{August 19, 2015}   Pocket hacking: the rigs

I’ve talked about pouches, now I’m going to talk about what they attach to – the belt and the purse rig.

The belt! :)
The belt is actually quite easy to sew, if rather tedious. I just attach the buckle at one end, then sew a vertical line attaching the nylon strap to the leather every 4cm, all the way around (plus a bit extra where I had to use a second piece of leather). The nylon strap should be as long as your belts, plus a bit for attaching the buckle; the leather should be a bit less than the narrowest you’d ever have the belt. The height of the leather piece is important too – you need a bit of a lip at the top, maybe 0.5-1cm, to protect against any scratchy bits on the pouches, and enough below that the belt grips your clothes and stays in place. Mine’s about 2 inches thick.

As for the buckle… The rough belt had d-rings, which are great for small adjustments but take a bit longer to get on and off. For the good belt, I picked a buckle with quick-release that also looked like one side could be adjustable. The quick release was great, but in practice the adjustable part was too loose. After the belt fell off a couple of times, I added a scrap of leather to the end so that it couldn’t slide out all the way. Now at worst, it ends up on my hips. Next time I might put in a separate adjustable bit, though.

The purse!
Now, on to the purse rig. This was, as I said, basically three nylon straps sewn together every 4cm. Originally it was one strap folded at the ends, with d-rings in the folds, but I quickly discovered that the d-rings needed to be at the top, not the sides – if the forces don’t balance, the rig will bend and squish and be really annoying. On this one the d-rings are attached with fabric scraps, but next time I’d use some leftover ribbon. I did try just sewing them on, but the thread wore through pretty quickly – you need something that’ll resist abrasion and hold a decent weight. (More than the weight of the purse – I tend to rest my hand on my purse at times, and if the purse got caught on a backpack I wouldn’t want it breaking.)

As for the strap, I’m still using the one off another purse. All it needs is a clip at each end, and adjustable length. I like the narrow straps most purses come with – my purse is light enough for it, and it’s a great place to put buttons. :)

That’s all for now – hopefully I’ll have more to talk about next month, though. I’ve got plans for not just waterproofing, but also two new pouches… :)

{August 11, 2015}   Pocket hacking: the pouches

Today, I’m going to go into detail about my current set of pouches.

the two pouches

Both are based on the same pattern. Both have the same molle straps on the back. Where they differ is that the wallet pouch has a slot on the back for a bus ticket, whereas the phone pouch has a divider and some boning to keep the phone protected and easy to reach.

pouch pattern and boning

What have I learnt from the basic pattern? Mainly that I’m not as good as I think I am at mapping between 2d and 3d. :) the original pattern had the corner bits wrong (thankfully by not cutting enough – easy to fix), and I had to reverse-engineer my way to a correct pattern afterwards. :)
The seams were a bit fiddly too – I had them sewn twice, so that the ends turned in on themselves and couldn’t fray [edit: TIL this is called a french seam], but because the two margins were the same size, little frayed bits stick out of the outer seam in a few places. I had more success on the second round, but it still wasn’t perfect.

Next, the molle straps; the wallet pouch was my first time using two separate straps for each loop, instead of bending one around. I prefer this way – it sits flatter on the belt – but it does mean there’s a seam above the belt strap. I’m glad I have a little extra leather at the top to protect me there. :)
I did learn a couple of things here: first, the straps need to be just a tiny bit further apart to fit a bus ticket between them. Second, the sew-on snaps I’ve been using are not ideal – they always feel like the thread could snap at any moment, and the thread seems to stretch after a while too, leaving them a bit loose. I bought a selection of alternatives from dressew and tried them out; in the end, the strongest seemed to be the press-on snaps and some little white buckles. I’ll be trying those out next time I build a new pouch.

alternate snaps

Now, the ticket holder… At first I tried sewing on a scrap of netting. That did at least prove I can get a ticket in there if it pushes the straps aside a bit, but it turned out to be a terrible material – bus tickets kept catching on it, and eventually it tore (and I never did get a photo of it! darn).
The second time, I used the same fabric as the pouch, and made a two-sided little envelope, with boning at the opening, before sewing it to the pouch.

ticket holder
For the seams, I decided to try a different method – I sewed only once, with bias tape covering the rough edges. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but it was super fiddly to sew, probably took longer than sewing twice, and I didn’t have a good way to finish the ends of the bias tape itself. To attach it to the pouch, I sewed the top edge on first, but it was getting folded up sometimes, so I added a line of stitching down the middle (not visible in the photo) to form a T-shape. Oh, and one last lesson – things inside the wallet pouch can obstruct the ticket holder. >.< I’ll have to add a stiff panel between them next time.

As for the phone pouch, there’s not much to say. The divider I added is working well, despite only being attached on 2 sides. It’s just a piece of plastic mesh inside a fabric sleeve, with extra fabric on two sides to form a sort of half-box. Why not three sides? because if I’ve attached a charger or headphones, I need some extra space for their cables, and I need to be able to get the phone out without detaching those cables. :)

inside-out phone pouch

The other addition was the boning in the opening. It helps hold the structure a little, but it makes the zipper even harder to close. And usually flips itself over too. I might try a shorter piece next time. I’ll also try adding it to the wallet pouch – it could do with a little more structure so that there’s space beside the wallet itself.
That’s about it for the pouches right now – but I’ve started planning a new iteration already. I want rainproof pouches for autumn, now that dressew has some decent colours of rainproof nylon. It’s not quite as waterproof as vinyl, but it’s much easier to work with, and should be enough for all but the heaviest rain so long as I’m careful with the seams. :)

{July 15, 2015}   Pocket hacking 2.0

I’ve done a lot of sewing since my previous “pocket hacking” post. For one thing, I’m actually at a point where I can wear my creations out in public. :) At the end of the last post, I was hoping I’d summarize some of the problems and solutions this time. But, that’s no fun. I’m just going to discuss what I made again.

First off, I did finish that laundry pouch from last time, and it was useful. :) I also made a simple molle belt out of the first thing that was handy (an old jeans leg). For a while that was all I had, as I planned and procrastinated on the next set of pouches, and continued the quest to not have goddamn headaches all the time (which is actually making progress now, yay, but debugging humans is sloooowwww).


Eventually, though, I decided to bite the bullet and just make a wallet pouch, even though I still wasn’t sure what I wanted. I went for a very simple design – heck, I could have used a pencil case, if I had one in the right size and colour – added molle straps, and that was it. It fit the wallet that I was using in my purse, so I didn’t have to move individual cards and such when switching between them. Later I tried to add a bus ticket holder on the back, but it didn’t really work out.


With that done, I procrastinated a bit more on making a new phone pouch, and copmpletely changed plans several times. When I’d had enough of that and decided to try making something, I started with the exact same pattern as the wallet pouch. In fact, for a couple of days I had just that simple pouch, until I got tired of the mess and made a divider to keep my phone separate. I had intended to add some pouches onto the divider, but somehow it didn’t happen that day, and I ended up using an old coin pouch as a “temporary” organizer that turned out to be good enough to keep. :)


Once I had those pouches, I could put my entire purse contents onto my belt. But my outfit didn’t always include a suitable belt, and sometimes a purse is the easiest option, so I made a quick frame to combine the pouches into a purse. It’s just three nylon straps sewn together, with rings to attach a purse strap (the strap is borrowed from another purse, at least for now).


The next step was a proper utility belt, one pretty enough to wear outside. I made it out of green leather, with an adjustable quick-release buckle at the front. I was planning to cut the leather in a nice pattern, but haven’t quite got around to it yet. :)


So that’s what I’ve been wearing this summer. :) It works fairly well, and a friend even asked about me making one for her. :) It’s a good thing that it’s summer, though – absolutely none of this is waterproof. I have started on plans for waterproof covers, but for the moment I’ll have to hide the belt under a jacket if it rains.

I’ve glossed over a lot in this post – I could probably talk for an hour about each photo. Maybe I’ll write another post with details, maybe I won’t.

{April 3, 2015}   Working with vinyl

This was going to be titled “Sewing with vinyl”, but I didn’t actually end up sewing my successful projects. :)

(This post is a bit rough, sorry. Migraines suck. I don’t think I’ll have the energy to clean it up before I lose interest.)

The goal was to make a waterproof rain skirt, so that I could sit at bus stops in the rain. The folks at dressew told me (and I later confirmed with the shower) that regular water-resistant fabrics wouldn’t be enough, and I should try vinyl. They also warned me that the holes from sewing it could easily turn into perforations. So I got $3 of their thinnest clear vinyl (4 gauge) and started experimenting.

The first test was regular sewing. I made a little pouch (not quite the one I was intending to make, but oh well) and was careful to not stitch too close together. Still, when I pulled gently on the seams they seemed to stretch. Tolerable for a little coin pouch, but not for the kind of strain I could put on a skirt if I sat down quickly.

Next I tried gluing the seams. Glue guns aren’t much use on vinyl – it just peels off when dry. The glue gun itself wasn’t hot enough to fuse the vinyl properly, either. White glue was even worse at sticking.

The experiment with the glue gun got me to try the soldering iron, though, and that worked much better. With parchment paper to keep the tip clean, it easily fused two layers of vinyl together… Although it did burn holes in the single layer where I accidentally touched it. Good thing I was practising on scraps first! :)


For practice, I also made a cute little coin pouch, which almost holds water (I only made two pinprick holes).


After finding the right soldering temperature and speed to fuse the vinyl without damaging it, I went back to figuring out a skirt pattern. I wanted as few seams as possible, so I just made enough pleats that I could sit down, and soldered the very top of them.


While the vinyl stuck to itself enough to test at home, I needed a proper fastener to make it stay on reliably. Since I also needed to adjust it to a varying waistline, and have the ends overlap, Velcro was the obvious choice. Not so obvious was how to attach it. Sewing was already ruled out, I didn’t think stick-on Velcro would be strong enough, nobody sells the iron-on kind around here… But I was poking around in dressew and stumbled on “Velcro glue”, which appears to be one step below superglue, and works on vinyl. It was a bit of a pain to apply (I was scared of touching it even though it claimed to not bond skin) and it’s not quite as strong as I’d hoped, but it’s strong enough. I could still peel off the Velcro if I put a good bit of effort in, but the forces on the skirt won’t do it on their own.


In positioning the Velcro, I made it so that the opening was on the side, with the opening pointing backwards. That way it’s easier to walk, still keeps the rain off as much as possible, and I know I have vinyl protecting me when I sit down.

So, I have a skirt! :)


In testing the skirt itself… It does a good job of keeping rain off, but the non-velcro side was being awkward when I sat down. Next time I’d probably do two pieces with Velcro on both sides. It’s also a bit awkward in general, despite being the thinnest vinyl I could get, and even though it folds up small enough for my backpack I wouldn’t want to put it in there while it’s wet. It’s like carrying around a second umbrella in that regard. I think I’d only wear it on heavy rain days, and maybe I’ll try a smaller square of vinyl for sitting on at bus stops.

Oh, and I upgraded the coin pouch with some boning (stiff plastic strips used for corsets) so that if I pinch the ends it opens up :) that part was easy, since I just had to fold the ends over the boning and fuse them shut.


Imagine, if you will, a world where it is considered barbaric to bump into anyone in public. And you’re blind. Oh, and everyone is required to wear sunglasses all the time, so people can’t tell whether anyone is blind, and some people don’t believe blindness exists at all.

It is possible for you to learn alternate methods of sensing your surroundings, but it’s hard. No matter how hard you try, occasionally you’re going to bump into people anyways – maybe you were tired and distracted, maybe someone moved too quickly for you to sense, maybe some jerk tripped you on purpose.

Now, some people respond to this by loudly proclaiming “blind person coming through, watch out, watch out, not my fault if you get in the way,” and then blithely walk where they wish, bumping into lots of people and stepping on their toes. That’s not very nice, and anyways, many people suspect that they’re not blind at all, just jerks who wanted an excuse to hurt people.

Other people are so terrified of bumping into anyone that they curl up into a ball muttering “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please don’t bump into me.” That’s no way to live, but they can’t think of any alternative besides option 1 above.

Eventually, groups of blind people find each other, and set up spaces where there are clear non-visual clues about where to walk, and nobody really minds if you bump into them now and then so long as you don’t seriously injure them. Some people are more careful than others, and there’s debate about how much care ought to be expected and whether it’s okay to punish someone who’s utterly careless, but mostly people get along and the ones that were curled up in corners start to come out of their shells (bumping into a lot of people in the process, but they’ll get better at that in time).

At the same time, however, there’s another group of people… well, sort of, because they have funny voices, and they haven’t quite been considered people in the past, and for a long time it was fine to walk into them, or even beat them up, and nobody cared. But they’ve been fighting that long and hard, and they’ve finally got the anti-bumping laws to apply to them too, even if a large minority still ignores those laws and acts like they’re crazy for being upset when someone bumps into them, or denies it ever happened. They’ve built their own funny-voice-only spaces, but regular people keep trying to break into them, so they have to work hard to defend them while also working hard to defend themselves whenever they’re not there.

Some of the funny-voice people are blind too, and fuck is that ever confusing. Should I expect other people to stop bumping into me now, even though I bump into them still because I’m blind? What if the person is blind? Should they have been more careful, or was this just one of those unavoidable times? And oh god, what if I bump into a funny-voice person, they’ll be so mad at me for not treating them like a person but really I just didn’t notice them, but maybe I should have been more careful, maybe I should just stay far far away from them so that I never accidentally bump into them… Maybe I should retreat to the safer blind-friendly spaces (even though less people will consider me a person there).

But now it turns out those blind-friendly spaces are sitting on top of a gold mine, and regular people keep coming in to mine for gold. And the funny-voice people don’t want to be left out of the gold-mining like they always were when they weren’t considered people, so more of them are coming in too. But the regular people don’t want to share their gold, so they keep bumping into them trying to hurt them, and the blind people are bumping into them too – either because they’re blind, or because they want to hog the gold too, or both – and some blind people are regressing to their pre-friendly-space behaviour, and the funny-voice people are getting injured and really pissed off about everyone bumping into them all the time and some sound ready to just fucking punch everyone…

And here I am, blind with a funny voice, wishing everyone could get along somehow, and wondering if I can ever get any gold myself without bumping into all these goddamned people (or getting injured myself). Some days, curling up into a ball seems like a much easier option all around, but I worry that if I do that, people will say “see, funny-voicers aren’t really people” or “see, blind people can stop bumping into anyone”…

So yeah, I have aspergers, and I’m going to say some stupid shit sometimes and cross boundaries unintentionally. And yeah, I’m female, and I deserve to have my boundaries respected. I’m doing the best I can to minimize the former, and be assertive about the latter without traumatizing other aspies. And once in a while I’ll be a jerk when I know better and could stop myself, but I’m doing my best to minimize that too.

But I still wish everyone could just get along…

{January 25, 2015}   grub 2 and multiple hard drives

I recently set my home computer up to dual-boot, and it took far longer than it should have, so I thought I’d blog about one of the issues.

I’ve got two hard drives; windows is undisturbed on hda, and linux I installed on hdb. After jumping through some bizarre hoops to get the bios booting off hdb (wtf asus bios, why do you hate multiple hard drives), I discovered grub couldn’t boot windows. I could boot windows from hda just fine, so I knew the problem was with grub…

First problem: 90% of the information out there is still for grub 1, not grub 2. they’re almost completely different beasts, with different config locations (/boot/grub/menu.1st vs /etc/grub.d/), different config languages, and even different bloody partition numbering systems! Oh, and of the 10% that is for grub 2, 90% of that is for ubuntu, which has a few convenience scripts other distros lack.

I’ll condense what I learnt about that here:

  1. Most of the stuff in /etc/grub.d/ is fancy autodetection scripts that you don’t want to touch.
  2. What you do want to touch is /etc/grub.d/40_custom. leave the tail line intact, and treat the part below as your old menu.1st, but with the new config language (api reference and examples).
  3. Ubuntu’s update-grub is just grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/grub2/grub.cfg

Once I had my head wrapped around grub 2 enough to get a test menuentry up, the next question was, what is actually wrong with the autodetected windows entry? The error windows threw had no shortage of google results, but a lot were from mangled windows bootloaders, or 32 vs 64-bit issues. Most of the rest talked about mbr vs gpt, or legacy bios vs uefi, or secure boot; I was almost convinced one of these was the issue, despite them all being in the context of windows 8 (I’ve got windows 7), but I kept testing other things while I thought about it, and happily stumbled on the solution:

It turns out that while installing opensuse, I had let grub swap the order of the hard drives, and it was passing on this swap to windows, confusing the heck out of it. I converted some grub 1 advice to grub 2 syntax (hint: map is now drivemap) and windows happily booted up from grub. :)

I’m worried by what I learnt about UEFI and Secure Boot, though. Between bricking bugs and vendor lock-in, it sounds like things could get ugly next time I want a new computer. :(

{October 5, 2014}   Pocket hacking

I saw an article about pockets today (or rather the lack thereof on womens’ clothing), and it prompted me to finally start the blog about pockets and pocket-like things that I’ve been putting off way too long. So long, in fact, that I’m not really sure where to start. This is going to be a long one – but don’t worry, there are plenty of images. :)

One of my hobbies the last couple of years has been working on pocket alternatives (utility belts, purse mods, etc). But I feel like the story starts much further back…

Pockets to Purses to Utility Belts

In grade school, I had pockets. And I loved pockets. I always carried at least a pencil and notepad, probably as far back as grade 2 (I remember writing poems in it at recess). By highschool, I was into cargo pants, and filled my pockets with all kinds of useful things.

In university, my style changed, and I didn’t want to wear cargo pants any more. But that meant less pockets – and the problem has been getting steadily worse ever since. These days, even jeans have undersized or fake pockets. Skirts and dresses almost never have any at all.

At first, I tried offloading some of the pocket stuff to my backpack. That had problems, though – especially for my wallet and phone. The backpack was harder for me to reach, and easier for thieves. One good development came from that, though – I started thinking about backpack organization (but I’ll leave that for another post).

I resisted buying a purse for a long time – I’m not quite sure why. Probably because I still felt uncomfortable with anything so stereotypically feminine. They looked incredibly impractical, too. But one day I saw one that was perfect for me – small enough to not hurt my shoulder, adjustable so I could stop it from swinging around while cycling, and comfortably androgynous without being ugly. It even had a detachable strap, so I could easily untangle it from jackets and backpacks.

That purse lasted several years, and was repaired quite a bit, until the zipper was truly unsalvageable. :) my essentials were in there, easily reached and secure, and everything else went in my backpack.

[side note: it turns out that purse is still available on the interwebs – but they only ship to the states. FFFFFUUUUUUUUUU]

Since then, I’ve never found a purse quite as good. Purses have some inherent disadvantages that annoy me, anyways. I have to remember to take my purse off before adding or removing a sweater or jacket. It swings around wildly at inconvenient times. It’s never as waterproof as it ought to be in such a rainy city (see also: hats). It can only hold a tiny weight without being a strain on my shoulder. And there’s always that little fear that I’ll accidentally leave it somewhere.

So, a few years ago, I started looking into utility belts. I’ve seen some really pretty ones in stores, but it’s infuriatingly hard to find one that even fits me, let alone suits my needs. They seem mostly built for much larger girls.

I do own a couple, though. The first one was a slim leather-and-brass thing I found in a discount bin at a stall at a festival. At the time, my phone just barely fit in one of the main pouches. It was useful for a while, but just couldn’t quite hold enough; I’m not sure my current phone would fit at all. The second utility belt was bigger, but a little too big; it was just a little awkward reaching the bottom of the pockets, and there wasn’t a good safe place for a phone to not get scratched. It was also kind of ugly.

With those, I discovered that utility belts had their own set of disadvantages, too. Pouches that were small and snug still had an amazing ability to interfere with seating, despite my small frame, and get caught on chair arms and such. Pouches that were bigger tended to flap around awkwardly, and interfered even more. If my pants actually had pockets, they were harder to reach (but at this point that hardly matters). Utility belts never have any waterproofing, so they have to hide under my jacket, making awkward lumps. Even if they did have waterproofing, taking the belt off to put my jacket on would probably be even more annoying than doing the same with a purse.

Still, I wanted to try my hand at solving these problems – or at least making a utility belt with appropriately sized pockets. Somewhere in my planning, I had the idea to start small and modular, with pouches that could attach to any belt (or combine to form giga-purse), so that I could experiment more easily. The first one: a simple phone holder.

Modular pockets: Iteration 1

I was very unsure about that phone holder, so I decided to make a rough prototype out of foam. On the one hand, I was right: even before finishing it I had plenty of ideas for improvements. On the other hand, it was a bit too fragile, and broke often enough to interfere with testing. Still, I patched it up and used it for a while, and learned a lot.

At about the same time, I was looking for a way to put my wallet on my belt. I had a nicely sized wallet that even looked nice; the challenge was making it attach so that I could easily detach it to fish out coins or keys, without making it easy to steal. I ended up using magnetic purse-clasps to attach it easily, with a chain to prevent theft and forgetfulness.

Between the phone case and the wallet, I discovered some pretty tricky issues. If the belt they were on wasn’t in belt loops, they would slide along the belt, and the belt itself would slide too. If they were on belt loops, getting them on and off meant taking the whole belt out and then rethreading it. And reaching them under my jacket was very inconvenient, especially with my long jacket. The wallet got knocked off fairly easily, and while the chain kept it safe, it was still annoying.

In the end, I went back to purses while I planned the next iteration, and found myself too busy for sewing soon after. I did make a purse organizer at one point (the wallet didn’t fit in any purse), but the fabric was weaker than expected and soon gave out, and the pouches were just deep enough to be awkward anyways.

It wasn’t until this summer, when I saw a woman wearing an awesome leg-holster-thingy, that I was inspired to try again.

Iteration 2

First off was a new phone holder, this time out of fabric, and including a pouch for things like lip balm and earplugs (yep, still got the fucking noise sensitivity). I stuck velcro on the back of it, then threw together a quick armband with elastic, velcro and a safety pin to test. It worked surprisingly well and became a handy little thing to use around the house, or at parties safe enough to leave my wallet unattended. The velcro keeps it from shifting too much when I’m pulling the phone out, and also is easy to detach (a bit too easy, though; I can’t wear it outside until I have some clip to hold it securely).

Oh, and I also added a Velcro patch to my Halloween purse, since it didn’t have a
separate space for my phone:

Molle Experiments

After discussing the pocket problem with some friends, one of them introduced me to the molle system. tl;dr: it’s how the military attaches modular pouches to vests, backpacks, etc. This seemed great – one of the problems I was trying to solve had already been researched; they just hadn’t made it look pretty.

Of course, it turned out to be not quite so simple. I tried making a simple molle strap with a velcro patch, so that I could attach the phone case to a belt. The first attempt undid itself at the slightest pull. :P It turns out that the way molle straps usually loop around a bit wasn’t just redundancy; you need at least one fold to keep it from popping open. Luckily I was able to get that minimal one fold by just moving half of the snap, and then I had a usable fastener.


That wasn’t the only problem, though. I was back to the old issue of loops over belts: they slide around the belt, and the pressure tends to make the belt bunch up. I’m hoping to solve that on the next iteration, by making a belt that’s two layers thick, sewn together to make small molle loops. I’ve also got a crazy idea involving those kitchen bag clips… probably won’t work. :)

Anyways, at the moment I’m working on a pouch to hold laundry things. It’ll be good practice and a test of the molle thing. Once that’s done, I’ll make a belt to hold it and my phone case with less slipping. If that works out, the next project could be something for outside the house. :)

Winter is Coming

It turns out there are seasonal issues with these things too, though. The phone-on-armband doesn’t work so well when the temperature is in that awkward range where my sweater is on and off every few minutes. It’s harder to get it on over a sweater, too. The utility belt is more useful in summer, when I can avoid the jacket issues I already mentioned. I kinda wonder if I should add molle loops to the jackets themselves, to make up for their sad little tiny pockets… But then I have to worry about weight distribution and whether it’ll make the jacket swing around…

Anyways, that’s a peek into what I’ve been working on when I’m not programming! :) I’ll try and remember to post again when I’ve done more experiments. Maybe next time I’ll try to summarize the problems and solutions I’ve found, too, since this post was more of a narrative. I still feel like I have more questions than answers right now.

{September 28, 2014}   Tech culture

I’m seeing a lot of comments on twitter lately about tech culture. People saying that it’s bro culture not nerd culture; comics implying nerds have become the bullies they used to suffer; a myriad of complaints about silicon valley assholes. I’ve had conflicting feelings about these comments, and I think I’ve just figured out why.

My first impression was to feel offended, and think not-all-nerds thoughts. I think of myself as a nerd/geek/whatever, and I can never quite remember the common definitions of the words or what the difference is supposed to be.
My second impression was to think of the geeky circles I hang out in, and how those people generally don’t fit these comments either. There are a few jerks in most groups, and how well they’re dealt with varies, but the general atmosphere is welcoming and inclusive.

What I had forgotten was that these were all groups I had chosen to be part of. There’s a selection bias there – if they hadn’t been welcoming groups, I wouldn’t have bothered to stick around. When I think about tech circles I didn’t get to choose, I see a very different picture. :(

At all the schools I attended, there was shitty tech culture. I couldn’t just quit school, so I turned to foss and the KDE community to escape it. At bcit, the classes were organized such that I was stuck with the same group of people full-time for a year. They turned out to be the sort of people that would put goatse wallpaper on the Linux users’ computers, then tell us it was our fault for not password-protecting the bootloader. Ugh. I’m just glad I wasn’t the only Linux user… But there was plenty of sexism too, and general macho bullshit.

At SFU, there were more Linux users, but that didn’t help much: instead I got picked on for using KDE instead of gnome/ratpoison/etc. Somehow I was always at the bottom of the totem pole. After a while I discovered there were lots of social circles there, and made friends with people who wouldn’t ridicule my choice of technology, but I couldn’t hang out in the CS common room without some of the jerks being there, and it actually seemed to get worse over the years. My last year before graduating, I don’t think I visited the common room more than twice.

Anyways, it occurred to me: maybe the people talking about tech culture are still stuck in shitty circles like that. Maybe silicon valley is dominated by that bullshit (I wouldn’t know, I’ve only visited briefly). Maybe the tech culture I know isn’t the tech culture they know.

Really, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there’s more than one culture in tech. How many projects, meta-projects, languages, corporations, foundations etc. are there? How many thousands and thousands of developers are there? Of course we don’t have the same experiences. Different programming communities are almost like different countries.

The sad thing is, though, I’m beginning to suspect that the nice-tech-culture I’ve surrounded myself with is a lot less common than the shitty tech-bro-culture I’m hearing about. It’d be neat to see some statistical information about culture over different meta-projects and geographical areas, though. Not that I have any idea how one would gather such information.

{September 7, 2014} screencasts moved has decided to narrow its focus, and isn’t interested in hosting my screencasts any more. I’ve moved the two 4.6 screencasts to youtube: Activities in KDE Plasma Desktop 4.6 and Activities in action. If you’d like any of the older ones (Activity Sessions, Activities in KDE SC 4.5beta1, Plasma Activities in KDE SC 4.4) to go up on youtube too, just ask. :)

{August 29, 2014}   On boundaries

So… Julie Pagano blogged about boundaries and consent. You should read it.

…go on, I’ll still be here when you get back. :)

Anyways, it’s a good post, but I felt like the first point (Entitlement) could be elaborated on. It’s something I misunderstood at a fundamental level for a long time. I honestly thought the rule was “you can have boundaries, if you have a good reason for them.” Somehow I grew up thinking it was ok for other people to demand a reason for my “no” (in any situation other than sex) and judge whether it was a valid reason. And, of course, that I could expect justification from other people.

I like making people happy. I hate upsetting people. So I was totally happy to give people what they wanted… after I understood why they wanted it. After all, being confused really sucks. I hate feeling confused, I hate uncertainty. I hate wondering whether I did something wrong or if the other person was just having a bad day or whatever. And being an aspie, I’m confused a lot. :)

I think I did have a bit of a sense that I wasn’t handling things quite right. But having no idea what the Right Way was, I didn’t know what else to do. Lots of people have conflicting opinions on social norms, and some of them have their own agenda colouring their advice too, so I don’t know who to trust. So, I just keep listening, until someday something clicks and another bit of social behaviour makes sense, and feels right. (It helps that I’m following some prominent feminists on twitter lately. They’ve had to think about and experience this shit a lot, so their opinions tend to be quite sensible.)

I’m not even sure when I figured this one out. It was probably a gradual thing. But I do remember how good it felt to realize that I didn’t have to justify my boundaries. That I was allowed to just say no, or ask someone to stop doing something, or block someone, and I didn’t have to figure out a bullet-proof justification first. That was a huge weight off my shoulders, and suddenly I felt more confident and.. I dunno… adult.

It still feels bad when someone has boundaries where I’d prefer they didn’t, but, instead of trying to understand what’s going on on their side, I have a sort of deeper understanding: I understand that they’re allowed to do that, and that it’s important to their sanity and freedom as an adult to have that right. And that’s more important than my discomfort, even if the discomfort does suck. Accepting the discomfort makes it much less likely to turn into a panic attack, too ;)

I’m kinda scared to hit the publish button now. This is such a murky confusing subject, and I might still have said something incredibly stupid. I might still be wrong about a lot of this stuff. Or someone might try to tell me I’m wrong when I’m right. Either way they might be mean about it. The internet is a scary place. But, I hope this post has given some people food for thought. This stuff is worth thinking about, over and over again, until we do get it right.

et cetera

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