I’ve been really upset the past few days. Some people have seen it on the Twitters, but I’ve been pretty quiet about what context I’ve been in. But might as well do the full explanation. I’m in Silicon Valley (Fremont, to be exact), tho I’m now packing up my bags. I was here to take a CompTIA class covering A+ Net+ Security+. I actually don’t have the knowledge base in these areas, despite running in crowds that would find these certs a piece of cake. I’m good at teaching myself (see this other entry), but I utterly fail to take the time to do so. I also do incredibly well in standardized learning environments, despite fighting against them as a major part of my Life Objective.

So I signed up to do this bootcamp thing to acquire a baseline of knowledge to work from. I needed to know the terminology, the basic infrastructure to even know where to begin. And I did get that. But I also got a slap-in-the-face reminder of how spoiled I am in the rest of my life. Of how fucked up the world (still) is.

It was weird enough to be in a hotel instead of crashing on a friend’s couch. A hotel where they *really* want to change your sheets and towels every day. A hotel where they have a TV in every room, and play one loudly in the morning over hard boiled eggs and huge-bag cereal. I heard news reports on books, and on e-mail hacks, and celebrities. We go from artificial environment to artificial environment. There are no sidewalks, only expanses of parking lots and highways. There are two strips of grass between the hotel lobby and the gas station/Subway where we’re expected to get our dinners each day of our 10-day stay.

My classmates are from all different walks of life, from nursing facilities to military to bit torrent servers. There are a couple of us in here that don’t need the cert, are here because we wanted to learn something – most are here because it’s necessary for work or due to hard times in other professions. The ratios are skewed male, as might be expected. It’s also skewed for the South and for military. We’ve been drinking beer together in the evenings, studying, and teasing each other. We don’t talk about politics. We don’t talk about god. Yesterday, some of us went to an In-And-Out Burger since Connecticut hadn’t been before. Yes, we’re simply referring to each other as our geographic origins. Except me.

The class is a shot-gun to the test, with very little actual instruction but rather meaningless stories to fill air time while we pile through practice tests. The only two things I’ve gotten out of it are how laser printers work and how to figure out subnetting. Even the rote method I could handle, tho it’s aggravating. It’s that the instructor is so painfully a joyful participant in everything that is wrong with the world. He’s a sweetheart and he’s kind, so I don’t think he’s doing these things to get my goat, as it were. I think he’s genuinely invested in the same system that keeps him down. And it reminds me of Catholic school, of parts of my small town, of the world I fought with tooth and nail every day until the current #postgeographic enchanted bubble.

Anytime he mentions someone who does computer work, the masculine pronoun is used. Anyone who is naive in the ways of computers has a feminine pronoun. Anyone who is on a network without explicit permission is a “bad guy”, without any discussion of MAYBE the SYSTEM is the fucked up part. That playing in your environment is maybe a good thing. And when talking about protocols and using the understandable metaphor of different languages and a translator, he then makes it awful by saying English is a Good Guy language and NOT English is Bad Guy language. And then, I shit you not, explaining that people that don’t speak the Good Guy language were going to take down the network. Maybe that network was a military network. And a few minutes later making a reference to 9/11 and to be wary of leaving paperwork on desks because maybe someone on the cleaning crew wasn’t actually on the cleaning crew.

I had asked him one-on-one, while others were at break, to please not refer to EVERYONE who explores a system as a Bad Guy. He told me anyone who entered a system who wasn’t permitted WAS a Bad Guy. I told him we would just have to disagree, then. He slowly explained his point again. I told him I understood but disagreed. He explained again, nearly with the exact same wording, but more slowly. I gritted my teeth and sat down.
I finally snapped today. He said that people now get locked out of their work environments immediately when giving their 2-week notice instead of having a good-bye party BECAUSE OF THE INFORMATION AGE, not because their boss didn’t trust them. I said, no, it’s because their boss doesn’t trust them. It’s standard these days, he said. That doesn’t make it right, I said. We went back and forth for a bit. It escalated. I explained that his blanket statements, including this one, were not true and not ok. A classmate added in gender and assumptions of competence. He got defensive, saying it’s “just the way it’s done. You’ll hear this everywhere.”

Which leads us to this diatribe. THAT IS NEVER AN OK ANSWER. That is part of what leads a race to the fucking bottom. “Oh, I’ll just go along with the flow without thinking about it” is, in my eyes, every goddamn thing that is wrong in the world. We are culture. We create the things we use. We create the systems we exist in. And not taking an active role in that allows crap solutions to continue existing.

This whole experience has just been a manifestation of everything I see as being wrong with the “real” world. Teaching to the test. Ambivalence allowing bigotry to seep into the everyday language of people. Stereotyping because it’s easier than exploring nuance. And always, always, the resounding silence of people who haven’t learned yet to speak up for what they believe in. Or worse yet, haven’t yet discovered that they CAN believe in something. I’m not upset with the instructor, or the program. I’m upset with the system in which they can exist, are necessary, can thrive. So I walked out of class to vindictively ace my Net+ cert. For my next trick, I’ll do the same for Security+. And then roll my sleeves back up and keep trudging away at altering the education system through geek social responsibility and active citizenship.

Learning Sans School

Teaching yourself new things is hard. I mean, concentrated, intentional learning. Not picking up bits and pieces over the course of days and weeks during everyday interaction.

Right now, I’m learning Python, and about TCP/IP, and German.

Things I’ve learned about learning:

  • <3 to 3 and C for essplaining

    Bite sized chunks. My brain can handle about 30 minutes at a time, then I have to go do something else. So, Pimsler is in 30-minute chunks, youtube videos, and the like. I can get through a Python Lesson or two in that time slot, too.

  • Express what you’re learning in the best way to you. For me, it’s drawing through networks, doing flow charts of Python, and muttering to myself in German about what time you’re going to eat.
  • Check in with someone (hi, Kaleen!). We are professional slackers, and having someone else that you have agreed to explain things to keeps you honest. You also get them to filter out the best parts of their own studies for you.
  • Track it. It’s easy to lie to yourself about how much you’ve been doing (either way more or way less). I use a simple thing called JoesGoals. I can see when the last thing I did something was, if I’m spending too much time on any one thing, or not enough on others.
  • Care. I care about TCP/IP because I think what networks people chose to put in place will be indicitive of how they view the world. I care about Python because I’m tired of asking other people to write things for me without understanding it myself. And I care about German because I want to not be a hick American that can’t speak the language of a country I aim to spend a lot of time in. Also, slight crush.

Some fantastic friends have taken time to explain through some things with me, send me puzzles and questions. Everyone has been incredibly supportive.

The hardest thing for me has been making the time. Given my schedule, and all the pressing things at hand, it’s hard to take time for myself. So I’m trying to go easy on myself – know that I’m not going to stick to this every day, but I can most days. And that taking time to improve my brain is worth it.

Some resources for everyone:
CRE : Tech and politics : German podcast
Die Seite mit der Maus : Kid’s program about science
HR : another German podcast. Still don’t know quite what it’s about, but it’s good to hear structures.
Sesamstraße on YouTube
Thanks, Fabienne for the fantastic recommendations

Learn Python the Hard Way
Khan Academy : their CompSci lessons use Python

Wireshark : lets you capture packets easily and analyze them. Also has a nice wiki to start learning things.

What does education mean to you?

As you all likely know, my intent is always towards education. I don’t mean traditional systems, though that works for some folk quite well (myself included). I mean the simple act of learning. The fulfillment and deepening of curiosity. It means an engagement with the world that can only be temporarily dimmed by complacency. It means the survival and prosperity of individuals, their community, and the superorganism we all compose together. But for me it’s one simple idea:

Education is the best possible fulcrum for social change.

Everyone interacts with it, even if it’s explicitly not to. Everyone agrees our current systems are broken. And through the examination of those systems, we come to understand our cultures, and how we are affected by and effecting those cultures.

I’ve gotten into 50-comment-deep threads on Google Reader before (sadface to my recently departed favorite social forum) about this sort of cultural awareness, so let me explain a bit more.
I can support whatever choices someone is making, even if I don’t fully get it or if it doesn’t seat well with my personal world view. I can only do this, though, if they have examined those choices in light of other cultural knowledge. I respect the Catholics of Seattle I’ve met because they have also understood science, Greek mythology, and what they personally get out of religion. They have educated themselves about many aspects of culture and decided what works best for them.

This is what got me into Transhumanism – that we are at a point in our evolution where through awareness, we can become self-determining. It’s why I have “we are the machine” as my first tattoo – our interactions with each other are what set us going in certain directions. That is ultimate compassion and ambition.

So. This brings us to the most recent Brainmeats podcast. It’s me and Lisha; James Carlson, my mentor and founder of Bucketworks; Beth Kolko, awesome education hacker at University of Washington; Pete Hall, another amazing education hacker, though in Auckland; Dale Dougherty of MAKE and various hands-on education initiatives; and Kushal Chakrabarti of education microloan foundation Vittana. I have the absurd pleasure of calling each of these folk “friend,” some even “dear friend” or “partner in crime.”

Kushal is doing a blogger challenge right now for Vittana. You should check that out, plus the student I just supported, and get in on one or both of these extensions of opportunity. Those of us who are privileged enough to be able to choose between if school works for us or not, and how we will pay for it if we do, have a responsibility to offer those same opportunities. How often can you say $25 changed someone’s life? I lose that in the dryer every month.

This blog post is part of the Vittana “Make a Difference” blogger challenge. The contest invites bloggers from around the world to discuss various ways to make a difference in the world, as well as share stories on who or what has made a difference in their lives.

The winning blog post will be the post that drives the most loans to students in need. Please support this cause (and this blog!) by making a loan in my name: “Willow Brugh.” Be sure to type that in when you reach the checkout page (example screenshot) The more loans you make the more educations get funded and the more recognition and traffic my site gets!

Please support this blog and contest by using this special link to tweet about it (You can edit the tweet before it’s posted, but make sure this link (http://bit.ly/s5beTT)and the hashtag #vittanachallenge is part of the tweet or Vittana won’t know you tweeted about me!)


Things are getting really big, really fast.

Pulling from an e-mail I just had to write to someone, especially as I’m not sure the readership here knows all this stuff:

I’m director of Jigsaw Renaissance, a learning and making community based out of Seattle. We’re built on the image of Bucketworks (out of Milwaukee), dubbed “the world’s first health club for the brain.” We’re into transdisciplinary and intergenerational learning. We’re into helping you discover your world, and how to engage with it. Jigsaw (and Bucketworks) is (are) program(s) of the School Factory. That’s a 501(c)3 aimed at changing the way people educate themselves and interact with educational systems.

The School Factory has seen a lot more activity in the past year than in its first 8 years of existence due to a thing called The Space Federation (drawing a diagram yet? and I said corps were bulky..). Fed aims to offer a support network – fiscal sponsorship, basic paperwork, mentorship, etc – to hacker, maker, artistic, coworking, etc spaces across the US. This is a big part of The School Factory because we see these spaces as where people go to continue their educations or to find ways of learning that they didn’t get in our current educational systems.

So, all of that is fo realz. School Factory‘s new site went live last month (though it’s still not fleshed out enough for a big publicity push, so please keep it to yourselves, at least for a bit). Jigsaw got mentioned specifically by The White House.  W.     T.       F.

I talked with Beth Kolko a couple weeks ago about linking up Jigsaw with some of UW’s programs. Ezekiel and I are working on linking his certification system into education outside of academic settings. Jordan and I are working on an OpenDoor Hack-A-Thon to link up membership status with space access, potentially between spaces across the country.

And and and. AND. So that tour I went on? For Geeks Without Bounds? Well. Currently submitting proposals to become the director of GWOB as a program of the School Factory. Which would mean it would be potentially sponsored by Tropo. And other big organizations. Which would mean I would be paid to do the stuff I love doing. Set of my time to GWOB, paid; set of my time to School Factory, eventually paid; and set of my time to Jigsaw, as always. Again, the big proposal is not official yet, but my being paid is. But still. How cool would that be?! Link communities to learn to use their powers for good, which I do anyway, but on a bigger scale, and be able to eat more than ramen? Plan huge events that may or may not involve zombie apocalypse scenarios? ZOMG.

I am bouncing in my seat. And not just because I failed at not drinking coffee.

World Maker Faire

Maker Faires always make me happy. The passion inspired among geeks when you say “Look! Look at this thing I have done!” is like Christmas always should have been. It’s also affirming to all of the effort it takes to operate the brass tacks of maker and hacker spaces. You see the people who have toiled oer their projects for weeks finally show the finished product with a flourish and an adoring audience. The hours of effort, the stress of paying the bills on the space, the stupid drama that inevitably must be mucked through when eccentric people are brought together… that all fades away in the face of joy, collaboration, and SCIENCE.

I had the honor of moderating a panel at Maker Faire NYC. Leigh Honeywell, James Carlson, Jordan Bunker, Christina Pei, Eric Michaud, and Psytek joined me as panelists. We talked about what makes spaces sustainable – everything boiled down to money and community. Make sure people are happy and communicating, and make sure your bills are paid. That’s it. We all had different ways of doing that, with meetings and accounting methods, and making sure the passion remains.

We also talked a lot about education, and the impact that these spaces can and already have on our educational systems and communities. We talked about charter schools, project-based credit, passion-based learning, and inter-generational teaching. Change is in the air. And we’re making it.