Starting your own feminist backchannel

If you’re a feminist with an online presence, you know how hard it is to have a public conversation with your friends without some rando sea-lioning in to the middle of your discussion with his very important man-sights. Maybe they are just explaining your joke to you, maybe they are tone policing, maybe they are sliding into your DMs, maybe they are just boring self-entitled narcissists. Whatever the case, you’d like to be able to have conversations with your friends on the regular without the constant background noise of entitled misogyny leaking in.

I have good news for you: you (yes, you!) can start your own personal feminist backchannel! A backchannel is a alternate conversation happening outside of the “mainstream” discussion, often commenting on or related to the main discussion. Backchannels are incredibly useful to marginalized groups who are looking to build community, mutually support each other, and share useful information for their survival and success. That’s one reason why backchannels are often maligned by the privileged group (unless it is a backchannel for the use of the privileged group, in which case it is “just normal, friends talking”).

When women ask for a women-only discussion group in a mixed gender group, sometimes men in the group get very upset, sometimes to the point of angry shouting and turning red. When I ask them why, they say things like, “Well, they will be talking about stuff and I won’t know what it is,” or “Will they be talking about men – will they be talking about ME?” In addition to the normal human desire to be nosy, they realize that if women (or any other marginalized group) are allowed to talk to each without being monitored by the privileged group, the privileged group might be in danger of losing some of its perks. (E.g., the ability to serially abuse women more easily because their previous victims weren’t able to warn their future victims.)

But the main reason to start your own feminist backchannel is: FUN.

Hey, you like making misandry jokes? So do a whole bunch of other women like you, and you can do it without worrying about a poorly timed “Not all men!” ruining your hilarious riff. Are you super interested in energy policy but most of your friends are bored by it? Start your own backchannel with the other 5 people interested in feminism and energy policy and have conversations you’ve never had outside your own head! Love programming AND sewing? So do literally hundreds of thousands of other people, and you probably know at least 10 of them.

Twitter in particular cries out for feminist backchannels, but I have sad news: group DMs lack the features needed to make a good backchannel. I’ve started or been part of many feminist backchannels in years past, and lately I’ve been surprised by being invited to several new feminist backchannels by people I don’t even know. I thought it was time for a step-by-step guide to starting and maintaining your own feminist backchannel, in the style of “Start your own b(r)and: Everything I know about starting collaborative, feminist publications” which I had fun co-writing with Amelia Greenhall.

Keep your feminist backchannel a secret

The first rule of Feminist Backchannel is: don’t talk about Feminist Backchannel.

Because your backchannel is probably not composed of macho egotistical competitive dudes, you really don’t talk about your feminist backchannel except to people you are inviting to join it. A key element of a successful backchannel is that you only invite people who are a good fit for the backchannel’s social style, which is only a small subset of your friends. But your friends will feel left out and rejected if they learn they haven’t been invited to your backchannel. The only way out of this dilemma is to keep your backchannel secret outside of its current members. (That’s part of why I’m writing this how-to guide, because the people who invited me to their backchannels can’t say anything about starting backchannels without making their uninvited friends feel sad.)

Choose your purpose and scope

You need a vision for your group beyond “People I like,” though that’s a good start! What style of social interaction do you want: warm and sincere, joking and absurdist, cutting sarcasm at all times, everyone pretends to be robots, everyone pretends to be cats? And what is in scope for conversation: technology, cats, the weather, RC cars, doing your nails, complaining about work? You have lots of friends with lots of different social styles, and many of them aren’t going to get along long-term in a backchannel. What is important here is that your group’s overall social style is seldom grating to the people who are in the group. That’s why it’s important to have spelled-out social norms (hey, perhaps even a code of conduct!) and clear rules on acceptable topics.

Find some co-founders

Life happens, and while you might think running a feminist backchannel is totally doable on your own, everyone will be happier if you have a co-founder or two. It helps to have someone to talk to about the scope, style, and membership of the channel, especially when you are considering inviting someone you don’t have a lot of experience with in a social context. Sometimes you are oblivious to a specific person’s most irritating personality faults but they are obvious to your co-founders. (It only takes one irritating person to torpedo a backchannel — keep reading for more about what to do when that happens.)

Choose your medium

I’ll be honest, the answer here is probably Slack. It’s the best private group chat solution I’ve ever seen, by a mile, and the user experience is warm and welcoming. You may also consider old-fashioned IRC, a Mailman mailing list, or a Google Group, but they all have major drawbacks around administration overhead and usability. Slack is free unless you want to keep more than 10,000 messages in your user-accessible history or have custom message retention policies (keep reading for why you might want this). Another advantage of Slack is that if you use it for work, you can login to multiple Slack instances at the same time in the app, so it’s hard to tell that you’re not working!

Be incredibly picky about who you invite

You do not have to invite everyone you kind of like or have something in common with. Especially in fields with relatively few women, we get used to not being picky about who we spend time with – the concept of being able to choose WHICH women in open source software I wanted to hang out with, based on compatible personalities or other interests, was an incredible luxury for me! Your feminist backchannel is going to be a little bit like working in a shared open-plan office with everyone you invite, so if there’s someone who rubs you a little the wrong way, or has opinions about activism that you don’t agree with, or tends towards infectious, unconsolable self-pity, feel free not to invite them. They can start their own feminist backchannel with people who have the same quirks and social styles.

Create and enforce rules about conduct

You should have explicit rules about how people act in your space. Since it’s your space, you get to make up arbitrary additional rules in addition to the usual base assumptions. You can make rules that everyone has to pretend to be a cat when they join the backchannel, or you can make a rule that no one can pretend to be a cat ever – whichever you prefer! The Geek Feminism community code of conduct is a good place to start.

Kick people out when necessary

A few people who don’t have a compatible social style with the group will ruin the entire group. It’s up to the backchannel co-founders, or their duly appointed representatives, to ask people to leave when they are negatively impacting the vibe. This is true even if they haven’t violated your formal code of conduct or done something “awful” enough. Just wishing someone wasn’t in the channel at a vague subconscious level is a good enough reason to ask them to leave. It’s tough to ask people to leave, especially when you like them in other contexts, but crucial to the survival of the group. Watch for when your favorite people start to drift away or go silent – it could be that they are too busy to take part at the moment, but they could also have decided to just leave your group instead of tell you that another member is making them unhappy.

Allow people to choose what topics of conversation they participate in

The conversation in your feminist backchannel is going to range over a wide variety of topics, some that bring up a lot of strong emotions, positive or negative, and some that are just plain boring to others. The best practice here is to split conversations into multiple channels of communication that allow people to choose what they want to participate in (this is easy in a Slack or private IRC server). Some suggested channels:

  • general: for everything that doesn’t go elsewhere
  • rants: for complaining
  • cute: for pictures of kittens, happy children, and flowers, and uplifting stories and things
  • news: to talk about current topics
  • advice: where people can ask for and give advice
  • triggers: place where people discuss commonly triggering topics

Any time you aren’t sure if the rest of the people in the general channel want to talk about a thing, describe what you’d like to talk about and ask if you should start a new channel. If everyone wants to talk about the subject in the general channel, you’ll find out, but most likely you’ll find that you have an enthusiastic subgroup that will excitedly join your new topic of conversation.

Accept the fleeting nature of backchannels

Like any other social group, backchannels don’t last forever. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a constant low-level rotation of old people leaving the backchannel and new people joining and it will stay fresh and interesting for many years. But in most cases, the life of a successful, healthy backchannel is measured in the single digits of years. Don’t be afraid to dissolve it if no one is enjoying themselves as much any more. It will probably give birth to several new slightly better backchannels.

Be aware of the potential for subpoenas

One possibility to be aware of is that if anyone who is part of your feminist backchannel is subpoenaed for a court case related to anything they discussed in the backchannel, and they have kept records of it, they may have to turn them over to the opposing side (probably awful people you detest). There are two ways to avoid having a bunch of lawyers poring over your chat records discussing your ex-partner’s annoying sex habits: have an explicit policy of not keeping the records, or don’t talk about things that might become the subject of court cases.

Unfortunately, this is a place where the free version of Slack doesn’t work well: They keep all of your messages but only let you access the most recent 10,000 of them. I am not a lawyer, but presumably this means Slack could be subpoenaed directly to get the messages that you can’t read.

Hey Slack folks! You have a great product. As a way to support women and marginalized folks of all sorts, I’d like to see Slack add an additional option to the free offering that allows people to choose to permanently delete messages that they can’t access themselves. That would be sweet!

How to join an existing feminist backchannel

Sometimes, the feminist backchannel you want to create already exists and is a good fit for you, and the founders just haven’t thought of asking you to join. Your best course of action in this case is the same as if the backchannel doesn’t already exist: Talk wistfully about wanting to start a backchannel with particular qualities with the people you would like to be part of that backchannel. If it already exists and you are compatible, you will probably get invited to join it. Otherwise, you’re already on your way to being the feminist backchannel you want to see in the world!

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More adventures in self-doxxing: my online dating profile

So, I’ve decided to start dating again. Dating anonymously online is neither possible nor desirable: even in the Bay Area, I’m the only kernel programmer turned professional feminist activist.

Online dating profiles are, of course, filled with wonderful juicy tidbits for internet harassers. All those sex-related questions, hurray! So, to save you all the thirty seconds it would take to find my OkCupid profile, here it is:

OkCupid profile

Why pay OkCupid to boost my profile when I can get a bunch of trolls to do it for free? :)

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How did you find your co-founder(s)?

A lot of my friends are starting new ventures, inspired in part by Amelia Greenhall’s excellent post on starting your own b(r)and. I helped write some sections, including the one on what to look for in a good co-founder. Now some folks are asking how they can find a co-founder for their feminist company idea.

I know exactly how I found my Ada Initiative co-founder, Mary Gardiner. First, I spent 10 years doing volunteer work for women in open source with other women in open source around the world. Then I sent this email to 5 of these women:

Subject: Moonshot: Getting paid for geek feminism

Hello world-wide open source feminist cabal,

I officially announced today that I’m leaving Red Hat on January 7th
to work on women in open source projects on my own time:

http://blog.valerieaurora.org/2010/12/09/leaving-red-hat/

I don’t have a job doing this. Yet. But pretty much the first thing
I thought of when I made this decision a month ago is, “How many of my
friends can I help get jobs doing this too?” Then I told myself that
I was being crazy[1] and went to work on the anti-harassment policy.

Now I’ve had a month to think about it and my feeling is that it may
be crazy[1] but I want to try anyway. I personally have three months to
work on this full-time starting in January. Maybe if we work together
it will be enough to bootstrap all of us up; maybe none of us will be
able to get a job and I’ll have to go crawling back to Red Hat.
Either way, I’ll have a great time! :)

You are on this cc: list because (a) I know you, (b) you have already
devoted a significant portion of your waking hours to women in open
source for several years. I would like to keep the discussion small
for now – large groups are anathema to brainstorming – but if there’s
anyone I’ve obviously missed please suggest them to me and I’ll
resend.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Write your geek feminist
CV/resume and reply-to-all with it within one week. This includes
things like blog posts, event organization, founding mailing lists,
buying people books, making bizarre on-line challenges – list it first
and we’ll worry about spinning it later.

I don’t know what the world-wide economic capacity for paid women in
open source activists is, but let’s find out together!

The very first person to reply was Mary, a PhD student and primary carer for an 11-month-old baby who lived across the Pacific Ocean from me and whom I’d met in person only twice before. Our only previous joint venture had failed miserably (the great Attempted LinuxChix Coup of 2007). Less than two months later, we were sitting on her parents’ porch in Orange, writing up budgets and discussing how to keep her PhD supervisor from having a fit when he found out she’d started a business. 4 years later, we are running a growing, healthy non-profit that’s changing the world. (Mary also has a PhD and a second child.)

We refer to this as the “moonshot” email and I’ve forwarded it to a few people over the years. What I want to know is, how did you find a co-founder? Leave a comment with your story!

[1] I was being both ableist and quite literal when I used the word “crazy” in this email; today I’d write it in less offensive and more accurate language.

Updated 2015-02-11 to fix broken footnote link

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TV I like

Something happened to TV in the last few years: it got much better, and it got easier to watch. So I find myself, an anti-TV die hard, slightly sad that I only have 24 hours of vacation left in which to watch rather more than 24 hours of TV. Without further ado, stuff I like to watch:

The Good Wife: Inspired by Hillary Clinton’s relationship with Bill Clinton, this show follows Alicia Florrick, who restarts her career as a lawyer after her politician husband is caught sleeping with a prostitute and goes to prison for corruption. The best part of this show is the frequent ripped-from-the-headlines episodes about BitCoin, NSA wire-tapping, and police scams. I sometimes feel like if I care about a news story, The Good Wife is filming an episode on it right now. I also have ALL THE HEARTS for Alicia’s family and Eli Gold, her husband’s campaign manager.

Madame Secretary: I just started this one, but it’s good enough I felt like I had to write this post. Elizabeth McCord, a former CIA agent analyst turned college professor, becomes Secretary of State after her predecessor dies in a suspicious plane crash. What I like about it is the focus on finding creative solutions – and Elizabeth’s relationships with her family. I recently read Madeleine Albright’s memoir and am interested in learning more about working in the State Department.

The Mentalist: I felt incredibly guilty about watching this Sherlock-style show for a long time and never mentioned it to anyone. I started watching it because Simon Baker is hot hot hot, and kept watching despite the annoying motivation for Simon Baker’s character Patrick Jayne: he works for the California Bureau of Investigation as a way of tracking down the serial killer who murdered his wife and daughter (cue endless near-misses, yawn). But one day I was watching a scene in which two characters do a dramatic physical take-down of the killer and felt like something strange was happening. Then I realized that the fight was taking place between three women, and the only man in the scene was unconscious in a hospital bed. Yep, every episode passes the Bechdel test and more, and while the main character is a man, he strays from received masculinity in lots of ways: he thinks guns are icky, runs away whenever actual violence might occur, etc. It’s not just detective story brain candy!

I won’t write up descriptions for the rest of these, but I also enjoy the David Suchet Poirot series, despite the rampant sexism and racism, probably because Suchet is an amazing actor and Poirot such a quirky character. I’m sure Patrick Jayne’s character owes a lot to Suchet’s Poirot. I’m also a huge fan of the BBC/WGBH Lord Peter Wimsey & Harriet Vane series – also quite a bit of sexism but “Gaudy Night” in particular features a mostly female cast and the whole thing is just so deliciously intellectual. Also, a shout-out to Bones, even though I haven’t watched in years and I skipped a good chunk of it due to a particularly annoying plot line about a serial killer. What makes that show for me is the dialogue for a variety of different nerds: bug-nerd, psych-nerd, goth nerd, autism spectrum nerd – these are my people, getting the love and attention we deserve!

Just realized the three shows I wrote up in detail are all on CBS – that’s incredibly encouraging. I didn’t believe mainstream TV would ever make TV I liked, but this looks like a veritable trend! If only it could spread to Hollywood – I’ve walked out on more movies this year than ever before in my life, in part because I knew I could go home and watch one of these shows on demand. Here’s to what’s new in 2015!

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Thanking things for their service

Personal organizer Marie Kondo has some unique organizing advice, as summarized by Penelope Green for the New York Times:Discard everything that does not ‘spark joy,’ after thanking the objects that are getting the heave-ho for their service.” One of the symptoms of hoarding disorder is a stronger than usual emotional attachment to inanimate objects, which makes it painful to throw them out. Most people have emotional attachments to objects at some level, but instead of mocking or denigrating them as irrational, Marie Kondo acknowledges and values your emotional relationships to objects, in a way that helps you let them go instead of keeping them.

As anyone who has ever visited my apartment knows, I don’t have difficulty getting rid of things. This time I went through my closets with “thanking objects for their service” in mind and caught myself several times denigrating a formerly useful object – and my own judgement by extension – and stopped myself. I ended with 5 bags of garbage (including a dozen old bras), a cart full of things for Goodwill, and a lot of happiness about the decisions I made in 2014.

I have always been good at ending things, as even the most cursory glance at my résumé (or my love life) will tell you. What I’m getting better at now is ending things well: passing them on to new people, or winding them down gracefully if no one wants to continue them. That connects strongly to the idea of thanking objects – or your past self – for their service. I’m ending things not because they are useless or ugly or a bad idea in the first place, but because I’m ready for something new. So, here is a list of things I am ending or passing on right now:

Leading the Ada Initiative: My typical job tenure is on the order of 18 months, so it was with a sense of wonder that I realized I’m approaching 4 years in one job: Executive Director of the Ada Initiative. At the same time, I am thrilled that we are searching for a new executive director. I have really enjoyed these 4 years, especially getting to work so closely with my co-founder and friend Mary Gardiner. (If you really like someone but you live on opposite sides of an ocean, I can recommend co-founding a business with them as a way to make sure you get to spend lots of time with each other. ALL THE HEARTS to you, Mary.)

I really enjoyed building a business from the ground up, and working with people I genuinely like and respect. I’m proud of myself for working with my excellent career counselor to find out for sure that I don’t want to lead the Ada Initiative forever. By giving up the head spot, I’m giving myself time to develop new training programs in 2015 – teaching and designing the Ally Skills Workshop and Impostor Syndrome Training are my favorite parts of my job right now. In the past, I’d have had to justify quitting the ED spot by deciding that the Ada Initiative was a bad idea and I wanted nothing to do with it; now I can say it is still awesome, someone else will want this job, and I can do something slightly different and keep working with the same people and organization.

File systems consulting: I shut down my file systems consulting business at the end of 2014, after 7 years of freelance work and some really sweet file system debugging problems (my favorites: root causing bad flash by the pattern of data corruption, tracking down and fixing a deadlock in the VFS freeze/thaw code, and parallelizing fsck for ext3). I continued to consult even while I had a full-time job because (a) it pays really well, (b) I didn’t want my expertise to “go to waste,” (c) almost no other file system consultants exist because we tend to prefer steady full-time jobs that let us code happily away in a corner. In some way, it felt like I was being ungrateful to everything my file systems career had given me if I stopped consulting, but I really didn’t have the time or the interest any more. (Also, Miklos Szeredi’s overlayfs finally got integrated into mainline, so I feel like I can lay unioning file systems to rest.) So I took Marie Kondo’s advice, thanked my file systems career for what it gave me, shut down my consulting web site, and updated my LinkedIn profile. Yay!

Treasurer of Double Union: I served as treasurer of Double Union from mid-2013 to December 2014, and happily handed it over to Sally Maki last month. The job of treasurer is never “done” but it is well-documented, mostly automated, and a great thing for people to do as preparation for starting their own business. I am really happy to have been a key part of growing Double Union from a twinkle in our eyes to a 130+ member makerspace with a comfortable environment for women and a working 3D printer. I’m still on the board of directors, but hope to step down at the end of 2015 in favor of people with fresh ideas and new energy. I always envisioned Double Union as a thing I wanted to help start but not run for very long, which is maybe why stepping down as treasurer was the easiest and simplest thing to end (emotionally – in terms of work, it was hours and hours of writing documentation and setting up software and meetings with various people over more than a year).

Looking at the above list, it’s clear that a full-time job as Director of Training at the Ada Initiative won’t be enough to keep me busy for 2015. I don’t know what else I will start or take on, and I’m excited! I love learning new things, solving new problems, and growing sustainable organizations.

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Operating systems war story: How feminism helped me solve one of file systems’ oldest conundrums

A smiling woman with pink hair wearing a t shirt with the word "O_PONIES" in Courier font

Valerie Aurora in 2009 (keep reading to find out why my shirt says “O_PONIES”)
CC BY NC-SA Robert Kaye

Hi, my name is Valerie Aurora, and I am the inventor of a software feature that has prevented billions of unnecessary writes to hard drives, saving energy and making our computers faster. My invention is called “relative atime,” and this is the story of how my feminist approach to computing helped me invent it – and what you can do to support women in open source software. (If you’re already convinced we need more women in open source, here’s a link to donate now to the Ada Initiative’s 2014 fundraising drive. My operating systems war story will still be here when you’re finished!)

Donate now

First, a little background for those of you who don’t live and breathe UNIX file systems performance. Ingo Molnar once called the access time, or “atime” feature of UNIX file systems “perhaps the most stupid Unix design idea of all times.” That’s harsh but fair. See, every time you read a file on a UNIX operating system – which includes OS X, Linux, and Android[1] – it is supposed to update the file to record the last time it was read, or accessed. This is called the access time or atime. Cool, right? You can imagine why it’s helpful to know when was the last time anything read a particular file – you can tell if you have new mail, for example, or figure out which files you haven’t used in a while and can throw away.

The problem with the atime feature is that updating atime requires writing to the disk. So every read to a file creates a tiny disk write – and writes are expensive and slow. (SSDs don’t get rid of this problem; you still don’t want to do unnecessary writes and most of the world’s data is still on spinning disks.) Here’s what Ingo said about this in 2006: “Atime updates are by far the biggest IO performance deficiency that Linux has today. Getting rid of atime updates would give us more everyday Linux performance than all the pagecache speedups of the past 10 years, _combined_.

So, atime is terrible idea – why don’t we just turn it off? That’s what many people did, using the “noatime” option that many file systems provide. The problem was that many programs did need to know the atime of a file to work properly. So most Linux distributions shipped with atime on, and it was up to the user to remember to turn it off (if they could). It was a bad situation.

A cartoon of a woman driving a robot penguin

LinuxChix logo

In 2006, I was a Linux file systems developer and also an active member of LinuxChix, a group for women who used Linux. LinuxChix existed in part because it was impossible to have technical discussions about Linux on most mailing lists without people insulting and flaming you for asking the simplest questions – and it was ten times worse for people with feminine usernames. Tell a cautionary story about installing RAM correctly, and the response might be a sneering, “Oh, you didn’t let out the magic smoke, did you?” On LinuxChix, that kind of obnoxiousness wasn’t allowed (though we still got a lot of what is now called mansplaining.)

So when I advised several people in LinuxChix to turn off atime, a friend felt safe telling me that hey, performance on her laptop was better, but now Mutt, the email reader we both used, thought she always had new email. This is because in her configuration, Mutt would look at an email file and compared its atime with the file’s last written time to figure out if any new email had arrived since the last time it read the file.

Now, the typical answer to “Mutt doesn’t work with noatime” was “Switch to a slower directory-based method,” or “Use a file size hack that had bugs,” or any number of other unhelpful things. Mostly, people just wouldn’t bother reporting things that broke with noatime. But I was part of a culture – a feminist culture – in which I respected people like my friend and programmers that attempted to use fully defined, useful features of UNIX in order to implement features efficiently.

I decided to look at the problem from a human point of view. What my friend and the Mutt programmers really wanted to know was this: Has this file been written since the last time I read it? They didn’t particularly care about the exact time of the last read, they just wanted to know if it had been read before or after the last write. I had an idea: What if we only updated a file’s atime if it would change the answer to the question, “Has this file been read since the last time it was written?” I called it “relative atime.”[2]

The amazing thing is: it worked! Matthew Garrett (also a known feminist), Ingo Molnar, and Andrew Morton made some changes to patch, including updating the atime if the current atime was more than 24 hours ago. Other than that, this incredibly simple algorithm worked well enough that in 2009, relative atime became the default in the mainline Linux kernel tree. Now, by default, people’s computers were fast and their programs worked.

I came up with this idea and the original patch in 2006, when the atime problem had been known for many years. Previous solutions had taken a very file-system-centric point of view, mainly along the lines of buffering up atime updates in memory and writing them out when we ran out of memory. What led me to a creative, simple, and extremely fast solution was being part of a feminist community in which people felt comfortable sharing their technical problems, wanted to help each other, and respected each other’s intelligence. Those are all feminist principles, and they make file systems development better.

I try to take that human-centered, feminist approach with other topics in file systems, including the great fsync()/rename() debate of 2009 (a.k.a “O_PONIES”) in which I argued that file systems developers should strive to make life easier for developers and users, not harder. As recently as 2013, a leading file systems developer was still arguing that file systems didn’t have to save file data reliably by mocking users for playing computer games.

I was working on another human-centered file system feature, union mounts, when I heard that a friend of mine had been groped at an open source conference for the third time in one year. While I loved my file systems work, I felt like stopping sexual harassment and assault of women in open source was more urgent, and that I was uniquely qualified to work on it. (I myself had been groped by another Linux storage developer.) So I quit my job as a Linux kernel developer and co-founded the Ada Initiative, whose mission is supporting women in open technology and culture. Unfortunately, as a result of my work, several more Linux storage developers came out publicly in favor of harassment and assault.

That’s one reason why I’m so excited that Ceph developer Sage Weil challenged the open storage community to raise $8192 for the Ada Initiative by Wednesday, Oct. 8 – and he’ll personally match that amount if we reach the goal! UPDATED: Sage and Mike Perez raised this to $16,384!!! The number of Linux file systems and storage developers who both donated to Sage’s challenge and wanted to be listed publicly as supporters is reminding me that the vast majority of the people I worked with in Linux want women to feel safe and comfortable in their community. I love file systems development, I love writing kernel code, and I miss working with and seeing my Linux friends. And as you can tell by the lack of something like union mounts in the mainline kernel 21 years after the first implementation, Linux file systems and storage does not have enough developers, and can’t afford to keep driving off women developers.

A woman sitting at a table explaining soemthing with her hands

Me teaching the Ally Skills Workshop

The Ada Initiative is capable of changing this situation. In August 2014, I taught the first Ally Skills Workshop at a Linux Foundation-run conference, LinuxCon North America. The Ally Skills Workshop teaches men simple everyday ways to support women in their workplaces in communities, and teaching it is my favorite part of my work. I was happy to see several Linux file systems and storage developers at the workshop. I was still nervous about running into the developers who support harassment and assault, but seeing how excited people were after the Ally Skills Workshop made it all worthwhile.

If you’d like to see more people working on Linux storage and file systems, and especially more women, please join Sage Weil and more than 30 other open storage developers in supporting the Ada Initiative. Donate now:

Donate now

Edited to add 10/6/2014: Sage made his goal, hurray! And here’s my favorite comment from the HN thread about this story, the only one actually flagged into non-existence (plenty of other creepy misogyny elsewhere though):

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 10.18.37 PM

Also, I had no idea Lennart Poettering planned to post this detailed description of the abuse, harassment, and death threats he’s suffered as an open source developer.

We’re still raising money for Ada Initiative to fight this kind of harassment, so feel free to donate:

Donate now

[1] Yes, Android is Linux too, I’m just naming the brands that non-operating systems experts would recognize.

[2] “Relative atime” isn’t so bad, but the name of the option that you pass to the kernel, “relatime”, showed my usual infelicity with naming things as it looks like a misspelling of “realtime”.

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Handy tips for my Internet harassers

[NSFW, trigger warnings galore. Harassers, be sure to read this at home.]

Today I was worrying: what if people decide to harass me on the Internet and do kind of a terrible job of it? I mean, I know of cases where harassers did an embarrassingly bad job of doxxing and as a consequence sent pizzas to the wrong house. A waste of a good phone call if you ask me.

All the harassment I’ve received so far has been pretty weak stuff, so let me give you some tips for stepping up your harassment game:

Sending packages/food/etc. to my apartment: Probably my address is so easy to find that people will assume it isn’t my address and accidentally use one of my old addresses. Just to confirm, it is the address listed prominently on the Ada Initiative web site. If you send things elsewhere, they will not annoy me.

Protip: Things not to send me:

  • Gluten-free pizza: While a gluten-free Paxti’s or zPizza might be tempting because of the ridiculously high price, I am gluten-free and might accept delivery (especially if it’s a Hawaiian, nom nom). Stick with Domino’s or preferably some place that does a thick, gluten-filled crust. Do they still make that cheese-filled crust thing? I haven’t watched TV in a while.
  • Silicone or glass sex toys: A box full of dildos, always hilarious, right? But be sure they are some kind of low-grade jelly rubber or that creepy synthetic skin or at least an unattractive color or else I might give them a try. Quick tip: nothing from Good Vibrations, every time I going shopping at their store on Valencia Street they have 100% awesome sex toys. Also you’d be supporting a feminist business.
  • Fake bombs: C’mon, I know you’re no Unabomber. That stuff takes work, plus there is so much screening for explosive residue these days. I’m just not going to buy it.
  • Stale dog poop: I know it’s much more trouble, but really you need to get the fresh stuff or it’s hardly disgusting at all.
  • Edited to add: I almost forgot, live crickets would be awesome!!! but they improved the packaging and now it’s harder for them to escape. Try another live animal from Amazon with poor packaging reviews?

Court documents: Unfortunately, I’ve only got a speeding ticket, a sad report about a mentally ill woman grabbing my ass, and an honestly pretty great police report about the time someone tried to steal my phone and I grabbed him and held on until three people from the jiu-jitsu gym across the street tackled him. You should save yourself some courthouse record fees and skip straight to making something up about me being arrested for prostitution (because you’re all pro-sex worker until it comes time to harass a woman, amiright?).

Embarrassing family skeletons in the closet: Before you get all excited about my father, keep in mind that I want people to know about him [TW: sexual abuse]. Anyway, the Scientologists put in tens of thousands of dollars investigating Keith Henson and you’d probably be better off just emailing them and asking them for their docs. Also, everyone already knows my mother is Carolyn Meinel (yes, the one who trolled the entire hacker community for years before trolling was even a thing). I went to DEFCON 3 with her, for heaven’s sake. You need to find something that isn’t already on my web page about my parents.

Threatening my job: Unfortunately, I am my own boss. Try emailing one of the Ada Initiative sponsors? Although they might take that as a sign that the Ada Initiative is doing important work and make another donation. Hmmmm. Maybe create a Yelp page for my file systems consulting business and leave bad reviews? Endorse me for CSS on LinkedIn?

Rape and death threats: Run spell check! There’s nothing more jarring than reading an otherwise creative and well-written death threat and then seeing “decapetate.” Also, chain-saws are so last year. Remember, Gmail won’t display images by default. P.S. I happen to know one of the members of Nirvana and your bright idea has already been done.

Photoshopping/sexy photos: I’m old enough to appreciate my head photoshopped onto a porn star because, hey, let’s face it, I can’t even pretend my body will ever look that good now. For a long time I had a photo named “val_butt.jpg” on my web site that was of me dressed as Barbarella at a Halloween party (the white outfit with black straps – lemme tell you, those boots were a bitch to make) but I can’t figure out exactly which snapshot it is in in the Internet archive. There’s another one of me in there somewhere as Barbarella at a sci-fi con with my then boyfriend dressed as Angel; we were in pretty good shape! Ah, youth. Unfortunately all my naked photos were taken before digital cameras were really a thing so you’d have to track down one of my ex-boyfriends and ask them to scan them for you. Beware, you might improve my sex life by posting them.

Obscene phone calls: I didn’t want to ruin all your fun so I will let you dig up my phone number myself ([SPOILER ALERT] check the press releases on the Ada Initiative web site). But get the good parts in early because I like to read poetry (Keats by preference) to obscene callers. Or use TTY? I think that’s still cool.

Insults: Shouting at street harassers has given me a fair amount of experience with personal insults, so I can tell you right off what won’t work:

Anyway, that’s probably a good start on what not to waste your time on! Remember, be creative or your buddies won’t be impressed!

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