Monthly Archives: November 2019

Health care

One of the most important issues for free software within the US is one we rarely talk about: healthcare. That is why I am going to write about it.

These days, sustainability in FOSS is a hot topic. In my experience, for many years this conversation focused nearly exclusively on making FOSS -profitable- for companies, in order to create jobs. Now, the conversation is shifting to ask: what conditions do we need to create so that everyone who wants to work in FOSS can do so?

The answer is not the same for everyone, nor is it the same in every country. Someone supporting a family of two, three, four, or however many has greater income needs than I do, as my biggest financial responsibilities are debt and a cat. However, I also have a condition with a mortality rate estimated at 15%. Access to affordable, comprehensive health care is not just a nice perk, but crucial for my continued survival.

Access to health insurance has been the primary factor in all of my professional decisions: staying places where I was miserable, doing work I hated, even choosing where to apply. Access to health insurance was a major factor in my moving to Massachusetts, which offers health insurance to all residents.

While my free software career has been amazing — I am extremely lucky that I was able to cultivate a skill set and social network that enabled me to work in the greater sphere of FOSS (and previously open ed) — I would have made different decisions had I not been reliant on employers to provide me with health insurance.

In the United States (and many, many other places), access to affordable, comprehensive healthcare (from here on: healthcare) is a major factor holding people back from FOSS contribution. When your access to health care is tied to your employer, your time — and literally your life — is dependent on your employer. This seriously impacts your ability to even have free time, let alone using that time to build FOSS.

Since the creation of software largely relies on people’s professional skill sets, we’re asking people to do in their free time what they do in their paid time — design, develop software, plan architecture, organize events, maintain systems and infrastructure, be a lawyer, manage finances, and everything else that strengthens FOSS and FOSS communities. In asking someone to take on a leadership role in a FOSS project or community, you’re asking them to take on another job — one that comes with neither pay nor benefits.

When people face constant threats to their existence due to fearing for their lives (i.e. their health), it can be hard, if not impossible to spend their time contributing to FOSS, or indeed to any activist project.

People who live in societies that rise to meet the basic material needs of all citizens are able to spend time contributing to the greater good. Those of us struggling to survive, however, must forgo opportunities to become participating members of communities that are trying to change the world. Instead, we look to our employers (usually with commercial interests) to meet our needs.

When you work in tech, meeting our basic material needs through employer-sponsored insurance comes at a steep price: non-compete agreements, signing away patent and intellectual property rights, fights to ensure your work is available under a free and/or open source license, and giving up more than 8 hours a day/40 hours a week. When we try to create good FOSS in addition to that, we burn out, we become miserable, and we’re trapped.

People are incapable of creating FOSS when they’re sick, burnt out, worried about their health, struggling with an ongoing condition or disability, or dead. It’s that simple. [powerful]

People fighting for access to healthcare should care about free software for many reasons, but we as a free software community also need to care about access to health care. This is for the sake of ourselves and the sake of our communities. We cannot build the tools and resources the world needs when we are struggling simply to live.

If you accept the notion that lack of access to comprehensive healthcare impacts our ability to have the resources necessary to create something like free software, then we can acknowledge that, by providing health care to everyone, everyone will then be in a better, more equitable position from which they can contribute to FOSS and lead safer, happier lives.

According to the KHN, 8.5% of U.S. Americans didn’t have health insurance in 2018. Un-insurance rates are even higher among non-white populations according to HHS. As a community, we’ve accepted that the lack of diversity and the over-representation of cis white folks is a problem. We need to create more equitable conditions — so that people come to FOSS from similar places of privilege, rather than having a huge disparity in privilege and oppression. Providing health care to everyone will help alleviate this, and will enable more people to do the things they are passionate about — or things they will become passionate about once they have the chance to do so.

If we are to create a world where FOSS is successful, access to health care is paramount and we need to take it seriously.

Rebellion

We spend a lot of time focusing on the epic side of free software and user freedom: joys come from providing encrypted communication options to journalists and political dissidents; losses are when IoT devices are used to victimize and abuse.

I think a lot about the little ways technology interacts with our lives, the threats to or successes for user freedom we encounter in regular situations that anyone can find themselves able to understand: sexting with a secure app, sharing  DRM-free piece of media, or having your communications listened to by a “home assistant.”

When I was writing a talk about ethics and IoT, I was looking for these small examples of the threats posed by smart doorbells. False arrests and racial profiling, deals with law enforcement to monitor neighborhoods, the digital panopticon — these are big deals. I remembered something I read about kids giving their neighbor a pair of slippers for Christmas. This sort of anonymous gift giving becomes impossible when your front door is constantly being monitored. People laughed when I shared this idea with them — that we’re really losing something by giving up the opportunity to anonymously leave presents.

We are also giving up what my roommate calls “benign acts of rebellion.” From one perspective, making it harder for teenagers to sneak out at night is a good thing. Keeping better tabs on your kids and where they are is a safety issue. Being able to monitor what they do on their computer can prevent descent into objectively bad communities and behavior patterns, but it can also prevent someone from participating in the cultural coming of age narratives that help define who we are as a society and give us points of connection across generations.

People sneak out. People go places their parents don’t want them to. People stay up late at night reading or playing video games. People explore their sexuality by looking at porn when they’re underage. People do things their parents don’t want them to, and these are things their parents are increasingly able to prevent them from doing using technology.

I met someone at a conference who was talking about potentially installing a camera into the bedroom of their pubescent child — the same kind designed to allow parents to monitor their babies at night — because their child was playing video games when they “should be sleeping.”

This appalled me, but one of the things that really struck me was how casually they said it. Technology made it not a big deal. They already had one in their baby’s room, putting another in seemed simple.

I would happily argue all the epic points that come out of this: creating a surveillance state, normalizing the reality of being monitored, controlling behavior and creating a docile population. These are real threats, but also, seriously, poor sleep hygiene is just a thing teenagers do and it’s okay.

These benign acts of rebellion — staying up later than we’re told to, chatting with our friends when we’re not “supposed to” — are not just important points of cultural connection, but also just important for our own individual development. Making mistakes, doing dumb things, acting the fool, and learning from all of this is important in the process of defining ourselves. Technology should not be used to hinder our personal growth, especially when it offers to many opportunities for us to better explore who we are, or makes it safer for us to continue to rebel in the myriad ways we always have. Rebellion is important to our narratives — it’s certainly integral to mine. I hope that people younger than me don’t lose that because of the fear others hold.

Free software activities, October 2019

A belated hello! I was traveling at the end of October and missed this. Apologies!

A beautiful, green Japanese maple tree in front of a Buddhist shrine.

In October, work was quite busy, though a lot of it was behind-the-scenes stuff I cannot yet update you on. It was also very busy with a very exciting trip I took that had absolutely nothing to do with free software. If you’re ever going to Kyoto or Tokyo and looking for some recommendations for coffee, cocktail bars, restaurants, or general things to do, hmu.

Free software activities (personal)

  • I have regular meetings with Patrick Masson, the general manager of the OSI. We made most of them in October.
  • I did some writing for the OSI. Not all of it is published at this point.
  • I worked on crafting drafts of organizational policies for the OSI, including staffing, travel, and a whistle blower policy. I hope to be able to arrange for an HR specialist or employment lawyer to review these.
  • The OSI has two new board members! In order to make this happen, I contacted all of the nominees for whom I had contact information. I spoke with them about the OSI, the Board and it’s activities, and how they saw their potential involvement. Basically I interviewed a bunch of ~fancy~ people. It was so much fun talking with every one of them and I learned so much during the process.
  • The Debian Community Team had some meetings, wrote some emails, and discussed The Future together and with the greater Debian community.
  • I attended All Things Open and spoke about ethics and IoT devices. My slides were puppy themed.
  • I did some philosophy based writing. I got a  lot out of this and hope you did too.
  • I also found out that my brother’s company does some open source work!
  • I submitted to the Open Source Festival 2020 CfP. And you can too!

Free software activities (professional)

  • I attended All Things Open and had one of the most awesome tabling experiences I have had to date! It was such a great crowd at ATO! They took all of our stickers!
  • I had a lot of meetings with some more great people. Thank you everyone who made some time for me!
  • We launched a Patent Troll Defense Fund! I cannot thank the donors enough! It’s so inspiring for me to see the community come together to support a project I really believe in.
  • We’ve been doing a lot of work on this Rothschild Imaging thing.
  • We did some fundraising for Linux Application Summit (which happened this week!).

Cocktails: Kyoto

Tech has a drinking problem. I won’t go into it now, but I am generally very hesitant to talk about alcohol on the internet because I don’t want to be part of a culture that -encourages- drinking (even though I have been in the past). Since this blog is mainly tech focused (with some baking interludes), I’ve gone out of my way to not write about drinking. The thing is, I really enjoy cocktails. It’s a casual hobby of mine.

When I plan for a trip, I research cocktail bars in the area(s) where I will be traveling. I make lists and put them on a map. I have priorities and notes. I get a lot out of blogs and articles on these things, so I decided I probably ought to “give back” to that experience.

So, here are my thoughts on the cocktail bars I visited in Tokyo.

Bar Rocking Chair

Web site

This was my favorite in Kyoto. The staff were very friendly and very nice. They were patient with my Japanese, even though they spoke excellent English. When we arrived they were a bit busy, but managed to just barely find a place for us to sit. Deeply appreciated.

I had a The Best Scene and a Jyu-raku, and very much enjoyed them both. I chose these because The Best Scene is their award winning cocktail, and the jyu-raku comes with port. They have an impressive port collection, and it seemed like it was a good place to try out a port cocktail.

I also really just liked the atmosphere here. Typically I strongly prefer to sit at the bar, but had a really lovely time sitting in a rocking chair by a candle-filled fireplace, admiring the port collection, watching the flames dance, and sipping on a great drink.

If I lived in Kyoto, I could see Rocking Chair becoming my cocktail home base.

L’Escamoteur

Web site?

L’Escamoteur is great, but let’s be clear, it’s a kitschy bar with a bit of a Steampunk flair, from the bartenders’ hats to the bathroom through a hidden bookcase door. I don’t think the kitsch is a detractor, but I was a little surprised after hearing how great the drinks are, as I’m not used to seeing such a marriage between over the top visual novelty and drinks that are actually worth the wait.

They specialize in showy drinks, including those that use smoke and fire. While I was not into the intense eye contact the bartender I didn’t chat with made while playing with chartreuse, aflame in that particular shade of blue alcohol burns, I was into how chatty everyone else was. We talked about drinks and Kyoto, how they ended up at a bar in Kyoto, and our shared experience of living abroad.

I forget what I had, other than something with chartreuse in it — something I normally stay away from — because I FORGOT MY COCKTAIL NOTEBOOK. For shame! I did enjoy what I had. We did have a drink made with smoked whiskey that tasted like biting into a delicious, sweet, burning piece of wood. I recommend that. I think there was a negroni, and something kind of sweet and spicy.

This place was a lot of fun, and I do recommend it highly.

nokishita711

Web site

I loved this place so much. A lot of that was the novelty of it. Nokishita711 is unrepentantly nothing but itself and what it wants to be. This bar probably comfortable fits eight, but Tomoiki (the drink director) will keep cramming people in, to share with them his unbridled love of gin and marrying its myriad tastes with those of Japanese traditional flavors.

He painstakingly makes one drink at a time, serves it to you, and then makes the next. He’s in no rush, and reminds you that you shouldn’t be either. Gin, and cocktails, are meant to be taken as a moment unto themselves, and savored for as long as it will last.

When we were there, he played low key hip hop, dancing along while mixing drinks.

Okay, maybe I was just charmed by Tomoiki. I really did enjoy the drinks though. They were creative, they were weird, they provided new experiences about what a cocktail is and can be.

Did not get to, but still want to check out: