4th April, 2014

code4lib wrapup

I had the unique pleasure last week of meeting many brilliant, innovative, and engaging libtech (library + tech) folks at the code4lib conference in Raleigh, NC last week.

Instead of writing all my feelings and thoughts, (and anyone who knows me knows that I have a lot!) I’m going to share my notes and impressions in bullet form below.

  • The pre-conference kicked off with a super workshop on project management called PM4Lib, taught by the amazing Rosalyn Metz and Becky Yoose. They spoiled us by baking incredibly delicious treats, so every other talk was definitely less sweet, though just as good. :) My notes are here
  • I cannot even begin to express my appreciation for the incredible keynote speakers! I am so admiring of the work of Sumana Harihareswara and Valerie Aurora, and to hear them speak was dreamy.  Also, it meant a lot to us to have both keynote speakers be around and open for conversations throughout the conference.Check out Sumana’s talk and Valerie’s interview
  • One awesome part of the conference was getting to hang out in the Hunt Library again.  This was my third time there, and it’s so cool and fun!
  • Similarly, the work of the NCSU librarians is incredible!  After meeting many of them a few weeks ago, I was impressed to hear about their innovative work
  • I gave a lightning talk on “How to be a part of an open source community.” My slides are here, and the actual (super enthusiastic!) talk is here (begin 1:04:50)
  • I still have so much Mozilla swag that I don’t know what to do with it!  Let me know if you want a sticker or a necklace or a pen!

There were quite a few talks at this conference that went way over my head, further solidifying for me that what’s important about conferences is the connections you make and the people you meet. People “threw up code” a lot, which was about as inscrutable as it sounds, though certain speakers did a good job making their code more friendly, in particular Jason Ronallo.

What stood out to me was the conference’s focus on social justice as a library and a tech issue, demonstrated by the choice of keynotes. I have become increasingly disillusioned with the academic library world and what I see as a mostly head down approach to many of the issues that concern us as librarians like access, feminism, and class struggle. To me, social justice and librarianship are deeply intertwined, and to hear librarians cross-functionally stand up and assert that there is a class differential in librarianship was extremely powerful.

Further than that, the safe space of the conference and the constant +1-ing was sweet! Supporting each others’ work made me so happy! One thing I’d like to see next year is a greater inclusion of public libraries in order to expand the scope to include folks who may be disenfranchised or disconnected from the larger community. Academic libraries may be the most prominent sources of technological innovation, but it doesn’t mean that they are the only source.

code4lib was inspiring, but also frustrating because the issues of gender, class, and race within my field were brought into even sharper relief for me. As Valerie Aurora said in her talk (paraphrasing), “Notice when you feel discomfort or guilt. That means you are learning something.” In this regard, I suppose that the my experience at the conference was a success.  We may not solve these problems overnight, and I am not sure that we’ll solve them with code, but I look forward to continue working for positive change in my field as a librarian, a coder, and a feminist.

26th February, 2014

on pathways, data, and (some of) what Mozilla’s taught me.

tl;dr: Drawing from research and data collection I did on the contribute page as well as a focus group, I am thinking about pathways workflows and how to increase participation within Mozilla and other communities. This post is a wrap-up of some of my internship work.

This post by Adam Lofting is great and everyone should read it, so I am going to begin this piece about onboarding contributors and Mozilla culture with a quote from it:

You’d be forgiven for thinking that working with data and metrics is a clean and scientific-like process of running queries against a database or two and generating a report. In many ways, I’m glad it’s not as simple as that.

Metrics are only as good as the things they enable us to improve. Which means while metrics need to be grounded in good clean data, they are primarily for people; and not just for people to read. In their best incarnation, metrics motivate people to change things for the better. At this scale, motivating people is definitely more art than science…

Over the past few weeks, I’ve analyzed the emails that have come into the “I want to volunteer in other ways not listed on this page” as well as the “I want to contribute Documentation and Writing” categories on the Contribute page at Mozilla.

Some highlights:”seafaring” “All bissnessman can achive a lot” “HIIIIIIIII and THANKSSSSSS” “easy and fast searching the webs” “learnining more about the computer and how it works.” “poker” “i am happy to see you” “firefox” “I want to help”

I read hundreds of examples, and I pulled out only some of the more entertaining above, but here is my data using the controlled vocabulary outlined below.

Emails Received December 1-15, 2013 from “other” category:

Total number of responses collected: 203 
Number of spam/porn-spam: 28 (14%)
Number of suggestions: 7 (3%)
Number of random: 67 (33%)
Number of complaints: 5 (3%)
Number of total lost: 48 (24%)
Number of general “I want to help”: 31 (15%)
Number of donation: 17 (8%)
Number of kudos: 6 (3%)
Number of lost: new pathways: 12 (6%)

(some of these categories overlap, so if the numbering seems off, that’s why)

Of the 203 people who chose to email from the “other” category, almost a quarter of them were lost and intended to contact another team, and a third of them were random. (IE “hello” “d” “yes”) Judging from this data, on the high end, about 43% of the people who write into the “other” category on the website are viable contributors. (I am being generous.)

According to a recent survey given to the people who answer these emails (called “Stewards,”) most categories (like “coding” or “education”) receive less spam or random comments than the “other” and “documentation and writing” category. (Over 50% of stewards said that this comprises 25% or less of the total emails they receive.) About 20% of stewards say that they onboard over 50% of their potential contributors, and approximately 33% claim that less than 10% of potential contributors become active contributors to the project.

So where’s the breakdown with the “other” category?  There are a few issues at play, as I see it:

1. The screenshot below shows what the Get Involved page looks like now:


The “other” category is hidden and difficult to see and all words in the dropdown are very small.

2. The actual descriptions of what you can do for Mozilla are after the fold and below the input box, which can be confusing. Feedback from Ake is to make a distinction between the MoFo opportunities (Education and Webmaker) and more support oriented opportunities (SUMO, Coding, etc).  He says that Education, a robust and viable form of participation, is difficult to see on the page. He suggested to prioritize local events on the page as well. Many local sites on the page are deeply under developed. (Like the poor US community!)

3. Some of our lost potential contributors wanted to make suggestions for other Mozilla projects like Thunderbird or Nightly, not just Firefox, and found this form limiting.

In the pathways working group, we put a lot of emphasis on this page to make it better and open the funnel. Automated emails are not enough, and the act of empowering someone means reaching out means personal connection. As one of my focus group participants put it, “Even if someone says they’re available by email, I assume they’re not.” Excitingly, these issues will largely be solved with a series of refreshes on the page in the next few months.

In order to begin to answer this question of making contact, I drew a loose flow chart that outlines how I see some workflow. (the thing at the end of the broken pathway is a pretty bad drawing of a bomb, signifying that we only have a limited amount of time before we lose someone…)

After going through workflow graphically, I came up with a few community building issues, many of which we’ve talked about in our working groups, meetups, etc.:

1. Where a contributor finds an opportunity is a relevant issue.

My focus group taught me that “hooking” people into contribution pathways is very often a product of face-to-face communication and “demystification” of the sign-up process. HIVEs, Maker Parties, workshops are all common ways to get involved. I personally would have felt far less connected had I not attended the CBT Meetup in December. Stewards make an effort to respond to every email they receive, but receiving an email, even from someone “on the inside” can still feel a bit impersonal. It can similarly feel strange to reach out in writing to a person, and often takes a lot more courage than connecting with someone locally for, say, a cup of coffee. How can we personalize and empower these interactions? What language are we using? How do we deliver on our promises?

As someone who lives in an area with a limited Mozilla presence, I am beginning to think about relative space and the imaginary community and empowerment through the local as a mode for increased participation to 10x contributors in the next year. I have to be the local community in order to create the local community.

2. Focus on the local, or IRL beats URL.

I’ve been reading Jono Bacon’s excellent book The Art of Community, and he talks a lot about “belonging” as a key tenet of building communities, particularly within open source. Belonging is deeply correlated with belief and social capital. This capital can be leveraged in order to create meaningful, scalable contributor flows. Though a community like Mozilla is widely dispersed, becoming a part of that community provides people a sense of belonging to something greater, but every community needs unicorns: that one person (or group of people) who wants to build Mozilla in their community.

Maryann pointed out last week that most people are willing to contribute tons of time to conferences, but when it comes to volunteering over the long term in their community, the response can be a bit lame. It’s the same reason why you may get 100 people to an event but only 2 to your meetings. People get a lot out of events, but they often don’t get much out of meetings. What if we can retool the meeting so that every meeting resembles an opportunity for growth beyond: “You can list this as a thing you do on your resume.” What if every meeting provided a growth opportunity? What if we can rethink meetings in a dynamic way? (I’m also thinking here of Dia Bondi’s storycraft videos)

2.  We can assist and collaborate with existing structures (universities, libraries, public schools, other non-profits) to develop a diverse contributor base without poaching.

After reading Lyre Calliope’s proposal to collaborate with Code for America, I was inspired to rethink my own proposals for larger library and academic contributor bases.  As they write:

There are limits to growth that come from motivated volunteers having to choose which organizations and causes they spend their time aligning with. And as a community organizer, building a local community is super hard when you’re starting from scratch.

When people put their trust and faith in organizations, they can become very motivated, very fast. Most students want to impress their professors or teachers. University or school or a well-run volunteer organization provides people a sense of belonging and a chance to increase their skills. Opening the pathways to contribution could be as simple as drawing on these contexts. Competition does not always have to foster growth; instead one can draw on the organic alignments that their potential community members already feel in the university or volunteer context. This is a missed opportunity within the community building team. Continuing to build Student Ambassadors and aligning with universities globally as well as presenting innovative programming to schools and libraries will bring in contributors, both one-off contributions and longer term communities of LLLs (life long learners.)

On a personal note, I feel like a lot of university technology work is outdated before it has begun, particularly in the humanities. A few years ago I managed a Digital Humanities project that was built on an outdated API that rendered it useless before it was released. Last year I learned PERL at university, the most rapidly shrinking programming language. Aligning with the university or school through innovative curricula or programming is one way to grab attention and provide NEWTs (new and exciting web technologies) to students and professors alike.

3. Never underestimate the power of free.

As most of us who work in education or libraries know, much of the world’s  knowledge is owned by a very small group of corporations. I did a recent research project on Open Access Journals, only to find that the majority of the most respected OAJ are owned by Springer and Elsevier. In my focus group, someone said “Librarians are trained by vendors.” An acronym I recently heard for OCLC (the integrated library system) is “Our Company Loves Cash.”

Similarly, most educational tools are prohibitively expensive and proprietary, which frustrates teachers, administrators, and lawmakers.  How did we get into this mess?

Mozilla can provide some free solutions to these issues, but we do ask for help in return. There are a lot of issues with this; on the badges research call today, we talked about the question of “equity vs access” and attempting to provide the same resources across the board to a group of students. However, resources go further than what a student is provided in a classroom.  Similarly, the computer classes I teach at the Cybrary in Carrboro, the students who are able to go home and practice the skills they learn (obviously) learn much faster than the students who cannot. We cannot expect all people to provide the same amount of time, energy, and resources to a project. We have to cast the net wider to include people and provide them belonging at various stages of contribution. We have to make contribution something you can do with freely available resources and a reasonable amount of time.

Technology has drawn the questions of availability, time economics, and capital into sharper relief than ever before. I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I think that Mozilla can do a better job thinking about conversion points (the point where someone becomes an active part of the community) for contributors and designing not only for participation but also inclusion.

4. No need to reinvent the reinvented wheel all the time (just some of the time.)

At Mozilla we tend to think in the abstract, floating nebulous of excitement. Someone told me recently that it appears to outsiders that we largely operate in a state of buzzing, controlled chaos at all times. (pretty accurate.) We tend to innovate all the time within community at Mozilla and do not always stick to our end goals or always lay out projects coherently from the beginning in order to ship what we want (but really, who does?) We have succeeded thus far through motivation, excitement, and the sweat of a few thousand brilliant people, but I’m beginning to wonder if we can sometimes do more to take into account what we already have, what works, what doesn’t.

This is why I am excited about documents like “What Makes a Pathway?” and our Pathways Roadmap; this is reflective, reflexive work that helps us take stock and be accountable for our actions, learning about what we do well before launching a new project or product that will solve a problem that is not a problem.

5. Communication is key across the organization.

About a month ago I checked my twitter and by chance saw a tweet from someone named Ake Nygren who calls himself a "Mozillarian." “Huh!” I thought. Through Ake I discovered what I have been lovingly calling the “Mozillarian Sleeper Cell”: a group of librarians already working with innovative educational tools and contributing to the project in various ways.

I would love to see a chart of all the projects we have, both at MoFo and MoCo, to be able to contact someone at each stage, and to leverage the social media that we’re already using (I am particularly excited about our new social media tool Discourse because it’s open and searchable and in this way more graphically accessible than mailing lists.) We have so many modes of communication: IRC, email, facebook, twitter, and now discourse. We need to reach out to someone if we know that they are doing aligned work or know of a resource that will help them, not tomorrow, but right this moment. We need to create a little starter kit or MOOC that will provide people tools across Planet Mozilla through each stage of the Contributor Lifecycle. We need to open the communication, work in the open, and through that, open up communication pathways.

6. Internal education and community culture matters.

Last week a co-worker sat in on a meeting while on vacation. I often receive emails from Mozillians on Sundays, Saturdays, whenever. Mozilla has taught me that you receive what you give. Treat people well, and you will receive good work. Recognition is as much a part of the community as initiation.

Similarly, something that I like about Discourse is that it reminds users to comply with community norms and honor codes before they post, encouraging everyone to behave civilly to one another. I see these kinds of structures as a move to a more thoughtful Internet where trolling and attacking is not an issue because people simply don’t put up with it. I’m sitting in on the Education Working Group now, and I look forward to actively increasing the level of internal learning, communication, and kindness towards one another. I would love to see some of the learning that happens on the staff side (like Tribe) extend further out into the community. Another useful initiative could be to increase mediation through the organization, both on the staff side and the community side. These are the ways in which people learn and grow; as a global movement, we have to do this gingerly and sensitively, and I look forward to exploring these issues further. It is unfair to invite someone into a broken community. We have to be robust and considerate in our actions both with each other and the outside world.

I suppose that this post is as much a wrap-up of my internship as anything, and I am happy to share the news here that I’ll be continuing on in my work at Mozilla. It has been an incredible experience to become enmeshed in this community so quickly and has taught me about the nature of my own work dealing with organization of information, community development, project management, and data-driven opportunities in Open Source.

I still believe that the Mozilla community is self-aware, reflective, and open (and hopefully will for a long time.) I am motivated by the community to stay culturally sensitive and locally minded while working together for our common goal: achieving an open and free web.

19th February, 2014

ten things I have learned, by Milton Glaser

The first conversation I had with Dino was to tell him how much I loved reading John Cage’s rules for students and teachers, which he has hung above his desk.
I was thinking today about pieces I’ve read that have particularly stuck with me on the nature of work and love and life, and I thought of the talk below, which I return to in times of uncertainty. I find this compelling, particularly when meditating on the nature of creativity and interpersonal interactions.

Ten Things I Have Learned

Milton Glaser

Part of an AIGA Talk in London

This is a curious rule and it took me a long time to learn because in fact at the beginning of my practice I felt the opposite. Professionalism required that you didn’t particularly like the people that you worked for or at least maintained an arms length relationship to them, which meant that I never had lunch with a client or saw them socially. Then some years ago I realized that the opposite was true. I discovered that all the work I had done that was meaningful and significant came out of an affectionate relationship with a client. And I am not talking about professionalism; I am talking about affection. I am talking about a client and you sharing some common ground. That in fact your view of life is someway congruent with the client, otherwise it is a bitter and hopeless struggle.
One night I was sitting in my car outside Columbia University where my wife Shirley was studying Anthropology. While I was waiting I was listening to the radio and heard an interviewer ask ‘Now that you have reached 75 have you any advice for our audience about how to prepare for your old age?’ An irritated voice said ‘Why is everyone asking me about old age these days?’ I recognized the voice as John Cage. I am sure that many of you know who he was – the composer and philosopher who influenced people like Jasper Johns and Merce Cunningham as well as the music world in general. I knew him slightly and admired his contribution to our times. ‘You know, I do know how to prepare for old age’ he said. ‘Never have a job, because if you have a job someday someone will take it away from you and then you will be unprepared for your old age. For me, it has always been the same every since the age of 12. I wake up in the morning and I try to figure out how am I going to put bread on the table today? It is the same at 75, I wake up every morning and I think how am I going to put bread on the table today? I am exceedingly well prepared for my old age’ he said.
This is a subtext of number one. There was in the sixties a man named Fritz Perls who was a gestalt therapist. Gestalt therapy derives from art history, it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energized or less energized. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life. 
Early in my career I wanted to be professional, that was my complete aspiration in my early life because professionals seemed to know everything - not to mention they got paid for it. Later I discovered after working for a while that professionalism itself was a limitation. After all, what professionalism means in most cases is diminishing risks. So if you want to get your car fixed you go to a mechanic who knows how to deal with transmission problems in the same way each time. I suppose if you needed brain surgery you wouldn’t want the doctor to fool around and invent a new way of connecting your nerve endings. Please do it in the way that has worked in the past.Unfortunately in our field, in the so-called creative – I hate that word because it is misused so often. I also hate the fact that it is used as a noun. Can you imagine calling someone a creative? Anyhow, when you are doing something in a recurring way to diminish risk or doing it in the same way as you have done it before, it is clear why professionalism is not enough. After all, what is required in our field, more than anything else, is the continuous transgression. Professionalism does not allow for that because transgression has to encompass the possibility of failure and if you are professional your instinct is not to fail, it is to repeat success. So professionalism as a lifetime aspiration is a limited goal.
Being a child of modernism I have heard this mantra all my life. Less is more. One morning upon awakening I realized that it was total nonsense, it is an absurd proposition and also fairly meaningless. But it sounds great because it contains within it a paradox that is resistant to understanding. But it simply does not obtain when you think about the visual of the history of the world. If you look at a Persian rug, you cannot say that less is more because you realize that every part of that rug, every change of colour, every shift in form is absolutely essential for its aesthetic success. You cannot prove to me that a solid blue rug is in any way superior. That also goes for the work of Gaudi, Persian miniatures, art nouveau and everything else. However, I have an alternative to the proposition that I believe is more appropriate. ‘Just enough is more.’
I think this idea first occurred to me when I was looking at a marvelous etching of a bull by Picasso. It was an illustration for a story by Balzac called The Hidden Masterpiece. I am sure that you all know it. It is a bull that is expressed in 12 different styles going from very naturalistic version of a bull to an absolutely reductive single line abstraction and everything else along the way. What is clear just from looking at this single print is that style is irrelevant. In every one of these cases, from extreme abstraction to acute naturalism they are extraordinary regardless of the style. It’s absurd to be loyal to a style. It does not deserve your loyalty. I must say that for old design professionals it is a problem because the field is driven by economic consideration more than anything else. Style change is usually linked to economic factors, as all of you know who have read Marx. Also fatigue occurs when people see too much of the same thing too often. So every ten years or so there is a stylistic shift and things are made to look different. Typefaces go in and out of style and the visual system shifts a little bit. If you are around for a long time as a designer, you have an essential problem of what to do. I mean, after all, you have developed a vocabulary, a form that is your own. It is one of the ways that you distinguish yourself from your peers, and establish your identity in the field. How you maintain your own belief system and preferences becomes a real balancing act. The question of whether you pursue change or whether you maintain your own distinct form becomes difficult. We have all seen the work of illustrious practitioners that suddenly look old-fashioned or, more precisely, belonging to another moment in time. And there are sad stories such as the one about Cassandre, arguably the greatest graphic designer of the twentieth century, who couldn’t make a living at the end of his life and committed suicide.But the point is that anybody who is in this for the long haul has to decide how to respond to change in the zeitgeist. What is it that people now expect that they formerly didn’t want? And how to respond to that desire in a way that doesn’t change your sense of integrity and purpose.
The brain is the most responsive organ of the body. Actually it is the organ that is most susceptible to change and regeneration of all the organs in the body. I have a friend named Gerald Edelman who was a great scholar of brain studies and he says that the analogy of the brain to a computer is pathetic. The brain is actually more like an overgrown garden that is constantly growing and throwing off seeds, regenerating and so on. And he believes that the brain is susceptible, in a way that we are not fully conscious of, to almost every experience of our life and every encounter we have. I was fascinated by a story in a newspaper a few years ago about the search for perfect pitch. A group of scientists decided that they were going to find out why certain people have perfect pitch. You know certain people hear a note precisely and are able to replicate it at exactly the right pitch. Some people have relevant pitch; perfect pitch is rare even among musicians. The scientists discovered – I don’t know how - that among people with perfect pitch the brain was different. Certain lobes of the brain had undergone some change or deformation that was always present with those who had perfect pitch. This was interesting enough in itself. But then they discovered something even more fascinating. If you took a bunch of kids and taught them to play the violin at the age of 4 or 5 after a couple of years some of them developed perfect pitch, and in all of those cases their brain structure had changed. Well what could that mean for the rest of us? We tend to believe that the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind, although we do not generally believe that everything we do affects the brain. I am convinced that if someone was to yell at me from across the street my brain could be affected and my life might changed. That is why your mother always said, ‘Don’t hang out with those bad kids.’ Mama was right. Thought changes our life and our behavior. I also believe that drawing works in the same way. I am a great advocate of drawing, not in order to become an illustrator, but because I believe drawing changes the brain in the same way as the search to create the right note changes the brain of a violinist. Drawing also makes you attentive. It makes you pay attention to what you are looking at, which is not so easy.
Everyone always talks about confidence in believing what you do. I remember once going to a class in yoga where the teacher said that, spirituality speaking, if you believed that you had achieved enlightenment you have merely arrived at your limitation. I think that is also true in a practical sense. Deeply held beliefs of any kind prevent you from being open to experience, which is why I find all firmly held ideological positions questionable. It makes me nervous when someone believes too deeply or too much. I think that being skeptical and questioning all deeply held beliefs is essential. Of course we must know the difference between skepticism and cynicism because cynicism is as much a restriction of one’s openness to the world as passionate belief is. They are sort of twins. And then in a very real way, solving any problem is more important than being right. There is a significant sense of self-righteousness in both the art and design world. Perhaps it begins at school. Art school often begins with the Ayn Rand model of the single personality resisting the ideas of the surrounding culture. The theory of the avant garde is that as an individual you can transform the world, which is true up to a point. One of the signs of a damaged ego is absolute certainty. Schools encourage the idea of not compromising and defending your work at all costs. Well, the issue at work is usually all about the nature of compromise. You just have to know what to compromise. Blind pursuit of your own ends which excludes the possibility that others may be right does not allow for the fact that in design we are always dealing with a triad – the client, the audience and you. Ideally, making everyone win through acts of accommodation is desirable. But self-righteousness is often the enemy. Self-righteousness and narcissism generally come out of some sort of childhood trauma, which we do not have to go into. It is a consistently difficult thing in human affairs. Some years ago I read a most remarkable thing about love, that also applies to the nature of co-existing with others. It was a quotation from Iris Murdoch in her obituary. It read ’ Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.’ Isn’t that fantastic! The best insight on the subject of love that one can imagine.
Last year someone gave me a charming book by Roger Rosenblatt called ‘Ageing Gracefully’ I got it on my birthday. I did not appreciate the title at the time but it contains a series of rules for ageing gracefully. The first rule is the best. Rule number one is that ‘it doesn’t matter.’ ‘It doesn’t matter what you think. Follow this rule and it will add decades to your life. It does not matter if you are late or early, if you are here or there, if you said it or didn’t say it, if you are clever or if you were stupid. If you were having a bad hair day or a no hair day or if your boss looks at you cockeyed or your boyfriend or girlfriend looks at you cockeyed, if you are cockeyed. If you don’t get that promotion or prize or house or if you do – it doesn’t matter.’ Wisdom at last. Then I heard a marvelous joke that seemed related to rule number 10. A butcher was opening his market one morning and as he did a rabbit popped his head through the door. The butcher was surprised when the rabbit inquired ‘Got any cabbage?’ The butcher said ‘This is a meat market – we sell meat, not vegetables.’ The rabbit hopped off. The next day the butcher is opening the shop and sure enough the rabbit pops his head round and says ‘You got any cabbage?’ The butcher now irritated says ‘Listen you little rodent I told you yesterday we sell meat, we do not sell vegetables and the next time you come here I am going to grab you by the throat and nail those floppy ears to the floor.’ The rabbit disappeared hastily and nothing happened for a week. Then one morning the rabbit popped his head around the corner and said ‘Got any nails?’ The butcher said ‘No.’ The rabbit said ‘Ok. Got any cabbage?’
The rabbit joke is relevant because it occurred to me that looking for a cabbage in a butcher’s shop might be like looking for ethics in the design field. It may not be the most obvious place to find either. It’s interesting to observe that in the new AIGA’s code of ethics there is a significant amount of useful information about appropriate behavior towards clients and other designers, but not a word about a designer’s relationship to the public. We expect a butcher to sell us eatable meat and that he doesn’t misrepresent his wares. I remember reading that during the Stalin years in Russia that everything labelled veal was actually chicken. I can’t imagine what everything labelled chicken was. We can accept certain kinds of misrepresentation, such as fudging about the amount of fat in his hamburger but once a butcher knowingly sells us spoiled meat we go elsewhere. As a designer, do we have less responsibility to our public than a butcher? Everyone interested in licensing our field might note that the reason licensing has been invented is to protect the public not designers or clients. ‘Do no harm’ is an admonition to doctors concerning their relationship to their patients, not to their fellow practitioners or the drug companies. If we were licensed, telling the truth might become more central to what we do.

source here.

13th February, 2014

Carrboro Loves the Open Web!

What have I been doing lately? Making, making, making!!

1. I made a documentary about Carrboro and the Open Web for a job application @mozilla. check it out, embedded in this post! Thank you, Carrboro, for putting up with me.

2. I drafted, and then re-drafted, and then re-drafted again, and then collaborated on the new Mozilla contribute wiki.  It was a fun project, and I learned so much new coding! I also learned how to make a wireframe, and I thought a good deal about the ontological features of the Mozilla CBT. find it here: wiki.mozilla.org/contribute.

3.  I started a storytelling project called “One Take Stories,” which is a way to share out my stories and journals in a structured manner.  It’s in the post before this. It was cathartic and lovely, and I’m so happy to be doing it.

4. I participated in a Project Management MOOC and also started reading a whole lot more about Project Management, SCRUM, and Agile. Moral of the story? Time, resources, and scope are all limited resources. Increase one, increase all the others. Simplicity is key. Projects have an end. I signed up for a few more MOOCs, and am hoping to get more out of them.

5. I made a draft teaching kit for libraries teaching the web literacy standard. I thought a lot about open education and how we can be a part of it as public servants. I connected with Ake Nygren, of Mozillarian. He is a powerhouse of a person; he’s doing incredible work, and all in in his free time! Plus, he is a phenomenal mover and shaker in Stockholm. So proud to be a part of his work!

6. I wrote a proposal for ALA Las Vegas. Looking forward to the August installment of Librarians Go Wild: Las Vegas Edition. Also hoping that I didn’t miss my one chance in life to hear the Rock Bottom Remainders play last year.

7. I learned about impostor syndrome from @larissashapiro. I tried to get over it by saying yes when asked to speak on a panel about women in open source at NCState in a few months. (eek!)

8. I laid the groundwork for a Maker Party here in the Triangle in April or May.  If you’re down and here, let’s get in touch.

9. I analyzed data on lost contributors, confused spam bots, and Mozilla stewards for Mozilla and populated a list of Open Access scholars for UNC. Amazing stuff!  I found out that UNC put forward a proposal to make most of their scholarly research Open Access.  Totally psyched!

10. I set up a focus group! It’s amazing! We have so many totally motivated folks who are beautiful and excited to be a part of this. It’s amazing what people will do in their free time for a cause. Thank you to everyone involved!

11. We marched against the GOP agenda in Raleigh!  Check it out!

12. I started to work on a Facilitation Guide for Air Mozilla on Popcorn.  Popcorn is awesome! Give it a try!

13.  I became involved in new project initiatives at Software Carpentry.  I’m honored to be a part of it.

14. I learned to catalog rare books at the Health Sciences Library.  I’m so super into it, even though it’s largely German books about orthodontia. (so glad I had braces late in the 20th century. Most of the apparatuses look like torture devices!  Eek!)

What I’m into:

If you don’t get @annfriedman's updates, please sign up for them. Her writing + what she's reading = magic

Real SImple had a list of 10 quick, cheap, and delicious soups. 614 West Main is obsessed.

Real Simple also published this great article, which made me giggle, but also stuck with me.

Rookie has amazing content overall (duh, as my 17 year old self would say,) but take a look at this.

Open Badge Factory is so amazing!  I’m really happy to have found it!

MentorUp is a new and dynamic opportunity for connecting young and old.

The Art of Community by Jono Bacon is @mozillacommunity ‘s book of the month!  I’ll post about it next week.

Pair Program With Me.  A new way to think about learning to program.

Python class at Girl Develop it.  Now I have a solid intro to three programming languages: PERL, PHP, Python. Heck yes!

Every day, write down the best thing that happened to you that day on a calendar. Take ten minutes to reflect on what was wonderful that day!

29th January, 2014

Web Literacy Teaching Plans for Libraries

Are you interested in library instruction? Want to work on something easy, quick, and concrete?
I just started a draft of a ‪#‎webmaker‬ teaching plan based on the “exploring” section of the ‪#‎webliteracystandard‬.
Let’s collaborate! I was hoping that this can be used for community computer workshops and concrete programming in public libraries. The goal is to create a customizable, two hour lesson plan based on this: https://webmaker.org/en-US/standard/exploring


I’m particularly looking for help to figure out exciting online activities to explore the web.

Remix away! Let me know if you need any help learning to use the Webmaker editor.

Find out more about Webmaker here.

29th January, 2014

"I feel that my whole life is a contribution. That is why I would like to tell you about it." Pete Seeger, HUAC, 1955

Like many, I felt extremely sad today when I woke up to news of the death of Pete Seeger, the beloved folk musician and inspiration to so many. One June day during a heatwave in New York, I was traveling through with a heavy backpack on my way to Kentucky to attend an activist training camp against Mountaintop Removal. I was so hot and miserable that I decided to spend the entire day in the Museum of Television and Radio watching episodes of Rainbow Quest. It was a perfect afternoon.

Though all the tributes to Pete were lovely, what stuck with me, particularly on International Data Privacy Day, was his answer to the House Un-American Activities Commission questioning, as quoted in the New York Times. 

I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.

At the risk of drawing reductive historical parallels, I want to point out that providing public answers to these questions are not only not “improper” on the Internet, they are constantly collected and targeted. My personal correspondence is suddenly the domain of advertisers. My search for information on a specific topic becomes a way to target me by corporations and the government. Is our inability to hide personal information the anti-HUAC? Is big data the anti-trial?

Everything you say on the internet can and will be used against you, for better or worse.

I have been thinking a lot about my own privacy as well since beginning this website and upping my Internet presence a few months ago. I am currently actively applying and searching for jobs, but it is pretty easy to tell at least to some extent what I believe in from this writing as well as my college journalism, my LinkedIn account, Facebook, etc. (Although sometimes the Internet’s long memory is so charming! I wrote a column about wacky old things like Wonder Theaters, Little Egypt, and the WPA for the Columbia Daily Spectator called "Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt," which will now conveniently live on for a long time.)

I adopted a slightly more cavalier approach to privacy in the past few months. Since beginning to work for the Internet, I share more, collect more twitter followers, write more, blog more, and create more content than ever. I “know” people all over the world who are doing incredible work, but I don’t actually “know” them. These public relationships say something about me, and their data and mine become linked, even though we have never met. We are now public figures up for scrutiny.

At Mozilla, we are passionate about empowering web users to become creators, about turning this massive, strange thing that we collectively birthed into an object of beauty and learning. I hope that someday a majority of people engage with these possibilities to create meaningful content for one another that is not vitriolic, superficial, or in the service of the machine, but instead future-minded and in pursuit of knowledge. This is, of course, outrageously idealistic, but it is worth keeping in mind while sorting through the wreckage of the web. (Also Pete Seeger died today and someone needs to keep that optimism alive!)

To get back to the Seeger quote, what he is asking for is respect. To be stolen from, whether that theft is information or personal property or space or autonomy feels disrespectful, and violates what humans feel is an essential right: their right to decide what is public and what is not. When Pete says at the end, “I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it,” he is saying (albeit tongue in cheek,) that there is a special power in listening to information, but not in stealing it. To use personal information for malicious intent is stealing, and this is the kind of behavior that we must fight.

Despite all this talk, in the end, Pete was pretty bad at hiding his political beliefs. It was always public knowledge that he was a leftie radical and probably a communist, but at least he will always be remembered by the courts as “a banjo-playing folk singer, who offered to play his banjo for the committee, but the committee declined.”

12th January, 2014

remembering Aaron Swartz today

Guerilla Open Access Manifesto

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.

There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.

"I agree," many say, "but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal — there’s nothing we can do to stop them." But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back.

Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.

Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.

But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.

Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.

With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?

Aaron Swartz July 2008, Eremo, Italy


9th January, 2014

on limitations and new beginnings: my tech story

Larissa asked if I’d post “my nerd story” about how I got into tech. Here goes:

At brunch a few months ago, my friend and former boss Jenna Freedman told me that she was “happy that I’ve become so techy.” As a luddite at heart, (I’m actually typing this blog post on a typewriter,) her assessment is pretty spot-on: Gone is the girl who once ranted, “I want the paper card catalog back and I’m serious!” because the cataloging module was down. (Now I rant about how our in-house cataloging module is proprietary, though OCLC has done a good job being mostly open source.)

It all started when I took a class in my second semester of library school about digital librarianship that had an incredibly interesting syllabus. Through the (surprisingly informative and still relevant!) book How Computers Work and other books about the history and future of computing, I began to understand that pretty much everything around me ran on binary. A light bulb went off in my head. How could so much be created with such a seemingly simple system? Further, how could I know so little about something that is such an integral part of my life?***

***sidenote: One could actually make this argument about a lot of things in life, like plumbing, auto mechanics, or electrical work. There’s a common metaphor in computer science that not being able to change your machine is like having a plumber come in, fix your pipes, and then tell you to not touch or even look at the pipes until they come back to fix them again. Judging from my own experiences fixing both my own plumbing and my own computer system, I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing… (just kidding!  I love open source!)***

Like many women, I feared and loathed math growing up because I was frankly terrible at it. I was lucky enough to have a tutor in math for many years and later I tutored students in math. I saw in those students what my tutors saw in me: I had the aptitude and the drive, but no self-confidence. I still lack that confidence, but my work in technology, which is largely not so techy, has put me into contact with a lot of folks whose minds work in amazing ways that are so different from mine. These interactions have made me come to terms with my own limitations, and made me realize just how much I turned away from until now because of fear.

I became interested in programming because programming, I assumed, would be like learning a new language, which I already knew I could do. Language based programming like PERL or Python, I figured, was a way to learn about computers without ever having to think about calculus again. (I was wrong.) I took my first programming class last year in German, a language I had been speaking for a little over a year. This lead to some pretty comic interactions. It was very convenient to tell my professor, “Mein Computer kann kein Deutsch, Herr Professor!” when my programs didn’t work! Needless to say, I didn’t learn much programming, but the class was my Ohrwurm: I wanted to learn more about computers, and fast.

I usually get pretty theoretical when I share my feelings about technology. I sometimes feel like when I talk about programming, it’s the computer science equivalent of post-modernists talking about archives to an archivist, which means I’m mostly reiterating utter nonsense that they already know. What’s interesting to me is how learning about computers, particularly when things are open and free, can be so auto-didactic. Computers can teach people how to think and help people think in new ways. They teach skills and competencies, and with the interconnectedness of the Internet, nothing is really off limits. In short, through this weird bundle of zeroes and ones, we are learning to think in different ways, both a scary and exciting proposition.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to talk with Diana Kimball, another liberal arts person-turned digital liberal arts person/coder/tech woman/mentor, and we jammed a lot on the use of computers, coding, language, storytelling, and further, the Internet as a source of connection and enthusiasm. I read the course catalog she contributed to and I thought, “Huh! I’d never thought of it that way!” As I understand it, for Diana, learning to code is also about being an articulate and well-rounded person. As she writes in her blog post about learning, “A computer could do this! And that means I could make a computer do it.”  And truly, we all can do it!

My “nerd story” and involvement with open technology, free and open source software, and community development stems from a few places: The first is purely linguistic. How precise and elegant can I be? The second is political and educational: How will these human-built devices change us both educationally and emotionally? How can using new open communications change the paradigm? Why is open source important? Why should information be free? How can we stop the state from spying? How can we build large scale and new communities based on positive and open communication? In addition, how can technology be used responsibly and ethically, in terms of hardware, software, and changing the world? The last is selfish: How do I fit into all of this?

Though I’m a tech nerd in some ways, I haven’t quite embraced it yet, and I don’t think I ever will. I buy most technology used because the mining of precious metals for something with such planned obsolescence makes me uncomfortable. I have no idea when any company is releasing any new product, though I know that everyone should give Nightly a try (shameless plug). I still don’t know how to code or program very well. I don’t use Linux. I am new to smart phones and often leave my phone at home anyway. If I got rid of my Facebook it would probably be a bit inconvenient, but not a disaster. My hard drive is cluttered.

I talk the talk, but I don’t walk the walk, and I’m okay with that. I’d much rather sit around a table with a bottle of wine and some phone-less friends talking about our hopes, dreams, and fears than interface with a computer or a friend on a smartphone.

As the end of Friedrich Kittler’s famous essay points out, I will never truly understand computer code, and my computer and I will never speak the same language. And that’s okay: It reminds me every day of the immensity and complexity of knowledge, but if I can capture just a little bit, or even provide a small translation, then I’ve accomplished something.

7th January, 2014

Librarians! Information Professionals! Listen Up!

here’s a copy of the text I’m sending out to invite folks to join my focus group on contribution to Mozilla. It’s time to be information advocates! If you’re reading this and want to be a part of the open web, please get in touch!

As librarians and information professionals, it’s important for us to be involved in open software initiatives, free and open information, and the open web. For Mozilla, which is a non-profit, open-source project, librarians can provide incredibly important skills like metadata curation, organization of information, database expertise, as well as the educational and managerial expertise that we learn through classes and work in reference, event programming, and all of the other multitudinous things we do so capably. Volunteering and contributing to Mozilla can help us develop the soft skills we need as well as help us bridge the gap between work and volunteering. Gaining relevant volunteer experience is only part of it— Mozilla contributors receive tremendous recognition.The Mozilla community is a fantastic community to be a part of, and we’re so excited to find LIS/IS professionals who want to collaborate!

I’m creating a focus group to determine what would motivate information professionals and paraprofessionals (as well as interested parties and students) to become contributors and volunteers, and we would love to invite you to participate. The time commitment can be as large or as small as you like— we want to invite people in and provide them incentives and meaningful participation.

If you want to be a part of it, get back to me by Friday, January 24th. Please forward this call widely!

For more information, go here: http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/contribute/

or here: http://wiki.mozilla.org/contribute

for information on the Mozilla Manifesto and Mission, go here: http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/about/manifesto/