Feminist hackerspaces everywhere

TL;DR: interested in starting or being part of another feminist hacker/makerspace in SF (or elsewhere)? Leave a comment, tweet contact info at me, or send me an email at leigh at hypatia dot ca.

As some of you may know, I have started a couple of hackerspaces. I’ve also recently moved to San Francisco, and joined Double Union, a women’s hacker/makerspace in town. And I didn’t even have to start it! Woohoo :D

Double Union has proven such a success that we temporarily closed applications last Friday. We have 105 members! Of an organization that’s not afraid to frequently drop the f-bomb! This blows my mind and makes me very happy.

I think that the wider Bay Area but even just SF proper probably have space for another feminist hackerspace (or two), particularly one open to people of all genders (like the Seattle Attic or Portland’s Flux). I have heard from several people that this is something they want.

So! In the interest of connecting other people who want to start something but maybe don’t know each other, if this is relevant to your interests, please let me know! Here in the comments (I can see your email but the public can’t) or via the tweeters or email me at leigh at hypatia dot ca. If this is something you are interested in leading (which for now just means running an email list) please let me know that too.

To be clear: I am just looking to connect people, and specifically find and connect people who are interested in organizing. I’ve started enough hackerspaces for a few years at this point :)

I know of several other efforts to start feminist hackerspaces around the country, so if you’re outside of the bay area but interested, please feel free to also comment with some indication as to your geography and I’ll put you in touch with feminist hackerspace peeps in your area if I know of any.

Also you may be interested in the nascent feminist hackerspace design patterns over at the geek feminism wiki. And definitely read Liz Henry’s piece on feminist hackerspaces in Model View Culture.

Note: these things are off-topic in this discussion and will just result in me deleting your comment / pointing and laughing / not giving a shit:

  • whining about Double Union being women-only
  • whining about feminism in general
  • whining in general, really
  • reverse proxy-whining about how awesome your hackerspace is but the womenz just don’t seem to show up and are clearly just not interested and you had an e-textiles class that one time and WHAT MORE DO YOU FEMINISTS REALLY WANT I MEAN COME ON WE EVEN HAD AN E-TEXTILES NIGHT.*

*For the record, I love e-textiles. But having had a workshop on e-textiles once is not a Magical Get Out Of Sexism Free Card, sorry!

Heading South for the Winter (and beyond!)

It’s been an amazing two-and-a-bit years at Microsoft. I got to write security bulletins and advisories, and reboot a bazillion computers (sorry about that) in the MSRC. I helped secure new releases of Visual Studio, Team Foundation ServerSignalR, Azure Web Sites, and other products as a member of MSEC. I made dear friends and worked on fun side projects in the Garage, and got to help build the new Maker Garage at the Microsoft Library.  I can’t wait to see what the future will bring for everyone I had the privilege of working with and the rest of the company as well. Thank you all.

But it has come time for me to heed the siren call of San Francisco and head south, like a Canada Goose (minus the biting). This weekend I’m loading my life into a truck and heading to San Francisco to join the Heroku security team. I’m excited to be working with Jacob Kaplan-Moss and Matt Zimmerman, two longtime friends and mentors, both of whom happen to also be awesome advocates for women in tech.

I’ll be handing over my responsibilities at the Seattle Attic Community Workshop to my capable co-founders, and am really stoked to have already been accepted as a member of Double Union down in SF :)

For my Seattle peeps, I’m organizing a small going-away thing on Friday evening, ping me by email (leigh at hypatia dot ca) or on Twitter if you want to know when/where.

Changes to Twitter’s block behavior – and a workaround

TL;DR I hate the changes to Twitter’s blocking, and you can get around them by marking your account private, blocking the person, then going back to public. This will cause them to unfollow you. I hope the powers that Tweet reconsider this change.

Update: so this happened…


Twitter posted an update today to their blocking functionality. In my opinion, it’s a real step backwards for the usability of Twitter for anyone with a large number of followers, or facing any kind of harassment.

It used to be that when you blocked someone, it would force them to “unfollow” you, in addition to hiding them from your mentions. This is no longer the case:

Note: If your account is public, blocking a user does not prevent that user from following you, interacting with your Tweets, or receiving your updates in their timeline. If your Tweets are protected, blocking the user will cause them to unfollow you.

The obvious objection to my objection is “well your stuff is public anyway, they could just make a new account” – the thing is, this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of 1) how people use blocking and 2) how harassers operate.

People use blocking to force unfollows.

I have nearly 9000 followers (which I find fairly hilarious as I mostly post fart jokes, but whatevs)(clarifying for new visitors: I actually tweet about computer security, privacy, feminism, open source, and how weird being a Canadian living in the US is – and more Bitcoin jokes than fart jokes). Something that happens pretty often is that someone will follow me and start replying to things I post or retweet in an aggressive or annoying way. I am particularly conscious of when people do this to folks I retweet – I feel like I have a responsibility to not expose people I retweet to douchebaggery on my watch, so I block people who demonstrate a pattern of being jerks. My friend Ellie made this in response to one of the times I retweeted her:


I realize that I’m directing a lot of traffic at folks when I retweet them, and I don’t want to expose them to jerks. This change prevents me from curating my followers in the same way as I curate my feed.

Harassers are easily distracted, and many just go away

Blocking, even on a public account, is surprisingly effective at dealing with low-grade harassment. Most harassers just aren’t that invested in the person they are bothering, and putting up the tiniest roadblock will make them move on to their next target. I had this conversation with a Googler shortly after G+ shipped, as its blocking behavior was at the time the same as the new Twitter behavior. I have no idea what it is now because I hate G+ and don’t use it, and I realized that this may be unintuitive to someone who hasn’t experienced harassment before – but trust me, as someone who has, it works a lot of the time. Which is great!

Update: Some who read the above argument think that it’s a “false sense of security” – there’s nothing false about effectively driving away a large percentage of drive-by harassment. I think people pretty broadly get that if you have a public feed, and block someone, that that person can just log out to read your feed – there really are a large number of users, and I say this from personal experience, who won’t bother making a new account, they will just move on. I want to keep being able to handle those users easily.

Telling users facing harassment to just make their account private punishes them, not harassers

This is just shitty and not ok, and I hope it needs no further explanation.

A Workaround

If you make your account private, then block the person, then make it public again, it emulates the old behavior and makes them unfollow you. It’s a pain, but it works. It will not prevent them from re-following you, however – so it’ll only work on the least motivated harassers.

Another Workaround

My friend shadowspar pointed out that you can still force an unfollow by marking someone as spam:

Looks like I’m going to be misusingrepurposing the spam report button more frequently :(

Update: or not:

Return of the blog

Just a shade under two years after my blog first went kaput, it’s back. 2 VMs, one MySQL data recovery, and an absurd amount of time fussing with DNS later, it’s back.

I’m using wordpress.com this time around instead of fussing with my own setup; many of the plugins for which I self-hosted are now part of the core featureset, so I’m going to give this “cloud” business a run for it. I’ll probably fuss with themes a bunch more, so don’t be surprised if next time you’re here things are unrecognizable.

One thing I was frustrated by the last time I went to set up hosted wp was the way they expect you to set up your DNS if you want to do domain mapping; it turns out it’s pretty simple to map your domain directly to their set of IPs.  Once you have your domain mapping paid for and set up (from the “Store” link in the dashboard), do the following:

dig @ns1.wordpress.com example.com A

Then assign to example.com’s DNS the 6 A records that WordPress’s nameserver gives you.

At some point in the future they may change those IPs and your blog will stop working etc etc (which is why they’d rather you use their DNS instead) but for now that’ll do the trick.

This is fairly obvious stuff once you know what to look for but I haven’t seen it documented on the web, so enjoy :)


Acrobat 9 Updater crashes on Windows 7

I got a copy of Acrobat 9 Standard with my new Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner, and I ran into a weird issue when trying to update it to the latest version.  The fix ended up being pretty simple but it took me a while to figure out, so as with my previous post, I’m recording it here for the benefit of folks searching for how to resolve the error.  I don’t know if it has anything to do with the particular error, but I’m running Win7 64-bit for reference.

After going to Help -> Check for Updates, you get a popup saying that “A new version of the Adobe Updater is available for installation.”  Click OK, it runs a batch script of some kind, and then Adobe Updater Install Manager (a.k.a. AdobeUpdateInstallMgr.exe) crashes and dies.

The simple solution: install the Adobe Updater thingy manually from here.  If you’re starting from 9.0 you’ll then go from there to 9.2 and then 9.4.5.  It’s a bit of a process :/

Incidentally, the scanner is made of pure shiny awesome.  I’ve turned literally 2 feet of course readers from my undergrad into searchable bits.  Amazing.

Whole disk encryption, HP laptops, and other shenanigans

I use an HP tm2-1070ca convertible tablet laptop as my primary machine, and have one hell of a love-hate relationship with it.

I adore the convertible tablet format; being able to annotate PDFs in Xournal /Acrobat / Windows Journal, “think on paper” by sketching out a design or a circuit, or flip the screen around to show something on it to the person across the table from you are all at this point part of how I use computers and I find I hate having to go back to using machines I can’t poke.

But as I’ll detail below, it’s got some downright weird stuff going on when it comes to hardware compatibilities.

Given all the ridiculosity around HP’s hardware business at the moment, my next machine is virtually certain to be another brand.  I’m currently eyeing some Fujitsus, but would love to hear about other convertibles folks have had good experiences with, particularly with running multiple OSs on them.

Ubuntu lessons

For 11.04, I needed acpi=off to get the installer to work. It turned out that disabling VT in the BIOS made it work alright with acpi on, but things were otherwise just sort of flaky – the touchscreen in particular would just sometimes work, and sometimes not.  I made a bunch of changes at the same time which lead to confusion about what was actually going on here; it turns out my shiny new SSD was not the problem, but it was a 11.04 regression against this particular BIOS, which I worked around by disabling VT.  Many thanks to Matthew Garrett for spending a bunch of time helping me troubleshoot this.

I used the Ubuntu alternate installer and the built-in whole disk encryption, and it performed very nicely on the SSD, benchmarking at nearly the same speed as the drive running in plaintest.  Sorry I don’t have the numbers handy :/

This isn’t specific to this laptop, but took me some time to figure out so I’m recording it for the convenience of those searching for this error:  if you try to mount your old luks/lvm encrypted system drive on another luks/lvm encrypted machine which happens to have the same hostname, you’ll get an error saying that it’s “not a valid file system,” which is obviously not at all what’s going on.  lvm simply can’t deal with volumes with the same name, and your volumes are named after the hostname you set on install.  lvs and lvrename are the relevant commands here.

Also, if you try to mount a luks/lvm encrypted drive on a machine which has not had luks/lvm applied on install, you’ll need to install the libraries which it uses – cryptsetup and lvm2.  This seems obvious in retrospect but non-specific error messages lead to me stressing out that I’d hosed my drive, which hadn’t been backed up in a few days.

HP laptops + MBR-based whole disk encryption = :(

The above VT issue ended up being the dealbreaker for me running Ubuntu as the host OS on this machine – I need VMs to do a bunch of things, so now I’m running Win7, with Ubuntu in a VM (along with various other things).

Search for “hp laptop truecrypt” and you will see that I am not the first to venture into this particular valley of fail.  I’ve seen threads where people report that PGP’s WDE also doesn’t work.  Given that Ubuntu’s WDE worked just fine, I suspect that it’s something with MBR-based WDE rather than the way it’s done with luks/lvm; the other thing that makes me suspect this is that the way you know it’s failing is that the laptop will blink the capslock key, in my case 5 times indicating a “general system board failure”.  There’s no blink code for “hard drive problem” and it’s different from the error you get when you boot without a hard drive installed, so my guess is that the 5-blink code covers hard drive errors too.

I don’t have any workaround for this one.  I’ve tried truecrypt WDE on a couple of different drives, to no avail.  I’ve even bugged HP on the twitters but they haven’t gotten back to me.  Oh well.  I’ll eventually put Win7 Ultimate on it and try Bitlocker… after making a whole disk backup because I am really, really tired of reinstalling, heh.

Hopefully someone will find the above useful.  It’s been an adventure.

Security at the Ubuntu Developer Summit

I’m attending the Ubuntu Developer Summit this week in Budapest, and I wanted to share how to participate in the security track remotely.

You’ll want to look at the schedule of security track sessions, and the icecast streams for the various rooms we’re in.  Each session in the schedule has one or both of:

  • an etherpad for recording discussions
  • a blueprint which is the “working document” for that particular portion of the project

Both have little icons in the schedule.

You may also want to join the IRC channel for the session; there is one per room, with naming scheme #ubuntu-uds-$room_name_without_accents .  There’s also #ubuntu-hardened, for general discussions and continuing to participate in the Ubuntu security community after UDS.  If you’re not a big IRC user or your network blocks it, you may prefer web-IRC, which is available here for freenode.

This stuff of course generalizes for any other topic at UDS; check out the schedule for tracks on other topics.

Customizing GnuCash reporting

Before I start: a huge Thank You to the amazing Cheri703 for holding my hand over VOIP while I got the hang of GnuCash.  I wouldn’t have finished my taxes without her patient support :)

I spent a while looking around for how to customize GnuCash reporting for Canadian taxes, and it ended up taking me some time to figure out quite simple things so I figured I’d document it here for the benefit of those searching for this info.

I started off with “A Simple Checkbook” and added a number of accounts for my consulting business, various expenses, etc.  I haven’t gotten into tracking my personal expenses in great detail yet, but I’ll try that for 2011.  Feel free to skip the next part: <grumble type=”Canadian Banking System”> The Canadian banking system is behind the times, so I manually downloaded Quicken-compatible files from my 2 banks.  Kudos to CIBC for allowing me to download a whole year’s transactions in one go.  Boo Hiss to TD for not only making me download things a month at a time, but only keeping credit card records for six months.  My books are a bit complicated as I have a USD account and credit card in addition to my CAD one, and I incorporated last year… all told, I had to type in about 18 months worth of various accounts. Lesson learned for next year!</grumble>

When it came time to output all the info for my accountant, I initially used the “Transaction Report” which I copied and pasted into OpenOffice Calc and tidied up… but there was a lot to tidy up, particularly because it did monthly subtotals, which was really overkill and distracting.

Turns out you can customize the Transaction Report!  While you’re on the Transaction Report tab, there will be a new menu option in your Edit menu – Report Options. I customized the Accounts tab to just show the accounts relevant to my taxes and added a running balance in the Display tab.  In the Sorting tab I checked “Show Full Account Code,” and most importantly (to me) I set the “Secondary Subtotal for Date Key” to “None” to make the cluttery monthly subtotals go away.

Hit apply, copy and paste the whole report into OpenOffice Calc, save as XLS if your accountant hasn’t seen the Free Software light, and presto! Taxes are a go, with GnuCash :)

One last tip once things are pasted into OpenOffice – do a find and replace for ^. with & to get rid of all the fussy formatting that makes it impossible to do calculations in OpenOffice, and remove all the useless hyperlinks.

There is lots of additional info on the GnuCash FAQ about other ways of exporting data, but this is the quick and simple way that worked for me.  There’s also an official-ish way to export to OO Calc here but I didn’t find that worked any better than just copying and pasting.

It's the little things…

sticker insurance

My beloved tablet died, so I sent it back to the manufacturer, just under the wire before the warranty expired.

A friend had just returned my old netbook, so I moved my data over to that before sending out the sad tablet.  After blowing a few large dust bunnies out of that machine it was only freezing up about once a day.

Ten days, one trip to California, two hackerspaces, and one keynote later, I had the tablet back.  I was in a bit of a crunch at school so I didn’t have time to re-do the factory Win7 image exactly to my liking.  So I popped the hard drive out of the netbook, replaced the tablet hard drive with the netbook drive, and got back to work.  Everything* worked, everything was copacetic, and I was a happy camper with a full keyboard and pressure-sensitive pen tablet once again.

It turns out being able to swap hard drives and have the machine just work is a pretty important feature for me.  <3, Ubuntu**.

*except for the BIOS only allowing certain PCI-IDs for WiFi cards… but that’s a story for another time.  Manufacturers, please don’t do this.  I’m looking at you, HP, Lenovo, Asus….

**yes, I do know this works just fine in other Linux distros.  And probably the BSDs, too :)