Author Archives: brainwane

About brainwane

Sumana Harihareswara is a geeky woman living in New York City and teaching newer coders, reading science fiction, writing technical documentation, and programming (most recently at Hacker School). She has managed programmers at an open source consulting firm, and co-edited a speculative fiction anthology. She dents and tweets as @brainwane.

Geek & feminist thoughts on “In The Loop”

I saw the political satire In The Loop a few days back.  It passes the Bechdel test — how novel — and it struck me as a fairly geek-oriented film.

We geeks like our entertainment as plot/banter firehose with subtle, unspoken worldbuilding. That’s what In The Loop (and its predecessor TV show, The Thick of It) deliver — that and social engineering.  You get to watch people scheme, performing ad hoc systems analysis to solve the puzzle of their immediate predicament.  It’s like Leverage without the wish-fulfillment or Hardison, Elliot or Parker.  (In the geeky-banter category, In The Loop has characters mock Toby (Chris Addison) by calling him “Frodo,” “Ron Weasley,” and “baby from Eraserhead.”)

One of my geekeries is politics, specifically organizational behavior and the power of institutions. In The Loop argues that the media/governing apparatus functions as one homeostatic institution, where any demonstration of the pettier human weaknesses (e.g., status-seeking, frustration, lust, loathing) leads to an instant barrage of bad press and gives your enemies leverage. It’s a marvelous system, really, and ultra-efficient: if you think you’ve found some room to maneuver, some opportunity for arbitrage, you’re wrong and your audacity will be punished. It’s a power structure that guards itself against change, and will only ever pay lip service to feminism and anti-racism. A dark vision, but the film left me laughing.

Warning: Sexist and homophobic insults pervade the dialogue from start to finish.This would have bothered me more if I’d thought the insults were more substance than form; the viciousness was so over-the-top that I couldn’t take it seriously. But some people will find it distasteful or triggering.

Software geekery: Late in the film, two users across the Atlantic from each other open their laptops and work on the same document simultaneously, one telling the other via phone what to delete or rearrange. I immediately thought, If only they were using AbiWord’s document-sharing plugin, they could collaborate in realtime using Telepathy integration!

If The West Wing and Star Trek are idealistic, meritocratic wish fulfillment, and In The Loop is a cynical response to West Wing-style idealism, then what’s the bitter-laugh counterpart to Star Trek? Potential candidates:

When it changed (1998?)

Anthropologist Biella Coleman just posted “1998 and the Irish Accent is Why I Study F/OSS”. She quotes a rumination by Don Marti on 1998 as a crucial and strange year in tech:

…there was all this fascinating news and code for 
recruiting new hackers at the same time that there
 was a huge power grab intended to drive hackers out.

Biella tells her own 1998 story as well:

…that was the year I ditched my other project and decided to go with F/OSS for my dissertation….I let the idea go for a few weeks, possibly months until one Very Important Conversation over coffee transpired with an Irish classmate…

So I asked my co-bloggers to tell us whether 1998 was a pivotal year for them, too. For most of us, it was.

Continue reading

Yet Another Geeky Gal

/me waves

Hi!  I’m Sumana Harihareswara, a twentysomething geeky gal living in New York City. I grew up in various US cities and states, the daughter of Indian immigrants, loving books and Star Trek. Currently I manage programmers at an open source consulting firm. With my partner (a programmer I met via his blog), this year I edited Thoughtcrime Experiments, an online scifi/fantasy anthology.

Geek communities are home to me.  I never feel more comfortable than when I’m complaining about the end of Enterprise, or joking that the problem with desktop open source software is that it so often ships with the “usability” flag set to 0 by default.

So it amazes me when leaders in my communities say and do things that exclude or demean me.  But I’m also amazed, and gratified, at how many allies I have (at WisCon, Systers, the Geek Feminism wiki…), and how visibly the tide is turning.  It’s only right that I should be a part of this effort, and blogging here is a little bit of that.

To quote myself from a discussion on Skud’s other blog: Public discussion of our values, and explicit enforcement of our norms, is nothing new to open source. And another principle in open source is that any design that makes lots of users go through some hacky workaround (â€oh, everyone just ignores that bugâ€) is long overdue for rewrite.