Author Archives: skud

Two more women-learning-python things

First up, via Nat at O’Reilly Radar, I found a link to Julie Learns Python, where Julie Steele is blogging her experiences learning the programming language.

She’s meeting regularly with a group who are working through an introductory Python book together, and her most recent post describes a recent programming effort, her trials and failures and eventual success, and what she came to realise:

The point is: it’s in me. I wasn’t sure that is was, and now I know—it is.

And what, exactly, is “it� It is the bug. It is the combination of native curiosity and stubbornness that made me play around with the code and take some wild guesses instead of running straight to Google (or choosing to stay within the bounds of the exercise). That might sound like a small thing, but I know it is not. I was determined to make the program do what I wanted it to do, I came up with a few guesses as to how to do that, and I kept trying different things until I succeeded (and then I felt thrilled).

As much as I have to learn, I know now that I really am hooked. And that I’ll get there.

Elsewhere, on Dreamwidth1, Elz, one of the lead programmers on the OTW’s Archive Of Our Own2, decided that there were some gaps in her education that she wanted to fill, and is drawing together a group who will study MIT’s Open Courseware Introduction to Computer Science over the next few months.

The course teaches basic CS concepts using the Python programming language, and doesn’t require any previous programming experience.

The community’s at You’ll need a Dreamwidth account to join and post, but anyone’s welcome to follow along without signing up. If you want a DW invite code, let me know in comments — I’ve got a heap still to give away! I’ve signed up, because I’m sure my education’s got a lot of the same gaps.

I love hearing about women teaching themselves programming. Got any other links or stories like that to share?


PyArkansas women’s code sprint

Here’s a quick signal boost for an event that GloriaW’s organising as part of the PyArkansas unconference:

Join us for two nights and one day of Python fun and folly at PyArkansas 2009. If you cannot make the day sessions, be sure to join us for at least one night of discussion and geek-walks through the basics, web apps, and back end application development. Your level of experience does not matter if your intent is in the right place. Bring questions, code, ideas, anything related that you wish to share, along with a laptop if you have one. This promises to be a weekend of geeky fun.

Where: Hendrix College, Conway Arkansas, as part of PyArkansas 2009

When: Friday and Saturday nights, Nov 13th and 14th, from 6PM until we get kicked out.

What: We’ll do the bash shell, Python basics, and advanced code sprint work for whomever feels like it.

Whom: Women with anything from zero programming experience, to expert level.

Why: Because it’s great fun.

If you’re interested in learning to program, Python’s a great language for it. If you’re already a Python programmer then this is a fantastic opportunity to share your skills with others and learn a few new tricks too.

Open thread: everyone sing along now!

So, on the mailing list all the GF bloggers use, we’ve been saying “who’s going to do the open thread?” for days now and nobody’s done it. I said if nobody stepped up, I’d post this:

I guess it goes without saying that nobody else posted the open thread, huh?

If you’re reading this Monday morning at the office, you might want to use headphones. Visuals are SFW though.

I dare you not to sing along or get earwormed. Personally, I think it’s the 21st century answer to Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman.

Anyway, when you’re done with the ‘tubes, tell us what else is on your mind! Open threads are when you can revisit old topics, bring up new ones, or say whatever the hell you want.

MikeeUSA’s code, now available on

Trigger warning: some linked pages contain hate speech and threats of violence against women.

While I completely support SourceForge’s decision to remove MikeeUSA‘s code for violation of their Terms of Service, I can’t help kinda feeling sorry for the guy, because apparently he didn’t have any other copies.

Let’s face it, he’s not a very experienced developer, and he can’t be expected to understand advanced topics like, oh, keeping backups, especially since he spends so much time on his activism, which no doubt distracts him from real coding.

Good thing us feminists are here to help him out. It just so happens that we had a copy of some of the code that was deleted, so we’ve forked it under the terms of the GPL, and made it available at:

It’s a Mercurial repository, and you can either browse it over the web, or clone it using your favourite Mercurial client. I know distributed version control can be a bit daunting for newbie developers, but perhaps Mikee can find a friend to help him out with it.

But we didn’t just post his code as-is. We’ve improved it! As a Perl developer and veteran CPAN contributor, I was able to make a start at cleaning up the worst bits of his slots game, though I must admit that my work was slowed down by the urge to send almost every line of it to TheDailyWTF.

$htmlsave =~ s/./__________THISISAPERIOD__________/g;
$htmlsave =~ s/W//g;
$htmlsave =~ s/__________THISISAPERIOD__________/./g;

And we also improved his Crossfire maps, especially one set in Russia which we switched to Ponyland, where you help the Pony Liberation Army free Ponyland from the trolls. Everyone loves ponies, right?

We think you’ll especially enjoy the new textures we’ve added:

Ponies - a vast improvement!

They might not improve playability, but from what we’ve heard, there wasn’t much playability to start with.

As Free Software developers, we honour the Four Software Freedoms, and gladly recognise Mikee’s right to run these programs, study and learn from them, redistribute copies, and even modify them — provided, of course, that attribution is given to the developers.

ETA: Comments on this post are now closed — yes, early — as we seem to have reached the point of nothing new being added to the discussion.

“We’ve got your back.”

That’s what we like to hear. And since our PSA last week about MikeeUSA, we’ve been really pleased to see people coming out of the woodwork to say, in effect, “OMGWTF!” and “NOT COOL.”

It’s funny… when I wrote that post, I was cringing in anticipation. After the last couple of contentious things I’d written, I was sure that I was going to get a flood of posts telling me how I was over-reacting, how raising these issues was harming the open source community, or that I should focus on the positive. I hit “post” with some trepidation, then left the office almost shaking.

I kept checking the comments throughout the evening, and even woke up in the middle of the night expecting a storm of invective. And there wasn’t one. Around twelve hours after the post, I cautiously said on IRC, “maybe there won’t be a backlash this time,” and then wanted to retract the words in case it was some kind of jinx.

Instead, what we got was support. Twitter and were buzzing with retweets/redents of people spreading the PSA, and the comments here on GF — even from people who said they usually disagreed with feminist goals — were 100% supportive. You know how we have a comment policy here that says we will delete stuff that’s blatantly anti-feminist? Well, this was the first contentious post we’ve ever had where we didn’t delete a single comment.

So, thanks. It’s good to know that there are some things just so vile that nobody in our community will tolerate them. It’s good to know that we can visit almost any open source blog this week without having to be confronted by Mikee’s hateful comments, because they’ve been sent to the bit bucket. And it’s good to know that at least some of the women (and men) who were targetted by Mikee’s hate speech over the last week or so knew how to handle it, and knew they weren’t alone, because we got the word out.

Thanks for having our backs.

But let’s stop for a moment and think about why that’s such a big deal. It’s a big deal because it’s unusual. Most of the time, backlash, not support, is the strongest response.

Next time round, I’d like to ask everyone to remember that every little incident in our community occurs in a context of institutionalised sexism that ranges from the odd thoughtless joke to… well, to Mikee and beyond. And it’s the little things, repeated over and over and excused just as often, that serve to reinforce the feeling that we don’t quite belong, and that the majority of the community might not back us up, might even attack us, if the shit hits the fan.

Please don’t let this happen.

We need to know you’ve got our backs. Even for the little stuff. Even when it’s a community leader. Even when you aren’t quite sure why it’s a big deal. Especially those times. Because it’s the security of knowing that someone’s got our backs that lets us speak about the big stuff without shame or fear. And it’s only that security that lets us feel safe to give all our energy and focus to what we came here for in the first place: free and open source software.

National Coming Out Day: LGBTQ geeks

In the US and many other countries, today is National Coming Out Day. I thought this might be a good chance to talk about the experiences of LGBTQ geeks and how they intersect with the experiences of female geeks.

  • LGBTQ geeks, like women, are a minority in geek communities. AdamW mentioned it the other week in this post:

    My personal experience is as an even more unusual minority in F/OSS than being a woman — I’m gay. (I’ve mentioned this before but I don’t really make a point of it, so some people probably don’t know). I can’t even recall anyone _else_ openly gay in the F/OSS community at all — I’m sure there are a few, but it’s a very very small number.

    I’m not sure whether or not gay men are less common than women in F/OSS — it seems unlikely to me — but they are certainly a less visible minority, since guessing based on physical appearance or name will get you approximately nowhere. And gay men (as well as lesbians and other non-straight folks) are subject to homophobia in geek culture: insults like “faggot” are common in gaming, on IRC, etc. In that much, there is a similarity between the two groups, both of which are marginalised and excluded to some extent.

  • I guess it should go without saying that the set of female geeks and the set of non-straight geeks overlap, but sometimes people seem to forget or ignore that. We see this when people suggest that adding beefcake to porny presentations would make women happy, or that women should be pleased when men comment on their appearance or sexual desirability. Being asked if you’re at an event with your boyfriend gains a whole new level of wrongness. And efforts to appeal to women in technology, gaming, etc, often assume heterosexuality and gender-normativity, featuring boys, dating, weddings (opposite sex only), and traditional families. Queer women, in these situations, can feel even more uncomfortable than straight women do.
  • And then there are times when female geekdom interacts with queer geekdom and weirdness ensues. I had an experience at a convention, where a man was getting in my personal space, touching me, and so on — nothing terrible, just putting his hand on my shoulder and being over-friendly. When I asked him not to, he said, “Oh, it’s OK — I’m gay!” When people have (or lack) different kinds of privilege, the negotiation around it can get incredibly complicated. Does being gay exempt this guy from facing his male privilege?
  • I’m not highly qualified to speak for transgendered/genderqueer/intersex geeks, but there are another set of issues that come along with that. Rachel guest-posted yesterday about one aspect her her experience as a trans geek, and I hope we’ll be able to have more discussion on related topics going forward.

Like many other feminists, intersectionality is something I’m just starting to come to grips with. How about you? Do you have stories of being an LGBTQ geek, or of how LGBTQ issues intersect with feminism in geek communities?

PSA: MikeeUSA’s hate speech and harassment

TRIGGER WARNING: this post discusses sexual assault, threats of violence, and actual violence against women. If you link to this post, please include a similar warning. See below for more information on how/why to do this.

I think we need to address this.

There is a guy out there who goes by the name of MikeeUSA and who, since around 2005, has been posting threatening and harrassing comments and emails to and about women in the free and open source software community.

Most recently, in response to the Mark Shuttleworth incident, he’s been commenting on related blogs comparing us (me, Mackenzie, Carla Schroder by name, and other geek feminists in general) to Nina Reiser, who was killed by her husband, Linux file systems hacker Hans Reiser, in 2006.

The women of the “geek feminism” movement will be just as effective at excising men from the movement as Nina was at systematically destroying Hans Reiser’s life untill he saw no reason, nothing left in his life, that could hold him back from striking back.

The same comment was copy-pasted to numerous other blogs, including this one (twice), but has been deleted by most blog owners.

This is the same guy who was responsible for the Debian death threats I mentioned in my post about George Sodini and parallels in the tech community. In 2007, he sent the following to the debian-women mailing list:

Yea you’ve become a developer… and have done nearly nothing except shill your feminist shit and try to turn debian into a woman’s project (you are succeeding, men are leaving debian because of you and your ilk, worthless bitch).


I pray you find your way into a feminist unfriendly country one day. God willing, you will die.

Happily the feminist-unfriendly countries are immigrating to you. Remeber the netherlands? Feminists die there.

He has a hate blog at where he posts the same sort of stuff.

Men going to jail for hitting their wives is bad for men.

Men going to jail for raping their wives is bad for men.

Men losing their jobs because they said or did a “sexist†thing is bad for men.

Men being pushed out of opensource projects at the behest of WORTHLESS feminist women is bad for men and that which men create.


As for Nina Reiser: she deserved to die for what she put Hans through. She did die. Justice, men’s retributitive justice, was done. She will never live again, she is finished; she is dead.

This is what he tells men:

Go to the local women’s group office and liquidate it (kill the feminist women there). Wear a dark suit and drive an expensive car (these are more likely not to be suspect). Continue destroying the people who have helped to destroy countless of your fellow Men untill you are killed. Go from women’s rights organisation’s office to women’s rights organisation’s office, maybe throw in a few domestic violence shelters and abortion clinics if you wish.

And as for his views on statutory rape — sex with girls as young as 12, who he believes “belong to men” — well, read his comments here, here, or here.

He’s previously been banned from Blogspot, DeviantArt, and AdBrite, DynDNS, and even the Napster forums (search within page for “Drew Armon”) for his hate speech. He is also the only person ever to have been banned from Debian’s bug tracking system.

Along with his blog posts and comments, he has also sent similar threats by email to individual women, specifically free and open source software developers. While some of the women who received his emails shared them with others and banded together to deal with the problem, others thought they were his only target, and deleted his emails and did not initally let anyone know about them.

This is completely understandable — our first reaction, and the traditional wisdom of how to deal with trolls, is to ignore them and hope they go away. But the effect on each of us, when we try to deal with this stuff alone, is to make us feel isolated, afraid, and impotent. And it becomes one of the many tiny cuts that weaken us and, eventually, drive us away.

Let’s not do that. Let’s stand together and support each other.

Here’s what you can do.

Moderate comments on your blog.

Your blog is your space, and like your own living room or workplace, you have the right and the responsibility to make it a safe environment for those who gather there.

This was a core issue at the time of Kathy Sierra’s online harrassment and withdrawal from blogging. It led Tim O’Reilly and others to propose a bloggers’ code of conduct and others to respond with Moderation isn’t rocket science and John Scalzi’s eye-rolling which said, in part:

Indeed, the reason that we’re now at a point where some self-appointed guardians of the discourse have decided it’s necessary to tell the rest of us slobs how to talk to each other is that people apparently forgot they have the right on their own sites to tell obnoxious dickheads to shut the hell up. [...]

What the blog world needs is not a universal “Code of Conduct”; what it needs is for people to remind themselves that deleting comments from obnoxious dickheads is a good thing.

Whether you decide to institute a comment policy as we have on GF, or to moderate on an ad-hoc basis as required, is up to you. But remember that deleting abusive comments is not censorship. Only the government can censor, and even governments draw the line at threats of violence, which are illegal pretty much everywhere.

Save copies of all correspondence.

Keep a copy of any blog comments, emails, or other correspondence you get from Mikee or anyone else who threatens or harasses you. Even if it starts out mild, it never hurts to have a paper trail.

Where appropriate, let other people know you’ve received threats or harassment. It might be relevant to mention it on a women’s mailing list (eg. one of the LinuxChix lists, or project-specific “Foo-women” lists) and ask whether anyone else has received anything similar. Point them at this post so they know what to do, too.

Report threats to law enforcement.

Threats of violence are illegal, and should be reported to law enforcement. Law enforcement must take them seriously, regardless of whether they occur online or off; if you think they won’t care, remember that the spectre of George Sodini will cause them to take online misogyny more seriously than they would have before this year.

Your first step is to contact your local police, wherever you are. You can call 911 (or local equivalent), or visit your local police station in person. Make sure you have saved your correspondence (see above).

Some countries have specific law enforcement divisions to deal with Internet-related crime. For instance, in Australia, the Australian Federal Police have a division that deals with technology enabled crime. Generally, you would not contact these divisions directly. Just contact your local police and they will escalate as required.

Other useful information

  • MikeeUSA also goes by the nicknames Mikee, Mike, Mitch O’Brian, and Drew Armon.
  • According to this profile posted in 2004 (screencap), his real name seems to be Mike McAllister and he is around 19 years old. On the other hand, his Sourceforge profile suggests that his surname starts with B, and this IRC log in which he says he was 18 in 2005 suggests he is currently 22-23 years old.
  • He has recently been using the email address though he changes regularly; other addresses include a number of variations on, and As you can see, he most commonly uses Yahoo’s free email service. He previously (ca. 2002) used Drew and New as of today, we’ve found he’s using, a Mailinator domain which provides anonymous, throwaway addresses.
  • He uses a dynamic DNS service for the server that hosts some of his websites; his server is connected to Optimum Online, an ISP which serves New York and surrounding areas, and his IP has been traced to Bay Shore NY, which matches the profile linked above where he says he’s from Islip NY.
  • When posting comments on blogs, he may use Tor to obfuscate his location; in this case blocking him based on IP address won’t work, though you may be able to block him based on email, username, or keywords in his comments.

Thanks to Leigh Honeywell for gathering most of the above information. Some further information came from “directhex” in this comment thread on Mackenzie’s blog. We (myself and Leigh) have additional information if you, or law enforcement authorities, need it. Please feel free to get in touch.

A note on trigger warnings

Please remember that many women in our community have been the targets of violence and sexual assault, or have a justifiable fear of becoming a target. Reading about these threats may cause extreme and immediate emotional and psychological distress, which is referred to as being “triggered”. If you are not familiar with triggers, you might like to read this post (Warning: Very explicit discussion of sexual assault and the nature, anatomy, cause & effect of triggers. Is itself triggery.)

Please, if you are going to link to this post, or to any other discussion of or writing by MikeeUSA or his ilk, or to post anything about this on your own blog, add a trigger warning to your post. This will allow readers to manage their reading and protect themselves. You can use the trigger warning at the top of this post as an example.

Comment policy reminder

A reminder that we have a comment policy here which means we will delete comments which are anti-feminist, abusive, or otherwise inappropriate at our sole discretion. Since we expect there to be a lot of people commenting, I’d also like to pre-empt any kneejerk reactions along the lines of “you should just ignore trolls” or “this is censorship” with an invitation for you to post those views on your own blog, not here.

Quick hit: Macarthur Fellowship

I was hoping to get round to doing this last week, but things exploded. Luckily, Peggy over at the Women in Science blog has written up a great post about Lin He and Beth Shapiro, two women scientists who received the $500,000, no-strings-attached grant this year:

Lin He’s research involves a class of small ribonucleic acid, or RNA, that are not transcribed into protein like messenger RNA. Instead, these microRNAs or miRNAs bind to messenger RNA to regulate the amount of protein produced. This entirely new level of dosage regulation in mammals was not realized until 2000, even though miRNAs were first discovered in 1993. Now, miRNAs have been shown to be involved in many aspects of development and diseases, He said.


Beth Shapiro is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at Pennsylvania State University. She is “an evolutionary biologist who integrates molecular phylogenetics with advanced computational biostatistics to reconstruct the influences on population dynamics in a wide variety of organisms.” She is using the methods she and her colleagues developed to study the population history of recently extinct (like the dodo) or currently threatened species to assess the effects of environmental change on polar bear populations, an approach that will help in shaping conservation efforts. She also has been studying the evolution of RNA viruses in individual patients, an approach that may help in understanding the development of virulence in human pathogens.

Penny’s post also includes video and further links.

A followup on the Shuttleworth incident

We’ve turned off comments on the original post; there were about 200 already and there’s only so much that can be said before people stop adding anything new.

I wanted to let you know that I received a private response from Mark Shuttleworth, in which he says that he has no intention of apologising for his comment. I know that a number of other people have approached him in person and by email, both before and after I posted my open letter, to ask him to consider the effects of what he said, and I’m still hoping that he will come around. (Despite numerous assertions to the contrary, I do prefer to see the glass as half full when it comes to these issues.)

Here are some other blog posts about Mark’s comments and their effects:

On Keynotes and Apologies by Chris Ball, Lead Software Engineer for One Laptop Per Child:

Well, I was at the keynote too, and was paying attention, and it turns out that even with context applied, someone who talks about “explaining to girls what we actually do” when talking about free software really is saying something sexist, and buying into the noxious stereotype that women can’t be developers or tech-savvy; that they’ll never be a real part of our group, even if a few of them are brave enough to try in the face of other people dismissing their efforts (and Mark certainly isn’t the first to have done that).


Finally, I want to repeat that for me the real shame here isn’t that Mark said something unfortunate — we can all say something unfortunate when we’re speaking in front of a large crowd for a long time, myself certainly included. What’s a shame is that it doesn’t take a superhuman dose of empathy to give a short and sincere apology for an obviously harmful joke afterwards, yet we don’t have one yet. To make matters worse, it’s the second time in a few months that someone’s implied that women are people who lack technical knowledge during a conference keynote, and it seems to be the second time we aren’t getting any kind of apology for it. We’re left to conclude that the biggest heroes in free software — the people who speak for and about us to the world — don’t care much about whether women feel invited to or excluded from free software, or how they could use their power to affect that.

Sexism debate by Adam Williamson, Redhat developer and QA community manager:

If we’re going to accept the big — yet paradoxically easy, because it’s abstract — proposition that sexism in F/OSS exists and should be tackled by people modifying their behaviour, we’re going to have to start actually listening when people start trying to point out exemplary instances of the kinds of behaviour that are problematic and need to be changed, rather than taking each example in isolation and trying to pick it apart or denigrate its individual significance.

Hide of a rhino or constitution of a psychopath by Brenda Wallace, Statusnet developer and one of the organising team for this year’s

Other survival techniques include changing project – I know of women who contribute actively to one distro, then change, then change again – in the hopes of finding a place where they can contribute their skills without frequent grunching. Yesterday’s “linux is hard to explain to girls” comment by Mark Shuttleworth is an example of The Grunch, and I know it’s caused more than one ubuntu contributor to start looking for another project. It’s the (prominent) straw that broke the camel’s back.

And it all ties up into the “Harming the Community” speech – that by reporting any incident, then you, the reportee, are doing harm to open source. I’m expecting some comments here along that line. I don’t agree with you, but could you please spend half as much energy helping ensure these incident don’t happen again as you spend telling the reportee how wrong she is to report it. Thanks.

People have been asking for transcripts or video; unfortunately those aren’t available. However, a number of people who were present have blogged, tweeted, dented, or commented about Mark’s keynote showing that they were angered or annoyed by it. (Others who were present have confirmed that Mark made the comment, but have said it didn’t bother them; at least there is no doubt that he did make the comment about explaining Linux to girls.)

Emma Jane Hogbin, Ubuntu user and Drupal contributor, first dented about it here while watching the live stream:

Mark! “Explaining to girls what we actually do.” WHATTHEFUCK!! RMS, anyone? #linuxcon

Chris Ball, commented here with his experience:

I was there and was annoyed by this. It’s true that it was said in quieted tones, imitating self-deprecating embarrassment. I think a simple apology for saying something that unintentionally excluded women would be sensible, and I’d applaud Mark for doing it.

An anonymous commenter, at comment #39 on Chris’s blog post:

I’m male. I was there, at the keynote, and I heard the comments. I found them both tacky, and I could tell that the women sitting next to me found them even more tacky.

Matt Zimmerman, CTO of Canonical, was present and audibly said “WTF?” from his seat in the audience, then mentioned it on IRC. His was one of the early reports that led to my letter. In email over the weekend (quoted with permission) he said:

I was there at Mark’s keynote, and have spoken to various people in the community about it as well as to Jono and to Mark himself.

My position is that Mark made a mistake in what he said. This mistake doesn’t make him evil, but it does warrant a response on his part. There’s some very good advice on about what to do in this situation which I hope that Mark will consider.

Women in the community who have concerns, questions or advice regarding this issue are welcome to contact me directly.

(ETA: Matt has now blogged about the subject here.)

Matt also has an excellent blog post on the subject of backlash from the last go-round, Backlash: feminism considered harmful, which is recommended reading for anyone taking part in this discussion:

We have a problem in the way that women in free software are regarded and treated. If this is news to you, I encourage you not to take my word for it, but read what women in the community are saying about it. Ask women you know about their experiences.

What I want to discuss here, though, is how people are received when they speak up about this, for example by criticizing sexist behavior they have observed. Often, the problem is denied, the critic themselves is personally attacked, and the victims are blamed. In short, there is a backlash.

This is probably the time to reiterate that Geek Feminism has a comment policy that says, in part:

We welcome discussion that encourages and supports women in geek communities. [...] If you join the discussion here, we assume you are either a feminist, or want to learn more about feminism. If you are new, we recommend that you read some background material. A good starting point is the Geek Feminism Wiki, especially Resources for men. [...] Comments that are anti-feminist, abusive, creepy, derogatory, or which add nothing to the conversation will be deleted on sight.

I’d also like to remind everyone that the correct English term for female, adult humans is “woman”. Thank you.
EDIT: Video now available

  • “A release is an amazing thing; I’m not talking about the happy ending..â€: 3:02
  • “Your printer, and your mom’s printer, and your grandma’s printerâ€: 35:30
  • “We’ll have less trouble explaining to girls what we actually do” at 35:55

Thanks to Chris for taking the time to find the timestamps.