Tag Archives: floss

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“Put up or shut up”

One thing I love about open stuff, such as open source communities, is that we (try to) measure people by what they contribute.

I’m now Volunteer Development Coordinator for the Wikimedia Foundation (although I am not speaking for them in this post), so I care about the quality and quantity of contributions to MediaWiki, and about the people behind them.  In fact, I’ll partially be measuring my success through statistics on the number of people who offer code, bug reports, translations, documentation, talks, mailing list posts, and so on.

And it’s not just doing, it’s doing and sharing.  We value collaborative work, not hoarding.

This norm, among others, leads us to use “put up or shut up” to quash unproductive conversations, bikeshedding, trolling, and “you should…” unhelpful suggestions.  I once had the satisfying experience of saying, to a guy full of “why didn’t they do foo”, “you should totally post that suggestion to the mailing list!” and seeing him just shut up, defeated.  He knew that doing this without embarrassing himself would take a modicum of research and thought, and he had no intention of doing anything that arduous.  He’d just wanted to mouth off.  And now I’d revealed him as a noncontributor.

I saw another example in Kitt Hodsden’s talk about the Hacker Dojo community center.

all talk, no action

Another aspect of open source development we encountered, an aspect that is also found in just about every volunteer organization ever, are the troll subspecies “we oughta.”

The we-oughtas clan is often very vocal, they know what we should be doing. When it comes to the actual doing, however, they aren’t around, they aren’t available, or that’s not what they meant.

When this is the case, the response is either, that’s nice, and ignore it, or, just as in open source projects, “put up or shut up.” Essentially, if you’re not willing to put forth the effort of leading your own project – even if that leading is just finding someone else to lead your project – we’re not going to follow.

At its best, “put up or shut up” is empowering.  In Hodsden’s talk, she shared a story about a potential member whose “project was outside of our expected and supported hardware and software development spaces”:

We gave the answer we have learned to give for people who have crazy, though potentially awesome, ideas that in the future could work wonderfully in our space: lead the project: tell us what it is going to take for your project to succeed, develop a game plan, put in the safety measures, find supporters, work up a budget, start the fundraising, make it happen.

The community defines itself. If the community decides it wants to become a metalsmithing shop or an experimental biology lab, it’ll become that, because that’s what the community wants.

I bet all of us who have held leadership in FLOSS can attest to the two sides of “well go ahead then, patches welcome, make it happen, this is a do-ocracy.”  Great, we can empower people.  But how often do we use it to shut down discussions, ideas, and people we don’t like?  In particular, have you been part of an interaction where a privileged FLOSS project member used “you want it, you make it happen” to wrongly dismiss a concern that might require the whole community to change its behavior?

Look at what I did, in the anecdote I told in the third paragraph of this post.  I wasn’t purely kind or rational or ideologically anarchic in telling that guy to write to the list; I found him annoying and wanted him out of my hair.  I told him to contribute, superficially encouraging him, but really wanting to discourage him.  Have you ever been on either end of that, especially around geek feminist issues?

And I suspect this disproportionately affects newbies and non-native speakers of a community’s language.  This is the problem with saying “you want it, make it happen” in response to requests for a harassment policy, or for all of an app’s strings in one file to make localization easier.  The very people who need those new policies, procedures and abstractions are least able and worst placed to implement them.

(Small digression: in the case of harassment policies, consider “Did you know how to react?” by Noirin Plunkett, and Bitch Radio’s interview with Valerie Aurora.  The Ada Initiative, in suggesting and working towards conference anti-harassment policies, has far more energy and resources than would one individual seeking protection.)

Developers are used to dealing with requests for features or bugfixes, but FLOSS leaders are still learning how to deal with requests to socially engineer our projects.

And no matter whether you’re considering adding a feature, hosting a sprint, changing version control systems, or joining a conservancy, it’s sensible risk mitigation to chat about it before putting substantial effort in.  This is a different kind of work, not coding, but building support and getting the lay of the land.  And it’s part of contribution.

So, fellow FLOSS leaders: If you want to grow new contributors, along with giving them permission to suck, build personal relationships with them.  In private or face-to-face, listen as they vent and discuss their ideas, even the half-baked ones.  Listen for the difference between “we should” and “I’d like to/how do I?”.  Sometimes they’ll need sympathy, and sometimes advice.  If you say “go do it then,” say it encouragingly, not dismissively.  Watch out for moments when a marginalized potential contributor is essentially asking you, “help me help you.”  And watch yourself in case you’re about to do what I did, using “put up or shut up” to shut down someone you find abrasive.  Because sometimes I’m abrasive too, and sometimes I have good ideas.  :-)

As hypatia puts it: “a gentle ‘that’s definitely an issue, could you file a bug’ goes a long way.”

Google Summer of Code 2011: application tips

Student applications for Google Summer of Code open March 28 and close April 8, but students are expected to begin talking to mentoring organisations now. The mentoring organisations for 2011 have just been announced.

Students who are interested in applying: this is a big process, don’t wait for the official opening to get to work on researching and talking to mentoring organisations, as there are only two weeks between the open and close of applications. Here’s some starting points:

Terri’s post from last year, Showing your awesomeness for Google Summer of Code has many more details.

If anyone wants to discuss experiences with applying to Summer of Code, or evaluating applications, please do so in this post!

Update: this thread is for discussing how best to apply to Summer of Code. So that that isn’t drowned out, use the classifieds post for advertising your project or projects you have worked on, and for general discussion of Google Summer of Code that isn’t on either of those topics, use the latest open thread.

GF classifieds: Google Summer of Code 2011 edition

Google Summer of Code–yes, bad name for anyone in the southern hemisphere, but you are allowed to apply!–is a project sponsoring Open Source development by students (largely university students, you have to be 18+ or turning 18 by April 25 to apply) over the northern summer period. Google pays a stipend for students to work on a contribution to a project over summer. Open Source projects are selected as mentoring organisations, students apply by submitting a project proposal to a project, and some of those proposals are accepted.

The mentoring organisations for 2011 have just been announced. Student applications open March 28 and close April 8, but students are expected to begin talking to mentoring organisations now.

So as with last year, here’s an edition of GF classifieds for mentoring organisations to reach out to readers here. If you are a mentor or part of a mentoring organisation for Google SoC and you’d like to bring your project to the attention of readers here, please post a description in comments at any time before April 2 (comments automatically close then). The more you can say the better:

  • Do you have link to a list of ideas for projects?
  • Can applicants make contact with you or your mentors in order to discuss their application before submitting?
  • Are previous years’ students available to discuss their experiences?
  • What kind of skills are you looking for?

Of course, if your project has made a commitment to diversity in some way, then feel free to tell us about that.

Former Summer of Code participants who worked on a project and liked it and found it welcoming or diverse, feel free to also promote your former project here, if they are mentoring again.

Note: obviously Google SoC projects accept applications from people of any gender. The reason for this post is to level the playing field at the awareness level. By posting here, what you’re doing is hopefully increasing the visibility of your project among interested women, rather than excluding anyone else from applying.

Update: this thread is for mentoring organisations and former mentees to promote themselves and their projects. So that that isn’t drowned out, use the application tips post for discussing how to apply, and for general discussion of Google Summer of Code that isn’t on either of those topics, use the latest open thread.

Friendly conference update

We announced a generic conference anti-harassment policy a couple of weeks ago. Since then several conferences have adopted anti-harassment policies, including Linux.conf.au 2011, FSF’s LibrePlanet 2011, and now all of Linux Foundation’s events have an official anti-harassment / discrimination policy. This includes 8 events in 2011 alone, including LinuxCon North America, LF End User Summit, and Kernel Summit.

Those of us who have attended Linux Foundation events will probably agree that their policy simply puts into writing what they were already doing. Other organizations which already have strong agreement on both standards of behavior and internal decision-making may be interested in adopting Linux Foundation’s simpler, streamlined policy. It is short enough to quote in its entirety here:


Linux Foundation events are working conferences intended for professional networking and collaboration in the Linux community. Attendees are expected to behave according to professional standards and in accordance with their employer’s policies on appropriate workplace behavior.

While at Linux Foundation events or related social networking opportunities, attendees should not engage in discriminatory or offensive speech or actions regarding gender, sexuality, race, or religion. Speakers should be especially aware of these concerns.

The Linux Foundation does not condone any statements by speakers contrary to these standards. The Linux Foundation reserves the right to deny entrance to any individual.

Please bring any concerns to to the immediate attention of Linux Foundation event staff, or contact Amanda McPherson, Vice President of Marketing at amanda (at) linuxfoundation (dot) org. We thank our attendees for their help in keeping Linux Foundation events professional, welcoming, and friendly.


(I helped write this policy as part of my pledge to help conferences adopt anti-harassment policies.)

Conferences that already had official harassment policies at the time of that announcement include OSDC and Ohio LinuxFest (one of the sources for the generic policy). LCA 2010 also deserves credit for including a clause on discrimination in its terms and conditions.

If your conference has an anti-harassment policy, let us know and we’ll blog about it on Geek Feminism! You can also add it to the list of conferences with an anti-harassment policy. If you are going to a conference that does not yet have an anti-harassment policy, and you would like to help change that, check out our list of conference organizer contact info.

Loss of virtue in a linkspam is irretrievable (12th December, 2010)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the geekfeminism tag on delicious or the #geekfeminism tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

The links are strong with this one (4th December, 2010)

  • Valerie’s Conference anti-harassment policy is under discussion at LWN and Hacker News (‘ware: both sites well known for faily comments, although as of writing LWN is doing mostly OK). LWN’s article will be de-paywalled in a few days, before that, go via Valerie’s free link.
  • The Mistress of the Lash Wears Chains: I began to wonder just what drove the [game design] obsession with these matriarchies. I then realised that this was the flip side of “male fantasy’- which is “male nightmare.’
  • The Importance of Allies: Ever since I started working towards the goal of increasing the number of women participating in the free software community, I’ve had men say some variation of the following to me, I didn’t know it was this bad. Is there anything I can do? The answer is yes!
  • A series of questions in photographic form. This ongoing body of work explores the power dynamics inherent in the questions asked of transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and gender-variant people.
  • Reinventing the Outreach Program Wheel: Why, oh why do I have to be hatin’ on the good works that SciCheer wants to do for the young girls of our nation?
  • Becoming Einstein’s cousin: profile on Cathy Foley, an international expert in superconductivity, the first woman to become president of the Australian Institute of Physics, and president of Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies.
  • Wake up, LOPSA members., or, Sexism in LOPSA, part 3
  • Women in Web Development: Do The Numbers Really Matter?: The failure isn’t the industry or its hiring practices. It’s in education, summer camps, parenting, and all the other places young girls could be coming into contact with coding, development and engineering but aren’t.
  • Gertrude Rothschild, Dies at 83: Important geek engineer who improved LED displays; defended her inventions against patent infringement. (In contradistinction to copyright infringement, which poorly serves IP interests in 3D objects and processes).
  • Finally, a quick thought from @heathermg: … the head of NASA Astrobiology AND the lead researcher who discovered this lifeform are both women.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the geekfeminism tag on delicious or the #geekfeminism tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

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

Linkspam decided she liked math after all

  • Desperate to own Computer Engineer Barbie? She’s now up for pre-order on Amazon.com, shipping December 15, 2010. Other places may have her as well (feel free to note any you find in the comments, especially for non-US readers). Edit: Note that she comes as both African American and the stereotypical Blonde-haired Caucasian variety.
  • Think maybe Computer Engineer Barbie just isn’t for you? You might get a kick out of this photo of the Open Source women at GHC10. We decided to do a photo where we “patched” her to be a bit more free software friendly:
    Grace Hopper 2010-13

  • Ever wondered if complaining about sexist language actually made things better? The answer may be yes: Accusations of Sexism Spur Greater Sensitivity: “New research finds confronting a man about his sexist language can have surprisingly positive results.
  • Eva ponders, “What does Bechdel really mean?” examining why she originally disliked the arbitrary-ness of the test and what she gradually learned through applying it to things she loved.
  • You’re probably sick of hearing about The Social Network, but I’ve been told if you’re feeling like doing some outreach to feminists who believe that CS really is for loser male nerds, here’s a thread or two you might like (or hate) to check out.

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here and if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention you can also use the tag #geekfeminism on twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious or twitter.

Survival of the spammiest (5th August, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Quick hit: FSF Women’s Caucus recommendations

The Free Software Foundations Women’s Caucus grew out of the September 2009 FSF mini-summit on women in Free Software. The Caucus has now released their initial findings and recommendations, here’s an excerpt:

We identified a number of barriers to women’s participation in free software and strategies for overcoming these obstacles… Women who are not already involved in free software often don’t feel invited to join free software groups or projects. We have identified strategies for groups who are looking to grow and diversify their membership… We noted the relative invisibility of women who are already making significant contributions to free software…

What do you think? (Remember that I’ve only posted an excerpt, do read the whole thing.) Has the Women’s Caucus identified new ideas and strategies that would be widely useful in women-in-computing or women-in-STEM advocacy? Have they missed significant first steps?