Tag Archives: interview

Are your lulz low quality? Valerie Aurora is here to help

Warning for mention of sexual assault, and extensive discussion of harassment.

In May, my GF co-blogger and Ada Initiative co-founder Valerie Aurora posted Handy tips for my Internet harassers on her blog. They included:

Threatening my job: Unfortunately, I am my own boss. Try emailing one of the Ada Initiative sponsors? Although they might take that as a sign that the Ada Initiative is doing important work and make another donation. Hmmmm. Maybe create a Yelp page for my file systems consulting business and leave bad reviews? Endorse me for CSS on LinkedIn?

Rape and death threats: Run spell check! There’s nothing more jarring than reading an otherwise creative and well-written death threat and then seeing “decapetate.” Also, chain-saws are so last year. Remember, Gmail won’t display images by default. P.S. I happen to know one of the members of Nirvana and your bright idea has already been done.

Why did she do such a thing, and what resulted? Geek Feminism obtained an exclusive tell-all interview.

Q. Have you received any harassment as a result of this post? Was its quality indeed improved?

Sadly, no. Part of the problem is that my friends loved it — I’ve never had so much positive feedback on a post — but they didn’t want to share it with other people online. I like to joke that it’s the ultimate in dark social since people only talk about it offline using vibrations in the air called “sound.” I think that my friends are more afraid of me being harassed than I am.

Q. The post is pretty out there! Why did you put this post up? What point are you trying to make?

“Self-doxxing” myself (thanks, Kate Losse for the term) was inspired in part by how incompetent and bad the online harassment that I’ve received has been. Most people doing online harassment are just trying to impress other online harassers, at the same time that what they are doing is, frankly, totally unimpressive. The reality is, anyone can spend $25 and get another person’s home address and a bunch of other personal information, but we act like it is some kind of amazing act of computer hacking. By showing how bad people are at online harassing, I’m hoping to remove some of the motivation for people to do the harassment, or at least make them spend more time on it before they get the reward of “so cool, bro!”

I was also inspired by Krystal Ball , who ran for U.S. congress in 2010. When her political opponents tried to slut-shame her into quitting her political campaign over “sexy photos” of herself that they published, she turned around and shamed THEM — both her opponent and the media outlets that published the photos. It was glorious, and it hit home for me: if we let the existence of sexy photo of a woman prevent her from serving in political office, then I and every woman born after 1990 were out of luck. Women’s representation in political office would go down.

Q. Should other people do this?

For most people, no, I wouldn’t recommend it. It was okay for me for a lot of reasons: I already went public about sexual abuse in my family, I’m white, I’m my own boss, I don’t have children or a partner, I have skills that are in high demand, I have lots of friends and a huge support network — my emotional, physical, and economic safety is pretty good. Most women have a lot more to lose.

However, I think it is a very good exercise to think about worst cases like this: what if the thing I am most afraid of other people finding out got published all over the Internet? Because a lot of times, that thing actually doesn’t reflect on you – the shame is on the person who did the original act or publicized a private matter. It can be healing to plan what you might do, even if you don’t actually go public with it yourself.

Q. Why won’t you accept my endorsement for CSS on LinkedIn? I taught you everything you know, dammit.

I’d hate to embarrass you by letting anyone else know that you are the source of my mangled <div>’s! [Ed: good point, well made.]

Q. When are you monetising this? How can investors contact you? How big is your Series A and at what valuation?

Actually, that is a great idea. Instead of vetting a political candidate and saying yes or no, you investigate them and then publish everything that might be a problem in a funny blog post.

Or better yet, here is my favorite idea: If I ever run for political office, I’m going to scan in all my embarrassing naked photos, then watermark them with the email addresses of various journalists. Then email them anonymously to said journalists. Then when the photos get published (it’s “news,” someone else would have, etc.), I can expose the specific person who decided that slut-shaming a candidate was “news” and put the shame where it belongs. Sexism-shaming as a service, SSaaS. I’m accepting funding now.

Model View Culture banner

Model View Culture: where tech intersects with social and cultural lenses

If you’ve been following our linkspams recently, you’ve probably noticed the density of links to Model View Culture, an independent media platform covering technology, culture and diversity. MVC has brought us Frances Hocutt’s story of unwillingly leaning out of her science career. Suey Park’s defense of Twitter Feminism and Kate Losse’s exploration of sexualisation and gendered labour as a pervasive force in tech. They’ve also published no less than four Geek Feminism contributors: Ashe Dryden, Leigh Honeywell, Liz Henry and Tim Chevalier, with more to come! If you’re a linkspam lover, you might be following their Blameful Post Mortem (“Everything that’s wrong with the tech industry this week, and who’s to blame”), including the weekly Hacker News fail feature.

I’m excited to see MVC emerge as part of the geek activist landscape, it’s part of the huge changes since 2009, when here at geekfeminism.org we talked about being the site at the time that was willing to use the f-word (“feminist”, although “fuck” complies with our comments policy also) in geekdom. Now we’re part of a crowd.  And MVC is publishing amazing writing.

The founders of MVC are: Amelia Greenhall, product leader, data scientist and user experience designer/developer with extensive experience in feminist community organization and literary publishing; and Shanley Kane, cultural critic, organizer, writer and feminist with over five years of experience working in the technology industry across academic, startup and open source communities. I interviewed Amelia and Shanley about MVC, its publisher Feminist Tech Collective, and their place in geek diversity activism.

What is Model View Culture?

Amelia and Shanley: We are a media company focused on tech, culture and diversity. We publish online issues with original articles, critique, analysis, news, commentary and sometimes political cartoons. They come out every three weeks. In addition, we publish a Quarterly print edition, locally-printed books with new Model View Culture content that gets sent to subscribers four times a year. We’re also working on building a community events program — our next event is in San Francisco for the launch of our first Quarterly. We also want to develop a podcast where we interview technologists, and talk about current events, news and trends. We’ve been pretty busy since we launched two months ago, but that is coming soon.

How do you see MVC as complementing and adding to existing diversity-in-tech projects and activism?

We are just one of many such programs — we identify very strongly particularly with the Bay Area community of technologists focusing on issues around diversity and social justice. We are also increasingly making connections with complementary tech communities and projects around the world, which is very exciting.

Existing organizations and projects like Geek Feminism, Double Union and other feminist hackerspaces, DiversiTech, Lesbians Who Tech, Trans*H4CK, LOL Oakland Maker Space and many independent activists are doing critical work right now across many different axes. We think that a diversity of tactics and focus areas is essential — we need people working within corporate structures and outside of them; on specific communities and across broader groups; in online and in-person spaces. We strive to highlight much of this organization from a media perspective, and provide a platform for the type of thought, analysis and critique that is inherent in it.

What is unique about Model View Culture in terms of its approach?

Our specific focus on producing high quality, critical writing and analysis that comes directly from technologists, activists, artists and writers in the field is fairly unique in the space. From an editorial perspective, we concentrate largely on where tech intersects with various social and cultural lenses — i.e., how feminism relates to quantified self; how social media reflects power dynamics; the politics of digital spaces; the implications of access around hardware hacking; the role of culture in management, etc. Especially compared to mainstream media, we strive to be unique in providing tech coverage that is critical, that is socially and politically conscious, and that is invested in the health and progress of the community.

Does Feminist Technology Collective have any plans or ambitions beyond MVC that you can tell us about?

Right now, Model View Culture is our number one focus. However, we founded Feminist Technology Collective with the goal of building and funding community infrastructure for underserved communities in tech – both creators and consumers. We think there is a huge market – multiple markets – that aren’t being addressed by the mainstream technology industry. That’s a giant opportunity — social, technological and financial — for new kinds of businesses, including ours. So, we hope in the future to grow larger and create other products in those spaces.

What communities and perspectives are underrepresented in MVC at the moment and what plans do you have to include them?

Right now, Model View Culture is fairly focused on the United States tech industry, and it is also fairly Silicon Valley-centric. We are a very small company, so working in a certain context makes sense – we live and work in the Bay Area, but have had writers from many areas of the US as well as a few pieces by authors in Canada, France, and the UK. In the future, perhaps once we get to the point where we can add additional staff, we would love to have more coverage of events, trends, and critique from other areas of the world. As for other perspectives and communities, we always love to hear from our readers about what they would like to see more of and about!

What’s MVC’s biggest success to date?

Our third online issue was focused on the theme “Lean Out,” in response to the pervasive brand and ideology of “Lean In” within the tech industry. We had articles on choosing to quit STEM and how to support people who do leave, on the impact of Lean In on our relationships, on feminist quantified self, and other topics. It was our most successful issue to date – we think that the theme itself really resonated with a lot of people in a time of growing skepticism around the messages that dominant tech culture is telling us about workplace advancement and the progress of underrepresented and marginalized groups in the industry. For example, with over 56% of women in the field leaving the industry due to discrimination and other endemic issues, there’s a lot of questions about why we should be “leaning in” to corporations. We are also proud of the work that just came out in our Mythology issue — our authors really did an exceptional job critiquing myths, tropes and stereotypes within the industry. We learned a great deal from them and it seems the community is learning a lot from them as well!

How do you run Model View Culture from an editorial perspective?

Every few weeks, we announce a new issue theme. Often, we will proactively solicit work based on the theme from people we know are doing amazing things in tech; and we also accept submissions — anyone can email us an idea or pitch. If it’s a fit for us and we have space, it’s a great way to meet, work with and showcase the work of people we haven’t necessarily ever met before. This is important because tech is a huge community and there is no way to know everything that’s going on or that’s relevant. Most of our authors are not professional writers, which is also something unique about our publication. We love how it ends up being much more authentic and approachable than so much writing about tech, and we work closely with authors to help bring their work to fruition. It’s also a core value of our company that we pay our contributors. If people are interested, they are welcome to submit ideas to us.

Model View Culture’s latest online issue is Mythology. If you want to support Model View Culture and its writers and staff, subscription sales for 2014 are now open.

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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Antipodes robotics team

Team Antipodes is a team of three girls “headquartered in Pacifica, California, USA, but dedicated to collaboration with similar teams from around the globe.” They competed in the 2009 FIRST Lego League, placing third in their regional championships, and have extensively documented their work in the form of notes, video and CAD models to encourage others to experiment and compete.

Team antipodes portrait

Team antipodes portrait

We caught up with Violet, Emma, Kjersti and their coach, Ken, for an interview via email.

GF: When and how did you take an interest in robotics?

Violet: Ever since I was little, my dad has been exposing me to all sorts of technology. One of these things was robots. Robots fascinated me because they had a mind of their own. I wanted to be a part of making these machines and learn more about them.

Emma: The year before we started the team Antipodes my dad was doing a project with it. At first I didn’t want to do it but one day I got bored and started helping him out with the programming. Now I’m here.

Kjersti: The beginning of my 8th grade year. My friend’s Dad started a team, and he invited me to join it because he found out about robotics through my mom. It seemed like a cool thing to do, so I tried it out. This year was way cooler than my first year.

GF: How did the three of you come together to form Team Antipodes, and compete in tournaments?

Violet: Last year, our coach went to an event at NASA Ames and saw one of the FIRST robots. He got interested and was inspired to start a team. At first, it was through 4-H, which both of his daughters are involved in. Two of our team members, Kjersti and Emma, were on the team that year. It was not as successful as they had hoped. They had many people who were not very dedicated or interested.  He gave Kjersti and Emma the choice to craft this year’s team, and they decided to shrink the team and only include people who were extremely interested  in robotics, so they invited me onto the team.

Emma: Kjersti and I did it the year before and Violet was our friend who was interested in it also. We competed really well. We are all really good friends and helped each other out.

Kjersti: Emma and I were on the original team in 8th grade, but we split off from that and decided to form our own team independently. Violet was our friend who is super smart and seemed interested, so we recruited her. We felt satisfied with just the three of us, so  we stopped there.

GF: What have been the most enjoyable, and most difficult, times in the
team’s history?

Violet: The most enjoyable are the meetings, because there are always jokes going around, and the car rides back from the tournaments are always fun because the stress is gone. Seeing the robot, named TOR, do well in the competition is always rewarding, too. Though I have to say, our recent trip to Istanbul was one of the most memorable things in the whole season. The most difficult times are when it is the night before one of our competitions and things aren’t working like we had hoped.  Also when the robot is having a hard time at the competition and we don’t know why.

Emma: The most enjoyable have been meeting new people at the tournaments and hanging out. The most difficult are definitely when something is not working right and we don’t know how to fix it and also the long, early car rides to tournaments.

Kjersti: Some of the most enjoyable times have been the competitions. We are there, having fun with each other and at a point where there really isn’t a whole lot we can do the change what we have and we have to be happy. So we are. Some of the most difficult have been the night before a competition. We usually sleep over at our coach’s house the night before (his daughter is on the team) and the whole night we are stressing about our robot and just totally freaking out. It’s probably when we are the most stressed, and there have been break downs.

GF: How do you feel about competing internationally in the Open European
Championship?

Violet: We were thrilled when we found out. We fundraised so much and worked hard to go. When we got there, we were overwhelmed. We got to meet kids from all over the world and compete with them. It was a chance that few get to have and we were lucky enough to get.

Emma: I’m a little nervous but also very excited, it should be amazing to meet people from all over the world and see how their competition is run.

Kjersti: Totally amazed, honestly. Our goal at the first competition was to not get dead last. We accomplished that, but we never dreamed we would make it to an international tournament. We were trying not to be too nervous or stress about the competition, because we were there to have fun.

GF: What do you do when you aren’t making robots?

Violet: I do a lot of plays. In fact during the season, I was in two different shows.  Kjersti plays the saxophone and is in the marching band at our high school. Kjersti and I are also in Girl Scouts and a youth group together. Emma is involved with 4-H, does Cross Country, and horseback riding.

Emma: I run cross country, I do mock trial, I’m in a 4-H club, and I ride horses three days a week.

Kjersti: I’m in my local high school, Terra Nova’s marching band. It takes up a lot of time and practice, but I love it. I also love swimming and watching movies, but most of my time is taken up by school work.

Ken: Violet forgot to mention that she also does mock trial with Emma.

GF: You’ve decided to take a very open and collaborative approach to your work, as evidenced by the detailed information on your website (notes, designs, video and so on). How and why did you choose this approach?

Violet: We want to help other teams that need an idea of how to get started and let people see how we came up with our ideas.

Kjersti: It just sort of happened, but with a lot of pushing from our coach. He’s an architect and knows that it’s important to keep track of everything we do, and after a little bit we discovered that it was really helpful, especially since we weren’t always able to meet at the same times. It became an important tool to keep up with each other.

Ken: The reason we share our work and designs with our competitors, and anyone with access to the internet, is manyfold:

First, it’s a general principal of our league (FIRST – For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) to be gracious competitors. Second, we’ve been recipients of openness and help from older teams (most notably the LegoGuards and TechnoGuards), and it was immediately apparent this was the right thing to do. Third, I’ve been impressed by the many accounts of the long-term benefits of 1980′s Silicon Valley openness vs. Boston Area secretiveness. Fourth, it’s consistent with the whole idea of Antipodes (which means location on the opposite side of the globe) to push the envelope of engineering collaboration with students as far away as possible (Australians). Fifth, it took countless hours of web surfing to get started as a new team.  I realized it would be a valuable resource to have a single location to learn as many lessons as possible from our experience, down to the invaluable detail of remembering to change your tires the week before the tournament and to adjust your programming to account for the better traction.

Matt, as the team’s coach, I didn’t give the team much choice about this.  I just told them that openness is what we do, and they never questioned it.  Although, I know they can tell the difference from most of their competitors that don’t show their designs.

GF: What is your creative process like when you work together? How do your projects begin, develop and get completed through collaboration?

Violet: When we run into a problem, or just need to figure how to do something, usually someone suggests a possible solution. Then we start questioning it and trying to figure out every single detail of it. Since there are a few very visual people on the team, this usually involves a bunch of drawings and sketches. If we decide the solution is not going to work, someone else suggests something else and we start over. Once we agree on a solution we start working on it. Usually we divvy up the work and assign different tasks to different people. If someone runs into a problem with their task, they will ask for advice from the rest of the team. Eventually, the final work will be achieved whether it is a solution to a minor problem or a whole project.

Kjersti: We start with the problem, and basically brainstorm about what needs to happen. There’s a lot of trial and error that goes on, and we try each other’s ideas, until we find the best one and go with it.

Ken: I’d like to add that for any major design issue, we always break out the white board. The girls sit together on the couch as comfortably relaxed as possible and one of them volunteers to write the problems and suggestions out on the board in front of the others.

GF: Do you have any words of advice for other girls who are interested in robotics, as to how to get started?

Violet: Don’t let other people hold you down. Your friends may tell you that you are wasting your time, or someone may tell you that you can’t do it. You have to learn to not listen to these people.   Find a robotics team of some sort, or start your own. It is really a great experience and you learn a ton. FIRST has programs for all ages, and you can contact them about finding a team near you.

Kjersti: I’d say go for it! It’s a lot of work but it pays off in the end. There are more opportunities than you might think to get involved in robotics, so you can ask around, or go to the FLL website to get more information.


The team gave a Google Tech Talk in Mountain View in June, where they discussed their team and activities, and gave a demonstration of their robot:

Having competed in the European Championship in Istanbul, they are seeking donations to help cover their travel expenses. Due to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the trip was much more expensive than anticipated and as of this writing they are about $4000 short. If you wish to support them, you can do so on their website.

Geek Feminism interviews the OTW’s Francesca Coppa

A couple of weeks ago, we asked you to give us your questions for an interview with Dr. Francesca Coppa, one of the founders of the Organization for Transformative Works. Thanks to those of you who suggested questions, and here are her responses…

The OTW is mostly by/for women, and most of the participants in its projects seem to be women. Do you have any interest in reaching out to primarily-male parts of fandom? How might that work, if you did?

The OTW’s mission is to provide a nonprofit space, and organized advocacy, for the kinds of transformative fanworks (fanfic, fan art, vids, podfic) that are a) potential targets for commercial exploitation (as in the case of FanLib), B) being squeezed out as Web 2.0 “business models” expand (as in the case of vids on Imeem or erotic fan art on LJ), or c) subject to takedowns or other legal challenges. Many, if not most, of those fanworks were and are made by women, but gender isn’t a central criterion; we protect these sorts of fanworks when men make them, too!

That being said, there are some secondary ways in which gender seems to be influencing the populations we serve and the work we do. First, male fans are somewhat more likely than female fans to be making fanworks that have commercial implications or aspirations (e.g. some machinima, some fan films, some video game design, the commercial version of the Harry Potter Lexicon, etc). Second, not all fanworks are subject to the kinds of economic or legal challenges I’ve just described: for instance, nobody’s doing takedowns of forums or wikis or fan films; male-made movie “parodies” are more clearly understood to be fair use than female-made shipper vids; video game designers mostly approve of and even help out machinima makers, etc. Moreover, in terms of financial support, many male or mixed gender areas of fandom are more economically stable than female-dominated areas, either because more guys are willing to turn their fan-ac into a fan-run business rather than depending on external companies or services, or because they’re willing to support their sites with ads. Women making transformative works have tended, rightly or wrongly, to be wary of ads or other forms of commercial support, fearing that it would give ammunition to copyright holders who already don’t like them or their works.

So the OTW’s goal is really to focus on 1) noncommercial works that are 2) currently subject to marketplace or legal pressures. It may be socially significant that most of those works are made by women, but we want to advocate for them no matter who makes them!

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GF interviews the OTW’s Francesca Coppa: question time!

Francesca Coppa is one of the founders of the Organization for Transformative Works. She’s also…

… director of film studies and associate professor of English at Muhlenberg College, where she teaches courses in dramatic literature, popular fiction, and mass media storytelling. Her writings on media fandom have been included in Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet and presented at MIT’s Media in Transition conference. Coppa has been attending conventions and buying zines since the early 1980s, when she and her friends wrote fanfiction by hand and circulated it by snail mail. She has been involved in online fandom since the mid-1990s as a writer, list administrator, vidder, archivist, and community moderator. (bio link)

If you haven’t read any of her work on the history of fan culture, take a look at Women, Star Trek, and the early development of fannish vidding or Celebrating Kandy Fong: Founder of Fannish Music Video. There’s also a great interview with her at Reason Online and another on gender and fan culture over at Henry Jenkins’ blog. There are more links to related reading at fanlore.

And now it’s time for Geek Feminism to interview her! I’d like to open this up to our readers and commenters. What would you like to ask Francesca about the OTW, fan culture, vidding, and so on? Post your suggestions in the comments, and in a few days we’ll send them through to her to answer.

Edit: I’m shutting down comments now (Wednesday 9th September) and passing your questions through to Francesca. The interview should appear soon!