Safe and Warm in Haiti

The day I arrived in Port-au-Prince was a whirlwind, joyful and strange and a bit overwhelming, soothed by stints of reading, and coding, and a nap. Adaptation is something all humans tend to be incredible at, myself being no exception (and possibly programmed to be even more so). Learning new social cues is fascinating rather than daunting, my main concern being not to fixate too long on any one person, lest they be put off by my stares.

That night, Emilie and I walked down the hill to a new restaurant/bar, recently opened. My own friendliness matched by one of the owners, Em asking if we already knew each other, given our laughing and kissing on cheeks (no hugging here), comrades in awareness and intent. He wants the area to be the Castro of Port-au-Prince, helping others to open shops and bars nearby, seeing the cultural shift rather than the competition. I feel the beginnings of something big – possibly struggle and tragedy, but more hopefully the expansion of the safe space we experience in their courtyard out into the streets. The weather had cooled, and the open floor plan with beautifully graffiti’d walls reminded me of Berlin. Brazilian pop played, and we capped our beers and talked for long hours. The same kind switch to English, accented by French and Creole here rather than German, so that I might participate.

Lit by oil lanterns, I feel the sort of quiet happiness you only get from stolen moments, the knowledge that you have participated in safe space when which is rare outside your bubble. But too often we long to use these spaces as sanctuaries of permanence, rather than celebration. Mecca is where we go to understand the world we strive for on a daily basis, to remind us to look up and see, rather than feel like we taking incrementally smaller steps, like some role in a philosophical mathematical proof. To be only around like-minded people is easy and wonderful, we can dive deeply into our shared interests and create esoteric structures of understanding. But those structures are fragile, not shored up by webs of links to other aspects of the world. And it is selfish to hoard those understandings, to not challenge ourselves and other people. As I recently read on the twitters, “design like you’re right, listen like you’re wrong.”

dinnercatAnd yesterday, I found myself amongst a group of hackers who gave up their weekends to fly continents away. They learned to interact at a different pace, waiting for translations. They learned just as much as the students and call center staff who came to talk. A day spent in a hot room, wind drifting through, my own tie and vest and dress shirt too much. My eventually exposed shoulders disrespectful but for my own profuse apologies and broken english allowances. One founder saying “the heat is a violence against you,” me not knowing possibly how to respond.

A sudden rush to get out the gate before the street is repaired, who knows where the means to do so came from. Despite our attempt to collect our equipment and pack into bags and into the truck, we are left watching as 7 Haitian men spread a small hill of asphalt via wheelbarrows and shovels. Rather than hover, we walk up the steep hill to drink beer from a shop made out of plywood, held together by a nail gun, and hand painted in more of this language I fail to grasp. The sun sets over the ocean, reminding us that we’re on a tropical island. Well, that and the mosquitos. We finally see some cars come up from the road we came from, and we head back to our Van of Privilege.

On the way to dinner we stop in a gas station supermarket to change money and get local rum. Again, children giggle at my hair (and the now showing tattoos) and stern adults walk them away. The numbers etched on my skin having an extra layer of indiscerability here. The harsh florescence and my own exhaustion make this a less welcoming place. Blocks away, our dinner includes goat, and taro root, and a very polite cat who holds the chair at the head of the table. The cat’s body language renders understandable, though I’ve struggled at times to understand the social cues here. I’ve realized how much of my interaction is based on wit, and compassion, and a deep understanding and care of what people expect and can handle. Here, I have none of the same leeway (because I have not built it, because I do not understand). It is atrociously good for me.

We return back to the hotel. Expats around tables, snow-marked (not pixelated) Alan Rickman and Bruce Willis on same small screen which showed Se7en the night before. We talk about making safe space for people in taking leadership roles (or at the very least being heard) who might not otherwise, and what it is to learn new things, and what tomorrow looks like.

This morning, I forgot to think about if I was being proper or not, and joked about my stick figures, and heard about cocreation. We played Bear-Ninja-Cowboy in the courtyard, and everyone laughed and cheered. Today they have a lot of work ahead of them – not the kind of work you plow through on your own, but the kind where you ensure the people around you are on the same page. Today is about building consensus, buy-in, and understanding. I am excited.


Landed in Port-au-Prince a few hours ago. Have had a nap, and a salad, and a tour of where we’ll hold the hackathon. I waited for Marco, our driver (green car), by the hotel’s road, prolonged looks from passers-by and giggles from children. Marco assures me it’s because my hair is so different, not because I am stumbling blatantly in any social way.

I’m here for a gender-based-violence hackathon put on by Digital Democracy – Schuyler linked us up. The call center which Kovaviv has going for victims of gender-based violence, to get them medical and psychosocial and legal help, is in need of some scaling and shoring up. (We’ll be using #HaitiHack for the event.) We’ve called together an international team and a local team to get the work done, housed out of a university with a charming leader obsessed with perrier. I drank coffee out of a tiny cup while we explored the space we’ll have access to, and ran into some folk from NetHope – the social singularities continue even here.

Everything is bright, and covered in hand-painted advertisements, and it is hot. High ceilings and open windows allow heat to pass through, vast empty rooms cooler than the crowded outside. I feel unhappy but grateful for the luxuries of the hotel they have put me up in – A/C (should I want it), hot water (should I want it), and wifi (definitely want that). There is teasing about my wilted demeanor in the heat, and I tell them about Seattle and the overcast and how people wear all greys and blacks and drink a lot of coffee. The traffic is chaotic but predictable, reminding me of driving in New York, but more so. Taps on the horn for communication, not anger. People walk and ride with assurance tempered with awareness.

Flocks of children recently released from schools, far enough from origin to have their uniforms mix together, some bands still holding strong. We talk about how a school uniform means if a student is found but the parents can’t for the moment, the school is a place to return to for safety and waiting. Marco is incredibly patient with me while I try to ask how attendance is determined – based on the ability to pay, not location. Cognitive leaps I barely get away with among native English speakers will not do here.

Guards with shotguns watch soccer alongside students, everyone piled into the cafeteria, ignoring the vista to cheer their team. It seems all the infrastructure (not just architectural, but also social, and network, etc) are either under repair or being built afresh. I wonder if this leads to a predictability which can be assumed, or means nothing is so stable as to built upon (hearts, dreams, and mortar). I imagine I will be in awe either way.

In a few hours, we’ll go to a restaurant-bar quietly owned by the same folk behind an LGBT advocacy group here. While not a “gay bar” (the backlash here would still be too great and violent), it is a safe space and a welcome meeting place. My utter lack in the language and many of the social cues prevent me from interacting much beyond planned meetings, but those few are with people who express mild curiosity and quick smiles. Tomorrow the rest of the crew arrives, but today I’m still trying to get some kegs picked up in San Francisco and my belongings shipped from Seattle to Boston. It is an interesting world.

September happenings

August 28-31 : Burning Man : DPW Camp
September 1st : High School Reunion : Indiana
September 7th : Journey to the End of the Night : Seattle

The city spreads out before you. Rushing from point to point, lit by the slow strobe of fluorescent buses and dark streets. Stumbling into situations for a stranger’s signature. Fleeing unknown pursuers, breathing hard, admiring the landscape and the multitude of worlds hidden in it.

For one night, drop your relations, your work and leisure activities, and all your usual motives for movement and action, and let yourself be drawn by the attractions of the chase and the encounters you find there.

September 8th : CyborgCamp : Seattle

CyborgCamp is an unconference about the future of the relationship between humans and technology. We’ll discuss topics such as social media, design, code, inventions, web 2.0, twitter, the future of communication, cyborg technology, anthropology, psychology, and philosophy.

September 14-15 : Education hackathon : Dallas, TX
September 21-23 : H4D2 hackathon : Birmingham, England

Aston University and the University of Warwick are happy to announce the Hackathon for Disaster Response, a 2-day event to bring together software developers and emergency management experts to hack out solutions to disaster-related problems. We will focus specifically on data available via social media, and on structured data (open data, linked data) available from a variety of sources. This event is sponsored as part of the Disaster 2.0 project

September 29 : CrisisCamp Ireland : Galway

First half of October I’ll be on the East Coast bouncing between DC, Boston, and NYC.

Please come out and participate!

Technomad Favorites

Stuff I use to help me be awesome on the road.


Home screen

Fancy Widget – sets up different launch options for each area of the screen. Drastically reduces how much real estate is taken up by often-used applications.

  • – it’s super easy to drop balls when you’re constantly shifting gears. This display cycles through tasks – I use it for things that are too small to put in Basecamp or email. Things like “call mom and dad” and “send that letter.”
  • Blik calendar is just pretty. It shows me all the things coming up for the day in an easy-to-use format.

Travel drawer:

  • Latitude has the effect of making me feel close to people, no matter where they are.
  • Geoloqi is the perfect way to let people know you’re on your way without the constant texting, and without the privacy issues of Latitude. Especially handy when on a motorcycle (can’t contact to say you’re stuck in traffic).
  • Local reminds me of awesome places through bookmarks. Wonderful when you’re jet lagged and just want a sandwich, but forget what food-rating app they use in that country.
  • Offi does great mapping and maps in the cities it’s available in. I like it way more than google maps, but sadly it’s not available in many US cities.
  • OneBusAway is the Seattle transit live update – tells you which buses go where, and what timing they’re ACTUALLY on, not what they’re schedule to be.
    Translate for obvious reasons.
  • Uber is my favorite fancy thing. Town car service at just a bit more than a taxi. But here’s the thing – all done through your phone – payment, requesting a pickup (usually within 10 minutes), map, receipt. Perfect for when you’re drunk or tired or just feel like splurging. Also, the same app will get you service in NYC, BOS, SEA, SFO, and likely other places.
  • EmbarkNYC will help you figure out if you’re on the right metro train while you’re underground. Invaluable, if a bit crashy.

Travel screen:

TripIt: Next flight, and all your confirmation codes etc at a tap. I used to store everything in my gcal, but this can now automatically update that with a forwarded confirmation email.
TouchCal: I load my WorldWideWillow calendar into this as its only displayed calendar – I can tell where I am, when. “How long are you in Chicago for?” “When do you get back to Seattle?” At a glance, I know.

On my computer

  • Boomerang is the best thing since whatever was the best thing after sliced bread. Does two things. One, sends an email later, which is wonderful if you’re in a weird time zone, have insomnia, or don’t want to be lost in the deluge of email someone is getting right after a conference. Second, it will return a message to the top of your inbox after a set amount of time (based on if someone has responded or not, or regardless of that). Makes you seem REALLY on top of your shit. (“I haven’t heard back on this yet, and we were talking about doing it next week. Do you still have time?”)
  • Pomodoro: 25 minutes of work, 5 minutes of play. This working method has been fantastic for me, especially because it logs the time (easy invoicing) and it gives me this cool little reminder of what I’m up to – invaluable for constant context shifts.

HOPE and Awesummit

Spent the last three weeks away from Seattle – about a week on Playa, a week in NYC, a week in Boston. Was constantly surrounded by people I respect immensely and with whom I can’t wait to have continued interactions.

HOPE was incredible. I gave a talk with Diggz on Geeks Without Bounds. I sat on a panel about DARPA funding education and hackerspace programs. No chairs were thrown. It was pretty bitchin’. Saw the Byzantium project, and drank mate, and sipped whiskey with the No Starch Press folk. Went out for beers with an eclectic group of hackers and artists, talked about the future we were building, the holes that still exist, and how we might be less wrong.

I was blown away by the gender ratios (still not close to half, but far better, especially with the speaker line-up), and that the vibe was a bit less awkward and certainly less sexually charged than most of the other events I’ve been to. And the level of respect with which people approached each other in calling out inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and differences of opinion was phenomenal.

Exploried an old power plant with Borgatti. Nearly got caught. Knelt in the dark, breathing quietly, covered in brick dust and mud, and waited for people to pass by. Played Cards Against Humanity with some of my favorite humanitarians. Spent time with my Sunday Boyfriend and met his new cat. Made my way to Boston. Played in the park in bare feet, with a flask of whiskey, in the torrential downpour of heat finally breaking. Sat on a sea wall and ate breakfast, loosing track of time and wading back, coffee in hand and boots over my shoulder.

Went to the #awesummit, saw what opt-in taxes might look like. People who understand they are a part of a larger whole – giving their excess to things which don’t just entertain them, but also enhance the rest of their community.

It was *so cool* to sit in a room with people whose shred ideologies are so meta we often lacked the language and pattern recognition to pin it down. That we couldn’t say all the projects we supported were even the same sort. That the trustees were not all of a similar demographic, background, what have you. Not even our giving patterns were the same. Only one thing was shared – the word “awesome,” and the aspect of sharing, of facing outwards. To have a group of people that varied come together to talk about what we *were*, if anything, and what that *meant*, if we were something or if we weren’t. It was wonderful. There were a few moments of tension, mostly around the idea of trademark. It reminded me a lot of the conversations in hackerspaces. What do we all share, when we are so fiercely grass roots? What does it mean to share a vision but not a praxis? What is the value of making ourselves legible to the rest of society, or is that something we should actively avoid?

And my drawings ended up on the MIT Civic Media blog, which is kind of amazing.

All that was topped off by a dinosaur-themed party with cookie checks and cake. Saw massive ink pipes and the three-story press at the Boston Globe, bifurcated paper and quixotic diagrams. A private tour with a new friend through back doors and stalled robots and stressed editors. Taking the green line back to my dear college friend’s home, walking the last mile slightly buzzed, T-Rex balloon bouncing, happy.

Continued conversations around what comes Next, what are we building, how are we helping each other. I continue to be in constant awe of the amazing folk around me, humbled that they invite me into their community and projects. And to return to Seattle, to smiles and mangos and all of the hackathon planning ever.

UK Passport Control

I maybe love my traveling life a bit too much.

Woke up at 0Dark:Thirty Friday morning to be in a cab to TXL by 06:00. Had already packed my bag. <3 to the Hacker Hostel. Got to the airport. They patted me down. Dumped out my bag. I removed the blade from my boot knife (box cutter ftw) and explained the CCCamp R0ket badge. They put my stuff through again, had me walk through the thing again. Took me to a side room to open up all my electronics and wipe them down with their fancy bomb towels. Sent me through again. At least the lady patting me down was attractive. A bit gruff though.
Customs in London. Passport, ticket, that little piece of paper that says who your contact is and where you’re staying (mine: London Hackerspace, woods).
“How long are you here for?”
“5 days.”
“What are you here for?”
“About what?”
“Uhh.. how humanity is fucked but the stories we can tell to build better culture”
“..Kay. Who puts it on?”
“Uncivilization / Dark Mountain / New Public Thinking”
“And where are you staying?”
“In a tent.”
“In the woods. Somewhere near London. I think. Dunno yet. Internet will tell me.”
“And Monday night?”
“Dunno yet. I think someone is hosting me, likely in my e-mail, I can pull up the info.”
“Are you traveling with anyone?”
“Not yet.”
“Do you have any paperwork? Tickets?”
“Can’t stand the stuff.”
“Do you have your ticket to return home?”
*Show her my flight info as an event on my phone*
“To Berlin. What are you doing there?”
“Staying one more night before going to Burning Man.”
“And before?”
“More camping. That time with hackers.”
“Between that and this I was working in a flat in some neighborhood I can’t pronounce.”
“Working? You don’t have a work visa.”
“No, telecommuting for work in the US.”
“What do you do?”
“I link up hacker communities to humanitarian organizations.”


I’m 39,000 feet in the air, and I’m savoring a few moments of calm between the crazy of the past few weeks and the promise of more epicness for the next month the moment we touch down.

Two weeks ago, I presented on Transhumanism at Gnomedex. Two days ago, I got the confirmation for a one-way-ticket to Los Angeles. How did I get here?

The gent who presented after me at Gnomedex, one Mr Johnny Diggz, talked about something called Geeks Without Borders. Now we’re calling it GWOBorg, for legal reasons which I might expound upon later. It’s a network of geeks set up to assist those providing disaster relief or who are affected by adverse conditions. Because, as Diggz said, “doctors need to look up shit.” We ended up sitting next to each other at the very lovely conference lunch (thanks, Chris and crew!), we talked about the OpenGov Hack-A-Thon his company Tropo was hosting. I informed him that the amount he had paid to use the nearby hotel was preposterous, and that having such events in hacker and maker spaces was a better idea on many counts. As the conversation evolved, we also decided that nodes for GWOB should be hosted out of hacker and maker spaces. I told him I would put him in touch with a slew of awesome people who might help him and his out. He asked if I couldn’t just do it – I knew the people, I knew the reasoning, I have the passion. We agreed upon some terms and I said yes.

My home is not the usual mess it’s left in for my hurried exit to the airport. The cat was mashed, the dishes (mostly) done, the carpet vacuumed. James Carlson helped me in massive ways with the presentation Diggz and I will give at each space. I’ll post it here once it’s done and the voice-over has been added. Levi wrapped his arms around me as we raced down the highway, droplets of water etching designs on my faceshield.

And so now I’m 39k feet in the air, on my way to LA for the first stop of our tour. I wonder how I would explain this to my younger self – what I’m going to do, or that I would ever accept a one-way-ticket from a person I met only 2 weeks ago, when my only liquid assets are the $10 bill in my pocket and blind determination.

Put up or shut up, it’s time to make a dent in the world.

I’ll already be in Seattle, but flying into Burlington Vermont is affordable if I can get some more people in the rental car. Ah? Ah?

Think about it, let me know.