Author Archives: Leigh Honeywell

About Leigh Honeywell

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

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

# (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( ""
              . $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
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:


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 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.