I have a Kindle. I’ve spent a lot of time saying this sheepishly — it’s Amazon, it’s proprietary, DRM is bad, etc, etc. It was a very thoughtful gift from my parents, taking into account things like my travel schedule, preference for traveling lighter, love of reading, and small apartment.

I wanted to share some observations from my experience owning a Kindle.

I don’t like to read for school on it. I really markup the papers I read for school, underlining things, notes in the margins, flipping back and forth between pages, cross-referencing things. (Note: My greatest grad school investment has probably been getting a solid printer.) The Kindle doesn’t work well for this.

I don’t like buying ebooks. I don’t inherently mind buying ebooks in general. I own some. I don’t want to pay $15 for a DRMed ebook though. It feels too much like renting a book. I find organizing ebooks tedious, while organizing my physical books joyful. I’ve bought ebooks from non-Amazon sites, taken advantage of’s Book of the Month Club, and some other things.

I love borrowing ebooks. Borrowing ebooks from the library is the absolute best. I love it. It’s convenient, I have a huge range of books I can read, and between my phone and the Kindle, I can get one or add it to a To Read queue the moment I think about it, rather than forgetting on-and-off for months.

It connects me to my parents. Because the Kindle is connected to my parents’ Amazon account, I get to see what they read. It’s like a little social network with just my family. We have similar tastes in books (for some part anyway), and it’s cool to also get some recommendations when I’m in a rush or on the train and don’t have time to actually ask for them.

In a lot of ways my Kindle is an extension of the public library system. It allows me to connect with it (and the books I want to read). It feels very scifi to me — having a personal device that connects to this seemingly endless public store of cool stuff.


The first time I applied for grad school it was a bit of a lark. I was serious about it, I wanted to go, I had goals, and I am happy to be here now. However, it was a little fun. I took a white paper and crisped it up with the help of some friends who read it and provided comments. I wrote a personal statement, got some letters of recommendation, and generally felt pretty good about the process. It wasn’t stressful.

The second time I applied to grad school it was a slog. For several weeks I gave up most of my free time to application writing — and when I wasn’t working on applications I thought about how I ought to be doing something about it. Applications are due while you’re coming up on the end of your semester or end of the year push at work — or both! There just isn’t enough time for everything. I think even applying for grad school qualifies you to attend.

Here are some things I learned in the application process. Note, I haven’t gotten in anywhere (yet), so we’ll see how it pans out.

You have to do a lot of research.

This changes by field, school, and even individual faculty preference. Some possible mentors / advisors like to talk with prospective students ahead of time. On two of my applications I was explicitly asked who I spoke with in the department. On others I was asked to list faculty (in order of preference even!) that I would be interested in working with. Some schools requested in essays to list faculty. In general, it’s considered important to explain why a particular school: what about that school attracts you? What resources do they have that you want to take advantage of? What research that they are doing interests you?

Faculty profiles and department websites are useful for this, but far from complete. A co-worker suggested I contact someone who, based on their profile, I shared no research interests with. However, we talked and it turns out we had things in common! In general, colleagues, peers, other academics, and friends were the best resource I had for investigating schools and potential faculty.

I also went to some Q&A sessions / office hours run by schools / departments / labs. Some really cool people wrote blog posts and / or Tweets soliciting grad students. These are great.

Sometimes the people you want to work with aren’t taking grad students.

Most schools I looked at did not maintain lists of who is taking on grad students starting in the fall, but I think two did. Sometimes I contacted people and got back “Sorry, not taking on anyone this year. Try $OtherProfessor.” This was actually really helpful! But, it’s a downer to learn you’re not going to get to work with one of your academic heroes because the timing is wrong.

It’s expensive and waivers might not help.

Most applications in the US cost about $100 (USD). In some fields it’s recommended you apply to 8-10 schools. That’s a lot of money. I think everywhere I applied had a waiver you could apply for, but I generally didn’t qualify. Some waivers require you to submit days to weeks ahead of the deadline. Others require that you participate in certain professional organizations, student organizations, or live locally to the school. These might be less useful than you were hoping.

Everyone says your writing sample matters, but only five people will read it.

This is what I was told anyway. I was told that my writing sample (which was 20 pages!) will probably only be read by faculty who are thinking of taking me on as an advisee. Someone else might pick it up and read it out of curiosity. I was told stories about how the right writing sample turned “eh, maybe” candidates into enthusiastic yeses.

Everyone says letters of recommendation matter and it’s extremely frustrating.

My recommenders are all amazing people I have so much respect and admiration for it’s wild. They’re people I want to be like in my academic career. They also all got their letters in the day they were due. I had a moment where I genuinely thought I was just not going to go to grad school because of how close the deadline was.

I’ve been told that a great letter matters a lot, but meh letters don’t hold you back as much as it sounds like they will. I’ve been told that where a recommender is affiliated matters a lot.

My personal statement radically changed based on school / program.

Two of the schools I applied to had very specific requirements for their personal statements. Other schools wanted me to mostly talk about my research interests. One school had a 350 word personal statement, but a 1,000 word research statement. I wrote a research statement and a personal statement and then used them as the basis for what I submitted to different schools. Each application ended up with something pretty different, and not just because I talked about why each program was exciting to me in different ways.

I also applied to different kinds of programs, and presented myself a differently depending on the program’s focus and the faculty. For the more social science heavy programs I emphasized the empirical research I did, while for others I leaned more heavily on my philosophical background and theoretical interests.

Oh, also, I was told to not use contractions. Getting rid of them in all my materials was super tedious.

Diversity Statements are becoming more common.

A few of my schools had diversity statements either required or optional. The purpose of these, I was told, is not to play some sort of marginalization Olympics, but to show that you can talk about diversity (and equity and inclusion, etc) without being offensive. It’s just as valid to write about your own disability as the disability of a parent (though, ask their permission first).

Triple check what’s required.

I made spreadsheets about what each school required. For example, some people wanted official transcripts, some unofficial. Some places required essays rather than generic personal statements, and I needed to build in enough time to manage that.

Ask your friends to help.

I hate asking for help, but applying for grad school made me shameless. I asked anyone I could to read over materials, proofread, or just talk with me about what I was writing. People picked up on things like “you used the word ‘technology’ five times in this one sentence and it looks real weird.”

Some schools have projects where current grad students will even look over materials!

Tea(GL) Sandwiches

For SeaGL 2021 I’m making some tea sandwiches. I know nothing about tea sandwiches, but read a Wikipedia article. If you want to make them along with me, I recommend getting the ingredients ahead of time.

Smoked Not-salmon Sandwiches

I guess you could make these with smoked salmon, though I think it’s cleverer this way.


  • carrots
  • marinade (I used soy sauce, sesame oil, and a sheet of nori. If you don’t have a smoke infuser, I recommend also adding liquid smoke, but I like that flavor. I also think it’d be good with horseradish, but that’s a different conversation.)
  • Cream cheese (vegan or otherwise) – room temperature
  • Dill + other herbs
  • Bread


  • THE DAY BEFORE: Boil the carrot(s) for a few minutes, until just barely soft. Pour out the hot water and in some cold water. This will help it to cool down quickly. Also, when something boils (or cooks in general) it continues to cook for a bit after you take it off the heat. This will stop that.
  • Slice the carrots thinly
  • Put the carrots into a jar with the marinade ingredients. Seal and stick in the fridge.
  • THE DAY OF: Take the cream cheese out before hand so it gets soft.
  • Take out some carrots and pat dry.
  • If you’re using a smoke infuser, smoke infuse the carrots. We’ll see how this goes. I am very skeptical it will work.
  • Finely chop herbs and add to the soft cream cheese. Mix it up. Yum.
  • Take two slices of bread. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese on either side. This will help everything stay together.
  • Put a layer of carrots on a piece of bread. Put the other piece on top. Viola!

Apple and Brie Sandwiches

This sounded good to me. Let’s see how it goes.


  • Bread
  • Apple
  • Brief
  • Butter (soft, optional)


  • Slice the apple thinly
  • Slice the brie thinly
  • Take a piece of bread and stack on it: brie, apple, brie.
  • Top with another slice of bread.
  • Optional: Butter the OUTSIDE of the sandwich. Put it in a pan, griddle, or panini press. Grill it a bit. I think the cheese should soften, but the apple will stay pretty crunchy.
  • Slice elegantly.

Updates (2)

I feel like I haven’t had a lot to say about open source or, in general, tech for a while. From another perspective, I have a whole lot of heady things to say about open source and technology and writing about it seems like a questionable use of time when I have so much other writing and reading and job hunting to do. I will briefly share the two ideas I am obsessed with at the moment, and then try to write more about them later.

The Defensible-Charitable-Beneficent Trichotamy

I will just jokingly ha ha no but  seriously maybe jk suggest calling this the de Blanc-West Theory, considering it’s heavily based on ideas from Ben West.

Actions fall into one of the following categories:

Defensible: When an action is defensible, it is permissible, acceptable, or okay. We might not like it, but you can explain why you had to do it and we can’t really object. This could also be considered the “bare minimum.”

Charitable: A charitable action is “better” than a defensible action in that it produces more good, and it goes above and beyond the minimum.

Beneficent: This is a genuinely good action that produces good. It is admirable.

I love J.J. Thomson example of Henry Fonda for this. For a full explanation see section three at this web site. For a summary: imagine that you’re sick and the only thing that can cure you is Henry Fonda’s cool touch on your fevered brow. It is Defensible for Henry Fonda to do nothing — he doesn’t owe you anything in particular. It is Charitable for, say if Henry Fonda happened to be in the room, to walk across it and touch your forehead. It is Beneficent for Henry Fonda to re-corporealize back into this life and travel to your bedside to sooth your strange illness. P.S. Henry Fonda died in 1982.

I don’t think these ideas are particularly new, but it’s important to think about what we’re doing with technology and its design: are our decisions defensible, charitable, or beneficent? Which should they be? Why?

The Offsetting Harm-Ameliorating Harm-Doing Good Trichotamy

I’ve been doing some research and writing around carbon credits. I owe a lot of thanks to Philip Withnall and Adam Lerner for talking with me through these ideas. Extrapolating from action and policy recommendations, I suggest the following trichotamy:

Offsetting harm is attempting to look at the damage you’ve done and try to make up for it in some capacity. In the context of, e.g., air travel, this would be purchasing carbon credits.

Ameliorating harm is about addressing the particular harm you’ve done. Instead of carbon credits, you would be supporting carbon capture technologies or perhaps giving to or otherwise supporting groups and ecosystems that are being harmed by your air travel.

Doing Good is Doing Good. This would be like not traveling by air and choosing to still help the harm being caused by carbon emissions.

These ideas are also likely not particularly new, but thinking about technology in this context is also useful, especially as we consider technology in the context of climate change.


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.



Proprietary (definition) – 02

I’ve had some good conversations about this attempt to define proprietary software. In many of these conversations, people focused on explicitly what I’m trying to not do (i.e. define “proprietary” by saying it’s not FOSS). Some people helped me clarify that I’m looking to do really, which is have a pithy way to explain proprietary to people who are never going to look at source code or pay someone to write new code for them. How do you explain to people who don’t care about technical matters nor have the language to discuss them? How do you talk about licenses to people who may not have the language for it? (In a past life I explained Creative Commons licenses to academics and educators.)

Talking about licensing seemed very important to people, as licenses are what define freedoms, restrictions, and restrictions that protect freedoms. With these points in mind, I present the following:

Proprietary software is software that comes with restrictions that retain control of how software can be used, shared, and changed through the use of copyright and licensing.

I worry that this is “too technical” and then I worry that I’m worrying too much about that. In this I added a truncated version of a common explanation of the Four Freedoms (typically use, study, modify, share). This is in part because I believe “study” is included in “modify.”

I included “copyright and licensing” in hopes that a reader would understand at least one of them. I also wanted to take into account that communities may have other policies (e.g. community guidelines) that might in some way restrict how software is used, shared, and changed. I don’t like “retain control” as a phrase, but it was suggested to me (thanks! If you want credit, just ping me). I think it’s pretty clear about the intention and consequence of proprietary licensing.

A potential criticism I see is that it’s not clear enough that you must be able to do all three (use, share, and change) in order for software to be FOSS and that restrictions on any of them renders software proprietary.

Proprietary (definition)

I recently had the occasion to try and find a definition of “proprietary” in terms of software that is not on Wikipedia. Most of the discussion on the issue I found was focused on what free and open source software is, and that anything that isn’t FOSS is proprietary. I don’t think the debate is as simple as this, especially if you want to get into conversations about nuance around things like Open Core.

The problem with defining proprietary software by what it isn’t, or at least that it isn’t FOSS, means that we cannot concisely communicate what makes something proprietary. Instead, we leave it up to the people we’re trying to communicate with to dig through a history of rhetoric, copyright law, and licensing in order to understand what it actually means for something to be FOSS, and what it means for something to be anything else. It is also just less satisfying, in my opinion, to define something by what it lacks rather than by what it is.

I’ll start by proposing the following definition:

Proprietary software is software that comes with restrictions on what users can do with the software and the source code that constitutes said software.

I think the most controversial part of this sentence is the wording “software that comes with restrictions.” In earlier attempts of this I wrote “software that restricts.” This sort of active wording, which I used for years in my capacity at work, is misleading. In the case of proprietary software, it is the licensing and laws around it that restrict what you can do. For software to restrict you, it must be that the way the software is being implemented or used restricts you.

To be clear, this is my first proposal. I look forward to discussing this further!

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.