Monthly Archives: March 2021


How can you help free software?

Aside from donating to the excellent free software nonprofits out there, and contributing to a project by building software or other resources, there are things you can do to help the free software cause. The two biggest things I think are providing mentorship and gently normalizing free software.

Providing Mentorship

Allison Randal introduced me to the idea that mentorship doesn’t have to be an ongoing process. This is to say, you don’t have to sign up to be someone’s best friend and advisor for life (though you certainly can). Providing short term, project or skill based, or one off mentorship is useful for building community because it makes people feel welcome and cared for and helps build skills that benefit free software.

I do a lot of proofreading and editing of people’s writing – especially people with minimal writing experience and/or non-native English speakers who are writing important documents in English. If the person is interested, I try to talk to them about their writing and why I’m making these particular suggestions. I hope this helps them with their writing in the future.

Other examples are working on a particular project or skill, this can be helping them develop a particular skill (e.g. git outside of the command line), or giving advice on a project with a level of specificity and detail you’re both comfortable with. These can, again, be one off things or things that require minimal effort/occasional conversation. I have some friends who I consider my Debian mentors who just answer functional questions whenever I have trouble doing something.

I also love love love talking with people about their free software trajectories, their goals and desires and dreams for their involvement in free software, whether that’s finding a place in a community, developing a skill set, or other things about their future (like job hopes, schooling, etc). These conversations have been so helpful for me personally, and I like to think they help others.

Gently Normalizing Free Software

I think normalizing free software is very important to its success and adoption. It’s not helpful to insist someone who has never done so before to create a Debian boot disk and install it. It is helpful to suggest using Big Blue Button or jitsi. If a friend wants help finding audio editing software, suggest they try audacity. I’d go as far as to suggest doing this without explaining that it’s free software, and instead focus on why it’ll work and that it’s available at no cost. If they like it, then it’s a great time to talk about rights and freedoms. Of course if they already care about these sorts of things, if you’re discussing privacy software, if anti-surveillance is an issue, or any number of other things, software freedom is a great thing to bring up!

Above all, just be nice.

Be nice. It’s basically the best thing you can do for free software.


This is about why I decided to get vaccinated, and why that was a hard choice.

Note: If you have the opportunity to get vaccinated, you should. This is good for public health. If you’re worried about being a bad person by getting vaccinated now, you’re probably not a bad person. This is my professional opinion as a bioethics graduate student. Anyway, onward.

Not Great Reasons to Not Get Vaccinated

Reason one: Other people need them more.

There are people have a much higher risk of dying from COVID or having long term consequences. I don’t want to get a vaccine at the expense of someone who has much worse projected outcomes.

Reason two: I live a lowish risk life.

I have a low/medium risk lifestyle. I go to the grocery store, but I don’t do things like indoor dining. I have drinks with friends, outside, generally maintaining distance and trying to be polite and careful. I go on walks or sit in parks with friends. I have three people I see inside, and we don’t see anyone else inside. Through my school, I am tested regularly — though I am behind right now, I’ll admit. I work from home, I take classes on my computer. My podmates also work from home.

There are other people who live much higher risk lives and don’t have a choice in the matter. They work outside of their homes, they are taking care of other people, they’re incarcerated, their children go to school in-person. Those people need vaccines more than I do — or at least I feel like that’s the case. Even though I know that, e.g., parents won’t be able to get vaccinated unless they otherwise qualify, I still feel like I’d be doing them wrong by getting vaccinated first!

Reason three: I don’t want to deal with other people’s judgement.

When New Jersey allowed smokers to get vaccinated, wow, did people go off on how unfair that is. I’ve seen the same rhetoric applied to other preexisting conditions/qualifications. Boo.

Great Reasons to Get Vaccinated

I had a few good conversations with friends I respect a lot. They convinced me that I should get vaccinated, in spite of my concerns.

Reason one: I ‘m scared of COVID.

I actually find this the weakest of my reasons to get vaccinated: I’m scared of COVID. I get migraines. I downplay how bad they are, because I know other people who have it worse, but they’re terrible. They’re debilitating. COVID can increase your risk of migraines, especially if you’re already prone to them. They can last months. Boo. I’m terrified of Long COVID. A part of my identity comes from doing things outside, and this past year without regularly swimming or going on bike trips or going up mountains has been really rough for me. For my own sake, I don’t want to get sick.

Reason two: I want to protect the people in my life.

Being vaccinated is good for the people in my life. The current conversation I’ve heard is that if you’re vaccinated, you’re probably less likely to spread COVID to those around you. That sounds great! I’m not going to change my lifestyle anytime soon to be higher risk, but I like knowing that there’s an even smaller chance I will become a disease vector.

Reason three: Seriously, everyone should get vaccinated.

Vaccinations are key to fighting COVID. I am not an epidemiologist (though I did once consider become an epistemologist). I’m not going to pretend to be one. But they tell me that vaccines are really important, and the Intro to Public Health class I took agrees. We need to vaccinate everyone we can, everywhere in the world, in order to create the best outcomes. We don’t want some vaccine-resistant COVID variant to show up somewhere because we were jerkfaces and prevented people from getting vaccinated. Medical professionals and experts I talked with told me to get vaccinated as soon as the opportunity arose. Maybe they said this because they like me, but I think they’re also concerned about public health.

So you’re ready to get your vaccine!

I’m so excited for you! Sumana Harihareswara wrote this great blog post about getting vaccinated in New York City, though is probably relevant for New York State in general. Please check out your state’s guidelines and maybe do a little research or creative thinking about what counts. This Twitter thread Sumana shared talked about ADHD as a qualifying condition under “developmental and learning disorders.”

Your doctor might be super helpful! Your doctor might also not be helpful at all. When I talked to mine they didn’t know much about the vaccine roll out plan, criteria, or procedures around proof of medical condition.

Some vaccine sites also have waitlists for extra doses. A friend of mine is on one! For these, you generally don’t have to meet the qualification criteria. These are doses left at the end of the day due to canceled appointments and things like that.

A lot of states have useful Twitter bots and web sites. We have TurboVax. It’s great. Big fan. These are usually appoints for the day of or the next day or two.