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…

{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.

{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.

I’ve noticed a pattern at conferences and meetups lately. Some guy comes up to me, and the first words out of his mouth are something like “it’s so nice to see girls in programming” or “so how can we get more women in tech?” or something. It seems quite well-intentioned – I imagine he thinks it’s an easy way to break the ice, or wants to communicate that he’s not sexist, or at worst is trying to score brownie points – but it’s making me uncomfortable. It took me a while to figure out what I was feeling – the last couple of times I just sorta awkwardly ran away – so now that I’ve figured it out, I’m blogging it.

I do not like being reminded of my gender at tech events. Especially with the recent drama I’ve been seeing on twitter. I’d much rather forget that I’m different, and talk to you about how awesome node is, or bitch about android and ios, or hear about some cool project you’re working on. Please, just use the same damn ice-breakers you’d use if I was a guy.

Besides, I do not get magical feminist superpowers from my ovaries: I’m just as lost as most guys when it comes to all the women-in-tech issues (except t-shirts. I can go on about that one for ages). That’s part of the reason I don’t want to be asked about it, I suppose; thinking about it makes me feel lost and helpless and confused. And remembering that I’m a girl makes me feel a bit more self-conscious and awkward.

I might wander into conversations about it from time to time – more likely after several drinks – but please, don’t make it the first thing you say to me.

{November 20, 2013}   Accessibility surprises

So CascadiaJS was last week, and it was awesome. I did have one issue at the start, though, which surprised me enough to blog about.

First off, the issue was resolved quite well. I’m not writing this post to complain, but to educate. I might have been too shy to bring it up, but at the start of the conference they told us who to talk to if we had any problems, even ones that seem silly. :) I’m really glad of that.

So, the issue: for the first time, I had need of the accessible bathroom. But it was locked. When I first discovered this, the staff member with the keys happened to be nearby. After explaining why I needed it, he unlocked it, but insisted on locking it again afterwards so that nobody made it messy.

Two issues here: first, having to ask made me feel really bad. I look young and healthy, but I’m not. So I end up explaining my personal health situation to a stranger to beg permission to empty my bladder. It reminded me of being in grade school, having to put my hand up and ask instead of just quietly slipping out. I wasn’t looking forward to having to ask him again – even skipping the explanation, it still meant finding him, and interrupting whatever he was doing. And doing so again every time I needed to pee (which was about once an hour). And since I feel bad about imposing on him (and humiliated too), I felt pressured to keep my bathroom visits to the minimum too.

I now have a lot more understanding of how disabled people can seem like cranky assholes sometimes. If I stopped caring about the feelings of the guy with the keys, life would be much simpler.

And then I started worrying, what if I couldn’t find him when I did need the bathroom? Which brings us to issue two: the very next time I needed it, he wasn’t there. Some nice lady helped me down to the regular bathroom then – I’d delayed so long I couldn’t wait much longer. But after lunch, he was still gone. So that’s when I went to the awesome Angelina and got the problem fixed. Bathroom unlocked for the rest of the conference, apart from a few times when the damn door re-locked itself. :)

Oh, and nobody made a mess of the bathroom anyways. Yay for responsible adults!

What I learned from this is, accessibility isn’t necessarily intuitive. I could have just as easily been the one with the keys in this situation. He made a fairly reasonable assumption (that a guaranteed-clean bathroom was better than an unlocked bathroom) that just happened to be wrong. Now I’m wondering: what wrong assumptions about accessibility do we have in our code? (Assuming there is any accessibility in the first place :P ) Or in our other attempts to be helpful in general?

It can be hard to explain when something intended to be helpful is actually hurtful, or even to understand what happened. I just hope that if I end up on the other end, the person has the nerve to speak up and I have the patience to listen.

{October 6, 2013}   How to Not be a Rockstar

Lately I’ve been keeping up with twitter, and retweeting the best of what I see. And there’s a trend in that recently: articles encouraging humility. I like this, and I feel like saying a few words myself.

Most recently, @shanley wrote (or.. crowdsourced?) an article on how the “10x engineer” is a myth, and why it’s bad. Unfortunately it just sort of trails off at the end, and I’m left a bit confused, so I’ll try to sum it up: Long ago someone did a crappy study with way too few participants, made wild claims, and then it snowballed into this myth that encourages harmful behaviour like hero-worship, overworking, depression, etc.

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt (and health issues nobody my age ought to have). And yet, it’s such a tempting trap that I keep having to drag myself away from it again. I mean, who doesn’t want to be a rockstar? Who doesn’t want to be the bestest programmer in the world, and have everyone think they’re awesome? My brain is good at avoiding substance addictions, but has a blind spot when it comes to people’s praise and approval. Besides, there’s so much in this world that I want to do, it’s hard to stop and rest when I need to the most.

Another post I retweeted was Presentation Skills Considered Harmful. It’s a very well-written post on how to reduce stage fright and be a better presenter at the same time – not “better” in the rockstar sense, but in the sense of actually being more useful to your audience. Last time I submitted a talk proposal, I had this nagging “I’m doing it wrong” feeling, and I think this post explains a lot of it – I was focused on how I could get my proposal accepted, how to make it sell and make me look like the sort of presenter everyone wants at their conference – not on how the talk could be useful to the audience. I mean, that was in there somewhere too, but it wasn’t the priority. In truth, even while writing it I didn’t really believe it was a useful talk. I just missed talking, and have yet to gain enough experience with javascript to have anything useful to say about it. :( Still, what I liked most about the article was that it gives me clear guidelines to follow when, one day, I do have something to say again. :)

Now, I find myself wondering: why is this rockstar thing so tempting? Why do I feel compelled to judge programmers, and persecute myself if I don’t appear to be the best? Why are people so eager to put someone on a pedestal and start a cult of personality? A part of my mind says, this is obvious, humans have always been that way. But I’ve found that questioning those “obvious” things can lead to interesting discoveries.

I can’t speak for other people, but for me…. it usually boils down to fear. Silly, irrational fears, which are the hardest to defeat. I fear that if I’m not the best programmer, I must be the worst programmer and I’ll end up with no job (despite having never been unemployed except by choice). I fear that if I’m not giving talks about awesome stuff, nobody will be interested in talking to me (despite all the good conversation and friends I made at WWDC, where I doubt any programmer knew less about apple tech than me). I fear that any imperfection in me could be used against my whole gender, even though the communities I hang out in wouldn’t put up with such behaviour, and the best thing I can do for other female geeks is to be myself as loud as I dare. :)

The worst part is, when I try to break away from this, I’m often overwhelmed by the fear that I somehow need these silly fears. They lie to me, and tell me that without them I’m nothing, that I’ll just lie on the couch and do nothing all day, and never accomplish anything. Yet when I’ve succeeded at putting aside those fears for a while, the opposite is true: on average, I get more motivation and energy, and accomplish more, and feel better about myself in general. Sure, sometimes I need a day or two of doing fuck-all first because I’m burnt out, but if I rest without beating myself up about it, I can’t seem to help doing something productive soon afterwards. And it’s a lot more fun when I wholeheartedly want to do it. :)

So, if you feel like your ego is hurting you… try putting it aside for a week or two. Focus on how you can help other people in your community, or at work. Try doing what’s right, even if you’re scared of getting punished for it. :) And put your health first, because you can’t help yourself or others if you work yourself to death. :P

Oh, and there’s another trap to avoid here: competitive humility isn’t real humility. If you’re putting down people for following their ego, you’re doing it wrong. And if you get angry at yourself for having an ego, you’re doing it wrong. I still want to be the bestest programmer ever. I still want oodles of money. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with having such desires. I’m just taking them out of the driver’s seat for a while. Desires have a lot in common with two-year-olds; giving them what they want isn’t the best way to handle them, but beating them up isn’t right either. :)

Now that I think about it, fear and anger can be like two-year-olds too. Resist them directly, and they throw a wild tantrum and try their best to make you feel miserable. But give them some space and understanding, and hear them out, and they just might agree to try another way (forgive me if the metaphor is stretched; I don’t have much experience with actual two-year-olds).

Anyways, that’s enough for tonight. Maybe another time I’ll have a go at the hero-worship issue (note to self: The Speaker-vs-Audience Dichotomy is relevant reading). For now, I’ll leave you with an article that convinced me accepting tips is suboptimal, and a quote that changed how I think:

“Confidence doesn’t come from knowing you’re right – it comes from being okay with failing.” — Design is a Job

{April 28, 2013}   Linuxfest Northwest 2013

So I’m at Linuxfest Northwest this weekend. It’s been great so far, despite a soggy start.  Sitting in the border line in the rain for an hour proved that our motorcycle gear isn’t quite as waterproof as we thought.  :-P

Anyways, we still arrived in time for the lightning talks, and those were really good. I learnt a new xor trick, and there’s something to do with circuits and html5 that I didn’t quite understand but hope to learn more about.

Here’s a random photo from one lightning talk I liked:


The swag here has been cool too; I have a nice USB key / bottle opener from openshift, and I think I got signed up for some free web app thing I need to check out. I got new light-up bsd horns too (but I have my own EL wire version at home I ought to fix up).

The conference party was good, although dinner made us a bit late. Totally worth it, though – I never thought pork chops could be that delicious.  :-) I just wish I’d spent some time looking at exhibits or trying the various board games instead of getting sucked into cards against humanity for so long  ;-)

Now it’s Sunday, and there are lots of talks I’d like to be in at the same time. I saw the delegation one before lunch, which was quite good, but mostly reminded me that I knew all this stuff because KDE was doing it right (or trying hard at it) with the code of conduct and having junior-jobs and such.

Next up is a Javascript talk, which I’m hoping will be good and not just a list of words to google.

PS: the save button in the WordPress app actually means “publish”. Oops :-)

{January 8, 2009}   faith of the heart

it’s been a long road
getting from there to here
it’s been a long time
but our time is finally near…

I never really got into the show (probably something to do with moving out and not having a TV) but I loved the theme song for Enterprise. it popped up on my playlist today, and got me thinking… with kde 4.2, our time is finallly near. :) time for us to no longer look to the past, but to the future instead. Plasma now has just about all the features kickoff had in kde 3.5, plus a bunch of stuff kicker could never do. I’m sure there are a few odds and ends to round up still (the biggest being contextmenu plugins, iirc) but those will come easily, and we can shift our focus to plasma’s future. finally, we can return to reinventing the desktop, pulling it out of its decade-long slumber and creating new, better ways of interacting with our computers. we’ve provided a classic experience for people who are fine with that (if they’re not happy now they never will be), now we can get back to making something awesome for all the people the classic desktop does *not* work well for. :)

So, what will the future bring? In february we’ll be meeting again to make some plans. aaron emailed plasma-devel the other day with some of the things he plans to work on – a design studio, jolie stuff, media centre stuff, security, js binding improvements and more. I’m hoping to help with the javascript and security myself, but there are plenty of other things I’d like to see happen.

I’m hoping for more use of Activities, with plasmoids that are aware of what activity they’re in and become more useful… maybe some openid coolness, which will open up more doors to who-knows-what… export and import of containments, so that you can have stuff you don’t always want running but don’t want the hassle of setting up from scratch repeatedly (I can see that making testing a lot less painful)… a smarter taskbar… another wave of useful little plasmoids…

and we’ll see plenty of cooler things that i can’t imagine, I’m sure ;)

on the less-shiny side of things, I hope to see some work on a dbus interface and keyboard interaction. imagine pulling up krunner and resizing a plasmoid (or panel) to be exactly 42 pixels tall… most people don’t care, but I know there’s an OCD minority that would love such control. ;) and there are more practical applications of keyboard interaction – imagine binding a keyboard shortcut to a specific containment, so that you could view it instantly (either a desktop or a panel containment – think autohidden panels and “ohshitthebossiscoming” activities ;) ).

of course, remember that none of these are promises. they’re just the ideas and hopes of one developer – a developer spending far too much time on homework instead of kde these days. :/ so I really can’t say how many of these things will happen for 4.3, or even 4.4 – we’ll have to wait until a more concrete feature plan appears.

still, with the crazy pace of plasma development, you can be sure that lots of stuff is going to happen, and it’s going to keep getting better and better. :) whatever 4.3 brings, it’s going to be fucking awesome. :)

{July 1, 2008}   sharing exposure

when a project has one person who is significantly more visible than other contributors, speaking often and well, trying to make things happen by communicating outside the project, blogging on important issues, speaking at conferences… a funny thing happens. people seem to assume that person IS the project. they take his opinions as that of the project as a whole, believe that he somehow controls the project (a crazy notion when the project is as big and open as KDE), and some even seem to blame him personally for anything they dislike.

this isn’t good. not for the project, not for the individual. we should discourage people from treating anyone this way. we should try and keep anyone from falling into this position again. we don’t want celebrities.

after the recent drama, I imagine many contributors might want to hide away and make very very sure that they never get this kind of publicity. however, I think that would be bad. I think the problem isn’t exposure per se; it’s the relative levels of exposure for different contributors. when one person gets far more exposure than others, we run into trouble – so what we should try to do is have *lots* of people getting more exposure, such that no individual finds themselves out there alone. :)

we were discussing this on irc, and joked about creating an imaginary person to be the “king” of KDE, and have different people blog for it. then we realised that we’ve already got a place for news that isn’t from one single human being: the dot. apparently the dot editors would really like more articles. :) I think it’d be a good thing for the community if more people were to submit stories to the dot. they’d have to be a little more polished than a blog entry, but we have editors to help with that. the submission form looks a little, uhm, old – but hopefully kyle’s planned software updates will address that eventually. :)

Perhaps you’ve already written a good blog entry that could be transformed into a dot story easily (there was a nice folderview blog recently, maybe something like that should be on the dot). perhaps you’ve got something to say that’d interest the KDE community as a whole. don’t be shy, submit something! :) I’m going to try my hand at it soon… once I get caught up on soc. :P

et cetera