All posts by mollydb

About mollydb

The most interesting thing about me is that I play bassoon in a band. I like bikes, blueberries, free and open source technology, and wish I could fingerpick.

Free software activities (March, 2019)

March was overrun with work, work, work. Planning a conference takes a lot out of you and consumes a lot of time, even when you’re getting paid to do it.

A photo of a branch of kwanzen cherry tree blossoms, several of which are budding and several of which are in full bloom.

I used to volunteer to run conferences and, looking back on it, I don’t know how we managed with a part-time, all volunteer crew. LibrePlanet is organized by the FSF staff, with various pre-conference help from technical volunteers, and a small army of volunteers at the conference itself.

March activities (personal)

  • I ran for and was re-elected to the Open Source Initiative board of directors.
  • The OSI had one board meeting, and a call to ratify the results of the elections.
  • I worked on talks for FOSS North and Linux Fest North West.
  • I applied to speak at All Things Open.
  • I applied to speak at !!con and was subsequently rejected. #speakerlife.
  • I submitted sessions to DebConf 19 AND YOU SHOULD TOO.
  • I attended my first Bug Squashing Party in Paris!
  • Along with the rest of the Debian Outreach Team, I worked on the project’s participation in Outreachy and GSoC.
  • The Debian A-H team met, and handled incident reports.
  • March brought the 8th and 9th instances –the latter just under the wire — of people being mean to me on the internet. I had a mocha and a cappuccino, respectively. Edit: The 10th instance also happened in March. I almost missed it! -mdb March 31, 2019.

March activities (professional)

  • I (along with an amazing team) ran a conference. That’s pretty much all I did.

Cyberbullying

For about a year now I’ve had the occasional run-ins with “light” internet abuse and cyberbullying. There are a lot of resources around youth (and sometimes even college students) who are being cyberbullied, but not a lot for adults.

I wanted to write a bit about my experiences. As I write this, I have had eight instances of being the recipient of abuse from threads on popular forum sites, emails, and blog posts. I’ve tried to be blithe by calling it cute things like “people being mean to me on the Internet,” but it’s cyberbullying. I’ve never been threatened, per se, but I do find the experiences traumatic and stressful.

Here’s my advice on how to deal with being the recipient (I hesitate to use the word “victim”) of cyberbullying. I spoke with a few people — people I know who have dealt with internet abuse and some professionals — and this is what I came up with.

Take care of yourself.

First and foremost, take care of yourself. Stop reading the comments or the blog post. Close your email or laptop. Remove yourself from the direct interaction with the bullying. I know this is hard, sometimes it’s really hard to look away, but it’s important to do, at least for a bit.

I like to get myself a mocha (if you like to use food/treats as a source of comfort — this may not be your style). I joke that this is me celebrating being successful enough to make people publicly upset with me.

I joke a lot about it. Some of it I find genuinely funny — someone on Slashdot said of me: Molly has trust issues, which is why she’s single. I think this is -hilarious-. Humor helps me deal with difficult situations, but that’s just me.

I also have a file of nice things people have said about me. I don’t feel the need to reference it, but I have it there just in case.

Reach out to your support network.

Tell your friends, family, or whomever. Even if you’re not interested in talking about your feelings — tell them that — just let other people know what you’re going through. In my experience, I enjoy a little solidarity.

Don’t engage.

Really. This is the hardest part. Part of me wants to talk with people who are obviously hurting and suffering a lot, part of me wants to correct factual errors, or even share with others the things I find funny. Engaging is about the worst thing you can do, according to everything I’ve heard.

Talk to a lawyer or reach out to local law enforcement.

This is for more extreme cases — especially when people are threatening you harm. This particular episode of Reply All, “The Snapchat Thief,” covers a bit about when talking to law enforcement might be the right thing to do.

This part is easier to figure out when you are in the same general area or country, or know the identities of those harassing you. Several people I know (myself included) have dealt with international harassment.

On not being a man.

A number of the men in my life are upset about this recent round of abuse — they’re generally more upset than the women. The men come off as shocked or surprised, angry and upset, and some of them are desperately searching for something to do.

The women and enbies in my life are a lot more blase about the whole thing. They respond with commiseration, but, like me, accept this as a part of life.

Women and enbies I have spoken with about this just assume that people are going to be trashing them on the web. When I decided to become more visible within free software, I understood that I was going to be abused by strangers on the internet (enbies, men, and women — all of which have said harmful things about me).

Abuse is an assumption, rather than a possibility.

I was discussing this with a friend and we considered the problem of trying to not be a target. Bullies will find targets. If you try to hold back and be unobjectionable, other people are being abused in your place. Abusers gonna abuse. If you’re strong (or self-sacrificing) you may decide to  make yourself a target, or at least accept the risk of being a target, by being visible in your work.

A few final thoughts

Being bullied, in any form, is terrible. I was badly bullied when I was younger, and facing that again as an adult is equally traumatic.

I’m sorry if you’re going through this experience. Solidarity, empathy, and sympathy.

OSI Board elections – 2019

I’m running for the Open Source Initiative board of directors!

To be more precise, I’m running for re-election, as I’ve served on the board for the past three years.

Deciding whether to run again has caused me to ask a few questions:

  • Do I feel like I accomplished enough over the past three years?
  • Do I think I would do a better job than other candidates?
  • Is this the right use of my time?

What have I accomplished?

The first and foremost responsibility of a board member is to participate in calls and meetings. I’ve participated in weekly check-ins with the general manager, team calls for the Membership team, monthly board calls, twice a year face-to-face meetings, and other miscellaneous calls and meetings as they became necessary.

When talking about the election, I keep emphasizing the mundane aspects of being on a board. Having policy opinions and vision and ideas are great — but can you focus during a six hour meeting?  (I knit and keep my laptop mostly closed to help with that.)

I enjoy tabling at conferences, and have done a lot of this on behalf of the OSI at events like Paris Open Source Summit and OSCON.

I served as assistant treasurer of the organization, and helped with fundraising activities — I consider it part of the duty of a board member to help with the fiscal stability of an organization. I participated in the organization of activities to expand affiliate engagement in the OSI, and helped instigate initiatives to expand the membership of the organization. I regularly read license-review and license-discuss, to keep up with the conversation around FLOSS licensing.

Above all, I’ve been an advocate for the necessity of recognizing user freedom in all conversations around FLOSS.

Do I think I would do a good job over the next three years?

As I said in my platform, working on a board isn’t glamorous. I’m interested in organizational sustainability and keeping the lights on at the OSI. Having vision and ideas is important, but you have to also be interested in seeing an organization continue to exist and being able to do the work required on a basic level.

In general, the OSI needs a working board. It can be hard to build one from community votes, when everyone involved is already accomplished and hard working in FLOSS. I have a number of other projects I am involved with (most notably my day job in free software, my work on the Debian Outreach and Anti-harassment teams, and baking, biking, climbing, and music). I’ve already proven that I am willing and able to make time for the OSI.

I know I can help the OSI, and that’s my primary goal. I have started projects, and there are more projects I would like to start, that are only possible as a member of the board. I would not like to abandon my work half-way finished, and instead see it through to fruition.

Is this the best use of my time?

I dedicate most of my professional and personal time to creating a world where rights respecting technology is the standard.

With licenses like the Server Side Public License, proposals like the Commons Clause, and criticism of the Open Source Definition, it’s become more important than ever to push for the integrity and necessity of open source. Open source is not a developmental model — though there are certain models of development enabled by using an open source license. Open Source is about user freedom. If I want to make sure our rights are respected in technology, there is no better place to do it than on the front lines.

In summary

Vote for me! I’m running for an affiliate seat. If you know someone who is at or representing an affiliate organization, please share this with them or put them in touch with me! If your user group, community organization, or FLOSS nonprofit isn’t already an affiliate, consider becoming one — even if you miss the opportunity to vote for me.

Free software activities (February, 2019)

First and foremost I worked on planning LibrePlanet, the FSF’s annual conference and member’s meeting. Beyond that, I got to have a month that sounds very exciting. It was, in truth, quite exhausting but still a lot of fun! In spite of some setbacks (see below), things went well overall.

A small stuffed gnu sitting on a teal box of Neuhaus chocolates.

February activities (personal)

February activities (professional)

  • I attended FOSDEM! I listed this twice because, while the talk I gave was related to my Debian work, I also carried out FSF activities and meetings.
  • I attended and keynoted Copyleft Conf.
  • I wrote about dating as a free software issue.
  • I put a lot of time into planning LibrePlanet.

Dating

I recently wrote a post for the FSF on dating as a free software issue. It’s also something I talked about at SFScon back in November. I wanted to write a bit about it for my own blog, to reflect my own ideas and not just those of the FSF, as well as provide a bit of a summary from my talk. My slides from SFScon are available on Gitlab. The talk is only 15 minutes long, so I recommend checking it out if you want to listen.

I wanted to have some fun when talking about software freedom. I feel like when we talk about the rights of users we have a tendency to focus on the extreme cases of freedom: dissidents, whistleblowers, and revolutionaries. We think about people whose lives literally depend on their technology. In doing so, we tend to ignore the less showy ways people’s lives depend on their technology — I talked about my own experiences of life-saving technology at SeaGL.

We also have a tendency to forget about the fun stuff — the ways technology touches nearly every aspect of our lives and the little ways. Some of these are joyful, and some of them are more serious, or serious in ways we might not think about.

One of the things I talked about is the opacity of algorithms. Algorithms have been shown to be racist and sexist. Tinder likes to occasionally show men to lesbians. This is one way we choose to interact with technology — and therefore is a user freedom issue, as everytime we act with proprietary technology we’re looking at a question of user freedom. The practical side to this is the question of what algorithms we’re choosing to trust. When it comes to partnering up, whether for the night or for life, we’re placing this trust into the hands of something unknown that may not have our best interests in mind.

I also talked about Internet stalking. Internet stalking doesn’t have to be a bad thing, or at least an actively negative thing. I define internet stalking as covertly looking at the life or available information of an individual. This can be creepy, of course, but it can also be harmless: watching someone with whom you went to university getting married and having children; seeing a distant family member develop their career; or checking in on an ex and their new relationships. Okay, that last one might be unhealthy, unless you’re just hoping they’re happy.

Internet stalking allows you to learn about potential partners. It gives you the opportunity to delve into their pasts quickly, which might be eyeopening and show things like their history of racism, sexism, or abuse and violence — something you would otherwise take lots of time to discover if you can find out about it at all.

There are also issues like computer mediated communication (trusting our communications to email, texting, and video chat). These filter our communications through digital mediums we frequently have little control over. If you want to trust the security and privacy of a chat app, it needs to be free and open, because otherwise there is little to no accountability in both the code and the practices of the company designing it.

The ways we spend time together in ways focused around technology: we send each other streaming videos laden with DRM on proprietary web services; we use sites like Amazon to send presents down the street and across the world; we make playlists that serve as inspiration and declarations of feelings.

These are some of the ways technology interacts with our quest and the development of love in our lives. As I stated earlier every time we interact with a computer we’re interacting with software. When this happens, we need to ask ourselves what is being given up by using that particular piece of technology.

pancakes

My father and Fanny Farmer taught me how to make pancakes. Fanny Farmer provided a basic recipe, and Peter de Blanc filled in the details and the important things she missed — the texture of the batter, how you know when it’s time to flip them, the repeatedly emphasized importance of butter.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons sweetener (optional, see note below)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg (slightly beaten)
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter (melted)

Why is the sweetener optional? I think if you sweeten the pancake recipe, it’s enough that you don’t want to cover it in maple syrup, jam, etc, etc. So, I usually go without sugar or honey or putting the maple right in, unless I’m making these to eat on the go. ALSO! If you don’t use sugar, you can make them savory.

A glass bowl containing flour, salt, and baking powder.

Make the batter

  1. Mix all the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, and sweetener if you’re using sugar).
  2. Add most of the wet ingredients (egg, milk, and sweetener if you’re using honey or maple syrup).
  3. Mix together.
  4. Melt the butter in your pan, so the pan gets full of butter. Yum.
  5. While stirring your batter, add in the melted butter slowly.

Cooking the pancakes

A pancake cooking, the top has small bubbles in it.
Bubbles slowly forming

Okay, this is the hardest part for me because it requires lots of patience, which I don’t have enough of.

A  few tips:

  • Shamelessly use lots of butter to keep your pancakes from sticking. It will also help them taste delicious.
  • After  you put the pancakes in the pan, they need to cook at a medium temperature for a fairly long time. You want them to be full of little holes and mostly solid before you flip them over. (See photos.)
  • I recommend listening to music and taking dancing breaks.

How to cook pancakes:

A pancake that has not been flipped yet cooking.
Almost ready to flip!
  1. Over a medium heat, use your nice, hot, buttery pan.
  2. Use a quarter cup of batter for each pancake. Based on the size of your pan, you should make three – four pancakes per batch.
  3. Let cook for a while. As mentioned above, they should be mostly cooked on the top as well. There ought to be a ring of crispy pancake around the outside (see pictures), but if there’s not it’s still okay!
  4. Flip the pancakes!
  5. Let cook a little bit longer, until the bottom has that pretty golden brown color to match the top.

And that’s it. Eat your pancakes however you’d like. The day I wrote this recipe I heated some maple syrup with vanilla, bourbon, and cinnamon. Yummmmm.

A delicious golden brown pancake, ready to be enjoyed.

P.S. I tagged this post “free software” so it would show up in Planet Debian because I was asked to include a baking post there. This isn’t quite baking, but it’s still pretty good.

Free software activities (January, 2019)

January was another quiet month for free software. This isn’t to say I wasn’t busy, but merely that there were fewer things going on, with those things being more demanding of my attention. I’m including some more banal activities both to pad out the list, but to also draw some attention to the labor that goes into free software participation.

A photo of two mugs of eggnog, sprinkled with nutmeg and cinnamon. The mugs feature a winter scene of characters from the Moomin books.

January activities (personal)

  • Debian Anti-harassment covered several incidents. These have not yet been detailed in an email to the Debian Project mailing list. I won’t get into details here, due to the sensitive nature of some of the conversations.
  • We began planning for Debian involvement in Google Summer of Code and Outreachy.
  • I put together a slide deck and prepared for FOSDEM. More details about FOSDEM next month! In the mean time, check out my talk description.

January activities (professional)

  • We wrapped up the end of the year fundraiser.
  • We’re planning LibrePlanet 2019! I hope to see you there.
  • I put together a slide deck for CopyLeft Conf, which I’ll detail more in February. I had drew and scanned in my slides, which is a time consuming process.

Free software activities (December, 2018)

A grey striped tabby cat sitting on a red blanket.December was a fairly quiet month for my free software activities (and my life in general). There was a lot of continued discussion around the Server Side Public License and the Commons Clause. People around me debated the relationship between open source and software freedom and the role of open source to support corporate activities. We’ve had some turnover at work (and are hiring!).

December activities (personal)

  • The Debian Anti-harassment covered several incidents, sharing a summary of them in Bits from the Debian Anti-harassment Team.
  • I wrote about the Open Source Definition and User Freedom.
  • I served on the papers committee for CopyLeft Conf, which you all should attend.
  • I became a Debian Developer.
  • I had my fourth and fifth experiences of being the target of internet vitriol (in relation to my free software work), though neither was a big deal.

December activities (professional)

A few other quick notes.

  • In February I’ll be speaking at FOSDEM, in the Legal & Policy devroom. I hope to see you there!
  • I’ve been trying to increase my blogging. So far so good.
  • I hear I’m supposed to be adding photos to my posts, so that’s my cat Bash at the top.

crumpets

I decided to make crumpets. Some friends were talking about them and, despite never having seen a crumpet in-person before, I became overwhelmed by the desire to make some. I made a batch that seemed pretty good, so I decided to make another using sourdough. (Note: I did not naturally leaven the dough. I used yeast.)

I based my attempt on this recipe. It worked out okay.

To make crumpets you need crumpet rings. For some reason we have one.

  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sourdough starter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  1. Mix the warm milk, sugar, and yeast. Let it hang out with itself until it gets all bubbly. Yum. Do this in one container.
  2. Mix the flour and salt. Do this in a big enough bowl.
  3. Add the milk/sugar/yeast mixture to the flour and mix it up. It will get nice and doughy.
  4. Add the sourdough to the doughy mixture.
  5. Set the dough aside somewhere not as cold as most of my apartment and let it rise to twice it’s size. This takes me about an hour.
  6. After the dough has risen, mix the water and the baking soda and then add it to the dough.
  7. Let your batter like dough sit around for another half hour. It will look something like this:

    A glass bowl full of crumpet batter.
    Your batter should be getting some nice bubbles in it.
  8. COOK THE CRUMPETS! This is how I cooked them. It was probably not the best way to do it. The internet suggests using a griddle; I have two cast iron pans. Since I only have one crumpet ring, using a single (small) cast iron worked fine.
    • Put some butter or oil into the pan. Also spread some butter or oil around the inside of the crumpet ring.
    • Put the crumpet ring into the pan.
    • Add some batter inside the crumpet ring. I used 1/3 cup batter for each crumpet. They were probably way too thick.
    • Cook for a while on one side and then turn it once the first side is a pretty golden color. The internet tells me not to flip crumpets, but I needed to because they were (probably) too thick.
  9. EAT THE CRUMPETS. They’re most delicious fresh.

A stack of crumpets on a white and blue ceramic plate, in a room with blue walls.

User freedom (n.)

I talk a lot about user freedom, but have never explained what that actually means. The more I think about user freedom as a term, the less certain I am about what it is. This makes it hard to define. My thoughts on user freedom are the synthesis of about ten years, first thinking about the Good behind developmental models enabled by open source through to today, where I think about the philosophical implications of traffic lights.

I think I picked up the term from Christopher Lemmer Webber and it’s become integral to how I think and talk about free software and it’s value to society.

User freedom is based in the idea that we have fundamental rights (I’ll use the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights as my metric*) and that these extend to the digital spaces we inhabit. In order to protect these in a world ruled by software, in order to see them in practice, we need the opportunity (and freedom) to use, examine, modify, and share this software. Software freedom is what happens when our software affords us these freedoms. Free and open source software is the software embodying the spirit of software freedom.

Software freedom is also necessary to ensure our rights in the physical world. Let’s take Article 10 as an example.

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

There is so much thoroughly opaque proprietary software in and around legal matters. This includes software people are choosing to use, like Case Management Software; software is used to gather and manage data and evidence being used against someone and sometimes this evidence isn’t even accessible to those being charged unless they pay licensing and access fees; breathalyzers are little more than small computers that have been subject to tampering since 1988; in Patent 10049419 “Motorola patents a robocop autonomous car that breathalyzes, mirandizes you, calls your lawyer and collects your bail”; and facial recognition technology is available and being used and tested by governments.

The right to a fair and public hearing also extends to digital spaces, your actions there, and your digital life. Your digital activities are monitored, cataloged, and treated with equal judgment as those in physical spaces.

User freedom is important to different people for different reasons. For me, the most important reason ties into the freedom to study software. I think user consent — consent to interacting with technology. Unless software is free, unless we can study it, we cannot understand it, and when we cannot understand something we don’t fully have the autonomy to consent.**

I said a lot of words, but failed to provide a concise definition to user freedom largely because I lack a concise definition. User freedom is the freedom we need to protect, for which we use software freedom and free software, though it extends far beyond those two critical components. User freedom is itself a tool used to uphold and defend human rights when applied to computing technologies. User freedom creates the possibility for knowledge, which gives us autonomy and consent.

* This idea is shared with Chris Webber.
** I’d like to attribute my ideas around autonomy and consent to Dr. Holly Andersen.