Tag Archives: talks


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.

Gym noise

I hate running on treadmills. In general, I hate running, in spite of the fact that I do so fairly frequently. Treadmills have been great for working on form, so I try to make time each week to spend running in place.

While I don’t like running, I do like catching up on talks I miss at conferences. While I am incredibly good at making time to run, I am incredibly bad at making time to watch talks. A few months ago, I realized I could use my fancy pocket computer to enable me to combine these two activities (running on treadmills and watching talks) to a completely benign, neutral 20-40 minutes of activity.

I’m going to link some talks I’ve watched recently (at the bottom), but also add a little commentary about how this has changed my presentations.

1. I explain slides more.

Video usually doesn’t carry slides well–especially when you’re running while trying to look at them. I try to say a bit more about the content on the slide itself. I use slides as cue for what I’m supposed to say, and something to provide some visual stimulation (I don’t think I’m a very visually engaging speaker) to help people focus.

Now, I usually read slides–a practice I used to think was bad. This a) helps anyone in the room who may have a vision problem and b) provides more utility to someone listening remotely.

I always read long quotes–even if I think it’s tedious or unnecessary for in-person attendance. I try to not just analyze or provide context for graphs, but also some sort of description of what is being depicted in the graph itself.

2. I make more boring slides.

At first, Asheesh Laroia and Deb Nicholson taught me to make slides with nice images on them. It’s good personality. I wanted to have a more serious angle to my talks, so I switched to a more academic style, with mostly bullet points and graphs. I’ve since eschewed bullet points and, under the advisement of Ned Batchelder, stick to a goal of one to two lines of text per slide (barring longer quotes).

3. I repeat questions.

I’m not always good about this. Questions might be understandable in the room, but not always on the recording.

4. I remind people where we are in the presentation.

I began to explicitly divide my presentations into sections, worrying less about smooth narrative transition than I used to. When listening at the gym, I can zone out and lose track of where I am. Scrolling back in a video (without pausing the run) is really hard.

5. I repeat points.

I try to tie things together more and do so with greater frequency. This is in the spirit of helping people when they zone out and can’t easily rewind.

6. I occasionally address the remote audience.

Especially with things being streamed. I don’t just address the room (but I do do that). I make it explicit that I know (or at least hope) people will be watching it later. As part of this, not only do I list my contact info at the beginning and end, but I do it verbally as well.

7. I thank people for their time.

I always try to do this anyway. I really appreciate people listening to what I have to say when they’re not at an event. It makes you feel special to see that people want to learn about what you care about even if they’re not already at the conference and looking for something to do.

Talks to run to