Category Archives: Uncategorized

Inauguration Pie

How can I put four years into a pie? I’m thinking of Inauguration Day 2017 through to today, Inauguration Day 2021. In truth things started back in 2015, when Donald Trump announced his run for the United States’ presidency, and I don’t know how long things will continue past the moment when President-Elect Joe Biden becomes President Joe Biden.

For the United States, it’s been a hell of a time. For the world, it’d been even worse. Every generation thinks that they lived through more than anyone else, that they had it worse. I had a Boomer tell me that the existential stress of COVID is nothing compared to the Vietnam War. I’m sure when we are living through a global water crisis, I’ll tell the kids that we had it bad too. Everyday I listen to the radio and read Twitter, aware that the current state of endless wars – wars against terrorism and drugs, organized crime and famine, climate change and racism – is global, and not limited to just what’s happening to and around me. That makes it feel worse and bigger and I wonder if earlier generations can really grasp how big that is.

The last four years brought me in closer working relationships with people in India and Nigeria. I would call these people my friends in that if they were in town I would want to see them and show them around. Most of them I would offer a space in my small apartment, in case they needed somewhere to sleep and wanted to save the money. We chat, though we only have the internet as opposed to elevator rides in tall office buildings and slow walks down to the shops during lunch breaks.

From these relationships I have learned very little about life in India or Nigeria, and I only visited India separately from any of my colleagues there. (I went for a wedding. My visa to Nigeria was denied on account of a medical issue.) But, I follow these people on social media and see what they share, the same political and social utterances that could be the same here or virtually any other place, as long as we replace the right keywords. Exchange the name of one leader, conservative party, or government unit for another. When I first saw the #EndSARS hashtag show up, I thought the images were from Black Lives Matter protests. Stop police brutality.

And that was only in the last few months.

I’ve had three jobs since Trump first announced his candidacy in three very different places. In the first I felt like I wasn’t able to talk about the sexism and discrimination I was dealing with in the office, and how much more so my views on an organizational partnership with a government whose policies I strongly disagreed with. In the second I was able to talk about these things, but there was nothing to do about them.

I’ve been in love and had my heart broken three times in three very different ways that all came down to someone valuing someone else more than they valued me. Can I bake heartbreak into a pie? Is it even fair to distract from the political world with my own loss?

What about COVID-19? There’s bitterness and anger and tears and pain – emotional and physical. There is desperation and desolation and loneliness. Covid has colored everything during the past year. It is a burden our new political leaders will take on. Biden and Harris, all of the new people in Congress, and everyone else who has taken on an elected position now must content with Covid with new levels of responsibility. Not only do their decisions affect the people they come into contact with, they now affect everyone their policies touch and perhaps even more than that.

The government hired people to build walls. Our government approved it and people willingly took on the job of building those walls. Families were separated. Children were placed in inhumane conditions; children were tortured. Remember when the guards at border detention facilities were raping children? Remember when children had guards? Women were forcefully operated upon and had their bodies permanently changed without their permission, against their desires. People were executed by the state.

There were so many things I’ve lost track of them all. I remember bits and pieces as I write this, coming back to me like singing a song I haven’t thought about in years. With each line, I remember another one. Being worried about coming home from Cuba, when the visitation rules were changed in the middle of my trip. Climate change, again and again. Pollution and microplastics and watching the country being broken into pieces and sold off in the name of economy and progress. People losing their access to healthcare, through clinics closing down and loss of insurance.

What do you bake into a pie that tastes like sedition? What are the flavors of loss and racism and hate? How to you balance the sourness with subtle hints of hope, which feels to tender and fragile? Do we pair equal parts of the palatable with the unpalatable, in the name of our neatly divided senate?

I have hope, of course I have hope, and I have always had hope, but now it feels thinner than ever, like a ganache or a caramel after your hand slips and you pour too much cream in. A custard or compote or curd that that refuses to thicken no matter how long you cook it. I see that things could be better, but better does not mean good and better does not mean enough.

So I will put my hope into this pie. I put my pain and anger into the dough. I will put my tears and helplessness and bitterness into the filling. I will cover it sweetness and the delicate hope I’ve spun out of sugar. Soon I will bake it and share it with the three other people I see because the most important thing about surviving these past years, these past months and weeks and days, is that we did it together. We will commiserate on what we’ve overcome, and we will share our hope and the sweetness of the moment, as the spun sugar dissolves on our tongues. There is so much we have left to do, so much we must do. We will be angry in the future, we may be angry later today, but until then, we have pie.

1028 Words on Free Software

The promise of free software is a near-future utopia, built on democratized technology. This future is just and it is beautiful, full of opportunity and fulfillment for everyone everywhere. We can create the things we dream about when we let our minds wander into the places they want to. We can be with the people we want and need to be, when we want and need to.

This is currently possible with the technology we have today, but it’s availability is limited by the reality of the world we live in – the injustice, the inequity, the inequality. Technology runs the world, but it does not serve the interests of most of us. In order to create a better world, our technology must be transparent, accountable, trustworthy. It must be just. It must be free.

The job of the free software movement is to demonstrate that this world is possible by living its values now: justice, equity, equality. We build them into our technology, and we build technology that make it possible for these values to exist in the world.

At the Free Software Foundation, we liked to say that we used all free software because it was important to show that we could. You can do anything with free software, so we did everything with it. We demonstrated the importance of unions for tech workers and non-profit workers by having one. We organized collectively and protected our rights for the sake of ourselves and one another. We had non-negotiable salaries, based on responsibility level and position. That didn’t mean we worked in an office free from the systemic problems that plague workplaces everywhere, but we were able to think about them differently.

Things were this way because of Richard Stallman – but I view his influence on these things as negative rather than positive. He was a cause that forced these outcomes, rather than being supportive of the desires and needs of others. Rather than indulge in gossip or stories, I would like to jump to the idea that he was supposed to have been deplatformed in October 2019. In resigning from his position as president of the FSF, he certainly lost some of his ability to reach audiences. However, Richard still gives talks. The FSF continues to use his image and rhetoric in their own messaging and materials. They gave him time to speak at their annual conference in 2020. He maintains leadership in the GNU project and otherwise within the FSF sphere. The people who empowered him for so many years are still in charge.

Richard, and the continued respect and space he is given, is not the only problem. It represents a bigger problem. Sexism and racism (among others) run rampant in the community. This happens because of bad actors and, more significantly, by the complacency of organizations, projects, and individuals afraid of losing contributors, respect, or funding. In a sector that has so much money and so many resources, women are still being paid less than men; we deny people opportunities to learn and grow in the name of immediate results; people who aren’t men, who aren’t white, are abused and harassed; people are mentally and emotionally taken advantage of, and we are coerced into burn out and giving up our lives for these companies and projects and we are paid for tolerating all of this by being told we’re doing a good job or making a difference.

But we’re not making a difference. We’re perpetuating the worst of the status quo that we should be fighting against. We must not continue. We cannot. We need to live our ideals as they are, and take the natural next steps in their evolution. We cannot have a world of just technology when we live in a world of exclusion; we cannot have free software if we continue to allow, tolerate, and laud the worst of us. I’ve been in and around free software for seventeen years. Nearly every part of it I’ve participated in has members and leadership that benefit from allowing and encouraging the continuation of maleficence and systemic oppression.

We must purge ourselves of these things – of sexism, racism, injustice, and the people who continue and enable it. There is no space to argue over whether a comment was transphobic – if it hurt a trans person then it is transphobic and it is unacceptable. Racism is a global problem and we must be anti-racist or we are complicit. Sexism is present and all men benefit from it, even if they don’t want to. These are free software issues. These are things that plague software, and these are things software reinforces within our societies.

If a technology is exclusionary, it does not work. If a community is exclusionary, it must be fixed or thrown away. There is no middle ground here. There is no compromise. Without doing this, without taking the hard, painful steps to actually live the promise of user freedom and everything it requires and entails, our work is pointless and free software will fail.

I don’t think it’s too late for there to be a radical change – the radical change – that allows us to create the utopia we want to see in the world. We must do that by acknowledging that just technology leads to a just society, and that a just society allows us to make just technology. We must do that by living within the principles that guide this future now.

I don’t know what will happen if things don’t change soon. I recently saw someone comment that change doesn’t happens unless one person is willing to sacrifice everything to make that change, to lead and inspire others to play small parts. This is unreasonable to ask of or expect from someone. I’ve been burning myself out to meet other people’s expectations for seventeen years, and I can’t keep doing it. Of course I am not alone, and I am not the only one working on and occupied by these problems. More people must step up, not just for my sake, but for the sake of all of us, the work free software needs to do, and the future I dream about.

Why should you work on free software (or other technology issues)?

Twice this week I was asked how it can be okay to work on free software when there are issues like climate change and racial injustice. I have a few answers for that.

You can work on injustice while working on free software.

A world in which all technology is just cannot exist under capitalism. It cannot exist under racism or sexism or ableism. It cannot exist in a world that does not exist if we are ravaged by the effects of climate change. At the same time, free software is part of the story of each of these. The modern technology state fuels capitalism, and capitalism fuels it. It cannot exist without transparency at all levels of the creation process. Proprietary software and algorithms reinforce racial and gender injustice. Technology is very guilty of its contributions to the climate crisis. By working on making technology more just, by making it more free, we are working to address these issues. Software makes the world work, and oppressive software creates an oppressive world.

You can work on free software while working on injustice.

Let’s say you do want to devote your time to working on climate justice full time. Activism doesn’t have to only happen in the streets or in legislative buildings. Being a body in a protest is activism, and so is running servers for your community’s federated social network, providing wiki support, developing custom software, and otherwise bringing your free software skills into new environments. As long as your work is being accomplished under an ethos of free software, with free software, and under free software licenses, you’re working on free software issues while saving the world in other ways too!

Not everyone needs to work on everything all the time.

When your house in on fire, you need to put out the fire. However, maybe you can’t help put out the first. Maybe You don’t have the skills or knowledge or physical ability. Maybe your house is on fire, but there’s also an earthquake and a meteor and a airborn toxic event all coming at once. When that happens, we have to split up our efforts and that’s okay.

Digital Self

When we talk about the digital self, we are talking about the self as it exists within digital spaces. This holds differently for different people, as some of us prefer to live within an pseudonymous or anonymous identity online, divested from our physical selves, while others consider the digital a more holistic identity that extends from the physical.

Your digital self is gestalt, in that it exists across whatever mediums, web sites, and services you use. These bits are pieces together to form a whole picture of what it means to be you, or some aspect of  you. This may be carefully curated, or it may be an emergent property of who you are.

The way your physical self has rights, so too does your digital self. Or, perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that your rights extend to your digital self. I do not personally consider that there is a separation between these selves when it comes to rights, as both are aspects of you and you have rights. I am explicitly not going to list what these rights are, because I have my own ideas about them and yours may differ. Instead, I will briefly talk about consent.

I think it is essential that we genuinely consent to how others interact with us to maintain the sanctity of our selves. Consent is necessary to the protection and expression of our rights, as it ensures we are able to rely on our rights and creates a space where we are able to express our rights in comfort and safety. We may classically think of consent as it relates to sex and sexual consent: only we have the right to determine what happens to our bodies; no one else has the right to that determination. We are able to give sexual consent, and we are able to revoke it. Sexual consent, in order to be in good faith, must be requested and given from a place of openness and transparency. For this, we discuss with our partners the things about ourselves that may impact their decision to consent: we are sober; we are not ill; we are using (or not) protection as we agree is appropriate; we are making this decision because it is a thing we desire, rather than a thing we feel we ought to do or are being forced to do; as well as other topics.

These things also all hold true for technology and the digital spaces in which we reside. Our digital autonomy is not the only thing at stake when we look at digital consent. The ways we interact in digital spaces impact our whole selves, and exploitation of our consent too impacts our whole selves. Private information appearing online can have material consequences — it can directly lead to safety issues, like stalking or threats, and it can lead to a loss of psychic safety and have a chilling effect. These are in addition to the threats posed to digital safety and well being. Consent must be actively sought, what one is consenting to is transparent, and the potential consequences must be known and understood.

In order to protect and empower the digital self, to treat everyone justly and with respect, we must hold the digital self be as sacrosanct as other aspects of the self and treat it accordingly.

Free Software Activities – September 2020

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so let’s see how it goes.

Debian

The Community Team has been busy. We’re planning a sprint to work on a bigger writing project and have some tough discussions that need to happen.
I personally have only worked on one incident, but we’ve had a few others come in.
I’m attempting to step down from the Outreach team, which is more work than I thought it would be. I had a very complicated relationship with the Outreach team. When no one else was there to take on making sure we did GSoC and Outreachy, I stepped up. It wasn’t really what I wanted to be doing, but it’s important. I’m glad to have more time to focus on other things that feel more aligned with what I’m trying to work on right now.

GNOME

In addition to, you know, work, I joined the Code of Conduct Committee. Always a good time! Rosanna and I presented at GNOME Onboard Africa Virtual about the GNOME CoC. It was super fun!

Digital Autonomy

Karen and I did an interview on FLOSS Weekly with Doc Searls and Dan Lynch. Super fun! I’ve been doing some more writing, which I still hope to publish soon, and a lot of organization on it. I’m also in the process of investigating some funding, as there are a few things we’d like to do that come with price tags. Separately, I started working on a video to explain the Principles. I’m excited!

Misc

I started a call that meets every other week where we talk about Code of Conduct stuff. Good peeps. Into it.

NYU VPN

I needed to setup a VPN in order to access my readings for class. The instructions for Linux are located: https://nyu.service-now.com/sp?id=kb_article_view&sysparm_article=KB0014932

After you download the VPN client of your choice (they recommend Cisco AnyConnect), connect to: vpn.nyu.edu.

It will ask for two passwords: your NYU username and password and a multi-factor authentication (MFA) code from Duo. Use the Duo. See below for stuff on Duo.

Hit connect and viola, you can connect to the VPN.

Duo Authentication Setup

Go to: https://start.nyu.edu and follow the instructions for MFA. They’ll tell you that a smart phone is the most secure method of setting up. I am skeptical.

Install the Duo Authentication App on your phone, enter your phone number into the NYU web page (off of ) and it will send a thing to your phone to connect it.

Commentary

Okay, I have to complain at least a little bit about this. I had to guess what the VPN address was because the instructions are for NYU Shanghai. I also had to install the VPN client using the terminal. These sorts of things make it harder for people to use Linux. Boo.

“All Animals Are Equal,” Peter Singer

I recently read “Disability Visibility,” which opens with a piece by Harriet McBryde Johnson about debating Peter Singer. When I got my first reading for my first class and saw it was Peter Singer, I was dismayed because of his (heinous) stances in disability. I assumed “All Animals Are Equal” was one of Singer’s pieces about animal rights. While I agree with many of the principles Singer discusses around animal rights, I feel as though his work on this front is significantly diminished by his work around disability. To put it simply, I can’t take Peter Singer seriously.

Because of this I had a lot of trouble reading “All Animals Are Equal” and taking it in good faith. I judged everything from his arguments to his writing harshly. While I don’t disagree with his basic point (all animals have rights) I disagree with how he made the point and the argument supporting it.

One of the things I was told to ask when reading any philosophy paper is “What is the argument?” or “What are they trying to convince you of?” In this case, you could frame the answer as: Animals have {some of) the same rights people do. I think it would be more accurate though to frame it as “All animals (including humans) have (some of) the same rights” or even “Humans are as equally worthy of consideration as animals are.”

I think when we usually talk about animal rights, we do it from a perspective of wanting to elevate animals to human status. From one perspective, I don’t like this approach because I feel as though it turns the framing of rights as something you deserve or earn, privileges you get for being “good enough.” The point about rights is that they are inherent — you get them because they are.

The valuable thing I got out of “All Animals Are Equal” is that “rights” are not universal. When we talk about things like abortion, for example, we talk about the right to have an abortion. Singer asks whether people who cannot get pregnant have the right to an abortion? What he doesn’t dig into is that the “right to an abortion” is really just an extension of bodily autonomy — turning one facet of bodily autonomy into the legal right to have a medical procedure.  I think this is worth thinking about more — turning high level human rights into the mundane rights, and acknowledging that not everyone can or needs them.

busy busy

I’ve been working with Karen Sandler over the past few months on the first draft of the Declaration of Digital Autonomy. Feedback welcome, please be constructive. It’s a pretty big deal for me, and feels like the culmination of a lifetime of experiences and the start of something new.

We talked about it at GUADEC and HOPE. We don’t have any other talks scheduled yet, but are available for events, meetups, dinner parties, and b’nai mitzvahs.

Fire

The world is on fire.

I know many of you are either my parents friends or here for the free software thoughts, but rather than listen to me, I want you to listed to Black voices in these fields.

If you’re not Black, it’s your job to educate yourself on issues that affect Black people all over the world and the way systems are designed to benefit White Supremacy. It is our job to acknowledge that racism is a problem — whether it appears as White Supremacy, Colonialism, or something as seemingly banal as pay gaps.

We must make space for Black voices. We must make space for Black Women. We must make space for Black trans lives. We must do this in technology. We must build equity. We must listen.

I know I have a platform. It’s one I value highly because I’ve worked so hard for the past twelve years to build it against sexist attitudes in my field (and the world). However, it is time for me to use that platform for the voices of others.

Please pay attention to Black voices in tech and FOSS. Do not just expect them to explain diversity and inclusion, but go to them for their expertise. Pay them respectful salaries. Mentor Black youth and Black people who want to be involved. Volunteer or donate to groups like Black Girls Code, The Last Mile, and Resilient Coders.

If you’re looking for mentorship, especially around things like writing, speaking, community organizing, or getting your career going in open source, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. Mentorship can be a lasting relationship, or a brief exchange around a specific issue of event. If I can’t help you, I’ll try to connect you to someone who can.

We cannot build the techno-utopia unless everyone is involved.

Racism is a Free Software Issue

Racism is a free software issue. I gave a talk that touched on this at CopyLeft Conf 2019. I also talked a little bit about it at All Things Open 2019 and FOSDEM 2020 in my talk The Ethics Behind Your IoT. I know statistics, theory, and free software. I don’t know about race and racism nearly as well. I might make mistakes – I have made some and I will make more. Please, when I do, help me do better.

I want to look at a few particular technologies and think about how they reinforce systemic racism. Worded another way: how is technology racist? How does technology hurt Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC)? How does technology keep us racist? How does technology make it easier to be racist?

Breathalyzers

In the United States, Latinx folks are less likely to drink than white people and, overall, less likely to be arrested for DUIs3,4. However, they are more likely to be stopped by police while driving5,6.

Who is being stopped by police is up to the police and they pull over a disproportionate number of Latinx drivers. After someone is pulled over for suspected drunk driving, they are given a breathalyzer test. Breathalyzers are so easy to (un)intentionally mis-calibrate that they have been banned as valid evidence in multiple states. The biases of the police are not canceled out by the technology that should, in theory, let us know whether someone is actually drunk.

Facial Recognition

I could talk about for quite some time and, in fact, have. So have others. Google’s image recognition software recognized black people as gorillas – and to fix the issue it removed gorillas from it’s image-labeling technology.

Facial recognition software does a bad job at recognizing black people. In fact, it’s also terrible at identifying indigenous people and other people of color. (Incidentally, it’s also not great at recognizing women, but let’s not talk about that right now.)

As we use facial recognition technology for more things, from automated store checkouts (even more relevant in the socially distanced age of Covid-19), airport ticketing, phone unlocking, police identification, and a number of other things, it becomes a bigger problem that this software cannot tell the difference between two Asian people.

Targeted Advertising

Black kids see 70% more online ads for food than white kids, and twice as many ads for junk food. In general BIPOC youth are more likely to see junk food advertisements online. This is intentional, and happens after they are identified as BIPOC youth.

Technology Reinforces Racism; Racism Builds Technology

The technology we have developed reinforces racism on a society wide scale because it makes it harder for BIPOC people to interact with this world that is run by computers and software. It’s harder to not be racist when the technology around us is being used to perpetuate racist paradigms. For example, if a store implements facial recognition software for checkout, black women are less likely to be identified. They are then more likely to be targeted as trying to steal from the store. We are more likely to take this to mean that black women are more likely to steal. This is how technology builds racism,

People are being excluded largely because they are not building these technologies, because they are not welcome in our spaces. There simply are not enough Black and Hispanic technologists and that is a problem. We need to care about this because when software doesn’t work for everyone, it doesn’t work. We cannot build on the promise of free and open source software when we are excluding the majority of people.