Author Archives: Leigh Honeywell

About Leigh Honeywell

Leigh is a security geek, hackerspace founder, and wearer of comfortable shoes. She blogs and tweets.

I won’t leave Berlin until investors quit being pigs. Deal?

We’ve seen over the years through conference anti-harassment work that when people who have experienced harassment speak up, others are often empowered to share their own experiences of harassment from the same perpetrator, or other perpetrators in the same community.

Yesterday, a courageous New York-based entrepreneur named Geshe Haas came forward about having been the target of what one Valleywag commenter called an “entitled demand” for sex from an investor named Pavel Curda. Today, Berlin-based Lucie Montel also published a screenshot of a very similar advance from Curda:

Tech industry magazine The Next Web summed up the reports and stated that they will no longer publish Curda’s writing.

While there has been previous discussion of women entrepreneurs being sexually harassed by investors, those who have experienced harassment talk of widespread fear about naming names, even anonymously. The price of speaking up can be very high even without the particular power that investors hold over entrepreneurs, who lack even the bare minimum protection that employment law provides. Much of what we know about the gender climate in the investment and venture capital fields comes from whispered one-on-one conversations between women, as well as some details from lawsuits around such harassment in the VC industry.

To my knowledge, Haas and Montel are the first to come forward about this kind of harassment outside the context of legal action. In a climate where prominent incubators must “remind” their investors not to harass participants, this is a huge step forward. I hope that their brave examples will make it easier for other women to speak up in the future.

GF classifieds (August and September 2014)

This is another round of Geek feminism classifieds. Sorry we missed July! If you’re looking to hire women, find some people to participate in your study, find female speakers, or just want some like-minded folk to join your open source project, this is the thread for you!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Geeky subjects only. We take a wide view of geekdom, but if your thing isn’t related to an obviously geeky topic, you’ll probably want to give a bit of background on why the readers of Geek Feminism would be interested.
  2. Explain what your project/event/thing is, or link to a webpage that provides clear, informative information about it. Ideally you’ll also explain why geek women might find it particularly awesome.
  3. Explain what you’re looking for. Even if it’s not a job ad, think of it like one: what is the activity/role in question, and what would it involve? What is the profile of people you’re looking for?
  4. GF has international readership, so please be sure to indicate the location if you’re advertising a job position, conference, or other thing where the location matters. Remember that city acronyms aren’t always known world-wide and lots of cities share names, so be as clear as possible! (That is, don’t say “SF[O]” or “NYC” or “Melb”, say “San Francisco, USA”, “New York City, USA” or “Melbourne, Australia”.) And if you can provide travel/relocation assistance, we’d love to know about it.
  5. Keep it legal. Most jurisdictions do not allow you to (eg.) advertise jobs for only people of a given gender. So don’t do that. If you are advertising for something that falls into this category, think of this as an opportunity to boost the signal to women who might be interested.
  6. If you’re asking for participants in a study, please note Mary’s helpful guide to soliciting research participation on the ‘net, especially the “bare minimum” section.
  7. Provide a way for people to contact you, such as your email address or a link to apply in the case of job advertisements. (The email addresses entered in the comment form here are not public, so readers won’t see them.)
  8. Keep an eye on comments here, in case people ask for clarification or more details. (You can subscribe to comments via email or RSS.)

If you’d like some more background/tips on how to reach out to women for your project/event/whatever, take a look at Recruiting women on the Geek Feminism Wiki.)

Good luck!

Welcome to the new geekfeminism.org!

At this weekend’s One Web For All hackathon, several Geek Feminism bloggers and some wonderful new volunteers completed the migration of geekfeminism.org from a fairly custom self-hosted WordPress install to wordpress.com’s hosting.  We’d relied on plugins for many of the particularities of running a large, controversial group blog, and over the years most of those plugin features have been added to wordpress.com.

I wanted to extend thanks to the following people for their help with the migration:

  • Faruk Ateş and Cori Johnson for putting on the best hackathon I’ve ever attended. This migration was a task I’d been dreading for months, and you created a space where it felt safe to ask for help and make mistakes.
  • Sara Rasmussen, Jahlela Rose, Camille Villa, and Kimberly Muñoz for their work on the theme (and wiki), and for putting up with Matt and I clobbering their changes several times :)
  • Matt Zimmerman, Geek Feminism blogger emeritus, for export-mangling, figuring out attribution bugs, and hacking with me on the link-gathering app we’re building for the linkspammers.
  • All the other wonderful folks who edited the Geek Feminism wiki over the weekend.

Please feel free to leave a comment if you run into anything unexpected or any broken content with the new site.

We are also now cross-posting to tumblr at geekfeminismblog.tumblr.com, if you prefer to follow our posts there.

#blockgate and the changes to Twitter’s block behavior

I posted this yesterday on my personal blog, originally titled “Changes to Twitter’s block behavior – and a workaround.” I wanted to share it with the readers of Geek Feminism as well, as I think blocking on social networks and the right to exist in public free from harassment is something near and dear to many of our hearts, and what I hear is now being called “#blockgate” / “#restoreblock” / #restoretheblock is just the latest round in a long history of such discussions. It was a living post I updated as information came in about Twitter’s blocking policy change, hence the various updates and added Tweets.

TL;DR I hate the changes to Twitter’s blocking, and you can get around them by marking your account private, blocking the person, then going back to public. This will cause them to unfollow you. I hope the powers that Tweet reconsider this change.

Update: so this happened…

Yay!

Twitter posted an update today to their blocking functionality. In my opinion, it’s a real step backwards for the usability of Twitter for anyone with a large number of followers, or facing any kind of harassment.

It used to be that when you blocked someone, it would force them to “unfollow” you, in addition to hiding them from your mentions. This is no longer the case:

Note: If your account is public, blocking a user does not prevent that user from following you, interacting with your Tweets, or receiving your updates in their timeline. If your Tweets are protected, blocking the user will cause them to unfollow you.

The obvious objection to my objection is “well your stuff is public anyway, they could just make a new account” – the thing is, this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of 1) how people use blocking and 2) how harassers operate.

People use blocking to force unfollows.

I have nearly 9000 followers (which I find fairly hilarious as I mostly post fart jokes, but whatevs)(clarifying for new visitors: I actually tweet about computer security, privacy, feminism, open source, and how weird being a Canadian living in the US is – and more Bitcoin jokes than fart jokes). Something that happens pretty often is that someone will follow me and start replying to things I post or retweet in an aggressive or annoying way. I am particularly conscious of when people do this to folks I retweet – I feel like I have a responsibility to not expose people I retweet to douchebaggery on my watch, so I block people who demonstrate a pattern of being jerks. My friend Ellie made this in response to one of the times I retweeted her:

retweets

I realize that I’m directing a lot of traffic at folks when I retweet them, and I don’t want to expose them to jerks. This change prevents me from curating my followers in the same way as I curate my feed.

Harassers are easily distracted, and many just go away

Blocking, even on a public account, is surprisingly effective at dealing with low-grade harassment. Most harassers just aren’t that invested in the person they are bothering, and putting up the tiniest roadblock will make them move on to their next target. I had this conversation with a Googler shortly after G+ shipped, as its blocking behavior was at the time the same as the new Twitter behavior. I have no idea what it is now because I hate G+ and don’t use it, and I realized that this may be unintuitive to someone who hasn’t experienced harassment before – but trust me, as someone who has, it works a lot of the time. Which is great!

Update: Some who read the above argument think that it’s a “false sense of security” – there’s nothing false about effectively driving away a large percentage of drive-by harassment. I think people pretty broadly get that if you have a public feed, and block someone, that that person can just log out to read your feed – there really are a large number of users, and I say this from personal experience, who won’t bother making a new account, they will just move on. I want to keep being able to handle those users easily.

Telling users facing harassment to just make their account private punishes them, not harassers

This is just shitty and not ok, and I hope it needs no further explanation.

A Workaround

If you make your account private, then block the person, then make it public again, it emulates the old behavior and makes them unfollow you. It’s a pain, but it works. It will not prevent them from re-following you, however – so it’ll only work on the least motivated harassers.

Another Workaround

My friend shadowspar pointed out that you can still force an unfollow by marking someone as spam:

Looks like I’m going to be misusingrepurposing the spam report button more frequently :(

Update: or not:

 

Let Us Never Forget Their Names

Content Note: This post deals with the École Polytechnique massacre and violence against women.

24 years ago today, 14 women were killed in an act of sickening violence at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Targeted for being women and for being engineers, we must never forget their names.

  • Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

For those of us who grew up in Canada, the white ribbons of December were a reminder not just of the work left to do in stopping gender violence, but of the links between that violence, deeply held notions of gender roles and “women’s place”, and the importance of pioneering women’s work in science and engineering. While Montreal stands out in our timeline as one of the few acts of outright violence documented there, we must remember that the “tits or GTFO”s of the world exist on a spectrum of micro- and macro-aggressions, oppression, and violence that we must be vigilant for in our communities, online and offline.

Fellow blogger Lukas writes:

This event was a catalyst for action in Canada, spawning a monument for the deceased, a national Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada, and a White Ribbon Campaign (started by and targeted at men in order to address and confront male violence against women). For me, Dec 6th marked the beginning of my independent feminist organizing. It happened when I was just starting high school and shortly afterward a few classmates and I started a feminist club at our school. We attended local vigils for women who died at the hands of their male partners. We educated ourselves about issues facing women beyond just our small city and we organized gatherings to share this information with others. In the years that followed Dec 6th was a touchstone for doing actions that both drew attention to women and domestic violence but in recent years since moving into the tech world it’s developed a whole other layer of relevance to me.

 

When this date rolls around I am reminded that the outreach I do in the tech community matters, to be proud of being feminist, taking space in engineering, and also being someone who works diligently to make space for more women and underrepresented groups to join me. It may not always be through a directly violent act but there are many ways women and minority groups are being told they do not belong here and there are some of us are proving ‘them’ wrong. We are designers, engineers, problem solvers, big thinkers, dreamers, creators, makers, and people who can help make worlds both big and small better for others. We can be a pipeline for new arrivals, be mentors, be allies. On this day I am grateful for my allies both within the geek feminism community and without who work side by side with me to work on improving equality, seeking justice, and calling for the end of violence and discrimination in the technology space.

Never forget their names.

Quick Hit: Wiscon gets its own strain of Norovirus

In this week’s WisCon newsletter comes news which seems relevant to the science geeks among us: the strain of norovirus which hit the WisCon feminist science fiction conference in 2008 has been officially named after the conference!  It’s called AY502008 (Wiscon), as seen in this recent PLoS One paper.

Since the outbreak, WisCon has put a lot of effort into ensuring safe food-handling at the event, and my impression has been that this has reduced the amount of “con crud” (con-related colds and flus) in a pretty big way.  I think it’s one of those little things that gets easily forgotten in organizing conferences, but “not getting attendees sick” is also an accessibility issue for folks with compromised immune systems.

Plover: Freeing Stenography

Mirabai Knight is a Certified CART Provider (realtime stenographer for the deaf and hard of hearing) in New York City. When she was 11, her older brother introduced her to the concept of free software. At the time she mocked him for being a soppy idealist, but the idea quietly took root, and now 18 years later she’s thrilled to be responsible for launching the world’s first free stenographic keyboard emulator.

Leigh: I’m very excited to be able to pick the brains of open source pioneer Mirabai Knight, whose project Plover just had their initial public release. Can you tell us about Plover and stenography?

Mirabai: I’ve been geek-identified and hacker-adjacent all my life, but never actually wound up learning how to code until, after years of frustration with the DRM-riddled $4,000 proprietary steno program I use in my CART business, I decided that the world needed free steno software, and that if I didn’t get it going, it probably wouldn’t happen. That might sound conceited, but the overlap between the stenographic and computer geek worlds is bafflingly small, considering how vital efficient text entry is to virtually every tech field.

Before Plover, the price of even a bare bones computerized steno system was around $1,500, so only people who intended to go into a stenographic career (court reporting, captioning, or CART) could justify the expense. There were no opportunities for amateurs, tinkerers, or dabblers, and it frustrated me, because I could see so many non-commercial applications for stenographic technology. That’s when I decided to start up The Plover Project. I knew I needed someone who could wrangle both hardware and software, and I was hoping I could get some elementary instruction in Python along the way. By a great stroke of luck, Joshua Harlan Lifton, a freelance programmer with extensive hardware hacking experience, was renting space two floors above my Brooklyn coworking co-op, and after noticing the call for a Python tutor/developer that I posted on the building’s elevator corkboard, he enthusiastically agreed to help out with the project. A little less than a year later, we have an actual functional realtime steno program that lets you type at 200 words per minute directly into any X window using a $45 off-the-shelf keyboard.

Continue reading

Double Major

I’m back in school, as some folks have probably already gathered from my microblogging. I’m finishing up a double major in Computer Science and Equity Studies at the University of Toronto, and if all goes according to plan I’ll be graduating in May 2011.

While this may sound like a strange combination, it makes perfect sense to me – I’m interested in equity issues within the STEM fields, especially computer science.

It turns out the combination of fields come in handy in unexpected ways some times. After proofreading a paper I wrote for a Women and Gender Studies class for me my friend Valerie suggested that some quantitative data might be useful in supporting one of my assertions. In my paper I argued that while early feminist scholarship on sexual harassment failed at intersectionality, more recent scholarship has embraced it. To support this, I wanted to compare the number of citations for Catherine MacKinnon’s Sexual harassment of working women: a case of sex discrimination to Kimberle Crenshaw’s Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. These are both profoundly influential works, but I wanted to quantify how their relative influence on scholarly work.

So I did what any self-respecting CS student would do – I wrote a script to scrape Google Scholar for citation numbers over time and made a graph comparing the two :)

For your edification, here’s scholargraph.pl:

# (c) 2010 Leigh Honeywell
# Licensed under the Simplified BSD License, reuse as you will!

use strict;
use LWP::Simple;
use LWP;

# set up LWP user agent and cookies; pretend to be Firefox 4 just to be cheeky
my $lua = LWP::UserAgent->new(
    keep_alive => 1,
    timeout    => 180,
    agent =>
"Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; rv:2.0b7pre) Gecko/20100921 Firefox/4.0b7pre"
);

# edit in your citation numbers from google scholar and the appropriate
# date ranges for what you're trying to do
my $crenshaw = getCites( "10759548619514288444", "1977", "2010" );
my $mackinnon = getCites( "2195253368518808933", "1977", "2010" );

sub getCites {
   (my $cite, my $startyear, my $endyear) = @_;

    for my $year ($startyear .. $endyear) {

        #construct the query URL using the above data
        my $post =
          $lua->get( "http://scholar.google.com/scholar?cites="
              . $cite
              . "&as_ylo="
              . $year
              . "&as_yhi="
              . $year );

        # scrape the returned page for the number of results
        if ( $post->content =~ m#of (?:about )?(d*)</b># ) {
            print $cite. "," . $year . "," . $1 . "n";
        }
        elsif ( $post->content =~ m#did not match any articles# ) {
            print $cite. "," . $year . ",no resultsn";
        }
        else {
            # some kinda error happened, most likely google caught me!
            print $cite. "," . $year . "errorn";
        }
    # don't kill google's servers
    sleep(5);
    }
return 0;
}

Oh and if you’re curious, Crenshaw’s paper was cited far more than MacKinnon’s, pretty much as soon as it was published. Intersectionality FTW!

And as these things always go, of course I spend the evening working on this only to find that there’s a Perl module as well.

Fuzzy hatted-Open Thread

I’ve been working on a rather silly but entertaining project for the past few weeks:

lilypad and shift register on the compass hat

It’s a hat, that’s also a compass.  There are LEDs in the brim – whichever is pointed North is the one that’s on.  I’m planning on adding a “party mode” which just lights them up in various patterns, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

Did I mention that they are pink LEDs?

compass hat!

There’s also a secret buzzer underneath the hat so that the wearer can know where North is without asking someone else to tell her which light is on. The various parts:

2010-07-25_15-07-49_253_Toronto

Edit: I’ve pushed the source code to bitbucket; it’s fairly hacky, but will be evolving over the next while :)

Anyone else working on fun knitted things, wearable computing projects, or knitted electronics?

This is also an open thread, for discussion of subjects of general interest, things in older posts, and things we’ve never posted about.

Owning our awesome

red, green, and blue lasers being adjustedInspired by Kate, Karen, and Denise, and as a sort of Unicorn Chaser to the last post about Facebook’s failings and flailings, let’s talk about awesome things we’ve done recently!  They don’t need to be technical or even geeky.

I’ll go first in the comments. This thread will be hosted by pretty lasers.

swirly laser patterns