Author Archives: Leigh Honeywell

About Leigh Honeywell

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

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.

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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

Makin’ Buttons

Last year I got some buttons made, and they were a hoot:

because we do!

In anticipation of WisCon, I’m making a bunch more geekfeminism.org buttons.  So far I have:

  • Code is a feminist issue (from this comment)
  • Something about the Hive Vagina
  • Something about unicorns?

… but that’s it.  I know we have a bunch of other funny slogans and memes going around.  I’d like to get a bunch of different buttons made, so suggest away!

Quick Hit – On “thick skin”

In an older post I just came across over at The Sexist, there’s a great discussion about the idea of “having a thick skin” in the context of male-dominated workplaces as well as street harassment.  We’ve talked about this stuff before; it relates to the dismissing tactic of calling women “over-sensitive.”  Sexist reader Chloe Angyal writes about her graduate research into women working on Wall Street trading floors.  I’m having a tough time not just copying her whole post over, it’s really great…. but here’s the final point, which really hit home for me:

The irony is that these women don’t need to call attention to the fact that they’re women — they’re being sexually harassed for that very reason. Women who accept sexual harassment, be it at work or on the street, have “thick skin” and are “reasonable.” Women who don’t are “victims” who “can’t hack it.” At work women are faced with two equally unpleasant choices: suffer harassment or discrimination in silence, or speak up and be branded a thin-skinned victim who makes all the other women look bad. On the street, speaking up comes with the added danger of a physical attack. It’s a no-win situation that we face on the way to work, on the way home, and every moment in between. “Thick skin,” as handy a survival method as it might be, is not a solution: the solution is to change the acceptability of harassment and discrimination.

In the comments, Occam makes a great point about how this relates to the policing of women’s boundaries:

This is a great point about how the choice is between “thick skinned” women or women who “make themselves the victim”. This cast actually punishes women who set and define their boundaries as “victims”, when in fact setting and defining boundaries is the opposite of victim behavior. In fact, those rewarded in a male dominated environment are the people who refuse to draw a line at objectionable behavior. It’s another case of rewarding women who allow themselves to be dominated, and punishing women who expect to be treated with respect.

Open Thread: LED hearts, podcasts

This week’s Open Thread is hosted by an adorable LED heart:

LED Heart Kit Assembled

There’s a video as well, and you get one for yourself or someone you love in a kit!

I’m getting into podcasts now that I have a phone with Google Listen on it.  I’d love to hear about geeky podcasts other folks are listening to.  They don’t have to be explicitly feminist, but I’m having a hard time with finding ones which don’t sound like a particularly vile IRC channel read out loud, rape jokes and drunken hosts and all that.  They don’t necessarily need to be explicitly feminist, but yeah… women friendly is a good minimum bar.  I’ll start off in the comments.

This being an open thread you’re welcome to talk about blinky lights or whatever else suits your fancy today, as well.

Quick hit – rock and roll and geek subcultures

Over at Tiger Beatdown, Sady and Amanda take on rock and roll, relating the sexism in rock subcultures to other subcultures and “outsider” groups:

AMANDA: I see the same sad sexism in a lot of different subcultures, and I think women are often drawn to these spaces because they’re outside of the mainstream — because the mainstream marginalizes them, but perhaps in a different way than it does sensitive rocking Kurt Cobain haircut boys.

SADY: Agreed!

AMANDA: So on the one hand, you’d think the subculture would be totally interested in accepting women — how rejecting of mainstream values is that! — but on the other hand, the subculture is also about building a culture around the primacy of the sensitive rocking Kurt Cobain haircut boy’s particular flavor of marginalization, and when women come in with some other shit to talk about it tends to threaten that dynamic.

On different degrees of othering:

AMANDA: BUT. I wonder if some of the disconnect here is in these guys thinking that their asymmetrical haircut or interest in Magic: The Gathering is like the most intensely othering experience that a human can have? And are unaware that there are some other people around who may have that experience of being othered no matter which subculture they attempt to access.

And the part that struck closest to home for me, from the part of the discussion about Renfolk and other such nerdy subcultures:

SADY: Oh, man! And, yes: I think we even did a Ye Olde Sexist Beatdowne, about this, in Oldyn Tymes! My experience of lady-nerds is that they tend to be huge and fairly hardcore feminists. And I was like, “that’s funny, I never thought of feminism as a particularly nerdy thing,” but then I realized (a) I was on the Internet, and (b) male nerd subculture tends to be like INTENSE in its misogyny! Lady-nerds seriously grab on to feminism like it is a buoy and they are drowning, because it is! And they sort of are! And women in music sometimes do the same thing, see: Riot Grrrl, duh. Formed in reaction to dudes with floppy Kurt Cobain haircuts, at least one of whom was ACTUALLY KURT COBAIN. (Though he was a huge feminist, God bless.)