition of love, freedom of speech, safety from harm) I also fight to achieve for these folk, because human rights apply to everyone.

Our systems are set up for this

Friends are under threat of violence. Our planet is under threat of no longer supporting human life. Friends of mine are under threat of funding being yanked, at an organizational or personal level. These are not new challenges, it is simply that we were mildly comfortable with who was at the helm in a haphazard and ineffective attempt to avoid these issues. Until a system can truly have any person in a role without the output of the system changing, it isn’t stable and maybe shouldn’t be relied upon. And unless a government is fulfilling its basic role to provide baseline human needs through collective action and resource management, it ain’t a government I’m much into. I say in a nominally self-aware way as a white lady in SF who has tons of privilege.

These are long standing issues

There are many social justice organizations which have been long working on problems of systemic violence such as racism and sexism through the means available to them. Those who understand the above point likely haven’t shifted what it is they’re up to all that much based on this election, although we may be working with more urgency than before.

What’s to be done?

When the Snowden revelations came out, some corners of the infosec community shrugged and said “yeah, and?” It was a huge lost opportunity. Suddenly, people care about your cause. This is, as they say, a “teachable moment.” Use this time to onboard people to your cause. Use it to teach and embrace and build solidarity.

Live your life

I don’t believe in needing the external morality of religion to guide my actions (though religion is just fine), and I don’t believe I need a government to tell me how to behave, either. I will continue looking out for my fellow humans, performing small acts of human decency, and wading into fights if needed. I hope you’ll do the same, or be even more present than you have been before. This everyday action thing is also the only way I’ve found to be sustainable in my long years of action.

Join the fight

We’re glad you’re here. Hello. Welcome. There are tons of groups already doing excellent work. Please find and contribute to one of them.

Step outside of your comfort zone

Try listening first, and then acting. Try understanding someone you dislike. Try seeing someone you’ve never looked at before. We’re in this together, regardless of how it shakes out.

And most of all: <3

Social Infrastructure

I’ve now lived in SF for some months. My room is built out, painted. Still last-20% things left to do, like a door frame and a functional curtain rod, but the two things of Home are handled: books and art. The books for awhile were shelved 3 deep in a setup meant to stagger two. But now there is an extra bookshelf, so that’s remedied. “You may have too many books,” the red mohawk said. The phrase didn’t even land, the impossibility of it. The art has been fit around the shelves. Still a few new pieces to frame (a constant balance between Past Willow “more art! support artists! shiny things!” and Future Willow “now this must be framed and put somewhere.”). The tetris of nesting.

And the coffee here. It is so good that I make nearby people uncomfortable with the sounds of happiness I make during those first sips.
I miss Cambridge, fiercely. But it is so good to be here.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about infrastructure. I blame having George Voss in town awhile ago, another social-scientist-flavored person enamored with infrastructure. The beauty of it, the visibility and iteration and possibility of it. The lived-in infrastructure of Western Europe. The gregariousness of US infrastructure. The iterated-until-smooth infrastructure of Japan. How each feels when you stand near it, when you benefit from it, when it breaks. Continue reading

2015 in review

It can be easy to forget what one has done in a year. Here’s my 2015 retrospective, and what I would like to do in 2016. My word, when I was wrapping up my time in Seattle and headed to Cambridge, was intent — I was good at doing what I could with what I had, but I wanted to be more intentional about where I wanted to end up. Having now oscillated quite far in that direction, the word I’ll be carrying with me in 2016 is humility. I want to return to listening to what others have to say, to seeking the gems and surprises and connections, rather than focusing on my own intentions. That said, intentionality sure did carry some pretty amazing things with it…

Invested in taking care of myself


With two dear friends in Cambridge, working out twice a week (ish) became joyful instead of a chore. I’m now stronger than I’ve been in a long while, and my body is eager to move regularly (and noticeably unhappy when I don’t). I also can even (sometimes) run 5k in under 30 minutes. I’m comfortable in my own body again, years after breaking my arm and losing access to that part of life.

Mental health

In no small part due to an aggressively healthy work place (that in the next section), I have been taking been taking care of myself. I devised ways of being connected to others while still being mobile, and made that into a pattern for others to follow. This has also meant tracking my mood, how much I’m drinking (which way less, of both caffeine and alcohol, and way more of water), how well I’m sleeping, and starting to detect trends and linkages across everything. I started practicing meditation with any degree of regularity, and continue to feel the benefits. I also took a plethora of tiny vacations which, while including coworking, but were not for work. Being places Not For Work was bizarre and magical. All of these things combined to make this my least anxious year in a very, very long time.


While still by no means wealthy, I have started a retirement account (at 31 years old!) and paid off the small running loan I had with a family member (privilege jazz hands).


I tend to put myself into situations in which I cause myself anxiety. As an exercise in taking care of myself without extra stress while also spending time with friends, I attended Burning Man with False Profit… and didn’t tell anyone. It was great — I ran into old friends, made new friends, helped take care of camp, learned to fly a kite, and took it so easy that I only made it into the City once.
I’ve also started saying “no” more often in general. “No” to projects which aren’t strategic for myself and the project-holder, and to people who are unhealthy for me. I nearly took a job at the end of 2014 which would have been super unhappy even though it was with on amazing projects and with amazing people. Instead, with the help of a few friends, I disappointed those rad folk at that prospect by saying “no,” and instead I… Continue reading

A great day on Twitter

So I’m trying to get things in order to attend a hackathon against gender-based violence in rural India put on by a woman named Chinmayi who had been a GWOB participant, then mentee, and is now a friend of mine. Trying to sort things out means filling out an online visa application for India, which has been pure hilarity. The joys of Twitter are recreated here for the stake of posterity.

Continue reading

Missing Persons Application!

This is a draft of a blog entry. The idea needs further refinement, and we welcome your feedback!

When a disaster occurs, whether fast like an earthquake or slow like a drought or war, people go missing. As outsiders wishing to contribute to restoring the stability of our worlds, the desire to reunite friends and loved ones through the technology we know so well can be tempting. Making use of our knowledge of social platforms, geotagging, and databases is far easier than addressing the long-term systemic injustices which allow these crises to affect entire populations in the way they do, afterall. But let’s say a typhoon has just made landfall, or that there’s a sudden influx of refugees from a drought-blighted country, and you and a group of your friends have gathered to see what you can do about it. This is beautiful — we need to learn how to work in solidarity with those in other geographies. But it’s also a delicate space. This particular post is about whether or not you should build that missing persons app, or spend your time contributing to something like Google Person Finder, OpenStreetMap, Sahana, or Standby Task Force instead.

The missing persons/reunification domain of humanitarian response is not just about people logging themselves so as to be findable by those missing them. It’s also about those individuals being protected during the process, having support in finding those they’ve been separated from, and the infrastructure which surrounds these actions. Software has a lot to contribute to connection, information security, and sorting through indexes, but missing persons is a delicate space with real humans in the mix.

This is an inhabited space

There are already missing persons tools and organizations which have been vetted for capacity and integrity for follow-through and security. Here are the few most successfully used ones: American Red Cross’ Safe and Well, Google Person Finder, Sahana, Refugees United, International Committee of the Red Cross’ Restoring Family Links, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Please offer to help improve and maintain these existing tools (code repos and communities are linked to from each name)! If you are uncomfortable or unsure of how to contact them, please let me/Tim know!

However, we also understand that the world changes. We gain access to new technologies, there are new clever people in the world, and our understandings of situations change. There is *always* room for improvement in this space, just as any other. Want to do something substantively “better” or different than what the existing tools and organizations already do? Here’s what you need to know:

A component, not a solution

The software-based frontend and backing database are a TINY FRACTION of the overall system of missing persons reunification efforts. People are often missing for a *reason*, possibly because of political unrest, domestic violence, or displacement. If your platform publishes photos of someone or their geographic location, will someone try to come after them? Can you protect their physical and emotional wellbeing? There are national and international laws in place to protect such individuals, especially children, and your component of the system must be in alignment with those laws (or have a damn good and intentional reason for not being as such). Ethically, you should also respect an individual’s desire or need for privacy. In the Missing Persons Community of Interest, organizations handling missing persons data are reviewed by external parties for their ability to perform long-term maintainence and protection of said data. You and your tool will need to undergo the same rigor before being launched.

Complications versus easing interaction

Your goal is to make finding loved ones easier, right? Think about how many tools are already in play (see “This is an inhabited space” section above), and what adding one more to the mix would be like. Every new missing persons platform is another point of decision-making stress on the missing persons and those seeking them. Imagine being asked for personal information about yourself while under extreme duress over and over and over again.. or having to repeatedly enter in the details of someone you love and are deeply worried about while on a desperate search for them. The listed existing tools have gone through (and in some cases, are still working out) data sharing flows to reduce these stressors while still maintaining their committments to privacy and security of the data they hold. If you launch your tool, you’ll need to adhere to the same levels of empathy, respect, privacy, and sharing. (Side note, please don’t start a “uniting platform,” either, lest we get here. That’s what sharing standards are about.)

We look forward to your heartfelt, well-thought out contributions to this space.

Tim and Willow